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Georgia on my Mind

November 13th, 2010 by Matt

On Tuesday 10 November 2009 I was in Tauranga. I had been commuting from Auckland to Tauranga every Monday to attend lectures for the teaching diploma I was studying towards and then on Tuesdays I would deliver lectures for the adjunct position I had at the same institution in Tauranga. I remember that particular Tuesday well as, during the several hours that elapsed between the lectures I was giving, I listened to a talk by Nicholas Wolterstorff, which had been delivered during a Conference at the University of Notre Dame. The paper was entitled “Reading Joshua.” Wolterstorff noted that the book of Judges proceeded on the assumption that the events of Joshua 6-11 never literally happened. He then argued that taking Joshua in its context as the first of a sequence of Canonical books, which included Judges as the sequel, the account of the “conquest”  should not be taken literally.

Atlanta, Georgia - my home for the next 10 daysLooking at internal textual evidence, Wolterstorff  argued that the accounts of genocidal slaughter recorded in Joshua were hyperbolic and should not be taken literally. Joshua was a hagiographic account of various skirmishes Isreal had and it was a mistake to read it as saying God actually commanded Genocide.

Wolterstorff’s paper fascinated me because it resonated with another book I had read in 2006. In, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,  Kenneth Kitchen wrote a comprehensive critique of biblical minimalism, addressing the charge that archaeology showed that the total conquest and genocide the book of Joshua records never happened. Kitchen contended that Joshua did not teach a total conquest. Kitchen pointed out that it was common in Ancient Near Eastern historiography to write highly hyperbolic accounts of battles involving the gods sending meteors onto the enemy, campaign’s  being completed in a day and victories involving the  killing of every single member of the enemy. Both Mernphath and Mesha had written in the 1200’s and 600’s, respectively had used similar language to claim they had destroyed Israel. Such accounts were hyperbolic.

I heard this talk just over a year ago. Since then my adjunct contract has finished, I graduated with a teaching diploma in May and have been earning a living on the short term contracts to teach here and there, all of which dried up with the close of the school year, donations from speaking engagements and those received via this blog. It has been a tough year. Yet what  began on that November Tuesday back in 2009 has proved extremely fruitful. I began turning thoughts around in my mind, asking questions and piecing ideas together.  A month later, in December, I began discussing some ideas with Paul Copan. A philosopher in Poland wrote to me out of the blue asking me what I thought of the Canaanite Genocide he then passed my thoughts onto others. I had an interesting exchange on the issues with Lydia McGrew. I began chasing down Kitchen’s sources and in January I tentatively wrote up some of my ideas in Joshua and The Genocide of the Canaanites Part I and Part II.

These posts have been extremely well read. The huge number of backlinks received make those posts some of the most linked to pages on this blog and the critical comments have been overwhelming, almost impossible to keep up with especially as they began to spread out on the net turning up on other blogs, message boards, facebook pages and so on. I suddenly found, people from all over the world contacting me on facebook and by e-mail to ask me questions and talk to me on my ideas. The secular blogosphere increasingly began to take notice of what I had written.

In just a few months, offers to publish on this issue in upcoming anthologies began to come in. I discovered I was appearing in footnotes of major publications. I found myself debating Raymond Bradley, an Emeritus Philosopher of Philosophy and a world class logician. I received offers to speak at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL); the latter will be in the form of a panel discussion where I am taking the place of Christopher Wright (!)

SBL Panel Discussion

This all seemed to me to be quite ridiculous. Here I am, an unemployed theologian, a relatively recent graduate who wrote some ideas in a blog, suddenly I was being asked to speak alongside William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga and over 20 of the world’s top evangelical scholars?

In addition to having published a more popular version of the work in a mainstream magazine, I have now updated the original post into an article which has been given a solid offer of publication as a chapter in an edited book. In addition, I have four other publications on the issue forthcoming next year and in less than 24 hours I will fly to Atlanta, Georgia, USA to deliver my EPS and SBL talks. I am terrified, humbled and overwhelmed by how providence has moved in the last 12 months. The practical support I have received from people all over the world, as well as the untold comments from people all over the world who have stated appreciation for what I had written has been truly overwhelming.

It is so hard to fathom that I am at this point. In 1997 I completed a masters thesis on Alvin Plantinga’s reformed epistemology. At that time I dreamed of going to the US at some point to hear Plantinga speak. It never eventuated, I got married, had kids and heard Plantinga was retiring. I figured it would never happen. I saw an advertisement for the Atlanta EPS conference last year and saw that Plantinga was the key note speaker. I did not even submit a paper because I was convinced it was too much of a long shot, they’d never want me and how would I raise the funds to get there? In 2008 I was involved in organising some speaking engagements for Bill Craig in Auckland. After the last event I walked Bill and Jan back to their hotel and said goodbye. Half jokingly I said to Bill, I’ll see you at a conference in a few years. At the time I was employed to stack shelves in local supermarkets and I thought to myself that what I said was probably wishful thinking. If you had told me 12 months ago that my ideas on hearing Wolterstorff’s lecture would see me speaking at a conference alongside these people and that I would be publishing with them – just one year later – I would have told you you were nuts.

Fundraising for my US trip

I have no idea what the future holds, or where this all is going. Tomorrow, I leave New Zealand to head to Atlanta to spend 10 days with some of the best Christian Philosophers in the world. People whose works I’ve been reading and admiring for years are now treating me, at least for a time, as a collegue. I really do not know what this means, what God is doing or what his plans are. I really hope and pray that some employment working in my field will eventuate from this but all I can say at this stage is thank you to all readers of MandM who have believed in my work. Without your daily visits and comments and links MandM would not have risen to its current prominence in the blogosphere or its position in Google, which it needed to to get my work noticed. (I am also very aware of the no-small efforts and skill of my wife on this front). I must thank Paul Copan for making this happen and opening doors for me – his support and encouragement has been tremendous. Thank you again to those who have supported us financially, kept us in your prayers, believed in me, encouraged me and who have recommended this blog to others. I feel overwhelmed and humbled by your support. The prospect of sharing some of my ideas to audiences that contain scholars of this magnitude is probably one of the scariest undertakings I have done to date, and I have addressed some scary audiences! Thank you everyone for this opportunity.

I’ll try to pop into the blog from Atlanta and I will definitely write an update when I get back. Please continue to pray for me and for Madeleine back in New Zealand holding down the fort with the kids, the blog and sitting her final Certificate of Professional Legal Studies examinations (the NZ equivalent of the US Bar Exams) while I am away. Please also pray that the conferences happening in Atlanta touch people’s hearts and minds and draws them into a closer and more thorough knowledge of God.

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13 responses so far ↓

  • Blessings. And have fun.

  • “Knock and the door will open..”, It is fantastic to see the providential fruits of your dedication to proclamation of the Good News appearing. You are a real inspiration to all of us who are struggling to use our unique gifts as God intended them to be used, who have stacked shelves while dreaming of better things. Matt, you and the whanau are in our prayers at this time, go hard bro, be who you were born to be!

  • Matt wrote: I am terrified, humbled and overwhelmed by how providence has moved in the last 12 months and I really do not know what this means, what God is doing or what his plans are.

    “Providence” has been defined as “the guardianship and control exercised by a deity”. Why do people find the need to ascribe supernatural intervention to the occurrences in their lives? Depending on the quality of his work, Matt could rise to the pinnacle of his profession or end up unemployed in obscurity. If he takes care of himself, Matt could live to be 110 or could get hit by a bus tomorrow. When things are going well, he is overwhelmed by God’s blessings in his life. If a tragedy occurs, no doubt he will accept is as all part of God’s plan. Whatever [yawn].

    BTW, good luck and safe travel on your journey.

