Kloppenborg and Ascough’s Greco-Roman Associations

(This is a re-post of a short blog review on a book I wrote on Sept. 3, 2013)

Thanks to the kind folks at De Gruyter for a review copy of this book.

What in the world is this book, and why would I even want to read it? That is a good question that you should probably learn the answer to. The best answer is from the first paragraph of the book’s foreword:

This volume and the two projected to follow it have their origins in a Greek reading seminar at the University of Toronto begun in the 1990s and after a short hiatus, recommenced in 2003. Many of the texts selected for translation were epigraphical and related to associations, guilds and clubs from Attica, Asia and Egypt. The focus on associations — cultic, professional, immigrant, domestic, and neighborhood — was a function of the conviction that in order to understand the associative practices of the early Christ groups in Asia, Macedonia, and Attica, it was crucial to understand the structures, activities, leadership, finances, and recruitment strategies of the many associations that had existed at least since the fourth century BCE and which continued to play an important part in social life well into the high Empire. (p. v)

That sums it up, really. In order to have a deeper understanding of the development of the early church, why not look into how other groups — associations — formed, had rules, met, funded themselves, policed themselves, and brought new members into the fold? What did the leaders do, and why?

Kloppenborg and Ascough provide ample source material in this volume. Transcriptions of inscriptions, translations of those inscriptions, along with notes and commentary on those inscriptions. And ample indices to recall/locate relevant information. As a edition with sources, this is stellar.

It is also easy to read, at least for a book of this nature. There are nearly 100 inscriptions provided in transcription and translation. That means it is easy to read or scan a transcription or two, in bite-sized chunks, before bed each night. At least, that’s how I read most of the book.

Some of the highlights?

Inscription 82, “Judaean sarcophagus inscription,” for its use of συμβιος (τη συμβιω αυτου Αννα // “for his wife Anna”). Made me smile. The inscription was a warning on the sarcophagus to not put any other bodies in, and if you did, then to pay “the synagogues 75,000 shiny denarii” (δωσι ταις συναγωγαις λαμπρας)

Inscription 12, “A List of thiasotai honored with crowns.” This is a list of personal names, each of which had been voted worthy to be crowned (εστεφανωσαν, from στεφανοω). Reasons for receiving a crown include “zeal on behalf of the membership” and “excellence and honesty shown to the association.” Immediately I wonder about any connection with the notion of receiving a crown as a reward, an image that occurs in Revelation.

Inscription 6, “Honorific decree by the orgeones of Amynos and Asklepios.” More mention of crowns. “… and to crown each of them with a golden crown with a value of 500 drachmae.”

Inscription 64, “Association of Donkey Drivers.” Well, for no reason other than the name, really.

Inscription 70, “An Association of Gladiators.” Again, for the name. But this inscription records a priest who made reliefs “of the gods at his own expense.” And here you see a major function of several of these inscriptions, which is recording who paid for something to ensure the gift is remembered.

Inscription 73, “Donation of a Synagogue.” This is interesting because it involves the gift of one Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos “who has conducted his whole life according to the principles of Judaism” who donated rooms for a synagogue “taking none of the holy revenues.” The inscription binds the authority of the “upper rooms” (which were not part of the donation) to remain in the family of the donor. The inscription expresses the relationship of the synagogue (not some fancy building, but four rooms and some porticoes in a larger structure still inhabited by a family) and the family that lives in the same structure. This inscription is from 2nd-3rd century (AD/CE) and from Macedonia. Of course, this brings to mind the house-churches mentioned in the NT and their benefactors. Could the relationship have been much different?

This is but a smattering of the material in this book. The notes and commentary are helpful as well. It provides real data on how groups of people who gathered for common cause managed their affairs. It will make you think.

If you’ve made it this far, and are still interested, I can point you to Baylor University Press’ Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook by Ascough, Philip A. Harland, and Kloppenborg. I have not read it, but from what I gather it provides more of this sort of information, though by translation and not with transcription or technical notes, on a wider set of inscriptions and what can be learned from them. This book would probably be a good place to start, with the De Gruyter volume as one you consult when you’re at the library. Let’s face it, at $182.00, few will buy it, but hopefully well-stocked libraries will have the book for you to consult. And you should consult it, there is a wealth of stuff in it along with excellent indices to point you where you need to go.

Also note that Philip A. Harland has a companion site for the Baylor Press book, which is worth poking around.

SBL 2017 Paper: Sounding Biblical: The Use of Stock Phrases in Christian Apocrypha

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my proposal for the open Christian Apocrypha session was accepted. I described it to a friend like this: “Hey, I snuck a corpus linguistics paper into the Christian Apocrypha section!”

Here’s the abstract for those interested:

There are certain phrases that, due to familiarity and usage, seem biblical upon hearing or reading them. That is, they sound like language used in the Bible. Phrases like “in the beginning,” “all the creeping things that creep,” and “truly, I say to you.” This paper uses a variation on what are known as n-grams to isolate stock phrases and explore their use and effect in apocryphal works. The First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (1AAJn), which the author is presently researching for volume 2 of the “More New Testament Apocrypha” project, is used as a test case. The entirety of the Septuagint and Greek New Testament are used to identify five-word clusters of shared vocabulary that repeat with some frequency in biblical literature (“stock phrases”). 1AAJn is then compared to the biblical literature to locate possible stock phrase usage within 1AAJn. If time and space permit, Greek editions of other writings (Apocryphal Gospels, Apostolic Fathers, possibly some non-Christian writings) will also be evaluated at a high level to determine use or non-use of stock phrases in composition.


NA29? NA30? Notes from an Old (2007?) SBL Session

The other day, I ran across the following stuffed deep in my office bag. It had to have been from a pre-2009 SBL (2007 because I didn’t go in 2008?). That means it migrated across 3 different bags at minimum. Astounding.

Check out this incredibly optimistic (in hindsight) timeline for the NA/UBS editions. I distinctly remember taking these notes.


Notable to me are the association of a corrected UBS4 aligned with NA28 to be released in 2009, and that UBS5 and NA29 were supposed to be aligned and published in 2014. In reality, UBS5 is functionally equivalent with NA28. NA28 was published in 2012, corrected printing in 2013, and UBS5 in 2014(?). So we may be due for an NA29/UBS6. And I can’t wait for NA32, it should be awesome.

Please note: I’m not criticizing the ambitious nature of this timeline. I love it — goals and targets are good things. I just thought it interesting that there was a publication plan and milestones for that plan have existed for awhile. The publication dates are synced with releases to the ECM, so I’d guess the next NA edition will include material for Acts and perhaps John and maybe even Revelation (which would be very cool).

Whatever the case, I’m sure that the current plan is much different than the above. Difficult, complex projects take a long time, even with well-planned milestones. Bring on NA29, whatever changes it may contain!

When Life Sucks

beelzebubba-001It’s no coincidence that earlier today I queued up YouTube to play The Dead Milkmen’s “Life is Sh*t” off their “Beelzebubba” album.

At that point, life honestly was sh*t.

We’ve been trying to adopt, it seems, forever. I have few memories these days of those glorious days when we weren’t trying to jump over the next adoption hurdle. It has, honestly, been a part of our lives for over seven years. Our son, who is nearly 5, is adopted. And we’ve been pursuing an adoption for well over two years for our third child.

But there have been many more hurdles this time. Our agency went defunct last year, so we had to start over. We had some money issues, but resolved enough of them to proceed. Then came the glorious match in November, and the heartbreaking loss of match at the end of December. It was not a happy new year.

Then on Friday of last week, we were matched again, with an overdue birth mom, and the praises rang throughout the land. The weekend was a whirlwind of packing and travel planning. And waiting.

And then this morning, Tuesday, we heard the word we didn’t think was possible: Birth mom decided to parent.

There are a few ways to take this.

  • Optimist: “Third time’s a charm, hopefully!”
  • Pessimist: “I think I’ll listen to the Dead Milkmen’s ‘Life is Sh*t'”

I opted for the pessimistic route. Well, that was after crying, shouting at God in my car all the way home from work, embracing my wife tighter than I have in a long time, and crying my eyes out on her shoulder (and she on mine). And crying again when talking to our kids.

Why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, writing is therapeutic, as is honest confession. Second of all, life can be sh*t. God doesn’t say he’s going to save us from all the crap in this life and things will be rosy, and all will be well (cf. Job, Naomi, David, Abraham & Sarah, Peter, Paul, Mary, etc., etc.). We’re not isolated from the effect and circumstance of sin just because we mumbled some magic phrase when we were kids (or adults). No matter what Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, or Joyce Meyer tell you.

