Monday, October 24, 2011

Bible and Critical Theory Seminar in Brisbane 5-6 November 2011

After many years absence (last here in 2002), the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar is returning to Brisbane in November, on the weekend of 5-6 November to be precise. It's being held at the Boundary Hotel in West End. We'll be kicking off both days at 10, when the pub opens; Saturday will be the longer day but we hope to finish earlier on Sunday to relax a little eating and drinking and taking in the music during the afternoon. The plan is also for us all to meet earlier  for coffee, before the pub opens, at one of the many adjacent coffee shops West End is famous for, most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.

The seminar itself will be held in a room upstairs in the pub just off the upstairs beer garden. The room is where people usually play pool and the pool table will likely be covered over for us to sit around. All up, there's 13 papers being presented by folks from around Australia and New Zealand. As usual, it's a very diverse selection of papers too. Below is the programme for the seminar with details of the papers to tempt your thought buds

All formal sessions will be held in a room on the second floor of the Boundary Hotel.

Saturday Nov. 5

9:15                                        Preliminary informal meeting for coffee   most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.

10:00-10:20                            Opening session in room off the second floor beer garden of the Boundary Hotel 

10:20 – 11:00                         Caroline Blyth

                                               ‘I am alone with my sickness’: Voicing the experience of HIV-related stigma through Psalm 88
                                               Sometimes referred to as a ‘sickness lament’, Psalm 88 gives a particularly dark and despairing voice to suffering through illness and powerfully evokes the hopelessness and loneliness that have invaded the lamenter’s relationship with the world around him and with his God. One of the features of the psalmist’s experience of illness given voice in this lament is that of social isolation and abandonment by friends and companions. Using insights from both cultural and psychological theories of stigma and disease, I wish to explore this feature of the psalm through the contextual lens of social stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. The lamenter’s voice may thus speak alongside those living with HIV and AIDS, his words reflecting their experiences of social distress and rejection, while their own voices offer new considerations of the experience of suffering within this psalm.

11:00-11:40                            Alan Cadwallader

The Roman Army as a Total Institution and the Implications for Gospel Interpretation

When the Roman historian, Tacitus, lamented the decline in the cohesiveness of newly established Roman colonies, his point of comparison was the Roman legion: ordered, lacking the habit of marrying and rearing families, marked by unanimity and mutual regard (consensus et caritate). In effect, they were so committed to the interests of the body of which they were members that they could be called a res publica (Tacitus, Annals 14.27). Regardless of the particular interests driving Tacitus’ presentation, this image of the closed unit, “the Roman legion”, invites the application of the sociological theories of Erving Goffman on “total institutions”. Nigel Pollard has ventured just such a theoretical application for an understanding of the Roman army. This paper seeks to explore this interface further in application to the encounter between Jesus and the centurion in Q (Lk 7:1-10 // Mt 8:5-13).

 11:40-12:00                  Remy Low

How not to be ‘left behind’: Neo-liberal governance of religious discourse in the case of neo-Calvinist schooling

                                               Much controversy has been generated in recent years surrounding the new visibility of religious movements and institutions in avowedly liberal, secular societies. Public discourse around this broad issue is often divided between simplistic 'pro' and 'anti' polarities, with more nuanced scholars and commentators arguing for some form of manageable compromise between competing demands of religion and secularity. Despite the words and passions expended, however, the very terrain of this debate has remained unquestioned; that is, the a particular configuration of liberal-capitalism that has come to be described as 'neo-liberalism'. In this paper, I shall critically examine the discursive logics of the latter in the case of neo-Calvinist schooling, elucidating how local religious discourses are regulated through specific “governmental technologies” (Foucault, 1988: 19) and articulated within the broader regime of neo-liberal hegemony.

12:00-12:40                            Ed Conrad

                                               Hey, Ezekiel, my (son of) man, Do you mean what I see?
                                               In this paper I focus on the phrase, מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים, which occurs only in the book of Ezekiel (1:1; 8:3; 40:2; see also 40:3).  The usual English translations render it as “visions of God” and interpret Ezekiel 1:4-28 as a description of a “vision of God” that Ezekiel sees.  While God does appear to Ezekiel in these verses, my alternative reading sees them as a depiction of God’s vision – what God sees.  Ezekiel beholds an “El-mobile” with eyes darting around with great speed moving in all directions and enabling God to view the world with commensurate ease.  My reading highlights the significance of the recurring use of “eye” (עַיִן) and “eyes” (עֵינַיִם) in 1:4-28, routinely overlooked by commentators.  When Ezekiel says that he sees מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים, his claim is that he sees God’s visions; he sees what God sees.  This accounts for Ezekiel’s capacity to see what is happening in the temple in Jerusalem while resident in Babylon, something that has routinely troubled traditional critical scholarship.

12:40-2:00                              LUNCH        
2:00-240                                 Sean Durbin

                                               Walking in the Mantle of Esther: Christian Zionists’ political action as biblical typology in the history of the future
                                             One of the aims of traditional biblical criticism is to determine a text’s situational nature, origins, intended audience and why and how particular texts were written. Among those who use the Bible as a source to guide daily living or political action, none are more often demonized than biblical fundamentalists who are often construed as fools, reading a text “literally” in a way unintended by the original authors. Accordingly, biblical criticism is seen by some as a way to convince such literalists of their “erroneous” reading of the text. Although such an approach is useful, it is also worth trying to understand how so-called literalists interpret biblical texts, which I argue is far more complex than a simple “literal” reading. Drawing on literary theorists like Roland Barthes and Robert Alter, this paper gives a critical account of the use of scripture as a living text, which fundamentalists interpret as a guide, to be typologically reenacted in the present as part of God’s plans for them and the redemption of the world. Specifically, in this paper I discuss American Christian Zionists’ interpretation of the Book of Esther and its emphasis on themes of Jewish deliverance, and human instrumentality. Drawing on these themes, I show how Christian Zionists understand the Book of Esther not simply as an allegorical text, but as a framework for their political action to be typologically reenacted by them today, as actors in sacred history. An essential component of this political work is the belief that the world is rapidly approaching the end of the Church Age, when Satan will make one final push to destroy God’s chosen people, Israel. In accordance with this known future, I argue that Christian Zionists understand themselves as God’s agents, like Esther, protecting His chosen people, thus allowing His plans to establish His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem to proceed unimpeded.  As a result of this interpretation, and its apocalyptic thrust, I want to draw attention to the fact that while historical criticism emphasizes the situational nature of the original authors of a given biblical text, it is also essential to understand the “situational nature” of the community reading that text.    
2:40-3:20                                Anne Elvey

                                               Rethinking Neighbour Love as a Critical Intervention in Ecocide
                                             This paper brings together an ecological reading of Luke 10:25-37 with some contemporary critical theory on neighbour love. First, it describes and evokes the necessary more-than-human kinship that underlies any act of neighbour love, so that neighbour love occurs within a more-than-human community of action. Second, while noting that a simple way of considering neighbour love in a more-than-human context is to extend human love for the human neighbour to our more-than-human neighbours, this paper goes further. It draws on Eric Santner's theory of neighbour love as intervening in destructive inter-human modes of relating, both personal and political (Santner, On Creaturely Life). Then, in the context of a Lukan portrayal of a dynamic of compassion, the paper considers neighbour love as a critical intervention in destructive modes of interrelatedness, with implications for human response to ecocide.

