Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Visualizing Innerbiblical Connections

My friend and former seminarian, the Rev. Peter M. Carey had an interesting post on his blog recently, which discusses the visual-complexity project to visualize the phenomenon of cross-reference within the two testaments (click here for Peter's post and click here for the visualization project).

Here is a snippet of what Peter writes, "I ran across this fascinating article at The Episcopal Cafe on "visualizing the Bible." In these images, one sees the connections between the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the New Testament. The colorful arches reach across the centuries and show in a wonderful visual way the ways that the Hebrew Scriptures informed the New Testament."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus Coming Online

I've blogged about this project before (click here), but the news media is now announcing that it is imminent (click here). Codex Sinaiticus (imaged above, click to enlarge) is coming online this Thursday, at least some significant initial parts of it. High resolution images of the Gospel of Mark, "several Old Testament books," and notes on the work made over centuries will appear on as a first step towards publishing the entire manuscript online by next July. To access the site (after July 24 when it goes live), click here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why So Many Biblical Commentaries?

The Commentary
Have you every wondered why biblical scholars write so many commentaries on biblical books? Prof. Alan Lenzi has some very interesting reflections on the question over on his blog (click here).

I'm sure it's true that much commentary writing is just the field re-writing itself on a cyclical basis---and the cycles seem to be getting shorter all the time! Makes you wonder if all your efforts as an author will really be remembered for long! On the other hand, I think of many useful commentaries that have appeared since I was in divinity school, that the church and the guild really are the richer for.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Qumran Visualization, Post 5: The Dining Hall (Meals at Qumran)

Here is my Post 5 on Qumran Visualization (linking to the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project).

First are two photos from my own slide-collection of the Qumran Dining Area and Pantry. Following is an image of the reconstruced Dining Area and an image of the pantry from the Visualization Project and then the new YouTube video of "Meals at Qumran" from the project. The video takes you into the dining area from a locale near the flour mill. You also get to walk into the pantry to see its two chambers and some of the pottery.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Qumran Visualization, Post 4: The Scriptorium

Here is my Post 4 on Qumran Visualization (linking to the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project.)

First are two photos from my own slide-collection of the Qumran Scriptorium. All that is left of course are the walls of the ground-floor section of the building. At the bottom of the post is the newly available YouTube video of the reconstructed scriptorium, which clearly shows how much more there was to the building than can now be seen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Qumran Visualization, Post 3: The Miqvah at Locus 117

Here is my Post 3 on Qumran Visualization (linking to the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project.)

First are two photos from my own slide-collection of the Locus 117 Miqvah / Mikvah (ritual bath). Next is the short movie of the reconstructed/virtual locus by the Visualization Project.

Qumran Visualization, Post 2: The Pottery Workshop

This post continues the short series I started yesterday to log the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project. Here is my own photo of one of the kilns at the Qumran pottery workshop, followed first by the Visualization Project's reconstruction of "the locus 64 and 84 pottery workshop at Qumran, facing northeast." [Image by Robert R. Cargill.(c) Copyright 2007]

Now, here is the project's view of the locus 64 and 84 ovens/kilns at Qumran, facing directly north.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Virtual Qumran (Short Video)

A view of the north side of the reconstructed Khirbet Qumran fortress, facing south towards the Dead Sea

The UCLA Qumran Visualization Project (click here) has been making available some neat movies and images based on their virtual model of the Qumran site, the locale associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think it is well worth doing a few posts on this material so as to give a wider audience access to it. I'll start with Trailer # 1 for the virtual model and the Aerial Overview of the site.

To download this move as a 194 MB file (.mov), which will take about 15 minutes over a high speed connection, right-click here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Update on Sudan 2008 Mission

Sudan's president being charged with genocide today reminds me to post some updates on our summer 2008 team in Sudan. I'm about a week behind on the Sudan mission, in part because I was diverted by the buzz about "Gabriel's Revelation."

archival photo: Renk Classroom

Ellen Davis and physician Peter held a seminar with the women of Renk, with Ellen reading from Proverbs on wisdom, making the point that theology and community health are quite interrelated. There was discussion of wisdom and "good sense." Peter Atem struggled to translate "good sense" and to everyone's marvel said that the Dinka word for sense already has a designated word in English: holy. So, in a community of caring, where people are striving to be in the right relationships with each other, community health is more than hand washing, more than not drinking diseased water; it is using the wisdom of the elders (the old) and the good sense (the new) to get your neighbor medical attention when they are ill. Everyone joined in the discussion and talked openly and animatedly.

