Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More dead found after IKE

Three more bodies have been found according to the Houston Chronicle HERE. Two on the island of Galveston. The bodies will have to be identified by autopsies. The third body has been identified as Mr. Greg Walker of Orange County. Searchers expect to find more bodies as the debris is cleared.

This picture is of the memorial on Galveston seawall that was built in honor of those 6000 people who died in the hurricane of 1900.

Photo by Johnny Hanson for the Houston Chronicle
Waves crashing into the seawall reaching over the memorial to the hurricane of 1900 as Hurricane Ike began to hit Galveston.

Zakaria weighs in on McCain's VP choice

CNN has reported this about a column in Newsweek where Zakaria is interviewed about McCain and Palin:
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a column appearing in Newsweek, world affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria said he thinks it would be best for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain if Gov. Sarah Palin bowed out as his vice presidential running mate.

Zakaria says McCain did not put the country first in making his V.P. choice, and he says Palin is not qualified to lead the United States.
MORE OF ZAKARIA'S INTERVIEW HERE. Zakaria emphasizes the fact that Palin is operating from a set of talking points which she repeats and confuses. Like Parker admitted yesterday in her editorial, Zakaria thinks it would be best for our country if Palin would step down. She is clearly not ready for the President's post if (more likely: when) she would need to take over the helm. Zakaria thinks that McCain did not make this VP choice with the best interest of our country in mind.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-29-08

It is good to pray to God night and day, spreading out our hands toward him as do people sailing in the middle of the sea. They pray to God with all their heart without hypocrisy...God examines the inward parts and searches the bottom of the heart so that he might know who is worthy of salvation.

Exegesis on the Soul 136.17-25 (second century Valentinian sermon)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Parker now thinks that Palin is "out of her league"

Kathleen Parker who had been an early enthusiastic supporter of Palin has now changed her mind and asks directly for Palin to step down in HER EDITORIAL HERE. After listening to the interviews, Parker has come to the conclusion that Palin is out of her league. Palin doesn't know enough about international politics or the economy to function successfully as our President should the need arise, although Parker did note that the foreign male leaders that Palin met were infatuated with her. The Pakistani president asked to hug her because he was so smitten with her beauty.

So here we are again glaring into the face of sexism at its worse. We have standing before us a woman VP nominee who is not ready for the job. This is nothing but a mockery of women politicians in my opinion as I have said before on this blog (just scroll down to my last several posts). Why don't we have Senator Hutchinson, a woman who knows what she is doing, standing next to McCain? It is painful for me to watch a woman who finally "made it" be so unknowledgeable about the essentials, and for this to be seen as "okay" by Americans because she is a so-called "hockey-mom" and beauty queen. I dare say that if this were a male VP nominee none of us would tolerate it - think Dan Quayle.

The MISSING after IKE are being reported

We now have a more accurate picture of who is missing after IKE. There is a web-page devoted to the MISSING HERE.

As I feared in the aftermath of the storm, the information about the MISSING was not being reported to us. Why I do not know. But today, over two weeks following IKE's devastation, the Houston Chronicle has a sad report HERE on the MISSING which now is at 400. And some survivor stories that are horrifying HERE. Many of the MISSING are hoped to show up yet in shelters. But it is beginning to look more and more like many were washed out to sea, and we are expecting to find more bodies buried in the mounds of rubble yet to be shifted through and removed.

Story and Photo HERE
Photo by Cindy Horswell for Houston Chronicle

Mike Anderson, 49, is a survivor from Bolivar. He was adrift at sea and lost for 36 hours in debris before he was rescued. He was covered in ant bites and flesh-eating bacteria. He said thoughts of his family gave him the will to live.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-27-08

Jesus said, "He who prays and fasts but does not abandon sin is inscribed in the Kingdom of God as a liar."

Abu al-Qasim ibn `Asakir, Sirat al-Sayyid al-Masih p. 172 (no. 196): The Muslim Jesus

Bolivar Peninsula video

Residents have been returning home to face what is left and what is not left of their homes and properties on Galveston island and Bolivar peninsula this week.

