Shared posts

27 Jul 02:21

Vermes’ The Story of the Scrolls

by Brian Davidson

For the time being, the paperback version of Geza Vermes’ The Story of the Scrolls is only $1.58 on Amazon.

Just before the book was published, Vermes gave a lecture with the same title at the Louisiana State University’s Hill Memorial Library. A video of the the lecture is available on YouTube and has been embedded below.

Professor Vermes passed away on May 8, 2013. You can read several tributes to his life and work at The Marginalia Review of Books.

26 Jul 22:53

Prothero reviews Meyer's Hopeless Monster

by Richard B. Hoppe

Donald Prothero, paleontologist and author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, has reviewed Meyer’s “Darwin’s Doubt” monstrosity on Amazon. Money quote:

In short, Meyer has shown that his first disastrous book was not a fluke: he is capable of going into any field in which he has no training or research experience and botching it just as badly as he did molecular biology. As I’ve written before, if you are a complete amateur and don’t understand a subject, don’t demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect by writing a book about it and proving your ignorance to everyone else!

Via Larry Moran at Sandwalk.

26 Jul 21:19

40 Years On: Adela Yarbro Collins talks to Michael Thate

by MRB

Adela Yarbro Collins reflects on a fruitful career of New Testament study

Michael ThateAdela Yarbro CollinsMRB editor Michael J. Thate recently spoke with Adela Yarbro Collins, the Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School. Collins is the author of over a dozen books, including the magisterial Hermeneia commentary on St Mark’s Gospel and numerous academic articles. Thate asked her how she became interested in the field of New Testament Studies, how it has evolved in her career, and where she thinks it is headed next.

Michael J. Thate: Why is studying the New Testament important?

Adela Yarbro Collins: Many Christian believers read the New Testament for theological, ethical, and spiritual guidance. From an academic point of view, the collection is important as a historical source for the origins and history of earliest Christianity. One scholarly tradition approaches the New Testament as the church’s book and studies it in conjunction with the writings of the “Fathers” of the early church, the creeds, and the later history of Christianity. Another scholarly tradition, to which I belong, is historically oriented and studies the books of the New Testament in their ancient historical, religious, and cultural contexts. Works that provide information about such contexts are the Hebrew Bible and its Greek translation, Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, and ancient Greek and Latin literature.

Another reason for studying the New Testament is that this collection has had enormous cultural influence, not only on Western civilization, but increasingly also in the global South. The discipline of reception history of the New Testament studies such developments.

MJT: How did you first become interested in being a New Testament scholar focusing on its criticism and interpretation?

AYC: When I was an undergraduate at Pomona College in Claremont, California, I took an introduction to the Bible from Dean McBride, an introduction to Paul from Robert Hamerton-Kelly (Scripps College), and Contemporary Theology with Robert Voelkel. In Voelkel’s course we read Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. I was fascinated with the way these scholars discussed the historical Jesus and disagreed about his life and significance for theology. It was that course that led me to pursue the academic study of the New Testament. After I received the BA, I spent a year studying at the university in Tübingen (in West Germany at the time) and then enrolled in the PhD program in New Testament and Christian Origins at Harvard University.

MJT: In your 40+ years of teaching and scholarship, how have you seen the discipline change over the years?

AYC: I have been teaching full time for exactly 40 years. I began at McCormick Theological Seminary in 1973. They had a strong scholarly tradition in biblical studies. At the same time most of the students were preparing for ministry and had a strong practical orientation. Feminist interpretation of the Bible was just beginning, and some of the students, even some women, resisted it. I taught a course there entitled “From Adam’s Rib to the Bride of Christ.” Most of my courses were either introductory or exegesis courses. When I began women made up a small fraction of the student body, but by the time I left about half of the students were women.

I moved to the University of Notre Dame in 1985. There I taught undergraduates for the first time, which involved the introductory course that all undergrads were required to take and a course on Christian Scripture for the Theology majors. I also taught students in the academic master’s program and those in the MDiv program, as well as the PhD students. The PhD program in New Testament was part of a program entitled “Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity” (CJA). Regardless of which of these areas the students were specializing in, they all took courses and exams in Hebrew Bible, Ancient Judaism, New Testament, and Early Church. We had a year-long seminar, led by one faculty member in turn, in which all the faculty and graduate students in CJA participated. It was an enjoyable group of scholars and emerging scholars.

In 1991 I joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Divinity School. It was there that I encountered various kinds of critical theory, which played a role along with a strong representation of historical critical methods. Feminist studies had developed into Women’s Studies and Gender Studies. In 2000 I began teaching at Yale, where a similar mix of historical practice and critical theory is represented. In my early years there, the concentration in Feminist Theology in the Master of Arts in Religion degree program became Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. During my time at Yale, I finished a commentary on Mark and have become interested in the relatively new discipline of reception history. My current book project is Paul Transformed: From Romans to Augustine.

MJT: If I could ask you to look into your crystal ball for a minute, how do you see the discipline developing into the future?

AYC: I can’t predict the future but hope that historical criticism will continue to be foundational in New Testament studies. No doubt new critical theories will come along that will continue to provide new perspectives and evoke new questions.

26 Jul 21:17

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

by Gav

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

Taylor Mali (1965-) is a an American slam poet who has been part of four winning teams at the National Poetry Slam competition. What Teachers Make is Mali’s most well-known poem and was born out of an actual dinner conversation he had. You can view Mali performing the poem in this video and more of his work on his YouTube channel. The poem was also the title of a book Mali wrote: What Teachers Make – In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World. Mali worked as an English, History and Math teacher for nine years and continues to be an advocate for teachers all over the world.

I thought this poem would make a good follow-up to last week’s Erica Goldson graduation speech. While the system might not be perfect, teachers are the unsung heroes of the education system and I have nothing but praise and respect for the profession. Teachers can make all the difference – having a mediocre one can really damage a student’s potential, but the right one can inspire a child to greatness.

I’m really honoured that a lot of teachers have told me they use Zen Pencils comics in the classroom. It’s something I never planned on happening and is such a thrill. It also makes perfect sense – I would have paid way more attention to poetry and history if they were taught with the aid of cartoons. If you’re one such teacher (or a student on the receiving end), then please share how you use them in the comments.

UPDATE: I’ve been in touch with Taylor Mali and he has kindly given me permission to make this available as a print. He also will be donating his share of the profits to The Atlantic Center for the Arts, where he is currently teaching poetry. Taylor even told me that he has used the comic as a slideshow while performing the poem – which is pretty freakin’ awesome!

- Taylor Mali’s official website.
- Thanks to George for submitting the poem.
- Zen Pencils is on GoComics! My archives will be updating regularly on the biggest comics website in the world, where you can also read the entire archives of hundreds of famous comics such as Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert and Peanuts. It’s really an honour to have my work alongside these legendary strips, especially Calvin & Hobbes, which is my all-time biggest influence and inspiration. There’s also a great GoComics app you can download so you can read all your favourite strips on your phone or tablet.


26 Jul 03:57

Behold the Earth and Moon – as seen from Saturn

by Robert T. Gonzalez

Behold the Earth and Moon – as seen from Saturn

Last Friday, people the world over had their first chance ever to smile for a picture of Earth taken from outer space, when NASA's Cassini orbiter photographed our moon and planet from almost one-billion miles away.



23 Jul 02:08

Transforming Scripture: Biblical translations and adaptations in Old and Middle English

Transforming Scripture: Biblical translations and adaptations in Old and Middle English:

Call for Papers

Transforming Scripture: Biblical translations and adaptations in Old and Middle English

St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29-31 May 2014

Submission deadline: 30 September, 2013

Organised by the Faculty of English Language and Literature, Oxford University

The drive to make scripture available in the vernacular was responsible for some of the highest artistic and scholarly achievements of the medieval period, inspiring literary and academic projects of incomparable magnitude and ambition. Accomplished, learned and imaginative Old English translations and adaptations of the Bible were followed by a great flourishing of Middle English biblical prose, poetry and drama. The Wycliffite Bible made the complete scriptures accessible for the first time in the vernacular to both lay and clerical readers. An object of royal and ecclesiastic patronage, vernacular scripture also had its opponents. Throughout the period attempts were made to control the content and practice of translation, and to censor materials available in the vernacular.

The conference will explore all aspects of medieval English biblical translation and adaptation. Possible texts for investigation include English glosses in Latin biblical manuscripts; paraphrases and summaries of biblical books; translated biblical extracts in sermons, saints’ lives, legal, pedagogical, historical and other texts; continuous translations of individual books and ‘part-Bibles’; translations combined with commentaries and Latin text; the Wycliffite Bible; Old and Middle English biblical poetry and drama.

Possible topics for exploration include: the idea of a vernacular scripture and its development; religious controversy and biblical translation; theological, political and artistic agendas of biblical translation and adaptation; translation, commentary and interpretation; authorship and patronage of biblical translations and adaptations; the role of monastic and university scholarship; the opposition to biblical translation, concerns about the adequacy of English and access to scripture by the laity; the purpose and audiences of biblical translations and adaptations; textual transmission and manuscript presentation of vernacular biblical texts; intellectual and artistic continuity in medieval English biblical translation; translation practices, language and diction.

We welcome explorations of individual texts and groups of texts, as well as comparative studies of medieval English material and translations in other languages.

Confirmed plenary speakers include Anne Hudson, Bella Millett, Andy Orchard, Elizabeth Solopova and Jane Toswell.

We are also pleased to announce that Oxford’s John Fell Fund has enabled us to offer six graduate bursaries to cover the registration fee. If you are a graduate student and wish to apply for a bursary then please email with a supporting statement (not exceeding 500 words) outlining how the conference will be of benefit to you.

For further information on ‘Transforming Scripture’ and to submit a paper proposal (an abstract of 200 words), please email the organising committee at July 22, 2013 at 06:20AM via category: religion

23 Jul 00:23

Caption Contest... And the Winner Is...

by Allan Bevere

James McGrath: Captain Kirk finally encounters an alien he doesn't want to kiss.
22 Jul 20:03

Want to Be in the Nicolas Cage ‘Left Behind’ Remake?

by Hemant Mehta

You know you want to be an extra in a Christian movie that’s bound to be cringe-worthy and that there’s no movie that better fits that description than the upcoming Left Behind remake.

And you know the fact that Nicolas Cage stars in it makes it all the more appealing! (As someone who has been in a movie with Cage, I highly recommend it.)

Director Vic Armstrong tweeted this today:

The actors casting and extras casting office is now open in Baton Rouge &

— Vic Armstrong (@VicArmstrong) July 22, 2013

If you’re an atheist in Louisiana, you owe it to all of us to make this happen. Just because.


22 Jul 17:34

The Verdict of the George Zimmerman Trial Reminded Me of Something

by (Malcolm Walls)

In 1856, Dred Scott petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom and they ruled against him stating that the Bill of Rights did not apply to African-Americans.

In 1955, Emmett Louis Till, an African-American young man, was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 for reportedly flirting with a white woman. The jury found the men involved in the murder “Not Guilty”.

In 1963, Medgar Evers, was killed by Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted thirty years later after the crime.

In 1991 Rodney King was brutally beaten by police officers. Though the beating was video recorded, three of the four officers involved were initially acquitted of the charges.

Later in 1991, Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old African-American, was murdered by Soon Ja Du over a bottle of orange juice at a store. She was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and it was recommended that she serve a 16 year prison sentence but in the end she was sentenced to probation.

In 2013, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who was also found “Not Guilty”.

As an African American male, when I think of the aforementioned, it is obvious that there are systemic racial issues that rest at the core of this great nation. After reading comments and blogs it has become clear that those who are not African-American, though they sympathize with African-Americans, will never truly understand why the “Not Guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman makes us so upset.

The frustration that is felt is not just from this trial but it is from the previous trials and unjust experiences that we as a race have had to endure. This verdict is a reminder that the playing field is not even. It reminds me that the judicial system has racism flowing through its veins. It reminds me that people still view African-American men as thugs. It reminds me that as an African-American father, even if I raise my son to honor God, achieve academic excellence, to be respectful, and he does all of that, he is still prone to be profiled as a criminal or thug based solely upon his clothing and the color of his skin.

It reminds me of every time I was followed in a store and wrongly accused of shoplifting. It reminds me of the times, growing up in the south, when I was called every derogatory word an African-American man can be called, and then being told to accept it because that is what I am. It reminds me of the times I have been stopped by police for “Driving While Black”. It reminds me that neither Justin Beiber nor Mark Zuckerberg has been classified as a hoodlum when wearing a hoodie. It reminds me that Michael Vick got two years in prison for killing a dog and Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for killing an African-American young man. It reminds me that most of the men in the prison system are African-American.

Those who are not African-American were not faced with these reminders as the verdict was read because they have not lived this life nor been treated in such a demeaning fashion. To understand why this verdict has caused such an uproar amongst African-Americans, everyone who is not African-American must walk in our shoes and experience all of the hate, mistreatment, and injustice that many if not all of us have had to endure. Then and only then will they begin to understand the pain of this verdict.

This country has had a long history of racism within a judicial system where African-Americans get the short end of the stick. This is the beginning of the conversation of why many are upset. The emotions are deeply rooted and just when we think there will be justice, the proverbial rug is once again pulled from underneath us.

But why should a seminary address this issue? Jesus said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a mandate for justice and to see those oppressed experience freedom. This freedom includes the freedom to walk with skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, without fear of being stereotyped or even murdered. As those sent by Jesus, it should compel us to begin to address systematic issues of injustice.

If we fail to do this and remain silent, then we too become part of the problem.

Pastor Malcolm C. Walls, Jr., is Director of Urban Recruitment and Student Services at Biblical Seminary.

22 Jul 17:29

Introduction to Micah

by rickwyld


22 Jul 16:07


by Brian LePort

61dirz1lajl-_sy300_This morning Joel Watts launched our book blog tour for T. Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian BibleHe was responsible for commenting on the first two chapters (Ch. 1 Why this Book? and Ch.2 When the World Became Greek), which introduce the rest of the book. Watts praises the book saying:

It is refreshing to see such a book. It lacks a theological agenda, but places the Septuagint at the front of Christian theology. It is because of the Septuagint Christians could developed their theology in such as a way as it did. Further, we in the West tend to forget the East (Orthodox) still use the Septuagint as their biblical text. T. Michael Law writes with the ease of a well polished author and the skill of an academic. His prose is remarkable in that it delivers the needed punch without making the reader go round after round trying to figure out what he is saying.

Read the full review here.

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy here.

