26 September 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

This morning, tech-blog Gizmodo announced that the Israel Museum of Jerusalem and Google have uploaded five scrolls from the large cache found in the caves of Qumran between 1947 and 1956. Included are the Great Isaiah Scroll, War Scroll, Temple Scroll, Community Rule and the Commentary on Habakkuk.

Check out the link here.

30 August 2011

Fall 2011 at Duke

This Fall I begin my second year in the MA Program in Religion at Duke University. I am taking Theorizing Religion with David Morgan, Greek Exegesis of Mark with Joel Marcus and sitting in on Bart Ehrman's Apostolic Fathers at UNC. This term has a bit of everything: an exploration into different ways of conceptualizing and thinking about the phenomenon of religion; a detailed reading of the Gospel of Mark; and gaining wide exposure to a rich collection of primary (and secondary) sources for the study of Christianity in the late first and early second centuries.

The Fall is also the semester for language work. In addition to the above, I am auditing Intro to Biblical Hebrew and German for Academic Reading so I can get those languages on par with my Greek.

Oh yeah, and all this while working here and there on my PhD applications.

I wish all my classmates and professors a happy, productive and successful start to the new school year. Let the fun begin!

13 June 2011

Know the Rulz!

Thanks to Maria Doerfler and Shaily Patel, I have found this wonderful site, Grad Skool Rulz, which offers useful advice on many important topics for those of us making our way through graduate school.

06 June 2011

I Just Couldn't Resist

It's been a long time since my last post. I've been quite busy since Spring term wrapped up, but I'm nearly half way through my Summer course load.

While preparing for my move to a new apartment, translating Plato (Crito, and eventually, Ion), taking a crash course on the German language and preparing for another stab at the GRE, I've been trying to get as much reading done as humanly possible whenever I have the time. Needless to say, it's been a bit of a disappointment. So far, I've only managed to get through C. Kavin Rowe's World Upside Down (which was quite enjoyable) while currently making my way through three others works (Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Joel Marcus' The Way of the Lord, and Hurtado's How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?). Hopefully things slow down enough after the move to where I can finish each of them and move on to the rest of my ambitious "Summer reading" list. Only time will tell.

I realise this is more of a journal entry than the typical blog post. But I figure popping back on here will prompt more posts from me in the near future--at least that's the idea.

Oh, and if you're asking yourself, What's with the picture?, I've recently re-discovered the X-Files (thanks to BBC America, oddly enough) and I couldn't resist the temptation after the idea came to me earlier today. Those familiar with the show will no doubt recognise this is based on the poster hanging on Mulder's office wall--only his has a flying saucer on it.

20 March 2011

Towards a Theory of Gospel Succession: Two Avenues for Advancing the Farrer Theory

When one looks at works dealing with the Farrer Theory (FT) -- the argument that Matthew was used by Luke; thus dispensing with the hypothetical Q source -- one quickly notices that they are almost exclusively confined to articles and monographs attempting to argue for its validity and viability. When the NT student goes in search of works outside of the Synoptic Problem (SP) that utilize a working assumption of the FT, they are met with disappointment. It seems that the FT has failed to branch out beyond the specialization of studies on the Synoptic Problem. This conclusion could be faulty due to my limited exposure to the secondary literature, but this has been my observation.

In light of this observation, I notice two things the Two-Source Theory (2ST) has in its favor which the FT lacks: (1) a proliferation of works which assume the viability of a particular solution to the SP; and (2) to borrow the phrase from a comment on the NT Blog, the 2ST has a "sexier" title in 'Q' as opposed to the 'Farrer Theory'.

Now I must clarify what I mean when I say "advancing" the FT. By "advancing" I neither imply attempts at 'proving' nor the proposal of new arguments. Rather, what I mean is expanding the exposure of the FT beyond discussions confined primarily within Synoptic Problem circles and the meager (if any) reference to it in introductory textbooks.

Personally, I find theories and hypotheses which are named after their founders to be more than a touch trite. Theories such as the Theory of Gravitation or the Theory of Relativity seem, to me, to have more impact and stronger meme-potential than, say, if they were simply named Newton's Theory or Einstein's Theory. While in some cases the two examples are conflated (i.e.; Einstein's Theory of Relativity), for me it is the 'descriptive' part of the name that stands out and proves more memorable.

So what, then, is this all leading up to? I suggest that that (1) scholars who ascribe to the FT need to begin re-writing the story of Christian origins under the new paradigm that Luke knew and copied from Matthew. In short, to set the story of early Christianity in a world where Q never existed; and (2) I think -- with no disrespect to Austin Farrer -- the theory of Markan Priority without Q (aka the Farrer Theory) should be renamed, and that the new name should reflect what the theory is describing.

