Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Want to finally really study the New Testament? This is maybe the best place to start.

Review of: Steven L. Davies, New Testament Fundamentals
Polebridge Press: 250 pp.

Published as a textbook for teaching the New Testament, Stevan Davies' New Testament Fundamentals also serves as an excellent study guide for those who want to work through the New Testament on their own. Many have praised it as the best guide of its kind available, and for good reason. Brilliantly organized and written in a clear, persuasive style, Davies' book strikes a perfect balance between textual detail and the larger points being made. Whether he treats of the Q document, the historical reliability of Acts, or the four evangelists' positions on Torah observance, he stays solidly grounded in the biblical texts while managing to show the modern reader just what was at stake in terms of the historical struggles of the first-century church. He brings the reader to a quick grasp of what the texts, cryptic as they often are, can tell us of the early development of Christianity.

New Testament Fundamentals offers brief introductory sections on pertinent subjects: Davies summarily presents the tools of analytical study, the Roman Empire and Judaism, different movements within second-Temple Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.), and different first-century religions (Roman imperial religion, mystery religions such as Mithraism, hearth religion, etc.). The main body of the text, however, is taken up with a chronological presentation of the major New Testament books. Each book is given a chapter of its own, preceded by a diagram showing where it fits in terms of the growth of the New Testament canon. An appendix includes the complete text of the extra-biblical Gospel of Thomas, which is brought into the discussion in various places.

I find Davies especially strong in his treatment of the four gospels and his analyzes of their differences. Why does Mark present the apostles as bumbling and repeatedly misconstruing Jesus, whereas the other gospels do not? Why do the earliest manuscripts of Mark end so abruptly? Why does Luke's nativity story put so much stress on Mary and Elizabeth, while Matthew stresses Joseph, the Magi and Herod? What of the very different style of discourse given Jesus by John? Davies compellingly analyzes all these problems and many more, showing how they may relate to different ways of understanding Jesus in the earliest decades of Christianity. Readers of these chapters should come away with a renewed appreciation of the evangelists' subtlety as writers.

Whether used as a tool for teaching or a primer for individual study, New Testament Fundamentals offers a carefully thought out, well-balanced approach to the task of interpreting the New Testament. I highly recommend it.

Check Davies' New Testament Fundamentals at Amazon.com

Friday, February 6, 2009

ZEI: New Holidays for Taiwan

Students in my Saturday class had to come up with some new holidays for us here in Taiwan. The assignment was to write a letter to a newspaper editor. It was good to see a few of the kids proposals showed concern for the environment. Here are three:


Dear Editor:

Many holidays in Taiwan are boring and useless. It's time we created a new special day. That's why I'm writing to support "No People Day."

For one thing, letting the earth rest a day is a good idea. Also, people can go to other planets to play.

Wouldn't it be great if the earth could be clean again? Just think about it!

"No People Day" is an idea whose time has come.


Foster Peng


Dear Editor:

Many holidays in Taiwan are boring and useless. It's time we created a new holiday. That's why I'm writing to support "Double-Sided Day."

For one thing, the rain forest is almost gone because people cut the trees there to make paper. So we need to protect the forest, or global warming will get worse.

Also, people would learn to cherish having new paper. They would learn that saving paper is very important.

Wouldn't it be great to teach people to face the reality of recycling and reusing paper?

"Double-Sided Day" is an idea whose time has come.


Kelly Lin


Dear Editor:

Many holidays in Taiwan are boring and useless. It's time we created a new special holiday. That's why I'm writing to support "No Game Boy Week."

For one thing, people could read some good books. Also, people wouldn't become blind and stupid, like many of them are now.

Wouldn't it be great to help a lot of people remember how interesting other things are?



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

ZEI: Odysseus and Euryalus

More student riffs on the Odyssey. . . .

Thinking only of his long-lost Ithaca and with no heart to join their games, Odysseus declines the offer to challenge one of the Phaeacian champions. Euryalus, the champion discus thrower, insults him, saying he doesn’t want to take up the challenge for fear of making a fool of himself. White with anger, Odysseus stands to answer the insult. What happens next?


Without bothering to remove his cloak, Odysseus took up a discus from the field.

“We will compete in the discus then," he said, "your specialty.”

“You could never beat me in any kind of competition,” Euryalus sneered. “But if you want discus, that's fine. You throw first!”

Odysseus stood at the line and turned his body round and round several times. Finally he threw the discus with his full might. Further and further it flew, finally landing on the ground. The crowd cheered.

Odysseus had broken all the records of the previous athletes, including Euryalus.

Then it was Euryalus’ turn to throw again. The arrogant champion spun round and round, and threw the discus. It seemed to shoot out from his body, moving very fast. But it dropped short of Odysseus’ throw.

Euryalus stared at the field open-mouthed. He’d never been beaten before. The crowd cheered for the stranger.


Odysseus gegen Euryalus! Unglaubliches Sieg fur Odysseus!

Without bothering to remove his cloak, Odysseus stood up and threw Euryalus. Euryalus landed far off the field in a flat of mud.

Then Odysseus shouted to him: “I’ll tell you who I am! I am Odysseus, the champion from Greece. I could easily sheet you out like an arrow, and of course I’ve got the body of an athlete and the heart too! But you’ve got a cheater’s brain. Now I’m very curious really about who taught you those stupid, ill-chosen kid words you used just now.”

But Euryalus didn’t feel shame for his words. He answered Odysseus meanly: “You mad dog! Did I cheat you? Absolutely not! I thought you were a stranger who wanted to reign over us, who came here to dethrone our king. I’ve chosen my words very carefully. My words are simply the truth!”

Odysseus stepped across to field and approached Euryalus.

“I will go home then,” he said, so that no one but Euryalus could hear. “I don’t want to stay on this small, stinky island of rude kids and play games all my life, do I? I’m a Greek hero!”

And Odysseus picked up the muddy Euryalus once more and threw him back onto the field.

The next day Euryalus convinced the king that Odysseus should be taken home to Greece. The king promised they’d send him home soon.


. . . . without taking off his cloak, Odysseus killed Euryalus by the discus. The Phaeacians screamed and murmured. A blind bard with arthritis was distressed. And a man, eating a boar, started to applaud. The other Phaeacians killed him. They fought and quarreled. Then a rank of bear and oxen swayed toward the assembly place. They ate the corpse of Euryalus. The Phaeacians killed the animals. They grilled their meat. They had a barbecue party.