Stunning. But this makes her so much more human, and yet at the same time so much more saintly, doesn't it, in some great divine paradox. It will be interesting to see how much press this story receives.
Warning: the following is biblical criticism in both senses of the word "criticism." My critical judgment, however, is directed not to the Bible itself, but to the lectionary's use of it.
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. This is the first paragraph of the first reading of the day as given in the lectionary, Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2b-7:
You, Lord, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,
And harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.
There are a couple of problems with this translation. I've given my own translation, which highlights the problems, here:
You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer
your name is eternal (literally, "from forever", me'olam).
Why do you make us wander, Lord, from your ways,
and harden our heart so that we don't fear you?
Turn back for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.
"Our redeemer" is in apposition to "father". The subject of the next sentence is "name," and there is no passive verb "you are named." According to this verse, the Lord was not "named our redeemer forever"; rather, his name has been forever. It's not a major problem, but neither is it a minimally acceptable translation of the Hebrew.
The next sentence is more problematic, however. The verb translated "let us wander" in the lectionary is actually the hiphil of tn', and it means "make us wander." It's easy to guess why the lectionary gives "let us wander": the idea of the God forcefully making his people wander could disrupt the concept of the deity that most people hold, especially in conjunction with the next idea in the clause, that God "hardens" people's hearts (for which no softening translation is possible). Other variations in this paragraph are really quite minor.
I bring up these issues because they illustrate, even in a small, but certainly in an acute way, why Catholics remain such neophytes in study of the Bible and in the critical appropriation of their faith. Firstly, the New American Bible frankly stinks. It is a ludicrous excuse for a translation, and because of this I won't use the Catholic Study Bible when I teach, even though the extensive frontmatter in it is very, very, good. How can I give students a translation that skirts or downright misrepresents "trouble" in the text of scripture? Thomas Aquinas, good Catholic that he was, taught that we have nothing to fear from the truth. The truth in these verses under scrutiny is that the ancient Israelites at the time of third Isaiah (that is, the section of Isa in which chaps 63-64 appear) believed things about God that we find distasteful. God would "make" his people wander from his ways? Yes, this is holy writ, the inspired word of God, and even if it conflicts with our theology, the powers that be have absolutely no right to modify the scriptures.
In the same way, the lectionary omits many "uncomfortable" or disconcerting parts of the Bible. When was the last time you heard Gen 38 or Exod 4:24-26 or Deut 32:39, which, since it is apposite to the discussion here, I'll quote: "I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal." The subject of this sentence, by the way, is God.
The twisting of the reading doesn't end with the mistakes I pointed out above, unfortunately. This is how the lectionary proceeds:
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you, (63:19b)
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him. (64:2b ff, sort of).
Here's my translation of the same verses:
Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you (literally, before your face). (63:19b)
When you did awesome things we didn't look for (or didn't expect),
you came down; the mountains quaked before your face.
From eternity (me'olam) they didn't hear, they did not give ear;
no eye has seen any God except you
who works (or, he works) for those who wait for him. (64:2b-4)
This is so convoluted that I scarcely know where to begin. I'll mention only a few points. The lectionary reading skips over 64:1, and that's OK; I reflected that in my translation. But the lectionary then says that it includes 64:2b-7. It deletes the second mention of God coming down and the mountains quaking in v. 2b, presumably to avoid repetition. But this omission does more than wreak havoc with the Hebrew poetry, which thrives on repetition. It also messes up the sense of what follows. In the Bible, the sentence that begins with the "awesome things" closes with God coming down and the mountains quaking. A new thought begins with "from eternity they didn't hear ...". But in the lectionary reading, it is those "awesome deeds/things" that were "not heard" from of old/from eternity. This truly violates the text; the translation that the parishioners are hearing from the pulpit is not what the Bible itself says. And that makes me angry. Even if the people in the pew have no idea that what they're hearing is wrong, or even if they don't listen to the reading at all, the fact that they are hearing a skewed version of a fine piece of Hebrew is infuriating. There is no reason for it.
I'm going to stop here, although there is, as always, more to be said. Perhaps I'm making too much out of a few verses. Perhaps, as a young professional in this field, I'm taking it too seriously. But perhaps not. Truth is truth, and God's word and our church deserve nothing less than the fullness of truth.
The conference was good, but more rushed and stressful than usual due to my activities there this year. It was so rushed that I didn't make it to the Royal Museum to see the ossuary. By happy chance, however, on the shuttle bus to the airport I sat next to the curator emeritus of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we had a marvelous conversation. He believes that the ossuary is indeed from first-century Jerusalem but the inscription is a forgery.
[Literary] Criticism must spring from a personal engagement with a writer or text. Like all good writing, it should flow from something deep inside you. It turns intuition into discourse. It's an interrogation of the gut response you had in the moment of reading, the moment when something you've read before seems suddenly different, or connected to things in a new way. The role of the critic is to unpack those fugitive intuitions, to open up the text to new and larger contexts, to see the way the language functions.
"It turns intuition into discourse." Yes, that's it exactly.
The New York Times reports that overachieving undergraduates increasingly are carrying double, triple, quadruple, and even quintuple majors. How can they do this? Many took numerous AP courses in high school and so have time in their university schedules for additional work. Poor little things. They actually believe that multiple majors make them look "serious" and will increase their chances for employment. Colleges are rightly discouraging this trend.
It must be tough to be a child in a family that is so status conscious that it produces such anxious children--children who believe that education is the answer to everything. The article in the "A" column of the Wall Street Journal last Friday noted the frenzy of a certain set to get their children into "prestigious" nursery schools in NYC. These parents are under the impression (which sounds somewhat like Japanese attitudes) that admission into certain schools is the first point on the line that ends at Harvard, and we must go to Harvard, musn't we? Else we won't have a good life. As one commenter noted (I think he was a CEO), "Not once in my career has anyone asked me what nursery school I went to."
Certainly education is the answer to some things, and I would be a liar and a hypocrite to argue otherwise. But in a pinch, who would you rather have a hotline to: a Ph.D. in theology or a good plumber? I'll take the plumber any day, and so will most others.
Rod Dreher pens a fairly good article on Paul Thigpen's book The Rapture Trap. The book purports to explain Catholic theories of eschatology and to counter Protestant excesses in this area, particularly as promoted in the execrable Left Behind series. I purchased The Rapture Trap last year, have read almost all of it, and must say that Thigpen has done good service for the church by its publication. That said: he has a Ph.D. from Emory, an excellent school with a theology program in the best historical-critical (and now postmodern) tradition, but the degree did not prevent him from interpreting the Bible in far too simplistic ways at times. A few, and let me repeat, a few, converts to Catholicism, especially if they are from a tradition that espouses a literal reading of the Bible, take a while to absorb Catholics' more nuanced approaches to it. See, for instance, Pius XII's comments on form criticism in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu or the 1993 document "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" on fundamentalist readings of scripture (spoiler: it unequivocally condemns it). Thigpen does well to set out Catholic teaching on the end times, but he still needs to internalize a more Catholic approach to scriptural interpretation in general.
It's been a few days since I've posted, obviously. I've been busy preparing for some high-pressure activities at the Toronto conference. I'll be gone from Friday-Tuesday of this week and next, and of course won't post during that time.
But in the meantime, some of you have written. Isn't virtual community heartening? Some readers of ABD are personal friends of mine, but others are, technically, strangers, though they certainly don't feel like it.
Here are a few items from reader emails that bear mentioning:
The "Cranky Professor" has moved; he's now here. If you haven't read the Cranky Professor, go there. You're in for a treat.
Another blog I've been tardy to mention is that of Gordon Zaft, a regular reader here. You can find more of his thoughtful comments on his own site.
T. S. O'Rama, another regular, helpfully offers a suggestion for Latin Friday, which I ignored last week (had to get my hair done, meet with the associate dean, and finish a dissertation section. Excuses, excuses). He writes:
John Steinbeck signed his letters with his personal "Pigasus" logo, symbolizing himself "a lumbering soul but trying to fly." His Latin motto was "Ad Astra Per Alia Porci" - "To the stars on the wings of a pig".
There's something wonderful about the look and feel of a finely-made book. Anthony Lane regrets that his native Britain doesn't seem to value good book construction any more, a fact confirmed for him when he received a box full of copies of the British edition of his own book, Nobody's Perfect.
When did American books start to outclass their cousins? And how dare England maintain any lingering snootiness toward American culture, when the United States plainly devotes more care to the art—an essential art, being at once fine, decorative, and applied—of book-making? Friends beg me to bring back U.S. editions of novels they admire, solely because they love the soft, cut-edged pages that are still used by American printers. When I sign a copy of the book in New York, I feel like a monk getting off on the joys of naked vellum; when I sign in London, the pen stalls and ploughs inward, as if trapped in a mixture of blotting paper and oatmeal. Historians claim that wartime rationing was phased out in Britain by the 1950s, but I wonder. Today's copies of Nobody's Perfect should ideally be read with a mug of watery cocoa, a dish of powdered egg, and the pleasant murmur of anti-aircraft fire.
Celia, age 6, who could not spell her hyphenated last name, told the crowd President Bush “wants to make war because he wants oil.”
“What is so important about cars anyway,” she asked.
Later, when asked if she could name the president of Iraq, Celia, stumped, turned to a friend and asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Her friend, equally puzzled, responded, “I think it’s a boy.”
Who organized the tots?
The rally was organized through several Berkeley pre-schools that pride themselves on their alternative curriculum. At New School, academics are set aside for physical activities like yoga. And at Berkwood Hedge, a private K-5 school with 115 students, the curriculum focuses largely on issues of social justice.
You would think that the curriculum, while teaching small children misinformation about our president, could at least teach them how to spell their own names. Ah, but why worry about facts when ideology is so much more interesting?
The website Lucianne.com can be a good place to find articles on politics, but I've been reading more of the threads lately and find them for the most part utterly despicable. The ignorance and bigotry (not to mention the bad spelling and muddy syntax) of "Ldotters" seem boundless, and it's scary to think that there are so many people who think and feel the way so many of them so evidently do.
There was a time when Oxford lexicographers could go their clueless ways. "When the word television came into general use," Mr. Stevenson remembered, "one academic complained that no good would come of an invention that had a half-Greek, half-Latin name."
What a delight! I sincerely love the pedantic. Don't miss the end of the article for the best laugh.
We got a postcard Friday from the favorite aunt and uncle, about whom I've written more than a little in this forum. They left last month for a 60-some day "veterans' cruise" in the Pacific. My uncle lied about his age to enlist in WWII when he was 17, and he fought on a PT boat. My son now owns the book he gave my father (who is much younger than my uncle): Petey the PT Boat, as blatant a piece of anti-Japanese propaganda as one could ever dig up.
Only in the last year or so has he begun to discuss his experiences in the war, and we all wonder what effect this cruise will have on him.
Tell a veteran how much you appreciate him or her today.
This rant is the funniest thing I've read in a long, long, time. As one poster on a Lucianne thread wrote about it, "I don't want to gloat, but [gosh] this is fun."
Feel that numbness? That strange slightly chilling shift deep in the heart, like a cold wind across the blood, an ice pick straight to the third eye, fingernails across the karmic chalkboard?
Fear not -- it's just the dark storm clouds of sadness and savage spiritual pain that just settled in over the collective soul of the country and indeed much of the world recently, as the Republican Party snatched total control of the American government and really honestly promised to further its agenda of fear and war and intolerance and bad sex and more petroleum products forevermore.
A satirist could not devise anything better, but the above is indeed for real.
Pacifism was built around phrases that sounded pleasant (peace, love, non-violence) but that were essentially deceptive because they were unrealistic—that is, untrue to the nature of reality, to the way the world actually works (as distinct from the way we might wish that it did). “To abjure violence,” Orwell noted, “it is necessary to have no experience of it.” Looking back on the Spanish civil war in 1942, Orwell criticized “the sentimental belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear never really happens.”
Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism … is founded largely on this belief. Don’t resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does?
I just finished reading Jan Dalley's biography Diana Mosley (published in 2000 by Knopf). Dalley went to almost astonishing lengths to portray her character sympathetically, but in fact there can be no sympathy for a woman who remains, to this day, unapologetic for her support of fascism both in England and in Germany in the 1930s and '40s. Mosley and her husband, the founder of the British Union of Fascists, advocated pacifism and non-violence as Britain gathered itself for war against the Axis powers, and most of Britain rightly perceived them as traitors.
Dalley's description of the "horrible conditions" Diana and her husband suffered in the early portion of their imprisonment was especially galling, to say the least. Diana is alive to this day; her husband died peacefully of old age. Not so the victims of Fascism. I would like to send Lady Mosley on a tour of the Holocaust Museum in DC.
But the Mosley legacy lives on in the United States today, in all those who would have us ignore, then appease, the threats that confront us. Is the Bush strategy risky? Absolutely. But not nearly as risky as any other alternative.
This article by the always thoughtful and thought-provoking Theodore Dalrymple explains a lot about why France takes the stance that it does toward the war in Iraq, even though the article itself never mentions that topic.
The irony of an apparent joy in upcoming "fireworks" in Iraq juxtaposed with a hope for a ban on partial-birth abortion in a post below does not escape me. Would it be better not to have war at all, much less war in Iraq? An emphatic yes answers that one. But let's get real. There are some nasty pieces of work in the world, and they have demonstrated quite clearly that they want to make our lives even nastier than their own. It is our responsibility to stop them, and if we can stop them only through violence, that's reality, too.
But if we could conquer Iraq with the pinpoint accuracy and low financial cost with which we took out these Al-Qaeda operatives, what a good thing it would be (good, that is, only in comparison to the alternatives: risking American lives; spending too much American money; letting those who plot murderous attacks on our civilian and military personnel continue their planned mayhem).
Frankly, it's funny to think of the Vatican "rushing" to do anything, and I don't mean that as a put-down. Like Moses, the Vatican's propensity to be "slow of speech and slow of tongue" is often a saving grace. For example, under much pressure the Church did not jump on the contraception bandwagon and continues to stay off it. But that's another issue entirely.
The real issue under consideration here is whether gay priests should be allowed into the priesthood. My first reaction is to agree with, strangely enough, the Jesuit magazine America:
"Ensuring that the church ordains only psychologically healthy priests is one answer to the sexual abuse crisis," the editorial said. "Scapegoating healthy and celibate gay priests is not."
If there is evidence that gay men are more likely to molest children than straight men, or that gay men have other problems particular to homosexuality that impact their ministry or that of their fellow priests, I will change my mind. But I would like to see the evidence, and right now I don't think there is any.
...never, ever, ever underestimate George W. Bush. It took me two years of being wrong about Bush before I finally got sick of it. The rest of the pundit class had better catch on. He is a leader of the first order.
Oh, the places we'll go! Oh, the things that we'll do!
A tour of Iraq with lots of fireworks
A permanent tax cut
The end of the death tax
A ban on partial-birth abortion (yes, yes!)
An effective department of Homeland Security
Bush puts a decisive end to the sneer that he was a "selected" president, one hopes. A popular leader in a time of war (and don't let's ever forget that), he does the un-do-able and refutes those nay-sayers in the liberal media.
Thank God for the internet. Conservative news, once limited for the most part on the national level to the Wall Street Journal and, since the late '80s, Rush Limbaugh, is now available at the click of a button, refuting the malicious spin and often outright lies of the Democratic party. Because of the web, the conservative message can be disseminated without going through the distortion of the mainstream news outlets. On this, by the way, no one has said it better this morning than Andrew Sullivan, who takes the Old Gray Lady, now tottering, to task for her utter obtuseness about the election.
The Republican party is certainly not perfect, and as God-fearing souls we can't put our hopes of salvation in it, but in this temporal order and in this earthly space, better them than the alternative.
The British survey's "most frequently submitted joke" was this one: "Q: What's brown and sticky? A: A stick!" I didn't think this was very funny, and such humorous potential as it had seemed to me to be definitely "British" in flavor. However, when I told it to my two American kids, ages nine and seven, they fell down laughing. It is now spreading like wildfire among the preteen community of Long Island. As I said, these are fathomless mysteries, defying all analysis.
Does Mondale really believe this, or is he simply colluding in the Great Lie?
The sharpest exchange of the debate came over the issue of abortion. When asked about confirming the president's judicial nominees, Coleman said he did not believe in litmus tests, while Mondale said, "I believe in choice [on abortion]...I believe it is so fundamental, it is in the Constitution, that we should confirm judges on that basis."
Yep, those founding fathers were so concerned about the right to abortion that they wrote it into the Constitution. What's sad is that the majority of at least two generations of Americans may think this is correct.
A short time later, when Coleman asked Mondale, "Could you find common ground on the issue of partial birth abortion? Do you believe parents should be involved?" Mondale shot back that Coleman was "an arbitrary right-to-lifer." In what would become the most dramatic moment of the debate, Coleman answered that he and his wife had had two children who died young. "I have a deep and profound respect for the value of life," Coleman said. "It's not arbitrary. Please do not describe it as arbitrary."
The response knocked Mondale back on his feet. Even in an emotional moment, Coleman had kept his cool and respectful tone, leaving the former vice president without an effective response.
Sorry for the lapse in posting, and particularly for the neglect of Latin Friday. Probably it would be best to observe the latter approximately every other Friday, which day tends to be rather busy for me.
A reader directed an interesting question my way regarding the ossuary: he wondered if I knew why the Latin Church favored the interpretation "cousins" for the "brothers" of Jesus, and why the Greek church favored "half- or step-brothers". I had honestly never given any thought at all to the matter, and in the course of my brief research on the question was not able to answer it. At the meeting in Toronto, however, will be some folks who probably can do so.
In the meantime, I found a few links that might be of interest to people who want to learn more. The Catholic Encyclopedia Online has a good article on "The Brethren of Jesus." The CEO is a very helpful site, and I hope you all know about it. It is the old version, but some think the old version superior to the new for all the usual reasons. By the way, a new edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia is now either in the works or out (I can't remember). It will be interesting to see who the editors and contributors are and how they handle certain topics.
But a few notes from the above-linked article:
The majority of the Greek Fathers and Greek writers, influenced, it seems, by the legendary tales of apocryphal gospels, considered the "brethren" of the Lord as sons of St. Joseph by a first marriage. The Latins, on the contrary, with few exceptions (St. Ambrose, St. Hilary, and St. Gregory of Tours among the Fathers), hold that they were the Lord's cousins.
This still doesn't tell us much about doctrinal differences or preferences, if any, that may have influenced the divergent approaches.
If you want to check out Jerome's treatise against Helvidius on this topic, you may go here.
Who is the Lady of Shalott?Click here and find out. Why do I call myself the Lady of Shalott?
In addition to being a blogger, I'm a wife, mother, and Ph.D. student specializing in scripture and the Graeco-Roman world, and I'm just a little bit pregnant with a dissertation (but we're not going to talk about the dissertation, are we? No!). In hopes of receiving tenure someday at a university as wonderful as the one I now attend, this blogger will remain resolutely anonymous. Nothing like yards of politically incorrect off-the-cuff statements to derail the tenure track. But we'll have lots of fun anyway.