Category Archives: Reception History

Regensburg Conference on the Prehistory of the Byzantine Liturgical Year

In early July 2018 the University of Regensburg is hosting a conference on the Prehistory of the Byzantine Liturgy, and I was delighted to have my presentation accepted.

The official program bulletin for this conference was recently distributed. I’m glad to see several friends will be in attendance, including Stephen Shoemaker and Richard Bishop. I’m looking forward to seeing them and to meeting scholars whose work I have long admired, particularly Wendy Mayer. I also want to express my gratitude in advance for the hard work of the conference organizers, Harald Buchinger and Stefanos Alexopoulos, as well as the generosity of the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung for underwriting travel and accommodation costs.

My presentation is entitled, “Festal Breadcrumbs of the Byzantine Eucharist: Patristic Antecedents of the Troparion tou deipnou.” The abstract follows:

According to Robert Taft, the tou deipnou troparion first arose in Constantinople, by 573-574 was established as a standard hymn for Holy Thursday, and by the 11th century became a regular feature of the Eucharistic ritual of Constantinople and other traditions indebted to the Byzantine Rite. The prior origins of this troparion are clouded, but this author’s careful examination of patristic exegesis in his dissertation uncovered several possible sources of influence, including Ephrem the Syrian, an anonymous Syriac dispute poem, and Nyssen’s Vita Macrinae. Continuing that research, and in preparation for a forthcoming monograph, the author has translated numerous homilies on Luke 23:39-43, most of which have a Holy Week liturgical setting and many of which have never been translated into a modern language. These include Greek homilies by Chrysostom (CPG 4110, 4116, 4338, 4339, 4877), Severian of Gabala (CPG 4103, 4728), Proclus of Constantinople (CPG 4062, 4604, 5828), among others. Several features of the tou deipnou are anticipated in these patristic homilies, as well as in patristic commentaries, hymns, and poems. These features include the emphasis on confession, the juxtaposition of Judas and the bandit, and several notable textual variants in Luke 23:42: “Remember me, Lord,” rather than “Jesus, remember me;” the absence of the term “come;” and the dative “in your kingdom” rather than the (earlier attested) accusative “into your kingdom.” While a singular influence cannot be illustrated, patristic homilies do evince common textual and interpretive patterns that helped shape the tou deipnou troparion of the Byzantine Rite.

RLST 201: Week 6-14 Highlights

Where has time flown? The last week of the semester is upon us. During the last half of the semester, I participated more in specific discussion threads instead of giving the bird’s eye view that I had during the first part of the semester. Given that, I thought a selection of highlights from my posts would be useful to share.


Luke 11-12: On the Lord’s Prayer

Socratic question: since we have three different versions of Jesus giving instructions about what to say in prayer in early Christianity (in Luke, in Matthew, and in the Didache), is there actually such a thing as “the Lord’s Prayer” in the Bible, or is the idea of “the Lord’s Prayer” a later imposition on the Bible?

Same thing could be said about “the Ten Commandments.” Exodus and Deuteronomy give two different versions. So which one, if any, is the “real Ten Commandments”?

To put it differently, why did later Christian interpreters want to boil down these diverse texts into one definitive “Lord’s Prayer” and one definitive “Ten Commandments”? What does that say about how they saw and used the Bible?

Hint: liturgical/worship and educational interests can overshadow and overdetermine interpretation of the Bible!

Luke 11-12: On Judith and the Fall of Jerusalem

Fascinating connections between Judith to the suffering of Jerusalem. You might be interested in a popular article I wrote about Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds as a kind of modern day Judith. https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/seeing-nazis-massacred-followed-humorless-analysis-mark-bilby

Judith and Revelation in the New Testament have quite a bit in common. Revenge fantasies lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and a call to resistance against imperial rule.

Luke 13-14: Theological and Social Readings

When I read Luke 13:22-30, I read it as a warning against presumption. That theme is very strong in Calvin’s theology. While he says that those predestined to salvation can have assurance, he also stresses that believers should not be presumptuous, and that salvation/election manifests in mortification (self-denial) and good works.

Another way to read the passage is a warning not simply to go along with the crowd.

Yet another way is to read it as a warning to Jesus’ Jewish co-religionists not to assume that their Jewish religious/ethnic standing guaranteed them a place in the eschatological family reunion of God’s people. Gentiles may show themselves more devoted to YHWH than YHWH’s own people.

Lots of possibilities. I wonder if the Jewish/Gentile one is more in keeping with the original context of Luke in its historical context. If so, we should note Calvin’s focus on predestination is itself a profound transformation of the meaning of this passage. My master’s thesis on election and predestination in early Christianity may be helpful here. Early Christian theologians before Augustine saw election and predestination as corporate/ecclesial, not individual. Calvin’s individualistic way of thinking about election and predestination was quite likely a very different way of thinking than what was initially reflected in Luke within its original historical contexts.

Luke 13-14: Individual vs. Communal Interpretations

Ambrose’s interpretation reminds me of the point I made in my reply to another student’s post. Even in ancient Latin Christianity, interpreters took passages (like the fig tree) that had corporate/national/historical significance (as about the fall of Jerusalem) and reinterpreted them to be about the salvation of individuals. If we compare Western (Latin) interpreters to Eastern (Greek/Syriac) ones, often you’ll see that the Western interpreters are more individualistic, and that Eastern interpreters are more corporate/community focused.

Luke 13-14: Calls to Repentance

I’m curious as to whether you would describe these passages as focused on national/corporate repentance and judgement or individual repentance and judgment.

I was meeting with one of my grad student mentees today and we were talking about how English translations of the Bible are so stilted because there is no second person plural (as in Spanish and most Western languages). Because of this, and our individualistic culture, we tend to read the Bible as all about individuals when in its original context it is often speaking to groups of people (families, cities, nations, etc.).

For those of you who read Spanish, French, German, or other Western languages with a second person plural, be encouraged to compare English translations to translations in those languages so you can have more insight into the group-focused mentality that is typical of the books in the New Testament.

My favorite example of this is 1 Cor 6:19. Most people in the US today read that as about individuals (i.e., my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit), and then make it about working out or fitness or something that has nothing to do with the original context of the passage, when the original passage uses all 2nd person plural pronouns and possessives and is speaking of the Church as the collective/shared temple of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 19-20: A Soldier’s Devotion

In addition to the parable of the pounds, the story of the centurion in Luke 7 is also quite reminiscent of the teaching of Epictetus about the taking of oaths. Interesting to think that Jesus expected soldier-like devotion among his disciples.

It’s not well-known in popular circles, but many scholars would say that the historical Jesus led a guerilla warrior movement, and that this is what got him executed. Romans didn’t execute people for teaching about love and forgiveness. They did execute people who were seen as leading revolutionary/independence movements. The fact of the crucifixion is the most important evidence in this argument, but there are other hints throughout the gospels (e.g., the disciples carrying swords and staffs).

After the death of Jesus, and especially after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome in 70, the authors/editors who gave us the Gospels very carefully attempted to make Jesus sound less and less threatening to the so-called Pax Romana. The later the Gospel, the more involved its commitment to picturing Jesus as innocent and that his trial was a travesty of justice.

Luke 19-20: Religious-Corporate Personhood

We don’t often think today about “corporate personhood” in religious terms. It’s interesting to think about the character of Jesus in the Gospels as representing the life and history of a community. In this case, the cleansing of the temple may represent how early (proto-)Christian communities practiced worship that did not exploit the poor, but instead supported them, and the conspiracy to kill Jesus may reflect the sense of opposition these communities had to their way of life in solidarity with the poor.

