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Beware the Evil Eye 1

During my years as a research fellow, I met for the first time the use of cultural anthropological models and perspectives in New Testament studies, and found it extremely interesting. I applied some models in my dissertation (published 1995), and in other works, and still find it interesting. In the years since my PhD work, such views have been very much accepted and integrated in Biblical studies. We now take them for granted.

One of the Mediterranean cultural aspects, however, that -at least to us Scandinavians- represents an issue rather unfamiliar to us is the evidence and practice of Evil Eye belief. I have, however, met it some times up through the years, but not always quite realized what it was, or how to read it:

  1. Visiting Greece in the early 1990-ies, when leaving the country, we were given an amulet in the form of a heart, with an eye in the middle. It was said to keep and protect us from the evil eye. I did not catch its meaning.
  2. For some time during my career I had a colleague that had worked in Palestine for some years, His wife told me that,  at one particular time, they had visited the home of some acquaintances there. When arriving, she looked at and praised some flower plants standing at their entrance. When they were about to leave some hours later, she discovered that the plants were standing at their car. They were supposed to take them with them, and it turned out that the reason was that she had looked at them and commented on their beauty.  It turned out it was the role of evil eye at work.
  3. My daughter spent a year at an US High School in 1994-95. At school, which had students from many different cultures, she discovered that looks could be problematic, even evoking aggression. Initially she did not understand the reason why. It was because of the fear of an evil eye.

Now we have been given a tremendous help in understanding the function of the evil eye phenomenon in ancient cultures, in Biblical times and cultures, and in fact, in many life situations of today. John H. Elliott has for many years studied the Evil Eye phenomenon, he has published several articles on the evil Eye and the New Testament (cf. his bibliography here, -up to 1997. See also here.), and now he has published a four-volume work dealing with the Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient world.

I am grateful to the publisher, ( who has provided me with these 4 volumes, and in a series of postings in the coming months I will present the volumes in some brief reviews. Hopefully, these will wet your appetite, and encourage you to read the volumes for your self.

These are the volumes concerned:
John H. Elliott,
Beware the Evil Eye.
The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World.
Volume 1: Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.
Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, and imprint of Wips and Stock, 2015.

John H. Elliott,
Beware the Evil Eye.
The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World.
Volume 2: Greece and Rome.
Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, and imprint of Wips and Stock, 2016.

John H. Elliott,
Beware the Evil Eye.
The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World.
Volume 3: The Bible and Related Sources.
Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, and imprint of Wips and Stock, 2016.

John H. Elliott,
Beware the Evil Eye.
The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World.
Volume 4: Postbiblical Israel and Early Christianity through Late Antiquity.
Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, and imprint of Wips and Stock, 2017.

Bruce J. Malina 1933-2017

Bruce.cmalinaThe sad news reached me today that Prof. Bruce J. Malina died yesterday, Aug. 17, at dawn, US time. Malina was professor emeritus at Creighton University, Omaha, USA.

Prof. Malina will probably be remembered by most as one of those who introduced Social Anthropology, or Cultural Anthropology as he called it, into New Testament studies. His books on The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (John Knox Press, 1981 and later), his Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology. Practical Models for Biblical Interpretation (John Knox Press, 1986), and his (together with Jerome H. Neyrey), Portraits of Paul. An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), are great works that made Social Scientific ways of thinking (along cultural anthropology lines) both relevant and common in New Testament studies. Think about it, who, if any, knew and applied the models of Honor and Shame, Dyadic Personality, Limited Good etc in New Testament studies before they read Malina? When at the peak of his strength-and popularity- he published a flow of articles and books on New Testament Issues. He got a lot of followers, and a group focusing on these issues, the Context Group , was formed in 1986, and is still active (see also here). In 2001 he was honored by a Festschrift: John J. Pilch, ed., Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible.  Biblical Interpretation Series, SBL, Atlanta, 2001, and a bibliography 1967-1999 of his works is available here.

As for my own part, I met prof Malina in 1987, when being a Fulbright professor at the University of Oslo, he visited the University of Trondheim to present some of his work there, and to discuss my own work as a research fellow there. There and then he introduced me to the world of Mediterranean Social anthropology, and in particular to the model of ‘establisment violence/vigilantism’ which I later applied in my PhD dissertation. I remember him as very kind, helpful and genuinely interested in my work, but also as very self-conscious about his work.

In his later years he cherished some unconventional ideas about present day Israelis, Israel and the Palestinian problem. To some extent this might also have influenced some views in his scholarly works.

But I cherish the memories of a Bruce Malina as a scholar who did New Testament studies a great service in introducing issues from Mediterranean social anthropology. The study of the social world of the New Testament, and even of the Bible as a whole, received insights through his works that we all now take for granted.




Philo and the Psalms

Via the blog of Jim Davila I was made aware of a new book on the reception of the Old Testament Psalms:

Christiane Bøhm,

Die Rezeption der Psalmen in den Qumranschriften, bei Philo von Alexandrien und im Corpus Paulinum
[The Reception of the Psalms in the Qumran Cave Scrolls, Philo of Alexandria’s Writings, and the Pauline Corpus.] 2017. XII, 284 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 437. 84,00 €, sewn paper, ISBN 978-3-16-154664-8.

In this study, Christiane Böhm examines the interpretation of the Psalms in the trio of 11QPsa, Philo’s allegorical commentary and the Pauline letters, each of which constitutes paradigmatic text corpora representing the various strands of ancient Judaism, and provides a specific understanding of the Psalms.
The interpretation of the Psalms in Qumran, Philo and Paul reflect an inner-Jewish discourse on their capacity to disclose reality and their identity-imparting function in the interpretive horizon of group-specific belief systems. The three examined text corpora reveal a different view of the Psalms. It also becomes apparent how the sense potential inherent in the psalter is fully exhausted.

Christiane Böhm Geboren 1983; Studium der Ev. Theologie in Kiel, Uppsala und Heidelberg; 2010–11 Wissenschaftliche Angestellte am Lehrstuhl für Systematische Theologie und Sozialethik an der CAU Kiel; 2016 Promotion; seit 2014 Vikarin in der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche in Norddeutschland.

See more here:

The World of the New Testament

world of NTBakerAcademic is announcing that their textbook The World of the New Testament. Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (BakerAcademic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2013), is being re-published these days in paperback format.

This is good news, and that for at least two reasons: First, it means that the book has been selling well even as a hardback issue; Second, now it will be possible to buy the volume in an even handier format, hopefully also to a cheaper price.

And third- if I may- as the author of the chapter on Philo, I am glad that now even more readers might get a taste of Philo of Alexandria and his relevance for an informed study of the New Testament writings!

For more info about the volume, click here.

New Greek New Testament?

Tyndale House, Cambridge, is announcing that “We are approaching the end of nearly a decade’s work producing a new edition of the Greek New Testament as the entire finished text has been submitted this month to the publishers, Crossway. This work has been headed up by Dr Dirk Jongkind, Senior Research Fellow in New Testament, who has recently become our Academic Vice Principal. Involving about 30 researchers in different ways, this edition is seeking to present the most accurate ever printing of the New Testament scriptures based on a careful study of scribal habit.”

More info is to be found over at a blog post written by Dirk Jongkind, where he reveals that “What we did was to settle on the text as prepared by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles as our point of departure.” For more info, see HERE.

Philo, Wisdom and Apocalypticism

The SBL Annual Meeting is already an event of the past, some weeks have, in fact, gone by since I left San Antonio, heading back to Norway.

Nevertheless, as some other duties have kept me away from blog writing, I will post two pages here about two events I enjoyed very much. Hence this is not going to be about everything I enjoyed or experienced, but two selected events.

This post concerns the papers delivered at a seminar session on Wisdom and Apocalypticism, and focusing especially on Philo of Alexandria.


The session was presided over by prof. Matthew Goff, Florida State University, and was one of several on Wisdom and Apocalypticism.The speakers, here seen seated as a panel, were from left, Ellen Birnbaum, Michael Cover, Archie Wright and Greg. E. Sterling. I am not going to present a summary of their lectures. Using the abstracts they handed in beforehand, their topics can be indicated thus:


Ellen Birnbaum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
“Is There Wisdom in Philo’s Rationales for the Book of Genesis? ”

Abstract: “Philo offers at least three different lines of argumentation to address the perplexing question of why the lawgiver Moses begins his legislation with the Book of Genesis, which starts with an account of the creation of the world, presents narratives about the patriarchs of Israel and their predecessors, and contains practically no legal material. These rationales resonate with such sapiential themes as nature as a source of knowledge about the divine, reward of the good and punishment of the bad, intuitive understanding of how to live a virtuous life, and review of virtuous exemplars. In this paper, I will outline Philo’s different rationales, highlight parallel notions in wisdom literature, and consider the significance of these parallels.”


Michael Cover, Marquette University; “Consecrating all the Excellences of Speech” (Mut. 220): Philo on the Right Use of Apocalyptic Tragedy and Gnomic Wisdom

