Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Choices and the Incarnation: Christmas 2018

Once a month, I volunteer at our local food pantry. For about two hours, 80 or more people stream through seven tables of foodstuffs to help feed their families for a month. In summer, we offer fresh vegetables. Before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, local supermarkets and national food distribution systems offer seasonal food including turkeys, hams, and occasional outliers, most recently 5 pound bags of white flour from Kansas. A volunteer accompanies each client through the room, pointing out options, packing seasonal offerings and their other selections in large heavy boxes, and helping them to their transportation. Everyone assisting is a volunteer, and the system is streamlined to make the best use of everyone’s time while giving recipients what choice is possible.

Last week, in the last distribution before Christmas, I tried to help a newcomer select food items. This person bent over each table, perhaps to see better, picked up and examined every single package, can, or food item carefully before deciding about it. All the volunteers tried one way and another to move the person along faster with no success. Seemingly oblivious to our increasing frustration, this person proceeded along at their own pace, causing other clients behind to stop and wait.

Was this deliberation mere pickiness? Genuine food sensitivities? Prudence and concern not to clutter life with unneeded items? Care that others not be deprived? Or was it simply one place, in a severely limited living situation that must offer very few options, where the act of choice could be exercised?

In our local well-stocked supermarket, no-one would bat an eyelid if we spent several hours scrutinizing every single item by proceeding slowly up and down each aisle. Indeed, staff are there to facilitate our choices, and they regularly inquire at the checkout if we have found everything we sought. Freedom of choice is held out as a virtue of our commerce and our lives. Freedom of choice is a bedrock this country was founded on. In every society, punishment is imposed by circumscribing personal freedom, with capital punishment being the complete loss of freedom.

Yet giving up freedom is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas. it is precisely divine freedom that God relinquishes in the incarnation by voluntarily taking on the constraints of human life in all its restrictions and finitude. And God’s omnipotence is shown here willingly and in humility, knowing what we do not: what the loss of divine freedom entails and exactly how fragile and vulnerable human life is.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Coming in December 2018: American Values, Religious Voices (U of Cincinnati Press)

American Values, Religious Voices


American Values, Religious Voices

Distributed for University of Cincinnati Press

176 pages | 40 illustrations | 8 x 8 | © 2018
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many Americans questioned how to respond to the results and the deep divisions in our country exposed by the campaign.  Many people of faith turned to their religious communities for guidance and support.  Many looked for ways to take action.  In November 2016, biblical scholar Andrea L. Weiss and graphic designer Lisa M. Weinberger teamed up to create an innovative response: a national, nonpartisan campaign that used letters and social media to highlight core Ameican values connected to our diverse religious traditions.  American Values, Relgious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a collection of letters written by some of America's most accomplished and thoughtful scholars of religion during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.  While the letters are addressed to the president, vice president, and members of the 115th Congress and  Trump administration, they speak to a broad audience of Americans looking for wisdome and encouragement at this tumultuous time in our nation's history.  This unique volume assembles the 100 letters, plus four new supplemental essays and many of the graphic illustrations that enhanced the campaign.  Published near the midway point of the Trump presidency, this book showcases a wide range of ancient sacred texts that pertain to our most pressing contemporary issues.  At a time of great division in our country, this post-election project models how people of different backgrounds can listen to and learn from one another.  The letters offer insight and inspiration, reminding us of the enduring values that make our nation great.


Monday, April 02, 2018

Elements not Stages of Grief from the NY Review of Books

Jessica Weisberg

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross later applied the same five stages she identified in the process of dying—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—to the process of grieving. As with dying, she never meant to imply that grief was contained to just five feelings, or that the stages were linear, like levels in a Nintendo game. “They were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages…. Our grief is as individual as our lives,” she wrote in On Grief and Grieving. Kübler-Ross found it laughable how some doctors had the gall to hold an essential organ in their hand but had no capacity for ambiguity.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Genesis of Blame: Anne Enright in London Review of Books Winter Lectures at the British Museum Feb 23rd 2018

Anne Enright's first of the LRB Winter Lectures, "The Genesis of Blame" on Friday Feb 23rd 2018 held at the British Museum is here.

Anne Enright is a wonderful writer. Born in Dublin in 1962, she was educated in Dublin, Canada and at the University of East Anglia, on the creative-writing MA course. For six years, she was a television producer in Dublin, and now broadcasts on RTE; she also writes for the London Review of Books and the Irish Times. She is married to the actor and director Martin Murphy; their children are aged four and seven. Her fiction includes the short stories of The Portable Virgin (which won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature), and four novels: The Wig My Father Wore, What Are You Like?, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch and The Gathering (Cape), which won the Man Booker Prize. She has also published a non-fiction book on motherhood, Making Babies. She lives with her family in Bray, Co Wicklow.

In "The Genesis of Blame" Anne Enright first investigates whether the Pope was correct to describe the serpent's overtures to the woman in Genesis 3 as "seduction" in a recent statement on "fake news." She argues that the fault was not in Genesis but in fact found in the fake translation into Latin by Jerome of the fake letter of 1 Timothy 3 (fake because not written by St Paul):

 ‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence’ because ‘Adam non est seductus, was not seduced; but the woman being seduced mulier autem seducta was in the transgression.’

In fact, in the beautiful complex story of Genesis, there was no seduction and no Satan. And she has grounds for making this case by e.g. careful investigation of the underlying Hebrew.

But there's one other textual tradition she doesn't consider that makes a difference in regard to these Genesis texts that are or are not about seduction: the 2nd Century BCE Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture or the Septuagint (from the legend of its origin in the Letter of Aristeas describing the 70 translators working in Alexandria). This textual tradition exists in various forms and recensions in the first and second century CE where it became the means through which first century Jewish writers like Paul and the author of 1 Timothy encountered the Hebrew Bible. A version of Gen 3:13 in the LXX reads, "The serpent tricked me and I ate." The Greek verb behind this translation, "apatao," can be translated "deceive, mislead" and also "seduce." These connotations of the Greek verb "apatao," including seduction, are alive and well in the book of Judith the Greek version of which dates to 100BCE (cf. Judith 10:4; 12:16). None of this contradicts Jerome, Jerome's translation, or his influence but it helps to explain the traction of a reading of Genesis 3:13 as seduction well before he began to work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Podcast with Carol Newsom

Very engaging podcast and conversation with Prof Carol Newsom of Candler School of Theology, Emory University, discussing her work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, research on the Bible and ecology, and development of the self in the Bible and Early Judaism.

Prof Carol Newsom is the author of the Women's Bible Commentary now in its third edition. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Spring 2018 Online Courses at the Stevenson School of Ministry

Here is a link to registration for online courses offered through the Stevenson School for Ministry in the Dio of Central PA. Scholarships are available.

Here are a few course descriptions:

Conversations in Celtic Spirituality with Rev. Dr. Mark Scheneman
This course is a five-week course specially designed for small groups in parishes. This course will undertake a pilgrimage into traditional and contemporary Celtic Spirituality. We will examine the rich and deep traditions of the Celtic Christian movement with particular attention to the dynamics and rhythms of connectedness, presence, and engagement in a spirituality we can claim as our own in this 21st century.

Greek for Preaching and Teaching II with Dr. Deirdre Good
(Prerequisite: Greek for Preaching and Teaching I or permission of the instructor) This is a course reading the gospels of Mark and John in conjunction with the lectionary readings. We will focus on syntax (parts of speech and forms), morphology (internal structure of words), theological issues, and semantic meanings. We will use traditional and online resources including the Greek New Testament, dictionaries, and Bible software.

Canon Law with Rev. Dr. Kara Slade
This course will provide an overview of canon law in the Episcopal Church as a preparation for ordination.

Ethics II with Rev. Dr. Kara Slade
At its best, the discipline of Christian ethics is nothing less than the adventure of discipleship, and I’m glad to join each of you this semester as we embark on it together. While this course draws on the work of a number of Anglican scholars, it is also intentionally ecumenical, bringing other voices to the table as well. Over the next 10 weeks, we will explore a range of topics that address how Christians can think and live morally – in our own lives and in our common life together: in families, in communities, in our nation, and in creation.

Hebrew Testament Survey Course with Rev. Dr. David Zwifka
Learn more about Covenant, and the journey of the ancient people of God. This course examines the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as an expression of the religious life and thought of ancient Israel and a foundational document of Western civilization.

Preaching in Challenging Times with Rev. Shawn Strout
(Prerequisite: Homiletics I or permission of instructor)
This course is both for the student preacher and the experienced preacher. Preachers are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ no matter the circumstances. How do we proclaim this Good News in challenging times? In this course, we will discuss three types of challenging sermons: liturgical, pastoral, and prophetic sermons. Students will preach three times, videotaping themselves and the class will discuss the sermons via Zoom. Therefore, access to a digital recorder and a webcam/microphone will be required.

Sharing the Lectionary with Dr. Deirdre Good
This is a course sharing and proclaiming the lectionary for Epiphany, Lent, and Easter 2018. We will pay particular attention to the Gospels of Mark and John and also discuss readings for the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Feb 2), Feast of St Joseph (March 19), the Annunciation (April 9), and for Holy Week (March 25-April 1) .

Synoptics I with Dr. Deirdre Good
There are four gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While John is distinctive, Matthew, Mark, and Luke can be studied alongside one another because of overlapping content. Thus, they are identified as the Synoptic Gospels from Greek words connoting “seen with” or “seen together.” In this course, we will cover all of Mark’s Gospel studying it alone and attending to parallel passages such as the parable of the Sower/Seeds/Soils in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When God Spoke Greek: The LXX and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law (OUP 2013)

When God Spoke Greek: The LXX and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law (OUP 2013) explains the origins of the Septuagint and how these texts became Christian Scripture.
A wonderful presentation by the author can be viewed here:

The LXX consists of a variety of texts including translations from Hebrew texts themselves as well as compositions in Greek (e.g. books of the Maccabees, and the Wisdom of Solomon). The Latin number 70 derives from the letter of Aristeas identifying 70 or 72 translators who worked on the first translation. Here's a good English translation of the LXX.

It's not possible to understand the NT without the LXX. Most of the citations of Hebrew Scripture in the NT come from the LXX. Mark 7: 6-7, for example, applies the LXX text of Isaiah 29:13, not the Hebrew, to argue that because people were obsessed with human tradition and teachings, they were unable to worship truly. Hebrew Isaiah 29:13 argues that people were prevented from true worship because they sought to follow formal aspects of religion only, "and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.."

Luke 4:18 shows Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah to declare that his ministry is to proclaim "recovery of sight to the blind" (LXX Isaiah 61:1), a reference that is absent from the Hebrew. This language is picked up in the description of Jesus' healing ministry in Luke 7:22.

Paul specifically relies on e.g. the LXX of Isaiah in Romans in many places such as 2:24, "Because of you, my name is continually blasphemed among all the nations," in which a pointed accusation against Israel from Isaiah is used to make a prophetic judgment by Paul for the rejection of the people of Israel since they continue to reject Christ.

Use of the intensive verb eisakouw, hear, listen, attend to (prayer or petition) in the NT e.g. at Lk 1, 13; Acts 10:31 may well be influenced by the extensive use of the verb in the LXX Psalm texts.

In the urban expansion of Jesus' followers in a Greek-speaking world, it is the Greek version of Hebrew Scriptures that is the important vehicle for proclamation of the faith.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

David Bentley Hart's new translation of The New Testament

David Bentley Hart's new translation of the New Testament is a breath of fresh air: responsible, creative, and inspiring. Yale University Press is to be commended for encouraging and publishing this excellent new translation. If heeded, it could well influence and improve translations produced in committee work such as the NRSV.

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, and a philosopher, writer, and cultural commentator. He is a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study and has held positions at the University of Virginia, Duke University, and Providence College.

Why produce a new translation of the New Testament? The author explains: "To be honest, I have come to believe that all the standard English translations render a great many of the concepts and presuppositions upon which the books of the New Testament are built largely impenetrable, and that most of them effectively hide (sometimes forcibly) things of absolutely vital significance for understanding how the texts’ authors thought." Committee work of many modern translations results in imprecision, "anodyne blandness" and accommodation.

The author wanted instead to produce "a version that would be by my lights as scrupulously faithful as I could make it, that would not merely reiterate conventional readings of the text, and that would allow me to call attention to features of the Greek original usually invisible in English versions proved irresistible." In fact, the author's aim is "to help awaken readers to mysteries and uncertainties and surprises in the New Testament documents that often lie wholly hidden from view beneath layers of received hermeneutical and theological tradition. And I would hope my translation would succeed, in many places, in making the familiar strange, novel, and perhaps newly compelling." A more formal translation, the author adheres to the idea that an unsettling reading is the more accurate one.

Whilst we can agree that writers of the New Testament do not write well even within the latitude of Koine (common) Greek of the time, and that the New Testament itself is a strange compilation of disparate and disjointed texts urgently trying to communicate experiences of revelation: what is seen and heard in ways that stretch limits of language, we can also affirm their utter commitment to radical and uncomfortable ideas like the assertion that personal wealth is intrinsically evil. 

In my judgment, David Bentley Hart has succeeded admirably. For example, hidden by most modern translations, is the alternation of Matthew, Mark, and John between past and present tenses in narrative and speech. Our translator preserves the strange juxtaposition of both, because "it endows the text with a peculiar vividness; at least, to me there is a strikingly plain plangency to “They crucify him” that is qualitatively different from the effect of “They crucified him.”  Most modern translations eliminate the present tense and substitute the historic present, namely a past tense. As for significant words: Χριστός (Christos) is rendered “Anointed”; διάβολος (diabolos) by “Slanderer”; ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia) “assembly” rather than “church,” "simply to make the reader aware that it was once an ordinary word with an ordinary meaning." Not everyone would agree that "Son of Man" must be capitalised as a "distinctive prophetic title" without discussion, since the Aramaic phrase also describes a human being as the author knows.  On terminology for Jesus, John 1 is especially interesting "In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god; This one was present with GOD in the origin." The choice is explained in "A Concluding Unscientific Postscript." I might quibble with rendering Logos as a masculine pronoun given Tyndale's translation using "it" in vv 3-5, and I think that greater attention to issues of gender and inclusive language would include a wider audience, but see what you think.

Choices and the Incarnation: Christmas 2018

Once a month, I volunteer at our local food pantry. For about two hours, 80 or more people stream through seven tables of foodstuffs to he...