I am a recent subscriber to BR, and I find it interesting, stimulating and thought-provoking. I enjoy all of the articles, although I have to reread some of them.
I sometimes get the impression that they are written for college students rather than ordinary readers. I need a dictionary to understand some of the words.
If It’s an Invention, Enjoy It Anyway
You are a brave man, Mr. Shanks. Thank you for “The Biblical Minimalists: Expunging Ancient Israel’s Past,” BR 13:03. It gives me a better understanding of the controversy.
If Israelite history is an invention, we should celebrate such a wonderful, fun, brilliant, heart-warming invention.
Seven Items from One BR
While all issues of BR (and Biblical Archaeology Review) are interesting and useful, some are especially so. I placed seven items from the current BR in my file (books to be ordered for the library, info to supplement course lectures, etc.).
The article on the biblical minimalists was especially helpful. It updated work I did on Bible, archaeology and faith for a Society of Biblical Literature presentation some years ago, and it clarified the recent development of Palestinian ethnicity for a project I will probably never finish.
Professor of Religion and Archaeology
German Scholars Were Assuredly Not Pro-Zionist
Thank you for the excellent article by Hershel Shanks on the biblical minimalists (see “The Biblical Minimalists,” BR 13:03). I subscribe to everything in the article. I particularly appreciate his temperate language in contrast to what we have heard and read during the last few years from the minimalists.
I also welcome the clear language regarding the political implications of this new anti-Israelite approach. As for German Bible scholarship, which dominated the discipline up to the middle of this century, it is simply ridiculous to blame it on any kind of pro-Zionist feelings or attitude. Rather, the contrary is true.
The writer is a retired professor of Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) at Heidelberg University. He has also served as visiting professor at the University of Chicago, Hebrew University, and the Pontifical Biblical Institute.—Ed.
Can Whitelam Speak for the Palestinians?
Keith Whitelam claims that recognizing the biblical history of the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah equals “the silencing of Palestinian history.” This claim seems to me delightfully surreal. There is a modern national/ethnic entity that goes by the name “Palestinian”; most members of that entity are Muslim, and most of the remainder are Christian. Not only do most Palestinian Christians believe Abraham, David and Solomon were historical figures, but even more so do the Muslim Palestinians. In the Quran both Abraham (Ibrahim) and Solomon (Suleiman) are more exceptional figures than their biblical counterparts, and most Muslims do not take kindly to those who cast doubt on the historical accuracy of the Quran. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if we left the reconstruction of “Palestinian” history to Palestinian historians.
The Wider Aims of the Minimalists
What has to be called into question now is not so much the methods of the biblical minimalists—or even their conclusions—as their motivations. What they really seem to be attempting is to minimize religion—its status, its authority, its relevance to man today—whether that religion be Christianity or Judaism, New Testament or Hebrew Bible. Their purpose seems to be to utterly destroy religion as the basis of Western civilization.
San Francisco, California
Who Are the Minimalists Trying to Convince?
Your article throws all the light we need on the mode and intention of the biblical minimalists. It is good to know that “mainline” scholars, for the most part, are not in agreement with them. I wonder who the minimalists are trying to convince?
Even if archaeological evidence of the kingdoms of antiquity is meager, the historical data of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles carry conviction all their own and can no more be discredited than the writings of ancient Greek and Roman historians. What plain bias and prejudice can do to common sense would be amusing were it not so often misleading and destructive to faith.
Gospels in the Classroom
Beeching’s Naive Assumption
Thank you for publishing Paul Beeching’s “Gospels in the Classroom,” BR 13:03, for which I am sure you are going to receive hell from many subscribers. I understand why one student told him, “I just can’t stand listening to you.” I am glad I read his article, although in some passages he drove me near to distraction.