I read David Sim's article* in the latest NTS yesterday, which convincingly argues that Matthew intended to supplant Mark's Gospel with his own. Taking this as a point of departure, I think that there are a number of places where we can extend the argument to Luke on the FT. In this case we would see each successive gospel as a reworking and replacement of its predecessor(s). In light of this, I think proposing a "Theory of Gospel Succession" adequately describes what the theory attempts to explain (Matthew used Mark, and Luke used Mark and Matthew), as well as my developing view of the overall growth/evolution of the gospel tradition in the Synoptics (Mark wrote the first gospel --> Matthew wrote to expand, edit and replace Mark --> Luke wrote to edit and replace both Mark and Matthew).

Any thoughts?

*Sim, David C. "Matthew's Use of Mark: Did Matthew Intend to Supplant or to Replace His Primary Source?" New Testament Studies 57.2; 176-192.

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16 March 2011

One Gospel to Supplant Them All... ?

Assuming the Farrer Theory -- Matthew used Mark, and Luke used both Mark and Matthew -- is it wrong to think of each successive evangelist attempting to supplant and supersede their predecessor(s)/source(s)? Mark wrote the first-ever gospel containing the euanggelion of Jesus the Messiah with Matthew later coming along and "improving" upon the foundation that was laid by this work. Matthew retains much of Mark's narrative and creatively expanded sections of it with teaching/sayings material, a birth narrative as well as clarifying parts of Mark which expect the reader to figure things out for themselves. Luke, then, comes along and decides that he is going to craft a narrative which will present the "correct order" of things; thus recasting the accounts of Matthew and Mark in an attempt to replace them with his conception of the gospel and interpretation of the life of Jesus. A good analogy one of my professors gave while discussing this idea with him is that of a new edition of a textbook. Each new edition is an attempt to clarify, improve and ultimately replace the previous one. Could Mark, then, be understood crudely as The Gospel, 1st Edition; Matthew as the 2nd Edition and Luke as the 3rd Edition of the Gospel genre?

The jury is still out for me whether or not John was familiar with any or all of the synoptics. But should he have been familiar with any of them, could the same intention be present in the Fourth Gospel (however, unlike the synoptics, John doesn't carry over much of his source material, so the analogy might not be appropriate in this context). But more on that topic in the weeks to come.

An interesting counter-point was raised while discussing this idea with a classmate of mine. He noted that we seem to have the conception of a four-gospel canon in the late 2nd c. which seems to militate against the idea of a secondary and tertiary gospel replacing their predecessor(s)/source(s). Although this is true, this need not reflect the actual intentions of the evangelists themselves. Perhaps Matthew's purpose was to improve upon, and ultimately replace, Mark's gospel account for his community/church. The same could go for Luke. Whether or not they succeeded, we will never know. But should this have been the case, my bet is that they were indeed successful within their own communities. However, in the end, their accounts spread beyond their respective communities and began circulating amongst other groups of Christians who most likely would have been unaware of any of these intentions by the authors. Therefore, you do not see whole sail disappearance of any of the four canonical gospels -- although Mark seems to have been copied less than the other two in antiquity.

Of course, these are just some nascent musings. But ones which I intend to follow up on in due course.

13 March 2011

Thoughts on the Appeal and Momentum of "Q"

In preparation for my upcoming presentation on "Compositional Conventions and the Synoptic Problem" in my Monday seminar, I re-read N.T. Wright's foreword in Drs Goodacre and Perrin's edited volume entitled, Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique, of which I share the following excerpt discussing "agendas" behind Q scholarship -- particularly in North America:

[In North America], the myth (visible in dozens of books, films, television programmes and so on) runs like this. Jesus was quite different from how the canonical gospels portray him; there were earlier 'gospels', including 'Q' and Thomas and quite possibly many other works now known in later or fragmentary form; the canonical gospels suppressed some of this material and significantly altered the thrust of what they retained, perhaps in the interests of a more comfortable and easygoing Christianity; when we examine these earlier works it appears that mainstream Christianity, from the writing of the gospels onwards, was based on a mistake, a mistake about who Jesus was, what he intended to do and to teach, and what had happened to him in the end. This myth has become enormously popular for all kinds of interesting reasons... [and] it is on the powerful running tide of this myth that the present wave of enthusiasm for 'Q', particularly but not exclusively in North America, has been carried along.
While I find myself in agreement with most of what Wright says here, there are a few things that I find to be more of a reflection of the Jesus Seminar than of North American scholarship as a whole, particularly the statement about Thomas being an example of an "earlier gospel." To my knowledge, and I could be completely wrong on this, fewer scholars argue for such an early dating for Thomas (at least one that pre-dates the Canonical Gospels). Instead, I think Thomas to be a later work -- early to mid second c. CE -- drawing upon the traditions found in the Canonical Gospels. What strikes me is when I continually come across statements claiming that the existence of Thomas corroborates the existence of Q. But if, from my point of view, Thomas is an epitome of sorts -- a composite "gospel" made up of sayings plucked from the canonical gospel traditions and blended with some intentionally ambiguous and mysterious sayings of a more or less Gnostic flavor -- how does this translate as an analogy for Q?

So, if one accepts the argument that Thomas is dependent upon earlier gospels for some of its sayings material, what does that say about Q? According to Q-Theorists, Q represents an independent tradition of sayings material that the authors of Matthew and Luke both drew from independently to produce their narratives. This is not at all what Thomas appears to be. Could Q simply be a modern Thomas? a 'gospel' that is created from culling the so-called "Double Tradition" (sayings found in common in both Matthew and Luke's gospels) together into a "new Gospel"? I think I am leaning more towards answering in the affirmative on this question.

27 February 2011

Crossan and his "Blasphemous" Portrait of Jesus

An article was released today on about John Dominic Crossan and discusses his life, his scholarship and the different reactions it has received over the years. My friend and fellow MA candidate, Amy Laurent sent me the link this morning via Facebook and wanted to know my thoughts about it. Interestingly enough, I had just popped online after reading the Appendix in Raymond E. Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament containing an overview of the history of Historical Jesus research. The confluence of this mornings reading and the CNN article is too good to be ignored.

In 1985 he joined biblical scholar Robert Funk to launch the controversial Westar Institute (more commonly known by the name, The Jesus Seminar). While the idea is noble – to expose the public to the academic issues and debates surrounding the Christian Bible and the Historical Jesus – it has become, in my opinion, more of representative of a particular approach the the NT and the Historical Jesus. For instance, it is generally concluded (emphasis on generally) that Q (a source for the sayings – some 200 or so verses – that are shared only by Matt and Luke) existed (I do not think it did), and that other “apocryphal” sources, such as the Coptic Gospel of Thomas and the passion narrative of the Gospel of Peter, pre-date our four canonical gospels (again, I disagree; I think both are drawing upon the canonical gospels and are second c. documents).

Crossan is a quintessential media don, in the similar sense that Dr Bart Ehrman of UNC-CH is. He has been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, his books are always well-stocked in your local Barnes and Noble and you cannot watch a TV documentary on the NT or Jesus without Crossan making an appearance. One thing you cannot fault Crossan on is his ability to get out there and engage in dialogue with the wider public – something that many academics could learn from. However, there are some downsides to this. Oftentimes the media will run something that is controversial and sensationalistic, and religion is one of the things that get sucked into this black hole. For example, the fact that Crossan’s magnum opus, “ “The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times a couple of days prior to Christmas. This, of course, probably led to some of the greatest exposure for the book, however, I’m sure that it also won him a few enemies interpreting it as participating in the “annual war on Christmas”.

Of course there has been opposition. Many find that his conclusions challenge traditional dogma and faith. Indeed they do. But it is not an intention to destroy the faith of Christians that Crossan is seeking, but rather the fostering of critical reflection, a faith with “brains and heart” as he is quoted. However, there is an interesting piece to the opposition that is repeatedly forgotten in the dialogue, which Brown in his Introduction is keen to point out: other critical scholars of the NT. While I have alluded to some of the disagreements above, one important one I have saved for this point is the role of eschatology in Jesus’ mission. Scholars such as Crossan and Marcus Borg argue for a Jesus that was a non-violent, social revolutionary or was an itinerant Cynic teacher. These are by far, from what I understand, to be seen as minority views on the Historical Jesus. For me, their re-construction of the Jesus of history lacks much in the department of eschatology and apocalypticism. Ben Witherington III, who is mentioned briefly in the article, thinks that Crossan’s Jesus “allows people to sidestep questions like: Did he come to save the world? Is he the son of God?” But to Witherington’s critique I must make an objection: There is a difference between studying Religion and Theology. Witherington seems to be blurring the line here, at least from what I can tell. Such questions are not appropriate in the realm of historical-critical study. Instead, more apt would be questions such as: Did Jesus think he came to save the world? Did Jesus believe he was the son of God? Crossan does not write books on theology, but rather attempts to present a historical approach to Jesus (no matter what one makes of his methods or conclusions).

