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Book Recommendation: The Trace of God by Joseph Hinman

June 1, 2014

I don’t remember what year it was or exactly how old I was when it happened.  The kids were young: that much I remember, so I must have been in my mid-40s.  It was summer– I remember that, too.  

I was standing in our tiny back yard behind the kitchen door, under a sky filled with stars. I think it was about 10 or 11 pm.  I was alone. For some reason more stars were showing than usual; maybe some of the street lights were out.  It was very quiet.
I looked up into the stars and thought of God.

And then. . . 

Something indescribable fell away from my ordinary sense of things.  Perhaps it was the careful, reasoned categories I was accustomed to use to frame my thoughts.  I had a sensation of being lifted up and up, though I also knew I was still standing solidly in the night-sweet grass.  Over the horizon the moon swept up; it was a gibbous moon, about two-thirds full.  And I saw.

Saw that all things were part of a serene and purposeful whole.  Saw that I myself was a valued and necessary part of that whole, as were the trees, the grass, the stars, the moon, and the minuscule flying creatures that brushed my face.  Felt a tender, loving purpose guiding it all towards some unknowable but beautiful end.  

“All is well. All is one.  am here.”

It wasn’t a message spoken in words, but an indescribable knowing that was frankly impossible to doubt or question.  I didn’t question it.  I breathed quickly, flutteringly– completely astonished yet completely at ease, completely accepted and accepting.

Slowly, slowly the feeling faded, drained away.  I was left there in the dark grass again, myself again, and I turned and drifted back through the door and into bed and sleep.

But I have never forgotten, and I have never been the same.  The memory of joy– joy present in part now and expectant of fullness in time to come, has ever since held in peace the foundations of my soul. 


“There is no proof of your god.”

Several years before the experience I have shared above, I had a crisis of faith.  In my early 40s I encountered on the Internet people who knew a lot more about science than I did and who insisted that if something was real, science would support that it was real.  I found I didn’t know how to answer them.  “There is no proof,” the atheists said, and I knew they were right.  Anything that seemed to me to be a good enough reason to believe, was never going to be enough for scientific rationalism.  So what if they were right, and I was wrong?  Supposing I was only deluding myself about the existence of God?

I remember my frustration, how I cried to the heavens, “God, couldn’t you just give one incontrovertible proof? Something so we could be sure?”

But there was no answer.  God, it seemed– if he existed– felt no need to answer such a prayer.  Or maybe he couldn’t, because he wasn’t really there. . .

For months I struggled, suspended between faith and doubt.  And then an online friend directed me to the Doxa website.  “Doxa” means “glory,” and the website author, scholar/theologian Joe Hinman (who calls himself “Metacrock” online) showed me that the real problem was that I was letting the skeptics determine the rules of engagement, playing the rationalists’ game on their own playing field.

They said my God was a big imaginary friend in the sky.  They made it sound so silly. But Doxa helped me see that I didn’t– and needn’t– believe in that little straw-man deity anyway.

The scientific rationalists said I needed to question all my assumptions.  But I began to understand that they were leaving most of their own assumptions unquestioned.  Could their assertion that everything that is real can be scientifically verified, itself be scientifically verified?

If I must doubt my faith, couldn’t I also doubt their skepticism?

“Why should  I mistrust my own experiences of God’s presence?” Joe Hinman taught me to ask. After all, we don’t mistrust other things we experience.  We don’t doubt that the chair we’re sitting in will hold us, unless we have some good reason to think something has gone wrong with our senses.  We don’t have to accept the self-proclaimed expert in science as an expert in metaphysics.  Nor need we accept the standard of “absolute proof” in terms of scientific categories that may be inadequate for the phenomenon in the first place.  We can have good, reasonable reasons — what Hinman calls a “rational warrant” to believe.  His newer website, The Religious A Priori, explores belief and rational warrant from a number of different angles.

And now Joe Hinman has encapsulated some of his best thinking into a new book: The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief.

The Trace of God is a scholarly work, but written in a style that a layperson can follow.  Its main point is that experiences like the one I describe above (called “religious experiences” or “peak experiences”*) do constitute good evidence, even from a scientific point of view, of the existence of God.

God can’t be absolutely proven, Hinman says, because God is “not just another thing in the universe.” God is the source and foundation of everything material and empirical; God is not material himself, nor is the sense of God conveyed in human empirical senses such as sight or hearing.  Instead we must look for the “co-determinate”:

The co-determinate is like. . . a fingerprint.  The trace is the sign that always accompanies the thing itself.  In other words, you can’t see the invisible man, but you can see his footprints, and wherever he is in the snow his footprints will always follow.  We cannot directly observe God, but we can find the “trace,” the co-determinate, the effect of God in the world. [p. 67]

Religious experience, and especially “peak” experience, is that footprint in the snow.  Hinman spends several chapters detailing the methodology and findings of the many careful scientific/sociological studies that have measured and quantified religious experience.  He details the real, empirical effects of these studies on those who experience them, in terms of their “ultimate, transformative effects”:

The effects of these experiences are dramatic, positive and long-term. . . There is data to suggest that religious experience has enabled addicts to get off of heroin, alcoholics to stop drinking and even helps people quit smoking. . . [there is] a clear feeling of meaning in life. Many speak of losing their fear of death. [p. 85]

Hinman goes on (pp. 88-89) to highlight the findings of several studies showing that those who have peak experiences:

  • Are less likely to value material possessions and money or status
  • Give greater value to work for social change, solving social problems, helping the needy
  • Are reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident
  • Are less authoritarian and dogmatic**
  • Exhibit integration, allocentrism
  • Exhibit psychological maturity
  • Show self-acceptance, self-worth
  • Exhibit autonomy, authenticity
  • Experience increased love and compassion

Hinman then spends several more chapters exploring the views of dissenting thinkers and alternate explanations for these transformative effects, and explaining why authentic experience of the divine is the explanation that most reasonably fits the phenomena.  For instance, the fact that children often have spontaneous peak experiences precludes the idea that this is a specialized state of mind caused by the self-discipline of meditation.

Finally, at the end of the book he addresses how his understanding of religious and peak experience (which can and does occur in all religious traditions and even happens at times to the non-religious) fits into a Christian viewpoint.  Hinman is himself an orthodox Christian, though he does not identify with the evangelical tradition.

I found the book enlightening and uplifting, and was also intrigued to find that the incident in my backyard under the stars was a quintessential “peak experience.”  It certainly has had transformative effects on my life! I am less fearful of the future, more anchored and confident, and better able to navigate the trials of life (not that I never doubt or have disappointments in my faith, but that my memories of that time are something I can always fall back on).

As Hinman puts it:

[R]eligious experience enables us to know who we are and where we are going, fills us with purpose and gives us the sense that our lives are on track. . . It also enables us to face life’s trammels and bitter experiences.  The upshot of the argument is that RE [religious experience] works for navigation in the world. . . it helps us live and make choices and keep going in a complex world. . . . [ p. 100]

I was honored to be one of those who got to preview this exciting book (which is now available for purchase).  I hope many others will enjoy it too


*Note: Hinman uses the term “religious experience” to describe a variety of experiences on a sliding scale from the frequently felt sensation of a presence in prayer or worship, to the more rare, apex-type experience (what happened to me in my backyard is an example). This latter type he calls “peak experience” after Abraham Maslow’s “M-scale” studies; see for instance p. 86.

**Note: The Trace of God is not concerned with cultic, authoritarian or spiritually abusive forms of religious involvement; indeed, my only real criticism of the book is that I think Hinman should have spent a little more time on the existence of this type of religious practice and its nearly opposite, negative effects, in order to differentiate this from normative religious experience.  However, he does briefly mention (as I myself have experienced) that often it is genuine religious experience that helps people endure and move out of authoritarian religious control.


The Last Adam’s Nose

May 19, 2014

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
Thine is the Friend of all Mankind;
Mine speaks in parables to the blind.
Thine loves the same world that mine hates;
Thy heaven doors are my hell gates.
Socrates taught what Meletus
Loath’d as a nation’s bitterest curse,
And Caiaphas was in his own mind
A benefactor to mankind.
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
— William Blake, from “The Everlasting Gospel”

I was thinking to do another Odd Gospel Greek post, since it’s only in John 5:21 and in John 6:63 where there’s this Hellene phrase ζῳοποιέω /Zoe – Poie / which means something like Life Creator, or Giver of Life, if it were a Proper Noun. Without too much of a stretch, Greek readers could hear a hearkening back to the poetry of Genesis. Without too much of a stretch, it could be read as Jesus speaking Greek (made into English) this way:

ὥσπερ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐγείρει τοὺς νεκροὺς καὶ ζῳοποιεῖ,
οὕτως καὶ ὁ υἱὸς οὓς θέλει ζῳοποιεῖ.

(So as, in fact, Abba raises the corpse even as Eve’s Poetry,
so also the Child to whom he wishes makes Eve’s Poetry.)


τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζωοποιοῦν, ἡ σὰρξ οὐκ ὠφελεῖ οὐδέν·
τὰ ῥήματα ἃ ἐγὼ λελάληκα ὑμῖν πνεῦμά ἐστιν καὶ ζωή ἐστιν.

(The Spirit is the Poetry of Eve. The Flesh does not at all profit.
The words that I speak to you all, they are Spirit, and they are Eve.)

Some may ask, Why does the English translator have to over specify? Yes, we all get the fact that the Septuagint translator made the Hebrew into Hellene this way:

καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή,  
ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.

(And Mortal called the name of his wife Life,
because she was the mother of all living.)

To be very clear, this is odd Greek perhaps. In the Odd Gospel Greek of John, it’s not the usual. None of the synoptic gospel writers use the phrase ζῳοποιέω /Zoe – Poie / which means something like Life Creator, or Giver of Life, if it were a Proper Noun.  There’s no gesturing there that this refers to Eve, to a Birth woman, to the first Mother, to that Mother of All Living.

To be sure, the phrase is used in interesting ways in ancient Greek literature before it goes into the Septuagint. That’s another story.

Let’s fast forward to one way Paul the writer of much in the New Testament used it, after all that ancient Greek literature and the Greek translation of the Creation story with Eve.

Paul, for instance, writes to his Greek readers in Korinth to say this:

οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται
Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν· 

ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν.

He’s sort of riffing off of the Greek translation called Genesis, adding a few words here and there. Go here to see the changes.

The big deal here is that Adam is a human (the first ἄνθρωπος), a living soul. The last Adam is an Eve Poet, or Life Creator. 

Here’s a translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew:

So it is written [in the Greek Genesis]:
The first human the First Mortal became a Soul [like Eve] Living;
the Last Mortal became a Spirit of [Immortal Life Giving], of Poet Eve. 

Well, that’s too much this time, isn’t it? It’s absolutely over specified. Paul couldn’t possibly have been thinking of or intending Eve. Nor would his Corinthian readers. So why be so ridiculous with the over reach?

It’s like paying attention to the nose of Jesus. Yes, it’s probably even that offensive. Why mark a body as a particular race? Why stereotype? Why be a racist here, an anti-Semite like Poet Blake? Jesus was a human. Why over specify?

Why not talk about the Last Mortal, the Last Adam, in terms of his nose so specific? So stereotyped? So raced and so marked?

These are the sorts of questions, of course, that aren’t usually asked when translators over specify ἄνθρωπος , anthropos, or human, or Mortal, as a male human, as a man, as a person with a particular body part between his legs. Yes, that’s it. Who cares if it’s over reaching?

(Related: Today, at Richard Beck’s wonderful blog Experimental Theology, there’s this wonderful post of his on Open Theology and how it can make a bit of sense if seen in terms of human relationality. Does he over reach in specifying how Jesus was a man, a limited male? One of his commenters thinks so. What do you think? Is he being sexist? He does give an answer for himself.)


Watching Suor Cristina Dance

May 14, 2014

I’ve read that in the early and medieval church, describing a woman as a virgin wasn’t so much about the state of her hymen as her autonomous personhood. Especially in a patriarchy, for a woman to be other-than-a-wife set her outside the patriarchal family structure. It meant she was not under a man’s name, authority, roof: she had a separate independence. She was not defined by her relationship to men. She owned herself.

Watching Suor Cristina dance reminded me of this.

In case you missed it, Suor (Sister) Cristina is an Italian Catholic nun who appeared as a contestant on the Italian version of “The Voice” to the complete astonishment of the judges and the utter delight of the audience.

Read the rest and watch the videos over at Gaudete Theology.

Chavah, Zoë, Eve, Life

May 8, 2014

I have written so often of Adam and Ish, claiming a portion of these domains for women. So when I write of Eve, I will not exclude men. Men are Life too, investing in the next generation, caring and nurturing. I know it! Rashi knew it, and when the Hebrew of Gen. 3:16 says,

הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ

I will increase, yes increase your sorrow

Rashi wrote,

This refers to the pain of child rearing.

Men and women, both, rear children, invest, divest, laugh and weep over their children. So for me, Adam and Eve are the prototypical parents, and metaphorically between the two of them, represent mortality and life, earth and sky, fate and hope, all those pushes and pulls of life. But mortality and life are not meted out one for men and the other for women, not at all! Women die and men give life. So now back to the story, Gen. 3:20-24,

20 καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή,
ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.
21 Καὶ ἐποίησεν κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῷ Αδαμ καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ χιτῶνας δερματίνους
καὶ ἐνέδυσεν αὐτούς. –
22 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Ἰδοὺ Αδαμ γέγονεν ὡς εἷς ἐξ ἡμῶν τοῦ γινώσκειν καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν,
καὶ νῦν μήποτε ἐκτείνῃ τὴν χεῖρα καὶ λάβῃ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς
καὶ φάγῃ καὶ ζήσεται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
23 καὶ ἐξαπέστειλεν αὐτὸν κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς ἐργάζεσθαι τὴν γῆν,
ἐξ ἧς ἐλήμφθη.
24 καὶ ἐξέβαλεν τὸν Αδαμ
καὶ κατῴκισεν αὐτὸν ἀπέναντι τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς
καὶ ἔταξεν τὰ χερουβιμ
καὶ τὴν φλογίνην ῥομφαίαν τὴν στρεφομένην
φυλάσσειν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς.

And Mortal called the name of his wife Life,
because she was the mother of all living.
21 And the Lord God made for Mortal and his partner garments of skin [of dead animals],
and clothed them.
22 And God said, Behold, Mortal is become as one of us [Immortal], to know good and evil,
and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of Life
and eat, and [so] he shall live forever– [like us Immortals]
23 So the Lord God sent Mortal forth out of the garden of Delight to cultivate the [decaying and mortal] earth
out of which he was taken.
24 And God cast out Mortal out and caused him to dwell outside the garden of Delight,
and stationed the cherubs
and the fiery sword that turns about to guard the way of the tree of Life [from Mortal and Life.]

And here is the beginning of chapter 4,

Αδαμ δὲ ἔγνω Ευαν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ συλλαβοῦσα ἔτεκεν τὸν Καιν
καὶ εἶπεν Ἐκτησάμην ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ.

And Adam [Mortal] knew Eve [Life] his woman
and she brought together and gave birth to Cain
and she said, “I have created a [another] Mortal with [the help of] God [the Immortal.]

In fact, Adam, the mortal, took Life with him, out of the garden, and Mortal and Life made another Life together with the help of the Immortal.

DeYoung, CBMW and women: in heaven as on earth

May 6, 2014

I will publicly eat my words, with a little horse radish to disguise the taste. I misjudged Kevin DeYoung rather seriously. I had at first suggested that since he was using this title – The Beauty of Differences – on Heaven and on Earth for the April 8, 2014 CBMW Conference, he would preach on the eternal subordination of women. But then, after reading somebody’s rough notes on his speech, I assumed that he had not referred to the eternal subordination of women  and he was, in my view, absolved. Oh, silly me! What a mistake.

DeYoung’s talk is now online, and he does indeed believe that women are designed to have an “eager posture” to be “helpers” and “willing to be led” by men for eternity. What does it mean to have an “eager posture” towards men for eternity? What needs are men going to have for eternity and how burdensome could this become? Actually DeYoung proved himself to be something of a poet as he tied up his talk with these words,

The river of divine design is at our backs
and the wind of the spirit is in our sails
there is something now
and there will be something even in heaven
just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
will continue to be three distinct persons,
so man and woman will be distinct persons
in the world to come
these differences should not be eradicated but celebrated
not confused but clarified,
not shamefully embarrassed but happily embraced.
DeYoung makes eternal helpership, being always led by a man and never leading, also never being free of being led by a man – that is the real catch – he makes this sound heavenly. We are all of us getting older. I can feel myself being measured for the alert, upright ears, the sleek satin costume and the soft furry tail already. Can an “eager posture” be maintained for eternity? Some time or other we will be ushered into heaven and into the divine and eternal leadership of men.
What are they thinking?? I am not going to argue against this and point out its fallibility or anything else. I just want to demonstrate that yes, CBMW is teaching this – minus the bunny costume, I will honestly point out.

The Shack: black Mack, Oprah God?

May 4, 2014

This post is my review of the film The Shack, the movie version of the book.

In case you hadn’t read the popular summary of the book, on wikipedia, it begins just like this today:

The Shack is a Christian novel by Canadian author William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk, published in 2007.

For what it’s worth, here’s my review of that initially self-published rather-private now-best-selling-and-very-overly-public-and-much-reviewed work of fiction (after trying to listen to the audiobook version on a long road trip with my family and after reading it alone in print):

the story is wonderful, but the storytelling not so much.

Now, let me review the reviews. The worst is by a Southern Baptist minister and seminary president who is a board member of Focus on the Family and also a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood who gets tripped up on the theology and gets all freaked out that people are reading and re-conceiving (of) God. Al Mohler, for instance, goes on and on and on a whole lot more, and yet he says this as with some fear and trembling:

While the literary device of an unconventional “trinity” of divine persons is itself sub-biblical and dangerous, the theological explanations are worse.

Before we talk about what the Mohler review misses, let’s look at what other much better book reviews get.

Read in the United States and in Canada, where men have privilege over women and where white persons have privilege over persons of color, there is much to get to in The Shack reviews.

And so Elizabeth Lemmons, a religion professor who seems more sensitive to matters of race than Mr. Mohler, and who shows much more sensitivity to matters of gender generally and of women and of “queer” individuals particularly, goes about reviewing this way:

Using feminist scholarship, critical whiteness theory, and an analysis of Evangelicalism’s troubled history of race, I will show that the structures of whiteness are fundamental for American Evangelicalism’s culture and theology. Born in Canada, William P. Young grew up in a missionary family in New Guinea. Young’s inspiration for The Shack came from his own spiritual struggle, which resulted in part from encountering sexual abuse he underwent as a child, as well as an extramarital affair with his wife’s best friend. Spiritually working through these struggles in his personal life inspired him to write a work of fiction for his family and friends that would explain his newfound understanding of Christianity (Bethune 2008).

It’s a review well worth reading even if I give away the ending here:

The divine multiculturalism in The Shack served only to benefit the white reader, for it is void of any real comment on inequality. Ultimately God proves his transcendence through his white [cisgender] masculinity, and Young reinforces the very stereotypes he proclaims to challenge.

To be clear, Lemmons makes only a passing reference to the possible slighting of the LBGT readers, and I’ve added in the cisgender privilege in the quotation of her here, which suggests Young is proclaiming to challenge the notion of a straight, male, white patriarchal god while, in The End, he only solidifies this construct of God.

The best blogged review of The Shack is by h00die_R. My full disclosure is that we are friends in real life and have been online friends for a long, long time. That said, his review of the novel is the best review you can read at any blog. The balance is evident when you also read his positive reviews of The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger and of The Shack: Reflections For Every Day Of The Year by Wm. Paul Young (here and here).

The blogged review of the novel itself is a series of reviews. I would encourage you to read each blogpost:

Sex In the Trinity: Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, part 1/6, part 2/6, part 3/6, part 4/6, part 5/6, and part 6/6.

What happens when a white male author uses the black Mammy stereotype, the anti-Semitic Jew stereotype, the Orientalist’s Asian stereotype, as figures for the one God in the Christian Trinity? What happens when an angel is figured as a hot Latina who evokes “delicious tingles everywhere” in the body of the white male protagonist (and presumably in the readers of this white male writer’s book)? What happens when God the Father appears in blackface or as a dragqueen? What happens to all of us reading when this:

William P. Young’s The Shack reveals liberal Protestant Christianity’s blindspot to racist histories….

Fortunately, h00die_R gets us asking and talking (and he himself engages in the conversation).

Now, the very best review of The Shack is written by someone who is very like Paul Young. Antje M. Rauwerda is not white, she’s not male, who knows if she’s religious or a Christian, and yet she is very like Young. The two are “third culture kids” (TCKs). A TCK “is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.”

Rauwerda is a scholar who researches and teaches literature and literary criticism. When we read her CV, her professional work interests, then we get how she attends to multiculturalism, to post-colonialism, to matters of women and to matters of whiteness in what persons write and read. Because of her being a TCK, she also attends to matters of some individual’s divorce from a first culture (i.e., that of their parents and of their extended family) and from a second set of cultures (i.e., that of their friends and neighbors they grow up among), such that a third culture is experienced (where there is privilege and guilt feelings due to the privilege and where there are feelings of homelessness and abandonment very very often).

Rauwerda’s profound and most sensitive review of The Shack can be found in her book The Writer and the Overseas Childhood: The Third Culture Literature of Kingsolver, McEwan and Others.  There, she shows how Young’s novel belongs in the largely-ignored genre of fiction written by other TCKs like Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Yann Martel, Pearl S. Buck, and Ted Dekker.

Young, Buck, and Dekker are peculiar kinds of TCKs, since they are missionary kids (MKs). Thus, says Rauwerda, their fiction tends to exhibit certain tropes and thematic concerns of writers whose parents were Christian missionaries. Young, for example, gets at the themes of childhood dislocation or abandonment and of parental shame. Here’s a longer excerpt:

The issue of familial relationships is huge. The patriarchy is huge. And reflecting on Paul Young, the writer, the issue of his being Canadian, and a white male, are things he must be unsure of because of his peculiar relationship with his own father and his own fatherland and his own father’s whiteness. These are TCK matters. H00die_R is right to say, “Whether Young knows it or not, he is depending heavily upon the mythology of ‘Mammy’ which was popular in the Antebellum South. Mammy was ‘a well-taken-care-of house servant whose activities in the house of her owners’ who personified the possibility of Victorian womanhood for heathen black women.” And yet, what Young knows is this:

He’s a third culture kid, a missionary kid, who finds himself a grown-up in a culture he didn’t grow up in, his dad’s and his mom’s culture, majority white Canada. Caught in an adult crisis of his own making (caught in adultery with his own wife’s own best friend), Young is abandoned by his own white church and his own (white father) God. The first person who comes to him in a different representation of God, in mercy, is a black woman.

Wayne Jacobsen, who worked with Young to write The Shack, explains who this person is in real life (and she’s not a stereotype):

There’s more to hear about the story of Young himself in his own words, when he, for instance, was first aware of his own whiteness and when he was first abandoned and when he had to bridge two cultures, neither of which he felt he could claim as his own. This takes him back to sex (sins and abuse) that as a child Young himself perpetrated. The lines between parent and child, between faithful spouse and unfaithful, between cultures, between abuser and abused, sinner and forgiver, all blur for this TCK, MK, writer:

This privileged “Canadian” “Christian” “white” “male” writes his story, sexist, racist, abusive, abandoning, abandoned, as The Shack. Or is that really the best way to read him and his characters? What of his Dani family? What of how they regard color and human flesh and sexuality and God-as-Trinity?

Now, many have enjoyed the book The Shack and have found it compelling. Some have found it heretical. Some have exposed its whiteness and maleness and cisgenderness and its various privilege therein. Many of us have not especially liked it for how poorly written it is as “literature” (about which we might go on and on). Few of us have considered the human story of the author, struggling to communicate with his family, the struggles and sins of his family.

Then comes the news that a film version is being made. John Franco and Forest Whitaker are the screenplay writers. Idris Elba is being cast as the protagonist (not white Mack as Young identified him in his book as from a Midwestern farm and as having Irish-American roots). Oprah is going to play a role, we hear.

Now that changes everything, doesn’t it? If white, male, cisgender Mack of The Shack is not a TCK or an MK (though the book writer is), then how will things play if Mack is black? Will Oprah fall into a stereotypical Mammy role, Papa as God, who along the way joins a cast of colorful trinitarian characters all the constructs of anti-Semitic-ism and Orientalism and Homophobia and such? Will Franco and Whitaker write like men who were sexually abused and abusive boys raised largely by cannibals whose whole societal relations depended on the othering of human flesh, to sex and to eat? Can they acknowledge the abuses of MK boarding schools, the abnormality of being an adult in one’s father’s land? Mustn’t the film, shown in North America deal with the chronic issues of white privilege, racial tensions, sexual dominances? What are the biblebelters, especially southern baptist seminary presidents, going to do with its theology? Is trinity to be a concern?




Butler Poster

I almost wrote this post as “Whose The Shack? Mine, Yours, Theirs?,” as one in a series of posts on whether or not changes to and /or variations in a work or an idea cause you, and me, and them, to abandon it once the difference is attended to.

I confess I myself am a TCK, an MK. I empathize and sympathize with those who can’t easily or simply express all of the complications of such a peculiar upbringing. I admire writers, autobiographers, who struggle with such an odd thing. I like how Pearl S. Buck (aka 賽珍珠, Sài Zhēnzhū) has described herself as “mentally bifocal.” I get how Barack aka “Barry” Obama finds himself in Chicago, after living on Waikiki Beach, telling “stories of Toot or Lolo or [his] mother and father, of flying kites in Djakarta or going to school dances at Punahou.” I see how Madeleine Albright (née Marie Jana Korbelová) had as a “goal in writing this book” (i.e., one of her autobiographies) “to learn more” about others. There’s lots to glean here.

As I watch The Shack written by Whitaker, I will watch as one who is guilty, or at least often feels that way, over inherited privileges. I’ll view, and review, with bias. I’ll see the film as one who grew up in cultures not really my first (among peoples of Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia) and traveled to places of the culture of my parents which is not really my second culture (in Arkansas, Hawaii, Texas, and Virginia), residing at a total of thirty-three different addresses on the planet by the time I was thirty-three years of age. I read a whole lot of books and watch lots of movies, written by all kinds of writers, comparing them with one another in highly critical ways. My review of The Shack by Young is much colored this way.



