Getting ‘High on Roman History’? Well, Not Exactly…

This amused me:

As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” — which apparently involves partaking in psychoactive drugs, if a new study is to be believed, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Researchers at Italy’s Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research recently published a report that tested levels of psychoactive drugs in the air of eight major Italian cities: Palermo, Rome, Bologna, Florence, Turin, Milan, Verona and Naples. They found that residents are probably taking in measurable levels of cocaine and marijuana just by breathing the air.

Of the eight, Turin was the city with the highest total drug concentration; Palermo had the least. Some cities favored certain drugs disproportionately to others; in Florence, marijuana was the drug of choice. That may not come as a surprise, given the number of college students regularly adrift within that city.

So…what does that mean?

So does this mean that you could actually get high from breathing in Italian air? Well, no. The levels aren’t quite that … ahem … high. But levels were significant enough to reveal patterns about overall usage habits of citizens. Authorities hope that the information will help to improve police enforcement of drug laws, as well as map out better drug treatment resources.

via Can you get high just from breathing the air in Rome? | MNN – Mother Nature Network.

I would read the whole thing.  Makes you wonder about some of the cities in the US.

Thomas L. Brodie Reviews ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’

The following review is published in full with Thomas L. Brodie’s permission:


In 1977 the London-born historian Michael Grant stated that no serious scholar would postulate the non-historicity of Jesus (Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, New York, Macmillan, 1977, 200). And, almost as if to vindicate Grant, the following years saw an extraordinary flow of books each setting out a reconstruction of Jesus’ history.

Yet a problem remained. While these many books essentially agreed on Jesus’ historical existence they agreed on little else. The reconstructions were so diverse that when Luke Timothy Johnson was writing his introduction to the New Testament (1985)—a serious scholarly writing—he omitted any summary of the quest for the historical Jesus, and when, due to demand, his second edition included an appendix, ‘The Historical Jesus’, he first listed some of  the proposals about Jesus’ history and then said of them ‘one  may well wonder whether anything more than a sophisticated and elaborate form of projection has taken place’ (The Writings of the New Testament. An Interpretation. London: SCM, 1999, 629).

Very recently several books, some not as serious as Johnson’s, have denied that Jesus existed, but Bart Ehrman has responded to them (Did Jesus Exist, The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, March 2012). Ehrman’s case rests largely on long-standing arguments, especially on the idea, very popular in the twentieth century, that the gospels are based ultimately on oral traditions.

Into this situation steps the Thompson/Varenna volume bearing the views of thirteen writers (July 2012). The contributions are diverse, but overall the book reflects a seismic shift: it claims that the primary background for the gospels is not oral tradition but the world of ancient writing/literature. And the most basic question raised by this book is whether Jesus existed historically or whether he is a literary figure:

 The essays…have a modest purpose. Neither establishing the historicity of a historical Jesus not possessing an adequate warrant for dismissing it, our purpose is to clarify our engagement with critical historical and exegetical methods in the hopes of enabling the central question regarding the function of New Testament literature to resist the endless production of works on the historical Jesus. Our  hope is to open a direct discussion of the question of historicity much in the  spirit of the more than decade-long discourse and debate by the European Seminar on Methodology in Israel’s History which has been so profitably engaged in regard to the historicity of figures and narratives of the Hebrew Bible and the related construction of a history of ancient Palestine (editors’ Introduction, p. 11, emphasis added).

The essays form three parts, the first on Scholarship.

  Into the Well of Historical Jesus Scholarship

  • 1. Jim West (Quartz Hill School of Theology, California) – A Very, Very Short Introduction to Minimalism
  • 2. Roland Boer (University of Newcastle) – The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer
  • 3. Lester L. Grabbe (Univ. of Hull) – “Jesus Who is Called Christ”: References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources
  • 4. Niels Peter Lemche (Univ. of Copenhagen) – The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Doesn’t Want Jesus
  • 5. Emanuel Pfoh (National University of La Plata) – Jesus and the Mythic Mind: An Epistemological Problem

For West, the Bible is so focused on theology that it is not possible to affirm or deny historical propositions. ‘Minimalism began…with the Chronicler…. Maximalism… distorts the theological message of the text by transforming it into historical source materials’ (p.31).

Boer reviews the complex heritage of Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer, notes the economic decline of the West in relation to the East and then concludes ‘it is good time to return to a more sceptical position in relation to the founding documents’ (p. 56).

Grabbe maintains that the evidence provided by Tacitus and Josephus to the existence of Jesus ‘is minimal but nevertheless significant…Its value lies in its independence from Christian tradition’ (p.69). Comment: It does not seem clear how one can be sure that Josephus, for instance, who for thirty years lived in the same city as a Christian community, is independent of some knowledge of what Christians were saying.

Lemche wrestles with the long-standing perceived divide between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and with the present division between those who engage biblical research and those who avoid it.

Pfoh’s field is historical anthropology of Syria/Palestine (c. 3300-600 BCE) and his ‘main aim is to reflect from strictly historical and anthropological perspectives, on what we can know about the figure of Jesus and what we cannot’ (p.79). He hopes to make ‘a plea for a critical understanding of the nature of ancient literature and the intellectual world supporting such’ (p.79). For him ‘our historical conclusions regarding [Jesus]…cannot be very positive…My opinion is that such an inquiry is doomed to failure…We cannot test a mythic figure historically….’ (pp. 91-92).

Paul and Early Christianity: Historical and Exegetical Investigations

  • 6 Robert M. Price (Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary) – Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?
  • 7. Mogens Müller (University of Copenhagen) – Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus
  • 8. Thomas S. Verenna – Born Under the Law: Intertextuality and the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus in Paul’s Epistles

Price and Verenna argue strongly for Paul’s independence of an historical Jesus. For Müller, however, the effect of Jesus on Paul’s life is such that it presupposes Jesus’ historical existence, and he concludes, ‘If Paul is assumed to have been a historical person, the same must be assumed with regard to Jesus of Nazareth’ (p. 130).

The Rewritten Bible and the Life of Jesus

  • 9. James Crossley (Univ. of Sheffield) – Can John’s Gospel Really Be Used to Reconstruct a Life of Jesus? An Assessment of Recent Trends and a Defence of a Traditional View
  • 10. Thomas L. Thompson – Psalm 72 and Mark 1:12-13: Mythic Evocation in Narratives of the Good King
  • 11. Ingrid Hjelm (Univ. of Copenhagen) “Who is my Neighbor?” Implicit Use of OT Stories and Motifs in Luke.
  • 12. Joshua Sabih (Univ. of Copenhagen) – Born Isa and Baptized Jesus: The Quranic Narratives about Isa
  • 13. K. L. Noll (Brandon University, Manitoba) – Investigating Earliest Christianity Without Jesus

Concerning the historicity of the gospels, Crossley expresses caution about recent efforts to squeeze more history from John than the gospel allows. Thompson and Hjelm illustrate how the gospels’ content and shape are governed by something other than history, namely by Old Testament features such as patterns, themes, stories and motifs.

Sabih postulates that the Quranic figure of Isa is not identical with the Jesus of the NT, but the Isa of later Muslim tradition is (p. 219).

Finally, Noll’s thesis is that ‘any quest for a historical Jesus is irrelevant to an understanding of the earliest social movements that evolved into the religion now called Christianity. This is the case even if a historical Jesus existed and made an effort to found a movement of some kind’ (p. 233). For Noll the origin of Christianity has a kinship with the origin of Islam and the processes of evolution.

Overall, this volume contributes to a crucial development, namely moving historical investigation beyond the usual restrictions of the historical critical method, particularly beyond reliance on the theory of oral tradition, and bringing it into new terrain, especially that of literature.

However, having reached new terrain, this volume tends to rush further ahead into areas of theory, history and theology without doing justice to the full demands of engagement with literature. The problem is not just that its task is unfinished—as its editors would acknowledge—but that it seems unclear how to advance, unclear about the need to settle down to the slow detailed work of mapping the literary terrain in detail, often verse by verse, so that, before saying much about the history of Christian origins, it first establishes a reasonably clear map of the history of the literature, in effect the history of the composition of the New Testament, both of its many parts and, where possible, of its totality. In David Gunn’s words, ‘Write the history of the literature and then the [larger] history can be written’ (‘The Myth of Israel’, in L. L. Grabbe, Did Moses Speak Attic, JSOTSup 317, Sheffield Academic, 2001, 182).

Such prior mapping is indispensable. If, for instance, the investigation cannot account for the data underlying the theory of Q, or at least give some idea of how that can be done, its proposals regarding history and theology will have fatal gaps.

However, it is of the nature of the hermeneutical circle not only to establish the details that clarify the whole, but also to allow a vision of the whole to clarify the details, so it is appropriate from time to time to leap ahead into theory and into wide historical and theological vistas. And that is what this volume has done. Its writers are like explorers who have been parachuted at night into terrain that is still largely unknown and they are sending back preliminary reports. They do not always give a clear picture, and at times they may get lost, but the land must be crossed, and they are worth listening to.


Thomas Brodie also reflected upon my chapter on Paul in the following way:

As I see it your chapter on Paul reflects both the volume’s strength and limitations.

