Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From "Postcolonial" to "Imperial-Critical": The Shifting of the Paradigm; or is it?

You will notice, this blog's title/subtitle has changed from Jesus and Empire: A Postcolonial Perspective to Jesus and Empire: An Imperial-Critical Perspective. This shift has been one I have pondered in my mind for several months. It was born out of a conversation that I had with Professor Francisco Lozada, Jr. at Brite Divinity School as well as an ongoing personal conversation with my good friend Dallas Gingles.

In what follows I will articulate, albeit in brief, the rationale for my shift. Firstly, the term "postcolonial" despite the works of Stephen Moore, R. S. Sugirtharajah, Fernando Segovia, and others, continues to be misunderstood even in the academic community. This is the case for two primary reasons, I think: (a) the prefixed "post-" continues to be understood as a temporal indicator of some sort to the average person unfamiliar with the highly nuanced discussion and (b) it becomes more difficult to communicate the nature of the type of ideological criticism being employed on the biblical texts when the prima facie glance most individuals offer in the direction of this criticism is confounded by a seemingly anachronistic category (i.e. imposing 18th/19th/20th century social constructs flowing out of British colonialism [and then American and other colonial programs] upon the ancient documents whose Sitz im Leben knew not such a robust construct [or did it?]). The former concern tends, in my estimation, to be a distraction. What postcolonial biblical criticism is doing often is confused by others thereby detracting from their perception of the analytic tools, methodologies, and goals of this type of biblical criticism which thereby invalidates, at the outset for many of them, any conclusions that such criticism can offer. The second point, in my view, also sidetracks the value of the criticism. Most (if not all) well known postcolonial biblical critical practitioners perceive and sufficiently nuance the sense in which they read the texts as "colonial scripts." Thus, the anachronistic charge, frankly, is one made by individuals who neither sufficiently understand or possibly have not thoroughly read the distinctions made by postcolonial biblical critics. Ancillary to this point, is the personal issue. That is to say, part of what is occurring in this method of biblical criticism is the elevation of the reader and the reader's context, that is, pushing the reader forward into view in the hermeneutical process. Thus, for individuals such as myself, I was born in America, a neo-colonial empire. For that reason, I cannot write or interpret from the same international and sometimes formerly colonized perspectives that other critical postcolonial scholars do (e.g. Stephen Moore, R. S. Sugirtharajah, Fernando Segovia). Furthermore, I have two more strikes against me, namely, I am white (albeit part American Indian) and a male. Therefore, in some sense, in the current discussion, simply by my social location, I am the colonizer as it were. Despite the fact that I have, through critical realization, noted my location, categorically rejected the oppressive role that has often characterized those traits, as much as consciously possible and desire to put forth critical research in this area that I find most fruitful reading through decentered, imperial-critical eyes.

As I stated above, I want to be clear, the terminology of "imperial-critical" was suggested by Professor Lozada and after having pondered his mention of the term and why, I feel that in locating concretely my methodological approach it is best to describe my interests and my eyes as imperial-critical lenses. My rationale are: (1) this term avoids dealing with the two above problems with the term postcolonial, (2) this term is neutral in so far as my being a mixed race American (but mostly caucasian-looking) to some may disqualify my voice from speaking in or as a "colonial/postcolonial" voice. This new terminology, empowers those who have been born and raised in the greatest imperial machine on the planet (for the moment) to critically engage the imperial presuppositions, categories, syntax, empire-speak, ideology, and socio-political reality from the inside. As Neo in the Matrix awakened to note that reality, as such, has been a construct of the imperial machine, so also imperial-critical hermeneutics offers the place in which those riddled with empire, but cognisant of its devices and evils, may come to read the text through these lenses. Even though Neo at one point took part in the machine and constructed reality according to the machine, was he disqualified from identifying the evils of the machine to his and other ethnic/socio-cultural individuals? To indeed, re-imagine the first century environment, noting that the biblical texts, albeit not existing in a Western imperial milieu, but nevertheless were written in a period and by a people deeply and pervasively affected by various forces within the imperial environment. Now, I still contend that what has arrived through postcolonial biblical criticism offers unique tools, that must continue to be used (i.e. mockery, mimicry, ambivalence, etc). Therefore, in a real sense the notion of "colonial/postcolonial" is the same in imperial-critical lingo, albeit slightly more nuanced, in terms of the condition of reality. That is to say, there are socio-political forces at work within, upon, over, under (to appear partially Lutheran), and around the religious concerns of the texts and vice versa. Moreover, there are Roman imperial oppressive forces engaged with Jewish elite oppressive forces and several categories of marginalized individuals within the text, a viewpoint, in my estimation, that the text is written from/to. The foundational concern in imperial-critical studies (if I can call it that), the sine qua non is empire and its devices. Thus, the imperial concern is the fundmental modality through which this lens peers. In my thought, this invites other criticisms, to stand on equal footing, with this criticism (e.g. womanist, feminist, LGBTQ, etc.).

In sum, imperial-critical best describes the mode through which my own situation and critical sensibilities are best described. At least for now. And therefore, will be the term or auspices under which my expressions here will be located. (Fortunately, I'm not baptist or this change may well have gotten lost in committee ;)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Liberating Sermon: Download my Recent Sermon

Today, I had the honor of preaching at Rockpointe Church. This message incorporated both the grand narrative of my mentor's life and my own, how they intersected through addiction and recovery, and probably evidences the most basic message that I have as a former heroin addict turned Christian. It captures a message of liberation, albeit I resist the temptation to develop some of my more academic and critical perspectives, giving way rather to a simple message of deliverance through Jesus. Thus, if you are looking for a Reverend Wright-ish tirade, you will be disappointed. Nevertheless, I think it accurately reflects the shape of my life and message in the local church.

CLICK HERE to Download the Sermon or get it HERE from SermonAudio.com

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Christma-Hanukk-kwanzaa!!

I saw this over on the 'wrong' side of the tracks, and frankly, it is so funny, well I had to share it too.

There are several reasons that you haven't heard my voice lately, the greatest of which is a thesis deadline... and well, a scholar's worst/best problem/blessing...family.

Happy Christma-Hanukk-kwanzaa!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Evangelicals and the Inability to Tolerate Diversity

My contention in this post is that "Evangelicals" have fundamentally evolved into a group intolerant to diversity of thought, even within the strictures of their already narrowly defined theological dogma.

Why is the National Association of Evangelicals unable to find stable leadership? It wasn't long ago that the NAE President Ted Haggard was exposed for being involved with a homosexual prostitute, despite being a prolific "warrior" against the social progress of LGBTQ equal rights. Now, the most recent resignation comes from the NAE Vice President of Governmental Affairs , Richard Cizik, (See here). He was ousted because he didn't sufficiently repress and subjugate individuals espousing alternative sexualities. That is to say, he thought it was okay policy in the United States to permit homosexual civil unions. In my estimation, that is not tantamount to saying that one necessarily endorses the life-style as a normative or morally valuative practice.

I thought that the conservative Evangelical position was that homosexuality was a sin. However, this man was ousted ipso facto that he didn't take a political orientation toward domestic policy in a empire that is not distinctly oriented to a religious group or ideology. America is not a theocracy, and most Christians, even conservative Evangelicals that I know, don't want it to be. However, "evangelicals" have been high-jacked by fundamentalists who desire power to purge the "wicked" (=those not conforming to the exact litmus test of theological dogma of the one judging) from their midst. There was a time, history tells us, when evangelical was a broad term encompassing many confessing, moderate Christian individuals (and denominations). But now, who would want to be associated with a term that continues to be defined by narrow, bigoted, hate-mongers that herald themselves as the last bastion of truth, when in fact they fail to look even remotely like the Jesus of history or his earliest followers.

