Biblical Studies Carnival XLVIII

The Forty-Eighth Biblical Studies Carnival is hosted and posted by Doug Chaplin at Clayboy. This carnival covers blog posts relating to academic Biblical Studies made during the month of November 2009.

Doug collects some very interesting links to posts on this year’s Society of Biblical Literature meeting, held in New Orleans earlier this month. Just two years ago I attended for a day in San Diego, and things were overwhelming then. Now it’s apparently completely out of control. Groups can apparently be founded on a whim. People have to scurry and still never hear every paper they’d like because of scheduling conflicts. It’s simply too big. If the fat isn’t trimmed, then it should really split into separate meetings. Fat chance of that!

Something else very interesting: Morton Smith is managing to garner more attention these days than he did throughout his career, though perhaps not the attention he would prefer! With many others, and not least Jacob Neusner, I vote “fraud” via “malicious practical joke.”

Sorry, honey!

I forgot my own anniversary!

Today, this blog commences its fifth year.

The first post is here.

The last post is, God willing, a number of years in the future.

I thank all of you, all my readers known and unknown and those who’ve commented, for your attention and your participation.


Now Jael took a stake in her left hand and approached him, saying, “If God will work this sign with me, I know that Sisera will fall into my hands. Behold I will throw him down on the ground from the bed on which he sleeps; and if he does not feel it, I know that he has been handed over.” And Jael took Sisera and pushed him onto the ground from the bed. But he did not feel it, because he was very groggy.

And Jael said, “Strengthen in me today, Lord, my arm on account of you and your people and those who hope in you.” And Jael took the stake and put it on his temple and struck it with a hammer.

And while he was dying, Sisera said to Jael, “Behold pain has taken hold of me, Jael, and I die like a woman.”

And Jael said to him, “Go, boast before your father in hell and tell him that you have fallen into the hands of a woman.”

Pseudo-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 31.7

Oh yeah. That’s funnier than one would think an ancient pseudepigraphon should be. “That’s right! Tell your daddy in hell that a chick did you in!”

Jael, of course, rocks.

Funny typo

My first copy of The History of the Church by Eusebius is the Penguin Classics edition translated by G. A. Williamson, revised, edited and with a new introduction by Andrew Louth (Penguin Books, 1989). This is the trade paperback edition (7 3/4 x 5 1/8 in. or 19.75 x 13 cm), which I prefer to the normal paperback sized edition of the same text that I’ve got squirreled away here somewhere….

Anyhow, I decided to start reading through Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History again as my nighttime relaxing reading before bed, and ran across a thorogouhly hilarious typographical error that I thought it would be a delight to share. It occurs in a section on Polycarp, the famous bishop of Smyrna, in which he runs into the arch-heretic Marcion (p. 117):

Polycarp himself on one occasion came face to face with Marcion, and when Marcion said ‘Don’t you recognize me?’ he replied: ‘I do indeed: I recognize the firstborn of Satin!”

Yes, there it is: “the firstborn of Satin!’

Here’s the Greek, which is quite snappy:

καὶ αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Πολύκαρπος Μαρκίωνί ποτε εἰς ὄψιν αὐτῷ ἐλθόντι καὶ φήσαντι· ἐπιγίνωσκε ἡμᾶς, ἀπεκρίθη· ἐπιγινώσκω ἐπιγινώσκω τὸν πρωτότοκον τοῦ σατανᾶ.

Unfortunately, it seems that our Father among the Saints Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna wasn’t making a comment upon the unfortunate sartorial sense of the wretched heretic Marcion, shipwrecker of souls. The “Satin” is simply a typographical error for “Satan”. Unfortunately the typo really turns quite a dramatic moment into a rather silly thing. Hopefully it’s been corrected in later printings.