The Houston Chronicle reported this morning that "the most stunning sight amid the devastation in town may have been Warren and Pam Adams' bright yellow home — the only house along the beach in Gilchrist left standing. Warren Adams credited his home's survival to several reasons: It was built higher off the ground than surrounding houses and its foundation was made with reinforced concrete. Also, the house, completed last year, was built to new hurricane building codes. Pam Adams felt a sense of guilt that her home survived and those of her neighbors didn't. 'It is just devastating. I feel so sorry for all these people,' she said. While their home remains standing, the first-floor garage was wiped away, the wooden staircase to the second floor was knocked out and the home's interior suffered water and mud damage.Warren Adams said he planned to repair and rebuild. But like many other Bolivar Peninsula residents who planned to do the same, he worried whether his home could be seized by the state because Ike eroded so much of the beach that it might now sit on public property."

The photos are from Houston Chronicle. Pam Adams is standing in front of her home in Gilchrist on Friday, Sept. 26, on the Bolivar Peninsula. Hurricane Ike leveled every house on the Gulf side of Gilchrist, except hers. Compare the aerial photo.


Cafferty's comments on Palin's interview

Take a look at this. It's short. When I saw this, I thought, gosh, I'm beginning to sound like Cafferty. Thanks to Bill Parsons for bringing it to my attention.

A link to Palin's interview

Thanks to Doug Chaplin for posting this link to Palin's interview which Doug calls PALIN DRONE - the interview which I referred to in my last post. You really do have to see it to believe it.

I am terrified at the prospect that this person who can barely answer simple questions could be our next VP. The journalist appears more knowledgeable than she.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Palin's candidacy is a mockery

Well, Doonesbury this morning cartoons much better the feelings that I tried to convey in my story about Palin (which I posted yesterday). HERE is the link to DOONESBURY, the cartoon is SEPT. 28.

Reading this morning in the newspaper about Palin's justification for her lack of interaction in the international scene is demeaning to me, the child of a working class family. A working class childhood is no justification for an adult VP nominee to have never obtained a passport before last year or to never have traveled beyond the US borders. These excuses are pitiful and they suggest that working class people have no ingenuity or abilities. Being from a working class background is no excuse for not being prepared for the job she wants.

I too am a working class kid. My father is a plumber and we had to deal with very tough times in Michigan in the eighties when there was no work for many people in construction. Nevertheless, during those hard times, I not only figured out how to go to college, but I also figured out how to travel overseas. Because my family couldn't afford to send me away to university, and I had to work and get scholarships and loans, I went to our local community college for two and a half years before transferring to a state university. During that time, I managed to travel outside of the US. many times, beginning when I was 20 and I won a scholarship from the local Kiwanis Club to support an educational trip to Greece and Turkey. I have never stopped traveling nor have I ever stopped learning.

Palin's candidacy is a mockery, especially of women politicians, but also of the way in which we select the people to run the White House. It is a last ditch ploy by the Republicans in power to draw attention away from the fact that they have crashed our economy, involved us in a war with no ethical justification, and have nothing except their own self-interests at heart. They are using Palin to present themselves as a party for Every(wo)man, when in fact, they are a party dominated by a white male elites who are more concerned about making quick money (and getting bailed out) at our expense and our children's expense and their children's expense. I have never been so depressed or embarrassed about my country as I am today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Listening to an interview

Last evening as I was working on the computer, I could hear part of an interview on TV. Two people were talking about the financial crisis which is on all of our minds. Someone was asking a woman some questions about the crisis, and the woman was replying. Her replies were so misinformed and silly that I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So I asked Wade (who was able to see the screen) who was being interviewed. He replied, "Palin."

My reaction was complete embarrassment, especially for women in America. What a mockery of us this is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-24-08

Jesus said, "There was a wealthy man who had many assets. He said, 'I will use my assets to sow, harvest, plant and fill my granaries with produce, so that I will not need anything.' These were the things he was thinking in his heart. But that very night, he died."

Gospel of Thomas 63.1-3

What the evacuees face

Galveston residents returned to the island today, some seeing their properties and the devastation for the first time since they left the island before IKE hit. There is a long road ahead for these residents. Apparently even after power and water is restored to the island, every house has to be inspected by a licensed electrician and plumber, followed by city inspectors who must give their blessings - all before residents can turn on their power and water. There are 4 city inspectors for approximately 50,000 residents.

