Monday, December 31, 2007

March 16, 2008 Workshop on Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Psalms and Prayers

I am thrilled to announce a workshop on Psalms and Prayers in Jewish and Christian Interpretation and Worship on March 16, 2-6pm at the Center for Religious Inquiry at St Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, NYC which I will be team teaching with Marcie Lenk (New York Director of Me'ah).

Our workshop will explore Jewish and Christian interpretative traditions of the Hebrew and Greek texts of Psalms 23, 71, 137; Hannah's Prayer and Song (I Sam 1-2); and the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11). Since the workshop will include performance of these Psalms and prayers, we will assess ways worship shapes their corporate and individual interpretation.

Speaking personally, I can't think of a better way to spend Palm Sunday in preparation for Holy Week.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Nativity: Piero della Francesca

Painting of the Month at the National Gallery UK is Piero della Francesca's Nativity. Here are the notes:

This scene shows Mary kneeling in adoration before a newly-born Christ who is laid on her cloak. Five angels sing welcoming his birth - two of them play lutes. Beside them a donkey appears to bray, while an Ox peers down solemnly at Christ.

Two shepherds are present (their faces have lost detail, possibly through over-zealous cleaning by previous owners). One of the shepherds points heavenwards, clutching his staff like a sceptre. Joseph is shown in deep contemplation, with his leg crossed over his knee.

Each person, angel and animal shows a different attitude of reverence towards the infant Christ. Even the magpie, well-known in Piero's native Tuscany for its constant chatter, seems changed and looks to be struck silent.

Piero has added other touches from his native region - Bethlehem itself has a distinctly Tuscan feel. The flat land on top of the hill where they stand evokes Tuscany, as does the winding valley to the left. Meanwhile the skyline on the right, dominated by the basilica, could almost be the outskirts of Piero's home town Boro San Sepolchro.

The influences here come from further a field than Tuscany. The painting shows the impact of Northern European painting. Piero painted with tempera early in his career, but for later works like this one he began working in oil. Along with the use of brown under-painting for the figures, this shows a familiarity with Netherlandish and Flemish work. This is reinforced by the slim figure of Christ, who lacks the square muscularity of contemporary depictions from Italy, and is more reminiscent of paintings by artists like Hugo van der Goes.

Piero has also experimented with perspective. It is the only one of his works that shows a building askew from the rest of the composition: this is the simple shed, which reminds the viewer of Christ's humble beginnings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bible and Taxes

Prof Susan Pace Hamill, U of Alabama School of Law has published a book, “As Certain as Death” (Carolina Academic Press, 2007), that seeks to document how the 50 states, in contravention of her view of biblical injunctions, do more to burden the poor and relieve the rich than vice versa.

The NY Times published an article on her research yesterday. Her website has sermons and other publications. She has a divinity degree and is a United Methodist.

Professor Hamill said what first drew her to the issue of fiscal policy and biblical principles was learning that Alabama timber companies, which own more than two-thirds of the land in the state, pay an annual property tax of only about 75 cents an acre.

“The Bible commands that the law promote justice because human beings are not good enough to promote justice individually on their own,” she said. “To assume that voluntary charity will raise enough revenues to meet this standard is to deny the sin of greed.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Week (Archbishop of Canterbury) aka Hugh Rifkind (courtesy of the Times UK)

This week from the diary of the ABC aka Hugh Rifkind from the Times UK.

The Revd. Chad Varah (d. Nov 10, 2007) founder of the Samaritans

Christmas Day seems like a good time to remember The Rev. Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, the first telephone hotline for those in despair.

When he heard, while rector at St Paul's Clapham, that there were three suicides a day in London, it seemed to him that God was calling him to extend his counselling to those contemplating taking their own lives. But it was only when he was appointed to the exquisite City church of St Stephen, Walbrook (regarded as Wren's template for St Paul's, with central dome) that he was able to put his ideas into practice.

On November 1, 1953, he announced his plans for what was to be a lifelong commitment, originally called The Good Samaritans. God, he would claim, intervened to supply the church with its memorable telephone number — MAN 9000, ideal for an emergency helpline.

Journalists, sensing good copy, rallied to his cause. The first two telephone calls came on November 2, and it was not long before they were coming in at 100 a day.

One secret of the Samaritans' success, apart from Varah's resourceful manipulation of the media, was his recruitment of volunteers who became, by guidance and experience, experts in “listening therapy”, giving sad people their total attention and sympathy. Volunteers were not necessarily believers, and it was a strict rule that no Samaritan should exploit distress by attempting to convert a client to any religion or philosophy. So an ordained minister, operating from the crypt of a famous church, founded a wholly secular personal rescue service.


My father invited him to speak to 6th form pupils at Maidstone Grammar School (Kent) in the 60's. He paid for his own transportation down from London, gave an excellent talk, answered probing questions, and was enthusiastically received.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Star Hymn of Ignatius of Antioch

In his Epistle to the Ephesians 19, Ignatius of Antioch writes a different version of the seasonal message:-

And hidden from the Prince of this world were the virginity of Mary, her giving birth, and the death of the Lord--three loudly shouting mysteries accomplished in the stillness of God. How were they revealed to the aeons? A star shone in heaven, brighter than all stars, and its light was ineffable and its newness caused astonishment. But all the other stars with the sun and moon formed a choir around the star, but its light was greater than all. And the result was the dissolution of all magic and the abolition of every bond of evil.

"We three kings of orient are" by John Henry Hopkins of The General Theological Seminary

John Henry Hopkins Jr. wrote the words of this carol for a Christmas pageant at The General Theological Seminary in 1857 when he was the first instructor of music and it was published in his Carols, Hymns and Songs in 1853. Apparently over objections to the identification of the magi as "kings," "We three kings" was included in the 1940 hymnal.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray'r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav'n replies

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Friday, December 21, 2007

"The Writing is On the Wall" --Origins of the Phrase

Remember the story in Daniel of King Belshazzar dining at a magnificent feast to celebrate his successful looting of the Temple at Jerusalem? While dining, a disembodied hand begins to write mysterious characters on the wall. The king finds that only the prophet Daniel can interpret the signs: the king will die for his act of sacrilege. This story explains the origins of a phrase we still use today: "the writing is on the wall."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gifts for Teachers in the Holiday Season: Supplies +Food

The Chronicle for Higher Education has an article on gifts for school teachers in public schools without adequate funding for supplies.

The writer notes:
Many academics give money to charities at the holidays, and I don't want to dissuade you from donating to your favorite causes. But consider starting a new charitable tradition this year, and offering the gift of supplies to cash-strapped schools near you, or to teachers you know. Imagine the difference we could make if hundreds of thousands of us each took the time and effort to help provide better schooling to the students who will be walking into our classrooms in just a few years.

It's not difficult. If you have children in the public schools, send in a note explaining that you'd like to help out by purchasing some classroom supplies, and ask for a wish list. Get the school's parent-teacher group on board, and have it request lists from all the teachers to circulate to the school's families. If you don't have children in the schools, contact some and ask about their supply needs. Or join with others to donate more substantial items -- to purchase a set of novels for a high-school English classroom, or software for a math course. The tiniest bit of initiative can make a difference.

Addendum: Maine Public Radio in a panel discussion "The Two Maines" on December 18 (scroll down) reports that school teachers often buy food for students. Some go to school just to get a meal. By the end of the week when their parents' pay check runs out, they experience a hungry weekend. The Federal Surplus Food Bank doesn't have enough food because the food prices are so high that the farmers don't need subsidizing. As we know, hunger deceases attention and ability to learn which means that the way to move out of poverty is being undermined by hunger.

Presentation on Wednesday March 5th, 2008 at GTS on The Torah: A Women's Commentary

Profs Andrea Weiss and Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, editors of The Torah: A Women's Commentary, will present their work on Wednesday March 5th 2008 at 1.30-3.20pm at The General Theological Seminary (on 9th Avenue between 20 &21st Street in NYC) in Seabury Auditorium. GTS' Prof Robert Owens will also make a presentation. A representative of the URJ press (the publishers) will be there to sell copies of the commentary at the event. This will be one of the first discussions of the book in New York City.

Here is a website about the book:
http://womenofreformjudaism.org/the-Torah-a-womens-commentary

Publisher's Weekly on 11/28 says:
The Torah: A Women's Commentary (URJ Press) will be unveiled during the Women of Reform Judaism's 46th Assembly to be held Dec. 12-16 in San Diego. The Commentary is the result of years of planning and fundraising by the Reform women's group, and the collaboration of more than 200 writers contributing differing voices and views to the landmark work.

With emphasis on the roles of women in the Torah, the Commentary contains five interpretive "layers" that allow readers to see a variety of perspectives on the text, including traditional rabbinic, contemporary, scholarly and poetic views. The work of 100 commissioned contributors is included, as well as more than 100 poets.

"It was a lot of editing, but it was a dialogue," said editor Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. The writers came from all movements of Judaism, and they include both senior and younger scholars.

The seed of the Commentary began germinating in 1993, at an earlier assembly, when the women's group was challenged to imagine a work that would legitimate women's study of the Torah. The Reform women's group subsequently commissioned such a work to be done by women scholars, rabbis, historians, philosophers and archaeologists. They backed their request with fundraising, collecting more than $1.5 million. "So many people gave what was a meaningful gift to them, and it really added up," said Rosanne Selfon, who spearheaded the fundraising and is president of the women's group. "I felt almost like this was a sacred obligation."

Eskenazi emphasized the collaborative nature of the project, beginning with grass roots support and on through the multiple voices and perspectives within the Commentary. "It's the community saying, 'We want our Torah and we want to see it through eyes that speak to our concerns,'" she said.

The book is expected to attract attention well beyond its immediate audience. Zachary Kolstein, director of sales and marketing at URJ Books and Music, said 10,000 copies were pre-sold and interest was strong at the recently concluded joint annual conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. Selfon said an excerpt of the work was made available last year at no charge to interested readers. "We got 15,000 requests for the material," she said. "It was so brilliant to do that, marketing-wise."

New Jersey repeals the death penalty

Report from the NY Times.

The article notes that in an extended and often passionate speech from his office at the state capitol, Mr. Corzine declared an end to what he called “state-endorsed killing,” and said that New Jersey could serve as a model for other states.

“Today New Jersey is truly evolving,” he said. “I believe society first must determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence, and if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life. To these questions, I answer yes.”
Ernie Rea presents a series on BBC Radio 4 exploring Luke's gospel (see Choice for the Day, bottom right). Luke's gospel is often described as the gospel for women. Ernie asks how revolutionary Jesus's attitude really was.

In the opening sequence, he interviews Richard Burridge at the British Library in front of Codex Sinaiticus talking about Luke 1:1-4 identifying the patron of the work, most excellent Theophilus. Prof Burridge clarifies that about half of Luke is from Mark's gospel; a quarter is teachings of Jesus shared with Matthew, and a quarter is unique. A person would have encountered Luke or writings like it at a dinner where it would have been read out loud for about an hour and a half.

Luke's organization of the account locates Jesus in space and time the way he wants it in the events of world history (Luke 3). Loveday Alexander at Sheffield University discusses Luke's sociological picture: the Emperor, Roman rule and the Herodian rulers as client kings of Rome in 29CE, very much like Baghdad of today.Then we hear from Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham.

Prof. Larry Hurtado at Edinburgh discusses "the kingdom of God" as controversial in the context of Roman political and religious reality. It's a kingly domain evident in Jesus' ministry and miracles which he attributes to the ruling power of God and God's power. Jesus' message is directed to women, to the poor and outcasts. Part two continues tomorrow.

O Sapientia


Tonight begins the series of seven Antiphons, O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex and O Emmanuel in preparation for Christmas recited before the Magnificat at Vespers. Derek Olsen at Episcopal Cafe traces their derivation, calling this span of days Sapientia-tide.


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom,who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching out mightily from end to end,
and sweetly arranging all things:
come to teach us the way of prudence.

Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and I Corinthians 1:30 (Illustration is the Incipit of the Book of Jesus Ben Sirach from an illuminated manuscript to which I cannot locate a reference yet).

The development of the Antiphons begins with Wisdom forming the Universe and ending God With Us.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Messiah at St Thomas Fifth Avenue

Thanks to the invitation of a friend I was able to attend a performance of Handel's Messiah at St.Thomas Fifth Avenue last Thursday. Here's a review from the NY Times.

Craig Phillips the bass soloist is a member of New York Polyphony whose 2007 CD "I Sing of the Birth" is fantastic and my CD of the season. Besides being the Christmas Choice in BBC Music Magazine's December issue, here's a review of this CD from The Anglican CHurch of Canada by Jerry Hames.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Toni Morrison on Black perspectives on good & evil

Toni Morrison is convinced that Black people have a different way of looking at good and evil in general:

"Black people in general don’t annihilate evil. We are not well known for erecting stoning centers or destroying people when they have disagreements. We believe that evil has a natural place in the universe. We try to avoid it or defend ourselves against it but we are not surprised at its existence or horrified or outraged. We may, in fact, live right next door to it…

I’m not saying that Black people don’t kill each other. I’m talking about the way in which they perceive evil and how they act upon that perception. They don’t destroy evil. It’s as though God has four faces for them—not just the Trinity, but four. I know instinctly that we do not regard evil the same way as white people do. We have never done that. White people’s reaction to something that is alien to them is to destroy it."

From Danille Taylor-Guthrie, Conversations with Toni Morrison.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Van Gogh's Olive Trees and letters

The Morgan Library is currently exhibiting Painted With Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Emile Bernard. At the bottom of this link is his "Olive Trees" of 1889 from the National Gallery of Scotland. This picture is a representation of the Garden of Gethsemane. I went this week to see it.

From a review of the exhibit in the NYSun:

Even before van Gogh's suicide in 1890, Bernard became one of the chief spokesmen for van Gogh. He wrote about the artist, mounted shows of his work, and published his letters.

This is all despite the fact that van Gogh broke off relations with Bernard, seemingly a lost cause, because he had begun painting illustrative, sentimental religious scenes. In the last letter van Gogh chastised his protégé: After a long description, in which van Gogh personifies the colors in one of his own paintings, he warns: "It is — no doubt — wise, right, to be moved by the Bible." However, "to give an impression of anxiety, you can do it without heading straight for the historical garden of Gethsemane; in order to offer a consoling and gentle subject it is not necessary to depict the figures from the Sermon on the Mount."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

End of term madness: Haggis Hunt 2007



The Haggis Hunt is on! The Haggis is a crafty wee beastie. Here's one in disguise and one trying to hide.

The temperature is plummeting. The frosts of winter nestle on the moors. And the steam is rising from massed ranks of the haggis hunters.

Here's how to bag a haggis from the comfort of your armchair.

# Simply browse through ten haggis-cams, which are located in various parts of our beautiful country (and in London and New York, for the benefit of the haggis diaspora).

# If you see a haggis, click on the "I saw a haggis" link displayed under the cam.

Haggis Myths

It is in the nature of the haggis that it should be a creature shrouded in mystery. Over the years many misconceptions have developed about these reclusive creatures. Here we are happy to debunk the most common myths and set the record straight.

A haggis is just a sheep’s stomach stuffed with meat and oatmeal.

The most common mistaken belief about the haggis is that it is some kind of pudding made from sheep innards. This somewhat macabre idea dates back many centuries. Its origins lie in a Pictish fertility ceremony which featured a parade of creatures known to produce large numbers of offspring. The haggis was one such animal. However, as hunting techniques were not as sophisticated as they were then and - for reasons explained in The Haggis in Scotland’s History - haggis numbers were low, the Pictish priests often had to make do with a model for these ceremonies. Said model haggis was made from an inflated sheep bladder, hence the myth.

They have one leg shorter than another.

This misconception originated with a respected English commentator. However, the haggis’s legs are all the same size. Any apparent difference in length could be due to the haggis’s habit of standing in a bog to confuse predators. Quite why this would confuse a predator is unclear as the haggis would be unable to run away, being as it is stuck in a bog.

Its hurdies are like a distant hill.

A haggis is rarely larger than a foot long. It has a gentle rounded shape and a soft consistency. How it is like a geological feature quite escapes us. Suilven is a distant hill. It is 2,399 feet high and made from unforgiving glacier-scarred rock. Pretty unhaggislike, you would agree. We suspect that this one is down to poetic licence.

Haggii live with the monster in Loch Ness.

This is nonsense. Haggises are not aquatic. They are also extremely wary of any creature larger than them and would not consort with a large carnivore, even one supposed to be mythical. There is also nothing to suggest that there is any truth behind the rumour that swimming with haggises strapped to your feet will prevent monster attacks. There have been no recorded attacks on anyone by the Loch Ness monster, haggis attachments notwithstanding.

Let's suppose you actually see a haggis. Its important to know that one can be transfixed by a reading of Robert Burns' Address to the Haggis:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie (cheerful) face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon (above) them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, (paunch, guts) or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy (worthy) of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies (buttocks) like a distant hill,
Your pin (skewer) wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching (Digging) your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd (well swollen) kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner (disgust),
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

When Reality (or a text) meets a fondly held belief, reality is the looser

Anyone read The Message's "translation" of Matthew 19:11-12 (1993)?

But Jesus said, "Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn't for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you're capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it."

In case you didn't recognize it, this is a version of the passage rendered thus in the KJV:

But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

It seems that the eunuchs have been disappearing for a while and that Eugene Petersen is reflecting a trend.

Here's the Worldwide English NT (1969):-

Jesus said, `Not everyone can agree to that. But God has chosen some not to be married. Some men cannot marry because they were born that way. Some were made that way by men. Others said, "I will not marry, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." `Anyone who can do this, should do it.'

And the Contemporary English Version (1995):

Jesus told them, "Only those people who have been given the gift of staying single can accept this teaching. Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so."

And the New Century Version (2005):-

Jesus answered, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but God has made some able to accept it. 12 There are different reasons why some men cannot marry. Some men were born without the ability to become fathers. Others were made that way later in life by other people. And some men have given up marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage."[a]

Footnotes:

1. Matthew 19:12 But . . . marriage. This may also mean, "The person who can accept this teaching about not marrying should accept it."

Sorry, but this passage isn't about marriage!
Reading the Word of God with the Magisterium can now be found here. From the site:-

This program offers Sacred Scripture, its interpretation in light of Sacred Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium, with appropriate theological commentary and exegesis.

The downloadable version allows you to connect Sacred Scripture to the complete works of many Doctors of the Church, Councils, Encyclicals, teachings of the Popes, Catechisms, as well as commentaries from secular literature, etc.
Note: At the moment, the content may differ according to the language used. You are invited to expand your inquiry by researching in other languages.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sufi Story about a Flowing Stream

Someone read this story at the end of a paper in a final class today:-

In her book, “Women Strength” Sr. Joan Chittister began the last chapter,
Future of Benedictine Women, this way.

The Sufi tell a tale that may have a great deal to say about the future of
religious life. The story is about a flowing stream that ran into a desert.
This stream, the story teaches, worked itself across the country for ages
and experienced little difficulty. It ran easily around the rocks and quickly
through the mountains. No obstacle, it seemed, was too much for this
fresh and life-giving water. Then, suddenly, it arrived at a desert. Just as it
had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it
found that as fast as it ran into the sand, the waters disappeared. After
many attempts, the stream became very discouraged. It appeared that
there was no way it could continue the journey.

Then a voice came in the wind. “If you stay the way you are, you cannot
cross the sands. In fact, you will only become a quagmire. To go further,
you will have to lose yourself.”

“But if I lose myself,” the stream cried, “everything I have ever been will be
lost.”

“Oh, on the contrary,” said the voice. “If you lose yourself, you will
become more of what you were meant to be than you ever dreamed.”

So the stream surrendered itself to the hot, drying sun. And the clouds
into which it was formed were carried by the raging wind for many miles.
And once it crossed the desert, the stream poured down from the skies,
fresh and clean, and full of the energy that comes from storms.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Follow-up on the Gospel of Judas via letters to the NY Times

From the NY Times of December 7th come two letters. One from Prof Marvin Meyer and one from National Geographic. Their points are quite reasonable. How do we best represent textual ambiguity without becoming defensive is still not addressed unless everyone agrees to read notes in all popular and critical editions and give them due weight.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

2:52 Boys Bible

According to Sheila Smith of the Herald-Review from Central Illinois,

Boys love the 2:52 Boys Bible, designed for boys age 8 to 12, which refers to Luke 2:52: "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

"It has fun gross facts in it about different things, and they love it," Trichel said flipping to a page that reads: "Jesus spat and put his spit on the deaf and mute man's tongue. Jesus spat again and put his spit on the blind man's eye. Jesus did this to heal people. But unless you are called to a healing ministry, keep your spit where it belongs."

9th Avenue and the new Apple Store on 14th street

As the NY Times reported earlier in October, "a new bicycle-lane design on 9th Avenue was announced in September. Workers began at 23rd Street and progressed southward. The work is mostly completed, said Ted Timbers, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, including markings and signs. About 20 single-car parking spaces were eliminated as part of the redesign; Muni-Meters, which control multiple spaces, were installed in their place.

Also being tested on the seven-block stretch of Ninth Avenue in Chelsea is a raised traffic island at each intersection, extending into the avenue. Called a ‘’pedestrian refuge,'’ the island the effect of shortening the distance traveled to cross the street to 45 feet, from 70 feet. Those traffic islands are still being installed, and an official ceremony to mark the completion of the redesign will be held once that work is finished, Mr. Timbers said."

Now here's the thing. The new Apple store opened on 9th and 14th street this evening at 6pm. A friend of mine pointed out that these two events are probably connected....(look at the island in the middle of 9th Avenue at 14th street).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Secrets of 24

I have an essay, "Jack Our Savior" in Secrets of 24 just published by Sterling in time for the 7th season in January 2008.

Martin Goodman: Rome and Jerusalem (Knopf, 2007)

Last night, in the company of people from General Seminary, I went to the Center for Jewish History to hear Martin Goodman talk on his book "Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations." I think this was the book's NY debut. This morning I woke up thinking about accidents of history. The subtitle is completely misleading.

Here's what Diarmaid MacColloch said in his review of the book in the Guardian earlier this year:--

The final part of Goodman's book expounds his theory of a tragic accident: a mixture of happenstance and narrowly cynical political calculation which depressingly foreshadows George W Bush and Tony Blair stumbling into the Iraq catastrophe. The crux of his argument is that although Emperor Vespasian chose to end an outbreak of unrest in Judaea by sending his son Titus to besiege rebellious Jerusalem, there was no original intention to destroy the temple; it followed random indiscipline by marauding soldiers. Once the temple had burned, Titus decided to brazen out the disaster; it would have seemed like incompetence to have let an army get out of control, and a bad omen thus to have destroyed a famous ancient shrine. The emperor and his son decided to proclaim their victory not just over Judaea but the religion and the culture called Judaism. Thanks to Titus's tame Jewish historian Josephus, Titus's triumphal parade in Rome is the most fully described we know: the parade featured the scrolls of the Jewish law, together with other temple regalia which were later depicted in carvings on the triumphal arch commemorating Titus's victory. Certainly Vespasian based his shaky claim to rule on his victory over the Jews, and (with one exception) his successors saw no need to challenge that handy justification for their imperial power. The Jews played into the emperors' hands by their understandable outrage that a world-famous and ancient shrine was not restored as it had been after previous destructions, and by a steadily widening eruption of renewed rebellions.

Goodman's overall argument is compelling. You don't have to accept his "accident" theory of the temple's destruction, first proposed by that excellent analyst and equally excellent spin-doctor Josephus, but the wider claim carries conviction. The most powerful man in the Roman world, uneasy about his still shaky power, decided to use war to make himself unchallengeable. Because of what happened next - atrocity after atrocity in the second-century Middle East, ending with the mass suicides at Masada - we have too easily assumed an ancient enmity, a clash of civilisations, which was not actually there. It would be pleasing to feel that international statesmen might draw lessons from Goodman's lucid account of ancient tragedy; but don't hold your breath.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Teaching Videos at Washington National Cathedral

Videos at the website of Washington National Cathedral are fantastic learning resources that someone recently pointed out to me. They seem to have started inviting people in 2002.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Matters of Life and Death by Martin Smith on Episcopal Cafe

Does everyone know Episcopal Cafe? Today's piece on Daily Episcopalian is by Martin Smith, "Matters of Life and Death." Today's NY Times has a piece on gay life in Newark that hangs by a thread and "where, for many, there are additional obstacles that are seldom acknowledged: gay bashings, H.I.V., open hostility from many religious leaders and sometimes callous treatment by the police."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

April DeConick on the Gospel of Judas, "Gospel Truth" in the NY Times, Dec 1, 2007

Prof April DeConick's intriguing OpEd piece on the Gospel of Judas in yesterday's NY Times makes several points about the translation and alteration of that text by the National Geographic Society in 2006. These points and others are discussed at greater length in her 2007 book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.

* Judas isn't a hero, he's a demon
* Judas isn't set apart "for" the holy generation; he's separated from it
* Judas will _not_ ascend to the holy generation

She references a SBL resolution passed in 1991 to which she wishes scholars working for the National Geographic Society on the translation and interpretation of Gospel of Judas had adhered that if the condition of the written manuscript requires that access be restricted, a facsimile reproduction should be the first order of business.

These are good points. We've had the critical edition of the Gospel of Judas edited by Rodolphe Kasser and Gregor Wurst since June 19, 2007. And when National Geographic released the initial provisional translation in 2006, criticisms were made in print by scholars such as Bruce Chilton (NY Sun, April 7, 2006) and others about the secrecy of the project, NG's "ownership" of the presentation of the text including injunctions to secrecy, and the interpretation of the text itself.

I'm going to explore just one issue here to indicate that we don't yet have a definitive translation. On the matter of Judas' identity, he's called "thirteenth daimon" by Jesus in the Gospel of Judas. While this was initially translated in NG's April 2006 web publication as "You thirteenth spirit," the subsequent critical edition leaves it as "thirteenth daimon."

The question left open is how to render "daimon." In general, I agree with Prof De Conick that "daimon" is best rendered by "demon" as it is throughout Codex 7 (The Paraphrase of Shem, the Apocalypse of Peter) in the Nag Hammadi Library, for example. In many Nag Hammadi treatises, "demon" denotes beings who control lower worlds in which humans find themselves imprisoned. Thus it is is possible to refer to the inferior creator of the lower worlds and other "demons" as (lower case) "god," referencing a critique of the creator God of the Hebrew Bible found in many of the Nag Hammadi treatises. But the Gospel of Judas is not describing a being who controls the lower world here. It's describing Judas.

So there's another rendering of "thirteenth daimon" as "thirteenth god" by Karen King and Elaine Pagels in their book, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (Penguin Viking 2007). Karen King has a note on her translation "daimon" (p.140-141). She says that in Greek thought, the term "daimon" was used to indicate gods of a lower rank. Plato wrote that everyone possesses a "daimon" or part of the soul through the cultivation of which one can achieve likeness to God and immortality, which is happiness or "eudaimonia," the state of a good "daimon." Subsequent Christian thought will, she notes, understand "daimon" as a negative entity or demon.

The challenge is to render the term "daimon" satisfactorily in light of the entire text.

James Tabor on Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary Magdalene

James Tabor's review of Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha and the Christian Testament (2002 Crossroad) which he gave at the recent SBL meeting in San Diego is posted to his Jesus Dynasty Blog here.

Here's part of it. I'm going to use her book in future courses.

Schaberg’s final chapter, “Mary Magdalene as Successor to Jesus” is in my judgment one of the most impressive pieces of textual reading I have ever encountered. What she attempts to show is that the singular account in John 20:1-18, where Mary Magdalene encounters and speaks to Jesus in the garden tomb, preserves fragments of a tradition of Mary Magdalene as successor to Jesus—and thus, “first founder” of Christianity, in the sense of authoritative witness to resurrection faith. Whether this early tradition can be connected or not to later Christian texts that present Mary as a leading intellectual and spiritual guide, a beloved companion of Jesus and transmitter of his teachings, is a separate issue. What Schaberg shows, successfully in my view, is that the narrative structure of John 20 reflects an imaginative reuse of 2 Kings 2:1-18 where Elijah the prophet ascends to heaven, leaving his disciple Elisha as his designated witness and successor. This intimate personal appearance to Mary Magdalene, which focuses on ascent to heaven rather than resurrection of the dead per se, is parallel to, but sharply distinguished from, the more generic Synoptic accounts of angelic proclamations to the group of women.

Upon this foundation Schaberg offers a preliminary sketch of what she rather boldly labels “Magdalene Christianity,” both suppressed and lost in the Synoptic tradition, and particularly in Acts, much like the history of James and the Jerusalem community from 30-50 CE, Crossan’s “dark ages.” For some , such as Crossan, Schaberg’s reconstruction of John 20, as well as that of Schüssler Fiorenza and others, is “too optimistic” in terms of reconstructing what happened after Jesus’ death. His own reconstruction erases not only the empty tomb, but the memory of the women as first witnesses, and Mary Magdalene as his possible successor. Crossan once told Schaberg, as she recounts in her book, “Jane, if I could give you the empty tomb I would” (p. 252). Her response captures a characteristic of her wonderfully self-reflective style throughout her work: “I was stunned into silence by Crossan’s wish to ‘give’ me the narrative of the tomb; by the fact that it even occurred to him that he might. I wondered if I had to ‘take’ it. No, I knew I did.” And by that she meant she was obligated to offer her own reconstruction, attempting to be as clear about method as Crossan demands, and in particular to examine the assumptions behind his own reconstruction.

Schaberg’s academic contribution is much more than this ending. She applies her considerable analytical skills in taking the reader through the thick mass of archaeological and textual evidence related to Mary Magdalene. Her extended “profile” of Mary Magdalene in chapter four, drawn from a careful combing through all the apocryphal Magdalene materials (Nag Hammadi texts as well as the Gospel of Mary, Pistis Sophia, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Peter, and fragmented sources), is one of the most sustained and thorough treatments available.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

R.T.France, The Gospel of Matthew wins award for best new academic book

Just noting that R.T. France's 2007 commentary on Matthew, The Gospel of Matthew, has won an award at the ATS meeting on Nov 17th for best academic book (kudos to Eerdmans as the publisher). NB this book was required reading for an elective on Matthew I am teaching this semester BEFORE it was selected for an award and just AFTER it had been published this summer. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

BBC Radio 4: From Calvary to Lambeth tonight

Tonight "Michael Buerk reports on the divide over homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Church. He talks to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who gives vent to his feelings of shame over homophobia". The program is on BBC Radio 4 at 8.00pm (3pm East Coast USA) and it will be available on the BBC Radio 4 thereafter at least for seven days.

Tabula Peutingeriana (a Roman road map) shown for a day

Tabula Peutingeriana, a unique Roman road map, located at the Oesterrisches Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library), was on display for a day yesterday. Here is an on line version of part of the map.

The document, which is almost seven metres long, shows the network of main Roman roads from Spain to India.

It is normally never shown to the public. The parchment is extremely fragile, and reacts badly to daylight.But it has been on display for one day to celebrate its inclusion in Unesco's Memory of the World Register.

The map is orientated from East to West rather than North to South so it has a stretched appearance.

The director of the Department of Manuscripts, Autographs and Closed Collections at the Austrian National Library, Andreas Fingernagel, says it is an intensely practical document, more like a plan of the London Underground than a map.

"The red lines are the main roads. Every so often there is a little hook along the red lines which represents a rest stop - and the distance between hooks was one day's travel."

"Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay," he said.

"It was meant for the civil servants of the late Roman Empire, for couriers and travellers," he added.

Some of the buildings have large courtyards - a sign of more luxurious accommodation.

Details in the map indicate that while it is a 12th or 13th century map copied in Southern Germany, it probably was copied from an earlier map that dates back to the 5th century. The map includes the city of Aquileia, which was destroyed in 452 by the Huns.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Queer Bible Commentary and the Gay and Lesbian Bible


At the recent meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, I chaired a panel on the recently published Queer Bible Commentary (SCM)--picture courtesy of "Other Sheep."

Participants included contributers and users in equal number all of whom made cogent points about features of the commentary. This collection is a landmark as the first biblical commentary written entirely by GLBTQI people. A new staff member of SCM (UK) was present in the session to describe the enthusiastic response to the publication.

2007 has also seen the publication of the Gay and Lesbian Bible described on their website thus:

Study New Testament for Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgender: With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning and Context is by Classical Greek scholar and lexicographer Dr A. Nyland. There are no theological notes, solely notes of the word meaning and context, taking into account the latest academic scholarship.
Dr Nyland is known as the translator of The Source New Testament ( TSNT ).

This publication is available for download for $18.05 but is more expensive as a book.

According to "The Age (Australia)," a US distributor, God's Word for Women, has "banned this publication and withdrawn another Bible translation published by the same NSW publishing house, Smith and Stirling, for promoting a lifestyle in contradiction of the scriptures.

Two American academics have asked that their endorsements be removed from other works by a classical Greek lexicographer, Ann Nyland, because of her authorship of the gay study Bible".

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bible Software: You get what you pay for

I've been demonstrating Accordance and BibleWorks 7 and reviewing Bible software in class recently. We did a group order for both -- first time I've ordered Accordance -- with a group discount and without a hitch.

While there are up to date websites: Bible software Review, there seems to be more on the web not covered by every site.

So J and I did a brief survey of free Bible software on the web asking about usability, coding (of Greek and Hebrew), and bias.

If you have a stable on-line connection you can use free bible software on the net easily. If you don't, then you will need to buy bible software.

In the public domain there are limited English translations. The NRSV translation (approved for lectionary use in the Episcopal Church) has proprietary costs. Similarly, if the version of the Septuagint is Tischendorf's, it is not an up to date critical edition of the Greek text of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

Some sites we examined use Bullinger (d.1913) for Greek Word Study, Short Definitions. His lexicon was published in 1877. Longer definitions of Greek Words might be from Thayer whose lexicon was published in 1899. These tools are completely out of date now since they take no papyri discoveries or modern linguistic tools (e.g. semantic domains) into account.

Zhubert has a link to the Perseus lexicon which is more up to date but focused on classical texts and literature. You really need access to BDAG for the Greek.

Standard Greek and Hebrew coding is CATSS, Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint/Scriptural Study.

Friday, November 23, 2007



"Diamond" -- a beautiful if challenging member of our household for whom to be thankful on this day after Thanksgiving.
"Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art", a landmark exhibition at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas of the earliest works of art illustrating the Old and New Testaments that will be on view from November 18, 2007, to March 30, 2008.

From the museum's website:

Carved sculpture, both in stone and in ivory, also form an integral part of the exhibition. From the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence is the ivory diptych of Adam Naming the Animals and the Miracles of St. Paul, one of the masterpieces of their collection. Imposing sarcophagi with scenes of the life and ministry of Christ as well as depictions of Daniel, Jonah, and other figures of both the Old and New Testaments on loan from the Vatican Museums, Trier, Arles, and Algeria are also part of the exhibition.

Illustrated manuscripts are among the rarest and most treasured objects in the exhibition. Only a handful of illustrated Bibles from the sixth century have survived, and an unprecedented three of these are included in the exhibition. The Rabbula Gospels, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, were inscribed by a monk named Rabbula in a Syrian monastery, who in 586 A.D. recorded the moment when he had finished the manuscript. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is lending an illustrated folio—only five of which are extant—from the fragmentary Greek Sinope Gospels, the entire text of which is written in gold on purple-dyed vellum. On loan from the British Library are several fragments of the Cotton Genesis, a Greek manuscript probably produced in Egypt. Although the manuscript was tragically reduced to fragments in 1731 during a fire in the Cotton Library, several fragments survived.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sunday Nov 25th: Talk on Jesus' Family Values at St Barts

I'm giving a talk this Sunday at St Barts in the Rector's Forum on "Jesus' Family Values". Without the CRI's Rabbi Schoolman and Bill Tully, the Rector, this book would never have come into being. Something for which to be very grateful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Holkham Bible now available in facsimile edition

The Holkham Bible is now available in facsimile edition from the British Library for a mere fifty pounds.

"This celebrated medieval picture-book tells the Biblical story, focusing upon the Creation to the Flood, the Life of Christ, and the Apocalypse, with the help of illustrations of everyday 14th Century England.

It is based on the biblical narrative but also includes plenty of apocryphal episodes, for example Christ ‘surfing’ on sunbeams as a child, and God telling Noah to hurry up with the Ark so that he is forced to finish the top section in wicker rather than wood. The costumes, tools, weapons and buildings in the pictures give a near documentary-style representation of many occupations in the age of Chaucer, such as dyer, smith, carpenter and midwife."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sunday at the SBL: The Torah: A Women's Commentary

It is 1am on the East Coast at the end of another long day but I must mention the last event I attended this evening which was a panel discussion announcing the publication of The Torah: A Women's Commentary.

"The five daughters of Zelophehad in the Book of Numbers approach Moses, the leaders of the people, and the entire community. They draw near because they see a problem that needs a solution: they have not been given an inheritance that they believe is due to them. They refuse to be left out and demand their rightful share. And so they dare speak to Moses, the priest Eleazar, all the other leaders, and the entire edah (congregation or formally constituted assembly). They say: 'Give us a holding among our father's kin. Give us a share of our heritage, why should we be left out?'

They get what they want – a share, a large share I should add. Moreover, as a result of their courage, a new Torah law is created, one that intends to benefit future generations long after them.

Their story is the story of the WRJ's The Torah: A Women's Commentary. The Women of Reform Judaism said: 'Give us a share among our brothers. We are no longer willing to be left out.' Instead of land, WRJ asks for something even more enduring - 'Give us a share of our Torah.' The result is a Torah commentary that we trust will benefit all of us. With this commentary we will continue as sisters to empower the women - and men - who come after us for generations to come."

Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi
Professor of Bible, HUC-JIR/LA

This is a landmark publication arising from congregational enthusiasm and support. It will be published in three weeks. The commentary has five elements:-

*A central commentary of each Torah portion written by a biblical scholar, concentrating on issues that involve women (either because they appear in the text or because they do not) and explaining unclear passages and words.
*A second, shorter biblical voice, focusing on a specific element, complementing, supplementing or challenging the central commentary.
*A post-biblical text interpretation, highlighting how traditional Torah portions addressed issues pertaining to women.
*Contemporary reflections, addressing philosophical, theological, and other approaches relevant to the Bible and Jewish life today.
*Creative voices, offering imaginative responses to the text in the form of poems, modern midrash, and other artistic expressions.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

San Diego Tribune on Alternative Gifts and Oliver Sacks

Today's newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune has a Religion and Ethics column worth seeing.

And a review of Oliver Sacks new book on musicology and the brain.

I'll be here for several days at the last _joint_ annual meeting of the AAR/SBL...sigh. Maybe the "higher ups" at the AAR will rethink this separation?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reflections for Daily Prayer from the CofE

A new publication, Reflections for Daily Prayer includes comments by Jane Williams together with a podcast on the website including a reading from her interpretation of Genesis. She notes how God works with all people and groups and that its humans who use categories of rejection. She says, its Cain not God who sees God's assessment as rejection. God doesn't work this way: God's chosen people are the means to include others not exclude them.

The first set covers Advent to Epiphany, with short reflections on either the Old Testament or New Testament reading for the day covering topics ranging from wishes to secrets, creation to judgment.

Reflections are written by authors from a wide range of backgrounds and specialisms, who each share a passion for making that day’s chosen passage relevant for today’s reader.

In this first set, the authors include Jane Williams, well-known author and lecturer; Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Reading; Paula Gooder, lecturer in New Testament studies at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham; and Gordon Mursell, the Bishop of Stafford.

Jane Williams comments: “The thing I like about Daily Prayer – especially the lectionary readings – is that you don’t have to keep inventing a new system every day; it’s a system that you know a lot of people will be using, so you are conscious of sharing Scripture with many people all over the world reading the same passages at almost the same time.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Sin, the Early History of an Idea" Paula Fredriksen lecturing at Princeton

On October 9,10 and 11, Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University lectured at Princeton on "Sin: The Early History of an Idea". The lectures are now available here.

Here's a summary:

Jesus of Nazareth announced that God was about to redeem the world. Some 450 years later, the church taught that the far greater part of humanity was eternally condemned. The early community began by preserving the memory and the message of Jesus; within decades of his death, some Christians asserted that Jesus had never had a fleshly human body at all. The church that insisted that Jewish scriptures were Christian scriptures also insisted that the god who said “Be fruitful and multiply” actually meant, “Be sexually continent.” Some four centuries after Paul’s death, his conviction that “All Israel will be saved” served to support the Christian conviction that the Jews were damned. What accounts for the great variety of these and other ancient Christian teachings? The short answer is the following: dramatic mutations in ancient Christian ideas about sin. In the gospels, sin’s remedy is repentance, immersions, prayer, and sacrifice—we are still in the world of Late Second Temple Judaism. In Augustine’s writings, only God is sin’s remedy. People can repent, but God alone decides whose repentance to accept. And between these two extremes we see “sin” invoked as a way to account for an astounding range of things, from the physical structure of the universe to the grammatical structure of a sentence.
These three lectures provide an aerial survey of the vibrant vitality of the idea of sin in the first Christian centuries. Come see how an impulsive bite of fruit came to explain absolutely everything else, from the death of God’s son to the power politics of the empire that eventually worshiped him.

Lecture 1: God, Blood, and the Temple (Philo, John the Immerser, Jesus, Paul, Josephus)
Lecture 2: Flesh and the Devil (Gospel of John, Valentinus, Thecla, Origen)
Lecture 3: A Rivalry of Genius (Origen and Augustine on Paul)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Introducing the Women's Hebrew Bible" by Susanne Scholz to be published this week by T&T Clark (Nov 13)

Susanne Scholz's new book, Introducing the Women's Hebrew Bible, is to be published on Nov 13 by T&T Clark (just in time for the AAR/SBL meeting in San Diego next week).
Here's a link to the table of contents and excerpts.

The book provides "an introductory survey of the history and issues as they relate to feminist readings and readers of the “Hebrew Bible.” Accordingly, feminist scholars of the Bible, their career struggles, and biblical texts, characters, and themes stand at the forefront of this introduction."

What did the Last Supper sound like (according to DaVinci)?

Leonardo Da Vinci left clues to a 40-second musical composition in his painting, Giovanni Maria Pala said in a report from the BBC.

Each loaf of bread in the picture represents a note, he said, which combine to sound "like a requiem".

Alessandro Vezzosi, director of Tuscany's Da Vinci museum, said the theory was "plausible".

The notes make sense musically when the resulting score is read from right to left, following Da Vinci's own writing style, Mr Pala said in his book La Musica Celata (The Hidden Music).

The result is a 40-second "hymn to God" which Mr Pala described as "like a soundtrack that emphasises the passion of Jesus".

New Musical "Everyman" at Church of the Epiphany, NYC

I went to the opening night of the new musical "Everyman" at Church of the Epiphany, NYC. It is a musical version of the medieval mystery play of the same name. I recommend it as an entertaining Christian morality play!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Message in a bottle

A clergyman is facing a litter fine after he put scripture messages into bottles and tossed them in the sea. Instead of drifting across the North Sea, as Pastor Leslie Potter had hoped, the bottles floated back to beaches in Norfolk. He now faces a fine for littering the sands at Gorlestone, where angry walkers had to pick them up. The pastor said: “They were supposed to end up in Holland, France and Germany.”

London Metro (Imogen Forster)

(OK so I've been in committee meetings all morning...)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Karen Armstrong on the Bible

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto reviews Karen Armstrong's new book The Bible (Atlantic Books, 2007) for The Times (UK). He says:-

Armstrong leads us through the story (of the origins of the Bible) at unflagging speed. Much gets omitted. Hume, Newton, St Augustine’s conversion, Calvinism and the crusades are topics so compressed as to be traduced. But there is room for fascinating coverage of both Christian and Jewish exegesis, which converge surprisingly. The life of the Bible, in Armstrong’s version, happens inside great schools and brilliant individuals. There is not much about its impact at modest levels of education and society. We hear nothing about the role of sermons, liturgy, catechism and study groups in spreading biblical knowledge, influencing society or modifying the meanings of the texts. Disappointingly, the effects on Islam are unmentioned, and there is little on nonwestern churches.

Readers feel the want of these dimensions when confronting Armstrong’s conclusions, which are characteristically wise and searching. The Bible, she points out with relish, is “subversive”, yet so easily reinterpreted that all too often it just confirms readers in their prejudices. We need, she says, “a common hermeneutics” that Christians, Jews and Muslims can share. But the ingredients she specifies (charity, loving kindness, listening and compassion) sound too hard for this world. Fission characterises the history she relates, and it is hard to resist a conclusion she is reluctant to voice: that the Bible will go on generating more meanings, licensing more readings, inspiring more good, justifying more evil and defying consensus.

I haven't had time to read it yet but I must.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jackie Nickerson on Faith

Jackie Nickerson's photographs "Faith" over at the Jack Shainman gallery on 20th are spectacular in their quiet strength. A group of us went to see them this week.

What Has the Bible To Do With Sexuality?

I have a post on What Has the Bible to Do with Sexuality in Episcopal Cafe's Daily Episcopalian blog today.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One Year On: The Bible in Equitable Language

Deutsche Welle reports that one year on, reactions are mixed to "The Bible in Equitable Language."

The "Bibel in gerechter Sprache," or the Bible in equitable language, was meant as a modern translation that would make women more visible, correct anti-Jewish formulations and draw attention to social issues. But the 2,400-page book has polarized both theologians and laypeople, some of whom feel like their beliefs are under attack.

The new translation, the work of more than 50 theologians, consistently mentions women wherever men are mentioned, even at the risk of distorting the Bible's historical setting and departing from the Hebrew and Greek originals. Thus the book refers to female and male rabbis, although the first women rabbis were not ordained until the 1970s.

Here is the translating team. From this page is a link to the project itself.

Here's an explanation of the project by Prof Helga Kuhlmann (member of the translation team) in a publication by the Goethe-Institut.

Of the hundreds of reactions, here's one from Rabbi Michel Bollag, "A Cause for Hope".

"68 years ago today synagogues in Germany were on fire. The fire which consumed them and many Jews also, scarcely a year later covered Europe and the entire world, consuming 6 million Jews and millions of people, each individual created in the image of God. To fuel the fire that enabled it quickly and devastatingly to spread, were words of the Bible, including the Christian part of the New Testament... Rather than acting as a fire extinguisher, biblical texts were like oil, which is poured into the fire."

"The initiators of the project "The Bible in equitable language", whose final result is presented here today, took their historical responsibility from the outset and have deliberately created a work which tries to interpret the Bible in today's time to let it speak, that is, its existential dimension, and demands for justice in today's human language."

It should, he concludes, be discussed and criticized. It is a cause for hope 68 years later in regard to deepening the dialogue between Christians and Jews on the basis of sound linguistic research.

To situate this work in the academic landscape of German scholarship, see the letter from Luzia Sutter Rehmann in the SBL Forum.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Matthew 13:44: the joy that makes one go, sell, and buy eternal treasure!

In Matthew 13:44 there are three striking uses of the historic present tense. This is a use of the present tense in contexts that require use of a past tense.

"The kingdom of the heavens is like treasure hidden in a field which, having found, a person hid (aorist tense); then in his/her joy GOES and SELLS all that s/he has and BUYS that field."

In this translation, the caps indicate the three historic present tenses. The key words of the parable are "joy" (2:10; 5:12; 13:20; 18:13; 25:21, 23), "hidden" (11:25; 13:35 and "treasure" (2:11; 13:52 etc); combined in this parable they declare that what is hidden is revealed to be eternal treasure and the person who has it is joyous.

The historic present tenses used three times in v.44 is like a "light switch" going on; the treasure of the kingdom is not to be hidden but to be held with joy as the finder's eternal treasure!

Thanks to S.M.B. Wilmshurst of Trinity College Bristol in the Journal for the Study of the NT (25) 2003 for pointing this out. S/he indicates that all examples of Matthew's use of the historic present repay close attention.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cherie Blair's speech on Women's Human Rights in the 21st Century

Culture and religion cannot be used as an excuse for discriminating against women, Cherie Blair has argued in the second BBC Today/Chatham House lecture.

The human rights lawyer, wife of former PM Tony Blair, said all the major world faiths shared "an insistence on the dignity of all God's people".

In a speech, she said discrimination on religious grounds was a "distortion" of the true message of some faiths. (The link to the BBC report provides a link to the speech itself if you click on "Chatham House" on the right side and then on the speech headline).

In some parts of the world, domestic violence was still not regarded as a crime, widows were ostracised and women were treated effectively as their husbands' property, she said. In many areas "proclaimed adherence to a specific religion or system of belief or culture is intimately tied to women's continuing discrimination and abuse," said Mrs Blair.

And she bluntly rejected any suggestion that such practices could be justified by reference to religion. Where religion is seen as an excuse to deny human rights, this is due to cultural pressures and the interpreters of religious traditions rather more than to essential principles, she argues.

"We can be certain that the overwhelming majority of people in our country, along with legal experts and campaigners, would be appalled if they thought that such mistreatment was taking place within their family or local community," she said.

"But what is striking is that there remain those who try to justify or excuse such discrimination and denial of human rights elsewhere by reference to different cultural or religious standards. We simply can't go along with this view."

Is it adequate to ascribe discrimination against women in religions to the way (male) practitioners interpret religious traditions? Would it not be more accurate to investigate whether religious traditions perpetuate or indeed actually are misogynist?

Here's an example from my own tradition. In Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions Among the Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World, Ross Shepard Kraemer (Oxford University Press, 1992)
writes:-

"The classic New Testament expression of misogynism, 1 Timothy 2:11-16 forms the basis of most later Christian restrictions of women, together with 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36. The author of Timothy writes,

I desire then that women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

In 1 Timothy, the proper sphere for Christian women is carefully delineated. Good Christian women keep their mouths shut, exercise authority only over their households and children and never over men, and generally confine themselves to the private, domestic sphere. When and if they become released from their household obligations by virtue of widowhood, they are not to avail themselves of the inherent opportunities for freedom, but are to continue to confine themselves to private prayer. The text of 1 Timothy clearly evidences precisely the opposite behavior on the part of some Christian women and a compulsive concern to keep Christian communities in conformity with perceived Greco-Roman norms of ordered and orderly households." pages 150-151

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Frank Rich on Giuliani & Kirkpatrick on the Evangelicals

Todays New York Times has a piece by Frank Rich, Rudy, the Values Slayer and the Magazine has a fascinating piece by David Kirkpatrick, "The Evangelical Crack-Up." What happened in the Southern Baptists is happening on a larger scale:-

In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on the denomination 20 years ago, the establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.” (It’s a formulation that comes up a lot in evangelical circles these days.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Joan Breton Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece reviewed in the TLS by James Davidson

TLS publishes "Last week's Letters," amongst which is a response to Davidson's review:-
Sir, – James Davidson’s review of Joan Breton Connelly’s Portrait of a Priestess: Women and ritual in Ancient Greece reduces a series of unresolved debates – into which Connelly’s book quite self-consciously intervenes – into a pathetic contest for unattainable rightness. As any careful reader of Connelly’s book knows, and as Davidson concedes, she adduces massive and painstaking archaeological evidence to argue that, in ancient Greece, some women – elite women, to be sure – had important public roles as priestesses. As any careful reader knows, but as Davidson completely fails to acknowledge, Connelly understands that the interpretive significance of this evidence is a matter of historical, historiographical and – yes – feminist debate. That Davidson disagrees with Connelly in these debates is no ground for his attack on her decision to focus on priestesses and on the scope of their power and agency. What – is she supposed to write his book, not hers? That is what his complaint that she does not emphasize “sacred prostitution”, instead, boils down to.

