Essenes and the Life of Peace

“Swords Into Plowshares” by Evgeniy Vuchetich

Regarding the question of whether or not the earliest Jesus movement in Judea could or could not have been characterized, historically speaking, as a non-violent, pacifistic movement, there remain only a smattering of ancient Jewish sources contemporary with Jesus of Nazareth that could be favorably employed as comparative evidence toward this line of inquiry. Philo of Alexandria, the first century Jewish sage, philosopher, and exegete, perhaps known most famously in Christian circles as the great allegorizer of Israel’s scripture whose methods were taken up by the Alexandrian fathers of the church, has an important description of the ethics of the Essenes that may be pertinent to the question. In his treatise Every Good Man is Free, Philo of Alexandria articulates the Essenes’ non-violent way of life in the following way (contra some evidence in Josephus):

“As for darts, javelins, daggers, or the helmet, breastplate or shield, you could not find a single manufacturer of them, nor, in general, any person making weapons or engines or plying any industry concerned with war, nor, indeed, any of the peaceful kind, which easily lapse into vice, for they have not the vaguest idea of commerce either wholesale or retail or marine, but pack the inducements to covetousness off in disgrace. Not a single slave is to be found among them, but all are free, exchanging services with each other, and they denounce the owners of slaves, not merely for their injustice in outraging the law of equality, but also for their impiety in annulling the statute of Nature, who mother-like has born and reared all men alike, and created them genuine brothers, not in mere name, but in very reality, though this kinship has been put
to confusion by the triumph of malignant covetousness, which has wrought estrangement instead of affinity and enmity instead of friendship.”
– Philo of Alexandria, Every Good Man is Free 78-79

Interesting to note that in the synoptic gospels, the earliest actual narrative evidence we have of Jesus and the disciples (as well as in the gospel of John), of the three major Second Temple Jewish sects (Pharisees, Saducees, and Essenes- as described in detail in the Philo text above in its wider context), Jesus is never said to have rebuked or condemned the Essenes, but only the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Nothing can be asserted historically off of this observation alone, but it is nevertheless an interesting observation that Jesus of Nazareth does not seem to have any problems with this group. Also interesting and possibly germane to the present question in regards to socio-ethical comparison, is the assumed connections scholars have made between the Essenic community as described in our historical sources (e.g. Josephus, Philo, perhaps the Dead Sea Scrolls) with the earliest Jesus movement (e.g. communal baptism, shared communal goods, espousing non-violent ethics, defining communal meal, communal devotion to the their teacher’s teaching, etc). I find this an interesting historical observation, but perhaps more importantly this witness to an ancient Jewish way of life should cause us to reflect upon life in the midst of our current culture of violence.

My Paper for the 2017 SBL Annual Meeting on Paul’s ‘Ascent and Torment’ in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

The paper I will be presenting at this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston is a work in progress and began as many projects do, as a segue off of a previous research agenda into the early Jewish reception of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. A couple years ago I found what could be an unlikely connection between Rabbinic language regarding the powers Abraham encountered as he ascended to the heights of heaven to the language found in Paul’s narration of his heavenly ascent in 2 Corinthians 12 that was most likely part of a larger apocalyptic promissory trope also in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature and beyond. Thus the paper was spawned (and is still spawning). I will be presenting the paper in the program unit entitled, ‘Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making.’ The theme for the program unit this year is 2 Corinthians 12. The title and abstract for my paper is as follows:

Ascent and Torment: The Apocalyptic Juxtaposition of an Abrahamic Victorious Ascent Trope in 2 Cor 12:1-10?

The much-discussed apocalyptic type scene of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 features the enigmatic narration of Paul’s ascent to the third heaven, which includes an angel of Satan being sent to torment him. In the immediate context of the so-called “Fool’s Speech” (2 Cor 11:21b-12:10), there is a rhetorical move highlighting the apparent opponents appeal to their identity in ascending order as “Hebrews,” “Israelites,” “seed of Abraham,” and “servants of Christ,” all to which Paul climatically asserts he is “a better one.” This is an ironic proposal as a narration of an apocalyptic ascent to the third heaven is placed in the midst of a listing of weaknesses and the claim that an angel of Satan is sent to torment him. This paper will seek to draw out an implicit connection between Paul’s appeal to being the “seed of Abraham” and the ascent narrative by way of juxtaposition of early Jewish apocalyptic and rabbinic traditions concerning the ascent of Abraham which allude to the victorious usurpation of hostile heavenly forces (e.g. Apoc. Abr. 20:3-5; Genesis Rabbah 44:12) with an alternate ascent that results in torment from an angel of Satan. This would result in a Pauline apocalyptic re-appropriation of an existing victorious ascent tradition around the crucified Messiah, which serves as a kind of reorientation of the Corinthians’ ethics, perception of the Christ tradition, and the rehabilitation of the image of Paul as apostle of the crucified Lord.

Unfortunately our time slot fell on Tuesday morning, the last day of the conference, but I think our session is enticing enough for those who have stuck around and share an interest in Pauline apocalypticism. The presentation schedule is quite promising (see below) featuring actual scholars worth hearing if you aren’t interested in mine.

Make sure and add it to your schedule on the SBL/AAR app for your phone or make note of it in your program book. Looking forward to a great session in Boston!

Pete Enns being Pete Enns. Honest, helpful, with a pinch of snark.

My 10 Thoughts about Getting a PhD. (Maybe You Should Be Sitting Down.)

Per usual, I appreciate Pete’s candor. If you are thinking about pursuing a PhD in biblical studies or theology, you should read Pete’s list here carefully and consider it, there’s lots of wisdom here. I thought long and hard about going into doctoral studies. I considered most of these things on this list as I had heard them for years from other scholars in the field (as well as from Pete’s previous musings) and decided to jump in anyways. This was not a quick or easy decision and I had thought about it for years. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, so I thought here we go. I’m convinced you really have to have one of those “where else would I go” existential moments (or 100 of them).

This kind of talk sometimes exacerbates the already far-too-real imposter syndrome that apparently is common in graduate students and manifests itself in all kinds of ways. This crippling and sometimes paralyzing phenomena could hold you back from pursuing that which you could not imagine doing anything else other than, so sometimes you have to push through. There is a fine line between whether you are actually feeling imposter syndrome common to this line of work or you just legitimately aren’t cut out for it. I probably walk that line like a tight rope (ok so not probably, but undeniably). That being said, take my word for it, as well as many others far more experienced and who are veterans in the field, read Pete’s post considerately and think through these things carefully before you spend lots of time and money on applications, essays, in-person meetings either at conferences or school visits (which you most certainly must do). Cheers.

Two New Titles You Should Be Aware of from Andrei A. Orlov

Andrei Orlov, my doctoral advisor in the Department of Theology at Marquette University, has produced two new titles of note for anyone interested in early Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism. Orlov’s exploration and analysis of esoteric traditions reflected in the Jewish pseudepigrapha is always creative, insightful, and opens up new windows of investigation into not only the apocalyptic Jewish roots of early Christian mysticism, but the development of Jewish mysticism in its own right. These two most recent studies are representative of both of these trajectories and will be enjoyed by all who study early Judaism and Christianity and share interests regarding traditions of heavenly figures and divine mediators. Check out their description below and be sure to click on the book covers for links to the publishers websites.

Andrei A. Orlov, The Greatest Mirror: Heavenly Counterparts in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017) ISBN 978-1-4384-6691-0.

The idea of a heavenly double—an angelic twin of an earthbound human—can be found in Christian, Manichaean, Islamic, and Kabbalistic traditions. Scholars have long traced the lineage of these ideas to Greco-Roman and Iranian sources. In The Greatest Mirror, Andrei A. Orlov shows that heavenly twin imagery drew in large part from early Jewish writings. The Jewish pseudepigrapha—books from the Second Temple period that were attributed to biblical figures but excluded from the Hebrew Bible—contain accounts of heavenly twins in the form of spirits, images, faces, children, mirrors, and angels of the Presence. Orlov provides a comprehensive analysis of these traditions in their full historical and interpretive complexity. He focuses on heavenly alter egos of Enoch, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and Aseneth in often neglected books, including Animal Apocalypse, Book of the Watchers, 2 Enoch, Ladder of Jacob, and Joseph and Aseneth, some of which are preserved solely in the Slavonic language.


Andrei A. Orlov, Yahoel and Metatron: Aural Apocalypticism and the Origins of Early Jewish Mysticism (TSAJ, 169; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017) ISBN 978-3-16-155448-3

In this work, Andrei A. Orlov examines Jewish apocalyptic traditions about the angel Yahoel, tracing their conceptual impact on the development of later rabbinic and Hekhalot beliefs concerning the supreme angel Metatron. The author argues that the figure Yahoel, who became associated in Jewish apocalypticism with the distinctive aural ideology of the divine Name, provides an important conceptual key not only for elucidating the evolution of the Metatron tradition, but also for understanding the origins of the distinctive aural ideology prominent in early Jewish mystical accounts. Andrei A. Orlov suggests that the aural mold of Jewish apocalypticism exercised a decisive and formative influence on the development of early Jewish mysticism.

Tolle lege!

What is the Real Role of Women in “Pre-Fall” Creation and Why Many Evangelicals Get it Wrong

Adam & Eve - Ethiopian DepictionThe debate in evangelical circles regarding the role of women in the church still lingers with much digital characters typed as a result (the ‘much ink spilled’ idiom is losing its relevance nowadays) across the complementarian/egalatarian spectrum. When asking the question of what is or isn’t prescriptive in scripture regarding this issue, the conversation frequently refers back to the ‘original intended roles established in creation.’ Much of the argument that then follows is based on the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2’s accounts of the creation of Adam and Eve. Gen 1:1-2:3’s version of the creation, particularly of mankind, male and female, are clearly portrayed as equal co-heirs of the creation, given the charge to both be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth as kings and queens over the newly ordered cosmos. Then it was said that the order was “very good” where the previous days of ordering the creation were merely “good.” The use of “כִּי־טֽוֹב”or “that it was good” does not refer merely to “good” in the general sense, but that order has been established and life may go forth and the rule of God be manifest. This co-heirship is very important in the opening section of Gen 1:1-2:3, because it functions as the setting for the ensuing narrative of Genesis with its ten “תוֹלְד֧וֹת” or “generations” (that is, in its final received canonical form within the wider context of the Torah).

The first of these addresses the creation of man and woman. This is the narrative that is most misunderstood because the previous context isn’t considered in framing the story due to source critical issues, causing the Hebrew idioms to get lost in translation. One of the most important of these, for example, is what it means for the female to be called “עֵזֶר” or “helper.” In 2:18, YHWH speaks as in Gen 1:1-2:3 (his speech or word is what brings order to the cosmos out of the chaos thereby establishing his rule which brings about life and flourishing) saying, “it is not good (לּ֥וֹ עֵ֖זֶר) that man should be alone…” This is very important as to how the setting of the Genesis narrative (1:1-2:3) has established the use of “עֵ֖זֶר” or “good.” He is saying with man by himself the order of the world and the accomplishment of the dominion commanded of him cannot take place. This denotes a state of remaining chaos, a state of desperation that demands a saving work, a “עֵזֶר” or “helper.” This is when YHWH then states, “I will make a helper fit for him.”

To understand what this term means in its context, we must look at similar uses elsewhere. YHWH himself is referred to as Israel’s “עֵזֶר” or “helper” on many important occassions; it is these occasions we see the normative use of this term so that we can rightly understand the role of the women in Gen 2. In Exod 18:4 one of the two sons of Moses and Zipporah is named Eliezer “for he said, ‘the God of my father was my helper (בְּעֶזְרִ֔י), and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.'” What is means for YHWH himself to be the “helper” of Israel was to act as the “deliver” and “preserver” in dire circumstance; as Israel was enslaved under the sword of Pharoah, YHWH’s actions as “helper” is what amounted to their “deliverer.” YHWH the God of Israel is also called “helper” to Israel again in Deut 33:7 in the important context of the last blessing of Moses before his death in a similar fashion as before: “… with your (YHWH) hands contend for him, and be a helper (וְעֵ֥זֶר) against his adversaries.” Here the title actually functions as Israel’s “defender” or “protector,” the one who again actually delivers from calamity. In a similar context in Hosea 13:9, after a brief recounting of the deliverance of Israel in the Exodus and the peoples rebellion, YHWH speaks on what it was like to turn from him: “He destroys you, O Israel, you are against me, against your helper (בְעֶזְרֶֽךָ).” In the same context, even the following verse in 13:10, it is likened to the loss of their kingship since it was contingent upon their reliance on YHWH as “helper”: “Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers…” The point here is clear: to reject YHWH the “helper” was to lose the one who “saves” or “preserves” them as well as their kingly function and regal status.

Another important reference to the use of “helper” to describe YHWH himself and his relationship to his people is found in Ps 70:6, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my helper (עֶזְרִ֣י) and deliver; O YHWH do not delay!” Here it is clear that to be “helper” means to actual deliver someone from a “poor” and “needy” state, a function or role more adequately described as “deliverer” or “preserver,” acting as one who delivers from chaos or death (see also these important texts Ps 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5). It is clear that in the rest of the Hebrew Bible (OT) that “עֵזֶר” or “helper” was predominately used as a title given to describe YHWH himself and his relationship to Israel. In no way shape or form did this mean he was subservient to Israel in any way, but rather to function as Israel’s “preserver,” “deliverer,” or “protector.” Not only was Israel completely dependent on him for deliverance, but had no regal or kingly authority in the world without YHWH functioning in the role of “helper.” It is precisely for this reason the author of Genesis uses this term to describe the function of the woman in Gen 2:18. Paired with the “not good” statement (implying pre-ordered chaos and the inability to establish mankind’s dominion in the world) YHWH regally declares that he must have a “helper”: a “deliver” or “sustainer” or “preserver” without whom there could be no regal authority and order-bringing-dominion of mankind over Gods world.

My Paper Accepted for the 2016 SWCRS Entitled, “A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?”


I am excited to announce the acceptance of my paper proposal for the 2016 annual meeting of the Southwest Commission of Religious Studies on March 11-13. This paper has slowly developed out of the research for my upcoming article in the 5.2 volume of the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters entitled “‘So Shall Your Seed Be’: Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” I shared the idea for this paper with Matthew Thiessen of Saint Louis University two years ago at the annual meeting of the SBL in Baltimore which resulted in him citing me in his upcoming book Paul and the Gentile Problem being published with Oxford Press and due to come out in March of this year. The need for this study was apparent from the defense of my paper against NT Wright’s push back in the Pauline Epistles section last year where my friend Brant Pitre also came to my defense using the same text (1 Cor 15) and told me afterwards my paper “blew his mind” (that was very cool coming from a scholar of his caliber because his stuff has blown my mind as well).  After conversations with Michael Heiser and Daniel Streett regarding my argument, I feel confident about finally presenting on the topic. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?


In the Pauline discussion regarding the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15:35-49, he employs the metaphor of the sowing of the natural (or earthly) body and the raising of the spiritual (or heavenly) body. Both kinds of bodies differ in glory and are fit for different habitats. In order to demonstrate this, in 1 Cor 15:39-42 Paul enumerates a list of the creatures who inhabit the earth followed by those who inhabit the heavens, the resurrection body being likened to the later. Scholars have generally understood the background of this list to be found in the creatures from Genesis 1, even though they do not follow the same order (as recognized by Fitzmyer, Ciampa, Rosner, etc.). Other scholars have put forth reasons for this discrepancy by suggesting that the list evokes the cosmology of popular Greek philosophy (i.e. Martin). This paper seeks to propose an alternate answer to this problem. The list of earthly and heavenly creatures here in 1 Cor 15:39-42 follows the same order of creatures as enumerated in the aniconic discourse of Deut 4:15-19. If this is in fact the text Paul is alluding to, he is more than likely participating in an exegetical tradition in the Second Temple period which reads Deut 4:15-19 as part of a wider Deuteronomic scriptural matrix employed to describe the nature of the cosmos as constructed and administered by God, appointing the celestial bodies as the gods or angels in his cosmic polis as attested in Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. Reading the present text within this scriptural matrix not only supplies a strong argument for this particular enumeration of creatures, but also provides a more robust reading of the passage in its wider context, connecting the language of the abolishing of the principalities and powers in 1 Cor 15:24 with the earlier discussion in 1 Cor 6:2-3 regarding the judgment of the cosmos and the angels.

Well, hope to see you there, and look forward to some critical engagement and dialogue. This will build off of a similar construct in my previous work and hopefully be a welcome contribution to the conversation of deification in Paul as well as conversations regarding Paul’s Judaism.

My Upcoming Paper on the “Two Swords” of Luke 22:35-38 at HBU’s Annual Theology Conference

Taking up the SwordI was thrilled to have my paper accepted again this year at Houston Baptist University’s annual theology conference coming up soon on April 16-18 (put it on your calendars!). Last year’s theme was “Paul and Judaism” (my abstract for last year’s conference is here), while this year’s conference is more broadly focused on “The Church and Early Christianity.” As it has come to be expected, the keynote speakers lined up for the conference are first-class: John Barclay (Durham University), Everett Ferguson (Abilene Christian University), and Ben Witherington III (Asbury Theological Seminary). The thrust of the conference is to explore the early church’s theological, ecclesial, and social relationships, internally and externally, in their respective historical contexts.

My particular presentation will hopefully contribute to the ongoing conversation on the earliest Jesus movements’ ethics regarding violence and pacifism, particularly in relation to Roman imperial domination, and more particularly from the perspective of the author of the gospel of Luke and the community (or communities) intended to receive them. My paper is entitled: The Sword and the Servant: Reframing the Function of the ‘Two Swords’ of Luke 22:35-38 in Narrative Context.” Here is the abstract:

The “two swords” passage of Luke 22:35-38 has plagued interpreters for centuries. Scholars have attempted to explain this passage by suggesting that Jesus was either not speaking literally of buying swords, alluding to future persecution of the disciples, preparing them for bandits along the way, preparing them for the time of trial to come when he is gone, etc. Many of these interpretive positions seem to be out of step from Luke’s narrative portrayal of the mission and ethic of Jesus and his disciples. In recent scholarship the dominant approaches to solving the interpretative issues associated with this enigmatic text have tended to focus myopically on the pericope itself apart from a thorough treatment of passage within its narrative context. This study will provide an explanation of Jesus’ command to buy a sword within the immediate context of the narrative as a prophetic announcement of the disciples’ denial in the same way he announces Peter’s denial in the previous section. This will be demonstrated in two ways: (1) arguing for Luke’s positioning of the unique “two swords” pericope (Lk 22:35-38) within a wider chiastic structure of Lk 22:31-62 and (2) demonstrating that in Luke’s employment of Isaiah 53:12 in the immediate narrative context, he understands the transgressors that Jesus is to be counted with are not the criminals that he is crucified next to, as traditionally understood, but with his disciples who brandish the sword. This reading is consistent with the non-violent martyrological ethic of the Jesus movement in Luke-Acts and has profound implications for early Christian ethics in the context of Roman imperial domination in the first-century as well as for contemporary Christian ethics today.

El Greco - The Agony in the GardenFor anyone who has wrestled with this enigmatic, and at first reading, seemingly contradictory text in Luke while scratching their head and getting a migraine from all the possible problematic ethical implications that result (hope it’s not just me), I think you may be in for a treat (and a cure for your interpretive headaches, although, I might give you whole new ones). I hope to argue for a more coherent narratival and intertextual reading that provides answers to a number of exegetical problems and interpretive questions regarding such a controversial text in New Testament studies. Not only would this proposed reading be important for the study of earliest Christianity in its Early Jewish and Greco-Roman context, it would be especially important for those seeking to appropriate this text in the complicated discussions regarding violence and pacifism in contemporary Christian ethics.

I look forward to seeing many of you there. I’m anticipating an interesting and engaging conference (par for the HBU course) and a good time with friends old and new! Make sure and register for the conference here. You’d be hard pressed to get more bang for your buck at only $40.00 for the cost to register! A big thanks to my friend Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for consistently hosting such great events like this one. See you there!

* ADDITIONAL NOTE * On Saturday March 21, I was honored with the news that my paper was also accepted by the Synoptic Gospels program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting on November 21-24, 2015 in Atlanta. If you don’t catch it first in Houston, you can catch it then.

My First Paper Presentation at SBL in the Pauline Epistles Section

The national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature will be held in the beautiful city of San Diego this year! Good things.

I’m excited about the acceptance of my first paper proposal to the Society of Biblical Literature‘s Pauline Epistles section at the national conference in San Diego on November 22-25, 2014. I will be presenting in a special joint session of the following program units: Pauline Epistles, Paul and Judaism, Disputed Pauline Epistles, Pauline Soteriology, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making, and Systematic Transformation and Interweaving of Scripture in 1 Corinthians. This special joint session will be made up of a panel of four presenters and three respondents. Each presenter will submit their papers in advance allowing for a formal response to be written by the three respondents. The three scholars who will be responding to our respective papers are NT Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton. For a lowly student such as myself, I am humbled and honored for the opportunity to present in the company of such accomplished scholars. The four presenters and their respective abstracts are in alphabetical order by name as follows (the second one being mine):

A.      Michael Patrick Barber and John Kincaid

“Cultic Theosis in Paul and Second Temple Judaism: A Fresh Reading of the Corinthian Correspondence”

Since the rise of the Käsemann school the centrality of apocalyptic eschatology in Paul has been widely maintained across the spectrum of contemporary Pauline scholarship, ranging from such diverse scholars as Stuhlmacher and Campbell. In addition to this, there has been the more recent emergence of the place of theosis for comprehending Pauline soteriology, as initially suggested by Hays and later demonstrated by Gorman, Blackwell, and Litwa (e.g., 2 Cor 3:18; 5:21; Col 2:9–10). In this paper we will suggest that these two strands are directly linked by means of second temple Jewish hopes for an eschatological temple and cult, and actualized in Paul. As is becoming increasingly clear (e.g., Tuschling), apocalyptic eschatology was inextricably tied to cultic worship (e.g., 1QHa 19:10-13, 1Q28b 3:25–26). Indeed, building on the work of Deismann, Aune has suggested that apocalyptic eschatology was understood to be realized within the cult in early Christianity (e.g., John 4:23). We will suggest that Paul is no exception. In order to demonstrate this, we shall turn our attention to the Corinthian correspondence, where these themes serve as a leitmotif in Paul’s discussion. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 2:6, Paul speaks of this age passing away yet this gives way to the discussion of a new temple in chapter 3. Paul then elucidates the life of this new temple in the following ways: keeping the feast in chapter 5, linking becoming one spirit with Christ and temple imagery in ch. 6, and, finally, the cultic explanation of participation in Christ in terms of the eucharist in chs. 10-11 and baptism in ch. 12. These cultic emphases continue in 2 Corinthians with the explicit temple language in ch. 6 and almsgiving as liturgical offering in ch. 9.

B.      David A. Burnett 

“‘So Shall Your Seed Be’: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions”

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification (or angelomorphic) traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification (or angelomorphic) traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 could make clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven.

C.      Matthew E. Gordley 

“Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies”

A number of surface features of the Psalms of Solomon suggest their potentially high value for understanding the world of thought from which Paul emerged and with which he engaged: they are among the few documents known to have been written, edited and translated in or around Jerusalem less than a century before the time of Paul; they offer rich theological reflection on several ideas that were central to the Judaism with which Paul engaged (deuteronomic theology; the covenant; divine justice; sin; messianic renewal); and, though not necessarily a Pharisaic composition, they are about “as close as we are likely to come to a specifically Pharisaic text” (Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 127). In spite of this confluence of important Pauline touch-points, the Pss Sol have received limited treatment within Pauline studies since the now almost two-decades-old study by Michael Winninge (Sinners and the Righteous). This state of affairs is all the more surprising given the renewed interest in viewing Paul as someone who saw himself remaining closely connected to his Jewish heritage (as recent book titles like “Paul and Judaism Revisited” suggest). This paper briefly reviews the treatment of Pss Sol in several recent major monographs (including those of N. T. Wright and Douglas Campbell), for an indication of how the Pss Sol are being employed in Pauline scholarship today. Noting the limited ways in which these psalms have been utilized, this paper points to an additional area in which further study of Pss Sol could illuminate Pauline studies: namely, in the recognition of the extent to which Pss Sol provides a unique instance of a kind of scribal resistance to the Roman imperial messianic narratives that were being embraced and promoted by Herod the Great (cf. Horsley; Schalit). Reading Pss Sol within the historical context of Herodian propaganda that associates the fulfillment of the covenant promises with the rise of Augustus allows for a greater appreciation of the subtlety and complexity of Jewish resistance to imperial ideology in the form of the otherwise seemingly innocuous genre of biblically-styled psalmody. Attention to this dynamic within Pss Sol allows a new dimension of Paul’s implicit anti-imperial narrative to come into view, particularly in a passage like Phil 2:5-11 with its complex web of biblical allusions. Though Paul writes in the context of a different set of imperial pressures, nevertheless, by comparing the method and the mode of resistance in Paul and Pss Sol we gain a greater understanding of the message of Paul, as well as a path to considering other ways that the Pss Sol might be employed to illuminate Paul’s writings.

D.      Hans Svebakken

“Roman 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul”

Two distinct lines of contemporary research into Romans 7:7-25 fruitfully explore key aspects of the passage, but they have not fully engaged one other. One line of research focuses on allusions to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, addressing related questions, such as whether the “I” (ego) of the passage speaks in the character of Adam or Eve (e.g., Stefan Krauter in ZNW 99 [2008]), or how the prohibition of desire in Romans 7:7 (ouk epithumeseis) might represent a version of the command issued to Adam and Eve in Paradise (e.g., Jan Dochhorn in ZNW 100 [2009]). Another line of research focuses on the discourse of moral psychology, addressing related questions, such as which philosophical perspective (Stoic or Platonic) the passage represents, or precisely what moral condition it describes (cf. the respective positions of Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Emma Wasserman). This paper proposes an interpretive framework capable of accounting for and integrating the respective insights of both lines of research by reading the passage in light of Philo of Alexandria’s allegory of the soul, which treats the story in Genesis 3 as a story about moral psychology. The paper has two basic parts. Part one posits the existence of a Pauline allegory of the soul by first identifying the characteristic features of Philo’s allegory then noting analogous features in Romans 7:7-25. Part two explains how attributing a rudimentary allegory of the soul to Paul not only solves specific exegetical problems but solves them in a historically plausible way: comparing Paul’s approach to Genesis with a contemporary Jewish exegete versed in ancient philosophy, not with later Christian theologians articulating a doctrine of original sin (e.g., Augustine).

It will be a stimulating section to attend and I hope to see many of you there. I have hoped to one day participate in critical dialogue at this level, but I have only dreamed of presenting alongside one of my Christian intellectual heroes throughout my biblical education, NT Wright. I am blessed beyond belief to participate at this level and I am grateful to the Pauline Epistles section of the Society of Biblical Literature for affording me this opportunity.

… and I just can’t hide it.

