Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interested in "How to Get Ahead in Academic Publishing?" Join a discussion tomorrow sponsored by the Guardian on Friday July 1st at 1pm. Leonard Cassuto has written in the Chronicle that publishing a dissertation might actually reduce academic visibility. The whole publishing situation is fluid! Join the online discussion tomorrow with a panel of experts (yet to be identified). 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011



New Testament Professor Appointed at General Seminary


New York City – The Executive Committee of the Trustees of The General Theological Seminary (GTS) on June 22, 2011 unanimously approved the appointment of the Rev. Katherine A. Shaner as Assistant Professor of New Testament. Ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), Prof. Shaner is current a candidate for the Doctor of Theology degree at Harvard Divinity School where her scholarly specialization is in the field of New Testament and Early Christian History. Her doctoral dissertation, entitled Religious and Civic Lives of the Enslaved: A Case Study of Roman Ephesos, was a finalist in the Charlotte Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. She has won numerous awards for her scholarly work including a Regional Scholar Award from the Society of Biblical Literature and a Fulbright Fellowship. Prof. Shaner will replace recently retired professor of New Testament, the Rev. Dr. John Koenig.
Trustees made the appointment following an extensive search process carried out by a committee headed by the Seminary’s Interim Dean, the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee.  “Prof. Shaner was selected from a field of extremely talented scholars,” said Bishop Lee. “She has made outstanding contributions to the field of New Testament studies, has delivered many important papers, and has extensive teaching experience, having served as a fellow at Harvard Divinity School under both Prof. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Prof. Karen King.” Prof. Shaner has also had experience in congregational and pastoral ministries in Boston and Detroit. She has much experience in archaeological research having served as an excavation assistant with the Austrian Archaeological Institute at Ephesos in Selçuk. She expects to receive her Th.D. degree from Harvard Divinity School this coming November.

"The opportunity to join General's faculty combines many aspects of my vocation as a pastor and a scholar," said Prof. Shaner. "I am very excited to join the work of prayer, study, formation, and witness that this community shoulders together. "

The Seminary’s Board of Trustees in May 2011 delegated to its Executive Committee the authority to elect a New Testament faculty member on recommendation of the Dean and the New Testament Search Committee.  Prof. Shaner’s appointment also had the endorsement of Dr. David Hurd, Chair of the Seminary’s Faculty Affairs Committee. She will be residing at the Seminary and will begin her teaching duties this fall.  Bishop Lee concluded his announcement by saying he believed Prof. Shaner will bring sound scholarship, visionary energy, and pastoral sensitivity to her work.
   

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts is now on iTunes U. There are twenty video clips to begin with, in six different categories. They will be uploading new videos every week for the next several weeks. The videos are intended for a lay audience that is motivated to learn about the transmission of the text of the New Testament. The link is here




Saturday, June 25, 2011

Catholics and the vote for same-sex marriage

Hats off to State Senator Mark Grisanti whose Catholicism did not prevent him for voting in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry in New York State. He speaks of doing the right thing, doing the research and respecting himself. "A man can be wiser today than yesterday" he says twice. Same-sex couples have rights and they cannot be denied as human beings, tax-payers and workers in this state. The bill also protects religious rights.

In an article "Key Vote for NY gay marriage not just Catholic", Cathy Lynn Grossman, who generally writes pieces I enjoy reading, doesn't seem to grasp that his position does not vitiate his religious beliefs. True, he may be in tension with his bishop. But so are many other good Roman Catholics in this state: politicians like Governor Cuomo, theologians like Sister Elizabeth Johnson, and so on, right back to Geraldine Ferraro who are or were in tension with Roman Catholic hierarchy over the public exercise and articulation of their Christian faith. Let's open up the issues around that debate and air them publicly

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage in the great state of New York?

As the vote to permit same-sex marriage in New York comes down to the wire today,  I feel compelled to repost our article on our own marriage written for Episcopal Cafe on December 4, 2008.


Our (Same-Sex) Marriage

We got married last week.

We got married in Connecticut where the first same-sex marriage license was issued on Nov. 12th, 2008, following a court decision summarized by Richard Just in The New Republic (including a link to the original 85-page decision). We were going to get married in Massachusetts, where the constitutional prohibition against marriages of non-residents was overturned last summer, but Connecticut was so much closer to home, and frankly, that decision was so brilliant we felt drawn to Connecticut.

Two aspects of the decision stand out for us. First, the decision set the "same-sex marriage devalues heterosexual marriage" objection on its head. On the contrary, the decision argued, saying that a civil union is equivalent to a marriage and therefore non-discriminatory is what downgrades marriage. "Civil union" simply does not carry the weight of social benefits and responsibilities that have accrued to marriage over the centuries, and therefore civil union cannot be equivalent to marriage.

Second, the decision addressed the issue of whether such a ruling should be made by the courts or by the legislature by determining the status of homosexuals as a "quasi-suspect" class requiring legal intervention to achieve parity because judicial processes were unlikely to provide equal rights.

So, we've been living as a monogamous couple for 16.5 years now, rather like the landless working poor of past centuries who didn't have the means or necessity to ratify their status in a church (hence the recognition of common law marriage for property rights). And many people who congratulate us go on immediately to ask, "But doesn't this just feel like a formality?"

To which we say, No. Emphatically. True, our union was blessed in a church 16 years ago, but this is different. This is an act of public witness, an exercise of public accountability, a participation in a universally recognized and honored status that confers legal, social, and emotional benefits and responsibilities. Granted, there are legal entities that do not yet recognize our right to be married, that narrowly define marriage in terms of exclusion, but that's their problem. We are married nonetheless. And because we are deeply optimistic, we hope we will always live somewhere that honors the fact of our marriage. Ironically, we are a bit schizoid at present, living in New York (which does honor our marriage) and Maine (which has both a domestic partnership law and a defense of marriage act) - but this too will pass. With each legally (and sacramentally, if possible) ratified marriage of a same-sex couple, this division comes closer to passing away.

But here's the rub. The state (at least the State of Connecticut, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State of California sometimes, Canada, the UK, and a number of other countries) has recognized, recorded and ratified our union in marriage - but our church, the entity which should be showing us the way forward in lives of commitment and integrity and accountability and hospitality and generosity and self-giving and unconditional love, still wavers on the borders of commitment to us. We can find pockets where bishops and priests claim their right to ratify our marriages as agents of the state and bless them as priests of the church, but we still feel constrained to protect witnesses who may be called to function in the church in other locales.

Our marriage is a commitment to be accountable to all those persons who have participated in and supported marriage - whoever they are, whether or not they are willing to support our marriage. They've got our commitment and our participation, those who value it and those who would reject it.

We both have this old fashioned ideal of the church as parochial in the original sense of the word, the place where we are, not the place we go to hear the sermons we prefer to hear. But for some of us, our church has not yet decided to be where we are. The consequence of this is that we can only celebrate fully, joyously, sacramentally, with a disparate group of sympathetic people who cannot be rooted just in the place where they live. So far.

Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield


Saturday, June 18, 2011

John Wyclif and the Lollards (In Our Time)

In Our Time on Radio 4, Melvin Bragg conducts a roundtable discussion on the topic of John Wyclif (also spelled Wycliffe) and his followers the Lollards. Discussants include Sir Anthony Kenny, Anne Hudson, and Rob Hutton.

Wyclif, philosopher, scholar and friend of John of Gaunt, was the first translator of the bible into English. In fourteenth century England there are movements of dissent. Before Wyclif, formal dissent against the church was found mostly in Europe. Wyclif argued that, in comparison to the New Testament and the early church, the church at the end of the 14th Century was materially wealthy and powerful and taxes to the papacy in Avignon could be viewed as support for England's enemy, France. Then Wyclif attacks the wealthy English clergy.

His views on the Eucharist were controversial and he next challenged the doctrine of transubstantiation. Wyclif said that the Eucharist was both bread and the body of Christ as opposed to the notion that bread was transformed into the body of Christ. Once these notions were articulated in English, everyone had access to them.

Wyclif's translation of the Bible in 1390 was the precursor to other translations including that of Luther. It is a mystery as to who is responsible for the translation: Fox argued for Wyclif alone. Thomas Moore maintained that these Bibles were made by non-heretical Christians of the time. There were no tendentious translations such as that of Tyndale. Today, the translation is known to have gone through several stages including one well after Wyclif's death.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Sounds of Ancient Mesopotamia

Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum speaks ancient Akkadian for the BBC. Who knows how it sounded? Interest in this topic has been generated by the 21-volume publication of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary on which scholars have been working for 90 years. Entries in the dictionary include many words with multiple meanings and


extensive associations with history are followed by page after page of discourse ranging through literature, law, religion, commerce and everyday life. There are, for example, 17 pages devoted to the word “umu,” meaning “day.”
The word “ardu,” for slave, introduces extensive material available on slavery in the culture. And it may or may not reflect on the society that one of its more versatile verbs was “kalu,” which in different contexts can mean detain, delay, hold back, keep in custody, interrupt and so forth.