Our VTS student teacher on the scene, Clarisse has proven to be a superb teacher, loved by her students because of her unswerving diligence in trying to make sure every student gets what they need. From dawn to dusk she has been preparing lessons, teaching, giving special tutoring, grading papers, and just generally being indispensable. She has had a great presence and Peter and Ellen have found a wonderful traveling companion.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gabriel's Vision and the "Wicked Branch" / Anti-Messiah

All the discussion of "Gabriel's Vision" (see my preceeding post) has focussed on the lines of the text relating to resurrection after three days. Perhaps equally interesting in my view is a much clearer (less-fragmented) section of the text, line 21, which references an anti-messiah figure. Though aware of it, Ada Yardeni’s original English translation had rendered line 21 in a way that hardly caught the biblical allusion: "ask me and I will tell you what this bad plant is." The word rendered "plant," however, is the Hebrew keyword צֶמַח, which is symbolic language for the "Branch" / the Messiah. To his credit, Israel Knohl recognizes the biblical allusion and translates lines 21-22: "Ask me, and I shall tell you what is this wicked branch [tzemakh]."

Given the importance of this keyword "Branch" in Zechariah (Zech 3:8; 6:12), the appearance of the language reinforces all the ties to Zechariah in the Gabriel's Vision text. It also suggests the authors of the vision were well aware of the logic of Zechariah, who speaks not only of a Messiah but also of the figure's archetypal shadow, a coming "worthless" ruler who "devours flesh" and "tears off hoofs" (Zech 11:15-17). The mounting messianic fervor of Zechariah brought this shadow to consciousness. It seems very likely to me that the authors of Gabriel's Vision put two and two together and designated this shadow figure of Zechariah the "evil Branch," a term not specifically used in Zechariah.

Knohl notes a somewhat related reference to a "tree of evil" in a Qumran document that also mentions a Messiah (4Q Narrative A [4Q458]). Commenting on the nature of the "Evil Branch," Knohl writes, "The Antichrist is duplicitous, presenting himself as Messiah and Redeemer while actually being the devil’s spawn who comes to corrupt and lead astray."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Messianism Before Christ: Gabriel's Revelation

HT: The New York Times

I've received many emails asking me what I think about all the recent buzz on "The Vision of Gabriel," the stone tablet from (purportedly) the first century BCE that appears (according to Dr. Israel Knohl) to speak of a dying and resurrecting messiah (click here, and here, and here, and here, and here). Knohl reconstructs lines 80-81 of the text to read: "By three days, live, I Gabriel, command you, prince of the princes." Let me make a few initial observations and comments about this fascinating artifact.

First, the stone was not found as part of a scientific dig, so its authenticity may never be assured. Second, the text is very fragmentary, so the reconstruction of its meaning will be open to debate. Indeed, reading the text through quickly, it is not immediately obvious that it refers to a suffering and dying messiah. That said, reading the text also quickly reveals a lot of verbal echoes of the books of Haggai and Zechariah, which do include the idea of a humble, suffering Messiah at places such as Zech 9:9-10; 12:10-13:1; and 13:7-9.

AFP - Getty Images; HT: MSNBC
I have long been a fan of the bold and innovative scholar Israel Knohl who is one of those popularizing the "Gabriel's Revelation" artifact. Knohl has already written a book discussing the expectation of a suffering, atoning messiah as it appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I referenced this work in my Abingdon/IBT book, The Apocalyptic Literature. I argued there that for Christianity---the religion that claims the Christ/Messiah has come---to be meaningful and valid, there must have been a longstanding hope for just the sort of Christ/Messiah that Jesus became (i.e., a humble, suffering Messiah). This is nothing new---the point goes back to the famous Enlightenment debate between Collins and Sherlock. So, when journalists now look at "Gabriel's Revelation" and ask, "What impact would a pre-Christian reference to suffering, death and resurrection have on Christian scholarship?" (MSNBC), the answer is clear: This would be another piece of evidence showing that the idea of Christianity is a meaningful and valid idea. I.e., there were relevant messianic expectations around for Jesus to fulfill.

