Curmudgeon List, endnote edition

Here in Eugene, OR we’ve entered the wet and gray season. I shouldn’t complain because the sunny and dry season was exceptionally brilliant this year. But I’m a curmudgeon. Complaining is what I do. As I biked into work this morning wrapped from head to toe in rain gear that is starting to lose its water-repellant properties, my disposition took on the doldrums the weather brought in, and so I decided it was a good day to add a third part to my curmudgeon list. See parts one and two for the first fourteen things on the list.curmudgeon mug

15. A couple of nights ago I finally finished the novel I was reading and needed some reading material for my bedtime routine. I thought I would revisit The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays. I picked this book primarily because it happened to be near my bedside, having been referenced recently for some reason or the other. I have no major complaints about the content of the book. It does, however, remind me how much I despise endnotes, especially when the notes are often substantive as are Hays’s. And to add to the frustration the endnotes in this very important book are placed at the end of each chapter. It is a little easier to tolerate endnotes when they are placed at the end of the book. With that I can at least put a marker at the appropriate spot and turn there rather easily when I want to check a note. But when the endnotes are at the end of chapters, whenever I begin a new chapter I have to find the end of it and place a marker there for reference to notes while reading the chapter. There are a lot of chapters in Hays’s book. I will have to go through this hunt for endnotes more times than I would like.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for today. I loathe endnotes at the end of chapters so much they deserve a curmudgeon post all their own. If someone can tell me what purpose there is in arranging notes this way, I would much appreciate it. Until then, UGH!

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Ancient Near East Resource

As a graduate student in Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern studies it was very frustrating trying to locate resources on ANE documents. The compendium edited by James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed., 1969) has been a handy beginning resource. But it doesn’t provide the original languages or any analysis.

Yesterday in Windows Booksellers I ran across the book I wished I had back then: Continue reading

The Biblical Cosmos: now available

I anew bookm very excited that my new book—illustrated by my eldest daughter, Hannah—is now available on our W&S website. Special offer of $21.60 on the site. It is worth the money for the illustrations alone!

Here we are as the proud owners of our own copies. The tree in the background is clapping its hands for joy.

So, just in case anyone out there is interested, here are the endorsements and the Table of contents:

“In this masterful exposition of the sacramental worldview of the Old Testament, Robin Parry explains why the ‘flat earth’ of ancient Israel continues to be of significance for Christians today. If you’re wondering how, with a modern cosmology, we can still believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, this book is a must-read. And if you figure the Old Testament is simply incompatible with the Christian Platonism of the Christian tradition, you just may be startled by the insights of this book.”
Hans Boersma, J. I Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver

“Delightful. Robin Parry takes the reader on a fascinating tour of biblical cosmology and theology. If you want to enter the minds of the biblical writers, this book will guide you with wit and sound learning.”
Gordon Wenham, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire, and Tutor in Old Testament, Trinity College Bristol, UK

“Parry expertly guides us through the strange biblical world of a flat earth at center of the cosmos, dragon-infested cosmic waters, a dome overhead, and abode of the dead below. But more than that, Parry invites us to accept this strange biblical world as is and to inhabit it, rather than conforming it to ours. In doing so, Parry opens up fresh ways of envisioning not only the biblical world, but Jesus and our own Christian faith.”
Peter Enns, Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern University, Pennsylvania

“One of the great challenges for reading the Bible today is how to make sense of a biblical view of the world in our modern scientific era. In this book Robin Parry deftly and thoughtfully lays out the key issues as well as suggesting various ways in which we might begin to respond to them. This book is a must read for anyone serious about reading and making sense of the Bible today.”
Paula Gooder, Theologian in Residence, Bible Society, UK

“Robin Parry gives us what is both a fascinating survey of the cosmos as seen in Holy Scripture and a helpful guide to how Christians can best understand that biblical cosmology today. Thorough, lively, and thought-provoking, I warmly recommend it.”
Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis

“This book is simply stellar! What a fabulously helpful way to introduce the significance of the OT cosmology for today!”
Pleiades, open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus

Leviathan, mythical chaos monster

“This book is smokin’ hot! I wish I’d read this it when I was alive!”
Saint Augustine, important bishop and theologian bloke

“I feel so honored to have been asked to paint a picture for the cover of this great little travel guide. And to have Leviathan himself agree to pose for it was literally awesome.”
Vincent Van Goch, artist

Introduction: Welcome to the Biblical Cosmos

Part I: A Tour of the Biblical Earth

  1. Joining the Flat Earth Society: The Big Picture
  2. Here Be Dragons! The Sea
  3. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Land
  4. A Land Down Under: Sheol/Hades

Continue reading

Bringing Lila Home

A recurring theme in Marilynne Robinson’s fiction is home. Two of her novels (Housekeeping and Home) have the word home or synonyms for their titles. All three books in her magnificent Gilead trilogy deal with people who are either at home in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, or struggling with what it means to go from or come to there. The latest, Lila, is the story of a young woman who has spent most of her life homeless, born and reared without a surname, traveling from place to place alone or with a band of vagrants. Now she is invited to make a home in Gilead, taking the Rev. John Ames as her (much older) husband, being enfolded into the life of his church, getting embraced by the town’s citizens.

