Monday, October 29, 2007

The Aleph has Quiesced!

This mp3 music file is truly worth downloading! VTS's own Adam Thomas composed and performed this song near the conclusion of my summer Hebrew course. It is a spectacular humorous celebration of the joys and struggles of Beginning Biblical Hebrew. Thanks so much for this gift, Adam!

To download the free mp3 music file, right-click here and then click: "save target as..."
Here are the actual lyrics:
The Aleph has Quiesced, by Adam Thomas
The entire class is stressed ‘cause the aleph has quiesced
And we never would have guessed that the Masoretic text
Has so many dots and squiggles that we’re all reduced to giggles
Like we’re all on laughing gas.
We try to learn a way to find every dagesh forte
mappiq in ending-He and which of the shewas to say
There are no letter vowels and so many sound like growls
That we wonder if we’ll pass.
Our glottal stops are wrong and our Pe’s are poorly drawn
The tetragrammaton has all its vowels gone
Some compensatory lengthening,
add a doubling dot for strengthening
See that wandering dagesh left.
The article has hid, squeezed out by that lamed
And the furtive pathah slid, from left to right it did
All we do is stammer when we try to use this grammar
We’re feeling quite bereft.
A king, the king, to a king, to the king, let’s sing,
did you bring your Weingreen?
My horse, your horse, male horse, female horse,
this course is the source of bad dreams!
In Hebrew without fail, the words all start off male
And the vowels look like Braille,
it makes us want to wail
This language when created was triliteral agluttonated
And the roots are so hard to find
We’re all going insane when we add the construct chain
And double up on Bane, oh pronouns are a pain
We’re getting quite obsessive about which one is possessive
In our daily Hebrew grind.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Bible and Climate Change on Today's "All Things Considered," NPR

NPR: All Things Considered

On Today's "All Things Considered," NPR's Neda Ulaby discusses Climate Change and Bible Tales. Two brief segments from an interview with my friend Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School appear in the piece, which is only about five minutes long. That interview actually took place this summer in my office here at VTS.

Here is one quote from Ellen in the piece: "The biblical writers have always maintained that the world is not a permanent entity as we know it; it can change; is likely to change; for better, or for much worse." Ulaby comments: "That vision of a much worse world bridges the doctrines of secular science and biblical literalism. Both see the destruction of the world as a consequence of man's actions." I think the term "literalism" was an unfortunate choice of words to link up with Ellen Davis, but perhaps more unfortunate is the inclusion a bit earlier of a sound clip from a Jerry Falwell sermon.

There's also a bit in the piece about the National Geographic search for the geological and environmental truth behind Noah's Flood (Pitman's idea of glacial meltdown raising the level of the Mediterranean). Finally, there is another bit about Michael Gill's UCLA statistical analysis of Nile River records, showing natural cycles consistent with the cycle of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in the Joseph story.

To listen to the brief story, click here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Will the Fires Affect the Upcoming SBL in San Diego?

2007 SBL in San Diego

This word just in from the SBL executive director:

We at SBL would like to send our heartfelt good wishes and deepest sympathies to those affected by the fires in southern California.

We have received several calls and emails with concerns about our upcoming Annual Meeting in San Diego. Please know that our staff is working to keep up to date on the latest information and any effect it will have on our meeting. At this point, we have received good news from the San Diego Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The San Diego Convention Center is open and is not directly impacted by the fires occurring in San Diego County.

Here is some of the pertinent information we have received. In addition, I would encourage everyone to keep updated through the accompanying links:

· The San Diego Convention Center, located in downtown, is open for business and is not threatened or impacted by the fires, smoke, or winds. Any changes to this notice will be posted online at

· The San Diego Convention Center is NOT a designated evacuation site.

· The San Diego Airport is open and running regular schedules. Updates are posted at

· Hotels, restaurants, and stores remain open and operating in and around the downtown area. The return of evacuees to their homes has improved the situation and alleviated hotel room supply concerns in the downtown area.

· Fire officials are fully engaged and are expected to have the most of the fires in San Diego County contained within the next 36 hours. The Santa Ana winds that have fed the fires have dropped dramatically, and rain is forecast for the weekend. Updates are available at
Please direct any questions you may have regarding the 2007 SBL Annual Meeting to

Best wishes,
Kent Richards, Executive Director, Professor of Old Testament, Society of Biblical Literature

Friday, October 26, 2007

Armed Forces Testing Each Other in Sudan

Moving Toward War
As readers of this blog know, I have a special interest in Sudan since we send our students to teach the biblical languages there. The breaking news from Sudan today is that northern and southern military forces appear to be involved in skirmishes, where several deaths and injuries are occuring. Clearly, prayers are requested and needed. Here is the report forwarded by Lauren out of there:

Sudan Armed Forces, SPLA clash in Southern Sudan, 10 killed
Friday 26 October 2007 04:30.

October 25, 2007 (JUBA) The Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) said soldiers from the SPLA and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) clashed in Bahr El Gahzal, and Bahr El Arab in southern Sudan.
According to the SPLA statement 9 SAF soldier and one SPLA soldiers are killed during the clashes.
Yasir Arman, a SPLM deputy secretary general, said that South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit has instructed the SPLM forces everywhere to be committed to orders and remain quite.
Below the text of the SPLA press statement:
Press Release on the withdrawal of SAF from Rum Akeer
Northern Bahr El Ghazal State
The two Infantry Companies of the Sudanese Army Force (SAF) decided to draw northward from the old railway station of Rum Akeer of Aweil North County, Northern Bahr El Ghazal State on the 16th October 2007. It is worth noting that at 7 pm of the above mentioned date, a group of drunken soldiers from both SAF and Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) clashed in the market of Rum Akeer, where they were drinking alcohol resulting in the following causalities:
SAF side: One (1) killed and four wounded; SPLA side: Three (3) wounded
The withdrawing SAF Infantry Companies attacked our two Infantry Companies at Wahr Guet Base (known in Arabic as Bahr El Arab) in the morning and mid-day of 17/10/2007 with following causalities:
SAF Side: Eight (8) killed and unknown number wounded as the attackers succeeded to evacuate their wounded;
SPLA side: One (1) killed and two (2) wounded
The SAF units in El Muglad, Meiram and the northern bank of Wahr Guet, are very busy preparing to retaliate.
The Governor of Northern Bahr El Ghazal State, Col Madut Biar Yel and the SPLA Command in the State are doing their best to calm down the situation.
It is worth noting that Rum Akeer is one of the villages of Northern Bahr El Ghazal State where SAF is refusing to redeploy from despite the passing of the 9/7/2007 deadline of the SAF redeployment to north of 1/1/1956 border between Northern and Southern Sudan. Two Infantry Companies of SAF and one Infantry of SPLA Proper were deployed in Rum Akeer.
The causalities on the two sides are regrettable and lost to the Sudan. The incident is now being investigated by the joint committee from SAF, SPLA and United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) that left Juba to Northern Bahr El Ghazal State on Saturday 20/10/2007.
Maj. Gen. Kuol Deim Kuol SPLA Spokeman
SPLA General Headquarters Juba, Southern Sudan

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Assyrian Reliefs at Virginia Seminary

Reliefs from Nimrud

As Dean Markham mentioned in his on-line Dean's Commentary several weeks back, Virginia Seminary is proud to own some Assyrian Reliefs, which are on display in the school library. The reliefs once lined the walls of the palace and temples of Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria, in his capital city of Calah (modern Nimrud). Ashurnasirpal II (884-860 BCE) was one of the founders of the Neo-Assyrian empire, which eventually brought about the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE.

For a while now, I've been meaning to make available in this blog an interpretation of the image on the reliefs and a translation of its Akkadian inscription. The best way to do that, I think, is to post the article on the inscriptions written by Dr. Jim Ross, one of my predecessors in teaching Hebrew Bible here. The article is as follows: James F. Ross, "The Assyrian Reliefs at Virginia Seminary," The Virginia Seminary Journal 28/1 (1976): 4-10.

To download the article (a pdf file), click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Sermon on Ruth by My Student, Robin G.

The Book of Ruth was one of the "Three Biblical Tales" that my OT-33 quarter-course read this fall. One of the seven seniors in the class, Robin Gulick, just sent me a sermon that she recently preached at her field site based on the first chapter of Ruth. Thanks, Robin! Here is a long excerpt from the end of her text:

In the story we just heard. Naomi leads her daughters-in-law away from Moab towards her home in Judah. All three women have lost their husbands. All three women are leading very insecure lives. Their future is not assured. They hunger for food, and for life.

They begin a journey to satisfy their hunger. Their destination is Bethlehem of Judah.

Bethlehem – the name translates to “the House of Bread”

Naomi is leading her two daughters-in-law to the House of Bread. To a home far from the famine that has marked their lives for over a decade.

They are on a journey back towards God’s people, back towards God’s favor, back towards God’s life-giving bread.

Naomi pauses on that journey and tries to part form her daughters-in-law. Yet Ruth reminds her that they are not strangers on the journey.

For a moment Naomi does not see why her daughters-in-law would want to go with her. Ruth, on the other hand, sees clearly.

At this moment she is determined to make a statement of friendship, family and faith. She will not let Naomi travel alone. Nor will she allow Naomi to keep her from following Naomi’s God.

She says,
“"Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God…”

When we experience times of spiritual famine in our own lives, we can take a similar journey.

We take the journey in relationship with others – those whose faith is strong and those whose faith is faltering - there can be no strangers on this journey.

When we know others who are experiencing that dry and desolate place where God seems so far away, we can invite them to walk with us.

When we experience the famine in our own lives, we can ask, as Mother Theresa did, for others to pray on our behalf.

To pray that we may be reminded that where ever we go, God will be there. Where we lodge, God will lodge. Where we die, God will be.

Famine demands that we journey with others to a new yet familiar territory - that we return home, to the place from which we came.

Our destination is the same as it was for Naomi and Ruth.

Each Sunday we travel to Bethlehem. We take with us all the memories of famine in our lives. We bring with us the pangs of hunger. We bring our vulnerability and fear. We bring it all to the House of Bread.

We bring the memories, the hunger, and the fear through those doors and into this space. We bring those feelings of separation – that feeling that our relationship with God is somehow broken or disrupted – up the aisle and to the altar rail. We offer it all to God.

We see the breaking of the bread, the reflection of our own fears of brokenness, and we hold out our hands to receive God’s gift of recognition – God’s very self.

We hunger. We return to God.

And each time we are fed.

We call the Eucharist the Great Thanksgiving.

And we are thankful because the Lord has considered us and given us food.

We are, right now, in the House of Bread.

We are right now in a world experiencing real and spiritual famine. Next time we come, who might we consider bringing with us?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

MidTerm Exam Time: The Lord Commands a Review Session

It's sure a crunch time around here at VTS with the faculty retreat, midterm exams, and lots of rushing to meet deadlines going on. To add some humor to it all, Mitch Bojarski, the Greek teaching assistant, just composed this marvelous "oracle," "The Lord Commands a Review Session":

A reading from the Book of Seminary; chapter 3, beginning with the 1st verse: The word of the Lord came to Mitch and said: I have heard the cry of my people, I have heard their groanings and their despair for a simpler time. You will go to my people and give them a review session on the 23rd day of the 10th month of the 2007th year of the Son of Man. You will go to my people and you will tell them the secrets of the foreign tongues and they will be filled with the spirit and will receive the gift of interpretation of tongues, that is spiritual understanding. And when they have studied they will have new understanding and they will pass. And Mitch heard the word of the Lord and obeyed and he went to the people and scheduled a greek review session for 7pm on the 23rd day of the 10th month of the seventh year of the reign of Bush, the younger, which was the 2007th year of the Lord. He asked the people to take up their textbooks and read and come to the review session with questions. And the people studied and they gained new understanding and all the people passed the test, for as it has been written: "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1Pet 2:9) Amen

Friday, October 19, 2007

Now in Print: My Article on Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible

Religion Compass
My recently completed article, "Funerary Practices and Afterlife Expectations in Ancient Israel" has just been published on-line by Blackwell Synergy. It is presently posted in the "OnlineEarly Articles" section of the Blackwell Journal Religion Compass. To access the article at Religion Compass, click here. When the article is offically "published" as part of an upcoming issue of the journal, I shall make another post here, but it will be the same article...

Here is a brief excerpt from the essay:

A cursory overview of modern interpretation of biblical thanatology quickly reveals the lack of current consensus among scholars. There is pressing need for further study and clarification. Was Sheol real or not for ancient Israelites? If it was real, were all souls expected to end up imprisoned there? How did Israelites interact (or refrain from interacting) with the shades of the dead? By summarizing the latest findings, including those of the archaeology of death, and by introducing a new cross-cultural model for use in interpretation, I hope that the present essay makes a solid contribution toward a new shared interpretation.

I shall argue in this essay that interpreting burial and afterlife in ancient Israel requires cross-cultural comparisons, especially comparisons to the beliefs about ancestors of traditional African religions. Such comparisons make it possible to unpack the allusions to death and the hereafter in our source texts and access a system of beliefs foreign to our modern (often dualistic) thinking. Taking advantage of comparative data, a social-scientific model can assist the task of biblical interpretation. Such a model is crucial in connecting the intriguing but cryptic evidence available from key biblical texts and from inscriptions and archaeology.

Here is the article's official abstract:

Ancient Israel was thoroughly familiar with existence beyond death. Individual personalities survived the death of the body, most Israelites believed, albeit in a considerably weakened and vulnerable state. The ensnaring tentacles of Sheol constantly threatened the living-dead, but the fortunate among them were able to use the power of kinship bonds to keep Sheol’s threats at bay. The traditional ties of lineage and kin-bonding, according to biblical Yahwism, were an actual way for the living-dead to pull themselves back from death’s devouring suction. Ancient Israel’s funerary practices and afterlife expectations are greatly illumined by recent archaeological studies and by a new comparative model that draws on data gleaned from African ethnography.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A First in Bible Translation

My colleague Bob Prichard sent this news item from CR Daily:

Jacqueline Huggins, by translating the New Testament into the Filipino Kagayanen language, became the first African-American female to ever complete a New Testament translation. She is also the first African-American to complete a New Testament translation since the early 1900s (Efrain Alphonse completed the Valiente New Testament) and the first African-American with Wycliffe Bible translators to do so, Christian Newswire reported Wednesday.

Huggins, 36, a Philadelphia-born linguistics and Bible translation specialist, went to the Philippines for Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1986, spending more than 20 years translating the New Testament into Kagayanen, which is spoken by some 25,000, helped by a staff of three translators and three support staff made up of Americans, Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean Chinese. The first copies of the Kagayanen New Testament are expected to be delivered in Feb. 2008.

"I knew God was calling me to Scripture translation. Incredibly, one church leader attempted to discourage me from pursuing that call, saying 'You won't be accepted by Wycliffe because you are black. And you are a female,'" Huggins said. "It became clear that divine intervention brought this diverse team together."

Of the 6,912 languages spoken in the world today, only 426 have entire Bible translations. Wycliffe was involved in more than 710 New Testament and Bible translations, impacting more than 78 million people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Sermon on the Mount

My good colleague in New Testament and my next-door neighbor, Dr. John Yieh, has just published a booklet on the Sermon on the Mount. Congratulations, John!

John Yieh's New Book

With the help of interpreters down the ages, this study sets out the issues and proposes reading the Sermon as covenant, which holds both challenge and promise— thus reclaiming the Sermon for life today. To download this publication as an e-book, click here.

John's colleagues suspect that this booklet is an initial release in print of a larger project that he is working on...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Registration for AABS Annual Meeting Available On-Line

Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars

The annual meeting of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars will be held November 16 at the San Diego Convention Center. We are honored to have as our speaker the Rev. Lynn C. Sanders, Director of Church Relations for Episcopal Relief and Development. The afternoon sessions will focus on the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals and ways the MDGs can be explored in parishes in conjunction with biblical texts. After eucharist and dinner, our evening session will feature a talk by Ms. Sanders on "The AABS and ERD: Partners for Theologically Grounded Development Education for Churches?"

Registration is now available at the AABS website ( You may register on-line or via postal mail. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, November 6th. Registration is required only for those who wish to attend the dinner. Members who want to come to sessions without having dinner with us are welcome to do so at no cost, although you are encouraged to renew your membership for the coming year.

We look forward to seeing you in San Diego!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

World's Oldest Wall Painting Unearthed in Syria

MSNBC and Reuters are reporting that a team of French archaeologists have unearthed a modernist looking wall painting that they describe as the oldest in the world. It is believed to date from the 11th century BC and was uncovered on the wall of a communal dwelling at the Djade al-Mughara Neolithic site, northeast of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Suspension of National Unity Government in Sudan

I've just come from a very good presentation by Father Joseph and by Phoebe Roaf on biblical language instruction at Renk Theological College in Sudan. The forum was well attended and enjoyed by all. Of concern is the breaking news that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has jsut said it is suspending its participation in the National Unity Government because its northern partners have failed to implement parts of the 2005 deal that ended Sudan's 21-year civil war. For details from the BBC, click here.

Salva Kiir (pictured here), South Sudan's President and Sudan's Vice-President, warned recently there could be a return to war if the terms of the 2005 deal (the CPA--comprehensive peace agreement) continued to be disrespected. The southerners are complaining that the rest of the government is not consulting Mr Kiir.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Phoebe's Pictures from Renk No. 5

Father Joseph, head of Renk Theological College in Sudan, will be speaking this Thursday at our VTS forum hour at 1pm. Phoebe took this photo of him (right) and Marduk (a worker in the diocese) standing by a wall they have repaired in his home compound in Renk. The wall collapsed due to the effects of rain and flooding that the area experienced last summer. You may remember the mention of a lot of rain in my posts from that time.

Here is a shot showing the flooding that collapsed the wall as it was affecting the wider area. Phoebe took this picture on the road driving away from the Renk market. Some of the water came from Nile flooding originating in heavy rains in Ethiopia.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More on the Passing of Dr. Theodor M. Mauch

Prof. Theodor M. Mauch
[The above photo of Prof. Mauch was apparently shot ca. 1958, four years before I was born, and over twenty years before I studied with him at Trinity College, CT. So far, it is the only photo I have been able to get my hands on, although the communications office at Trinity is looking for one for me. ]

I promised more on the passing of one of my college professors of Old Testament, Dr. Ted Mauch, and I recently learned that the Trinity College WebSite has published an obituary, relying strongly on input from Dr. John A. Gettier, his longtime colleague and friend. To access the article, click here. The text reads as follows:

Theodor M. Mauch, Professor of Religion and Ellsworth Tracy Lecturer, Emeritus, died at his home on Cape Cod on Sunday, August 19.

A graduate of Elmhurst College, he went on to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he received three degrees: B.D., STM, and Th.D. During his graduate study, he spent a year at the University of Heidleberg, Germany. At Union he studied with James Muilenburg, one of the great biblical scholars of the 20th century. Under Muilenburg, Prof. Mauch devoted himself to Second Isaiah, writing his thesis on that section of the Old Testament and devoting much of his subsequent teaching to that subject.

He began his teaching career at Wellesley College and was invited to join the Trinity faculty in 1957, where he taught until his retirement in 1987. Over three decades, he brought the biblical text alive for his undergraduate students, teaching such renowned Trinity courses as “Major Motifs of Biblical Thought” and “Major Figures of the Bible.” With more than 200 students in his classes many semesters, he enjoyed, as a Red Sox enthusiast, bringing the sports metaphor into the classroom. He was also known for his unexpected bursts of enthusiasm, as Professor of Religion, Emeritus, John Gettier recalls, “whether jumping on top of the desk to challenge the Philistines or running around the room in search of a watering hole for the wandering Israelites.”

