The Huffington Post: A Split Episcopal Church

The Rev. Astrid Storm, vicar of the Church of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson, writes about Akinola's upcoming visit to install the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as CANA's missionary bishop in The Huffington Post. In her essay, she remarks on how the departure of certain Virginia churches sowed a deeper dissent this past December:

As has been noted plenty of times before, the decision these churches made to leave the Episcopal Church because of its gay-friendly leanings is monumental, involving complex property disputes, legal wrangling, and the possible—probable—loss of dearly loved church buildings. That's not to mention the risks that come with aligning with an erratic bishop with a dubious human rights record from a country with problems that these Virginians probably can't begin to fathom—problems that have and will continue to have an enormous impact on the church and society in Nigeria.

In showing their willingness to take on such risks, the people in these parishes are making a strong statement against friends, acquaintances, and members of their own families who are gay or at least sympathize with gay people—sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. Through those emails last December, I got but a glimpse of the sadness and alienation that must have resulted in many homes.

She continues, bearing witness to her own church, where people with opposing opinions came together in worship.

Read the whole thing here: A Split Episcopal Church.

What's in a translation?

In this article, author Diana Butler Bass explores how her travels through faith have always been accompanied by the Bible—but, she notes, not always the same translation. Her essay relates a journey from her first, now dog-eared Revised Standard Version given to her in 1967, through more evangelical-friendly editions in the 70s, to an eye-opening moment in 1989 when the NRSV provided her with a fresh insight into Ephesians 5:21-22.

For more than a decade, I had struggled with that teaching in Ephesians -- only to discover that my struggles were not with Scripture. Rather, I was struggling with an interpretation of Scripture provided by the editors of the NIV.

I put that Bible away, never to trust it again. And I busied myself reading my new NRSV, often finding that difficult passages were clearer through its translation and notes. Reading the NRSV was like a reunion with an old friend, familiar but new. As an adult, my childhood Bible had come back to me, only better. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Read the essay at Episcopal Life Online.

Blogging the Bible

A little over a year ago, David Plotz of Slate set out to write blog entries on the entire Hebrew Bible. This week, some 39 books, 929 chapters and more than 600,000 words later he finished. Have a look.

Division among the apostles

Sarah Dylan Breuer, in this week's Lectionary Blog, notes that the context of this past Sunday's Epistle reading (Galatians 1:11-24) may offer insights into how we deal with our modern divisions.

You can't read Galatians with anything approaching care without noticing that there were serious disagreements about serious matters in the earliest churches. Heck, you can't read any of Paul's letters with anything approaching care without noticing that much, but usually people think of most of those other conflicts as ones between Paul, who was clearly right (what with his being a saint and his letters getting in the canon and all), and anonymous nasty heretics, who were clearly wrong, and probably should not be thought of as being Christian at all.

Well, we can't quite do that with Galatians. In Galatians, Paul describes a very bitter fight he's had (and is having, I'd say; I see no indication in the letter that the disagreement has yet been resolved) with none other than Peter.


If Peter and Paul can disagree passionately about something that Paul and perhaps even both of them thought was about the very "truth of the gospel," and if we can celebrate them both as apostles of Christ and heroes of the faith, why does it seem to happen so often in our churches today that any serious disagreement about an important matter of faith becomes an occasion to condemn one party as not only completely wrong, but outside the bounds of Christianity itself?

More of Dylan's thoughts, including how this relates to how we experience the Peace and Communion, are here.

The Bible as Wiki

The Bible was the world's first Wikipedia article. So many hands have altered and edited the now lost originals that we will never know for sure what those originals said, writes Doug Brown in his review of Bart D. Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

He writes:

Those who call the King James Version of the Bible the unerring word of God have a slight problem. The New Testament of the KJV (as the King James Version is usually referred) was translated into English from a version of the Greek New Testament that had been collected from twelfth-century copies by Erasmus. Where Erasmus couldn't find Greek manuscripts, he translated to Greek from the Latin Vulgate (which itself had been translated from Greek back in the fourth century). Here the problem splits into two problems. First, Jesus spoke Aramaic --- his actual words, never recorded, were only rendered in Greek in the original gospels. Thus, the KJV consists of Jesus' words twice refracted through the prism of translation. Second, Erasmus's Greek New Testament was based on handwritten copies of copies of copies of copies, etc., going back over a millennium, and today is considered one of the poorer Greek New Testaments.

And concludes:

I find it amusing that the Christian Right in America spends its energy attacking evolution, arguing that teaching evolution is teaching atheism. For Ehrman, learning about the Bible is what caused his belief to change. He still believes in God, but no longer believes the Bible is an inerrant source of the Word. .... Ehrman isn't an atheist assaulting belief; he is just a scholarly believer saying he feels the evidence is clear that the gospels were written by men with personal agendas, and both accidentally and intentionally altered over the centuries by other men with agendas of their own.

The Year of Living Biblically

Writer A. J. Jacobs spent a year taking the Bible very, very seriously, and chronicling his experience in a new book, The Year of Living Biblically. He's discussing the book in a series of very funny exchanges with Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard on Slate.

To et or not to et

Josh Jarman in the Columbus Ohio Dispatch reports on a rabbi who tackles the most common religious rationales forbidding same-sex relationships.

