Daily Archives: 13 Nov 2012

On the Historical Jesus: An Observation

The Jesus of Bultmann is closer to the Jesus of the New Testament than the Jesus of NT Wright, and that’s a fact.

[NB- the image of Bultmann is from this delightful and informative essay at Chrismon (a very, very fine publication which I’m sure you’re familiar with and don’t need me to tell you about).  Also in the essay, this absolute gem- which features a delightfully flaming Jan Hus and Luther with his hand in the water…].  I love the flaming Hus.  I just love it!

P. Kyle McCarter’s Letter In Support of Chris Rollston

From his personal web-page

Public Letter re: Chris Rollston


Emmanuel Christian Seminary wants to fire Chris Rollston.  This is not news.  It’s already known to readers of this list and other public and semi-public forums.  Still, it seems to me to be a matter of such gravity, and now urgency, that I should call attention to it yet again.  My hope is that colleagues who share my concern will find time to send messages expressing their points of view to relevant addresses at Emmanuel — but more on that below.  First let me describe the situation more precisely and then explain why it’s especially important to me.

To be precise, administrators and others at Emmanuel Christian Seminary have been working hard since at least September to sever the contractual relationship between their institution and Christopher A. Rollston, The Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies.  They want to revoke his tenure, and remove the protections it gives to his academic freedom; they want to terminate his teaching privileges, and prevent him from sharing his knowledge and ideas with Emmanuel students; and they want to discontinue his salary, and require him to find another way to support his family.  The reasons these members of the Emmanuel leadership have decided to take such drastic action are complex.  I think I understand most or all of the issues,  but I’m not directly involved, my information is second hand, and I don’t think it would be useful or fair to Emmanuel or to Chris for me to give a detailed account of my understanding of the things that have been said and done.  What is clear, though, is that the Emmanuel officials who want Chris Rollston ousted have serious religious objections to the things he says about the Bible and to the way he teaches it.

Before commenting further on the last point, let me be candid about my own interest in this case.  I place the highest possible value on intellectual freedom, and I hope I would respond strongly to any situation where I thought I saw it being threatened or abused.  Here, though, I also have a clear personal interest and no wish to conceal it.  First, I consider Chris a close friend, and I hope he thinks of me the same way.  Second, I hold him in high esteem as a colleague who is doing increasingly important work in scholarly areas of special interest to me.  Surpassing even these things in influencing my perspective on Chris’s current predicament, though, is the fact that he was my student, my Doktorsohn.  These days, in light of what he has achieved as a scholar, I feel very good about how well I taught him Hebrew paleography, but I worry that I fell short of my responsibility to counsel him about how small-minded and mean-spirited the Academy can be at its worst.  I’m saddened and outraged by what I see happening at Emmanuel, and when I think of the ordeal Chris is going through, I’m agonized and enraged.  So I can’t represent myself as only a principled senior academic who is affronted when he sees an institution misbehaving — with me this is much more personal than that.

Now, returning to the earlier point, I’ve suggested that Emmanuel officials object to Chris’s views on the Bible.  To be more clear, Chris’s thinking seems to be regarded as too progressive for some who are in decision-making positions at Emmanuel.  This seems strange to me.  The foundations of Chris’s biblical training were acquired at Emmanuel itself (then called Emmanuel School of Religion) when he was a master’s student there working under fine Old Testament scholars like Robert Evans (now at General Theological Seminary in New York).  After receiving his M.A.R. from Emmanuel, Chris came to Johns Hopkins as a Near Eastern Studies doctoral student.  We found him already well prepared in historical-critical scholarship and entirely comfortable with its application to the Hebrew Bible.  Perhaps some will suspect that while Chris was doing his Ph.D. work we introduced ideas into his thinking that would be objectionable to Emmanuel, but that suspicion seems contradicted by the fact that as soon as Chris finished his work with us, Emmanuel hired him as a member of its Bible faculty.  That was more than a decade ago, and Chris’s biblical scholarship must have been deemed acceptable to Emmanuel when they hired him then.  In fact, it seems safe to say that it was still fully acceptable at least as recently as the spring of 2006, because that was when Emmanuel promoted Chris to the rank of Professor and awarded him tenure.  
In the years since Chris’s promotion and tenure his academic reputation has burgeoned nationally and internationally, most especially in the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy, in which his voice is rapidly becoming one of the most respected in the world.  This seems to me especially relevant to the concerns of Emmanuel, since it indicates that a principal part of Chris’s work has to do with examining, interpreting and evaluating ancient inscriptions, perhaps especially ancient Hebrew inscriptions.  To put it somewhat melodramatically, Chris is a scholar who brings to life the voices of the people of the biblical world, and his findings are an embarrassment to any scholar or layperson who might express skepticism about the historical reality of the ancient community.  So if someone told me that Chris had become a hero of religious conservatives, I might not have been surprised, but to hear the opposite, that conservatives find his work abhorrent, is astonishing.  It makes me wonder if there is some great misunderstanding hidden in all the ugliness that has erupted at Emmanuel.