RLST 201: Week 5 Discussion Summary

There were many rich insights this week, which made it difficult to know where to focus my summary reflections. If time were not so limited, I would enjoy following up with pages of reflection on any of the following:

  • The patriarchal and patrilineal bias in the Lukan genealogy, and what the virgin birth of Jesus could have meant in terms of his membership in humanity.
  • The baptismal practices of the Essenes (Dead Sea Sectarians), how John the Baptist is reminiscent of the Essenes, as is Jesus in his desert sojourn.
  • The connections between Aesop’s stories and Jesus’ temptation.

But I also saw a potentially transformative moment for our class in the responses to my footnote on Annas and Caiaphas, which got some pushback. Disclaimer: by no means do I know everything, and I have been and will continue to be wrong about many things, so I welcome students reading, verifying, and checking the scholarly literature about any of the claims I make, this one included.

It’s certainly possible to find commentaries or articles out there that try to explain away the historically inaccurate claim of a dual priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. But there are also many commentaries and articles that honestly accept it and try to understand it, instead of explaining it away. Those who have or will have CRIT lenses, feel free to check me on this!

More broadly, this is one of literally 10,000s of examples of texts in the Bible not being historically accurate. Just in the last few chapters of Luke, we’ve seen that the genealogies of Matthew and Luke are radically contradictory, that the birth stories in Matthew and Luke vary by ten years as to when Jesus would be born, etc. Again, whenever you have your CRIT lenses, use it as an opportunity to check what some of the leading scholars on the Gospel of Luke have to say about the Annas and Caiaphas thing, or the dating of the birth of Jesus, or the contradictions between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies.

Please know here that I’m not trying at all to tear down the New Testament. On the contrary, I love it deeply and passionately! I’ve devoted much of my life, time, talent, and energy to studying it. To me, these texts are incredibly beautiful and powerful.

It is precisely because I respect these texts that I let them speak for themselves and try my best to listen to other ancient voices that would help me hear what was originally being intended in these texts. Because I respect these texts, I let them be whatever they really are, in all of their complexity, their inconsistencies, their biases, etc.

Studying Scripture academically can be kinda like falling in love. At first, you may believe that your beloved is perfect, flawless, and incomparable. And nobody could convince you otherwise, try as they may. That was definitely how I felt about the Bible when I was in my late teens and early twenties, so I get where some of you are coming from.

But if you give love time and cultivate it with prolonged, honest intimacy, they you will eventually come to see that your beloved is actually very imperfect, but still beloved in spite of and even because of these imperfections.

That’s real love. Not trying to make your beloved into something different, but letting your beloved be exactly what your beloved really is.

So we need to be careful to respect these ancient texts enough to let them say whatever it is they are saying, even if we find it to be historically problematic or inaccurate when compared with other sources of information. Our pre-existing assumptions that these texts have to be historically accurate and perfect are far more a self-reflection of our needs rather than an objective interpretation of these texts in their original historical and literary contexts.

Let me conclude with some Socratic questions to ponder, and then a pedagogical prayer.

  • Why would it be a problem for books in the Bible to have historical inaccuracies?
  • Pretty much all human writings that touch upon history have historical inaccuracies, so why not also the books that made it into the canon?
  • What does it say about our theology that we find the humanity of these texts problematic?
  • Do we view God as controlling/dictating humans, our history, and the production of our texts?
  • Is there authentic human freedom, thought, and creativity? If so, why wouldn’t that apply to the Bible as well?
  • Does the Bible really need us to protect and defend it? From what? From itself?

May your love for these texts grow into a fearless maturity that lets them be exactly what they are, and not what we or anybody else wants to force them to be.

RLST 201: Week 4 Discussion Summary: Body and Soul, (No) Birth Narratives, and Interpreting the Interpreters

There were several threads this week that piqued the interest of several students as well as my own interest. Since I can’t cover everything, I’ll pick three matters on which to focus for this post.

Body and Soul

There was some interesting discussion among students about the relationship of the body and soul. It’s important here to note that Christians through the centuries have borrowed the idea of the soul from Plato’s philosophy. In Plato’s thought, psyche (soul) is invisible and immaterial. It pre-exists the body, temporarily inhabits the body, and then leaves the body after death. In Christian theology, this usually is expressed in terms of the soul coming into the body (at conception or later), the soul inhabiting the body, and then the soul leaving the body and going to heaven or hell.

What Christians through the centuries have not recognized (or perhaps not wanted to recognize) is that this view of the soul is not based on the Bible, but instead on Plato. If you scan some translations of the Hebrew Bible / TaNaKh / Old Testament, you can find the terms “soul” and “spirit.” But nefesh (usually translated soul) means “life.” It is not an invisible thing that pre-exists the body or lives on after the body. It is the life-force that courses through the body. Similarly, ruach (usually translated spirit) means “breath” or “wind.” It is not an invisible object or ghostly version of ourselves. It is the breath we breathe, from the moment we are born until the moment we die. (Incidentally, these different understandings of soul and spirit are crucial to why Judaism has a very different ethical assessment of abortion than do most Christian traditions today.)

The New Testament does show hints of being influenced by Platonic thought about the soul, but its anthropology is customarily holistic, in keeping with Hebrew tradition, or focused on the resurrection of the body, in keeping with Zoroastrian tradition.

No Birth Narrative!?!

Several students found in their ancient lenses that there were few if any connections with Luke 1-2. This might have felt like a failure to find connections, but I see it far more as a success to see and be honest about the differences among these texts. Yes, Q did not have a birth narrative. Yes, the Gospel of Phillip did not have a birth narrative. This was also the case for the majority of Gospels written in the 2nd century. In the broader sweep of the earliest Christian literature, Matthew and Luke were strange for their focus on Jesus’ birth. Some roughly contemporaneous texts followed their lead and expanded their themes, especially the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT) and the Protoevangelium of James (PJ).

So then the question is why. Why did Matthew and Luke and IGT and PJ have birth narratives, but most other Gospels did not? Why did Mark, the earliest Gospel written, not say anything about Jesus’ birth or childhood except (maybe) that his mother’s name was Mary (Mark 16:1)? For that matter, why did Paul, the earliest author represented in the texts of the New Testament, say almost nothing about Jesus’ birth and childhood except that he was “descended from David” (Rom 1:3)? Why did John, which speaks so emphatically about Jesus being the incarnate Word of God, ignore his birth and childhood?

When one steps back and looks at these texts with the critical eye of an historian, it leads to a healthy scepticism about the historicity of the birth traditions in Matthew, Luke, IGT and PJ. The earliest Christian texts didn’t say anything about Jesus’ birth and childhood likely because they simply didn’t have much information or interest in them. As time went on, Christians became more curious about the birth and childhood of Jesus, and as their curiosity grew, so did the texts and traditions treating of Jesus’ birth. Matthew’s birth narratives, written between 80 and 120 CE, started down this path of curiosity. Luke’s birth narratives, written between 120 and 150 CE, expanded it. By the late 2nd century, IGT and PJ expanded these traditions even more.

Interpreting the Interpreters

As students read later interpretations of Luke (Later Lenses), a skill that I want everyone to cultivate is to think critically about later interpretations and how they differ from the original meanings of the texts. Interpreters throughout history have their own cultures, biases, prejudices, priorities, and perspectives. If we look carefully at later interpretations of Luke, we can see their self-reflections embedded in their interpretations.

One potentially instructive example of this during week 4 was an interpretation by Ambrose of Milan. Regarding the story in Luke 1 about the elderly Elizabeth finally becoming pregant, Ambrose says, “But once a person has reached a more advanced age, an age more apt for instructing children than for giving them birth, there is a sense of shame in presenting the outward signs of a marriage that has been consummated – however honourable and legitimate that union may have been” (Luke, trans. Tomkinson, p. 24).

