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Archive for February, 2006

Blogger Move Over… biblicalia Converts to WordPress

26th February 2006

Kevin Edgecomb over at biblicalia has made the move from Blogger to WordPress, a move that I just made earlier this week. So you will have to update your feed to his site if you use a RSS reader.

I am quite happy with WordPress so far. I’m still playing around with settings and adjusting the look of my blog (how do you like the new “Codex” header?), as well as checking out some useful plugins.

I highly recommend checking out WordPress if you are not satisfied with your current blogging program.


Posted in Emergent | 1 Comment »

Email and the Student-Teacher Relationship

24th February 2006

The New York Times published an interesting article the other day by Jonathan D. Glater entitled, “To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me” (To read the full article you will have to sign-up for a free account). The article explores the implications of technology such as email on the student-professor relationship. Here are some relevent excerpts:

At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.
….
While once professors may have expected deference, their expertise seems to have become just another service that students, as consumers, are buying. So students may have no fear of giving offense, imposing on the professor’s time or even of asking a question that may reflect badly on their own judgment.
….
But such e-mail messages can have consequences, she added. “Students don’t understand that what they say in e-mail can make them seem very unprofessional, and could result in a bad recommendation.”

Still, every professor interviewed emphasized that instant feedback could be invaluable. A question about a lecture or discussion “is for me an indication of a blind spot, that the student didn’t get it,” said Austin D. Sarat, a professor of political science at Amherst College.
….
A few professors said they had rules for e-mail and told their students how quickly they would respond, how messages should be drafted and what types of messages they would answer.

Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor’s response to an e-mail message.

“One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.

This raises a bunch of interesting questions for instructors. As a professor who encourages students to email me and one who is pretty informal, I don’t see it as a huge issue. I find email a great way to communicate with my students. I try to respond to most emails in a timely manner and I don’t necessarily reply to every email, especially if they are not directly tied to the course (as a rule I do not like email responses that require too involved a response; I will typically ask the student to catch me after the next class if possible).

I do like the idea of setting up some guidelines for emails at the onset, as I have received some emails that were too informal and bordering on inappropriate. I am not sure I would expect students to send a thank you reply. I do have “netiquette” rules that I use for class discussion lists and boards that I could adapt.

What do you — whether instructor or student — think? The comment board is open.


Posted in Teaching & Learning | 9 Comments »

Faith-Based Wissenschaft: An Oxymoron?

24th February 2006

Michael V. Fox has a thought provoking essay at the most recent SBL Forum entitled, “Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View.” While I have the utmost respect for Fox as a scholar (his various works on the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible are absolutely second to none), I am not sure I agree with his bold statement “faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship” (see Danny Zacharias’s reflections at Deinde, as well as James Crossley’s posts here and here).

On the one hand, I’m not sure I like the implication that “faith-based scholarship” (or Wissenschaft) is an oxymoron. While I would agree that any scholarship that presumes its conclusions is methodologically problematic (and borders on disingenuous), faith-based scholarship does not necessarily have to fall in this category (though some certainly does). Furthermore, I would think that secular Wissenschaft could learn a lot from a lot of faith-based scholarship as well as other ideological approaches. As Peter Donovan has recently noted, “the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method” (“Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader [ed. Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], 245). What is perhaps most important for any approach to biblical studies is that the approach is academically sound, methodologically rigorous, and up front about any and all presuppositions.

On the other hand, Fox’s point has some validity in that he is not dismissing the “scholarship of persons who hold a personal faith.” In fact, he notes that “there are many religious individuals whose scholarship is secular and who introduce their faith only in distinctly religious forums.” Basically what I understand Fox as saying is that “Wissenschaft” employs a “secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic” and any scholars who want to engage in biblical Wissenschaft needs to play by the agreed upon rules. Thus, Wissenschaft becomes a “middle discourse” by which people of different faiths and/or no faith can engage in scholarly discourse.

This debate within biblical studies is paralleled by a larger debate within the discipline of religious studies. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of religious studies has typically been understood to be the “value-neutral” and “objective” study of religions, while theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (see, for example, Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27/4 [November 1998] 95-98). This distinction played an important part in the establishment of religious studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America — and especially Canadian public universities (interestingly, not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary). This traditional demarcation has been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter), and thus the only differences between the disciplines are the rules agreed upon by those working within them — the rules of the game, so to speak.

(For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75 [1995] 473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26/1 [1997] 3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Don’t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27/1 [1998] 61-68; see also McCutcheon’s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue).

In practice, religious studies (and biblical studies) in the Canadian public university context tends to be the scientific study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another. Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. So in this sense, I agree with Fox that there is a valid difference between faith-based scholarship and secular scholarship. But the question remains “what rules are we going to play by?” While I appreciate Fox’s point, I am skeptical about whether there is any scholarship that is truly “objective” and “value-neutral.” And any scholar who suggests that their work is “objective” and “value-neutral” would perhaps be more at home in the 19th century! I for one live in both worlds and produce scholarship for a variety of contexts. Some of my research is for the broader academy and employs methods appropriate for such work, while some of my study is for the community of faith to which I belong and employs a slightly different approach. I hope, however, that all of my research may stand up under the scrutiny of scholars who take different approaches and have different presuppositions than I.

Let me end with the final exchange between David and his Rebbe from Chaim Potok’s masterful book In the Beginning (Ballantine, 1997; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).

  • Rebbe: “… Are you telling me you will not be an observer of the commandments?”
  • David: “I am not telling the Rebbe that.”
  • Rebbe: “What are you telling me?”
  • David: “I will go wherever the truth leads me. It is secular scholarship, Rebbe; it is not the scholarship of tradition. In secular scholarship there are no boundaries and no permanently fixed views.”
  • Rebbe: “Lurie, if the Torah cannont go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”

Posted in Criticism, Faith & Scholarship, Hermeneutics, SBL, Teaching & Learning, Theology | 5 Comments »

The Last Temptation of Christ Reviewed at Bible Films Blog

23rd February 2006

last_temptation.jpgMatt Page at Bible Films Blog has an excellent discussion of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). While I appreciate this film, I have to admit that everytime I have watched it I find it quite slow moving. I also have a hard time with Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel playing Jesus and Judas — I have seen too many of their other films to appreciate their performances (especially Keitel).

While I am at it, I should highlight Matt’s Bible Films Blog. Matt and I share an interest in Bible films (and rugby), and this common interest led to some correspondence last year when I was working on my “Old Testament on Film” pages. Matt’s blog is in my blogroll under “Faith & Film” and I encourage you to check it out regularly.

Posted in Jesus Films | Comments Off

A Day of National Mourning: Canadian Men’s Hockey Team Eliminated

22nd February 2006

I can’t believe it! Say it isn’t so! The Canadian Men’s Hockey Team just LOST to Russia 2-0 and are eliminated from the Olympic playoffs. While the team wasn’t playing so hot the last couple games, no one really thought that they would be eliminated today by the Russians! Sad, very sad, indeed. I still can’t believe it.

It is an interesting commentary on the state of international hockey when the two teams packed with NHL professionals (Canada and the US Team, which also lost today) both lose in the quarter-finals. Pride before a fall or what?

Posted in News | 7 Comments »

Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Edition

22nd February 2006

born_brothels.jpgAs a companion piece to my previous post, “Essential Films for Theologians: The ‘Director’s Cut’,” I thought I would also provide a list of my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians.” As with my first list, this was a guest post on Ben Meyers’s Faith and Theology blog, where I noted that I would be publishing a more extended discussion. After some delay, here is my discussion of my picks.

syriania.jpgNow, before you chide me for not including this or that film, I must confess a limitation with this list: it only contains films that I have viewed. My list of “Films I wished I viewed” before making my list include, Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Caché; Dear Frankie; Good Night, and Good Luck; Cinderella Man; Murderball; Paradise Now; Saraband; The Squid and the Whale; Transamerica; and Walk the Line. While I go to quite a few movies in any given year, I typically wait for the DVD release for films I do not deem necessary to view on the big screen, which explains why I have yet to see films like Walk the Line or Brokeback Mountain, among others.

Furthermore, before you add a comment indicating that I obviously have no sense of what makes a good film, please note that these are top films “for theologians,” i.e., they are films that raise theological questions or issues. They are not necessarily great films or the best films of the year, they have weaknesses and shortcomings. That being siad, I do think that many if not all of them are the best of the year and are certainly worthy of thoughtful viewing.

munich.jpgYou will notice that some of films have a 2004 release date; these are films that had an initial limited release in 2004 (usually at a film festival) but had a more extensive public release in 2005 (including DVD releases in a few cases).

  • Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Without question the best of the Batman franchise and an engaging exploration of the myth of redemptive violence.
  • Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A delightful and disturbing glimpse into Calcutta’s brothels and one woman’s attempt to provide hope via art. A book featuring some of the pictures is also available: Born into Brothels: Photographs by the Children of Calcutta by Zana Briski (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
  • Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDb). I thought this film adaptation was well done. I viewed it with my kids — including a very inquisitive four-year-old, however, so I can’t say I caught all of the nuances of the presentation!
  • The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A disturbing portrayal of large scale corporate greed and systemic evil on the part of multinational pharmaceuticals, as well as a story of personal trust and suspicion.
  • Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A bit over the top, but a damming look at the ubiquitous charater of racism that leaves everyone culpable.
  • Downfall (Der Untergang; Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Bruno Ganz delivers a spine chilling performance as Adolf Hitler in this dark portrayal of carefully differentiated evil and the destruction of the Third Reich.
  • A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Perhaps the most accessible film of this controversial Canadian director, this film brings together violence and small town America in a stunning confrontation with a hope of reconciliation.
  • Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). An entertaining and disturbing film about the underground world and warped ethics of gun running. Nicholas Cage does an excellent job playing Yuri Orlov, a character based on a composite of five real arms dealers. “The first and most important rule of gun-running is: never get shot with your own merchandise.”
  • Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005; IMDb). A captivating film about the Israeli revenge for the deaths of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, loosely based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This film raised quite a bit of controversy about its accuracy and was even denounced by Jonas (see the MacLean’s article here). Despite the spin put on the events by Spielberg, I found it to be a compelling meditation on vengeance and retaliation. Kesher Talk has a series of blog posts on Munich that I highly recommend; they may be found here.
  • Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Few films have provoked as much thought and discussion around the issue of abortion for me as this one. See my previous blog posts here and here for why it ranks among my top films for 2005.
  • Syriania (Stephen Gaghan, 2005; IMDb). This left-leaning political thriller about the politics of the oil industry is disturbing even if only a fraction of it is true to life. Directed and written by Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter behind Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), the multiple story lines (engaging in their own right) come together to form a compelling story no matter what your politics may be.

Worth Viewing: There were a number of other films from 2005 that are definitely worth viewing, but didn’t make my final cut. These include The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Almost made it just because of its subject matter); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; King Kong (Sorry Peter, your ape was great, but you should stick to orcs and hobbits); Serenity (Never watched Firefly before viewing the film; have to say I quite liked it); Sin City (Like sin, compelling to view, but ultimately damaging); Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Better than the other prequels, but that is not saying much! Who wants to try jumping over a guy holding a light sabre? Anyone?).

Please let me know if there were other “essential films for theologians” from 2005 by commenting on this post.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film | 11 Comments »

Bulkeley’s Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary Launched

22nd February 2006

I want to join the virtual crowd of bibliobloggers congratulating Tim Bulkeley for the launch of the electronic stand-alone version of his commentary entitled, Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary. I wish Tim all the best with this release!

While I have not had the opportunity to take a look at this electronic release of his commentary, I have had the chance to peruse his online version and I have listed it in my OT Commentary Survey for quite a while. I encourage you to spend some time looking at Tim’s commentary. It is very well done and makes excellent use of hypertext delivery– you have multiple panes that provide different information and you can also hear the passage read in English or Hebrew, among other things.

All in all it is a great commentary on a facinating biblical book!

Posted in Amos, Commentary Survey, News | 1 Comment »

Hebrew Bible Related Reviews from RBL (20 February 2006)

22nd February 2006

This week’s Review of Biblical Literature includes a few interesting reviews. Of particular interest to me is the review of Kofoed’s Text and History, which is quite positive (perhaps too positive; it would be interesting to read a review by someone more skeptical of reconstructing Israel’s history from biblical texts). There are also a couple of good reviews of Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? (see here for a previous post on Dever’s book).

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

  • Dever, William G. Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Reviewed by Yairah Amit and Bob Becking
  • Kofoed, Jens Bruun. Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. Reviewed by Michael Licona
  • Meyers, Carol. Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women. Reviewed by Linda Schearing
  • Wagner, Andreas. Prophetie als Theologie: Die so spricht Jahwe-Formeln und das Grundverständnis alttestamentlicher Prophetie. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hüllstrung

Biblical Theology

  • Reventlow, Henning Graf and Yair Hoffman, eds. The Problem of Evil and Its Symbolism in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas
  • Spina, Frank Anthony. The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story. Reviewed by Amos Frisch

Posted in RBL, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

Welcome to Codex Blogspot with WordPress 2.01

21st February 2006

I have finally decided to make the switch to WordPress. I decided to move to WordPress for a variety of reasons, including having more control (no more blogger frustrations) and having more extensibility.

You will notice that things are still under construction. I have to work on categorizing my blog posts (one of the major reasons I switched) and I am not entirely satisfied with the look of the blog (I really have to work on the header).
Any and all feedback on the design, what does or does not work, etc., would be greatly appreciated.
You will need to update your site feeds. The transition to WordPress wasn’t too bad, though I have not been able to move over my Haloscan comments :-( I will be keeping my old blogger generate posts and archives uploaded, so all of your permalinks should still work.

Posted in Blog News | 4 Comments »

Cancer, John Piper, and the Falleness of Creation

16th February 2006

John Piper has posted on his website an article entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” (HT BlogWatch). He wrote the short reflection yesterday (15 February) before having prostate surgery (his surgery reportedly went well). I too have been thinking a lot about cancer recently. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer two days before Christmas, a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer early in the new year, and some of my students have family members who were recently diagnosed. In addition, this upcoming Sunday will mark the fifth anniversary of my father’s death from cancer.

In his article, Piper produces a series of ten statements that begin, “You will waste your cancer if you….” Now most of the statements are meant to encourage believers to remain positive and hopeful when struggling with cancer (e.g., “You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God”; “You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection”; etc.). I have no issues with the vast majority of his points.

That being said, I do take issue with his first two statements:

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
    It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They… comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
    “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

Now, perhaps I am just coming from a different place theologically than Piper (actually, I know I am), but I find the notions that God “designs” people’s cancer and that cancer is a “gift from God” to be offensive. What is more, I find that Piper’s proof-texting of Scripture to be troubling. In the book of Job, God does allow “the adversary” (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן, hasatan) to inflict Job, and his so-called friends did see his suffering as from the hands of God and due to his own sin. But, in the same way it is fallaciouss to see all suffering as the result of sin, so it is not the point of the book of Job to then attribute all suffering to the direct agency of God. Similarly, his series of proof-texts for his second point are perhaps relevant to part of his point that cancer is not a “curse.” But saying that cancer is not a “curse” is not the same as saying it is a gift.

All good things are a gift from God (James 1:17) but in my books cancer is not a good thing. Cancer is an all too frequent reminder that this world is radically fallen, that things are manifestly not the way they are supposed to be — they are hebel (הֶבֶל). I do think there is a subtle, yet theologically important distinction to be made between talking about cancer (or any sickness or tragedy) as being used by God over against cancer being caused or designed by God.

Perhaps I am wrong, or at least biased by my own personal experiences. Whether or not you agree with my perspective (which I would readily admit I have not developed in any detail in this post), one thing we can all agree on is that we should pray. We should pray for John Piper and all who are struggling with cancer. I covet your prayers for my father-in-law and my friend, as well as for the others I have mentioned.

In addition, I encourage you to consider supporting one of the many agencies or foundations who work towards cures and more effective cancer treatments, such as the Canadian Cancer Society or the American Cancer Society.


Posted in Personal, Theology | 4 Comments »