Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Part 1, Proposition 4

Part 1, Proposition 4 – The Bible contains no new revelation about the workings and understanding of the material world

Here Walton essentially argues that God did not give the Israelites advanced understanding of the natural world; rather, he communicated in language/terms that they understood (49). This is fleshed out in more detail, particularly in Walton’s full-length treatment of Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology; here. Here, Walton (rightly I think) argues “the Bible offers theological perspective about the material world” rather than “naturalistic insight” (50). Because the ancients did not understand the intricacies of how the natural world worked, their descriptions of any such thing recorded in the Bible reflect their state of understanding, thus there is no new scientific understanding in the Bible (51). He further argues that when evaluating claims made in the Bible, one must first determine what kinds of claims they are—theological, cosmological, scientific, historical, etc. (56). Because the Bible is not a science book that seeks to disseminate scientific knowledge, claims made that reflect science in some manner must be understood as “Old World science,” reflective of the culture they depict and not necessarily as corresponding to what is known in the modern world.

Walton provides several sad-but-true examples of how texts from Genesis have been interpreted through history in a way that would be binding in a later culture, e.g., men having one less rib than women, that snakes used to have legs, talk, and eat dust, and the curse of Ham resulting in black people (57–58). These are just a few examples and a brief perusal of the history of interpretation of the Pentateuch would likely yield many more examples (talking donkeys, perhaps?).

This proposition is largely a rehash of his work on Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology, as mentioned previously. If you’ve read either of his works on the subject, then you’ll find little here that wasn’t discussed before. However, this is an important element in the overall scheme Walton is working toward. Despite my own familiarity with this idea, it’s good to reread it, this time in a slightly different context and toward a different end. Where Walton is ultimately going, I think, is toward a methodology that enables interpreters to better understand the culture in which the accounts of the Bible occurred, thus enabling one to better interpret the Scripture. This particular method also permits interpreters to hold to an authoritative text while not having to slavishly adhere to implausible interpretations so as to avoid upsetting some doctrine of inerrancy. I also appreciate Walton’s approach to authorship, namely identifying a person as a book’s “author” is not important—what matters is the authority attributed to any given person with whom a particular book is associated.

Memorable quotes/insights

“God chose human communicators associated with a particular time, language and culture and communicated through them into that world. The Bible was written to them, not us” (52).

“Given what we have learned about literary production in the ancient world, authorship and the process that led to the final form of the canonical book are simply not as relevant as we have thought to our understanding of biblical authority” (62).

“We cannot be dependent on the “original autographs,” not only because we do not have them, but also because the very concept is anachronistic for most of the Old Testament7 and does not reflect how the books came into existence. Inerrancy and authority are connected initially to the authority figure or the authoritative traditions.” (67).

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Proposition 12, 3

My Favorite Scary Movies

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I love horror films. The first movies I ever saw that scared me were Poltergeist and Friday the 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter. Ever since, I’ve loved scary movies! Every year when summer’s brutal grip finally relents and the cool air of fall arrives, I want to watch horror films. Though our cool weather has only just arrived, I’ve watched a number of my favorites already and thought I would post a few.
Halloween – John Carpenter’s original, of course. While Zombie’s remake was good (let’s not mention the debatably tolerable Halloween II), nothing really could compare with the original, a film that defined a genre (or perhaps sub-genre) and spawned a thousand imitators. There are any number of reasons why I love this movie, but perhaps it could be boiled down to two elements—it’s downright creepy and the story is largely believable. Provided there is always a necessary measure of suspended disbelief, but The Shape is portrayed as one could show up unannounced and wreak havoc in your town. Plus, the expressionless mask donned by Michael Myers is perhaps the most iconic in horror cinema.
*Memorable scene(s) – Take your pick of any in which Myers is standing creepily still, staring at the person who would become his next victim.

Saw – Forget the confusing and derivitave sequels—Saw was a great film, a creative burst of originality against a backdrop of countless pedestrian horror films. Though dubbed “torture porn” by many, Saw is not merely a gore fest. Yes, the kills are gruesome, but underneath Jigsaw’s sinister schemes and abnormally cruel manner in which he teaches the victims to cherish life lies a lesson we could all stand to learn—be grateful to be alive because you never know when you’ll find yourself locked in reverse bear trap helmet set to spring at a timer’s expiration.
*Memorable scene(s) – There are a number of good ones, but the final scene is my favorite by far.

The Exorcist III­ – Yes, I know–the first film is the one that garnered all the attention. I’ve seen The Exorcist twice and that’s plenty for me. It is haunting like few other films are. However, for me, the frequently-overlooked third installment is rife with creep, which is augmented by an unsettling atmosphere and some truly scary moments (the “nurse scene” in particular). George C. Scott’s performance is magnificent as are the supporting cast. If you haven’t seen this one, check it out!
*Memorable scene(s) – The aforementioned “nurse scene” is hands down the one that creeps me out the most.

The Omen – I never did see the remake, and perhaps I will someday, but I am positive that there’s no way it can outdo the original. The Omen has it all–creepy evil kid, overprotective and sinister nanny charged with his care, and thematic imagery pulled straight from John’s Apocalypse. It is a recipe for terror and this movie delivers it! Creepy kids in horror movies are usually either campy or terrifying–I’ll leave you to guess which characterizes Damien.
*Memorable scene(s) – The jackal scene–yep, that one is a little freaky.

Eden Lake – What I like about this film is that the fright element doesn’t involve violence so much as the fear of impending doom. Once the couple begin to fear for their safety at the hands of the hooligans pestering them at their campsite, things go from bad to worse, then from worse to worst. This movie might make you short of breath because the tension is so taut all the way through. Then, well, there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that…
*Memorable scene(s) – Again, the ending…

The Silence of the Lambs – You knew this one would be here, right? It’s not often that this type of movie gets the honors and praise that this one did and it’s not difficulty to see why. Thomas Harris has created in his novels one of the most intriguing, yet disturbing individuals ever in Hannibal Lecter, and Anthony Hopkins brought him to the big screen as one of the most fearsome characters in recent cinema. While the other films in the series were good, none hold a candle to this experiment in psychological terror. *PS–NBC’s Hannibal has also proven to be a riveting psychological drama–check it out if you haven’t.
*Memorable scene(s) – The night vision scene tops my list, but there are plenty of creep-out moments in this one.

A Nightmare on Elm Street – One of the most iconic horror villains ever is Robert Englund’s portrayal of the dream-stalking killer Freddy Krueger, who is introduced in this slasher classic. The seemingly endless sequels seem an attempt to cash in on Krueger’s marketability, but none of them can stand with the first. Everything about this movie is creepy–the score, the kills, the sound effects, even Freddy’s occasional humor. The horrors that visit the slasher-film-necessary teenagers occur in their dreams, which somehow translate to real-world aftermath. The scenery also contributes to the overall atmosphere, which is a big part of the effectiveness of this movie. This one is a classic for sure.
*Memorable scene(s) – The kills were quite unusual and incredibly violent, so any of those; the sheep in the hallway; the girls jumping rope while singing.

The Ring – This was one of the best movies of its kind when it came out. Like so many other genre-altering films, this one saw a number of imitators follow in its wake. However, none of them matched the latent foreboding present throughout this film. If I recall, there isn’t a single moment in this movie where the foreboding mood relents. This movie is present with you as you watch and, like The Omen, the creepy kid factor is played to the hilt and with great effect. Good thing VHS is a thing of the past!
*Memorable scene(s) – Samara and the TV

Silver Bullet – This is a must for me during scary movie season. From the pen of the master of horror Stephen King comes this tale about one my childhood fears–wolves, though in this case their human-like counterparts–werewolves. I’ll admit that there are parts of this story that are a little hokey, but as a whole I love it. The fact that the main character (played by the late Corey Haim) is bound to a wheelchair adds to the feeling of helplessness–you can’t help but squirm when danger draws ever closer. Oh, and Gary Busey’s portrayal as Uncle Red is great.
*Memorable scene(s) – When Marty sees the werewolf for the first time on the bridge; when Jane learns the identity of the wereworlf.

