Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Divine Adam? Genesis Rabbah vs. Life of Adam and Eve

In the Life of Adam and Eve, Michael commands all the host of heaven to bow down before the newly created Adam--the very spitting image of God--and yet only Satan abstains, claiming one should only bow before God (Satan, then, becomes the first strict monotheist, or monolatrist). This text may seem to challenge the concepts of monotheism or monolatry, although it may only challenge our MODERN concepts of monotheism rather than ancient standards. At the same time, the Rabbis, in a bit of a later time, clearly found the notion of the angels or the hosts of heaven bowing before Adam troubling.

R. Hoshaya said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, the ministering angels mistook him and wished to exclaim "Holy" before him. What does this resemble? A king and a governor who sat in a chariot, and his subjects wished to say to the king, "Domine! (Sovereign)!" but they did not know which it was. What did the king do? He pushed the governor out of the chariot, and so they knew who was the king. Similarly, when the Lord created Adam, the angels mistook him. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He caused sleep to fall on him, and so all knew that he was man; thus it is written,
Cease ye from man, in whose nostrils is a breath, for how little is he to be accounted
(Is. 2:22)!
(Genesis Rabbah 8.10)

I was a bit lazy tonight and just used the Soncino translation by H. Freedman, while removing square brackets used to help "clarify" the text. In this text, Adam could be mistaken, it seems, for God--the very thing Satan feared in Life of Adam and Eve! Whereas in the Life, Michael commands the angels to worship Adam (through bowing), here the angels are in danger of offering a type of worship to Adam--singing "holy" before him as in Isaiah 6. While one texts, then, demands that Adam, as the image of God, be worshiped, the other fears that this image will be mistaken for God and thereby receive worship, and thus the image needs to be brought down a peg. The two texts have, therefore, opposite views of what is appropriate for the first human, and, in a way, show the rich variety of ways one could be an adherent and worshiper of Israel's God.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

George Buchanan Gray on the Depths of Ignorance

It seems my posts lately have been more concerned with what we don't or can't know more than what we know. That's the life of an antiquarian! Because of this, while I was reading through George Buchanan Gray's very lucid Sacrifice in the Old Testament, I was struck by the following sentence:

Yet it is important to determine, if not the extent of our knowledge, the depth of our ignorance, that what knowledge is possible may be the more clearly and vividly apprehended. (p. 211)

I find that, even though Gray cannot always give an answer, he asks great questions and discusses them with great clarity. When I find myself disagreeing with him, it is usually not because the question is poor, but, to the contrary, because we have made so many more discoveries since his book was published in 1925 in terms of material remains and textual discoveries. Yet those discoveries should teach us not just new things about what we know, but how partial are knowledge truly is and remains, because it continues to depend so much upon such chance fragments.

Goodacre on the Impossible Quest for the Historical Jesus

Mark Goodacre reflects on the impossibility of reconstructing the so-called "historical" Jesus at Bible and Interpretation:

Bultmann's notorious claim that “I do indeed think we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus” is on one level overstated and easy to dismiss. There are lots of things that we can know about the life of Jesus with a degree of confidence, his healing activity, his proclamation of the kingdom, his connection to John the Baptist, the call of disciples who continued the movement after his arrest and crucifixion, and so on. Beginning from this kind of secure information, one can produce a good sketch of the life of Jesus, and E. P. Sanders has illustrated how much one can do with this kind of data when we integrate them into an informed understanding of Jesus' historical context.

But knowing things about the historical Jesus is not the same as being able to write his biography. Bultmann rightly pointed out that we do not have the data available to trace his psychological development in the manner of contemporary biography. Yet recent years have seen an increasing confidence in our ability to paint something approaching a complete picture of Jesus' life and personality, as if all the relevant and necessary materials for that complete picture are available somewhere. It just takes a bit of effort to get at them. We spend many painful hours sifting and honing criteria because we feel that the literary deposit is somewhere bound to contain all the material of real importance. Only matters peripheral to the task of reconstructing the key elements in his life have disappeared.