Full Schedule:

JOEL WATTS (Sunday, July 21st,
1 Why this Book?
2 When the World Became Greek

ANDREW KING (Tuesday, July 23rd,
3 Was There a Bible before the Bible?
4 The First Bible Translators

KRISTA DALTON (Thursday, July 25th,
5 Gog and his Not-so-Merry Grasshoppers
6 Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons

ABRAM K-J (Saturday, July 27th,
7 E Pluribus Unum
8 The Septuagint behind the New Testament

JESSICA PARKS (Monday, July 29th,
9 The Septuagint in the New Testament
10 The New Old Testament

AMANDA MacINNIS (Wednesday, July 31st,
11 God’s Word for the Church
12 The Man of Steel and the Man who Worshipped the Sun

JAMES McGRATH (Friday, August 2nd,
13 The Man with the Burning Hand vs. the Man with the Honeyed Sword
14 A Postscript

Filed under: Blogosphere, Book Previews, Book Reviews, Books (General), LXX, Other Blogs/ Resources, T. Michael Law Tagged: book, Book Review, Joel Watts, T. Michael Law, Unsettled Christianity, When God Spoke Greek
22 Jul 16:07

Interpretive Spins and Literary Sparks in the Ψαλμοὶ: Ps. 68

by J. K. Gayle

This post is another in a series on the interpretive spins and literary sparks in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tehillim called Ψαλμοὶ (or Psalms). Translating the Septuagint (LXX) Greek into English, Albert Pietersma has noted that there are the sparks and spins, but he fails to identify them. Pietersma in the NET Septuagint has said, for example, the following about the translator of the Hebrew into the Greek:




My eye was directed to a possible literary spark in Psalm 68 this past week. Wayne Leman posted an announcement about the new “International Standard Version” of the Bible, and I was looking at how Dr. Mona Bias (for the ISV) had translated the Psalm. Although the ISV editors generally seem to suggest that their English is to be English as an international language, I was wondering.

Also, the ISV translators supposedly use the LXX Greek among various resources. So here is what I noticed, when comparing what Bias has done for the ISV with what other version translators have done (who don’t necessarily use the LXX as a source and who do often translate with English regionalisms). I’m just comparing the very first part of verse 14 (or 13, depending on the numbering system):


Now here is how Robert Alter translates the same (and as we all know Alter refers to the LXX many times):


In this case, however, it seems that Alter finds nothing useful in the Greek rendering of the Hebrew. His note points to other issues:


We can compare Alter’s translation with Bias’s. And we can add to these Ann Nyland’s rendering of the same. The reason Nyland’s might be interesting is that she, like Bias and like Alter, also consults the LXX. Nyland has this:


Her footnote gives these explanations:


Now, let’s compare the Hellene of the LXX with the Hebrew. The Masoretic Text has this:


The LXX translator has this:


Pietersma makes this Greek the following English:


And Brenton’s English version of that Greek goes like this:


So what’s going on?

Could it be that there’s an allusion to the lots so famously in Sophocles somehow? Like this:


commonly put into English like this?


Well, you can see that we have questions. On just this little bit of scripture, we have that much. We know we don’t know much. Except there is some fancy Greek before and after this little “lot.” The lot, of course, is an unusual bit to show up here in the Psalm. I think it’s an echo to the playwright for some now unknown reason. Maybe we’ll say more some later.

What do you think?


Filed under: Bible versions, Dead Sea Scrolls, English, Greek, Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, History, Interpretation, Literature, Septuagint, Series: LXX Psalms, Theater, Translation Tagged: Albert Pietersma, Ann Nyland, Mona Bias, Robert Alter, Wayne Leman
22 Jul 16:07

The Sadistic Designer

by Claudia

You may have come across the argument before: How can you say there isn’t a God, when butterfly wings are so perfect, or the Earth is just right for us, or [insert awesome nature fact here]. This argument is typically presented as an “argument from incredulity” (“How else could everything possibly come to be?”) with a healthy dose of appeal to emotion (“But have you seen how perfect the hand of a newborn is?”)…

Here is the counter-argument, in video form, from the always excellent TheThinkingAtheist:

22 Jul 16:07

Groanings Too Deep for Words: The Zimmerman Verdict and the Dividing Wall Between Us

by PamN

By Pam Nath. Cross-posted from The Mennonite
Image by Ricardo Levins Morales

If “your” elected officials are middle-aged, white people who smile at you a lot, it may be time to relocate. Being a “minority” - even a sizable minority - in a city with white officials has become more of a hazard than at any time in the last twenty years. American justice is divvied out across a great racial divide. We don’t believe that Black elected officials are - on their own - a cure for our problems. However, we do have a greater ability to pressure them. [Living in a white community], you may have more government services, but those services include more policing by officers who think your child is dangerous. If you move, the idea that your child is not as easily singled out can give some comfort.

Kamau Franklin, New Rules for the Black Community after the Zimmerman Verdict

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly…Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8: 22–23a, 26

Because I know that Kamau Franklin’s words in the quote above are likely to be disturbing to many people who read this column, and some may be tempted to dismiss them as the words of a hateful demagogue, I want to begin by saying that I have met Kamau on several occasions, and once participated in a two-day strategic planning meeting with him. He has never been anything but kind and friendly to me, a white woman, and in fact, has always struck me as a particularly gentle and thoughtful person. If his words seem jarring and painful to you, my plea to you is to struggle to hear them nonetheless. I think doing so is critically important to the life of our church because I am sure there are other Mennonites who are reading this column who totally get where Kamau is coming from, and in fact are feeling and wondering similar things as he. We are a divided church and sadly, the dividing walls between us (Ephesians 2:14), rather than being broken down by a free movement of the Spirit, too often are growing ever thicker.

The Monday after the verdict, Laura Brennemanwrote about the disconnect that she observed in an entry on the Mennonite Church US blog:

I am in mourning not only because Trayvon Martin is dead, not only because the state of Florida has deemed it acceptable for a man to use deadly force against an unarmed African American 17-year-old male, and not only because the dysfunction of my nation and my Christian faith tradition plays itself out painfully primarily in the bodies of black people, brown people, women, and LGBTQ people.

I am also falling into deeper and deeper despair as I observe fewer Facebook posts of outrage from my white friends than my black friends. The message that is reinforced to me is that white people do not have to even pause to consider how African Americans have been poignantly reminded that they are not safe in this country. I cannot tolerate this and I cannot be silent.

Our divided and broken church

The divide was not just displayed via people’s posts on Facebook. Think about churches the Sunday after the verdict was announced. Was the verdict mentioned at all in your church service? Was it the central focus? I’m guessing answers to these questions would vary partly along race lines, although of course there would be individual exceptions.

This disconnect has very real consequences for people. Listen with an open heart to the reflections of Enuma Okoro about the silence in the church she attended on Sunday:

On Sunday I went to church.

I won’t lie; it’s been a month of Sundays since I went to church. For me, church so often feels like a game I just can’t seem to get right. But I went to church yesterday because I needed to hear someone say something coherent and wise about how, as a Christian, I should remain hopeful about the world. How I should remain active in the pursuit of justice, even when attaining it this side of heaven seems so very far-fetched. And to be honest, I went to church because I needed to hear some blessed person remind me that no matter what goes on in the justice system or in congress rooms or in police offices, there are still places in this country apart from my family and friends where people who look like me count.

Really, I suppose I went to church because there’s something in me that still prays the church can meet me in places where the world can’t.

So, it’s hard to express my disappointment when the pastor…did not say one word about Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman or the trial even. Not one word….

I am continually learning that not every church views the issues of racism and injustice as significant and applicable enough to the life of their particular congregations to speak about it from the pulpit. And I wasn’t the only one with this experience. I asked on Facebook and Twitter and more people than not said they heard nothing from the pulpit. I know there are countless churches who did offer a much needed word and practical counsel on what could be done next. But for every person who said their church did address these issues, there were too many who said they heard nothing.

I also have experienced too many times when a significant injustice in the world was met with deafening silence in church. I’ve often had to look for “church” in other places. Last Saturday night, when the jury in the Zimmerman trial returned its not guilty verdict, my Facebook feed filled with cries of agony, rage, and grief. Friends posted songs of lament and comfort, poured out the confusion and questions in their hearts, observed that the Zimmerman verdict was neither surprising nor unusual since similar injustices happen every day in this country, posted and liked and reposted pictures expressing feelings of rage and grief and vulnerability, discussed what could be done now. It felt like a community (albeit connected electronically) sitting shiva and “keriah writ large.” I wish this is what Enuma Okoro would have experienced at the church that she attended. There are so many of us longing for this sort of church.

That Saturday night and the following day, Facebook posts from other friends of mine, friends who live in majority white communities and who were posting pictures of their kids or their vacations, funny youtube videos, baseball games, etc., talking about the stuff of their lives as if nothing significant had happened, nothing had changed – were jarring to me. A friend here in New Orleans commented “How are all these people acting normal?” That’s what I was feeling too; it was one of those moments when something overwhelmingly tragic had happened and it seemed like life just couldn’t—or shouldn’t–carry on as normal.

I don’t think pastors or church members or friends of mine who aren’t sitting shiva over the Zimmerman verdict are “racist” or uncaring people. Some may even have paid some attention to the case and think the decision was dismal and unjust, but its just one more piece of news in a world where we are inundated with bad news, not a core personal trauma that one needs to sit shiva over. As I see it, the divides evident on Facebook, in our pulpits on Sunday, and in our opinions about the verdict (both its justness and its importance) are not divides between “good” and “bad,” people, but instead reflect the continuing segregation in our lives and in our communities and in our world. We are a divided church. We are a broken church.

White spaces are not safe

If the problem is that we are divided, then aren’t Kamau’s words calling for more separation part of the problem? Aren’t they going to create even more brokenness? I think that in order to understand Kamau’s words, we white people need to know more about how black people and many other marginalized people, immigrants, indigenous persons, Latinos, Asians, etc. experience mixed race spaces.1

Mixed race spaces are dangerous for black people and other marginalized people. White people have trouble imagining this is true because it doesn’t fit our self-image—we see ourselves as nice people. But these spaces are dangerous due to the threat of physical violence, they are dangerous due to the constant and chronic racial microaggressions that people of color are subject to, and they are dangerous to the psyche because these spaces too often demand that people of color mute or silence their voices as the price for peaceful coexistence.

Kamau is writing to Black people, and he is not editing himself for white people’s ears; white people are being given the opportunity to listen in. Sadly, more often than not, we white people are not good at listening to people who say the things that Enuma and Kamau and many others try to tell us. If our typical response to is to get defensive, to argue with the person’s experience, to tell them that they are being too dramatic, too angry, too sensitive, too ______, is it surprising if many Black people learn that its not worth their effort telling us all of what they think?

Under this arrangement, integration (like everything else in our society) actually serves white people more than it does Black people. It assuages white people’s conscience, it allows for just enough diversity to be “interesting,” while still protecting the comfort of white people who otherwise would find it hard to hear the things that Black people and people from other marginalized groups have to say to us. Even if they are committed to intentional antiracism (and certainly if they are not), mixed race spaces always come at a cost for people of color. True wholeness doesn’t come with a smattering of faces of color who don’t say things too different from the things that we are already used to hearing.

So what is the hope for healing in this dismal and deep racial quagmire we are in? I’m not close to having all the answers, but the first step seems obvious to me: white people need to be doing the work of racial justice all the time, not just when Black people or people from other marginalized racial/ethnic groups are present and not just when racial conflict flares up.

Doing the work of racial justice for ourselves

About a year ago, I had the blessing of participating in a mass said by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a woman Priest. She began the mass by talking about how WomenPriests are calling for changes in the Church that include but go beyond women being ordained. She led us in a beautiful mass with echoes of the traditional Catholic mass but much less hierarchical, more participatory, inclusive and welcoming. I was surprised how meaningful it was for me, a person raised as but no longer Catholic. At one point in the service, we listened to a beautiful song that invited us to look to our left and to our right and behold the face of God. We were all-white group except for one Black man, a friend of mine, who had come to the service in solidarity, he said, to offer support to me and a number of others in the group who had stood with him fighting for racial justice. I thought about what it would have meant if those connections hadn’t been built and if he hadn’t come. As we each looked to our left and our right, beholding the faces of God, we wouldn’t have seen any faces other than white ones.

What does it mean for us white people that we live in a world where it is legal for an unarmed 17 year old to be shot and killed by someone on neighborhood watch; where our legal system tolerates horrible racial disparities in detainment (stop & frisk), arrest, conviction, and sentencing; where racial disparities in education, wages, unemployment, and health outcomes are overlooked and justified, so much so that we are gutting laws like Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act?? What does being privileged by and thus colluding with this unjust evil system do to our psyches? What does it do to our souls? And how much long can this sort of injustice go on before we learn what James Baldwin was talking about when he wrote “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, fire next time!”

The racial injustice in our word dehumanizes and hurts all of us, although it hurts Black people and white people in different ways, and it offers white people concrete and immediate privileges that often seem to offset the more abstract and long-term devastation that it is also creating in us and in our communities. We white people need to long for a different more racially just world for ourselves, not just for people of color. If we want to look to our left and our right in churches and see all sorts of different faces, then we have a lot of work to do.

What can I do?

If you are a white person and you aren’t sure where to start, one resource you might find helpful is the toolkit put out by Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. I’ve included below some supplemental readings in addition to those resources listed in the toolkit , including some books, because organizing a group to read a book together, a chapter at a time, is a good way to build community in a way which is needed to do the hard work ahead of us. (I especially love the idea of white study groups watching together the inspiring documentary Southern Patriot about the life of Anne Braden, a white woman from the South who committed her life to the work of racial justice.)

I continue to have hope for change to come. I feel obligated to work at continuing to hope, given the example that Black people and other fighters for justice have provided, and I work to hold tightly the promise voiced by Martin Luther King, Jr. that though the arc of the universe may be long, it bends toward justice. Quoting James Baldwin again,

If we- and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others- do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare…and change the history of the world”

Pam Nath works as a Community Organizer for Mennonite Central Committee–Central States. She lives and works in New Orleans. She is part of a worship community that meets at Hope House, a community center in New Orleans. She enjoys biking, being in and around water, trees, photography, reading, potlucks, and watching and discussing movies with friends. She taught for 10 years as a Professor of Psychology at Bluffton University.



  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
  • Ewuare Osayande, Ed., Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander Note: all proceeds from the purchase of this book are being donated to The Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation and the Legal Defense Fund for Marissa Alexander
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
  • Becky Thomas, A Promise & A Way of Life: White Antiracism Activism
  • Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States


1I am speaking here out of my own experience; living and working in a majority Black city. Most, though not all, of my closest relationships with people from marginalized racial/ethnic groups have been with Black people. Also, I use the term “Black people” because it is what most of the people I work with prefer. I know that different people prefer different terms.

22 Jul 16:05

Clergy: offer marriage services to folks without a religious ceremony?

by UMJeremy

flickr_weddingbanquetA few weeks back, I witnessed a Facebook exchange that pushed my perceptions of the role clergy play in solemnizing marriages. Clergy are agents of the state and are able to sign marriage certificates, though each state is different in how they define the clergy role. But the general sentiment is that clergy sign the certificates after a religious wedding ceremony.

To push against this sentiment, my friend posted the following on his publicly-viewable facebook. I will quote it verbatim but I won’t link to it unless he says it’s okay.

To my clergy friends:

If someone were truly hungry, but didn’t want to pray before the meal you served them, you would still feed them.

If someone were homeless and you offered them shelter even though they didn’t want to receive a liturgical blessing, surely they would still be welcome.

If someone who isn’t religious is imprisoned and you visit them but they don’t want to pray, we still have the responsibility to be with them.

Why then are we so reluctant to sign a marriage license for a couple that doesn’t want a religious ceremony? Is it not a gift that we can give to those in need?

My clergy friend seems to reference Matthew 25, the commonly-called “least of these” passage where Jesus imagines an apocalypse where Jesus says “whenever you fed the hungry, watered the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited those sick or in prison, then you did those to me.”

At first glance, the actions in Matthew 25 are acts of charity and hospitality, not efforts to effect a status change in an individual. However, for people who are going to get married anyway and are just looking for a justice of the peace or someone ordained over the Internet, to send them away to someone else is not an act of hospitality or charity at all. Their status will change regardless of what the clergy does, so why not participate and offer their services as an act of charity to them?

I know that clergy look down their noses at mail-order clergy who can be ordained online. But those folks serve two populations that are not traditionally covered by professional clergy:

  1. Folks who would never darken the door of a church. One of my clergy friends recounted that she signed the marriage certificates of a homeless couple who wanted the spouse to continue to receive the meager veterans checks in case the other spouse died. This couple had no money to pay a JotP. My friend signed the marriage certificate and hasn’t seen much of them since, but knows they are taken care of.
  2. Folks who want to be legally married in a different state than their religious ceremony. I am a member of this population. I had my religious marriage ceremony in Seattle with family and friends, but my future spouse and I wanted to be legally married in a state where marriage was equal. In 2006, that meant our then-present home of Massachusetts. So we had a brief ceremony and my mail-order ordained friend signed our wedding certificate that reflected our values of marriage equality.

To both these populations, they would be getting married without the clergy anyway. To both these populations, the church (and in some ways the state) has set a standard that these populations are not willing to reach. If a clergy were to offer marriage services, would they be denigrating the dignity of marriage? Or would they be offering a graceful alternative to the secular world’s costs and prohibitions?

I’m not convinced enough to start signing certificates willy-nilly, but it is an interesting argument that frames our civil agency in the context of a gift rather than a hurdle to overcome.

Any thoughts out there? In what ways is solemnizing marriages for those just looking for a signature an act of grace or an act of disgrace? Sound off below…

22 Jul 15:55

Sälam to Mary Magdalene

by adamcmccollum

Today (July 22) in some churches the feast of Mary Magdalene is celebrated. How about a few lines on her from the Ethiopian synaxarion, where she is commemorated on the 28th of Ḥamle (Aug 4)? These lines belong to the genre of the sälam (greeting; usually called ʿarke when outside of the synaxarion), five rhyming lines — e.g. the lines below all end in -ma — that typically conclude a saint’s mention in the Ethiopian synaxarion. The synaxarion in Gǝʿǝz goes back to the Arabic synaxarion for the Coptic church compiled by Michael of Atrīb and Malīg in the 13th century. The earliest Gǝʿǝz recension, from the end of the 14th century, survives in only three manuscripts, one of which being EMML 6458, for the first half of the year; another early, but distinct, witness is EMML 6952. In the sixteenth century, following a notable rise of interest in local hagiography, the synaxarion was revised, first, it seems, at Däbrä Ḥayq Ǝsṭifanos, but with a rival recension also from Däbrä Libanos. It is this sixteenth century revision, known as the Vulgate recension, that has the sälam verses. This corpus, a unique contribution of Gǝʿǝz hagiography, offers students of hagiography and students of the Gǝʿǝz language a long list of reading material sure to hold their attention. Here is the one for Mary Magdalene, the text in PO 7 435, and my translation.


Greetings to the Magdalene, Mary by name,
Who saw Christ’s resurrection first among the apostles.
Greetings to the women who shared in her toil
As they ran together to the tomb of the Wise Craftsman
Without the terror of the night frightening them.

Bibliography (further bibliography in each of these articles)

Aßfalg, Julius. “Synaxar(ion).” In H. Kaufhold, ed., Kleines Lexikon des christlichen Orients. 2d ed. Wiesbaden, 2007. Pp. 448-449.

Colin, Gérard and Alessandro Bausi. “Sǝnkǝssar.” Encyclopaedia Aethiopica IV 621-623.

Nosnitsin, Denis. “Sälam.” Encyclopaedia Aethiopica IV 484.

Yalew, Samuel. “ʿArke.” Encyclopaedia Aethiopica I 342.

22 Jul 15:32

Hebrew U Tours of Tel Dor, Ein Qashish, and Nahal Ein Gev << BiblePlaces Blog

by (Todd Bolen)

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem issued the following press release this morning:

August Archaeology Outings: Hebrew University Invites the Public to Visit Fascinating Sites Throughout the Country

Jerusalem, July 22, 2013 — Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology are inviting the public to participate in free guided tours of three diverse archaeological sites.

On August 2, 8 and 20, the archaeologists will lead tours that shed light on the rich history of some of Israel's most fascinating ancient sites. At each of these locations they will offer a guided tour: Tel Dor (August 2), Ein Qashish (August 8), and Nahal Ein Gev (August 20).

Admission is free and there is no need to register in advance. Participants must bring hiking shoes, an adequate supply of water and a hat. Sunblock is recommended.

For more information, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

The tours:

Tel Dor

Host researcher: Prof. Ilan Sharon

Site visit date: Friday, August 2 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Hamizgaga Museum at Nachsholim

The site: Tel Dor is located on Israel's Mediterranean coast, about 30 km south of Haifa. The documented history of the site begins in the Late Bronze Age and ends in the Crusader period. The port dominated the fortunes of the town throughout its 3000-odd year history. Dor was successively ruled by Canaanites, "sea peoples," Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Its primary role in all these diverse cultures was that of a commercial entrepot and a gateway between East and West.

Map (how to get there) at

Ein Qashish

Host researcher: Prof. Erella Hovers

Site visit date: Thursday, August 8 at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Ein Qashish is an open-air Middle Paleolithic site located on the bank of the Qishon River, close to many of the major Middle Paleolithic cave sites in northern Israel, in an area where practically no open-air sites have been known before. The site was discovered in 2004 by survey teams of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Work at the site was carried out in 2005 and then again in 2009-2010 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Map (how to get there):

Nahal Ein Gev

Host researchers: Prof. Anna Belfer Cohen, Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef and Dr. Leore Grosman

Site visit date: Tuesday, August 20 at 8:30 a.m.

Meeting point: Entrance to Kibbutz Ein Gev

Nahal Ein Gev is located about 2 km east of the shores of the Kinneret. The site belongs to the Natufian period, about 11,500 years before our time, and exposes a village of the last hunter-gatherers who lived on the eve of the Agricultural Revolution, leaving complex and fascinating remains.

According to the incoming Head of the Institute of Archaeology, Prof. Erella Hovers, "A lot of the Institute of Archaeology's activity is conducted on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, but each summer the Institute's scholars go to work on a large number of archaeological sites from different periods and in different regions in the country, thus taking research out of the lab and into the field. This is an opportunity for us to invite the public to experience the extensive research activities of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology as they unfold before us."

Prof. Hovers added: "The archaeological sites are cultural treasures of the State of Israel and we are happy to reveal them directly to its people by hosting visitors our dig sites. We will gladly present how archaeological field work is done, what research questions led us to these excavation sites, and what 21st century archaeological science is all about."

For information about the tours, contact the Secretariat of the Institute of Archaeology at 02-5882404 or 02-5882403.

Dor temples area, tb090506882

Tel Dor
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

22 Jul 14:39

Watch Ten of My Most Interesting and Controversial Lectures

by James Tabor
Many of my blog readers often write me asking when and where I might be giving lectures. Although I do regularly lecture here in Charlotte and around the country, by far the most lecturing I do are the in-depth sessions at various Biblical Archaeology Society Seminars and their annual “Bible Fest” each year in a [...]
22 Jul 14:30

The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Trailer is an Amazing Thrill Ride

by Charlie Jane Anders

The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Trailer is an Amazing Thrill Ride

We just saw the first footage from Doctor Who's 50th anniversary here at Comic-Con. We expected hilarious banter between stars Matt Smith and David Tennant, and a haunting look at the forgotten Doctor John Hurt. But we got much, much more.



22 Jul 14:14

Lumen Fidei

by (Chet)

The light of Faith. The subject (and title) of Pope Francis' first encyclical. Drafted by his predecessor Benedict XVI, as the completion of his series of encyclicals on Faith, Hope and Charity, added to and edited by Francis. Since it is impossible to know who wrote what, I'll refer to "the popes" as authors.

It is about what one expected, breaking no new ground, providing no new insight into the modern conflict between faith and reason.

Certainly, the popes are cognizant of the conflict. In the second paragraph they note of "the objections of many of our contemporaries." In particular they refer to the critique of faith by Nietzsche. "If you want peace of soul and happiness, then believe," Nietzsche wrote to his sister, "if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek." Faith, for Nietzsche, is an illusion of light, an illusion that blocks the path of a liberated humanity to its future.

But only the light of faith can illuminate "every aspect of human existence," say the popes. "A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it comes from God."

And there you pretty much have it: seeking vs. assertion. For the rest of the encyclical, the popes buttress their case in the necessity and legitimacy of faith by quoting the Bible, which is (for them) the revealed word of God, forgetting, as always, that to believe in scripture as revelation itself requires a leap of faith. Have faith in the Bible, say the popes in effect, and you will see why faith trumps reason. "Unless you believe, you will not understand" (Isaiah 7:9): quoting the Bible to show that the Bible is true.

The popes go on at some length to convince us that faith leads to truth. Faith without truth does not save, they say; it may be a beautiful story that makes us happy to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves, but unless the repository of faith is Truth, then faith is in vain.

"In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how," write Benedict and Francis dismissively. "it is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings."

Aside from conflating science and technology, which may be fair, and calling scientific truth "certain," which no scientist believes, we have here a pretty good summary of the issue: truth is "what works" vs. truth is what the Church says it is. So we are where we started, with an essential conflict that is not readily resolved because we don't have a common basis for discussion or for common undertakings.

For people of faith, the encyclical states self-evident truths. For the rest of us, we follow young Nietzsche's advice to his sister: take risks and tread new paths "with all the uncertainty of one who must find one's own way."

22 Jul 14:10

The Seven Hills of Rome. For some reason I always imagined a... << He has a wife you know

The Seven Hills of Rome. For some reason I always imagined a nice circle of hills, not so! I’ll be doing a short piece on each hill soon (and its relevance) so keep your eyes peeled.

22 Jul 14:09

Secret scriptures galore!

by (Jim Davila)
More Secret Scriptures: John and the Young Bishop of Ephesus

In celebration of the release of my new book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha, I am running a series of posts on texts that could not be included in the book due to space considerations (so many texts, so little room). The first of these is a story about the apostle John transmitted by Clement of Alexandria in his Quis dives salvetur (42.1-15). ...
Tony has three more posts (at Apocryphicity) on this topic as well:

More Secret Scriptures 2: Letters from Jesus to Peter and Paul

More Secret Scriptures 3: The Apocryphal Apocalypses of John

More Secret Scriptures 4: The Martyrdom of Pilate and the Lament of the Virgin

And related: Hugoye article on Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas now available.

Also, congratulations to Tony on the recent publication of the above-mentioned book: Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha.
Throughout history, Christians have expressed their faith through story. They created texts featuring important early Christian figures - like Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, and Judas - to express their relationships to God and to the world around them. Some of these texts are found in today's New Testament, but there is a wide assortment of other texts that are not included in the Bible. This book offers readers a guide to the Christian Apocrypha, beginning with a description of scholars' efforts to recover and reconstruct the texts, followed by examinations of a number of key texts. It responds to a number of misconceptions and common questions about the Apocrypha and finishes with a discussion of the enduring value of the Christian Apocrypha.
22 Jul 14:09

A Response to “Evidentiary Boundaries and Improper Interventions: Evidence, Implications, and Illegitimacy in American Religious Studies”

by mattsheedy

* This post is one of several responses to Kelly J. Baker’s essay “Evidentiary Boundaries and Improper Interventions: Evidence, Implications and Illegitimacy in American Religious Studies,” which can be found herehere and here.

by Rachel McBride Lindsey

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the question of evidence, in various guises, exploded when the daguerreotype became a popular form of preserving and conveying forms subject to decay. In fact, for many early patrons of daguerreotype portraiture, the new medium was too true to nature for their own likings, the evidence of their likeness too bold. By the end of the century, photographs were not only lauded (and lamented) for their truthful depictions of what the camera recorded, but also approached as hieroglyphs for deciphering what was revealed through the material world. For turn of the century Protestant Americans, photographs of Palestine revealed the Holy Land of the Bible and portraits of the dead revealed the promise of celestial reunion and bodily resurrection. For Americans living in the nineteenth century, photographs were not only records of existence but evidence of things unseen.

In her article “Evidentiary Boundaries and Improper Interventions,” Kelly J. Baker raises critically important questions of “evidence” in American Religious Studies as they relate to the relationships fostered between researchers and data, researchers and terminologies, and researchers and audiences, be they peer or public. For Baker, “evidence” is a capacious category that demands careful reflection upon the sources, topics, and interpretive paradigms that not only energize our work but that define the edges of our conceptual cartography. Curiously, her most concise definition is tucked away in a footnote where she clarifies that “by evidence, I mean the sources of our studies whatever they may be.” These sources may include “texts, artifacts, ephemera, and fieldwork” and the mode and method in which they are mobilized “construct the category of religion over and over again dependent upon what the evidence demonstrates.” Her point—again, in the footnote—is well-taken.

In this article she is less interested in the particular dynamics of an archive of sources than in “how some evidence is employed to mark legitimate religion/religions” (Baker 2012, 10; her emphasis). The conceptual and procedural application of the designation of sources as evidence, rather than a catalogue of those sources, takes the cake. What is more, for Baker, there is no clear subject—Religion—in need of evidentiary defense. Because any definition of religion is dependent upon, and thus subordinate to, the sources engaged, the definitional project is undermined entirely. So what does evidence in the study of religion defend? Exactly.

Baker’s thoughtful reflections demand equally engaged reflection. But for all the effort she expends to carry us with her, she seems to drop us off in front of a door that she does not open: what are the criteria by which sources become evidence? More to the point, at what point are “forms” subsumed into the larger, and for Baker, more salient category of evidence? She is acutely aware of the researcher’s implication in the taxonomies she or he employs. The fulcrum of her article reveals her command of the stakes involved: “the question of evidence for the study of American religions . . . is not necessarily to interrogate forms of evidence but rather to think of the consequences of cordons and limits, the labeling of the inconsequential, the tangential, and the dangerous. What our objects of study are is a less interesting question that what our objects of study can and cannot be” (5). But of course the two categories she identifies—“forms” and “consequences”—are entangled and to subordinate one to the other risks replicating the mechanisms of legitimacy she so clearly works to expose. In short, the question of archive, of form and curatorship, is just as important to the conceptual dance she demonstrates we are already performing.

Discussions of form have been, admittedly, throttled in low gear for so long that artifacts seem conceptually stagnant and are treated as inert objects that are consulted and then marshaled as evidence to support the researcher’s thesis. Indeed, I would argue, there is a retrospective quality to evidence that differentiates it qualitatively from sources. The point here, though, is that Baker slips quickly from her nod to “forms of evidence” to “objects of study,” a move that glosses specific artifacts to focus instead on the “pluralist fantasies” that have conditioned categories of analysis (6). And yet artifacts and archives are not a wholly different question than the one Baker presses. Archives are cordoned no less than topics, even to the point of being inconsequential, tangential, and dangerous. The push for a wider variety of artifacts—film, architecture, dress, images, and so forth—has contributed little to the looming interpretive frameworks, or especially to “the hidden moral structure,” that continue to define the field. Rather than dismissing forms as “less interesting,” and ultimately less consequential, to the conversation she initiates, would it not be more productive to identify forms as integral to the consequences in which they are implicated?

The larger question that Baker’s article leaves me with, though, cuts to the heart of disciplinary identity: why “evidence”? Baker’s work, she explains, often invokes refrains of incredulity—“you study them?”—which, upon reflection, she has diagnosed as cultural and disciplinary regulations of legitimate subjects of study and, by extension, the sources that can or cannot be consulted to defend those implicit boundaries. For Baker’s own scholarship, and for our disciplinary self-understanding, the questions of what evidence is and what it does haunt the relationships researchers forge with their subjects even as they all too often reanimate the dusty corpses of the interrogating past. Zombies indeed.  The full weight of her argument is careful, incisive, and entirely relevant to a field whose model of territorial expansion is beginning to show the fissures of a neglected infrastructure.

Still, I am left with the question of why evidence? Why, if it is so fraught, so epistemologically and methodologically overburdened, why does “evidence” remain a viable mode of analysis? The term itself invites comparison with its legacies in legal, scientific, and theological practices, comparisons that more often than not violate the disciplinary objectives of inquiry in the study of religion. If our objectives are not to prove but to demonstrate and explicate, what does the conceptual paradigm of evidence actually contribute?

Rachel McBride Lindsey is Associate Director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research focuses on material and visual cultures of American religion, particularly photographs as material archives of religion and the role of media in defining categories of individual and collective identities. Her current book project is entitled A Communion of Shadows: Vernacular Photography and Religion in Nineteenth-Century America.

22 Jul 14:08

Creation Debates are Not New

by Scot McKnight
The first two centuries of the Christian church included serious debates between major theologians — like Justin Martyr and Tertullian — and they debated one essential idea: Did God create out of nothing or did God create from pre-existing material? A problem actually arises from the translation of Genesis 1:1-2. KJV: In the beginning God [Read More...]
22 Jul 13:58

You keep calling yourself a “Christian”, I do not think it means what you think it means

by Kimberly Knight
Some days, ok most days, I am beyond grateful for my calling to make room at my table for a myriad of disparate voices.  Most days I feel blessed to serve spoon-fulls of of love, generous dollops of peace, steaming bowls of slow-cooked reconciliation and a sweet slice of Grace. And then there are days [Read More...]
22 Jul 13:57

Armenian Manuscripts

by Peter M. Head
Here is a very helpful website featuring resources for the study of Armenian manuscripts, including pdfs of catalogues from a wide variety of libraries, museums and monasteries all round the world, a load of other interesting things and editions of the Grabar Bible (the Zohrab Bible of 1805 and the Constantinople edition of 1895):  [HT: Byzantine News]
22 Jul 13:56

Grudem 14a: Scriptures on the Trinity

by Ken Schenck
... continued from last week.
Chapter 14: The Trinity
A. Progressively Revealed in Scripture
This part of the chapter has two sections.  The first is on the partial revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The second is on the more complete revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament. Grudem acknowledges up front that the word trinity is not found in the Bible. However, he believes the idea represented by the word is found in several places.

As for the Old Testament, he says it would be surprising not to find indications of it if God indeed has existed eternally as three persons. Although it is not explicitly found, he catalogs at least 9 passages that might imply that God exists as more than one person.
  • Let us make humanity in Genesis 1:26
  • God distinguished from his God in Psalm 45:6-7
  • The LORD said to my Lord in Psalm 110:1
  • God speaking of Israel grieving his Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63:10
  • The LORD speaking of the Lord coming to his temple in Malachi 3:12
  • The LORD saying he will save them by the LORD in Hosea 1:7
  • The servant of the LORD in Isaiah 48:16 distinguishing between the LORD and his Spirit
  • Passages having to do with the angel of the LORD that glide between them being messengers and God speaking in the first person
  • Possibly wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 who stands at God's side in creation--Grudem does not actually think this one is likely (229 n.7).
Then Grudem sees more explicit teaching about the trinitarian nature of God in the New Testament, as you might expect when the Son of God came to earth.  He explores at least 8 passages that might relate somewhat directly to the fact that three distinct persons are God even though there is only one God.
  • Father, Son, and Spirit present at Jesus' baptism (e.g., Matt. 3:16-17).
  • The three invoked in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19
  • The mention of all three in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
  • The final blessing of 1 Corinthians 13:13 mentions all three.
  • The mention of all three in Ephesians 4:4-6
  • All three mentioned in 1 Peter 1:2
  • All three mentioned in Jude 20-21
  • Grudem mentions 1 John 5:7 in the King James Version, but makes it clear that it is not at all likely that this verse was in the original text of 1 John.
Grudem has done a good job of pulling together various texts from the two testaments that have played some role in the question of the Trinity and the Bible.  He also demonstrates that he does not simply accept an idea because it fits with his way of thinking.  For example, Proverbs 8 is almost certainly a personification of wisdom such as we find in other Jewish literature. It is not in any way thinking of wisdom as an actual being, despite how vividly it portrays her.

Similarly, 1 John 5:7 played no role in the great trinitarian debates of the 300s. This fact alone would indicate it did not exist at the time. After all, it would have been the most explicit trinitarian verse in the entire Bible if it had existed at the time. I affirm Grudem for looking at these passages objectively.

I want to affirm in strong terms his sense that the Trinity is "progressively" understood in Scripture. That is to say, the New Testament has much more to say in relation to the three persons of the Trinity than the Old Testament does. It is perhaps also significant that he says "more complete" revelation about the Trinity in the New Testament.  Surely this wording is acknowledging what seems impossible to deny, namely, that the most complete understanding of the Trinity did not come until the 300s and 400s--hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.

Grudem's basic expectation of the Old Testament seems, at first glance, to be reasonable. We should expect to find hints of the different persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  The question is whether Grudem is looking in the right way in the right places.

Here we face a fundamental issue of hermeneutics. Do we read biblical texts for what they were likely to mean to those to whom they were first written or do we read them in terms of the full blown Christian faith that was not in place until the 400s after Jesus? For Grudem, these two ways of reading will tend to be the same because he does not really know how to read biblical texts in context.

I personally believe that both are valid ways of reading the text, although the second way is more Christian. It just isn't always what the text meant originally.

