Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Coptic Church and Coptic Christianity

As I finished my Coptic Class today, I noted this comment in a review by Philip Phan of The Lost History of Christianity by Penn State's Philip Jenkins on the Religion and Ethics PBS site:

In Egypt, which was conquered by the armies of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As in 640, not only did the Coptic church survive, but it continues, even today, to be the faith of at least 10 percent of the population. After discounting a number of explanations, Jenkins concludes that the key factor is “how deep a church planted its roots in a particular community, and how far the religion became part of the air that ordinary people breathed.” Whereas the Latin church of North Africa was essentially a colonial faith, appealing mainly to urban elites, the Coptic clergy translated their doctrine and practices into the idioms readily grasped by ordinary people, both city dwellers and rural peasants. Thus, despite persecutions, the Copts survived and their patriarchate spread Christianity up the Nile, deep into Africa to Nubia in present-day northern Sudan, which remained a Christian kingdom into the 15th century, and to Ethiopia (which also had contact with Syriac Christians), where the local church remains in communion with the see of Alexandria to this day. The lesson Jenkins draws here—although some might well be discomfited by the terms with which he articulates it—is that “for churches as for businesses, failure often results from a lack of diversification, from attaching one’s fortunes too closely to one particular set of circumstances, political or social.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Prof James Kugel speaking

Congregation Ohab Zedek is hosting Prof James Kugel as scholar in residence starting tomorrow

April 29 8 PM
Cong. Or Zarua, 127 E. 82nd Street

Lucy Dawidowicz Memorial Lecture: "Yom Ha-Atzma'ut (Israeli Independence Day): A Biblical Perspective"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Installation of The Rev Dr Brad Braxton at Riverside Church

What an event! Singing, dancing, sermons, charges, commissions, prayers and The Holy Spirit. I was seated behind Governor David Patterson (dubbed "Pastor" Patterson by Senator Schumer after his remarks in the form of a sermon) and Senator Chuck Schumer with a wonderful view of the proceedings. If you went to church at Riverside in the morning, and then for the installation, you would have spent the whole day there.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A history of excavations in Bethsaida

Stephen Rosenberg writes in the Jerusalem Post about excavations on the site of the city Bethsaida going back to the 10th Century BCE. In the Hellenistic Period, two houses have been identified, one with fishing materials and one with wine bottles:

The fisherman's house contained lead weights and anchors, as well as fishhooks and needles, everything a fisherman and his wife needed for their trade. The wine merchant and his family had the necessary house cellar and will have drawn their stock of vines from the hills above the city, where the green valleys are both shaded and facing the sun, ideal for the vines of Roman times and likewise for those of today, which provide the fine wines of the Golan.
At a recent hearing in Augusta, Maine on a bill to extend marriage to same-sex couples, testimony came from the Episcopal Church. The Bangor Daily News reports:

Although Bishop Stephen Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine did not attend the hearing, he submitted testimony in favor of the bill. The Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part, is deeply divided over the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. “If we, as Mainers, believe that faithful, lifelong monogamous relationships are among the building blocks of a healthy and stable society, then it is in our interest to extend the rights and obligations of civil marriage to all Maine citizens,” Lane wrote. “To deny those rights to certain persons on the basis of sexual orientation is to create two classes of citizens and to deny one group what we believe is best for them and for society."

The opinion page came out in favor of extending the benefits and rights of same-sex marriage to Mainers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Starting New Testament Study: Learning, Doing
Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good
SPCK Publishing (22 Oct 2009)

Starting New Testament Study provides an introduction to the books of
the New Testament, their authors and their context for those just
beginning to study the Bible. It has an emphasis on 'learning by doing':
alongside the main narrative sweep come text boxes that introduce
readers to areas of critical scholarship, maps, timelines and questions
and exercises that encourage direct engagement with the biblical text.

This helpful and encouraging book will enable the beginning student to
start analysing New Testament texts for themselves and will develop
their confidence and skills in this area.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hell's Classroom: teaching in the Gordon Ramsay style

Thomas H. Benton writes in the Chronicle for Higher Education:

The essence of his teaching method seems to be placing the quality of the food and service above all other considerations, including the feelings of the contestants, some of whom are humiliated on a weekly basis before an audience of millions. He is a figure of indisputable authority, and he doesn't wrap criticism in a warm fuzzy blanket of reassurance. If someone serves a sloppy meal, he'll call that person "a dirty pig" in a way that everyone will hear, remember, and, most important, learn from.

That is completely different from the way most faculty members in the last couple of generations have been trained to respond to students' work. We fear hurting their feelings, alienating them, or provoking them into complaining to some higher authority. So instead of calling a student out, we respond with something like this:

"The absence of conventional spelling and punctuation in your paper — while something we shall want to address at some point — certainly shows an abundance of creativity. Self-reliance is a good thing to have, but you may want to use some sources next time, too. Overall, your essay demonstrates considerable promise for even greater success in the future. Good job! I'm so glad I had the chance to read your work. B+"

Love the part about addressing snowflakes...missing however is a recognition that this kind of application presumes expertise in pursuit of a common goal. In other words, it would apply to an elective not an introductory course.
News of Palestinian and Israeli conversations in Donegal, Ireland through Combatants for Peace is being reported.

The "Combatants for Peace" movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace.

Since the beginning of 2005 we have been organizing meetings between Israeli and Palestinian veterans, in which both sides tell about the violent actions that they have taken part in and about the turning point which led them to understand the limits of violence. Naturally, these meetings were fraught with many fears, however we soon learned that despite years of fear and hatred, there is more that unites us than divides. Therefore we have decided to act together in the following ways:
  • To continue with the combatants' meetings, which allow each side to understand the other's narrative, via the approach of reconciliation rather than conflict.
  • To implement an educational lecture series in public forums on both sides (universities, youth groups, schools etc.). The lectures will be given jointly by an Israeli and a Palestinian veteran, who will concentrate on the transition from violent struggle to the recognition of the limits of violence.
  • To create joint projects which educate towards non- violence.
  • To create joint frameworks in order to become familiar with the culture, history and current needs of the other nation.
  • To set up Bi-National media teams, which will act in order to influence public opinion in Israel, Palestine and the rest of the world.
  • To participate in demonstrations and other non-violent actions against the occupation as a bi-national group.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Church Publishing has published Reasonable and Holy by Tobias Haller. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Reasonable and Holy addresses the conflict over homosexuality within the Anglican tradition, demonstrating that the church is able to provide for and support faithful and loving relationships between persons of the same sex, not as a departure from that tradition, but as a reasonable extension of it.

It offers a carefully argued, but accessible means of engagement with Scripture, the Jewish and Christian traditions, and the use of reason in dealing with the experience and lives of fellow-Christians. Unlike most reflections on the topic of homosexuality, Reasonable and Holy examines same-sex relationships through the lens of the traditional teaching on the “ends” or “goods” of marriage: procreation, union, the upbuilding of society, the symbolic representation of Christ and the Church, and the now often unmentioned “remedy for fornication.” Throughout, it responds to objections based on reason, tradition and Scripture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

E.J. Dionne (whom I had the privilege of meeting last year and to whom I gave a copy of the New Zealand Prayer Book) writes on Obama's foreign policy for TNR:

Obama is simply paying heed to Reinhold Niebuhr, a thinker admired both by the president and by conservatives. Niebuhr warned that some of "the greatest perils to democracy arise from the fanaticism of moral idealists who are not conscious of the corruption of self-interest" and also that a "nation with an inordinate degree of political power is doubly tempted to exceed the bounds of historical possibilities."

The Obama Doctrine is a form of realism unafraid to deploy American power, but mindful that its use must be tempered by practical limits and a dose of self-awareness. Those are the limits that defenders of the recent past have trouble accepting.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Museum of Biblical Art is now offering free admission on Sundays (10-4.00pm) through May 17th! Currently on exhibit is Reel Religion: A Century of Bible and Film. It's been noticed.

History of Manhattan (via the NY Times)

Michelle and James Nevius, the authors of Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City answer questions about to what extent the Dutch promulgated religious freedom and suggest best places to get a feel for the history of New York City.

The Dutch were not particularly broadminded when it came to religion. The only official religion in New Amsterdam was Dutch Calvinism (now known as the Dutch Reformed Church). A small group of Jewish refugees were grudgingly granted the use of the upper story of an old mill, but no other Christian denominations were accepted. This led to violent clashes between city officials, led by Peter Stuyvesant, and religious dissenters, such as Robert Hodgson, a Quaker.

There are a lot of great places to “time travel” in New York. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. The American Period Rooms at the Metropolitan Museum
    These rooms represent important eras in America’s development.
  2. Stone Street
    Known to those who work and live in the financial district for its row of restaurants, Stone Street is the best-preserved block of 19th Century New York. (The name comes from the fact that it was the first paved street in New Amsterdam; those paving stones are long gone, however.)
  3. The Wyckoff Farmhouse
    New York's oldest home and its first designated landmark.
  4. The Merchant’s House Museum
    This museum is preserved, inside and out, including much of the Tredwell family’s original 19th-century furnishings.
  5. Lower East Side Tenement Museum
    This museum captures the lives of New York’s immigrants in the six restored apartments.
The authors are speaking tonight at 6.00pm at The New York Historical Society (books available for purchase): admission free.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

George Friderich Handel Anniversary

On the 250th anniversary of the death of George Friderich Handel, Fishamble Street in Dublin (where the Messiah was first performed in a music hall) celebrates. This festival includes a podcast by Prof. Boydell of a walking tour around the streets and places Handel visited. The Duke of Devonshire had invited Handel to Dublin and he stayed six to eight months. In the yard of nearby Christ Church Cathedral was the music shop of the Neale brothers who built the music hall. Here's the announcement of the Messiah performance.

At last, on Thursday, April 8th, 1742, a public rehearsal of The Messiah took place, and the critics agreed that it was "the finest Composition of Musick that ever was heard." So unanimous was the approval of Handel's masterpiece that, on the announcement of the first public performance, the Stewards of the Charitable Musical Society, in view of a crowded attendance, requested the ladies to come "without hoops," and the gentlemen without their swords. The actual first performance of Handel's sublime oratorio took place on Tuesday, April 13th, at 12 noon. Neale's Music Hall was densely packed with a most enthusiastic and discriminating audience, and The Messiah "made its impression once and for ever." Handel himself forwarded to Mr. Jennens the critical observations of "the Bishop of Elphin--a Nobleman very learned in Musick" on the performance, and also a copy of the printed word-book, issued by George Faulkner, of Dublin, "price, a British six-pence."

Celebrations take place also in Halle where Handel was born. On this side of the pond, NPR has a segment. Michael White in the Telegraph demurs. Perhaps we should let Handel have the last word. Here's Ombra mai fu sung by Rolando Villazon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Church and Community Building Among Caribbean Immigrants in the Bronx
April 23rd

Immigrants from the Anglophone Caribbean have played a major role in Bronx communities. Dr. Natasha Lightfoot explores migration and community building by looking at the history of two Episcopal Churches which attracted Caribbean immigrants.

Fordham University, Bronx Campus, McGinley Student Center, Faculty Lounge
Bronx, New York, NY 10458-5149

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter with Mark's Gospel

Manya Breachnear at the Chicago Tribune writes about preaching from Mark's account of the empty tomb at Easter. I wouldn't say exactly this about Mark 16:8 but it does get the point across.

The Gospel of Mark reflects a universal state of limbo; like a season finale, it leaves the reader wanting more. The Greek translation of Mark even stops in the middle of a sentence.

"People are staring mid-sentence out into a future they can not see or predict," Brian Hiortdahl, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Lakeview said. "It's scary to think that God is alive and able to do things so far beyond our prediction and beyond our control.

"The future is wide open. We can participate in it, but we're not in charge, and we are a people who like to be in charge of stuff," he said. "We like to predict. We like to figure out when the economy is going to get better and plan for it. Resurrection just blows all of that away."

Jeff Golliher's book, A Deeper Faith, makes the point that when confronted with the empty tomb, we tend to project all of our expectations and anxieties into that void so as to fill it. The challenge is to recognize the void for what it is and what it is not.


If you don't already know it, allows people to swop (exchange) books. BookMooch is a way to get books without paying, and without any intention of returning the book. As of today, the most requested book is A Thousand Splendid Suns and the most offered book is Angels and Demons (followed by The DaVinci Code)!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sisters of Sinai: Book of the Week

Radio 4 this week is serializing a reading of Janet Soskice's book Sisters of Sinai (March 2009: Chatto & Windus) as Book of the Week in Women's Hour.

Here's a description of the book:
"Sisters of Sinai" tells an extraordinary tale of nineteenth century exploration; how two Scottish sisters made one of the most important ancient manuscript finds of the age. Hidden in a cupboard beneath the monastic library at St Catherine's in the Sinai desert the twins discovered what looked like a palimpsest: one text written over another. It was Agnes who recognized the obscured text for what it was - one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. Once they had overcome the stubborn reluctance of Cambridge scholars to authenticate the find and had lead an expedition of quarrelsome academics back to Sinai to copy it, Agnes and Margaret - in middle years and neither with any university qualifications - embarked on a life of demanding scholarship and bold travel. In this enthralling book, Janet Soskice takes the reader on an astonishing journey from the Ayreshire of the sisters' childhood to the lost treasure trove of the Cairo genizah. We trace the footsteps of the intrepid pair as they voyage to Egypt, Sinai and beyond, Murray's guide book in hand coping with camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and unpredictable welcomes. We enter the excitement and mystery of the Gospel origins at a time when Christianity was under attack in Europe. Crucially this is the story of two remarkable women who, as widows, were undeterred in their spirit of adventure and who overcame insuperable odds to become world class scholars with a place in history.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Apostle's Creed: "Suffered Under Pontius Pilate"

In Greek class today, a student pointed out that the preposition "under" in the phrase "suffered under Pontius Pilate" is a temporal marker using genitive or dative to mean, "in the time of," "at," "when" (Bauer 367a).

Thus, another way of rendering the Apostles Creed would be "[I believe] Jesus Christ...born of the virgin Mary; at the time of Pontius Pilate he suffered, was crucified, dead and buried..." Here the connotations of "under" are "at the time of" rather than attributing to Pilate reponsibility for Jesus' suffering and death.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Summer New Testament Greek

Our summer courses are announced and I am teaching: Elementary New Testament Greek (GK10)
An introduction to the language utilizing in-person classroom meetings as well as asynchronous distance learning. 3 credits. Th. & F, May 21 & 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m and other times TBD.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Judas: A Biography by Susan Gubar

Susan Gubar's new book on Judas is reviewed in the NY Times Books Review by Adam Kirsch.

The book is on the character and representation of Judas arguing that the depiction moves from "disgrace to dignity." But is this a forced reading of the evidence? The gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—pay little attention to him, leaving an unclear picture both of the man and of his motives. Only the gospel of Matthew, for example, mentions the 30 pieces of silver and Judas’ suicide. Matthew offers the possibility that Judas repented. In John’s gospel there is no kiss of betrayal, yet we learn that Judas acted as the disciples’ embezzling money manager. In John and Luke, Judas is understood to be possessed by the devil, while Mark and Matthew present a more human figure.

It is because of these “knots” in the Gospel accounts, as Gubar calls them, that Judas’s post-Biblical career could be so various and contradictory. The real subject of “Judas: A Biography” is not the fragments of a life revealed in the New Testament, but the afterlife elaborated by subsequent generations of Christian artists, writers, theologians and propagandists. In keeping with the conceit of her title, Gubar proposes that we read this long history as a biography, in which the figure of Judas ages and changes over time. He is “an enigmatic loner in ancient times who was mercilessly bullied during a fiendish adolescence in premodern societies until he unexpectedly attained a seductive and ethical maturity at moments in the medieval period and with frequency after the Renaissance.”

Therein lies the problem: the scope of the book.
The very wealth of material Gubar has to deal with (she invokes Latin sermons and English poems and German films; paintings and stained-glass windows, even the music of Bach) shows how widely ramifying the Judas story is. To do full justice to it would require a team of scholars — in particular, historians of theology and art.

But perhaps the most striking element of the book is its exploration of sympathy for Judas and willingness to identify with him. No writer quoted in Gubar’s book is more astonishing than Jorge Luis Borges, who suggested in a 1944 story that God “stooped to become man for the redemption of the human race,” one who would sin and “be condemned to damnation,” that God “chose an abject existence: He was Judas.”

Friday, April 03, 2009

(National Geographic)
Herod the Great's port city of Caesarea was an architectural marvel built to honor Rome's first emperor, Caesar Augustus. The walled city included a palace, a 3,500-seat theater, a hippodrome, and a deepwater harbor sheltered by an enormous concrete breakwater, the outline of which can still be seen beneath the water.
Photograph by Bill Curtsinger.

Rehabilitation of Herod the Great has been underway for the last twenty years. Strabo (Geog. 16.42.6) says of Herod, "he was so superior to his predecessors particularly in intercourse with the Romans and in administration of affairs of the state that he received the title of King." Thorough studies of his building program are available including identification of his tomb.

Peter Richardson explains why Herod the Great should interest readers of the Bible. Herod has shaped the cultural landscape (particularly the urban ones) of Judaism in the first century CE. No one in the ancient world built as much as Herod (with the possible exception of Augustus). In his work we can examine material remains, both architecture and literature as complementary. His pragmatic accommodation to the Romans allows us to see how a Hellenistic Jew survived at this time. While he introduced bathhouses to Israel they included stepping stones which meant the pool functioned as a mikveh.

Thoughts on God (New Statesman, April 2)

What God Means to Me--highlights from the New Statesman.

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks
God, for me, represents the holiness of otherness. Through an encounter with the divine Other I come to value the encounter with the human other. What I ask God to do for me, God asks me to do for others: listen to them, empower them, believe in them, trust them, forgive them when they betray that trust, and love them for what they are, not what I would like them to be. More than we have faith in God, God has faith in us, and because he never loses that faith, we can never lose hope. God is the redemption of solitude.

Marina Mahathir
I grew up thinking of God as the biggest, most powerful, smartest and richest being there is . . . but also most definitely male. It took a long time to realise that God has no gender and that the Quran says that He or She takes men and women into equal consideration.
That realisation has been very liberating for a Muslim woman like me. Patriarchy is a human creation, not God’s.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Letter to the Editor from this week's TLS

Childhood of Jesus

Sir, – The childhood of Jesus and our lack of knowledge about these hidden years has perplexed people down the generations. Readers fascinated by the fourteenth-century Tring Tiles (see the caption on page 3, March 27) will be interested to read many more of the legends surrounding the childhood of Jesus contained in the second-century apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Providing fiction dressed up as fact which would put many a modern tabloid to shame, Jesus is portrayed as some kind of precocious and capricious wonder boy, including stories of him as a baby speaking in his cradle and later as a young boy helping Joseph in the carpenter’s workshop and doing a Tommy Cooper routine with a piece of timber cut to the wrong size.

The Vicarage, Kirkthorpe, Wakefield.

Oh dear. Probably pseudepigraphical Infancy Gospel since it's attributed to Thomas. The term ‘Pseudepigrapha' means "falsely titled." The term "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha" describes writings falsely attributed to figures mentioned in the Hebrew Bible such as Enoch. The term is used today as a means to classify not describe these writings. Thus we could speak of New Testament Pseudepigrapha and include Thomas material.

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...