A Comment on Icons

From “Saints at a Cultural Crossroads” by Holland Carter (NY Times, 19 November 2009):

We see it in the very last painting in the show, a 1603 oil study for a “Coronation of the Virgin” commissioned by the Hospital of Charity in the town of Illescas. The composition has an iconlike symmetry. The figures, in their expressive abstraction, are as much Byzantine as Mannerist. And the picture scintillates with light, illusionistically painted rather than reflected from gold. Even cherubs tumbling around like kittens can distract from the picture’s nuclear focus: this is an image meant to promote, as music can, time-suspending, space-vivifying contemplation.

Exactly this psycho-sensual dynamic lies at the heart of how icons, as spiritual utensils, function. I wish the exhibition made something of this; had taken, as its third theme, the reality of these objects, not just as historical artifacts illustrating the progress of a culture or a famous career, but also as living and interactive energy sources, designed to embody and radiate charisma.

It’s interesting to see this kind of evaluation of icons appearing in what may be considered one of the world’s major outlets of secularism, of essentially everything that stands against the Church.

If anything, it shows that there is still the ability amongst even the nearly hopeless urbanites, bereft of the light of Christ, to recognize power where it lies. Undoubtedly there is a kind of superiority felt by such people recognizing “spiritual” value, thinking they are somehow more developed than those who know these icons intimately in Orthodox Christian worship. I would say it’s rather the opposite. Those who are not familiar with them, with the theology and the mentality lying behind reverence of the icons, and yet who instinctually recognize their power, are little more than animalistically and non-rationally acknowledging the power that the superior Divine, human, and rational theology of the icon describes. It is again a case of the intellectuals straying so far from the Christian roots of Western civilization (all Christian roots lie in the East!) that they have become little more cognizant of the reality of the Church than are animals. They can sense the power, but cannot describe it or react to it rationally. More’s the pity.

It sounds like a great show on Domenikos Theotokopoulos (“El Greco”) and other Cretan artists of the Mannerist period. If you’re in New York and have the time, check it out: “The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete” remains at the Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Avenue, near 52nd Street, through February 27.

Augsburg and Constantinople

It’s a really interesting thing when someone introduces a book in a particular way which a reading of that book proceeds to demolish. I found this to be the case in reading Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tübingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession (Holy Cross Orthodox Press: 1982) by Fr George Mastrantonis. As the lengthy subtitle describes, this is a translation of the collected correspondence shared between various early Lutherans and the Patriarchate of Constantinople between 1574 and 1581. This translated correspondence consisted of the following: Preliminary correspondence ― 1.) a cover letter from Tübingen for the Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession; 2.) a letter from Tübingen acknowledging the Patriarch’s acknowledgement of receipt of the above; A First Theological Exchange ― 1.) From the Patriach, a cover letter and lengthy, detailed treatise in response to the various articles of the Augsburg Confession; 2.) A response from the Tübingen theologians to the Patriarch’s treatise; A Second Theological Exchange ― 1.) A second letter and treatise from Patriarch Jeremiah presenting the Orthodox position in attempting to correct the first response of the Tübingen theologians; 2.) A second response of the Tübingen theologians to the Patriarch, in which they persist in their positions; A Third Theological Exchange ― 1.) From the Patriarch, who breaks off the fruitless theological dialogue, seeing a willful persistence in heretical opinions in the Tübingen theologians, and requests only personal letters of friendship, if any; 2.) A response from the Tübingen theologians, protesting their rectitude; and lastly, a series of a few personal letters of correspondence between individuals and the Patriarch.

Now, among Orthodox familiar with this correspondence, the last paragraph of the Patriarch’s last letter to the Tübingen theologians, the letter breaking the correspondence, is quite familiar (p. 306):

Therefore, we request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor write to us on the same subject if you should wish to treat these luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner. You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds. For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and divine discourses as unsuitable. And it is with these documents that we would have to write and contradict you. Thus, as for you, please release us from these cares. Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer concerning dogmas: but if you do [write], write only for friendship’s sake. Farewell.

This is in noted contrast to the conclusion of the first treatise sent by the Patriarch to the Germans (p. 103):

O most wise German men and beloved children of our humble self, since, as sensible men, you wish with your whole heart to enter our most Holy Church, we, as affectionate fathers, willingly accept your love and friendliness, if you will follow the Apostolic and Synodal decrees in harmony with us and will submit to them. Form then you will indeed be in communion with us, and having openly submitted to our holy and catholic church of Christ, you will be praised by all prudent men. In this way the two churches will become one by the grace of God, we shall live together hereafter and we will exist together in a God-pleasing way until we attain the heavenly kingdom. May all of us attain it in Christ Jesus, to whom belongs glory unto the ages. Amen.

It must be noted that throughout the correspondence, many various quotations from Patristic and Synodal sources are included in the Constantinopolitan writings, all dealing with the subjects at hand clearly and without ambiguity. The German quotations of Patristic sources, however, are not as numerous, nor are they as well-handled. Indeed, the Patriarch criticizes the Germans for essentially “cherry-picking” quotations from the Fathers that, out of context, fit their own ideas, in direct contradiction to explicit statements from those very Fathers, in the context of discussing the Filioque (p. 289):

And you decide that the Holy Greek Fathers agree with you in the matter of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, even though they differ in literal expressions. They are Athanasios in his treatise, The Incarnation of the Word; [etc]. We wonder, then, if indeed by abandoning the obvious and explicit passages of Scripture and the Fathers, which distinctly state and submit that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, which may have another meaning and have been understood by [the Fathers] in another way, you might have changed [them] to your own purpose! … For you have quite plainly altered Holy Scripture as well as the interpretation of the above-mentioned holy men according to your own will.

And in the very next sentence, the Patriarch reveals his evaluation of the entire correspondence and where he thinks this dialogue is headed (pp 289-290):

We have Paul to exhort us: “a man who is factitious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him” [Titus 3.10]. However, since by silence it might appear that we agree with you and that perhaps you correctly hold and understand these matters, we run the rist of having it thought that Holy Scripture and these holy men agree with you on the subject. By defending them we reiterate these matters again, although we have been well informed by your letters that you will never be able to agree with us or rather, we should say, with the truth.

In reality, it is indeed the case that, following the words of the Apostle, the Patriarch has admonished the Tübingen theologians twice (in his first and second treatises), and in this lenghty letter, he ends the correspondence.

In light of all the above, and particularly in light of a reading of the correspondence in full, a section at the end of Fr Mastrantonis’ Introduction is therefore somewhat puzzling (p. xviii):

The three Answers of Jeremiah cannot be fully understood without relating them to the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church and to the three Replies of the Lutheran theologians. Jeremiah’s discourses are important in that they ware the first contact of Orthodoxy with the Lutheran Church and are, at the same time, a well-prepared presentation of Orthodox teachings. They are especially important today when a movement toward better understanding among churches is taking place, requiring that one knows the views of the other. It is imperative that problems be faced with a clear mind and feelings of brotherhood.

Somehow, I don’t think Fr Mastrantonis had in mind that all dialogue should end with the third meeting if after two meetings the non-Orthodox partner in dialogue has not admitted the superior truth of the Orthodox position, and effectively converted to Orthodoxy!

Now, after all that, it must be said that this correspondence is an excellent resource for Orthodox readers, particularly for Patriarch Jeremias’ very clear explication of the reasons for Orthodox rejection of the Filioque and double procession of the Holy Spirit. If an Orthodox Christian doesn’t understand the reason that the Filioque is an issue, he or she should read this correspondence. The Patriarch’s is a masterful refutation, in fact. In fact, all the subjects he covered were done in complete and perfect line with Tradition, explicitly stated as such, and thereby showing us really what “Tradition” is: the witness of the Apostles in Scripture, the Oecumenical Synods recognized by the Church, and the Fathers and their writings which were approved by those Oecumenical Synods. These evidences are brought forth in the Patriarch’s three responses to the Lutherans, teaching us how such things should be done by Orthodox theologians, rather than through recourse to syllogisms and using the logical categories, arguments, or any of the scholastic-influenced approaches based in Roman Catholic methods of theologising. The Lutherans, however, are explicit in their selectivity from the Synodal and Patristic sources (see esp. p. 113) and in their reliance on human reasoning in their examination of the Scriptures, but without any other source to secure their reasoning from coming unmoored from the Truth, which is what the Synods and Fathers provide for the Orthodox (and apparently only for the Orthodox!).