It is hardly any sort of challenge to Christianity that the idea of a resurrection after three-days was around before Christ. Again, the Christian claim is that Christ fulfilled longstanding messianic expectation. Across religions, three days of death is a motif common to the archetypal theme of death and rebirth. It is a symbolic reference to transformation. Think of the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the whale and the three days Inanna hung dead in the underworld "like a piece of rotting meat" in the Summerian story, "The Descent of Inanna." Perhaps more to the point, see me annotation to Hosea 6:2 in the Harper Collins Study Bible.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Church of England Synod Votes to Support Women Bishops

The Church of England
Breaking News: the three-house general synod of the Church of England meeting yesterday voted to affirm the idea of allowing women priests to advance to the role of bishops. Click here for the report posted on Episcopal Life Online. Click here for the news summary on MSNBC. Although the motion that passed allows for "special arrangements" for those who disagree, apparently many traditionalists are quite unhappy that eleven other amendments that would have given strong accommodations to traditionalists failed. Archbishop Rowan Williams is quoted as saying, "I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated." Since a "code of practice" has to be drawn up and approved before any final decision is made, it is unlikely that women bishops will appear in the Church of England before 2014.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Free Download: Leviticus by Dr. Kevin Wilson

Bible Briefs: Leviticus

As series editor for the Virginia Seminary / Forward Movement Bible Briefs project, I'm delighted to announce the online publication of Leviticus by Dr. Kevin A. Wilson. To download this brand new 19-page booklet as a PDF file, right-click here. To view today's press release on this publication by Susan Shillinglaw, VTS Public Affairs Director, click here. To access all Bible Briefs currently available, click here.

Here is the quote that I gave for the press release: "Recent scholarship is revitalizing interest in priestly literature of the Hebrew Bible such as Leviticus, rediscovering it as life-giving tradition that informed and complimented the prophetic word. To read Dr. Wilson's new introduction to Leviticus is to appreciate anew God's gifts of holiness, ritual, and wholeness. Wilson's booklet gives the church an easy entree into scholars' new regard for the Bible's priestly theologies."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Seabury Seminary Faculty Find New Positions

As many of my readers know, Seabury Episcopal Seminary has closed its M.Div. program, leaving most of its faculty needing to move on. The Seabury Website is positing the following bits of good news about Dr. AKMA Adam (New Testament) and Dr. Frank Yamada (Old Testament):

AKMA Adam has accepted an appointment as Visiting Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. He joined the Seabury faculty in 1999 after several years teaching New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. The author of numerous books and articles, Adam spent the academic year 2007-2008 as a resident Member of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey.

Frank Yamada will remain nearby in his new position as Director of the Center for Asian American Ministry and Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Since joining the Seabury faculty in 1999, he has been an active speaker and lecturer in both church and academy. He is author of a number of articles and commentary selections and recently published his first book, Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Unclaimed Crown of Zechariah 6:9-15

The Empty Throne in Gondor

I am currently working on a short commentary on Zechariah for one of the New Interpreter's projects, and today I am writing up Zechariah 6:9-15. I have some fascinating student comments in my notes, including some class discussion comparing the unclaimed messianic crown of Zechariah 6 and the empty high throne in Gondor, in the Hall of Kings, in J. R. R. Tolkien's Return of the King. I've placed an image from the movie version of the story at the top of this post (click to enlarge; the high throne faces away from us at the near end of the shot). Until the coming of the true king, the high throne remains empty, and Denethor, the Steward (Lord) of Gondor, sits upon a black stone chair at the foot of the steps to the throne. Just so, the prophet Zechariah makes two crowns (see the Hebrew and NRSV n. b), one of which is to remain unclaimed until the royal Messiah, the "Branch" reveals himself in history. Note that the then current governor, Zerubbabel cannot be crowned---to do so would upset the Persian overlords. Joshua is crowned as high priest, but is cautioned to hold vigil for God’s royal “Branch” (v. 12; see 3:8) and to sit as “a priest by his throne” (v. 13) when he arrives.

Here is the NJPS translation of Zech 6:9-15, which is very close to the Hebrew: (11) Take silver and gold and make crowns. Place one on the head of High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, (12) and say to him, "Thus said the LORD of Hosts: Behold, a man called the Branch shall branch out from the place where he is, and he shall build the Temple of the LORD.(13) He shall build the Temple of the LORD and shall assume majesty, and he shall sit on his throne and rule. And there shall also be a priest seated on his throne, and harmonious understanding shall prevail between them."