Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baylor Football Highs and Lows

Tomorrow the wife and I are off to Houston for the Texas Bowl featuring Baylor vs. Illinois.  It is Baylor's first bowl game since 1994, and the first since I became a Baylor Bear as a freshman in the Fall of 1996.  1996 was the inaugural year of the Big XII and that conference has not been kind to Baylor Football.  With the bowl game looming, I thought it would be a good time to recount some of my highs and lows as a Baylor Football fan.

The first time I heard of Baylor is was a tremendous high for Baylor football and a great low for me.  It was 1991 and my Colorado Buffaloes were coming off of their national championship season when little old Baylor came into Folsom field and squeaked by with a 16-14 upset. 

My first high would be my first road game ever, the first game of 1996 against Louisiana Tech which Baylor won 24-16.  It was the first game I went to with Peter Pope, who will also be attending the Bowl Game with me tomorrow.  It was my first Baylor game, it was a win, and it was with a great friend.

The big low from that year, was our homecoming triple overtime loss to Missouri 49-42.  Even though Baylor only went 4-7 that year, that win would have felt great.

Then come the total blowouts of my College years. 49-0 at Nebraska in 1996. 38-3 at Michigan in 1997 (Brilliant Dave Roberts, schedule Michigan on the road for a pre-conference game).  49-6 at home to Kansas State in 1998.  And then my Senior year: 1999, the season of blowouts: 41-10 at Oklahoma, 62-0 at home vs. Texas (it was 42-0 at half), 45-13 at A&M, 48-7 at K-State, 45-10 at Kansas, 38-0 at home vs. Colorado.  Final record for senior year: 1-10, Big XII: 0-8. 

But, of all of these, the most painful loss in my Bayor Football fandom was a 1999 loss to UNLV at home.  With seconds left, leading 24-20, Baylor with a first down on UNLV's 2 yard line could have just knelt the ball and taken the four point win, but brilliant Kevin Steele tried to punch it in.  I guess he had not heard of the Baylor curse.  Our RB fumbled the ball on the one yard line and a UNLV DB returned the fumble 99 yards for a touchdown and the win.  I was at the game, watching in disbelief.  We had a sure win, and we gave it up, and wins were hard to come by in those years.

But, despite all of these lows, there have been some great highs.  My first real high, Baylor's first real big XII win was the 1997 win over state rival Texas at home. It was my sophomore year, and though we only won 2 games that year, one of them was over the Longhorns.  Baylor fans rushed the field, tore down the goal post and marched it all the way back to campus.  Life was good. 

There is a tie for my favorite moment in Baylor sports history that I was a part of.  The first was Baylor's one point OT win over A&M in 2004.  It was my first year back at Baylor, this time as a Ph.D. Student.  I remember the game vividly.  We were down early, but battled back to tie the game at 27 late in the fourth quarter.  A&M got the ball first in OT and quickly scored on a couple of running plays.  The pressure was on.  Baylor had to go for it on fourth down, but Sean Bell hit Dominique Ziegler in the end zone to bring us within one point.  Then everything happened so quickly.  Instead of going for the extra point and a second overtime, Baylor went for the 2 point conversion, the same play, Bell to Ziegler, it was caught in the end zone, game over, Aggies go down.  Baylor fans again rushed the field, tore down the goal post and reveled in victory.  The best part: looking at the Aggie fans faces, frozen in disbelief for 15 or 20 minutes after the game was over.

The other favorite moment was this year's win over K-State that finally got Baylor Bowl eligible.  It was a magical sort of game.  The weather whipped up a torrential downpour only minutes into the game causing a two hour delay during which the Baylor Faithful, me and my wife included, huddled under the stands, packed like sardines, waiting for the rain stop.  Yet, the Baylor fans who usually would have gone home, stayed.  They knew something amazing was happening.  Baylor escaped with a close win, 47-42 as they withstood a 4th quarter charge from the wildcats.  Yet, the win was ours, six wins were ours, and with that a bowl game.

And tomorrow: the Texas bowl.  Who knows what to expect.  Vegas has the game a virtual tossup with Baylor a 1 point favorite.  Defense is expected to be absent, so points might go up fast.  I can't wait.  Rise up Baylor Bears.  Sic Em!

Friday, December 17, 2010


For the first time on this blog I must submit a retraction.  In my post yesterday concerning the upcoming project of reading through Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, I said the following:
I coerced my wife into making this my Christmas present and so I will be joining Kirk and others as we read and blog about Barth.
 My lovely wife took issue with this statement, as well she should, it is not true.  There was some debate as to whether we could afford the gift, but no coercion involved.  I chalk that statement up to the usual trope in academia about Professors who spend way too much on books and whose spouses get annoyed.  But I must say, I have the best wife in the world.  Not only did I not have to coerce Brooke, she is enthusiastic about the project.  In fact, she wants to read Barth along with me and the others undertaking this project.

I am a tremendously blessed man to have the wife that I have.  Brooke takes genuine interest in my work.  She read and edited my dissertation four or five times, each time eagerly looking for ways to make my thoughts better, brainstorming with me, challenging me, and transforming my pedestrian prose into something readable.

I love Brooke's theological mind, especially as she sees tons of things that I don't and is always challenging me to be a better thinker, writer, scholar, and man. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Karl Barth, Here We Come

One of the greatest and most ambitious theological works in Christian history has now been made available as one of the greatest book deals of the past year.  Hendrickson Publishers has now made Karl Barth's 14 volume Church Dogmatics available in hardcover edition for under $100

I first heard about this from JRD Kirk at Storied Theology.  Kirk has come up with a reading schedule to read through the entire set in about seven years.  This is at the rate of about one book every six months (by book that means 1.1, or 1.2, etc.). 

I coerced my wife into making this my Christmas present and so I will be joining Kirk and others as we read and blog about Barth. 

My favorite quote about Barth comes from a fellow seminarian who was a native German speaker.  He said, "I prefer to read Barth in English, it makes more sense."  Having read a fair amount of Barth in English, and knowing how hard he is to understand sometimes in translation, I cannot imagine how difficult the German would be.

So, Church Dogmatics, here we come!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Constitutional and Biblical interptretation

Over the past several years the political debate has ramped up concerning how one interprets the constitution.  Words like "strict constructionist" and "judicial activist" are used as missiles to dismiss one's opponents.  I am struck by the similarity between this debate and one that has long existed in biblical studies as well.  That is, when interpreting a text, should one take it literally, symbolically, historically, etc.

To (over) simplify matters, in the constitutional debate, there seem to be two extremes with any number of positions in between.  On the right there are textual literalists, meaning that the most natural and literal reading of a text is the proper one.  Advocates of this position will read the wording of the second amendment, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," to mean just that, that people have a right to bear arms for whatever purpose they so decide.  On the left extreme are those called pragmatists, or sometimes judicial activists, who view the constitution as a living, breathing document that needs active interpretation and even reinterpretation to meet current needs.  In essence, on the left extreme, the text can mean nearly anything that the current situation demands.  Again, with the second amendment, the judicial activist might say that the current situation of gun related crimes, along with the change in weaponry and technology over the last two hundred years, along with the fact that militia's are not common anymore, necessitates a gun ban.  In between there are numerous positions, one of which are intentionalists, who argue that when interpreting the constitution it is neither current situations, or literal words of the text that determine meaning, but rather, the original intent of the framers of the constitution that matters.

There are similar debates in the field of biblical studies.  Once again, on the right are the biblical literalists who claim that the most natural and literal reading of a text determines meaning.  For example, if Genesis 1 says that God created the world in 7 days, then that means creation happened in 7 literal days.  On the left extreme are reader response critics who argue that only the reader (any reader) brings meaning to the text, and thus, all interpretations are valid interpretations.  In biblical studies there are also numerous positions in between these two extremes, one of which is the position of authorial intent.  This view, though problematic for numerous reasons, holds that the view of the author (Paul, Moses, Luke, etc.) is the determinative meaning of the text.

While I note the similarities in the debates of constitutional and biblical interpretation, I am no way equating the Bible and the Constitution.  Nevertheless, I think that a conversation between these debates could be mutually beneficial to constitutional and biblical scholars alike. 

How do you think these texts ought to be interpreted?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Video Chat

The other night watching Fringe, I noticed a horribly awkward product placement for Sprint video chat on their smart phone.  In the scene, Peter receives a call from Astrid, and the shot cuts to an over-the-shoulder view of the Sprint phone with a live image of Astrid.  What I found awkward is how stiff and wooden both of the actors were on this short phone call.  I think it illustrates the problem with this new video chat.

Fans of sci-fi have long been familiar with the promise of video chat.  All of the best sci-fi shows have for decades been showing us video-phone calls between cast members.  It looked like the wave of the future, a great day when we would be able to have a real, face-face conversation with someone at a distance. 

Yet, this technology has now been around for years.  Skype and other platforms are not new.  Anyone with high speed internet and a web cam have been able to have these face to face conversations for some time now.  But, this technology has not caught on in a big way.  I know of almost no one who really wants to have a video chat with anyone on a regular basis.  I have used Skype just a few times,  never for a real conversation.  I have had one Skype interview for a school.  I have Skyped a few people just to see how it worked.  My most ingenious use of Skype was to broadcast a Baylor basketball game to a friend living overseas.

I just don't think the technology is really going to catch on, and the reason is that it does not fulfill a need, at least not for most phone conversations.  Most people, when they make a phone call have no real desire to be "face to face."  In fact, they would rather not.  People like to multitask while on the phone.  They like to have the conversation, but they don't want the other person seeing what they are doing.  They might be walking around the house straightening up.  They might be at their desk shuffling papers, clicking websites, jotting down notes, etc.  They might be driving.  All things that cannot be done in a face to face conversation.  As the scene from Fringe made clear, when engaging in video chat, one stops all action and sits in front of a screen.  We have gotten used to having phone conversations while doing other stuff, and I think most phone conversations w/video would actually hinder the phone lifestyle we have become accustomed to.

So, is the capability of video chat going to be a purchasing factor on my next phone?  No Way, i'll take the audio-talk only function please.  What about you?  Do you see yourself engaging in video chat on a regular basis now that it has come to mobile devices?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Church Sign Wars

In general I dislike church marquees.  I think that most of the messages on church marquees are so banal that that they should be left off altogether.  Then my attention was drawn to the following use of church marquees: start a battle of words and wits with a cross town church.  If done right, like here, I love it.  HT to Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed.
Round 1: Draw, two unprovable claims
 Round 2: Our lady of the Martyrs, unsubstantiated claim and premature attempt to stop debated by the Presbyterians.
Round 3: Our Lady of Martyrs: levity, Presbyterians, too caught up on this "soul" thing.
Round 4: Our Lady of Martyrs: Levity, Presbyterians, What?
Round 5: Our lady of Martyrs: How do you come back from that.  At least the Catholics still have a sense of humor.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why not to Harmonize the Birth Narratives

Over the last couple of days I have posted some inconsistencies in the birth narratives.  Often when one comes across these inconsistencies the first reaction is to try and harmonize them, that is, make them fit.  Besides taking lots of time and stretching logic to the breaking point, harmonizing becomes a smoke screen, blinding the reader from what the narrative is trying to say. 

For example, in the birth narratives, I pointed out the different ways in which Matthew and Luke explained Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and his subsequent move to Nazareth.  In summary, Luke has Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth, going to Bethlehem to register for the census, giving birth to Jesus, and then returning home to Nazareth.  Matthew, on the other hand, has Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem, giving birth to Jesus, fleeing the wrath of Herod to Egypt, and then returning to Israel but heeding an angel's warning, they return to Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  If one tries to harmonize these narratives, they, imho, do a lot of legwork for not much payoff.

Harmonizing keeps one from asking the really interesting questions, with great payoff.  Instead of harmonizing, why not ask the following question: why did the author tell the story this way instead of another? 

Let's look at Matthew's version.  Why did he tell of Herod's murderous rampage against all male children under 2 years old?  Why did he drive Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt?  Where have we heard of a king putting to death all of the male children under 2 years old before?  Yes, Pharoah and Moses.  Where have we heard of a guy named Joseph before who has dreams and goes to Egypt?  Matthew is deliberately echoing the stories of the Patriarchs, specifically the story of Moses.  For Matthew, Jesus is the second Moses.  Jesus, like Moses is saved from a murderous king.  Jesus like Moses resides in Egypt before his journey to the promised land.  Jesus, like Moses, gives the Law.  Well, not exactly gives, he fulfills the law (Mt. 5:17). Commentators for some time have seen the structure of Matthew as revolving around five discourses (5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25), at the end of which the narrator says, "when Jesus had finished saying these things."  Five discourses, five books of Moses.

The same type of type of payoff comes from asking the same question of Luke's narrative.  Why did he include the census of Quirinius?  Was it just to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem?  No, it was much more.  There is a theological point here.  Luke's narrative, which I take to include Acts as well, has a great theological point that what came out of this small village in Nazareth would have worldwide repercussions.  This Galilean peasant would literally turn the world upside down, he would shake the very foundations of the Roman Empire.  So, here in the birth narrative, we already see Luke setting his narrative on the worldwide scene.  Augustus Caesar orders a census to "register the whole world."  (Luke 2:1)  Rome, personified in Augustus, orders a census that, unwittingly to Augustus, moves the Messiah right into place in Bethlehem to be born.  That Jesus will live and die, but his followers will bear witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  And that is where Luke's narrative ends, with Paul, at the center of the world, Rome, proclaiming the good news freely.

The birth narratives set the stage for what is to come in the gospels.  Both Matthew and Luke have slightly different theological aims, slightly different perspectives from which they approach the story of Jesus and they tell the birth of Jesus in order to highlight those aims and perspectives.  Yet, if we concern ourselves with harmonizations, we never get to these questions and perhaps miss part of what Luke and Matthew were trying to tell us.


Every year I make my freshman Bible class memorize the books of the Bible in order.  The students hate this, but it usually turns into easy points on the final exam.  One of my pet peeves is when people put an "s" on the end of the book of Revelation.  I make this quite clear to my students, so they are careful to avoid it.  What I now find amusing is that students get a little nervous about the "s" on the end of Revelation, and forget to put other s's on books where they actually do belong.  Here are some examples from this year's crop.

The book of Psalm
The book of Lamentation
The book of Act

And in the reverse case

The book of first and second Samuels

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Birth Narratives: The Dating Game

Yesterday I posted about Matthew and Luke's birth narratives and how both evangelists treat Jesus' birth at Bethlehem and his subsequent move to Nazareth in different ways.  Today I want to talk about the date of Jesus' birth from these two narratives.

There are two very specific events referred to in these narrative for which we have reliable historical dates.  The first is the reign of Herod the Great, and the second is the census of Quirinius.

We know with a high degree of certainty that Herod died in 4 B.C.E.  In fact, we can even narrow it down to a month because Josephus mentions a lunar eclipse in connection Herod's death.  In Matthew's gospel, Jesus is born up to two years prior to the death of Herod, so anywhere from 6-4 B.C.E.  In Luke's gospel, John the Baptist is born during the reign of Herod, and Jesus is born about 6 months later.  So Luke's gospel also dates the Birth of Jesus no later than 4 B.C.E.

Yet, that is not the complete story for Luke, because Luke also mentions another event surrounding the Birth of Jesus for which we have a reliable historical date.  That is the census of Quirinius, which we can date at 6 C.E.  This census was the impetus for getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  Yet, the dates don't match up, they aren't even close.  There is at least a 10 year gap between the death of Herod and the census of Quirinius.  And in this case, it is not a matter of Matthew vs. Luke, it is a matter of Luke vs. Luke.

So, what do you make of this?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Birth Narratives

In the synoptic gospels we find two birth narratives, that of Matthew and that of Luke, Mark has no birth narrative, nor does John.

It seems like one of the main questions that the birth narratives were trying to answer was the discrepancy between Jesus' home town of Nazareth where he grew up and began his ministry and traditions of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.  The two birth narratives answer this apparent discrepancy in different ways.

In Matthew, Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem where Jesus is then born.  Matthew makes clear that this birth in Bethlehem is to fulfill a prophecy from Micah 5:2.  Then, the Magi come and ask Herod where is the King of Israel.  The Magi visit the baby Jesus in a "house, " presumably their home in Bethlehem and then return without warning Herod.  Joseph is then warned by an angel in a dream to flee Bethlehem and Herod to Egypt.  Herod orders all of the children below the age of 2 killed (sound familiar?).  Then, after Herod dies, Joseph has two dreams, one telling him to return to Israel, and a second warning him not to go back to Judea (Bethlehem) but to go to Galilee, specifically the town of Nazareth. 

So, in summary, Matthew reconciles the discrepancy as follows: Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem where they give birth to Jesus, they then flee to Egypt, and upon returning to Israel, they settle in Nazareth.

Luke also tries to reconcile this discrepancy, but in a vastly different way.  In Luke, Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth.  The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces the birth of Jesus, the Son of the Most High, Messiah.  When it actually comes time for the birth of Jesus, Luke tells the story of a Census ordered by Caesar Augustus and carried out by Quirinius the governor of Syria.  To register for this census, Joseph, from the tribe of Judah and of the House of David had to return to the town of David, Bethlehem.  It is while Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem registering for the census that Jesus is born. 

So, in summary, Luke reconciles the discrepancy as follows: Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth, but are summoned to Bethlehem to register for the census, Jesus is born, and then they return home to Nazareth.

Same question, different answer depending on which evangelist you ask.  What say you?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They're at it again

If you missed my previous post in which I link to a video of William Tapley, A.K.A. the Third Eagle of the Apocalypse, A.K.A. the co-prophet of the end times, tells us that WWIII (and the start of the tribulation) will start no later than November 29th, 2010, you can see it here.  Yet, never fear, because he was obviously wrong.

But, in case you were wondering, the real date of the rapture is May 21, 2011, followed by the destruction of the world on October 21st 2011 (wow, that doesn't leave much time for a seven year tribulation, but I guess that means that these prophets are post-tribulation rapture folk and that we have been enduring the tribulation now since October 21st 2004, just before George W. Bush was voted into office for the second time).

HT to Joel at Unsettled Christianity

A Conversation with Stanley Hauerwas

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Stanley Hauerwas at Baylor University.  It wasn't really a lecture, per se, as it was entitled "A conversation with Stanley Hauerwas."  And it was precisely that, it was a conversation moderated by Jonathan Tran, professor or Religion at Baylor and form student of Hauerwas, as he asked pre-solicited questions from Baylor professors and students.  The conversation yielded many wonderful golden nuggets which I will include here in several quotations that I jotted down during the hour.  (disclaimer: many of these quotes are not "verbatim" due to my lack of listening/typing skills.  Yet, I think I have captured the "gist" of what Hauerwas said.  I in no way mean to misrepresent what he said and if I have done so, please let me know).

On why he wrote a "memoir" rather than a "confession."
"I am not a good enough Christian to write in the confessional mode."
On his memoir in general:
"I tried to subvert the overly self revelatory form of the modern memoir that leads to voyeurism."
"I tried to avoid writing a memoir because of its inherent narcisism, but it turns out I'm just narcissistic enough to do it."
"Fame is a killer, and I try to defeat it in any way I can.  I wrote the memoir to communicate that I am a human being... I know it sounds odd to say that you have written a memoir to avoid fame, but that is what I am trying to do."
"All of that could be seen as a gesture toward humility, but I don't trust humility at all." 
On race relations in America
"What we are currently experiencing is the failure of the success of the civil rights movement... African Americans can now move to the suburbs, have two cars and a picket fence and worry about the Jews moving in.  What is a little slavery between friends."
"Americans will miss the story of African Americans as long as it is a story of suffering." 
Responding to the claim that in the south Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America:

"if you want to see racisim on a stick, try Boston."
On segregated churches:
"I don't think we'll know how to worship together until we are dependent upon each other for survival.  The church is too safe."
On the Eucharist:
"if the words are rightly spoken, and the actions are rightly done, then there is nothing you can do to stop Jesus from showing up."
On whether Christians support limited police actions to stop Genocide:
"Yes... Such a police force must be trained to feel that they would rather die than kill." 
On whether violent action is ever a valid path to less violence:
On non-violence:
 "Believe it or not, I'm a theocrat. It's very hard to make people do what you want them to do while being committed to non-violence, but I'm going to try."
"I'm a Texan, I'm a violent son of a bitch." 
On the Academy:
"Tenure in modern universities has been shaped so that scholars know more and more about less and less and thus have security in the fact that they know very little."
"The duty of university is to create a literate public."
"Baylor has the responsibility to create literate Baptists, and that would be a miracle.  Baptists have the Bible and now, and that's a problem."
And my personal favorite, on vegetarianism and whether Hauerwas would eat meat:
"Eschatologically we are obligated to be vegetarians, but I'm a Texan."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nativity Scenes and the Birth Narratives

So Brooke and I finally got around to putting up some Christmas decorations over the weekend.  For a full pictorial album of our decorations, see my wife's post here.  For a story about our tree fiasco, see here.

One of our favorite Christmas decorations are our numerous nativity scenes.  We probably have about 8 different sets.  What I have always found interesting about the nativity scenes is that they are a visual representation of gospel harmonization.

For example, in this scene we have the three wisemen or magi from the East, all sitting on horses.  These magi are clearly from Matthew's gospel.  But, the scene with Mary and Joseph and the cow and donkey seems to be a stable scene which comes from Luke's gospel. Well kindof, there is no mention of a stable, just a manger, which evokes images of a stable with the requisite farm animals.

Next, look at this nativity set.  This one is very clearly a scene from Luke's gospel with all of the stable animals.  The shepherd also comes from Luke's gospel, yet in Luke, the shepherds are not present at the birth scene proper, but are in a field "nearby."  One major thing out of place would be the Star sitting above the stable, which is clearly only found in Matthew's account.

In this third nativity scene, we again have a shepherd (Luke), farm animals (Luke, kind of), the three wise men (Matthew) and now an angel, which is also not present at the birth scene in Luke, but does announce the birth to shepherds nearby.

It is very interesting to look at nativity scenes as a perfect visual example of gospel harmonization.  It is also interesting to look at a nativity scene and then actually go and read the birth narratives.  You might be shocked at what is, or is not actually in the text.

And finally, this one, oh wait, how did that get in here?  Happy Advent to you as we await the coming of our Lord.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Surprise

I love flash mobs.  Before I joined the blogosphere I didn't even know what they were.  I feel like they are one of the greatest developments in our culture.  It is like imagination and hard work coming together and just popping up in random spots.  This is perhaps my favorite flash mob ever.  This song in itself spurs an emotional response in me every time I hear it, but seeing it in this environment is just phenomenal.  Enjoy.

