Sunday, November 30, 2008

To grad school, or not to grad school? That is the question.

As I hear more and more about the economy going downhill and universities stopping their job searches, I wonder : is grad school a smart decision? Should I look to do a Ph.D? I see a lot of very well-trained scholars looking for jobs, not feeling terribly confident. I heard on NPR about a former professor who helped these guys win a nobel prize with his research who now works at a car lot driving cars (not even a salesman). This doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

My major concern is finding funding. Whereas the sciences are still able to be funded by grants and such, what with their research being a bit more "tangible" and therefore immediately "beneficial" to society, the humanities seem to be taking a hit.

Though, I figure I have quite awhile before I'm going to be looking for a job myself. I have about 3 semesters left here, 2 more in an M.A., and probably 5-7 in a Ph.D. I figure if these economic woes are cyclical and Obama really is the savior of the economy, things should be settled out by then - but if they aren't..

Monday, November 24, 2008

SBL: Monday

Yesterday was a very busy day, so I wasn't able to blog. I got to see E.P. Sanders and his discussion on Paul's use of Hebrew Scripture in Gal 3. I believe his paper was titled, "Was Paul a Prooftexter?"

Later that evening we had the Bibliobloggers dinner. It was wonderful - I had a good chat with Ben Blackwell from Durham and he has inspired me to look a bit more into UK programs. I was able to meet Dr. DeConick and tell her that I thought her paper on Judas was amazing. Also, big thanks are due to Michael Halcomb for organizing the dinner.

After dinner I went over to the University of Durham's reception and met a few folks there. James Dunn and Francis Watson were there (among a myriad of other Durham "celebs"). I wanted to say hello, but after that I didn't really have anything else to say. "Uhhh...I like your know....a lot. So thanks for those." I figure an impression was best left unmade.

From there I ran into some friends from the University of Chicago (the guy I met at U of C a few weeks ago, Matthijs and another Ph.D student named Jonathan). I went with them to the U of C reception and got to talk to some really interesting graduate students there. One guy made Chicago out to be...a less than desirable place to attend because of how difficult he was making it sound. However, after thinking about it for a bit - he hasn't jumped off of a building, so it can't be that bad.

Today I attended the Historical Jesus section and listened to a paper by Brant Pitre. WOW!!! Talk about blowing the doors down. I hope he publishes this somewhere. Another paper in this session was given by a presenter who seemed entirely unfamiliar with his own paper. It made me wonder if he had even proofread it.

I also got to hear Stephen Carlson's paper on Secret Mark this afternoon. Scott Brown, a former student of Smith's, gave a paper defending Secret Mark. His argument seemed to be particularly weak inasmuch as it amounted to, "Since these fragments can be interpreted and be found to be similar to Markan themes, it must be authentic." He also didn't provide any evidence for Clement's letter being authentic. In Geology, this is known as the Law of Cross-Cutting relationships - something cannot be older than that which it cuts across. So, before you even begin on the fragments, you have to prove that the letter is authentic. Also, it seems that a lot of people who rush to Smith's defense do so with backhanded compliments. Things such as, "No, he was nowhere near competent enough to have done this!" With friends like these....

Lessons Learned:

Receptions are a ton of fun and a great place to drink...err, meet people

Secret Mark is still a hoax. And according to Birger A. Pearson, a big, "F*&% you to the academy" (his words, not mine)

Apparently there is a market for a LOLCat Study Bible

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SBL: Saturday

Taking Mark Goodacre's advice, I'm sitting here writing on my blog instead of going to yet another session today. I've already been to two, both of which I stayed for atleast the majority of the time. There was a session this evening on Patristic Exegesis, and as exciting as that is - I don't want to kill myself today so that by Monday I'm tired of papers.

This morning I heard Bart Ehrman, Marvin Meyer, and April DeConick speak on Judas. Overall, I got what I expected from Ehrman and Meyer. But, I know Dr. DeConick was going to be the curveball in this session - and she definitely was. I felt like her position was significantly stronger than both Ehrman's and Meyer's. I hope she publishes the research that was in her paper (things not included in her 13th Apostle book). I saw Hans-Josef Klauck there and was able to chat with him for a second.

