Last year I posted a short piece reflecting on the use of the Bible in the debate concerning the refugee crisis: Migrants, Refugees and the search for a Biblical Perspective. Tragically, fourteen months later, the crisis shows no signs of abating and political solutions remain (largely) incoherent and confused. In the light of this, I have become increasingly aware of the application of a relatively new narrative to the traditional nativity story. This has been particularly pronounced in the use of memes on social networking sites and exemplifies the plasticity of this story and the way that it can be adapted to provide powerful messages that address specific issues and needs.
As part of the CCRS programme I regularly take a couple of sessions where we compare and contrast the canonical birth narratives and students almost overwhelming state that they prefer Luke’s account because they find it more applicable to them and to contemporary society. When asked to explain further, they generally point to the ‘humble setting’ of Jesus’ birth, and the identification with the poor and socially disadvantaged. There appears to be little room for the ‘kings’ (or more accurately, magi) in our modern day nativities! Continue reading
No Vacancies: Is there still no room for Jesus at the inn?
OpEd Guest post by Stephanie O’Connor
Popular culture is simply a way of saying the culture of, ‘the average Joe’ in a more politically correct form, rather than culture that is defined by a more educated élite. So does the Bible actually still have influence in mainstream society? This question alone arguably creates even more questions; is that influence positive or negative? Why, after so long, is it still an influential text? How has its influence changed in the last two thousand years or so?
The second of Steve Moyise ‘s seminars at Newman University, Was the Birth of Jesus According to Scripture?, explored the use of the Hebrew scriptures in the Matthew and Luke’s nativity accounts and questioned how helpful historical criticism (generally the primary approach used by critical scholars) is for understanding the rationale behind their use.
Unfortunately we encountered difficulties with recording this session. However, we are grateful to Steve for providing us with a handout that includes much of the material from his talk (drawn from a chapter from his latest book – of the same title) and his PowerPoint slides (links below). Continue reading
Professor Steve Moyise will be giving two talks at Newman on February 12th.
The first will be on Paul’s use of the scriptures in his writings. Steve will be making special reference to this in light of the recent work by NT Wright.
Steve will then be leading a research seminar on ‘Was the Birth of Jesus According to Scripture.‘ This session will examine the claim that the events recorded in the Nativity accounts were prophesied in Israel’s scriptures and asks, can this claim still be accepted today? His paper will explore the findings of historical criticism and asks whether it operates with too narrow an understanding of truth. Continue reading
Thursday 12th February 2015, Newman University
Professor Steve Moyise has recently become a Visiting Professor of Biblical
Studies at Newman and will be giving two lectures/seminars on campus on Thursday 12th February 2015, to which all are most welcome. Professor Moyise is a world-leading expert in the area of the use of scripture in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Revelation and Paul’s letters. His most recent books include: Evoking Scripture. Seeing the Old Testament in the New; Paul and Scripture; and Jesus and Scripture. A number of students will be familiar with Professor Moyise’s work through his Introduction to Biblical Studies. Further details of his work can be found by clicking here.
We are really pleased to announce that Professor Moyise will be giving a short lecture and lead a Q and A session (from 15.00-16.00) on the subject of
the use of scripture in Paul’s letters, with particular reference to the current work of another leading New Testament scholar, Tom Wright.
This will be followed from 16.30-17.30 by a research seminar entitled “Was the Birth of Jesus According to Scripture?” which is the focus of Professor Moyise’s most recent book. This session will be particularly interesting for those who came to our Advent Seminars in December.
The third of the 2014 Newman Advent Seminars explored the traditions concerning the nativity that developed following the the New Testament accounts.
During the session we were introduced to extracts from three apocryphal (non biblical) accounts of the nativity. For those who wanted more information and to read the texts further, you will find below some links to online editions of them.
The Protevangelium of James (also known as the Infancy Gospel of James)
- Dated mid to late second century.
- The first reference to it is by Origen (Commentary of Matthew 10:17) in the early third century.
- Earliest surviving manuscript: 3-4th century, Papyrus Bodmer V (Syriac)
Mark Goodacre has done an excellent introduction to this text in one of his NT Pod podcasts
See also the wordcloud and introductory discussion of the Protevangelium of James posted earlier.
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (sometimes known as The Infancy Gospel of Matthew)
- Variously dated to between 7-9th century, but also 600-625 (see Gijsel and R. Beyers, 1997)
- Prefaced by a letter purported to be written by Jerome (though unlikely)
- Earliest surviving manuscript 11th century (Latin)
Online text – http://gnosis.org/library/psudomat.htm
The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (also known as the First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ)
- Dated to 5-6th century
- Earliest surviving manuscripts: Early medieval (Arabic)
Online text – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.vii.xi.html
This is a helpful non-specialist introduction to the infancy narratives (both New Testament and apocryphal) written by John Gayford (St Mary, East Grinstead).
