Articles for the Month of December 2010

Recapitulation, the failure of “publishing” to actually “publish”

This season between Christmas and New Year seems a time for nostalgia, so I was looking back through my December 2004 posts. Among them one in which I pointed to an article from Christian Century. I was not the only, or even the first blogger to appreciate the article, indeed I only found it because Jennee at textweek mentioned it. It was (and still is, if anyone has access to a library with back issues of the paper edition of Christian Century) a fine article. BUT it is not available on the Christian Century website.1

I thought/think the article was good. I’ll reproduce below my blog post, so you can judge for yourself. But has it actually been “published”. The online Merriam Webster lists as the first two meanings of “publish”:

  1. to make generally known
  2. to disseminate to the public
Now perhaps between 1999 and 2004 Christian Century achieved both of those things for Ms Taylor’s words. Today (at least by my, 21st Century, standards of “generally” or “disseminate to the public”) the article has been aggressively UNpublished. It really is time we started calling the print “publishers” “unpublishers”. Surely the claim: “My new book is being unpublished by Brill” is more true than the more usual verbal form?
Post from Sansblogue: Thursday, December 09, 2004 (incidentally still published, really and truly, here)
Seasonal reasons – Christmas and secular ceremonies ::

Jenee pointed me to a fine article from Christian Century “Holy Instincts“. Barbara Brown Taylor back in 1999 offered great stuff to reflect on at this season. She notices a bunch of “county prisoners” putting up the decorations in the town square.

Only two of them are really working. The third is making faces at the ball in his hand, in which he has discovered his own reflection.

Things like this, stimulated by secular celebration of the season should cause Christians to notice

…the holy spark that smolders underneath all this gratuitous tinsel and voltage. … While true believers lament the crass commercialization of Christmas and the loss of Jesus as the reason for the season, the Holy Spirit haunts the most secular ceremonies:

She admits:

There are all kinds of things wrong with the way we celebrate Christmas. We eat too much, we spend too much, we sentimentalize too much, we worry too much. Those excesses cannot douse the holy instincts that underlie them. We really are hungry. We really do want to give and receive. We really do want to feel deeply, live peaceably, sleep soundly and rise renewed.

And concludes:

God is in the midst of it, after all, still hunting new flesh in which to be born.

Or to put it the way Yancey does, in the book I’ve been reading for the last few months, at this time of year much that ordinary people do offers rumors of Another World.

Our job, if we choose to accept it, is not to beat people up and make them feel faintly guilty for not attending our church despite the “reason for the season”, but somehow to find ways to help them (but first to help ourselves!) catch the whispers in the tinsel ball, even taste the Christ in the dry turkey breast, eaten with family and friends…

  1. Actually it IS available online still, as a Google search will reveal, but in what I suspect is pirate unlicenced copy. []

Reading the Bible as a Christian

My last opinion piece for Bible and Interpretation is out. Even before I woke up to read the email that it had been published Jim West had already posted a response (whose title I am too modest to trumpet, and which is accompanied by a flattering portrait ;) and Tom Verenna a longer piece: Tim Bulkeley on Reading the Scriptures. I do hope these signs of interest prove out, I’d love to see more reflection and argument about the issues I raise, because I think the gulf between seminary and church is dangerous to both, and most contemporary attempts to address the issue seem to miss the point…

Julia O’Brien’s piece in 2009 addressed some similar issues.

PS: Clayboy has written a fine post in response Training the schizophrenic scripture student that raises interesting and important questions for thinking the issues through further:

Firstly, I’m not quite content to leave methodological materialism to the atheists

With which I most thoroughly and heartily agree! My only discomfort with such an approach is when it becomes totalitarian, and excludes other approaches.His second point is fascinating and requires more thought :)

Second, I note that the emphasis on reading the texts of Scripture only with a literal hermeneutic owes a significant amount to the Reformation. In various ways sola scriptura reified the text as an object of investigation. It was the religious who separated the text in significant ways from the reading, listening and interpreting community. The Reformation initiated the divorce proceedings, modernity made them very messy.

Anabaptist styles of reading, and submitting to, Scripture might manage to avoid such a reification, treating the text more as a conversation partner, or perhaps better “authority” in the sense that we mean when we speak of a person having authority as “an authority”.

Putting the vanity into publishing

Jim West has taken time off from noticing that the human race is spoilt, broken and twisted, and has a fine rant about Print on Demand vs. Big Name Publishers asking which form of dissemination truly feeds on vanity. True Vanity Publishers, and the Authors who Feed Their Egos is much more fun than the usual stuff about yet another corrupt politician or televangelist. Apart from the grace of God humans are corrupt. Brill and other prestige publishers demonstrate that basic fact…

Hebrew and Greek (etc.) on the web

Displaying languages written in non-Roman characters on the Web has always been difficult. In the really old days you had to use pictures instead of text, then among the various work-around fonts that mapped Hebrew or Greek characters and even pointing and accents to Roman characters the SBL ones became a sort of scholarly non-standard standard. You had to try to persuade visitors who did not have those fonts installed to install them (or you could use the Logos or Bibleworks equivalents). The problem was if you chose Logos and your visitor used SBL all they got was Roman gobbledygook. Then came Unicode now you can be sure an aleph א because instead ofbeing some Roman character that just thought it was an aleph, a Unicode aleph really is an aleph. Unicode handles accents, pointing and just about every Hebrew or Greek (and most other languages ancient and modern) mark you might want to make. And the better news is that even if you wrote in XYZ’s special Hebrew font and your user did not have that one it would display in whatever they had. So if I chose SBL Hebrew but you only had Ezra SIL no worries it all worked… Except, if you had a font that only contained consonants and vowels, every accent I placed would show up as an annoying full-sized character sized box. Bummer!

Others may know this already, but for those that did not, here is good news. Using a CSS feature called @font-face we can now cease to worry whether visitors to our blogs and websites will have decent Unicode fonts installed on their machines, or risk those annoying little rectangles!

@font-face allows you to install a font on your server and deliver it with the webpage to your user. (Traditional methods of referring to fonts require the user to have the font on their machine.) It is not totally simple (for you the web-publisher, it is totally simple for your users) but it seems straightforward. Here are step by step instructions:

  1. Download a font that you like (as long as the license will allow this use1 )
  2. Go to the Font Squirrel webfont generator, and upload the font, filling out their form. (Incidentally for those who like changing Roman fonts that site has loads you can use.) Download the ZIP.
  3. UnZip it, and upload it to your webserver to directory called /fonts in the directory where you keep CSS files.2
  4. The ZIP file had a file in it called “stylesheet.css” rename it “fonts.css”.
  5. In the <head> of your HTML put this code BEFORE any other CSS code:
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/fonts/fonts.css" /> if you didn’t call your CSS directory “css” then naturally you’ll have to put the proper path here ;) For a WordPress blog the CSS directory is: wp-content/themes/YOURTHEME (so put the /fonts directory there).

From now on wherever your CSS has something like:

.hebrew {
font-family: EzraSILregular, SBL Hebrew, Times New Roman, serif;

You only need the fall back fonts for people using really old browsers or weird hardware or something. Here is some Hebrew text with all the trimmings in SIL Ezra to prove it:  דִּבְרֵ֣י עָמֹ֔וס אֲשֶׁר־הָיָ֥ה בַנֹּקְדִ֖ים מִתְּקֹ֑ועַ אֲשֶׁר֩ חָזָ֨ה עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בִּימֵ֣י׀ עֻזִּיָּ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֗ה וּבִימֵ֞י יָרָבְעָ֤ם בֶּן־יֹואָשׁ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שְׁנָתַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י הָרָֽעַשׁ׃ 2 וַיֹּאמַ֓ר׀ יְהוָה֙ מִצִּיֹּ֣ון יִשְׁאָ֔ג וּמִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם יִתֵּ֣ן קֹולֹ֑ו וְאָֽבְלוּ֙ נְאֹ֣ות הָרֹעִ֔ים וְיָבֵ֖שׁ רֹ֥אשׁ הַכַּרְמֶֽל׃


PS: Of course, this does not work for people who read the post in a feed reader :(

  1. At present the only fonts that I know permit it are the SIL ones, which have beautifully open licences, but I have written to SBL and should hear soon if they will permit their Unicode fonts to be used this way. Ezra SIL is here. If I hear of other beautiful Hebrew, Greek etc. fonts that are licensed for this use I’ll update this post and make a list here… []
  2. If you don’t already have one why not be daring and call it CSS ;) []

Lament and complaint

Lament, I don't know maybe (photo by I Don't Know)

For my paper for the lament colloquium I want to distinguish three functional types of complaint/lament text:

  • lament which bemoans
  • complaint which charges or accuses
  • confession which despite the circumstances (which might warrant lament or complaint) expresses trust in the one spoken about or addressed

Notice that this classification is not formal, it is concerned with the attitude of the speaker of the text, and is thus functional rather than formal. Rather like Brueggemann’s functional classification of the psalms.

Complaint Department photo by mrmanc

Interestingly, recently Tremper Longman III has distinguished lament and complaint on formal grounds not merely seeing “complaint” as a clarification of the naming of “lament”. He speaks of lament when the text addresses God, and complaint when it is about God, but addressed to other humans. The “lament” psalms are examples of one, and Num 20:1-13 of the other.1

Longman’s classification is really interesting, but what really interests me is not the form of the text but the implied attitude of the “speaker”. After all attitude is why naming matters.  Juliette’s protest: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” served her needs, distinguishing the object of her love from his family name. Yet by the end of the play we know that her claim, though perhaps true of roses, is less true of families! What we call things matters, not least because our naming consciously and unconsciously reflects and shapes what we perceive. While Juliette might claim that “Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” others will merely see a Montague, one against whom they are sworn in feud.

Photo by Digital Library @ Villanova University

NB: In this post I return (the marking season being over :) to my paper for the first February colloquium and therefore topics I addressed before:

  1. Tremper Longman, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? A Biblical-Theological Approach,” in Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Memory of J. Alan Groves, ed. Peter Enns (P & R Publishing, 2010), 48 []

If Macs are for…

Mac ♥ PC photo by Ed Yourdon

A conversation, mainly on Facebook, but some here (WHY can’t Facebook take comments to a blog post linked there and repost them also to the blog? Is that really too much to ask?), about my previous post concerning getting started with Linux prompts this reflection (after a whole several weeks as a penguin):

Macs are for arty or trendy types. You know a Mac user just to look at them, they either scream “creative genius” or “I’m not really a sheep, I I’m just so hip I follow the in-crowd.”

Windows are for people who like to tinker with broken computers, and get intense satisfaction when they get them repaired and working, or for people who actually enjoy being distracted from work by “clever” toys like talking paperclips. You can also tell Windows sufferers just by looking at them, they either have large bald patches where they have rubbed the hair away trying to make the beast work, or they twitch and seem to be playing some invisible game as they stare vacantly into space.

Linux is for the rest of us. It just works, does what you tell it to, no more and no less.  And you can’t tell us to look at us, because we don’t have propeller heads, nor do we (often) wear clothing with penguin logos.

Linux: Uberstudent

I finally got fed up with the appalling frustration of Microsoft’s (every second name hides a really dysfunctional disaster area) non-operating system, Vista. Going back to DOS and Desqview or Windows 3.1 would have been improvements in usability.

Screensaver penguin :)

I’ve been using Linux, the Uberstudent packaging of a Ubuntu distribution, on my main PC for a few months now. I chose this distro because it comes with most of what I most need built in. Open Office and Firefox with Zotero are all there waiting, and most other needs of a generic student or teacher work straight out of the box. (I added Audacity, for better audio editing, and Bibletime, to keep me running till I have time to get BibleWorks working, but HTML editors and FTP clients and the like are all there ready.)

The installation was quick and easy, I basically took the defaults, and so far I have had none of that annoying running round turning off “services” I don’t want that every edition of Windows since the flood have demanded. My external plug in USB sound card/pre amp thingie was recognised with no need to install drivers (like Windows required), and wifi, bluetooth and the rest just work.

Most everyday jobs are “intuitive” for a recovering Windows user, and most others are easy to discover. The only exception was a problem when I was using a powerpack that was not powerful enough, it kept giving warning messages that although on mains power my battery was flattening. They were useful but annoying (I have not discovered how to turn them off). But using the pukka powerpack has removed the problem ;)

The only reason I have not yet got BibleWorks working, or that I have not considered Linux on my netbook is that we have been in the marking season, and we also moved into the lifestyle block not long after I installed Linux…

So far I have to say Uberstudent, or Ubuntu1 is just brilliant, it just works, and no hassle :)

  1. I don’t know whether Ubrestudent is just bog standard Ubuntu with some selected applications etc. or whether it is a significantly different OS, and frankly it hardly matters to me, unless the OS dies and I have to move to Ubuntu and then I may spot the differences… []

Exhibition by the Pool

Emerging Maori artists, live entertainment. Our Sarah is involved and it sounds like a fun afternoon :) but you have to be in ore near Auckland (which rules lots of you out :(

19th December · 14:00 – 18:00

Parnell Baths, Judges Bay Road

Parnell Baths
Judges Bay Road

Ticket entry only $20 (tickets for sale from the Beagle Cafe before the day and on the day or by emailing

Ticket entry includes 2x complimentary beverages (wine, beer or juice) and h’ordeuvres.

Come down and enjoy some art, music, good food and drink in the sun!


Today’s papers from the NZ biblical scholars’ meeting:

  • Bob Robinson opened the morning with an example of theological exegesis “Christ as exegete: a theological reading of Luke 4:16-30” his enthusiasm for such an approach contrasting nicely with James Harding’s greater scepticism for at east one example of such theological interpretation in his paper yesterday. He claimed that such reading “offers the possibility of ‘fresh readings’ and ‘fresh meaning’. The examples he gave, relating to the connection between Jesus’ message of Yahweh’s approval of outsiders who show faith, as a message for churches in modern pluralist societies, did not seem to me new! (Maybe I read the Hebrew Bible too much ;) or maybe my reading has always been “theological interpretation” rather like Mollière’s character discovering he has been speaking “prose” all his life – but without his excitement. [I must read up on theological interpretation, and then maybe either I’ll share the excitement, or appreciate James Harding’s critiques better ;] The paper ended with a discussion of Jesus as a possibly more useful focus of conversation with people of other faiths over against other possible foci (e.g. God, the Spirit).
  • Sean du Toit’s “Conversion in 1 Thessalonians” began by exploring the phenomenon of “adhesion” (adding practices of a new cult to ones religious repertoire) and other possible models of conversion in the first century world. Arguing that Paul in this book refocused traditional Jewish elements christologically, in these adhesion becomes impossible because of the exclusive nature of Jewish and therefore Christian understandings of God and idols.
  • Yael Klangwisan approached “The Enigma of Life and Death in the Song of Songs” through engagement with Helène Cixous and Jacques Derrida, with various quasi-psychoanalytic reflections and the Gilgamesh epic thrown into the mix. The presentation of this project was appropriately allusive and poetic, with quite a few games being played with words (like the juxtaposition of inanimate and Inanna ;)
  • After the idyll in the garden of life and death, Geoff Aimers proposed “Redeeming the Joban Satan” attempting a hermeneutics of recuperation on this minor character.
  • Robert Myles explored “The Flight to Egypt and Jesus’ Dislocation” within a larger project of looking at Jesus’ dislocation in Matthew. This involves taking seriously the narrative aspects of the text which highlight Jesus as marginalised.
  • After lunch Mark Keown discussed “Paul and Rome” first laying out his assumptions (pretty conventional around Conservative circles) with the phrase “although none of this is completely certain” and “it is not unlikely” throwing up warning flags (even for someone who has not studied the historical setting of Romans for decades ;)
  • Tim Harris followed this with his investigation of “Paul’s former self as dialogue partner in Romans 2:17-24” which interestingly interacts with thoughts of Romans as an oral document (written to be read aloud), and the genre of diatribe. He stressed the role of the transformation of the mind in Romans, not least as the link between ch.1 and 12. (Interestingly in passing he returned to the question of the naming of Judean/Jew/Israelite, though passing over the question ;) The particular form of diatribe Paul uses comes from the Cynic-stoic tradition and by its similarity with the writings of Epictitus. (Another interesting sideline is the claim that Phoebe – as the reader of Paul’s letter – was even more highly educated and regarded then we have recognised.)
  • Sarah Hart’s summary of “Recent Research on the Tent of Meeting” happily moved beyond the historically focused study of the previous two centuries.

Aotearoa-New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies (Day One)

ANZABS started with a couple of New Testament papers:

  • Paul Trebilco argued that Luke’s use in Acts of various expressions to designate the early Christian communities are carefully nuanced to both reflect historical change, and to promote a theological movement. In particular adelphoi is only used of Jewish Christians until Acts 15. From then on it is used also of mixed or even gentile communities.
  • Carlos Olivares with an engaging style (not reading a paper but chatting to friends – Mark Goodacre would approve) and an equally engaging South American accent made even a detail of textual criticism in Matthew of interest to this OT reader ;) Supporting the recent tendency to read “Jesus Barabbas” in Matthew 27:16-17 rather than just “Barabbas” as the often preferred texts did.
  • Keith Stuart (an archivist and biblical studies amateur) presented a passionate discussion of a page from a 13th Century MS of 1 Samuel and in doing so reminded us of the physicality of text.
  • Jacqui Lloyd argued against understanding the contribution diakonia of the women in Luke 8:3 as domestic service, claiming that this family of words elsewhere, as well as the practicalities of travel in First Century Galilee, suggest acting as go-betweens purchasing food and other resources for the group. Her presentation also was full of fire and vigour, as well as careful rigorous study.
  • After lunch Chris Marshall endeavoured to keep us awake through a careful examination of the legal aspects of the dilemma of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Before the postprandial effect overcame the audience Chris moved on to discussing the copious literature on the “Bystander Effect”. Some of the factors he discussed are “counter-intuitive”, which raised for me interesting questions about the value of such research for understanding what is presumably a fictional story ;) Of more direct and obvious relevance to understanding the story is the interaction of religious belief with altruism, in particular the impact of the danger of contravening group norms. Arguing that for the Priest and Levite would be more hampered by their fear of contamination that of physical danger, or even the religious value of caring for victims.
  • Don Moffat explored aspects of identity formation related to the “exiles” in Ezekiel and Ezra. Textual markers are inevitably a small sub-set of the complex elements that define identity.
  • James Harding responded to Walter Moberly’s Prophecy and Discernment as a critique of Theological Hermeneutics.One problem with Moberly’s “Fishian” approach is his privileging of his intrepretative community, another is that his reading of Jeremiah needs to be selective the book is less coherent than M believes.
  • Finally Debra Anstis presented the heart of her thesis, a typological intertextual reading of Jesus and Judas with the two goats of Lev 16 in the light of Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry. This paper provoked a flurry of discussion over dinner, so made a great ending for the day.