This kind of assumption develops out of an unrealistic perspective on the task. We proceed as if we are doing the work of restoration, clearing the dirt, the damage, the rust in order to unveil the real Jesus. But the quest is not about restoration. It is a task of ancient history and when understood as ancient history, discussion about the historical Jesus should constantly involve the reminder that massive amounts of key data must be missing.


The problem is that we are in denial. We simply do not want to admit that we do not have all the data we need to paint a complete picture of the historical Jesus. Good scholarship is sometimes born from a desire to fill in the gaps, and informed speculation can be a virtue. But over-confidence born out of an unrealistic expectation of the evidence will make future generations wonder what we were playing at.

I think we agree.

Being Caught up to Heaven: Ode of Solomon 36

I am doing some late-night reading of the Odes of Solomon, and I was struck by Ode 36:

I rested on the Spirit of the Lord,
and she raised me up to heaven;

And caused me to stand on my feet in the Lord's high place,
before his perfection and his glory,
where I continued praising by the composition of his odes.

(The Spirit) brought me forth before the Lord's face,
and because I was the Son of Man,
I was named the Light, the Son of God;

Because I was most praised among the praised;
and the greatest among the great ones.

For according to the greatness of the Most High, so she made me;
and according to his newness he renewed me.

And he anointed me with his perfection;
and I became one of those who are near him.

And my mouth was opened like a cloud of dew,
and my heart gushed forth a gusher of righteousness.

And my approach was in peace,
and I was established in the spirit of providence.


(Trans. Charlesworth in Charlesworth, OTP 2)

Although this is Charlesworth's translation, I have omitted the words and phrases he has added. Most significantly, he adds a shift in speaker after the fifth line, suggesting the one caught up to heaven was the "Odist" and following was Christ himself. But it is interesting what happens when we consider this all one piece with one speaker. Indeed, the speaker probably is Christ, but the passage also resembles the transformation of Enoch (Similitudes of Enoch, 3 Enoch/Sefer Hekhalot) and even in some ways like the self-enthronement hymn (4Q491) from Qumran: "I am made to stand among the Gods." Christ's ascent to heaven by the Spirit enacts a transformation through a naming ceremony. Because he was the son of man, he is called the light and becomes the Son of God, becoming the most praised and greatest among the great. The Spirit, it seems, refashions Christ, remaking him in the direct image of God in all of God's greatness. She makes him according to God's greatness; in turn, God renews Christ. After being anointed and perfected, Christ becomes like one of the "near ones." Those who draw near to God in Hebrew literature are the priests, but in the heavenly setting they are of course angels--angelic priests who minister before God. As such, Christ becomes angelic. This entire Ode is about Jesus' exaltation and transformation, and now we know what he has been transformed into: a highly exalted angelic priest. As such, he is now reading to draw near: he approaches in peace.

I am not sure if we need to postulate a change of speaker, since the broader pattern of the hymn of ascent, exaltation, and transformation makes more sense if it is a single figure throughout. If assuming it is Christ (in the manner of Enoch and whoever the exalted figure in the Self-Enthronement Hymn as well as other texts from Qumran like some of the Thanksgiving Hymns is), the figure is taken up to heaven, made to stand before God, sings praises before God (as would be appropriate), and then is transformed by the Spirit to become more godlike in greatness and perfection, but ultimately becoming like one of those who draws near to God. It is a highly exalted angelification.

Yet the most interesting aspect of this angelification to me is that it assumes Christ did not have this status before. Beforehand, he was only the Son of Man--not yet the Light or the Son of God, not yet perfected, not yet fully anointed, and not yet angelified, although perhaps already praised and made great to some degree (only to be made greater). It was all something the speaker, Christ, had to attain. Although Johannine language can be found throughout the Odes, this particular image does not fit the Johannine Christology (although a lot of the other Odes, in fact, strongly resonate with the whole "word-made-flesh" perspective).

