Sunday, March 31, 2013

Creepiest Part of Jesus' Death and Resurrection in the Gospels

There is a small detail that Matthew adds to Mark's narrative concerning the broader effect of Jesus' death and resurrection:
the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  (Matt 27:52-53).
The line to inspire every zombie apocalypse to come:  the dead climbing out of their graves to mingle among the living.  Or so it seems.  From an ancient Jewish perspective, it appears that Matthew is saying that Jesus' resurrection has triggered the general resurrection (Paul says something similar--that Jesus is the "first fruits" of the resurrection, suggesting the season of resurrection is at hand for the rest of the "fruits").  The general resurrection occurs at the end of time (or the end of the age), which suggests that at Jesus' death and resurrection the "Kingdom of Heaven" has broken into this world.  But, still, the imagery to express this resurrection-theology is rather gruesome.  Happy Easter!

UPDATE (April 1, 2013):  Jim Davila raises some additional questions of this passage here, and refers to another discussion of the passage found here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Leviathan vs. Behemoth

I was reading a bit of Leviticus Rabbah and found a gem of a passage:
R. Judan b. R. Simeon said:  Behemoth and the Leviathan are to engage in a wild-beast contest before the righteous in the Time to Come, and whoever has not been a spectator at the wild-beast contests of the heathen nations in this world will be accorded the boon of seeing one of the World to come. (Leviticus Rabbah 13.3)
How cool is that?  Behemoth vs. Leviathan--the great, untamable beasts described at the end of Job!  Come one, come all for this once in an afterlife-time event!  It is like King Kong versus Godzilla!  It is also an interesting view of the afterlife:  it is compensation for this life.  By giving up the animal fights of the arena in this life (reference to Roman practices), one gets to the see the ultimate beast-fight in the world to come.  (Leviticus Rabbah, by the way, predicts that they will kill each other in this contest.)

April DeConick on the Women of Easter

April DeConick has a piece in the Huffington Post of the forgotten women of Easter.  Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"God and the Senses" at Society of Biblical Literature

So I found out (a couple days ago now) that my paper proposal for the Society of Biblical Literature's Group, Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, has been accepted.  Here is my title and abstract:

“God and the Senses:  Smelling, Tasting, and Touching God in Early Christianity”

The study of ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought, writings, and practices has typically focused on divine visions and auditions, how seeing and hearing God is portrayed or represented or the practical steps involved to see or hear God in a ritual context, whether esoteric or in broader liturgical contexts.  While justified by many of the writings themselves, this focus nonetheless overlooks that much ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought and practice engaged all five senses.  In this paper, I propose to investigate how early Christian writings variously spoke of encountering God not only by sight and hearing, but also by smelling, tasting, and touching. 

Firstly, this paper will programmatically establish that the engagement of all five senses or senses other than just sight and hearing are used to represent the divine encounter, and that this usage was widespread:  while found in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish sources, this paper will focus on early Christian works chosen to illustrate variety and widespread dissemination (e.g., Gospel of Philip, Origen’s Homilies on the Song of Songs, and Augustine’s Confessions).

Secondly, this paper will consider the implications of these engagements for how ancient Christians understood the relationship between God and humans, in terms of soteriology, transformation, and the possibilities and limits of such divine-human encounters.

Thirdly, this paper will consider what insight this might give into ancient Christian practices, whether esoteric practices or mystical interpretations of exoteric practices, such as baptism or the Eucharist, that are used to create such an encounter or that are reinterpreted in light of such an encounter.
As those who follow my blog may realize, the germ for these ideas came out of a series of blog posts I have been doing (for a long time now) called "God and the Senses."  It is a testament to the importance of using digital outputs, such as blogs, to get some ideas out there, let them germinate and develop, and now I can present some of my maturated findings in a more disciplined manner.  See you in November!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Super Micro-Cosmic Space and Time (or, in other words, William Blake)

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

(My Title is Commentary Enough)

Sabbath and Sanctuary is Coming Soon!!!

My monograph, The Sabbath and the Sanctuary:  Access to God in the Letter to the Hebrews and Its Priestly Context, is now officially being promoted in the Mohr Siebeck catalogue

Here is the info:

Jared C. Calaway

The Sabbath and the Sanctuary

Access to God in the Letter to the Hebrews and its Priestly Context

Who can enter the sacred and heavenly presence of God? And how? Various ancient Jewish and emergent Christian groups disputed these questions in the first century CE. Jared C. Calaway states that the Letter to the Hebrews joined this debate by engaging and countering priestly frameworks of sacred access that aligned the Sabbath with the sanctuary. From the Hebrew Bible through late Second Temple Judaism, the sanctity of the sanctuary could be experienced through the Sabbath, sacred space through sacred time. In its sweeping vistas of Sabbath rest and the heavenly homeland, the heavenly sanctuary and the coming age, and the heavenly priesthood, Hebrews reworked this priestly framework, showing familiarity with its traditional and contemporary forms, such as the "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice". In a manner resembling postwar layers of the emergent Christian tradition, instead of entering God’s sacred and heavenly Presence through the weekly Sabbath, one could only experience the heavenly realities of the Sabbath and the sanctuary through faithfulness and obedience to Jesus, the faithful and obedient heavenly high priest who purifies, sanctifies, and perfects.
The catalogue says it should be out in May 2013, and I am working hard to make sure it is as close to that as possible!  Order it for all of your libraries!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Plenary Indulgence and Social Media

