Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Édith Piaf I never knew . . .

(Image from mp3mixx.com)

Madeleine Coorey, writing for Yahoo News, "Piaf biography invites new look at French icon" (May 29, 2011), reports that the Australian writer Carolyn Burke, author of the recently published biography No Regrets: Edith Piaf, has revealed something not previously known about this famous little French 'songbird' who died in 1963:
Burke's book is among the first to draw on more than 100 letters written by a young Piaf to one of her mentors, the scholarly Jacques Bourgeat, held in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and only recently released to scrutiny.

"Those letters reveal aspects of Edith Piaf that we couldn't have known about," Burke explained.

"You see her desire for an education, to better herself. We learn about her emotional and spiritual development even, because she had a strong wish . . . to not only study poetry but philosophy."

Burke said the letters reveal a tenderness between Piaf and the middle-aged, poetry-writing Bourgeat who instructed the young woman with scant education after a hand-to-mouth existence on what to read and how to improve her French.

"So the next thing she's reading Baudelaire, she's reading Rimbaud, she's reading Plato. It's so moving to find out about this," she explained.

"I was sitting there reading Edith Piaf's handwriting, seeing her mistakes in spelling and grammar and she says things to him like, 'I'm making progress aren't I? Is this a better letter?' He's trying to help her learn proper French. It's so important to know that."

The unlikely pair, who were not lovers, corresponded for the next 25 years and Burke believes the letters provide "the very best source for a deeper look at who she was and how she developed."

Piaf began writing lyrics shortly after meeting Bourgeat at a Paris nightclub, and Burke believes it was in part with his help that she acquired enough confidence and experience with the language to become a lyricist.
That's somehow touching . . . to me, anyway. I also had a hunger for knowledge, upon leaving the Ozarks and discovering as a freshman at Baylor University just how dismally ignorant I was. I didn't have some Jacques Bourgeat for a mentor, unlike Piaf, for I had no mentors -- I was too much of a 'wildman' for that, not the sort to put myself under another man's tutelage, seeking approval of my writing -- but I did get some advice from professors and started reading everything literary that I could get my hands on, taking up with Russian literature as a sophomore because I'd written a short story on an underground man, and my creative writing professor Morse Hamilton asked me if I'd ever read Dostoevsky. I replied:
"Who's Dostoevsky?"
That motivated my reading of the Russian classics. Later, as I read through one of Dostoevsky's most famous novels, it seemed oddly familiar, and I suddenly recalled leaning against the magazine stand in my hometown drugstore and paging through a Classics Illustrated comic book that had condensed the story: Crime and Punishment. I had read Dostoevsky, after all, but not as a novel . . . just in a rather novel form.

There's always some sort of paper trail leading back into the wild lands of childhood, but also forward toward some distant, obscure literary city, a pilgrimage that all readers and writers undertake, including Piaf, and even me . . .

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Anthony Gottlieb reminds us, in . . .

Oscar Wilde
(Image from Official Web Site)

. . . his review of Peter Toohey's Boredom: A Lively History, that:
In Oscar Wilde's play "A Woman of No Importance," Lord Illingworth says of society: "To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy."
Gottlieb calls this to mind in his New York Times article "Why Life is So Boring" (May 27, 2011), and it's the most interesting thing that he or Toohey have to say, though neither he nor Toohey personally uttered it, but I won't bore you with any of their own quotes.

Nor will I bore you with talk about my time currently spent grading 50 essays, an academic duty that, tragically, keeps me from my otherwise busy social whirl . . .


Sunday, May 29, 2011

En-Uk's Birthday was Yesterday . . .

En-Uk's Birthday Cake
(Image from En-Uk's Art Blog)

My eleven-year-old son, En-Uk, turned twelve yesterday, which means he's still a tween, not yet a teen. He'd invited a few friends over to celebrate, so the big table where I usually grade essays was occupied by presents and plates and platitudes. Also plenty of food.

Unable to mark the nearly 50 essays for my history class while En-Uk and his friends were running around all afternoon, I instead sat at my computer and edited three articles for the Ewha Voice, a proofreading responsibility that I've recently assumed.

The relatively good English of the articles was a relief, for I had a very different experience nearly ten years ago at Hanshin University when I provided editorial assistance to the student newspaper there. The reporters at Hanshin had first written their articles in Korean and then given me their word-for-word translations. Most of the articles were incomprehensible . . . to me. But when I asked my wife to take a look, she instantly understood and 'translated' the gibberish into standard English. That bout of editing took a lot of my time, so I informed the students there that if I were to be asked again to edit their newspaper, then they'd first need to have their reports proofread by someone who knew both Korean and English. I don't think that I was asked again . . .

I'm therefore quite pleased to find the Ewha Voice reporters so competent at English. I still have to rewrite a good deal to attain a more natural English style, but I can do this relatively quickly because I understand what has been written.

That editing is mostly out of the way for this weekend . . . but those 50-odd essays yet await.

And that's how I spent En-Uk's birthday . . .

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Radioman Speaks . . .

Uncle "Radioman" Cran
(Used Without Permission)

My 'favorite' uncle, "Uncle Cran," has sent me a scanned photo -- allegedly of his younger self -- which I've posted today without permission because I know that Uncle Cran would never sue his near kin for misappropriation of private materials or for publication of libelous characterizations.

So, here goes.

First, Uncle Cran inadvertently informs us of the dreary character of his quotidean life:
I took my computer and scanner/printer to the shop monday, and now I can scan and send documents and photos.
His days are apparently so dull as not even to deserve capitalization, and I don't for the life of me understand why he noted only that he now "can scan and send documents and photos," for he can also likely now print documents and photos, which is surely wonderful news and as exciting as sending them.

Anyway, what does he then have to say of himself? The following words:
This is an old photo, made about 1958, right after I made Radioman 2nd Class (E-5). It has a lot of wrinkles because of age, and now I have them on my face because of age. Sure wish I still had that much hair again.
The only reason to have "that much hair again" is to attract the fair sex, but Uncle Cran is a married man, so what does he think he's wishing for, an escape from that dreary, mundane reality of his? Let's imagine his thoughts:
My Uncle Cran, a married man,
Sure wished that he were hairy.
"Oh, if I can, I'd then go man
The ramparts!" -- or so dare he.

Thought Uncle Cran, that hairless man,
"If I could only harry,
Like Strauss-Kahn can, each female fan,
This old life I would bury!"

But Uncle Cran, that dis-haired man,
Like all, his lot must bear he,
And learn to ban such thoughts as ran
So thoughtless and unwary.
But can Uncle Cran, once Radioman, unman that inclination? Can he, with manly will and grit, resist that strong temptation?


So long as he remains hairless, I believe that his integrity will stay secured.

But just in case, let us lift up to the Lord a prayer that Uncle Cran continue to shed his hair down upon the earth and raise his thoughts up unto the heavens . . .

UPDATE: I just realized that I missed an opportunity to title my little poem "Radar Love." Damn!

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Remember The Shaggs?

Philosophy of The World
The Shaggs
(Image from Wikipedia)

Remember that dreadful sound? The affectless, weirdly memorable lyrics? The shag haircuts. Okay, you probably don't -- particularly not the cuts since theirs obviously aren't shags!

I'd also forgotten them . . . until I read Rob Weinert-Kendt's recent New York Times article "Sad and Haunted Girls Who Couldn't Play Worth a Lick" (May 19, 2011), which informed me that a musical has been made of their career!

Apparently, the three girls had little interest in music, but their father, Austin Wiggin, Jr., had undergone a palm reading in his youth by his mother in which she prophesied that his future daughters would one day become a successful musical group, so when he eventually had those daughters, he removed them from school and forced them to form a band.

The result ought to have sufficed to discredit palm reading forever . . . but the palm fates are tricky, and the band has developed a following that has even inspired that aforementioned musical. Their music has come to be considered a form of "outsider art," or art brut! It is taken seriously! Some critics might consider it to have been a harbinger of musical trends to come, but I would classify it as a late instance of that old, weird America with its traveling medicince show quacks and its unlettered, itinerant, doomsday preachers. That, too, is now taken seriously.