3:20-4:00                                Karl Hand

                                               Document L as a thought experiment in source-critical epistemology
                                               Among the methods of biblical studies, and of all the humanities, source critical methods stand on the fault-line between many absolute dichotomies such as quality and quantity, subject and object, text and context. A critical reflection on source criticism therefore has much to tell us about these epistemological and ontological categories. What ontological status, for instance, should a postulated object like document Q be granted? Is it an object of study, or a postulation of the knowing subject reading Matthew/Luke? Is it part of the text of Matthew/Luke or the context? And is it verified by subjective or objective, qualitative or quantitative criteria? These questions have haunted the recent renaissance of source criticism during the ‘third quest’ for the historical Jesus
                                                               This paper addresses these issues by presenting a rigorous methodological postulation of a ‘Document L’. L was almost completely ignored during the third quest, perhaps due to the absence of any control text (like Matthew) with which to compare the text of Luke. However, this lack of control makes L a fascinating study in how a document can validated if the lines of traditional science are transgressed, allowing subjective and qualitative criteria to infiltrate the method.
                                                            This process is clarified by analogy to Archimedes’ formulation of an ‘exhaustion method’ to postulate the quantity of the numeral pi by setting maximal and minimal limits to the numeral, and then narrowing the gap. Applied to L, an exhaustion method may set a maximal limit by the elimination of material known to belong to other sources, and then chip away at a minimal limit by structural analysis, stylometry, and the study of hapax legomena. The result of this method is a critically testable Document, which I argue should be added to the canon of hypothetical gospel sources. 

4:00-4:40                                Julie Kelso

                                               Irigaray’s Virginity
                                               Irigaray’s complex reading of the Annunciation and the virginity of Mary has generated a lot of discussion in feminist theology and feminist philosophy of religion. Notably, according to the philosopher Pamela Anderson, Irigaray and the feminist (Catholic) theologians who have embraced her readings of Mary are in danger of replicating the “ethically debilitating forms of transcendence-in-immanence that Simone de Beauvoir successfully uncovers in the immanence of the female narcissist, lover, and mystic”. In this paper I argue that in order to appreciate Irigaray’s recent thinking concerning the Madonna it is necessary to come to grips with what she is trying to establish with respect to the concept of virginity. It is important to remember that, historically, this concept has been reviled by feminists as the reduction of women to exchangeable commodities within markets controlled and utilised by men, and also revered as a refusal by certain women to assume their passive stance as mother and wife within patriarchal social orders. Irigaray is well aware of this contradiction and, I think, is attempting to think the future possibilities of ethical subjectivity for women by returning to the very figure of this contradiction – the virgin mother – with her virginity understood not as integritas but as sanctitas.

Sunday Nov 6 
9:15                                        Preliminary informal meeting for coffee most probably at Cup, which is across the road and around the corner from the pub in Russell St.

10:00-10:10                            Opening preliminary session

10:10-10:50                            Michael Carden

                                               Heavenly Ascents in Hellas and Israel: or What's a Classic Gay Icon Doing on the Doors of St Peters

                                            The paper takes as its starting point the continuities and inter-relatedness of ancient 'pagan' and biblical religions. It will examine the most famous heavenly ascent and apotheosis of the ancient 'pagan' world, the abduction of Ganymede by Zeus. The paper will examine the story of Ganymede and evidence for a Bronze Age background to the Ganymede story in context of a dual gendered cult of male and female Zeus and Ganymede forming a divine tetrad. It will then examine parallel divine tetrads in West Semitic religion before addressing heavenly ascents in biblical religion, which is regarded as one form of West Semitic religion. Philo of Alexandria used the figure of Ganymede on several occasions to illustrate the role of the Logos in the divine economy and the paper will discuss some ramifications of that in relation to both the figure of Enoch, the biblical figure most like Ganymede, and the messianic gestalt around Jesus of Nazareth and the possible homo-erotics invested in it. 
10:50-11:30                            Robert Myles

                                               Jesus the Bum? Probing the Homelessness of Jesus in Matthew 8:18-22
                                               Many interpreters proof-text Mt 8:20 ("And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.") as a demonstration of Jesus' supposed homelessness. A number of commentators, however, point out that the Jesus of Matthew's gospel cannot possibly be "homeless" because he is connected to a house at various points in the gospel (a detail unique to Mt, cf. 4:12; 9:10, 28; 12:46; 13:1, 36; 17:25). This paper examines the dispute in light of the old adage "a house is not a home." It does so by re-reading Mt 8:18-22 with a more nuanced and multidimentional understanding of homelessness, one informed by various theoretical perspectives on home and place, as the issue protrudes behind, within, and in front of the text. While Mt 8:18-22 illustrates the cost of discipleship, it also readily employs metaphors of animals and death to provide narrative amplification for Jesus' characterization as an itinerant and marginal figure.

11:30-12:10                            Tamara Prosic

                                               Russian revolution and “sobornost”
                                               Towards the end of 1917 a great part of Europe was in a revolutionary mood, but the only country in which that mood turned into successful action was Russia. Many Marxists, then and today, has regarded the October revolution as an anomaly. Anomaly or not the fact remains that other European revolutions fizzled out while the Russian persevered through years of civil war. The majority of discussions trying to explain this anomalous revolution revolve around the economic and political conditions in Russia at the time, the so-called objective factors, while neglecting the role of elements or the superstructure, the so-called subjective factors, which can either help or hinder revolutions. Religions are certainly one of such elements and the paper looks at the Orthodox Church views and ideas about “sobor” and “sobornost” which roughly translate into English as “council” and “conciliarism” might have indirectly contributed to the success of the Russian revolution.

12:10-12:50                            Holly Randell-Moon

                                               Secular Critique, Religion and Cultural Studies
                                               In the last decade, religious issues have emerged as intense sites of conflict in media and political discourse in western liberal democratic countries. With its focus on issues of representation, power and discourse, cultural studies is well placed to engage with religion’s influence on media, political and cultural communication. However, religion’s influence on everyday life has largely escaped the disciplinary attention of cultural studies. In this paper, I explore how specific kinds of theoretical and methodological assumptions govern the types of knowledge produced and analysed within cultural studies and how these knowledge practices in turn work to marginalise religion within the discipline. Cultural studies is implicated in the secular epistemological orientation of academic critique even as it contests some of its fundamental humanist assumptions. As result, there are specific cultural, political and corporeal economies that condition intellectual engagements with the secular and religious in certain ways. Any engagement with religion therefore requires a concomitant engagement with the cultural and institutional operation of secularism. Typically, secularism is understood to separate religion from politics, legally or constitutionally, thus rendering religion a matter of private belief and individual choice. Such an understanding has been challenged by a number of scholars (such as Asad [2003], Taylor [2007], Mahmood [2004] and Masuzawa [2005]) who argue that secularism produces particular understandings of religion. Drawing on these critiques, this paper argues that it is not tenable to exclude religion from cultural studies’ theoretical and disciplinary paradigms. In order to include religion within the purview of cultural studies’ disciplinary concerns, the secular constitution of knowledge practices, and our complicity in reproducing these practices as scholars, must be opened up to critical interrogation.

12:50-1:30                              Timothy Stanley

                                               Job: A Serious Man
                                              A Serious Man cinematically deconstructs the life of a mid-twentieth century, mid-western American everyman named Larry Gopnik. As it happens, Larry is a physics professor up for tenure with a wife who is about to leave him, an unemployed brother who sleeps on his couch, and two self-obsessed teenage children. The film presents the question of good and evil and the threat of real and more severe suffering from an un-named God, reverently referred to as Hashem. And here is one of the more interesting aspects of the film: it is a study in Jewish thought and diaspora culture, which takes Job, not Moses or Abraham, as its quintessential figure. This opens up two points of reflection which will orient what follows in this paper: 1) the way in which a Job-like theodicy manifests itself in this film as a key example of philosophical theology meets quantum theory in western popular culture; and, 2) the coinherence between the film’s interpretation of Job and that of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

1:30-2:00                                Closing Comments


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

I've added a new link to the Biblical links down the side. It's for the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls, which is a joint effort of Google and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which maintains the famous Shrine of the Book. The project is a bit of a work in progress. At the moment, you can view 5 scrolls: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the War Scroll, the Temple Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll and the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll. Others will be added progressively. When I first heard of the project I thought all the texts would be both searchable and come with translations. On the initial offering, however, it seems I was wrong. All five scrolls currently available are searchable and magnifiable so that they can be examined in exacting detail. However an English text is only provided for the Great Isaiah Scroll. The only problem is that it's not a translation. The text is instead the JPS translation of the Masoretic Hebrew version of Isaiah. However as the site itself says, the Great Isaiah Scroll contains many variants from the Masoretic text, more than 2600 of them and so a person just exploring the scroll online without checking the explanatory material can be misled into thinking that what they are reading is a translation of this, the oldest relatively complete text of Isaiah. If you play around a bit more with the some of the links you can find a parallel English translation of the first 5 chapters of Qumran Isaiah in comparison with the JPS translation. Peter Flint has translated the entire Isaiah Scroll into English and the first 5 chapters are taken from that. Presumably copywright restrictions meant that no more was possible. My own personal view is that Bibles should have Isaiah in parallel: Qumran and Masoretic and perhaps even Greek/LXX and the Targum Isaiah too. That way readers will come to appreciate the diversity within the greater textual gestalt that each biblical book represents, will realise that the biblical texts are not set in stone but have always been fluid, that there is pretty much no such thing as a definitive or standard text form handed down for all time. 

It's a shame that the other scrolls also didn't come with an English translation to give casual readers better access to the texts in question. I have a couple of  English translations, the Vermes one and the Wise/Abegg/Cook translation too. The latter is well thumbed. So I presume the people behind the project expect that we will all have copies of one or other of these translations to crosscheck to. Perhaps when more scrolls are on site then direct English translations will become available. I certainly hope so.

But still check out the site. It's quite a fascinating resource now and will likely over time become a rich and invaluable resource too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some Thoughts on my 59th Solar Return

First off, I want to apologise for being so infrequent in my posts here lately. I've had all manner of good intentions to write. I've thought about a range of topics I had wanted to write about, still want to write about, in fact. I hope I will resume writing about them soon. I'm hoping this post might even be a trigger for me to get back into blogging more regularly. But the first half of this year has been a very intense time. I said to my flatmate the other day that I felt like I had just finished a very heavy semester of teaching. Unfortunately I haven't been teaching and I've been unemployed now for a little over a month. The job I had been doing was a reprise of the casual research assistant work I was doing late last year and which I really enjoyed. It combined reading books, internet surfing and research cum literary detective work, all of which I found really satisfying - I was even learning things. But alas the money ran out and so the job finished end of May. The work itself wasn't intense but alongside it I've had a very busy time partly of community involvement through the LGBT History Action Group; we organised and were involved with a number of projects and big events over the last few months. On top of that there's been my work in editing the festschrift which has certainly kept me busy. And then to cap it all off I've also written an essay for an anthology on same-sex marriage. I was working on that mainly last month. And then I've experienced some demanding personal times too; I won't go into them all here now, but it's been a time of grief and joy, of uncertainties, of challenges to inner resolves, of doubts, of feeling separated from loved ones and sense of loneliness arising, of all the anxieties and disconnects that come from precarity.

With all of that happening, it's felt more like a chore to try and write anything, to summon the energy to write anything. This month, with all the intense times behind me for now, I've declared my holiday month. My holiday is courtesy of being unemployed but it feels like a holiday nonetheless. This last week I've been adjusting to this holiday mode. To taking it a bit easy. In one sense it allowed me to let my guard down and I underwent a sudden surge of topsy turvy emotional intensity. For a little while I was worried that I might be succumbing to the old depression. After all I no longer had anything to distract me, plus the stresses of the year so far had me pretty wired up. Hopefully I've settled somewhat now, at least I'm feeling some kind of equilibrium set in again (although every once and a while I feel a press of tears at the back of my eyes, bubbling up from the cellars of my heart).

A few days ago I experienced my 59th solar return. The solar return is when the sun returns to the position it occupied when a  person is born. The solar return generally occurs on or around a person's birthday. Astrologically, the position of the planets and the new disposition of ascendant and house cusps and related derived points at the time  of the sun's return to its natal position, gives an overall flavour for the year ahead. Unsurprisingly, my solar return chart is bedevilled with contradictions. I guess I'm writing this to explore and make sense of those contradictions.

Before I say more on the chart, I should first explore some more my holiday mode. In part, it's a kind of kick-back, take it easy and bugger the consequences mode. But it's also a strange lethargy, which is why I'm surprised I've started writing right now. Even a couple of days ago,the thought of trying to write something would make me feel exhausted and disinterested both, somewhat reminiscent of the depth of depression last year. But only reminiscent. I'm not in that depression now (although I know it lurks and sometimes pokes its paws through the rips anxiety causes in my emotional fabric). In one sense, I should be. I'm unemployed and at an almost unemployable age. All the career aspirations I had once, are gone now. Furthermore I have no idea of what sort of work to do. I applied for some jobs last month and explored some other employment options but all nada, not even an interview with the job applications. My confidence is down in the depths, in part because I have no enthusiasm, and yes there's self-doubt too. I look at job notices every day, generating a strange mixture of boredom, anxiety and contempt, the latter because many of them seem to be couched in the language of spin or they seem utterly unreasonable in their expectations. Maybe I feel this way because I don't feel any sort of ambition towards any of them, let alone a sense of vocational attraction. None of my main skills seem to be relevant for just about any of them and those that might have some sort of possible match for some of my experience are the ones that I feel have the unreasonable expectations. That's the work scene. My personal life has seen a number of challenges too. I won't go into them but I've been challenged in some of the resolves with which I started the year in quite surprising ways. I've stuck to them nevertheless but I've had to undergo major self-examination, reviewing quite a lot about my life. Lots of doubt, plenty of doubt, exacerbated by feeling cut off, without community. I feel quite disconnected from the society in which I live - I can't even watch TV because I don't feel any interest in the social worlds it purveys. And as for contemporary politics, well I just can't connect - it's  all so faux, so vacuous, so confected. The less said the better, actually. (But I am pleasantly relieved with the carbon tax package the federal government has negotiated - it's not the best, but it's not bad nonetheless).

So to return to my solar return for this year. As I said before it's quite bedevilled with contradictions. While the Sun will always be in Cancer everything else about it, the way it fits in the Return chart will be quite different from the birth chart. This year the sign of Leo was coming up over the horizon when the Sun returned to its natal position, thus placing the Sun in the 12th house of my Return chart. The 12th House is known as the house of solitude or sorrow, and is associated with spiritual pursuits, imaginative endeavours, behind the scenes activities, but also hospitalisation, confinement, self-undoing. In the Return chart it signifies a year of spiritual pursuits and development, service to others, but usually work done  out of view, also research and writing. It can signify work on reconciliation, of healing old wounds. The Sun is the ruler of Leo, which is the rising sign in the chart so the Sun is the ruler of the Return chart so making the 12th house themes pretty dominant for the coming year. Here, I have to admit I have been thinking a lot about spirituality lately and how to re-orient life around a more spiritual basis, and I'm thinking here in some kind of shared way, because in many respects, nowadays, I seem to be living like a kind of a monk but without a monastery, or any sort of community at all. And when I say monastery, I refer to some kind of group living, with likeminded folks. But it's all quite nebulous (another 12th house word) at this stage.

But then Leo is rising in the chart. Leo is definitely not a reclusive, behind the scenes sign. It's out there, it wants to star, it's the performer, the leader; it's dramatic, optimistic, energetic. Furthermore it's not only conjunct my natal Mercury it's also conjunct the return Mercury too. Yep, my solar return takes place a day or so before my Mercury return. Mercury is all about communication and lots of it here, a double whammy intensified by being smack on the Ascendant. According to one source I read, this Mercury position highlights "communication, adaptability, education, travel,... This year will be full of mental activity, talk, letters, phone calls, writing, travel, movement, busy work, short trips, and frequent comings and goings". I'll also seem "more youthful, agile, quick-witted, and verbally expressive'! These Mercurial themes are given even more weight by the fact that the Ascendant degree falls in my natal 3rd house, the house of communication, amongst other things, and ruled by Mercury. The natal 3rd house is highlighted in the Return chart.

But that's not all. I also have the Moon rising in Leo which not only makes me more assertive and forthright but means I'm going to be a moody and emotional person too. I probably should apologise to everyone in advance, especially when I consider the mood swings I've had over the last couple of weeks. The Moon is also in a very tense opposition to Neptune which heightens confusion, despondency, sadness and self-deception, although  can also be more sensitive, compassionate, intuitive and imaginative.

Sun Moon and Ascendant are the three main power points in any chart and in this one they are quite contradictory. Reading solar returns is not my main skill,  but it looks like I'm going to be much more low-key but dealing with emotions much more. One source I read said that Moon in the first house indicates that the year ahead will be spent recovering from emotional trauma from the past; it is a year of recovery and emotional growth.  While another source said that the 12th house Sun indicates a year of preparation with recognition coming  the following year. If the Sun is in the 10th house in the following return it will mark career recognition, in the 9th it can mark publication. In my Return next year he Sun will be in my 8th house so I'm not really certain what that means. If anyone out there has any ideas let me know. 

This year, the Sun is also in a tense aspect to Saturn which indicates another year of struggle, of lean times, highlighted too by Saturn being in the Return 2nd house of resources, finances and values. Discipline and restrictions will be the order of this year ahead. And yet the Return part of Fortune is also in the 2nd and in positive aspect to the Return Midheaven. So there might be some more fortunate moments too. And there seems to be several indications of sudden changes or unexpected directions in a positive way in the Return chart too.

But the main thing I'm getting from the chart is to try and stick to my watchword I've adopted for this year and that's trust. Anxiety stems from uncertainty, feeling powerless, isolated and abandoned. Trust is the best antidote, trust in people and in life itself, for the more religious, trust in God. I've had a couple of crises this year and yet somehow, out of the blue, things got resolved, help came my way. I was in a state of panic close to meltdown on at least one occasion. But the help came really quite out of the blue, unexpectedly. I should also add that anxiety allows the old depressive beast, that black dog, to once again start nagging away, and that old black dog just loves tossing shit, to traduce the motivations, intentions of others, to run you down, to say that all the bad stuff is a result of you. But the moment you turn around and embrace the personal vulnerability and powerlessness and decide to trust no matter what, the black dog's power is broken. The anxiety dissipates and there's a chance for insight. And lets face it powerlessness is the reality of our lives. Acceptance is the only way to deal with it and acceptance is only possible through trust.

That's about it for now, I think. Obviously there's a whole lot more in the Return chart but if I was to discuss everything I'd be writing my own Solar Return report. I hope this piece will mark a new start on blogging for me because I do have plenty to write about. And my apologies if this piece seems too self-indulgent and boring.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Rapture - the ultimate blasphemy

I want to start with an apology for things being so quiet here. I keep meaning to write and I have notes and some semi-completed posts but nothing is ready for posting. I've also started a private blog where I record all manner of ideas and thoughts  and personal impressions in a quite rough way. It will remain private open only to one or two others. For the astrologically minded it's also interesting to note that I have had a lot of transit activity in my 12th house of late and Jupiter remains there throughout the year so this kind of hidden writing world is probably an apt reflection of these transits. In addition, I also have been busy with a number of community and writing projects. The writing projects are all due for publication down the track next year again reflecting the the transit pattern too.

But I'm taking time out from all of that and writing a public post here today because of the international brouhaha over the  end of the world predictions of a silly elderly rich man in the US, Harold Camping (!). He declared that the Rapture would take place at 6pm on Saturday 21 May and from what I can make out, progressively time zone by time zone. What's more because he is a rich man he spent millions of dollars in an international advertising campaign promoting his message. By the Rapture, he referred to the idea, abroad in Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal movements that there will be a wholesale lifting off from the planet of the true believers, the saved, the born again to be taken up to Heaven by Jesus, body and soul (but apparently without clothing), there to wait until the Second Coming when they will return, a kind of immortal elite, to rule the planet alongside Jesus for a thousand years. Camping (!) also declared that the world itself would end in October and that for the vast majority of us left behind the coming months would be a dire time of disasters, misery and oppression before the Second Coming wipes the slate clean and we are all, presumably, cast into Hell. From his timetable, Camping (!) clearly holds a kind of pre-Wrath Rapture position unlike most Rapture believers who hold a Pre-Tribulation or Mid-Tribulation view. Camping (!) is also innovative  in that he teaches that the main trigger for the Rapture is the amount of homosexuality in the world. That it didn't happen I presume means that we queer folks have to work harder to make sure that this planet is riddled with homosexuality through and through.

Many people might think Camping (!) a fool and wonder why I would waste my time writing about this. He is a fool and the millions he spent on his promotion campaign could have been much better spent. He would have made a much better testament to his Lord if he had followed the Gospel dictum to sell all he had (no small fortune) to give it to the poor and embrace a life of poverty and prayer and works of mercy. Instead he traduced the gospels utterly and brought Christianity into complete disrepute. The most depressing thing is that he has played into simple media binaries, in this case Christians vs unbelievers/secularists/atheists/humanists with Camping (!) himself as a key exemplar of what Christianity is all about. And of course Camping (!) is an exemplar of a type of Christianity or I would say a perversion of Christianity that has taken root in the US and, with the US global hegemon, is spreading throughout the world, like a noxious toxic bloom. In my opinion it's a heresy of the worst order, a vile pernicious heresy that perverts and inverts the central Christian message. Thanks to Camping (!)  unfortunately a large proportion of of the world's population believe that this pernicious theology is normative, traditional Christianity. It's not, it's a 19th century aberration that took root in the United States in the mid-19th century in a time of major transformation and upheaval.

It's all based on a single word in the Christian scriptures. It's found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and in the Greek in which it was written, the word is harpagesometha, 'we shall be taken away' or 'we shall be caught up', derived from the Greek verb harpazo. In the Latin translation the word is rapiemur, from the verb rapio. In the passage, Paul is talking about the very end, the final things of the world, the Second Coming and he says that when it occurs, first the dead will be raised up from their graves and then the living will be caught up from the earth to meet Jesus as he returns at the end of the age, which Paul and the audience for this letter considered imminent. The issue that is being addressed here is not an elaborate end times scenario, that we see in the modern Rapture cult but rather the concerns by some in the Thessalonian community that those who have died will  not participate in the final moment of the Lord's return, or even, possibly by some, that those who are living who are alive at the Second Coming are in some way better or more fortunate than those who have died. This passage is written to disabuse  these Thessalonian Christians of such concern, or conceit. And the thing is, its context is the last things, the last day, the end of the world as we know it, the transformation and reconciliation of heaven and earth, that has always been key to the Christian proclamation. And throughout Christian history that's how it's always been understood and still is for the vast majority of the Christian world.

However, in the 19th century, that changed. In the 19th century we see the rise of industrial capitalism, a process which began in the late 18th century. The UK was the main centre of this process, a time of major dislocation, uprooting and misery for the masses. It was an 'apocalyptic' time and, of course, the great apocalyptic event heralding the new industrial age was the French Revolution, which brought to an end the ancien regime in Europe based on centralised dynastic monarchies, quasi feudalism and commercial capitalism. The ancien regime's death throes outlived the spectacle of Republican France, forming, generating all manner of strange religious movements. As I said, the eye of the cyclone that was the new industrial capitalist order was the UK and it was in the UK that we get two figures who develop elaborate eschatological systems on the belief that end of the age was imminent, Edward Irving and John Nelson Derby. Both of them in their thinking deployed a standard Protestant trope that the entire existing Christian church in all its forms was thoroughly corrupt and had departed from its true form which had to be restored. Ironically it meant that Irving, a Presbyterian/Church of Scotland minister embraced a form of apocalyptic High Church Catholicism, founding the Catholic Apostolic Church. Irving apparently taught a form of multi-staged end times theology which included a taking away of the saved at some time before the second coming. It's Derby, however, who stands behind the elaborate end time patho-theologies which underpin all the Rapture talk today. Derby, in contrast to Irving, was an Anglican/Church of Ireland priest, who seems to have had strong anti-Catholic views and held a Calvinist theology. He went the other way to Irving, leaving his Church too, but founding the highly evangelical Plymouth Brethren movement. Derby developed a highly elaborate historicalised schema called Dispensationalism as a frame for his end time millennialist Rapture theology. Key to Derby's thinking is the grossly heretical idea that the Divine plan behind Jesus' earthly mission somehow failed because he was rejected by the Jews and that the Church is a kind of Divine afterthought to the main game, which is the re-establishment of a Jewish kingdom ruled by Jesus. We live now in the Church Age, the age of Grace, but God still plans to fulfil his overall plan which is to establish the millennial Jewish kingdom. So in the Last Days, when the Jews have been restored to the land of Palestine, the Church Age will be ended and the Church itself taken away in the Rapture before the final Tribulation takes place, in which the Jewish people will be given the option again to accept Christ as the Messiah. Only a handful will, the rest being destroyed by the Anti-Christ. But at the Second Coming those Christian Jews will join the returned Church to rule with Jesus for a thousand years on earth. It's important to remember that the Derby's Church represents a minority of Christians. Roman Catholics, and presumably Orthodox Christians too, are not considered to be true Christians and so we have no stake in his Rapture and presumably neither do most mainstream Protestants either. Derby was a Calvinist and has no problem in regarding the great mass of humanity, Christian and otherwise (including the bulk of the Jews) as damned. His theology is one based on a thoroughgoing hatred of humanity.

Derby's ideas went west across the Atlantic where they found rich soil in the US. It's Protestantism had a strongly Calvinist flavour (I regard Calvin as the spiritual godfather of the US - it's whole culture both secular and spiritual is fully imbued with Calvinist thinking) and was also experiencing massive social change due to immigration, westward expansion and the blizzard of capitalism too. His ideas went viral, spreading through a variety of millennial and other Protestant sects and taking root in established ones too. Derby's thinking is canonised in the Scofield reference Bible which was published in  1909. It printed a commentary alongside the biblical text that was informed by Derby's Dispensationalist thinking and by being included in the Bible gave it an authority it might otherwise not have received (and didn't deserve). It also unmoored it from Derby's own work and so by spreading throughout much of the US it linked up with all manner of ideas that Derby himself might have regarded with alarm. It also generated a variety of schools of Rapture thought, pre-Tribulation Rapture, Mid-Trib, Pre-Wrath, plus a variety of perspectives as to how many Raptures or comings of Christ there would be. Derby taught one rapture or two Second Comings but there are folks who teach multiple raptures for different groups of people along the timeline of the end times. And there are different schools of thought as to how many people and who get raptured. The Left Behind series of novels reflect the view that all children are raptured along with the believers so that a couple of billion or so people get carried away including the Pope of the time (a notion that would, no doubt, appal Derby).

