Author Archives: catholicbiblestudent

Interview on Outside the Walls Podcast

I was recently interviewed by T.L. Putnam on his podcast entitled “Outside the Walls.” It always makes me think of the great basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. I have been on his show before, but this time we’re talking about my new commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon in the CCSS series. Check it out:

Wisdom of Solomon Book Release Day!

Wisdom of Solomon Baker Academic

Hooray! My commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture is now released as of today, February 13, 2024.

Description of the Book

The Wisdom of Solomon is the first volume published in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Old Testament series. The commentary offers a robust introduction to the historical and theological background of the often-overlooked Wisdom of Solomon, the RSV-2CE translation of the biblical text, cross references, Catechism and Lectionary references, and a detailed interpretation of each passage in the 19-chapter book. It also includes helpful sidebars on biblical background and important references in the living tradition of the Church. This commentary guides the Catholic reader in a thorough and careful study of the Wisdom of Solomon.

I hope you all pick up a copy, read it, enjoy it and learn something from it!

Where to Find the Book

  1. Baker: https://bakeracademic.com/p/Wisdom-of-Solomon-Mark-Giszczak/542807
  2. Amazon: https://a.co/d/5ufZiPn
  3. Soon, Verbum software:  https://verbum.com/product/252803/wisdom-of-solomon

Recent Interviews: Catholic Theology Show; Drew Mariani Show

I’ve been doing some interviews on my new books. Take a listen:

The Catholic Theology Show with Michael Dauphinais

Little did I know some 20+ years ago that I would get interviewed by one of my professors! I took classes with Dr. Dauphinais in Ypsilanti, Michigan back at Ave Maria College (before the Florida campus was even purchased). I think he was 29 years old when he arrived as a professor fresh out of doctoral studies at Duke and I arrived as a freshman. I’m happy to find out that we’re still both on the same page–studying theology together. Very cool. We talk about the commentary and the Wisdom of Solomon in general, a terribly under-studied book of the Bible.

Drew Mariani Show

Ancient Discoveries / Bodily Dignity in Death

On Tuesday 2/6, I appeared on the Drew Mariani Show. He wanted to ask about recent archaeological finds that relate to the Bible and Christian settlement in the Holy Land. In particular, we talked about the recently found fifth century inscription mentioning “Christ, born of Mary” near Megiddo. It was a fun segment with a lot of topics and some speculation about what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. I hope you enjoy listing!

Max Weber on 2 Thess 3:10 – If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

A few years ago, I published an article in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly on 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where it is stated “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” My essential argument is that the “let him not eat” statement was a formal indication of excommunication for persons who refused to work.

Little did I know that the inimitable Max Weber–one of the towering intellectuals of the early twentieth century–weighed in on this passage himself:

Almost all prophets have been supported by voluntary gifts. The well-known saying of St. Paul, “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat,” was directed against the swarm of charismatic missionaries. It obviously has nothing to do with a positive valuation of economic activity for its own sake, but only lays it down as a duty of each individual somehow to provide for his own support. This because he realized that the purely charismatic parable of the lilies of the field was not capable of literal application, but at best “taking no thought for the morrow” could be hoped for. (Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization [New York: Free Press, 1967] p. 363.)

Is he right? I don’t know, but he offers an intriguing theory. Were there indolent “charismatic missionaries” hoping for a handout and refusing to do any real work? Well, 2 Thessalonians does not provide evidence for this, but the Didache does! This absurdly early Christian document (first century!) was lost for centuries, but rediscovered in the 1873 hiding in a monastery library somewhere in Constantinople. In it, we find the following almost humorous warning:

In regard to ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets,’ act according to the doctrine of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day. But, if necessary, let him remain a second day. But, if he stays for three, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle departs, let him take only enough bread to last until he reaches shelter; but, if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. (Didache 11:3-6; Francis X. Glimm, “The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” in The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M.-F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh, vol. 1 of The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1947), 180.)

I don’t know if Max Weber was aware of this text from the Didache, but it does support his interpretation of 2 Thess 3:10. Perhaps there were wandering “apostles” and “prophets” some of whom were legit and some of whom were trying to get a free lunch. The Didache puts a firm limit of two days on any prophet’s stay–any more and he’s false! I don’t know if these prophetic freeloaders really came in “swarms” as Weber supposes, but they must have really been walking around the first-century Christian world, such as it was.

 

Announcing My New Book – Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know

Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know
Sometimes good things come in twos. I am happy to announce my other new book – Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know. This book is part of the series from Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press that seeks to educate Catholics with laser focus on particular topics. “What Every Catholic Should Know” means that the book is designed for regular Catholics, not for some group of specialists. It is my hope that this book helps a lot of people think about, pray about and work through their own experiences of suffering.

Why Write a Book about Suffering?

Everybody suffers. There’s no way around it. Life is wonderful, but it can also be terrible. The more you love, the more it hurts. It would be nice if everything were always perfect and comfortable, but we get sick, have problems, struggle with relationships and careers. Cancer, war, debt, depression–I mean, you don’t have to look too far to find examples of suffering. It’s everywhere. There are a lot of books out there about suffering, but it’s a hard topic to write about, so many of the books are too long or too philosophical or tell too many personal stories without getting to the point. I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read out there, so I decided to write it.

What I am trying to do in this book is get at the heart of the question: Why do we suffer and how can we make sense of it if God is all-loving, all-good and all-powerful? And yet, I wanted to hit the topic from multiple angles so that we can get past the abstract stuff to the more practical strategies for living. My experience has been that a little theological thinking about suffering goes a long way. Once we take up the tradition of Christian biblical theology on this topic, we get some new insights, new perspectives, new ways of coping with the most pressing problems. No, this book won’t take away all of your suffering, but it might help a bit.

Table of Contents

Here’s a sneak preview of the Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1     Suffering Is an Experience of Evil
  • Chapter 2     Suffering Disorients Us
  • Chapter 3     Suffering Tests Us
  • Chapter 4     Suffering Saves Us
  • Chapter 5     Does God Suffer?
  • Chapter 6     The Many Forms of Suffering
  • Chapter 7     Suffering Is Personal
  • Chapter 8     Coping with Suffering
  • Chapter 9     Redeeming Suffering
  • Chapter 10     Suffering on Purpose
  • Chapter 11     Preparing for Death
  • Chapter 12     Suffering Transforms Us

Books in the What Every Catholic Should Know Series

  • Being Catholic by Suzie Andres
  • The Bible edited by Tim Gray
  • God by Elizabeth Klein
  • Literature by Joseph Pearce
  • Mercy by Fr. Daniel Moloney
  • Philosophy by Peter Kreeft
  • Salvation by Michael Patrick Barber
  • Suffering by Mark Giszczak

Where to Buy

You can find my new book at a couple different sites:

  1. Catholic Market: https://catholic.market/what-every-catholic-should-know/suffering-what-every-catholic-should-know/
  2. Amazon: https://a.co/d/bOfiVzm

When Will the Book be Released?

The release date for Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know is set for January 31, 2024.

I hope you enjoy my new book and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. Suffering is such an important topic–one close to heart for all of us.

Announcing My New Commentary on Wisdom of Solomon

Wisdom of Solomon Commentary

Wisdom of Solomon Commentary

I am very happy to announce that my new book is available for pre-order. This commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon is the first volume of the Old Testament series of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture from Baker Academic.

Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

The CCSS series has been valuable for teaching and research on the New Testament since the first volume on the Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy came out in 2008. Since that time the CCSS series has offered a total of 17 volumes, covering all the books of the New Testament. Peter Williamson and Mary Healy asked me to join the editorial team for the Old Testament series back in 2019. We have been working hard since then to bring out commentaries that will deliver a serious, scholarly, yet pastoral and accessible Catholic theological reading of the biblical text. We have recruited a great team of authors and are very happy to share this volume as the firstfruits of the OT series. Know that more volumes are coming as we continue writing and editing!

Why Write on Wisdom?

The Wisdom of Solomon is in one of the most overlooked books of the Bible. As a deuterocanonical book, it is not in the Protestant canon and so only Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican scholars (and some Lutherans) would think of it as Scripture. As an Old Testament book, it is an outlier since it was originally written in classical Greek. In terms of Greek, it is an outlier because it uses very rare vocabulary words. In terms of doctrine, it combines Hebrew doctrine with Greek philosophy, so it is not a favored topic of biblical scholars looking for the unique contribution of the Hebrew tradition. In terms of timeline, it is likely the very last book of the Old Testament to be composed. And in terms of resources in English, very little has been published on it. The last full-length English commentary was David Winston’s 1979 Anchor Bible volume (and fortunately, that has been added to by the Italian–and now translated–volume by Luca Mazzinghi in the IECOT series from Kohlhammer Verlag in 2019). I’ve posted before about how few resources are available on Wisdom of Solomon in English. To me, it was important to make a unique contribution that would help people read and understand this valuable book of the Bible. To that end, you might have noticed my name on the Ignatius Study Bible booklet on Wisdom. But this commentary is a much more complete treatment.

What is Wisdom of Solomon About?

The book of Wisdom or “Wisdom of Solomon” is an unusual book. Having read Proverbs and Sirach, you might expect it to be full of one-liner aphorisms, but it’s not. It takes up a different approach to talking about the pursuit of wisdom that is more reminiscent of Ecclesiastes, albeit in a Hellenistic Jewish mode. The author, who lived in Alexandria, attempts to fuse together Jewish appreciation of Torah and salvation history with a Greek philosophical approach to life. He addresses his work to “kings and rulers” and invites his audience to pursue Wisdom. But the book unfolds as a series of exhortations, vignettes, quests and symbolic narratives. The author speaks with the voice of Solomon (at least in chaps. 6-9), but is not actually Solomon, who died centuries earlier. However, the author sees Solomon as representative of an ideal life, of the pursuit of wisdom as the goal of life. By “loving righteousness” and honoring wisdom, one finds the path to God. So Wisdom of Solomon is about the quest for wisdom.

What is the Commentary’s Approach?

If you are familiar with the New Testament volumes of the CCSS series, you’ll know the approach. It is highly focused on the text–presenting the text of each passage with cross-references, Lectionary references and Catechism references. Then each verse or passage is discussed in paragraph form, with many quotations of Wisdom and other biblical passages. We have included Biblical Background sidebars that explain certain topics not directly treated in body text–topics like “The Devil’s Envy,” “Aristobulus,” and “Immortality in the Old Testament.” Also, we have included Living Tradition sidebars that offer quotations from major Christian writers on certain special topics such as “St. Irenaeus on Adam’s Salvation,” St. Augustine on Sevenfold Gifts and Sevenfold Evils.” The commentary includes a glossary of key terms. The hope is to explain the meaning of each passage in the Wisdom of Solomon with clarity, aware of the historical background, the literary techniques the writer is using and the tradition of the Catholic Church. The commentary is addressed to the educated general reader and will be accessible to priests, catechists, theology students, Bible study leaders and avid Bible readers. I hope that readers of the commentary will come to love the Wisdom of Solomon as I have!

Where to Buy

If you are interested in picking up a copy of this new resource, you can find available for pre-order it at these sites:

  1. Baker Academic: https://bakeracademic.com/p/Wisdom-of-Solomon-Mark-Giszczak/542807
  2. Amazon: https://a.co/d/a91Ukha 
  3. Verbum (for the electronic edition): https://verbum.com/product/252803/wisdom-of-solomon

When Will It Arrive?

The book is in production now and is set to be released on February 13, 2024. Perhaps it will make a great Valentine’s Day gift! 🙂

I hope that you will enjoy the book and that it will lead you into a deeper study of the Sacred Page. As we continue to work on the Old Testament series of the CCSS, I am hoping that many people will find these commentaries to be useful, inspiring and enjoyable.

Bellybutton Statues

Image credit: Fallaner, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the weirdest things that I learned in college is that during the time of St. Cyril of Alexandria, there was a bellybutton statue in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I saw a circle on a diagram of the church that was labeled “omphalos.” That is the Greek word for bellybutton. I asked my professor what it was about and, if I recall correctly, he explained that it meant that Christians regarded the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the center of the world. I’ve added a similar diagram here of the modern church and you can see a tiny “19” at the middle. Yes, to this day, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has a bellybutton statue at the very center! I’ve also posted a picture of it so you can see what it looks like.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre diagramImage from: M’Clintock, John, and James Strong. “Sepulchre of Christ.” Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1880.

So where did this idea come from? Were there other bellybutton statues in the ancient world? It turns out, there were quite a few.

The Omphalos of Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi (in museum)

Image credit: Yucatan (Юкатан), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The most famous bellybutton statue was at Delphi where the famous Greek Oracle of Delphi would receive visitors and offer her cryptic prophecies. Some archaeologists think she was inhaling intoxicant vapors from the geothermal features at the site, which helped her achieve an altered state of consciousness for the purpose of prophesying. Some even believe that she breathed these fumes through the omphalos statue itself. Very strange! You can actually still pay a visit to Delphi and find the belly button statue from antiquity in their museum.

Omphalos of Delphi (outdoors)

Image credit: Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

Outdoors at Delphi, you will also find another bellybutton statue that looks more plain—like a cone of plain rock with no decoration.

 

The Bellybutton of Rome

Ancient Rome had something similar, called the umbilicus Urbis Romae, the belly button of the City of Rome. It was a statue or monument of a belly button that officially marked the center of the city. It was the point from which all distances were measured. Today it looks a little like a beat up pile of bricks with a doorway:

Umbilicus Urbis Romae

Image credit: Karlheinz Meyer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Center of the World

The point of all of these belly button statues is that they mark a spot regarded as the “center of the world.” We find this idea in the Bible at the Book of Ezekiel, where the prophet is told,

“Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries round about her.” (Ezek 5:5 RSV2CE)

In fact, many religious traditions identify a certain place as the center to which everything relates. Consider these examples outlined by Zimmerli, Cross and Baltzer:

The wealth of material gathered by Wensinck and Roscher (see also Holma) makes it additionally clear that not only the assertion of living in the center of the world, but also the specific reference to the “navel” (ὄμφαλος) is attested in a wide surrounding area. In Greece, alongside the dominating claim of Delphi, there stands the conception (apparent only in monuments rather than in literature) of the Eleusinian mystery cults that Athens, the μητρόπολις τῶν καρπῶν, was the place of the ὄμφαλος. In the wider Greek world the same claim is made by Paphos, Branchidai, Delos, Epidauros. In post-biblical tradition it gained significance through its connection with the Adam legend in its relationship to Golgotha, Zion and Moriah and perhaps also with Hebron. Islam, for its part, has transferred the tradition to Mecca. (Walther Zimmerli, Frank Moore Cross, and Klaus Baltzer, Ezekiel: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Hermeneia [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983], 311.)

So many places have claimed to be the “omphalos,” the belly button or navel of the world. And some of these places mark their claim with a statue of a belly button. The ones we have noticed here include:

  1. Delphi
  2. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  3. The Roman Forum

New Interview on Bible Translation

I was just interviewed by Paloma Lopez Campos for Omnes Magazine, a Catholic outfit based in Spain. She asked me a lot about Bible translation and I did my best to answer. We talked about inclusive language, Liturgiam authenticam, dynamic equivalence, biblical vocabulary, the Septuagint, the text of the New Testament, the ancient manuscripts and how they were compiled, biblical ministries and how beginners can get started reading the Bible. Note that this interview was transcribed from an audio conversation. It tested the limits of my ability to speak in coherent paragraphs without grammatical errors! (You’ll notice a few.)

Here’s an excerpt:

What is the biggest challenge now facing Bible translators?

– In my book on Bible translation I talk about the challenge of inclusive language, which has been a very important topic of discussion over the last fifty years. There has been a real shift in the way we think about men and women, about roles, and language has a lot to do with it.

In Bible translation, some translators have gone in the direction of trying to make the Bible as inclusive as possible. And others have taken a different, more conservative approach. They say we should make as many things as we can as inclusive as possible, but if the biblical text is gendered, then we should translate it as it is.

This becomes a kind of dialogue about the right way to translate. And I think as the conversation around genre continues to change, Bible translators will continue to have to reflect on the right approach.

On the one hand, there is a kind of tendency to yield to whatever the culture is doing at the time. On the other, there is a tendency to resist the culture. I think the right way to go is somewhere in between. Christian translators should resist the idea that contemporary culture can rewrite biblical anthropology. But, on the other hand, I think we must translate in a way that communicates with contemporary culture. (Read the rest…)

Talk on Suffering – CD and mp3

Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know

I am happy to announce the release of my latest audio talk on CD and mp3. It is entitled “Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know“. It is available from the Augustine Institute for $4.50 for a CD and $3.49 for the mp3 download.

Tonight, June 12, 2023, I will be interviewed about this topic on Catholic Answers Live Radio show. I hope you can tune in to listen live or after the fact.

Suffering is a mystery: an unavoidable reality of human life on earth, which disorients us and tests our souls. It leads us to ask questions about God and his goodness. Though we seek pain relief and comfort, suffering cannot be solved by human effort. Instead, Jesus invites us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). As we accept his call to self-denial, suffering can become redemptive, conforming us to Christ in his salvific suffering. This talk will explain Catholic teaching on the redemptive value of suffering and show how it can go from feeling useless to transforming us to be like God.

This talk is an appetizer for my forthcoming book, Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2023). Look for the book when it comes out later in 2023.

Old Alliance? Old Advance? Old Covenant.

Normally I’m focused on the intricacies of Bible translation, but sometimes closely related translation problems crop up. One that I stumbled across made me smile. It has to do with how a now-disfavored term is translated in the premier document of the Second Vatican Council, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, paragraph #2.

The Latin

Lothar Wolleh, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Lothar Wolleh, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Just so we are all on the same page, the Latin of the crucial sentence reads:

Credentes autem in Christum convocare statuit in sancta Ecclesia, quae iam ab origine mundi praefigurata, in historia populi Israel ac foedere antiquo mirabiliter praeparata(1), in novissimis temporibus constituta, effuso Spiritu est manifestata, et in fine saeculorum gloriose consummabitur.

The Translations

The translation of the relevant section presented in the English Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed, sec. 759. reads:

…already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvellous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Alliance.

Some sites contain what must be the text of the first edition of the English Catechism and strangely read:

…already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvellous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Advance. (here, here too)

Analyzing the Latin Terms

The typical Latin phrase for “Old Testament” is Vetus Testamentum, whereas the typical Latin term for “Old Covenant” is Foedus Vetus (see Catechism 121). So it is true that the composers of Lumen Gentium–ok, likely not the Council Fathers themselves here, but the Latinist periti that were helping them at the Council–served up a non-standard phrase in foedere antiquo. “Foedus, foederis” is a noun which could mean “treaty, alliance, league, compact, etc.” Fair enough, it is the typical term for covenant. But why antiquo? Perhaps it is meant to have a more nostalgic ring than mere “vetus.” Antiquo could mean “of old, antique, of the ancients, of olden times.”

A Better Translation

It does seem to me that Vatican translators have caught this one and thought the “old Advance” does not mean much to English readers. However, I did find one instance of St. John Paul II talking about the “Old Alliance” from a 1986 General Audience. In the present English text of Lumen Gentium on the Vatican website, we get a better rendering:

Already from the beginning of the world the foreshadowing of the Church took place. It was prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the Old Covenant.

That sounds better to my ears! But it is true that “Old Covenant” and “Old Testament” too have become disfavored as seemingly supportive of supercessionist frameworks. However, to my mind they are simply conventional terms by this point without much charge to them at all.

Conclusion

If we wanted to really parse the difference between foedus vetus and foedere antiquo, then perhaps we could try “the covenant of old” as a kind of nostalgic translation of a Latin phrase that an unknown peritus typed on his Olivetti portable typewriter late at night in his hotel room between sessions of the Council. I was only able to find the phrase in Lumen Gentium and in Livy. Perhaps I’m missing a nuance, but that’s what the comment section is for.