Monthly Archives: January 2016

Recommended Reading, 1.26.16.

Because of my intensive intersession course — which I will blog about soon! — and getting the flu, I fell way behind on my blog reading. Here are some of the posts that captivated my attention the most from the last few weeks.

Not to be too self-promotional, but you should totally check out a post I wrote for a friend’s apologetics site on the connection between apologetics and interfaith dialogue:

Nabeel Qureshi, Christian Apologist – and Bridge Between Christians and Muslims?

Because both religions emphasize sharing their faith, a true bridge between Christians and Muslims would also be a bridge between dialogue and apologetics. This bridge would have to be built on the twin pillars of shared similarities and respectfully acknowledged differences. In my experience, interfaith dialogue emphasizes similarities, and often lacks the courage to discuss differences.  Similarities are important, for love can emerge from an understanding of our common humanity. But at its worst, the result of exploring only commonalities is a bland Kumbaya feeling. On the other hand, too often I have read works of apologetics that only discuss differences. These apologists fail to recognize the common ground of love and compassion across religions and cultures, and that do not seem to be written from places of love and friendship for their religious rivals.

(Thanks to CAA for publishing my post!)

“There is No Rejoicing Without Wine”: Jesus’ First Miracle at Words on the Word

And did you catch this nice touch from John: these jars, where the chemical miracle happened, were ones “used… for ceremonial washing.” There’s nothing wrong with religious ritual, per se—I quite like it myself. But these jars for ritual cleansing—Jesus turned them into party favors. That’s kind of like co-opting the baptismal font for a punch bowl.

Religion Snapshots: Methodological Atheism vs. Methodological Agnosticism at Religion Bulletin

This short debate about methodology in the study of religion intrigued me. I come upon this issue in my studies, i.e., when people ask why early Christianity took off. One answer: because Jesus resurrected. Another question: is there such a thing as genuine prophecy, in the sense of seeing into the future? Both cannot be ruled out, but they are outside the bounds of what methodological atheism and agnosticism would allow. The question of how human we are willing to make our sacred texts is an ongoing one for me.

The Problems with Post-Modern Interpretation of the Bible at Bible and Culture

A Biblical text without its original historical, rhetorical, social, literary, archaeological texts becomes a pretext for whatever you want it to mean, and this is not a good thing, it’s a bad thing. Nor is the meaning of a text merely ‘a matter of my opinion’ vs. yours. Why not? Because there is an actual meaning in those Biblical texts which can only be discerned with a combination of careful exegesis attending to the various original contexts and prayerful reflection with the guidance of God’s Spirit.

THE REBEL VIRGINS AND DESERT MOTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN OUT OF CHRISTIANITY’S EARLY HISTORY at Altas Obscura

Really interesting article, reminds me of some of the stuff we read in my Gender in Early Christianity course. One thing — she misses the fact that some of these early female saints were “transgender saints,” i.e. their asceticism was so harsh that they lost all physical traces of femininity, an apt symbol for their psychological denial of femininity. Not sure we can call these women feminist Christian icons.

Levine and Meier on the Parables of Jesus: Two Very Important (and Very Different) New Books at The Jesus Blog

“REMEMBRANCE OF DEATH” CAN OVERCOME “DEATH OBSESSION” at First Things

My friend, author and preeminent American Orthodox apologist Frederica Matthewes-Green, considers the remembrance of death as one of the most helpful disciplines in living a healthy Christian life. She told me, “If you spend your life seeking entertainment and food, trying to keep your mind occupied and amused, you find yourself weary and depressed. Life can come to seem meaningless.” There is a better way than these desperate efforts to delay, deflect, and control our mortal fate. It is to accept it, to ponder and embrace it, and witness a paradoxical result: “Keeping in the back of your mind an awareness of the fact that you will die one day leads to a life lived deliberately, with forethought and gratitude, a life that is worthy and complete.”

