Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Inscriptifact, ASOR, and SBL

I've had a few days to reflect on the two meetings I attended in San Antonio: The American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature. I think the best paper I heard was by Jodi Magness, who laid out a brilliant systematic argument about why the James Ossuary, even if the inscription is ancient, could not have belonged to the famous James the Brother of Jesus. She said this information will soon be published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, and I look forward to reading it. What I liked about her paper is that she combined archaeological and historical information to make her point, and much of my research and publications have sought to do the same.

Also, at the meeting I learned about Inscriptifact. It is an amazing tool produced by the West Semitic Research Project. The database contains photographs of some of the most famous ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. For example, one can read the Ahiram sarcophagus inscription or the Copper Scroll with lighting in different directions. If you are interested in this extremely valuable resource, go here and apply for a username and password.

Finally, both conferences took place near the Alamo. As I walked past it I ofen reflected on the similarities between the Alamo and Masada. Israelis use to and still look to the story of Masada as parallel to their own modern state. Many have reinterpreted the story of Masada as a tale of bravery against opression. But that's not what happened there. Back in the first century Masada was inhabited by some crazy zealots, and Josephus' account is much more literature than history. Later, Yadin's excavations there made heroes of these people, and they even gave a state burial to the bones of what were likely Roman soldiers. It is a classic example of manipulating the past to suit your own modern political agenda. People in the US also mythologized the Alamo. In reality, the battle had a great deal to do with Mexico just outlawing slavery, the illegal seizure of land by the US, and many other issues, instead of some screwed up tail about these righteous men making a stand. "Killed him a bear, when he was only three" Yeah, right . . . But I did buy a fake Davey Crocket coonskin cap for my kids. They love it.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


I'm sleepy. It's about an hour since I left the turkey table. This year, I am thankful for many things:
Therese, my beloved partner in life.
Kalypso, whom I love more every day.
Gilgamesh, who is funny and fearless.
My parents, who sacrificed so much for me.
For the health of all of my family.
And I am even thankful for our two dogs, Kochise and Mosey, even though they drink out of the toilet.
I am thankful that I get to teach for a living.
I am thankful that we get to live in such a fun city, New Orleans. And it is almost Mardi Gras.
I am thankful that we live in an old crooked house.
I am thankful that I like my colleagues in the Theology department at Xavier.
I am thankful for other people at Xavier, especially those whom I work with in CAT.
I am thankful that Therese took the dogs and the kids for a walk, and my bed is so close. I'm off for a nap.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Touchdown Jesus!

I just found something that was both funny and disturbing. There are statues for sale at a Catholic Internet Site that depict Jesus doing some pretty bizarre things.

First, we have this gem:

I'm worried about the fate of that poor kid who is trying to tackle Jesus. I'm sure hell is full of youngsters who did far less than tackle the Son of God. But that's not all. Check this one out:

Jesus is quite a bit older than those two kids, and probably should share a bit more because he is so tall. I would want Jesus on my team. It seems he can really handle the ball. But also it seems that Jesus only plays hoops with the white kids in suburbia.

The bigger problem is the relationship between Christianity and sports in this country. Remember when Reggie White, an ordained minister, great football player, but no so brilliant, said in reference to white people: "You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature, and you know how to tap into money." Maybe that is the problem, and the source of the Jesus sports statues. But I'm white, and I never dreamed of tapping into money by selling Jesus sports statues for $19.99. I guess with all of my debt and bills, I need to reexamine my white heritage. Maybe, just maybe, I'm not white, which explains my debt.

I do wish that I could watch a football game without all these atheletes bringing God and Jesus into the equation. Quit praying after touchdowns and quit pointing up towards heaven. God does not care who wins football games. If so, then start blaming God for all the dropped passes, and all the losses. You never hear someone who just broke a leg blame Jesus for the injury.

Christianity and sports were not always an unhealthy mix. From what I've read about the founding of the YMCA in the mid 19th century, it was done with noble intentions, to improve the lives of people in some pretty rough social conditions. Maybe it was hypocritical and a farce, but I miss the days when atheletes were presented as moral role models. I think we need more idols who are not selfish, and who act to improve the worlds in which we are living.

