Friday, August 31, 2007

2008 MAR-SBL Plenary Speaker

On behalf of the MAR-SBL board, I am very pleased to announce that this year's MAR-SBL conference speaker will be Dr. Choon-Leong Seow, Princeton Seminary’s Henry Snyder Gehman Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature. Dr. Seow will address us on some fascinating aspects of paradox in Job.

Dr. Seow specializes in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the history of ancient Israelite religion, Northwest Semitic philology, and the history of biblical interpretation and reception. His many publications include the Anchor Bible Commentary on Ecclessiastes (Doubleday 1997).

To visit Dr. Seow's PTS page, click here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

MAR-SBL Call for Papers

Call For Papers!

I have been working hard preparing this years MAR-SBL Call for Papers, and am pleased to now have it posted in draft form at our regional SBL Website. To take a look, click here. Corrections and comments are welcome at this stage, before we email the Call out to our entire Mid-Atlantic SBL region.

This Year's VTS Convocation

This year's VTS Alumni Convocation will be held Tuesday, October 2 through Wednesday, October 3. Come meet our new Dean and President and attend the Sprigg Lectures, which will focus on the theme, Religious Discourse in Our National Life as Perceived and Reported by the Media." Respected journalists, Juan Williams and Judy Woodruff, will discuss the role faith plays in today's American culture.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Our VTS Dean's Blog ("Dean's Commentary")

Our new seminary dean and president, Dr. Ian Markham, is publishing a daily commentary of about 200 words on the VTS website. He hopes to keep everyone connected and in-touch with what's going on in the president's office and at VTS in general. The commentary is quite public, so feel free to check it out by clicking here. Today's commentary (Aug. 28) caught my eye, since it has some nice words about me and my NT colleage John Yieh. Thank you, Ian!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Now Online: My Review of Jon Levenson on Resurrection

Now in Print!
The SBL's Review of Biblical Literature has just published my review of Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life. To access the review, simply click here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Planning the 2008 Mid-Atlantic Regional Society of Biblical Literature Conference


The MAR-SBL board has been working hard on this year's conference. I hope to post a call for papers sometime in the next week or so. Meanwhile, let me at least post the basic details:

This year's conference will be held March 27-28, 2008 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey. You can view a photo gallery of the hotel by clicking here. To visit the MAR-SBL site, click here.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Passing of Dr. Ted Mauch

I've learned that one of my college professors of Hebrew Bible Dr. Ted Mauch passed away in his sleep on Sunday (August 19) in Cape Cod, where he spent his retirement years. He evidently died peacefully. In a coming post I'd like to say more about Prof. Mauch, who was a wonderful and unique teacher of the Old Testament, really an unforgettable figure. I am very thankful for having known him, and for having studied with him, if only briefly. It is hard to believe he is gone.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Now in Print: NIDB Volume 2

Volume 2 (D-H) of the The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, et al.; Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2007) is now out and available. This volume includes three of my articles: "Destiny" (p. 105), "Eschatology of the Old Testament" (pp. 299-308), and "Fate" (pp. 434-435).


To visit the official NIDB site, and see a quick video presentation by the editor, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Old Testament professor at Princeton Seminary, click here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dr. Timothy Sedgwick Appointed New Academic Dean

My good colleague in ethics, and next-door neighbor, Professor Tim Sedgwick has accepted Dean Markham's appointment to be the next Dean of Academic Affairs at Virginia Seminary. Our congratulations and best wishes go to Tim as he takes up this new post here at VTS.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Results of the AABS Student Paper Competition

Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars

Sadly, again our VTS entry did not take the AABS prize. We have been informed that this year's winner was Kathryn Reinhard from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, for a paper on Qoheleth, with an honorable mention awarded to Fred Rogers from General, for a paper on Romans. Warm congratulations to Kathryn and to Fred.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Student's Perspective on Hebrew Class

We have finished the first week of VTS August Hebrew. This year's class is doing very well indeed. Going through my Hebrew teaching files, I found the following Washington Post piece from three or four years ago by a student (Katherine Brown) who took summer Hebrew across the Potomac at Wesley Seminary. Her notes on her experience are worth reading:

The book arrives two days after I order it online. The UPS man drops it off, bangs twice on the door and is already halfway back down the walk when I retrieve the package. I open the box. The book slides out into my hand. It is a small, heavy volume with a red-brown cover: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. I riffle through pages that still cling to each other. The print is small and squared with tiny flourishes and dots. It looks random, not like letters. It takes faith to believe that these shapes can be read.

The first morning of class, we chant the alphabet through: "alef, bet, gimmel, dalet." We are all seminarians. We are also social workers, teachers, headhunters, lawyers, associate pastors. We are Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed Church of America and United Church of Christ. We are single, married, divorced and widowed. Megan is pregnant; Ann's husband is in Iraq. We are 11 women and three men gathered for six summer weeks at Wesley Theological Seminary to learn Biblical Hebrew.

I spend the first night murmuring the letters, copying them until my arm aches. The next day we meet the vowels, the tiny dots and dashes generally placed under the letters. We sound out words. We dive into translating texts. I struggle with the shapes and sounds washing over me, unable to imagine them ever resolving into meaning. "Trust me," the professor insists briskly, "You'll get it. In two weeks you'll be reading this page." I am overwhelmed, as in a wave, swirled head over heels until I'm not sure which way is up, dumped sandy and spitting, eyes streaming, on the shore. And then the next wave is along. No sure footing, no knowing how to swim under and through in this wide sea.

"Why are you studying Hebrew?" my husband asks. Even in this first week I can tell him already we have glimpsed the wonderful and terrifying breadth of the language. The noun that means "words" also means "events" or "actions" -- speaking twined with doing. The verb that means "to be" also means "to become" or "to happen."

We learn to parse verbs. We learn to peel away the extra letters, to add back the missing, to consider again the whole.

I learn to read with my tongue, as well as my eyes. Sometimes this doing -- reading aloud -- leads me to understand what I think I do not know.

I start to recognize some of the words. The four-letter word that English Bibles translate as "the LORD" is one of the easiest to see. Faced with a new passage I look first for this word; this leaves that many fewer words to translate. Scholars suggest that this Tetragrammaton is derived from the verb root "to be, to become, to happen." The very name of God, then, encompasses not just static perfection complete and achieved but the causing yet to be, creation yet becoming.

Week after week we take quizzes. Each time my initial response is a flight of panic -- the wave curving over me again -- how can I tell the meaning of so many Hebrew letters? (No longer do I doubt that they hold meaning, only my own ability to access it.) I limit my focus. Word by word the text emerges from the murk.

We learn grammatical rule after rule, seemingly compounded with as many exceptions. (In intermediate Hebrew, we joke, the professor will reveal that there really are no rules.) The patterning is elusive but apparent, as much art as science. Slowly we start to build a sense of what is present and must be peeled away; what is missing and must be added. We are not memorizing the language but we are beginning to internalize it. Not yet swimming, but entered into the rocking water.

The class picks up speed. We are getting through entire chapters -- although still, the occasional selection of wrong verb root results in a Mad Libs-type translation. We are giddy, enthusiastic, frustrated, amazed. One by one we dream Hebrew: dancing letters, difficult passages. We design a T-shirt with the legend in Hebrew.

The final exam is three hours of translating a passage we've not seen before. When we finish we gather on the hill for a picnic -- a half-planned potluck with boiled eggs and falafel, pita and hummus, just-picked tomatoes.We stand in a circle, holding hands, hearing the blessing in Hebrew. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe.

I didn't learn to read Hebrew in six weeks. I learned that I shall be reading this sea for the rest of my life, even knowing I will never understand it all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Possible Origin of Vowel Writing

I wanted to elevate one of yesterday's comments to a post of its own, the comment by one of my Hebrew students, Episcopal friar Thomas Bushnell. As part of our discussion of the origins of the alphabet in Western civilization, Thomas mentioned the interesting theory that the Greeks' addition of vowels to the previously all-consonant Semitic alphabet had a lot to do with Homer's strong use of different dialects of Greek in his literature. These dialects could not be indicated in writing very well, or at all, without the use of vowel symbols. Hence, the Greeks, and all of us today, now write with vowels. Interesting theory! In yesterday's comment, he added that this theory is very well expressed in the nifty book Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet, by Barry B. Powell. Thomas states, "It has not, by any means, achieved any kind of consensus. but it's a fun story."

For a neat animation tracing the Semitic alphabet through the Greeks to us today, click here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer Hebrew at VTS Launched Today

Beginning Biblical Hebrew

Today, August term 2007 classes got under way, and I started the Hebrew alphabet with a class of 25. By all accounts, we are off to a fine start.

My thanks to one of the students, Tracey Kelly, for emailing a few neat learning resources. The first is a Website with flashcards for learning the Hebrew alphabet (click here). The second is a set of video-podcasts of the Hebrew alphabet (in a southern accent!) by Lee Roy Martin (click here).
Speaking of video-podcasts, there is one on the origins of the alphabet by David L. Adams available free at i-Tunes (open i-Tunes, click here, and select video 13, session 7/3).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Reading with the Damned!

Back in June, Casey S., one of my former students, now a priest at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, recommended a book entitled, Reading the Bible with the Damned. Though I have not yet had a chance to read it, I thought I'd pass along his words of praise. If any readers have looked at it, please add a comment below.

Casey writes: [The author] chronicles his experience of reading the Bible with the inmates and undocumented migrant workers of central Washington state. It is an eye-opening book about an under-explored hermeneutical approach to reading Scripture. Particularly powerful and provocative were the parts where he reads Genesis 1 and 2 with inmates, and what revelations/insights they are able to hear, entirely unprompted. We had Bob Eckblad visit Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, where I work, and he was an amazing man. He lives an extraordinary life of patient, simple dedication to the marginalized of our society.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

ELCA Annual Assembly Votes to Allow Pastors in Gay Relationships

2007 ELCA Assembly

Reuters and MSNBC are reporting the following news from the Lutheran Church:

Clergy members who are in homosexual relationships will be able to serve as pastors, the largest U.S. Lutheran body said Saturday.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed a resolution at its annual assembly urging bishops to refrain from disciplining pastors who are in “faithful committed same-gender relationships.”

Friday, August 10, 2007

Raccoons in the Chapel!

Racoons in the chapel

Baby raccoons fell from the ceiling into the seminary chapel this morning. Susan Shillinglaw captured several great photos of them, before the buildings and grounds crew escorted them all out. Fritz, one of the escorts, emailed that the whole episode reminded him of the song, "Ra-coon-a-ma-ta-da..."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

YDS Hires New Asst. Prof. of OT

Yale Divinity School has a new faculty member in OT, a young Jewish scholar trained at Harvard named Joel Baden. Their official news release reads as follows:

Joel Baden, YDS faculty

...Baden, a specialist in the Pentateuch and Biblical Hebrew, joins the YDS faculty in 2007-08 as assistant professor of Old Testament. He is particularly interested in the issue of Pentateuchal and Deuteronomistic composition and redaction.

Baden has presented papers on source criticism and other methods of reading the biblical text, as well as the nature of the priestly strand of the Torah. Current projects include a study of the combination of the J and E strands in the Pentateuch and a series of articles on the syntax of volitive sequences in Biblical Hebrew. Future projects include a number of articles on detailed source-critical treatments of various passages in the Pentateuch, a handbook on the methodology of source criticism, and a study of the differing redactional techniques in the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History.

Baden, the only Jewish member of the regular faculty, holds a B.A. from Yale University, and M.A. from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Visit from Kevin Wilson

Kevin and the Cooks

Fellow biblical scholar Kevin Wilson stayed overnight with us in late July. I'm only getting to post this group shot of him with the Cook-family now. It was a fun visit, and we enjoyed catching up with Kevin. As you probably know, his Bible blog can be found at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ellen and Peter Safe Home from Sudan

Dulles International Airport

Just a note that I picked up Ellen and Peter at Dulles last night, their plane arriving pretty much on time at 8:15. They reported that their flight was smooth. It was great fun hearing of their adventures on the drive back to Alexandria, where they stayed the night before driving home to Duke. Peter is going to email some of the pictures he took in Sudan, and when I receive them, I'll get some posted here on the blog.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Yesterday's Update from Sudan

On Sunday at 11 am (EST), Ellen's husband Dwayne logged the following update:

I have just talked to Peter and Ellen. They are together in Khartoum making a record of expenses, and preparing for an early morning take off from the airport. Ellen will be off to a service at the Cathedral when she is off the phone. All are still feeling wonderful. Their health has been great throughout. The trip from Renk to Khartoum was good - no flooding. Although Peter said it rained in Renk after they left, and he wasn't sure what the return trip would be like for those who are going back (and for Lauren who was to arrive about midnight tonight). Peter remarked at how quickly NGOs moved in to deal with the consequences of the rains -- building tent cities and clinics, dredging out mud, and changing water filters. Peter has learned much and is looking forward to a time when he can return to build on what he has learned this time. And of course, Peter and Ellen are looking forward to being back (later Monday night in Alexandria, mid-day in the Raleigh Durham area). And I am impressed with our informal network here in the US has worked and grateful that so many of us where able to be in touch with the Sudanese travelers and with each other. ---Dwayne Huebner

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Updates from The Team in Sudan

Well, Ellen and Peter arrive at Dulles tomorrow (Monday) evening, and I shall try to pick them up and drive them back here to VTS. In the meantime, let me continue with the updates from the past few days. Jo Bailey Wells spoke to Peter on Thursday, and logged the following report:

Our visiting trio continue in high spirits. I spoke with Peter just now (having missed their gathering over dinner) who suggested I tell you ‘we are all safe, healthy, amazed, and humbled’. Peter and Ellen are doing further clinic and teaching tomorrow (which astounded me), having found a way around spending the whole of their last day in Renk receiving Sudani thank-you tributes. Sounds like Ellen has brilliantly engineered a final session where the students share their insights – I sure hope Ellen and Andrew write these down for our learning also – likely to focus, I gather, on the way an understanding of Leviticus has enabled a re-narration of their childhood experiences of sacrifice. Meanwhile Dr Peter and Dr Paul have been exchanging advice on how each responds to a scenario – no case of one ‘correcting’ the other between these colleagues, yet clearly significant development of skills and practices.

Peter commented that they’re returning with a new inspiration of how to love God with heart and soul, as well as the mind. And yet, he said, how hard these Sudanis work; how keen they are to learn.


Also on Thursday, Peter himself logged the following report:

As we run down on our time here in Renk – except for Andrew, who will be here another two weeks – I think we are running down the students. They are tired, have little time for homework, but remain incredibly enthusiastic about learning, Greek, and Dr Ellen's teaching of Exous, Leviticus and Duet in Hebrew – a double learning.

Andrew is a hit with the students, following Deborah, in drilling them in their Greek, and helping newcomers try to catch up.

We have also had a few meetings about how to continue the program: the new unity government is offering higher salaries and people leave, there is still little infrastructure, and they would really like to offer a BA – but that means two indigenous PhDs on faculty. We are wondering if two DMin's would work.

I think I have been found out, as the clinics become busier and busier, with more and more children brought in. I think we are seeing at least 10 children an hour (which means, barely seeing, with malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia the most common diagnoses – I have used my inexpensive otoscope to look at ears and have found a few ear infections. Dr Paul and I work together better and better, each trusting one another to do exams. We actually do practice similarly – even tho he is a medical assistant, he has as many years experience as I do seeing patients. We now consult each other on medications and agree most of the time. Of course, every medicine here has a different trade name, so I am often lost.

Tonight, I saw 10 patients in the compound, most from the church, who "followed" me home, shall we say. Though I enjoy it, I must admit I prefer the 5 hours a day in clinic, with the rest of the time thinking about public health approaches. I gave two lectures –well, interactive conversations with an interpreter, one to women, one to men, on the largest public health problems this country faces. Interesting – between my numbers of cases and these focus groups I am getting an impression of the needs and the acknowledgement of needs and the potential opportunity to meet some of those needs – it will be a process as long as one that starts a theological college.

Please continue to pray for the success of the church in Sudan.


The Recent Discovery of the Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet

Well, this is pretty cool, and it is another blow to minimalist scholars who date the composition of the Bible to Hellenistic times. Last month, a scholar named Michael Jursa discovered the name a figure from the book of Jeremiah on one of the 130,000 cuneiform tablets housed in the British Museum. It strongly appears that the tablet, a Babylonian temple receipt, mentions the same Chief Eunuch Nebo-sarsekim as Jeremiah 39:3 does (or at least they both mention an historical figure with this exact name). This discovery has been widely blogged about over the last few weeks. For sample discussion, click here and here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Christopher Seitz Moving from Scottland to University of Toronto

The Wycliffe College WebSite confirms it (click here): Chris Seitz is taking up a new post there (the evangelical Anglican seminary at the University of Toronto). Starting this January 1st, he will be "professor of biblical interpretation."

George Sumner, Wycliffe’s principal, writes: “Chris Seitz is one of the foremost Old Testament scholars writing in English today, and we are excited to have him join the Wycliffe faculty. Like his teacher Brevard Childs, he has displayed historical critical expertise, but has gone on to put this at the disposal of a deep Scriptural and theological project."

Bishop Lee Defrocks Twenty Priests in Virginia

Today's Washington Times Reports the Following:

Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee has ejected 20 of his former clergy from the priesthood after they quit the denomination in December over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is openly homosexual.
In a document signed Aug. 1, the bishop defrocked 18 men and two women, saying they had "abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church." For the full online article, click here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Today's News from Renk

Peter sends this email today from Sudan:

Re: Fashion in Renk

We went to the souk just two days ago, to the garment district where – with the help of Mary (married to the young Fr Sapana), and MaDouf, our driver, who proves himself to have quite the fashion sense – we had wrinkled noses when we chose fabrics that were not approved, and a nod if we were more tasteful. I was, apparently, saved from myself by Mary who not only wrinkled her nose, but said no to a pattern that had large antelopes charging.

It can't be a secret that we also bought dresses for Ellen, Sherri, and Sara – with Ellen being our model (she stands 5'4", and is slighter of frame than Sara and Sheri, but was a great stand in).

We await these custom made garments. I might say that the garment district in Renk is somewhat different from NY, with goats and sheep and cows aimlessly walking the streets and donkey carts moving cargo from one spot to the other (maybe not so different from NY after all).

It is now more a "regular" rainy season, with lighter rains each night, but very deep mud that clings to everything everywhere.

Still, we have had the privilege of Bishop Daniel and Bishop Hilary both staying in the compound and joining us for meals and conversation. Bp. Daniel cut quite a figure with a bright shirt and short combination (men do not where shorts here – of course, his could serve in the NBA, except for the colors).

We continue to be well, we have students join us for meals, and conversation, to hear their stories. Our hosts couldn't be better to us.

Blessings to all. I hope giving a little color, shall we say, makes the trip just a bit more accessible. Though we pray morning, noon, and night, we aren't above a trip to the market.

New Commentary by Dr. Tony Lewis

I am very pleased to warmly congratulate my colleague and friend the Rev. Dr. Lloyd A. Lewis for his contributions to the new volume, True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (edited by Brian Blount and published by Fortress Press). Tony Lewis (as he is known to his friends) wrote the commentary on Colossians and Philemon in this work.

Our dean, Ian Markham, writes: "This is research which contributes to all three of our research constituencies: it is the first African American commentary on the New Testament and therefore important to the guild on New Testament scholars. It serves the entire Church of Christ by providing this perspective. And it serves the Episcopal Church in providing a resource that calls us to create a just world. Virginia Theological Seminary needs to continue to work to create an environment where African American students can study and grow. This volume is a resource that can help us do that."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Update from Renk

Dwayne, Ellen's husband, spoke with her at 12:30 EST yesterday (July 31, 2007), and emailed the following update:

All are well, and spirits are high.

Yesterday was shopping day, with a trip to the market for fabrics, clothing, and who knows what else. Everyone had fun, including their driver.

The weather continues to provide some rain at night. The Sudanese claim that the hard rains, which they had earlier in the week, are very unusual – usually coming in August. (Global warming?) Ellen said the Sunday rain was torrential - harder than anything she has every seen, (flooding the latrines) but the rain Monday night was more gentle. The school has not yet managed to collect rain for drinking and other uses, although in the compound where they stay the collection of rain water is working. Peter’s push to collect rain water for the school has been reinforced by Bishop Daniel, who said he has done it elsewhere in Sudan. Because water for general use comes from the Nile, which has been stirred up by the heavy rains, potable water is not available for many. The team members have bottled water, but must limit their bathing.

Bishop Hilary and Bishop Daniel are both in Renk, each having set aside time to plan with the team. Ellen has spent a couple of hours each of these past two days planning with them.. Bishop Hillary would like a similar project in Malakai. The two bishops, and Father Joseph, have suggested that it would be great if teaching teams could come three times a year rather than twice a year. Ellen had to nix both suggestions – energy and money reasons. She pointed out that the financing for this project has two sources - Jackie Kraus and her church in Chicago, and the efforts from the Duke team. Neither is funded by grants, or the institution, but by the efforts of the many volunteers. In addition, planning and organizing the teaching teams originates from Ellen’s desk and taking on more such administrative work would detract her from other professional obligations and interests.

Peter has been in the clinic in the morning – which sees 60 people in 2 1/2 hours. He is thinking about how the clinic can be more effective, and how new midwifes could be trained. He has called attention to the fact that a two week trip by another doctor from US could pay the salary of a local midwife for two years. Peter is eager to provide help for the long haul, but recognizes that frequent return trips is not the most constructive contribution.

Andrew clearly has identified that Africa is to be part of his vocation. Besides teaching, he has helped Fr. Joseph with business stuff.

Ellen said that the three of them make a perfect team - much more than the sum of the parts.

Ellen has been teaching about sacrifice in Leviticus for two days. She acknowledged that the Sudanese students are familiar with sacrifice in their daily lives as well as in their tribal tradition. So she began the class by asking students to tell of their own experiences. Once the hesitation was overcome, many spoke of their experiences, and the connection with Leviticus was natural for them.

Renk has changed significantly since Ellen was there three years ago. Fewer signs of the “iron age” culture. More cars, bikes, electricity – cell phone towers and cell phones. Even access to the inter-net for those who came prepared (and I gather Andrew did.)

Peter and Ellen depart for Khartoum on Saturday. Andrew has scheduled two more weeks in Renk.