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?