Friday, December 23, 2011

January 8-19, 2013, Trip to Turkey: Christianity in Asia Minor with Profs Good and Shaner of GTS


Join Professors Deirdre Good and Katherine Shaner of General Theological Seminary for an illuminating and informative journey to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), exploring both the urban contexts ouf ot which early Christianity was shaped and some of the spaces in which Christianity grew to prominence. Through visits to some of the great archaeological parks of the world, we will examine the historical and cultural context in which the earliest Christians and their writings emerged.

Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary. She has visited Turkey twice and after the second visit wrote this piece “Buildings and Meanings” – http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/interfaith/by_deirdre_good_my_last.php   - on the meanings of religious buildings in Istanbul and elsewhere.  She edited a 2005 book on Jewish, Christian and Muslim interpretations of Mary (Mariam, the Magdalen and the Mother) which contextualizes Mary traditions in and around Ephesus.

Professor Katherine Shaner is assistant professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary.  Her research focuses on slaves, women, and low-status persons in Pauline communities and especially the city of Ephesos, where she worked with the excavation team in the summer of 2010.   She has also worked with excavators from Pergamon and Sardis. Her expertise in Roman archaeology provides an invaluable tangibility to the 1st century world – and will help us experience the lives, beliefs, practices and challenges of first-century Christians and their neighbors.

This is a unique opportunity to travel with New Testament experts who know how to bring history to life in some of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the world.  We invite you to join us!

Please click on the link for information about itinerary, registration, costs and other travel details. For questions about the trip, please email Deirdre Good: good@gts.edu or Katherine Shaner: shaner@gts.edu 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cake

Long ago and far away, when I was eleven years old, I took an exam called the 11+. Most children of that age at that time in the UK took that exam. It was thought to be able to determine academic abilities. If you passed the exam well, you went off to the academically rigorous schools of the day, namely, grammar schools. If you did reasonably well, you went off to slightly less challenging academic environments. And if you failed the exam, as I did, you went to a secondary modern school.

The 11+ exam was created by the 1944 Butler Education Act. It divided children into one of three streams: an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Determining a child's academic abilities at this point in their lives indicated likely career choices. Since I failed the 11+ I would most likely work in the service industry or perhaps education as some of my classmates in the UK now do.

So for the first year of my secondary modern school experience, in addition to main subjects like English and History and Mathematics, boys went off to do metalwork and woodwork whilst girls went off to iron handkerchiefs and bake Christmas Cakes.

The shortcomings of the 11+ exam are well-known and it has been largely abandoned but not before it consigned schoolchildren to particular streams of education far too early.


Differences amongst children were in future not to be measured but eradicated. Those arguments which had been used against the eleven-plus examination were now deployed against streaming or grading. Homogenising efforts were directed not only at differences of ability but also differences of gender. School books which depicted men going to work or women shopping were condemned for promoting sex-stereotyping. Girls were now encouraged to enrol for metalwork and boys for domestic science. Even the differences between teachers and pupils were now minimised; the former’s role was now to facilitate freedom of expression and group activity learning.

Had it not been for the foresight of my parents I would not be where I am today. They paid for me to attend a boarding school at the age of 15 where within one year I took O levels and then three A levels which enabled me to attend University. Pause for a moment to consider as I often do those of my classmates and several generations of UK children hampered and restricted by such an experience from which they would never recover. I met some of them one Easter when I took a job in Woolworth's selling Easter Eggs. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Letters received from complete strangers

During the course of my teaching career, I've received letters and emails from complete strangers. Sometimes they simply send an entire paper which they ask me to endorse. Sometimes they have a query about a subject in the NT --more often than not from Revelation. Sometimes they send along a real question on an issue on their minds.

What I do depends on the query. I got one of them this week and since the author knew General Seminary and since the three pages concluded with a statement, "If I am mistaken, where have I gone wrong?" I am going to spend some time composing a letter in reply.

However, it's taking longer than I thought. It's about the rendering of DOULOS as "slave" in the NRSV as opposed to "servant" in the KJV. Apparently the author of the letter is exercised by Matthean parables in which "God" as slave owner evidences coercion. True, every Matthean parable featuring managerial slaves (unmerciful slave 18:23-35; wicked tenants 21:23-41; wedding banquet 22:1-10; overseer 24:45-51 and talents 25: 14-30) graphically shows the vulnerability of slaves to bodily harm. So what are we going to do with this imagery?

I'm starting with issues of translation. The NRSV choice of "slave" for DOULOS is to indicate legal subordination. For some, a translation "servant" indicates voluntary servitude. Another word DIAKONOS is generally rendered "servant"and occasionally the NRSV reverts to "servant" for DOULOS: see Gal 1:10.

I try next to differentiate ancient slavery from modern slavery. Race is not a factor in the institution of slavery in the ancient world. Ancient slaves were educated whilst education of American slaves was legally forbidden. Ancient slaves could own property (including other slaves) and most slaves could be emancipated by the age of 30 and could become Roman citizens. Ancient slavery is akin to a process; modern slavery is a permanent condition.

I'm still writing the letter to include the other complicating element: use of the term EBED in Hebrew Scriptures. EBED is rendered by DOULOS in the LXX and occasionally by OIKETES when indicating a household slave.

Here's my conclusion: "So taking the notion of slavery seriously means that we view the language of Paul and gospel writers describing Jesus's ministry to reflect on the one hand the normative reality of ancient slavery and on the other, metaphor. There's no evidence that Jesus or Paul were slaves. And in distinction to modern people, ancient writers do not customarily use language of free will and choice when it comes to allegiance and affiliation. Philippians 2, the text you mention, describes Jesus humbling himself even to death on the cross by “taking the form of a slave” to reflect that crucifixion was the punishment for slaves.


Also, taking the Bible seriously means taking the language it was written in and the social realities that shaped it seriously. We cannot escape slave language by softening the translation; rather our vocation is to reflect on the implications of that language, and to judiciously critique any attempt to replicate antiquity's social mores in today's world."

Inbetween times, I've solicited from colleagues their own examples of such letters. My favorite was the one that asked a colleague to confirm that bee pollen was eaten in the Garden of Eden. Of course they wanted him to endorse a health product. 

Monday, November 21, 2011


The Right Reverend Sam B. Hulsey Chair in Episcopal Studies
Brite Divinity School, affiliated with Texas Christian University, invites applications for appointment to The Rt. Rev. Sam B. Hulsey Chair in Episcopal Studies. The field is open. Applicants in Pastoral Care and Pastoral Theology or in Theology are especially encouraged to apply. The appointment will be at the Assistant Professor level. The Ph.D. or equivalent is required. Demonstrated competence in teaching and scholarly research is expected. Teaching load is four courses per year at Masters and Doctoral levels.

Brite Divinity School is an ecumenical seminary related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It has an active Episcopal Studies Program with its own director. Brite is an EEO employer and maintains a policy of nondiscrimination with respect to all employees and applicants for employment. Upload letter of application describing interests in teaching and research and dossier to https://tcu.igreentree.com/CSS_Faculty/CSSPage_Welcome.asp. Send three letters of recommendation to Dean Nancy Ramsay, Brite Divinity School, TCU Box 298130, Fort Worth, TX 76129. Review of applicants will begin January 9 and continue until the position is filled. The position begins Fall, 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SBL/AAR in San Francisco + Update: My favorite moment

At the large book exhibit for the combined American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, there are some wonderful signs like this one. It's a chance to catch up on what has recently been published and what is about to appear. People are offered discounts not only for the duration of the convention but also until the end of December. I'm actually collecting such order forms for someone who couldn't be here so that option is a valuable one.

Editors are keen to converse about publishing possibilities with scholars. Authors can often be seen in the vicinity of presses that have published their work and the presses in turn will promote new publications with posters of titles and announcements of review sessions at the conference. I like to ask a press which of their books has sold well and what their new books are. Today I also asked a number of presses what Coptic texts they had published just to see what the level of interest for Coptic materials is.  The answer is, not much. Does a portable Coptic New Testament exist?

Sometimes, you get a booth that doesn't draw much interest. But it should be said (inspite of the above pic) that the SBL encourages confessional diversity about which there has been some controversy here. More recently, in the Chronicle, Jacques Berlinerblau reports on a session he attended in SF run by the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

He asks:


If it is taken as a given that God exists, that the Bible is His word and His Truth, and that one’s job is to cooperatively identify that Truth, then what happens to the scholarly ideal of critical inquiry? To what degree does a professor in a Pentecostal seminary have the right to challenge these articles of faith? And what happens to her when she does that?

How do Berlinerblau or Hendel or anyone else who is not a member of this faith community fit into any of this? Is participation in an SPS session open to all members of the SBL?

It would be wrong to ask these questions solely of Pentecostals. What many of us in the SBL have been alleging for years is that the prevalence of organized religious blocs in the Society creates a state of affairs that is unhealthy for scholarship on the Bible and Bible scholars.


Update: my favorite moment at SBL was a social one. Over cocktails with a new friend one evening I heard about his first teaching experience. "Remember when you told us about your first teaching day?" he said. (I'd had a nosebleed out of sheer terror and retreated to the bathroom to staunch the bleeding). "Well, it was similar. I thought I'd throw up. My palms were sweaty...I was very nervous. I knew that the students would be very familiar with the text--more than you or I would ever be--so I got each of them to read the same passage from their bibles. And as each one read a different translation, people began to hear that the Word of God wasn't saying the same thing. So I said, 'How can we reconcile these differences...?' And we had a great discussion. Afterwards, one of them said, 'This was wonderful! I had no idea what to expect and I am already looking forward to the rest of the class...' And I sighed and went home."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples

ATR 93 (2011) published the essay "A Theology of Marriage Including Same-Sex Couples: A View from the Liberals" written by myself, Willis Jenkins, Cynthia Kittredge and Eugene F. Rogers, as part of a theological colloquy on "Same-Sex Relationships and the Nature of Marriage." There are a few typos probably from the scanner not the original essay. The traditionalist view is here. There are responses of each group to the other's papers and finally some Anglican and Ecumenical responses. Bishop Parsley writes the foreword and Ellen Charry the preface. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

To me, this is an early picture of the faculty at General Theological Seminary.  It was taken before 1997 at a time when Professor Wright was on sabbatical.

Front row: left to right, Professor James A. Carpenter, Professor Boyce Bennett, Dean and President James C. Fenhagen, Professor John Koenig and Professor Richard Corney.

Back row: Professor David Hurd, Professor Margaret Guenther, Professor William Doubleday, Professor Neil Alexander, Professor David Hurd, Professor Fred Shriver, Professor Elisabeth Koenig and myself. 

Jesus and Abba

In case anyone missed it, here is my post for Episcopal Cafe on "Jesus and Abba" written at the end of October. I put additional material in the comments and note with delight and gratitude that Thinking Anglicans has reposted it here. Such a piece gets far more readers than anything else I might publish!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

White Light Festival of 2011

We are off to the White Light Festival of 2011 tonight to hear the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. This is its second year. The festival began as an exploration of ways music informs and enlightens our spiritual lives. Jane Moss, the festival director, interviewed by HuffPo, likens our 24/7 craving for technology to an addiction which the festival attempts to identify and overcome.


 





This year's festival, which begins on October 20 and runs to November 19, includes performances of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," an Olivier Messiaen organ recital, and the Huelgas Ensemble's performance of a capella choral music from the Renaissance, as well as a number of original contemporary offerings. Many of the performances will take place at Alice Tully Hall, though others are spread across the city. Prices range from free (the opening night performance and a light installation) to around $100.
While last year's lineup was overtly spiritual, this year's programming is more varied in content, though each piece has been selected based on some shared ineffable quality of "White Light"-ness.
"They're works that evoke in a very powerful way, themes or ideas of transcendence," Moss said. "By that I don't necessarily mean spiritual transcendence, but all those pieces of ourselves that are not related to our ego which many people have no time for anymore."
The festival will premiere a production of "Desdemona," a new take on "Othello," created through collaboration between Toni Morrison, director Peter Sellars and Malian musician Rokia Traore. Also making its debut is the silent film "The Passion of the Joan of Arc," presented with a score by Adrian Utley of Portishead and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp.
After each performance, attendees can visit a White Light lounge next to the venue, where they can drink sparkling water or sparkling wine and mingle with their fellow peace-seekers. It's this kind of artistic community that Moss wants to reinstate in contemporary performance.
"Performances are one of the few communal experiences with people remaining," Moss said. "In the course of a performance, you get closer to other people. You feel more connected to the human experience."

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

All Saints Day, November 1st, 2011


Is. 26:19 Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.


Dorothy Blake with my parents at Our Lady's Manor in Dublin. Dorothy died on January 27th of this year. She gave her whole life to establishing residences for disabled people in which they could live independently. I've been to two of the residences and they are wonderful homes. For Dorothy's life and witness, I give thanks today. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Peggy Pascoe: Referring a Manuscript

(Shameless purloin from Edge of the American West) is this marvelous piece about reviewing a manuscript. Something none of us were taught, for sure, but what a gift, if done well!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This week we are having the Paddock Lectures at the seminary and alumni/ae week. Today was the Alumni/ae Memorial Eucharist at which Dr Minka Sprague preached and Professor Emeritus Richard Corney read the prayers.

Dr Sprague's sermon was a wonderful reflection on the embodied and lived meaning of the prayer of Jesus in John 17 in the course of attending decades of these services at the seminary. What a treat to hear one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church!

After the service, several generations of biblical faculty at GTS and NYTS (where Minka taught for years) met outside the sacristy of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. We took the opportunity to discuss a history of how biblical courses have been taught and configured at the seminary as a basis from which to engage in future discussions around curricular review and reform. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

James Romm, Ghost on the Throne, Nov 2nd, NYPL

James Romm, author of Ghost On the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire (just published from Knopf) about the successors of Alexander, will be at NYPL on Nov 2nd at 7.pm. Here's a link to the book with author interviews and a podcast. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

David Bellos, "Is That A Fish in your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything" (FSG 2011)

Lots of people have noticed and are reviewing Davis Bellos' new book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything (FSG, 2011). For example, Maureen Freely in the Daily Telegraph (UK) thinks the book "witty and erudite." Michael Hofman in the Guardian calls the book "brilliant (and) a disquisition of remarkable freshness on language, speech and translation...written in short punchy instructive chapters." For him, Bellos has "a wonderful, Scotch-educated temperament..He doesn't accuse, lament or gripe." The Economist says that while the book is ostensibly about translation, it is in fact a "richly original cultural history...of the effects of language and translation" starting with the Greeks who ignored other languages and the Romans who made everyone learn Latin. Frederic Raphael in the Literary Review writes a longer assessment and concentrates on Bellos' focus on best-practices of translation. He concludes:

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? is spiced with good and provocative things. At once erudite and unpretentious, Bellos saves his best trick for last, when he concludes that language is not necessary for communication, as theorists insist (other species communicate without it). He sees it as a way 'to establish rank or declare hostility' (or friendship?). Speech has more in common with the sociable rituals of eating - hence the polite rule against doing both at the same time - than with some Pentecostal notion of universal mutual understanding. The practical deposit of Bellos's scintillating bouillabaisse is that if you want your children to have a safe job in tomorrow's world, have them learn Arabic and/or Chinese, always assuming they come out of the current education system able to speak and spell comprehensible English.

