Tuesday, December 12, 2017

David Bentley Hart's new translation of The New Testament

David Bentley Hart's new translation of the New Testament is a breath of fresh air: responsible, creative, and inspiring. Yale University Press is to be commended for encouraging and publishing this excellent new translation. If heeded, it could well influence and improve translations produced in committee work such as the NRSV.

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, and a philosopher, writer, and cultural commentator. He is a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study and has held positions at the University of Virginia, Duke University, and Providence College.

Why produce a new translation of the New Testament? The author explains: "To be honest, I have come to believe that all the standard English translations render a great many of the concepts and presuppositions upon which the books of the New Testament are built largely impenetrable, and that most of them effectively hide (sometimes forcibly) things of absolutely vital significance for understanding how the texts’ authors thought." Committee work of many modern translations results in imprecision, "anodyne blandness" and accommodation.


The author wanted instead to produce "a version that would be by my lights as scrupulously faithful as I could make it, that would not merely reiterate conventional readings of the text, and that would allow me to call attention to features of the Greek original usually invisible in English versions proved irresistible." In fact, the author's aim is "to help awaken readers to mysteries and uncertainties and surprises in the New Testament documents that often lie wholly hidden from view beneath layers of received hermeneutical and theological tradition. And I would hope my translation would succeed, in many places, in making the familiar strange, novel, and perhaps newly compelling." A more formal translation, the author adheres to the idea that an unsettling reading is the more accurate one.


Whilst we can agree that writers of the New Testament do not write well even within the latitude of Koine (common) Greek of the time, and that the New Testament itself is a strange compilation of disparate and disjointed texts urgently trying to communicate experiences of revelation: what is seen and heard in ways that stretch limits of language, we can also affirm their utter commitment to radical and uncomfortable ideas like the assertion that personal wealth is intrinsically evil. 


In my judgment, David Bentley Hart has succeeded admirably. For example, hidden by most modern translations, is the alternation of Matthew, Mark, and John between past and present tenses in narrative and speech. Our translator preserves the strange juxtaposition of both, because "it endows the text with a peculiar vividness; at least, to me there is a strikingly plain plangency to “They crucify him” that is qualitatively different from the effect of “They crucified him.”  Most modern translations eliminate the present tense and substitute the historic present, namely a past tense. As for significant words: Χριστός (Christos) is rendered “Anointed”; διάβολος (diabolos) by “Slanderer”; ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia) “assembly” rather than “church,” "simply to make the reader aware that it was once an ordinary word with an ordinary meaning." Not everyone would agree that "Son of Man" must be capitalised as a "distinctive prophetic title" without discussion, since the Aramaic phrase also describes a human being as the author knows.  On terminology for Jesus, John 1 is especially interesting "In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god; This one was present with GOD in the origin." The choice is explained in "A Concluding Unscientific Postscript." I might quibble with rendering Logos as a masculine pronoun given Tyndale's translation using "it" in vv 3-5, and I think that greater attention to issues of gender and inclusive language would include a wider audience, but see what you think.





Sunday, October 22, 2017

Making a Way Out of No Way National Museum of African American History & Culture





Making a Way Out of No Way (National Museum of African American History & Culture)

MAKING A WAY OUT OF NO WAY
In this exhibition, themed stories show how African Americans crafted possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities. Taking its inspiration from a popular African American expression, Making a Way Out of No Way explores themes of agency, creativity, and resilience through personal stories of African Americans who challenged racial oppression and discrimination and created ways out of “no way.”

This exhibition posits the agency of African Americans – as individuals, as families, as communities, and as organized groups – as central to an understanding of the multiple and important roles of African Americans in the American story. Throughout history, African Americans acted to change and build their lives despite tremendous obstacles, often in collaboration and cooperation with other Americans. The stories presented here reflect the perseverance, resourcefulness, and resilience required of African Americans not only to survive, but to thrive, in America.