So, I have a question for any Catholic canon law specialists.  The blessing today (3/13/13) for the new pope, Francis I, included a plenary indulgence.  They explicitly stated that the plenary indulgence worked remotely through media (so if you watch the blessing on tv, hear it on the radio, watch it on the internet, it counts). 

I realize that remote blessings and indulgences have occurred on television before, but with recording technology and the re-posting of the blessing on the internet, might raise some issues.  

1.  Temporal issues.  The plenary indulgence is mediated through television, the internet, etc.  Is there a temporal limit to the blessing?  That is, does this mean whenever one watches the recording they receive a plenary indulgence?  If there is a temporal limit, what is it? 

2.  Problem of recording and repetition.  If there is no temporal limit, or at least a generous one, an additional question arises.  Since the blessing is now online and can be re-posted and re-watched, can one re-watch it and receive the indulgence again?  If not, why not?  If so, what would this mean for the future of penance?

3.  If I post the video of the indulgence on my blog, does my blog become a means of grace?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On the Dangers of Nostalgia for the Distant Past

So, to go along with my previous post on why I would not want to time-travel back to antiquity, I was just reading in Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents a recurrent issue in European writings from the discoveries of the Americas and other places in the 1500s and 1600s through the present day really of the idea of the "noble savage" and the longing for the "state of nature."

He writes, "In consequence of insufficient observation and a mistaken view of their manners and customs, they appeared to Europeans to be leading a simple, happy life of few wants, a life such as was unattainable by their visitors with their superior civilization" (Standard Edition, pp. 38-39; trans. James Strachy).

Freud, much like his predecessors and contemporaries then makes a fairly standard (but methodologically problematic) maneuver of equating such non-European indigenous societies with either classical antiquity or an even earlier age:  "It seems certain that we do not feel comfortable in our present-day civilization, but it is very difficult to form an opinion whether and in what degree men of an earlier age felt happier and what part of their cultural conditions played in the matter" (41).  He of course goes on to talk about the psychological issues involved and the relationship between apparent objectivity and actual subjectivity in observation.  Anyway, the point is plain without the psychoanalytic apparatus.  We might just call it the "grass is greener" principle, or historical nostalgia (something critiqued, by the way, in one of Woody Allen's recent films, "Midnight in Paris").  It is true with time as well as space.

If anyone, by the way, ever took time to read some of the earliest posts on this blog, you might get a clue into its name:  antiquitopia, a "no place in ancient time."  It critiques the way in which so many people look to and reconstruct an idealized ancient past that, frankly, never existed.

Would You Visit Antiquity if You Could?

Sometimes people (students, family, my spouse, etc.) ask if I could go back in time to antiquity, if I would?  That is, if the Doctor showed up on my doorstep with his TARDIS and asked where and when I would like to go, would I visit the people I study for a living?

I always answer absolutely NOT.  I have many reasons why I don't want to meet the people or visit the ancient societies that I study.  One reason is this.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Edward Said on the Importance of Canon

As someone who, on the one hand, has and highly enjoys teaching broad core curricular courses (e.g., Columbia University's Literature of the Humanities) that stretch you as both instructor and student, allowing a broader view of things than is typical in teaching and especially research, and, on the other hand, always attempts to familiarize students with texts outside of "canon" (whether strictly understood in terms of the biblical canon or more loosely in terms of a "literary canon"), I find the following statement by Edward Said quite striking:
We must therefore read the great canonical texts, and perhaps also the entire archive of modern and pre-modern European and American culture, with an effort to draw out, extend, give emphasis and voice to what is silent or marginally present or ideologically such works.  Culture and Imperialism, 66.
He is understanding "canonical" in the broader sense--the "great books" point of view.  On the one hand, the emphasis lies with the latter part of the sentence:  one reads against the grain, fills in the gaps, takes highly ideological representations of colonial situations (in this case, in the Caribbean and India) and, thereby, reads these works by those who have been (mis)represented.  (There is a parallel in, for example, feminist biblical criticism to read the Bible--an andro-centric text--from the position of those (mis)represented; that is, women.)  But this reading, in fact, must be balanced with the first, anchoring clause:  "We must therefore read the great canonical texts."  One must, indeed, know the texts--and know them well and thoroughly--to critique them.  In some ways, Said can be read as a great champion of the Euro-American "Great Books" curriculum.  The Post-Colonial critique of the Euro-American "canon" reasserts or solidifies that canon; the feminist and other critiques of the biblical canon reinforces that canon.  The next step, however, is to bring this reinforced canon into dialogue with the extra-canonical (think bringing Conrad into dialogue with Chinua Achebe).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hekhalot Literature in Context

