uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spooky Stories From Antiquity: A Reading List for Halloween

Odysseus, middle, meets the shade of
Elpenor, left, in the Underworld.
Hermes accompanies at right.
Something on the lighter side: a list of works to read this Halloween from the ancient Greeks and Romans, who pass down to us the precursors of our own fireside narratives. Stretching a millennium -- from the eighth century BCE to the second century of the Common Era -- these all feature the sorts of stories we're accustomed to at Halloween: tales of death, magic, and the supernatural. This is of course not an exhaustive list, but represents some of my favorites.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Spirit vs. the Letter: Biblicalism and Conscience

Imagine a contentious public issue, rending not only America, but American Christendom in two. In this battle are two sides: one which maintains and asserts a literal, straightforward reading of the Bible to maintain its position; the other which argues that its side is supported by the spirit, even if sometimes not the letter, of the Bible.

If what comes to mind is America's continuing culture wars over gender and sexuality, and specifically same-sex relationships and how the law and the church should approach them, my guess is you're not alone. According to public polling, the issue of acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals is trending toward inclusion, and many mainline Protestant denominations are reflecting this movement.

But we needn't go too far back in the country's history for a strikingly parallel issue that likewise divided the nation and its churchgoers: that of slavery. Like today, abolitionists saw a moral imperative to end slavery even if finding an explicit justification for that in the Bible was difficult. Like today, those who sought to protect the status quo pointed to the Bible -- and its literal, obvious meaning -- for justification of their position.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Major Journalism FAIL: Media "Balance" and the Disservice to Scholarship

A major journalism failure out of The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Ind., illustrating just how badly served the public is when most media outlets contend with scholarship.

The story is supposed to be just an announcement of sorts about an upcoming lecture by The Jesus Seminar that will explore the Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic text found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt (or if you are the reporter, Nag Hamaradi). But something seems awry immediately in the second paragraph when she calls the seminar "a contentious group." Contentious? Within itself? Not any more so than any other scholarly group. What does this mean?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Romans 1:26-27: A Clobber Passage That Should Lose Its Wallop

Papyrus codex of the Pauline Epistles,
Chester Beatty Library
Whenever I’m debating with someone who authoritatively declares that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and who cites the infamous Romans 1:26-27 as proof, I almost always offer this rejoinder: “What do you make of the vocative at the beginning of Romans 2?”

The question is admittedly pretentious on my part but I’ve found it effective, because those often most eager to wield the Bible as an authoritative weapon are also often those who have read it only in translation, and not very closely at that.

But it’s not an idle question.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jesus and OWS: Political and Economic Subversion, Then and Now

A dispute has broken out in response to many liberal Christians' use of Jesus imagery in connection with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Some have attacked the use of the imagery as completely inapplicable to the OWS demonstrations. To these folks, as best as I can tell, the messages in the Cleansings of the Temple (each Gospel has its own version) are wholly religious, and therefore can't be used by these folks to argue an economic or political point of view.

In fact, one writer even suggested that "Jesus never went anywhere uninvited. Even when he rebuked the money-changers in the Temple, he did not approach the institution as an antagonist, demanding entry on his own terms." This is, as the discussion to follow will show, historically indefensible.

For anyone who has read the Gospels carefully and has studied their greater context (that is, the tumultuous years of the first century in which Jerusalem was under the imperial occupation of the Romans, and the Jewish leadership was collaborating with them), this denial of any subversively political or economic dimension to the story of the Cleansing represents a radical reinterpretation that does violence to the text.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mohler Hates Postmodernism Almost As Much As Modernism

I find it richly ironic whenever conservative Christians complain about post-modernism, given that they've been railing against modernism now for well over a century.

Yet a lecture by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this morning on Christian-right radio was devoted entirely to warning his evangelical flock about the horrors of postmodernism, academia, psychology -- really any profession whose work is not produced from within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How I Read The Bible

GA 2444, Gospels miniscule,
13th century, Gospel of Mark.
There are certainly a great many out there more qualified than I am to answer this question: “how should we view/use the Bible?” Yet a reader today humbled me with this question while trying to piece together my views from disparate entries on the subject.*

First and foremost, I agree with most scholars (and when I say most scholars, I mean those at secular universities and mainline Protestant seminaries, who have in general followed the tenants of Higher Criticism since the late 19th century) that the Bible is a library, not a book. In fact, many have noted how the word “Bible” itself has evolved from a plural one (the Greek biblia, a neuter plural meaning “scrolls”), to a feminine singular in the Romance languages. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This Is How Apologetics Work

During debate on John Shore's blog about a pastor recently fired from his church for merely sharing a link on Facebook about the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, an apologetic troll decided to defend the Bible's take on slavery. According to this person, in the ancient world, slavery was only entered into for crimes committed or for indentured servitude, by which I think he's referring to debt slavery.

Slavery came up because, naturally, I question why it is that some Christians who insist on being "Biblical" can take a moral position against slavery despite the clear references in the New Testament epistles admonishing slaves to obey their masters.