Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Origen on the Ark's Animals' Poop

I have been reading some Origen lately, currently his Homilies on Genesis.  In his second homily, which is about Noah, he works through all of the details of the ark's construction in both the biblical account and in traditions handed down to fill in the gaps.  One major gap that Origen notices is that there is nothing to account for all of the excrement the animals would surely expel during their tenure upon the boat.  He explains this absence as follows,
Certainly since Scripture related nothing about the places which we said were set apart for the excrement of the animals, but tradition preserves some things, it will appear opportune that silence has been maintained on this about which reason may sufficiently teach of its importance.  And because it could less worthily be fitted to a spiritual meaning, rightly, therefore, Scripture, which rather fits its narratives to allegorical meanings, was silent about this. (Genesis Homily 2; trans. Ronald E. Heine, p. 75).  
The last sentence gives Origen's operating assumption about scripture: that it is made to be allegorized; anything that might fit a literal interpretation but not an allegorical one has been omitted - though he admits there are some traditions that try to close the gap.  

Ultimately, however, you just can't spiritualize crap.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

God is Not Male according to Arnobius

Reading through Christian works from the 2nd to 4th century can often be mind-numbingly boring, but every so often, one comes across a gem.  In a much earlier post, I noted Tertullian's surprising call for tolerance of other religions - especially from a person whose own religion (emergent Christianity) was not well tolerated.

Today, reading Arnobius's screed against pagan religion, he offers an interesting statement about God's gender: he claims Christians refer to God in the masculine manner out of custom or habit of speech - not as a reflection of God's nature:
And yet, that no thoughtless person may raise a false accusation against us, as though we believed God whom we worship to be male - for this reason, that is, that when we speak of Him we use a masculine word, - let him understand that it is not the sex which is expressed, but His name, and its meaning according to custom, and the way in which we are in the habit of using words [alt. with familiarity of speech]. For the deity is not male, but His name is of the masculine gender. (Arnobius, adversus Gentes 3.8)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shana Tova!

Here is my favorite Rosh HaShanah tradition:

Journey to the End of the Earth

I am pleased to announce that Illinois College has approved the proposal submitted by Emily Adams (in French) and myself to take students to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St. James) in France in Spain next summer.

The travel course - or in Illinois College's parlance, "Breakaway" - is called

"Journey to the End of the Earth: Hiking the Way of St. James in France and Spain"

I am very excited to have this opportunity to lead this trip.  Here is a description:

Hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the Way of St. James – has recently become the most recognizable and most traveled pilgrimage in modern Christianity.  While recently touted as a symbol for European unity, the Camino has a long history and provides extensive opportunities to see medieval churches, castles, palaces, ancient ruins, as well as stunning views of the countryside.  Hiking the Camino offers a multifaceted experience.  This trip would be ideal for student-athletes looking for a physical challenge, language students who want to test their French and/or Spanish, and those interested in the history, religious landscape, and cultures of southern France and northern Spain.  While officially a Roman Catholic pilgrimage route, today one can also find Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists from around Europe and the world walking the “Way.”  The reasons why so many people take such a pilgrimage are varied, from seeking a religious experience to losing weight; nonetheless, most seek some sort of personal transformation. 

            In this BreakAway course, students will encounter their peers from multiple religious and cultural backgrounds from around the world, who tend to walk the Camino during the summer months.  Our trip will break into two roughly equal parts.  First we will walk the “Le Puy,” a route in Southern France.   On this part of the journey, students will see the French countryside, local farms, old Gothic churches, and a Roman ruin.  Then we will turn our attentions to Galicia in Spain, walking the last portion of the French Way leading into Compostela.  This is the most-walked part of the Camino, making it a prime opportunity for students to mingle with people of all ages from other countries.  Students will also see the extensive French influence along this route in terms of the Gothic architecture of churches, which made it into Spain with the medieval pilgrims themselves.  In both France and Spain, students will have the opportunity to share in common meals with other pilgrims, as well as partake of the local cuisine.  Since this is the time when large numbers of students from around Europe, Latin America, and Asia walk the Camino, our students will meet and interact with people their own age from many different countries.   It will be a truly international experience.

The reference to the "End of the Earth" refers to the final stop many pilgrims often make on the coast at Finisterre (literally, the end of the earth).

If you are an Illinois College student, and are interested in joining us next summer, please contact either Emily Adams or myself.