If indeed this is Christ--which the son of man/son of God lines suggest--when might this have happened? Baptism? Transfiguration? Or perhaps it is a post-resurrection event. Or is it simply unknowable.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Epic Songs: The Poetry of Religion or the Religion of Poetry

The traditional oral epic singer is not an artist; he is a seer. The patterns of thought that he has inherited came into being to serve not art but religion in its most basic sense. His balances, his antitheses, his similes and metaphors, his repetitions, and his sometimes seemingly willful playing with words, with morphology, and with phonology were not intended to be devices and conventions of Parnassus, but were techniques for emphasis of the potent symbol. Art appropriated the forms of oral narrative. But it is from the dynamic, life principle in myth, the wonder-working tale, that art derived its force. Yet it turned its back on the traditional significance to contemplate the forms as if they were pure form, and from that contemplation to create new meanings.

(Albert Lord, Singer of Tales, 220-21)

I appreciate the emphasis on singer as seer, the poet as prophet (something Ovid would capitalize on!), but I wonder what he means by "religion in its most basic sense"; what is "religion in its most basic sense"? I think he is trying to get to some rawness in this phrase, some sort of romantic effervescence of the moment of oral composition/creation, a golden age of orality betrayed by later literati, who contemplate pure forms in a phrase fraught with Platonism; this raw, dynamic, and, yes, romantic moment of continual recreation has displaced and destroyed the equally or more romantic notion of "origins," a concept the Parry/Lord theory has utterly demolished by making it incomprehensible in the context of oral tale-telling.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hebrews 1: A New Hope

James McGrath posted this, and I could not resist also having it on my blog. It is Hebrews 1 in Star Wars format created by Aaron Rathburn.

It strangely matches up quite well. I still wanted to see an imperial cruiser passing by right after it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Knowledge, Ignorance, Death, and God

From T.S. Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'" (yes, I have been reading a lot of T.S. Eliot lately):

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hollow Shadow

From T.S. Eliot's "Hollow Men":

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us--if at all--not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sontag on the Impossibility of Being "Religious"

In a fairly biting 1961 review of Walter Kaufmann's Religion from Tolstoy to Camus, Susan Sontag undermines that books' project of what she calls religious fellow-traveling--a generalized religiousness with no content--by questioning the very possibility of being "religious" in a general sense:

Does the notion "religion" have any serious religious meaning at all? Put another way: can one teach or invite people to be sympathetic to religion-in-general? What does it mean to be "religious"? Obviously it is not the same thing as being "devout" or "orthodox." My own view is that one cannot be religion in general any more than one can speak language in general; at any given moment one speaks French or English or Swahili or Japanese, but not "language." Similarly one is not "a religionist," but a believing Catholic, Jew, Presbyterian, Shintoist, or Tallensi. Religious beliefs may be options, as William James described them, but they are not generalized options. It is easy, of course, to misunderstand this point. I don't mean to say that one must be orthodox as a Jew, a Thomist as a Catholic, or a fundamentalist as a Protestant. The history of every important religious community is a complex one, and ... those figures who are afterwards acknowledged as great religious teachers have generally been in critical opposition to popular religious practices and to much within the past traditions of their own faiths. Nevertheless, for a believer the concept of "religion" (and of deciding to become religious) makes no sense as a category.... Neither does it make sense as a concept of objective sociological or historical inquiry. To be religious is always to be in some sense an adherent (even as a heretic) to a specific symbolism and a specific historical community, whatever the interpretation of these symbols and this historic community the believer may adopt. It is to be involved in specific beliefs and practices, not just to give assent to the philosophical assertions that a being whom we may call God exists, that life has meaning, etc. Religion is not equivalent to the theistic proposition.
(Susan Sontag, "Piety without Content" in Against Interpretation and Other Essays)

On the one hand, she seems to contradict herself in that she uses the terms of "religion" and being "religious" as terms of analysis--the last line especially gives that away--yet, on the other hand, she makes a point that "religion" and "religious" as general terms are not accurate descriptors or analytically useful terms for specific historical matrices, patterns, or schema of interlaced beliefs and practices--what Mary Douglas would call a symbolic system, although I would posit that all such symbolic systems are necessarily "open" rather than "closed" interacting neighboring cultures and socio-historical shifts. I don't think I use the terms "religion" or "religious" once in my dissertation. They are far too vague and, for that matter, meaningless.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Late Antique Mullet

