Month: November 2013

Eight Things I’m Thankful for: Highlights of SBL

SBL 2013I just returned from the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore, where I saw old friends and made new ones.

Here are 8 things I’m thankful for about this SBL meeting.

1) Driving down and back in Pete Enns’ van (Pete gives his SBL report here) with a few other friends: Ray Van Leeuwen, Benj Giffone, and Peter Radford.  We talked about Tamar the pious prostitute (Gen. 38) and the lack of a good English equivalent for the Hebrew word hevel (often translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes) as well as a few non-biblical subjects which are probably better not mentioned here.  Thanks for driving, Pete.

2) Preaching at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church right in downtown Baltimore (home to Galen and Eboni Zook, IV friends), only a few block from the conference, on the topic of…wait for it…God Behaving Badly (not a shock there).  A small-ish, group, but they laughed at my jokes.  I’d definitely go back. I missed a few academic papers (which are usually extraordinarily boring), but it was good for my soul to worship with them.  Thanks!  (I was sorry, however, to miss the Zondervan authors lunch, next year.)

3) Chatting with contacts at various publishers to discuss projects: Andy Le Peau (IVP-, thanks also for the free Walton & Sandy book!), John Barry and Pete Heiniger (Logos, Lexham), Katya Covrett (Zondervan) and Neil Elliott (Fortress).  Thanks for your time, insight and the generous provision of a meal.  I kept making lame attempts to pay (“No, wait, let me contribute…”), but my half-hearted attempts were quickly swept aside. I’m such a free-loader.

4) Walking into Mark Leuchter’s session unfortunately late (due to a long breakfast with John and Pete from Logos) and being greeted by Mark in the middle of the reading of his academic paper with, “Oh, hi, Dave.”  I’ll never forget his unique greeting, nor his hilarious, pro-Toronto rambling, concluding rant (“No, we aren’t all crack-heads like our mayor…).  The session was focused on his new book from Oxford University Press on Samuel (click here), so we cut Mark a little slack.  Thanks for the refreshing entertainment.

5) Rooming with Paul Joyce (who will deliver his inaugural lecture at Kings College London on Dec. 3, 2013).  We’ve roomed together for 7-8 SBL’s now.  Paul, as my college adviser at St. Peter College, Oxford, helped me through the darkest times of my stay there.  I don’t sleep as much, due to our late night chats, but it’s always worth it.  A delight.

6) Crashing a private, intimate dinner between John Goldingay and his wife Kathleen at the posh Royal Sonesta.  John wanted me to leave, but I insisted on joining them.  We ended up sharing moments when we got emotional while speaking.  For me, it was just that morning while speaking at Wilkens Ave Church.  I eventually left, overhearing them say, “Finally.”

7) Meeting my “competition”, Paul Copan (see also, #8), author of Is God a Moral Monster? (see my review here).  I sent Paul a Facebook friend request about a month ago.  We shared how we recommend each others book to people.  We finally met at IBR and I look forward to further collaboration with Paul.  What a great guy.

8) Disagreeing about the Canaanites in Baker Books with Eric Seibert, author of Disturbing Divine Behavior (see my review here) and The Violence of Scripture.  Eric and I are friends, but we have different approaches to the text of the Old Testament.  I bumped into him in the Baker Book section of the Exhibition Hall.  He told me about his paper he’d just presented.  I made a counter point.  I think he doesn’t take the OT seriously (Marcionite?).  He made a counter point. He thinks that my  views could lead to more Crusades (justifying genocide?).

We went back and forth a few times, a crowd gathered (“Lamb and Seibert are going at it in Baker Books.  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!”).  OK, it wasn’t a big crowd, 2 guys, and there was no chanting, and we were speaking rather graciously.  I blame him for the subdued nature of our interaction, he’s a pacifist.  But it would have been beyond ironic to see two scholars fighting over the topic of genocide.

We both agreed that Copan, Seibert and Lamb (and perhaps others) should get together some time to discuss the Canaanite Genocide sometime.

Perhaps next year in San Diego?

Bible’s Secrets Revealed Part 2: The Promised Land

Bible Secrets Revealed“Is it possible that the Exodus never happened at all?”  

Just to be clear, I think it did (although we might quibble about some of the details), but I thought I should start my blog on Part Two of The History Channel’s Bible’s Secrets Revealed in a sensationalized manner consistent with the series.  For my review of part one, Lost in Translation” click here.

Part Two examined the issue of “The Promised Land“.

The historicity of the Exodus is one of several controversial subjects discussed in this episode.

On the positive side, a greater diversity of views were engaged with in Part 2, than in Part 1. I’m guessing a bit here about the scholars’ theological/ideological biases because it’s hard to make definitive conclusions from tweet-sized sound-bites, but there appeared to be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, agnostic and atheist. The wide range of perspectives was refreshing, even the ones I didn’t agree with, although I found a higher percentage with whom I resonated this time.

On the negative side, I find it curious (or perhaps hypocritical?) that certain scholars (i.e., Richard Dawkins, who doesn’t appear to be interviewed for this series) who argue for non-literal or non-historical interpretations of the biblical text in many places, take the most severe, literal interpretation of problematic texts like the Canaanite Conquest / Genocide texts (for my perspective on this topic see my Relevant Magazine article here, “Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide“).  

For example, in Part 2 Reza Aslan said that God commanded his people to destroy everything as they entered Canaan, “every blade of grass.”  Aslan (the scholar, not the lion), is a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside and author of the rather creative book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, had several other creative things to say about the Exodus. I’m sure his provocative perspectives are the reason he was selected for this documentary.  

Yes, the commands to wipe out the Canaanites are shocking to us today.  But they wouldn’t have been in the ancient Near Eastern context.  That’s just what was done.  The Assyrians and the Moabites (see the Mesha Stele for example) bragged about doing worse things. Although, as recently as 150 years ago in the US, we did something similar to the Native American population in the 19th century.  Read my article if you want more thoughts on the Canaanites.  

What lurks behind some of our critiques of these things in the Bible is a cultural arrogance that, let’s face it, Americans are guilty of whenever they travel abroad.  “If it doesn’t make sense to us, it must be wrong.”  

I’ll keep watching the series, enjoying bits, being frustrated about bits, and blogging about it.

Did you watch?  What did you think?  


Review of History’s Bible Secrets Revealed

John WycliffeOn Wed Nov 13 (2013), The History Channel began a six part series of 1-hour shows entitled Bible Secrets Revealed, with the first episode focused on Translation (click here to watch).

I finally watched my taped version yesterday.

I’ll start with the positive.

The historical section (2nd hour was the best part of the show) was great.  They told the story of John Wycliffe (pictured on left) and William Tyndale, two radical English men who thought the Bible should be available, not just in Latin, but in English, so everyone could read it (assuming they could read English, that is).  Spoiler alert: both were killed for doing something so radical. I will never take for granted the fact that I have easy access to the English Bible. Thanks, John and William.

It was good that the episode pointed up some of the textual problems that often get ignored. The end of Mark’s gospel (Mk. 16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) aren’t in some of the oldest manuscripts (as your Bible should tell you in a footnote, if you’re Bible doesn’t, get a new one).

There are differing biblical perspectives on who killed Goliath (see 1 Sam. 17:51; 2 Sam. 21:19; 1 Chron. 20:5).  Although, in their attempt to heighten the conflict, one scholar made a point about a supposed textual conflict with Goliath’s sword that was totally unconvincing.

So, it was good to observe those problems, but I had serious problems with how they interpreted the problems.

First, they made it seem like their conclusions are clear-cut, when they are not.  Often these textual issues are highly complicated.  I can understand The History Channel not wanting to go into all the complexity in a 60 minute episode for popular audiences, but what they did bordered on deception.

Second, the narrator frequently said “Scholars say…” (Wikipedia calls this using “weasel words“), and then they would quote one scholar who supposedly represented the academic perspective on that subject. But they didn’t include diverse opinions, just the ones who had the most un-traditional views on the Bible–the scholars who were trying to expose on those hidden secrets.

Third, I don’t know everyone who was interviewed, but when it came to the Bible, there weren’t any who were clearly arguing for an Evangelical perspective.  I can think of dozens of solid, highly respected Old Testament scholars who could have done a great job of being articulate, but perhaps not as shockingly provocative.

Overall, I’m glad I watched and will continue watching, but as I tell my students, be critical.

If you watched it, what did you think? 

Free Book: Philippians Commentary by Lynn Cohick

Zondervan’s new Story of God Bible Commentary has come out with its first two volumes. See these two links to Free E-Books and to the Promo Video.

I have a hardback copy of Lynn Cohick’s Philippians commentary (list price = $29,99) that I will give away to the person who gives the best 1 sentence reason in the comments below why they should receive it (deadline Friday Nov. 22, 2013). Mentioning something about promoting the book would be a good thing.

Lynn graduated with a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and now teaches New Testament at Wheaton.

Endorsers on the back cover include: Darrell Bock, Andy Stanley, Craig Keener, John Ortberg, Frank Thielman, Craig Blomberg and Judy Douglass.

I am writing the commentary on 1, 2 Kings for this series, but my deadline is 2016.