N. T. Wright Interview with Logos

This is a great interview with one of my favorite theologians (though I do have my differences with him), N. T. Wright. He speaks of the need for reading the original languages, the importance of reading those with whom we disagree, and the wonder of reading God’s word. It is worth the ten minutes it takes to listen to it.

It comes from Logos Bible Software, my go to source for my own work.

I hope you enjoy it.

SamLam

Good Books for the Summer

As many of you already know, I am on sabbatical. Contrary to some popular ideas, a sabbatical is not a vacation, but a time for uninterrupted research, writing, and planning additions to existing courses as well as creating new courses.

One of the courses that I am creating during this time will be called “New Testament Backgrounds.” This course will deal with the inter-testamental period as well as the time of Christ up to the destruction of the temple. We will read selections from Josephus, the Dead Sea scrolls, the letters of Pliny, Philo, and other literature from the period.

With this course in mind I have been doing a lot of reading in the area of backgrounds and thought that I would recommend a few books that you might find enjoyable as well as educational. The first three are novels, but novels that are informed by good historical scholarship. The newest is called  The Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus and is a wonderful book that anyone who is studying the Gospels, traveling to Israel, or just wants to know more about the background to Jesus studies should read. The second novel is called The Shadow of the Galilean Amazon Link. This is a novel about the time of Jesus and how those living at the time would have reacted to his message. A short letter explaining the historical method for the actions of the characters follows each chapter. The footnotes are great and the novel is well researched. The third novel is The Lost Letters of Pergamum and while the first two books mentioned deal with Jewish history and historical Jesus studies, this book deals more with the Roman history and society. Any or all of these three novels would be great summer reading for the person (like me) who loves stories, but wants to learn more about the New Testament.

A fourth book is not a novel but is very interesting nonetheless. It is called The Reliability of the New Testament. This book is a discussion between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. Both of these men are well known in the field of textual criticism and the question asked is this “Why would God perfectly inspire a book and then allow copyists errors to creep in?” That is, in what sense can we say that the New Testament that we have today is “inspired and without error?” Ehrman is well known for his skeptical position and calls himself a “happy agnostic.” His book Misquoting Jesus made its way to the New York times bestseller list. Wallace is an evangelical who is well known and respected in the textual critical field. The discussion between the two is enlightening and at times very entertaining. If you would like to know more about textual criticism (and no real background is required to understand the book) this is a valuable resource.

Well that’s about it for the books I have been reading this week, but I’ll try to be more regular in posting things that I am reading and projects that I am working on, just in case they might be of interest to you. For now, I am heading back to the books!

Tolle Lege,

SamLam

Light Summer Reading

I am in the midst of reading completely though all of Josephus’s works this summer. You might find this a great book for the beach, though at about 1500 pages of double columns it can be a little heavy. For those of you who are not familiar with the works of Josephus, he was a historian who wrote from around 60 a.d. until about 95 a.d.

His works are varied, with two of them being very important to the student of the New Testament.  His Antiquities is a history of the Jewish people from the creation of Adam to the Roman Empire’s takeover of Israel.  In this text he is very dependent upon the Hebrew Bible as well as upon other apocryphal works.  It is important because it helps the reader understand how the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was understood during the second temple period.  While much of the information comes from the writings of the OT, a good bit of it also comes from other sources, particularly when he is dealing with the history of the time between the Old and New Testaments.

The second very important work is called The Jewish War and deals with what has been called the Maccabean rebellion, the Roman takeover and the eventual destruction of the temple.  Without this writing, we would know much, much less about what happened during the period between Antiochus IV (Epiphanies) and the destruction of the temple.  It has been said, “all philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato.”  It can just as reliably be said, “The history of the second temple consists of footnotes to Josephus.”

Josephus is available very inexpensively today both in print, on the Internet, and through www.logos.com (my go to Bible study software).  If you want to really understand the history of the time before and during Christ’s time here on earth, there is no substitute for reading Josephus.

This is not to say that he is always accurate, or even always honest.  It is true; nonetheless that much of what Josephus has to say has strong historical backing and can be very helpful in understanding both New Testament backgrounds as well as the times of the New Testament itself.

One of the most controversial items in Josephus is his mention of Jesus Christ (there are about twenty different people named Jesus mentioned in Josephus, one reason that there is no need to get excited when a tomb of Jesus is found, it is much like a tomb of John Smith being found today).  What we have in the current version of Josephus in which he speaks of the Jesus of the New Testament sounds as if Josephus considered him to be the messiah.  In reading the rest of Josephus’s work, it is clear that this is not the case (Jesus Christ is only mentioned twice, once in passing).

