Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible! Enjoy these postings of resources, projects by my students, movies and images, links, reflections, humor, and other items related to teaching the Bible at a Flagship Seminary. This blog is interactive: You can add your comments and post your questions. Go ahead, it's fun...
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Breach of Peace: Hundreds Killed in Southern Sudan
Prayers requested for our friends in Sudan. Elizabeth and Megan are reporting that at least 300 people were killed in clashes between Sudan's army and former rebels in the port town of Malakal. For the BBC article just on-line today, click here. Malakal is about 200 miles south of Renk, where we send our teams to teach the biblical languages. I emailed back to get additional details from Elizabeth, who has now reminded me that three of the best Hebrew students on her trip were from Malakal: Peter and Michael in Megan's class, and James from her class, whom she recommended to advance to the upper level class. As far as we know, these folks are safe for the time being.
The Wanderer I went out walking through the streets paved with gold Lifted some stones Saw the skin and bones Of a city without a soul I went out walking under an atomic sky Where the ground won't turn And the rain it burns Like the tears when I said goodbye
Yeah I went with nothing Nothing but the thought of you I went wandering
I went drifting through the capitals of tin Where men can't walk Or freely talk And sons turn their fathers in I stopped outside a church house Where the citizens like to sit They say they want the kingdom But they don't want God in it
I went out riding Down that ol' eight lane I passed by a thousand signs Looking for my own name
I went with nothing But the thought you'd be there too Looking for you
I went out there In search of experience To taste and to touch And to feel as much As a man can Before he repents
I went out searching, lookin' for one good man A spirit who would not bend or break Who would sit at his father's right hand I went out walking with a bible and a gun The word of God lay heavy on my heart I was sure I was the one Now Jesus, don't you wait up Jesus, I'll be home soon Yeah I went out for the papers Told her I'd be back by noon
Yeah I left with nothing But the thought you'd be there too Looking for you...
Yeah I left with nothing Nothing but the thought of you... I went wandering
I've enjoyed and learned a great deal from Robert Vagacs' new book, U2 in Theological Perspective (Vagacs). However, I'm not sure he does justice to this particular song, "The Wanderer." I'd like to offer some brief alternative readings of my own and also ask for readers' comments as to the meaning of the Wanderer for them.
Vagacs is surely on solid ground when he argues that the protagonist of the poem is wandering through "Zooropa," the modern world in cultural winter. As he says, the figure is on a "journey into the emptiness of Babylon" (p. 52), the world bereft of God, a "dystopia."
But Vagacs does not mention the similar journey taken by Qohelet, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Qohelet was on a God-project, a meaning-quest, whereas Vagacs argues the Wanderer does not actively search for spiritual meaning but "moves about aimlessly" (p. 52). Thus, Vagacs gives a pessimistic and negative reading of the figure's wandering rather than understanding him as one like Qohelet, involved in a project to lay out the ground-work for a faith-solution to finding meaning in life.
The relationship of the Wanderer with Ecclesiastes is fairly clear. According to Bono, that relationship is what made him think of Johnny Cash to sing the lead on the song: “Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books,” says Bono. “It’s a book about a character who wants to find out why he’s alive, why he was created. He tries knowledge. He tries wealth. He tries experience. He tries everything. You hurry to the end of the book to find out why... There’s something of Johnny Cash in that.” One popular translation of Qohelet is "the preacher," and the Wanderer is about a preacher like Cash. Bono says, "Johnny Cash always left the line about cutting and running out. I always liked that. You know--bottle of milk, newspapers and he's off. He's got God's work to do. He's on tour."
In n. 30 on p. 53, Vagacs explicitly calls Bono's own understanding of the Wanderer overly "optimistic." He disagrees with Bono that "The song is definitely the antidote to the Zooropa manifesto of uncertainty." He does not see how Bono can say that "this track gives one possible solution." Interestingly, the faithful have often voiced just such doubts about the book of Ecclesiastes itself! Speaking of Ecclesiastes, H. Wheeler Robinson wrote, "The book has indeed the smell of the tomb about it." Fortunately, recent scholarship is often much more appreciative of Qohelet's theology.
The Wanderer is not aimless or prodigal, he's conducting wisdom-experiments, he's "looking for you." As Vagacs writes, "you" here is probably imagination---imagining God and the world interconnected, imagining transcendent meaning to life. The Wanderer goes out confident that "you'd be there too." The world, Zooropa, is bereft of God, but the Wanderer certainly is not. Certainly, he is on a "pre-repentance" experiment, but he promises Jesus "I'll be home soon."
Isn't the faithful thing to come home right now? No. Consider Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. There and then, it was not his time or season to be "home." From the Nazi Tegel prison in 1943 Bonhoeffer wrote, "When the time comes (but not before!) we may go to him with love, trust, and joy." "Sooner or later there will be times when [one] can say in all sincerity, 'I wish I were home.' But everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead--nor keep dawdling a step behind. It's presumptuous to want to have everything at once."
Vagacs complains that the Wanderer is "powerless to break out of Zooropa" (p. 53), yet should this be his goal? Ecclesiastes 2:24 reads, "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil." In a post a few days ago, we looked at the metaphor of "eat and drink" as an expression of contentment in where God has placed us for the time being.
Martin Luther emphasized this as a key theological insight of Qoheleth: "Don't let the present moment, our moment, slip away," wrote Luther. No matter how strongly we might want to jump to the wonderful things God has in store for us in the future, we must not do it. "Do not desert the battlefield but stick it out."
Are you all familiar with Charles Péguy's poem about Sleep? It fits in well with Psalm 127:2; Micah 2:1; Ecclesiastes 5:12. This excerpt is from Péguy's The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.
And yet they tell me That there are men who don't sleep. I don't like the man who doesn't sleep, says God. Sleep is the friend of man. Sleep is the friend of God. Sleep may be my most beautiful creation. And I too rested on the seventh day. He who's heart is pure, sleeps. And he who sleeps has a pure heart. This is the great secret to being as indefatigable as a child. To have that strength in your legs that a child has. Those new legs, those new souls. And to start over every morning, always new, Like the young, like the new Hope. Yes, they tell me there are men Who work well and who sleep poorly. Who don't sleep. What a lack of confidence in me. It's almost worse than if they worked poorly but slept well. Than if they worked but didn't sleep, because sloth Is no worse sin than anxiety In fact, it's even a less serious sin than anxiety And than despair and than a lack of confidence in me. I'm not talking, says God, about those men Who don't work and don't sleep. Those men are sinners, it goes without saying... I'm talking about those who work and who don't sleep. I pity them. I hold it against them. A bit. They don't trust me. As a child lays innocently in his mother's arms, thus they do not lay. Innocently in the arms of my Providence. They have the courage to work. They don't have the courage to do nothing. They possess the virtue of work. They don't possess the virtue of doing nothing. Of relaxing. Of resting. Of sleeping. Unhappy people, they don't know what's good.
Newsweek online has an article now on new attempts by publishing houses to produce Children's Bibles that are less cheesy, more state of the art. They also want to cash in on the huge Bible market, with all its many niches--a market now apparently worth $400 to $600 million!
Here is a quote from the article: "We hear all the time how cheesy children's Bibles are," says Craig Walker, an executive with Scholastic Books, which recently published [a Children's Bible] with the American Bible Society. ..."[We launched] a massive, five-year undertaking to make sure the pictures and the text were as accurate as could be."
Illustration of the Joseph Story from God's People
I would think the challenges to doing a really good job would be immense. You would have to fight back the unconscious influences of Cecil B. DeMille, fight like the dickens to avoid "moralizing" which Children's Publishers love, but the Bible almost never does, and above all, how do you work with Children on the Bible's very-adult subject matter? The Bible tackles head-on all sorts of subjects that we often try to "protect" children from, at least when they are very young.
Do any readers have thoughts or opinions on this. I think it would be fascinating to hear from people on this! Here are two of the new books that the NewsWeek article discusses:
At the recent SBL, Matthew R. Schlimm of Duke University gave this poster presentation, which really caught my eye. His research is forthcoming in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, but Matthew was kind enough to send me his poster for posting both here and on the MAR-SBL WebSite. For the PDF/Acrobat file, which you can enlarge and see in detail, click here.
The conclusions? There is definitely shared suffering on the part of God! However, there are also some fascinating differences between the divine realm and the realm of human suffering. Comments welcome... (You can also contact Matt at the email address on the poster.)
New Blog Carnival Coming Soon on Dr. Jim West's Blog
Anything on this blog caught your eye? Why not nominate it for the upcoming Carnival of Bible Blogs?? In fact, please nominate good stuff from any Bible blog that you have enjoyed this month. Just go to Dr. West's blog and make your nomination: click here.
Discussion of David's branch / sprout over the last few days reminds me of the mention of the power of the sprouting shoot mentioned near the start of U2's hit, Beautiful Day. Here is a video, lyrics, and some theological reflections (interconnected with next Sunday's reading of Jeremiah 33). Comments welcome, of course.
Beautiful Day The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground But there's no room, no space to rent in this town You're out of luck and the reason that you had to care, The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere. You thought you’d found a friend to take you out of this place Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace
It's a beautiful day, the sky falls And you feel like it's a beautiful day It’s a beautiful day Don’t let it get away
You’re on the road but you’ve got no destination You’re in the mud, in the maze of her imagination You love this town Even if it doesn’t ring true You’ve been all over and it’s been all over you
It's a beautiful day Don’t let it get away It's a beautiful day Don’t let it get away
Touch me, take me to that other place Teach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue See China right in front of you See the canyons broken by cloud See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out See the bedouin fires at night See the oil fields at first light See the bird with a leaf in her mouth After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day A beautiful day Don’t let it get away
Touch me, take me to that other place Reach me, I know Iím not a hopeless case What you don’t have you don’t need it now What you don’t know you can feel it somehow What you don’t have you don’t need it now You don’t need it now, you don’t need it now Beautiful day
As in Jeremiah 33, which we've been discussing, this song of hope and promise is set amid sorrow and shadow. For a lot of people in this Advent world of bullying and hoarding, there is "no space to rent," "no room," no more "luck."
Yet, it truly is a beautiful day. The world is far from totally dark. From Heaven, you can see green and blue, and canyons in all their beauty. The problems are there, such as tuna fleets clearing the sea out, but the world is full of ambiguity and promise.
Noah's bird bears "a leaf in her mouth" symbolizing hope after the flood. Jeremiah 33 similarly points to this hope after Jerusalem's world came crashing down in 586 BCE.
In the midst of the darkness and ambiguity we face in the here and now, we've got to keep focused and oriented on how "after the flood all the colors came out; It was a beautiful day." A shoot is pushing up through the stony ground. It is Advent, and God's messiah is on the move to usher in "that other place," viz. that righteousness within community spoken of by Jeremiah 33.
In the new Jerusalem (Jer 33:16), bullying and hoarding will vanish. People will realize that King Josiah had it right in Jer 22:15. He got along just fine, had plenty to eat and drink (NLT), and was blessed besides, because he didn't orient his life around an abundance of possessions. What he did not have, he did not need, just as U2 sings.
This morning's post mentioned a homiletics professor named Jude Siciliano, who has written for the Living Pulpit. The same professor has a helpful website giving "First Impressions" of upcoming lectionary readings. Take a look at it, by clicking here.