Across the pond, Kirkus Review calls the book "erudite and occasionally dense but ultimately illuminating even transformative." PW helpfully notes that the title is a riff on Douglas Adam's "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in which a "Babel fish" (think: Tower of Babel) when inserted into one's ear could translate any language. There's even a video in which the author gives us a flavour of his book and challenges our cultural presuppositions. (I note with delight that he sounds a little like Michael Kitchen).

You get the picture. Everyone likes the book and it's being reviewed positively in all sorts of places. And I too enjoyed reading the book and found it entertaining and engaging.

However, I want to describe one chapter in the book, "Bible and Bananas: The Vertical Axis of Translation Relations." Since reviews like those mentioned above are mostly brief, many note that there is a chapter on bible translations, but only a few delve into it. Frederic Raphael in the Literary Review is one who thinks about this issue.

Raphael notes that Bellos is no advocate of literal translation. Here's why. In a chapter called "The Myth of Literal Translation" Bellos cites Jerome's Letter to Pammachus (346CE) as perhaps "the first full formation of the lopsided dispute between translations that are "literal" and those that are "free."" Bellos renders Jerome's formulation of the issue:

Thus, I not only confess but of my own free voice proclaim that apart from translations of sacred scriptures from the Greek, where even the order of words is a mysterium, I express not the word for the word, but the sense for the sense.

Bellos notes that we don't know what Jerome's word "mysterium" means and so he leaves it in Latin. Maybe Jerome was describing a problem engaging every translator, namely, what to do with words you don't understand. In this rendition of Jerome into English, we don't translate the word but instead render it pronounceable in the target language. In the above paragraph Bellos leaves it in Latin. But is that enough?

Bellos next cites an alternative rendition of the passage from Jerome by a (mysterious) canon of Canterbury Cathedral:

For I myself not only admit but freely proclaim that in translating from the Greek (except in the case of holy scriptures where even the order of words is a mystery) I render sense for sense and not word for words.

Jerome is explaining, Belos says, what translators have always done. They transmit the sense and where the sense is obscure, they render the words of the original. So transmitting sense in a non-literal way is normative except when the original is obscure.

Here's my point: when we come to a subsequent chapter on bible translation, readers are already suspicious of a literal translation. Now in this chapter there are only two methods of Bible translation surveyed--a) adaptive translation used by an early Dutch missionary in Sumatra and the later American Bible Society under Eugene Nida and b) a more literal approach used by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig to render the Hebrew Bible into German. The Buber-Rosenzweig version favors keeping closely to the Hebrew and using obscure (I would say "arresting") German words occurring more regularly in stories like Grimm's fairy tales. (I know this because I spent a happy morning in the reading room of the New York Public Library locating Buber and Rosenzweig's German words in dictionaries of old German). By the end of the chapter we haven't heard of a useful or even good way of translating the Bible. Those translations mentioned and the approaches they employ--well-intentioned missionaries using cultural substitution replace the fig tree of Matthew's gospel with bananas since there are no figs in Sumatra; Buber's "foreignizing" is described as incomprehensible--are critically assessed and implicitly dismissed.

Bellos would reply that his is not a book about how to translate but about what translation does. Fine. But when it comes to bible translations, we can't avoid assessments. And it is disingenuous not to mention up to date translators who use the method of Buber and Rosenzweig successfully: Everett Fox in the Schocken Bible for one.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Week of Music and Ancient Art

Last week was all about seminary events: the dedication of the new Christoph Keller Jr. Library on Friday, Convocation and the conferral of honorary degrees on Thursday, and the Board Meetings on Friday and Saturday. This week for me is going to be about musical events and an exhibit of ancient art in the city.

The chapel service for the dedication of the Christoph Keller Jr. Library included a moving address by Polly Keller from the altar steps ("Think of this chapel as the heart of the seminary and the library as it's head") and a sermon from the Dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Jan Love. We have much to thank the Keller family for. And we thank Candler for access to the digital collections of Emory University as the result of a new agreement. There will be much more about the event on the seminary website soon.


It was wonderful to see so many seminary friends and graduates in chapel for the library dedication. I saw people whom I hadn't seen for a very long time and it was good to rejoice with them. 

And so on to this coming week. Tomorrow we are going to the new production of Don Giovanni at the Met Opera. The FT is not impressed with the new production nor the leading roles. Sigh. When we bought the tickets, James Levine was to have conducted. Now it is Fabio Luisi. However, Anthony Tommasini in the NY Times is impressed by Peter Mattei as the new occupant of the title role. Donna Anna sounds promising as well. On Tuesday I am going to the 92nd Street Y to hear Paul Lewis play Schumann's late Piano music.

This coming Friday October 21st, Profs Shaner, Owens and I are leading a tour to the exhibit, Edge of Empires: Pagans Jews and Christians at Dura Europos. We will arrive in time for the tour at 6pm. Please join us!



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This weekend the seminary is part of OpenHouse New York. The dedication of the new library is on Friday and we have Board meetings at the end of the week in addition to normal classes (picture thanks to Robert Solon).


Mary Beard has a wonderful review of new books about Alexander in this week's NY Review of Books. She thinks that we need to view the life of Alexander as a creation of Roman historians.  She says:

the debates about Alexander, and the evidence on which they are based, have not changed very much over two millennia: the basic dilemma—for writers, filmmakers, artists, and statesmen—is still whether Alexander is to be admired or deplored.


Specialists in this tiny period of ancient history (the campaigns lasted just over ten years) were still committed to reconstructing “what really happened,” on the basis of the vivid but deeply unreliable literary sources that have survived (Arrian’s seven books are usually considered the “best” evidence, but there is plenty of material also in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander and Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, to name just two).


The result is that the historical edifice we know as “Alexander’s career” is extremely flimsy and modern scholars have been attempting to squeeze it for answers to questions that it could never deliver—not only what motivated him, but did he really love his wife Roxane, or believe that he was the son of the god Amun? This is not a game of history, but of smoke and mirrors.


Potentially the most significant book is Briant’s Alexander the Great, because Briant is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. The promise of this book is that we might be able to see Alexander differently if we included the Persian evidence. Insights there are, but less significant ones than you would hope. There are two main problems. First, Briant writes from the professorial pulpit, slightly hectoring in tone about what historians should or should not do, and telegraphic in style (there are only 144 small pages of large print, so it is “a short introduction” as the subtitle says); and he makes few concessions to anyone who, for example, may not already know the duties of a “satrap.” On several occasions he refers to documents that are supposed to be particularly “important” or “useful,” but he rarely explains to the outsider what the documents are and what impact exactly their content has on the history of the period.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thanks to the Pakistani Poet Kishwar Naheed (Translated by Rukhsana Ahmad)



We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns
who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.



It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.



It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.



It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.


For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October 29th: Deacon Day in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

Here's a link to Deacon Day on October 29th in the Diocese of Central PA wherein Deacons of the Diocese gather together for fellowship, worship and education. On the link describing the event is a podcast in which I discuss my book Jesus the Meek KingIt might have a few things to offer Deacons in their ministries.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Podcasts for NT1: Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels--Resurrection Narratives

These new podcasts accompany each module for NT1. This one is filmed by Colin Chapman using my camcorder in the reading room of the new GTS library. We are discussing the topic of resurrection narratives this coming week and the podcast delivers an orientation for the week.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I am finishing a book review that has taken longer than I thought so in the meantime let me post another good review of Is That A Fish In Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos (my copy is on order and the US publication date is early October). Here's the opening para of Robert Chandler's review for the Spectator (and if this review doesn't whet your appetite, I don't know what would):

David Bellos is a professor of comparative literature. He is the main English translator of George Perec and Ismail Kadare, and he has written biographies of Perec, Jacques Tati and the French writer and con man Romain Gary. His most recent book, for which he draws on all his wide range of interests, is a clear and lively survey of the world of interpreting and translating. He covers everything from subtitling films to translating poetry, from the genesis of simultaneous interpreting in the early days of the UN to the advances he predicts — somewhat to my surprise — in computer translation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge UK is showing from October 5th to January 15, 2012, "Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence."

Jonathan Jones in the Guardian describes Vermeer's art:

What grips us in his art is a silence full of feeling. The voiceless, unfinished dramas he depicts hold the heart and linger in the imagination. A young woman reads a letter at a window. Pale light illuminates her. You can almost feel the hour of the day, sense the slow passing of time in the big house beyond. Who is the letter from, and what does it say?


At the heart of this visually stunning exhibition is Vermeer's extraordinary painting The Lacemaker (c.1669-70) - one of the Musée du Louvre’s most famous works, rarely seen outside Paris and now on loan to the UK for the first time. The painting will be joined by a choice selection of other key works by Vermeer representing the pinnacle of his mature career, and over thirty other masterpieces of genre painting from the Dutch 'Golden Age'. Featuring works from museums and private collections in the UK, Europe and the USA - many of which have never been on public display in Britain - this Cambridge showing will be the only chance to see these masterworks brought together in one location.
Celebrating the eerie calm of Vermeer's carefully-crafted images of young women in domestic interiors, Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence will be the first exhibition of its kind to focus exclusively on the mysterious and enigmatic world created by Vermeer in some of the best loved and most characteristic works from his later career. The exhibition will also trace the impact of his unique compositions on contemporary masters of Dutch genre painting, including Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes and Jan Steen.
Image credit: Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), The Lacemaker (c.1669-70). Musée du Louvre, Paris © Réunion des Musées Nationaux/ Gérard Blot
Wed 5 October 2011 to Sun 15 January 2012
Mellon Gallery (13)

Onassis Cultural Center, NYC



Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 6:30 PM            
Onassis Cultural Center

Join us for an evening in which we examine a fundamental aspect of life in ancient Greece- technology. Although better known for their myths, philosophy, and military history, the ancient Greeks were also a technology-minded nation. Their religion, mythology, prehistory, and practical traditions, from the archaic and classical periods up to the culmination of the Hellenistic period, are permeated by many technological achievements, such as huge land-reclamation works, very long tunnels, impressive ship building, double-piston pumps, steam-pressure devices, and innovative military technology.

 "An Introduction to Ancient Greek Technology"
 Theodosios P. Tassios, Professor Emeritus, School of Civil Engineering, National Technical University of Athens

"Hydraulic and Harbor Engineering in Ancient Greece"
John P. Oleson, Distinguished Professor, Department of Greek and Roman Studies, University of Victoria, Canada

"Ancient Greek Military Technology"
Tracey Elizabeth Rihll, Professor, Department of History and Classics, Swansea University, Wales, UK

Film Projection "Diolkos, 1500 Years"
This film, created with the use of 3D animation, is a unique representation of one of the most important technological innovations of Greek civilization-the Diolkos, an overland route for the transfer of ships across the Isthmus of Corinth to avoid circumnavigation of the Peloponnese peninsula.

For Reservations:
Please call 212.486.8314 weekdays only, 9AM -5PM

645 Fifth Avenue
Entrance on 51st or 52nd Street
Between Fifth and Madison Avenues

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sepphoris archaeology: Professors Eric and Carol Meyers



This recent video gives up to date information about this past summer's dig in Sepphoris of the Galilee. The professors also answer questions from viewers. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Edge of Empires exhibit opens today at NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

The exhibit Edge of Empires opens today at the NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. It focuses on Dura-Europos. Here's a review from the NY Observer emphasizing Christian images from a baptistery in what is thought to be a Christian house-church. More when I can see the exhibit!


The New Testament scenes were found in what is believed to be the oldest-known baptistery, which was part of a Christian “house-church” (a house that was used as a church). Dura’s house-church is considered the oldest such structure ever revealed. The Institute is showing three of the baptistery’s original wall paintings. From the city’s synagogue come 10 ceiling tiles, each elaborately painted with astrological signs, pine cones, fruit and faces; they’re being shown together for the first time. Then there are the various beliefs lumped together under the rubric “pagan,” and numerous structures were found in Dura dedicated to Greek, Roman and local gods. Some of the pagan imagery seen at the Institute is itself a blend of different pagan strains.
Not only did Christians, Jews and pagans worship side by side—the Temple of Aphrodite was located across the street from the synagogue—but the city was also inhabited by distinct populations of Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Persians. And they all apparently coexisted in harmony.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Church of St Thomas Whitmarsh has just started the Center for Biblical Studies for which I have written a short piece on Jesus' parables. Take a look at an exciting new venture for Christian Education that puts reading the Bible front and center. Very exciting! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Idol Anxiety publication event Sept 19th 5.30pm at NYU


Coping with Idol Anxiety
Monday, September 19, 2011, 5:30 PM

A panel celebrating the publication of Idol Anxiety (Stanford University Press, 2011), co-edited by Josh Ellenbogen (Art History, University of Pittsburgh) and Aaron Tugendhaft(Gallatin, NYU). Panelists include Caroline Walker Bynum (Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study), Michael Kunichika (Russian and Slavic Studies, NYU), Seth L. Sanders(Religion, Trinity College), and Irene Winter (Art History, Harvard), as well as the co-editors.  
Idol Anxiety is an interdisciplinary collection of essays which brings together diverse perspectives from scholars in religious studies, art history, philosophy, and musicology to show that idolatry is a concept that can be helpful in articulating the ways in which human beings interact with and conceive of their surroundings.

Free and open to the public, with a reception to follow, and held at:
The Humanities Initiative
20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Following the setting up of the Anglican Ordinariate, St Boniface Trust has been concerned that yet more divisions are being created within both the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Trust feels that more attention needs to be paid to the understanding of Anglicanism as a distinctive witness in a time when its self understanding is at a low ebb.
There is a degree of urgency and to further this understanding it is offering a prize of £1,000 which will go to the writer of an essay of about 5,000 words on the subject
“Why I am an Anglican and believe I shall remain so”
Essay submissions by lay people and clergy of all ages must be received by 1st January 2012 and entries will be judged by a senior cleric within the Church. The result will be announced next Easter and the winning essay placed on our website together with other significant contributions.
If you are seriously interested in entering please contact the Trust secretary for further details.
secretary@stbonifacetrust.org.uk 
or write to David Prior, Secretary, St Boniface Trust 4 Cley View, Warminster, Wiltshire. BA12 8NS
ST BONIFACE TRUST
WARMINSTER WILTSHIRE
Registered Charity No. 309500 
Website : www.stbonifacetrust.org.uk

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Prayer for 9/11



A prayer for the people - 11 September 2001/11

The World Council of Churches has produced the following prayer to mark the tenth anniversary of the '9/1' attacks in the USA, on 11 September 2001, and the conflict and war that has continued since then.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy, remove terror from our lives.
Consecrate our memories, O Lord,
when we call to mind those who suffered and died
as a result of September 11th and its consequences.
Bless us as we experience anew the pain of loss,
and as we work to prevent such tragedy from happening again.
Arouse our gratitude as we recall the quality of support and caring
extended to those who were injured, in shock and in mourning.
Inspire us to provide that quality of care whenever people are in need.
Bring us together in love. Let not nation lift up sword against nation,
nor culture against culture, nor religion against religion, nor person against person.
Cleanse our hearts of violent intent and the lust for vengeance.
Help us to repent of hatred, and to seek peace based on your justice.
Forgive us our sins, O Lord, and teach us the things that make for peace;
for we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace,
to the glory of your Triune name. Amen.
* World Council of Churches - http://www.oikoumene.org/

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Omnes Viae: Tabula Peutingeriana

A new website OmnesViae makes the roads of the Peutinger Map (Tabula Peutingerianaaccessible from Richard J.A. Talbert's 2010 CUP book, Rome's World.
The Peutinger Map is the only map of the Roman world to come down to us from antiquity. An elongated object full of colorful detail and featuring land routes across Europe, North Africa, and the Near East, it was mysteriously rediscovered around 1500 and then came into the ownership of Konrad Peutinger, for whom it is named. Today it is among the treasures of the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 (and the first week of school)

This is a week of beginnings and also memories. There's a lot going on to remember 9/11 on the 10th Anniversary of that aweful day. Trinity Wall Street has events all week. Of note is a symposium on Tuesday at 7pm with Krista Tippett and others. Friday seems to be a day of music. Let's remember that St Paul's Chapel was the front line for 9/11.

The Ribbons of Hope Project plans to create ribbons of hope and display them in Battery Park. The Tunnel to Towers Run will be held to honor the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. Since 2002, the Tunnel to Towers Run has been held annually to honor the 343 firefighters and first responders who lost their lives on 9-11 and it recreates the final footsteps of firefighter Stephen Siller who was last seen running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with sixty pounds of gear strapped to his back en route to the World Trade Center after the attacks.  The event, which was originally intended as a way for New Yorkers to honor the fallen heroes, has now become a yearly tribute to everyone who lost their lives that day and transcends the tragedy.

And from 9/9-9/12 3,000 Flags will be displayed in Battery Park Field to honor the lives lost on 9-11/01. Each banner, known as Flags of Honor, measures 3 feet by 5 feet and features red and blue rows of the names of all those who were killed. This event is free and will be open to the public, with no reservation required. For more information call 1-203-863-916.

On a national scale there are many events of healing and remembrance. The Flight 93 National Memorial opens in Pennsylvania on Sept 10th.

Update: Sept 7th's NY Times includes a piece by Clyde Haberman "Shrinking from History" on the absence of proper commemoration such as a short, meaningful speech at Ground Zero on 9/11. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rembrandt and the face of Jesus (Philadelphia)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently showing Rembrandt and the face of Jesus. Menachem Wecker in the Forward this week points out that Rembrandt uses a Jewish model, a real person, for various paintings of Jesus now brought together for the exhibit. The exhibit closes on October 30th.



In a great catalog essay, “Testing Tradition Against Nature: Rembrandt’s Radical New Image of Jesus,” Lloyd DeWitt, associate curator of European painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, traces the history of representations of Jesus leading up to Rembrandt’s series of seven paintings of Jesus, brought together for the first time in this show. Where Jesus had formerly been typically presented in a stylized manner, with a golden mane and European features, Rembrandt chose to present a decidedly Semitic Jesus.
Rembrandt’s connection with the 17th century Dutch Jewish community is not unknown. Not only did he live in the Jewish quarter, but one of the painter’s patrons and friends was Manoel Dias Soeiro (Menasseh ben Israel). In his book, “Reframing Rembrandt: Jews and the Christian Image in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam,” Michael Zell, associate professor of art history at Boston University, has shown that Menasseh’s biblical interpretations influenced Rembrandt’s paintings, particularly the Hebrew inscription in “Belshazzar’s Feast.”
The Philadelphia exhibit, propelled by DeWitt’s essay, makes a compelling case for a Jewish model for Jesus.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Craig S. Keener

I thought I might look at the work of other NT scholars. I'd like to highlight the work and publications of Dr Craig S. Keener. Follow links to his books, articles and (a recent addition to his website this year), some bible studies on Matthew's Gospel, an interest we have in common. He's now at Asbury Theological Seminary. Here's a link to a useful essay he wrote about the gospels as sources for material about the historical Jesus. What impresses me most about Prof Keener's work is his scrupulous attention to ancient Jewish, Greek and Roman sources as appropriate contexts for study of New Testament material. He is a careful and through reader of ancient sources in their own right as well. He's a committed Christian and he's written about justice issues, particularly race and gender. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gay people are saving marriage

This week's Economist notes that more women are now rejecting marriage in Asia often in favor of not getting married at all. In fact, a more educated female population means that women are likely to delay getting married and perhaps even not marry. Adding to the problem is the ratio of women to men in China and Asia. Since sex-selective abortion of female fetuses has eradicated tens of millions of girls from the past generation, there are simply fewer women available to marry. To shore up the institution and boost marriage options, a leader proposes relaxing Asian divorce laws and allowing divorced women more of a share of the couple's assets. At the same time, over here, the New York Post opines that the 33% spike in marriages registered in New York City in August is due to gay and lesbian people getting married. If it is the case that more gay and lesbian couples are getting married and adopting or having their own children, doesn't it seem that glbt people like us are actually the ones presently saving the institution of marriage?

Einar Thomassen: Spiritual Seed--The Church of the Valentinians

Einar Thomassen's book The Spiritual Seed: The Church of the Valentinians was released in paperback (2008) by Brill as "an experiment" (I asked about it at a recent book display) which is commendable. Here are some reasons to read it:

'Einar Thomassen's The Spiritual Seed is a magisterial work, the most comprehensive and authoritative study of Valentinian Christianity now available. Through his close readings of the often fragmentary ancient sources, Thomassen pieces together a compelling reconstruction of the history, teachings, and rituals of this fascinating branch of the early Christian movement. The book concludes with an original portrait of Valentinus himself. Newcomers to the study of Valentinianism will profit from the book's clear introduction to the important questions and figures, while specialists will find fresh insights and seasoned judgments on nearly every page. This is the one book that anyone interested in Valentinian Christianity should read.'
David Brakke, Indiana University



At slightly over 500 pages, Einar Thomassen's The Spiritual Seed: The Church of the "Valentinians" is by far the most important, thorough, and authoritative treatment of Valentinian Christianity in the 60 years since the publication of François Sagnard's La gnose valentinienne et le témoignage de saint Irenée in 1947. Its 32 chapters contain an exhaustive and careful analysis of all extant Valentinian literature from the Nag Hammadi library, the commentaries of Heracleon, Theodotus' Excerpts, and Ptolemy's Letter to Flora, and all the patristic testimonies that in turn were based on nearly a score of no-longer extant texts, well as all the fragmentary but non-systematic remains of psalms, homilies and letters that can be attributed to Valentinus himself. […] All-in-all, this clearly and patiently written work is a "blockbuster" that now gives a reliable account of Valentinian theology, ritual, and intellectual history. The Spiritual Seed is now the definitive treatment of Valentinianism and its biblical and philosophical bases, a "must have" for all scholars-and their research libraries-of ancient Gnosticism, second-century Christian history and thought, and historians of later Greek philosophy.
John D. Turner, University of Nebraska at Lincoln.



Philip Tite of Willamette reviewed it in 2009 for the Journal of Ecclesiastical History (60, 4) 755-758, describing it as an important and inspirational contribution locating Valentinianism within the philosophical movements of the second to the fourth centuries. Nevertheless, there are surprising omissions. For example, while the author had published elsewhere an important essay on the topic, a delineation of a corpus of Valentinian sources was missing from the book. Certain sources are favored whilst others are ignored without explanation. Using Theodotus and the Tripartate Tractate for an understanding of eastern Valentinianism, for example, is not persuasive. Social processes (community formations, gender roles, inter- and intra-group dynamics and cultural accommodations or resistance) are also not (yet) taken into account (cf the work of Henry Green and, more recently, Ismo Dunderberg). 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ephesians 5:22 and mutual submission

Apparently Michele Bachmann was asked about Ephesians 5 recently. The question focussed specifically on the language of submission in Ephesians 5:22-4 and the article goes on to speak about translations preferred by evangelicals:

In the New International Version translation of the Bible, the version most preferred by evangelical Christians and nondenominational churches, a camp Bachmann has said she belongs to, Ephesians 5:22-24 are translated as:
"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
There is also a quotation from a New Testament scholar about the submission of wives to husbands in Paul and the specificity of the injunction together with support for Michele Bachmann's interpretation of "submission" as "respect."
This is all beside the point! The fact of the matter is, as anyone who reads Greek knows, the verb is absent from Ephesians 5:22 and introduced by inference from Ephesians 5:21 where mutual submission is enjoined by the author. 
What we need are bible translations that use an ellipsis in Ephesians 5:22: "Wives...to your husbands as to the Lord." Second best would be translations that supply a verb in italics or that add a note to the supplied verb.  For example, the NET Bible provides a note, but reads an imperative in the translation.
   1.Wives, submit* to your husbands as to the Lord, 
      * The witnesses for the shorter reading (in which the verb “submit” is only implied) are minimal (P46 B Cl Hiermss), but significant and early. The rest of the witnesses add one of two verb forms as required by the sense of the passage (picking up the verb from v. 21). Several of these witnesses have ποτασσέσθωσαν (hupotassesthōsan), the third person imperative (so א A I P Ψ 0278 33 81 1175 1739 1881 al lat co), while other witnesses, especially the later Byzantine cursives, read ποτάσσεσθε (hupotassesthe), the second person imperative (D F G M sy). The text virtually begs for one of these two verb forms, but the often cryptic style of Paul’s letters argues for the shorter reading. 
The chronology of development in Ephesians 5:22 seems to have been that the verse first existed with no verb - then a third person imperative was added - and finally a second person imperative was added. It is not insignificant that early lectionaries began a new day’s reading with v. 22; these most likely caused copyists to add the verb at this juncture.