Books

Hot-button question: Is the history contained in the New Testament reliable?

Hot-button question: Is the history contained in the New Testament reliable?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

How can we get people informed about the results of academic biblical scholarship, work that completely undermines the ordinary popular conception of Christianity and faith? Why are Christians not interested in the truth?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“What is truth?”, Pilate asked Jesus. Or did he? America’s “Jesus Seminar” claimed the Roman tyrant never spoke those famous words and, for that matter, much else in the New Testament never happened either. Norman worries that people aren’t “informed.” Sunday School and CCD may not teach  doubts, but people who don’t know about media promotion of biblical disputes must be living under a rock.

Various degrees of skepticism usually characterize the “higher criticism” conveyed at U.S. colleges. The Jesus Seminar represented the radical wing. Even liberals scoffed at the theatrics when Seminar panelists voted on the authenticity of each verse. The verdict: “82 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by him” while there was a “16 percent historical accuracy rate” for the 176 recorded events in Jesus’ life.

At least Jesus was indeed crucified, the Seminar said. However, two panelists doubted he even existed. They had to discount not only the Gospels but Paul’s letters 20 years after the crucifixion, Roman and Jewish writers (Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, Josephus), and other documents.

Skepticism is nothing new and originated in Europe’s “Enlightenment” era, especially in Germany.

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Let punny headlines reign: Thumbs up as Dawn Eden completes doctorate in theology

Let punny headlines reign: Thumbs up as Dawn Eden completes doctorate in theology

Over the years, this here weblog has seen one or two skilled journalists hit the exit door in order to go to law school. Now, former GetReligionista Dawn Eden taken this whole post-journalism academic thing to a new level by completing a doctorate in theology.

Yes, what a long, strange trip it's been.

That popular music reference is intentional, since Dawn started out in journalism as a rock-music beat reporter before evolving into an award-winning creator of punchy headlines, at The New York Post and then the Daily News. You may want to surf this file of commentary about the writing of her famous "The Lady is a Trump" headline about one of the weddings of a certain public figure who is still in the news. Dawn offered her own very modest take on that episode in her GetReligion intro piece, called "The inky-fingered Dawn."

Now, Dawn has evolved once again, from her life as a popular Catholic apologist into an academic who has just complete a truly historic degree in theology. Here is a key chunk of a post up at The Dawn Patrol, her personal website.

The Doctoral Board ... gave me an A on both my dissertation and my presentation. Now I am set to graduate with my sacred-theology doctorate from the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) on May 7, magna cum laude. It will be the first time in the university's history that a canonical (i.e. pontifically licensed) doctorate will be awarded to a woman.

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Presbyterians, Baptists, Churches of Christ: Do denominational affiliations matter in Tennessee Bible debate?

Presbyterians, Baptists, Churches of Christ: Do denominational affiliations matter in Tennessee Bible debate?

I'm typing this on a lazy Friday afternoon after eating a rather filling lunch of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy at my mom and dad's house in Texas.

Frankly, I'm a little drowsy and could use a nap.

So I can't swear that I'm thinking totally clearly or that my questions about a news report on Tennessee's governor vetoing a bill to make the Bible that state's official book will be relevant to anyone except me. But since I get paid the big bucks to do so, I'll go ahead and ask.

As you may recall, I first posted on the Tennessee debate last week.

In recent days, Godbeat pro Holly Meyer and her colleagues at The Tennessean have done some excellent coverage on the issue.

However, the story that sparked my questions was produced by The Associated Press.

The AP's lede:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill seeking to make Tennessee the first state to designate the Bible as its official book.
Haslam, who considered entering a seminary before deciding to join the family truck stop business after college, said in his veto message that the bill "trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text."
The bill had narrowly passed both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly after sponsors said it aimed at honoring the significance of the Bible in the state's history and economy, as opposed to a government endorsement of religion.
"If we believe that the Bible is the word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance," Haslam said.

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Strike up the banned: The Bible is among the most-challenged library books, RNS reports

Strike up the banned: The Bible is among the most-challenged library books, RNS reports

Secularists often chide evangelical Christians for nursing a persecution complex, but you know the old saying: Just 'cause you're paranoid …

And the paranoids among us won't be reassured by a new report thatthe Bible was one of the most challenged books in libraries last year.

