Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Archbishop's Christmas Sermon

We all went in to Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas morning in a state of grief and shock as my father died on December 23rd. The anonymity afforded by the Cathedral service was comforting. After the civic dignitaries had been seated, we were unexpectedly offered seats in the nave and so had a good view of the whole service. It was wonderful: good liturgy, good sermon, good music--exactly what we needed.

The sermon is available here. But what it can't convey are ways in which the concern for children was placed front and center in the liturgy.

The procession down the aisle included the normal members of the procession together with the Mayor of the City, members of the city council in all their regalia plus members of their families. At the end came the Archbishop. And then after him came a collection of children of different ages right down to differently abled children and their parents and finally infants being carried by their parents as well. And in your reaction to their place of honor beyond even the Archbishop in the procession, you would have been judged and found wanting. Whoever has eyes to see, let them see.

If you turned from looking at the Archbishop to face forward to the high altar, you would have missed the most important people in the procession. If you thought they arrived late and had joined the procession simply to find places to sit, you would be guilty of dismissing them as children so often are in our services. But if you paid them heed, you would have caught the message of the service: we need to safeguard and value the dependency of children in our world.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Paul was not a Christian (contd.)

Yesterday's NY Times contained a post arguing for a more Jewish interpretation of Paul and referencing an article in the Tablet from November. Actually, this isn't a new idea but rather an old idea with new adherents. In 1977, for example, Krister Stendahl in his book Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles argued that Paul was called not converted.

Today's Religion Dispatches contains a post by Pamela Eisenbaum, author of Paul Was Not A Christian setting out a description of Paul in the context of Judaism. For example, she proposes that we understand justification by faith not as a principle of individual salvation but as a description of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles:

Paul’s condemnations of “justification by works” were condemnations of Jewish Jesus-followers who saw the special laws of Torah observance (Sabbath, dietary laws) in elitist and exclusivist terms, and who were trying to impose those laws on Gentile Jesus-followers as a condition for membership in the Christian community. Paul’s argument with them was that Gentiles did not need to turn themselves into Jews in order to enjoy divine favor. The death and resurrection of Jesus had broken down the barriers that Jewish law had created between Jews and Gentiles.

Paul's call was a mission to the Gentiles. This means Jesus is not the universal means to salvation. Jesus saves, but he only saves Gentiles. Paul wasn’t worried about Jews—they were taken care of because they had an eternal covenant with God in the Torah.

So what about Israel? When Paul says “all Israel will be saved,” he doesn’t mean that all Israel will convert to Christianity—Christianity as a religion hadn’t even been invented yet anyway. He means all Jews and Gentiles will be part of the family of God. This is a challenging and even inspiring vision in which difference is affirmed rather than eradicated.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Yes it's that time of year: the Nativity and the Press

USA Today has a recent article on the Nativity contrasting Borg and Crossan's view in their 2007 book The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus' Birth that Luke and Matthew shaped stories of Jesus' birth with Darrell Bock's notion that "early Christians would have taken the Nativity stories as historical accounts that tell us something real about Jesus; they are an important part of understanding who Jesus is." How we might know this isn't clear.

There's a "Living Nativity" on Staten Island and what looks like a wonderful display of international nativity carvings put on by the Mormons in Montgomery, Alabama. I am drawn, however to one in Tampa, Florida featuring a water buffalo as part of a 4-day event that has drawn thousands.

Some parents are spending too much money on "Manger chic," according to a News Lite article from the UK: A high-street store says parents are buying new bridesmaid dresses for angels, fleeced duffle coats for donkeys and jewelled turbans for the wise men. They claim that opting for a 'designer' nativity costume can easily take the cost from almost nothing to £50. In some cases they have seen parents are shelling out up to £150. Apparently, parents whose children have minor roles are outdoing the appearances of Mary and Joseph. Not sure about the "shepherd" shown here though.

Meantime, the BBC has announced that Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, will be one of the commentators in a forthcoming new series: The Bible, A History on Channel Four. Mr Adams is to investigate Jesus' teachings on love, forgiveness and repentance. Mr Adams, "as a former supporter of political violence" would also examine the "contradiction between Jesus' teachings and the involvement of Christians, and followers of other faiths, in conflict the world over". Can't wait...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Are feminist books for children a good idea and if so, are there any you would recommend?

Viv Groskop in the Guardian poses this provocative question today. What do you think?

She read Pippi Longstocking, Princess Smartipants, Girls Are Not Chicks and Pirate Girl to her children, a boy and a girl, with the result that Pippi Longstocking and Pirate Girl were to be reread.

In my childhood, The Secret Garden played a similar role. There is a feisty girl character in the book alongside sickly boys and strong boys. But I also read Enid Blyton whom many regard as racist and sexist and just plain snobbish. Now I like her rather more than I did before since I read recently that the BBC refused to broadcast any of her stories on the grounds that she was "second-rate."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Color in Ancient Sculpture

From the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum comes this head of a deity wearing a Dionysiac fillet (14-68CE). It's a Roman copy (image on the right).

This head is the only replica of this type known to preserve evidence of its original polychromy (Greek: many colors). The flesh areas retain a fine, lustrous polish, a hallmark of high-end Roman workmanship. The fillet was painted red; the hair was gilded over a yellow ground and then embellished with red painting; and the lips, eyes, eyebrows, and eyelashes were all locally defined with red paint. The irises, eyelashes, and eyebrows may have originally been gilded, as evident in other Roman marble works. These remains of ancient polychromy suggest the brilliant, often sumptuous, appearance of marble sculpture in antiquity.

The problem with what we have of ancient statues is that they are monochrome because the colors have faded. Thus, we concentrate on interpreting form and style. But restoration of color to ancient sculpture opens a new layer of interpretation. Of course, how this is done is contested.

In 2008, the Getty Museum created an exhibit "The Color of Life" which put sculptural polychromy on the map. The catalogue has been well received and reviewed here. From this exhibit comes the beautiful "Madonna and Child with an angel" (top left).

The artist of this work skillfully used the colored streaks in a piece of chalcedony (a variety of quartz) to differentiate flesh color, dress, and the religious symbol of the cross. The Madonna's face is carved from the purest section of the stone, symbolizing her beauty and virtue. The yellow-brown of her diadem and drapery and the Christ child's clothing evokes goldlike splendor. The cross is formed from the brightest vein of red, which alludes to the blood Christ shed during the Crucifixion.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I hope I'm not being overly simplistic, but having a big cheese give a bad lecture on campus probably would have the following effects:
  • His respondent, who will be gracious and tactful, can add what needs to be said—making the respondent look good, smart, and employable, if need be.
  • Audience members, especially fledgling academics, will learn from the respondent's behavior. They'll see what "collegial" means.
  • Adjuncts and instructors will be appalled by Dr. Fromage's speech. But it will give them hope that they may get on the tenure track eventually. "If he can do it, why not me?" they'll ask.
  • Graduate students will be inspired. It'll be even better than reading a bad dissertation and thinking, "I could do that." They'll realize that Dr. Fromage is a human, not a god, and that they can aspire to his lowest level, at least. If his speech were world-shattering, changing the paradigms of his field or of knowledge as we know it, grad students might just give up.
  • Faculty members will be in heaven. In the little world of academe, backbiting and envy sometimes flourish (yes, yes, the fights are so intense because the stakes are so small). A Gorgonzola who grabs wide attention may seem to be bigger than you are. You may think he's hogging the goodies that you deserve. Ms. Mentor calls this the Udder Theory: the belief that the world of recognition is a vast cow, and if someone is suckling, then there's not enough left for you. That may be why many Major Professors, even when they're at the same conference, do not attend one another's presentations unless they must.
And it would also be an(other) example of male lecturing in case anyone needs more of the same.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Secrets of the Lost Symbol is out as an ebook

Secrets of the Lost Symbol is out as an ebook.

Here are just a few of the many essays, interviews, and ideas and you will find in Secrets of The Lost Symbol:

  • Several of Freemasonry’s leading intellectuals—Arturo de Hoyos, Mark Tabbert, and Mark Koltko-Rivera—reveal the “real history” of Masonry and also explore what Dan Brown got right and wrong in writing about this society with so many powerful secrets.
  • Commentaries from Lynne McTaggart and Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, the two noetic scientists who are the actual real life models for the Katherine Solomon character in The Lost Symbol. They are each doing intriguing research into the effect of thought on matter, remote healing, the randomness and connectedness of events and people, and the power of intentionality.
  • Rabbi Irwin Kula, whose insightful commentary delves into the ways in which The Lost Symbol connects to the major debates in religion and spirituality today. New Testament expert Deirdre Good also parses a potential problem in the “new age” religious vision of The Lost Symbol: It’s the self-absorption of “me” in a world that needs a stronger “we.”
The book comes out on December 22nd!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Orleans and the SBL

The SBL meeting was stimulating and it was great to catch up with friends, hear and discuss papers, and meet new colleagues from all over the world. Here are some highlights (in no particular order):
  • tea with Fortress Press to discuss US publication of Starting New Testament Study in 2010 especially companion website
  • good session of our LGBTQ/Queer Hermeneutics group and plans are underway for the next few years
  • useful discussions of several new books on Mark's Jesus by Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Beyond Gnosticism by Ismo Dunderberg, Flora Tells a Story by Michael Kaler, Sin: A History, Gary Anderson
  • great presidential address on the importance of teaching, "Learning, Teaching and Researching Biblical Studies: Today and Tomorrow" by David Clines.
On Monday afternoon, I jumped from a lively session by Michael Theophilus, "Learning Greek Through Ancient Artefacts: Resources and Examples" to David Teeter's paper, "The Septuagint and Early Jewish Halakhah: Problems and Perspectives in Modern Research" to "Escargot and the Body You Sow; Or Be Aware Why Jonah's Bare" (analysis of the Jonah Sarcophagus in the Vatican: partial picture above) by Linda Moskeland Fuchs.

Wonderful also to be in New Orleans just a stone's throw from the French Quarter with its attractive little streets, restaurants and alleys.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

OUP word of the year= unfriend

It's interesting to note how many of these neologisms are prohibitions: intertexticated, paywall. And do we really want to circulate outright mistakes like "deathpanel?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Should a Gay Catholic Do? by James Martin, S.J. over at America Magazine is very good and there are good comments as well. The article ends, smartly, on a question:

What kind of life remains for these brothers and sisters in Christ, those who wish to follow the teachings of the church? Officially at least, the gay Catholic seems set up to lead a lonely, loveless, secretive life. Is this what God desires for the gay person?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

John 1:1--repetitious and shows restricted vocabulary

The Guardian's Maev Kennedy riffs on the report of computer grading of mock-A Levels (the concluding exams for secondary or high schools):

I want to read to you a few extracts to demonstrate the scale of the problem we are tackling. Those of you whose names l mention, please stay behind after class to discuss your work in more detail.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …

You will not be surprised to hear that the computer has marked this down for repetition and poor and restricted choice of vocabulary. I would like to add, class, that although John the Evangelist shows occasional flashes of inspiration, he is going to have to buckle down to some very serious work if he is to have any chance of achieving the grades he needs.

And as for

No man is an island.

Incomprehensible, the computer said. I say, John Donne, this is just a facile attempt to be smart. You might just as well write that no computer is a banana.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Joel Marcus: Mark 8-16 (Anchor Yale Bible Series) Part 1

Prof Joel Marcus completes his two volume commentary on Mark's Gospel with this new publication in March of this year. At 1182 pages, there's a lot to read but it is worth the price. What you get is a new translation, sound engagement with the text and with secondary scholarship. There are glowing reviews already out there making comparisons to other commentaries on the first gospel and concluding that this commentary joins a plurality of other good commentaries (Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark, 2007 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 2002; Harrington and Donahue, The Gospel of Mark, 2005 etc.) that together shed much light on the text. If you've been preaching on the lectionary, you've already noticed these resources!

Since I cannot do justice to the whole commentary, I take here some soundings on what I think of as key passages in the second part of Mark's Gospel. The commentary opens at Mark 8:22, observing the narrative sequence of Mark 8:22-10:52 in which three healings are interspersed with six references to "the way" and three passion predictions. The way of Jesus and "the way of the Lord" in Second Isaiah was established first as a reading of Mark 1:2-3 and now sheds light on the healings of the blind (Is 35:1-7; 42:16) as God's way of power in healing and suffering is manifest in Mark as the journey to Jerusalem.

The narrative of the healing of a blind man in two stages (8:22-6) contains a wealth of verbs about sight: the verb blepein "to see" and three compounds of that verb (anablepein, diablepein, and emblepein) as well as another verb horan, also "to see." The adjective typhlos "blind" is used twice and the rare adverb telaugos, "in a far shining way," "clearly" (8:25) is used along with two different words for eyes: ophthalmoi (8:25) and ommata (8:23). Jesus' actions are to touch, spit, take someone by the hand and to lay hands twice. In the notes on the text, Marcus renders the Greek of 8:24 as "looking up and beginning to see again" thus rendering both nuances of anablepein as "look up" and "look again." What the individual sees is rendering the awkward Greek using two verbs for seeing, "I see people...because...I see people like walking trees" (8:24). Marcus proposes that the fractured grammar mirrors the fractured perception described.

Marcus renders 8:25 as "Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and his sight broke through, and he was restored, and he saw all things clearly from that moment on." The verb behind "his sight broke through" is diablepein, one of those blepo compounds which can mean "stare" or "see clearly" (the latter is in Matt 7:5 and Luke 6:42). But there are two verbs of sight in the verse. Following an extramission theory of vision in the ancient world according to which sighted creatures see by means of light beams that come out of their eyes rather than into them, the aorist verb diablepein reflects the breakthrough of the man's eyes past the barrier to the clear sight of the imperfect second verb.

I'd like to observe that while Jesus is the healer, the text of 8:25 doesn't actually identify Jesus. So a better more challenging rendering of the Greek would be "Then he laid his hands on his eyes again, and his sight broke through, and he was restored, and he saw all things clearly from that moment on." Jesus is not the narrative focus of Mark's text. The text emphasizes the reciprocity of healer and healed in the switch of subjects.

Marcus proposes that the first stage of the two-stage healing corresponds to the disciples' position of partial vision throughout the gospel. The second stage points to Jesus' resurrection as the stage of clear vision since the man whose sight is restored is sent home and forbidden to make the healing known. The next prohibition of 9:9 points to the resurrection as the place where secrecy ends. (To be continued...)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Open Yale Lectures: Prof Dale Martin on the New Testament

Does everyone know Open Yale Lectures? Here's a link to Prof Dale Martin's lecture series at Yale on Studying the New Testament which is a good resource. His approach is historical and critical. He's not treating the New Testament as scripture. Here's the syllabus.

Reading Jesus by Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon's new book Reading Jesus came out at the end of October. I've ordered a copy. Newsweek's Lisa Miller likes it. She says, "It's a book about writing. What Gordon loves about the Gospels is not the pat lessons of Sunday school. She loves what a writer loves: paradoxes and inconsistencies, moments of high drama and plot twists. She especially loves the character of Jesus: ascetic, radical, perfectionist—the childish, arrogant, demanding boy. (The magical healer curses a fig tree to death because he's hungry and it has no fruit.) The story of the prodigal son is a parable about the bounty of God's love. But it's also a story that has the message of much great fiction: life is not fair."

It's good to be reminded of progressive Catholics and their engagement with Jesus of the New Testament. Mary Gordon writes for them and also for Jews interested in the Gospels. She hopes that she can be found trustworthy by this latter group given that her father was Jewish.

In an interview with Nathan Scheider for Religion Dispatches she talks about the complications of reading the Gospels:

When interpreting a text, one always brings something to the process. What are you bringing? Is it experience, or reason, or even the Holy Spirit?

One of the things that I wanted to explore in this project is what kind of reading scripture demands. In one sense, it's reading, just like reading the instructions for your DVD player, or King Lear, or a graphic novel. But that verb isn't adequate for all these different experiences. This is a text that you may have thought—as I once did—was the Word of God, literally containing your salvation or damnation. It has a whole overlay of your personal history, your anguish, and the culture of the West. It has your coloring book and it has Bellini. It has the horrible ranting of anti-Semites and of people who hate the body, but it also has Oscar Romero and George Herbert. The Gospels carry so much in them, so the reading can never be simple.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


It was George MacRae who instructed us in graduate school to write every day. It's good advice that today's emails and postings could represent. But he meant academic writing--the kind of writing that works for publication. I've not been good at doing this every day but I am resolved to be more intentional about it.

One thing that helps me immensely is reading good writing. Last week I almost finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (before I left it for my father) and found it lively and engaging. Focused on Cromwell, Mantel doesn't tell us about him, she shows us his life and his skills. "He was a blacksmith's son who ended up Earl of Essex," Mantel told the BBC before winning the prize. "So how did he do it? That's the question driving the book." In fact, Cromwell is a man for our times: self-made polyglot and wheeler-dealer who succeeds in a world that fawns upon noble families surrounding the King. Sir Thomas More, on the other hand, is a peevish, vindictive bully.

The Times of London called Wolf Hall a "wonderful and intelligently imagined retelling of a familiar tale from an unfamiliar angle – one that makes the drama unfolding nearly five centuries ago look new again, and shocking again, too."

I've not read Diana Athill but she sounds wonderful. Here's an excerpt from her most recent book, a memoir called Somewhere Towards the End given in the New York Times in January of this year. It seems to be a vivid account of growing old and coming to terms with death.

It is so obvious that life works in terms of species rather than of individuals. The individual just has to be born, to develop to the point at which it can procreate, and then to fall away into death to make way for its successors, and humans are no exception whatever they may fancy. We have, however, contrived to extend our falling away so much that it is often longer than our development, so what goes on in it and how to manage it is worth considering. Book after book has been written about being young, and even more of them about the elaborate and testing experiences that cluster round procreation, but there is not much on record about falling away. Being well advanced in that process, and just having had my nose rubbed in it by pugs and tree ferns, I say to myself, 'Why not have a go at it?' So I shall.

Ian Jack in this week's Guardian calls her sentences "lucid and direct" and the result of a triumphant struggle to "get it right." There's a humility to her effort that he conveys in a conversation they had:

"I've never actually planned a book," she said. "I've never thought of readers." In the 47 years since, only six books have followed, which brings her total to eight. She said: "I've never written anything unless I've wanted to. I really am an amateur."

How different this is from the self-indulgent prose of Julian Barnes in his memoir on the same topic of coming to terms with death, Nothing to be Frightened Of. A friend lent it to me this past summer and I couldn't finish it. Time to visit the local library and see what the holdings for Diana Athill are.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

During a recent visit to the UK (to spend time with my parents as my father is having radiotherapy), I was fortunate enough to visit Diocesan House. Through the good offices of Wendy Dackson, Director of Studies, Local Ministry Training Scheme, I met staff and students (The Rev. Canon Robert Mackintosh, Director of Ministry and Training and Mr Neville Emslie, Ministry Development Office with a specialty in New Testament and a student Judy Vinson) over coffee and biscuits. We talked about our current projects and publications for the rest of the morning. It was exhilarating and a good opportunity to learn about ministry and training in the Diocese of Canterbury!

After a wonderful lunch with Wendy, I spent the rest of the day in Canterbury at the Cathedral and local bookshops and finished up at a Canterbury Festival talk given by Dame Joan Bakewell on her latest book, All the Nice Girls.

Explaining her foray into a novel as, 'Revenge on my English teacher,' she described how 'I longed to be a writer' – until the teachers at Stockport High School For Girls rejected her idea as 'daft.'

The basis for the novel was the discovery of documents from the British Ship Adoption Society during World War II describing her school's adoption of a ship. She realized there were three areas to be explored in the book: the school teachers, the sailors on the ships and the Battle of the Atlantic being waged at the time. So she visited the National Maritime Museum, and the Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool to do journalistic research. Bakewell says she was so enraptured by what she had learned about the women serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service that she wanted to convey a story from their perspective.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Authority Do Translations of Sacred Texts Have?

Solange deSantis has a piece in RNS asking this question. She interviews Cheryl Peterson who has recently updated Christian Science's foundational text by Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' for a 21st century readership.

Christian Science headquarters, which is based in Boston, made no attempt to stop Petersen’s book, said Phil Davis, who manages media and legislative affairs for the church. “The copyright on `Science and Health’ lapsed many years ago, so certainly (the revision) is something someone can do if they wish,” he said.

Since “Science and Health” is regarded as a companion to the Bible, less a sacred text than a textbook, Petersen’s revision is not seen as blasphemous or as desecrating Eddy’s original writings, Davis said.

Still, Davis said he finds Petersen’s revision unnecessary. “The text as written by Mary Baker Eddy has had great import in my life. It has timeless impact and doesn’t need to be changed with the times,” he said.

Towards the end of the piece there's a quote:

Some believe a sacred text should be only studied in its original language, said Deirdre Good of General Theological Seminary in New York, and that translations are inevitably interpretations. But that view has limitations. “It looks as if Jesus spoke Aramaic. So should we learn Aramaic?” Good asked.

For a discussion of the authority of individual translations of the Bible, see my piece in Episcopal Cafe.

The Highline in Fall

Having jumped from cold back to Indian Summer, Chelsea today is glorious. Our window geraniums are in full bloom and the Highline (ht: Patrick for the photo) is gorgeous. The seminary begins a fall break for a few days and I am en route to the UK to be with my parents as my father completes another week of radiotherapy. All being well, I will arrive in time to drive us to the hospital for the last treatment of the week tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tonight's Columbia NT Seminar
Talk title: Possibilities for Parables from a Postcolonial Perspective
The paper will explore postcolonial theory in relation to parable interpretation. Navigating through multiple perspectives on what postcolonial theory is and/or should be, Colleen Conway argues that some aspects of postcolonial theory open up new avenues for understanding the parables in their gospels settings. The discussion will include a "test case" of the usefulness of postcolonial theory for interpreting the Tenants in the Vineyard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

At the Metropolitan Museum until the end of November is Vermeer's The Milkmaid on loan from the Rijksmuseum by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). To celebrate this loan, the Metropolitan Museum will present Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid, a special exhibition that will bring together all five paintings by Vermeer from its collection.

Curator Walter Liedtke discusses the painting in a podcast. The subject is a kitchen servant
pouring milk from a jug into a bowl. On the table is bread which she may be making into bread porridge, a staple of Dutch diet. The woman seems to be smiling and musing about something else. To the lower right are a series of delft tiles and in front of her is a Cupid figure. The footwarmer is a symbol of amorous intentions. But Vermeer uses this artistic tradition to suggest what is in the mind of the milkmaid.

The soft focus and naturalistic daylight is striking. The viewer sees the daylight and the light through the crack in the window outside with the grainy bread on the table.
"A Soulful Journey Among Ourselves"
Women SpiritualitySponsored by The Psychotherapy & Spirituality Institute and offered in collaboration with Auburn Seminary, General Theological Seminary and Trinity Church Wall Street, this four-part series (November 11, 13,14,15) features conversations with women from across the spectrum of belief and tradition reflecting on the unique sensitivity to spirituality and God concepts that arise out of women's experience.

Facilitated by well-known author, spiritual director and corporate executive, Dr. Westina Matthews, this series promises to be a time of resource sharing, healing and renewal with and among women.

Part 1 begins on Wednesday, November 11 at Auburn Seminary (6:30 - 8:00 pm) and examines how women's spirituality inspires social engagement essential for the making of a just society. The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook is the featured speaker. Auburn's president, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson will introduce the evening.

November 11, 13, 14, 15.
Cost for the series $45; $12 for each session.
For complete information, including locations of additional sessions, a list of additional speakers and complete registration information please contact Mark D'Alessio at 212.285.0043, x11 or email

Friday, October 16, 2009

Interfaith Radio on Paul the Jew

Paul the Jew

Begins at 22 min 45

Many people trace the roots of anti-Semitism back to a single moment: Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. That’s when, according to traditional teachings, Paul rejected his Judaism for the new, improved version: Christianity. Bible scholar Pamela Eisenbaum says this interpretation of Paul is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

Interview with Pamela Eisenbaum, author of Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (Harper Collins 2009)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

First Instance of the Seraph/im

Letters to the Editor in TLS, Sept 23, 2009:


Sir, – Susan Weingarten, in noting (Letters, September 11) that the first appearance of “seraphim” is in the Book of Isaiah, is quite correct if she is referring solely to angels. The Hebrew word “seraph”, from the root to burn or scorch, however, appears in Deuteronomy 8:15, as being one of the elements faced by the Children of Israel in their forty-year trek through the Desert: “who led thee through the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents \[seraph\], and scorpions”. This recalls the incident when, while encompassing the land of Edom, the Children of Israel once again murmured against God’s plan and “the Lord sent seraph serpents against the people. They bit the people and many died”, as recorded in Numbers 21:6.

Shiloh, Mobile Post Efraim 44830, Israel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Salome, the unnamed daughter of Herodias

"It probably is not completely accidental that this woman really came alive only when she was emancipated from the Bible...Theology should ask itself self-critically why this new regard took place not with but against the church's tradition."

Ulrich Luz on Matthew 8-20, p.309

See Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations of Wilde's Salome. And here is Salome Magazine:

My vision for this website is to create an safe online sanctuary where intelligent women may read weekly submissions, consider them, and provide thoughtful and respectful feedback on the issues and opinions discussed herein. Let us forge a community and come to our own individual and communal understanding about our authentic and rich veritable experiences as modern women.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

James Tissott, The Life of Christ at the Brooklyn Museum

Here's a description of the Tissott exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum Oct 17-Jan 17, 2010.

The exhibition James Tissot: “The Life of Christ” includes 124 watercolors selected from a set of 350 that depict detailed scenes from the New Testament, from before the birth of Jesus through the Resurrection, in a chronological narrative. It marks the first time in more than twenty years that any of the Tissot watercolors, a pivotal acquisition that entered the collection in 1900, have been on view at the Brooklyn Museum.

Born in France, James Tissot (1836−1902) enjoyed great success as a society painter in Paris and London in the 1870s and 1880s. While visiting the Church of St. Sulpice, he experienced a religious vision, after which he abandoned his former subjects and embarked on an ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament. In preparation for the work, he made expeditions to the Middle East to record the landscape, architecture, costumes, and customs of the Holy Land and its people, which he recorded in photographs, notes, and sketches. Unlike earlier artists, who had often depicted biblical figures anachronistically, Tissot painted his many figures in costumes he believed to be historically authentic, carrying out his series with considerable archaeological exactitude.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sermon by The Rev. Anne Kitch at the funeral of Matthew Shephard

Here's a link to the funeral sermon given by The Rev. Anne Kitch on the occasion. She is his cousin. A good time to read it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

How One Evangelical Changed on the Gay Issue

My own mother challenged me in 2003 to look at my beliefs and the true intent behind the teachings I held in blind faith. "Do you think your views are Christ-like?" she asked me. Her question was dead on: once I walked away from the Church's teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau. I realized an unparalleled sense of spiritual clarity when I opened my heart and mind to a genuine expression of love, compassion, and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

This new voice—Christ's voice—became the core principles of my faith: love, compassion, and respect. That voice I now realize was desperately wanting to be heard, a voice no longer comfortable with the place in which I had chose to confine it for so long—a place of bigotry, prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding.

Brent Childers in Newsweek.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Caring for the Widows and Orphans

Over and over, from Deuteronomy via Isaiah and the Psalms to the first epistle of St James, the Bible singles out one group above all others - widows and orphans - for priority treatment. Making sure they are provided for is of the very essence of religion, St James declares. But what do they mean by widows and orphans? Centuries of interpretation of these Scriptural passages have broadened the category to include all who, like widows and orphans, are facing hardship through loss - loss of a breadwinner in the traditional sense, or loss of a job through unemployment, sickness or disability.

Clifford Longley on Thought for the Day.

In our present time, the people being left behind by this creeping return of economic optimism are those who lost their jobs, or who recently left school or college, and haven't been able to find work since.

They are the modern poor, the modern widows and orphans of our time. The International Monetary Fund tells us their number is still well below its peak. But far from being our number one priority as the Bible says, they are in danger of being forgotten.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What Has Happened to the Jesus Seminar?

R. Joseph Hoffman sheds some light. Meanwhile, members of the Jesus Seminar seem to be in Dallas. And John Dart reports for the Christian Century last month that the Jesus Seminar is relocating to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

In between assignments state of mind

This weekend marks one of those unusual occasions in my professional life when I am in between assignments and thus relatively unencumbered. All this hedging: it is rare enough to be noteworthy.

Done is a rewrite of a chapter that has been hanging over my head for months. Bearing down on me (but being ignored for the moment) are an essay on "The Lost Symbol" by mid-October and missing essays for Daily Episcopalian. On the not-very-distant horizon are book reviews--one for the upcoming November SBL meeting. And the chapter rewrite may receive a favorable assessment. Or it may not. On the far horizon next Spring are adjustments to a manuscript that will be published in the US after its UK publication this month, co-leading a workshop on Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Psalms and Canticles, and completion of committee work for public release. Outside speaking engagements are simply on-going.

It is so wonderful to feel (somewhat) guilt-free that I find myself thinking about trying to finish assignments more quickly. Or not agreeing to them. Truth to tell, being an academic is like spinning plates. When a grant application is submitted or a manuscript is sent off for review, or a contract for a new piece is signed, a plate spins up into the air. The trick is to stagger them so that when one plate is about to crash to the ground (a deadline), another plate is being sent spinning into the air. The problem with spinning plates is that they inevitably stop spinning and that the more you have in the air, the more successful you appear to be. Which means you must keep more and more plates spinning faster and faster.

Right now, NOT spinning plates seems like a much more attractive option. After all, there are far more tranquil images of scholars' lives. Here's a local one from the The Chinese Scholar's Garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. And being in-between assignments is a much better state of mind in which to enjoy the birthday party of a 7 year old god-child yesterday!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Vook meets NT Greek or NT Introduction

I'm having fun imagining how Vook (book + video) would present an NT Greek or an NT Introduction text book.

For Greek, a vook could:
  • demonstrate the inflected forms of nouns and verbs thus conveying that Greek is an inflected language
  • show how the alphabet is formed and words pronounced
  • illustrate semantic worlds
  • enhance word study by illustrating e.g. oikos/oikia, a Hellenistic or Roman house or household
For an NT Introduction, a vook could:
  • Present three-dimensional maps
  • Show the journeys of Alexander the Great
  • Show archaeology of places mentioned in the New Testament including "virtual tours" of Galilee and Rome (cf. recent excavations at Portus)
  • Depict the temple in Jerusalem
  • Illustrate artefacts and material evidence including ostraka, manuscripts and papyri
As I think of other things, I'll add them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A new conservative bible translation

Episcopal Cafe notes a new conservative bible translation by the Conservative Bible Project at Conservapedia is underway. It is intended to "develop a conservative translation that can serve, at a minimum, as a bulwark against the liberal manipulation of meaning in future versions."

Here's their on-line version of Mark's Gospel. Having scanned chapter 1, here are my reactions at Episcopal Cafe: "No one thinks any translation is perfect. But does substituting "The Divine Guide" for the term "Spirit" in e.g. the baptism narrative convey Mark's ideas about Jesus' Baptism or the Spirit itself? And the translation of the verb in Mark 1:12 "the Divine Guide then led Jesus into the desert" is just wrong. I simply disagree that translations not using the term "man" to speak of Jesus emasculate him. Changing "scribes" or "Pharisees" to "intellectuals" in passages reporting controversies pits the latter against Jesus. Is this the message we want a bible translation to convey? Finally, the proposed translation of Mark 1:34b: 'he commanded the devils to be silent, because they knew Jesus as God' introduces a description of Jesus that simply isn't in the text."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Virgil's Bees: Carol Ann Duffy

In support of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions, Carol Ann Duffy (UK poet laureate) wrote a poem Virgil's Bees printed by the Guardian.

Bless air's gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.
Bless the beekeeper

who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
each bee's body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.

For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

The picture is a lime tree (I think) taken at a Kent farm this July. To take this picture is to hear thousands of bees swarming and buzzing around and on it...

Here's a link to The Georgics Book 4.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The supper at Emmaus by Ceri Richards

The supper at Emmaus
Ceri Richards (1903-1971)


Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.26

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

The yellow cross formed from light falling over the table, and of light itself divides the square format of the painting asymmetrically, for it is centred well to the left of the composition.

This asymmetry is partially compensated for by the fact that the centre of the figure of Christ is situated to the right of the upright part of the cross.

Only the right side of his head is, however, in the middle of the picture. It is worth responding to the divisions of this painting because they are clearly emphasised and obviously deeply considered.

For instance, the blue area to the left of Christ is a rectangle like but not geometrically similar to the yellow shape that surrounds Jesus. It is subdivided by a dark line which bounds a series of horizontal lines that must stand for a shutter.

This blue area is echoed below by another which is again like but not similar to it. This lower area is divided by a horizontal line and part of the mat.

Although these rectilinear areas are very strongly stated, some of them are partially masked by figures. For instance in the area at the top right hand corner above the table bounded by the central glow.

This is not square but nearly so. In fact areas like the shape to the left of the white jug that at first sight look square, turn out not to be. The body of the jug itself makes a white rectangle.

All these rectangles are parallel to the edges of the square format of the painting and echo and reinforce it. Variety is given by harmonic sub divisions of the format which are never quite what one expects - together they make up what is actually an abstract painting.

The figures are deployed and drawn in a completely different idiom; they are intensely, even vulgarly physical with enormous hands and feet. They bless, move and revere with a vengeance and yet the painting as a whole does work - how is that?

Well, this physicality is really carried by the contour everywhere except in the exposed areas of flesh which are firmly modelled. The insides of the figures are almost as plainly painted as the abstract surround, so they do sit down and interpenetrate with them.

Also the shapes between those physical rhythms are as 'abstract' as any of the others. The shape, for instance between Christ's raised hand and the blue area of the near disciple slashes, diagonally, across the centre of the painting; the other arm of the same disciple crosses the yellow end of the table and the round, white plate in such a way as to set up near triangles and two segments of a circle. Discovering things like this is one way of reading a painting.

Personally I find the figures of the disciples more successful than the figure of Our Lord. Sometimes when trying to draw or paint Our Lord painters tend to project too much of their own personalities onto him.

This figure is not really Christ-like because it is too complicated. It is the worried face of a man wrestling with some kind of inner disturbance. The huge self-conscious hands underline this psychological disturbance.

However a painting of Our Lord that we do not think looks like him serves the purpose of making us visualise our Saviour for ourselves. The whole picture, though, is marvellously intelligent and well-ordered.

Matthew to Go?

From Now You Know Media comes a 4 CD set with downloadable Study Guide to Matthew's Gospel by Donald Senior. I'd be happy to recommend this one. One caveat: while they say they are nfp and not affiliated to any organization or church, many of their speakers are Roman Catholic.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UK find of Anglo Saxon gold

The largest find of Anglo Saxon gold has been made public. This hoard of 1500 (mostly martial) objects from Staffordshire (heartland of the kingdom of Mercia) is perhaps the most important collection of Anglo-Saxon objects found in England. On the left is the "folded cross."

Monday, September 21, 2009

John Tavener: Composer of the Week

Sir John Tavener is composer of the week on Radio 3. This would be a good opportunity to be introduced to his compositions and learn something of his development and musicianship. Tomorrow there's to be a discussion of his acceptance into the Orthodox Church.

There's a concert including Tavener's music coming up in the NYC area:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 7:30 PM

JOHN TAVENER: Requiem (U.S. Premiere)
VALENTIN SILVESTROV: Diptychon (U.S. Premiere)
JOHN TAVENER: The Veil of the Temple (excerpts)
SERGEI RACHMANINOV: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (excerpts)

Blackburn Cathedral rethinks its policy on HC

A recent press release announces that the practice of offering wafers previously consecrated by a male priest when a woman priest was presiding will be discontinued.

“It will now be the case that the sacrament at any celebration of the Eucharist will be consecrated solely by the person who is presiding,” said a statement from the Chapter, the Cathedral’s governing body.

The Chapter said that although there will no longer be separately blessed wafers available for those opposed to the ordination of women, when a woman presides at a Eucharist, the Cathedral would continue to offer services on a Sunday where a male priest would preside.

The Cathedral statement added: “As a Chapter working very harmoniously together, we continue to seek a way forward that emphasises beyond any differences our common baptism in Christ.”

(HT: Anglicans OnLine)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Biblical Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships at St Luke in the Fields on Monday night

Marriage and Relationship: Biblical Perspectives
September 21, 28, & October 5
Our fall programming will start with a three-part series led by Dr. Deirdre Good, Professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary and author of the recently published book Jesus’ Family Values. Through exegetical examination of various Biblical passages, Dr. Good will help us explore various views of marriage, family, and relationship in ancient times, and how these views can guide and inform our Christian understanding today.

Monday Night Series
7pm-8:30pm, Laughlin Hall

Friday, September 18, 2009

William Holman Hunt, O.M. (1830–1910)
Nazareth, 1855 and 1860–61

Hunt was one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 and one of the most important painters of the nineteenth century; he visited Egypt and the Holy Land in 1854–55 and again from 1869 to 1872. Today some of Hunt's paintings, including The Light of the World, The Hireling Shepherd , The Awakening Conscience, and The Triumph of the Innocents, are considered icons of the Victorian era.

Hunt left Jerusalem on October 17, 1855, and reached Nazareth six days later, recording enthusiastically in his diary : "Sweet Nazareth of Galilee—never did I imagine thee so lovely in all the many times that I have tried to picture the abode of our Lord." This watercolor was largely painted on the spot between October 24 and 27.

Currently on display in the exhibit "Pastoral to Postindustrial: British Works on Paper at the Whitworth Art Gallery" at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU.

ADDRESS: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 100 Washington Square East, NYC 10003

Tuesdays/Thursdays/Fridays: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
OPEN LATE Wednesdays: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Saturdays: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and major holidays.

SUGGESTED ADMISSION: $3.00, Free to NYU students, faculty, and staff

DIRECTIONS: The Grey Art Gallery is located within the NYU Silver Center at 100 Washington Square East. Situated at the meeting point of SoHo and the East and West Villages, the Grey Art Gallery is easily reached by public transportation. SUBWAY: A, B, C, D, E, F, N, or V to West 4th Street; R or W local to 8th Street; 6 local to Astor Place; 1 local to Christopher Street. BUS: M1, M2, M3, M5, and M6 to
8th Street.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Gospels & Christian Life in History and Practice, Valantasis, Bleyle and Haugh

A copy of The Gospels and Christian Life in History and Practice (June 2009) arrived today and I am looking forward to reading it. In the meantime, here's the publicity:

The Gospels And Christian Life reads the four canonical Gospels as handbooks for religious formation through communal practices. The book focuses on the communities that produced each gospel, the dynamic energy each gospel displays for creating and sustaining community life, the different interpretations of the person of Jesus, and the different systems of organization and leadership each gospel promulgated. The authors carefully describe the social context of each Gospel and delineate the practices the texts prescribe. Each gospel has an imaginative portal, an introductory chapter introducing the necessary background for understanding the social, intellectual, and religious setting for each gospel. Their reading of each Gospel builds on these foundations to illustrate the nature and scope of the community's practices. Their work starts from the assumption that the communities did not look to the Gospels for biographical data on the life of Jesus to offer the reader a powerful reading of each Gospel community, its unique practices, and the way people were trained to become members of it. This book is aimed at undergraduate and graduate teachers and students, pastors, and the general audience eager for new ways to understand the New Testament.

- A unique approach to the gospels, studied as windows on the communities that created them.

- The portal to each gospel offers the historical, social, political, and intellectual background necessary to understanding each gospel in its particularity.

- Treats the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles together as a unit.

- Incorporates information about non-canonical gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Judas, as well as the apocryphal infancy gospels.

- The Introduction prepares readers for the study of Early Christian Literature in an historical context.

- Uses both ancient and modern analogous situations to make understanding the gospels more accessible.

About the Authors
Richard Valantasis is Co-Director of the Institute for Contemplative Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and on leave as Professor of Ascetical Theology and Christian Practice and Director of the Anglican Studies Program at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is an ordained Episcopal priest.

Douglas K. Bleyle is Co-Director of the Institute for Contemplative Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He earned his M.Div. at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and his Th.M. from Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is an aspirant to holy orders in the Episcopal Church.

Dennis C. Haugh is an adjunct professor at the Iliff School of Theology and a Ph.D. candidate in the joint Iliff-University of Denver doctoral program. He is a Roman Catholic lay person with extensive experience in the areas of adult faith formation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mark Goodacre: Admitting Our Ignorance About the Historical Jesus

Prof. Mark Goodacre posts a useful reflection, "Admitting Our Ignorance About the Historical Jesus":

There are lots of things that we can know about the life of Jesus with a degree of confidence, his healing activity, his proclamation of the kingdom, his connection to John the Baptist, the call of disciples who continued the movement after his arrest and crucifixion, and so on. Beginning from this kind of secure information, one can produce a good sketch of the life of Jesus, and E. P. Sanders has illustrated how much one can do with this kind of data when we integrate them into an informed understanding of Jesus' historical context.

But knowing things about the historical Jesus is not the same as being able to write his biography. (The New Testament scholar Rudolf) Bultmann rightly pointed out that we do not have the data available to trace his psychological development in the manner of contemporary biography. Yet recent years have seen an increasing confidence in our ability to paint something approaching a complete picture of Jesus' life and personality, as if all the relevant and necessary materials for that complete picture are available somewhere. It just takes a bit of effort to get at them. We spend many painful hours sifting and honing criteria because we feel that the literary deposit is somewhere bound to contain all the material of real importance. Only matters peripheral to the task of reconstructing the key elements in his life have disappeared.

This kind of assumption develops out of an unrealistic perspective on the task. We proceed as if we are doing the work of restoration, clearing the dirt, the damage, the rust in order to unveil the real Jesus. But the quest is not about restoration. It is a task of ancient history and when understood as ancient history, discussion about the historical Jesus should constantly involve the reminder that massive amounts of key data must be missing.

It may be that we seldom reflect on this fact because the ideological investment in Jesus affects our historical research on him. Those ideological interests are, of course, many and varied, but the same kind of optimistic assumptions about the data set are shared by those from different ends of the spectrum, from those whose faith commitment compels them to regard the scriptural deposit as definitive, to those who look to a range of materials and methods in a bid to reconstruct a Jesus who is uncongenial to later Christian orthodoxy.

Let me illustrate the kind of thing I am talking about. According to almost everyone, one of the most certain things that we can know about the historical Jesus is that he was a disciple of John the Baptist. This is bedrock stuff and anyone familiar with Jesus research will know all about why. As it happens, I am inclined to agree with this; I suspect that Jesus did indeed have an association with John the Baptist and that it was important, in some way, in his development. But how important was John the Baptist, as an influence on Jesus, in comparison to other people? We know about the link between the two men because John the Baptist was himself famous -- Josephus devotes more time to him than he does to Jesus. So the tradition remembers and underlines the association between the two men.

But our influences are seldom solely other famous people. Perhaps the major influence on Jesus was his grandfather, whose fascination with Daniel 7 informed Jesus' apocalyptic mindset. Or perhaps it was Rabbi Matia in Capernaum who used to enjoy telling parables drawn from local agriculture. Or perhaps it was that crazy wandering Galilean exorcist Lebbaeus who used to talk about casting out demons by the Spirit of God. The fact is that we just don't know. We can't know. Our knowledge about the historical Jesus is always and inevitably partial. If we take the quest of the historical Jesus seriously as an aspect of ancient history, we have to admit that many of the key pieces must be missing.

The problem is that we are in denial. We simply do not want to admit that we do not have all the data we need to paint a complete picture of the historical Jesus. Good scholarship is sometimes born from a desire to fill in the gaps, and informed speculation can be a virtue. But over-confidence born out of an unrealistic expectation of the evidence will make future generations wonder what we were playing at.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Accordance Seminar September 26th at GTS

The New York, NY Seminar is quickly approaching and you only have a few more days to register!
Not sure if you are using Accordance to its highest potential?
Why not attend an Accordance seminar? Our main goal at a seminar is to equip people to use Accordance to its maximum capabilities in order to aid them in their personal devotion time, classwork, sermon preparation and ministerial work. Seminars are suitable for users of Accordance or individuals who would like to observe and learn more about the program. You will receive coaching on the original language features as well as use of the general interface, searching capabilities, graphics and other features. The New York, NY seminar will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will consist of two sessions with a break for lunch. You may bring a laptop if you wish, but it is not essential. The demonstration will be projected. There will be the opportunity to update and add to your Accordance program, but we recommend downloading version 8 ahead of time. Most people who take the time to come are extremely grateful to learn all the things that they never knew they were missing. Please make the sessions known to the staff and students at any institution in the area, as well as to any users you know.

SEMINAR REGISTRATION We have decided no longer to charge for registration at seminars, so they are completely free to all attendees. However, it greatly aids our planning if attendees do let us know as soon as possible if they plan to come, and inform us if their plans change. Please register by Tuesday, Sept. 22nd by sending an email to You can also use this address for any questions about the seminars.

New York, NY
September 26th
9am - 5pm
General Theological Seminary
Seabury Auditorium
175 Ninth Ave.
New York, NY 10011

Located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, on the west side of Manhattan, occupying the full city block between West 20th and West 21st Streets and between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The entrance is on 21st Street halfway between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Diocese of London +Study Sessions 2009 +James MacMillan

Session 1: The Word transforming
The composer James MacMillan and the poet Michael Symmons Roberts
Thursday 29 October

Location: St Faith's Chapel, St Paul's Cathedral

This sacrament of transformation in which bread, wine and people are changed and put to new purposes has also inspired artists of all kinds. In particular, the words of the eucharistic rite have been transformed into a variety of musical forms. They have also inspired poetry and prayer. What changes when the words are ‘translated’ into a new medium? How do contemporary poets and composers find inspiration in the eucharist? And does this indicate that there is something about artistic creativity itself that has analogies with the eucharist: the processes by which ordinary things become graced; by which the divine depth or excess in material creation is opened up for our new appreciation?

James MacMillan CBE is one of today’s most successful living composers and is also internationally active as a conductor. His musical language is profoundly shaped by his Christian faith, his social conscience and his Scottish heritage, and blends Celtic, Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European music with a classical Western tradition running from Victoria through Bach to Wagner and Messiaen. He has written several Mass settings, including one for children which is used in churches all over the world every week.

Michael Symmons Roberts is an award-winning poet, novelist, librettist and dramatist. His works include the recent collection of poetry Corpus, and the BBC1 film Miracle on the Estate, screened on Good Friday 2008, which won the Premier Prize for Television at the Sandford St Martin Awards in June this year. He has collaborated on a number of occasions with James MacMillan.

Other Speakers and Events here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Synagogue at Migdal Discovered

News of a discovery of a first century synagogue at Migdal has been announced. The synagogue has been dated to the years 50 BCE – 100 CE. A rectangular stone bearing the Menorah relief stands inside its central chamber. The chamber is about 120 square meters in size and stone benches line its sides. Mosaics and a fresco have also been found. (Aerial view to the right)

The dig was conducted by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najer of the Antiquities Authority. According to Gorni, the find is “unique and exciting.” "This is the first time that a Menorah decoration is discovered from the days in which the Temple still stood,” she said. “It is the first Menorah that is discovered in a Jewish context, which is dated to Second Temple times – the early Roman period. We can estimate that the inscription that appears on the stone... was made by an artist who saw the seven-branched Menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue joins only six synagogues known in the world from Second Temple times.”

The dig was conducted on land owned by a company which intends to build a hotel on the property.

Ancient Migdal – or Migdala, in Aramaic – was mentioned in Jewish sources and served as one of the central bases for forces under the command of Josephus Flavius (Yosef Ben Matityahu), who commanded the Galilee rebellion but later crossed over to the Roman camp. Resistance at Migdal continued after Tiberias and the rest of the Galilee had surrendered.

Migdal is also mentioned in the Christian “New Testament” as the place where Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, came from.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Friday's commemoration at Ground Zero includes a reading of all the victims' names and a moment of silence to mark the impact of the two hijacked planes and the collapse of the towers. Beams pointing skyward will be lit at night from Ground Zero.

Here is a list of events in NYC:

The Bell of Hope will ring at St. Paul's Chapel. Ceremonies at Ground Zero including the reading of the names and singing by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. This link shows the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Rehearsing the day before.

Mass will be held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in honor of the firefighters who fell on 9/11.

Day of Remembrance Liturgy followed by prayers for healing and anointing with oil at St. Paul's Chapel.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will deliver the keynote address at the first annual National Day of Service and Remembrance.

All day:
Concerts will be held throughout the city organized by The September Concert.

Here's a link to a piece on Remembering the Rescue Dogs at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Chelsea's Newest Bookstore

Managed to visit Posman Books in Chelsea Market today. They are expanding into the space which is larger than one might think. They plan to have a children's section and a place for readings. Bought a copy of Mind's Eye by HÃ¥kan Nesser. It is a great day when a new bookstore opens in one's neighbourhood!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

There Were Giants in the Earth in Those Days (Gen 6:4):
The Sad Tale of the Cardiff Giant
Date: September 15
Time: 7:30
Location: Chappaqua Library, 195 South Greeley Avenue, Chappaqua {one block from train station from Grand Central)
Speaker: Ken Feder, Department of Anthropology, Central Connecticut State University

In October 1869, Stub Newell, a farmer in upstate New York, uncoveredthe remains of what appeared to be a giant, recumbent man whose bodyhad turned to stone. Geologists and archaeologists immediately declared it to be fraudulent, but such pronouncements meant little tothe hordes who descended on the Newell farm to see the giant forthemselves. Circus impresario P.T. Barnum was so impressed by thearchaeological fake that he tried to purchase it for his sideshow. Theperpetrator confessed just a few months after the giant?s discoverybut the giant himself continues as a tourist attraction at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Though not nearly as well known as the Piltdown Man hoax, the Cardiff Giant fraud is one of the most instructive in the history of archaeology. And it's much funnier.

Short bio: Feder has taught in the Department of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State University since 1977. He is the founder and director of the Farmington River Archaeological Project, a long-term investigation of the prehistory of the Farmington River Valley. He is the author of several books including: Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology; A Village of Outcasts: Historical Archaeology and Documentary Research at the Lighthouse Site; The Past In Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory; and Linking to the Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology.

Dr. Peter Feinman
Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education
PO Box 41
Purchase, NY 10577

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A new ministry (and which translation is in the pews of the new church)

Yesterday, we drove off to a nearby state to visit a friend who is starting a new ministry as rector of a church. After a tour of the rectory, we were given a tour of the lovely church.

As I sat in a pew to take in the architecture and the stained glass, I found a NLT Bible. Every pew had several. Of course, it's a good thing to find bibles in pews and not that common in Episcopal Churches. And yet, this particular translation is a disappointment. Here's why.

Take the NLT translation of Romans 16:1-2, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God's people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.

This description of Phoebe, "for she has been helpful" doesn't do her justice. Look at the NRSV:
"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well."

The translation "benefactor" from the the Greek word prostatis is a Latinism, the Greek rendering of the Latin word patrona, the feminine form of patronus. How should we render this? Both diakonos and prostatis contains a dimension of "assistance" as well as a dimension of authority and leadership. Perhaps we can say that Phoebe in her role as diakonos of the church of Cenchreae fulfilled a leading role in that community. As for prostatis, this word connotes "patron" or "protector." In the passage then, Phoebe is a sister, deacon and a benefactor of the ekklesia at Cenchreae. Now the NLT transmits two out of three terms but obscures the third. And if it does this in regard to one prominent woman, are we not justified in being suspicious of the work of these translators?

Other scholars have noted that the NLT is not a new translation but rather a revision of the 1971 Living Bible translation. One of the scholars who worked on it, Craig Blomberg says of this translation (in 2003):

Years later I relished the chance to work on the NLT (New Living Translation) team to convert the LBP into a truly dynamic-equivalent translation, but I never recommend it to anyone except to supplement the reading of a more literal translation to generate freshness and new insights, unless they are kids or very poor adult readers.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice (NYTimes Book Review)

Ah well, better to have a review than not! Caroline Alexander rates it positively.

THE SISTERS OF SINAI How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels By Janet Soskice Illustrated. 316 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95

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...