Answering Your Letters: On Heaven

Dear Jim,
What’s heaven like?
Thank you,


4157478516_08ccef80c6Yours is a great question.  What’s heaven like… well, the book of Revelation portrays it as a place of perfect provision and ample sustenance and wellness.  Most importantly, it is the place where God is immediately present and death has ended.  In sum, it is Paradise restored.

Since that summarizes the theological description I think it fair to ‘fill in the gaps’, as it were.  So, for me, heaven is that wonderful library where every book ever written on theology or biblical studies (by responsible and learned believers) are collected in their first editions.  There, you’ll be able to browse the shelves and read to your heart’s content without your eyes ever tiring or you hands trembling.  And, even better, since all the books there collected are authored by believers, you’ll be able to pop into the elevator and make your way to the main floor where – at a number dispenser (think of your local deli) – which will put you in line to chat with the author of any book you wish.

So if you want to chat Luther up on his silly ideas concerning the Mass you can grab a volume off the 16th century Luther shelf and pop down for a visit with the cranky beer swiller himself.

Heaven- in short- is a giant library where authors are on hand to discuss whatever you like.  Forever.  And in the background Mozart’s leading the orchestra.

Heaven… ahhhhhh.

Bloggers and Their Family Christmas Photos!

It’s that time of year again, when the bibliobloggers load their families up in the car and take them down to the local photographer for the portraits they’ll use on their Christmas Cards!  This year’s crop is a doosey!


The Tilling’s


The Watts’ Family


The McGrath’s


The Stevens’


The Goodacres


The LePort’s


The Gardner’s (and all Texans)


The West’s


The Linville’s


The Pahl’s


“Rhythms of Time”, The Table of Contents

Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past
Part 1- The Loss of Palestine’s Past
Chapter 1: How Palestine Lost its Past
Chapter 2: A History Built on Bones
Part 2- Reconnecting Palestine’s Past
Chapter 3: Palestine on the Turntable of Trade
Chapter 4: Recession in the Mediterranean: Illuminating a ‘Dark Age’
Chapter 5: Revival in the Countryside
Chapter 6: The Revival of the Towns
Part 3 – The Deep History of Palestine
Chapter 7: Integrating Palestine’s Past
Once again, when the volume is published I will certainly post all the details here.

An Excerpt From Keith Whitelam’s Forthcoming “Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past”

From Chapter 2,  A Land Built of Bones

whitelam_bookThe history of Palestine has been forged in the shadow of empire: the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian from the ancient past to the Ottoman, British and American of the modern world. The so-called great men, monarchies, and imperial powers have followed on from one another in the region, attracting most attention like the froth of the waves breaking on the shoreline. Yet underlying this surface movement, as Braudel termed it, was a substratum that moved slowly to the rhythms of time absorbing and dissipating the effect of the waves. 
It is this story, an essential part of Palestine’s past, that was ignored by western visitors and scholars in favour of the events and characters described in the Bible. So these centuries that are associated with the biblical stories have become Israel’s past and have been denied to Palestine and the Palestinians. As Carlo Levi said of Gagliano in his evocative and moving Christ Stopped at Eboli: 
No one has come to this land except as an enemy, a conqueror, or a visitor devoid of understanding. The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ…
The lives of the inhabitants of the tombs of Afula, Dothan and Silwan are part of the rich tapestry of Palestine’s history as it moves to the rhythms of the land, beguiled by its attractions, and reaping its rewards in return for loving care. For those close to the land, it was ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ in that time worn phrase coined by the biblical writers. Their hopes are summed up in the words of the psalmist, ‘May there be an abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon.’ Or more recently, Raja Shehadeh when walking in the hills near Ramallah describes the abundance of wild flowers—‘most were in miniature, blue iris only a few centimetres high, pink flax also very close to the ground and the slightly taller Maltese Cross and pyramid orchids, a colourful but thin carpet covering the vibrant land’, and the terraced gardens with olive trees and flowers’— while pondering the lives of its former inhabitants:
As I walked up I looked at the unterraced hill to my left.  What would it take to clear this and terrace it, I wondered. What a feat it must have been to look at the wild hill and plan the subdivisions. How did they know when to build the terrace wall in a straight line, when in a curve and when to be satisfied with a round enclave where only a single tree could be planted? They must have been very careful to follow the natural contours, memorizing the whole slope before deciding how to subdivide it…. Where once there was a steep hill there was now a series of gradually descending terraces. In this way my ancestors reclaimed the wild, possessed and domesticated it, making it their own.
We need to see the inhabitants of the graves of Afula, Dothan and Silwan as ourselves, or fail to understand how their hopes, aspirations and fears unite us in a common humanity. The rhythms of time are ignored in the search for that which separates, defines, and makes exclusive. Palestine is, to adapt the words of Levi, a land built on bones, where the dead are passed into the living.