There's a chapel right next to the convention center, so I went to Mass at noon. After that I attended a session on Theological exegesis. I was particularly interested in Dr. Steinmetz's paper where he revisited his ideas in his paper from the 70's, "The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis." He made a lot of points about the shortcomings of historical-critical approach alone (as to be clear that Steinmetz and most people who encourage a pre-critical exegesis do not want to do away with the last 200 years of Biblical scholarship) with which I totally agree. After him, Robert Louis Wilken spoke. If you've never read him, you should. His books The Christians as the Romans Saw Them and The Spirit of Early Christian Thought are both amazing books on early Christianity.

Lessons Learned:

Nobody looks at your face initially - it's nametags, then face.

Don't have a ridiculous grin on your face while you work through the book exhibitors because in 5 paces you've walked past Hershel Shanks, Joel Marcus, J.K. Elliot, and Ben Witherington - I can't help it. I'm surrounded by books and the people who wrote them - that's pretty much how I view heaven.

Sessions are great, but you meet more people walking around and chatting

I will never be able to afford a Brill book

Friday, November 21, 2008

In Boston at SBL

So I arrived in Boston around noon today. I was fortunate to meet two Ph.D students from Duke at RDU and had a seat next to one of them on the way to Boston. I was happy I got to chat with someone about SBL, New Testament, etc etc on the way up there. When we arrived at the airport, we didn't take the route I wrote out earlier - but I eventually made it to my hotel.

Lessons Learned thus far:

Room 2003 is on the 20th floor, not the 2nd (if you saw someone walking around the 2nd floor of the Hilton muttering explicatives under his breath...mea culpa. I've never been in a hotel this big).

The Book exhibit is like Christmas on steroids. I didn't really have anything to do this afternoon except for Mass at 4:15, so I basically spent the whole time wandering around while the exhibitors put up their books. I think they were getting suspicious...

Leave yourself plenty of time to get anywhere - buildings/roads/people in the North don't make sense.

To resist the urge to buy every book I've seen, I'm writing out a list of books that I think would be useful to my studies. I always justify books as being "tools", but there's no sense in buying a blowtorch if you're a carpenter (or maybe there is - I'm not a carpenter...and if that analogy fails, I think it means I can buy whatever books I want).

Also, last I heard from Michael Halcomb - he's stuck in an airport (I think Philly). The poor guy's plane has been delayed all day. Pray for him that he'll get here in time for the IBR reception.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Heading to SBL

Like most around the Biblioblogosphere, I'm packing up and heading out to SBL tomorrow morning. My flight leaves RDU at 9:50, arriving around 11:50 or so. Anyone else going to be at the airport at the same time?

I've also not seen anything happening on Friday. Is there an event I'm missing?

I'm going to try and blog throughout the meeting, but I'm not sure how much I will be able to.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Marcus Borg's Lecture Last Night - Christians in an Age of Empire

Dr. Borg's lecture on ECU's campus last night was titled, "Christians in an Age of Empire: Then and Now."
Overall, I wasn't really impressed by the lecture. Dr. Borg talked a lot about the Anti-Empire themes in the Bible in really general ways, but gave very few examples of any Anti-Empire rhetoric. He even stated, "God's passion in the Bible is anti-empire." Really? It's not salvation history? It's not God reaching out to men who are distanced from Him? God's passion is anti-empire?

Borg defined Empires with 4 criteria:

1)Ruled by the few

2) Elites used the system to exploit

3)Violence towards the lower classes

4)Legitimated by religion

I agree that number 1 is generally a criteria of empire simply because anarchies make very poor empires. Number 2 is not necessarily part of an empire, though it can be. Same with number 3. Number 4 is puzzling - did Stalin use religion to legitimate his empire? I'm not saying it never happens, I'm saying that it's odd to use as a set criteria.

Borg discussed the OT Prophets and how they were critical of particular regimes, but never gave any evidence of an overall anti-Empire ideology. When discussing the NT, he talked about Augustus Caesar and some of his titles - "Son of God", "Lord", and "Savior of the World" (though he admitted this last one wasn't religious). Borg claimed that the Gospel writers were well aware of these titles and what political message they were sending by calling Jesus this, however, he didn't once mention that they have OT parallels. He didn't talk about typology at all. He left the dots unconnected and allowed the crowd to think, "Oh, well, that's where they got those names." I felt like I was watching Zeitgeist.

Borg also said that the birth stories in Matthew and Luke were anti-Empire. Establishing Davidic lineage was not showing that God's promises of an everlasting Kingdom were being fulfilled. Instead, this was a critique of the Roman empire. Everyone makes mistakes (I make more than my fair share), but Borg mistakenly put the Shepherds of Luke into Matthew's story and then discussed how this ties in with Matthew's overall theme in the birth story.

He focused on the new paradigm of the Kingdom of God. This was not a Kingdom of authority (!), but something that looks a lot like communes. He focused on the dailiness of the bread in Matthew 6, disregrading the "supersubstantiality" of it.

Overall, I felt like Borg's main point was completely unsupported. I don't see the anti-Empire, anti-authoritarian message that Borg does. I had a question for him, but someone jumped in front of me when I sat down next to the mic (to allow the little old ladies behind me to see Dr. Borg - aren't I a sweetheart?) and it was the last one. The question I wanted to ask was, "If one of the primary messages of the Bible, and specifically the NT, is anti-Empire, why do the Gospels show Jesus focused on the religious authorities rather than the Romans?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A German Muslim Theologian on Muhammad's existence

Although my interests are in Christianity, I find Islam fascinating because of its intersection with Christianity in history and in thought. A professor at the Munster University who himself is a convert to Islam, Muhammad Sven Kalisch has gone into historical Muhammad research (I wonder if this trend is going to pick up? Historical Alexander the Great Research, Historical Atilla the Hun research, etc). He is Germany's first professor of Islamic Theology and he is causing quite the stir with his assertion that it is unlikely that Muhammad existed. Read the article here.

Oddities in antiquity

While our Greek class was translating Philostratus' Life of Apollonius, we came across a passage talking about Philolaus of Citium and Apollonius chatting near the grove of Aricia (περι το νεμος το εν τη Αρικια). This grove was the home of a priest of the goddess Diana. There's nothing particularly interesting (to me) about Diana, but what is interesting is how the priest was selected.

In this particular grove, the priest was succeeded by his assassin. You read that right - if you wanted to take over the priesthood in the grove of Aricia, you killed the priest there and took over.

Unfortunately, for such a controversial practice, very little is written about it. There are definitely some questions that are raised, though - for one, who in their right mind would ever want to take over this job? Your celebration of victory over the priest is cut short immediately by the paranoia that sets in knowing that you are now the target.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A gift - Warren H. Carroll's The Building of Christendom

When I took a trip up to U of Chicago a few weeks ago, I wasn't alone - my girlfriend and I both went up there both looking at the school. She's interested in developmental biology. Because flights were too expensive, we drove - if you don't genuinely like being around someone, 15 hours in a car will not be a fun experience. Proving there is a God, she didn't get rid of me immediately after the trip.

And for some strange reason, today she gave me a gift that is sure to keep me around - Warren H. Carroll's 2nd volume in his History of Christendom series titled The Building of Christendom.

The series is 6 volumes and I believe Dr. Carroll has been working on them since the 70's. Each volume is weighty, chock full of sources. However, Carroll brings out the narative in history. Unlike some other history books I've been reading lately (such as Von Grunebaum's Classical Islam, which is nothing more than date, fact, date, fact, date, fact), Carroll brings history to life. If you've never read him, I suggest picking a volume up - he may very well be my favorite Church historian.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chris Tilling is coming to teach at my school!

Yes, I didn't believe it either when I first heard, but Chris Tilling is coming to teach at East Carolina University. They have already prepared his office for him, though I'm a bit confused as to why they put him in the Geology Department....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Travelling from Logan Int'l to the Hynes Convention Center

If you're staying at a hotel near the convention center and need a way to get from the airport to your hotel, I suggest taking the subway. There is a complimentary shuttle at the airport that will take you to the MTBA Airport Station. At the station, you want to take the Blue Line (Inbound) until you get to Government Center Station - To Bowdoin. Get off here and catch the Government Center Station Green Line W and get off at the Hynes Station. Hynes station is a short walk away from the convention center and surrounding hotels.

I've called some cab companies and the usual fee is about 20 dollars from the airport to this part of town. The train is 2 dollars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two blogs that I think deserve praise

There are, of course, more than two blogs that deserve praise, but these are two that I just can't get enough of. They are:

ἐν ἐφέσῳ - I feel smarter just reading Mike's blog. If I had a tenth of a percent of Mike's knowledge of Greek, I think I'd be doing just fine. I'm trying to read through his posts to get a better feel on the whole "aspect/tense" issue with Greek. If you don't already read this blog, get over there!

Pisteuomen - For one, the guy has a cool name - T. Michael W. Halcomb. Most Biblical scholars have only got a puny two initials to shorten (D.A., F.F., etc) - not this guy. He's got a whole slew of names to chose from. Secondly, his website is decked out. Third - he creates some really cool software modules for Greek, German, Hebrew, and Aramaic. And Fourth - he has blogged about the Gospel of Mark more than anyone, I think.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Marcus Borg speaking at my school Nov 18th

As I've mentioned before, Marcus Borg will be speaking at East Carolina University on Nov 18th at 7pm in Wright Auditorium. I'm excited about seeing him, but a little confused as to why he's coming here.

What I mean is: a lot of our religion professors are billing him as "one of the top New Testament scholars today" and I just think - "Really?" Perhaps I'm just very out of the loop, but Borg doesn't seem like one of the big movers and shakers in today's NT studies world. I've read his books and there wasn't anything in there that I thought was amazingly revolutionary or terribly insightful. And that's fine - I don't expect that every person who teaches the NT and writes books is going to rock the world of NT, nor do I think that would be very desirable. I guess what I'm most surprised about is that we have UNC and Duke right down the road, but we've gone out of our way to get Dr. Borg from halfway across the country. Why not Richard Hays, or Mark Goodacre, Joel Marcus, or Bart Ehrman? They're right down the road from us and I'd consider any of them to be bigger players in the NT world than Dr. Borg.

Last Spring we had William Dever speak and again I was left wondering why they went through all the trouble of getting him to speak here. Granted, he was one of our professor's doktorvater, but during his whole talk he kept showing artifacts from archaeological digs and saying, "Not exactly what the Bible tells us, eh?" and giving a little look to the crowd. It was...odd.

Did Muhammad attend a Church?

As I'm taking a class on Classical Islam this semester, I'm thinking more and more about the dialogue between religions that went on in the Patristic era. Muhammad certainly had interactions with Christians, but on what level?

Islamic tradition says that Muhammad knew an Assyrian Monk named Bahira. He is later identified by Christian authors (St. John Damascus, for instance) as an Arian. As far as Muhammad's Christology goes, this isn't unthinkable.

But beyond just knowing the monk - is there any indication that Muhammad had delved further into Christianity? I think the answer is yes. Muhammad is noted as being "unlettered" in the Qu'ran and in Muslim tradition. Whether this means that he was illiterate or just knew basic writing isn't my concern. My concern is where Muhammad got the stories from Surahs 3:49 and 5:110. I've noted in a previous post that both stories occur in "Gnostic" (for lack of a better word) texts - the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ.

How would Muhammad, an "unlettered" man have come across these texts? I'm proposing that Muhammad would've heard them - in the liturgy. Granted, one can imagine Bahira discussing these texts with Muhammad, but why would Muhammad include the stories if there weren't some attachment to them?

This is really speculative, but I think it's at least a theory that could be explored.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

BW3 and the James Ossuary

Dr. Witherington discusses the recent trial and his hopeful release of the Ossuary.

Hebrew Questions

I'm full of questions lately. I wanted to see what Bibliobloggers thought was the best Intro to Hebrew grammar that one could use outside of a classroom. There aren't any Hebrew classes here and my Hebrew absolutely stinks. Are there any books/programs out there that one could use to get them through 1st year Hebrew?

More SBL Questions

As I'm looking through the program to try and find sessions that I'd like to attend, I'm running into the issue of having 3-4 sessions per time period that I really want to see.

How do you decide?

Is it okay to sit in on one session for a bit, hear the paper you like, then run over to the other session and hear the other one?

What is the usual for the evenings? Do Bible scholars paint the town red or is it back to the room before dark for some nice contemplation? (I'm half-way kidding, I hope).

I want to make sure I get all I can out of this SBL, so I'm trying to figure out how to appropriately schedule my time.