Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

The Bible as Myth

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing lately on the use of myth and mythic language in the Bible. Some people view the Bible as entirely myth (do not fear, I am not one of them), while others cringe at the thought of the word myth being used in the same sentence as the word Bible (I am not one of them, either).

Either side seems to be using myth as a bad word; either they are purposefully insulting the Bible by calling it a myth or a book of myths, or they are scared of such a terrible word being used to refer to the Holy Scriptures. My questions is this: why is the word myth viewed so negatively?

John Oswalt has written a book on the topic, attempting to break the ties between myth and the Bible, which relies somewhat on an early book by Brevard Childs. Oswalt, a former seminary professor of mine, goes too far by declaring the worldview of myth completely incompatible with a biblical worldview. Certainly, those behind the writing of the Old Testament were saturated with the culture that surrounded them (just ask John Walton)!

It is apparent that the people behind the Old Testament appropriated myths and mythic language from surrounding culture. Certainly they applied new meanings to the myth, but they were not always the devotional, monotheistic re-appropriations that Oswalt wants them to be. Sometimes, they viewed sea monsters like Leviathan to be mere play-things, created by Yahweh with no more power than your average kitten. Other times, however, they were viewed as serious opponents that Yahweh had to battle to fend off chaos and restore the restful state of the cosmos. There is a full range of appropriation when it comes to ancient Near Eastern myth in the biblical text.

My question for you, my readers, is this: Does myth fit in your understanding of the biblical text? How does it, or why doesn’t it? Please respond in the comments section!

2013 Reading List

Some of you might have remembered my post at the end of 2012 where I listed everything I read during that calendar year. For those interested, I’ve done it again.

Last year I set a goal of 25 books and ended up reading 35. This year I decided to set a goal of 40 books, but I fell short of that goal and only read 30. I did cut out some of the fluff (none of that garbage like the books by John MacArthur or Jonathan Falwell), and a lot of the reading was geared towards the papers I wrote for SECSOR and SBL, as well as a few for the classes I took in my MA program.

Here is the list of what I read in 2013:

1. “The Problem of War in the Old Testament” by Peter C. Craigie
2. “The Divine Warrior in Early Israel” by Patrick D. Miller, Jr.
3. “The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?” by John N. Oswalt
4. “Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God” by Eric A. Seibert
5. “Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel” by Millard C. Lind
6. “The Divine Warrior Motif in the Psalms” by H. Wayne Ballard
7. “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” by John Walton
8. “Myth and Reality in the Old Testament” by Brevard S. Childs
9. “Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel” by Frank M. Cross
10. “Against Calvinism” by Roger E. Olson
11. “The Andrew Paradigm: How to Be a Lead Follower of Jesus” by Bishop Michael J. Coyner
12. “The Dawn of Apocalyptic” by Paul D. Hanson
13. “Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem” edited by Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan
14. “Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation” by Leo G. Perdue, Robert Morgan, and Benjamin D. Sommer.
15. “Sacrifice, Scripture, & Substitution: Readings in Ancient Judaism and Christianity” edited by Ann W. Astell and Sandor Goodhart
16. “Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan” by John Walton
17. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 1: God and Providence” by Thomas C. Oden
18. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 2: Christ and Salvation” by Thomas C. Oden
19. “John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 3: Pastoral Theology” by Thomas C. Oden
20. “Moral Dilemmas: An Introduction to Christian Ethics” by J. Philip Wogaman
21. “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals” by Immanuel Kant
22. “Moral Man and Immoral Society” by Reinhold Niebuhr
23. “The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide” by Gerald R. McDermott
24. “The Modern Theologians” ed. by David Ford
25. “Historical Theology” by Alister McGrath
26. “The Old Testament of the Old Testament” by R.W. Moberly
27. “Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture” by R. W. Moberly
28. “Invitation to the New Testament: First Things” by Ben Witherington III
29. “Exclusive Inclusivity: Identity Conflicts Between the Exiles and the People Who Remained (6th – 5th Centuries BCE)” by Dalit Rom-Shiloni
30. “Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation” by Patrick Gray 

I think my goal for this next year will be 35 books. I also would like to read at least 3 fiction titles (which you can see is a category missing in this year’s list).

What did you read in 2013?

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Another Semester Bites the Dust

I teach as an adjunct at three schools. One of the three, however, dropped my class this semester due to low enrollment.

I taught Survey of the New Testament online at a Christian liberal arts university, and I taught World Religions at a local community college. What I learned from teaching these two courses this semester surprised me. Here are a few things that I learned:

(1) Knowing more than my students know on a given subject is not always enough to give me confidence in my teaching ability in that specific subject. I have a BA in Religion, but only took two classes that had to do with religions other than Christianity. I have a MA in Biblical Studies, but I only had one course in theology that discussed other religions, and even then it was set in the context of a Christian theological interaction with other beliefs. I am currently in a MA program in Applied Theology, and have done nothing with other religions. Teaching a World Religions course, therefore, has been difficult, but helpful in learning to step out of my comfort zone.

(2) Students cheat. I already knew this, but it has really come to the forefront this semester, particularly in my online course. If a professor would not let a student bring in a book or commentary to copy onto his or her final exam in class, then why would I allow a student to copy-and-paste a website into an online exam essay question?

(3) Grading takes a lot of time. A whole lot of time. This is the first time I’ve taught two courses in the same semester. I assign a lot of writing (the most students read and write, the better prepared they are for life in general, not to mention upper level courses). I, therefore, must read a tremendous amount of writing and grade it (with ample comments). I think I read about 600 or so pages of student writing this semester. Adjuncts don’t get graders.

(4) Some students will always hate your class. There are usually more students who put all 5′s on the student evaluation than students who put all 0′s, but you will still have some who give you all 0′s. It is frustrating, given the amount of time and energy I put into designing a course, writing lectures, designing discussion forums, and gathering materials (not to mention reading and grading – see #3). But it happens. Some students won’t care how much you put into it if they didn’t get the grade they wanted (or if they have to read too much, or write too much, or actually have to show up, etc.).

(5) The students who send you emails of encouragement will always make up for #4. I’ve already received 2-3 emails from students thanking me for the class and telling me how much it has changed their perspective on the New Testament or on religion, and how much they got out of it. If only one student gets a ton out of a course, it is a success. You usually get out of a class what you put into it, and this has been true for each of my students this year.

Next semester it looks like I will be teaching NT Survey online and NT Survey in a face-to-face classroom, both at a different institution. I’m excited to see what new things I learn next semester!

Women in Church Leadership

This won’t be a post arguing for or against females in leadership roles in the Church. If you know me, you know where I obviously stand.

This post is celebrating an event that happened a couple of months ago (and I feel like a terrible person for not posting about it until now!). On October 13th, Abingdon United Methodist Church (in Abingdon, VA) celebrated their 230th anniversary. For the event, they invited the Bishop of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church (covers all of east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, a little bit of Georgia, and there is one church that sits on the NC state line!). The District Superintendent of the Abingdon District, and the two pastors of Abingdon UMC were also present.

The really cool thing about this? All the above are women. This is the first time, as far as I know, that there has been a female Bishop, female DS, and two female pastors leading a Church service together.

Check out this link for the story!

Here is a picture of these four amazing Church leaders (for the sake of full disclosure, the one on the far right is my wife, Reverend Liz Hamilton):

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SBL is COMING!

And it is seriously crunch time. My paper is the equivalent of a 1600-word outline.

I know my starting point, and I can see where I’m going from the work I’ve done so far, but it is just insanity trying to move from point A to point B. I look over what I have and think, “this is terrible!” But then again, it isn’t even a first draft yet, so of course it is terrible.

I view SBL as a giant pool of ideas; by presenting a paper, I am submitting my idea to the pool. If my idea sucks, it should spit it back in my face. If my idea is good, then hopefully I will receive some affirmation and then go on to turn my idea into a paper to be submitted as an article to journals.

Anybody out there reading this in the same boat as me, trying to finish up a paper that just doesn’t want to end? How are you dealing with it? It doesn’t help that I’m also working on two classes that I haven’t taught before (or at least through the medium that I’m teaching one of them), so I am writing all my material week-by-week for two classes in addition to lecturing and grading (and being a dad of a 2-year-old, looking for full-time employment and constantly sending out my CV, and whatever else I have on my plate, ha!).

I’m guessing that I just need to buck up and get it done!

SBL / AAR App is Available!

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Find it on the App Store, then search for my name and add me to your schedule so you can be sure to come hear my paper!

Also, the official hashtag for the meeting (per the app) is #sblaar13

To-Do List

The Fall seems to be an exceptionally busy season for me. I am working on my second MA, teaching two classes (because the third fell through due to low enrollment), and have a number of small writing projects going on. In addition to this, I have a very amazing two-year-old son and an incredible wife who both deserve more than every minute I can give them. I also am looking for a full-time job!

I am posting my to-do list here so that I can hold myself accountable. These are my goals for the Fall:

(1) Write lectures for my world religion class on a week-to-week basis. I’ve never taught this course before, so at 12:25pm today (Monday), I am writing the lecture for the 8am Tuesday (tomorrow) class. Same thing will happen on Wednesday. Also – keep up with grading for this class!

(2) Continue to build my online New Testament Intro class. I have the first 8 weeks built in Edvance360 (we are starting week 3 this Wednesday), but am trying to build a 1-week lesson each week as we move through the semester. Also, I have a ton of grading for this course, so I’m trying to keep up.

(3) Write my paper for SBL! I cannot believe that it is September already, and I have nothing beyond preliminary notes for my SBL paper (I have done a good bit of reading, at least!).

(4) I have no choice but to make an A in my September class for my MA. Class starts this Friday. I’ve already read about 800 pages of material in preparation for the course, “Ten Theologians that Speak from the Grave,” so that during the 5-week intensive I can focus on the theologians’ primary works. This course may also involve a decent amount of writing.

(5) Lexham Bible Dictionary. I have a contract for 5 dictionary articles, and have turned one in already (although they have requested a few minor revisions). I hope to have all 5 completed and turned in by December 31st.

(6) Book Reviews. I currently am reading one book for Religious Studies Review, and also have the first three volumes of Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Teachings read and am writing a 2,000 word review of them for Reviews in Religion and Theology. These need to be finished SOON.

(7) Find a JOB. Teaching two courses as an adjunct isn’t paying the bills. My 1-year, grant funded position at the community college last year was nice, but I need something now that it is up. With one MA under my belt, I could teach more as an adjunct (or even be hired full time at a community college), but I don’t see that happening any time soon. My next hope is for something in higher ed, just to make contacts and stay involved in education. I am, however, willing to look outside the field just to pay my way through this MA and make sure food is on the table and the lights stay on. I’m just not getting many call backs yet.

Will I accomplish all this? I believe I will! It is time to get busy …

Reza Aslan, Fox News, and the Historical Jesus

As it has since gone viral, most of you will have heard of the terrible interview that Lauren Green of Fox News did with Reza Aslan. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here it is:

Green (and more importantly, Green’s producers and writers) seem to have a blatant bias and believe that a Muslim should not be writing about Jesus. I want to share a quote by Hershel Shanks from The Search For Jesus: Modern Scholarship Looks at the Gospels, a publication of a 1993 symposium at the Smithsonian Institution. It is found on page 4 of the introduction, and it starts out with a quotation from Time magazine:

“The Churches have always taught that Jesus Christ was a man as well as God, a man of a particular time and place, speaking a specific language, revealing his ways in terms of a specific cultural and religious tradition.” That is our subject. And because of the terms of the discussion, because we will be looking at the evidence as objectively as possible, people of all faiths, or no faith, can participate. And that’s one of the wonderful things about historical Jesus studies. It brings people together, regardless of their confessional perspective. Indeed, the various perspectives we bring to the task enrich the venture.

This two-decade old quote is telling that the attitude of Fox News towards a Muslim writing about Jesus is (a) nothing new, and (b) dead wrong. Fox News is still trying to defend their view, but it really is a lost cause to get them, or any modern money-hungry media to seek truth.

Now, although Aslan obviously deserves more respect than he received, and his voice deserves to be heard, his book is not fairing so well with Historical Jesus scholars. You see, Aslan is a generalist trying to fish in specialist waters. I’ve not read the book yet, but hope to soon. Historical Jesus is not my field, however, so I will not be offering a review or critique. Instead, I will link this one by Anthony Le Donne.

Also, I want to note that I am teaching a section of New Testament Survey this Fall, and am very excited about working this controversy into my class somewhere!

Paper Accepted to SBL 2013 in Baltimore!

I received some good news Sunday afternoon (although I realize it pales in comparison to the good news of Easter Sunday, it was still a nice email to receive). It went something like this:

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations, your paper, The Role of the Divine Warrior in Hebrew Legal Tradition, was accepted for the 2013 Annual Meeting program unit Hebrew Scriptures and Cognate Literature. The meeting will be held in Baltimore, MD from 11/23/2013 to 11/26/2013.

Please note that, by submitting a paper proposal or accepting a role in any affiliate organization or program unit session at the Annual or International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, you agree to participate in an open academic discussion guided by a common standard of scholarly discourse that engages your subject through critical inquiry and investigation.

And that is that! I actually had already been rejected from this program unit, but apparently one of the chosen papers backed out (I’m assuming they were accepted in multiple program units), and mine had been the last paper to be cut, so I’m in!

Look for me in Baltimore in November!

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