Friday, February 29, 2008

Times article on The Passion

Tomorrow's Times has a great write-up of The Passion by Garry Jenkins. I met Jenkins last night; he was actually over in Morocco for some of the filming and he has provided a pretty full account:

The BBC's bold new interpretation of The Passion
Jesus is a salt-of-the-earth northerner, Mary Magdalene is not a prostitute – oh, and we got the crucifixion all wrong. Welcome to the BBC’s new interpretation of the Passion
Garry Jenkins

And I get a mention too.

Passion Première: Travel Diary VI

Charlotte, NC, 5.13pm: Back in the USA. It's the first time I have arrived since our Green Cards arrived and it was a lot of fun joining the US Citizens / Permanent Resident Aliens line and, for the first time, not having my retina scanned and fingerprints taken.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I overslept this morning. I didn't go to bed until late because I was buzzing so much from the evening's events. Nevertheless, I still made it easily to Gatwick, but not with enough time to spare to put another entry in the travel diary. The flight was a whopping 9 hours, which gave plenty of time for sleeping, reading The Guardian and Doctor Who magazine, and watching the kind of crappy films that one only ever watches on flights, this time the second half of Licence to Wed, which I had begun on the way over, Nanny Diaries and Mr Woodcock, all three pretty terrible.

Now I'm back in the same spot in Charlotte, again drinking Sam Adams, where I was 48 hours ago. I think it was a bit barmy to fly over specially for this event, but I am delighted that I did it. I am unlikely ever to have another opportunity like this, and I am really thrilled to have been able to enjoy it while it lasted. I am actually very proud of my involvement with The Passion. It is a superb drama and I hope that it will be talked about for years to come. And it is a rare thing in an academic's life to have the kind of luck I have had in being invited onto this production, and I am pretty sure I will look back on it in years to come as a fantastic opportunity.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Passion Première: Travel Diary V

A hotel in London, 2:18am: I am back from the Passion Première and had a wonderful evening. Before I say anything else, let's just get one thing out of the way: I met Robert Powell! In fact I didn't just meet Robert Powell, but I had a reasonably lengthy and enjoyable conversation with him. I had seen him arrive early in the evening, and saw him having his photograph taken with Joseph Mawle, who plays Jesus in The Passion, and I resisted the temptation to run up to him and say Hi. Happily, later in the evening opportunity presented itself for me to say hello, as I slided steadily towards him alongside Matt Page of the Bible Films blog, who was as keen as I was to meet him.

But with that excitement out of the way, let me rewind a little. I arrived early at the Apollo West End, where the première was to take place, and Matt Page and I filled the time with a pint and some chat. On arrival, I was ushered into a side room where Frank Deasy, the writer of The Passion, was being interviewed. We had often talked on the phone and by email, but this was the first time we had met in person. I did two short interviews in the same room, the first with Christian Premier Radio and the second with Christian Today. I just had time to grab a glass of wine before the screening began, and a chance to meet Nigel Stafford-Clark, the producer, and Michael Offer, the director, also for the first time. And on my way down the stairs, I recognised Joseph Mawle (Jesus) and introduced myself to him and gushed about how good he was in the role. (I did a lot of gushing tonight). I sat with Michael Wakelin, the head of religion and ethics at the BBC, and a fellow advisor on the programme. Jane Tranter, head of drama at the BBC, introduced the screening and read a long list of thank-yous.

Watching the first episode in its final form on the big screen was a wonderful experience. I have seen it many times in earlier edits, but seeing the final version, and on the big screen, was very powerful. The most striking thing to me was the "Coming Soon . . ." trailer at the end, which gathered together some of the most remarkable moments from the forthcoming episodes. And I would be dishonest if I did not confess to some pleasure in seeing my name on the credits after it.

After the screening of the first episode, there was a Q&A session with, left to right, Joseph Mawle (Jesus), Frank Deasy (writer), Jane Tranter (head of drama, chairing), Nigel Stafford-Clark (producer), me, and Michael Offer (director). There were several interesting questions from the audience. Did the spectre of Mel Gibson's film loom large? (No, not really). Had Joseph Mawle had any reservations about playing Jesus (No, not really; yes, there was a huge responsibility, but also he is a "working actor", delighted to get the role). Another question agreed with the others that it was a stunning, compelling piece but added that she was unhappy with one of the lines spoken by Mary; a later questioner echoed the concerns, but I reassured both that I did not think there was any reason to be worried about the theology of the piece, either here or elsewhere.

