Wikid Germs and Online Sources

The virus I had last week has opened the door to something bacterial, so the blog suffers neglect as I continue suffering in other ways. But I do want to call attention to Mark Goodacre’s interesting Defense of Wikipedia and then some. I agree with a lot of what Mark says; I find Wikipedia a covenient tool, but never treat it as authoritative, and will always double-check with other sources for information I really care about. The crucial point, as Mark points out, is that Wiki is here to stay — just as blogs are, and just as the internet itself is — and the solution to Wiki’s problems is to combat them proactively and positively. In his second post he responds to Jim West as follows:

Jim West says that he has disdain for Wikipedia, ‘Disdain because Wiki are “edit-able” by any Tom, Dick, or Harry who may, or may not, know what the devil they are talking about.’ This confirms my analogy with what many academics were saying about the internet in general a decade ago. The same thing was often said, that any Tom, Dick or Harry can put up their own website. Was the answer to discourage students from using ‘the internet’? Well, that was exactly the response that many engaged in at the time, but there is now a broad consensus that that was wrong, and that the answer in fact is to point students in the right direction on the internet, and to encourage them to engage critically and to assess the sites they are using in the light of their other reading. The same is becoming true, and will continue to become true with Wikipedia. We can disdain it all we like, but the fact is that it is here to stay, and it is only going to get bigger and better. We may as well get involved if we want to have a stake in the future. And let me throw in another analogy. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can start up a blog. Why should we get involved with the blogosphere when it is clearly so full of dilettantes?”

UPDATE: The interactions between Goodacre and West have called forth a strong reaction from Rick Sumner. Be sure to read it. It’s nice to see Rick blogging again.

Rohrbaugh Reviews Crossley

In an RBL review Richard Rohrbaugh reviews Crossley’s Why Christianity Happened. Danny Zacharias and Jim West respond to the review, not pleased with Rohrbaugh’s remark, “it is unfortunate that Crossley appears to have only a superficial acquaintance with the now well-established scholarship in the field of social-scientific criticism”. He probably wanted to see more of the honor-shame model assimilated into this account of Christian origins. On the whole I think it’s a sharp review, giving Crossley his due (particularly regarding his knowledge of the Torah and rabbinic traditions) and criticizing fairly (especially regarding Mark as pre-50 and pro-law). It’s true that the book delivers less than the title promises, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.

Bad Quote for the Day: Authorial Death

Most of my “quotes for the day” are cited approvingly, but once in a while it’s worth calling attention to something so bad which couldn’t have been said better, if you take my meaning. Take Roland Barthes, who, like Paul Ricouer around the same time (the 70s), claimed that written texts inevitably become detached from their authors’ original intent, and that such is a cause for rejoice:

“Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing… This disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, and writing begins.” (Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”; in Image-Music-Text, p 143)

Top Titles in Library Collections

OCLC has a list of the top titles owned by member libraries. They call it a top-1000 list, but it’s actually 1001 — but who’s counting? Here are the top 25:

1. The Holy Bible
2. The Census
3. Mother Goose
4. The Divine Comedy
5. The Odyssey
6. The Iliad
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
8. The Lord of the Rings
9. Hamlet
10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
11. Don Quixote
12. Beowulf
13. The Koran
14. The Night Before Christmas
15. Garfield
16. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
17. Aesop’s Fables
18. Arabian Nights
19. Macbeth
20. Gulliver’s Travels
21. Robinson Crusoe
22. Romeo and Juliet
23. The Bhagavadgita
24. A Christmas Carol
25. The Canterbury Tales

(Via Stephen Carlson.)

Paul’s Use of "Righteousness"

Dikaiosyne. A simple enough term, but endlessly disputed. Does Paul use “righteousness” in a more declaratory/judicial sense — as when God acquits or restores someone to fellowship — or in a behavioral/ethical sense — as when the person leads a new life in Christ?

Neither, actually.(1) According to Philip Esler, “righteousness” meant the same thing to Paul as it did to the rest of his contemporaries: “a form of ascribed honor, that is, an honor gifted to someone by a notable person of authority, in this case God, as an exercise of will and choice by that person, not because the recipient of the honor has done anything to deserve it”. Righteousness conveyed the simple sense of privileged and blessed identity, often in contrast with ungodliness (Rom 1:17-18).(2)

Esler looks to the Septuagint for confirmation of this, and zeroes in on the book of Proverbs:

“It is important to note that Proverbs 10-15 contains the greatest concentration of [righteousness] and [godlessness] in the Greek Old Testament. Thus, of some 375 examples of [righteousness], 100 are found in Proverbs, with a full 50 of these in Proverbs 10-15, while 50 of the 240 examples of [godlessness] also occur in Proverbs 10-15. No other sections of the Septuagint approach such an intensity of use, apart from Psalm 36 (LXX)… Both Proverbs 10-15 and Ps 36 (LXX) concretely illustrate the meaning of righteousness by offering numerous antitheses that contrast the happy and blissful identity of the righteous with the wretched and doomed identity of the godless and impious person.”(3) (Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 165)

For Paul’s opponents in Galatia, blessing came from being Judean (“Jewish”), and the main content of that blessing was the Torah. The pagan, ipso facto, was godless. Paul gave this a sectarian twist: blessing now came from believing in Christ, and the main content of that blessing was the Spirit. He radically co-opted dikaiosyne while keeping its general sense intact. Esler again:

“That he should have chosen this path at all is noteworthy. He could have simply agreed that righteousness was a purely [Judean] phenomenon and instead opted for defining the identity of the gentile believers in terms of the language of sanctification which he employs in I Thessalonians. The fact that he did not pursue this option was probably a result of the evident appeal of the prize of righteousness; its advocates were finding a ready ear for their arguments (Gal 4:10) that Paul was simply unable to abandon this trophy to the opposition. No, he must wrest it from them for his congregations, never mind how challenging the objective might be.” (Galatians, pp 169-170)

This is an important point, and shows how insignificant the idea of righteousness was for Paul outside a Judean-Gentile context. Esler follows Wrede and Schweitzer aggressively here. Though there are many Galatians-and-Romans-type issues present in a letter like I Thessalonians (faith, the Spirit, Christ’s death, etc.), none is linked to the theme of righteousness. Paul didn’t use the word at all — he even went out of his way to redact it out of Isa 59:17 (I Thess 5:8) — instead using sanctification language. Righteousness was so keyed to Judean identity, and it would have been foolish to use it in a context where only Gentiles were involved.

But once Judeans entered the picture, Paul became audacious, co-opting the Israelite term for his Torah-free converts. “Righteousness”, in effect, was called forth by his opponents,(4) forcing him to raise the stakes of his game even higher.


(1) Anyone who understands honor-shame cultures knows that trying to distinguish between “forensics” and “ethics” is misguided anyway, because it assumes that ethical behavior exists independently of its recognition by others. That may be true of us in the individualized west, but in Paul’s world one was ethical to the extent it was credited by others. (See Esler, Galatians, pp 149-150)

(2) Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 167. See also Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, p 394. The latter note that “the closest English equivalent to this usage is ‘acceptability'” (p 200).

(3) Esler catalogs the comparatively few usages which involve forensic/judicial understandings. For instance, there are only eight examples of righteousness used in a literal legal sense, with respect to the action of the judge (Exod 23:7, Deut 25:1, II Sam 15:4, Ps 82:3, Isa 1:17, Isa 5:23, Ezek 44:24, Sir 42:2). “This is hardly a large number when one considers how many scholars assert that the primary meaning of the word is ‘forensic’.” (Galatians, p 161)

(4) Mark Nanos thinks the term “opponents” is misleading, because it implies that the circumcision advocates in Galatia were initially and intentionally opposing Paul, and that Paul was defending himself accordingly. But Paul may just as easily have been making an offensive and preemptive strike, anticipating that these advocates would become his opponents after his letter arrived. Nanos thus prefers the more neutral term “influencers”. (See The Irony of Galatians, pp 119-127)

Snyder’s Shameless (and Shameful) 300 Film

What’s all the hype about? Not much if you ask me, but enough if you ask the majority of critics, and damn plenty if you ask the outraged Iranians.

I saw the film last Friday, but wasn’t planing on reviewing it since there isn’t much to review: it’s an extended video-war and not much else. We get the Battle of Thermopyle served up graphic-novel style, which is arresting at first, but gets old fast. There’s way too much slo-mo — as if every thrust and parry is an act of artistry — and the gore, commendable in itself, is too comicly portrayed to have dramatic impact. The ending is anti-climactic; the epilogue a rip-off of Braveheart’s. The prominent role given to Leonides’ queen turns out to be a wasted opportunity, pressed into a ridiculous side-story that insults the viewer’s intelligence. I think the oracle’s nipple-dance is what impressed me most in the entire movie.

Worth reviewing, however, is the strong reaction from Iran where the film has been banned. Iranians are affronted by Snyder’s film because, they say, it insults their heritage and declares war on them. MSN reports:

“‘Hollywood declares war on Iranians,’ blared a headline in Tuesday’s edition of the independent Ayende-No newspaper… Javad Shamghadri, cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the United States tries to ‘humiliate’ Iran in order to reverse historical reality and ‘compensate for its wrongdoings in order to provoke American soldiers and warmongers’ against Iran.”

Never underestimate the power of humiliation in shame-based cultures. Iran feels globally shamed, and Time even has an article by one of the offended, Adadeh Moaveni:

“All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film 300… Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film’s depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran… Agreeing that 300 is egregious drivel is fairly easy. I’m relatively mellow as Iranian nationalists go, and even I found myself applauding when the government spokesman described the film as fabrication and insult. Iranians view the Achaemenid empire as a particularly noble page in their history and cannot understand why it has been singled out for such shoddy cinematic treatment.”

Well, we have an easier time laughing off “egregious drivel” than people like Moaveni. Nonsense is taken quite seriously in honor-shame societies, and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this bit.

(Perhaps Chris Heard will review the film if he sees it.)

A Secular Approach to Christian Origins

Over a year ago I made a list of dangerous ideas from the contributions of other bloggers. This was James Crossley’s:

New Testament studies should become a secular discipline.

His wish was just granted a couple days ago. Check out the new list-serve Christian Origins, hosted by William Arnal and Zeba Crook.

“This list focuses on the social and historical location and the earliest Jesus communities, the development of their thought concerning Jesus, the development of their writings, the spread of their movement, and related topics: in other words, the stuff of Christian Origins. This is a moderated and scholarly list: lurking is welcome, but contributors to the list will either have knowledge of the languages, methodologies, and history of scholarship pertinent to the academic study of Christian Origins, or a willingness to become conversant in these. Contributors to this list attempt to understand the the various phenomena of Christians Origins exclusively from an humanist perspective: to explain the rise of Christianity and the development of Christian beliefs without invoking or relying upon such assumptions such as the existence of God, the reality of miracles, foreknowledge of the future, resuscitations of the dead, or any unique status accorded to Jesus, his earliest followers, or Christianity as a religion. This list takes the following quote of Jacques Berlinerblau with the utmost seriousness: ‘[T]he academic study of the Bible…desperately needs an infusion of learned critics who are willing to draw blood… Such an endeavor would not necessarily be exclusionary. All researchers would be welcome to participate as long as they pronounce something approximating a secular shahada, or profession of faith: to love critique more than God.'”

So it’s a lot like Jeffrey Gibson’s well-known Crosstalk list, but broader in scope, and with tighter restrictions against confessional intrusions. I’ve joined; it will be interesting to see where it goes.