"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Apology to Saeed Hamid-Khani

It has been a while since posting, but I have been meaning to get to this one.

I wanted to formally apologize to Dr. Saeed Hamid-Khani for not making use of his published thesis in the writing of my own thesis on the Gospel of John. Hamid-Khani's thesis was published as: Revelation and Concealment ofChrist: Theological Inquiry into the Elusive Language of the Fourth Gospel (WUNT II/120; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000). It was examined by William Horbury and C.K. Barrett. John Philip M. Sweet was Hamid-Khani's supervisor. 

In the course of working on an essay related to the topic of "revelation" in the Gospel of John, I ran across the title of Hamid-Khani's book. I was able to get a copy through interlibrary loan and waded my way through the immense amount of work that the volume contains. The striking contribution of Hamid-Khani's thesis is his challenge to Rudolf Bultmann's claim that what is revealed in John's Gospel is an empty revelation formula, i.e. Jesus only reveals that he is the Revealer. Hamid-Khani argues that the elusive language of John's Gospel has content and that has a theological force in that it is tied to the Evangelist's use of the OT. For the Gospel, Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT. Those who do not believe this will find the Gospel's language elusive. Those who do believe will understand the truth. 

There is much more in Hamid-Khani's book, but I was surprised that I had never run across it before. A quick perusal of the bibliographies in the post-2000 edited volumes Gospel of John that I have on my shelf indicate that I am not alone. Hamid-Khani's book is not listed in Donahue, Life in Abundance: Studies of John's Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown, 2005; Lierman, Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, 2006; Thatcher, What We Have Heard from the Beginning, 2007; or Bauckham and Mosser, The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, 2008. The title is also missing from Porter and Gabriel, Johannine Writings and Apocalyptic: An Annotated Bibliography, 2013, even in their section on "Revelation" (!).

A Google search of the book title presents records of the book on Google books, the various places it may be purchased (Amazon, Mohr Siebeck, etc.), various bibliography repositories, and the review by Josaphat Tam at RBECS, Academia.edu, and Facebook (see below). A search of the Review of Biblical Literature website reveals that the book was never reviewed for RBL. Cornelius Bennema acknowledges Hamid-Khani's book in his preface to The Power of Saving Wisdom, although only to say that the book came to him at a late stage. Hamid-Khani's book essentially disappeared...or never appeared. 

My sincere apologies to Saeed Hamid-Khani for not interacting with scholarship that I should have. This will be remedied as best I can in my current work on John, apocalyptic tradition, and revelation. 

A review of Hamid-Khani by Josaphat Tam may be found on the site "Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies" (here).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thomas Dekker in Dororthy Sayers

Great quote at the beginning of chapter 15 of Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novel Gaudy Night.

Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is: it is so inestimable a jewel that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour's slumber, it cannot be bought: of so beautiful a shape is it, that though a man lie with an Empress, his heart cannot beat quiet till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other: yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we owe the better tributary half our life to him: and there is good cause why we should do so: for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Who complains of want? of wounds? of cares? of great men's oppressions? of captivity? whilst he sleepeth? Beggars in their beds take as much pleasure as kings: can we therefore surfeit on this delicate Ambrosia? Can we drink too much of that whereof to taste too little tumbles us into a churchyard, and to use it but indifferently throws us into Bedlam? No, no, look upon Endymion, the moon's minion, who slept three score and fifteen years, and was not a hair the worse for it.
--Thomas Dekker

Monday, June 2, 2014

John Ashton's new book, The Gospel of John and Christian Origins (Fortress Press)

John Ashton's book The Gospel of John and Christian Origins was published this spring by Fortress Press. I did have the opportunity to read earlier versions of about half the chapters, and it has been enjoyable to read through the finished book.

Ashton has continued themes from his previous book on John, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (1st ed. 1991; 2nd ed. 2007). Ashton made significant changes between the two editions of Understanding, but the third section on "Revelation" (pp. 303-528 in the 2nd ed.) was largely left unchanged.
(See my comments on that volume here.) Ashton acknowledges he is revising that section in Gospel of John and Christian Origins, but he is also making more explicit his arguments for the history behind the Gospel, its writing, and Johannine Christianity.