Remember the Alamo (and some dull acronyms)

Tomorrow early in the morning I'll get into my 92 red tercel and drive 543 miles to San Antonio Texas. Why? Because it is that time of year again, when boring people like me come to one place to talk about such fascinating things as red slip burnished pottery and the waw-consecutive. I'm a member of ASOR (the American Schools of Oriental Research) and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) and they hold their national meetings over the next couple of days. They used to be joined, but due to financial reasons they split, and now ASOR is typically Thursday-Saturday, and SBL Saturday-Tuesday. I prefer ASOR, because I get to see many of my dearest friends. THese are people I lived with at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, and also people I excavated with over the years. It is a much smaller meeting and more fun. SBL, on the other hand, is huge. The book display is much better though. I've heard that maybe ASOR and SBL will join together again, especially now that SBL is breaking from AAR (American Academy of Religion). I've never been to San Antonio, and I'm looking forward to drinking a giant margaritta and of course, seeing the Alamo. I find this whole Texas cult to be amusing, though of course proud Texans don't feel that way. By the way, I took off my Kerry bumpersticker on the Tercel. I want to make it home alive and without traffic fines just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Vanity in Academic Mug Shots

I have an upcoming publication about beer in the ancient Near coming out in Near Eastern Archaeology. I need to send them a short bio and a mug shot. For the past six or seven years, I've always used this shot, taken at the Albright by my friend Tristan Barako.

But now I'm older, fatter, grayer, blinder, etc. I decided it was time to update my academic picture, because I don't look like the above picture anymore. So this morning Therese took this picture of me, sporting the new red sweater vest I got at Thrift City yesterday during their half price sale.

I remember many times in my career meeting people in my profession and being shocked at how old they were. This is because in their publications they use pictures taken up to 30 years ago, when they still had hair and were in graduate school. Incidentally, it took about 300 shots on the digital camera before we got one that was even remotely passable by my standards. That is to say, it took a lot of work to make me look even this good. I'd better be nicer to Therese and not quit my day job.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

One Week of Walking

Today marks the one week anniversary of my decision to leave my beloved red 92 Tercel behind and walk to work. Also, today was the first day that it was raining. I'm in my office now, with a big box of tissues, because I think I'm getting a cold. Therese and I have talked about returning to bygone days when we were a one car family. Monday my daughter Kalypso walked home with me. Therese has a class here at Xavier, and so we trade off Kalypso, and I get Gilgamesh from the school near our house. While we were walking home Kalypso and I talked about our country's dependency on oil. After the 25 minute walk home, Kalypso decided she no longer wanted a Hummer. We compromised. Now she wants a Jaguar.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Words of Encouragement from Another Blogger

I just received a very nice email from someone that read in part as follows:

I am a Presbyterian Pastor of a five church parish in SW Oklahoma. I've been at this for 26 years now. I love what you are doing to teach the Bible and how faith and life are really one word. I read many of the Blogs of your students about how they would change the world. Tell them Keep on! Because with energy enthusiam imagination and LOVE they really can...each one of them.

That was very nice, and I'll show it to my students. Thus far, towards the end of the semester, I feel that more of my students are on board with this improve the world blog project. I think this is in part because I share with them things that I am personally doing to improve the world, such as voter registration, and more recently walking to work and writing a book about Jesus' message of tolerance. So I think that now some of them better understand my intent with the project. We'll see, and I'll be anxious to read their final evaluations at the semester's end.

Re: the letter I received, the person who wrote it has a blog as well. I found their posts to be inspirational. It reminded me that I could never emotionally cope with being a priest or a pastor. They have to deal with the roller coaster of life, such as getting people through the grief involved with loss. The joyous parts of life I could deal with, such as weddings and child birth. Sometimes it is much easier to deal with my specialty, the ancient Near East, because it happened such a long time ago in a far away place.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Tolerance and Objectivity

I think lately my posts haven't been so objective, or tolerant of the opinions of just over half of the people in this country. I'm sorry. It has been a very difficult few days for me. In fact the Democrat loss in 2000 was easier for me, as I could focus my frustration and anger on Katherine Harris and five Supreme Court Judges. Now, the people have spoken, votes were counted, and it didn't turn out the way I thought it would, or the way that I hoped. I am going to cope with this by taking some action that I feel will make the world a better place. From now on, I will no longer drive to work. Instead, I'll walk or bike. It's just under two miles, and I feel this country's dependency on oil is a problem. Will me not driving my 92 Tercel make that big of an impact? No, but maybe I'll sleep better at night. And besides, I'm fat, so the exercise can only help. Second, I am writing a book with my friend Mark Gstohl about the Bible and US history. I feel that education is a great way to improve the world, and I want to bring back the idea of Jesus and tolerance into the mainstream, rather than the current misguided belief that Christianity somehow teaches intolerance. So readers, if my blogs of intolerance and non objectivity bothered you, sorry about that. I'll try to be a kinder, gentler, and more tolerant blogger in the future. Did you hear that Santa?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Words That Helped Me Through This Horrible Day

Wow, today sucked. I was on the verge of tears several times, especially when my students were doing group work and I noticed on the web that Kerry conceded, and I told them. I use so much humor in the classroom they didn't believe me at first. We were covering the Beatitudes today, and it was instructive to talk about Jesus' message and how it is mostly polar opposite of what the Christian Coalition is claiming. I've decided to do something about it, to take action. I'm planning a popular book to educate people about the real Jesus and not Pat Robertson's and Ralph Reed's version. To get through this difficult day, I found comfort in the words of the following:

Martin Luther King Jr's closing words during his speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (April 4, 1967) by the way, I was 68 days old at that time In this speech I found many parallels to the Iraq war.

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Off'ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

Al Franken posted this entry on his blog
Anytime you lose like this, there’s a certain amount of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking and woulda-coulda-shoulda. I have no regrets myself, but as I look back at Kerry’s campaign, there are a couple of points where, if he had it all to do over again, I think he should have done it differently.

For example, in the first debate, Kerry announced that he would put our national security decisions in the hands of France. He said very explicitly that we would have to pass a global test before using force. I think a lot of us watching at the time thought that that was a mistake.

Also, of course, the flip-flops, especially those about Iraq. Voting, as you know, for the war, then against it, for it, then against it having, as Sean Hannity said, literally 80 different positions. I wish he could have chosen one position and stuck with it.

Kerry’s decision to ban the Bible. That was a huge mistake, especially in very Christian areas. That might have gone over fine in atheist communities, but it cost him big everywhere else.

And then proposing a health care system that would impose an enormous federal bureaucracy and give medical decisions to paper-pushers in Washington, and in France.

And going back to Vietnam, the way he lied about what happened, inflicted those wounds on himself to get those medals, and then threw them out; I think that was a mistake. Of course, that was a mistake that he made back then, decades ago. But he could have been more honest about it now.

A lot of people talk about Bush’s record, and what he might do in the next term, but what this really comes down to is character. And ceding your doctor’s authority to France, and the flip-flops, and shooting himself in the leg to win a medal; I guess those things just overcame the awful, failed presidency of George W. Bush.

You know I wouldn’t mind losing an election if it were an honest disagreement, based on facts, over values and policy. But that’s not what happened. A large majority of Bush supporters went to the polls believing things that were false. For example, any of the above. They believed lies about Kerry, and they believed lies about Iraq, and they believed lies about Bush.

We’re not going to heal this country as long as we have a president who won't be accountable, who won’t tell the truth, who is willing to campaign with a vicious dishonesty that is unprecedented.

After Barry Goldwater was crushed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the right decided to take a long view. They poured literally billions of dollars into creating the right-wing infrastructure that dominates our politics today. They built up the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, and now Fox News Channel and many other organizations, above and below the radar. Though they won the White House in 1968, it took them thirty years to reach their ascendancy in 1964.

Our side just started. Air America went on the air seven months ago. Normally, incumbent presidents either win by a landslide or lose by a landslide, and a year or two ago, people thought it would be an overwhelming Bush victory. It wasn’t. For an incumbent wartime president, this was a close race. And we’ve created a movement to take this country back. Even though we didn’t do it this time, I believe that we will still do it.

The other side wants us to get demoralized, but we are going to fight. We are going to fight every step of the way.

Round two starts now.

Third, This helped a bitTragic Gaiety by Bart Everson
It doesn’t take a genius to discern that, even though the election results are not official yet, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention rending of garments and beating of breasts, amongst those who voted for Kerry and those who despise the Bush administration.

But that’s absolutely the wrong attitude!

Yes, the results of this election seem overwhelmingly negative, with conservatives sweeping into office and anti-gay measures passing everywhere. But tough times call for courage, not despair. Suck it up, people.

Now is not the time to weep and bemoan the state of affairs in our country. Instead, it is all the more necessary that we adopt an attitude of tragic gaiety. We need to be brave. We need to laugh in the face of doom.

We need to look square into the face of what our country is becoming, and redouble our resolve to change it. And we need to be joyful, relishing the task ahead of us, or we’ll just burn out.

Remember, voting is a basic duty in an alleged democracy, but it is really the least of our duties, and one of the least effective ways to make real change, given the system we have. We are not going to vote our way out this mess.

Today is the International Peace Holiday, a good time to reflect on what we can do to make our world a better place. Locally, some people are gathering at Lee Circle from 3-6 p.m. for “public art, public expression, public dissent, public fellowship in a public space.”

Do whatever you need to do, but do it with celebratory anger. Show ‘em a fist and a smile.

Finally, my favorite, Cassandra's words from Agamemnon (remember, Cassandra was cursed with the gift of understanding the future but nobody was able to understand her)

Home cursed of God! Bear witness unto me,
Ye visioned woes within-
The blood-stained hands of them that smite their kin-
The strangling noose, and, spattered o'er
With human blood, the reeking floor!

Ah! can the ghostly guidance fail,
Whereby my prophet-soul is onwards led?
Look! for their flesh the spectre-children wail,
Their sodden limbs on which their father fed!

God! 'tis another crime-
Worse than the storied woe of olden time,
Cureless, abhorred, that one is plotting here-
A shaming death, for those that should be dear
Alas! and far away, in foreign land,
He that should help doth stand!

O wretch, O purpose fell!
Thou for thy wedded lord
The cleansing wave hast poured-
A treacherous welcome
How the sequel tell?
Too soon 'twill come, too soon, for now, even now,
She smites him, blow on blow!

God! a new sight! a net, a snare of hell,
Set by her hand--herself a snare more fell
A wedded wife, she slays her lord,
Helped by another hand!
Ye powers, whose hate
Of Atreus' home no blood can satiate,
Raise the wild cry above the sacrifice abhorred!

Away, away--keep him away--
The monarch of the herd, the pasture's pride,
Far from his mate! In treach'rous wrath,
Muffling his swarthy horns, with secret scathe
She gores his fenceless side! Hark ! in the brimming bath,
The heavy plash--the dying cry--
Hark--in the laver--hark, he falls by treachery!

Ah well-a-day! the cup of agony,
Whereof I chant, foams with a draught for me
Ah lord, ah leader, thou hast led me here--
Was't but to die with thee whose doom is near?

Ah for thy fate, O shrill-voiced nightingale!
Some solace for thy woes did Heaven afford,
Clothed thee with soft brown plumes, and life apart from wail--
But for my death is edged the double-biting sword!

Woe, Paris, woe on thee! thy bridal joy
Was death and fire upon thy race and Troy!
And woe for thee, Scamander's flood!
Beside thy banks, O river fair,
I grew in tender nursing care
From childhood unto maidenhood!
Now not by thine, but by Cocytus' stream
And Acheron's banks shall ring my boding scream.

Woe for my city, woe for Ilion's fall!
Father, how oft with sanguine stain
Streamed on thine altar-stone the blood of cattle, slain
That heaven might guard our wall!
But all was shed in vain.
Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,
And I--ah burning heart!--shall soon lie low as well.


The election was very disappointing to me. I'm crushed. I don't just live in my neighborhood insulated from the world, getting my $200 child tax credits and spending more on everything else. I travel quite a bit, working in places like Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. I fully understand how horrible this administration has been towards the planet, and I honestly feel that big business and its oligarchs are the only real winner here. All the talk and hope about youths turning out in droves didn't materialize. The huge voter turnout failed to help Kerry. The left lost seats in the Senate, Daschle lost, the first time that a minority leader didn't win reelection in a very long time. Here in Louisiana to everyone's surprise Vitter became the first Republican Senator ever. The only bright spot was Obama's win in Illinois. The Democrats in the House lost many seats, thanks in part to the illegal redistricting of states such as Texas. It seems the major force driving so many people to vote was not security or the economy, but instead "morality and values." This also materialized in all the ban same sex marriage amendments in 11 states. I'm curious how many people came to the polls based on this issue alone, and if it was put on the ballots mostly to help reelect George W. Bush. So what do I do now?

There is so much misinformation going around. Three out of four Bush supporters believe that stockpiles of WMDs were found in Iraq by inspectors, and that Sadam Hussein planned 9/11. I teach courses related to the Bible and biblical studies. I see this as very valuable in this day and age when the vast majority of the people who voted Republican believe that Jesus would support their agenda. They are obviously not reading the New Testament. I am so amazed that these people could claim to read and embrace the Gospels and come away thinking it means we should engage in preemptive warfare, that all people should not have access to health care, that people making more than $200,000 a year deserve tax breaks. Jesus would never fight for the pharmaceutical companies at the expense of affordible drugs. Jesus used to hang out with the poor, and even prostitutes and tax collectors. Instead of passing amendments of hatred, I feel Jesus would have emphasized love. And Jesus would not have fought for the rights of people to own semi-automatic fire arms. Just a hunch.

It seems Jesus has been hijacked by some biggotted hate mongers like Jerry Falwell. This administration has been unprecidented in its invokation of Jesus. I wish the president would spend less time praying and more time reading a newspaper now and then. So many job losses, a bad economy, an unjust war, people believing that the country is on the wrong track, and still Bush wins the popular vote. The stupid "flip flop" mantra worked, which doesn't speak highly of people's abilities to discern. As a Bible scholar and educator, I believe I do a great job in my classes teaching students how to go to the primary text and read with a critical eye. I've written popular books and websites focussed on examining exactly what the Bible says, especially in context. But it doesn't seem to be enough. I need to start thinking more outside of the box. I need to work harder to help others to see that Jesus was neither a Democrat or a Republican, but a first century Jewish man in Palestine who changed the world with his remarkable message and sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Uh Oh

Earlier today I was cautiously optimistic. Exit polls looked good for Kerry. It's now 10:20, and Florida and Ohio don't look so good right now. Plus, to make it more surreal, my neigbor's house has this very loud alarm blasting repeatedly in my ear. It went off about 5:30 and has been blaring ever since.

I Voted

I voted today. The polls here in Louisiana opened at 6 AM, Therese, Gilgamesh, Kalypso and I got there about 5:50. The line was already pretty long. Therese voted first while I watched the kids. We vote at a local elementary school, which is a huge improvement over the first place we voted when we moved here. It was a coregated steel shack on the side of one of our neighbor's houses. Amazing. While Therese voted, Kalypso and Gil played with some hotwheels on a big map of the US. Kalypso and GIl drove their cars from Louisiana to Nebraska, where their grandparents and aunts and uncles live. They sort of think Nebraska is the greatest thing ever, mostly because they always get gifts when they are there for Christmas, and because they get so much love and attention. So while Therese was voting, Gilgamesh said "Abu, I have to go potty." The poll workers wouldn't let us use the school restrooms, so I walked Gil around the corner where he could pee in semi privacy. Of course he can't pee without pulling his pants and underware all the way down around his ankles. Louisiana is a pretty prudish place, and we got several negative stares as people walked by on their way to vote. But in the end, Gilgamesh emptied his bladder gloriously oblivious to social condemnation of public nudity, Therese emerged, and I was able to then stand in line to vote. The two people in front of me weren't on the list, which is disturbing. One had a mailed voter registration card so she was able to vote, but I'm not sure what became of the other. I sure hope she was able to vote. A poll opened, I voted, it took about 30 seconds in the booth because I knew the ballot very well. Then I pushed the vote button, the machine went "Bleblebleeeeppppp!" It was a great way to start the day. I'm a pretty pessimistic guy, but at the moment I have some optimism. Even despite what the courts determined in Ohio, I still think Kerry will come through on this, and I have some slight hope about the senate.