Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the heaviness invovled in writing up...

In the process of writing up my thesis I have noticed a significant weight gain, apparently pecking at a keyboard all day does not burn a huge amount of calories. So in an effort to not become the ire of Jim West I have started working out. But one of the drawbacks of working out is the time commitment it takes, so in an effort to redeem my time I have downloaded some Lectures from itunes. One lecture that I have really enjoyed was Cornel West's presentation of "Democracy Matters," presented at Stanford's Aurora Forum. There were times that I was so overcome by West's vision of prophetic hope that I shed some tears, now the people working out with me must have thought that I was a bit strange having an emotional experience on a life cycle, but what are you gonna do? Needless to say if you have about an hour and half of time to spend listening to a lecture I highly recommend West.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why We Need Librarians

David Weinberger has an interesting synopsis of an article by Thomas Mann about the continuing need for librarians. I am not completely convinced that Mann is right, yes I think there will always be a place for librarians, but it seems like the digitalization of books and the true promise of open source learning will no doubt require new ways of efficiency in data retrieval

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


"Are the so-called terrorist-fundamentalists, be it Christian or Muslim, really fundamentalists in an authentic sense of the term. Do they really believe? What they lack, I think, is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish here in the U.S. The absence of resentment and envy; the deep indifference to the non-believers' way of life.... In contrast to a true fundamentalist, the terrorist-pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation. So I think that a so-called Christian or Muslim fundamentalist is a disgrace to true fundamentalism."

HT: swords to plowshares: Zizek and Belief: A Lecture, A Documentary:

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Monday, June 11, 2007

On Judaism and Christianity

If Judaism cannot accept incarnation it is because it does not hear this story, because the Word of God as it hears it does not tell it and because Jewish faith does not testify to it. And if the Church does accept incarnation, it is not because it somehow discovered that such an event had to occur given the nature of God, or of being, reality, or anything else, but because it hears that this was God’s free and gracious decision, a decision not predictable by humankind. Strangely enough, the disagreement between Judaism and Christianity when understood in this light, while not reconcilable, can be brought into the context within which it is a difference of faith regarding the free and sovereign act of the God of Israel.

Michael Wyschogrod, "Why Was and Is the Theology of Karl Barth of Interest to a Jewish Theologian?," in Abraham's Promise: Judaism and Michael Wyschogrod, ed. Michael Wyschogrod and R. Kendall Soulen (Radical Traditions; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 216.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Kurie Eleeson

In the first tunes of morning I had driven
through light summer fog, but
increasing thermals were hinting the
promise of a determined sun.

Here, between poppy, lupin and
ancient woodland, the road skews
awkwardly, but unbroken, down
to Newmillerdam.

At the top of the road, on the blind summit,
the car fallows left with the camber and,
at the apron of the curb, a fox,
unmarked and perfectly formed, is set out

as in sleep, untroubled, yet
wide-eyes fixed, curious, calm and bright.
The poppies, which scorch the ground
between stone and tarmac,

now heighten the moment when
I had looked into the eyes of the fox
and He had exchanged My empty heart
for His forgiveness.

John C. Newton

Monday, June 04, 2007

Mike Bird Myth Buster

Mike Bird has piqued my interest in his recent posts on Christian origins, and in hopes of finally making it into the Biblical Studies Carnival (not really), I thought I would add my thoughts on the topic.

The discussion started with Mike’s superb remarks on the pastoral importance of Christian origins. Mike asks in this post:

Why is this important? Well, I find that many Christians operate with a default "myth of Christians origins" and skewed view of New Testament Theology. What is that myth and what is skewed?

Well, the myth goes something like this: In the beginning was "us" (i.e. me, since all the first Christians held the same beliefs that I did, they hated the same false teachings that I hate, my distinctives were their distinctives). Things went well for us until about 100 AD when it all turned to a schmozzle and we disappeared. But the good news is that "us" is back and we have brought with us a return to the pristine era of doctrinal purity. We are the gatekeepers of truth and righteousness and the boundary of the kingdom includes us and our friends. In the immediate sense, all before us and all apart from us are dogs and devils. (Note, this is a caricature and an exaggeration and I do not have any body or any group in mind).

Mike calls this a caricature, but he really is spot on. This not only reflects my own Christian upbringing, but I know many who are still card carrying subscribers to this myth. But this is not the only way in which a lack of knowledge of Christian origins rears its ugly head. For instance, I don’t know how many times I have sat in church and had to lower my head as the minister began a soliloquy of how the beguiling misfit Jews of the first century were the antithesis to the pure and lovely followers of Jesus. This bugs me to no end, it is not that I require that everybody find the New Perspective on Paul, and the related issues, as convincing as I (there are indeed good ways to critique the NPP), I do however, require that a minister should have at least picked up a book since the 1980’s, and thus be aware of the seriousness of the issues.

This brings me to the comments made by James Tabor about one of the contentions of Christian origins. Tabor states:

"The second grand assumption about early Christianity that I think we should radically questioned is the portrait of its clean break with Judaism and its subsequent harmonious (despite a few evil heretics) and unbroken advance into the second and third centuries."

I think Tabor is right here, and I think that scholars of Christian origins are doing some really good work concerning these issues. While I think that most students are at least aware of these threads in the study of Christian origins, I think that there is still an important myth that needs to be shattered, namely the diversity of ancient Judaism, or the diversity of the Judaism of the first temple (I am a little unsure of the best nomenclature to use here). This myth goes something like this:

The Hebrew Scriptures are a set of important religious texts that were precious to a group of people in antiquity called the Jews, or the Hebrews. (How you conceive of the formation of these texts is not really important for the partakers of this myth, but in saying that this myth is probably not held by any who study the Hebrew Scriptures in the academy, it is reserved for the more conservative branch of NT students, and of course many ministers, and lay Christians), in this myth these texts offer proof of a monolithic community that essentially existed until either the destruction of the first temple, or some might even posit until the intertestamental period, where the chimera of diversity sprung up unexpectedly. So Christian origins are said to come from this pure origin and splinter into competing groups in or around the first century.

So when Mike says this about the birth of Christianity:

Also, there was a genuine complexity and diversity in the early church. However, some forms of Christianity though diverse were not mutually exclusive, some groups were perhaps competitive but necessarily hostile to each other, some groups with divergent views could quite happily cooperate in a common cause.

I think we really ought to push the ramifications of this statement all the way back to the inception of the Hebrew texts and the communities that wrote, or compiled, them.

One of the things that caused me to see this sort of myth in my own thinking (was the brainwashing one receives when attending Sheffield; of course I am kidding here) was reading Barstad’s theory concerning the myth of an empty land. But as someone spending most of my time in the NT, what really caught my attention was the work of Francis Watson. In his Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, he argues that Paul as a reader of Scriptures picks up on the tension in the texts between the unconditional promise and Sinai legislation, and the tension between the law’s offer of life and its curse. It is not that far fetched to posit that these tensions are indicative of not only competing voices, but perhaps of competing communities. Whatever you think of the recent discussion of myth busting, I think Mike’s closing comments are not only warranted for Christian origins, but probably reflect the Judaism before the second temple as well.

I think that early Christianity, despite the complexity of the movement, was a relatively small and homogenous entity, and exhibited many more characteristics of unity and accordandance than is often recognized.

See Also Chris 'tea for the tillerman' Tilling's thoughts here.