In the end, I owe much to Crossan and his efforts to get his message out to the general public. My first taste of Jesus Scholarship came through his books and others who found his ideals both appealing and palatable. I have had the pleasure to meet Crossan on a number of occasions, as he occasionally gives public lectures at the University of Central Florida where I took my undergraduate degrees. Needless to say, I was immediately struck by the Jesus that he painted, as it radically upset my more conservative and naïve conceptions of God, Jesus and the Bible. In the end, I found myself thirsting for more. And while I no longer find myself in agreement with him on a number of important issues, he is one of those who led me to continue my pursuit of history and the study of religion, and for that I am grateful. Thank you, Dr Crossan.

And thank you, Amy, for bringing this article to my attention.

p.s. – I cannot conceal my envy of Crossan's five years of Latin and Greek by age 16. If only I were so lucky.

09 February 2011

Just What Kind of Authors Where the Gospel Writers?

Some recent thoughts:

To what extent do we allow the Evangelists to be “authors”, creatively constructing narratives in their own individual ways to reflect their own theological and social environment and agendas? For surely they were, to an extent, creative geniuses, as none of the first three gospels are direct copies of the other, but rather individualized/customized and, perhaps, personalized accounts of the message and mission of Jesus. But where do we draw the line? When do we know we are going too far in giving the gospel writers, especially Matthew and Luke, free license to freely create or alter sayings material that some consider to be borrowed from external sources and tradition? What about the other direction. To what extent were the Gospel writers compliers, epitomizers, collectors and copyists?

Our opinions on solutions to the Synoptic Problem are directly impacted by which side we fall on. Is there a middle ground, a balance we can find between pure artistic authorship and mere creative copying? Can we even answer these questions? Is positing an answer to any of these issues too much a step into the “cloud of unknowing” that is often pure conjecture? Are there other categories and methods of authorship in the ancient world that are not being discussed in how authors researched and composed their materials?

21 January 2011

Best way to spend a summer:

For my fellow Duke MAs who might be considering a course over the summer to acquire or ameliorate your language skills, I would like to point out some programs that are offered to us here.

15 January 2011

Newest Student Group on Campus

The day has finally arrived. After three months of waiting around in the shadows, Duke's Graduate & Professional Student Council (GPSC - pronounced "gypsy") announced the approval of a new student group for us religion geeks: The Society for the Study of Religion at Duke (SASRD). This group is particularly designed for the MA student of the Department of Religion to increase interaction between the first and second year MAs as well as provide logistical and -- hopefully -- some financial support for those of us who must pay out of pocket for tuition and still have to find ways to travel and participate in annual regional and national academic conferences. Future plans of the group are to host an end of term colloquium where certain students can present rough draft summaries of their term papers for feedback and to share their learning with fellow MAs, as well as hosting an informal Q&A with the next year's incoming students to help organize travel plans for the joint AAR and SBL conference in San Francisco in the fall. Any comments or suggestions for the group and its role in serving the students, the department and the university are welcome and appreciated.

12 January 2011

Inaugural Post

Well, here I am. I've been thinking of starting up one of these blogs and I seem to have finally caught the fever. For some six months or so I have been visiting and reading numerous "biblioblogs" -- as the blogs of biblical scholars and students are often called -- and felt that I should try my hand at it at the start of this new year.

I am not a professional scholar, only a graduate student who dreams of one day entering the guild as an expert on the NT. I intend this endeavor to serve three purposes: One, to connect with other scholars and students who share my enthusiasm for the study of the biblical texts and their history. Two, to expose myself to the wide range of voices and opinions that are out there in the blogosphere. And three, to share my journey and experiences with friends who are interested in what goes on behind the walls of academia. I hope this is an enjoyable and profitable experience for myself as well as for those who are kind enough to drop by and take the time to read the stuff I write. All questions or comments are welcome and appreciated. If you want, you can zap me an email at

Some additional information that might be pertinent for those who do not know who I am. I am a first year MA student in the Department of Religion at Duke University studying the NT and Christian Origins. This term I am taking courses on the Synoptic Gospels (with a strong focus on the Synoptic Problem) taught by Mark Goodacre, Attic Greek II taught by Peter Burian -- both at Duke -- as well as Methods and Problems in the Study of the NT with Bart Ehrman at UNC-CH. It looks to be a busy, but very exciting semester. I greet it with open arms and an open mind.