Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The AAR Rethinks Its Split with the SBL

According to a recent update from the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion board is now proposing meeting at the same time and in the same city as the SBL. Here is the text of the update:

On April 14th the AAR issued the following statement to its members:

In light of scheduling and logistical problems connected with the proposed Independent Annual Meeting, and given the views our members expressed in our recent member survey, the [AAR] Board, in its April 12, 2008 meeting, approved a recommendation that the AAR begin scheduling concurrent, yet independent Annual Meetings with the Society of Biblical Literature as soon as is feasible.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ellen Davis' Lecture on Biblical Interpretation and Ecology

First VTS Kreitler Environmental Lecture

Susan Shillinglaw has sent out the following press release on Ellen Davis' lecture here at VTS last week, "Becoming Human: Biblical Interpretation and Ecological Responsibility."

Alexandria, VA – In celebration of Earth Day, Virginia Theological Seminary launched the first Kreitler Environmental Lecture, featuring internationally-renowned biblical scholar and environmentalist, Dr. Ellen Davis, professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School. Davis delivered an insightful lecture on "Becoming Human: Biblical Interpretation and Ecological Responsibility," where she used passages from Psalms 36 and 65 to illustrate how inseparable the “human heart and spirit is from the wellbeing of the physical world.”

“While the Old Testament is not an ecological tract,” said Davis, “it offers indispensible insight into the sources of our current ecological crisis… Jeremiah and other biblical writers saw the inevitable connection between the human heart and the state of the world… the Bible can be a source of healing in our present crisis, for both our hearts and our beleaguered planet.”

Davis pointed out that to be fully human, as God intended, mankind must remember the unity of biological life, man’s place among creatures—“creatures among countless creatures”—and man’s interdependency with the soil. “Because we have no life apart from the health of soil and water,” said Davis, “we must care for them as one would care for a beloved family member.”

Click here to read the full text of Davis’ lecture. A DVD of Dr. Davis’ lecture will be made available soon.

Here is one cool excerpt, from a section of the talk where Ellen is speaking about Psalm 36:6, "You save both human and beast, O Lord."

“Humans and animals you save, O LORD.” That line carries our imaginations back long before Sinai, to the beginning of the world, to God’s very first covenant, made through Noah “with all flesh” (Gen. 9:17). I have read this psalm dozens of times in my life, and I confess that I had never noticed that line until a few weeks ago. Probably I read past it because it runs counter to our dominant Western view that God is mainly or exclusively in the business of saving human souls, one by one...

...“Humans and animals you save, O LORD.” How is it that God’s saving regard for humans and animals alike is an answer (of sorts) to the condition of the human heart? The psalmist’s prayer continues thus:
Extend your khesed, your covenant-love, to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart. (v. 11, Eng. 10)
“Extend your khesed to us” – the inference would seem to be that our sickly hearts are healed, they become upright, as we participate in God’s own covenantal commitment to creatures both human and non-human.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Feasting on the Word

In recent days, I have been working on various "touch ups" on contributions I wrote last summer that will be included in Westminster John Knox's new Lectionary Commentary, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. The first volume in this major new resource is due out in a few months, and I can't remember mentioning the project yet in this blog. One distinctive of the project is that it provides 4 separate 1,000 word essays on each of the 4 lectionary texts for each Sunday. That amounts to 16 4-page essays on each Sunday's preaching texts. To pre-order the first volume through Cokesbury for $31, click here. To pre-order it through Amazon for $40, click here. Once the first volume appears, hopefully we can begin to discuss it in this blog. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 14, 2008

On the Origins of Verse and Chapter Divisions

Scroll Jar for the Qumran Biblical Texts

In the last few months I've received emails asking about the origins and reasonings behind the Bible's verse and chapter divisions. Sometimes these divisions make little sense, e.g., chapter 2 of Genesis sure seems to start a bit too early. For one good link introducing verse and chapter divisions and enumerations as "latecomers" in the manuscripts of Scripture, click here (PDF file). [Note: Most scholarly discussions are not really clear on why Jewish Bible and Christian Bible chapter divisions sometimes differ, usually by about one verse. The answer seems to be that when Salomon ben Ishmael took over the divisions from Stephen Langton's Vulgate system in 1330 he made some adjustments, perhaps sometimes accidently and sometimes with good reason.] The bottom line: don't place much weight at all on verse and chapter divisions in interpreting the Bible.

The copies of Scripture from BCE times had no verse enumerations. Scholars keep their places in such texts by numbering the lines of text and referring to line numbers. If you have a moment follow this link (click here) to an image of the great Isaiah scroll of Qumran, showing Isaiah 43-44 (give the image a few moments to load). You'll notice numbers in the far margins (1, 5, 10, etc.) added by the modern commentator to help keep track of lines. Interestingly, sometimes spaces in the text set apart lines of poetry (bicola) and verses. But, if you look at line 9, verse 44:3 and 44:4 clearly seem to run together. In line 10 as well, v. 4 and v. 5 appear to run together. However, some natural strophe (i.e. stanza) divisions of the poem do appear marked by extra space between lines. Thus, in line 11 a lot of extra space is left after v. 5 ends, so that Isaiah 44:6 (which begins a new strophe, or a new poem) starts on its own new line. This sort of information is interesting, as it gives us a window into how ancient interpreters at Qumran understood the poetic structure of this text!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

David Noel Freedman, May 12, 1922 - April 8, 2008

It is sad to report the death of David Noel Freedman, eminent biblical scholar, editor of the Anchor Bible series, and past president of the SBL. I last saw him in the book display at the SBL in San Diego this past November, looking very frail. There is a good press release at the UC San Diego Web News Center (click here). Freedman was classmates with Frank Cross at Johns Hopkins, where they worked on their joint dissertations together under W. F. Albright. Among his many scholarly contributions, he is widely known for his work on the psalms and Hebrew poetry. But he is equally known as a supporter of others' work, and many Anchor Bible commentaries are full of notes and comments that he generously shared with the writers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today's VTS Forum

Readers may recall my recent post on the new The Torah: A Women's Commentary (click here). Today we used the seminary forum hour today to celebrate its publication. Here are a few photos from the celebration (click to enlarge):

Many thanks to Rabbi Mindy Avra Portnoy, Rabbi of Temple Sinai, Washington, DC, for her talk on the compelling nature and significance of the new book. This event was well worth attending!

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Lyrics, by popular demand

Glad folks are enjoying the tune, "The Mesopotamians" (immediately preceeding post). It's a lot of fun! To download from iTunes, open iTunes and then click here to direct the program to the album "The Else."

The term "Mohenjo-daro" in the lyrics is not made-up. Click here for info. The entire lyrics are as follows:

The Mesopotamians
We've been driving around
From one end of this town to the other and back
But no one's ever seen us (No one's ever seen us)
Driving our Econoline van
(And no one's ever heard of our band)
And no one's ever heard of our band
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
Then they wouldn't understand a word we say,
So we'll scratch it all down into the clay
Half believing there will sometime come a day
Someone gives a damn
Maybe when the concrete has crumbled to sand
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
The Mesopotam-ish sun is beating down
And making cracks in the ground
But there's nowhere else to stand
In Mesopotamia, (No one's ever seen us)
The kingdom where we secretly reign
(And no one's ever heard of our band)
The land where we invisibly rule
As the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
This is my last stick of gum
I'm going to cut it up so everybody else gets some
Except for Ashurbanipal who says my haircut makes me look like a Mohenjo-daroan
Hey, Ashurbanipal,
I'm a Mesopotamian
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
"Hey, man, I thought that you were dead
I thought you crashed your car"
"No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar
For the Mesopotamians"
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Music Video: The Mesopotamians

HT: Eisenbrauns Booksellers

They Might Be Giants - The Mesopotamians


Eisenbrauns' April 1st "Releases"

Hearty thanks to Susan Sullivan for forwarding me these links:

Cuneiform type elements for the IBM Selectric

Cuneiform type elements for the IBM Selectric

by A.P. Ril
Winged Bull Press, 2008
Akkadian, Sumerian, and Babylonian

List Price: $600.00
Your Price: $540.00
Copyright (c) 2006-2008 Eisenbrauns, Inc.

Bring your beloved typewriter into the modern era with a complete cuneiform character set.

Available as a set of 10 (ten) 96-character elements for the Selectric III, or 21 (twenty-one) 88-character elements for the Selectric I and II. Both sets, made of precision cast pot metal, include the complete catalog of 907 Akkadian characters set as outlined in Borger's Mesopotamische Zeicehenlexikon, as well as characters to indicate lemmas, lunas, and loonies.

Bite Your Tongue

Bite Your Tongue
A Practical Guide to Impractical Phonology

by Hatta Sayyit and Augusta Summer
Edited by Felix Languealchat
Winged Bull Press, 2008
xiv + 150 pages, English
Paper, 5 x 8
List Price: $75.00
Your Price: $67.50

PART 1: Hatta Sayyit examines archaeological phonological evidence for linguists doing field research on ancient phonology. Pottery-wheel gramophonology is examined, along with tablets recently discovered by a group of lost tourists in Egypt, including fifteen new sounds unheard in modern languages.

PART 2: Augusta Summer, of the Winter Institute of Linguistics, steps through a series of training exercises designed to bring you up to date with recent discoveries, enabling you to pronounce these new sounds correctly. This mini-course will teach you how to pronounce all the sounds you'll need, including show-stoppers like the bilabial-glottal fricative (pictured on the cover).
Other exercise include Cat Got Your Tongue, The Double-Dog-Dare Flagpole Tongue Freeze and the amazingly difficult, but equally valuable, Tongue Hold. "The ability to speak multiple laguages is valuable," claims Summer, "but the ability to hold your tongue in one is priceless."


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

MAR-SBL Election Results

At our business meeting in New Brunswick, the following MAR-SBL officers were elected for 2008-2009:

A. Past President: Chip Dobbs-Allsopp
B. 2009 President: Natalie Houghtby-Haddon
C. Vice President: Kent Sparks
D. Regional Coordinator: Jeremy Schipper
E. At-Large Representative 1: Michael Willett Newheart
F. At-Large Representative 2: Mark Leuchter
G. Student Representative: Amy Peeler

Congratulations to the new board! N.B. Yes, having finished my term, I'm handing over the Regional Coordinator post to Jeremy, who will be terrific at it. I'll be sticking around to help him, though...