Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Redemptive Moments in Star Wars

My oldest son has absolutely no interest in football, but he closed his AP Statistic book and jammed over to our modest-sized TV during the Monday Night halftime break in the game between NY Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles to see the premiere of the first full trailer (3rd if you are counting the previous long teasers) of the long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens. After the trailer was over, we all started singing the John Williams' theme song and went back to work.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (U.S. Debut on Dec 18, 2015)
Image credit: LucasFilms and Disney
I remember when I saw the very first Star Wars film back in 1977, I was 9 years old at the time. What I enjoyed back then was the sense of adventure: Luke Skywalker looking up at the horizon and wondering what was out there in the vastness of space, thinking why I am stuck in this no man's land of a desert planet (Tatooine)?! What kid could not relate to the sense of adventure and longing for something grander than the mundane aspects of life? 
    But now a little bit whole lot older, a trained theologian and New Testament scholar, I still love the original trilogy (sorry, folks, not much of a fan for the pre-quels) for the epic scope of adventure but more importantly, for the redemptive themes. In the first film, the redemptive moment was when Han Solo with Chewie came back to help Luke finish off the Death Star. But the longest redemptive character arc was Darth Vader and his story runs in parallel with Luke's quest to become a Jedi or succumb to the dark side of the force (isn't Luke's struggle just a great analogue to Paul's in Romans 7? Talk about apocalyptic!). 
    In the death scene when Luke Skywalker (much better last name than the originally proposed "Starkiller") is trying to carry Vader off the soon-to-be-exploding Death Star, Luke stumbles and says to the redeemed-Darth-Vader-turned-back-to-Anakin:
  • [Luke] "You're coming with me, I'll not leave you here, I've got to save you!
  • [Anakin] "You already have, Luke... You were right. You were right about me. Tell, your sister, you were right..."
I was a high schooler when I saw the Return of the Jedi (1983), and I was trying to hide my tears in the darkness because I thought it was so uncool of me to cry. The packed audience I was a part of cheered when Darth Vader defeated the emperor but hushed for a reverent moment at the words: You already have, Luke! You were right... tell your sister, you were right." Some clapped but most of us were so moved, the only thing we could do was be silent and take great inspiration from the redemption of a villain whom no one thought could be turned back to the force of good, whom no one dreamed could be saved.
    Yes, I'm probably being very nostalgic. But the theme of redemption is why I love Star Wars, even if George Lucas did not originally intend to make any explicit connections with the gospel. But that is what good theological thinking does: it takes the ordinary and extraordinary in life and sees how they reflect the timeless message of redemption by God. I hope (please, please don't blow it J.J. Abrams and company!) that redemptive moments in the new series won't be lost on the next generation of fandom. 
    But there's potential! Rey and Han Solo have this great exchange: [Rey] "Those stories about what happened..." [Han] "It's true... all of it... they're real." You almost wish Han added: So believe! 
   And did you hear the confession of the storm-trooper-turned-Jedi[?] Finn: "I was raised to do one thing... but I got nothing to fight for." 
   With one redemptive turn, Finn might just find something worth fighting for! Now let's watch the trailer a hundred more times... 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Recovering Papyri Fragments from the Wrappings of Mummy Masks

Cartonnage bath to separate out the used papyri from a mummy mask
Photo taken from Emily Teeter's Ancient Egypt (2003)
Prior to my post on the Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, I wrote on the mummy masks that were on display at the Getta Villa (see this post). It just so happens that last year, mummy masks were all the rave because of the possibility that some Gospel of Mark fragments dated to the late 1st century A.D. were recovered from the cartonnage (an ancient version of paper mâché made of linnen or papyri strips with glue) of a mummy mask. The claim has stirred up quite a bit of controversy and intense discussion on the blogosphere because the said Mark fragments have yet to be published (the projected 2015 date will probably be missed). Here is a random sampling of scholars who all argue for a healthy dose of scepticism until evidence/data that can be examined by the academic community becomes available: Roberta Mazza, Peter Willliams, James Tabor, to name a few.
    The claims for authenticity, however, should not be ignored because we do have two credible New Testament scholars, highly respected, who insist that the fragments are genuine and it is only a matter of time before they will be published (Brill will publish the fragments as part of the Green Scholars Initiative: Papyri Series; Michael Holmes, Director of the Green Initiative, has released this (un)official statement on his blog). Both Professor of Craig Evans, formerly the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, who this past June 2015 recently accepted a new post at Houston Baptist University, and Professor Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary and known textual-criticism expert, are eager to answer critics once the papyri have been published. Apparently a non-disclosure statement with the owners of the mummy mask from which the papyri were extracted keeps Evans and Wallace from saying any more. The hornet's nest was stirred when Evans, back in 2014, made this announcement during a lecture (see below): 
Almost immediately, the news media picked up on the announcement and posted articles from it and from an earlier press leak by Daniel Wallace during a debate with Bart Ehrman in 2012 (see Forbes, Live Science, The Smithsonian, The Washington Post, and the Christian Today). 
   I personally will simply wait until the Brill publication becomes available before making my own deliberation on the authenticity of the fragments. There is really nothing more anyone can do until they are published. But pedagogically, the whole process is a great segue to sharing with seminary students how some of our manuscripts and papyri fragments have fascinating stories of their own about their discovery. Aside from the incidental coincidence that mummy masks fit the October halloween theme, the anticipation concerning the Gospel of Mark fragments is a good way to talk about how papyri discoveries come from the oddest places: the garbage dumps of Egypt (think Oxyrhychus), on palimpsest (another form of recycled papyri), Christian monasteries (think Bodmer), or on the antiquities black market. 
    In the case of the mummy mask, with all the secrecy, I suspect that a private collector is involved (but this is only speculation). While we wait for Brill to publish the Green Scholars Initiative papyri series, below is a helpful video which outlines the process that some archaeologists / papyrologists used to protect the painted portrait of the mummy mask while still being able to extract the cartonnage and separate its layers to read the recycled papyri. Have fun! 
Video of Jaakko Frösén (University of Helsinki)
demonstrating how to extract the papyri from a mummy mask
without damaging the painted portrait

One more photo: Life Science has a nice article how renowned classicist Dirk Obbink discovered two poems of Sappho from the mummy cartonnage of a private collector. You can read the article (here). Below is the photo of the recovered papyrus scroll fragment from the cartonnage. Wow! It's amazing that it could be restored with such clarity.
Photo credit: livescience.com
Postscript 10/19/15: One of Roberta Mazza's students found this video on the mummy mask from which the Gospel of Mark fragments came (or at least, this was the mummy mask used on the powerpoint screen for the announcement). If this is indeed the mummy mask, and I'm no expert, it sure makes even me nervous how the mask and papyri was handled. Watching the video can be nerve-wracking as you see the masked and papyri handled by several people. I hope the Green Scholars Initiative is taking care of the papyri well, and the faster Brill publishes it, the better. MJL

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Race and Racism: Papers from North Park's 2015 Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Nyvall Hall, home of North Park Theological Seminary's
Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture
Photo by Max Lee ©2014

Following the Lund Lectureship, each year, North Park Theological Seminary also hosts its Symposium on the Theological Intepretation of Scripture. This year's theme is on the important and very salient issues of race and racism, especially in a North American context (#BlackLivesMatter, #TamarRice, #FreddyGray, #MichaelBrown, #immigrantlivesmatter). Klyne Snodgrass, formerly the Paul W. Brandel Chair of New Testament Studies and now an emeritus professor, spearheads the symposium, inviting speakers from across the country and at times internationally, and edits the plenary papers which are read for publication in the journal Ex Auditu
    One by one, I'm working my way through the videos that Cov.Tv streamed and also posted on their youtube channel. Sometimes, these videos are hard to find, so I'm organizing them here on this post, with the speaker names and paper titles. Chris Spinks, editor at Wipf and Stock, also posted on the symposium and included some very nice excerpts from each of the paper presenters. 
    Also, all the videos are unedited, so there are sometimes long gaps between start times. Be sure to look where to scroll for each video (red print) so you don't have to wonder where to begin.

    On Thurs evening Sept 24, the Symposium opened with Love Sechrest, Associate Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, who gave the paper "Enemies, Romans, Pigs, and Dogs: Loving the Other in the Gospel of Matthew." The response was given by Rebecca Gonzales, Executive Director of Operations for the Evangelical Covenant Church. 
First Session with Love Sechrest (start at 9:18)

   On Friday Sept 25, for sessions 2-5, we had the following speakers. In the morning, Néstor Medina (previous CV), Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto and author of Mestizaje: Remapping Race, Culture, and Faith in Latina/o Catholicism, gave the paper "What's Missing? Toward an Hermeneutics of Absence." The response was given by Bruce Fields, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical School, and in the past a plenary speaker for our lectureships. 
2nd Session with Néstor Medina (start at 37:50)

In the late morning session,
 Emerson Powery (our Lund lecturer) gave the paper "Lost in Translation: Ethnic Conflict in English Bibles." The response was by our own university provost, Michael Emerson, author of the award-winning and prophetically challenging book Divided by Faith.
3rd Session with Emerson Powery (start at 2:31)

In the afternoon, Raymond Aldred, Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary presented the paper "An Indigenous Reinterpretation of Repentance," with a response by one of our North Park alumni, Mark Tao, Pastor of Immanuel Covenant Church, here in Chicago. 
4th Session with Raymond Aldred (start at 5:05)

Friday ended with the evening paper by Kyle Small, Dean of Formation for Ministry and Associate Professor of Church Leadership at Western Theological Seminary, who presented "What Kind of Enemy Are You? Gentile Privilege in the Gospel of Matthew," with the response by Alex Gee, Pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church. 
5th Session with Kyle Small (start at 8:40)

  On Saturday, the Symposium ended with its final three sessions. In the morning, Bo Lim, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University (also a Lund lecturer), gave the provocative paper "The Lynching of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah" with the response by Evelmyn Ivens, national staff at the Christian Community Development Association, and a recent North Park alumnus. 
6th Session with Bo Lim (start at 5:56)

In late morning session, Elizabeth (Lisa) Sung, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, gave the paper "Racial Realism in Biblical Interpretation and Theological Anthropology: An Evaluation of Recent Accounts," with the response by doctoral candidate Valerie Landfair from Regent University, and adjunct instructor at North Park. 

7th Session with Lisa Sung (start at 4:00)

The last session featured the paper by Lewis Brogdon, Assistant Professor of Religion and Biblical Studies at Claflin University with the title "Reimagining Koinonia: Confronting the Legacy and Logic of Paul's Letter to Philemon." The response was given by Al Tizon, Executive Minister of Serve Globally for the Evangelical Covenant Church and soon a regular lecturer at the seminary. 
8th Session with Lewis Brogdon (start at 3:16)

Whew! That's it. Enjoy, be blessed, and be challenged by the sessions. MJL