Daily Archives: 24 May 2019

#ICYMI – Mark Leuchter Reviews Deuteronomy

Several weeks ago, Jim West sent me a copy of his commentary on Deuteronomy, part of his series entitled “For the Person in the Pew“. Dr. West is well known among biblical scholars and those interested in the role of the Bible in modern intellectual history and culture, and his blog “Zwinglius Redivivus” is among the most widely read of those dealing with the history, reception, and PER-ception of the biblical materials. It was thus with great excitement that I set about reading his commentary on a book that has been so central to my own research as an historian and, I should add, to my own self-understanding as a Jew and my place in the long history of Judaism.

West’s commentary is not meant to be a “Critical Commentary” insofar as that genre of commentary is primarily geared for the critical, academic study of biblical texts. Rather, as the title of the series implies, his commentary is meant for someone who encounters the text in a devotional setting. The orientation of the work is primarily for Christian audiences, but West takes the ancient Jewish dimensions of the text seriously. He also gives the reader great intellectual credit, and assumes that he or she will approach the biblical text carefully…including aspects of the text in its ancient context.

For West, the ancient meaning, effects and understandings of the text among its original audiences have lasting importance for contemporary audiences. One’s obligation to the text as a defining feature of identity — both as an individual person of faith and as a member of a larger and dynamic community — is intimately connected to the past, the intricacies of ancient cultures, their suppositions and conceptual horizons.

Deuteronomy is a particular important text in this regard, for many scholars over the last several decades have drawn attention to its complex relationship to its own past. Deuteronomy negotiates the history of Israel’s covenantal traditions, countenancing different ideas but clearing the way for definitive and comprehensive attitudes that could endure and bind communities together. West’s careful explication of Deuteronomy’s verses show a deep awareness of this, and his commentary regularly delves into linguistic, geographical, and ritual details that, for many contemporary readers, remain hidden in the text’s sometimes hermetic rhetoric.

West’s discussion of Deuteronomy is ultimately rooted in an ethical commitment not only to the contents of the text but to the larger ideological cultures it helped create. It engages theological matters clearly and boldly, but also does not hesitate to draw attention to the complicated nature of those matters and the similarly complicated task of reconciling them with evolving contemporary needs. West also does a great service to his reader by making clear (through his discussions of critical details) that a host of other issues relating to ancient Israel and the communities who preserved this material in antiquity await those given to indulging their curiosities beyond the pew. As a Jew with great regard for the role that religious scripture plays in defining various communities of faith and setting them in conversation with each other, West’s commentary proved to be a rewarding and stimulating read, and bodes well for the rest of the volumes in his series as well. – Mark Leuchter, Temple University

#ICYMI – Thomas Bolin: A Guest Post, Reviewing ‘Ezra and Nehemiah: For the Person in the Pew’

Originally posted August, 2014-
the-person-the-pew-commentary-series

Jim West’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, aimed at “the person in the pew,” faces a rather difficult task. By that I don’t mean the perennial challenge of trying to make biblical texts relevant to modern believers, although that is certainly part of the challenge. West’s commentary is trying to make one of the less well-known and, frankly, less exciting of the biblical books applicable to readers, and it does a fine job at it.

Moving briskly through the text, West pauses to expound essential perplexities and occasionally to provide an informative excursus, e.g., on grieving in the Old Testament, or the origins of the Samaritans. Rather than bogging down the text, these excurses come at appropriate intervals, anticipate a reader’s questions, and offer a wealth of helpful information useful beyond the reading of Ezra-Nehemiah. As far as his exposition of the text, West does a fine job of “cultural equivalence” translation of principles at work in Ezra-Nehemiah.

These are hard books of the Bible: hard to work through, a story of hard times for the returning exiles, and ultimately, books with very hard lessons for those would follow the God of Israel. With the verve and occasional sting that regular readers of his blog will recognize, West concisely points out to that person in the pew just exactly how challenging the Bible remains to modern believers, and that even something as seemingly unrelated to the 21st century as 2500 year-old genealogies and group wall-building activities have something to say to those who will listen.

Thomas M. Bolin ن, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
St. Norbert College
Hebrew Bible Book Editor Marginalia Review of Books

Never Forget

The intolerant left uses the same tactics of demonizing and marginalizing to silence adversaries as the neo-nazi right.  If you want to see nastiness at work, you needn’t look any farther than those who screech most loudly about toleration and acceptance, because the only things they mean by that are toleration of their perspective and acceptance of their domination.

There are no nastier, smarmier, lobbing from the darkness and under cover of pseudo-scholarship souls than the left’s ‘Progressives.’

The Texan Who Wants Texans to Continue to Suffer

A bipartisan group of Texas members of Congress will have to wait until early next month to see passage on a long-sought measure that will release more than $4 billion dollars in aid to parts of Texas that bear the brunt of hurricanes.

Legislation that swiftly passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon came to an abrupt halt on the U.S. House side at the hand of a Texan — U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican.

The bill allocated over $19 billion in disaster funding for nine states and two territories. But most Texans in Congress were focused on the bill’s provision that created a 90-day deadline for the Office of Management and Budget to release billions in grant funds to Texas that Congress approved more than a year ago after Hurricane Harvey.

The disaster funding bill had languished in both chambers. But then, on Thursday, congressional leaders and President Donald Trump were able to break the logjam, and the bill swiftly passed the Senate, 85-8. The chamber’s two Texans — Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — voted for it.

By that point, most of the U.S. House was headed home for the Memorial Day recess. Members are not expected to return until June 3. The hope, among backers of the bill, was that the House would pass the bill with a voice vote – a measure that would only work if there were no objections within the chamber.

Some Texas sources had anticipated an objection to the move, but that it turned out to be a fellow Texan shocked a number of them Friday morning.

Roy’s core objection was procedural: He didn’t like the notion of moving the bill forward after the House had left town, with little time to process legislation of that scale, according to a statement he released Friday. He further blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not holding members in Washington to vote on the bill.

He can blame anyone he wants to, but he is the one who is hurting millions of people.  I hope his constituents realize that.

Quote of the Day

Answer a fool in the terms of his folly for fear he imagine himself wise. (Prov. 26:5)

Why Is Cargill Ignoring the Gender Fluid?

Cargill, in his editorial for an upcoming edition of BAR, is very concerned that the voices of women be included in his publication.  So why is Cargill ignoring the gender fluid? Have they no voice in BAR? Or is BAR only willing to hear those who define themselves as falling into the outdated notion of male/ female? Whilst touting his desire to involve more women, why is he silent concerning those who reject his binary definitions? Or is BAR’s, and Cargill’s ‘progressive’ viewpoint limited to binary categories only?

Signs of the Times

Via the facebook-

A Classic From the Vault: Helmut Koester on Hector Avalos

This nifty piece ran a few years back and since it has been a slow news day I thought I would do what others have done and post a ‘classic’. And this one is.  That’s for sure.

BAR Most Loved and Most Reviled

koesterPerhaps I should not be surprised that a scholar who has advocated a Biblical nihilism and has recommended that Biblical studies should be “tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world” would launch an attack on the discipline of Biblical archaeology and on a magazine that is Biblical archaeology’s most important outlet.

In the May/June “First Person” column by Professor Hector Avalos, as well as his book from which this column is taken, Professor Avalos criticizes not only the policies of *BAR* and its editor, he also questions the legitimate existence of the entire complex of Jewish and Christian religion in the United States, its Biblical base and its relationship to the academic discipline of Biblical studies, to wit, the Society of Biblical Literature—a formidable task indeed! What would be required for such an endeavor, however, is knowledge of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general, as well as of the details of controversial issues in present debates. Unfortunately, Professor Avalos reveals a deep ignorance in both respects.

The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible. The Bible is their book of law and morality, their source of inspiration and worship, of consolation in sorrow and of festive celebration. The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions. This is not only preposterous, but it reveals a complete lack of understanding of what Professor Avalos calls “the modern world.” His “modern world” is a fiction in his mind that has no relationship to reality.

As for *BAR *, Professor Avalos off-handedly characterizes it as a journal that “has served Biblical education well in some cases and badly in others” creates the impression that about half of its content belongs to the latter category. He then proceeds to draw a caricature of some of its articles as if this were the kind of thing to which *BAR* was mostly committed. This is far from the truth.

Most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial—scholars disagree on interpretations of archaeological as well as literary materials—but that is the normal business of scholarship. Does Professor Avalos, claiming to be a scholar, not know that?

In fact the more controversial articles and opinions have served a very important purpose. The albeit-illegal publication of unpublished material from the Dead Sea Scrolls broke a deadlock that many had unsuccessfully tried to do for many years.

It was during the year of my presidency of the Society of Biblical Literature that the society accepted a free-access policy, which had successfully been applied in the process of the publication of the Nag Hammadi Codices (first: publication of a facsimile; second: publication of a preliminary translation; third: critical editions of all documents). But we were never been able to convince scholars involved in the publication of the scrolls to follow the same procedure. Thanks to *BAR*’s bold move to publish some unpublished texts, the deadlock was finally broken. Professor Avalos recognizes this; but is this part of *BAR*’s scandalous behavior?

Then there is the accusation that *BAR* is biased because it calls Professor Frank Cross a friend of Israel and the late Professor John Strugnell an anti-Semite, both Harvard colleagues of mine. This is not bias; it is a statement of a fact. I have known for decades that John Strugnell believed in Christian supersessionism.

Moreover, *BAR *’s seemingly offensive comments about Elisha Qimron are justified in many ways.  That Hershel Shanks has been found guilty by an Israeli court of violating Qimron’s copyright in the translation does not make him a criminal but rather a saint—if there is something like that in Judaism! Qimron has never revealed that the translation of the controversial Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT  was primarily the work of John Strugnell, who never got due recognition for his work.

Professor Avalos also cites as  *BAR *’s “competitive nature” Hershel Shanks’s criticism of the National Geographic’s publication of the Gospel of Judas.  On the contrary, he should have congratulated *BAR* for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal. The scholar entrusted with the translation, Marvin Meyer, violated the free-access statement of the scholarly society [the Society of Biblical Literature], of which he is a member. To his detriment, numerous major mistakes in his translation have now been discovered.

This could have been avoided if Marvin Meyer or whoever would be entrusted with its publication had allowed fellow scholars in the field of Coptic studies to discuss this Coptic text before the appearance of the first English translation. What Hershel Shanks wrote, calling attention to the scandal of National Geographic’s publication of this text, was exactly right and has been confirmed by subsequent scholarly investigations.

I shall refrain from setting the record straight on other examples of Professor Avalos’s caricature of *BAR *. More important is a consideration of the fundamental and important role that *BAR * has been playing in the concert of Bible and archaeology. There was once another popular journal, /Biblical Archaeologist/, founded by my former Harvard colleague and prominent archaeologist G. Ernest Wright. In its first years, *BAR * competed with this journal. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), under whose auspices it was published, however, decided to change the name of this publication to /Near Eastern Archaeologist/, since it seemed to the leaders of this society that the name “Biblical” was odious (Professor Avalos evidently agrees with that judgment!). This was done by ASOR after the vast majority of the subscribers rejected such a change of the title. The result was that subscribers interested in the Bible (including me) discontinued their subscription. This makes *BAR * and Hershel Shanks’s Biblical Archaeology Society the only player in the field. Courageously this magazine alone holds up the torch of a scholarly outlet in this important area, although the very name “Biblical” combined with the world of a scholarly discipline—including archaeology—seems to be deplorable for Professor Avalos as well as the leaders of ASOR, who have largely abandoned their responsibility of a publication with an appeal to the general public in this field of study.

It is exactly here that Professor Avalos’s lack of understanding of the realities of Biblical scholarship is most evident. He apparently is unable to see this reality: The relationship of American religious life, Bible and scholarship is a vital and undeniable factor in our society—especially in the United States—however controversial.

