Friday, 31 July 2009

That Bible you're reading ...

I think I can safely say that my summer holidays have finally come to an end. I've been around a fair bit this summer: the North of England to go hiking with a friend, the South to visit my brother's wedding, then off to Italy to visit SBL Rome and finally a two week hike through the former GDR visiting the sites where Luther lived and did his stuff. The highlight of the the whole thing was finally meeting up with John Hobbins in Rome. My favourite location was, oddly, was the concentration camp Buchenwald in Thuringia. Not that Buchenwald competes with Rome in any aesthetic sense (!), but the place simply has more pathos. And I like pathos. I also don't like Baroque architecture.

Anyway, I really need to get on with this doctorate of mine. I'm currently working through Fokkelman's 18 questions to ask a Psalm. If I have anything interesting to say I'll be posting in the near future. Till then, here's an awesome picture of someone famous looking saying something cool (I got this a while back from Douglas of Biblia Hebraica):

Update: This image was created by James McGrath of Exploring our Matrix (amongst other blogs, for which go here).

Monday, 20 July 2009

The wedding sermon I never had: Song of Songs 2:10-13; 8:6-7

A while back my brother got married. He asked me to share some "words of wisdom," which is always a tall order. I turned for inspiration to one of the wedding texts suggested by the Anglican Church, Song of Songs 2:10-13; 8:6-7, which also happened to be the text that Ingrid and I chose for our wedding. When I chose it (all those years ago!), I was hoping for something like what came out of my keyboard this time as I meditated on it for Chris' wedding. Instead, I got a sermon that was fairly predictable considering the background of the preacher: 2:10-13 was simply looked over and 8:6-7 was turned into an allegory of the depth of Christ's love for us. In short: only Jesus can love you this much, so turn to him to help your marriage work.

Here's an excerpt of my offerings. I'd appreciate critical feedback:

I'm going to read two excerpts from this Song, which happen to be the same excerpts that were read at my wedding. They sum up something of the reality of love and express in poetic form what I hope and pray for the both of you.

In the first excerpt, the woman is lying on her bed waiting with yearning for her man. He suddenly appears at the window and the woman recounts what he sings to her:

My beloved speaks and says to me:
'Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle dove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.' (2:10-13).

The man desires what every lover desires: quality time with his partner. But why is this moment in time the best time? The answer: because it's spring time! There's a natural affinity between love and spring: its the time when we can finally begin to live again after the deprivations of a hard winter. It is a time when all our senses can celebrate the smells, sounds, and sights of an abundant world, finally put to rights, the way things should be. Love has the power to do this, to quicken us, to make us come alive again, to make us blossom.

Dear Tanya and Chris, it is my hope and prayer that your love for each other will be and remain this kind of spring-time love, a love which makes life beautiful and sustains us after long winter periods. I wish you plenty of times of refreshment where you can simply enjoy each other enjoy life, where you can blossom and grow and attract others with the perfume of your combined fragrance.

But there is also a dark side to love, one connected to death and not just life. We hear about this in the second excerpt, this time sung by the woman to the man. She beseeches him the following:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one's house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6-7).

These are sober words of warning. Love can kill you. It's not a game, something to be taken lightly, because your whole existence is tied up with it. This is the reason why, throughout the Song of Songs, there is a constant refrain in which the woman beseeches her young companions not “to stir up or awaken love until it is ready.” You two have already taken that step. Your love has been stirred and awakened, and so now you bear a great responsibility towards each other. Tanya, my brother's life is in your hands. Chris, Tanya's life is in yours. My hope and my prayer for you both is that you will fulfil for each other the request that the woman expresses in this song: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.” What does this mean? The Good News Bible paraphrases this verse as follows: “Close your heart to every heart but mine; hold no one in your arms but me.” I think that if you can respect both dimensions of the reality and responsibility of love—the power of love to give and life and enrich it, and the power of love to kill—you will be on the way to a relationship that is blessed and that will be a blessing to others.

I'm off on holiday, again!

View Larger Map
Having just returned from a two-week trip to Rome (OK, the first week was "work," but when you're writing a doctorate in a subject you love I'm not sure the boundaries are clear as they could be) I'm off again, this time to East Germany. I've often wanted to visit this spot of Deutschland, but it isn't a place one normally associates with summer holidays, especially when one lives within driving distance of numerous coasts (Baltic Sea, North Sea, English Channel, Mediterranean, the Bit Between-Italy-and-Croatia ...). East German, however, does happen to be the home of that firebrand of the Early Modern Era: Martin Luther. And for a couple of Protestant "theologians" living in Germany like my wife and myself, it is simply unthinkable to have lived here and not followed, at least once, in his footsteps.

So, we'll be taking off tomorrow and returning, probably, on the 30th of July (after a brief visit to the in-laws in Berlin, my favourite city after Tel Aviv; the route has been embedded above). The dearth of posting from the last two weeks, will have to continue, I'm afraid, but once I get back I hope to get back to my earlier output.

P.S. For those who speak (and read) German, you can do the route yourself with the help of the guide book: Mit Martin Luther Unterwegs: Ein biografischer Reiseführer.

A thread on the verb in Biblical poetry

I'm posting this as much for myself as for anyone else. Pete Bekins of בלשנות (Balshanut) has been posting on the Hebrew verb system in Biblical poetry. This is a topic that interests me, as witnessed to by my numerous postings on the qal - yiqtol sequence in Psalm 24 (Translating an qal/yiqtol sequence in Ps 24 (drawing on Niccacci); Translating yiqtol verbs in Psalm 24:2; Second-line information in a poetic yiqtol-clause?; Should we ammend יְכוֹנְנֶֽהָ in Ps 24:2?). Pete was very helpful in some of the comments to these posts, so I was delighted to see him covering this area on his own blog, not least because he is a Hebrew linguistic and so really knows what he is talking about!

I've been away for a while and will be off again for the next two weeks, so I was delighted to see that the author of Enumma has gathered all of Pete's posts togther into a digestable package. As soon as I get back I will set myself to reading these posts in detail and pestering Pete with my pedantic problems (is there a synonym for "questions" that begins with "p"?).

Here is Enumma's summary:

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Friday, 17 July 2009

I'm back from SBL Rome!

So, I'm finally back from Rome after what has been for me one of the most fruitful experiences I have had in a long time! Before leaving I was filled with a certain trepidation that I would end up sitting in hours of lectures that I wouldn't understand (for some reason I can hardly listen to lectures) and then spend the evenings sat in cafés in Rome on my own trying to catch up on my reading. As it turned out, I had the great pleasure of getting to know John Hobbins, author of one of the best biblioblogs on the net, who pretty much took me under his wings and made the whole experience unforgettable. John wrote his doctorate at the Waldensian institute around the corner from the SBL venue (on Isaiah and imperialism) and thus knew his way around well. Apart from taking me to the best ice-cream and coffee shops in Rome (and the world?), the highlight of the whole trip was for me by far the conversations we had amongst ourselves and with the various friends he introduced me to along the way. Learning really is a community thing, and if its theology you are learning, then you really need role models. John is for me one of those rare breeds of scholar-Christians who strives to and manages to integrate personal faith, pastoral concern, and high level academic work. In addition to the various notes I've haphazardly jotted down over the course of my stay (plus the e-mails of helpful scholars), my lasting memory will be the Gestalt effect of hanging out with John in the context of his Waldensian community, fueled by good coffee and good conversations.

Oh, and in case you didn't believe that John is the bees knees when it comes to quality dining in Rome, you can see him above leaving one of Romes most prestigious diners.

The role of spiritual fatherhood

"Acquire inward peace", said St. Seraphim, "and a multitude of men around you will find their salvation." Such is the role of spiritual fatherhood. Establish yourself in God; then you can bring others to His presence. A man must learn to be alone, he must listen in the stillness of his own heart to the wordless speech of the Spirit, and so discover the truth about himself and God. Then his work to others will be a word of power, because it is a word out of silence.

What Nikos Kazantzakis said of the almond tree is true also of the starets: "I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God,' And the almond tree blossomed."

The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity, by Bishop Kallistos Ware