Rebecca Lesses, a few days back, has posted on a book from Mohr Siebeck that she contributed to called Hekhalot Literature in Context, edited by Ra'anan Boustan, Peter Schäfer, and Martha Himmelfarb.  Her own piece is "Women and Gender in the Hekhalot Literature."  Here is the info from the Mohr Siebeck website:

Hekhalot Literature in Context

Between Byzantium and Babylonia
Ed. by Ra'anan Boustan, Martha Himmelfarb and Peter Schäfer

Over the past 30 years, scholars of early Jewish mysticism have, with increasing confidence, located the initial formation of Hekhalot literature in Byzantine Palestine and Sasanian or early Islamic Babylonia (ca. 500–900 C.E.), rather than at the time of the Mishnah, Tosefta, early Midrashim, or Palestinian Talmud (ca. 100–400 C.E.). This advance has primarily been achieved through major gains in our understanding of the dynamic and highly flexible processes of composition, redaction, and transmission that produced the Hekhalot texts as we know them today. These gains have been coupled with greater appreciation of the complex relationships between Hekhalot writings and the variegated Jewish literary culture of late antiquity, both within and beyond the boundaries of the rabbinic movement. Yet important questions remain regarding the specific cultural contexts and institutional settings out of which the various strands of Hekhalot literature emerged as well as the multiple trajectories of use and appropriation they subsequently travelled. In the present volume, an international team of experts explores—from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (e.g. linguistics, ritual and gender studies, intellectual history)—the literary formation, cultural meanings, religious functions, and textual transmission of Hekhalot literature.

Survey of contents:
Ra‘anan Boustan: Introduction
I. The Formation of Hekhalot Literature: Linguistic, Literary, and Cultural Contexts
Noam Mizrahi: The Language of Hekhalot Literature: Preliminary Observations - Peter Schäfer: Metatron in Babylonia - Michael D. Swartz: Hekhalot and Piyyut: From Byzantium to Babylonia and Back - Alexei Sivertsev: The Emperor’s Many Bodies: The Demise of Emperor Lupinus Revisited - Klaus Herrmann: Jewish Mysticism in Byzantium: The Transformation of Merkavah Mysticism in 3 Enoch - David M. Grossberg: Between 3 Enoch and Bavli Hagigah: Heresiology and Orthopraxy in the Ascent of Elisha ben Abuyah - Moulie Vidas: Hekhalot Literature, the Babylonian Academies and the tanna’im
II. The Transmission and Reception of Hekhalot Literature: Toward the Middle Ages
Peter Schäfer: The Hekhalot Genizah - Gideon Bohak: Observations on the Transmission of Hekhalot Literature in the Cairo Genizah - Ophir Münz-Manor: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Hekhalot Traditions in European Piyyut
III. Early Jewish Mysticism in Comparative Perspective: Themes and Patterns
Reimund Leicht: Major Trends in Rabbinic Cosmology - Rebecca Lesses: Women and Gender in the Hekhalot Literature - Andrei A. Orlov: “What is Below?” Mysteries of Leviathan in the Early Jewish Accounts and Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 - Michael Meerson: Rites of Passage in Magic and Mysticism - Annette Yoshiko Reed: Rethinking (Jewish-)Christian Evidence for Jewish Mysticism

Monday, March 4, 2013

Suffer the Little Children by Jodi Eichler-Levine

I am pleased to announce that Jodi Eichler-Levine's book, Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature.  Here is the blurb:
This compelling work examines classic and contemporary Jewish and African American children’s literature. Through close readings of selected titles published since 1945, Jodi Eichler-Levine analyzes what is at stake in portraying religious history for young people, particularly when the histories in question are traumatic ones. In the wake of the Holocaust and lynchings, of the Middle Passage and flight from Eastern Europe's pogroms, children’s literature provides diverse and complicated responses to the challenge of representing difficult collective pasts.
In reading the work of various prominent authors, including Maurice Sendak, Julius Lester, Jane Yolen, Sydney Taylor, and Virginia Hamilton, Eichler-Levine changes our understanding of North American religions. If children are the idealized recipients of the past, what does it mean to tell tales of suffering to children? Suffer the Little Children asks readers to alter their worldviews about children’s literature as an “innocent” enterprise, revisiting the genre in a darker and more unsettled light.
 This is a heavily revised version of her dissertation.  Congratulations, Jodi!  This is quite an achievement!