Mesopotamia is believed to be among three or four places in the world where writing first emerged.
The cuneiform script - used to write both Assyrian and Babylonian, and first used for the Sumerian language - is, according to Dr Finkel, the oldest script in the world, and was an inspiration for its far more famous cousin, hieroglyphics.
Its angular characters were etched into clay tablets, which were then baked in the sun, or fired in kilns.
This produced a very durable product, but it was very hard to write, and from about 600BC, Aramaic - which is spoken by modern-day Assyrians in the region - began to gain prominence, simply because it was easier to put into written form, researchers believe.
The dictionary was put together by studying texts written on clay and stone tablets uncovered in ancient Mesopotamia, which sat between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers - the heartland of which was in modern-day Iraq, and also included parts of Syria and Turkey.
And there were rich pickings for them to pore over, with 2,500 years worth of texts ranging from scientific, medical and legal documents, to love letters, epic literature and messages to the gods.
"It is a miraculous thing," enthuses Dr Finkel.
"We can read the ancient words of poets, philosophers, magicians and astronomers as if they were writing to us in English.
"When they first started excavating Iraq in 1850, they found lots of inscriptions in the ground and on palace walls, but no-one could read a word of it because it was extinct," he said.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

As Good as God, As Clever as the Devil, Mary Benson by Rodney Bolt

There's an interview today with Rodney Bolt in Nightwaves, author of the new biography, As Good as God: As Clever as the Devil happily reviewed in the Guardian this week by Alexandra Harris.

The Benson clan into which Mary Sidgewick married, is well-known and large. They would be seen as eccentric and colourful today but not unusual for their time and place. Mary Benson was an extraordinary conversationalist beloved by Gladstone. People consulted her and she was a good listener. Mary Benson's diaries are a source for the biography. She writes about "the very core of the self, the 'ich' which must be governed by the will." Perhaps she can be credited with inventing the id.

Edward White Benson's attraction to Mary was that of an older man to a much younger girl aged 11. Mary's mother was alarmed. The Guardian review glosses over the age disparity between them and Edward Benson's complicated personal life before he married. Edward Benson became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883.

Lisa Gee in the Independent notes the perspective of the biographer:

In his preamble, Rodney Bolt explains that writing this book presented "an acute version of a well-worn ... problem, that of the tricky relation between an author's life and work". Mary didn't write for publication, but four of her children did and their work could be teasingly autobiographical. Sons Arthur, Hugh and Fred (E F Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels) were so prolific that their sister Maggie half-joked that unless they emigrated, English literature would be "flooded". They didn't. In 1906, Punch ran a cartoon captioned "Self-denial week: Mr A C Benson refrains from publishing a book". He didn't.

Mary Benson's relationships with women are significant. Mary referred to the female objects of her passions as "schwaermerein," "passions" or "crushes" but she is not described in the biography as a lesbian. The first crush she had was with the musician Ethyl Smyth. Subsequently setting up house with Lucy Tait, all her children would visit with their own partners.


At the heart of this book is an extraordinary woman who "evoked rather than dazzled", whose strengths – an ability to listen, an acute perceptiveness and precise tact – were founded on openness, understanding and profound self-awareness. A woman who came to believe that "Love is God", rather than vice versa. And who deserves to be written and read about.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Modern Composers' pieces on texts from the KJV

Radio 3's The Choir last night features modern composers' pieces on the KJV. Here's a description of the KJV Composition Awards. Anyone under 30 was invited to write music. They were not permitted to set the Magnificat or the Nunc to music. Several described searching for a Bible and then using topical indices to find texts they could set to music. Eight finalists were selected to perform at the final. There's some wonderful new music to hear in the programme. I particularly liked the musical setting featuring an oboe for the words "Let thine heart keep my commandments" by Owain Park

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ABC's guest editorial in the New Statesman

There has been widespread reaction to the editorial by the ABC in last Friday's New Statesman but the one I most appreciate is that by Bagehot in the Economist. I am so glad we have just subscribed to the Economist!


