Marvel et al., “The Small World Effect is a Modern Phenomenon”

An interesting article, showing quite elegantly that the small world phenomenon–a staple of modern social network analysis–is something that may have arisen in the modern period.

Seth A. Marvel, Travis Martin, Charles R. Doering, David Lusseau, and M. E. J. Newman, “The Small World Effect is a Modern Phenomenon,” forthcoming.

The abstract:

The “small-world effect” is the observation that one can find a short chain of acquaintances, often of no more than a handful of individuals, connecting almost any two people on the planet. It is often expressed in the language of networks, where it is equivalent to the statement that most pairs of individuals are connected by a short path through the acquaintance network. Although the small-world effect is well-established empirically for contemporary social networks, we argue here that it is a relatively recent phenomenon, arising only in the last few hundred years: for most of mankind’s tenure on Earth the social world was large, with most pairs of individuals connected by relatively long chains of acquaintances, if at all. Our conclusions are based on observations about the spread of diseases, which travel over contact networks between individuals and whose dynamics can give us clues to the structure of those networks even when direct network measurements are not available. As an example we consider the spread of the Black Death in 14th-century Europe, which is known to have traveled across the continent in well-defined waves of infection over the course of several years. Using established epidemiological models, we show that such wave-like behavior can occur only if contacts between individuals living far apart are exponentially rare. We further show that if long-distance contacts are exponentially rare, then the shortest chain of contacts between distant individuals is on average a long one. The observation of the wave-like spread of a disease like the Black Death thus implies a network without the small-world effect.

 

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Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

Stephen D. Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

This book is a brief guide to, and example of, postcolonial biblical interpretation. In five chapters, Moore offers an overview of postcolonial theory as it intersects with biblical studies, as well as examining three NT books—Mark, John, and Revelation—to see if they support the weight that postcolonial interpreters have laid upon them. In the end, he concludes that Mark, John, and Revelation are ultimately ambivalent to the question of imperialism/colonialism, critiquing imperialism in some places while adopting it as a conceptual model in others.

In the first chapter of his book, Moore traces the intellectual genealogy of postcolonial biblical studies. He begins with three seminal works in postcolonial studies—Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1985), and Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994)—showing how they have structuralism/poststructuralism as their conceptual cores. Next, he traces the influence that postcolonial theory has had on biblical interpretation. Moore organizes works of postcolonial biblical criticism into three subgroups:

  1. Those that are influenced by liberation theology. These works typically engage only lightly extra-biblical postcolonial studies.
  2. Those that “focus on the theme of empire as an exegetical lens through which to reframe and reread selected New Testament texts” (18). These works usually do not engage with extra-biblical postcolonial studies at all.
  3. Those that are deeply engaged with extra-biblical postcolonial studies.

Finally, Moore forecasts the future of postcolonial biblical studies, the fortunes of which he sees lying with his third, theory-savvy subgroup.

In chapter 2, Moore examines the Gospel of Mark through a postcolonial lens. He begins with a short, verse-by-verse exegesis of Mark 5:1-9 (the healing of the Gerasene demoniac), interpreting it as a critique of Roman imperial power. However, he rejects that such a view is programmatic for Mark, noting that “Mark altogether lacks the snarling, fang-bearing hostility toward the Roman state” (32) that characterizes Revelation. Instead, Mark is both attracted to and repulsed by Roman imperialism—for instance, he rejects Roman leadership as oppressive, but still adopts the concept of empire, redeploying it in favor of Jesus, whom he sees as the authority figure in the divine empire. Likewise, Mark has Jesus praising two poor women who nonetheless give extravagant gifts without expectation of reciprocity (a critique of imperialist economics), while simultaneously upholding the notion of empire through his announcement of the parousia. Therefore, Moore concludes that Mark is not a thoroughgoing anti-imperialist text, but simultaneously critiques and upholds the notion of empire.

Chapter 3 treats the Gospel of John’s views of empire. Moore finds John to be “at once the most—and the least—political of the canonical gospels” (50). That is, John lauds Jesus as a political figure—he has the people try forcefully to make Jesus king, for instance—while also depoliticizing Jesus in the face of the Roman Empire. The Romans are the unquestioned political authority in John. Pilate—the face of the Roman Empire in John’s Gospel—exercises Roman political might when he has Jesus scourged in the middle of the passion narrative, an event that John portrays negatively. However, John has Caiaphas prophecy Jesus’ death, which serves not only to propitiate God, but also to propitiate Caesar. In addition, John implicitly predicts the eventual identification of Christianity with Rome. Therefore, though John critiques Roman authority, he by no means rejects it in toto.

