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Major Funded Project on Rome and Judaism

I pass on notice of the large project, “Judaism and Rome:  Rethinking Judaism’s Encounter with the Roman Empire,” funded by the European Research Council.  The project web site here.  The team and the scope of the project are impressive and will be of interest to anyone working in Roman history, early Judaism, and early Christianity.

“At/In the Right Hand”: An Exhortation

I really must appeal to readers to do a bit of reading and checking of data before “winging it” with proposals that are baseless.  This exhortation comes on the heels of some responses to my latest posting on the NT references to Jesus “at/in God’s right hand” (here).  I’m not simply being peevish.  It’s a waste of everyone’s time for ill-informed and baseless notions to be expressed, everyone’s time, including those who proffer them.

That posting about the two Greek expressions used in the NT, and the predecessor posting as well (here), arose from quite a lot of detailed work issuing in two published essays focused on the Christological use of certain Psalms in the NT.  In that earlier posting (here), for example, I cite briefly some of the crucial linguistic data.  These data arise from (1) checking every instance of NT references to Jesus and God’s “right hand”, and (2) every instance of either of the two Greek prepositional phrases in question in the LXX, checking for each instance the Hebrew constructions translated, and (3) using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae to survey usage of the two Greek expressions in several “pagan” authors roughly contemporary with the NT writings.

So, my proposals don’t arise from some sudden flash of a “what if” sort, or some free-wheeling notion.  They arise instead from an attempt to grasp and make sense of the clear patterns involved.  Crucially, the two Greek expressions aren’t used interchangeably in the LXX, but instead translate a different set of Hebrew expressions.  And that is the case across the various LXX writings, which means that the several translators followed this pattern.   So, this seems to me to make it less likely that the two Greek expressions under investigation appeared in early Christian discourse as variant translations of the same Hebrew phrase (in Psalm 110:1).  I know that Hengel, Hay, Bauckham, et alia favour this view, but it seems less likely to me, for the various translators of the LXX didn’t operate this way.

Second, the preference for εν δεξιᾳ in NT confessional expressions is exhibited across various authors in the NT, and is not simply a personal preference of this or that author.  So we have to account for this widescale/shared preference, despite concurrent evidence that the same authors knew very well, and could quote exactly, what the wording of Greek Psalm 110:1 was.

Third, the focus on the LXX data arises from the evidence that the NT writings reflect a strong influence of the Greek OT upon their discourse.  After all, there is the direct citation of Psalm 110:1 in a number of writings, and many other OT texts as well.  Moreover, all the references to Jesus vis-a-vis God’s “right hand” arguably reflect OT influence.

Finally, the TLG data eliminates the suggestion that εκ δεξιων was being superseded by εν δεξιᾳ in Koine Greek.  For, as I indicated in my postings, both expressions are used by the various “pagan” authors surveyed.

I welcome questions for clarification or such from anyone, and any observation relevant to the issue.  And I welcome proposals from others as well, so long as any proposal arises from an equivalent investment of effort in surveying the relevant data.

“At, or In, God’s Right Hand”: A Further Suggestion

I’ve got another possible factor for the curious preference of NT authors in the way they refer to the exalted Jesus as “at God’s right hand.”  I’ve noted this matter in previous postings (e.g., here), and in a forthcoming essay I return to the question.  In a recent seminar in Oxford where I presented the paper, this topic generated some encouraging discussion.

To recoup:  When NT authors cite Psalm 110:1, they preserve the Greek phrasing of the LXX here:  εκ δεξιων.  But in a number of other instances, across various NT writings, when the authors simply make a statement about Jesus’ exalted status (e.g., Romans 8:34), they seem to prefer the construction εν δεξιᾳ.  English translations of the NT typically don’t distinguish between the two expressions, but they are different.  (Apologies to readers without Greek, but the question is about the use of two different Greek phrases.)

