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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

East Neuk Festival and Bach

There can't be many readers of this blog who know what or where the East Neuk Festival is. Well, that's easily answered: the eastern part of the kingdom of Fife, Scotland. And for 7 days from today you can listen to the Serbian pianist Aleksander Madzar playing the Bach Partitas at the festival in Crail Church. This is a local festival where concerts are held in churches and church halls. At the beginning of this week's concert, you can hear birds singing in the churchyard. A Guardian review of the festival speaks of

the most revelatory, Aleksandar Madžar's tender, vulnerable and deeply lyrical Bach Partitas.

And if you want more about location, including information on St Fillan, a local Celtic saint, here's a video:

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland

A survey of recent tension felt by the Irish towards the Roman Catholic Church is in the Church Times including a recent report from the Diocese of Cloyne from the recent period 1996-2009. This included allegations against several priests which were ignored by the RC Church and the Vatican response described as "entirely unhelpful."  The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny then excoriated the Vatican in a speech and the Papal Nuncio was subsequently recalled to Rome. In the speech, the Prime Minister said:

“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic — as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.
“And, in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, élitism — the narcissism — that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
“Far from listening to evidence of humili ation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of the canon lawyer. This is not Rome. . . This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws, of rights and responsibilities; of proper civic order, where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version, of a particular kind of ‘morality’, will no longer be tolerated or ignored.”


The Pope's response of "surprise and disappointment" to these events occasioned this response from George Pitcher in the Guardian this past weekend, taking the Vatican to task for "repentance lite." He concludes:
It seems that there are some still in the Roman Catholic high command who have to take the first steps down that road to reconciliation over the monstrous child-abuse scandal.
Massimo Franco in the same newspaper last Friday opined that the Vatican has so far failed to take into account that the changed notion of sin now part of open contemporary culture now demands public accountability. The Vatican still operates in a culture of secrecy. The Tablet (an RC publication) wondered out loud if the ire of the Irish Prime Minister should have been directed against the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee and called for a healing hand. 
The crucial piece of evidence in the Cloyne report was a letter sent in 1997, via the nuncio, from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, newly headed by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos. It dismissed the so-called “framework document”, which had been agreed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference the previous year for dealing with child-abuse cases, as non-binding and not in accordance with canon law – looking at it, in Mr Kenny’s words, “through the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”. The document committed the Irish bishops to report cases of alleged child abuse by clergy to the police. It was recognised that church processes for dealing with such cases were defective, in some cases leaving abusive priests to continue their abuse even after plausible allegations had been made against them.

Encouraged by Cardinal Castrillón’s intervention, Bishop Magee decided not to follow the framework document in his diocese, and as a result a number of cases were not reported to the police, as the framework document said they should have been. That was a direct failure of the duty of supervision that the Holy See has towards all diocesan bishops, who under the hierarchical system of government in the Catholic Church are only answerable upwards. This invites the suspicion that the system has become, in Mr Kenny’s word, dysfunctional.

The fatal mistake of the Holy See was to stand on the principle that one sovereign authority, the Irish state, had no right to investigate the affairs of another, the Holy See. It refused to cooperate with the government inquiry. Instead, in these particular circumstances it should have waived its privileges, humbly accepted that the 1997 letter had disastrous effects which its author presumably did not intend, and worked with the Irish Government and its inquiry to find explanations and solutions. Indeed, throughout the worldwide church crisis concerning child abuse by priests, the Vatican has been reluctant to admit that its policies and procedures might have been a contributing factor. It could, for instance, have ratified the Irish bishops’ framework document, making it part of local canon law. It chose not to do so, nor to explain why. That is an example of the high-handed attitude that justifies the Taoiseach’s anger.