I fear, though, that there is no misunderstanding, and that there are those at Emmanuel who have both the power and the will to persist in their persecution of Chris Rollston.  If this is true, then Chris has no choice but to take the steps necessary to protect himself from charges and action that he believes to be incorrect, unjust and improper.  What can the rest of us do?  First, I think, we can be vigilant about the process of Chris’s case to be sure that it’s conducted according to the long and widely accepted academic principles that apply to cases of proposed dismissal for cause.  For example, if it is true, as we have all heard, that the catalyst for these events was the disapproval by some members of the Emmanuel community of a Huffington Post blog entry posted by Chris last August, we must understand (and if necessary remind Emmanuel) that this is a matter that cannot be taken into consideration in the deliberation of Chris’s case unless Emmanuel chooses to disregard the generally accepted recommendations and guidelines of such groups as the American Association of University Professors, in which such matters are explicitly excluded from dismissal for cause cases.  In other words, we must keep in sight the long-held opinion of AAUP and others that stipulates that Chris’s contract with Emmanuel cannot deny him rights possessed by every other American citizen.  This is only one example, but I think it illustrates the need for those of us who are Chris’s friends and colleagues (likely including his scholarly adversaries who nevertheless are concerned about the infringement of academic freedom) to pay attention to the events as they transpire and collectively insist on a fair process.  In this regard it’s reassuring to know that an officer of AAUP has already written a letter of concern to Emmanuel’s president expressing the hope that all of AAUP’s widely accepted procedural standards will be followed in Chris Rollston’s case.  Emmanuel Christian Seminary does have a written policy on academic freedom of its own, and it uses language adopted directly from AAUP documents, so that I think there’s reason to hope that AAUP’s concern will not be quickly set aside.  I also find it encouraging to know that Emmanuel Christian Seminary is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), and I expect that these two bodies will take an active interest in Chris’s case in order to satisfy themselves that their accreditation requirements and guidelines that apply issues with which the case is concerned are being conscientiously followed.

I’ve written this public letter because I’ve watched the treatment of Chris Rollston by Emmanuel Christian Seminary closely, and what I’ve seen so far has me deeply troubled both professionally and personally, as I’ve explained.  My sense is that events are now beginning to move rapidly, so that declarations of concern at this point will be very timely.  I’ve expressed the hope that we will be vigilant and attentive to the process, and I believe that it might help if we directly notify the institution of our general concern and our intention to play a watchdog role.  We can do this by contacting the chief academic officers of the Seminary.  The President is Michael Sweeney (msweeney@ecs.edu) and the Academic Dean is Jack Holland (jholland@ecs.edu).  Even brief messages to President Sweeney and Dean Holland will demonstrate the sincerity of our interest.  Those of you (and there are many) who have knowledge of specific issues and events (things I’ve deliberately omitted from this letter for reasons already explained) may wish to address those things at some length, but (to repeat) short messages will help too.  Many of you will have already written, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t write again.  You might also consider writing to Emmanuel’s accrediting boards, mentioned above.  The representative at SACS is Steven Sheeley (ssheeley@sacscoc.org), and the representative at ATS is Tisa Lewis (lewis@ats.edu). Some of you, moreover, may have special knowledge that could be particularly useful.  If, for example, you have worked in any capacity with either of Emmanuel’s accrediting boards (SACS or ATS, see above), you may know a more direct way to call their attention to this issue — I feel confident they will want to investigate, but I don’t know if they are yet involved.  If by chance any of you knows one or more trustees of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, you might be able to play a particularly valuable role.  As I said above, considering the inevitably positivistic character of Chris’s epigraphic work, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t found support within even the conservative spectrum of Emmanuel’s constituencies, and I wonder if all the trustees have been told the whole story.