For example, Psalm 45 seems to have been a wedding psalm for a king originally. The princess is ready in her chamber, dressed in gold (45:13).  She is led to the king with many virgin maidens accompanying her (45:14). They enter the palace and the promise of sons and princes is mentioned (45:16).

This confirms that the psalm originally referred to a human king when it spoke of riding out in military triumph (45:4-5) and that it was indeed a theme in relation to a human king (45:1). The entire literary context thus pushes us to see the words, "your throne, O god" addressed to a human king (45:6), and the historical context tells us that earthly kings were often addressed as gods at that point in history. After all, the king is the embodiment of God on earth, God's focal representative at that time. We are not surprised, then, to find the next verse distinguish the king as god from Yahweh as God (45:7). Hebrews then takes these verses in a "fuller sense," a spiritual sense, when it reads them in relation to Christ (Heb. 1:8-9).

Suffice it to say, ancient Israel probably did not take any of these verses in the Old Testament in the way Grudem and other Christians have in the past. That does not mean that God did not intentionally plant clues for later Christians to find. It only means that all these verses probably were read differently originally, since the Trinity was not a way of reading the Old Testament until after the New Testament. Even New Testament passages like Hebrews 1:8-9 may have been more nuanced originally than Christians came to take them.

So no Israelite would have taken Genesis 1:26 in relation to a triunity within God.  They would have taken the "us" in one of the other ways Grudem mentions--either a kind of plural of majesty or, perhaps more likely, as an address to other heavenly beings. There is clear evidence from the rest of the Old Testament that Yahweh could be visioned in the presence of other gods (e.g., Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 32:8 in its more likely original wording).

Psalm 110 is an uncomfortable passage in this discussion. On the one hand, like Psalm 45, it reads quite easily in relation to a human king. Since the headings of psalms and other biblical books were added to them later, they are usually not considered part of the inspired text. In that case, the LORD (Yahweh) is addressing the Lord (king) of the psalmist.  It thus becomes a psalm in honor of a human king of Israel.

God promises to put the enemies of the king under his feet (110:1). God will bring triumph over enemies as the king rides out with his troops on the day of battle (110:2-3).  He will be a king-priest like Melchizedek in Genesis 22, a king who also represented God spiritually (110:4).  The king Lord fights at God's right hand, crushing other kings and judging nations (110:5-7).

Surely this is how those who first heard this psalm would have taken it.  After the heading was added, the Israelites probably took it as David speaking of himself. This interpretation is not problematic so far.

What creates difficulty is the fact that Jesus uses this psalm in his sparring with his debaters and the early church followed suit.  As part of his argument--and that of the early church--Davidic authorship is assumed. For the early Christians, including the gospel writers, we can suggest something that we often find, namely, that God inspired the biblical authors in the categories of the day, including the structure of the universe and human personality. It does not seem problematic to say that authorship was never the inspired point but rather the clothing in which the inspired point was presented, just as we do not think of there being three heavens above us to get to God (2 Cor. 12:2).

But what about Jesus (Mark 12:35-37)?  Did not Jesus know who the author of Psalm 110 was, since he is God himself? We could suggest that Jesus was "gaming" them, playing on their own assumptions rather than his own. On the other hand, Jesus himself tells us he did not access his omniscience while on earth (Mark 13:32).  But most would be more comfortable thinking that this only means his knowledge was partial rather than inaccurate at some point.

Grudem, in fact, would probably consider it an unintentional sin to assert the wrong authorship of a book. As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I do not.  The intention to lie would not be present, and no one would be wronged inadvertently since the overall point being made was true either way. It is a sensitive enough issue that I will not take a position on it, only to say that Psalm 110:1 was not likely read to indicate more than one divine being until the time of Christ...
22 Jul 13:54

Onesimus and Roman slavery

by Brian LePort

Tim Gombis has continued his series of posts on Onesimus’ identity in the Epistle to Philemon, see his recent entries: Philemon and Onesimus: The ConsensusQuestioning the Consensus, Part 1, and Questioning the Consensus, Part 2.

John Byron is an expert on slavery in the Roman Empire and he mentioned that in private conversation he has expressed disagreement with Gombis’ thesis (see What was life like for Roman slaves?). Let’s see if a discussion emerges on this topic between these two on their blogs. It would be beneficial to all if it did!

Other things:

Rodney Thomas, Racial Profiling, Racial Stereotypes, and the Irrationality of White Supremacy

The Christian Pundit, Young Evangelicals are Getting High


Don’t forget to enter the contest at Brave Reviews for over $200 worth of books or our contest here for a copy of T. Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek.

Filed under: Blogosphere, Other Blogs/ Resources Tagged: Blogs, links
22 Jul 13:54

Five Great Books at the Intersection of Religion and Science

by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
One thing we at Eerdmans love about our work is the opportunity to foster fruitful conversation between groups of people who are not generally well known for engaging in fruitful conversations. Often, this interest manifests itself in our noted titles on ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, but it also can be seen in another small but […]
22 Jul 13:54

Questioning the Consensus, Pt. 2

by timgombis

Last week I claimed that no one in the ancient world would have assumed that slaves and masters share the same humanity and that this made it unlikely that the phrase adelphoi en sarki (lit., “brothers in the flesh”) can mean “fellow humans.”

One might object, however, that this is precisely the burden of Paul’s letter—he’s urging Philemon to view Onesimus differently.  Rather than seeing him as property or as less than human, Paul wants Philemon to welcome Onesimus and to treat him with the dignity due a fellow human and brother in the Lord.

Responding to this objection leads to a second reason why I think that it is unlikely that Paul means that they are fellow human beings.

While some commentators read vv. 15-16 as Paul urging Philemon to view Onesimus as adelphon en sarki, Paul’s statement simply cannot be regarded as an exhortation.  If it were an exhortation on Paul’s part, the case for the phrase meaning “fellow human” would be strengthened.  On such a view, Paul would be calling on Philemon to treat Onesimus in a way that runs against the grain of cultural assumptions.

But there isn’t an exhortation here.  Paul is, rather, building on the already-established and plainly obvious fact that Philemon and Onesimus are adelphoi en sarki.  He’s not trying to get Philemon to see this; he’s assuming that Philemon already knows it.

This is something that is plain to Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul.  Consider again the form of Paul’s statement in vv. 15-16:

For perhaps because of this he was separated from you for a time, that you might receive him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother, exceedingly to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

The first realm in which Philemon and Onesimus are brothers is recognized and already established—that is, “in the flesh.”  It’s the second realm in which they’re brothers that is the new reality (“in the Lord”) and it is according to this reality that Paul is urging Philemon to act.

What has changed is that Philemon and Onesimus now participate in the “fellowship of faith” (v. 6), and Paul prays at the beginning of the letter that this reality may become effective for Philemon so that he will act in a way that is consistent with it.

Taking our first two considerations together makes it even more unlikely that Paul is indicating that Philemon and Onesimus are fellow humans.  If this were Paul’s intention, then the effect of his statement would be to shame Philemon before the community (keep in mind the letter is addressed to Philemon and the church community [vv. 1-2]).

If slaves were not considered as sharing the full humanity of their masters, then Paul would be assuming something highly embarrassing to Philemon, putting him on the defensive, and provoking him to react negatively to Paul’s request.  On the majority view, Paul would be subverting his own aims.

If everyone assumed that slaves and masters did not share the same humanity, Paul would not have worked from this notion as a starting point without risking the public shaming of Philemon.  Their common humanity is a notion that Paul would need to work toward.  It’s not something he could merely assume.