So, why this pattern?  And the basis for the question is that there is this pattern.  It’s not willy-nilly, and it’s not confined to one author.  Note, for example, that the author of Hebrews prefers the latter expression when making his own statements about Jesus’ exalted status (1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), but gives the correct wording of Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1) when he cites the text in Heb 1:13.  He knows the wording of the Psalm, but seems to prefer the phrasing εν δεξιᾳ when he has the freedom to do so.

In an earlier discussion, I wondered if this phrasing connoted a more intimate relation, and so was preferred.  In the LXX, for example, the phrase typically refers to something or someone “in the right hand” of someone, whereas εκ δεξιων refers to something/someone positioned “on the right” of someone.  (The pre-publication version of that essay, in which I give details of references is on this blog site here).

Continuing to ponder the matter, I now wonder if there is another factor that could lend further support, another OT text that may have contributed to the preference for referring to Jesus as εν δεξιᾳ in relation to God.  Specifically, I point to Psalm 16 (LXX Psalm 15).  We know that it was read early on in light of Jesus’ resurrection (as, e.g., Acts 2:23-36).  Is it relevant that the final statement of this Psalm refers to the manifold benefits “in your [God’s] right hand for ever” (εν τη δεξιᾳ σου εις τελος), these words taken as predictive and reflective of Jesus’ exaltation?

Specifically, did this statement in the Psalm help to generate the use of εν δεξιᾳ in early Christian confessional statements?  Note the contrast in this Psalm between the phrasing used to describe God as “at the right hand” of the human speaker (v. 8), εκ δεξιων μου, and the phrase in v. 11, εν δεξιᾳ σου.  So, did the phrasing of Psalm 16:11 help to express better the early Christian conviction that the exalted Jesus was very intimately connected with God, “in God’s right hand”?

The evidence of contemporary Greek writers shows that both expressions were in use in Koine Greek.  So, it’s not a case of one becoming obsolete.  So, I repeat, why the apparent pattern of preference across various NT authors?

The other typical explanation is that these two Greek expressions were simply the remnants of early and varying translations of Psalm 110:1.  Maybe.  But why, then, is the phrasing εκ δεξιων consistently found in any citation of that text, whereas NT authors seem to prefer the other expression in making confessional statements?

Also worth noting, the LXX translators didn’t render the various Hebrew prepositional phrases willy-nilly.  They preferred εκ δεξιων for certain Hebrew prepositional constructions, and εν δεξιᾳ for others.  (For details, see my earlier posting here.)

(For a somewhat similar/supporting view on the possible influence of LXX Psalm 15:11, see now Michael Cover, Lifting the Veil: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in Light of Jewish Homiletic and Commentary Traditions (BZAW 210; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), 170-74, whose discussion of ἐν δεξιᾷ is confined to its use in Peter’s speech in Acts 2. On early Christian reading of the Psalms as the voice of Jesus, see Richard B. Hays, “Christ Prays the Psalms: Paul’s Use of an Early Christian Exegetical Convention,” in The Future of Christology: Essays in Honor of Leander E. Keck, ed. A. J. Malherbe and W. A. Meeks (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 122-36, re-published as “Christ Prays the Psalms: Israel’s Psalter as Matrix of Early Christology,” in R. B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 101-18.)


The “Conversion” of Paul

Today (25 January) in the traditional ecclesiastical calendar marks the Feast of the Conversion of Paul, who is likely the most famous “convert” in religious history.  He remains a giant figure in the study of Christian origins, with scholarly books on him continuing to pour out of the presses.  He is also perhaps the most controversial figure in early Christianity.

Accused by some of being the true founder of “Christianity,” and even of perverting Jesus’ teachings, accused by others of being a misogynist, in traditional Jewish thought accused of being the arch-apostate, in his own lifetime accused of teaching a libertine way of life, seen by others as a spiritual father-figure and paradigmatic teacher of Christian faith, a doughty defender of what he believed to be non-negotiable convictions, he remains fascinating as a human subject.