In sum, all of us who hold academic positions, whether in secular or religious or confessional institutions, have a stake in what’s happening in Johnson City, Tennessee.  Many of you don’t know Chris personally, but even some of you who don’t know him personally have already taken bold positions on his behalf, and you have and deserve the special respect of us all.  For those of us who do know Chris, who know the quality and integrity of his work, and who know the quality and integrity of the man, we can’t help but ask ourselves:  Is this a man whose job performance is such that he should be threatened with dismissal for cause?  This man?  Chris Rollston?  The notion is so absurd that it stops all thought processes, leaving only confusion.  How did things get to this point?

Respectfully yours,
P. Kyle McCarter
William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University

If The World is Warming, Then Why Has Antarctica Been Covered by More Ice Than Ever This Year?

So says NASA…
The massive apron of sea ice that encircles Antarctica at the end of each winter has been steadily expanding. From 1978 to 2010, Antarctic sea ice has grown on average each year by an area about equal to the size of Connecticut. In October 2012 Antarctic sea ice covered a record 7.5 million square miles, more than twice the land area of the contiguous U.S. The sea ice around Antarctica melts almost completely each summer and then grows rapidly each winter. Scientists think a change in atmospheric circulation could be contributing to the ice growth. The continent’s unsheltered coastline allows harsh winds to push the ice out into the ocean, and as these winds have strengthened in recent years sea ice has expanded. The visualization uses NASA satellite data to show how winter sea ice completely engulfs Antarctica.
That’s a bit inconvenient for the global warming alarmists, isn’t it?

Quote of the Day

How come we talk a lot about the sanctity of marriage but rarely mention the value of celibacy & its significance from earliest Christianity? — Melissa Fitzpatrick

Start Planning Now: The International Congress on Calvin Research

To attend the 2014 International Congress on Calvin Research, Zurich, 2014, August 24-29.

The International Congress on Calvin Research has been meeting regularly every four years since 1974. The group is essentially concerned with theological and historical research on Calvin, the beginnings of the Reformed Church and its theological traditions in the 16th century, as well as the history of its influence. The goal of the congress is, on the one hand, to provide a platform for a worldwide international scholarly discussion of the latest research in this area, and on the other hand, to further the next generation of scholars.

The last day of the Conference will be my 54th Birthday.  I think it will be perfect to celebrate it in Zurich.

‘I Don’t Give a hate me Jizz for Your Internet Assembled Philosophy’

It seems timely to post the Good Vicar’s confrontation with the ‘spiritual but not religious’ who are ‘having a look around’…

Another Dilettante Thinks Because He Studied ‘Philosophy’ He’s Qualified to Discuss Church History

These people really are nervy aren’t they, the sort who think that because they have a BA in philosophy it means that they’re qualified and competent to opine on a professional historian/scholar’s work.  Mr Potemra should stick with what he knows; i.e., political speech writing (a.k.a., lying).

Here’s your Dilly Mr Potemra:

Winner of the IACS Prize for Academic Excellence in Coptic Studies

Christian Askeland’s John’s Gospel: The Coptic Translations of its Greek Text. Congratulations, Christian!

