Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Tortoise Trainer, Osman Hamdi Bey

On our recent visit to Istanbul, we were told we must not miss a visit to the Pera Museum in Beyoglu where "The Tortoise Trainer" hangs in the permanent collection. If we want to understand a Turkish mindset, we were told, we had to see this 1906 painting by Osman Hamdi Bey.  So we went and saw it.

The painting was auctioned in 2004 for 3.5 million TL which is the most money ever paid for a Turkish painting. 

Osman Hamdi Bey was the son of a Grand Vizier who was born in Istanbul in 1842.  Although he was sent to Paris to study law, he abandoned his studies to follow his talent and passion for the arts at the Paris Academy of Fine Arts. 12 years later he returned to his country as an artist  He also established the first  School of Fine Arts (Guzel Sanatlar Akademisi) in Istanbul and was its director for the first 28 years.

Fusion of cultures and societal advancement were among his passions. The "Turtle Trainer" is one of Osman Hamdi Bey's most original and creative works. It subtly portrays this basic social message:  that change is difficult, requiring much patience, particularly the patience of a sufi dervish. 

The five turtles in this portrait symbolize a stubborn, resistant society. The turtle trainer, dressed in a red dervish robe and a turban, holding a ney (sufi flute) is Osman Hamdi, representing a patient intellectual attempting change.  He hopes to achieve this by blowing his ney and occasionally by using it to prod or reprimand the animals.  Unfortunately, the turtles have no ears to hear the ney and with a thick protective shell they are also not bothered by his prodding.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Search of Jesus' Foreskin

David Farley has written a book about the history of the holy prepuce. (This kind of post is both a Friday frolic and what happens to your head after an all day faculty meeting). He is interviewed for Interfaith Voices (about 38 minutes into the program).

The santissimo prepuce has a long history that belongs to the history of holy relics that began to thrive in the 11th Century. From an angel's hand it passes to Charlemagne and thence to an Italian village, Calcata, near Rome. It was stolen in 1983.

David Farley concludes that the relic has the power for belief and hope and that this is its most important quality. An uncut version of the interview is here.

March 13th, 3-4.30pm at MOBIA, NYC

Lecture: The Binding of Isaac

Genesis 22:1–24 tells the story of the binding of Isaac in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. Drs. Steven Fine and Robin Jensen discuss Jewish and Christian responses to this biblical account and present examples of how this sacrificial episode has been depicted in art. This lecture is the third installment in MOBIA’s Lectures and Conversation Series, facilitated talks that investigate questions of religious identity and meaning through the prism of Jewish and Christian art.

Dr. Steven Fine is Professor of Jewish History and head of the department at Yeshiva University, and Dr. Robin Jensen is the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship at Vanderbilt University.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I dislike The Social Network

The Social Network is not a movie I enjoyed. It's demeaning to women. If anyone doubts this (or hasn't noticed it), here's what Aaron Sorkin said of his rendition of the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a recent talk:

"What became clear to me is that there is a sub-set of tech geniuses, like Mark, who are profoundly angry that women . . . still want to date the star athlete and not them. As a result, women are only ever one of two things: prizes or enemies. And if they can't get the prize -- and they talk about that prize in real middle-school terms -- then they hate you and will belittle you, in this case publicly."

For Sorkin, the emotional heart of the story is the failed relationship Mark Z has with "Erica." 

"What was motivating Mark was a revenge stunt, first against Erica, then against the entire female population of Harvard, if not the female population of the planet."

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sexuality & Religion: The Marriage Business at YDS

Sexuality and Religion:  What's Marriage All About? at Yale Divinity School from 6-8.00pm on Feb 1st

This panel will focus on pastoral theologies and current practices related to marriage in the Christian Church and U.S. society.  

