Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God's Word in English. Conference on KJV in Leuven

It was a privilege to listen to the four very engaging presentations on Friday afternoon, March 25. Here are some of my impressions. (1) We started off with Isabel Rivers' presentation on Philip Doddridge’s New Testament: The Family Expositor (1739-56). What I found fascinating was that Doddridge’s work was actually a “commentary” on the New Testament in order to be accessible to both learned and unlearned. Even if the end product was less successful than he had hoped for, it was actually an early example of the multi-purpose “study Bibles” that are intended for both the specialist and the interested. (2) Ellie Bagley caught everyone’s attention by interspersing her discussion on The Influence of the KJV on the Revised Version¬ with early 20th Century Irish newspaper reports of KJV “Bible-burning activities,” allegedly initiated by Roman Catholics, as concrete examples of ongoing Protestant-Catholic conflict concerning the translation of confessionally sensitive terms (e.g, “do penance” vs. “repent”, “congregation” vs. “Church”). There is something about book burning that just makes you want to sit up and pay attention, especially on a warm afternoon after lunch. Bagley’s animated description of events contributed to this. Her examples clearly illustrated “the cultural baggage of the KJV and the Revised Version” – the presence of elements of Protestant ideology in the KJV that Catholics in turn strenuously objected to and found heretical. Yet the disputes did not end without fruit. For Bagley, one of the good outcomes of the debate was the revision of the KJV where most of the Catholic criticisms were considered favourably. Nevertheless, it was this “Catholic influence” on the Revised Version that made it less popular than the KJV!

Two more interesting papers on translation followed. (3) The title alone of Creighton Marlowe's The Bible Has Lost its Soul made me really curious. How could one claim that the Bible had lost its soul? The answer came in the form of word counts. Marlowe presented his “soul-searching” of the Bible, word counts of the noun “soul” in 6 English Bibles, in comparison to the KJV’s use of the term. His analysis revealed that out of the 537 occurrences of the word “soul” in the KJV, an average of 66% are missing in the English Bible translations of the 20th century (NKJV, NIV, NASB, NRSV, GNT, CEV). (4) A translation issue was also the focus of the final paper, Reimund Bieringer's Junia and Her Female Colleagues in the KJV, an analysis of the women figures in the Pauline letters, particularly Junia who “suffered the fate of being changed into a man”. Thanks to Biblical exegesis Junia’s gender has finally been recovered! The issue though is not just about her gender but on the role she played in the early Church considering her gender. Now, I need not spell out what the implications of this would be for the role of women in the Church today. Bieringer’s study focused on whether there was a translation tendency in the KJV which either decreased or increased the importance of women in the Pauline corpus. The result of his study revealed the complexity of the work of translators and the difficult decisions they sometimes have to take. He further concluded that whereas the RSV followed the KJV very closely, the NRSV is closer to Tyndale.

The presentations were very interesting and enlightening. Unfortunately, three of the presenters had to either speed up or shorten their presentations due to time limitations. Nevertheless, we had an intellectually stimulating afternoon which ended with the offer of a free academic guided tour in Leuven under the guidance of Prof. Guido Latré.

Joan Infante

God’s Word in English - The King James Version as Translation

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prof. Judith L. Kovacs at the Faculty of Theology, KULeuven

Last week Leuven played host to Prof. Judith L. Kovacs, Associate Professor of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia. Currently on research leave at the University of Oxford, she came to Leuven to give two presentations on her research interests. These included the writings of Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 - ca. 215) and the patristic exegesis of the First Letter to the Corinthians.

On the first day, 14 March 2011, Kovacs led a seminar entitled, “Rival Interpretations of Jesus’ Baptism. Clement of Alexandria and the Followers of Valentinus.” Kovacs made known the results of her research on Clement’s first book of the “Paidagogos” (The Instructor). The sixth chapter of this book was considered by Kovacs to be an exegetical debate between Clement and certain followers of Valentinus. Moreover, from Kovacs’ perspective it was also a valuable source of information on Valentinian teachings not preserved elsewhere. From the beginning, Kovacs reasoned that Clement reacts to the critique of his Christian community and to the accusation that the members of his community are mere “babes” who follow “childish and contemptible” teaching. However, she saw the interpretation of Jesus’ baptism as the core of the exegetical debate. On the one hand, the followers of Valentinus believe that Jesus’ baptism is composed of two episodes: the baptism of John and the descent of the dove, both with a typological significance. On the other hand, Clement draws attention to the narration of the Gospels and to the impossibility to separate these two events when taking into account the adverb “immediately” (cf. Mt 3,16-17). Kovacs further argued that the climax of Clement’s defence of the Church’s baptism was the understanding of this baptism as “filtering of the spirit.” In her conclusion, Kovacs set the stage for future research on Clement’s writings by asserting the need for a careful reassessment of what has usually been perceived as mere adaptation of Gnostic theology and terminology.

