Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI

Welcome to the Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI, covering blog postings made on subjects of academic Biblical Studies over the course of January 2008 (give or take a nickel). It’s been a productive month, so this is a very long carnival.

I was going to use a rather humorous theme or artifice for this carnival, preceding every heading with “Jesus'” so as to have things like “Jesus’ Tomb Symposium,” “Jesus’ Seal Discovered,” and “Jesus’ Paragaogic Nun Discussion,” because it seems these days to be all the rage to claim that various things belong to Jesus: ossuaries, tombs, and whatnot; however, after reviewing the entries for the initial subject, with my levity dampened and diplomacy worn thin, my concern is to avoid making this field of studies any more of a laughingstock than it already is. If only that concern were universally shared!

To begin with, I will open this carnival with some perceptive words on the role of the critic from the well-known poet and literary critic T. S. Eliot:

At one time I was inclined to take the extreme position that the only critics worth reading were the critics who practised, and practised well, the art of which they wrote. But I had to stretch this frame to make some important inclusions; and I have since been in search of a formula which should cover everything I wished to include, even if it included more than I wanted. And the most important qualification which I have been able to find, which accounts for the peculiar importance of the criticism of practitioners, is that a critic must have a very highly developed sense of fact. This is by no means a trifling or frequent gift. And it is not one which easily wins popular commendations. The sense of fact is something very slow to develop, and its complete development means perhaps the very pinnacle of civilization. For there are so many spheres of fact to be mastered, and our outermost sphere of fact, of knowledge, of control, will be ringed with narcotic fancies in the sphere beyond. To the member of the Browning Study Circle, the discussion of poets about poetry may seem arid, technical, and limited. It is merely that the practitioners have clarified and reduced to a state of fact all the feelings that the member can only enjoy in the most nebulous form; the dry technique implies, for those who have mastered it, all that the member thrills to; only that has been made into something precise, tractable, under control. That, at all events, is one reason for the value of the practitioner’s criticism—he is dealing with his facts, and he can help us to do the same.

And at every level of criticism I find the same necessity regnant. There is a large part of critical writing which consists in ‘interpreting’ an author, a work. This is not on the level of the Study Circle either; it occasionally happens that one person obtains an understanding of another, or a creative writer, which he can partially communicate, and which we feel to be true and illuminating. It is difficult to confirm the ‘interpretation’ by external evidence. To anyone who is skilled in fact on this level there will be evidence enough. But who is to prove his own skill? And for every success in this type of writing there are thousands of impostures. Instead of insight, you get a fiction. Your test is to apply it again and again to the original, with your view to the original to guide you. But there is no one to guarantee your competence, and once again we find ourselves in a dilemna.

We must ourselves decide what it useful to us and what is not; and it is quite likely that we are not competent to decide. But it is fairly certain that ‘interpretation’ (I am not touching upon the acrostic element in literature) is only legitimate when it is not interpretation at all, but merely putting the reader in possession of facts which he would otherwise have missed.
Excerpted from the essay, “The Function of Criticism,” section IV

Continue reading “Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI”

The Silvered Wings of a Dove

I’ve been tagged!

Why in prayer do we say: who will give me wings like a dove that I might fly away and be at peace?, that is: who will give me the wings of the Holy Spirit? And in another place the prophetic word is pleased to say: if you have rested in the inheritance, you will have the silvered wings of a dove, with its back in the splendour of gold. For if we have rested among the inheritance of the Old and the New Testaments, there will be given to us the silvered wings of a dove, that is the words of God, his back radiant with shining gold and splendour so that our sense may be infused with the senses of the Holy Spirit, that is, that word and mind may be fulfilled by his coming and we may not speak something we do not understand, except at his suggestion, and all sanctification in Christ Jesus may come, as to our heart, so too to our words and deeds by the Holy Spirit….

Fr Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery, p. 123, quoting from Origen’s Commentary on Luke

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

I tag Maureen, Fr Gregory, Kevin, John, and Iyov.

Theology and Spirituality

The proposition that the division between theology and spirituality is linked with the division in our culture is confirmed by the language of the Greek Fathers, for there we find both terms naturally translated by the same word, theologia. For the Fathers theologia is both wider and narrower than our term, ‘theology’. It is narrower in that it is strictly discourse about God: in the Cappadocian Fathers it means the doctrine of the Trinity, God as He is in Himself, in contrast to oikonomia, the doctrine of God’s dealings with his creation; though it can be used to include that. It cannot, however, be used in the way we use ‘theology’ when we speak of, for example, a ‘theology of society’. At the same time, theologia for the Fathers is broader than our term, for it means not just the doctrine of the Trinity, but contemplation of the Trinity. Theologia, for Evagrius, a friend and disciple of the Cappadocians, is precisely contemplation, theoria, of God, as opposed to contemplation of the cosmos. A theologian for him is one who has attained this state of pure prayer: ‘if you are a theologian, you pray truly, and if you pray truly, you are a theologian’. There is here no division between theology and spirituality, no dissociation between the mind which knows God and the heart which loves him. It is not just that theology and spirituality, though different, are held together; rather theologia is the apprehension of God by a man restored to the image and likeness of God, and within this apprehension there can be discerned two sides (though there is something artificial about such discrimination): what we call the intellectual and the affective. Naturally these two aspects are present, and one or the other can predominate: St. Basil’s Liturgy is prayer, his book On the Holy Spirit is theology, though the latter is not without passages of prayerful ecstasy, and in the former the mind is concerned to express something with exactness and clarity; but the two aspects are not to be separated.

Fr Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology, 3-4

Think of it

Indeed there is a mystery: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh.” But this mystery was a revelation; the true character of God had been disclosed in the Incarnation. God was so much and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of “the little ones”) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life. The divine providence therefore is not merely an omnipotent ruling of the universe from an august distance by the divine majesty, but a kenosis, a “self-humiliation” of the God of glory. There is a personal relationship between God and man.

Fr Georges Florovsky. Bible, Church, Tradition, p. 13.

A truly gifted writer, particularly one on spiritual subjects, I think, or at least in my own reading, evidences more of a power in his ability to inspire further thoughts, than in his written words alone. This is definitely the case with Fr Florovsky. In this case he set me to thinking, through the paragraph above, on the Incarnation of our Lord. As St Gregory the Theologian stated, “What is not assumed is not healed,” we know that our God was aware of what He was doing. In becoming human, fully and without reservation, He had a plan. Not only did that plan include the healing of those generic ills incumbent on our race, but even those of the individual. That is, He was willing, indeed determined, to conquer or heal even those genetic, familial, and societal peculiarities that adhere to individuals. Think of it, knowing the example of arrogance made by another son of David named Simon bar Kosiva: the pride of one’s family heritage, the pride and expectaion of a scion of the royal line, however attenuated the connection may be. It was also a case of overcoming and healing the behavioral, emotional, and even psychological proclivities of any individual’s existence. Think of it, even those proclivities toward anger, sadness, or whatever happen to be our genetic inheritance, He planned to and did heal. We’re healed not just as theoretical units of a sum called humanity, but as otherwise so very lost individuals. Just think of it.

1872: Sharon is like a wilderness

Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits [Isaiah 33.9]
No precise illustration of these predictions was given in several previous editions of this treatise; but an extract from the work of a more recent traveller may show how the celebrated plain of Sharon not only partakes of the general desolation, as predicted, but how it also bears witness to the word that has fallen upon itself. “The plain of Sharon,” says Mr Robinson, “celebrated in Scripture for its fertility, and the beautiful flowers that grow spontaneously from the soild, stretches along the coast, from Gaza on the south to Mount Carmel in the nort, being bounded towards the east by the hills of Judea and Samaria. The soil is composed of very fine sand, which, though mixed with gravel, appears extremely fertile, and yet it is but partially cultivated, and still less inhabited. On either side of the road ruined and abandoned villages present themselves to the view of the disappointed traveller, impressing him with a species of melancholy which he is at a loss to account for, seeing no just cause for the existence of such a state of things in a lang ‘so plenteous in goods,’ and so abundant in population as once it was. If he should attribute it, as most likely he will, to the misrule of those that govern, he may, after mature reflection, ask himself the question: The judgments pronounced against the land, ahve they yet received their full completion? And are not its present rulers the visible instruments of those judgments? ‘You land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.'”

Having since passed through Sharon from end to end, we may affirm, from personal observation, that Sharon is a wilderness. With very special exceptions it is now abandoned to the Bedouins, who in the present day pitch their tents near to the sea-shore, as well as on the borders of the desert. In an extensive view over the plain from the elevated ground beside the village of Mukhalid, not a village nor habitation was to be seen, as far as the eye can reach, and before arriving there from the north, not an inhabited village had we passed or seen, for the distance, along the coast, of six hours and a-half, or about twenty miles, though the ruined capital of Herod lay in our path; and the nearest in any direction, we were told, is ten miles distant. But true it is of Sharon, as of other plains, that, while strangers have devoured it, and the wicked of the earth have made of it a prey and a spoil, many pastors or herdsmen tread it under foot, and have made the pleasant portion of the Lord a desolate wilderness. We there saw nine or ten flocks of cattle and sheep, some of which were large, spread over the nearest borders of the plain. The habitations of the solitary village are wretched hovels, and the cattle pertaining to it, far too few to depasture the adjacent plain, where the flocks of the wandering Arabs freely roam.

But deserted and desolate as it lies, the wilderness retains not a little of the beauty of Sharon, ere, unsheltered as it is, it is scorched by the summer sun, its grass withered and its flowers faded. The ground is in many places covered with beautiful flowers. About midway between Mukhalid and Jaffa, the borders of a stream (the Phaalek) were extremely rich, after the earlier rain, in wild spontaneous produce; and vigorous plants were matted together in impenetrable closeness and the richest luxuriance.

Yet even there desolation is still advancing in unarrested progress; and one of its causes, not overlooked in prophecy, may be witnessed in its defacing and destructive effects, where the traveller seems to be leaving a desolated plain for a rich orchard, or a shady grove, or—what all the land shall yet be—a garden like that of Eden. But on a closer inspection several of the trees were withering away, but not from age. They had not been scathed from the top by lightning; but, with less instantaneous but not less destructive efficacy, they had been burned at the root by Bedouins. The lowest part of the trunks, half through or more, had been turned into ashes, and the tress were left standing to wither and die, till the hand could pull them down, or a blast lay them on the ground, when their withered branches would be fitted for the fires of the Bedouins, with the trunks, perhaps, of other trees for their hearths. In some instances, the soil had been partly scraped out beneath, to form hollows for the fire, as seen by the uncovered and burned roots. While desolation thus continues to spread over Sharon and other plains—where all manner of fruit trees of old adorned and enriched the land—the time is long past in which one generation had to tell another of such judgments ere they came; but how true as to the past, with such direful causes in operation still, is the word of the Lord, whether figuratively or literally,—a nation is come up upon my land—he hat laid my vine waste, and barked by fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.—The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men [Joel 1.6, 7, 12].—Numberless are the trees that have thus been withered, till over extensive plains there is no fruit to be plucked from a tree, and Bedouins have often far to wander ere they pitch their tents near any trees that remain, not for fruit to eat, but for branches to burn. Sharon is like a wilderness. . . .

Rev Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived From the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy: Particularly As Illustrated by the History of the Jews and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers. Thirty-Ninth Edition. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1872. Pages 173–176. Emphasis his.


Most walk a piebald path in daylight’s forest :
dappled light and speckled shade,
images of choices made.

For some, night-cloaked creeping is their way of wont :
darkened glooms and black-gray hues,
nightmare-shapes of what they choose.

Still others take a hard-found way, one higher :
climbing out of shadow’s mark,
into light, away from dark.

All yet know the secret told by light and dark :
light is love and life and sense,
dark is simply their absence.

Thou art my all

O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie :
That is my home of love : if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again ;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good ;
        For nothing this wide universe I call,
        Save thou, my rose ; in it thou art my all.

Wm Shakespeare. Sonnet CIX.

Plato: Complete Works

Have you been looking for a complete set of the works of Plato in a modern translation? I had been for a long time, and somehow had not run across Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper, with associate editor D. S. Hutchinson, from Hackett Publishing Company. I managed to run across it in a real bookstore, in person! This hefty tome of over 1800 pages includes all the authentic and spurious works organized according to the canon established by Thrasyllus of Alexandria. That is, the works that Thrasyllus considered canonical are arranged in nine tetralogies (groups of four), with a further eight dialogues (Definitions, On Justice, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Halcyon, Eryxias, Axiochus; all of which Thrasyllus considered spurious) and a set of epigrams outside the number. Of course, several of the dialogues included within Thrasyllus’ canonical tetralogies are now recognized as spurious, and other dialogues have their authorship by Plato under discussion. The Letters and Epigrams are of similarly mixed authenticity. (As an aside, the nine tetralogies make me wonder if their number nine was the source for Plotinus’ Ennead, with Plotinus drawing an even greater import from this peculiar arrangement of Plato’s works than is intended. It’s a possibility anyway.)

In any case, this is a nice volume to have, particularly when running across an obscure reference to one of the very hard to find spurious works. The translations are perhaps a little too contemporary for my taste, but they’re effective for reading and getting the gist of the Greek, which is notoriously difficult but rewardingly beautiful with Plato. The footnotes are clear and not too digressive, clarifying quotations and allusions to other works of the period, which is very helpful. This is something that has been restricted to the more expensive editions, so it’s quite nice to have it all at hand in one book. And though the book is too large for reading without a desk, it’s well-bound, using “Bible paper” which is sufficiently opaque to avoid bleed-through and its consequent eye strain. The only thing I found lacking in this volume was an alphabetical list of the works. The Thrasyllan canon’s order is not one that I suspect most people are familiar with, so having an alphabetical table of contents in addition to the regular one would’ve been nice. I put one together myself in a few minutes anyway, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

Anyhow, I recommend the volume. It was a work of love by those involved at Hackett Publishing, the publisher of earlier more extensively introduced editions of most of the translations included in this volume. We should all thank them for their dedication and consideration in putting together such a very useful volume.

A Little Eliot

Out and about last Friday, I stopped by my favorite Berkeley bookstore, Black Oak Books. After making my usual rounds, through Christianity/Theology/Biblical Studies, Archaeology, Judaica, Classics, and Middle Ages, I popped by the Poetry section, which has lately been shrinking somewhat alarmingly. To be honest, the whole store has a kind of resigned feel to it these days, a “get it over with” mood that’s not encouraging. Rumors abound among Berkeley’s litterati that its time has come, to generalized dismay. Regardless, I managed to find a great little book there.

It’s Eliot: Poems and Prose, from the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series, published by Alfred A. Knopf. This little (4.5 x 6.5 x .75″) hardback comes complete with dustcover and register (the bound-in bookmark). The paper is creamy and smooth. The sewn binding is perhaps a little too tight, but sure to loosen comfortably with age and use. Best, the whole thing fits easily in a coat pocket.

For a T. S. Eliot fan, there’s a fine selection of his work in here. The editor, Peter Washington, receives my admiration, particularly for his choice to include some of Eliot’s essays. The poetry contents are those of three collections: Prufrock and Other Observations, Poems 1920, and The Waste Land. I think perfection would’ve been achieved by including Four Quartets, but, as the old Mohammedan rugmaker said, perfection belongs to God. The essays included are: Reflections on Vers Libre, Tradition and the Individual Talent, Hamlet, The Perfect Critic, The Metaphysical Poets, The Function of Criticism, Andrew Marvell, and Ulysses, Order and Myth. And index of first lines follows the essays.

As I mentioned above, I’m happy to have a selection of Eliot’s prose in such a handy little book. But I’m even more happy to have both The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land in one such handy and pleasantly read volume.

The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series includes quite a number of volumes, all of which are listed here by author. For people who’ve created such great little books, their website is unfortunate. It’d be ideal to have a table of contents available for each of those volumes on their individual pages. As you may’ve noticed by clicking the link above to the Eliot volume, the pages are rather bare-bones.

Nonetheless, I can at least recommend the Eliot book for one’s winter pocket.

Dare to eat the peach!

Biblical Studies Carnival XXV

The Biblical Studies Carnival XXV, showcasing the work of academic Biblical Studies blogs during December 2007, has been posted by Christian Brady, proprietor of the blog Targuman. Check out the neat idea of Christian in declaring this International Biblical Studies Writing Month. What fun! Or, in other words: Get back to work!

And though he may think his carnival is ‘a mere morsel, a simple mutt jumping through a little girl’s hula-hoop with the little brother making arm-pit noises behind a sheet marked “Amazing Pig Boy” rather than a full-fledged carnival,’ we’re free to disagree and declare his a fine carnival!

Okay, so, get busy writing good stuff and start sending me nominations for the next carnival, or, by the showering stars of the Geminids, I swear I’ll make stuff up. I have a vivid imagination, too.