Fellowship for Biblical Studies National Conference

One of the things that I miss about the biblical studies scene in the UK is the annual meeting of the British New Testament Conference (which has, by all accounts, just held a very successful meeting at King's College London and at which a panel of scholars reached definitive agreement about what the discipline of New Testament studies actually is and is for … or am I being optimistic?). Here in Australia there are few opportunities for biblical scholars to gather from across the country. Therefore it is good to know that the inaugural conference of the Fellowship for Biblical Studies is due to be held here in Melbourne on the 24–25 September 2012. The programme for the conference is as follows:

9.30 Mark A. O’Brien    “Creativity
and Limitation in the Making of Biblical Texts”

10.10 Judy Redman        “Finding a lost sheep”

 10.50    Morning Coffee
(in the café area)

 11.10 Ian Young     “‘Neither Can Live While the Other Survives’: Linguistic
Dating of Hebrew Biblical Texts vs Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible”

11.50 Adam White    “Value Formation and Value judgement: Graeco-Roman paideia
as a backdrop to Paul’s judgement language in 1 Cor 4.1-5”

12.30 Dermot Nestor    “Is ‘Israel’ in the Merneptah Stele?”

1.10  Lunch (in the
café area)

2.00 Sean Winter    “Dung as Idolatry: The Meaning of skubala in Philippians 3:8”

2.40 Martin Shields    “Was
Elihu Right?”

3.20     Afternoon
Tea (in the café area)

3.40  Alexandra
    "Jude's Citation of 1 Enoch and its Significance"

4.20 Jon Kenneth Newton    “Story lines in the Book of Revelation”

5.00pm Lucy Davey,    “The Importance of the Chiastic Structure in the Book of

5.40pm Wine and Nibbles (in the café area)


Tuesday 25th September

9.30 Howard Wallace    “Arthur Boyd and his Bible”

10.10 Stephen Llewellyn    “Metaphors and Eunuchs: The Argument for a Different Reading
of Matt 11:12”

10.50 Morning Coffee (in the café area

11.10 Anne Elvey    "Rethinking Neighbour Love: Toward an Ecological
Materialist Conversation between Political Theology and Ecological Ethics"

11.50 Rachelle Gilmour     “Juxtaposed
Episodes of Biblical Narrative in Dialogue”

12.30 David
    “The Gospel of Matthew and Galilee”

1.10 Lunch (in the café area)

2.00 Robyn Vern    “Recent Study of Archaic Biblical Hebrew: shedding
new light on understanding Biblical Hebrew”

2.40 Steffen Joeris    “More than family
dispute: Mk 13:12-13a and Isa 66:5”

3.20 Afternoon Tea (in the café area)

3.40 Anne Gardner    “Gratuitous Repetition or Meaningful References in Dan 7:1b-2a?
Implications for an Ur-text”

4.20 Todd Stanton    “Toward a Comparative Method in Biblical Studies”

5.00pm Wine and Nibbles (in the café area

A mixed bag of papers to be sure, but it is good to see colleagues from Sydney attending in some numbers. As you may have spotted, I am giving a paper. I'll post the abstract for that tomorrow.

Old Testament Job Opportunity in Melbourne

My Old Testament colleague here at the Uniting Church Theological College and Centre for Theology and Ministry retires at the end of this year. So, we are now advertising for a new Professor of Old Testament, to start in 2012. Details are as follows:








Applications are invited for the position of



at the Uniting Church Theological College Melbourne


The appointee will teach in the field of Old Testament Studies, enabling students of the Theological College and the United Faculty of Theology (an ecumenical Recognised Teaching Institution of the Melbourne College of Divinity) to explore the Old Testament, develop their knowledge and skill for interpreting its texts and to integrate their learning into their theology, preaching, teaching and practice of ministry.


The appointee will participate in the preparation and formation of candidates for the Uniting Church Ministries and resource the wider Uniting Church in understanding the Old Testament.


Appointment effective from 1 January 2012 for a period of 7 years


Closing date:  15 July 2011


The full advertisment can be downloaded by clicking on the folloing link Download OT ad April11.

Please feel free to circulate these details as widely as possible. I am happy to have a conversation with anyone who feels they might want to apply.

Whose Righteousness in Genesis 15.6?

Something to think about.