And the girls did have their standards. They would sometimes break off in the middle of a song during recording sessions, saying that they had made a mistake and needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers baffled as to how the girls could determine when a mistake had been made. Apparently, they took their art seriously.

The cover to their first album certainly insists on being taken seriously. Look at that fractured Gothic Script in the image above, which foreshadows great, earnest, Teutonic seriousness itself! One anticipates some sort of deeply profound, German-inspired philosophy.

But the proof is in the pudding, so let's see what the lyrics to Philosophy of The World have to teach us (and you can open a second browser and click here to listen as you follow along):
Oh, the rich people want what the poor people's got
And the poor people want what the rich people's got
And the skinny people want what the fat people's got
And the fat people want what the skinny people's got

You can never please anybody in this world

The short people want what the tall people's got
And the tall people want what the short people's got
The little kids want what the big kids' got
And the big kids want what the little kids' got

You can never please anybody in this world

Oh, the girls with short hair want long hair
And the girls with long hair want short hair
Oh, the boys with cars want motorcycles
And the boys with motorcycles want cars

You can never please anybody in this world

It doesn't matter what you do
It doesn't matter what you say
There will always be
One who wants things the opposite way

It doesn't matter where you go
It doesn't matter who you see
There will always be
Someone who disagrees

We do our best, we try to please
But we're like the rest, we're never at ease

Oh, the rich people want what the poor people's got
And the poor people want what the rich people's got
And the skinny people want what the fat people's got
And the fat people want what the skinny people's got

You can never please anybody in this world
Well . . . there's some truth to those lyrics, I concede -- giving the song an edge over a lot of philosophy -- though I'm not sure that the message qualifies as quintessentially Teutonic, but the central question is this: What did The Shaggs themselves want?

Why, "the opposite way," of course -- not to be a music group. Their father had forced that on them. And yet . . . they sort of made a success of it, a belated success.

Proof that spectacular failure is a guarantee of being remembered?

I think that I'd as soon be as dis(re)membered as Osiris . . .

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Terrance Lindall's "Infernal Serpent"

Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball
Terrance Lindall, Rich Buckler & Yuko Nii
(Image from Wikipedia)

For those who might not know about the modern-day surrealist artist Terrance Lindall, click on the Wikipedia link above for a good overview of the man and artist.

I first learned of him in the latter 1970s, probably from his artwork for the science fiction and fantasy comics magazine Heavy Metal, but I don't think that I learned of his interest in John Milton's Paradise Lost until after I had begun publishing articles on the epic poem myself. Not long after I discovered Lindall's interest, I blogged on his Paradise Lost images, and to my surprise, he left a comment of thanks. We have become cyber-friends over the years since then, and I've even become a nominal member of his Paradise Lost Committee -- cyber-netically based at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (WAH) -- in which my primary responsibility lies in posting the occasional blog entry alerting interested readers to Lindall's current work on Milton.

That's what I'm up to this morning, for Lindall has informed me -- and the others on his email list -- that he is making progress on the Elephant Folio, a book of illustrations inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost. He will be continuing to work on this for the rest of this year and much of the next, for it is painstaking work -- a hand-embellished, gold illuminated, 23-inch-by-18-inch printed book with 14 full-page illustrations. Ten copies, each copy with one original conceptual drawing at the front, will be produced, though a larger number of unembellished copies will also be available. Anyway, here's his report on the imagery (in all-caps) -- and you'll see that Lindall's interest in Milton extends beyond the aesthetic to the intellectual:
I have the INFERNAL SERPENT page where I want it and am moving to PANDEMONIUM AND ENAMOURED. I will tweak it later after more of the major plates are finished. The INFERNAL SERPENT page is very important since it is the answer to the question that begins the masterwork ". . .who first seduced them (Adam & Eve) to that foul revolt?" The most beloved of God (before the Son was created), Lucifer is standing on the conceptual egg of the possibility of what he will become as Historical Will (God's creative aspect) transpires through the exercise of potentiality and actuality.

I am dedicating this plate to Dance, just as I have dedicated the Title page to music. The two dancers here are standing on the pillars of "Envy & Revenge." We have had wonderful dedicated dancers at the WAH center, especially Yana Schnitzler who, though in demand around the world, has always been there when we called, as well as the renowned Yin Mei. And since this work is on the cover of Modern Library's "Essential Milton," I will put the names of the great scholars, Fallon, Rumrich & Kerrigan somewhere in this plate also.
As is evident, Mr. Lindall is a many of extensive knowledge and many talents, and apparently gifted with good social skills, for he manages to bring together artists, musicians, and scholars to participate in his visionary projects and apparently even succeeds in obtaining the funds to support such endeavors.

Those interested in gazing like Israelites upon the brassy, life-giving, "Infernal Serpent" must wait no more, for here is the image of a modern-day Nehushtan (Numbers 21 4-9; cf. 2 Kings 18:4; John 3:14-15):

I believe that clicking on it will increase the image for better viewing. Below is a detail, a close-up of one of the two dancers atop the pillar envy (or so I suppose):

For more on this project, click here.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Conversation Galante"?

Ineffable Moon
Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
(Image from New York Times)

Back in the early 1980s, when I was safely ensconced in history of science at UC Berkeley, I recall a conversation with Bruce Wheaton -- one of the instructors who worked with John Heilbron at the Office for the History of Science and Technology -- about why the moon looks larger on the horizon than at its zenith.

Now, Bruce was a smart guy, and he knew more about the history of technology than just about anyone I knew -- if, by "history of technology," one means an internalist history of the subject. In fact, I sat through his lectures on technology when I worked as one of his teaching assistants and learned a great deal about machines. He was quite gifted at making the technical details clear and excellent in demonstrating how one technical device led to another through improvement of some mechanical aspect or other, or through combining devices to form a new, more complex device -- almost as if the machines were evolving through alternately continuous and punctuated styles of evolution. I found myself unexpectedly fascinated, and I half-expected to finish the semester capable of building my own car!

But Bruce could at times be hermeneutically inaccessible.

To my question concerning why the moon looked larger at the horizon, he replied, "It doesn't. If you measure its diameter, you'll find that it's the same."

"I understand that," I assured him. "What I want to know is why the moon looks larger."

"It isn't larger," he countered.

"I know," I said, perhaps a bit more curt than necessary, "but why does it look larger?"

"It doesn't," he insisted.

After a couple more whirls on hermeneutic circles of this sort, I was ready to get off that conversational roller coaster. Bruce could keep his mathematically invariable moon, but I'd stick to my qualia-ridden impression and hope for an answer to my query someday.

The late 1960s band Creedence Clearwater Revival claimed that "Someday Never Comes", but someday came yesterday when I read Alison Gopnik's article "Consciousness: The Great Illusion?" (May 20, 2011), a New York Times review of a recent book by Nicholas Humphrey, Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness. In her review, Ms. Gopnik speaks of consciousness and notes that some aspects of consciousness can be explained:
For example, why does the moon look so much larger when it's at the horizon than when it's overhead, at the zenith? This is a question about conscious experience -- about how the world looks to us -- not about behavior and brains. And there is a clear and convincing evolutionary explanation.

The visual system wasn't designed to deal with objects that are thousands of miles away. It was designed to accurately judge the size of close, evolutionarily relevant objects like apples. As an apple moves closer or farther away, it will project a larger or smaller image on my retina. But I don't see the apple expand and contract. I see an apple with a concrete, stable size. This is because my brain evolved to combine information about the size of the retinal image with information about distance to create a single, constant visual experience.

