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Green Pastures Released on DVD

10th January 2006

The 1936 film Green Pastures — a fascinating retelling of a number of stories from the Old Testament — has just been released today on DVD by Warner Home Video. This film was innovative for its day in that black actors fill every role — from God to Moses, Noah to Pharaoh. The film was adapted from Marc Connelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It has been available on VHS for a while, but this is the first time on DVD.

  • The Green Pastures (Director: Marc Connelly and William Keighley, 1936).
    Buy from VHS or DVD | Buy from VHS or DVD

Modern viewers may be uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the film, though I am not sure it warranted a disclaimer such as Warner put at the beginning.

At any rate, it has to be understood and appreciated as a product of its time. Order yours today… I know I did!

For an exhaustive listing of films based on the Hebrew Bible, see my Old Testament on Film pages.

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Site Feed Settings Fixed

10th January 2006

I have always wondered why my Atom site feed wasn’t working properly for people to easily subscribe to my blog easily. I finally decided to figure it out and I believe I have it all fixed. I also added a feedburner RSS 2.0 feed for my blog. Links to both feeds may be found in my left navigation column. Here they are as well:

I have also added auto-discovery to my settings so everyone can find my feed easily.

Let me know if you have any problems with either site feed (and thank you to those individuals who notified me about my feeds in the first place!)

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Red Rose Tea: Only available in Canada? Pity

5th January 2006

If you like to pretend to be civilized and enjoy a good cup of tea with your scones, you may be interested in the exchange between some (biblio)bloggers about the best cup of tea. Joe Cathey likes the exotic, Jim West prefers the pre-packaged, while Jim Spinti likes the French. (And it appears they can’t agree — see Joe’s follow-up here and Jim’s here)

I personally don’t get into hot drinks much, whether tea or coffee, and I probably haven’t had a cup of tea since my grandmother passed away four years ago. But I did enjoy having a spot of tea with her — especially if it was in conjunction with some of her famous Welsh Cakes! I do know that my Grandma was very particular about tea — and she insisted that the only tea worth drinking was Red Rose Tea, a Canadian classic since 1860. Furthermoe, you should never drink tea with anything in it — it must be clear. And, of course, don’t forget to raise that pinkie!

So sorry, my American friends, my beloved Grandma (RIP) trumps you all!

Red Rose Tea — “Only available in Canada? Pity”

(While Red Rose is available in Britain and the U.S. now, the original Canadian variety is still considered the best!)

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A Survey of Psalms Commentaries

5th January 2006

Jeremy over at Parableman has posted a very good survey of commentaries on the Book of Psalms. Based on his comments, he appears to be coming from a moderate evangelical viewpoint and doesn’t have much patience for speculation in regards to the Sitz im Leben of individual psalms or conjecture for the redaction and compilation of the book of Psalms.

There are a number of good commentaries on the Psalms that he does not include in his survey, including the following which I think are worth of mention:

For a complete listing of commentaries on the book of Psalms, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.

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O Holy Horrendous Night!

3rd January 2006

I came across this absolutely horrendous rendition of “O Holy Night” (right-click to download for your listening pleasure!) on a humour blog that I often frequent (The Sneeze).

Now, I will be the first to admit that despite my Welsh heritage, I can’t sing (and my family will confirm this fact will far too much vigor) and I doubt that I could do a better job than this poor sap. But, I do know my limitations and I am never under the illusion that I can sing and I would certainly never record myself singing for on audition tape as this fellow did!

Take a listen and let me know what you think — can you do better?

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Ecclesiastes Redux: Coming Soon to a Blog Near You!

2nd January 2006

Happy 2006 everyone! I truly wish everyone the best for this upcoming year.

I was pleasantly surprised (tickled pink, actually) to see Loren Rosson at The Busybody and Christopher Heard at Higgaion interact with my “Happy New Year — Qohelet Style” post.

Loren, in his post “The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes,” translates my post so to speak “in terms to which non-deists can relate,” while Chris — the equally if not even more estimable scholar of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible — offered some excellent critiques of some aspects of my interpretation in his post “On Ecclesiastes.”

While I don’t have the time right now to fully respond to Chris’s comments (new semester starting and all!), I will say that he may have caught me red-handed in a hermeneutical jump in regards to “life under the sun,” but I will maintain that הבל hebel is a terminus technicus of sorts for Qohelet and therefore a specialized meaning within the book is not out of the ordinary.

So, in the words of “The Governator” (who according to this Bible Code will be re-elected in 2006), “I’ll be back.”

