Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Semester Starts

Semester two of Year 3 at HTC has started this week and I'm over in Dingwall on campus for the start of the new modules. This semester, my four modules are:
  • Amos (Hebrew), taught by Hector Morrison, covers the whole of the Hebrew text of the prophet Amos looking at text critical issues, exegesis and theology.
  • Luke-Acts, taught by Dr Mike Bird, sees us each week spend some time in key themes in the Lukan corpus, exegesis of key passages linked to that theme and a linked mini-seminar.
  • Old Testment Themes, taught by Hector Morrison, is really an introduction to Old Testament Theology I suppose, and forms an immediate background to the Biblical Theology modules of the honours year.
  • Greek Texts III, taught by Dr Mike Bird, continues our exegetical and text critical work in the UBS4, working this time through the final chapters of Mounce's Graded Reader, including a stab at the LXX and the Didache.
I've posted the key books for these modules over on the left.

The new semester also sees HTC under the guidance of Hector Morrison as Acting Principal, following the return of Rev Prof Andrew MacGowan to pastoral ministry at East Church, Inverness; he remains a tutor at HTC, teaching Systematic Theology. Dr Jamie Grant is now Acting Vice Principal.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reflections on Hebrew Texts

Reflections on last semester's modules continues with Hebrew Texts, taught by Hector Morrison, currently the Acting Principal at HTC, who also sits in worship with a BHS in front of him - respect! The module covers three texts: first, there's the beginning of the Book of the Covenant, as found in Exodus 20-22; second the prophet Hosea, chapters 1-4, and third, the wisdom of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes 1-4. This way, you get to deal in different Hebrew styles and genres. The highlights of the module are somewhat dulled (!) by the problems of reading and translating the Hebrew, which I find a bit more of a struggle than the Greek.

At this point can I highly recommend to any theology student intending to pursue Greek and/or Hebrew throughout their degree (and why wouldn't you?!) the Original Languages software from Olive Tree. I run it on my Loox PDA and what a help it is - parsing and lexical data at the touch of a stylus! I bought the Original Languages Package when the pound was still a meaningful currency and bought lots of dollars, but even in these days of the weakling pound , I would say it would be a worthwhile investment. Of course, its no help in the exams, but it assists in the learning.

Some brief highlights:
  • The material from the Book of the Covenant is fascinating, not least the question of the relationship of the Book to the Decalogue. Also, comparisons to the parallels to other ANE Law Codes, such as those of Hammurabi, emphasise the contextualisation of God's revelation to his people Israel, but also the counter-culture that the Laws of Yahweh represented. Especially striking is the sanctity of life and the egalite of the Mosaic Law, as well as the important of family respect, in contrast to other ANE codes. I found Peter Enns' commentary on Exodus (NIVAC), whilst not technical, helpful and readable. As a technical commentary I used Childs' volume (OTL).
  • Interpretation of the book of Ecclesiastes is difficult. I used Longman's recent NICOT volume, in which he propounds the view that the teaching of Qohelet is somewhat heterodox, and is presented by another orthodox author who composes a frame around the work. Longman's commentary is certainly valuable, but I wonder whether his view does justice to the complexities of life as a believer, the absurdity that we do find in existence in a fallen world, as well as the pedagogical role of contradiction in wisdom texts. In any case, reading Qohelet gave me my first experience of enjoying the metrical rhythms of wisdom texts.
  • Hosea contains the most difficult textual problems in the whole of the Old Testament. Some of these huge problems are found in Chapter 4 and this is where the passage for the assessed exegesis paper was found. In this chapter, the sins of the people are laid bare, sins which are pictured in Gomer's own promiscuity. Reading around the ANE background to this passage in the fertility cults of Baalism is not particularly edifying, but does shed light on Yahweh's indictment of his people through the ministry of Hosea. Some scholars propose a narrowly spiritual reading of the promiscuity of God's people, but I think it more likely that the promiscuity of Gomer is not officially cultic, but associated with the activities of the hoi polloi at cultic sites - promiscuity had become a practice of the worshippers. Therefore Yahweh's judgements are against the literal, as well as the spiritual (the two being connected) fornications of the people. Also, I must mention Hosea 2:18, which foretells the Edenic peace which is the telos of the New Covenant (and which is also within its scope) - a definite highlight.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reflections on Greek Texts II

Reflections on last semester's modules kicks off with Greek Texts II. What can I say....? It falls between Greek Texts I and Greek Texts III....self-evident. These three modules take us through Mounce's Graded Reader of Biblical Greek and it's not just about learning Greek, it's a bout learning exegetical skills, learning theology and hearing God's word. Each week we have to prepare translations and do some reading from the commentaries and lexica (when I say 'have to', I mean 'are supposed to'). The module was assessed on an exam (on sight exegesis with nothing but UBS4 in front of you) and a exegesis paper (which this year was from 1 Peter 1:13-17). It's hard to pick out a few highlights when you've ranged across the gospels and epistles during a module, but my main highlights come from our studies in Philippians...
  • In exegeting the Christ hymn of chapter 2, Muller's old NICNT volume (produced under the editorship of Ned Stonehouse) was very helpful. Of course, the meaning of harpagmon in 2:6 is debated; I opted for the translation prized possession, following Muller: 'in combination with hegeisthai it is used to denote a much-valued possession or gain, and the pregnant meaning of robbery has been ousted'.
  • In 2:6, Paul writes that Christ Jesus existed in the morphe of God. Lightfoot writes that morphe is the 'outward display of the inner reality or substance' as opposed to the schema, which is merely outward appearance, something changeable. In Plato (although the use is rare) it is 'the impress of the idea on the individual'. Therefore here morphe is expressing the essential unity of the pre-existent Christ with deity. There is a problem with most translations of the remainder of this verse. NASB renders it 'did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but...'. The problem is that this can be made to imply that Christ gave up his equality with God, since he did not regard it as a thing to be grasped (or a prized possession). Muller's exegesis of the phrase to einai isa thew is therefore interesting. He translates it as to exist in a manner like unto God rather than to be equal to God, arguing that isa is an adverbial form carrying the sense of in such a way or manner, rather than the substantive isov, which Paul would have used if he wanted to denote equality. This avoids the problem since Paul's thought is therefore that Christ did not consider existing in the same manner as God, i.e. his pre-incarnate spiritual existence, as a prized possession, but emptied himself. To my mind, this is theologically more satisfactory, although I'm sure arguments could be brought against this interpretation of isa.
  • The Christ hymn is a sublime passage of scripture which Paul deploys in order to encourage the Phillipian believers to humility and service - something that ought not to be overlooked as we seek to glean Christology from it.
Other highlights can only be mentioned in passing:

  • In James, we noted the connections with wisdom literature, and with the Sermon on Mount, which also has connections with wisdom literature.
  • The similarity between James 1 and 1 Peter 1 on faith and testing is striking.
  • Christ's quotation from Isaiah whilst explaining the parable of the sower in Matthew's gospel can be compared to the Isaianic source in both the MT and LXX. The differences are very interesting indeed: are the parable spoken because the people don't understand, or so that they will not understand?
  • Ephesians 1 is another sublime passage and can be characterised as a berakah psalm....
Greek is becoming more familiar, which is a good feeling! Some might question the need to do so much Greek (or Hebrew for that matter). Well, I've heard a few dodgy exegeses over the last couple of years (not in my own congregation!) that would have benefitted from some awareness of the fact that the Word of God was not given to us in English! Anyway, it's on to Greek Texts III this coming semester...