Monday, February 22, 2010

Aftermath of a project

Yesterday over forty people came to a workshop my co-presenter and I had been planning for about two years. Musicians and scholars, lay people and seminarians, faculty and students, Christians and Jews all came together for a four hour multi-sensory workshop to think about ways we hear, interpret and sing Psalms and Canticles from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Today I'm in the aftermath reflecting on the event and what it meant. Its a rare moment in my (perhaps any) academic life and I'm savoring it.

Everyone knows that musical settings of Psalms and Canticles affects their meaning. Our musicians sang the same Psalm in different settings to let us hear this. For example, here's a well-known setting of Psalm 23 by Howard Goodall, used as the theme tune for "The Vicar of Dibley." What does this setting convey to you? Classic FM (a UK Radio station) has put it onto their CD "Relaxing Classics" which tells you how they view it. Also well-known is the setting of Psalm 23 by Crimond, often played at funerals.

We do not own the Bible. So what do Christians know about use of Psalms in other religious settings? We learnt that in Jewish tradition, Psalm 23 is associated with the Sabbath. When we hear Psalm 23 sung this way (scroll down to Psalm 23) we hear sadness. This slow melancholic setting composed by Ben Zion Shenker conveys a notion that the Sabbath will soon end and perhaps also a longing for its return.

We listened to a fascinating exposition of Hannah's Prayer and looked at the connections between Hannah's Prayer and the Magnificat:

Hannah’s Song – 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah prayed and said,

My heart exults in the Lord;

my strength is exalted in my God.

My mouth derides my enemies,

because I rejoice in my victory.

There is no Holy One like the Lord,

no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly,

let not arrogance come from your mouth;

for the Lord is a God of knowledge,

and by him actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty are broken,

but the feeble gird on strength.

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,

but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.

The barren has borne seven,

but she who has many children is forlorn.

The Lord kills and brings to life;

he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low, he also exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,

and on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,

but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;

for not by might does one prevail.

The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;

the Most High will thunder in heaven.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;

he will give strength to his king,

and exalt the power of his anointed.

Mary’s song (Magnificat) – Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


Mary's song voices her own praise and that of Elizabeth and Hannah. We considered the prominent use of the verbs in both songs since personal pronouns are given undue emphasis in English translations. Exalting and magnifying and praising in the opening lines connect to the celebration of God's exaltation and raising of the poor in the rest of the song. And each conveys the promise of the future. Then one of our musicians sang an improvised setting of the Magnificat emphasizing the verbs.

We were challenged by Psalm 137 and the paradox of singing a song that cannot be sung and we discussed theological implications of including all verses. We pondered the absence of lament in our Episcopal liturgies and funeral services. At the end of the workshop we celebrated the praise of Psalm 150. We left with a deeper sense of new and shared understandings of our common textual and liturgical traditions as a sound basis for respect and collaboration in worship and other settings. I am very grateful to the Evangelical Education Society of the Episcopal Church for making the workshop possible.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Lutheran staff blog looks at the numbers: The Office of the Secretary confirmed that seven congregations have officially left the ELCA. Do seven congregations really constitute a new church? Apparently, the new North American Lutheran Church:

(1) Rejects killing unborn babies and paying for that murder via our church health plans.

(2) Rejects ordaining to the office of holy ministry persons who are living in homosexual relationships with others.

(3) Rejects ordaining to the office of the holy ministry, women.

(4) Affirms the historic doctrine of the holy, catholic and apostolic church and believe what we confess in the words of the Nicene Creed is actually true, not a recitation of quaint legends.

Makes me glad to be part of a church that really stands for something.

Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time by Kristen Swenson is worth knowing about and reading from your local library. (I'm not a big promoter of Harper Collins). Michael Dirda reviews it in the Washington Post on Thursday.