For fuller information, including more up to date translations, refer to J.K. Elliott’s The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in English Translation Based on M.R. James
The characters and themes developed in the apocryphal tradition continue to this day…
This week’s seminar (Wednesday, 17th December) and wordcloud explore how the story of the nativity developed after Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts. It is within these later writings that we can begin to see the beginning of a merging together (or harmonising) of Matthew and Luke’s stories, an emphasising of certain themes and also the introduction of some of the elements that are so familiar to us from our Christmas cards and nativity plays.
This week’s wordcloud is of a piece of early Christian writing that many may not have heard about: the Protevangelium of James (Prot. Jas.), sometimes called the Infancy Gospel of James.
The text has been taken from Chapter 11 (the Annunciation to Mary) to chapter 22 (the Slaughter of the Innocents). It is 2,476 words long and so is roughly the same length as Luke’s account. The text is based on the Roberts-Donaldson translation which can be found on the Early Christian Writings site.
Cick here to view wordclouds in Worcloud Gallery
In previous weeks we have explored how both Matthew and Luke use their accounts of Jesus’ birth to provide important narrative and theological/Christological cues for the reader. In other words, they are telling us this story so that we might better understand and be prepared for what is coming next. It is fair to say that the later or apocryphal writings (like the Prot. Jas.) tend to do the reverse. They assume that the reader is familiar with New Testament Gospels and seek to look backward, answering the questions that the earlier accounts raised… and, if our seminars are any reflection on this, are still being raised!
Comparing this week’s wordcloud with those of Matthew and Luke, one of the most immediate features is the prominence given to both Mary and Joseph in the Prot. Jas., underlining the way this text harmonises the New Testament accounts. Although Elizabeth still appears (much smaller) there is no sign of Zechariah whose importance to the story is more concerned with his role as high priest and who is killed by Herod following the birth of Jesus (ch. 23).
A further sign of harmonisation is the appearance of both royal terminology (Matthew) and that of the temple (Luke). The text retains Matthew’s story of Herod, the Magi, the star and the slaughter. However, it is Luke’s account of the annunciation to Mary by Gabriel (who is now also described as an archangel) that is included, rather than Matthew’s version featuring Joseph. In fact, Joseph doesn’t discover Mary’s pregnancy until she is in her sixth month (ch. 13).
There are a couple of words which some readers might be surprised about; Salome, midwife and cave (more about them later!). We can also note the first introduction of the perennial nativity play favourite, the donkey (top left).
The second of our Newman Advent Seminars (10th December 2014) will be exploring the nativity story from Luke’s perspective. We will be asking what was his contribution to the story with which we are so familiar from our Christmas cards and school nativity plays? Would he view the developments of ‘his’ story as positive or negative?
Alongside the seminars, we are creating a series of nativity wordclouds that, in a very visual way, display key words in each account; the most common being the most prominently displayed. This week, we are featuring the nativity according to Luke (click to enlarge).
The text used for the wordcloud is taken from the NRSV and covers Luke 1:5-2:52. This means the total number of words (2,450) is almost twice that used for last week’s Matthew wordcloud (see below). Although the Nativity story does not really begin until Luke 2:1, most of chapter 1 (excluding the preface; vv. 1-4) has also been included as it contains not only the account of the Annunciation (vv. 26-38), but (like Matthew’s genealogy) important theological and thematic cues that set the scene for the actual birth story.
As we noted last week in the wordcloud for Matthew’s account, care needs to be taken as translation issues, as well as other factors, can skew one’s reading. Nevertheless, as a bit of fun, wordclouds can be useful in pointing to general characteristics and identify possible avenues of exploration.
SOME DISTINCTLY LUCAN THEMES?
A quick comparison between the wordclouds of Matthew and Luke reveals a greater prominence to women’s names in Luke. Interestingly, although Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) is fairly prominent, Joseph is much smaller (bottom right-hand corner beside ‘came’). Other interesting features is the fairly prominent use of ‘womb’ (κοιλία – which can also refer to ‘belly’ or ‘stomach’) which also might suggest the foregrounding of women and the part they play in this story (compare this with Matthew’s account). Both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ feature strongly as does the characteristically Lucan ‘Spirit’ and ‘angel’.
Scanning the wordcloud reveals many more words that are typically associated with the ‘Christmas story’; ‘praising’, ‘festival’ , ‘peace’, ‘joy’ and even the perennial Christmas feature, ‘relatives’!!
CHRISTMAS AND THE TEMPLE
One of the questions we will asking on Wednesday concerns the place of the Temple in the nativity story (and the wider writings of Luke in his Gospel and Acts). Take some time to see how many words associated with the Temple and priesthood you can find in the wordcloud.
ANOTHER WORDCLOUD NEXT WEEK
Next week we will be presenting one more nativity wordcloud, but this time it will not be from the New Testament, but from an important, but later Christian development of the Christmas story.
Wordcloud produced using wordle.net
The Bible Odyssey site is a beautifully presented rich resource. Run by the main guild of biblical scholars (Society of Biblical Literature), it offers a wonderful array of short articles and videos written and presented by some of the foremost scholars in the field.
Just in time for the beginning of our seminar series looking at the nativity story, Mary Foskett (Wake Forest University) has discussed the meaning behind what is commonly called ‘the virgin birth.’