Genesis 15.6 reads:

And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (NRSV)

‏וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה (MT)

καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην (LXX)

The NRSV reads the subject into the second clause: YHWH does the reckoning of righteousness to Abraham.  The LXX already suggests this interpretation by specifying Abraham as the subject of the first clause and therefore the referent of the αὐτῷ in the 2nd.

But the MT says none of this.  Bertil Albrektson (‘A Disputed Sense in a Covenant Context: On The Interpretation of Genesis 15:6’, in A.D.H Mayes and R. B. Salters (eds), Covenant as Context: Essays in Honour of E. W. Nicholson (Oxford: OUP. 2003), 1-9) suggests that the natural sense is that Abraham ‘trusted YHWH and considered it (i.e. YHWH’s promise) reliable.

How does that reading affect our understanding of Paul’s use of the quotation at Romans 4.3 and Galatians 3.6?

Reflections on Psalm 52

This Psalm, which Hossfeld and Zenger associate with other, pre-exilic ‘psalms of the poor’ (Psalm 4, 11-14) also seems to contain wisdom traditions, notably an implicit ‘two ways’ structure which comes through in the contrasting imagery in 52.5 and 52.8 (references are to the English).

The way of the evildoer (whose evil deeds are as much a matter of what is said as what is done) leads ultimately to a scene of destruction (the imagery of v5 is of war, followed by storm).  That of the righteous derives from a trust in God, rather than riches (note the repeated use of   בָּטַחְתִּי/ וַיִּבְטַח
in verses 7 and 8).

The overall context for the comparison is the enduring covenant-faithfulness of God: the חֶסֶד אֵל כָּל־הַיּוֹם of 52.3 should be kept as ‘God’s steadfast love endures all day’, rather than following the LXX and Peshitta as the NRSV does, thus forming an inclusio with בְחֶסֶד־אֱלֹהִים עוֹלָם וָעֶד  in 52.10.

So, while there is some, to modern ears, rather unsavoury gloating at the fate of the unrighteous in vv6-7, the overall force of the Psalm is to make clear a basic choice over the orientation of life.  Is our fundamental trust to be placed in our own heroic self-assertion and the accompanying riches that such a life almost inevitably brings, or recognising what such lives do to the poor, do we trust in the steadfast love of God and so associate with those who live out that love: the חֲסִידֶיךָ of 52.9?  The Davidising preface only serves to distract us from the basic invitation made by this Psalm (and much of the rest of the wisdom tradition): where are your roots?  who do you trust?  with whom will you choose to associate and identify in life?

More on Psalm 51

Some more observations based on 51.12-21 (ET 51.10-19) drawn from Hossfeld and Zenger’s new Hermeneia commentary on the Psalms.  See here for the previous post.

1.  The petition "create in me a clean heart and renew a correct spirit" picks up the language of new creation (the same verb is used as in Genesis 1.1) and of prophetic promises to exiled Israel.  Thus this is a prayer by which the individual seeks to locate themselves within the wider story of God’s redemptive purposes for creation and thus the world.  This is confirmed by the phrase אַל־תַּשְׁלִיכֵנִי מִלְּפָנֶיךָ in v13 which is also used to describe the banishment of Israel into exile.  The technical phrase for this idea is ‘individual eschatology’ whereby the Psalmist claims for themselves the eschatological promises made to Israel.  These promises of deliverance and their consequent fulfilment in the life and experience of the Psalmist constitute God’s righteousness the צִדְקָתֶךָ of 51.16 – thus this is an example of the notion of ‘righteousness’ equating to God’s saving power for Israel and the individual: this is the likely background to Paul’s language of the ‘righteousness of God δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Romans.

2.  The relationship between individual and people, the Psalmist and Israel, and the interaction between their present situations (exile, sinfulness) and promised future (forgiveness, restoration, salvation) explains the presence of 51.20-21, which pray for the rebuilding of Zion.  The verses are secondary, but the Zion theology expressed within them suggests a canonical reading whereby ‘the renewal of Zion as central point of creation begins with the new ceation of its inhabitants.’ (Hossfeld and Zenger, 23).

3.  The phrase וְרוּחַ נְדִיבָה in verse 14, translated ‘willing spirit’ prepares the way for the imagery of living sacrifice that follows.  The root is actually a technical term used to denote the ‘freewill offering’ (see Exod. 35.5, 21).