Whose History? Catholics, Protestants, and waterboarding as baptism

May 3, 2014

In Kurk’s discussion of Sarah Palin’s equation of baptism with water torture, he pointed out that there were medieval precedents in ecclesial discourse for such juxtapositions and even equivalences. I commented,

most of the examples you cite that conflate or juxtapose the symbolism of baptism with water-based torture are from the medieval era. Yet, my impression from various reading and conversation is that the ecclesial self-understandings of most Reformation or post-Reformation era churches, and their members, don’t own those actions: they ascribe them to the bad old corrupt Roman church which had abandoned the faith of the apostles. In many cases, the ecclesial narrative of these communities weaves their history smoothly from the apostolic or subapostolic or patristic generation directly to the Reformation generation.

In his responding comment, he confirmed my general impression of these narratives, but associated them with scapegoating and hypocrisy, which surprised me a bit, because it’s not quite to the point I was making about ecclesial identity. So let me elaborate on that.

(Content note: torture, killing, ethnic cleansing)

It is as true of communities as it is of persons, that if you do not own up to your past failures, then you will be likely to repeat them. This is because you cannot learn from your failures if you do not acknowledge them and really own them as something that you did.

The Roman Catholic church cannot escape from the historical evidence that it has engaged in horrific practices that perpetrated evil, and that it did so in the name of God.

That is not an easy thing to think about. We don’t like to think about it. We don’t dwell on it. We believe that we have learned better now; that we would not, today, perpetrate a crusade or a pogrom or an inquisition. That we would not, today, torture accused heretics in order to force them to confess or coerce them to conversion. That we would not, today, burn people alive and rationalize that we were doing so in order to save their souls from eternal hellfire. That we would not, today, expel a minority population from a nation unless they converted; and even after they converted, treat them and their descendents as second class civil and ecclesiastical citizens. That we would not, today, kill people because they didn’t believe what we believe about God.

There is no escaping that the Roman Catholic church has done all those things in the past, and that the Roman Catholic church today exists in continuity with the church that did those things: it is the same historical institution. All these things are part of our story, our history. They are things that we now confess as sins and ask forgiveness for, but we cannot pretend that they didn’t happen, and that we didn’t do them.

This forces us to come to grips with the reality that good Christians, good Catholics, people who are doing their best to be good Christians and good Catholics, can be so utterly misled as to commit such evil acts in the mistaken belief that these acts are pleasing to the God of Jesus Christ. It means that we have access to an awareness of how profoundly we can be misled in our discernment of good and evil. And, perhaps, it gives us a particular horror of the identification of water torture intended to coerce confession with water baptism: because we know this is not mere rhetoric. We know, it is part of our history, our ecclesial self-understanding, that we have done such things, and that they are profoundly wrong.

It is not popularly well known that a Catholic reformation movement had already begun and had made some progress by the time the Protestant Reformation was undersay. Some historians argue that the reason the Protestant Reformation did not take hold in still-Catholic Spain is that some of the worst excesses of the Catholic church had occurred in Spain (think “the Spanish Inquisition”), and had already provoked a reforming movement, which had already begun to curb and correct the worst excesses. The Catholic ecclesial self-understanding includes a chapter in which we did these things, which were wrong; we realized they were wrong; and we stopped doing them.

The Protestant ecclesial self-understanding, because it is woven from the apostolic, subapostolic, or patristic era directly to the Reformation era, omits that chapter. Protestants define the Reformation church in ecclesial continuity with the pure, good church of those earlier times. Such a history defines the ecclesial identity so as to exclude the crusades, pogroms, and inquisitions. Protestants don’t own those things, and so have not had to come to terms with them in the same way that Catholics have.

I see exactly the same dynamic at work in the less morally fraught domain of science and religion. Protestants don’t own the Galileo affair. Catholics do, and it embarrasses the hell out of us. The Roman Catholic church clearly, clearly ended up on the wrong side of history when it rejected Copernican cosmology as inconsistent with the Bible and therefore to be condemned. It took us 400 years to make a formal, institutional apology for that error, and it makes us very, very cautious about rejecting science on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Bible or with any other church teaching. We have learned our lesson. Protestants can indulge in a bit of smug self-righteousness over not having made that mistake; but because they didn’t make the mistake, they didn’t learn the lesson, either. The mistake that Catholics made 400 years ago with heliocentric astronomy is being made today by many Protestant ecclesial communities with respect to evolution and cosmology.

I do not claim that the Roman Catholic church has been perfectly reformed as a result of this experience, nor that it no longer perpetrates acts which are evil in the mistaken belief that these acts are pleasing to God. But we know that we can, because we know that we have.

Greek “Baptism” in Plato and the Old Testament

April 30, 2014

The English word baptism comes from early English Bible translators attempting to carry over the sounds of a Greek word using the English alphabet. Here is an example:


Or perhaps the English Bible translators were just copying from the Latin Bible translators. It is not always clear how to translate Greek into Latin, after all. And in matters of the church, one might do well not to change the letters too much. Here is the Vulgate version of the passage given in English above:


There are just four Old Testament occurrences of the Greek word getting transliterated baptism in the New Testament. Before we even get to them, however, let’s look at the two occurrences of this same Greek word in Plato’s dialogues.

Here’s from The Symposium (176b) translated respectively by Benjamin Jowett (1871) and by Harold N. Fowler (1925):

I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in drink [βεβαπτισμένων].

On this Aristophanes observed: “Now that, Pausanias, is a good suggestion of yours, that we make a point of consulting our comfort in our cups: for I myself am one of those who got such a soaking [βεβαπτισμένων] yesterday.”

And here’s from The Euthydemus (277c-d) translated respectively by Benjamin Jowett (1914) and by W. R. M. Lamb (1967):

Euthydemus was proceeding to give the youth a third fall; but I new that he was in deep water [βαπτιζόμενον], and therefore, as I wanted to give him a respite lest he should be disheartened, I said to him consolingly

Euthydemus was proceeding to press the youth for the third fall, when I, perceiving the lad was going under [βαπτιζόμενον], and wishing to give him some breathing-space lest he should shame us by losing heart, encouraged him…

Now, here’s the Greek Old Testament. This is from 4 Kings 5:14, Sirach 34:25, Isaiah 21:4, and Judith 12:7. The translations are from Lancelot Brenton (1800s).  As I did above, I’ll include the Greek. Also, I’ll include the Latin the Vulgate uses. And I’ll also include the English for the Greek that the New English Septuagint Translation translators use for the four passages, respectively translated by Paul D. McLean, Benjamin G. Wright, Moisés Silva, and Cameron Boyd-Taylor (2007).

So Naiman went down and dipped himself [ἐβαπτίσατο] [lavit] [immersed himself ] seven times in Jordan according to the word of Elisaie: and his flesh returned to him as the flesh of a little child and he was cleansed.

If a man washes [βαπτιζόμενος] [baptizatur] [bathes] after touching a dead body, and touches it again, what has he gained by his washing?

My heart wanders and transgression overwhelms [βαπτίζει] [stupefecerunt] [overwhelms] me; my soul is occupied with fear.

So Holofernes commanded his guards not to hinder her. And she remained in the camp for three days, and went out each night to the valley of Bethulia, and bathed [ἐβαπτίζετο] [baptizabat] [bathed] at the spring in the camp.

It would be strange to use baptize to translate Plato’s Greek. It would be strange to say that Naiman or Judith or Isaiah’s transgression or a man touching a corpse got “baptized.” But for the ecclesiastical stakes, there’s baptism.



Sarah Palin’s waters of biblical immersion

April 29, 2014

“Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists,” exclaimed Sarah Palin to rounds of applause this weekend.

You know this already, since there’s already been over reporting of this very statement in the news, as if it’s something new, as though it’s a surprise. But these are the waters of biblical immersion, the culture of Sarah Palin.

In her book, Going Rogue: An American Life, she describes her own baptism and those who influenced her along the way (i.e., her mother, whose best friend from Texas got the family going to church; Pascal; Sunday School & youth group; a pastor; and the Scriptures):

The website explains that she was 12 years old. And she herself describes the immersion and her new habit of reading and testing the Scriptures, which immediately followed:

Early on, she came to appreciate what was in her world “biblical” and “literary”:

Somewhere along the way, from her being a young person to her being baptised to her statement comparing waterboarding by her government with water immersion by her church, there was a legacy. In other words, Sarah Palin seeks to appeal to a culture of people that she seems rather immersed in. And this culture has a history.

Historian Charles W. Connell, in his essay “From Spiritual Necessity To Instrument Of Torture: Water In The Middle Ages,” gives more than a glimpse into the connections between water torture and water baptism. (The report is in the book The Nature and Function of Water, Baths, Bathing and Hygiene from Antiquity through the Renaissance, edited by Historian Cynthia Kosso with Medievalist Anne Scott). Here is a history that continues as the present and the future of Sarah Palin:

A decade ago, during the very public discussions and disputations about whether waterboarding is torture, the history of water torture was rehearsed rather thoroughly. There were not, if I recall correctly, many comparisons of waterboarding with baptism of the sort that Sarah Palin has made a few days ago.