With a bit of characterization and Jewish witticism, Rabbi Steven Greenberg made his point clear: You shouldn't use the Bible to pass judgment on others. Greenberg shared this belief during a sermon today at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on the campus of Ohio State University.

Greenberg, who was raised in Bexley and is in Columbus for five days, is America's first openly gay Orthodox rabbi. He isn't saying that the Bible is not the revealed word of God. But according to Jewish tradition, he said, God gave that word to man and entrusted him to decipher it. "No one can say, ‘It says in the Scripture,' to ground any policy," Greenberg said. "All we can say is, ‘My community says this.'"

Mike Wernick, Chair, Faith in Life, Diocese of Southern Ohio, who attended Greenberg's presentation reports:

The Diocese of Southern Ohio's Faith in Life committee just had Rabbi Steven Greenberg here as a Hobson lecturer, to speak about biblical authority and homosexuality from a Jewish perspective. Yesterday afternoon's session focused on his book Wresting with God and Men. In one passage, he assesses the underlying meaning of the original Hebrew from Leviticus, and I offer it for your consideration:

"The sages of the Talmud believed that every letter of the Torah was filled with meaning. Nothing was accidental. For this reason there was great competition among sages to find ways to read everything as important, nothing as inessential.

The Hebrew word et is a grammatical word that often has no translatable meaning but simply marks a transfer of action, usually after a verb and before the direct object. Since its use is sporadic, sometimes appearing before objects and sometimes not, the rabbis decided that when it appears, it must mean something. The standard reading was that et adds something to the general class of things mentioned, to include hidden elements, to speak the unspoken.

A celebrated incident of this rabbinic penchant for finding added meaning in every letter of the Torah appears in the command to fear the Lord:

Nehemia Haimsoni was expounding on all the et' im in the Torah, explaining how each et was there to add something. As soon as he reached the verse, "You shall revere (et) the Lord your God" (Deut. 10:20), he stopped. [For there is nothing to revere other than God.] His pupils asked him, "Rabbi, what will be with all the other et' im that you already expounded upon?" He answered them, "Just as my attempt to interpret them all was worthy, my withdrawal from the project is equally worthy." Until Rabbi Akiva came and expounded: "You shall revere (et) the Lord your God, the et comes to include the students of the wise.

For Rabbi Akiva, talmidei hakchamim, the sages of every age, deserved a portion of reverence as well, because without them God's Torah would remain inert. Without the living embodiment of the Torah in the lives of great teachers, few of us would have the resources to revere God. In this fashion the presence of et in a verse offered the rabbis an opportunity to open up verses to say what was left unsaid.

There is only one sexual prohibition in Leviticus 18 that begins with the word et.

Ve'et zakhar - - - And (et) a male

Lo tishkav - - - you shall not sexually penetrate

Mishkeve ishah - - - to humiliate

Toevah hi - - - it is abhorrent

In less poetic Hebrew the sentence would read, "You shall not penetrate et a male to humiliate, it is abhorrent."

Given that et adds an unspoken element to the text, there is an obvious candidate to suggest—a woman!

V'(nekeva o) zakhar - - - And (either a female or) a male

Lo tishkav - - - you shall not sexually penetrate

Mishkeve ishah - - - to humiliate

Toevah hi - - - it is abhorrent

Until very recently only the sexual humiliation of men could be understood as abhorrent. However, as women become their own agents, as they approach equality with men, the verse cries out to apply to women too. It could be argued that this superfluous word was ready and waiting for the moment when human equality would be fully extended to women, when as a culture we would be ready to interpret the verse to mean that the fusion of sex and power into a single act is abhorrent between any two people.

In an amazing a paradoxical fashion the very verse that was for centuries read as requiring the ongoing demotion of women through the marking of intercourse as humiliation, and thus femininity as degraded could be read as a full-fledged critique of the male-dominated social hierarchy! The only way to redeem intercourse from its inevitable dominations is to press for gender equality on the deepest emotional planes, to work formally toward ending the gender hierarchy, and to heal the ugly misogyny at its foundation."

Tobias Haller, BSG - resident scholar and blogger on In a Godward Direction questions Greenberg's translation:
The object marker "et" though not much used in chapter 18 is used in many of the commandments in the parallel chapter Lev 20, in addition to reappearing with "et zakar." This would render "zakar" a definite rather than indefinite object. ("The male.") It can also be more simply understood under the less common meaning "with" as in "with a male." That is the usual choice, and is reflected in most translations.

Translating "mishk've ishah" as "to humiliate" is odd. It means, "the lyings-down of a woman." (Important: woman, not female; singular, not plural) I thus find the idea that one should read the "et" as providing a way to add "female" to the opening phrase unlikely, as it would produce "With a male or a female you shall not lie down the lyings-down of a woman..."

I would suggest that a more direct translation would be --

"With a male you (singular masculine) shall not lie down the lyings-down of a woman. It (she) is an abomination."

If we understand "abomination" in its usual sense as connected to idolatry, and take the "Hi" as "she" rather than as "it" and take due note of the plural "lyings" and singular "woman" it is easier to see this as a reference to cult prostitution, and a statement that a Hebrew man is not to become a cult prostitute, taking the position of a woman servicing (multiple) other males.

Alternatively, some scholars have suggested that the "lyings-down of a woman" refers to the other incestuous relationships described in the rest of the chapter; so that it would represent a prohibition on same-sex incest. That has the virtue of making sense; I would be interested in seeing some justification for translating "mishk've ishah" as "to humiliate.

Debating the meaning of scripture to help clarify possibilities is a characteristic rabbinic approach to interpretation. The debate keeps our scholarship honest and not a captive of one side or another.

Every word is true?

Mark Silva of The Baltimore Sun writes:

For a presidential contest in which religion – and indeed the religious faith of at least one candidate – will play a certain role in the choices which many voters make, two questions loom large here: Is every word in the Bible true, and “what would Jesus do’’ about capital punishment.

Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani and Mike Huckabee all took a crack at responding. Read the rest.

The truth about the Gospel of Judas

Last year the National Geographic announced a new second century manuscript, Gospel of Judas Iscariot, that reportedly claimed that Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed.

In yesterday's New York Times, April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, and the author of The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, has an op-ed that argues that the translation of the Gospel was wrong:

Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”

Likewise, Judas is not set apart “for” the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated “from” it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.

Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.

So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals. Because Judas is a demon working for Ialdabaoth, the author believed, when Judas sacrifices Jesus he does so to the demons, not to the supreme God. This mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.

How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.

Read it all here. Dr. DeConink's website has a great deal of material on the issue here.
The National Geographic materials on the Gospel of Judas can be found here.

New translation of Psalms

In The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary Robert Alter has published a new translation of the Book of Psalms that attempts to offer a translation that is truer to the original Hebrew. Why do we need a new translation? As Adam Kirch argues in a New Republic book review, most English translations of the Psalms take a distinctively Christian point of view that distorts the original meaning of the Psalms:

This assumption was crucial to the way King James's committee of scholars, and subsequent Christian translators, turned the Psalms into English. It guided their decisions about how to render many Hebrew terms: if the Psalms were essentially a Christian text, then it was not just legitimate but imperative to employ the Christian theological vocabulary of sin and soul and salvation. And that vocabulary, which for English readers became the very language of the Psalms, itself sanctioned the belief that the Psalmist thought in Christian concepts. Take Psalm 2, verse 7, which reads, in the King James Version: "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Elsewhere in the Psalm it is clear that the speaker of this line is a king of Israel, and that the divine power he claims is simply the ability to defeat his foes in battle: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Yet the text virtually insists that we take the "Son" to be Jesus Christ: not only is the noun capitalized, so is the pronoun, and the word "begotten" comes straight out of the Nicene Creed ("I believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God").

The translators' work of Christianizing the Psalms was not always so blatant. In Psalm 23, possibly the best known of all the King James versions, the third verse begins, "He restoreth my soul." Inevitably the phrase makes us think of resurrection, and it retroactively turns the Psalmist's imagery of "green pastures" and "still waters" into metaphors for heaven. By the time we reach the end of the poem--"and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever"--it is impossible to read "for ever" as meaning anything but "eternally," in the time-without-end of the redeemed soul.

One of the tasks that Robert Alter undertakes in his extraordinary new translation of the Psalms is to undo this Christian orientation. As he writes in his introduction, he has deliberately set out to evacuate the covert theological assumptions of the Authorized Version: "the pointed absence of 'soul' and 'salvation,'" as Alter notes, are only the most obvious signs of this program. It extends even to capitalization, as can be seen in Alter's version of Psalm 2. Where the King James Version has "Thou art my Son," leaving no doubt that the second person belongs to the Second Person of the Trinity, Alter has "You are My son," restricting the honorific capital to the speaker, God. Again, in Psalm 23, in place of "He restoreth my soul," Alter's version reads "My life He brings back": "the Hebrew nefesh," Alter explains of the noun at issue, "does not mean 'soul' but 'life breath' or 'life.'" In the same poem, Alter's Psalmist concludes by asking to live in the house of the Lord not "for ever" but "for many long days"--the true meaning of the Hebrew l'orech yamim. "The viewpoint of the poem," his note explains, "is in and of the here and now and is in no way eschatological."

The combined effect of these changes is to remove the Psalms from the Christian drama of sin and redemption, and to situate them firmly in this world. This does not mean that Alter's Psalms automatically become a more Jewish text--a point worth emphasizing, because the equation of Christianity with the transcendent and Judaism with the immanent is an old and frequently unpleasant trope of Christian apologetics.

The result of his new transaltion, according to Alter, is that the Psalms better reflect the "warrior culture" prevalent throughtout the Psalms:

It is good to have an English version of the Psalms that is liberated from this sort of interpretation. For the fact is that Alter's systematic return to the original Hebrew text leaves his Psalms estranged from the ethical language of both Judaism and Christianity. "We are all accustomed to think of Psalms, justifiably, as a religious book," he writes, "but its religious character is not the same as that of the Christian and Jewish traditions that variously evolved over the centuries after the Bible." Instead of looking forward to their "fulfillment" in some messianic antitype, Alter's Psalms look backward--to the warrior culture that produced them, obsessed with honor, shame, and revenge; and even to the polytheistic Canaanite mythology that lurked in the background of Israelite religion.

Read the entire review here.

Great moments in Biblical exegesis

... or is it hermeneutics? A preacher who sounds remarkably like the character Jack on Lost explores Biblical mandates regarding the male urinary posture. Elizabeth Kaeton, bless her heart, unearthed this gem on You Tube. And, as Dave Barry would say, she is not making this up.

Watch with an empty mouth.

The poverty and justice Bible

England's Bible Society has released an edition of the Bible that highlights the more than 2,000 passages that reveal God’s sorrow over poverty and injustice, and His command to believers to act to eradicate them.

The Poverty and Justice Bible was developed after some major evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren, admitted that they had overlooked the Bible's overwhelming message of care and compassion for the poor.

According to the website: "Almost every page of the Bible speaks of God's heart for the poor. His concern for the marginalised. His compassion for the oppressed. His call for justice."

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Tom Wright, bishop of Durham and Bible Society’s president, said, “Poverty and injustice are two of the biggest issues of our day, challenging the minds of politicians and social activists around the world.

“The imbalance of global wealth, famine, water shortages, exploitation and corruption are all issues that invoke outrage – and demand attention. But The Poverty and Justice Bible shows that, in speaking out on these issues, God got there first.”

Far from being irrelevant, the Poverty and Injustice Bible demonstrates that God’s Word has “something to say about issues that resonate today”, the bishop added.

“This Bible connects with the very fabric of today’s world, with all its problems and messiness – and has something powerful to say,” he said.

Bible Society was inspired to develop the new Bible after Pastor Rick Warren, author of bestselling The Purpose Driven Life, admitted that had missed more than 2,000 verses that speak of God’s heart for the poor despite studying theology and being a pastor for decades. He claimed that Christians risked losing their credibility if they failed to speak out against poverty and injustice.

Christian leader and commentator Tony Campolo added, “Here’s proof that faith without commitment to justice for the poor is a sham, because it ignores the most explicit of all the social concerns of Scripture.”

Bible Society staff and experts spent months debating and sifting through the Contemporary English Version (CEV) Bible to pull out the verses that say something about God’s attitude to poverty and justice. The result was more than 2,000 sections, with almost every page from Genesis to Revelation emphasizing just and fair behavior.

The Poverty and Justice Bible includes a 32 page study guide and fifty Bible studies "highlight how concern for the poor and the oppressed form part of the DNA of our faith."

Read: The Christian Post New Bible Reveals God's Heart Towards Poverty, Injustice

Faith in Public Life: New Bible Reveals God's Heart Towards Poverty, Injustice

Here is the website for the Poverty and Justice Bible.

Abraham's Curse

Author Bruce Chilton, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at Bard College, writes of human sacrifice in an excerpt from his new book, Abraham's Curse:

As Judaism has praised the sacrifice of Abraham, and Islam the offering of Ibrahim, Christianity since the first century has contended that Jesus accomplished in action the offering that Isaac only symbolized. The key Christian belief in Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God reinterprets and recasts the image of Isaac in Genesis.

Abraham's story has never been ours more than it is now. Naming the compulsion to take innocent life in the belief that sacrifice is noble goes beyond the incidents of any single crime, and takes us into the foundations of human culture and of how people understand the divine.

The Christian soldier, the Israeli conscript, and the Muslim jihadist are all poised for conflict and prepared for death, armed by their training and motivated by an ethos that is thousands of years old. The impulse to praise martyrdom, and therefore to encourage susceptible adolescents to become martyrs, is embedded in our cultural DNA.

We live on the edge of a prolonged sacrificial commitment, in a war on terror whose end is as obscure as its purposes and whose methods are ill defined. Understanding what it is we're talking about when we speak of human death as a "sacrifice" has become crucial to us.

Read it all.
(Our thanks to The Chronicle Review for taking this piece out from behinds its subscription wall.)

Voices from the Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral is compiling an excellect collection of videotaped Lenten reflections. The Cathedral's Sunday Forum collection is also worth a listen if you've got the time.

The historical crucifixion

Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air interviewed John Dominic Crossan a few years back to explore the historicity of the crucifixion. Originally airing in 2004, the conversation winds around the notion of, as guest host David Bianculli explains in the intro, crucifixion as state-sanctioned terrorism that "existed for centuries, before it became infamous under the Romans."

Crossan likens crucifixion in the Roman period to slave executions, "as a warning not to flee, not to commit a crime." These very public executions were not so much about punishment or suffering of any one individual so much as making an example of those who violated the norms of the day--"hung up like a poster, saying don't do what this person did or you'll end up as this person did." Capital punishment forms such as crucifixion, being burned alive or being "fed to the lions" were meant to be a form of annihilation, so that there was no body left behind for mourners to bury and grieve over. He notes that the crucifixion itself only is special to Christianity put in the context of the resurrection.

Gross inquires after some of the practices that are described in the Gospels, such as mocking and scourging, about how the cross came to become a symbol of Christianity, and about the validity of a metaphorical understanding of Scripture.

The Passion of the Christ was a hot topic at the time of the interview; Crossan offers the critique that the film doesn't provide any context for why he was arrested/, that it tries to distill the perspectives of four gospels into one narrative, that it focuses excessively on the suffering and not enough on the resurrection, and that it ignores the popularity of Jesus that is apparent from a reading of all the gospels. He draws a parallel to the Passion plays of medieval times, noting that the suffering of Jesus was something that people would really connect to. But, he continues, this was not what emerged from 1st century.