An avid gardener, he was known to go from office to office, all around campus, sharing his fresh fruits and vegetables with all members of the Trinity community. “He loved Trinity, and bringing his growings to campus was one of the ways in which he fostered the community,” explains Gettier. “He also stood outside the door of faculty meetings to give each faculty member one cherry tomato and then tracked down the cleaning staff of our building to see that each person had some goodies to take home to their families.”

A memorial service for Prof. Mauch will be held in April 2008.

Dr. John Gettier and I have had some brief email correspondence about Dr. Mauch. Here are some excerpts, giving a few of my thoughts:

I never had the honor of meeting James Muilenburg, but through Prof. Mauch and his love of Isaiah's poems and rhetoric, I feel I knew Muilenburg indirectly. I think both had a unique way of incarnating or embodying the very spirit of the Hebrew Bible and its characters. I looked up the little verset that the Trinity Religion Majors of 1984 wrote about Prof. Mauch on our religion retreat: You, Dr. Mauch, picked us flowers right away / And stoked up our fire, which burned through the day / You gave grace in Hebrew, and then later translated / The continuous applause showed how well it was stated / Isaiah 55 touched us all very deep / With a moment of friendship we shall always keep //

I shared the news this morning with my faculty colleague in NT, Tony Lewis, a Trinity alum who also knew Prof. Mauch. Tony's memory was of Ted's active work with social justice, which Tony remembers him pursuing with a young Trinity student, quite liberal at the time, named George Will! Of course, that was before I arrived on campus...

John wrote back and shared some lovely reminiscences about Ted. I hope he won't mind if I quote one paragraph:

When I was a young teacher, Ted taught me so much. Most importantly, he conveyed that teaching, at least at the undergraduate level, is not just about scholarship, but about touching the human heart. We teach human beings, not heads. It all bothered me at first, but then I realized he was not about preaching but about opening the entire person to the wonders of the text - and then letting him/her enjoy it as she or he would. He was amazingly tolerant and patient, giving unlimited time so that a single student might appreciate one small nugget of the text. That accomplished, he was in ecstasy. How many of his student must still revel in what they learned from him and what he stands for in their lives.

Friday, October 05, 2007

VTS Press Release: Bishop Gene Robinson at the Seminary

Just received this VTS press release about the forum on campus that many of us attended yesterday, and that many of our advisee groups discussed this morning. You'll notice that Gene made a point of holding and speaking out of the Bible (I'm glad it was an NOAB, to which I contributed!)

Bishop Gene Robinson

Alexandria, VA – Students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) packed the campus auditorium today to hear the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, who spoke to the community about living in to God’s call as a witness to justice and His love for the world.

“Humans find it difficult to handle disagreement and difference,” said the Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary, “but we are deeply committed to the imperative of living in the midst of the conversation, and it is in this spirit that we welcome Bishop Robinson to Virginia Seminary. We are deeply grateful for his kindness and willingness to do this.”

Said Robinson to the rapt audience, “It is the great gift of God to me that the Diocese of New Hampshire spends little or no time on the issues that you would suspect we would be dealing with… we are just getting on with the Gospel. I often say to people that if want to see what the church is going to be like when we [all] stop obsessing about sex, then come to the Diocese of New Hampshire.”

Reading from the sixth book of Isaiah, Robinson said, “What I say to my seminarians is that this is the context in which I want you to understand everything that you will do in Seminary… that is the template for telling the story of your own salvation at the hands of a loving God - it’s the only story that you have to tell and the only story that will change the world.”

Robinson continued, “Understanding who we are in relation to God’s goodness can only cause us to repent and to acknowledge how far short of God’s call to us that we fall… I think in order to be effective in ministry-- ordained or lay—it’s that constant reminder of our own inability to be the person that God created us to be.

“My greatest fear for the church right now is that we’ll be admirers of Jesus rather than disciples… if you and I haven’t had our hearts and our lives transformed by Jesus, then we will be hard pressed to convince anyone else that the news we have for them is good, that what God has done for us, God will not only do for them, but longs to do for them.

“We are meant to do the hard work of the Gospel,” concluded Robinson, “it’s the doing of justice that’s hard… we are meant not only to pull the drowning people from the raging river, but we are meant to walk back upstream and find out who’s throwing them in. That’s the work of justice.”

Founded in 1823, Virginia Theological Seminary is the largest of the 11 accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church. The school prepares men and women for service in the Church worldwide, both as ordained and lay ministers, and offers a number of professional degree programs and diplomas. Currently, the Seminary represents more than 55 different dioceses and 7 different countries, for service in the Church.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dr. Susan Ackerman: Women and Ancient Israelite Household Religion

Dr. Susan Ackerman
Among some fascinating streaming-video available on the Yale Divinity School website is this lecture on household religion in ancient Israel and women's place in the practice of household religion. The video is a little over an hour long, and is well worth viewing. It was recorded at Yale Divinity School on Tuesday, January 31, 2006, 5:15pm. Susan Ackerman is Professor of Religion and of Women's and Gender Studies and chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College.

To access the streaming video on the YDS WebSite, click here.

Let me highlight a few of the fascinating ideas that the video presents. First, take a look at her slide of Room No. 65 within an extended-family compound at ancient Ai.

Ai Room 65

Room 65 seems to be a distinct / dedicated shrine room within a family compound. It is not just an area within a dwelling unit (such as the area that can be observed within House 440 at Tell el-Far'ah North) but a room of its own. The room's dimensions are about 28' x 10'. There is a drainage channel in the room, probably to drain libation offerings (which could have been offered to God by the women of the compound). In the video, Ackerman uses the evidence from Ai to illuminate Judges 17-18 and the data that it may furnish us about household religion. She believes that the silver-plated figurine of the Judges text represented Israel's God YHWH, and that it stood on the sort of bench-platform that formed the focal location of the dedicated shrine in the Ai compound.

Focal Images

In this next slide, we have a close-up of the type of object that could stand on the bench-platform of a shrine room. In the case of Ai, the focal image was a pottery object that may have represented a temple with windows and with the deity's feet extending out toward the bottom. This would have symbolized the deity's presence at the shrine room. Ackerman notes in her lecture that in ancient Israel, women often made the pottery of a household, and could well be responsible for this focal object at Ai. In the Judges 17-18 story, the focal object plated with silver could have been a calf-image, such as the ones later set up at Dan and Bethel. Ackerman notes that the Judges text makes clear that it was a woman who furnished this focal object for the shrine room, specifically Micah's mother.

Ackerman makes clear towards the end of the presentation that at least the editors of Judges 17-18 looked with disfavor on the existence of the divine image / focal object in the story. First, the larger narrative makes clear that the figurine was produced from questionable, stolen silver. Second, the figurine, according to the story, ended up itself being stolen from the family compound and taken to Dan, casting a negative light on the worship objects of Dan as possibly obtained through immoral means.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Phoebe's Pictures from Renk, No. 4

Renk College

Above is one of Phoebe's shots of some of the buildings of Renk Theological College. At the left is the kitchen, in the center is the library, and at the right is one of the classrooms that was used by Phoebe in teaching Hebrew. Nudged between the library and the classroom is a dorm room with six beds for students. Phoebe reports that it has poor rain-proofing, and that water tends to flood in during rainstorms!

Hebrew Imperatives

This is the inside of Phoebe's classroom, showing a student at the blackboard. If you look closely, you can see that the class is studying the Hebrew imperatives. The visiting teachers have used the Page Kelley Hebrew Textbook with some success. Each day, they would teach Hebrew for about 5 1/2 hours!