There are numerous guides to the Bible -- I recommend Robert Alter's books on the Old Testament's literary artistry, as well as the exhilarating "Who Wrote the Bible?" by Richard Elliott Friedman -- but many of them are narrowly focused, sectarian or off-puttingly scholarly. By contrast, Kristin Swenson's "Bible Babel" is wide-ranging, objectively factual and written for the common reader. In its pages Swenson, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of World Studies, aims to present "big-picture information about the Bible -- what it is, what's in it, and how to understand 'Bible speak.' "

Not sure about the breezy tone, however. It will be interesting to see how it is received.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The New York Council for the Humanities has announced its new lecture offerings for the year. Amongst the religion ones is this:

Sanctuary, Temple and Synagogue

An illustrated lecture about the origin of the synagogue, and its decorative arts; an institution and practice whose roots can be traced back to the Biblical traditions of the "sanctuary" (miskan), also known as the Tabernacle, and the permanent "house" (bayit), or temple (miqdas), of the God of Israel.

Special attention will be given to the artistic motifs unearthed in the ancient synagogues of Israel, structures primarily datable to the Byzantine period (4th - 7th centuries C.E.). The synagogues and their art can be seen as the culmination of a long process of development, whose roots lie in the Hellenistic era (3rd - 1st centuries B.C.E.).

This lecture is available from December 1, 2007 to December 1, 2010. Prof. Stieglitz is Professor of Hebraic Studies and Archaeology at Rutgers University in Newark.

This is how to apply to host a lecture. The Council funds the lectures. Any NFP organization can apply.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alevi ritual in Istanbul

The Alevi are a religious, sub-ethnic and cultural community in Turkey and many other parts of the world, numbering in the tens of millions. Alevi worship takes place in assembly houses (cemevi) not mosques. World Routes from Radio 3 records an Alevi service about 40 minutes into the recording. The service goes on for over three hours. No one seems to know what quite to make of it.

The ceremony (cem), features music and dance (semah) according to this information. The ceremony's supposed prototype is the Prophet Muhammad's nocturnal ascent into heaven, where he beheld a gathering of forty saints (Kırklar Meclisi), and the Divine Reality made manifest in their leader, Ali.

The Dede is the leader of the Cem who represents Muhammad and Ali. The Dede receives confession from the attendees at the beginning of the ceremony. He also leads funerals, marriage ceremonies and circumcisions. The status of Dede is hereditary and he must be a descendant of Ali and Fatima.
  • Baglama:

During the cem ceremony the ashik plays the Baglama (a stringed musical instrument) whilst singing spiritual songs, some of which are centuries old and well known amongst Alevis. Every song, called a Nefes has spiritual meaning and aims to teach the participants important lessons. One such song goes thus:

"Learn from your mistakes and be knowledgable,
Don't look for faults in others,
Look at 73 different people in the same way,
God loves and created them all, so don't say anything against them."
  • Semah:

A family of ritual dances characterized by turning and swirling, is an inseparable part of any cem. Semah is performed by men and women together, to the accompaniment of the baglama. The dances symbolize (for example) the revolution of the planets around the Sun (by man and woman turning in circles), and the putting off of one’s self and uniting with God.

  • Görgü Cemi:

The Rite of Integration (görgü cemi) is a complex ritual occasion in which a variety of tasks are allotted to incumbents bound together by extrafamilial brotherhood (musahiplik), who undertake a dramatization of unity and integration under the direction of the spiritual leader (dede).

  • Raki:

The love of the creator for the created and vice versa is symbolised in the Cem ceremony by the use of Raki which represents the intoxication of the lover in the beloved. Amongst the 'Nur Hakk' Alevis the raki is replaced with spring water which is sprinkled over the faithful during the ceremony. The sprinkling of spring water or raki during the ceremony is one of the twelve duties of the participants. (see above)

  • Sohbet:

At the closing of the cem ceremony the Baba who leads the ceremony engages the participants in a discussion, this discussion is called a sohbet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fortress Press has 40% off until Feb 28th

Fortress Press has a new website and 40% off until Feb 28th. What would interest you? Adela Yarbro Collins' 2007 commentary on Mark in the Hermeneia series now costs $48.00 instead of $80.00. Here's Edwin Broadhead's review of this book. All of the Hermeneia commentaries are in fact on sale. The paperback edition of Jennifer Glancy's 2002 book Slavery in Early Christianity just costs $13.80. Of this book David Deakle in ATR (2004) says:

Jennifer A. Glancy, Joseph C. Georg Professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College, has provided scholars with a fresh and convincing monograph on slavery in early Christianity. As both an assumption and a thesis, Glancy demonstrates that slavery in early Christianity was not essentially different from slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world. Her new approach will mandate a significant rewriting of how slaves and slaveholders were addressed in canonical and extra-canonical sources of the early Christian communities. Building upon the new emphasis on "body" imagery, Glancy has also redefined the notion oi slaves as "bodies." The language of body is more than mere metaphor in the ancient texts; it is truly corporeal in Glancy's reading of the evidence. The bodies of slaves physically served their owners in many ways that scholars have previously overlooked in early Christian communities. Glancy shows that slaves in early Christianity, as in the Mediterranean world, served as surrogates for physical torture, abuse, and especially sexual coercion and violation.

Plenty to offer for Lenten reading!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


"The Art of Sustainable Architecture" at Sacred Heart University online this Spring is an exhibit with events highlighting the work of several architectural firms including Beyer Blinder and Belle.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners address uniquely different projects. The renovation and expansion of the Dennison University Bryant Art Center enhances the connection between faculty, student and community spaces through skylights that connect a series of common areas. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is an adaptive re-use of a maintenance building into a visitor facility with exhibition and presentation spaces adding space and new technologies to maximize best practices in its approach to sustainability, in the hopes that it serves as a model for future National Park Service projects. The Tutu Center of the General Theological Seminary campus in Chelsea is powered by geothermal heating and cooling, achieved by 22 wells dug 1500 feet under the sidewalks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day!

Yesterday was a snow day for most of the city since the schools were closed. At the seminary the offices were closed from midday as the whirling white wet flakes continued to fall through the afternoon and evening. It was a damp wet snow--the kind that weighs down branches and leaves. Outside our building on the pine tree we released quite a few that sprang back upwards. That tree is a haven for many birds but there were none visible yesterday.

It was a great opportunity to catch up on projects and arrange assignments. I wrote emails and invited a visiting scholar at a nearby institution to tea. Her new book is very good and it would be wonderful to meet her. I agreed to select some artwork by next week for a new book out in July. The publishers have decided that a piece of art should accompany each chapter and be related to it in some way. A great idea! Then I arranged a meeting with a colleague and friend. I had a good conversation with another colleague also marooned elsewhere by the snow. We agreed on the agenda for an upcoming committee meeting, and discussed pedagogy and curriculum projects. Then I worked diligently on and sent off a grant application for next academic year. Finally, I rang a friend in Florida to thank her for making a donation in memory of my father to a charity and we arranged to see each other at Passover. All in all, a productive snow day.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sardis


We visited Sardis where archaeologists have uncovered Hellenistic and Roman structures. Outside the city lies a Temple of Artemis in a glorious setting at the foot of the acropolis, begun in the early third century BCE. The ruins of the Artemision belong to a twin temple dedicated by Emperor Antoninus Pius to Artemis and to his wife Annia Faustina. A Byzantine church was added around 400 CE (front lower left). While the section of the temple dedicated to Artemis can only be guessed at by observing its foundations, the two remaining columns of the portico which preceded the section dedicated to Annia Faustina give a better idea of the gigantic dimensions of the sanctuary, especially when compared to the tiny Byzantine church.

Within the ancient city itself are second century CE baths next door to which is a sixth century Synagogue, the largest in Asia Minor, converted from one of the halls flanking the palaestra of the gymnasium. In the forecourt is a fountain which seems to have been one of the public fountains. The Synagogue is 85 meters long and 20 meters wide, able to accommodate 1,000 people. Along the adjacent street to the south are a colonnaded row of Jewish and Christian shops suggesting co-existence.

A commercial and residential neighborhood south and southeast of the Gymnasium remained prosperous into the sixth century. By the early seventh century, however, the city had been substantially abandoned.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sophia)




Perhaps the highlight of our trip, the magnificent Hagia Sophia was the focus of our last day in Istanbul. We approached the building through snow. Scaffolding which had been up for 17 years had been recently removed which enabled more of the interior to be seen. So the timing of our visit was fortunate. Above is the interior dome with the arches. To the right you see a revealed face of one of the seraphim just under the dome only uncovered this past year. Our guide observed that he was looking at the face of an angel for the first time.

