James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT

Dr. James Cone is delivering our Convocation address at G-ETS this morning at 11:00 CT, and there will also be a panel discussion at 3:00 CT.

His address is titled, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Cross and the Lynching Tree in the Black Experience.”

The link for the live webcasts is www.garrett.edu/convocation. Viewers will need to have downloaded and installed Apple’s free QuickTime Player, and may begin viewing fifteen minutes before events begin.

[James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/09/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use?

Akma and Mark (links are to their home pages) shared a Facebook link to the Geek Muse: 100 Reasons to Study Theology and Religion: A Call for Comments. With religion and theology departments coming under the knife, Geek Muse calls for your arguments: how do these programs benefit our society? What good are they? Give it some thought, and go comment.

[Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/23. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Reunited, Hey, Hey”

Like many of you, I am informed by email that AAR will again in the future be holding its annual meetings in the same time and place that SBL holds its annual meetings.

Reached for comment, AAR would not say on the record that it has decided that SBL does not smell like cheese, eat paste, and sweat when it holds AAR’s hand crossing the street. (SBL, reached for comment, looked at its shoes and mumbled aggressively about “the kewl kids.”) Person-on-the-street interviews suggest that a reduced percentage of corduroy jackets with patched sleeves in SBL, and an increase in annual papers with “gender” in the title, may be among the relevant factors in this reunion.

In related news: AAR and SBL seen sitting at the same lunch table. Occasional brushing-together of feet probably not “footsie,” but promisingly, does not result in a masking tape dividing line on the floor.

[“Reunited, Hey, Hey” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/06/28. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition

I am trying to learn something of the history and development of eastern religions in Korea, and am somewhat hampered by my lack of preparation in the “eastern religions” part. And in the “Korea” part.

Into the fifth of six chapters in Joseph A. Adler’s Chinese Religious Traditions (Prentice Hall: 2002), I can recommend this work to other newcomers to eastern religions. The focus is on:

  • Confucianism
  • Daoism
  • Buddhism
  • “popular religion”

After introducing each of these, the presentation is diachronic, exploring the development of each religious strand in China’s stages of history. The work brings certain running characteristics of each of the “big four” into regular comparison and contrast, creating narrative pathways that help me, anyway, to meaningfully navigate the subject matter’s complexities. This ’graph, concluding a major section on Neo-Confucianism in early modern China, is an example (brackets represent material I add for clarity):

Neo-Confucian self-cultivation bears interesting resemblances to the realization of Buddhahood in Mahayana [Buddhism] and Perfection…in Daoism…. While Confucians objected to the Mahayana [Buddhist] theory of no-self of emptiness, the original Confucian claims that individuals are inherently social beings is logically very similar to the premise of the [Mahayana Buddhist] theory of no-self, namely the radical interdependence of all things. And like the aspiring Daoist zhenren (perfected person), Neo-Confucians understood self-cultivation to involve the transformation of the whole person, including the psycho-physical nature.

This sort of synthesis is typical, and I find it a great help as a novice to the material.

Personally fascinating to me is the inclusion of “popular religion,” which is essentially a synchretic set of practices whose origins precede even Confucius and whose development continues today.

Also in my hands are Daniel L. Overmyer, Religions of China (Harper and Row, 1986), and James Huntley Grayson, Korea: A Religious History (rev. ed.; RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

I know that this subject matter is not “up the alley” of my usual readers, but if you can recommend further reading, especially on the development of eastern religions in Korea, I would be grateful.

[What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/24. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions in Korea

I would like to find some reading on the history of eastern religious traditions in Korea, especially Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. If possible, these resources should:

  • be balanced chronologically: they may include modern times, but the ancient stuff should not be rushed to get to the present;
  • be at a near-introductory level; we can presume some knowledge of the origins of these traditions outside Korea, but I’m looking for textbook-type materials, not cutting-edge scholarship;
  • distinguish between myth and history, acknowledging the scarcity of early data and also the historical value of myth, while not uncritically embracing myth as history;
  • focus on the introduction and development of these religious traditions in Korea.

Anyone? Anyone? Thanks.

[Addendum: I should clarify that the intended reader is me, not my seminary students. So, it’s okay if the readings are academically rigorous and not specifically geared toward Christian learners.]

[A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions on Korea was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/21. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Kids Discover: Mesopotamia

My son subscribes to Kids Discover periodical. The current issue is titled, “Mesopotamia,” and is simply excellent.[FOOTNOTE]

Each two-page spread of “Mesopotamia” is on a single topic, e.g. “Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and More”; “Day to Day”; “Gods and Demons”; “Those Accomplished Mesopotamians”; “The Legendary Gilgamesh and the Origins of Writing”; “How We Know What We Know.”

If that list of topics does not have you slavering for a copy, well…what am I saying? Of course it does.

Each spread comprises a short summary followed by 12–20 photographs and drawings, captioned appropriately for elementary-school-aged kids. I recognize many of my favorite images among these, and also a great many surprises. Speaking of surprises, I am almost embarrassed to say how much I am learning from this juvenile resource (Assyrians crafted a ground-glass lens?).

If you are still on the fence concerning whether to chase down a copy…

I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening?

“Expisticy.” [Dang: “extispicy”; we used to joke about “extra spicy”; thanks, Chris.]

Back issues of Kids Discover can be ordered for $3.99 through their home page. “Mesopotamia” is Volume 20, Issue 5, May 2010. You can just enter “Mesopotamia” as a Quick Search term on their Store page.

BACK TO POST (Kids Discover is a periodical “curriculum supplement,” and contains no advertising. See their home page or Facebook page for information on Kids Discover. I do not work for Kids Discover and they do not pay me to say nice things about them.)

[Kids Discover: Mesopotamia was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/06. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity?

Answer: According to Crossley, this dread feeling could potentially unite biblical scholars of all competing stripes.

In the online journal Bible and Interpretation, James Crossley writes that biblical scholars can hang together in defense of their discipline’s relevance, or we can hang separately in the public square of budget cuts in higher education.

The humanities will no doubt be the first target within universities in times of recession and cuts, and attention has already turned to those subjects deemed “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, the critical study of the Bible can be misunderstood as academics at prayer[.]

Please do read the whole thing: it is not very long.

Joseph Kelly offers a brief round-up (first paragraph) of bloggers already commenting on the piece.

[What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?”

After accepting Professor Bruce Waltke’s resignation, for having spoken aloud about the plain facts of the state of our knowledge concerning the natural world, Reformed Theological Seminary Campus President Michael Milton gushed enthusiastically about the vast spectrum of scientific/historical conclusions that the seminary would find acceptable from its faculty:

“Oh, we got both kinds: Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism!”[1]

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Here’s a hint to President Milton, but especially to any prospective students considering places like Reformed Theological Seminary:

  • no matter how “diverse” the spectrum of “acceptable” conclusions,
  • if an institution draws a line anywhere and says, “The conclusions of your research may extend here, but no further; beyond this line your inquiries may not lead you,” then
  • you are not in an institution of learning. In fact,
  • you couldn’t be more in the dark if you were stuffed into a sack.

I was going to add that those who enforce such parameters or assent to them should be willing to stop using the internet, and all computers (which rely on those merely theoretical critters called “electrons”); forego the MRI, the CAT scan, antibiotics, and all of modern medicine, returning to the leech-craft of their forebears; grow their own food, eschewing the disease-resistant strains available at market; keep the radio off, doing without satellite-produced early warning of natural disasters. After all, these are all the results of unbounded critical inquiry, and have arisen only where such inquiry has won out over efforts to suppress it.

But then I realized that these folks won’t return to their pre-modern dystopia without dragging everyone else along by force, so sorry, they’re just going to have to learn, one at a time, to live in the actual world, with its pesky, bias-challenging data. If one fears that one doesn’t know how, I offer the gentle and redoubtable Professor Waltke as an example.

For other feedback in the biblioblogosphere, see John Hobbins’ response and his round-up of other responses, and more recently, Jim Getz.

BACK TO POST “Creationism,” including so-called Intelligent Design, is always the view that God created all the species in the form that they have today: in other words, that evolution leading to speciation has not happened.

[“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL

What does it look like for a person of Jewish or Christian religious faith to—as a matter of method—bracket her sectarian claims about the Bible in her investigation into the content and context of biblical texts? And why is it necessary that she be willing to learn to do so?

As some of you will know, a conversation has been underway about book reviews in biblical studies that appear, as a matter of academic method, to privilege sectarian claims (sometimes along with the reviewed book itself). Alan Lenzi has raised up occasional samples, and one in particular has generated some conversation. Calvin at the Floppy Hat wrote a thoughtful post that garnered some comments.

The readers at Art Boulet’s finitum non capax infiniti, especially, have produced a comment thread especially worthy of attention. It’s not a record-breaker in terms of length or number of participants, but it is clearly drawn and notably free of distracting polemics.

The basic question underlying the discussion—what does it mean for anyone, religious or not, to engage in “academic biblical studies” over against sectarian apologetics—may be of special value to students in higher education who are being asked to make this distinction, or to religious laypeople who wonder how seminary “book learning” differs from confessional “Bible study.” By all means, take a look.

[Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/27. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Needles in Haystacks

A friend likes to joke about the beginnings of her research on the biblical Book of Job. She was delighted to find that her initial searches produced great big lists of results: phrases like “good Job”; “Job approval”; even, “How to be happy in your Job.”

My latest research project, on which some of you have already been wonderfully helpful, is bread production in ancient Israel and among its ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Right now, I have the ATLAS database open in front of me (the serials database of the American Theological Libraries Association).

Did you know that, in the Christian religious scholarly literature that dominates such a database, there’s this whole big interest in “bread” that has nothing to do with bread molds, clay ovens, fermentation, or varieties of grains?

[Needles in Haystacks was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/17. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]