This problem has led many to argue that the mention of Christ is an interpolation, that is a Christian insertion.  While this is possible, it is unlikely.  What is more likely is that Christian copyists who preserved these works have altered this passage.  This is a complex issue and I will leave you to your own study, but I hope that I have encouraged you to, at the very least, find a copy of the works of Josephus and do a little reading.  It will help your understanding of the Bible very much.

 

Tolle Lege,

 

DSL

 

I don’t want to go off on a rant here but…

“If people would only talk about what they knew the world would be a much quieter place.”

–Albert Einstein

I have been thinking over the last few months about Harold Camping and his (once again) wrong prediction about the rapture.  Yes I knew it would be wrong months ago when I heard one of his workers try to justify the theory.
For anyone who has been living in a cave, or more likely who are not exposed to the weirdness that is my life, Harold Camping predicted the beginning of the end, the rapture, the “great callin’ up,” the start of the tribulation.  This prediction was certain this time (as opposed to last time) and was Saturday, May 20, 2011.  Despite all the billboards, ads, parties, and advertising trucks driving around the country, alas nothing happened.  At least nothing that a foolish academic like myself could see.  Brother Harold insists that this is the beginning of God’s judgment even if it didn’t turn out the way he expected.

What made me so sure about the wrongheadedness of Camping’s prediction was the manner in which he arrived at it.  Camping claimed to have worked his way backward all the way to the first day of creation and had come to learn that May 20th was the last day.

Let’s first all agree that no one can work their way back to the day of creation.  The text of the Bible is simply not meant to show that.  The genealogies in the Scripture are theological rather than primarily historical.  Now before you gather up stones, let me say that the genealogies are historical in the sense that they really happened and what is being reported is real history.  What the reader should not assume is that the biblical genealogies are meant to fill in every single person.  There are gaps in the lists that are left there for theological reasons.  A simple look at the gospel of Matthew’s genealogy will convince anyone that Matthew is constructing his list around the theme of exile and redemption-a theological theme, and that there are many fathers, grandfathers, and even more grandmothers who are missing from the list.  Any one who thinks that he (and I use the male pronoun here because these crazy predictions are rarely made by the fairer sex) can trace the lineage of Jesus using just the information that Matthew has given us is simply in desperate need of a calculator or a lab partner who knows how to use one.

There is no sense in with the genealogies in the text intend to show how much time has passed because there are gaps, people left out, of the list.  Telling us the TIME OF THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT THE POINT OF THE GENEOLOGIES.  As I tell my students if your point and the Scripture’s point are different, I’d change one of them, (they know which one).

I am a little fired up about this nonsense because it brings shame upon the cause of Christ and His Church.  Brothers and Sisters this should not be.  Let us all covenant now to never again purchase a windmill because of a computer programmer’s mistake that would bankrupt the world at midnight on Y2K.  Let us never again think “Well, he’s a pastor, he might know.”  If the Lord himself didn’t know then the “Rev. Pokey” from the Possum Swallow Nebraska’s Church of the holy snake handling won’t know either.

Three rules from the SamLam college for biblical knowledge: Read the Bible, what does it really say; pray to the Lord, what does he really say; and for the love of pete stay off the crack pipe.  We have enough problems on our hands.

This has been a rant but a needed one.  The church must get past being seen as  Deacon Chim-Chim who, looking up in the stars each night for her own white horse because horse Sunday is here.  It is a disgrace to the church and a disgrace to our savior that nothing is being done to publicize the event where each church gets its own angel horse. That troubles me when one of my kind (and by kind I mean readneck) says something so stupid that the atheists have parties for it.

I think that is enough ranting for now.  Look back up to the Einstein quotation above and don’t you dare ask me about the Mayan calendar.

The Prophet Sambo

Angels in the 2nd Temple Period

Today I have been studying about angels and how they were viewed during the 2nd Temple period. You might notice that the gospels. Particularly the birth narratives, have angels as a very important part of the stories.

When one realizes that angels were quite important in the Dead Sea Scrolls, apocryphal books like Enoch and Tobit, and much of the 2nd Temple period's theology, the understanding of angels is critically important.

One example will suffice in terms of the complexity of understanding angels during this period. In Deuteronomy 32:8 in most English translations (as well as most Hebrew texts) shows the Lord dividing up the world to a group of people. A fragment from the DSS however, has the Lord dividing up the sections of the world to the "sons of God" or the angels. This is one of the areas from which certain theological groups support the idea of a wicked angel who has control over a particular area of the world.

There are other passages in the Hebrew Bible that seem to speak of God gathering together with, and having a council with other supernatural beings (Job 1 being the most obvious).

This leads, of course, to questions like: why are these councils taking place? Who is invited to the councils? Is it fair to call these beings gods of a certain sort (as Satan is called the god of this world)?

For though provoking information on this area see the Dictionary of New Testament Background's article on angels; Anchor Bible Dictionary on angels; the second temple literature mentioned above on angels; Mike Heiser's blog (the Naked Bible) in which he discusses the "divine council;" and of course the text of the Scripture on the function of both evil and good angels. All of these will perhaps cause you to reexamine your view of what angels do and how they should be perceived.

Needless to say, during the second temple period, angels were not seen as friendly little babies who rode on the dashboard of a car, but as incredibly powerful beings who were to be respected and sometimes feared.

Something to think about,
SamLam

Sabbatical

As those few of you who have been reading this blog for  while know, this is the first writing in quite some time.  There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is that though the graciousness of the board of Knox Seminary I am on sabbatical for the summer and the fall semester.

For those of you not familiar with a sabbatical, it traces its roots back to the “year of freedom” found in the Hebrew Bible.  Every seventh year, all debts would be forgiven and everyone would start afresh.  The academic sabbatical is slightly different from this.

My sabbatical has several purposes: first it is to allow me, after six (more like twelve) years of teaching to concentrate on renewing my studies, catching up with the latest research, and rekindling my excitement for teaching again; second the purpose is to allow me to write those things (articles and books) that have been on my mind/list for quite some time; third, the very term sabbatical indicates rest and some rest and renewal is expected so that I will come back with renewed vigor, new ideas for teaching, and lots of new ideas to share with my students.

As you might expect, this is not a time of vacation but a time of uninterrupted reading, writing, and creativity for new classes, books, and articles.

With all of this in mind, I hope to be able to blog every couple of days with new ideas about what I am reading, learning, writing, and preparing for my students in the fall.

I have just purchased a new computer.  It is a MacBook Pro and while I have made fun of Mac uses in the past for being “a cult” because of their desire to get others to use the Mac and because of the incredible feeling that one gets in the Mac store, I must say that I have fallen victim to the cult.  Having a Mac is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I have been using computers since the days when one used cassette tapes for memory.  I remember when I bought the first computer that I ever had with a hard drive.  Ten Megabytes, who would ever be able to use all of that?  My first Modem was 300 baud and I literally could see the letters go across the screen.  We have come a long way.

The thing that I like about the Mac is that it simply does what I want it to do.  I don’t have to download drivers, set up things, etc.  It just does what it is supposed to do.  As a non-geek (disputable by some, ok most) I just want to turn on my machine and have it do what I want.  A second thing about the new Mac-Book pro is that it is super fast.  I open it and it is ready to go.  I click on Logos Bible Software and it does not take minutes to open, but opens right away and is ready to use.  I love that.

The amount of very inexpensive software is incredible.  Right now I am typing on a program called “OmmWriter.”  It not only gives me a beautiful background as well as wonderful background music that is not distracting, but it only cost $5.00.  As an ADD person who constantly wants to check email, look at pictures, run things down on the internet, and a myriad of other things, this is just what I need.

Well, I hope to keep in touch with you every couple of days and tell you what a great thing it is to study all day.

Right now I am reading through Josephus (first-century Jewish historian) as well as the Dictionary of New Testament Background in preparation for a class I plan to teach in the spring called “2nd Temple Jewish History, Leaders, and Literature.”    I also plan to spend a great deal of time reading and studying the nature of the very in Koine Greek literature (that will get your blood going).  If you have any questions just leave a comment and I’ll try to get back to you soon.

Reading and Writing (but no rithmatic),
DrSamLam

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, it has been a while since I updated the blog.  I’ll try to keep that from happening again.  I was at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society last week and heard some really good papers, some pretty good papers, and some that are better left unspoken about.

One of the great things about this meeting is that book publishers are there tempting professors with the newest of the books.  I picked up a few things and I’ll let you know what they were within the next few days in case you are looking for some good theological reading.

I am currently teaching a Sunday School class on James at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and I will be preaching this Sunday (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) at CRPC as well.  I look forward to being privileged to bring the word to God’s people and pray that the Lord will bless.  If you are looking for a place to worship, I would love to see you there.  The sermon will be on the concept of “Thanksgiving” through the difficult times in our lives.

Lately I have been doing a good bit of work on NT Greek and better methods for teaching the language.  I’ll spend some time letting you know how this works out in a few weeks.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  May we look to the Lord of Lords to offer great praise for his grace.

For the Lamb,

DSL