Beeching makes an assumption that I find very naive: “The whole worldview of the New Testament…makes the gospel story very hard to teach.” He reminds me of a lecturer I once heard who dismissed the virgin conception of Jesus Christ by saying, “Of course, nowadays we know what it takes to make a baby.” But the very point of the story was that they did too! I would say the same thing about the various miracles. Maybe they literally occurred or not; debating that is not my purpose. But the people of Jesus’ time knew that they could not walk on water; their next door neighbor could not feed his family for a year off one loaf of bread; and the local rabbi could not raise the dead. I suspect they were as shocked by water-walking as I would be. Mary and Martha were as reluctant to roll back the stone from Lazarus’s tomb as I would be to dig up my departed mother.
Beeching refers to Josephus, the Talmud and more as if to convince us that the folk of the time believed that “miracles” occurred every day on every corner. But he then refers to today’s tabloids. We, too, as a culture have at least some belief in miracles, though it shocks us when they occur (or when we think they do).
Argue the miracles if you want, but please do not imply that people then were any less aware of the way the world normally runs than we are.
I also would like to ask Mr. Beeching what he meant by saying some demons were strong in one locality and weak in another? I have wracked my brain, and I cannot think of a single passage that implies this.
Thank you for a wonderful publication. It does not always agree with me, but it invariably stimulates thought.
Paul Q. Beeching responds:
Father Lotz assumes that ordinary first-century folk “would be as shocked by water-walking” as he would be and that therefore they would have delighted in the exotic tales of the New Testament. He may be correct, though precious little is known about these people. I intended no comment whatever on how they thought the world normally runs.
My essay concerned the New Testament text—as younger academics keep calling it—in which the characters are not shocked by abnormal activities—or not shocked enough. In Mark, the people of Capernaum are more amazed by Jesus’ authority in preaching than by his casting out of a demon before their very eyes (Mark 1:21–28). Indeed, Palestinian demons are quite common throughout the Synoptic Gospels, where—along with mysterious cure upon mysterious cure and nature miracle tumbling over nature miracle—they are observed by both characters and authors with the charming imperturbability of romantic literature. Unfortunately, students come to class assuming that such insouciance is not only a 004historical fact but the way they themselves ought to view these strange literary goings-on. This situation, as I said, makes the Gospels “very hard to teach.”
Father Lotz correctly queries me, however, about demons “who are stronger in one locality, weaker in another.” I had in mind Mark 9. At the foot of the “high mountain” of the transfiguration, Jesus casts out a demon his disciples could not handle. He then explains, “This kind can come out of them only from prayer [or prayer and fasting].” But my language is ambiguous. I meant that Mark assumes there are demons of varying strength in various parts of the country—not that Beelzebub is more powerful in the yard than over by the rhododendrons.
“Dear Sir, You Cur”
I make it a rule to write only one “Dear sir, you cur” letter per year, and this year the (dis-)honor goes to Paul Beeching for his “Gospels in the Classroom,” BR 13:03
Mr. Beeching’s article is so confusing as to be almost incomprehensible, but I have managed to excavate the following from his pile of…rubble.
1. Fundamentalist churches do not engage in honest, historical studies of the New Testament. This statement is absurd and false. I am a member of a fundamentalist church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and we take pride in the fact that our pastors and many laymen are schooled in the historical study of the Bible. Although our studies do not come to the same conclusions as Mr. Beeching, to say that they are not “honest” studies is the epitome of liberal, elitist theological bias.
2. There are textual variants in the Bible. Well, duh! Mr. Beeching states the obvious and than fails to mention (and he probably doesn’t tell this to the innocents in his classes either) that 99.44 percent of these variations make absolutely no difference to the meaning of the text.
3. The books of the New Testament were written between 50 and 140 A.D. Wrong. The book of James is dated to the early 40s A.D. and the latest books were written no later than 100 A.D. Most were written between 50 and 70 A.D.
