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.