Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview with Craig Keener on Acts, vol. 1: Part II

Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Craig Keener. Here is part two of our conversation about the first of a four-volume commentary on Acts. I highly recommend this resource. It will be the go-to Acts commentary for the foreseeable future. Get your copy here, and be on the look out for volume two, slated for release in September which can be viewed here.

6. In what way does Acts 2:40 shed light into how Luke records speeches in Acts?

Craig Keener
Luke is explicit that he has merely summarized Peter’s speech. In one way that is not surprising in light of ancient historiography, but in another way it differs from what we would expect in the typical speeches of elite ancient historians. Ancient historians did not give verbatim reports of speeches—which aside from other considerations was not possible—but their best reconstructions of speeches. In the case of the better historians using speeches in earlier historians, that might mean paraphrasing earlier speeches but following them closely (though Josephus was known to make up new speeches, and even Tacitus took plenty of liberties when he desired). It seems that when possible, most historians wanted to capture the gist and then depict it graphically. Regarding speeches in ancient historians in general (I’ll return to Luke in a moment), the rules of ancient historiography were different from those of modern historiography. That does not make them bad—just different. Ancient historians might know the basic message of a speech given on an occasion, and then use what they knew about the speaker, the occasion, and the principles of rhetoric to give their most plausible reconstruction of a full speech. That is, they were interested in approximating the sort of thing that was likely said and not just reporting the fewer exact details in their sources. By fleshing it out they made it more realistic, more like what would have been said on that occasion. That is a different approach from the way we write history today, but it’s a good approach so long as you understand that those were the rules with which they were working. How much concrete material they had to work with varied from one historian and one speech to another. At the same time, though Luke is writing ancient rather than modern historiography (the latter of course did not yet exist), he has merely speech summaries. That is, he does not flesh out full speeches the way that more elite rhetorical historians normally did. No one thinks that he’s giving us the speeches verbatim, but Luke does have concrete information about the early apostolic message. In fact, one speech (Paul’s in Acts 20:18-35) even purports to be a direct eyewitness report, and, consistent with that claim, includes even specific language easily paralleled in Paul’s letters and some midrashic connections of which Luke himself makes nothing. Luke summarizes, as Acts 2:40 shows; he does not try to show off his rhetorical skills with lengthy speeches. With many scholars, I think that Luke offers the gist of apostolic preaching and gets us as close to his sources (in Acts, probably usually oral sources) as was possible.

 7. Regarding Luke’s use of the OT in Acts, does he expect his audience to be familiar with the scriptures of Israel?

 The short answer is Yes. Writers normally have a target audience where they take certain background information for granted; like most others, Luke probably also welcomed other hearers who were not as well-informed as his target audience. But compare the massive number of Scripture citations in Luke-Acts with the two snippets from Greek poets in Acts 17:28—it’s clear which thought world is the primary one shared between Luke and his target audience. I have enjoyed drawing on the entire range of ancient literature to illumine the customs and ideas we find in Acts, but the literary canon that Luke and his target audience share is Scripture.

8. How does Acts serve as a model for cross-cultural mission in today’s church?

 Some today assume that if Luke was writing history, he had no interest in theology. That, however, is a completely false dichotomy. Ancient historians expected readers to use their accounts as positive or negative examples—models. Luke uses OT examples that way; he also shows the Jerusalem mission (exemplified especially in Peter) and the Diaspora mission (exemplified especially in Paul) replicating many of the acts of Jesus, because Jesus’s mission continues through his followers. The pivotal point between Luke’s two volumes, highlighted at the end of the Gospel and the beginning of Acts, is Jesus’s commission to bring the message about him to the nations. The disciples are to do this empowered by the same Spirit who empowered Jesus in volume 1; the gift of the Spirit is for all believers in each location (see Acts 2:38-39), so they can partner in continuing the original disciples’ mission. Following the biographic mode of historiography used by some ancient historians and easier to grasp on a popular level, Luke focuses on primary characters such as Peter and Paul while devoting less space to unnamed disciples who spread the word to Antioch and elsewhere. Luke also is happy to finish his second volume in the heart of the empire. Nevertheless, Rome does not exhaust the “ends of the earth” announced as the goal in Acts 1:8; the book is open-ended, recapitulating earlier scenes but prefiguring the rest of the church’s mission. The Gentile mission (or perhaps more technically, the Diaspora mission) that Paul helped advance so firmly in Acts 13—28 is a mission that was continuing. Luke expects the church to continue to carry on the mission, and to continue to depend on the power of the Spirit to do so.

  9. Views of women varied in antiquity. Where does Luke’s presentation of women fit on this spectrum?

 That is a subject of great debate today, but I believe that Luke’s perspective was on the more positive end of the spectrum. His two-volume work opens by comparing Mary (Jesus’s mother) favorably with Zechariah (John’s father). Rhoda in Acts 12 and the women at the tomb in Luke 24 are initially wrongly disbelieved by others, but they bear the truth. Luke often pairs male and female examples in Luke-Acts, including as prophets (Simeon and Anna in Luke 2; Agabus and Philip’s four daughters in Acts 21). Men get more speaking parts even in most of these cases, but that may be partly based on what information Luke had available given his sources. What seems clear to me is his ideal stated in Acts 2:17-18, one of the key, programmatic texts of Acts: the Spirit’s empowerment to announce God’s message in Christ was for all people, young and old, male and female. Certainly women are heavily involved in spreading the gospel in many parts of the world today (such as in China) and in the recent past (such as an estimated two-thirds of the nineteenth-century Protestant missions force). Many have looked to Acts 2:17-18 as a model for God’s empowerment for both genders. Personally, I believe that Luke would have been pleased had he seen this use of his message.

  10. When Luke describes the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, he places special emphasis the ability to speak in tongues (2:4 ff.). Is Paul describing the same phenomena in 1 Cor 12; 14?

Before comparing the two, let me mention that Luke’s emphasis on tongues-speaking fits his larger emphasis on mission that I have just noted above. Several times in Acts when people receive the Spirit, they worship in tongues—a point that Luke might wish to emphasize because it highlights the primary function of the Spirit’s empowerment that Luke notes. If God’s people receive the Spirit to carry the message across cultural boundaries (cf. Acts 1:8), what more conspicuous symbol of this empowerment could Luke narrate, where he has it available in his sources, than that those so empowered often worshiped in other people’s languages? Luke’s emphasis differs from Paul’s at this point. Paul is countering an abuse of the spiritual gift of tongues (mostly functioning in private prayer) by highlighting the value of intelligible speech through the gift of prophecy. Despite their different emphasis, I believe both Luke and Paul are referring to the same spiritual experience of tongues-speaking. On the day of Pentecost, others are present who understand the languages (how that works is another, much-debated subject); this does not happen on a natural level in the other passages in Acts or 1 Corinthians (though Paul speaks of a spiritual gift of interpretation). Nevertheless, “tongues” literally meant “languages,” and it’s hard to believe that Luke and Paul independently coined the same expression to refer to two different kinds of spiritual experiences. Rather, I believe they envision the same basic experience, but view it from different angles and for different settings. It may have taken on a special form for the setting in Acts 2, but I understand it as the same gift. In Acts 2, Luke seems to treat it like a reversal of Babel. Once God divided languages to divide peoples; in Acts 2, he divides language to bring his people together. We might also see it as a beautiful foretaste of the time when all peoples and languages will be before God’s throne.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Interview with Craig Keener on Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vol.1; Part I

Many years ago, when I began reading scholarly works for the first time, Craig Keener was one of the handful of scholars who was on my reading list. I remember reading through his Paul, Women,& Wives and his well-known, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament and being profoundly influenced by his use of both ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman literature to help illumine the writings of the New Testament.

We began a friendship several years ago, keeping in touch via email and the occasional phone call. Craig was there for me during a pivotal time in my personal life, and our friendship was cemented at that point. My first SBL (2007), provided me the first opportunity to meet Craig in person, as he took me out to lunch. When I was considering going to Asbury for a PhD, Craig was one of my biggest supporters. I sat in on his PhD level class on Revelation and met with him afterwards to discuss my future plans.

So, it is a great honor and privilege for me to have the opportunity to ask him some questions concerning his magnum opus, a multi-volume commentary on Acts, that when complete, will be comprised of more than 4,000 pages! This is part one of our two-part interview. Thanks to the fine folks at Baker Academic, particularly, Trinity Graeser, who sent me a copy of volume one of this majestic commentary.

1. You are no stranger to writing commentaries and large ones in particular. Could you describe your process in writing a commentary, specifically, your multi-volume effort on Acts?

Craig Keener
I started writing the Acts commentary in the year 2000, and by then I had about twenty years of research behind it (though for the first couple years of research I probably didn’t know what I was doing). Those two decades included research specifically on Acts, but also my working through a range of ancient sources the information from which was valuable for many of the commentaries and other projects I do. For me, researching through ancient sources is exhilarating—it’s fun! Sitting down and turning that into a commentary is quite a bit more tedious and required much concentration. For me, the advantage of writing commentaries over writing other books is that I don’t have to work as hard to organize material—the biblical text provides the outline, so I can follow that for the big structure. I was ADHD as a kid (though back then they were just calling it “hyperactive”), which may be why I love research but why some tasks (such as working through editors’ comments) seem so tedious. If I could type as fast as I think maybe writing would be easier, but researching through ancient sources is a great joy.

2. One of the key aspects of your commentaries is your vast knowledge of Greco-Roman literature. Talk about the notecards that you have compiled over the years that have enhanced this endeavor.

I loved Greek and Roman sources even as a child. I couldn’t get anyone to teach me Greek or Latin that early, but in translation I devoured Homer and Tacitus at age 12, Plato and Virgil at 13, Greek dramatists and parts of Thucydides at 14. Looking back, I can understand why a lot of kids wouldn’t play with me—I was really strange! After my conversion to Christianity I set Greek and Roman sources aside and began devouring the Bible, the one book from the ancient world that I had deliberately avoided before. College introduced me to early Jewish sources, but it wasn’t until the beginning of graduate work that I began to see the value again in the Greek and Roman sources. Since the time that I was a college sophomore I have been collecting information relevant to understanding biblical passages (initially secondary sources and materials on ancient Judaism, and a couple years later branching out into all of ancient Mediterranean literature). For the first two decades or so I collected this information on index cards, before I started taking notes on a computer instead. I had maybe 100,000 index cards before I stopped collecting data on index cards; the difficulty was that the same card might have information for multiple passages, so I had to file it under the first passage and write my commentary on that book before I could file it forward to a passage in another book! (Once Acts is fully done, I’ll be able to move into Paul!) I took notes as I read through ancient literature and just filed them wherever relevant. Early in that process I began to discover which features of ancient sources proved most relevant to which books; ancient Jewish sages, for example, shed particular light on Jesus’s teachings, and especially in Matthew; Greek philosophers had more parallels in Paul; apocalyptic sources—well, you can guess! Over the years, though, I collected the largest amount of material for Acts.

3. Your approach in this commentary is a sociorhetorical one. Discuss why you chose this approach.

I can offer the greatest distinctive contribution with insights from the Greco-Roman context of Acts; there’s no sense in expecting everyone to devote decades to studying the sources, but I can contribute my own years of research here, and I loved doing it. Because Acts is a text, however, the literary dimensions of Acts are paramount. These two approaches (literary and based on the ancient setting) are best addressed as complementary rather than as in competition. Luke addressed Acts to an audience that would hear the text, perhaps over and over, within a shared sphere of cultural information they took for granted. For example, Luke could take granted that at least the heart of his target audience would recognize many of his biblical quotations and allusions. Moreover, just as they understood the Greek language, they would recognize many of the places he mentioned. They would be familiar with some cultural information that he would not have to stop and explain for them (but with which modern readers are often unfamiliar). A sociorhetorical approach (or whatever title we choose to use for the blending of approaches) takes seriously both the cultural and literary dimensions of the text. It thus helps us better hear what Luke expected his first target audience to hear.

4. You identify acts as “popular” historiography. Can you discuss how this might differ from other types of historiography?

