Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I like about Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews by Paula Fredriksen

Paula Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity, (New York: Knopf) 1999 addresses the claim of the gospels that Jesus was Messiah, the anointed one of God. This is also found in Paul: that Jesus was the son of David "according to the flesh," that is, by physical descent.

While early writers clearly redefine Messiah to bring it into line with their religious convictions about Jesus (the Messiah is one who suffers, dies and rises after three days), the concept nonetheless coheres with Jesus' crucifixion and the inscription over the cross "The King of the Jews." This discussion is very important. For those who are in search of the historical Jesus, the discussion of course speaks to the question of messianic self-consciousness. Yet Prof. Fredriksen avoids this morass into which many New Testament scholars fall, preferring instead to dwell on the meaning of the crucifixion as an historical event by the Romans intentionally acting as a deterrent to the followers of Jesus. However, I think the issue requires more discussion. Matthew, for example, as I have argued in my book Jesus the Meek King, elaborates the motif through use of Zechariah. Matthew thus opens a window both onto the Hellenistic ideal of a meek king and at the same time onto the person of Jesus born King of the Jews. Matthew does this without differentiating between who Jesus was and his own description of Jesus.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bones of St Paul found (or not)

Nicole Winfield writes for the Washington Post that Pope Benedict has reported that the bones of St Paul have indeed been confirmed in the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome:

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican's Paoline year, in honor of the apostle.

Am I missing something? Carbon dating only confirms that the bone fragments date from the first two centuries CE. What makes them specifically Pauline?

Meantime, a 4th century fresco has been identified as depicting St Paul according to Nick Pisa of the Daily Telegraph.

A photograph of the icon shows the thin face of a bearded man with large eyes, sunken nose and face on a red background surrounded with a yellow circle – the classic image of St Paul.

The image was found in the Catacomb of St Thekla, close to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which is said to be built on the site where he was buried.

Seems to me that these "discoveries" have something to do with the lectionary. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feasts of SS Peter and Paul. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Penguin's first Talmud transl. Norman Solomon

Penguin is publishing its first edition of the Talmud (June 30).

Norman Solomon’s lucid translation from the Bavli (Babylonian) is accompanied by an introduction on The Talmud’s arrangement, social and historical background, reception, and authors.

Also at Penguin's Radio Room I am enjoying Classics on Air.
A Cup Of Poetry features a reading of "The Aztec Empire" by Fran Ritchie from her book The Warrior: A Mother's Story of a Son at War (Viking 2008).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Editing manuscripts

For the next couple of weeks, I (and my co-writer) are fielding queries from the editor(s) about our manuscript, Starting New Testament Study. This kind of work is an essential but time-consuming negotiation. Good editing is skillful and rare these days.

I'll also be working on a glossary of terms. This could be quite engaging. Perspective is everything. For example:
Apocrypha: collection of Jewish texts not included in the Tanak but accepted in Catholic Bibles. OR: APOCRYPHA - Most commonly refers to books or parts of books that are accepted by Roman Catholics as properly belonging to the Old Testament, but that most Protestants do not accept as inspired. There is also a group of books called the New Testament Apocrypha, but neither Catholics nor Protestants believe they should be included in the New Testament canon. See DEUTEROCANONICAL. OR:
The term Apocrypha accurately refers to the 14 Old Testament books included in the Vulgate (the Catholic Latin edition of the Bible), but which are excluded from the Hebrew canon and which appear as an appendix in the Protestant Bible. Among them are the books of Tobit, Judith, Baruch and Maccabees.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Veronese: Wedding at Cana--Vision by Peter Greenaway

Not to be missed in Venice:

From June 6 to September 13, 2009 the San Giorgio Maggiore Island will host an extraordinary event: The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. A Vision by Peter Greenaway, a multimedia performance is the result of the collaboration between Peter Greenaway, the Dutch director of photography and special effects wizard Reiner van Brummelen and the Milan-based production company directed by Franco Laera Change Performing Arts. The latest has organised and produced all the British artist’s recent multimedia events.

The performance – a true multimedia event lasting about 50 minutes – will make spectators relive the episode of the marriage feast at Cana where Christ accomplished his first miracle, as narrated in the Gospel of John. Greenaway will point out to the public the painting’s scores of characters, from the servants preparing dishes, to the banquet guests, to the guests of honor – Jesus Christ and his mother Mary – seated at the center of the painting’s architectural composition, in an on-going crescendo culminating in the narration’s crucial moment: the miracle of water turning into wine.

Roberta Smith comments for the NY Times:

But it is the formal and spatial parsing of the image, its figures, hefty architectural setting and deep vista that is most enthralling. Often familiar art historical ploys are used, but it is still amazing to see so many of them put through their paces so quickly and effortlessly and at actual scale.

In one sequence the figures are numbered and Jesus’ centrality is confirmed with a series of radiating red lines. In another, color drains from the image and the work’s grand spatial recession is measured in white lines on grisaille. There is a shift to stark white on black and the image rotates, so that we are once more above it. Different figure groups are highlighted: you see, for example, that the arrangement of Jesus and his party presages the Last Supper.

Different reactions to the miracle — skepticism, fear, devotion — are singled out. Details are brought forward, like the two men craning out from the upper reaches of the columned edifice who have, for eternity, their own overhead view. Or the meat carver whose knife is positioned directly over Jesus’ head.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Orphans of Gold at the Pierpont Morgan Library

Here's a leaf from the Winchester Bible (around 1160-80), the largest English Romanesque Bible, depicting scenes from the life of David. Its part of a new exhibit at the Pierpont Morgan Library on "orphans" i.e. individual pages removed from their manuscripts. This single page is the most important in the Morgan’s collection (scholars refer to the artist as the Master of the Morgan Leaf). Karen Rosenberg reviews the exhibit in today's NY Times:

It is as dynamic as a modern-day comic book but with quietly emotive breaks in the action. In the final panel King David, mourning the death of his young son, buries his face in his red robe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Michael Finnissy: The Transgressive Gospel

Here's a review by George Hall of the Guardian of Michael Finnissy's world premiere of "The Transgressive Gospel" performed on June 12th at the Spitalfields Festival. The piece seems to be based on the passion narrative of Mark's Gospel using the KJV text and occasionally Tyndale's translation. Maybe it will be recorded for the rest of us to hear.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Indiana U Press sale on Mariam, the Magdalen, and the Mother

An intellectual stimulus package from IUP has my book on sale for $16.10.
Enter code WWEZXX at checkout to receive sale prices and qualified free shipping. Sale ends 6/30/09.

Here's a review:

"Good's edited book is both a challenge and a delight. The challenge is watching ten competent scholars working carefully with a multitude of languages and religious traditions to bring a fresh assessment of the woman named Mary Magdalen. The complexity of the endeavor is captured in the book's stated intention, Rather than revisiting her singularity, Mariam, the Magdalen and the Mother argues that the Miriamic roots of her composite identity and prophetic vision are prominent in all religious traditions of the first five centuries of the common era. The delight of the book is discovering the relationship of the names Miriam, Mary, and Maria, and the relationship of the women bearing these names. The scope of the book widens with essays dealing with Mary in Gnostic gospels, Islam, and Manichaeism. This work has copious footnotes, an impressive array of works cited, and a useful index. It would be a difficult task for the general reader, but advancing students, scholars, and professionals will find it revealing and rewarding. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper—level undergraduates and above. —A. L. Kolp," —Baldwin-Wallace College , 2005nov CHOICE

Monday, June 15, 2009

Susannah Heschel's "The Aryan Jesus" reviewed in Chriatian Century

Henry Knight reviews "The Aryan Jesus" by Susannah Heschel in the current issue of The Christian Century.

In penetrating detail, Heschel recounts how the ideological prejudices of Nazi Germany consumed the historical person named Jesus and replaced him with a figure totally at odds with his own Jewish identity, in which and from which he expressed his distinctive perspective on God's ways with the world. The same dynamics are at work when white supremacists replace the Galilean Jesus with a white, European image of their own prejudices. But the historical reality that cannot be ignored is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jew in critical dialogue with his own culture, people and times at the same time that he was directly challenging the culture of empire that was oppressively present in his world. Ironically, that latter discontinuity was mocked by the institute's resolute attempts to demonstrate Jesus' continuity with the ideology that informed the Third Reich.

The Jewish world in which Jesus lived and acted was culturally, politically and religiously diverse. Any conflict he experienced with it could never have been with the Jews as a whole or with a monolithic Judaism, though he clearly did have conflict with particular Jews over things Jewish and with Romans over matters dangerously political. For the reader who believes that these historical touchstones in the life of Jesus can be safely presumed, Heschel's steadfast engagement with the Eisenach institute and its teachings is an unsettling reminder that this assumption is false.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Making Podcasts for classroom use

"Performing to the Red Light" was a program on BBC Radio 4 yesterday discussing the practical and psychological difficulties musicians experience in making recordings. Musicians have time constraints given deadlines and the need to be correct. There will be many takes in search of the final recording. "In a concert, I wouldn't mind a few wrong notes," one artist said.

"Musicianship on its own isn't enough to make a good record." There have to be a series of other things: concentration, listening, the right notes, individual excellence balancing collective excellence, and sustaining the performance. Then there are outside factors over which performers have no control.

It's not unlike making a podcast without a classroom full of students. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you just do it knowing that you will remake that podcast again. In making the Greek podcasts, we just did them on the first take without asking for editing and splicing. So we haven't got a perfect copy in all cases. I've made mistakes that I acknowledged on the podcast and probably ones that others will point out. I suppose that does give you the flavor of a classroom.

And I know that I must pace myself. I simply became tired after recording two podcasts on the first take every day for five days for a two-week period. And my better performance/presentation depends on a good night's sleep the night before, energy level, and careful preparation. At the same time I was surprised to be exhausted every afternoon for two weeks. I'm sure that some of that is that there is no energizing from what would be a good classroom experience in real time--there's no "classroom high."

Unexpected problems included the microphone feedback which we couldn't control and seemed to have something to do with the lights of the projector and their interaction with the microphone attached to me. The cameraman and I were using a new camera so no one knew how to solve this problem.

But teaching is a dynamic between classroom participants and that hasn't so far been part of my own podcasts. I'd like to have the experience of recording a live class. At the same time, that could also be an exclusionary experience for podcast viewers.

Reith Lectures 2009: Prof Michael Sandel

The Reith Lectures this year are on the subject of A New Citizenship. Prof Michael Sandel attempts to make sense of the market crisis and political responses to it. He notes that there is a great frustration with politicians and a need to rejuvenate public discourse so that it reflect interest in the common good and debates about moral and spiritual questions rather than the behavior of politicians.

Lecture 1: Markets and Morals was given yesterday on Radio 4 and will be available for several more days.

Prof Sandel argues in the first lecture that a politics of the common good requires reflection on what it means to be a citizen. What would a morally engaged public life be like? We need to address the role of markets and in particular the moral limits of markets. Presently we are living in a time when market triumphalism has given way to a new market skepticism. Market need to be reconnected to values.

Its not a question of reigning in greed. The alternative is to rethink the reach of markets into spheres where they don't belong. We need to recognise that there are some things that money can't buy. For example, we have seen the proliferation of public schools, the outsourcing of war to private contractors, the increase of private guards, the aggressive marketing of drugs in the media and the notion that school results can be achieved by paying children to read or the outsourcing of refugees to various nations. But refugees are not revenue sources. They are humans in peril. Marketing norms leave their mark and erode non-marketing values.

What's wrong with paying the child to read a book? Marketing is not an innocent motivation. The monetary incentive undermines the moral value of reading. Reading books is not a matter of making money. It is a benefit of a different worth.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Rethinking the Genitive Absolute

A good 2005 article by Lois K. Fuller, "The 'Genitive Absolute' in New Testament/Hellenistic Greek: A Proposal for Clearer Understanding" makes the case that the so-called Genitive Absolute is a genitive construction for bringing an item of information as a piece of necessary prior knowledge essential to the whole understanding of the sentence, paragraph or discourse.

