Baker Academic

Thursday, March 30, 2017

My Next Book

Look, you should really read Near Christianity. It's good fun and it would make my publisher happy. Or maybe just pretend that you did and write a nice Amazon review. It's what complete strangers do for each other, after all.

But if you are too busy to pretend to have read my latest book. Do the next best thing: pretend that you want to read my next book! 

The book will be put out by Hendrickson, it is due out by the end of the year, and my co-author and I are presently revising the final draft. I cannot tell you the title yet but here is a word cloud based on the manuscript:

Look at all those fancy words!

The book is by me and a Jewish friend of mine. Here are a few topics we cover.

Rules for the road in inter-religious dialogue.

Differences in memory between groups.

Postures we take in dialogue.



Dirty-hippie liberals.

More soon....


[CLARIFICATION: this post refers to my "other next book". I should have been more clear on this point because I've recently referred to a different project in a recent post.]

Monday, March 27, 2017

I (Still) Believe on Sale for $2

Attn: eBook readers: “I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship” by Byron and Lohr and is only $1.99 right now:

The deal ends at 11:59pm ET on March 28.

Listen to me now and believe me later.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Help me write my next book.... pretty please?

My next book will be in the Oneworld "beginner's guides" series. It will be called, simply, "Jesus: A Beginner's Guide." Because Jesus (not specifically the historian's Jesus) is such a big topic, I will be doing something of a "deep cuts" survey of the evolution of an idea. I.e. this won't be another "greatest hits" book. Although, there are a few top-40 soundtracks on the playlist.

The book will include four parts: (1) Jesus, the Man; (2) Jesus in Early Christian Literature; (3) Jesus in Western History; and (4) Jesus in popular culture.

The first three parts are mostly finished. I now begin part four: pop culture. So I need your help.

What elements of pop culture should I include? Criteria: (a) it must be an element that reveals a characteristic of the culture; (b) it has to tickle my fancy.

Examples: Warner Sallman's Head of Christ; Jesus as a recurring character on South Park; Jesus on midwestern billboard ads.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

St Mary's Bible and Politics conference in June: Win a free registration!

The forthcoming Bible and Politics conference at St Mary's University (2-3 June, 2017) is drawing near. As you will no doubt be aware, it will involve critical analyses of uses of the Bible in politics in a range of geographical and cultural contexts roughly within the timeframe of capitalist modernity. The keynote speaker is Erin Runions. For details about the conference see here.
Brace Belden, also nice to stray dogs

As is the custom with the annual St Mary's conference, there is a competition for one free registration. This year it was decided that the competition ought to be "political" and about higher education (you'll probably find the Bible too if you look hard enough). So this year it is about who replaces whistleblower Edward Snowden as Rector of Glasgow University after his term comes to an end in April, 2017. There are a range of candidates for the position this year, such as heroic YPG/IFB revolutionary, antifascist, and anti-ISIS fighter, Brace Belden, and some others. The competition this year is this: in under 100 words, describe who you think deserves to be the next Rector. Leave answers in the comments section here or on Historical Chaos. The deadline for answers is Friday 24 March and the winner will be registered shortly after. The competition will be judged by the strictest and highest standards of objectivity.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Medical Practice in Antiquity

Today I've been reading this fascinating article by Sarah Yeoman at Bible History Daily: "Medicine in the Ancient World." Excerpt: 
Excavations have also revealed evidence of sophisticated dental practices in antiquity. In a mass grave at Horvat en Ziq in the northern Negev desert of Israel, a skull dating to about 200 B.C. was found that contains one of the earliest known dental fillings. A 2.5-millimeter bronze wire had been inserted into the tooth’s canal. Elsewhere, skulls recovered from the catacombs in Rome, which were in use during the first through the fifth centuries A.D., exhibit some rather pricey dental work: Several were recovered that have gold fillings.
I have often suggested to my students that Jesus probably lacked a full set of teeth. The information cited by Yeoman, however, is new to me. Of course, it probably bespeaks occasional practices of the wealthy and may say nothing of how a member of the artisan class might care for an problematic tooth.

