Interfaith Dialogue and Scriptures: Leading my Church’s “Bible-Qur’an Study.”

 

 

Since I am a grad student in Biblical Studies and interreligious dialogue, I recently volunteered my services to my church for adult formation. After a quick poll, our priest found that church members were most interested in two things: biblical studies and interreligious dialogue. Throwing the two together, the “Bible-Qur’an Study” was born. This month I have been leading a small group of people through examination of selected texts portraying shared characters in the Bible and the Qur’an. So far we have done Noah and Mary. In both cases people were perplexed and fascinated.

Now, I should be clear that I approach this with a certain level of respect and humility. Muslims in America are having a PR problem at the moment, to put it mildly! I try to be careful to not feed into whatever misconceptions people carry (consciously or not) about the religion and its adherents.

At the same time, the Qur’an does address itself as guidance for all humanity. In fact, it seems to specifically address Jews and Christians at many points, either by direct address (“O Children of Israel” in Surah 2) or by its repeated echoes and allusions to biblical tradition. So I see myself as merely responding to that address.

Furthermore, four evenings is enough time to only scratch the surface of the tip of the iceberg that is this sacred text. Muslims spend a lifetime pondering it, and they do so within a 1,400-year tradition of pondering it. We are reading small selections in translation.

So how do I get people into the Qur’an in four evenings? Biblical characters are a good place to start. It’s a feature of the Qur’an that Christians naturally find accessible and familiar. It’s also a way for us to return to our own Bible with new questions.

The class so far, in brief:

In the first class I introduced the Qur’an and gave some background on the Qur’anic notion of prophethood.

In the second class we looked at Mary in both traditions, focusing on the infancy narrative in Luke and the narratives of Mary in Surah Maryam (19) and Surah al-Imran (3). I argued that in both texts Mary is described prophetically, even if the religious traditions following those texts generally don’t focus on that reading. Given how many non-Muslims think of Islam as a uniformly patriarchal and gender-oppressive religion, I felt it was important to focus on a strong female figure in the text. (If I remember correctly, Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an.)

Next week we will look at Jesus. I don’t know what we are doing yet.

Two books that have been really helpful to me are John Kaltner’s Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers and Michael Lodahl’s Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side. Both are written by Christians committed to dialogue with Islam, and both focus on shared characters and how each text portrays them differently. For an Islamic perspective on the Qur’an I have been using The Study Qur’an.

One of my firm beliefs is that interfaith dialogue must begin with some commonality, before we can engage the differences. One of the unfortunate casualties of our oppositional, argument-driven media (both mass media and social media) is that sense of meeting someone as a human and finding common ground. In reading Bible and Qur’an in parallel, we find common symbols, common figures, common theological problems, and, of course, common ground.

And perhaps we even find something of beauty. Beauty breaks down fear and invites dialogue and love. This is what I have found when showing The Saint John’s Bible; people who have uncomfortable associations with the Bible relish this Bible because of its beauty.

Hopefully in October we will host a speaker from Islamic Networks Group to give our congregation some background on Islam more generally. We as a parish wish to engage with one of our local mosques, to counter this time of division and hate in America. But for at least a few people from my church, their small glimpses into the Qur’an will have well prepared them to better appreciate and love the people who follow this text.

Amen.

Review: Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew, Sue Groom

One of the great joys of working on the student’s handbook of Biblical Hebrew vocabulary this summer has been my entry into linguistics and biblical languages. I have long had a layperson’s interest in linguistics, and for me learning about nuances of historical change, sociolinguistics, and such has been one of the payoffs of learning biblical languages, a payoff I had to discover much on my own through authors such as Joel Hoffman and William Schniedewind. This past week I have also started working through

41H1K6GMXWL._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_However, though there are some great books introducing the layperson to linguistics and biblical interpretation, many seem to be more geared more to NT Greek: Silva’s Biblical Words and Their Meaning, Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Biblical Greek, and so forth. So when I saw Sue Groom’s Linguistic Analysis of Biblical HebrewI ordered it on interlibrary loan right away. Groom’s book aims to introduce the linguistic tools that scholars have applied to the Hebrew Bible. However, though there were some useful chapters in this book, on the whole I found it somewhat of a disappointment.

The first hazard is the mention in the introduction that the book is based on Groom’s MA thesis. This is strange: theses and surveys tend to be very different genres. The second hazard is apparent in the table contents, which promises chapters on the corpus of ancient Hebrew, the development of the Masoretic text, the nature of Biblical Hebrew, ancient biblical translations, comparative philology, lexical semantics, and text linguistics. Hence, rather than orienting biblical studies students to the basic linguistic theories—e.g., syntax, phonology, morphology, etc.—she dives into current topics of discussion. And out of this 174-page book, the longest chapter (31 pages) is devoted to ancient translations that are better surveyed in a book on Old Testament textual criticism than in this book.

In the chapters that were the most useful, Groom glosses over the issues that perhaps need the most treatment. For example, her chapter on “The Nature of Biblical Hebrew” surveys discussions of diglossia, diachronic variation, and dialectical variation and geography—all in 14 pages. I found it hard to follow some of her discussions because she summarized complex arguments without sufficient examples. Still, I gained much from that chapter in particular, as well as her discussion of lexical semantics and comparative philology.

Perhaps the most useful part of her book is the conclusion, which integrates the many different methods she described in an analysis of selected terms in Judges 4. This really illustrated how one can use the biblical languages responsibly instead of in one of the exegetical fallacies so common in popular preaching.

So rather than recommending the entire book, I would recommend selected chapters, with the caveat that since this book was published in 2003 the scholarly discussions have certainly advanced. Overall, despite its usefulness, this book’s genesis as a thesis showed, since much of it felt like a literature review. For me, an ideal book of this kind might include a kind of workbook format, with examples to work through and questions for students to tackle.

That said, I just found out yesterday that I might be taking a seminar on historical linguistics and biblical Hebrew this fall, so I am sure to find out more about this area!

My new article on The Saint John’s Bible.

After some months of showing and admiring The Saint John’s Bible, some months ago I wondered if I could find any of Donald Jackson’s better work so I could connect it with this amazing illuminated Bible. I approached the people at Saint John’s University, the patron of The Saint John’s Bible, to see if they would be interested in a short piece for The Scribe, the newsletter of the project. My piece was published recently, and it looks good! (Read here.)

"Crucifixion" in Luke

“Crucifixion” in Luke

Now, Donald Jackson is a god in the English-language calligraphy world. First, for many decades he was (and may still be, for all I know) the official calligrapher for the Royal Crown. (He’s British.) Also, working with this Bible has gotten me in touch with some local calligraphers, including Cari Ferraro who herself wrote a piece on this Bible. Every calligrapher I have met speaks with Jackson with a certain awe. The man is a prodigy who started calligraphy formally at 13. Yet by all reports, he is also very down to earth and supportive of young talent.

Still, because he built his fame in the pre-internet age, he does not have a website. So I had a heck of a time finding any of his earlier work. The only thing I could find was a catalogue of a 1988 exhibition of his work called Painting With Words. (Coincidentally, both Cari and my calligraphy teacher saw the exhibit, which came to Santa Clara’s Triton Museum of Art.) Thankfully, this catalog has a few pieces that reminded me quite a bit of some of Jackson’s illuminations in The Saint John’s Bible.

I just posted my article on my Academia page—go read it if you are interested.

“These Are the Words” in Biblical Hebrew: Why You Should Buy our Upcoming Book.

John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry describes the need for a handbook of Ancient Hebrew vocabulary based on semantic domains. He contrasts this to most of the handbooks available now, such as Landes and Van Pratico/Pelt:

From a pedagogical point of view, furthermore, there is something perverse about trying to assimilate vocabulary according to frequency spectra.

Hobbins is right: this is not how people learn a language naturally. Of course any language textbook should start with high-frequency vocabulary. But you will learn that vocabulary in the context of the language overall, not as isolated words to memorize in order of frequency.

Hobbins recommends an English-language resource that arranges Ancient Hebrew vocabulary by semantic domains, or logical categories such as colors, anatomy, military terms, etc. He wrote that in 2007. So far nobody has written such a book.

This frustration was what led my mentor, David Pleins, to start writing “And These Are the Words”: A Student’s Guide to Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Categories. At some point in the process he brought he on as co-author. After Pleins devised the initial lists and categories, I scoured books with titles like The Days of Our Years: A Lexical Semantic Study of the Life Cycle in Biblical IsraelThe Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Colour Lexemes, and Weathering the Psalms: A Meteorotheological Survey to expand our lists. Oh, and yes, we did crib from Hobbins’ list of human anatomy terms.

I am proud to say that yesterday morning (3 AM!) we got the draft into the publisher. It feels nice to have a contract and know this will come out.

As I said, nobody has published a book like this in English before. Mark Wilson wrote a similar one for New Testament Greek, but it has one fatal flaw: he excludes all rare words except those etymologically related to common words. If we had taken such a principle in our book, it would be 1/4 of its size. This especially applies to many “daily life” words for clothes, furniture, etc., many of which are infrequent in the Bible.

Why might our book be useful?

First, vocabulary acquisition is essential to fluid and fun reading of the Scripture in its original languages. But the Hebrew Bible has many words that are infrequent, words that will not appear in frequency handbooks like Landes and Van Pelt/Practico. And learning vocabulary is best done in context—in this case, in the context of related words. So rather than merely learning a word for “scribe,” we can also learn words denoting books, writings, documents, pens, and ink.

But learning words by semantic domains should not just be an exercise in rote memorization. In an appendix of our book, we have collected “cluster verses” that contain several words for one category. For example, Numbers 31:50 is an ideal verse for those trying to learn words for jewelry:

And we have brought the Lord’s offering, what each of us found, articles of gold [זָהָב], armlets [אֶצְעָדָה] and bracelets [צָמִיד], signet rings [טַבַּעַת], ear-rings [עָגִיל], and pendants [כוּמָז], to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.’

That’s six different words in the semantic domain of “Jewelry,” which we have under “Clothing.” These verses enable students to learn biblical Hebrew vocabulary by engaging the text.

Second, these lists can serve as a springboard for many exercises in linguistic exploration. Because this is a student handbook, we did not differentiate words beyond basic semantic referents. But of course, words that refer to the same thing can be very different. The word “testicles” and the word “balls” refer to the same thing, but they are not used in the same contexts!

Similarly, we intend these lists to be used by students of Biblical Hebrew to compare words. Is one word poetic and another used in prose? Is one earlier and one later? Is one distinctive to a particular author?

For example, while reading Proverbs, I might come across the word יָפִיחַ, “witness,” as in a legal witness. But I wouldn’t know at first glance that this word is distinctive to Proverbs, and that the rest of the Hebrew Bible uses עֵד to refer to a witness.

Throughout the book, we have marked all words that are rare (used <10 times) as well as hapax legomena. This enables the student to explore words that are rare and have contested or ambiguous meaning. This also signals to the reader that some of our glosses are less sure than others—not because of any shoddy work on our part but because the word itself is infrequent to start with. If a word appears once in the Hebrew Bible, and if it is part of a list in Leviticus or employed as figurative language in poetry, context might not tell us much about what the word means.

Thirdthis book might be very useful for programs teaching biblical Hebrew using communicative pedagogy, such as Randall Buth’s Living Biblical Hebrew and Paul Overland’s Learning Biblical Hebrew Interactively. The lists in our book supply many terms used in daily life. There is something weird about having studied a language for years and being able to talk about complex morphology and syntax, but being unable to create sentences any five-year-old could create in their native tongue: “I want to eat an apple,” “The tree is in the forest,” etc.

I will continue to post updates as we hear back from the publisher. In the meantime, I might do a few blog posts illustrating the usefulness of this tool.

Today’s Workshop: Reading the Qur’an with Heart and Mind.

Today I had the honor of leading a workshop on how to read the Quran for the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley. In a brief hour and a half I managed to walk though the traditional origin story of the Quran and some of its literary structures. We looked at Surah al-Fatiha (“The Opening”) and Surah al-Baqara (“The Cow”).

Both surahs contain much that is crucial for learning how to read the Quran. Like any text far removed from the culture of 21st-century educated Americans, the Quran requires a guide to understand its message. Of course, Muslims who keep salat recite al-Fatiha several times a day, so it is a core verse for Islamic devotion. According to Raymond Ferrin, it also has some neat chiasms in it. Al-Baqara, the longest surah in the Quran, gives great insight into the relationship between Islam and previous “Religions of the Book.” Verse 256 of al-Baqara, “there is no compulsion in religion,” will be quoted in pretty much any Muslim interfaith dialogue.

Anyway, I had a great time leading this workshop. I posted my powerpoint on Academia for anyone who is interested. A big thanks to my teacher, Ghazala Anwar, for recommending me for this opportunity.

One of the things that struck me while preparing for this workshop was the need for a guide.

While preparing, I came across a reflection paper I wrote when I first encountered the Qur’an, as an undergraduate taking an “Islam 101” course:

I have been exasperated by flipping around the Qur’an, trying to find verses here and there in a text that seems to have no coherence, narrative thread, plot, or anything else approaching what I consider good literature.

For the record, reading that makes me cringe.

I now see that the problem was not the Qur’an itself, but the abysmal translation my professor assigned. I’m talking about Abdullah Yusuf Ali, whose translation first appeared in 1934. If you visit a mosque and they give you a free Qur’an, Yusuf Ali is likely the translation. The Saudis have invested a lot of money into printing a lot of Yusuf Alis.

I’m not a specialist in Arabic (someday, inshallah), so I can’t vouch for its faithfulness to the Arabic. But as a native English speaker, I can say its English sounds pretty bad to my non-1934 ear. It feels stilted, loaded with artificial thee’s and thou’s, wooden and literal. Yusuf Ali read classics at Cambridge, and his translation reads to me a lot like the old Loebs.

In short, I think part of the reason I failed to appreciate the Qur’an was lack of a guide, that is, a good translator. It was only when I started studying Qur’an with a Muslim professor who unpacked the Arabic original that I began to really get a glimpse of its profundity.

So I hope that in my workshop today, I was a faithful guide. And even if I messed it up entirely I recommended some books that are recognized as good guides by Muslims and non-Muslims alike: Michael Sells’ Approaching the Qur’an, Carl Ernst’s How to Read the Qur’an, Abdel Haleem’s translation, and of course The Study Qur’an.

Early on in grad school, I was told to seek as much advice as possible from as many different people. One solid piece of advice I received is not to turn down opportunities because of my own nervousness about being prepared to do something. In this case my mentor felt I was prepared and offered me the opportunity. I’m glad I did, and from what the students said, they were too.

Review: Framing Paul, Douglas Campbell.

This year I have been cutting my teeth writing small book notices for different journals. It’s been a good way to learn about current scholarship, and it forces me to read closely enough to be able to say something.

Another book note in Theological Studies, this one out in September. Was astounded by the breadth of Campbell’s book—it took some time to get through!


Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. By Douglas A. Campbell. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. Pp. xxii + 468. $39.

51c9+GONhEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Campbell attempts to construct an “epistolary frame” around Pauline-attributed letters, determining each letter’s authenticity and and dating each letter both relative to one another and in absolute terms. After a lengthy methodological introduction (chap. 1), he builds his “epistolary backbone” with Romans and 1–2 Corinthians (chap. 2). C. then integrates other letters into that developing frame in succeeding chapters, surveying Philippians and Galatians (chap. 3), 1–2 Thessalonians (chap. 4), Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians (chap. 5), and Titus and 1–2 Timothy (chap. 6). C. sets aside widely assumed theories and start his Pauline reconstruction from the ground up. He discerns a 10-letter canon, including Ephesians (304), Colossians (337), and 2 Thessalonians (220), with no composite letters, and an early-40s dating of 1–2 Thessalonians (220–29).

Perhaps the strongest feature of this book is the many methodological insights C. brings to bear on the problem, including patristic reception (102), Scheidel’s ORBIS project (258, 276), textual criticism (310–11), the dynamics of orality (105), and features of prison literature (316–17). C. also deftly questions common arguments in Pauline studies, e.g., C. rejects circular arguments for inauthenticity from theological deviance and stylometrics, focusing instead on historical anachronisms.

Given the danger of making theoretical mountains out of evidential molehills inherent in C.’s task, he is generally transparent in how much certainty any given hypothesis has. However, he does overstate his point at times; his technique of discerning secondary audiences in the letters was often unconvincing (55). At other times he brought up valuable points only to leave them unexamined, such as his comment on the implications of Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic coherence” for debates about Paul’s coherence vs. contingency (9–10). Additionally, though C. convincingly argues in his introduction that Acts should only be incorporated into the Pauline chronology after surveying the letters, he does not do this integration in this book.

C.’s breadth, methodological insight, and implications for other issues in Pauline studies make this a valuable book for scholars and the non-specialist willing to wade through the length and complexity of his arguments.

 

Review: Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter, Keith Small.

After being away from here for a few months, I took a look at this blog and realized it didn’t fit with what I’m doing now. I originally started this blog as a place to talk about ancient languages—still one of my interests—but other things started creeping in too. I reorganized the blog to reflect that, and to make it look more professional in general. Enjoy.

The banner above is from Word Made Flesh, the frontispiece to John in The Saint John’s Bible.

I don’t have time to write any blog posts until August because of a book deadline I’m trying to meet, but it doesn’t take much time to repost some of the things I’ve been writing for other venues. Below is a book note I wrote for Theological Studies, out in the June issue.


Qur’āns: Books of Divine Encounter. By Keith E. Small. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015. Pp. 170. $25.

quransSmall, a Manuscript Consultant to the Bodleian Library, Associate Research Fellow at the London School of Theology, and author of Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts (2011), has produced a visually pleasing compendium of 53 Qur’ān manuscripts, most of them from the Bodleian Library. Each manuscript is shown in one photo and accompanied by a short description. In the first three chapters, S. explores the history of Qur’an manuscripts, and in the process delivers a gentle, non-technical introduction to issues in studying Qur’ān manuscripts, such as dating, orthography, script, colophons, palimpsests, materials.  He also introduces decorative elements, including carpet pages and gold leaf, and aspects of the manuscripts related to liturgy and recitation.

The second half of the book is organized thematically, and showcases European Renaissance encounters with the Qur’ān, global dissemination of the Qur’ān, and personal copies of the Qur’an. S. showcases Qur’ān manuscripts owned or produced by European scholars, including Robert of Ketton’s 12th-century Latin translation and Renaissance critical editions noting textual variants. His misleading overemphasis on the sympathy with which many of these scholars approached the Qur’ān creates a contrast with the next section. There, he provides the fascinating backstory to how some of the Bodleian’s Qur’ān manuscripts came to Oxford: “plunder in piracy and war” (89), or through former officers in British colonies (e.g., 126-127). This section’s vignettes provide a fascinating window into the past few centuries of Islamic history. The final section, on believers’ personal copies of the Qur’ān, includes talismans and even an undershirt with the Qur’ān written on it to ward off harm in battle.

S. excellently analyzes how details of decoration and calligraphy relate to Islamic theology and the believer’s personal encounter with revelation. I would have liked to see more examples of contemporary Qur’āns. While S. includes an appendix of recommended reading, it would be more useful for scholars if it had a bibliography for each manuscript. This book is aimed at the general reader, but is also of interest to scholars, and would also be a useful supplementary text for courses in art history, book history, or Islamic studies.

Review: Exploring the Book of Kells, by George Simms.

Since I began working with The Saint John’s Bible, I have become fascinated by the physicality of Bibles as books. Not just the art, but even the size, typography, and presence of critical notes in a text reflects and impacts the way we interpret the Bible. Art historians who study biblical manuscripts know this [links], but I rarely see it discussed in biblical studies circles. The physicality of the Bible is just one question that The Saint John’s Bible raises for biblical scholars.

So it was with some interest that I recently picked up George Otto Simms’ Exploring the Book of Kells. In 71 pages, Simms introduces this book, the most famous Anglo-Saxon illuminated biblical manuscript. The Book of Kells contains only the Gospels, and dates to c. 800 from the community of monks at Iona and later at Kells. Simms discusses the daily lives of the monks who created this Gospel book, with some charming illustrations of their daily monkish lives. He discusses some of the more famous illuminations and quirky marginalia in this manuscript, including the famous “XRI” page reproduced so often.

Though I learned a few things from this book, I’m not sure I would recommend it. It has very few color images, and no bibliography for further reading. Simms is not an art historian but a priest, so he misses out on some of the terminology a manuscript scholar would use. Still, this might be a good book for a younger audience.

 

Review: If Sons, Then Heirs, by Caroline Johnson Hodge.

9780195182163 (1)Hodge’s book, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul, argues that Paul’s letters do not merely theologically navigate the complexities of Gentile belonging in Christ, but actively create a new ethnic identity for those Gentile believers by employing metaphors of ethnicity and kinship to describe these believers as adopted sons of Abraham.

Her introduction spells out some of the particular methods and ideas her book draws on. After a brief introduction to recent scholarship on Paul, she identifies herself with the most “radical” (her phrase) thinkers in the New Perspective, particularly Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, and Stanley Stovers. These thinkers see Paul as writing mainly to Gentiles, and his works as creating a new myth of identity for those Gentiles who believe in Christ separate from a Mosaic covenant, rather than a Paul who is writing to Jewish Christians that the Torah is hereafter invalid. These thinkers see Paul as in greater continuity with Jewish tradition than the NPP thinkers Sanders and Dunn. Like them, Hodge seeks to move beyond a stale binary between ethnic, particular Judaism and non-ethnic, universal Christianity, arguing instead that Christianity is itself ethnic and particular. Lastly, Hodge spells out her theoretical position that ethnicity and kinship are socially constructed and malleable, even if those who employ those concepts hold them in an essentialist manner.

The first chapter of the book explains the “ideology of patrilineal descent,” a broadly shared Jewish and Greco-Roman worldview in which individuals, groups, families, and even nations construct their identity in terms of descent from a common father, a father who passes on certain traits to all his descendants. This ideology, Hodge argues, was used to construct identity, to gain power, and to define group boundaries. Paradoxically, this ideology holds ethnicity and kinship as both natural/fixed and malleable/constructed; even the same thinker can employ both conceptions of ethnicity at different times to suit his argument. Hodge reviews various discourses of kinship in the Greco-Roman world and the rituals used to maintain and legitimate them: adoption, genealogy of noble families, Kleisthenes’ re-mapping of Athens, Dionysus of Halicarnassus’ argument that Romans descend from Greeks, Josephus’ argument for the Jews’ antiquity, and the kinship of the philosophical schools of Greece and Rome. This last example proves that social domains not related to family could still use rhetoric and metaphor drawn from that domain of life—making it less outlandish that Paul would do so too.

The second chapter examines some of the binaries Paul uses to describe ethnic identity: Jew/Gentile, Jew/Greek, and circumcised/uncircumcised. Hodge delineates these in the context of two types of ethnic construction Paul engages in: opposition (constructing ethnic difference) and aggregative (constructing combining ethnic identities). For Paul, the ethnicity of Judaism is defined by ancestry, worship, and the Torah, while “gentile” (of which “Greek” is a subset) is defined by sinfulness and idolatry and by being not-Jewish (51). Mainly Hodge emphasizes that Paul does not see these identities as subsumed completely in Christ (as many readers of Gal 3:28 would have it) or as spiritualized/allegorized (as the TDNT has it).

Chapters 3­–6 examine specific kinship- and ethnicity-based metaphors Paul employs. In chapter 3, she examines the language of adoption in Gal 4:1–7 and Rom 8:14–17, and how Paul employs household hierarchies (e.g. the position of slaves) and the “spirit” to make Gentiles in relationship with God. Chapter 4 re-reads the phrase “from faith” (Rom 4:16) and “those from faith” (Gal 3:6–9) as language of descent: so Gentiles are of faith in being actually descended from Abraham by adoption, not simply by having faith. Chapter five examines the phrases “in Christ,” “in Abraham,” and “in Isaac” (highly debated phrases in Pauline studies) and argues that these refer to embryological assumptions embedded in the ideology of patrilineal descent, the idea that characteristics are passed from father to children through semen (e.g. Gen 15:3–6 and Gal 3:8). Chapter six continues chapter 4’s metaphor by addressing the way in which Christ becomes a brother to all those in faith (Rom 8:29)—again also the embryological assumption plays a role here. Note the way in which Paul uses both metaphors of adoption and of biological descent when rhetorically and mythologically grafting the Gentiles onto the tree of Abraham.

After examining these specific passages, Hodge returns to broader issues in chapter seven, in which she examines how Paul negotiated his multiple identities. Rather than seeing Paul as Jewish or Christian, Jew or Greek, she sees him as navigating multiple identities: a Jew first, but a Jew who subjugates that part of his identity to his “in-Christ” identity, and a teacher who adapts himself to his students by living as a Gentile. The idea employed here is that ethnicity is situational and hierarchically arranged, rather than fixed, and Paul engages in multiple discourses to suit his particular purposes and constructions. So Gal 3:28 is not seen as erasing individual identities, but subjugating them to Christ. Paul’s denial of circumcision for the Gentiles is not seen as a denial of circumcision per se; everyone will still follow circumcision, bit Gentiles need only practice the internal circumcision of the heart.

Chapter 8 ends the book with an examination of oppositional identities: how does Paul separate Jew and Greek? He clearly sees Jews as coming first, as he mentions in Romans 4 and 9–11. But he lays out a salvific plan in which the Greek is included as well. God prefers the Jews, but judges both groups impartially. Romans 9–11, then, is not merely a passage about Gentiles coming to the God of Israel, but a family tree metaphor describing inheritance by adoption. Paul is creating an ethnic genealogy for the Gentiles much as Greek and Roman authors create ethnic genealogies for noble families or entire peoples.

I really like how Hodge’s book brings together both Jewish and Greco-Roman discourses on ethnicity and teases out how Paul uses language of ethnicity. However, in this model of Paul, some of the metaphors he employs are inconsistent. For example, is Christ supposed to be a father or a brother in this metaphorical patrilineal family (103-106)? Other times she seems to mix up metaphors of biological descent and adoption. Maybe Paul himself is being inconsistent. I would grant him that, given that he is not a systematic theologian, but a missionary using rhetoric (not always a logically consistent tool) to persuade believers of his points. But some might find this alleged inconsistency a mark that Hodge’s theory needs work.

For me Hodge’s theory is intriguing because it implies that Paul’s letters can be used to support inculturated Christianity. So just as Paul has Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, today we might have Nigerian Christianity, Chinese Christianity, etc. The idea is that one does not erase their culture, but always brings it to bear on the religion one has converted to. This is of course a historical fact in all religions, but not one theologians have always accepted.

(Belated) State of the Projects: March 2016.

The last two months have been productive in my scholarly life. At least that’s my excuse for not blogging!

First, I’ve been seeing some very nice rewards for the work I have done. The print copies of my first two academic articles came in. It’s very satisfying to see my name in print (yay!). Also, I’ve gotten some good (I think) writing out on other blogs: a post about Star Wars on Sacred Matters, and a post on Christian-Muslim dialogue and apologetics at Christian Apologetics Alliance.

One of the benefits of blogging for me is learning to make points clearly and concisely. Let me tell you: some academics couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. I’m talking five-clause sentences with parenthetical asides. One-clause sentences are nice. It also teaches me to not expect written perfection. Save that for a book. A blog post is meant to be ephemeral.

Second, speaking of books, my effort to get the writings of my Jesuit friend, the late George Kennard, is coming to an end. George always told me he wanted me to finish his book. Always nice when a friend gives you an impossible task. The book being published is not the magnum opus of cognitive science, linguistics, epistemology, and Vatican II that he wanted to write, but a selection of sermons, speeches, articles, and biographical writings. I’m awaiting the printers’ proof now.

Third, last month, I went to a conference in Michigan to discuss my pet project, The Saint John’s Bible. I looked at some of the Gospels illuminations in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue. I wrote about my experience at the conference for the blog of the Center for Arts, Religion, and Education (CARE) at my home school, the GTU. It was everything one could want in a conference: great company, great talks, left feeling energized.

I gave my talk again for CARE on Friday. Eight people came, including three of my friends. With the feedback from Michigan fresh in my mind, I did a lot of work to revise my paper. I think it went well.

This conference convinced me of one major thing. I had thought of my work with The Saint John’s Bible as a side project to my real interest in scripture and interreligious dialogue. This conference knocked me out of that mindset. At several of the talks, I noticed things that the speaker didn’t notice—mainly because none of the other speakers had the opportunity to show this Bible to hundreds of people. Showing this Bible has helped me see how the symbols and motifs repeat, how this Bible creates a fresh visual lexicon in biblical art.

Fourthclasses at the Graduate Theological Union are going well. I am taking Race and Ethnicity in the New Testament, a seminar on Jeremiah, Christian Iconography, a reading course on Surat al-Baqara (Surah 2), the longest surah in the Qur’an, and a seminar on papyrology (how to read, work with ancient papyri) at Cal.

All the madness of conferencing out of the way, I can now focus on class again. And most of all, of course, focus on my wife. We just celebrated six months. 🙂