Reenacting the Council of Nicaea

THE_FIRST_COUNCIL_OF_NICEAI recently had the opportunity to participate in an undergraduate Reacting Game on the Council of Nicaea at Duke University. This game was designed by David Henderson and Frank Kirkpatrick at Trinity College. The basic premise is that each student is given a character that was either present at the council or, because class sizes can be large, given a fictional character. The students are given personalized instruction regarding their character, including a biography, a theological agenda, and tips on how their character can best achieve victory points and win the game. As far as the game is concerned, students gain victory points by reaching certain objectives or can win outright if they meet a particular objective. As far as the course is concerned, students are graded based on their participation, on their written speeches that they turned in during the course of the game, and on their final paper they turn in at the end of class. Following almost half a semester of lectures, which gives a history of the Christian movement up to the beginning of the council, the game begins and lasts for three weeks.

Having never experienced such a pedagogical apparatus, I was uncertain about what to expect. In the end, I had a blast and learned more about the council than I did during the first time I learned about this period (lecture style).

What I appreciate most about this teaching style is that it incisively portrays the political atmosphere of the historical council. In other words, with this pedagogy, the professor is not able to teach about the Council of Nicaea as if the results of the council reflected merely the pure and holy interpretations of Scripture. Indeed, reenacting the Nicaean Council problematized this conclusion on so many levels.

Because the class was so large, there were two councils playing at the same time. In the northern council, the Arian faction succeeded in writing a very Arian creed, while Athanasius was eventually excommunicated from the council. In the southern council, a more “orthodox” leaning creed won the day, while Arius bemoaned how unfair the entire council was. (Neither Arius nor Athanasius had voting power at the beginning of the council. They had to be ordained as bishops before they could vote and the southern Arius failed to do this, while the northern Arius was ordained by the second class session.) The southern Arius’ cries of foul play were justified, as he was completely marginalized by Ossius (Constantine’s favored bishop, who was of the “orthodox” persuasion), who limited Arius’ speaking time and readily dismissed his arguments (many of which were quite cogent).

In the southern council, the Gospel of John was rejected for the Gospel of Mary, a canon stating that women could hold ecclesial offices was ratified, and the date of Easter was synced with the Jewish Passover.

The political landscape of this council was an evolving matrix of power and monetary grabs, bribes, threats, aspersions, and falsehoods. On numerous occasions, the piety of bishops was unveiled to reveal sanctimonious actions and mischievous intents. Although ulterior motives were discovered, there were occasions when the bishop’s duplicity was victorious in pushing his agenda into the creed or solidifying it as a canon.

The politicking was not isolated to class time, as members of the councils engaged in secret emails, scurrilous tweets, and surreptitious meetings. The northern council was particularly active outside of class, as Constantine, Athanasius, and others bought lunch for certain bishops in order to persuade them to vote a certain way. Tweets and emails were often forged in hopes of maligning other characters.

From a pedagogical standpoint, such a learning environment forced the students to learn the agendas of all the other characters; after all, they needed to make allies, know who they might need to persuade and how to persuade them, and know how to argue against their opponents. In addition, the students had to recognize that while one person might oppose them on one issue, he might be their biggest ally on another; enemies quickly became friends and friends, enemies. This ever-changing environment demanded that students learn the material inside and out.

Each class period was full of students giving speeches to promote their agendas, counter speeches, and many impromptu dialogues where characters were digging dip into their knowledge of scripture and appealing to the desires of friends (and sometimes foes) to win the debate and get their objectives put into the creed or ratified as a canon. There were many occasions where these undergraduates impressed me with how well they knew the appropriate information and could negotiate the situations on the fly.

From my perspective (a graduate student who participated but also observed for pedagogical worth), I would say this game was a success. The students displayed an active knowledge of the material and synthesized and applied that knowledge throughout the game. The students also had to turn in their speeches to the professor, as well as write a paper, so the professor will have a better idea about how well they did. But if there is anything these students take away from this class, they will certainly walk away with the realization that the Council of Nicaea was dictated more by politics, influence, and power than by the hand of God. Personally, rather than the calm and heavenly image of the Council posted above, it seems that a more likely image would be a bit more contentious.

Parliament Fight


A Few Important Things to Consider before Doing a ThM at Duke

Duke ChapelOver the past three years I have been at Duke, where I completed my ThM, overcame the GRE, and applied to PhD programs at American universities. During my time here, I have watched my fellow ThMer’s go on to begin doctoral work (both in the states and overseas––the latter typically the result of not being accepted in the states and thus looking overseas to simply begin their doctoral work) or abandon their original goal of pursuing a PhD. Although there are many reasons why some have chosen to seek alternative vocations, one reason that plays significantly into this decision is the gradual disillusion that Duke’s ThM is not what one anticipates. As I meet more and more incoming ThM students, I find that we all share similar frustrations, especially when these new students are midway through their first semester. It is these common frustrations that I would like to share in this post.

Let me begin by stating what Duke’s ThM program entails and by giving a few positive remarks about it. Duke’s ThM program is advertised (I’ll come back to this) as a one-year degree, which requires the completion of eight course, one of which is the thesis or exam (you get to choose, although the thesis is recommended). For those looking to begin PhD as soon as possible (which is everyone), this short, one-year degree is quite appealing. Another appealing feature is that there are no required courses for the ThM. That means that you are free to take whatever classes you want at Duke or UNC, given that they are related to your overall degree (thus, a course on 19th century Impressionism would not be approved). Anyone who has gone through an MDiv program (or ThM at DTS) will find this to be a tantalizing draw. A third attractive feature is that you do not have to (re)take the GRE, since a prerequisite for the program is that you already have a master’s degree (and presumably would have taken the GRE for that program, although this is not necessarily the case).

Unfortunately, the advertised one-year degree, the open-course selection, and the fact that the GRE is not required comes with some significant baggage and frustrations. First, Duke’s ThM program is the cash cow of the divinity school. That means that there is no funding available (zero!) for ThM students. This is a big deal considering that it costs $20k a year to attend.

And this brings us to one of the bigger frustrations of Duke’s ThM program: although it is advertised as a one-year degree, to finish all eight course in one year is quite difficult. Of the twelve ThM students of my class, only four finished within the year; NB, none of these classmates went on for PhD work! Those who finished within the year were focused on doing ministerial work and needed to get back to or begin their ministerial jobs (this is what the ThM is for, anyway). There is a big difference between these ThM students and those who are pursuing PhD work: the latter need to take as many doctoral seminars as possible to bolster their transcript, which means that taking four classes per semester, and writing your thesis in one of those semesters, is extremely difficult because the work load for a doctoral seminar is significantly greater than the work load for even upper-level master’s courses.

In addition to the difficulty of trying to finish all eight courses in one year, there is also the issue of entering this one-year degree with the aspiration of beginning a PhD program the very next fall. It is absolutely foolish to think that in half a semester a new student can demonstrate his or her worth to a professor, who would then turn around and write a meaningful recommendation letter for PhD applications. I would say that it takes at least two courses before a professor will really get to know a student’s PhD value (there are certainly those students who would prove me wrong, but to them I wonder why they are doing this degree in the first place and why they didn’t just apply directly to PhD programs). For me, my first semester was all about trying to impress professors, whose recommendations I needed later that semester. I failed miserably. My initial semester was filled with embarrassment, depression, and an overall sense incompetence. I did not rebound from this initial defeat until partway through my second semester, at which point I stopped trying to impress (which allowed me to start enjoying what I was learning rather than fretting over it), finally realized what it means to prepare for each class of a PhD-level course, and began to attend more reading groups and colloquiums, which allowed me to get to know professors and students outside of class. My point is this: for many who come into the ThM program, the first semester is a time for learning what it takes to be a PhD quality student. This takes time! The first semester, then, is not the time to ask for recommendation letters, which means that beginning a PhD program immediately after you finish your one-year ThM degree is not a realistic goal.

Overall, then, the advertisement of the ThM as a one-year degree is misleading for two reasons: for many, it takes more than one year to finish all eight courses and it fosters the unreasonable expectation of entering a PhD program immediately after finishing the ThM in one year. If you choose to enter Duke’s ThM program, enter with the mindset that it will take you one and a half to two years to finish. It is quite reasonable to think that you can begin a PhD program immediately after that second year.

If it takes you more than one year to finish, however, it will also cost you more than $20k. (Because pricing varies on the amount of courses you take per semester, you will need to contact the school to figure out how much a part-time load will cost.) Keep this in mind!

There is also the option of doing the MTS in the Divinity School (although I’m not certain that you can enter the MTS program if you already have a masters degree) or the MA in the Religion program. Both of these degrees have available founding and both are two years. The drawback for both of these programs is that the GRE is required. Also, there are mandatory course: for the MTS, there are eight required courses (basic courses like, Old and New Testament surveys, Church History, Christian Theology, etc.); for the MA, there is only one required course, “Theorizing Religion.”

In the end, each of these three degrees at Duke will prepare you for PhD work. There is an excellent faculty at both Duke and UNC that will work with you to help you achieve your academic goals. Yet, it is crucial that before you begin your journey at Duke that you are fully aware of precisely what it will take to reach these goals. The ThM program has been both a blessing and a curse for me––a $20k curse to be exact. I wish that I would have known these points of frustration prior to entering the program; not that it would have necessarily prompted me to look elsewhere for an equivalent degree, but that my family and I could have better prepared ourselves for what awaited us. (After spending six years completing my first ThM, it was truly a disheartening realization that I would not finish in one year, and this discouragement is shared by many other ThM students.) I share this information so that if you choose to enter Duke’s ThM program you will be better aware of what awaits you.