I also found this interesting:
The famous Roman physician Galen (c. 129–199 A.D.), who was born in ancient Pergamon near the Asklepion, is generally regarded as the most accomplished medical researcher of the Roman world, and some of his surgical procedures would not be seen again until modern times. He successfully conducted cataract surgeries by inserting a needle behind the lens of the eye in order to remove the cataract, and his described methods of preparing a clean operating theater reveal a keen awareness of contagion.
I had studied Galen before but I was unaware of his use of sterile surgical instruments.

Certainly worth a read in full.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Praying for 45 with Ron Herms

In the church of my youth, we were taught to pray for our leaders. We always prayed for the President of the United States (regardless of party). Usually our pastor prayed that the president would be granted wisdom. Those were different times. I attended a different kind of church. The ethos of American Christianity was different. The integrity of the office of POTUS was much different. 

I will confess that it had not crossed my mind to pray for the 45th president. I have, however, been reflecting on Jesus' sermon on the mount since November 9. One of the most striking teachings of Jesus is Matthew 5:44: "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." So what would it mean to take this teaching seriously in our present political climate?

Ron Herms, New Testament scholar and Dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences at Fresno Pacific University, suggests four ways to pray for 45. Herms recent wrote a series of posts on this topic:

Prayer #1: Every week. Every falsehood. I've identified four ways I'm praying for Donald Trump. The first is that "his folly would be exposed": this man operates in the shadows of conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and alternative realities. To him, I have no doubt, they are real. So, for the foreseeable future, truth-telling cannot be taken for granted. This is a start...  
Prayer #2: A few days ago I posted the first of four thoughts I've been praying for Donald Trump. Here is the second: I'm praying that "his arrogance will be broken." While some may hear this as judgmental-ism, nothing could be further from my intent. Such a prayer simply responds to his obviously arrogant and bullying behavior and recognizes that the people of God's kingdom have often prayed for and spoken to manipulative powers in such a way (Psalm 2; Daniel 4; Acts 4; and more). Some will say there are other, very different biblical prayers for rulers and authorities. True; my list isn't finished yet. :) For today (and in light of a lengthening list of manipulative moves by DT) this is enough...  
Prayer #3: Over the past few days I've posted two of four thoughts I've been praying for Donald Trump. Here is the third: I'm praying that "his deepest insecurities would find rest and healing." ALL of us have demons, fears, and insecurities, but most of us have the "luxury" of relative anonymity where we mask or hide them. As I pray in this way, my mind often goes to Zacchaeus in Luke 19 whose profile of wealth and struggles with physical and social stature have interesting parallels to our current president. Donald Trump is not a lost cause; this prayer believes that his future can be better than his past. Lord, have mercy…  
Prayer #4: Over the past few weeks I've posted three of four thoughts on how I'm praying about / for Donald Trump as US President. Here is the final thought: I'm praying "that his constant and public need for affirmation would be met with radical opportunities for generosity and compassion." The transformative power and deep satisfaction of giving oneself (and one's resources) away so that an "other" can flourish should not be underestimated. We're all fundamentally in need of both the gift of affirmation and the discipline of self-sacrifice; and we all benefit when those in leadership discover that to be true for themselves. This is how I'm praying for the welfare of my city / country / world (Jer 29.7).
 My thanks to Ron for allowing them to be republished here.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Christian Scholars' Conference

The 2017 Christian Scholars' Conference (Lipscomb University; Nashville, TN) is quickly approaching. I must confess I'm not exactly enamored of the name of this event, but I hear from others that it is one of the better small annual conferences. This year's theme is Memory, Tradition, and the Future of  Faith, and this year's plenary speakers will be James H. Cone (Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary), Marie Howe (Sarah Lawrence College, New York University), and Shaun Casey (senior fellow at the Berkeley Center; professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University). The 2017 CSC will also feature:
  • Greg Sterling (Dean of Yale Divinity School; The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament) will deliver the Abraham J. Malherbe plenary address.
  • Carol Newsom (Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Candler; senior fellow, Center for the Study of Law and Religion) will deliver the J. J. M. Roberts Lecture in Old Testament Studies.
  • Margaret Mitchell (Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Divinity School) will deliver the Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies.
Now listen . . . if these names aren't enough to coax you into making travel arrangements to Nashville, TN, in early June, let me sweeten the pot. I will be presenting twice this year:

  • First, Nick Zola (Assistant Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University) has arranged a panel discussion of memory, tradition, reconciliation, and pedagogy. Here's the session abstract: "Dr. Stuart Zola, former director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and current interim Provost of Emory University, will present some of the latest research on the neuroscience of memory—how the brain remembers and what factors impair effective communication. Three panel members, each leaders in their fields, will respond with how a more robust understanding of memory function can inform a range of disciplines: Dr. Rodriguez on how Jesus is remembered in the New Testament; Dr. Turner on how individuals reconcile with others and their surrounding systems; and Dr. Erbes on how students best retain and recall classroom information." Stuart Zola has presented at an SBL before, and I'm looking forward to learning from and responding to his work.
  • Second, John Harrison (Professor of New Testament and Ministry, Oklahoma Christian University) has coordinated a session on memory and the Jesus tradition. Here's the session abstract: "For several decades now, memory studies and investigations into early Christianity has opened new questions about what first followers remembered and what affect Christian rituals had on the formation of that memory. In this session, two papers will lead the discussion around specific applications of memory studies and early Christian practice. The Jesus tradition was first experienced by eyewitnesses and then handed down orally for others to remember. Can eyewitness memory actually be detected in the Synoptic Gospels? How did baptism come to function as a preserver, transmitter, and transformer of Christian memory?" With the imminent arrival of the second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans) and the Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries project (Bloomsbury), this session will offer a critical view of the current state of Jesus research and its intersection with memory studies.
So we'll see you in Nashville in June! If you're coming, look me up and let me know. I can't wait to see you!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Reading Strategies: Otherness and Empathy

I have been asked to lead a Bible study tomorrow for Presbyterian pastors in Cincinnati. John 3 was among the lectionary options I was given and I happily agreed. Part of my attraction to this chapter relates to my fascination with texts (like John 3:16) that have cultural momentum behind them. Such texts have the power to tell us something about our own biases and affinities. Because to the extent that we employ them, we are prone to distort them. John 3:16 is a great example of a text that modern American Christians have put in service to a particular kind of reductionist theology. Conversely, I was also attracted to John 3 because I am fascinated by texts that alienate our modern sensibilities. John 3:14-15 is such a text. Our cultural repulsion also reveals something about us. Lucky for me, this passage happens to set an alienating text right next to a darling text.
John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life....
I talk more about how this passage relates to Numbers 21 in this post. Today I'm tinkering with this text in a different way. Preparing for a Bible study, I have found, requires a different sort of reading strategy. I must resist my tendency for historical-critical dissection (although some pastors like this) and a simple devotional reading will be unsatisfactory. Preparing for a Bible study is more like a workshop reading. I get the feeling I once had when I would take a screwdriver to an old radio in my father's garage just to see what's inside. In this case, the hope is to put it back together again.

In the case of John 3:14—the business about serpents as divine judgement, divine salvation, and savior typology—we meet an alienating text (lifelong Bible readers tend not to like literary serpents). But the task of the teacher is almost never to alienate. It is therefore my task to bring an alienating text to life in a way that does not alienate my students.

Here is how I'm thinking about reading strategy today:

Step one: create space wherein the text can be appreciated for its otherness. Notice its capacity to offend our modern sensibilities or confound our familiar theologies. Allow yourself to recognize how removed you are from the time and place of the first audiences of the text. E.g. Who is this God who sends venomous serpents as a consequence for complaining in the wilderness? What function did serpentine imagery play in ancient Egypt relative to Numbers 21? Are the implicit problems created by this zoological image solved by 2 Kings 18:4 (cf. the fate of the Nehushtan)? Is the Johannine Jesus creating more problems than he's solving in John 3:14-15? Does Jesus intend to teach Nicodemus or confuse and shame him? I would suggest that many such questions will allow us to experience the text as "other."

Step two: create space wherein the text can be appreciated as an "other" that requires empathy. If the goal is understanding and we are willing to admit our status as aliens to the text, can we approach the text as a cross-cultural encounter? Why does this particular combination of words make sense to the first composers and audiences? How do we explain the difference between their world and ours in a way that doesn't judge one to be superior to the other? And if we cannot avoid judgement, why not? What is the nature and extend of our cross-cultural encounter? Finally, is there a way to look beyond the offense to discover something more?

I would suggest that (while by no means the only reading strategy) this two-step approach to Bible reading might prepare us for cross-cultural empathy in other encounters as well.