My focus is on showing that Acts is historiography, but if you read the ancient historians whose works have survived, you also see differences between Luke and some of the elite historians. Elite historians made fuller use of rhetoric to shape their history-writing, for example developing long speeches or sometimes highlighting tragic elements. They also often recorded larger-scale events for which annals were sometimes available. Sometimes they confronted conflicting reports in their sources and thus summarized the different sources by name. By contrast, some people recounted recent events on a more popular level, using storytelling skills. Mark appears more like a master oral storyteller (I am referring to the character of his style, not his truth content). Luke is the most rhetorically advanced of the Gospels, but he is not writing anything on the level of the multivolume histories produced by and for the elite. (His work is closer to single-volume historical monographs, but even in those cases, Luke is not writing as a member of the elite.) Luke tells a wonderful story in a way that would be more respected by ancient intellectuals than was Mark, but it lacks some of the features of “elite” historiography I have cited above.

5. How favorably does Luke compare to other ancient historians in terms of accuracy?

I argue for Acts as an excellent source for the history of the early Christian movement. In the commentary, I focus less extensively on the “popular” character of the historiography (your question above) than on its character as historiography. With the majority of scholars, I do view Acts as a work of historiography. In the introduction, I also want to explore what that means. Ancient historians often wanted to make moral, political or theological points with their narratives, and often they tell us as much. At the same time, they used the historical genre rather than another one because they wanted to draw on information that they believed to be factual. Not simply composing annals, they shaped their material to gain a good hearing, but they were shaping information rather than freely composing as novelists usually did. One can see this dependence on information by comparing, for example, where narratives of Plutarch, Suetonius and Tacitus overlap in their content; substantial overlap shows that biographers and historians were committed to using authentic material. Where we can compare Luke with Mark and Matthew (in Luke’s first volume, his Gospel), we see what we see in other ancient historians: he is shaping information, not fabricating it. We don’t have all Luke’s sources (neither written nor, certainly, oral), but we have enough to see that he is true to the method he lays out in his preface (Luke 1:1-4). He’s writing ancient historiography, not an ancient novel. Further, where we can compare the claims of Acts with external evidence, it fares well. This becomes most clear in the (roughly) second half of Acts, where Roman sources and especially Paul’s letters often corroborate Luke’s claims.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Notice: Nijay Gupta's Colossians Commentary

My friend, Nijay Gupta has completed work on his first commentary, Colossians, for the Smyth and Helwys series.

The series is excellent, and Nijay's contribution promises to continue this trend. The commentary can be ordered here, and one can find other info including a sample, plus wonderful endorsements from NT luminaries such as Michael Gorman, Craig Keener, and Ben Witherington. One wonderful aspect of the Smyth and Helwys series is that an interactive CD-ROM is included with each hardback volume.

I believe Gupta's volume will fit nicely in front of my O'Brien (WBC) and Moo (Pillar) volumes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

George Guthrie's Hebrews Class

Over on the ever-useful biblicaltraining.org site, George Guthrie, Benjamin Perry Professor of Bible, at Union University, has a series of lectures on the book of Hebrews

Guthrie is one of the foremost interpreters of Hebrews as he has published several books and articles on the great book, including his dissertation, and a few commentaries.   As a plus, George is a great guy and an effective communicator, so these classes should be a goldmine to any of those with ears to hear.

On a separate note, Guthrie is working on 2 Corinthians commentary for BECNT.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Mark and Literary Mimesis: An Interview with Adam Winn

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure to interact with Adam Winn concerning his book, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material. Winn's work has been very influential on my own thinking, as I was able to present my first SBL annual paper in the seminar, Markan Literary Sources, in which Winn co-chairs. A copy of my work, "Of Kings and Mark: A Case of Mimesis in the Second Gospel," can be found here. I am happy to say that Winn's influence on my own work will also be witnessed again when I co-present a paper at SBL annual entitled, "Mark’s Mountain Mimesis: Exodus 24; 34 in Mark 9.2-15."

On to the interview:

 1. You astutely note in the introduction to your book that source, form, and redaction criticism have played a major role in ignoring the quest for Mark’s literary sources. Can you explain why this is so?