JANET HALLEY
Harvard Law School, Hauser Hall 424, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.

Nov 8: Sean Freyne lectures on James

Thursday, November 8
The Center for the Study of James the Brother at Bard College presents a lecture by renowned biblical scholar Sean Freyne entitled “Retrieving James/Yakov, the Brother of the Lord: From Legend to History” Free and open to the public.
4:00 p.m.
Weis Cinema, Bertelsmann Campus Center

For those unable to attend the lecture at the College, it is available via a live webcast, followed by a question-and-answer session with Freyne at www.bard.edu/jamescenter.
Opinion Editorial from the Times of India on Sacred Space: Family Values:-
The chief blessing is an honourable home — and its crowning glory is worthy offspring.

Thiruvalluvar, The Kural 60

All creatures are the family of God; And he the most beloved is of God Who does most good unto his family.

Prophet Muhammad

In the family, may discipline overcome indiscipline, peace discord, charity miserliness, devotion arrogance, and the truth-spoken word the false spoken-word.

Avesta, Yasna 60.5

Each of us will have our own different ways of expressing love and care for the family. However, unless that is a high priority, we will find that we may gain the whole world and lose our own children.

Michael Green, evangelist

Ma loves me when she cuts an' sews My little cloak an' Sund'y clothes; An' when my Pa comes home to tea, She loves him most as much as me. She laughs an' tells him all i said, An' grabs me up an' pats my head; An' i hug her, an' hug my Pa, An' love him purt' nigh as much as Ma.

James W Riley

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Luke 1:17, "to turn the hearts of fathers toward children"

Gabriel's fascinating annunciation to Zechariah of his future son John the Baptist using Mal 4:6, "to turn the hearts of fathers toward children" receives immediate application in Zechariah's pronunciation recognizing his son, "His name is John" (1:63) and the so-called "Benedictus"of 1:68-79.

Another application might be in a later description of how children were treated in a monastic setting.

In a celebrated scene in Eadmer’s Life of St Anselm, a fellow abbot described to Anselm his difficulties with the child monks. ‘They are incorrigible ruffians. We never give over beating them day and night, and they only get worse and worse.’

Anselm retorted that his philosophy of education was radically at fault. ‘Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you? . . . Consider this. You wish to form them in good habits by blows and chastisement alone. Have you ever seen a goldsmith form his leaves of gold and silver into a beautiful figure with blows alone? I think not . . . In order to mould his leaf into a suitable form he now presses it and strikes it gently with his tool, and now even more gently raises it with careful pressure and gives it shape. So, if you want your boys to be adorned with good habits, you too, besides the pressure of blows, must apply the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness.’

The goldsmith created an impression, an image; and elsewhere, we are told that Anselm ‘compared the time of youth to a piece of wax of the right consistency for the impress of a seal . . . If it preserves a mean between . . . extremes of hardness and softness, when it is stamped with the seal [matrix], it will receive the image clear and whole.’ The goldsmith passed a message to his patrons – and, if his work survived, to posterity; the man who makes the impression on the seal creates an image which can be recognized from that day to this as the legal signature of a community or a king – and perhaps too by its beauty it may be an expression of the culture of its day.
The Rev Michael Livingston in On Faith at the Washington Post yesterday:-

It’s time we get back to celebrating the diversity this country has held up to the world for more than two centuries. It’s time to recover the American values of justice, freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation so that we may authentically hold those values up for the rest of the world to see.

Those American values happen to be Christian values. You can also find those values in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Koran and many other sacred texts of numerous faith traditions. Our country, our world, will be better off if we recover those values. And our young people would not be skeptical or dismiss Christianity as a negative part of America.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Missing from the lectionary: Luke 17:20

Has anyone else noticed that Luke 17:20 is missing from the lectionary cycle? How can a central Lucan idea of the presence of the kingdom be omitted?

I preached on the preceding passage last weekend and, in accordance with the rubric in the BCP, extended the gospel reading by adding the notion of the presence of the kingdom within or among you (pl) to the passage about healing the 10 lepers one of whom was a Samaritan. I asked that someone in the congregation read the verse and (wouldn't you know) a Kenyan woman in the front row offered to read her Swahili Bible! Doesn't it make sense of our communion today that a Kenyan Anglican woman would have brought her Bible among us to read it in church?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Manga Messiah and the (forthcoming) Manga Bible

I try to follow marketing of the Bible and here's another example. Published by Tyndale in the UK in 2006, and in the US in September 2007, Manga Messiah heralds the Manga Bible to be published in November 2007. According to Anime News network, The Manga Bible will include the entire New Living Translation of the text with three 32-page manga tip-in sections that summarize the narrative. Zondervan is getting on board with its own contribution.

Tyndale's project with Japanese artists is different than The Manga Bible by British born Nigerian artist Siku, published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK, endorsed by the ABC in August.

A few comments on the Tyndale venture, Manga Messiah. It's a synthesis of all four gospels which makes reading a bit jarring (unless you are used to Tatian's Diatessaron, a second-century synthesis of all the gospels combining them all into a single narrative). At the same time, Manga Messiah has its own agenda. This has something to do with families. There's never a tension between Jesus and his family of origin. For example, Jesus' address to his mother in John 2:4, "Woman!" at the wedding in Cana becomes, "Dear Woman, What is that to you and and me?" Instead of this being the only thing Jesus says to his mother as it is in John 2 and thus strange, Jesus and his mother say to each other on p.71 of Manga Messiah before the wine runs out, "Um...Yeshuah..our hosts have a bit of a problem here..." "What happened, Mother? Everything appears to be going well for them..." This exchange is not in the biblical text.

Similarly, texts in which Jesus seems to displace his family of origin ("Who are my mother and sister and brothers") with "Whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother" in Mark 3:35, for example, are the subject of an inserted comment (Manga Bible, p.149): "Yeshuah's words did not express hostility toward his family...but his new teaching defined a new family relationship...one created by mutual faith...the family of God." Its obvious that there is a tension between Jesus and his family of origin. Why does Manga Messiah gloss over it? Is this an example of Japanese family values intruding into the text?

Most depictions of Pharisees or other opponents are caricatures of unappealing people which become sterotypes by the time one has finished reading the book. Pharisees are lurking in wheatfields looking out to catch hungry disciples eating wheat on the sabbath. This isn't good and it isn't plausible. Similarly, Judas goes out to betray Jesus before the Last Supper. Which means he doesn't have the Last Supper with Jesus and the other disciples. Why should he be excluded from this important meal? This isn't the sequence of any of the gospels. Also, for some reason Judas wears a single earring. Does this stereotyping have to do with the genre "manga?" Likewise, the genre can't convey the long discourses of Jesus in John's gospel. In the Manga Bible, Jesus speaks in sound bites.

Parables are "picture stories" rather than something else like "riddles" or enigmatic sayings. Aspects of the parable of the sower receive a single explanation: "The seeds must be God's word! And the good soil must be someone who believes the word of God" (p.151). No other fate of seeds is explained nor is any attention given to different soils. Isn't this simplistic even for teenagers?

It would be a good thing if this kind of book was not an end in itself.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Acceptable Face of Fred Thompson?

How might a Southern Baptist like Richard Land find Fred Thompson morally acceptable as a condidate for President, asks TNR? Michelle Cottle suggests various possibilities:

1. Cite an expiration date on adultery. Unlike Rudy's relatively recent tackiness, Fred's marital indiscretions took place two decades ago--long before he was in public office. Land could always argue that Thompson has since experienced some sort of religious epiphany that showed him the error of his ways. Any mention of this subject could be brushed aside with something akin to George W. Bush's all-purpose "When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid."