Main Messages:

Throughout history, African Americans have acted to change and build their lives despite tremendous obstacles.
Just as racism has taken many forms in American society, so have the solutions and strategies that African Americans have developed to challenge it.
By creating their own organizations and institutions, African Americans developed ways to address their needs and aspirations that fostered values of community, service, and mutual support.
In making their own “way out of no way,” individuals have drawn inspiration, strength, and support from various sources – from their families and communities, from a higher power, from the world of ideas, from the past, from other people and places, and from within themselves.
By embracing the belief that change is always possible, even in the bleakest of circumstances, African Americans have exemplified a resilient spirit that is also fundamentally American.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Social media in scholarly worlds

The enterprising Thomas J. Oord edited this collection presently #1 in Amazon Religious Education. Kudos to him!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fall Courses at the Stevenson School for Ministry in the Dio of Central PA

Here are the fall offerings for the Stevenson School for Ministry in the Diocese of Central PA including a course, Greek for Preaching and Teaching that I am offering that will be taught online. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hebrew, Greek, & Anglo Saxon Mss from Corpus Christi College Oxford in NYC

The Center for Jewish History in NYC is currently showing an exhibit of Hebrew, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, celebrating its quincentenary. This is the first time Hebrew, Greek and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and other objects (e.g. the crozier of the founder of the College, Bishop Richard Fox) have crossed the pond. 

Corpus has the ‘most important collection of Anglo-Jewish manuscripts in the world’, says the PR and worth seeing are survivors from pre-Expulsion era manuscripts of Hebrew and Latin, one a private 12th-century Ashkenazi siddur (book of daily prayers), thought to be the oldest extant anywhere, that was owned by a Sephardic Jew from the Iberian Peninsula who emigrated to England and wrote notes on his business dealings in Judeo-Arabic. There is a 13th-century manuscript of Samuel and Chronicles that was used by Christians to learn Hebrew, and two of the oldest manuscripts of Rashi in the world. There is also a version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a Langland, a version of Wycliffe's translation of the Bible and other notable manuscripts. 

The 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, also known as the KJV is arguably the most important translation of the Bible into English. The college's role in the creation of the King James Version is a key part of its history, which is represented here by handwritten notes. John Rainolds, the president of Corpus Christi, first proposed the Bible's creation to King James and led one of the six committees that produced it. This manuscript records notes from the translators of the King James Bible by John Bois. The notes run to thirty-nine pages and are the only record of some of the deliberations and preferences of the translators. It is a record of the sheer diligence of the translators, comparing, discussing and consulting authorities. The Preface to the Translation explains this work of revision. 'Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see'.


This (Corpus Christi Ms 207) is a royal genealogy in Middle English for all the medieval kings of England from Adam and Eve to Edward IV (1433-83). It was written and illuminated in England probably in Winchester or London 1467-69. 

Below is a page from The Lapworth Missal. Misal, Use of Sarum. England, dated 1398. The Lapworth Missal, with its 14th-century illustration of the crucifixion, "is the most artistically significant item in the exhibit—and the gold is spectacular" according to the catalog.


You have until August 6th 2017 to catch this remarkable display. 




Friday, March 03, 2017

Spaces in which to articulate cultural criticism and community building

A wonderful piece in the New Republic by Josephine Livingstone (Feb 27th 2017) argues that cultural criticism, when best understood, open up larger horizons of meaning that are neither reactive to the present political climate nor self-indulgent. We can be both on the streets in protests and build communities of meaning. This seems to me immensely helpful.

In the Roman Imperial period, for example, Lucan’s political epics are far more than reactions to the Emperor Nero. In fact they “work as spaces to reconfigure agency and the political (or philosophical) self.”

"Art is about creating those spaces evident in Lucan’s epics. It’s as if a zone is staked out for a variety of ideas and postures to flex and interact. This zone is the place where the arts play. It is not an apolitical place, it is just not owned by government. In this aesthetic space, the arts explore a less confined politics than the one that controls the state. The state is not the beginning, end, or the reason for this space."

She goes onto cite the work of Sister Wendy Beckett who "gave up her life in the world for God, and then she took time out from God for art. Her example seemed like enough to make writing about art intrinsically, inexplicably worthwhile. But now, all these years later, I see that Beckett’s book was an act of service. She did not just commune with the artworks, she wrote about it, to an audience. In this way, Beckett gave me a community made of words. I will never forget how in one caption to a Picasso painting Beckett described its 'frankly rendered pudenda.'"