There's lots more in this 20 minute interview. You can listen to it here.

Re-Judaizing Jesus

Time magazine had an interesting essay on the renewed focus by many Christians on the fact that Jesus was a Jew:

Recently a popular blogger — let's call him Rabbi Ben — zinged the scholarship of a man we shall call Rabbi Rob. R. Ben claimed R. Rob did not "understand the difference between Judaism prior to the two Jewish wars in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and later Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism." He helpfully provided a syllabus.

Actually, neither man is a rabbi. (Sorry.) Ben Witherington is a Methodist New Testament scholar, and Rob Bell a rising Michigan megapastor. Yet each regards sources like the Mishnah and Rabbi Akiva as vital to understanding history's best-known Jew: Jesus.

This is seismic. For centuries, the discipline of Christian "Hebraics" consisted primarily of Christians cherry-picking Jewish texts to support the traditionally assumed contradiction between the Jews — whose alleged dry legalism contributed to their fumbling their ancient tribal covenant with God — and Jesus, who personally embodied God's new covenant of love. But today seminaries across the Christian spectrum teach, as Vanderbilt University New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine says, that "if you get the [Jewish] context wrong, you will certainly get Jesus wrong."

. . .

What does this mean, practically? At times the resulting adjustment seems simple. For example, Bell thinks he knows the mysterious words Jesus wrote in the dust while defending the adulteress ("He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," etc.). By Bell's calculation, that showdown occurred at the same time as religious Jews' yearly reading of the prophet Jeremiah's warning that "those who turn from [God] will be written in the dust because they have forsaken [him]." Thus Jesus wrote the crowd's names to warn that their lack of compassion alienated their (and his) God.

A trickier revision for readers involves Paul's Letter to the Romans, forever a key Christian text on sin and Christ's salvific grace. Yet this reading necessitates skipping over what seems like extraneous material in Chapters 9 through 11, which are about the Jews. Increasingly, says Jason Byassee, an editor at the Christian Century, scholars now read Romans through those chapters, as a musing by a lifelong Jew on how God can fulfill his biblical covenant with Israel even if it does not accept His son. Byassee the theologian agrees. But as a Methodist pastor, he frets that Romans "is no longer really about Gentile Christians. How do you preach it?"

That's not a frivolous query. Ideally, the reassessment should increase both Jewish-Christian amity and gospel clarity, things that won't happen if regular Christians feel that in rediscovering Jesus the Jew, they have lost Christ. Yet Bell finds this particular genie so logically powerful that he has no wish to rebottle it. Once in, he says, "you're in deep. You're hooked. 'Cause you can't ever read it the same way again."

Read it all here.

Is "Let him who is without sin" Biblical?

It is no secret that the much loved story of the woman caught in adultery, found in John 7:53-8:11, is missing from the early manuscripts, and is of doubtful authenticity This fact is noted in almost all of the recent translations. Christianity Today has an interesting article about how evangelical bibical schaolars are approaching the problem:

When Dallas Theological Seminary professor Daniel Wallace examined New Testament manuscripts stored in the National Archive in Albania last June, he was amazed by what he did not find.

The story of the woman caught in adultery, usually found in John 7:53-8:11, was missing from three of the texts, and was out of place in a fourth, tacked on to the end of John's Gospel.

"This is way out of proportion for manuscripts from the 9th century and following," Wallace said. "Once we get into that era, the manuscripts start conforming much more to each other. Thus, to find some that didn't have the story is remarkable."

Wallace called modern translations' inclusion of the famous narrative, in which Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" and told the woman to "go and sin no more," the result of "a tradition of timidity."

The Roman Catholic Church requires this story to be considered Scripture, and Protestants have not broken with that tradition, even though it is missing from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. During the 5th century, the church was sorting out what, exactly, should be in the canon of inspired Scripture. Pericope adulterae, as it is known, first appears in a Greek text during this period, although it is alluded to by Greek writers as early as the 2nd century.

Many scholars agree that the verses are not original to John's Gospel, pointing out that the story interrupts the flow of the verses that come before and after. The style is also noticeably different from that of John's usual writing.

But that doesn't mean that all Bible scholars want the story removed. Many of them disagree with Wallace and believe it relays an historical event and that it belongs in our Bible.

"There is no reason to pull this out," said Craig Evans, a professor at Acadia Divinity School. "Nothing about it says Jesus didn't have this encounter." All of the stories about Jesus began orally — it was a few decades before they were written down — so it is possible that this story just did not get written down until much later, Evans said.

Michael Holmes, a professor at Bethel University, doesn't consider the story inspired Scripture. But he said he would include the story in the Bible, because of its long history and because the verses bear the marks of an authentic story about Jesus.

"[Pericope adulterae] does offer us deep insight into how Jesus dealt with questions such as this, and in that sense is a great illustration to live by," he said.

Such judgments raise questions about what words like canonicity and inspiration mean for evangelicals. If we reserve the word inspired for the text in the earliest manuscripts, yet accept that other material (such as the pericope adulterae) should be included in our biblical canon, are we implying that select biblical passages may be canonical yet not inspired? If so, what should we do with this distinction?

Read it all here.

Getting the Gospel of Judas backwards

Thomas Bartlett of The Chronicle of Higher Education writes:

One of the seven million people who watched the National Geographic documentary was April D. DeConick. Admittedly, DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, was not your average viewer. As a Coptologist, she had long been aware of the existence of the Gospel of Judas and was friends with several of those who had worked on the so-called dream team. It's fair to say she watched the documentary with special interest.

As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus' best interests in mind — which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: "Oh no. Something is really wrong."

Read it all. Hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily.

A nugget of wisdom from the Rev. Tobias Haller

From In a Godward Direction:

When I look to the Gospels, I find significant support for what is called "the social gospel." I find nothing at all, one way or the other, about faithful, life-long, same-sex relationships, those who live in them, and whether they should be ordained or not. Those who elevate concerns over the latter to the level of "gospel" are the ones who have some explaining to do, not those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give cups of cold water to the thirsty.

Hooker on Romans 1

Most every Anglican knows that Richard Hooker was the founding theological visionary of Anglicanism. But many have not read his writings nor sought to apply his insights to the present controversies in the Communion. The Archbishop of Armagh luckily has risen to the task.

In an address to the USPG Conference in Swanick today, the Archbishop AET Harper OBE traces the primary lines of Hooker's thinking on the ways that scripture and reason can serve as theological norms. (Norms are the tools that we use to make decisions between two competing ideas or claims.)

You can read Ruth Gledhill's take on this paper here.

The full text is found here.

It's a very long and densely written lecture, but well worth the time to read.

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Visualizing the Bible


VisualComplexity offers this very interesting way to visualize the cross references in the Bible. Here is the explanation:

This visualization started as a collaboration between Christoph Romhild and Chris Harrison. As Chris explains: "Christoph, a Lutheran Pastor, first emailed me in October of 2007. He described a data set he was putting together that defined textual cross references found in the Bible. He had already done considerable work visualizing the data before contacting me. Together, we struggled to find an elegant solution to render the data, more than 63,000 cross references in total. As work progressed, it became clear that an interactive visualization would be needed to properly explore the data, where users could zoom in and prune down the information to manageable levels. However, this was less interesting to us, as several Bible-exploration programs existed that offered similar functionality (and much more). Instead we set our sights on the other end of the spectrum - something more beautiful than functional. At the same time, we wanted something that honored and revealed the complexity of the data at every level - as one leans in, smaller details should become visible".

This process ultimately led them to the multi-colored arc diagram shown here. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate in color between white and light gray. The length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible is depicted by a single arc - the color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect.

Read it all here. Chris Harrison has a website that shows and explains this project, as well as others involving the Bible, here.

Ancient Bible to be put online

The oldest surviving New Testament manuscript is being assembled and placed online as a resource for scholars and students. Here is the AP account:

The British Library says the full text of the Codex Sinaiticus will be available to Web users by next July, digitally reconnecting parts that are held in Britain, Russia, Germany and a monastery in Egypt's Sinai Desert.

A preview of the Codex, which also has some parts of the Old Testament, will hit the Web on Thursday — the Book of Psalms and the Gospel of Mark.

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How not to preach the parables

Are we watering down the message of the parables? Australian Anglican blogger Ben Myers thinks so:

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The origin of the species

Jonathan Sacks:

Next year will be a double anniversary for followers of Darwin: the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. We will no doubt hear it asserted that Darwin dealt a death blow to religious belief.

That, it should be said, is quite untrue. What it dealt a death blow to was one very poor argument for the existence of God, namely the argument from design. This argument figures nowhere in the Hebrew Bible. It does not even belong to its world of thought. It belongs instead to the tradition of Ancient Greece and to the idea that the most important truths are those that can be proved.

The vernacular

Courtney Stewart of the Bible Society of the West Indies talks to Riazat Butt about a project to translate the Bible into Jamaican patois. (audio.)

The Bible's Buried Secrets

Last Tuesday, the PBS program NOVA featured The Bible's Buried Secrets, which focused on what both biblical scholarship and archeology tell us about the events described in the Hebrew Bible. It is safe to say that biblical literalists will hate the program. Most prominent biblical scholars, however, had only praise for the program. It broke no new ground, but fairly described the state of the scholarship.

If you missed the program, you can view it online here. A wealth of resources on issues related to the program can be found here.

The Biblical Archeology Review review of the program can be found here.

On taking Scripture seriously

The Anglican Scotist is among those sick of listening to conservatives blather that the Episcopal Church does not take Scripture seriously. Some of us think that the breakaway congregations have latched on to this issue to persuade themselves that their desire to leave the Episcopal Church is driven by something greater than their distaste for homosexuals--so much more enobling to believe one is driven by principle rather than prejudice.

The Scotist doesn't weigh in on that particular issue. Rather, he writes:

The Episcopal Church has left little question as to where it stands on the issue of Biblical authority; volumes from the most recent two Church's Teaching Series from the '70s and late '90s have been devoted to the issue, and there are several other monographs with similar degrees of authority. Moreover, it seems to me equally clear that the actions of GC2003 are rooted in the approach to Scripture outlined in these publications.

Thus, I propose looking into these volumes to see what the Episcopal Church actually says about Scripture and Biblical authority; alas, I am unwilling merely to take our conservative brothers and sisters at their word on this one.

The Good Nigerian

The Parable of the Good Samaritan as rewritten by Mad Priest:

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Robert Wright and the Gospel of Mark

In his new book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright leans on the first gospel--that of Mark--to suggest that later gospels present a Jesus who is less historically authentic, but more palatable to modern tastes, especially on interfaith issues:

For many Christians, the life of Jesus signifies the birth of a new kind of God, a God of universal love. The Hebrew Bible—the “Old Testament”—chronicled a God who was sometimes belligerent (espousing the slaughter of infidels), unabashedly nationalist (pro-Israel, you might say), and often harsh toward even his most favored nation. Then Jesus came along and set a different tone. As depicted in the Gospels, Jesus exhorted followers to extend charity across ethnic bounds, as in the parable of the good Samaritan, and even to love their enemies. He told them to turn the other cheek, said the meek would inherit the Earth, and warned against self-righteousness (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Even while on the cross, he found compassion for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But there’s a funny thing about these admirable utterances: none of them appears in the book of Mark, which was written before the other Gospels and which most New Testament scholars now consider the most reliable (or, as some would put it, the least unreliable) Gospel guide to Jesus’ life. The Jesus in Mark, far from calmly forgiving his killers, seems surprised by the Crucifixion and hardly sanguine about it (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). In Mark, there is no Sermon on the Mount, and so no Beatitudes, and there is no good Samaritan; Jesus’ most salient comment on ethnic relations is to compare a woman to a dog because she isn’t from Israel.

He also argues that globalization will eventually promote interfaith understanding.

The argument from ducks

Somehow we missed this episode of the Colbert Report in which Stephen squares off with Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, author of Jesus, Interrupted. I am divine and you are the branches, indeed.

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Should we hate Judas?

Joan Acocella in The New Yorker:

Did Judas deserve this fate? If Jesus informs you that you will betray him, and tells you to hurry up and do it, are you really responsible for your act?

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Philip Pullman and "the Scoundrel Christ"

Alison Flood in The Guardian:

He enraged America's religious right with his portrayal of God as a senile old man in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and now Philip Pullman is set to court more Christian controversy – this time with a novel about "the Scoundrel Christ".

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'When I pour out my Spirit': a Pentecost meditation

The Rev. Eric H.F. Law graces us with a little Pentecost-Sunday-evening contemplation: If the Pentecost text is partially rooted in the prophet Joel's vision of a world in which the powerless dreams dreams and prophesy, then how can we listen to those voices and share in those dreams?

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Yesterday's gospel reading

So here is the text of yesterday's gospel, with a few passages set in boldfaced for emphasis:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

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More perils in preaching: an open thread

Last Monday we asked how preachers around the church had handled the difficult Gospel passage on hating your mother and your father. (Here's an excellent sermon by the Rev. Bruce Coggin that not only focuses on that difficult passage, but discusses strategies for doing so.) This week I'd like to ask a broader question: what passages--particularly Gospel passages--do you just hate to preach on? Why? And what do you do about it?

Bishop Gene Robinson on what the Bible says about homosexuality

Bishop Gene Robinson has begun a series of articles on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. In his first article, he examines a methodology for how we might read what the Bible says about homosexuality.

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A few Bible-based info-graphics

Courtesy KOREuk's photostream on Flickr:

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Should gays and lesbians debate scripture?

Religion Dispatches has a dialogue on whether it is possible for LGBT believers to debate other believers, particularly those who cite the seven "clobber" verses of the Bible, about scripture.

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Biblical truth?

Is the biblical narrative true in the same way that a mathematical theorem is true? Is it true in the same a natural law is true? What about a historical account of an event? What about an eyewitness account?

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What the Bible really says about slavery

The debate over what the Bible says about slavery is a matter of more than academic interest to proponents of LGBT equality. If the Bible is "wrong" on slavery, that is, if it seems to permit it, then aren't we free to believe that it is "wrong" on the morality of same-sex relationships (assuming that the texts of terror do speak uniformly against such relationships--which is a whole 'nother debate.)

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The Bible and marriage and the art of misreading

New Testament scholar Greg Carey says a lot of people who advocate for "traditional family values" rooted in the Bible may not have much of an idea of what's actually in the Bible on the subject of marriage.

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Magdalene, the one who showed up

Garrett Keizer offers a fresh, not especially ideological take on Mary of Magdala.

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For your sermon-ating

The Philosophical Society offers a plethora of logical fallacies that might add some spice to your sermons! Here is one for the lessons on the Gerasene demoniac and the swine.

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WWGD? (That's Galileo)

An excerpt from The Rev. Susan Russell's response to an email with the subject line "The Clear Truth Of Scripture", found in The Huffington Post:

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Theological and political carts and horses

On the Huffington Post, Jonathan Dudley says the faith claims we say we've gotten from the Bible are often staked to the sort of thinking to which we're already predisposed.

For example, the command found in Genesis to "have dominion" has had several hermeneutical approaches in the history of readership.

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The Bible is fiction

A thoughtful blog post by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman on the nature of the Bible:

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The sad cycle of Evangelical Biblical scholarship

About six weeks ago, Peter Enns wrote a column for Patheos that has been pinging around the Internet ever since. In it, he laments the situation the dilemma that evangelical scholars who do their graduate work at non-evangelical institutions face when they return to evangelical schools. He wrote:

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Bread? Again?

Three weeks of "bread" gospels makes one wonder what to preach on tomorrow. Karyn Wiseman has some thoughts at Huffington Post:

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Is the church too timid to speak frankly about sex?

The Rev. William Lamar, managing director of leadership education at the Duke University Divinity School wonders why Christians talks so much about sexual issues without paying closer attention to the rich, varied and challenging Biblical texts dealing with sex and sexual violence. Writing at the Huffington Post he says:

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The misapplication of the theology of the cross

I imagine many of you heard or preached sermons yesterday about Jesus' invitation to pick up one's cross and follow him. Whenever I listen to this passage from Mark's gospel, I am reminded how dangerous it is. I think about all of the times that I picked up the wrong cross, and what it cost me to do so. I think about all of the people who theologize their victimization by assuming that being beaten or cheated or deprived of basic human needs is their "cross to bear." Applied to the wrong situations, the theology of the cross is an invitation to pointless human suffering.

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Jesus said to them, "my wife...."


A new text recently discovered seems to indicate that Jesus referred to himself as having a wife. From a Harvard Divinity School press release:

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The role of women in the early church: what do we know?

Writing in Religion Disptaches, Elizabeth Drescher analyzes the commentary surrounding The Gospel of Jesus Wife and concludes:

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Preaching on some tough readings

Several preachers who share their thinking and sermons online mentioned that this week's readings made challenging sermon fodder.

The Very Rev. John Downey of the Cathedral in Saint Paul in Erie, asks for help with his sermons almost every week in a You Tube feature called "This Preacher needs help." Here is what he had to say this week:

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So, have you sold what you own yet?

From today's gospel reading

"You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

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Karen King: serious Bible study began in the Episcopal Church

The Boston Globe interviews Professor Karen King about her life and the discovery of the "Jesus wife" fragment.

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Reading the New Testament chronologically

Marcus Borg talks to Candace Chellow-Hodge at Religion Dispatches about reading the New Testament chronologically and what this approach teaches us about the early Church and about being a Christian.

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Bible Challenge calls us to read all of scripture in 2013

I taught an adult Sunday School class last week for newcomers at our church, and struggled a little to hide my shock when a couple of the students said they'd never heard the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers, and didn't know why Noah had built an ark. So the idea of a "Bible Challenge," in which we would invite parishioners to read the entire Bible in the year ahead, has some appeal to me. Apparently many churches are embarking on this project, including St. Mark the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Sun-Sentinel:

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Grants funds lay-led Bible study project

General Seminary announced that one its professors received a grant to conduct a series of lay-led, learner-centered, parish-based scripture studies this Summer and Fall.

The Episcopal Evangelical Education Society (EEES) grant to Deirdre Good, Professor of New Testament is for a series of lay-led, learner-centered, parish-based scripture studies this Summer and Fall. The first study was held in Maine on May 26. They will conclude this Fall at parishes in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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Why I don't want to be like the early church.

Learning from and knowing about the early church is not the same as imitating the early church. Krista Dalton thinks about our relationship with Scripture, particularly the communities behind them.

Were they recording an ideal past or imaging an ideal future?

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Presiding Bishop's sermon controversy

Back in May, the Presiding Bishop preached a sermon in Curaçao that made waves around the blogosphere, setting some people's hair on fire.

The New York Times tells the story:

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The woman behind TextWeek

Each week as we look at the lessons for Sunday, many of us turn first to the website The Text This Week. Here is the story of Jenee Woodard, the person behind the site who offers the myriad resources for our reflections - whether we preach or ponder each week:

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Inuktitut translation of Bible published

Anglican Journal reports on the publishing of the first translation of the Bible in Inuktitut. Meeting jointly for the first time the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were presented with a copy of the new translation:

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Throwing hardballs at God

The Rev. Becky Gettel reflects on the Bible's Laments and Psalms at Wicked Local Concord (MA):

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When the Jesus you were expecting isn't the Jesus who shows up

As yesterday's Gospel reading makes clear, the Jesus that John the Baptist got was not exactly the Jesus he was expecting:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Have you had the experience of expecting one thing from God but getting another? In what ways have you had to revise your notions of God's nature? Of God's priorities?

Philippians 4:13, a most popular & misread Bible verse

Tim Tebow may have greased "Phil 4:13" onto his face, but Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service takes issue with those who interpret this verse from Philippians ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me") as God's rock solid promise that we can achieve anything we dream of achieving. He writes:

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Godly Play For Alzheimer's Patients

In the Diocese of Lexington, Godly Play traditionally has been used for young children in Christian formation. Now, Deacon Lois Howard is adapting Godly Play for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Lois describes the purpose in Key Resources from the Center for Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Seminary:

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The crisis of Biblical manhood

Rachel Held Evans has heard enough about Biblical womanhood, and says it is time to give men the "Titus 2 treatment."

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Summer of Scripture '14!

Today is the kickoff for the Summer of Scripture in Madison, Wisconsin. Led by Jonathan Melton and Dorota Pruski, young adults from the University of Wisconsin Episcopal Student Center and St. Andrew's Church are teaming up to read the entire Bible in one summer:

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Making preaching more democratic is hot topic at festival

Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times writes about last month's Festival of Homiletics, where some of the most-respected preachers from the mainline churches gather to discuss and demonstrate their art and craft.

One hot topic was making preaching "more democratic."

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