Think the Muslim world needs to “reform?” Think again by Connor Wood

Fundamentalism – the inflexible adherence to literal, text-based religious teachings, whether Biblical creationism or Shariah law – often results from reform movements, rather than being banished by them. One reason for this is that religious reformations, by stripping away supposedly outdated or extraneous traditions and rituals in favor of a “return to basics,” can end up pushing their host religions towards a rigid, text-based literalism. Sounds like just what the world needs, right?

The secular front in the US by John Fea

Not sure I agree with him, but thought-provoking.

Yet, despite the demographic power of evangelicals, they are largely marginalised from the media and education. The writer Jay Nordlinger might be correct when he says that ‘all conservatives are bilingual – we have to be. (We speak liberal and conservative.) But liberals tend to be monolingual – they don’t need to speak our languages, or to know much about us at all.’ Indeed, if you are a secular progressive or liberal secularist, it is possible to live in a society that comports to your world view. If you are an evangelical Christian, it is not that easy.

Jesus for Muslims – A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Irelan at Patheos

I really enjoyed reading this homily — preached in my own city, no less! Irelan went in really deep and definitely did her homework when it came to Islam and thinking through how Christians can relate to Muslims.

What I’ve been up to lately: The Saint John’s Bible and Jewish-Christian Dialogue.

The GTU’s academic calendar does intersession, which means that apart from one week of crazy intersession madness, I have been off of school. I’ve been taking this time to prepare my conference paper for next month’s “Illuminating Words, Transforming Beauty” conference at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. Although my “guild” is biblical studies, I’m attending this Conference on Christianity and Literature conference because it has a special focus on the Saint John’s Bible. If you haven’t heard about the Saint John’s Bible, well, let me tell you – it’s a treat. And I get to show it as part of my work at SCU Archives and Special Collections.

Although there is much publicity on the project, there is very little analysis or critique of it. I basically read all of it – a few journal articles here and there. There are two books that go through each illumination and give some background, explain visual allusions, and meditate on them. These two books, one by Susan Sink and the other by Michael Patella, are very good. They focus on the intentions behind the art, what the artists and theologians creating this Bible meant. I use them all the time in figuring out what illuminations to show people.

What has not taken place yet is a thorough evaluation of this Bible and what it means as a milestone in contemporary biblical interpretation. We have the statements from the artists of what they think their art means – which is amazing considering we don’t have such documentation from all the famous medieval illuminated Bibles like the Book of Kells or the Winchester Bible. And while all biblical art – heck, every physical copy of Bible – is to some extent a theological interpretation, this Bible is especially so. The artists working on it were advised by a team of theologians and biblical scholars who sent them lengthy packets covering which passages to illuminate, current scholarship and prayerful reflection on those passages, and ideas on how to illuminate them.

But as of now, we have a lot of “wow!” and not much critique or analysis. As a graduate student in biblical studies and someone intimately familiar with this Bible from showing it to over 150 people in classes, churches, and community groups, I felt called to contribute to this analysis.

Frontispiece to Matthew: Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus. When I show the Saint John's Bible this is one of the "show-stopper" illuminations.

Frontispiece to Matthew: Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus. When I show the Saint John’s Bible this is one of the “show-stopper” illuminations.

Specifically, I am writing about New Testament illuminations in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue. This Bible was created by Catholics – specifically Benedictines – and we have a boatload of ecclesial statements since Nostra Aetate laying out right relationship with Jews, theologians engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and parish-level work cultivating bonds between church and synagogue. (When I was Catholic, my church was right next door to a synagogue!) This has seeped into New Testament scholarship emphasizing the Jewish elements of Jesus, Paul, and the early Christian movement. (Think of the “New Perspective on Paul” and The Jewish Annotated New Testament).

So does the Saint John’s Bible reflect this new approach to Judaism? Is it an effective tool for dialogue between Jews and Christians? Do any of its illuminations still unwittingly reproduce Christian polemic against Jews?

Yes, yes, and yes. And that’s my paper in a nutshell.

