Steve Cook has an excellent roundup of contributions during the month of June. I thank him for highlighting the series on “Thinking about Canon.” A steady stream of visitors is making their way to the series via Cook’s links.
Pretty soon, I’ll post another update on the discussion the series has provoked. I plan to research some avenues in greater depth, based on pointers from readers, and, in accordance with a suggestion by Tim Bulkeley, repackage the whole, including an overview of ensuing discussion, for publication on dead trees. Know this, therefore: if you interact with the series, and I interact in turn with you, as a courtesy you will be asked to sign off on my representation of same.
It’s impossible to keep up with all that is happening in the biblioblogosphere, one more sign that it is coming of age. Among material that just missed Steve Cook‘s dateline, I would point out April DeConick’s posts, beginning on July 1st, and ensuing debate (see especially Doug Chaplin’s reflections). The topic complements that addressed in my canon series: the focus is on the stances, confessional, professional, and otherwise, which characterize contemporary attitudes towards ancient non-canonical, and beyond that, extra-catholic religious literature, for which the figure of Jesus however understood is an important point of departure.
For those who haven’t tried it yet, I recommend cross-blogging, that is, interacting with bloggers with expertise in adjacent fields of inquiry when they “trespass” into the field of biblical studies. In the month of May, I enjoyed a dialogue with Avery Archer, an excellent philosopher. The dialogue attracted a comment, discovered only now, by another philosopher, Samuel Douglas. Over the last few weeks, I enjoyed discussing atheism and theodicy, interdisciplinary topics if you will, which might seem far from the field of ancient Hebrew poetry. That overlooks the fact that Psalms, Job, and the classical prophets, in which the injustices and absurdities of life which underlie atheism and theodicy come to the fore, are ancient Hebrew poetry.
The biblioblogosphere is important to the degree that the text to which it devotes attention is important. The Bible continues to interest believer and nonbeliever alike over vast territories of the modern world. I’m not sure the Bible has any real competitors in this sense. The Talmud and the Quran speak with great difficulty to non-Jews and non-Muslims, respectively. A bronze sculpture created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich was presented to the United Nations in December 1959 by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture depicts the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand, and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare. I wonder if Vuchetich even knew the origin of the trope he reproduces (Isa 2:2-4).
How is it that the Bible, or at least parts of it, possesses such evocative power? Why can I read 1 Corinthians 13, or Psalm 23, at a funeral, and watch all faces, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or otherwise, grow strangely attentive? I’m not sure there is a simple answer.
A central institution of ancient Greece involved the Delphic Pythia, or priestess, who, with the help of a hallucinogenic gas emanating from the waters of the Kerma spring, divined the future and spoke on behalf of Apollo. The site of Delphi was said to coincide with the very center, or navel of the earth, determined to be such by Zeus who dispatched eagles from the far west and far east; they met at the intersection of two geological fault lines on the slopes of mount Parnassus. The site was first sacred to Gaia, then to Poseidon, the "Earth-shaker," or god of earthquakes, offspring of Gaia. The temple was later seized by a new god, Apollo, who used it to communicate with the Greeks. Earthquakes in fact are responsible for the creation of fissures in the local limestone, from which hydrocarbons enter the flowing waters of the Kassotis.
The influence of the oracle of Delphi was immense in the ancient world. Battles were fought or not fought based on its advice, colonies were established with its blessing, devotion to gods new and old reinforced. But the oracle eventually refrained from addressing the important political and religious issues of the day, and confined itself to counsel on matters of interest to individual worshippers alone. By the fourth century of the current era, its decline had become irreversible. The oracle itself stated that its decline correlated with the rise of Christianity.
For Augustine (354-430 ce) in fact, the Bible had replaced the oracular tradition of the religious koine of the Roman world as a source of wisdom and counsel, though he interacted with that tradition polemically (City of God, book XIX, ch. 23). A profound hermeneutic allowed him to interpret all of history and the struggle between the City of God and the City of Man in light of the biblical narrative. A new civilization was born, which no sack of Rome or Hippo could ever strangle. We are all heirs of that civilization, for which, as Northrop Frye put it, the Bible is the great code, the prime subtext of its spiritual, ethical, and literary imagination.
Like Zeus of old, there are many today who seek to discover the center of the cosmos from which its mysteries might be unveiled. Students of the Bible have the privilege of watching the eagles land from east and west, and seeing what those who send them come up with between its pages. It’s a beautiful life if you know how to live it. Three cheers for the biblioblogosphere, a perch from which to watch the eagles land.