On the one hand it has wonderful broad lines of thought, especially on the crucifixion. In fact given what Bart Ehrman (Did Jesus Exist?)  wrote about the impossibility of a Jew envisaging a crucified Messiah, I wondered would it be worth your while writing an article that discusses Ehrman’s view and elaborates your own proposal.

On the other hand—and this is very understandable (if nothing else time and space would not allow)—you did not greatly engage the nuts and bolts of the epistles, the more prosaic fabric that holds the text together, verse by verse, and that shows just how detailed and complex is the process of rewriting.

Another question that occurs is whether the writer of the epistles, while they did not know a historical Jesus, knew that their work would be taken up by writers who would turn their work into a history-like form, as the prophets had been turned into history-like form by Hebrew narrative. In other words was there more coordination between the NT writers than we generally allow? I’m certain there was, but how much more?

Most of the essays in the volume, including your own, could become books. 

Overall I’m very happy with the review.  I thought his conclusions perceptive and useful, as were his questions.  On one brief note, I have commented on Ehrman’s book and interested readers can check it out here:

Waiting For Rational Thought

Great comic from Non Sequitur:

Returning to (the Question of the Historicity of) Troy

With thanks to David Meadows for directing me to this:

The new expedition will be led by University of Wisconsin-Madison classics Professor William Aylward, an archaeologist with long experience of excavating the ruins of classical antiquity, including what is currently accepted as the site of Troy itself.

In ancient Greek it was called Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios; and Τροία, Troia; Latin: Trōia and Īlium; Hittite: Wilusa or Truwisa and still grips the imagination over 3200 years after the events described in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad. Troy VII has been identified as the Hittite Wilusa, which gives the probable origin of the Greek version Ilion and is generally (but not conclusively) accepted to be the Homeric Troy.

via Archaeologists return to Troy : Past Horizons Archaeology.

I’ve written on the question of the historicity of Troy recently, and what I said then remains just as relevant:

That the narrative of the Odyssey fits more in line with the current events of the Archaic-early Persian periods, with the joining of previously warring poleis into alliances and leagues, with the idealization of the Hellenics vs. the Persians, where the narrative takes root and makes a stand.  And even then, these narratives function only within a set of functional guidelines (that is to say, within the setting by which our most current version of the Odyssey comes to us)–as history they fail to meet any guidelines since the narrative no doubt would have changed depending on the patron deities of the individual cities and the role of the heroes (again lending to the fact that what we have isn’t ‘what happened’ but ‘what the Greeks at that time and that place wanted to believe happened).  We’re not dealing with history, but cultural memory.  These tales are the products of the ancient mythic mind, not our modern rationalistic mind.

My understanding is that there are simply too many challenges that the purveyors of a historical Troy must overcome: too many inconsistencies, too much wishful thinking, too great a chance of forcing the data to fit into preconceived notions.  The links between the modern excavations at Wilusa and the Homeric Troy are weak at best.  The dating of the settlements to various periods (i.e., is it Troy VIIa or Troy VI that is supposedly the historical Troy?) and the discussion of a conquest of the region (that the walls show signs of a fire, sure, but also earthquake damage from the same time!) are tentative and perhaps are based on questionable methods (i.e., the pottery dating used by some of the earlier excavators in the beginning of the twentieth century).

The geographical links are drawn from ancient sources, though all of them late and written after the group of texts were collected into what is now known as the Illiad (like Strabo, who lived around the turn of the first century CE–hundreds of years after the composition of the Homeric epics).   And how many ‘Troy’s’ were there in antiquity?  Livy recounts several ‘Troy’s’ popping up after the fall of the ‘original’ (which is not placed geographically) and notes that the settlers (those who escaped the destruction) were called ‘Trojans’ to his day.  So it is highly specious, in my opinion, to trust the accounts of any ancient author on the whereabouts of Troy, since it is clear that it was fashionable at various times and locales to link ones history with that of the Homeric epics.  And why not those who live off the Aegean Sea?  Of course those settlements would be counted amongst the Trojans!  It is all circular.  A settlement along the Aegean Sea region is associated with Homer and considered Trojan because the Trojans were from a settlement along the Aegean Sea region according to Homer.

There are serious implications to doing history in this fashion.  I again direct the readers to read my earlier post on this subject (linked above).

Calvin on Happiness and Ignorance

Quite relevant to today’s political crises:

Inside Higher Ed: Rollston Threatened for Financial Reasons

It seems the letter by the president of Emmanuel Christian Seminary about Rollston has been made public(?) and has been written about in an article posted by Inside Higher Ed:

The president of a Tennessee seminary told a tenured professor that his views were offending prospective students and possible donors and that he should look for work elsewhere.

The trouble began when Christopher Rollston, a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, a graduate seminary affiliated with the Restoration Movement, wrote an opinion article for The Huffington Post’s religion section about the marginal status of women in the Bible. “To embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women,” Rollston wrote. “And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong.”

The article led to a very public disagreement with another member of Emmanuel’s faculty and a letter of rebuke from the seminary’s president, Michael Sweeney, who issued a less-than-veiled threat to Rollston: stop taking liberal positions that alienate donors and prospective students, or find another place to work.

via Seminary threatens to discipline professor for offending prospective students, donors | Inside Higher Ed.

This is quite revealing.  The matter is not about whether or not Rollston has done his job (he has) or whether or not he has violated the confession of faith (he hasn’t), or about whether his interpretation of the Bible is wrong (it isn’t), but about money.  That’s right everyone.  Dr. Blowers and the president of Emmanuel have threatened Rollston’s job because donors (who, as I said in my article on Bible and Interpretation, care nothing for the accuracy of statements made by professors but have vested agendas and interests elsewhere) are uncomfortable with the idea of giving money to an institution which has a faculty member whose views are that the marginalization of women in the Bible are wrong.

Facts are irrelevant so long as donors are happy.  This is the message that Emmanuel has presented to its faculty, staff, and student body.  When I asked the question in my article:

“How do we want to educate students in the field of Biblical Studies?”

Emmanuel answered, swift and true: ‘In a manner that makes our donors happy.’  In other words, ECS bows down to fundamentalism rather than the facts when their donors are fundamentalists.  Tenure doesn’t matter, the careful education of their students doesn’t matter.  Fall in line with what *our donors believe* or else face the consequences.  That is essentially what Emmanuel has said to Christopher Rollston.  And that is what they are saying to every other member of their faculty and staff and all future student bodies (as well as the current one).

So where does that leave the reputation of Dr. Blowers?  I’m curious since he was aware of the disciplinary action (in fact, he claims to have been a part of it–using the ‘royal ‘we”) and of course the reasons for it–as the Chair of the Area Chairs would be privy to such reasons and for allowing the action to occur.  What is perhaps most revealing is the way Dr. Blowers’ has been trying to skirt over this by completely avoiding it, stating instead that the issue was with Rollston’s interpretation (which everyone with two eyes and a brain could see was completely bunk).  Now the facts are out there.  Indeed, it seems as though my ‘cheap seats’ turned out to be just fine; I just needed a pair of binoculars to cut out all the excess (and by that I mean, all of the trash that was being thrown around from the front row of the stadium which, as it seems, was an attempt to obscure everyone’s view of the real goings on).

UPDATE!  Bob Cargill writes:

In documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, it appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, began the termination process of the tenured Rollston, in part, because of the acute financial crisis presently being experienced at Emmanuel, and the potential of a “six-figure” donation that could bail out the seminary, but from a donor who does not personally like Rollston. In this way, the school could kill two birds with one stone: ridding the faculty of a tenured professor to make way for a donation from a potential donor who does not like Rollston, and saving the money from the endowed chair and salary line Rollston presently earns.

That Emmanuel’s president would list multiple economic reasons (the potential of a donation, trouble recruiting tuition-paying students, etc.) for the termination of Dr. Rollston – in the notice of termination to Rollston – is scandalous in itself.

And he aptly concludes:

An institution simply cannot fire a tenured professor who broke no rules (and who happens to be the most credible scholar at Emmanuel) just because the institution wants a donation. Tenure is designed to protect freedom of thought. If Emmanuel wants to fire its professors for thinking outside of Emmanuel’s predetermined theological constraints, why offer tenure in the first place?

In my professional opinion, Emmanuel has committed a grievous violation of academic integrity, and one that will not only cost them financially, but one that will ruin the reputation of the institution for years to come.

Also Jim Davila updated his post:

It appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary finds itself in a difficult position. Naturally, they want a good relationship with trustees, affiliated institutions, and donors. But at the same time, dismissing someone from a tenured academic post is no small matter. The larger academic world is watching, and whatever decision they make could have an effect on their wider academic reputation and their future efforts to recruit high-quality academic staff.

Jim West writes (in his normal manner):

Congratulations Mr Blowers, you and your ilk have managed to destroy a school and turn it into a gathering of greedy televangelists telling the ignorant flock what it desperately wishes to hear just to make a buck.

Thanks to Bob Cargill for this!

Fallout Shelters: A Sober Reminder

The other day while walking through a nearby town window shopping, I came across this rather iconic image.

Faded with age, bent by means unknown, this image–one that you have probably seen in your own town–clarifies for me the distinct changes that occur within a generation of society.  Our contemporary world is quite a different one from the world of 60 years ago.  My generation has no understanding of the nuclear attack drills students used to have to endure, or the terror of the ‘reds’.

While I’m sure most of my readers understand this difference, have we really stopped to think about it?  How this has impacted our politics?  The politics of the younger generations versus those of the older generations?  And how might this impact our sense of ‘apocalypse’ and our sense of ‘salvation’?  How does this difference in aeon alter our perceptions of other life factors?

I guess that, while I recognize these fallout shelter signs as being vintage indicators of a world wrought with fear and uncertainty, I don’t really understand them.  I can’t really grasp that sort of terror; the thought that at any moment another country thousands of miles away could ever consider just…vaporizing everyone..just doesn’t really compute.  And at the same time we live in a world where fears are focused on ‘cells’ or ‘splinter organizations’ or ‘religious extremists’ who attack smaller targets for psychological effects (smaller as in ‘area’ or ‘size in relation to country’).   Shelters like this one would serve little use in such a war.

How does this relate to Classics or the second temple period?  I guess I just wonder about the differences 60 years could have made in antiquity–how might the opinions of third or fourth generation Romano-Jewish citizens of Palestine felt towards Rome?  How different would there perceptions of the Romans have been?  How different would the Romans have felt towards the Jewish populations?

Why Are There Typos in Academic Works?

You may think typos exist as the result of overworked editors who are just too sleepy after ours of indexing to notice subtle mistakes–but if you think this, you’re absolutely right wrong.  In fact, typos exist to foil the attempts of your usual not-too-bright forgers and plagiarists, as Mark Goodacre demonstrates:

This is an oddity that was difficult to fathom.  Why was the fragment’s author missing out this direct-object marker, especially if he was dependent on Coptic Thomas which includes it?

I must admit that I never thought to look at the page-by-page PDFs, looking instead only at the web version.   But yesterday, Mike Grondin himself made a telling observation on the Gospel of Thomas e-list.  While the level of accuracy in Mike’s excellent website is very high, there is one place in the PDFs where he has a typographical error, and the error corresponds precisely to the same oddity in the Jesus’ Wife fragment…

So plagiarists beware!  Steal from an academic work to make tons of money on eBay and you may find you were too ignorant to catch mistakes like this that will undo your whole authenticity claim (I’m looking at you, Lead Codices forgers).

See the published article by Andrew Bernhard, who is responsible for the typo-catching, here (.PDF format).

James McGrath has a humorous take on this as well that you’ll want to read.

In Support of Christopher Rollston (and a Reply to T.M. Law)

Today, Jim West published an article on Bible and Interpretation calling upon Emmanuel to do what is right, from a Christian perspective–and he makes some very good points.  Jim Davila wrote a well-thought-out piece in support of Chris Rollston.  James McGrath posted an examination of the marginalization of women in the Bible in a very useful way, and yesterday he also published a nice roundup on the current situation involving Chris Rollston and Emmanuel (specifically Dr. Blowers).  And he shares these apt statements with his readers:

But in this case involving Chris Rollston, a direct contravention of the school’s statement of faith doesn’t seem to be the issue. And so I want to avoid all potential side issues, and focus on one central point: If Chris is wrong about the marginalization of women in the Bible, as those who are seeking to have him disciplined or fired surely think, why not just disagree with him? There are plenty of Christians who agree with him, plenty who disagree, and no classic creed of the Christian churches takes a stance on this issue (not that that should matter to an institution connected with the Stone-Campbell tradition). Nor does the position statement of Emmanuel Christian Seminary as found on their web site takes a stance on this particular matter.

If Emmanuel Christian Seminary has failed to communicate to its students, some of its faculty members, and its board of trustees how to disagree constructively as Christians, and that it is possible to disagree as Christians without punishing, firing , expelling or otherwise using authority in an attempt to silence the person you disagree with, then they have failed to engage in the most fundamental mission of any educational institution, and have failed to live up to their identity as a Christian institution.

An action like this can only ever be self-defeating. For surely if your own stance were self-evidently true, a simple correction or pointing out of the error would be sufficient. Resorting to the use of power and exclusion indicates fear, not confidence. Rest assured that the views you fear will get increasingly more attention as you try to silence those who articulate them.

via In Support of Christopher Rollston.

