Monday, December 26, 2011

The Jewish Annoted New Testament

The New Testament is constantly being re-interpreted from a variety of perspectives. From feminists, to socialists, to traditionalists; there's even a version as seen through the prism of Star Wars.

Well now, you can add to the collection The Jewish Annotated New Testament by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. More...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tropes: Science and Isaiah

On the value of metaphor to science:

The tentative discovery at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider of the Higgs boson -- among the key missing links in our fundamental theories of matter -- again shows the surprising power of mathematics to illuminate nature’s secrets. But the discovery also points to the value of scientific metaphor, of guessing that things we know nothing about might turn out to be surprisingly similar to things we’re familiar with. Indeed, the theory behind the Higgs boson owes as much to what’s already known about mundane things like iron magnets and metals as it does to exotic mathematics.

From a conversation with Walter Brueggemann:

Ms. Tippett: I'd love to talk about your image of God, and I want you to talk about that more personally. But I thought I might start, you know, for example, in one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry, Isaiah, and you talk about that it offers five images for God. This is just one — (laughter) one passage in Isaiah:

"A demolition squad, a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place, the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of, the powerful sea monster he will swallow up death forever, a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces."

How are normal people, not biblical scholars, how are they to make sense of a text like that? Of a God — who God is?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, they're going to make sense of it if they have good preachers and teachers to help them pause long enough to take in the imagery. But you see, what the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation and then it's deathly. So we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that is healthier than that, you're going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Income inequality in the Roman Empire

Two economists find income disparity in the Roman Empire at the peak of its population (150 C.E.):

To determine the size of the Roman economy and the distribution of income, historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen pored over papyri ledgers, previous scholarly estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages. Their target was the state of the economy when the empire was at its population zenith, around 150 C.E. Schiedel and Friesen estimate that the top 1 percent of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top 1 percent control. 
. . . They point out that the majority of extant Roman ruins resulted from the economic activities of the top 10 percent. “Yet the disproportionate visibility of this ‘fortunate decile’ must not let us forget the vast but—to us—inconspicuous majority that failed even to begin to share in the moderate amount of economic growth associated with large-scale formation in the ancient Mediterranean and its hinterlands.” 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The "Death" of Tragedy?

A friend brought to my attention a book that might be said to address questions at the heart of this blog, i.e., the complex legacy of descending from two extremely different traditions, the ancient Greeks and the Jews of the Old Testament: The Death of Tragedy by George Steiner.

From the top review on Amazon:
Steiner argues that Tragedy is an Artform unique to the Western world. In his opening pages he makes the claim that for the Judaic sensibility there is no tragedy as it is "vehement in its conviction that the order of the universe and of man's estate is accessible to reason." pp.4 For Steiner tragedy arises out of a contrary view"necessity is blind and man's encounter with it shall rob him of his eyes, whether in Thebes or in Gaza." pp.5 For Steiner this is a Greek assertion.Steiner makes a learned survey of Western Literature showing the points at where tragic genius has flourished, and the many more where it has been attempted and failed. Close to the end of the work he makes this observation "..tragedy is that form of art which requires the intolerable burden of God's presence. It is now dead because His shadow no longer falls upon us as it fell on Agamemnon or Macbeth or Athalie. " Steiner then goes on to talk briefly about the possibility of renewal of tragedy under different circumstances. This work is a stellar piece of literary criticism- whether one takes issue with Steiner and believes Job on the one hand , and Willy Loman in another way , are tragic characters after all.
Without having read the book, it's impossible to be sure, but from our readings of the Greco-Roman classics, and from the Old Testament, I have a feeling that I'd be in major and lively disagreement with Steiner's basic premises.

Another snippet (p. 5):