If you would like to learn more about the BreakAway program, learn how to apply to a BreakAway, and see what BreakAways have been offered in the past, please visit here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Review of Seth Schwartz's latest

I just saw this positive review of Seth Schwartz's latest book, The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad, a condensation of his book, Imperialism and Jewish Society.  Imperialism and Jewish Society should be required reading of any scholar of ancient Judaism, ancient Christianity, and Roman history.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dangerous Literature

Though not directly discussing the Bible or ancient texts more generally, there was a review article in the Chronicler of Higher education discussing "When Literature was Dangerous."  The example used there is James Joyce's Ulysses, which used to be banned in the U.S. and England until the 1930s.  In the U.S. today, however, when very little is actually censured, there appears to be very little dangers in reading and writing.  At the same time, when anything goes, does anything matter?  Individual institutions may issue a ban, but there is no force behind it like there used to be.  Whereas writers in other, more totalitarian states, often risk imprisonment and execution for their work.  Where nothing goes, does everything matter?

This, ultimately, raises a different issue than usually addressed in our dusty discussions of what something meant in antiquity or even how it has been received later.  It is not even limited to questions of cui bono? That is, who benefits from something being written.  The question is what's at stake?! And what has the writer risked?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Vanishing Jews of Antiquity" by Adele Reinhartz

In the Marginalia, Adele Reinhartz has a short article critiquing the recent growing tendency to translate Ioudaioi as "Judeans" rather than "Jews," the end of which she cites the most authoritative of sources to indicate when "Judean" (or "Judaean" for you Brits) should be retained:

Let us restore Judean to its primary geographical meaning, as pertaining to the region of Judea and its residents. Political designations such as the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, or the Popular Front of Judea would also be appropriate, as per one authoritative source (see Monty Python’s Life of Brian). Let us not make the mistake of defining Jews only in religious terms. Let us rather understand the term Jew as a complex identity marker that encompasses ethnic, political, cultural, genealogical, religious and other elements in proportions that vary among eras, regions of the world, and individuals. Let us not rupture the vital connection — the persistence of identity — between ancient and modern Jews. And let those who nevertheless elect to (mis)use Judean to translate all occurrences of ioudaiosjustify their usage beyond merely footnoting others who have done so.

Friday, June 20, 2014

He's Not the Messiah; He's a Very Naughty Boy

Mark Goodacre has posted about his attendance of the conference on Monty Python's Life of Brian currently being held at King's College, London.  "Jesus and Brian: Or, What Have the Pythons Ever Done for Us?" is investigating the intersection of the film and scholarship on the historical Jesus, New Testament, Christian origins, and the history of Judaism.  The first day finished with a Q&A with Terry Jones (who directed the film) and John Cleese.  I'm jealous of everyone there.

Here is an update from day 2 of the conference.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Linguistic Pluralism in First-Century Palestine

In the wake of "what language did Jesus speak?" (Aramaic, Hebrew, with a dash of Greek?) debate, Seth Sanders offers a more complex picture of the linguistic landscape of first-century Palestine (and how searches of monolinguistic purity is a red herring and largely ideologically charged religiously and politically). 

Check out his Religion Dispatches here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hurtado Reviews Ehrman's Latest, How Jesus Became God

I just saw that Larry Hurtado has a good-length initial review of Bart Ehrman's new book, How Jesus Became God, on his blog here.  He says he will have a fuller review in Christian Century.  I haven't read Ehrman's newest, but the review seemed fairly balanced.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Religion Courses this Fall at Illinois College

I recently posted information about my fall courses at my new institution, Illinois College, but thought I should inform people also of those taught by my new religion colleagues: Caryn Riswold and Paul Spalding.

So, in addition to my three courses:

Rel 111: Hebrew Bible / Old Testament
Rel 189: Abrahamic Faiths
Rel 335: Sexuality in the Bible

Caryn Riswold will be offering:

Rel 104: Questions of Christianity
Rel 260: Religion and Literature
Rel 371: Women, Race, and Theology

While Paul Spalding will be offering:

Rel 130 QF: LC Quest of Forever: Religions
Rel 188: Religious Traditions of South and East Asia
Rel 322: China: History and Religion

So if you are a student enrolling in Illinois College next fall, keep some of these courses in mind!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

WWUD? What Would Ulysses Do?

I must have passed this passage by before, but today it jumped out at me: according to Hippolytus Ulysses (a.k.a. Odysseus), the trickster par excellence (though Jacob gives him a run for his money) is a model for the Christian resisting the temptation of the siren call of heresy.  He writes (using the most available, ANF translation):
The pupils of these men, when they perceive the doctrines of the heretics to be like unto the ocean when tossed into waves by violence of the winds, ought to sail past in quest of the tranquil haven.  For a sea of this description is both infested with wild beasts and difficult of navigation, like, as we may say, the Sicilian (Sea), in which the legend reports were Cyclops, and Charybdis, and Scylla, and the rock of the Sirens.  Now, the poets of the Greeks allege that Ulysses sailed through (this channel), adroitly using (to his own purpose) the terribleness of these strange monsters.  For the savage cruelty (in the aspect) of these towards those who were sailing through was remarkable. The Sirens, however, singing sweetly and harmoniously, beguiled the voyagers, luring, by reason of their melodious voice, those who heard it, to steer their vessels towards (the promontory).  The (poets) report that Ulysses, on ascertaining this, smeared with wax the ears of his companions, and, lashing himself to the mast, sailed, free of danger, past the Sirens, hearing their chant distinctly.  And my advice to my readers is to adopt a similar expedient, viz., either on account of their infirmity to smear their ears with wax, and sail (straight on) through the tenets of the heretics, not even listening to (doctrines) that are easily capable of enticing them into pleasure, like the luscious lay of the Sirens, or, by binding one's self to the Cross of Christ, (and) hearkening with fidelity (to His words), not to be distracted, inasmuch as he has reposed his trust to Him who ere this he has been firmly knit, and (I admonish that man) to continue steadfastly (in this faith). (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7.1)
Firstly, I typically find these old translations (such as the ANF series) to be rather stilted and wooden.  But this passage has some striking phrases with a poet's ear (note several alliterations) and a storyteller's drama (as in the choice of quite striking, enticing verbs). 

Despite it partly being a purplish passage, its metaphor is striking: it takes the story of Ulysses and transforms it into one of Christian emulation.  While the crafty Ithacan may be a hero in the Odyssey, by the time one reaches Roman writings - such as the Aeneid, here in evidence since it is then that the Sicilian connection to his wanderings is made - his wanderings are truly errant as his distinctive trait of cunning becomes is devalued into a flaw. 

Yet his seamen become regular Christians, whether beginners, catechumens, or something else (not uneducated, to be sure, since they would not be reading the tract) - they should, in fact, not even read this work to be tempted by siren call of heresy.  While Ulysses represents an advanced or strong Christian, and the mast becomes the cross through which he can discern the song's melodies and harmonies distinctly without being tempted by them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Fall Courses at Illinois College

For any students of Illinois College who happen upon this website, especially those unsure about what to take next fall, I thought I would post my courses in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.  I will be teaching:

Rel 111: Old Testament / Hebrew Bible - RG:

Registrar's Description: The Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) records the stories, history, and wisdom of Ancient Israel; this collection of documents is one of the foundations of Western civilization. This course will introduce a variety of reading methodologies to students and use them to examine these texts. Special emphasis will be given to historical analysis: tracing the Bible's development over time and situating it in its Ancient Near Eastern context. We will also consider how these texts have been received and interpreted in modern contexts. (General Education pre-2012 = Religious & Philosophical Issues and Global Issues; Post 2012 BLUEprint = Social, Spriitual & Philosophical Issues, Ethical & Responsible Action, Speaking Extensive, Writing Extensive)
Meets: MTHF 10:00-10:50 a.m.

Rel 189: Abrahamic Faiths - GR

Registrar's Description: (Global Issues & Cultural Awareness requirement) (Religious & Philosophical Issues requirement) In the aftermath of 9/11, learning about Islam and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity has become very important. All three religions regard Abraham as a spiritual ancestor, revere the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, and share an intertwined history. But while they have similarities, they also have significant differences. This course will introduce students to the scripture, interpretation, theology, and practices of Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, and Islam via field trips and experiential learning. (General Education pre-2012 = Global Issues & Cultural Awareness, Religious & Philosophical Issues; Post 2012 BLUEprint = Social, Spiritual & Philosophical Issues, Global Awareness, Writing Extensive, Connected Course which can be -- if all requirements met -- connected to ED 203, EN 173, EN 358)

Meets: TH 12:00-1:40 p.m.

