Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mary Magdalene and Jesus: a scene of recognition

David Wynne's remarkable depiction of the moment of recognition between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in Ely Cathedral. We were there yesterday. How different it is from the more familiar "Noli me tangere" type!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Barchester Towers

Barchester TowersBarchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Quite enjoyable and worth reading particularly for those of us employed by the Episcopal Church. How much the mores and values of a bygone age govern the plot development is striking: lack of candor or reticence e.g. about the content of Mr Slope's letter to Eleanor on everyone's part forces lengthening of events while people labor under misapprehensions. Clergy are portrayed as having few theological thoughts let alone any of merit. There are no theological discussions recorded and yet different churchmanship drives the actions of several characters. To the male narrator, women are either sirens or widows.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 27, 2010

BBC's most watched programme Top Gear: Three Wise Men Christmas Special

Anyone who hasn't seen Top Gear, the BBC's most popular programme, might consider their Christmas Special in which the three stars follow a route to Bethlehem that vaguely follows that of the three wise men of Christian tradition (not biblical text). The point seems to be to see how well the three cars hold up to the rigours of local roads and desert conditions through Turkey and Syria en route to Bethlehem (spoiler: Richard Hammond in the Fiat seems to hold up best). Interludes at the Sea of Galilee include the serious injury to James May and attempts by James Cameron to appear as "JC" and walk on water. Finally in Bethlehem, they present equivalents of gold, frankincense and myrrh to what looks like a baby in a racing driver suit (but what do I know?)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ABC writes

In case anyone missed it, here is the Archbishop's Christmas message for Radio Times.

The story says that something is happening that will break boundaries and cross frontiers, so that the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead of fearing each other.  There is something here that draws strangers together.  It's what some of the old carols mean by talking about the 'desire of all nations' –as if what human beings really wanted was not revenge, endless cycles of miserable scoring off each other, but being able to stand together in shared astonishment and gratitude – held together not by plans and negotiations but by something quite outside the usual repertoire of human events.  By something just inviting us to recognise we're loved – if we could only stop and see it.
The clutching hand of the baby is, for most of us, something we can't resist.  The Christmas story outrageously suggests that putting our hand into the clutch of a baby may be the most important thing we can ever do as human beings – a real letting-go of aggression and fear and wanting to make an impression and whatever else is going on in us that keeps us tied up in our struggle and violence.
Even more outrageously, the story suggests that this particular baby, the one born in the outhouse, the one who is rescued at the last moment from a village massacre like the ones that happen so regularly in forgotten civil wars today in Congo or Sudan – this baby is the place where the power of the creator of the universe is completely present. And what on earth might it mean to say that the ultimate power in the universe is more like a baby clutching at us in blind trust than it's like the President's bullet-proof motorcade?
Well, all that is to go a bit beyond the story itself, of course.  Christians believe it and not everyone else does.  But it still ought to make us think.  The fact that this story of defenceless love - even when it's wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy-dress of Christmas as it's developed over the centuries - touches something universal is at the very least a fact that should make us think twice about giving up on the human heart's capacity for goodness and faith, however deeply buried.  One-horse open sleighs in South India may be surreal all right; but surreal things can connect us with some surprising realities. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Something Not Understood (alas)

Yesterday's Radio 4 programme at 6.00am, Something Understood was on the Nativity Stories. Given the description, you can see why I would be interested:

Mark Tully considers the symbolism and meaning of the traditional nativity stories and asks what they can offer us in a contemporary context.

Alas, nothing of the gospel nativity stories was explained or analyzed. Instead we got general remarks from the eminent historian Prof Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Yes, we heard some beautiful music and some lovely poetry. But by the end of the programme, I don't think we understood anything about distinctions between Matthew and Luke and divergences amongst sources like the Protevangelion of James and the synoptic gospels. So there's plenty of opportunity to do another programme on the same topic!
Q. What's a dyslexic agnostic insomniac?
A. Someone who lies awake all night wondering if there really is a dog.

(borrowed from A Word A Day)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

White Light Festival for Episcopal Cafe

Here's my post for Episcopal Cafe on the first White Light Festival at Lincoln Center in NYC. There are listening links for readers to get a sense of the sounds and events. The piece has been picked up by a College Sports blog. And it will soon be posted here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Anselm Kiefer at the Gagosian until Dec 18th (Tu-Sat 10-6.00pm)

This extraordinary exhibit is well worth braving the cold arctic air that whips around the corner of 24th Street and 10th Avenue in Chelsea today. Want to see images of the Shechina or Jacob's Ladder or Valentinus for that matter? Kiefer shows post war mythology and religious symbolism mixed up together and served in grey and white.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fear Not Blog (from the Huntsville Times)

The Fear Not Blog from the Huntsville Times for Dec 8th was on bible translations, particularly the new Common English Bible (only the NT is finished so far).