The "business up front and party in the back" was not an invention of the 1980s, but evidently was the fashion of sixth-century Constantinople. From Procopius' Secret History:

...the partisans [the Blues under Justinian] changed the style of their hair to a quite novel fashion, having it cut very differently from other Romans. They did not touch moustache or beard at all, but were always anxious to let them grow as long as possible, like the Persians. But the hair on the front of the heart they cut right back to the temples, allowing the growth behind to hang down to its full length in a disorderly mass, like the Massagetae. That is what they sometimes called the Hunnish style. (Trans. G.A. Williamson)

It seems Procopius is blaming the Blues under Justinian for inflicting the worst hair fashion upon humanity in the sixth-century CE. But perhaps the Mullet existed even earlier, if it is the style of the Massagetae and the Huns.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

John Lennon Sings the Blues

I just saw this for the first time today...and it is well-worth your next five minutes. John Lennon sings, Eric Clapton plays lead guitar, Keith Richards is on bass, and Mitch Mitchell (from the Jimi Hendrix Experience) is on drums. The introduction is a conversation between Lennon and Mick Jagger. Here is "Yer Blues"!

A Church Wins the Lottery

From the Associated Press:

August 13, 2009
Hallelujah! Mich. Church Wins $70, 000 in Lottery

Filed at 7:05 p.m. ET

HASLETT, Mich. (AP) -- Divine intervention? Or just plain luck? No matter what the circumstances, a Michigan church is $70,000 richer courtesy of the Michigan Lottery. The Covenant Life Worship Center and its 25 members in Haslett, Mich. had one of the second-prize tickets in the Lucky 7s raffle held May 4.

The $10 ticket was purchased at a convenience store in Haslett, five miles northeast of downtown Lansing. The lottery Web site says the odds of a single ticket winning $70,000 in Lucky 7s are one in 55,556. Michigan Lottery officials say the church will receive the full amount of the prize because it is a tax-exempt group.

Pastor Marilyn Parmelee tells the Lansing State Journal that the prize money will go toward the church building fund, setting up a missionary fund and supporting local community service projects.

I cannot recall any passage in the Bible that explicitly condemns gambling, although many churches condemn it nonetheless...perhaps under the category of the "love of money" being the "root of all evil"...just not this church!

Christian Book Production in Ancient Egypt

Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist formerly at Columbia University and now at NYU, is releasing a new book on ancient Christian book production in Egypt from Princeton University Press:

For the past hundred years, much has been written about the early
editions of Christian texts discovered in the region that was once
Roman Egypt. Scholars have cited these papyrus manuscripts--containing
the Bible and other Christian works--as evidence of Christianity's
presence in that historic area during the first three centuries AD. In
Early Christian Books in Egypt, distinguished papyrologist Roger
Bagnall shows that a great deal of this discussion and scholarship has
been misdirected, biased, and at odds with the realities of the
ancient world. Providing a detailed picture of the social, economic,
and intellectual climate in which these manuscripts were written and
circulated, he reveals that the number of Christian books from this
period is likely fewer than previously believed.

Bagnall explains why papyrus manuscripts have routinely been dated too
early, how the role of Christians in the history of the codex has been
misrepresented, and how the place of books in ancient society has been
misunderstood. The author offers a realistic reappraisal of the number
of Christians in Egypt during early Christianity, and provides a
thorough picture of the economics of book production during the period
in order to determine the number of Christian papyri likely to have
existed. Supporting a more conservative approach to dating surviving
papyri, Bagnall examines the dramatic consequences of these findings
for the historical understanding of the Christian church in Egypt.

Roger S. Bagnall is professor of ancient history and director of the
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.
His books include Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton).

It looks like it is a rather short book, but, as all his work, I'm sure well worth the read. His Egypt in Late Antiquity is a must-read for anyone working in that period and place.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Philip Davies: "Watch Your Language!"