Critical scholarly commentaries on the books of the Bible where stories of barren or elderly women become pregnant (e.g., Sarah in Genesis, Hannah in 1 Samuel, and Elizabeth in Luke) give a very different take. (Feel free to check!) In ancient Semitic patrilineal cultures, having a child—especially a male—was seen as a tremendous blessing for a woman. Any prior barrenness would likely have been seen as a curse, and thus an unexpected pregnancy and birth would be a reversal of the curse. Such a woman’s social status and economic security, tied to the son who would take over control of the household, would be elevated greatly.

Ambrose, therefore, is likely not reflecting the original context of this passage. What is he reflecting then? Himself, his time, culture, and context!

Ambrose was an aristocrat and politically connected bishop in late 4th century northern Italy. His claim that Elizabeth’s late-aged pregnancy brings shame reflects his own aristocratic Roman cultural context.

This is the exact kind of gap or dissonance that I want to train you all to see with every passage in the New Testament. These texts had ancient contexts and meanings (revealed by the use of Ancient Lenses), but later interpreters had different contexts and thus transformed these meanings.

Every week, every assignment in this class is a chance to find and explore examples of this ancient vs. later dissonance. The research bibliography, discussion forums, topic paper, and even the creative project.

RLST 201: Week 2 Discussion Summary

Week Two’s survey of methods prompted lots of good discussion about what methods/approaches students felt strongly about, both pro and con. While it is certainly fine for everyone to have preferences, it’s also important that we not entrench ourselves in preconceived notions and biases.

For example, some very strongly worded concerns were expressed about about foisting postmodern perspectives/ethics (such as LGBTQ Criticism) upon ancient New Testament texts. One comment went so far as to call such readings “dangerous.”

Let me give a cautionary note here, both in terms of civility and in terms of academic honesty. Word choice matters, and it’s important that we do not offend others unnecessarily. Even when we disagree, we can disagree agreeably.

Academically speaking, it is true that lenses such as LGBTQ Criticism reflect a postmodern/subjectivist tendency, yet this doesn’t make them necessarily less important in terms of prompting us to situate and understand the New Testament in its original historical context. We shouldn’t make the false assumption that homoeroticism is merely a modern phenomenon in Western, liberal societies. Homoeroticism is found in many cultures throughout history, and it was quite common across the Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament came into existence. Given this, we should at least be open to the possibility that homoeroticism may have been accepted and practiced by some of the Hellenistic-Jewish and Gentile-Christian communities out of which the New Testament texts arose. We should also be careful not to assume that every voice and text represented in the New Testament takes an unequivocally negative view of homoeroticism, especially when the vast majority of Jewish and Christian Biblical texts are simply silent on the issue.

True enough that Paul in Romans 1:26-27 equates homoeroticism (male and female) with idolatry, in 1 Cor 6:9 includes homosexuals in a list of “wrongdoers” who won’t “inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul’s later followers who wrote 1 Tim 1:10 repeats 1 Cor 6:9. But Historical Criticism and LGBTQ Criticism can both help us understand that Paul’s ethics were highly influenced by Stoic philosophy, which was dismissive of homoeroticism as contrary to nature.

Conversely, Platonism and other Greco-Roman philosophical schools readily accepted homoeroticism as normal and natural. Thus it is worth considering whether New Testament texts that were much more influenced by Platonism than Stoicism (such as the Gospel of John) might also assume/convey a more positive sensibility regarding homoeroticism. The frequent depictions of the intimate relationship of “beloved disciple” to Jesus in the Gospel of John may not be explicitly or clearly homoerotic, but they may be suggestive. While the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark is likely a modern forgery, its homoerotic interpretation of the young man in Mark 15:52-53 (who was only wearing a linen garment and who ran away naked!) may not be completely baseless.

In sum, a diversity of methods for studying the New Testament is vital, not only to respect the diversity of our fellow human beings who read these texts, but also because of the enormous diversity of the texts themselves. While a simplistic kind of faith tends to see everything in the Bible or New Testament as bound by a divinely imposed uniformity, a close, scholarly reading of these texts sees tremendous linguistic, cultural, philosophical, rhetorical, theological, and even ethical diversity.

