New Publications on Chronicles and International Biblical Scholarship

I’m pleased to announce two new articles of mine that have been published in open-access collections.

The first essay, “Atonement, Sacred Space and Ritual Time: The Chronicler as Reader of Priestly Pentateuchal Narrative,” is published in a BZAW volume coedited by my Doktorvater, Louis Jonker of Stellenbosch. The genesis of this volume, Chronicles and the Priestly Literature of the Hebrew Bible, is a conference organized at Lausanne in 2019 by Jaeyoung Jeon, funded by the Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (SNF), which has now graciously funded the open-access publication of the entire book! I encourage you to check out the other essays, as well.

In my essay, I address the issue of the surprising lack of use of kipper, “atonement,” including the Day of Atonement, in the book of Chronicles.

In investigating the possible conceptual and textual relationships between Chronicles and P, I pose the question in reverse: if the Chronicler were indeed a devotee of the Priestly worldview and a reader of the Priestly literature [even as we recognize the subtle difference between those two contentions], and if he indeed wished to present Israel’s monarchic story through the lens of the Priestly concepts of “atonement,” ritual space and ritual time – how would he have done so, and at which points in his narrative would such concepts have been significant?
I argue that the Chronicler interprets the Pentateuch (including so-called Priestly literature) in something close to its final form, with a sensitivity to its narrative structure. The Pentateuch as a narrative allows the Chronicler a range of ways in which to apply Priestly concepts and rituals within his history of Israel, particularly in moments that are relevant to calendric observances, altar purity and contamination, and “atonement.”

My conclusion is that the Chronicler is re-reading the narratives of Israel with the entire Torah in mind, and sees in the Pentateuch narrative resources that could be applied to explain the story of Israel’s monarchic period. Though I presented the paper before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was polishing the article for publication in 2020, and was inspired to use some of these ideas in a pandemic sermon: “Numbers 5:1–4; 9:1–14: God Draws Near.” 

The second article, “The (Ir)relevance of Biblical Scholarship? A Challenge, and an Opportunity,” is published in Scriptura, a South African journal of biblical interpretation. Louis and I coedited this collection within the issue of Scriptura, which contains essays from a small 2018 seminar that an LCC colleague and I hosted, “Biblical Scholarship and Its Place in Secular Society.” The articles in the collection are still being published (Scriptura is a fully-online journal that publishes articles as they complete review/editing), but I have seen them all and they are interesting and engaging. The collection ended up being a conversation between Eastern Europe (including Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and me in Lithuania) and South Africa (four contributions).

My essay, which is intended to serve as an introduction to the collection but turned out to be more substantial than I anticipated, is really about the place of biblical scholars in modern secular society, given the shift of authority in our modern age away from religious authorities to other kinds of voices. Here is an excerpt:

Parallel to the development of the scientific revolution with its compelling explanatory power has been the loss of trust in religious authorities and metanarratives. In a sense, this could be understood as the second of Charles Taylor’s (2007) three “secularities”:  a retreat of belief in the face of scientific progress. But even with moves toward a “post-secular” age—an awareness of the transcendent—in contemporary Western society, the tendency is to look to scientific (scientistic?) or artistic voices. These new elites and their metanarratives, while not morally (or scientifically) unproblematic, are perceived as having led large segments of humanity into a new phase of abundance, away from the scarcity that has governed nearly all of human existence. The priests of secular society are economists, philosophers, climate scientists, medical doctors, public health officials, psychologists, and politicians. These priests not only produce, maintain, and selectively dispense opaque knowledge thought to be essential for human existence; they also promulgate normative visions of morality and of flourishing—they are prophets, as well as priests.

These visions are generated in academic venues and then communicated in popular formats such as trade books, podcasts, popular fiction, television and film. Science fiction in particular, understood broadly to include comics/graphic novels and films based on them, is now the main genre that produces fictional narratives reflecting and shaping human self-understanding, purpose, and morality. Pop-culture figures, such as podcasters and online influencers, perform the evangelistic and gatekeeping functions by providing platforms for simplified versions of academic “truths.” We may also observe the hyper-individualisation of knowledge and values due to algorithms ostensibly developed to help consumers navigate the burgeoning sea of material, but which have instead produced echo chambers and parallel, irreconcilable understandings of fact and meaning. Thus, the modern secular project has left biblical scholars—despite being more numerous, more diverse, and more prolific than we have been in previous generations—without a decent seat at the table, let alone being “in the driver’s seat” as theologians had been in medieval Europe.

One of my conclusions is that Eastern Europe and South Africa, who are wrestling with how to receive the legacy of North Atlantic biblical scholarship and theological priorities, should continue to develop their own scholarly discourse, systems of validation, and knowledge-generating and meaning-making institutions–apart from Western Europe. Christianity is in retreat in North America and Western Europe, so we will need Majority World missionaries and theologians to save us (we already do!).

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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