Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Well-Deserved Vote for the Ritz

The southeastern corner of the Texas panhandle is home to a great little town called Wellington. And Wellington is home to the historic Ritz Theatre. Recently, the good people of the town have entered the Ritz in a competition for a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Anytime you see a place like the Ritz you think, "This place ought to be preserved for future generations." Well now's your chance to do something simple and make a difference along that line. Please, take two minutes to go the site for the National Trust, and cast a ballot for the Ritz. You can register and vote at the blue box, top right, at this website. And hurry! Voting ends this Thursday, June 30th.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Internet History Sourcebooks Project

"The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts presented cleanly (without advertising or excessive layout) for educational use."

I've recently looked around at this website and think it's excellent. If you're interested in finding texts that relate to world history, this is one of the best places to look.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

MacCulloch, Chapter 10

The title here is "Latin Christendom: New Frontiers (500-1000)." MacCulloch begins by insisting that the period from the break up of the old Western Roman Empire to the tenth century really shouldn't be called the Dark Ages. It's more neutral and fair, he says, to call those times the early Middle Ages. How Christianity got along during this period is the subject of Chapter 10.

Changing Allegiances: Rome, Byzantium and Others

Many descendants of the aristocracy from the former empire learned that their professional aspirations were best satisfied by leadership in the Roman Church. For its part, the church coexisted with Gothic Arian chieftains, like Theoderic. Increasingly, religious leaders from Rome emphasized a division of authority: the emperors in Constantinople were the secular leaders, but the Pope in Rome was the leader in spiritual matters. In that sense, the Pope was more important than was the Emperor. Pope Hormisdas (514-23) provides an example of contemporary claims to authority:

Christ built his Church on St Peter, and so in the apostolic see the Catholic faith has always been kept without stain. There is one communion defined by the Roman see, and in that I hope to be, following the apostolic see in everything and affirming everything decided thereby (p. 326).

At times such rhetoric seemed to be followed, but at other times not. A few especially-strong characters like Gregory I (aka, the Great, who was Pope from 590 to 604) did much to establish papal authority. Perhaps even more important to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire were the conversions of some of the barbarian kings formerly dedicated to Arianism. Clovis (predecessor of the Frankish kings name Louis) was the greatest of these.

Missions in Northern Europe (500-600)

This section describes the Christianity of the British Isles before and after the time of Augustine (not the Bishop of Hippo) sent by Gregory the Great as an evangelist. Ireland had already been Christianized by St. Patrick. And what Augustine found in England was a form of Christianity and a society that were quite different from what he knew on the Continent. We would know much less about these events if it were not for the great English historian Bede, author of "The Ecclesiastical History of the people of the Angli." MacCulloch emphasizes at the end that what was significant about Augustine's mission was not that he Christianized the British Isles. Again, much of that work was already done. The significance of Augustine was his emphasis on obedience to Rome.

Obedience Anglo-Saxons and Other Converts (600-800)

During this period, a much greater percentage of those who lived in the British Isles embraced Christianity and especially the authority of Rome. People in general wanted to be associated with the prestige of old Roman society, and the Roman Church's connections with Peter gave it a special credibility. From England, this particular interest and conviction spread to central Europe. In virtually all cases, the "conversions" of the peoples of the Continent did not amount to a change from paganism to Christianity. Instead, these were conversions of Christian people to the recognition of Rome and subjection to the Pope. During this period, when people did experience a conversion, this amounted to a Christian deciding to become a nun or a monk.

Charlemagne, Carolingians and a New Roman Empire (800-1000)

Charles Martel (676-741) had five sons, one of whom was Pippin III (the Short). And Pippin became the father of Charles the Great = Charles Magnus = Charlemagne (747-814). (This information from a basic encyclopedia). MacCulloch's section here deals with the transition from the Merovingian to these Carolingian kings and their careers. During this period, the papacy and Carolingian dynasty marginalized the position of the Byzantines and represented the early beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne reigned for many years and brought about a renaissance in the production of manuscripts of ancient documents, some of which had almost been completely lost. This was the rise of the minuscule cursive which sped up the pace of making manuscripts. Also during this time, Benedictine monasticism grew in its stature as a sanctifying influence for society. For example, priests and monks could pray and participate in the Mass in order to offset the sins of war. The Carolingian kings were aware that public penance could be an effective political act. The monasteries seemed satisfied by their public presence and by the social control that they exerted.

At this point in my reading of MacCulloch, something that strikes me is the author's attention to the wide array of influences and factors in the history of Christianity. A different way of approaching the task would be to trace out mainly the history of Christian beliefs and doctrines, the decisions of councils, etc. In other words, one way of writing Christian history would be to focus on of the interpretation of Scripture and the development of tradition. By contrast, MacCulloch emphasizes how things like architecture and liturgy, monuments, politics, names, symbols, and even coins both shaped and reflected how people lived, what they thought and how they understood the world. This much less "gnostic" approach prevents the story from becoming nothing more than a series of biographies of important thinkers or a survey of the evolution of Christian doctrine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Few Translational Notes on Genesis 1:1-2:3

What follows is an early draft of my notes on the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1-2:3. I've put this together as a guide for anyone interested in mastering the vocabulary and grammar of this passage.

If you are unfamiliar with the vocabulary of this text, I recommend that you look up each word in the Gesenius-Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon (called BDB in the notes below). This will help to acquaint you not only with the Hebrew, but will also expose you to some of the delights of our standard one-volume Hebrew-English lexicon.

Genesis Chapter 1

Verse 1: One oddity here is that bereshit, the very first word of the Bible, is in construct and is followed by bara, an affix (a.k.a. perfect) verb form. This combination, though found in a few other texts (namely, Lev. 14:46; Isa. 29:1; and Hos. 1:1), is quite rare. Options for translation include, "In the beginning when . . . " and "When God began to create . . . " For more on bereshit, see BDB, 912. (Hereafter, all references to BDB appear in parentheses and give only the page number). In his commentary, Claus Westermann (p. 98) notes that there are two perennial observations made about bara: (1) The subject of this verb is always the Lord, never humans or another deity (2) The verb is never used with an adjective or an accusative of the material with which God creates. That is to say, bara seems to begin with nothing, and always results in a completed product.

Verse 2: Here we encounter a high percentage of rare vocabulary: tohu ("chaotic" 1062), bohu ("emptiness" 96), tehom ("abyss" or "deep" 1062) and rachaf ("to hover" 934). For the translation of tohu vavohu, Sarna suggests "unformed and void." Options for translating ruach include: "spirit" "wind" and "breath" (924-26). The choice here might depend on whether you think that ruach is in contrast, or is more parallel to, choshech . However one translates al pene hamayim, it should match the translation of al pene tehom, a nice parallel.

Verse 3: Note that yehi is a jussive form.

Verse 5: Here we find the first instance of what becomes a familiar refrain: "And there was evening and there was morning." Erev carries the idea of darkening, which makes "sunset" or, perhaps better, "evening" a good choice.

Verse 6: A rahqeeyah is defined as "an extended surface" (956) and apparently was used to speak, for example, of metal that had been hammered flat. The translation "firmament" is hardly helpful inasmuch as most people don’t know what a firmament is. (Nahum Sarna, in his JPS commentary, notes that rahqeeyah could possibly refer to a layer of congealed ice, which, he says, may be the idea in Ezek. 1:22, and which was certainly the understanding of Josephus in the first century A.D., the reference for which Sarna does not provide). However one translates yom echad , "a first day" or "day one," it should be noted that the definite article, ha is not coupled with yom until 1:31 (in connection with "the sixth day"), and then 2:2 ("on the seventh day").

Verse 7: Here we encounter for the first time the verb asah, which is used again in 1:16 and 25. Sarna says that we shouldn't make too much of the difference between bara and asah, as though the Lord suddenly needs material with which to work. Nonetheless, Sarna, like most translators, reflects the distinction between bara and asah with "create" and "make" respectively (pp. 5-8; so, too,Westermann, p. 76).

Verse 9: Yeeqahvu is a 3rd person verb. It is not patently a jussive, but a good argument can be made that it is; namely, jussives occur quite frequently (vss. 3, 6, and 14) in this highly repetitive text.

Verse 10: A meekvay is a "collection" (876). Concerning yamim, because there is dagesh in the mem, we know that this is "seas" and not "days." That is, the little fishy (the dagesh) is in the sea. See?

Verse 11: deshe is a generic term that can include all sorts of plants and fruit trees (Sarna, p. 9). For this reason, "vegetation" is likely the best translation. Asev is a noun meaning "herb" (793). Mazeriah is the hiphil participle of zara (281, esp. 282) which BDB translates "produce seed." Meen is defined as "kind" or "species," the latter of which sounds anachronistic here. However, Westermann says that meen denotes "precisely the same as that of the word used today in the natural sciences, namely species or genus" (p. 126).

Verse 14: A maor is a "light, light-bearer, luminary" (22). "Lights" is a good translation for the plural here, although "light-bearers" acknowledges that light has already been created (v. 3), and here, for the first time, light has a habitat.

Verse 16: Memshala is a feminine noun meaning ""rule, dominion, realm" (606). In this verse, the sun and the moon are given their respective times of rule or dominion. Sarna observes that the stars, the kokavim (456), are given no particular role. This, he says, "constitutes a tacit repudiation of astrology" and refers the reader to Jer. 10:2 (p. 10).

Verse 17: Here natan, which often means "give," connotes the placement of the luminaries. And God "placed" or "put" or "set" them (678-81, esp. 680-81, sec. 2).

Verse 18: This verse continues the thought of the previous one. Ve-leemshol is a qal infinitive construct of mashal = "rule, have dominion, reign" (605)

Verse 20: Sharatz, here in the qal prefix (a.k.a., imperfect), means "swarm, teem" (1056). The volume of terms leading up to the atnach makes for difficult translating. Sarna has it: "God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures’ " (p. 20). The King James Version manages to reflect all of the Hebrew terms, though awkwardly: "And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life’." Yeoafaf is a polel prefix (imperfect) of oaf which means "to fly" (733).

Verse 21: According to BDB (1072), the taneen is a "serpent, dragon, sea-monster" which, in mythological texts, denotes personified chaos. Ramas means "to move or glide about" (942-43). The same root occurs as a noun, remes, in verses 24, 25, and 26.

Verse 22: Parah means to "bear fruit, be fruitful" (826).

Verse 26: The plural of asah has generated endless discussion. Westermann, who refers to several grammarians, seems to favor the idea that this is a "plural of deliberation" (p. 145; compare Gen. 11:7). Tselem means "image" (873) and demut is "likeness" (198). Of course, the big interpretive question here is: Do these two words stand in apposition to one another, functioning as virtual synonyms? Or do they denote different senses in which humanity is comparable to God? (From the standpoint of syntax and the discreet sense of the text, I understand the two phrases as synonymous. On the other hand, the ways in which Christian theologians have exploited the fact that there are two phrases are interesting and instructive). Radah means to "rule" or "have dominion" (921-22). A dagah is a "fish" (185).

Verse 27: Zachor denotes "male" and, according to BDB (271), is related to the verb from the same root inasmuch as "remember" or "call to remembrance" or "call upon" = worship. The connection is apparently based on the idea that it is the male, as opposed to the female, who is "competent to worship." Nekavah, a relatively rare word, denotes "female" (666).

Verse 28: Cavash means "to subdue" (461).

Verse 30: Yereq is "green" (438). Achal means "to eat." Thus, achlah is is the denominative "food" (38).

Verse 31: As noted above, here we have the first instance of the definite article with yom. Sarna mentions that the exceptional use of the article "points to the special character" of the sixth and seventh days (p. 14); they are the days on which humanity and the Sabbath are made. Whatever the significance, the use or non-use of ha should be reflected in translation. As commentators frequently point out, this is the first time that tov is followed by meod. According to BDB, meod is actually a noun which means "muchness, force, abundance" (547), but often functions like the adverbs "very" and "exceedingly."

Chapter 2, verse 1: The first word is a pual prefix (imperfect) 3rd masculine plural of the root calah (478): "and they were completed." Tsvaham = tsevah + hem, and means something like "their array" (so Sarna, p. 14). KJV has "the host of them." Sarna adds this note: "Hebrew tsava’, in the sense used here, is strictly speaking applicable only to ‘heaven’; but, by the figure of speech known as zeugma, it is extended to apply to the ‘earth’ as well" (p, 15). Sarna’s endnote refers the reader to Nehemiah 9:6.

Some Sources:

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 4th rev. ed. Edited by Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph. Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblestiftung, 1990.

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The New Hebrew and English Lexicon. Reprinted. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1979.

Sarna, Nahum. Genesis. JPS Torah Commentary Series. Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11. Translated by John J. Scullion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Religious Responses to Modernism

I want to start developing a series of short exercises for students of history and theology. This project will partially fulfill the requirements for a degree program where I'm expected to turn in complete syllabi for college history courses. The title of this post is the theme for the exercise: "Religious Responses to Modernism."

According to The New Oxford American Dictionary, modernism is "a movement toward modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas." I understand that there are narrower definitions of the term. See, for example, the definition provided in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. But here I use the word "modernism" in that very broad sense of the definition I've quoted.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, in both Europe and America, developments like Darwinism, Modern Geology, and Higher Criticism of the Bible placed enormous pressure on Christianity and Judaism. In the modern world, tradition was no longer the judge of truth. Now, it seemed, tradition was the accused. Science and reason were the new arbiters of truth.

Of course, nowhere did modernism cause more controversy than it did in its encounter with religion. In the following short readings, you will get a taste of some of the various religious responses to the rise and strength of modernism. As you read these, notice their similarities and differences. Take note especially of the different responses to the same basic issue.

Reform Judaism: In 1885, Kaufmann Kohler of New York called together Reform Jewish rabbis from around the United States. They met from November 16-19, with Isaac Mayer Wise presiding. The meeting was understood to be the continuation of the Philadelphia Conference of 1869, which built upon German conferences held in the 1840s. In 1885, the rabbis adopted what is known as the Pittsburgh Platform.

Roman Catholicism: Pope Pius X was born in 1835 in Upper Venetia. He was elected Pope in 1903 and died in 1914. In September 1910, Pius issued the Sacrorum antistitum, The Oath Against Modernism. All religious leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were required to swear to this statement until is was rescinded in July 1967.

Protestantism: Benjamin B. Warfield was born in 1851 near Lexington, Kentucky. He was a conservative Protestant Christian who taught at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until he died in 1921. A prolific writer, Warfield served as editor of the Presbyterian Review from 1890 to 1903. Around this time, he published the essay, Christianity and Our Times.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Karl Barth on "Double Predestination"

At the moment, I can't document the following quote from Karl Barth. But it's just so juicy I had to pass it along:

If the teachers of predestination were right when they spoke always of a duality, of election and reprobation, of predestination to salvation or perdition, to life or death, then we may say already that in the election of Jesus Christ which is the eternal will of God, God has ascribed to man the former, election, salvation and life; and to Himself He has ascribed the latter, reprobation, perdition and death. If it is indeed the case that the divine good-pleasure which was the beginning of all things with God carries with it the risk and threat of negation, then it is so because the Son of God incarnate represents and Himself is this divine good-pleasure. The risk and threat is the portion which the Son of God, i.e., God Himself, has chosen for His own.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

MacCulloch, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 in Diarmaid MacCulloch's survey of Christian history is called "The Making of Latin Christianity." It's the first of several chapters in Part IV which is titled "The Unlikely Rise of Rome."

MacCulloch explains that during the fourth century, the growing Roman emphasis on the antiquity of the Church, the centrality of Rome, and the primacy of Peter were all the result of a desire to gain respectability, "to show that Christianity had a past as glorious as anything that the old gods could offer" (294). To borrow MacCulloch's expression, Christianity was becoming "a religion fit for a gentleman," and by that he means a Roman gentleman. Along this line, I learned something very interesting about the Roman Catholic dogma of the primacy of Peter and the history of the interpretation of Matthew 16. MacCulloch explains:

One aim of the programme was to place a new emphasis on the role of Peter rather than the joint role of Peter and Paul in the Roman past. Moreover, it was in [Pope] Damasus's time that Peter came to be regarded not merely as the founder of the Christian Church in Rome, but also as its first bishop. Ironically, it was actually a North African bishop, point-scoring against his local Donatist opponents by stressing the North African Catholics' links to Rome, who is the first person known to have asserted on the basis of Matthew 16:17-19 that 'Peter was superior to the other apostles and alone received the keys of the kingdom, which were distributed by him to the rest'; yet significantly it was in the time of Damasus that this thought occurred to the North African, some time around 370 (p. 294).

Meanwhile, Jerome was advocating the idea that scholarship, what he was did and loved, was just as legitimate a monastic life as manual labor or being an hermit. He put an exclamation point on his statement when he produced what would become the Christian Bible for the next 1000 years, the Latin Vulgate.

Next, MacCulloch provides a very fine survey of the life and legacy of Augustine, "shaper of the western church" (pp. 301-12), and ends the chapter by telling the stories of important people associated with the rise and development of monasticism in the West:

The most significant early figure in this story is Martin, without whom the Christianization of Germany and missions into the British Isles would not have happened. "Eastern and Western monasticism combined fruitfully in the monk John Cassian" (315). And then there was Benedict whose "Rule" became the basis for the flowering of monasticism in the West for many centuries to follow, even up to the present day.