2 SBL Papers Accepted

I just got word that my second paper (which is the limit for presenters) was accepted for the 2014 annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego. This paper will be presented in the "Applied Linguistics for Biblical Studies" section and is titled "Setting Students Up To Fail Biblical Languages: An Assessment of Assessment." My other paper, which was accepted in the Global Education & Resource Technology section, is titled "ἡ καινὴ σχολή· Communicating Ancient Greek Via Modern Technologies." The Greek here (ἡ καινὴ σχολή) means "The New School," which is actually how it will appear in the SBL program because their platform, interestingly enough, is not able to handle Greek characters. Anyway, this is good news and I look forward to participating in both of these fine sections!


Free: 2 Videos & 1 Article

Hi friends,
I want to draw your attention to two FREE good videos, one of N.T. Wright and one of Greg Boyd, which you can see below.  In addition, I want to draw your attention to a free article by Steve Runge which you can download HERE.  Hope you find these resources helpful.


Are They Still Using The Criteria Of Authenticity?

Yesterday I started reading a book that I'm reviewing for a journal, a book that I'm already finding quite interesting.  This new (2013) work by Michael J. Thate is published by Mohr Siebeck in their WUNT series and is titled Remembrance of Things Past?: Albert Schweitzer, the Anxiety of Influence, and the Untidy Jesus of Markan Memory.  What I've read thus far is very well-written and thought-provoking.  I am keen to continue reading the rest of the volume.

Before I get to Thate's thoughts on Chris Keith's work (as well as those who contributed to the anti- or post-criteria work he edited), two things should be mentioned.  First, the end-goal of Thate's work should be noted.  He says that this volume of his attempts "to (re)situate the historische Jesu Frage within the wider discussion of secularization both in terms of its history of interpretation as well as its contemporary constructions" (14).  Further, it is an "experimental critique in the formation and reception of discourses and a theorizing of reception criticism" (14).  The book is divided into two parts and the first of these focuses heavily on Albert Schweitzer's work.  This leads me to the second point, that is, that Thate frames the whole discussion of historical Jesus studies in relation to Schweitzer, whom he (correctly) describes as one if its most influential and strongest voices, perhaps even "the strongest" (20).

In Thate's view, scholars have basically been attempting to break out of Schweiter's mould for centuries.  In separating from him, they might believe that they can make a long-standing name for themselves.  Scholars have longed to "escape his influence" and "'clear imaginative space' for new and exploratory approaches" to ancient Jesus materials.  The attempt to escape, an attempt often made by striving to get out of Schweitzer's straightjacket and free from historical criteria, is something Thate says is actually a "tip-of-the-cap" to "Schweitzer's enduring genius" (20).  That, I think, is a word on target.  

Now, what's really important to note is that this attempt to escape criteria, what Chris Keith and others are attempting to do, is what Thate, drawing on Ward Blanton and Jacques Derrida, describes as "outbidding" (16).  The attempt to escape from criteria is also an attempt to escape from the Quest for the Historical Jesus, which is characterized as unfounded and misguided by some scholars, including Morna Hooker, Scot McKnight, and others says Thate.  But what is outbidding exactly?

Outbidding occurs when an interpreter of a tradition presents themselves, as Blanton (Displacing Christian Origins, 8) notes, "as outdoing the religious communities or traditions in view" so that they might then present "their own thought as a kind of 'purified' or 'originary' version of the religious tradition they criticized."  In short, Thate is arguing that Chris Keith et. al., are outbidding when they attempt to overthrow Schweitzer and offer their own "pure" or "originary" alternatives; they see themselves as "doing Christianity one better" as it were, than their predecessor(s).

Thus, those like Keith, with their outbidding statements "entrench themselves against the history of interpretation as being misguided and operating within the wrong set of rationality" (16).  But, says Thate, what really happens when those who issue calls "to terminate the use of the 'traditional methods employed by Jesus historians' is that without analyzing the doxa of these 'traditional methods'", they simply "change into something more comfortable" (16).  Therefore, Thate contends that when Keith argues "if the historical-Jesus enterprise wishes to step out of its 'methodological quagmire' its only hope is through 'media criticism and memory theory,'" all he is really doing is taking the same old argument, that is, the "criterion" argument, and putting it in new dress.  Or to cite Thate, "Though certainly promising on many counts, the purported 'post-criteria' approach adopted here (i.e. by Keith et. al.) cannot escape the erotics of 'authenticity' or the gaze of the originary.  This is a Quest for the pure genre; the authentic genre; the real genre.  As such, this amounts to little more than the criterion of authenticity in drag" (17).

In the end, according to Thate, "A 'post-criteria' approach" is really a type of re-aestheticizing and re-racializing "of the very criteria which they think they have left behind" (17).  Readers of these anti- or post-criteria works, then, should not turn a blind eye to the processes of outbidding that are taking place and the redressing of old ideas; readers should beware.

Since I just started working through the volume, I still have some ground to cover.  But I look forward to engaging what already seems to be a very learned, informative, and well-written, study.  When I was writing my book Entering the Fray and writing my chapter on the the so-called Quests for the historical Jesus, or the history of historical Jesus research, one of the most enjoyable parts was reading and researching Schweitzer.  So, I'm glad to read up on this influential man once again and Thate's work is already proving an enjoyable entree.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to review this book.

PS:  You can also get the .pdf version of Thate's dissertation HERE.


On Being Bold And Humble As A Bible Scholar

In the first post of this series, which you can read HERE, I talked about the notion of being wrong as a Bible scholar.  In my discussion I considered the dangers of feeling like one always has to be right as well as the fears of being wrong.  I noted that these fears can sometimes causes learners to freeze up, to stop in their tracks, and to not just "go for it" and put themselves and their work out there.  This leads into today's post, which is concerned with being bold as a Bible scholar.

From the start, I should say that when I think about boldness I do so in relation to humility.  One can be both bold and humble at the same time; these two things are not necessarily in opposition to one another.  Being bold is not the same thing as being cold or being a jerk.  Being bold has to do with finding the courage to maintain and share one's values without compromising in the face of pressure.  It is not bandying to the whims or views of others so one is not left out of the "in crowd."

Within the academy there are at least two factors that scholars, especially young, budding, up-and-coming scholars, can easily fall prey to:  1) Buying into the so-called "majority views" at the fear/risk of being pegged as one of the non-majority; and 2) Compromising one's beliefs and views because some of those who are perceived to be thought leaders or the intellectually elite do not espouse such views.  Both of these things are very much alive and well in the academy!  I've experienced the pressure myself and I've seen my peers face the same.

But there comes a time in a scholar's life when they must decide that they will think through things critically, especially those things that seem to be popular at the moment.  Fads, as in any sphere, come and go.  People who buy into fads tend to be very easily influenced.  Yet, a backbone is needed, a theological backbone especially.  One must be bold enough not to be influenced in undue ways while at the same time being bold enough to change when the evidence (and Spirit!) calls for it.

Boldness is also needed to break new ground in this field.  It is easy to go along with so-called "majority views" but that seldom leads to any new ground being tilled.  When one has a new view, it is quite easy to suppress it out of fear.  Some fear that they will be ousted, mocked, ridiculed, trampled over, etc.  There is, in fact, good reason for such fears because these things do happen.  The internet and social media has simply made it much easier to do.  Now, anyone can start a blog, facebook, or twitter account and drag another person through the mud.  So, a certain level of boldness is needed to not only deal with such things but to put oneself out there.

Now, when I speak of putting oneself out there, I do not simply mean starting a blog or twitter account and spouting off about whatever you want.  Instead, what I'm talking about is putting one's research out there, one's work out there, and one's well-formulated ideas.  Again, anybody can blog and much of the stuff on blogs, or the internet in general, does not meet the criteria of being well-formed or rooted in solid research.  It is the deep research that exudes scholarly boldness, not mouthing off about something when the requisite study has not been undertaken.  You see, when someone takes to writing on social media or blogs without the proper level of studiousness, what they'll tend to do is overcompensate; what they lack in scholarliness, they will often (more than) try to make up for in put-downs, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.

It takes no boldness to approach things this way.  In fact, as we all know, these things are usually masks for deep insecurities.  I know this personally.  What does take boldness, however, is to have done deep research and to submit that research to the scholarly community for peer-review.  Of course, people can bypass the peer-review process in this day and age and can basically even pay to do so.  It takes some guts to go through this process!

So, to make it in this field part of what is needed is an appropriate amount of boldness coupled with humility.  In my own life I know that when this equation becomes lopsided, I will most certainly say or write something I might just regret down the road.  But all of this is part of the learning curve; it's all part of the process.  As I move forward in my own scholarly journey, I will continue to examine where I'm at in this regard and strive to strike a fine balance.  That takes some guts too, I think.  


On Being Wrong As A Bible Scholar

Today I'm starting a series built around the theme "On Being A Bible Scholar." In each post of this series I am basically going to use some noun or adjective to help describe certain types of Bible scholars or certain characteristics of Bible scholars. I write these posts, of course, from the perspective of being "in the know" or within the circle; I also write as one who has often observed some of the traits in myself, so, when there are critiques, I'm definitely not exempt. So, to start the series off I want to talk about being "wrong" as a Bible scholar.

Being wrong is not something any of us, scholar or not, tends to aim for or to enjoy. Indeed, it would be rare to embark upon a goal with the hopes or intentions of being wrong. That, of course, is different than embarking on a goal with the realized possibility of being wrong. But there is a sense within the field of biblical studies that being wrong is to lose face, to lose social prestige or standing. Thus, it is in one's best interest to be right, even though that's not really possible all of the time (and we all know that).

Again, nobody sets out to be wrong but there are some dangers that come along with feeling like one has to be right all of the time. I have felt this pressure. One of those dangers is that it is easy to become closed-off or closed-minded when it comes to additional data, especially data that may call one's own view or hypothesis into question. Closely related to this is the danger of stunted intellectual and spiritual growth. The converse of this, however, is not necessarily true, that is, that to accept every idea that comes down the pipeline means you are intellectually superior or spiritually advanced. In fact, those types of actions can, in my view, be signs of weakness because they show an inability to reason through arguments and think for oneself.  In addition, the fear of being wrong can truly inhibit the creative process and can even cause one to stall (whether temporarily or permanently) and never produce or put their work out.  Recently, one of my students was expressing this sentiment to me, so, it is definitely real!  But there is a sense in which we just have to go for it and put ourselves and our work out there.  

Moving on, I might also say that when a Bible scholar always has to be right, another danger they can run the risk of is always being defensive. Now, being defensive is different than defending one's views. Being defensive is to hold a posture that listens to nobody, that responds to non-personal criticisms personally, that puts false words in the mouths of critics to slight or misrepresent them, and that isn't willing to entertain with any real seriousness counter-arguments. Offering a defense, however, is to hear a person out fully, with the intention of seeing if what they have to say can sharpen or better your own view (e.g. you may be bettered by allowing a certain view to be done away with).

In my own journey, I have had to relinquish views I once held dearly and I have adopted views I once called into question. This experience, however, was (and continues to be) formative. There are also times when I have found myself coming off to others as a know-it-all, an arrogant scholar.  This has happened typically without me being aware of it.  Thankfully, I've been blessed by a few honest people in my life who were willing to be truthful with me, and to point that out to me. So, I have been striving toward such self-awareness for a while now. I do not desire to to be the kind of scholar who must always be right and who resorts to belittling others if they call me or my views into question.  

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that being wrong is, in and of itself, virtuous. But I am saying that a posture of humility, which is a posture that leaves space to be wrong, is needed; such a posture, I do think is virtuous. Years ago, when I was very much into apologetics, I walked around with the former mentality while these days, more and more I aim for the latter. I always find it something of an admirable thing when reading a journal article or commentary and the author says, "In a former writing I held this view ___, but since then my understanding has changed." Such comments are encouraging and, as a newly minted PhD entering this field, I find that they help relieve some of the stress of always having to be right.

Should we strive to be right? Yes, I think so. But we should also strive to be humble. I love what Abraham Heschel once said, "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I'm old, I admire kind people." That remark has really been convicting in my life in the last few years.  I have come to truly admire clever people who can advance scholarship while being kind and humble. The ability to mix cleverness with kindness is something rare, I think. Cleverness often breeds arrogance, which is at odds with kindness. Cleverness also often blinds one to the fact that they can be wrong.

While I think things like spirited debate and civil arguments are good and can even be edifying, I've also found that the danger of surety can often lead a Christian to step out of who they are in Christ, all in the name of scholarship, to prove they are either a) more clever, or b) more right than others. I'm the first to raise my hand in guilt.  It is so easy, especially as a young scholar trying to rise in this field, to feel the need to have to prove oneself, establish oneself, and make a name for oneself, and in the process, to fall prey to always having to be right. Perhaps it's something we all need to be more aware of and reminded of with greater frequency. 


Theological Educators Forum On Orality: Why Pronunciation Matters!

Here's a portion of the flyer for the upcoming "Theological Educators Forum on Orality" that I'll be participating in.  In this presentation, which comes on the heels of one I gave at a conference last week titled "Never Trust a Greek...Professor: Revisiting the Question of How Koine Was Pronounced," I will really focus in on the so-called "Erasmian pronunciation" and the damage it has caused both inside and outside of the academy.  The paper at the Forum on Orality is titled "Erasmian's Role in Linguistic Genocide: Issues Concerning Morality, Orality, and the Pronunciation of Koine Greek."  There will be an audio version of this presentation available in an upcoming episode of the "Get Greek! Podcast" hosted by the Conversational Koine Institute. (The previously mentioned presentation will also be available in a forthcoming episode of the podcast.)  In addition, Asbury Theological Seminary will be making a 7-minute follow-up video.  I look forward to getting more of my research on the pronunciation of Koine out there and I hope it can be a catalyst in shifting the tides of pronunciation in Western colleges, universities, and seminaries.


New Book: "Speak Koine Greek: A Conversational Phrasebook"

Hello friends, I am pleased today to announce the release of my newest book, co-authored with Dr. Fred Long, titled Speak Koine Greek: A Conversational Phrasebook.  Speak Koine Greek contains over 240 sayings, expressions, phrases, idioms, and figures of speech from ancient (Koine) Greek. This work has been strategically arranged into simple categories (Getting in the Conversation, Staying in the Conversation, Ending the Conversation) with each entry ordered alphabetically by English glosses and followed by both a phrase that is similar or comparable in Koine as well as a source citation. Speak Koine Greek is a user-friendly compilation of expressions meant to help learners progress in fluency and knowledge of Koine while having fun doing so. You can purchase the book on Amazon.com HERE or HERE.  As a further add-on, companion audio files for this book are available for purchase and download at the GlossaHouse website HERE.

Here are a couple of blurbs from the back cover:

"Michael Halcomb and Fred Long treat us to a smorgasbord of Koine Greek expressions for conversation. By learning how to speak in the language of the New Testament, which is what this book helps us do, one's reading ability of the Greek Bible can grow exponentially. I commend this book to students, teachers, or anyone interested in learning to converse in Koine Greek."

Wyatt Graham
Ph.D. Candidate, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“As a busy Church planter I am always looking for fun and fresh ways to sharpen my understanding of Ancient Greek. This book does just that, helping the reader to speak, and so to think, Greek.”

Chad Graham
D.Min. Candidate, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary