Archive for February, 2013

Reception History and NT Introduction

Over at The Bible & Interpretation, I have a brief piece now up in which I suggest that we should think seriously about including elements of reception history in New Testament Introductions. The essay concludes: 

Would including elements of reception in NT Introduction produce an “ideal of a Juvenalian farrago” (Moffatt)? Would it be to return to the pre-Hupfeld days in which Einleitung became an unwieldy omnibus of biblical knowledge? There are certainly dangers to be carefully avoided in moving reception history from periphery to center in New Testament scholarship. The experiment would arguably be worth the risks involved, however, and a provocative foray into this territory may well supply an injection of exciting intellectual stimulation into a genre that often vies with the commentary for the award of least creative.


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A forgotten (partial) translation of F.C. Baur on the Fourth Gospel

Several months ago I stumbled across, while experimenting with Google books searches, two remarkably early translations into English of portions of Ferdinand Christian Baur’s works. One of these was translated by L. Swain: “The Grotian Theory of the Atonement,” Bibliotheca Sacra 9 (1852): 259-72 (an excerpt from Baur’s Die Christliche Lehre von der Versöhnung). An online version can be found here

Even more remarkable and exciting for me was the (re)discovery of a forgotten translation of an extract from Baur’s Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien, ihr Verhältniß zu einander, ihren Charakter und Ursprung (Tübingen: L. F. Fues, 1847), pp. 311-27 – translated as “The Gospel of John as Indicating the State of the Christian Sentiment of Its Times,” by Alfred H. Guernsey, Biblical repository and classical review – American Biblical Repository, October (1849): 636-650. This was an English translation within two years of publication and while Baur was still living – in contrast to the major English translations of his books on Paul and the early Church. These partial translations are omitted in the most complete bibliography of Baur’s works known to me, Horton Harris, The Tübingen School: A Historical and Theological Investigation of the School of F. C. Baur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975; repr.: Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 263-74. Baur’s works on the Gospels, and particularly on the Fourth Gospel, have never been translated, though his views have been highly influential (those interested will read with pleasure Jörg Frey’s contribution to a forthcoming volume of collected essays on Baur, in which Frey examines Baur’s work on the Johannine literature in detail). Read the rest of this entry »



The Transformation of the Reader in the Johannine Prefaces of Origen and Chrysostom


During the course of a colloquium last year on pre-critical commentators on the Gospel of John, Origen stood out to me for his combination of depth of insight, analytical precision and spiritual intensity. He began his great commentary on John in Alexandria (Books 1-5; cf. Eusebius, H.E. 6.24) and finished in Caesarea (and Antioch?). It was composed from c. 230-248(?). The last preserved book is Book 32 (which reaches John 13.33). Nine books are preserved in Greek (1, 2, 6, 10, 13, 19, 20, 28 and 32), together with over 100 fragments, many of dubious authenticity. Heine calls it “the greatest exegetical work of the early church” (1:3). Trigg deems it ‘a magnificent ruin’.

A certain Ambrose served as literary patron for the commentary, having converted from Valentinianism by Origen and perhaps wanting an anti-Heracleon reading of John (Comm. John 5.8; cf. Eusebius, H.E. 6.18, 23).

‘Origène ne cessera de proclamer, toutes les fois que le texte lui en fournira l’occasion, l’unité de Dieu, la personnalité distincte du Fils en même temps que sa divinité, l’unité de la revelation, car c’est le même Dieu qui se révèle à travers l’Ancien et le Nouveau Testament, l’unité de la nature humaine: c’est par sa libre volunté que l’homme devient spirituel, psychique ou hylique” (SC 1.10).

But Origen’s goals are merely polemical (otherwise – in certain respects at least – the Contra Celsum), but interpretative.

One of the most striking features of the Preface to the commentary is the way in which Origen assigns a hermeneutical function to the spiritual transformation of the reader:

No one can understand John “who has not leaned on Jesus’ breast nor received Mary from Jesus to be his mother also. But he who would be another John must also become such as John, to be shown to be Jesus, so to speak. For if Mary had no son except Jesus, in accordance with those who hold a sound opinion of her, and Jesus says to his mother, “Behold your son,” and not “Behold, this man also is your son,” he has said equally, “Behold, this is Jesus whom you bore.” For indeed, everyone who has been perfected “no longer lives, but Christ lives in him” and since “Christ lives” in him, it is said of him to Mary, “Behold your son,” the Christ (1.23 in Heine’s translation).