I suppose there is a reason that I do not aspire to participate in distinctly Evangelical circles, a sad reason. They feed on their own. There is no room for thought, for difference, for diversity. This is a case in point. He said things the President, Leith Anderson, didn't think represented the association. Thus, despite his "regret" expressed (See the NAE account here), he was (as is implied) forced to resign. Is that what being an evangelical means? Does it mean opposing civil unions for homosexuals? Is that really it? Is that what Jesus would do? Are there any who call themselves evangelical out there that disdain this behavior?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Quest for the Historical NT Wrong: Requiem for a Discipline

There has been much ado throughout the biblioblogosphere concerning the quest for the historical NT Wrong. Blogging stalwarts such as Jim West, James McGrath, and many others have allocated their scholarly acumen to the worthy task. But it seems that Wrong has evaded historical inquiry. For those daring academics who expended their efforts in the quest, as Dale Allison said of Jesus, the reconstruction of the historical man frequently appeared more like the inquirer, a reflection in the well as it were.

I wonder, might scribal tradition have modified Wrong. Might the orthodox have melded his sarcasm and humor to serve their own means, to further their own diabolical plan, writ in the shadow government headquarters in the basement of Wal-Mart? Was it Cheney's evil minions who wrangled the manuscripts, manipulated the theology, and reconstructed the Wrong of history to suit the advancement of their own imperial dreams?

"I played a song and you did not dance,
I played a dirge and you did not mourn..."

I hear the sound now, the requiem, the quest has ended and Schweitzer himself has declared it, the Wrong of history has been lost to the Wrong of faith.

Therefore, I quip, "Wrong to me is the actualization of the hope of the disenfranchised scholar, the resistant, witty collegue and friend. Wrong is you, Wrong is me."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Darrell Bock and the paradigm shift in Evangelical Politics

Could the Evangelical political paradigm have shifted? I would say so, Darrell Bock outs himself in Newsweek Magazine as a Christian conservative who voted for Obama. Who could ask for a better mentor and friend for inspiration, seriously?

In the article, "A Post-Evangelical America: The religious building blocks of Obama's victory" by Lisa Miller at Newsweek.com the following is stated:

Darrell Bock is a professor at [sic] New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary who voted for Obama. For Christians like him, social issues such as abortion and gay marriage were not litmus tests this year. If Christians were concerned about "the economy, competence, our role in the world, the way we've prosecuted the war on terrorism—then they switched their vote and made the middle group larger." George Bush came to power telling an evangelical story that appealed to his base, a story of sin and redemption, of simple faith, of good and evil. This familiar story—and stories like it—has overshadowed every other religious theme in America for 40 years. Obama—his deep religious faith and his peripatetic spiritual biography—shines a light on all other religious paths in America, various as they are, and infinite.

Charismaniacs: Requiem for an American-jesus Empire

I became a follower of Jesus through the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of Christianity. I admit that in the earliest days of my faith, I fell prey to glamour and panache of teachings about Jesus that prima facie appeared to be unconventional. Having been crushed by the weight of a heroin and cocaine addiction, in concert with a severe alcoholic bent, I sought a relationship with God that would enable me to succeed in life. I was drawn to a Jesus, quite disparate (in hindsight) from the historical Jesus, or frankly from the Jesus of “orthodoxy” ((While in a formal paper, I would be reticent to use this term, I speak hear only the general contours of faith from the fourth century on espoused on both Eastern and Western sides, by Roman Catholics and Protests [so the net is pretty wide!)) for most of Christian history. The Jesus I found was the quintessential American Jesus—a Jesus whose robe was composed of the American flag, who was a stalwart for Western superiority, who desired for his people to learn the “ways of the world” and manipulate the world system in order to gain wealth and influence “for the kingdom,” of course. This Jesus wanted his preachers to be Imperial warlords “of the Spirit,” to vanquish “the wicked,” take their wealth and be affluent beyond imagination. This jesus ((You will note that henceforth for this “jesus” I will use the uncapitalized substantive morpheme, in the same way an orthodox (of whatever stripe) person would choose to discuss alternative deities to their faith with a lowercase “g-od.” )) furthermore has become the servant maiden passed around from demagogue to demagogue used for her worth to manipulate the populace by playing on their thought or felt spiritual needs. In a provocative new series of posts, I will seek to identify and deconstruct several Charismaniacs. As a thinking Pentecostal, someone has to identify the fallacies of fundamentalist mind control employed under the guise of the name of jesus, regardless of how disparate this jesus may be from the historical Jesus who identified himself with the marginal, hopeless, oppressed, and poor.

Case 1: Dutch Sheets (a self-proclaimed “prophet”)

Recently, Dutch Sheets, a sparsely known Charismatic “prayer warrior/prophet” has posted on his website an open letter concerning his “response” to the recent Presidential Election. At the outset he states that Obama’s election “he is confident” is not God’s will. His rationale is that Obama is not against abortion, and will not perpetuate a Supreme Court to his liking. These to factors would have pushed America towards being more “god honoring” and “life and morality.” He is concerned America has put on “blinders” to Obama’s beliefs and practices.

He believes that “judgment will increase” as a result. By this, he means “divine” judgment. He likens his sadness to “Jesus” weeping for Jerusalem! Moreover, he identifies several key groups who will experience direct judgment: (1) those who “aligned themselves with pro-abortion forces” (which being interpreted means “anyone who voted for Obama”!), (2) leaders who refuse to take a stand (we are left to assume he means against the evil forces of Obama and those who voted for him, (3) for those who voted for money over morality, then pause. He steps back to rationalize his appeal, trying to say that social justice is important, but not as important as anti-abortion. Then he identifies what he thinks this judgment will look like.

Firstly, I would like to say that I offer the benefit of the doubt, at least in so far as I’m sure Mr. Sheets thinks that his heart is “led by the Spirit” or “right” if you will. With that caveat, it should be pointed out that what Sheets has offered is little more than his own diary entry. Sheets is unable to recognize that God may well not be in his movement or his perception of “the church.” Could it be that God has removed his presence—in judgment….from the entrenched arm of the Republican party that calls itself the body of Christ? Might Sheets mourning be stemming from a deeper level of pain than for the nation, rather could he be perceiving in his unconscious the fall of the fundamentalist Empire? Might the power brokering days those who represent a jesus washed in the red, white, and blue, who justifies war and the perpetuation of empire, who commands capitalistic enterprise and spiritual manipulation among those who would seek him in faithfulness be drawing to a close?

I have sympathy for Sheets, a true American product of his environment. He doesn’t realize he embodies more of the world in his nationalism and quasi-pietism than the “evil world” of those outside his spirit-clan of yes-men. In the earliest days of my faith, I was at an event where Sheets “prophesied” for nearly 45 minutes in a morning chapel. I fell asleep that day, literally. Sometimes blessings come in disguise, I suppose. By way of concluding commentary, I believe Sheets’ rhetoric are prophetic, I believe, however, that the “Spirit” is needed to understand this unknown tongue. The days of the late great American fundamentalist Empire are waning, the foundations have crumbled, and the structure is trembling and will soon buckle under the weight. If the American jesus proponents’ measuring rod of success is correct—namely, if that which “brings in the biggest crowds” and “blesses the most people” is the standard of God’s Spirit involvement with humanity, then I suppose that Jesus has arisen, but those who called him ‘lord, lord’ and perpetuated their tunnel-visioned, hate-mongering, discriminatory, elitist faith are not being recognized by Him. And Sheets’ letter operates functionally as a requiem for the American-jesus Empire. May she rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A New President and Another Blog: Change is Coming!

It is an amazing time we live in! America is apparently in a new direction, having shaken off the fetters of racism by electing a new African-American President. Congratulations to Barack Obama and I am hopeful of the change that is to come (albeit, I'm skeptical that anything radically new will change).

Another, less historic event has occurred, I've been given a voice at Jesuspolitics.net with some other very intelligent folks. The site is geared toward Jesus and politics. I have a great respect for Thom Stark after having only read a couple of his papers, and I am grateful for the opportunity to blog there as well robreid.jesuspolitics.net. I will maintain both blogs, likely with many of the same or similar posts. You can check out my new post Towards a Jesus' Politiks of Palestinian Liberation.

Again, keep coming back HERE, but check there too! And definitely read Thom Stark's stuff!

Other News:

Big Thanks to N.T. Wrong, the infamous, who included me in his biblioblog list, despite labeling me as "fairly conservative," I was just happy to be included!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ezra and עם הארץ: A Neo-Colonial Judaism?

