Saturday, November 29, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus update

A session on Codex Sinaiticus at the SBL, "Virtual Codex Sinaiticus: Studying and Experiencing an Ancient Codex" included an overview of the project of digitizing the Codex by Juan Garcés, and a brief talk by Father Justin from the monastery of St Catherine's on Mount Sinai. Juan Garcés coped astonishingly well with fluctuating internet access to live images of the codex. Prof. David Parker chaired the session and Amy Myshrall's paper was read by Timothy Brown. The site is being updated constantly. The November 22 upload includes the Wisdom of Solomon, Proverbs, Sirach, and the Song of Songs. At the beginning of the Song of Songs for example, we see distinctive red letters identifying the speaker: here "he nymphe," the bride.

A conference will be held at the British Library Conference Centre, 6-7 July 2009. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. I learnt from Prof Parker at the session that there is too much material for it to be produced on CD.

Kurt Wallander by Henning Mankell on BBC 1 Sunday at 9pm

When will the wonderful Henning Mankell detective novels featuring Kenneth Branagh be shown here?

"Twice Used Songs: Performance Criticism of the Songs of Ancient Israel"

Diana Massing in the Erie Times assesses Doan and Giles' book to be published by Hendricksen, "Twice Used Songs: Performance Criticism of the Songs of Ancient Israel."

In it, the authors use performance criticism to understand why biblical writers put songs in their stories. The songs that Doan and Giles write about are considered "twice-used" because their first appearance wasn't in the Scriptures known to Christians as the Old Testament.

"They are songs that had circulated in ancient Israel that have become usurped by prose writers," Giles said. "The writer inserts the song into the story in order to advance the purpose of the story."

Performance criticism tries to understand the significance of the history of this material as something that was performed—sung, in a community, with various participants and with responses expected from the audience. The authors explore how the Old Testament writers imbedded these songs in their prose so as to add persuasiveness to the narration.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

All Shall Be Well

For the greening of trees
and the gentling of friends,
we thank you, God.
For the brightness of field
and the warmth of the sun,
we thank you, God.
For work to be done
and laughter to share,
we thank you, God.
We thank you, and know
that through struggle and pain,
in the slippery path of new birth,
hope will be born
and all shall be well.

from "The Pattern of Our Days: Worship in the Celtic Tradition from the Iona Community"
Ed. by Kathy Galloway, Paulist Press

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Margaret Barker on YouTube

This is exactly the kind of thing which is wonderful at the SBL--a lunch conversation with a scholar, in this case Margaret Barker (although not at the SBL). Margaret Barker is an independent biblical scholar. In July 2008 Margaret Barker was awarded a DD by the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘in recognition of her work on the Jerusalem Temple and the origins of Christian Liturgy, which has made a significantly new contribution to our understanding of the New Testament and opened up important fields for research.’

Here's a link to other interviews with Margaret Barker thanks to Bill Hamblin. Also on this link are announcements of planned meetings of the Temple Studies Group the first of which is
Melchizedek in Scripture, Liturgy and Tradition, to be held on Saturday 8 November 2008, 10am-4pm, in Oxford. Speakers so far are Crispin Fletcher Louis, Robert Hayward, Laurence Hemming, Margaret Barker.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Here I am at the annual meeting of the SBL in Boston looking forward to stimulating papers and conversations and new publications!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Today's NY Times has an article on the seminary's geothermal drilling project.

So far, General Theological has drilled seven wells to the end of time — or 150 to 180 stories deep, at least. The seminary has plans for 15 more. When the project is complete, it will be the largest system of geothermal pumps in the Northeast, said Carl Orio, the chairman of Water Energy Distributors, a consultant and contractor that worked on the project.

The seminary has about 200 students, most of whom are studying to become Episcopal priests. About five years ago, it commissioned a study on its physical plant, which was expensive to heat and impossible to cool.

“We wanted to come into the 21st century,” Ms. Burnley said. “We skipped the 20th century altogether. Thomas Edison himself wired this campus. We’ve got Edison Electric plaques all over the place.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Decoding the Heavens" -- the first computer?

From the introduction to Jo Marchant's "Decoding the Heavens":

In 1900 a group of sponge divers blown off course in the Mediterranean discovered an Ancient Greek shipwreck dating from around 70 BC.

Lying unnoticed for months amongst their hard-won haul was what appeared to be a formless lump of corroded rock. It turned out to be the most stunning scientific artefact we have from antiquity. For more than a century this 'Antikythera mechanism' puzzled academics. It was ancient clockwork, unmatched in complexity for 1000 years - but who could have made it, and what was it for?

Now, more than 2000 years after the device was lost at sea, scientists have pieced together its intricate workings and revealed its secrets. The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient Greek artefact comprising more than 30 precisely cut bronze gear wheels, dials and pointers held in a wooden case. It was probably one among many luxury gadgets for the educated Greek and Roman elite — the only example of its kind to survive. "The Antikythera Mechanism," Marchant concludes, "was originally meant as a celebration of the heavens."

Installation of Dr Serena Jones as UTS President

Today, Dr Serena Jones will be installed as the new President of Union Theological Seminary.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aftermath of my retreat

is reflecting on silence:

All our contemporary thinking about silence sees it as an absence or a lack of speech or sound - a totally negative condition. But Sara Maitland increasingly identified an interior dimension to silence, a sort of stillness of heart and mind which is not a void but a rich space.

Silence resists attempts to explain it. Indeed, ineffability is one of the key tests of mystical experience. I might even say that the "best" hermits are those who have least to say about it. The only thing Tenzin Palmo, a British Buddhist nun who spent three years high in the Himalayas in radical silence, seems ever to have said - at least publicly - about her personal experience is, "Well, it wasn't boring."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nova: The Bible's Buried Secrets--Nov 18

Nova: The Bible's Buried Secrets will be shown on Nov 18th at 8pm on PBS here in NYC. The website has sections on Archaeology, on Exodus (with Carol Meyers), on writers (with Michael Coogan) and on origins of the written Bible (with William Schniedewind).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fred Edwards, R.I.P.

The Guardian has an obituary for Fred Edwards:

Most people would have been content to boast, as did Fred Edwards, who has died of cancer at the age of 77, that they were director of the "largest social work department in Europe". But even the vast Strathclyde region could not contain his personality, energy, talents and ambitions. These traits, and the importance of the role his position afforded him, made him the voice of Scottish social work - a voice which, uncommonly, was heard south of the border.

Fred believed that the command to love one's neighbour made him "responsible, as far as I can be, for the state of the world". It led him and his second wife, Mary, to establish a water purification and female literacy project in Cambodia in 2002.

When, in 2005, he developed myeloma, he joked that, as a driven man, he was attracted to the idea of eternal rest. Fred never lost his values and vision in the daily grind of bureaucracy or the wielding of power.

In later years, he referred to his deep Christian faith as "public orthodoxy, private heresy". He said that it had grown more minimalist but more profound. He was strongly attached to the ecumenical Iona community. He could be serious but was never pompous. When he said: "I had an aspiration to righteousness, but my appetites kept getting in the way," he spoke the truth, but did so with his characteristic bellowing laugh.

On retirement in 1993 Fred proudly announced that he would be following "a portfolio career". This did not involve the lucrative consultancies and appointments to quangos that so many of his fellows collect. He became a full-time voluntary worker, a new career that encompassed the environment, religion and social justice. He gained a qualification in ecology and a national newspaper recently named him one of the UK's most influential environmentalists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Same-sex marriage in Connecticut

Today, same-sex marriages became real in Connecticut! Doesn't the picture say it all?

Befriending the Bible

How the Scriptures Came to Be—and Why it Matters

Why are there four Gospels instead of one? Why are some books included in the most ancient manuscripts but excluded from the Bible as we know it today? Why were the books of the Bible written down at all? Understanding and appreciating the diversity and complexity of our sacred texts can bring a new depth to our engagement with the Bible, freeing it to become a doorway to the Divine. In this twenty-four hour retreat, we’ll discover the fascinating theological and historical origins of the collection of writings we call “The Bible,” and practice living in its inherent tension between diversity and conformity. Our time together will include presentation, discussion, group meditation, sharing, worship, and spiritual practices fostering a new connection with this ancient wisdom.

Deirdre Good, Lisa Green
Sat., Nov. 15, 3 p.m.-Sun., Nov. 16, 3 p.m.
$155 ($140 Members)
St. Marguerite’s Retreat House,
Community of St. John Baptist, Mendham

Cosponsored by Interweave and
Christ Church, Short Hills

Music in Exile at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

Thanks to a friend, I have been at two concerts in the Music in Exile series at the Museum for Jewish Heritage. Monday was a wonderful lecture, A Czech Gershwin in New York: with Dr. Michael Beckerman of NYU on the exiled Jesek complete with musical excerpts on mp2 files, playing the piano and a CD of the funeral. The music was Robert Kahn: Violin Sonata *

Matyas Seiber: Divertimento for clarinet and string quartet

Franz Reizenstein: Piano Quintet in D Major, Op. 33*

(* US Premiere)

Last night was Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op. 28

Songs for Bass (North American Premiere)

Quintet for piano and strings, Op. 18

Performed by Artists of the Royal Conservatory in Canada and Robert Pomakov, bass

There are tickets for tonight and Thursday still available. To hear music from exiles in some cases never heard before is an extraordinary experience.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How I might have been named Barak(ah?)

A recent spate of babies born in Kisumu in Western Kenya have been named "Barak" according to news reports. True, the girl babies have been named "Michelle," but isn't it possible that a feminine form of Barak might be Barakah and that every girl baby named after Barak could be named such? And btw, since I was born in Kisumu many years ago, mightn't it have been possible that my parents could have called me by that name as well???

Monday, November 10, 2008

Education of a New Citizen Continues

Saturday's NY Times had a fascinating (to me) article on Oklahoma showing that while registered Democrats comprise 49% in 2008 with 39% registered Republicans, the state went to McCain with 66% of the vote. A breakfast discussion ensued in which I learned more about Southern Democrats. The article quotes a poultry farmer Bob Cook who says, “I just couldn’t vote for anyone who has Hussein in his name.” Someone added that there aren't many African Americans living in Oklahoma.

I'd be happy to be educated further on this topic.

Marilynne Robinson: Home (NY Review of Books)

Powell's has Claire Messud's review of Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home, from the NY Review of Books:

In the opening paragraphs of Marilynne Robinson's 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, the elderly narrator John Ames, a Congregationalist minister in the small Iowa town of Gilead, tells his young son:

I don't know how many times people have asked me what death is like.... I used to say it was like going home. We have no home in this world, I used to say....

He goes on to explain that this was an analogy born of what he elsewhere refers to as his "dark time, as I call it, the time of my loneliness, [which] was most of my life": "I didn't feel very much at home in the world, that was a fact. Now I do."

The joy in Ames's later years -- born of his union with the much younger and rather mysterious Lila, and of the birth of their son, Robby, to whom Gilead is addressed—has been, for him, transformative. But his -- or his creator's -- decision to link death and home so decidedly, and so early, is telling. The opening words of Robinson's new novel, Home, are Robert Boughton's: he, Ames's lifelong friend and fellow minister (Presbyterian rather than Congregationalist), is speaking to his daughter, Glory: "Home to stay, Glory! Yes!"; and Glory's response, albeit unspoken, is "Dear God...dear God in heaven." If death is like coming home, then, too, coming home can be like death.

Home is a companion piece to Gilead, an account of the same time (the summer of 1956), in the same place (Gilead, Iowa), with the same cast of characters as the earlier novel. Each book is strengthened and deepened by a reading of the other. It is tempting, indeed, to liken them to the gospels, dovetailing versions of the same epiphanic experiences, each with its particular revelations, omissions, and emphases; except that instead of telling the stories of Christ, Robinson's novels tell those of the all-too-human antihero, the struggling prodigal son, Jack Boughton.

Any story, Robinson reminds us, is many stories; and, as John Ames reflects in Gilead :

In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable—which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.

The two books, different in their form and approach as well as in the details they reveal and the stories they ultimately tell, are an enactment of Ames's tenet, and, metonymically, an enactment of humanity's broader dance of ever-attempted, ever-failing communication—through a glass darkly.

She concludes:
What is remarkable about Home -- and why it is, to this reader, an even stronger accomplishment than its companion volume; not in spite of its longueurs and its repetitiveness but because of them -- is that it is both a spiritual and a mundane accounting. In her lonely fortitude, Glory marries the two. Robinson makes clear that it is Glory and, like her, John Ames's wife Lila who are the creators and the perpetuators of Home, whatever that may be; and, moreover, that this selfless creation requires self-sacrifice, if not self-abnegation. It is Lila who, in the men's fateful conversation about predestination and perdition, reassures Jack that "a person can change. Everything can change"; and yet it is she, and Glory, who, in tending the gardens and preparing the meals, ensure that things -- the orderly and reassuring things -- stay the same. For themselves, it may be a death of a kind, the resignation of all that the wider world once seemed to offer (in Glory's case, falsely, for the good; in Lila's case, one surmises, frankly for ill). But as John Ames observed, from the outset, death and homecoming are inextricably linked.

Hans Kueng: Thursday Nov 13th from 6-7.30pm

Earth Institute Distinguished Lecture: Challenges to Islam, Christianity and Judaism in Today’s Global Crisis
Speakers: Hans Küng, President, Global Ethic Foundation;
Welcome by Reverend Brad Braxton, Senior Minister, The Riverside Church; Introduction by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University; Discussion Moderated by Robert Pollack, Director, The Center for the Study of Science and Religion
Time: 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: The Riverside Church, South Hall, 490 Riverside Drive
Contact: Events,
RSVP: Register
Web Site:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

— Quotes from church services on the first Sunday following the election of Barack Obama.

"I imagine that all of us are, like John McCain, intensely pleased at the milestone our nation passed last week: We elected a president who happened to be an African-American. The long arc of history swings toward justice and human goodness after all. It's good for the heart." — The Rev. Christine Robinson, First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, N.M.

"Now, I don't want you to be like some of the others, because they're going to expect him to bring about change overnight. We didn't get in this mess overnight." — The Rev. Shirley Caesar-Williams, Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, N.C.

"There's nothing funny about what this young man has to face," Louis Farrakhan said to a crowd of about 2,500 Nation of Islam members. "This man not only needs our protection and divine protection, he needs all of us . . . to ask, 'What can I do to make him a successful president?' "

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Kristallnacht-- November 9th

While the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel commemorates the 70 year anniversary of Kristallnacht by a podcast and by speaking at a synagogue in Berlin tomorrow, the New Statesman's Karen Pollack writes :

If we are to learn anything from Kristallnacht it is a reminder to us all of where unchecked racism and intolerance can lead and underscores our responsibility as human beings to ensure that such evil is always confronted whenever and wherever it occurs. The Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers at Auschwitz, it did not even begin with Kristallnacht – it began with words and was reacted to with silence. The extermination of European Jewry took place at the end of a long road, a long history marked by centuries of age-old antisemitism and prejudice dating back to the middle ages and most significantly it was a long road marked by indifference. Nor was the Holocaust a mere symptom of the time; the era. As we have seen repeatedly in the years that have followed the Holocaust genocide and atrocities have plagued every corner of the globe and continue to do so.

We cannot and must not consign the terror and cruelty of that night to our history books or fool ourselves into believing that it was a history belonging to a different era. To remove ourselves in this way is to remove our own responsibility in fighting racism and intolerance today.

Here's a link to a Kristallnacht survivor talk. Today, I went to a synagogue to hear a friend give a D'var Torah. Then this evening I went with a friend to see "One Day You'll Understand."

How we enter into the silencing of others' voices to witness to what has not been heard individually and collectively is the topic of Flora Keshgegian's book, Redeeming Memories, A Theology of Healing and Transformation. She writes:

The silence that enshrouds the memories of those abused, persecuted and oppressed is not accidental or chosen; it is a silencing by a world with designs to exclude. These threatened memories and peoples are in actuality themselves threats to sociopolitical narratives which reflect and produce particular arrangements of power, serving certain interests. "Truth" is politically produced through the shaping of meaning. The "word" which we know begins as an empty sign, malleable to the play of power in the world. Attending to the silence includes being attuned to silencing that results from oppression or denial. It requires a critical consciousness of such dynamics and forces, a sharpening of the ear to hear those sounds not found in the scales we have practiced. These sounds will lead to more complex understandings of word and world….

Thursday, November 06, 2008

And North Carolina too!

The Associated Press declared Obama the winner Thursday after canvassing counties in North Carolina to determine the number of outstanding provisional ballots.

That survey found that there are not enough remaining ballots for Republican John McCain to close a 13,693-vote deficit.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My first vote in a US general election!

At 5.45am this new citizen is on her way in darkness to the local voting station along with many others. When I got there, the line was halfway down 18th Street and by the time the doors opened to let us vote at 6.00am, it was all the way to 8th Avenue and up to Starbucks on 8th and 19th! A neighbour said she'd never seen such long lines. If I can figure out how to download the pics from my cellphone onto my laptop, I'll show them here. In the meantime, my experience was par for the course.

I'd brought my registration card so I knew which district I was in and when I got to the desk, no ID was requested. The vote was simple and private. Here's to our old-fashioned NYC lever-pulling machines. By 6.20am I was home again to have coffee with neighbours who had also been out voting. When I got home my parents had left a message saying that the first results from NH had been reported on UK radio!

Update: unscientific data from nearest and dearest getting out the vote in small town mid-coast Maine is that Gene the (retired) painter is voting for the first time ever for Obama!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thursday Nov 6th at 4pm in Seabury Auditorium: Talk and Booksigning

A Journey Into Spirituality
By Jeff Golliher

“You have a journey to make, a sacred journey that I hope you will eventually come to understand as a path to follow. This will be the most important thing you have ever done. Call it the “call of God,” call it the “call of the Spirit,” call it the “call of the Great Mystery,” call it a “catastrophe,” call it whatever you like, but a “call” of some kind is hidden within the troubles.”
—from the first letter in A Deeper Faith

The term “spiritual journey” holds countless meanings and interpretations. For some it sounds inviting, for others intimidating, and for others mysterious. Author and Reverend Jeff Golliher, Ph.D. has served in the Anglican community in a variety of capacities, including more than ten years of service as canon for environmental justice and community development at St. John the Divine in New York City. During that time he has counseled parishioners through every step on the spiritual path. Now the respected priest offers guidance to a broader audience in his new book, A DEEPER FAITH: A Journey into Spirituality (a Tarcher/Penguin hardcover; on sale October 2008; $22.95).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Global opinions on the US Election

As readers of this blog know, this is my first election as a new US citizen! The NY Times yesterday had an astonishing story of new US citizens who traveled across the world from India to vote in this election in person because their postal votes didn't arrive in enough time for them to be safely returned. Of course, US democracy isn't actually "one person, one vote" -- electoral votes are apportioned to each state according to the number of senators and representatives so that the smallest states get three electoral votes. For seats in the House of Representatives, votes are apportioned according to the number of state residents, many of whom (children, non-residents etc) do not have the right to vote. So in NYC, ten votes represents 15 people. Then there is the Electoral College. The Electoral College consists of the same number of people as there are members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which means that a tiny state with a few hundred thousand people has the minimum three electors, New York and Texas have 31 and 34, and California has 55.

I might also argue that each US voter (and the turn-out promises to be higher this year) represents the wishes and hopes of opinions around the world. Take yesterday's editorial in the Guardian (UK):

Though we lack the vote, this is our election too. Such statements outrage many Americans and inspire others. But the rest of the world has not just lived this election. Our life chances and societies will also be shaped by what happens next Tuesday. The world has an interest in the outcome because, in spite of everything, America remains the world's pre-eminent military, political, financial and cultural power. America's standing in the world has been damaged during the Bush years. He has inflicted massive direct harm to many parts of the world through his military actions, has set back the quality of life on our planet by his indifference to climate change, international cooperation and the rule of law. He has been anti-Americanism's best recruiting sergeant and al-Qaida's too.

The world may not have the vote on Tuesday. But it certainly has a candidate. That candidate is Senator Barack Obama. If the world could vote on November 4, Mr Obama would win by a landslide. Polling shows him preferred in Egypt by two to one, in Poland by three to one, in Canada by five to one, in Brazil by six to one, in Britain by seven to one, in France by 11 to one and in Kenya by more than 17 to one.

He is not just the preferred choice of liberal Europeans. He is also the choice of the rest of the world, of all races and creeds - and of young people in particular. No buses crammed with lawyers would be needed to validate the accuracy of these votes. He commands this support, not only because he is not George Bush but because he personifies so much of what the world still admires about America. Americans ought to think about that. The world longs, perhaps unrealistically but palpably nevertheless, for a new America. Only Mr Obama can provide that. has a special on the US Election, Who is Better for Africa?

The Guardian also printed a piece by Dr Judith Maltby endorsing Obama from a religious persepctive:

If Barack Obama takes possession of the Oval Office in January it will not be through a string of unlikely disasters but through the testing, in a grinding campaign, of a candidate who has fired the middle and progressive ground in American politics as no one has in decades. That is clear from listening to people, both town and gown, in the heartland of the midwest. He will also be the most theologically literate Christian in that office since Jimmy Carter. At such a transformational moment, perhaps Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, even the much-maligned (in certain Church of England circles) Episcopalians, can wrestle the word Christian back from the Christian right.

The Times of India "Sashi on Sunday" warns about 4 things to watch for as the US votes including the Bradley effect, the Electoral College, a last-minute surprise, and national fault-lines. But the article concludes:

If there is no last-minute surprise, I'm betting on Obama. He has done everything right in his campaign - coming across as calm, intelligent and presidential, whereas McCain has been erratic, impulsive and (in his choice of the woefully undercooked Sarah Palin as his running mate) irresponsible. If Obama were white, this would not even be a close contest. If he loses despite having run the most impressive presidential campaign in recent Democratic memory, it will only mean that the candidate of change has been defeated by the one thing he cannot change - the colour of his skin.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Allerseelen ("All Souls")

Stell auf den Tisch die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei,
Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.

Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke
Und wenn man's sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.

Es blüht und duftet heut auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm an mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.

Here is a version of the Strauss song sung by Jessye Norman.

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...