Daniel Streett on “Did Enoch Die? (LXX, Philo, Hebrews)”

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Over at Daniel Streett’s blog, καὶ τὰ λοιπά, he has an interesting post on the possible “death” of Enoch. It is worth checking out. It definitely has the characteristic Daniel Streett cheekiness as seen in the photo choices (the pic here is from his post, I seriously laughed out loud when I saw this). He references many of the variegated traditions in early Judaism regarding Enoch’s end and if you are unaware of them they are pretty fascinating. I particularly think these traditions are very important if you are interested in ascension traditions in early Judaism and early Christianity.  If you don’t already subscribe to his blog, I suggest you do. Make sure and check it out here.

My Paper Presentation for HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference

imagesI was delighted to hear that my paper proposal was accepted for HBU’s Conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20. The delight of course has been accompanied by a great deal of fear and trepidation seeing as how this will be my first paper presentation at an academic conference, especially amidst scholars of this calibre. The keynote speakers include NT Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner. I am also honored to present alongside one of my academic mentors and friend Daniel Streett whose paper proposal was also accepted (if you are curious about his paper, see the abstract here). I am thankful for the encouragement and well-wishing I have received as of late from many of you and I’m sorry I have not had the time to entertain some of the questions regarding what my paper is about. As a result, I thought I would post a brief description here on the blog.

The title of my paper is So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” The following is the abstract I sent in: 

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 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 traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 makes 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. 
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I look forward to seeing old friends and new ones in Houston next month. If you are interested in this topic and want to hear more, unfortunately you will have to wait until Thursday March 20 sometime between 2:00-4:30pm. To register for the conference, you can pay online here. It is only $40 for both days which is a steal considering the nature of the conference. A big thanks to Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for putting this together. Hope to see you there!

Crispin Fletcher-Louis’s New Blog is Up and Running

Crispin Fletcher-Louis has just begun his new blog here. I have thoroughly enjoyed Fletcher-Louis’s articles and monographs thus far and I’m excited to see the small engagements on his blog regarding temple studies, divine priesthood, divine humanity, etc. His earlier monograph entitled “Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology” in the WUNT series is a very intriguing look at angelomorphic priestly Christology and participation. His following monograph entitled “All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls” is an in depth treatment of many of the texts regarding the divine priestly anthropology apparent in the DSS, much of which he wanted to further pursue after his work in the Lukan corpus. He includes an interesting commentary on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice for those interested in these mystical priestly texts. Make sure and check out his first blog post on “The High Priesthood of All Believers.” Enjoy.

A Jewish View of Paul – A Skype Interview with Mark Nanos

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Mark Nanos via Skype regarding his take on the Apostle Paul as summarized in the most recent “Counterpoints” volume edited by Michael Bird entitled “Four Views on the Apostle Paul.” Nanos presents a Jewish view of Paul that seeks to deal with why Judaism has viewed him in such a negative light and how the so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul‘ does not go far enough in their re-framing of the Apostle because they are still working from within the Christianity-versus-Judaism categories. For Nanos the problematic old understanding of a Lutheran Paul as fighting against a Judaism consisting of legalistic works-righteousness has been simply exchanged for a Paul fighting against a ‘Jewish ethnocentric exclusivism and particularism (p.162).’ Although this may be a helpful observation, there were still many questions that remained regarding many of Nanos’s interpretive decisions and some important places of neglect that are addressed in this particular interview. If you have 45 minutes to spare, you may want to check it out. I apologize for the poor video quality (the bad aspect ration cutting off the top of the screen, the sound, forgetting to move the mouse cursor off the screen, etc.) it’s my first time editing on iMovie.

A special thank you to Jonathan McLeod and Alex and Katy White for their outstanding collaborative effort on our group presentation on Nanos’s view on Paul for the Pauline Theology Seminar at Criswell College Fall 2012.

Larry Hurtado and Review of Pauline Scholarship

Over at his blog, Hurtado summarizes Tom Wright’s review of Pauline scholarship in what seems to be the first post of two on the state of Pauline scholarship. The following post will summarize Douglas Campbell’s approach to Paul, Duke’s own most recent thorough investigations into the question of Paul and Justification with a fresh, yet some might find odd, reading of Romans 1-3. The review of Wright is certainly worth a quick read, and we look forward to a helpful summary of Campbell (especially those of us who haven’t made our way through the entirety of his door-stop-of-a-tome, The Deliverance of God). Check it out here.

