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.