2. Cite the sad state of Thompson's first marriage. (You know, the old, "Adultery is a symptom not a cause of marital problems" line of argument.) Apparently, Fred and first wife Sarah were having troubles long before their 1985 divorce. Sarah's brother Oscar was recently in the London papers discussing Sarah's original divorce petition, filed in 1981. Of course, Oscar noted that the "cruel and inhuman treatment" Sarah accused Fred of in '81 had to do with Fred's tendency to "take opportunities" with the ladies--suggesting that at least some of their existing problems had to do with Fred's wandering ... eye.

3. Stress the exceptional cruelty of Rudy's behavior. It is hard to deny that Rudy isn't at least a little special in the utter disregard for human decency he displayed by announcing his impending divorce and his affair with then-mistress Judy at a press conference before he had told then-wife Donna the marriage was over. Fred at least kept Sarah safely back in Tennessee while he did his thing in Washington. And even if folks knew he was catting around, he at no time called a press conference to announce that he was dumping the mother of his three children.

GodTube.com: Baby Got Book

Ok so its not perfect (advice from Proverbs 31??), but it is fun! Publishers of diminuitive Bibles, take note...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Interfaith Conference on Sunday at JTS

“For There Is Hope: Gender and the Hebrew Bible,” an interfaith conference to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, will take place from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 21 at The Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway (at 122nd Street) in New York City.

The symposium will address the roles gender plays in the culture, literature, and study of the Hebrew Bible, with particular attention to the impact of Dr. Frymer-Kensky’s impassioned work in these areas to make the Bible relevant to all of its readers. In addition to presentations by nationally renowned Bible scholars, the event will feature a musical tribute by Debbie Friedman, award-winning singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

Committed to fostering meaningful religious experience, Dr. Frymer-Kensky worked to make ancient texts relevant and ethically informative for contemporary readers. She was committed to interfaith dialogue and to discovering humanistic values in ancient texts that would reach and inform a wide audience.

The faculty will include: Dr. Susan Ackerman, professor of Religion, Dartmouth College; Dr. Mary Boys, professor of Practical Theology, Union Theological Seminary; Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, professor of Bible, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Stephen Geller, professor of Bible, JTS; Rev. Dr. Katharine R. Henderson, executive vice president, Auburn Theological Seminary; Dr. Lori Lefkovitz, professor of Gender and Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Dr. Carol Meyers, professor in Religion, Duke University; Liz Swados, award-winning author, musician, director, and composer; and Dr. Jeffrey H. Tigay, professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures, University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Frymer-Kensky (1943-2006) was an outstanding scholar of the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. Combining rigorous scholarship and a feminist perspective, she offered new insights into ancient worlds and their texts that are powerfully relevant to a contemporary audience. Her books, which make major contributions to the study of biblical religion, literature, and feminist criticism, include In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth; Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion, and Reading the Women of the Bible, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2002 and a National Jewish Book Award in 2003. In 2006, the Jewish Publication Society published a collection of her articles, Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism, and she was the first woman to have her work included in JPS's Scholar of Distinction series.

I am told it is still possible to show up at the door.

Gary Wills' new book on the Gospels due Spring 2008

Hillel Italie reports for AP yesterday that Gary Wills presides over three metal music stands while at work in his study, his chosen "scores" including dictionaries of Greek, Latin and Italian.

He might need, for example, to look up the Greek word "ekklesia," which appears in the New Testament and is commonly translated as "church." A mistake, Wills says. "Ekklesia" means "gathering," an informal assembly. "Church" implies a Christian hierarchy that never existed in biblical times.


Matthew 16:18 actually. Tyndale here is helpful:
"And I say also unto thee that thou arte Peter. And upon this roocke I wyll bylde my congregacion."

Perseus has a hypertext dictionary entry for "ekkle^sia" that yields:

"Assembly, duly summoned (with texts); In LXX the Jewish congregation (with text); In NT, the Church as a body of Christians (with Matt 16:18 and other texts)."

The LXX actually has 114 instances of the noun or verb which presumably had some effect on Matthew. (Perseus is deficient in its citations from the LXX). Uses of the noun are invariably translated "assembly" or "congregation" by the NRSV e.g. at Deut 23:2, "Assembly of the Lord." Take 1Chr. 29:20 ¶ Then David said to the whole assembly, “Bless the Lord your God.” And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king.

Wills has a point. How is it helpful to separate English speaking readers of Matthew's gospel from uses of "ekkle^sia" in the Hebrew Bible? Isn't this Christian privileging?

Apparently, Wills' new book on the Gospels is due to be published in Spring 2008.

Jacqueline Huggins--first African American woman to translate the NT

Christian News Wire reports that this year, Jacqueline Huggins—through her involvement in translating the New Testament into the Filipino Kagayanen language—will become the:

-- World's first African-American female to ever complete a New Testament translation.

-- First African-American to complete a New Testament translation since the early 1900s (Efrain Alphonse completed the Valiente New Testament).

-- First African-American with Wycliffe bible translators to ever complete a New Testament translation.

In 1986, 36-year-old Huggins, a Philadelphia-born linguistics and Bible translation specialist, headed off to the Philippines on assignment with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She would spend more than 20 years translating the New Testament into the Kagayanen language, which is spoken by some 25,000. Now, with the Kagayanen translation complete, the first copies of the New Testament are expected to be delivered in February 2008.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Rev. Martin Reynolds on the Christian Struggle with Homosexuality

The New Statesman has an excellent essay by The Rev. Martin Reynolds, "The Christian Struggle with Homosexuality" following on recent events in the Vatican.

He opines, "The issue of homosexuality has taken an unexpected leap in relative importance amongst Christians of all shades in recent years. A matter seen in the past to be of minor ethical “third order” importance – now seems to be for many Christians a “first order truth” demanding absolute obedience."

I think the gender aspects of the story and the discussion are important.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sojourner Truth's Stirring Rhetoric Interpreting Women's Roles in light of Jesus' Origins

It's a poem by Robyn Bolam at the Guardian Arts Blog, based on the famous speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851, as reported by an eye-witness, Frances Gage. Bolam has shaped Sojourner's words so as to conserve the force and spontaneity of the original. The speech is not pushed into a consistently symmetrical or perfectly rounded poem, but rhetorical patterns provide a sound underlying structure.

The voice is wonderfully present. It sits us in the front row of the audience, where we can see every gesture and facial expression, and feel for ourselves the speaker's passion, frankness and humour. We glimpse other figures in the crowd, too ("that little man in black, there") and I particularly like the aside in stanza five. One of the audience has muttered to Sojourner Truth the (supposedly) elusive word ("What's this they call it?/ That's it honey - intellect") and it's a fine moment of irony. This speech is not, somehow, just a simple piece of polemic. It is the whole character: it is Sojourner Truth.

Ain't I a Woman? by Robyn Bolam

But what's all this here talkin' about?
That man over there say that woman
needs to be helped into carriages,
and lifted over ditches, and to have
the best place everywhere...
Nobody ever helps me into carriages,
or over mud-puddles, or gives me
any best place!
And ain't I a woman?

Look at me! Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns -
and no man could head me -
and ain't I a woman?

I could work as much
and eat as much as a man -
when I could get it -
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?

I have born thirteen chilern
and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother's grief,
none but Jesus heard me -
and ain't I a woman?

Then they talks about this thing in the head-
what's this they call it?
That's it honey - intellect. Now what's that got to do
with women's rights or niggers' rights?

That little man in black, there -
he say women can't have as much rights
as men, cause Christ wan't a woman...
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothin' to do with him!

If the fust woman God ever made
was strong enough
to turn the world upside down, all alone -
these women together
ought to be able to turn it back
and get it rightside up again.
And now they is asking to do it -
the men better let 'em!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Euphemisms for "sin" in MOBIA's Prodigal Son Exhibit

Maureen Mullarkey opines in the New York Sun for Oct 11 ("Scratch and Sniff Sin") that there is more than a whiff of euphemism in descriptions of sin and repentance in the Museum of Biblical Art's current exhibit of illustrations to the Lucan parable of the Prodigal Son.

She notes that "the exhibition offers a splendid selection of mainly paintings and prints that range from the 15th century to the present."

She knows enough about the parable to say, "Moral awakening is the pivot on which the story turns. Without a change of heart — metanoia the Greeks called it — there would be no expiatory homecoming, no occasion for absolution.

Emphasis on that radical contrition is vividly embodied in the works on view but absent from curatorial discussion. The sermonette reduces to easy verities a Judeo-Christian reflection on the terrible beauty of the bond of an ineffable God to a willful creation. In MoBIA's sentimental gloss the story merely "highlights the universality of love between parent and child, the consequences of misbehavior and the miracle of forgiveness." It accomplishes this for us all, "regardless of one's faith tradition or lack thereof."

The word "misbehavior" does not, she concludes, convey the gravity of sin.