Month: January 2013

sanctioning plagiarism?

Earlier this morning I found a few articles on the writing routines of great writers. (Mainly because I’m always trying to learn how to write gooder better). The ones on Immanuel Kant and Charles Darwin were rather interesting. Another article, from a different site, was not so much routines but tips for budding writers, offered by W.G. (“Max”) Sebald. What is particularly noteworthy is that the advice Sebald gives transcends the constraints of genre; much of what he has to say applies to all forms of writing.

However, near the end of his categorized advice (in “On Reading and Intertextuality”), I found this disturbing tip:

I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.

If I’m reading this right, and I’d like to think that I am,* Sebald is essentially sanctioning guilt-free plagiarism. (As an aside: when dealing with questions of style, Sebald says, “Avoid sentences that serve only to set up later sentences.” I cannot help but think that the second sentence quoted above [i.e. “No one will ever notice”] sets up what Sebald drives at in the third–especially the promise of guiltlessness). I can neither agree with nor accept this piece of advice as either good or accurate. Plagiarism is literary thievery, and given today’s technology those pillaging another’s ideas can be spotted (and caught). [That means you, Mr Driscoll.]

So, on this point I think I can and will follow Sebald’s final piece of advice: “Don’t listen to anyone. Not us, either. It’s fatal.” Done.

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* Props to those who noticed what I’ve done.

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great chapter title

I recently learned of Kent Yinger’s little book, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction (2011). While for many within the academic guild the “new” perspective is growing a bit old and stale, this contribution will benefit those interested in the development and content of the NPP–at least on an introductory level. From what I can tell on a cursory glance, it looks to be even-handed and positive in its treatment (unlike some) and it seems to adopt a moderately playful style of writing. My favorite bit . . . the title of chapter 5: “The Fur Starts Flying: Concern over Sanders’s [sic] Judaism.” Great stuff.

quote of the day

This comes from my morning reading:

the human spirit is unable to compel the divine Spirit to enter the human spirit.  The attempt to do so belongs directly to the ambiguities of religion and indirectly to the ambiguities of culture and morality.  If religious devotion, moral obedience, or scientific honesty could compel the divine Spirit to “descend” to us, the Spirit which “descended” would be the human spirit in a religious disguise.  It would be, and often is, simply man’s spirit ascending, the natural form of man’s self-transcendence.  The finite cannot force the infinite; man cannot compel God.  The human spirit as a dimension of life is ambiguous, as all life is, whereas the divine Spirit creates unambiguous life

–Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (1964), 3.119-20

just a hunch

Wondering about recent “street-level” books on Paul (just something I do from time to time; not sure why), I decided to check Christianbook.com–a book distributor that this guy thinks is absolutely wicked–to see if anything new has emerged. While I did find a couple that looked rather interesting, I was immediately struck by a book on the front-page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 01.17.27

I remember hearing about and seeing this book when it first came out, and I remember thinking/hoping that it wouldn’t last. Partly because it follows a similar paradigm used in many “church growth” books–i.e. the system is shot, people have tried other ways to fix it and failed, they don’t know what else to do; I have a “new way” [nb: usually presented as “never-been-tried-before”], and if you use it in your church it will work wonders, etc. (Don’t writers of these kinds of books see that that paradigm/system is shot?) Moreover, the thrust of The Circle Maker, despite appearances, is not about God; it’s about self-interest and the delusion of entitlement. I figured (=hoped) it wouldn’t take long for people to see through the façade.

Thus, I must admit my surprise seeing that The Circle Maker has hung around this long. But then again, it has been significantly reduced in price. There might be a (really good) reason why it’s been reduced 67%: the premise and ultimate focus of the book (i.e. the self) are crappy. At the same time, there might be a reason why the book is radically reduced rather than completely pulled: it maintains the cash-flow for the publisher rather than stopping it. This is the same reason why publishers and book sellers still put out (failed) doomsday/end-time books (e.g. this drivel by Hal Lindsey). That reason is not about endorsing content; it’s about making money. Just a hunch.

human error and bible translation

C. Michael Patton posted a brief list of mistakes in various Bible translations since the 16th century. Some are quite funny, and others invite a chorus of, “Oh my”. What I found a bit humorous was that the majority of the mistakes came from the (so-called) divinely inspired, sovereignly protected, infalliable, only true translation: the KJV.

old news and strange assumptions

Surprise, surprise: on Christmas day, a media outlet (NPR) gave us something potentially tantalizing (or even scandalous) about Jesus.[1] What was it this time? As the headline indicates: an archaeological “dig finds evidence of another Bethlehem.” To which I responded: Yeah, so? Happy days that there’s now physical evidence of its past existence, but that it existed is not necessarily groundbreaking (pardon the pun).

A moment’s notice of Joshua 19.10-16 (esp. v. 15) will reveal that some knowledge of this other Bethlehem has been available for some time.[2] Moreover, I recall learning about this other Bethlehem while in Bible College (late 90s), in both Old and New Testament courses; and I cannot think of how many times I’ve seen it mentioned in commentaries on Matthew’s Gospel, both recent and fairly old ones.[3] In other words: awareness of this other Bethlehem is old news, my friend. There’s got to be something else up your sleeve if you’re making a fuss.

Well, it doesn’t take long to find out: this other Bethlehem is the more likely candidate for Jesus’ birth. Oh, here we go. Not only do we have the personal take of Avarim Oshri but also, apparently, “there is ample evidence that this [other] Bethlehem is the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth.” Oh really? Watcha got? 1) Jews lived in the village. You mean, there were Jews living in other parts of Israel–if not the rest of the Roman Empire–in the first century CE? Oh the humanity! (please note the sarcasm) C’mon dude, even Strabo knew that much. That Jews lived in Bethlehem of Galilee is evidence of nothing other than Jews lived in that village. What else you got?

2) Site of a church and Justinian’s wall. I’ll admit that the early church erecting buildings on (supposed) sacred sites about as enthusiastically as the British Empire planted flags around the globe, but that does not necessarily prove anything. The underlying premise of Oshri’s assumption is that every sacred site has historical relevance and that those who constructed such sites were never wrong in their history. This is premise is not without its flaws. It is quite possible (even plausible) that some sacred buildings were erected in wrong places–albeit with right (or at least respectable) intentions.

With regard to Justinian’s wall, I must confess remedial knowledge. However, after several searches I was unable to find any reference (other than the NPR article) to Justinian fortifying Bethlehem of Galilee with a wall. In fact, all of the sources I read indicated that the wall in question encircled Bethlehem of Judea, and that he rebuilt the Church that had been razed in that city. Now, if Oshri’s argument is: Justinian built a wall around Bethlehem (i.e. ambiguous term), and there is a wall in Bethlehem of Galilee that dates to the time of Justinian, ergo that is the wall Justinian built; I have to say the argument is rather weak (if not fallacious).[4] Anything else?

3) Practical, comfortable travels. Specifically Oshri claims: “It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers.” Sure, such a journey makes perfect sense for those who enjoy modern comforts and who seek any and all ways to avoid personal discomfort. But such a filtered reading does not overturn the possibility that Mary did journey the 150 kilometers on a donkey and did so because that was the only way (unless she walked a bit). In other words: just because you cannot fathom making such a trip doesn’t mean they didn’t make it. Ancient people, in many ways, were made of tougher stuff. Keep it coming.

5) Bethlehem of Judea as a ghost town. Oshri believes the city “was not even inhabited in the first century.” Seriously? Sure, Bethlehem is strangely absent in 1-2Maccabees and Josephus says nothing about, but that is hardly proof of a ghost town. It is entirely possible that this Bethlehem was a minor village at the time and not worthy of much notice. Like Justinian’s wall, I am happy to be convinced otherwise about the state of Bethlehem of Judea in the first century CE. But until then, I see no reason to be persuaded in the least by this argument. What else?

6) Fredriksen’s take on the 4th century. Here I tread more carefully and less snarkily, primarily because I respect Fredriksen’s scholarship and contributions to the study of Christian origins. However, respect does not preclude disagreement; it only tempers the way in which disagreements are expressed. Fredriksen is quoted as saying, “early Christianity only started to pay attention to the Judean Bethlehem in the fourth century, when the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.” Two problems in this claim deserve attention, and I’ll begin with the latter: Constantine never declared Christianity “the official religion of the Roman Empire”; he did, however, grant Christianity official status as a religion in the Empire, which is quite different. Christianity as the Imperial religion came with Theodosius in 391 CE.

The other problem I have is with the assertion that, “early Christianity only started to pay attention to the Judean Bethlehem in the fourth century” (emphasis added). If by “pay attention” it is meant, see the Judean Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’ birth, then I cannot accept the premise that this only took place in the fourth century. For example: Irenaeus, Justin Martyr (also here), Origen (also here), Tertullian, all either mention or attest to the Judean Bethlehem as the city of Jesus’ birth (cf. also Cyprian [and here] who affirms the prophecies concerning the Judea Bethlehem; and Novatian, by implication). Thus, they paid attention. If, however, “pay attention” means build sacred buildings on sacred sites, then I could see some merit to the fourth century claim. But if that is the argument, then it’s not very convincing. Please tell me you have more.

Sadly, however, the (supposedly) compelling evidence ends after a few passing remarks about traditional associations. From this Oshri gives his final two cents: “How does Oshri think Christians would react to finding out that Bethlehem that they thought about is wrong? ‘I don’t think it will have any influence,’ he says. ‘The tradition is one thing. People will go on believing. And I can understand it’.” I like how the question presupposes the case has been settled–i.e. Judean Bethlehem is the wrong location. (I “like” this in the sense that I like hemorrhoids). Personally, that case was not made with the evidence given.

What troubles me more is that Oshri seems to perceive Christians categorically as a bunch of fiddlers on the roof, and that by altering the location of Jesus’ birth nothing substantial changes. The cynic in me wants to say: it appears that an alternate theory is being suggested so as to move Christian teachings of prophetic fulfillment away from the place where such prophecies were fulfilled.

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[1] And while I’m thinking about it, I’m going to make a prediction that will be more certain than anything proffered by C.T. Russell, H. Lindsey, H. Camping and even the Mayan calendar: somewhere near Easter, the media will spew forth something else about Jesus they think is new and exciting, controversial or even damning.
[2] Interestingly, no where in the article is this text cited; rather the find is touted as something unexpected, which is a bit misleading.
[3] And by “old” I don’t mean commentaries that came out when your parents were kids, I mean “old” as in 19th century–i.e. the time when you thought your parents were kids.
[4] I am happy to be corrected on this point if anyone knows of any evidence to the contrary.