Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Bible and Homophobia and Hate Crimes


At or near the end of June the Gay Police Association (GPA) in the UK placed this advertisment in The Independent newspaper just before the Europride Gay and Lesbian parade in London. Apparently they have recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator.

In July the BBC reported that the GPA was being investigated by Scotland Yard on the basis of this claim.

The issue has now been swept up into discussions about the scope of the Commission on Equalities and Human Rights which is germane to that context. But what of yours and mine?

There's no doubt in my mind that the Bible can be used to rationalize many viewpoints including homophobia but regardless of your reaction to the advertisment, the issue of hate crimes is very much with us.

Data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on hate crimes reported in the United States for 2005 makes it clear that sexual orientation remains the third-highest recorded bias crime in our country, which underscores that anti-gay hate crimes are a very real problem nationwide.

On Wednesday October 18th a statement was released by HRC (Human Rights Campaign) President Joe Solmonese on the hate crime against New York resident Michael Sandy, a young gay African-American man from New York City.

Said Solmonese:

“The Human Rights Campaign mourns the death of Michael Sandy, a member of our community, and our condolences go out to his family for their loss. We have been following the developments of the attack to learn more about the case and we will continue to work with the local organizations involved.

“This senseless attack comes on the heels of the annual FBI report on national hate crime statistics — which indicates that crimes against GLBT persons continue to be a serious problem for our communities and our nation. It is even more sensitive when it is of a dual nature of race intersecting with sexual orientation. It is ironic that this year’s FBI report did not include crimes committed in New York and many other jurisdictions. With sexual orientation remaining among the most common bias crime categories in the United States, it is critical that state and local jurisdictions address these crimes and report them to the FBI.”

Hate crimes affect not just the individual but the whole community by sending a message that persecuted groups will not be tolerated. This is more than just a matter of enforcing legislation: it is a matter of community ethos and personal relations.

Here's an example from Matthew Shepard's father Denis Shepard from the Matthew Shepard Foundation website home page. You'll need Quick Time to view it. He concludes:-

"Your son is your son and your daughter is your daughter regardless of whether they are straight or gay."

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Pope on Jesus

In the aftermath of a visit from the ABC comes a news release today about the Pope's forthcoming book on Jesus with excerpts.

The Pope says:-

I have come to the book on Jesus, the first part of which I now present, following a long interior journey. In the period of my youth -- the thirties and forties -- a series of fascinating books were published on Jesus. I remember the name of some of the authors: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Jean Daniel-Rops. In all these books, the image of Jesus Christ was delineated from the Gospels: how he lived on earth and how, despite his being fully man, at the same time he led men to God, with whom, as Son, he was but one. Thus, through the man Jesus, God was made visible and from God the image of the just man could be seen.

Beginning in the fifties, the situation changed. The split between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" became ever greater: One was rapidly removed from the other. However, what meaning could faith in Jesus Christ have, in Jesus the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so different from the way he was presented by the evangelists and the way he is proclaimed by the Church from the Gospels? Progress in historical-critical research led to ever more subtle distinctions between the different strata of tradition. In the wake of this research, the figure of Jesus, on which faith leans, became ever more uncertain, it took on increasingly less defined features.

So much for beginnings...now to methodology:-

I have felt the need to give readers these indications of a methodological character so that they can determine the path of my interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament. With reference to my interpretation of Jesus, this means first of all that I trust the Gospels. Of course I take as a given all that the Council and modern exegesis say about the literary genres, the intention of their affirmations, on the communal context of the Gospels and its words in this living context. Accepting all this in the measure that was possible to me, I wished to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the true Jesus, as the "historical Jesus" in the true sense of the expression.

As I already mentioned at the beginning of this Preface, the interior journey to this book has been long. I was able to begin work on it during my vacation of 2003. In August 2004, Chapters 1 to 4 took their final form. Following my election to the episcopal See of Rome I have used all the free moments I have had to carry on with it. Given that I do not know how much time and how much strength will still be given to me, I have decided to publish now as the first part of the book the first ten chapters that extend from the Baptism in the Jordan to Peter's confession and the Transfiguration.

And the one "modern" scholar mentioned in the press release is Schnackenburg whose books are not recently published.

What can we expect? A confessional Jesus, to be sure, and in a format designed to be both academic and accessible. Does a movement from baptism to Peter's confession suggest a Matthean outline since only Matthew preserves the Petrine confession?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Results from Excavations of Toilets at Qumran

One of the exciting announcements at the conference was made by Prof James Tabor before the conference on Nov 14th and on Sunday evening connecting Qumran with the scrolls:-

Bioarchaeological evidence from Qumran reconfirms the “Essene hypothesis” by showing the presence of unusual and extreme toiletry and hygiene practices in the ancient community. The evidence points to the Qumran inhabitants’ detailed obedience to unique, rigorously demanding precepts that are specified in Dead Sea Scrolls texts and also documented in a Roman-era descriptions of the Essenes.

Alas it seems the purity regulations shortened the life-span of the Essenes. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites would have quickly been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.

The situation was made worse by the fact that the Essenes had to pass through an immersion cistern, or miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a breeding ground for the parasites.

In the Beginning: Exhibit at the Sackler Gallery

The first thing I did at the SBL conference in Washington DC from Nov 18-21 was to see the fabulous exhibit "In the Beginning: Bibles Before the year 1000" at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian.

Highlights of our tour led by a docent included:-

* Leaves from three of the six oldest surviving Hebrew codices.
* The oldest known manuscripts of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.
* The opening page of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas from the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
* The oldest dated parchment biblical codex in the world from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.
* A page from Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest Bible from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai.

The exhibit opens with a dramatic photograph of Solomon Schechter in the bowels of Cambridge U Library surrounded by fragments of the Cairo Genizah. It appears to have been staged as the docent assured us that no one went near the fragments to work on them without a mask. Its not a photograph that entices one to consider a career in manuscript identification or paleography. But it does visualize the discipline and dedication required to work in the field.

Friday, November 17, 2006

BBC Series on Gnostic Gospels

BBC to Screen Series on Gnostic Gospels
Posted on November 17, 2006



By The Universe (Catholic Weekly Newspaper): An Anglican priest who is to front a new BBC series examining the Gnostic Gospels and early Christian texts that were omitted from the New Testament has said that while some people may get “defensive” about the issues contained in the ancient texts, study of them reveals many relevant issues.

While filming The Lost Gospels, which will be screened in early December, Rev Pete Owen-Jones, travelled through Egypt and the former Roman Empire and met with archaeologists, New Testament scholars and papyrologists to discover why early Christians put stock in the gospels of Peter, Mary Magdalene, Philip and Thomas.

“The programme will look at all the gospels and letters that were left out of the New Testament following the meltdown of the Council of Nicaea, and all those that the Church decided were not applicable or in need of refinement,” said Rev Owen-Jones.

“It was meant to be an authentic journey of discovery and in many ways that’s what it was.

“It made me realise the extent to which the Church we have now is shaped by the Gospels, but if we go beyond that there is a much broader picture to see.

“The issues the early Church was struggling with then; the role of women in the Church, the authority of Bishops – are still very much live issues.”

He added that although some of the issues contained in some of the texts were highly contentious, he didn’t think that there would be too much criticism from the either Catholic or Anglican authorities.

He added: “It is easy to fall into the conspiracy theory trap, but we must remember that these were men and women earnestly trying to reach the truth, and we must respect that.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Family Values: Can One Size Fit All?

You can find this OpEd piece here.
The levels of local and national intensity surrounding this mid-term election are hard to describe. Conversations and emails are only on this topic. It will be relief to wake up tomorrow and be about more ordinary things.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Orientalism Reclaimed from the WSJ Nov 4th

An exciting review by Eric Ormsby of Dangerous Knowledge by Robert Irwin (Overlook) summarizes the argument: Said's 25 year old book Orientalism is "a work of malignant charlatanry."

To make the case Irwin reprises a history of Orientalism from antiquity to modern times including profiles of individual scholars including an evaluation of their accomplishments. Each description is a refutation of Said's thesis, according to Ormsby. Instead of condescension and bias ("we" Westerners and "they" the Orientals) we see scholarly scrupulousness. Said's argument sacrifices scholarly achievements for the generalizing thesis. Irwin tracks every logical fallacy, error, inconsistency and falsehood in Said's book Orientalism. Said's description of Muslim armies conquering Turkey before conquering North Africa "really does suggest a breathtaking ignorance of Middle Eastern history."

Ormsby concludes that Irwin provides a nuanced critique of Islamic studies that Said failed to deliver. Just plain curiosity about others is alive and flourishing in a history of Middle Eastern scholarship.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New Presiding Bishop Schori Interview on the Today Show

The Today Show's Meredith Vieira conducts a taped interview with the new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accessible here. (Menu on the left for The Today Show video brings up a list of topics of which one is the interview lasting about 5 minutes and easily downloaded).

Filmed in GTS' Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Bishop Schori, who is to be installed this weekend in Washington DC, addressed questions about connections between science and religion and controversies surrounding her election. Pressed on what issues behind these controversies are, she opined at least two: what it means to be made in God's image and what it means to live faithfully in community.

Worth a look (and GTS also looks good in the background)!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tudor Family Values

Advertisment from AbeBooks.com

Relics of the Templars unearthed

Something for DaVinci Code enthusiasts:

Found in 1742 near Royston, Cambridgeshire, and open to the public, this cave shows signs of being a secret meeting place of the Knights Templar in the 1300's. According to an article in the Cambridge Evening News, every inch of the wall space is filled with carving, from finely-wrought images to rough graffiti. Various figures and symbols are clues to the cave's history. There are the saints - Christopher, Catherine, George. There's Jesus and his disciples. And there's a shrine to a heretic, being burned at the stake. This could be Jacques de Moray, the Templars' last Grand Master.

The original entrance was through a long, thin shaft, through which the knights climbed, using a series of toe-holes.

"The top would have been hidden inside a safehouse," explains Peter Houldcroft, whose archeological survey revealed that the cave is orientated to the East - to the point at which the sun rises on the saint's day of John the Baptist, the patron of the Templars.

The Templars extended the cave, decorated the walls with symbolic carvings and erected a wooden platform, half-way up the wall, to act as both a stepping platform (down to the cave floor) and a waiting area for the uninitiated.

When life as a Templar (even a secret life as a Templar) became too tough, in the late 1340s, they abandoned the cave, scratching out some of the most incriminating carvings and filling it in with earth. And so it remained, unchanged and undisturbed, for 400 years.