I was not aware of T.M. Law’s recent comments about it until reading this roundup (can be found here) and that is a little disheartening since Law addresses me directly (I would hope Law would just send me a note directing me to his discussion in the future) but, while I am glad to see he is back to blogging, I am not at all persuaded by his position.  In fact it is a little discouraging.

To be clear, I’m all for ‘toning down rhetoric’ but it seems as though Law is not really up to speed on everything.  Also, and I don’t mean to suggest that Law did not read my article carefully, I do find it a little perplexing that he would make criticisms against me that restate exactly the same things I say as if I never said them (more on that in a moment).  But there are more curious oddities in Law’s presentation of my arguments.

I won’t press the issue, but something that deserves some mention is the apparent condescension throughout his piece.  It appeared (from my point of view) to be dripping through his suggestion that I’m somehow ignorant of confessional institutions (but I will say this is neither true nor demonstrable from my article—even when Law takes snippets of my arguments out of context, my words ring of someone who understands confessional theological institutions quite well; but whatever).

I’m also not quite sure why he writes that, had he been an administrator at Emmanuel, he “wouldn’t answer a blogger to begin with” because (a) I’m not just a blogger, but a student at a research institution who is actively engaging scholarship, (b) my article wasn’t written on a ‘blog’ but in a credible online journal (Bible and Interpretation, though as an Op-Ed piece), and (c) Law is also a blogger and I’m sure that had he felt the urge to press a question, published it in an academic forum, would probably not enjoy being called just ‘a blogger’.  This rhetoric seems out of place in an entry meant to encourage a more level-headed approach to this whole mess.  Maybe it was not meant to offend, but then why bother including it?  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but I hope that in future correspondence, we can make do without such notions.  So let’s move on to the meat of his arguments (which, again, are difficult to address since where he believed we disagreed or where he calls me ignorant, we’re actually on the same page).

(2) Law argues what everyone knows: confessional institutions have different goals than other (secular) institutions and staff at these confessional facilities work under those goals.  But I’m unclear if Law thinks it acceptable to ignore the tenure process at these institutions because they happen to be faith-based, or if he believes it is acceptable for them to fire tenure professors at will, without any reason or cause because a small fraction of the staff are disturbed by what another member of their faculty wrote publicly?  He expresses concern for Chris Rollston, but doesn’t seem to address this.  He spends all his time telling us about confessional institutions but no time at all addressing the crux of the issue (which is what my article was about): academic integrity and intellectual honesty at these institutions.  The ambiguity of his position is rather bizarre.

(3) Law goes on to suggest that because these institutions function differently:

“As far as legality is concerned, confessional institutions also whistle a different tune to the one heard in the universities. They do not have to pinpoint a specific violation of a specific doctrinal point in order to terminate a faculty member. All they must show is that the employee in question has espoused a view that is contrary to the spirit of the confession. The spirit, not the letter. And even if their legal counsel is not satisfied, there are a host of other options on the table.”

But that is the precise function I’m trying to nail down here.  And this is why I believe that Law could have probably read my article more carefully.  The issue is not whether I understand this function (I blatantly talk about *this very function* in my paper), but why this is acceptable and—more directly—why Rollston is being ‘disciplined’.  Now Law might argue on the side of Emmanuel; that Rollston’s article was ‘contrary to the spirit’ of the school.  But he would be wrong, since the self-appointed(?) representative of Emmanuel, Dr. Blowers (he uses ‘we’ a lot, really likes talking in the first-person-plural), has stated over and over that this is not a heresy case (which is precisely what one would need to show in order for the firing to be legal) and that the goals of Emmanuel are in line with open and free dialogue.  So we have the most senior member of faculty, who is also an administrator at the school and Chair of the Area Chairs, and whose parents were high-level donors to Emmanuel subverting Law’s own argument that “[s]ome…confessional institutions would even consider ‘academic freedom’ just as subversive and dangerous as any form of liberal theology”.

But that is the whole point I’m making!  Emmanuel is sayings one thing and doing another.  And while that may be fine to Law, that is unacceptable to me.  You have someone as prominent as Dr. Blowers making offensive and charged public statements about Chris Rollston who also, very publicly, claiming that ‘disciplinary action’ *will be administered* (his words: “We are looking at disciplinary action” which intimates it is already in-motion).  Again, the issue is not about whether or not I understand these sorts of institutions, but about how some will say they are one thing and do another.

As an aside, Law writes that “[t]hey may in fact receive legal counsel not to talk publicly about what they are doing.” But it is too late for that.  The cat is out of the bag.  I’m in agreement with Jim Davila where he writes:

“The real issues, which I have not yet seen either Professor Blowers or Emmanuel Christian Seminary address, are that, first, an academic at this institution has apparently violated fundamental confidentiality principles by disclosing an ongoing disciplinary case against a colleague to someone not involved in the case and, indeed, apparently someone not at the institution at all. That the improper disclosure went public through a misunderstanding of how Facebook works only exacerbates the breach of confidentiality and illustrates why rules of confidentiality exist in the first place. This is arguably an internal matter for the institution, but given that the issue has gone public, it can hardly be kept quiet now. (If Professor Blowers or Emmanuel College have commented substantively on this and I have missed it, I would be grateful for the link.  Apologizing for accidentally making the breach of confidentiality even more public is not addressing it substantively.)”

I would like to remind the reader that this particular issue has nothing to do with what the ‘general faculty and staff’ at Emmanuel think—this inquisition (which is really what it is, despite what Blowers says) is the result of one man’s agenda and nothing else.  This isn’t a matter of the whole of the faculty coming out against Rollston, but one man who has seemingly taken it upon himself to speak out against, and threaten, his job.  We need to be clear on that.  Maybe behind the scenes there are other happenings, maybe the faculty is split, but they aren’t spouting off unforgivable statements, playing defense, or otherwise splitting hairs about the so-called secular agenda on blogs or public forums like Dr. Blowers has done since this all began.   It is clear to anyone with two eyes and a brain that Dr. Blowers has been on some grand crusade since Rollston’s article was published; until other evidence presents itself, we should keep this in mind.

(4) I am not at all convinced by Law that these institutions are somehow removed from the rest of the academy (at least, that is the impression I get from his blog post).  I do not believe that any accredited institution can simply ‘ignore’ the workings of academia and just go on doing its own thing without wanting to engage it or be a part of it.  All institutions of Higher Ed are inexplicably linked and none (mo matter how much they despise it) can remove themselves from it—James Tabor is absolutely right about this. Students of Emmanuel are future scholars–they will interact with and through the academy.  They will publish papers, join faculty, and move through the tenure process elsewhere.  So it is not at all fair to suggest that institutions like Emmanuel should just get a free pass here because this is ‘how they are’ and if we don’t ‘get them’ tough.

While Law may be correct that their “idea of what defines a “successful education” is different than, say, a research institution like Rutgers, he is wrong if he thinks that such a belief excuses them from academic judgment when they state they seek to provide “a rigorous academic experience” but then back-peddle on that very issue.  That is neither fair to the students who pay money to attend Emmanuel, nor fair to the faculty who are trying to educate their students in the best way they can (and now, finding out, they have to tip toe around for fear of losing their jobs over something they might write—as basic and uncontroversial as it might be).

This, along with point (2), cause me to wonder how anyone can ask “But who is pretending, and what are they pretending?”  I can only presume at this point that Law just is not investigating this issue beyond what must have been a cursory glance through my paper.  Who is pretending?  Emmanuel, Dr. Blowers—they have presented themselves as something they are not (and they continue to do so).

(5) Contrary to law, I was careful with my wording, I was measured and level-headed (not reactionary) to the events that have unfolded.  I was also careful with generalizing; I recognize that many confessional institutions are what they claim to be and get along just fine, and I’m fine with these institutions.  But there are certain confessional institutions which are owed judgment for what can only be called ‘lying’.  My issue is not with ‘confessional institutions’ as a whole, but specifically those which preach from the pulpit one way and when the class leaves the pews, do the exact opposite of what they just preached.

Now far be it for me to belabor the issue, but if Law is saying that these institutions are using words incorrectly, or using words to present themselves as ‘scholarly’ while not really agreeing with the true definitions of those words (‘critical’, ‘tenure’, ‘Christian’, ‘academic’, etc…) then that is a problem.  Because students will pay for what they believe to be a challenging education at Emmanuel, and if Law is correct in his interpretation of confessional institutions that “of what defines a “successful education” is different”, then they need to state that clearly.  They need to be directly honest about their positions on critical scholarship, what they think about the way women are treated in the Bible, how they mean to educate their students on their campus about these matters.  At this point, neither Emmanuel, nor Dr. Blowers (who again continues to speak for the school), has stated anywhere that this is the case.  In fact they have argued the exact opposite of this and have instead pushed forward with the notion that Emmanuel, in line with the Stone-Campbell tradition, is all about challenging their students.

I must reiterate my earlier argument here, as I did in the comments under Dr. Blower’s article: Had this been just an academic disagreement, no one would have blinked an eye towards Dr. Blowers, Emmanuel, or this situation. Academic disagreements happen *all the time* and are the staple of credible, critical scholarship of which Dr. Blowers believes to be so vital to his institution and to himself. And this is, after all, how Dr. Blowers continues to present his defense–this isn’t a censorship, but a disagreement over how Rollston’s article was presented.

But this has not been a simple matter of disagreement, or a friendly sparring match between two colleagues over nuance (which it should have been, by all accounts—Dr. Blowers states that *he* feels that Rollston was unprofessional and irresponsible in his presentation of the marginalization of women, again demonstrating that he is behind the charge and he is speaking for Emmanuel). No, Dr. Blowers may be displeased with Dr. Rollston’s HuffPo article, but he took it from a general disagreement to something much more scandalous. He has threatened a colleague with ‘disciplinary action’ and he did so *in the public forum*! This doesn’t come from the blogosphere but Dr. Blowers himself.

One thing is certain; when someone at an institution uses the editorial “we” (in the sense of “We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days” – Dr. Blowers) because one scholar doesn’t like what another scholar said–we call that censorship. Maybe at Emmanuel, ‘the church’ comes before all else, including the respect deserved of tenure, or of the many loyal years devoted to the institution by the colleague being ‘disciplined’. But let’s be absolutely clear. Dr. Blowers has stated:

“Within our own Stone-Campbell heritage, Emmanuel has been a “moderate” school, trying to avoid the polarizations of liberal and conservative and providing a healthy environment for students to be challenged in their faith, put through the refiner’s fire of tough questioning, and yet given strong theological and spiritual resources to build for future ministry.”

But one must wonder how threatening the job of the most prominent and well-respected member of faculty at your institution with disciplinary action for putting students “through the refiner’s fire of tough questioning” is in line with that *stated* goal. And one has the right to ask, directly of Dr. Blowers and of Emmanuel itself: what sort of standard is being set when they can so easily disregard the tenure process, can disregard its colleagues, and also, quite directly, their student body in the process?

This is a question that I posed to Dr. Blowers directly last week; and over 3,000 words later, Dr. Blowers has not taken the time to answer it.

Law is correct that we need a measured approach to this, and we must be careful in our engagement of the evidence.  But let’s be real here.  There are ways in which a responsible, respectable institution handles itself.  Emmanuel has, in the course of a few weeks, publicly announced disciplinary action against a tenured faculty member about an article he wrote which was neither against the Stone-Campbell heritage nor out of line with any of the current scholarship (that even Emmanuel states it embraces), has seen its most senior faculty member commence with a public heresy trial (on blogs, in comments, on his Facebook) and then state that is *not what he’s doing* (though it is clear to everyone else).  Then that same faculty member refuses to answer any question relating to the matter—after he had already made the issue public (which isn’t conspiracy, but it may be a scandal), and that I take issue with any of this is…what are Law’s objections exactly?  That this is a result of my misunderstanding of the way confessional institutions do business?  Sorry if I don’t find that particular line of reasoning to be very persuasive.

You Can’t Convince Everyone: Diglotting Reviews My Chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’

I’m very grateful to Kevin Brown of Diglotting for reviewing my chapter.  He summarizes my article nicely here:

The key thrust of Verenna’s essay is that “Paul did not believe his Jesus was ever historical in the first place” (132), mentioning in an accompanying footnote that he isn’t necessarily arguing against the historicity of Jesus, but only that one cannot find such a historical figure using Paul’s epistles. He sets out using “a method formed from analyzing intertextuality” (132), with the intent of showing that “what Paul is interpreting, what he is expressing, is not an earthly figure, but an allegorical one” (133). Thus, this essay is “an attempt to look past modern interpretations of Paul, which are far too focused on discovering what he has to say about an assumed historical entity – Jesus – and less about discovering how Paul’s initial audience would have understood his meaning” (135).

via Review of Is This Not the Carpenter? (Part II) « Diglotting.

But to be clear, the statement “Paul did not believe his Jesus was ever historical in the first place” is slightly tongue-in-cheek.  My overall point is to (1) demonstrate that the way Paul is currently interpreted is through a Gospel lens rather than on his own accord and (2) show that Paul cannot be used as a witness to a historical Jesus and that current attempts to do so take for granted (a) Paul’s mystic language as a function towards (b) explaining his esoteric theology to other initiates.

Understandably Kevin dislikes my copious amounts of footnotes (but in order to conserve space, I had to relegate a lot to footnotes).  He also doesn’t find any of my interpretations particularly convincing.   Though he finds my attempts ‘spirited’.

I’d also like to draw attention to our discussion in the comments.  It has ended (I conceded him the last word) but it was an enjoyable exchange and Kevin Brown makes for a well-informed and challenging sparring partner.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 769 other followers

%d bloggers like this: