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Children and Communal Survival in Biblical Literature
In the subsistence agricultural social context of the Hebrew Bible, children were necessary for communal survival. In such an economy, children’s labor contributes to the family’s livelihood from a young age, rather than simply preparing the child for future adult work. Ethnographic research shows that this interdependent family life contrasts significantly with that of privileged modern Westerners, for whom children are dependents. This text seeks to look beyond the dominant cultural constructions of childhood in the modern West and the moral rhetoric that accompanies them so as to uncover what biblical texts intend to communicate when they utilize children as literary tropes in their own social, cultural, and historical context.
A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives
The biblical story of Ruth celebrates the power to begin life anew, to gather what has been scattered, to glean what one needs. In this original approach to understanding an ancient love story, Jennifer L. Koosed crafts a multifaceted portrait of the Old Testament character of Ruth and of the demanding agricultural world in which her story unfolds. Highlighting the most complex aspects of the book—the relationships Ruth has with her mother-in-law, Naomi; sister-in-law, Orpah; future husband, Boaz; and infant son, Obed—Koosed explores the use of pairings to define Ruth's aspirational fortitude. Koosed also touches on the narrative's questions of sexuality, kinship, and law as well as the metaphoric activities of harvest that serve to advance the plot and illuminate the social and geographic context of Ruth's tale. From the private world of women to the public world of men, Koosed guides readers through the book of Ruth's revealing glimpses into the sociology of the ancient Hebrew world. The study concludes with a discussion of the postbiblical fascination with Ruth and her later representations in a variety of literary and visual media. Koosed's approach is eclectic, employing a host of methodologies from philology and theology to literature, folklore, and feminism. Thoughtful of the interests of both scholarly and lay audiences, Koosed presents inviting and compelling new insights into one of the Old Testament's most enigmatic characters.
One of the most challenging questions facing New Testament scholars—how did Christianity emerge from Judaism?—is often addressed in general and indirect terms. The question becomes acute, however, when we turn to the Fourth Gospel, which, like the Judaism from which it presumably sprang, affirms one God, yet also affirms the incarnation of the eternal Word and, in nascent form, what Christians will later call the Trinity––teachings that seem to set the Gospel poles apart from Judaism! John Ashton refuses any merely evolutionary explanation for this shift. Rather, he argues that the author of the Fourth Gospel set out precisely to supplant one revelation with another, and this because of the profound religious experience of the Evangelist, who turned from being a practicing Jew to experiencing a new revelation centered on Christ as the intermediary between God and humanity.
A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel
The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers is a biblical commentary with a difference. Howard Clarke first establishes contemporary scholarship's mainstream view of Matthew's Gospel, and then presents a sampling of the ways this text has been read, understood, and applied through two millennia. By referring forward to Matthew's readers (rather than back to the text's composers), the book exploits the tensions between what contemporary scholars understand to be the intent of the author of Matthew and the quite different, indeed often eccentric and bizarre ways this text has been understood, assimilated, and applied over the years. The commentary is a testament to the ambiguities and elasticity of the text and a cogent reminder that interpretations are not fixed, nor texts immutably relevant. And unlike other commentaries, this one gives space to those who have questioned, rejected, or even ridiculed Matthew's messages, since Bible-bashing, like Bible-thumping, is a historically significant part of the experience of reading the Bible.
The Reception of Mark in the Second Century
Scholars of the Gospel of Mark usually discuss the merits of patristic references to the Gospel’s origin and Mark’s identity as the “interpreter” of Peter. But while the question of the Gospel’s historical origins draws attention, no one has asked why, despite virtually unanimous patristic association of the Gospel with Peter, one of the most prestigious apostolic founding figures in Christian memory, Mark's Gospel was mostly neglected by those same writers. Not only is the text of Mark the least represented of the canonical Gospels in patristic citations, commentaries, and manuscripts, but the explicit comments about the Evangelist reveal ambivalence about Mark’s literary or theological value. Michael J. Kok surveys the second-century reception of Mark, from Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria, and finds that the patristic writers were hesitant to embrace Mark because they perceived it to be too easily adapted to rival Christian factions. Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church.
Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms
The Psalms generated more biblical commentary from early Christians than any other book of the Hebrew and Christian canon. While advances have been made in our understanding of the early Christian preoccupation with this book and the traditions employed to interpret it, no study on the Psalms traditions exists that can serve as a solid academic point of entry into the field. This collection of essays by distinguished patristic and biblical scholars fills this lacuna. It not only introduces readers to the main primary sources but also addresses the unavoidable interpretive issues present in the secondary literature. The essays in The Harp of Prophecy represent some of the very best scholarly approaches to the study of early Christian exegesis, bringing new interpretations to bear on the work of influential early Christian authorities such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Basil of Caesarea. Subjects that receive detailed study include the dynamics of early Christian political power, gender expressions, and the ancient conversation between Christian, Jewish, and Greek philosophical traditions. The essays and bibliographic materials enable readers to locate and read the early Christian sources for themselves and also serve to introduce the various interdisciplinary methods and perspectives that are currently brought to bear on early Christian psalm exegesis. Students and scholars of theology and biblical studies will be led in new directions of thought and interpretation by these innovative studies.
Understanding the Biblical Archetype of Patience
The question that launches Job’s story is posed by God at the outset of the story: “Have you considered my servant Job?” (1:8; 2:3). By any estimation the answer to this question must be yes. The forty-two chapters that form the biblical story have in fact opened the story to an ongoing practice of reading and rereading, evaluating and reevaluating. Early Greek and Jewish translators emphasized some aspects of the story and omitted others; the Church Fathers interpreted Job as a forerunner of Christ, while medieval Jewish commentators debated conservative and liberal interpretations of God’s providential love. Artists, beginning at least in the Greco-Roman period, painted and sculpted their own interpretations of Job. Novelists, playwrights, poets, and musicians—religious and irreligious, from virtually all points of the globe—have added their own distinctive readings. In Have You Considered My Servant Job?, Samuel E. Balentine examines this rich and varied history of interpretation by focusing on the principal characters in the story—Job, God, the satan figure, Job’s wife, and Job’s friends. Each chapter begins with a concise analysis of the biblical description of these characters, then explores how subsequent readers have expanded or reduced the story, shifted its major emphases or retained them, read the story as history or as fiction, and applied the morals of the story to the present or dismissed them as irrelevant. Each new generation of readers is shaped by different historical, cultural, and political contexts, which in turn require new interpretations of an old yet continually mesmerizing story. Voltaire read Job one way in the eighteenth century, Herman Melville a different way in the nineteenth century. Goethe’s reading of the satan figure in Faust is not the same as Chaucer’s in The Canterbury Tales, and neither is fully consonant with the Testament of Job or the Qur’an. One need only compare the descriptions of God in the biblical account with the imaginative renderings by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Franz Kafka to see that the effort to understand why God afflicts Job “for no reason” (2:3) continues to be both compelling and endlessly complicated.
Reflections on Method and Ministry
Although healing constitutes both a major theme of biblical literature and a significant practice of biblical communities, healing themes and experiences are not always conspicuous in presentations of biblical theology. Walter T. Wilson adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the healing narratives in the Gospel of Matthew, combining the familiar methods of form, redaction, and narrative criticisms with insights culled from medical anthropology, feminist theory, disability studies, and ancient archaeology. His focus is the New Testament’s longest and most systematic account of healing, Matthew chapters 8 and 9, which he investigates by situating the text within a broad range of ancient healing traditions. The close exegetical readings of each healing narrative culminate in a final synthesis that pulls together what can be said about Matthew’s understanding of healing, how Matthew’s narratives of healing expose the distinctive priorities of the evangelist, and how these priorities relate to the theology of the Gospel as a whole.
New Insights and Scholarship
In April of 2001, the headline in the Los Angeles Times read, “Doubting the Story of the Exodus.” It covered a sermon that had been delivered by the rabbi of a prominent local congregation over the holiday of Passover. In it, he said, “The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” This seeming challenge to the biblical story captivated the local public. Yet as the rabbi himself acknowledged, his sermon contained nothing new. The theories that he described had been common knowledge among biblical scholars for over thirty years, though few people outside of the profession know their relevance.
New understandings concerning the Bible have not filtered down beyond specialists in university settings. There is a need to communicate this research to a wider public of students and educated readers outside of the academy. This volume seeks to meet this need, with accessible and engaging chapters describing how archeology, theology, ancient studies, literary studies, feminist studies, and other disciplines now understand the Bible.
In Dialogue with Augustine
In Hermeneutics and the Church, James A. Andrews presents a close reading of De doctrina christiana as a whole and places Augustine's text into dialogue with contemporary theological hermeneutics. The dialogical nature of the exercise allows Augustine to remain a living voice in contemporary debates about the use of theology in biblical interpretation. In particular, Andrews puts Augustine's hermeneutical treatise into dialogue with the theologians Werner Jeanrond and Stephen Fowl. Andrews argues on the basis of De doctrina christiana that the paradigm for theological interpretation is the sermon and that its end is to engender the double love of God and neighbor. With the sermon as the paradigm of interpretation, Hermeneutics and the Church offers practical conclusions for future work in historical theology and biblical interpretation. For Augustine scholars, Andrews offers a reading of De doctrina that takes seriously the entirety of the work and allows Augustine to speak consistently through words written at the beginning and end of his bishopric. For theologians, this book provides a model of how to engage theologically with the past, and, more than that, it offers the actual fruits of such an engagement: suggestions for the discipline of theological hermeneutics and the practice of scriptural interpretation.