The Amityville Horror – This one ranks near the top for me. There is still some debate whether or not the events that inspired this story were part of a hoax perpetrated by the Lutz family, but that is a secondary or even tertiary concern for me–this movie genuinely scared me the first time I saw it. Even now, anytime I watch it I get a little weirded out. Satan, possession, and all attendant phenomena are prime source material for scaring the wits out of moviegoers and many movies have employed them, sometimes to great effect, though many attempts have been less than stellar. This, for me, remains one of the exceptions. Watching the Lutzes’ steady descent to the brink of madness at the hands of this house is quite unsettling at points and despite the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the veracity of the story’s origin, it remains one of the better spooky-house stories out there. Additionally, while the sequel is pretty good, forget the newer stuff–it doesn’t even compare. *PS: Read the book–it’s even scarier.
*Memorable scene(s) – the room of flies (probably the freakiest moment in my opinion); the inverted crucifix; the pig–good grief–the pig!; the black ooze; the rocking chair; so many in this one!
There are also a number of films to which I’ll give an honorable mention: Funny GamesFriday the 13thParanormal ActivityWolf CreekMartyrsThe StrangersThem (or Ils), High TensionThe Last House on the LeftThe DescentInsidiousSinisterThe Texas Chainsaw MassacrePet Sematary.
I should also mention The Shining and Suspiria. Both of these movies are highly regarded horror films, but I’ll be honest–I don’t care for either of them. Yes, there are creepy elements in both, but I was rather bored with them. I think had I seen them when they were initially released I would have liked them better.
So, what are some of your favorite horror films?

Book Review: Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3d edition by David Alan Black

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Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

Of the making of Greek grammars there is no end! Thankfully, as with the seemingly endless production of commentaries, each grammar has the potential to offer unique insights and strategies for learning the language of the New Testament. David Black is an experienced teacher of Greek and the fact that his primer is now in its third edition is a testament to its usefulness for learning the Koine of the NT. Though this update is now five years old, its usefulness has hardly subsided.

One of the most debated elements concerning ancient dialects of Greek is pronunciation. Thanks to Erasmus of Rotterdam, most students learning Greek (at least in the West) adopt the pronunciation scheme he conceived and which was perpetuated by his academic descendants. I myself learned Greek this way and still default to it for the most part; however, I have modified that approach a bit (whether for ill or gain). Black confesses that the scheme adopted in his book (Erasmian) is a compromise between how the letters were probably pronounced and the way they are spelled (2). His approach is largely pragmatic—students will learn each letter with a distinct sound rather than shared sounds (e.g., ο and ω are pronounced with short and long “o” sounds respectively).

Every Greek grammar I’ve read through over the years takes a slightly different path on the way to introducing the various elements of Greek. Once the alphabet is covered, what comes next will depend on the strategy of the book’s author. Here, Black offers a “bird’s-eye” view of the Greek verbal system and introduces the present and future indicatives first, arguably the simplest of Greek forms to learn. Expectedly, he does not delve much into matters of morphology, except when it is necessary to explain changes in form that might be unexpected. Following this brief discussion of present and future active verbs, Black introduces nouns, beginning with the second then first declensions. Following that is adjectives which are then proceeded by remaining verb forms and other primary components necessary to build a foundation upon which more complex matters of syntax and exegesis may be learned. Black’s linguistic knowledge also shows throughout the book, though he keeps such references to a minimum and only includes them when it helps explain. Another helpful element included here is the last chapter in which Black offers helpful suggestions for reading the GNT. After all, the book’s approach is not learning to speak Greek, but to read and understand it and this short chapter is helpful toward that end.

One thing I like about this volume more than others is that it is rather concise. Black provides enough information for the reader to understand the very basics of learning to read Koine Greek and doesn’t belabor points, neither are his pages festooned with sidebars, charts, and other informational tidbits. Looking at Mounce’s third edition, it comes near to information overload. While all is intended to reinforce the section’s most important points, Mounce’s book is distracting at times; Black’s is not—it is simple and to the point. Presumably Black’s volume is intended for classroom use primarily as such brevity throughout is likely meant to complemented by the instruction of a prof/teacher to answer questions not explicitly answered in the book. This could also serve as the book’s primary weakness. If someone interested in learning Greek picked up this volume, I am confident that it would serve them well as a foray into the language, but without supplementary instruction and/or discussion, concision could work against them.

In sum, I think Black’s volume will continue to be a helpful and accessible guide to learning NT Greek. The essential elements of the language coupled with a straightforward presentation without gimmicks and unnecessary verbiage make this an excellent starting point for learning the language of the NT, to which its to which a third edition attests.

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Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 3

Part 1, Proposition 3 – Effective communication must accommodate to the culture and nature of the audience

Walton here tackles the prickly issue of accommodation, an area in which he has greatly helped me in my understanding of Scripture me over the years. Essentially Walton argues that God has accommodated the medium of human communication as the avenue of interaction between Himself and His creation. In so doing, God has chosen a means that would in some respects be temporally and culturally bound. This is an unavoidable tenet of communication since people are a part of a culture in which language, customs, and other elements change over time. Walton cites Kenton Sparks here, who says “in many cases God does not correct our mistaken human viewpoints but merely assumes them in order to communicate with us” (40). This is the nature of accommodation—the communicator must speak in terms that are relevant to the recipient if they desire the communication to be important and to evoke a response.

Because some elements of the beliefs held by the ancients were bound by their time and culture, readers/hearers of the Bible’s accounts must be conscious of them and interpret them in light of the culture they depict. One of the ways Walton suggests interpreters do this is through Speech-Act theory, which basically suggests that “communication is an action with particular intentions” (41). There are three levels at which speech works in this theory: locution, illocution, and perlocution. The gist is that elements of the text, e.g. genre, words, sentences, rhetorical structures, etc., or locutions, embody illocutions, and this is where the question of inerrancy should be addressed. Walton (not surprisingly) offers the example of cosmic geography to illustrate his point: “God may well accommodate the communicator’s view that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But if God’s intention is not to communicate truth about cosmic geography, that accommodation is simply part of the shape of the locution—it is incidental, not part of God’s illocution” (42).

In general I think that Speech-Act theory is helpful as one tool in the interpreter’s bag, though various approaches and methods should be employed to get to the meaning in the text (Walton doesn’t suggest Speech-Act theory as the only method). At the same time, there is a balancing act here. This allows interpreters to hold to a high view of Scripture without attributing historicity or scientific accuracy to accounts in the Bible; yet, if taken too far one could be left with a collection of stories that have been gutted of their value as truthful historical accounts (albeit often told with a theological slant). As with most things, the devil is in the details.

Whether or not one accepts Walton’s arguments thus far, he has done a service for the larger community of interpreters, though his refrain will echo more loudly in evangelical circles. If nothing else, Walton helps readers of Scripture to understand better how communication works between differing cultures, a matter that becomes highly complicated when you toss in the idea of divine inspiration of texts that purport to record such communication. Walton doesn’t seek to end the debate over inerrancy and authority, but seeks to shine much-needed light on the discussion of these important matters, and this he does well.

“We are not free to take the communicator’s locutions (whether considered divine or human) and use them to formulate our own fresh illocutions and associated meanings—authority is compromised at best or lost entirely when we do that” (42). 3

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Proposition 1, 2

Signs of the Times

I was flipping through the eight edition of Turabian’s style guide and something caught my eye. I flipped back and I had seen it. There, listed in the index, was the section number for how to cite a text message. A text message! I couldn’t imagine what sort of paper wherein a text message would qualify as a reference, but Turabian has it listed under the section concerning interviews and personal communications, so I guess it’s not too unusual. So, should you ever need to cite a text message and do so to conform to Turban style, they’ve got it covered. Signs of the times in the technological age.

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Cover Art

Despite the recurring admonition to refrain from judging a book by its cover, I routinely do just that. When it comes to books, movies, TV shows, musical works, etc., the artwork is an important element for me. Obviously the contents are of greater importance than the artistic veneer; yet, I think sometimes the art is passed over all too quickly. Again, the treasure of a good book or musical work is in its innards–not exterior components– and I would never pass up a good book or album just because I don’t like the cover. If that were the case, then many a great title on my shelves would be elsewhere right now!

The cover art is in many ways the first impression you have of a work (not always, obviously)–it can say a lot or a little, can draw you in or turn you away.

Musically, there are simply too many examples I could point to, but this is one of my favorites in recent years: Strongarm’s Atonement.  strongarm atonementNot only was this one of my favorite albums musically when it came out, but the artwork has always struck me. It’s incredibly simple, but the message is clear, especially if you read the lyrics. And it’s not just the message the image communicates that has endeared it to me, but the particular style of art it is–it looks like a painting. Many of my favorite album covers are similar to this one.

For books, one of my favorite covers belongs to a volume edited by Richard Horsley, several sections of which I read last year: In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance

Here I not only love the helmet, but again the simplicity, the connection the art makes with the title.

I’ll also mention another recent book cover I love for pretty much the same reasons–it’s Mark Reasoner’s Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook.

The cover of this book is superb–the black background provides excellent contrast for the for the statue and the font is perfectly suited both in style and color. This jacketing is also my favorite–that soft, almost velvety feel (perhaps someone could tell me what that technical name is for this kind of paper?).

So, these are just a few examples of covers that have caught my eye. What about you–what are some of your favorites?

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