Monday, April 27, 2009

More on the Roman Catholic Apocrypha - The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans

I promised to write some more on this text in my first piece on the Roman Catholic Apocrypha in the Vulgate Appendix. The Epistle to the Laodiceans is a very short piece which was part of the Latin New Testament of Western Christendom for almost a thousand years. Its oldest appearance is in a manuscript from the 6th century, the Fulda manuscript from 546. From then on it's found in a wide variety of manuscripts of the Vulgate. It was also included in all the printed German bibles before Luther's. It was also part of the first Czech Bible and was included in the Wycliffe Bible too.

However at the the Council of Florence, 1439-43, it was formally removed from the Western New Testament canon. Nevertheless it, too, was accorded a place in the Vulgate appendix along with the texts that had been part of the of Vulgate Old Testament, 1 & 2 Esdras, Psalm 151 and Prayer of Manasseh, texts which the Anglican and Lutheran churches count as part of the Old Testament Apocrypha. As I said in my previous post, these four Old Testament texts are effectively Roman Catholic Old Testament Apocrypha (although most Roman Catholics don't know about them). Being placed with them, the Epistle to the Laodiceans effectively represents a Roman Catholic New Testament Apocryphon. In theory then it's possible for Roman Catholic bibls to include not only an appendix for Old Testament Apocrypha, as was the case for the 1609/10 Douai-Rheims Old Testament, but to also have an appendix for New Testament Apocrypha too. It has to include Laodiceans but this little epistle shouldn't be left on its own; there are a range of other texts that could be included too. But more in that another time. For those who don't know it, below is the text of that little lost epistle from the Wesley Centre Non-Canonical Writings site. More information at here at Wikipedia, Reluctant Messenger and New Testament Apocrypha at the Development of the Canon of the New Testament site.

1 Paul, an apostle not of men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, unto the brethren that are at Laodicea.

2 Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I give thanks unto Christ in all my prayers, that ye continue in him and persevere in his works, looking for the promise at the day of judgement.

4 Neither do the vain talkings of some overset you, which creep in, that they may turn you away from the truth of the Gospel which is preached by me.

5 And now shall God cause that they that are of me shall continue ministering unto the increase of the truth of the Gospel and accomplishing goodness, and the work of salvation, even eternal life.

5 And now are my bonds seen of all men, which I suffer in Christ, wherein I rejoice and am glad.

7 And unto me this is for everlasting salvation, which also is brought about by your prayers, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost, whether by life or by death.

8 For verily to me life is in Christ, and to die is joy.

9 And unto him (or And also) shall he work his mercy in you that ye may have the same love, and be of one mind.

10 Therefore, dearly beloved, as ye have heard in my presence so hold fast and work in the fear of God, and it shall be unto you for life eternal.

11 For it is God that worketh in you.

12 And do ye without afterthought whatsoever ye do.

13 And for the rest, dearly beloved, rejoice in Christ, and beware of them that are filthy in lucre.

14 Let all your petitions be made openly before God, and be ye steadfast in the mind of Christ.

15 And what things are sound and true and sober and just and to be loved, do ye.

16 And what ye have heard and received, keep fast in your heart.

17 And peace shall be unto you.

18 The saints salute you.

19 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.

20 And cause this epistle to be read unto them of Colossae, and the epistle of the Colossians to be read unto you.

I hope to be writing soon on parables and also on prophecy.

We Had a Holiday Here in Australia

Just this last weekend, 25 April, in Australia and New Zealand (and, according to Wikipedia, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga) was ANZAC Day. It marks the landing of the ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) at Gallipoli Turkey on that date in 1915, part of the ill-fated Dardenelles campaign. I can't speak for the other countries that observe it, ANZAC Day is part military commemoration day and national day. It reflects a national military mythology of empire that has somehow managed to survive the empire that gave it birth. Under the terms of that mythology, Australia proved its worthiness to be an independent dominion of the British Empire through the shedding of the blood of all those men killed in the Dardenelles. It was a baptism in blood for the new nation to take its place in the constellation of the Greater Britain, that then ruled the world.

When I was growing up in the 60s that Empire was finally coming to its undignified end. By then Australia had a new great and powerful friend, the United States. And, of course, we were again involved in a foreign imperialist war now on Washington's behalf, over there in Indo-China. I can rememebr the dominos discourse and the Red Peril (superseding an older Yellow Peril). And I can remember how the ANZAC mythology was used to try and mould us young males into cannon fodder for the imperial ruling classes. It was potent, deadly and noxious but luckily for many of us there were different anthems in the air and, ironically, as in the days of ANZAC's birth there was a growing and vigorous anti-conscription movement in this country. And just as in WW1 the anti-conscription forces would be victorious, and, more, we got this country out of Indo-China several years before the US defeat there.

In those days I was part of a Christian anti-war group. We used to go out and pamphlet churches against the war and against conscription. On a number of occasions I would meet WW1 veterans coming to of those churches. Pretty much all of them expressed their support for us being there and campaigning against the war and conscription. I still one old veteran who shook my hand and sayng he wished there'd been more like us back when he was young, back in WW1. The WW2 diggers were different, more hostile, much more imbued in the ANZAC mythology and probably more confident that their's was a just war. I also met Vietnam veterans in those days. The Brisbane anti-conscription movement had a number of Vietnam veterans very much involved and active against both the war and conscription. I heard all sorts of stories from them about the horrors unfolding in Vietnam and Indo-China.

But ANZAC continues. I personally depsise the day and try to ignore it as much as possible. It does not honour the dead but continues to conscript them in a national military cult that blasphemously parodies the Christian mythos of Good Friday. But then the mythology of the old Empire was very much one of muscular Christianity, homophobic and homo-erotic all in one.

I am a gay man who loves and apfreciates young men. The thought of putting them through the mincing machine of war revolts and appals me. But it's not only soldiers who die in war and the wars of the 20th century have been marked by the mass slaughter of civilians. It was probably THE century of mass slaughter in the history of humanity. Disturbingly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show that war in the 21st century will most likely continue the bloodletting tradition of the last century.

So ANZAC Day is one holiday I would do without. I could accept Armistice Day provided it is de-militarised and turned into a day to remember all those killed, raped and brutalised in war - lest we forget - and vow never again, never again. Lets trample those swords into ploughshares.

And so finally I want to mark the national ANZAC Day death cult with a marvellous piece of anti-war poetry that is also biblically based. Indeed it is a most profound reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac. I am of course referring to the 'Parable of the Old Man and the Young' by Wilfred Owen, who sadly did not survive WW1. Today we would call him gay; he was definitely a lover of men.

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him, thy son.

Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,

A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

You can find more of Wilfred Owen's poems here.

UPDATE I nearly forgot to link to a marvellous piece by Marilyn Lake, professor of history at Latrobe University on the exclsuive and exclduing nature of the ANZAC myth and why Australia must move on from it: We Must Fight Free of Anzac, lest we forget our other stories.

From my blog roll

I just want to point folks to a couple of really intersting posts from my blog roll. Slacktivist is always worth a look not least for the weekly deconstructions of the execrable Left Behind series. I must admit to an almost pornographic fascination with things US evangelical and pentecostal. And the latest instalment on Slacktivist Left Behind really whets that fascination. Here we learn how Left Behind's characters refract the values of "evangelical courtship"

here we come to another reminder that the interpersonal events recounted here are every bit as strange, alien and inhuman as the international ones:
Chloe looked at [Buck] expectantly when she greeted him, yet she did not hug him, as Steele and Bruce Barnes had done. Her reticence was his fault, of course. They barely knew each other, but clearly there had been chemistry. They had given each other enough signals to begin a relationship, and in a note to Chloe, Buck had even admitted he was attracted to her.

Jerry Jenkins is well-served here by his habit of telling about things like this note without ever showing them to us, because such a note seems, if not quite impossible, at least unimaginable. "Dear Chloe. I admit I am attracted to you. Let us never speak of it again. Cordially, Cameron."

I appreciate that the target audience for these books includes readers in the hinterlands of the evangelical subculture where dating as it is practiced in most of the West remains a forbidden and largely unknown custom. LaHaye & Jenkins are writing for people who subscribe, instead, to the invented neo-Victorian practices of evangelical "courtship"

I suppose what really fascinates me is how people strive so hard to follow a supposedly 'biblically based' Christianity and end up with something that is so unrecognisable as Christian to so many Christians alive now and throughout history.

Meanwhile over at Two Powers in Heaven Mike Heiser has made available

Fifty-two pages of chunky pneumatological goodness, by Michel Rene Barnes. The paper is the first chapter in a monograph on the theology of the Holy Spirit until the time of Tertullian and Origen. Its thesis is that early Christian pneumatology continues and develops Jewish pneumatology.

