Maps of the Ancient World

27 01 2014

BarringtonA new resource available for the iPad is Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, editor Richard J. A. Talbert (Princeton University Press, 2013). I have frequently used this tool in the hardcopy format, which is available at my seminary library.  Now, however, the 102-colored maps of the ancient world are available at my fingertips on the iPad.  I have always been a map person; I love tracing trips on maps and plotting particular paths of travel.  This set of maps on the ancient world is really quite amazing and comprehensive.  The hardcopy costs  $395 while the iPad edition is $19.99—a bargain.  The iPad version allows for various ways to search for particular regions and cities, and the pinch-zoom feature is great for old eyes.  It allows one to increase the size of the map in order to actually read the names of the cities.  The map is not perfect.  Because one is using it on an iPad, the size is still restrictive, unlike the large hardcopy folio.  For those who want to explore cities, roads, valleys, rivers, and mountains related to biblical areas (and beyond), this resource could be a helpful tool. For more information, click here:  Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World.

Latest Issue of Review & Expositor: 1 and 2 Corinthians

21 01 2014


photo[29]I have been remiss and tardy in noting the publication of the latest issue of Review & Expositor (Vol. 110, No. 4, Fall 2013).  I have a little pride in this particular volume since I was the issue editor.  Several excellent scholars have produced insightful works on issues in these Pauline letters.  Here is a list of the major articles that might tempt you to do some reading:  Jennifer Houston McNeel, “Feeding with Milk:  Paul’s Nursing Metaphors in Context,” Katy E. Valentine, “1 Corinthians 7 in Light of Ancient Rhetoric of Self-Control,” Mark D. Nanos, “Was Paul a ‘Liar’ for the Gospel?:  The Case for a New Interpretation of Paul’s ‘Becoming Everything to Everyone’ in 1 Cor 9:19-23,” César Melgar, “Paul’s Use of Jewish Exegetical/Rhetorical Techniques in 1 Corinthians 1:10-3:23,” and Albert Paretsky, “’You Are the Seal of My Apostleship in the Lord’:  Paul’s Self-Authenticating Word.”  Two expository articles are also of interest:  Brett Younger, “Ministers Rolling Up Their Sleeves:  1 Corinthians 3:9-17,” and Mike Graves, “The Trouble with Idol Meat:  1 Corinthians 8:1-13.”


All the articles offer some stimulating thoughts, but I would particularly recommend Mark Nanos’ article.  We often gloss over the fact of Paul’s claim to become all things to all people.  If taken at face value, however, this approach seems to make Paul, in the words of Nanos, “chameleon like” (p. 592).  In acting in this way, Paul “misrepresents his convictions about how a Christ-follower should otherwise behave.  When the compromise of moral integrity this interpretation requires is recognized (it is not always acknowledged or discussed), it is variously rationalized, for example, by being dismissed as less important than the expedient objective of successfully winning everyone to the gospel message” (p. 592).  In order words, Paul is using a crooked stick (by his own hypocritical and false conduct) in order to get people into the kingdom.  Read this article, and see one of the best-articulated interpretations of this passage in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that I have read.


A Polite Bribe: Review Part II

19 01 2014

In my previous posting, I noted several of the positive aspects of the movie “A Polite Bribe.”  In this entry, I will highlight a few of the problematic area that occur in the film.

Paul's Call ExperienceWas Paul Jewish enough?  I am not certain the film captured the Jewish nature of Paul.  For example, in the retelling of Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road, the narrator indicates it was Paul’s “conversion” and the point at which Paul became a Christian.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth.  Paul’s experience on the Damascus road is best understood as a “call” experience.  Just as Isaiah, Abraham, or Gibeon was called by God to go to new places or to take on special tasks, so also Paul’s narrative fits perfectly into this category of call.   Also, it is anachronistic to suggest Christianity existed at the time of Paul’s experience. There was only Judaism (or better, varieties of Judaisms).  Paul is/was a Jew (Judean) and continued to be a Jew until drawing his last breath. The question about labeling this experience of Paul as a conversion to Christianity was raised in the Q & A session.  The director, Robert Orlando, acknowledged it was not a totally accurate description, but he wanted to start with some typical assumptions held by many of the moviegoers.  He seemed to think that an audience might not follow through with hearing the rest of the movie if they didn’t have at least some traditional assumptions presented.  However, as the questioner noted, for many in this audience, the assumption that Paul becomes a Christian and left Judaism is one that cause some in the audience to have trouble following the rest of the movie.  I would have been interested in knowing how a couple of the scholars interviewed, such as, Amy Jill-Levine and Pamela Eisenbaum would have responded.  Eisenbaum has a book entitled, Paul Was Not a Christian:  The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (2009).

The film had an over reliance on the narrative as found in the Acts of the Apostles.  Even though Orlando uses Paul’s letters to a great extent in order to construct the film, I felt that Acts still had the upper hand in shaping much of the movie.  Acts, however, comes from perhaps 25 or 30 years after the time of Paul. The author of Acts had specific agendas for presenting his version of the early Jesus movement.  A reader is not getting history but an author’s reinterpretation of events in light of his contemporary context in 85 C.E.  I understand, however, why Act is so appealing from a movie production perspective.  It is a narrative and lends itself to visual story telling, the letters of Paul do not.

The presentation of James, the brother of Jesus, was very different and perhaps uncomfortable at times.  It was suggested that he was a Nazirite/Nazarene and had administrative/liturgical duties within the Temple.  This reconstruction and definition of Nazarene (Nazirite) seems odd.  The definition of Nazirite and its role has been noted in other blogs, and Orlando has responded extensively; see the following link: Polite Bribe . I think it is highly unlikely that a rural Galilean, like James, comes to Jerusalem and takes up some type of office within the Temple.  Also the suggestion that James and the Jerusalem community had a hand in the death of Paul to get him off of the scene because of Paul’s work with the Gentile believers seems to build a large argument upon a great deal of silence in Acts.  One of the possible scenarios put forward by the film is that Paul was “setup” to go to the Temple (Acts 21:23-26) and was ambushed by Jews in the Temple and almost killed in a riot.  Why set Paul up?  The Judean community of believers sacrificed Paul because of his work with Gentiles and their inclusion into the community of faith.  The collection was not the bridge to unity but instead, at least in the film interpretation, was the catalyst for Paul’s betrayal. It certainly portrays the Jerusalem church as xenophobic, which Acts does not do: “When we [Paul and coworkers] arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly” (Acts 21:17).  And when Paul explained the Spirit’s movement among Gentiles and how Gentiles were entering the faith, “they praised God” (Acts 21:20).   The suggestion of collusion and of hanging Paul out to dry almost makes the Jerusalem believers as conspiring as those forty plus Judeans who pledged to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-15).

The film also portrays Paul as a lone martyr. I am not certain, however, Acts creates this image of Paul and his ministry.  While the author of Acts does want the spotlight to fall of Paul, individuals do assist him.  For example, after Paul’s arrest and rescue by the Roman soldiers and centurions (Acts 21:32), Paul’s nephew warns the Romans of a plot against Paul (Accts 23:16).  And when Paul is finally imprisoned in Caesarea (for two years) some of his friends (coworkers?) assist him (Acts 24:23).  [Here is list of some of the individuals with Paul in Jerusalem according to Acts:  Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus.] Interestingly, however, no specific mention is made of the Jerusalem Church coming to Paul’s aid in Acts.  (At the Temple riot, the Romans rescue Paul—not fellow believers.) One would expect James and/or other Jerusalem leaders of the Judean community to have supported and protected Paul; however, there is silence.  Perhaps they did support Paul, but after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Judean community in Jerusalem, the author simply felt its inclusion was unnecessary.  They were not the focus of his attention and no longer existed as a significant influence.

A brief reference was made about how Paul would have transported the collection from the west (Europe/Asia Minor) to Jerusalem.  The narrator said that Paul would have converted the collection into gold bars and they individuals would have sown them into their clothes.  I am a bit skeptical of this scenario.  One of my interests is numismatics, and I put this question to some of the individuals who specialize who in ancient coins and their history.  None of them suggested any transportation along this line.  For example, the Osfi’a Hoard, which was found in Israel and was probably going to the Temple because of the high content of Tyrian shekels, had 4550 coins—all silver no gold.  Gold coins were rare and not typical.  Most likely, Paul would have traveled with silver coins.  In talking with Robert after the film, he said he got this information from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s book Paul:  His Story.

I was curious about which Bible translations were used in the film.  I know in the short PDF book on the movie, (link is here, free PDF Book), it quotes the NRSV.  Some quotes in the movie, however, sounded like they came from more modern translations.

The movie is certainly worth seeing.  It will engage and stimulate discussion and reflection upon Paul, and that is a good thing.

Review: A Polite Bribe

17 01 2014





May Film Panel


Last night was the screening of the movie, A Polite Bribe, which is about the life of the apostle Paul.  The film especially focused on the ill-fated delivery of a collection of money from Gentile believers, via Paul, to mainly Judean believers in Jerusalem.  After the screening was a brief panel discussion and audience Q & A with the director-writer, Robert Orlando.  In the blog picture, the director is to my left and my two colleagues from other seminaries in Kansas City are on his left (Israel Kamudzandu from St. Paul School of Theology and Andy Johnson from Nazarene Theological Seminary).


It was amazing on a cold and windy Thursday night that the theater was filled with folks who wanted to see and hear about a bandy-legged visionary who crisscrossed the Mediterranean 2000 years ago.  Below are some of my observations about the film.


What Worked


1.  I liked the animation presentation that was interwoven with interviews with leading New Testament scholars.  I am a big fan of animation.  This film was screened at the Tivoli Cinema.  In the past this theater has hosted the Oscar nominated short-animated films, and I have often gone to see them.  Typically documentaries have the narrator dressed up like Indiana Jones and walking among the ruins of Corinth, Antioch, Philippi, or some other city.  The history channel is filled with these types of documentaries.  The other type is where “actors,” dressed up in bathrobes and sandals, “reenact” some biblical scene by standing around a fire or running around in a little courtyard carrying a clay pot.  This film, however, takes a very different approach with its appealing visual effects.  The animation is quite different.  It reminds me a little of the tableaus we use to create in shoeboxes in Vacation Bible School; however, this was much more sophisticated.  The scenes were ones in which the camera would zoom in/out and around the drawings.  It gave the images a 3-D effect.  Particularly eye catching was the one scene depicting Paul escaping from Damascus (Acts 9:23-25) and also the one in which a beaten (unconscious?) Paul (Acts 21:27-36) seems to review the summary of his life in a dream-like state.  I did have some questions about a few background scenes that were rather strange and didn’t really play into the film.  For example, in what I took to be the Corinthian setting, some erotic scenes popped up in the background.  Perhaps the director wanted to capture some of the alleged sexual context of the Corinthians environment, but these scenes/drawings were not the focus or mentioned at all.

2. The film does a good job of presenting the early Jesus movement in Jerusalem, and its spread throughout the Mediterranean world, as a complex movement.  Too often an incorrect assumption exists of Christianity as a monolithic whole (catholic with a little c) with everyone on the same page and operating as a unity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Various trajectories of Christianity developed, and these could be (and often were) in intension with the larger pagan world but also with each other.  The twenty-seven books of the New Testament represent a larger and bigger variety of Christianities (plural) than we often realize.  This film illustrated well the tension that Paul’s activities would have generated with different strands of the Jesus movement.  At this point, no orthodoxy existed; the Jesus movement was learning, developing, and adapting its way forward.  Paul happens to be one of the most influential adapters.

3.  This tension is illustrated in the film with Paul operating in two worlds:  the Judean and Gentile.  Perhaps nowhere better is this point illustrated than when Paul is depicted as going back to Jerusalem and taking his uncircumcised coworker Titus with him.  As Paul points out, Titus did not need to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3).  As one of the scholars in the film noted, no doubt Test-Case Titus was sweating it out.  The film did not, however, note the contrasting situation with Timothy.   Timothy, whose mother was Judean and father was a Gentile, had to be circumcised (Acts 16:3).  Paul has a foot in both worlds and often gets caught between groups.  In trying to hold together Judeans (Christians and non-Christians) with Gentile Christians, Paul could easily be misunderstood.  One key principle for Paul, and perhaps something the film could have highlighted, is Paul’s theological reliance on the Shema (Deut 6:4), “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  There was not God for the Judeans and another God for the Gentiles.  Gentiles did not need to become Judeans to enter into the promise accomplished through Jesus.  God is God of both Gentiles and Judeans.

4. The film depicts the humanness of Paul.  Paul often gets caricatured and stereotyped in some popular preaching and teaching.  This film portrayal illustrates a Paul at times depressed and frustrated.  The film illustrates this well by noting the lengthy time Paul spent in prison. This particular fact is often overlooked or given relatively little emphasis.  Perhaps because we read and study Paul’s prison epistles (Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians and Colossians) over a short period of time, we compact Paul’s time in prison also.  Paul was not a one-day prisoner like Henry David Thoreau or just a few weeks or months in confinement.  He was imprisoned for years.  As the film notes (I cannot remember if it was the narrator or one of the scholars who pointed this out), when Peter is imprisoned, a divine agent of God gets him out, but an imprisoned Paul languishes and God does nothing.  This certainly would cause cognitive dissonance for Paul and raises the question: “Why?” Paul believes he was doing God’s work and was on a passionate mission and yet he was stymied.  For years he could not actively do his work because of chains. (See the interesting book, Richard J. Cassidy, Paul in Chains:  Roman Imprisonment and the Letters of St. Paul [2001]).  No doubt this experience helped Paul develop his cruciform theology of suffering.  The movie highlights this connection with images of Paul superimposed upon a crucified Jesus.

5.  At the end of the film is a brief thesis about how Gentile Christianity thrived while Judean Christianity did not.  The film depicts the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  Of course this event is after the death of Paul, but the narrators and scholars note that because of Paul’s colonizing of the Gentile Jesus-movement outside of the Judea/Galilee, it had a better chance of surviving (perhaps not unlike Pharisee-Judaism after the Temple’s destruction becauseof the network of synagogues in Israel). The implication seemed to be that James the brother of Jesus and other Judeans staked the community’s life around the center of Jerusalem, but once Jerusalem fell this trajectory of Christianity began to decline.


All in all, the film stimulated good discussion and thoughts.  While I have highlighted some of the good aspects of the film here, the next blog posting will deal with more of the problematic issues.



To Israel

9 01 2014
The Snake Path up to Masada

The Snake Path up to Masada

A joint study tour to Israel is being lead by Mike Graves, Homiletics professor at St. Paul, and myself on May 28 to June 6, 2014.  Central Seminary and St. Paul School of Theology are the co-sponsors of the study tour.

We will visit numerous biblical sites, such as, Nazareth, Caesarea Philippi (I spent a season excavating here; or perhaps better, this is where I played in the dirt), the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  One of the most interesting areas may be Sepphoris, one of the capitals of Galilee during the time of Herod Antipas.  This city is located only a few miles from Nazareth.  One could probably suggest that this city was a place Jesus might have labored before beginning his public ministry in Galilee.

If interested in joining us on the tour, and we are limiting the group to 24, here is the website with all the information:

You can also contact Wendie Brockhaus who is helping to coordinate the trip.  Her email is

Film Coming to Kansas City: A Polite Bribe

1 01 2014


If anyone is in the Kansas City area on January 16th, Thursday evening at 7:30, a screening will take place at the Tivoli Theater for the film A Polite Bribe. The film/documentary by Robert Orlando focuses around the journey of the Apostle Paul with a collection of money, gathered mainly from Gentile churches in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia (Corinth), that he is taking to the poor saints (Judean Christians) in Jerusalem.  The thesis of the film is that Paul is attempting to unify Judean Christians and Gentile Christians with this charity.  After the film, a panel discussion will take place with three local New Testament scholars: myself (Central Seminary), Andy Johnson (Nazarene Theological Seminary) and Israel Kamudzandu (St. Paul School of Theology).  The possibility exists that the writer/director Robert Orlando might also attend.

While this episode represents only one small segment in Paul’s life, he must have considered this undertaking an important one.  He makes direct reference to this project, which he calls the collection, in three different places in his writings:  1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; and Romans 15:14-32.  With what spirit the Judean Christians received the collection is unknown; however, much speculation exists for its purpose.  Was it simply a charitable act instigated by Paul because of generous heart?  Or was there an ulterior motive behind his collection project?

For those interested, below is a trailer of the movie.

Here is information related to the Tivoli Theater.  Also here is a link to the official website for the movie:  A Polite Bribe.