Jun 21, 2014

Blomberg on Fads and Believing the Bible

I "amen" this statement from Craig Blomberg.

“New methodologies in biblical studies come and go; the academy is extremely faddish. Liberationist exegesis has mutated into postcolonialism. Form criticism and structuralism have seen their heyday, but a close analysis of texts as literary artifacts continues unabated with narrative and genre criticisms. Rudolf Bultmann’s great mid-twentieth-century program of demythologizing the Bible—looking for the core theological truths that can still be believed in a scientific age, truths wrapped in the husks of the mythical miracles—had just about died out, only to be given new life by the Jesus Seminar in the 1990s and 2000s. Examples could be multiplied. What goes around comes around. Most of my reasons for believing the Bible thus remain unchanged from thirty and forty years ago."

Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2014), 7.

Jun 20, 2014

Deuteronomy 28 and a Jersey Number

Curtis Martin, the now retired football player, recounts how he chose his #28 jersey number. 

“They only had the number 39, which I thought was horrible, and then I finally got a chance to get number 26 and shortly after that when I took number 26 a guy got cut and his number was 28 and I was speaking to someone about what numbers, what options I had,” Martin said.  “And at the time I was speaking to a pastor and I told him what numbers were available between 26 and 28, and he said 28.

“He said because that is a really important Bible verse,” Martin explained.  “It’s Deuteronomy 28, and he said that it talks about the blessings for obedience and all that.  So I took the number and Deuteronomy 28 became my only ritual before every game.  I would read it and that’s the reason why I wore number 28.”

Deuteronomy 28 is a great chapter in the Bible for a variety of reasons but there is probably a sermon illustration here. You can access the original story with the interview of Martin here

Jun 19, 2014

The Historicity of Esther: The Characters, Part 2

The historical veracity of Esther has been questioned by many interpreters. One point of contention relates to the historicity of the persons identified in the book. So part 1 examined two characters in Esther, namely, Ahasueras and Esther. In this post, Mordecai and Haman will be discussed.

Some scholars have attempted to assert that Mordecai was a fictional creation and not a historical figure. It is commonly pointed out that Mordecai does not even appear in the list of famous people in the Jewish Ecclesiasticus (44–49). However, as Wright explains, “even Ezra does not occur in this list and Ben Sirach may not have approved of Esther’s marriage to a pagan king.[1] Furthermore, “the name Mordecai is well authenticated as a personal name in the Persia of the fifth century B C . . . more particularly, a man named Marduka is mentioned on an undated text which probably belongs to the first two decades of the fifth century.”[2] This of course does not prove that the Mordecai is Marduka, but it does suggest that historical existence of Esther’s Mordecai is certainly possible.[3] It is also interesting to note that these treasury tablets from Persepolis seemingly identifies Marduka as a governmental accountant or treasurer,[4] and that Mordecai’s station at the “kings gate” (Esth 2:19, 21) suggests that he was an official in the king’s administration

The historical existence of Haman has also been called into question. The main contention is again that there are no records identifying a Haman outside of Esther. However, while no records of Haman the Agagite (Esth 3:1) exist outside of the book, it should be noted that one of the inscriptions of Sargon “mentions Agag as a district in the Persia empire.”[5] Furthermore certain Elamite texts lists names very similar to Haman’s father (Hamaddadda, Esth 3:1) and sons (Aridai, Aridatha, Esth 9:7–9).[6]

In sum, when one examines the major characters in Esther in light of the historical evidence, one usually finds either silence[7] or tentative support. This is not to deny the existance of difficulties (particularly with Esther), but that there is not sufficient extra-biblical data to discount the historicity of Esther solely on the basis of questions concerning the major characters. 

[1] Wright, “The Historicity of Esther,” 39.
[2] Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther, An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.
[3] Clines seems to reject this possibility on the presupposition that “Esther is a romance and not a historical record” and thus is “next to useless in any debate about a historical Mordecai.” D. J. A. Clines, “The Quest of the Historical Mordecai,” Vetus Testamentum 41 (1991): 131–32.
[4] Clines denies this identification. Ibid., 134.
[5] Archer, Survey, 21.
[6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Mordecai, the Persapolis Tablets, and the Susa Excavations,” Vetus Testamentum 41 (1992), 273–74. Yamauchi also records seven other names in Esther which have close parallels in the Elamite Persepolis texts.
[7] Arguments based on the silence are by nature weak. As Breneman writes, “The arguments against Esther’s historicity are based primarily not on evidence but on the absence of confirming evidence, in some cases, and on the improbabilities judged from our limited knowledge of the ancient world” (Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman , 1993], 281).

Jun 18, 2014

The Historicity of Esther: The Characters, Part 1

The historical veracity of Esther has been called into question by a number of interpreters. These critics typically point to the characters in the book as proof of the book’s historical unreliability. In a two-part post, four characters from Esther will be examined. This examination will suggest that the case against Esther’s historicity is not as clear cut as some would assert.

The first character that will examined is Ahasuerus. Jewish sources link him to Artaxerxes II (403–359 B.C.).[1] However, most suggest that Ahasueras is to be identified with Xerxes, the son of Darius I Hystaspes, who ruled from 485 to 465 B.C. As Whitcomb notes, “Modern Scholarship almost unanimously identifies him with Xerxes.”[2] However, this identification has been called into question since Esther 2:5–6 seems to indicate that Mordecai was present in the Babylonian deportation of 597 B.C. The critics contend that the author of Esther must have mistakenly believed that Mordecai was present during the deportation of 597 and therefore that Xerxes was a closer successor to Nebuchadnezzar than he actually was. But this objection can be addressed adequately through a careful examination of the passage. As Young explains, “The relative pronoun “who” of v. 6 refers not to Mordecai but to Kish.”[3]

The second character to be examined is Esther. Her character poses a more daunting task. As critics of Esther often point out there are no records outside of Esther verifying her existence. Not only that, but the historian Herodotus states that Xerxes’ queen was not named Esther (nor Vashti for that matter[4]), but Amestris. Consequently, some scholars have attempted to argue that Amestris and Esther are one and the same with different spellings of their name. However Herodotus’ portrait of Amestris is quite unflattering. She is portrayed as cold and vindictive (e.g., Herodotus, 7.61).[5] Furthermore, Esther’s father is identified in Esther as Abihail (2:15) whereas Herodotus identifies Otanes (a commander in Xerxes army) as the father of Amestris (7.114, 9.109–112). Therefore, it is probably best not to identify Esther with Amestris, rather, to simply admit that Herodotus does not mention Esther. Some attribute Herodotus’ omission on the grounds that Esther was merely a “harem-queen” and not an official queen. However, as Davis states, “Esther is given Vashti’s position and wears the royal crown (2:17); she is referred to as ‘the queen’ (5:2); Haman is honored to be invited to a banquet by Esther.”[6] A more likely explanation is that both Herodotus (and another historian Ctesius) show little or no interest in the time period pertaining to Esther or that Esther died soon after the events recorded in the book.[7] In any case, caution is warranted since “on the basis of Herodotus’ omission, modern scholarship used to deny the existence of Belshazzar, until subsequent archeological discovery verified the historicity of Dan 5.”[8] One final argument might be made concerning Esther’s historical existence. That is, if Esther is a literary creation it would be strange indeed. As the heroine of the story, Esther fails to return from exile, she hides her Jewishness (at least initially), marries a Gentile, and to fails to openly acknowledge the God of her fathers. If these facts were not true then why would they have been fabricated?

[1] Edwin Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Esther,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (April-June 1980): 103.
[2]John C. Whitcomb, Esther: The Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 29.
[3] Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 376.
[4] J. S. Wright has attempted to show how the names Amestris and Vashti could be correlated. (“The Historicity of the Book of Esther,” in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. J. Barton Payne [Waco, TX: Word, 1970], 41–42). However, even if such a case can be made, it still does not account for Esther’s absence.
[5] It is possible that Herodotus has intentionally or unintentionally maligned Amestris. But even if this were the case, it still would not solve the problem of Esther’s absence in Herodotus.
[6] Aubrey Dale Davis, “The Historical Reliability of Esther” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1983), 55–56.
[7] Wright, “the Historicity of the Book of Esther,” 43. Concerning the early demise of Esther it must be admitted that this is pure speculation.
[8]Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1975), 419.

Illustrated Life of Paul

You can access a free 28-page pdf sample of Charles Quarles' new Illustrated Life of Paul here. You can learn more about this book here.

Jun 17, 2014

Henry Cadbury and "The Still Small Voice of Upretentious, Meticulous Research"

I have been making my way through William Baird’s third volume on the History of New Testament Research. So far it has been an interesting read. I did not realize that it was Henry J. Cadbury who coined the hyphenated designation Luke-Acts that is so commonly used today. I also appreciated the following evaluative comment by Baird regarding Cadbury: “In sum, Cadbury’s Making of Luke-Acts is a classic—one of the great books of twentieth-century NT research. It is an original work that joins penetrating analysis with synthesizing wisdom. Cadbury shows that scholarship is not always in the wind and earthquake and fire, but in the still small voice of unpretentious, meticulous research.”[1]

Baird’s analysis is spot on. If you are working in Acts you need to become familiar with Cadbury. And whether you are a budding or seasoned scholar, one would do well to emulate “the still small voice of unpretentious, meticulous research.”

[1] William Baird, History of New Testament Research: Volume 3: From C. H. Dodd to Hans Dieter Betz (MInneapolis, Fortress, 2013), 23.

Jun 16, 2014

The Historicity of Esther: The State of the Question

The historicity of Esther has clearly been called into question particularly in recent times. As Moore has noted, “Even though the book of Esther claims to be a strictly historical account, ever since the work of J. S. Semler in 1773, that claim has been increasingly rejected, to the point that in the twentieth century only a handful of critical scholars have strenuously argued for the book’s historical accuracy.”[1] Clines in a more recent commentary concurs with Moore when he writes, “The current consensus of opinion on the question of the historicity of the Esther narrative is that it is a “historical novel” (so, e.g., O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament. An Introduction, p. 507), by which is meant an essentially fictional story with probably a foundation in some historical event.”[2] Although, Clines made that assertion over twenty years ago, the critical consensus seems to be intact. In several future posts, I will seek to examine that consensus and challenge its conclusions.

[1] Carey A. Moore, “Archaeology and the Book of Esther,” The Biblical Archaeologist 38 (September- December 1983), 63.
[2] D. J. A. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 256. See also Michael V. Fox, Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), 131–39.

Jun 15, 2014

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews can be accessed by clicking the links below. 

Marielle Frigge
Beginning Biblical Studies
Reviewed by Markus Lang

Jenny R. Labendz
Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture
Reviewed by Joshua Schwartz

Bruce W. Longenecker
Hearing the Silence: Jesus on the Edge and God in the Gap—Luke 4 in Narrative Perspective
Reviewed by Dieter T. Roth

Jill Middlemas, David J. A. Clines, and Else K. Holt, eds.
The Centre and the Periphery: A European Tribute to Walter Brueggemann
Reviewed by Chadwick Eggleston

Timothy Milinovich
Beyond What Is Written: The Performative Structure of 1 Corinthians
Reviewed by Matthew R. Malcolm

Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, eds.
The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
Reviewed by John J. Pilch

Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom
The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa
Reviewed by Philippus J. Botha

Ekkehard W. Stegemann; Christina Tuor and Peter Wick, eds.
Der Römerbrief: Brennpunkte der Rezeption
Reviewed by Oda Wischmeyer

Thomas L. Thompson
Biblical Narrative and Palestine’s History: Changing Perspectives 2
Reviewed by Ralph K. Hawkins

Caroline Vander Stichele and Hugh S. Pyper, eds.
Text, Image, and Otherness in Children's Bibles: What Is in the Picture?
Reviewed by David R. Jackson