Sunday, November 29, 2009

Islam in Switzerland

In a vote, the far right in Switzerland won a referendum to ban the construction of new minarets in the (notoriously?) neutral country. The ban itself was opposed by the current government, but the NYTimes reports...

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 25 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

I am ignorant of much of the Swiss system of governance, but would not a ban on the construction of new minarets contradict the Swiss constitution's guarantee of the freedom of religion? Can a referendum that leads to a constitutional amendment be instituted if itself contradicts other aspects of the constitution? In short, can an amendment to the constitution be ruled unconstitutional?

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.

“Most painful for us is the not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, who runs the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland. “Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.”

This vote--alongside France's problems with Muslim clothing--reflects growing fears of militant Islamic groups, which do not represent the majority of Muslims in Europe. These campaigns play upon these fears, and do not reflect a careful, considered approach to religious freedom. If anything, such proposals could create resentment among those it oppresses, and degrades the quality of freedom in such countries for everyone.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Typos: The Modern Scribal Error

Kevin Edgecomb at Biblicalia has just posted on typographical errors in his modern copy of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, particularly how the turning of Satan into Satin, turns a potentially powerful moment into silliness.

In the Bible I use for my Lit Hum class, I also have found an interesting typographical error. It is the Meridian printing, which belongs to the Penguin Publishing group, of the RSV of Gen. 4:7. The story is of Cain and Abel. Abel's sacrifice to the LORD was accepted and Cain's was not. Cain becomes angry in response, but the LORD speaks to Cain, saying (with the typo included):

Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.

With the typo, it seems that sin is spending the night, perhaps even bedding down at the door. The language of "couching" adjacent to "desire" is suggestive of sexual attraction being applied to sin. It is trying to tempt you into bed. But, this is a typo. The real version is "crouching" and not "couching." This suggests a different set of images. Instead of sexually seductive, it is a menacing animal. Crouching is like a beast poised in the position to spring and to strike. Instead of sexual desire, it is seeking to devour. You are its food. Instead of mastering a seducer, you are to tame this lion. It is a powerful image, but one lost in this edition by this modern scribal error, and, with mass printing, it is a widely disseminated error.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Clay Head Studios and the Art of Hanneke Danielle Relyea in NOLA

One of the best aspects of the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this year is that it is in New Orleans. I probably attended a panel and a half total. My schedule was packed with interviews and other events on Saturday and Sunday. It was a misty, cloudy, and rainy weekend. It felt like the U.K., but perhaps a bit warmer. But Monday the sun came out and I was able to wander through the French Quarter--not that I didn't wander before, but it was more enjoyable in the sunshine. After a plate of beignets and a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, my attention was caught by these beautiful prints/paintings--they are monoprints--of silhouetted trees against a marbled, colorful background. The colors were rich and deep, yet still caught a nice contrast against the foregrounded black trees. The trees had few leaves and the roots were in full view, exposed, just like so much became both covered and exposed after Hurricane Katrina. I spoke to the artist, hanneke danielle relyea of clay head studios, at length about her process and the different aspects of her work.

Find her beautiful prints for purchase here. I thought the work she had with her was even more stunning that the online examples. If you are in NOLA on a weekend, you might catch her around Jackson Square.

(I have in no way been asked by the artist or her studio to promote her work, nor have I been compensated in any way.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SBL Online Program Book

I just discovered tonight--and I thought I would share my new-found information--that the online SBL program book has room numbers (here)! So you can map out and find those early sessions ahead of time, and not have to wait until the last minute to figure out where you're going--especially if you are in on one of those Friday meetings.

See everyone in New Orleans!

All Eyes on Genesis 1

There seems to be a lot of interest in Genesis 1 at the moment. In addition to my post late last night on variation in its formal elements, there is a post at Early Jewish Monotheisms on whether or not it should be read as polemic. Although it shows a lot of similarities with and adapted the Enuma Elish (and, here, I think it needs to be read in terms of the larger Priestly narrative patterns in the Pentateuch), I tend to read it as liturgy rather than polemic. Gen. 11:1-9 is polemic. And, finally, there is Mark Smith's new book completely dedicated to Genesis 1--The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1--which I have bought but have not read.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Variations of Creation in Genesis 1

Years ago, Moshe Weinfeld argued (convincingly in my view) that Gen. 1:1-2:3 was originally a temple liturgy. It does come across as a tightly constructed--highly structured--hymn with, in fact, some passages that almost seem designed for antiphonal choruses. Yet, upon a close reading, there are a great many variations within this structure. Just when the structure seems established on day one, there is some literary riffing by the great artist (or group of artists--perhaps from generation to generation) that put this hymn together.

Firstly, let is take care of general organization. Gen. 1:1-2 serves as a nice prologue, or introduction to the main sections of the hymn. The "In the Beginning" or "When God began" with the famous problematic first word בראשית with a shava under the first letter already sets us off into the realm of literary labyrinths of impossibilities and possibilities. Right on the heels of it is the famous rhymed pairing of תהו ובהו. It is after this, after meeting the primordial waters and formless abyss and the spirit or Spirit hovering over the waters that we find the well-known central portion that is highly structured in a day-to-day sequence of "And God said, 'Let there be...' and there was.... And God saw that it was good...And there was evening and there was morning," The finishing touch, the conclusion of completeness comes in 2:1-3 when God completed all his work, and rests on the Seventh day, which he hallows. From this pattern of six days of work plus a seventh of rest comes the week-in and week-out pattern of life as we know it, and yet it brings meaning to our lives since by working six days and resting on the seventh, we imitate God's creating and resting on a weekly basis. We sanctify our time and lives through this imitatio dei.

But the point of this post is to look more closely at the middle sections. They may seem uniform at first glance, but a second look shows them to be quite variable in the day-to-day presentation. The first day of the creation of light already sets the basic framework that will be embroidered from day-to-day (all the following quotes will be from the RSV--not for any particular reason other than that I teach in class using the RSV and perhaps one of my students will stumble onto this and find it useful):

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

All the elements I mentioned as basic to the structure are here. God speaking things into existence, them coming into existence, God seeing that it is good, and evening and morning. The notion of divine utterance as a mode of creation is quite old. It can be found in the Enuma Elish, with which this passage has so much in common--a topic well-worn by scholars. In the Babylonian creation story, Marduk creates, destroys, and then recreates the constellations by his most effective utterance. In return, he is given sovereignty by this display of verbal power. It occurs only once in the Enuma Elish, but in Genesis 1 has become the primary mode of creation: God's speech itself becomes most effective and creative.

The very next day, however, shows a riff on this very element. While the effective utterance is still present--"And God said, 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters..."--there is a new mode of creation or, if not a new mode, a new way to discuss it: "And God made the firmament." Instead of God speaking and then those elements coming directly into existence from speech, on the second day, God speaks and then makes. He may make by speaking, but the "making" is a new element introduced. At the same time, however, there is no instance of it "being good." Why is "good" omitted here?

The third day, however, is much more extensive in its variations. Here the literary variation is doubling. Instead of only one "God said....and it was so...and God saw that it was good" there are two instances of it (1:9, 11-12). The first is the gathering of the waters, and the second is the vegetation on the newly uncovered land. Yet it returns to the first day's mode of creation: only speaking and no making.

The fourth day works by rearrangement of Day two--the day with speaking and making--with additional riffs on the act of creation. Day 2's pattern can be set as follows: speaking, making, and it was so, evening and morning. Day four, however, switches the second and third elements: speaking, and it was so, making [and setting], [it was good], and evening and morning. Unlike day 2 and like all of the other days, however, there is the element of calling these creations (the lights in the firmament) good. Moreover, there is a new element of creation: setting. Not only does God speak and make, but God "sets" the lights in firmament. (I just got a mental image of God hanging stars in the sky like we do Christmas ornaments on a tree.)

The fifth day introduces an entirely new element. On this day when the sea and sky creatures are made, God not only speaks them into creation and "creates" (same word as in Gen. 1:1), but for the first time in the narrative God blesses something: "And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas and let birds multiple on the earth.'" (Gen. 1:22). These are commands that will not come about again until the creation of humans--not even the land animals receive such blessings and commands of multiplication.

Nonetheless, the sixth day is even more interesting for another fact: the creation of land animals almost seems like an appendix. It seems to happen on the sixth day, since it occurs after the "and there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day." So just like the third day, this day also is doubled. There are two instances of God said (1:24, 26), two instances of "and it was so" (1:24, 30), and two "it was good" (1:25, 31). The two elements here are the land animals and one particular land animal, the human being. The first element shows very good balance in its repetitious phrasing that suggests antiphonal elements. If I put it in strophe/antistrophe terms, one might show it was follows:

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds:
cattle and creeping things and beasts according to their kinds."
And it was so.

And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds.
And the cattle according to their kinds,
and everything that creeps upon the earth according to its kind.
And God saw that it was good.

In these terms, the third-person narration of the antistrophe repeats and elaborates the the second-person divine speech of the strophe. Whereas the first takes "according to their kinds" twice, the second takes it three times, applying it to cattle (where it was omitted in the first part).

The second part of day six, however, is the most elaborate and, in fact, for the creation days is the climax: it is the creation of the human. It is the only day to use the plural forms. Instead of God directly uttering something into existence, the text uses the first-person plural hortatory subjunctive: "Let us." The question of who "us" is has given a wide-ranging speculation throughout the ages. Perhaps God spoke with the "royal we," or angels helped. Or perhaps this is a vestige of an older polytheism that has not yet been fully monotheized out of the tradition. Again, the human is not simply uttered into creation, but is "made," like the firmament and the sun and the moon. But the human is made in "our" image and "our" likeness. Again the plural remains, but unlike the rest of creation, the human resembles God or the Gods. This particular creation will have dominion over the rest of the created animals. In 1:27, the language is "creating" as in the water and flying creatures and the general discussion in Gen. 1:1. While there have been repetitions in the text, there has not been anything quite as rapid-fire and succinct as what follows:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Gen. 1:27)

Most repetitions in the text are two-fold and lengthy (two or three lines are then repeated for another two or three lines). Here a short, pointed line is repeated three times with variations. The first variation is a matter of word order, but the second variation elaborates the creation of the human: it is male and female, and unlike the Adam and Eve story that follows, they are created at the same time as the zenith of creation. The three-fold repetition of a short line packs a stronger punch than the earlier lengthier repetitions. It is a literary exclamation point. It emphasizes the importance of this moment of the creature who participates in the image and likeness of the creator. Like the sea and flying creatures, the human is then blessed and told to multiply. Then the earlier third-person narration of the human dominating all of creation is repeated in God's own second-person direct speech to the human. Only at this moment is the creation "very good."

In terms of formal characteristics and content there are some patterns:

Day 1 and Day 4 seem to correlate in terms of content: one is light and four is the day of specific aspects of light.

Day 2 and 5: day 2 establishes the creation of sky and sea (the two waters); day 5 is the creation of sea and sky animals.

Day 3 and 6: Day 3 establishes the creation of earth from the waters; day 6 is the creation of land animals. Formally, as well, Day 3 and day 6 use doubling of the creation pattern.

In sum, while Gen. 1:1-2:3 shows a tightly organized sequence of days of creation, the passage indicates great literary artistry in its ability to riff on the structure it had established. Each day is unique, in fact, not just in its content, but in its formal characteristics as it embroiders a seemingly strict framework established on day 1. This formal variation sorts, emphasizes, highlights different aspects of creation: those that are not just uttered, but made, created, and set--perhaps more intimate activities of the creator; those that are singled out and blessed; those that show different types of repetition to make antiphonal callings back and forth or an exclamatory emphasis.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Beckoned anew to a World
where wishes alter nothing,
expelled from the padded cell
of Sleep and re-admitted
to involved Humanity,
again, as wrote Augustine,
I know that I am and will,
I am willing and knowing,
I will to be and to know,
facing in four directions,
outwards and inwards in Space,
observing and reflecting,
backwards and forwards through Time,
recalling and forecasting.

(W.H. Auden)

Saints and Conquerors

Animal femurs
ascribed to saints who never
existed, are still

more holy than portraits
of conquerors who,
unfortunately, did.

(W.H. Auden, "Marginalia" IV)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sophocles Soothes the Traumas of War

The NYTimes has a nice piece about how a few critically acclaimed actors in the acting troupe The Theater of War have been performing readings of Sophocles' Philoctetes and Ajax, for troops dealing with the traumas of war.

November 12, 2009
The Anguish of War for Today’s Soldiers, Explored by Sophocles

The ancient Greeks had a shorthand for the mental anguish of war, for post-traumatic stress disorder and even for outbursts of fratricidal bloodshed like last week’s shootings at Fort Hood. They would invoke the names of mythological military heroes who battled inner demons: Achilles, consumed by the deaths of his men; Philoctetes, hollowed out from betrayals by fellow officers; Ajax, warped with so much rage that he wanted to kill his comrades.

Now officials at the Defense Department are turning to the Greeks to explore the psychic impact of war.

The Pentagon has provided $3.7 million for an independent production company, Theater of War, to visit 50 military sites through at least next summer and stage readings from two plays by Sophocles, “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” for service members. So far the group has performed at Fort Riley in Kansas; at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.; and at last week’s Warrior Resilience Conference in Norfolk, Va.

The scenes from “Ajax” show the title character plotting to murder Greek generals who have disgraced him. Under a trance by the goddess Athena, he ends up slaughtering farm animals he thinks are the officers. Ajax’s concubine is depicted as trying to bring him to his senses; the final scene shows Ajax in agony, committing suicide.

The “Philoctetes” segment portrays Greek military leaders plotting to trick the hero into leading an attack on Troy, and shows Philoctetes struggling with both physical and emotional pain.


“Sophocles was himself a general, and Athens during his time was at war for decades,” he continued. “These two plays were seen by thousands of citizen-soldiers. By performing these scenes, we’re hoping that our modern-day soldiers will see their difficulties in a larger historical context, and perhaps feel less alone.”

Film screenings and theater performances have long been staples of mental health and rehabilitation services, intended to provoke discussions among viewers who might dislike talk therapy but who can identify with characters or plot points.

For active-duty soldiers, stigmas about therapy can be even greater, psychologists say. Concerns that they might be passed over for promotion or regarded as weak have prevented some from seeking help from mental health professionals.

“There is good evidence that active-duty personnel worry about the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Richard J. McNally, the director of clinical training in the psychology department of Harvard University.

Some troubled veterans do not seek help even after their service careers are over, said Dr. McNally, who has worked in the field of trauma and memory, especially with war veterans, since the mid-1980s but is not involved with Mr. Doerries’s project.

“If seeing the Theater of War can reduce stigma and help veterans seek these treatments, then that will be wonderful indeed,” he added.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mormon Support of (Some) Gay Rights

From the NYTimes:

November 12, 2009
Mormon Support of Gay Rights Statute Draws Praise

The Mormon church has been a target of vituperation by some gay-rights groups because of its active opposition to same-sex marriage. But on Wednesday, the church was being praised by gay rights activists in Salt Lake City, citadel of the Mormon world, for its open support of a local ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing and employment.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously Tuesday night, made Salt Lake the first city in Utah to offer such protections. While the measure probably had majority backing on the seven-member City Council anyway, the church’s support was seen by gay activists as a thunderclap that would resonate across the state and in the overwhelmingly Mormon legislature, where even subtle shifts in church positions on social issues can swing votes and sentiments.


In its statement backing the ordinance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that while it remained “unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman,” the question of how people were treated on the job and in finding places to live were matters of fairness that did not have anything to do with marriage.

One might wonder if discriminating against gay marriage is also an issue of fairness, but supporting anti-discrimination in these more basic elements (having a job and a place to live) is a place to start.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can you Separate a Person from their Work?

