Friday, December 28, 2007

Ioannes Baptista praecursor Domini

Table 1 section 13 - The Precursor

The precursor appears in the Autumn of the 15th year of Tiberius.
– Who are you?
– I am not the Christ.
– What then? Are you Elijah?
– I am not.
– Are you the prophet?
– No.
– Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?
– I am vox clamantis in deserto, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'

My tables, Beloved, are laid out in this room over here. Please take a moment and look around at them - you can see the whole and you can see the multi-hued pieces of each. Note how different the unique portions are. Azure thread in a passage from KATA MARKON means unique to Mark, but Mark's hue in a passage from KATA MATTHEON means that the words are shared with Mark. So it is with the other hues. And the paired passages should reverse their hue in the paired records. That is, what is pink in Mark will be azure in Matthew. What is green in Mark will be azure in KATA LOUKAN and what is pink in Luke will be green in Matthew. These three were in Jerusalem in the tumult before the war.

If there is the yellow thread in one, it should be yellow in all three - but it may be yellow because of a passage in a separate segment. All four records agree that there is a voice crying in the wilderness. For most of my life, I could not hear such a voice.

Mark begins with what Luke and Matthew write later. He refers to the prophets (Malachi and Isaiah) and I have added Isaiah the prophet in the margin.

– Don't write in my books!

Luke wrote of Simeon's longing for the consolation of Israel. This voice crying in the wilderness is at the beginning of the Book of Consolation of the prophet Isaiah.

Comfort, comfort my people.

John and his cousin knew this book– much better than I know it and better than Mark who was not assiduous. My father taught me this book above many others of the Law and the Prophets. We learned it in Greek. Mark uses that work also for he learned from Paul while they were together in Asia where Greek is the common language.

Matthew's record has skipped forward about 35 years. He begins this section with 'the Baptist', without introduction. Luke adds the family name of Zechariah, John's father, to Matthew's reference. Mark writes of his action of baptizing and takes from Luke the preaching of a baptism of repentance. As I take my cues from all four, Mark takes his cues from Luke and Matthew, leaves much out, and reorders the text. What for? Always for focus. Mark sees clearly - not as trees walking - and brushes away what is not necessary.

– you must have a singleness of vision. That will lead you to the knowledge of mercy. Without it you are not alive.
– not alive?
not alive.

He cuts down on the text to avoid distracting the reader, though he is not without detail. Note his description of John's clothing and food (and sometimes he will add from his own memory).

– In mercy, love arises to greet its Lord, astonished at the depth of the gift. There is no pattern of gentleness quite so sweet or so severe.

And the people of the land responded. They went to be baptized, confessing their sins.

– It is not enough for you to imagine you are in him.
– What will I do then? What is enough?
– Watch and wait - be awake - he will show you every step in his way.

Finally, Beloved, we are over the beginning and have started our perusal of the records of these times. I will write a little of what I see of the four records as we have laid them out, one day at a time. I will write a little of what I remember and of what was written for me in the time of my disability.


Prima and I studied these four books carefully. Not as carefully as some, perhaps, but we have noted with hued thread what is unique to each. We placed the books side by side dividing each into its parts. It took more than one copy and many months to complete this procedure. All the parts lie on twelve long tables in the scriptorium here in Corinth at the estate. We could not have done this in our youth, for we were not disposed to cut parchment into pieces. With paper it is feasible. And we instructed the leaving of spaces between words. It reminded us that word order, declensions, or conjugations and tenses are different for each writer. Spaces increased the use of paper, but I insisted the copyists be wasteful for this project. At first, we decided not to reproduce the duplications that arise because of changes in sequence. But this plan would not stand as we divided the text. I found it necessary to extend our work until I had one part for every day of the year!

Now, having laid out the text in its Greek form, I begin to translate. The words in Latin show approximately the differences in vocabulary and construction. The uniqueness of a phrase may be of concept, of language, and of style. If a long section is essentially the same but the language is different, then it is clear from the markings we made. Mark, though awkward in Greek, did not have to let Matthew and Luke do his thinking for him, so frequently his text shows an original construction around the same words and phrases.

I have been tempted at times to correct Uncle Mark and add in the margins the words he left out. Sometimes I can. I see their speech and I want to add to the performance. Sometimes it is very difficult to show what is different in the Greek when writing in your language since it translates different tenses to the same. So for example legei and eipen are different in the Greek though the same root, but I may have had to translate them both as ait, 'he said'.

I look down at the tables as I write. I can see that Mark and John both omit Praefatio as I noted earlier. Also that John has unique material even though we did place some of his sections in parallel with the others. The next section is all gray before me.

The different hued threads of Matthew and Luke show that they each have their own special material sometimes in long sections. These may be unique to them or show influence the one on the other or the two on Mark. On table 6, there is hardly any of Luke’s hue, for he has omitted a great section. And he has 64 sections in a row that are mostly his on table 7. Some few of these are unique, but many have bits and pieces showing words common with Matthew and with Mark. Luke has also the Sermo Domini similar to Matthew's Sermo in Monte, but Matthew's is much longer. All four share Passio and Resurrectio beginning on table 10. Here the hues are greatly varied.

Many in Israel have long texts from memory, for they study Torah and the Prophets and Psalms in Hebrew with the diligence of love. Even though we were born there, we were strangers in that land. Still we loved the ancient texts and we used a translation into Greek which had been prepared in Alexandria many years earlier. Prima, always wanting to teach me everything, showed me both the Greek and the Hebrew letters from before I could walk. There are some who say that every letter is a fire descending from heaven. And so it was for me that I knew both Hebrew and Greek as letters of fire. I saw and felt them with power. I must take care that the power is of the letters and not of a spirit of domination. For love does not work that way.

Mark begins with the prophets (Malachi and Isaiah) and I have added Isaiah the prophet in the margin (as Luke notes). This visible voice crying in the wilderness is at the beginning of the Book of Consolation of the prophet Isaiah. Console my people, says the Lord. Luke writes of Simeon looking for the consolation of Israel. Later we will see that John writes of the Comforter who comes along side us and lives in us. This, Beloved, is consolation, an earnest of our inheritance, not to be ignored.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tourtière on Wiki

Don't let anyone put down wikipedia - I just listened to the history of something I am making today for my wife's return from England. Go to Wiki here and hear this lovely piece of history from Peter Zovski on tourtière. And tell me what spices and meat you would use. Now how will I make that pie crust? The last crust I made I turned into cookies.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Puer Jesus in Templo

One day, a boy came into the temple and asked, as you are asking, about its place in our understanding.

– Do the fires of Israel burn as the fires of a son should? Do the gentiles see and rejoice?

My own teacher, Hillel, kept silent to see what we would say. What could we have said? The conflict in our own ranks was as plain to us then as now. Even among ourselves, we questioned each other’s doctrine. If we were raised in Judah, we did not accept peers from the Diaspora. Babylon rejects Hellas. Judean hears a Galilean dialect with disdain. And though we sacrificed daily for the emperor, we knew Rome considered us strange, troublesome, and even pernicious. We were silent.

So after a few minutes, the boy answered his own question by reminding us of our calling.

– Does not the Scripture say, I called my son out of Egypt, and this not for the son’s sake but for the Egyptians? What will I do with you, O Jacob, if your fires serve only yourselves?

We loved his answer, proud of such a son in Israel as we are proud of you. And then we asked him, as if he were our shepherd (and we saw that he was pleased), ‘What is the teaching about the Vine?’ And he answered,

– The Vine will bear its fruit through the winepress of affliction. So it is written of the servant. (How will we console him?)

This last he said almost to himself. And we continued our questions: ‘Are the Romans our affliction?’ And he paused and looked at us, and said,

– The Romans are the inheritors of Egypt. We will be a light to them also. The song of the vineyard prepares the servant to know his security in any empire. They think to teach us the humanity they learned from Hellas, but they will drink a greater wine than that. The servant will create new wine.

Just a twelve year old boy, and not even from Jerusalem. He stayed with us for three days.

– What do we learn from this, master?

We learn all that I have taught you, son. Please tell us your answer.

– The adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises. We learn these in our history from our ancestors. All these things are ours through the Scriptures that were written for our learning.

– The boy will complete the bridal chamber with his questions. He has named the purpose of the fires of Israel as a sign to the nations. He is also right to question whether it is enough for there to be a perpetual fire only in the temple. The fire must be kindled in each one of us. In the mercy that burns without consuming, we will find our consumation. Such tenderness invites our faithfulness. This we must seek for the fires to be effective, for the mercy to be known. So I think the boy’s hope for a new wine is not necessary. The old is sufficient.

Fuga in Aegyptium et reditus

What a contrast between Matthew and Luke! Luke writes of the consolation of Israel and the ingathering of the nations. Matthew includes the death of a few children in an obscure village and the mother in Israel weeping. Consolation has arrived for Luke, but not for Matthew.

The brutality of Gaius’ father was redeemed by the tenderness of the son; his grasping by the slave-child’s inheritance. This is not retribution but redemption and that over four generations. The fear of the assembly today is a reaction to the libertine nature of New Corinth. They would be better to fear their own forgetfulness. Fear as covering is temporary. As far removed from spirit as the human can be, so also the anointing goes to extremes to bring the children home.

Circumcisio et praesentatio

– You cannot make two into one.

– I don't have to. It's already done. One is that has made us one in him.

– Can we then make two where there was one?

– No we cannot. We may see many and not see one, but that is not the reality of the one that made nor of the one that was made.

– What a riddle!

Luke alone writes of the consolation of Israel. When you have consolation, you can die in peace. Beloved, there is a story in that word.

Since Prima has died, I have cried silently to heaven for my ears which are no more. Then today - can I name today? In the twentieth year of the emperor, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, 14 days following the winter solstice, in the night, on my bed, in the hours before light, one came to me in my silence. A light moved to my chin and the stubble of my beard burned but I was not hurt. And the light shook words to me in a foreign tongue. It was like how Prima used to touch my body and pulse the sound so I could imitate - so I learned to see her words. I did not want the light to stop. I feel my heart. I say to myself - slow heart, and know - no - be known by this light that burns without hurt. My chin quivers. My teeth and my palate glow within my mouth. I keep so still. I hear the Master's words to the man whose part I know by heart.


He spits. He touches my lips. He sighs. I hear thunder.

– Ephathah!

I was alone. A memory of a dream? But the top of my head still aflame, I awoke.

There was a bird outside. I opened my mouth and I felt again the fire on my stubble. Awake, I spoke aloud - not daring to believe. There was a new sensation in me. I spoke again. The same sensation. The bird - I had not looked for it. Always I get up and walk to the window to see the gulls swarming - this time I had heard them.

Woe is me - now I must obey and I must write. Beloved, his sigh is consolation. He has changed his mind about me - he has breathed me into hearing. Now I too am ready to die. I expect also like many I have known, that I will see the blood of the sword as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

2 The Life We Share: Common Catholicity, Apostolicity and Confession of Faith

This is a continuation of examination of the draft text of an Anglican Covenant. There are no psalms in the piling on of texts at the top of section 2 - so I will ignore them and examine instead where that term covenant is used in the psalms. I am having trouble seeing the whole idea of 'covenant' in the context of 'the Anglican' as anything else than a political confession. I wonder if the psalms will support such an interpretation.

Psalm -25 his covenant בריתו (verse 12) and his covenant ובריתו (verse 14). These appear to surround the centre of the psalm - curious that Magonet (A Rabbi Reads the Psalms - lovely book) did not point out the recurrence here. The poem is an acrostic - so even in the midst of such a constraint, the poet appears to surround the most intimate centre (his secret counsel, his foundation - v 14) with selected recurrences. What is this! For one fearing the LORD, he will teach him in a way he will choose.

If it is the LORD who teaches - how will we be anything but positive? How can there be a subtext of the negative?

Psalm -44 with your covenant בבריתך - part of a lament - calling on God - we were not false to your covenant. Let those who seek such a position take care that they do not insist on their own righteousness.

Psalm -50 my covenant בריתי The psalm is God's rebuke. Again covenant is an enclosing keyword. The first occurrence is the gathering of the chicks under the wing. The second a warning to the wicked who take my covenant בריתי in their mouths.

Psalm -55 his pledge בריתו Here the word precedes the famous description of the unfaithful: his words were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart.

Psalm -74 the covenant לברית Consider the covenant, pleads the psalmist. It follows the tenderest diminutive in the psalms: O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude

Psalm -78 the word is used twice (verses 10 and 37) but is not structurally significant - simply a statement that the people of the covenant are stubborn and do not keep the covenant.

Psalm -83 Here it is enemies who cut a covenant against God.

Psalm -89 covenant is used 4 times - must be a keyword. God promises 3 times that the covenant is sure, but the psalmist as part of a long string of accusations against God says: Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant. Psalm 89 is the last psalm of Book 3. It's tough being chosen.

Psalm 103 The loving kindness of the LORD is from age to age to all who fear him and his righteousness to children's children, to those keeping his covenant בריתו , and those remembering his precepts to do them.

And what shall I say of psalm 105, the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which is for ever. Or 106 where God repents - the fullness of his consolation. Or psalm 111, a single concentric stanza: perpetuity - to those fearing him - his covenant for ever. Or psalm 132 - the promise to David: If your children will keep my covenant בריתי - is the covenant conditional?

Covenant, Beloved, is not political confession.

Addendum: the verses at the top of the covenant draft text. (Deuteronomy 6.4-7 [Shema+], Leviticus 19.9-10[not harvesting the edge of the field], Amos 5.14-15, 24 [justice]; Matthew 25 [sheep and goats], 28.16-20[great commission], 1 Corinthians 15.3-11 [resurrection], Philippians 2.1-11 [kenosis], 1 Timothy 3:15-16 [song of vindication], Hebrews 13.1-17 [the altar])

A sweet card

BC Hydro has a card at the following site:
They will donate to the BC Childrens hospital each time someone activates the site.

Drop in a coin (it's free) and watch the action.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


There has been a lot of talk on inerrancy today - one of the funniest is from Chris Tilling. He has the knack of being both serious and funny at the same time. I think that is rare. There is also a lot of talk - some of it far from love - among the disgusted and disgusting Anglicans - I hate adjectives you know. Those aren't mine. Gentle Wisdom is reporting things that are far from gentle.

I was thinking how I could bring Secundus into the 21st century - but there is no place for him nor for his father's master, Gaius. What! Didn't you know that Gaius ..? No not of Derbe - of Corinth.

Anyway, back to real time. I asked why it is that the Bible is so obvious - and why people have such trouble with it. If people knew that prayer is fun and more than mental, they would know why they might die for the love that God shows them and how they might die at the hands of those who claim to know what God should be like (in case God needs to be told how to behave).

When the poet prays that his enemies might be ashamed, isn't that good? If you really love your enemies, pray for them - that they might be ashamed and shown how wrong they are - so that they too can know the astonishing love of the God of Jacob!

Sounds good if you are real. Pray for your enemies - of course, pray for their defeat. Pray for their death. Pray for their shame - because you are right! and they are wrong! and God knows you are right! And if they really want to become right they have to know how wrong they are.

I love Anglicans, you know. And some of them really are righteous. I don't want to name them or link to their famous blogs in case they think I am being sarcastic - but they know who I mean. They are not my enemies. So I don't pray for them. What - you don't pray for your friends?

Is that really required - when I pray for those I love it is so I can own them completely like praying for a particular Christmas present. Just kidding! I pray for them just as if they were my enemies - otherwise they would miss out on the good things of God. (Because they don't know they are right, so they might not be happy about it.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Dreaded Seasonal Summary

Our Christmas letter is online. Good news since it was written - our homeless one (aged 30) has found shelter at the Forensic Psychiatric unit on the mainland. This mental health program has really helped him in the short term in the past. Of course to get in you have to throw a bottle at a dust blower and then miss your scheduled court date or something else against the law. Believe me when I say in my helplessness that I am relieved he has shelter at least for a period.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

1 Preamble

(Psalm 127.1-2, Ezekiel 37.1-14, Mark 1.1, John 10.10; Romans 5.1-5, Ephesians 4:1-16, Revelation 2-3)

These are the verses for the preamble to the text of An Anglican Covenant. I am not sure I want to start this process because I have a covenant and it's not with the Anglican Church but with the Most High. At least so I think - and so is confirmed in my thinking as I ponder my way through the psalms and observe how the experience of someone 2500-3000 years ago parallels mine as a child of humus exactly. The psalmist may not have known what I know of mathematics, or science, or history, or even the Son of God, but s/he knew what I know with respect to internal and external enemies and the perplexity of promise, mercy, loving kindness, testimony, instruction, blessing, judgment, word, and presence of God - not to mention the cost of grace and growing in the same.

If you are interested you can read the draft text as I blog on each section. The first section is so short I will quote it - but not so for the others.

We, the Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these articles, in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel, to offer God’s love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to grow up together as a worldwide Communion to the full stature of Christ.

- what I will blog is the way I perceive the cited verses of Scripture in relationship to the walk in faith that I know. We begin with a psalm - 127 (assuming traditional numbering for Anglicans).

The psalm is suitable - a meditation on emptiness without the Lord doing the building. The word is Shv) like the shewa vowel of the Hebrew annotations - not exactly nothing, but a grunt between letters, a nothing vowel. We are reminded also of the Dickensian character Mr. Quiverful - but we will also remember the blessing of the barren woman who has more children than the wedded wife (Isaiah 54:1, Galatians 4:27) so as not to confuse fertility with alternative blessings. So whatever Anglicanism is, we invoke a warning of emptiness first.

Ezekiel 37 - if it ain't those dry bones! Here from the Prophets we have the intimation of the Spirit. We invoke the whole crescendo of the Spirit from the TNK-NT.

Mark 1:1 - It surprises me that some references are to one verse (in this case the beginning) and others are to whole chapters!

John 10:10 - nice - The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. I guess we will have to surmise why this is part of a preamble and who, pray tell, is the thief?

Romans 5:1-5 - a hope that is not deceptive, continuing the thread of Spirit.

Ephesians 4:1-16: Unity of the Spirit (as noted in the preamble paragraph above), citing Psalm 68 on gifts, and the body building itself up in love. Altogether a suitable passage for a preamble.

Revelation 2-3: the seven letters to the churches. The Spirit is in evidence here too. Can we hear what the Spirit is saying?

The Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If I add this 2 Corinthians 3:17, I summarize the 7 references in one. Do I imagine that this writing is starting on a positive note? I would be happier if it did not include the word covenant. A human or inter-church covenant must not get in the way of the necessary engagement with the Most High.

Whose writing is this preamble?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This is an Aural exercise

Enjoy Mrs Beamish, Anglican I think.

Monday, December 3, 2007


Mr Bob is concentrating on psalms with two recent posts on psalms 58 and 78 - but he did attend a study tonight examining the document known as 'An Anglican Covenant - A Draft for Discussion.'

In my search for 'the church', the analysis of this modern document with its not so invisible hidden agenda seems to be a call. But, I cry, there is so much history. Well, he says, treat such with the respect it deserves.

Doug - thanks for your education on the 39 articles. Peter, for the counterfoil to my reading of Scripture (I still don't agree with you of course). Suzanne, for a sense of direction. John and all the other scholars and students, for letting me know how little I know.

Pointers to the discussion of this document are welcome, I guess. I will add this to the in-basket.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Common Ground

Having read this to my mind non-polemical invitation signed by 138 Islamic leaders and having read this response from Yale - I wonder what you think? HT Phil Sumpter.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hebrew Body Parts with some random image

John posted two posts on body parts - long lists - and he asked for an image.

I can upload any image to the software I am using, but I just chose a few at random from those already in the test data to show a few body parts. I have also listed the Hebrew pointed and unpointed so they can be read beside each other.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blogging out temporarily

I hope for more tennis than computer time in San Diego - so no blogging here or at Bob's Blog till next week. [And no twittering either.]

I have a few things in the pipeline: Secundus knew Prisca and Aquila in Corinth - of course since he lived at the estate of Gaius - and he will recount their Pauline-flavoured commentary on the primary division point of Jew and Gentile. He may note how some other divisions of humanity, slave-free, male-female were only lightly touched upon in the literature available to him - but his memory is good. His next section will be to tell us how he and Prima, his sister, approached the fourfold gospel analytically. No doubt his perspective will improve if his 'creator' gets to some of the Gospel sections at SBL this weekend.

In the psalms area, I expect psalm 78 to occupy me for some time. I am about half way through and the cell structure is there, but I have not arranged the columns to see it yet. I hope some of you look at psalm 51 - it is a marvel of intricate construction. Sin, rejoicing, righteousness, and offering are all clearly shown in this image.

Here is the sequence:

  1. look for the fourfold circles of verbs in the first column.
  2. Observe the threefold circles of nouns in the same column.
  3. See what they surround.
  4. Observe then the linkages from part 1 to part 2:
  5. in the circles: face/presence, and
  6. circled: righteousness, delight, joy, crushed, sin-offering.
  7. note then the circles in the second column - spirit-heart, and the tight circle of 'broken' around heart's repetition.
  8. Note the sevenfold imprecation in the second column.
  9. Note how unified the composition of the whole psalm is - like psalm 67 around God's righteousness (we will not forget God's tender mercies either - rachamim - stated once and a feature of Psalm 78 also).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Much to consider

This post from Iyov has much in it to consider. (A bookmark for later.)

Romans and Rhetoric again

Peter Kirk has posted an argument on the subject of same-sex relationships that I think is wrong. I tried to post a comment there but couldn't for some reason.

He wrote: Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27 should be understood as normative for Christians in all times and cultures.

My response: No - without question, this is a rhetorical error in the reading of Romans. The condemnation is meant to silence all judges who impose their normative prejudice on times and cultures. (see e.g. my brief comment here and related structural analysis.)

Such an argument cannot be put in a few words. It is contained in the lives of many over many years who are condemned out of hand by those who disallow a rereading of both Romans and Leviticus. In the case of Leviticus, a rereading is needed - as the Jews always reread and comment. In the case of Romans an accurate reading is required - one that does not confuse morality with salvation.

See also here - a note by PamBG who comments on Peter's post also.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Natus Adoratur

Gloria in altissimis Deo et super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis. This passage is a challenge for my translation. Such propaganda! Who will believe that peace does not come from the force of empire? But the invitation is not restricted.

Luke writes of shepherds and Matthew of Magi. These stories have almost nothing in common. Angels and shepherds worship; and some time later, kings. Joy, Bethlehem, Christ, and Mary are shared. In one story there is a manger, in the other a house. In one case a babe, in the other a child.

The family of Jesus followed all aspects of the Law of Israel.

– Every male among you shall be circumcised. If a male is uncircumcised, that is, if the flesh of his foreskin has not been cut away, such a one shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
– And I will give you a son by Sarah.
Abraham laughed.
– Let but Ishmael live on by your favor!
Abraham was ninety-nine years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised and his son, Ishmael was thirteen.


The blog flavour of the day is apol0getics. John debates with Chris Hallquist over difference makers and abstract objects like mathematical truths.

James Kugel writes: In the case of the Bible, as we have seen, the assumptions one brings to the text are crucial to its meaning. (ht Phil at Narrative and Ontology)

This is a bit like the 10 favorite verses meme. We pick and choose from our needs what we want to see. Are we like the famous creator of Snoopy who claimed he never knew love (see also today's Globe and Mail)?

Did I choose love or did Love choose me? You all know how to play that word game - shall we call it grammatical reversal? But like John's punch in the stomach, life is more than such a game. Agreement on abstraction (latin: to draw out of) is not all that there is to being drawn into the chamber of the one who is lifted up for your sake or being redrawn in the image of the incarnate.

Artist, draw yourself. You see, you need a difference maker.

Phil also nicely comments on Stephen (aka Q)'s response to Kugel, whose reasonable denial of every imaginable form of apology reminds me of Ellul's denial of every reason for prayer (except for one) in his Prayer and Modern Man, a book I used to have a copy of - but you know the act of praying is more important than the book.

Why does the Bible work when other things don't? Well - it just happens to be available. If it weren't available, the same difference maker would create it from the stones.

In the beginning (everything needs a bootstrap - and they are notoriously difficult to design and program), there was a difference, a clumpiness in the primal soup which lit upon the as yet unknown scene of our observation. Was everything else from then debits and credits? When you wrap up the department, do you have a net zero sum impact? O Then and When, do not apply for a job in theology. You are not qualified. I choose instead an orthogonal Glory, one of the additional dimensions of string theory. I think it was Stafford Beer who defined God as a source of negative entropy.

How then! will I enter into Glory? Not then, not when, but Now - be lifted up in the open shame of God by the recognition (Tamar & Joseph) of the humility of the servant who in the love, glory, and unity that is before and in the face of the foundation of the world makes that difference in reality for us, together and alone, that allows the engagement of our flesh in him and he in us.

Tongue tied? Let it go. Enter in to the Holy Place - because you are invited (the only reason for prayer). You will stumble, but you will sing without regret. In the crux of meaning, you will dismiss your false assumptions about a lot of things. You will no longer confuse belief with praxis or praxis with law, morality or ethics. You will say with Peter, Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life. You can ask with the melismatic pathos of Oliver - Where is love? And you will say to the difference maker - My God, it is sufficient.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Database technology and the Bible

John Hobbins has outlined his requirements for a research database for the Study of Ancient Hebrew Poetry. (see here)

The overview of recent research provided in the preceding posts illustrates the degree to which parallel structures characterize ancient Hebrew verse at every level of the textual hierarchy. A research database designed to facilitate the study of the phenomenon would ideally have the following features. Components of texts presumed to be poetry would be tagged at the macro-structural, prosodic, semantic, syntactic, morphological, and sonic levels. Each of the six levels, to be sure, is multidimensional.

My own specialty over the past 40 years has been in data analysis and database structures. There is a vast gulf between natural language and database. I have not had a chance yet to do much study of a tagged text such as is in the morphological parsing and tagging from the Westminster Theological Seminary.

Here is another undated statement of requirement:

At present there does not exist a freely available syntactic database and corresponding search engine for the Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic syntactician and discourse analyst. Further, there is no standard, universally available database whereby the scientific community can repeat and verify the results of such study. Such a database would permit the researcher to make comprehensive statements about the behaviour of Biblical Hebrew syntax and textgrammar. Since it is first and foremost a research tool, a fundamental requirement is that the data and analysis are completely accessible and configurable by the researcher to reflect varying theories and improved understanding of the text and theories used to investigate the text.
I am sure the techniques are legion and incompatible. The approach I would take would be to discover the objects that are implied and their relationships - has anyone done this type of analysis yet? Some years ago I did a bit of analysis for a text-based database linking verse with scholar. It would not do as a database for what I am doing now or for what John wants, though some of its entities might be extendable in that direction (see this entity-relationship diagram).

There are two related problems to database. The first is design - the 'right' and 'extendible' set of objects. We know there are such objects because people use books and verses to hit each other with - but this is not necessarily the right starting point. The second problem is loading the data from a verifiable source. Both these are almost intractable given the explosion in thinking about Bible texts that is evident in the noo-sphere today. But if we do find the right structure, people will understand what Fred Brooks wrote in the Mythical Man Month in the '60s: "show me your logic and I will be mystified, show me your data and I won't need your logic to understand you."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rose Macaulay

I have been reading Letters to a Friend, the correspondence between Rose Macaulay on her way back into the Church she had known as a child in trans-Atlantic correspondence in the 1950s with The Rev. John Hamilton Cowper Johnson, of the Society of St John the Evangelist. This one line amused me - it gave me a reason for the priesthood - as a reminder of what we all must do when the time is right as part of our priestly ministry (though for me not as an 'officer').

Dame Rose had been very recitent about seeing a priest. The letters grow on you. Here is what she writes about the first visit:

Fr. Wilkins was very kind and nice. He didn't say anything; practically nothing but the absolution. Perhaps this is his way. I expect he thinks people work out their own problems unaided, except for absolution when they work them out wrong.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Christi nativitas

Joseph was a just man, one unwilling to put another to shame. How do we think of justice these days, Beloved? Is it not when someone gets what they deserve? If we receive what we deserve, are we then blessed? God forbid we should be rewarded for our works. The works we will be rewarded for are the ones that God works in us. This is safety rather than just desserts. Yet we are free to act and to study with or without diligence.

Can one know any more about Jesus' birth than one could know say about my birth, or yours, or the birth of an emperor? I suspect Mary brought him forth from the womb with as much blood and pain and wonder as is common for any birth. Like Tamar, and the wife of Uriah, she was found with child outside of her betrothal. Pain is one measure of our reality. In this God is with us. Let me not be ashamed even of shame for God is with us in the burning fiery furnace of our affliction also, despising the shame for the glory that is to be known, caught even in our own traps.

Mark says nothing of the birth or Joseph. For him, Jesus appears like Melchizedek, without ancestors or progeny, a mysterious man whose identity is not to be revealed till his glory can be known. John agrees with Mark as one might expect, for this beloved disciple, John Mark, had an influence on the Elder's writing. In Mark, he is called the son of Mary, a reference to a fatherless child. In John he is twice called the son of Joseph. Whose son is he? And what is a son that we should adore him?

– He was not an easy child. I remember asking on my way in from the fields, "where is my son that he does not come to greet me?" He was always in the town, never home except at the most inconvenient times and without warning. He did not keep safe company.

Who can say when a birth will herald wholeness?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Slam

We had a game in a writers' regular meeting I used to go to called the Slam. You were given 6 words in common with others and one unique to yourself and you had to make up a story on the spot using those words. Sometimes the audience had to figure out the common 6.

The top ten exercise is a bit like that. Can we say what story is being told by the selection of the top 10? What is it that we speak to by what we chose?

One thing I noted about my own 20- 10 from the TNK and 10 from the NT that surprised even me is that I proved exactly the opposite of what is a commonplace of thought about the OT and the NT. My OT verses have more to say about love and my NT verses more to say about judgment and death.

My Top Ten from KNT

There is a centre somewhere in the Bible. TNKNT. It is in the K - short for the Hebrew 'ki' - the answer to the question 'why'.

These are my impulsive best hits of the New Testament. Favorite books: Romans, Revelation, John, Mark, Hebrews

  1. If you by the Spirit do put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
  2. Out of his belly will flow fountains of living water.
  3. And thou child will be called the prophet of the highest. (ht - the Benedictus to Anglican chant).
  4. Simeon ... was looking for the consolation of Israel.
  5. And he will give you another comforter, the Spirit of truth, who will be with you for ever.
  6. Having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.
  7. I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto him.
  8. Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will rebuild it.
  9. When the Son of Man I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32 - I had to check my memory on this one - compare 3:13 - memory confuses first and third person.)
  10. It is finished.
The centre between the New and the Old is the crucifixion, the place of truth exposing the place of the lie, the place where God meets us, the mercy seat. See also here for my Top Ten TNK. Update: John has evolved the meme slightly.

My Top Ten from TNK

I can scarcely imagine reducing the scriptures to my top ten - but before I read Doug on this, I must have a try. I will confine myself to the TNK first. I am going to go from memory and on impulse.

Narrowing down the books: Psalms, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Job, Ecclesiates, Isaiah, Song, Lamentations - that will do and some of my verses may not come from these favorites and some of my favorite books may not register individual verses. I apologize to the books I have not listed.

Verses: (if I need to say where they come from, they are not your favorite)

  1. Let him kiss me with the mkisses of his mouth for your love is better than wine.
  2. My beloved is mine and I am his - and its counter - I am my beloved's and his desire is for me.
  3. He will not break a bruised reed, nor smother smouldering flax.
  4. O that you were my brother that I might embrace you in the streets and no one would take notice.
  5. Your loving kindness is better than life itself - my lips will praise you.
  6. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the LORD your God (ht Thomas Tallis - favorites include musical memory) - to which I will add - ht Stanford - O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.
  7. Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness (ht Allegri).
  8. My help comes even from the LORD who has made heaven and earth.
  9. My just one will live by my/his faith/faithfulness (take your pick).
  10. Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool (ht Handel).

As for my excuses - that will have to wait for another time.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    Jihad for Love

    I expect this film will live up to its advance billing. I have seen the earlier work of Sandi Dubowski and it is tender-hearted - against which there is no law.

    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    A Prayer of Augustine

    Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new;
    late have I loved Thee. For behold Thou wert within me,
    and I outside,
    and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness
    fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made.

    Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee.
    I was kept from Thee by those things, Yet if they
    had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.

    Thou didst call and cry to me to break open
    my deafness: and Thou didst send forth thy beams and
    shine upon me and chase away my blindness

    Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me,
    and I drew in my breath and now pant for Thee.
    I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee.
    Thou didst touch me
    and I have burned for Thy peace.

    Oxford book of prayers, Ed. George Appleton

    Sunday, October 28, 2007

    Tagged! 10-20-30

    I have been tagged by Doug at Metacatholic 10-20-30. What was I doing 10-20-30 years ago? My wife and I are just considering how to deal with 40 years of photographs - so the tag is timely.

    1997 - Geçmis(h) olsun - may it be in your past - as the Turks say. 1997 was the year of our longest holiday - 6 weeks in Turkey. An enlarged photo of the market at Turgutreis where we shopped every Saturday still hangs just to the right of my desk.

    1987 - still in Victoria, acting choirmaster for St John's church, the youngest was 10 years old. Three children learning strings - two fiddles and a cello. I may have even played an open string myself occasionally.

    1977 - my newsletters only go back to 1978 - our first trip overseas for 3 weeks in England. In 77 we had just moved to Calgary from Toronto. I worked for IBM ('68-80). I sang in the cathedral choir. We did lots of walking in the high country in those days. One of my teachers at this time - only too briefly, was Peter Craigie.

    Now can I tag anyone before someone else gets them: John Hobbins, Philip Harland, and Kathy Hanson

    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    The Eucharist

    Sarah Coakley, recently appointed as the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, gave the annual John Albert Hall lectures at the University of Victoria October 10-16. I have had a few weeks to mull over her finely reasoned theses. Since she is going to publish four volumes on her systematic theology of which these lectures will be a part of the first volume, I can hardly summarize them in a post. But the theses suggest ways of considering the role of the priest and the meaning of the Eucharist that may be helpful.

    Here is her introduction: These lectures set out to cast current debates on ritual bodies in a new light: that demanded by a thoroughgoing analysis of the category of 'desire', and of its implications for the equally-contested topic of 'gender'. At the heart of the lectures lies a defense of the view (puzzling to many Protestant Christians) that issues of erotic meaning lie - rightly - with the 'nuptial' metaphor of the giving of Christ's body in the eucharist; but very different conclusions are drawn from those proposed by the Roman magisterium. At a time when both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican church are politically torn asunder by debates over sex and gender, these lectures seek to recast theological thinking on the eucharist to bring it explicitly into line with reflection on sexual ethics and on the baleful political and economic effects of the contemporary mismanagement of the 'economy of desire'.

    I have had a chance to discuss reactions with others also, one a female priest another a layperson like myself, and my wife who attended 3 of the 4 lectures with me. To put it bluntly, I don't think Dr. Coakley was well understood. A few of us will have learned something about ancient and modern writing on these subjects and a few will have followed her reasoning, but most will find themselves unable to express the aspects of desire that were a part of it.

    The overall title of the lecture series was: Flesh and Blood: The Eucharist, Desire and Gender. The four lectures - each a review of Eucharistic doctrine from Augustine to the modern period - have the following titles:

    1. 'In Persona Christi' Who, or where is Christ?
    2. Sacrifice Revisited: Blood and Gender
    3. Gift Retold: Spirals of Grace
    4. Real Presence, Real Absence: The Body Broken
    These will be highly suggestive to anyone familiar with the history of thought on the Eucharist. But what did I learn? (I really can answer only that question.)

    Lecture 1 - 'In Persona Christi' Who, or where is Christ?

    The official abstract: After an introduction which proposes the idea of the eucharist as an ascetical training of 'desire', this first lecture takes as a starting point Thomas Aquinas's account of the priest acting in the eucharist 'in Persona Christi'. Dr. Coakley showed how this theme has been newly woven into the official Roman rejection of the ordination of women as 'gender disordered', given that - purportedly - only a man can represent Christ in the nuptial act of the eucharist. The lecturer argued for a position considered by neither conservatives nor liberals in the Catholic debate: in representing both laity (as 'Marian') and Christ, the priest moves symbolically back and forth across the threshold of the divine and the human, summoning, and de-stabilizing, the world's gender binary and submitting it to the judgment of the flow of divine desire.
    My Response: I learned from this lecture that Aquinas's use of Aristotelian arguments on the inferiority of women is now regarded as insufficient support for restricting the ordination of women. I don't think I was surprised at this or at the Scriptural arguments usually put forward to support the exclusion of women - or the exclusion of anyone else for that matter. What Dr. Coakley did suggest to me is that the priest, in representing during the liturgy both Christ and the Church, is actually playing both male and female roles, combining as does the image of God, both male and female. Dr. Coakley was not gentle with the current Roman Catholic thinking - my note says: 'she tears it apart' - and she indicated that there are errors in their inferential moves to shore up the missing Aristotelian justification of a male only priesthood that deny the very thing they want to prove.

    Lecture 2 - Sacrifice Revisited: Blood and Gender

    This lecture briefly revisits the classic Reformation and counter-Reformation debate on sacrifice (Luther [mass as gift or testament] vs. Trent [mass as sacrifice]) in order to highlight anew a latent gender/power theme in 'sacrifice' that modern anthropological, psychoanalytic and feminist accounts have made the more explicit: it is traditionally men who sacrifice, and so establish a patriarchal order of authority that rivals - and trumps - the female power of childbirth. If so, the conservative Catholic and feminist critics agree that women should dissociate themselves from 'sacrifice'. Following on from the insights of the first lecture, however, it is argued that 'sacrifice' must not only be rescued as indispensable for a theology of the eucharist, but thought through precisely as 'representable' by a woman priest. The symbolic dislocations of such a move again signal a judgment on the 'world's' ordering, and so rightly 'represent' Christ as bringing the order of repeated blood sacrifice to an end.
    My Response: Dr. Coakley began by refuting the violence in the Girardian use of scapegoat as the model for all sacrifice. I noted in my random association mind as she spoke that Zippora as Mohel had to save Moses, thus undermining the usual male-to-male birthing of the covenant of circumcision. I also noted the instruction: read Chilton. She ranged widely, my notes include Eucharist as replacement for animal sacrifice, Acts focusing on breaking of the bread, Paul's theology of the body and its integrity, fruits of the earth, Mary and Sarah vs Christ and Isaac, Jesus as the fruit of the earth. (I think this last comes from my recent drafting of harvest related psalms.)

    Lecture 3 - Gift Retold: Spirals of Grace

    The third lecture notes how the current debates about divine 'gift' (when seen as a disjunct alternative to 'sacrifice') ironically replicate the Protestant/Catholic divides of the early Reformation, but equally demand a false choice. It is argued that the reception of divine 'gift' necessarily involves moral sacrifice in the circumstances of a fallen world. If divine 'gift' is to find its proper human response, the demand to 'do this in remembrance of me' may have radical implications for economic life and for an understanding of the 'gift' of Christ's presence proffered by 'the poor'. In this sense participation in Christ's eucharistic body will have to involve 'spirals of grace' more surprising and complex that those envisaged by either John Milbank's or Kathryn Tanner's recent work: John of the Cross's analysis of the effects of divine 'gift' in union here becomes the test of how human desire is broken and remade in Christ.
    My Response: I hope you get this far, because there were some interesting things in this lecture. Where she said: it is not the job of the priest/sacrificer to change God's mind, I thought - It is never said of God in the NT that he sighs or repents, instead the NXM becomes the Paracletos, or builder of the new temple.

    But then she says - it is her (the priest's) job to mediate the laity's change of mind in a transformation of the workings of 'desire' (and so too of gender and economic relations). I thought - wait a minute, this really does separate the body into two and I cannot agree - there is one mediator between God and the human, individual or collective, and it is not the 'priest' whether male or female.

    In this lecture she traced the debate about 'gift' through Derrida and Marion, to Milbank and Tanner. She argued that the debate has occluded a disturbing subtext on gender which either subordinates the Spirit/gift as stereotypically 'feminine' (Milbank) or effectively sanitizes divine 'gift' of any association with gender or the 'erotic' (Tanner). And I think - finally, she is on to two somethings, both of which miss the mark - i.e. her argument is apophatic. What she has done here though is to slip from grace to Spirit without warning, just when we needed the rest of Romans 6-8 or John's fountains of living water connected to the prayer of the psalmist to give us the pointer to the reality our desire must seek. Yet I think one might find the ladder of angels within this structure.

    Lecture 4 - Real Presence, Real Absense: The Body Broken

    The last lecture explicates a new rendition of Christic 'presence' at the eucharist. Returning once more to Aquinas, Dr. Coakley surveyed a number of intriguing re-readings of his theory of transubstantiation, arguing that the close connection in Thomas's account with the metaphysics of incarnation (and the associated theme of Marian impregnation) is worthy of greater attention, as is the strongly apophatic dimension of Thomas's argument. If eucharistic presence involves forms of 'cosmological disturbance', the we need to clarify further what bodily and political transformations that might involve. The question of Christ's 'presence' this cannot be properly formulated without attention to the issue of sacramental efficacy, itself inseparable from economic and political tests of paschal transformation.
    My Response: I can't make head nor tail of my notes here except an instruction that I must read Aquinas volume 3 and Duns Scotus - relational not substantial. O well! Some day - when my psalms project is much more fully developed.

    My questions remained:
    1. Why the restriction of the priestly roles to the ordained? I remain concerned that the priesthood as perceived by the laity separates the body into two parts, and runs the risk of the ordained not being of the people of God.
    2. Why remain on the threshold of the Holy of Holies when one is invited in through the veil, that is to say, his flesh?
    3. And let us not forget that it is by the Spirit that we are conformed to the death of Christ, including all our desires - sex, money, and getting the right answer. I continue to wonder how the priestly-lay hierarchy, the two-tiered church that I grew up with and that will likely outlast me, will become more capable of expressing the mystery of the Gospel.

    There are aspects of our traditional words and processes that shroud in darkness rather than reveal the beauty of holiness.

    Opening a drawer

    This is how my grand-dog learned to open a drawer! hmpg

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    SBL Plan

    Here is my preliminary list for attendance in San Diego - anyone who wishes, please remind me of what I have missed that you think is very important....

    Is this a holiday or not? My wife is accompanying me for tennis in moments of spare time, and a possible visit to Mexico.

    I arrive sort of early mid day so pre-conference morning sessions are not possible for me.

    16th Friday - S16-55 The Faith of Jesus Christ - maybe
    more likely S16-60 Mysticism with April DeConick and Alan Segal
    or - too many choices - the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars - all day

    17th S17-18 - got to bypass all the other neat choices and do Psalm 109 (my current draft psalm) - Saturday morning is so full I could be in 10 places at once.
    Saturday afternoon S17-64 Horsley or Romans S17-73? or Gospels S17-79?
    May play tennis on Saturday afternoon
    Evening begins early with Daniel Driver on the Psalms - Psalm 102
    Or Christopher Heard on Prophetic Literature S 17-114 same time different station!

    Sunday morning - Breuggemann and Ben Zvi probably S18-21
    Sunday afternoon - Marc Goodacre - computers - I better do this in prep for January
    That means I have to skip the Hebrew verb - too difficult for me anyway.
    I really should hear NT Wright. S18-117 and later S18-147 or 150?

    Monday is devoted to the psalms: S19-7 and S19-83 and S19-103 with John Hobbins
    That means I have to miss S19-116 with Boyarin and Nanos - just got invited to that but they want me to buy the book. Maybe with my big Canadian buck I will be able to afford it then. Also means missing Goodacre and Aune.
    Do the movie ? The mystery of Paul ? S19-136.

    There's no time for tennis or Mexico!

    Knowledge is the beginning ...

    This film was on the BC Knowledge Network this past week. It is worth watching. Some of the background is here and here.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Breathing, canon, and authority

    Over at ETC (that's Evangelical Textual Criticism) Michael Bird writes: "an original text is significant historically for reconstructing first century Christianity and it is significant theologically if we are to ask what it actually was that God-breathed out."

    Does God only breathe once?

    I have to agree with the first half of Mike's statement - historical understanding connects us to the communion of saints - whether it be a NT redactor or an ancient Hebrew poet.

    Who wrote those amazing psalms at the beginning of Luke? Is this God breathing? Does God also breathe when we read them (in any form or language)? Or does God hold his breath as we stumble over the spondee - And thou child?

    - "Who was that he is talking about?" asks the ignorant choir boy.

    - "Do a little homework," God says, "and I will show you what prophecy is and what it costs - and you will know my breath because you are one of my autographs."

    I suppose I am in danger of a hopeless subjectivism. But my faith is not in a text or a tradition. The text and tradition have informed my faith but they are not its real origin or its means of continuance.

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Canon in Images

    I am considering a new diagram at the top level of the multi-story building that represents Judeo-Christian thought over the last 3500 years. I found a resource here that has tons of info from lists, order, dates, who mentioned the book or not, etc. What I imagine and want to present is a high level view with the kind of clarity that exhibits structure and points to other resources. Anything you would like to include or exclude? Something will emerge over the next few weeks as I experiment with release 2 of our wonderful diagramming tool.

    What I hope to see is something we know and something that is new - imagined but never imaged before. I will of course review and build from the discussions we held earlier this year stimulated by John Hobbins.

    Update: I am having some trouble thinking about how canon could be modeled. This is a hard and potentially boring problem and I don't enjoy boring others or being bored by lists and stuff. To be interesting, a list should reveal something we haven't seen before. Somehow, the data that are spread out need to be found and focussed. This includes but goes beyond sequences, variations, and disputes. I expect I will have to design some data before images will take any useful shape.

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Forethought/afterthought about translation

    It was reported to me yesterday that a week ago at a thanksgiving pot-luck held at our church, there were several street-people who were seriously drunk or stoned and who were very impolite at the lunch, playing out the role of spoilers at a love-feast. This morning I have just listened to a beautiful performance of Ave Verum Corpus by Imant Raminsh, performed by the Cantilon Children's chorus of Edmonton under Heather Johnson ( will have that online but I can't find the click).

    I try to imagine translating Psalm 51 for these two groups of people: the vagabonds of the street or intelligent children who sing meaningfully in Latin. One thing I would say is - don't talk down to us. Certainly the children will understand penitence. As for the mentally ill, and the self-abusers, perhaps it would be good for them to have their consciences touched by covenant - if indeed such is still possible for them. Let them all be considered capabable of understanding the inscrutable imprecisions of language.

    How then do we translate this psalm of a sinner (David) touched so deeply (via Nathan). Not by philosophy. It is God's word and covenant that we are dealing with - translation is not loss but reaching out to known and unknown friends and enemies. We are not conveying words as so much baggage. We are not engaging in spoon-feeding.

    It is God who completes the work he has begun in us and we do not know in advance what our end is. Did those sinners who translated the KJV know that their translations would have such a long life? I am only stating the obvious - the very things that cannot be stated. The work of translation is completed by the reader not by the translator. I.e. Give us work to do - don't dumb it down.

    Update: I find myself in agreement with John on this issue.
    Update2: see Iyov's series beginning here.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Checking in

    I am still here. Still though. Not writing but translating, waiting... I hope to get to the birth of Jesus in the story by Christmas. These stories are so familiar, it is hard to read them with second century eyes. But Secundus in spite of his disability, has already carried some of my bias in favour of doorkeepers and musicians (children of Korah). Music is closer to touch than words.

    Today's themes are music and church. See the shared items.

    Friday, October 5, 2007


    Do I know what I am doing?

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007

    The Jewish Theological Seminary - Torah from JTS

    The Jewish Theological Seminary - Torah from JTS With this new year, JTS includes a portion of Barachot and a section of Rashi each week. I am posting this here so I can print the worksheet later at the link and try it out.

    Here is a link on Tivka Frymer-Kensky - a conference in her honour on October 21 at JTS in New York - Maybe someone will blog on this conference - sounds good.

    Friday, September 28, 2007

    The letter vav

    Here is a sweet article about past and future - and a true article about the nature of Messiah - I say this for I have discovered the same things all on my own. It is nice to see them so perfectly repeated. That is why I coloured tamim red - all other colours followed perfectly.

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    What it's all about

    One wrote to me: "Now I see, at least visually, what you meant by 'mapping' the psalms. But I must admit, I don't quite understand what the mapping is really about."

    I thought about this sentence today and I had many confusing answers: how do we understand? Do we use this word to mean that we have control? If so, we are really overstanding not understanding. What is a mapping? Reading, seeing, hearing. What is this word 'really'? To the philosopher, it is a red flag indicating special pleading about what the writer means, asking for a rephrasing of the context.

    Quite! I don't quite understand, nor do I overstand, but what are you getting at, Bob, with these pictures of the psalms?

    I have told you. My reasons are multifold. It is reactionary on my part. A reaction of my natural rebelliousness against the authority of tradition, and against the assumptions of piety. But it is not only negative. It is a search for communication - my compulsion as a member of the children of dust. I can imagine the psalmist is like me. I can see the work of the last redactor, mediated I admit through textual form and propretonic reductions. Sometimes I think I can see the work of the first author, for the circular signature is not hidden. I can learn. I can even construct a theology like the writer to Hebrews did. Perhaps I will be able to understand Hebrews better with a little study.

    But none of this is sufficient. Do I read the not quite understanding as "what's the point?" and do I read that objectively, subjectively, with curiosity or with resignation? What's the purpose of this in-depth communication we are engaged in? Enjoyment? Puzzlement?

    There is only one sufficiency and that is to respond to the command: go from your land and from your family and from your father's house to the place that I will show you.

    My land, my family, my father's house is in this case the place of what I already think I know, the place of convenience, the place where I might one day be in charge.

    One day at a time, and I write this also for those in grief for whatever reason, one day at a time, follow the instruction to Abraham: hear, go, see what you are shown, and do it.

    Is this what it's about? Without deception, and standing under not over? Do we have this grappling hook that reaches out into the unknown for this reason, that there is a call and a response?

    I wrote more in my answer to the implied question - about covenant dialogue, and the glutinous tension between chiasm and prosody, and other things that are all known already, but it's not my joy, my learning, or me at the centre (aha! a connection with story) but that ultimate centre that de-centres us and in which we find our completion - whatever our trouble.

    Nativitas Ioannis

    We cannot have announcements without birth. In Israel, on the eighth day, the male child is circumcised. (We gentiles do not follow the practice.) I have told you only a little about this thing.

    The child is named. How difficult it is to name a child when you do not yet know what character that child will take on. So they asked: What then will this child be? Would it not be more sensible to name the child when it has died - and you know what that life contained. So it is in this Hebrew culture that the death is enacted in a sign. Thus the whole life of the child is summed up in a name.

    Here the name is John. If you have something important to give, Beloved, put it in the middle of your writing. So John is marked and named and his life means Iah-gracious. His name is not Zachariah. We are to remember this death, but Iah-remembers is not the name of this child. Some things the Most High remembers, some not. Never is there a lack of grace.

    Et tu puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis. The child is the centre of attention at his naming. And so you, the child, the prophet of the Most High, will be called. Even my heart feels a secure pulse.

    I will have to wait to hear the songs that were sung when the tongue of the dumb was loosened. My ears are not open. So let the singers not understand. Prima taught me music through rhythm and shape of words. Pitch she formed on my body by touch. From the stories of Gaius, I learned of his troubled son who played the kithar - as he said 'so much better than the visiting Nero'. (These stories, Prima and I recorded in our first book.) But the completeness of music is hidden from me. Still I feel words even if my jealousy of the singers is severe. I repent. Let them also read as well as sing so they may see what is in the middle of Zechariah's song.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    The Church

    Brooding is my mind on a pool of rippling questions in which the Church is subject or object. Recent stimuli include Doug's recent post on article XIX, Kevin's quotation of St Basil to note with care, and more particularly, Mike Sangrey on John 17, expanding on Suzanne's post about team teaching at Better Bibles Blog. Mike writes:

    If you want to see accurate translation, look for the unity that it produces... the unity had to be there to begin with in order to produce the accurate translation.

    The Church as object is the body of Christ. If we are indeed in this body, how then can we act as coordinated members? Is it sufficient for us to say ecclesiam semper reformandam, the Church is always in need of correction? What are we referring to with this statement except a human institution? The body of Christ is not in need of reformation, except to the extent that its members must be conformed to the resurrection of the dead - i.e. they must find the meaning of their baptism into his death, so that the life of his body may be seen in theirs.

    To say that they are members of his body but have not yet found the meaning of being members of his body is to represent the contradiction that we are partners in. It is not the head that is lacking, but the members - yet we are all one in him, so what possibly could be lacking?

    We are the they and we shall be deficient in nothing - so Psalm 23 and so Paul in 1 Corinthians - lacking in nothing, coming behind in no gift. (Clarify me as needed, I am writing without reference books for my office is destined to be painted this week and all has been packed away.)

    So much of 1 Corinthians is about gifts - as is the passage in Acts which Doug cited: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:17 NRSV)

    I commend the whole comment to you - every line of Doug's short article seems to pull from me a response - especially the declarations of who is wrong - as if the Anglicans had a clear view of the right! (And I will attend an Anglican congregation this morning, prayer book service, bells and smells, and lots of psalms.) But Doug, in spite of how much I am indebted to him for his scholarship and clarity, concludes with what he deems a necessity that I deny: "the development of a theology of episcopacy as a guarantee of succession of teaching."

    As I reread this, I don't know what he means - why would a theology of episcopacy help me resolve my questions? And would it be a theology of hierarchy or of a priestly tribe? Or of monarchy? None of this appeals to me. [Ed. so what! - who are you to hinder God!]

    More importantly, does it include the assembly of the chosen? Is David, the King, the renegade Priest, and the Poet in this body, one with me? Is Abraham and his servant? And Rachel, Leah and Rebekkah? - Does God need 'development'?

    As I said - brooding... maybe the wrong questions. Help me refine my questions. That is my prayer in the Church this morning. For I know whom I have believed, and there is no language barrier between us (Romans 8). I will die in the one I fear, whose merciful rebuke is my life (Psalm 23), whose presence my pleasure for ever (Psalm 16).

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Grand Unified Theory

    My Gut has 8 orthogonal dimensions (that's an unnecessary adjective - dimension is a presence that is independent of inertial influence from another - I am just making this up).

    Anyway my Gut (or GUT - so as not to confuse flesh and mathematics) has 8 mutually momentously independent dimensions (whatever they are). Four of them are the usual - length, breadth (with emphasis on the bread), height, and time - which goes backwards and forwards too, but we can't quite get there. The other four are tightly rolled up so they are invisible - and of course they have no relationship to the first four - being dimensions, but they are not dimensionless as some might have it. They really matter, a word that rhymes with smatter and batter - both indications of the impact of these hidden dimensions in the world when they are not acting in perpendicularity.

    If we lived in flatland - the whole world could be represented by tuples of the form (x, y). In Cartesian land, we have (x, y, z) and z (representing height) is everywhere present to any possible x and y combination. (That's better). So too time, is represented in the fourth dimension (x, y, z, t) and there you have it - Einstein in a line, and I would include other physicists but I would have to look up their names first.

    We don't live in a four dimensional universe, so you can imagine (since I am not drawing any pictures today) that the fourth dimension of time draws out the other three and is everywhere present to them as they are to it.

    According to traditional GUTs - at least to the feeling portion of the theory (that's gut-feel), the remaining invisible dimensions - which you can now easily represent as (x, y, z, t, a, b, g, d) are tightly rolled up (ouch) and only available in high-energy particle-battering accelerators, not for brief moments for that would deny their dimensionality, but inferentially, like the radiation of spitting around a black hole - called Hawking radiation I think).

    Alphabetics give a clue to the presence of these dimensions. Prior to time is glory (hence the g). It should come first, but was pleased to be 7th - as it is written, the heavens declare the glory. The other three have the names, faith, hope, and love. Love is the ultimate, the 8th. As with Chevron gasoline, with love in your tank, you can go backwards - so we are commanded to 'redeem the time'.

    The ordering of the dimensions in the tuple is arbitrary. The point in glory-faith-hope-love-spacetime could have been represented as (g,a,b,c,x,y,z,t) but the independence of dimension as a concept requires consistent applcation of order to effect communications. Hence the need for a spell-checker. Angular relationships are of course possible among all the spacetime-lovemade points (I need an abbreviation for a, b, g, d). The use of triocto-angulation can pinpoint certain events in this created-order (that's an abbreviation for tuples of 8).

    Evidence of glory in the created order is at the central event of this bent world, the brooded, covenant body pointed to by ancient and modern writings and by the creation itself - have lightnings and thunders their fury forgotten! The work is best apprehended through music - hence the importance (again) of the psalms.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    January in Seattle

    The speaker's list at Bibletech 2008 is posted. I will be speaking there on - ha - guess what!

    Visualizing Micro and Macro Structures in Scripture.

    I will be presenting some selected diagrams of Hebrew poetry showing both internal and external structure. This presentation’s theme will not be getting things done 'faster', but the sustained learning process that a web-based software framework allows over long periods of time. The talk will also display new ways that the drawing surface expresses both aspects of structure. In doing so, I will explore visually what the ancients would have heard in an aural performance.

    If you have any ideas you want to contribute to my talk, please let me know. I will certainly be crediting John Hobbins and his general rule of prosody - and my talk will explore some of the ways in which prosody confirms or is in tension with semantic structures. Right now I am thinking the following topics:

    1. Coping with the volume of content -
    remembering where we were, seeing where we are going.

    2. focussing on detail -
    examples of how to learn at the micro level
    (see for instance the recent discussion of Psalm 1:1-3 here, or Psalm 2 - does concentric structure establish a frame for an uncertain term? I think you could pick almost any psalm for this process

    3. Learning over time -
    the tension between panic and hope - e.g. my most recent draft of psalm 37.

    So two conferences coming up - SBL to meet people whose names I know and Bibletech to discover more of the potential for technology in learning and community.

    I have some specific technological problems in Hebrew, some of which I hope for some light. I have experimented with root derivation, word-counting, and transcription of Hebrew. It is some help with searching but there are several limitations to my algorithms. I expect I will need to develop base forms in a dictionary as well as algorithmic helps for a fuller model. As a more traditional problem space, I would like to see some support for prosodic measurement, at least after the fact.

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    drei Koenige

    A nice U-tube lead in to the next section of my story - still brewing.

    In the Image of God

    This is my last chapter review for the book by Frymer-Kensky, Peter Ochs, et al, Christianity in Jewish Terms. Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, 10a and 10b, 11, 12. Or click the label 'One' on the sidebar where there are a few other related posts.

    As I noted a few days ago the essays are - the first by Tivka Frymer-Kensky herself, The Image, Religious Anthropology in Judaism and Christianity; the second by David Blumenthal, Toward an Anthropopathic Theology of Image, and the third by William Schweiker, The Image of God in Christian Faith, Vocation, Dignity, and Redemption. I am struck by all three essays. Particularly, the middle essay is vintage Blumenthal.

    Frymer-Kensky begins with the things about the visible aspect of Christian worship, '...images fundamentally different from Jewish traditions. Icons, statues, incense, crucifixes, crosses, ...' and a page or two later 'Humanity was born in the full image and likeness. After the Fall, in some way the image was lessened, disfigured, or destroyed... The Fall and "original sin" are difficult concepts for Jews.'

    I found myself in marginalia mode writing things like, 'not for me', and 'it's a difficult concept for some Christians too'. The great difficulty in 'image' as a concept, is that it misses the very concreteness it was intended to carry. Between these two passages though, she cites Paul (2 Cor. 3:18) - being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. But she doesn't follow this metaphor far enough and there is too much a view of Paul that is mediated by doctrine that is 300, or worse 1500, years after him. Can one say that the doctrine of 'Original Sin' was 'important to Paul'? Surely he would not have recognized the phrase.

    Frymer-Kensky is, however, probably an accurate reporter - She is reporting what Christians have recorded as their belief. I just don't think she is reporting what Christians ought to believe. For instance:

    The image is the rational soul, possessed by all; the likeness, possessed only by believers, is the spirit, a kind of added gift. The body does not figure in to this mode of thought at all.

    My marginal note here is 'then it is not correct'. I had high hopes when I started this series (here) stating: I hope to set out steps in a pattern that those on all sides of the barriers might be able to see. Well some of our steps need to be taken backwards if we regard the above interpretation of Irenaeus as representative of what Christians 'ought' to 'believe'. God forbid we should eliminate the body. God forbid that the Spirit should be seen as a kind of 'added gift'. (Of course there is gift and there are gifts - substantial, beyond price.)

    "All sides of the barriers" - I note that I imply not one barrier but many, and like our enemies, some of them are self-constructed and self-imposed.

    To be fair, Frymer-Kensky immediately follows her interpretation of Irenaeus with an equally scathing critique of Hellenistic Judaism. Then comes a critique of Aquinas and Maimonides where image tends towards intellect. Then on to Barth and Brunner where image resides in relationship - we're getting warmer. How I wish I could sit across from her now and talk through these issues - but, you know, they cannot just be talked through - they will be walked through and the body will take its proper part in the glory in due course.

    From Blumethal, I learn that unusable word anthropopathic - God has 6 positive anthropopathic attributes (I do understand attributes!) - 'God must be fair. ... God addresses, and can be addressed by, humankind. ... God is powerful but not perfect. ...God is loving. ...God gets angry. ...God chooses. God is partisan.' (Chew on those.) God has negative anthropopathic attributes - Here he deals with the shoah, writing: 'I have therefore argued that the shoah was an act of abuse, that is, that it was a punitive action against the Jews that they did not deserve.' His corollaries are worth reading.

    With respect to the incarnation, he asks - what did God learn when, according to Christianity, God became incarnate? Now here is a good starting point! He can accept the metaphor of God's body but resists anthropomorphism. He draws the line at giving God a real body. So do many in the Christian tradition. He also doubles Nanos' criticism which I have noted before: unfulfilled Messianic claims. And of course he references the bloody history of Christian-Jewish relations.

    I didn't annotate Schweiker's essay much. The reason is quite simple - Christians write about Christianity conceptually rather than viscerally, intellectually rather than sensually. The incarnation is muted. Or Christians write with the arrogance of a blat, with a surety that belies their content, with what Schweiker classed as forms of faith that are to him 'strange, even vicious'. (Imagine by contrast, Mussorgsky - trumpet solo, Pictures at an Exhibition - incarnate grace.) But he writes of soul with a fully Hellenistic viewpoint, summarizing psyche as spirit, (nous) and mind (mens) ... reason (logoistikon), heart (thumeides), and desire (epithumatikon) - this vestigium trinatatis as disembodied as you can imagine!

    So where are my steps? These are in a word, Jacob's ladder. You could centre the steps on one word - MQM - surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. Or we could conflate it with an ultimate recognition - that our struggle is not with flesh and blood... וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, פְּנִיאֵל (vayiqra ya`aqov shem hamaqom peni'el) and Jacob called that place Peni'el. And he goes on: For I have seen God face-to-face and my life is preserved.

    And here is another 'step' as I noted in an early comment: on Habakkuk - the just shall live by faith. This verse is at the root of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. It says nothing about a particular form of liturgical tradition - nor is it interpreted Hellenistically as if faith could be disembodied. The faithfulness of Jesus is the incarnation of this verse. What 'happened' is the form of a faith that enfleshed all into its example. In other words one can learn from Jesus without conforming to a particular or unique or absolutist form of 'religion' for want of a better term. And one can be part of a 'religion' even a Christian tradition and not be engaging that example of faith. In the engaging is the apprehension, the life, of the fleshly reality of the just one. The expression of the incarnational effect must find words in his same spirit.

    I know this distinction has been made before and that there are now commonplace words in our language that are leading or misleading - be still. Though there are many steps, and the heights of a ladder may seem dizzying, the place is one - and even if our place is destroyed, it is restored. While we must move ourselves from our self-created and self-imposed enemies and barriers, we also must be still and wait for the faces of the living God where we are. (Such is the happy message of psalm 37 which I have most recently drafted here. - It's raw but you might get a kick out of it.)

    Friday, September 14, 2007


    כִּי תִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ לָדַעַת אֶת-כְּבוֹד יְהוָה כַּמַּיִם יְכַסּוּ עַל-יָם.
    כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ דֵּעָה אֶת-יְהוָה כַּמַּיִם לַיָּם מְכַסִּים.

    For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge [of the glory] of the LORD,
    as the waters clothe the sea.

    (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14, Numbers 14:21, Jeremiah 31:23,33-34)

    Do we know enough to have a 'definitive' statement of theological truth such that God must conform to it? Do we know enough to have a definitive statement of scientific truth such that science must conform to it? Both these questions have the answer 'no'. Neither God nor science comes under our definition. It's like making love. You are to have no power over your own body. The other has it. So it is with God and science. The first work of the flesh is the desire to be right. When this work fails, in our impatience, we can easily succumb to the use of power to achieve it. May it not be that the will to power motivates our serious love of words.

    Are we known sufficiently to conform to the desire of the Beloved? Are we sufficiently constrained to conform to the requirements of the world as dimly perceived by us through science? The answer to the second question is a guarded 'yes' for our perception changes through the discovery of the marvellous workings of the world. But we can trust in these things and, as Phil Sumpter notes in extended conversation with others, our trust in our findings is supported by the experience recorded in the ancient texts. God has founded the world for and on understanding. Bound we are by the value of Pi, the Golden mean, the mass or lack thereof of quarks and neutrinos, and also by the mercy of God, as high as the heavens are above the earth.

    The answer to the first question is of vital interest. I want to hear the words - well done, good and faithful servant, you have conquered through my blood. I do not want to hear the words: Depart from me, I never knew you. Is such knowledge measured by the sum of facts we accumulate or the number of foreign-rooted words in our vocabulary, or the confession we ascribe to? Is it subject to our slightly alkaline bio-chemical inference engine parked between our shoulders and physically suspended from fontanelle to the tips of our extremities with its obvious 1-lb processor and its no-so-obvious minute central command somewhere in the middle of our back? Is it knowable within our earthy frame?

    The answer to this question is 'yes'. Through faith we enter into covenant with the maker of heaven and earth. The results are not fiction. They are truth in the inward parts. There is no hiding from this heat. Before such a face, we are open and naked, and we in turn, opened to glory, come to have such a face. So I will not run away like the kings of Psalm 68 - I would end up spread out anyway, but white as snow on what was a dark mountain. It would be cold without clothing.

    Many meanderings today, stimulus from the theoblogs: Euangelion and Metacatholic and the tulip I was going to ignore.

    Monday, September 10, 2007

    New Books

    Hurrah for the Public Library - two books by Robert Alter - The Five Books of Moses - with a superb introduction encouraging the full scope of the music of the text, and The Psalms - on loan and my name on the wait list. Also a book of selected psalms translated by Stephen Mitchell. A winter of contented reading perhaps and informing the unconscious with the effrontery to continue my projects.

    I remember that I still have chapter 13 of Frymer-Kensky to review. The Image of God. The chapter title is fearful enough to keep me pondering how to review the essays in it - the first by Tivka Frymer-Kensky herself (see also this blog), the second by David Blumenthal, and the third by William Schweiker.

    Food glorious food

    I think, like Oliver, I make too much of food. It was a curious experience then to do a 2 day fast in preparation for some medical imaging. Not to get too specific, I always feel a bit 'open and naked' before the doctors when they are trying to find out if there is an incipient cancer or something. Now I should feel transparent and radiant - shining with Boron for the x-ray machines, and effervescent with C02.

    I did not feel hungry at all - a fact that makes me think I should take more time and thanksgiving to enjoy my meals. My wife joined me on the fast. This was just as I was following John's stimulus to translate Psalm 144 in which I found: Lord, what is this humus that you know it - the children of humanity, that you value them?

    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    Sandi Dubowski

    There are many who would be unhappy at this announcement but I am still happy to make it. Not that I gain anything, but as Doug at Metacatholic notes, the word of God comes from sources we might least expect. Some years ago, Sandi Dubowski produced Trembling before G-d, a film about homsexuality in the Jewish Orthodox tradition. It is a tender, moving film. The book, Wrestling with God and Men which I reviewed here is an equally moving exploration of Rabbinic reasoning on a subject which many prejudge as obvious sin.

    After 12 countries, 9 languages, and 5 1/2 years, Producer Sandi DuBowski and Director Parvez Sharma are proud to announce the World Premiere of our film, A Jihad for Love, at The Toronto International Film Festival, September 6-16, 2007. The film is the first feature documentary to explore the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality. We are thrilled for such a prestigious global launch of this challenging work. I am extremely proud of the the hard work that went into this film by Parvez and our team over the years to make the film visually stunning, emotionally moving, daring and challenging. We are living now in challenging times and both of us believe A Jihad for Love has to do justice to the lives of the subjects who so courageously came forward to tell their stories despite enormous risks. We have always intended that the film has profound impact in the world. So please join us in Toronto! The dates and venues of our screenings in Toronto are as follows:

    Public, September 9th, 8.30 PM, Cumberland 3
    Public, September 11th, 1.15 PM, Royal Ontario Museum
    Public, September 15th, 11.59 PM, Varsity 7
    Press & Industry, September 10th, 1:30 PM, Cumberland 3
    Press & Industry, September 12, 11.30 AM, Varsity VIP

    I for one will certainly go to this film at the earliest opportunity. If nothing else, his films express an honesty that is good to see. You can be in touch with the producer of these films at [sandi AT].

    Given my earlier understanding that sin is a failure in a relationship, not a matter of following rules by rote, it will not surprise you that when I hear people claim they know in advance that God condemns such and so, I am suspicious that they know less than they claim. I suspect their real motivation is power, or that they speak in fear or ignorance. There are assaultive, exploitive and foolish appropriations of any gift, but a gift of love is not abomination in itself. Anyone who thinks it is runs the risk of judging the work of God. I am fully confident that God knows how to deal with the homosexuals that call upon the name of the LORD - and God does not deal with them according to the condemnation that some of the other children appear to demand. God is able to make them stand as who they are not as what others expect them to be.