The Common English Bible is the newest completely fresh translation from the best available historical texts. Being completed by a consortium of 115 biblical scholars and more than 500 readers in six countries from 22 Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations, the New Testament portion has been released, with the complete Bible, including the Apocrypha, due out in Fall 2011.
Edited for both accuracy and readability and supported by the presses of the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, the new texts will include maps from the National Geographic Society. See a full description along with a handy comparison chart of all English translations and paraphrases at
I'm trying it out and so far I like it. More serious comments in the New Year!
Today at 8.00pm is the first performance of Missa Brevis for the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Muslim Jesus

In this week's New Statesman, Mehdi Hasan examines The Muslim Jesus, in which

"the former Cambridge professor of Arabic and Islamic studies Tarif Khalidi brings together, from a vast range of sources, 303 stories, sayings and traditions of Jesus that can be found in Muslim literature, from the earliest centuries of Islamic history. These paint a picture of Christ not dissimilar to the Christ of the Gospels. The Muslim Jesus is the patron saint of asceticism, the lord of nature, a miracle worker, a healer, a moral, spiritual and social role model."

“Jesus used to eat the leaves of the trees," reads one saying, "dress in hairshirts, and sleep wherever night found him. He had no child who might die, no house which might fall into ruin; nor did he save his lunch for his dinner or his dinner for his lunch. He used to say, 'Each day brings with it its own sustenance.'"
According to Islamic theology, Christ did not bring a new revealed law, or reform an earlier law, but introduced a new path or way (tariqah) based on the love of God; it is perhaps for this reason that he has been adopted by the mystics, or Sufis, of Islam. The Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali described Jesus as "the prophet of the soul" and the Sufi master Ibn Arabi called him "the seal of saints". The Jesus of Islamic Sufism, as Khalidi notes, is a figure "not easily distinguished" from the Jesus of the Gospels.
Mehdi Hasan asks why Tarif Khaladi writes such a provocative book:
 "We need to be reminded of a history that told a very different story: how one religion, Islam, co-opted Jesus into its own spirituality yet still maintained him as an independent hero of the struggle between the spirit and the letter of the law," he told me. "It is in many ways a remarkable story of religious encounter, of one religion fortifying its own piety by adopting and cherishing the master spiritual narrative of another religion."
My question is why the New Statesman has now noticed a 2003 book and at this time of year. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An Original Manuscript (not of the New Testament but) of A Christmas Carol

I love to go to the Pierpont Morgan Library at this time of year to gaze at the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, one page at a time. Somehow I missed the fact that last year the entire manuscript had been digitized! Here it is.

We have nothing resembling an original manuscript or papyrus fragment of the New Testament. Instead we have hundreds of copies of the text. And translations that give an unwary reader the impression that there is such a thing as a rendering of the original text.

So it is wonderful to see something entirely different: an original manuscript. And now I do not have to go to the Morgan each year to see a different page. I can examine at my leisure the first full-length novel by Charles Dickens. Look, for example at the paragraph in the final stave describing the transformation of Scrooge: there's hardly an addition or deletion in the dialogue. It is as if Dickens had the clearest idea of the language of Scrooge's transformation.

Our promotional videos for Studying the New Testament!

And there are more on our book page...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Another review of _Starting NT Study_ (SPCK)

STARTING NEW TESTAMENT STUDY: LEARNING AND DOING reviewed by Stephen R. White (Church of Ireland Gazette, June 18th, 2010)
Authors: Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good
Publisher: SPCK; pp.174

THE AUTHORS of this relatively slender volume have achieved the remarkable and commendable task of making a textbook interesting. In four short sections, they provide, first, an overview of the social and cultural settings of Jesus and the New Testament and, second, an introduction to Paul and his letters, the Gospels and the Catholic epistles and apocalyptic writings.

In each section, the authors outline the received critical opinions on the various books as to such things as date and provenance, but they also take note of any academically-respected variant opinions. The theology of each author is deftly - if necessarily briefly sketched out and each section concludes with a useful series of questions and exercises.
The volume would provide an ideal introduction for anyone new to the field of New Testament studies; even for those who may be generally familiar with the material, it provides a stimulating and rewarding refresher course.
Furthermore, the style, which is immensely readable, makes the academic content thoroughly accessible to the specialist and non-specialist alike. The book is well equipped with the usual academic apparatus. Each section contains a substantial bibliography of further reading and there is a useful glossary and detailed index at the end of the book.

An excellent book for students of theology, as well as a worthwhile read for anyone who simply wants to discover more about the background to, and content of, the New Testament
Stephen R. White

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cleopatra with Profs Catharine Edwards and Maria Wyke

This week's In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) discusses Cleopatra with Catharine Edwards, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London and Susan Walker, Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.

Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies, the successors of Alexander in Egypt. She was born into an impoverished country. Ancient sources note that she had a good education, noted by ancient Roman sources. She could speak Egyptian. Her father died when she was 17. Unfortunately, there are very few Egyptian sources informing us about her. What we know comes from antagonistic Roman sources. Octavian, her vanquisher at the battle of Actium, constructs a narrative about her that frames the events as a primal battle: Rome against the East; man against woman. This approach characterizes subsequent histories. It is remarkable that any account of her abilities has survived Roman propaganda. 

Another review of Starting NT Study (SPCK)

Here's a review of Starting New Testament Study from thegoodbookstall (UK). Thanks, Chris Moore! There's also a podcast of the review at the end. Here's how it begins:

New Testament introductions abound, with many publishing houses feeling the need to add to their number. This book, is noteworthy both for its brevity and also its approach.
The book is split into four chapters which follow two introductions: the first dealing with issues of critical methods and their impact on interpretations; and the second looking at dictionaries, translations, commentaries and websites.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Rare Interview with Alan Bennett

Today's Guardian book podcast has an interview with Alexandra Harris whose book Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper has just won the Guardian first book award. And there is a rare interview with Alan Bennett which is quite wonderful. His memoir A Life Like Other People's was published earlier this year to great acclaim. He discusses his eighteen year old partnership with Rupert Thomas and how they moved in together after he was diagnosed with cancer. He mentions his working class background and his political affiliations (to the left of the Labour Party). History Boys is perhaps his biggest success. It has a definite trajectory of admission to Oxford or Cambridge and draws people into the characters. He talks about his writing: never underestimate the importance of the will in writing, he says. He writes every day. "You've got to do it or you'll get nowhere." 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christian-Muslim Dialogue on Mary/Maryam at Vanderbilt

On December 11th, an interfaith panel from 6.30-8.00pm will compare how the two religious traditions perceive Mary/Maryam. The forum is titled “Recollecting Maryam: An Inter-textual Encounter with Mary in the Biblical and Quranic Traditions.”

The moderator will be the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, founder of Abrahamic Reunion West, which is committed to healing the global dysfunction between Muslims and Christians.
Participating will be:
From the Catholic tradition: Robin Jensen, Luce Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, Vanderbilt University.
From the Muslim tradition: Tayyibah Taylor, founding editor-in-chief and publisher of Azizah Magazine, a publication that provides a vehicle for the voice of Muslim American women.
From the Protestant tradition: Melanie Trexler, Ph.D. candidate in theological and religious studies, specializing in Christian-Muslim dialogue and comparative theology, Georgetown University.
The program is sponsored by The Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt and the Scarritt-Bennett Center. 
For more details, click here

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World Aids Day

On World Aids Day, Sir Elton John opines in the Independent (which he is guest editing for a day) that he is heartened by hope:
I'm heartened by the recent statistics from UNAIDS that tell a promising story – 5 million people on treatment and a 25 per cent drop in new infections across the worst-affected countries since 2001. I'm motivated by the progress that Aids has quite unintentionally moved forward, rather than the destruction it has left in its wake.

Human ingenuity, he says, has wrought changes:
When it struck the gay community with such ferocity, Aids galvanised gay men not only to demand medical treatment as patients, but also equal treatment as human beings. When religious leaders and moral crusaders declared it to be "God's judgment", brave and unlikely champions such as Princess Diana and Ryan White emerged to challenge the prejudices and taboos that lived in the hearts of millions. And when epidemics claimed the lives of millions of nurses, teachers, miners, and soldiers, an army of ordinary people proved to be much stronger, building networks, raising funds, and opening their hearts to the sick and their homes to the orphaned.

In the meantime, we can and must speak out against religious and social bigotry keeping Aids alive. 

There are plenty of ways to observe World Aids Day in NYC. Lights on the Washington Square Park Memorial Arch will be switched off during a "Light for Rights" media event from 5:30  p.m. to 6:30  p.m to remember those who  have died of AIDS.  Fifth Ave. at Washington Square Park North.) 

Speaker Christine Quinn and actor Stockard Channing will speak. There also will be a performance by the Broadway Inspirational Voices choir. The lights will then be turned back on to emphasize human rights for those living with HIV/AIDS. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dressing as Jesus

Not an easy thing, this dressing as Jesus. At this time of year, however, there's plenty of it what with Christmas pageants and seasonal plays.

Now comes yet another reason to dress up as Jesus: catching thieves. An Austrian newspaper reports that detectives can wander around Christmas markets disguised as Jesus without turning heads or alerting handbag/pocket book robbers. The same detectives may also act the part of baby Jesus in living nativity cameos. Anyone care to render this baby visually???

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church today at 5pm (+ pre vespers talk at 3.45pm)

1st Sunday of AdventBach Cantata 62 - Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Georg Telemann - Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, TWV 1:1174
Organ: Nicolaus Bruhns - Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland 
             J. S. Bach - Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 559 
Guest Homilist - The Rev. Robert Rimbo, Bishop of New York  (ELCA) 
PRE-VESPERS TALK 3:45 p.m. Michael Marissen 

Michael Marissen is the author of several books 
including this study of Bach Oratorios.

Thanksgiving and a story

Hope everyone had as wonderful a Thanksgiving as we did...friends, strangers, books, fur babies, music, sunshine, snow, frost, ice and walks in Maine.

Several years ago my Mother came to help me survive a round of chemotherapy for the treatment of colon cancer and her visit happened to coincide with Thanksgiving. Julian invited her to see the balloons being blown up in Central Park on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My Mother considered this invitation but politely declined. The next day we watched the parade on television. When my Mother saw the balloons floating down 5th Avenue she exclaimed,"So those were the balloons you meant!" 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankfulness for...

Over at the Chronicle for Higher Ed., Thomas H. Benton has a lovely piece about gratitude in academe. To the list of things he identifies as the reward of academic positions, I heartily concur that students are the number 1 reason to be grateful. There is nothing like the two-way dynamic of teaching wherever and however it takes place. I'm grateful for each and every class and the chance to teach and learn. So thank you, students of General Theological Seminary past and present! You have enriched my life for the past twenty five years.

I'm grateful for opportunities to teach outside the place of employment by virtue of an academic position. I've been invited to give blessings at commencements, talk to MTA employees, be on panels about same-sex relations and the Bible, join translation groups, and speak in synagogues. Every single event has been fascinating. And I never know what saying "yes" might lead to..

In addition then to all the things Mr Benton lists: scholarship and scholars, conferences, libraries and administrators, philanthropy, an office, flexibility and luck (the amazing good fortune of a tenured position which is a privilege increasingly rare and not to be taken for granted), I'd like to add the opportunity to exercise freedom of thought. Of course, all thought takes place in the context of a place of employment. I often reflect on ways my written and spoken work has been affected by the fact that I work at a seminary but I do have the freedom to explore ideas without the necessity of publication.

And another thing. In a residential seminary community, my wife and I have the opportunity to live and work in a community of like-minded people. We inhabit one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. And our seminary sits in the middle of a vibrant community of New York City. We are encompassed by the High Line and art galleries; churches, synagogues and places of worship people have never heard of; Irish, French, and Puerto Rican communities plus tourists and we have access to culture that is endlessly fascinating. We can be in conversation with people from every single walk of life right out of our doorstep.

All of this is an immense privilege and I give thanks for it every day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Over at CNN's Belief blog, Stephen Prothero has a timely piece opposing the start of Christmas in November particularly as an outgrowth of consumerism. I agree. We are almost in the season of Advent, namely, preparation, waiting and hope. Advent continues for a month. It is the season of fasting and penitence and the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. Without waiting in hope, without preparing a home, without Advent, there is no receiving the message of Christmas.

Advent for me has been a time for retreats. I've spent weekends and day retreats at SSJE, for example. My model of waiting has been Mary. Look at the ways she's depicted as the angel Gabriel arrives: reading, praying, contemplating, musing, thinking. All of these are states of active anticipation rather than passive waiting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

A new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam has just been published by HUP. Here's a virtual book tour.

American Grace is based on two of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion and public life in America. It includes a dozen in-depth profiles of diverse congregations across the country, which illuminate the trends described by Putnam and Campbell in the lives of real Americans. Nearly every chapter of American Grace contains a surprise about American religious life.

Among Them:

* Between one-third and one-half of all American marriages are interfaith;
* Roughly one-third of Americans have switched religions at some point in their lives;
* Young people are more opposed to abortion than their parents but more accepting of gay marriage;
* Even fervently religious Americans believe that people in other faiths can get to heaven;
* Religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans—more generous with their time and treasure, even for secular causes—but the explanation has less to do with faith than with communities of faith;
* Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pastor Joel Osteen on homosexuality, whether Jesus was rich etc.

Yesterday Pastor Joel Osteen was on The View and the conversation ranged over whether Jesus was rich and being gay. There was an airing rather than a resolution of these topics which I found refreshing:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Archbishop Williams on Tolstoy

Archbishop Williams speaks about the legacy of Tolstoy marking the 100th anniversary of his death. Tolstoy read the Sermon on the Mount as a series of practical injunctions. He says, "The point of the life of Jesus is to teach us not to commit stupidities." Missing from Tolstoy's religion is the notion that the Creator creates complexity, shadow and nuance.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Filed under Being a Sausage (?)

is a course on Lady Gaga from the University of South Carolina. Actually, as the course description says, "it is also not a course about Lady Gaga as much as about the culture of the fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga."

