Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Conclusion on the adoption brouhaha in the UK

From this mornings "Thought for the Day" by Jonathan Bartley comes the announcement already made by Prime Minister Blair that there will be no opt-out for Catholic adoption agencies from the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

On January 30th the ABC reiterated his position on the matter which is rather more nuanced than is reflected in the press:-

In response to a question on the UK Government announcement on the implementation of Sexual Orientation Regulations:

“I’ll wait to see I think what the period of negotiation that lies ahead will bring, to see whether the concerns of the Catholic Church has raised are going to be addressed. But what we’d most want to do is to disentangle two things. There’s a particular issue on which the Catholic church has taken a stand, as other Christians have; and there’s a general issue about the rights of the state and the rights of conscience especially in voluntary bodies. Now that second question is one that, I think, is by no means restricted to this issue. And I think it’s not going to go away, so I would like to see some more serious debate now about that particular question – what are the limits, if there are limits, to the State’s power to control and determine the actions of voluntary bodies within it, in pursuit of what are quite proper goals of non-discrimination. So I hope there’ll be a debate about that.”

In a January 23rd letter written with Bishop Sentamu the principle had been expressed thus:-

"The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning."

A valid point which would have had much more weight if it had been the case in the past that religious bodies like the C of E had stood up for underpriviledged minorities criminalized in earlier times by the state.

"Thought for the Day" concludes with this useful reflection:-

The choice for churches doesn't have to be between a compromise of conscience on the one hand, and complete withdrawal from public life on the other. This is however a decision which increasingly appears to mean choosing either to love unconditionally - or not love at all. And at a time when the medium is the message, this is a golden opportunity for the churches to show that Christians can once again be known by their love.

Monday, January 29, 2007

R. S. Thomas #3

Emerging
Not as in the old days I pray,
God. My life is not what it was...
Once I would have asked
healing. I go now to be doctored...
to lend my flesh as manuscript of the great poem
Of the scalpel. I would have knelt
long, wrestling with you, wearing
you down. Hear my prayer Lord, hear my prayer.
As though you were deaf, myriads of mortals
have kept up their shrill
cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.

It begins to appear
this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me...I begin to recognize
you anew, God of form and number.
There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way
is, it leads not back to the snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Adoption Row in the UK

Blogging is the tip of an iceberg and this week's example is the row in the UK over implementation of the Equality Act in regard to adoption. Here's a useful commentary by Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia. Simon Barrow also writes for the Guardian and here is this week's comment on the same topic. For a sense of how this is playing out in the public arena, look at published letters e.g. from the Guardian.

Simon Barrow, it turns out, is an old friend of the family. His father and my parents were in Kenya as missionaries together. We met occasionally as children. It is wonderful to be back in touch again as adults and to appreciate his work for the church.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

R&E Newsweekly: Turkey's Christian Roots

On Sunday evening Jan 19th, PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly reported on Turkey's Christian Roots. A reporter for R&E, Kim Lawton, interviewed Allen Callahan, from the Society of Biblical Studies. He is also an interim chaplain at Brown University and since 2003, Professor of New Testament at the Seminário Teológico Batista de Nordeste in Bahia, Brazil.

The interview includes images from Ephesus, Hierapolis, and archaelogical material from Turkey. Topics covered include the tradition that Mary spent her last days in Ephesus on account of the scene in John 19 where Jesus from the cross says to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then he says to the beloved disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour, John reports, the disciple took her to his house. Allen Callahan renders the scene thus:-

Jesus says from the cross, "Mother, behold your son," then turns to the beloved disciple and says, "Son, behold your mother." He entrusts his mother to the care of the beloved disciple, this disciple whom he loves.