You know, there were times in reading this correspondence, particularly in the denseness of the Lutherans simply not at all grasping the Patriarch’s careful distinction of proper terminology in the discussion of the Procession of the Holy Spirit, that it seemed as though I were reading a blog discussion! Here is a careful and exceedingly well-crafted and erudite writing in response to a piece of rather superficial theological thinking, and what is the response to it? A simplistic restatement of the original inanity, completely ignoring the careful refutation. This happens all the time in blogging.

Patriarch Jeremias of blessed memory, following the Apostle Paul, gives Orthodox Christians an example for any theological discussions: if your interlocutor is not convinced in the superiority of the Orthodox position after two excellent presentations of it, then you should end that theological dialogue and discuss only other matters. In addition to that, and immediately after having read Patriarch Jeremias’ writings, I would caution anyone at all in thinking that their own presentations of Orthodox theology might actually be excellent. The arguments and presentation of Patriarch Jeremias were indeed stunningly excellent, yet they accomplished precisely nothing. We should be under no illusions that we would fare better than did Patriarch Jeremias!

Indeed, as various elders have said, laity simply should not have theological discussions with heterodox, in any case. It’s not our job! Such things are in the hands of our bishops and those with their blessing to do such things. And yet, if one is challenged, one needs to be prepared to give an answer for one’s faith, as well. We are not, however, to initiate some lengthy theological discussion without qualification or blessings to do so.

A Light on Biblical Studies

Alas! today theologians have ended up being “disputers of this world.” Men who are concerned with religion write piles of books, big and important, filled with so-called “theological learning” which, owing to its method of inquiry into religious matters, is nothing else than the worldly knowledge the Apostle Paul calls “vain deceit” and “cunning deception.” The Holy Gospel, which is simplicity itself, is dissected, examined, and dismembered according to systems of philosophy, of “vain deceit.” Confusion, complexity, theories which confuse man, “foolish searchings and genealogies and legalistic battles,” mud which clouds the clear water springing up unto eternal life, all these things are written in the name of Him Who came into the world to save the lost sheep ― the man of vain knowledge ― from the burden of his sinful mind, crying: “Come unto Me all ye who are heavy laden with foolish and purposeless wisdom.” Piles of papers are written in the name of Christ and His Gospel, which the simplest heart experiences; while those who write those innumerable books have been wandering around in the maze and the darkness of their own wisdom, far from the Christ they have forgotten, engulfed by the vanities of their own intellects. Their hearts no longer feel the breath of God; they are deadened and dried up by their self-conceited wisdom for which men honor them.

Photios Kontoglou in the Prologue to Alexander Kalomiros, Against False Union

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaries

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaries (hereafter ZIBBC) are beautiful books. Let us make no mistake about that. Zondervan has produced some real eye candy with these two sets. These volumes are of the highest production value: heavy semi-gloss pages, full-color throughout, with two or more illustrations in every facing-page spread, with combination (both sewn and glued) sturdy hardcover library bindings (the NT volumes bear identical dustjackets to the library binding covers). Each volume is over 500 pages in length, and the text is in a clear and easily legible font, neither too small nor too large. The page layout is truly skilled, something that Zondervan seems always to have excelled at in its illustrated volumes. They have some really excellent book designers on hand, obviously. The aesthetic is modern without being flashy, and is consistent throughout all the volumes, New Testament and Old Testament. The photographs are generally large but are nearly always of sufficient detail that they are illustrative, and the wealth of them is quite impressive. Maps and other illustrations are also full-color. I will deal more with the illustrations below.

Continue reading “Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaries”

Saint Hilarion on the Reformation

From the Holy New Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky), Christianity or the Church?

Latinism gave birth to a legitimate, although very insubordinate, offspring in the form of Protestantism. Protestantism was created from the soil of humanism which was not a religious phenomenon; on the contrary, all its leading ideas are purely earthly, human. It created respect for man in his natural condition. Protestantism, having carried over the basis of humanism into the religious field, was not a protest of genuine ancient Church Christian consciousness against those forms and norms which were created by medieval Papism, as Protestant theologians are often inclined to claim. Far from it; Protestantism was a protest on the very same plane. It did not re-establish ancient Christiainity, it only replaced one distortion of Christianity with another, and the new falsehood was much worse than the first. Protestantism became the last word in Papism, and brought it to its logical conclusion. Truth and salvation are bestowed upon love, i.e., the Church ― such is Church consciousness. Latinism, having fallen away from the Church, changed this consciousness and proclaimed: truth is given to the separate person of the Pope, and the Pope manages the salvation of all. Protestantism only objected: Why is the truth given to the Pope alone? ― and added: truth and salvation are open to each separate individual, independently of the Church. Every individual was thus promoted to the rank of infallible Pope. Protestantism placed a papal tiara on every German professor and, with its countelss number of popes, completely destroyed the concept of the Church, substituting faith with the reason of each separate personality. It substituted salvation in the Church with a dreamy confidence in salvation through Christ in egoistic isolation from the Church. In practice, of course, from the very beginning Protestants departed from the very beginning [sic] and by roundabout ways, by contraband, so to speak, introduced some of the elements of the dogma about the Church, having recognized some authorities, although only in the area of dogma. Being a religious anarchy, pure Protestantism, like all anarchies, turned out to be completely impossible, and by that, testified before us to the indisputable truth that the human soul is Church-prone by nature.

Still, the theoretical side of Protestantism appealed to human self-love and self-will of all varieties, for self-love and self-will received a sort of sanctification and blessing from Protestantism. This fact is revealed today in the endless dividing and factionalism of Protestantism itself. It is Protestantism that openly proclaimed the greatest lie of all: that one can be a Christian while denying the Church. Nevertheless, by tying its members by some obligatory authorities and church laws, Protestantism entangles itself in hopeless contradiction: having itself separated the individual from the Church, it nevertheless places limits on that freedom. From this stems the constant mutiny of Protestants against those few and pitiful remnants of the Church consciousness which are still preserved by the official representatives of their denominations.

One would be hard put to say that much better. To paraphrase another well-known document, the Orthodox Church holds these truths to be self-evident!

God is glorified in His Saints!

You must read this account of a miracle involving Saint Nektarios of Aegina! They don’t call him Wonderworker for nothing!

We heard about this during the sermon this morning, the commemoration (new style) of Saint Nektarios. I don’t know when it happened, but it must be relatively recent.

The love of our Saints for the Church never ceases!

I highly recommend John Sanidopoulos’ Mystagogy site. This morning when I heard of the miracle, I was certain that John would have posted about it, and was not disappointed.

Kontakion for Saint Nektarios, Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us sing praises with gladness of heart to the newly shining star of Orthodoxy, * to the newly-built bastion of the Church. * For being glorified by the power of the Spirit, he pours out the immortal grace of healing * to those who cry out: Father Nektarios, rejoice!

Troparion of Saint Nektarios, First Tone
Let us the faithful honour Nektarios, * offspring of Silyvria and guardian of Aegina, * who has appeared in latter years, a true friend of virtue, as a God-filled servant of Christ. * For he dispenses all manner of healing to those who with reverence cry out: * Glory to Christ Who has glorified thee; glory to Him Who has worked wonders in thee: * glory to Him who through thee has wrought healing for all.