Wade returns to the Law and Justice Center on the island tomorrow even though the building is under generator power. The water is so bad that they are being told to not even brush their teeth with it or allow their pets to drink it. Residents are warned that mosquitoes, rats and snakes are swarming on the island. So everyone is supposed to go and get a tetanus shot which are being administered at the local Galveston grocery store. Wade was told to pack a brown bag lunch and all the sodas and water that he wants to drink.

The good news I heard is that the missing people have been reduced to under a hundred, perhaps even as low as fifty. I don't know how long before we know any more than this.

For photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by David J. Phillip for AP
Wayne Neill, left, and Brenda Roby, center, hug as Donna Hanson looks over the debris left where her home once stood in Galveston.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-23-08

His disciples said to him, "Your brothers and your mother are standing outside."

He said to them, "Those here who do the will of my Father, they are my brothers and my mother. They are the people who will enter the Kingdom of my Father."

Gospel of Thomas 99.1-3

Galveston residents to return home to what is left (or not left)

Tomorrow marks the day that Galveston evacuees are allowed to return to their homes. People that have been back already tell of how bad it is: to bring masks, gloves, high boots, and be ready to face heartbreak. For some who were lucky, they only have to deal with first floor flooding. This means getting rid of all the furniture and appliances on the first floor, pulling up the flooring, and tearing out the walls, dealing with mold everywhere.

For those who weren't so lucky, it means tearing down the home completely (or what was left of it) and starting over. In the meantime, these people are homeless. Many are now jobless as well, at least until Galveston is up and running again, or they move elsewhere to find work.

What else do they face when they return to Galveston? The sewer system is leaking; the water pressure is so low that there is a boil water order in place; the ER room in the hospital can barely handle urgent care, let alone a car accident or heart attack victim; and did I mention that there is no electricity yet? Many of Wade's co-workers in the judicial system no longer have homes, cars, clothes, or any other possessions that we all take for granted. They are scrambling to try to find housing, which is basically non-existent in the areas around Houston. How can you house 40,000 displaced people in an area where housing is at a premium? They are bunking with family and friends on the mainland, or living in tents on their Galveston property and using make-shift outdoor grills to prepare food.

For these photos and MORE GO HERE

Photo 1
by Rick Bowmer for AP
Joan Harden removes debris from her mother-in-law's home today in Galveston. The home was hit by flood waters.

Photo 2 by Rick Bowmer for AP
Scot Adams helps demolish a house destroyed by Hurricane Ike today in Galveston.

Photo 3
by Rick Bowmer for AP
Donna Lawe, who weathered Hurricane Ike at her home, is shown washing her clothes while preparing to cook breakfast today in Galveston.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-22-08

Jesus said, "Do not be anxious from morning until evening and from evening until morning, neither about your food and what you will eat, nor about your clothing and what you will wear. You are far better than the lilies which neither card nor spin. As for you, when you have no clothing, what will you put on? Who might add to your stature? He will give you clothing."

Gospel of Thomas, P. Oxy. 655.i.1-17 (reconstructed)

For photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Dave Rossman for the Houston Chronicle
Parishoners arrive for in the dark for mass at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on 9-21-08

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Aerial photos of IKE's damage

The Houston Chronicle has posted some incredible (in the awful sense) aerial pictures of IKE's damage. The one I posted here is of the only house left in Gilchrist, a city on the Bolivar Peninsula that was washed away by IKE.

For photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Smiley N. Pool
for Houston Chronicle
A single house is left standing amidst the devastation left by Hurricane Ike, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008, in Gilchrest

IKE recovery continues

Here in Houston it is getting hot and humid again, and still 50% of Houston is without electricity and water. Some will not have electricity for weeks yet, and worse are those who live closer to the coast where the restoration of power is anyone's guess. People are weary and getting wearier. For some it is difficult to even find a shower. There have been long lines to request emergency food stamps - families waiting in the heat and sun for eight hours or more. And FEMA is leaving now and the local charities are taking over. We try not to travel too far from home because most of the traffic lights don't work. So there are huge pile ups in traffic everywhere you drive, and it takes twice as long to get anywhere as it does when the lights are working.

The Galveston islanders have been very upset that they have not yet been allowed back on the island to inspect their homes and properties (see photo of a sign someone painted on a surviving trailer on the island). So, under pressure, the mayor of Galveston made another change in plans for their return. Now every citizen on the island can return on Wednesday beginning at dawn, although only those who live behind the seawall can stay. How this is ever going to be enforced is beyond me.

Can you imagine what kind of traffic jam we are going to see, since we are talking about 40,000 people driving on one highway (the only highway) and across one bridge (the only bridge) into Galveston? Can you imagine how much fuel is going to be wasted at a time when people are waiting for hours at the local gas stations to fuel up? Some gas stations still are out of commission because they have no power for their pumps, and gas is scarce because several of the refineries have been off line since the hurricane.

I imagine that Wade will return to work this week once the island opens up again and the Law and Justice Center reopens. I will return to my office tomorrow, and try to get my mind back into my teaching and research. I have been trying to work on editing some of the papers for the Codex Judas Congress volume, but even this has been hard to concentrate on, given the situation in Houston which is nowhere near normal.

For this photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Karen Warren for the Houston Chronicle
A sign painted on the side of a trailer in Galveston

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Erasing women (again!)

This morning, when I turned the page of the Houston Chronicle, I was confronted with a very sorry (but telling!) story about erasing women and women's issues again. The Southern Baptist Convention has pulled off of the shelves of its bookshops the latest issue of Gospel Today magazine. Why? Because it shows five women of the cloth on the front cover and "the statements that were in it took positions that were contrary to what we would say," according to Chris Turner, a spokesman for the SBC bookshops.

Really? And only a few days after the men of the Convention revised their position on women to make it possible for conservative Christians from the Convention to support and vote for the McCain-Palin ticket?

Remember ten years ago, when there was a hostile takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention? The result was the declaration that women's place was in the home, "to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation." She was not to be burdened with working outside the home, and was to happily embrace her duty as homemaker which was the backbone of our society. Only the husband should be vocationally oriented.

These were not just sexist words, they became a sexist policy that resulted in the purging of churches and seminaries of female leadership, including not only ministers but also professors who were fired along with any men who supported them. If you have never seen the documentary on this hostile takeover, "Battle for the Mind" by Steven Lipscomb (1997), it is well-worth the viewing time. In fact, it was a big inspiration for me to decide to begin writing next, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter.

Enter Sarah Palin. Now the Southern Baptist Convention is in a pickle, unless its statement is reinterpreted in such a way that it denies what it declared to begin with. Robert Parham of "On Faith" reports that one SBC professor thus said, "the Baptist Faith and Message does not address the question of women in secular leadership, only spiritual leadership." Ahh, the secular loophole which allows Baptist men to vote Republication even though what Palin is doing is the opposite of their interpretation of women's roles according to the Bible. I wonder if this secular distinction means that all the women professors who lost their jobs will be reinstated in the seminaries too?

I don't even know what to say about the glass ceiling anymore. It doesn't look like glass to me, but cement.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-19-08

Jesus said, "Lift the stone and you will find me there. Split the piece of wood and I am there."

Gospel of Thomas 30.3-4

For photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Nathan Lindstrom for the Houston Chronicle
A downed live oak tree rests on gravestones at Glenwood Cemetery on Washington Ave. Sept. 18, 2008.

Galveston's Recovery

Today a huge navy ship carrying Marines unloaded on Galveston. The job of the troops is to help clean up the island, particularly getting the port open again and getting the marinas operating. Some heavy earth movers are being brought across the channel to begin clearing debris and stabilizing the roads. The mayor of Galveston hopes that the island will be ready to receive people back within seven to ten days. At that time, people will face broken homes or no homes, and will have to decide what to do.

None of the schools in Houston or Galveston have reopened. Most here in the city still don't have power, one week after IKE. In fact, only about 50% of Houstonians have power and water, and the temperatures are rising again. At the grocery store this afternoon, many people were milling around looking dazed and worn out. We are still under curfew, so the city becomes dark and still around 9 p.m. It is eerie and disconcerting.

For Photo and MORE GO HERE
Photo by Scott Olson
A U.S. Navy Beach Group attached to the U.S.S. Nassau lands on the beach to help with Hurricane Ike recovery Sept.18, 2008 in Galveston.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

IKE Recovery

Thank you for the outpouring of your good wishes on this blog in the comments and in e-mails that have been sent to me. My family is fine and our house is fine. We are among the lucky. Houston was pounded, but it is nothing compared to where IKE hit land on Galveston and Bolivar peninsula. This picture is from Galveston island.

As I mentioned earlier, these areas look like bombed out war zones, especially the West end of Galveston and the Bolivar peninsula where two cities (Gilschrist and Crystal Beach) no longer exist.

For some reason, the press is not picking up the main concern of all of us here - where are the missing people? The latest reports I've heard from Galveston are that 15,000 people stayed on the island during IKE. But at this point only 9,500 have been accounted for. Certainly many will show up over the next few months as safe and well living in shelters on the mainland. But right now we don't know where 5,500 people are and families are trying to find relatives and friends that they know stayed on the island but who they haven't heard from. The horrific question is beginning to be whispered among us: how many were washed out to sea?

Monday, September 15, 2008

After IKE in Houston

I have finally been able to make my way up to my office where there is internet access. My family and I are fine, but the area is stunned by this hurricane. The news reports are not really telling people how bad it is, especially on Bolivar peninsula and Galveston. The Bolivar peninsula communities have been wiped out. Literally there is one house left standing among miles of flooded rumble. Reports that are seeping out of Galveston are bad. 20,000 people did not evacuate but stayed in their homes, and so far only 2000 survivors have been recovered. Search and rescue is still going on, but the island has no power or water. Most areas remain flooded and people are stranded in the upper stories of their homes (if they weren't swept away). The island's mayor has told people not to come back because it is inhospitable at this time. 3000 people are still waiting to be evacuated to the mainland. As for FEMA, PODS only began to be set up last night in Houston, so people who are without homes, water, food, or gas are struggling. The mess up appears to be on FEMA's side, since our local officials had everything in place before IKE hit, but FEMA didn't deliver. I don't know what the end of this story will be, but what has happened is very sad and many of us are mourning.

Here are some photos from the Houston Chronicle that have just been released.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Riding out IKE

We are here in Houston waiting for IKE to hit. Where we live is not in an evacuation zone, but have been told to stay put. Galveston Island, where my husband's office is, is where IKE will hit landfall. How much of the island will go under water, we don't know. But the downtown strand area is already flooded according to a friend of ours who lives on the island and just left a few hours ago for safer ground here in Houston.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-10-08

Jesus said to the disciples, "Disciples, do not cast pearls before swine, for the swine can do nothing with them. Do not impart wisdom to the person who does not desire it, for wisdom is more precious than pearls and whoever rejects wisdom is worse than a pig."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, p. 144 (no. 477) (The Muslim Jesus)

Commentary: My response to the media's response to the Republicans' response to Obama's response to Palin.

Scopello's Paris conference volume on Judas is published

I just heard today that Madeleine Scopello's book which contains the proceedings from the 2006 International conference on the Gospel of Judas held in Paris has been published. It is a Brill volume, so pricey and probably a library loan book for most of us, but it is very important publication because it contains a wide range of scholarship on the Gospel of Judas - first ever glimpses at what scholars world-wide are thinking about the Gospel of Judas. The paper I wrote that inspired The Thirteenth Apostle is in this volume, as well as significant pieces by John Turner, Louis Painchaud, and many many others. I don't have the final contents list on hand, but it was a great conference with great contributions.

The book is called The Gospel of Judas in Context: Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Gospel of Judas (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies; Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Paul Foster: The Non-Canonical Gospels

Finally it is here! An affordable book ($29.95) introducing the non-canonical gospels. It is edited by Paul Foster. It is up-to-date and perfect for students in courses on the gospels. Some of the articles printed are revisions of earlier versions published in Expository Times last year, others appear in this volume for the first time. I think that this one is worth getting for your library and considering adopting for your courses.