Actually, Jesus never calls his mother, "Mother!" in the gospel of John. And he never addresses the BD as "Son!" in John 19 from his mother's (or anyone else's) perspective. In fact the whole question of the gender of the BD has been a topic of Sandra Schneider's scholarship on John. Callahan's retelling of the scene is a classic misremembering of the last dialogue of Jesus from the cross according to John's gospel. Why Jesus calls his mother and other women "Woman!" in Cana (chap 2; chap 4--the Samaritan woman; chap 20--Mariam of Magdala) is another investigation. But the point of this post is to commend the PBS website and the topic of Turkey's Christian past.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Listening


On Saturdays or shortly therafter I listen to BBC's CD Review (its on their website for 7 days after being broadcast unless you download the program). I confess I find it hard only (just) to listen--I'm in fact listening as I'm blogging. Actually, I've always found it helpful to be thinking about something and then to listen to music. It has a beneficial effect on thinking.

I've been musing on use of the verb "to listen" in Mark 4 as evidence of a transition from orality to written material. Jesus' parable begins thus: "Listen! Behold! The sower went out to sow..." (its a rare translation that keeps both the present plural imperative and the exclamation--Tyndale however does) and concludes, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."

"When the disciples asked for a model of spirituality that they could imitate, all that the Master said was: Hush! Listen!" (Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom).

Commentators on Mark 4 invariably point out comparisons with the "Shema" in Deut. 6:4 which is cited by Jesus in Mark 12:29-30.

People hear the word in several ways: as nonsense, superficially, temporarily (it goes in one ear and out the other), and as internalized.

Thus in Mark 4,
* those on the outside see but do not perceive and hear but do not comprehend
* disciples/others hear "the sown word" but immediately Satan tears it out of them
* disciples/others hear the word and grasp it with great joy temporarily
* disciples/others are those hearing the word but cares and longings entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful
* disciples/others hear the word and accept it and it bears fruit

With all these ways of hearing it is no wonder that Jesus says (v.24), "Heed how you hear." But the parable is not just a warning about hearing in specific ways. Its a statement that people hear in these different ways. Thus the admonition, "Heed how you hear!" (v.24) addressed to disciples is an intensification of "Listen!" at the opening of the parable of the sower.

After the parables follows an example of immediate obedient listening, this time by the wind and the sea. They show the disciples how to listen/attend to Jesus' commands: the wind "ceased" (aorist). Its the narrator who observes the disciples exclamation, "Who is this that even the wind and sea hear/obey (obey is a compound of the verb to hear) him?" So Jesus' command to listen is explored narratively through Jesus' dialogue with the disciples for understandings and misunderstandings of hearing including obedient hearing as a command to silence by rebellious powers of nature.

Friday, January 19, 2007

New Catalog from Religious Publishing House minus women

Yesterday a large glossy 65 page catalog from a religious publishing house arrived. As they seem to do, possibly because "biblical studies" begins with "B," the opening 14 pages covered biblical grammar, commentaries, and reference books in English and Spanish. I've discovered that there aren't any women scholars publishing anything new in my field of biblical studies from this publishing house except for one, "Women's Evangelical Commentary." So, being charitable but somewhat irritated, I moved to other areas. There are no women publishing anything in preaching. There's one in worship. And --would you believe--ONE author in youth ministry. There are certainly none in leadership --duh--but there IS a resource guide for women's ministry. 'Nuff said?

And if there are readers from such publishing houses, take a look, gentlemen, at Anne Graham Lotz's post this week on the clarity of the Bible regarding gender questions.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What Would Jesus Do? Get screened!

According to the New York Times, the American Cancer Society reports a drop in cancer deaths two years in a row.

"This second consecutive drop in the number of actual cancer deaths, much steeper than the first, shows last year's historic drop was no fluke," says John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. "The hard work towards preventing cancer, catching it early, and making treatment more effective is paying dramatic, lifesaving dividends."

By far the greatest decreases in mortality have been in colorectal cancer — 1,110 fewer deaths in men, 1,094 fewer in women.

What would Jesus do? Get screened!

Dr. Elizabeth Ward, a managing director in epidemiology and surveillance at the cancer society, said the most important factor in the decrease was screening for colorectal cancer, which can detect the disease early when it is most treatable, or even prevent it entirely by finding precancerous polyps, which can be removed before they turn malignant. Progress has been significant even though only about half the adults who should be screened have been. If more people were screened, there would be even steeper declines in death and the incidence of the disease.

The screening methods include stool tests; colonoscopy, which examines the entire large intestine; and sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lower part of it.


I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 44. As a suvivor, I cannot stress the importance of early detection enough.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is marmalade disappearing?


Alan Coren in the Times (UK) laments the disappearance of marmalade. Oh no! Of course its nostalgic to remember breakfasts growing up with toast and marmalade. I like marmalade myself. My mother continues to make it as she and my father eat it every day. Just this week we were discussing marmalade she made over three days with oranges, lemons and grapefruit. According to the Guardian, fewer and fewer people do. Not people my age of course. 81% of all marmalade sold in the UK is eaten by the over-45s. Marmalade is seen as part of the colonial heritage along with M&S knickers. Speaking only for myself I like the citrus taste of marmalade whether it be orange or lime or grapefruit or lemon and I recommend it with enthusiasm! (It goes well with sausages)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

R. S. Thomas #2



Cyclamen

They are white moths
With wings
Lifted
Over a dark water
In act to fly,
Yet stayed
By their frail images
In its mahogany depths

Monday, January 15, 2007

Making Bibles (Sackler Exhibit revisited)


This week's New Republic contains a somewhat breathless article "Getting the Word Out" by Anthony Grafton for the issue dated 1/22.

Having already posted on my visit to the Sackler exhibit in November, I make the following comments on the Grafton piece:

Grafton makes much of the photo of Solomon Schechter with the Cairo Genizah in Cambridge UL and indeed it is given pride of place in the exhibit being the first image that you see:

Bearded and saturnine, the great scholar clutches his forehead as he contemplates one of the thousands of texts that had to be catalogued and identified and reassembled like so many lost mosaics before the Genizah could release its secrets about the history of Judaism and Christianity.

Taken together, photograph and heap embody the scholar's lot--a curse of Tantalus, which condemns its victims to an endless desire for and an impossible pursuit of the whole past, the whole book, the whole truth. Beauty and truth are fragile. Often they survive only as fragments. At the core of this show is a hymn of praise to the slow, grinding work of those forgotten Bartleby-like creatures, the scribes and the scholars, those who first made and those who reassembled the fragments over the millennia, and by doing so preserved and illuminated the textual traditions of the human race.

But alas, the photograph is staged as I pointed out in November. When he worked on the manuscripts, Schechter could only do so in short bursts and then with a mask. Not as photogenic, of course. But it wouldn't be hard to find examples of similar painstaking scholarly work.

What about Hartmut Stegemann's technique for reconstructing the column arrangement of a whole Dead Sea Scroll? Placement of the fragments in order and in the right columns was based on the shapes and damage-patterns of the fragments, and the width of the folds in the manuscripts. Stegemann's method has been verified by independent reconstructions of the Hodayot Scroll (1QHa) by Stegemann and Puech, and cross-verified by the texts of the Cave 4 Hodayot manuscripts.

Grafton adds further examples of ancient scribes and copyists:-

The range of scholars one meets here is extraordinary: they come from everywhere, from the Latin West to far in the East, and they include women as well as men. The Selden Acts of the Apostles bears what seems to be the scratched signature of Abbess Eadburh of Minster-in-Thanet, a correspondent of Saint Boniface and one of many holy women who copied manuscripts. Most electrifying of all is a fragment of the Aleppo codex of the Hebrew Bible. Known as HaKeter, or "the crown," this manuscript was copied in the tenth century in Tiberias, the citadel of Hebrew grammar, by Solomon ben Buya'a. Aaron ben Moshe ben Asher, the last member of a distinguished family, added the commentary, vowel points, and accent marks. The oldest Hebrew Bible in one volume, this may also have been the first one ever made as a single, coherent book, by a scribe and a scholar working together from start to finish.


He concludes from these observations that no single bible represents the word of God by itself:

Every one of them derives from beautiful but imperfect handwritten books like those displayed here, many of which, perhaps most, omit verses and texts that a modern American would normally expect to find. Only by reading each version--sometimes, each of the many versions of a version--in context can we see what they meant to their creators.

Just to illustrate this point further, the exhibit contains a leaf from Codex Caesariensis (6th C) normally in the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum here in New York City. On the leaf is the text of Matthew 15:38-17:7 in large silver uncial letters in two columns of 16 lines including the words of Jesus:-

"When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today for the sky is red and threatening.'" These verses (16:2-3) are not found in either Codex Vaticanus or Sinaiticus but are in other Byzantine text types like Codex Sinopensis. Are they in your Bible?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Refugees

The Iraq war has resulted in displacement of 2 million Iraqis (you may have to login to this opinion piece from the NY Times). It could mean the end of the presence of Iraqi Christians and other minorities that have lived there for over two thousand years according to an article by Felice D. Gaer and Charles J. Chaput for the Washington Times (Dec 22, 2006).

Amid the widely publicized cycle of Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian violence in Iraq, members of non-Muslim religious minorities continue to suffer a disproportionate burden of violent attacks and other human-rights abuses. Minority communities, including Christians, Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans, have been forced to fend for themselves, and are particularly vulnerable given their lack of a tribal or militia structure to provide for their security. The repeated targeting of Iraqi religious minorities in coordinated bombing attacks and other violence has forced many worshippers to cease attending religious services or participating in religious events. Moreover, they face a continuing climate of impunity.

As a result of these attacks, Iraqi ChaldoAssyrians and Sabean Mandaeans are fleeing Iraq in numbers disproportionate to their size. While they constitute less than 3 percent of the Iraqi population, they represent approximately 40 percent of those who have fled Iraq seeking refugee status over the past three years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Numbering at least 100,000, these refugees are dispersed today in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Iran and Lebanon.

In the countries to which they have fled, their welcome is wearing thin. Iraqi refugees live in fear that they have no legal protection and no work opportunities in the countries where they have sought refuge, and are vulnerable to forced repatriation.


The article's authors plead that the United States should create new or expand existing options, independent of UNHCR, for allowing members of Iraq's ChaldoAssyrian and Sabean Mandaean religious minority communities to access the U.S. refugee program. It should also urge UNHCR to assess all claims from Iraqi asylum seekers without delay.

Thousands of Iraqis are suffering and fleeing their country, and refugee protections should be available to all of them. Iraq's Christian and other religious minority communities are particularly vulnerable, and UNHCR, the United States and other nations must recognize their special circumstances and address their needs. Surely countries can make "room at the inn" for these vulnerable people so badly in need of help.

In an OpEd piece for the LA Times (Jan 13, 2006), Anna Husarska describes the case of a Dinka man named Kur who had been proposed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement to a third country. His application — for himself, his wife Angelina and their six children — was submitted to the United States by the commissioner's office.

In the last six months, I have met many refugees around the world — Burmese Karen in Thailand, Burmese Chin in Malaysia, Lao Hmong in Thailand, Eritreans in Ethiopia — whose cases were put "on hold" by U.S. authorities because the organizations to which the refugees had belonged were later designated as terrorist. But I never saw a blunt refusal until I saw Kur's letter.

What's particularly upsetting is that those "on hold" are, in many cases, heroic freedom fighters who struggled for democracy against brutal dictatorships (like the Burmese junta or the Laotian communists) or even, sometimes, people who had been recruited to fight by the Unites States (like the Lao Hmong or the Vietnamese Montagnards).

The reason for this bizarre treatment is that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. adopted a very broad definition of "terrorist activity" in American law. This overzealous legislative approach means that thousands of genuine refugees who participated in armed insurgencies — even those friendly to (and in some cases supported by) the United States — are now treated as a threat to American security.

It's not just those who participated in the insurgencies. Those who provided "material support" to these combatants can be barred too. The global effect of this draconian law has been devastating: Of the 70,000 slots allotted in 2006 for new refugees by the traditionally hospitable U.S. resettlement program, only 41,000 were filled. According to estimates from the International Rescue Committee and other refugee organizations, about half of the 29,000 excluded were due to the "terrorist" and "material support" provisions.


On Thursday, the Bush administration acknowledged the "unintended consequences" of the post-9/11 laws. Officials from the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security announced plans to expand the waiver program, some of which will require a vote in Congress. The officials named in particular Cuban, Tibetan and additional Burmese freedom-fighter groups whose supporters and members could get special consideration for admission to the United States.

But the waiver program is a partial solution since it is time-consuming. Husarska concludes with a plea that Congress must act to broadly amend the immigration law so that all bona fide refugees can be easily and fairly considered for refugee or asylum status, not punished for the courage and commitment they demonstrated fighting for peace and democracy in their homelands.

Now from today's UK Observer comes an article by Ed Vulliamy, "Welcome to the new Holy Land" about the dynamic effect on UK city RC churches of legal and illegal waves of immigrants.

He comments:
The burgeoning Catholic congregations are a sudden but barely discussed result of mass immigration and constitute a major moment in the complex history of the faith here. By tradition, British Catholicism had become a strange alliance - in counterpoint to, and often in defiance of, the Anglican establishment - between a refusenik aristocracy and intelligensia and the Irish masses, supplemented by a few Italians and Poles. But in the past decade, with European Union enlargement, British Catholicism has become a global village. The new faces of all colours not only revive the church but radically redefine it. Because the new communicants are strangers, mostly poor, often exploited and here illegally, the church becomes their home from home, obliged to rediscover that subversion innate to the faith here - for all its global power - since the crown and establishment split from Rome.

What does it now mean to be a Roman Catholic in Britain? The demographic studies are not yet available.

At St. Peter's Woolwich, 75 nationalities, mostly from across Africa but also South America, Asia and Europe, comprise its congregation. On Advent Sunday there was an extended Mass featuring music and later food from 34 of them. This is where Monya the Rastafarian from Zimbabwe, with his locks and tri-coloured beads, takes communion along with the Filipino ladies who work on the ticket counter at Tower Bridge and in local hospitals. This church is where Cliff Pinto from Uganda met Eva Krejcarova from the Czech Republic. 'We were married here, and soon our child will be baptised here,' says Pinto, patting Eva's stomach. This is where the local Ghanaian community does its business in the church hall, while Hannah Mulvihill, who cleaned the local library at 6am every morning for 25 years, reflects, in her Irish accent: 'It was a full church but then the Irish died or went back to Ireland and it emptied. Then they all started coming. At first it was a bit... er, well, I'm not very good at expressing myself... But now it's lovely, having the church full again and these people from all over.'

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Primate of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has emphasised the integration of the faith into British society. But last May Day he staged an extraordinary Migrant Mass at Westminster Cathedral after which he argued the case for the regularisation of undocumented migrants.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff is tipped to succeed him. The article continues by quoting him:

Gradually we need to integrate immigrants into the parishes, which means locating them, supporting them, helping them with registration. But the real priority is to get their children into our schools and educate them' - He is genial and hospitable but the lexicon of the man likely to lead the new tapestry of British Catholicism through its next phase is one of steel, echoing that of Pope Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II: 'This is now a battlefield,' he says plainly, 'in a materialist society where many young people have no moral values at all, a society which does not allow a child to remain a child and which transmits rubbish whenever I turn on the TV. We face an aggressive secularism, imposing its values on people while accusing us of trying to impose ours. We are not imposing anything, we are proposing a way of life that challenges secular materialism and leads to physical, emotional and cultural as well as spiritual well-being, a just life for the common good.'

Such immigrants will undoubtedly have a new and different voice on moral issues of our times once their immigrant status is resolved.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

R. S. Thomas part 1

My thought for the day is a poem by the Welsh poet R.S.Thomas entitled "Adjustments":

Never known as anything
but an absence, I dare not name him
as God. Yet the adjustments
are made. There is an unseen
power, whose sphere is the cell
and the electron. We never catch
him at work, but can only say,
coming suddenly upon an amendment,
that here he has been...

Patiently with invisible structures
he builds, and as patiently
we must pray, surrendering the ordering
of the ingredients to a wisdom that
is beyond our own. We must change the mood
to the passive...Let the bomb
swerve. Let the raised knife of the murderer
be somehow deflected. There are no
laws there other than the limits of
our understanding. Remembering rock
penetrated by glass blade, corrected
by water, we must ask rather
for the transformation of the will
to evil, for more loving
mutations, for the better ventilating
of the atmosphere of the closed mind.

Ronald Stuart Thomas was one of the most extraordinary literary figures of the twentieth century. He was born in 1913 and died in 2000. He was an Anglican priest in remote Welsh parishes for all of his working life. He wrote in English and spoke in the accents of an upper class Englishman (which he was not by birth). He was a strong, even fanatical, Welsh nationalist, who learned Welsh at 30 and sometimes pretended not to speak English. Though a Christian, he was by no means always charitable. He was known for his awkwardness and taciturnity; most photographs show him as formidable, bad-tempered, and apparently humorless.

In this poem, a trace of the theme pervading his work can be seen. “Are not three-quarters of our modern ills,” he asked, “due to the fact that we have forgotten how to live . . . ?” We adjust ourselves in the bending fabric of our relationships: marriage, family, friendships; in formation through daily prayer, and corporate worship. In these circumstances we are consciously passive more often than active agents. But extraordinary things happen in the lines using the subjunctive "Let" going way beyond human expectations of what is possible.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Gospel of Truth and the proposed Iraq surge

I'm writing a commissioned piece on the Gospel of Truth for a forthcoming biblical dictionary. For those who don't know this early Christian Valentinian text, the link above is a good place to start. See also Einar Thomassen's new book, The Spiritual Seed, the Church of the Valentinians. Valentinus lived in Rome in the mid-second century. Followers of Valentinus, the Valentinians, described themselves as a Christian ekklesia (community), and a "spiritual seed" initiation into which was by means of baptism. Their liturgies included regular chanting of psalms. Valentinian sacraments included ritual annointing.

The Gospel of Truth is an astonishingly powerful example of a Valentinian Christian sermon. It articulates the movement of salvation from ignorance to knowledge (gnosis). Near the beginning, the text describes ignorance causing agitation and fear and its palpable effects: "agitation grew dense like a fog so that no one could see." In such a climate of untruth, personified Error grows powerful and creates from matter a substance that gives a form to substitutes for the truth. Error's creations of forgetfulness and fear are snares for the unwary, holding people captive and blind.

To overcome the fog of ignorance, forgetfulness must be overturned. The moment knowledge of one's true origins from the heavenly realm is regained (Valentinians believe knowledge lies dormant in humanity), error ceases to exist as it has no root. It is by means of the role of Jesus as Savior, bringing a way that is truth and knowledge, that Jesus awakens within humanity awareness of its identity as children of God.