Michael Langlois of The University of Strasbourg on the Apocrypha

Over on his blog Michael writes

Monde-des-Religions-56-Apocryphes-222x300The latest issue of World of Religions Magazine is devoted to Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature. Editor-in-Chief Florence Quentin asked me to write three papers on this topic, including the introductory article.    Do not miss this exceptional issue, available on the World of Religions Magazine website!  As an appetizer, here are my three papers in PDF format:


Zwingli Describes the Marburg Colloquy to his Friend Vadian

In an attempt to unify the Protestant forces, in 1529 Philip of Hesse invited Zwingli and Luther to meet in the city of Marburg. There, from October 1 to 4, discussion turned into rancorous debate, as it quickly became evident that on the paramount issue of the Eucharist neither side was ready to make concessions. This letter is Zwingli’s account of the exchange.

Letter to Vadian (20 October 1529)

vadianThe landgrave decided that there should be separate preliminary conferences in private, Oecolampadius with Luther and Melanchthon with Zwingli, to seek between themselves for any possible measure of agreement that could lead to peace. Here Luther’s reaction to Oecolampadius was such that he came to me and privately complained that once again he had come up against Eck! Don’t tell this to anyone you can’t trust.

Melanchthon I found uncommonly slippery; he kept changing his shape like another Proteus, forced me—in lieu of salt!—to use my pen as a weapon and keep my hand dry, so that I could hold him fast for all his chafings and wrigglings and dodgings.

I am sending you a copy of a few extracts from our very lengthy conversations on the understanding that you will only show it to those you can trust—I mean, to those who will not use it to stir up another crisis: remember that Philip [Melanchthon] has a copy too, for I drew it up in his presence and under his eye, and many of his own words he actually dictated. But the last thing we want is to bring on a new crisis. Philip and I spent six hours together, Luther and Oecolampadius three.

melanc42On the next day the four of us entered the arena in the presence of the landgrave and a few others—twenty-four at most; we fought it out in this and in three further sessions, thus making four in all in which, with witnesses, we fought our winning battle. Three times we threw at Luther the fact that he had at other times given a different exposition from the one he was now insisting on of those ridiculous ideas of his, that Christ suffered in his divine nature, that the body of Christ is everywhere, and that the flesh profits nothing; but the dear man had nothing to say in reply—except that on the matter of the flesh profiting nothing he said: “You know, Zwingli, that all the ancient writers have again and again changed their interpretations of passages of Scripture as time went on and their judgment matured.”

He said: “The body of Christ is eaten and received into our body in the bodily sense [corporaliter], but at the same time I reserve my judgment on whether the human spirit eats his body too”—when a little before he had said: “the body of Christ is eaten by the mouth in the bodily sense, but the human spirit does not eat him in the bodily sense.” He said: “[the bread and wine] are made into the body of Christ by the utterance of these words—‘This is my body’—however great a criminal one might be who pronounces them.” He conceded that the body of Christ is finite. He conceded that the Eucharist may be called a “sign” of the body of Christ. These and others are examples of the countless inconsistencies, absurdities and follies which he babbles out like water lapping on the shore; but we refuted him so successfully that the landgrave himself has now come down on our side, though he does not say so in the presence of some of the princes.

The Hessian entourage, almost to a man, has withdrawn from Luther’s position. The landgrave himself has given permission for our books to be read with impunity, and in future will not allow “bishops” who share our views to be ejected from their place. John, the Saxon prince, was not there, but [Ulrich of] Württemberg was.

We finally left [Marburg] with certain agreements which you will soon see in print. The truth prevailed so manifestly that if ever anyone was beaten it was the foolish and obstinate Luther. He was clearly defeated, as any wise and fair judge would agree, although he now makes out that he was not beaten. We have, however, achieved this much good, that our agreement on the rest of the doctrines of the Christian religion will prevent the papal party from hoping any longer that Luther will be on their side. … *

*D. Janz, A Reformation reader: Primary texts with introductions, pp. 161–162.

Who Was Michael Servetus?

A new biography seeks to answer that question, and the author of the book is interviewed here.  Information about the book is here.

978-3-525-56012-92011 jährte sich der Geburtstag des spanischen Universalgelehrten Michael Servet zum 500. Mal.   Anders als kirchliche Theologen und Vorbilder hat der Humanist Servet keine Lobby, die an ihn erinnern möchte. Denn Servet wurde 1553 in Genf als Ketzer verbrannt. Die Anklage: Er hatte die Dreieinigkeit Gottes bezweifelt. Zur Ergreifung Servets hatte der Genfer Reformator Johannes Calvin wesentlich beigetragen. Aber auch andere Reformatoren unterstützten die Hinrichtung des Ketzers – sogar der besonnene Philipp Melanchthon, Mitstreiter Martin Luthers, meinte, mit der Hinrichtung Servets sei der Nachwelt „ein frommes und denkwürdiges Beispiel gegeben“.

Seine trinitätsfeindliche Einstellung hatte Servet gut begründet: Der in Spanien geborene Arzt war nicht nur vom Geist des Humanismus beseelt; die lange Geschichte des enorm produktiven – und dann durch die spanische Inquisition gewaltsam beendeten – Religionsfriedens zwischen Juden, Christen und Muslimen in Andalusien hatte ihn nach Möglichkeiten suchen lassen, den Frieden zwischen den Religionen wiederherzustellen. Seiner Meinung nach stand die biblisch nicht belegte christliche Trinitätslehre dem Religionsfrieden im Weg. 

Uwe Birnstein schildert unterhaltsam und verständlich das Werk, das Leben und den Tod Michael Servets, geleitet von der Frage: Warum musste er sterben? Die Geschichte Servets zeigt zweierlei: Auch die Reformation hinterließ eine blutige Spur in der Kirchengeschichte. Und: Für die aktuelle globale Friedensdiskussion gibt die Theologie des Michael Servet wichtige Impulse.

Part Two of the ‘Interview With a Vampire’, Shoot, I Mean With James Crossley


(This is the second part of a three part interview with James G. Crossley. Part 1 can be foundhere.)

Craig Martin: What elements of neoliberalism do you find most repugnant? Are you optimistic or pessimistic in the face of what appears, to me at least, an unstoppable juggernaut?

James G. Crossley: There are lots of examples from countless contexts. From the book, the aftermath of the Haiti disaster was a particularly prominent repugnant episode with mainstream intellectuals hardly showering themselves with glory. And patterns of disaster can be found everywhere, from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to the experiments in Chile. I wouldn’t know where to begin.

And more…

What Was That Sermon About on Sunday?

whdHow often have you sat in Church listening to a sermon? You are challenged and encouraged by what you hear. Something stirs within your heart— you may even talk enthusiastically about it. Monday morning dawns ‘Now what was it I heard yesterday? – oh yes I think I vaguely remember.’ By Wednesday, Sunday is a distant memory. Life rushes on, seemingly untouched and unchanged by God’s word.

Well the picture painted … in Psalm 119:1-24 is very different – Sunday’s sermons are not forgotten by Wednesday! This Psalm reflects devotion to the Law and devotion to God. …

Over the years as a Counsellor, I have met many people who have often come from great Bible-teaching churches. Yet they struggle with how to put ‘head knowledge’ into ‘heart action’. So how can we change that picture to the Psalmist’s picture, where one delights in the law, meditates on it – where what is preached on Sunday is lived out?

It is about being intentional. Look at the Psalmist. He seeks God, he considers all God’s commands, learns righteous laws, delights, to name just a few. Why not make this Advent a time when, instead of getting swept away with the manic business that affects most of us in December, you take space each day to immerse yourself in God’s word. Think about how what you learn should shape and change you. How does it affect the way you think about a situation and how you behave?*

*Clare Hendry, 2012 Advent Devotional, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University