And yet such a history exists. Historian Stephen F. Eisenman, in his essay “Water-boarding — A Torture both Intimate and Sacred,” makes the comparisons. (This is in the book Speaking about Torture, edited by English and Comparative Literature scholars, Elizabeth Weber and Julie A. Carlson). Here’s a clip from the Eisenman essay:


And the connection of the past with the present is made:

The comfortable cultural waters that Sarah Palin is immersed in would not see waterboarding as torture. It, rather, is akin to water baptism, which would be, by the same culture, biblical.

Hers is a culture where women are equal to men, when it comes to being tough, to owning firearms and using them. Sarah Palin is even tough enough to call herself a “feminist,” noting in her book that she must reject “the radical mantras of that early feminist era, but reasoned arguments for equal opportunity definitely resonated with me.” (This she does, much to the chagrin of blogger, Jessica Valenti, who is not part of Sarah Palin’s culture.)

And this culture with its history and Sarah Palin with her reading, and her reading of the Scripture, makes me wonder how she reads the seemingly unequal opportunities between men and women when it comes to the water ordeal mentioned in Numbers 5. This particular passage requires a culture to interpret it rightly. Especially when the Hebrew Bible is translated, say into Greek, it may involve wordplay that seems like an insider’s interpretation. Could this really be a feminist passage?

For Sarah Palin, these waters do seem to run together.








Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments. What in hell scares people about talking about America’s foundation of faith? It is that world view that involves some people being afraid of being able to discuss our foundation, being able to discuss God in the public square, that’s the only thing I can attribute it to.

Sarah Palin

Hebraic Hellenisms and Human Epistemological Places

April 24, 2014

Suzanne is making some pretty important observations about our human classifications for humans. She has noted, for example, specific places where the Hebrew Bible writer(s) won’t necessarily keep separate the (1) male humans from the (2) not male, or female, humans. The writer(s) will have the 2 together as variants or types or kinds of just 1 humankind.

She also shows that, when switching to Hellene, translators of that same Bible do the same thing. In other words, Hellene, or Greek if you will, becomes a variant language of the (Hebrew) Bible. And that Bible, then, does the same thing. It lets the first human (named “Life”) give life to another human, without regard for female and male difference, saying, “I have created a human, through the Creator-God.”

What I want to show with this post is how arbitrary our human classifications can be. Yes, as we all know, scientists as early as Aristotle and as recent as Simon Baron-Cohen can show us in excruciating detail the male and female differences between humans. But why not treat men and women and boys and girls the same anyway? As variants of humankind?

And we all know there are differences between pears. There are differences between winters. And there are differences between pears and winter. And there are differences between towns. And so what? When there’s life, and when humans like us know it.

Shall we just take a few moments to illustrate?




Why, when we’re talking about how we humans construct knowledge out of categories, do we need to show how we all tend to have a high tolerance for difference?

Let’s keep Jews and Greeks different. Let’s keep men and women different. Hebrew and Hellene. Different. Pears and winter. Yep. Different.

Anne Carson and Eve. Eve and David. David and Anne. Moses and David. Prose and Poetry. The original text and its translation. Different. Different. Different. Different. Different. Different.

Well, let’s back up and exercise our high tolerance again. Let’s look again at one of the Anne Carson poems that has made the rounds in the Best Of poetry volumes since its initial publication in her collection entitled, Plainwater. Here’s a version online. A version in book form, yes also online. A version in musical score by Carl Schimmel. Wait now! Isn’t he a man. Anne Carson is not a male, is she? No, she cannot be. Different.

Well, we slipped again. So, let’s back up and exercise our high tolerance again. Look what happens, Anne Carson, writing, tells us when one reader “takes a different position” than another. We’re all forced to ask, “But what about variant readings?”

What when “the world is, as we say, an open book”?

What when “you [and I] will stand and see pear and winter side by side”?

What if you get stranded in the town where pears and winter are variants for one another?” What if you and I are not so different? Or what if in our differences, so obvious to scientists and scholars, we really are variants of humanity of kinds of kindnesses of humankindness, where we, you, I, we back up and exercise our high tolerance again?


Ish and zokar

April 23, 2014

What does it really mean when Eve said, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’

Of course, what she really said was,

 קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְהוָה

I have gotten an ish from God.

Did she mean that she had born a male child? But an ish is usually an adult. Did she mean that although God had drawn her out of ish, now God has drawn an ish out of her? But what is an ish? A male, a human being, or a member of community?

I always assumed it meant that Eve had born a male child. But I don’t think so now. I think she meant that she had born a new member of the human family. Here is why. In Leviticus 18:22, the Hebrew reads

וְאֶת-זָכָר–לֹא תִשְׁכַּב, מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה

With a male you must not lie, as you would with a woman.

But every English translation produces parallel constructions, like this,

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind:  KJV 

or this,

You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman;  CEB 

Why does English produce parallel phrasing when the Hebrew distinctly says male/woman, and not man/woman?

Because, in my view, ish does not mean “man.” We know this already from here, Abraham circumcised,

כָּל-זָכָר, בְּאַנְשֵׁי בֵּית אַבְרָהָם

every male among the ish (plural) of the house of Abraham.

But English translations usually have,

every male among the men of Abraham’s house

Just in case some of the men weren’t actually male? No, because ish are not unambiguously men. Ish are members of the house of Abraham, male and female. Even the male slaves were circumcised, so ish does not refer to the status of the men, it doesn’t refer to “men” as in “males” at all. Sometimes it does, but maleness is not an essential core meaning of the word ish.

This confusion is perpetuated by the Colorado Gender Guidelines, which claim that ish should ordinarily be translated as “man/men.” Well, if some people don’t want to know what is in the Bible, so be it.

Here is the LXX,

Ἐκτησάμην ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ

I have acquired a human being through God.

Surprise, surprise, the Greek translators did not think that ish meant “man” a male, but rather a “human being.” But the NETS mistranslates it,

“I have acquired a man through God.”

Most English translations say “man” but the Latin Vulgate got it right, with “homo” and not “vir.”

 possedi hominem per Dominum

Another thing you see in Greek, and I think in Hebrew too, is the connection between the word “acquire” and the word “create.” It sounds as if Eve has said,

“I have created a human being through God.”

In Greek ktaomai, acquire and ktizw create, sound similar in this tense, and could be related. In Hebrew too, קָנָה sounds like Cain’s name and means “to get, acquire, create, buy, possess.” In fact, Strong’s concordance says clearly that with reference to God, the word means “create” but with reference to Eve, the word means “acquire.” Too funny! Let us just write into the Bible, that women will not ever be treated fairly in translation. Sometimes you just have to laugh at this.

But going back to the Hebrew, Eve may be saying,

I have created the next member of the human family through God.

After all, when she was drawn from the human,and an ishah, a female member of community was created, adam, a human being, became a member of community too, an ish. This was done by God. But the next ish, the next member of community, was drawn by God out of ishah. The circle is closed.

There is an expression that reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through a veil. But some days it feels more like kissing someone through a brick wall that has to be torn down, brick by brick.


Now, on a different topic, does this verse I used in opening,

With a male you must not lie, as you would with a woman.

have something relevant to say about homosexuality today? This is listed with incest, infanticide, adultery and having sex with your wife when she is having her period. Incest and infanticide are crimes, adultery and having sex during one’s period are topics I never discuss in public, and are nobody’s business, and that is how I treat homosexuality. It is a private function, and in the Hebrew Bible, to me it rates with some prohibitions, which, like having sex during menses, had some primitive mysterious meaning we don’t acknowledge today. It is something like mixing linen and wool. I go a long way now to shop at stores that mix cashmere and linen blends, thank you very much. Yarn blends, I talk about, sexual activities, I don’t.


Jesus in the Gardens: Undoing What Adam Did

April 19, 2014

It’s Easter week, and I’m thinking about gardens.

My own garden is full of tulips and daffodils that are starting to fade now, but my cherry tree is still in bloom and dropping pink petals on the grass.  The grass is bursting out of itself, growing too fast, faster than a mower can keep up with.  And the birds are singing as they wing over my plantings. Gardens are beautiful in the spring.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was in the spring– right around the time of Passover.  Two gardens feature heavily in that story.  There was a garden at Gethsemane, where He prayed and cried on the night He was arrested.  And there was a garden where His body lay entombed.

When Adam and Eve first sinned, it was in a garden.  And they were driven out of the garden by an angel with a flaming sword.  In the garden stories of Gethsemane and the tomb, angels appear again.

Gardens. Temptation. Angels. Death. 

Turning points.

I think that when we see Jesus in gardens, in narratives that repeat so many of the motifs of Eden, it’s good to pay special attention.  Jesus, after all, is called “the second Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). 

Matthew and Mark tell the story of the “place called Gethsemane” (Matt. 26:36, Mark 14:32), but it is John who informs us that the place where Jesus withdrew after the Last Supper was in fact a garden (John 18:1).  The original readers, of course, would have recognized the name of this garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives (which is how Luke describes it in Chapter 22) without having to be told. But look what Jesus does in this garden:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39)

The passage says He prayed this way three times.  Three is an interesting number, because that is the number of times Jesus asked Peter to reverse his denial of Him (John 21:15-17).  It is the number of times Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Adam and Eve were tempted just once, and they fell.  Jesus, as the second Adam, resisted three times.  Somehow, three is the number of reversal, of undoing what has been done.

Adam in the garden at Eden, all of his life ahead of him in a place of joy and peace, chose his own will over God’s.  Here in the garden at Gethsemane, Jesus in an agony of distress for the death He is facing, gasps out three affirmations of God’s will.

And an angel comes (Luke 22:43).  Not with a flaming sword to drive out, but with outstretched arms to strengthen and comfort.

And then there was the other garden. 

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:41-42)

The narratives give several different versions of what happened next– just as we might expect if a number of people all told individual eyewitness stories.  But several elements appear over and over again.

The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb.

Angels appeared– again not to drive out, but this time to proclaim: Jesus had risen from the dead.

And the first to see and speak to the risen Christ were women.

I want to focus on the story in John:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. [Emphases added.]

One thing stands out immediately.  Mary didn’t see Jesus just because she happened to be the first one there.  Jesus could easily have appeared to Peter and John, but He didn’t.  He waited until they had gone home. Then He appeared to Mary.  Why?

In the first garden, the garden of Eden, the woman who listened to the serpent was thinking about her own gain.  She saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). And so she took, and she ate.

In this garden, the one with the empty tomb, the woman isn’t thinking about herself at all.  She’s thinking about something else.  Someone else.  Three times she says it: “They have taken Him away.  Where is He?” 

The third time, He answers her Himself.  “Mary.”

And she rushes into His arms and won’t let go. 

Just as Jesus reversed what Adam did, Mary has reversed what Eve did. 

But He has something He needs her to do– something He chose her, and not Peter or John, to do.  So He must ask her to let go of Him and do it.

After the scene in the garden of Eden, God warned Eve that now her husband will rule over her (Gen. 3:16)  And what we see in the biblical story from that time on, is men ruling over women. 

Until Jesus came along.

Two years ago I wrote an answer to the question, Why Did Jesus Choose Twelve Men? 

The twelve were the main witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In the Ancient Near East and Roman cultures, the testimony of women was considered invalid. It was not accepted in court; it was not legally binding in any way. The world was simply not going to listen to women, and Jesus knew it.
So here’s what He did. His very first act upon Resurrection was to appear to the women. In fact, John tells us that though Peter and John ran ahead of Mary Magdalene on the way to the tomb, they saw nothing. Then after they left, Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Resurrected Christ. John 20:3-14. Other women also saw Him shortly afterwards– but no male saw the Lord, revealed for who He was, until that evening, eight hours or more afterwards. . .
The significance of this would not have been lost on the male disciples in that patriarchal culture. They knew that they themselves had refused to believe the women’s testimony that morning. Then when Jesus appeared to them, they realized the women had been telling the truth.
Jesus was communicating this very clearly (the fact that we miss it today is a product of our culture): “The world will not accept the testimony of your sisters, but I have just forced you to listen to it. My kingdom is to be different from the world. You are to listen to your women and allow them to testify of Me.”

 Before Jesus commissioned the apostles to take His message to the world in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene and her sisters to take His message to the apostles.  This was a much bigger deal than it looks like.  As Christianity Today’s online article Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon puts it:

As you preach this Easter, do not bypass the testimony of the women as an incidental detail. In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female … deluded by … sorcery.” 

This background matters because it points to two crucial truths. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. In this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were “cleverly devised myths” (2 Pet. 1:16, ESV), women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.

 Jesus does not send Mary back to the male disciples to be ruled over by them.  He sends her back to them to teach and proclaim His truth.  Far from telling her to know her place, He deliberately raises her out of a woman’s place and into a place of equality.

Mary, in desiring Christ above all else, has undone what Eve did. And Christ responds by undoing “he shall rule over you.”

Last year Preston Yancy wrote the most beautiful blog post I have ever read anywhere.  He called it When It Matters Because of Two Gardens, and I probably would never have written this post if I had not first read that one, and thought about it ever since.  Here is a little of what he said, though I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:

I think of how one little verse, one little verse of a redemption in the twentieth chapter of the most beautiful Gospel, the story of us, could mean all this. 

Could mean systemic patriarchy has been overthrown. Could mean that equality is now. Could mean that the Law of Moses would be overcome by the law of grace. Could mean that a woman is a person not a thing, joy of father or husband, and that her word is worth, her voice use. . .

And I think of them, sometimes, of that second Man and that other woman, in that garden west of Golgotha, and I think of her as she was sent forth, running east, and I think of the tangled mess of grace tripping and dancing round her in her wake, her feet bringing the news of healed cosmos, healed creation, and He has done this, first, and we shall follow, and so comes the Light.

Jesus in the garden is an undoing and reversal of what drove humanity out of the garden. He has begun the righting of all that has been wrong– and not least what has been wrong between men and women.

We should not read the rest of the New Testament in ways that negate this truth.

For He is risen indeed.

Earth-born and earth-bound

April 18, 2014

Having thought about the meaning of the Hebrew word adam for some time, I wanted to go back to a passage I had blogged about some time ago, not sure where. In these two passages, which I reproduce here, adam is both earth-born, and earth-bound; but also given charge of God’s creatures. This is what it means to be adam from adamah, the soil.

Here are the first few verses of the Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 7, written in the first century BCE,

ΕΙΜΙ μὲν κἀγὼ θνητὸς ἄνθρωπος ἴσος ἅπασι
I am, also, myself, a mortal human the same as everyone

καὶ γηγενοῦς ἀπόγονος πρωτοπλάστου·
and descendent of the first-formed earth-born

καὶ ἐν κοιλίᾳ μητρὸς ἐγλύφην σὰρξ
and in the belly of my mother flesh-formed

2 δεκαμηνιαίῳ χρόνῳ παγεὶς ἐν αἵματι ἐκ σπέρματος ἀνδρὸς
for ten months planted in blood from the seed of a man

καὶ ἡδονῆς ὕπνῳ συνελθούσης.
and from the pleasure of sleeping together

3 καὶ ἐγώ δὲ γενόμενος ἔσπασα τὸν κοινὸν ἀέρα
and when I was born I breathed common air

καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν ὁμοιοπαθῆ κατέπεσον γῆν,
and on the kindred earth I fell 

πρώτην φωνὴν τὴν ὁμοίαν πᾶσιν ἴσα κλαίων·
my first sound the same as everyone like crying 

4 ἐν σπαργάνοις ἀνετράφην καὶ ἐν φροντίσιν·
smothered in swaddling blankets and care 

5 οὐδεὶς γὰρ βασιλεὺς ἑτέραν ἔσχε γενέσεως ἀρχήν,
for no king has another beginning of birth

6 μία δὲ πάντων εἴσοδος εἰς τὸν βίον, ἔξοδός τε ἴση
for all one entrance to life – an equal exit 

Thanks to the NETS translation for some phrases. A quick note that women were not pregnant for a longer time, but the calendar had 13 months. Of course, I am hoping that my coblogger, Kurk, may be able to elucidate the word play better in English. The second passage is from chapter 9,

ΘΕΕ πατέρων καὶ Κύριε τοῦ ἐλέους
O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy

ὁ ποιήσας τὰ πάντα ἐν λόγῳ σου
Who made everything by your word

2 καὶ τῇ σοφίᾳ σου κατεσκεύσασας ἄνθρωπον,
and in your wisdom outfitted humankind

ἵνα δεσπόζῃ τῶν ὑπὸ σοῦ γενομένων κτισμάτων
to rule creatures who came into being by you

3 καὶ διέπῃ τὸν κόσμον ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ
and to manage the world in equity and justice 

καὶ ἐν εὐθύτητι ψυχῆς κρίσιν κρίνῃ,
and with an upright soul judge judgements,

4 δός μοι τὴν τῶν σῶν θρόνων πάρεδρον σοφίαν
give me wisdom that sits by your throne 

καὶ μή με ἀποδοκιμάσῃς ἐκ παίδων σου
and don’t reject me from among your children

Update: I have edited out some rough patches in the translation.

DeYoung and the CBMW conference 2014

April 18, 2014

This is a duty kind of post. When I read that DeYoung was going to speak on the topic of “The Beauty of Difference- In Heaven and on Earth,” I thought that he was going to talk about the subordination of women in heaven. According to these notes of his talk, he did not. He certainly affirmed subordination for women, describing their major characteristic as “eager helper” and “willing to be led.” As far as I can see, no mention of eternity. So I want to acknowledge that. Here are the notes of his talk.

“What would you say to a little girl that comes up to you and says, ‘Mommy, what does it mean to be a woman.’” (vica versa with males) Question originally asked by John Piper.

What does it mean from the Bible? What would you say?
Perhaps you would start by stating we are created in the image of God and having identity in Christ.

Here are 5 differences we see in Scripture:

1) Appearance- 1 Corinthians 11. The confusion of gender is contrary to nature. Men are not to appear like women and vica versa. This is where it can be dangerous because people will add false descriptions of what manhood and womanhood looks like. We add things like girls can only be interested in things like their nails and men have to get excited about guns.

It is not right for men to be like women. 1 Cor. 11:14. How this distinction plays out is somewhat played out by our culture. There is an intermediate step that we see in 1 Cor. 11. Nature does speak what manhood and womanhood looks like, but our culture also gives us some clues.

Examples: nature teaches men shouldn’t where a dress and where lipstick. Our culture would identify this. The debate is where the line is drawn.

2) Body- One of the most scandalous verses to our culture is 1 Corinthians 6:19- “not our own, bought with a price- glorify God in your body.” Part of being a man is that your body was designed for a women. Part of being a woman is that your body was designed for a man. Both the Bible and natural theology teaches us this.

3) Character- Men are to be honorable, understanding. The crowning value of the woman is her true beauty. This is not seen by hours in front of a mirror. Men long for a true strength. (Isn’t this seen in their love for conquering video games, sporting events, et?)

4) Demeanor- 1 Thess. 2: 7-8, 11. Paul likens his pastoral approach to motherhood and fatherhood. For motherhood he uses nurturing and gentleness. From fatherhood he uses exhortation, encouragement.

5) Eager Posture- the wife’s posture is to be eager to help. By creation of design Eve had a posture to be an eager helper of her husband. The wife is willing to be led. The husband is eager to take sacrificial leadership on his shoulders. The most important exhortation in complementarianism is not for women to sit down, it is for men to stand up.

There is nothing new here, perhaps the video games, but otherwise standard fare. I know, growing up, I thought women were not allowed to wear makeup and Jesus wore a dress, but perhaps I was mistaken. Anyway, I will restrain myself from further comment. I just wanted this on record.

Plato’s “Deuteronomy”

April 12, 2014

Deutronomye for Wycliffe was just a strange English word.

Likewise, Deuteronomy for the Douay-Rheims Bible translators was just such a strange English word too.

Similarly, Deuteronomium for Jerome and for Pagnini translating both (what we call) Deuteronomy 17:18 and Joshua 8:32 is really odd and just strange Latin.

Of course, this all comes from the Septuagint for (what we call) Deuteronomy 17:18 and Joshua 8:32 (or Joshua B [Codex Vaticanus] 9:2c), and the not strange at all Greek phrase δευτερονόμιον, only found these two places in the LXX.

Plato used δευτερονόμιον in his treatise (which we call) “Laws.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

Now that we have reached this point in regard to our regulation, [840d] but have fallen into a strait because of the cowardice of the many, I maintain that our regulation on this head must go forward and proclaim that our citizens must not be worse than fowls and many other animals which are produced in large broods, and which live chaste and celibate lives without sexual intercourse until they arrive at the age for breeding; and when they reach this age they pair off, as instinct moves them, male with female and female with male; and thereafter [840e] they live in a way that is holy and just, remaining constant to their first contracts of love: surely our citizens should at least be better than these animals. If, however, they become corrupted by most of the other Hellenes or barbarians, through seeing and hearing that among them the “lawless Love” (as it is called) is of very great power, and thus become unable to overcome it, then the Law-wardens, acting as lawgivers, must devise for them a second law. [δεύτερον νόμον]


What is becoming, what unbecoming a gentleman it is not easy to fix by law; it shall, however, be decided by those persons who have achieved public distinction for their aversion to the one and their devotion to the other. If any citizen in any craft engages in ungentlemanly peddling, whoso will shall indict him for shaming his family before a bench of those adjudged to be the first in virtue, and if it be held that he is sullying his paternal hearth by an unworthy calling, he shall be imprisoned for a year and so restrained therefrom; [920a] if he repeats the offence, he shall get two years’ imprisonment, and for each subsequent conviction the period of imprisonment shall go on being doubled. Now comes a second law [δεύτερος … νόμος]:—Whosoever intends to engage in retail trade must be a resident alien or a foreigner. And thirdly, this third law:


These two English translations are from Robert Gregg Bury. 

Benjamin Jowett translates Plato’s Greek phrase δεύτερον νόμον with the very same English phrase.

So does George Burges.

These are the only English translations of Plato’s Greek I can find.

I haven’t been able to find any Latin translations of Plato’s Greek.

But wouldn’t it be strange if Pagnini or Jerome chose to translate Plato’s “Leges” here with Deuteronomium?

And wouldn’t it have been strange to read Wycliffe and those at Douai and then at Rheims rendering Plato’s Athenian as writing (with the capital letters) the following?

then the Law-wardens, acting as lawgivers, must devise for them a Deutronomye 


Now comes a Deuteronomy 

So what is it about Bible translation that has to be so strange? What we have is some sort of Altera Lex. And if that’s not strange enough, then let’s just keep it as our Deuteronomium.

The Greeky “Deuteronomy” of the Douay-Rheims

April 11, 2014

First read Suzanne’s rich post, The base text of the Douay-Rheims Bible.

Now see how the Douay-Rheims Bible English relies on the Latin of various Bibles that relies on the Greek of the Septuagint that relies on the Hebrew of the Torah and of the book of Joshua.

If we start with something a little more contemporary, like the Preface to the 1917 English JPS Bible, then we read the following:

The sacred task of translating the Word of God, as revealed to Israel through lawgiver, prophet, psalmist, and sage, began at an early date. According to an ancient rabbinic interpretation, Joshua had the Torah engraved upon the stones of the altar (Joshua 8:32) not in the original Hebrew alone, but in all the languages of mankind, which were held to be seventy, in order that all men might become acquainted with the words of the Scriptures. This statement, with its universalistic tendency, is, of course, a reflex of later times, when the Hebrew Scriptures had become a subject of curiosity and perhaps also of anxiety to the pagan or semi-pagan world…. [T]his tradition contains an element of truth….

So there’s a verse to track down (Joshua 8:32), which appears in the Douay-Rheims as follows:

And he wrote upon stones, the Deuteronomy of the law of Moses, which he had ordered before the children of Israel.

For that matter, the Wycliffe Bible (14c) seems to have the same:

and he wroot on the stoonys the Deutronomye of Moises lawe, which he hadde declarid bifor the sones of Israel.

If we go back to the Hebrew, the Masoretic Text, then we don’t find the equivalent or near equivalent match to this English word, Deuteronomy (aka Deutronomye).

If we go then to the Latin, the Vulgate — or the Pagnini for that matter, then we do find this word, Deuteronomium. Again, there’s no such thing in the Hebrew.

So where’d the Douay-Rheims and Wycliffe Bibles in English where’d the Vulgate and the Pagnini Bibles in Latin get that?

We easily find it in the Septuagint (although the chapter and verse numbers aren’t necessarily congruent):

καὶ ἔγραψεν Ἰησοῦς ἐπὶ τῶν λίθων τὸ δευτερονόμιον, νόμον Μωυσῆ, ὃν ἔγραψεν ἐνώπιον υἱῶν Ισραηλ.

This Charles Thomson translates from Greek into English as follows:

And when Joshua had written on the stones the repetition of the law of Moses, in the presence of the children of Israel.

And Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton does something similar:

And Joshua wrote upon the stones a copy of the law [even] the law of Moses before the children of Israel.

But Leonard J. Greenspoon for the New English Translation of the Septuagint reduces the Greek phrase to the Greeky sounds as this English transliteration:

And Iesous wrote upon the stones Deuteronomion, a law of Moyses, which he wrote in the presence of the sons of Israel. [footnote: Deuteronomy]

Does that mean anything much in English? Does it mean anything much in Latin? It sure does mean something in Greek. Does that Hebraic Hellene match the Hebrew? Does the translation have to sound Greeky if from Greek into English?

We can begin to find a few answers to some of these questions about the Latin, oddly enough, in the Oxford English Dictionary. I’ll end with a couple of excerpts from the entry on


What’s one clear conclusion here? Some English and some Latin Bibles (even the Douay Rheims and the Vulgate) follow the LXX Greek, which may have mistranslations of the Hebrew in some places. Here are those English dictionary excerpts:

Pronunciation:  /djuːtəˈrɒnəmɪ/ˈdjuːtərəʊnɒmɪ/
Forms:  Also ME DeutronomyeDeutronomie, 15 Deutronome.

Etymology:  < ecclesiastical Latin Deuteronomium, < Greek Δευτερονόμιον, < δεύτερος second + νόμος law, etc.: in 13th cent. Old Frenchdeutronome, French deutéronome.

The name is taken from the words of the LXX in Deut. xvii. 18 το δευτερονόμιον τοῦτο, a mistranslation of the Hebrew mishnēh hattōrāh hazzōth ‘a copy or duplicate of this law’, for which the Vulgate has Deuteronomium legis hujus.


a. The name or title of the fifth book of the Pentateuch, which contains a repetition, with parenetic comments, of the Decalogue, and most of the laws contained in Exodus xxi–xxiii, and xxxiv.

1388   Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.Deut. Prol.,   In this book of Deutronomye ben contened the wordis which Moises spak to al Israel.Rubric. Here begynneth the bok of Deutronomie.


Digital Loeb Classical Library–Coming Late 2014

April 11, 2014

The base text of the Douay-Rheims Bible

April 10, 2014

Victoria asked the other day if the Douay-Rheims Bible “relied heavily on the Septuagint.” My understanding is that the Douay-Rheims Bible was a translation of the Latin Clementine Vulgate 1592, which is tidied up from the older Vulgate versions, and has now been superseded by the Nova Vulgata. The Vulgate was basically Jerome and Paula’s translation from the Hebrew, made while they were living in Bethlehem in the 4th century with the aid of local Jewish scholars which they were able to smuggle into their convent from time to time. Jerome made a point of saying that it was translated from the Hebrew in contrast to the Old Latin versions, which were translations of the Septuagint. The only exception was the Psalms, which kept the Latin translation from the Septuagint because people were familiar with these Psalms as hymns in church.

However, the English Protestant translations of the Hebrew Bible began with Coverdale’s 1534 translation, which was based on the Latin Vulgate, Pagnini’s Latin Bible, Luther’s Bible, and the Zwingli Bible. Later English translations depended on using a polyglot bible as the base. Here are descriptions of two influential polyglot bibles. The first is the Complutensian Polyglot,

I. The Complutensian Polyglot, one of the most noted and rarest of Biblical works, was undertaken under the supervision and at the expense of Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo and chancellor of Castile (d. 1517), and was prepared by the most famous scholars of Spain, such as Demetrius Ducas of Crete, Antonio of Lebrija, Diego Lopez de Stunica, Ferdinand Nu�ez de Guzman, and Alphonso of Zamora. After years of labor the work was printed at Alcala (Latin, Complutum) between 1513 and 1517, being finished only a few months before the death of the cardinal, and was published in 1520 with the sanction of Pope Leo X. It consists of six folio volumes, the first four including the Old Testament, the fifth the New Testament, and the sixth being a Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon with grammatical and other notes (printed separately asAlphonsi Zamorensis introductiones artis grammatic� Hebraic�, Alcala, 1526).

The languages are (1) the Hebrew of the Old Testament; (2) the Targum of Onkelos; (3) the Septuagint (here printed for the first time and with remarkable alterations of the manuscripts to make the text fit the Hebrew or the Latin); (4) the Vulgate; (5) the Greek New Testament. Latin translations of the Targum and Septuagint are appended. The title-page and last page are given in reduced facsimile in Schaff’s Companion to the Greek Testament (New York, 1885).

Actually the pages of this polyglot had the Hebrew, Latin Clementine Vulgate and Septuagint, in columns across the page, and the Targum with Latin translation at the bottom. The Latin Vulgate was central. The second major polyglot is described as follows,

II. The Antwerp Polyglot (Biblia Regia) was printed at the expense of Philip II of Spain by the famous Antwerp printer Christophe Plantin (8 vols., folio, 1569-72). Benedictus Arias Montanus (see ARIAS, BENEDICTUS) had charge of the work, with the help of Spanish, Belgian, and French scholars, among them Andr� Maes, Guy le F�vre de la Boderie, and Fran�ois Rapheleng. Volumes i-iv contain the Old Testament, vol. v the New; besides the original texts, the Vulgate, and the Septuagint with Latin translation, Aramaic targums of the Old Testament (with the exception of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles) are given, with Latin translation; also the old Syriac (Peshito) version of the New Testament, lacking II Peter, II and III John, Jude, and the Apocalypse; it is printed with both Syriac and Hebrew characters and has a Latin translation.

Volumes vi-vii contain the Hebrew lexicon of Sanctes Pagninus, the Syriac-Chaldee lexicon of Le F�vre de la Boderie, a Syriac grammar by Maes, a Greek dictionary and archeological treatises by Arias Montanus, and many brief philological and critical notes. The last volume repeats the Hebrew and Greek texts with interlinear Latin translations, by Sanctes Pagninus of the former, and the Vulgate for the latter; this part of the work, especially the New Testament, has often been reprinted. The critical preparation was defective and the manuscripts used were of secondary importance; in many places there is dependence on the Complutensian work.

The most significant difference between the two polyglot versions is that the Antwerp polyglot had the addition of Pagnini’s literal Latin translation from the Hebrew as an interlinear aid to reading the Hebrew. The Complutensian Polyglot had only Jerome’s Vulgate in Latin. My suggestion is that as the translators into national languages like French, German, English, etc. were all fluent in reading Latin as a workaday language, this was often the part they used to understand the Hebrew and Greek.

Roman Catholic translators favoured the Vulgate, since it continued to be the official text of the Roman church, while Protestant translators favoured the interlinear of Pagnini – although this text was revised and updated with each printing. However, I do think that all translators used, and were influenced by, all previous translations that were in any way available to them at the time.

The first English translation of the Septuagint was made by Charles Thomson in Philadelphia in 1808, and printed by Jane Aitken.

Note: This lovely webpage with illustrations, etc. and such a nice layout, has incorrect information here.

The 1569 Biblia Sacra, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece et Latine, known as the “Antwerp or Plantin’s Polyglot” (named after its printer, Christophe Plantin) presents, across a single, full opening, four different versions in four columns: the Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate; Arias Montano’s revision of Xantes Pagninus’s Latin version from the Greek[4]; and the Greek Septuagint.[5]

Here is the endnote #4, which apparently the author of the webpage did not fully comprehend.

[4] Versions of the Bible” in The Original CatholicEncyclopedia: “Xantes Pagninus, O.P. (d. 1541), made an inter-linear version of both the Old and New Testaments from the original languages, which by its literal fidelity pleased Christians and Jews and was much used by the Reformers. A revision of this translation resulting in a text even more literal was made by Arias Montano. His work appeared in the Antwerp Polyglot (1572).”[5] See Elly Cockx-Indestege.

Pagninus did not do a translation from the Greek as far as I know. I have not been able to find out who did the Latin translation of the Septuagint. Pagnini’s Latin was included as an interlinear text for the Hebrew. Well TMI. I had once planned to do some academic work on this, but time did not permit.

Pagnini and Pico della Mirandola

April 7, 2014

This is just one more thinking out loud, and where do I save this information, kind of post. I was reading the description of Michael Law’s book on the Septuagint, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible,

How did the New Testament writers and the earliest Christians come to adopt the Jewish scriptures as their first Old Testament? And why are our modern Bibles related more to the rabbinic Hebrew Bible than to the Greek Bible of the early Church?

The Septuagint, the name given to the translation of the Hebrew scriptures between the third century BC and the second century AD, played a central role in the Bible’s history. Many of the Hebrew scriptures were still evolving when they were translated into Greek, and these Greek translations, along with several new Greek writings, became Holy Scripture in the early Church.

Yet, gradually the Septuagint lost its place at the heart of Western Christianity. At the end of the fourth century, one of antiquity’s brightest minds rejected the Septuagint in favor of the Bible of the rabbis. After Jerome, the Septuagint never regained the position it once had. Timothy Michael Law recounts the story of the Septuagint’s origins, its relationship to the Hebrew Bible, and the adoption and abandonment of the first Christian Old Testament.

and got to thinking about the rabbinical contribution to the translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Erika Rummel has edited a book, Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus – pages 240 to 247 – that mentions Pagnini, the author of the influential Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, 1528, used by Coverdale, Luther, Olivétan, and just about everybody else – but Paul Grendler, author of the article mentioning Pagnini, “Italian Biblical Humanism and the Papacy,” first mentions him with this, page 240 – 241.

He [Pagnini] lived in the Dominican convent of Fiesole, studied in Bologna, and then returned to the Fiesole convent as a teacher. Most important, he lived in the Florentine convent of San Marco when Girolamo Savaranola led it from 1490 to 1498. On or before 1492 Pagnini began intense study of hebrew with a fellow Dominican, who was a former Spanish rabbi, and Greek, with an unknown teacher.

Around 1489, Pico della Mirandola, with an interest in Kabbala, also
Fiesole map lived in Fiesole, less than a kilometer from the Domenican Convent where Pagnini lived at the same time, and wrote his Heptaplus, a commentary on the Hebrew of Genesis 1. Is there some way of knowing whether this influenced the young Pagnini living in the convent such a short distance below the Medici estate where della Mirandola was staying? I walked the path this fall, not long, and visited the Domenican convent.

I also visited the San Marco convent in Florence and saw Savaranola’s cell. When Pagnini followed Savaranola in leading the convent, did he live in that same cell and translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin there? There is no mention of Pagnini in either convents, and yet his Latin translation of the Hebrew is probably one of the most influential translations of the Bible in western history after Jerome’s.

Here is a map of Fiesole. The Domenican convent is in the lower left of the image, the Medici estate with the complex formal gardens is in the centre, and the town of Fiesole itself, with the Roman forum, is in the top right. The ruins were only unearthed in the 19th century, so not visible to either Della Mirandola or Pagnini.