Friday, October 31, 2008

'Changeling'-- a True Story of Courage and Persistence

I must confess, I am not the world's biggest Angelina Jolie fan. Yes she can act, but until this movie, I had not really found a film that showed her scope and full abilities. John Malkovich on the other hand is an amazing actor of huge range and scope in abilities. He could play the Pope one day, and the Devil the next, and be convincing in both roles. Here he is really stretching out in playing a crusading Presbyterian minister by the name of Gustav Briegleb, and doing it well. His crusade is against the L.A.P.D., which was full of graft, corruption and scandal in 1928ff.

Clint Eastwood has made this film with meticulous attention to period detail, and methodical development of the story line, which, not coincidentally is an absolutely true story. I say methodical because it takes 141 minutes for him to tell the tale at the pace he chooses. It would have been best had he edited it down a tad, but still this is first rate film making of the highest order.

The story being told is an absolutely true one of a mother's quest to find her missing child, no matter what the cost. The mother in question is a single mother (the father skipped when he discovered he was going to have to be a responsible father) whose name is Christine Collins. She is, seemingly, an ordinary person who works as a supervisor of telephone operators, in the good old days when you would dial the operator who would place your call for you. If you remember those days, and the days of 'party lines' raise your hand. Christine, interestingly enough, does her job on roller skaters, but this is about the only humorous element in the entire movie. For me, the story was immediately personal because the house in L.A. in which Christine lived was very much like my grandparents house (and of the same vintage) and when I saw that Christine's son Walter had the very same cowboy bedspread I grew up with as a child--- well, this movie became both real and personal for me.

All seems normal in March 1928, when Christine is called into work on a Saturday when there were not enough workers at the phone exchange, but it required that she leave Walter her young son at home. Walter is not a gadabout, but when Christine comes home late in the afternoon, Walter has gone missing.

Her call to the L.A.P.D. is met with a technical rebuff.... "wait until morning, we have a 24 hour rule, and see if he turns up." No amber alert here. Walter in fact has been snatched, snatched by a deranged child kidnapper and killer from Vancouver Canada who has a ranch in nearby Wineville.

In an age before DNA evidence and proper forensics, the L.A.P.D. goes about its work with certain limitations, and when they call Christine to tell her that her son has been found--- of course she is euphoric. But when the police and Christine and the media go to meet the boy coming on the train from Illinois, it turns out not to be Walter, her son. He is too short, his teeth aren't right, and he is circumcised, unlike Walter. Never mind, the boy claims to be Walter, and the police suggest that she has just forgotten or is too emotional to remember what her son looked like, or that he had changed dramatically in the intervening months since he had disappeared. But that is not the end of the police's face saving duplicity. This movie does a good job of showing how chauvinists have always tended to belittle the intelligence, veracity, and courage of women in a male-dominated world.

In a move that would seem impossible to today, when Christine Collins continues to insist this boy is not her son, the police have her locked up in the local psychopaths ward rather than trying to actually find Walter! Clearly their public and phony reputation of solving crimes mattered more than the life of the boy. But Gustav Briegleb tirelessly works to expose the L.A.P.D. and vindicate Christine, eventually springing her from her cell in psycho lock-up.

So persistent is Christine Collins in wanting to know the truth of what had happened to her son, that she even goes to San Quentin prison shortly before the convicted murderer of numerous boys is about to be executed, in order to hear from his own mouth that he killed Walter. Alas, though he had telegrammed her to come and hear his confession, he refuses to give it when she arrives.

This story puts on full display the messiness and often unresolved character of life in a fallen world. There is both good and evil in this world, and some measure of justice is possible in the world, but it provides neither comfort nor adequate compensation to a mother who has lost her son forever, and whose son was surely brutally murdered.

For me, I was very pleased with the portrayal of Rev. Briegleb who reveals indeed just how important the social part of the full Gospel is to God's Good News. "For what does the Lord demand of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God..." This story gives the lie to any sort of disembodied proclamation of the Gospel that deals only with things spiritual and does not involve compassionate acts to rescue the innocent, the abused, the at risk, the violated, the widow or orphan in distress to mention but a few examples.

If you go to see this movie, prepare to see a large, and often unpleasant dose of reality in a wicked world--- and also see how despite the darkness some measure of goodness and the milk of human kindness and justice can be found in this world.


A Treat without a Trick on All Hallow's Eve-- the James Ossuary Rises from the Dead

Perhaps you will remember a little box called the James ossuary I've been talking about for a while now. It's been embroiled in a trial now for years. I was thinking of printing up bumper stickers reading FREE THE JAMES OSSUARY. Well, that may soon happen, as you will be able to deduce below from the BAR story written by my co-author of the book The Brother of Jesus, Hershel Shanks.

It seems the case of the prosecution against Golan and Deutsch has unraveled, not least because Yuval Goren was forced under oath to testify that there was genuine patina in the word Jesus on the ossuary. You may remember as well that one of the more touted theories was that whilst the first part of the inscription might be genuine the last part, saying 'brother of Jesus' was forged. So much for that theory. We are now on the Eve of All Saints Day, or All Hallow's Eve (from which we get the word Halloween) and James, being one of those celebrated saints, and his ossuary seems to have risen from the dead! Stay tuned for more fun updates. Maybe its the Lazarus Effect!


Supporters of James Ossuary Inscription’s Authenticity Vindicated
by Hershel Shanks
Updated October 30, 2008

The “forgery trial of the century” has all but blown up. The trial judge who will decide the case—there are no juries in Israel—has told the prosecution to consider dropping the case. “Not every case ends in the way that you think it will when you start,” Judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutor Adi Damti in open court. “Maybe we can save ourselves the rest,” the judge told her.

In the most recent embarrassment for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the government’s star witness, Yuval Goren, former chairman of Tel Aviv University’s institute of archaeology, was forced to admit on cross-examination that there is original ancient patina in the word “Jesus,” the last word in the inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

Recent events have also proved humiliating for the IAA in connection with the committee it appointed that supposedly came to a unanimous decision that the inscription is a forgery. In fact, several members of the committee expressed no opinion—but the IAA counted them as “yes” votes. Several other members of the committee based their vote not on their own expertise, but on Yuval Goren’s supposed expertise, which they were in no position to evaluate. One member of the committee who would have found the inscription authentic said he was “forced” to change his mind based on Goren’s scientific arguments.

No paleographer expert in the script of this period has found any paleographical problem with the inscription. And several scientists at the trial have undermined Goren’s scientific arguments. No other scientist has supported Goren’s arguments.

BAR has consistently supported the authenticity of the inscription, as have leading paleographers André Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni of Hebrew University. All appear now to be vindicated.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Architecture of the Post-Modern Mind, Part III

If you visit a Borders or Barnes and Nobles bookstore these days, you are more likely than not to find a new section called Spirituality. This is a catchall category for all sorts of things, most of which are not directly connected with traditional religions of any sort, much less with what Christians call ‘spiritual formation’. In a post-modern situation you find any number of people saying, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual”, though what one or another of them means by that will vary. So much has post-modernity infected and affected even Christian discourse it is seen as a good thing when someone says “I’ve learned how to be Christian without being religious.” In modernity, statements like that would simply have been viewed as either: 1) non sequiturs or 2) oxymorons; or 3) just sheer nonsense. No more. Many Christian today would gladly wear a button that says “I’m Christian, but not religious.” This is a signpost pointing to an intellectual and a cultural shift having various dimensions. And of course one of the other signs which most clearly points to a definite paradigm shift is the over-reaction or even allergic reaction many ultra-conservatives have to post-modernity, especially when it shows up on their church doorstep, or even (God forbid) in their sanctuaries and pulpits).

Post-modern spirituality is many things (indeed it can be called a many splintered thing) including the following at various times and to various degrees:

1) it is anti-traditional. It likes to see itself as something new, avant guarde, cutting edge, different, although in fact it is retreading a lot of stuff that is traditional;

2) it is synthetic and syncretistic.
For example, I once had a girl call me up on a radio talk show that was stuck in traffic on the Santa Monica freeway. She asked via cellphone “I’m sitting here stuck in traffic and holding my crystals and just wondered what is the connection between these crystals and Jesus” (the radio show had been about the historical Jesus). My reply? “There’s no connection between those crystals and Jesus, except Jesus is the solid Rock, and they so are not the solid rock, nor are they means to get in touch with Jesus.”

One of the reasons post-moderns are more prone to the sort of historical nonsense churned up in the movie Zeitgeist is because they are inclined to accept the premise that one religion evolved from earlier religions, or cannibalized ideas from previous religions in order to build its own. In other words, the evolutionary paradigm is applied not to the development of sentient beings, but to the development of intellectual ideas, including religious ideas. Alas for this history of religions (or religionsgeschichtliche approach, to use the German term), both history and human ideas are messy. They don’t usually develop in that sort of evolutionary or linear way.

3) there is a strong anti-historical bent in much of post-modernism. The way this affects the discussion about Christianity can easily be seen in the recent strong interest in Gnostic Christianity. There indeed we have a disembodied form of Christianity, not interested in the historical basis and foundations of the Christian faith in the life, death, resurrection, miracles of Jesus, but only interested in Jesus the conveyor of gnosis, insider spiritual knowledge, Jesus the talking head. In that system of things, it’s not who you know, but what you know that saves you, and if you do not have sufficient wattage to be in the know, you can’t be saved. It’s an early form of self-help religion. Post-modern spirituality treds lightly on the notion that history and historical events matter, when it is not busy trampling on such ideas altogether.

It is no surprise to me that the very same Gnostic Gospels which were studied, debated, over-analyzed and dismissed in the 70s as being of no relevance to the discussion of the historical Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Philip, Thomas or Judas, are today touted as new revelations of the new and true Christianity—Gnosticism. This is not just because the culture is more Biblically illiterate now than then, or because we are more open to various revisionist ideas about the past than then, though both of these things are sadly true. It is because the modernist deconstruction of disembodied spirituality is no longer seen as compelling and people are more open to a religious or spiritual smorgasbord of their own creation. In other words, to paraphrase the words of the Doobie Brothers--- ‘what once were (viewed as) vices are now seen as (favored) habits’. In other words, there is a strong narcissistic and self-centered element in post-modernity. You can also see post-modernity’s finger prints in the loss of allegiance to one or another denominational form of Christianity.

Now, not all of post-modernity is a bad thing. As I said in my last post, in a global world, we need to become closer to being global Christians. The rabid re-pristinizing of one or another sort of blind nationalism should not be allowed to supplant this growth towards every Christian having a more all encompassing world vision, a vision that actually puts teeth in the belief that Jesus died for everyone in the world, and he loves them all—red and yellow, black and white. There is a wonderful Christmas song, on the James Taylor Christmas CD. It has a beautiful poignant lyric by a gentleman named Alfred Burt. It’s lyrics are as follows:

Some Children See Him
By Alfred Burt

Some children see Him lily white
the infant Jesus born this night
Some children see Him lily white
with tresses soft and fair

Some children see Him bronzed and brown
the Lord of heav'n to earth come down
Some children see Him bronzed and brown
with dark and heavy hair (with dark and heavy hair!)

Some children see Him almond-eyed
This Saviour whom we kneel beside
Some children see Him almond-eyed
With skin of yellow hue!

Some children see Him dark as they
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray
Some children see Him dark as they
And, ah! they love Him so!

The children in each different place
Will see the Baby Jesus' face
Like theirs but bright with heav'nly grace
And filled with holy light!

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
'tis love that's born tonight!
'tis love that's born tonight!

We all have a tendency to see Jesus as being like us. It’s normal and natural. And actually there is something divine about that, because Jesus is for us all. There is something deep within us that says we ought to be living in a world where we are all one in Christ, a world where what unites us in Christ is more significant than what culturally divides us.

Post-modern Christian spirituality involves a variety of diverse elements including: 1) a love of praising God at length, hence the rise of a whole praise music movement; 2) a love of liturgy, mystery, candles, and in general things that create a sense of wonder akin to that which one finds in Tolkien’s trilogy or the Chronicles of Narnia. It is no accident that these books have been made into movies in the last ten years; 3) a flexibility in regard to some doctrinal matters (see e.g. Rob Bell’s definition that doctrine is like a trampoline which has clear parameters or boundaries, but some flexibility in the middle), and some ethical matters as well (notice the changed attitudes of various post-moderns about homosexuality); and 4) interestingly enough, rather than a pure retreat into fantasy or narcissism, a concern for the poor and for other social issues has emerged. This reflects the flexibility of post-modernism, which tends to adapt to circumstances and shows signs of real concern for neighbor, enemy, and the least, last and the lost.

Post-modernity, with all its faults and at its best, does allow room for a new sort of Christian spirituality. Not one which denies the past or its importance, but which builds on that past and focuses on the future, our shared eschatological future in Christ. I am not talking about naïve optimism based on human ability or possibilities. I am talking about an optimism based on and in the grace of God which can actually change human beings, and the course of human history. I actually believe that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new creation, the old has passed away.” How about you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Architecture of the Post-Modern Mind, Part II

Pedagogy is by definition the art of teaching, and of course its master principles. I call it an art rather than a science because there are a plethora of factors that make it a moving target: 1) the cultural context in which it is done; 2) the previous education of the audience (and the learning and unlearning required of that audience); 3) the epistemic principles in play in that culture (that is the assumptions about how we know what we know in that setting); and 4) the actual way the brain of that setting, era, culture is wired to learn, the habits of the heart and mind that affect this matter.

The setting in which the teacher in the 21rst century finds herself or himself is one in which increasingly the audience is composed of persons primarily geared to and triggered by visual stimuli. This is not a matter of heredity but rather cultural patterning and conditioning. The computer generation, by which I mean most persons glued to a screen since about the mid 80s, present different challenges to the teacher than most of the pre-80s learners they face, and even with the latter, many of them have spent so many years now learning the computer that they too are hard-wired for visual stimuli. Without DVD clips and powerpoints, even the most dynamic lecturers have a hard time reaching these post-modern learners.

And sadly they are all too often lazy learners anyway—“just give me the powerpoints (instead of taking notes)” they say. Or “point me to a website” instead of send me to the library to do original source research on my own. It is a challenging environment for learners and teachers alike. This is especially evident when one is dealing with an online course.

For a visual learner who cannot see the teacher and pick up his or her vibes, signals, body language, or tone of voice nor be able to see how other learners are responding to a class, and when they are taking notes and when nodding off, taking an online course, while it has various advantages, is scary because it is like flying blind, especially if the online classroom does not involve web-cams.

As a result, online courses are far more labor intensive, involve far more explanation, require far more hand-holding because each learner feels alone, off on an island, and largely without viable support and resources, especially if online ones are largely disallowed.

In ever so many ways then the computer generation conditions persons to be very unlike the people Jesus and Paul confronted in the first century A.D. That culture was an oral culture, with only about 15% literacy rate at most. People actually preferred hearing things than seeing them on a page. Documents were secondary to the living voice. This in turn means the Bible is addressed to a radically different sort of audience than we face now, and it presented very different pedagogical challenges. Jesus’ “let those with two good ears” might be replaced by “let those with two good eyes….” today. But there is a further and deeper issue.

Many analysts have pin-pointed the Matrix movies as inaugural and quintessential expressions of post-modernism, not least because virtual reality is portrayed as the real and deeper reality that matters in those movies. And herein lies the problem. For many of the computer generation, there is a preference for virtual reality, to the really real. In other words, in post-modernity there is a tendency to retreat into a mental world of our own making, whether it be “World of War Craft’ or ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ or something else.

This is one reason why the remaining modernists amongst us find people who spend so much time playing video or X box games so annoying. Things are said like “they need to come back to reality” or “they need to get a life” or “they need to go out and play a real game and get some exercise”. Hand maneuvers and increased hand-eye coordination in itself is after all not a very potent form of physical exercise. From the modernist point of view, those glued to computer screens and immersed in computer games are attempting to escape from reality, whether the charge is fair or not.

One of the problems youth ministers have had in reaching youth who are immersed in the computer and gaming and texting culture is that it is hard to get them away from their electronic devices, so often youth ministers go the "if you can't beat them join them route" sponsoring gaming parties. It is hard to get the gamers to relate to people directly, rather than through the buffer of a game or a computer screen.

And unfortunately for Evangelical Christian apologists, most of their apologetical training is geared to dealing with rationalist and modern arguments against God and faith, but in fact the discussion has largely moved on. The post-modern person is less concerned with whether something is logically consistent, and more concerned with whether it is captivating, whether it moves them, whether it interests and entertains them, whether it presents them with an alternative vision of reality.

Virtual reality is seen as more interesting and engaging than reality, and plausible and provocative truthiness is often seen as more engaging than the actual truth about something. In the post-modern age the clear and analytical documentary is replaced by the docu-drama, for what matters is the engaging and moving story. In the post-modern age shock jocks replace NPR dialogue and discourse, and the airwaves are seen as avenues for venting rather than inventing, for pooling one’s ignorance and feelings, rather than pooling one’s knowledge. Or so it seems.

The good news about post-modernity and its educational schemes, is that at least with online courses you largely have disembodied minds interacting, not whole persons. This is a plus in the sense that when one is online bodies, racial features, gender, shyness, matter less, and if all are required to contribute to the class all are able to do so if they can type. I have found that people who would never say ‘boo’ in a traditional class are often barricudas online. It helps those who are challenged or disadvantaged in a normal classroom setting. It levels the playing field, so to speak. Its hard to snow, smooze, or suck up to the teacher when they are miles away and not subject to a certain glance, or certain kinds of flattery. The ethos factors that tend to turn certain students into teachers pets largely disappear online.

If I were to sum up what post-modernity has thus far done to education and pedagogy I would have to say it is a mixed blessing at best. There are times when virtual reality is in fact unreality, and it leads to unreal expectations on the part of those used to learning, gaming, living in a virtual environment.

The cost of accessibility without mobility (i.e. without leaving one’s home, town, state and traveling to get an education) is that one does not really become part of a worshipping community at the locale where the education is delivered, or only in a derived sense does one do so.

I once did an experiment with an on campus class. The class was taped in the TV studio on campus at Asbury, and the students were given the choice to attend the class live in the studio, or in a classroom on campus via Vtel hookup. Many of them chose the latter, particularly the younger members of the class. They liked virtual Ben more than real Ben, not least because he was much bigger up on the screen--- MORE VISIBLE FOR VISUAL LEARNERS. It was a nice humbling experience for me.

Whether we like it or not, education and so pedagogy is changing because our audience and delivery modes have to change to reach them. And when the philosophical underpinnings of post-modernity come with the changes, the teacher finds himself having to adapt and adopt new ways of doing things, virtually all the time.
One has to explain why buying books is required (for the life of me I can't figure out why anyone would prefer a book on Kindle, rather than a real book with cover illustration, actual pages etc.). One has to explain why note taking is important. One has to explain why visual stimuli whilst important are not the be all and end all of education. One has to work to build community in a diverse environment where the class may be meeting in more than one place, or all online virtually, but in reality in 30 different places.

And the ultimate elephant in the room problem is disembodiment of the education. But then disembodiment is one of the spiritual features of post-modernity--- the Gnostic severing of the spiritual from the religious, of the spiritual from the historical, of the spiritual from the traditional. This is what we must discuss in the next post.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Architecture of the Post-Modern Mind, Part I

You may remember Rene Descartes, the person most often credited with providing us with the philosophy that was to undergird, and indeed help to create the modern mind with its focus on the individual self, leading to rampant individualism. You will remember that he famously said "cogito ergo sum", "I think, therefore I am". Actually what he said, which was in French, not Latin, was that a person's thinking is what demonstrates that there must be a thinker and therefore that the individual in question exists. The bottom line reality that one can be sure about is the undeniable thinking one does demonstrates something or someone doing the thinking.

If you would like to read a fascinating account of Rene Descartes life and influence I would suggest to you the recent and best-selling book by Jeremy Shorto entitled Descartes Bones. It is a fun read. What Shorto is able to demonstrate quite clearly is that the rationalism, and logic of modernity can be traced back to Descartes famous treatise on Method. What is also interesting about Descartes is that he was a committed Roman Catholic, and his main concern was actually about medicine and how the science of medicine requires observation and deduction from reality, not merely spinning out the medicinal logic or philosophy of Galen and others about disease and decay, healing and cures. The philosophical bifurcation of reasoning, logic, experimentation, observation from tradition, faith, and the like helped to set up the clash of science and faith thereafter, which having been put in separate categories thereafter were seen as not merely parallel ways of knowing but as antagonists. The rest, as they say, between the death of Descartes in 1650 and the rise of post-modernity in our own age, is well-recorded intellectual history.

What then is post-modernity? Post-modernity, sometimes called After-Modernity neither involves a flight from reason back into faith, nor a rejection of reason in favor of faith, but rather an attempt to get beyond the impasse. It is interesting that most of the adamant and now famous atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens are in fact unreconstructed modernists, who have simply taken for granted the rationalist paradigm for analyzing reality set in motion by Descartes and his Enlightenment successors. Somehow they have not gotten the memo yet that Western culture has moved on to post-modern ways of thinking about reality and its nature. Its as if they have never read people like Derrida or Foucault or Stanley Fish or Umberto Eco, to mention only a few agent provacateurs who helped nudge the West in the direction of post-modernity in differing ways.

In this particular post I want to talk about one of the ways post-modernity has affected religious, and more specifically Christian discourse, and that is that it reflects the globalization of human discourse and opposes the re-tribalization of it.

What do I mean by this? In the wake of the computer and Internet revolution, post-moderns look at life as not primarily involving an allegiance to some sub-set of humanity, but rather to the human race in general. The post-modern worldview transcends hard line nationalisms of any sort, or to speak in more American and religious terms it seeks to get beyond the pigeonholing of persons, including that particularly Protestant sort of pigeonholing called denominationalism.

The post-modern Christian not merely takes for granted the dictum of Paul that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile..." it takes seriously the dictum of John Wesley who famously said "the world is my parish". Post-Modern Christians talk a lot about being world Christians, and about global anything and everything-- the global economy, global politics, global missions and evangelism, global poverty initiatives, and the like. This is not because they do not love their own particular tribes and tongues and peoples and nations. It is because the opportunity has now arisen through the Internet and other means to be a less parochial and more cosmopolitan Christian, viewing and loving the whole world of humanity more like one would think God views and loves it.

Now this whole post-modern movement, sometimes associated in Christian circles with the emergent or emerging Christian movements, is in some ways a strong reaction to the waning influence of Christianity in the West, which in turn has led to the supplanting of the Judeao-Christian world view by 'the civil religion' of our culture. What I mean by this is that everyone, whether they are aware of it or not, has a value hierarchy by which they live.

In an age of increasing Biblical illiteracy and waning Christian influence in America (including increasing intolerance of Christianity and its theology and ethic), what has risen to the surface as the primary religion of the culture is the civil religion-- the use of sacred language and divine discourse to characterize one's nation, its wars, it's capitialistic enterprises and the like. God bless America and God bless our standard of living which we will protect at all costs.
'One nation under God' becomes 'our nation is our object of ultimate belief and concern', and thus becomes a form of idolatry.

Now let me be clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with either being an American or loving one's country and making sacrifices for it and serving it. What is wrong is when love of country rises to the top of one's value hierarchy above the love of God with whole heart and one's global neighbor as self, and indeed very far above the mandate of Jesus to love one's enemy. It's a matter of the orienting priorities of the heart.

Let me give an illustration. On the Sunday after 9-11 there was a minister on the West coast, who actually got into his pulpit and basically said "I am an American first, and a Christian second, bombs those terrorists back into the Stone Age." When he was called on this by a leader in his church after the service who asked "Don't you mean you are a Christian first, and an American second" the minister said No! He said he had meant what he said. Here is a revealing moment. In a crisis, the deepest thoughts of the human heart are often unveiled, and in the case of this minister it became clear that the civil religion and its ardent nationalism were in fact at the top of the man's value hierarchy, not Christian thinking about such matters.

Post-moderns are tired of tribalisms of whatever sort. They think that in a world fast becoming a global village, such narrow thinking cannot possibly show the way forward, much less show Jesus' way forward. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this post-modern view of reality, Christians will increasingly have to reckon with it. In the battle for loyalty between the civil religion of whatever country and Christianity, the post-modern is praying fervently for Christ's kingdom to come on earth, supplanting all earthly ones. In my next post, I will be discussing post-modern pedagogy, for we increasingly live in an age of those who primarily learn visually, not in an auditory manner.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Bible for those with a Tiny Attention Span

Dr. James Howell on the Divisive Issue of Abortion

James Howell is known for his thoughtful theological commentary on sensitive moral issues, and abortion is no different. While I do not agree with every last syllable in what follows, there are some very helpful insights here, especially in regard to how America has handled abortion differently, and in some ways less helpfully and humanely, than other Western nations. See what you think. BW3



No moral dilemma in our generation has spilled over into the political arena the way abortion has. Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973, mortified Christians have hurled themselves into political activism, and every candidate is compelled to say something on the matter. One-issue voters most often pinpoint abortion as their one issue – by far; whether a candidate is pro-life or pro-choice is the litmus test for countless American voters.

How might we think theologically about abortion? No one really “supports” abortion or thinks they should increase. The shrill rhetoric is a contest waged over “rights.” But Christians do not dwell on the very category of “rights”; we believe in gifts and responsibilities. There is no “right to life”; life is a gift from God – which is good enough reason not to take life. There is no “right to choose,” or a “right to control my own body”; my body belongs to God, so I am responsible to use it in holy ways, pleasing to God. From a Christian perspective, the pro-life side enjoys virtually every theological advantage.

Lots of people with whom I’ve spoken have a strong opinion on the subject, but yet are weary of the debate. Could it be that the conversation isn’t really a conversation, but a lot of shouting, shrill, with an all or nothing insistence that seems irresolvable? “Compromise” seems to be a dirty word to Christians – but should it be? We shy away from compromising, as we should, but then we might be humbler and wiser to embrace compromise now and then, especially when we try to transfer our moral zeal into the political process. We have to deal with other people in a democracy, and even as people of faith, we understand the inherently compromised nature of life in a fallen world.

Mary Ann Glendon, former professor of law at Harvard, a staunch conservative who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, wrote Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, a brilliant comparison of American law with that of European nations. Among the civilized nations she studies, only the U.S. features abortion on demand. In France, abortions after week ten are only permitted if the mother’s life is in peril; in Sweden, abortions are available only through week twelve, and generous financial support is provided for women who see their pregnancy through. In other countries, abortion law is decided in the legislature, not the courts – which Glendon believes allows for citizen input and some give and take in political deliberation. Not surprisingly, in our all-or-nothing “rights” society, where we provide less support for unwed mothers, we have significantly more abortions than other Western nations.

Thinking that most Americans do not support either the absolute pro-life or the absolute pro-choice positions, she argues that “compromise legislation” is less evil than the alternatives. If there are never any abortions ever, then what about ectopic pregnancies which threaten the mother? or horrific genetic disorders like Tay-Sachs in which a child that survives lives miserably and only briefly? or the rape of a twelve year old? If absolutely all abortions are legal, then late term abortions, and a casual mentality of after-the-fact birth control become acceptable.

Could it be that even the Christians, who love moral certitude and shun wishy-washy caving in, might lead the way in promoting reasonable compromise on an issue like abortion? or perhaps other issues as well?


Pat Metheny goes Polish

Pat's newest CD is with a bunch of Polish musicians who have serious chops. Check out these two live concert samples and see what you think. If you want the lyrics they are translated on the CD liner notes. Oh yes, and the female lead singer is Anna Maria Jopek and as you will see--- she can bring it. The project evolved from a request by Anna Maria for Pat to allow her to provide some original transcriptions of his music, along with some tunes of her own, and that they would perform together (they performed live together in 2002). Pat loved her sound, and having never recorded with a female singer in any extended way before, this was something creative and new. See what you think of the results. If you like jazz fusion, as I do--- this is synergy, magic, blessed.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"What is Truthiness?" The Truth about Wikipedia

Whilst Pilate asked Jesus "What is truth?" it is only appropriate that in a post-modern age, a post-modern satirist like Stephen Colbert would ask "what is truthiness" and is it enough for us in this day and age-- is a reasonable facsimile of the truth what we are settling for nowadays?

My son the computer whiz sent me this recent article on the standard of 'truth' that Wikipedia uses, namely verifiability from a recognized source. When one couples this with the banning of original research, it leads to real problems, and explains why so many academics do not allow the use of Wikipedia in student papers much less in scholarly work.

Check out the link below. Now someone needs to do a similar review of, and its standard of truth, or perhaps truthiness.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Ah the joys of being young, exuberant and inexperienced. You'll try anything-- like Dancing with the Stars, or say, running for the highest political office.


Friday, October 17, 2008

The 'Duchess' of Despondency

Keira Knightley has quickly become the queen of the period piece in recent years (think 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Atonement') and in the Duchess she revisits the 18th century (the film begins in 1774) and inhabits a true and truly sad tale of the Duchess of Devonshire which vividly depicts the plight of patrician women in a rigid patriarchal and class society like 18th century Britain. Ralph Fiennes plays the laconic and morose Duke (think his role as Voldemort) to this Duchess and gives new meaning to 'British reserve' in this film, as he cannot even manage to express love to his own wife, or even decent compassionate understanding of her. Hence, she is trapped in a loveless arranged marriage.

Though it is not an excuse, it is understandable why there were so many dalliances, mistresses, and affairs in such a world. People didn't marry for love or companionship. The nobility looked at marriage rather like they viewed horses-- it was a matter of picking a well bred creature and breeding with them to produce the appropriate male heir who would be "to the manor born".

This film is beautifully shot, as one has come to expect of BBC films, and clocks in at 1 hour and 45 minutes, which is a good thing, since its focus is on manners and melodrama, not real drama or action. One could use a spot of tea and some biscuits while watching this sad tale unfurl itself across the screen. Rated PG 13, mostly for brutish behavior (no sex actually depicted please, we're British), this movie ably sticks to its subject matter-- which is indeed the plight of these upper class women in a male dominated world of wealth and power. The Duke only wants loyalty and a male heir from his wife, and "she must do her duty". There is a lot of talk about how "duty calls" in this film.

The beauty of the scenery, the costumes, the houses and the rural settings in England, "that green and pleasant land" only punctuate the misery of the human beings who inhabit those clothes and settings, those lifestyles of the rich and lovelorn. What is even more ironic is that the very people who are front and center in this film and see themselves as progressive Whigs (it really should have been the Wig party, they wore so many of them) who are opposed to slavery (hence the cameos of George Fox and his speech making, but unfortunately for historical accuracy, the founder of the Quaker movement lived at the end of the previous century--1624-91) and wanting to enfranchise more people to vote (not women of course), are the very persons who behave so beastly towards their own mates and family. They prove the old adage if it weren't for marriage, men and women wouldn't have anyone to fight with day in and day out.

As for the plot, Georgianna marries William, a man considerably older than her, a marriage of convenience, arranged by her mother and the Duke. The Duke is driven by a need for a male heir, and as the movie begins Georgianna's mother is busily assuring the Duke that her family's women had always been able to produce such progeny, in abundance. Alas however, after the marriage, Georgianna has two girls, and two boys end in miscarriage.

Caught in a loveless situation, she wishes she had not marry in this way, and could have pursued her affections for one Charles Grey, destined thereafter to be the prime minister of all England. Georgianna is forced to accept a further daughter, sired by William out of wedlock, a beautiful little girl named Charlotte, and to raise her as her own. This she does, but what she cannot abide is William eventually bringing in a mistress into the house, and not just any woman, but in fact one of her own best friends. She feels robbed of her friend and friendship by her own husband. Horrible.

There are in fact various beastly things that happen to Georgianna who remains married to this man throughout her life: 1) she is raped by him in part because she has admitted to a dalliance with Charles Grey (though it had not gotten around to sex quite yet); 2) later she is forced to give up her love child with Charles Grey to the Grey family, and frankly this may be the most horrific scene in the movie where in an English marsh she meets and is forced to hand over her little daughter Eliza to General Grey, the father of Charles.

There are more such episodes in this story which will make your blood boil and your milk curdle, but suffice it to say that though the movie is well done, and you end up with plenty of sympathy for the plight of Georgianna, you don't much like any of these people at the end of the day. They make their beds, they lie in them, then they go and lie in someone else's then they just lie and lie and lie, all the while "preserving the appearances of decency and good form". This behavior gives the word hypocrisy a bad name.

Still, Georgianna is in some ways a sympathetic figure, and one who admirably loves and raises her children despite all the obstacles in the way. Love of one's children prevails over the love of her life, as Georgianna cannot leave William to be with Charles because it would mean never seeing her children again--- and never is a very long time indeed.

Human falleness, despite human pretenses, taints us all, and so perhaps we should not look any more askance at the 18th century British nobility than we look at ourselves, who consistently sin and are only inconsistently good and godly. The story reminds us, if we should need any reminding, that goodness doesn't come from good breeding, or a good education, or good finances, or good opportunities, it comes from God, and hardly anyone in this films shows even a modicum of a nodding acquaintance with the Almighty. And therein lies the rub.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Unbearable Ministry


A Roman Catholic priest, a Pentecostal minister, and a Rabbi all served as chaplains to the students of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. They got together 2-3 times a week for coffee and conversation. One day, one of them said to the other two that preaching and serving the sacraments to human beings wasn't all that difficult. A real challenge would be to preach to a bear!

One thing led to another and the three of them agreed to do an experiment. They would go up in the Smokie mountains, find a bear, and attempt to convert him through preaching or the sacraments. They agreed to get back together seven days later and discuss how it went.

When they assembled a week hence, Father Flannery had his arm in a sling, was on crutches and had various bandages on his hands and legs. He shared his adventure first: "Well I went into the woods and found a bear alright, and when I found him I began to read him the RC Catechism, but that bear wanted nothing to do with that and began to slap me around. So, quickly I grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him, and doggone if he didn't become gentle as a lamb. The bishop will join me next week and we will give him first communion and start the process of confirmation."

The Pentecostal, the Rev. Billy Bob Bible spoke up next. He was in a wheelchair, with his arms and legs in casts, and with an IV drip. In his best fire and brimstone voice, he claimed "Well brothers, you know that we don't believe in sprinklin'. I commenced to reading the Bible to the bear, but the bear wanted nothing to do with that, or me. So I grabbed him before he left and we began to wrassle, and fell down a hill into a creek. Quick-like I jumped up and dunked his hairy soul, and doggone if he didn't become gentle as a lamb in an instant. We spent the rest of the day praisin' Jesus."

The rabbi had been silent all this time, and in fact was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and in traction with all sorts of monitors hooked up to him. He was in bad shape, but was able to look at the other two and say "Looking back on it, I should have started by reciting the ten commandments to him. Circumcision may not have been the best way to start."

Blessed are the Martyrs who Die in the Lord Henceforth

If you are at all a student of Christian history, you will know there have been numerous martyrdoms of Christians in every age of the Christian era. You don't even need to consult a hagiographic work like Foxe's Book of Martyrs to know this is true.

I was in Turkey two years ago when some indigenous Christians in the eastern part of the country were brutally murdered by their Muslim neighbors.

This week we have the report in the NY Times of similar murders in India by Hindus. Here is the link:

Christians are forced to renounce their faith in exchange for safety, or else face marytrdom. This has been going on for weeks in India, but our national news of course has hardly mentioned the fact. This ought to be stunning to us since India is the world's largest democracy and officially a tolerant secular state. Hindus make up the majority of citizens in India, whilst Christians are only about 2% of the population or so.

The article goes on to say that in the eastern state of Orissa, "in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze."

We need to pray for these folks, and for the cessation of the violence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

War's Wisdom

They say there is no wisdom
They say it isn’t so,
They stir up rainy weather
But then it starts to snow.

Poor prognosticators
Pungent pundits too
They trust their own predictions
But don’t know what to do.

The politics of fear,
And self protection reign
As if killing all our foes
Was possible and sane.

We alienate our allies
We say we’ll go alone
We ignore prevailing wisdom
And enter a war zone.

And no one’s even asking
What would the Master say
We sing our patriotic songs
When things go wrong we pray.

It’s right to ask for sacrifice
Whene’er the cause is just
Whenever truth is being served
When God’s the one we trust.

Vengeance is no solution.
Observe the Holy Land
Sick cycles of destruction
Bad blood flows in the sand.

There surely is a wisdom
It’s spoken in God’s Word
It speaks of holy sacrifice
Not one that is absurd.

It calls for love of enemy
And giving lives for friends
It calls for taking up the cross
Through suffering, violence ends.

Lamech called for vengeance
Seventy-seven fold,
Jesus said forgive that much
Before the night grows cold.

“Vengeance is surely mine”
Thus speaks a sovereign Lord,
And when we try to play God’s role
We violate his Word.

An ‘eye for an eye’s myopic
Or else it leaves both blind.
Endless reciprocity
Leaves humanity behind.

Someday the lion will lie down
Next to the harmless lamb.
Someday the swords will be retooled
For plowing up the land.

Someday we’ll see that ‘just wars’
Are never just enough
Someday we’ll realize the kingdom’s for
The meek, not for the tough.

Until that day we all must pray
For forgiveness for what we’ve done
For those who live just by the sword
Lose, even when they’ve won.

Somewhere there is an endgame
Without the sound of taps
A plan to play a different role
Blessed peacemakers perhaps.


This is a poem that some Americans will have a hard time stomaching. I understand this, but I am a pacifist because I believe that is exactly what Christ demands of me in the Sermon on the Mount and what Paul says as well in Rom. 12–14. Of course I do not think that Christ was trying to make public policy when he taught his disciples to turn the other cheek and love one’s enemies, but I do think he was offering an ethic that he expected his own followers to embrace. Jesus believed in suffering for, and even at the hands of his enemies. He did not believe in killing them.

Jesus it will be remembered even stopped to heal the ear of the high priest’s slave as he was being carted off to trial, and told his disciple to stop the violence. Jesus it will be remembered even forgave his executioners who had wrongly nailed him to the cross saying with his dying breath “Father forgive them . . . ”

What this all means for me is that while I certainly pray for our troops safety and that they may come home unharmed, I find that I have a Christian duty to oppose war which overrides any patriotic duty to support it. I am well aware that other equally sincere Christians think differently about this matter, though for the life of me I don’t see how they get around the obligation for Christians to follow the example of Christ when it comes to the matter of non-violence, the obligation to embrace personally the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount.

Yes, I am well aware of Romans 13, which suggests that governments have the right to bear some kinds of arms for some sorts of defensive purposes. I do not dispute this, but what I do dispute is that Christians have any obligation to serve their country in capacities that involve violence. This means for me, that I could never be any kind of soldier, except of course the Christian sort spoken of in the familiar hymn or in Ephesians 5. I suppose it also means I could never be some kinds of law enforcement officers either.

I believe there is a place for this opinion not merely in a democracy like America, but especially in the body of Christ, though it surely is a minority opinion, I realize. Sometimes people point to the OT for justification for fighting wars. Sometimes they even talk about wars sponsored or endorsed by God. I understand this, but I think it involves a misreading of several things.

In the first place, those texts are about God’s chosen people and their taking of the Holy Land. Americans, though they may like to think otherwise, are not God’s chosen people anymore than any other modern nation state is. According to the NT God’s people at this juncture are “Jew and Gentile united in Christ” (Gal. 3.28), an ethnically and racially and nationally diverse group that comprises a world-wide fellowship of Christ. In other words, those texts provide no justification for secular governments of any sort going to war. Modern wars are not holy wars, no matter who’s fighting them.

Secondly, Christians are under the new covenant, not any forms of the old covenant, and there are decided differences between the new covenant Jesus inaugurated and the old covenants. One of the most obvious differences has to do precisely with this matter of non-violence. Jesus believed he was bringing in the Dominion of God upon the earth, the eschatological state of affairs. He believed he was bringing in the state which Isaiah spoke of when he talking about the lion lying down with the lamb. This among other things is why we have a blessing on peacemakers as one of the inaugural beatitudes.

The already-not yet nature of the coming of this kingdom of course makes our ethical situation not always clear, but what is clear to me is that if I am going to err, I should err on the side of love not hate, peace not war, forgiveness not vengeance, because at the end of the day it is those qualities which will endure and prevail one day when the kingdom has fully come on earth.

I think it is high time for all Christians, perhaps especially American ones, to have a more adequate theology of peacemaking, rather than seeking justification for participating in more wars. I may be wrong about this, but if so, I want to err on the side that I see the Savior, took for he is the one who believed that there were many things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for. Indeed, he believed that killing violated the values that were worth dying for.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

'Judge for Yourself'-- A Sermon on Mt. 7.1-6

The following is a sermon for Oct. 15, 2008 in Estes Chapel, Asbury Seminary

YOU BE THE JUDGE---- Mt. 7.1-6

Some texts in the NT ought to be able to sue for abuse and misuse. Mt. 7.1-6 is one of those texts. How many times have you heard someone say ‘judge not lest you be judged’ to neutralize this text and in effect promote doing nothing at all, since we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s highest and best for us? The Greek verb krino here however does not mean ‘expose not, lest you be exposed’, it does not mean ‘do not be morally discerning lest someone discern your flaws’, it does not mean ‘never correct or hold someone morally accountable, lest you be held accountable for your behavior’. It means none of those things.

Much nearer to the mark would be a translation ‘condemn not, lest you be condemned’. In other words it is basically the synonym of the slightly stronger verb katakrino in John 8.11 where Jesus says ‘neither do I condemn you…’ This is legal language, and it may well be the ancient equivalent of saying ‘do not damn someone to Hell, lest you be so damned’. It has to do with passing full and final judgment on someone’s life or even their souls, and only God has the right, the knowledge, the authority to do that. Jesus is preventing his followers from assuming the posture of judge, jury, or executioner of someone else’s foibles, and deeming them irretrievably lost and undoubtedly heading for outer darkness.

Instead, Jesus is trying to refocus the disciples on getting their own houses in order. He does this is several ways. First of all he reminds them that they will be evaluated with the same severity that they evaluate others. A lot of folks can dish it out, but they can’t take it when it is their conduct that is being critiqued. Jesus suggests that we have an infinite capacity for maximizing the critique of other people’s sins, and minimizing and rationalizing our own.
But Jesus’ sapiential metaphor of the speck or the plank in the eye suggests that the moral critique meter might well actually be pointing in the opposite direction. We strain over the gnat in someone else’s life, and swallow the camel in our own, so to speak. We totally ignore or are oblivious to our own even greater flaws, sins, shortcomings. And even worse, we assume the condescending posture of one who is in a morally superior position by saying “here let me help you with that speck in your eye”. Notice in vs. 5 Jesus does not suggest that one shouldn’t morally critique others or hold them accountable. What he says is, don’t be a hypocrite—first take the plank out of your own eye, and then go deal with others. It’s a matter of the order of things. We must get our own house in order first.

The term hypokrites is certainly an interesting one. It is a term that comes from the ancient Greek theater and refers to a person who plays a role, rather than being in real life what they seem. We of course take the English derivative of this term to mean someone who does not practice what he preaches, someone who does not walk what he talks. But in fact the actor is not actually trying to be or become the person he depicts, he is simply playing a role.
Too often in the church, leaders play roles which do not in fact represent what they are living into. An actor who plays the role of Jesus, such as Henry Ian Cusick, the character we know as Desmond from ‘Lost’ who did play Jesus in the movie the Gospel of John, (he was found before he was ‘lost’), is not pretending he is actually Jesus, and certainly thereafter will not be held accountable for not being just like Jesus once he finished making the movie, anymore than he will be held accountable for not being Desmond when ‘Lost’ finishes its run in another two seasons.

The point is, Jesus doesn’t want actors or pretenders, nor does he want hypocrites either. In view of a whole series of texts in Matthew where Jesus insists that his followers be morally discerning, hold each other accountable, and to be critically evaluating conduct, (see Mt. 7.15-20; 10. 11-15; 16.6-12; 18.17-18), this text provides no excuse for pretending or abdicating one’s responsibilities to be thy brother’s or sister’s keeper. The issue here has to do with unfair critiques, uncharitable evaluations, and judging others by a different standard than the one uses to judge yourself.

The text calls for rigorous self-examination instead, not merely a ‘non-judgmental’ attitude. We are reminded however that God will judge us by the same strict standard by which we judge others. We can morally evaluate and critique words and deeds of others, but not hearts, heads, persons, lives. T.W Manson puts it this way:

“The whole business of judging persons is in God’s hands, for he alone knows the secrets of men’s hearts. This does not mean we are not to use all the moral insight we possess in order to discover what is right and wrong; but that we are to confine ourselves to that field and refrain from passing judgment on persons. For our judgment is a factor in shaping their lives, and a harsh judgment may help a fellow-creature on the road to perdition.”

There is an important and interesting play on Greek words in this little passage between merely ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing clearly’. In vs. 3 the verb means see where it speaks of seeing someone else’s faults. But in vs. 5 the verb of sight means ‘see clearly’ and what is being suggested is that when one has truly seen and dealt with the plank in one’s own eye, only then can one see clearly enough to help the brother with the speck in his eye. Self-examination and self-critique, and self-reformation leads to more accurate seeing of others flaws, and the ability to help them.

In his wonderful and convicting non-fiction book, An Innocent Man (which should be required ethical reading before one leaves seminary), the Christian writer John Grisham tells the tale of a man condemned to death row and to execution for a crime he never committed. It is, quite rightly, a powerful critique of the whole enterprise of capital punishment as implemented by fallible human beings whose knowledge is limited, whose moral insight is even more limited at times, and whose right to condemn another person to death is frankly debatable and morally dubious from a NT point of view. It is precisely this sort of human legal condemnation and consigning to execution and even damnation that Jesus is critiquing in this passage.

The Bible is ever so clear “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I shall repay”, or as Paul puts it – “do not repay anyone evil for evil… do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for God says ‘Vengeance is mine…’ but to the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him….etc. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Had we ever thought as Christians that when we condemn a lost person to capital punishment we might well be consigning them to Hell, by depriving them of the time and opportunity to repent and know the Lord? Its worth thinking about. And please do not tell me that they have forfeited the right to such a consideration, because none of us have such a right as the right to time for amendment of life. That is something that is a mercy to all of us sinners, not a right.

The last verse of this passage, like the first, is equally one that has been subject to abuse and misuse. Do not throw pearls before swine, or what is holy to the dogs. Swine and dogs are images of unclean animals, and they were indeed images used by Jews to refer to Gentiles, on whom Jewish pearls of wisdom would be lost entirely, or so it was often thought. Jesus’ point here however is that certain highly precious and valuable teachings are for insiders, not outsiders who will cast them aside, or make no good use of them. In other words, here we have a reminder again that this whole Sermon on the Mount ethic is not for just anyone or everyone, but rather for those who are committed to being Jesus’ disciple. To whom more is given, more is required.

God does indeed expect of us a higher standard of righteousness and also of mercy. He does indeed expect of us a higher standard of moral discernment and understanding of others. He expects that we entirely refrain from putting on the judge’s cap and condemning someone else to death, or into outer darkness, and for me at least that means I could never serve on a capital murder jury if we lived in a state where capital punishment was the possible outcome of the trial. Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. And honestly for me, a consistent life ethic means no abortion, no capital punishment, no war. But that is a story for another day. What Mt. 7.1-6 calls us all to, is more self-awareness, more self-examination, more repentance, more humility, more living into a higher righteousness, and with Emily Dickinson we should all say: “Judge tenderly of me” remembering whenever we are about to condemn another to final judgment “there but for the grace of God, go I.”


Friday, October 10, 2008

'Express' Yourself-- The Ernie Davis Story

For eleven years of my life I lived an hour and a bit from Cleveland, and came to know a lot of wonderful folks who were die-hard Browns fans. There was a poignancy to that loyalty, much like the loyalty to the Cubs. You learn something about unconditional love when you meet these folks. One of my favorite friends from Cleveland is Dr. William Myers. Bill is not only a fine NT professor at Ashland Seminary, he has been pastor at New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Cleveland as well. When he was a young man, he made a little money by being one of the many workers in chilly Cleveland stadium (dubbed affectionally the mistake by the lake) selling popcorn, peanuts and the like. Doing this in the early 60s he saw some of Jim Brown's career, and observed the tragic demise of Ernie Davis who died of leukemia in 1963 before he had even been able to actually play for the Browns. But it is not always the case that how a person's life ends most defines or reveals the person. Ernie Davis was in many ways as much of a pioneer as Jackie Robinson or Jim Brown. He was the first African American to win the Heisman in 1962 after a stellar career at Syracuse. But there is so much more to his story.

I am most certainly a sports fan, and whilst baseball has been blessed with quite a number of wonderful portrayals on the silver screen, there are not that many classic football movies, and even fewer which deal with a major social issue like racism. Thus I suspect that this movie will in some ways be compared to Cuba Gooding's finest hour playing 'Radio' in another football film that deals with racism. Racism is such an ugly scar on the American landscape, made even uglier when, as sometimes is the case, it has been justified on the basis of the Bible. There is a moment in 'The Express' when one white Texas football player expresses precisely this oxymoronic point of view saying 'aren't you ashamed as a white Christian to be playing with spooks?' and is rebuffed by the reply of the white player for Syracuse, with 'nope I'm Jewish'. But fortunately there is another face of Christianity in this movie as well. Scenes like this always produce a viseral reaction in me, as I grew up in the racist south and I saw its sorry and ugly face and how it scarred both those who did the hating and those who they despised.

The Ernie Davis story encompasses his short twenty three years of life, ending in 1963. Not long before he died he had won the Heisman, and met JFK who wanted to congratulate him for his courage in standing up against the bigotry. And those scenes provide the climax of this movie, but do not reveal its true arc.

Though it seems hard to believe, Dennis Quaid, who is excellent in this film as coach Ben Swartzwalder (who coached Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little in succession, and died in 1993) has never played a role quite like this before. He is first rate in this, and has the coach's withering stare and grimace down to a fine art.

Caught in the age of transition, Swartzwalder tried to balance keeping his black players from getting harmed, and at the same time allowing them to grow and play to their full potential. It was a fine line to walk, and we see it so clearly in the January 1960 Cotton Bowl where Syracuse played Texas, and the black players took a beating, literally, from the Texas boys who despised them, while the referees turned a blind eye to the matter. Undaunted Ernie Davis and his mates won that game and the National Championship with an undefeated season, thanks largely to the Express. Rob Brown does a masterful job of playing Ernie Davis as a teen and young man growing up in Uniontown Pa. and then Elmira N.Y.

But what may get overlooked in this PG rated film that clocks in at two hours is the actual Christian elements in it. The film begins with Ernie's grandfather asking him to read the Scripture for the night, which turns out to be Ernie's life verse that he lived by---1 Cor. 15.10-- "for by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than them all, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." Ernie grew up in a coal town in the 50s, and lost his Christian grandfather to an early grave from being in the mines too long, near Uniontown. His brother tried to get him involved in nascent days in the civil rights movement, by taking him to a rally at the local black church, and there is a brief appearance of Martin Luther King in the film counciling non-violent resistance to racism. It was a motto that Ernie lived by in everyday life, but he took out his frustrations on the field by running over more than one would be tackler.

Ernie Davis was that rarest of backs-- he had the speed and jukes of a Reggie Bush, he had the power running of a Jim Brown, and he had the moxie and reversal of field capacity of Sweetness, Walter Payton. He ran back kickoffs, played defensive back, could throw the ball, and in general was a one man wrecking crew. All this you see in the film, and it makes his untimely demise all the more stunning. Nothing more reveals our mortality than to see the felling of an enormously gifted athlete in the prime of life by some dread disease or accident.

The film also highlights the role one's faith plays in crisis when the odds are against you. It brought back some pretty vivid memories when I saw the coach lead the whole Syracuse football team in the Lord's Prayer before they played the Cotton Bowl game. Like any good film, the character's in this movie have some complexity, and we see the change of heart in one of the more racist white players for Syracuse. We also see the courage of Ernie Davis to go and apologize to his coach for arguing with him about playing time. The measure of a man is often best seen in how he responds to his mistakes, and whether he owns up to them.

This film is a timely one in various ways, because once again it raises the proper question, has America, or at least most Americans finally gotten beyond its racism? Of course the answer is, not as much as it should have, but this film does remind us how much progress has been made since the 50s. Many people will see this election as a referendum on racism in America. Whether that is fair or not, this film reminds us that true Christians do not accept such prejudices, not least because in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, no male and female (Gal. 3.28) as Paul puts it. Or as Ernie reminds us at the beginning of the film--- all of us are what we are by the grace of God, and by hard work as well, as the man from Tarsus put it. Ernie Davis reveals that both these things said in 1 Cor. 15.10 are true.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Remember Hermes? He’s the little guy you see from time to time on the logo at the florist shop, wearing a WWI trench helmet and always on the run. Actually, in Greek tradition he was the messenger of the gods, delivering the word of some deity to humans who badly needed to hear it. Hermes, and the concept of his role, is the basis for the Greek words hermeneutike (first found in Plato Epin. 975C) which refer to the art of interpreting. We find the variant word 'hermeneia' for instance in 1Cor. 12.10 where Paul refers to the interpretation of tongues.

In modern discourse the term hermeneutics normally refers to the art (not science) of interpreting important often ancient or sacred, texts such as the Bible. But why would we need a guide to the perplexed in regard to the interpreting of the Bible? After all, don’t Christians have brains and the Holy Spirit to guide them? Well yes, but all modern brains are affected in the way they think by the modern cultural milieu in which they are immersed. They are affected as well by their whole educational progress (or regress) through school as well.

And frankly, ancient Biblical cultures, languages, and modes of conveying meaning are often so different from what modern ‘common sense’ may deduce that we do need some guidelines to help us interpret the Biblical texts which came out of very different cultures and circumstances from our own, ESPECIALLY if we are only trying to interpret the Bible on the basis of one or more English translations, none of which are perfect representations of the original language texts.

WORD UP--- Every translation is already an interpretation of an ancient Biblical text. Once you get this fact through your brain, you realize that all modern persons need some help in interpreting the Bible. We need to give the Holy Spirit more to work with in dealing with the modern thoughts that naturally go racing through our brains when we have a close encounter with the Word of God. What I offer below is just a few of the guidelines or signposts to help prevent misreading of Biblical texts. In this posting I am offering 3 guidelines. There are many more, and sometime later I will bring them up.

1) ‘What it meant is what it means’. Meaning comes contextually not from just having words in isolation but words in conjunction with one another in a specific sentence or larger context. For example, the English word ‘row’ can be a noun or a verb, depending on the context. It is not true that ‘in the beginning was the dictionary’. Dictionaries are compilations of information based on close studies of how words are used in various contexts. Dictionaries do not define words, they reflect the denotations and connotations they have been discovered to have in texts, conversation and the like.

When I say ‘what it meant is what it means’ in reference to any text, but especially the Bible, I mean that the meaning is encoded in the complex of words and phrases we find in the text. Meaning is not something we get to read into the text on the basis of our own opinions or ideas. Meaning is something that resides in the text, having been placed there by the inspired author and requires of us that we discover what that meaning is by the proper contextual study of the text.

‘Significance’ however is a different matter altogether. A text can have a significance or even an application for you or me, that the original author could never have imagined. But the text cannot have a meaning that the original inspired author did not place there. Meaning is one thing, significance or application another. The job of hermeneutics is to help us rightly interpret the meaning of these important Biblical texts, and the difference between meaning and significance.

Let me give you an illustration. The Book of Revelation was written in the first instance for the seven churches in Asia mentioned in Rev. 2-3 to strengthen them and help them get through a rough time of persecution, prosecution, and even execution in the last decade or so of the first century when the evil Emperor Domitian was persecuting Christians. The whole book was written to them in the first place, and it was all meant to have meaning for them. None of it was written in the first place for 21rst century Christians.

Thus when the book talks about an evil empire, and a beastly ruler named 666, and about flying things with scorpion-like tails, it is not in the first instance referring to some modern world dominator, or the EU, or to Blackhawk helicopters! Those first Christians in the first century could never have understood those texts to refer to such things, because of course such things did not exist in the first century A.D.

Let me insist once more—‘what the text meant for them, is still what it means today’. John was referring to the Roman Empire and Emperor and speaking hyperbolically about plagues of insects, something all too familiar to that world. Now here is what is interesting. Apocalyptic prophecy by its nature uses more generic universal symbols and metaphor to speak about certain historical realities. I am not at all suggesting that the text of Revelation is not referring to things happening in space and time— John is speaking about such things. But he speaks about them in generic and highly graphic metaphorical ways. He uses phrase like ‘it will be like… it will be like’ indicating he is drawing analogies, not offering literal descriptions.

All too often modern interpreters of Revelation don’t understand this. They either assume if its figurative language it isn’t referential, or they assume you are denying the particularity of the text if you deny it refers to one particular person and set of circumstances. But that’s not how generic symbols work--- Mr. 666 could just as well be Hitler or Stahlin as Nero or Domitian. It refers to any evil world dominator of a pagan or godless sort. This is precisely why Christians in any and all generations in the last 2,000 years have felt John was speaking to their situation. He was--- but there are wars, and rumors of wars, and plagues and cosmic signs in the heavens in every generation of church history, not just the last one.

2) ‘Context is king’. One of the great, great dangers in modern interpretation of the Bible is proof-texting. What this amounts to is the strip-mining of certain key terms and ideas, linking them together with similar or the same words in other texts and contexts, and coming up with a meaning which none of the original texts had. Let’s take a perfect example—the word perfect in the NT. Jesus said “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ in Mt. 5.48. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13.10 Paul says that “when the perfect comes, the partial disappears.” Are they talking about the same thing just because they use the same term? Well, no.

The context of Mt. 5 indicates that Jesus is referring to that sort of whole-hearted loving of others that characterizes God. ‘Be perfect’ means be loving like the Father is loving. Paul on the other hand is talking about when the eschaton (the final perfect condition) comes, and we see Jesus face to face and understand all things perfectly and clearly. Words only have meaning in contexts, and plucking words out of contexts and linking them to other uses of the same word is often a recipe for disaster and misinterpretation. Each verse of Scripture, indeed each key term in Scripture should be interpreted in its historical, literary, religious, theological, canonical contexts, to mention but a few. This of course means that the modern interpreter of the Bible must be a student of Biblical interpretation, must study to find themselves approved. Treating the Bible like a Ouija board, and just opening it up and thinking the meaning will leap out of the verse on the page into one’s brain, especially if we keep thumbing through and looking for other examples of the same word, is simply laziness and not careful contextual study of God’s word. Read Ps. 119 and how it talks about the diligent study and meditation on God’s Word that is required.

Let me give you an illustration. I had a phone call over twenty years ago from a parishioner from one of my four N.C. Methodist Churches in the middle of the state. He wanted to know if it was o.k. to breed dogs, cause his fellow carpenter had told him that it said somewhere in the KJV that God’s people shouldn’t do that. I told him I would look up all the references to dog in the Bible and get to the bottom of this. There was nothing of any relevance in the NT, but then I came across this peculiar translation of an OT verse—“thou shalt not breed with the dogs’.

I called my church member up and told him “I’ve got good news and bad news for you.” He asked for the good news first. I said “well you can breed as many of those furry four footed creatures as you like, nothing in the Bible against it.” He then asked what the bad news was “well” I said, “there is this verse that calls foreign women ‘dogs’ and warns the Israelites not to breed with them.” There was a pregnant silence on the other end of the line, and finally Mr. Smith said “ Well, I am feeling much relieved, my wife Betty Sue is from just down the road in Chatham county!”

3) Genre matters. Before we can interpret a particular type of literature we need to understand what literary type or kind of literature it is. Prose should be interpreted according to the kinds of information prose is meant to give, poetry should be interpreted as poetry, historical narrative as narrative, parables as the literary fictions that they are, and apocalyptic prophecy must be interpreted as the highly metaphorical literature it is, and so on. As C.S. Lewis once said, until you know the purpose and kind of a text, what it intends to say or convey, you don’t know how to read it, properly. And frankly no one should ever start reading the Bible with its last book. That’s not because its unfair to peek at the conclusions before you read all the rest. It’s because Revelation, as apocalyptic prophecy is the most complex material in the canon, the literature most likely to be misinterpreted by modern persons. Let me give one more illustration

1967-68 was an interesting time. Neil Armstrong actually landed on the moon and hit a golf ball a mile! If only my driver would do that. But seriously folks, I was riding with a friend on the Blue Ridge Parkway when the clutch blew out of my Dad’s 1955 Chevy. As the Bible says ‘my countenance fell’. There are no gas stations, or really any kind of help of that sort to be found on that beautiful mountain parkway. Luckily my friend Doug and I got a push off the parkway into a Texaco station, and then, on that hot July day we decided to hitch hike back to High Point in the middle of the state. Almost immediately we were picked up by a really ancient couple dressed in black driving a black 48 Plymouth. Doug, now a lawyer in Greensboro, decided to strike up a conversation and referring to the moon walk of Neil Armstrong. The elderly man driving said that was all fake—a TV hoax. Doug, not recognizing invincible ignorance when he saw it, decided to argue with the man. Meanwhile, picture me elbowing him and whispering for him to shut up, since we needed the ride. Turns out we had been picked up by genuine Flat Landers from the N.C. mountains. Doug however persisted and asked “Why don’t you believe they went to the moon, and why don’t you believe the world is round?” The man retorted “It says in the book of Revelations that the angels will stand on the four corners of the earth. World couldn’t be round, could it, if its got four corners to stand on.”

Now what was wrong with this man's comment, other than that Revelations (plural) is not the name of the last book of the Bible. The problem was he had mistaken the genre of that book. He had assumed it was teaching him cosmology and geography, when in fact it was teaching theology and eschatology. It was saying in a metaphorical way that God’s angels will come from all points on the compass to do his will and span the globe. If you don’t grasp the kind of literature you are reading, you aren’t going to know what kind of information it is trying to convey. Interestingly, the problem with that Flat-Lander’s interpretation is not either that he took the book of Revelation seriously, or that he thought it was referential. It is indeed referential. But the realities it is describing, it describes in metaphorical terms.

Well, I think I hear ole Hermes calling me to move on to other floral venues. So we will leave it at that for now. Think on these things. BW3


Christmas is coming, and the Lazarus Effect, according to various of those who have now reviewed and blurbed the book, is said to be the perfect stocking stuffer for Christmas or Hanukkah. It is now available on Amazon, and you will find Anne Rice's blurb for the book as the first review. Enjoy-- BW3.

P.S. The book is now also available through Cokesbury Bookstores and is discountable there if you have a Cokesbury card (or if you are willing to obtain one).

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ben Stein's Confession--- on Christian Religion in the Public Sphere

Ben Stein is always worth listening to, even when one strongly disagrees with him. The following is a column of his from CBS Morning News Commentary, and appears to be genuine, for all you Snopes fans out there. I find myself quite agreeing with this little confession. BW3

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a Church it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away .

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this happen?" (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.

She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?"

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE SOW."

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says . Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in. My Best Regards .
Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Monday, October 06, 2008

More on the Christ Cup

Wieland Willker has carefully assembled a good deal of the recent discussion on the so-called Christ cup. Here it is:

Mysterious CRESTOU inscription
Everything else of potential interest to forum members.
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Mysterious CRESTOU inscription
by wie on Wed 17. Sep 2008, 12:35

Another enigmatic inscription has surfaced:


Images courtesy of Der Spiegel. Thank you!
Copyright: © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, Foto: Christoph Gerigk

(Larger images are available from me on request.)

Franck Goddio found this cup on the ground of the harbor of Alexandria in May this year. It has a diameter of about 9 cm and weighs 200g. According to their report, it was found in layer 2 of the stratigraphy, which means that it is from the first half of the first century!

The epigraph André Bernand from Paris thinks that the biblical Messiah is meant. He considers the cup as some kind of witch's cauldron which belonged to a fortune teller who was basing his authority on Jesus. The text means "Magician through Christ".

Skeptics think that Chrestos is just a common name and that OGOISTAIS refers to some kind of cult of Ogo, whatever that was.

The cup has been transfered to Madrid today where it will be shown in the "Matadero de Legazpi".

My initial thought was that OGOI just cries for LOGOI.
STAIS = "dough"?
The final U could also be a Nu.

Source: Der SpiegelΕἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
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Re: Mysterious CRESTOU inscription
by wie on Thu 18. Sep 2008, 09:03

Several comments have been given on blogs and mailing lists, which I have tried to collect below.

First, some raised the obvious question as to the authenticity of the artifact. Of course we cannot know. It may well be a forgery. The inscription looks very new to me, too, as well as the cup itself. The letters look like milled in. Well, I am no expert. But from what I gather, some epigraphs have seen it and not immediately rejected it.

The funny thing is that Google now has a new "word": OGOISTAIS.

Detail from the back:

Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
Wieland Willker
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Some comments
by wie on Thu 18. Sep 2008, 09:06

From various sources in no particular order:

Antonio Lombatti writes on his blog:
"You don't need a microscopical analysis of that inscription: of course, it cannot be so neat if the object was found under the sea. Moreover, I also find the carving of the Greek letters to be quite unusual--I mean, too perfect--for a text on a 2,000 year-old cup."
with these comments:
John N Lupia III: "The sgrafitto looks very recent. Compare the condition of cup's surfaces to the incuse of the letters and it looms out as incongruous, and suggests a modern hand."
Antonio Lombatti answers: "I agree. One doesn't need to have any expertise in Greek epigraphy or to try to understand the meaning of the inscription. The James Ossuary (among many others) docet!"


AnneMarie Luijendijk wrote:
both words, christos and chrestos would, of course, be pronounced the same. In ancient manuscripts, the word "Christos" itself occurs most frequently written in contracted form as nomen sacrum. In those instances we don't know how the scribe would have spelled it in full. Several church fathers use the word play christos-chrestos (e.g,. Justin Martyr, Apology 1.4).
In the case of the word "christianos, -h," the spelling with an eta instead of iota is in fact the common one in documentary papyri (for example P.Oxy. 42.3035, P.Oxy. 43.3119, SB. 12.10772), but also the scribe of the Codex Sinaiticus wrote the word chrestianos thus in the three New Testament passages where that word occurs (Acts 11:26, 26:28 and 1 Pet 4:16).


Lincoln Blumell wrote:
DIA XRHSTOY - As for your second point, the replacement of iota with an eta is fairly common in the papyri I have come across:
SB XVI 12497.50 (Early III) List of Nominations of Liturgies
P.Oxy. XLII 3035.3-5 (28 February A.D. 256) Order of Arrest
P.Oxy. XLIII 3119.14, 18 (A.D. 259-260) Official Correspondence
P.Oxy XLIII 3149.3-4 (V) Letter
P.Laur. II 42 r.2 (U) Letter
On this point Tertullian complains non-Christians do not pronounce the name correctly and he reiterates that he is a "Christian" not a "Chrestian." (Tertullian, Nat. 1.3.8-9).
See also the discussion in Orsolina Montevecchi, "Nomen Christianum," in Bibbia e Papiri: Luce dai Papiri sulla Bibbia Greca (Barcelona: Institut de Teologia Fonamental, 1999), 155.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful.


Peter Arzt-Grabner wrote:
I´d like to mention that
- the earliest papyrus references (for chrestianos!) are of the 2nd/3rd century CE (see also Lincoln´s mail),
- whereas the spelling chrestianos (with the eta) for "Christian" is quite common, the spelling Chrestos for Christos ("Christ") is rare; maybe the earliest and best reference for it is Suetonius´ famous passage on Claudius, expelling the Jews from Rome (Claud. 25,4), which proves that for a Roman the Greek "name" Christos could be easily mistaken for the Graeco-Roman name Chrestos/Chrestus,
- we have no evidence that the word play christos-chrestos (as used by several church fathers) was already used (and understood) by the very early Christians (during the first century; also Philem. 10 cannot be taken as a hint).
On the topic see already G.H.R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 3: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1978, Macquarie University 1983, 129; M.J. Edwards, Χρηστός in a Magical Papyrus, ZPE 85 (1991) 232–236, esp. 232–233: “it is one thing to play upon words and another to think them identical, or advance one as a substitute for the other. The same observation applies with even greater force to those inscriptions and papyri [pagan and orthodox] in which the substitution of Χρηστιανός for Χριστιανός is regular, but that of Χρηστός for Χριστός more rare”.
Concerning the text and its meaning of the cup from Alexandria: as Wieland Willker already mentioned on his website, "We need an image of the back." Does anyone have access to such an image?


John Whitehorne wrote:
The hand looks OK for i/ii CE, and XRHSTOS for XRISTOS is not a problem. But OGOSTAIS is a problem. There are very few Greek words that begin OGO or O (definite article) GO to choose from. The pot itself is also a bit small for a cauldron. Does it have any signs still of use on a fire? Or, if its [L]OGO ..., how much does it hold - does it correspond to any common measure of volume?


Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote:
I do wonder why the inscription reads "DIA CHRESTOU OGOISTAIS" rather than "DIA CHRISTOU OGOISTAIS." The word "chrestou" is the genitive singular form of "chrestos," which is an adjective meaning "good," and therefore not the title "Christos," which is what one would expect if this referred to Christ. Why would a forger choose to inscribe the word "good" rather than "Christ"? Was the supposed forger so inept?
The German article in Der Spiegel notes that "chrestos" was actually used rather often as a Greek name:
"Chrestos war in Griechenland ein gebräuchlicher männlicher Vorname", erklärt der Historiker Manfred Clauss aus Frankfurt am Main, "das muss nichts mit Jesus zu tun haben."
Translated, this says:
"Chrestos was commonly a man's given name in Greece," explains the historian Manfred Clauss of Frankfurt am Main. "That need not have anything to do with Jesus."
This is correct, but I do recall, from my time studying with New Testament Professor Otto Betz in Tübingen, that "Christos" and "chrestos" were sometimes interchanged as a wordplay since "Christ" was "good." Perhaps the putative forger was not inept but clever?
To be clear, however, let me emphasize that I am also skeptical about this inscription, and for the reason given by Antonio Lombatti. The letters simply look much too distinct to be nearly 2000 years old.
But what in the world does ogoistais actually mean? If this is a forgery, it's a very odd one.


Helene Cuvigny wrote:
Ma collègue Sylvie Marchand, céramologue à l'IFAO, me signale qu'il s'agit d'un gobelet à boire (pas d'un chaudron!) en sigillée égyptienne fabriqué à Assouan au Ier s. p.C. Elle a l'impression, d'après la photo, que l'inscription a été faite avant cuisson.
On aimerait vraiment voir à quoi ressemble l'inscription lue OGOISTAIS. Serait-il possible qu'il s'agisse d'une mélecture pour ὁ γεύστης, "celui qui goûte" ?
En ce cas, χρηστοῦ pourrait être une allusion à du vin "excellent", mais je ne sais pas quoi faire de διά. Il ne semble pas non plus exister d'attestation d'une expression familière διὰ χρηστοῦ ou δι’ ἀχρήστου.

Rough translation:
My colleague Sylvie Marchand, céramologue at the IFAO, says it is a cup to drink (not a pot!). Egyptian sigillée produced in Aswan au Ier s. p.C. She had the impression, after the photo, that the inscription was made before cooking.
We would really like to see the inscription of OGOISTAIS. Would it be possible that this is a mélecture for ὁ γεύστης, "the one who tasted"?
In this case, χρηστοῦ could be an allusion to wine "excellent" but I do not know what to do with διά. It does not seem to exist an attestation of a familiar expression διὰ χρηστοῦ or δι 'ἀχρήστου.


Daniel Streett wrote:
My initial reading is that OGOISTAIS ογοισταις is best understood as a fuller form of O GOHS ο γοης, or magician. The Attic spelling would be O GOHSTHS ο γοηστης. We seem to have itacism of ι for ε and αι for η, neither of which is unusual for Alexandria.
I am guessing that this is the same conclusion that the scholars came to who were initially consulted and quoted in Der Spiegel to the effect that it referred to a μαγικος.


Jean-Luc Fournet wrote:
To my opinion, it can't be a modern forgery because it was made before firing — it is clear on the picture (such inscriptions are not rare). Morever, the handwriting would perfectly fit the first century A.D. (i. e. the archaeological context).


Jack Kilmon wrote:
I think the goblet refers to wine and states "enchantment through excellence." I am puzzled by the claim that the inscription was done before firing since the brown slip appears flaked by the stylus suggesting it was
dried. The hand could also be 2nd to 3rd century, to me, so I would like to know more about the stratigraphic context that places it on the ground of the 1st century harbor. In my opinion, if the provenance is correct,
reference to XRISTOS is highly unlikely for the first half of the first century. I think XRHSTOS (excellent, good) is correct but the eta/iota shift is in O GO(H)ISTAIS. Alexandrian Koine is noted for provincialisms
and archaisms.
Come to think of it, that wouldn't be a bad slogan for a modern wine producer.


Jean-Luc Fournet wrote:
An inscription made after firing would not look like that: the line of the incised letters would not be so neat. If the letters appear clearer, it is because the clay is clearer than the external slip. They were made before firing but after the slip was applied on the pottery. I have studied inscriptions on amphoras for many years and came across many times this kind of graffiti and I must confess that I am not surprised by this one. But noboby is infallible and, since it is a ceramic object, I propose to ask directly ceramologists: they will surely have an authoritative opinion. As far as the writing is concerned, 3rd century seems to me highly unlikely.

------------------------------------Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
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Video and another image
by wie on Fri 19. Sep 2008, 09:44

A short video of Franck Goddio presenting the cup was given by El Mundo yesterday. You can see it here:
(Note: a short advertisement is at the beginning)


And another image:

Franck Goddio presents the cup. (El Mundo, Foto: Bernardo Díaz)Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
Wieland Willker
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More comments
by wie on Fri 19. Sep 2008, 19:12

Mika Kajava wrote:
The inscription looks somewhat strange (as others have already said: firing, incision, hand, etc.), but whether or not it is a fake, has anyone considered = diakhristou? - Diakhriston "ointment" (and similar) is found in medical texts and recipes (at least from Dioscorides), but it is also well attested in later sources, e.g., in Aetius' (compilations of) medical writings. Incidentally, I note that among his innumerable recipes (and abbreviations as well as expressions of "recipe language") one frequently finds "gost./goist.", e.g., "elaiou kalou goist. etoi oug. is", "asprou goist.", etc. etc., but this may not be relevant for the present case. - O might stand for o(inou) [e.g. diakhristou, o(inou)... a(na) ic] rather than for a numeral...? - Needless to say, this is pure guesswork (and a lot depends on the dating of the text).

Mika later explained further:

O might stand for O(INOU)
"gost./goist." - this is an abbreviation for "grammata hosa...", i.e. "ca. X grams".
would mean
"ca. 16 grams of good oil".

He concludes:
"Generally, it seems that the tenor of a text like this, with reference to ointment and wine (both are very well attested in similar contexts), would suit the object itself (i.e., a cup)."

[Very good! Definitely worth checking further! So, whatever exactly is was, it seems to me a rather mundane usage, nothing to do with Jesus Christ. --- Wieland]


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Re: Mysterious CRESTOU inscription
by nconst on Wed 24. Sep 2008, 11:34

But this cup seems to contain 300 - 400 grams of oil, not 16 ... Or did I miss something ?nconst

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Re: Mysterious CRESTOU inscription
by wie on Wed 24. Sep 2008, 15:55

nconst wrote:
But this cup seems to contain 300 - 400 grams of oil, not 16 ... Or did I miss something ?
No, you didn't miss anything.
This isn't completely clear.Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
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Having now looked at the detailed pictures of the cup itself two things seem clear to me: 1) there appears clear to be ancient patina in some of the letters; 2) it is quite possible that the first two words are actually one word--- DIACHRESTON, which means ointment. The meaning of the other word with the definite article can be debated. This then may be an ointment cup and not an ancient reference to Christ, but it is true that christos was sometimes rendered chrestos in the first and second centuries, because in that oral culture they sounded basically the same.