I've read the paper and highly recommend it. I also discovered that the 2nd century Church Father, Theophilus of Antioch, in his work, To Autolychus, quotes from a Sibylline oracle in expounding a theology the Holy Spirit. He does so because, according to Barnes, "he considers (it) to be inspired by the Holy Spirit just like the Jewish prophets" (39).

Maybe the problems of 'biblically based' Christianity a la Left Behind relate to what Bible they use. For evangelicals and pentecostals it's pretty much a 19th century construct.

Finally, Mad Hatter has drawn attention to a post on Julie Redman's blog, "a brief but thoughtful note on the ways that the parables can be read." He sees there "a special value for studies of Pali Buddhism as the scriptures are replete with a variety of story-telling genres that require thoughtful and creative reading and interpretation." It's also set me a-thinking about parables and Jewish scriptures which I hope to put up as soon as exigencies of marking etc permit.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Updating my blog roll

Over at Jim West's blog, he's put up a post with a pie chart reprsentation of "where bibliobloggers live and work". He states that "the South is well represented" which I at first took to be us folk in the southern hemisphere but of course he really meant folks in the southern states of the US - typical Yankee! But he got the data for the pie chart from the complete list of 213 biblioblogs here. Checking out the list I found that most of us true southerners come from the following countries: Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa. I think Kenya is south of the equator or close enough to it that I'll count it in. Singapore too. So I've decided to add all those blogs to my blog roll. We true southerners should all link up, I reckon. So from Australia I've added Judy's research blog (Gospel of Thomas), Mark Stevens' Scripture, Ministry and the People of God, and Tim Lewis' Source Theory; from New Zealand Tim Bulkeley's Sans Blogue and Gavin Romney's Otagosh; from Brazil Cláudia Andréa Prata Ferreira's Estudos Biblicos and Lingua Hebraica, Airton José da Silva's Observatorio Biblico, J R Coffer's A Cruz de Clio and the group blog Ad Cummulus; from South Africa Daniel and Tonya's Hebrew and Greek Reader; from Kenya Ben Byerly's Blog; and from Singapore Tony Siew's Revelation is Real. I've also just discovered from Peru Manuel Rojas' Estudios Biblicos and will add it shortly. I'm also likely in a spirit of ASEAN solidarity to add blogs from Malaysia and Philippines.

There were a couple of other blogs I added today, too: J K Gayle's blog Aristotle's Feminist Subject which is included in the list of biblioblogs under Theory and Receptioon and Megan Rohrer's Transcript. I discovered this blog by accdient looking up the publisher's page for the Queer Bible Commentary. Megan had been writing on Divine Sex Changes in Genesis and citing my Genesis chapter from the Commentary. In her blog sdhe gives "weekly reflections on the lectionary texts through my eyes which are shaped by my experience as a queer, transgender, lesbian, feminist, pastor to the homeless in San Francisco" and I think should be added to the list of biblioblogs.

Also earlier this month I discovered and added I'm Christian. I'm Gay. Deal with it! by an anonymous clergyperson who is out to his congregation. Not a biblioblog but biblical matters are obviously in its purview.

Finally, definitely not a biblioblog but one on Buddhist Studies, Another Note, by a friend of mine here in Brisbane who likewise wishes to remain anonymous. I've also added it recently. I've told him I wish he could be a student of mine; he'd certainly keep me on my toes. Or even better students of each other. In fact, I'd really like it if there could be a bit of a Buddhist Studies Biblical Studies cross-fertilisation. Certainly if you check out his blog you'll see plenty of bloggy goodness that is worthwhile not only from a Buddhist Studies perspective but is rich with insight from a Bib Studies perspective too.

UPDATE It appears that Kenya is on the Equator and so in both northern and southern hemispheres. Singapore is close enough to the equator to be an honorary southerner. I'm still to decide on whether to add Malaysian and Filipino blogs in a spirit of ASEAN solidarity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hermas and the Shepherd

One of the interesting blogs in my blog roll is Mike Heiser's Two Powers in Heaven which deals with ancient Jewish binitarian theologies and how they were taken up in Christianity. Just after Gregorian Easter/Pascha he put up a post linking to two articles by Bogdan Bucur from Marquette University. One of these, The Son of God and the Angelomorphic Holy Spirit: A Rereading of the Shepherd’s Christology, especially caught my eye given the brief discusion of the Shepherd of Hermas on an earlier post of mine here. The discussion was actually about the Muratorian Fragment and its dates and I'll quote what I had to say then:

It traditionally has been placed around those dates, primarily due to its disparagement of the Shepherd of Hermas: 'But Hermas wrote the Shepherd (74) very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, (75) while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair (76) of the church of the city of Rome.' Albert Sundberg challenged the dating of the MF on the basis back in the 1960s and again in an article in 1973. In the '90s Geoffrey Hahnemann wrote a detailed monograph arguing that the MF was better placed in the 4th century in the East rather than 2nd century Italy as the text implies. Certainly the Shepherd had a very high standing in the early church, Irenaeus (as early as c. 175 CE), Clement of Alexandria and Origen regarded it as scriptural which would call into doubt such a late date of composition. According to my edition of the Apostolic Fathers, the date of the Shepherd is hard to establish and has been dated by some scholars to the 70s or 80s of the 1st century. It has closest parallels to the similitudes/parables of 1 Enoch which I would regard as not suporting the MF's claimed date of composition either. THe MF could be regarded as attempting to discredit the Shepherd.

Sundberg and Hahnemann argue that the MF belongs in 4th or 5th centuries as these are precisely the centuries when canonisation was taking place. THe Shepherd was still in high standing then and was included in the New Testament of Codex Sinaiticus. It also appears to have been part of the Ethiopian canon for a long time too.

Of course, many scholars have not accepted the arguments of Sundberg and Hahnemann with the net result that there is now no consensus when it comes to the dating of the MF. I myself incline to the later date just as I also incline to an earlier date for the Shepherd, or at least substantial sections of it (my edition of the Apostolic Fathers reports arguments that it is a composite of an older 1st century text and later 2nd century text, although not as late as the MF would infer).

I'm actually not going to talk much about Bucur's essay on the Shepherd but he made a couple of points which I thought I'd follow through. Given that my edition of the Shepherd postulates it as a composite text, I especially noted Bucur's observation that: "In submitting to the current scholarly consensus, I assume that the Shepherd of Hermas is a unitary text from the early decades of the second century" [p.121]. Then in a footnote he adds:

The thesis of multiple authorship, epitomized in W. Coleborne’s proposal to distinguish seven sections of the work, and six authors, all written before the end of the first century (The Shepherd of Hermas: A Case for Multiple Authorship and Some Implications, StPatr 10 = TU 107 [1970] 65–70) has been discarded today in favor of more attentive consideration of the Shepherd’s stylistic particuliarities. See the firm conclusion of Brox, Hirt (see n. 3), 32–33. Osiek has argued convincingly that the Shepherd’s “loose structure” is the result of the constant reshaping of the text in the course of oral proclamation (Shepherd [see n. 1], 13a.15b). This new approach to the text has immediate implications for the problem of dating. While the scholarly consensus seems to have settled around the year 140, with a tendency towards the earlier part of the second century (Osiek, Shepherd [see
n. 1], 2 n. 13; for a survey of opinions, see Brox, Hirt [see n. 3], 22–25), Osiek concludes on “an expanded duration of time beginning perhaps from the very last years of the first century, but stretching through most of the first half of the second century” (Shepherd, 20b). Leutzsch (Einleitung [see n. 1], 137) proposes the interval 90–130. A late first-century date of 80–100 is hypothesized by J.C. Wilson, Toward a Reassessment of the Shepherd of Hermas: Its Date and Pneumatology, Lewiston, N.Y. 1993, 60. However, this proposal stands on shaky ground, since the considerations on which it is based are themselves debated issues: the early development of monarchic episcopate in Rome, the Shepherd’s relationship to Hebrews (and implicitly, the dating of Hebrews), and the existence
of certain echoes of persecutions in the text. [121-122]

I was intrigued by Osiek's notion that "the Shepherd’s “loose structure” is the result of the constant reshaping of the text in the course of oral proclamation." I immediately thought of the Gospels as well as Revelation. And so I'm currently reading Osiek's commentary on the Shepherd of Hermas, which fortunately was in the UQ Library.

