We have been discussing recently the writings of Luke in one our modules, particularly his Acts of the Apostles. Every time I run this session I am always struck by Luke’s ingenuity and the sheer intelligence found in his work. Recognition of Luke’s talents is not new and commentators frequently note his literary ability and point to the rounded nature of his characters. His capacity to paint pictures with words means that images, stories and events stick in the mind. Parables that are exclusive to his Gospel tend to be those that are the most often remembered; the Prodigal Son, Good Samaritan, etc. However, this is only one element of Luke’s artistry as a writer.
There are a number of competing ideas that attempt to explain why Luke wrote his two volume ‘history’. Most introductions to the Luke’s writing (either his Gospel or Acts) will provide you with an overview of these. Bart Ehrman (2004) gives a brief but very clear summary of the main positions. Whatever conclusions we might draw concerning the motivation behind Luke’s writing, it is clear that the ekklesia (or what would later become called the Church) was facing a number of significant, if not existential, challenges from outside and within. These crises had the potential of threatening the survival of the emerging Christian movement.
Over the past year, I have noticed an increased interest in the question of vegetarianism and veganism. In this edition, Simon J. Joseph (University of California) investigates vegetarianism and Christian origins: Other Voices: Remembering the marginalized vegetarian in the study of Christian origins.
The First Steps into New Testament Greek summer school that we run each year at Newman University is always something a little bit special. Firstly, it is more than just an intensive learning crash-course in New Testament Greek. Initial language acquisition is an integral part of the week, but we also spend time looking at the world in which the language was used and that produced our early Christian writings. We also spend time working with the Greek text in a variety of forms and contexts that include; critical editions, online texts, manuscripts and inscriptions.
Susan Docherty (Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism and head of subject for Theology at Newman University) took part in a discussion of how Hadhrat Ibrahim (Abraham) is understood within Islam, Christianity and Judaism on the Breakfast Show on the Voice of Islam radio station today (10/07/2009).
Professor Docherty said,
I was delighted to have this opportunity to engage with the listeners about the ongoing relevance of the figure of Abraham/Ibrahim for Muslims, Jews and Christians, who all honour him for his righteousness and faith in one God.
This topic was very much in the forefront of my mind because I have recently contributed to a new edited book on the interpretation of Abraham in early Jewish and early Christian Literature. It also connects with the wider work of Newman University, as we are involved in various inter-religious partnerships and projects researching faith schools. Within our undergraduate degree programme in Theology and Philosophy here at Newman we also offer modules like ‘The Abrahamic Inheritance: Dialogue and Difference between Christianity, Islam and Judaism’ and ‘Politics and Religion in Britain’, which encourage students to explore the connections between the major world faiths and their place in modern society.
To view more about Professor Sue Docherty view her staff profile page. To view more about the Theology courses at Newman University view the course search.
If you have been inspired by either this series of blogs or the #30DaysWild challenge to do some of your own exploration of the fauna and flora of the Bible but you are not sure of where to start, I have listed here some useful resources that can act as your field-guides.
Finding resources on this topic is becoming much easier as the portrayal of non-human life within biblical literature is a lot of renewed attention. The confluence of environmental crises (climate, pollution, population, land use, habitat exploitation and depletion, etc.) has provided an opportunity for those with faith communities to reexamine these issues in the light of their sacred texts.
Which resources you will find helpful will depend upon your interests. Some might be interested in just knowing a little more about the context to, for example, the teachings of Jesus or the prophets. Others might be more interested in the intersection between the biblical writings and the ecology. Is the influence of the biblical tradition as bad as some of its critics argue? Are there modes of understanding within these texts that might help us address the crises we now face. What does the Bible say about animal welfare and exploitation? There is some very interesting work being done from Christian, Jewish and Islamic perspectives re-looking at vegetarianism and veganism. Other people might be more interested in the texts as historical documents and want to gain a clearer historical, anthropological understanding: What do they tell us about how the ancients viewed their world and their place within it?
Today is the last day of our 30 Days [Biblically] Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wild Life Trust‘s ‘30 Days Wild.’ Over the past four weeks we have looked at a range of plants, animals and birds. The idea has been to look at species with which we could reasonably expect to encounter in the UK and perhaps would necessarily expect to find mentioned in the Bible. What I hope to have in some way achieved is to raise an awareness of the extent to which non-human life and the environment saturates this collection of texts that is so often assumed to be simply about God and humans. In the same way, just as non-human life suffuses our landscapes (if we just spend a little time to look for it), so too it permeates and influences the biblical writings.
We can see that the biblical writers were profoundly aware of their deep interconnections with the land. The preservation of the land (materially as well as spiritually) was intricately tied to their preservation as a people. Hareuveni (1991) and then Benstein (2006) are right in emphasizing the way in which the land formed their theology and provided a rich vocabulary through which to express it.
We are now coming to the end of our 30 Days Biblically Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wildlife Trust‘s 30 Days Wild campaign and I thought we could look at something that just about anyone, who can get out of doors, regardless of where they live, can appreciate; the bramble (Rubus fruticosus) otherwise known as the blackberry or brier. For anyone who is wanting to get get started with, what used to be referred to as ‘nature spotting’, the bramble is an ideal place to begin. It is EVERYWHERE! You don’t have to travel long distances into the countryside to find them. Any piece of waste ground or plot of land that has been left untended will do.
There is something very inclusive about the blackberry. It can be enjoyed by all. Richard Mabey (1998:74) notes that “[b]lackberrying is the one almost universal act of foraging to survive in our industrialised island and that it has a special role in the relationship between townspeople and the countryside.”
You might be able to tell by the subtitle that I am having to take a bit of poetic license on today’s topic. Many of you will have probably guessed that our (European) ‘Mr Brock’ type badger (Meles meles) does not appear in the Bible. While it can be found in Israel, as we shall see, it is unlikely to be the animal to which the texts in question refer. Nevertheless, I felt that it was fitting as the badger is the symbol of the Wildlife Trust who are running the 30 Days Wildchallenge which this series of posts is supporting.
Badgers have been in the news quite a lot – generally for all the wrong reasons (as far as they are concerned!). Nevertheless, there is something really special about encountering a badger. There is something reassuringly familiar about them. Just think about the number of children’s stories in which they appear – this is something critics of the badger tend to point out! But there is also something strangely different about them. They are sinewy and much faster than you might expect. I can remember one of the first badgers I ever saw. It was at night from a bedroom window. We had been awoken by a noise in the garden. In the gleam of the torchlight we caught the glint of a long, silvery, supple, body wrapped round a bird table – for all the world looking like a podgy, but lithe, snake – before it shot away. After the initial shock we realised that it was a badger who was trying to knock over (once more) our bird table. The ‘biblical’ badger might be different, but it is no less interesting!
Fish – דָּגָה (dagah); דָּג (dag); ἰχθύς (ichthus); ὀψάριον (opsarion)
Another image that can capture the delights being outside on a slow summer’s day is sitting beside a flowing stream and catching the flash of light and plop of water as the surface is disturbed by flick of a fish’s tail. It is a great reminder of those completely different, almost alien, and often hidden, habitats populated by life and character that can lie just feet away from us.
When you spot a cormorant, and especially a colony of cormorants, you know you’ve spotted something a little unusual.* This is not because they are especially rare, it is because they have a singular character about them. Their black plumage has that iridescent sheen that is associated with oil slicks, and their long necks and hooked bills can give them a rather prehistoric, reptilian feel. It is an incredible swimmer (see video below), resembling underwater more a fish than a bird. One of the great UK conservation success stories of the past few years has been the improvements to the water quality in our rivers and waterways. This has helped to attract cormorants, once again, inland – much to the anger of anglers!