Monday, November 30, 2015

Getting Close: One of the final updates on the book's progress

The title is: "Any Questions?" Appropriate for the end of the semester!

The end of the semester grading (one set of term papers down; another to go this week) and then final exams, as well as other duties (e.g., I am chairing a search for a Film Studies tenure-track position, and we are currently reviewing almost 200 dossiers of candidates) mean that work on the book has ground to a halt (mostly) until mid-December. Then comes the final push.

Here is where I am at the moment:

Introduction (basically finished)
Chapter 1 (basically finished)
Chapter 2 (basically finished)
Chapter 3 (basically finished)
Chapter 4 (still have 500 words to cut)
Chapter 5 (still have 3000 words to cut)
Conclusion (haven't started on it)
Appendix: "Glossary" of the parables covered in the book (about 1/4 done)
Illustrations/Images: I have permissions for about half of them.

All of the sections left to write (conclusion and appendix) are fairly short, so they won't take long to complete. After doing the final cutting in chapters 4 and 5, I then will go back again to make sure the volume does what it needs to do in all five chapters (and the intro and conclusion).

Finally I will write the Preface, including the dedication to the memory of two family members who passed away much too young.

That will be the hardest part to write.

By February, I should be ready to start on the next book. 

What about this blog, since it is dedicated to documenting the process of writing this book? I intend to keep it going for the time being, including updates on the book's publication and so forth, and perhaps it will also include the next reception history of the parables book that I intend to do next (Howard Thurman).

Of course, I am always open to ideas for what to do. The blog continues to be helpful for me and hopefully for you as well.

You can email me at if you have an idea to suggest for continuing/revising the blog!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Post-SBL notes

Vernon and Deanna Robbins

The annual Society of Biblical Literature conference (in conjunction with the AAR) concluded yesterday. This year's conference was a really good one, with great sessions, meetings with publishers, and catching up with friends.

As far as this book is concerned, I had a great meeting with Bryan Dyer and Rachel Klompmaker. We are near the end of finishing the final draft of the manuscript--Bryan is helping me trim the parts that need trimming--and the final version should be turned in by February. Rachel is assisting with the images and permissions. I'm a bit behind in doing that, and, as I found out with the James commentary, it takes a while to get all the permissions in order. Both Bryan and Rachel have been and continue to be extremely helpful. The whole process with Baker has gone very smoothly, and I am also pleased with the manuscript. I found some very interesting and, I think, important things, as hopefully this blog has demonstrated.

Friday night I was invited to join the Rhetoric in Religious Antiquity working group for their celebration of the 75th birthday of Vernon K. Robbins, the founder and major developer of New Testament socio-rhetorical interpretation. His birthday was actually last March, but the group put together a surprise party for him during SBL when they were all (almost) together. I took a New Testament class with Dr. Robbins at the University of Illinois (while I was still a chemical engineering major) during the time he was formulating socio-rhetorical interpretation (and writing the famous "Sea Voyages" essay), so I was able to share with the group some of my recollections of Dr. Robbins from those early days. That NT course was a major turning point for me, especially since I switched to a religion major (even though I was a junior) and started my trajectory toward being a New Testament scholar.

The conference also was an opportunity to meet with publishers about future book projects. My friend Kipton Jensen, a professor at Morehouse College, and I met with a publisher about our idea for a book about the sermons of Howard Thurman on the parables of Luke. Dr. Thurman was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and these sermons are not yet in print. Emory University (Pitts Theology Library) and a couple other places have them on cassette tapes, and Kipton and I hope to publish seven of those sermons (edited, with extensive introductions and explanations) to make them available to a wider audience.

I also have another book project in the works possibly, but more on that later.

Two of my favorite sessions included the paper by my friend, Christine Joynes of the University of Oxford: "A Gender Agenda? Exploring the Politics of Biblical Art," which explored issues of gender and identity by focusing particularly on representations of different women from Mark’s Gospel in art, and contrasting male and female artists’ portrayals of these women. Chris is brilliant, and I anxiously await the publication of her reception history commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

I also greatly enjoyed Paul Foster's (University of Edinburgh) paper in the Historical Jesus section: "Recent Trends and Future Prospects: Will We get any Further?" I think he struck just the right notes on the strengths and weaknesses of both "memory studies" and the criteria of authenticity. I had never heard him before and was greatly impressed by his scholarship and insights.

It was also great, as always, catching up with friends. The conference allows too little time for that, but I did have many wonderful lunches and dinners with friends, gatherings that are always the highlights of the conference for me.

Now I am back home grading term papers (exegetical papers) and projects, as well as looking over portfolios of candidates for a Film Studies position at our institution. By mid-December I hope to turn (almost full-time) to the book.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Parables (part 5)

The Society of Biblical Literature annual conference is beginning in Atlanta, which means it is just a MARTA ride away for me this year. I look forward to the sessions, book hall, other meetings, and seeing friends and colleagues. I start off tonight with a dinner meeting.

So a short post today and perhaps a few other short ones over the next few days about Dr. King and the parables. Much of the content of the posts will not make it into the book, because of word count issues. Here goes:

Dr. King is most often memorialized by images and videos of his famous “I have a Dream” speech, which contributes to the process of “collective amnesia” that sanitizes essential elements of his message about social justice (Yanco 2014: xi). King, who during his life was by many as a dangerous radical is now remembered in popular culture as the head of the Civil Rights movement and a forceful spokesperson for nonviolence. King, however, not only helped lead a nonviolent movement against racism and for equality, but he also actively fought against materialism, militarism, and economic exploitation and for social and economic justice.  Few remember that King called for such things as a guaranteed annual income, which meant that the United States would guarantee a minimum amount of money be paid to every citizen of the United States so that all people could afford decent housing, food, health care, and education (a form of this idea was later proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1969 in his “Family Assistance Plan”; cf. Yanco 2014: 37).

As his sermons about the parables illustrate, King believed that racial and economic injustices would never be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power, and he prophetically denounced the evils of capitalism and militarism just as he denounced the evils of racism.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Parables (part 4)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan numerous times in his career (the most famous being “I See the Promised Land,” which King preached on April 3, 1968, the last night of his life). The parable plays a major role in one of King’s most significant sermons, “A Time to Break Silence,” an address at Riverside Church in New York City, on April 4, 1967, exactly one year to the day King would be assassinated.

In this sermon, King very publicly opposes the Vietnam War and links his opposition directly to the Civil Rights movement. He had stated his opposition to the war on several previous occasions, but this sermon was a keynote address for the national conference of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. Opposing the war meant opposing President Johnson (who was escalating the war), with whom King had worked to pass the civil rights and voting rights bills, and who had announced the War on Poverty. King thought, however, that the War on Poverty had shown great promise for helping reduce poverty but then the profligate spending on the Vietnam War eviscerated those poverty programs. The war against the people of Vietnam had thus also become a war against the poor in the United States. In addition, the Vietnam War was being fought by an extraordinarily disproportional number of black young men “to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem” (King 2015: 203-204).

King could not keep silent in the face of “such cruel manipulation of the poor,” but there was one other concern that led him to speak out passionately against the war. For years he had preached that social change should be achieved through nonviolent social action, but now the United States government was using massive violence to bring about change in Vietnam. King realizes:

. . . I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government (204).

That line—that the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”—was a shocking pronouncement for the majority of Americans who saw themselves as the pre-eminent force for good in the world. 

Instead, King laments, the United States commits numerous atrocities against the Vietnamese people: supporting the vicious dictator, Premier Diem; helping to crush the unified Buddhist church; moving people into concentration camps; bombing them; poisoning their water; destroying a million acres of their crops; and possibly killing a million people—primarily children (207-208).

King speaks as a civil rights leader “to save the soul of America.” He calls for an end to the war and also for reparations for the damage the United States had done in Vietnam. Yet he also calls for a much deeper change of heart: a radical revolution of values where the United States shifts from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society, one which conquers the “giant triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism (214). Here King cites the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate true compassion upon one’s “enemies”:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death (214-215).

King’s opposition to the war in Vietnam not only provoked the wrath of President Johnson, it also brought vehement denunciations in the media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and, in 1967, King’s anti-war position was extremely unpopular among U.S. citizens overall (Dyson 2000: 61).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Parables (part 3)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

An interesting similar use of the Sheep and Goats parable is found in a sermon that also denounced militarism, “The Drum Major Instinct,” which King preached on February 4, 1968, the last sermon he preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Instead of human beings wanting to be first in such trivial matters such as wealth or fame, King says, one should strive to be first in love, first in moral excellence, and first in generosity. But, King says, nations can also suffer from this drum major instinct, where nations are struggling for supremacy, and King does not spare the United States from the drum major instinct to want to “rule the world”:

. . . I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn’t call America to do what she is doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. We have committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride, and our arrogance as a nation.

King sorrowfully says that God has a way of putting such prideful nations “in their place,” such as ancient Babylon, Israel, and Rome, and King sees frightening parallels between the United States and those ancient civilizations (2015: 188-189).

On April 9, 1968, about two months later, excerpts of the sermon were played at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Parables (part 2)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are some excerpts and comments about Dr. King's sermon on the parable of the Rich Fool in Chicago (August 27, 1967):

Although the rich man in the parable, King says, was successful “by all modern standards” and “would abound with social prestige and community respectability,” Jesus, a Galilean peasant, had the audacity to call him a fool. The man was foolish, King argues, because his economic well-being absorbed all of his thoughts, and he ignored what was most important:

We have both a privilege and a duty to seek the basic material necessities of life. Only an irrelevant religion fails to be concerned about man's economic well-being. Religion at its best realizes that the soul is crushed as long as the body is tortured with hunger pangs and harrowed with the need for shelter. Jesus realized that we need food, clothing, shelter, and economic security . . . . But Jesus knew that man was more than a dog to be satisfied by a few economic bones. He realized that the internal of a man's life is as significant as the external. So he added, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."  The tragedy of the rich man was that he sought the means first, and in the process the ends were swallowed in the means.  The richer this man became materially the poorer he became intellectually and spiritually (

As the man’s self-centered soliloquy demonstrates—where he uses the first-person pronoun twelve times—the rich man also was foolish because he failed to realize his dependence upon others. He does not realize that other human beings contributed to his material wealth. King then applies the parable to the wealthy United States and uses the Sheep and Goats parable as a prescription for how such a wealthy nation should use its resources in an interdependent world, and it echoes the words of Theophylact (I'll write some posts about him later) about the best “storehouses” for the excess food:

When an individual or a nation overlooks this interdependence, we find a tragic foolishness. We can clearly see the meaning of this parable for the present world crisis. Our nation's productive machinery constantly brings forth such an abundance of food that we must build larger barns and spend more than a million dollars daily to store our surplus. Year after year we ask, "What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?" I have seen an answer in the faces of millions of poverty-stricken men and women in Asia, Africa, and South America. I have seen an answer in the appalling poverty on the Mississippi Delta and the tragic insecurity of the unemployed in large industrial cities of the North. What can we do? The answer is simple: feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. Where can we store our goods? Again the answer is simple: we can store our surplus food free of charge in the shriveled stomachs of the millions of God's children who go to bed hungry at night. We can use our vast resources of wealth to wipe poverty from the earth. 

The rich man was also foolish, however, because he did not realize that his wealth was also ultimately dependent upon God:

Jesus called the rich man a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. He talked as though he unfolded the seasons and provided the fertility of the soil, controlled the rising and the setting of the sun, and regulated the natural processes that produce the rain and the dew. He had an unconscious feeling that he was the Creator, not a creature. 

Such foolishness in modern times, King observes, results in materialism or replacing faith in God with faith in science. The foolishness of expecting science to usher in a better world disappeared, however, in “the explosion of this myth” in the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Physical power, unless it is controlled by spiritual power, will lead to our doom, just like the rich fool: “Without dependence on God our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night.” Unfortunately, King notes, the rich man was foolishly unaware of this dependence on God and on others, and:

May it not be that the "certain rich man" is Western civilization?  Rich in goods and material resources, our standards of success are almost inextricably bound to the lust for acquisition. The means by which we live are marvelous indeed.  And yet something is missing. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.

King closes the sermon by paraphrasing a question asked by Jesus: “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world of externals—airplanes, electric lights, automobiles, and color television—and lose the internal—his own soul?”

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...