The retinal image of the moon is always about the same size. But the horizon looks farther away than the zenith, perhaps because we see that other objects are in front of the horizon while the zenith is unoccluded. The brain determines that the horizon moon must therefore actually be larger than the zenith moon. And, voilà, the rising moon looks much bigger.
Drawing upon Humphrey's ideas, Gopnik adds:
So we actually have a good and interesting naturalistic explanation for this particular feature of our conscious experience and many others like it. But it seems that we can't explain the most important thing: Why does the moon look like anything at all? What explains that ineffable je ne sais quoi, that irreducible magic of experience? That big, beautiful moon doesn't just feel like the outcome of a cool calculation. And it isn't looming up at just anyone, but at me, the equally ineffable and irreducible self.
That's more qualia, the utterly ineffable kind. I can just about almost nearly grasp what she's referring to, though not effing quite . . . so as for this nearly effable moon, "It may [as well] be Prester John’s balloon," after all, if anything specifically particular at all.

Now, why is that, Bruce? And where is your own ineffable self these days?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Speaking of the Copts . . .

(Image from Wikipedia)

In their recent article for the New York Times, "Promise of Arab Uprisings Is Threatened by Divisions" (May 21, 2011), Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick have reported on Egypt's religious tensions in a somewhat oblique manner:
In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution -- when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of "Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian" -- has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.
One has to read rather carefully to recognize the unlikelihood that a Christian minority of merely 10 percent -- unlike those peaceful "people of all [other] faiths" -- could accurately be described as adopting violence that's "pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors." Let's rewrite the passage to reflect reality:
In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution -- when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of "Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian" -- has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Muslim majority against the Coptic Christian minority, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.
That would more accurately portray what is really happening in Egypt between the Copts and their Islamist opponents. But denial is a river in Egypt, and here is what instead gets reported:
At a rally this month in Tahrir Square to call for unity, Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent, thousands of them gathering nearby for a rally of their own. And even among some Muslims at the unity rally, suspicions were pronounced.

"As Muslims, our sheiks are always telling us to be good to Christians, but we don't think that is happening on the other side," said Ibrahim Sakr, 56, a chemistry professor, who asserted that Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, still consider themselves "the original" Egyptians because their presence predates Islam.
I am skeptical that many sheiks are "always" pressing the Muslim faithful "to be good to Christians," but be that as it may, the Copts are the original Egyptians, and their liturgical language derives from the ancient Egyptian language.

As for the unidentified "rally of their own," I suspect that the Copts were rallying to protest the recent attacks upon several of their churches, one of which was set ablaze. Little wonder that the "Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent" from the "rally this month in Tahrir Square."

And what of those "hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths" who had previously "celebrated"? Did they all show up for the unity rally? Of course not. There is no "all faiths" in Egypt. Aside from infinitesimally tiny slivers of other religions like the Bahá'í, who are scarcely worth counting, there are only the 90 percent Muslim majority and the 10 percent Christian minority -- and Egypt's Islamists would like to see that 10 percent whittled down to a mere sliver, too.

Will Copts go the way of Iraq's Christians and flee their native country in reaction to Islamist violence? I suppose that we'll find out.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Cleave upward and downward . . .

Codex Glazier
(Image from Wikipedia)

Being somewhat of a wordsmith myself, I enjoy an oddity or two in language, especially cases where what looks, ostensibly, to be one word, e.g., "cleave," can have two opposed meanings, namely, "to cling together" and "to cut apart." I believe that Paul Auster makes much of this point about "cleave" in his novella City of Glass.

At the time that I was reading -- and teaching -- Paul Auster's short novel at UC Berkeley back in the latter 1980s, I was also working on Sahidic Coptic for my anticipated, but ultimately unsuccessful career in religious studies, and I came across a common noun that could take either of two diametrically opposite meanings:
Ϩραι (pronounced "hrai") - "upper part" or "lower part"
By addition of a prefixed "ε," it became an adverb:
εϨραι (pronounced "ehrai") - "upward" or "downward"
I ought to have taken this as a sign that I had no idea which direction my career would go, upward or downward! As a former historian of science, I should have realized that the second law of thermodynamics favors "downward," of course, and that thermodynamics always wins.

At least I learned Coptic, though. I haven't had the opportunity to teach it, other than privately to the Manichaean expert Samuel Lieu while we were both at Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen, as well as to a few other individuals there in the early 1990s.

But I at least learned the language and thus have more than a passing interest in the condition of the longsuffering Copts, now fearful of impending Islamist oppression in their own native land of Egypt.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Margaret Marcus becomes Maryam Jameelah

Maryam Jameelah
The New York Public Library
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
(Image from New York Times)

I'm not sure what general understanding to draw from this odd biography, Deborah Baker's account of The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, which tells of how a young New York secular Jewish woman, Margaret Marcus, became "Maryam Jameelah, a . . . convert to Islam, who -- as a disciple of Pakistan's most world-renowned fundamentalist -- made a career out of condemning the West in dozens of books and pamphlets." That fundamentalist mentor was "Abul Ala Mawdudi of Pakistan, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami . . . . [and] a strong influence on both Osama bin Laden and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini," as noted by Lorraine Adams in her New York Times review, "A New York Jewish Girl Becomes an Islamist" (May 20, 2011).

I haven't read the book, but maybe I should, for I might learn something more about the apparent appeal of Islamism for unbalanced young Westerners, if Ms. Adams is correct:
Baker not only makes us care about this disturbed woman[, Maryam Jameelah née Margaret Marcus,] and her hectoring prose, she has succeeded in composing a mesmerizing book on one of the more curious East-West encounters. She proves once again how a marginal case can be an illuminating way into vast and much disputed subjects, in this instance the meeting of West and East and the role of women under orthodox Islam.
From the details of the review, this sounds less a meeting of West and East and more a subsumption of the former by the latter. Or at least a story of how Islamism can make instrumental use of disturbed Westerners like the unstable Margaret Marcus, whom it turned into the unbalanced Maryam Jameelah:
[H]er tendentious books . . . are fixtures in madrasas around the world . . . . Her frenetic writing . . . matched Jamaat-e-Islami's interest in promoting her diatribes against secularism and women's rights . . . . Her prose was not the key to the popularity of her books. "The true source of Maryam Jameelah's authority arose not from her readings and argument, but from the circumstances of her life," Baker writes. "Every book she wrote is framed by an account of how . . . the daughter of secular Jewish parents . . . came to reject America and embrace Islam" and "sacrificed the supposed freedoms and privileges of a Western lifestyle to live . . . by the sacred laws laid out in the Holy Koran."
No doubt, these 'popular' books, read by Islamists for pious inspiration, leave out the dismal details of Jameelah's condition, which Adams, however, spells out for us:
[A]t age 23, she voluntarily checked into psychiatric hospitals for about two years . . . . [and within a year of her emigration to Pakistan] Mawdudi committed her to a Lahore psychiatric hospital . . . . Baker sidesteps one of the book’s most crucial questions: "Was Maryam Jameelah a schizophrenic? I couldn’t say." Yet the letters led me to believe she was. Baker mentions that Jameelah was medicated with Compazine, but blurs the implications when she omits that it's prescribed for schizophrenia. She also leaves out instances when Jameelah unambiguously acknowledges why she takes the anti-schizophrenic medication Thorazine. In a letter of Sept. 15, 1981, for example, Jameelah wrote: "I have to take Thorazine every night. I know if I stop taking it, I will soon relapse into the same condition I was before I went to the hospital both in New York and Lahore."
Conversion to fundamentalist Islam didn't solve Jameelah's problems, apparently, but did offer her a career "presenting 'a savage and titillating portrait of America' while disclaiming 'all responsibility for the crimes' committed by young terrorists who were inspired by her."

Little wonder that products of Pakistan's fundamentalist madrasas have such fanatical hatred for America, given that their formative view stems from the pen of such an unbalanced woman as the secular New Yorker Margaret Marcus who became the fanatically Islamist Maryam Jameelah.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brian Small Comments on Hebrews 9:14-17

Brian Small

In a recent post, "Hebrews 9:14-17 on Covenant and Testament," I commented on the word diathēkē (διαθήκη), translated as "testament" in the old King James Version:
The word for "testament" in the original Greek is diathēkē (διαθήκη), which has a double meaning that might be significant, i.e., "testament" in the legal sense of a will and "covenant" in the legal sense of a contract, if I might be allowed to distinguish the two meanings in this way.