If the New Testament is a song, it’s not a solo. It’s a gloriously diverse choir. 😊

RLST 201: Week 1 Discussion Forum Summary

As part of an online New Testament class I’m teaching at CSU Fullerton, I am writing up summaries of the weekly discussion fora. This seemed like a good opportunity to do some public-facing writing, so I’m posting these summaries in the online course but also to my blog. No information about individual students will be posted unless that student has given permission.


As I had hoped to do, I’m now finally getting around to writing my first weekly (appreciative and critical) summary of the weekly Discussion Forums.

I’d like to start first by commending the class for the positive energy, optimistic tone, kind encouragement, and willingness to learn, grow, and be challenged. There were numerous posts that gave me immense joy to read. Connecting Harry Potter and the baby Jesus. Being open for the first time to consider the influence of Homer on the New Testament. Thinking about all the ways the New Testament has influenced art, literature, movies, and even some of the names our parents gave to us. For those with eyes to see, the New Testament is in us and all around us! In many ways, this class—especially by including the reception of the Bible throughout history and in a diversity of media—will give us the vision to see this for ourselves.

As we saw from many posts, studying the New Testament can be very personal for many of us. I was actually somewhat surprised to find that there was a much stronger religious/spiritual tenor to the conversation than I had anticipated or even than I’ve experienced in the past when teaching at various private Christian Liberal Arts colleges! I suppose part of the reason is that private Christian colleges are sometimes more of a priority for wealthy, tuition-paying parents than for some (many?) of the students who attend them. Some of it may be because New Testament here at CSUF is not a required General Education class, but instead an elective, so students are taking this class because they want to take it. According to the roster, most of our students in this class are seniors, which makes me appreciate all the more that you would take this class as one of your final classes here at CSUF.

On this note, I did want to caution against using the pejorative word “secular” to describe our freakin awesome, vibrant, and diverse public university. 🙂 Just because an institution is public does not mean that its professors, students, or even learning experience has to be “secular” (or, “this-worldly”). Just because public education is focused on this world, prioritizes evidence-based arguments, etc., does not mean that beliefs about a greater reality or future existence are off-limits or foreclosed. Just because a university does not have a shared religious creed does not mean that its members are not together devoted to the shared pursuit of truth.

It should also be noted that the most prestigious Christian universities in the country (Baylor, Notre Dame, etc.) are deeply humanistic, even while they maintain ties to their sponsoring religious organizations. Rather than seeing the world and education in terms of the mutually exclusive categories of sacred and secular, I would continue to invite us to be open to paradox, that our education can be spiritual and humanistic, fully divine and fully human at the same time. Labwork can lead to awe. Software can be a prayer. And business can be a burden of love.

Let me also add a caution about our use of the terms “Christian” and “Catholic.” Several students told stories of converting from “Catholicism” to “Christianity.” While your story is your own to tell, let me frame our stories within a scholarly context:

  1. Catholicism is one type of Christianity and happens to be the largest group within Christian tradition, representing over a billion of the some two billion Christians on the planet.
  2. It would be more accurate, historically speaking, to speak of changing or converting from “Catholicism” to “Protestantism” or even “Evangelicalism,” or vice versa.
  3. Many Catholics confess to identical beliefs and experiences as Evangelicals: having a personal relationship with Jesus, reading the Bible devotionally, focusing on God/Jesus in prayer, and not worshipping saints (even if still honoring/remembering them).
  4. In terms of a colonial and post-colonial reading of Christian history, Catholicism and Protestantism / Evangelicalism have both been shaped predominantly by European culture in which Christianity is defined and dominated by white males, conversion is conquest, individualism is paramount, and experience is sacred. American Christianity, both in its 10,000s of denominations and non-denominations, is deeply influenced by modern capitalism, whereby conversions are market-share, success is defined by numbers and dollars, pastors are brands, and worship is entertainment. So my tough question for our class is this. How have our stories, our experiences, even our conversions been shaped by our cultural context?

It is easy to go through life unaware and uncritical of the kinds of religious beliefs/practices with which we are familiar, and this includes the ways we have been taught to read the Bible. Our class trip back into ancient Christian literature and history may lead to culture shock, but it may also let us see ourselves and our culture more clearly.

The ways that most of us self-identified also got me thinking, where are our fellow students and neighbors? Where are our Eastern Orthodox students? Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Jews? Muslims? Did our fellow students, our friends and neighbors, not take this class because they did not find it personally meaningful? Educationally significant? Did they think it would challenge them in undesirable ways? In the midst of the first week student shuffle, one or two students who self-identified as agnostic or atheist left the class. Perhaps it was just scheduling or something else, but I wonder whether they felt safe to be themselves.

More reviews of my first book

Here I continue the initial summary of reviews of my 2013 monograph, as well as my summary of the review in Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Again, allow me to provide quotes directly from the reviews in their original languages, along with English translations for those who would prefer them.

Review 5. Meiser, Martin. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23.39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby, Theologische Literaturzeitung 140.5 (May 2015): 488-490.

Meiser’s thorough and positive review is summarized in two specific statements:

B., der auch des Syrischen mächtig ist, kann für sich beanspruchen, ein facettenreiches und lebendiges Panorama altkirchlicher Schriftauslegung vermittelt zu haben.

B(ilby), who is strong in Syriac, can claim for himself to have conveyed a multifaceted and lively panorama of the ancient church’s interpretation of Scripture.

B. kann man zu seiner materialreichen, problembewussten und methodisch stringent argumentierenden Arbeit nur gratulieren.

One can only congratulate B(ilby) on his materially rich, problem-conscious, and methodically stringent argument.

Review 6. Dulaey, Martine. “Patristique latine,” Recherches de Science Religieuse 103.2 (2015): 302-303.

Dulaey gives a positive summary toward the end of the review:

On trouvera encore dans le livre nombre de thèmes parénétiques exploités par les auteurs grecs, latins, syriaques et coptes sur la base de ces versets. On aura profit à lire cette étude qui est d’une remarquable exactitude pour tout ce qui touche à l’authenticité des oeuvres et à leur datation.

We can find in this book a number of parenetic themes exploited by Greek, Latin, Syriac and Coptic authors on the basis of these verses. One can profit by reading this study, which is of a remarkable exactitude on everything it treats regarding the authenticity of works and their date.

Right after this summary, Dulaey calls critical attention to my tendency to find more influence between one interpreter and another than may be merited at times, and also to note that some ideas could become widespread without passing directly from one known interpreter to another. I saw the attempt to draw possible connections as part of the value of a diachronic, comprehensive study of the early reception history of a single passage of Scripture. Raising the possibility of specific connections (e.g., between the poems of Ephrem and those of Gregory of Nyssa and Nazianzus) points out openings for future studies. In my defense, I often qualified these possible connections with tentative language (“may have influenced,” “might have read,” etc.).

Prior to this summary, Dulaey expressly disagrees with my diachronic case for Augustine changing his interpretation. I concede Augustine makes other references to martyrs being defined not by their death but by the cause/reason for their death. But that misses the point of my argument, that Augustine implicitly disagrees with Cyprian’s martyr-reading of Luke 23:39-43 prior to 419 and expressly agrees with Cyprian in 419 and after, and that Vincent Victor (not merely the Donatist controversy) was the reason for this shift in his interpretation.

Unfortunately, Dulaey (an Augustine specialist) elsewhere misreads or misconstrues the book on some important points, such as the range of options early interpreters evinced regarding synoptic disparity (not just chronological or sylleptical harmonization). Most astonishing to me was the claim that the church fathers “hesitated to see in him a martyr” (!). Augustine did not hesitate in this regard; he wavered from one position (that the bandit wasn’t a martyr) to another (that we was a martyr). Many other interpreters (such as Cyprian, Eustathius of Antioch, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, Jerome, Chromatius) were quite explicit and consistent in claiming that the bandit became a martyr on the cross.

