Thursday, September 29, 2011

The King James Anniversary

For my blog this week, I thought I'd push out a post I made for my Old Testament students about the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible a few weeks ago.

The KJV holds sway still over many people in the English speaking world.  In times of illness and despair, for example, my mother still cites from it by memory as a form of solace.  The majestic poetry of the KJV provides believers a sense of the awe and wonder of the divine.

Like any revered cultural object, the KJV also attracts its share of fetish-like behavior.  I'm not so sure, for example, that requiring children or youth to learn their Bible stories from the KJV is quite conducive to them seeing the relevance of the Bible in their lives.

I have attached two lovely little clips in the blog (click below).  They are both interesting and informative--and very well done.

One other aside: on one of my trips as a translator from the Berlin Cathedral, where I worked as a guide, to St Paul's in London, Canon John Halliburton took me up the steep stairs of the Cathedral for a private tour of the St. Paul's Cathedral library.  What a thrill it was for this young theology student to be allowed to rummage around among some of the ancient manuscripts stored there.  At one point, Canon Halliburton climbed up a ladder and unlocked a special case and brought down an original Tyndale Bible and placed in my hands to peruse.  One of the precursors of the King James, the Tyndale was the first English language Bible translation made from original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  It was a thrill to hold it in my hands.  I'll never forget this act of kindness.  Nor will I forget the comfort level he had in handling these old volumes, even licking his fingers as he turned the pages!  Oh well, talk about fetishes...  As I increasingly use more database resources and ebooks, I must keep in mind that old books are to be both treasured and used.  

Click on the link below to go to the video:

September 1, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Importance of Hydrating

I did something today I never thought I'd ever do. I registered for my first 5k, a race I'll run this Saturday. Those of you who know me, know me as a chubby (a polite word for fat) man. I always have been. And while I am taking it off, I will likely always be somewhat chunky.
But somehow, in the past couple of years, I have become more aware of the importance of exercise. So when a student introduced me to the couch to 5k program last spring, I started doing something I never thought I would, actually trying to run. Well, "running" is a kind word for what I do, more like slow jogging. Still, as I have increased distance and time, I have come to realize how important it is to drink water, both before and after my exercise. Since I have also been more thirsty than usual, I notice water everywhere. My students, many of whom are athletes, carry water bottles with them. Water is an essential for us. But it also has destructive power. This is clearly illustrated by the recent flooding in the Northeast, the Tsunami in Japan. As a fundamental element, water is both a destructive force, yet also a source of life and vitality.

This leads me to reflect on the importance of water in the biblical narratives. Why, for Christians, is baptism such an elemental symbol? I think it is because, the water of baptism is a narrative symbol of both God's provident creative energy, as well as the destructive power of chaos. Consider the first creation account in Genesis 1. There we find a God whose prime activity is dividing the waters, placing the dome in the midst of the waters to separate the waters of heaven, from the waters below, dividing the waters below by placing the earth in its midst, and so forth. In the ancient cosmology of the priestly creation account, waters are above the sky and below and surrounding the earth. These waters, the abode of the leviathan, are also those that feed the wellsprings of life, and provide the crops rain from above. Or consider the Noah account, the deluge has both a destructive and purifying power. One could also consider the story of Moses being pulled from the Nile, an echo of salvation of the Noah story. In a sense, the parting of the Red Sea, and in the next generation, the crossing of the Jordan are also improvisations on this theme. Again God shows God's creative power by pushing back the waters to create a new people, letting them collapse again upon the forces of chaos and destruction that pursue.
When I remember my own baptism, I'm certain I was not aware of the powerful symbolic dimension of that profound act, as I am today. So, now, maybe its time to seek out a new baptism, stretch my legs a little and be rewarded with an ice cold cup of water after I cross that finish line!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forgetting Joseph

My apologies to those of you who started following me in January.  With the start of the new semester, I am making a resolution to stay current with this blog.

For many folks in the US, this has been truly a week of reflection and remembering, as the 10th anniversary of the September 11 tragedy has come and gone.

This week, for my classes, I have been going through the Exodus narrative.  There is a particularly striking line at the beginning of the story, that the new Pharaoh has forgotten Joseph and the things he did to save Egypt from famine.  Of course the Exodus story is a narrative of Israel's liberation from injustice and oppression.  Yet this other dimension, the dimension of remembering and forgetting, did not strike me until I read through the story again this year.   Of course, it is a bad thing for the descendants of Joseph and his brothers that Pharaoh has forgotten that Joseph's wisdom and action saved Egypt from famine.  By forgetting the unique and important contributions that Joseph (and his kin) brought to Egyptian society, Pharaoh and his people are able to view the Israelites as so much chattel, forcing them into a regime of brutal slavery.

Yet the forgetting does not stop there.  After growing up in Pharaoh's household, Moses' story becomes a journey of remembering, remembering who he is, remembering who his people are, and figuring out his response to the oppression he sees.  Unable to temper his anger and fear, we see this young "bi-cultural" Moses flee both identities, running off to Midian to marry into another family and culture altogether.  It is only here that YHWH comes to him, revealing not only the divine name and charging Moses with an important task, but reminding him that his God is the YHWH of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, i.e. the God of his people.

The other dimension of forgetting is readily apparent in the multiple complaints of the Israelites to Moses in their flight from Egypt and journey to Horeb.  Again and again, the people complain to Moses, yearning for their former life in Egypt.  What a strange and yet realistic portrayal of human nature!  The people have so quickly forgotten the oppression and injustice of their past situation, even after witnessing one remarkable event after another through their liberation.  When memories are weak, hope grows so ever more fleeting.  People submit willingly and readily to systematic injustice, when they are allowed (or encouraged) to forget the true horrors of their past (or present) bondage.

Those of you who are politically astute can probably more readily draw parallels to contemporary situations than can I.  I'm wondering, though, how much of this week was one of honest remembering.  How much of our own story, and its interconnection with our neighbor's stories, have we forgotten over the past 10 years?  Can the three great religions that see themselves as the children of Abraham remember his great-grandchild, Joseph?  Or are we more like Pharaoh, enslaving and oppressing our neighbors, as we forget their intrinsic value?