  • TAM wrote, “good luck”

    “Luck” has been defined as two things by the Oxford English Dictionary: “chance considered as a force that causes good or bad things to happen” or “something regarded as bringing about or portending good or bad things.” So it is either a force or something that “brings about” something…hmmm…

    You call it luck (and deny a personal teleology behind events), and I’ll call it providence (and admit a personal teleology). Regardless, based on your comments, neither of us denies a teleology, haha. I’m just playing with you of course. I know that you would deny teleology in nature and your comments usually betray a lack of direction thus proving your thesis true. /wink

    Hey Matt,
    We’ll be praying for the conference and your presentation. As someone committed to truth, I’m sure you will be willing to admit that your theses could be wrong and look for both good new ways to support them and good new critiques against them. Continue to love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

    I don’t know if you ever got around to it at the bottom of the comments on Jeremy Pierce’s site, but I defended your interpretation of the Mesha stele against comments by Stark (who was clearly working from a translation and unable to check the Moabite text itself). It’s a pretty clear example of war language hyperbole being used in the very same passage where it also describes the real events and supports your thesis IMO.

  • Your way of expression is way too awesome, I love it, keep it up, and keep sharing such awesome posts with us.

  • That was a wonderful and uplifting post Matt, thanks for sharing and God bless you on your travels.

  • Thanks guys for your comments, I know Matt will appreciate them.

    Matt has been travelling now for 37 hours, he has another 7 hours to go until he reaches his destination.

    I heard from him briefly shortly after he arrived at LAX about 8 hours ago; he had not slept at all at that point (which is unlike him, he normally travels well and has no trouble sleeping on planes). So spare a thought and a prayer for the state he must be in by now.

    All is well on the home front, I am prepping for my Civil Litigation exam on Wednesday and then I will have the Professional Responsibility exam on Friday before heading into a week of seminars and a mock hearing I will be examined on my written and oral submissions for the following Friday. (At which point I’ll be done with Profs and be moving onto the application for a Certificate of Completon process – yay!)

    Matt has left me a blog post to edit and put up but I’m not sure yet when I will get to that that as he has also left me his Powerpoints for his talk to edit and check over so they kinda have to take priority.

  • Hi all its 12 am and I am in transit somewhere over Arizona. Delta has on flight internet.

  • Jim does that regularly: shopping, what house we live in, our yearbook photos, it is quite funny.

  • I saw your comments on Thom Stark’s blog Kyle. I found it frustrating that Stark kept asserting that ‘experts on ANE say X’. I would offer a counter example and he would then say that expert was incompetent or that he’d made an obvious statement that all experts know is not true. I grant that I could be wrong but I found this kind of rank pulling to not be a really cogent criticism.

    Ken was frustrating in a similar way. He kept suggesting the word “herem” can never be used in a non-literal way and insinuated that those informed about the term’s meaning all accept this. I have since found several commentators who have argued herem can be used in metaphorical, figurative, rhetorical ways and so forth.

    Stark did offer some arguments which have lead me to reformulate the way the argument was presented. I think in the original I stressed too much the fact that the phrase was hyperbolic rather than stressing the account was hyperbolic which left the impression that Wolterstorff simply accepted the accounts were literal with some hyperbolic phrases thrown in.

    Second, I did not stress Wolterstorff’s emphasis that he was offering an interpretation of the final form of Joshua. Wolterstorff actually grants that there were conflicting traditions, the redactor of the final form used (I, myself, would not necessarily grant this) his point was not to interpret what these original sources said or meant but rather what it says as part the canonical text that the Church accepts as authorative.

    In my first publication on this issue, I stress these points.

  • I am happy for you Matt, I always knew you were too special to have things easy. It has been hard to watch at times, but I just know you will get even further than you even dream of now. You are a diamond from God, in this world. I can see that. Try not to care about what others think, and keep your focus. God opens eyes when He is ready.