Interview with Sarah Ruden

In the past month, I interviewed Sarah Ruden about her new book, The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible (published by Pantheon Books), and her new translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions (published by The Modern Library). The two interviews can be found here and here, respectively.

In the run up to the interviews and in their wake, Sarah and I traded messages about Augustine, the Bible, and other topics. Sarah kindly granted me permission to reproduce parts of our exchange here in an edited format.

Garrett: I can’t help but begin by asking: Is there a work of Greek or Latin literature that is unduly overlooked? Or, to put a different spin on the question, is there a work of Greek or Latin literature that should be better known or more widely read by Christians?

Sarah: I’m an interested party, because I’ve translated this work myself, but still I can’t resist recommending Apuleius’s Golden Ass, a comic novel of the mid-second century A.D. The book gives vivid pictures of ordinary people’s lives at a time of great growth in Christianity. Also, the story is full of moral and religious themes and offers the most detailed account to date of a religious conversion; the conversion is to the worship of the goddess Isis, but the differences from and similarities to Christian conversions are fascinating in themselves.
Continue reading “Interview with Sarah Ruden”

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The Foremothers of the Messiah

I recently stumbled across an old audio recording of Tim Keller’s sermon, “Hannah’s Prayer for Family,” from October 2007. At minute 31:40, he makes an astonishing observation about the role of women of the Old Testament in the anticipation of the Messiah:

If you look at the forefathers of the Messiah, the penultimate forerunners of the Messiah—the forefathers of the Messiah were Samuel and Sampson and David and Gideon—they all brought salvation by being strong and getting glory. And so they [their descendants] looked at Jesus and said, “That can’t be the Messiah. The Messiah wouldn’t be weak. The Messiah wouldn’t be disgraced.”

Do you know what their problem was? They were looking at the forefathers of the Messiah but not the foremothers; they were looking at the men who were the forerunners of Jesus but not the women.

Because over and over again God gave a foretaste of the real gospel and the work of Jesus Christ in the fact that he continually brought his salvation of the world through the barren, through the rejected, through the unwanted women.
It’s old barren Sarah not beautiful fertile Hagar through whom God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Isaac.

It’s through Leah, the girl that nobody wanted, the wife that Jacob didn’t want, not Rachel the beautiful and the wanted; it’s through Leah that God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Judah.

Sampson is born to a barren woman who shouldn’t be able to have children.
Samuel is born to a suffering, disgraced woman, but through through the suffering and disgrace of Hannah salvation comes.

If you had looked at the foremothers, you would have known that Isaiah was talking about the Messiah when he said that the one who comes to save us will suffer disgrace and be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus experienced the reversal that Hannah was talking about. . . .

The women in the Old Testament show that Jesus Christ is not just a coming King but a suffering servant.

Saving and the Self

In his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, Karl Marx wrote:

The less you eat, drink, and read books;
the less you go to the theater,
the dance hall, the public-house;
the less you think, love, theorize,
sing, paint, fence, etc.,
the more you save your capital:
the greater becomes your treasure
which neither moths nor dust will devour.
The less you are, the more you have;
the less you express your own life,
the greater is your alienated life:
the greater is the store
for your estranged being.

My twenty-year-old self clipped that passage and tucked it away in a folder. I think it impressed me at the time that he was able to put his finger on a psychological reality that was true, even if it really didn’t extend to his (deeply flawed) economic or political analysis.

The reference to the moth, regardless if it was intentional, echoes a passage from James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

And James may be calling to mind the passage from Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Marx is not talking about commodities or acquisitive action; rather, he’s talking about experiences and participation. He’s talking a life in community with others. The quotation serves as a nice check on one’s priorities.

Interview with Richard B. Hays

Screen Shot 2016-10-29 at 4.50.15 PM.png
detail of Joseph von Führich’s Der Gang nach Emmaus

On June 4, 2016, Garrett Brown recorded an interview with Richard B. Hays, which was initially released as an hour-long podcast on the New Books Network. The transcript below, which includes 20 additional minutes of conversation, has been edited and revised by the authors. An abridged version of it first appeared in the November/December issue of Books and Culture.

