Friday, February 25, 2011

David Bolton's doctoral defense

On 14 February 2011, David Bolton defended his dissertation, Justifying Paul Among Jews and Christians? A Critical Investigation of the New Perspective on Paul in Light of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, for the Doctor's degree in Theology at K.U.Leuven. The dissertation was the culmination of four years’ fruitful work and engagement as a doctoral researcher in an interdisciplinary research project, directed by Prof. Dr. Didier Pollefeyt and Prof. Dr. Reimund Bieringer entitled, “New Perspectives on Paul and the Jews,” which investigated the role of Pauline theology in the process of Christian self-definition with respect to the Judaism of its time. As an exemplary work in interdisciplinarity, David’s dissertation brought together two domains of theological study into his work: (1) Pauline studies and the evaluation of a particular paradigm within that – the New Perspective on Paul; and (2) the study of present-day Jewish-Christian dialogue, particularly the place (if any) that Paul and his theology might have within that. The examining jury reflected the interdisciplinary nature of David’s dissertation. These were represented by (1) Prof. Dr. Philip Cunningham (2) Prof. Dr. Peter Schmidt,and (3) Dr. Marianne Moyaert.
Everyone acknowledged the excellent quality of David’s work. Perhaps because of this, the jury felt it their duty to ask some very searching questions, which made for a most interesting debate, all the while civil and entertaining. Space constraints make it impossible to list all the questions that were asked by the jury, but here is a short paraphrase:
(1)Prof. Cunningham felt that David had presented Paul’s covenant theology a little too linearly in terms of salvation history, perhaps brought on by David’s use of the analogy of Russian nested dolls. David had argued in his thesis that the image of Russian nested dolls aptly captured how in Paul’s thinking each preceding covenant (Adamic, Noahide, Mosaic, Davidic) was transcended and included by each successive covenant. [Just as an aside: Prof. Cunningham actually produced little Russian nested dolls to illustrate his point and this made for very entertaining viewing.]
(2) Prof. Schmidt felt that David took the concept of covenant too literally and asked what relevance the notion of covenant had in today’s world, when the image of “cutting” a covenant and walking between two broken pieces was completely alien to us, and when no one any longer believed in the real historical existence of Adam or Noah.
(3) Dr. Moyaert asked perhaps the most provoking question: if, as David argued, Paul was indeed a ‘soft supersessionist’ (i.e., that the covenant in Christ now superseded previous covenants by ‘transcending and including’ all previous covenants), and if, (as it seemed to Dr. Moyaert) David approved of Paul’s reading of covenant theology, then did this not imply that the Church had a duty to continue Paul’s mission of proclamation and evangelization to Jews today?

No one in the audience was left in any doubt that here was a candidate who had to defend his thesis to the letter. The Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Prof. Dr. Lieven Boeve, who chaired the defense, on subsequently awarding Dr. David Bolton his degree, remarked quite aptly, “This was truly a defense and we all witnessed how you ably defended yourself today.” After that, as was befitting the occasion, the champagne was popped and the new Doctor of Theology was warmly congratulated by all in attendance.

Emmanuel Nathan

Friday, February 11, 2011


From February 2 until 10, 2011 a group of 20 members of the Faculty of Theology of K.U.Leuven visited Athens and Corinth in Greece as part of a study trip which at the same time is a credit course. During the trip members of the group took turns writing blog entries which can be accessed via this blog. Members of the didactic team of the course wrote an epistle from Greece to those who had stayed back in Leuven, imitating the letter form found in the undisputed Pauline letters.

1:1 Maricel, Malou, Dominika and Reimund, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to the church that is in Leuven. 1:2 Grace and peace to you from our God and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:3 We thank our God every time we remember you and pray for you thinking that we are in sunny Greece while you are suffering the cold of winter. 1:4 We give thanks to God for your ongoing support and interest in our adventures and daily toils and for the fact that some of you will come to meet us in the middle of the night to help us complete our journey back to Leuven. 1:5 We are immensely grateful for your help in setting up the ERASMUS exchange with the Scholi Theologiki in the ancient city of wisdom. 1:6 Even Socrates rejoiced when he heard about it.

2:1 We are happy to report that our theological exchange with the sisters and brothers in Christ in Athens was very fruitful and enriching. 2:2 It was accompanied by the open flood gates of heaven and assured that we were purified by the time we arrived at the university. 2:3 Even though the Faculty was still undergoing a time of testing {Other ancient authorities read [exam period] }, many professors and students participated in the exchange. 2:4 Leonidas, the president of the postdocs, prepared a sumptuous meal for us in the study room of the Faculty. 2:5 For many this was the first contact with Greek food, and it was love at first bite.