– Mark G. Bilby

Supplemental Notes on Scott McGill, Juvencus’ Four Books of the Gospels: Evangeliorum Libri Quattuor (New York: Routledge, 2016)

Scott McGill kindly shared the working drafts of his translation and notes on this seminal early Christian epic poem. Now that his book is published, I am informally publishing all of the comments that I sent to Scott between March and May of 2015. Some of these comments made their way into his monograph, while others (understandably so) did not. I publish the this feedback online as a supplemental resource to Scott’s excellent and valuable monograph. I would like to thank Scott for allowing me to provide feedback and for his gracious acknowledgement of my assistance.

Review of first book in Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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Here I continue the initial summary of reviews of my 2013 monograph.

Review 4. Feldmeier, Reinhard. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2015.09.58).

Reinhard Feldmeier, Professor of New Testament at Georg-August-University, Göttingen, recently reviewed my first monograph for Bryn Mawr’s prestigious Classics review journal. As is customary in scholarly book reviews, much of it represents a thoughtful and appreciative summation of the various chapters of the book.

Two critical comments appeared in the review. First, he (rightly) pointed out that my initial presentation of the “Roman-sympathizing sentiment of Luke-Acts” was eindimensional. In my defense, an overview of modern critical scholarly viewpoints on Luke-Acts was not the focus of the book, and Feldmeier recognizes this. Still, it would certainly have strengthened my monograph had I included a more nuanced and slightly more involved discussion of modern interpretations of the social and political significance and context(s) of Luke-Acts. Second, Feldmeier deems fraglich (questionable) my reconstruction of the Luke vis-à-vis the Gospel of Peter. I had come to the conclusion that the Gospel of Peter actually represents an earlier version of the story of the crucified bandits than does that of Luke. Feldmeier’s disagreement with my conclusion here certainly reflects the majority scholarly view, including that of Paul Foster in his recent critical edition and commentary on the Gospel of Peter. I would only mention that the textual evidence, at least in regard to the tradition of the co-crucified criminals, weighs against the majority scholarly view here and that alternate scenarios regarding the relationship of Luke (which scholars are increasingly viewing as a second century text) and the Gospel of Peter should be given serious consideration based on that evidence.

Overall I took the review as quite favorable, based on the two following, summary statements, which I translate for those who do not read German:

Der Schwerpunkt der Monographie liegt in dem, was der Untertitel andeutet: in der sorgfältig recherchierten und ausgelegten Rezeptionsgeschichte dieser Perikope in der alten Kirche (bis ca. 450 n.Chr.).

The main focus of the monograph lies in that which the subtitle intimates: in the meticulously researched and presented reception-history of this pericope in the ancient church (up to 450 AD).

Es ist das unzweifelhafte Verdienst dieser Studie, anhand der Rezeptionsgeschichte eines einzigen Textes gezeigt zu haben, welche Vielfalt und auch theologische Originalität die patristische Exegese auszeichnet. Auch für den modernen Interpreten ist es immer wieder faszinierend, welche Facetten einem Text abgewonnen werden können und wie dies seine eigene Ratio hat.

It is the indubitable merit of this study to have shown, on the basis of the reception-history of a single text, that variety and also theological originality distinguishes patristic exegesis. It is also always fascinating to modern interpreters which facets could be acquired from a text and how it has its own reason.

I take it as high praise to have an esteemed German professor at Göttingen call the work of this North American scholar “meticulously researched and presented” and accord it “indubitable merit.”

– M. G. Bilby

First Reviews of First Book

While several copies are still out for review in different journals, the first few reviews have started to appear:

Review 1. Clark, Roland. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Catholic Library World 85.2 (December 2014): 122-123.

Review 2. Phillips, Thomas E. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Religious Studies Review 41.2 (June 2015): 75.

Review 3. Widdicombe, Peter. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Journal of Theological Studies 66.1 (April 2015): 435-437.

– Mark Glen Bilby