I discovered this Rapture world  when I was doing the PhD because unsurprisingly its also marked by virulent homophobia. When I first heard about the Rapture, I was seriously taken aback. It really is nothing but a 'get out of gaol free card' theology. It is predicated on a Calvinist notion of complete rupture between the cosmos and the Divine. A key notion is that the full Tribulation with Anti-Christ can't take place until the Church is taken away because it brings to an end the Age of Grace when the Holy Spirit is abroad in the world. With the removal of the Church the Holy Spirit is also removed from the world. From a Catholic perspective, such a notion is incoherent if not grossly heretical in its dichotomy of Creation and the Divine. In Catholic understandings Creation is imbued with the Divine as stained glass windows are imbued with the light on which they depend for their effect.  The Rapture doctrine contradicts sacramental theology in every way. In a Catholic perspective, God is grace and so a notion of an end to grace is bizarre, a diminution of the deity.Furthermore the Derbyite notion that Jesus' mission has to be rebooted requiring the removal of the Church and that his life and death and resurrection marked some kind of failure or derailing of the divine plan, is Christologically flawed, thoroughly heretical. It marks a complete contradiction of the entire Christian tradition in an even more radical way than any 'liberal' or 'modernist' Protestant theology of Jesus, that the exponents of rapturism usually loudly deplore.

But it is far worse than that. I found one or two sites that I started following and one, in particular, Five Doves, I've remained 'loyal' to, primarily for its entertainment value. I've written about them here before. It maintains a forum, The Latter Day Letters, to which believers share hopes, fears, and rapture/end times news and speculations. Most of it is pretty appalling, not least for its homophobia, but several things strike me as someone who thinks I understand a bit about the Christian tradition in its fullness across time and in its diversity. While the contributors not only evince an ignorance of that tradition and lack of even the most basic curiosity that would make them explore that tradition in its fullness, they seem quite willing to blend their 'theology' with a, to me, surprising blend of pop culture items such as TV shows and films. Many of them feed uncritically off New Age and UFO sites, especially, the most paranoid of them, but then give them a unique dispensationalist twist. And I should point out that the Rapture has gone so viral that it has even torn loose from Dispensationalist framework to re-embed itself in UFO and New Age contexts. The UFO cults give a lot of scope to Rapture thinking, except here instead of Jesus its the Space Brothers or Rael's Elohim who will come down in their space ships and save us - or some of us, anyway. I first encountered this phenomenon in the early 80s when I met a popular, psychic aura reader who proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Space Brothers who would take many of us away from the planet (but not all) while it was cleansed of the mess we'd made of it. He went so far as to say that they had taken away some people already and as proof cited a then recent earthquake in Italy where many hundreds or thousands had died. They weren't dead they'd been taken away.

This psychic alerted me to something that is a hallmark of all such Rapture cults, Christian and New Age alike. These really are death cults of the worst sort. If you read the Latter Day letters at Five Doves, you'll be struck by the yearning to get out of this place, to 'go home' as some of them put it. Home is heaven but usually there's only one way to get to the heavenly realm and that's by death. These people are crying out for  and yearning for death. They mask that by their belief that they will be transported body and soul but the reality is that death is what they desire, it's a deflected suicidal mentality. Because of course when you read the letters you soon detect that for many, though not all, life is hard, it's a struggle and it's often made worse because of the type of religious beliefs they hold. Many of their family members or neighbours or workmates don't share their rapture/end times beliefs (even though they might also be Christians, and it's more galling if they are than not) and so make fun of their beliefs or react against the proselytising that these people are attempting. And so for many of these rapture believers not only is life a struggle but it is also marked by conflict too over their faith. That drives their yearning even more. The Rapture becomes not just a get out of gaol free card but it's also a vindication and even reward for what they have put up with.

Vindication for them and pay back time for the scoffers and unbelievers too. The other side of the rapturist cults is a very nasty schadenfreude. The Left Behind series of books and films is not really an evangelical tool so much as a vindicatory vehicle for the confirmed believer. Both the books and the films are too awful in their execution to seriously entice anyone to join this sort of  religion. The books have been on bestseller lists for a long time but I think very few unbelievers, Christian or otherwise, would bother parting with their cash to purchase them. Their main audience has been the rapturists themselves and so they actually serve as a vehicle of vindication. Their rapturist audiences get to vicariously enjoy not so much the rapture itself as the opportunity, as pre-rapturees, to witness the sufferings of the left behind and be confirmed in their own special spiritual status. Fred Clark has repeatedly made this observation on his long running commentary on the series. I think it's not just the books but the doctrines themselves. They are built on schadenfreude and hence their appeal, especially in a rawly capitalist society like the US. By its very nature capitalism requires victims or losers and the more untrammeled it is the greater the number of those who have been screwed over. Rapturism with its arcane secret knowledges, its conspiracy theories (much of the material on Five Doves could provide inspiration for a stack of X-files series) plus its promise of ultimate escape from a cascade of horrors that will engulf everyone else not saved promotes the ideal sort of false consciousness that capitalist societies need to prevent serious critique and transformation. 

This schadenfreude is what I find most disturbing and it also represents the most heretical inversion of Christian tradition. From the very beginning Christinaity has celebrated the divine generosity that underpins the creation. The entire cosmos represents an act of divine graciousness, generosity. In Christian theology God has no need of the creation but creation would not exist without God, the overflowing lifegiving love of God, and a God that does not give up on the creation either but ultimately becomes incarnate in a human person to come down to our level in order to offer us friendship. God is love, John declares, and those who love know God. Jesus on the cross represents the ultimate kenotic self-emptying of God to demonstrate the divine solidarity with and friendship for the creation, for humans, for all of us.  Such divine friendship and solidarity has consequences not least in the lives of those who respond to it and Christian history is full of examples of people who answered the call to instantiate in their own lives the call to divine friendship. They lived that friendship directly and very  practically and often at very great cost for their lives, taking up their crosses and following their Lord. Many of these people are commemorated in the calendars of saints of the various Christian communions, many lived humble lives and their stories have been lost or they were the companions of these saints. But they stand in striking contrast to the rapturist cults whose members get excited at any news of  earthquake or war, who actually anticipate and hope for another major Middle East war because that will  be sign that they soon will be out of here. Their theology is marked by a hatred of humanity and of the creation in which we live. They have replaced the traditional Christian God of superabundant love and friendship with a narrowly vindictive deity of schadenfreude. The God of rapturism is not the God of Christianity, although it has been dressed with Christian drag, it's an idol built on human vindictiveness and selfish petty resentments. That's the sort of spirituality and religious ethos cultivated by rapturism. 

The Rapture is kind of oddly akin to much of the discourse around euthanasia, which again rapturists deplore. It could be said that much of the euthanasia discourse represents not so much a fear of death but a fear of dying and seeks an intervention to circumvent that. Rapturists likewise yearn for death, to get out of here and 'go home', but they don't want to experience dying. Instead they want divine intervention to circumvent the messy dying process and translate them instantly into the next world, body and soul. It's a divinely assisted suicide they seek and worse, it has resonances with the suicide bombers of various Islamic fundamentalist groups. By their collective suicide the rapturists know the full horrors of the tribulation will be unleashed on the rest of us. Their yearning for their own deaths is also a yearning for our suffering which they know will be unleashed by their rapture. And in some of the Latter day Letters that payback desire is expressed quite clearly.

Harold Camping (!) has done more to traduce Christianity and bring  it into disrepute than any Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins could ever hope to achieve. The anti-religious movements have started a blasphemy day, which I think originated in the US where so much of this silly thinking seems to  originate, the shadow or inverted mirror of the original. But Harold Camping (!) has performed a blasphemy that a Hitchens or Dawkins could never  hope to match. I have termed Rapturism a heresy of the worst order. I would go further and declare the Rapture doctrine and all the attendant Dispensationalist schemas in which its embedded, the ultimate blasphemy. Back in the 2nd century St Irenaeus of Lyon declared that the glory of God is humanity fully alive. Rapturism rejects that fundamental Christian principle in favour of vindictiveness and suicidal schadenfreude and hence tries to debase the Christian vision of the divine that Irenaeus and so many other Christians have celebrated over the centuries.

On Saturday I put up this status update on Facebook:
It's Rapture day! Silly idea. The world won't end today except in the usual way, sadly, for too many people. I hope for not too many, today, and for none of you who I love.
I chose this deliberately because that morning I'd also learnt of the death of a friend a couple of days before. Death comes to us all. We will all die, a fact our society tries to deny all the time. So again it's no surprise that a notion like the Rapturist fallacy should prove popular because it also tries to deny the fact of our own deaths. But Christianity celebrates a God who so loved all of us and wanted to be our friend that this God accepted death to live in full solidarity with us, to meet us on our level. My friend who died wasn't religious and didn't believe in any sort of God but I hope she has been found and eagerly welcomed by this God who so sought our friendship as to be willing to die shamefully under the boot of power and  is regularly betrayed by the Howard Campings (!) and so many other religious functionaries and charlatans and homophobes. It's a shame I can't believe in eternal damnation and like Dante, and people my own Inferno with popes and preachers and tele-evangelists. But my God is much bigger than that and I have no right to ever dare diminish God to my own need for vengeful satisfaction and vindication. To do so is an act of idolatry and diminishes my own faith and betrays the friendship this God offers to us all.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Paschal Thoughts

I'm back! Apologies to people following this blog but life has been very busy for me over the last couple of months and I've been plagued with IT problems too. But I'm back at last and hope to do more regular blogging in future. For now I just want to reflect on some aspects of the  rituals celebrating Easter or Pascha, as most of the non-Anglophone world  know the feast of Christ's Resurrection.

This year I did the full Easter/Pascha Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday night. It's the latter that I want to comment on. If you've never done the Vigil mass in either it's Roman or Anglican (rite) forms then I should explain that it includes a long series of readings from scripture, usually starting with Genesis 1, the account of the seven days of creation. I want to say some more about that but before I do I want to take a sidetrack into some history. After the Vigil Mass I wondered about the history of the rituals and the readings included in it. In particular I was interested in the antiquity of Genesis 1 as a Paschal reading. I didn't have to go far; Wikipedia has a quite comprehensive article on the Easter Vigil, especially as celebrated in the West. What was most fascinating was this:

The original twelve Old Testament readings for the Easter Vigil survive in an ancient manuscript belonging to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Armenian Easter Vigil also preserves what is believed to be the original length of the traditional gospel reading of the Easter Vigil, i.e., from the Last Supper account to the end of the Gospel according to Matthew.

In the earliest Jerusalem usage the vigil began with Psalm 117 [118] sung with the response, "This is the day which the Lord has made." Then followed twelve Old Testament readings, all but the last being followed by a prayer with kneeling.

(1) Genesis 1:1--3:24 (the story of creation); (2) Genesis 22:1-18 (the binding of Isaac); (3) Exodus 12:1-24 (the Passover charter narrative); (4) Jonah 1:1--4:11 (the story of Jonah); (5) Exodus 14:24--15:21 (crossing of the Red Sea); (6) Isaiah 60:1-13 (the promise to Jerusalem); (7) Job 38:2-28 (the Lord's answer to Job); (8) 2 Kings 2:1-22 (the assumption of Elijah); (9) Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the new covenant); (10) Joshua 1:1-9 (entry into the Promised Land); (11) Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the valley of dry bones); (12) Daniel 3:1-29 (the story of the three youths).

The twelfth reading leads into the Song of the Three Children

The Song of the Three Children is from Greek Daniel, part of what Protestants term the Apocrypha, but which is included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. But I'm really more interested in Genesis right now. Unfortunately the Wikipedia article doesn't say how old this manuscript and cycle of readings are but I guess ancient means pretty old, way back in the first millennium, likely dating from the days of the Christian Roman Empire, 4th, 5th or 6th centuries. Here, Genesis 1 is combined with the second creation story, that of Adam and Eve, Eden and the Fall. There's a logic there in that Christ's death and resurrection are believed to have undone the effects of the Fall. Christ is also understood as the New Adam (and Mary, his mother, the new Eve). I find it interesting that the modern day Roman rite Easter vigil does not include a place for the Eden narratives. When I say modern I should also point out that while there have been important changes to the Roman Easter Vigil rite on two occasions in the last 70 odd years the actual suite of readings has been the norm for many centuries. Interestingly, from the Wikipedia article it seems that the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox) rite has likewise dropped the Eden narratives from its Vesperal liturgy for Holy Saturday, reading only Genesis 1: 1-13, the first three days of creation.

Here are the lists of readings for the Roman and Byzantine rites:

Roman 1. Genesis 1:-2:2; 2. Genesis 22:1-18; 3. Exodus 14:15-15:1; 4. Isaiah 54:4a.5-14; 5. Isaiah 55:1-11; 6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4; 7. Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28.

Byzantine 1. Genesis 1:1-13; 2. Isaiah 60:1-16; 3. Exodus 12:1-11; 4. Jonah 1:1-4:11; 5. Joshua 5:10-15; 6. Exodus 13:20-15:19; 7. Zephaniah 3:8-15; 8. 1 King 17:8-24; 9. Isaiah 61:10-62:5; 10. Genesis 22:1-18; 11. Isaiah 61:1-9; 12. 2 Kings 4:8-37; 13. Isaiah 63:11-64:5; 14. Jeremiah 31:31-34; 15. Daniel 3:1-68.

The Roman rite has reduced the number of readings, at the same time adding new ones while the Byzantine has simply increased the readings by adding to them.

But what are common to all three lists are the first creation story, the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18) and the Crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:24--15:21). The binding of Isaac makes complete sense. Early Christians understood the near sacrifice of Isaac to prefigure the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross. The crossing of the Red Sea is a bit more obscure. Yes, it relates to Passover, from which Christian Pascha/Easter is derived but if Christ is the Lamb surely the earlier passage Exodus 12:1-24, the Charter of Passover (as the Wikipedia article puts it), would be more appropriate, given the central role of the paschal lamb there and the importance of paschal lamb imagery in the Christian context. In the Roman rite Vigil, the prayer following the reading, states that the crossing of the Red Sea  represents the waters of baptism by which the new Israel, the Christian believers, are delivered from sin and death so the text is thus reconfigured by the prayer in a symbolic and ritual way.

But what is most important here is the sea. A number of scholars have observed over the years that the Exodus account of the crossing of the Red Sea contains echoes or might even be a reworking of more ancient Middle eastern mythologies of the battle between a deity and the sea. In the Ugarit Ba'al cycle, the god Ba'al does battle with the Sea god, Yam (Yam means sea in both Hebrew and Ugaritic). Ba'al goes on to do battle with Mot, the god of death. Ba'al then dies and is restored to life. The Jewish scriptures contain many references and allusions to the battle with the sea or the sea-monster (Leviathan/Rahab), in this case the protagonist is YHWH, the LORD, the god of Israel. It's referred to frequently in the Psalms, alluded to in the answer to Job, and of course is the background to the Jonah story too (and in the ancient list of Paschal Vigil readings, Jonah precedes the Exodus account of the Red Sea crossing). We don't know the ritual context of the Ba'al cycle but we do for another major chaoskampf myth of the region, the battle of Marduk with Tiamat in the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth cycle. Marduk creates the world out of the broken body of Tiamat; the Enuma Elish was recited/chanted as part of the Babylonian New Year rituals.

In the ancient world the New Year was associated with the equinox, spring or autumn. The ancient Persian New Year, Now Roz, is still celebrated at the spring equinox. Even in medieval Christendom the civil year began with the feast of the Annunciation in March i.e. the spring equinox. (And likewise Aries is the first sign of the zodiac in western astrology because it's the sign that conjoins the spring equinox). However, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah was celebrated at the autumnal equinox. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement was an important day of the  Jewish New Year cycle. Atonement rituals were important parts of ancient Middle Eastern religions and often were key parts of the New Year rituals. What the New Year rituals signified was the renewal, re-creation of the cosmos. Atonement rituals, as in the Jewish Yom Kippur, could play a key part because they performed the healing of the cosmos as part of the start of a new cycle of the year. Scapegoat rituals, as in the one associated with the Jewish Yom Kippur, were also a frequent aspect of the atonement performances.

Listening to the cadences of Genesis 1 at the Easter Vigil the other night, I could easily imagine it recited or chanted at the New Year rituals of Rosh Hashanah in the ancient Temples at Jerusalem and Ha Gerizim. But what's it doing at Easter/Pascha, a Christian feast derived from the Jewish Pesach/Passover? Well, both Jewish Pesach and the Christian Pascha are associated with, set by the spring equinox. In the Jewish calendar Pesach falls in Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year (the autumnal Rosh Hashanah, New Year, actually falls in Tishrei, the 7th month of the Jewish calendar). In other words Pesach is itself a kind of New Year festival, and the New Year associations are given away by the Exodus account of the crossing of the Red Sea, and indeed the whole narrative of the Exodus, which portrays the LORD doing battle with Pharaoh, culminating with the defeat and destruction of Pharaoh in the sea, recalling those ancient Levantine myths in which the deity does battle with the sea or the sea-monster.

Whether or not Nisan was originally the month of the Jewish New Year is not important. What is important is that the Passover narrative and the rituals of Pesach carry strong resonances of the creation and chaoskampf mythologies of the New Year and Atonement. One could say that while Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur celebrate the re-creation, restoration and renewal of the cosmos, Pesach celebrates the re-creation, restoration and renewal of the Israelite community. Unlike Rosh Hashanah, Pesach was one of the three ancient pilgrimage feasts when the people were expected , if possible to journey to the Temple (Jerusalem or Ha Gerizim) to celebrate Pesach there, a bit like the annual Hajj to Mecca in Islam. Pesach was and is celebrated by the community as a whole unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which were celebrated in the Temple by specifically priestly rituals.

But then why has Genesis 1 been maintained as a key text of the Christian Paschal rites especially given that the Eden narratives of Genesis 2-3 have actually been abandoned progressively over time in both East and West? I have been kind of developing a rather audacious line of thought here, in part in response to the work of Margaret Barker. I believe ancient Christianity began as one of many ancient Jewish movements concerned with the Temple. A recurring refrain in biblical and extra-biblical texts is the problem of the Temple and its corruption, usually by falling under the control of a rival group. We find this pattern in Ezekiel, Zechariah, 1 Enoch and a number of Qumran texts, for example. I think Christianity began with the perception that the Temple had been corrupted by the priestly circles who ruled there. Jesus himself took on a High Priestly role, might even have been understood as the heavenly High Priest. Perhaps at Jesus' own instigation, Christians began to take on aspects of Temple ritual and reconfigure them to instantiate the Temple now as the Christian community (similar ideas are found at Qumran too). The Eucharist is developed as the key bloodless sacrifice of the new but restored Temple that is the Christian community, an open community in which humans encounter the divine face to face in their communal rituals without the mediation of the corrupt Temple authorities (I more and more think the book of Revelation is a Christian prophetic reflection upon the first Jewish war and the destruction of the Temple and its replacement by the new Temple of the Christian community in which Jesus, the Logos, is made manifest, returns to the community, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist). These Christian rituals, such as Eucharist and Baptism, are derived from Temple ritual and symbolism reconfigured in a way to make God truly Emmanuel, 'with us', rather than 'hidden' in the priestly confines of the Temple. Jesus was executed at Pesach, instantiating, fulfilling the High Priestly role of shedding his blood to heal and renew the cosmos on the Day of Atonement (in the Temple rite, a goat is of course slaughtered in the High Priest's place). So Christians uncover the old New Year/Atonement meanings of Pesach but reconfigure them by joining, blending them with a reconfigured  Pesach as well. The two equinoctal feasts are merged and reconfigured to shape the development of Christian liturgy/tradition (the core component of Christian tradition is liturgy) in succeeding generations. When Pascha was developed as a specific annual feast in the second and third centuries Christians drew upon traditions and memories of old Temple practices to create  a Paschal gestalt. Christian Pascha explicitly identified itself as a new Pesach, a language used to this very day but the ritual patterns and symbolic frameworks that are deployed for this Christian Pesach are as much, even more?, derived from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than anything to do with Pesach. It was a pattern compelled by the circumstances of Jesus' own death which was charged symbolically with the power of the old rites of Atonement and New Year in which the deity sheds blood/life to renew, recreate, heal and restore the cosmos. And these rites have an ancient provenance. Countless centuries earlier, in the Ugarit myth cycles, Ba'al does battle with Mot/Death and succumbs only to rise anew and restore the cosmos to new life. Likewise in his own ordeal Jesus does battle with Mot/Death to succumb and rise anew restoring the cosmos to new life. The language and imagery runs right through Christian proclamation although the stories of Ba'al's death and rising had been long forgotten (and ancient Ugarit too).

Genesis 1 recounts in a beautiful poetic structure the speaking of cosmos into existence by deity, it is the key text of the old New Year of Temple rite so it makes sense to me that it should lead off the readings of Christian Pascha which celebrates the renewal, restoration, recreation, resurrection of the cosmos through the broken and resurrected body of Jesus, humble Galilean and heavenly High Priest. Reading Genesis 1 in the Vigil Mass on the Paschal Eve links it to traditions and practices that go back thousands of years, into the heart of Temple Judaism and beyond into the world of Canaanite/Levantine myth and ritual from which 'Israel' was born. And not in any supersessionist way of appropriation, but rather in a lineage of creative inheritance and generation.