No, there is crap in our lives. But it is part of our lives (cf. Gen 1–3). And it shows us how good God really is. Through his son Jesus, he willingly came down into this sh*t-fest we call life and lived it with us. He said he would let his perfect life (somehow, in the midst of all us feces-flingers, he stayed above the fray) cover ours too, so that God would see us as God sees him: perfect, righteous, and unstained.

Even though we’ve all been wallowing in the slough of despond for awhile. Even though, try as we may, we can’t scrub it off.

This is the life we live. There is crap, and we can’t get rid of it. We shouldn’t be surprised by it, or when crap spews all over us at the most inopportune times in our lives (like when we’re trying to adopt!). But we should praise God that Jesus Christ, our mediator, stands in our place, so God doesn’t see (or smell) the manure we roll around in.

And when it’s time for Jesus to come get us; when we don’t need faith and hope any more because his love for us will be fully realized (cf. 1Co 13), we will be removed from this cesspool of life, and restored to him.

Let him come soon.

Christians, Soldiers, and Word Studies

I’m currently working through the text and vocabulary of Second Timothy, writing Lexical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: Second Timothy. I ran into the curious phrase in 2Ti 2:3, “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

This actual phrase “soldier of Christ” only occurs here in the NT. This got me digging a bit because — having grown up in the church — the notion of “Christian soldiers” is not unfamiliar. I was surprised that the only other relatively early witness to this phrasing was found in the Acts of Paul. Of course there is other imagery (e.g. “Christian Armor” in Eph 6:10–20), but I was looking at the expression of a Christian as a soldier.

It was only when I expanded my search from the specific phrase to words sharing common roots that I remembered the term “fellow solider,” which Paul uses twice elsewhere. If you’re looking at word usage in a corpus, sometimes you have to expand your basis because the same notion/concept can be expressed using different formulations.

Does this stuff interest you? Get my Lexical Studies in the Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy in print from Amazon or for Logos Bible Software.

Here’s what I ended up with, at least for now. This will change some between now and whenever I get the manuscript done, but I’m over 25% of the way through the text, which is good news for me.

The phrase “good soldier” is a translation of two different Greek words. The first word, “good,” is a translation of καλός.[1] The second word, “soldier,” is a translation of στρατιώτης, ‘soldier,’ in a non-military sense.[2] The Acts of Paul uses the term similarly:

For they saw how Paul laid aside his mood of sadness and taught the word of truth and said: ‘Brethren and soldiers of Christ, listen! (AcPl 10,[3] [4] emphasis added)

The word στρατιώτης is used with frequency in the New Testament. While military language is used elsewhere in descriptions of the Christian life (Eph 6:10–20), the direct association of a soldier (στρατιώτης) with a follower of Jesus is only found in 2 Timothy. The next known usage of this phrase “soldier of Christ” is found in the Acts of Paul which may go back to the second century.[5]

However, the word συστρατιώτης, ‘fellow soldier,’ is used to similar effect in Phm 2 and Php 2:25:

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon, our dear friend and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Phm 1–2, emphasis added)

But I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, but your messenger and servant of my need, because he was longing for all of you and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (Php 2:25–26, emphasis added)

In these contexts, Paul uses συστρατιώτης to associate Archippus (Phm 2) and Epaphroditus (Php 2:25) with him in common mission for the gospel. They are described as soldiers in common with Paul. They hold common purpose and share a common battle. Understanding Christians as soldiers in common battle is not outside of the frame of Paul or the New Testament.

[1] BDAG pp. 504–505. Occurs 101x in NT, 24x in PE.

[2] BDAG p. 948. Occurs 26x in NT, 1x in PE: 2 Ti 2:3. See also TDNT 7.711–712.

[3] Wilhelm Schneemelcher, “3. The Acts of Paul,” in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL Wilson, vol. 2, 2 vols. ([Cambridge, England]; Louisville, Ky.: J. Clarke & Co. ; Westminster/John Knox Press, 2003), 259.

[4] From the Hamburg papyrus of the Acts of Paul, which BDAG cites as AcPl Ha 8, 9

[5] Hans-Josef Klauck, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 48.

On Tools and Efficiency


This is not our dishwasher. (source)

When we moved into our house nine years ago, we knew the dishwasher would have to be replaced at some point. It worked, but it was loud.

Over the years, it continued to function but needed more and more attention. Nothing seriously wrong, just more routine deep cleaning. And small but manageable things started to break, most notably the top rack which would — unless you paid attention and pulled it out just right — slide out of the track and fall onto the bottom rack.

We put up with this for a long time (confession: nobody likes to wash dishes in our house) but in December, it was time to finally replace the old thing. So we did.

A few weeks with the new dishwasher, and I’ve noticed something.

We really didn’t like that old dishwasher.

We had several procedures we’d unwittingly developed to prolong the time between dishwasher runs. In hindsight, I can’t believe I never really noticed them, but now they are plain as day.

First: Paper plates. We’d use paper plates as a substitute to prolong the time between cycles. Real plates pile up between cycles (hey, I’m being honest here) because the dishwasher (you know, the one with the top rack that would fall if not handled correctly?) had clean dishes and we hadn’t had time to unload yet. Using paper plates (for kids’ breakfast and lunch, basically) makes this go away at least one meal.

Second: Too many bowls, glasses, and mugs. I’m convinced we have an overabundance of these sorts of vessels because they piled up between use. I didn’t notice it because, due to the time between cycles, all of them were almost never clean at once. Now, with a tool that actually works, we can be more efficient — and now need to ask the “what do we do with all these extras?” question.

Third: “Is it clean?” The time between dish cycles and the propensity to not want to unload the dishwasher due to possibility of the top rack crashing down means that the dishwasher effectively became specialized cabinet space. And with all those extra vessels (see item two above) there was no desperate need to unload or reload.

Fourth: Noise. The old dishwasher was loud, which meant we typically would run it when we weren’t home. No problem; except we had to remember to start it before we’d leave to go somewhere. Now, since the new dishwasher is so quiet, we can start it any time.

Now, I’m not saying I now magically love to do dishes, or to stack the dishwasher, or to unload it. These aren’t a few of my favorite things (allusion intended).

What am I saying? We had a tool (old dishwasher) and we used it to complete a task  (wash dishes). It got the job done, but it certainly wasn’t efficient. And we had all these other stopgap solutions built up (unknowingly, for the most part!) to help us put up with the non-efficient tool.

This makes me wonder what else in my life suffers from being in a similar situation. What other primary tool do I have that isn’t functioning properly? What tool do I dislike so much that I’ve built up other rituals around it to prolong the period between use?

I’m not one for resolutions. But as 2017 unfolds, my hope is to better see where I’ve built up workarounds (paper plates, more bowls, etc.) because a tool isn’t functioning as efficiently as it should be. And I’m not talking about appliances. I’m talking about my life as a Christian. I’m talking about how I approach relationships with believers and nonbelievers. I’m talking about how I learn and study. I’m talking about how I pray (or don’t). I’m talking about how I interact with my kids.

There’s gotta be other cruft built up. My prayer this year is for open eyes to begin to see it.

Rick’s 2017 Research and Writing Schedule

research-blog-001At the beginning of 2016, I ran a survey to get some feedback about the sorts of projects that folks interested in my material might like.

I think it was a successful thing. I was able to edit and publish my notes on 2 Timothy, my work on the vocabulary of 1 Timothy, and my notes from a course I taught on the Apostles’ Creed. I also wrote an introduction and new translation of the First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (to be published in the forthcoming volume 2 of Burke & Landau’s New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, (volume 1 here)).

I also started researching and writing for the Lexical Commentary on 2 Timothy, making it through chapter 1.

What do I have planned for the new year? At present, I am not planning on running a survey for feedback. I’m planning to continue work on the Lexical Commentary on 2 Timothy. There is the possibility of a longer term translation/commentary project (on some noncanonical material) that may also happen. I would also like to devote some of my time to reading more widely, but I’m not quite sure how or when that will happen.

If I finish 2 Timothy, it will be published by Appian Way Press, and then I’ll move on to Titus. I may also publish a short study guide on Titus, based on work from a class I taught at a church a long time ago.

That’s about it. Did I miss anything?