Month: June 2008

Digging in too far

This past Saturday (28-Jun), I came across this article from a UK-based online newspaper.  The title of the article is a bit misleading historically, and a bit revealing about the ones doing the finding and writing.  To the initial question: “Is this Christianity’s FIRST church?”, I am compelled to say, “Probably not.”  After reading through the reasons why they (i.e., Abdel-Qader Hussein and Abdul Qader al-Husan) believe it is the first Christian church, my compulsion is substantiated.  Thankfully, the article is tempered with the astute observations of Thomas Parker so that it does not become more (in the words of Jonathan Reed) “archaeo-porn”,* which is what characterized the Talpiot Tomb fiasco.  

Here are some of the reasons–outside of the ones given by Parker–why I am not compelled by the findings of Hussein and al-Husan: 

  • The dating perimeters are a bit dodgy
  • The use of the term “Christian” was not a ubiquitous designation during this period
  • The use of the term “church” is far too ambiguous
  • Conclusions about later “Christian worship” settings are being read back into earlier periods
  • Lack of evidence (and even tradition) for what happened with the original 70
  • The vast majority of “underground ‘Christians’ ” is dated post 70 AD

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* See this article, where Dr. Reed apologetically admits the harshness of “archaeo-porn”, yet unapologetically maintains the implications of such a term.

A bit of a back-story

In late 2004, I made the tough decision to move back to Cincinnati in order to begin graduate studies. (In 2003, I moved from Cold Spring, Kentucky back to Atlanta after resigning from a Children’s Ministry position). The reason for the decision to return to schooling was because of an inner desire to teach on the college level–especially in the area of the apostle Paul. I knew that to be able to teach in such a capacity, I needed to do all that I could to prepare myself. So, January 2005 marked the beginning of what needed to be done.

On 23-Feb-06, I contacted Dr. Andrew T. Lincoln, the Portland professor of New Testament at the University of Gloucestershire. The reason for the contact was to inquire about the possibility of doing PhD studies under his supervision. His response to me was more than enthusiastically positive. Since that time, Dr. Lincoln and I have remained in close contact and he has been an incredible source of encouragement. The encouragement has revealed itself in manifold ways, primarily in his patience with me as I was completing my Master’s degree.  

In July of 2007, my wife (I got married 05-Aug-06), her parents, and I flew to England so that I could formally meet with Dr. Lincoln and discuss future prospects. For the duration of the trip, we stayed in a small town called Stow-on-the-Wold with some friends of my wife’s parents. (These friends, Margaret and Roger, own a comfortable B&B called, Cross Keys Cottage). The first few days were spent touring the surrounding towns and villages within the Cotswolds district. This was my first trip to England, so we wanted to soak in all that we could. (Here is a link for the pictures taken during our trip).

The Friday before returning to the states was the day I was able to meet with Dr. Lincoln. We traveled about an hour from Stow-on-the-Wold to Cheltenham in order to meet with him at the University. Cheltenham is a quaint, small, yet dense city nestled in a pocket of surrounding hills. About half way there, we encountered some light rain, which naturally slowed down traffic. (Little did we know what this initial encounter would bring).

We arrived at the Francis Close Hall campus shortly after 11:00a and met with Dr. Lincoln in his office for about an hour. My wife and in-laws, who were in the room with us, patiently endured Dr. Lincoln and I “talking shop” and discussing PhD topic ideas. The entire conversation was relaxed and promising, and he appeared to be quite intrigued with my research interests. After discussing a few more details, we all broke for lunch. It was at this point that we realized that the rain was not just a brief summer shower (see, Day 6 in the photo album linked above).

We originally were planning on dining at an establishment that overlooked the city, but flooding had already started, which forced us to reconsider our options. Dr. Lincoln recommended a wonderful little place know as The Retreat. We dined, we chatted some more, and then we had to part ways for the day. Dr. Lincoln assured me, on the way back to campus, that my ideas were promising and that I should submit my proposal as soon as possible.  

By late September, I had worked out the details of my PhD proposal and sent it off to the University for approval. At the start of November, Dr. Lincoln informed me that the application had arrived and was set to be reviewed shortly thereafter. Close to the end of November, I received word from the University that they had accepted my application and proposal–I hit the floor with tears of gratitude. A week later, Dr. Lincoln informed me that my research topic was in line with something that he and Dr. Lloyd Pietersen (who will serve as my secondary advisor) are planning to work on beginning this Fall. This similarity opens the door for a possible research grant, which would off-set some of our cost. 

Since November, my wife and I have been all that we can raise money for tuition and living expenses. We have been blessed by several extremely generous people who have contributed to this endeavor. We are eternally grateful for all of you! 

Should have started with this

Read just about any philosophical dialogue (this is even true of Christian philosophical texts like Justin Martyr’s, Dialogue with Trypho) and a consistent theme emerges in the prologues: a curious individual either finds or is introduced to a notorious thinker from whom they find the answer to some perennial question answered. More times than not, the subsequent dialogue engenders a conversations about a deeper question–one just below the surface of the one curiously asked.

This consistent phenomenon does two interrelated things–especially for the reader of the dialogue: 1) it reveals that the questioner, while commendable for his or her initial curiosity, has not fully grasped the implications of what it is they are seeking; and 2) it places considerable weight and respect on the one being questioned, for they are presumably the one who possesses the salve to soothe the inner restlessness that generally accompanies curiosity.

While the persons asked are unique to each dialogue, a second consistency can be noted: the individual sought is senior to the one doing the seeking. This seniority, however, is not always limited to age; instead, the seniority in question is one’s experiential wisdom. As Socrates rightly notes, concerning such persons:

They’ve gone on ahead of us, as it were, on a road which we too will probably have to travel, and we ought to find out from them what the road is like–whether it is rough and hard, or easy and smooth (Republic, 328e)

Refusal to listen to and learn from those who have gone before, and the decision to brave the road with a maverick and fortuitous disposition epitomizes foolishness.  Or, to put it more simply:

A wise man learns by the mistakes of others; a fool by his own (Latin Proverb).

My entire academic career (well, to be quite candid: since high school) has been a pursuit of learning from those who have gone before me in some way. This is not to suggest that I am wise by any means; instead, it is an admission that I desire to travel the path of wisdom in a way that is characteristic of what it means to be wise. What I know for certain is that I cannot do this chosen life alone–I am dependent (a bad word in many circles of modern society). I am like the curious questioner seeking answers to life’s questions.

The nature of this blog is more or less an accounting of my peripatetic learning. I say, “peripatetic” for the simple fact that my life has not been confined to one location for any considerable amount of time. I have also, from time to time, placed myself in various situations where I am able to learn from a diversity of minds and souls. The forthcoming intentional placement of moving to England for PhD studies will certainly prove to be enlightening simply because of the cultural differences between the US and the UK.  (That endeavor, by the way, is a substratum of this blog).

(Bad) Reading Habits

I’ve often been criticized (that may be a bit harsh) for my reading habits.  The criticisms are not so much based on what I am reading; instead, they are generally focused on the amount.  Call it curiosity, a by-product of A.D.D., insanity (there is sometimes confusion between the latter two), or whatever; but I tend to read multiple books at once.  By “multiple” I mean at minimum 5 books and it’s been as high as 23.

There are times when it’s difficult to keep track of what is being read–I won’t deny that.  But there have also been times when I’ve encountered a lot of connectivity (if not continuity) in what I read, which is certainly a worthy treasure to find.  The obvious downside with this type of reading is the speed at which it occurs.  Depending on the mix of books (i.e., the depth of content), the process can be quite arduous.  

So, what’s inundating my feeble little brain right now?  Here you go:

  • A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)
  • Epistle to the Philippians (Karl Barth)
  • Abraham (Bruce Feiler)
  • Christian Wisdom (David Ford)
  • Rediscovering Paul (David Capes, et al)
  • The Grim Grotto (Lemony Snicket)
  • Ideas and Opinions (Albert Einstein)
  • On Bullsh** (Harry Frankfurt)
  • In the Shadow of the Galilean (Gerd Theissen)

From time to time, and I’ll certainly try to maintain this practice, I will give reviews of what I’m reading.  Some of these reviews might be of some interest to you; others may bore you to tears. It would be nearly worthless for me to offer a rating system so that you can pick and choose which ones to read.  The reason being: what interests me may be a snooze-fest to someone else.  What I will do is give the title of the book, and if it strikes your fancy, then check out the review.  If you have already read a book in review, please feel free to offer your own critique.  I am always interested in learning from others.