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.

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...