Monday, December 16, 2013

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (NRSV)
The narrative has now moved on from the calling of the disciples to the start of Jesus' public ministry. The narrative itself ties with other important themes throughout the gospel and thus does introduce the nature of Jesus' ministry (see Moloney's commentary for a concise treatment of themes with references). Thus, as Michaels has pointed out, this is more of a pronouncement story than a miracle story. Or perhaps, better, a miracle story that functions as a pronouncement. Jesus goes to a wedding with some of his disciples and the wine runs out. Mary, his mother points this out to him, presumably hoping for him to intervene in some way. Jesus responds in a way that distances himself from his mother. Mary is undeterred and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Verses 4-5 are quite difficult in my opinion. It's hard to see verse four as anything but a rejection of Mary. McHugh's translation captures it nicely, 'What relationship is there, woman, between you and me, now that my hour is approaching?'

What is Jesus' hour? It must be the demonstration of Jesus' glory, culminating in his death. The miracle performed here is a precursor for what will be demonstrated more widely later on in the gospel. Jesus' rebuff of his mother then must be understood as expressing his freedom from human influence (so Bultmann, among others). Even familial relations cannot be counted on. Jesus was truly his own man.

Why then did Mary persist? She is presented here as a model disciple. She has faith even prior to the demonstration of Jesus miracle. However, we do, as well, need to reckon with the possibility that Jesus's response is from the hand of the editor, because its still very hard to hold Jesus response and Mary's instructions to the servants together.

There were six large jars for purification that Jesus instructed to be filled with water. I think it's impossible to adjudicate whether or not we are supposed to understand this narrative element as indicating that what Jesus provides supersedes the Mosaic covenant. I think we are on much surer ground in seeing this miracle as expressing that Jesus' ministry is the flowering of the Messianic age, an age (as McHugh points out) overflowing with the wine of wisdom. Jesus, as Wisdom incarnate is coming to give wisdom by the Spirit to all who will receive and recognize it.

The story ends ironically. Jesus performs a great miracle but it isn't recognized. The wrong bridegroom is called. Jesus the true bridegroom displayed his glory, but it was only ascertained by his followers, who responded with faith. Thus the story is both ironic and indicative of what is to come.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Books of the Year: 2013

This year, my reading was much more focused than in years' past, largely focusing on Early Judaism. In many regards this made it much easier for me to pick my books of the year, as outside that topic, I only read a few classic works. In fact, I feel as if I only had six competitors for the five slots. As always this list covers the five best books I read for the first time this year.

5. Rereading Romans by Stanley Stowers

Now two decades removed from publication, Stowers work is hardly cutting edge. However, I feel that many interpreters have largely ignored him (to their own peril). It's an excellent explanation of Paul's use of diatribe throughout the letter to the Romans. His work on prosopopoeia in Romans 7 is outstanding. 

4. Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn

The BBC gave us three gifts for the 50th anniversary: the 50th anniversary special; the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time; and The Vault. I haven't finished it yet but I've had a ton of fun and learned quite a bit along the way. It's full of cast and set pictures, costumes, drawings, examples of memorabilia, and well researched history. I even learned a few things about eras of the show that I knew well. It'd be a great Christmas gift for the Whovian on your list.

3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

While critics may disagree, I agree with the writer himself. East of Eden was his best work. It was artful, it was real, and it was a fascinating riff on Genesis 4.

2. John Vol. 1 by Urban von Wahlde

It will be interesting to look back in fifteen years and wonder either, 'why on earth did this crack my top five?' or 'how could this not have been number one my list?' von Wahlde's composition theory of John solves many of the interpretive difficulties of the gospel while explaining its relationship to the epistles of John all while giving us fascinating insight into the development of one critical strand of early Christianity. Or it is a monument to scholarly speculation. Only time and a more qualified reader than me can decide that, but it sure is interesting!

Sanders' work is truly a classic in the field. Its' shortcomings are well known and don't need to be rehearsed here, but it still stands as the standard work on early Judaism, with good reason. 

Now it's time for the five books that came out this year that I have not read but most look forward to reading.

5. Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith eds. Andrew Crome and James McGrath

I love Doctor Who. I love studying religion and ethics. Enough said.

4. Deuteronomy by Jack Lundblom

Recently I started doing some research into what scholarly commentaries on Deuteronomy were available. I was a little disappointed in the breadth of selection. Lundblom's contribution (it was originally intended to be in the now defunct ECC series) should help rectify that. I expect it to be a rich engagement both with the rhetoric and theology of the book.

3. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha eds. Richard Bauckham, James Davila, and Alexander Panayotov

This year I have spent a lot of time in both primary and secondary sources studying Early Judaism. Reading large portions of the two volume collection of Pseudepigrapha edited by Charlesworth has been invaluable. This collection contains nearly every other Jewish Pseudepigrapha written before the rise of Islam.

2. James by Dale Allison

Dale Allison may be the preeminent North American New Testament Scholar. His work with W.D. Davies on Matthew as well as his various monographs on Jesus have shaped the discipline. Without hesitation I opened my wallet when this commentary was released and am looking forward to the opportunity to use it next time I venture into James.

I've read the first three hundred or so pages. Is it cheating to include it on the list? Finally, Wright has released his major work on Paul. It will take me several months to get through, but so far is excellent. I think it is the best work I have read from Wright and it seems (so far) more careful and less prone to over-generalization than JVG (which still was excellent). The opening volume demonstrates just how well Wright understands the ancient world and provides important framework for understanding Paul.