This monograph explores the history of the Coptic tradition of John’s gospel, considering when these ancient Egyptian witnesses are profitable for determining the earliest readings of their Greek source text. The standard critical edition of the Greek New Testament cites the Coptic versions no fewer than 1,000 times in John’s gospel. For these citations, that edition references six dialectally distinct Coptic translations: the Achmimic, Bohairic, Lycopolitan (Subachmimic), Middle Egyptian Fayumic, Proto-Bohairic, and Sahidic versions. In addition to examining these, this project considers newly published texts from the Fayumic and Middle Egyptian traditions.

Everyone Attending SBL Will Get, For Free, This Fantastic Tattoo!

via Brian Kelley on G+

Because once you leave Chicago (if you survive the gangbangers) you really will have no ‘regerts’. [Tattooing provided by Joel Watts].

Video Book Recommendation

A Video On the Heidelberg Catechism

In English and German too!  (Don’t let the web page scare you off- though it’s on a German site, the video is still in English and German and students of German will enjoy the read through of parts of the Catechism).

Now That’s Odd…

How do they know how much they cost?

I Guess 13 Days Late is Better Than Never…

Women, always dragging their feet and showing up late…  even when they’re doing the Biblical Studies Carnival!  Proving the point, I suppose, that if women really did run the world even the trains in Switzerland would be late (an appalling thought if EVER there were one!).    😉

Enjoy it.  Or, in the spirit of the times, just go read it in a month or two or twenty nine.  Take your time.  There’s no rush…

Today With Zwingli: How God Teaches Us, By Example

Is it not a great and effective means of teaching humility, that the Son of God, otherwise like His Father, condescended to accept the weakness of men [Philippians, 2:6], that we might all give up pride and come to God?

That He was born poor in a manger, then brought up in the midst of hard labour, does not that teach contempt of riches, the gaining of one’s bread not by violence or usury but by the work of the hands? [Ephesians 4:28].

That He healed the sick everywhere, if they put their trust in Him, does that not teach that we should put all our trust in Him and help one another? [Galatians 6:10].  That He suffered for us the most disagraceful death, in order that He might save us from the power of death, the control of the devil and sin, did that not surpass all human kindness?

That one should perhaps die for a righteous man, as Paul writes [Romans 5:7], would be commendable, whereas He, who is righteous, suffered death for us sinners and unrighteous, does that not teach us not to depend upon our own righteousness, but alone upon His making us righteous, His saving, and His having mercy, though we are all sinners?

That He on the cross in the midst of all pain and suffering called to His heavenly Father on behalf of His murderers saying: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” does that not teach us to be without desire for revenge, without hatred, without demur? And very many other examples are heard daily from the Gospel.  –  Huldrych Zwingli

So, Why Exactly DID Christianity Split off From Judaism?

Lawrence Schiffman discusses the subject in an essay here.

The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion, and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.

And then the rest (from a publication of 1991 which is nevertheless still interesting).

What Is The Fiscal Cliff?

It’s the attempt of our perverse politicians to justify their existence in a cynical sort of ‘see, you need us here or things would go all apocalyptic up in this place’.  They evidently don’t realize that we’re smart enough to know that their stupidity and petty smallness is precisely what brought us to the precipice in the first place.

Frankly, I’m so sick to death of these elected officials that I’m willing to see the country plunge off the edge into the blackness if their bodies are the first ones over and the rest of us get to land on them and thus survive quite nicely.

Why, in the name of all that is holy, did people send these imbeciles back to Washington?  Why?  It makes no sense.  Away with Congress- we need a Parliamentary system.   We need to literally Re-Form the government and anyone presently in office needs to be forbidden to serve as anything more important than crossing guard.

They (politicians) are the cause of every evil in this Country.

Women, Angels, Headcoverings, and Paul

Loren Stuckenbruck’s 2001 essay titled Why Should Women Cover Their Heads Because of the Angels? is available at his Academia.edu page.  If the subject is the one which exercises you- give it a read.

Exeter’s Liberal Arts Program

They’ve produced a video and Francesca S. is the host.  It’s pretty nicely done and you’ll want to watch it.