The panel will address:
  • Why marriage and/or partnering? 
  • How do you prepare folks for different types of relationships?
  • What is most important to discuss in (pre)marriage counseling? 
  • What impact does your relationship status have on your ministry?
Julian and I will be on the panel! I believe the event is free. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Celebrations of the KJV 400th Anniversary continue

A lecture series at Corpus Christi, MANIFOLD GREATNESS: OXFORD CELEBRATIONS OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE 1611-2011 begins January 25th, 2011:-

Hilary Term 2011
Tuesdays in the Auditorium, Corpus Christi College, 5.30 pm

(Choral Evensong will take place in the College Chapel)
25 January
Prof Pauline Croft (Royal Holloway, University of London)
The Making of the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible, 1604-1611
1 February
Prof Valentine Cunningham (Corpus Christi College, Oxford)
Scissored and Pasted: readers and writers redoing and undoing King James
8 February 
Choral Evensong in Commemoration of President John Rainolds and the King James Bible 
Preacher: Revd Prof John Morrill, Selwyn College, Cambridge
15 February
Prof Helen Wilcox (Bangor University): 
‘This book of starres': biblical constellations in the poetry of Herbert and Vaughan
22 February
Prof Terence Wright (Newcastle University)
The Authorised Version in Modern Literature: David and Job get makeovers
These lectures are open to the public.

At the University of Plymouth there's a lecture on March 2, 2011 on Lollard translations of the Bible (alas not entirely free):
Banned Scriptures: The Earliest English Bible Translation
Professor Anne Hudson, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
Professor Anne Hudson is an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Her research transformed the landscape of medieval and early modern studies of literature and history, and as a result the signifi cance of Wyclif and his followers, the Lollards, is at the forefront of contemporary scholarship. She achieved a comprehensive and radical revision of our understanding of the religious climate from the late-14th to the mid-16th Century. Her many publications include Lollards & Their Books and The Premature Reformation . Her lecture will examine early Lollard translations of the Bible.

Date:Wednesday 02 March
Venue:Theatre 2, Roland Levinsky Building

From May 5-7 at OSU there's a series of talks, lectures, panels and roundtable discussions on the KJV free to OSU students, outside students $75:

Registration from 5:30
Welcome and Keynote Lecture: David Norton (Victoria University of Wellington), “The King James Bible’s Presence, Use and Influence in Literature”
Opening Reception (Thompson Library)
Plenary Panel 1: The Making of the English Bible
Sponsored by the Tyndale Society
Chair tba
–Gergely Juhász (K.U. Leuven)), “Antwerp Bibles in the King James Version: Book of Proverbs as Test Case”
–Leland Ryken (Wheaton College, IL), “William Tyndale and the King
James Version”
–J. Philip Arthur (Independent Scholar)
Plenary Panel 2: Negotiating the Bible and/as Literature
Chair, Hannibal Hamlin (The Ohio State University)
–Leslie Brisman (Yale University), “The Bible as a Literature”
–David Jasper (University of Glasgow), “The Bible as Literature or as the Word of God: The Continuing Influence of the King James Bible”
–Michael Wheeler (University of Southampton), “The Fourth Gospel as ‘Poetry’: Some
Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on the King James Bible”
12:15-1:30 Lunch
Plenary Panel 3: The King James Bible and Poetry 
Chair tba
–Eleanor Cook (University of Toronto), "Quarrels with God: Biblical Allusion in Some American Poets"
–Jason Rosenblatt (Georgetown University), “Milton, Anxiety, and the King James Bible”
–­Adam Potkay (College of William and Mary), “Romantic Poets and the King James Bible”
Plenary Panel 4: The King James Bible and the Novel
Chair tba
–Heather Walton (University of Glasgow)
–Valentine Cunningham (Oxford University)
–Gordon Campbell (University of Leicester), “The KJV in the Victorian novel: Dickens and George Eliot”

Reading/Talk: Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Known WorldLost in the CityAll Aunt Hagar’s Children
2 Periods for Concurrent Seminars: Roundtables on various topics
–The Bible and 19th century American Literature, led by Greg Jackson (Rutgers University)
–The Bible and African American Literature, led by Joycelyn Moody (University of Texas, San Antonio)
–Bible Translation and the Long Reformation, led by Vivienne Westbrook (National Taiwan University)
– The Bible and Early Modern Radicals: Milton, Bunyan and Others, led by Angelica Duran (Purdue University)
–Women Reading/Writing the Bible, led by Michele Osherow (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
–The Bible and 19th century British Literature, led by Leslie Tannenbaum and Clare Simmons (The Ohio State University)
–The Bible and Popular Culture, led by Jay Twomey (University of Cincinnati)

12:15-1:30 Lunch
Plenary Panel 5: The King James Bible and Narrative
Sponsored by Project Narrative
Chair, James Phelan (The Ohio State University)
–David Richter (Queens College, NY)
–James Resseguie (Winebrenner Theological Seminary), "The Narrative of John's Apocalypse and the King James Bible"
–Stephen Prickett (University of Glasgow), "Language within Language: The King James Steamroller"

Plenary Panel 6: The Cultural Authority of the King James Bible: Challenges and Appropriations 
–Norman W. Jones (The Ohio State University), Chair
–Katharine C. Bassard (Virginia Commonwealth University), “Reading Between the Lines: African American Neo-Slave Narratives and Biblical Re(De)Constructions.”
–Raymond-Jean Frontain (University of Central Arkansas), “‘Passing the love of women’: Anglo-American Sexual Codes and the King James Translation”
–Tat-siong Benny Liew (Pacific School of Religion), “The ‘Great Code’ in Asian American Literature?  An Initial Exploration”
–R.S. Sugirtharajah (University of Birmingham), “The Master Copy: Postcolonial Notes on the King James Bible”
Closing Reception
For more information, please send an email to

Friday, January 21, 2011

Judith Plaskow: Still Standing at Sinai

There's a wonderful article on Judith Plaskow at Forward commemorating the 20th anniversary of Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective.

How did it all begin?

Plaskow and her then-husband were standing outside of Yale University’s Battell Chapel, chatting before going in for Sabbath services. A congregant came out and urged her husband to come in to make the minyan. “While I had attended services regularly for a year and a half and my husband was a relative newcomer, I could stay outside all day; my purpose was irrelevant for the purpose for which we had gathered,” Plaskow wrote. It was “an enormously important click moment.”

In “Standing Again at Sinai,” Plaskow wrote of the challenge facing those involved with Jewish religious life: “This world of women’s experience is part of the Jewish world, part of the fuller Torah we need to recover.”
Her work, in part, enabled the changes in scholarship and liturgy that have made the Torah fuller today than two decades ago. There is a flowering of women’s Torah exegesis, like “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” published by the Reform movement, and new prayer books put out recently by the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements that include, reflect and value women’s perspectives. New Jewish rituals propelled by feminism and egalitarianism, like women’s Seders and welcoming ceremonies for baby girls, have become mainstream.
Yet in other parts of organized Jewish life, sometimes it appears that little has changed. “How often do you go to a conference of Jewish importance, and there is one, or maybe no woman speaking?” said Plaskow, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where she has worked for the past 32 years. “I go back and forth between feeling everything has changed and nothing has changed.”
The article concludes that while feminist and gender studies exist, those who want to study Jewish Feminism today have to find individual professors and particular courses rather than degrees or minors in a discipline.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Arvo Pärt & the musical connection between body & soul

Arvo Pärt talks about the musical connections between body and soul as the instrument of composers here. He rarely gives interviews so this is worth hearing. Last year he was 75. He says, "When everything is chaos, there's no meaning to life." He speaks about the evolution of his musical compositions in the creation of the Arvo Part Centre in Estonia. In earlier compositions, including his experience of singing Gregorian chant and the first and second symphonies, he says his heart had yet to be changed. In a conversation with a street cleaner about what music is, he heard the opinion that a musician must love every note, every tone. This became his goal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herod the Great?

Geza Vermes has a good article about reappraising Herod as in Great or Terrible. He summarizes:

This sketchy portrait reveals that Herod was a split personality in whom the two extremes of evil and good met. Josephus hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
When we have regard to his...benefactions that he had made to mankind in general, even his detractors would be forced to admit the remarkable generosity of his nature. Yet when we consider his unjustified and vengeful treatment of his subjects and his closest relatives, and observe the unrelenting harshness of his character, we must regard him as a brute.
How did this duality emerge?

Josephus thought that the conflicting propensities arose from a single source and had a single motivation. Herod always endeavoured to please because he wanted to be admired by everyone. Josephus wrote:
Herod loved honour, and was dominated by that passion, and his magnanimity revealed itself wherever there was hope of a lasting memorial or of immediate fame.
His overriding aim was to glorify himself, and his ambition was to leave to posterity ever more imposing monuments of his reign; and this was the spur that drove him to build cities and lavish such enormous expense on the work.

I find Peter Richardson's book on Herod still the best. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jesus & Wikipedia

Chris Wilson writes for Slate of Wikipedia's article on Jesus as a way of tracing the evolution of Wikipedia, now 10 years on. For example, first Jesus was "a central figure" in Christianity. Then Jesus became "the central figure" but "the most central figure" was a description that did not last long. Now Jesus is simply "central." Nothing in Wikipedia is static. Claye Shirky in the Guardian writes that Wikipedia is about activity prompted by caring rather than product. Of course all that activity has to be monitored and protected otherwise it would be overrun by spam and vandals. So behind the activity is the activity of guardian aka editors. We can trace the constant evolution of information/knowledge in Wikipedia's Jesus article in this link:

Page title:Jesus
Total revisions:22,801
Number of minor edits:6,469 (28.37%)
Number of IP edits:4,686 (20.55%)
First edit:03 March 2001, 09:09:23 (by JimboWales)
Most recent edit:13 January 2011, 18:10:34
Average time between edits:0.16 days
Average number of edits per month:192.49
Average number of edits per year:2,309.84
Number of edits in the last day:0
Number of edits in the last week:5
Number of edits in the last month:116
Number of edits in the last year:1,128
Number of users:6,137
Average edits per user:3.72
Number of edits made by the top 10% of active users:14,232 (62.42%)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox

Looking out on my Mother's garden before leaving the UK, my thoughts are on gardening and the Spring. The day before yesterday, the stonemason put the headstone in place at my father's grave. We went back to see it in the rain and wind at the cemetery yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon the lawnmower came back from its sojourn in the repair shop and along with it the shears for the flower bed edges. Today is warmer and the stillness of Winter seems past. The robins and the thrushes are eating seed and apples in the bird feeder enthusiastically. Or so it seems.

Robin Lane Fox, Professor of Ancient History, has written a book, Thoughtful Gardening in which he writes many useful and wise things. Jennifer Potter reviews the book in the TLS:

For Lane Fox, thoughtful gardening leads not to saving the planet but to knowledge, “an asset which is intertwined with gardening’s roots”. Thoughtful gardeners think before choosing and planting, visit gardens in distant places, and reflect on flowers in fiction and poetry. Far from aping wild nature, they practise their artifices in a “conscious, independent way”, free of moral purpose, cutting corners where they can, but neither expecting nor wanting instant gardens. They hate hanging baskets designed to jolly up town centres, and relish getting their hands dirty. But they still make mistakes. Having gardened since the age of ten, Lane Fox is proud to have steadily extended the range of plants he has “known, grown and killed personally”.

These are helpful notions to harbor at a time of farewells.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The WardenThe Warden by Anthony Trollope

Mr Harding, the Warden, is the main character. By the end of the book he is no longer the Warden. Whether he is guilty of misuse of Hiram's Trust funds for the maintenance of the almshouse and its elderly residents of which he is the Warden, neither he nor the reader knows. There does seem to be a discrepancy between the 800 pound income of the Warden and the meagre allowance given to the residents.

The Warden cannot bear the shame and public scrutiny of the investigation of the use of the trust funds brought about by Mr Bold, a local doctor who loves and who is loved by his daughter Eleanor. And Mr Harding is a quiet man given to simple pleasures. So at the very point that Mr Bold has been persuaded by Eleanor to drop the suit, he resigns as Warden in favour of a simpler, poorer life-style.

Because the warden is not a strong personality, his life is taken over by that of others. Yet he knows he needs to resign for peace of mind and to withstand the press. In the moment of crisis we are told nothing of his spiritual life and so conclude that it does not bear on his misfortune. When others tell him that the resignation he proposes will adversely affect his daughter's prospects, he thinks of the imagery of a pelican feeding its young with drops of its own blood. To my mind this is an indication of his ineffectiveness. All his life others have taken care of his professional opportunities and after the resignation the Bishop finds him another living.

The book shows how pursuit of justice can be blind. It indicates how things set in motion can take on a life of their own and how little control we might have of what start out to be good intentions. It is about impetuous youth and the villainy of the press and pamphleteers. It is about moral ambiguity and ecclesiastical privilege.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011, the 400th Anniversary of the King James' Bible Translation

There'll be plenty of occasions this year to commemorate in various ways the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible in 1611. Here's another. Another recent piece in the New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg speaks of the "impossibly learned team of men" producing the translation between 1604 and 1611. Not quite sure how to take that adverb "impossibly." But I agree that the legacy of the KJV and Tyndale is worth celebrating. I intend to do so all year.

Adrian Hamilton in the Independent however, reviews a British Library exhibit "One Language Many Voices" (until April 2011) that makes the point that English has evolved out of its flexible, syncretistic character while giving scarcely a nod to the KJV.

The question inevitably posed by the end of the show is where next in the age of the internet and globalised use of a language. English, as David Crystal – the presiding voice throughout the show – points out is spoken by two billion people today, only 400 million of which are native speakers? In other words, its use is by far and away dominated by those adopting it as a second or third language.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Fay Godwin has left a legacy of remarkable photographs. Margaret Drabble writes movingly of her work in the Guardian. She says:

Since her death in 2005, photographers have been finding their access to both public and private land more and more problematic, more expensive, and legally restricted. In Our Forbidden Land she wrote about the dilemma of access to Stonehenge, a site mass marketed by English Heritage which charges substantial sums to everybody, from individual artists to wealthy advertising companies. She foresaw a time when "the only photographs we are likely to see of the inner circles of Stonehenge will be those approved by English Heritage, generally by their anonymous public relations photographers". Our common land would be the copyright of others. We are fortunate that she made her journeys round the British Isles when she did, before even more of our landscape was fenced off or built up.

An exhibit of her work is currently at The National Media Museum in Bradford until March 2011.

Friday, January 07, 2011

"Skin of your teeth" "Apple of your eye"--Legacy of the King James' Bible

A programme from BBC's Radio 4 assesses the legacy of the King James' translation of the Bible with various people. It notices the influence of Handel's Messiah as a conduit for the language of the King James' Bible.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Hippodrome in Istanbul

 The outline of an enormous hippodrome can still be seen in front of the Blue Mosque today. The stands around the hippodrome held 1,000 people. In the picture below, you can see part of the Hippodrome which was renovated by the Emperor Constantine in 324CE. He also brought items from elsewhere to enhance public appreciation.

The Serpent column as it is now known (see picture I took today from the entrance of the adjacent Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum)  was moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century. 

Blue Mosque with obelisk in foreground
In 390 the Emperor Theodosius brought an obelisk from Egypt to be placed in the Hippodrome and you can see it in the foreground of the Blue Mosque.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Istanbul in the rain

(As I write, the Imam is chanting the call to prayer outside our window). And while conditions are damp, our spirits are not. Top Kapi palace was crowded but the collection of religious artifacts were particularly well attended. My favorite: Abraham's saucepan. I'm sure he used it often. It was portable of course (see my latest essay on mobile hospitality in Joanne McWilliam's festschrift). We also noted the Prophet's footprint, parts of John the Baptist and clothes and prayer mat of Fatima.

And I must just observe that while a tour of the harem in the Top Kapi palace shows lovely blue tiles and striking bathroom features, it is depressing to imagine countless women who lived and died in the long dank marginal corridors and cold rooms. 

We had turkish coffee (yes with almond schnapps) later that afternoon in the Grand Bazaar only to ward off the cold of course. And that little dish on the left contains lokum, namely turkish delight. There are endless varieties. Friends say that rose flavored is the best. The Grand Bazaar is a place where you receive more attention than you have hitherto received in your life. "I see no carpet that you are carrying," cried a carpet merchant to my Mother. "This is not good!"

Everyone should visit Istanbul one day. Next best thing is this book. True, there may be a little too much of what Brazilians call saudadje, but it is worth reading for a flavour of the city.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year to all!

It's not a happy new year for Coptic Christians of course.  And for many others who have lost people and who are grieving.

We are en route to Istanbul for a week so the next few posts should be from that great city.

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...