3:1 During our trip we were exposed to Ionic, Doric and Corinthian architectural styles. 3:2 Which one will be used in the remodeling of our own theology library in Leuven? 3:3 While we were weathering the rain storm in Athens, the members of our group who came from the five continents, different Christian traditions and different theological subdisciplines did not yet know each other. 3:4 Gradually the group got to know each other better in the small groups of the rooms which was also the subdivision which we used when we had to go by taxi. 3:5 As we visited one site after another, were guided by one tour guide after another and were stunned by the natural beauty of Greece, we all grew closer and new friendships began to develop. 3:6 The didactic team met every evening until late at night enjoying good Nemean wine with Corinthian pizza and souvlaki. 3:7 We also savoured delicious Greek chocolate pastries for dessert which made us wonder where the makers of Belgian chocolates got their training. 3:8 The close friendly cooperation of the members of the didactic team even at the wee hours of the morning reminded us of the cooperation between Paul, Prisca and Aquila, Phoebe, Andronicus and Junia and so many others.

4:1 We are very grateful for the presence of Xenia and Konstantina, our Athenian ERASMUS students who were the epitome of Greek hospitality. 4:2 They were never tired to translate for us or to show us the way to the next place. 4:3 With their joyful nature they cheered up both the members of our group and the people we met in Greece. 4:4 We appreciate this so much, knowing full well that these days are not easy for Xenia after the recent loss of her father Christos who even on his deathbed was thinking about how to welcome us. 4:5 On the second evening Xenias mother Elvira and sister Evangelia came to meet us and we had coffee near the Acropolis Museum. 4:6 It was very meaningful to us to be able to be in solidarity with them at this time of loss.

5:1 On our journey from Athens to Corinth we were wondering what went through Paul’s mind as he himself travelled the same distance, after having been politely dismissed at the Areopagus. 5:2 Like Paul we travelled along the Saronic Gulf, only that we had the luxury of a comfortable coach.

6:1 In Corinth many participants made acquaintance for the first time with Greek Orthodox liturgical tradition. 6:2 The Vespers service with the sisters’ community of the monastery of St. Patapios was for many the first experience of prayer that was governed by very different principles than the ones they were used to. 6:3 We were invited into the mystery of God in a language and in icons unfamiliar to many of us. 6:4 For some all they could filter out were the many signs of the cross and the many repetitions of “Kyrie, eleison”. 6:5 The Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning in the cathedral of New Corinth put us in touch again with the rich tradition and the deep prayer of the Greek Orthodox Church. 6:6 As some of us were already seated on the bus to leave, we were invited to coffee and cake, much as we know it from UPIC. 6:7 What was still foreign in the liturgy came closer in the warm hospitality of the Corinthian Christians. 6:8 As we read the full quote of the song of love in 1 Corinthians 13 at the entrance of the cathedral, we realized that they truly live out the words of the first bishop of Corinth (as the list of 89 bishops of the succession of this church attests).

7:1 From Corinth we made several excursions into time and space, visiting sites at which we saw excavations of the various periods of Greek (pre-)history: Mycenae, Nemea, Kenchreai, Epidauros, Ancient Corinth, Acrocorinth, Isthmia, Olympia and Eleusis. 7:2 Even though there was not a direct link to Paul in every one of these places, they still helped us to come to know the ancient people on whose shoulders Paul stood. 7:3 Student presentations as well as both formal and informal discussions in situ enabled us to deepen our appreciation for the link between exegesis and archaeology, between ancient stones and ancient texts. 7:4 The highlight for many of us was the two hour visit to the archaeological site of Ancient Corinth with the expert guidance of Prof. Kathleen W. Slane and Dr. Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst which brought to life Roman Corinth for us and the kind of place Paul would have found there upon arrival. 7:5 Few of us had realized before that Paul found Corinth still very much a construction site.

8:1 Greet our brothers Lieven and Didier for us. 8:2 The church that met at the coach of Dimitra and Blasios greets you. Jarek, our brother blogger sends greetings. 8:3 He advises you to click the right hand panel of the blog to see the photos. 8:4 Joan, Soeng Yu and Bincy, the coworkers of the Lord, send greetings. 8:5 Niranjan, Claude and John, the presbyters of Asia and Africa send greetings to you. 8:6 The intercontinental room church of Michael, Nathan and Jarek invites you to the joy of pillow fight. 8:7 Our brothers Thomas and Joseph, presbyters from the land of Saint Thomas send greetings. 8:8 William and David, experts in Corinthian restaurants, greet you. 8:9 Even the Greek goddesses in human form to whom daily flower offerings were presented, extend their blessings to you. 8:10 Greet each other with the holy kiss. 8:11 The grace of Christ be with all of you. Amen.

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