This is my first major writing project since my two senior theses, and I’m refining how I’m working on it. Mainly (1) I’m trying to be more rooted in primary sources before I dive into the murky waters of scholarly commentary; (2) I am using Zotero which saves a LOT of time; and (3) I am writing much earlier in the project. Writing helps me think. After reading the primary sources and deciding which illuminations I want to use, I wrote a “draft 0” that just lays out the very broad outline. I’ve found it works better for me to write crap and revise it like crazy than to store thoughts in my head forever and write something perfect.

This project works well with how I think – very interdisciplinary. I’m bringing together New Testament scholarship, Jewish-Christian dialogue, particularly on liturgy and scripture, and work on art as biblical interpretation, or what Martin O’Kane calls “visual exegesis.”

Through it all, I’m trying to ask: How would a Jew steeped in scripture see these illuminations? Once I get this good enough to show to another human being, I will ask a few of my Jewish mentors. But until then I’m trying to imagine how it would feel for someone to tell me that their religion perfects and completes mine, and that I am, so to speak, only the beta test. Then I remembered, um, every conversation I’ve had with a Muslim friend about Jesus. That might be a bit similar.

My Silk Road paper is now online.

Well, good news!  You can read it for free at The Silk Road. (Scroll down the page a bit for a link to the PDF.)

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=292232

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=292232

I enjoyed working with Greek themes in Buddhist art for my senior thesis. I still have no idea how it might be relevant to my studies in New Testament and early Christianity, other than maybe the most general and broad theme of the Hellenization of non-Greeks and non-Greek religions in antiquity.

Thanks to Daniel Waugh for doing the laborious work of editing this journal, and for providing some images from his personal travels for my article!

My top 10 (or so) Books of 2015, and Goals for 2016.

 

Following Jacob Prahlow and Brian LePort‘s Top 10 lists, I figured I would post my own.  2015 was a good year for reading: 84 books total! Not bad, especially considering I got married, finished my BA, and started graduate school. An eventful year to say the least.

I like to divide my year’s top books into two categories: innovative books that opened new questions for me on topics I know little about, and influential books that are part of my scholarly interests and contribute to my development as a thinker.

 

Most Influential

  1. Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History by Mary Beard
    Beard’s book is a dense, magisterial survey, accompanied by a second volume that collects primary sources on Roman religions.  I particularly like how Beard reviews the sources on different aspects and time periods of Roman religion, to give an idea of where our evidence comes from and each source’s strengths and weaknesses.  She also gives a convincing argument that Roman religion prior in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE was not waning and falling away to make room for Christianity
  2. Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor by S. R. F. Price
    Price’s book is old (late 1970s), but he makes a convincing case that the imperial cult in Rome was not mere top-down political propaganda, but often an intimate part of peoples’ personal devotion.  His focus is on the Hellenistic era, making this particularly relevant for understanding early Christian language of kingship.
  3. Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud
    Wadud, a prominent American Muslim scholar and advocate for womens’ expanded role in Islamic leadership, argues that the Qur’an is not patriarchal, but has been interpreted so by centuries of male interpreters.  I ultimately disagree with her conclusion, but her prophetic tone really began a conversation over 20 years ago in this book, and she gave me a lot to think about.
  4. Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schäfer
    Schafer’s book looks at Jesus’ depiction in the Talmud through the lens of anti-Christian polemic.  Before I took a course in rabbinic literature this fall, I had never studied Talmud, so this book was a fascinating entry-point into that world of scholarship.
  5. The Im-possibility of Interreligious Dialogue by Catherine Cornille
    After staring at this book on my shelf for a couple of years, I finally read it for a class in Christian-Muslim Dialogue.  Cornille examines the role of virtue in interreligious dialogue and clarifies what aspects make up an ideal dialogue.
  6. The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters by R. S. Sugirtharajah
    This is my third book by “Sugi,” who always writes witty and intelligently.  Sugi is prominent in the field of postcolonial biblical interpretation, and gives me a lot of ideas on how to read scripture in an interreligious context.
  7. Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education by Judith Berling
    Berling’s book describes how to guide people in to understanding other religions, as a balance between incorporating the students’ perspectives and engaging other religions on their own terms.  This pedagogical book is useful for anyone studying religion, whether in an interfaith context or a comparative religion context.
  8. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi
    Qureshi is a Muslim who converted to Christianity, and his book was a very interesting portrait of his (de)conversion and Christian arguments against Islam.  I really appreciated his tone of charity and kindness toward Muslims even though he disagrees with the central doctrines of their religion.
  9. The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew– Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
    This book, co-authored by three women (Muslim, Christian, and Jew), is an excellent model for what interfaith can look like on a local, personal, non-scholarly level.  Really enjoyed.
  10. Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Jon D. Levenson
    Levenson, a Hebrew Bible scholar, elucidates traditions about Abraham in all three Abrahamic faiths, then argues against the use of the word “Abrahamic” and contemporary efforts to make Abraham a symbol of commonality.  I like how he intelligent brings out major differences between the religions, and how Abraham is construed quite differently in all three.

Most Innovative

  1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    Like most prophets, Malcolm X sounds like someone who would have been very hard to get along with. But his autobiography was amazing, and really helped me understand a dimension of the Civil Rights movement that we didn’t learn as much about in school.
  2. The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy Seal by Eric Greitens
    After a top-notch Ivy League education and job offers from top aid organizations, Greitens joined the Navy Seals out of a conviction that protecting the vulnerable of the world through force was the best way to help others. I really admired this intelligent man’s reflections on how the heart and the fist must work together.
  3. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost
    Coming from a family of hoarders, the mental illness has always fascinated me. This book, co-authored by a social worker and a psychologist, really dives into the mindset of hoarding, and what works to fix the problem (hint: city clean-ups don’t do it).
  4. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill
    My wife loves this book, and I read it on our honeymoon. Cahill writes really well about Irish monks’ role in preserving classical texts at a time when classical civilization had fallen apart and the rest of Europe was in the “dark ages.”

Other Achievements in 2015:

  1. I got married!  This is surely the top item of the year.  I can’t even begin to describe how much my wife enhances and supports me in every area of my life.
  2. I got into graduate school and got the funding I needed to attend.
  3. I (re-)started my job at Santa Clara University Archives & Special Collections, and showed our edition of The Saint John’s Bible to several classes and community groups, growing my skills in teaching and deepening my appreciation of scripture.
  4. I finished my first research assistant job, helping my professor publish a critical edition of a scroll of the Book of the Twelve from Qumran.  I also began working as a proof-reader for Theological Studies.  This January I start another job, helping a professor put together a guidebook for students of Biblical Hebrew.
  5. I finished several diverse writing projects, including my first peer-reviewed article on Buddhist-Christian dual belonging, an article coming out soon derived from my senior thesis on Herakles in Buddhist art, an opinion piece at Religion Dispatches, and a book note forthcoming in Theological Studies.

Some thoughts:

  1. Life changes really took a bite out of my reading productivity for the year. I got married at the end of August, and for the weeks leading up to the big day, I got very little reading done!
  2. Graduate school actually lowered my reading productivity. Professors like to assign articles and book chapters, neither of which count toward book reading.
  3. Similarly, language classes also don’t count. For example, in the spring I took a Greek reading course in the Iliad. Obviously, we didn’t finish it in Greek in 10 weeks, and by mere quantity of text we actually moved very slowly compared to if we had read the epic in English.

Goals for 2016:

  1. Rather than aim for another 100-book quota that I know I won’t meet without reading lots of fluff, my goal for 2016 is to read one major work in my academic field each month — and give it a long, thoughtful review.
  2. I would like to join Jennifer Guo in reading the entire Greek New Testament in 2016, following Wallace’s reading plan.
  3. I would like to finish my Biblical Studies Reading Challenge.
  4. As for blogging, I would like to submit a substantive post to the Biblical Studies Carnival every month.

In Praise of Failure: Is Defining Religion Such a Good Idea?

Recently, the New York Times’ religion writer appeared to throw up his hands in despair at trying to fix on a definition of religion—since the word seemed to cover everything from Pope Francis’ latest encyclical to CrossFit. As Mark Oppenheimer exasperatedly wrote, “If everything is rel

Source: In Praise of Failure: Is Defining Religion Such a Good Idea?