J.K. Elliot, "The Non-Canonical Gospels and the New Testament Apocrypha: Currents in Early Christian Thought and Beyond"

April DeConick, "The Gospel of Thomas"

Paul Foster, "The Gospel of Peter"

Christopher Tuckett, "The Gospel of Mary"

Andrew Gregory, "Jewish-Christian Gospels"

Simon Gathercole, "The Gospel of Judas: An Unlikely Hero"

April DeConick, "The Gospel of Judas: A Parody of Apostolic Christianity"

Paul Foster, "The Protevangelium of James"

Tony Chartrand-Burke, "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas"

Tobias Nicklas, "Papyrus Egerton 2"

Thomas Kraus, "The Fayum Gospel"

Michael Kruger, "Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840"

Paul Foster, "Secret Mark"

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A long post weighing in on Avalos and Koester

I have been reluctant to become too involved in the controversy over biblical studies - not because I don't have an opinion, but because over the years I have come to realize just how complex this issue is. In many ways, it is a debate about idealism and realism, at least as it as played out in my own experience as a professor in the field.

When I first began teaching, I set up a proper curriculum in my mind at a liberal arts college in a religious studies department. I changed out the old curriculum which was canonically based with a new curriculum that did not include categories like "Old Testament," "Hebrew Bible," "New Testament," "Apocrypha" or the like. I did not want to continue to arrange the curriculum around religious categories that preferenced one particular religious tradition over another.

All went well until I offered my Christian Origins course. I enrolled six people. Then I offered my Ancient Israel course. Again I enrolled six people (not the same six, and in a different semester). Usually my courses enrolled 25-30, so these numbers were weird. So I decided to try an experiment. I changed the name of the Christian Origins course but kept everything else the same - course description, syllabus, exercises. I put it on the books as The New Testament and Christians Origins. The class enrolled at 25. I didn't get a chance to try out The Old Testament and Ancient Israel because I moved to Rice before I retaught the course.

Now I have thought about this experience a lot because it taught me something about the expectations of young people in America and their interests. The young people in my courses are not aware of the debates of the academy until they enroll and we get talking about them. What do most of them know? They know the words "Old Testament" and "New Testament" and they think they know what this means in terms of content.

Does the biblical canon influence us in America? Certainly, everything from politics (where I see the religious bible right moving to a hostile takeover [akin to what happened with the Southern Baptist Convention]) to literature. And wherever I have taught (Michigan, Illinois, Texas), it (as the "Word of God") has a prominent hold on a very large portion of our youth. And yet, in my experience as a teacher, these young people (before they enroll) know next to nothing about what the texts actually say, what the difference is between historical readings and doctrinal readings, how, when, and why the canon came together as it did and what the heck this means, and so forth.

So this has prompted me to create a 100-level course called "Introduction to Biblical Studies" (which I taught in Illinois for years) and now "Introduction to New Testament Studies" (which I teach here at Rice). In this course I cover everything from oral culture, literacy, manuscript traditions, development of canon, diversity of early Christianity, and historical readings (source, form, redaction, social scientific, feminist, tradition, rhetorical, literary, post-modern criticisms - and how these types of readings differ from doctrinal readings in terms of purpose and questions). Frankly, I wish that every college in America offered this type of course. It is unbelievable how much this information excites students and motivates them to want to know more.

There is another issue that we face in the academy. Jobs. There is a difference between seminaries, divinity schools, private (often religious-affiliated) universities, liberal arts colleges, and state universities. Each of these places has different needs in terms of teaching religion, and when you go on the job market, you need to be clear and honest with yourself about which of these types of departments you want to work in.

For a department in a religious-affiliated school, including seminaries, the concentration there is going to be teaching canonical materials, and often the historical method is trumped by theological hermeneutics. This doesn't mean that the historical method isn't taught, but that doctrinal issues and contemporary hermeneutics are going to be emphasized. The students who are enrolling in the courses are enrolling mainly to become ministers of a faith tradition, or who just want to learn more about contemporary hermeneutical readings of the material. Historical methods and linguistics are background or serve to support the doctrinal hermeneutics going on in the course. These schools need and want people in Old Testament, New Testament, Gospels, Paul, Systematic theology, Ethics, and so forth. There are a lot more jobs in these types of institutions than non-affiliated religious studies departments.

When non-affiliated religious studies departments post in Old Testament and New Testament, or Biblical Studies, what they are after is someone who handles the religious textual, exegetical and ideological traditions from a historical perspective. This is different from a post in Early Jewish or Christian Studies which is likely looking for a historian who handles social, political, gender and religious history.