In Bible and Interpretation, Philip Davies offers some critical advice about the words we throw around as bible scholars, suggesting we need a Bible Dictionary so that we don't continue to misuse them. Here's one of the entries:

(a) A probably fictitious entity supposedly composed of the elements of two nation-states formed in Palestine during the Iron II period under the kings David and Solomon
(b) The name given to a kingdom centered in the Ephraimite hill country of Palestine between the end of the 10th and the end of the 8th centuries BCE, possibly deriving its name from a group mentioned in the MERNEPTAH STELE.

This entry greatly oversimplified the issue: the Israels that the biblical writers offer us are more varied and variegated: the books of Deuteronomy, Kings, Ezekiel, Chronicles, and Ezra, for instance, all differ on what “Israel” includes (make up your selection from Samarians, Judeans, and Judeans claiming to be returned from exile, proselytes, gerim). It is now clearer, too, that Judah and Israel probably originated independently, developed independently and, though closely associated during their history (by temporary political union and vassalage), were at their demise antagonistic neighbors. Yehud and Samerina later must have combined into some kind of religious unit called “Israel”: the Pentateuch is a set of texts canonized by both Judeans and Samarians and describe this “Israel” as a fictitious twelve-tribe nation existing from patriarchal times, enslavement in Egypt, and escape to the land of Canaan. While a few historians accordingly now speak of “Israel and Judah,” distinguishing their social and religious attributes and their memories of the past, it is all too common to find “Israel” used without discrimination between the two kinds of Israel or between either of them and Judah.

I was more interested, however, in what he had to say about supposed "Yahwism":

The problem does not stop there. Many scholarly books mention the “religion” of “Israel” as “Yahwism.” As far as I know, Yahweh was a god worshipped in Israel and Judah, and apparently also in Teman and elsewhere. But a “religion of Yahweh”? There was no “Baalism” “Mardukism,” or “Elism.” Deities are not religions. Indeed, it is misleading to use the word “religion” to imply a system of belief and practice. In the ancient Near East, people venerated many deities and participated in many cults simultaneously. Their “religion” was an amalgam of these—ancestral cults, city cults, royal cults, national cults, cults of sacred places, and so on. People were far too religious to have one “religion.”

I love that last line: "People were far too religious to have one 'religion.'" Too true. Too true. You can read the rest here.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I just found out about Dudeism, which looks like another version of my Apatheism.

Here's the snippet from the homepage:

Come join the slowest-growing religion in the world - Dudeism. An ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all, uh...lost my train of thought there. Anyway, if you'd like to find peace on earth and goodwill, man, we'll help you get started. Right after a little nap.

The site lists the great dudes of history, including Jesus, Snoopy, and, of course, THE Dude, Jeffrey Lebowski.

"The Dude Abides!"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Conceptions of Things

Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our conception of them.

(Marcel Proust, Swann's Way, In Search of Lost Time; trans. Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright)

I started reading Proust's magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time, today. I might finish it within a year, although I doubt it. This statement about the moment of awaking from dreaming just a few pages in has been, I think, something that permeates the folds of his narrative so far--our fixed conceptions of things versus the things themselves, which, in fact, are never accessible, and the turbulence churned by the assailing of our fixed conceptions when challenged by an incongruent conception equally fixed. The unfixed moment between waking and dreaming, between our conceptions of things as themselves and someone else's conceptions of things as something else, creates convolutions of space and time that keep turning back on themselves unable to reestablish any fixed conceptual point. Yet it is an old problem, one of the signum and the res.

Turning Away / Turning Toward

Yesterday, a turn away from the world meant a turn towards the self: a turn away from Marxism meant a turn toward psychoanalysis: in that case, the Real was still somehow present, if only as an aching throb, an open wound. Today, even psychoanalysis and desire must be shunned as being too modern, and as requiring an assessment of late capitalism that the postmodern subject cannot tolerate. What offers itself as a substitute is then art and religion, pseudo-aestheticism in the form we have examined it here and its ghostly afterimages in the slow rotation of the religion of art into the art of religion.

