Archive for July, 2009


RBL Highlights: 7/30/09

Highlights from the most recent edition of the Review of Biblical Literature:

Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins
King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature
Reviewed by Stephen Reed

Stacy Davis
This Strange Story: Jewish and Christian Interpretation of the Curse of Canaan from Antiquity to 1865
Reviewed by David M. Whitford

Michael B. Dick
Reading the Old Testament: An Inductive Introduction
Reviewed by George C. Heider

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, eds.
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
Reviewed by Yael Shemesh

Brad E. Kelle and Frank Ritchel Ames, eds.
Writing and Reading War: Rhetoric, Gender, and Ethics in Biblical and Modern Contexts
Reviewed by Pierre Johan Jordaan

Seyoon Kim
Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke
Reviewed by Warren Carter

Tat-siong Benny Liew
What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics? Reading the New Testament
Reviewed by Jae Won Lee

Evan Powell
The Myth of the Lost Gospel
Reviewed by Sarah E. Rollens

Moses Taiwo
Paul’s Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 10:29b-30
Reviewed by Mark A. Jennings

James W. Thompson
Reviewed by Alan C. Mitchell

Jason A. Whitlark
Enabling Fidelity to God: Perseverance in Hebrews in Light of Reciprocity Systems in the Ancient Mediterranean World
Reviewed by Ryan D. Chivington


Biblio-Bites (Vol. 1)

The core of the canonical process is the establishment of an authoritative inspirational and instructional corpus and the consequential reclassification of excluded writings to a secondary status at best, and utter rejection at worst.  Such activities are invariably and inextricably related to issues of content; indeed, without content there is nothing to canonize.  If it is true that the ecclesiastical leaders, synods, and councils of the formative patristic period did not or could not establish definitive editions of the writings which they approved, neither did they endorse mere titles apart from their included subject matter.  Thus any action which potentially impinges upon the authority of a given biblical reading may be said to possess some canonical consequences.  The placement of one or more endings of Mark within brackets or marginal notes, for instance, visually and mentally differentiates these words from those which are not so presented.  It is extremely unlikely that the reader, when presented with these readily discernible indications of varying status, would subsequently determine that the alternatively presented options were just as valuable—or, we might say, just as canonical—as the other sections.

As the study of the interplay between canon and textual criticism remains in its infancy, its ultimate ends remain unknown.  Already, however, the innovative efforts of Parker, Epp, Comfort, and others have called attention to the subject and have revealed that it is possible to present and study a multiplicity of readings not only as competitors to be ranked and treated accordingly but as telling remnants of religious communities which used, preserved, and transmitted them.  Moreover, all extant readings belong to the evolution of the most significant book in the history of Western civilization and have something to offer as such.  It is an especially exciting time for those interested in the developing nature of the Christian scriptures.  Like the Short Ending of Mark, what happens next has not yet been revealed.

From “The end?  A canonical exploration of the conclusion(s) of the Gospel of Mark” (2009)


The Ossuary of James: The Box That Just Won’t Go Away

The ongoing trial of Oded Golan, accused of forging artifacts such as the “Jehoash Inscription” and the ossuary of James the brother of Jesus, has provoked yet another editorial from Hershel Shanks.  It seems that a significant portion of the case against Golan rests with the testimony of anthropologist Joe Zias, who reportedly saw the ossuary in Jerusalem in the 1990s—and noted that its inscription did not contain the words “brother of Jesus” at that time.  Shanks, who co-authored a book on the controversial artifact shortly after its appearance in 2002 and has vociferously defended its authenticity, suggests that Zias’ dubious allegations have been revived in order to rescue a flagging case:

So far as I am aware, the only basis for this accusation [of forgery] is Joe Zias’s statement of having seen the ossuary in an antiquities shop in the 1990s without the last two words. So far as I am aware, however, Zias has never repeated his stunning accusation—until now.

Something else has become evident recently: The case against the ossuary inscription seems to be falling apart. At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the presiding judge (there are no juries in Israel) suggested to the prosecution that it consider dropping the case. “Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest,” said the judge to the prosecution, according to Matthew Kalman, the only journalist who regularly covers the trial. “Where is the definitive proof that the accused faked the ossuary? You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously,” the judge admonished.

The judge’s remarks have been widely disseminated.

Subsequently, Kalman interviewed Zias on camera. As if to bolster the prosecution’s case Zias repeated his accusation, apparently for the first time in five years:

“The first part of the inscription is authentic,” Zias said. “Somebody took an object worth perhaps, maybe $200, added a couple of words and the price now goes up to $2 million. I remember that I had seen his name [? blurred] in an antiquities shop in the 1990s, so it couldn’t have been in the hands of Golan [then].”

Following the initial appearance of these charges in 2004, Shanks responded with a pointed article entitled “Lying Scholars?” (the full text of which is apparently available here).  Frankly, I would be surprised if very many people are interested in the debates surrounding this tricky little box.  Given my strong academic interest in the family of Jesus, I avidly followed the initial reports of the ossuary’s discovery.  I soon realized, however, that it contributes very little to the historical record regardless of its authenticity.  (For a list of four firm yet vague contributions, see an earlier post here.)  As its continued presence in the public sphere cannot be attributed to its significance as an archaeological artifact, it is increasingly evident that the majority of Shanks’ vitriolic attacks and the equally contentious responses of his opponents are driven by personal concerns rather than objective scholarship.  No one likes to admit that they’re wrong!


Thank You, Sibboleth

Daniel Kirk, longtime author of Sibboleth, has announced his retirement from blogging.

He will be missed.


McGrath on Manuscripts

On Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath has presented a compelling appeal for increased access to manuscripts via digital technology. I couldn’t agree more; digital images distributed via the internet would allow libraries to retain control of their priceless holdings while simultaneously providing biblical scholars with unprecedented opportunities to incorporate manuscript studies into their work. The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and more recently the heralded Codex Sinaiticus Project, have served as the vanguard for this charge. Hopefully other libraries and organizations will soon follow suit and make all of the most significant early witnesses to the biblical text readily available.


Secret Gospel of Mark on, a blog and archive developed by Andrew Bernhard, is quickly amassing an excellent collection of images, online resources, and offline bibliography dedicated to the apocryphal gospels.  This week saw the addition of material dedicated to the Secret Gospel of Mark (selected bibliography and other links, which may be found here), as well as a nice two-part sketch of its initial publication and the questions surrounding its current location (which may be found here and here).  The bibliography is a little thin—Scott Brown, one of the most vigorous defenders of the authenticity of Secret Mark in recent years, is conspicuously absent—but I suspect that this will be rectified as the site continues to develop.

I look forward to further additions, for Secret Mark and the plethora of other early Christian gospels.


ICC Commentaries Available Online

A number of folks (e.g., John Anderson, Rob Kashow, Jim West) have noted that the older volumes of the widely acclaimed International Critical Commentary series are available for viewing and download here.  Many of these commentaries have retained significant exegetical value despite their venerable age: R. H. Charles’ two-volume study of the Book of Revelation remains one of the richest and most thorough treatments of this difficult text.  If you’ve got some space on your hard drive or backup drive, and are interested in immersing yourself in a sea of historical, linguistic, and theological insights, do yourself a favor and download these volumes right away.  You’ll be glad you did.

July 2009
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