Questions and remarks followed the presentation. One of the first questions referred to the difference between the interpretation of the baptism as “filtering the spirit” and that of “washing away sins.” Kovacs stated that while the two expressions have in common the outcome of purification, they must be seen as carrying different connotations. The discussion then evolved to the difficult problem of perfection in the writings of Clement. Thus, it was examined if perfection is for Clement an immediate or a durative process. Kovacs pleaded her case maintaining that Clement is not consistent in his writings and different views on perfection are encountered in his “Paidagogos” and his “Stromateis.” Furthermore, a participant proposed two levels of reading Clement’s text according to the addressee’s level of education, while another participant put forward a challenging understanding of Clement’s text as an advertisement for his Church. Kovacs appreciated both proposals. To conclude, the seminar proved to be a fruitful environment for Kovacs to test her claims and findings and to be enriched with new ideas and suggestions.

On the second day, 15 March 2011, Kovacs delivered a public lecture entitled, “The Patristic Paul. Early Christian Readings of 1 Corinthians.” Her argument was structured around four main points. The first part of the lecture dealt with the history of the First Letter to the Corinthians and emphasized the fact that early Christians did not make any distinction regarding the author(s) of the Pauline Corpus. In the second part, Kovacs developed her argument by pointing to the surviving patristic commentaries on the First Letter to the Corinthians and to the chapters of this letter that raised the interest of the patristic writers (e.g. chapters 2-3, 7, 15). In the same vein, the third step of Kovacs’ argument identified the most influential patristic interpreters: Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-ca. 254), John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407), and Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Finally, the last part of the lecture offered a perspective on the purpose and nature of the patristic commentaries, illustrated with excerpts from the patristic interpretations of the First Letter to the Corinthians. Kovacs was concerned with how patristic writers approached Paul and how the scholars using the historical critical method did that. The lecture ended with Kovacs’ conclusion that for patristic authors the interpretation of the biblical text was a pathway to God and the final outcome of their exegesis was the knowledge of God.

Following Kovacs’ lecture the questions and remarks centred on the methodological issue of bringing together patristic and historical-critical exegesis. Kovacs testified that she feels sometimes “schizophrenic” with her attention divided between patristic and historical-critical exegesis. In response to her problem, one of the professors from the audience proposed analyzing patristic exegesis with the same historical-critical method as used for the biblical text. Another issue was raised with regard to the difference between the homilies and the commentaries on the First Letter to the Corinthians. This time Kovacs articulated her reply by affirming that there is a clear difference in the audience, but the aim of both literary genres is the spiritual transformation of the addresses. Lastly, one participant was troubled by the Chrysostom’s interpretation of Paul’s wisdom in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1,10-17). Is John Chrysostom attributing Paul’s wisdom to the power of God or to rhetoric? Kovacs asserted that it seems that the power of God functions alongside Paul’s rhetorical skills in Chrysostom’s understanding of Paul’s wisdom. This time also, the audience proved to be ready to engage with Kovacs’ assertions in an academic and constructive way.

Teodor Brasoveanu

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Agents of Resurrection - Lecture by Dr. Benjamin Wold

On 10 March 2011, Dr. Benjamin Wold, visiting lecturer from Dublin, delivered a paper entitled “Agents of Resurrection in 4Q521, The Sayings Source Q and 4QPseudo-Ezekiel” here in Leuven.

Dr. Wold is a researcher and lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at Trinity College in Dublin. His research interest is how scripture was used in Early Judaism, the New Testament and Early Christianity. He has also researched on Apocalyptic and Wisdom Literature from the Second Temple Period.

Wold’s lecture is being prepared for publication in the journal ZNW and an earlier draft had already been presented in Dublin (to be found here). Wold deals with the theme of messianic/prophetic figures and their agency in resurrection as described in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Q. Wold challenges the opinions of John Collins and Émile Puech who claim that the agent of resurrection in 4Q521 should be equated with the prophet Elijah. Wold provides grammatical evidence that in 4Q521 ii one may read the word messiah either in the singular or in the plural. This allows for inclusive interpretations of the passage that not only one specific figure is the anointed one. Wold further argues that the prophetic/messianic figure being an agent of resurrection could be the prophet Ezekiel. In order to substantiate his claims, Wold refers to another scroll found in the caves – 4QPseudo-Ezekiel. While admitting that his argument is not wholly conclusive and might fail to convince some, Wold nonetheless attempted to make as persuasive a case as possible.

A lively discussion followed the lecture. In general, questions were raised in the form of objections to the paper’s claims. One of the objections was that Wold’s use of the term “agency” seemed to confuse its usage with the concept of “power”. Thus, it was not clear to one participant how Ezekiel’s ‘agency’ was similar to that of Elijah, who seemed to display a greater power in actually raising the widow’s son, and on whom it was more conceivable that the evangelists were seeking to model Jesus’ power to raise the dead. Another objection was in the difference in genre between Ezekiel’s “vision” of dry bones and the more ‘narrative’ presentations of Elijah’s, Elisha’s and Jesus’ resurrection stories. A third objection got caught up in the confusion between the vision of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37 and its reworking in 4QPseudo-Ezekiel. One participant did not agree that the revivification of the dry bones illustrated individual resurrection, but sided rather with the view that it should be understood as a metaphor for the national restoration of Israel. Somewhat taken aback by the vigorous response, Dr. Wold nonetheless held his ground and defended himself both artfully and with restraint.
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