4. How could the Evangelists know what Jesus was thinking when he was alone? Maybe He told them, duh!
5. Mark’s gospel is a gentile re-creation in Greek of remembered or invented moments in the life of Jesus. Wrong. Mark was a Jew, so how could it be a gentile re-creation? Mr. Beeching, what events did he invent? What sayings did he make up? Don’t you ever demonstrate your assertions?
6. Divine inspiration came in various and sometimes contradictory ways and in different Greek styles, reflecting not only different theologies but different levels of education. Double duh! When four different men are given divine inspiration it does not follow that they were used like mindless robots. The Holy Spirit could allow their personalities to come into play. And to state that the Gospels contain contradictions and different theologies without giving examples of these assertions is the ultimate in bad scholarship. Perhaps Mr. Beeching gives no examples because none exist.
7. The failure of so many attempts to translate the New Testament into meaningful and generally accepted religious doctrine suggest—at the very least—that Christian thinkers have not yet found a comfortable way of reading the Scripture in the light of both scholarship and their traditional theological positions. This is modern, liberal theology babble at its best (or worst). No generally accepted religious docrtine? What does he call the Athanasian Creed? The Nicene Creed?
8. The believer must assume that God made use of Mark and the Q source and saw to it that Matthew and Luke combined and rewrote these documents in different ways. Wrong again. Matthew was the first gospel written, so how could he have copied from Mark? And the Q document does not exist and never did exist. (Since Mr. Beeching made no demonstration of his assertions, I do not feel obligated to do so either.)
Why BR decided to publish this article is beyond me. It is poorly written and the scholarship is very bad.
Paul Q. Beeching responds:
An introductory university course in the New Testament should present the conclusions of the best contemporary scholarship. My essay, and the book from which it is drawn, tries to show the classroom result. The fact that these fundamental ideas of the historical-critical method are still disturbing even after 200 years of development and testing is precisely my point. Mr. Bailey’s complex of counter-ideas, on the other hand, is an amalgam of outmoded scholarship and simple faith. Such views may still reassure the Missouri Synod, but hardly the rest of Christendom—not even the majority of Lutherans, whose scholarly ancestors created the historical-critical method. And 005these ideas are, of course, wholly inappropriate in a secular university. What would Bailey have me do with inspiration (#6), for instance? After using it as he does to clear up all sorts of problems in the New Testament, should I go across the hall to my next lecture—on another ancient Greek text—to declare, “When the poet in the opening line asks the Muse to tell the tale, he is calling upon divinity to guarantee the accuracy of the Odyssey. Therefore it is literally true.” Is that what you want, Mr. Bailey?
The Cause of America’s Decline
America’s continued decline as a culture, as shown by the increasing violent crime among its young, can, I believe, be traced in part to the attitudes and teachings of such people as Paul Beeching. Such biblical criticism erodes not only personal faith but also the vision, hope and cohesiveness of our society.
I wonder if Beeching is honest enough with his classes to announce to them that he is not a Christian believer. His approach, under the guise of “scholarship,” smacks of his projection of his own unbelief. His presentation is quite shallow from a spiritual viewpoint and leaves the reader/student with absolutely nothing but despair.
His “textbook” would be akin to my reading an automobile service manual written by a sixth grader—while it might offer “fresh” insight, it certainly could not be relied upon to repair my car.
San Jose, California
Paul Q. Beeching responds:
I will ask Cardinal Newman to reply to Mr. Dietrich’s first paragraph: “Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility, nor is largeness and justness of view faith” (Discourse V, The Idea of a University). Of course I tell my students that I am not a believer—and that I am not particularly happy about it. I also warn them not to worry about losing their faith during my course but about gaining it; in which case they might have to change their lives for the better. Finally, Mr. Dietrich, do you really think the belief that bound together Bonhoeffer and Newman, Kierkegaard and Dostoevski, or even Aquinas, Augustine and that wonderful old man Polycarp, was founded on 120 gallons of water turned to wine or a fish with a coin in its mouth (see John 2:1–11 and Matthew 17:24–27)?