This makes complete sense to me and modifies the usual discussion of the Genitive Absolute as a construction using a participle and a noun or pronoun in the genitive not directly related to the subject of the sentence.

For example, Mark 14:33, "Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders" uses a genitive construction "while he was still speaking" which could be regarded as inessential to the arrival of Judas who is about to hand Jesus over. But in Gethsemane, Jesus in prayer to God wrestles with the dreadful challenge he is facing. In the next passage, Jesus' arrest presents a narrative tension between Jesus as acted upon (arrested) and as actor or agent in the proceedings (as he has been in Gethsemane). Mark 14:33 makes this narratively clear because the genitive construction identifies Jesus as still speaking at the time that something else happens, namely, the attempt to arrest him.

Mark 5:35 is another example of this construction: "While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” In this episode, Jesus' reading of the situation prevails: "But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he describes the child as not dead but sleeping.

In these two examples, the genitive absolutes keep the counter point of Jesus' perspective in Mark's gospel alive. They offer a voice for the reader to hear against a cacophony of other voices.

Monday, June 08, 2009

2009 Terry Lectureship at Yale: Marilynne Robinson

Here is a link to the 2009 Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale this year given by Marilynne Robinson. Ms. Robinson's theme is "Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self." The lectures, titled "On Human Nature," "The Strange History of Altruism," "The Freudian Self," and "Thinking Again," explore the significance of reflection and the power of unvoiced thoughts in defining the self.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Walking Tour of New York's Independent Bookstores

For all you book-lovers who have not yet adopted Kindle, here's a non-internet, walking guide to New York City Independent bookstores. Yes, it DOES include Brooklyn! And what about 192 books in Chelsea?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Our wonderful students doing summer reading!

Aren't they marvelous? Thank you so much, Anna and Ed! Enjoy the UK, especially Canterbury this week.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Use of the Bible in Contemporary Debates: Aberdeen Press and Journal

Today's Press and Journal from Aberdeen has a good piece by Ron Ferguson on the use of the Bible in contemporary debates and the need to retain multiple interpretations. The proximate cause is the debate around the appointment of The Rev. Scott Rennie as minister of Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen. But the author uses the diversity of biblical texts as the warrant for a diversity of biblical interpretations. At stake is the authority of the bible not particular passages invoked in the debate about same-sex relations.

The challenge for today’s Churches is one of the interpretation of scriptures which were originally written to address quite different situations. Many of the dietary and purity laws of the Old Testament, for instance, were very much of their times.

How much of these teachings is directly applicable to us in the Year of Our Lord 2009? Which teachings are binding today, and which are well past their sell-by date? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. We do not have the original manuscripts. Every translation from Hebrew or Greek into, say, English, is itself a piece of interpretation. Scholars genuinely disagree about some of these interpretations.

Many parts of the Bible are clearly directly applicable to today’s Church and today’s world. Others are not.

Here's the conclusion:

I believe that the Church needs both “conservatives” and “liberals”. Neither party holds the franchise on biblical truth.

We need those who pull us towards the tradition, and those who pull us towards the modern world. The tension of these different tugs may help us to stand upright on the slippery slope of Christian decision-making.

On that dangerous gradient, the Kirk may even manage to be a tear-stained community of brokenness and grace: which is where, I believe, God is calling the Church to be.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Britten's War Requiem and the Sacrifice of Isaac

We are going to a performance of Britten's War Requiem with the New York Philharmonic next week.

The central poem in the War Requiem is “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” in which the poet Wilfred Owen retells the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. In the Bible, the angel intercedes and Abraham sacrifices a ram instead. But Owen’s poem reads: “Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, / And builded parapets and trenches there / And stretched forth the knife to slay his son. / When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, / Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, / Neither do anything to him, thy son./… But the old man would not so, but slew his son,--/ And half the seed of Europe, one by one”—a devastating indictment of those who would rather make war than find a way to peace. Owen died one week before the Armistice was declared, felled by a sniper’s bullet.