That is a question perennially asked concerning Heidegger, the highly influential 20th century philosopher--some may say the most influential 20th century philosopher--and Nazi. Is it possible to separate his philosophy from his Nazism? It is something being addressed, once more, in Emmanuel Faye's book, who says "NO!" See the discussion here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Event

In physics, an event is the intersection of the three dimensions of space and the dimension of time. In ritual, I would say, an event is the coordination of sacred space and sacred time. W.H. Auden discusses the event poetically:

Between those happenings that prefigure it
And those that happen in its anamnesis
Occurs the Event, but that no human wit
Can recognize until all happening ceases.

An event is what happens between foreshadowing and retrospection, yet it is unrecognizable until its passage. It is only knowable in retrospect rather than in the moment. Perhaps. I think it is strange to express this in the perpetual present of poetry. Can there by retrospective poetic moments? Or is poetry, at least modern (and non-epic) poetry, only introspective? As such there is no poetic event, since there is no moment to see it from. Perhaps this is the point of the final line: "until all happening ceases." Is this the "happening" of a single event? Or is THE Event (which a capital E) all happening--all existence, all the ephemera that happens under the sun. As such, we cannot recognize the Event until the end of it all, the ultimate retrospection when all is seen in relation to all. THE Event is only recognizable from a non-human, a God's-eye view.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Did God Mean that Literally?

James McGrath has a great posting of a cartoon, which he in turn picked up from someone else. I just had to repost it here, let it make its way through the blogosphere.

This gets back to my posts from last year on Luke and Biblical Redistribution of Wealth. Just hit the tag on "Socialism and the Bible" to revisit those posts.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Defecation and Philosophy according to Poetry

The Geography of the House

Seated after breakfast
In this white-tiled cabin
Arabs called The House where
Everybody goes
Even melancholics
Raise a cheer to Mrs
Nature for the primal
Pleasures She bestows.

Sex is but a dream to
But a joy proposed un-
-til we start to shave:
Mouth-delight depends on
Virtue in the cook, but
This She guarantees from
Cradle unto grave.

Lifted off the potty,
Infants from their mothers
Hear their first impartial
Words of worldly praise:
Hence, to start the morning
With a satisfactory
Dump is a good omen
All our adult days.

Revelation came to
Luther in a privy
(Cross-words have been solved there):
Rodin was no fool
When he cast his Thinker,
Cogitating deeply,
Crouched in the position
Of a man at stool.

All the Arts derive from
This ur-act of making,
Private to the artist:
Makers' lives are spent
Striving in their chosen
Medium to produce a
De-nacissus-ised en-
-during excrement.

Freud did not invent the
Constipated miser:
Banks have letter-boxes
Built in their facade
Marked For Night Deposits,
Stocks are firm or liquid,
Currencies of nations
Either soft or hard.

Global Mother, keep our
Bowels of compassion
Open through our lifetime,
Purge our minds as well:
Grant us a kind ending,
Not a second childhood,
Petulant, weak-sphinctered,
In a cheap hotel.

Keep us in our station:
When we get pound-noteish,
When we seem about to
Take up Higher Thought,
Send us some deflating
Image like the pained ex-
-pression on a Major
Prophet taken short.

(Orthodoxy ought to
Bless our modern plumbing:
Swift and St Augustine
Lived in centuries
When a stench of sewage
Ever in the nostrils
Made a strong debating
Point for Manichees.)

Mind and Body run on
Different time-tables:
Not until our morning
Visit here can we
Leave the dead concerns of
Yesterday behind us,
Face with all our courage
What is now to be.

~W.H. Auden

On Literary Allusion and Imagery

...even an unveiled and substantiated allusion does not offer any essential element for the artistic and ideological understanding of that image. The image is always deeper and wider, it is linked to tradition, it has its own aesthetic logic independent of the allusion.... Even if one single allusion...could be positively would not help us understand the traditional meaning of this image...nor its specific artistic function in the novel.

(M.M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, 114; trans. Helene Iswolsky)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poetry and Truth: Forgeries

I can imagine a forger clever enough to imitate another's signature so exactly that a handwriting expert would swear in court that it was genuine, but I cannot imagine a forger so clever that he could imitate his own signature inexactly enough to make a handwriting expert swear that it was a forgery. (Or is it only that I cannot imagine the circumstances in which anyone could want to do such a thing?)

(W.H. Auden, Dichtung and Wahrheit X)

It is almost like taking Polonius' advice to Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet as inevitable: not only "to thine own self be true" but one cannot but be true to oneself. Although one's signature is duplicable, one can only falsify others and not oneself. It is an interesting idea to express in handwriting. Although I am not sure it is true, and, in fact, Auden himself expresses parenthetical doubts that not being able to think of one who could falsify oneself is due to a lack of imagination.

Doggie Church

This article from AP was just sent to me about a Church that has started a special doggie service:

Before the first Canines at Covenant service last Sunday, Eggebeen said many Christians love their pets as much as human family members and grieve just as deeply when they suffer - but churches have been slow to recognize that love as the work of God.

"The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an 'is': That God is light and God is love. And wherever there's love, there's God in some fashion," said Eggebeen, himself a dog lover. "And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that's a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that."

The weekly dog service at Covenant Presbyterian is part of a growing trend among churches nationwide to address the spirituality of pets and the deeply felt bonds that owners form with their animals.

Traditionally, conventional Christians believe that only humans have redeemable souls, said Laura Hobgood-Oster, a religion professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

But a growing number of congregations from Massachusetts to Texas to California are challenging that assertion with regular pet blessings and, increasingly, pet-centric services, said Hobgood-Oster, who studies the role of animals in Christian tradition.

She recently did a survey that found more than 500 blessings for animals at churches nationwide and has heard of a half-dozen congregations holding worship services like Eggebeen's, including one in a Boston suburb called Woof 'n Worship.

"It's the changing family structure, where pets are really central and religious communities are starting to recognize that people need various kinds of rituals that include their pets," she said. "More and more people in mainline Christianity are considering them to have some kind of soul."


But as Eggebeen stepped to the front and the piano struck up the hymn "GoD and DoG," one by one the pooches lay down, chins on paws, and listened. Eggebeen took prayer requests for Mr. Boobie (healing of the knees) and Hunter (had a stroke) and then called out the names of beloved pets past and present (Quiche, Tiger, Timmy, Baby Angel and Spunky) before launching into the Lord's Prayer.

And of course there are passing out of treats, something like a dog-biscuit communion.

I personally think it is a very good idea. It definitely would make church a bit more interesting.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Morton Smith on Secret Mark Documentary

Mark Goodacre, who as of late seems to scour YouTube for video clips of controversial finds, has posted a clip of Morton Smith discussing Secret Mark, which has been making additional waves in scholarship lately.

I have decidedly not publicly defended or refuted anyone's claims on Secret Mark, and do not expect to get anything out of me anytime soon. Those who pay close attention to my CV--the nocturnal initiates--will know why.

Here is the clip on Jesus' potential nocturnal initiation ceremonies:

Be sure to click on the link above to get Mark Goodacre's comments.

R.I.P. Claude Levi-Strauss

The very famous and highly influential anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, has just died at the ripe age of 100, just a few weeks short of his 101st birthday. Frankly, I had not realized that he had been still alive all this time.

The AP has his obituary:

November 3, 2009
French Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss Dies at 100

Filed at 12:22 p.m. ET

PARIS (AP) -- Claude Levi-Strauss, widely considered the father of modern anthropology for work that included theories about commonalities between tribal and industrial societies, has died. He was 100.

The French intellectual was regarded as having reshaped the field of anthropology, introducing the concept of structuralism -- concepts about common patterns of behavior and thought, especially myths, in a wide range of human societies. Defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity, structuralism compared the formal relationships among elements in any given system.

During his six-decade career, Levi-Strauss authored literary and anthropological classics including ''Tristes Tropiques'' (1955), ''The Savage Mind'' (1963) and ''The Raw and the Cooked'' (1964).

