Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neoplatonism, anyone?

Good overview and discussion of Neoplatonism over on BBC Radio 4 in the programme "In Our Time" introduced and moderated by Melvin Bragg with various scholars. Here's an introduction to Neoplatonism, and Plotinus.

When Plato dies, the academy falls into the hand of Plato's successors. In 155 BCE Carneades leads the academy in the direction of a school of skeptical philosophy. Plato is appropriated in various ways including Epicureanism. Neoplatonism takes Plato's divisions between sensible material world and the world of forms, including the form of the good, and seeks to return to the true essence of Plato by unveiling true meanings of Platonic texts. Everything that is comes from unity and the intelligible world of forms which then devolves into multiplicity. The notion of "the One"goes back to Plato's Republic in which the form of "the Good" is the ultimate value and source of all. It is compared to the sun and it brings all things into being. Plotinus also had several mystical experiences of ecstatic union with "the One." Union with "the One" is achieved through a program of rigorous philosophy and self-discipline turning away from the sensible world.

Plotinus' (d.270CE) biography was written by Porphyry and his writings the Enneads are well known. Educated in Alexandria, he also went east on military campaigns perhaps encountering Indian philosophy. Settling in Rome, Plotinus opened a public school for aristocracy and other interested people as a public sage.

Successors of Plotinus like Porphyry and other Neoplatonists are in dialogue with Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam particularly for a defense of monotheism. Iamblichus was much more interested in magic and theurgy. Proclus is the most important late Neoplatonist who lived and wrote in Athens. He integrates pagan religious belief into his philosophy. The ruins of his house have been discovered with remains of animal sacrifice in it.

These are the discussants:

Angie Hobbs
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick
Peter Adamson
Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London
Anne Sheppard
Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard +Update

is an excerpt from a BBC series "Meet the Romans" currently on BBC 2. Mary Beard is a wonderfully accessible commentator on the Roman world.

Update: There's quite a controversy about one aspect of the series: Mary Beard's appearance. Ridiculous really. Here's her defense. In the meantime, most comments about the programme have been positive

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Virtual Pilgrimages at Trinity Wall Street April 15-May 20

Everyone is welcome to join us this coming Sunday at Trinity Wall Street for all sessions or only parts!

Virtual Pilgrimages
Eastertide 2012
Trinity Wall Street
Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. April 15, 22, 29, May 6, 13 and 20

To understand pilgrimages, it's essential to know the quintessential journey of the ancient world in the Hellenistic period: Homer's Odyssey, the journey of Odysseus from Troy to his home in Ithaca. Therefore, this mini-course will start with Homer's Odyssey so as to identify themes of the journey including hospitality, human identity and deception, and the meaning of home. Then we will continue with journeys in the Hellenistic period including: 1) Philo's Treatise on the Preliminary Studies, in which the 1st Century Alexandrian writer Philo depicts Abraham's journey as the movement of the soul from bodily passions towards true wisdom and virtue through paideia, education; 2) real pilgrimages e.g. to the Asklepion in Pergamon and to the House of John in Ephesus and 3) otherworldly journeys in apocalypses like Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and Revelation.

Helpful text: Pilgrimage in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity eds. Jas´ Elsner and Ian Rutherford (OUP 2005)

April 15 Homer's Odyssey—Prof Peter Meineck, New York University (interactive map of Odysseus' Journey:

April 22 Journey as metaphor: Philo of Alexandria, The Preliminary Studies (see

April 29 Otherworldly Journeys: Apocalypse of Abraham (see, Testament of Abraham (see, The Apocalypse of Paul (see

May 6 Pergamon—Professor Brigitte Kahl, Union Theological Seminary

May 13 Ephesus--Professor Katherine Shaner, General Theological Seminary

May 20 Ethos of pilgrimage: mindset and impact—Green pilgrimages 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jesus' tomb?

ABC has a segment reporting the recent announcement about Jesus' tomb. Professor James Tabor is interviewed and also Professor Mark Goodacre.  Here is the site of the discoverers. Mark Goodacre has been posting on the topic for several weeks and here are his 10 problems. A full discussion can be read on the ASOR blog which I urge everyone to read.

The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), founded in 1900 and located at Boston University, is the preeminent society for individuals interested in the archaeology and history of the eastern Mediterranean. ASOR is an international organization that has about 1,500 individual members and about 85 member institutions. ASOR supports and encourages the study of the peoples and cultures of the Near East, from the earliest times to the present. It is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization and is apolitical and has no religious affiliation.