Helmut Koester
Former SBL President
Professor Emeritus
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Evil Hides

Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (Jn. 3:19-20)

That’s why evil people prefer the cover of darkness and secrecy.

The Departed

If anybody does not remain in the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he does not have God with him: only those who remain in what he taught can have the Father and the Son with them. If anyone comes to you bringing a different doctrine, you must not receive him into your house or even give him a greeting.  Whoever greets him has a share in his wicked activities.  (2 Jn. 1:9-11)

The Entire Bible Explained

the-person-the-pew-commentary-seriesBy me.  For you (and your beloved layfolk).  And you can get the 66 books of the Bible explained for a paltry $75 (less than the cost of a college course on one book of the Bible) and as a bonus, just for you, a number of the Deuterocanonicals for free!

You can acquire the PDF’s from yours truly for that paltry $75 by clicking my PayPal Link.  It’s that simple.  It’s a good commentary. But don’t take my word for it, listen to the viewpoint of a reader:

***

I am a Christian and a Bible Study Teacher at my church. I have been in church all of my life, but I found it difficult to take on the teaching responsibilities of a Senior Adult Ladies Class. Although I have read the Bible, there are many things that I do not understand. I also was worried because the ladies in my class are “Studiers” of the Bible and the thought crossed my mind “What can I teach these ladies that they do not already know?” As you can see from my comments, I was wondering how “I was going to do it” instead of wondering how “God would do it”!

But when you teach it, you have to go deeper than just reading. I believe that God wants us to continue to go deeper each time we open the Bible. One of the references I use for my studies are the books written by Jim West “For The Person in The Pew”. Jim can take a complicated set of scriptures and bring the meaning into clear view. Every time that I start a new Bible study, I order one of his books. We just finished the book of Revelation and his book was helpful in taking the complicated and making it simple.

Jim has a way of wording his explanations of the scripture in such a way that it makes you want to read deeper and then just watch and see what God can do! Jim is a gifted person and I am glad that God has blessed his life so that he could in turn bless mine.

Sherry Liles
Knoxville, TN

They aren’t saying that about other commentaries, are they…   😉

HeresyCon 2019

It’s a Who’s Who of Fake Christians

Read all about them.

Once a Molester, Always a Molester

Here’s yet more proof.

A local high school teacher charged with having sex with a minor was previously fired by a school district in another state.  A school district in Madison, Wisconsin fired Hector Vazquez back in 2006 when parents filed a sexual harassment complaint.

A police investigation found he was a liability.  Vazquez then taught Spanish at Westmoor High School in Daly City.  That’s where he is accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student for two years.  Vazquez has not pleaded not guilty to the charges.  He is out on bail.

Catch and release, so he can molest again.  Once a molester, always a molester.

Turns Out they Were Right…

Putting the Bible into ill equipped ill informed hands only resulted in a grotesque and utterly insane string of unbiblical and theologically abhorrent nonsense from which the Church continues to suffer.

Dilettantism hasn’t been a blessing for Christianity, it has been a curse.  The alchemy of dilettanitsh interpretations turned the gold of Scripture into a poisonous lead concoction which kills those who imbibe it.

Theological Reflection on the Environmental Crisis 對生態危機的神學反思

Matthew is super. This is going to be an excellent course.

HKSKH Ming Hua Theological College eNews

Dr Matthew Jones gives a preview of his new BTh subject Ecological Theology

Humanity is facing some momentous choices about its future and that of generations to come. These choices relate to our attitude towards and ‘stewardship’ of the land upon which we live and breathe, the world we inhabit and call our home. The complexity of life on our planet is compounded by the reality that we face an ecological crisis, much of which is caused and condoned not only by our selfish exploitation of the planet’s resources but also by our attitudes or indifference to that very planet itself.

Where have these attitudes and this indifference come from and how do we change them?


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Your Imprecatory Prayer for Today

May their own table prove a trap for them, and their abundance a snare; may their eyes grow so dim that they cannot see, all their muscles lose their strength.  Vent your fury on them, let your burning anger overtake them.  Reduce their encampment to ruin, and leave their tents untenanted (Ps. 69:22-25).

Amen