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

An English Sheep Farmer's View of Rural America

There's a twitter account that I found before it was trendy, which I follow and enjoy: James Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1)

It includes daily doings, landscapes, and farm animals especially sheep like these with witty captions: 

WEAR BRITISH WOOL. ALL THE MOST STYLISH LADIES DO.

And today I discovered that Mr Rebanks has an op-ed piece in the NY Times: "An English Sheep Farmer's View of Rural America." Promoting his book, he travelled through Kentucky. The whole article is worth your reading. 

Here's the conclusion:


"After my trip to rural America, I returned to my sheep and my strangely old-fashioned life. I am surrounded by beauty, and a community, and an old way of doing things that has worked for a long time rather well. I have come home convinced that it is time to think carefully, both within America and without, about food and farming and what kind of systems we want.

The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.

Despite the growing scale of the problem, no major mainstream politician has taken farming or food seriously for decades. With the presidential campaign over and a president in the White House whom rural Kentuckians helped elect, the new political establishment might want to think about this carefully.

Suddenly, rural America matters. It matters for the whole world."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Finding a Way: Past, Present and Future of HDS

Article by Charles K. Michael on the present shape of Harvard Divinity School and future directions. 

Less than 40% of students are in the M.Div. program. 

"The Divinity School is no longer united around Protestantism. Its alumni are no longer connected by their work in religious ministry. But it is centered around service and community organizing, often for progressive causes, and has been since its founding in 1816."


Jon D. Levenson, a professor of Jewish Studies at the Divinity School, is one skeptic of the new curriculum. “For a long time, the Divinity School was primarily a Protestant seminary,” he says. “Those liberal Protestant denominations are underwater demographically—they have a negative birthrate, below replacement level. Their cultural influence has declined markedly. I think it was inevitable that a curriculum that spoke to the older identity of the school would have to change.”

Dean Hempton thinks that The Divinity School "doesn’t have a center of gravity in the same way that a single-denomination seminary would. Instead, he says, “The center of gravity has generally been more on the progressive side of religious issues… Many of our more recent alums have been involved in all kinds of progressive NGOs. I think that’s where the center of gravity is.”


For many students, the Divinity School’s lack of a single religious identity is a major benefit. In her day job, Divinity School graduate Kerry A. Egan cares for terminally ill patients in a hospice in South Carolina. She is the chaplain there, but her job is not to preach any one set of beliefs or teach any one doctrine—Egan is simply there as what she calls a “spiritual midwife,” whose role is “to help [the patient], sit with them, and say to them, ‘What do you already believe?’”

Egan is a Christian, but that does not change the way she cares for patients: “One of the things you learn as a chaplain is you walk out and say ‘I want to be all of the religions!’ You love them all. They all have so much beauty in them.”
Last fall, Egan published the book “On Living,” telling the stories of her patients and the lessons she’s drawn from them. To Egan, writing is a form of ministry, one that speaks to a much larger audience. This fits with the Divinity School’s mission to rethink how religious leadership works: “We’re broadening, in a way, the meaning of ministry to include other vocations besides congregational leadership,” says Rose.

The article concludes:
“We know that 84 percent of the world’s population declares that religion is a primary organizing principle of their lives,” says Hempton. “A place of real excellence where religion can be studied, without it being driven by a confessional or proselytizing agenda, I think is a good thing for the world.”

Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon for Theological Education Sunday and Candlemas Feb 4th 2017

Thank you Father Sasser and the parish of St Paul's Bloomsburg PA for the invitation to preach on Theological Education Sunday and join your  celebration of Candlemas yesterday.



Friday, January 20, 2017

American Values Religious Voices 2017

American Values Religious Voices is a national nonpartisan campaign that brings together 100 scholars from a diverse range of religious traditions to articulate core American values that have grounded our nation in the past and should guide us forward at this time of transition. For the first 100 days of the new administration, we will send a one-page letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Cabinet Secretaries, and Members of the House and the Senate. The letters offer insight and inspiration drawn from the collective wisdom of our faith communities and their sacred texts.

David Bentley Hart's new translation of The New Testament

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