1) Read it carefully, and it is not really a devastating new assault on the democratic legitimacy of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government. It is version 23 of the leftists' lament of the moment: why, why, oh why, when horrid global financial capitalism is on its knees, is the social democratic left not doing better? Pick your way through the swipes at the coalition, and you will find just as many sighs of despair at the left's lack of ideas. Here are just a sprinkling (the emphases are mine):
it seems worth encouraging the present government to clarify what it is aiming for in two or three key areas, in the hope of sparking a livelier debate about where we are going - and perhaps even to discover what the left's big idea currently is.
or
An idea whose roots are firmly in a particular strand of associational socialism has been adopted enthusiastically by the Conservatives. The widespread suspicion that this has been done for opportunistic or money-saving reasons allows many to dismiss what there is of a programme for "big society" initiatives; even the term has fast become painfully stale. But we are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differentlyand what a left-inspired version of localism might look like
or
there are a good many on the left and right who sense that the tectonic plates of British - European? - politics are shifting. Managerial politics, attempting with shrinking success to negotiate life in the shadow of big finance, is not an attractive rallying point, whether it labels itself (New) Labour or Conservative
or
To acknowledge the reality of fear is not necessarily to collude with it. But not to recognise how pervasive it is risks making it worse. Equally, the task of opposition is not to collude in it, either, but to define some achievable alternatives. And, for that to happen, we need sharp-edged statements of where the disagreements lie.
or
The uncomfortable truth is that, while grass-roots initiatives and local mutualism are to be found flourishing in a great many places, they have been weakened by several decades of cultural fragmentation. The old syndicalist and co-operative traditions cannot be reinvented overnight and, in some areas, they have to be invented for the first time.
This is not a declaration of war on the government. It is a cry for help.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Actually, that's not in the Bible

John Blake at CNN has a wonderful piece "Actually, that's not in the Bible" from June 6th. "The Bible may be the most revered book in America but it's also one of the most misquoted" he says.


Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.
Consider these two:
“God works in mysterious ways.”
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).
The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.
“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying - if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Christianity and Money

Next Monday at 8.00pm BBC's Radio 4 explores the topic of Christianity and Money. Luke's Gospel, for example, has much to say about wealth, poverty, money and riches. For Luke, salvation has practical implications: it means "filling the hungry with good things... and sending the rich away empty..." And in Luke's Gospel, people are wealthy: Levi (chapter 5) and a listener (chapter 14: "When you give a banquet..."

Here's the blurb for the program:


Giles Fraser tells the story of how Christians came to have such mixed feelings about a subject we all obsess about: money.
Giles is the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral. As well as being responsible for the Cathedral's money, his job is to reach out to the people who work in the City of London.
St Paul's is located deep within the boiler room of global capitalism. Within just a few hundred yards of the cathedral are located most of the world's most important financial institutions. Billions and billions of pounds, dollars and yen are traded near hear every day. So how does the church make sense of all this financial activity? Jesus told his followers to give up all their possessions, yet the church itself is heavily involved in financial investment. Could this be why the church didn't seem to have much to say during the recent financial crisis?
In this first programme, Giles investigates the teachings of Jesus and the early church about the value of poverty. He talks to church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, and visits an austere Franciscan Friary in Dorset where the monks have a real commitment to poverty. Giles, very sceptical himself, challenges Brother Sam, the head of the Franciscans, and asks: why shouldn't Christians make money?

Sunday, June 05, 2011


Parables: Inviting Wonder about God (Summers at General online registration) 

Jesus was a gifted teacher and spiritual guide who told parables to inspire his listeners to think about and experience God’s realm in new ways. Open to interpretation, Jesus’ parables invite wonder and encourage a deeper engagement with the mystery of God's presence in the world. This weekend course will provide a scholarly introduction to the content, characteristics and language of Jesus’ parables and encourage mutual exploration of ways parables serve as a resource for nurturing the spiritual life. Part of General Seminary’s new Spiritual Guidance of Children program, the course will include a review of contemporary presentations of Jesus' parables in children's literature

Prof. Deirdre Good, June 18-19, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

New discoveries in Laodicea, Turkey

Today's Scotsman posts on new discoveries in Turkey: a fourth-century church in Laodicea, for example.

"This is one of the oldest churches in the world to survive in its original state," said Celal Simsek, the archaeologist who is leading the excavation team that has worked through the winter to reveal the huge church that was first spotted underground last year on a sonar scan. "When the ten most important archaeological discoveries of the 21st century are totted up one day, this church will definitely be on the list."

Simsek dates the construction of the church to between 313 and 320AD, immediately after the Edict of Milan, by which Emperor Constantine I of Rome legalised Christianity in the year 313.



Most encouraging is the support of Turkish authorities:


"We have recognised this as a special field of tourism and as a special cultural wealth," Turkish culture minister Ertugrul Gunay said. By next year, his ministry aims to increase the number of religious tourists to Turkey to more than three million, from 1.3 million last year.