Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Antisemitism and the Image of Judas

I attended a fascinating forum here at the seminary today on the major changes that have just been made here at VTS to the "Betrayal of Jesus by Judas Window" in our campus chapel. The forum was led by Peggy Parker, artist and adjunct professor and Kate Sonderegger, VTS Professor of Theology. Kate discovered the antisemitic portrayal of Judas in the first window on the left as you enter the north door of our chapel. (The window was a catalog order from a major stained-glass firm in Bavaria, dating from the pre-Nazi era.) In the forum Kate pointed out such features as the green complexion and stereotypical "hooked" nose that reflect a tradition of demonizing Judaism that was later picked up by the Nazis. Here is the original image:


Peggy created a new depiction of Judas for the window, and flew to a stained-glass shop in Iowa to personally help create the new glass piece. It has now been inserted into the window in the chapel. Comments on the image are welcome.


The intention is to display the old image fragments in a hallway of the chapel or somewhere on campus, in order that Christians take responsibility for the part of Christian history that represented Jews in this manner, rather than embrace Jesus' Jewishness and identify ourselves in Judas' betrayal.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Review of Missing Priests, by Alice Hunt

Now In Print
Just received in the mail the latest issue (Vol. 71, No. 2) of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and it contains a book review I wrote reflecting on the history of the Israelite priesthood, particularly the Zadokites. Take a look if you have a chance; comments welcome!

Stephen L. Cook, Review of Missing Priests: The Zadokites in Tradition and History, by Alice Hunt, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 71 (2009) 372–73.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

VTS Press Release on "Lamentations" and "Obadiah"

Alexandria, VA – The books of Lamentations and Obadiah have been added to Virginia Theological Seminary’s (VTS) online Bible Briefs collection, a series of tract-size, highly readable pamphlets introducing the books of Scripture. Offered in collaboration with Forward Movement, Bible Briefs is a long-term project that aims to produce texts to all 66 books of the Bible.

The Lamentations addition to the Bible Briefs collection was written by the Rev. Dr. Christian M. M. Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College at the Pennsylvania State University and Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. He has written many articles on the rabbinic interpretation of the Five Scrolls and a book on the rabbinic Targum of Lamentations.

“The book of Lamentations is one of the smallest works in the Bible and yet one of the most powerful and enigmatic.” writes Brady. “It’s not just an outpouring of emotion, however, it also contains a profound theological reflection and response to the problem of sin and suffering.”

The Bible Briefs pamphlet on Obadiah was written by Dr. Jim West, adjunct professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and pastor of Petros Baptist Church, Petros, Tennessee. He has written a number of books and articles and serves as Language Editor for the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament.

States West, “Obadiah is seldom read in many corners of Christendom because it has some of the harshest language against enemies outside of Psalm 137… [yet] even in a book on the surface thoroughly about punishment and vindication, in the end it is really God’s grace that is vindicated and proven in the right.”

The Bible Briefs are offered on the VTS web site free of charge.

To view the actual press release, click here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Psalm 137 Music Videos, continued

I mentioned in yesterday's post the existence of more popular versions of Psalm 137. Students in my class mentioned Boney M's version, which Erich Zenger also mentions in his treatment of the psalms of divine wrath, A God of Vengeance? Here is the YouTube video:

The tune predates Boney M, going back to the Melodians, whom I have posted on previously (click here). Here is the YouTube Medodians' video:

My thanks to the visitor who commented on yesterday's post, and left a link to the YouTube video presenting Jimmy Cliff's acepella (plus drums) Reggae version. I'm not quite sure why Psalm 137 appears so conducive to a Reggae expression. Commments?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Psalm 137: Matisyahu, "Jerusalem"

Click to Play Music Video

My psalms class recently spent an hour studying Psalm 137. One of the students in the class, Mike Angell, drew our attention to this contemporary rendering of Psalm 137 by Matisyahu (a fascinating Jewish artist who combines Reggae, Rap, and catchy beats).

Do check out the song (and the video) on YouTube by clicking here.

The class was quite taken by the song, and spent some time thinking about the lyrics. One striking feature is the theological focus: the psalm's focus on Jerusalem is not about the political entity but about the dwelling place of God's majesty. Another striking feature is that unlike many musical presentations of Psalm 137, this one does not shy away from a rendering of the final imprecatory stanza. Babylon is presented burning, chopped down for dirty ways, "not ok, oh no way, not ok." Take a look at the lyrics below: observations and comments welcome.

"Jerusalem" lyrics

[Chorus] Jerusalem, if I forget you,
fire not gonna come from me tongue.
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do.

In the ancient days, we will return with no delay
Picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We've been traveling from state to state
And them don't understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be
And they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don't you see, it's not about the land or the sea
Not the country but the dwelling of his majesty

Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory
Years gone by, about sixty
Burn in the oven in this century
And the gas tried to choke, but it couldn't choke me
I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep
They come overseas, yes they're trying to be free
Erase the demons out of our memory
Change your name and your identity
Afraid of the truth and our dark history
Why is everybody always chasing we
Cut off the roots of your family tree
Don't you know that's not the way to be

Caught up in these ways, and the worlds gone craze
Don't you know it's just a phase
Case of the Simon says
If I forget the truth then my words won't penetrate
Babylon burning in the place, can't see through the haze
Chop down all of them dirty ways,
That's the price that you pay for selling lies to the youth
No way, not ok, oh no way, not ok, hey
Aint no one gonna break my stride
Aint no one gonna hold me down
Oh no, I got to keep on moving
Stay alive

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An End-of-the-Quarter Book Signing

Here is Dean Markham's On-Line Commentary Yesterday:

Yesterday’s lunchtime forum was a delightful occasion. With ice-cream, cookies, and coffee, we celebrated the publications of two books. Dr. Stephen Cook’s delightful book Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah was subject to a critique from Dr. Bob Miller. Then the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Prichard spoke about his latest book, Cohabitating Couples & Cold Feet: A Practical Marriage-Preparation Guide for Clergy. In his talk Bob spoke with humor and illumination about the evolution of his study of marriage.

Both of these books are intended to make a difference to clergy and churches. Although there is much in these books that is distinctive and based upon primary research, in the end they are not primarily written for the academy, but for churches. They are texts that make a difference to the challenge of preaching and pastoral care.

The authors made themselves available to sign copies of their books. So as the forum finished, it was good to see students leaving with copies of these books to read and study.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Shepherd's Rod in Psalm 23

Today I've been grading short papers on Psalm 23, which the OT-2 students read in conjunction with some essays giving three global perspectives on this particular psalm. The African perspective by Hannah Kinoti mentions examples of the violence and ferocity of shepherding. In one example, twelve-year-old Semoine threw a spear into a lion's chest and had his head mauled. In another, eighty-three-year old Chege went on the offensive and set a trap for a leopard. Despite getting himself painfully wounded, he used his club/rod to beat the leopard's head.

Here is an illustration of the violent shepherd of Psalm 23 from Jonathan Hayward's site (to visit the site, click here):

God as the shepherd is aggressive against God's enemies, risks God's life to save our lives. The term שׁבט ("rod") in v. 4 of Psalm 23 clearly carries the sense of something able to beat, smite, and slay. Like Semoine in Africa, God defends God's sheep to the death. God makes God's self vulnerable enough to be mauled.

The aggressiveness of God's shepherding carries over into God's aggressive pursuit of our salvation. God twists our souls back when we face into death's abyss (v. 3a). According to the Hebrew of v. 6 of Psalm 23, God's goodness and lovingkindess actually "pursue," even "persecute" (רדף) God's followers. As the "hound of heaven," God chases us down with God's rod until God's mercy catches up with us and saves us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Prayers Requested for Virginia Theological Seminary

Alexandria, VA – At the direction of the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), the Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president, announced layoffs last week in an attempt to reduce salaries...by $1 million.

So reads the latest VTS press release. The news of faculty and staff being laid off came this past Thursday. It looks like six souls are laid off or otherwise let go, with nine others taking some form of early or good retirement.

Barney Hawkins, our new director of development, wrote to our alumni yesterday as follows: On Thursday, March 12—the day of the layoffs—Dean Markham spoke at a forum about the restructuring and listened as many people shared a wide range of emotions. There are those in the community who strongly disagree with the actions taken by the Dean at the direction of the Board of Trustees, and there has been no attempt to silence their voices. After the forum, the Dean walked around campus, visited people in their offices and listened as our community reacted to this difficult time with its unsettling consequences.

Complete information on who is affected in the restructuring is not yet available. Dean Markham is giving those people leaving the seminary time to tell those closest to them before their names are made public. What is public at this time is that Marge McNaughton, my friend, faculty colleague, and dean of community life will be leaving. Robin Brokmeyer, the director of our daughter's preschool, is also laid off. So too is Mark Rivenburg, director of information technology and Joe Pindar in mail services.

This dark time at the seminary came upon us very suddenly, and it is still hard for must of us to take in and comprehend. We imagine ourselves in the place of those losing their income, their vocation, their community; we contemplate their prayer to God: שׁתני בבור תחתיות במחשׁכים במצלות׃ "You have plunged me to the bottom of the grave, in the darkness, in the depths..." (Psalm 88:6).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Free Online: Lamentations and Obadiah Bible Briefs

Click Me!

As editor of the Bible Briefs series (click here), I am very pleased to report the availability of two new booklets. Dr. Christian M. M. Brady has authored Lamentations (click here to download the PDF file) and Dr. Jim West has authored Obadiah (click here to download the PDF file). Both booklets are full of insight and thoughtful reflection, and both are very fitting reading as we enter into Lent. Interestingly, both authors have Bible Blogs, on which they are naturally spreading the word of these releases (click here and here).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Graphic Hebrew Jonah

Charles Grebe of Briercrest Seminary has a site called animatedhebrew.com, on which he has a neat interactive, illustrated version of Jonah with the book's entire Hebrew text read aloud. This would be a fun tool for those learning Hebrew. Shockwave is required, and the audio-book does takes some time to load since it is 16 MB in size. There are some neat features, including the ability to display the Hebrew script in square, cursive, and even paleo characters. You click on each caption bubble to hear the Hebrew. To access, click here.

Click to go to the Jonah Comic

Monday, March 02, 2009

2009 MAR-SBL Program

The program for this year's MAR-SBL conference is now available as a PDF download (click here). Registration details are on the last page. Don't miss the meetings, to be held March 26–27, 2009 (Thursday-Friday) at THE RADISSON HOTEL AT CROSS KEYS, 5100 Falls Road, 100 Village Square, Baltimore, MD 21210.