Our present plight in regard to Iraq seems well described as a fog brought about by ignorance. In this fog, Error has fashioned things that seem to have great form and substance but which are in fact lies and misconceptions. What all of us on the left and right have to determine is how to overcome fear and find the best way to dissipate fog.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

MBR review of Jesus' Family Values

The Midwest Book Review Library Bookwatch for January 2007 reviewed my book:

Jesus' Family Values
Deirdre Good
Seabury Books
445 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016
1596270276 $15.00

Written by Professor of New Testament (The General Theological Seminary, New York City) Deirdre Good, Jesus' Family Values is a rigorously scholarly examination of exactly what "family values" and dimensions of the family were in the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, and precisely what the New Testament has to say - and what it doesn't say - about such matters. Setting scripture in a firm and well-researched historical context, and meticulously noting the nuances of translation as well as which scriptures are considered apocryphal by which churches other factors influencing their interpretation, Jesus' Family Values makes every effort to analytically answer the questions: What were Jesus Christ's family values, and those of his apostles? What does this mean for modern Christians with abiding faith in both God and the importance of family? Of especial note is the keen observation that today's suburban family household divorced from the workplace perhaps resembles Victorian era households more than those of Jesus' time. A desperately needed antidote to proponents of "family values" who quote or misquote snippets of scripture to support specific narrow views, Jesus' Family Values places the highest value of all on truth - and concerning such thorny and controversial topics such as religion, the best way to reach the truth is to offer as much research, evidence, broad-ranging interpretation, and logical means of analysis as reasonably possible and let the reader come to his or her own informed conclusions, precisely as Deirdre Good has done. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New books on the Gospel of Judas


We can all sit back and watch another deluge of books on the Gospel of Judas this Spring.

At the 2006 Frankfurt Book Fair, there was a discussion amongst Prof. Dr. Gregor Wurst, editor of the Judas Gospel, and coptologist Prof. Dr. Stephen Emmel on the problems of restauration with Dr. Ulf von Rauchhaupt, of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

N. T. Wright says in a Christianity Today interview for Jan 2007 (scroll down if you follow the link--you know how wordy the good Bishop is);

I've just written a book on the Gospel of Judas. I wanted to write the book because the people who published the Gospel of Judas make the most extraordinary and grandiose claims for it and for the whole worldview of Gnosticism that it represents. They're trying to claim that this worldview beats orthodox Christianity hands down. [They say] orthodox Christianity is boring and dull and miserable and restrictive, whereas Gnosticism is exciting and dynamic and vibrant and countercultural. I'm fascinated at why all sorts of people in America and elsewhere badly want this to be true.

The title of the book published by Baker in Oct 2006 is Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth About Christianity? Simon Gathercole has a book in press with Oxford University Press on the gospel which should be out this Spring. And on the popular side, Geffrey Archer the british novelist will publish a book with MacMillan, The Gospel According to Judas, writes the Sunday Times on Jan 7th. According to Jeffrey Archer, 80% of the book is due to the Australian scholar Frank Maloney.

Elaine Pagels and Karen King have a book coming out in March with Viking, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. Eerdmans will publish The Lost Gospel of Judas : Separating Fact from Fiction by Stanley Porter and Gordon L. Heath. Harper Collins has already published The Secrets of Judas Unabridged by James M. Robinson. Doubleday must be jumping on the bandwagon, surely.

Newest scholarship (Louis Painchaud of the University of Laval) we heard from at the SBL in November suggests that the translation made intially in the National Geographic production of the text is mistaken in its optimistic assessment of the role and person of Judas. An abstract of Painchaud's paper reproduced with permission at Paleojudaica.com proposes that "A close reading of the Gospel of Judas reveals a totally different picture. Judas is guilty of sacrificing the man who wore Jesus, he is a demon, misled by his star, and he will never make it to the place reserved for the Holy Generation." Presumably we can expect a(nother) edition of the text by Rodolphe Kasser, the Coptic expert on the National Geographic team that produced the initial translation.

BTW, I'm going to be talking about the Gospel of Judas on February 8 at General Seminary in New York City as part of a series on noncanonical texts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Judas, Thomas, Philip and Mary.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Belated Epiphany Musings


Gerald O'Collins has a piece in this month's Tablet on Matthew's account of the Magi. His argument is that:-

In the way he tells the story of the Magi, Matthew inserts at least three contrasts: opportunities lost or taken, human wickedness overcome by the loving goodness of God, and a birth that prefigures a violent death.