Rel 335: Sexuality in the Bible - HR

Registrar's Description: 
The role and place of women in the cultures of biblical Israel and the New Testament world have been the subject of increasing debate in recent decades. Were women more-or-less chattel or did they have power and influence in the public sphere? What was women’s role in the religious realm? Did women’s situation improve in the Greco-Roman world and in the New Testament? Did Paul support women in ministry or did he try to limit their authority in the church? These topics are significant because how they are answered has important implications for women in traditions that cite biblical models as authoritative or a guide for modern conduct. (General Education pre-2012 = Humanities, Religious & Philosophical Issues; Post 2012 BLUEprint = Connected Course which can be -- if all requirements met -- connected to GW 101)

Meets: MWF 2:40-3:50 p.m.

Have a great summer and see you in the fall!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Illinois College

Now that the school year is over, I thought I would publicly announce that I will leaving the fine faculty of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Mississippi and be joining the fine faculty of the Department of Philosophy and Religion of Illinois College this fall as a visiting assistant professor.  I appreciate the University of Mississippi giving a place to work, think, research, and develop my courses this past year, and now I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await at Illinois College.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carr on Calaway: Thoughts on the Sabbath / Sanctuary Relationship in H

I have known for a while now that David M. Carr's 2011 book, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible, included most likely the very first citation of anything I wrote - in this case, my dissertation.  Luckily, this past year, someone bought me a copy of the book (it is a bit pricy), and I have been slowly working through it.  I finally got the part where he discusses the implications of my work on the relationship between the Sabbath and the Sanctuary (in the Hebrew Bible, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, and the Epistle to the Hebrews) specifically for how I characterize the Holiness materials.  He writes:

Consider, for example, the strong focus in H materials (as in Ezekiel) on Sabbath that has been outlined with particular clarity in a recent dissertation by Jared Calaway.  Resonating with similar Sabbath foci in Ezekiel, Exod 31:12-17 makes the Sabbath "covenant" a central focus of the P Sinai episode, applying to it concepts of profanation previously reserved for the sanctuary. The H cultic calendar opens with an introductory mention of Sabbath (Lev 23:3), and concludes with a focus on the festivals of the seventh month (the festival of trumpets [Rosh Hashanah], Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth; Lev 23:23-43).  Finally, the Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 24 extends the Sabbath concept to the land as well, reconfiguring earlier regulations about leaving land fallow (Exod 23:10-11) and slave and debt release (Exod 21:2-6; Deut 15:1-18) so that the new law enjoins leaving the land fallow every seven years (Lev 25:3-7) and forgiving debts and freeing Hebrew slaves every forty-nine (another sort of Sabbath of Sabbaths; Lev 25:8-55). H concludes with an independent emphasis on the observance of these Sabbaths alongside reverence for the sanctuary (Lev 26:2; note also 19:30), actions that lead to secure life in the land. The exile is understood as a Sabbath for the land (Lev 26:34-35). 

As Calaway argues, this complex of texts reconfigures concepts of holiness that were particularly attached to the sanctuary so that they are linked in new ways with time.  The weekly Sabbath restores the individual and allows access to the sanctuary, the Yom Kippur "Sabbath of Sabbaths" purifies and thus restores the sanctuary, and the 49th Jubilee year (and exile land Sabbath) restores the land. Thus, a practice (Sabbath) that appears to have become particularly prominent during exile (see, e.g., Ezekiel) becomes a prism for a new understanding of concepts of holiness once attached to the (now destroyed) temple in Jerusalem. Much as Gen 12:1-3 and Second Isaiah represent different reconceptualizations of concepts once attached to the Davidic monarchy, H represents a seemingly exilic, Sabbath-focused reconceptualization of concepts of holiness once more exclusively attached to the Jerusalem sanctuary and its priesthood. (p. 302)

He goes one to discuss how this particular profile has convinced him that this "H" reconceptualization likely originated in exile (rather than post-exile).  For all of this, he relies upon my dissertation; nonetheless, all of my discussion of the holiness legislation and expansions appear in my book (though, due to some revising, not all in the same place - thus, the land materials appear when I discuss the promised land/Sabbath-rest passage in Hebrews 3-4, instead of being a part of my general Hebrew Bible discussion as in the dissertation).  Anyway, I want to thank David Carr publicly for the very positive shout-out in his immense book.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quote of the Day: Jesus in Chicago

So, for Mother's Day, we've watched several musicals in a row.  One of them was Chicago.  In it, Billy Flynn, the unscrupulous lawyer who can get your off on murder (played by Richard Gere in the film version) says:

"I don't mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago today, and he had come to me and he had five thousand dollars, let's just say things would have turned out differently."


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Keeping up with the Jesus Wife Fragment

In response to my last post, Mike Grondin directed me to his website, where he is keeping a timeline of important events, posts, etc., related to the Jesus Wife Fragment.  You can find this resource here.  Thanks for passing this along!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Two Recent Thoughtful Responses to Jesus Wife Fragment

There has been a lot of recent buzz about the Jesus Wife Fragment again.  So much so that it is difficult to keep track - especially if you are busy teaching and researching other things.  But I think there are two recent thoughtful responses to read.  The first is Caroline Schroeder's interview with Anthony LeDonne (here), in which she discusses why she thinks it is a forgery in the aftermath of Christian Askeland's analysis of the companion fragment from the Lycopolitan Gospel of John.  The second post is one by April DeConick, who has - by and large - remained out of the free-for-all fray until now.  Her post, however, is a series of questions that gets at the methodological assumptions we are making in asserting the fragment a forgery or not.  There is so much out there at the moment that a roundup of posts would be ridiculously large, a catalogue of ships for the Jesus Wife Fragment.  I think, however, that if one reads these two posts and follow some of their links back, one will be by and large caught up in the discussion and know what questions perhaps remain unanswered.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Djesus Uncrossed

Ok.  I realize this is a bit old, but I just saw it for the first time and was rolling laughing.  It mocks both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained via Jesus' resurrection.  Perhaps some will find it a bit blasphemous, but, if you think about it, it is not far away from how John of Patmos viewed Jesus in Revelation: "the Ro-mans will fear us."

DJesus Uncrossed (Saturday Night Live) from razorgrind on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Review of My Book (The Sabbath and the Sanctuary) in JTS

I just saw via Brian Small that there is a new review (see here) of my book, The Sabbath and the Sanctuary, published by Nicholas Moore of Keble College, Oxford in the Journal of Theological Studies.  I, unfortunately, am not a subscriber, so I do not know what is praised and what is criticized, but am happy to see that my book continues to attract attention.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

So-Called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Testing Findings

Harvard Theological Review 107 is entirely dedicated to the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife."  While Karen King's article is the lead one, the more important ones would be those dedicated to the testing of papyrus and ink samples to determine whether their composition is ancient or modern.  One can read a press release here, which also contains links to the HTR 107.

The basic gist of the testing is that the papyrus and ink are consistent with 6th to 9th century CE, which removes them from "ancient" into the borderlands between late antique and early medieval.  I have yet to read the actual articles, but hopefully will have a chance in the next few days and be able to weigh in.

Larry Hurtado has some helpful initial comments based upon a cursory reading of the HTR 107.  I especially appreciate his comment that we should NOT call this the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife," since there is no evidence that this was part of such a broader work, but the "Jesus' Wife Fragment."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tertullian on Religious Freedom

I was reading through some of Tertullian this morning, and ran across this gem:
However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion - to which free will and not force should lead us - the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. (To Scapula 2; ANF translation)
Tertullian is speaking here of Christians being forced to offer sacrifice to Roman gods, but, as a member of a minority religion in the Roman Empire, develops this broader principle of religious freedom.  It reminds me a bit of the Quranic passage that "there is no compulsion in religion." 

Hurtado - DeConick Debate on (Gnostic) Christian Intellectuals

If anyone who reads this blog has somehow does not also read Larry Hurtado's or April DeConick's blogs, please check into the discussion they're having about Gnostics as Christian Intellectuals.

Hurtado's first post; DeConick's response; Hurtado's response to DeConick's response.

Hurtado's posts predominantly raise the question of definition: what is an intellectual (and, by the way, most scholars would not fall under his definition because you have to be public - and therefore counts only those engaged in apologetics or who can draw a Greco-Roman response)?  This definition of intellectual, relying on the old distinction between a scholar and an intellectual, raises some questions for early Christian thinkers (a term I will use to cover both scholars and intellectuals).

