Friday, March 26, 2010

Heaven Help the Bees

Last year around this time, Scientific American warned that if bees continue vanishing at the rate they're going, then fruits and vegetables will likely become the food of kings. Only recently did I watch the Nature special released a year prior ('08), The Silence of the Bees (which can be watched for free in its entirety here), which does a pretty good job covering the possible causes of the CCD (community collapse disorder) of the world's honeybee population: (1) fatigue from being transported over long distances for commercial pollination, (2) neonicotinoid pesticides, (3) malnutrition, (4) mites & parasites, (5) IAPV, or Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, (6) some kind of immune system suppression caused by a virus like AIDS in humans.

In the Scientific American article (4/09), "Solving the Mystery of the Vanishing Bees", the researchers are confident that it's likely some combination of the above, with no easy fix in sight:
"Bees suffering from CCD tend to be infested with multiple pathogens, including a newly discovered virus, but these infections seem secondary or opportunistic -- much in the way pneumonia kills a patient with AIDS. The picture now emerging is of a complex condition that can be triggered by different combinations of causes. There may be no easy remedy to CCD. It may require taking better care of the environment and making long-term changes to our beekeeping and agricultural practices." (p 42)
Pesticides have been getting nastier over the years, but healthy bee colonies sometimes have higher levels of toxic chemicals than colonies suffering from CCD. And as the Nature documentary points out, organic beekeepers are witnessing as much CCD in areas where there are no pesticides at all. So it may be that malnutrition has played a strong role in eroding the bees' immune system:
"Honeybees no longer have the same number or variety of flowers available to them because we humans have tried to 'neaten' our environments. We have, for example, planted huge expanses of crops without weedy, flower-filled borders or fencerows. We maintain large green lawns free of any 'weeds' such as clover and dandelions. Even our roadsides and parks reflect our desire to keep things neat and weed-free. But to bees and other pollinators, green lawns look like deserts." (p 43)
Perhaps malnutrition, in conjunction with pesticides, has made the bees susceptible to the alarming virus found in most of the sick colonies examined: the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV). Though it could be the other way around, with CCD already in place making the bees prone to the IAPV infection.

There is a new documentary available in the U.K., The Vanishing of the Bees, and the U.S. version (narrated by Ellen Page) will be released this October. I'll have to watch it, if only to get even more depressed. One thing is certain: if the honeybees continue vanishing at this rate, and we don't come up with a viable alternative to natural pollination, we'll all be living on rice, corn, and wheat by the year 2035 -- and many people much sooner than that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jesus and Nasty Name-Calling

This caught my eye from the recent RBL mailing: Who Do My Opponents Say That I Am?: An Investigation of the Accusations against Jesus, by (editors) Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica. Seven essays (four of them by bloggers) address the seven accusations against Jesus found in the gospels: (1) "law breaker" (Michael Bird), (2) "demon possessed" (Dwight Sheets), (3) "glutton and drunkard" (Joseph Modica), (4) "blasphemer" (Darrel Bock), (5) "false prophet" (James McGrath), (6) "King of the Jews" (Lynn Cohick), and (7) "mamzer (illegitimate son)" (Scot McKnight). The project apparently grew out of Malina & Neyrey's Calling Jesus Names, so it will be interesting to see how the authors rose to the challenge.

From the two RBL reviews:
"The basic premise of the collection is that the followers of Jesus and the early Christian community would not have created fictive charges against Jesus that would serve only to demean and call into question the nature of his life and ministry as well as provide ammunition for the opponents of the early Christian movement. Consequently, such charges are presumed to have been attached to Jesus by his opponents." (M. Robert Mulholland)

"The investigations have merit, but the task of figuring out the 'truth' about the historical Jesus from the slanted accusations is not an easy one. The seven scholars document their arguments thoroughly, providing copious footnotes for their readers to pursue further. In the end, though, 'Christology' associated with the historical figure of Jesus is hardly advanced in this study beyond the traditional, churchly beliefs espoused for centuries. This raises the question of methodology." (V. George Shillington)
Shillington's remarks imply that some hard questions are being dodged (I wonder what Malina & Neyrey think of this work), but I'll have to read the book myself.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ten Regenerations