I note this because verse 16 states that "where a testament [is], there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." The author of Hebrews applies this to Christ, whose 'last will and testament' (διαθήκη) is effected by his death.

The old diathēkē (διαθήκη), however, is put into effect by God, who assuredly does not die. The term here therefore cannot mean 'last will and testament,' but "covenant" in the sense of "compact" or "contract."
I received a comment from Brian Small on this post:
Actually, this is a highly controverted passage. Many scholars interpret διαθηκη as "covenant" as you do, but many others take it to mean "testament" or "will" in this context. Personally, I think that the author is using a word-play on διαθηκη, as does Attridge. God does not die, but Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant/testament dies instead.
My first thought was that I had been misunderstood:
Actually, I'm also using it as a wordplay -- as "covenant" for the old arrangement and as "testament" for the new.

At least, I am putting forth this suggestion.
But after more reflection, I wonder if Mr. Small meant that the wordplay "covenant/testament" applies to both the old diathēkē (διαθήκη) and the new diathēkē (διαθήκη). I had applied the wordplay differently, "covenant" to the old and "testament" to the new. Perhaps Mr. Small means that Jesus was considered 'retroactively' to have died for the old covenant as well, but in doing so gathered in to the "testament" that is new all of those covered by the old covenant, such that it can be thought of as a "testament" as well.

I'm not quite sure that this logic works, but I'm also not sure that I've understood Mr. Small's point, so I'll perhaps need to inquire.

He has an interesting and useful website on Hebrews, by the way, titled "Polumeros kai Polutropos: A Resource Blog on the Book of Hebrews," which might be helpful to my investigations into this epistle.

Mr. Small also happens to be a doctoral student at my old alma matar, Baylor University, a good school that is getting even better.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Kenneth Schenck Replies on Hebrews 9:23

Professor Kenneth Schenck

As some might have noticed in a comment to my blog entry of two days ago, Professor Kenneth Schenck took an interest in my remarks on his interpretation of Hebrews 9:23, i.e., the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle. Here's his comment:
I started to give a more precise sense of what I think it means to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary, but it started to get too involved for a comment. I think I'll post it as an entry on my blog tomorrow and post the link here.

If I remember correctly, I say something like the cleansing of the conscience comes the closest to expressing it. I don't think it's a completely adequate expression of what it is for the author, though.
He followed through and posted an entry on his blog Quadrilateral Thoughts, from which I lift his main points:
So the age old question is this--why would the heavenly sanctuary need cleansed? It's in heaven. Lincoln Hurst has given us a clarification that alleviates the problem a little, but not completely -- this is about inauguration of a sanctuary. But the reason inaugural sanctuaries need cleansed is still to make them pure and holy. Harold Attridge and others have suggested perhaps what Hebrews is pretty much talking about is the cleansing of the conscience.

Here is my personal sense of what's going on here in Hebrews. With language that is serving rhetorical purposes, you have to get a full picture of what is going on to really understand the significance of the language. So for Hebrews, the basic rhetorical point is that Christ's death has removed any necessity for the Levitical system and its sanctuary. We can debate whether the sanctuary is already gone and the author is, in a way, consoling the audience (my position) or whether he is dissuading the audience from using a standing structure.

The author's rhetorical strategy to make this point is to construct a complex metaphor in which every key element of the Levitical system is surpassed by Christ's death. So if the Levitical system had priests, Christ is a priest to end all priests, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7). If the Levitical system had sacrifices, Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (e.g., 10:14), an "eternal spirit" sacrifice even (9:14).

With regard to the sanctuary, the author drew on existing metaphors that considered heaven the truest sanctuary of God, with the earthly sanctuary modeled after the universe (Philo, Josephus). I personally find no compelling evidence in the argument of Hebrews 8-10 to think that the author sees an actual structure in heaven with two rooms. Rather, I argue that the author sees the highest heaven as a kind of Most Holy Place where God dwells.

So the idea of "inaugurating the heavenly sanctuary" with a better sacrifice does not correspond neatly to one thing because it is part of an overall, complex metaphor. What is being cleansed here? An abstraction. "Inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary" means the commencement of that age of reliance on Christ's death as means of atonement or, in Hebrews' terms, the age of real atonement versus proleptic rain checks looking forward to atonement.
Professor Schenck's central point is that the author of Hebrews is speaking metaphorically about the inauguration of the new covenant. He is right about this point, as a glance at Exodus 24 shows, for the sprinkling of blood on the people there in verses 7-8, which inaugurates the old covenant, is alluded to in Hebrews 9:19-20. The sprinkling of the earthly tabernacle is not given in Exodus 24, though, for that structure has not yet been built. A consecration of that tabernacle occurs in Exodus 40:9, but through an anointing of oil. However, Hebrews 9:21 insists on a sprinkling and associates it with the covenant's inauguration (possibly drawing on Jewish traditions that linked the two events?), so I grant Schenck's point.

Professor Schenck focuses on the inauguration of the old covenant as a metaphor for the inauguration of the new covenant, hence his remark that "What is being cleansed here . . . . [is an] abstraction." In other words, nothing in heaven is unclean and in need of cleansing. I suppose that one could carry the argument one step further and cleverly note that the absence of a tabernacle at the old covenant's inauguration implies an absence of any heavenly tabernacle to be cleansed at the new covenant's inauguration.

But I think that the writer of Hebrews did think that an inauguratory sprinkling of the earthly tabernacle took place since he says so in 9:21 and that an inauguratory sprinkling of the heavenly tabernacle took place since he says so in 9:23 and goes on to speak of this heavenly tabernacle in the verses that follow. This heavenly tabernacle is the one upon which the earthly tabernacle is modeled, according to Exodus 25, verses 9 and 40, a point referred to in Hebrews 8:5 and also alluded to in Hebrews 9:23.

I'll also grant that one can take this language all as metaphor. One can always do that with language. But the author of Hebrews doesn't appear to me to be making that sort of rhetorical move.

But I'm out of time for today, so more on this another time . . .

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aunt Kathryn Speaks . . .

Plentiful Sugar
(Image from Wikipedia)

My paternal Aunt Kathryn, who took care of me for about six months when I was five years old and who recently requested artworks by my eleven-year-old son, En-Uk, writes to offer birthday congratulations:
Hi Jeff, Am glad that you had a good birthday.
And offer a few anecdotes:
Here are a couple of stories to make you smile.
The first of these two concerns my paternal grandmother, Grandma Nora, whose husband -- my Grandfather Horace Hodges -- had recently died in a tree-felling accident, leaving her with a fatherless horde of kids to raise on her farm:
Back during the 2nd W.W. everything thing was rationed. So, my mother got more ration books or coupouns than people W/no kids.

So one day up pulled the neighbors in their big ole horse drawn wagon. A couple that lived just past Flora church house were 'parked' right in front of the old log house and mother asked them to get down and come in.

Maude sez, "No, Nora we ain't got time, we just come over here to get some sugar, our strawberries are ripe and I want to make some jam."

By this time mother had her hands fisted on her hips and I knew she was mad. She said "Maude, I ain't got any sugar to share."

Then Maude sez, as she pointed to Virginia [little bitty baby girl], "Don't tell me that child can use that much sugar."

Mother said, "NO, BUT BY GOSH she can SPILL that much!!"
That sounds a lot like Grandma Nora, unabashed about speaking her mind. But I'd bet my bottom dollar that she wasn't thinking so much of potentially spilled sugar as the fact that she needed the stuff for brewing some of that Big Creek Farm 'wine' that Uncle Cran told us about. The second anecdote concerns me and my youthful misconceptions at about age nine, when I stayed the summer at Grandma Nora's farm. Down the big hill from her place was the home of Wiley and Leona, along with her brother Hiram (whose name was pronounced "Harm"), but I didn't know the details of their arrangment. I just knew them as one big, happy family:
As you recall, you stayed there on the farm a good bit and knew Wiley, Leona and Hiram Haynes. Wiley passed away while you were there so when you got back to Salem your Granma Perryman said to you, "I guess Leona is lonesome since her husband died." You said, "No, just one husband died."
I recall that vividly. In fact, my first words on the subject were at Grandma Nora's farm itself. My Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Pauline had driven over to the church for the funeral, and when we were gathered back at the farm afterwards, the two of them, along with Grandma Nora and Grandpa Archie (my step-grandfather), were standing around in the yard talking about how sad this death was.

I listened for a while in perplexity, then interrupted them all and said, "Well, I don't know why everyone's so sad. She had two husbands, and only one of them died!"

I was baffled when they all broke into laughter.

I eventually learned the truth, even before seventeen, but I am now curious about a suppressed anecdote:
Virginia keeps telling me to tell the story of the "living bra" to you but I tell her no, she can tell you, so if you are curious ask Virginia about that one . . .
I am curious. Virginia! What's this about a living bra? While we're eagerly awaiting that, let note Aunt Kathryn's parting words:
Still enjoying En-Uk's art blog and they make me smile and laugh out loud. Thanks, young man. Bye.
That "Bye" was a nice touch since En-Uk usually signs off that way.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kenneth L. Schenck on Hebrews 9:23

Image from Wesley Seminary

Several days ago, I questioned Harold Attridge's view that the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle signified the cleansing of the believer's conscience, but I now see that Attridge is not the only scholar to propose this interpretation, for Kenneth L. Schenck, of Wesley Seminary, has published an article, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Ronald Williamson's Study after Thirty Years," in The Studio Philonica Annual (volume 14, 2002, pages 112-135 [1-29, this copy]). Like Attridge, Schenck uses Philo to unlock Hebrews:
Hebrews' distinction between body and spirit is also reminiscent of traditions found in the Philonic corpus. On the one hand, we should not confuse Plato's body-soul dichotomy with the Cartesian dualism of material/immaterial.[42] We would more accurately distinguish between corporeal/incorporeal, assuming that all heavenly realities are made of 'stuff' of one density or another.[43] Philo thus passes on a Stoic interpretation of Gen 2:7 in which the spirit God breathes into Adam is a fragment of the divine (e.g. Leg. 1.39-40).[44] Similarly, in Gig. 60 Philo speaks of the human mind as the heavenly component in us.[45]

In Hebrews, God prepares a body for Jesus on earth (Heb 10:5, 10), but Christ offers himself to God through 'eternal spirit' in heaven (9:14).[46] The blood of bulls and goats might clean flesh, but Christ's heavenly offering cleanses conscience (9:13-14). Angels in Hebrews are ministering spirits (1:7, 14), and Hebrews speaks of the human spirit as the part of us that pertains to the heavenly Jerusalem (12:23). God is the father of our spirits (12:9),[47] but Christ's time on earth was the 'days of his flesh' (5:7) when he partook of 'blood and flesh' (Heb 2:14). We might even read the author's sole reference to Christ's resurrection more as a passage upward from the realm of the dead rather than a corporeal reconstitution of some sort (13:20).[48]

Along with Hebrews' clearly drawn distinction between body and spirit is a latent emphasis on the rational. The author encourages the audience to exercise their senses (Heb 5:14; αἰσθητήριον [aisthētērion]), a Stoic technical term found a number of times in Philo.[49] Throughout Hebrews 9 and 10 he contrasts flesh with conscience (9:9, 14; 10:2, 22), where conscience is understood as a faculty of memory.[50] Indeed, we can best explain the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing in Heb 9:23 by supposing that at this point of the argument the author is basically thinking of Christ's offering in the tabernacle as a metaphor for the cleansing of the conscience -- that rational/spiritual element of a human being that potentially pertains to the heavenly realm.[51] Perhaps it is no mistake that Hebrews seems to distinguish between 'sins committed in ignorance' (e.g. 9:7) and sins committed 'willfully' (10:26).

Hebrews thus draws clear lines between the human spirit/conscience and the body/flesh in the same way it draws distinctions between the created and the heavenly realms. The associations are more obvious and consistent than any apocalyptic writing. Rather, they bear a closer resemblance to the cosmology and psychology of the book of Wisdom (e.g. Wis 9:15) and Philo (e.g. Gig. 12, 31). On the other hand, there is nothing specifically Philonic about Hebrews' use of this distinction. The similarities point more to a common milieu than to specific dependence. (Schenck, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews," pages 12-14)

[42] Cf. D. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven 1995) 3-15.

[43] Cf. J. Dillon, 'Asômatos: Nuances of Incorporeality in Philo', in C. Lévy (ed.), Philon d'Alexandrie et le langage de la philosophie, Monothéismes et Philosophie (Turnhout 1998) 99-110.

[44] Cf. Tobin, Creation 21.

[45] Philo's understanding of the soul is generally tripartite, sometimes involving the mind (νοῦς, the rational part of the soul; cf. Leg. 1.39), sense perception (αἴσθησις), and the passions (τὰ πάθη, these two form the irrational parts to the soul; cf. Leg. 2.6). Cf. also Her. 55, where Philo calls the human spirit the 'soul of the soul'. Philo can also speak of the soul in terms of 1) reason, 2) high spirit and 3) appetite (Leg. 1.70; 3.115), and in another instance he speaks of a seven-part soul (Opif. 117).

[46] Most translations interpret 'holy spirit' in Heb 9:14 as a reference to the Holy Spirit. An allusion to the Holy Spirit is not impossible, but πνεῦμα is anarthrous, highlighting the character of the offering -- spiritual -- rather than the Holy Spirit as the specific spirit in question. Even more than the blood of Christ, it is the spiritual and thus heavenly nature of the offering that really contrasts with the earthly, fleshly blood of bulls and goats.

[47] While this comment is an allusion to Num 16:22, Hebrews' use of the phrase places it within its overall body/spirit dualism.

[48] Heb 13:20 uses ἀνάγω, which can mean 'brought up' as well as 'brought again'. However, Heb 6:2 uses traditional Christian corporeal language: 'resurrection of dead [=corpses]'.

[49] Philo himself uses the word eight times: Leg. 1.104; 3.183, 235; Det. 15; Post. 112; Ebr. 155, 201; Conf. 20. In my opinion, Williamson's attempt to distinguish between an emphasis on the organs of sense in Philo and a more metaphorical reference to the senses in Hebrews is not only questionable but also makes a distinction without a difference (Philo 114-16). Heb 5:14 reminds us of 4 Macc 2:22, where the mind is enthroned above the senses. Interestingly, Williamson claimed that Hebrews has a significant overlap in vocabulary (22 words that are hapax legomena in Hebrews) with 1-4 Maccabees (Philo 14-15).

[50] Note the parallelism between συνείδησις and ἀνάμνησις in Heb 10:2-3. An 'evil conscience' in 10:22, therefore, probably refers to an awareness of unatoned sins.

[51] Cf. W. R. G. Loader, Sohn und Hohepriester: Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur Christologie des Hebräerbreifes, WMANT 53 (Neukirchen 1981) 169-70. (Schenck, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews," pages 12-14)
The central statement is this: "Indeed, we can best explain the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing in Heb 9:23 by supposing that at this point of the argument the author is basically thinking of Christ's offering in the tabernacle as a metaphor for the cleansing of the conscience -- that rational/spiritual element of a human being that potentially pertains to the heavenly realm." By "the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing," Schenck means its need to be cleansed, just in case there should be any misunderstanding. But I have the same objection as with Attridge. Look again at Hebrews 9:18-23:
[18] Wherefore, not even the first covenant was inaugurated apart from blood. [19] For when every command had, according to the Law, been read to the whole people by Moses, he took the blood of the calves, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and the whole people, [20] saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God made with you." [21] And, similarly, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the implements of the service with the blood. [22] Indeed, almost everything is cleansed with blood according to the Law, and apart from the effusion of blood there is no remission. [23] It is necessary therefore, that the copies of what is in the heavens be cleansed with these things, but that the heavenly things themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these. (Harold W. Attridge, Commentary on Hebrews, pages 253a and 260a)

[18] ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς αἵματος ἐγκεκαίνισται [19] λαληθείσης γὰρ πάσης ἐντολῆς κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὑπὸ Μωϋσέως παντὶ τῷ λαῷ λαβὼν τὸ αἷμα τῶν μόσχων καὶ τῶν τράγων μετὰ ὕδατος καὶ ἐρίου κοκκίνου καὶ ὑσσώπου αὐτό τε τὸ βιβλίον καὶ πάντα τὸν λαὸν ἐράντισεν [20] λέγων τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός [21] καὶ τὴν σκηνὴν δὲ καὶ πάντα τὰ σκεύη τῆς λειτουργίας τῷ αἵματι ὁμοίως ἐράντισεν [22] καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις [23] ἀνάγκη οὖν τὰ μὲν ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τούτοις καθαρίζεσθαι αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ ἐπουράνια κρείττοσιν θυσίαις παρὰ ταύτας (Morphological Greek New Testament [mGNT])
There are two cleansings in the old covenant, according to Hebrews -- of the people and of the earthly tabernacle. In the new covenant, there would likewise be two cleansings -- of believers and of the heavenly tabernacle. Verse 23 refers to the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle, whereas other verses refer to the cleansing of the believers, and I think that the author of Hebrews treats the purification of flesh and spirit in the new covenant as effected together -- foreshadowed by the old covenant cleansing of the people in verses 19-20.

But I'll need to think more about this.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Brooke Foss Westcott on Hebrews 9:23

Brooke Foss Westcott
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's comments, one reader noted this Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) link, which cited the 19th-century biblical scholar B. F. Westcott on Hebrews 9:23 for what he states in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1889):
In what sense then can it be said that 'the heavenly things' needed cleansing?

The necessity for the purification of the earthly sanctuary and its vessels came from the fact that they were to be used by man and shared in his impurity (comp. Lev. xvi. 16).

Agreeably with this view it may be said that even 'heavenly things,' so far as they embody the conditions of man's future life, contracted by the Fall something which required cleansing (comp. 1 Tim. iv. 4f . . .). Man is, according to the revelation in Scripture, so bound up with the whole finite order, that the consequences of his actions extend through creation in some way which we are unable to define (comp. Gen. iii. 17ff; Is. xxiv. 5, 6; Jer. xxiii. 10; Rom viii. 18ff). (Westcott, Hebrews, pages 272-273)
In short, Westcott doesn't know why the heavenly things needed cleansing, but he speculates -- as some of us have done -- that this is somehow connected to the Fall.

More on this some other time . . .

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Hebrews 9:23 - "heavenly things themselves be cleansed"?

Model in Timna Park, Israel
(Image from Wikipedia)

Our Hebrews study group encountered a puzzle yesterday, which I'll get to in a moment, but some context is needed, so I'll quote several verses from chapter 9:
[18] Wherefore, not even the first covenant was inaugurated apart from blood. [19] For when every command had, according to the Law, been read to the whole people by Moses, he took the blood of the calves, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and the whole people, [20] saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God made with you." [21] And, similarly, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the implements of the service with the blood. [22] Indeed, almost everything is cleansed with blood according to the Law, and apart from the effusion of blood there is no remission. [23] It is necessary therefore, that the copies of what is in the heavens be cleansed with these things, but that the heavenly things themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these. (Harold W. Attridge, Commentary on Hebrews, pages 253a and 260a)

[18] ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς αἵματος ἐγκεκαίνισται [19] λαληθείσης γὰρ πάσης ἐντολῆς κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὑπὸ Μωϋσέως παντὶ τῷ λαῷ λαβὼν τὸ αἷμα τῶν μόσχων καὶ τῶν τράγων μετὰ ὕδατος καὶ ἐρίου κοκκίνου καὶ ὑσσώπου αὐτό τε τὸ βιβλίον καὶ πάντα τὸν λαὸν ἐράντισεν [20] λέγων τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός [21] καὶ τὴν σκηνὴν δὲ καὶ πάντα τὰ σκεύη τῆς λειτουργίας τῷ αἵματι ὁμοίως ἐράντισεν [22] καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις [23] ἀνάγκη οὖν τὰ μὲν ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τούτοις καθαρίζεσθαι αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ ἐπουράνια κρείττοσιν θυσίαις παρὰ ταύτας (Morphological Greek New Testament [mGNT])
What puzzled me -- and also the others when I pointed it out -- was verse 23. This verse observes "that the copies of what is in the heavens . . . [are] cleansed with these things," meaning that "the tabernacle and all the implements of the service . . . [are] cleansed with blood" (verses 21-22), and that's consistent enough with the view that earthly things must be purged of impurity to be prepared for a pure, even sanctified sacrifice. But what is to be understood by the final clause of verse 23? It states "that the heavenly things [τὰ ἐπουράνια] themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these," meaning that the heavenly tabernacle and all the heavenly implements of the service require purification. Why?

We didn't know and so left the point as homework for next Sunday.

I've since had time to see what Harold Attridge has to say about the verse. He offers an intriguing -- if ultimately unsatisfying -- analysis that refers back to verses 11 through 14, especially verse 14, which states that Christ offered himself through eternal spirit to cleanse our consciences. Attridge argues:
As the reflection on spirit and conscience in 9:14 suggests, the heavenly or ideal realities cleansed by Christ's sacrifice are none other than the consciences of the members of the new covenant, the "inheritors of eternal salvation" . . . . In Hebrews as in Platonically inspired Jews such as Philo, language of cosmic transcendence is ultimately a way of speaking about human interiority. (Attridge, Commentary, page 262b)
Attridge may be quite right about cosmic transcendence and human interiority in Philo, but verse 14 follows verse 13 in Hebrews, which Attridge translates together as saying:
[13] Now if the blood of goats and bulls and the ash of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, [14] how much more does the blood of Christ, who through eternal spirit offered himself blameless to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works so that we might serve the living God! (Attridge, Commentary, page 244a)
The cleansing of conscience in this passage parallels the purification of the people, not the purification of the tabernacle, so Attridge's point about Philo doesn't seem to work here.

This will require further thought . . .

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another year passes . . .

My birthday came around again yesterday, leaving another year discarded onto the heaped-up rubble of my life, and I gaze back upon the growing pile like Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, dismayed by the storm blowing from Paradise . . .

But I can smile anyway, for my wife found my favorite sort of ice-cream cake to remind me that birthdays aren't just about looking back upon the past but about enjoying the present, and my son and daughter wrote notes to turn my gaze forward to the future as I contemplate my two best contributions to the world. From eleven-year-old En-Uk:
Happy birthday. I'm En-Uk. Today is May 14th! Have a good day. Wow! Happy face.
And he drew a cake with four candles and a smiling face to cheer me up, I suppose. My fourteen-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah, wrote a somewhat longer note:
Good morning, and happy birthday daddy! This is your lovely daughter (who needs more basketball practice). I just want to tell you how much I love you (and mama, of course), and wish you a happy birthday. Feel free to do whatever you want today! You can get brain-freezed from eating ice-cream cake, go ride your bicycle alone, write a 500 page poem about how much you love Milton, and even feel depressed by the fact that you are now 54 YEARS OLD. Go have a Guiness or somethin'. Anyway, that's not the point! The reason I'm writing this letter at 1:00 a.m. in the morning is NOT to make fun of your hobbies. Daddy, you are a wonderful father and I am happy and blessed that you are my "daddy." Thank you for taking care of me, teaching me English since I was a tiny infant, and thank you soooo much fer watchin' me weight . . . yeah . . . thanks . . . (Just kidding). Keep up the good work! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Love, Sa-Rah.
That's the nicest letter that she's ever written me. She seems to be growing up . . . but judge for yourself from the photos below, taken by my wife, Sun-Ae, on our day trip to Chuncheon. First, a photo to prove that we did indeed head for Chuncheon:

I hope that I'm looking bemused by another year, not that those are just more age lines on my face. Be that as it may, we next see the younger, and better-looking generation in the form of my lovely daughter, Sa-Rah, posing with statues commemorating soldiers in the Korean War:

I'm not sure that she's taking history so seriously, but she at least appears to be contemplating things. En-Uk, in the next photo, looks to be celebrating a victory by South Korean soldiers as I look on:

I suppose that he's being serious enough. Finally, we see Sun-Ae, my beautiful wife . . . or a small reflection of her, anyway, along with equally tiny images of the rest of us as we enjoy treats in the cafe of an art museum called "R. Mutt 1917" -- in honor of Duchamp's famous 'fountain':

As you see, the shadows were lengthening, reminding us that time is short and moving us to head back toward Seoul . . .

Incidentally, today is Teacher's Day here in Korea, and a couple of forward-thinking students gave me some small gifts last week. Both are taking my history class, and one of them attached this note to her gift:
Dear Prof. Hodges: HAPPY TEACHER'S DAY! Thank you for your experimental classes that involve students in various discussions. It's a rare opportunity to talk to our peers about race, religion, and integration, but your classes made it possible. Also, this class deepened my interest in immigrants in Korea and in Korean identity. I hope Korea makes a smooth transition from a conservative society to a liberal, multi-ethnic one. Again, thank you for your effort you put in class. Sincerely, Tae-Yeon Kim
A very nice, thoughtful note from a good student. I hope that all of the students feel the same way, but that's probably too much to expect.

Enough for now from me . . .

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker: Richard Irby Reports on this New 'Young' Writer . . .

LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker
Photo by Richard Irby
(Image from Area Wide News)

LeRoy Tucker, whom we know here mainly as "Tuck," has gotten a write-up by Richard Irby in the central Ozarks publication Area Wide News: "LeRoy 'Tuck' Tucker: Lifelong storyteller puts some tales on paper" (May 11, 2011). I like the way that Irby introduces our man:
"I was born, I'm a Fulton County, Sharp County person. I graduated from Ash Flat High School. Sort of. I was an awful student . . ."

One question from me ('where were you born?') and LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker is off and running.

Interviewing a man with a low, mesmerizing southern voice that rumbles up from deep within and erupts with a torrent of words, pouring out and mixing up and eventually making a point, is easy work, if you're a good listener.

"As a kid, I lived in Fulton (County), at Kittle, a half-mile off 62 on Highway 289 . . ."

Tucker was always observant, although he admits to remembering the "colorful characters" of his childhood and "the little mundane, absurdities of life," as much as the big events that have passed before his eyes.

In his 1930's Ozarks' corner of the world, "People were poor. Absent of any hope of substantial gain, they were content. Content and happy."

A man with that kind of gift of language and expression should be a writer.

And, at 80 years old, that is what Tuck Tucker has become.
Irby tells how Tuck got started writing, and I hadn't heard the details before, so I learned something about that from this article, and I also discovered where his literary town of "Climax" comes from:
The story of how Tucker first began putting his tales on paper begins with a family crisis.

"Around 1990, my daughter in Michigan, with four kids, was in a difficult position," Tucker remembers. "Those kids needed support and I was back here in Arkansas, so I started writing them letters. They evolved into fiction stories that were serialized. I would tell a little and stop until the next letter, to keep them interested."

The kids loved the stories and LeRoy enjoyed writing them.

"Before the Kittle community, where I grew up, came to be, there used to be a store and post office, combined. It was called Climax, Arkansas. It was closed as a business in 1918. I heard about Climax but never saw it in my lifetime."

"Something caused me to take over Climax in my mind," Tucker continues. "Climax was reborn when I moved to Jonesboro. I re-did two stories I'd written and put them in Climax."

If Climax was back in business, it needed townspeople, so Sheriff Bulldog Martin began patrolling and Doc Cliff began doctoring and Johnny Frog began gambling.
I get a mention or two, though I've again morphed into a "Jeffrey" -- my fate is to be misunderstood and misrepresented in life, I guess:
Tucker admits he is no expert in putting a book together and was struggling with the project when, magically, his online blog "Folk Liar of the Ozarks" produced some expert help in the form of a college professor in Seoul, South Korea.

The professor is Horace Jeffrey Hodges, a Salem native, who came across Tucker's writings as he scouted the web for postings about the Ozarks.

"Tuck is a funny, creative and enthralling storyteller," Hodges writes on his Web site, The Gypsy Scholar.

In an exchange of e-mails, Hodges found out about Tucker's book project and offered to help edit it.

Hodges is most impressed by Tucker's ability to "capture the Ozark dialect that was already fading in my childhood" and his "gift for storytelling."

Hodges made no effort to "clean up" or lessen the thick backroads, "hillbillyness" of Tucker's dialog or descriptions.

He saw his job as organizing and punctuating, so that the stories flowed smoothly.
I wish that I'd done a better job -- I seem to have overlooked some "organizing and punctuating" . . . but Tuck is happy enough with the result:
Tucker sees it as good fortune that "a homesick Ozarks boy on the other side of the world" found his blog and offered his help.

"That guy has helped me a lot," says Tucker. "I begged him, 'you don't have time to edit my work,' but he insisted. I need to find some way to reward him."

Hodges says his reward would be for people to discover the 80-year-old new author.

"Tuck deserves a strong following, a readership that appreciates good storytelling. So read his book, and spread the word."
I stand by those words. Read Tuck's book. Irby tells you how to get a copy:
Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks can be ordered online through Amazon Books. Author listing: L. "Tuck" Tucker.

Signed copies are available by contacting Tucker at: bgtck@sbcglobal.net
You therefore are now without excuse and shall be found missing from the pages of the Lamb's great heavenly Book of Life come Judgment Day if you don't work your way through the pages of Tuck's great earthly book of life today . . .

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Friday, May 13, 2011

En-Uk's Ozark Art?

My paternal Aunt Kathryn recently requested Ozark art from my eleven-year-old son, so he's been blogging away on his art blog, fulfilling her request. He began with one titled "The Ozarks," but it looks more like "The Ozark Highway":

Here's what he wrote, in his usual, informative manner:
This drawing is called "The Ozarks." I made this drawing because I like the Ozarks, and, also, this drawing is for my father's Aunt Kathryn. Bye.
He followed this with an image of "Uncle Cranford," one my father's brothers:

And he wrote, again by way of information:
This drawing is called "Uncle Cranford." I made this drawing because Aunt Kathryn requested pictures of people in the Ozarks. Bye.
This was then followed by "Uncle Woodrow," another of my father's brothers:

About Uncle Woodrow, En-Uk wrote a bit more of a personal note:
This drawing is called "Uncle Woodrow." I made this drawing because it was fun fishing with uncle Woodrow. Bye.
He followed this with an image of "South Fork":

Of which, returning to his elliptical informative style, En-Uk wrote:
This drawing is called "South Fork." I made this drawing because I like the South Fork River in the Ozarks. Bye.
Followed by an abstract drawing titled "South Fork Restaurant":

Of this odd object, he wrote, again adding a rare personal touch:
This drawing is called "South Fork Restaurant." It is in the Ozarks. I made this drawing because they have good food. Bye.
Then came a singular critter called "Ozark Turtles":

About this unexpectedly plural entity, he wrote:
This drawing is called "Ozark Turtles." I made this drawing because I like the turtles in the Ozarks. Bye.
Then came another strange entity, my brother John, known to En-Uk as "Uncle John":

About John, my son wrote an entire tome:
This drawing is called "Uncle John." I made this drawing because Uncle John is funny. He believes in God. He is a pastor in a Baptist church. He is silly. He plays with me and Sa-Rah. He likes eating. It is fun to play with him because he plays like a kid. I think it would be good if he would be more like an adult. He likes cake. He dosn't like garlic. He dosn't like vegetables. He is like me! He thinks well. It would be good if he could play soccer. He goes to the creek with me. He does a lot of stuff with me. He is tall. He likes to eat fatty foods. He likes frosted cake. It is good to have a humorous uncle like Uncle John. Bye.
What can one add to all that? Well, perhaps one more image, for Uncle John had to come from somewhere, so En-Uk depicted my mother, but titled her "Granma," of course:

About her, En-Uk wrote no tome, but he was at least personal:
This drawing is called "Granma." I made this drawing because I like to meet granma in the Ozarks. Bye.
The Ozark art will likely continue daily for several days, so check in at En-Uk's Art Blog, beginning with the post of May 13th, 2011.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

God is Sovereign?

(Image from Wikipedia)

In the discussion of Hebrews last Sunday, our group got off on a tangent about sacrifice, and someone asked if the Bible offered a reason for God's acceptance of Abel's animal sacrifice and rejection of Cain's fruits-of-the-field offering, a story presented early in Genesis.

We speculated, some suggesting that blood sacrifice was the paradigmatic one and that the text presupposes that the reader would know this, others proposing that the motives of the two brothers were opposite one another, Abel offering his sacrifice with a proper heart and Cain presenting his offering with an impure heart.

We seemed to have reached an agreement that the text offers too little information to strongly claim one or the other reading as correct, except that one young man offered a third suggestion at that point (and I hope that I've got this right):
"In the final analysis, God is sovereign and can do as He pleases."
That sort of statement is usually a conversation-stopper, so I leaned forward and objected:
"But there is a strong Christian tradition that God is rational and would not decide arbitrarily."
The young man hesitated, then said:
"But God is far beyond our rational abilities."
I agreed, conditionally:
"Certainly, but He would not contradict himself."
We got no further on that issue, but I have given some thought to how one ought to respond. The Christian tradition generally insists that God is rational, that He is good, and that He is not arbitrarily willful (unlike some Islamic conceptions of Allah). If one agrees to this, the issue becomes one of whether or not we could judge some actions to be impossible for God because contrary to His good, rational nature. He could not declare evil to be good -- for instance, declare that rape or murder is good. More generally, He could not arbitrarily declare one individual's action better than another individual's action.

The appeal to God's sovereignty, however, seems to imply that he could do precisely this, namely, that God can arbitrarily choose, for instance, to accept one sacrifice and reject another for no good reason!

But perhaps I've not understood the appeal to God's sovereignty . . .

UPDATE: Blogger did some maintenance all day Friday the 13th (2011) and 'trashed' the fine comments that had been posted here. Apologies . . .

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hebrew 9:15 -- Specifically about Israelites and their Descendants?

Moses with Tablets of Ten Commandments
Rembrandt (1659)
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm looking again at Harold W. Attridge's Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, checking up on one of the verses that I cited a couple of days ago, specifically verse 9 of chapter 15:
And therefore he [i.e., Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that once a death took place for the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, those who have been called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Attridge's Commentary, page 253a)

καὶ διὰ τοῦτο διαθήκης καινῆς μεσίτης ἐστίν ὅπως θανάτου γενομένου εἰς ἀπολύτρωσιν τῶν ἐπὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διαθήκῃ παραβάσεων τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν λάβωσιν οἱ κεκλημένοι τῆς αἰωνίου κληρονομίας (GNT Morph, Blue Letter Bible)
In Sunday's study group, I happened to notice that the verse seems to be focused solely on transgressions committed under the first covenent, and I called attention to this point, asking if the verse applied specifically to the Israelites and their descendants, i.e., only those who were bound by the Mosaic Law.

My question didn't really get an answer, which is why I've returned to it today. My hunch is that the author of Hebrews is focused almost entirely upon the meaning of Christ's sacrifice for those under the Law, just as his larger focus is upon the status of Christ in terms of old covenant paradigm. In all cases of comparison, the author of Hebrews finds that Christ surpasses the old revelation.

What interests me is that the writer seems to have no interest in the significance of Christ for Gentiles in his text -- though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong and have overlooked something (and I'm not arguing that the author considered Gentiles to be excluded). In verse 15, at any rate, the author seems to ignore Gentiles. If so, then "those who have been called" (οἱ κεκλημένοι, perfect passive participle of καλέω [kaleō]) might refer to those called into the old covenant, namely, the Israelites and their descendants.

In this hermeneutic, the calling would not fit a Calvinist understanding of the elect individually predestined for grace, but a different calling, that of an entire people -- the Israelites and their descendants -- to the old covenant, within which they are judged by their faithfulness to the Law. Now, however, they might receive through Christ the eternal inheritance if they accept the author's christology of Jesus as the Messiah, the Supreme Sacrifice, the Heavenly High Priest, and the Son of God. His warnings in the opening passages (cf. 2:1ff) imply that his audience has a choice to accept or reject the high christology that he sets out, and his exhortation in the closing passages (12:1-29) that believers hold fast, especially in 12:15f, which implies that one can fall, presupposes that one has a choice. But this is tangential to my main point.

I'm not explicitly supported in my reading of Hebrews generally by Attridge on the point about Israelites (or their descendants) and Gentiles, but neither am I clearly contradicted (Commentary, pages 254b-255b). Concerning the sins committed under the old covnant, Attridge does note that:
The sins involved took place "under the first covenant" (ἐπὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διαθήκῃ). There is no indication that the transgressions were in any sense caused by that first covenant. The old covenant is simply the regime under which were committed sins that could not be expiated. That Christ's sacrifice had such a retrospective effect is also implied by the atonement language that Paul inherited. The later reference to the "perfection" of the heroes of the old covenant that occurs with that of Christians (11:40) indicates one implication of this retrospective effect of Christ's sacrifice. (Attridge, Commentary, page 255a).
Attridge would appear to concur with me that the verse focuses only upon those bound by the old covenant. The citation of 11:40 -- "God provided something better for us, so that they might not be perfected without us" (Attridge, Commentary, page 346a) -- shows this retrospective concern for Israelites (and descendants), though without excluding Christians generally, of course, as indicated by the "us" of 11:40. However, I suspect that the author of Hebrews is using "us" to refer specifically to his audience of Jewish-Christians. Recall the "us" of 1:2 in the context of "the fathers" of 1:1, which could imply "our fathers" -- but Attridge rejects this reading of 1:1-2 (Commentary, page 38b), and I won't press it for now.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Geert Wilders on Islam: Ideology or Religion?

Geert Wilders
(Image from Wikipedia)

Jonathan Kay, editor of the National Post, a Canadian-based newspaper, offers a defense of the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders in an article titled "Geert Wilders' problem with Islam" (May 8, 2011).

Wilders is "controversial" for such things as his remarks on Muhammad, describing "the Muslim Prophet as a dictator, a pedophile and a warmonger," so I think that we can infer that he doesn't like Muhammad, but he insists that such dislike doesn't extend to Muslims generally: "I don't hate Muslims. I hate their book and their ideology."

Mr. Kay offers a somewhat murky gloss on this point:
[I]n the modern, politically correct Western tradition, hatred expressed toward a religion typically is held on the same level of human-rights opprobrium as hatred expressed toward a race or an ethnicity. But Islam is not really a religion at all, as Mr. Wilders sees it, but rather a retrograde political ideology with religious trappings.
And he adds of Wilders that:
[H]is insistence on the proper distinction between faith and ideology is an idea that deserves to be taken seriously.
I know too little of Wilders to know if he's making such a distinction, but I wouldn't make the distinction myself. Faith -- by which I suppose is meant an authentic religious belief -- includes ideology, if we mean by that term a system of ideas.

I think that we have the right to criticize any ideology, including a religious system of ideas, which are often the most dangerous sort of ideas, as we can see nearly every day in the news.

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