The thing is, Lila isn’t entirely sure she wants a home. She’s wild at heart, having spent most of her life outdoors and with meager, transitory shelter at best. She has made a friend of yawning loneliness. She knows little besides hard work and wandering.

Lila is a story, but it is not one that is plot-driven. The book is ruminative, one long meditation (without chapter breaks) on Lila’s life—her wanderings with fellow vagrants; a stretch in a St. Louis whorehouse; the guilt and heroism of her benefactor, who killed a menacing man with a knife; visits at a camp meeting; the new and ambivalently held memories made in Gilead. Lila reflects on all us in this an unstudied, immediate, but intelligent way. She is never far from nature and its wildness and rhythms. She folds in her own ponderings of Scripture (especially Ezekiel), which she reads with a refreshing puzzlement and wonder. In this she is gently guided by Rev. Ames, who himself is still able to be puzzled and struck anew by Scripture and the mysteries of theology. The tender, never grasping, interaction between Rev. Ames and his new wife is beautiful, one of the most entrancing depictions of intimacy I’ve ever read.

Lila is a book to immersed in. In its quiet way, it is wholly engrossing. It induces the stillness and peace of mind its characters are struggling to attain. Sinking into the mind of a barely-educated protagonist, it can seem artless but is always masterfully artful. I haven’t come across much else like it. So I guess the only thing to do is to read it again.

Wipf and Stock at SBLAAR Craft Beer Reception

As we continue to gear up for our major fall conferences in San Diego, we’re pretty excited about Wipf and Stock’s partnership in the 2014 SBLAAR Craft Beer Reception, the brainchild of John Dunne and Christopher Brewer, sponsored by Fortress Press, with additional parters in Eerdmans, Liturgical Press, Zondervan, T & T Clark, and Somersault Group. Wipf and Stock joined as a partner to the event after this promotional video was made, so we’re not mentioned by name:

But rest assured, Wipf and Stock will be there with bells on, doing our best to represent Eugene’s phenomenal craft brewing industry. While I’m confident that our beers are better than yours—what’s a beer gathering without a little smack talk!?—I’m looking forward to getting a taste of the microbrewery explosion that is quickly turning our time into a golden age of beer, all across the land. I hope someone is planning to bring some of San Diego’s finest!

Saturday Morning Run at AAR/SBL

Calling all runners attending AAR/SBL 2014 in San Diego. You are invited to meet at the San Diego Convention Center’s famous stairs on Saturday, November 22 at 7am for a group run along the San Diego harbor.

Come early and warm up with a few trips up and down the steps.

Come early and warm up with a few trips up and down the steps.

The planned route will begin at the stairs, take us around one half of the convention center, through Embarcadero Marina Park South, by the Marina, through Embarcadero Marina Park North, through Seaport Village, past Ruocco Park and Dead Man’s Point, by the USS Midway, turning around on the Broadway Pier, and retracing our steps back to the stairs at the convention center.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at [Oct 16] 10.55

For those of you wanting something shorter, heading back to the stairs after we run through Embarcadero Marina Park South will give you about a 2 mile run, and heading back after Embarcadero Marina Park North will give you about 4 miles. Of course, you can head back at any point along the way.

The invitation is open to runners of all levels and speeds. The more the merrier. Post-run coffee is on me! Get in touch if you have any questions: chris[at]wipfandstock[dot]com.


Highlighting Books in San Diego

This year at AAR/SBL Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications will have a handful of books featured in sessions and other gatherings. Let me call your attention to a few of those.