If we were Christians of the 2nd 3rd or even 4th centuries we would have regarded the Shepherd as scripture, counting it as part of the New Testament which of course those centuries was much more fluid and larger than it is today. The 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest complete Christian bibles ends the New Testament with the Shepherd which follows Revelation and Barnabas. The popularity of this text is attested by not only its inclusion in Codex Sinaiticus or its approval by such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen and, for a time, Tertullian (his attitude changing when he embraced Montanism) but also by the sheer variety of manuscript evidence. As well as Latin and Greek versions, Osiek relates that it has also been found in various Coptic versions, Ethiopic (it might also have been part of the Ethiopian New Testament for a time), Georgian and Middle Persian versions (the latter two translated from a lost Arabic version).

The Shepherd is counted as an apocalyptic text. Certainly the text recounts a variety of visions Hermas experienced, initially of a woman, identified as the Church and then for the greater part of the book by the angel of repentance or the shepherd. Again while apocalyptic, the Shepherd's emphasis is on Christian life in the here and now specifically of Hermas' time. In that sense it is more like John's Revelation which, despite its endtimes focus, is concerned with events happening in its own day. Both the Shepehrd and Revealtion are different to such texts as the Apocalypses of Peter, Paul etc which have a focus on the afterlife, heaven hell and the punishments of sinners after death. Neither the Shepherd or Revelation are interested in such otherwordly dramas. Interstingly too both the Shepherd and Revelation are confident with being prophecy in the present, the revelators are John (of Patmos) and Hermas (presumably of Rome). The later Apocalypses, like the older Jewish prophetic texts invest themselves in the authority of times past, the Apocalypses in the apostolic autority of figures such as Peter and Paul (or the Sybil), the Jewish prophetic texts in such ancient prophetic figures such as Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Daniel, Ezra, Baruch etc. But not so Revelation or the Shepherd. The figures behind them are the contemporaries of their audiences. Indeed, I think that Revelation, the Shepherd and maybe the Odes of Solomon (given that many of the Psalms were understood in the Jewish world as prophetic utterances of David) should be understood as examples of ancient Christian prophecy. Both John and Hermas speak on their own authority, the authority of their experience. The Odes were only later attributed to Solomon, perhaps because they circulated in combination with the Psalms of Solomon. The Odist never claims identity with anyone with the exception of Christ. So while anonymous there is a rather daring audacity to the Odist. At the SBL last year in Auckland I went to a presentation on the Odes at which the 'problem' of the uncertainty of whether the Odist speaks in Christ's voice or their own voice was discussed. I suggested that it might be deliberately ambiguous , a deliberate blurring f Christ and the Odist/speaker, but the presenter and others wouldn't countenance it. I however remain confident that the ambiguity in the Odes is deliberate and expresses the prophetic authority of the Odist (an authority in which the text's audience might even be able to share) but more on that another time.

But for now I'm reading Carolyn Osiek's Commentary with the translated text of Hermas and finding it quite fascinating. It is a better translation than the others I have and I find I'm quite engaging with this text. Osiek's Commentary is also a marvellous guide. I have already been struck by various features of the Shepherd and I think it a text should be more widely known. Indeed, I think it should go back into the New Testament. But I'll leave it here for now. Expect some more posts in the Shepherd in the near future

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Let 100 Flowers Bloom

The other day, I went with a friend to see The Boat that Rocked, a delightful comedy film about UK pirate radio, radio stations circumventing the strict UK broadcast rules by setting up at sea in the 1960s. Despite a number of anachronisms, the film is a lot of fun and captures something of the era with a rather fabulous soundtrack of mostly 60s Britpop. Plus Tom Sturridge is drop-dead gorgeous.

I won't give away the storyline let alone the ending but at the end, the film flashes up a closing piece of text to the effect that while the days of pirate radio were over, a whole new world of music and radio opened up in the UK in which commercial radio just got better and better and likewise pop music just got better and better, the implication being that now everything is wonderful.

Afterwards over coffee, I said to my friend that I had a real problem with that. Now I don't know what commercial radio is like in the UK but I can say that its equivalent in Australia is crap. I stopped listening to commercial radio 30 years ago. Of course, we do have community radio stations like 4ZZZ in Brisbane. FM radio started in this country with community radio and if there was an equivalent to the pirate radio era in Australia it was surely the glory days of FM community radio. 4ZZZ has a proud role in that history.

But commercial radio? I regard it as unlistenable and the same now goes for ABC's Triple J. I remember it as Double J in Sydney many years ago and how excited we in Brisbane were when it began broadcasting here in late 1990. But as it spread around the country, re-badged as Youth Radio, it also developed a more mainstream format so by the late 90s it had become, if not unlistenable, at least pretty boring and formulaic.

As for pop music, well, I think that has deteriorated to the point that is now turgid formulaic crap. The beauty of The Boat that Rocked was the actual sound of the era that really holds the film together. And it is a recognisable sound. The various periods of the 20th century are recognisable by their music. And it is hard to really convey to people who weren't around in the 60s just how much the music represented a shaking of the foundations, a call to newness of some sort. And the film does a good job of capturing some of that exciting sense of newness irrupting at the time. I particularly responded to the opening scenes of a kid going up to bed, putting out the light and listening to a transistor radio hidden under his pillow. I remember, myself as a young teenager doing much the same thing to listen to the Underground Music show on Radio 4IP. The term Underground Music only makes sense in the 60s. I can't imagine a program like that on commercial radio nowadays, not least because I have no idea what music it would play. The term Underground Music nowadays is meaningless.

Indeed, looking back on this past decade, the first decade of the 21st century, I'm not certain if there is any defining sound that can mark it, well certainly nothing that developed in this decade. Hip hop, rap etc are much older. They seem to be young people's music in a big way but they don't belong to the decade. And I'm not saying there isn't good music around and good new artists. There is and there are but you're unlikely to hear them on commercial radio. Instead they represent niche markets which can be found via community radio or now the internet. They also work in genres which are not new but pre-date the decade we're in too.

So I have been thinking about the 60s. I find it curious that while there has been 40s, 50s, 70s, 80s retro , the 60s has very much been overlooked in the nostalgia biz. I hope I'm not being a romantic by saying that I think it was too radical to be really retro-marketed without raising too many awkward possibilities.

The 60s was one of those strange times when the intetests of Capital aligned with massive social change and upheaval. Capital is not a single unitary phenomenon but a variety of competing elites. Back in the 60s social revolution was in the interest of some of those elites. The US, for example, always wanted the break up of the old colonial empires and the 60s was the period of massive decolonisation. It also marked the beginning of the rise of consumer capitalism dependnt on credit and constant shopping. The complaints by Turnbull and other Liberals, that people are saving the government's stimulus package rather than spendng it all, would not make sense in a pre-60s world. In many respects, the gender and sexual revolutions that were kicking off in the 60s, likewise suited the interests of Capital, or elements of it, in that whole new classes of people could be integrated into the market in their own right.

And, of course, that's what we see in The Boat that Rocked. The pirate radio station pushing subversion and rebellion is a business operation nonetheless. They have big commercial sponsors who pay their way. When pirate radio ends it is replaced by a whole new onshore commecial broadcating enterprise. And in my youth, the 60s was mediated via Australian commercial radio. Radio 4IP was a new player in the Brisbane radio scene so it was prepared to play more Underground Music to capture an audience from the older established stations. Revolution sold!

The Cultural Revolution in China is a good analogue for the era. Mao actually launched a social revolution to destroy his opponents (real and perceived) in the Party and cement his dictatorship. On one level he succeeded but on another he failed. Maybe a better analogue is the Hundred Flowers Campaign in China 1956/7. "Let a hundred flowers bloom; a hundred schools of thought contend." The greater part of the 60s was more like Capital's 100 Flowers era (although by 1968 it had morphed into more of the Cultural Revolution in some parts of the world anyway but only for a short period). So the 60s aws marked by all manner of questioning, criticism, rejection of many older forms of authority. Through this process, sectors of Capital could flush out and co-opt a range of ideas and possibilities to market and exploit. Ideas that couldn't be co-opted were ultimately sidelined and suppressed often at great cost to their protagonists. Many older institutions and structures were destroyed or transformed to suit the new directions of Capital.

So it was one of those rare moments of synergy between the ruling classes (or elements of them) and the ruled for social change. That made it an exciting period, and a period that it is also easier to forget or trivialise because such times of synergy are rare... and dangerous. So the end of pirate radio in the UK was not the start of something new and better that keeps on getting better but rather the end of a short wonderful moment of energy and creativity and transformation.

Christos Aneste, Alithos Aneste! Christos Voskrese, Voistinu Voskrese! Today is Pascha (Easter) in Eastern Christendom

Χριστός Ανέστη εκ νεκρών,
Θανάτω, θάνατον πατήσας,
και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι
ζώην χαρισάμενος!
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

So Happy Pascha! Happy Easter!

As the Greeks and Russians and other Eastern Christians will be saying next weekend, which is the Orthodox Pascha:

Christos Aneste, Alithos Aneste! Christos Voskrese, Voistinu Voskrese! Krishhti Unjall, Vertet Unjall! Kristos Tenestwal! Bergit Tenestwal! El Messieh Kahm, Kakken Kahm! Christos harjav i merelotz, Orhniale harutjun Christosi! Christos T’ensah Em’ Muhtan, Exai’ Ab-her Eokala! Pchristos aftooun, Alethos aftooun! Christos Ten-si-OU, Ba-Ha-ke Ten-si-OU! Kriste aghsdga, Cheshmaritad aghsdga! Hristus A Inviat! Adeverat a Inviat! Meshiha qam! Bashrira qam!

That selection of some of the languages of Eastern Christendom translates the standard Paschal/Easter greeting of the East: Christ is Risen, Indeed, He is truly Risen!

Good Pascha to you all!

For more information check out here, here, here, here, and here.

Easter, The Holy Fire: "The Holy Fire (Russian " Holy Light ") is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter. It is the longest attested annual miracle in the Christian world. It has only been consecutively documented, however, since 1106, previous mentions being sporadic. The ceremony is broadcast live in Greece, Russia and other Orthodox (original christianity) countries. Russian Christianity has a more 1000 year history. In my video shown some icons Andrey Rublev (1360 - 1427y.) is the greatest Russian iconographer. The Holy Trinity is Rublev's most famous work and also one of the most widely known of Russian icons."

Miracle of the Holy Light, Pascha Vigil, Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem: "I went and I saw. You can see how far I was and how candles start fire themselvs. I have beard as well. My Hisrory in свет,heiliges Licht"


Happy Ethiopian Easter! Melkam Fasika! Awdeamet-Tigrigna song by Kinfe wata

Coptic Resurrection Hymn Too Leethos (Arabic/English)

"Qimle Maran" Ancient Church of the East Choir: "Qimle Maran" (Assyrian for "Risen is our Lord"). St George, Ancient Church of the East. Arizona. 04-27-08. Easter in Old Calendar.

Syriac Easter in Aleppo:
mor malko from Syriac Orthodox Church in Halab-Syria (Easter)

St Mary's Malankara Orthodox Syrian Cathedral Easter 2005: Easter 2005 at St. Mary's Malankara Orthodox Syrian Cathedral (Philadelphia). The service was performed by the Very Rev Fr. C. J. Johnson Cor Episcopa.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Liberal Party of Australia is disgusting

The Liberal Party of Australia is disgusting, with the exception of a handful honorable people such as Russell Broadbent, Judi Moylan and a couple of others. However they are shining beacons of decency and humanity in a party that is determined to bathe itself in sewerage to gain some cheap kudos playing the xenophobia card. A boatload of refugees/asylum seekers blows up leaving two dead and many seriously injured but for the Liberals this is an opportunity to demonise and make shrill allegations playing to the deep strain of racism in Australian culture. It's a party of vampires and ghouls who pick over the bodies of the dead and injured for sordid political gain. Under Howard they whipped up the toxic sludge of racism and xenophobia for their own short term gain and besmirched this country moral standing in the process. It was a sad, sick and cruel period and it seems the Liberals wont be happy until they've drowned this country in the sewerage of their amoral, inhuman opportunism.

The Australian media, including the ABC, are just as disgusting. ABC news tonight reporting on the hospitalisation of the survivors of this tragedy kept going on and on how no Australians will be disadvantaged by treating these refugees in our hospitals. Disgusting! That the media should play along with the Liberal amorality by playing up notions of injured refugees, by their presence in our hospitals, somehow taking up space that should available for Australians. Disgusting! Clearly Howard's ABC policies have worked and the place has become an Augean stable of inhuman filth! Disgusting!

More here at LP and by Andrew Bartlett

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Paschal Peeve: The Hidden Story of Jesus by Robert Beckford

Back in February I wrote about Slacktivist Fred Clark's peeves concerning fundamentalist, literalist Christianity. I want to quote Clark again

This house-of-cards faith is a particularly brittle and fragile belief system that insists, emphatically, that all of it must be true or else none of it is true. Faith is, for these people, a pass-fail course. Get a 100 percent and you pass. Anything less than that, and you fail.

I grew up around some people who believed faith worked like this and yet I still can't figure out the theology behind it. Their soteriology seems to work like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" -- except with no prizes awarded for any but the final question. It's salvation by neither grace nor works, but rather by the knowledge of and mental assent to a very long list of arcane biblical interpretations.

A very, very long list. And that very long chain is only as strong as its weakest link (to mix both my metaphor and my quiz show reference). If every item isn't true -- or isn't blindly accepted as true -- then they insist that it all must be false. Thus if it is not true that the world was created in six, 24-hour days about 6,800 years ago, then it is not true that Jesus loves you. Or that you should love others as Jesus has loved you. Or that your sins are forgiven. Or that you are anything but alone and godforsaken when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

House-of-cards fundamentalism allows for no distinctions between babies and bathwater, between the central tenets of the faith and the adiaphora and error. So once one part of this belief system begins to collapse -- as it inevitably will since young-earth creationism is disprovable -- then it all has to go.

As I said, I grew up around kids who were taught this their whole lives. They didn't have a choice about where they were going to college after graduating -- it was either Bob Jones University or Bible college. As the rest of us planned to head off to Wheaton or Messiah or Azusa Pacific, those kids' parents would shake their heads sadly and pray for our protection in such worldly Babylons.

But it's really hard, even in the hermetic and hermetically sealed world of BJU, to avoid encountering some incontrovertible piece of evidence that the earth and the universe is far, far older than young-earth creationism allows. When they encounter this evidence, they may be able to cling to some desperate form of last-Thursday-ism (the world is 6,000 years old, but was made to seem older) which may provide them with a temporary patch until they get better at living with very high levels of cognitive dissonance and barely veiled self-deception. But just as often, the whole edifice collapses. Hard. They wind up rejecting everything they ever believed.

Everything, that is, except for that pernicious notion that "all of it must be true or none of it is." These kids shoot way past what their parents feared would happen to the rest of us at Wheaton or wherever (with our dangerous book learnin' and dancing and movie-going and such) and they become the mirror-opposite of their old fundamentalist selves. They become as strident and binary in their unbelief as their failed mentors at Bob Jones were in their belief. Yet even their rebellion tends to remain shaped by that world and its narrowly imagined options.

And that's a tragedy. I think it was Maya Angelou who said there's nothing sadder than a young cynic, because they've gone directly from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

Even worse is when they become rationalist so-called liberal theologians and biblical scholars. The late Robert Funk, who established the Jesus Seminar was one such person who sought to teach the whole world 'religious literacy' or to read scriptures 'correctly' (i.e. his way) as part of a universalist religious imperialist project as supersessionaist as any fundamentalist or traditionalist Christianity. Bart Ehrmann is another. John Shelby Spong is a theological equivalent. He came out of a fundamentalist background and has adopted a theological rationalism in its place by which he recycles the work of such 'liberal' biblical scholarship to explain away the problematic bits and promote a scientific Christianity for our modern age. On ABC's Compass program over the last two weeks we met another, Dr Robert Beckford of Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Beckford is of Caribbean background and originally of Pentecostal faith

In a 2 part series, The Hidden Story of Jesus, Beckford went on a bit of a tour to India and the Middle East to end with a rationalised Jesus the social justice teacher that everyone can follow. Beckford's travels serve to explain away the 'troublesome' bits in the scriptures to develop a more scientific, rational and hence more universal faith system. So, in part 1, he goes to India to compare the nativity naratives of the gospels of Matthew and Luke to the nativity stories concerning Krishna and the Buddha. I am familiar with some of the fabulous embellishments of the Buddha's story but not so much with that surrounding Krishna. In the case of the Buddha, these are much later and not really all that important to the Buddha's dharma. As for Krishna you can read some of them here, where they are also provided with a message for believers. They are part and parcel of the whole Krishna mythos and draw on a rich Indian mythological legacy. If they provide any illumination to the Christian nativity narratives, it is that they too provide an important framework for the story of their respective gospels and over time, read together, for the whole Jesus story (something I might write about at a later date). Beyond that the similarities are minimal.

However, Beckford is not interested in such particularities. Instead he makes the point that the stories of virginal conception and angelic visitations, and presumably the Immanuel/Son of God significance they seek to convey, simply represent a universal pattern of surrounding the births of religious figures with mythological embellishment. Jesus, Krishna and the Buddha are pretty much the same in importance for their respective followers and so their births are encrusted with magic and the fabulous. At this point Beckford is aided and abetted by a Brahmin priest who is more than happy to concur with the notion that all are similar. Indeed, Vishnaivite Hinduism, of which Krishna worship is one form, is noted for its avatar theology by which Krishna, Rama and several other human and non-human figures are understood to be incarnations of Vishnu. At some stage, Buddha too came to be regarded as another such avatar of Vishnu, albeit a most unsatisfactory one, which is why there is no cult of Buddha in Hinduism. However, Buddha the avatar proved a successful way for Hindu religion to respond to and ultimately deal with the Buddhist challenge. Unsurprising then that, as we see in the film, Jesus, too, can be adopted and worshipped by Hindus as another avatar of Vishnu, a practice the Brahmin would no doubt endorse. But by such worship Jesus becomes a deity of Hinduism; worshippers of a Hindu Jesus do not necessarily become Christians, something Beckford does not seem to understand.

Beckford then sets off to the north of India for a Buddhist perspective. I was curious that he didn't go to Bodh Gaya, the most important site for Buddhism, and once more an important Buddhist centre. Instead Beckford goes north to the Tibetan refugee centres. I was puzzled by this and can only conclude that it is because Tibetan Buddhism is 'trendy' in the West and so Beckford attempts to gain its authority as a support for his thesis. Sadly for him such support was not forthcoming. Beckford even manages to get audiences with the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa & the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche who are quite happy to explain Jesus from a Buddhist perspective even allowing him a boddhisattva status. But it is very much a Buddhist Jesus we meet, a Jesus integrated into the Tibetan Buddhist package. Hence they are very happy to acknowledge the possibility of Buddhist influence on Christian origins. But when Beckford states "in some ways, I'm not just following Jesus, I'm also following Buddha" he receives a polite non-committal response. Whatever else the manifold forms of Buddhism are, and how accomodationist they are to other religious systems they are not universalist. The Buddha's Dharma, no matter how variously interpreted, remains central, regardless of any apparent similarities to Christianity.

From that point, Beckford turns his attention to the Middle East which he introduces by first telling his audience that it was Paul and his followers who invented Christianity as we know it 'a religion of salvation through faith in a pre-existent divine being sent to earth by God to save us all from our sins'. Paul is 'its first theologian and arguably its real founder'. Paul 'took Christianity out of its Palestinian Jewish setting and turned it into a world beater'. This is, of course, patent nonsense which Beckford compounds by a survey of the cults of Mithras and the ancient Egyptian cult of Osiris. Beckford presents them as examples of the pagan world that Paul sought out to convert by appropriating their salvation motifs (and presumably mixing with a good serve of Buddhist Dharma) to create the Christian package as we know it today.

There are several problems here which I will simply touch on. First off, Beckford (and others such as Ehrmann, Spong etc) work with a very simplistic notion of what ancient Judaism was like. The big mistake made was to assume that the Judaism of the Temple period was pretty much the same as Rabbinic Judaism that has existed alongside Christianity since late Antiquity (and Christian understandings of Rabbinic Judaism have been likewise extremely naive). But Rabbinic Judaism is just as different from what I would call Temple Judaism as Christianity is. Both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are two new religions emerging from the wreckage of the old Temple order. Of course, both stand in continuity with that old order as well. And surprise, surprise, Christian trinitarian and incarnational theologies have precursors in the theologies and practices of the old Temple milieu. What was new with Christianity was not its trinity or its notions of incarnation. What Christianity did that was new was to identify the Logos, the Son of Man, the Heavenly High Priest, the Great Angel, Wisdom, Memra, the lesser YHWH - there is a rich range of ancient Jewish divine intermediaries - with the person, Jesus of Nazareth. As Daniel Boyarin reminds us, the Logos theology of John 1 is pretty standard first century Jewish (binitarian) Logos theology. What is new in John 1 is the identification of the Logos with Jesus.

Then Beckford's putting it all on to Paul falls into two further errors. He is guilty of a very simplistic linear chronological approach to Christian history - the type behind the standard gospel reconstruction which posits an order something like: 1) some sort of simple sayings gospel (Q), 2) Mark, 3) Matthew combining Mark and Q with extra material, 4) Luke combining Mark and Q with extra material - 3 and 4 can swapped around - 5) John (often with a precursory and not well placed timewise Signs gospel). And all of these stages sit in a nice neat linear, generally, 10 year progression. So, Q 40s or 50s, Mark 60s, stages 3 and 4 in 70s and 80s respectively with John coming up lucky last in the 90s CE. Thomas is often slotted in there somewhere and some other too, especially the more 'Gnostic' ones (but not the Protoevangelion of James). Personally, I find it too neat. I think it more likely that the various gospels (canonicals and others) are coming onto existence alongside each other, over the same time period, with some interacting more intimately (the Synoptics) than others. As J.A.T. Robinson suggested, space/distance between communites is more likely a gospel generator than time chronological differences, which rely on a presumed progression from a naive simplistic peasant faith to the theological elaboration/sophistication of John (and hence always positioned last). Also relevant is that the Jesus movement is marked the prominence of several figures rather than one (perhaps the apparent prominence of one, Paul, is an effect of the New Testament's make up).

This model is partly based on the 50s and 60s being dominated by Paul, 'the first theologian', who invents the package that will be elaborated in the gospels. The other basis, as I alluded above, is a rather quaintly romantic notion of the class origins of the Jesus movement and Jesus' first disciples as simple illiterate peasants from Galilee. To that I will quote Ben Witherington's response to such a claim made by Bart Ehrmann in his latest book, Jesus Interrupted, who declares that Jesus’ disciples were “lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic speaking peasants from Galilee.” (p. 106):

First of all fisherman are not peasants. They often made a good living from the sea of Galilee, as can be seen from the famous and large fisherman’s house excavated in Bethsaida. Secondly, fishermen were businessmen and they had to either have a scribe or be able to read and write a bit to deal with tax collectors, toll collectors, and other business persons. Thirdly, if indeed Jesus had a Matthew/ Levi and others who were tax collectors as disciples, they were indeed literate, and again were not peasants. As the story of Zaccheus makes perfectly clear, they could indeed have considerable wealth, sometimes from bilking people out of their money. In other words, it is a caricature to suggest that all Jesus’ disciples were illiterate peasants. And Bart is absolutely wrong that Acts 4.13 says otherwise--- what Acts 4.13 says is that the council is shocked at the theological capacity of Peter and John because they are ‘unlettered’. This is not the ancient word for illiterate, it is the word for not being learned, not having done formal school training, say in a synagogue.

Beckford will continue to assert in the second part of the film the centrality of Paul in creating Christianity as we know it. But this time instead of Hindusim and Buddhism he turns to Judaism and Islam. Here his film gets quite confused. He introduces us to an Orthodox rabbi in Israel who strongly proclaims not only his rejection of Jesus as messiah and his divine status but rightly reminds Beckford of the sad history of Christian - Jewish relations. Beckford can't resist though using this guy for an endorsement of his own position. Nevertheless, Beckford betrays his own confessional alliegences by focusing on the harassment of a group of so-called messianic Jews, Jews who have converted to a form of Judaised Evangelical Protestantism, by their Orthodox Jewish neighbours. I'm not certain what this was supposed to achieve or represent. Beckford certanily could not confront these Evangelicals with his own rationalised Christianity, certainly not when they are being intimidated by their neighbours at the same time. Beckford does confront these others but the last thing they are interested in is dialogue with a Gentile theologian, no matter how rational or univeralist, dare I say 'religiously literate', he is.

Then onto Islam, which gets rather short shrift, considering just how important Jesus is for Muslims. Perhaps it's that, even though Jesus is a prophet and not the Son of God, the Islamic Jesus is not very amenable to Beckford's project. After all, Islam still beleives in the Virgin Birth (and consequently Mary is highly venerated as well). Furthermroe Muslims don't believe that Jesus is dead. They expect him to return to do battle with the Anti-Christ, fofllowing which he will die like all mortals. They even have a grave waiting for him in Medina beside the grave of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). So Beckford quickly scuttles back to India, to Kashmir to be precise where he introduces us to the tomb of Jesus and the story that Jesus went east to Kashmir and died there. We meet a local figure, perhaps Sufi or Ahmaddiya, who relates the story and refers to a variety of texts going back to the second century attesting to this claim. He doesn't identify them or show us the originals. He is surrounded by a variety of papers but they are all modern, printed and apparently in Arabic script. Beckford nevertheless accepts these claims, uncritically repeating them as he summarises his case at the conclusion of the film. Nevertheless he does inform us that this view that Jesus is buried in this tomb is not held by the tomb's custodians. Not only do they reject it but they have banned his informant from going to the tomb, which according to them is of a local Muslim saint.

Beckford then engages in a real sleight of hand. He introduces us to the Gospel of Thomas, a sayings gospel, in which there is no mention of virgin birth, miracles, death or resurrection. He arrogantly, imperialistically confronts a Coptic Christian woman working in the museum where the codex, discovered at Nag Hammadi, is kept. He challenges her, asking what she makes of such a gospel. Her response is polite, somewhat confused but Beckford frames her as representative of a naive type of supernatural Christianity standing in contrast to the presumed rationality of Thomas.

I can only assume that Beckford has not read Thomas or if he did, misunderstood it completely because he then goes on to set it against the figure of Mahatma Gandhi. Thus Beckford can get back to India where he goes to a Ghandi centre and interviews a Gandhi scholar who confirmed that Gandhi was inspired by Jesus' example and the teaching in the gospels which helped shape his commitment to non-violence in the struggle for Indian independence. We see statues and memorials to Gandhi and meet local people who venerate Gandhi. The implication is that Gandhi is not only inspired by Jesus but is like Jesus. Both are committed to social justice, non-violence etc. And Beckford goes back to the Gospel of Thomas, contrasting it to the canonical gospels to say that the supernatural, magical elements found in the canonicals are not essential to Christianity. Jesus is like Gandhi and (by implication from part 1) the Buddha. We should recognise and take the Jesus of Thomas as our model and commit to social justice and non-violence.

As I said, Beckford clearly did not read Thomas, or if he did, did not understand it. Certainly Gandhi never read Thomas but gained his inspiration from the canonical gospels, Matthew's sermon on the mount, especially. Furthermore, Jesus' nonviolent response to his fate served also as an inspiration to Gandhi, as also to Tolstoy through whom Gandhi was exposed to the nonviolent Jesus comitted to social justice. Tolstoy never read Thomas either.

It's not my intention to dump on Thomas, only on The Hidden Story of Jesus. By any standard it was a shoddy and simplistic production. It was, as my flatmate observed, perennial philosophy at its worst. Beckford clearly has no understanding of history of religion or comparative religion. He is hopelessly out of date when it comes to the biblical texts, including the New Testament texts. There are in fact some unfolding paradigm shifts when it comes to Christian origins and ancient Judaism and even Paul. Beckford knew none of that because he couldn't say some of the stupid things he did in this film if he did. He certainly doesn't understand Buddhism (although I suspect his Budhist interlocutors got the measure of him and played him for their own purposes) and nor does he understand Hinduism either. Beckford is a hopeless romantic, in fact, a romanticism of Jesus as the wise philosopher, even the hippy sage but without any of the depth of Tolstoy's or even Gandhi's nonviolent, social justice Jesus (for Tolstoy the anarchist Jesus). No, Beckford's Jesus is a Buddha without the hard work.

Worse yet, having dissolved any particularities pertaining to Jesus - Jesus is mostly recycling the Buddha and everyhting else was recycled by Paul to create the Jesus cult - Beckford still expects people to be intersted enough in this Jesus to believe in him, although it's not quite clear what we are to believe. Just so long as we aren't like that silly Coptic woman who thought Thomas was so strange for a gospel although pesumably Beckford has set her on the right rational, scientific path to his so Western 20th century Jesus.- the light from the West. Beckford's Jesus really is just another Western imperialist project.

POSTSCRIPT In this post, I mentioned Bart Ehrmann's book, Jesus Interrupted. Ben Witherington has a detailed, substantial and critical review, more of a response to the book here, here, here and here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vale Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick 1950-2009

I heard today the very sad news that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick died on 12 April, one of the pioneers of queer theory. As Duke University Press says

More than just a Duke author, Sedgwick helped to define the Press as we went through major editorial changes in the 1990s. In 1992, along with Michèle Aina Barale, Michael Moon, and Jonathan Goldberg, she founded the influential Series Q, helping to found the discipline of queer theory. Under her guidance, Duke Press has become a leader in that field; Series Q now includes 42 books.

Sedgwick was a very important theorist for my dissertation, especially her Epistemology of the Closet and Tendencies. The insights in both these books were an important guide for me navigating the many texts generated by Sodom and Gomorrah. I even suggested her as a possible examiner for my dissertation. I'm not certain if, in the end, she was approached or was unable but she was not to be one of my examiners. She was definitely a scholar I would have liked to have met. I suppose I have through her books and I plan to buy another when I get Mr Rudd's stimulus.

Vale Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Requiescat in Pacem. Eternal life grant unto her, Most High, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May she always shine in the perpetual light of your presence. May her name always be a blessing.

UPDATE Simon Scholfield has a page on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, which includes her birth chart, over at Astroqueer here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

O Happy Fault, O Necessary Sin of Adam

So it is sung in the Paschal Proclamation, the Exultet, on this night in the Easter/Paschal Vigil of the Western rite.

O Happy Fault, O Necessary Sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and humanity is reconciled with God!

So Happy Pascha! Happy Easter!

As the Greeks and Russians and other Eastern Christians will be saying next weekend, which is the Orthodox Pascha:

Christos Aneste, Alithos Aneste! Christos Voskrese, Voistinu Voskrese! Krishhti Unjall, Vertet Unjall! Kristos Tenestwal! Bergit Tenestwal! El Messieh Kahm, Kakken Kahm! Christos harjav i merelotz, Orhniale harutjun Christosi! Christos T’ensah Em’ Muhtan, Exai’ Ab-her Eokala! Pchristos aftooun, Alethos aftooun! Christos Ten-si-OU, Ba-Ha-ke Ten-si-OU! Kriste aghsdga, Cheshmaritad aghsdga! Hristus A Inviat! Adeverat a Inviat! Meshiha qam! Bashrira qam!

That selection of some of the languages of Eastern Christendom translates the standard Paschal/Easter greeting of the East: Christ is Risen, Indeed, He is truly Risen!

Good Pascha to you all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the Roman Catholic Apocrypha

Biblically literate Protestants might nod and say "a post on Tobit, Judith, the Books of Maccabees etc" to which I say, no not at all. These books, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Sirach, 1 & 2 Maccabees, might be termed deutero-canonical by Roman Catholics but they are, nevertheless, counted as part of the Old Testament. They are not considered Apocrypha. On the other hand, even biblically literate Roman Catholics might shake their heads and mutter "Roman Catholic Apocrypha? What's he on about?".

And I would probably have done the same as them not many years ago. And even when I stumbled across the Roman Catholic Apocrypha it took me a while to recognise just what they were. I first became aware of them when I was given a copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible. I was intrigued to discover that following the New Testament there was an appendix. In this appendix were the following texts/books: Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Ezra (1 Esdras), 4 Ezra (2 Esdras), Psalm 151, and the Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans (about which I plan to write at a later date). Apparently the books were placed here by Pope Clement VIII in 1592 "lest they utterly perish". By his time, of course, the Roman Catholic Old Testament canon had been set by the Council of Trent; the Council had made no space in the canon for these four books/texts.

What intrigued me further was that I had a copy of the Douay-Rheims Challoner English Bible, a translation from the Vulgate, that had been pretty much the normative English language Roman Catholic Bible from the 18th to 20th centuries. But this Bible did not include the Vulgate Appendix. More recent Roman Catholic English language bibles, translating from the Greek and Hebrew texts rather than the Vulgate, have likewise not bothered to reproduce the Vulgate Appendix.

However I very recently discovered that the original Douay-Rheims Bible did translate the Vulgate Appendix (with the exception of Laodiceans). It was printed as an Appendix in the 2 Volume Douay-Rheims Old Testement. The Appendix was in volume 2 following the Wisdom and Prophetical books. Curiously the Appendix stands in the same relationship to the Douay-Rheims Bible as a whole as the Apocrypha does in both the King James and Luther's German Bibles. And, of course, while much smaller than the Lutheran and Anglican Apocrypha, the same books are found in all 3 collections.

It set me wondering about the Bible of medieval Western Christendom but with a bit of searching I was able to ascertain that its Old Testament contained the deutero-canonicals of the modern Roman Catholic Old Testament but also these four texts of the Vulgate Appendix and Protestant Apocrypha. All these texts were part of the Old Testament of the Gutenberg Bible of 1452/3. So it would appear that the Bible of Western Christendom was 'pruned' by both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century.

Interesting, too, that, with the exception of 4 Ezra, all of these texts are in the Old Testament of the Greek Church and all of the texts are part of the Old Testament of other eastern churches. In other words then, medieval Christians of east and west were in greater biblical harmony or concordance than modern Christians. Why, I wonder, did Rome go to bat so strongly to preserve the canonical status of the deuterocanonicals but not these four texts? Did anyone speak up for any or all of these texts? I would dearly love to know.

So Roman Catholics, effectively, have Old Testament Apocrypha, except that they don't know about them and no Roman Catholic bibles bother to include them. Furthermore, and as I said I plan to write more on Laodiceans later, Clement VIII saw fit to also include Laodiceans in the Appendix to the Vulgate. Therefore, as well as an Old Testament Apocrypha collection, Roman Catholics have a New Testament Apocrypha as well, again never included in any Roman Catholic bible translation. Maybe it's about time that Roman Catholics become more biblically literate and rediscover their own Apocrypha and obviously for that to happen it's necessary for Roman Catholic bibles to include all the texts of the Roman Bible, canonical and apocryphal.

Krister Stendahl on Religious Pluralism

Via Exploring our Matrix I came across this, From God's Perspective We Are All Minorities, by the late Krister Stendahl, Swedish biblical scholar (New Testament) and former Bishop of Stockholm. He was also a Professor at Harvard. It's quite a marvellous piece on the interrelatonship of Christianity (or really one should say, Christianities) with other religions. It's in the Pluralism Sunday blog. I wont say anymore but urge you to check it out. Jjust to tempt you, I've provided a sample below - Stendahl is reflecting here on 1 Corintians 15:

It is the day of consummation and the whole world is gathered and there we are, we Christians. Now as we look up there is God and Christ on God’s right hand exactly as we have been told. So we turn around and see that there are also all the others. We see a sort of pan‑religious and ecumenical representation and we turn around with a Christian smile which says: “You see, it is just as we said and isn’t it wonderful that our God is so generous that you can all be here!” When we turn back towards God there is no Christ to be seen on God’s right side because Christ will never be present to feed into the smugness of his believers; or, as the text says: ‘And so when the end comes, Christ will lay it all down before the Father and God will become panta en pasin, all in all.’ That is another way of witnessing to the mystery ‑- lest I be conceited.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Important Text Discovery - Fragments of a Coptic version of 2 Enoch

I had been planning to write something on the Roman Catholic Apocrypha (not to be confused the deutero-canonicals in the Roman Catholic Old Testament) however I saw something quite important over at PaleoJudaica. Apparently some manuscript fragments have been found in Upper Egypt. It turns out they are from a Coptic version of 2 Enoch, a text so far only known in Slavonic. I'll quote some of the material posted at PaleoJudaica:

During his work preparing the publication of Coptic manuscripts from Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia, Joost Hagen, doctoral student at Leiden University, The Netherlands, very recently came across some fragments he could identify as part of the text of the so-called ‘Slavonic Enoch’ (2 Enoch), the first time a non-Slavonic manuscript of this intriguing text has been found.

The fragments were discovered at Qasr Ibrim, one of the capital cities of Christian-period Nubia (southern Egypt, northern Sudan, 5th-15th cent. AD), during excavations by the British Egypt Exploration Society (EES) which started in 1963 and have brought to light an astonishing number of finds, textual and other. Joost Hagen has been entrusted by the EES with the edition of the manuscript material in Coptic, the language of Christian Egypt and one of the literary languages used in the Christian kingdoms of Nubia.

The ‘Slavonic Enoch’ fragments, found in 1972, are four in number, most probably remnants of four consecutive leaves of a parchment codex. The fourth fragment is rather small and not yet placed with certainty, also because there is as yet no photograph of it available, only the transcription of its text by one of the excavators. For the other three fragments, both this transcription and two sets of photographs are available. The present location of the pieces themselves is not known, but most probably they are in one of the museums or magazines of the Antiquities Organization in Egypt.

The fragments contain chapters 36-42 of 2 Enoch, probably one of the most interesting parts of the work one could wish for, with the transition between two of its three main parts: Enoch’s heavenly tour and his brief return to earth before the assuming of his task back in heaven. Moreover, they clearly represent a text of the short recension, with chapter 38 and some other parts of the long recension ‘missing’ and chapters 37 and 39 in the order 39 then 37. On top of that, it contains the ‘extra’ material at the end of chapter 36 that is present only in the oldest Slavonic manuscript of the work, U (15th cent.), and in manuscript A (16th cent.), which is closely related to U. For most Coptic texts, a translation from a Greek original is taken for granted and the existence of this Coptic version might well confirm the idea of an original of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch in Greek from Egypt, probably Alexandria...

Archeologically it seems likely that the Coptic manuscript is part of the remains of a church library from before the year 1172, possibly even from before 969, two important dates in the history of Qasr Ibrim; a tentative first look at palaeographical criterea seems to suggest a date in the eighth to ninth, maybe tenth centuries, during Nubia’s early medieval period. This would mean that the fragments predate the accepted date of the translation of 2 Enoch into Slavonic (11th, 12th cent.) and that they are some several hundred years older than the earliest Slavonic witness, a text with extracts of the ethical passages (14th cent.).

2 Enoch was a text that I became acquainted with during my PhD. The Slavonic vesions occur in two recensions, a longer and shorter. In the longer version only there occurs one of the most explicitly homophobic references to Sodom and Gomorrah in all the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. But the oldest Slavonic manuscripts of 2 Enoch date from the 14th century. These finds in Egypt date back several centuries earlier. That they come from a church library also demonstrate how important the pseudepigrapha were for Christianity.

2 Enoch, also known as the Secrets of Enoch, is a really fascinating text, which the scholarly consensus places in the first century. Leaving aside the homophobic Sodom reference, most likely a much later Christian addition, 2 Enoch is noteworthy for its narrative account of the miraculous conception of Melchizedek who here is a heavenly being. It is definitely a non-sexual conception but given that the mother, Nir, is married at the time to the brother of Noah it can't really be said to be virginal. But it shows that there were groups of 1st century Jews for whom miraculous, non-sexual conception was an acceptable notion. The other fascinating thing about the book is that it relates how at the last judgment all the animals will be called to give account of how they have been treated by humans. You can find out more about 2 Enoch over at Andrei Orlov's 2 (Slavonic) Enoch website.

Good Friday

It's Good Friday and here in Brisbane everything shuts down. It's one of two days in the year when even all licensed premises are closed, the other being Christmas Day. But unlike Christmas, Good Friday is not a day of festive frenzy, just quiet and peaceful; the whole system grinds to a halt. And I like that. I think it's good to have at least one day in the year when nothing much goes on, when everyone just takes a breather. Of course being a 4 day long weekend, many people have gone away, either to the north or south coast or up country to camp in the bush. And the autumnal weather actually makes the being outdoors pleasant, unlike in the full heat of summer.

In Brisbane, even the local paper takes a holiday today but it would appear not so in Melbourne. The Age has a Good Friday edition, at least online. And browsing today's Age I came across this piece, A Symbol of the Noblest Traditions, by Dr John Dickson of the Centre for Public Christianity at Macquarie University in Sydney. In it Dickson reflects on sacrifice and atonement, in particular responding to Richard Dawkins who charges that the notion of Jesus dying "for the sins of the world" is "vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent". Dickson responds:

First, he is wrong to say Paul invented the idea. Sacrificial atonement was central to Judaism right up until AD70, when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem temple. Jesus' statement at the Last Supper, widely accepted as one of the most reliably preserved statements in earliest Christianity, reflects this sacrificial theme: "This is my body given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." The evidence suggests that Jesus himself thought of his impending death as a sacrifice for sins.

Was Jesus "barking mad"? Why indeed doesn't God simply forgive sins without atonement? The answer of the first Christians is clear. It is for the same reason that we would be outraged if a judge let a convicted criminal off the hook simply because it turned out he was his friend. Love and justice both matter in the Christian conception of God. And lest we think of this as some kind of cosmic child abuse — a father punishing a son for someone else's wrongs — we should remember that from the beginning Christians insisted that Jesus was not a third party at all; he was in fact God.

We may not like this idea either, but if we're going to dismiss the Christian idea of atonement, we should do so on its own terms, as an entire package. The first Christians said that God, the wronged party, entered the world and himself bore the punishment wrong-doers deserve. It was as if the judge paid the fine that was another's due. There is nothing "sadomasochistic" about this. The idea belongs to the noble tradition of self-sacrifice for the good of others.

He then goes on to provide a contemporary account of self-sacrifice (thankfully not a military one) to underscore the nobility of Jesus' death on the cross. However, I have problems with this account myself and I don't think that Dickson has adequately dealt with Dawkins' ethical concerns about the standard Christian account of the death of Jesus. Indeed, the whole notion of the substitutionary atonement is riddled with ethical issues inherent to the propitiatory, juridical, penal dynamics of this atonement model. Dickson tries to avoid it by taking a pseudo-unitarian appraoch by saying "God, the wronged party, entered the world and himself bore the punishment wrong-doers deserve." However, it's not just God but Jesus who, according to trinitarian theology, is God the Son who is the main protagonist here, in obedience to his Father. Thus a dynamic is established that is imbued with abusive dynamics of parent-child relationships and other broader sacrificial motifs of the worst kind.

Now Dickson is right to say that from its beginnings atonement has been the lens by which Christians have understood the execution of Jesus. He is also right when he says that atonement was central to Judaism up to the detruction of the Temple in 70. The Temple could even be construed as a type of atonement machine. And there was one day of the year when this atonement machine operated in full force, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. But I want to qualify what he means by sacrificial atonement.

We don't know much about the Day of Atonement, despite its centrality to the whole Temple cult. Atonement wasn't even unique to Judaism. Purgatory and propitiatory rituals of atonement were a standard part of the ancient Middle eastern relgious world. Judaism shared these rituals with its neighbours and the cosmology that framed them. I mean here the understanding of the earth being in dynamic relationship to the heavenly realm, as above so below, and the place of the temple as the mediating or cross over point between those two worlds. Like their neighbours, Jews believed that the Temple was a piece of heaven of earth in which dwelt their God, in a complex relationship to the heavenly court, the heavenly Temple above. The rituals of the earthly Temple were instances of the rituals of this heavenly Temple. Indeed, the Temple itself was seen as a microcosm of the universe itself. The Temple was a holographic representation of the universe.

As I said we don't know much about the rituals of Atonement in the Jewish Temple(s). We have a very basic account in Leviticus 16. Further information is found in the Temple Scroll, in the Mishnah, in the Epistle of Barnabas. There are further clues in Hebrews and in the Enoch literature and in Zechariah. But if we take the bare outline from Leviticus 16 the ritual involves two goats - a bull too, but the goats are central. The High Priest slaughters the bull. Then he casts lots over the goats to determine which shall be "for the LORD (YHWH) " and which "for Azazel". It is from this second goat that we get the term scapegoat. The goat for the LORD is then slaughtered. In very abbreviated form, what follows is that the High Priest takes the blood of slaughtered goat, mixed with the blood of the bull, enters the Holy of Holies sprinkling the blood and then comes out of the Holy of Holies sprinkling and smearing the blood on the horns of the altar. These actions are described as making atonement. Then the High Priest goes to the other goat, lays his hands on it and confesses the sins of Israel over it. This goat is then sent out into the wilderness.

There has been much debate about the meaning of this ritual and especially about the identity of Azazel (I wont be going into that issue here). Margaret Barker has argued that Hebrew translated "for the LORD/Azazel" can also be translated "as the LORD/Azazel"and cites Origen who states that the second goat was called Azazel. In other words, the goats represent the LORD/YHWH and Azazel, respectively. The interesting point is that the High Priest's role in the Temple is as representative of YHWH. The High Priest wears the Name on his brow and his robes are the same multi-colours as the Veil of the Holy of Holies. The Veil in its four colours represents the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Crispin Fletcher-Lewis has argued that the reason for the ban on images of the deity in biblical/Israelite religion is because only humans can function as an image of God, and one human in particular, the High Priest (I think in his "The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible: Dan 7.13 as a Test Case" SBL 1997 Seminar Papers). Indeed on the Day of Atonement the High Priest is the representative of YHWH, par excellence. It's the one and only day of the year that the High Priest can even enter the Holy of Holies (a place no one else can ever enter) and when he emerges he comes out as YHWH incarnate (taking flesh through the Veil of the four elements) amongst his people making atonement for his people and, as ther Temple represents the cosmos, the entire creation.

He does so with blood and blood, in biblical religion, is life. There are a whole suite of taboos around blood, especially the eating of blood, precisely because of this belief. So the High Priest makes atonement, healing the macrocosmic universe via the microsomic Temple, with blood, life force. Who's blood? If Barker is correct and we should read the first goat as representing YHWH then the blood/life force of the goat represents the blood/life force of YHWH him(her)self. In other words both goat and High Priest represent YHWH. In the heavenly ritual YHWH makes atonement/healing by the use of YHWH's own life force. In the earthly ritual, the blood of the goat serves as a substitute for the blood/life force of the High Priest. The goat is killed in place of the High Priest, giving the ritual a sacrificial appearance but in fact the Day of Atonement is not a a ritual of sacrifice at all; there is no propitation involved at all. The slaughter of the goat (and the bull) serves ritual but not sacrificial purposes. The other goat, the Azazel goat, as Mary Douglas points out, is simply turnd loose in the wilderness.

Now there are two interesting things about this ritual. Firstly, it works on a twofold pattern whereby one dies and the other is sent out. This pattern repeats itself through a suite of biblical narratives. Cain and Abel is an obvious example. David and Jonathan is another. If we allow for near or metaphorical death then we find Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. The Book of Jubilees 34.18 links the ritual to the story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers in which Joseph is both the one sent out but is also one who dies or at least is assumed to have died (a goat is slaughtered in his place). And there is a suite of other biblical narratives in which this dynamic can be identified, one very pertinent one I will come to shortly.

The other thing about the Day of Atonement is that it is part of the New Year rituals taking place at the autumnal equinox in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The calendar starts at the spring equinox in the first month, Nisan. The big festival at this time is Pesach/Passover, the time when Jesus is crucified. Now we don't know the origins of Pesach. Presumably it is an old agricultural feast related to the spring equinox. It has been biblically reconfigured and given a new myth, that of the Exodus. The Exodus is not history but story. There's no evidence of anything like these events in the archeological record. However in the story of the Exodus these atonement elements can also be identified. Moses himself is both one who is both sent out and is also threatened with death - not once but at least twice. Most importantly the Israelites themselves are sent out while the first-born of the Egyptians are slaughtered (and notice the fate of first born in so many biblical narratives). There are many other traces of atonement rituals in the Exodus stories but, in a sense, Pesach itself works as a kind of mini-atonement.

So when Jesus is executed at Pesach it's perhaps easy for his followers to make those connections. But then maybe Jesus had made them himself. Crispin Fletcher-Lewis ("Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah" Parts 1 & 2, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 4.2 2006, 5.1 2007) has also argued that Jesus messianic understanding was based upon the High Priestly role. It was as a royal high priestly that the messiah came to Israel. Jesus was the true High Priest as opposed to the corrupt collaborationist establishment in Jerusalem. The role of the High Priest was to make atonement to heal the cosmos with his life force, as YHWH does in the heavenly realm.

This is not a propitiatory process but a healing process. It is analogous to the maternal, as a mother gives her life (but not normally at the cost of her life) to the nurturing of her child both before and after birth. And YHWH is both Wisdom, Lady Wisdom, as well as Word. The only reason for the death of the goat in the atonement rituals is the need for blood as the life force - if not the goat then the HIgh Priest must die, or at least shed a large amount of blood. But in the heavenly realm, YHWH the heavenly High Priest does not die. But, as Wisdom, YHWH feeds, nurtures.

In her book, The Virgin Mary, Monotheism and Sacrifice, Cleo McNelly Kearns highlights the twofold dimension of sacrifice made by scholars. The first, strong sacrifice, is propitatiory, substitutionary. It is also very much a male affair. It can be understood as appropriating the maternal by the patriarchal order so as to suppress the maternal body, as Irigaray would say, and thus assuming maternal power into the male domain. The second, weak sacrifice, resembles the strong but is very strongly egalitarian and alimentary while, at the same time, allowing women as well as men to play relatively (at least) equal roles. Feeding is a central part of weak sacrifice and it can be seen as not appropriating the maternal but approximating it.

I would argue, then, that the Day of Atonement fits the weak sacrifice mode. Indeed from other ancient Jewish and Christian sources it appears there was, on occasion, some sort of communion involved with Yom Kippur. Certain, at least, of the priests would, on some occasions, eat the flesh of the slaughtered goat, raw and washed with vinegar.

Turning to Christian atonement, if Jesus saw himself as the heavenly High Priest or at least took the royal High Priest as his messiainc model then atonement becomes central to his messianic project. In first century, Palestine any messianic project was likely to end in tears. It would appear from the Gospels that Jesus was not interested in any military dimension to his messianic project. Perhaps he expected some sort of heavenly intervention. But perhaps he saw that there was only one endpoint for the trajectory on which he had embarked - a cross. But the High Priestly role of making atonement gave such likely death a whole new significance. In the Temple a goat must die in substitute for the High Priest but Jesus as the true High Priest will fully instantiate the Heavenly order and so bring the corrupt earthly one to an end. Heaven and earth meet finally on that cross as YHWH gives his life force to heal and sustain and nurture the cosmos and all life, presiding, arms outstretched, as Dame Wisdom at her feast, the great eschatological banquet open to all.

By doing so he brings to an end the established order, the structures of strong sacrifice, victimisation and oppression, the processes that require scapegoats, as well as the associated forms of propitiatory, substitutionary and penal atonement. The processes responsible for, but in no way justification for, his death.