Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Caesar's Coin Conference today

The morning was given over to Faith Communities: Looking Forward and Working Together.

The Rev. Dr. Bernice Powel Jackson, President and Moderator of the WCC for North America spoke of her experience pastoring a church in New Orleans and the slow laborious road to restoration of the city. How do we move from charity to justice? By making the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority of our synagogues and congregations. By keeping this on the agenda of public discussions in this election year and not just writing but visiting our congresspersons and staff to declare their accountability on this issue to us and to our congregations.

Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, spoke of the Massachusetts Health Care initiative being instigated by faith communities listening to the stories of people without health care or with restricted access to it. Our mandates for speaking out are from the Holiness Code of Leviticus and the Hebrew Prophets; from the notion that humanity is created in the divine image and God's covenant with creation. She spoke of not waiting for consensus to emerge in our faith communities but creating a climate for social change.

To be reminded of the biblical mandates for implementation of religious values and social justice in our society is a good thing for a biblical scholar. And to hear from such excellent speakers as these, in addition to E.J. Dionne last night, was a priviledge. I know it's not kosher for a New Yorker to be star-struck, but the arrival of Gloria Steinem in the refectory for dinner last night as the guest of Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun was unforgettable!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The PEN Writer's Festival is underway and here's a free event today that interests me:

April 29 | Circumference Celebrates Poetry in Translation

When: Tuesday, April 29
Where: Housing Works Bookstore Café: 126 Crosby St.
What time: 7 p.m.

With Brian Henry, Christina Svendsen, Jeffrey Yang, and special guests

Free and open to the public. No reservations.

Join translators Brian Henry, Christina Svendsen, and Jeffrey Yang for a reading of poetry in English and the original languages. Brian Henry will read his translations of Tomaž Šalamun and Ales Steger from Slovenian, Christina Svendsen will read her translations of Kurt Schwitters from Germany, and Jeffrey Yang will introduce us to the work of Su Shi and other Chinese poets.

Cirumference is a biannual journal of poetry in translation devoted to presenting translations of new work from around the globe, new visions of classical poems, and translations of foreign-language poets of the past who have fallen under the radar of American readers.

For more information, please visit:

Location of Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho:

126 Crosby Street, NYC 10012


* W / R to Prince Street
* B / D / F / V to Broadway-Lafayette
* 6 to Bleecker Street

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bishop Gene Robinson is currently being interviewed by Paul Allen on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves. The first clarification is that he was elected not appointed to the Episcopate (as is the case in the C of E). Then follows a discussion of interpreting the will of God and the role of the Bishop as a prophet and critic of the state.
The Marys of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Traditions.

Mary Magdalene, Jesus' mother Mary, and Mary of Bethany are three prominent Marys in the gospels of the New Testament and Christian tradition. Aspects of their lives and ministries are rooted in the figure of Miriam in Hebrew Scriptures and resonate with interpretations of Miriam in the second temple period. In the Qur'an, Mary is sister of Aaron and mother of the prophet Jesus. We will meet in a seminar discussion format to explore the origins and development of these female figures.

This one credit course will meet one Thursday a month, 6:00 to 8:45pm including dinner, on September 18, October 23, Nov 20 and Dec 18th, 2008. The course will be limited to 12 students of which three may be full-time students. Auditors are also welcome to apply, but preference will be given to those students registering for academic credit. Please register as soon as possible to ensure your place in this fascinating course.

In May I will send out more details including a list of books, resources, and proposed summer readings!

To register for the course, please be in touch with:

James W. N. Murphy
Program Manager of Lifelong Learning &
Center for Christian Spirituality
Director of the Master of Arts Program
212-243-5150 ext. 461
Toll Free: 888-487-5649 ext. 461
General Theological Seminary
175 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10011-4983

Temple of Jerusalem: From Moses to the Messiah, May 11-12

The Temple of Jerusalem: From Moses to the Messiah
May 11 – 12, 2008
Inaugural conference of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies
Honoring Professor Louis H. Feldman

May 11 • Noon – 6:00 pm
Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History 15 West 16th Street

Noon – 1:00 pm • Viewing of "Imagining the Temple: The Models of Leen Ritmeyer"

Session 1, 1: 00 – 3:30 pm

From the Tabernacle to the Dead Sea Scrolls
Chair: David Horwitz, Yeshiva University

Gary A. Anderson, University of Notre Dame
The Inauguration of the Tabernacle Service at Sinai

Shawn Zelig Aster, Yeshiva University
Centralization of Worship in the First Temple and Israelite Religious Belief

Shalom Holtz, Yeshiva University
Temple as Asylum and God as Asylum in the Psalms

Lawrence H. Schiffman, New York University
The Temple Scroll: A Utopian Temple Plan from Second Temple Times

Session 2, 3:45 – 6:00 pm

The Second Temple: Between Rome and Eternity
Chair: Moshe Bernstein, Yeshiva University

Menachem Mor, Haifa University
The Jewish and Samaritan Temples: Religious Competition in the Second Temple Period

Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev, Ben Gurion University
From Tolerance to Destruction: Roman Policy and Jewish Temple

Joshua Schwartz and Yehoshua Peleg, Bar Ilan University
Notes on the Virtual Reconstruction of the Herodian Period Temple and Courtyards

Leen Ritmeyer, Trinity Southwest University
Envisioning the Sanctuaries of Israel—The Academic and Creative Process of Archaeological Model Making

May 12 • 9:00 am – 5:30 pm

Stern College for Women
Geraldine Schottenstein Cultural Center
239 East 34th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)

Session 3, 9:00 – 11:30 am

The Jerusalem Temple in Medieval Christianity and Islam
Chair: David Berger, Yeshiva University

Frank Peters, New York University
Ruined Expectations: Christians and Muslims and the Jerusalem Temple

Moshe Sokolow, Yeshiva University
Fadai’l al-Quds: Jerusalem, The Temple and The Rock in Muslim Literature

Vivian B. Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Imagining the Temple in Late Medieval Spanish Altarpieces

Session 4, 12:30 – 2:45 pm

The Jerusalem Temple in Medieval and Early Modern Thought
Chair: Elisheva Carlebach, Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Jonathan Dauber, Yeshiva University
Images of the Temple in Sefer ha-Bahir

Mordechai Z. Cohen, Yeshiva University
God Dwelling in the Sanctuary? Interpretive Strategies of Maimonides, Nahmanides and Sefer ha-Hinnukh

Jacob J. Schacter, Yeshiva University
Remembering the Temple: Commemoration and Catastrophe in Medieval Ashkenazi Culture

Matt Goldish, Ohio State University
The Temple of Jerusalem from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

Session 5, 3:00 – 5:30 pm

The Jerusalem Temple in the Modern World
Chair: Joshua Zimmerman, Yeshiva University

Jess Olson, Yeshiva University,
“Jerusalem Rebuilt”: The Temple in the Fin-de-siècle Zionist Imagination

Maya Balakirsky Katz, Touro College
The Second Temple in Contemporary Orthodox Visual Culture

Ann Killebrew, Pennsylvania State University
Recent Excavations and Discoveries On and Near the Temple Mount

Robert O. Freedman, Johns Hopkins University
Digging the Temple Mount: Archaeology and the Arab-Israeli Conflict from the British Mandate to the Present

Concluding Remarks

Louis H. Feldman, Yeshiva University
Steven Fine, Yeshiva University

Attendance is free and open to the public.
Register at or call (212) 960-0189

About the Center

The Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, established by President Richard M. Joel in 2007, is an expression of the longstanding relationship between Yeshiva University and the land and state of Israel. The Center nurtures excellence in interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching of Israel from the biblical period to the modern state.

The Center for Israel Studies supports research, conferences, publications, museum exhibitions, public programs, and educational opportunities that enhance awareness and study of Israel in all of its complexities. The Center seeks to be a national and international forum for engagement of the political, economic, social, historical, religious, and cultural significance of Israel in the world community.
Peter Pham reports on the recent successful transition of power in Botswana in contrast to the plight of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. On March 31st, President Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana stepped down and was succeeded by his vice president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama (generally known as Ian Khama).

Mogae had more than a year left on the five-year term to which he was reelected in October 2004 (Botswana is what could be described as a hybrid Westminster parliamentary democracy with the executive state president being elected by a majority vote of the newly returned legislators after each general election; there is also an advisory upper House of Chiefs).

However, having succeeded to the presidency upon the retirement of his predecessor, Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, on April 1, 1998, Mogae faced the fact that the Batswana constitution set a limit of ten years on any incumbent's tenure as chief executive. Hence, as he simply stated at the end of his State of the Nation address last November: "Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the Constitution, I will leave the leadership of our country to His Honor the Vice President – a patriot, who I am sure will carry the mantle of leadership with distinction, as he has previously done."

The rest of the article explores reasons for Botswana's political and economic stability.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bethany beyond the Jordan and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

The Christian Century reports that King Abdullah of Jordan has given a 2 and a half acre site at the traditional location of Bethany beyond the Jordan to the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Jerusalem. A church and a retreat center are to be built there. The Baptismal Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan) is already a proposed World Heritage Site.

Here are some pictures.

The hill at the heart of Bethany was already revered in antiquity as a holy site marking the spot from which Elijah ascended to heaven (2 Kings 2:5-14); perhaps that is why John the Baptist lived and baptized there, for the personalities, lifestyles, and missions of John and Elijah are frequently associated in the New Testament. The Byzantine writers Jerome and Eusebius mentioned 'Bethabara beyond the Jordan' in the 4th Century as a pilgrimage destination where people went to be baptized in the same waters that John the Baptist used for his mission. Pilgrims' accounts as early as the 4th and 6th Century' AD mention the hill at Bethany east of the river where Elijah ascended to heaven. In the late 3rd or early 4th Century' AD, according to much later sources from the I1th and 14th Centuries. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, is said to have crossed the Jordan River and visited Elijah's Hill and the cave where John the Baptist lived, and built a church there to commemorate John the Baptist.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In case anyone missed it, here's a eulogy for Bishop Krister Stendahl posted in Episcopal Cafe earlier this week.

Friday, April 25, 2008

This week J. is in town and we took off one morning to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Japanese cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Here's the flowering cherry.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Civil Liberties and the FLDS Raid in Texas

Earlier this month, Texas authorities raided a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) ranch and took more than 400 children into state custody. As the custody hearings regarding these children continue, questions of the child, parental and religious rights implicated in the controversy continue to emerge.

As part of the NYCLU's continuing Civil Liberties Discussion Series, Lisa Graybill of the ACLU of Texas will discuss the civil rights and civil liberties issues at play in FLDS case.

The discussion is on Tuesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the NYCLU offices at 125 Broad Street on the 19th floor.

Following the presentations, NYCLU staff will lead a discussion with the speakers and attendees. Pizza and drinks will be provided to get the discussion going.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Mozarabic version of the Canticle from Sirach 51:13-19

A Song of Pilgrimage (from Ecclesiasticus 51)

While I was still young,
I sought Wisdom openly in my prayer.

Before the temple I asked for her,
and I will search for her until the end.

From the first blossom to the ripening grape,
my heart delighted in her.

My foot walked on the straight path,
from my youth I followed her steps.

I inclined my ear a little and received her,
I found for myself much instruction.

I made progress in Wisdom;
to the One who sent her,
I will give glory.

I directed my soul to Wisdom,
and in purity have I found her.

With her, I gained understanding from the first,
therefore will I never be forsaken.

My heart was stirred to seek her,
with my tongue will I sing God's praise.

This beautiful canticle included in Enriching our Worship and now part of our Daily Office in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd and elsewhere originated in a sub group of the Standing Commission on Liturgy of which I was a part way back in the 80's. Howard Galley was a part of that sub group. We were looking for Wisdom Canticles and he sent me to look at examples in the Latin Mozarabic Psalter in the library. What you see here is the end result.

Now I find that 11QPSa Column 21 has the following indicating that a version of our Psalm was sung at Qumran!

When I was still young, before I had gone astray, I searched for her. She came to me in her beauty, and up to the end, I kept investigating her. Even when the blossom falls, when the grapes are ripening, they make the heart happy. My foot tread on a straight path, for since my youth I have known her. I had hardly bent my ear, when I found much teaching. A wet-nurse she became to me, to my teacher I give my honor. I determined to enjoy myself, I was zealous for the good,incessantly. I became ablaze for her, I could not avert my face. I stirred my soul for her and on her heights I was not calm...(the column breaks off...)

World Earth Day, April 22

The Times of India reports on World Earth day tomorrow April 22. Here are some resources for religious leaders.

Purple Finches and Goldfinches at our feeder in Maine!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Amy-Jill Levine, May 2-4, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue

Friday - Sunday, May 2-4 Scholar in Residence
Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
30 West 68th Street, New York NY 10023

Prof. Amy-Jill Levine
Gender & Sexuality: Old & New Testaments

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament Studies, Director, Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender Sexuality, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, is a widely respected scholar and exceptional teacher, deeply versed in Christian and Jewish traditions.

Author of numerous books and articles on Second Temple Judaism, Christian origins, Jewish - Christian relations and Biblical women, she received awards from the Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. Dr. Levine returns to Stephen Wise Free Synagogue as scholar in residence for the first weekend in May. Her previous visit provided our congregation and visitors with remarkable insights, delivered with clarity and a wonderful sense of humor.

Friday, May 2
6pm Kabbalat Shabbat Service
Oneg Shabbat - Light Supper and 8:00pm talk on "The Bible, Gender & Sexuality, Part I: Adam & Eve - Desire & Destiny"

Saturday, May 3
9:30am Torah Study
"The Bible, Gender & Sexuality, Part II: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27): Sex & Sin"
11am Adult Study
"The Bible, Gender & Sexuality, Part III: Deborah & Jael - Motherhood & Murder"
Shabbat lunch with Professor Levine
1:30pm Shabbat Afternoon Study
"The Bible, Gender & Sexuality, Part IV: Jesus, Gender & Judaism"

Sunday, May 4, 9:30am Lecture
"Torah from Sinai & The Sermon on the Mount"

Free of Charge. All are welcome.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New baby wrens

Our dear friends Joy and Rob Sherman sent these photos of fledging wrens in a hanging basket outside their house in Florida. First, there's the mother outside the nest. Single baby flying out of the nest is next, then the two that are left from a trio of babies.

Finally, the empty nest! Congratulations, Mum and hospitable grandparents! Welcome to the world, wren chicks!
Rabbi James Rudin meets the Pope in New York City, offers a blessing, and assesses his words.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today's Daily Episcopalian is a discussion about "Unmarked Deaths." Be sure to see the comments.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Krister Stendahl and Tikvah Frymer-Kensky at Washington National Cathedral on November 5, 2002. Amongst other things, he speaks about the notion of "holy envy" -- when I sit in the synagogue on Yom Kippur and I hear the "kol nidre," I must say as John Wesley did in another context, my heart is strangely warmed. It isn't "cut flowers" to put in my own house.

In the dialogue section they note that the Bible lives by interpretation--it lives in faithfulness and organic continuity and change. Ideas in it are juxtaposed and challenged by speakers. We can recognize this and state preferences. The act of studying scriptures helps to refine our moral ideas. Texts of victimization of women for example make a claim that the period before when these acts took place was indefensible and needs not to be repeated. These texts are meant to indict a society showing what went wrong.

Bipartisanship in action at the unveiling of the Madeleine Albright portrait

Here's the transcript of the remarks and a video link. An excerpt from Secretary Rice's remarks:

I always tell Secretary Albright that it has been an honor to follow her in service here at the State Department. Our tenures, along with that of Secretary Colin Powell, show just how far the United States of America has come since the founding fathers, one of whom, of course, this room is named for, Benjamin Franklin, conceived of a young country along the eastern seaboard in which all men would be created equal. (Laughter.) If I serve my full term, it will have been 12 years since the United States of America had a white male Secretary of State. (Laughter and applause.) That a Czech immigrant and a daughter of an Alabama sharecropper -- granddaughter of an Alabama sharecropper could one day occupy the same office truly illustrates the greatness of this country.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bishop Krister Stendahl, at the top right hand side of this picture, was present at the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in Dartmouth,New Hampshire. As he lies close to death, let's remember him in his life and witness.

Update: Krister died this morning. Here's the New York Times obituary.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today at St Paul's Chapel, the 41 voice choir from Roedean School for girls (Anglican) in Johannesburg sang during the Eucharist. Afterwards they gave a concert. They will do the same thing at the 12.05pm Eucharist tomorrow with a concert to follow. The first video is the opening bars of a song about the great migration from the North to the South which is how people arrived (and are still arriving) in the South. The second video is part of that song.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Juxtapostion of Jenny Te Paa and Satyagraha

Didn't plan it this way but yesterday involved listening to addresses on the proposed Anglican Covenant at the Tutu Center including an exceptional keynote from Jenny Te Paa (blogged by Susan Russell) -- followed by Eucharist --followed by lunch with a glorious company of people including John Dart from the Christian Century (who talked about his book Decoding Mark) --followed by responses to said address by Bishop Drexel Gomez and more talks including one by Prof Kathy Grieb (Virginia Seminary) on centripetal and centrifugal NT texts--followed by Evensong--followed by Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera (thanks to the generosity of others).

“Satya” is the Sanskrit word for “Truth.” The word “Graha” means “holding to.” Satya Graha, commonly translated as “Truth Force,” is the name that Mahatma Gandhi gave to his movement of social change through nonviolence. What we are seeing in our tiny Anglican world is the hope for exactly this. Not coercion--not punitive measures--but social change through non violence.

Tomorrow April 13, at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, free and open to the public is an event co-sponsored by the Garrison Institute: an interactive discussion, reflection and music, the event will explore Gandhi's concept of satyagraha or "truth force" as a non-violent method of social change, its American lineage connected with Thoreau's civil disobedience, Emerson's self-reliance, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s agape, and the current relevance of this tradition as we confront climate change and other deep environmental problems.

For a flavor of Phillip Glass' Satyagraha, go to the front page of the New York Times and scroll down until you see video with an image of Mahatma Ghandi. Play the link for excerpts and images. The staging is captivating. The music is mesmerizing and the chant of Sanskrit almost hypnotic. Social activism -- if that's what we are intended to see-- is a little bit different, however.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What would it be like if Christian tradition unreservedly welcomed the voice of women prophets? Here's a record of our history from my post on Daily Episcopalian.

Update: with all due respect to Derek, here's a misreading of my article (with my comments attempting to clarify below).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Herodotus, The Greek Historian

Prof Christopher Pelling explores the work of the great Greek historian Herodotus on BBC Radio 3, whose The Histories, the story of the Greco-Persian war in the 5th century BC, was considered the first work of history in western literature. Here's the opening:

This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by humans not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.

April 18: Women in the Early Church, Molloy College, Rockeville Center

The Siena Women’s Center at Molloy College Presents
Unexpected Leaders: Women in the Early Church

Topics to be covered by the scheduled speakers include Does the Historical Mary Magdalene Matter?; Women in the Ministry and Teaching of Paul: Saying One Thing and Doing Another; and The Hidden Tradition: Women’s Ministry in the Early Church. The presentations will be followed by a panel and audience discussion.

Featured speakers for the symposium are: Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Th.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Drew University; Maria Pascuzzi, S.S.L, S.T.D., Associate Professor of New Testament, University of San Diego; Mary Ann Rossi, Ph.D., Independent Scholar and Retired College Teacher of Women’s Studies and Religion.

The symposium is slated for April 18, 2008 from 9:30 a.m. until conclusion of the open discussion, which will begin at 3:15 p.m. The event is open to the public and will take place in the Lucille S. Hays Theatre, Wilbur Arts Center, Molloy College.

There is a $30.00 registration fee required for admission and the deadline for registration is April 10, 2008. Lunch will be provided for attendees. For more information please contact Deirdre McGovern, Coordinator, Siena Women’s Center, Molloy College at 516.678.5000 ext. 6302, or

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reading/Seminar Course on the Marys, anyone?

Anyone in and around the tri-state area interested in a reading and discussion seminar course on the Marys in Christian (and Jewish and Islamic) tradition(s)in the fall of 2008? I've just started having a conversation about it (in response to a request to do the course) so now is the time to get in on the ground level.

Presently, I propose that we would read texts and books over the summer so as to be prepared to discuss them in the fall. These books and topics have yet to be identified so feel free to make suggestions.

We would then meet once a month 4x (Sept-Dec) on a Thursday evening over dinner from 6-7pm and then as a seminar from 7-8pm at the seminary. Since this is a reading/seminar class offered for one credit, one short written assignment is required as the basis for the monthly seminar discussion.

Send me an email if you are interested and want more details:

Is MFA the new MDiv?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Wealth and Patronage in Luke

My talk on the nuances and ambiguities on wealth and riches (alongside poverty) in Luke/Acts today (wealth is not inherently bad since one can be rich towards God; there is a progression for the disciples as listeners to the parables from 12 through 14 and 16, first as recipients of hospitality from benefactors but also as those who in turn show hospitality as Jesus will do in 24) was greatly enhanced by the paper of Eric Heen, "Radical Patronage in Luke/Acts" published in 2006 in Currents in Theology and Mission now available here. Thank you, Eric! I learnt much from the paper and I know the group did too. Now we need a monograph on the topic!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Real Family Values

In one presidential election, a senator asserted that no great civilization could survive destruction of the family, then called for cuts in assistance to those who weren't his idea of family. Clearly, our problems are more than societal: We are besieged by both politicians and misguided religious leaders. What is needed are all the resources necessary to rear children who are well-nurtured for life. Many homes don't have kids, but are families nonetheless — living alone after having reared offspring, for example. What is called the "traditional" family is now but 10 percent of American households — and teams of parents raising children comprise 25 percent and includes same-sex parents and others. Until we recognize the reality of what constitutes current families, outside forces will have us at each other's throats and only symptoms, not causes, will be addressed.

"Real family values" by John Burciaga in Newburyport News, Ma.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Spring! (see the moulting sparrow?)

The "Bibel in gerechte Sprache" part 2

In the SBL Forum (Society of Biblical Literature), Susanne Scholtz has a review article on the new German translation: "The Bible in just i.e. fair language" (BigS). There are three other articles which round out this helpful and even exhaustive survey.

She concludes her essay:
In short, then, this new inclusive Bible translation has succeeded in bringing important exegetical and theological developments of the past forty years to the public and ecclesial attention in German-speaking countries, especially Germany. For the first time, journalists, professors, clergy, and a wide array of post-Christian and conservative Christian voices have felt compelled to engage theologically progressive thought, such as feminist theologies, the anti-racist theological debates especially related to the Jewish-Christian dialog, and social justice. This translation of the Christian canon of the Bible has therefore accomplished what decades of scholarly discourse have not. It goes to the “heart” of the theological enterprise—the biblical text—and, as a consequence, a most controversial debate has developed in German-speaking countries after decades of utter disregard and relentless marginalization of progressive theological voices and research, especially within academia and the higher ranks of the churches.

Luzia Sutter Rehmann comments on assumptions, process and goals of the new translation:

Let me illustrate this point with a passage from Gen 2. The creation of the woman from the rib of the man is inscribed in Christian iconography. The story has also justified the secondary status of women throughout the centuries. The new inclusive translation of this passage emphasizes three convictions: first, adam is not exclusively to be translated as “Mensch” (human), and thus cannot only be viewed as a male noun in German. Accordingly, the Hebrew noun is translated as “Menschenwesen,” which in German is grammatically neutral: “das Menschenwesen.” The translation signifies either a sexually undifferentiated creature (Gen 2) or an androgynous human being (Gen 1:27). Second, the translation of Gen 2 refers to God as “she,” which takes seriously that in Gen 1:27 God creates humans in the divine image as female and male. Third, the noun zela is not translated as “rib” but as “side,” similar to other biblical passages in which the noun refers to the side of the tabernacle in the desert, the ark, or the Temple in Jerusalem. The “side” is anatomically indispensable, whereas one can live without a rib.

Gen 2:21-22

Da liess jAdonajj, also Gott, einen Tiefschlaf auf das Menschenwesen fallen, dass es einschlief, nahm eine von seinen Seiten und verschloss die Stelle mit Fleisch. Dann formte jAdonajj, also Gott, die Seite, die sie dem Menschenwesen entnommen hatte, zu einer Frau um und brachte sie zu Adam, dem Rest des Menschenwesens.

The translation of these two verses indicates that the translator, Frank Crüsemann, attempts to do “justice” to the reception history of this passage in the original text and in the translation. It makes a big difference if the woman is created from one of the many bones of the man or from the side of the “Menschenwesen,” which only after the surgery is called “Mann” in Gen 2:23: “Sie soll ‘ischa’ heissen, denn vom ‘isch’ wurde sie genommen.” Only in Gen 2:23 do unambiguous terms appear in the translation (“Mann”); prior to v. 23, it is “ha-adam” in its double formation (“Menschenwesen”). This translation is based on the Jewish medieval debate that recognized the androgynity of the original human (“Urmenschen”). Also, a contemporary Jewish scholar, Pinchas Lapide, explains that the rabbis did not view the woman as the ruler over the man (then she would have emerged from his head) or his slave (then she would have emerged from his feet). Instead, God created her from Adam’s side because they are supposed to live side by side, because she should side with him and he with her.[2] In contrast, the rib makes for a senseless narrative.

Furthermore, the new inclusive Bible translation is unusual for its canonical ordering of the biblical books. It follows the Jewish canon and includes the Apocrypha: “Tora—Prophetische Bücher/Nevvim—Schriften/Ketuvim—Apokryphen/Deuterokanonische Schriften.“ The Prophets are the center in the Jewish canon, connecting back to the Torah and forward to the Writings. Placed accordingly, the prophetic books cannot be read as christological foreshadowing of Christ, the messiah—a long and problematic tradition in Christian Bible interpretations. The inclusion of the Apocrypha is rare in Protestant Bibles and recognizes the inner-Christian dialog between the Protestant and Catholic churches. They are also included because aprocryphal books such as Judith, Tobit, and the Maccabees provide valuable social historical information that has been of particular interest to German biblical studies. The prayer of the remorseful King Manasse is the end in this canonical arrangement and hints at a hermeneutical attitude that challenges institutionalized socio-political and economic power.

Wolfgang Stegemann's essay, "Translation or Interpretation: Intense Controversy about the New German Translation of the Bible" (Translated and edited by Susanne Scholz) deals with gender-justice.

The application of the criterion of gender justice (Geschlechtergerechtigkeit) has received the harshest criticism; it has also created enormous disagreement among German-speaking feminist theologians.[4] Especially the change from exclusive language—i.e., the fact that the Bible uses mostly male grammar for gender-mixed groups of people—has raised many questions and led to numerous disagreements. For instance, many people find it quite acceptable that the Greek text using “brothers” (adelphoi) to address all members of the Christian congregation is translated with the German term “Geschwister” (siblings; e.g., Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:10). The Pauline letters make it clear that the congregations include both men and women so that inclusive language (“Geschwister”) in the translation seems to be justified in the source text. Yet massive resistance occurs when the groups of the Pharisees or scribes (even the tax collectors) that appear only in the grammatical masculine form in the New Testament are translated inclusively. In the public debate the following translation of Matt 23:2.25 is often quoted and debated:

(2) Auf dem Stuhl Moses’ sitzen toragelehrte und pharisäische Leute. . . . (25) Wehe, ihr Scheinheiligen unter den toragelehrten und pharisäischen Männern und Frauen! Ihr reinigt Becher und Schüsseln von außen, doch innen sind sie mit Raub und Gier gefüllt.

(2) On the chair of Moses sit the people who study Torah and are of the Pharisees. . . . (25) Woe, you pretenders among women and men who study Torah and are of the Pharisees! You clean cup and plate from the outside but on the inside they are filled with robbery and greed.

This translation suggests indeed (and the translator, Luise Schottroff, intended it so) that women belonged to the scribes und Pharisees. That is certainly disputed. The opponents of this translation maintain that these two Bible verses do not exemplify the usual linguistic exclusion of women in which a grammatically masculine word is used. They claim that here the androcentric language reflects an androcentric social reality because in the Jewish society of the first-century C.E. female Pharisees (or female scribes or female tax collectors) did not exist.

Of course, the problem is that we do not know exactly if the grammatically masculine noun pharisaioi, which is not a job title but a reference to group identity, also includes women in this group. Regardless of the answer, some commentators consider it already an important success of the Bibel in gerechter Sprache that long-held assumptions about the gendered composition of ancient Jewish society and its various groups are reexamined. Moreover, the strong criticism about the use of inclusive language has raised a fundamental question: Does language have only descriptive or “referential” character, or does it not always already construct reality or realities (“Wirklichkeit[en]”)? If we assume with Wittgenstein that “the boundaries of my language signify the boundaries of my world,” then it would be true that quod non est in lingua non est in mundo. Phrased differently: Repeating the Bible’s exclusive language in modern Bible translations would inevitably lead to repeating linguist reality as it is constructed in the source text; namely, a world in which women played almost no social role. One could therefore ask if the absence of women in a mere mechanical transfer of the Bible’s exclusive language into our language and culture would not lead to a similar absence today, as it did in the ancient society to which the biblical language belonged. I assume that the answer is “probably not.”

A particular concern of this inclusive Bible translation is the translation of biblical references to God. The tetragrammaton of the Hebrew Bible (YHWH), translated by the Septuagint as kyrios, receives various translations in the Bibel in gerechter Sprache. For instance, the tetragrammaton is translated with the female term “die Ewige” (the eternal). In general, the change between masculine and feminine terms for God has led to severe criticism. An important example is the translation of the prayer “Our Father” as follows: “Du, Gott, bist uns Vater und Mutter im Himmel” (Matt 6:9; “You, God, are for us Father and Mother in Heaven”).

Many believe that the text, “Vater unser im Himmel,” is a translation of Matt 6:9, whereas the text, “Du, Gott, bist uns Vater und Mutter im Himmel,” is an interpretation. Yet the term father, the equivalent in the German dictionary to the Greek noun pater, is already an interpretation of the Greek source text. The patriarchal and authoritarian connotations of the Greek word in the Mediterranean cultures of the first century CE are not reflected anymore in the German word Vater. Thus, those who insist on the term “Vater” in the biblical pater hemon would need to supply a term of comparable patriarchal and hierarchical status so that the cultural semantics of the Greek notion of father would be comparable. Yet such a word does not exist in German. In short, when I use the word Vater as the translation for pater, I change the source text by filling it with meaning from my own culture. By using the word Vater, I leave the culture of the New Testament and bring into the text the culture that is connected with that noun. Thus, even the literal translation of the Greek phrase pater hemon with the German “Vater unser” is already an interpretation and definitely a cultural transformation of the source text.

This means that a translation should not only consider the literal words, but also the cultural reality of a text and its words in the translation language. The question is, Can this be done and, if so, how is it best done? Will we ever be able to translate the Greek word pneuma without major cultural loss? The usual translation is the German word “Geist,” a grammatically masculine noun in German but neutral in Greek, and it has created many wrong connotations. The Bibel in gerechter Sprache gives it a try with the word “die Geistkraft.” The Greek pneuma is translated with a feminine noun and sounds less abstract. But even this equivalent does not give us connotations of matter and substance as implied in the Greek word. I also wonder why it is not more appropriate to capture the culture of the biblical languages with words from our own native language. The philological and text-oriented ideals of translation make us forget too quickly that they, too, are the results of cultural transformation because, like the source language, the terminology of one’s own language also has “thick” cultural contexts.[5]

Irmtraud Fischer's essay, Why the Agitation?: The Status of the “Bibel in gerechter Sprache” in Academia and the Churches is here. She points out that there are no paragraph headings:

A Bible Text As It Really Is—Without Rosy Colors

The new inclusive Bible translation foregoes any attempt to outline the biblical text, and it therefore does not include subtitles as reading guides, as they would mold a reader’s assumptions about the text. The original text does not contain any subtitles, which many readers do not even realize. The decision to forego subtitles should be viewed as an act of justice toward the original text. Readers are expected to figure out for themselves what each passage means.

Six previously unknown sermons of Augustine discovered

From the University of Erfurt comes the news that six previously unknown sermons of Augustine have been discovered by Isabella Schiller, Dorothea Weber and Clemens Weidmann in a medieval manuscript.

One sermon is on the martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas, and another on the recently martyred Cyprian, and the final sermon deals with resurrection of the dead and biblical prophecies. The 6 new sermons will be published in Wiener Studien. Zeitschrift für Klassische Philologie und Patristik und lateinische Tradition Sermones Erfurt 1, 5, and 6 in Bd. 121 (2008), pp. 227-284. Sermones Erfurt 2, 3 and 4 in Bd. 122 (2009)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Public Art (contd): Botero's "Adam and Eve"

Fernando Botero information here. These enormous statues are at Columbus Circle inside the arcade.

"He rose AGAIN"?

We all know the Nicene Creed. Here's the International Consultation on English Texts translation as printed in: The Lutheran Book of Worship and The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal)

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

We've been reading it in Greek in class. Someone noticed that the wording of the English Translation "On the third day he rose again" was puzzling. In the first place, the word "again" isn't in the Greek text (or the Latin or the French). Then there is the problem of what it might mean....

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Philip Pullman's new book: Once Upon a Time in the North

Phillip Pullman's new book, "Once Upon a Time in the North" is due out soon in the US (on April 8th). Here's a preview by the author. It sounds like a good read.

The UK edition is already out, and here's a review in the Times (UK) by Amanda Craig:

At 104 pages long, Once Upon a Time in the North is both a compelling adventure and the kind of philosophical game familiar from the author's shorter novels (I Was A Rat!, Count Karlstein and Clockwork). There are bills of lading, extracts from Lee's half-destroyed book on The Elements of Aerial Navigation, a fallacious newspaper report and a board game at the back about getting your balloon as close to the Pole without being “sucked into a terrible and certain death in the Polar Maelstrom”. Compared with the epic Miltonic grandeur of His Dark Materials we get more of a Blake poem.

Podcast Conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education

 Just thrilled that our podcast conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education are available here: https://podcast...