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Happy New Year — Qohelet Style

31st December 2005

As we enter a new year (for those of us following the Gregorian calendar at least!), I would like to wish readers of Codex all the best in the new year.

One of the biblical books that I read at the beginning of every new year is Ecclesiastes (in the Hebrew Bible known as “Qohelet”). I find that this book helps me set my priorities for the upcoming year.

Now those familiar with the book of Ecclesiastes may be asking yourself what does a book that renders everything as hebel or absurd have to say about personal goals and resolutions for the new year? Well, that’s a good question! Especially considering Ecclesiastes 1:9 which says “History merely repeats itself. It has all be done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” This verse probably rings true to all of us who have ever made a new year’s resolution year after year only to break it by the time February comes around! If everything is hebel or absurd and if we’re caught in this endless cycle, what’s the point of trying to do things different this coming year? Another good question.

Everything for the Qohelet is summed up by the Hebrew word הבל hebel, absurd: “Vanity of vanities, says Qohelet, vanity of vanity! All is vanity!” This word describes what is visible or recognizable, but unsubstantial, momentary, and profitless (Scott); it connotes that which is absurd in the technical sense, what is not the way it is supposed to be (Fox). It is characterized by chasing after the wind: and no one can catch the wind. It is vanity, meaningless, absurd. One commentator has even translated it as “flatulence!”

The rest of the book elaborates on this pessimistic conclusion. In what seems like an endless cycle of negative verdicts everything is considered hebel: righteous living: absurd!; folly: absurd; pleasure: absurd; wealth: absurd; human toil: absurd!; achievement: absurd; justice and honour: absurd! Everything — absolutely everything — that happens under the sun is absurd, a chasing after the wind.

And it is precisely this pessimistic — or perhaps realistic — conclusion that makes Ecclesiastes especially appropriate at this time of year. Eugene Peterson in his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work describes the book of Ecclesiastes as

a John the Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging. [We] read Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that are cloy. It is an exposé and rejection of every pretentious and presumptuous expectation aimed at God…(pp. 155-156).

At this time of year I believe we need to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, we need to reject every pretentious and presumptuous expectation that we might have in our lives in regard to God and our faith. We need to refocus and re-orient ourselves as we begin the new year.

But what exactly does Qohelet mean by his absurd verdict? Are all the things he highlights absurd without qualification? Are they in and of themselves bad?

The key to understanding Qohelet’s verdict is found in his perception of reality. For Qohelet, reality is divided into two realms: one the dwelling place of God, the other the dwelling place of humanity (Eaton, 44). “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before Go. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (5:2). “God is in heaven, you are on earth.” This is an underlying assumption throughout the book. And when Ecclesiastes uses the recurring phrases “under the sun,” “under heaven,” or “on the earth” he is talking about the earthly side of reality apart from God. He is talking about life here in this fallen world alienated from God.

It is life “under the sun” that is absurb; Qohelet is saying that wisdom, wealth, work, or anything that leaves God out of the picture is absurd, a chasing after the wind.

So, Qohelet’s verdict of meaningless is pronounced on life “under the sun.” It condemns an autonomous, self-sufficient wisdom that has no place for God. It condemns wealth that is seen as an end unto itself, rather than a blessing from God that has to be used to further his Kingdom. It condemns work that supplants God as the focus and drive of one’s life.

So, not everything is absurd, only everything that is sought apart from God. If we try to find meaning in wisdom, wealth, or work “under the sun,” that is, apart from God, then our search will be futile.

For all my readers it is my prayer that all that we do in the coming year will not be absurd, a chasing after the wind.

For my Christian readers it is my prayer as we begin a new year that we all will use this time to refocus and re-orient ourselves towards the only true source of meaning — the baby whose birth we just celebrated: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that no matter what resolutions we may make — that when in a year we look back at 2006 that we will find meaning and significance in what we have done, because we have done it in the shadow of the cross.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every person” (12:13).

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Things you would never believe… US Plans to Invade Canada (circa 1935)

31st December 2005

OK, it’s not April Fool’s Day and it was in the Washington Post, but I still find it difficult to believe! According to the aforementioned newspaper (HT Brad Boydston), the United States of America had battle plans produced in the case that they ever need to attack us! The plans are a 94-page document called “Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan — Red,” with the word SECRET stamped on the cover. Here is an excerpt from the article that lays out the plan step-by-step:

First, we send a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, cutting the Canadians off from their British allies.

Then we seize Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, so they freeze in the dark.

Then the U.S. Army invades on three fronts — marching from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, charging out of North Dakota to grab the railroad center at Winnipeg, and storming out of the Midwest to capture the strategic nickel mines of Ontario.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy seizes the Great Lakes and blockades Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific ports.

At that point, it’s only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees! Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: “ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL.”

I detect a major weakness in the plans: they haven’t accounted for all of the rednecks living in my province of Alberta who not only have gun racks in their pick-up trucks, but also have guns to put there when necessary!

Bring it on! (Except my good friend Joe Cathey… he has far to many guns to provoke! Nice Joe… Nice Joe…) Just remember what happened last time you invaded us!

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Merry Christmas

24th December 2005

I would like to wish all of my readers a merry Christmas (and if you don’t observe Christmas, I wish you a happy holiday season!). Since I will be busy the next couple days cooking Christmas dinner for my extended family (turkey with all the trimmings, cranberry meatballs, cranberry apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert), I figure I should take the time this morning for a short Christmas meditation.

As Christians it can be difficult not to let all of the good things associated with Christmas distract us from what we would consider to be the “true” meaning of Christmas, i.e., the birth of Jesus Christ.

Not all distractions at this time of the year are good. In particular I’m thinking about the frenzied consumerism associated with the Christmas holiday season. For many Christmas represents a religion of consumerism that reinforces the “ethic of consumption” and ultimately has little to do with the birth of Christ. Movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street” support its mythology; Santa Claus serves as its chief icon; gift-giving and shopping supply its rituals. Together, these symbols inculcate consumer-oriented values that are, in my opinion, less than Christian.

Even within the church I don’t think we realize the full significance of Christmas because we focus too much on a romantic and idealized version of the Christmas story: Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and not finding any place to stay the night, end up giving birth to baby Jesus in a manger, etc. This quaint and romantic idea is epitomized in the Christmas carol, “Away in a manger.”

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where
He lay The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

But there is nothing quaint or romantic about the Christmas story as told in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Luke’s story highlights how when Jesus was born, how he came to the dregs of society — to the poor, to the outcasts. Jesus was born in a peasant home or perhaps even a cave for animals and was placed in a dirty animal feeding trough. Then to top it off his “healthy beginnings” visit was made by a bunch of filthy lowly shepherds — outcasts of society.

Matthew’s story isn’t a whole lot better! Matthew doesn’t say much about Jesus’ birth, but he does recount how when Jesus is a toddler he was visited by some astrologers who recognized him as a future king. While this was nice and I’m sure Mary and Joseph appreciated the gifts they brought (I doubt if Jesus did… not much fun a two year old can have with gold, frankinsese, or myrrh!), the astrologers also alerted Herod to the existence of a potential challenge to his power — which made Mary and Joseph and Jesus flee to Egypt (anyone who has ever taken a two-year old on a long driving trip knows what fun they must have had along the way!)

Thus, the Christmas story isn’t quaint or romantic. And I think that we have to work hard to make sure it doesn’t become so familiar that it looses its power for us!

The true mystery of Christmas is the paradox of divine condescension; God accommodating Godself; God becoming human.

The Father sends the Son.
The Word became flesh.
God was in Christ.

God came to save us not in his full glory as God but rather as a human; God came as a baby crying in his mother’s arms, a baby that required feeding and changing, a baby that was entirely and hopelessly dependent on others. God hid his glory, he limited himself. Remaining one with and equal to God, he took the form of a slave. By becoming one with us, he was able to share our sorrows, bear our burdens, and ultimately die a criminals death and atone for our sins and unite us to God.

That is the real meaning of Christmas, and it’s my prayer for all of us that this Christmas season, as we get together with friends and family, as we buy presents, as we eat turkeys and hams, as we do all these good things, it’s my prayer that we would also realize that there is much more to Christmas than meets the eye and that the miracle of Christmas is not how much turkey you can eat, but it is that God so loved the world that he was willing to take on human flesh and enter this world as a helpless baby… a helpless baby that would one day die a criminal’s death on behalf of us all.

Merry Christmas!

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New Email List for Biblical Studies: biblicalia

22nd December 2005

Kevin Edgecomb has created a new email list for those interested in discussing academic biblical studies called biblicalia. This list is a companion piece to his relatively new blog biblicalia.

For more information about this new discussion list you can read Kevin’s blog entry here; or you can sign-up directly at Yahoo!.

Another good — and at times controversial — email list for those interested in discussing the academic study of the Bible is the Biblical Studies list moderated by Jim West.

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