The Society of Biblical Literature is a society that works with both of these constituencies, as does AAR. These are societies whose members include everyone from theologians, to philosophers, to historians, to textual critics, no matter the religious tradition studied. Neither society is exclusively secular or exclusively religiously-affiliated. Both interests are found among its members and its units.

It is not new news that there are over a hundred people who apply ever year and do not get jobs. In my time, fifteen years ago, it was even worse than this. In the eighties, PhD programs admitted many more people into their programs than could ever be employed by the market. This led to many people not getting jobs, and ending up with an enormous amount of debt that they couldn't pay off. And yes, they ended up driving cabs, or going back to law school. I ended up working in university administration part time for three years, until I finally got my first tenure-track position at Illinois Wesleyan. Helmut Koester is the one who encouraged me, telling me that the average wait was going to be 3 to 5 years post-graduation.

The universities sobered up to this fact and realized how unethical it was to continue to put out so many PhDs with so much debt and no way to pay. So in the nineties, they consolidated their funding. This meant that they began to let into the program far fewer people but funding each of these people more fully. This hasn't fixed the problem entirely - there are still PhDs that never get a tenure-track job - but it has helped - and it has made getting into PhD program highly competitive.

Where does this leave me in terms of my thoughts on the subject? I understand Koester's position on the reality of American religiosity and what this means for those of us who study and teach early Christianity. I understand Avalos' position to rid the historical study of early Judaism and Christianity from its canonical limitations (including the name "Biblical Studies"), because these limitations support religious and theological interests. I personally have negotiated this front by breaking canonical boundaries in my own scholarship, creating sections at SBL which cross canonical boundaries, and teaching beyond these boundaries. But this doesn't mean to me that the biblical texts aren't essential to early Judaism and Christianity. In fact, their importance reverberates for centuries and centuries, and yes, they are still with us.

In my opinion, teaching the bible is more important than ever in America. We are faced with the religious right taking over the Republican party, a party who has just reformed its platform to denounce abortion even in cases of harm to the mother and rape. How many of us are now seeing emerge in our communities public policies like teaching creationism as science? What is next?

So rather than debate the semantics of Biblical Studies, I say we need to concentrate on educating our youth about the history of the Bible and its influence, so that our young people will have the information to evaluate for themselves the claims that religious faith traditions make before it really is too late.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hector Avalos' Response now available

Hector provided a link in one of the previous comments to his response to Helmut Koester. It is available HERE.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-6-08

The human soul will clasp God to herself. Having nothing mortal, she is wholly inebriated from God. For she boasts harmony, in which the mortal body consists.

Chaldaean Oracles of Julianus 242 (second century CE)

Hector Avalos will respond to Helmut Koester

Hector Avalos left this message in the comments on my last post, bringing attention to Helmut Koester's criticism of Avalos in the recent edition of BAR.
Hello, Prof. DeConick,
I plan to respond to Dr. Koester quite thoroughly in an upcoming issue of BAR.

If BAR does not publish it, I will use a venue in the blogosphere that will be easily accessible to those interested.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reaction to Hector Avalos by Helmut Koester

David H. brought to my attention a piece written by Helmut Koester in the most recent issue of BAR: "BAR most loved and most reviled" pp. 10 and 12 September/October vol 34/5 2008. It is unfortunate that the BAR website does not link up to this article since it is written by a scholar whose voice has shaped so much of our understanding of early Christianity and its origins.

Koester is very hard on Avalos, arguing that he reveals "a deep ignorance" of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general. I find it telling that Koester, who has always argued for scholarship beyond the canon and the legitimacy of including non-canonical materials in our histories, finds Avalos' position too far afield. Koester writes, "The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible...The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions."

Koester goes on to defend BAR (which Avalos had criticized in the May/June "First person" column) and says that "most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial...but that is the normal business of scholarship." Koester cites and discusses many cases, even Hershel Shanks's initial criticism of the National Geographic's publication of the Gospel of Judas. Koester writes: "On the contrary, he (Avalos) should have congratulated BAR for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal." He goes on to severely criticize the National Geographic Society and the translators, saying that "numerous major mistakes" have now been discovered in the translation [with reference to my work (The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says) and Birger Pearson's BAR article ("Judas Iscariot Among the Gnostics" May/June 2008)].