Abstract: “This paper will explore Philo’s reception of contemporary currents in Jewish apocalypticism and wisdom literature by looking closely at two passages in his allegorical treatise, De mutatione nominum. In the first, Mut. 103–120, Philo engages in an extended allegorical interpretation of Exodus 2:15–22, the scene of Moses’ first meeting with Raguel and his seven daughters. According to Alexander Polyhistor, the same scene was dramatized sometime in the second century BCE by the Jewish Tragedian, Ezekiel, and a few fragments of this scene in the drama are extant. Raguel remains a major character in the tragedy, an idealized priest-king and exegete of Moses’ dream-vision in a manner reminiscent of an angelus interpres. Taking as a dual starting point that (1) Ezekiel’s Exagogue mediates or represents some form of apocalyptic Judaism to the Jewish community in Alexandria (VanderKam and Boesenberg [2014]; Orlov [2005]; Van der Horst [1984]; cf. Jacobson [1981]) and (2) that Philo himself had seen the play, appreciated it, and knew it well enough to engage it (Sterling [2014]; Jacobson [1983]), the first and major part of this paper will argue that Philo also undertakes to correct certain (real or potential) misappropriations of its apocalyptic elements. While previous scholarship has looked largely at the comparison of Moses in Ezekiel and Philo’s Vita Mosis (Sterling [2014]; Runia [1988]), this paper will focus in particular on Philo’s allegoresis of the figure of Jethro/Raguel in Mut. 103–120, in which the Alexandrian responds not only to the biblical text, but also to Ezekiel’s tragedy (see Mut. 114, 198; Jacobson [1983]). I will test the hypothesis that Philo wants to revise both the tragedy’s apocalyptic visionary mechanics as well as its potential misuse in Jewish political discourse. In a second passage, Mut. 197, Philo then goes on to offer a satirical portrait of gnomic wisdom of a sort similar to Pseudo-Phocylides. What unites these two criticisms in Philo? Both apocalyptic tragedy and gnomic wisdom have great rhetorical and psychagogic power, which render them either impotent or susceptible to sophistic misuse. While Philo would certainly not banish the poets from Alexandria, he does insist that one must “consecrate” (by way of allegory, dialectic, etc.) these various “excellences of speech” (Mut. 220) for the service of philosophy.”


Archie Wright, Regent University
Questions of Eschatology and other Apocalyptic Themes in Philo’s Demonology .

“Like many of his concepts, Philo presents his eschatology and other apocalyptic themes in relation to the realm of the Platonic world of forms; the “place” in which the material world participates with the other worldly realm. In doing so, we can see Philo’s integrated dualism at work in his cosmology in which his eschatology emerges. The eschatology of Philo begins with his anthropology which is found in Legum Allegoriae III.161 (among others; e.g. Somn. I.34). Here he states that the human is composed of soul and body; the soul belonging to the divine (Gen 2.7; Mut. 223) and the body is “fashioned out of the earth”. It survives on earthly food while the soul is conceived of an ethereal nature, “has on the contrary ethereal and divine food” (knowledge in its various forms). Following a form of the Pythagorean view of the transmigration of the soul, although not completely, upon true death Philo understands the body and soul separate (Leg. Alleg. I.105; II.77). The eschatological end of human existence was the return of a soul to the divine realm or for the “wicked soul” to Tartarus or Hades. Arising out of Philo’s anthropology is what we might call his demonology, although it differs significantly from other early Jewish and Christian demonologies. At times Philo appears to be reacting in a polemical sense to the emergence of demons in the Enochic tradition and other early Jewish literature including such works as, for example, the Book of Watchers, Jubilees, or the Testament of Solomon. Philo argues for a recognition of human responsibility in the existence of evil in the world rather than demonic or evil spirits. This paper will examine Philo’s writings in an effort to compare and contrast the various demonologies circulating in the 1st century CE and their roles in the apocalyptic eschatology of the period.”


Gregory E. Sterling, Yale Divinity School
When Ontology Meets Eschatology.

Abstract: “It is well known that Philo of Alexandria used Hellenistic philosophy as a framework for his thought, especially Middle Platonism. This led him to think primarily in ontological terms. However, in the final treatise of his Exposition of the Law, De praemiis, he offered what appears to be an eschatological vision–although the interpretation is disputed. This paper will attempt to understand Philo’s eschatological vision by exploring other texts that combine ontology with eschatology.”


L.W. Hurtado in Oslo

Hurtado290816mfThe seminar at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, mentioned in an earlier posting, found place today. As it was in honor of the New Testament professor Reidar Hvalvik, it was good to see both former and present colleagues and not a few students being present.

The first main speaker was Larry W. Hurtado, prof.em. at Divinity School, University of Edinburgh (see picture). His topic was An Early Christian Book and its Story: P45 as Early Christian Artefact. Hurtado presented and characterized the P45, then discussed its importance for 4 different aspects of early Christianity; 1) the importance that it contains the four (now) canonical gospels, 2) the placement or location of Acts in the collection, 3) the codex format used, and then 4) the importance of p45 for its use of nomina sacra.

Then there were two other lectures (Professor Kristin Bliksrud Aavitsland (MF):Representations of Church and the Synagogue in Ecclesiastical Art, and  Postdoc. Dr. Ole Jakob Filtvedt (MF): Picturing the Father in the Gospel of John?). What I found particular interesting here was a picture shown by Aavitsland, of Christ carrying his cross in form of a tree (cf. Deutr 21:23; Gal. 3:13). I have never seen that before!  That may be due to my lack of knowledge of art, but, nevertheless, or in particular for that reason- interesting to me!   🙂

Nice day in the auditorium!   Congratulations to Prof. Hvalvik!