The authors would like to thank Carey Newman of Baylor University Press for his comments on an early draft of this transcript and John Wilson of Books and Culture for his support and enthusiasm for the project.

About Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, is internationally recognized for his work on the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and on New Testament ethics. His scholarly work has bridged the disciplines of biblical criticism and literary studies, exploring the innovative ways in which early Christian writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture. He has also consistently sought to demonstrate how close reading of the New Testament can inform the church’s theological reflection, proclamation, and ministry.

Hays’s book The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (1996) was selected by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most important religious books of the twentieth century. His more recent books include The Art of Reading Scripture (2003, co-edited with Ellen Davis), The Conversion of the Imagination (2005), Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (2008, co-edited with Beverly Roberts Gaventa), Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation (2012, co-edited with Stefan Alkier), Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016).

Professor Hays has lectured widely in North America, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan. An ordained United Methodist minister, he has preached in settings ranging from rural Oklahoma churches to London’s Westminster Abbey. Professor Hays has chaired the Pauline Epistles Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as the Seminar on New Testament Ethics in the Society for New Testament Studies, and has served on the editorial boards of several leading scholarly journals. Professor Hays received an honorary doctorate (Dr. theol. honoris causa) from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. He served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 2010 to 2015.

The Interview

Garrett Brown: Would you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Richard B. Hays: I grew up in Oklahoma, went to an Episcopal day school as a high school student, and had a rich education there that included daily chapel. That had the effect of getting the Book of Common Prayer into my bones, although I was a Methodist by family upbringing.

I went to Yale as an undergraduate and ended up being an English major. I was particularly immersed in poetry and drama of the 16th and 17th centuries. After that, I went to seminary, graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1977, and continued on to a PhD at Emory in New Testament Studies. Continue reading “Interview with Richard B. Hays”

New Books in Biblical Studies

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-3-02-10-pmSince April 2015, I’ve been the host of New Books in Biblical Studies on the New Books Network, a consortium of volunteer podcasters who are “dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing serious authors to serious audiences.”

On my channel, I interview authors of new books about the Bible—from modern-day commentaries and art books to scholarly monographs and reference works. Each interview is about an hour long, which allows for a more wide-ranging conversation than most interview programs.

There are many other podcasts on the NBN about religion and faith. You can browse a complete listing here.

This page serves as an index of my interviews to date. I will update it periodically as I add new programs. You can also follow the channel on Twitter @newbooksbible. Please let me know if you have a suggestion for an upcoming program.

As always, thank you for listening!

Continue reading “New Books in Biblical Studies”

BookExpo 2016

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 9.27.11 PMThis year’s BookExpo America was held in Chicago. While an unwelcome change for the New York publishers, everybody else seemed pleased by the change in scenery. While staffs and overall attendance were smaller (stats are lacking in published reports), the composition was different, drawing more heavily from publishers and book lovers in the mid-west.

I left breadcrumbs of my time at the show on my Twitter feed, which you can find here. I provide more substantial bites below. Pouring over the fall catalogs after the show certainly extends my excitement and anticipation for the forthcoming titles this fall. Perhaps a few will surely make excellent candidates for an upcoming podcast on the New Books Network.
Continue reading “BookExpo 2016”

A Life Saver, Not a Noose

A year ago, Mary Eberstadt published an article called “The New Intolerance” in First Things. I encourage everyone to read it in full.
I cannot help quoting from its conclusion, which has stuck with me ever since. Few articulations about the future of the church have as much truth and resonance as this one:
Of all the witnesses that can be produced to shut down the new intolerance, the most compelling may be the most hitherto unseen. These are the former victims of the sexual revolution themselves—the walking wounded coming in and out of those proverbial field hospitals, the people who are believers not because they want to jettison the Christian moral code, but because they want to do something more radical: live by it.
The truth that has not been reckoned with by religion’s cultured despisers today is this: Christianity is being built more and more by these very witnesses—by people who have come to embrace the difficult and longstanding Christian rulebook not because they know nothing of the revolution and its fallout, but because they know all too much.
These are the heirs to St. Augustine and every other soul who ever found in Christianity’s tough code a lifesaver, and not a noose.
Amen!