 Well, source criticism seemed to operate under the presupposition that literary sources for Gospel texts were necessarily other Gospel texts (or other written Jesus traditions). Therefore, when source criticism came to the conclusion of Markan priority, the matter of literary sources for Mark’s gospel became relatively obsolete. If Mark was the first of our extant written records about Jesus, then there was no need to look any further for written sources. After source criticism, form criticism offered the definitive answer about Markan sources—they were oral not literary. This conclusion of form criticism has been dominant presupposition of Markan studies to this day, with few challenging it. With its strict criteria for literary dependence, redaction criticism reinforced the presupposition of source criticism—namely that sources for Gospel texts were necessarily other Gospel texts (or texts such as Q). Literary dependence could only be demonstrated through strong verbal agreement and specific agreement in detail/order. In light of these criteria, the pool from which to draw Markan literary source material is shallow indeed. Thus the form critical conclusion that Markan source material is primarily oral tradition goes largely unchallenged.

 2. As a way forward, talk about the importance of mimesis (imitatio) in the ancient literary world, and how that can impact study of Mark’s Gospel.

 I will give a relatively simple explanation here, but for those interested in a more thorough understanding, I would point them to the work of Thomas Brodie and Dennis MacDonald—two NT scholars who have done a good deal of spade work on mimesis/imitatio. Certainly many classicists have done work on this literary practice as well. But here is my attempt at a simple explanation. In the Greco-Roman world, virtually all arts were imitative arts. That is artists sought to imitate the great works that had come before them. Such was the case with literature. Students began by immersing themselves in Homer (later Virgil). They were first taught to copy these texts, and then eventual to paraphrase them. When they had shown sufficient skill in these things, they began to learn the practice of mimesis/imitation—that is taking the pieces of great literary works and reworking and reshaping them into to something new. The great literary works of the past served as quarry from which the building blocks of new literary works were found. Perhaps the best example of this practice is Virgil’s reworking of the Iliad and Odyssey in his Aeneid. This practice is important not only for the study of Mark’s gospel but for all of the Gospels (perhaps the entire NT) because it undermines the strict criteria for literary dependence demanded by redaction criticism. The practice of mimesis/imitatio demonstrates that Greco-Roman authors were creative with their literary sources—that they did not slavishly copy them, but they found ways to rework them into a new story. The implications for Markan source material are significant. No longer are we limited to considering only like Gospel text as possible Markan sources, but now we can consider any literature that might have been available to the Markan evangelist.

 3. You mention the works of McDonald and Brodie as being foundational for your work in this volume. In what ways have these two recognized the importance of mimesis for Mark’s Gospel?

 Perhaps most importantly, they have recognized the importance of mimesis/imitatio for NT studies in general. But both have also used mimesis as a means for identifying Markan source material—Brodie with his work on Mark and the Elijah-Elisha material (the real foundation for my book) and McDonald with his work Mark and the Homeric epics. For specifics, I would direct readers to their respective works on these topics.

 4. What makes this work distinctive is the methodology it develops with regard to literary mimesis. Could you discuss the decision to use Virgil’s Aeneid and its use of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as a framework for detecting mimesis in Mark’s Gospel?

 Let me first say that when I began my post-doc at the Dominican Biblical Institute with Tom Brodie, I had never heard of the Greco-Roman practice of imitation/mimesis. It was a totally new area of study for me. And while I could read about this practice in secondary literature, I felt that I needed to see it for myself in primary texts. It was this desire to see the literary technique of imitation in practice that led me to the Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey—texts in which the formers imitation of the latter is firmly established. These writings were my first “classroom” for seeing how Greco-Roman author’s imitated the great literary works that came before them. I then began to read both Mark and Elijah-Elisha narrative with an eye on the ways in which Virgil imitated Homer—and I began to see strong similarities. That was the role that Virgil and Homer played in my research. When it came to writing the book, I concluded that my readers would need the same experience I myself had, i.e., they would need to see clear examples of imitation in classical literature before they could ever see it between Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative. For this reason, I began my book with an analysis of Virgil’s imitation of Homer. In my book, I outline three reasons for using these two classical authors. 1) Virgil’s imitation of Homer in the Aeneid is indisputable and, it is both universally and historically recognized. As such no one can claim that the relationship between these two bodies of literature are the result of shared oral tradition or well known themes, tropes, etc. 2) Virgil is relatively contemporary with the Markan evangelist, writing approximately 80 years prior to the composition of Mark. As such, the techniques and methods used by Virgil would have been knowable for the Markan evangelist. 3) Virgil’s Aeneid was incredibly popular and was even used as textbook for training children how to read. As such, Virgil’s imitation of Homer was likely familiar to the Markan evangelist, increasing the likelihood that he would have used similar techniques in the composition of his gospel.

 5. Without going into too much detail, I was fascinated with your examples of the similarities between the so-called Elijah-Elisha cycles (1 Kgs 16:29- 2 Kgs 13:29) and Mark’s Gospel, moving from the more general with issues of genre, geographical location, etc., to more specific texts. Could you provide one example of each?

 In the interest of not giving too much away, I will offer a very brief answer here. Regarding general similarities, I would note the episodic style that both Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative share as an important similarity. While much of the primary history of the Old Testament is episodic, two episodic motifs distinctly characterize both Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative, namely miracle and prophetic motifs. Regarding specific similarities, I would note the similarities between the Mark’s three-fold passion prediction and the narrative of 2 Kings 2:1-12, in which Elisha refuses to abandon his teacher Elijah, before Elijah’s heavenly departure. In both narratives, you have the following pattern repeated three times (well the third time there is a twist!), 1) a prediction of departure, 2) a statement regarding a disciple/disciples understanding of the prediction, and 3) teachings/actions related to faithful discipleship. I think that is all I will share for now. If you want more details on this similarity, you will find the book to be reasonably priced!

 6. Could you briefly address how your work, i.e. mimesis, is different than detecting intertextuality (allusions, echoes, etc.), especially in works that study the New Testament use of the Old Testament?

 The primary difference is that mimesis/imitation is a means of constructing a new text from an old one. It involves taking the pieces of an old text and reusing them (sometimes reshaping them) to create a new text. Allusion and echo are literary devices that bring the meaning of one text to bear on another, but they are not means for creating new texts. I would also note that imitation/mimesis can take place without the imitated text significantly influencing the meaning of the imitating text—such cannot be said of allusions or echoes, which are both literary devices intended to shape the meaning of a text.

 7. What sort of impact would you like to see your work have on Mark studies and the Gospels generally? 

As far as impact, I think my hopes are quite modest. First, I hope my work raises awareness among biblical scholars of the practice of imitation in Greco-Roman literature, a practice that seems ubiquitous and thus can’t be ignored by people devoted to studying what are essentially Greco-Roman texts. Second, I hope my work demonstrates the fruitfulness of considering imitation/mimesis in the study of New Testament texts in general and the gospels specifically. Such consideration opens avenues of research that have either long been closed or never pursued—Markan source material is simply an example of such an avenue.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Questions of Jesus in John's Gospel: An Interview with Douglas Estes

Douglas Estes, Lead Pastor of Trinity Church in Mesa, Arizona, and an adjunct professor at Phoenix Seminary, has authored a fascinating new book on the questions the Johannine Jesus asks in the Fourth Gospel (The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric, and Persuasive Discourse [Brill Publishers]).

Recently, Douglas was kind enough to answer some questions that I posed concerning his work.


1. In what ways is the Western mindset biased against questions as a means for learning and conveying information?

Since at least the time of Aristotle, Western thinking has placed a great deal of emphasis on information. We see this in the great arc from Athens to Silicon Valley. Because of our desire for information, we are taught to care far more for the answers to a question than the question itself. The problem, of course, is that one only gets great answers if one can ask great questions. Our culture does not teach us to ask great questions. The language and communication strategies we learn from childhood is very much focused on making statements and proving points, not asking questions.

2. How do questions contribute to narrative, plot and rhetoric?

Questions, as a significant feature of language, are an integral part of any type of communication. There is no human language without questions; and while I’m not a linguist, of all the languages I am aware of, almost all form questions in two or three very similar patterns. I say this to point out that communicating without questions—especially without other non-declarative speech forms—would seem empty and tedious before long. Questions contribute to narrative in a number of major ways, and quite many minor ways. For example, a question can be used in a narrative to expand characterization, to explain backstory, or to engage readers/characters (depending on diegetic level). Questions contribute to plot similarly, giving the narrator more than one brush to work with in revealing the story. With rhetoric, questions really move front and center; try persuading someone with a declarative! (And without a prosodic cue). It would not be an overstatement to say that questions are the most persuasive, rhetorical form of speech available in language. Because persuasion is so important to certain forms of religious language, questions really shine in that context.