So was Origen merely a scholar - not an intellectual - until he wrote Contra Celsum?  How truly "public" are apologetic writings?  Though Justin's apologies are addressed to the emperor, they very unlikely met their addressee - so to whom was he actually writing?  Was Dialogue with Trypho meant to be read to Jews?  Or was all of this predominantly internally distributed?  That is, were they really more public than other writings?  At this point, the difference between Justin and Apocryphon of John is its distribution network.  Nonetheless, "Gnostics" weren't very good at keeping these texts esoteric if that is what they meant to do, since it seems Irenaeus was able to get copies of it and other documents with relative ease - and if he could get copies, couldn't others?  Origen clearly had a copy of Heracleon's Commentary on John.  So, again, if meant to be esoteric, they kept falling into other people's hands if those people wanted them.  Though Larry is unsure if Valentinians count as Gnostic.

Perhaps it is not a matter of actual distribution - since it is conceivable that the Apocryphon of John and Justin's Second Apology both had relatively similar levels of distribution - but perhaps it is a matter of intention.  But I think all members of the debate would stop at this point and say we cannot reconstruct such intentions.  All we have are texts, and we tend to find Justin's apologies clear - though quite pedestrian in their quality of thinking - and Hypostasis of the Archons unclear.  Is this a matter of esotericism? Or just the distance of modern and ancient modes of thinking?  Or - put another way - how strongly does one divide the line between pseudo-philosophical inquiry of the earliest apologists and mythopoetic inquiry of the Gnostics (since Plato himself - undoubtedly an intellectual, right? - dabbled in both in Timaeus).  Relevance for other periods: are Kabbalists intellectuals?

It is an important question not just for ancient Christians, but for today: what constitutes an intellectual?

The second main question that has arisen in Hurtado's most recent post is: What is a "Gnostic" (using Michael Williams's critique from Rethinking Gnosticism)?  Michael Williams and Karen King have both written books to critique the concept of Gnostic/Gnosticism.  It is still an open debate with others defending the category (e.g., Birger Pearson and April DeConick herself) or others restricting the term to those typically designated as Sethians (e.g., Bentley Layton and David Brakke).  I doubt there will be much out of this particular definitional impasse anytime soon.

DeConick's post predominantly raises the issue of evidence, listing several traditionally Gnostic texts / figures as proof of their intellectual vibrancy - as well as the evidence of Greco-Roman responses from Plotinus/Porphyry and Celsus.  Hurtado's response to her recognizes several of these figures as, indeed, intellectuals but questions whether they count as Gnostic.  She also notes an institutional bias in modern scholarship that re-marginalizes these ancient marginalized group.

Be sure to read the posts - and let's see if they continue or if others join the chorus.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Son Has Been Born to Naomi

Here is a quick question to everyone out in cyberspace.  This past week I was teaching my "Sex, Gender, and the Bible" course and we were reading Ruth (among other things).

One of the things that caught a student's eye (but which did not catch mine) was Ruth 4:17, where the women of Bethlehem proclaim that the baby boy that Ruth gives birth to is Naomi's: "A son has been born to Naomi."

So, some thoughts that I had that I think are all wrong:
1. This has something to do with the levirate marriage.  The problem is that the point of the levirate is that the child continues the name of the dead husband (Mahlon); not the name of the living mother-in-law.  One might argue that the levirate law has already been stretched a bit in Ruth (since it is being used for a non-Israelite), but this interpretation seems really pushing it to me.

2. This is adoption.  But the text says that Naomi becomes his nurse - and I am unaware of such "adoptions" occurring for nurses elsewhere, but perhaps this is my ignorance?  There is no real adoption formula; Naomi does not directly claim the child as her own - the declaration is in the mouths of the women.

My student noted - and I see it more and more every time I read the passage (and the earlier covenant that Ruth makes with Naomi [1:16-17]) - that Naomi is almost acting like the child's father and Ruth's husband.

What do you think is going on here?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Honest Business Cards

Anthony LeDonne has compiled a hilarious stack of honest business cards, one including yours truly.  Check them out here.  Though, I think with mine Anthony was self-projecting a bit. ;)

The Symbol of Manhood

Perhaps I am finding early Christian writings funnier than they are supposed to be, but they are quite funny.  Anyway, as I was reading some Clement of Alexandria today, he warns against men shaving...anything.  He writes:

"It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood: hairiness." (Paed. 3.4)

He further writes:

"'But the very hairs of your head are all numbers,' says the Lord; those on the chin, too, are numbered, and those on the whole body.  There must be therefore no plucking out, contrary to God's appointment, which has counted them in according to His will."

Where else are you going to read page after page the importance of hairiness, from facial to body hair?  Never, therefore, shave!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Divine Flautist

I've been reading a lot of second and third century literature - right now focused predominantly on the second - for my newest project on "The Christian Moses."  I rather enjoyed the following from Athenagoras (Plea for Christians 9):

"...for I think you also...cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the divine spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute..." (ANF trans)

Irenaeus, too, at one point refers to the prophets as God's instruments (though I think he meant more in terms of general instrumentality rather than musical instruments).  So, there you go: the prophets are flutes into which the divine spirit blows.  

Spring Courses for University of Mississippi - Desoto

If you are a University of Mississippi student and looking around for some courses to take as classes start up on Wednesday (and happened to stumble onto my blog), check out the following, both of which the first class is Thursday, Jan 23:

Rel 395: Sacred Road-Tripping: Pilgrimage from Mecca to Memphis
Meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 3-4:15 p.m.


As a practice, pilgrimage stands at many intersections, crisscrossing the complex topographies of a multi-religious world.  It ties together sacred place, sacred time, and myths and legends of heroes, saints, and gods.  As one traverses a landscape, one may try to connect to the past, while providing another link for future travelers.  A pilgrimage may be a religious requirement or an individual quest.  It blurs the line between a religious journey and tourism.  Its destination may be a physical place, but also may be within oneself.  In this class we will explore this multi-faceted phenomenon from antiquity to modernity and across several religious traditions.

Rel 366: Sex, Gender, and the Bible
Meets Thursdays 6-8:30 p.m.

This course will critically examine images of women, gender, and sexuality in biblical sources, including the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the Apocrypha, and the New Testament, which biblical readers throughout the centuries have reinterpreted to changing circumstances to reconstruct “normative” views and values of gender, sex, and the body for each new generation.  Our investigations will make these values explicit, and will help us explore what different groups of people think ought to be the case.  In order to do this, we will expose the value issues to alternative theories and systematic analysis.  In this course, the normative values that we are interested in are attitudes toward sexuality and the body prevalent in Christian societies.  Historical Biblical Criticism, Feminist Biblical Criticism, and Queer Theory will be some of the perspectives used to explore these values, exposing for us the values and opening up for us alternative worldviews.

I also have an Introduction to New Testament course that will meet Tuesday nights 6-8:30:  here is a short description for it as well:

The Bible has been one of the most influential collections of literature on religion, other literature, politics, society, and culture.  Jesus and Paul are immediately recognizable figures, popularly invoked in daily life and even public policy.  From the Gospels to Revelation, the books of the New Testament saturate our culture from popular films and novels to shaping people’s behavior and national politics.  Despite the New Testament’s seeming familiarity in religious institutions and public life, however, it can be very strange and disorienting.  In this class we will recover the strangeness of the New Testament in order to read it anew in their ancient Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern contexts.  To do this we will critically examine their transmission, development, historical contexts, and literary aspects.    

Bart Ehrman Good for the Church?

On why Bart Ehrman is good for the church - or, at least, evangelical Christians (by Greg Monette, himself an evangelical Christian): here.

Review of My Book!

Mike Kibbe, a student at Wheaton, has reviewed my monograph here.  I would like to thank him for giving it some attention!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Melons of Valentinus

I am re-reading Irenaeus's Against Heresies, and came across one of my favorite passages of the book - his reductio ad absurdum discussion of Valentinus's aeonic realms:

But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus. (AH 1.11.4; ANF translation)

Say what you want about Irenaeus, he is funny!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Touching Mary's Breasts: A Forgotten Aspect of Marian Devotion?

Reading ancient Christian materials can, I hate to admit, become monotonous at times.  At other times, between all of the sermonizing and exhortations and apologies, one reads something that catches you off-guard.

I was reading through some of the spurious letters of Ignatius, and found this one allegedly addressed to  John the Presbyter, who according to tradition was Mary's (mother of Jesus - not Mary Magdalene) protector.  In any case, "Ignatius" writes to John the following that made me do a double-take:
There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.
I have never heard of such a desire/request in terms of devotion before.  Perhaps medievalists have?  Of course, paintings of Mary from much later often picture her breastfeeding and it becomes a significant part of Marian devotion then.  Perhaps its roots are here in some way?  Nonetheless, definitely out of the ordinary after reading so much about obeying your bishop.