Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Right" on Narrative Criticism in the Pauline Epistles

Lately I have been enjoying working through N. T. Wright's "Paul: in Fresh Perspective." I personally think this book would serve as a very helpful College-level introduction to Paul's writings. One of the most interesting sections in his introductory chapter is his discussion of the presence of "stories" in Paul's letters.
Here are a few choice quotes:

"Once the narrative genie has been let out of the bottle, not least in a world with its eyes newly opened by contemporary literary study, you can't get it back in; and now all kinds of aspects of Paul are being tested for implicit and explicit storylines. Despite the wishes and efforts of some, this cannot be dismissed as the superimposition on Paul of a line ideas or as a mere post-liberal fad. It certainly does not reduce Paul's thought, as some have darkly hinted, to a world of 'story' over against 'doctrine' on the one hand or real life on the other. To take an obvious example, Jewish literature from the Bible to the present day is soaked in certain controlling stories, such as those of Abraham, of the Exodus, and of exile and return, so that a small allusion to one of these within a Jewish source is usually a safe indication that we should understand the whole narrative to be at least hovering in the background. When we find allusions to the same stories in Paul we are not merely invited but obliged to follow them up and lay bare the narrative world he would have take for granted."

"Understanding how stories worked in the ancient world, and how a small allusion could and did summon up an entire implicit narrative, including narratives within which speaker and hearer believed themselves to be living, is a vital tool. I have in mind her the remarkable new book on Nero by the Princeton professor Edward Champlin, in which he demonstrates in great detail . . . the way in which the rich and varied mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome functioned in the minds and imaginations of ordindary people"

"The great stories of Abraham, of Exodus, of David . . . and of exile and restoration . . . create not merely a rich narrative backcloth from which motifs can be drawn at will to produce a resonant typology but also . . . a single narrative line, containing typological recapitulations but not reducible to them, in which Paul believed that he and his contemporaries were living"

"Their [Paul and other ancient writers] narratives could and did function typologically, that is, by providing a pattern which could be laid as a template across incidents and stories from another period without any historical continuity to link the two together. But the main function of their stories was to remind them of earlier and (they hoped) characteristic moments within the single, larger story which stretched from the creation of the world and the call of Abraham right forwards to their own day, and (they hoped) into the future"

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel" Again:-(

A few weeks ago, I realized that there is now a THIRD edition of J. L. Martyn's "History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel" (it is part of "The New Testament Library" series). Undoubtedly, this work has been enormously influential in Johannine studies. At the same time, however, this work presents a reconstruction of the historical setting that surrounds John's composition that has been scathingly critiqued. Thankfully, there seems to be a movement in scholarly circles away from this fanciful theory (See A. Kostenberger, "The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Composition of the Fourth Gospel," Trinity Journal 26 (2005): 208-14).
Most of the criticism surrounding Martyn's reconstruction seems to have centered on his appeal to the Birkat ha-minim (the Heretic Benediction). Raimo Hakola ("Identity Matters: John, the Jews, and Jewishness") has recently extended the critique in new directions by suggesting Martyn's proposal does not harmonize with new research on early Rabbinic Judaism. In general, Martyn's theory rests on a picture of the Pharisees exerting extensive control of Jewish society after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70. Here are Hakola's specific critiques:

1) the Pharisees had little control over synagogues during the period the FG was written;
2) documentary papyri from A.D. 70–135 reveal the average Jew was not greatly influenced by the Pharisees;
3) the Temple authorities, not the Pharisees, were likely the main enemies of the Johannine community;
4) the rift between Jews and Christians was not precipitated by Christological beliefs but because of differing attitudes towards central symbols of Jewish identity (i.e., the Torah, the Sabbath).

I am far from an expert on second-temple Judaism (frankly, I'm no where near an expert on the Gospel of John either). That said, I will give others the opportunity to comment on Hakola's first three suggestions. Regarding Hakola' last suggestion, it seems problematic on at least two-levels. First, Hakola himself (like Martyn) adopts a "two-level reading" of John that sees the FG reflecting the situation of the Johannine community rather than the life of Jesus. Second, Hakola's suggestion does not provide a satisfactory explanation of the Evangelist's "replacement theme" (Jesus as the fulfillment of major Jewish religious symbols such as the temple and Passover).

Any thoughts . . .

What I Have Learned

Okay, it has been about three weeks since I lasted posted. I have never been one to post excessively (maybe one or two a week), but even that is pathetic by my standards. So what have I been up to? In short, I'm doing my best to finally graduate this May! About three weeks ago, I turned in the first draft of my thesis to my supervisor, Dr Andreas Kostenberger. Since then, I have been franticly making the necessary corrections and "improvements." A few hours ago, I emailed my second draft to Dr Kostenberger. On Monday, April 10th (the final deadline for submitting all theses to the graduate committee), I hope to submit my final copy, complete with all front-matter.

So what have I learned as a result of this whole ordeal regarding effective research/writing? Here is a list (in no particular order):

1) Make sure you know the style you're using like the back of your hand. When you're putting together a project with page numbers that start to go in the triple digits, going back and fixing silly mistakes becomes a chore and eventually a nightmare. Rereading is necessary. But, you'll save yourself a lot of head-aches if you have it right the first time
2) Find someone who can check your writing to make sure it conforms to the style you're using and pay them well
3) Don't use Microsoft Word! I've been told Wordperfect is much more user-friendly
4) Create a template specifically for your project that conforms to whatever style you're using
5) If you drink coffee to help keep you going when you're tired, don't waste your time drinking the weak stuff. Drink straight espresso, at least three shots at a time!
6) Take as many vacations as your budget allows. Even if they're "working vacations," you'll be more productive in the long-run
7) Spend enough time doing the things that help your relax (in my case, fishing and playing vide0-games) but don't overdue it
8) Work as little as possible. Spend all the time you can WORKING in the library and in coffee-shops
9) Don't get side-tracked by pursuing major ventures like trying to rehab a house in less than a year (unless you can afford to pay someone else to do all the work)!
10) Always listen to the advice of your supervisor. Even if they're fairly "green" they probably know more about writing a major work than you do
11) Settle for nothing less than perfection, no matter the cost and how long it takes
12) Use some form of bibliography software (I've found Endnote fairly helpful)
13) Finally (and most importantly), don't let the important things like God, family, and friends suffer