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