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Archive for the 'New Testament' Category

Introduction to the Bible Textbooks: Any Thoughts?

15th June 2009

One of the new courses I will be teaching regularly at The King’s University College is a one semester introduction to the Bible (i.e., the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments).  At Taylor, I taught an introduction to the Hebrew Bible course every semester and was quite pleased with the textbook I used (Barry Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (4th ed.; Wadsworth, 2008; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from Amazon.com), but now I have to find a new one.

I would love to be able to find a textbook for the course that I could use long term, since I don’t want to be adjusting the course for a new text every year and it also makes it easy for students to purchase used texts and save a bit of money. As I have been looking at different introductions, I haven’t found one that I am entirely pleased with.

My ideal textbook would have the following characteristics:

  • Student-friendly. By this I mean a number of things. First, the text should be written with undergraduate students in mind. Thus, the writing style should be clear and strike a good balance between being jargon laden and introducing some of the more important terms in biblical studies to students. It also should not be too long; I figure around 300-400 pages is all I can expect students to read for a one semester course — especially if I also want them to read significant portions of the biblical text.  Second, stuff like chapter outlines, key terms, glossary, useful and interesting pictures and illustrations, as well as good study questions at the end of each chapter are essential. Third, and this is one of my pet peeves, I would strongly prefer a text organized according to the Protestant canon. It never has made any sense to me why introductions to the Old Testament, especially those written from a Christian perspective, followed the order of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible. There is nothing special about the MT order, so why not use the order that virtually every English translation of the Bible follows? Finally, I would want a textbook that is relatively inexpensive and that doesn’t come out with a “new” edition every other year.
  • Faith-friendly. I teach at a Christian University and the majority of my students come from a church background, so I would like a textbook that is not offensive or dismissive of their faith, but presents the results of critical biblical scholarship in an evenhanded way. If a text pushes students too hard, or if they find it dismissive of their faith, then their tendency will be to reject it in toto rather than sift through the different perspectives and integrate what is valuable. My ultimate goal is to broaden and deepen their faith, not dismantle it.
  • Teacher-friendly. Perhaps this is obvious, but I want to like the text I choose! That doesn’t mean I need to agree with everything in it, but I do want it to complement my classroom work. This is all the more important in a one semester Bible introduction course where there will be a lot of material I will not have the time to cover in class and I will want the text to cover it for me.  In addition, a textbook that comes with a good test bank or some such teacher aids,would be advantageous.

As it turns out, my ideal textbook doesn’t exist. Or if it does, I have not found it yet! I have looked at a number of potential textbooks, and while I am leaning towards one in particular, I’m not entirely convinced.

There are quite a number of introductions that focus on presenting the theological message of the Bible (i.e., creation – fall – redemption). While the shorter of these books would be ideal to recommend to someone entirely unfamiliar with the biblical story, they typically do not engage critical biblical studies.

  • James O. Chatham. Creation to Revelation: A Brief Account of the Biblical Story (Eerdmans, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic, 2004). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

I quite like the Bartholomew and Goheen volume. It modifies N.T. Wright’s notion of the story of Scripture of a five-act play and presents the grand biblical narrative a coherent whole.  It does this, however, with little or no interaction with critical biblical scholarship. As such, I think it would be an excellent text to read alongside a more typical introduction (although it is 250 pages long), but I am not comfortable using it as the primary text.

The other introductions I have examined are ones that introduce the Bible from the perspective of critical biblical scholarship:

  • J. Bradley Chance & Milton P. Horne. Rereading the Bible: An Introduction to the Biblical Story (Prentice Hall, 2000).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Clyde E. Fant, Donald W. Musser, and Mitchell G. Reddish. An Introduction to the Bible (Abingdon, 2009).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Stephen L. Harris. Exploring the Bible (McGraw-Hill, 2010). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Christian E. Hauer & William A. Young. An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds (Prentice Hall, 2007).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Robert Kugler & Patrick Hartin. Introducing the Bible (Eerdmans, 2009). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

All of these volumes do a good job covering the basic message of the Bible as well as different critical perspectives. Chance and Horne is the least traditional of the bunch, focusing on teaching students to read the Bible critically rather than simply surveying the contents of the Bible and rehearsing the different scholarly opinions on critical questions. The other four texts follow a more traditional approach. I was quite looking forward to examining the Kugler and Hartin introduction, since the publisher’s description says it “surveys the content of all the biblical books, section by section, focusing on the Bible’s theological themes.” While it does this, it does it in over 550 pages, which I feel is a bit too long for a one-semester course. The text that I am leaning towards using is Hauer & Young’s. It is about the right size (about 375 pages) and I like how it employs the metaphor of the journey into three worlds (the historical, literary, and contemporary world). The only problem with it (all all introduction from educational publishers) is the price.

I do need to decide on a textbook sooner than later, so if you have any great suggestions, please let me know!


Posted in Bible, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching | 16 Comments »

Defending Thomas

23rd March 2008

Rarely an Easter season comes and goes without a sermon on — or at least some sort of reference to — “Doubting Thomas.” I think, quite frankly, that Thomas has got a bum-wrap for his nickname as it suggests that there was something wrong about his doubts. But nicknames stick. I was surprised even to find an entry under “doubting Thomas” in Webster’s dictionary. There it reads: “Doubting Thomas, a person who refuses to believe without proof; skeptic.” And then it refers to John 20:14-31.

There are only three vignettes of Thomas in the Scriptures, including John 20. In contrast, there are numerous extra-biblical works attributed to him, including a Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, an Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an Apocalypse of Thomas, and an Acts of Thomas (these works are typically dated from the 2nd to 5th centuries CE/AD). These extra-biblical stories aside, the first place we meet Thomas in John’s gospel is in chapter 11. Jesus wants to go to Bethany because Lazarus has died, but his disciples try to dissuade him for fear that he’ll be killed if he goes near Jerusalem. Here Thomas encourages the other disciples that they should go and die with Jesus. The next time we meet Thomas is in chap. 14, where Jesus comforts his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place in his Father’s house and then come back for them. As many of Jesus’ teachings, this totally confuses the disciples, but it is Thomas who is honest enough to admit that he didn’t have the slightest idea what Jesus was talking about. He says: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (14:5). (Imagine, a MAN who admits he needs directions!)

The picture that emerges of Thomas from these two passages is someone who was honest — he didn’t pretend to know more than he did. He also seemed to be a bit of a pessimist (or a realist) assuming the worst if Jesus was to go near Jerusalem, but he was willing to follow Jesus anywhere — even to his own death.

We get substantially the same picture of Thomas in John 20. He’s somewhat pessimistic, brash, but also up front and honest. He put his cards right on the table: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe!” (20:25). When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure how seriously we’re to take his request to “put his hands where the nails were” or to “put his hand into Jesus’ side.” The text later says that Thomas believed because he had seen Jesus, not that he believed after touching him. Also, the week before, when Jesus appeared to the others, it says that Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (v. 20). So, one way of looking at it, he just wanted the same opportunity that the other disciples had. (Furthermore, while we don’t get this impression in John’s gospel, other accounts present many of the disciples as filled with doubt. E.g., in Luke 24:36-43 when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they didn’t believe that it was really him until he ate some broiled fish; see also Mark 16:11 and Matt 28:17.)

Faith didn’t come easy to Thomas, but nore did it come easy to any of the disciples. So let’s not be too hard on the poor fellow! At least the picture of Thomas we get in the gospel portrays him as honest and up front about his doubts. What is more, once Thomas believed, he uttered one of the greatest Christological confessions in the Bible: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). This was both a profoundly theological confession as well as a profoundly personal one.

So perhaps we would do well to remember Thomas by his great confession, rather than his initial doubts. Just a thought. Happy Easter.


Posted in Easter, Gospel of John, New Testament | 1 Comment »

Rowan Atkinson Sunday Gospel Lesson

13th May 2007

Just in case you missed church this morning, here is a gospel lesson by Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean (If you offend easily, probably shouldn’t watch the video).

All complaints may be registered at The Withering Fig or NT Gateway — no surprise it originated with fellow Canadian and U of T grad and friend Zeba Crook.



Posted in Humour, New Testament | Comments Off

A Thought for Good Friday

6th April 2007

I am always struck by the reality that the one thing we are called to emulate as followers of Christ is Christ’s self-sacrifice. May God grant us the grace and courage to have the same mindset as our Lord and Saviour who “because he was in very nature God… humbled himself, becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.”

2Have the same mindset
Have the same love
Be “soul-joined�
Have one mindset.

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
But in humility regard one another as more important than oneself.

4Do not merely look out for your own interests,
But also look out for the interests of others.

5Your mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, because he was in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped,
7But emptied himself,
Taking the very nature of a slave,
Coming to be in the likeness of human beings.
8And, being found in appearance as a human being,
He humbled himself
Becoming obedient to death –
Even death on a cross!

9Therefore also,
God highly exalted him,
And granted him the name
That is above every name

10That
At the name belonging to Jesus
“Every knee should bow,�
of those who are in heaven
and on earth
and under the earth

11And that “every tongue should confess�
That Jesus Christ is Lord
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:2-11).

In verse 6, Paul is not saying that although Jesus was in nature God, he took the form of a slave; rather he is saying that it is precisely BECAUSE Jesus was in very nature God, that he did what he did. Jesus’ humble self-giving, self-sacrificing love towards humanity defines the very essence of God. As as followers of Christ, it should also define who we are.


Posted in Easter, Good Friday, Holidays, New Testament | Comments Off

Jesus Tomb in the News Again

24th February 2007

There is another article out and about on the “Jesus Tomb” documentary by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron. This one claims that Jesus’ burial site was discovered in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood. The 2,000 year old cave reportedly contained ten coffins; six of which were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son – or so the filmmakers claim).

As always there is much hype and sensationalism surrounding this story; see for instance, this bold claim from Ynet News:

If it proves true, the discovery… could shake up the Christian world as one of the most significant archaeological finds in history.

The coffins which, according to the filmmakers held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene will be displayed for the first time on Monday in New York.

It will be interesting to see what the actual announcement will be at Monday’s press conference (26 February 2007). After that we’ll have to sort through the mixture of fact and fiction to determine what actually has been discovered, especially considering Jacobovici’s track record of sensational yet somewhat misleading documentaries.

The documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, is scheduled to be aired in Canada on VisionTV on Tuesday 6 March at 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET.

jesus_family_tomb.jpgThere are also a couple books related to this discovery. Simcha Jacobovici co-authored a book with Charles Pellegrino related to the documentary:

while Jame Tabor has written a more scholarly book on the subject:

  • The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity is available from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

The first chapter of Tabor’s book, “The Tale of Two Tombs,â€? is available from the ABC News website.

Stay tuned for more information…


Posted in Discoveries, Documentary, Historical Jesus, Jesus Tomb, New Testament, News | 6 Comments »

“Lord” in the NT and in Modern Translations

2nd February 2007

David Ker over at Lingamish has a series of posts on the Greek word kurios, “Lord” (κύÏ?ιος) in the New Testament. The first post introduces the series, while the second examines the relationship between the kurios and the slave. The third entry in the series provides some different definitions and English glosses of the term, while the fourth looks at the word’s cultural context.

That brings me to David’s fifth post where he is asking for our input. Specifically he is asking for readers to share examples of how kurios is translated in Bible translations around the world. So, if you know some other languages, I encourage you to head on over and share your knowledge!


Posted in Greek, New Testament, Translation Theory | Comments Off

Christmas According to John, Part 2

25th December 2006

[Merry Christmas everyone! This is the second part of a Christmas sermon presented here with only minor editing. The first post may be found here]

John’s Metaphysical Manger (John 1)

The second passage I want to direct our attention to helps us understand some of the theological implications of the birth of Jesus. The passage I am referring to is chapter one of John’s gospel. In this highly metaphysical and philosophical passage the significance of the birth of Christ is interpreted theologically.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ �) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The Mystery of Christmas: The Incarnation

This passage tells us a number of things about that baby in a manger. In particular it tells us something about the divintiy of the Word and the ministry of the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.â€? John tells that the baby in the manger is divine; God made human, God incarnate. John’s Christmas account revels in the mystery of the incarnation. The word “incarnation” and the adjective “incarnate” come from the Latin in carne “in flesh.â€? Note the progression: In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. Note that John says not that “God was the wordâ€?, but that “the word was God.â€? John is not saying that the Word is “a god,â€? as though the Word was a lesser god alongside the supreme God; nor is John saying that the Word was simply “divine,â€? nor does John say that the Word did god-like things without possessing the divine nature; rather John is saying that the Word is God in his very nature, yet without exhausting the being of God. The baby in a manger was fully human and fully God. He was God incarnate: “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.â€?

The divine nature of the Word is seen in his activity in creation (vv. 1–5), revelation (vv. 5, 9–12, 18) and redemption (vv. 12–14, 16–17); in all these God expresses himself through the Word. The baby in the manger, the Word made flesh, was with God at the beginning and all things came into existence through him. The Word also reveals God to us. Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Both the deity and the humanity of Jesus are fundamental to his saving work. It’s because Jesus is God the Son – the Word made flesh – that we can know God, it’s because Jesus is God made human, that we can understand his death as the supreme evidence of God’s love for us.

There is more to Christmas than our minds can comprehend… when we come to Christmas, when we look upon that baby in a manger we are looking upon God incarnate. We are looking upon a mystery. There’s More to Christmas than Meets the Mind.

The Paradox of Divine Condescension

And this is the mystery of Christmas. Here you have the paradox of divine condescension; the mystery of God accommodating Godself, God becoming human.

At root, to save us God came not in his full glory as God but rather as a human; God came as a baby crying in his mother’s arms, a baby that required feeding and changing, a baby that was entirely and hopelessly dependent on others. God hid his glory, he limited himself. Remaining one with and equal to God he took the form of a slave. By becoming one with us, he was able to share our sorrows, bear our burdens, and ultimately die a criminal’s death and atone for our sins and unite us to God.

That is the real meaning of Christmas, and it’s my prayer for all of us — as we get together with friends and family, as we eat turkeys and hams, as we do all these good things — it’s my prayer that we would also realize that there is much more to Christmas than meets the eye and that the miracle of Christmas is not how much turkey you can eat, but it is that God so loved the world that he was willing to take on human flesh and enter this world as a helpless baby… a helpless baby that would one day die a criminal’s death on behalf of us all.

Amen.


Posted in Christmas, Gospel of John, Holidays, Nativity Story, New Testament | Comments Off

Christmas According to John, Part 1

24th December 2006

[Since I am going to be quite busy the two days with family, church, and preparing a turkey dinner for twenty people, I thought I would post some more informal Christmas meditations. The next couple posts are made up of one of my Christmas sermons; I reproduce it here in two parts with only minor editing. - TFW]

Sometimes I don’t think we realize the full significance of Christmas because we focus too much on a romantic and idealized version of the Christmas story: Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and not finding any place to stay the night, end up giving birth to baby Jesus in a manger, etc. This quaint and romantic idea is epitomized in the Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger.�

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

But there is nothing quaint or romantic about the Christmas story as told in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Luke’s story highlights how when Jesus was born, how he came to the dregs of society – to the poor, to the outcasts. Jesus was born in a peasant home or perhaps even a cave for animals and was placed in a dirty animal feeding trough (for those of you who have dogs… imagine not cleaning your dog’s food dish for a year and then think about whether or not you would want to let a baby play with it!), then to top it off his “healthy beginningsâ€? visit was made by a bunch of filthy lowly shepherds – outcasts of society.

Matthew’s story isn’t a whole lot better! Matthew doesn’t say much about Jesus’ birth, but he does recount how when Jesus is a toddler he was visited by some wise men (astrologers) who recognized him as a future king… while this was nice and while I’m sure they appreciated the gifts they brought, the astrologers also alerted Herod to the existence of a potential challenge to his power – which made Mary and Joseph and Jesus flee to Egypt (anyone who has ever taken a two-year old on a long driving trip knows what fun they must have had along the way!)

Thus, the Christmas story isn’t quaint or romantic… and I think that we have to work hard to o make sure it doesn’t become so familiar that it looses its power for us!

But this morning I want to direct our attention to a couple of Bible passages that may at first glance be unlikely candidates for a Christmas message. Both are attributed to the Apostle John, and both also give accounts of the birth of Jesus, so to speak: The first I have dubbed John’s “Apocalyptic Adventâ€? (Revelation 12) and second is John’s “Metaphysical Mangerâ€? (the first chapter of John’s Gospel).

Both of these stories will give us a very different perspective on Jesus’ birth, and will teach us a couple things about Christmas that the traditional stories don’t.

John’s Apocalyptic Advent (Revelation 12)

The first “birth story� I want us to take a look at is perhaps the weirdest one in all scripture. It comes from the book of Revelation – a book that also gets the award for being perhaps the weirdest in the Bible. It’s a book that is notoriously difficult to interpret. It’s full of symbols and apocalyptic language. It reveals the first lesson that I want us to take home today: There’s More to Christmas than Meets the Eye.

When Jesus was born, it was far from a regular everyday birth: it was an event of cosmic and eternal significance. It was an event which had massive implications in the spiritual realm. Now, the traditional Christmas stories also point towards this cosmic significance of Jesus’ birth: Luke has the multitude of angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds and Matthew recounts how astrologers find a heavenly sign of the birth of a king. But these signs pale in comparison with what was revealed to John:

12:1 A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. (NRSV)

The passage continues to recount of a great war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon… and how the dragon suffered an initial defeat and then a final defeat and how God’s kingdom has come the kingdom of God and the messiah… etc. So here we have a surrealistic and highly symbolic portrayal of the birth of Christ and its cosmic and spiritual implications: that with the coming of Christ there erupted a great war in the heavens, a war in which God was ultimately victorious.

This sounds more like something Gandalf or Elrond would say in The Lord of the Rings than anything you would think you would find in the Bible! And its something we really don’t know what to do with. From early on we are brought up to trust our senses and be skeptical of anything that can’t be verified by them. Most of us have a hard time believing that the world as we see it is really not the world as it is. And even if we believe it, we don’t seem to live any different because of it!

But the reality is (at least the reality presented in the Scriptures) that the world as we see it is not the world as it is. And Christmas as we typically see it – a cute baby in a manger – is not Christmas as it is.

It’s kind of like The Matrix… when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, when we take the blue pill, so to speak, and a whole new reality opens up to us. We recognize the world that we thought we knew is really only some of the story. (Of course, a major difference between reality and The Matrix is that there is continuity between the world or our senses and the spiritual world… rather than discontinuity as in The Matrix.)

So the first lesson I want us to take home with us today is that There’s More to Christmas than Meets the Eye. The birth of Jesus represents an event of such spiritual magnitude that is only surpassed by his death on the cross — and that should amaze us!

The second passage I want to direct out attention to this morning helps us understand some of the theological implications of the birth of Jesus… but I will turn to that in tomorrow’s Christmas post.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a great Chrstmas eve.


Posted in Christmas, Gospel of John, Holidays, Nativity Story, New Testament | Comments Off

The Strange New World of the Bible

9th August 2006

I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to the proper interpretation of the Bible is a false sense of familiarity. There are a number of things that contribute to this false sense of familiarity, including Bible translations that mistakenly modernize idioms and contexts (A translation should not make its readers think that they understand the Bible better than they actually do). While this may sound counter-productive, one of the first steps to properly interpreting the Bible is to create some historical distance between our world and (to echo Barth) the “strange new world within the Bible.” If we don’t take care to create this historical distance, then we will read our modern presuppositions into the biblical text. Gadamer notes: “If we fail to transpose ourselves into the historical horizon from which the traditionary text speaks, we will misunderstand the significance of what it has to say to us” (Truth and Method, 303). Similarly, “it is constantly necessary to guard against overhasily assimilating the past to our own expectations of meaning. Only then can we listen to tradition in a way that permits it to make its own meaning heard” (Truth and Method, 305).

One example will suffice for now (I have some ideas about further posts): the impact of the industrial revolution on our understanding of the world around us. This was brought home to me recently as I was reading Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh‘s excellent Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (2nd ed; Fortress Press, 2002; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). Malina highlights some of the vast differences between our industrial world and the agrarian world of the Bible in order to remind us how great the transformation really was — here is a list of examples from Malina (pp. 6-8):

  • In agrarian societies more than 90 percent of the population was rural. In industrial societies more than 90 percent is urban.
  • In agrarian societies 90-95 percent of the population was engaged in what sociologists call the “primary” industries (farming and extracting raw materi­als). In the United States today it is 4.9 percent.
  • In agrarian societies 2-4 percent of the population was literate. In industrial societies 2-4 percent are not.
  • The birthrate in most agrarian societies was about forty per thousand per year. In the Unites States, as in most industrial societies, it is less than half that. Yet death rates have dropped even more dramatically than birthrates. We thus have the curious phenomenon of far fewer births and rapidly rising population.
  • Life expectancy in the city of Rome in the first century BCE was about twenty years at birth. If the perilous years of infancy were survived, it rose to about forty, one-half our present expectations.
  • In contrast to the huge cities we know today, the largest city in Europe in the fourteenth century, Venice, had a population of 78,000. London had 35,000. Vienna had 3,800. Though population figures for antiquity are notoriously dif­ficult to come by, recent estimates for Jerusalem are about 35,000. For Capernaum, 1,500. For Nazareth about 200.
  • The Department of Labor currently lists in excess of 20,000 occupations in the United States and hundreds more are added to the list annually. By contrast, the tax rolls for Paris (pop. 59,000) in the year 1313 list only 157.
  • Unlike the modern world, in agrarian societies 1-3 percent of the population usually owns one- to two-thirds of the arable land. Since 90 percent or more were peasants, the vast majority owned subsistence plots at best.
  • The size of the federal bureaucracy in the Unites States in 1816 was 5,000 employees. In 1971 it was 2,852,000 and growing rapidly. While there was a political, administrative, and military apparatus in antiquity, nothing remotely comparable to the modern governmental bureaucracy ever existed. Instead, goods and services were mediated by patrons who operated largely outside governmental control.
  • More than one-half of all families in agrarian societies were broken during the childbearing and child-rearing years by the death of one or both parents. In India at the turn of the twentieth century the figure was 71 percent. Thus widows and orphans were everywhere.
  • In agrarian societies the family was the unit of both production and consump­tion. Since the industrial revolution, family production or enterprise has nearly disappeared and the unit of production has become the individual worker. Nowadays the family is only a unit of consumption.
  • The largest “factories” in Roman antiquity did not exceed fifty workers. In the records of the medieval craft guilds from London, the largest employed eight­een. The industrial corporation, a modern invention, did not exist.
  • In 1850, the “prime movers” in the United States (i.e., steam engines in factories, sailing vessels, work animals, etc.) had a combined capacity of 8.5 million horsepower. By 1970 this had risen to 20 billion.
  • The cost of moving one ton of goods one mile (measured in U.S.:dollars in China at the beginning of the industrial revolution) was: Steamboat 2.4; Wheelbarrow 20.0; Rail 2.7; Pack donkey 24.0; Junk 12.0; Packhorse 30.0; Animal-drawn cart 13.0; Carrying by pole 48.0; Pack mule 17.0. It is little wonder that overland trade at any distance was insubstantial in antiquity.
  • Productive capacity in industrial societies exceeds that in the most advanced agrarian societies known by more than one hundredfold.
  • Given the shock and consternation caused by the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the forced resignation of Richard M. Nixon, we sometimes forget that this sort of internal political upheaval is nothing like it was in the agrarian world. Of the 79 Roman emperors, 31 were murdered, 6 driven to suicide, and 4 were deposed by force. Moreover, such upheavals in antiquity were frequently accompanied by civil war and the enslavement of thousands.

This somewhat random list should remind us of the massive changes that occured as the result of the industrial revolution. To quote Malina: “It [the industrial revolution] has been a watershed unlike any the world has ever seen. Should we be surprised if major changes in our perception of the world have occurred as well? And should we be surprised if that in turn has had a fundamental impact on our ability to read and understand the Bible?”

We need to do as much as we can as readers and interpreters to recognize the gulf between our world and the “strange new world within the Bible” so as to ensure we properly read and interpret and understand the biblical text.


Posted in Hermeneutics, New Testament, Translation Theory | 3 Comments »