Resurrection? Bringing the Blog back to Life

Happy Easter to all! Christos Anesti!

It has been just over two months since our last post here on The Time Has Been Shortened, and after friends have pestered us about whether or not we are going to continue blogging, we feel that it is time for an explanation. Many of us are very busy in life right now as grad students. With some of us having two or more jobs, pastoring, grad work, having children, etc. it has been very difficult to maintain a blog on biblical studies. We have been discussing this and have decided to incorporate more of our current projects and interests from our classes, especially major paper topics that we find interesting or worth sharing.

Also we have had many requests to finish the New Testament portion of our interview series I began entitled: “Monotheism and the Bible: Origins, Issues, and the Status Quaestionis.” The interviews with Nathan McDonald and Michael Heiser in the “Monotheism and the Hebrew Bible” section were well received. They have been found to be helpful for people interested in receiving a basic introduction to the contours of the present scholarly conversation regarding “monotheism” and the Ancient Israelite religion (whether variegated or monolithic) represented in the Hebrew Bible.

What still remains is to complete the interviews regarding the nature of Christology and Monotheism that is represented in the New Testament. The interviewees chosen for this specific topic were chosen based on their experience in the field: Larry Hurtado, who has written and taught  for many years on the topic, and James McGrath, whose 2009 monograph “The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context” sparked a lively discussion between the two scholars highlighting important points of divergence in the wider conversation regarding the nature of early Christian monotheism and christology. It will be genuinely interesting to pick up this conversation where it left off to see if there are any further nuances the scholars would like to share regarding this heated topic of discussion. My hope is that both will still graciously participate, even though the interview series had been put on hold for the semester.

“The Time Has Been Shortened” is happy to announce it’s resurrection on resurrection day. What better day to do it?

Monotheism and the Bible: Origins, Issues, and the Status Quaestionis – Hebrew Bible/OT Part 2

Second Interview of two in the “Monotheism and the Hebrew Bible” Series

Interviewee: Dr. Michael S. Heiser

– Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software, Bellingham, WA

– Dissertation entitled “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature

– Authors the blog entitled: “The Naked Bible: Biblical Theology, Stripped Bare of Denominational Confessions and Theological Systems

1. How do we define “monotheism”?

It all depends. Is the question how do “we” (moderns) tend to define monotheism? Or, how we should define monotheism? Or how ancient Israelites defined monotheism?  Moderns would define it as a belief in one God, but “belief in one God” is itself vague. That phrase probably means “belief that one God, and only one God, exists.” As Nathan MacDonald points out (in “Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism”), the term is a modern one (17th century) and so, therefore, would the definition be modern. I’ll still use the term since I live in the modern age (!) but I don’t care for the modern definition as someone who accepts the Judeo-Christian canon.

The biblical writers used the term elohim to refer to half a dozen figures or entities in the unseen spiritual world (Yahweh, the elohim of Yahweh’s council, “demons” [Deut 32:17], the disembodied human dead [1 Sam 28:13], and angels [at least I’d argue for that on the basis of the plural verb in Gen 35:7 and its referent point]). The fact that they do that should tell us loudly and clearly that that they did not associate the term elohim with a specific set of attributes. We do that reflexively as moderns—we use “g-o-d” thinking of the singular being we know as the God of the Bible. Consequently, we feel uncomfortable with other elohim no matter how clear the biblical text is in that regard. The biblical writer did not think about elohim the way we think of “g-o-d.” They did not presume that elohim spoke of specific attributes that might be shared equally between Yahweh and other entities called elohim. It would have been absurd to the biblical writer to suggest that dear, departed uncle Jehoshaphat and aunt Rivka were on an ontological par with Yahweh and the elohim of His council, or that the members of Yahweh’s council and the elohim of the nations were on par with Yahweh *simply because they were all elohim.” And yet this is precisely what is assumed when people argue about Israelite monotheism.