Christian Theological Research Fellowship
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Tribute to Dallas Willard
Gary Black, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding
Saturday – 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
[NB: Gary Black is the author of The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith]


Jan Johnson, Simi Valley, CA
Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary
Mickey Maudlin, HarperCollins
Joe Maciariello, Claremont Graduate University
Keith Matthews, Azusa Pacific University
Gary Moon, Dallas Willard Center & Westmont College
Steve Porter, Biola University


Jane Willard, Dallas Willard Ministries
Becky Heatley, Dallas Willard Ministries

Latino/a and Latin American Biblical Interpretation
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 501 A (Level 5 (Cobalt)) – Hilton Bayfront (HB)

Theme: Review of Osvaldo Vena’s book, Jesus, Disciple of the Kingdom: Mark’s Christology for a Community in Crisis (Pickwick)

Gilberto Ruiz, Loyola University New Orleans, Presiding
Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Panelist (15 min)
Abraham Smith, Perkins School of Theology Southern Methodist University, Panelist (15 min)
Manuel Villalobos, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Mary Beavis, University of Saskatchewan, Panelist (15 min)
Break (5 min)
Osvaldo Vena, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (45 min)


Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:15 PM
Room: Room 5 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)

Theme: Review of Michael Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement (Cascade)

Stephen Fowl, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding
Stephen Fowl, Loyola University Maryland, Panelist (20 min)
Cherith Fee Nordling, Northern Seminary, Panelist (20 min)
Marianne Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena), Panelist (20 min)
John Wright, Point Loma Nazarene University, Panelist (20 min)
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Respondent (20 min)
Break (5 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at [Oct 16] 8.38 1

Gunkel Translation

One of the most signficant biblical scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was Hermann Gunkel. He was someone who did his doctoral work in New Testament, and then, when he couldn’t get an academic position in New Testament, became a foundational figure of modern Old Testament studies. Some of his major works have finally been translated into English: Genesis, Creation and Chaos, Introduction to Psalms. His major Psalms commentary remains untranslated.
In 2001 I re-edited and brought out a group of his essays titled Water for a Thirsty Land: Israelite Literature and Religion as part of the series Fortress Classics in Biblical Studies. And in 2009 I translated his Israel and Babylon: The Babylonian Influence of Israelite Religion (Cascade Books). I have now translated his Elijah, Yahweh, and Baal.
This volume has an unusual history. A couple of years ago I began translating it, and then I set it aside because of other duties. But this year our publisher, Jon Stock, who also owns Windows Booksellers, bought a typescript copy of a translation of the work from a library. It was clearly done about 1930, but it was anonymous. I was thrilled to get it, but then I realized it was only a draft. It had missing paragraphs, none of the footnotes were included, and the whole thing was in need of heavy editing; parts of it needed total retranslating. So soon this lovely little volume will see the light of day in English.

Praying for the damned

I was fairly recently in a church service in which the priest prayed for the soul of the deceased. The good evangelical next to me was somewhat surprised, as he could see no point in doing such a thing. Once someone has died their fate is fixed forever, he said—praying for them will make no difference.


I am currently reading Ilaria Ramelli’s magnificent book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013). It is the most thorough study of universalism in the early church ever undertaken (900 pages of it!).

Anyway, one of the things that struck me in the early part of the book was the recurring theme of the righteous praying for the damned with the result that the latter were rescued from hell.

First, the Apocalypse of Peter, probably from Alexandria in Egypt about 135 AD. In this text, which some early church leaders considered divinely inspired, sinners endure a period of suffering in the afterlife but will ultimately attain bliss thanks to the intercessions of the righteous. They will undergo “a beautiful baptism in salvation.”

I will grant to my . . . elect all those whom they ask me to remove from punishment. And I shall grant them a beautiful baptism in salvation in the Acherusian Lake . . . a sharing of justification with my saints . . . . (Rainer fragment)

Chapter 14 has Christ declare to Peter that “You will have no more mercy on sinners than I do, for I was crucified because of them.” Because of his mercy he will give them “life, glory, and kingdom without end.” (However, lest sinners use this possibility of post-damnation salvation as an excuse to sin, they should not be told about it. This theme of not broadcasting the final salvific end of all to sinners is a theme found in Origen and other early texts.)

Second, we have the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah (probably second or third century). Here the righteous contemplate the damned in their sufferings while the damned contemplate the bliss of the righteous . . . and then they “will take part in Grace. On that day the righteous will be granted that for which they have prayed.” What the righteous have prayed for and what they receive is that those in eschatological punishment should “take part in Grace.”

Third, Epistula Apostolorum, probably from Syria around the first half of the second century. Here the disciples are worried about the punishment of sinners in the age to come. Jesus commends them for their prayers for such sinners, and assured them that “I shall listen to the prayer of the just, which they utter for sinners.”

Fourth, the widely-used  Oracula Sibyllina, Book 2 (around 150 AD), says:

And God, immortal and omnipotent, will grant another gift to these pious persons: when they ask him, he will grant them to save human beings from the fierce fire, and from the gnashing of teeth of the age to come, and will do so after pulling them out of the unquenchable flame and removing them, destining them, for the sake of his own elect, to the other life, that of the age to come, for immortals, in the Elysian Fields, where there are the long waves of the Acherusian Lake, imperishable, which has a deep bed. (2.330–38)

Fifth, the Odes of Solomon (second century AD) seems to speak of Christ breaking down the gates of hell and as rescuing all people from its clutches. Christ says,

I went on to all the prisoners, to liberate them, in order not to leave anyone enchained, or enchaining others. . . . I sowed my own fruits in their hearts, and I transformed them into myself: they received my blessing had had life. They have been gathered in me and are saved, because they have become my limbs, and I am their head” (17.8–14. Cf. ch. 42).