From comments such as those in Galatians 1:13, that his readers had heard from him of his “former life in Judaism,” and the more extended auto-biographical statements such as we have in Philippians 3:4-16, it appears that his shift from vigorous opponent of the young Jesus-movement to passionate exponent was a part of what he himself communicated to the churches that he founded.   And from these self-referential passages in his letters we get a strong sense, I think, of the profound self-dedication that he felt.  Rhetorically crafted though such statements may well be, still it seems to me that his passionate sense of being personally called by his God to a special mission was genuine.  Likewise, his various statements about his relationship to Jesus, whom Paul held to be “Christ” (Messiah”), the (unique) “Son of God,” and his “Lord” strike me as reflecting what he genuinely felt (e.g., Galatians 2:19-21; Philippians 3:4-16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

At least some of the calumnies down the years are unfair, even ridiculously incorrect.  For example, he was certainly no misogynist!  For one thing, his numerous positive references to women co-workers and leaders in his churches testify otherwise.  He was, to be sure, a man of his time, and so he seems to have held (with most others of the day) that a wife was bound to her husband.  But he also held, unusually for his time, that a husband was equally bound to his wife, including a sexual exclusivity that husbands as well as wives owed to their marriage partners (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).  This effectively challenged the “double standard” in sexual behaviour otherwise commonly approved in the Roman period.

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has.  He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue.  And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition.  Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl).  Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can  include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist.  So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

There is absolutely no chance that I can settle any disagreements about Paul in a simple blog-posting here!  My only aims are to take the occasion of the date to note Paul’s huge significance, and to make a plea that we extend to him the same sort of sympathy and fair hearing that we would hope for ourselves.  Oh, and despite the mountain of books on Paul and the continuing flood of new ones, I’d also suggest as most important a slow and generous reading of Paul’s letters preserved in the New Testament.


Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art & Archaeology

After much anticipation (and a somewhat complicated shipping effort), I’ve taken delivery on my copy of The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology, Paul Corby Finney, General Editor.  (The publisher’s online catalogue entry here.)

I noted the forthcoming appearance of the work in an earlier posting (here).  In hand, it’s an impressive (even imposing) publication.  The two main volumes comprise 1,532 pages, in which over 1,400 entries appear, written by some 400 contributors.  In addition, the slimmer accompanying volume 3 has 164 full-color photos of various objects referred to in the main volumes, plus 22 full-page-size maps displaying the 740 place-names mentioned in the entries, followed by an index of these place-names.  In weight alone, it’s impressive, about 17 pounds, in part because of the heavy art-volume quality of the paper used.

Aside from there being no comparable work in any language, the scope of the work is commendable.  The editors made an effort to reach beyond the Mediterranean sites usually dealt with in books on early Christian art.  Illustrative of this, the multi-part entry on “Epigraphy” (1.475-505) includes discussions of evidence from the Balkans, Coptic Christianity, England, Italy, Montanist data (Phrygia), North Africa, Roman Pannonia, Syria, and Turkey.  Nestled into this muli-part entry, I noted also William Tabernee’s incisive analysis of what some have posited as “clandestine and crypto-Christian” inscriptions and symbols, in which he concludes (rightly in my view) that “‘crypto-Christian inscriptions’ is inaccurate and misleading in that it implies a clandestine intentionality that is not supported by the data” (1.481).

More recent finds are included, such as the “Megiddo mosaic” announced in 2006 (but the entry is “Kefar ‘Othnay,” the name of the Israeli village where the mosaic was discovered).  I’ve spotted bibliographical items dating to 2014.  And the entries I’ve been able to judge seem up to date in the issues and opinions offered.

Entries are typically written by scholars who have published on the relevant topic, such as Spier’s entry on “Gemstones: Engraved (Early Christian)”.  With so many entries, it would take at least several weeks to read everything.  But a few initial spot checks of selected items leave me impressed.

The $495 price for the work makes it mainly an acquisition for libraries, and any library serving scholarly study of early Christianity should include this work in its acquisitions.  But, actually, given the size, physical quality, and contents, it’s a bargain, and I could imagine what the price might have been with certain other publishers.

Finney (General Editor) has been at work on this project for well over twenty years, and it surely affords a great deal of satisfaction to see it published.  Moreover, as my spot-checking shows, the quality of the final product must make it doubly satisfying.  Kudos to Finney and all those whose efforts produced this milestone in scholarship on early Christian art and archaeology.

Summer Biblical Study in Cambridge 2017

The programme for the 2017 Summer Biblical Study in Cambridge is now available here.  The programme is operated by the Vacation Term for Biblical Study (VTBS), offering lectures on biblical studies topics by established scholars, language classes in NT Greek and biblical Hebrew (from introductory to advanced), and extra lectures (this year, on Luther and on Wagner and Theology).  Plus, there’s Cambridge:  Kings College chapel, punting on the Cam, visiting the White Horse Inn, the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum, and much more.

The classes are aimed at people who simply want to learn something:  “lay” people as well as ministers seeking some academic refreshment/updating.  You can enroll for either of the two weeks or for both.  There’s no assessment, so you can simply absorb what is provided.

Booking is now open and you can see fees and instructions for booking here.  Places are limited, and there are already a significant number of advanced bookings made.  It’s a great excuse to visit Cambridge.  And the currently low value of the UK Pound against other currencies makes it a particular bargain for overseas visitors.

God and the Faithfulness of Paul: Now Affordable!

The multi-author critical engagement with N.T. Wright’s massive work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is forthcoming in a much more affordable edition from Fortress Press (early March 2017, the publisher’s catalog entry here).  I posted about the work earlier here.  It contains 29 responses to various parts of Wright’s extensive discussion of Paul’s theology, including my own critique of his claims about the “return of YHWH” theme as the “catalyst” of earliest christology, which I posted about earlier here.

A New Greek-English Lexicon

Serious students of early Christian texts will want to become acquainted with a new Greek-English lexicon:  GE: The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 2016), edited by Madeleine Goh & Chad Schroeder, under the auspices of the Center for Hellenic Studies. (The publisher’s online catalogue entry here.)

This is the English translation from the 3rd edition (2013) of the massive Italian work by Franco Montanari.  At 2431 pages, and with nearly 133,000 “headwords,” and entries that take account of ancient Greek literature, papyri, inscriptions and other sources, and covering evidence down to the 6th century AD, this work now effectively supersedes the older Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) lexicon.  The latter didn’t really take adequate account of evidence much later than the 2nd century AD, and in particular there was little citation of Christian “patristic” texts.  Montanari’s work, however, rectifies this, making it now the “go to” resource of its type.

The editors emphasize that this is not simply a translation of the definitions given in the Italian original, but instead the English definitions have been prepared with some independent judgement.  As well, this English edition includes “a not insignificant number of new lemmata” (new entries), as well as a number of corrections of errors in the Italian edition discovered in the course of translating and editing the English edition.  So, this English edition is now superior to the Italian edition from which it derives.

For words with any semantic complexity there are, of necessity, longer and more complicated entries.  In comparison with LSJ, I judge these to be much easier to navigate.  The varying meanings of a given word are listed, with illustrative references, and the simple graphic display is very helpful.  As well, the principal parts of some 15,000 words are given.

At 99 Euros, or $125 (USD), it’s not cheap, but, given the amount of material and its quality, the price is surprisingly realistic.  It will be, of course, a purchase only for those with a need for such a wide-ranging lexicon (or with cash to spare!).  But any library serving the needs of readers of ancient Greek texts must now acquire this work.  Hearty congratulations and thanks to Montanari for the basic work, to those colleagues in the Center for Hellenic Studies who carried out this English edition, and to Brill for publishing the work.

Jesus, the Cross, the Women, and Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark

I’ve just read an interesting essay by Jeffrey W. Aernie, “Cruciform Discipleship: The Narrative Function of the Women in Mark 15–16,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135.4 (2016):  779-97.

It’s doubly interesting to me, for he draws appreciatively on an essay of mine published several years ago in which I argued that the women mentioned (three times) in Mark 15–16 function positively as witnesses to Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection:  Larry W. Hurtado, “The Women, the Tomb, and the Climax of Mark,” in A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seàn Freyne, edited by Zuleika Rodgers, Margaret Daly-Denton and Anne Fitzpatrick McKinley (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 427-50.  (The pre-publication version of that essay is available among the essays listed under the “Selected Published Essays” tab on this blog-site.)

Part of my argument was that Mark 16:8 does not depict the women as disobeying and failing to do what they were told to do–to go to Peter and the Twelve with news of Jesus’ resurrection.  Instead, “they said nothing to anyone” should be read as meaning that they said nothing to anyone else.  This is a view of 16:8 that has gained endorsement over recent years, but it may still be a minority opinion.  So, it’s encouraging to have Aernie’s endorsement in his newly published article.

Aernie’s focus, however, is on a conspicuous similarity between Mark and Paul in emphasizing that the life of believers is to be shaped by Jesus’ crucifixion.  That is, in Paul believers are “crucified with Christ,” living out a death-to-sin, and empowered anew to live unto God.  In Mark, Jesus is the true model for his followers, the Twelve deployed in contrast as fallible followers.

My only quibble is over his reference to my “sidelining” of the women.  I don’t “sideline” them, but contend that they surface suddenly as important characters in 15:40-41, appearing again at crucial points in 15:47 and 16:1-8.  Indeed, I propose that 16:1-8 is the climactic scene in Mark, where Jesus’ resurrection is announced, and the women are on site and able to verify an empty tomb, which means a bodily resurrection.

I suppose, however, that Aernie means that I don’t feature the women as exemplars of discipleship.  True.  Because I read Mark as presenting Jesus as the only full and valid model of discipleship.  As I read the references to the women, they are crucial witnesses to the bodily nature of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  But I don’t quite see that they function as models of discipleship for readers.  But others will have to judge for themselves, taking account now of Aernie’s clear and well-researched article.

Nero & the Christians: Jones contra Shaw

Christopher Jones has a new article just out refuting Brent Shaw on Nero’s pogrom against Christians in Rome in AD 64:  “The Historicity of the Neronian Persecution:  A Response to Brent Shaw,” New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 146-52.  (See my earlier posting on Shaw’s article here.)

Jones shows (cogently to my mind) the flaws in Shaw’s argument.  For example, Shaw contended that it was unlikely that “Christian(s)” as a self-designation as early as the 60s.  As Jones argues, however, the term likely arose and was used initially, not as an in-group designation, but as a label coined and used by outsiders.  So, the absence of the term from Paul’s letters, for example, tells us nothing about whether it was used by outsiders.

Jones also shows the flaw in Shaw’s contention that there couldn’t have been a sufficient number of Christians in Rome in AD64 for Nero to blame them for the fire.  As Jones notes, Paul’s letter to Roman ekklesias, written several years earlier asserts of the Roman believers that “your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (1:8).  Allowing for exaggeration, this still suggests a sufficient body of believers in Rome by the date of the letter for them to be known, at least among other ekklesias elsewhere.

Finally, Jones notes the error in Shaw’s linking of the Neronian pogrom and the executions of Paul and Peter as one event that stands or falls together.  The martyrdoms of these two figures have to be assessed historically separately from the pogrom, and the lack of direct evidence of the martyrdoms can’t count against the pogrom as a historical event.

Jones gives a concise and closely argued case.  Looks to me that we can continue to take the Neronian pogrom as the first major action by Roman imperial authorities against people they called “Christians”.

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