At the reception afterwards, I met several old friends and lots of new ones, enjoyed a glass of wine (or two) and lots of canopes. The buzz was pretty positive. Almost everyone I talked to had found the first episode compelling drama and they were keen for more.

Oh, and did I mention that I met Robert Powell?

Passion Première: Travel Diary IV

A hotel in London, 5.29pm: I had an excellent lunch on Millbank with two old friends, one of them Q; a little bit of walking and several phone calls. Checked into my hotel; heading out again shortly to the Apollo West End for the première. I hope to get a chance later to report on how things go.

The Passion Website launches

BBC - The PassionThe website for The Passion is now online. It features pictures from the production, video interviews with the producer Nigel Stafford-Clark and writer Frank Deasy and several of the cast, an episode guide and more. Here is the link:

BBC: The Passion

The articles section includes one I have written on The Passion and Its Historical Context. More content will be added soon.

Passion Première: Travel Diary III

Starbucks, Victoria Street, 9.55am. Great flight. Read a couple of articles, watched a moderately funny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and a terrible film (Heartbreak Kid) and slept very deeply. The plane landed early and it is lovely to be back in England, even if for only 24 hours. I smile all the way through Gatwick airport; hearing so many English accents makes me realize how accustomed I am to living in America. Occasionally I get looks from people who wonder why I seem so happy. The first advertisement I see is for Mother's Day and I have a double take when I see "Mum" instead of "Mom". I pick up a Guardian from the first WH Smith's I pass and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, with Freema Agyeman on the cover, from the larger one at Victoria Station. That will be my treat for the flight home.

While on the train to Victoria, I had a surprise phone call from Q. It turns out that he is in London today and we are going to meet up, along with another old friend I had already planned to meet at the House of Commons. This is already shaping up into an excellent day.

Passion Première: Travel Diary III

Starbucks, Victoria Street, 9.55am. Great flight. Read a couple of articles, watched a moderately funny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and a terrible film (Heartbreak Kid) and slept very deeply. The plane landed early and it is lovely to be back in England, even if for only 24 hours. I smile all the way through Gatwick airport; hearing so many English accents makes me realize how accustomed I am to living in America. Occasionally I get looks from people who wonder why I seem so happy. The first advertisement I see is for Mother's Day and I have a double take when I see "Mum" instead of "Mom". I pick up a Guardian from the first WH Smith's I pass and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, with Freema Agyeman on the cover, from the larger one at Victoria Station. That will be my treat for the flight home.

While on the train to Victoria, I had a surprise phone call from Q. It turns out that he is in London today and we are going to meet up, along with another old friend I had already planned to meet at the House of Commons. This is already shaping up into an excellent day.

I will be in the same clothes for a little longer, but look forward to checking into my hotel later so that I can shower and clean my teeth.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passion Première: Travel Diary II

I've arrived in Charlotte and am enjoying a Sam Adams and some crisps overlooking the concourse. I have a longish wait here but it is large airport and I may even be able to find somewhere to plug in my blogging machine, which is almost out of power. I am happy with the wait; when booking the flights I didn't want to risk missing the flight to London; it's that flight or nothing. I slept very deeply on the flight, and am looking forward to more of the same in a bit.

I may blog later, if I get time, about a couple of the developing media stories about The Passion because I am getting an interesting insight into the way that journalists sometimes go looking for a story.

Passion Première: Travel Diary I

It's time for another of my travel diaries. The occasion this time is the premiere of The Passion, the BBC / HBO co-production which will air in the UK on BBC 1 in Holy Week, for which I have been historical consultant. I have never done anything quite so bizarre as travelling to England for only 24 hours. I leave today, arrive in the morning and depart again on Friday morning. But I doubt that I will ever have an occasion like this again, an invitation not only to be at the premiere of a TV mini-series but also to have some involvement in it. At first I laughed off the idea that I might fly over specially, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could actually pull it off, not least because of when it fell, on a Thursday in a semester when my teaching is all on Mondays and Wednesdays.

So here I am, sitting at Raleigh-Durham International airport on the first leg of my journey. I have already had a beer and a burger in the sports bar and have watched a bit of a BBC4 documentary about Margaret Thatcher on my laptop. I'll be changing at Charlotte, arriving at London Gatwick in the morning. I have the blogging machine with me, as well as a pile of articles to read, lots of podcasts to catch up on and lots of sleep time. As I have said before on such occasions, I am one of those lucky people who really enjoys flying. I find the idea of sitting down doing nothing for hours on end, with food and drink provided, with reading, viewing and listening to do, very attractive; and I find it easy to sleep on flights (and anywhere else, for that matter).

There is one downside, other than the obvious one of being away from the family for a couple of days, and that is that I get to miss most of Dale Allison's tenure as this year's Clark Lecturer at Duke. Before setting off for the airport, I was able to get to the first of his lectures today, on the Historical Jesus and the Theological Jesus. Most of my Historical Jesus class and Kavin Rowe's Introduction to the New Testament class came along too, and the Goodson Chapel was the only place big enough to hold us all. It was an excellent and entertaining lecture, but I don't have the energy to try to summarize it all here. He gives the second lecture in the series tomorrow, and talks tonight to the New Testament colloquium about the "harrowing of hell".

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Biblical Studies Bulletins 45 and 46

There are two new Biblical Studies Bulletins online at Ridley Hall, Cambridge:

BSB 45 (September 2007)

BSB 46 (December 2007)

As usual there is lots of material of interest. BSB 45 includes a review of last year's British New Testament Conference, particularly welcome for those of us who can't make it any more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Passion Press Pack

The BBC Press Office has today released its press pack for the forthcoming drama The Passion. It features interviews with producer Nigel Stafford-Clark, writer Frank Deasy, director Michael Offer and production designer Simon Elliott, several of the cast and me:

The Passion Press Pack

According to the press pack, the website will launch on Thursday.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dale Allison at Duke

Duke Divinity School has an annual lecture series on the New Testament in honour of Kenneth W. Clark. This year, the honoured guest is Dale Allison:

Kenneth W. Clark Lectures
Established in 1984, the Kenneth Willis Clark Lectureship Fund honors the life and work of Reverend Professor Kenneth Willis Clark, a Divinity School faculty member for 36 years. Each year this fund enables the Divinity School to offer a distinguished program with special emphasis on New Testament studies and textual criticism.

The Historical Jesus and the Theological Jesus

Dr. Dale C. Allison Jr., the 2008 Clark lecturer, is professor of New Testament exegesis and early Christianity at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

February 27-28 , 2008
Duke Divinity School

Dr. Allison

Wednesday, Feb. 27 from 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Lecture: The Historical Jesus and the Theological Jesus
Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

Thursday, Feb. 28 from 12:20 – 1:20 p.m.
Lecture: The Historical Jesus and the Theological Jesus
Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

These are free public lectures.
No pre-registration is necessary.


Dale C. Allison Jr.’s areas of expertise include Second Temple Judaism. He is also the author of books on early Christian eschatology, the Gospel of Matthew, the so-called
Sayings Source of Q, the historical Jesus, and the Testament of Abraham.
(By the way, I didn't add that "so-called" in the bibliography!). I am happy to say that we have been able to rearrange my Historical Jesus class on Wednesday, which normally meets a little later, so that we can attend Prof. Allison's first lecture on the Wednesday. Alas, I will miss the second because I will be in London, but this looks like it will be an excellent lecture series and I encourage everyone who can to come along.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ehrman excerpt in OUP Blog

The OUP blog today has an excerpt from Bart Ehrman's Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene.

Jim West's blog: transmission cut

There is a great moment in The Truman Show when the transmission of the reality show is cut because they have lost its star, Truman, who has escaped without their realizing it. While the production people are panicking, and a temporary "technical fault" screen is broadcast, the director Christof reassures them that the ratings for the show have never been so high. I was reminded of this scene over the last twenty-four hours as it became clear that Jim West's blog was no more. Never before have so many people written about his blog and rallied in support, offering sympathy for his becoming victim of hackers, and encouraging him to go on. I'd like to add my support too, and encourage him to resume blogging lest the hackers in question feel that they have won. And if the archive has gone, well that's a bummer, but it's not the end of the world. Perhaps I might remind Jim that at the end of his Biblical Theology Blog in January 2006, he himself deleted his entire archive before beginning to blog again under a new name. So how about a new incarnation? I'd encourage Jim just to think of this one as a reboot, a chance for a little reflection and a fresh start. And as for the rest of us: it's a useful reminder to back up our blogs!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature under the NT heading. One of these, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, was mentioned earlier this week by Mike Bird on Euangelion, and I am tempted to comment on it here (Charlesworth's review, not Bird's), but I'll see if I have a moment. One other note (added Friday, 12.40pm): the review of A Feminist Companion to the New Testament Apocrypha is listed as by "James Elliott" but this should be J. K. Elliott (Keith Elliott).

Brian J. Abasciano
Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis
Reviewed by Thomas Gillespie

François Bovon
Luc le théologien
Reviewed by Claire Clivaz

Luke Timothy Johnson
Hebrews: A Commentary
Reviewed by Wolfgang Kraus

Melody Knowles, Esther Menn, John Pawlikowski, and Timothy Sandoval, eds.
Contesting Texts: Jews and Christians in Conversation about the Bible
Reviewed by Ithamar Gruenwald

Amy-Jill Levine, ed., with Maria Mayo Robbins
A Feminist Companion to the New Testament Apocrypha
Reviewed by James Elliott

Edmondo F. Lupieri; Maria Poggi Johnson and Adam Kamesar, trans.
A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

George W. E. Nickelsburg
Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity
Reviewed by Tony Costa

Stanley E. Porter, ed.
The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments
Reviewed by Michael F. Bird
Reviewed by James Hamilton Charlesworth

Charlesworth on the Talpiot Tomb Symposium

James Charlesworth has a strongly worded statement on the recent Jerusalem Symposium that focused on the Talpiot Tomb. It's on the latest SBL Forum, which also features a letter from James Tabor on the topic:

Rebutting Sensational Claims Concerning a Symposium in Jerusalem
J. H. Charlesworth
A carefully planned and highly successful symposium in Jerusalem—on Jewish views of the afterlife and burial practices near Jerusalem before the destruction of the area by Roman armies in 70 CE—has been high-jacked by two disturbing and unexpected developments . . .

Declaring Blog-Reading Bankruptcy

I recently caught mention of the idea of declaring email bankruptcy on AKMA's Random Thoughts. The idea comes from Lawrence Lessig, and a little googling shows it to be a popular idea. Many, including AKMA, post links to a blog post on the topic at 43 Folders. I am so extraordinarily behind in my emailing at the moment, that this is something of an attractive thought. But the problem is that by doing so, I would be effectively rejecting many of the most interesting, longer term, less urgent emails, the kind that require slightly longer replies. The tyranny of the urgent is particularly pressing for university lecturers and professors, especially where one has students with deadlines. At Duke, our undergraduates are very bright, highly motivated and most ambitious, but such things just add to their levels of anxiety and stress, and they are emailing me like crazy this week. I naturally prioritise talking to my students, and other things are going by the wayside. I was already rather behind, but this has thrown me way off.

I wouldn't, I couldn't declare email bankruptcy, though. If people have taken the time to email me personally, they deserve a reply. (Well, some don't on account of their rudeness and presumption, but they are in the minority). And I enjoy correspondence. It's just that I now feel like it is all I do in every spare moment. I can't imagine how I ever used to be able to keep up with academic e-lists, much less contribute to them. Others presumably feel the same way since many of the e-lists continue to die their very slow death. But if not email bankruptcy, what about blogging bankruptcy? Being underneath the email mountain prevents me from getting to the Blog Reader, and waiding through the (academic) blogroll when one has been away for days simply prolongs the opportunity to post oneself even longer. So I am declaring blog-reading bankruptcy today, something that is very easy to accomplish; I click on my Blog Reader's header (I use Google Reader), and "Mark all as read", and several thousand blog posts happily vanish, the vast majority of them never to be seen again by me.

There comes a slight feeling of guilt with this declaration, however. Why should I expect anyone to read my posts when I have just sent theirs off into oblivion? Well, if this post is one of those that vanishes from readers while others, like me, are declaring blog-reading bankruptcy, then I am delighted to be sharing the experience with you. And no doubt the best blog posts will still somehow rise to the surface in the coming months as people continue to discuss them and link to them.

So, here's starting fresh and looking forward to a clean blog-roll, and rebooting my blog. Incidentally, I had always assumed that the term "blog-roll" had the same ring to all ears, reminding one of "bog-roll", and so a little disparaging in the association it conjurs up, but it occurred to me while writing this post that "bog-roll" is British slang and that I have not heard anyone use the expression here in the US.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Review of Biblical Literature Latest

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature under the New Testament and related headings:

Stanisław Bazyliński
A Guide to Biblical Research: Introductory Notes
Reviewed by Jeremy Punt

Douglas A. Campbell
The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested Strategy
Reviewed by Matt Jackson-McCabe

Gordon D. Fee
Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study
Reviewed by Don Garlington
Reviewed by Matthew Montonini

Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams
Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea
Reviewed by Claudio Zamagni

Pieter W. van der Horst
Jews and Christians in Their Graeco-Roman Context: Selected Essays on Early Judaism, Samaritanism, Hellenism, and Christianity
Reviewed by Christoph Stenschke

There is a typo on p. 6 of the review of Campbell, "But even if “we” should approach the question of eschatological realities with humility, does that meant that Paul did?"

Saturday, February 02, 2008

E. P. Sanders to give Franke Lecture at Yale

If you are anywhere near Yale, this will be well worth taking the time to get to:

“Law vs. Religion” Topic of Lecture at Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center
New Haven, Conn. — E.P. Sanders, Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion Emeritus at Duke University, will launch the 2008 Franke Lecture series on “Religion and Law in Historical Perspective” with a talk at 5 p.m. on February 6 at the Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium, 53 Wall Street.

Titled “Does Law Debase the Human-Divine Relationship? The Christian Charge Against Judaism,” the talk is free and open to the public . . . .

. . . . The Franke Lectures are made possible by the generosity of Richard and Barbara Franke, and are intended to present important topics in the humanities to a wide and general audience. The 2008 series explores the historical relation between religion and law in Jewish, Christian and contemporary legal thought, and is organized in conjunction with the undergraduate seminar taught by Christine Hayes, professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica at Yale.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Where to study Theology in the UK

Jim West links to an interesting article in today's Independent on Theology in the UK. It is aimed at sixth-formers (the British equivalent of junior / senior high) who might be considering where to study Theology and is part of The Independent's Getting Into University Guide:

Tim Walker

It's a useful piece, but I think it is a bit over-ambitious, attempting to summarizing the top qualities of too many places, and inevitably showing stronger knowledge of some departments than of others. Lancaster and Sheffield are mentioned repeatedly, and rightly so because they are fine insitutions, but others are rather cursorily passed over. It's good to see my former institution, Birmingham, getting a few mentions, but it's perverse not to say anything special about Oxford (or even Cambridge for that matter) other than to list them where they have to.

Update (Saturday 2 February): it seems that this Independent article is seriously oudated, and the new date on the article is misleading. Nathan MacDonals helpfully emails (excerpted):
A close analysis of the article shows it to be a slightly dated composition. The future tense in "Lancaster will also be offering a new BA course for 2004" suggests the article was composed in 2003. The five centres at Sheffield no longer correspond to the centres that are on their website, and the asking grades are also out of date (many, e.g. Durham and Manchester) are now considerably higher. In addition the 'where's best for teaching' that is deemed fascinating by Jim West relies on QAA and TQA data, which could go back up to 6-7 years before the article. Robert Segal has been in Aberdeen (not Lancaster) since 2006, and David Clines is Emeritus, so I hope
no young readers of the Independent expect to receive too much tuition from him.

No doubt it will have some value for those outside the UK. Though they might also want to note that Westcott is no longer at Cambridge and Robertson Smith has been removed from his chair at Aberdeen.
I should have realized. Another clue is that the article sings the praises of Hugh McLeod who moved from the Theology department to the History department while I was still there. All in all, the article is of even more limited usefulness than I'd first realized.

Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI

As several others have already mentioned, Kevin Edgecomb has done an excellent (and very thorough) job on the latest Biblical Studies Carnival over on his Biblicalia blog:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI

It includes a strongly-worded round up of links on the Talpiot Tomb Story, which re-emerged this month, and on which I hope to post today.