The Headwaters of Christian Prayer: Messianic Hope in the Shape of the Psalter

This is my third and last installment of Summer Scripture lectures I was originally slated to deliver at the Institute for Pastoral Leadership at University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL. They have been holding a Summer Scripture Conference for decades and I’m sad that we weren’t able to come together this summer because of the pandemic. But thanks to IPL and my home institution, the Augustine Institute, for teaming up to support this short series.

This lecture dives into the Book of Psalms to show how the canonical shape of this premiere collection of sacred song from ancient Israel has a messianic orientation. David, to whom the bulk of the Psalter is attributed, forms the heart and soul of the collection and the five-book structure comes to us in a highly “Davidic” mode. To pray the psalms is to pray like David. Since Jesus presents himself as the “New David,” then to pray the psalms is to pray like Christ. I hope you enjoy this presentation!

Thanks, again, to the IPL and to the Augustine Institute for making this series possible!

The Book of Wisdom as Model for Christian Reception of the Old Testament

The video below is the second installment of my lectures that were supposed to be delivered at the 2020 Summer Scripture conference event at the Institute for Pastoral Leadership in Mundelein, IL. I am sad that we had to cancel the conference due to the pandemic, but happy that I am still able to share my paper with you.

This lecture is on how the Wisdom of Solomon serves as a model for how Christians read the Old Testament. Its origin in the milieu of Hellenistic Judaism, its philosophical approach and its interpretation of biblical events set the stage for the New Testament’s own perspective on the Old Testament. I hope you enjoy it!

Thanks again to the co-sponsors of this video lecture series: the Institute of Pastoral Leadership and the Augustine Institute!

Sirach 44–50 and Hebrews 11: The Hall of Heroes and the Cloud of Witnesses (video lecture)

Thanks to the Institute for Pastoral Leadership at University of St. Mary of the Lake and to the Augustine Institute for co-sponsoring this lecture I delivered via video recording only in lieu of the canceled Summer Scripture 2020 event!

In this video lecture, I examine the similarity and connection between Sirach 44–50 and Hebrews 11. Both of these passages present the heroes of the Bible as examples for us to follow.  This lecture was recorded a few weeks ago in June 2020. I hope you enjoy it:

You can find out more about the Summer Scripture 2021 event here: https://usml.edu/ipl/summerscripture/

 

Interview on ESV-CE at National Catholic Register; Summer Scripture 2020 Cancelled

Two newsworthy items today:

  1. I was just interviewed, along with Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, by National Catholic Register regarding the new ESV-CE Augustine Bible. We get deep into the details about the origin and style of the new translation. Check it out: https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/augustine-institute-publishes-major-new-catholic-bible Here’s an excerpt:

Giszczak: A lot of Bible translations pursue a philosophy of “dynamic equivalence” or “thought for thought” style translation, which produces perhaps a very readable text, but not a very exact one. And the ESV takes the opposite approach of what they refer to as an essentially literal translation. The ESV is really trying to be as transparent as possible to original languages, and provide a word for word style translation rather than thought for thought style translation. And so it allows people who are studying Scripture, they get that much closer to the meaning in the original language, because they can trust what they’re reading is really what it says. So with the ESV, when you’re studying it or when it’s being preached from, you’ll hear a lot fewer of those phrases that we’re still accustomed to hearing in homilies, “well, what it really says here is.” So often the homilist or the preacher has to correct the translation in order for the people to understand it. But with the ESV, you have to spend less time retranslating in the context of study, and you can spend more time just understanding what’s there on the sacred page.

  1. The Summer Scripture Conference 2020 at University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Chicago area has been cancelled due to the pandemic. I had mentioned that I was scheduled to speak at it a while back on my blog. But that won’t be happening. This is the year of cancelling everything! However, the organizers have asked me to film my planned lectures to share with their registrants. Once we do that, I’ll post the videos here too to share them with you.

Things I’ve Learned From the Pandemic

Things I’ve learned from the present Covid-19 pandemic (I think):

  1. We probably won’t make a vaccine since we’ve never made a coronavirus vaccine before.
  2. Epidemiological models are more fiction than fact. No one can predict the future, not even a computer. (link)
  3. We won’t solve the “testing problem.” If we were going to solve it, we would have by now.
  4. Staying at home probably helped prevent a lot of sickness and death, but we’ll never know since there’s no counterfactual.
  5. Shutting down surgeries and other procedures at all hospitals all at once was a dumb, ham-handed policy move that left hospitals without revenue, empty, furloughing doctors and nurses, instituting pay cuts. 171 hospitals are doing this at last count (link)
  6. Work-from-home is white collar privilege, not a comprehensive policy. Asking blue collar workers at grocery stores, meat-packing plants, Amazon warehouses, etc. to risk their lives to save white collar people working at their kitchen tables on laptops is probably the best way to foment class warfare. Oops.
  7. A pandemic is a national news story, but its effects are deeply local and vary from one place to another at any given time. Closing normal hospital work in California when the first wave is hitting Michigan and New York was not a good idea.
  8. Politicians are selfish and, well, political. Their goal is to score points and votes, not to fix the problem. Same goes for the media organizations.
  9. When everyone is terrified, selfish and angry, it’s hard to get good information (and toilet paper).
  10. Trying to blame a politician or a country for the virus is like trying to blame someone for the weather. The blame game is fun to play, but this thing is literally a force of nature.
  11. The more “takes” I read on the virus, the economy, how life will never be the same, the less patience I have for them.
  12. Cancelling everything all at once everywhere makes people unhappy.
  13. America eats over 500,000 hogs a day, but a pork shortage is likely coming.
  14. The disease is terrible if you get it. Try not to.
  15. Even though it seems like it won’t, a pandemic does come to an end eventually.

==

These are early thoughts, after reading so much and trying to understand what is happening. We will be looking back on the decisions being made right now for the next few years.

Thinking in biblical terms, Solomon’s prayer comes to mind:

“If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers. (1Ki 8:37-40 ESV)

A Tale of Two Lies

Catholic theology has long grappled with the question of lying on the basis of a certain Scripture passage. In the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh confronts two Hebrew midwives about why the Hebrew baby boys are still surviving even though he’s commanded that the midwives murder them as they are born (an ancient form of partial-birth abortion). The midwives dissimulate, explaining:

the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” (Exod 1:19 ESV-CE)

The Lord blesses the midwives for their fidelity (v. 20). This lie, or at least near-lie, that the midwives tell becomes a focal point for discussion on the prohibition of lying in the theological tradition. Of course, the Ten Commandments say, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16). Later on, the Book of Sirach will make the absolute prohibition on lying even more explicit: “Refuse to utter any lie” (Sir 7:13 ESV-CE).

Fr. Thomas Joseph White, in his Brazos commentary on Exodus states the problem: “Did the midwives lie to the Pharaoh, and if so, is it morally licit to lie in order to save innocent human life?” This ethical problem has been fodder for many a caffeine-fueled, heated theological debate, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. Fr. White relies on Augustine and Aquinas, adopting the view of an “exceptionless prohibition on lying,” but other ethicists, notably Janet Smith, take a different view.

 

Yet Another Lie

As a Catholic Bible Student, I find it interesting that the discussion centers on the lie of the Hebrew midwives (though Augustine also brings up Rahab’s lie [Josh 2:3-5]). Another example stands out to me as worthy of theological debate–that is the lie of Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah is told by the corrupt King Zedekiah to keep his mouth shut. The king wanted to know the real prophecy from the Lord about the fate of Jerusalem, but Jeremiah, fearing for his life, did not want to give bad news to the king so Zedekiah had to coax it out of him by promising him, “I will not put you to death” (Jer 38:16). Jeremiah then gives him the bad news of the coming destruction of the city.

Afterwards, Zedekiah threatens Jeremiah’s life, essentially telling him that if he spills the beans on this private conversation, he’ll be a dead man (Jer 38:24). Zedekiah even gives Jeremiah a line to use with the men who would be curious about his conversation with the king (v. 26). The line goes back to a previous conversation where Jeremiah had pleaded with the king to go home (37:20).

Sure enough, the expected thugs grab Jeremiah by the collar and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t tell them everything from his conversation with the king. Jeremiah dissimulates, offering them the fake line that Zedekiah had given him: “he answered as the king had instructed him.” In short, Jeremiah lies. The lie is not quite as “clean” as the midwives since it’s more of a half-truth. And we’re not told whether God approved of Jeremiah’s lie. However, it is another clear case where a biblical hero tells a lie without negative consequences. He seems to “get away” with the telling of a lie.

While Jeremiah 38:27 is not the focal point of the debate about lying, I did find that the Navarre Bible finds it worthy of an ethical comment:

The prophet’s response does not mean that he is deceiving them (they had no right to be party to Jeremiah’s conversation with the king) or that he fears them; we know that his courage was never in question. (Major Prophets, The Navarre Bible, 459.)

This is one way of skinning the cat. It lines up with the first edition of the Catechism, which insisted that “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has a right to know the truth” (CCC 2483; 1st edition). The definitive Second Edition removes the line about having a “right.”

The Anchor Bible commentary pooh-poohs such ethical discussion: “The oft-discussed point whether Jeremiah is guilty here of telling an untruth is a bit sterile” (Lundbom, Jeremiah 37–52, vol. 21C, Anchor Yale Bible, 78). The ICC also tells us that “Some commentators (especially Duhm; also Cornill and Volz) have wrestled like moral philosophers with Jeremiah’s lie” (McKane, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah, ICC [1986], 967). Maybe one of these days I’ll rustle up those older commentaries and put some of their moral philosophizing on display. I suppose it’s encouraging that at least someone has thought about whether Jeremiah was lying and if so what that means for us!

So there you have it, a Tale of Two Lies–the midwives and Jeremiah take center stage with Rahab playing a supporting role. Catholic ethicists have fought with each other over these questions and it’s nice to be able to point to another biblical example for analysis, dissection and debate.

June 21-26, 2020 – Summer Scripture Conference (Cancelled)

[UPDATE: This event has been canceled due to the current pandemic. However, USML asked me to record video lectures instead and we will make them available to you here from my blog. Keep your eyes out for Summer Scripture 2021.]

I hope you can come!

I will be speaking at the long-standing annual Summer Scripture Conference, June 21-26, hosted by the Institute for Pastoral Leadership at University of St. Mary of the Lake and Mundelein Seminary in the Chicago area. This conference has been offering a slate of Scripture scholars speaking to a popular audience for decades and I’m delighted to be one of the speakers this year. Over the course of the five-day conference, I’ll be sharing the stage with scholars I admire and respect:

I’m looking forward to my talks on June 23-24 on these topics:

  • The Headwaters of Christian Prayer: Messianic Hope in the Shape of the Psalter
    • In this talk, we’ll review some of the recent research on the canonical shape of the Book of Psalms and show how over time, as pre-Christian Jewish tradition received, read, prayed and handed on these sacred songs, they began to see them messianically. That is, the songs themselves, as prayed in that era, anticipate the coming of the Messiah, the new David, who will reign on the throne of his fore-father and usher in a time of restoration. The Psalms, of course, are at the heart of Christian prayer and I’ll try to show how this is no accident, but builds on the messianic shape and use of the Psalms.
  • The Book of Wisdom as Model for Christian Reception of the Old Testament
    • Here, we will take a look at one of the most neglected books of the Old Testament. As I’ve noted here before, it has fewer commentaries written on it English than pretty much any other book of the Bible. Wisdom, though, as one of the very last books of the Old Testament penned, anticipates how the NT authors will read Scripture. It offers a unique combination of Jewish piety toward the Torah and Jewish appropriation of Greek philosophy that sets the stage for Christians reading the Old Testament in a Greco-Roman context.
  • Sirach 44–50 and Hebrews 11: The Hall of Heroes and the Cloud of Witnesses
    • Lastly, I will compare two hallowed texts that celebrate the heroes of the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 is well-known as the “Hall of Faith”, but it is anticipated by Sirach. Both texts retell the story of Israel through a list of characters, heroic figures. These celebrated persons exemplify the life of virtue, Torah-observance and faith, showing that a life of fidelity is possible even under difficult circumstances. Like the many lives of the saints volumes written later in Christian history, these texts hold up heroes for us to imitate.

These topics are close to my heart and I look forward to sharing with you about what I’ve found in these three rich Old Testament veins from the Psalms, Wisdom and Sirach.

This event is an awesome chance to dive deep into Scripture study with a wide range of teachers and topics. It is going to be an intense prayerful learning experience. Each day includes morning prayer, Mass and night prayer, along with meals together and an evening social. But the heart of the experience is the three to four daily lectures on biblical topics. You can read the whole event schedule here: https://usml.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020-Summer-Scripture-Event-Schedule.pdf

If you live in the Chicago area, this would be a great opportunity to take a few days off, grab your Bible and your notebook and join us for some great study. If you don’t live nearby, you can stay in the dormitories on the beautiful campus at a low cost. The full conference with all talks, all meals, and a private room for five nights is only $825. You can’t even get a hotel room, let alone all the meals(!) for that much in a lot of places. However, if that’s too much for you and you can’t take off a whole week, then you can drop in for a single speaker’s three talks for $200 or even just a single lecture for $60. If you want all the details, take a look at the registration form. And if you decide to come, you can register online.

All told, with fifteen talks by seven scholars, it stands to be a great experience and if you do come, I look forward to greeting you in person when you get there!

ESV Catholic Edition Lectionary Released in India

Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro (apostolic nuncio), Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão

Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro (apostolic nuncio), Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão (photo from daijiworld.com)

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has just released a new Lectionary featuring the English Standard Version Catholic Editions (ESV-CE).

A few things to notice:

  • The new ESV Lectionary for India received Vatican confirmation on December 9, 2019 from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
  • It is mandated for India starting on Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020).
  • It uses the Grail Psalter for the psalms (not the ESV), presumably to match the usage of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The money quote comes from Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão:

  • “The publication of the new lectionary by the CCBI is a landmark in the history of the Church in our country, it is a valuable contribution of the Church in India to the Universal Church testifying to our biblical scholarship and liturgical competence.”

The full story here: https://www.daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay.aspx?newsID=675520

It is also worth mentioning that the top sponsor of this big new lectionary project, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, was just re-elected today as the president of India’s bishop’s conference, largely so he can help with the implementation of the ESV Lectionary.

An Inside Look into the Work of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee

I found this amazing clip today. It offers an inside-the-room, fly-on-the-wall view of a debate among the translators of the ESV. In this video, they debate how to render Hebrew and Greek words indicating “slave” or “servant.” In particular, it shows them voting to approve the change from “slave” to “bondservant” in certain NT passages. The video features Translation Oversight Committee members Paul House, Wayne Grudem, Gordon Wenham, Peter Williams and Jack Collins. It gives a sense of the serious nature of the translation debates and the types of evidence members would marshal to support their arguments: