Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 6th, Encountering Mary with Judith Dupre

Judith Dupre will be at NYPL on April 6th speaking about her book.

The Virgin Mary—mythic, spiritually compelling, and intellectually fascinating—has captivated people for over two thousand years.  Join New York Times bestselling author Judith Dupré as she looks at the Virgin Mary’s historical life in the Holy Land; her outsized influence on art, culture and history; and her enduring hold on the creative and spiritual imagination. 

With her trademark wit and appreciation for telling details, Ms. Dupré will discuss why Mary continues to matter in a secular age, and what her life tells us about having faith in uncertain times.  This illustrated talk will include images of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and other beloved portraits of Mary, as well as contemporary works of art, movie stills, and news photographs.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Moving Through Fear by Jeff Golliher

is a book I'm currently reading. It's just been published but has already received good reviews. Here's an overview from HuffPo. PW in March summarizes:

"the fear that rules our lives makes us a danger to ourselves." While that sentiment may seem bleak, it is only because the author approaches the nature of fear with uncommon acuity and insight. He's not out to frighten, but instead to show how fearless it's possible to be. Golliher admits the primal flight-or-fight instinct is necessary for survival, but warns that unacknowledged spiritual fears lead to personal and public conflict. To move through fear, Golliher advocates strengthening seven spiritual "instincts": awe, love, intent, rest, community, justice, and faith.

He explains them with touching personal stories and provides time-tested spiritual practices to help develop them. The chapter on awe is the most theologically strenuous, as a fear of God is reconciled with being in awe of God. Throughout the awe-filled contemplations, love is presented as the true opposite of fear, and so "love carries us through every fear." With intimate and affecting prose, Golliher brings home a message that is at once comforting, socially conscious, and resounding in its bold spiritual wisdom.

Jeff will be at GTS on Thursday April 28th giving a talk and book-signing in Seabury Auditorium at 7pm. Seminary Entrance: 440 West 21st Street, New York NY 10011. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Agreeing to abolish capital punishment

Today's New York Times (soon to disappear behind a paywall) has a good article by Samuel G. Freedman "Faith Was On the Governor's Shoulder." Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, hitherto a supporter of capital punishment with reservations, was contemplating whether he would veto or sign a bill abolishing the death penalty. On the morning of March 9th, he

opened his Bible to a passage in II Corinthians about human imperfection. He prayed. And when he signed the bill striking down the death penalty, he cited one influence by name: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. 

An avid reader of Cardinal Bernadin's book The Gift of Peace, Pat Quinn met the author when he held the office of state treasurer. He was and is a deep admirer of the argument for a consistent ethic of life from cradle to grave. After he signed an end to the death penalty in the State of Illinois, public opinion has apparently been overwhelmingly supportive. Now perhaps Gov. Quinn will move on to other issues in "a seamless ethic of life:" child care and quality of educational opportunities in the state. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Centennial Remembrance of the Triangle Factory Fire tomorrow

Friday, March 25, 2011, marks the Centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City which took the lives of 146 workers, most of them young Jewish immigrant women. The factory was located on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of a building just east of Washington Square Park. Many of the workers were trapped or fell to their deaths. The fire became a catalyst for the international labor movement, and many of our current fire safety laws were created in response to this event.

At 4:45pm--the time when the first fire alarms rang out--schools, churches, & firehouses across the City will begin to ring in memory of the victims. The bells of the General Seminary will begin tolling a slow, solemn series of 12 rings followed by one refrain of Shema Yisrael.  Traditionally the Shema is the last prayer said by faithful Jews before they die. We offer this prayer on the chimes especially in remembrance that most of the victims were Jewish immigrants.

You may learn more about the Triangle Fire here:

Please take a moment when you hear the bells and offer your own prayer of remembrance for the victims of the Triangle Fire. 

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, The Lord is One.

Monday, March 21, 2011

International Conference on Women, Religion & Politics in Lahore, Pakistan

The Heinrich Boell Stiftung Pakistan and Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Center co-sponsored an International Conference on Women, Religion and Politics on March 18-19 in Lahore, Pakistan. Invited guests spoke on different religious and political paradigms and their impact on women's lives in various countries around the world through case studies and surveys from Iran, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Sri Lanka and the US. Presentations were made by women academics and independent researchers, elected political officials, laywers and students.

There's some wonderful press coverage of the conference here and here. I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate, and for that I am very grateful. As for underlying themes, one can identify women's lives and women's bodies the world over as the contested site of religious beliefs and practice. If anyone doubts that this is the case, I cite an example of a woman I know who is an ordained priest employed at a church in the US. Over 60 people in the congregation have said to her: It's wonderful that your husband lets you work.

Here's a summary of the first day of the conference:

Academics, current and former government representatives, national and provincial parliamentarians, civil society representatives, students, media personnel and human rights activists attended the first day of the conference. Britta Petersen welcomed participants on behalf of HBS and Khawar Mumtaz spoke on the background and political significance of the International Women’s Day. Anne Jenichen from Germany presented findings of a United Nations Research Institute of Social Development study, focusing on the functions religion assumes in different national and cultural contexts, their implications for women and the role of democracy in helping women defend their rights against conservative interpretations of religion. Farida Shaheed from Shirkat Gah delivered the key note address exploring the challenges posed to gender equality by certain religious institutions and various state-influenced religious notions across the world. 

The presentations over the next two days included a number of case studies. I'll be doing another blog on the content of the presentations. One of them entitled, "Red Hot Chilli Peppers Islam: Is the youth in Elite Universities in Pakistan Radical?" is made available here

This conference is the last one of a series. HBS has previously held conferences on Women and Religion and published the results here

Sunday, March 20, 2011

NT Position at GTS ad

3/16/2011 to 4/13/2011
Location:New York, New York
Position or Title:New Testament Professor
Start Date (estimated):Fall 2011
Description:The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church ( invites qualified candidates to apply for a position in New Testament to start no later than the fall of 2012. We would also like to hire an interim appointment in New Testament for the academic year 2011-2012. Specialization in Pauline and Johannine materials would be optimal and a familiarity with modern critical methods of interpretation and teaching Greek are essential. Rank will be determined according to qualifications and experience. Applicants must have a Ph.D. or Th.D., evidence of effective teaching ability, service to the church, and a good publishing record or indication of potential in this area. Familiarity with the Anglican tradition and a willingness to participate in the life of a seminary community are essential. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Please send a dossier or C.V. with three letters of reference by April 15, 2011 to Bishop Peter Lee, Chair of the NT Search Committee, General Theological Seminary, 440 West 21st Street, New York, NY 10011.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent 1 and a Weekend Retreat

I spent Lent 1 in the good company of women from a neighbouring diocese on a retreat away from the city focusing on studying Jesus' parables in the Gospels together.

Some retreats I've been on are deliberately held far away from city distractions: on mountaintops or in isolated settings. There's something to be said for this. My attention focuses on the gathering, not whether there's a Starbucks nearby to supplement the institutional coffee provided by the establishment. And Episcopalians are better at retreats than most when it comes to creature comforts. One of my favorite retreats was the one that began with a game of bridge, complete with bridge snacks and bridge drinks. Some of the participants had been learning the game and were keen to practice. Julian was quite astonished to learn of our first activity when I rang her that night. I assured her we got down to bible study the next day.

This weekend's retreat was a good distance from the city and, like many others I've been on, held in a Roman Catholic retreat house. I'm quite sure this and many similar establishments keep going by means of Episcopal retreats and diocesan committees. I don't mind supporting dwindling orders of the Roman Catholic tradition by going infrequently to retreats. Especially when, as was the case this weekend, our group was permitted to use the Chapel to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday morning. We gave a good donation to their capital campaign from our free-will offering.

My room this weekend had an ethernet cable and cable television. Now that is not a common experience. Usually, my room is a cell with a very narrow uncomfortable bed over which a crucifix leans. There's one chair and a small desk that doesn't hold a bible and a lap top open together. There are not quite enough bed clothes to be warm. I am tempted to argue that one prays and meditates better when one is warm and comfortable. Perhaps another time.

But the highlight of this past weekend was the energy and enthusiasm with which the women threw themselves into parable study. On Saturday morning, we worked in groups comparing and interpreting the four extant version of the parable of the Sower and the discussion that followed such hard work was wonderful. Several people said, "Let's do this all afternoon!" But our leaders had sensible ideas that we needed a walk and another focus for our energies. They were right.

So if and when you plan a retreat, plan carefully for different activities that nourish the body, soul, and imaginative spirit over the course of the weekend. And the retreat worship and bible study will be all the better for it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Geza Vermes on the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth Part 2

Geza Vermes reviews Jesus of Nazareth part 2 by Pope Benedict in yesterday's Guardian. He thinks the book continues the tone of the first volume: as an extended sermon. He is glad to note that shards of NT criticism seem to have made an impact on the Pope's work. But this impact is muted. How, for example, does the Pope deal with conflicting schedules in the gospel accounts of the Passion narrative?

The facts are these. In the synoptics the last supper is a Passover meal eaten after sunset, when the Jewish day starts, on 15th Nisan. Everything that follows – Jesus's arrest, his trial and sentencing to death for blasphemy by the Jewish high court, his transfer to Pilate on the different charge of sedition, and the Roman proceedings leading to the crucifixion – occurs on the Passover festival. Yet the chief priests, sticklers for legal minutiae, spend the whole night and day engaged in forbidden activities on a feast day.
John, by contrast, antedates everything by 24 hours. The last supper is not a Passover dinner. There is no Jewish blasphemy trial; Jesus is simply interrogated by the former high priest Annas. In the morning, without the accused being present, the chief priests convene and decide to deliver the revolutionary Jesus to Pilate early on 14th Nisan. They refuse to enter the palace so as not to be defiled and barred from eating the Passover meal that evening.
Any historian familiar with Judaism must realise that the synoptic timetable is impossible: Jesus's two trials and crucifixion could not have taken place on Passover day. Obliged to make a critical choice, the pope judges the synoptic chronology erroneous and opts correctly for that of the fourth gospel. However, he wants to have it both ways. Instead of adopting the coherent story from John's gospel, he transfers the synoptic details that are missing from John, including the Jewish trial, to the day before Passover. But taking such liberties turns out to be costly: the denial of the last supper's paschal character flatly contradicts the clear mention of the feast in the synoptics and, further, clashes with the reference that Jesus and his party had sung the halleluiah psalms, "the hymn" concluding the Passover dinner, before they departed to Gethsemane.
While the Pope is correct to clarify that the responsibility for the death of Jesus does not lie with the Jewish people (cf Matthew 27:25),
One should add that the pope spoils the effect of his denial of general Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus by explaining the verse in Matthew as a "theological etiology" – an anticipated justification by Matthew of the terrible fate and total destruction the Jews brought on themselves by demanding Christ's execution.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Begetting Rabbinic Judaism: Moments of Religious Transformation in Second Temple Judaism: Prof Gary Anderson at NYU

New York University’s Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies will host the Benita and Sigmund Stahl Lecture Program in Jewish Studies, “Begetting Rabbinic Judaism: Moments of Religious Transformation in Second Temple Judaism,” April 7, 12, and 14, at NYU’s Languages and Literature Building, 19 University Place (at 8th Street).
The lecture series is free and open to the public and an RSVP is required. Call 212.998.8980 or email and include name, the lecture(s) you wish to attend.  Reporters interested in attending any of the lectures must RSVP to James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or Subway Lines:  A, B, C, D, E, F, M (West 4th Street); N, R (8th Street); 6 (Astor Place).
This year’s lectures will be delivered by Gary Anderson, the Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Notre Dame, whose work explores how Biblical ideas have shaped the evolution of Western culture. He is the author of The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination and Sin: A History. His forthcoming book will focus on the development of the concept of charity in early Jewish religion and how those concepts influenced Christianity and Islam.  
“The Binding of Isaac”
Thursday, April 7, 6 p.m.
No Biblical text has been more widely commented upon than this. It is part of the daily liturgy in the Jewish prayer and the subject of more artistic representations than almost any other text. Yet at the same time the text has become terribly controversial in the modern period.  This lecture will examine some of the radical ways in which this story was read and reread.
“The Resurrection of the Dead”
Tuesday, April 12, 6 p.m.
This is one of the most important doctrines of early Rabbinic Judaism.  The Mishnah declared it a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith and it became the foundation stone of the Christian movement. Yet the idea can only be found once or twice in the Hebrew Bible, and only then in very late contexts. This lecture will address what the resurrection from the dead means in the Hebrew Bible and how was it understood in the Second Temple Period.
“Jesus the Jew”
Thursday, April 14, 6 p.m.
Modern historical research has uncovered a treasure trove of new data that casts new light on the Jewishness of Jesus. This lecture will consider what that Jewish data is and how similar some of the teachings of Jesus are to the contemporary Judaism of his day.

Jennifer Knust: Unprotected Texts--Interview with Terry Gross

Transcripts of the conversation between Terry Gross and Jennifer Knust will be available after 5pm today here or here. On the NPR link is an excerpt from Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire (HarperOne, 2011). From the website:

Knust's book suggests that the Bible shouldn't be used as a guidebook for marriage or sexuality because passages related to sex — on topics related to monogamy, polygamy, sexual practices, homosexuality and gender roles — are more complex and nuanced than popular culture has led us to believe.
"The Bible offers no viable solution to our marriage dilemmas," she says. "There is no such thing as a single, biblically based view of legitimate marriage."
Jennifer Wright Knust is an ordained Baptist pastor and an assistant professor at Boston University. The book's first chapter discusses the Bible and the joy of sex. Polygamous marriage is normative in Hebrew Scriptures but not so much in the New Testament. Paul's injunctions not to marry in I Corinthians 7 are discussed in chapter three: The Evil Impulse: Disordered and Ordered Desire. 

Given that the book's argument is that the Bible cannot be appropriated without recognising its cultural and social norms, Jennifer Knust invites deeper and more critical reflection on the Bible. 

Marmite/Vegemite and World Leaders

The subject of a recent Q&A amongst pupils and their visitors, President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia when the latter was on a recent visit to the US. The two leaders were responding to a question asked by an 11th grade student at Wakefield High School where the President and Prime Minister visited a US history class this afternoon. A student wanted to know what vegemite really is, which prompted the debate.

“It’s like a quasi-vegetable byproduct paste. That you smear on your toast for breakfast,” Obama said sarcastically adding for emphasis, “sounds good, doesn’t it?”
I prefer Marmite. What is Marmite? Vegetable extract, salt, yeast extract, spice extract, Niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, Folic Acid, Thiamin. Plants love it, actually. Obviously, this is a divisive issue.

Monday, March 07, 2011

9th Annual Women of Nativity Retreat  ♦  March 11-13, 2011
Jesus said, "I will open my mouth in parables,  I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world." (Matthew 13:35)

Nearly 2,000 years after Jesus spoke them, the parables still sparkle with insights about life and surprise us with startling yet comforting revelations about God’s kingdom.  Please join with women from the   Cathedral and throughout the Diocese as we discover the golden treasures found in the parables.

Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary in New York will be our guide for the weekend. This year’s retreat for women of the Diocese of Pennsylvania will be held at Villa of Our Lady Retreat House in Mt. Pocono, PA. We will begin with dinner on Friday evening and conclude on Sunday after Eucharist.

Ex Cathedra's New York (& US) Debut on Sunday

True, it was pouring on Sunday for the US debut of Ex Cathedra in the Church of St Ignatius Loyola. But the concert was worth every effort to get there. We were invited by an usher to sit next to the statue of St Joseph for the best acoustics which turned out to be correct. What a wonderful experience we had. The singers of Ex Cathedra blended together well and the soloists had clear, beautiful voices.  Jeffry Skidmore's conducting was outstanding.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reading the KJV at the Bath Festival

The entire KJV was read over the course of five days by well-known and not so well-known people recently at the Bath Festival. Local press coverage here. According to Robert McCrumb in yesterday's Guardian, the event was a success:

The Bath festival's Bible challenge, a non-stop reading of Old and New Testaments in the King James Version, had a starry beginning with readings from Genesis by Bill Paterson, Tim Pigott-Smith and the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Pryce and Kate Fahy in front of a huge audience.
Ash the Rhymer and some friends kept the event going through the first night and was widely judged the big discovery of the challenge. A champion of the oral tradition, Ash confessed to being slightly "under the radar", though he is well known in festival circles for Albion Rising, a two-hour epic described, with apologies to William Blake, as "an invocation of the sleeping faery soul of the island". After five days, Timothy West brought the challenge to a climax with the Book of Revelation.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sunday March 6th : Ex Cathedra at the Church of St Ignatius Loyola in NYC

Sunday, March 6, 2011 - 4:00 PM, Church of St Ignatius Loyola
Moon, Sun & Stars; All Things -- Latin American Vespers + Ex Cathedra
Sinfonia New York

Jeffrey Skidmore, Conductor

"Some of the most alive, infectious and uplifting Baroque polyphony I've ever heard." - Classic FM Magazine

This stunning concert reveals hidden treasures from the Latin American Baroque, with colorful music from the jungles and cathedrals of 17th- and 18th-century Bolivia, Mexico and Peru, sung in Spanish, Latin and the languages of the Aztecs and Incas. Ex Cathedra makes its US debut alongside Sinfonia New York in a concert you must not miss!

From its home in Birmingham, UK, Ex Cathedra is building an international reputation for seeking out the best, the unfamiliar and the unexpected in the choral repertoire, for its thorough research and its dynamic performances. Its programs of Baroque music from Latin America have enjoyed tremendous critical and public acclaim, and have generated three best-selling CDs on the Hyperion label.
Ex Cathedra's US tour is supported by its home city, Birmingham, a dynamic and diverse cultural centre where creativity, innovation and excellence flourish.

Ritual, Lima 1631: Hanacpachap cussicuinin
JUAN GUTIÉRREZ DE PADILLA: Deus in adiutorium meum intende
Antiphon: Domine, quinque talenta
JUAN DE ARAUJO: Psalm: Dixit Dominus
Antiphon: Fidelis servus et prudens
DIEGO JOSÉ DE SALAZAR: ¡Salga el torillo hosquillo!
Antiphon: Fidelis servus et prudens
DOMENICO ZIPOLI: Psalm: Beatus vir
GASPAR FERNANDES: ¡Viva Ignacio¡ ¡Viva!
Antiphon: Serve bone et fidelis
JUAN DE ARAUJO: Los coflades de la estleya
HERNANDO FRANCO: Dios itlazonantziné
DOMENICO ZIPOLI: Ave maris stella
Symbolo Catholico Indiano 1598: Capac eterno Dios
Antiphon: Ignem veni mittere in terram
FRANCISCO LÓPEZ CAPILLAS: Cui luna, sol et omnia
TOMÁS PASCUAL: ¡Oy es dia de placer y de cantar!
ALONSO LOBO: Versa est in luctum
JUAN DE ARAUJO: ¡Ay, andar!

Further Exoneration of the Jews from the Pope's New Book: Jesus of Nazareth Part 2

An excerpt from the Pope's new book on Jesus of Nazareth Part 2 deals with the way the gospels depict Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. This may not be new but it bears repeating. Helpful is the identification of different groups in each gospel in each trial scene.

Now we must ask: who exactly were Jesus’ accusers?  Who insisted that he be condemned to death?  We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question.  According to John it was simply “the Jews”.  But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate – as the modern reader might suppose – the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character.  After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers.  The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews.  In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy.  So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus’ death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy – and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50ff.) shows.
In Mark’s Gospel, the circle of accusers is broadened in the context of the Passover amnesty (Barabbas or Jesus): the “ochlos” enters the scene and opts for the release of Barabbas.  “Ochlos” in the first instance simply means a crowd of people, the “masses”.  The word frequently has a pejorative connotation, meaning “mob”.  In any event it does not refer to the Jewish people as such.  In the case of the Passover amnesty (which admittedly is not attested in other sources, but even so need not be doubted), the people, as so often with such amnesties, have a right to put forward a proposal, expressed by way of “acclamation”.  Popular acclamation in this case has juridical character (cf. Pesch, Markusevangelium, ii, p. 466).  Effectively this “crowd” is made up of the followers of Barabbas who have been mobilized to secure the amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman power he could naturally count on a good number of supporters.  So the Barabbas party, the “crowd”, was conspicuous while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear;  this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly.  In Mark’s account, then, as well as “the Jews”, that is to say the dominant priestly circle, the ochlos comes into play, the circle of Barabbas’ supporters, but not the Jewish people as such.
An extension of Mark’s ochlos, with fateful consequences, is found in Matthew’s account (27:25) which speaks of the “whole people” and attributes to them the demand for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: how could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamour for Jesus’ death?  It seems obvious that the historical reality is correctly described in John’s account and in Mark’s.  The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the “crowd” of Barabbas’ supporters.
Here we may agree with Joachim Gnilka, who argues that Matthew, going beyond historical considerations, is attempting a theological etiology with which to account for the terrible fate of the people of Israel in the Jewish War, when land, city and Temple were taken from them (cf.Matthäusevangelium, ii, p. 459).  Matthew is thinking here of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the end of the Temple: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  Behold, your house is forsaken …” (Mt 23:37f.: cf. Gnilka, the whole of the section entitled “Gerichtsworte”, pp. 295-308).
These words – as argued earlier, in the chapter on Jesus’ eschatological discourse – remind us of the inner similarity between the Prophet Jeremiah’s message and that of Jesus.  Jeremiah – against the blindness of the then dominant circles – prophesied the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s exile.  But he also spoke of a “new Covenant”: punishment is not the last word, it leads to healing.  In the same way Jesus prophesies the “deserted house” and proceeds to offer the new Covenant “in his blood”: ultimately it is a question of healing, not of destruction and rejection.
When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation.  It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:23, 25).  Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood.  These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.  Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.
Let us move now from the accusers to the judge: the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate.  While Flavius Josephus and especially Philo of Alexandria paint a rather negative picture of him, other sources portray him as decisive, pragmatic and realistic.  It is often said that the Gospels presented him in an increasingly positive light out of a politically motivated pro-Roman tendency, and that they shifted the blame for Jesus’ death more and more onto the Jews.  Yet there were no grounds for any such tendency in the historical circumstances of the evangelists: by the time the Gospels were written, Nero’s persecution had already revealed the cruel side of the Roman State and the great arbitrariness of imperial power.  If we may date the Book of Revelation to approximately the same period as John’s Gospel, then it is clear that the Fourth Gospel did not come to be written in a context which could have given rise to a pro-Roman stance.
The image of Pilate in the Gospels presents the Roman Prefect quite realistically as a man who could be brutal when he judged this to be in the interests of public order.  Yet he also knew that Rome owed its world dominance not least to its tolerance of foreign divinities and to the capacity of Roman law to build peace.  This is how he comes across to us during Jesus’ trial.
The charge that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews was a serious one.  Rome had no difficulty in recognizing regional kings like Herod, but they had to be legitimated by Rome and they had to receive from Rome the definition and limitation of their sovereignty.  A king without such legitimation was a rebel who threatened the Pax Romana and therefore had to be put to death.
Pilate knew, however, that no rebel uprising had been instigated by Jesus.  Everything he had heard must have made Jesus seem to him like a religious fanatic, who may have offended against some Jewish legal and religious rulings, but that was of no concern to him.  The Jews themselves would have to judge that.  From the point of view of the Roman juridical and political order, which fell under his competence, there was nothing serious to hold against Jesus.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Peter Gomes, R.I.P.

The tragic news of the death of the The Rev. Dr. Professor Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister at Harvard Memorial Church came this morning. If there's anyone who has not heard him preach or teach, have a listen here and here. Here are some of his publications: Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily LivingThe Good Life : Truths That Last in Times of NeedThe Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart.

He came to Harvard as a student in 1965 and admits he was not a great but a happy student. He was ordained a baptist minister in 1968. As a student he listened to faculty at the Divinity School speaking about their spiritual lives. From 1968 he taught at Tuskegee in Alabama as instructor in history to teach "everything from Adam to the atom." 

He came to Memorial Church as assistant minister in 1970 and became acting minister in 1972 and in 1974 was named the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister in the Memorial Church. He became the University's leading religious officer and spiritual advisor. He'd never set foot in the Memorial Church before his interview and imagined after it that he would be live fodder for atheists in Harvard Yard. 

A cultural conservative, Gomes made national news when he came out as a homosexual in 1991 in response to incidents of gay-bashing on campus. "I'm always seen as black and now I'm seen as a black gay man. If you throw in the other factors in there that make me peculiar and interesting--the Yankee part, the Republican part, the Harvard type--all that stuff confuses people who have to have a single stereotypical lens in order to assume themselves that they have a grasp on reality" he said in 1996. 

He became a Democrat in 2006 and spoke at Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's inauguration. 

Dean William Graham of HDS says:
I can say with feeling what everyone at Harvard knows in some measure: he was unique and uniquely Harvard's, from the moment he arrived in 1965 to earn his bachelor of sacred theology from Harvard Divinity School. A more vibrant colleague none of us in the Divinity School or the Faculty of Arts and Sciences could ever imagine, nor a more faithful friend and steady presence. Peter's courageousness and characteristic humor made a real difference to our community, as did his thorough belief in one’s convictions.

On one occasion Peter Gomes was asked to preach at the commencement for an exclusive girl's school in New York City. He remembers,
"Many of the brightest and the best of the girls went on to elite colleges, and soon thereafter would make their way into the expanding stratosphere of the establishment once reserved for their brothers. They were able, aggressive, and entitled young women on the threshold of conquering the world, and I rejoiced in their achievement, was happy to celebrate with them, and wished them well."
For that occasion, Gomes based his sermon on the sixth chapter of Matthew where Jesus asks, "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Therefore, do not be anxious about your life." It seemed like an appropriate message for the audience, he remembers that all the graduates smiled upon him.
During the reception, however, one of the parents came up to Gomes with "fire in his eyes and ice in his voice." He told the preacher that, frankly, his sermon was full of nonsense. Peter said, "The message didn't originate with me; it came from Jesus." The parent looked at him and said, "It's still nonsense." As the man went on to explain,
"It was anxiety that got my daughter into this school, it was anxiety that kept her here, it was anxiety that got her into Yale, it will be anxiety that will keep her there, and it will be anxiety that will get her a good job. You are selling nonsense."
Gomes continued, in his book, to have the last word. He notes that the father is not only wrong, but is heading for disaster. At some point his vision of the “good life” will run into bankruptcy and he will have nowhere to anchor his self-esteem. Gomes suggests that if Wordsworth were still taught as it was to our grandparents we could say:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 

In 1998, he gave a farewell speech to undergraduates at Commencement:

‘You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren’t ready to go,” Mr. Gomes, gowned in cherry red, told more than 1,000 seniors in genteelly ringing tones that called to mind a cross between a Shakespearean actor and the sitcom character Frasier.
”The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women, and you know,” he paused and slowed, ”just — how — dumb — you — really — are.”
He paused again for the cheers of agreement.
”And worse than that, the world — and your parents in particular — are going to expect that you will now be among the brightest and best,” Mr. Gomes continued. ”But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow, you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That’s a fact — no exceptions, no extensions.”
Having stated the problem, the minister moved quickly to alleviate it, promising students that their best years were yet to come, and that God would be with them.
”The future is God’s gift to you,” Mr. Gomes said. ”God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to abandon you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical.”
He added, ”Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.”
Mr. Gomes concluded with a benediction: ”God grant you life until your work is done, and work until your life is over.”
And if anyone missed tea at Harvard with Peter Gomes, here's the next best thing (because there's no tea this coming Wednesday March 2nd at 5pm):

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...