There is no question that Ezra had ties to the imperial Persian court (cf. Horsley, Scribes, Visionaries, and Second Temple Politics [2007], 22-23). However, Ezra's history is both theocentric and monolithic, which is to say, there is a tacit assumption throughout his work, namely, that only the deportees are "true Israel" in a sense. For עם הארץ are demonized half-breeds, having "fallen prey" it seems to wickedness. But, Yahweh had "divinely" commissioned via the Persian empire a return to the land. There is no mention of the fact that Persian imperial practice normatively reconstructed a people's indigenous religion as a way of making the province functional both economically and civilly. Rather, Ezra paints a picture of pietism. The Ezra-led band of "true Israel" were "in terror of the local people" (Ezra 3:3; NET). Indeed, the Judahites that were not deported were now "enemies" of Judah and Benjamin (4:1). Thus, in the name of God, the Persian Empire sponsored the reconstruction and systematic colonization of Yehud, albeit in a disguised way---now Ezra and the Jewish Elite were given authority to rule the province, thereby ensuring the Persian Empire's return on their investment and they were given imperial authority to make everyone "obey God's law and the law of the king (Ezra 7:25–26)! Ezra was empowered with the ability to banish, imprison, and confiscate of property! This sounds like martial law, no? What Ezra offers is ONE narrative perspective. However, what many scholars have found is that Yehud was much more complex than Ezra paints the portrait. And the tacit dismissal of those in the land as "negligible in number" or "fundmantally Yahwistic apostates" as a professor recently said to me, is to fail historiography for a theological agenda.

Admit it, the book of Ezra functions as a colonial mandate, justifying theologically no less, the systematic colonization and oppression of an indigenous peoples. Was Ezra's commission sanctioned, truly sanctioned, by Yahweh? Certainly, Ezra thought so.... but to change the analogy, what would we call it if a people group today was sent by a large empire to populate and subdue another land, to subjugate it to the host empire? To confiscate land, to force "them" to obey? What would we call that?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Crisis and Empire

As the savings, investments, and retirement hopes of millions of Americans have essentially stepped back in time 5 or more years, shedding in three or so weeks virtually everything they have gained in the past 5 years, the Empire teeters on the edge of utter disaster. The entire world economy is crumbling along with us and the reality is that no one knows or has the will or insight to really help. I am ashamed by both candidates for President. What I thought was an election that might, in fact, change things no longer appears that way to me.

With both parties, the president, and both candidates for president essentially supporting the nationalization of American financial institutions out of sheer panic, I find myself wondering how increasing the size, power, and control of empire will really help the average citizen. Here is the point I'm pondering. Most of my friends, who are critical of empire, support Barack Obama. But my question is this, if we are truly skeptical of empire, skeptical of its evils, skeptical of it as an ideological machine, why do we support the radical increase of American imperial reach? Congress cannot even balance the budget of their cafeteria without a multi-million dollar deficit, how then can we trust them to manage our futures, retirements, health care?

I am cynical, truly skeptical that either candidate will create change so that my daughter may grow up in a world not worrying where her next meal will come from. Such a statement one year ago could readily be dismissed as fringe-pessimism. However, with the global political and economic climate in the shape it is in, I find little if any energy left to "hope" that either candidate will positively affect the direction of this country. I think both candidates are going to expand the empire in a radical way, such a radical way that before long, before anyone has time to notice, the very fundamentals of America will no longer resemble what we once called "America." Maybe it will be for the better, or maybe not... What may be worse, however, is that it will no longer be able to sustain a reasonable standard of living for any of its shivering denizens. Will expanding Empire's reach really save us? If the banks are nationalized, if the health system is nationalized, if the power base of the government continue to grow, will the well being of the people really be affected? I remain skeptical, for I simply cannot trust empire, no matter who is at the helm. Now I wonder whether I can vote at all, should I elect not to vote? Will it matter?

As a Christian, I cannot pledge allegiance to the flag. As a Christian, can I, or should I vote?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Warren Carter on Negotiating the Empire

I had the pleasure of attending Stalcup School of Theology for the Laity yesterday who offered a series of lectures on Negotiating the Roman Empire in the New Testament by the esteemed Professor of New Testament Dr. Warren Carter from Brite Divinity School (TCU). Carter has written extensively on the Gospels in their Imperial context (such titles as: Matthew and the Margins, Matthew and Empire, and most recently John and Empire).

He presented three engaging lecture/discussion sessions. Each format provided initial discussions into the imperial foreground of the texts of the New Testament. He unpacked the socio-economic stratification of the elite vis-a-vis the rest of society (i.e. the 97% of people!). Underscoring the convergence of economic, political, religious, and civic life in the first century, he provided a robust reorientation to the gospels. I personally found Carter's style a model approach for presenting imperial and postcolonial concerns in a manner conducive to reception within the local church. What was most intriguing, and in my case encouraging for my own future vocational pursuits, was his ability to present the information in such a practical way, stripped of technical academically oriented terms, while never failing to deliver the content of those terms in a way anyone could perceive. Certainly, these are the hallmarks of good education in the local church context.

Further, he set forth the contours of much of his published material. The final lecture/discussion took on John and Empire wherein he described some of the factors relative to the "eternal life" found in Jesus over against the "Roma aeterna." I found this the most interesting area of the discussion, largely because it was so new to me. Previously, I considered John a difficult text to navigate in terms of imperial interaction, yet in the few brief minutes that he spoke, it became clear that John may well be one of the easier texts to analyze with respect to empire. Carter's works and thoughts are certainly on the cutting edge of reading the Gospels in their context. I suggest highly picking up, as I have, his recent publication John and Empire: Initial Explorations [T & T Clark, 2008]).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Imperial Jaundice: Reflections on Being a Christian in America

An old expression that is really growing on me is that "every thing is yellow to the jaundiced eye" which is tantamount to saying one's situatedness in life fundamentally colors they way in which one perceives, knows, and engages the world. Therefore, I would like to appropriate a new term, at least I think it is original, Imperial Jaundice. Herein I think the expression properly captures the nature of the American imperial jaundice epidemic. This is the disease, literally and metaphorically, of the religion of Empire, namely, patriotism, nationalism, and Americanism. The disease is characterized by the stories we tell each other in the narrative world that we have constructed around the world experienced through our lenses. So deep and subversive is this illness that it is virtually undetectable, lurking below the molecular level. Indeed, even as one who is beginning to recognize how entrenched in the American imperial ideology that I am, there is yet a conflict. A deep conflict of soul, difficult to describe, but utterly real. Why is it that I understand, to some degree, the seriousness of the call to radically follow Jesus. I recognize that the American Empire and even the expression of mainline Christianity of any denomination for the most part is inherently complicit to empire and yet there is a resistance in my soul, an ambivalence. At one and the same moment I hate and yet am drawn to my imperial heritage. This space, this ambiguous, ambivalent circumstance torments me. On one hand, the New Testament presents Jesus as a peacemaker and the early church as a social body, functioning in a cooperative/voluntary mode something akin to socialism. Jesus stood up for the poor and working class, those whom empire and the elite had swept under the carpet. While I know these things, and am rather convinced of their truthfulness, when I consider the capitalist system in which we live, where profit is god and the marginalized are part of the machinery, why do I still resist movements toward socialism? Why do I resist internally, at the heart level, the notion that somehow bigger government will really in the end help the marginalized? I want to believe. But something in my soul fights against that. In life we all learn by experience various principles we call "wisdom" or "common sense." What is a Christian to do, when I know capitalism is wrong, and yet I don't think movements toward a socialist state would really be better in the end?

I'm vexed by this. I think a real encounter is being made at the core of my being; I'm beginning to understand some of the categories of postcolonial criticism by means of experience. More will come on this topic, but I wonder, does anyone else struggle with this?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"God is on Our Side:" A Primer in the Hermeneutics of Empire

Unfortunately, neither party it seems cares about the peasantry. Ever wondered what political theology is? What are the hermeneutics of empire? I would argue whatever the hermeneutics of empire are--certainly, in practice it looks something like this... a congress person interpreting a hurricane that will potentially kill and certainly destroy thousands of the poor and ethnic minorities by claiming that "God is giving his party victory!"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Christian and the Vote: What is the theological significance?

