Fifteen Authors

Macrina Walker has tagged me in a meme called “Fifteen Authors.” One lists fifteen authors within fifteen minutes, authors who’ll “always stick with you.” Here is my list, in roughly the chronological order of my encountering them:

1.) God the Holy Spirit “who spoke through the Prophets” as author of the Bible, the single most important book in my life and on my shelves and in my heart.

2.) Rabbis of the past: I was trained in classical Hebrew, and gained a deep appreciation for their methods of interpretation, which methods were reflected in our Lord’s sayings in the Gospels, and here and there in later Christian tradition. I thus came to understand my own tradition better only through the help of Rabbinic Judaism’s legacy.

3.) Soeur Marie Keyrouz — a musician, of course, but her “Ya Sakbin” on her CD Cantiques de l’Orient had two important effects on me: 1.) I was amazed to hear the faith in her voice, and, through the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit, considered that if someone could have such faith, so could I; 2.) led me to think of the East as a possible home, away from what was for me a desert in the West.

4.) St Basil the Great: Particularly his”On the Holy Spirit” is responsible for my looking to the Greek Fathers, and Eastern Orthodoxy as my soul’s home.

5.) Metropolitan Kallistos: in the middle of reading The Orthodox Church, I called to speak to a priest about converting.

6.) Metropolitan John Zizioulas: an Archimandrite friend, one of the first Orthodox priests I got to know in my area, shared with me an article by Zizioulas that he’d translated.

7.) St John of the Ladder: The Ladder of Divine Ascent was my introduction to Orthodox monastic literature.

8.) St Nikodemos the Hagiorite: although The Philokalia was my introduction to, among others, St Maximus the Confessor, I recall an instruction from the Archimandrite I mentioned above: “Well, stop reading about prayer and pray!” That’s something we all need to keep in mind and in heart and in practice!

9.) St Dionysius the Areopagite: Easier to feel than to describe, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

10.) St Ephrem the Syrian: my training in Hebrew led me to a great love of St Ephrem’s form of expression, which is so resonant of the Hebrew psalms.

11.) Fr John Romanides: provided helpful training on understanding the history of the Church, a subject much of which I had to unlearn.

12.) Fr Andrew Louth: someone recommended Discerning the Mystery, and it is an astounding book. I now keep an extra copy of it to give away as the need arises.

13.) Fr Georges Florovsky: the clear-sighted Father of modern times, whose instruction is like refined gold. What skill as a teacher in such difficult times!

14.) St Isaac the Syrian: such a treasury of Orthodoxy and purity of vision toward application in our lives (monastic and not) that I wish I’d run across him much earlier.

15.) Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos: he describes living Orthodoxy in the modern world, right this minute.

I will decline to tag others, as even the appearance of such a chain letter mentality rubs me the wrong way. But that was fun!

The Tractate Middoth

Towards the end of an autumn afternoon an elderly man with a thin face and grey Piccadilly weepers pushed open the swing-door leading into the vestibule of a certain famous library, and addressing himself to an attendant, stated that he believed he was entitled to use the library, and inquired if he might take a book out. Yes, if he were on the list of those to whom that privilege was given. He produced his card—Mr John Eldred—and, the register being consulted, a favourable answer was given. ‘Now, another point,’ said he. ‘It is a long time since I was here, and I do not know my way about your building; besides, it is near closing-time, and it is bad for me to hurry up and down stairs. I have here the title of the book I want: is there anyone at liberty who could go and find it for me?’ After a moment’s thought the doorkeeper beckoned to a young man who was passing. ‘Mr Garrett,’ he said, ‘have you a minute to assist this gentleman?’ ‘With pleasure,’ was Mr Garrett’s answer. The slip with the title was handed to him. ‘I think I can put my hand on this; it happens to be in the class I inspected last quarter, but I’ll just look it up in the catalogue to make sure. I suppose it is that particular edition that you require, sir?’ ‘Yes, if you please; that, and no other,’ said Mr Eldred; ‘I am exceedingly obliged to you.’ ‘Don’t mention it I beg, sir,’ said Mr Garrett, and hurried off.

‘I thought so,’ he said to himself, when his finger, travelling down the pages of the catalogue, stopped at a particular entry. ‘Talmud: Tractate Middoth, with the commentary of Nachmanides, Amsterdam, 1707. 11.3.34. Hebrew class, of course. Not a very difficult job this.’

Continue reading “The Tractate Middoth”

Legaspi conclusion

What, finally, of the scriptural Bible? In this story, it has been the shadowy counterpart to the academic Bible forged during the Enlightenment. Though perhaps only a shade, it has lived on in religious communities as long as men and women have revered its authority. A full account of the relationship between the scriptural Bible and its counterpart is beyond the scope of this work. In concluding this study, though, I would like to offer a brief reflection. I believe that the scriptural Bible and the academic Bible are fundamentally different creations oriented toward rival interpetive communities. Though in some ways homologous, they can and should function independently if each is to retain its integrity. While it is true that the scriptural reader and the academic interpreter can offer information and insights that the other finds useful or interesting, they remain, in the end, loyal to separate authorities. I grant the moral seriousness of the modern critical project and, to a modest degree, the social and political utility of the academic Bible. I also grant the intellectual value of academic criticism. A rational, irenic study of the Bible supported by state resources and disciplined by academic standards cultivated across a range of fields has produced, in a relatively short time, an astonishing amount of useful information. It has become clear, though, that academic criticism in its contemporary form cannot offer a coherent, intellectually compelling account of what this information is actually for. What critics like Collins have done as a result is to shift the rationale for modern criticism away from the intellectual and back toward the social and moral. There is value in the social and moral by-products of academic criticism, in things like tolerance, reasonableness, and self-awareness. The problem is that these rather thin, pale virtues seem only thinner and paler when compared to the classic virtues associated with the scriptural Bible: instead of bland tolerance, love that sacrifices itself; instead of an agreeable reasonability, hope that opens the mind to goodness and greatness that it has not yet fully imagined; and instead of critical self-awareness, faith that inspires and animates the human heart. Academic criticism tempers belief, while scriptural reading edifies and directs it. In this sense, they work at cross-purposes. Yet each mode presumes the value of knowledge. Perhaps the two are closest, then, when in that brief moment before thought recognizes itself, the mind wavers between words that have suddenly become strange, and knowledge is a choice between knowing what the text said and knowing what the words might be saying. It is a choice, at such a moment, between the letter that has been revived and the letter that has never died.

Michel Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford, 2010), page 169, the last paragraph of the book.

The “Collins” referenced in the above selection is, of course, John Collins, and the work alluded to is his Bible after Babel, in which he describes the value of new postmodernist readings of Scripture as a solution to the chaotic morbidity of historical criticism right here and now as it’s practiced in the early twenty-first century Anno Domini.

On the “revived” in the last sentence, Legaspi refers back to the subject of the first chapter of his book, “From Scripture to Text,” in which he maps the death of Scripture in the sixteenth century and the creation of the academic BIble. The language of “renaissance” or “rebirth” and “revivification” or “revival” were key to the success of the academic Bible in those circles which created it to fill a perceived need for a Bible which is relevant to modern society (does that sound familiar?). In the end, this rebirth is no more universalist or of ultimate objective value than any other human product, as the academic Bible and the societal and cultural needs which it assuaged were time-bound, and are therefore now as obsolete as buggy whips.

This has been a very interesting book. I can only wish that Legaspi had Anders Gerdmars’s Roots of Theological Anti-semitism (Brill, 2009) available to him during the writing. Although Legaspi does touch in passing on the antisemitism of German academic Biblical scholarship, it could and should receive more attention, particularly as it is so very intertwined with the motivations and bases of the methodologies and, of course, their conclusions. There is nothing acceptable in that, particularly in seeing the direction that German culture was shortly to take, justifying its actions in part by recourse academic Biblical studies’ antisemitic conclusions. In fact, it is revolting.

Something else that someone might not catch in Legaspi’s conclusion: while all of Western Europe was convulsed by the death of Scripture and the creation of the academic Bible, Christians further east were those for whom “the letter…has never died.” While Western Europe prided itself on a Renaissance partly effected by refugee people and works from the fall of Constantinople, those same Greeks had never experienced a “Dark Ages” (nor had they ever stopped bathing) and maintained the literature and traditions of the ancient world, pagan and Christian, in a living tradition. There was nothing to “rebirth” as nothing had died. And the Orthodox Patristic interpretation of the Bible does not and will not permit of the kind of separation from faith that scholarship of the academic Bible requires. The academic Bible is an entity completely foreign to Eastern Orthodoxy, yet one which is easily recognized as the result of the shismatic and rebellious nature which seems a particular hallmark of Western culture. Very instructive.

Legaspi, The Death of Scripture

I will let the beginning of Michael Legaspi’s praface in his The Death of the Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies present his thesis, as it works so very well:

Consider two scenes. The first takes place in an Eastern Orthodox church. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is under way. From behind the icon screen, the priest comes into view, carrying overhead, in solemn procession, an ornately bound, gold-plated volume: the Book of the Gospels. All stand. There is incense in the air. Acolytes, candles in hand, stand by to illuminate the reading of the Gospel. In that moment, the people are told not to look, to follow texts with their eyes, but rather to listen. The priest proclaims, “Wisdom! Let us attend!” and the people go silent. In the liturgy, the faithful see the Bible in procession, hear it in song, and venerate its holiness and authority with signs of loyalty and submission. The one thing the faithful to do not actually do during this service, however, is read the Bible. It is always read to the people by someone else. Written words voiced by readers and expounded by preaching are transmuted into oral and immediate ones. The second scene is a biblical studies seminar in a university classroom. It too is filled with people. They sit, not stand. At the center is a long table. On it are many Bibles, various copies in assorted languages: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin. Some lie open, others are pushed aside into impromptu stacks. They share the table with other writings: teacher’s notes, photocopies, reference works, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries. The atmosphere is sociable but cerebral, quiet but static. Heads are bowed, but over books. There are readers here too, but the oral performances are tracked closely by others whose eyes are attuned carefully to common texts. There is speech, but no song or prayer. Spoken words belong only to individuals. The texts focus readerly vision. Commentary is controlled.

In both senses, the Bible is at the center. In the first, its words are invisible, fleetingly oral, melodic. In the second, they are visible, unmoving, inscribed and fixed on pages. The two scenes represent very different enterprises. Yet they are not different because they embody different assumptions, discourses, and communal identities, though this is certainly the case. They are different, ultimately, because they have come into being by virtue of independent realities and by way of separate histories. They are different because the two groups, as a result of these histories and realities, are actually engaged with different Bibles: a scriptural Bible, and an academic Bible.

This book tells the story of the academic Bible, how and why it came into being. It begins at a moment when the scriptural BIble evoked by the liturgical scene above had already receded to the margins of modern Western cultural and public life. The Reformation engendered a crisis of authority in which authority itself–its location, its nature, its sources–was contested. As a result of this crisis, the ecclesial underpinnings of the scriptural Bible becasme too weak, too fragmented to sustain its place at the center of Western Christendom. It was moved to the boundaries, where, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it fueled confessional and anticonfessional theological programs, some critical and others traditional. Many of the tools and much of the material that would later be used to create the academic Bible were developed in the two centuries following the Reformation. Yet the academic Bible did not come into being until the eighteenth century, when biblical criticism took shape at the modern university as a post-confessional enterprise. The academic Bible was created by scholars who saw that the scriptural Bible, embedded as it was in confessional particularities, was inimical to the socio-political project from which Enlightenment universities drew their purpose and support. Given the choice between the scriptural Bible and something else, university men, the fathers of modern criticism, chose something else.

(pp vii-viii)

Although I already had found the book’s description interesting enough to promptly order it (and to bump it up upon its arrival ahead of all the other books I have waiting yet to be read), I was pleasantly surprised by the above mention of Orthodox liturgy, and moreso to learn through the course of the Preface that Legaspi and his family are Orthodox. Michael Legaspi is Assistant Professor of Theology at Creighton University.

The chapters of the book, presenting a development of Legaspi’s elegantly presented argument, are:
1. From Scripture to Text
2. Bible and Theology at an Englightenment University
3. The Study of Classical Antiquity at Göttingen
4. Michaelis and the Dead Hebrew Language
5. Lowth, Michaelis, and the Invention of Biblical Poetry
6. Michaelis, Moses, and the Recovery of the Bible
The book uses endnotes, but fortunately of the usable kind where the header of the page notes where the notes are to be found (the only dish in which these accursed things are palatable). Likewise there’s an actually helpful bibliography (not one of thoase “for further reading” abominations), an index, and an index of Biblical references. The last numbered page is 222, so it’s a compact volume. As one might tell from the chapter titles, Michaelis appears as something of a case study throughout. Aside from being a fascinating and pivotal character, Michaelis also became someone in whose image other academics (re)created themselves, and still do, to a degree. So in a way, his story is Everyscholar’s story in the Enlightenment.

Constantly coming to my mind as I read this book is Anders Gerdmars Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Brill, 2009), one of the most important books published in the last decade, in my opinion. The two, of course, are describing from slightly different viewpoints and from different levels of granularity the same period and several of the same characters and institutions while in general covering the same subject: the foundations of modern academic Biblical Studies. The two books, Death of Scripture (such an exquisitly provocative title!) and Roots of Anti-Semitism, are thoroughly complementary. Both involved intensive research into the historical context of the (re)foundations of German universities and the personnel involved in those and other movements of social and political import from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries especially. The scholarship here is impeccable. Legaspi shows a deft had (just as Gerdmar does!) in summarizing and commenting astutely on various developments, making them easily grasped for those without benefit of more detailed histories in mind. Various humorous asides are also included, often of historical character. It makes the reading all that more compelling.

I am only at the beginning of chapter 3 now, but I write this, even if prematurely, to tell all and sundry: buy this book! It will be especially fascinating to those interested in intellectual history. There have been indications (now I can’t find them) in Legaspi that there are some surprises in store along the way. He does not hesitate to characterize his work as “revisionist” (p. 6):

“This book, however, is not simply an intellectual biography of Michaelis. It is also a revisionist account of the early history of biblical scholarship. A correct understanding of this history is essential to contemporary discussions about the role of biblical criticism in academic theology.”

Note the positive connotation of “revisionist” here: correcting the incorrect, bringing light to the Gentiles, or whatever you want to call it. In any case, it’s a good thing. And Legaspi’s writing itself is very pleasant to read (I was going to write “delicious”, but that’s a bit strong): it’s not overly complex, but is not shy of complexity where warranted. Oversimplification and dumbing-down are thankfully absent (as are any atrocious boxes filled with graphics and inane sub-literate summaries of the main text). This is an academic book from an academic press (Oxford, 2010), with an academic target (zing! in two senses!) in its sights.

Anyhow, I’m enjoying it. Others of my readers will, too, I’m certain. Happy reading!


Sin is sometimes like a crumb, easily brushed away and forgotten.

Other times, sin is like a fly, buzzing around your head, and only with much waving of your hand is it dismissed.

Sometimes, however, sin is like a lover whose embrace one welcomes and doesn’t want to leave.

The difference in these does not lie in sin itself, but in us, in our Spiritual state.



noun. < Gr psychikos in distinction to pneumatikos; allusively reminiscent of automaton.

A human being who avoids transformation through the Holy Spirit. These are animated creatures motivated by their passions, and not transcending their nature as designed by their Maker. They act and react in set patterns to the stimuli of the passions, like automata of a sort, or animals.