7 Last Words 3Here Origen suggests that the reader must become like the John who was given to Mary (the author of the Gospel in Origen’s view; cf. Eusebius, H.E. 6.25). To this point one could simply imagine a Schleiermachian hermeneutical point in metaphorical expression – to understand an author one must identify with him or her. But Origen intends something more searching. In becoming John one is ‘shown to be Jesus, so to speak’, by means of the transformative substitution of John as a son for Mary. This shift is facilitated and understood by means of Paul’s participationist logic in Gal. 2.20-21. The reader of John, Origen suggests, must become spiritually united with Jesus in order to ‘understand’ John – that is, that a spiritual transformation is the hermeneutical underpinning for a reader wishing to follow and emulate Origen in his understanding of John.

It is striking to note how far these self-involving comments in the introductory section of a commentary are from the preoccupation with Einleitungsfragen that occupy the front matter of today’s critical commentaries. This is not to say that the latter are unnecessary, but it does raise the question as to whether such introductory remarks have the same object in view. One could adapt David Kelsey’s famous thesis (in his Proving Doctrine) and suggest that there is a significant shift in the move from introducing John as divinely authorized witness to Jesus and introducing John as the composite literary product of an internally conflicted community also undergoing tensions with its non-Christian Jewish neighbours. That is, one is always introducing a text as something, in a way that entails a construal about its subject matter. Though I’ll hope to say more about this another time, there is arguably a major disconnect between the way in which most ‘Introductions to the New Testament’ construe the text and the expectations of those who first naively turn to seek an Einführung to the New Testament in the first place.

st-john-chrysostom-the-golden-mouthIn a different manner than Origen, John Chrysostom also argues that the reader must undergo a moral purification to grasp the message of the fourth gospel:

 Let then no desire of riches trouble us, no lust of glory, no tyranny of anger, nor the crowd of other passions besides these; for it is not possible for the ear, except it be cleansed, to perceive as it ought the sublimity of the things spoken; nor rightly to understand the awful and unutterable nature of these mysteries, and all other virtue which is in these divine oracles. If a man cannot learn well a melody on pipe or harp, unless he in every way strain his attention; how shall one, who sits as a listener to sounds mystical, be able to hear with a careless soul? (Hom. in Joh. 1).

Or again he urges:

 ‘Let us make ourselves fallow lands.’

And in Homily 2, John goes on to deny the relevance (or to transpose the relevance into a different key) of the very Einleitungsfragen that most occupy the concern of modern commentaries:

 Were John about to converse with us, and to say to us words of his own, we needs must describe his family, his country, and his education. But since it is not he, but God by him, that speaks to mankind, it seems to me superfluous and distracting to enquire into these matters. And yet even thus it is not superfluous, but even very necessary. For when you have learned who he was, and from whence, who his parents, and what his character, and then hear his voice and all his heavenly wisdom, then you shall know right well that these (doctrines) belong not to him, but to the Divine power stirring his soul.

One could therefore suggest that for Origen and John (and here they would arguably be representative of a broad stream of pre-critical commentators), the spiritual transformation of the reader is a significant factor in grasping the res of the text, its Sache. This is not at all to deny, as some have too hastily done, the utility and relevance of the critical concerns that fascinate modern exegetes, but we should be clear that those are our questions. We can well be instructed by listening to the questions of others as well, and as we do so we may find ourselves directly challenged in confronting, in Clement’s words, a πνευματικὸν εὐαγγέλιον. Indeed, that statement is usually taken, understandably, to concern the text’s presentation of Jesus, especially as it differs from the synoptics. But one might as easily understand that designation to refer to the challenge the gospel thrusts upon the reader.

For Origen on John, see:

Blanc, C. Origène, Commentaire sur Saint Jean. 5 vols. SC 120, 157, 222, 290, 385. Paris: Cerf, 1966-1992.

Heine, Ronald. OrigenCommentary on the Gospel According to John. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989-1993.

Available in older translation (books 1-10 only) here.

GCS (ed. E. Preuschen) volume with original text available here.

For Chrysostom’s commentary, see:

 Goggin, Sister Thomas Aquinas, trans. St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, Homilies 1-47, 48-88. Fathers of the Church 33, 41. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1957-1959.

Also available in an older translation: NPNF1 14.1-334 (homilies from c. 389).

Greek text available here.

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Bibliographic leftovers on physiognomy in early Judaism and Christianity

Originally my article on Philo’s stance toward physiognomy contained some brief discussion of other proposals to see physiognomy at work in early Jewish and Christian texts. In the end, I cut much of it, but it may be helpful here to assemble a bit of the bibliography for others who may be interested in pursuing these lines. These are, of course, suggestive rather than exhaustive bibliographies.

On the Dead Sea Scrolls: For the text of 4Q186 see J. Allegro’s edition in Qumrân Cave 4.V (4Q158-4Q186) (DJDJ 5; Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 88-91 with J. Strugnell, “Notes en marge du volume V des «Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan»,” RevQ 7 (1970): 163-276, here 274-76; Mladen Popović, “4Q186. 4QZodiacal Physiognomy. A Full Edition,” in The Mermaid and the Partridge: Essays from the Copenhagen Conference on Revising Texts from Cave Four (ed. G. J. Brooke and J. Høgenhaven; STDJ 96; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 221-58. For 4Q561 see É. Puech, Qumrân Grotte 4.XXVII. Textes en Araméen, deuxième partie (DJD 37; Oxford: Clarendon, 2009), 303-21; Søren Holst and Jesper Høgenhaven, “Physiognomy and Eschatology: Some More Fragments of 4Q561,” JJS 57 (2006): 26-43. For discussion, see Popović, Reading the Human Body; idem, “Physiognomic Knowledge in Qumran and Babylonia: Form, Interdisciplinarity, and Secrecy,” DSD 13 (2006): 150-176; idem, “Reading the Human Body and Writing in Code: Physiognomic Divination and Astrology in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Flores Florentino: Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Early Jewish Studies in Honour of Florentino García Martínez (ed. A. Hilhorst, É. Puech and E. Tigchelaar; JSJSup 122; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 271-284; idem, “Reading the Human Body and Discerning Zodiacal Spirits: A Proposal For the Use of Physiognomies in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Northern Lights on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Proceedings of the Nordic Qumran Network 2003-2006 (ed. A. Klostergaard Petersen, et al.; STDJ 80; Leiden: Brill, 2009), 155-172. Cf. Philip S. Alexander, “Physiognonomy [sic], Initiation, and Rank in the Qumran Community,” in Geschichte – Tradition – Reflexion: Festschrift für Martin Hengel zum 70. Geburtstag; Band I. Judentum (ed. Hubert Cancik, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Peter Schäfer; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996), 385-94.

On how possible physiognomic associations may have been operative in the apostle Paul’s own lifetime, see Jennifer Larson, “Paul’s Masculinity,” JBL 123 (2004): 85-97 and J. Albert Harrill, “Invective against Paul (2 Cor 10.19), the Physiognomics of the Ancient Slave Body, and the Greco-Roman Rhetoric of Manhood,” in Antiquity and Humanity: Essays on Ancient Religion and Philosophy Presented to Hans Dieter Betz on His 70th Birthday (ed. Adela Yarbro Collins and Margaret M. Mitchell; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 189-213; Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). Note also the appeal to physiognomics as background to Paul’s concept of the ‘belly’ in K. O. Sandnes, Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles (SNTSMS 120; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 24-34.

On the Acts of Paul, contrast R. M. Grant, “The Description of Paul in the Acts of Paul and Thecla,” VC 36 (1982): 1-4; Abraham J. Malherbe, “A Physical Description of Paul,” HTR 79 (1986): 170-175; János Bollók, “The Description of Paul in the Acta Pauli,” in The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (ed. J. N. Bremmer; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1996), 1-15; Jan N. Bremmer, “Magic, Martyrdom and Women’s Liberation in the Acts of Paul and Thecla,” in Bremmer, Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, 36-59, esp. 38-39; P. W. Dunn, “The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century,” (Ph.D.Thesis, University of Cambridge, 1996), 150-51; B. Malina and J. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 100-52; Heike Omerzu, “The Portrayal of Paul’s Outer Appearance in the Acts of Paul and Thecla: Reconsidering the Correspondence Between the Body and Personality in Ancient Literature,” R&T 15 (2008): 252-279; Jeremy W. Barrier, The Acts of Paul and Thecla: A Critical Introduction and Commentary (WUNT 2.270; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 73-75. For critique of the relevance of physiognomy, see Monika Betz, “Die betörenden Worte des fremden Mannes: Zur Funktion der Paulusbeschreibung in den Theklaakten,” NTS 53 (2007): 130-45, esp. 132-37.

For Luke and Acts, see Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Characters in Luke-Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006; repr. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011); Chad Hartsock, Sight and Blindness in Luke-Acts: The Use of Physical Features in Characterization (Biblical Interpretation 94; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008). But note especially the important critical review of Parsons’s work by Glenn Snyder in RBL 3/2009.

One might also note the discussion in J Massyngberde Ford, “The Physical Features of the Antichrist,” JSP 14 (1996): 23-41, which is, however, somewhat homogenizing and undisciplined in its appeal to sources of widely differing historical context.

For later Jewish interest in physiognomy, note Gershom G. Scholem, “Ein Fragment zur Physiognomik und Chiromantik aus der Tradition der spätantiken jüdischen Esoterik,” in Liber Amicorum: Studies in Honor of C. J. Bleeker (SHR 17; Leiden: Brill, 1969), 175-193; P. Alexander, “Rabbinic Physiognomy,” in E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C. – A.D. 135) (rev. ed. by G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Goodman; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), III.1: 366-69; P. Schäfer, Hekhalot-Studien (TSAJ 19; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1988), 84-95.

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Announcing the Son of God in Matthew

One of my very perceptive students, George Farmer, pointed out something to me a few years back that has stayed with me: Matthew appears to intentionally vary those who call Jesus ‘Son of God’ in his story, almost as though he were running through the chain of being in order to depict the progressive revelation of Jesus’s true identity. When I looked at the text, I was struck by a certain correspondence that might almost suggest a chiastic arrangement. I am wildly skeptical about all proposed chiasms and fully expect people to kick against this one (which is merely floated for the sake of it), but at least some of the correspondences (esp. B-B’) are striking:

A. 3.17 – voice from heaven*

     B. 4.3, 6 – Satan [cf. Luke 4.3, 9]

        C. 8.29 – demoniacs* [cf. Luke 4.41]

            D. 14.33 – disciples

            D’. 16.16 – Peter

        C’. 26.63 – high priest* [cf. Luke 22.70, though change in speaker]

     B’. 27.40, 43 – mockers (using same phrase as Satan: ‘if you are the Son of God’)

A’. 27.54 – Gentile centurion*

Some of these are in the Markan source, at least roughly (those marked by an *), but Matthew has certainly added the title at significant junctures, which suggests that literary structuring would not be out of the question. 3.17 is slightly dubious since the title isn’t explicitly used, but it would be difficult for God to say, ‘This is God’s son’. So what do you think? Is there anything to this? Surely someone has made this observation before?

446px-Only_begotten_Son_of_God_(Annunciation_Cathedral_in_Moscow) If something like this is even roughly in the text, what might it mean? One could think of this as the descent of an announcement of Jesus’s identity from God through Satan and the demonic beings to being grasped at last by the disciples and Peter. The identity is then reciprocally questioned by human actors mirroring demonic opposition, until at last the Gentile affirms what God also intended, and the passing on of the message is complete.

Perhaps the parallel between the demoniacs and the high priest  is more difficult than the others. I suppose one could suggest that it is a double instance of opposition in which the mission of Jesus is called into question, but I admit that the parallel is not strong. The God-Gentile parallel strikes me as more defensible, especially since Mark already seems to parallel these two events (though without a chiastic arrangement), and the dissimilarity between the two confessions would seem to indicate an important development. That is, the chiasm (if it is that) would then have the effect of calling attention to a movement: from God to the disciples to the Gentiles, marked by opposition all around. This may all be a stretch, but the parallel between Satan and the mockers is too good to ignore. And since many commentators suggest that ‘Son of God’ is (one of) Matthew’s key christological title(s), it would make sense if he put a lot of thought into his placement of it, even if to say it is a chiasm is a bit too far.  I haven’t sold myself yet, but I’m still pondering.

Any insights?



Article on Philo and the Physiognomic Tradition published

My article on Philo and his critically complex stance toward the ancient practice of physiognomy, that is, the art of discerning the soul from the face or body, has now been published: “Philo and the Physiognomic Tradition” Journal for the Study of Judaism 44.1 (2013): 57-86. The link gives the full text of the proofs, which is effectively the final version save the change in page numbers and one or two other minor corrections. 

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