A recently released book out by Cascade Books is entitled Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008). What is a Christian to do? Anyone sensitive to the Imperial nature of Americanism is rightly reticent to participate in the enthronement of yet another quasi-Caesar figure. Conversely, is electing not vote tantamount to the retreat of fundamentalism into the "holy huddle?" Why or why not?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is Pelosi the Whore of Babylon? Denounced by Cardinals and Priests!

While this blog takes an unabashed progressive point of view, I have gone to lengths to refrain from commenting on America's fundamentally failing and utterly worthless government (the result of the idiot Bush and the equally worthless congress). Watch the video below (this video is obviously from an anti-Pelosi bent; however, you can't distort what the woman so clearly and stupidly says....):

Last time I checked, the Catholic church, if they believed in anything at all unilaterally believed that life begins at conception. That is not a statement of right or wrong (that is, I'm not valuating the statement, merely making it). How can this woman so easily distort and pander to her own ideology? This is further evidence of the fact that she is an ardent ideologue sold so far up the river, she is just as bad as Bush---totally worthless. She will say anything and do anything to stay in and acquire more power.

Note the Catholic response: Cardinals have blasted her, members of Congress have publically and formally written a letter of correction.

And all this from a woman who wants America to get off of "Fossil Fuels" by getting on to Natural Gas (a fossil fuel)! I'm sorry, but I officially hate all republicans and all democrats. I think Pelosi is at best an imbecile and at worst, well a chief player in the perpetuation of empire in America.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Daniel and Empire: Initial Thoughts

Who is the enigma of the Hebrew Bible (besides possibly יהוה)? Could it be that seer of luminous things, visionary, and prophetic riddler whose words are enshrined in the Hebrew Bible as "Daniel?" This document scrawled out in Hebrew and Aramaic has been the fancy of liberal and fundamentalist alike for some time. The latter abduct various visionary episodes subjecting them to the scrutiny of their so-called interpretations offering little more than a modernist, head-in-the-sand hermeneutic yielding fodder to construct vain charts for their laser pointers. Ah, I suppose that's enough poking at the blindness of fundamentalist theology.

Daniel is a fascination, not only for its fanciful and endearing tales, but also for its genre. It denotes a shift within the burgeoning and imaginative resistance to empire. Not just that, but the book itself, if taken as a whole is fundamentally conflicting; whereas in the first several chapters (1-6) the tales of Daniel relate to the apparent complicity with empire that these foreigners had, albeit with some minor resistance. By and large this section though is sprinkled with an orientation toward dominating powers that is rather positive. The paradigm shifts as the reader transitions to chs. 7-12, in which the destruction of the tyrannical empire is projected via the apocalyptic imagination into the immediate (or less likely remote) future. Further, this issue arises as to whether said prophetic oracles are ex eventu (a very likely, if not probable position), but for the sake of argument lets say they are not ex eventu (that is--for the fun of it).

More to come. I'm digesting a host of commentaries presently as I feverishly assimilate my thoughts and put them on paper for my thesis.

Friday, August 8, 2008

What makes a great teacher?

The gears in my tiny noetic apparatus have been spinning... While apocalypticism, hermeneutics, classical Hebrew prophecy, and of course the infamous Son of Man have been weighing deeply upon my mind, I would like to share and query with you regarding something more practical.

I just finished the best class I've ever had. This professor exemplified everything a student could possibly desire, simply masterful pedagogy, engagement with the data, moving through the material in a timely and insightful way, all I can say is WOW. Now I know for sure that someone is actually doing education the way I aspire to, critically, unapologetically honest with the data, and willing to follow the evidence where ever it leads.

What makes a great teacher? Is it charisma? Is it brilliance? How do we measure brilliance? I know one or two of the top tier people in their niche areas, but does that make them the best teachers? In fact, some of the people who write incredible books have pitiful classroom etiquette; conversely, I know of at least one professor who has published extensively in a variety of modalities from popular level to monographs and yet is also likely one of the top teachers in terms of in-class engagement.

As of today my thoughts are:
The Best Teachers/Academics are (in biblical studies):
  1. Individuals committed to analyzing the data from all vantage points fairly. That means being willing to genuinely entertain, critique, and valuate each argument on its own merits (regardless of the religious implications). The best example of the mentality not to have (an anecdotal quote no less) is one that "my beliefs are battle-tested, unshakable..." (yes, I actually read that somewhere). All this signals is fundamentalism, which at base is no different that hardened liberalism which refuses to entertain anything remotely orthodox (whatever orthodox means).
  2. Committed to the highest quality scholarship and desirous not "to put the cookies on the lower shelf" (I hate that expression). Students should be taken deeper, pushed further than they can go, stretched farther than they can stretch---this in my estimation is real learning.
  3. Intentionally push viewpoints contrary to the normative student body's theological orientation. If you don't teach people to think, they will wind up losing their faith because no one had the nerve to be honest. If, in the face of the data, they choose to walk away from faith---so be it. Nothing is more aggravating that the tired rhetoric of pseudo-"pastoral" protection by educators who choose not to entertain the hard questions. When professors are known only to tow the party line and fail to engage the difficult questions honestly (often admitting there are not clear and certain answers that are comforting) then they fail their students and their vocation. Students see through the mirage and coming from a lifetime student, it is almost impossible to have respect for someone being paid to educate who views their vocation as some sort of "ministry of encouragement" wanting only to "teach people what to believe."
  4. Kind, merciful, and just. Justice is grading critically, but fairly. However, I have little compassion for those students who always have some emergency or excuse. Who has time for that crap? Life or death, sure I understand. But good teachers are firm, yet just.
  5. Are committed to guiding their students both in life and most importantly in their future vocation. If that means training a student to be more academic, teaching them how to write better, or pointing them in correct directions for doctoral and other work then so be it. These are teachers who care about their students enough to 1) be honest with them about the state and limitations of knowledge and 2) to pour into their lives something of the character, values, and insights the educator has pertaining to academics.
I have only seen education like this modeled in a handful of individuals in my life. That statement is itself a travesty. What do you think

Enough of my hobby horse, lets talk prophecy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Prophecy, the Prophetic Imagination, Hermeneutics Part 1

Currently, I'm working through D. Brent Sandy's Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (IVP, 2002). I'm about a third of the way through it, and I am compelled by Sandy's methodology and research abilities, his literary prowess, and thoughtfulness. What is more, I'm exegetically working through portions of the prophets (i.e. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel) in Hebrew, a fascinating venture.

Moreover, I'm being challenged to rethink, or think afresh concerning texts commonly held within popular level Christianity as so-called "direct" or "clear" messianic prophecies. Today, we focused on Jeremiah 23:5-6, in light of Jeremiah 33, arguably an exilic reflection on the originally pre-exilic oracle in 23:5-6. Of late, I was already pondering the state of Jewish apocalypticism pertaining to the development of messianism (as should be obvious from virtually every post on this blog). However, some of my initial suspicions are now being framed in a new, and indeed, more lucid landscape.

My current work, albeit only initial investigations of classical Israelite prophecy, happens to be directly impacting my thinking in other areas. What I'm seeing now in Jeremiah is as follows. Firstly, there is no trace of messianic expectation from a contextual (i.e. historical-exegetical) standpoint in Jeremiah. The "righteous branch" or more properly "legitimate scion" (a phrase I borrow from Dr. Gordon Johnston) is a prophetic expectation not of an individual, but of the restoration of a Davidic dynasty. This is confirmed by both a) the immediate context and b) Jer 33. What is so important about this observation is the implications, namely, there is no eschatological messianism present until at least Zechariah or the Second Temple period. Hence, many traditional passages often "clearly" messianic in traditional interpretation, in terms of their Sitz im Leben were nothing of the kind. What does this mean? On one level, the passage in Jeremiah shows that what takes place in Zech is a projection, in light of the apparent failure of the expected Davidic lineage of kings to sit on the throne again, of the apocalyptic imagination, albeit inspired by the Spirit, in resistance to the Yahwists' socio-political situation (oppression, subjugation, etc) of an eschatological figure. That is, a dynamic transformation takes place between the exile and the Second Temple period, the reorientation of Israelite future prophetic expectation, via apocalyptic expectation, of a archetypal Davidic kingly figure. This figure is initially shrouded in apocalyptic ambiguity, appearing "like" a human, often as angelic, sometimes as military victor, elsewhere as priestly ruler.

Much more has to be said about this, and even now I am merely focusing my thoughts. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Suter, David W. "Weighed in the Balance: The Similitudes of Enoch in Recent Discussion"

David Winston Suter, "Weighed in the Balance: The Similitudes of Enoch in Recent Discussion," Religious Studies Review Vol. 7, No. 3 (July 1981): 217-221.

In this article, as the title implies, takes up SOE (=Similitudes of Enoch) within scholarly dialogue up through 1981 (so admittedly the state of affairs nearly thirty years ago. Suter gave lucidity to the discussion, tracing various trajectories in the conversation from Milik through his own position. Chiefly, in the end he argued that SOE is firmly rooted in the mid to late 1st century CE roughly contemporaneous, but not antecedent to the Jesus movement(s). For Suter, the SOE is too late to be of any influence on the Son of Man tradition in NT gospels. He offered great insight in solidifying the untenable position offered by Milik that the SOE was late 3rd century Christian tradition (270 CE).

This is a helpful but dated article establishing the shape of the discussion toward the twilight of the 20th century pertaining to NT studies and Second Temple Judaism studies.

Several interesting quotes (either for their literary artistry or academic significance):
  1. "In recent scholarly estimation, the Similitudes (or Parables) of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-70) has suffered a fate akin to Bright One, son of Dawn in Isaiah 14, who was cast down to Sheol" (217).
Come on, that is a beautifully crafted sentence for biblical studies.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Book of Ruth in Postcolonial Perspective

The book of Ruth is something of an anomaly as one of the few books in the Hebrew Bible written specifically around women, what a refreshing thought. How could the book of Ruth be understood in Postcolonial optics? While there is great scholarly disagreement concerning the date of Ruth, most would concur that the purpose of the book is to legitimate the Davidic monarchy and the Davidic throne in light of David's mixed ancestry. Whatever the book accomplishes within its milieu, aside from offering a inspiring tale of the loyalty of a daughter-in-law for her foreign mother-in-law and her ultimate redemption by a nobleman, it certainly offers a beautifully colored narrative.

What else might the book be/do? Could it be that Ruth, as an apologetic serving to legitimate the rightfulness of David to rule over against his Moabite ancestry is fundamentally the quintessential postcolonial literary specimen? As such we have power structures, the Davidic monarchy, with vested interest in perpetuating a divine justification for his questionable genealogical line. To that end, does it presuppose detractors to the Davidic rule? What kind of discourse is going on here?

After an analysis of the document itself, I think, whatever Ruth's (the book = Ruth) purpose is, one aspect of it likely is propaganda. This document legitimates Davidic rule as a result of Yahweh's divine ordering of his forebears in terms of genealogy. These are some preliminary thoughts that deserve further attention. I will continue to consider the issues and report to you as is possible.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Three Days and He was Raised, before Jesus?

There is much commotion about a recent Time's article relative to an archaeological finding in Israel that purports to have found a pre-Jesus narrative, depicting the angel Gabriel as describing another messiah (Simon?) having been raised from the dead after three days. Unfortunately, there is much to cloud any scholars purview, gaping holes in the text, unsure wording, leaving much to conjecture (-al emendation!).

For a look at the Hebrew and English translations of this text see:
1) Biblical Archeology Review
2) Time's Article

Also, for commentary from several noted NT scholars see:
1) PrimeTime Jesus

American Patriotism: A Competing Metanarrative?

A cover story at CNN.com depicts the new fight an atheist solidier is waging against the U.S. Department of Defense. What is most interesting, however, is a quote from Michael Weinstein, a retired senior Air Force officer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He states: "Our Pentagon, our Pentacostalgon, is refusing to realize that when you put the uniform on, there's only one religious faith: patriotism," Weinstein said. (Click Here for Article)

I realize this is a rather touchy subject, but in the first century religion and politics were not separated, there were not neat taxonomic glasses through which one could parse out their spiritual life from their socio-political life as is often the norm in America. This is a vexing question that I am really dealing with. Though I have been accused of it lately, I'm not a card carrying leftist liberal (whatever that means!). I'm someone who was raised in the deep South, raised to sincerely be devoted to my country. As an academic and as a thinking Christian, it is my duty to QUESTION whether patriotism can be, is, or could possibly be construed as a competing religious metanarrative. Therefore, I query: Is Patriotism a religion? Why or why not? Is Patriotism compatible with following Jesus?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Religious Affection, Part 2

I have been participating lately in a rather heated set of discussions pertaining to Empire, allegiance, and what it means to follow Jesus. So far, I have been accused of being "indoctrinated by leftist liberalism." What is so funny about the accusation, is not so much whether its true or not, but the criterion this individual used, namely, 1) I use the abbreviations BCE and CE (before the common era/common era) rather than BC/AD (before Christ/Anno Domini[sp?]), 2) I refer to America as Imperial, and 3) I had the audacity to question whether the pledge of allegiance might be roughly similar to oaths to Caesar in the first century CE (there I go again!).

Well, odds are Christ was actually born before the close of the "Before Christ Era." This dating system of BC/AD shows up, I believe, in the fourth century CE and later was found to have been off a couple of years. So am I obligated to use a dating system that: a) is rather arrogant to anyone other than Christians (ah, considering others, that makes me a liberal too!), and b) that is historically inaccurate? I think not.

Secondly, America fits perfectly the definition of an Empire. Most people around the world perceive us as such. Ben Franklin evidently did because his quote to that effect was printed on Dick Chaney's Christmas cards in 2003. So if that makes me a liberal, well I'm guilty. America is an Empire, it is in fact the most powerful empire on earth (at least right now; how long that will be the case is another matter entirely).

Third, I am trying to be a careful and honest historian with regard to first century Christianity(-ies) in the Roman Near East. If being honest with the historical data and being self-critical of my own socio-political location somehow makes me an "evil leftist liberal," well I think that judgment is indicative of a close-minded fundamentalistic attitude/worldview. I think I can safely say that because I used to be the one indicting liberals as though somehow thinking freely is a sin against God; however, I have reconsidered my loyalties, and I am seeking to hold only one true loyalty--the way of Jesus. Fidelity to wife, yes that is included in fidelity to Christ. However, fidelity to a nation is not.

In the final analysis, I wonder this: To say that I do not have allegiance to the country to which I live, is not to say 'I hate america' or 'I am ungrateful for the opportunities I have had.' So why when people are actually critical of facets of the American empire, are the lambasted? Is that Christian? Would Jesus approve?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Can a Christian Pledge Allegiance to the Flag: Reflections on Religious Affections Ancient and Modern

This past March I presented a paper at the 37th Annual Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. The paper was entitled "'Savior' and 'Lord' in the Lukan Birth Narrative: A Challenge to Caesar" (which has been submitted for publication in a NT related peer-reviewed journal presently). In this paper, I spent a great deal of time constructing the historigraphical picture of Palestine with reference to the rise of the Imperial cult through the end of the first century BCE and the mid-first century CE. In so doing, I spent much time wrestling with the ideology of religious affection in a milieu in which the taxonomic lenses of modernity's bifurcation of "political" and "religious" were alien, unthinkable demarcations; for religion was political and politics ipso facto was intrinsically enmeshed with religious concerns and affections.

As I studied the rise of the Imperial cult, I found myself torn internally by what I was uncovering about the past and how such knowledge was impossible for me to keep from deconstructing my own current experience as a human in the American Imperial West in the 21st century. Granted I was very careful to reconstruct the ancient world as the ancient world. However, what I did not expect from my research was the overwhelming effect, residual effect, such study would ultimately have upon my own Weltanschauung in the present. Indeed, the ways in which I conceived of myself in the socio-political and historical present. Now to my thought for the day, actually, I have been pondering this for quite some time now, almost a year.

In the ancient world, Israel was, even after exile, (as N.T. Wright has labored exhaustively to show) Israel likely still perceived herself as still in exile, even during the time of Jesus' advent. First, the Persian empire financially and politically offered the support (or rather sponsorship) of the reestablishment of a temple-state in Israel (i.e. Ezra and Nehemiah's building programs). Throughout the period that followed from the Persian sponsorship of the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem to the Roman occupation stretching into the earliest Jesus period, Israel was perpetually ruled by socio-political forces outside of their control. At times there was a feeling of independence, but historically the period clearly evidences the nation as a subject peoples, though often granted the beneficence of being able to practice their own religion and operate on a semi-independent scale, barring the perpetual extraction of monies by the overlords.

By the latent first century BCE, the Roman Empire was in process, that is, they were undergoing an internal transformation, a transformation instilling national power in an individual--the Emperor. This, of course, is a complicated manner that here, my brush strokes only outline vaguely. However, with Julius the religious landscape, polytheistic as it was, was also changing along with the power structures (because they were intimately wed together). Underlying the difficulties of the tremendous expanse of the Empire in lands and people was the ever illusive task of grounding the locus of authority, originally with the Republic (510 BCE), but ultimately in the Emperor (ca. 50 BCE). The imperial cult arose, slowly, but steadily in response not to a necessarily religious need, rather the imperial cult functioned as a means of perpetuating the Imperial ideology, a tool for the dissemination of Empire, if you will. Granted this functioned primarily in the East, often arising from the indigenous peoples seeking the favor of the Empire via the Emperor. With Augustus a new age had dawned in which the Emperor himself would function as the locus of Rome's authority, as the symbol of the Empire par excellence. Thus, a two-way relationship was forged: a) from the provincial areas toward the Empire (centripetal) and b) centrifugally from the Emperor as "savior" (Σωτήρ) or benefactor by providing games, food, and drink. Hence, the socio-political constellation revolved on the axis of the ancient universe--the Emperor himself. There is no little significance to the fact that the "government/emperor" oppressed the people through the extraction of monies from the provincial areas to fund the perpetuation of Empire building (wars, construction, etc.). The Imperial cult offered individuals on a local level a venue to evidence their patriotism to the Empire. Here they would come and offer prayers for (and sometimes to) the emperor, they would give offerings, they would participate in a sacerdotal system of spending in order to show their religious affection for their nation via the emperor. In fact, the mantra of the day became "Caesar is Lord." That is not to say, "Caesar is the unique creator, monotheistic deity who is holy and will save the world from sin" (that would be anachronistic. Rather Caesar is the supreme Lord in the sense that he saves the people from their own peril--lack of food, etc. (Often at the Imperial games the Emperor would distribute meat to the populace, etc.).

However, the first Christians refused to say "Caesar is Lord" because they followed a different Lord. Their claim, while possibly including the theological freight of restoration to God through Jesus, certainly first was socio-political (because remember in the first century there is no separation--religious and political are inseparable). So what was the real issue? I submit to you that fundamentally faith = allegiance. Following Jesus is a fundamental commitment of one's allegiance (socially, politically, spiritually) to have no other allegiances than Jesus. First Christians were murdered because they would not pledge an oath to Caesar. Evangelicals often appeal to the claim that Christians opposed the oath for spiritual reasons, i.e. it offended their religious commitment to Jesus; but does that not prove my point?

Now, what does any of this have to do with the "pledge of allegiance?" For those of you who are not American or have not lived in this country, this may or may not make much sense to you; but I was raised in the United States, indeed, the deep South for that matter. Every day at school students would stand, face the American flag, place their hand over their heart and say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Today, I can no longer in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag or to the nation. In fact, I think that if one takes Jesus seriously, takes his followers seriously, then in rough terms I find very little difference between the Imperial Cult's oath's to Caesar and the pledge of allegiance.

Here is my rationale:
Purpose and Function:
The Oath to Caesar functioned in order to: a) perpetuate the Empire's ideology and power structure, b) to identify, articulate, and perpetuate individuals personal commitments to the Emperor (a metonymy for the Empire), c) to foster Imperial unity of purpose under one monarch; and probably other reasons that I can't presently think of.

The Pledge of Allegiance functions in order to: a) perpetuate the ideology of the American Empire, b) to identify, articulate, and perpetuate individuals personal commitments to the Empire (flag a metonymy for America), and c) to foster American unity and a sense of patriotism toward one's place within the empire.

If first Christians died because they wouldn't simply say, "Yes, I am a patriot. I love my country and my leader, Caesar is Lord" then neither can I today fail to perceive that being a follower of Jesus necessitates that no other governmental allegiance may be held for where my "treasure is, there will my heart be also."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Interesting Theological Community -- Theologica

There is a new discussion forum called "Theologica" that might interest some of you.

Click Here

As of yet, I hear mostly conservative evangelical voices there, it would be nice to hear others as well. Hint, hint.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pentecostal and Charismatic Peace and Justice Conference 2008

Just an update on the PCPJ annual meeting, things are going very well and we expect this year's program to be very exciting. Moreover, we have had some great submissions to the student academic conference (see flyer on the right side of this page). I have been rather impressed with the submissions we have gotten dealing with several vital topics, namely, what a Pentecostal dialogue of peace should look like in the age in which we live and another excellent proposal which will be presented at the conference on the statuses of female and male slaves in Peter's Acts 2 Sermon and pentecostal/charismatic hermeneutics.

Needless to say, I am very excited about the potential of this conference and its impact, albeit small.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Collins, "The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel"

John J. Collins, "The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel" Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 93 No. 1 (Mar 1974): 50-66.

I apologize for the down time lately, things have been rather busy. Today, I'm reviewing the argument of the above article.

Collins' proceeded to give a rather thorough discussion of the history of the "Son of Man" (hereafter "SM") discussion relative to the book of Daniel. He reduces much of the discussion, helpfully, down to the central theses, namely, that the SM in Daniel refers collectively to "the holy ones of the Most High" or to an individual (with several trajectories flowing out of this distinction). After further nuancing he sets forth two precise positions: 1) following Coppens "the kingdom is given to the angelic hosts under their leader Michael," or 2) following Delcor "the kingdom is given to the people of Israel, who are symbolized by the 'one like a son of man..." (53). His aim is to determine between these options and set forth the meaning of the chapter (Ibid.). Methodologically, he approaches Daniel 7 with the supposition that "there is no reason to doubt that the vision in its present form and the interpretation of the work of one author" (Ibid.). And secondly, the document was composed in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and even after any modification likely reached its normative form (i.e. its present form) shortly after that time (54).

Collins' articulation of his methodology was helpful, both the structure of the article and the coherence of his argument. Without detailing every movement of the article, he proceeded to articulate the narrative structure of the unified section chs. 7-12 in light of its historico-social context (Antiochus IV Epiphanes). He proceed inversely from Dan 10:12-12:3 back to Dan 7, setting forth the Jewish cosmology of a two-storey universe in which events transpiring in heaven were corresponding to events in the earth (55). Hence, Daniel's essential apocalypticism, in some sense, reflects his notion that the historico-political events on earth, that is, of the Hellenistic wars transpiring on the human level in cosmic, angelic warfare; but there is more, 11:36 depicts an earthly ruler battling or vying for power even over the angelic beings, something Collins' notes is a biblical notion (cf. Isa 24, Jud 5). For Collins "Daniel 10-12, then, makes explicit the conceptual framework within which the apocalypticist saw the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes" (58).
Next he takes on Dan 8, which though valuable outside the scope of my review. Then he reaches the visions of Daniel 7. He finds the "one like the son of man" to be an angelic identity saying "it is most probable that the figure of "one like a son of man" represents an angelic host and/or its leader" (61). Herein Collins sees play or fluidity between the "holy ones" being purely the kingdom people (e.g. Israelites) and angels (62-63). He rightly notes the ambiguity in various texts that depict this play within the imagery and referentiality (i.e. 1 QM 17:6-8).

