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Your Male Privilege: “God” & other “Biblical characters”

July 31, 2014

10. God will be pictured as male and described in masculine terms 90% of the time.

8. Biblical characters of your own gender will be featured as primary subjects and as positive examples  90% of the time in the educational curriculum.

Male characters will be featured in the children’s curriculum, and in the youth group curriculum, and in the Sunday morning sermon, and in the small group studies…you get the idea.

The above are 2 of the 10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up in the Church, in a recent post by Ms. Gail Vaughn Wallace at the Junia Project.



Fabiola, the 4th century divorcée

July 30, 2014

Probably lots of women were divorced in the 4th century. But Fabiola’s story is particularly interesting. I couldn’t find her written up in any history of previously ignored Christian women. She lived at the time that Jerome was teaching Roman matrons Greek and Hebrew and studied these languages herself but not from Jerome. HOwever, she did meet him later. She was married off as a teenager to an abusive and adulterous husband. She then initiated a divorce from him under Roman law. Jerome was later to say that this man was so abusive that not a prostitute nor a slave would put up with the treatment he gave her. So, all is good for the divorce.

Since under Roman law women had the right to remarry, Fabiola married the man she truly loved, but she was then excommunicated from the church for adultery. She was cut off from the life she aspired to. As a wealthy women she wanted to participate in the studious and reflective life, and in a life of pious activity. However, her second husband died young and Fabiola became a widow, although not considered so by the church. She was naturally thought of as an adulterous woman because the abusive first husband was still alive.

However, after the death of her second husband, she paraded in penitential clothing in front of the Lateran Basilica and was eventually reinstated in communion with the church. Considering her wealth, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Then Fabiola carried out the plan that was closest to her heart. She built the first real hospital in the western world, and a nursing home beside it for those whose stay would be permanent. She worked in the hospital, going out herself and sending out staff to bing in the sick, who had no idea what a hospital was.

Now, she thought, now she could seek the meditative life of study and reflection that she desired. So she packed up and went to Jerusalem to stay with Paula and Jerome and study Greek and Hebrew again. She stayed a year only. There are two theories of why she left. One is that is was unsafe as there were rumours of an attack from the east. But the other theory rings true, that she just couldn’t stand the ongoing controversy about whether Origen was a heretic or not.

On her return to Rome she built a hostel for Pilgrim’s and settled down to work in the hospital, taking the most difficult cases, acting as administrator, nurse and surgeon. She is recognized here and there in books on public health but does not get much press as a Christian woman and leader. She was not associated with any great Christian man, nor was she a martyr. She was an independent, strong-willed, intelligent and productive woman.

Disclosure: I have not read the 19th century novel about her.



Pagnini and the welfare state

July 28, 2014

I have tried drafting a few posts lately but none of them seemed interesting enough. So I gave up and retreated to reading French books in Google books on Santes Pagnini to see where he has been hiding out. This time I found out that he is not best known for having produced the most influential translation of the Bible in the western world. He did that. But he did something else for which he was more celebrated. He and a friend of his, Jean de Vauzelle, another of the preaching brothers, not monks, but Dominicans, who are not cloistered, the two of them were the inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of the first public welfare system in France. They wrested the feeding of the poor out of the hands of the church, which wasn’t doing such a great job, and founded a public system run by the city of Lyon and funded by local wealthy merchants and nobles, the church, and a tax rebate from Paris. He persuaded a relative, a fellow Florentine, to build a new hospital and make sure the poor were cared for. Someone went around house to house in Lyon and registered the poor, handed out bread once a week, set up homes and schools for poor children, and hired doctors for the hospitals, one of them being François Rabelais. Approximately 5% to 7% of Lyon was on welfare at the time due to recent crop failures and famine.

Pagnini went to Lyon because he knew there was a printing press with Hebrew fonts and a patron who would support his work. But ostensibly, he was sent to Lyon by the pope to suppress Lutheranism. Luther was calling for the abolition of the mendicant, (begging) orders, such as the Dominicans, since they were doing such a terrible job of caring for the poor. He supported the secularization of welfare.

So, Pagnini, against the wishes of his own prior, Nicolas Morin, an inquisitor no less, simply advocated for the secularization of care for the poor as well, preached compassion and education, mixed socially with the populace and made sure that Lutheran influence in the city was always low key and did not gain ground. No one could complain about the Dominicans of Lyon not caring for the poor. As well as secularizing welfare, he had wealthy citizens build and staff new hospitals. In this way he supported humanism and moderate Catholicism in Lyon during his lifetime and the city rewarded him by making him a citizen, giving him a living allowance and all he wine he could drink, so he was no longer a “begging” priest, but one who was well supported and could give his free time to teach Hebrew to his students, some of whom later became Hebrew professors themselves. Many of the same men were medical doctors, and wrote medical pamphlets on surgery, etc. mixing theology and medicine.

It happens that in these same years, 1520 to 1550, women poets were first published in France. The Lyon school of poets included many women, who participated with men in a salon of poetry readings, also producing poetry for publication. I fell into flights of fancy and wrote a poem which reflects Pagnini’s translation of the Psalms, in particular the first few lines of Ps. 42 and Ps. 22.

Here are the disputed lines,

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם–

כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים

As the deer (masculine) desires (feminine) the springs of water

So my soul (fem.) desires (fem.) you, O God.

The problem is that the feminine of deer ends with the letter ת tau, and the verb  “desires” in the feminine begins with the tau. Since there is only one tau in the first line, the reader has to chose, either the tau is mistakenly added out of nowhere and the deer is really masculine, or two tau’s are reduced to one tau, and the deer is feminine. This is called haplography, writing a letter once when it should be written twice. Most exegetes see the point, but in English the word “deer,” gender indefinite, is just too handy. However, in Hebrew the feminine “doe” has an echo in the feminine soul, so the feminine is more poetic. Here are some of the translations,


Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum,

ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.


Quemadmodum cerva desiderat ad torrrentes aquarum,

ita anima mea desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

Luther Bible

Wie der Hirsch schreit nach frischem Wasser,

so schreit meine Seele, Gott, zu dir.


As the hart panteth after the water brooks,

so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Geneva Bible

Comme une biche soupire après des courants d’eau,

Ainsi mon âme soupire après toi, ô Dieu!

  Conferenza Episcopale Italiana

Come la cerva anela ai corsi d’acqua,

così l’anima mia anela a te, o Dio.

The French and Italian have translations which reflect the Hebrew, “doe,” but for English and German, I haven’t found any translations with “doe” or the equivalent. Perhaps I will later. Pagnini also introduced the expression, the “doe of dawn” in the heading of Ps.22. For this reason, I wrote a poem imagining what it would be like to be a woman during the Reformation. It was not uncommon for girls from wealthy families to have a Greek tutor, but never a Hebrew tutor. That was mostly taught in other venues, inaccessible to women. My friend was over for supper a few days ago, and we reminisced about how we had studied, one of us Greek, and the other Hebrew, for 7 years, along with several years of the other language as well. We were lucky. Here is my poem,

Dawn’s doe desires the rushing water
She is not filled by the stagnant pool
Ancient wisdom’s anxious daughter
Will not be this ages fool.

Open those pages to her as well
And keep not the seal of unknown forms
The wandering mind will not dwell
In shelter from the word-waged storms

Text is the tumbled torrent where
Three flow together in equal share.

David Capes’s Assault Against the “Assault” Against “the male-female distinction”

July 22, 2014

We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.
– David Capes, 21st century

There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no “male and female”; you are all one in the Messiah Jesus.
– Paul, 1st century (translated by N.T. Wright in the 21st century)

At the blog for “The Voice” Bible, David Capes posted yesterday “They Come in Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark)” to correct, or perhaps to clarify, posts from Creig Marlowe. Capes also says he’s been inspired by the Marlowe posts and also by comments elsewhere made by N. T. Wright. The gist of Capes’s post is to acknowledge what Marlowe does with “binaries” in Genesis, but he wants to move away from what Marlowe does to make a greater acknowledgement of some sharp inherent distinction between male and female as part of God and as part of humanity. His post is written to assault the assault against “the male-female distinction.”

Here’s the paragraph in which Capes gives Marlowe’s “binary” method the nod:

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction. “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys. “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear. If a case is “open and shut,” on the other hand, it is clear. In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word,”the universe.” “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then both words together mean “everything.” That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing [sic], the heavens above, the earth below . . . “

Here’s the conclusion of Capes, his assault against this alleged assault on humanity itself:

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention. Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God. But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei. Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God. It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process. Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation. God no longer creates ex nihilo. He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

What is interesting is how much more space and “special attention” Capes gives to this “final binary” of six total that he reviews. He need not apply his logic of distinction to any of the other five “binaries.” For the “the male-femalebinary, Capes feels the need to assert “their differences, their complementarities.” For the “the male-female” binary, there needs to be “the sexual.”

N. T. Wright, who “inspires” Capes, has said that these special binaries are indeed the most special. They are the ones that must be complementary. The metaphors of difference, the constructs, therefore, whenever there is sexual difference, must be realities of difference, even if the Lamb (a male) and the Church (a female) are married.

Here are just a few problems:

  1. With the sexual in the binary of special attention to save all humanity, there is this idea, a hint of it anyway, that the Creator Being is sexual in the same way a human “male and female ” must be to keep the creation of “the next generation” going. Capes cannot go that far, of course. The best he’ll let himself do is to admit the following:  “Good points, Emily. There are some wonderful images of God in the Scriptures that clearly describe the feminine side.” But he has to distinguish sharply the god-human binary (as a male-female binary) from all the other binaries, for the sake of the next generation.
  2. The logic of a “hendiadys” ostensibly must be abandoned when there is sex. The assertion of “both/and” categorical binaries, for Capes, becomes an assault, towards a denial or erasure of the male-female distinction.
  3. Genesis 5 and the story of Noah is still close by, despite what Capes wants for his funny blog title: “… Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark).” So when Paul uses “ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ” as a frozen phrase to his Greek readers in 1st century Galatia explicitly in order “to deny or erase the male-female distinction,” he’s likely not forgetting that old story of salvation that requires pairs on the ark, where in the LXX the same phrase is used. Paul is saying that his “Messiah,” who never was a male-one-flesh-with-a-female kind of savior, makes this very special sex binary a hendiadys.


Debts or Trespasses? And Other Riffs on the Lord’s Prayer

July 20, 2014

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology, as I expect and hope that the commentariat and my cobloggers here may take up rather different points in their responses. 🙂

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Those are the words I learned as a child, and still most frequently use when I pray. But sometimes I riff on it.

At some point in young adulthood, I encountered a translation that used “debts” and “debtors” instead of “trespasses”, and a commentary asserting that when Jesus talked about forgiveness, he was typically preaching to the people at the top of the wealth/power hierarchy. It was the people in positions of wealth and privilege who were called to forgive the debts of those who owed them money: not the other way around. This made sense to me in a “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” kind of way.

The economic metaphor also helped me understand more concretely what forgiveness meant. I knew what it meant to forgive a monetary debt: it meant tearing up the IOU, wiping out the debt entirely, declaring “you don’t owe me that money anymore.” And, at least if you’re not an asshole, you also don’t bring up how generous you were in writing off that debt whenever there’s a conflict or negotiation between you and the person whose debt you forgave. A debt that’s forgiven is done, it’s over, it’s off the books.

In my first scripture course in grad school, I learned about the parallelism that permeates much Hebrew poetry, and I began to look for it everywhere.

Our Father in Heaven, / may your name be holy.
May your reign come / and your will be done
on earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts / As we forgive our debtors.
Don’t lead us into temptation / But lead us out of evil.

I could even see some nested structure: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name” has an ABBA structure (name/holy/holy/name).

Parallelism isn’t just aesthetic word games, though; like any other literary device, it accents the important concepts and brings out relationships between ideas. So I found this a fruitful reflection.

This form makes clear that “debts” beats “trespasses,” at least in English, by having a properly directional noun for the acting subject that makes sense with a possessive. “As we forgive our debtors” is perfectly clear. “As we forgive our trespassers”… not so much. Those might be our trespassers, that we sent out to trespass on other people’s lawns to go stir up trouble or hand out leaflets or sell Girl Scout cookies. And the connection with lawns (which is where I mostly saw “No Trespassing” signs as a kid) and the associated trivial level of infraction was also unhelpful.

Lately, though, I’ve been riffing on the Lord’s Prayer with a brain well soaked in mimetic theology.

Our Father in heaven / holy is your name.
May your reign emerge / and your will be enacted
On earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / what we need for today
And forgive us our trespasses / so we learn to forgive those who trespass against us
Do not put us to the test / but free us from evil

“Trespasses” is making sense again, in this theological framework in which defining my identity over against somebody else is sinful, and pacifically receiving my identity from God is holy; in which my righteous indignation is a surefire giveaway that I’ve been scandalized and hooked into mimetic rivalry with somebody who has done whatever it is they did to make me say “how dare they”: how dare they trespass against me or mine like that.

Forgive us our trespasses
So we can let go of that bristling defensive posture,
that tendency towards escalation, that mirror-imaging of sin.
Forgive us our trespasses
To remind us how it feels to be welcomed,
To remind us that we are no better no purer no holier
Than those who trespass against us.

Keep us out of that temptation
And free us from that evil

For yours, not ours, is the reign, and the power, and the glory:

Paulo Freire in and on Translation

July 16, 2014

Abram K-J posted today his wonderful Spanish language “poem-prayer” inspired by his study of the works of Paulo Freire. Abram in comments below his post explains why he didn’t use Portuguese but used Spanish instead: La clase para que escribí un papel sobre Freire (la poema apareció al fin del papel) estaba una clase enseñaba en español. In other words, the professor and Abram and his classmates spoke and wrote in Spanish to study Freire in translation. And yet, he clarifies, in English, that when he read Freire’s most famous work it was in English translation.

Here’s a cover shot of the cover of one of the editions of this famous book:


This is one of the few covers of Pedagogy of the Oppressed that gives credit to the English language translator, Myra Bergman Ramos. What did Freire think about her and her translation?

Well, in Pedagogia da Esperança, co-written with Nita Freire (aka Ana Maria Araújo), he tells his thoughts about Ramos’s translating, and more.


Below we get some of that in the Freire’s Portuguese and in the English (translated by Robert R. Barr as Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed):





Additional detail of Freire’s work with Ramos is given by James D. Kirylo in his essay, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Publication Process of Paulo Freire’s Seminal Work“:



I do not know, but I would imagine, that when in the United States teaching, Freire spoke with audiences and taught classes of students at Harvard in English (even if through an interpreter of his spoken Brazilian Portuguese). Given his play with and his practice of the power of language of the oppressed, it seems he had a great admiration for how young people — learners as pedagogues and pedagogues as students — would struggle with texts. He stays with this question, and I think he would appreciate what Abram has prayed in his poetry en español, as a translation of Freire’s language and ideas.

“one more step”: Women to be Bishops in the Church of England

July 14, 2014

“I am overjoyed for the Church of England as it has finally consented [today, July 14, 2014] to the ordination and consecration of women as bishops. I believe that the inclusion of women in this order will bring new gifts and possibilities for its partnership in God’s mission in England. This represents one more step in the long transformation of church and society toward the Reign of God.”
– Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female primate in the Anglican Communion

Full news:

Church of England says ‘yes’ to women as bishops

Church of England to have women bishops

“Falling into the Holes in Their Own Thought”

July 13, 2014

Fred Clark at Slacktivist this week has contributed more to the blogosphere conversation we also contributed to in the Noting Abusive Theologians post.  Clark’s post is in response to Roger Olson’s question, “Should a theologian’s life affect how we regard his/her theology?” Leaving aside for now the issue of whether all sins should be viewed in the same light (that we should, as Clark thinks Olson does, put excessive beer-drinking in the same category as advocating the slaughter of peasants), I found Clark’s post very helpful in providing an alternative to either dismissing a person’s theology because of his personal life, or dismissing a person’s personal life because of her theology.

Clark says:

It is, rather, a vitally important matter of identifying the way these men fell into the holes in their own thought so that we can avoid falling into those holes ourselves. We can’t shrug off Yoder’s sexual abuse or Jefferson’s slave-owning as, in Olson’s compartmentalizing phrase, “sides to their personal lives that we cannot be proud of”. . .

Did Luther’s anti-Semitism “affect” his theology, or did his theology foster his anti-Semitism? Yes, both. Did George Whitefield’s slave-owning shape his otherworldly revivalism or did his otherworldly revivalism rationalize his slave-owning? Yes, both.

The inability to recognize that cause and effect can flow both ways makes it unlikely that Olson will be able to “use it but highlight those areas” where the taint of this “scandalous action” can be identified as a discrete, separate compartment of thought. That’s not how humans work.

I think it is important to avoid the ad hominem fallacy when considering this question.  After all, the truth or falsehood of a statement is not changed by the nature of the person who makes it.  But (and this is an important “but”) individual statements of truth or falsehood don’t exist in a vacuum.  They are each one bit of a whole system of thought subscribed to by the person making them.  And often, human beings being what they are, inconsistencies and even outright contradictions can exist within a person’s system of thought.  These inconsistencies and contradictions often come from unexamined assumptions and prejudices within the person who is writing or speaking.  The cognitive dissonance thus created is often assuaged by some small cheat, such as an unacknowledged change in the definitions of the words being used.  For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s idea that all people are equal is one tenet of his thought. The idea that certain kinds of humans aren’t really people is another tenet of the same man’s thought: the one that justified both slaveholding and the ongoing rape of certain of his female slaves.  Both ideas have to be taken into account in order to make proper sense of Jefferson.  The fact that equality depends on how “people” are defined is a weakness in his system of thought that needs to be recognized. In fact, it’s a weakness that he either introduced or allowed, in order to justify his personal behavior to himself.

We can’t ignore Jefferson’s weakness relating to who gets defined as fully human, if we want to avoid falling into similar traps in our own thinking.

Roger Olson’s reasoning on the subject is as follows:

If we were to discount the value of every theologian whose life was in some way scandalous our library shelves would be much less burdened down. And perhaps our theological thinking poorer. And I didn’t even mention all the German theologians and biblical scholars who supported National Socialism!

Having said all that, I have to add this. If those German theologians allowed their pro-Nazi sympathies to infect their writings we would all, I suspect, decline to use them in our courses. So, to the extent that a theologian allowed his infidelities, racial prejudices, wrong political views, to affect his scholarship, I believe we must inevitably either 1) discard his scholarship, or 2) use it but highlight those areas where the scandalous parts of his life affected it.

However, to the extent that the theologian’s scandalous actions did not affect his theology (or biblical scholarship) I see no reason to make much of them. They should probably be mentioned in a biography but there’s no need to reject his whole theology because of them.

Olson’s writing here, I think, reveals his tendency to think in just the sort of binaries I have been trying to avoid– that either a theologian’s theology has been affected by his personal life, or it hasn’t; and that it’s possible for it not to have been.  And where it has been so affected, if it’s not too pervasive it’s possible to cut away those places like a bit of mold on a piece of cheese, leaving the rest good and usable.  However, if the taint of the theologian’s personal life is too pervasive, the entire theology must be discarded.

But I’m afraid we humans really don’t work that way.  We are all a mixture of bad and good acting and thinking.  Our thinking does affect the way we act, and the way we act does affect our thinking– and this is particularly true of the kind of people whose words, spoken or written, are wise enough to have been remembered down through the years.  Wise people don’t usually leave their actions unjustified by their thinking, because they are thinkers and they can’t function that way.

Therefore, it’s important to take a theologian’s private life into account when reading his or her writings, and note where cognitive dissonance may have been compensated for by changes in definitions and other such things. If Tillich abused young women at Union Theological Seminary, then his attitude towards women certainly affected what he wrote (or didn’t write) about Eve.  The key is to keep that in mind when reading his Systematic Theology.


Guest Post by Dagesh Forte – “Rhythm And Poetry”

July 2, 2014

Dagesh Forte is the blogger pseudonym of a scholar in biblical Hebrew. You may recognize him as a regular contributor of posts to the blog unsettledchristianity, including a provocative piece noting how “biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.” (In the same post, he reveals his part in the “now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog,” a site that interacted with some of Suzanne’s posts, and mine also, at our other respective blogs.) We are delighted that he has contributed the following guest post here at BLT!
— J. K. Gayle


RAP is a powerful tool. RAP comes from Hip-Hop, the cultural movement that birthed DJing as its own type of music (instead of just a record spinner who introduced songs), break dancing, graffiti art, and RAP music. RAP has come to be stereotyped as crass, sexually and violently explicit, misogynistic, and a host of other negative things that have caused America to label many RAP albums with the tag “EXPLICIT”. Even so, RAP dominates the music scene here in the USA and internationally. I think its high-time that Bible translators begin to explore RAP as a vehicle for translating biblical poetry.

So let me introduce you to four of my favorite rappers. I think they can provide a foundation for how to make good rap.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil is not what we think of when we think of RAP. Gil was a blueman, a jazz musician, and a beat poet. But unlike other beat poets, Gil’s poetry was about race, specifically black Americans. Gil died in 2011. The latter part of his life was marked with multiple jail sentences for powder cocaine possession and possession of a crack pipe (Until recently, crack cocaine offenders were given lengthier sentences than were powder cocaine offenders). His greatest hit was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The music of Gil Scott-Heron is important to me because its beautiful and honest and painful. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the modern (and very American) constructs of “black” and “white” will identify with or feel convicted by some of Gil’s words. Gil showed me how I benefit from institutional racism. And he did it in a way that I could accept because his way was poetic. As Bible translators, I think the lesson we can learn from Gil is that poetry can offend and convict and bring what is in the dark into the light and it can do it in a way that is undeniable.



KRS One is from the early days of Hip Hop and the RAP that came from it. His music is an excellent blend of rhyming techniques with powerful content. He challenges black Americans to reject labels put on them and he invites all people to think before they speak. He is a scholar of Hip Hop. Sometimes when I want to listen to KRS One, I have a hard time deciding if I want to listen to his music or one of his lectures. KRS One shows that sermons can be rapped. Here’s his early hit My Philosophy.

KRS One also give regular lectures. You can find them on YouTube. Here he is commenting on guilt and Genesis 3.


The Wu-Tang Clan

I love The Wu. Wu-Tang is the soundtrack to my undergraduate years. The Wu-Tang Clan is the longest surviving (minus O.D.B.) RAP group from New York. In my opinion, they are the best. The Wu-Tang Clan makes blues music in RAP. This is the voice that says, “If there is a God, he doesn’t love me.” The Wu is a look at the underbelly of American life. Their music makes me think of hard-to-hear psalms like #137. Here is “Heaven and Hell” from Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx N*****”. Though his solo album, the whole Wu-Tang Clan joins in the album and this song.


Mala Rodriguez

For decades, Spanish RAP was terrible (in my opinion). Spanish rappers mimicked the techniques that they heard from American gangster RAP. For the most part, that technique was rhyme with a very predictable cadence. In the last few years, I have been impressed with the RAP of Maria “Mala” Rodriguez. Her RAP does not sound like American RAP in Spanish. She plays with Spanish as a Spanish speaker would, not as an American would. Her lyrics are biting and raunchy. And sometimes she growls like a death metal singer.

Mala’s music reminds me that poetry is different from language to language. Rhyme is entertaining in English, but in Spanish it can be incredibly boring (and easy since nouns end in either -o or -a). Here is the single “33” from her 2013 album “Bruja”.


Could RAP translations of Psalms be a useful exercise? I think when we hear a translation of a psalm that causes the foot to tap and the head to nod to the beat, then we’ll know.




Book review as comic strip: Jenna Brager’s review of the graphic book “Mendoza the Jew”

June 29, 2014

Click over to the Los Angeles Review of Books for this interesting way to review graphic books.  Jenna Brager reviews the recent graphic book Mendoza the Jew:  Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism – A Graphic History.

Here is how it starts:


Snowpiercer: Vagaries of commercial art

June 29, 2014

I saw the amazing film Snowpiercer this weekend, and was absolutely stunned by this striking interpretation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.  It is a rare bird: a cerebral action thriller.  It has an impressive cast:  Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton  and the excellent Korean actor Song Kang-Ho.  And, you probably have not seen it – it is only showing in a small number of theaters.  It is only playing in eight US theaters at this time although it will open at approximately a hundred theaters by next weekend.

The film is an extended allegory on religion, North Korean absolute control, and revolutionary movements set within an action thriller genre.  The basic premise is that in an effort to end global warning, science accidentally unleashes a brutal ice age that has killed all of humanity except for a tiny remnant living aboard a massive train that circumnavigates rail lines that circle the globe (with extended bridges connecting, for example, Alaska to Siberia).  The train is strictly segregated with the wealthy in the front, with every luxury imaginable – from sushi bars to hot tub pools – and the masses piled into cattle cars at the back.   A team led by Curtis and Gilliam (a clear nod to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) attempts to launch a revolution to take charge of the engine car – facing a long series of obstacles and challenges.

“Snowpiercer” is a CGI feast – one that normally would play best on the big screen.  And yet, as a result of a controversial deal with Harvey Weinstein’s video-on-demand unit, the film seems destined to be seen by most on the small screen.  Is this the future of cinema in America?

The Boston Globe gives the fascinating backstory behind the release – a story that has a great deal to say about how movies are distributed.  Here are some excerpts:

“Snowpiercer” is a mesmerizing science fiction/action film that moves like the bullet train on which it takes place.[…] “Snowpiercer” isn’t a perfect movie but it is an astonishing one. Bong takes the dystopian fantasies of such movies as “Blade Runner” and “Brazil” and compresses them into an elongated space that rushes forward on speed and story. The film’s visual imagination is baroque, insane, inspired, with each railway car a newly revealed universe of beauty and peril. […] “Snowpiercer” demands to be seen.

It almost wasn’t. Back in 2012, Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Co. bought US rights to the film based on its script and a few sample scenes, but when [director] Bong [Joon-Ho]  turned in the finished film the distributor balked. The 126-minute runtime wasn’t as much an issue as the film’s dark tone, often brutal violence, and general creative weirdness. The wide release Weinstein envisioned now seemed risky; secondhand reports had company executives claiming the film wouldn’t be understood by audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma. Bong was told he had to cut 20 minutes or the film wouldn’t be released. In effect, he was being penalized for being too visionary.[…]

Bong refused to make the edits, especially after a Weinstein cut reportedly tested more poorly than the director’s original. Meanwhile, “Snowpiercer” was released in Korea, France, and other countries to rave reviews and massive box-office returns. Finally Weinstein relented: Bong’s version could go out to US theaters — but only in limited release. Instead of playing 600 to 1,000 screens, “Snowpiercer” would be seen in 100 or so art houses and out-of-the-way multiplexes.[…]

A crucial decision seems to have been Weinstein’s relegating “Snowpiercer” to the company’s Radius/TWC subsidiary, which specializes in releasing movies in innovative multiplatform arrays that include theatrical, video on demand (VOD), and other outlets. This practice severely restricts which theater chains will agree to show a film, since most exhibitors believe that digital distribution cannibalizes their customers.[…]  [O]nce “Snowpiercer” went to Radius/TWC — with an as yet unspecified VOD release scheduled for a number of weeks from now — its shunning by theater chains was assured.[…]

What the “Snowpiercer” saga inadvertently reveals is an entrenched industry in the midst of a sea change while paddling against the current as fast as it can. VOD revenues aren’t reported by distributors — meaning there’s no way to compare those numbers with box office grosses — but the anecdotal evidence is clear. More people than ever are dialing up movies on their TVs, laptops, and phones via cable services, Roku and AppleTV boxes, NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon. The only movies that still draw mass audiences to theaters are heavily promoted studio blockbusters — and even they last only a few weeks — and the occasional art-house hit like “Grand Budapest Hotel.”[…]

What that means for you, the moviegoer, is as yet unclear. At the very least, films that don’t strictly conform to the big-budget studio entertainment model — that are labors of love, or are challenging, or just different — will find it harder than ever to find a big-screen toehold in this paranoid new world. “Snowpiercer” may have been relegated to the exhibition boondocks because it falls between the audience cracks: It’s too violent for genteel art-house audiences, too weird for the mainstream. And yet it’s impossible to believe that an action-packed science fiction movie starring [Chris Evans who previously played] Captain America (with an 86 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, no less [note, as of 6/29, the Rotten Tomatoes rating has risen to 93%])  couldn’t do a decent chunk of business for a few weeks in 600 theaters[…].

Must “the wife of the Lamb” be a Ewe?

June 25, 2014

N. T. Wright has suggested that Heaven marries Earth, that Adam marries Eve, that Christ marries the Church, that this is always and only Nature’s design: the male husband marries the female wife. And so he looks to the prophecies in the NT book of Revelation.

But in Revelation 19:7 and in Revelation 21:9, must “the wife of the Lamb” be a City? Or the Church? Or a Ewe?

If the sex must be different, then must the species also be different?

Below are a few quotations of Sr. Carolyn Osiek, writing to discuss the problems with the male-female marriage metaphor in the NT –


There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control.
–Carolyn Osiek
It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality.
–Carolyn Osiek

[N]early all the Hellenistic discussions of household management, beginning with Aristotle, address only one person, the male authority figure (paterfamilias) who must relate differently but always in a superior manner to wife, children, and slaves….  Since Aristotle, the basic types of … analogies have been simile and metaphor….  Metaphor is a more implicit comparison made by direct statement that one thing is another. As Aristotle puts it, when A is to B as C is to D, it is a metaphor to say A is C, or vice versa (POETICS 21.11-12).
–Carolyn Osiek

The spousal metaphor has been a primary one throughout the development of ecclesiology. I need not and cannot document this development. Like any metaphor, it is sometimes carried too far…. One theologian argues on the basis of a social meaning of the Hebrew word basar (flesh, body) that the reference is not only to one’s personal body, but also ancestors, descendants, and particularly, one’s spouse. Thus the husband is considered to have two bodies, his own and that of his wife. Likewise, the wife has two heads, her own and that of her husband. This is supposed to reveal the distinction and the union of Christ and his church….  Since Mary is portrayed as mother of Jesus in the Second Testament and in subsequent theology and devotion, she is also portrayed as mother of the church, or perhaps more accurately, she should have been seen as its mother-in-law. But Mary has also been frequently seen as symbol or representative, a sort of first citizen, of the church. This blurs the distinctions. Thus there has been considerable symbolic slippage between her role as mother and her representation of the church in a spousal relationship to Christ.
–Carolyn Osiek

As you read this little blog post, would you do something?  Would you be brave enough to notice your reading strategies and slippages?  One of my mentors has thought about hers.  And so I’d like us let her help us again with ours.  I’m just interested in how our affirmations, on the one hand, may not always keep up with “our language, our imagery, and our metaphors.”   Just a couple of more items to go.  This is profound stuff, the relationships between what we think, what we say, and what we do.  If you’re a man, a Christian man, a Bible-reading Christian man, then you’ll probably have to think harder than everybody else.  We’re reading now (as with the four epigraphs above) from “The Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33): a problematic wedding,” in Biblical Theology Bulletin 32.1 (Spring 2002), researched and written by Dr. Osiek.  What do you think?:
Male interests predominate in our reading strategies. The implied reader is usually male or represents male interests. This is clear in the case of the history of interpretation of our text from Ephesians. I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor. Some older spirituality in English spoke of the soul as “she,” more under the influence of feminine words for soul in Latin and French than anything else, but also perhaps influenced by the marriage metaphor. Likewise, Caroline Bynum calls our attention in her essays on Jesus as Mother to the influence of the submission theme in medieval monasticism: becoming symbolically female meant both the humbling of the self and the assumption of a compassionate attitude toward others (Bynum: 110-69). Here the stereotype of the stern father and the compassionate mother strikes again, to the detriment of fatherhood as well as motherhood, and the stereotype of the dominant male taking on female characteristics by becoming humble belittles the dignity of women. 

Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.

The above is a reposting from And for full disclosure, Dr. Osiek is one of my own teachers, and she advised me through my dissertation project.

UPDATE: If the link to the article above ( ) does not work, then please feel free to request a reprint of it or to subscribe to the journal or to find the essay in your university or local library. There are some important arguments made, such as this –

I would argue that casting the church as feminine, and above all as bride of Christ, far from enhancing the dignity of women, has in fact done harm to perception of the capacity of women to image the divine, and thus of women’s fundamental human and Christian dignity.

and this –

The “head” analogy for a leader of an army, a city, or some other social grouping was already established and quite common [by the time Paul wrote what he wrote]. What is less obvious in the sources is how “head” came to mean authority of one person over one other person as it does here [in male-female marriage, in Paul’s writing], and how “body” could support the meaning of a subordinate yet free individual person. (Slaves were sometimes depersonalized by being referred to legally in Greek as somata, bodies, but a reference to a specific individual slave by this term is unlikely.) These are precisely the points of greatest tension in the simile of this passage. The dissonance of the headship of one person over another occurs previously in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Christ is the head (kephale) of man, man of woman, and God of Christ. But it was not a well-established metaphor in its day. How is Christ head of the man in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and of the church here? Not as military or political leader, but in a new way here, as savior ([Ephesians] 5:23). Bracket for a moment the accumulation of theological, eschatological, and individualist meaning attributed to the title “savior.” In the first century a savior was one who healed of disease and restored to community; one who protected the weak from the oppression of the strong; a military hero and ruler who was responsible to keep his people from harm. In this last sense a savior could also be head, and in a collective sense, head of the social body. But for an individual man to be head of an individual woman is a very new application of the metaphor of headship.

The comparison of wife to body is more shocking. There is nothing immediately obvious even about the similarity of wife to church, except that wives make up some of the members of the church. But so do husbands. Only by extrapolating from biological to ecclesiological functions can we begin to see some figurative similarities: wives become mothers who produce children, etc., and the
church can be figuratively personified with a somewhat similar role. But there are other more subconscious similarities that produce this metaphor: the ideal shy, pure, therefore inexperienced, virgin bride who submits her body to the waiting bridegroom and is reserved for his pleasure alone, for him to initiate her into the joy of sex in whatever way he would like. I do not mean to titillate, but I think all of these undertones are there, especially in the highly unusual suggestion that the bridegroom is the agent of the bride’s prenuptial bath and purity inspection. The
metaphor comes close to asserting that female biology is destiny. However, it is typical of the kind of projections of the feminine that are based solely on women’s sexual status in the male world: virgin, mother, or whore.

We have seen that the background metaphor to the simile of wife:husband::church:Christ is that of head as leader. The foreground metaphor is the application of the sacred marriage. It is quite an irony that the historical Jesus, of whose celibacy so much has been made in Christian history, has been transformed into the glorified Christ who is bridegroom ready for the bridal chamber, preparing to be a faithful and self sacrificing husband! Yet that seems not to have stopped the continuing power of the metaphor. “It’s only symbolic,” we say. Yet there are other elements of the metaphor that are taken with complete seriousness, like the need to conform gender symbolism in eucharistic presidency to reflect the sacred marriage of Christ and the church.


Meaning, Marriage, and Allah

June 24, 2014

For centuries, Arabic speakers, both Christians and Jews, have used the word “Allah” to refer to God. As I understand it, that is the apparent etymological meaning of the word’s morphemes: the god.

Recently in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, a court order declared that a Catholic newspaper may not use the word Allah to refer to God. This decision claimed the word “Allah” as distinctly and exclusively referring to the God worshipped by Muslims God as God is understood by Islam.

For centuries, English speakers in the West have used the word “marriage” to refer to a legally recognized relationship between a man and a woman, establishing a household.

The etymological meaning of this word’s morphemes is more obscure, and its semantic field is broader. But the relationship is presumptively and normatively sexual, monogamous, lifelong, and includes the birthing and raising of children.

In reality, none of these things have been universally true; there have always been marriages that did not include sex, that did not last lifelong, that were not monogamous, and that did not include children. Indeed, it is presumed that most marriage will include at least one substantial period without children, and will eventually enter a period during which sex is rare or entirely absent. (The reality may be otherwise, but the popular imagination is typically either amused or disturbed by the idea that elderly people are sexually active.) Over the last 50-100 years, with the destigmatization of divorce and the availability of effective birth control, “lifelong” and “intending children” can no longer be taken for granted, even though the norms persist. Increasingly, in this country, the meaning of marriage has come to indicate a legally recognized, presumptively sexual and emotional relationship between two adults that establishes a household. Increasingly, both the majority usage and the law are broadening to embrace such a relationship between either two men or two women.

Recently, a religious minority in this country has vocally claimed the word “marriage” as distinctly and exclusively referring to
the traditional meaning of marriage
relationships that conform to the church(es)’s definition of marriage
relationships between a man and a woman that can have children
relationships between a man and a woman.

Logically, there’s no reason to draw the line there, instead of somewhere else; doctrinally, this is actually a really poor place to draw the line, at least for Catholics. I’ve argued before that the Catholic church should willingly yield all claim to the word “marriage”, withdraw from civil discourse on the matter, and concentrate instead on teaching its flock the distinctly Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage, for which it might use the term “matrimony.”

The majority claim about “Allah” in Malaysia, and the minority claim about “marriage” in this country, both attempt to plant a flag on a particular hill in a word’s semantic field and claim that this hill is the one and only authentic, legitimate meaning of the word. But that’s just not how language works.

Metaphors are not equations

June 24, 2014

Argument by metaphor is always logically perilous, but a particularly severe error can be made when a metaphor is treated as an equation, equating the referent with the metaphorical expression.  When Longfellow compare’s the skipper’s daughter’s eyes to Linum catharticum or when Burns describes his love as a red, red rose, they are talking about humans and emotion, not about botany.  They are not equating eyes or love to plants.  One would not seek gardening tips from their poems.

In a highly-commented on post below, BLT co-blogger Suzanne comments on N. T. Wright’s use of a metaphor – that creation was a marriage of heaven and earth.  There is plenty of discussion about the biases that N. T. Wright brings to the table, but first and foremost, we need to remember that a metaphor is not an equation.  A metaphor comparing creation to the marriage of heaven and earth may shed light on the nature of creation, but it is hardly is useful in understanding marriage.

via a few levels of translation

June 24, 2014

Once I wrote a series of blogposts, just on one name of just one book of the Bible:

“Exodus”: now, then (in the Bible), and then

“Exodus”: Heavily Semiticized (NT) Greek

“Exodus”: Luke is not León Uris

“Exodus”: Whose Is It?

“Exodus” after Aristotle

“Exodus”: My Disbelief

The Beauty of Moses, or his Urbanity? how the Exodus puts it

I guess I have this sort of obsessive aversion to taking for granted the translational and rhetorical wordplay in old Greek loan words in Hebrew. Some of the first translators of the Hebrew Bible into Hellene seemed intentionally to riff off of the old Greek epics, the written-down and also the publicly recited and performed plays and playfulnesses. In Alexandria, Egypt, where the translating was going on, it was as if ἔξ οδος (“Ex-Odos”), the re-named second book of the Five Books of Moses, were to be read and recited as bigger than the Odyssey, of the Two Epics of Odyssean Homer.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s wonderful post today gets into some of this. She writes:

Beginning. Names. God Called. In the Wilderness. The Words. To me these names evoke an entirely different set of associations than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

The names we most often use in English come to us via a few levels of translation.

Her post is thoughtful and does get us wondering. Read “What’s in a name? Torah, meanings, translation” here.

The Literary Star Puzzle: in the Ψαλμοὶ

June 24, 2014

Sometimes teams of translators make some very odd choices as they puzzle over the ambiguities and uncertainties of the biblical text. For example the English Standard Version team has this for what we call Psalm 110:3 –


And so, because of all the marks on the English text, we readers must peek at the footnotes in the ESV


The English-standard-version versification may only just make the poetry garbled. Can’t we have an English translation that at least gives us readers a variant both that is somewhat lyrical and poetic and also that is a bit cohesive even within a stanza?

Yes, we can. And here’s Craig R. Smith’s translation in The Inclusive Bible –


And here’s Ann Nyland’s translation


And here’s Robert Alter’s translation


Alter gives these helpful notes on the meanings on the source texts –


What is interesting here is the implied sex, the gender, the generative nature of things in the Psalm.

And there’s a literary spark and an interpretative spin in the Septuagint, in the Jewish-Greek translation –

μετὰ σοῦ ἡ ἀρχὴ
ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τῆς δυνάμεώς σου,
ἐν ταῖς λαμπρότησιν τῶν ἁγίων·
ἐκ γαστρὸς
πρὸ ἑωσφόρου
ἐξεγέννησά σε.

Lancelot Brenton renders this rather closely, and I’ve taken liberties both with the Greek above and Brenton’s English below to break the text into lines that show the play in the prepositional phrasing –

With thee is dominion
in the day of thy power,
in the splendours of thy saints:
I have begotten thee
from the womb
before the morning.

You’ll notice how I also put in bold font the puzzling Greek phrase, ἑωσφόρου

Albert Pietersma for the New English Translation of the Septuagint much more acknowledges the puzzle –


The footnote in the NETS is simply that the antecedent is unclear, but what Pietersma leaves as if unnoticed (or at least without a note) is the import of “Morning-star” for Ἓσπερος /Hesperos/ and all its puzzling meanings.

Very likely, in Alexandria, Egypt during the time of the translating, the translation team there probably had this sort of metaphorical puzzling picture in mind, and from their holy Hebrew scriptures they saw fit to give birth to Hebraic Hellene as some sort of comment on their own cosmology –

And today from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology we get it –

HE′SPERUS (Hesperos), the evening-star, is called by Hesiod a son of Astraeus and Eos, and was regarded, even by the ancients, as the same as the morning star, whence both Homer and Hesiod call him the bringer of light, heôsphoros (Il. xxii. 317, xxiii. 226; comp. Plin. H. N. ii. 8; Mart. Capell. viii. § 882, &c., ed. Kopp.) Diodorus (iii. 60) calls him a son of Atlas, who was fond of astronomy, and once, after having ascended Mount Atlas to observe the stars, he disappeared. He was worshipped with divine honours, and regarded as the fairest star in the heavens. (Eratosth. Catast.24.) Hyginus (de Sign. Coel. 2) says that some called him a son of Eos and Cephalus. The Romans designated him by the names Lucifer and Hesperus, to characterise him as the morning or evening star.

The interesting thing about this star is its literary ambiguity. In the Psalmoi, is this the Womb before the Morning-star? The Womb before the Evening-star? The Womb before Every-star that marks the onset of day and the night? Is it a Homeric, and Hesiodic allusion? Hesperus is the Morning-star or the Evening-star? Hesperus is Phosphorus? What is somewhat obvious is that there is puzzling, literary sparks in the new language text. New gendering, new engenderings. Have the goyim ever gotten this? Clearly the new empire of the Romans garbled the epic Hellene accounts of the star(s). The later writers of the gospels and the epistles of the Greek New Testament certainly like to point back to this particular Greek Psalm. Is the star in the birth narrative of Jesus a continued puzzle of some sort? Doesn’t Gottlob Frege get the philosophical implications with his much much later “Frege’s Puzzle“?

Some time ago in the bible blogging world, there was some due attention given to this particular verse and its translation in various ways. As our BLT co-blogger Suzanne gives attention to Greek Mythology in light of questions about sex difference and not-so-different sexual and heavenly and earthly bodies, especially in the context of N. T. Wright’s expresssions of what the Bible can and cannot say, why not now look at the Hebraic Hellene puzzle in the Psalms?

ἐκ Γαστρὸς
πρὸ Ἓωσφόρου
ἐξεγέννησά σε

out of My Womb
before that Star of Dawn (and Dusk)
I gave Birth to you.

N.T. Wright, I Ching and complementarianism

June 23, 2014

About 12 days ago N. T Wright gave a most surprising and somewhat incoherent interview on homosexuality. I still don’t get most of the interview but it certainly raises many discussion points. I, for one, am wondering if there is some secret sort of Christianity floating beneath the surface that I have never heard of before. Here is the best transcript of the interview, at First Things. And here is Sarah Over the Moon’s reaction with comments.

There are far too many odd things to deal with so I am going to take a few paragraphs and have a look at them. Quoted at First Things, Wright says,

Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.

I am most interested in the middle paragraph. I never before knew or had been told that male and female were like heaven and earth. I learned that in Greek Mythology but never extended it to Christianity. But to clarify Wright’s belief’s about heaven and earth, a commenter, Alastair Roberts joined the conversation and cited Wright in an earlier book, Surprised by Hope,

These are Wright’s own words from page 116 of the book in question, within a section titled ‘the marriage of heaven and earth’:

Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth. Nor are they simply different ways of looking at the same thing, as would be implied by some kinds of pantheism. No: they are different, radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And, when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation. [emphasis added]

Does  this make Wright’s complementarianism clear? And do we see the natural parallel between heaven and earth and male and female. I had never seen this outside of a pagan context until very recently. Oddly, just a few weeks ago, I read an essay by Peter Kreeft on gender in heaven. Here he writes with much more detail,

But why is Christ’s maleness essential? Because he is the revelation of the Father, and the Father’s masculinity is essential. This is the second half of our equation.

To understand this second proposition, we must distinguish “male” from “masculine.” Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit.

All pre-modern civilizations knew this. English is almost the only language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns. So it is easy for us who speak English to believe that the ancients merely projected their own biological gender out onto nature in calling heaven masculine and earth feminine, day masculine and night feminine, sun masculine and moon feminine, land masculine and sea feminine. In the Hindu marriage ceremony the bridegroom says to the bride, “I am heaven, you are earth.” The bride replies, “I am earth, you are heaven.” Not only is cosmic sexuality universal, its patterns are suspiciously consistent. Most cultures saw the sun, day, land, light, and sky as male; moon, night, sea, darkness, and earth as female. Is it not incredibly provincial and culturally arrogant for us to assume, without a shred of proof, that this universal and fairly consistent human instinct is mere projection, myth, fantasy, and illusion rather than insight into a cosmic principle that is really there?

Once we look, we find abundant analogical evidence for it from the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy to the top, from the electromagnetic attraction between electrons and protons to the circumincession of divine Persons in the Trinity. Male and female are only the biological version of cosmic masculine and feminine. God is masculine to everything, from angels to prime matter. That is the ultimate reason why priests, who represent God to us, must be male.

I had a lot of trouble reading this. First, only about one quarter of languages use gender, that is sexual gender, to classify nouns. Some languages use animate, inanimate, some use tall and short, some use young and old. Some have no noun classes at all. But definitely the ones that use sex as a basis for classifying nouns are in the minority.

Next, certainly Greek myths indicate that the sky was masculine and earth was feminine. However, earlier Mediterranean religions had a male storm God and a female Sun God. Some countries today still have a female Sun God. But back to European languages, in French le soleil m.and la lune, f., but in German die Sonne, f. and der Mond, m.  There is no gender consistency even in such a small pool.

And no I don’t see males as light, sunny, dry and open, vs. females as wet, dark, and earthy, made for the night. (Oh yeah, I can see where some men might like this comparison. 😉 And on one last note, is the electron male or female? I found that some think she is female and others think he is male. Really it is enough to give you a headache. Somehow, the notion of a binary sexualized universe is being called up to support heterosexuality.

But my universe is made of 2)heaven and hell; 3)land, sea and air; birds, fish, animals; protons, neutrons and electrons; 4) north, south, east, west, 5) five fingers on your hand, 6) six sides to the beehive cell, 7) seven, notes in the scale 8) eight – how many children are in my family, and so on.

If N. T. Wright and Peter Kreeft want a syncretistic I Ching Christianity, then they need to make this clear and the rest of us can wander off and stop scratching our heads. We will just write it off as another off shoot cult of Christianity, and let it go.

One last point, hasn’t “heaven and earth” traditionally be treated as a merism which connects to opposing terms to include everthing in between? “Heaven and earth” refers to the totality of all creation. And male and female refers the totality of all humans, male, female and everything in between.

One of the best passages to read on the use of “heaven and earth” is in The Dance Between God and Humanity: Reading the Bible Today As the People of God, Bruce K. Waltke, pages 166 and following. Waaltke also points out that in Rev. 21, both night and sea will cease to exist. In Peter Kreeft’s terms, this implies the anihilation of the female. These arguments put forward by Kreeft and Wright are deeply denying and alienating of anyone but a straight male. It all needs to be tossed. Read the Hebrew Bible with someone who knows how to read Hebrew. Waltke is a complementarian but I have not typically seen him read too many unwarranted assumptions into a text.

Latin-Speaking Jesus

June 18, 2014

Jesus talked in Latin. At least the synoptic Greek gospels have him doing so rather clearly.

Before we get to that, let’s get to a letter in Latin written long before Jesus, a letter that uses one Roman military phrase that Jesus spoke and understood. Here’s the letter (translated into English by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh around one hundred years ago, with certain Roman-Latin phrases interpolated and put into bold font by me):

On the 15th of April, the day on which Pansa was to arrive at the camp of Hirtius, with the former of whom I was—for I had gone along the road a hundred miles to hasten his arrival-Antony brought out two legions [legiones], the second and the thirty-fifth, and two praetorian cohorts [cohortis praetorias], one his own and the other that of Silanus, and a party of reservists [vocatorum partem]. He confronted us with such a force because he thought that we had only four legions of recruits [legiones tironum]. But in the course of the night, in order to enable us to reach the camp in greater safety, Hirtius had sent us the Martian legion [legionem Martiam]—which I usually command—and two praetorian cohorts [cohortes praetoriae]. As soon as Antony’s horsemen [equites Antoni] came in sight, neither the Martian legion [legio Martia] nor the cavalry [cohortes praetoriae] could be held back. The rest of us were obliged to follow them, as we could not stop them. Antony was keeping his men [copias] under cover at Forum Gallorum, and did not wish it to be known that he had the legions [legiones]. He was allowing none but his cavalry [tantum equitatum] and light-armed men [levem armaturam] to be seen. When Pansa saw that the legion [legionem] was advancing in spite of him, he ordered two legions of recruits [legiones iussit tironum] to follow his lead. As soon as we had got past the narrow ground of marsh and forest, our line [acies] was drawn up, consisting of twelve cohorts [cohortium]. The two legions [legiones] had not yet come up. All on a sudden Antony brought his forces [copias] out of the village on to the field, and without waiting charged. At first the fighting was as keen as it was possible for it to be on both sides: although the right wing [dexterius cornu], on which I was with eight cohorts of the Martian legion [Martiae legionis cohortibus], had at the first brush put Antony’s thirty-fifth legion [legionem] to flight, so that it advanced more than five hundred paces beyond the line from its original ground. Accordingly, when the cavalry attempted to outflank our wing [cornu], I began to retire and to throw my light-armed troops [me coepi et levem armaturam] in the way of the Moorish cavalry [Maurorum equitibus], to prevent their charging my men in the rear. Meanwhile, I became conscious that I was between two bodies of Antony’s troops, and that Antony was himself some way on my rear. I at once galloped towards the legion of recruits [legionem tironum] that was on its way up from camp, with my shield slung behind my back. Antony’s men set off in pursuit of me; while our own menbegan pouring in a volley of pila. It was a stroke of good luck that I got safely out of it, for I was soon recognized by our men. On the Aemilian road itself, where Caesar’s praetorian cohort [cohors Caesaris praetoria] was stationed, the fight was protracted. The left wing [cornu sinisterius], being somewhat weak, consisting of two cohorts of the Martian legion [Martiae legionis duae cohortes] and a praetorian cohort [cohors praetoria], began to give ground, because it was in danger of being outflanked by the cavalry [equitatu], in which Antony is exceedingly strong. When all our lines had retired, I began retiring myself towards the camp on the extreme rear. Antony, regarding himself as having won the victory, thought that he could capture our camp. But when he reached it he lost a large number of men [compluris] without accomplishing anything. The news having reached Hirtius, he met Antony as he was returning to his own camp with twenty veteran cohorts [cohortibus xx veteranis], and destroyed or put to flight his whole force [copiasque], on the same ground as the battle had been fought, namely, at Forum Gallorum. Antony, with his cavalry [equitibus], reached his camp near Mutina at the fourth hour after sunset. Hirtius returned to the camp, from which Pansa had issued, where he had left the two legions [legiones] which had been assaulted by Antony. Thus Antony has lost the greater part of his veteran forces [maiorem suarum copiarum]. This, however, naturally could not be accomplished without some loss in our praetorian cohorts [cohortium praetoriarum] and the Martian legion [legionis Martiae]. Two eagles and sixty colours of Antony’s have been brought in. It is a great victory.
16 April, in camp.

Here is an encyclopedic entry on this letter by one George Edward Jeans, written twenty years earlier:

April 16, 711 A.v.c. (43 B.C.)

This letter gives an account of the battle of Forum Gallorum (a hamlet on the Aemilian road between Bologna and Modena, perhaps the place now called Castelfranco), or, as it is sometimes called, the first battle of Mutina. Victory on the whole declared for the consuls, but the rather indecisive success was more than counterbalanced by the mortal wound received by Pansa, of which he died within a fortnight. The date of the battle is fixed beyond question by this letter to the 15th, though Ovid (Fasti, iv. 625) assigns it to the 14th. On the receipt of the news it was proposed by Servilius to declare the state of siege ended, and to celebrate a public thanksgiving for the victory. On this occasion Cicero delivered his fourteenth and last Philippic, declaring the former part of the proposal premature, but warmly seconding the latter.

The letter is clear and soldier-like, reminding us, says Mr. Forsyth, of the Duke of Wellington’s famous despatch after Waterloo. The author, Servius Sulpicius Galba, was one of the less prominent of Caesar’s murderers, and was now in command of the Martian legion. He was great-grandfather of the Emperor Galba.

Now, here is Jesus talking in Latin, using one of the words written by Servius Sulpicus Galba to Marcus Tullius Cicero (translated into English from the Greek and the Greek transliterated Latin in the early 1920s by Edgar J. Goodspeed):

Then Jesus said to him,
“Put your sword back where it belongs! For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you suppose I cannot appeal to my Father, and he would at once furnish me more than twelve legions [λεγιῶνας, legiones] of angels? But then how are the Scriptures to be fulfilled, which say this must happen?” [Matthew 26:52-54]


And Jesus asked him,
“What is your name?”
He said,
Legion! [Λεγιών, Legio]” For many demons had gone into him.
[Luke 8:30]


He asked him,
“What is your name?”
He said,
“My name is Legion [Λεγιών, Legio], for there are many of us.”
[Mark 5:9]


When they came to Jesus and found the demoniac sitting quietly with his clothes on and in his right mind
— the same man who had been possessed by Legion [Λεγιών, Legio]
they were frightened.
[Mark 5:15]

Now, to be clear, this last verse I’ve quoted — Mark 5:15 — is not Jesus talking in Latin but rather the writer writing in Greekified Latin. What Mark’s readers get is that this is a military term, an imperial Roman name.

If we English readers wanted to get really specific, then we might turn to the Latin dictionary of Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. They write:

a Roman legion. It consisted of 10 cohorts of foot-soldiers and 300 cavalry, making together between 4200 and 6000 men. As a general rule, the legion was composed of Roman citizens; it was only on the most pressing occasions that slaves were taken into it. The standard was a silver eagle. The legions were usually designated by numerals, according to the order in which they were levied.

Now, if we go back and read the gospels in Greek, we see that there is also Latin. The Roman language is being played with for readers in the empire. The various texts, and the contexts, sharply and rather violently separate who Jesus is as a Jew from the goyim conquerers in Jerusalem and in the territory of pork eating un-clean-spirit-inhabited men, the Roman territory of the Gadarenes (χώρα τῶν Γαδαρηνῶν, chō̇ra tō̇n Gadarēnō̇n).

update: It might be useful to note other BLT posts related to Jesuses using various languages: here, here, and here.