Friday, March 30, 2007


I thought I was doing a good job using old grocery bags as nappy sacks and as a receptacle for my hover. Now I have to learn how to knit and I could have a whole new wardrobe!

HT: Boing Boing

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Dalliance of the Eagles

I am in the process of polishing up some of my thesis chapters and came across perhaps the most famous verse in the Isaianic corpus:

But those who wait for the Lord
shall renew
their strength,
they shall mount up with wings
like eagles.
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Comforting words no doubt, and plastered all over coffee cups and posters; perhaps responsible for a high percentage of sales in the Christian Kitsch market. Now for those who know me, you all understand that I allow for a reasonable amount of ambiguity when it comes to what a text means. And I continue to believe that a texts meaning is able to vacillate over time, and that there is really no way to stabilize the meaning of a text. You can call me a relativist, but I am not, and my point here is not to bring forth another argument on meaning. Rather, this little aside, is more or less a full disclosure kind of thing.

What I am really on about is what this verse means. And my bone of contention is when people appropriate this verse to the individual, as if it is a promise to me individually, that if I wait on the Lord, he will bless me (which may or may not be true that is not what I want to dispute).

I believe that Isaiah 40 starts a new section in the Isaianic corpus, and that the 'historical' or at least the 'historical' context the narrative attests to, is that of exile. The nation of Israel finds itself in exile, and is trying to cope with how this could have happened. How could Israel be defeated by other nations, by other gods, if YHWH is the incomparable and all powerful god that he claims to be. Israel in exile is experience a crisis of faith, they began to question the very nature of the god they worshiped. In the Ancient Near Eastern culture, the only god to be worshiped, is the god who has just won the latest battle. And as Israel looks out at the world through the lenses of exile, this god is not YHWH.

So within this context Isaiah 40, is a word of hope to Israel, as a nation in exile; it is a reminder of the essence of who YHWH is; it is a strong polemic against the gods of the nations; and it is a reminder of the incomparability of YHWH. But to get back to Isaiah 40.31, the key to interpreting this verse is the context set forth in 40.27:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the
and my right is disregarded by
my God"?

Here we have YHWH countering Israel's claims that he won't fulfill his promises. Israel looks at its present condition (exile), ponders the defeat of YHWH by the gods of the nations (the only way they could be in exile is if YHWH lost a battle), and concludes that YHWH does not have the power to fulfill his promises that he made to them (because he lost the battle).

So in light of this, the verse has a very specific 'meaning' (if you must), and a reworking of the verse might look like this:

but those who trust that the Lord will be faithful to his promise, will be

So what is the promise? And what is the blessing?

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Resistance of Radical Love: Part V: The Radical Use of Hidden Transcripts in Romans 13.1-7

The Radical Use of Hidden Transcripts in Romans 13.1-7

The first clue that Paul is up to something other than presenting a first century version of ‘political realism’ in Romans 13.1-7 is the consequences, such rhetoric would have on the gospel Paul proclaims.[1] According to Käsemann the notions expressed in Romans 13.1-7, ‘that the authorities constantly seek to be God’s servants, is obviously exaggerated if not wholly incredible’; the ‘proof’ Paul offers for his exhortation is ‘forced’ and lacking in persuasiveness.[2] Forced, because one is left wondering how a community tempted to rebellion (13:2) by the exorbitant abuses of the tax gatherers, really would have had their minds changed by platitudes about magistrates serving the good and punishing only the bad (13:3, 4).[3] Even more troubling are the discrepancies within the immediate context of Romans 12-13. First, while the context of 12.1 is apocalyptic, there is a lapse of this in 13:1-7 and then present again in 13:11-12; Second, is the assignment of vengeance as God’s prerogative to avenge wrong-doing (cf. 12:19-20), which in Romans 13.4 is given the government authorities. Finally, Paul in 12.2 seems to imply that what is good, acceptable and perfect is tied up to the gospel; the vindication of crucified Lord, yet in 13:3 ‘traditional’ social values of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are accepted without qualification, even though in the surrounding context Paul anticipates that Christians will suffer unjust persecution from their neighbors (12:17-21), and exhorts Christians to ‘cast off the works of darkness’ that characterize the present evil age (13:11-13). These discrepancies are clues to the Christians at Rome that something more is happening than meets the eye. Paul, I believe, is extolling an exaggerated public transcript, in an effort to challenge his readers to see the Roman state ideology for what it is an idolatrous ideology that cannot coexist with the gospel in which Paul proclaims.[4]