Hagia Sophia began as a Byzantine Church and rebuilt for the third time by the Emperor Justinian in 537. Procopios, a contemporary historian, in De Aedificiis, PG 87 assesses the completed building:

A spherical-shaped dome standing upon this circle makes it exceedingly beautiful; from the lightness of the building, it does not appear to rest upon a solid foundation, but to cover the place beneath as though it were suspended from heaven by the fabled golden chain. All these parts surprisingly joined to one another in the air, suspended one from another, and resting only on that which is next to them, form the work into one admirably harmonious whole, which spectators do not dwell upon for long in the mass, as each individual part attracts the eye to itself. No one ever became weary of this spectacle, but those who are in the church delight in what they see, and, when they leave, magnify it in their talk. Moreover it is impossible accurately to describe the gold, and silver, and gems, presented by the Emperor Justinian, but by the description of one part, I leave the rest to be inferred. That part of the church which is especially sacred, and where the priests alone are allowed to enter, which is called the Sanctuary, contains forty thousand pounds' weight of silver.

After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia continued as a mosque. The mosaics were painted over in accordance with Islamic prohibition on realistic representation. In 1935 it became a museum which had aided the restoration of certain features particularly the mosaics.

Here we see the Deesis (entreaty) in which the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist petition Christ on behalf of humanity. A helpful website about the Hagia Sophia Deesis is here. It contains details of the creation of the mosaic and its restoration. The bearded head of Christ is thought to be the inspiration of Christ in Russian art while the Deesis itself has influenced western representations of the Last Judgment.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Friday, February 05, 2010

Religious Songs of Trebizond (Sunday Feature Radio 3)

As I download photos and videos of our trip to Turkey, here are some relevant programmes. Last week's Sunday Feature is a programme on religious songs of Trebizond. It uncovers the complicated religious history of one Turkish city in which the personal and collective religious beliefs reflect the changing religious history of the region.

The shepherds in the high mountains behind the city of Trebizond, who for more than a thousand years had driven their flocks up onto the high plateau in summer and back to the narrow coastal plain in winter, sometimes adopting a Christian persona, sometimes a Muslim one, disappeared and the economy has never really recovered. Worse than this for some, the architectural jewel that was Trabzon (as it is now called) has become an almost Soviet-like conglomeration of tower blocks. The final insult came five years ago with the much opposed construction of a coastal motorway, which has chopped this once great maritime city off from the Black Sea. The isolation that kept ancient cultures protected has finally gone - along with the cultures. Tom de Waal traces some of what has been lost to the Soumela Monastery where every August 15th people of Pontic descent from across the globe come to remember the feast of the Virgin. Here there is a collision of Russian, Turkish and Greek interests, which provides a lesson in modern regional politics. But connecting all of these disparate people is music - the Greek Lyre and the Turkish Kemence, a small violin played like a 'cello. They play the same, they dance the same. Culturally connected and politically divided this is a story of people who are really cousins, or even brothers, but cannot quite bring themselves to admit it.

U of Chicago copy of Mark's gospel is a forgery

A friend and colleague forwarded a recent article from the journal The Art Newspaper for February 2010 describing the research that went into a discovery that a manuscript previously thought to be a 14th Century text of the Gospel of Mark is in fact a fake.

The ongoing debate as to the codex’s authenticity re-ignited in 2006 with its digitisation, giving international experts an opportunity to examine the work closely for the first time. Beginning in 2007, Margaret Mitchell, Alice Schreyer and Judith Dartt from the university collaborated with research microscopist Joseph Barabe from the Illinois-based lab McCrone Associates, and manuscript conservator Abigail Quandt from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, to perform a cross-discipline, in-depth analysis of the codex.

Barabe conducted a material and elemental analysis on Archaic Mark which involved the use of a wide variety of techniques including x-ray diffraction, raman spectroscopy, polarised light, x-ray spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. He was particularly interested in determining whether the codex had undergone an earlier restoration which would account for the presence of various “modern” shades of blue including synthetic ultramarine blue—a material not available until the 1820s. He found no evidence of a prior restoration and most importantly determined that the white colour used contained the pigment lithopone which was not available until 1874, thereby setting an 1874 terminus post quem date for the codex. Carbon dating was used to determine that the canvas dates from the mid 16th century.

David Bentley Hart's new translation of The New Testament

David Bentley Hart's new translation of the New Testament is a breath of fresh air: responsible, creative, and inspiring. Yale Unive...