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.