Here is a quote on the Jeremiah 33 lesson:
If you were to ask Jeremiah, or any of the prophets, "What does salvation look like?" they would put less emphasis on the personal experience some describe as "being saved." Instead, they would describe, besides being in right relationship with God, being in a community that is safe under God’s protection and living in a way that grants all the inhabitants of the land peaceful and just relationships with one another. They would call all that, "Shalom." That’s the salvation the prophets promised--it was a community event. At the beginning of Advent Jeremiah reminds us again what other prophets have said about God’s will for us. He reassures a people under siege that one is coming to fulfill their long-awaited "salvation." "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah."
Preaching the First Sunday of Advent, Year C, cont.
Many thanks to those who have sent emails encouraging me about this RCL exposition series on my blog. I really appreciate the support!
Let me continue to add some thoughts to yesterday's post on preaching Jeremiah 33:14-16. If you need some good general background on this text before going farther, however, click here.
Let's delve a bit deeper into possible relevance and application. I noted yesterday the stress in our text on communal life displaying true covenantal qualities. In the comming messianic era, righteousness will characterize all of communal life, it will not just be a quality of the Messiah.
The term "righteousness" in the passage comes to apply to God's people living out the covenant from day to day (33:16b). Then, in the coming era of the Messiah's reign, there will be "justice" and "righteousness" on earth (33:15).
In light of this vision, we are certainly found wanting in this Advent world of ours! In our world, we have certainly not yet received the Messiah in a spirit of wanting him to set things right.
Right now, in the present, we're still there with Jeremiah, on the verge of disaster. We're still living under the judgment of texts such as Jeremiah 22. Here's how E. Petersen renders Jer 22:17: "You're blind and brainless. All you think about is yourself, Taking advantage of the weak, bulldozing your way, bullying victims."
Might this Word be applicable to us today in the US? Please add any illustrations you can think of in the comments section below. One thinks perhaps of the growing gap between the wealthy and poor in the world. The US has 4% of the world's people and consumes 40% of the world's resources. The wealthiest 20% of people in the world hold 85% of all wealth. For a helpful video clip, click here.
Perhaps Jeremiah 33 calls us to enter Advent with a sober yet restless and yearning spirit. Jude Siciliano, O.P. probably has it right: "We are found waiting in this Advent world, a world of alienation and division, longing for justice and peace. Let the Advent preacher hear the longing voices and the incompleteness that permeates our lives."
Such a message will resonate with people in the pews far more than Christmas nostalgia. Our passage is a reminder of people's deepest yearnings and a call to transformation. It is also a call of hope. Siciliano continues: "The 'just shoot' is being planted in the land and there will be an abundant harvest."
Preaching Jeremiah 33:14-16 (RCL: Year C, Advent 1)
Okay, I'm hereby launching the new weekly series that looks ahead one week in order to help people preach on the OT/HB.
The appointed RCL reading for next Sunday, December 3, 2006, is Jeremiah 33:14-16 (Year C, First Sunday of Advent). The text speaks of a coming "righteous Branch of David to spring forth" (33:15). This is a wonderful messianic text, perfect for Advent season. I hope you all will join me in discussing it over the course of the week and then grit your teeth and preach a sermon centered on it.
Let's unpack the rich image of a "righteous branch" (צמח צדקה). There are wondrous levels of meaning here. Most basically, this is an idiom for the "legitimate heir" to the royal throne of David. "Righteous" means conforming to standards and norms and "branch" is a term indicating a new shoot or scion in a continuously extending dynasty. An early 3rd century Phoenician inscription from Lapethos in Cyprus combines the terms צמח and צדק to designate a legitimate heir. A 5th century Phoenician inscription from Sidon similarly speaks of a legitimate royal heir as a "righteous son" (בן צדק).
But our passage takes this language much farther. For one thing, Jeremiah and his editors use the messianic ideal to critique and expose the challenges and evils of the here and now. Jeremiah 33 is set against the fall of Jerusalem in 586 due precisely to a lack of "righteousness" in Judah and its leadership. The name of the king at the time, Zedekiah, is built on this term "righteousness" / צדק but he falls far short of God's norms and standards. Deuteronomy 6:25 is ignored: there is no righteousness for the people because the covenant is not obeyed. Against Deuteronomy 24:13, innocent blood is shed and violence is done to the weak. Straight conduct, loyal to the community as a whole, is not being practiced, as it was briefly in the time of good king Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15-17). Josiah, like the coming Messiah, did what was right / righteous (צדקה).
"Righteousness" is not just a matter for kings and messiahs according to our passage. An earlier form of our text in Jeremiah 23:5-6 had said that the name of the messiah himself would be "The LORD our righteousness." Here, in our text, that name is given to the whole of Jerusalem, symbolic of all God's people (33:16). John Calvin aptly wrote that we, the faithful, "partake of this righteousness."
The whole community of faith gets admitted "into a participation of all the blessings by which he [the messiah] is adorned and enriched by the Father." Righteousness now becomes not just an issue of royal legitimacy, nor even just an issue of moral obligation, but also an expression of God's gift of salvation and gift of communal wholeness when God's reign comes in power one day. In Advent season, we look forward to that day and think about doing all we can to mirror its righteousness in the here and now.
More soon. Please use the comments space for discussions and reflections.
For the immediately preceeding post in this series, please click here.
In yesterday's post, we looked at the way that Psalm 8 connects God's royal ennoblement of humanity with human frailty and transparency. Today, I want to argue that a related theme of imago Dei appears in Isa 40–66, although most scholars miss it.
The enigmatic portrait of the Servant of the LORD reveals an imago Dei, a royal majesty, granted to the most unlikely of candidates. Isaiah 52:13 reads, “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be high and lofty (ירום ונשׂא).” The language is striking; several cross-references within Isaiah apply the same description directly to God.