The holy book, says the Religion News Service, sits among other books that many church people would reject:

(RNS) What does the Bible have in common with "Fifty Shades of Grey" or one of John Green’s best-selling young adult novels?
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bible made the list of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books last year.
The 2015 list was released Monday (April 11) as part of the ALA’s 2016 State of America’s Libraries report. It includes books that have drawn formal, written complaints from the public because of their content or appropriateness, according to the ALA.
The Bible, which came in at No. 6, was challenged for its "religious viewpoint," the ALA said.

The story reveals a trend since 2009 of growing complaints about books in libraries that contain "religious viewpoints," the article says. Sounds like the RNS writer, Emily McFarlan Miller, asked some penetrating questions.

What about before 2000? Well, back then, most complaints were about "sexually explicit material, offensive language or being unsuitable for the intended age group," the article says. Today, the growing edge is over religious content.

From the list, though, ALA seems to include sexuality in what constitutes a religious viewpoint:

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Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

DAVID’S QUESTION:

Why don’t mainstream Muslims acknowledge that the Quran orders them to do just what ISIS does?

MIKE’S QUESTION:

Does the Quran tell Muslims to kill anyone who doesn’t become a Muslim?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

David’s full question -- posted before the latest slaughter aimed at Christians in Pakistan, children included, and the bombings in Belgium -- asks why Quran passages “explicitly order the killing of non-Muslims.” Mike, posting after those atrocities, wonders “why there is so much violence and murder in the Muslim faith.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Sohrab Ahmari observes that “Islamic terrorism is now a permanent and ubiquitous hazard to life in every city on every continent” and “not a single day now goes by” without an attack somewhere. With much of today’s terror enacted in the name of God, fellow Muslims are the majority among innocent victims. The Global Terrorism Index counts 32,685 killings during 2014, an 80 percent increase over 2013. Not all were Islam-related and, notably, in the West only a fifth of them were.

The Islamic State and similar factions claim to follow precedents from Islam’s founding, in the holy Quran and collected hadith teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Nabeel Qureshi writes in USA Today that his conversion from Islam to Christianity, described in “Answering Jihad,” resulted from “the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations” of Islam that provides terrorists’ “primary recruiting technique.” Graeme Wood of The Atlantic documented the importance of the early religious texts for current terror ideology.

Yet Muslim scholars say the revelations often applied to specific circumstances and some passages abrogate earlier ones.

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Holy Week question: What do we know about the Jewish leader who buried Jesus?

Holy Week question: What do we know about the Jewish leader who buried Jesus?

JACK’S QUESTION:

What do we know about Joseph of Arimathea? Have scholars learned anything more about him than what is said in the Gospels?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The man who buried Jesus is a timely topic for Christians’ Holy Week. The quick response is that lots of stuff about Joseph of Arimathea is floating around out there. But much of it was written long centuries after the fact and is best regarded as folklore that tells us about British national pride rather than the actual man and his history.

The four New Testament Gospels are by far the best available sources and, scholars tells us, the earliest ones, produced in their current form some three to six decades after Jesus’ crucifixion. All four Gospels have information about Joseph, a rare distinction for a minor figure, albeit one who participated in a history-changing event. (References: Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:43-46, Luke 23:50-53, John 19:38-42.)

The Gospels’ narratives are broadly similar, but with intriguing differences of the sort that keep exegetes up at night. We’re told Joseph was “rich” and “respected,” asked Rome’s colonial ruler Pilate for custody of Jesus’ corpse, provided his own unused tomb hewn out of rock, personally conducted the burial procedures, and rolled the famous stone across the entrance to seal the gravesite. The burial was witnessed by two women, so the Gospels teach they were not mistaken that it was Jesus’ tomb  later found empty.

Mark calls Joseph a member of the “council,” which could refer to Jerusalem’s municipal government. But Luke clarifies that he belonged to the Sanhedrin that asked Pilate to execute Jesus, and says Joseph “had not consented to their purpose and deed.” Thus Mark’s statement that “all” of the Sanhedrin wanted execution can be seen as hyperbole to indicate lopsided rather than 100 percent support. John alone adds that fellow Sanhedrin member Nicodemus, who had defended Jesus during a prior dispute (John 7:50-52), joined Joseph in the burial.

Side comment: This important detail that the Sanhedrin was split helps counter anti-Semitic distortions. And divided opinion did not characterize only the Jewish rulers.

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Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Our previous religion-beat Memo puffed “The Study Quran,” a truly path-breaking production.

The Religion Guy now outpoints a  standby that belongs on the desks of journalists who don’t have one of the two earlier editions: “The Catholic Study Bible” (Oxford University Press, available in paperback for US$39.99).

The volume includes the latest (2010) version of the New American Bible, the official English translation used in the U.S. Catholic Church, alongside numerous articles and detailed verse-by-verse commentary from a 20-member team. The new edition adds, for instance, surveys of archaeological finds regarding the Bible, by Ronald Simkins of Creighton University in Omaha (Old Testament) and Dominican Sister Laurie Brink of Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union (New Testament).

In addition to keeping this book handy for future reference, newswriters could use it as a hook to analyze trends in Catholic scholarship on the Bible. The book bears the hierarchy’s  declaration that all material “is free from doctrinal and moral error.” Yet a spot check indicates the latest edition continues and somewhat reinforces the secular and liberal Protestant sort of scholarship that influenced the first two editions.

A fascinating in-depth project could compare the Study Bible’s approach with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s conservative declarations from 1905 through the 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council, as indexed right here.   

Among other things, prior commission decrees affirmed Moses as the “substantial” source of the first five Old Testament books; single authorship for Isaiah’s prophecy; the historical veracity of Genesis 1-3, the Book of Acts, and the Gospel of John; and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written prior to A.D. 70.

Today, those sorts of views are largely confined to conservative Protestant or Orthodox Jewish scholars.

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Native Americans: Thumbs down on J.K. Rowling's use of American witchcraft icons

Native Americans: Thumbs down on J.K. Rowling's use of American witchcraft icons

It had to happen sooner or later: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has crossed the pond and found a massive new set of sorcery traditions to garnish her output for her Potter prequel movie. The only problem: She uses symbols and names from American history and Indian sources. Things like Navajo myths and the Salem witch trials of the 1690s.

The Guardian (UK) is already onto this new movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" if you want news about that, but the mere idea of transmitting the world of Potter onto American soil is getting ridiculed by some

Whereas some folks would be more than glad for the world's richest author to toss some PR toward neglected tribal shamans this side of the Atlantic, not everyone is thrilled. Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the matter:

While some American "Harry Potter" fans were ecstatic over J.K. Rowling's new writing about "the history of magic in North America," her story has angered some Native Americans.

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Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Media personnel obviously are giving far more attention to Islam than they did years ago -- because they need to.

Therefore “The Study Quran” (HarperOne, 1,988 pages, US$59.99, e-book US$19.99) that was noted in a post by GetReligion’s Julia Duin should be in media company libraries (if they still exist) or in the private collections of all newswriters whose work is in any way linked to religion in the news.

This classy landmark, nine years in preparation, imitates Christians’ many “study Bibles,” a couple of which also belong on newsroom desks. The totally new English translation of Islam’s holy book is accompanied by an extensive verse-by-verse commentary, 16 related essays, an index and other “helps.” The work provides a much-needed option to the useful but somewhat outdated 1934 translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali that Saudi Arabia has distributed widely.

To The Religion Guy’s eyes the one big negative is the translators’ ill-advised reversion to fusty King James-ish phrasing, as though it's somehow more reverent: “Dost thou not know?” “God is wroth.” “Thou grant me reprieve till a term nigh.” While the commentary is invaluable, the recent translations by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem or Majid Fakhry may be more useful for journalistic quotations.

With this book, English-speakers can now gain ready access to authoritative scholarship representing the grand tradition of this massive religion. Since much of the relevant literature is in Arabic, the material drawn from 41 standard commentators, and the 43 pages of citations from hadith traditions of Muhammad’s teachings, are especially important for western Muslims and non-Muslims.

The editor-in-chief was the well-respected Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, working with former students Caner Dagli of the College of the Holy Cross, Maria Massi Dakake of George Mason University (a female scholar’s participation is significant), Joseph Lumbard of American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and Mohammed Ruston of Canada’s Carleton University. Dakake and Lumbard are converts from Christian backgrounds, a plus in this situation, but it’s a thoroughly Muslim reference work, from a team with expertise in the Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi branches.

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