The primary interlocutors and support for Ashton throughout the book are Wayne Meeks, Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann, and J. Louis Martyn. Coupled with the title, it is clear that that he is concerned with the historical situation of the evangelist and his Gospel. Ashton is not a fan of methods that avoid the historical dimension, such as narrative criticism, and in "Excursus 1: The Gospel Genre," he strongly disagrees with Richard Burridge and Richard Bauckham that genre determines how texts are read.

Ashton judges rightly, in my opinion, that the focus on Hellenistic origins argued by Wetter, Bultmann, and Dodd is not correct and that the Gospel has a home in the Judaism(s) of the Second Temple, which Brown was quick to highlight in the years following the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ashton has an intriguing and important chapter on "The Essenes" in which he contends that Qumran exegesis and its emphasis on mystery and revelation reflects a "veering away from the insistence on the definitive nature of the revelation to Moses that already characterized the dominant party in Israel" (74). 

To take a step back, Ashton opens the book by indicating what he sees as the displacement of Moses by Jesus in the Gospel of John. This view is what drives his understanding of the origins of Christianity as portrayed in the Fourth Gospel. Ashton assumes the two-level reading of Martyn, that the Gospel itself tells us about the Johannine community as much as, if not more than, the events of Jesus' life. The displacement of Moses by Jesus ("we are his disciples" 5:31-47; "the law came through Moses" 1:17; etc.) reflects the power struggle or change of belief by those synagogue-goers who have come to believe in Jesus.What becomes evident throughout is that Ashton, like Christopher Rowland, sees any reinterpretation of the law and prophets as a negation of what was previously prophesied. It may be worth considering if this view is necessarily the case. One could argue that Moses may not be cast aside and replaced, since the Johannine Jesus does say that Moses wrote about Jesus (5:45-47). If Moses did write about Jesus, then we may not have displacement. However, regardless of the manner in which we take this, one's interpretation comes down to one's understanding of Second Temple handlings of prophecy and revelation. [On this see, Bockmuehl, Revelation and Mystery in Ancient Judaism and Pauline Christianity (WUNT II/36; Mohr Siebeck, 1990) and Jassen, Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism (STDJ 68; Brill, 2007); Reynolds, "Apocalypticism in the Gospel of John's Written Revelation of Heavenly Things," EC 4.1 (2013), esp. 88-94.]

The "Mosaic-Prophet" of Martyn's argument (cf. also Meeks) is found wanting by Ashton, and in the later chapters, Ashton argues for "three strong streams of Jewish tradition that flow into the Christology of the Fourth Gospel" (133). These streams are "the mission of the prophet," "the Incarnation of Wisdom," and "the Son of Man." Chapters 7 and 8 focus on these three themes. Ultimately, Ashton returns to the theme of revelation and understands this as important for the Christology of the Fourth Gospel. 

"From the first page of this book I have argued that resonating through the Gospel, and most emphatically in the Prologue, is the insistence that the truth, the real revelation of God, is not the law but the self-revelation of Jesus, who represents in his own person God's plan for his people, and indeed for all humankind. For he now replaces both the law and the great figure of Moses through whom the law was given." (190-191).

Ashton rejects Meeks' and Martyn's views on the reason for this replacement (Samaritan traditions and synagogue disputes). Instead, he picks up a suggestion of Christopher Rowland and contends that the followers of Jesus took this view of Jesus because they saw him as more than the Messiah and more than the prophet-like-Moses. As a result, they speculated on who Jesus was, and this speculation led to the portrayal of Jesus' humanity being "eclipsed" by a portrayal of the glorious, descended one.

Much more could be said about The Gospel of John and Christian Origins, especially because Ashton touches on many topics, but I will leave that for you to read.





Thursday, May 15, 2014

Professor Maurice Casey, 1942-2014


I was sorry to hear this week that Professor Maurice Casey passed away on 10 May 2014. There have been numerous postings in honour of Professor Casey, from longer interactions with his scholarship by his former student James Crossley (parts one and two), Mark Goodacre, Larry Hurtado, and Dominic Mattos, to a number of announcements and annecdotes shared by Jim Davila, Jim West, Peter Head (in comment), and Chris Keith, as well as others I have not read.

I had the privilege of meeting Maurice on a few occasions while I was working on my doctoral thesis on the Son of Man in John. Like Peter Head, I met Maurice at the annual conference on the use of the OT in the NT held at St. Deneiol's library in Hawarden. My paper was scheduled for the last day of the conference, and on the preceding evening, Maurice told me that my paper on the Son of Man in Daniel 7 and John 5:27 was the paper he was most looking forward to hearing. For a doctoral student who knew he was going to be making some arguments that this well-known Son of Man scholar would disagree with, I quickly became more intimidated than I already was.

Once I finished my paper the next day and as he rose to ask me a question, I had a sinking feeling that he was about to ask the sort of question that would leave me without a thesis. He did ask an extremely relevant and pointed question; it was a question that continued to follow me every time I presented on my thesis topic. (The question surfaced during my viva.) Over lunch following the session, Maurice probed me further about why I was arguing what I was arguing. He did so in such a kind and cordial way. I have always been grateful for his questions, the way in which he asked them, and the interest he showed in the work of a doctoral student. His questions forced me to further my arguments and learn more about how scholarly debate and challenge can take place in a collegial manner.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Frederick Murphy, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World: A Comprehensive Introduction

This past semester I taught a course on the New Testament and Jewish apocalypses. For the required texts, along with reading the Jewish apocalypses themselves, I required John Collins' The Apocalyptic Imagination and the recent award-winning and posthumously published Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World by Frederick Murphy. I have a book review of Murphy coming out in next Trinity Journal, but I wanted to make some comments here that I was not able to include in the more traditional book review.

My students found Murphy more readable and accessible than Collins. I suspect that this is because Murphy has written in a style that an undergraduate can more easily grasp, and I think the fact that Murphy summarizes more familiar (biblical) material than Collins (Jewish apocalypses) also made Murphy seem more friendly.

One challenge with using a book like Murphy is that it is a long textbook that summarizes a lot of primary material, while highlighting specific themes throughout. If you want to read (or you want your students to read) the primary material and have another book summarizing it along side your reading, Murphy is helpful with this. However, some may find this to be a lot of extra reading. However, some undergraduates need or prefer this sort of guidance through the primary material, particularly if the material is not familiar to them -- e.g., the murky world of Jewish apocalypses.

As you read Murphy, you should be aware that throughout the book, the word "apocalypticism" is essentially used synonymously with "eschatology." What Murphy is focusing on throughout the book are the roots of eschatology in Judaism, its growth in the Second Temple period, and the influence that eschatology has on early Christianity. There is almost no interest in apocalypticism as having to do with revelation or the revealing of heavenly things (cf. Christopher Rowland and Christopher Murray-Jones, The Mystery of God). The focus is quite significantly on the end-of-the-world and the events connects with it, such as judgment. However, it is striking that in pages 8-11, where Murphy lists the primary features of "apocalypticism," eschatology and judgment are not listed or at least not high up the list.

Throughout Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World, Murphy provides discussions of apocalypticism in the prophets and the NT books, but sometimes, as I have just hinted, these elements often have little connection to apocalyptic literature...apocalyptic eschatology, yes; apocalyptic literature (and angelic revelation of heavenly mysteries), no. For example, in his discussion of Romans, Murphy provides an extensive discussion of Paul's Adam Christology. I still have not figured out how Adam Christology is relevant to an apocalyptic worldview...unless we are talking about eschatology and some sort of two-age schema, on which the Jewish apocalypses do not have the corner market and which I personally do not consider "apocalyptic."

NT passages such as the angelic announcements to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, Paul's ascent into third heaven, the revelation of the Father by the Son in John's Gospel, the Watcher tradition in 2 Peter and Jude (not to mention the citation of 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude), and the mystery of the gospel hidden for long ages but now revealed are obvious (at least to me) apocalyptic elements in the NT that largely go unmentioned or are given short shrift in Murphy's book. As long as the reader understands that apocalypticism is something broader and that Murphy is primarily using it to refer to apocalyptic eschatology, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World can be a helpful introduction to the NT's connection to the OT and the thought world of the Second Temple.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wycliffe Centre for Scripture and Theology Colloquium Spring 2014

The Spring 2014 Scripture and Theology Coloquium at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto will be held May 9, 9am to 4pm. Refreshments and lunch provided.

The topic of this colloquium is Ecclesiastes. There is a great line-up, including Tremper Longman (Westmont College), Daniel Treier (Wheaton), Daniel Driver (my OT colleage at Tyndale), Ray Van Leeuwen (Eastern), and Chris Seitz (Wycliffe).

The colloquia are always an excellent integration of biblical and systematic theology.