Engaging the JB Lightfoot Legacy – Book Notice (Gupta)

220px-Joseph-barber-lightfootI won’t recount for you the whole story (see more here), but Ben Witherington III stumbled upon a treasure trove of unpublished material by J.B. Lightfoot while Witherington was on leave in Durham (UK). Some of this material, all handwritten, was Lightfoot’s personal lecture notes on Acts. Witherington, with help from others including Todd Still, made the worthwhile effort to publish this material. The first volume in a series called “The Lightfoot Legacy” is entitled The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (IVP, 2014). Before cracking the spine on this book, I had already told a friend I was excited about this publishing endeavor because Lightfoot was such a supreme model of a historian, somehow with encyclopedic knowledge of ancient texts and languages. In a time now when seminaries are cutting biblical languages out of their curricula, I admire the “good ole days” when historical study (including original languages) was simply taken for granted as foundational to proper study of Scripture.

Having now read a good bit of this newly published work, I enjoyed the early biographical sketch Lightfoot Legactwritten by Witherington and Still, getting to know Lightfoot the person. Actually, when I was a student at Durham a handful of students had a rare and memorable opportunity to visit Auckland castle where we were treated to a tour of the facilities including the place where Lightfoot and Westcott were buried. What a great legacy at Durham of top-notch historical work.

A caveat – Lightfoot’s Acts notes are quite technical, so not casual reading. Lots of insights and great material for research, though, of course.

One additional note: Lightfoot was a pious man (obviously an advantage for a bishop!). While he excelled as a historian, his study was deeply rooted in faith. I was blessed by this statement on prayer and exegesis.

Last of all, these remarks would be most defective, if I failed to remind you, as I need to be reminded myself, that above all things prayer is necessary for the right understanding of the Holy Scripture. As speaking to Christians, I might appeal at once to the authority of Scripture itself, an authority which you all recognize. But if it can be said that as a matter of argument, I am arguing in a circle, because the recognition of the duty of prayer presupposes a belief in the truth of Holy Scripture, I could put the matter in this light. If you are studying an ancient writer, a historian for instance such as Thucydides or Tacitus, you would not expect to understand him unless you endeavored to transport yourself into the time at which he wrote, to think and feel with him, and to realize all the circumstances which influence the life and actions of men of that day. Otherwise, your study would be barren of any results. So it is with the study of Holy Scripture. These documents come before you as spiritual writings, and to appreciate them you must put yourself in communication with the Spirit. Prayer is the medium of communication. And therefore it is necessary for the right understanding of the Bible” (51)

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Jesus in Contemporary Culture; Part 11; Superstar! (Skinner)

Jesus-Christ-SuperstarToday was the final day of the semester and we finished watching our sixth and final film, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). This was the only musical (actually, “rock opera”) we watched and it was my first time watching the film all the way through. I was surprised to find that, unlike most musicals, there was no dialogue in between musical numbers. The dialogue throughout the entire movie consisted of sung lyrics. Though there are appearances and songs by Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter, it was interesting to see the lyrical dialogue and dramatic tension revolve primarily around the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. The entire conflict is seen through the eyes of a clearly troubled Judas. Halfway through the film I found myself thinking about other presentations of Judas’s role in the Jesus story including The Passover Plot and the Gospel of Judas. The next time I teach this course I will probably include those readings along with the module for this film.

As I have mentioned throughout this series of posts, we began the semester with an exercise we called, “Problematizing Chalcedon.” We wanted to help students think through the complicated matters associated with the human/divine relationship that is such a key component to orthodox expressions of Christian doctrine. I thought this film, more than the others, beautifully captured that concern in the lyrics to Mary Magdalene’s big number, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” (which Judas reprises near the end as he expresses regret for betraying Jesus). The next time I teach this course, I may have students reflect on the lyrics to this song (see clip below) and have them write an essay on how this song takes seriously the Chalcedonian tension.