4.  Psalm 51 may well lie behind the overall shape of the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.11-32 as well as the specific wording of the son’s confession in 15.18, 21.  The structure of acknowledgment of guilt, confession before a merciful God/father, new creation and festive meal/sacrifice is broadly similar.  The theology that we have begun to articulate in these comments also shapes the opening chapters of Romans where Psalm 51.6 is cited (in the LXX).  This suggests that attempt to set an ‘individual’ reading of Romans (how can I find a gracious God?) over against a ‘covenantal’ reading (is God faithful to the covenant with Israel?) should not be overplayed.  In this, the most individual of the Psalms, it is Israel’s story being told, and indeed the covenantal promises of God to Israel are the basis for the personal expressions of faith and confidence to which this Psalm gives voice.

Some Notes on Psalm 51

I have just started working my way patiently through Hossfeld and Zenger’s wonderful new Hermeneia commentary on Psalms 51-100 (the first volume of 3, translated from the Herders Theological Commentary in German).  I am often asked about the value of commentaries.  Clearly they are important for scholars and students. But preachers should not ignore the riches found within them.  Detailed exegetical commentaries offer innumerable insights for theological reflection, and observations that might help to frame the language and structure of a given sermon.  So here are some of the things that have struck me as I have looked at Psalm 51 (in Christian tradition the Miserere).  All citations are to the MT, and I make no apology for the use of Hebrew.  It is only by understanding Hebrew that one is able to understand the points being made.  This is the main reason why, in my view, biblical languages are still essential for anyone wishing to spend a lifetime in responsible interpretation of the bible within the community of faith.
1.  The word play in the in MT introduction:  בְּבוֹא־אֵלָיו נָתָן הַנָּבִיא כַּאֲשֶׁר־בָּא אֶל־בַּת־שָׁבַע
In the NRSV this is translated: ‘when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba’ but this downplays the wordplay in the repeated verb.  There would be an idiomatic way of preserving the word play in contemporary English, but it would be a brave pastor (or commentator or translator for that matter) who would take that option.

2.  The phrase לְךָ לְבַדְּךָ חָטָאתִי in 51.6 expresses a fundamental conviction of post-exilic theology, namely that sin against neighbour is to be understood as sin against God (cf Lev. 5.21).  The canonical context of the phrase relates it, of course, to David’s sin against Bathsheba.

3.  The Psalm permits of an interpretation in which the problem is not only sin, but sickness.  Hossfeld and Zenger convincingly argue against this interpretation (clearly the focus on the text is on sin and penitence) but the presence of v10 with its reference to crushed bones, and the clear connections between sickness, impurity and sacrifice in OT thought, there is something to be said for keeping this in the background of one’s reading of the text.  In particular, the suggestion that God’s refusal to take pleasure in cultic sacrifice (51.18) is due to the fact of the Psalmist’s illness and thus impurity is suggestive.

4. There is a wonderful chiasm used to form an inclusio between vv3-4 and vv9-11.  The structure is
A מְחֵה– blot out
   B כַּבְּסֵנִי – wash me
        C טַהֲרֵנִי – cleanse me
        C’ וְאֶטְהָר – that I may be clean
    B’ תְּכַבְּסֵנִי – wash me
A’ מְחֵה – blot out

5.  The opening verses, with their threefold description of sin (as transgression of the divine order; deliberate injury or harm and deviation from the true path and goal of human life) and threefold description of God’s characteristics, echo the ‘mercy formula’ known elsewhere in the NT (see e.g. Exod. 34.6; Jonah 4.2). In standing at the Psalm’s opening they set the context for the later statements about the justice of God’s judgements: ‘God’s righteousness is merciful and effects mercy as God combats and eliminates sin in its multiform wickedness and destructiveness’ (Hossfeld and Zenger, Psalms 2, 19).

6.  51.7 with its reference to being born in guilt concerns the givenness of sin rather than offering an explanation for the origin of sin.  There is no understanding of sin as passed through the act of procreation here.

7.  Hyssop אֵזוֹב is wild oregano and is used in Leviticus 14 as one of the ritual elements taken my priests into a house rendered impure by disease.

And all that just from vv1-11 (51.1-9 in the English). More later.