There is a meme going around on Top Three Bible Films started by Matt over at Broadcast Depth (I noticed it over at Mike Kok’s blog, The Golden Rule). I figured since I am lecturing this week on Religious films in my religion and culture class, I would weigh-in with my personal favourites — although limiting it to three is tough.
1. One of my favourite films based on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is an oldie, but a goodie: The Green Pastures (Director: Marc Connelly and William Keighley, 1936; Buy from Amazon.ca: VHS or DVD | Buy from Amazon.com: VHS or DVD). This is a fascinating retelling of a number of stories from the Old Testament. This folksy film was innovative for its day in that black actors fill every role — from God to Moses, Noah to Pharaoh. (Fair warning that some may be uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the film; is was made in 1936 after all). Any film that includes a heavenly fish fry where “de Lawd” walks about drinking “fire-custard” and smoking 10-cent cigars and singing gospel songs is pretty cool in my books!
2. My favourite “Jesus film” is not quite as old, but is still black and white: Son of Man (Director: Gareth Davies, 1969. This film was aired on BBC as part of the Wednesday Play series in 1969. Unfortunately, it is not available for purchase (I got my copy from a friend who recorded it when it was rebroadcast on TV), although you can see some clips of it on the BFI website. The highlight of the film for me is Colin Blakely’s portrayal of a gruff and passionate Jesus — definitely not your typical blue-eyed blond Jesus of most hagiopics. The other Jesus film that comes in a close second for me is The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Pier Pablo Passolini, 1964; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
3. Finally, for “something completely different,” my third pick is Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). While technically not a “Jesus film” (it is about Brian, not Jesus), this affectionate parody is a classic. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then something is wrong. Eric Idle himself is reported as saying, “If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.” But this film is not all laughs — it actually presents aspects of the time of Jesus somewhat accurately, such as the ubiquitous messiahs and prophets during that period as well as the sheer diversity with Judaism at that time.
I could go on and on, but I will end it here. If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.
The October edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival (number 46) is online over at The Hebrew and Greek Reader. Daniel and Tonya have done a great job highlighting the best of biblical studies in the blogosphere for the month of September 2009. Please make sure to check it out.
The next Carnival will be hosted at the beginning of November 2009 by Kevin Scull over at his blog, Paul of Tarsus. Make sure to nominate copious posts!
For more information about the Biblical Studies Carnival, check out the Carnival Homepage.
The DVD of the first — and last — season of NBC’s biblical drama, Kings, was released yesterday (Michael Green, 2009; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). The thirteen episode series is a modernized and very creative retelling of the biblical story of the reign of King Saul and the rise to power of King David found in the books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
The series opens with a young man being called into his rustic farmhouse to watch on TV the dedication ceremonies of a new capital city. This young man is David Shepherd. The scene then shifts to what appears to be the royal palace in Shiloh, the new capital of the Kingdom of Gilboa. The city has all the trappings of a modern city, yet is ruled by a benevolent monarch, King Silas Benjamin (played wonderfully by Ian McShane). King Silas addresses his people and forthrightly expounds on God’s blessing upon Gilboa, its new capital Shiloh, and upon his kingship.
The series narrates the rise of a naive David, initially through his heroic blowing up of a “Goliath” tank, and the demise of Silas, and slowly becomes a tyrant who has lost the favour of God.
There is much more I could say about this TV series, such as the clever way it harmonizes the problematic introduction of David to Saul in the Bible (did David first come to Saul’s attention as the boy who defeated Goliath or the young musician whose playing soothed Saul’s tormented spirit — see 1Samuel 16 and 17) in episode 8, or how it portrays the subtle intrigue within the royal court (which is present in between the verses of the biblical text, although most devout readers miss it).
All in all I found the series quite engaging. Its look is lavish, the dialogue is clever and intriguing. It doesn’t follow the story of David and Saul slavishly, but is a very creative adaptation that is both faithful to the contours of the biblical text, yet doesn’t fear to push the envelop in controversial ways (such as the closeted homosexuality of King Silas’s son and heir apparent, Jack Benjamin).
The first season ends with King Silas surviving a failed coup and David fleeing for his life into Gath. Unfortunately, because Kings got cancelled, we will never see how the series presents the eventual rise of David Shepherd to the throne.
While some readers may see this as a garish ploy to attract more readers to my blog, as this blog approaches its 500,000th visitor, I want to give away a book. So here’s the deal: if you are number 500,000 I will send you a free book (I’ll give you some options and you can choose).
I figure that number 500,000 should visit sometime this week — spread the word!
This is just a friendly reminder to NOMINATE posts for the next Biblical Studies Carnival, to be hosted by Daniel and Tonya over at Hebrew and Greek Reader. The Carnival will be number XLVI and should be posted close to the first of October, 2009.
I want to emphasize to everyone how important it is that you nominate your own posts as well as those of others. It is a huge job to pull together the monthly Biblical Studies Carnival — if you don’t believe me ask someone who has hosted one! It makes the host’s job so much easier if your submit some entries with a link, title, short description, etc. (see directions below)
And may I say to any WOMEN bibliobloggers out there, that a great way to get traffic to your blog and raise the profile of women bloggers is to nominate some of your posts for the Carnival. Even better, why not volunteer to HOST a Carnival? In the past I have sent emails around to women bibliobloggers asking them to host, and I only had one response: Judy Redman, who hosted Biblical Studies Carnival XXXVIII at her Judy’s Research Blog in February 2009. If you want to host, send me an email and I’ll slot you in. For other potential hosts: you do not need to be in the Biblioblog Top 50 to host a Carnival!
How to Nominate Posts
In order to save the host considerable work, please nominate some posts today (and tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that…) It’s really easy. You have two options:
Send the following information to the following email address: biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail.com. If you’re not sure whether a post qualifies, send it anyway and the I will decide whether to include it.
The title and permalink URL of the blog post you wish to nominate and the author’s name or pseudonym.
A short (two or three sentence) summary of the blog post.
The title and URL of the blog on which it appears (please note if it is a group blog).
Include “Biblical Studies Carnival [number]” in the subject line of your email
Your own name and email address.
Use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival. (This is probably the easier option if you only have one nomination.) Just select “biblical studies carnival” and fill in the rest of the information noted above.
As noted in a comment in my last post, Daniel O. McClellan over at his his blog Maklelan, has some possible pictures of the so-called “coins” that were discovered. If he is correct in his opinion and if his pictures are accurate, then these are certainly not coins, but scarabs.
Perhaps if further pictures are produced, there might be something to this story. As it stands right now, it looks very unlikely, especially considering the tendentiousness of the source (illustrated by the apologetic aim to show that the Quran’s references to coins at the time of Joseph are historically accurate).
News reports are buzing this morning about a cache of coins discovered among some unsorted artifacts in the recesses of the Museum of Egypt. Not only are coins not thought to have been used in ancient Egypt, more surprisingly, the report claims that coins with the name and image of the biblical Joseph have been found among the coins. If this turns out to be a bona fide discovery, this will be the first extra-biblical evidence for any of the biblical patriarchs.
Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.
According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.
The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.
“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.
The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.
“Studies by Dr. Thabet’s team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face – just like the coins we use today,” the report added.
Some more details from the original article that appeared in the September 22, 2009, edition of Al-Ahram (Egypt), are provided on the MEMRI website. Here is a translation of the section pertaining to the supposed Joseph coins:
“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…
“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.
“Dr. Sa’id Thabet called on Egypt’s Antiquities Council and on the Minister of Culture to intensify efforts in the fields of Ancient Egyptian history and archeology, and to [promote] the research of these coins that bear the name of Egyptian pharaohs and gods. This, he said, would enable the correction of prevalent misconceptions regarding the history of Ancient Egypt.”
Here is an image from the MEMRI which I assume is of some of the coins:
I would like to affirm the findings and announce that there is now iron clad evidence for the biblical Joseph, but alas, the skeptical side of me says wait and see what comes of this. Wait and see…
We had an interesting discussion in my course on ancient historiography the other day. We were discussing Arnaldo Momigliano’s article, “Persian Historiography, Greek Historiography, and Jewish Historiography,” in The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), and how historiographic writing in Judaism died off in the late Second Temple period (i.e., after the writing of 1 Maccabbees). According to Momigliano, the reason for the demise of the specifically Hebrew way of writing historiography is due in part to the disappearance of the Jewish state, although the primary reason why Jews lost interest in historical research was the singular focus on the Torah that developed in this period. Interestingly, a small Jewish sect that emerged in the first century CE retained an interest in historiography. This sect is, of course, the early Christ followers who preserved a historiographic record in the biographies of Jesus (better known as the gospels) and, more specifically, in the Acts of the Apostles.
The End of Prophecy?
I don’t think many would contest Momigliano’s perspective on the “end” of Jewish historiography at the turn of the common era, though I could be wrong. One of the students in my class brought up a related question about the end of prophecy during that same period. The traditional (or do I dare say “canonical”) position is that prophecy ceased with the closure of the Hebrew canon. This perspective appears to be reflected in 1 Maccabees 4:46 where in the process of cleansing and rededicating the temple, Judas Maccabeus stores the defiled stones of the altar of burnt offering, “until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them”; and more explicitly in 1 Macc 14:41 where it says, “The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise….” Both of these texts seem to assume that there was no prophet at the present time and they had to make do until one arises — the hope of which was likely inspired by Deuteronomy 18:15. This perspective is also held by Jewish authors such as Josephus, who after narrating the biblical history of Israel, notes that, “From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (Against Apion 1.41). This view is also reflected in the much later teaching of the Talmud, where it reads: “When the latter prophets died, that is Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel. But even so, they made them hear [messages] through an echo” (t.Sot 13.3).
What is noteworthy, however, is that while the “official” view may have been that prophecy ceased after the closure of the canon, its seems that no one informed the common person! Even Josephus is inconsistent. He appears to hold the official party line, yet he notes that John Hyrcanus I (135-104), “was accounted by God worthy of three of the greatest privileges, the rule of the nation, the office of high priest, and the gift of prophecy; for the Deity was with him and enabled him to foresee and foretell the future” (War 1.68-69). Some suggest that Josephus considered himself a “clerical” prophet, though he never uses the actual term “prophet.” Josephus also mentions a number of individuals among the Essenes who “profess to tell the future”, as well as some from among the Pharisees. He further (negatively) identifies a number of “popular prophets”, such as Theudas, Joshua ben Hananiah, who managed to gain significant followings among the masses. John the Baptist, according to the Gospels, appears to fit nicely in to this category of popular prophet.
The End of the Matter…
So, did prophecy cease after the “canonical” prophets? Yes and no. While Josephus seems to suggests that the type of prophet and prophecy found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament ceased, there were many individuals who — wrongly or rightly — were willing to don the prophetic mantle and proclaim God’s message to the people.
I have always imagined that during the time of Christ there would have been many self-proclaimed prophets around, kind of like this great scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian:
Welcome to the 294th installment of the Christian Carnival, a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere.
First up are some posts relating to biblical studies. Jeremy over at Parableman has a post reconciling of two verses concerning those pesky Canaanites mentioned at the beginning of Judges 3. While the verses at first blush appear to be contradictory, he resolves it in his post, “Apparent Contradiction in Judges 3.”
Over at ReturningKing.Com, Jeff posts the ninth installment of a series entitled, “A Pastoral Soteriology” with his post on “Atonement in the Old Testament Law” where he demonstrates how its view of penal substitution foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
While not technically a post on a passage from the Bible, Ketan Rindani posts “10 Bible Facts You Must Know” over at JESUS IS LORD!. (Hmmm… I’m not sure that you “must” know that the Bible contains 31,071 verses — an interesting fact perhaps, but not essential)
Ridge Burns, over at at his Blog, asks readers how attached they are to God’s call on their lives in his post dealing with major life Transitions. As someone who just went through a major work transition, I appreciated his candor.
Since we are on the topic of rest, it seems appropriate to mention Andrea‘s post, “Listening for the Voice of God” where she underscores the importance of quieting our hearts and attending to the voice of God. Her blog is Unfailingly Loved.
The 295th Christian Carnival will be going green as it will be hosted next Wednesday, September 23, 2009, over at The Evangelical Ecologist. To submit a post for the next Christian Carnival, go to the Blog Carnival submission form, or send your submission to christiancarnivalsubmissions shift-2 gmail dotte com. For more instructions on submitting posts you can go here, and for examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.
Since then Bio Nascimento has translated the handout into Portuguese (with my permission). I don’t know how many readers I have that read Portuguese, but I figured I would make the translated handout available, so here it is: