Saturday, October 15, 2016

More Adventures in Biblical Studies: Amy Jill Levine, Live!

This morning I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Amy Jill Levine speak in Dallas. I've read The Misunderstood Jew and Short Stories by Jesus and blogged a bit about each within the context of my study of the Samaritan Woman, but I've never seen her live.

Wow. I'm just impressed, and, to borrow an old church term, edified.

This is a woman who is smarter than anyone in any room she's ever in, and yet completely interested in communicating with the people in that room- which means that she was delightful to listen to.

The first talk was called "The Call to Speak about Church and State: Daniel in Babylon" and the second was "The Call to Discipleship: Mary and Martha."

She gave us so much information. So much.
Image result for is too much let me sum up

Yeah, I can't even with the Daniel stuff. She got into cultural identity, cultural assimilation, Babylonian history, told the whole story of Daniel-EVEN the part where after Daniel came out of the lion's den, the men and the families of the men who threw him in were then thrown in themselves and devoured. (Emma's whispered response to me was "Yeah, I don't remember reading THAT in my Storybook Bible.")

Emma, my almost 15 year old daughter, went with me willingly. I can't tell you how happy this makes me. I'm so glad she has been exposed to someone like AJ (I can call her that now, because we're like bff's-obviously.) She got to see and hear a strong, smart woman speak to a room with authority and with such generosity. That was a major takeaway for me. Here is a Jewish woman spending her Saturday morning talking to a bunch of rich, old (except for Emma, one young male student in birkenstocks, and me because I may be old, but I'm not rich) Texans about being a more devoted follower of Jesus.


The Mary and Martha stuff was epic. Just a few of the things she included were:
 -the significance of names (how many Mary's do you know? [lots] How many are Jewish? [none] The name used in the 1st century was Miriam. Her discussion of the commonality of that name made me say "WOW" out loud several times.)
-the "two sibling" trope that runs throughout the Bible (Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel)
-a short comparison of the prodigal son and his brother with Mary and Martha.
-the mistranslation of the word "deacon" when gendered. In Greek it's the same word, but it's been translated as "serve" for women and "minister" for men. That was yet another out loud "WOW" response from me.

She ended the talk with the importance of listening, following and knowing Jesus Christ in order to be identified as his disciple.

If you are in Dallas, she is coming back Feb 11-12 and April 1-2. Find the schedule here.

On April 2, she is going to talk about the Samaritan Woman!!! (Insert loud, obnoxious squeals of glee.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Near Christianity by Anthony Le Donne

I was so lucky to get to review this new book from Anthony Le Donne. It comes out September 20, and if you have any interest in Christianity, Judaism, faith, history or racial issues, you should put it in your cart RIGHT NOW. I always feel grateful when super-smart people write books that are not only important, but also interesting and easy to read. It's so nice of them! 

Here's my take on it: 

Le Donne uses C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, an examination of the very crux of Christianity and the essence of what it is that Christians believe, to explore what he calls “the borders” of Christianity - the places where Judaism and Christianity intersect and blur. He does this beautifully- holding nothing back, exploring in depth both the good and the very bad in the history of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism, including “the war on Christmas,” the Holocaust, and Martin Luther’s work “The Jews and Their Lies.” He inserts personal conversations with Jewish scholars, demonstrating the importance of an open and respectful dialogue. As he puts it, “I wanted a way into the problem and better tools for navigating it.” What results is a book that causes the reader to examine rather than condemn or defend. It is breathtakingly timely.

Scholars are usually working very hard to keep from inserting themselves into their work, but Le Donne has written a book that includes his feelings, thoughts, and personal story. What results is a very carefully thought out and meticulously nuanced work. The presence of Le Donne’s journey between doubt and faith never sounds like the work of an apologist, and you don't get the sense that he’s written this book to shore up his own system of belief. He leads you through tough questions, sharing his own discovery of a richer and less individualistic faith.

I expected to be challenged reading this book, and I certainly was, but what delighted me was how comforted I felt when I finished. This is one of those books I will recommend to everyone, especially those who are studying critical scholarship and are looking for ways to respond to the troubling questions that arise as a result.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Give the Samaritan Woman the Time of Day

Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”   John 4:6-7

The Samaritan woman’s story has captured my attention for many years, not in small part because I believe her story has been misunderstood by many readers, in particular that she is immoral. Woman in the World of the Earliest Christians, p 122

Cohick makes it clear in the above statement that a different reading is called for regarding the character of the woman at the well. She actually dismisses the time that Jesus meets the woman as an unworthy argument for her morality. I understand her to mean the historical Samaritan woman, which is my focus currently. AJ Levine addresses the time the woman comes to the well as purely literary: “The argument that the woman’s coming to the well at noon indicates her social ostracism, for the other women of the village would wait until the cool of the evening, falters by ignoring John’s literary art. Nicodemus….comes to Jesus in the dark of midnight. The Samaritan woman, at noon, understands the “light” Jesus brings; the Pharisee remains in the dark. The setting is symbolic of theological insight, not social ostracism.” The Misunderstood Jew p 135

There’s a murkiness underlying this for us lay-people. This whole “historical” vs. “literary” seems like a quagmire in which faith and understanding get bogged down.  I  want to figure out everything I can about who she was as a historical figure.  I am aware that this episode could be viewed as a parable. She could be an amalgam of characters. The fourth gospel writer could be mis-remembering. These are options that, in the past, would have made me feel like I was losing my footing and force me to back away, fearing for my salvation. With an amount of thought and diligence generally contrary to my nature, I have come to see possibilities as open doors rather than dark pits. *(see note below for more on this)

So historically,  does the time she arrives at the well give us any indication of her social standing or any insight into her character? According to Cohick, no.

Many expositors focus on the woman’s presence at the well at noon as a signal that she is a social outcast. But this conclusion is not based on any parallel description or implication within the Greco-Roman world that moral women went the the village well at certain times and degenerate women visited at other times. Nor is there evidence that the absence of other women indicates she is immoral. While company certainly makes chores seem lighter, and so villagers might choose to work together, a lone person working the fields, tending animals, or grinding grain should not immediately suggest suspect morality. The accusation of immorality comes not so much from her presence at the well at noon as from the description of her past marriages and current situation. From the story’s standpoint, it makes sense that Jesus is thirsty at noon, as opposed to, for example, 7:30 in the morning. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, Cohick p 123

Can we judge her character based on the time the woman met Jesus at the well?  It’s very possible that she was a social outcast, and the time of day that she arrived at the well can be viewed as supporting evidence for other stronger arguments to that theory. Certainly, her arrival at noon cannot stand alone as evidence that the Samaritan Woman was an immoral character.

*Why should I hold so tightly to my own salvation? Isn’t it a gift from a God bigger than we can imagine? Isn’t God greater than my perception of Him? One of the main things I’ve learned in this process is how rigidly I grip the handholds of a salvation I’ve taken responsibility for. When my notions of who Jesus was and is are challenged, I bristle. And then I’m surprised at myself. This goes back and forth for a while until I surrender the idol of my “idea of Jesus” and hand it all over to Him. Again.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Feel Free to Ignore this Rather Long Post about my First Experience with the Society of Biblical Literature

It's been a fairly productive spring break. I'm choosing to see it that way. Regional SBL was last weekend, and I'm thrilled to report that I was able to keep up somewhat. It took me a paper (or "speech" as I like to refer to them) or two to get into the mode, and then I enjoyed it.  

Bill and I went to the first session together which was John Duncan from Baylor on reading Acts 19:23-27 alongside the Material Remains from Ephesus and Pompeii.  Then I bravely went on my own to hear Rebecca Poe Hays from Baylor do a paper on Characterization in the Song of the Vinyard and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. 

After her was Warren Carter from Brite on "Writing A/The Book on God Constructions of God in the New Testament. He talked about his process and what he would and wouldn't include in his book. It must be nice to be so good that you can present a paper on how you wrote your book (Coming Soon to an Amazon Near You.) He had an accent, so I missed the first 10 minutes of his speech determining if it was, in fact, a Kiwi accent, and by the time he had said "Nyeew Tistament" twice I had it nailed. Then I was like "Hey, ok. What's this New Zealander from TCU talking about?" The answer? His book. Also, first time an audience member asked a question that had me doing a Minion-esque "whaaaa??" Dr. Carter said that one of the main points of his book was "How God interacts with Humans" and the question was "In your book, do you address God interacting with non-humans?"  (Turns out that dude was David Burnett from Criswell who will be on a panel at SBL in November talking about his paper: "A Neglected Deurteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in I Cor 15:39-42?" so after hearing his paper, his question made more sense. 

Next was Trevor Thompson from the U of Chicago on Intentional Ambiguity: The Rhetoric of 2 Thess. Bill dug that one more than me, but it was interesting. That was the first talk where I realized that you really have to enter the framework that the speaker has set up in order to follow through to their thesis. He was coming from the idea that 2 Thess was psuedoepigraphical. Shrug. Ok. 

I also sat through a bit of the panel on Writing a Feminist Commentary: Authors from the Wisdom Commentary Series. That was pretty interesting, but only as far as hearing the authors talk about writing a feminist commentary, not about the OT. I kept wondering why one author kept clearing her throat, and it turns out she was saying "Nahum." 

My two favorites on Saturday were Amanda Brobst-Renaud from Baylor and Sharon Betsworth from OKC University. Amanda's speech was "The Scoundrel, the Miser and their Patron (Luke 15:11-32)" She was funny and smart and talked about characterization in the pericope of the Prodigal Son. She talked about Theon, Hermogenes and Quintillian, but I can't really remember how each applied, so minus one point for me. She also had her 11 week old baby with her. #womanoftheyear  

Sharon Betsworth's presentation was  "Doule and Paidiske: Female Servants and Slaves in the Writings of Luke." She cataloged all the times and ways in which each term was used in the gospel of Luke, and the meanings of each term. It was simple and yet very engaging. 

Sunday we heard David Burnett's paper, mentioned above, and David Ritsema from B H Carrol Theological Institute on "The Divine John..." which was when I was scribbling notes to Bill surprised that he seemed to be defending a high Christology in GJohn.  I thought that was a given. Then it was Jeremiah Bailey from Baylor, talking about "Jesus as Eschatological High Priest in the Gospel of John."  Nathan Hays, also from Baylor did the one I was waiting for: "Greater than Jacob: The Johannine Community and the Samaritan's in Dialogue." It was all done with the given of a Johannine community, and some dude in the back asked, in a rather rude way, why he had to analyze it from that perspective, it seemed that there was enough to look at it from a literary and theological point of view without having the community as a factor. He made me angry. He said "Well, we know that the woman is representative of Samaria, given that she's a harlot..." I was very torn between chasing him down to "talk" to him afterward about that, but I ended up talking to Nathan instead, and he was very nice indeed. I wrapped up our conversation by asking him if was getting enough sleep and had eaten breakfast. #momproblems #nurseproblems  

Here were my main take-aways from the meetings: 
-There were more women there than I expected but it was still mostly white dudes. 
-There is definitely a language to learn besides Greek and German. It's Scholar-ese and it's rough, man. 
-There's pretty much a formula to these papers and it looks a lot like the research papers I had to read and write in nursing school. Very different topics, but same method, minus the hands-on blood and guts. It's more theoretical blood and guts.
-There is a lot of good thinking that goes on and that's sparked from these meetings. But I do wonder, what's the end result of all this? 

Which leads me to: why exactly am I doing this? 

And that's where I'm currently stalled out. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"You Are Right," Said Jesus

"Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come back.' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying "I have no husband"; for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband. What you have said is true!' The woman said to him, 'Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you (plural in the Greek) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.' Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem'."  John 4.16-20

I have been in it deep for the last few days, thanks be to spring break, reading and thinking a lot. Today, I was reading the above passage and I was struck by two things. 

First, when the woman says she has no husband, Jesus could have accused her, but he chose to affirm her. The first thing that comes out of his mouth is "You are right..." I'm sure there's irony here, but he isn't shutting her down.  It means that when he tells her that he knows all about her, she doesn't dissemble. He doesn't minimize her or knock her down. And so, she keeps her focus on him and proceeds to ask a very big question.

That's the second thing. When I put myself in the sandals (as it were) of the SW, and I run into a prophet who tells me "everything I have ever done,"  what is my first question going to be? Here are some of the options that run through my mind: 

"How do you know that?" 
"How can you make my life better?" 
"How do I keep a husband from dying/divorcing me?" 
"So about that water..." 

These might say a lot more about me than about her, but the point is that she goes straight to her burning question: where to worship. She refers to "our ancestor" (4.12) and "our ancestors" (4.20) and she is arguing that they used to worship on Mt. Gerazim, but the Jews say it's in Jerusalem.  She doesn't actually ask a question, but a question is implied. THIS is what she wants to know about and talk about. This is what fuels her fire. She wants to talk about the separation between Jews and Samaritans and how it affects their relationships to God. 

This conversation just gets higher and higher. They start with basic need (water), move up to social matters (husbands), then on to location of worship, and Jesus, without hesitation, elevates the conversation straight to the top: 

"Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."   (4.21-24) 

Because I have been learning so much,  I have to insert here that for years I have read her character as "unworthy" and so I saw this question as a challenge. It seemed that she was trying to prove that she had thoughts and was a real person, and she needed to move the conversation to safer ground- because if this guy isn't a prophet, he may be looking to take advantage of her. IF the SW is of questionable moral character, then this may very well be the most likely situation, but if she ISN'T, then the other might be likely. I'm bending really hard toward the "upright" version of the SW than the "fallen" version. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Post About One Chapter of Dr. Pitre's "Jesus the Bridegroom"

Image 1
Chapter 3: The Woman at the Well

I didn’t read the whole book. Forgive me. I got it for the one chapter. I’m learning that this is the only way to have time to do more reading and stay on topic.

I first scanned this chapter standing in the Barnes and Noble near TCU’s campus. I read something about Rachel coming to the well at the heat of the day, gasped and yet walked away. I kept thinking about that. I couldn’t remember why Pitre commented on it, considering that so many have used the hour that the WatW comes to the well as an argument for her low social standing. But if Rachel came to the well at the same time….

Fast forward two weeks and I’m in the Barnes and Noble near LSU’s campus. I marched straight for the “Christian Living” section and snatched the book up and bought it as a Valentine’s day present to myself and a nod to Louisiana for producing men like Pitre  (and my husband, naturally). Plus, it’s Jesus the Bridegroom for crying out loud. How romantical can you get?

Dr. Pitre does indeed mention the hour that Rachel comes to the well:

“And just as Jacob encounters Rachel at the well at ‘high day’ or ‘midday’ (Genesis 29:7) so too Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at ‘the sixth hour,’ right around noon (John 4:6).”  

*rant warning. feel free to skip this part in purple and move on to the grey text.*

Dear Every Preacher in America and the World,
Stop using time of day as evidence that the Samaritan woman was a slut and an outcast. Unless you are gonna call Rachel one too 
because of the time of day she went to the well. 
Not gonna do that? 
OK then.


The above quote is in the discussion regarding the Jewish perspective that a story of a man and a woman meeting at a well is taken immediately as a courtship story. It is, apparently, the "meet-cute" of the OT. Pitre goes on to say that the disciples were not shocked to see Jesus talking to a woman- he cites verse references which indicate that it wasn’t usual for Jesus to interact with women- but that they are  “surprised that he is talking with a strange woman at a well. Although the disciples are sometimes dense, they know Jewish Scripture well enough to figure out that this kind of encounter between a man and a woman usually leads to a wedding.”

Pitre’s aim is to show the ways in which the Samaritan woman is a figure of the bride of Christ, and I don’t think there’s much to deny in that argument. The language that the author of the fourth gospel uses is packed with symbolism, but considering that the narrative doesn't stop there, it’s plausible that there was some real encounter, and that this woman was the facilitator of the first group of non-Jewish people coming to believe in Christ as the Messiah.

I’m very comfortable with the courtship metaphor as long as it remains the level of a metaphor, and Pitre does a great job of elaborating on all the elements of the story that reflect the relationship between Jesus the Bridegroom and gentile believers becoming accepted as part of His church- the bride.  It’s a beautiful allegory.

AJ Levine (bless her straightforward and brilliant heart)  in The Misunderstood Jew elaborates on the *cough* sexual *cough* overtones of this encounter. When I start to think about the Samaritan woman as real and the possible implications of this meeting, the ground feels a bit wobbly. I’m really not sure how to move on and separate the figurative from the literal. Maybe I don’t have to at all. Maybe when Jesus repeated the encounter to the disciples verbatim, they were like “Oh man! She had five husbands? That’s how many gods the Samaritans worship!” I doubt it. But I still am not sure what to do with it.

Back to the book. I really like Pitre’s writing style. I trust that his scholarship is rigorous, and that makes his accessible prose all the more wonderful. He’s Catholic, so my mom probably won’t want to read it, but all her relatives will, and I think, should.

Click HERE to get your own signed copy!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reading Into the Character of the Samaritan Woman [spoiler: the answer is d) all of the above]

You never know. 

Sometimes I sit and read and think and feel like studying the NT is just falling down some sort of weird rabbit hole consisting of an endless stream of book reports about book reports about book reports. 

Sometimes I sneak away and read for approximately ten seconds and find what feels like a game-changer: 

"thus the reader is led to believe from the beginning that consideration of the blind man's past should not be an issue in understanding his character, but only what will unfold in the course of the narrative. In some ways, this is a more explicit expression of what is implicit in the conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus regarding her former life, i.e., the reference to her past husbands (4:16-18) has no bearing on her characterization as co-worker of Jesus." 
-Men and Women in the Fourth Gospel, Gender and Johannine Characterization (Colleen M. Conway) 

A year ago, I would have read this and built a platform for a theological approach based on the theory that the Samaritan woman wasn't an outcast. There is plenty of scholarship that supports the idea that she was a citizen in good standing, but the only thing that keeps me from throwing my hat over that wall has to do with how moved I've been by her story. I love the implication that God took the very lowest of the low (woman, Samaritan, whore, outcast) and through her, revealed himself as Messiah to a whole city. When you cast her as a strong, capable, smart, outspoken women to whom the whole city already listens, it turns down the fire a bit. It's not such great drama, honestly. 

This quote speaks to me because it sort of negates the idea of someone's past affecting their relationship with Jesus. What I compose in my head is this: the past, whether it's good or bad, is a non-issue when it comes to being a co-worker of Jesus. But here's the trick: the author doesn't really say that, does she? She says "characterization as a co-worker of Jesus." That's where the platform starts to crumble for me and I feel the tantrum of the three year old who had his sandwich cut wrong coming on. "WHY does it have to be so complicated???" "WHY are there so many approaches to studying the gospels?" "WHY do I have to go back and study about the different approaches to the study of the NT?" "Oh, and GREEK too. HAH." "WHY do I even care?" 

Luckily, that line of questioning has slowed down, and a new, more productive line of questioning is emerging.

"Is this only applicable from a literary reading of John?" 
"There is no footnote for this, so is it even viable?" 
"Can we compare these two stories in any way other than the standpoint of gender studies?" 
"How many more books do I actually have to read before I start to feel like I have a grip on this?" 

That last question is multiple choice. 
Is it: 
A) more books
B) infinity books
C) books that have not yet been written
D) all of the above