Update: useful Q&A with Profs Eric Meyers and Mark Goodacre from Duke on the topic here. They include assessments of Prof Tabor's scholarship and their collegiality, the context for the topic (Easter/Passover) and their take on the subject. Prof James Tabor replies here

Friday, April 06, 2012

Put Women Back Into Holy Week

Cynthia Bourgeault has a piece in the Washington Post: "Put Women Back Into Holy Week" in which describes her Holy Week this year. She certainly give us something to ponder.

I have spent the entire Holy Week leading a meditation retreat in a small retreat center tucked away in central Minnesota, and as part of our Holy Week commemoration we have added a new liturgy- which rightfully should have been there all along. It re-enacts the loving anointing of Jesus, shortly before the crucifixion, by a woman whom tradition remembers as Mary Magdalene. I first witnessed a version of this ritual in France many years ago and brought it home with me (in a slightly revised format) to the states. This is the second Holy Week now that I have experienced through the launch pad of anointing, and I am more convinced than ever that without it, our understanding of what Jesus was up to in his Holy Week self-offering is incomplete--in fact, it is badly distorted.
This anointing ceremony, based on an episode recounted in all four Gospels, focuses on Mary Magdalene and rightfully restores her central place in the Holy Week mystery- a place explicitly accorded to her in the Gospels themselves but deliberately down-played (or eliminated altogether!) in traditional Holy Week liturgies.
With the anointing ceremony repositioned as the opening act in the Holy Week drama, the entire shape of Holy Week shifts subtly but decisively. In this reconfiguration the meaning of anointing is itself transformed. It emerges as the sacramental seal upon all our human passages through those things which would appear to destroy or separate us, but in fact draws us more deeply toward the heart of divine love.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Shirley Williams' religious beliefs

One of my personal models, and someone I deeply admire, is Shirley Williams. Politician, writer, and now Liberal Democrat peer, she is the author of God and Caesar, Personal Reflections on God and Religion (2003). She talks with Joan Bakewell. Her mother is Vera Brittain writer of Testament of Youth. Her father read Aquinas to her at the age of 5.  Her parents were always at the forefront of what was going on. Black political leaders were welcomed into their family home.

Raised Catholic, she says, "I wear my faith lightly and always an activist. My faith works itself out in action. Every individual is divine from the homeless person to anyone else. An awareness of the world motivates me. What the church called 'the option for the poor' in the 70's and the movement for liberation theology: this is the best of the church."After taking her to church, coffee with her father dissected the sermon and what had happened that day in church. He was ludicrously ambitious for her, socially and politically!

Her mother met Dick Sheppard, rector of St Martin in the Fields in London, and she was persuaded that the right thing to be was a Christian socialist.

1951-2 Shirley Williams was in America as a Fulbright scholar and experienced slavery and racism in the south. After the second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John 23rd's encyclical "Gaudium et Spes" brought about a renaissance from which, she says, the church now differs. The best things about her church, she says, are represented by that Vatical council. Catholicism is not racist and always global. In the late 50's in the UK, the welfare state and the Atlee revolution blossomed. In 1948 the health care service started at the point when the British country was racked by debt. The vision was in many ways a Christian vision.

She speaks about the 11+. There is a huge amount of research showing that where a child is at the age of 11 should not be determinative of future education and as someone who failed the 11+ I certainly agree.

She separates her Catholicism from her reading of the New Testament and the life of Jesus. Christ's teachings ought to be distinguished from the Catholic Church. The Anglican church is moving closer to Jesus' inclusion. The narrative of Jesus's life and particularly Jesus' teachings that including women and Samaritans and what encourages her. Salvation comes through grace and deeds.

There is much in this interview to enjoy and ponder. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Codex Bezae online

Codex Bezae is online at Cambridge Digital Library at the University of Cambridge. A late fourth/early 5th Century text, it has Greek and Latin texts of parts of the NT on facing pages. The Latin text predates the text of Jerome. The texts it contains are the Gospels of Matthew, John, Luke and Mark and a single page of the last verses of 3 John in Latin only, in addition to Acts. Only the Gospel of Luke is complete. In the link, you will find a complete list of the distinctive readings of this manuscript including the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20, and the story by Jesus of a man working on the Sabbath inserted after Luke 6:4:

On that same day, seeing someone working on the Sabbath, he (Jesus) said to him, 'Man, if you know what you do, blessed are you; but if you do not know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.'" 

More details of textual variants found in Codex Bezae here.

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...