Friday, September 15, 2017

“Visually Oriented Rhetoric and Visionary Experience in Hebrews 12:1–4,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 79.3 (2017): 476–497

Link to pdf of the full article

Though a "vision-centered " perspective is apparent in a variety of contexts in Greco-Roman life and literature, of particular interest to this essay are the visually oriented rhetorical techniques that Greco-Roman authors and orators used to appeal to the visual imaginations of their audiences. Through these well-theorized techniques, authors and orators hoped not only to engage their audiences' visual imaginations but also to transport them emotionally into the described scene. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was to all appearances well versed in these techniques, and perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in Heb 12:1-4. Enlisting the language and imagery of agonistic sport and spectacle, this visually evocative text helps the community reenvision their current situation. Their sufferings are thus reconfigured as normative to the athletic sphere, while their commitment to Christ and his community is translated into a test of endurance in a footrace. Integral to this agonistically shaped exhortation is the vivid portrayal of Jesus as the "forerunner" and victorious "finisher" of the same contest of faith in which the community is presently competing. Ekphrasis and epiphany coalesce in this mimetic portrayal, signaled by the author's exhortation to "fix our gaze" on the one who has triumphed over adversity and adversaries.

Monday, May 29, 2017

“‘Let us draw near . . . but not too near’: A Critique of the Attempted Distinction between ‘Drawing Near’ and ‘Entering’ in Hebrews’ Entry Exhortations,” in Listen, Understand, Obey: Essays on Hebrews in Honor of Gareth Lee Cockerill (ed. C.T. Friedeman; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 17–36

Link to pdf of the full essay

This essay addresses a common misinterpretation of the most important verbs used in conjunction with Hebrews’ theology of access: προσέρχομαι (“to draw near”) and εἰσέρχομαι (“to enter”). Though a number of scholars contend that Hebrews maintains a careful distinction between these terms, with προσέρχομαι representing “drawing near,” and εἰσέρχομαι reflecting actual “entry” into the inner sanctum of heavenly sanctuary, such a distinction fails to withstand close scrutiny for a number of reasons: (1) at the heart of Hebrews’ hortatory agenda is a mimetic replication of Jesus’ entry into the heavenly sanctuary and a confession of his sonship (cf. 2:9–10; 4:14–16; 6:19–20; 10:19–23). Such a confession requires that the community occupy a position “within earshot” of God and his Son. (2) The profound architectural, psychological, and mystical/experiential changes effected by Jesus’ high priestly accomplishment, as documented in 10:19–23, are severely attenuated by appeal to a dubious reading of one word, προσέρχομαι.
(3) Hebrews’ sparse and suggestive depictions of the heavenly sanctuary/throne room are supplanted by cultic architectural imagery imported from more elaborate OT texts. These cultic texts, which use προσέρχομαι in their LXX translations, are forced onto the entry exhortations in Hebrews. It is surely significant that the cultic sacrifices of Leviticus are generally depicted as entirely “speech-less” acts. Given the prominence of aural/oral elements in Hebrews’ entry exhortations, more appropriate LXX texts should then be sought, texts which use προσέρχομαι to represent the attainment of communicative and relational proximity to the deity.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

“The Passion of Eve and the Ecstasy of Hannah: Sense Perception, Passion, Mysticism, and Misogyny in Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52,” Journal of Biblical Literature 133.1 (2014): 141–163

Link to pdf of the full article

Philo of Alexandria’s allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of Hannah’s prayer for a son, in Ebr. 143-152, is surely one of the most remarkable texts in his corpus. In this passage he draws upon a number of philosophical resources, including Platonic sense perception, Stoic and Platonic psychologies and theories of emotion, and the dualisms that are integral to these philosophic topics: sense perception and reason, the physical and noetic realms, mind and psyche, reason and non-rationality, and passion and apathetic virtue. Ebr. 143-152 also features three significant Greco-Roman mystical themes: Bacchic ecstasy, sober inebriation, and contemplative ascent. This essay focuses on the extraordinary manner in which Philo adapts and even subverts these philosophic and mystical themes, particularly the aforementioned dualisms, and the remarkable fact that this boundary breaking allegorical interpretation comes to focused expression in a woman. Philo has been accused of espousing a “virulent misogyny,” an accusation amply justified by his pervasive negative characterizations of sense perception and passion as essentially feminine in nature. However, in his portrayal of Hannah in Ebr. 143-152, we encounter the uncharacteristic approval and embrace of the sensuous and passionate mystical praxis of an adept female mystic. This exceptional text therefore affords us a rare opportunity to mitigate Philo’s misogyny, and along with it his largely negative attitude towards the senses, emotions, and embodied existence. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

“The Two Tables of the Law and Paul’s Ethical Methodology in 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 and 10:23–11:1,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 75.2 (2013): 315–334

My first piece on Paul

Link to PDF of the full article

Two passages in 1 Corinthians, 6:12–20 and 10:23–11:1, provide a unique glimpse into the inner workings of Paul’s ethics. In both texts, Paul begins by quoting an apparent community slogan that asserts the autonomous rights of the Corinthian believer. As he then addresses the issues of sexual relations with prostitutes (6:13–20) and the consumption of food offered to idols (10:24–11:1), Paul gradually and comprehensively reigns in this antinomian assertion, ironically conforming it to the two tables of the Mosiac law. While Paul may use Stoic-Cynic categories of ethical discourse and Greco-Roman rhetorical techniques to reason through these two issues, ultimately the ethos commended by these two passages is determined by the two tables, now Christologically informed and transformed.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Reviews

I've done a number of book reviews that are available online:
(1) Andre LaCocque, Jesus the Central Jew: His Times and His People (Early Christianity and Its Literature 15; Atlanta: SBL, 2015), in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78.4 (2016): 780-782         LINK

(2) Revealed Wisdom: Studies in Apocalyptic in Honour of Christopher Rowland (ed. J. Ashton; Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 88; Leiden: Brill, 2014), in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78.1 (2016): 187-189         LINK

(3) Sensitivity towards Outsiders: Exploring the Dynamic Relationship between Mission and Ethics in the New Testament and Early Christianity (ed. J. Kok, T. Nicklas, D.T. Roth, and C.M. Hays; WUNT 2/364; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78.1 (2016): 194-195        LINK

(4) Amy L.B. Peeler, You Are My Son:  The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews (LNTS 486; London: Bloomsbury, 2014), in Review of Biblical Literature (July 5, 2015)         LINK

(5) Carlos Fraenkel, Philosophical Religions from Plato to Spinoza: Reason, Religion, and Autonomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), in The Studia Philonica Annual 26 (2014): 237-244      LINK

(6) Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 76.2 (2014): 347-348          LINK

(7) Experientia, Volume 2: Linking Text and Experience (ed. C. Shantz and R.A. Werline; EJL 35; Atlanta: SBL, 2012), in Review of Biblical Literature (November 16, 2013)           LINK

(8) A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in its Ancient Contexts (ed. R. Bauckham, D. Driver, T. Hart, and N. MacDonald; LNTS 387; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2008), in Review of Biblical Literature (August 22, 2009)         LINK

(9) The Studia Philonica Annual 24 (ed. D.T. Runia and G.E. Sterling; Atlanta: SBL, 2012), in Review of Biblical Literature (April 23, 2013)          LINK

(10) Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (New Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), in Biblica 90.3 (2009): 437–441         LINK

(11) Psalms and Hebrews: Studies in Reception (ed. D.J. Human and G.J.  Steyn; Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 527; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), in Review of Biblical Literature (February 11, 2012)         LINK

(12) Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews: A Resource for Students (ed. E. F. Mason and K. B. McCruden; SBL – Resources for Biblical Study 66; Atlanta: SBL, 2011), in Review of Biblical Literature (June 9, 2012)          LINK

(13) James W. Thompson, Hebrews (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008)     LINK

Friday, May 11, 2012

“Seeing God in Philo of Alexandria: Means, Methods, and Mysticism,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 43.2 (2012): 147–179

My second article on Philo's preeminent mystical experience, seeing God.

For Philo of Alexandria, seeing God represents the pinnacle of human experience. This essay examines three important aspects of that experience: the effectual means of the vision, the methods employed in evoking it, and the function and influence of Philo’s mysticism in the experience. While in some contexts Philo emphasizes the singular role of God in empowering the contemplative ascent and affording the vision, many others highlight the part played by human effort. Philo’s accounts of the practices that evoke the ascent and vision of God are also varied. Though Platonic philosophical contemplation and the practice of virtue are occasionally implicated, in most cases exegetical text work is instrumental. Finally, while some have attempted to divorce Philo’s mystical praxis from the vision of God, contending that “seeing” is simply a metaphor for “knowing” (i.e., “achieving a rational awareness of God’s existence”), a number of factors indicate the importance of Philo’s mysticism in the experience and suggest that an actual, mystical visual encounter underlies and informs these textual representations.

Friday, April 27, 2012

“Confession of the Son of God in Hebrews,” New Testament Studies 53.1 (2007): 114–129

Link to PDF of the full article

Hebrews is addressed to a community whose waning commitment may lead to a complete abandonment of their Christian identity. In response, the author crafts an imaginative and powerful exhortation that centers on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The author first dramatizes the Son’s exaltation, emphasizing the Father’s declaration of Jesus’ sonship, the Son’s reciprocal confession of the Fatherhood of God, and the Son’s conferral of family membership upon the recipients. The recipients are then called upon to participate in this pattern of mutual familial confession in two strategic hortatory passages: 4.14-16 and 10.19-25. These two exhortations to confess Jesus as the Son of God are intended to bring a halt to their wavering commitment and solidify their identity as siblings of the Son.