Sixth, in the Gospel of Nicodemus—a fourth century text that contains layers of material from much earlier—Christ has all the dead that had been bound in hell released from their prisons. He snatched all the dead from sin and Satan and death: “No dead is left with us: all those whom you [Satan] had gained with the tree of knowledge, you have now lost with the tree of the Cross.”

Seventh, the Apocalypse of Paul (perhaps third century) envisages the postmortem repentance of sinners followed by a baptism in the Acherusian Lake (ch. 22). In ch. 24 those who cannot enter the New Jerusalem because of their haughtiness are finally allowed to enter, thanks to intercession.

As an aside, a whole bunch of texts speak of how God will eventually “have mercy on all” (e.g., the Life of Adam and Eve, Latin recension) or will “liberate everyone from the enslavement to Beliar” (the devil) (Testament of Zebulon 9.8)

Eighth, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the heroine and apostle (Thecla) prayed for a dead and lost woman called Falconilla. Her prayers were answered and the damned Falconilla was transferred to the place of rest of the righteous (3.28–29).

Ninth, the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis (c. 200 AD). Here the dead brother of Perpetua appears to her in a vision in a miserable condition. He had died at the age of seven and had not been baptized. His sister prays for him and he receives postmortem baptism and salvation.

That early Christians did not consider the fate of the dead to be sealed and unchangeable is further indicated also by the fact that offerings for the dead were made (as attested by Tertullian and Cyprian).

The above merely picks out a few items from a small part of Ramelli’s massive study. What she demonstrates across the book as a whole is that the roots of universalism go back far earlier than is usually realized—it was not some “out of the blue” invention of Origen—and that universalism was far more widely spread across the early church than is usually realized.

My interest in this blog post is simply to suggest that many early Christians would not have shared our qualms about praying for the salvation of those in hell. Perhaps it is a practice that ought to be reintroduced.

Cornel West’s Indictment of Barack Obama

I was among those who voted excitedly for Barack Obama in 2008 (and then again in 2012, though without as much excitement). In part, this was due to relief of having George W. Bush out of office. But beyond that, I had hopes Obama might be a new FDR. Of course, my expectations were too high, and in that unfair to Obama. And the fecklessness and ineffectiveness of Obama’s presidency is owed in no small part to an obstructionist Congress that set out to sabotage Obama’s work as soon as he was elected. Still, President Obama has disappointed all on his own. His presidency has continued governmental coziness with Wall Street. His drone bombings have included indiscriminate deaths of civilians, and have extended the open-ended  war on terror. Government secrecy and surveillance has intensified under his watch.

Now emerging as one of President Obama’s severest critics is the theologian and social critic Cornel West. West’s just-released book, Prophetic Fire (Beacon), focuses mainly on figures in what he calls the Black Prophetic tradition, such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ella Baker. But in the process of discussing these figures, West has scathing words for Obama’s presidency. Such as:

The profound failings of President Obama can be seen in his Wall Street government, his indifference to the new Jim Crow (or prison-industrial complex) and his expansion of imperial criminality in terms of the vast increase of the number of drones since the Bush years. In other words, the Obama presidency has been primarily a Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, mass surveillance presidency unwilling to concretely target the new Jim Crow, massive unemployment, and other forms of poor and Black social misery.

West elaborates:

The bailout of Wall Street by the Obama administration, rather than the bailout of homeowners, hurt millions of working people. The refusal of the Obama administration to place a priority on jobs with a living wage reinforced massive unemployment, and the sheer invisibility of poor people’s plight in public policy has produced more social despair among weak and vulnerable citizens. The unprecedented historical symbolism of the first Black president has misled many if not most Black people to downplay his substantial neoliberal policies and elevate his (and his family’s) brilliant and charismatic presence. . . . To sell one’s soul for a mess of Obama pottage is to trash the priceless Black prophetic tradition. Is it not hypocritical to raise one’s voice when the pharaoh is white but have no critical word to say when the pharaoh is Black? If the boot is on our neck, does it make any difference what color the foot is in the boot?

West is surely the most visible African American public figure to speak critically of President Obama. It may, at first blush, be surprising for an Black American to indict our first Black president. But to expect Black Americans to speak monolithically as one is but another way of disciplining and repressing actual Black voices. West’s bold critique has its place. By and large, it rings true.