The Anniversary of James Barr’s Birth

James Barr was born in 1924 in Glasgow, Scotland, and received his schooling in

Barr at SBL one year

Edinburgh. In 1941 he entered the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate to study classics, but left after one year for wartime service. He resumed his studies in 1945, at which time he met a fellow student of classics, whom he later married. Barr went on to obtain a doctorate from the University of Oxford, and from 1955 to 1961 he served as a professor of Old Testament at Edinburgh. In the course of his career, he also held professorships at Princeton, Manchester, Oxford and Vanderbilt. He is widely acknowledged as one of the leading biblical scholars of the twentieth century.

Barr first made his name in the arena of biblical scholarship with the publication of The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961). This book was a devastating critique of certain linguistic theories associated with the ‘biblical theology’ movement, such as the then-popular notion that vocabulary and structure of the Hebrew language reflect an underlying theological mindset distinct from, and at odds with, that indicated by the Greek language.

In the years following, Barr further developed his critique of prominent themes in the biblical theology movement, before turning his critical eye in the 1970s and 1980s toward the scholarship of Christian ‘fundamentalism’ and its approach to biblical interpretation. In a series of hard-hitting publications, Barr sought to expose what he took to be naïve and irresponsible handling of the Bible within such circles; even so, his assault was raised from a standpoint sympathetic to traditional Christian convictions about the authority of the biblical canon.

In February 1982 Barr delivered the Sprunt Lectures at Union Theological Seminary under the title ‘Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism’, in which he presented a critique of the notion of ‘canonical criticism’ in opposition to the view propounded in Brevard Childs’s Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1979).

He subsequently turned his attention to the question of natural theology, a topic first addressed in his Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1991. Striking a blow at the foundations of the view that Christian theology must have nothing to do with natural theology (a stance propounded most famously by Karl Barth), Barr sought to construct a case for natural theology on the basis of Scripture and biblical scholarship.

James Barr died 14 October, 2006.

His works include: The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961); Old and New in Interpretation: A Study of the Two Testaments (1966); Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (1968); Fundamentalism (1977); Escaping from Fundamentalism (1984); Biblical Faith and Natural Theology (1993); The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective (1999). See also Samuel E. Balentine and John Barton, eds., Language, Theology, and the Bible: Essays in Honour of James Barr (1994).


Or, more fully

“Balderdash!: A Dozen Critically Flawed Biblical Scholarship Views Destined Deservedly for the Dust Bin—Part II”

If the Gospel of John were totally theological, with no mundane or historically grounded content, that would be telling, but such is not the case. John possesses more topographical and archaeologically verified content than all the gospels combined—canonical and otherwise.

So Paul Anderson. Read the essay.

New In Bible and Interpretation

By Paul Anderson

“Balderdash! A Dozen Critically Flawed Biblical Scholarship Views Destined Deservedly for the Dust Bin—Part I”

At a book review in the national SBL meetings over a decade ago, a senior scholar commented: “I’m not sure if I understand the argument fully, but I’d say, put it in the dust bin and start over.” What I would say, even to a student, is: “Be sure you understand an argument before you accept or reject it.” And, further, “If an argument is finally insufficient, propose an improvement.” That is what the following overview of three decades of research seeks to establish.

Anti-Semitism and Religious Violence as Flawed Interpretations of the Gospel of John

New over at Bible and Interpretation:

Yes, John’s narrative carries a good deal of religious invective—a factor of heated debates with religious leaders in Jerusalem and/or a diaspora setting—but one must go against the clearly counter-violent presentation of Jesus in John to embrace any form of religious violence. Therefore, resorting to violence cannot be supported by an exegetically faithful reading of the Gospel of John. It goes directly against the Johannine stance against violence, corroborated also by the clear teachings of Jesus in the Synoptics.


New in Bible and Interpretation

Religious Innovation and Sacred Scriptures in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch

How did ancient Judaism resolve the conflict between the notion of divinely authored scriptures that are fixed in writing, on the one hand, and the inevitable need to adapt to new circumstances of the community, on the other? A good case study of religious revision in ancient Israel is afforded by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE. Both 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch were written as the Jewish response to a national and religious crisis. Using pseudonyms of Israel’s past heroes from the destruction of the First Temple, both authors promulgated an eschatological vision as the solution, yet called for a return to the Mosaic Torah. In both apocalypses, religious innovation is carried out covertly rather than explicitly. The “new” is presented as a discovery of and return to the “old.”. There are, however, also differences: whereas in 2 Baruch innovation is through eschatological exegesis of the Deuteronomic tradition, in 4 Ezra it has to be through an expansion of divinely revealed scriptures.

A Penis Bone in Genesis 2:21? Retrodiagnosis as a Methodological Problem in Scriptural Studies

Well ok then…  Now for something completely different in Bible and Interpretation

Ziony Zevit is the Distinguished Professor in Bible and Northwest Semitic Languages in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. He has done widely respected work on the religion of ancient Israel. However, Zevit makes a claim that is difficult to accept or understand linguistically, exegetically, and medically. In so doing, he is engaging in “retrodiagnosis.” Typically, such approaches seek to diagnose a condition mentioned in the Bible in precise modern medical terms.

Zevit specifically asserts that the Hebrew word  (צֵלָע) in Genesis 2:21 refers to a penis bone (os baculum), not a rib, in speaking of the creation of Eve. This essay will show that none of the arguments adduced by Zevit, including those drawn from Alan Dundes’ research on the practice known as couvade, will yield the results he asserts for Genesis 2:21.

New In Bible and Interpretation

Was Mary the Name of Jesus’ Mother? A Source-Critical Perspective

In all four gospels, right after Jesus begins his mission, there is only one story in each that mentions the name of any members of Jesus’ family, and in each gospel, it is a variation on the story about the congregation knowing the name of one of Jesus’ parents and rejecting Jesus’ teaching. During the adult life of Jesus, no other gospel mentions the names of Jesus’ parents.

See what you think.

Common Property and the Golden Age Myth in the Book of Acts

New over at Bible and Interpretation:

Given the standard features of the Golden Age and its literary ubiquity in the early Empire, Luke’s portrait of a community that marks the dawn of a new age, a “utopian restoration of the unity of the human race,” and that holds its property in common, lives in remarkable peace and harmony and enjoys God’s favor, could not help but bring this myth to the minds of many of his readers.  Luke seems to have intentionally crafted his accounts to highlight these utopian associations.


The Fascination, Challenges, and Joys of Being a Historian of Ancient Israelite Religion

What is entailed in writing a history of ancient Israelite religion? How might the concept of divinity be used as an organizing principle to explore the wide variety of religious experiences? What skill-set is needed for such an undertaking, and what is the nature of our dataset? What can we conclude with any confidence when we acknowledge that we stand at such a vast distance?

New, in Bible and Interpretation.

Rahab: Between Faith and Works

My friend Jacob Wright has a new essay on the Bible and Interpretation website; and it’s an extract from his new book.  You’ll want to give it a read.

Although widely viewed, especially by its Christian interpreters, as scripture for an emerging religious sect, the Hebrew Bible has, I maintain, a much more ambitious agenda, serving as the blueprint for a new kind of nationhood. The New Testament authors adopted and adapted this blueprint in keeping with their own interest in creating a spiritual community of faith. To state the difference simply: The Hebrew Bible is a project of creating one nation, while the New Testament is a project of creating a community whose members hail from all nations. Likewise, the Hebrew Bible is about creating an identity that is capable of withstanding national defeat, while the New Testament is about creating an identity capable of withstanding Jesus’s death and delayed return.

Go on.  Read it now.  It’s freely available in open access.

The Agrarian Priesthood of Second Temple Judaism

New in Bible and Interpretation

Most Judean priests of the Second Temple period lived dispersed throughout the region, coming to Jerusalem for weekly service periods throughout the year. The patterns of social and economic interaction that governed their relationships with villagers resulted from the failures of the temple to adequately provide for them, pushing them into land ownership. The biblical ideal of a priesthood free from the responsibilities of the farming life or working as if in quarantine within the confines of the sacred precinct in the city gives a false impression. These priests were fully entrenched in the Judean landscape.


The Prophetic View of Morality

New at Bible and Interpretation

Were things really as bad as the prophets say or were the prophets holding the people to unrealistically high standards?  Was the behavior of the ancient Israelites markedly worse than that of the Egyptians, Assyrians, or Babylonians?  Granted, these were pagan cultures; therefore, we cannot expect them to measure up to the Israelite ban on idolatry. What about murder, theft, adultery, and false swearing? Were the Israelites worse than their neighbors or is human behavior like water in the sense that it seeks the same level everywhere?


The Judeo-Christian God on Screen

New in Bible and Interpretation:

How do filmmakers go about depicting God on screen? How does one present a non-anthropomorphic god in the visual medium while still maintaining his lack of physicality? Although Christianity does allow for an element of anthropomorphism in the figure of Jesus, the issue is not without complication, for it necessitates making visually clear the idea that this is a divinity made flesh.  A range of techniques has been used to show both God and Jesus over the years, with some fascinating changes in the portrayal of these figures on screen in recent depictions.

New in Bible and Interpretation: Jesus the Jew

Jesus the Jew and Christianity’s Indebtedness to Judaism

Thus, even decades into the Third Quest with its overall agreement about Jesus’ core belonging to Second Temple Judaism, assessments of his Jewishness as “marginal” continue. Depicting Jesus as a “marginal Jew” allows for distance from and criticism of “common Judaism.” Inadvertently, Jesus becomes somewhat “less” Jewish, enabling identification for today’s Christians.


John: The Mundane Gospel and its Archaeology-Related Features

A new essay in Bible and Interpretation is worth a look-

However, in addition to its theological features, the Fourth Gospel is also the most mundane of the gospels. John has more empirical (sensorily attributed) references, topographical details, and archaeologically attested features than all the other gospels combined—canonical and otherwise. This is an empirical fact, which creates upheaval among scholarly theories regarding John’s character, origin, and implications, as it must also be seen as the Mundane Gospel.

New in Bible and Interpretation

Greek Literature and the Primary History

In recent years, however, a number of scholars have dated the biblical books in the Primary History (Genesis through 2 Kings) very late. Thus, they have raised the possibility that the authors of these books might have been very familiar with Classical Greek texts down to 300 BCE and Hellenistic Greek texts after 300 BCE, and perhaps they even used some Greek texts to craft plot-line and imagery in the books of the Primary History.


New in Bible and Interpretation

Middle Groups in Jewish Roman Galilee and Jesus and his Disciples’ Social Location: New Insights

Like many revolutionaries, Jesus saw the attachment of the upper-middle class to money as responsible for their passiveness in spiritual commitment. Jesus’ philosophy developed from the perspective of the middle class, not from that of the poor. He was able to attract followers because he came from a solid background. “The poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard” (Eccl. 9:16, ASV). Had Jesus come from a poor background, it would have been difficult for him to become a leader.

New In Bible and Interpretation: “Coming Home: Biblical Hiraeth at the Ark Encounter”

Many visitors are not overly concerned that what AiG [Answers in Genesis] presents at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter is not strictly biblical. For instance, just to name a couple of examples, there is no biblical justification for the complex feeding and cleaning systems proposed at the Ark Encounter, nor is there any biblical justification for the lavish presentation of Noah’s living quarters.

Read the whole.