The central objective of this course will be to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music and other artistic endeavors, with special attention for the role of: business and marketing strategies; the role of the old and new media; fans and live concerts; gay culture; religious and political themes; sex and sexuality; and the cities of New York and Hollywood. In this way, the course will focus on the societal context of Lady Gaga’s rise to fame. These social issues, furthermore, are explored from a perspective that is grounded in the discipline of sociology. Thus, this is not a course in Lady Gaga but in sociology.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contending Modernities, Kroc Institute, Sheraton New York, Nov 18 & 19th

Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies is sponsoring "Contending Modernities" on Nov 18th and 19th.

Please join us at the Sheraton New York, 811 7th Avenue (53rd Street) to celebrate the launch of a major new research and education initiative, Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular. The project, directed by R. Scott Appleby, professor of history and director of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, involves dozens of Catholic, Muslim, and secular scholars and public intellectuals from around the world.

Thursday, November 18

4:00 p.m.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame

Keynote speakers
Shaykh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt
Jane Dammen McAuliffe, President, Bryn Mawr College, Past President, American Academy of Religion
John T. McGreevy, Professor of History, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame

Friday, November 19

10:00 a.m.
Panel discussion
“Women, Family, and Society in Islam and Catholicism”

Ingrid Mattson, Past President, Islamic Society of North America
M. Cathleen Kaveny, John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
Shahla Haeri, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology; Director of Women’s Studies, Boston University
Jacqueline Moturi Ogega, Director, Women’s Mobilization Program, Religions for Peace

RSVPs are not required for these events. Questions? Contact Barbara Lockwood at 574-631-8500,

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

is now on sale at 65% off at OUP so that the pb is $10.50. Promo Code is 29057. This is a great resource if you plan to visit the archaeological sites of Greece and Turkey. Of course, there are other titles as well!

Readers of Homer--all-nighter on Nov 27th

Readers of Homer may like to know of a reading of the Odyssey at the 92 Street Y on Nov 27th from 7.00pm to 7.00am. Here's part of the press release:

In the splendor of 92Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall, fortified by mulled wine and Homeric fare, 200 participants of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, will gather to read, one after the other, through the night, Homer’s great poem. The pre-assigned segments may be offered in English, ancient or Modern Greek, or in any language of the reader’s choice, while the acclaimed English translation by Stanley Lombardo will be projected on a giant screen. Students, teachers, professionals from all fields, children and parents, are invited to experience – as participants or audience members – the life changing pleasures of reading poetry aloud.

At the onset of the evening, the renowned ancient Greek music ensemble Lyravlos, under the direction of Panagiotis Stefos, will offer a brief concert followed by interludes at the end of each Rhapsody. Throughout the night, the Odyssey will be echoed by contemporary dance pieces performed by the notable Choreo Theatro Company, under the direction of choreographer Irina Constantine Poulos and set to original music by the Slovenian group Silence. With the rising of the sun, the event will close with Four Meditations on War, a musical piece scored for bass-baritone and string quartet, conducted by composer Mark Latham. Created during some of the bleakest days of the war in Iraq, the composition reflects the complexity of this foremost Homeric theme, war, and all that arises from it: courage, cowardice, beauty, futility, heroism, love.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Charlie Hewitt's sculpture is on exhibit at Jim Kempner's gallery over on 23rd and 10th Avenue. Just look at the crucifixion motifs in this piece: the nail, the suspended forms, the dice, the blood...

Friday, November 05, 2010

From Logos to Christos: Book Party at Trinity College in Toronto

Yesterday's book party was a great success. What a joy to meet so many of Joanne McWilliam's colleagues, family and friends! Trinity was the welcoming host and the co-editor Kate Merriman spoke movingly about the honorand and the essays of the festschrift. In the picture are some of the essayists including Peter Slater, husband of Joanne McWilliam, Kate Merriman and Sister Ellen Leonard, editors of the book, Lisa Quinn of Wilfred Laurier Press and W. David Neelands, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College, and host of the event.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Three Faiths at NYPL

Thew New York Public Library has a current exhibition "Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam" displaying scrolls, codices and illuminated manuscripts from the three faith traditions. Here's the Xanten Bible (Tanakh), the Harkness Gospels incipit of Matthew and a Qur'an from Turkey.

There are some associated events that sounds interesting:

Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine with Scott M. Korb
The world of ordinary people in first-century Palestine is virtually unknown. In this illustrated lecture, Scott Korb, the author of Life in Year One and other books, offers a window into everyday life during the time of Jesus.
Mid -Manhattan Wednesday, December 15 • 6:30 p.m.

Slavoj Zªizªek • God Without the Sacred: The Book of Job, The First Critique of Ideology
The three religions of the Book each help us to differentiate the divine from the sacred. This liberating concept culminates in Paul’s claim, from Ephesians, that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens.” Can religious fundamentalism be overcome only with the help of an emancipatory political theology? Philosopher Slavoj Ziˇzek debates
this and other incendiary questions on the LIVE stage.
Tuesday, November 9 • 7:00 p.m. Stephen A Schwartzmann Building. The New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall & The Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery
Fifth Avenue and 42 Street, New York

Now through Sunday, February 27, 2011


* Monday • 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
* Tuesday • 10:00 AM - 7:30 PM
* Wednesday • 10:00 AM - 7:30 PM
* Thursday • 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
* Friday • 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
* Saturday • 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
* Sunday • 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Stacy Schiff at 192 Books on Nov 22nd at 7pm

Stacy Schiff will be discussing her book Cleopatra at 192 Books (around the corner from the seminary) Stacy Schiff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, brings to life the most intriguing woman in the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Through her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and, after his murder, three more with his protege. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Clepoatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

There's a review in the NY Times by Michiko Kakutani.

Monday, November 01, 2010

White Light Festival at Lincoln Center

The White Light Festival at Lincoln Center is well underway. Tickets are still available for tomorrow night's Collegium Vocale Ghent concert of:
BRAHMS: Warum ist das Licht gegeben; Begräbnisgesang; SCHUBERT (arr. Verhaert): Andante, from String Quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”); CORNELIUS: Requiem “Seele, vergiß sie nicht”; BRUCKNER: Mass in E minor

Amongst the free events are:
October 28-November 13: Canadian visual artist Janet Cardiff's The Forty-Part Motet, a re-working of 16th century British composer Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium nuquam habui, comprises 40 separately recorded voices (the Salisbury Cathedral Choir) played back through 40 speakers that are strategically placed throughout the space. Depending on where visitors stand in the installation, they might hear one single voice, several in harmony, all 40, or nothing at all. The Forty-Part Motet will be installed in the Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rehearsal and Recording Studio, Frederick P. Rose Hall (Jazz at Lincoln Center), 60th Street and Broadway. FREE. Opening reception October 28, 6:30 - 8 PM; open October 29 through November 13, noon until 8 PM and until the end of the performances in the Rose Theater on November 2, 3 and 4.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Emily Dickinson's Trinity

Helen Vendler analyses a little poem by Emily Dickinson:
In the name of the Bee -
And of the Butterfly -
And of the Breeze - Amen!

She says: First, the poem invents the idea of a parody of a Christian form of words, while retaining a trace of its source in its closing “Amen.” And second: the poet decides on the three nouns to be substituted for the three Persons of the Trinity. And third: the poet has to make her trinity of nouns “mean something” in relation to one another (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related).

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Book of the Dead" at the British Library

A new exhibit at the British Library on the Egyptian "Book of the Dead" opens on November 4th. Is it just me or is there something incongruous about "Book of the Dead Family Day" ?

The press release says:

 The British Museum’s major Autumn exhibition, supported by BP, will present and explore ancient Egyptian beliefs about life after death. Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead will showcase the rich textual and visual material from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection of Book of the Dead papyri.  The ‘Book’, used for over 1500 years between c. 1600 BC and 100 AD, is not a single text, but a compilation of spells thought to equip the dead with knowledge and power which would guide them safely through the dangers of the hereafter and ultimately ensure eternal life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Please join us in celebrating the publication of From Logos to Christos

Essays on Christology in Honour of Joanne McWilliam

Ellen M. Leonard and Kate Merriman, editors

Thursday, November 4 • 4–6 p.m.

Seeley Hall, Trinity College
6 Hoskin Avenue
Toronto, ON M5S 1H8

RSVP 416-978-2133 or

Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion

Co-published by


From Logos to Christos is a collection of essays in Christology written by friends and colleagues in memory of Joanne McWilliam. McWilliam was a pioneer woman in the academic study of theology, specializing in Patristic studies and internationally recognized for her work on Augustine. For countless students she was a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration. These fourteen essays are a fitting tribute to her memory.
Written by recognized North American scholars, the essays explore various aspects of Christology,
inviting the reader to probe the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ for today. They address a broad range of issues, including the Christology of the Acts of Thomas, Hooker on divinization, and Christ figures in contemporary Canadian culture.

Wilfrid Laurier University Press

toll-free 1-866-836-5551 | | |

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's that time of year when catalogs of allsorts arrive in the mail--the ones from religious publishing houses. (I know you were thinking of L.L.Bean and other too-early seasonal offerings). Religious publishing houses want to tell us of their latest publications so that we can look for them at upcoming fall conferences or adopt them for our courses. It's one of the quaint features of religious publishing that it still puts out catalogs for us to peruse. Our colleagues in other (dare I say it, more modern) fields have long since given up the catalog as the source of information about books in our field. But we, apparently, have not.

So I picked up the new Zondervan catalog to browse. Caveat emptor.  Not one book in biblical studies or biblical languages is written by a woman scholar. There are plenty of women biblical scholars and linguists but none of them seem to be publishing with Zondervan. The only woman they published recently (remember this is a catalog of new books) is in the Theology section: Carolyn Curtis James' Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women. Ms James is described as a 'popular speaker for women's conferences, churches, colleges, seminaries and other Christian organizations.'

This just isn't good enough. Free exam copies for professors notwithstanding, I won't be ordering from Zondervan anytime soon.
Daisy Hay's review of Gordon Campbell's Bible: The Story of the King James' Version 1611-2011 (OUP) from today's Observer rightly points out political aspects of the translation:

..the story of the King James Version is also a political story, about a monarch determined to assert his authority by setting his seal on every Bible in the land. There had been English translations of the Bible before the King James Version, produced by the likes of William Tyndale, who was condemned by Thomas More for "discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his beastly brutish mouth", and who eventually burned at the stake for his efforts. The King James Version, however, was a state project, which celebrated the King as its God-like "principal mover and author". Rules were drawn up for massed teams of experts to follow, and factions formed and rivalries festered as scholars in Oxford, Cambridge and London raced to outdo each other. When the King James Version was eventually published, those academics who had been denied a slice of the action rushed to condemn it in print. One particularly bitter reviewer thought the translation so hopeless it should be burnt, and another loftily dismissed it as a botched rehash of older versions.

But in the end, she notes that It enabled 17th-century men and women to read the Bible in their own language, it remains at the heart of the English-speaking Christian tradition, and today it continues to be celebrated as one of the great works of English literature.

Printer's errors are noted in Jonathan Yardley's review of the same book in the Washington Post:

"In the first edition of the KJV designed for private study (1612), as opposed to reading aloud in church, Psalm 119:161 read 'Printers have persecuted me without cause'; 'printers' was a misprint for 'princes.' The 1631 edition now known as the Wicked Bible made adultery compulsory by omitting 'not' in Exodus 20:14, which read 'Thou shalt commit adultery.' The printers were heavily fined, but in 1641 the same press printed an edition in which they omitted 'no' in Revelation 21:1, which read 'And there was more sea.' The problem with negatives cropped up again in 1653, when another printer omitted the second negative in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which read 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?' From negatives we move uneasily to murderers. A Bible of 1795 rendered Mark 7:27 as 'Let the children first be killed,' when Jesus had in fact asked that they be filled (that is, fed). Similarly, in a Bible of 1801 the murmurers of Jude 16 became murderers, and so the Bible became known as the Murderers' Bible."

In 2011, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the translation. This book is designed to mark the occasion. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism

The Jewish Museum is currently exhibiting: "Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism" which I was able to see recently. Here's the description:

Over the past fifty years, feminists have defied an art world dominated by men, deploying direct action and theory while making fundamental changes in their everyday lives. Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism explores the widespread influence of feminist practice on the styles and methods of painting from the 1960s to the present. The provocative paintings on view here embody the tension between individual expression and collective politics, between a traditional medium and radical action.

While not a survey of Jewish feminist art, Shifting the Gaze is drawn primarily from the collection of The Jewish Museum, and features seven new acquisitions from the past three years. Some art historians have argued that Jewish
feminists are particularly attuned to sexuality, radical politics, and injustice because of Jewish involvement in modernism and leftist politics. Indeed, Jewish painters have played decisive roles in founding and sustaining major feminist theories and art collectives. This exhibition explores how social revolutions take place not only in the realm of ideas and politics, but in style and form.

And a preview from the Jewish Daily Foreward:

The last image is the striking "Sky Flesh" from Judy Chicago!
An accompanying lecture series by Dr Nanette Salomon is currently taking place. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lincoln Center White Light Festival (October 28- November 18) is a new annual fall festival focused on music’s transcendent capacity to illuminate our larger interior universe. In this inaugural season, the festival explores the spiritual dimension of music as manifested in different cultural and musical traditions, from masterpieces of the Western classical canon to Muslim and Hindu musical linkages in northern India and the mystical minimalism of the Baltic region.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

How many times do we say that we have so few ordinary everyday objects from the lives of ordinary everyday women?
Here's an exhibit of such material from the Foundling Hospital in London. In the cases of more than 4,000 babies left between 1741 and 1760, a small object or token, usually a piece of fabric, was kept as an identifying record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital's nurses.  Attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, these pieces of fabric form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century. And here's a review of the exhibit from today's Guardian. I'll see the exhibit in December.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A Roman helmet discovered in Cumbria, UK, complete with face mask has been sold at auction for over two million pounds.

The bronze cavalry parade helmet is described as an exceptional artefact and dates from the late 1st or 2nd Century AD. It is one of only three that have been discovered in Britain complete with face-masks. The others were found in 1796 and 1905. It would have been used for show in a sporting event, rather than as protection in combat. The face has been described as "haunting" and "extraordinary."

Unfortunately the winning bid was anonymous so no one knows if the helmet will leave Cumbria.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Oracle at Delphi

This week's fascinating programme In Our Time discusses the Delphic Oracle with Paul Cartledge, A G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London and Nick Lowe, Reader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Visiting and consulting the oracle at Delphi is one of the practices identified by Herodotus functioning to unite the Greeks.

It seems that the experience of visiting the Oracle involved a great deal of expense, travel, bathing in preparation, ascent to the sanctuary and within the sanctuary, descent to an area where the priestess of Apollo (the Pythia) sat on a tripod (itself over a chasm from which gases arose) for consultation. A local citizen of Delphi acted as your sponsor for the visit. Questions might be: How shall I get good children? Shall I be victorious? Shall I marry? Should I attack Troy (Agamemnon)? Questions were often framed so as to achieve the answer the questioner wanted. Answers to questions of supplicants are given in hexameters.  Commentators noted how unusual it was for a female to give voice to a male god (Apollo).

Monday, October 04, 2010

Humans as social primates are cooperative and have a great capacity for solidarity

There's a wonderful interview with Frans de Waal on Radio 3's "Nightwaves" available for a week. Apprehending empathy amongst animals is an argument of his latest book. Its message is that a competitive view of nature is too narrow. In the animal kingdom we have instead empathy and cooperation. Humans alongside animals are more naturally collective and socially orientated. 

Friday, October 01, 2010

Smith College: Neilson-Kahn seminar: Through a Glass Darkly: Reading the New Testament in a Postmodern World: Sept 27th, October 18, 25, Nov 8, Dec 6th

Given by Prof Wayne Meeks, the next seminar at Smith College is:

Monday, October 18:
Naming Jesus: History, Midrash, and Myth
The earliest followers of Jesus struggled to find appropriate images to say who Jesus was—to themselves and to others. This was a self-involving process, for it was at the same time a struggle for the identity of a new movement. It was at heart an interpretive process, both in the broad sense that the work of forming an identity always interprets the world and simultaneously interprets one's own being in it, and in the specific sense that sacred texts and traditions about their meaning were centrally involved. In this second lecture in the Neilson Professor series, Wayne Meeks will discuss this process and explore how comparing it with other movements of the time, both within Judaism and in the wider culture of the Mediterranean basin, helps us to understand it better.
Monday, October 18, 2010 :: 4:30 pm :: Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library, Smith College :: Free and open to the public.

The Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel

The Met Museum in New York City is currently showing a  3rd C CE Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel. Lod is the ancient Lydda which was destroyed by Rome in 66 CE and refounded by the Emperor Hadrian.

This coming Sunday, there's a special program accompanying the exhibit:
October 3, 2010
Jacques Neguer, Director of Art Conservation, Israel Antiquities Authority

The Lod Mosaic: From Excavation to Exhibition 3:00 p.m.

3:45pm: Miriam Avissar, Senior Archaeologist, Israel Antiquities Authority

The Lod Mosaic Floor and Its Menagerie: Roman Influence on Local Mosaic Art

Both events are at The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
Free with Museum admission 

Here's a link to the Lod Mosaic website.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Free access to Sage online journals until October 15th

Sage publications has an unmissable offer of online access to journals until October 15th. Can't fail to mention that the September 22nd 2010 issue of Expository Times has a review of Bruce Chilton's and my book Starting New Testament Study by Derek R. Brown of New College, Edinburgh.

Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good, Starting New Testament Study: Learning and Doing (London:
SPCK, 2009. £12.99. pp. 192. ISBN: 978-0-281-05354-4).

Chilton and Good’s Starting New Testament Study is a well-designed and appropriately aimed introduction to NT studies. In a sense it functions as a crash course for those taking their first steps into the academic study of the NT, providing a sweeping overview of the social world of first-century Palestine, the towns to which Jesus travelled, the relationship between Paul and his churches, and many other background issues which provide a solid foundation for further studies. Readers will be introduced not merely to the writings of the NT, but to the places in which it took place, the people with whom it is concerned, and the world from which it emerged.

This scope is reflected in the first chapter as Chilton and Good discuss the first-century social world of Jesus (e.g., the rule of Herod Antipas and rural Galilee). In chapter two Paul and his letters are covered. Here the authors focus on Paul’s upbringing in Tarsus and its implications for his education, call to apostleship, and the letters he wrote to his fledgling churches (including those allegedly written by others in his name). The gospels are the subject of chapter three, which begins with a helpful introduction of the sources of the canonical gospels. Finally, in chapter four the catholic letters and apocalyptic writings of the NT are treated.

Overall this short book suits it purposes. Its chief strength is its aim to introduce undergraduate students to the field of NT studies generally rather than the individual NT writings. In terms of weaknesses, occasionally the authors’ own views come through too strongly for a work of introductory nature. For instance, Ephesians and Colossians are uncritically introduced as letters written by Timothy in Paul’s name. Such a view surely fails to acquaint readers with the ongoing and heated debate within the NT guild on Pauline authorship. That said, the book is well-tailored to introduce debutants to elementary matters in the study of the New Testament.

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...