Chapter 4 is an interlude from the exegetical chapters of the book. In this chapter, Moore situates postcolonialism within postmodernity, which Moore identifies as neocolonialism, as it continues the oppressive economic practices of the capitalist age. He notes the irony that the most successful postcolonial thinkers are rewarded with prestigious positions in Western universities, thus participating in the very system they critique so harshly. Moore latches onto Homi Bhabha, whose work he has seen empower students who come from colonialist situations. Therefore, he offers an extended overview of Bhabha’s views of colonialist evangelism in the 19th century, from which Bhabha devised several theories. Moore highlights several of Bhabha’s ideas:

  • ambivalence—the idea that the colonized vacillates between outright mimicry of the colonizer, on the one hand, and hybridizing of the colonizing and colonized cultures, on the other
  • deconstruction—the cultural tools of the colonizer, rather than changing the culture of the colonized to match that of the colonizer, instead mold themselves to, and are shaped by, the culture of the colonized.
  • agency—the colonized are actively engaged in subverting the colonizer’s cultural discourse.

Bhabha’s ideas are important to Moore’s exegeses, so it is curious that Moore placed this chapter here, in the middle of his exegeses, rather than placing it alongside the first chapter. At any rate, it provides a nice glimpse into the theory that lies at the heart of Moore’s book.

Chapter 5 examines the book of Revelation. Moore first gives a topical introduction to Roman imperial ideology, interspersed with modern theoretical readings of the same concepts. Next, Moore reads Revelation through a Bhabhan lens, showing how Revelation is ambivalent, in a Bhabhan sense, to Rome; Revelation both espouses (mimics) Roman imperial ideology in its theology, while also harshly rejecting those Christians who collaborated with (hybridized with) Rome. Therefore, Revelation is far from being an outright rejection of empire; instead, like Mark and John, it both critiques and accepts imperialism.

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Lee, “Aramaic Poetry in Qumran” (2011)

I found a recent dissertation that analyzes the Aramaic poetic texts–both biblical and non-biblical–from Qumran.

Peter Y. Lee, “Aramaic Poetry in Qumran,” Ph.D. diss., Catholic University of America, 2011.

It is a valuable contribution to the study of Aramaic poetry. In my own work, it promises to be a good supplement to A. S. Rodrigues Pereira’s Studies in Aramaic Poetry.

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Abraham et al., “Quantitative Social Network Analysis (SNA) and the Study of Cuneiform Archives”

I saw an interesting-looking article in the forthcoming issue of Akkadica today:

Kathleen Abraham, Allon Wagner, Yuval Levavi, Sivan Kedar, Yoram Kohen, and Ran Zadok, “Quantitative Social Network Analysis (SNA) and the Study of Cuneiform Archives,” Akkadica 134 (2014): 117-134.

Here’s the abstract:

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is increasingly applied to study archival data, including cuneiform archives, especially Neo and Late Babylonian materials. This paper demonstrates the use and potential of quantitative SNA by means of one example. A network based on 75 documents from the Murashu archive is constructed in order to show a computational, automatic procedure, that demonstrates the potential value of quantitave SNA to cuneiform studies.

The article is still forthcoming, but it looks promising.

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Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

This book is an introductory textbook on the New Testament, most suitable for a seminary-level introductory course. Since it is an introductory text, the book does not have any real thesis; its goal is to present the material that has already been produced, rather than to argue anything new. It is organized into four parts with two appendices. Part I deals with “Preliminaries for Understanding the New Testament”; Part II is an overview of the Gospels and NT books related to the Gospels (Acts and the Johannine Epistles); Part III covers the Pauline epistles (including the deutero-Paulines); Part IV deals with “the other New Testament writings” (Hebrews, the Petrine Epistles, Jude, and Revelation). Appendix 1 is an overview of historical Jesus research from 1780 to the present; Appendix 2 is a survey of “Jewish and Christian Writings Pertinent to the NT.”

Part I consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief description of what the term “New Testament” implies (it implies that the NT literature is the sequel to, and fulfillment of, the literature in the Hebrew Bible), followed by an overview of early Christian book production and dissemination, and the history of the development of the canon.

Chapter 2 deals with “How to Read the New Testament.” The first part of the chapter is a sprint through eleven different ways that scholars have approached the text of the NT, from textual criticism (also the subject of the very brief chapter 3) to historical criticism, to narrative criticism, to advocacy criticism (e.g. Liberationist or Feminist hermeneutics); Brown concludes by emphasizing how the true meaning of the text cannot be derived through just one hermeneutic, but must come from the results of several kinds of hermeneutics operating together. The chapter also discusses issues of biblical inspiration, divine revelation, and deriving meaning from the NT (whether looking for authorial intent, the meaning to the original audience, and/or the meaning within the canon).

Chapters 4 and 5 are useful chapters on the political, social, and ideological environments in which the NT was composed. In terms of politics, Brown covers the period from Alexander the Great on through the Bar Kokhba revolt. For the social environment, he focuses on what life was like for Jews and Christians in pagan cities, Greco-Roman class structure and social hierarchy, and education in the Greco-Roman world. Regarding Jewish religious thought, Brown first discusses the importance of the Maccabean revolt; next, he introduces the Essenes, Sadducees, and—more in depth—the Pharisees, discussing how Jesus related to each of these groups; then, finally, giving brief mention to the Jewish literature composed after the 1st century (namely the Mishnah, Tosefta, Targumim, and Talmudim—sources that, he argues, are problematic when used in the study of the NT, because they were composed later—sometimes much later—than anything in the NT). Next, Brown surveys non-Jewish religious thought (namely, classical myth, emperor worship, mystery cults, and cults deriving from the religions of countries east of Rome), then non-Jewish philosophies (e.g., Cynicism, Epicureanism) and the interesting cases of Philo and of Gnostic thought, which combined Jewish and Hellenistic religio-philosophical categories.

Part II covers the Gospels and related literature, namely Acts and the Johannine Epistles. This part begins (chapter 6) with an overview of what “Gospels” are, including a discussion of the semantic range of euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”) and its usage among 1st- and 2nd-century Christian authors. Next, Brown chronicles the development of “Gospel” as a literary genre, showing that it has parallels to biographies in the Hebrew Bible and to Greco-Roman biographies, combined with a healthy amount of creativity on the parts of the Gospel authors. Here Brown distinguishes between the actual Jesus (the man Jesus, a religious figure who lived in Palestine in the 1st century CE, of whom we have no contemporary accounts), the historical Jesus (a scholarly construct based on critical analysis of the Gospels) and the Gospel Jesus (the literary figure[s] of Jesus, as portrayed by the authors of the Gospels). Brown cautions that, even though the presentation of a Gospel Jesus is shaped by the Gospel author’s rhetorical goals, the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness testimony of the actual Jesus, and so are more useful for talking about the actual Jesus than are reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Next, this chapter sets forth “three stages of Gospel formation” (107): 1) The ministry of the actual Jesus during the first third of the 1st century; 2) The apostles’ preaching about Jesus (the kerygma) during the second third of the 1st century; 3) The written Gospels, which were composed during the last third of the 1st century. Finally, a decent amount of the chapter is devoted to the Synoptic Problem and the existence of Q.

The discussion of the books of the NT begins with chapter 7, which covers the Gospel of Mark. The chapters that discuss the NT books directly (as opposed to informational chapters, like the above) more or less follow the same outline: an introductory paragraph, followed by a “General Analysis of the Message” (ranging from a few pages in the shorter Epistles to a miniature commentary for the Gospels); then discussions of authorship, composition, the community in which the book was composed/to which it was addressed, and the date of writing; then “Issues and Problems for Reflection” (dealing mostly with interpretive problems and ways to apply the text to the modern world—a section that would be useful as part of a seminary-level introductory course on the NT); and finally a brief bibliography for the book.

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 cover the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively). The majority of each chapter is devoted to the “General Analysis of the Message”—which, Brown notes, “almost constitute a minicommentary” (126) on each book. Brown’s conclusions are thoroughly centrist; he places Mark between 68-73 CE, possibly at Rome; Matthew he places around 80-90 CE, probably around Antioch; Luke-Acts at around 85 CE, either in Greece or in Syria; and John to churches in Asia Minor between 80-110 CE. The chapter on John is somewhat expanded compared to the chapters on the other Gospels, owing to Brown’s extensive work on that Gospel; not surprisingly, it is in this chapter that his conclusions differ most from the scholarly norm, though they are still strongly centrist (he argues that the bulk of John was composed somewhere around 80-90 CE by the same person/group that wrote 1 John, with an epilogue added around 100-110 CE by the person/group that wrote 2-3 John).

Chapters 10 and 12-14 deal with Acts and the Johannine Epistles, respectively, showing how they fit with their related books (Luke and John). For Acts, Brown explores whether the book qualifies as “history,” whether by ancient or modern definitions, concluding that it fits suitably within the ancient genre of history. For the Johannine Epistles, Brown reconstructs the community and theological situations in which they were written; 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, when “a division among Johannine Christians had occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus” (383), with one group saying that only belief in Jesus mattered, while another group (the group behind 1 John) said that good deeds were required, in addition to right belief. Second and Third John were also written in the context of schism, though a decade or so after 1 John.

Part III deals with the Pauline corpus, including the deutero-Pauline Epistles. The part begins with three prefatory chapters, covering ancient letter-writing practices (chapter 15; including the typical formal elements of Greco-Roman letters), a brief overview of Paul’s biography and theology (chapter 16), and “An Appreciation of Paul” (chapter 17; designed to help students retain an appreciation of Paul’s life and work even while they study the minutiae of each letter). Next, Brown examines the authentic Pauline Epistles in the order they were written (1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Philmn, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom; chapters 18-24), examining the contexts in which they were written, the situations they address, how they were composed, and where they stand in the development of Paul’s theology. Along the way, he addresses various important topics when they are relevant to the letter at hand (e.g., a discussion of early Christian hymnody in relation to Phil 2:5-11).

The next section (chapters 25-31) deal with the pseudonymous Pauline Epistles. Chapter 25 is a very brief overview of pseudonymity in the ancient world, showing that pseudonymous authorship was fairly common in the ancient world, but acknowledging that it presents problems for interpretation in the NT. In fact, Brown analyzes each of the pseudonymous letters in the NT, including the deutero-Paulines, as if the author named actually wrote the work, since “even if that person did not write the respective work, the claim to his authorization suggests that the emphasis in the writing is related to his image” (706). Chapters 26-28 cover 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, examining evidence for and against Pauline authorship—and being honest when the evidence is more or less inconclusive, as with Colossians—and providing interpretations both as if Paul wrote the letter and as if it was pseudonymous. Chapters 29-31 cover the Pastorals in the order they were written (Titus, 1 Tim, 2 Tim), discussing the church structure present in the letters, the authorship of the Pastorals, and the implications of pseudonymity on interpreting the letters.

Part IV deals with “The Other New Testament Writings” that have not been covered thus far in the book. He examines the remaining epistles in the order that they were written (Heb, 1 Pet, Jas, Jude, 2 Pet; chapters 32-36), and saves Revelation for last (chapter 37). For Hebrews, Brown discusses the genre and “Thought Milieu” (691) of the book, finding that clear answers are not available for either question. In discussing 1 Peter, Brown gives an overview of the life of the historical Peter—since it is relevant to the author’s perception of the letter—and places the letter in the context of unsystematic but imperially sanctioned persecution of Christians. In treating James, as with 1 Peter, Brown discusses the life of the historical James, then discusses the oft-debated relationship between James and the Pauline Epistles (specifically, because of the relationship between “faith” and “works” in each writer’s thought); Brown also covers the relationship between the books of James and Matthew, and places James between genres, as a combination of Hebrew wisdom literature, Stoic diatribe, and epistle. With Jude, Brown gives the life of the historical Jude and discusses the implications of Jude’s use of non-canonical Scriptures. Interestingly, and slightly problematically, the chapter on Jude is the only chapter on an NT book that does not conclude with discussion topics—Brown remarks, “Jude, however, is a very short work; and today most would not appreciate or find germane its argumentation from Israelite tradition about angels who sinned with women, [etc.] We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty” (760). Be that as it may, there is much fodder in Jude for reflection on everyday life (such as being modest, not arrogant, in disputes; Jude 9-10). Next, Brown analyzes 2 Peter in terms of the “early Catholic” features that Käsemann saw in the book (769), finding that Käsemann’s analysis is too simplistic. Finally, in discussing Revelation, Brown gives an overview of the genre of apocalyptic, examines the structure and theology of the book, and situates it within Domitian’s persecution of 96 CE.

The book concludes with two appendices. Appendix 1 is a history of the quests for the historical Jesus—a task towards which Brown is highly critical. Appendix 2 is a short catalogue of Jewish and Christian books that are useful for studying the NT; it is functionally a very short version of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies.

References

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Anchor Bible 29a; New York: Doubleday, 1970).

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005).

Howard Clark Kee, review of Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, JBL 118 (1999): 144-147.

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th ed.;  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

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Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity” (1971)

Peter Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971), pp. 80-101.

This article is social functionalist examination of the role of the “holy man” (i.e., male ascetics; female ascetics were apparently excluded from the dominance of the ascetic) in Late Antiquity, arguing that the late antique holy man played the same social role as the patrons of classical antiquity—that is, the late antique holy man stood up for the rights of the oppressed, acted as mediator for village disputes, and interacted in the larger world on behalf of the village. It is worth noting, also, that Brown explicitly rejects the notion that the dominance of the holy man represents a decline from the ideals of Greek civilization (as argued by, e.g., Gibbon). Instead, he seeks to paint an empathetic portrait of holy man in his social environment.

Brown begins his article by tracing the rise of the ideal late antique holy man, who lived in and acted at the margins of society. He notes that, even though wilderness asceticism developed in Egypt, the environment shaped the Egyptian ascetics’ practices—because the Egyptian desert is so harsh and inhospitable, desert monks had to adopt civilized practices (like earning a living by manual labor in order to be able to afford food, or living together in order to share water); therefore, even though Egyptian wilderness ascetics lived on the margin of society, they could not afford—literally—to act at the margin of society.

Syrian holy men, on the other hand, had sources of food, water, and shelter readily available in the wilderness, so they did not need to cling to civilized practices in order to survive; therefore, they were completely marginal figures, living and acting outside the bounds of society—a status that gave them great authority within the social structure. Moreover, the social conditions in late antique Syria enabled the Syrian holy men to gain fame quickly—a large portion of the Syrian population were unemployed itinerant agricultural workers, so large numbers of them were able to flock to the holy man and live with him. For these unemployed workers, the holy man was a patron figure—he possessed δύναμις (on account of his special relationship with God), and he used that δύναμις “to smooth over the thorny issues of village life” (85), like distributing water among the villagers, cancelling debts, and settling disputes between villagers. Moreover, the miracle stories told about holy men often reflect the holy man using his δύναμις in order to keep a village society running smoothly.

In the second part of the paper, Brown examines the roles that the holy man played in the wider Byzantine world, outside the confines of the Syrian village. In Byzantine society, the holy man was an outsider—a stranger—largely because of his ascetic practices, through which he resisted being classified in the society’s terms. These ascetic practices resulted in παρρησία (intimacy [with God]), which gave them an intrinsic authority, not deriving from anywhere in the social structure. The late antique holy man was thus a liminal figure, who, because he operated outside the social structure, was able to enact change; for instance, by resolving disputes between the society’s insiders, be they villagers or patricians. Even into the Middle Ages, the holy men retained their liminal power, which was encapsulated in their relics and icons, and which had the power, for instance, to heal and kill people.

Therefore, holy men filled four specific roles in Byzantine society. First, they mediated between the people and God, who, like the emperor, “was at one and the same time remote and unflinching, and yet, ideally, the ever-loving Father of his people” (97). Second, they made a full-time profession of contrition for sin, whereas a normal Byzantine person only occasionally expected to feel contrite for their sins. Third, therefore, they allayed people’s anxieties, allowing people to manage their guilt through acts of penance. And thus, fourth, they were important decision-makers within society, settling questions of ethics, morals, medicine, and science.

 

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Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts” (2013)

I just ran across a Ph.D. dissertation that finds two redactions, one poetic and one prosaic, in the P source. I’m blogging it here mostly so I don’t forget about it, since it’s directly relevant to a couple of projects I’m working on.

Jason M. H. Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts,” Ph.D. diss, Brandeis University, 2013.

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