I'm excited about Matt Smith's debut as Doctor Who, and of course Easter is an appropriate season to introduce a newly regenerated Time Lord. I notice that someone recently made a youtube compilation of All the Doctor's Regenerations (except for 8->9, which was never filmed). Do watch the clip. Here are my ratings of the regenerations. The top three -- four, five, and nine -- are near flawless and get extended commentary.
1. Four: Tom Baker-->Peter Davison. 5 jelly babies. The fourth regeneration encapsulates a golden age of Doctor Who and floors me every time I watch it. Tom Baker accommodated more change in the show's vision than any other incarnation, under Philip Hinchcliffe (three seasons of gothic horror), Graham Williams (three more of light comedy), and then John Nathan-Turner (the last and most talked about season, which reined in the comedy and grounded the stories more firmly in science). Logopolis has a perfect funereal feeling to it and was seen by millions when it first aired. I'll never forget the way Baker's final whisper brought tears to my eyes: "It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for". It may not have been as flashy as later regenerations, but it's by far the most moving.

2. Five: Peter Davison-->Colin Baker. 5 jelly babies. Many believe that the fifth regeneration is the best, but while I agree it's the most dramatic it doesn't have the soul or dignity of the fourth. Davison had the luxury of going out as strong as possible, in what is universally hailed as the best story from his period (The Caves of Androzani), and his regeneration is the culmination of all that suspense and adrenaline rush. Best of all is the fact that the new (Sixth) Doctor gets in some beautiful lines at the end, when Peri asks, "What's going on?" The cold reply: "Change, my dear. And it would seem not a moment too soon." Poor Peri would get quite a change indeed when this arrogant incarnation went berserk and tried to kill her.

3. Nine: Christopher Eccleston-->David Tennant. 5 jelly babies. Christopher Eccleston's departure after a single season worked out splendidly for two reasons. For one, he wasn't the best representation of the Doctor, a gurning manic-depressive, and remarkably ineffectual (though I confess he's grown on me over time). He took his minimalist character about as far as it could go. But in leaving the series so quickly, he gave newcomers an opportunity to see some Gallifreyan lore in action. And what a regeneration -- more flashy than any from the classic period, if lacking some of the soul -- leaving us with David Tennant licking over his teeth in bemused wonder. I knew right there and then that he was going to be "the" Doctor of the new series.

4. Three: Jon Pertwee-->Tom Baker. 4 jelly babies. If the fourth regeneration is the most deeply moving, the fifth the most dramatic, and the ninth the most majestic, the third is the most touching. It's Jon Pertwee's farewell to Sarah Jane Smith, and played wonderfully by Elizabeth Sladen.

5. Seven: Sylvester McCoy-->Paul McGann. 4 jelly babies. I never liked the Eighth Doctor's single-episode "movie", but the seventh regeneration is impressive and creepy on its own right.

6. One: William Hartnell-->Patrick Troughton. 3 jelly babies. By today's standards it looks pretty lame, but the first regeneration is a landmark and retains its dramatic pull.

7. Six: Colin Baker-->Sylvester McCoy. 2 jelly babies. A half-hearted attempt to cover for Colin Baker's absence. After being fired Baker (quite rightly) refused to return for a regeneration scene, and so we have the embarrassing spectacle of Sylvester McCoy in a wig regenerating into Sylvester McCoy with his own hair. And it's too rushed and undramatic.

8. Ten: David Tennant-->Matt Smith. 1 jelly baby. The longest regeneration sequence in the show's history is weighed down by melodrama, saccharine farewells, and ridiculously overblown stuff that makes no sense (parts of the TARDIS exploding). Russell Davies was clueless by this point, and truth told, he should have handed over the reins to Steven Moffat immediately after Turn Left. It's a shower of piss, and David Tennant deserved better.

9. Two: Patrick Troughton-->Jon Pertwee. 0 jelly babies. The youtube clip shows the Second Doctor being exiled and told that it's time for him to regenerate, but this doesn't really count. We never actually see the the second regeneration. I dislike this scene anyway for Troughton yipping in that girlish voice, "Stop, you're making me dizzy, no, no, no!"

10. Eight: Paul McGann-->Christopher Eccleston. n/a. The eighth regeneration was never filmed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Dozen Questions I'd Ask Paul

Over six years ago on the Corpus Paulinum mailing list, Jeffrey Gibson initiated the following thought experiment:
"Imagine if you will that

(a) we had the mid 60's CE Paul before us for an hour or two and that

(b) we were able to make ourselves understood by him, and that

(c) he had agreed to answer anything about himself, his career, his beliefs, and his writings about which we might be inclined to inquire,

what questions would you put to him?"
I've blogged so much about Paul in the past five years, and on the most controversial issues which I naturally think I'm right about, but could never rest completely satisfied without TARDIS-traveling back to the 60's and getting answers from the horse's mouth. Jeffrey had set a limit of five questions, but I'm going with a dirty dozen. Here they are, followed in many cases by links to the way I understand Paul on these points. Other bloggers are invited to participate in the exercise.

(1) What was it about Christians that pissed you off so much before your conversion? Did you loathe them for worshiping a crucified criminal, appearing seditious, eating indiscriminately with Gentiles -- or something else?

(2) Please clarify what you meant when you said to the Corinthians that "flesh and blood would not inherit the kingdom of God". (See here.)

(3) What exactly did you mean by pistis Christou? Should people be putting their faith in Christ or copying the faithful Christ? (See here.)

(4) What exactly did you mean by dikaiosyne? Are righteous people acquitted and restored to fellowship, do they lead a new life in Christ, or are they simply privileged and blessed? (See here and here.)

(5) Do you believe that anyone other than Abraham experienced faith-righteousness before the coming of Christ? (See here.)

(6) Were the "weak" in I Cor 8 and the "weak in faith" of Rom 14-15 predominantly Christians or non-Christians? (See here.)

(7) Do you believe that male homosexuality is as bad as temple prostitution and pederasty? And what about lesbianism?

(8) Just who do you think you are in Rom 7:7-13 and 7:14-25? Adam? Medea? Yourself? (See here and here.)

(9) What did you mean by Christian "fulfilment" (pleroma) of the law? (See here.)

(10) What did you mean when you said that "all Israel" would be saved? And please define "Israel". (See here.)

(11) Fess up: The collection which you so altruistically maintain you were eager to take up actually galled and chafed you at first, didn't it? The pillars were strong-arming you, no? (See here and here.)

(12) Fess up (take 2): It must have burned you at Antioch, not being able to call out Peter and James for the liars they were, for going back on their word and breaking the Jerusalem deal. "Hypocrisy" is quite an understatement, no? What did you say to Peter when you got him alone out of earshot of everyone else? (See here.)

Thanks for your time, dude.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pistis Christou in the Apostolic Fathers

Michael Whitenton has written a helpful essay on the usage of πίστις Χριστοῦ ("faith [in/of] Christ") in the apostolic fathers. Anyone and everyone who has something at stake in the ongoing πίστις Χριστοῦ debate should take the time to read it.

It's a no-brainer that later church fathers (c. 150-430 CE) cited Paul's usage of πίστις Χριστοῦ in a clear objective genitive sense: "faith in Christ". But the evidence of the apostolic fathers (c. 70-150 CE) is more murky. While they weren't citing Paul, their usage of πίστις Χριστοῦ could nonetheless represent possible transmissions of Pauline traditions, and this is what Whitenton seems to believe.

He surveys all the uses of πίστις by the apostolic fathers, classifying them into one of three categories:
(1) πίστις is modified by a personal genitive substantive in a clearly subjective manner, though the referent of the genitive is neither God nor Christ -- 13 cases (I Clement 1:2, 5:5-6, 58:2; Ignatius to the Ephesians 9:1; Polycarp to the Philippians 1:1-2; Didache 16:2, 16:5; Barnabas 1:5, 1:6, 2:2, 4:9; Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 4:2:4, Similitude 9:26:8)

(2) πίστις is modified by a personal genitive substantive in an ambiguous manner (i.e. either objectively or subjectively, or other), referring to God or a divine spirit -- 4 cases (I Clement 3:4, 27:3; Ignatius to the Ephesians 16:2; Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11:9)

(3) πίστις is modified by a personal genitive substantive in an ambiguous manner (i.e. either objectively or subjectively, or other), referring to Christ -- 11 cases (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:1, to the Magnesians 1:1, to the Romans Inscription; Polycarp to the Philippians 4:3; Barnabas 4:8, 16:9; Shephered of Hermas, Vision 4:1:8, Mandate 11:4, Similitude 6:1:2, 6:3:6, 9:16:5)
The first category is listed without commentary, "simply for sake of completeness" (p 6), and frankly I don't think they have any bearing, or shed much light, on cases involving the modifier of God or Christ. So it's the second and third categories that concern us.

Of the four cases in category (2), Whitenton finds that the first favors an objective reading, "faith in God" (I Clem 3:4); the second favors either reading, but the scales tip in favor of a subjective one, "the faithfulness of God" (I Clem 27:3); the third refers to a "teaching from God", meaning that a genitive of source is in view (Ign Eph 16:2); and the last denotes a pledge from a divine spirit, meaning that πίστις is better translated "proof" of God's spirit, rather than "faith" or "trust" [in/of] God's spirit (Herm Mand 11:9).

Of the eleven cases in category (3), Whitenton finds that the first favors a subjective reading, "the faithfulness of Jesus Christ", (Ign Eph 20:1); the second favors either a subjective reading, "the faithfulness of Jesus Christ", or a genitive-of-source reading, "the doctrine of Jesus Christ" (Ign Mag 1:1); the third favors either an objective reading, "by faith in and love for Jesus Christ", or a subjective one, "by the faithfulness and love of Jesus Christ" (Ign Rom inscription); the fourth involves a usage of πίστις as "teaching", with four possibilities -- a genitive of source, "the teaching of the Lord", a possessive genitive, "the teaching from the Lord", a genitive of content, "the teaching about the Lord", or an attributive genitive, "the teaching that is characterized by the Lord" (Polyc Philip 4:3); the fifth favors either an objective reading, "the hope which springs from faith in Jesus", or a subjective one, "the hope anchored in Jesus' faithfulness", with the scales tipping in favor of the subjective reading (Barn 4:8); the sixth favors a subjective reading, "the word of Jesus' faith" (Barn 16:9); the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth all emphasize fidelity to the Lord as a gift, and thus favor neither an objective nor subjective reading, but rather a genitive-of-source reading, "the faithfulness from the Lord" (Herm Vis 4:1:8, Mand 11:4, Sim 6:1:2, 6:3:6); and the last favors either an objective reading, "preaching to the dead about power and faith in the Son of God", or subjective reading, preaching to the dead about the power and faithfulness of the Son of God", with the balance tipping slightly in favor of the latter (Herm Sim 9:16:5).

I don't necessarily agree with all of Whitenton's judgments -- in some of the more ambiguous cases, I think the scales tip in favor of the objective reading -- but for the most part his assessments are sound and show how fluidly πίστις Χριστοῦ was used by the apostolic fathers. Again, this says little about Paul, because in none of the above cases is he being cited -- with the possible exceptions of Ign Eph 20:1 and Mag 1:1 echoing Gal 2:20 (noted by Whitenton, pp 14,16).

If the ambiguity of the apostolic fathers' usage points to anything about Paul, it's the point emphasized by Stephen Finlan: that Paul's participatory theology carried within it the seeds for a subjective genitive reading of πίστις Χριστοῦ, even if Paul never went that far. (There's a good reason, after all, why he goes out of his way to avoid faith terminology in Rom 5-8.) The above evidence may well indicate how this potential was developed in some circles by the late first and early second centuries.

I want to thank Michael Whitenton for a helpful analysis which shows, to me, that the subjective genitive reading isn't quite as faddish as I've been claiming. While it certainly remains the weaker reading in Paul's letters, and plays unquestionably into a variety of modern agendas, that weakness can be laid at the door of theologians who pre-date Duke scholars by almost nineteen centuries.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Scratch My Back

Peter Gabriel's first studio album in eight years, Scratch My Back, is the first half of a joint effort in which the most talented rock musician of the last three decades reinterprets songs of his favorite bands. In exchange, these artists -- David Bowie, Paul Simon, Elbow, Bon Iver, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, Randy Newman, Regina Spektor, and Radiohead -- will be returning the favor. On a forthcoming album called I'll Scratch Yours, they'll perform some of Gabriel's songs.

The JamsBio reviewer's reaction to Scratch My Back is the same as mine:
"Rather than putting his typical percussion-heavy, rhythmically inventive spin on these songs, Gabriel performs them here backed by just an orchestra. No percussions, no guitars. The old maxim says that a song can only be considered great even if it sounds great when performed with just acoustic guitar or piano. But Gabriel goes for the counterintuitive approach here; he's out to show the beauty of these songs by removing them from their familiar settings and pumping up the majesty. When this approach works, and it does more often than not, it's revelatory...

"When his voice soars from humble murmur to impassioned bellow, as it seemingly does at one point on every song, it brings chills every time. While I wouldn't dare to say that Gabriel improved on any of these songs, I feel like he definitely brings some new perspective to them, which, considering their quality and popularity in their original versions, is quite the achievement. It also makes me wonder if these artists so diverse and talented can rise to the occasion when they cover Gabriel's music in an upcoming release."
The special edition of the album is available on iTunes, so don't wait any longer to buy it!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Biblical Studies Carnival LI

The fifty-first Biblical Studies Carnival is up on G. Brooke Lester's Anumma.