On August 3rd, NCR reports that public support in Ireland for the Prime Minister's speech has been high while the Irish Echo notes that the PM is riding the wave of anti-Catholic sentiment in the media. Maureen Dowd in the NY Times spoke of the end of awe and the need for men in authority to be publically accountable. 
Most recently Savi Hensman writing for Ekklesia says:
In various denominations, attempts to play down scandals related to abuse have done more damage to these churches than open admission of fault and true penitence would have done. Numerous Irish people, many of them Roman Catholic, have been saddened and angered by the failure of the church at times faithfully to follow Christ, who told his followers "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10.14), and that “nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (Luke 8.17). In speaking out for them, and insisting that children should come first, Enda Kenny was perhaps exercising his responsibility not only as Prime Minister of a democracy but also as a lay Christian, steeped in a tradition that includes not only piety but also prophecy.
It is easy for churches to become inward-looking, and fail to discern how and where God is at work outside institutional structures and hierarchies. Yet the hope of renewal may be found in humble openness to One present throughout creation and who (in the words of a prayer attributed to Patrick, patron saint of Ireland) may speak through “mouth of friend and stranger”.
It's a watershed moment for the Irish and for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Even if some see the Prime Minister's words as opportunistic or "too little too late," he reflects the sentiments of many many people. Apparently there's now a phrase on many people's lips: "Change the Church, keep the faith." 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bach's interpretation of the Magnificat

Discovering Music this week explores the musical background of J.S. Bach's Magnificat. I am particularly interested to learn more about the way the music interprets the text.

Sara Moore Pietsch is in conversation with the director of the Ancient Academy of Music, Richard Egarr. First they discuss the different versions of the Magnificat that Bach composed. First was the version in E flat and then it was transposed into the key of D major. Bach's audience would have known the text of the Magnifcat, whatever their social stations. It was sung in Latin on major church holidays. The text is divided into 12 sentences, each sentence or line carries a particular quality.

Bach wrote music as difficult and uncompromising for voices as it was for instruments. Specific words are emphasized in the music--the strings go against the voice in the second piece, "Et exultavit spiritus meus.." in which the singer starts and stops and then continues again so that the listeners reflect on the repeated text.  In this movement we hear melisma, the extension of one syllable over several notes: hear, for example, the words "exultavit" and "salutari."

The oboe d'amore was used in the second version of the Magnificat for instrumental color heightening religious contemplation in the next line.

Bach writes "humilitatem" as a falling line in the third line of the text. He also extends the text into the next line "ecce enim ex hoc beatem me dicent..." after which Bach stops. Then the chorus takes over the words "omnes generationes." There are 41 entries of the word "omnes." The name Bach adds up to 14; J.S. Bach adds up to 41 and Bach used this number to sign his name.

"Quia fecit mihi magna" is written for organ, harpsichord and double bass and cello giving a rich base for the music and the singer.

The line "misericordia" for two voices almost intertwining creates a personal intimate color. The strings underneath are reminiscent of the opening of the Matthew passion looking through the whole life of Jesus to the passion. The final phrase makes the two voices sing a vibrato, a nervous trembling on the word "fear," timentibus which echoes the word.

 "Fecit potentiam" is the beginning of part 2, movement #7, with a shout from the choir in a very energetic line. On the word "dispersit" three notes sung by each choral part fall down as if being scattered. The end of the line has some of the most beautiful music.

"Deposuit" is melismatic writing followed by the very simple musical coloring for the word "humiles" (humble).

Solo alto with 2 flutes and continuo is the setting for "he has filled the hungry with good things." The flute was the instrument of kings and queens and perhaps represents the rich. The word "implevit" is a very long melisma, indicating the extent of filling the hungry. The rich flautists aren't allowed to play their last notes but and the phrase on a dry "plop" in which the rich are sent empty away.


Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Exciting news about a digital version of the Loeb Classical Library (and a less expensive alternative)

Today's Inside Higher Ed reports that Loeb Classical Library trustees recently announced that they are preparing to convert the Loeb series to a digital format that would allow any authorized user to search the English translations of the Loeb works for specific words, ideas, and phrases. Libraries would buy licenses to provide students and other authorized users access to the digital Loeb, which is expected to go live in 2013. (The Harvard press will continue selling the print versions.)

The goal of the digital iteration of Loeb, say several academics involved with the project, is to allow students, scholars, and others to draw out themes from ancient literature even if they don’t know where to look and don’t speak the languages. A religion scholar who wants to learn more about Greek and Roman conceptions of the soul would be able to search the entire body of ancient literature for soul references. The scholar could also refine a search for references to the soul by specific authors or time periods.

And here is a link to a site wherein freely available LCL books in the public domain are identified.