Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Minature Earth

Movie Short: The Minature Earth

This movie has been up only a month, and it has been viewed over 365,000 times. It gives you a snapshot of our world, how fortunate we are to have what we do, and how we might realize we have a driving responsibility to help. I think this is a message that the Scriptures would want us to have in the here and now.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Death and the Demonic (Response to Dan's Comment)

Asking a great question, Dan T. comments: "Death is demonic." Says who? What's your theological problem with death? I've heard various positions on death, but nothing so strong as "death is demonic."

Allow me to respond:
I would say yes, in the biblical world, death is opposed to God, life, and holiness, even to the radical extent that it has active power to contaminate the Israelite community and the tabernacle/temple. What is more, in the Israelite cult of the dead, apostates tried to access Death's active, numinous power to prop themselves up. This appears to be going on, for example, in Isaiah 57:9 when it speaks of journeying to Molech deep down in Sheol. One sends envoys to Death and makes covenants with death, because one recognizes its numinous, demonic power. We actually have an ancient Semitic illustration of this sort of thing thanks to the discoveries at Pozo Moro.

Apologies to my readers who find this image disturbing. It shows a child sacrifice to a monster of death. The head and legs of the child are visible sticking up from the basket in the monster's hand. A pig lies on the offering table in front of the monster (cf. Isaiah 66:3). After the discoveries at Pozo Moro, it is hard to deny that Death is demonic in biblical thought.

Results on our Poll: Professors and Politics

We've had a good response so far to our poll on the place of politics in the classroom, with 15 votes registered so far. Interestingly, of these 15 votes, no one believes the professor's lectern is to be used outright to support a political candidate or party. Also, everyone who voted has probably already given some thought to this issue, since there were no undecideds.

The two middle options are fairly close: a little more than half of you voted: "You can certainly discuss politics, and perhaps get away with 'indirect' endorsements." A little less than half of you voted, "No, tax exempt institutions can never endorse candidates or parties." Let's pause for some reflections. As always, I would be most interested in your comments (just add them to the end of this post). Let us agree that we are not talking about posting political views on personal blogs, personal-car bumper stickers, and the like. This is about what is said in the classroom, posted on one's office door, or preached in the seminary chapel.

First, let me say that I believe that this issue should be given extra thought for members of a theological faculty. (Extra thought, that is, beyond the threat of the recent crackdown by the IRS on non-profits who are entering the political fray vocally.) I believe that seminary faculty should pour their energy into getting students to think theologically. If one jumps to identify theology with a given political ideology or platform too soon, you have shortcircuited your calling as a divinity professor. Do others agree?

Yet, I can agree with the 53% who vote for indirect endorsements from the professor's lectern. Perhaps especially in Old Testament studies, we know that our subject matter impels us all, liberal, moderate, or conservative, to take a stand, act on our beliefs, and make a difference in the real world of politics. You can model that for students, as long as the students know they are free to concretize this move in their own way, respecting their own political decision making.

I must say that another part of me fully agrees with the 47% who voted against endorsing political candidates or parties. Doing this even indirectly can often have a chilling effect on academic freedom and dialog at one's school. Recently at my school, a solid group of students has felt that their (more conservative) views are disrespected. I am sure they are not making this up. I won't name names, but I have heard some very strong and specific messages from the seminary pulpit at times and I can see plainly what people are posting on their office doors...


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Response to Comments on Death!

Dear Joe and Dan, Many thanks for making comments on this morning's post. Why am I not surprised to see a spark of tension between them?

Sorry Dan, but again I find myself closer to Joe's position. Let me quote Yale's Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book Lament for a Son (p. 63):

Someone said to Claire, "I hope you're learning to live at peace with Eric's death." Peace, shalom, salaam. Shalom is the fulness of life in all dimensions. Shalom is dwelling in justice and delight with God, with neighbor, with oneself, in nature. Death is shalom's mortal enemy. Death is demonic. We cannot live at peace with death.

...He did not say that on that day we would live at peace with death. He said that on that day, "There will be no more death."

C'mon you "lurkers"---what do you all think? Comments invited!

Burial and Afterlife in Yahwism, Part 3

(For the preceding post in this series, click here.)

In biblical faith, as in ancient Near Eastern culture, Death was a horror and a serpentine monster--an unclean, irrational, and intruding enemy of life and holiness. Contrary to almost every scholarly discussion you read about Death's city, "Sheol," biblical faith is not resigned that every soul must end up captive there.

To resist Death's snares, one huddled with one's people, was gathered to one's ancestors in death. One's relatives kept one's name alive, buttressed the ties of kinship that bound together the communion of saints.

One small evidence of the attempt to keep the snares of Sheol at bay are the clay lamps found in great numbers in Israelite burials. Here is yet one more spiritual attempt to fend off Sheol's dark shroud (see Psalm 88:6; 143:3; Lamentations 3:6).

From time to time, you will see scholars suggest that, in biblical faith, Death does not necessarily represent an antithesis to God's will (James Barr), that it was simply part of an ordered, harmonious creation (Lloyd Bailey). Horse pucky! Just compare the anguished cries about Death in the psalms and the parallel expressions in traditional African cultures. In Africa, Death is always and everywhere unnatural and preventable. When someone dies, the people always suspect some evil force to be at play: most likely, magic, sorcery, or witchcraft. There is a strong desire to extirpate Death. The Acholi sing, "If I could reach the homestead of Death's mother, I would make a long grass torch... I would utterly destroy everything!" "If," only if... (series to be continued).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Jeremiah's Interface with God

I recently submitted a blurb in support of Dr. Carol J. Dempsey's forthcoming book in the Interfaces series, Jeremiah Preacher of Grace, Poet of Truth.
That gave me a chance to read the galleys. (The book comes out this winter; for ordering info, click here.)

Carol understands Jeremiah as a skilled orator, adept at rhetorical artistry. Thus, she chooses rhetorical criticism and narrative criticism as her interpretive tools. Jeremiah's book emerges as a thing of beauty and power. Jeremiah's pathos comes across clearly as well. He simultaneously bears both God's pain and his people's pain at the awful circumstances that engulf them.

Reminder re: Current Poll

So far, 12 folks have voted in my current poll. (The poll is in partnership with the MAR-SBL site, and is found here.) Vote soon! We'll discuss the results in a day or two. The question this time is: Should professors use their lecterns to endorse a political candidate or party?


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Neat Link: The Global Bible

I just got wind of a new project underway to build a free, web-based version of Abingdon's Global Bible Commentary. To check out the start of the project, click here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

What Do You Think? Albright on America as "Exceptional"

Following up on the post just previous, here is 2 minutes of Albright reading from her new book. I'd love your comments on what she has to say. I'm certain it will provoke a few reactions!

this is an audio post - click to play

Madeleine Albright's Recent Visit to the Seminary

I've been asked to say something about the visit here on September 14, 2006 of the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, former United States Secretary of State. Yes, she did indeed speak to over 600 guests here at Virginia Seminary, offering observations on ethics, foreign policy, the war in Iraq, and inter-religious understanding. To read her full prepared text (PDF), click here. There were some memorable points. I thought it was apt when she insisted that the real axis of evil in the world was poverty, ignorance, and disease.

However, having already read her new book, I found the extended question and answer period to be the most interesting part of the evening. At one point, talking about her current work, she noted how giving peripheral families in the Global South some land-tenancy rights would go a long way to improving the world. In my humble opinion, 2,800 years after the E source, the prophet Micah, and the book of Deuteronomy, this is a message whose time has come!

I must say, I was disappointed that the audience (many priests and church people) had only political and ideological questions--no theological thinking! I hasten to add that Albright's book was trying to combine religious thinking and foreign policy thinking. The nature of the questions was not her fault.

Burial and Afterlife in Yahwism, Part 2

I began this series on Friday (find part 1 here).

In this depiction of Sarah's burial, notice all the furnishings, vessels, and food stuffs brought into the cave tomb with Sarah's body. Such deposits, typical of Hebrew burials, show the concern of the living for the needs and comfort of the living-dead.

Unlike at surrounding cultures, such as at Ugarit, such grave deposits were not restocked or freshened in Hebrew practice. Rather, as the soul was more and more "gathered to the ancestors," the living let it slip away more and more into the company of the silent kin. Eventually, the bones of the deceased were unceremoniously swept into the tomb's repository.

African religions supply a parallel. The living-dead, over time, slip away from Sasa time, when they are remembered personally, by name, by living kin, and move into Zamani time, when they fully join the company of the silent kin.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lu Lan's Biblical Art

Today I gave a talk on "Who Wrote the Bible" at the Rev. Will Scott's church, St. John's McLean. Thanks for all your behind-the-scenes work, Will! After my talk and after the morning prayer service, Catherine and I went to the church's upper floor gallery to see the biblical paintings of Chinese American artist Lu Lan. The exhibit will be available from August 28 through November 3.

Here is her painting of Ruth bearing up under her commitment to stay with Naomi:

When you look at the actual painting in person, in the upper left there are two Chinese characters for successful harvest and agricultural bounty.

Lu Lan was born in Nanjing, Mainland China, in 1972, where she grew up in a family that encouraged her pursuit of the arts in her work and study. Her mother is also an artist. She graduated from Nanjing College of Arts with a Bachelor's degree. After graduation she worked for the Amity Christian Art Center for five years and spent most of her spare time doing Biblical Story Painting. She has been influenced by Chinese traditional pattern, form and style, and also by some of the Chinese minority art. In these paintings she uses bright colors, vivid images and traditional costumes, which convey a Chinese message in visual context. Lu Lan has attended locally Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she received a Master of Theological Studies in Religion and Art in May 2002. She has had an Artist-in-Residence Fellowship at the Henry Luce III Center for Art and Religion at Wesley.

Psalm 54 (Year B, Proper 20; 16 Pentecost)

Where do the the enemies go wrong in Psalm 54? How can we make sure we don't fall into their abortive mode of life?

The BCP translates v. 3 to the effect that the enemies are those who have "no regard for God." That rendering is a little weak. The Hebrew suggests that these folks' lives are off track because they do not keep God front and center. "They have not set God before them. Selah."

They do not concentrate, and take God's nature/name (God's "might" [v. 1]; God's reliability [v. 5]) to heart, letting this focus determine their course, not permitting their eyes to wander. I've tried to craft an image that symbolizes the opposite form of life from that of the enemies of Psalm 54.

New "AudioBlogger" Feature

this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, September 23, 2006

That's "Cubits," not "Cupids" dummy!

Hats off to Rev. Chuck Hatfield, a regular reader, for contributing this toon. Contributions of any kind to this blog are always welcome.


Monty Python - International Philosophy

It's a hilarious soccer match between the great philosophers of Germany and those of ancient Greece. The line-ups include LEIBNIZ,KANT,HEGEL,SCHOPENHAUER, and WITTGENSTEIN for Germany and SOCRATES, PLATO, and ARISTOTLE for Greece. Enjoy!

Friday, September 22, 2006

New Blog Poll: Politics and the Professor's Lectern

New Poll on Biblische Ausbildung Blog!
Well, I was watching Charlie Gibson's news report tonight, and it inspired me to put a new visitor poll up (in partnership with the mar-sbl site).

According to the ABC News report, the Rev. Edwin Bacon Jr and his Episcopal parish, All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. to be specific, are under an IRS investigation into an anti-war sermon delivered before the 2004 presidential election.

We professors work for tax-exempt institutions, just like Bacon does. And I get the impression that we often take sides politically in very public ways. So here is the poll question: Should professors use their lecterns to endorse a political candidate or party?