Linking Jesus with Moses
David R. Cartlidge begins his discussion of art influenced by the Christian Apocrypha (“The Christian Apocrypha: Preserved in Art,” BR 13:03) with a query about the presence of two midwives in a 15th-century painting of the nativity. Because midwives are not mentioned in the New Testament gospel versions of the nativity, Cartlidge concludes that the artist was influenced by the nativity narration in the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of James.
Yet when Cartlidge describes an ivory carving that depicts Peter striking the wall of his prison cell and causing water to gush forth in a baptismal spray upon the prison guards, he states that this legend (not mentioned in the New Testament) “is clearly derivative of the account of Moses striking the rock in Exodus 17:7.” If the Moses connectionis clear in the latter artwork, surely it is just as clear in the former. The artist of the nativity scene might well have been linking the birth of Jesus with that of Moses, which, according to Exodus 1:15–21 was associated with the actions of two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.
David R. Cartlidge responds:
Ms. Emery makes a cogent suggestion. It’s true that the use of the Hebrew Scriptures’ narratives as tropes for the early Christian rhetorical and pictorial arts was widespread in the early church. But the emphasis in the earliest Christian images is on the midwife Salome’s hand (according to the Proto-Gospel of James 19–20, Salome doubted Mary’s virginity and insisted on testing it with her hand as punishment; her hand withered but was healed when she touched the infant Jesus), a motif difficult to derive from Exodus. This withered-hand motif subsequently drops from Christian pictorial art, and Salome’s movement toward sainthood begins. Was this development influenced by the story in Exodus? Possibly. Was it because Salome’s gynecological examination of Mary treaded perilously close to the tasteless? Possibly. Were both these motifs (from Exodus and from the Proto-Gospel of James and others) operating? Very plausible.
Emery’s suggestion opens a broader question about the interrelationship of forms of expression in Christian arts: liturgical, 008rhetorical (oral and textual) and pictorial. I tend to apply two rules of thumb: (1) to attribute a direct and simple influence to any of these interrelationships is contrary to our current understanding of ancient tradition; to speak of parallel relationships is more judicious; (2) in religious traditions, including Christianity, the meaning of a given artifact is usually not “either/or”; the answer may be “all of the above”—and more.
Love Is the Bridge Between Liberals and Literalists
I really appreciated Bernhard Anderson’s column “The Bible: Word of God in Human Words,” BR 13:03. As a pastor and Bible college teacher, I often have to deal with the problem of people failing to understand the vast gulf between the ways of God and those of men. I use the analogy of our own experiences as children. As young children, our parents were a mystery to us. As we grew up and gathered experiences, we were able to better understand them. Think of this when we are dealing with an infinite God and mortal man! By the graciousness of God, he has used our experiences to explain the great truths in the same way that our parents used simple lessons to teach us. Each generation must apply the truths of Scripture to modern experiences. But this process also brings potential problems.
Where a literalist interpretation can lead to legalism and a lack of love for others, a liberal interpretation can lead to situational ethics and even a lack of respect for God’s law. The only way I see to put a check on either extreme is through personal integrity and biblical love. I can feel comfortable with a literalist or a liberal as long as I can sense a deep love for God and others. Biblical love is the only way to avoid legalistic oppression or liberal antinomianism.
I thoroughly enjoyed the June issue, though I have questions concerning two articles. Hershel Shanks, in his excellent piece, “The Biblical Minimalists,” BR 13:03, states that “the land was not called Palestine until the fifth century B.C.E.” I had always understood that “Palestine” was the derogative and degrading name given to Eretz Yisrael by Rome once its armies occupied the land in the first century B.C.E. Naming the territory “Philistia,” and recognizing it as Philistine land, was an insult to its Jewish occupants.