Thus Paul’s exaggerated public transcript in 13.1-7 can not be properly interpreted without special attention to how Paul frames the text. Before Paul talks about the government he exhorts the Roman Christians to not be conformed to this world, but to rather be transformed by a renewed imagination (12.2). This call relativizes and at the same time contextualizes the statements of 13:1-7. The Christians of Rome are reminded that their primary commitment is not to any other authority, but rather to God. Paul calls them to distance themselves by remembering the ethics of the cross, and to avoid any straightforward identification with the Roman imperial system.[5] Paul continues by exhorting the Roman Christians toward an ethic of non-retaliation, summonsing them to repay evil with good (12.16-21). Paul seeks to remind them of the enormous breakthrough achieved by Jesus in his teaching and death; that to suffer innocently and not to retort or retaliate is to win a far greater victory than can ever be achieved by hitting back. It is to win a victory over evil itself.[6] Paul is thus calling the Roman Christians for nothing less than the imagination to live a life that is governed by Cruciformity, or as Theissen has so aptly put it, ‘the renunciation of status and the love for the ‘other’.’ This is exactly what the essence of primitive Christianity was all about, the symbiotic relationship between revolutionary love of the other, and the renunciation of status; as exemplified in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[7] In fact the list of practices that are delineated starting in chapter 12 are all implications of and follow from the apocalyptic vindication of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Just as the remarks immediately preceding Romans13.1-7 help to elucidate the text, of equal importance for framing the purposes of Paul’s text are the verses that immediately follow. Paul concludes the section dealing with the governing authorities with the language of debt. In fact in Romans 13.7 Paul says to ‘Pay to all what is due them. . .’ This language is not only an admonition to give to the authorities what they require, but as Kathy Ehrensperger perceptively notes is, ‘also an inherent hint not to give anything more than that.’[8] In verse 8 Paul returns to the language of debt stating that despite, what has just been previously stated, the Roman Christians are required to ‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’ Paul’s juxtaposition of dept language (ovfeila,j/ovfei,lete) and love (avgapa/n, avgapw/n) again challenges the Roman social structure as an absolute authority and offers the concept of a ‘debt of love’ as an alternative system of authority, as a measuring stick which gauges the actions and intentions of both individuals and governing institutions. Paul moves beyond the traditional ideas of indebtedness and challenges the community to understand their debt to humanity as the logical consequence of love.[9]

The revolutionary nature of the ‘hidden transcripts’ found in Romans 13.1-7 is that they do not conform to the regular nature of hidden transcripts themselves. Paul’s aim is not for the Christians of Rome to do clandestine things ‘offstage’ that might subvert the Roman Empire. Rather Paul is calling for the Christians at Rome to be much more like Walter Brueggemann’s insightful description of Garrett Green’s idea of a ‘Copula of Imagination’.[10] Brueggemann states that when Paul desires to reorganize and reshape the imaginations of the Roman Christians, he often uses the language of ‘as.’ The ‘as’ that Paul proclaims is not the ‘as’ of empire, it is not the ‘as’ founded in the reality of the hear and now, but it is the ‘as’ that looks forward, it is the ‘as’ grounded in the apocalyptic vision of the cross, the ‘as’ of a new reality made possible by the vindication of the Lord Jesus Christ.[11] Paul offers the ‘as’ of the paraenesis over against the ‘as’ of the empire by encouraging the community of believers to act in a manner that gives priority to personhood in God, not to the judicial or legalistic prescriptions of the law or the hierarchal and exploitive social relations of the Roman state.[12] For Paul the ‘hidden transcript’ must be made the public transcript of love. A radical transcript that is not merely for ones neighbors, but also for ones enemies, a transcript that does not only seek out vengeance when wrong, doesn’t even wish for vengeance, but allows for the final vindication of God in Christ Jesus on the last days, a public transcript that is to embrace ones enemy, not in order to punish them, for how can that be love, but is offered as an opportunity to manifest the ethic of cruciformity, and a public transcript that should never thwart even the most modest inquiries into our government’s complicity in repression or evil.[13]

[1] If in Romans 13:1-7 Paul was in fact addressing the subject of the Christians responsibility towards the government, then it would be the only significant treatment of the issue in the whole Pauline corpus. C.f., Elliott, "Imperial Propaganda," 184-5.

[2] Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 357-59.
[3] Elliott, Liberating Paul, 219-20.
[4] I use the term exaggerated because of Elliott’s study done on the contemporary discussions of the maintenance of public order and the political rhetoric of peace used by the Roman Emperors of this time to discount the use of the sword. Elliott claims that this is evidence of polemic by Paul directly contrasting the Empires wishes to be seen as peaceful and ruling through benevolence. See Elliott, Liberating Paul, 219-20; Neil Elliott, "Strategies of Resistance and Hidden Transcripts in the Pauline Communities," in Hidden Transcripts and the Arts of Resistance: Applying the Work of James C. Scott to Jesus and Paul, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Semeia Studies 48; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 97-102.

[5] Kathy Ehrensperger, "A Subversive Reading of Paul: A Response to Stubbs, "Subjection, Reflection, Resistance"," in Navigating Romans through Cultures: Challenging Readings by Charting a New Course, ed. Khiok-Khng Yeo (Romans through history and culture series; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 199.
[6] Wright, "The Letter to the Romans," 723. What Paul wants here is not to stop the Christians in Rome from taking to the streets, but rather he wants to keep them from private resentments and from the calculation of one’s just deserts, for these are the spiritual roots of scapegoating violence. It is impossible to be caught up in scapegoating and to live the ethic of mutual compassion and striving for the common good. C.f., Elliott, Liberating Paul, 223. It also may be noted that Paul was not advocating that the Roman Christians live peaceably among all in order to ‘effect a change in the abuser’ or achieve ‘the conversion and reconciliation of opponents.’ But rather Paul maintains that for those who believe in the vindication of God, this is how the community participates in the defeating of evil itself. C.f., Zerbe, "Paul's Ethic of Non-Retaliation and Peace," 177-222.
[7] This point is made explicit in ethics section of Gerd Theissen, A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion (London: SCM, 1999). For a philosophical treatment of the ‘other’ see Emmanuel Lévinas, Otherwise Than Being, or, Beyond Essence (Pittsburgh, Pa.: Duquesne University Press, 1998), Ch. 4. On the importance of the crucified Lord in Paul’s thought see Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).
[8] Ehrensperger, "A Response to Stubbs," 200. Interestingly enough the subtle acknowledgment that the ‘ministers’ power is not established by their own will, but only by the will of God, is a clear limitation and thus a relativising of any absolute power claim
[9] Stubbs, "Subjection, Reflection, Resistance," 188. See also, the comments by, Ehrensperger, "A Response to Stubbs," 199.
[10] Garrett Green, Imagining God: Theology and the Religious Imagination, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 137-45.
[11] Walter Brueggemann, Texts under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 14.

[12] Stubbs, "Subjection, Reflection, Resistance," 189-90.
[13] Elliott, Liberating Paul, 226.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Resistance of Radical Love: Part IV: Romans 13.1-7 and the Role of Apocalyptical Language as Subversive to the Official Ideology

The Role of Apocalyptic as a Means of Subversion to the Official Ideology

One of the lenses in which Paul offers his communities to see things differently is that of apocalyptic discourse. Leo Perdue argues that paraenetic literature often functions as a method of subversion. Paraenetic literature is subversive because it offers an alternative system of ethics which appeal to nature, the gods, and tradition in order to support its own ideology. Moral exhortations are a powerful means of ideological control in the process of group formation. By offering a different totalizing system of ethics, the paraenesis starting in Romans 12 challenges the state ideology, even if in praxis it varies very little from it, namely because it calls into question the ideologies claim that it is the absolute way of being in the world.[1] Any insubordination to a totalizing system, even if it is a relatively small insurgency within the public transcript, is nevertheless a means of subversion simply because it attacks the symbolic Achilles heel of the state.[2]

The apocalyptic nature of the paraenesis is intended to turn the world the Romans live in upside down. Romans 12 starts with a call for the Roman Christians ‘to have their minds ‘renewed’ rather than be ‘conformed to this world’ so that they might ‘prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect’ (12:2), instead of asserting their rights regardless of the impact on the ‘weak’. The Roman Christians’ positive response to Pau1’s exhortation will mean nothing less than a ‘fore-taste’ of the eschatological worship in which Israel and the nations are to be joined (15:7-12); further, it will fulfill his sacred service by guaranteeing the sanctity of his ‘offering of the nations’ (15:14-16).[3] Gordon Zerbe concurs that the wider context of Romans 12 and 13 involves the theme of nonrivalrous love ( avga,ph avnupo,kritoj, 12:9) and “the apocalyptic conflict between the aeons of good and evil” (12:19-20; 13:11-13).[4] Walter Wink writes, ‘discernment does not entail esoteric knowledge, but rather the gift of seeing reality as it really is. Nothing is more rare, or more truly revolutionary, than an accurate description of reality’[5] Indeed the Seer’s gift is not to be immune to invasion by the empire’s spirituality, but to be able to discern the internalized spirituality, name it, and externalize it.[6] The paraenesis, at least at the level of thought, creates an imaginative breathing space in which the normal categories of order and hierarchy are less than completely inevitable.[7] Paul understands that there are real obstacles to resistance, but he wants to make sure that the inability of the Christians in Rome to imagine a counterfactual social order is not one of them.[8] Paul’s hope is to empower the Christians at Rome to break through the idolatries of “worldly” structures and build a community and an ideological stance grounded in offering their minds and bodies to the worship of God through the voluntary indebtedness (love of neighbor)’ and the only way this can be achieved is for them to be able to see reality as it really is.[9]


[1] Perdue, "The Social Character of Paraenesis and Paraenetic Literature," 6-9. Yes; and this is perhaps part of the point. If the gospel of Jesus, God’s Son, the King who will rule the nations (1:3-4; 15:12) does indeed reveal God’s justice and salvation, which put to shame the similar claims of Caesar (1:16-17; Phil 2:5-11; 3:19-21); if it is true that those who accept this gospel will themselves exercise a royal reign (5:17); and if Paul suspects that his audience in Rome are getting this message-then it is all the more important to make it clear that this does not mean a holy anarchy in the present, an over realized eschatology in which the rule of Christ has already abolished all earthly governments and magistrates. Precisely because Paul is holding out for the day when all creation will be renewed (8:1- 27), when every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus (Phi12:10-11), it is vital that the excitable little groups of Christians should not take the law into their own hands in advance, so Wright, "The Letter to the Romans," 718-9.
[2] Scott, Hidden Transcripts, 106.
[3] Neil Elliott, "Romans 13.1-7 in the Context of Imperial Propaganda," in Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1997), 195. The flip side of this is that Paul’s exhortation is an attempt to wrest from the empire the right to declare where justice is to be discerned; see Elliott, Liberating Paul, 215.
[4] Gordon Zerbe, "Paul's Ethic of Non-Retaliation and Peace," in The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament. , ed. W. Swartley (Studies in Peace and Scripture 3; Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 177-222.
[5] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 89.
[6] Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, 89.
[7] Scott, Hidden Transcripts, 168. In using the term imagination, I acquiesce to Brueggemann’s definition to mean, ‘very simply the human capacity to picture, portray receive, and practice the world in ways other than it appears to be at first glance when seen through a dominant, habitual, unexamined lens. More succinctly, imagination as the quintessential human act is a valid way of knowing,’ So Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993), 13.
[8] Scott, Hidden Transcripts, 81.
[9] Stubbs, "Subjection, Reflection, Resistance," 190.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A thought on the Jesus Tomb

I am certainly not qualified to talk about any of this, from an archaeological perspective, I just find it very ironic that many who had absolutely no doubt that the James ossuary was James the Brother of Jesus are so sure that the Jesus family ossuary is dubious.
For what it is worth I think they are both of little historical import.