The most straightforward way to understand the biblical use of elohim is to divorce it from attribute ontology. Elohim is what I like to call a “place of residence” term. It doesn’t tell me what a thing is in terms of attributes; it tells me the proper domain of a thing. All elohim are members of the unseen spiritual world, their place of residence. In that realm there is rank, and hierarchy, and in the case of Yahweh, uniqueness in attribute ontology. Those concepts are conveyed by other words and descriptions, not the word elohim. Yahweh is an elohim, but no other elohim is Yahweh. Yahweh was not one among equals; he was what I like to call “species unique.” That is what the biblical writers believed, so that is how I’d “define” monotheism, even though the term is awkward because of the modern baggage. However, the thought behind the term—that Yahweh is utterly and eternally unique—remains completely intact.

2. In the text of the Hebrew Bible, do you see a progression or development to monotheism? If so, is that progression a development in kind or a development of degree (or both)?

No. I believe the biblical writers believed Yahweh was unique among all elohim. I don’t care if our modern term “monotheism” fits that or not – but as I noted in the last question, it fits the spirit of the term. I’m delivering a paper on why I reject the evolutionary idea *for the biblical writers* at the annual ETS meeting, so people can read that paper. I can’t reproduce it here. The paper will be available after ETS/SBL next week (David will include the link then to the paper). I think the view is at least in part based not on what we have in the Hebrew Bible, but from what people imagine once existed. I don’t like to speculate; I’d rather go with what’s there – the final form of the text. I tend to like to draw conclusions deriving from exegesis of what we’ve received rather than on speculative texts that don’t exist. And when it comes to what we do have, I think the evidence offered for the idea is pretty much read into the text on the basis of certain assumptions.

Aside from the writers, though, I think that among Israelites there was a wide diversity of opinion or belief at all periods about how to talk about God, the gods, and the unseen world. Lots of people who today would appropriate the label “Christian” don’t even agree on this, so how much more the ancient Israelites who didn’t have direct access to most of their Scriptures for most of their history? My view is that there was theological diversity here. The biblical writers were part of that diversity, and what they believed has been given to us in the text as we have it.

4. Is the distinction between “polytheism” and “henotheism” necessary or helpful?

It’s helpful in that henotheism is monarchic polytheism, but that doesn’t say enough, especially about Israelite belief (as it’s reflected in the text). Henotheism operates without forbidding praying or offering sacrifices to many gods; it requires only the recognition of a supreme deity. But a henotheist would not see the top deity as utterly unique in attributes; he was only at the top through an imagined conquest of the pantheon, or perhaps earthly popularity. That is why I don’t think it is an adequate term for what the biblical writers believed. I’d need to see textual evidence that the biblical writers thought Yahweh could be toppled, or that they believed other gods had the same set of attributes before I’d consider them henotheists. Monolatry is better—monolatry is the rejection of worship and sacrifice to any deity other than the supreme deity. The biblical writers were certainly that, but again, that doesn’t say enough. I believe they also believed in Yahweh’s uniqueness. In other words, the biblical writers weren’t just monolatrous; they had certain beliefs about Yahweh that mattered, too (the reason he was the deity that should be worshiped).

5. What major texts are central to your view and why?

Passages that contain elohim. My view is based on the usage of the term as the biblical writers use it. It’s no more complicated than that.

6. What major texts are the most problematic to your view and why?

I can’t think of any, but that’s because I don’t accept the standard meaning of elohim. I can’t figure out why the biblical writers’ own use of elohim has escaped attention. If they use it of more than one being, and the beings of which it is used are described with other terms as greater or lesser in attributes and rank, then elohim cannot be a term that has to do with one set of attributes.

7. What would be the top 3 books you would recommend to students interested in the study of characterizing the kind of theism in the Hebrew bible/OT and ancient Israelite religion?

This is tough, since my view of elohim seems to be an actual contribution (or at least Nicholas Wyatt seemed to suggest that when he heard a paper of mine back at ISBL in Edinburgh). I think MacDonald’s book (noted above – “Deuteronomy and the Meaning of ‘Monotheism’“) is pretty helpful (it was to me anyway).  I can’t think of any that subject the consensus view to any serious questioning. I’d have lots of recommendations for the divine council and binitarian monotheism, but that seems outside the question.