(Fredric Jameson, "Transformations of the Image in Postmodernity," The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998 (London: Verso, 1998) 134)

In the balanced dialectic of the statement, the presence of the "Real" in Marxism and psychoanalysis (even if present only as an open wound) is matched by its pseudo-aestheticism of the permutations of the relationship between art and religion (art as religion, religion of art, and art of religion). The implication is that the art/religion "pseudo-aesthetics" of late capitalist postmodernity is marked by the absence of the "Real." In this assessment, is the Real's absence equivalent to its nonexistence--a complete vanishing into nonbeing? Does the Real's absence necessarily mean the presence of the False, the Pseudo? Or, if the Real's absence indicates its nonexistence, would that not make its implicated opposition--the False--also nonexistent? If there is no Real there can be no Unreal, unless the point is that the Pseudo screens the Real, distorts our perspective (a more modernist maneuver).

Friday, August 7, 2009

More on the Jesus Fish

As I was googling for pictures of the Jesus Fish, I ran across a short essay by G. Stroumsa in googlebooks here from Messiah and Christos, on the problematic origins of this symbol.

Here are some pics of ancient depictions of the fish (much less stylized than today's bumper version) from the catacombs of Rome:

The fish and anchor is from the Catacomb of St. Domitilla; the anchor, fish, and Chi-Rho is from St. Sebastian; and the color fish with loaves (obviously depicting the famous miracle from the gospels) is from St. Callixtus.

Finally, here are some fish from the mosaic of a third or fourth-century church floor from Megiddo (just discovered in 2005):

The Ever Evolving Jesus Fish

One of the oldest Christian symbols is the fish, which has been commodified on the backs of cars for many years now.

Some of the earliest ones to come out were simple or included IXTHUS inside, the Greek word for "fish" that is also an acronym for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" (also in Greek).

Then I was amused that there was a Darwinian response, with "Darwin" inside the emblem that has now evolved into an amphibious form:

Then the "fish wars" were well underway. In response, a "truth" fish eats the "Darwin" amphibian, in what one might call the most ironic of all of fish--since, well, Christian authorities tended to oppress scientific discovery in the late medieval and early modern eras:

Although, it seems, some are responding to this with a call to "make love, not war" in one of the funniest of these car bumper emblems I have seen:

Now these things have exploded. A couple years ago I was amused to see a Jewish version!

Although I think Gefilte fish is disgusting. I was told that it is a delicacy, but I'm fairly convinced that, as in most "delicacies" that the term refers to the practices used by earlier generations out of necessity to preserve food but are no longer necessary but we do them anyway to maintain a connection to the past (and I bet if our ancestors could see us, they would be wondering why on earth we are eating this way if we don't have to).

Anyway, the symbol has exploded into various forms in a very Darwinian fashion, evolving to new local environments and conditions, whether you are more interested in neo-Paganism or revere the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

But my favorite one I just saw today while walking my dog:

Now that appeals most to my religious sensibilities most and is much better on my stomach than the Gefilte Fish.

You can purchase most of these here, here and here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pharaoh of Pop

A 3000-year-old Egyptian bust of a woman (above) from the Field Museum in Chicago (which has the largest Egyptian collection in North America, if I recall correctly) has an uncanny resemblance to the late Michael Jackson. See brief discussion here.


No, not the North American Patristics Society, but the real thing--a nice midday snooze.

I personally love naps. I am lucky to be in a profession that has a certain degree of daily scheduling flexibility that allows me to drop home for a good 20-30 minute recharge in dreamtime, but I wish I had more opportunities.

The NYTimes has a short piece critiquing the Pew Research Center's recent survey on napping, claiming that the framing of the questions clearly show the hand of a non-napper.

Something about the shape of this survey suggests — ever so slightly — that napping is aberrant behavior, a personal rebellion against workplace wakefulness. But how would the number of adult American nappers change if American businesses encouraged napping? If businesses knew, as all good nappers know, that a short nap is the best way to recharge yourself during the day?

We suspect the numbers would rise dramatically, proving that there is no hard and fast distinction between nappers and non-nappers, only a difference in opportunity. After all, napping is an entirely normal part of normal human sleep patterns. And studies have shown that short naps enhance alertness and productivity.

So why is it easier to find a coffee machine in the office than a spot for a doze? Perhaps the simplest answer is that sleep is so relentlessly personal. We are never more who we really are than when sound asleep, and being who we really are is something we’re supposed to do on our personal time.

But let’s try to think of it this way. Plenty of us bring work home. Why not bring a little sleep to the office? It worked in kindergarten. It would work even better now.

Here's to napping!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews

I am working through Ken Schenck's Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews at the moment (I'm sitting in the library with the book open as I am writing this).

I just have read the introduction and it looks like it will be an interesting read.

While I am predicting that our perspectives on temporal and spatial dimensions in Hebrews will cohere more broadly (although I cannot guarantee any agreement in matters of detail), we seem to get there by different roads.

He focuses on the narrative and rhetorical worlds assumed and shared by the earliest, let's say, meaning-making community. I too am interested in rhetorical aspects of Hebrews, especially as it relates to how the author plays with spatial and temporal dimensions (often transmuting one into another), yet he gets there through Wittgensteinian language games with some Ricouer while I prefer the route of Bakhtinian dialogism (and, since we're talking about space and time and how they interrelated, the Bakhtinian Chronotope). Also, the narrative I rely upon is perhaps a broader story. It is the ancient near eastern narrative of creation, sanctuary-establishment, enthronement, and rest (not always in the same order) found in texts like the Enuma Elish, the Baal Cycle, etc., emulated and transformed by the Pentateuch, and, then again, reconfigured in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (placed on a heavenly realm) and the Epistle to the Hebrews (also placing the sequence in the highest heaven with Christ now taking the leading role). I do not see this narrative sequence as the "key" to reading Hebrews (I don't believe in any such key), but as one of many narrative (or we might say "mythic") patterns, albeit a dominant one that insinuates itself throughout the entire homily, Hebrews engages with and transforms.

As such, I also agree with Ken that the search for a monolithic background in Hebrews is a misguided one since it assumes an ancient world in nice and tidy little boxes whereas it is increasingly clear that it was much more interactive in its networks; I prefer to think of the homilist as appropriating and transforming many traditions, imagery, and narrative patterns with which he(?) interacts.

Only one thing caused me to raise an eyebrow so far. It is when discussing that strange passage of how Jesus cleansed the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9:23). Indeed, while this picks up on the most important aspect of the Day of Atonement ceremony (which is the purging of the sanctuary of the impurity created by the people; Lev. 16), the question remains: "why would the heavenly sanctuary need to be cleansed?" Ken's answer is that the author is playing with metaphors and we will run into difficulties if we push them too far...that the author was not picturing the cleansing of a literal structure in heaven (p. 8). That's fine on the literal point, but why would the author picture Jesus cleansing a metaphorical heavenly sanctuary? It does not seem to answer the question to me, but simply remove it one step away. Maybe the point is not that we have pushed the metaphor too far, but that the author, in fact, got caught up in his own metaphor and pushed it too far to the point that it broke down.

What will happen next in the story world of Hebrews's cosmology and eschatology?

Anti-Christian Violence in Pakistan

NYTimes ran a short article on the violence and prejudice against Pakistani Christians:

GOJRA, Pakistan — The blistered black walls of the Hameed family’s bedroom tell of an unspeakable crime. Seven family members died here on Saturday, six of them burned to death by a mob that had broken into their house and shot the grandfather dead, just because they were Christian.


The attack in this shabby town in central Pakistan — the culmination of several days of rioting over a claim that a Koran had been defiled — shows how precarious life is for the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.

More than 100 Christian houses were burned and looted on Saturday in a rampage that lasted about eight hours by a crowd the authorities estimate was as large as 20,000 strong. In addition to the seven members of the Hameed family who were killed, about 20 people were wounded.

The authorities, who said the Koran accusation was spurious, filed criminal charges in the case late Sunday and apprehended at least 12 people. Officials said a banned Sunni militant group, Sipah-e-Sohaba, was among those responsible for the attacks, the third convulsion of anti-Christian mob violence in the region in the past four weeks.

Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the entire population, are often treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan, where Islam is the official religion. Non-Muslims are constitutionally barred from becoming president or prime minister.

While some Christians rise to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country’s worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers.


The rampage began Thursday in a nearby village when Christians at a wedding party were accused of burning a Koran. Few here believed that, and state and federal officials who looked into the case said it was false. Still, local mullahs seized on the news, filing a blasphemy case against the Christian family.

“We were afraid because the clerics had been railing against us in the mosques,” said Riaz Masih, a Christian and retired math teacher whose house was gutted. “They said, ‘Let’s teach them a lesson.’ ”

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been criticized as too broad, and many legal experts say it has been badly misused since its introduction in the 1980s by the military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Anyone can file a charge, which is then often used to stir hatred and to justify sectarian violence.

“The blasphemy law is being used to terrorize minorities in Pakistan,” said Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs, in an interview in Gojra on Sunday.

I left out the more graphic descriptions of the violence. I do not know anything about the history of Christianity in Pakistan, although I do know that Christianity in the middle east is as ancient as Christianity itself. Moreover, there may be evidence that Christians were in India by the sixth century CE. I also do not know what effect the social upheavals of the mid-twentieth century may have had on Christian emigration patterns between India and Pakistan.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sword-in-Mouth Disease: 1 Enoch, Wisdom of Solomon, Revelation, and Hebrews

Last month, I posted on the similar imagery used in 1 Enoch 62:2 and Heb. 4:12-13: that of the word with a sharp sword for the purpose of judgment. In the comments, Ken Schenck noted the similar imagery in Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16, while Brian Small noted some very important differences between the function of 1 Enoch and Hebrews in this regard. In his Carnival of Hebrews posts this month, he reiterates these differences, and, in the comments of that post, Tony Siew pointed out another striking usage of the sword-in-mouth in Rev. 19:15, coming from the word of God (19:13).

Here they all are:

And the Lord of Spirits upon the throne of his glory,
and the spirit of righteousness was poured upon him.
And the word of his mouth will slay all sinners,
and all the unrighteous will perish from his presence.
(1 Enoch 62:2)

The all-powerful word leaped from
heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed
a stern warrior carrying the sharp
sword of they authentic command,
and stood and filled all things with death,
and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
(Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16; RSV)

From his [the Word of God] issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Rev. 19:15; RSV)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13; RSV)

Tony Siew and Brian Small are right that 1 Enoch and Revelation have the strongest resemblance with one another--they along with Wisdom of Solomon are militaristic scenes of judgment and destruction. Wisdom of Solomon does not actually depict destruction, but it is an intimidating image nonetheless--it seems more like ongoing policing vigilance from on high. Likewise, in the first three, the word has a sword, and in Hebrews, the word is as a sword. The first and the third clearly signal physical destruction; whereas Hebrews uses the same imagery for internal divisions between soul and spirit, thought and intention--a much sharper sword indeed--although still to judge, but to judge not just actions but the inner perturbations of the conscience (destructive judgment is mentioned elsewhere). The similar imagery of these four documents is quite striking, especially as word with/as sword is quite a strange image, while the differences are just as telling of the varying perspectives (with Hebrews having the most sophisticated usage of the image, matching the author's overall heightened literary skill) of what now appears to be a stock image. Indeed, this is now at least four sources in which depict the word as sword, the word with sword, or the sword in a mouth. Does anyone know any others? Does Philo perhaps use it in an allegory somewhere? Since we have two apocalypses here, perhaps in apocalyptic literature?

The larger question is why combine the word and sword? Where does this imagery come from? And, if anyone knows, where does it go from here? Has the "word" been identified with the conquering figure of the divine combat myth by now? Is the "word" God as warrior in the well-known double aspect of God as merciful old man and God as warrior young man? I have a feeling I'll have to get my advisor's doctoral dissertation out.

Hebrews Carnival at Polumeros kai Polutropos

Brian Small has posted a Hebrews Carnival for July at his blog Polumeros kai Polutropos, dedicated exclusively to the study of Hebrews. I make four appearances--I didn't realize I had posted that much on Hebrews this month--and there is much much more.