In Isa 6:1, recalling his commissioning, the prophet states, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty (רם ונשׂא).” Isaiah 33:10 and 57:15 use the very same word pair of God. Amazing! Second Isaiah insists vehemently on God’s incomparability, yet its frail Servant of the Lord ends up elevated to divine status. As God’s viceroy, he will command global respect (Isa 52:15) and establish justice on earth (Isa 42:4).
To sum up today's and yesterday's posts, the PT source and Isa 40–66 share a unique theology of God’s nature, stressing its uncanny otherness, volatility, and inexpressibility. God’s likeness is absent from any reality other than God’s nature in God’s self. Nevertheless, we must reckon with God’s condescension to allow an imago Dei to appear among humanity incarnate in human frailty and servanthood (cf. Isa 57:15; 66:1–2).
This theology differs significantly from other perspectives on the imago Dei in the Bible. This series of posts has really only dealt with the imago in Holiness Theology and Reverence Theology. Perhaps future posts can push this investigation farther.
Happy Thanksgiving Day Everyone! (At least, USA readers.)
For the immediately preceding post in this series on the Image of God (re: PT and pacifism), please click here.
In this post, I want to look briefly at Psalm 8, where the theology of the Imago Dei mirrors that in Reverence Theology (PT and Isaiah).
Psalm 8 beautifully combines the themes of human frailty and human royalty (the Imago for Reverence thinking). The terms "glory" (כבוד) and "majesty" (הדר) in Psalm 8:5 are clearly royal, as seen in their parallel use of the king in Psalm 21:5. Yet, Psalm 8 views it as a great wonder that God would bestow such royal glory on mere mortals. Because of human finitude and transience, it can only redound to God's glory to grant such ennoblement. "What are human beings, anyway?" (8:4). The category of אנושׁ, which is highlighted in 8:4 is ontologically opposite to Yahweh, with no inherent right to rule anything (Psalm 9:20). Human beings on earth are poor creatures of the moment.
Isaiah 43:7 declares that God creates and forms God's people for God's glory. Psalm 8 similarly gives all the glory to God, by beginning and ending with one thought (an inclusio): How majestic is God's name in all the earth. Ennoblement comes to humans as we embrace self-less transparency as in Psalm 8 and use that transparency to allow God's majesty to shine on earth.
Just for Fun: The Rev. Tom Winslow, seminary archivist and episcopal priest, shows us the seminary ghosts of Nashotah House Seminary. If you watch toward the end, you even see a photo from the archives showing two shades that are said to haunt the little Wisconsin seminary, founded in 1842.
On our SBL tour of the National Gallery we looked briefly at Domenichino's (Italian, 1581 - 1641) painting of "The Rebuke of Adam and Eve":
To appreciate the painting at all, you immediately have to get past the borrowing of God and God's entourage from the Sistine Chapel. It is best understood as an act of homage to Michelangelo.
What can we appreciate here? I agree with our SBL guide, Dr. Terrence Dempsey, that the best thing about this painting is the depiction of the blame game or the passing of the buck. You get the whole sequence of rationalizing and blaming as your eye moves from God in the upper right down to the snake in the lower left. The sequence brings a smile to the face and is immediately recognizable as all too completely human.
Recognizing the satire and humor in Genesis 3 is crucial, or you end up repeating the centuries old mistake of somehow blaming women for all the evil in the world. Adams' excuse before God in Gen 3:12 is not gospel truth but a lame attempt to avoid fessing up. "It was the woman." [Of course, always blame the woman.] "Whom you gave me!" [Of course, ultimately it's all God's fault.]
None of this holds any water for God, and God immediately pronounces judgment on all three characters involved, snakes, women, and men. Even the judgments on male and female are parallel, but that's another post...
I really enjoyed the final session of SBL this morning. It was a hard slot, what with everyone having one foot out the door, but the panel was really interesting and my paper went real well and generated a lot of animated discussion. A whole lot of fascinating topics got raised in the 9:00-11:30 am session. Some of the more interesting discussion for me centered on whether or not we can pin down the Aaronide priestood and the Zadokite priesthood. Some of the other papers were rather skeptical about whether either of these priestly houses had much of a venerable pedigree. And it seemed like Joseph Blenkinsopp was even trying to revive the worn-out old theory that the Aaronides stem from the priesthood at Bethel. As I listened to the others, I felt glad that my paper had some good suggestions about where to find the Aaronides and Zadokites among PT, Isa 40-66, HS, and Ezekiel. Just wish there was more time for general discussion at the end of the session. Nevertheless, I think everyone left with plenty to think about, and looking forward to the proceedings appearing in print with T & T Clark in the not too distant future.
Thanks for joining me in these blogs from SBL 2006. My next posts will be from back home in good old Virginia...
Good news. The audio recording from our conversation is up and posted at Chris Brady's Targuman blog (click here). It is definitely worth listening to at least a little of it. It's quite impressive how Chris got this posted so effortlessly. The five participants and their links are listed in the post.
I'm just back from the first of two sessions at the conference run by the Social-Scientific Studies of the Second Temple Period section. I wanted to attend today, because I'm giving a paper in tomorrow's session first thing in the morning. I have a strong feeling tomorrow's discussion will be much better than the one I just attended. It will focus on "Priesthoods in the Second Temple Period" and have a slew of speakers including Blenkinsopp, Cataldo, VanderKam, Grabbe, Chalcraft, Alice Hunt, and myself. The only problem will be that each speaker only has 15 minutes. That's going to be jam packed.
This morning I got to spend several hours in the book display. I purchased several bags worth of new books and ran into some old friends. I can't remember them all, but I do remember talking with Jenni Knust from Boston University, AKMA (see his posts from SBL here) from Seabury Western, and Melody Knowles from McCormick, and Stephen Chapman from Duke, and Fred Schmidt from Perkins School of Theology. Also saw a few of our students from VTS there, which was very nice.
Just back from the Yale University reception at the Mayflower Hotel. Very, very nice. The school is doing very well, and it was great to see many old friends. Judith Newman was there, and we got a good report on how much she is enjoying her sabbatical. Katherine Greene-McCreight reported that things are well in CT and that Peter Rogers, our former priest, has retired to the west coast. There were crab-cakes and scallops wrapped in bacon and pork-chops and a 60th birthday cake for Harry Attridge. Catherine saw Ab Malherbe and Lamin Sanneh, who both remembered her well from seminary days almost 20 years ago.
I wanted to note at least two other biblioblogs that have posts on the SBL meetings here: click here and here.
Well I'm headed for the very comfy bed here at the Renaissance Hotel. More tomorrow...
It has been a busy and good day here at SBL 2006. Cathy and I did get off to something of a rough start when the Renaissance Hotel got backed up on their breakfast room service. Breakfast came about an hour late, and they forgot milk and also cream for the coffee. Most of my morning was spent in the Ezekiel session, where about 35 people were in attendance. I particularly enjoyed the first two papers by Jill Middlemas of Oxford University and Dale Launderville of St. John's University. Jill's paper dealt with iconography and the lack thereof in Ezekiel, which of course relates to some of my current research and to some of the recent postings on the Imago Dei that I've been doing here on this blog. I asked the second question after one by Kathe Darr, and I remain very interested in this whole topic. Dale's paper was on Ezekiel's view of the Netherworld, which again, relates to the paper I gave yesterday morning, and about which I've also had several postings here on this blog. Dale and I talked after the session about having some correspondence on this topic, since we are arriving at similar results from two rather different approaches and scholarly procedures. I'd like to post more on the Ezekiel session soon, if possible.
Catherine and I immediately headed by metro to the National Gallery of Art on the DC mall:
We had signed up a long while back for the SBL tour on "Biblical Themes in the National Gallery of Art Collections," conducted by Terrence E. Dempsey, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at Saint Louis University. Terry led us on a very enjoyable tour of biblical art, including works on both Testaments by folks such as Giotto, Fra Angelioc and Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Savoldo, El Greco, Murillo, Grunewald, Rubens and more. I also hope to blog on this tour and the paintings we studied as soon as I get a chance. Stay tuned...
Immediately upon returning here, I met up with the bibliobloggers to record a one-hour oral conversation. The whole thing should be posted soon on Christian Brady's blog, so I'll be giving a link to that as soon as Chris gets back and gets it posted.
Back in our room for the night after several evening receptions, including the big SBL HarperCollins reception celebrating the New Study Bible.
Earlier this afternoon, I attended a fascinating session on Teaching Bible in a Liberal Arts College. The panelists came from different enough perspectives to make the discussions quite interesting. There's obviously a lot of interest in this topic, because the session was standing room only.
Christian Brady did a great job with his talk, which he had been working on for quite a while and which we've noted before on this blog. He actually quoted quite a bit from the discussions on the biblioblogs, which was terrific. Among many excellent points were the following: Addressing the theological dimensions of biblical texts is not the same as doing theology; Work to develop "moments" in your teaching where you should pause and allow the energy to bubble up (e.g., the issue of divorce in the book of Ezra); Don't "shoot down" a student's view just because it may seem pedestrian, but work to problematize over-simple readings of Bible. Well, these are just some sample insights from a very rich session.
Okay, I'm on a brief coffee break from all the excitement. The day started out with room service at 6:30am---coffee and French Toast, which Catherine & I shared. Catherine was then off to hear Karen Armstrong speak to a huge crowd, while I went off to give my paper on death and afterlife in the Social Sciences Section on the Family in Ancient Israel (a joint session with ASOR). Attendance at my talk was pretty good for early Saturday morning, about 55 people all told. All of this was in the DC convention center:
I would say my talk received a very fine response. Lots of good questions and notes, not one negative critique. The two archaeologists on the panel, Drs. Holladay and Routledge, had some great notes to add about burials and tombs, and I'm going to be contacting them to get the exact references.
John Holladay's own talk had a lot to do with international trade and economics. Ever wonder from whence came the gold and silver that Judah had to hand over in tribute to empires like Assyria? Holladay thinks the gold and silver came in to Judah's possession as a 20% tax on caravan trade that passed through the country. In the eighth century, camel caravans from the Phoenician cities and from South Arabia passed through the country, in the latter case connecting Judah up with places as far afield as India and Africa. All very interesting, even if the 20% figure is perhaps too high.
Okay, we safe in at the Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel (click here), and I've been in pre-conference colloquium and CRC business meetings most of the day. I shall try to blog ever day from SBL, but I'm not sure at what time of day the posts will come, since I'm really very busy.
There are 11,000 people here at the conference, which is huge, another record number. Catherine and I are lucky to be right near the convention center, where many of the talks and the book display will be located. This is really very convenient. We're also up on the top floor, floor 16 which is very nice!
Matthew Collins met with us at CRC, so I've got some up to the minute news on things. The notion that many people hold that the AAR and SBL are coming together again in 2011 to do a joint meeting is really not true. We'll be together in San Francisco that year, but not in any way like a true joint meeting. What is true is that ASOR today and tomorrow is discussing coming back and joining SBL again. We may be able to report some news on that decision over the next few days.
One final interesting thing, and then I've got to get some rest. Matthew thinks the printed-and-mailed program book will soon be a thing of the past. It's outdated already by the time it reaches the SBL membership and it costs something like $100,000 to print and mail. The future equivalent may well be a CD-Rom that is mailed to the membership each year, and that updates automatically off of the internet when you run it from your home computer.
Well, check the blog each day for updates direct from SBL! Thanks! ---SLC
update (12/22/06): for more discussion, see the new post in Codexhere.
Here is a photo with an arrow showing the location of the newly discovered latrine at the Qumran/DSS site. It is behind the bluff in the upper left of the photo.
As many of you have read, it was by using what the Qumran sectarian writings say about bathroom procedures and locations that the researchers located this spot and decided to test its soil for evidence.
For me, the main point of this discovery is that it reinforces the connection between the site and the Dead Sea Scroll community. Given the doubts about this connection being popularized nowadays, this sort of evidence is really very significant!
The Sudan is very much on our minds and in hearts as tensions and conflict there seems to worsen by the day. Please keep the country, Darfur, and the fragile peace between North and South in your prayers.
Elizabeth F., star seminarian here at VTS and devoted reader of this blog, has written a lovely article on her trip this past summer to Renk, Sudan to teach Biblical Hebrew. The article appeared recently in the Diocese of Southern Virginia Newsletter.
I've gone ahead and posted the article on-line as a pdf file. Please take a look at it by clicking here.
For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.
I have been arguing that the PT source of the Pentateuch finds the Imago Dei in God's grant of royalty and viceroy status to humanity on earth. In this post I argue that this rule, in PT's understanding, is to be non-violent, non-coercive, even "pacifist." PT's emphasis on non-violence is fascinating and not widely known, so it is worth a post here.
The above image is a "Peaceable Kingdom" cake, baked by my TA Kitty Guy. Note that in this kingdom of peace, in Isaiah 11:6, humans exercise leadership: "with a little boy to herd [נהג] them" (NJPS). The idea of human viceroys of God on earth is perfectly compatible with a state of peace and love in nature. The dominion espoused at Gen 1:28 need not be violent, and it is not. Thus, PT's original ideal for humanity was vegetarianism (only at Gen 9:3, does PT eventually settle for a "second-best" state of eating meat).
The verb "subdue" (כבשׁ) in Gen 1:28 can have the sense of "take of possession [of a land / country]" rather than "subjugate" or "violate." This sense would accord with PT's thinking elsewhere in its narrative. The PT narrative has Israel look forward to occupying the land of Canaan, but in a demilitarized manner compared with the perspectives of other biblical sources. PT narrates not a single war or battle. E.g., at the Red Sea, the children of Israel simply walk calmly through the parted Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14) . When Abraham and Lot part ways and occupy separate lands, PT narrates no rift or dispute as the cause (Genesis 12:5; 13:6, 11b-12a). In general, PT tries to get humanity to move away from always dealing with others in fearful and selfish ways. Most centrally, in God's gift of manna, God makes sure there will be no possibility for envy, hoarding, and violence (Exodus 16:17-18). Manna is PT's miracle food for a Peaceable Kingdom.
In short, PT abhors envy, discord, and violence. Its vision of the Imago Dei must involve human humility and mutuality over against both other people and the natural world. These are key themes elsewhere in the Bible's Reverence texts, especially in Isaiah 40-66.
For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.
A few more words are in order about the connection between the Image of God and the theme of Majesty or Royalty, which is the connection that the Reverence Theology of the Bible advocates. Prof. Dexter Callender has a nice discussion of the biblical complex of texts that supports this idea on pp. 29-31 of his book, Adam in Myth and History (Harvard Semitic Studies 48). Let me cite a bit of his discussion.
Callender argues that the ancient world was familiar with a royal dimension to traditions of the creation of humans, and that this royal aspect or motif manifests itself particularly in Gen 1:28; Gen 9:1-7; and Psalm 8.
Genesis 9 echoes the primordial blessing of Genesis 1 ("be fruitful and multiply," v. 1) and then goes on to introduce the theme of majesty or rule in v. 2, but in a different form than in Gen 1:28. Genesis 9:2 speaks of the animal kingdom "delivered into your hand." The Hebrew here, נתן ביד, "routinely expresses the idea of domination, political and otherwise (e.g., Deut 1:27; 1 Sam 14:37; 17:47)," according to Callender.
Psalm 8, reflecting on the nature of mortals and their place in existence, presents a similar understanding of the God-given royal position of humanity (vv. 5-8). God has crowned mortals with "glory and majesty" (v. 5). God makes them "rule" over the works of God's hands (v. 6a). "All things you have placed under their feet" (v. 6b).
I am aware that the theology of the Imago outlined in this blog is subject to much abuse, and that there is a body of literature on this. As the series of posts continues, however, I want to argue that Reverence Theology cannot be construed to support abusive exercises of human power. The virtue of reverence stands in absolute contradiction to any abuse of creation and nature.
I've decided to change the way that I do Sunday lectionary reflections each week, and would like to solicit any advice or suggestions that you might have.
It has been called to my attention that it would be more popular and useful to use the Sunday space on this blog to launch reflections on the upcoming Sunday's lesson, rather than the present Sunday's. That way readers with preaching responsibilities could interact with the post and use the comments section as a sort of scratch pad to work on their sermons in the seven days preceding their homily. It has also been suggested that I switch to the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) readings, since not all readers of this blog are Episcopalian and since ECUSA itself seems to be in the process of switching to the RCL.
So, this is my plan. Next Sunday, I'll be blogging from SBL and won't be able to have any lectionary reflection. The Sunday after that, it will be time to get ready for Advent season Year C, so I'll post on the RCL reading for Dec 3, which is Jeremiah 33:14-16. (For upcoming RCL readings, click here. I intend to concentrate on OT/HB and/or psalm only. As you know, I am trying to encourage more preaching on OT/HB!) (Please note that I do not intend to turn this entire blog into a homiletics blog---this just concerns the Sunday lectionary posting series that we've been doing.)
Can I please get some feedback on these plans. Am I going in the right direction with this plan? Will folks be willing to contribute to the discussion of upcoming RCL lections for preaching? Are the OT/HB lections already being adequately brainstormed elsewhere in the blogosphere, rendering my plans redundant or superfluous?