Jean-Mathieu Pasqualini, chief of staff at the Academie Francaise, said an homage to Levi-Strauss was planned for Thursday, with members of the society -- of which Levi-Strauss was a member -- standing during a speech to honor his memory.

Born on Nov. 28, 1908, in Brussels, Belgium, Levi-Strauss was the son of French parents of Jewish origin. He studied in Paris and went on to teach in Sao Paulo, Brazil and conduct much of the research that led to his breakthrough books in the South American giant.

Levi-Strauss also won worldwide acclaim and was awarded honorary doctorates universities including Harvard, Yale and Oxford, as well as universities in Sweden, Mexico and Canada.

He is survived by his sons Roman and Laurent.

Here is a longer obituary from the NYTimes.

The French newspaper, Le Monde, also has a lengthier obituary.

Islam and Creationism

The NYTimes has an article about a study coming out of McGill University in Montreal about the increasing prevalence of Creationism in Islamic communities and countries, a topic I know many of my regular readers will be interested in and and more informed about than I am.

According to the article, Muslim Creationists tend to be "old earth" Creationists in contrast to the more Christian "young earth" Creationists, meaning most Muslim Creationists do not think the earth to be a mere 6000 years old. They have no real problem with geologists and astronomers who argue that the earth is billions of years old. But they do seem to have some problems with biologists:

They do not quarrel with astronomers and geologists, just biologists, insisting that life is the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences.

This, as with everything, varies from group to group and from country to country, but there is a growing presence everywhere in the Muslim world. What is interesting is that evolution is not totally excluded, but only HUMAN evolution:

For many Muslims, even evolution and the notion that life flourished without the intervening hand of Allah is largely compatible with their religion. What many find unacceptable is human evolution, the idea that humans evolved from primitive primates. The Koran states that Allah created Adam, the first man, separately out of clay.

All other life can evolve, it seems, except human beings who are created directly by God. For the information from country to country, check out the article.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Noah: the Original Dionysiac!

Now, even as Noah--that sainted man to whom we are all beholden and indebted since it was he who planted the vine from which comes to us that nectar-like, precious, heavenly, joyful and deifying liquor that we call piot--was deceived when he drank of it since he was ignorant of its great virtues and power: so likewise did the men and women of the time partake with great pleasure of that lovely plump fruit.

(Francois Rabelais, Pantagruel, Gargantua and Pantagruel; trans. M.A. Screech)

Halloween from an Anthropological Perspective

One last post on Halloween, although I fully realize it is now All Saints Day. In my reading this morning, I ran across a passage from Victor Turner, who discusses Halloween in a series of cross-cultural calendrical rituals (as opposed to rites of passage) that emphasize the temporary reversal of roles and the importance of masks in those rites:

In Western society, the traces of rites of age- and sex-role reversal persist in such customs as Halloween, when the powers of the structurally inferior are manifested in the liminal dominance of pre-adolescent children. The monstrous masks they often wear in disguise represent mainly chthonic or earth-demonic powers--witches who blast fertility; corpses or skeletons from underground; indigenous peoples, such as Indians; troglodytes, such as dwarves or gnomes; hoboes or anti-authoritarian figures, such as pirates or traditional Western gun fighters. These tiny earth powers, if not propitiated by treats or dainties, will work fantastic and capricious tricks on the authority-holding generation of householders--tricks similar to those once believed to be the work of earth spirits, such as hobgoblins, boggarts, elves, fairies, and trolls. In a sense, too, these children mediate between the dead and the living; they are not long from the womb, which is in many cultures equated with the tomb, as both are associate with the earth, the source of fruits and the receiver of leavings. The Halloween children exemplify several liminal motifs: their masks insure them anonymity, for no one knows just whose particular children they are. But, as with most rituals of reversal, anonymity here is for the purposes of aggression, not humiliation. The child's mask is like the highwayman's mask--and, indeed, children at Halloween often wear masks of burglars or executioners. Masking endows them with the powers of feral, criminal autochthonous and supernatural beings.
(Victor Turner, The Ritual Process, 172).