3. Why do questions in Hebraic contexts (OT, Second Temple texts, Talmud, etc.) fail to shed much light on Jesus’ questions in John’s Gospel?

I make this point in my brief survey of the context of questions within my book. I say it this way mostly to correct the populist notion of qustion-asking that comes with the idea of ‘Jesus as rabbi’ (in the Talmudic sense of rabbi). Based on what we know of the questions we have received from Hebraic contexts, the types of questions being asked in those contexts do not match well the types of questions Jesus asks. More simply, the question types are pretty apples-to-oranges. The cultural context, the way Jesus was remembered as speaking, and the interest between Jesus and much of our Hebraic texts are just different. For readers here, I do note that the closer in genre and time the Hebraic text is, the closer the questions also tend to be.

4. Could you briefly describe the differences between ancient ideas of questions and modern ones?

Since I can only think as a modern, and have lived only among moderns, my opinion is that the difference is one of emphasis, or nuance. If we took our time machine back to Athens or Jerusalem or Corinth, I do not believe we would hear people speaking in all questions or, really, in any way that much different than the way we speak now (generally speaking). The difference would be subtle, but I believe their range of asking would be much wider than ours. Questions—beyond the most simple informational—show up more in their style of education, in their literature, than in our world. Not quantitatively (as far I could prove, anyway), but qualitatively, yes. They just seemed to think more about what to ask than what to know.

5. How are questions with informational qualities important in narrative, and in particular, John’s Gospel?

Questions asked primarily with informational qualities are a staple of all narrative as they are a key device for character development, plot development, and much more. If nothing else, they break up the list of statements. In John’s Gospel, there is another really critical aspect to these questions—to stir up other questions in the reader’s mind needing answers. In other words, when a character asks another character a question, the narrator may have that character ask the question just to break up dialogue … but the narrator may also do it hoping to ‘hook’ the reader into asking the question for themselves, and thinking about the answer. John’s Gospel definitely engages in this type of question asking, and in general doing things on many levels. The multi-level aspect of John is one of the key arguments in my first book, The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel.

6. Discuss the type and significance of the very first question asked by Jesus in John’s Gospel (John 1.38a).

That question is a good one, but I want to be careful for readers here who may not have read my book yet to not overload the question with theology. (Well, maybe you can but I will leave that to theologians). Meaning: When Jesus asks, “What do you seek?” it’s easy for us to read it very existentially/philosophically/theologically/Zen-ly the further it moves from the original context. At the same time, there is no denying that the verse probably has some overtones in that direction. When you take the ‘open’ quality of the question, its philosophical overtones, and make it the first words the protagonist speaks in the story, you can’t help but wonder what John has up his sleeve for the rest of the gospel.

7. Explain how John’s Gospel is both dialectical and rhetorical and the role questions play in moving the reader away from his/her presuppositions to the point of view of the narrator.

Since the terms ‘rhetorical’ and ‘dialectical’ mean different things to different people, I mean them in their general ancient world sense: John’s Gospel is dialectical since it wants to engage the reader in dialogue more than information-telling and it is rhetorical since it wants to persuade the reader to its viewpoint. Questions play a critical role in moving the reader, since most people do not respond well to being told what to believe. But when people are asked to clarify what they believe, and indirectly asked whether something they believe about something could be inaccurate/insufficient, then they are more likely to be persuaded. Simply by asking questions the narrator will cause reflection in the reader, and if the questions asked are important enough, the point of view of the reader can and will change.

8. How might your study serve as a lynchpin for future studies of interrogatives in the biblical texts?

The study of interrogatives in biblical texts is underdone, so I think the best it can do is to give people a starting place to take questions more seriously (and exegete them more rigorously) when those working through those texts. Since I borrowed most of my strategies from linguists and logicians, others can do the same. My next book, Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament (forthcoming from Zondervan), will hopefully assist in this. If nothing else, may it encourage better question-asking as we read biblical texts.