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Performing Jonah

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When I finish markin the Isaiah essays I get to examine the last performances of texts from Genesis. Performing a text is a great way of assessing students on a synthetic task that is based on analytic groundwork.

Imagine if I’d been teaching Jonah and someone submitted this:

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.

What comments would you suggest I make? In what ways is it a good performance? Where does it fail?

BTW there are no marks for the performance itself, i.e. was it a well-acted, filmed etc. only for how well the performance actually performs the Bible text. In the real thing a student would also submit a paper that supports their performance with exegetical evidence.

Eddie Fearon has another interesting post discussing why “Why Character is as Important as Method” in biblical interpretation (his blog Hermeneutica is well-worth subscribing to, he posts seldom, but well, and how I wish we others could do the same ;)

In it he lists Vanhooser’s four interpretative virtues.

Honesty consists in acknowledging our presuppositions, aims, and interests. This is important so that we do not unconsciously read our own beliefs and preferences into the text, and so that we acknowledge why we may find a particular interpretive stance appealing or persuasive. The opposite of honesty fails to acknowledge the influence of presuppositions and interests, but feigns complete objectivity.

Openness consists in a desire to listen in order to understand and so consider the perspectives of others. It consists in open-mindedness towards the merit of different interpretations and a readiness to change one’s own in light of the evidence. Close-mindedness believes it possess the truth and so does not listen in order either to understand or consider, but only to subvert.

Attention consists in attentiveness to details, a commitment to serious enquiry rather than jumping to quick conclusions, and requires patience and thoroughness. Failure to be attentive can result in focusing only on that which supports ones interpretation, and moving to judgements too hastily.

Obedience consists in reading the text as the author intended, and in terms of Scripture, embracing it as something to act upon.

I’m not sure if humility, which I have long touted1 as the key characteristic of a reader (as opposed to a critic) of the Bible, is a fifth, or a summary of the others. Thinking of reading the text humbly includes especially Vanhooser’s “obedience” and “attention” but also stresses the need to read with others (a key Baptist and/or Anabaptist virtue which I think Vanhooser incorporates as “openness”). To my mind thinking of the interpreter as humble has the added advantage of being a key virtue expressed within the texts being interpreted!

  1. Cf. e.g. the final section of my fifteen year old  Etudions l’Ancien Testament (online edition here. []

Last night we launched:

Reconsidering Gender: Evangelical Perspectives
Edited by Myk Habets, Beulah Wood

and two other books edited by my colleague Myk. The man is a book production machine!

I have a chapter in the Gender book: “The Image of the Invisible God: (An)iconic Knowing, God, and Gender”

The publisher describes the book thus:

Questions related to the issue of gender remain insufficiently acknowledged and explored in contemporary theological literature. These issues form the basis of significant unresolved tensions among evangelicals, as evidenced in debates over the nature of the Trinity, Bible translation, church practice, choice of language, mission leadership, decision-making in homes, and parenting, to name but a few examples. The essays in this volume are not meant to provide a monolithic evangelical theology of gender, but rather to provide evangelical perspectives surrounding the topic of gender. To further this aim, each of the main essays is followed by a formal response with an attempt at a concise and lucid perspective on the essay and pointers to further areas for investigation. Some contributors are complementarian while others are egalitarian, although who is what is left to the discerning reader. Regardless of one’s position on the issue, all will benefit from the contributors’ commitment to the further exploration of gender issues from the perspective of a broadly conceive evangelicalism.

Average Sansblogue reader (from a photo "Old Man and Ferret" by fakelvis Lloyd Morgan)

I assumed, largely because much the same people comment on my blog (here) and my short biblical studies podcasts, that the audience for both sites was much the same. The 5 minute audio slots are less popular, with only 5-600 visitors a day, while this blog (even in this marking season when posts are few in number) gets about 1,000. The fascinating thing though is that these two sites, by the same author, on pretty much the same topic (though the blog is less focused on study of the Bible with more on digital life, scholarship and even cooking, while the podcasts almost always focus each on a particular Bible text) have quite different audiences!

Alexa reveals that Sansblogue:

Based on internet averages, bigbible.org is visited more frequently by males who are over 65 years old, have children and are graduate school educated.

While 5 Minute Bible:

Based on internet averages, 5minutebible.com is visited more frequently by males who are in the age range 25-34, are graduate school educated and browse this site from work.

Potential 5 Minute Bible listeners (from photo by Ed Yourdon)

So, the blog attracts the older crowd (many of you, apparently even more ancient than I am ;) while the podcast has a younger audience. Perhaps the format explains that, you see few old fogies (like you and me – or at least you, since the oracle tells me you are mainly older than I) with MP3 players, but they are ubiquitous among the young.

More difficult to explain is the gender imbalance, 5 Minute Bible only has a small imbalance, while Sansblogue is much favoured by grumpy old men…

Maybe I should give up blogging and put my energies into Podcasting, before you all die off ;) or better still I suspect vidcasting, since the really hip and really young use iPhones or their Android non-clones. The trouble is if I vidcast it would be easier for all those bright young things to spot that I’m not anywhere near their demographic and flood to other trendier Bible sites ;)

Funny and deep!

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This interview with the Apostle Paul is both funny and deep, read it! (HT: Jonathan)

Photo by stevendepolo

I’m marking assignments on Luke 9:1-6. (See the post below: Good news for the rich.) As well as spiritualising the passage into safety another common approach to taming it is common.

Jesus in hiding? (Photo by Carly & Art)

It reminds me of the story of the boy whose Sunday School teacher asked: “What is a small furry animal with a fluffy white tail?” Who, after an embarrassed silence said: “Well I know the answer is Jesus. But I sure can’t work out how!”

In Evangelical churches we have so stressed “the gospel” that whenever something is to be preached or proclaimed we know the answer is “gospel” even if we can’t work out how. In this passage what the twelve are charged to proclaim is not called “gospel” till verse six. At the start (before they go) they are commanded to “proclaim the kingdom of God”. This message, that God (really, truly) rules, is to be shown by healing the sick and casting out demons. That is the message really is about how the loving Creator rules, and not the powers of evil that stunt and spoil our world. As I said in the previous post, that really is good news, but all too often it is not the “gospel” we preach!

Church foyer come on in and hear the gospel (photo from Stevan Sheets)

The assignments I’m currently marking are all studies of Luke 9:1-6.1 The passage is pretty straightforward, for these are beginners:

Jesus calls the Twelve together, gives them authority to heal and to cast out demons. He then sends them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick, giving instructions on travelling light and suggested responses to different sorts of reception (they provide enough complexity to allow the best students to shine). They go, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.

It astonishes me how many students manage to miss the bit about demons and healing. As I read their studies of the passage, I wonder about the extent in seeking to ensure that the gospel (which was clearly from the start, as it is today, good news for the poor) can be good news for the rich we end up like some processed food, with all the goodness taken out. The gospel is no longer about a God who rules, and so who heals – if that was what the gospel was about it would not be good news, most of us (except extreme Charismatics ;) would rather visit a Doctor and swallow some pills. The gospel is most certainly not about a God who rules, and so who one day will put powerful oppressors in their place – if that was what the gospel was about it might be bad news for us! No, the gospel is safe and pleasant, good news for the rich, “still more pie in the sky when you die”.

Life is good now, you don’t want it to end, but don’t worry, it need not, you can have another and even better one later, so enjoy this one now, and make a few down-payments to ensure your place in heaven later…

No wonder the Bible read and preached in church is usually carefully censored! Jesus uncomfortable sayings are relegated to special series when the brave pastor explains them away. And anyway most of the really offensive stuff, like “blessed are the poor” and “how terrible for you who are rich now” can be “spiritualised” to hell and gone.

  1. Those of you who know Carey may wonder why the Old Testament specialist is marking Luke, the answer is simple workload equilibrium, few students choose to venture into the Two-Thirds Bible ;) []

I was asked an interesting question: How did Jewish people feel about having Rahab (the foreign prostitute) in their family tree?

My suspicion is that the question itself presupposes bourgeois attitudes. Members of the underclasses surely have a better understanding of the economic and social pressures that cause women to become prostitutes. One should not despise an ugly bastard, rather his even uglier1 father…

One clue to this may be Jesus’ genealogy in Mat 1, where Rahab is the second woman named, and Tamar (another foreigner) who we are told in the biblical narrative (Gen 38) was forced into (temporary and selective) prostitution by the wrong done by Judah. Matthew seems to have expected no prudish revulsion from his readers!

Then there’s Rashi (one of the best-known and best of the traditional Jewish Bible readers) who commenting on Rahab’s profession in Josh 2:1 follows an even older Aramaic paraphrase of Joshua and translates Rabab’s profession: “Innkeeper: זונה. Targum Jon. renders: Innkeeper, one who sells various foodstuffs (מזונות).” Which might suggest the medieval scholar felt some embarrassment at the thought of Rahab the prostitute. Except a few verses later he comments: “as the Rabbis said: There was neither prince or ruler who had no relations with Rahab the harlot. She was ten years old when the Israelites departed from Egypt, and she practiced harlotry for forty years.

Rashi recognises her as a harlot, but seems also to recognise the power relationship operating “There was not a prince or ruler who had not had relations with Rahab the harlot.” And so does not seem embarrassed by her past. Perhaps the fact that Christians today are embarrassed is a sign of the “gentrification” of the church?2

recognising either (or perhaps both of) people change, and/or women don’t choose to be prostitutes… either way she would be an ancestor to be proud of!

  1. Since surely if the man was not an ugly person he would stay around to care for his child. []
  2. Which reminds me of a Facebook status update I read earlier: “If you want to catch fish don’t throw your net into the bath tub!” to which I replied “I will make you fishers of cute little yellow ducks ;) []

Today was Carey Principal’s Day (sort of a staff retreat under another name) two experiences have me thinking about how our changing communications technologies are changing libraries.

The ghost of libraries past (photo from 23 dingen voor musea)

The first was driving up for the day. Our “farm” is three hours away, so on the journey I listened to some great radio, from the BBC and ABC. None of the programmes (not even the always stimulating Digital Planet, or the often intriguing All in the Mind) could get me to remember when they are “on” or rearrange my life so as to listen to them. One silent revolution in my life over the last several years has been the quantity of radio I now hear. Almost none of it live. Digital technology, and Internet delivery, enable me to shift time, and ignore geography, and listen to what I like when I like :)

During the day, when our librarian had presented her dream of the Carey library in five year’s time,1 our staff comedian (and resident American) Brian Krum quipped: “So you want the library to imitate Borders ;)” Siong is equally quick: “No I want Borders to imitate us!”

The ghost of libraries to come? (Jan Steen "Argument over a card game")

Siong is right, libraries (already in part, by five years away so much more) are about breaking down borders. The library of the present/near future is a Library without Borders. Library users no longer need or want the hushed “study space” of yesteryear. Or if they do they are hopeless stick-in-the-muds who enjoy anything “retro”. The information and ideas libraries distribute is increasingly available anywhere anytime. Libraries are becoming places to interact with others about that information and those ideas.

The old, outside-in, library was a place you went to in order to acquire something. They were “study spaces” where ideas were mulled and books composed (as  Karl Marx and hundreds of others did in the British Museum). Coffee shops were places where ideas were discussed and debated.

In our world we need outside-in libraries, places like the coffee shops of old where people meet, linger and talk – or better still argue! Now that’s a revolution that most libraries cannot make, yet. They, almost all, have a massive investment in books, and books take space and human resources to curate and distribute them. It is not only the ancient and massively endowed Bodleian Library that is running out of space, the much humbler Carey library requires staff to assist in “culling” its stock! That inertia means that for some time to come libraries will be both “inside-out” places we come to – increasingly infrequently – to get information and ideas, and also “outside-in” places to go to in order to share those ideas with others, talk and argue.

Many of my readers, I know, are aflicted with codexphilia. I used to be a sufferer. The once scores, then dozens of boxes that accompanied my moves were mute witness to my plight. I still enjoy the look and feel of a well-produced volume – increasingly seldom, for publishers in search of “cost savings” must still compete on price. But I know how I’d spend the budget if I was a librarian, and a coffee machine and some decently comfortable couches would rank higher than more dead trees ;)2

  1. How anyone, especially an information specialist, can think that far ahead amuses me! []
  2. No. You got it wrong! This is not another rant predicting the death of the book, or even the codex. I think, and hope, that codexes will be with us for generations to come, new and beautiful ones as well as those redolent of age. But they are already – and will increasingly be – either works of art, or of antiquarian interest. They will not be tools of my trade. []

William Birch has an interesting post mulling the gender (or not) of God. It’s titled: “God and gender: what if God had breasts?” echoing a chapter by Karen Jo Torjesen.1 At the heart of William’s post he makes three claims about the consequences if we (in his language) “attempt to remove male gender with reference to the God of the Bible”. I think William is dead wrong, so I’d like to respond to each of them:

1) Scripture is wrong, for every word of it is alleged to be “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16 ESV); this means that when reference is made to God or to Christ Jesus as “He,” “Him,” or “His,” it is correct;

William, surely you understand that to talk about God (who you rightly note is spirit) we must use human language with all its limitations, and that usually (if not always) we are using picture language? When we say: “God is a consuming fire” (Dt 4:24) we do not mean that one can measure the divine temperature! If we speak of God as the Rock (Dt 32:18) we do not mean that it is appropriate for geologists to enquire about the origin of God!

2) Jesus is wrong, for He Himself was referred to as male, and He was male with male anatomy, and He referred to both God the Father as male (John 14:16-17);

OK, we are all agreed, Jesus was male. But does that mean God is male? We are also agreed that Jesus had eyes of a certain colour. (We don’t know what colour, but we agree he had eyes, and if so they must have had some colour ;)  Does that mean God has (for the sake of argument, and taking the most likely option) dark brown eyes? Jesus was a practicing Jew. Does that mean God is Jewish?

You get the point. In theological terms there is a distinction to be made between the logos ensarkos (the Word made flesh) and the logos asarkos (the second person of the Trinity as such) not every quality of one is a quality of the other, there are requirements and limitations to becoming flesh. So, the fact that Jesus was male does NOT mean that the Son (second person of the Trinity) is male.

3) God must be neuter metaphysically.

Again NO. If God were neuter, just as would be true if God were female or male, then God would be part of one genre or class of beings in distinction to others. If that were true then God would not be incomparable, God would merely be “a god”, something less than the maker and sustainer of all.

You see, William, my trouble with your arguments all boil down to one thing. Your God is too small!

That title of a fine book from my childhood2 has always stuck with me, and I am convinced it is always true, and that we must continually battle with our human desire to reduce God to manageable proportions ;) Part of that battle is affirming with the great theologians of the ages that “God is not of any genre”, God is not one member of any kind or class. This includes the classes of male, female and even neuter. On a form asking “Gender?” God would reply “None of the above!”

  1. Torjesen, Karen Jo. When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993. []
  2. Phillips, J. B. Your God Is Too Small. London: Epworth Press, 1952. []