Under "lost opportunities" O'Collins lists the Magi themselves as the first Gentile outsiders who, unlike many of Matthew's fellow Jews, attain faith in Jesus. Another example is the centurion at the cross whose confession identifies Jesus as God's Son.

However, in the wider context of the whole gospel, a daughter of a ruler (of the synagogue) receives Jesus' healing touch, while the daughter of a proselyte is cured. In the synagogue, a man's withered hand is restored. And the disciples who are after all Jewish, are the recipients of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount on through long speeches. They gradually form a community around Jesus praying the Lord's Prayer and learning about community discipline.

Thus it might be better to speak of the Magi intimating Jesus' royal status by doing him homage. Their behavior contrasts to that of Herod. The Magi infer what becomes explicit in the inscription over the cross. Matthew's Herod is the foil for Jesus' kingship. The Magi's veneration of the baby anticipates the exact same behavior from a leper and others in the gospel. They provide not contrast but example.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dealing with Flight Claustrophobia and Travel Delays

Yesterday I flew into New York City for a Sunday engagement. The flight from Portland, Maine was in a small jet. It usually takes an hour. Security lines, usually long in the summer, were non-existent. Alas, that was the only easy point.

First was news of a delay in take off due to rain in Newark. A neighboring flight to Washington DC took off on time so perhaps the rain had moved North from DC to New Jersey, I thought.

I've learned to scrutinize announcements about flights after last summer's experience. My 7 and 1/2 year old niece and I were flying from London to Boston. Three hours into the flight, an announcer surprised us with the news that the flight had turned around and that we were flying back to London due to an incident in Boston. My first thought was 9/11--a terrorist attack in Boston. Shortly therafter, we heard from the cabin crew that no one was allowed to leave seats and that names would be put on a list to visit the bathroom. This seemed odd and certainly not connected to anything in Boston. Everyone around us had children and we were doing our best to add names to lists for everyone's children to visit bathrooms. When we landed back at Heathrow, our plane was shunted off to a far runway and London Police vans drew up next to the plane. The police took a man and two female travelling companions off the plane. We were then given overnight accomodations and resumed the journey the next day. Jossie was miffed that she lost a day of her holiday :)

We later learned that one of our passengers was on a no-fly list in Boston (there may be different ones in other US cities and none at all in other European cities) and that names of passengers were only sent to the landing city after the flight took off. He was questioned in London and subsequently released. I understand that this policy is being revisited.

Back to yesterday. The 1.30pm flight was rescheduled for a 2.30pm departure. Someone had the bright idea of putting passengers on the plane anyway so we sat on the runway between 1.30 and 4pm when we finally took off for Newark. Perhaps on the runway we were poised for a quick take off once the Newark air-controllers could fit us into a busy wet Friday evening in New Jersey (so the frequent changes in our announced departure time implied).

The moral of the story is that even if you don't have a lot of toothpaste in your hand luggage, a good book or charged ipod is essential even for a short flight. I had the former plus the Boston Globe, the WSJ, and the New York Times, and two Sudokus from the Guardian classified "hard." All these helped the claustrophobia of being cooped up in a small plane for five hours. Here are some other ideas from the Washington Post.

Meantime back in New York City, Penn Station was shut down for 2 hours at the rush hour and LIRR passengers leaving the city were requested to travel on the eline to Queens to pick up connections. Newspapers reported that a boy had been killed on the LIRR tracks.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Jon Meacham on the faith of Gerald Ford

Article from today's Jan 2nd Washington Post by Jon Meacham, "The Quality of His Mercy: The Public Faith that shaped Ford's Pardon Decision" is another insight into the personal beliefs of an American President for this newish American citizen.

I'm well aware of contrary opinions on Slate by Christopher Hitchens so I suppose the best I can say is that I read Meacham on Ford's faith with eyes wide open.