I also enjoyed N.T. Wright’s column about the Jewishness of Paul (“Good News for a Pagan World,” BR 13:03), though I would challenge his statement that “[Paul’s] message…had to remain Jewish if it was to have its proper relevance to the pagans.” Paul’s message was successful in the pagan Hellenistic world precisely because it was not Jewish. In excising from his “good news” the responsibility to follow Jewish religious law, Paul preached to his pagan audience a decidedly un-Jewish message. Paul knew that circumcision, dietary laws and other personal and communal regulations that are the heart of living Judaism would never be acceptable to his audience. He thus presents to the God-fearers an 009opportunity to join the Jewish covenant without becoming or behaving Jewish. His conflict with Peter, James and the Jerusalem church was over this very issue of whether one had to be Jewish before one received Christ in one’s heart. Though Paul might have promoted his message as Jewish, by any Jewish measure, it was not.
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the term Palestine was first used by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C.E. It derives from Peleshet, the name of one of the Sea Peoples who conquered the coast of Canaan in the 12th century B.C.E.—Ed.
N.T. Wright responds:
Rabbi Klein assesses Paul’s message as static, ahistorical religious teaching. Even in those terms, his argument doesn’t actually work: The problem Paul faced in Galatians was precisely that his ex-pagan audience was eager to accept circumcision and the other regulations that mark out Jews from their pagan neighbors. But, in any case, Paul was not trying to propagate a religious system (and perhaps trimming it to suit his audience). He was announcing that something had happened; his message was eschatological. He believed that the climax of Israel’s history had arrived in the person of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. From this he drew the (Jewish) conclusion that the time had come for the one God of Israel to welcome the Gentiles. From the fact of the Messiah’s representative crucifixion and resurrection he drew the (Jewish) conclusion that this welcome ignored the distinctive badges of Jewish ethnic identity (the works of Torah). From the gift of the Spirit, promised in the prophets, he drew the (Jewish) conclusion that the Torah was now being written on the hearts of all God’s people, Jew and Gentile alike. He summoned pagans to abandon their idols and worship the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If that isn’t Jewish, I don’t know what is. Paul knew all this was deeply controversial. But the controversy was itself Jewish.
God Empowers Everyone, Not Just Pharaoh
In his article “Son of God: From Pharaoh to Israel’s Kings to Jesus,” BR 13:03, James K. Hoffmeier quotes Eric Hornung’s Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, pointing out that the pharaoh could be called the “image” (tit, tut) of a deity, for example Tutankh-amun, meaning “the living image of Amun.”
A variation of this idea may explain why the Bible describes God as saying: “Let us make man in our likeness and according to our image, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heavens, animals, all the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The verse is saying that not only man but mankind as a whole is empowered as rulers because God created man in his image. From the juxtaposition of the Hebrew words for the “image” of God and the single word that means “and they shall rule,” the Bible makes it clear that the rulership of mankind over the universe derives from the fact that the 047first man was created in the image of God. It is God’s image that allows the descendants of man to rule, because it is this image that transmits God’s power to man and his descendants as surely as the image of Amun transmitted Amun’s power to Tutankh-amun.
In ancient Egypt, a god would make only the pharaoh in his image so that only he would have power over the rest of creation. In Genesis, the first creation narrative indicates that God empowers all mankind with rulership by making man in his image. It stresses this by changing from the singular “man” in the first part of the verse to the plural verb “and they shall rule” in the second part. This indicates that God transmits the power that comes from his image not only to man, to rule the universe like a pharaoh, but to all his descendants, small and great alike.
In Exodus, the battle between Moses and Pharaoh may be seen as a power struggle between two leaders, each claiming that he has been empowered because he was created in the image of his deity. Deluded by the belief that he is empowered by his god rather than by the true God of Moses and the children of Israel, Pharaoh is vanquished by the God of Moses, who empowers all men and supports those who, like Moses, are cognizant of this fact.
Los Angeles, California
I am a recent subscriber to BR, and I find it interesting, stimulating and thought-provoking. I enjoy all of the articles, although I have to reread some of them.