Please cast your vote by first accessing the poll, either by clicking the link on the sidebar to the right, or simply by clicking here. If enough people vote, in several days we can review the results and make some observations.


Rosh Hashanah

Just a reminder that Rosh Hashanah is here. New Year's Blessings to All! ---Stephen C.

To Be Gathered to One's People

This is an artist's depiction of Sarah's burial during the Bronze Age (Genesis 23). The cave was to become a family tomb, where Abraham himself would be buried (Genesis 25) and, in time, the couple's offspring. It was crucial for Abraham to establish a family tomb on family owned land, so that after death he and Sarah would not be alienated from the ties of communion of their kin. For his soul to become alienated like that would mean being "cut off" (see Lamentations 3:54; Psalm 31:22; 88:5-6; Ezekiel 37:11).

What did it mean for an ancient Hebrew person to be "gathered" to their people when they died? (E.g., Gen 25:8; 35:29; Deut 32:50.)

Certainly, the bones of all family members were eventually gathered together in special bone repositories. This physical practice is symbolism; please don't forget about the reality behind it. When one dies one hopes to be gathered to one's people in order to avoid the dark forces of Sheol, which isolate and "cut off" the soul. To have one's bones in a repository symbolizes a spiritual antidote to Sheol, and apotropaic counter to Sheol's threat of excision from one's family communion.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Royal "Interior Design" in Biblical Judah

Ever wonder what the decoration scheme was inside Solomon's temple? What the walls of an ancient Judean palace might have looked like? A clue comes from an ancient burial chamber of the First Temple period. Take a look at this photo of said chamber, which lies under the St. Etienne Monastery in Jerusalem:

The rock walls seem to be carved to resemble the cedar paneled walls of the living spaces of Judah's upper class. To the right of the door, you can imagine some sunken cedar panels. I've gone ahead and used Adobe photoshop to fill in the cedar panels and planks where they seem to me to belong. See the reconstruction below and let me know what you think! (Bear in mind that I'm neither a carpenter nor the son of a carpenter!)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We Have Our Winners

glowing crown of laurel

Okay, the results are in and the contest is closed.

I want to award 4 prizes instead of just three. The winners are: K. Wilson, Lithuania; J. Cathey, Texas; C. Hatfield, Florida; and D. Baird, Chicago. Each will receive a $5 gift certificate for use at my A-Store. Congratulations!

New Blog Contest!

Update (8pm): we have our winners: see next post above. Thanks to everyone who entered.

To enter my current blog contest, you must send me an email (not a comment). One entry per person only, please.

The first 3 (three) correct emails that I receive will all be winners, and will receive a $5 gift-certificate for use in my A-Store (click on book-pile image on the right sidebar).

The Abraham & Sarah compound has not be cleaned lately, and several cans of Ugarit Cola are littered about. Can you find the number of Ugarit Cola cans in the image?

Good Luck! I will post the winners in a new blog post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Call for Papers!

Click to Go To the MAR-SBL Call for Papers

Friends, I just posted the "CALL FOR PAPERS" to the MAR-SBL site. To check it out, please click here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Teaching Slide: Tel Dan Inscription

Power-point teaching resource: Tel Dan Inscription
(click to enlarge)

New RBL review: Holcomb, ed., Christian Theologies of Scripture

I. Howard Marshall has just reviewed Justin S. Holcomb, ed. Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction (click here for the PDF file).

My colleague in theology, Dr. Jeff Hensley has written the treatment of Schleiermacher. Marshall comments: "Jeffrey Hensley gives a very useful descriptive summary of Schleiermacher’s understanding of Scripture from The Christian Faith §§127–32, which is couched in traditional terms of inspiration and authority but is nevertheless open to a fairly radical rejection of the traditional status of the Old Testament."

No matter how much people say Schleiermacher has been given a bad rap, I just can't help but see him as my enemy! Sorry, Jeff!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Isaiah 50:4-9 (Year B, Proper 19; 15 Pentecost)

Today's appointed lectionary reading from Isaiah 50 celebrates the calm wisdom and "disciple's ear and tongue" of Isaiah's Suffering Servant (Isaiah 50:4-9). I believe that the best teachers and professors are those who take up this model in their pedagogy.

The best professors of Bible are those who empower their students to plumb the Bible's depths for themselves, since they respect their students. They rarely lecture at their classes, choosing instead to sit constantly beside the students as a fellow learner, joining with them in hearing and studying the seemingly inexhaustible riches of the Scriptures.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Teaching Slide: Tel Zayit Inscription

New Power-Point slide: Tel Zayit Inscription (click to enlarge):

Bill Cosby: "Noah Build An ARK!"

This is one of Bill Cosby's most famous comic routines, the Noah routine. It was posted on YouTube exactly two months ago. Enjoy; it's a classic!

Friday, September 15, 2006

New RelStRev Book Review by John L. McLaughlin

I just discovered this new review of my latest book by John McLaughlin. Thanks John! You should be able to click to enlarge it.

New! Click here to read page 1 of my book.

For some links to earlier reviews, click here.

The Hebrew Bible at VTS (6)

Well, it is past time for a new post in my occasional series on the teaching of the Hebrew Bible at Virginia Theological Seminary. Installment 5 was on 8/19/06, installment 4 on 8/9/06, installment 3 on 7/23/06, and installments 1 & 2 on 7/19-20/06. This post brings us up to 1940 and the board's appointment of Robert O. Kevin as professor of Old Testament language and literature.

Dr. Kevin came to VTS in 1940, having done his Ph.D. training at Johns Hopkins University, a premier center for scientific OT studies. His approach emphasized archaeology and philology, in keeping with the emphases of the Hopkins program. Apparently, you had to pay close attention to his lectures to extract much in the way of OT theology. At the same time, he was profoundly dedicated evangelical.

From his portrait, which hangs in our refectory, I always had the impression that Dr. Kevin was a towering figure, but recently some of our alumni have told me that that was not at all the case. He was of average height, and much less foreboding than he looks in his painting.

By the late 1940s, several VTS faculty were making positive moves in the direction of including African American students on seminary hill. I do not know the full details, but Dr. Kevin apparently convinced the board of trustees to allow a student from Howard University in D.C. to attend his O.T. lectures, which was a small but significant start in changing the seminary for the better.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Frymer-Kensky, 1943-2006

This sad news just in about the death of Tikva Frymer-Kensky, a well-known professor of Hebrew Bible. She is a fellow Yalie, but I did not meet her personally until the mid 90s when she was a finalist for a teaching position at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where I was on the faculty at the time. For the news release from the University of Chicago, click here.

A Teaching Exercise in Text Criticism

Kevin Wilson is collecting some neat resources for helping introduce students to biblical studies. He recently found this rather cool on-line teaching-exercise in text-criticism. It's real fun, click here.

The exercise is on a site designed by Dr. Timothy W. Seid, Earlham School of Religion. It is completely in English, and uses four simulated manuscripts of a snippet from Readers' Digest. You can divide the simulated scripto continua texts, identify the copy errors, and figure out how the four mss relate to one-another and to the original. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Results of My 9-11 Poll re Forgiveness

Thanks to everyone who voted, 16 votes in all!
The poll is still open, but the results so far are as follows:

Question: Would you support a "Forgiveness" Garden or other zone somewhere near Ground Zero in NYC?

75% voted Yes, "I would support a Forgiveness Space or Garden at Ground Zero in NYC"

12% voted No, "I would not want a Forgiveness Garden or Marker at Ground Zero"

12% voted "I do not know, or do not like the question"

Let me make a few brief observations, and then open the post up for any and all comments. First, these results are markedly different from a similar poll of the general public, where very few Americans were in any way interested in "forgiveness" in conjuction with 9-11 and the rebuilding project to take place in NYC. Is that because the audience taking my poll has a more profound or more theological understanding of the power of forgiveness?

Second, these results seem to signal an attitude rather different from the prayer of Rabbi Gellman posted by Newsweek today, in which he emphasizes that "America would do well to remember who its real enemies are." I imagine that those who are voting in my poll for "forgiveness" would ask Rabbi Gellman whether he shouldn't be talking not only about uniting against enemies but also loving enemies, albeit in some sort of responsible, constructive, transformative way.

Third, for myself, I would hope that forgiveness in this context would have to be conceived of as specifically "tough" and "transformative." It can't just be a selfish forgiveness, aimed primarily at self-healing and moving on. That kind of forgiveness cannot protect the living from the ongoing threat of terrorism...


Evangelicals and the Old Testament

A new RBL review is just out on Peter Enns new book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

click here for Enns book

Enns approach to hearing God's Word in the text appears on track. He engages the diverse voices of Scripture in conversation, rather than trying immediately to resolve the diversity. He also appears to understand that we must be critical of the methods by which the NT reads the OT, since these methods are often simply those generally at home in the Hellenistic era. I would like to hear more about what he understands to be the NT's "christotelic" and "ecclesiotelic" hermeneutic, which he advocates for use in theological interpretation today. Has anyone read the book yet?

Meanwhile, the book has caused something of a stir in conservative theological circles. To get a sense of the passions at issue, you might start with Brandon Withrow's blog entry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Stunning, Hanging Calabash

About a month ago (8/10/2006), I posted a fascinating report from Renk, Sudan by Jo Bailey Wells, who teaches Old Testament at Duke University. Well, Jo is now safely back at Duke, of course, and she recently gave me and Catherine a beautiful gift brought back from Sudan. It is a beautiful calabash artwork. When she purchased it there, the folks were very moved that she picked one out with the new flag of the South part of the country.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9-11 and my 9-11 Poll: Please Vote

Well, we have about 30 visits per day to this site now, but only 7 people have taken the new poll. It concerns 9-11 and the possibility of forgiveness, so today might be a good day to vote. Once we get a good sample of votes, I can create a blog-post about what it all might mean. The poll is in partnership with the MAR-SBL site, and can be accessed here.

The poll asks whether or not there should be some sort of garden or other dedicated space centered on "forgiveness" at or near "Ground Zero" in NYC. This is how those making this suggestion put their goal:
Simply put, we want to put forgiveness on the menu. Forgiveness is a means through which we create the future--a future free of repaying violence for violence and pursuing the desire for revenge.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Higgaion Blog Has Picked Up the Eden Discussion!

I’m delighted to report that Prof. Christopher Heard has just blogged about my recent posts on the Garden of Eden. His comments are really worth reading, so please take a moment to visit his blog (click here). Thanks, Chris! One thing Chris does is voice a different opinion on sex in Eden from what I suggested. He defends the more traditional assumption that Eden was most likely “chaste.” He provides at least three worthy arguments, perhaps the most compelling of which is that Adam and Eve were just kids, at least in their behaviors.

Well done; Chris may well be right that Adam and Eve were like kids. But…, what if Adam and Eve were just kids in the same way that the lovers in the Song of Songs were just kids (see especially Michael V. Fox’s reading of Canticles). If so, Eve might cross her arms and respond to Chris’s blog along the very same lines that the woman in Canticles responds to her older brothers’ teasing about her immaturity: “My breasts are full—And when my lover sees me, he knows he'll soon be satisfied” (Song of Songs 8:10)!

Chris also notes the fact that “sexual intercourse resulting in procreation is the very first thing narrated after the expulsion from Eden.” Quite true, indeed, but this may be exactly to the point. What we may well have in Eden (as we in fact do have in the Song of Songs) is sexual intimacy for intimacy’s sake alone, without any felt need to interconnect sexuality with marriage, procreation, family-building, and so on. James Barr has another way of responding to Chris’ objection. Barr notes an instructive parallel between Genesis 4:1 and 1 Samuel 1:19, “Elkanah had relations with Hannah his wife.” Sex between Elkanah and Hannah is only first mentioned in this verse, where it results in procreation, but we know for a fact that Elkanah and Hannah had been having sex intensively for years.

What do you think?
Jazz Ballet: Adam & Eve in Eden

Choreographed by Candice Franklin, this video was posted to YouTube a month and a half ago. This excerpt is Candice's interpretation of Adam and Eve's first meeting. For her, this is what heaven is like. . .

Isaiah 35:6 (Year B, Proper 18; 14 Pentecost)

Isaiah 35:6

Isaiah 35, today's appointed lesson, is a vision of our final redemption by God, which will include waters breaking forth in the wilderness and "streams in the desert." Pretty powerful imagery, no?

I've had occasion to visit the biblical wilderness, and I can tell you that Isaiah's imagery here is all about refreshment and relief. In the heat of the day, as one's desert-hike draws to close, all one can think about is finding a cold, wet shower! Hitting the shower (I'm thinking of one in particular at St. Catherine's Monastery) refreshes body, mind, and spirit. God's final redemption will entail all these dimensions, so they're all important here and now.

Christian faithfulness in the workaday world certainly involves showing real concern for issues of public health and physical wellbeing, nature, the body, and so forth...

Isaiah 35:6

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Neat Link: The Comic in the Hebrew Bible

Under the rubric of neat links, check out Simon Holloway's recent post on "The Hillarious Hebrew Bible."

Drawing on the story of Cain and Abel, Holloway gives his own neat example of biblical wit: Does Cain pull a humorous fast-one on God in Genesis 4:16? How come he gets to settle down in the land of Nod, when God has condemned him never to settle in Genesis 4:12?

Holloway explains:
God is effectively telling Cain to be a wanderer [Hebrew root: nud נוד] and Cain is responding by dwelling in a land called Nod / "Wander" [Hebrew root: nud נוד]. A "Wanderer" [nudge, nudge] he shall indeed be for the rest of his days.

Friday, September 08, 2006

New Visitor Poll now up

I've got a new visitor poll up (in partnership with the mar-sbl site). Please cast your vote by first accessing the poll, either by clicking the link on the sidebar to the right, or simply by clicking here. If enough people vote, in several days we can review the results and make some observations. Thanks! ---SLC


Holy Land School for the Deaf

The September 2006 issue of the Virginia Seminary Journal is just out and has some great images and reports. On p. 86, for example, is this photo of my advisee Laura Fabrycky, a 2006 VTS graduate, with a Palestinian woman in the Jordanian town of Salt, where Laura was visiting the Anglican-run Holy Land School for the Deaf.

Was there Sex in Eden?

Caution: Do not read this particular post if the topic of sex disturbs you. My purpose is not to offend you!

My last post argued that the eating of the tree in Genesis 3 had nothing whatsoever to do with the emergence of sensuality in human life on earth. But this fact raises an intriguing question: Were Adam and Eve enjoying sexuality before the fall? The well-known biblical scholar James Barr, for one, believes the answer to this question is yes.

I believe I have at least one further argument to add to those of James Barr. For me, one way to get some traction on the question is to remember that the OT does in fact contain poetry about what a return to the garden of Eden might look like: the poetry of the Song of Songs / Canticles.

In the Song of Songs, the ruptures and foul consequences of the Genesis 3 are reversed and overcome, and humanity, male and female, return to Edenic life. And certainly there is sensuality aplenty.
In view of the poetry of the Song of Songs, the uneasiness and qualms about sensuality of much of the Christian tradition makes precious little sense. Augustine's description of what making babies might have looked like had it happened in Eden appears particularly ridiculous!

Here are his words (usually printed in Latin!) from his City of God, 14.26:

In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wife's breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wife's virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings. (City of God, Bk. 14, chp. 26).