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U2 and No Hype

15th November 2008

U2 - The hype and the feedbackI imagine that many if not all U2 fans have heard about an academic conference devoted to the music and message of the best rock band in the world, i.e., U2. The conference, “U2: The Hype and the Feedback,” is being held in NYC on 13-15 May 2009. I would absolutely LOVE to attend the conference and was actually invited by a friend to be on a panel discussion entitled, “U2, Faith and Justice: Theological Education and Spiritual Formation.” But, alas, it is unlikely that I will be able to attend due primarily to financial reasons (please send money!).

That being said, the conference looks like it will be fantastic. The blurb from the Conference website describes the event as follows:

Achtung! Scholars, teachers, students, journalists, clergy, musicians and intellectually curious U2 fans: for more than 30 years, U2 has asked us to look at the world, wrestle with ourselves and then dream out loud. From “I Will Follow” and “Running to Stand Still,” to “The Wanderer,” “Walk On,” and “One Step Closer,” U2 has charted the human heart and the ways of the world, calling out some of their more dynamic points of intersection. While doing so, they have created what Bruce Springsteen described as “some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.”

A band of paradoxes, ironies, ambition and sincerity, their influence in the worlds of music, entertainment, popular culture, humanitarian relief and the global politics of peace and social justice should be the stuff of spirited conversation. Hype? Feedback? Or the real thing? Come join the conversation as we see what U2 has done.

My opinion: U2 is the real thing (sorry Coca-Cola). I have been a big fan of U2 virtually since their inception. And I have also read much of the popular and scholarly literature about U2, have lectured on U2 in my religion and popular culture course (as well as used their songs as modern-day examples of lament in my Psalms and Hebrew Bible courses), and have managed to incorporate them in a number of my sermons. And, in case you are wondering, I also just sit back and listen to them!

While I may not be able to attend, you can! Registration is now open. To register, just go the the the Conference website.

Posted in Announcements, Popular Culture, U2 | 1 Comment »

Jews and Tattoos

17th July 2008

The New York Times has an article on the tattoo trend among Jewish people. The article debunks the notion that if you have a tattoo you may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos among Jewish young people, Jews traditionally have been against tattoos, primarily based on the injunction in Leviticus 19:28 (see this post for an interesting discussion of this verse from a Jewish perspective).

Most of the emails I receive about Hebrew tattoos come from Christians, among whom there does not seem to be any qualms about getting inked.

UPDATE: Check out Iyov’s sobering post here.

(HT Menachem Mendel)

Posted in Popular Culture, Tattoos | Comments Off

Exiled Gods in the ANE and the Bible

22nd April 2008

The “Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Contexts” workshop was held two weeks ago at the University of Alberta. Due to teaching and administrative responsibilities, I wasn’t able to attend much of the workshop, though I was able to catch the papers on one day and have lunch and dinner with the participants. It was great to meet everyone and talk some shop with them and get to know them a bit personally.

Exile and Ideology

One of the papers that piqued my interest was Martti Nissinen‘s “The Exiled Gods of Bablyon in Neo-Assyrian Prophecy.” In his paper, Martti examined an incident in Assyrian and Babylonian history when the Assyrian king Sennacherib razed the city of Babylon and deported its gods in 689 BCE. The deportation and/or destruction of a defeated nation’s gods (i.e., the statues) was a standard practice for the Assyrians (and other ancient peoples) and was considered an unambiguous sign of humiliation and demonstration of the power of the victorious monarch and his gods. What is particularly interesting is how the event was understood by each nation. Obviously the victorious nation interpreted the events as vindication of the superiority of their king and gods. More interesting is how the defeated nation understood the calamity ideologically. More often than not, the defeated nation would interpret the defeat and deportation of their gods as a sign that their gods were angry with them — not that the other nation’s gods were stronger.

There are many examples of this sort of ideological interpretation from the ANE as well as the Bible — here I am thinking of the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines (1Sam 4-5) or, of course, Assyria’s destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Babylonia’s destruction and subsequent exile of Southern Judah. In both cases the biblical authors interpreted the defeat as Yahweh’s anger toward his unfaithful people, not the superiority of Assyria’s or Babylonia’s deities.

Divine Alienation — Divine Reconciliation

Nissinen continued his analysis of the deportation of Babylon’s gods to when the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, returned the gods to Babylon and rebuilt its temples in response to prophecy. In particular, Nissinen appealed to the prophecy of one La-dagil-ili which was spoken in Esarhaddon’s first regnal year:

Take to heart these words of mine from Arbela:
The gods of Esaggil are languishing in an evil, chaotic wilderness.
Let two burnt offerings be sent before them at once;
Let your greeting of peace be pronounced to them (SAA 9 2.3 ii 22-27).

Esarhaddon evidently took these words seriously and, based on the historical sources we have, concerned himself with the rebuilding of Babylon and restoring its gods. Esarhaddon’s move was not just political, it was theological. Restoring the gods to Babylon, according to Nissinen, not only quelled the anger of the Babylonian gods, but more importantly reestablished order in the cosmos. This divine alienation—divine reconciliation pattern is also found throughout the ANE and even in the Bible (e.g., Cyrus’s edict to allow the return and restoration of the Jerusalem temple).

Ideology, History, and Prophecy

The ideas in Nissinen’s paper highlight an aspect of ANE historiography which we need to recognize in the Hebrew Bible. All ancient historiography (and perhaps all modern) is ideological. That is, it is written from the viewpoint of a faith in Yahweh who is active in the history of Israel. Yahweh’s supremacy is never doubted. If Israel is defeated, it is because of their unfaithfulness. If another nation defeats them, Yahweh is using that other nation to discipline his people. All of this is also true of Israelite prophecy.

This underscores the reality that all historiography (and prophecy) is interpretive. It highlights that the historical and prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible are part and parcel of the ancient Near East and we shouldn’t be surprised that they reflect the literary practices and genres of the ancient world — perhaps much to the dismay of some evangelicals (this is one of the points Peter Enns makes in his Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005; Buy from or


Martti Nissinen is Professor of Old Testament at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Many of the texts he referred to in his presentation are from his book, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East (Writings from the Ancient World; Society of Biblical Literature, 2003; Buy from or He has also published Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Augsburg Fortress, 2004; Buy from or

Posted in Academic Associations, Ancient Near East, Left Behind, Old Testament | 5 Comments »

U2 3D… 2COOL!

16th April 2008

OK, instead of marking tests tonight I went to go see U2 3D (Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, 2007; IMDb). I know I lamented that U2 3D wasn’t going to show in Edmonton — and it wasn’t. In part because of the backlash surrounding the fact U2 3D wasn’t going to show (and some local radio stations making some noise), a couple of the larger theater complexes in Edmonton added the necessary 3D projection equipment.

I thought the film was excellent. No narrative, interviews, or other distractions — just U2. It was almost like being there (though I think they could have cranked the volume a bit more at the theater).

Now I have to get back to marking… and guess what music I will be blasting as I do?

Posted in Personal, U2 | 1 Comment »

Faith and Film Critics Circle: Top Films of 2007

19th March 2008

The Faith and Film Critics Circle has posted its film awards for 2007.

The list includes many of the same titles from the Oscars and other top film lists, with perhaps one notable exception (Into Great Silence).

Here are the winners:

  • Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Themes: Into Great Silence
  • Best Narrative Film: There Will Be Blood
  • Best Documentary: Into Great Silence
  • Best Film for the Whole Family: Ratatouille
  • Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actress: Ellen Page – Juno
  • Best Performance by a Child: Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (tie): Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James; Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actress (tie): Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There; Jennifer Garner – Juno
  • Best Ensemble Cast: Lars and the Real Girl
  • Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody – Juno
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli – Atonement

I am a bit surprised to see There Will Be Blood on the list more than No Country for Old Men. I also didn’t particularly like Jennifer Garner in Juno. I’ve heard quite a bit about Into Great Silence, though it seems like the kind of film you really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate. I also still have to view Lars and the Real Girl.

Stay tuned for my “Essential Films of 2007 for Theologians” (previous “Essential Films for Theologians” may be found here)

Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Father, The Sleeper has Awakened!

17th March 2008

Variety just announced today that Peter Berg has been picked as the director for a new theatrical release adaptation of Frank Herbert’s totally awesome classic science-fiction novel Dune for Paramount Pictures. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Herbert’s 1965 novel is a sweeping, futuristic tale set on the remote desert planet Arrakis, which produces the interstellar empire’s sole source of the spice Melange — used for distant space travel. An empirewide power struggle ensues over the control of the spice. Berg would be the latest helmer to take a crack at the property, which spawned a 1984 David Lynch film as well as a 2000 Sci Fi Channel miniseries starring William Hurt.

The project is out to writers, with the producers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning book. The filmmakers consider its theme of finite ecological resources particularly timely.

IMDb is listing the projected release date as 2010.

While David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune (IMDb) wasn’t well received, I personally liked the look and feel of it better than the more recent made-for-TV miniseries (2000, IMDb). Of course, I will be the first to admit that the mini-series was far more complete than the truncated Lynch version. I’m not sure what to think of Berg as the director. He’s a relatively new director and I hope that he doesn’t turn Dune into a “The Kingdom” style movie. In my opinion Lynch was on the right track making a quirky, science fiction epic.

He who controls the spice, controls the universe!

Bonus Dune Pop Culture Quiz: What Fatboy Slim song quotes a line from Dune? (and perhaps has other allusions to the book)

Answer (select text to view): Fatboy Slim’s 2001 “Weapon Of Choice” has the following quote: “Walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm.”
The music video for the song is also a must see.

(HT Peter Chattaway on the Arts and Faith Forum)

Posted in Classics, Film, Popular Culture | 4 Comments »

U2 3D Not Coming to Edmonton… Waaa!

25th February 2008

I am sadly disappointed that it doesn’t look like U2 3D (Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, 2007; IMDb) is coming to Edmonton. I guess the fact that Edmonton only has around a million residents makes it too small! Oh, that can’t be the reason, because even Halifax managed to get it. Actually, it appears that the reason it is very unlikely U2 3D will not be showing in Edmonton is because the brain trusts at the IMAX theater capable of 3D IMAX films in Edmonton have the it booked solid until December. Do I sound bitter?

I emailed my sister in Vancouver and asked her (tongue in cheek) to fly me out so I can see it there (my brother-in-law works for an airline) — I’m not expecting it will work. :-(

Feel free to click on my Paypal link to the right if you want to donate to my “Road Trip to U2 3D” fund.

Well at least I can watch some clips on You Tube…

Tags: ,

Posted in U2 | 4 Comments »

How to Mis-use Hebrew in the Name of Selfish Christianity

13th August 2007

One of the dangers of learning a bit of biblical Hebrew (or Greek) is thinking that after a basic introduction (i.e., less than four semesters), you understand the nuances of the language. Many preachers take a little bit of Hebrew or Greek and then go on to expound profoundly about the meaning of this or that Hebrew/Greek word Sunday mornings when they preach. These errors are tame in comparison to what some people do to/with the Bible.

This video contains a hilarious (and horrendous) example of two “interpreters” appealing to the Hebrew meaning of a word to serve their heretical theology. The discussion of the Hebrew word for “word/thing” (דבר) by Kenneth Copland and his guest is a classic example of what D.A. Carson calls the”illegitimate totality transfer” fallacy (i.e., the explicit or implicit transfer of all the meanings of a given word into any given passage — in this case into every passage where the word “word” occurs!). This is such a hilarious (and sad) example that I will have to use it in my biblical interpretation class this fall.

Take a gander at the video for yourself — but be warned: while it is funny, it also reveals a side of Christianity which I find offensive (and if you don’t find that type of Christianity offensive then the video will likely offend you!).

(HT Scotteriology)

Posted in Hermeneutics, Lingusitics, Popular Culture, Theology | 8 Comments »

Does Jesus Make You Laugh?

29th July 2007

This video is worth watching.

It appears that there is a documentary (mockumentary?) in production that takes on Christian excesses in the USA. Looks like a no-brainer!

(HT John McLaughlin)

Posted in Humour, Jesus Junk & Christian Kitsch, Popular Culture | 4 Comments »

On a Simpsons Kick

11th July 2007

tylersimpsonsavatarbhs.jpgSo, as you may guess from my last post, I’ve been on a Simpsons kick the last little bit. I’ve been eating Frosted KrustyO’s for breakfast the last couple days. The other night I enjoyed a cold can of Buzz cola. Even though I’m not a huge fan of comic books, I enjoyed reading the “special original issue” of Radioactive Man.

I even made my own Simpsons avatar of myself — I think it turned out OK, though the options just couldn’t capture all of my unique features! (AKMA’s avatar turned out a bit closer to home, I think).

On July 27 I will probably be at the cinema viewing The Simpsons Movie. As with any movie that is hyped too much, I such hope I am not left saying D’oh!

UPDATE: One of my soon to be former students made some changes to my avatar… I imagine many of my students would like the adjusted one better. What do you think?


Posted in Popular Culture, The Simpsons | 4 Comments »