Finally, he arrived at the "Son of Man." Between the options of this figure 1) representing the angelic host collectively or 2) representing their leader specifically, he opts for the latter in light of Michael's centrality in Dan 10-12 (63). And thus, "it seems most likely that the figure...represents the archangel, Michael, who receives the kingdom on on behalf of his host of holy ones, but also on behalf of his people Israel" (64). What is most important for my future research is his next statement, "If this interpretation is accepted, then the later development of the "son of man" figure in the Similitudes of Enoch becomes much more readily intelligible" (64). Collins sees this angelic power as a growing tradition within the Jewish apocalyptic movement that becomes a half-breed as it were in the Similitudes and ultimately is a "variant belief in a heavenly, angelic savior figure which we find in a number of other Jewish intertestamental works" (64). Thus, Collins' view in this regard is significant, at least for my thinking.

In sum, presently I'm appreciating the late date for the book of Daniel. I think this readily explains the rise of the visions in response to the chaos which ensued with Antiochus IV Epiphanes; secondly, the figure in Daniel represents a trajectory within apocalypticism, in the shadow of Imperial oppression, that arose in resistance to the tyranny of the wicked overlords and envisioned a deliverance for the oppressed resultant of the rise of an angelic figure representing the masses and receiving a kingdom--that is, one that supplants the present world-stage of post-exilic Israel under Hellenism in the 3rd-2nd century before the common era. This figure is the beginning of a growing tradition that will be developed further in the intertestamental period, most notably, by appropriating and reconstructing the Danielic figure and "his" enthronement in a new socio-political and apocalytico-symbolic way.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

John J. Collins, "Jewish Apocalyptic against Its Hellenistic near Eastern Environment"

Article Bibliographical Information: Collins, J.J. "Jewish Apocalyptic against Its Hellenistic near Eastern Environment" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 220, Memorial Issue: Essays in Honor of George Ernest Wright. (Dec 1975), 27-36.

Collins' article is lucid in his articulation of the phenomena of apocalypticism in the Near East from the Persian period forward. Prior to endeavoring toward a discussion of Jewish apocalyptic per se, Collins reviews some of the developments in previous discussion from Gunkel through Hanson regarding the influence of the ancient Near Eastern environment upon Semitic thought, especially with regard to apocalypticism. He underscored the lack of attention to the post-exilic period in this regard and also drew out the implications of Alexander's conquest(s) for the proliferation of ideas among ancient peoples (26).

Collins identified a strand of shared experience among diverse peoples in the Hellenistic Near East that in some sense relates the apocalyptic ideologies which arose, namely, that most of the ancient peoples (quite independently of one another) shared "the idea of the kingship of the national deity" over against the new socio-political circumstances brought about by the advent of the Greeks and then Romans in the Hellenistic age (26). Essentially, he argues that various trajectories within broadly apocalyptic motifs arise from this conflict among varying peoples (e.g. Persian, Egyptian, Jewish).

He argues "[t]he most obvious result of the conquests of Alexander was the demise of the native monarchies in the various Near Eastern states" (28). This new state of "disorientation" of the deposition of native monarchs gave rise to various explosions or uprisings of native peoples in resistance (the Jews were only one of several peoples who resisted Hellenistic rule). Collins aptly points out that kingly figures were aroused in the future hopes of the colonized (my use of the term not Collins'). Among the Egyptian in the Demotic Chronicle, during the early Ptolemaic period, he quotes: "It is a man from heracleopolis who will rule after the Ionians. "Rejoice, O Prophet of Harsaphis." That means: The prophet of Harsaphis rejoices after the Ionians. For a ruler has arisen in Heracleopolis" (Citing C.C. McCown, "Hebrew and Egyptian Apocalyptic Literature," Harvard Theological Review (1925) 18:357-411]. This and many other examples offered by Collins shapes the contours of a common resistance motif among Near Eastern peoples during the period in which, in their unique and subtly differing ways, they projected a king-deliverer or "savior" of sorts to restore the centrality of the native monarch/peoples.

Collins' also cogently argued that other peoples resisted the rule of the "colonizer" by means of desecrating religious icons (e.g. statues in Hellenized temples) which he points out "were prompted by religio-nationalistic motives rather than desire for booty" (28). Thus, he concludes that before the Maccabean period, "...throughout the Near East from Egypt to Persia, Hellenistic rule was met by national resistance. Messianism, as the desire for the restoration of native monarchy, was by no means a peculiarity of the Jews but was a feature of the entire Near East in the Hellenistic period" (29). He then showed a precedence for a "four-kingdom" motif (similar to that envisioned in Daniel) envisioning (always) the Greeks as the fourth kingdom, which would be replaced either by the Roman Empire (Aemilius Sura), the kingdom of God (Daniel) or a new millennium (Bahman Yasht) [ibid.]. The schema then must have been "consciously borrowed" (29) though it took on various indigenous national features in each independent case.

Next, Daniel is proposed as the "best clue for the social function of this literature" (31). This is the case primarily because the "elite" or wise class intends for the apocalyptic to inform the masses. He states: "In the context of Daniel, it was clearly intended to inspire resistance to the Hellenistic king, a purpose shared by such non-Jewish works as the Demotic Chronicle, Potter's Oracle, aand Bahman Yasht" (31, emphasis added). Moreover, the phenomena itself of Jewish apocalyptic "...grew out of a situation of political alienation brought about by the loss of national independence in the post-exilic period" (31-32). Two points he raise further relate to the pesher mode of interpretation that often have been overlooked: 1) an indirect (or concealed) projection of scriptural interpretation into eschatological terms in order to "reapply the language of the older scripture without giving a direct commentary" (32). Now, in part I have interpreted Collins on this point, but I think it a safe assessment to parallel this to recent postcolonial-critical terms, namely, the rise of an ambivalent discourse against the dominant discourse (of the colonizer) which is couched in religious terms and yet is thoroughly religious and thoroughly political simultaneously. Or a reading of one's native scriptures and interpreting it in such a way to describe present events in eschatological terms. That seems to be Collins' argument. His second point argues "the interpretation of scripture is part of a broader phenomenon of prophecy by interpretation" (32). Hence, revelation is mediated by means of interpretation as opposed to directly. That is, Daniel's prophecy is one mediated through interpretation of revelation via the angelic being (cf. also 1 Enoch).

In passing he makes an interesting comment that already is haunting the crevices of my mind: "[pointing back to the oracles of nechepso and Petosiris (pointing back to the Chaldean astrology)] Especially, in the latter work astral phenomena are repeatedly interpreted with reference to political upheavals" (32, emphasis added).

In conclusion, Collins' sees apocalyptic as a phenomenon in its own right with two dimensions: 1) continuity and direct influence from other Hellenistic Near Eastern motifs and ideas, and [yet] 2) that they are not merely borrowed from other peoples, but have "a point of contact in the native tradition" (34). Further he states of the messianism: "The expectation of an ideal future king in both Egypt and Judah in the Hellenistic age is due, not to influence in either direction, but to the loss of native kingship in both countries" (34). Thus, the rise of the common apocalyptic (messianic) Zeitgeist "was the demise of national monarchies...[which] caused disruption in the traditional order and therefore led to a loss of meaningfulness and to alienation" (34).

Assessment/Reflection: I have sought to capture the essence or highlights of this profound work by weaving salient quotes from the article in order to underscore Collins' argument. For such a brief article, Collins traversed a vast amount of terrain. From a postcolonial standpoint, Collins' is a veritable goldmine. The surplus offers a cogent account in the Near East during the time leading up to that of the NT of the matrix of socio-political and religio-political resistance to oppressors of the indigenous peoples by means of apocalypticism. It is difficult to see how, through say Simon Samuel's motif of ambivalent hybrid discourse, the apocalyptic phenomenon is not by its very nature postcolonial. Moreover, his article raises the questions of messianisms evidently present throughout the Near East, this is a point that further work could really draw out in reconstructing the milieu of the NT documents and bear import in the way their authors construct Jesus apocalyptically.

Decolonizing the Son of Man

In what will follow shortly, I will be reviewing a host of articles and books related to the so-called "Son of Man" debate. I am working through these materials as I process information for my master's thesis related to Daniel, Enoch, and Matthew's "Son of Man" Enthronements. I would appreciate and welcome (even solicit) your thoughts and criticisms as I articulate the works and my thoughts of them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Apocalypticism and Current Existential Events

In recent weeks my personal reading habits as well as my preparation for my master's thesis has left me vexed by the matrix of Jewish apocalypticism, ANE apocalyticism, and its relation to the politics of empire. I'm currently, among other works, working through J. J. Collin's The Apocalyptic Imagination. Though this is far from a new work, rather it is a standard in the field, I am reading it for the first time and have been very impressed with Collin's facility with the materials coupled with the ease with which he communicates the subject matter. I will certainly be commenting more upon this work and the ideas expressed therein (as well as those evoked in my own small mind as I read).

On another note I now turn my attention to the GRE, that looming, villainous latch-key to open or close various doors in my future. On one hand I am deeply concerned that after having expended so much time and effort in order to maintain a very high GPA, worked diligently to find and pursue extra curricular activities that would comport with my desires, aims, as well as personal development, that how I do on this test could be determinative for whether people even consider my background, academic history, and Vitae! It would be a lie not to say that this in itself is a rather frightening thought, although I still have the utmost confidence that I will likely do well on the test. Though I am rather unnerved about the math section.

Now to the existential aspect of my post. In the last several weeks, I have been "blessed" (though I am very leery of using that type of rhetoric) to have such wonderful, fulfilling, and meaning time with my wife, daughter, and son. During the drive to Indiana and Tennessee my seat in the van was right next to my daughter Gennavieve. In the last few months, due to suicide Hebrew, advanced Greek grammar, and several other classes together I was so pressed for time that I didn't get the chance to just stare in my daughter's young eyes, see the vibrancy and love that illuminates those small blue eyes. I think one of the most meaningful parts of the trip was the time I had to simply bond with my daughter, trapped in the car, the opportunity to arose for me to communicate with my infant (who can't talk!) extensively. We made faces at each other the whole time, smiling, and playing. She has added so significantly to the meaning, purpose, and value of my life---for which I am eternally grateful. This family time has been a season of refreshing, grounding, and joy. Indeed, I think my relationship with God has grown closer through my relationship with my family and children, maybe you really will know "them" or even "yourself" through "their" or "your own" fruit!

In retrospect I wonder, what does apocalypticism have to do with life, the struggle, and empire? I think it has far more that we often give credit for. My thoughts of late have been plagued by the perpetual inquiry of in what way the apocalyptic imagination is influence by and a response to the oppression of empire, the inculcation of the colonial ideology upon the colonized, and the resistance discourse of the latter against the former!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus

Deconstructing Jesus. By Robert M. Price. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000. 266 pp. $34.00

The provocatively titled Deconstructing Jesus does not fail to disappoint in its erudite facility with the intersection of New Testament studies, literary criticism, historical criticism, and philosophy. Price presents his volume in eight core chapters framed in vitriolic, often humorous, and fundamentally skeptical prose. Price holds “Jesus Christ” to be a socio-religious moniker entailing a host of tertiary theological formulations and presuppositions (e.g. Chalcedonian Christology, nineteenth century views of inspiration and literalism, etc.) all of which necessitate critical reflection and deconstruction (pp. 11-12). Price eschews the very idea of so-called “historical Jesus” projects or “reconstructions” as “practically impossible and ill-advised” (p. 12). Indeed, he argues that because so many Jesus reconstructions are plausible that they therefore “cancel each other out” which gives rise to Price's own “Jesus agnosticism” (pp. 16-17). With the tone set, Price scrupulously proceeds to “deconstruct” the various Christianities within the plethora of ancient sources in order to undermine the modern notion of “Jesus” as a monolithic and even known figure.

In chapter one, Price assails the “myth of the early church” arguing for widely divergent “Christianities” many of which would hardly have been recognizable as “Christian” in a normative sense. Hailing F. C. Baur and Walter Bauer as “[t]wo of the most important investigators of early Christianity” he employs their initial formulations as starting points and seeks to press some of their conclusions (however tentative they might have been) to what Price perceives as their logical ends. With the degree of mention Price makes concerning philosophy throughout the work, it is rather odd that he failed to note even once the influence of Hegelian philosophy with its dialectic-evolutionary presuppositions embedded in the analyses of both Baur and Bauer. This betrays what later appears as Price's own underlying presupposition of a dialectical, history of religions approach to the materials (cf. pp. 29-32, 35-44).

Nevertheless, he proceeds to question the ideological factions perceived in the nascent documents. On the one hand, Price raises excellent questions of whether “orthodoxy” as such were existent at all in the way later historians (e.g. Eusebius) presented the story; however, Price's invective rhetoric persistently chiding any semblance of “Christian orthodoxy” seriously inhibits the effectiveness of much of his argumentation. The balance of chapter one through three yield, following Burton L. Mack's “pre-gospel” classifications the following movements: the Q community, the Pillars (Peter, James, John), the "heirs of Jesus" (the brothers of Jesus and James), the “community of Israel” (those who saw Jesus as the new Moses/Elijah figure), the synagogue reform movement, and the “Christ cults” (which he parsed into several cults). Each of these movements represents a rather diverse and independent cluster of religious followers each movement having its own “take” on Jesus. Price undermines the “big bang” theory, that is, the idea that the resurrection occurred giving rise to various trajectories of interpretation whether orthodox or heterodox. Rather the picture is one of a diversity of meanings of “Jesus” some completely removed from any notion of suffering/death or resurrection, which falls in line with and makes more complex the “Christ-myth” position. This is the case because Price finds Gnostic Redeemer myths already widely in circulation in the religious landscape of the Judean peoples of the time.

In chapter four Price argues extensively that the construct of Jesus in the NT supposedly antagonistic of “Pharisees” and “religious leaders” betrays the anachronisms embedded within the document. Rather, the Messiah of the NT is something of a “midrash” or compilation figure presented through a complex construction of layer atop layer with a bedrock of diverse, contradictory, Cynic sayings of “Jesus” (p. 100). Indeed, the “Son of Man” in the NT is merely a cipher for a hiding sage's agenda allowing “the dubious authority of some early Christian sage to recede behind the Torah-like clout of the Lord Jesus” (p. 103).

In chapter five, Price copiously labors to place the “Sufi” Islamic sayings of Jesus (twelfth century) alongside Q and Gospel of Thomas sayings developing a case that Jesus' death was not part of the original story. Indeed, he concludes “if we plot the trajectories of Christian evolution through the New Testament documents as Mack does, we will come up with multiple Christianities all the way back…” (p. 149). Hence, this constellation of Christ mystery cults and Jesus movements having nothing to do with one another validates both Price's idea that the Jesus could ever be known or indeed whether he, as such, ever existed.

In chapter six, Price courts Rene Girard's theory of the sacred scapegoat, bemoaning Girard's failure to press the theory through the Christ myth (p. 176). Herein Price posits the transposition of names for others all the while implying that Peter might be the Caiphas-figure and the disciples put him to death, or his death could have been faked which would comport with other ancient stories (a la Chapter seven). The book culminates with Price following Earl Doherty in seeing the construction of Jesus as midrashic compilation of OT antecedents which supposes that none of the events of Jesus are historical in any sense.

Ultimately, Price succeeds to offer a chiding work sure to evoke consternation. However, his arguments are convoluted and predicated upon a host of presuppositions that are at best tenuous. For instance, how probable is it that Luke-Acts was written so late that Marcion's version represents the earliest version of Luke [!] (p. 80). Where are opposing views to Price's radical theses? One will search the bibliography in vain finding a list of highly selective and agreeable sources to Price's unambiguous agenda. The work is fraught with a continually arising false dichotomy setting Price and his theories as representative of “critical scholars” over against fideists and Christian apologists. What is more, does Price actually represent “critical scholars” or only those who agree with himself (likely a more limited group). Is everyone who disagrees with Price's constructs ipso facto a fidiest? The irony, however, is that it is difficult to imagine how believers in Jesus, who he derides, exercise more of a fidiestic “leap” in supposing Jesus existed, died, and was believed by his followers to have been raised than Price himself exercises in supposing his “critical eye” discerns the layer upon layer upon layer of texts, communities, and confluence of myths to reach communities behind the communities exposing that “Jesus” is a construct and historically incredible. What of the non-Christian historical attestation to Jesus' existence? Nevertheless, his arguments would have been more compelling if they were better documented and argued in greater detail. The work took on so many radical theories that it did not prove convincing or probable in most of what was offered.