Today's appointed lesson is 1 Kings 17:8-16, the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. (The painting here [click to enlarge] has a number of details based on study of the text and of the ancient realia behind it. For discussion, click here.)
The passage makes for a powerful homily or sermon. What better text to provoke the spiritual imagination and energy of people in pews. It wakes us up to God at work off our radar, outside of our hardened molds. Do we feel like God's cause is lost on earth and God's lifestyle nowhere to be seen? Here in 1 Kings 17, openness to God and a lifestyle of sharing is alive and well in an unanticipated place: outside of Israel, in a starving widow. (Cf. 1 Kings 19:14, 18.) God is at work around us in ways we might never think of. Just when the widow assumes she has fallen to her lowest point, she experiences the most wondrous events of her life.
Our Saturday video of the week is by the rock band U2, something of a favorite among seminary professors:
For the lyrics to "Where the Streets Have No Name," click here. I'll make a few reflections, and then welcome any others who wish to do so to contribute in the comments. The place with "streets with no name" is a multi-layered symbol. It is a place most highly desired (the ideal Jerusalem) but also a place where currently "the city's aflood and our love turns to rust." On the one hand, the "flame" there pulls and draws us in. On the other hand, the city is an Ethiopian refugee camp with crisscrossing makeshft roads or it is Belfast, where street upon street is tainted with bloodsheed. (These are two "cities" Bono must clearly have in mind, given his personal experience.) In the Jerusalem of the future, the streets are paved with gold and bear no names because no divisions of wealth, pride, and fear separate and alienate its inhabitants. People there will be willing to "reach out" to each other in vulnerability and mutuality. "When I go there, I go there with you," because friendship and community are what the new Jerusalem are all about. The "flame" there grows stronger and hotter as its inhabitants reach out and embrace and lose themselves in each other's unconditional love (Song of Songs 8:6).
Statistics are now coming in on how religion seems to have factored in during the US election earlier this week. In a Washington Post article online (click here), Alan Cooperman is reporting this morning that Democrats have "sliced the GOP's advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points, down from 18 points in 2004 congressional races and 22 points in the 2004 presidential contest."
Cooperman is reporting that conservative religious voters did not stay home this time as James Dobson has tried to argue, but did tend to vote less Republican and more Democrat. "In fact, white evangelical Protestants turned out this week as heavily as they did in 2004, making up roughly 24 percent of the electorate both times."
Among the other interesting findings, Democratic candidates seemed to do better when they found a way to discuss their personal spirituality with voters. "In the states where Democrats fielded candidates who were able to speak credibly about their faith, they made larger gains."
The SBL Forum has a great essay just posted, "Bible Scholar on an Airplane" (click here). The author, Samuel Thomas, a biblical scholar, makes some apt observations about the perils of revealing our profession in public, especially in situations where one is somewhat trapped. Why is it that everyone seems to be an expert on religion? Why is it that people so easily assume they are on the same religous wavelength with me?? Here is a small excerpt:
I have developed over the years several different responses to questions about "what I do for a living." In the right settings — namely those in which my words are unlikely to be misunderstood or misconstrued — I am perfectly happy to discuss my livelihood and engage people on topics in which I am heavily invested, and I may even claim the Bible scholar epithet. But despite some happy occasions, my dilemma persists; whatever the actual odds of finding myself in an undesirable situation, the danger always lurks that my interlocutor will readily make assumptions about me and the real nature of my work — assumptions that may or may not correspond to my own. He may find my approach to the study of the Bible to be too liberal, overly academic, unnecessarily constraining, exceedingly parochial, heretical, anachronistic, tedious, narrow, or pluralistic. In other words, what I do can become more about who he is and what he thinks I should be doing. This is a problem that I suspect generally does not obtain in the life of the accountant and the salesman, or for that matter the chemist or the mathematician.
This beautiful video of the northern aurora has been viewed on YouTube 1,162,664 times so far since it was posted there two months ago. For a biblical scholar, watching this calls to mind texts such as Isaiah 40:26 and Psalm 19:1.
I often have students ask me for recommendations on commentaries. There are so very many now, and they are of vastly different perspective, depth, and quality.
Jeremy Pierce, over at the Parableman blog, has an ongoing project to address this need for advice on biblical commentaries (click here).
First, he lists his most recommended basic-level commentary for each book of the Bible (click here). He also has a list of intermediate-level commentaries (click here) and of advanced-level commentaries (click here).
Perhaps most useful, Jeremy is working to build an annotated list of quality commentaries for each book of the Bible. So far, you can check out the following lists:
Having spent a little while checking out this site this morning, it appears to lean toward the conservative / evangelical perspective, just to let you know. Part of Jeremy's goal is to make commentaries available for use in Bible studies and in personal devotion. As he moves to list his more advanced commentaries and to do his annotated lists of commentaries, he includes helpful discussion of scholarly works and standard works outside the evangelical spectrum.
Update:Tyler Williams has a great commentary survey on his Codex blog. To check it out, click here.
For the preceding post in this series (on the meaning of the Imago Dei in Holiness Theology), click here. In this post I turn to the thinking on the "Image of God" in Reverence Theology, my other major priestly theology (the PT section of the P strand and Isaiah 40-66).
In Reverence Theology, nothing on earth or in heaven holds a candle to God. But God in God’s mystery does raise up an unlikely imago Dei on earth. God installs frail, mortal humankind to represent God’s majesty. This decision of God to ennoble humanity comes to fruition in the Suffering Servant archetype sketched in the poems of Isa 40–66.
For today's post on this, let's turn to the PT source, where God creates humanity with the following intention: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness [דמות]; and let them have dominion” (Gen 1:26; cf. Gen 9:6). The term dominion unlocks the verse’s meaning. In the Near East, the expression “image of God” referred to the status of kings as representatives or viceroys of the gods.
The Tukulti-Ninurta epic from thirteenth-century Assyria calls the king “the eternal image of Enlil.” A Neo-Assyrian letter calls both King Sennacherib and King Esarhaddon “the very image of Bēl.”
For PT, the “image” and “likeness” granted to humanity by God is no visual trait, relating to humanity’s appearance or form. Ezekiel’s sense of the term is not at issue. No, the significance of the imago is God’s choice of humanity to represent and channel divine majesty. Mortals are to be humble and reverent creatures; that is paramount. Obedient to the Sabbath’s tutelage, however, they will discover royalty as their paradoxical destiny.
I am very sad to report that the situation in Sudan has deteriorated to the extent that our teaching trip in December will likely be cancelled. Please keep Sudan in your prayers.
Here is the latest news from Dr. Jo Bailey Wells at Duke:
Further to Ellen’s email last week, there is further news to report, most of it sad and bad. Lauren Stanley – appointed missionary of ECUSA in Renk – received a directive from the Bishop of Virginia last week to return. She has had to bid hasty farewells and at this precise moment sits in the airport in Khartoum (relieved to have got through the various ‘security’ stages, having been at some risk these past few days). She is about to board her plane to Frankfurt, then Munich, arriving tomorrow evening at Washington Dulles. Do pray for her – the departure has been nothing less than traumatic. Her experience serves to underline the rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan, not just in Dafur but also between South and North. We have said we will hold off a final decision regarding January visits to Renk for another couple of weeks – and this sign of our commitment means a lot to people there – but know that it is ever more unlikely.
Tomorrow a group from Duke’s Center for Reconciliation depart for Kampala, for a Great Lakes region Reconciliation Initiative. Here there will be many church leaders gathered from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Congo and Sudan. They are keeping an eye out for ways we might maintain our commitment to theological education in Sudan, through partnership with institution(s) in a neighboring country.
Psalms of Lament (or should we call them "petitions"?)
Tyler over at his Codex blog has another neat post on the psalms, this time on the laments. He takes up the question of what we should really term these psalms. For example, would they be better named Complaints, Prayers, Pleas, or, Tyler's current choice, "Petitions." Click here to take a look, and perhaps leave a comment with your own vote. Meanwhile, here is another teaching slide, this one focused on the Sitz-im-Leben of the individual "lament" (click to enlarge):
The SBL recently unveiled this free, neat Web Resource, the "Online Critical Pseudepigrapha" (click on the logo above, or here, to access). To read more about the resource in the SBL Forum, click here.
Essentially, the resource provides free, ready internet access to the following texts in their original languages. (I.e., the texts are untagged, without parallel translations, so your Greek needs to be pretty good to use this resource without other aids handy). In addition, some of texts already have an interactive critical apparatus associated with them.
Testament of Abraham; Life of Adam and Eve; Letter of Aristeas; Aristeas the Exegete; Aristobulus; Artapanus; 2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch; 3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch; 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Ieremiou); Cleodemus Malchus; Eldad and Modad; Eupolemus; Apocryphon of Ezekiel; Ezekiel the Tragedian; History of the Rechabites; Jubilees; Lives of the Prophets; 3 Maccabees; 4 Maccabees; Philo the Epic Poet; Pseudo-Eupolemus; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Solomon; and Theodotus.
I'm giving two talks at SBL next week, one of which compares and contrasts two priestly theologies of the Bible, which I'm calling Reverence Theology and Holiness Theology. The best representatives of Reverence Theology are Isa 40-66 and the PT sections of the priestly material of the Torah. The best representatives of Holiness Theology are Ezekiel and the HS strand of the Torah.
My paper presents several sample issues where these two theologies part company, and one of these examples is the nature of the Imago Dei, the Image of God.
I thought I would do some blog posts sharing what I am learning about the Imago Dei, and its different intepretations in Bible. Let's start with Holiness Theology, where the Imago seems visual and, indeed, rather anthropomorphic!
Ezekiel's visions of God really push the envelope in giving us visual images of the divine. The prophet goes so far as to describe the occupant of the throne atop God’s chariot carriage. He claims that God’s presence on the throne has a “likeness” or “semblance” (דמות), which he attempts to articulate. Peering up and into the heart of God’s glory, Ezekiel tells us, he sees what looks like a throne, and “upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form” (Ezek 1:26 NJPS emphasis added). Something very similar occurs at Ezek 8:2 (LXX), where God appears with “a likeness [דמות] as the appearance of a man” (NASB). The Image of God for Ezekiel has a flaming lower body and a humanoid head and upper torso, much like the god Ashur in Mesopotamian iconography.
Reverence Theology would be aghast at what Ezekiel is attempting. Using the self-same Hebrew word (דמות), Isa 40–66 insists that God’s semblance is fully incomparable. Isaiah 40:18 inquires rhetorically, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” No answer is possible; God cannot be compared to anything at all. The Holy One, at Isa 40:25, asks a similar question, “To whom then will you compare [דמה] me?” And again at 46:5 God asks, “To whom can you compare [דמה] me or declare me similar? To whom can you liken me, so that we seem comparable?” (NJPS). There is no way around it. Reverence Theology insists repeatedly that you must never claim “God is like this” or “God is like that.”
Yet, Reverence Theology also has a notion of an Imago Dei, and I'll save that for the next post in this series...
Duties of a son, from The Story of Aqhat: To erect a stele for his ancestral gods; to build a family shrine in the sanctuary;
to guard his footsteps from earth to underworld; to take his hand when he is drunk; to put his arm over one's shoulder when he is full of
wine; to eat a funeral meal in the temple of Ba'al; to offer a sacrifice in the house of El.