HT to my wife and James McGrath for bringin this to my attention.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grading Policy

Here is a direct quote from my Christian Scriptures class syllabus:

"Grading for this class is strictly on a points system. Grades in this class are EARNED not GIVEN. At the end of the semester, your point total will determine your grade. “Grade bumping” will not occur in this class as it is arbitrary and is unfair to students."
 I post this to serve as a reminder to students and as a jumping off point for discussion.

Let me mention that in my class I try and follow this phrase: "I WILL NOT DO for one student what I AM NOT DOING for every student."  Therefore, if some student has an 89.5% in my class (537/600 points) and they ask for a grade bump, I would essentially be giving them three points in my class.  I will not do that for one student unless I am doing it for all.  So, OK, lets say I do it for all, I give three points to all students.  Now, the student who had 534 points now has 537 points and an 89.5%.  What if they now feel gypped and ask for a grade bump.  You see where this is going.  Therefore, my class works on a purely capitalist system.  My students earn every point they get and I do not give out free points.

I do want to mention that I understand why a student feels justified in asking for a grade bump.  I do think our current grading system is not perfect.  Surely a student who earns an 89.5% is very close in ability and work to a student who earns a 90%, yet the grade point assigned to the former student is significantly lower than the latter.

This is why elsewhere (here and here) I have discussed the grading system and why I would like to see it changed (not that I think it will).  In short, I think just going to a purely percentage based system would be best.  Most classes are graded on a percentage system and then translated into a letter grade, which is then translated into a four point grading scale.  Why all the translation.  At the end of the class why not just give a student an 89.5 which then goes on their record and is averaged with their percentages in other classes.  This would have several positive effects.  First, the 89.5% student would no longer feel gypped knowing that their grade does not look significantly different than the 90% student.  Also, it would allow other students to really shine.  What about the 99% student who really works their rear end off, but in our current system they look just like the 90% student.  Last, but certainly not least, it might curb the emails to professors at the end of the semester asking for a grade bump.

What do you think?  Students, what do you think is most fair?  Other teachers, how do you grade and what system do you think is/would be best?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Third Eagle Top 40

In a followup post from yesterday, William Tapley, A.K.A. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse, A.K.A. the co-prophet of the end times is apparently a wonderful song writer.  Check out this well written and musically brilliant tune.

Now, if you listened to the whole thing, you noticed the formulaic verse pattern. Here is my attempt at another verse:

Horsemen ride
curb your pride
Don't be left on the wayside
horsemen ride
Red, white, black and pale they do abide
curb your pride
They bring death and hades at noontide
horsemen ride
curb your pride
If you don't they'll have your hide
horsemen ride
curb your pride
Flee your towns and fields up to the mountainside

Now it is your turn. Can you come up with another verse? Perhaps we could submit our verses to the Third Eagle and he will record another version.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apocalyptic, Revelation, Daniel, and a Crazy Person

We are now approaching the final class of the Fall semester, and that means that we will be discussing the book of Revelation.  So, how should this book be read?  How about its close brother text in the Bible, Daniel?  Are these books decoder rings for the end times?

Take a look at how William Tapley, also known as the third eagle of the apocalypse and the co-prophet of the end times, reads the books of Revelation and Daniel. Oh, and don't forget the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII.

Is this how apocalyptic literature should be read?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Story and Robert McKee

I recently read a book by Donald Miller entitled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  It is a book about the importance of story for finding meaning in our lives.  Specifically, it is about finding out what makes stories compelling and then trying to incorporate those things into one's own life.  

In the book, Miller mentions Robert McKee.  McKee is a writer who teaches people to tell stories.  He is probably most familiar to the general public through his portrayal by Brian Cox in the 2002 film Adaptation.  McKee has written books for screen writers and gives seminars on how to write screenplays.  I ran across this quote of his about story and thought I would pass it along. 
"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." — Robert McKee

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hyperbolic Rhetoric about the TSA screening procedures.

I have to admit, after listening to all of the hubbub over the new TSA screening procedures in the week leading up to SBL and Thanksgiving, I was concerned about taking the flight last Saturday morning.  I was flying from DFW to Atlanta and was not quite sure what to expect.  Would I have to go through what some are calling a "snoop porn" scanner?  Would I have to undergo "groping" by a frisky TSA agent. 

I must say, the rhetoric I heard the previous week on talk radio and television news programs did not come even close to my experience at the airports.  On Saturday, flying out of DFW they had a body scanner, but I saw no one walk through it.  I saw no one getting a pat down at all, let alone getting "groped."  Security seemed to be pretty much business as usual.  Shoes off, jacket off, pockets empty, laptop out of bag, through the metal detector, and on with my business.  No problem.

Leaving from Atlanta Hartsfield airport was pretty much the same experience.  The only difference was that I saw one guy have to go through the scanner.  And why was that?  Here is the conversation between this mid-forties business man and the TSA agent as best as I can remember it.

TSA Agent: Sir, are your pockets empty?
Man: Yes.
TSA Agent: Sir, I can see something in your back pocket.
Man: Oh, you mean my wallet?  (man takes out wallet)
TSA Agent: Sir, your pockets must be empty.  Please place your wallet in this bin.  Now, are your pockets empty?
Man: Yes.
TSA Agent:  Sir, what is that in your front pocket?
Man: (Takes out something I could not see), Oh, this?
TSA Agent: Sir, you pockets need to be EMPTY.  Sir, please step into the body scanner.

That was the only person I saw getting either scanned or patted down, and that was because he was being an uncooperative doofball.  So, in all, the rhetoric leading up to my two flights was incredibly inflated and hyperbolic to the extreme. 

I do not know about all of the issues concerning these new TSA screening procedures.  I am sure there are legitimate concerns on both sides.  But one thing is sure: in order to have a civil and productive conversation about this topic, the hyperbolic rhetoric must be dialed down.  As long as one side is merely yelling "pervert" at the TSA agents, constructive conversation will never be the result.  So, lets put a damper on the inflated rhetoric and start having a real conversation.  I mean really, do you think the TSA agents are getting a kick out of patting down sensitive areas.  Do you really think the TSA agent who looks at numerous metalic-looking naked images on a computer screen is really using these images fodder for sexual perversion?  No, these are just hard working Americans trying to do the best job they can to keep passengers and planes safe.  Are the scans and pat downs the best solution to our security problems?  I don't know, but I know that inflamed rhetoric that distorts the truth will not help the situation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


It has been a long week of travel for me.  Last Friday night in Dallas, then an early Saturday morning flight to Atlanta for SBL.  Two nights in Atlanta and a late flight in on Monday night back home.  Then, a long drive to South Texas for Thanksgiving on Tuesday.  Three nights in the Valley, and then another long drive home Friday night. 

While I love traveling, there is nothing quite like home.  Last night was the first night I was able to fully enjoy how much I love being home.  I love the ratty old couch with a Keith shaped indention in it.  I love cuddling up to my wife and watching a good program on Netflix instant streaming.  I love our 20 pound lap kitty ransom firmly ensconced on my tummy.  I love watching the other kitties with their own idiosyncratic behavior.  I love sitting on the porch and enjoying a brisk Fall evening.  I love sitting at my antique roll top desk and hammering out a blog post.  I love being home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

E-Publishing and Biblioblogging

My favorite two sessions that I attended at this past weekend's SBL conference were entitled "E-Publish or Perish" and "The Past, Present, and Future of Blogging and Online Publication."  There was some overlap to the two sessions, but here are a couple of thoughts on the presentations.

First, a very good moral issue was raised by Ehud Ben Zvi of the University of Alberta with regard to where scholars choose to publish.  If one chooses to publish via traditional print (e.g., a $150 Brill volume), that publication will have limited access.  It will be limited to those with great personal resources or with access to rich libraries.  Both of these situations limit the access of scholarship to the privileged West.  On the other hand, publishing online with open access (i.e., free), opens this resource up to everyone with a computer and internet access.  Thus, non-western and scholars in lower GDP countries can now access these materials.  It is not as if money were the issue.  For these types of publications the author does not make significant profits.  Nor does the publisher.  Instead, the $150 per volume goes into the publishing costs for such a book with a low print run and limited audience.  I thought that this moral question was intriguing.

The second issue that was raised in both sessions by Christian Brady of Penn State was the concern that online publication, especially non-traditional online publication (e.g., an iPhone/Droid app, like an interactive textbook), might not be sufficient for promotion and tenure at universities.  To this end, Brady is proposing the formation of a review committee through the SBL that could serve as a peer review committee for such digital and online publications.  A tenure committee might have no expertise to review a professors work, be it a traditional publication or a digital or online publication; they must rely on professional peer review outside of their institution.  With traditional publication, the tenure committee relies on the specific academic press or journal to provide such peer review.  Brady is proposing a review committee through the SBL which would serve the same purpose of peer review for digital/online publications. 

The third fascinating issue was whether blogs should be considered scholarship.  The general consensus was that blogs in themselves are not (usually) scholarship because they lack peer review and anyone can publish in this format.  Yet, there was also consensus that blogs play a key role in scholarship as a sort of pre-scholarship. That is, blogs serve the creative process of data collection and analysis, collaboration, organization and so on. Blogs serve as testing centers for ideas and allow for academic conversation about ideas that can in many cases become the basis for later peer reviews scholarship and publication. Michael Barber of John Paul the Great Catholic University demonstrated how his blog was essential in his research and collaboration with other scholars as he completed his dissertation.

In all, the future of online publication holds tremendous promise, but as it is still in its infancy, there are still many kinks to work out and many pitfalls to avoid.  It looks like an exciting future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SBL Bibliobloggers Dinner

The highlight of my weekend at SBL was certainly my chance to meet some of my favorite bibliobloggers at the Bibliobloggers dinner and the Bibliobloggers section. I got to eat dinner and have a conversation with James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix. I got to shake hands and exchange a few words with J.R. Daniel Kirk of Storied Theology. Unfortunately I missed meeting Steve from Undeception. I heard he was at the bibliobloggers dinner but when I looked for him I could not find him.

I was too timid to talk to Mark Goodacre of NTBlog, not because I was a afraid to meet him, but I was pretty sure that if I started to talk with him I would annoyingly bombard him with questions on the Case against Q and its relation to my own current research. I thought it best to leave him be for the time.

I also met several other bloggers, including Darrel Pursiful at Dr. Platypus, Daniel and Tonya (sorry, forgot the last name), the husband and wife team at Hebrew and Greek Reader, and Paul Flesher at Religion Today.  It was great to talk with some of these fellow bloggers and pick their brains on why they blog, what platform they prefer, and what their areas of research are.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Baylor Football Recap

So, it is tempting to be discouraged after the last three games of Baylor football. We lost the last three, two of them by large margins. But, before I pull out the sackcloth and ashes, i think it would be good to put this season in perspective.

As a means of doing this, I would like to point to a preseason prediction by former Baylor Law School prof Mark Osler.

Let's see what he had to say.

"It takes a REAL optimist to think Baylor football is going to make a bowl game, and that's my prediction. Robert Griffin is back. The offensive line looks decent."

On those predictions he was right. We are going to a bowl, RGIII gkooked great, and our offensive line finally gave us a running game.

And more from Osler:

"As I figure it, there is a real chance at Baylor being 7-1 going into the Texas game. That 5-game stretch to end the season is a bear, but... up until then, the TCU game is the only one I see us most likely losing. Even if they start out 6-2, they still would have a chance to beat A & M at home to end up 7-5. Sic 'em!

Of course, the game to see this year in the Big 12 would be Texas/ Nebraska..."

Here Osler was right and wrong. We were 6-2 going into the Texas game and we finished 7-5. Where Osler really missed the mark was in predicting that UT would be s power this year. Instead they are in the conference Basement and A&M is the power. As for the game to see this year, it looks like the Oklahoma Oklahoma State game is the big one.

So, disappointment in this year, heck no. Ugh, what if... What if we had won the Tech game? What if we had shown up in the second half of the A&M game? But, no use crying over those losses. For the first time in a long time, we actually have a decent team, and we are going to a bowL, and Brooke and I will be there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rhetoric of presentations at the SBL

In pedagogy training as teachers we are taught not to rely on a manuscript. We are taught to know our material and to talk normally. We are taught not to use jargon, but to translate our ideas into readily intelligible phrases. Yet, you arrive at the SBL expecting the opposite.
Speakers reading from a manuscript filled with jargon is the norm. Sometimes, if your mind slips and you miss a definition, the remaining minutes of a paper become an endless stream of meaningless words.

Few people can actually read from a prepared manuscript well. Bruce McCormack at Princeton Seminary is one of the only few that I have seen do this well on a regular basis. Most of the presenters at SBL don't do this well.

So, why is this necessary? I think it is a result of an unfortunate ethos at SBL. Namely an ethos of oneupmanship. Some members in the audience are like vultures ready to go in for the kill on the slightest mistake of the presenter. Therefore, to avoid any opportunity for the vultures, presenters carefully prepare their manuscripts and fill them with jargon and definitions to avoid being taken to task by members of the audience. Yet, is this the best way to move scholarship forward? I am not sure that there is an easy answer.

I do not see the ethos at SBL changing any time soon. Perhaps the answer is to take a page out of the ancient rhetorical handbooks. First, stylistically, do not fill your papers with jargon, learn to communicate with "normal" words. Second, perhaps a little practice with the rhetorical tasks of memory and delivery might be of help. Trying to memorize a paper full of jargon will immediately signal the presenter that he or she should work some more on the manuscript, to learn to communicate their ideas in a more rhetorically effective manner.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and Storytelling

For the first time in seven years I went to a midnight showing of a film on opening night.  I have not done this since the third Lord of the Rings movie in 2003, but last night Brooke and I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I.  Doing something you do not normally do is a good way to gain new insights and several came out of last night's experience.

The first insight is that I am getting way too old for midnight showings.

The second insight was that the movie itself was both good and bad.  It was very much in line with the previous Harry Potter movies.  The movie captured the essence of the Potter universe like the others, but also like the others, it carried little of the depth of the books.  Many plot points were tweaked, twisted, or left out completely, leaving a lover of the books with some real disappointment.

A third insight was that, as Brooke and I were sitting in the theater with about an hour and a half until movie time, I noticed how many people were staring at their smart phones, surfing the internet, playing movies, texting, tweating, etc.  I looked at myself, then over to Brooke, and saw that we were doing the same thing.  We looked at each other, I pointed out how much things had changed in the last few years, and we both decided to put our phones away and play a game.  We started by trying to name every character in the Harry Potter universe that we could think of, alternating turns, with the first person stumped to be the loser.  Brooke of course won; not only is she better with names than I am, she has also read the books much more than I have.  We then switched and played the same game with Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, and our recent guilty pleasure, Friday Night Lights.

Playing this game with these TV shows as compared with Harry Potter, I noticed a fourth significant insight.  We could play the Potter game for quite some time, but we quickly ran out of characters with the TV shows.  That got me thinking about the different media for storytelling and what types of story TV and print media are good at telling.

The print version of the Harry Potter series is incredibly deep in terms of the universe it creates.  Rowling populates this world with a myriad of characters that are memorable, memorable enough to be recalled by even me who has read the books only once.  TV on the other hand yields far fewer memorable characters.  Not that TV is bad at characters.  Quite the contrary, I feel like I know and love many of the characters in TV land far better than some characters from the book world.  I love how Lost, Battlestar, and Alias tell about their main characters.  TV does this perhaps better than any other media.  Especially if the TV show has multiple seasons.  By the end of a viewing of Lost, one has had approximately 90 hours of screen time to get to know and love the characters.  But, it is only the main characters.  Print media I believe does side and fringe characters better.

So, what kind of media is best for telling stories?  I am not sure, both types have their strengths and weaknesses.  One thing I can say, TV does characters better than movies on the whole.  And Books do better than movies.  Movies are just too short.  Have you experienced any thing similar?  I would love to hear your take on this phenomenon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What is the Gospel?

We are now discussing Paul in my Christian Scriptures class, and with Paul inevitably comes the question of what is the gospel?  Paul uses the word gospel (euangelion) 60 of the 76 times that it is used in the New Testament.  So, what is it?  For Paul, the gospel appears to be wrapped up in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  It is in Christ's death that death is defeated, the effects of Adam's sin are reversed, that the human is justified before God. 

Yet, if all of this is the case, then what does the word mean when used in the gospels?  Specifically, what "euangelion" was Jesus preaching during his lifetime?  For example, look at the following verses from the gospels:
Matt. 9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of God.
 Was he preaching of his death and resurrection and how it would nullify the effects of sin?  The context does not seem to support this.  In fact, whenever Jesus does talk about his own death and resurrection, people don't seem to understand.  Instead, it appears as if the gospel preached by Jesus is the coming of the Kingdom of God.  So, this raises another question, what is the Kingdom of God and is it all that different from Paul's Gospel? 

My remarks can only be preliminary, but there seem to be some similarities and differences between the Kingdom of God and Paul's gospel of the defeat of sin and death through the cross of Christ.

In the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus exercises authority on behalf of God.  That authority extends to the forgiveness of sins (healing of the paralytic), the natural world (nature miracles), sickness (healings), demons (exorcisms), interpretation of the law (sabbath, sermon on the mount), and even death (raising of the dead).  Of these, it appears the Paul latches on to the themes of sin and death.  Yet, does Paul nullify these other areas of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  I don't think so, instead, he focuses on the exclamation point of the Kingdom of God, namely the ultimate defeat of death and vindication of Jesus as seen in the crucifixion and resurrection.  What unfortunately often happens is that people focus on Paul's gospel, which can be very individualized, and often neglect the Kingdom of God, which is by definition communal.  What say you?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chesterton on mystery and free will

Well, we have come to Paul in my Christian Scriptures class and I was reading one of my favorite passages again, Romans 9-11.  There is so much that is fascinating in those three chapters, not the least of which if Paul's view of election, predestination, and the fate of Israel.  Predestination vs. Free will is a debate as old as Christianity (even older), and one that is not going away any time soon.  Some of the greatest thinkers in Christian history have weighed in on this issue and come to opposite conclusions. 

Back in August, I did a four part series on predestination and free will, but never finished it (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).  I guess that is because I find the whole debate tiresome and somewhat fruitless in the end. So, instead of finishing the series, I thought I would end with a quote from G.K. Chesterton which I think sums up for me the sanity to be found in the insanity of the whole debate.
"Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them.  He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.  If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also."  G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York: Doubleday, 1990 (originally published 1908)), 28

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mac vs. PC in a new light

I have mentioned before my current fascination with the importance of story. Today I want to look at the PC vs. Mac debate through the lens of story.  Namely, in the marketing of these products, what story are the respective companies telling and which is more compelling?

Now, I must say that I am biased, I am a Mac person.  I own an i-everything.   After four PCs, none of which lasted more than two years, I switched in 2002 to Mac and have never gone back.  My five year old iMac still runs like a champ and has never been formatted, defragged, upgraded, or any other hullabaloo. OK: mini-rant over.

Every Apple commercial that comes on, both my wife and I are riveted.  We watch in amazement, coveting the product.  The new macbook Air is the latest.  I don't even particularly want a macbook Air, in fact, if I got a new computer right now, it would be the latest macbook or macbook pro, or maybe the big iBook.  Yet, the commercial just grabs me.  Why?  I think that the answer lies in a statement a good friend of mine made in Seminary as he watched the sleep light on my new iBook pulse in and out.  He said something like this. "Wow, it looks like it is breathing.  Microsoft makes computers, Apple makes computers with a soul."

I think this is the genius of Apple's advertising.  Their products have a personality.  Notice the commercials: the products are front and center.  We see the iPad, full screen, doing what it does.  We see the macbook Air, full screen, only catching a glimpse of the hand carrying it.  We see the new iPod shuffle being moved to various parts of the ever changing clothes of the ones listening to it.  Many of these adds do not even need words.  The character of the product itself carries the commercial.

Notice that in Apple commercials, there is almost no discussion of how reliable the product is, how smooth it runs.  Leave those claims to PC, because everyone knows that PC's have reliability problems.  No, with Apple, it is a creation of a product with a personality.  And that personality: a winning, young, hip, sophisticated and versatile 20 something that is impossible not to love.  You feel like the iPhone will be your new best friend, and I must say, it comes close.

Check out this video which poignantly points out the difference between the marketing of Apple and PC products. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A recent controversy has surfaced concerning Amazon.com and censorship.  Amazon, for a time was carrying an ebook on their kindle platform, the title of which was "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct."  Now, I have not read the book, have no desire to read the book, but what is interesting to me is the whole issue of censorship.  The question, should Amazon carry this book? 

After an initial outcry, Amazon refused to pull the title, claiming, "Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable."  Therefore, Amazon was setting itself up as the defender of free speech.  Since then, Amazon has relinquished this role under pressure of boycott and has pulled the title from their digital shelves.

So, has Amazon transgressed a moral code and caved in to pressure, now playing the role of a censor?  I don't think so.  Amazon is a business with the goal of making money.  Should they carry a product that may hurt their business?  Probably not.  I suppose it depends on what they think their ultimate goal is.  Is it to be the defender of free speech?  If so, perhaps they should continue to carry the title, and every other title for that matter, and run the risk of losing business.  If not, then pulling the title was the proper move. 

Yet, even so, I do not see this as Amazon crushing free speech.  The author has a right to his views, no matter how reprehensible.  The author has a right to commit these views to print, to self publish the work, and to try and find buyers.  That is free speech.  Yet the author has no right to require that his work be published by a press.  The author has no right to demand that his book be carried by any given bookseller.

What I find perhaps most interesting and ironic in this whole matter is the fact that the few people who actually raised objections to the book probably gave the book more publicity and readership than it ever would have had if it were just left quietly on the roles at Amazon.com.  Had they not threatened boycott and got the press all worked up, the book would have been doomed to obscurity, as so many books are.  Yet, with their vehement protests, the book now has a national audience, and probably enough curious readers who will purchase the book elsewhere. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monty Python on Stoning

Yesterday in class we discussed the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  I would be remiss if I did not post my favorite film depiction of an ancient stoning.  While the historical details of the video might be suspect, the comic value alone is worth every deviation from historical accuracy.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How did Judas die?

There are four conflicting accounts of the death of Judas in early Christian literature.  There is one account in the Gospel of Matthew, one in the Book of Acts, one in the fragments of Papias, and one in the Gospel of Judas.  In this post I will first compare the canonical texts and then follow up with the fragment of Papias.  All three of these accounts have Judas dying a violent death in retribution for his actions in life.  The reason I am not touching on the Gospel of Judas account is because it presents, in a prescient vision of Judas, the opposite sentiment, namely that Judas died as an innocent, stoned by the other disciples.

Let us first take up Matthew's account: Matt. 27:3-10
 10 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
There are a few things to notice here.  First, Judas is repentant, he feels bad about what he has done.  The second is the thirty pieces of silver.  This comes from the Old Testament, from the book of Zechariah, and not Jeremiah as Matthew claims.  Third, Judas hangs himself.  Fourth, there is a field that is bought with the thirty pieces of silver, a field called the field of blood.

Now to Luke's version in Acts: Acts 1:16-20
16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
    ‘Let his homestead become desolate,
        and let there be no one to live in it’;
  ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
This is an interesting and surprisingly different account of the death of Judas.  First, Judas feels no remorse.  Second, there are no thirty pieces of silver.  Judas is not hanged, but rather, falls headlong and just bursts open, spilling his guts.  Finally, there is a field of blood, but it is bought by Judas, not by the priests.  Luke's version also claims fulfillment of scripture, but he draws on the Psalms (69; 109) not Zechariah.

But, there are similarities.  In both Judas dies a violent death (hanging/bursting), both make reference to a field.

Now, lets take a look at the third account from Papias (Warning, very gruesome verbal imagery is used in this text).
Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh so bloated that he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes easily, not even his bloated head by itself. For his eyelids, they say, were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, even by a doctor using an optical instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His genitals appeared more loathsome and larger than anyone else’s, and when he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment, they say, he finally died in his own place, and because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day no one can pass that place unless they hold their nose, so great was the discharge from his body and so far did it spread over the ground.
Similarities: Judas has his own place (field), he dies a violent death. Besides those similarities, the accounts are strikingly different.  Judas does not die right away, but becomes a living example of his ungodliness.  He gets bloated like a balloon, he cannot see, his body appears to be beginning to decay even while he lives.

So, the question for today, which death of Judas is most fitting?

While on the topic of Judas, check out this U2 video "Until the End of the World." The lyrics make sense if you realize the song was written from the perspective of Judas.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ending of Acts

I have argued elsewhere about the open or suspended ending of the gospel of Mark, and here I would like to make note of a few interesting aspects of the open ending of Acts.

An open ending is one that needs to be completed by the audience, i.e., not all things are resolved, or relevant details are left out.  Here is how the book of Acts ends:
 Acts 28:30-31: He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. 
What? This is what the entire narrative has been building toward?  Seems a little bit anticlimactic.  The book of Acts, like the Gospel of Luke, had a section of building tension.  In Acts, Paul, like Jesus in Luke, sets his face to Jerusalem, knowing that he is facing persecution there.  In Acts 20 Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders says:
Acts 20:22-23: And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 
Like Jesus in Luke, Paul travels to Jerusalem, undergoing several trials, and finally appealing to the Emperor in Rome.  The reader of Acts, who has most likely also read Luke, sees the parallels and is expecting similar results.  Yet, there is no satisfaction of these expectations.  Paul gets to Rome, and then, ugh, anti-climax.  Nothing happens.  It says he lives there two years teaching about Jesus. What gives.

Christian tradition has Paul being executed in Rome under the reign of Nero in the mid 60s.  Luke, writing 20-30 years after this event was certainly aware of Paul's death.  Even the audience of Acts was likely aware of Paul's death.  So, why not narrate it?  Why leave the audience hanging?

One reason is theological.  The book of Acts, imho, is not about Paul, or Peter, or Stephen, or Philip.  It is not about a person, or even a group of persons, the apostles. It is about God's work continuing work in the church.  By leaving this story open, it makes a profound statement about the fact that this story does not end with the death of Paul, or any other apostle for that matter.  This story is still going on.  There are still those who are "witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Happy Guy Fawkes day!

To those who don't know what Guy Fawkes day is, November 5th commemorates the the day in 1606 which Guy Fawkes tried to blow up London's Parliament building.  Of course, this holiday means little to me in America, but just the fact that one of the most amazing movies of the past five years, V for Vendetta, also commemorates this event is enough for me.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Check out this amazing video, one of the best film monologues in a long time, not least because of its use of the figure of speech alitteration. 

HT to Peter Pope at Magnificent Vista for the poem and video.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why do I blog?

At the beginning of this last Summer I thought blogs were stupid.  The only exposure I had to blogs was a friend of mine in Seminary who had a blog.  It was just a live journal, a way for him to keep his family and friends updated on what he was doing.  He would add pictures, videos, journal updates, etc.  It seemed fairly narcissistic at the time and I could not envision myself doing such a project.

Then, when I met my wife, she also had a blog, but did not encourage me to read it.  It seemed also to be of a more personal nature.  Then, early this last Summer, Brooke started to show some frustration that I had not really paid much attention to her blog.  So, I started reading her blog, as well as looking for other blogs that I might be interested in.  Little did I know that there was a whole world out there of interesting reading and conversation going on, especially in my field of biblical studies.  I had no idea there was a whole biblioblogging community (see the top 50 biblioblog list here).  I found several blogs that were continually grabbing my attention (see my blog roll for blogs that I read on a regular basis). I thought to myself, wow, I could do that, in fact, it could be quite interesting.  So, I decided to start a blog.

I have three main reasons that I blog. 

1) Writing practice:  In my field of biblical studies, writing is a necessity.  Writing well is even better.  Writing well about your topic is the best.  Therefore, I use this blog as writing practice.  I try and write a bit each day, forcing myself to do so, just to make sure that I am constantly working on my writing.

2) Interaction with students: I wanted there to be a place where my students could go to interact with me outside of the classroom.  I also wanted a place where conversations about class material could be discussed in more detail than is possible in class.  So far, this goal has worked fairly well, although, giving the carrot of a little extra credit for blog comments is a help, I am sure.

3) Self promotion in my field: blogging, as I mentioned before, is becoming an important medium through which ideas travel, especially in the biblioblogging community.  I use this blog to throw out some of my ideas and research in an attempt to get my name out there in my field.  As someone like myself, looking for a teaching job, everything I can do to get my ideas and research out there is a plus.

So, that is why I blog.  How about you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don Juel the Tearing of the Heavens in Mark

The late Don Juel, in one of my favorite books on the Gospel of Mark, argues that there is an inclusio to the whole book.  An inclusio is a verbal bookend, a verbal cue coming at the beginning and ending of a text that was meant to be read aloud.  The bookend usually becomes a way to interpret the text in between.

Juel's proposed inclusio comes in chapters 1 and  15 with the terms "Tearing" and "Son of God."

At Jesus' baptism, after he comes out of the water, Mark writes that the heavens were being torn open (σχιζομένους, schizomenous) followed by a proclamation by the voice from heaven that Jesus was the Son of God.  Then, in the crucifixion scene, immediately after Jesus breathes his last, the Temple veil was torn in two (ἐσχίσθη, eschisthe) followed by the proclamation by the Centurion that Jesus was the Son of God.

Juel writes the following on the significance of this tearing of both the heavens and the Temple veil:
"What does the tearing mean? It may mean, as interpreted in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. chapters 9-10), that we now have access to God: We can "have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19).  Viewed from another perspective, the image may suggest that the protecting barriers are gone and that God, unwilling to be confined to sacred spaces, is on the loose in our own realm.  If characters in the story find Jesus' ministry threatening, then they may have good reason.  The imagery has enormous power to shape imagination and to open readers to the story.  That is, Mark's narrative is about the intrusion of God into a world that has become alien territory -- An intrusion that means both life and death." (Donald Juel, A Master of Surprise, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 35-36), 35-36.)
 I love the thought of summing up the gospel of Mark with the phrase, "God is on the loose."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some things you might have missed!

In reading through the passion narratives in the four gospels, it is interesting to note some things that are often overlooked.  If you have spent much time in church, you probably are familiar with the general story: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and is received by a triumphant parade.  He cleanses the temple, prays in the Garden, is arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.  Yet, as in all narrative, the devil is in the details.  Here are a couple of things you might have missed, yet are fascinating in their own right.

How many donkey's does Jesus ride into Jerusalem on? In Mark and Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to go and get him a colt that had never been ridden.  They do so, and put him on the colt, and he rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Yet, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus instructs them to get two donkeys, or more precisely, a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew 21:7 reads:
they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
I actually found this picture which depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, AND on a colt.  It makes for a strange picture, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two animals.  No wonder it is rare to see the image depicted this way.  Now, surely Matthew is doing this to conform to Zechariah 9:9, the end of which reads:
Lo, your king comes to you;
        triumphant and victorious is he,
    humble and riding on a donkey,
        on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 Now, Matthew is supposed to be the most Jewish of the gospel writers. How then is he ignorant of the Hebrew poetry in Zechariah and how does he miss the obvious parallelism and instead weave a literal two donkeys into his narrative?  Food for thought.

The next strange passage also comes from Matthew.  Read what happens right after Jesus dies in Matthew's gospel (27:51-53):
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 
In Matthew, Jesus' death brings about a sort of ancient night of the living dead, apparently without all of the gruesome blood and death.  I couldn't even find a picture depicting this scene in Matthew.  So, what do you think is going on here.  I would love comments. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

What does it take to believe?

What does it take to believe in Baylor football?

That is a good question.  Does 7-2, BCS rank 21, a win in Austin?  Do I believe?

I must say, my belief is tough to win.  I have been hurt too many times.  There have been too many seasons where the only comforting thought is "well, there's always next season."  I remember watching the UNLV defensive back returning a fumble for 99 yards on the last play of the game to rob Baylor of one of their few wins over the past 14 seasons in the Big XII.  I remember getting trounced repeatedly by Texas, Oklahoma, A&M, Tech, and others.  I remember years where we messed up the pre-conference schedule so bad that even 3 Big XII wins were not enough for a bowl bid. 

Even in Baylor's last two games, I was almost expecting something bad to happen.  Even when we were up by 19 on K-State in the fourth quarter, I remember thinking that we would implode.  Even up by 11 in the fourth quarter on Texas, I was expecting a huge turnaround.  I wasn't expecting to be the team holding all the cards and having all the plays go their way.  I certainly wasn't expecting Texas to fumble the ball on what turned out to be their final play of the game.  More appropriate to recent Baylor history would be a missed tackle and a long touchdown run after catch.  I have seen it too many times.

Yet, this team is giving me reasons to believe.  Aside from our 45-10 drubbing by TCU in week three, this team has played great.  We have not been blown out at all, in fact, our one other loss was only by seven to Tech.  Our offense is amazing, and our defense is getting it done when it matters.  We are winning games on the road in hostile environments.  Briles really has turned this team around.  We are going bowling.  I love it.

So, do I believe?  Well, lets say I am half-way there.  Do I think we can win all three remaining games?  I believe we have a chance.  Do I think we will?  No, but, I also thought we would lose to K-State and to Texas.  So, go ahead Baylor, prove me wrong.  I dare you.  I double-dog dare you!

Rise Up!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes on my Lost ReWatch

** Spoiler Alert: Major Spoiler's for Lost, Do not read unless you have watched the whole series or do not care about spoilers**

I have noticed a couple of things in my latest rewatch of Lost that I had not noticed before.  The wife and I are now through about 20 episodes of season 1.  The first thing I noticed is the characters' use of the term "the others."  This term obviously takes on great meaning in season 2 and beyond, but in season one it could be seen as a throwaway line.  There was one conversation in the episode "White Rabbit" where Jack and Locke throw around the term.  They are referring to those not in the "in group," that is, the main characters.  I think that the term means more for the entire series.  In many ways, the story arc of Lost is about identifying and coming to terms with "the other."  It is about learning to live with the difference of others.  It is also about the fluidity of the in and out groups as alliances often change.  In season 2, "The other's" are the enemy, but in later seasons this distinction gets blurred.  Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?  Ben, the ultimate "other," eventually becomes a very sympathetic character, arguably one of the "good guys," one of the in group, not the out group.  This term, "the others" takes on new meaning in season 1 if you have watched the whole series.

I also caught a fascinating conversation that on previous viewings could also be seen as an insignificant exchange.  It comes in the episode "Solitary" which is a Sayid back story.  This is the episode where we meet Danielle Rousseau for the first time.  Sayid is caught in her trap and endures torture at her hands.  We also see the flashbacks of Sayid as a torturer for the Iraqi Republican Guard.  We see his relationship with Nadia, along with his eventual facilitation of her escape.  At the end of the episode, when Sayid escapes from Rousseau's camp, Sayid and Rousseau meet up in the jungle and have a conversation, both pointing guns at one another: The conversation goes like this:

Danielle: (speaking about her crew mate Robert): I shot him.
Sayid: But you loved him?
Danielle: He was sick.
Sayid: Sick?
Danielle: It took them.  One after the other.  I had no choice. They were already Lost.
Sayid: You killed them?
Danielle: What would have happened if we were rescued?  I couldn't let that happen. (raising her gun toward Sayid) I won't.
Sayid (throwing down gun): I'm not sick.
Danielle: I know.
Sayid: They why kill me?
Danielle: I can't let you go. Don't you understand. To have someone, to talk to, to touch.
Sayid: You'll find me in the next life, if not in this one.
Danielle: What?
Sayid: The writing on the back of Nadia's photograph. I know what it's like to hold on to someone. I've been holding on for the past seven years to just the thought, a blind hope that somewhere she is still alive. But the more I hold on, the more I pull away from those around me. The only way off this, this place, is with their help. (Danielle lowers gun, looks sad, sinks to the ground). Come with me. (Danielle shakes head). You don't have to be alone Danielle. (Danielle touches Sayid's face, gets up and walks away).
Danielle: Your people, the ones you are determined to get back to. Watch them! Watch them closely.
This one exchange is so poignantly filled with foreshadowing of season 6.  First thing to notice is Danielle's fear that she and her "sick" crew members might be rescued.  Their sickness, I presume, is their being "claimed" by the man in black, just like Sayid and Claire were "claimed" by him in season six.  Much of season six is devoted to keeping the smokey on the island to prevent his "evil" from reaching the outside world.  Is Danielle foreshadowing this by fearing a rescue, and thus, smokey's influence through his "claimed" ones reaching the outside world.

The second thing I noticed was the comment of Sayid, quoting Nadia's writing on the back of her photograph: "You'll find me in the next life, if not in this one." And Sayid's subsequent discussion of "letting go" of Nadia, attending to "those around him," the best hope for getting "off this place."  In season six, in the sideways reality, the goal is to "find" each other in the next life, to "let go" and to move on.  It is only with the help of the other survivors of flight 815 that Sayid and the others are able to move on in the afterlife.  I find Sayid's comments very prescient of the ultimate ending of the show.

This raises the question: How much did the writers know at this point about the ending?  Did they know that the ending would include the main characters finding one another in the next life as a means of moving on?  Or, in writing the ending, did they perhaps come back and revisit this scene as a way of planning out the end?  Some food for thought.