Saturday, September 26, 2009

Moving Day...

The time has come to move Random Colin over to Wordpress.  I've been thinking about it for awhile, and after looking Wordpress over it seems of offer all of the features that Blogger has plus a few, and I like the dashboard layout better too.  So off I go.  Posts and comments have all been moved over, and some new stuff has already been posted on the new blog.  I'm still working on moving the blog list, but I'll get it done in the next couple of days I'm sure.  I do hope that people will take the time to adjust their blogrolls and RSS feeds and links accordingly.  So here's the new address:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bible isn't a bible...

A while ago Julia O'Brien had a post where she noted that in our culture we use the word "Bible" to refer to instruction manuals of all kinds.  She suggested that as long as we keep labeling the Bible as such people will think of it as an instruction manual and avoid it as literature.  She's right of course, but there's an even bigger problem for those of us who are Christians.  The bigger problem is that people will think of the Bible as an instruction manual and ignore it as Scripture.  No, the two things are not the same.

The Bible is a collection of a wide variety of literature which was written over a very long period of history (hundreds of years).  The primary unifying qualities of the Bible are that it all has to do with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that over the course of time these books came to be thought of as revelatory literature by the broad community of faith.  That is to say, the Bible is about God and it was "chosen" (not in the sense of one time conscious decision, but in the sense of a long and organic progression) by the Church.  The consequence of this is that the Bible has many witnesses that often stand in deep tension with one another.  There is tension between the prophets and the Torah, between the prophets and the lament literature, between the Apocalyptic literature and the Gospels, and between the letters of Paul and the catholic letters.  There is tension all over.  The Bible does not have one, single, easily summarized, unitary message.  It is not an instruction book.  Your Bible is not a bible.

I have heard it said that all biblical passages fall into two categories.  They are all either 1) promises, or 2) instructions.  Wrong.  Are there promises in the Bible?  Sure.  Are there instructions in the Bible?  Sure.  But there is a whole lot more as well.  There is poetry that describes pain.  There are narratives that tell tales of conflict and confusion, and of triumph and joy.  There are longing love letters.  There are instances of purest hate.  In the Bible you will find a wide variety of literary genres, a wide variety of themes, a wide variety of people, a wide variety of really almost everything.  That shouldn't be scary, but for some reason this scares evangelicals.  It scares us so much that we aren't allowed to critique the Bible, we aren't allowed to ask it difficult questions.  We accept it all dogmatically because we think it's all dogmatic, but it isn't.  There is room to question and challenge the Bible.  Do you know how I know this?  Because the Bible questions and challenges itself.  Ezekiel questions the Torah.  Lamentations questions Deuteronomy and the great deuteronomistic history.  Jesus questions the Law, even as he says that he does not set aside even one jot of it.

The great power and theological depth of the Scripture is found within these points of tension, and again within the tension between our lives today and the various parts of this ancient collection of books.  The Bible is like a stringed instrument in this respect.  It only works because of great tension.  Stop trying to take the tension out of the Bible.  If you take away the tension, smoothing over and dumbing down and making everyingthing instructions and promises, all you get is a poorly tuned instrument and really bad music.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hmmmm, Perhaps Jim West is Right about Wikipedia....

My friend Beth tipped me off to this Wiki entry for L. Gregory Jones (Dean of Duke Divinity School).  Written perhaps by his eldest son?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Enoch and Daniel...

I've been plugging away at a second draft of my recent CSBS paper "(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse," trying to get some extra research done so I can polish it up for publication in the volume of essays that are being published from the historiography seminar.  In the course of this process I got a good tip to check out one of Michael Knibb's essays called "The Exile in the Literature of the Intertestamental Period" (pp.191-212 in Knibb's Essays on the Book of Enoch and Other Early Jewish Texts and Traditions).  It's a great essay, but Knibb makes a move that's pretty common for Enoch scholars who analyze the AA that I've always thought was unnecessary and difficult to defend.  He says on  p. 194:

"The use of animals to represent human beings was probably directly influenced by the symbolism of Dan 7 and 8, although the fact that Jacob and his descendants are depicted specifically as sheep no doubt reflects the idea, widespread in the Old Testament, that Israel is the sheep of God's pasture."

Both of these statements are problematic, though the first much more so than the second.  I won't give my full rebuttal here (I've got a full appendix on the subject in my MA thesis), but the parallels between the AA and Dan 7 and 8 are almost non-existent in my opinion.  I'd go so far as to say that they are little more than parallels in genre (though the author of the AA probably knew Dan 7-12).  The specific content as well as the rhetorical drive of the AA and Daniel are totally different, and the use of animal imagery is also completely different.  Note that animals never represent specific people in Dan 7, and in Dan 8 none of the specific people represented is a Jew.  Moreover the animals of Dan 7 are all composite monsters (i.e. creatures with bits from lots of different animals), and not at all reminiscent of the animals found the AA.  The same could be said for the animals of Dan 8 which, though they are not composite monsters, are decidedly fantastical as they roam over the whole world.  Again, not particularly reminiscent of the AA.

The second bit, that the use of sheep is connected to the common imagery of God's people as sheep in the OT isn't wrong so far as it goes.  Certainly the sheep/shepherd image permeates the OT and is particularly important in later prophetic works (Zech, Ezek).  But the assumption that this is the primary reason that the author of the AA selected sheep and rams as the image to represent the people of Israel ignores completely the fact that all of the antediluvian fathers and the eschatological people are not represented as sheep but as bulls.  This suggests to me that, though there may be a tangential connection to the sheep/shepherd metaphor in the AA, some other factor is driving the selection of animal imagery in the AA generally.

What is that other factor?  Simply put, the AA is all about clean/unclean divisions.  Who is clean (i.e. elect) and who is unclean (i.e. non-elect) is possibly the single most important idea in the AA and is used as the criteria for the selection of all of the animal imagery in the allegory.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oooo, Gots me an Endorsement...And On Officialization...

Bryan Bibb over on gave me a very kind plug.  Thanks Bryan!  And of course my readers should make a point of visiting Bryan's blog as well.  And not just Bible nerds.  Bryan's also a techie, and he's got stuff about Macs and iPods and such as often as anything else, and I know I've got Mac nerds who lurk here.  So go check out Hevel, worth your time for sure.

He also makes a kind comment, saying that I'm a good member of the biblioblogging community.  I do try to make the rounds on the blogs I enjoy, and I comment when I feel like it.  I know how much I like to interact through comments with my readers (all three of you), and I'm also obscenely outspoken (in the sense of quantity, not content), so that bit is easy.  This does make me think again about the idea of defining the biblioblogosphere.  It's a topic that's been making the rounds partly due to the latest discussion of sexism that April kicked off, and partly due to Jim's announcement that there will now be an official biblioblogging session at SBL and an official relationship between SBL and...well and what?  John Hobbins and Chris Heard have raised some concerns on this front already, Chris most vehemently.  I'm not so against the idea of a biblioblogger/SBL connection as Chris, but I agree with all of his points.  The reason I'm not against the relationship is because the biblioblogosphere is going to keep on being what it is, regardless of official connections.  It isn't a definable entity, no matter what anybody says.  It's made up of bloggers and commentators and lurkers, not just bloggers alone.  I also doubt very sincerely that it's one definable community or blogosphere, but is instead probably a bunch of different communities that overlap here and there.  I know that I hardly ever read a ton of the blogs on the Top 50 list.  I don't even have all of the top 10 on my blogroll.  It's not because I have a problem with those blogs, it's just because they don't pique my interest.  I'm guessing that's how most bibliobloggers work.  So what is it that is being officially affiliated with SBL?

I'm not really upset by this, and it's entirely possible that it will be a very good development.  Mark Goodacre is certainly right that there's no harm in trying it (and I'm very happy with Jim's steering committee).  So I'm not vehemently opposed to the association like Chris appears to be.  And though I don't think anybody should try to define the biblioblogosphere "officially", I don't care about the issue all that much because such attempts at definition are doomed to failure.  That just ain't how the internet works.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A New BH Resource...

HT to John Hobbins for pointing out Matthew Anstey's Hebrew Portal.  It looks to still be in production, but the bibliography alone is worth the visit.  Just getting through the whole bibliography (not the books mind you, just the list) is a daunting's that long.  I'm adding it to my bookmarks for sure, and so should you.*

*Unless you don't read or study Hebrew, in which case, nevermind.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Updated blogroll...

I've added a bunch of new blogs to the blogroll today, mostly as a result of the recent discussion among a number of bibliobloggers regarding women and biblioblogging. Thanks to April and Pat for pointing several of them out. I'd already been visiting some (especially Boulders to Bits, which is a favorite that just never got added for some reason), but others were brand new to me and a couple of them even deal with Hebrew linguistics and discourse analysis, and so are particularly welcome. I freely admit that I cherry picked the blogs that talk about stuff I'm interested in, cause that's how my blogroll rolls (hehe, get it? get it?).

An aside regarding the conversation about sexism in the biblioblogosphere. Though I think that the conversation has gotten a little nasty on both sides at times, Judy reminds us men that we just don't have as much invested in this issue as women do. That may seem obscenely obvious, but it's something that I know I often forget. That said it's not too surprising that some of the women who blog about academic biblical studies are a little pissed. But why are some of the men?

As an aside to the aside. April writes, "I have to say that it is striking how immediately aggressive and sexualized some of the male reaction to my gender blogging has been, and how the humor used (including the cartoons and some of my colleagues reactions to those cartoons and circulation of them) turned women like me into either bitches, madams, or dominatrixes." First of all, I agree that a lot of the vehement reaction from some bloggers was striking and aggressive (and not in a good way). Second, with regard to the cartoons, I assume she's referring to these cartoons posted by Jim Linville. The reason I mention these specifically is because I linked to them and noted they were funny in my previous post and I wanted to clarify. I don't think they are funny because they portray women as bitches or madams. I took them ironically, as attacks on men who think of women as "bitchy" when they behave in a way that would get a man the label "aggressive." In other words I saw them as ironic feminist digs at a sexist culture.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Theology v. Religious Studies...

There was a recent round of discussion among some of the bibliobloggers regarding the old distinction between theology and religious studies.  Seems it was sparked to a large degree by Kurt Noll's "The Ethics of Being a Theologian."  I could go on about what I think, or give you all the links to all of the various conversations, but I'm lazy and don't want to do either, so I'll just skip to the end.  Tyler Williams' response was the one I agreed with the most, and also has the single funniest response of the day by Dr. Jim Linville (who also wins a prize for his post regarding women and biblioblogging).

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why John Hobbins and Alan Lenzi are Awesome...

Speaking of blogs I really like, I just read a great comment response over on John Hobbins' Ancient Hebrew Poetry. The post itself is, of course, excellent and stimulating as usual, but his extended response to one of his commentators is just brilliant. Reading it was, for me, one of those moments when you find somebody else articulating perfectly thoughts you've been mulling over for a while but just couldn't quite spit out. I have this experience regularly on John's blog. Though, I should also note, he remains mistaken in his belief that Hebrew has a tense-based verbal system ;).

Update: Not surprisingly John's response led to an extended discussion regarding the nature and respective merits of deism/theism and agnosticism between John and a reader (and scholar) named Alan Lenzi. On the substance of the discussion I tend to come down on John's side (not very surprising), but I appreciated Alan's point of view and the way that he expressed himself. Very often discussions like this are filled with invective and varying levels of unkindness. John and Alan, however, manage to have a discussion in which they disagree strongly without (to be blunt) behaving like jackasses. This is rare and refreshing. I wonder if the reason for their ability to converse civilly on such an incindiary subject is a product of both intellectual humility and intellectual rigor. I think that it is.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


I have a pretty extensive blogroll off on my sidebar there, and it represents a lot of the blogs that I frequent, but there are a few brilliant blogs out there that for whatever reason I haven't gotten around to including.  I mostly get to those blogs only irregularly and via other people's blogrolls (especially Jon's and Jim's).  But I've been thinking that those blogs deserve the very, very little bit of press that I can give them in the hopes that others will find them as entertaining and challenging as I do.  So, here's where I lurk (I comment every once in a while, but mostly I lurk), check them out and enjoy:

First up is the thoughts of forrestsaurus.  I don't think I know Forrest herself, but I'm pretty sure I know her in-laws.  In any case she is an absolutely wonderful poet and photographer.  I strongly recommend you go surf around and check out her work.

Next are two blogs that belong to a couple of Jon's old profs from Briercrest, Scatterings and Theommentary.  Fun, eclectic musings on life and theology and academia.

One of the best biblioblogs out there (again inexplicably absent from my blogroll) is Scotteriology, Scott Bailey's blog.  He is very smart, outrageously funny, and used to be an NHL goalie.  Especially good are his hermeneutics videos.

Another biblioblog I hit once in a while is Clayboy.  A fun read from an Anglican minister in the UK.

Finally there's Matt Wilkinson's sinnersbleeders.  A delightfully eclectic blend of indie film and music, with some cultural criticism thrown in for good measure.  If you're looking for new music and new films you've never heard of but should watch, sinnersbleeders is a good place to find them.

There you are, a little PR plug for some blogs you should all try.  Happy surfing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whose Metanarrative?

I've been watching TED lectures during my breaks for the last couple of days, and just now at lunchtime I watched this talk by Alain de Botton.  The talk, if you don't feel like watching it yourself, is about redefining success in modern culture.  de Botton says an awful lot of things that I agree with very deeply.

His most interesting point is that, no matter how much we like to pretend they are, our societies are not strict meritocracies but that there are many accidental factors that go into the making of the life of any given person.  This means that just because someone isn't "successful" in the minds of the general public (rich, famous, blah blah), it does not follow that they are intrinsically unworthy.*  De Botton goes on to suggest that we should show much more something to people who are not "successful" in the popular sense.  I say something because he never really defines what he means.  It's like being nicer to those people, but without the sense of patronizing them.  It's like understanding those people and understanding that given a different set of circumstances you or I could be in that self-same situation, but with the additional burden of also loving them.  What he's talking about, though he never uses the term, is grace.  Not ballet-dancer kind of grace, but the grace-of-our-Lord-Jesus-Christ kind of grace.

De Batton also talks about the importance of strong father/mother role models in the lives of men/women respectively, and how what we need in a father (or mother) is a combination of firm discipline to instill in us the sense that we are responsible creatures, and deeply compassionate love to remind us that we are also subject to the vicissitudes of life.  He is describing, whether he knows it or not, the Christian conception of God and also the Christian conception of good human parenting.

When I had this thought during his talk it struck me that, though de Batton explicitly characterizes himself as a secularist, I was listening to the Christian metanarrative (that is, the Christian story or worldview).  Note that when de Batton cherry-picks from another thinker he doesn't go to Nieztche or Plato, he goes to St. Augustine of Hippo.  I was tangentially involved with a conversation on Jon's blog a few months ago where the claim was put forward that Christianity is basically just a religiousy version of the culture in which it is found.  This is certainly true some of the time, but it is important to note that the waters run both ways on this issue.  Whether he would admit it or not de Botton is, in this talk, pinching a Christian idea and dressing it in a secular waistcoat.  The problem, I would contend, is that disassociating the idea of grace from God robs the concept of both its legitimate philosophical underpinnings and also of its ultimate power and authority.

*I freely grant the tension here between this and my recent post on personal responsibility.  The tension is important, but that's not what I want to talk about here.  Perhaps in a future post.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


My father-in-law put me on to this great site called TED (Technology/Entertainment/Design...though they've branched out into other disciplines now). It has short presentations on all sorts of topics (from world poverty to physics) given by experts and public figures, some of whom are rather well known (e.g. Michelle Obama on education). The best part? They're all absolutely free. I've only tapped bits and pieces so far, but what I've seen has been very interesting indeed. The catch-phrase for TED is "Ideas Worth Spreading." Seems to me spreading interesting ideas is a practice worth pursuing.

Personally I'm going to start with this presentation by Alisa Miller on modern news-media, and then this presentation by Ken Robinson on creativity-centred education.


Well I've listened to both talks now. Miller's was short and she clearly felt a little nervous, but her point was excellent and her visuals particularly drove it home. What she said, in a nutshell, is that the American news-media is almost entirely worthless if one wants to know anything apart from whether or not Britney Spears is sticking with her current diet. This is something I already knew, but it is always worth repeating.

Robinson's talk was quite a bit longer, almost 20 mins, and was exceptional. His presentation was funny, engaging, and (most importantly) powerful and pursuasive. His point in a nutshell is that we need to radically rethink the way that we approach education. One of the most important and telling truths that he pointed out is that in the modern education system the "best" product that an education can produce is a college professor. Speaking as a doctoral student and somebody who someday wants to be a college professor, this is a very bad thing. It's not that college professors are not valuable, it's just that being good with (a very select and narrowly defined part of) your brain should not be the gold-standard for worth in young people (or any person). Performance in school is one of the primary ways that we evaluate a person's worth in our culture, and with our school systems designed as they are we are doomed to underevaluate brilliance in children who are great at something other than mathematics or language. In any case, this lecture in particular is worth your time.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Bryan Bibb has a link to this excellent essay on pedagogy and the concept of learning.  There are any number of striking and intriguing bits in the paper, and I strongly encourage you to read it whether you are a teacher, student, or anybody else for that matter.  Which parts jumped out at me most strongly?

"Intellectual growth has been characterized as the progression from ignorant certainty to intelligent confusion" (15).  I don't think I know anybody with an advanced degree or similar expertise in their field who would disagree with that statement.  The whole section in which this quotation is found is about how our attitudes to knowledge and learning change and develop throughout the educational process.  Very interesting stuff.

The other bit that hit me really hard was a the point-by-point comparison of A and C students right at the end of the paper.  There are two tables on pgs. 24-25 that compare the skills, attitudes, and habits of successful and unsucessful students.  After reading these I would suggest that these tables aren't just about students, but in many ways could be re-applied to a variety of other social situations (the workplace and the home for instance).  What struck me most about these comparisons is that C students generally see themselves as victims and tend to take on passive roles.  This is especially notable in the second table.  Passivity is a major component in every "unsuccessful" box on that table.  This drives home an important truth that I think a lot people generally, and not just students, need to reflect upon.  Your education, your job performance, your family have the ability to affect all of these things.  I'm not so naive as to suggest that these social situations are totally within a person's individual control, but it's equally ridiculous to think that they are totally out of our control.  Your boredom with your classes, your complaints about your teachers, your whining about your boss or your co-workers, these are all things that you have the ability to affect.  They are, to some degree, your responsibility.  You will never find, in other words, an A student who doesn not take responsibility for her own education.  You just won't.

In any case, read the whole article, particularly if you're an educator in any capacity.

Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9...

Thanks to some generous friends we had chance for a night out this evening and went to see District 9, a new film produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neill Blomkamp.  My thoughts in brief?  Go see this movie.  There, now if you like you can just skip the rest, which are my thoughts at length.

The basic plot is pretty simple.  An alien spaceship comes to halt in the sky above Johannesburg.  It doesn't move for a long time so the government cuts into the ship and finds a whole host of aliens who appear to be starving.  They are ferried down to the surface where a refugee camp is set up.  When the story proper picks up the aliens have been in the camp, which has now taken on the form of one of the worlds worst ghettos, for some 20 years.  The government of South Africa has contracted a company called Multi-National United (a private paramilatary firm, a la Blackwater) to clear the aliens (derogatorily called Prawns) out of the current camp in Johannesburg to a concentration camp hundreds of kilometers away.  The main character is Wikas van de Merwe, an MNU employee who is heading up the team serving eviction notice to the Prawns.  Things obviously get more complicated from there, but I'll let you go watch the actual film.

First of all the direction is superb, and I don't think I've ever seen a better use of CG in a film.  Additionally, Sharlto Copley, who plays van de Merwe, is excellent and carries some very powerful scenes.  He also provides a performance that convincingly captures every moment along a pretty extended arc of character development.

Some of the "bad guys" are a little too typical, and there are elements of the plot that might have felt formulaic in another movie.  The thing is, those two issues are very easy to ignore in this film, because it is so conceptually original.  I can honestly say that I've never seen an alien movie, or a sci-fi movie, anything like this.  The whole thing just felt so completely real in a way that sci-fi and fantasy never quite do.

The one point of difficulty thematically is something that seems to afflict an awful lot of movies that explore otherness.  It's the human being (read White Male) who saves the alien (read African, Asian, Woman, insert subaltern here).  I'm never quite sure what to do with this problem.  These kinds of films are trying to challenge oppression, and are particularly interested in creating a sense of filial love in the oppressor for the oppressed.  District 9 does this very well by humanizing characters who are, quite literally, not human.  And it's also necessary to humanize van de Merwe, who represents the oppressor, in order that we the audience might identify with him.  And it's even necessary for the oppressor to be the main character because that's who we as the audience must identify with most closely.  We are the oppressors, so we must see our oppression.  But how can you encourage an audience, particularly in Western culture, to identify with a completely non-heroic character?

Even taking this issue into account District 9 is a brilliant piece of work that everyone should go see.  If this film doesn't garner at least a whole host of award nominations, to say nothing of actual awards, it will just serve as further evidence that Hollywood is filled with dilettantes and tools.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Me Read Hebrew Good...

In my continual attempt to break myself of some of my bad Hebrew habits (over reliance on Logos being the worst) I'm working on Hebrew pretty extensively this month.  Currently this is taking the form of working through Ehud Ben Zvi's excellent workbook, Readings in Biblical Hebrew.  One of the great things about this workbook is that it requires that you have an actual Hebrew text open as you work through because the readings are not provided for you.  I'm using my trusty hard-copy BHS (no Logos allowed, except for checking GKC and BHRG which I don't have in print...yes, even BDB is hard-copy, we're back in the stone age here), and I just committed one of the sillier, though probably not totally uncommon, mistakes that one makes when reading Hebrew.  I was trucking along in 1 Sam 1, reading v. 12 which ends the first left hand page of 1 Sam in my BHS, and when the page ended I did what I always do when I finish a left hand page...I looked up and over and the right hand page.  Then I spent a couple of minutes being very, very confused.  Why is there a 3mp pronomial suffix here?  What the hell is that 'sr doing?  Huh?  What's going on here?!?!

Then I stopped, scratched my head sheepishly, and flipped the left hand page over where I found a perfectly sensible clause that fit very nicely indeed with the first part of v. 12.  Yes Colin, Hebrew reads right to left.  My lesson for the day.  Sigh.

Monday, August 10, 2009


John Hobbins has a great post over on Ancient Hebrew Poetry about comparing and contrasting texts from different cultures (Genesis and Atrahasis are his examples).  Anybody interested in the relationship between the Bible and other surrounding cultures should read and think through what he says there, particularly the bit about contrastive approaches.  And the dialogue with Angie Erisman (whose excellent blog seems to have gone the way of all flesh) is also very valuable.  I like John's description of intertextuality as a cultural web.  This serves as a corrective to those who use the term "intertextuality" to refer to any and every kind of allusion or reference and who constantly ascribe authorial intention to such connections.  Sometimes allusions are intentional, but a lot of the time they are just a consequence of cultural (or inter-cultural) meta-data, and discussions of intention and ascription and dependence are illegitimate.*

Also John's notes regarding cultural divisions are very important.  "Culture" is a tough concept.  Where does one culture begin and another end?  How do we know?  Are these divisions simply arbitrary?  Just heuristic devices we use to keep our questions and answers straight?  I think they are probably more than arbitrary but it's hard to know where to draw those lines.  One significant corollary for me is the question of the relationship between various levels of social interaction (family, community, culture, etc) and various sub-divisions of language (register, idiolect, dialect, language, etc).  One of the papers I'll be writing in the near future will explore the possibility of using linguistic markers in concert with literary form in order to help identify and delimit passages in the Latter Prophets.  I still haven't the faintest clue if it will work, but the problems inherent in inter-cultural relationships that John identifies in his post are the same problems that I'll be facing as I try to eke out my methodology in that paper (albeit my questions will probably be more intra-cultural).

The moral of the story?  Whether inter or intra-cultural, these kinds of questions are difficult and lend themselves to tendentious arguments.  Great care is required.

*As a brief side-note, there are notable post-modern authors (e.g. Umberto Eco) who do make intentional use of intertextual irony, but even here I think such authors (Eco for certain) would admit that there are significant and important instances of intertextuality that are not a product of conscious authorial intention.  To extend John's web metaphor, some strands are woven on purpose, and some strands are not.

A Three Hour Tour...

Well we're back from our visit to Saskatchewan.  It was wonderful to be home with our families, and to let Grandma and Grampa, and Oma and Opa, and all of the aunties and uncles, dote on and spoil Liam.  We had an early birthday party for the little man while we were home and needless to say the only grandchild/nephew in either of our families made out like a bandit.  The vacation as a whole was lovely and relaxing and lots of fun.  And the trip back to Hamilton was a gong show.

If one were to catch a direct flight from Saskatoon to Hamilton (an impossibility with Westjet, by the by), that flight would probably take about 3.5 hours.  With airport waits and such the whole trip would probably take less than 5 hours door to door.  But there aren't any direct flights from Saskatoon to Hamilton.  Instead you have to fly to Calgary (an hour's flight in exactly the wrong direction) and catch a connector.  So our initial itinerary for the trip home included the one hour flight to Calgary (that left at 6:10am, which meant we were at the airport at 5:10), a two hour layover, and then the 4 hour flight to Hamilton.  The first bit went fine.  The layover was going fine as well.  We were keeping Liam happy and busy with various toys, stroller rides, and some strategic use of the portable DVD player Jin's parents gave us (thank you!).  Then, with about 30 mins to go, we heard an announcement over the PA system.  Our plane had been (no I'm not kidding) struck by lightning.  Needless to say our flight was cancelled.  So we trundled off to get our lugguage and then went to the Westjet counter to see what they were going to do with us.  After standing in line for over an hour (where I chatted with some nice folks from Abbotsford) we were informed that Westjet could get us on a flight to Pearson Airport in Toronto with the promise of some kind of transport to Hamilton once we got there.  They very kindly gave us some food vouchers good in any of the airport's restaurants, and we went off to wait some more.

We finally boarded our flight to Toronto at 12:30 or so (we'd been in the Calgary airport since shortly after 7am), and took off just before 1pm.  Liam was great the whole time.  He played well in the airport, and ate and played well in the restaurant, and when the plane finally took off he fell asleep on Jin's lap straight away.  He slept for almost the whole flight, only waking up in time for the descent into Toronto.

We picked up our lugguage (which took forever...I hate big airports) and climbed aboard the shuttle bus Westjet had wrangled for us for the hour drive from Toronto to Hamilton.  Traffic was mercifully light and we pulled in to the Hamilton airport at around 6 Central time (8 EST, which we were now on).  Our friend Connan was kind enough to come pick us up, so we loaded up his minivan in the pouring rain (Hamilton rain, not Saskatoon rain...which to say real rain, not wussy rain) and set off for home.  On the way home we got a flat tire.  No, I'm not joking.  Mercifully the rain had stopped, and Connan and I didn't get any wetter as we changed the tire.  We finally arrived at home at around 7:30pm Central (9:30 EST), having been travelling since 5:10am Central time.

And the funny thing?  Though we were horribly tired and rather hungry by the time we got home, it hadn't really been all that bad a trip.  Liam was a trooper, Jin and I were mostly laughing about it by the end (the tire was particularly funny), and everyone got home safe (with the exception of Connan's tire).  Still, I think I would have preferred the direct flight from Saskatoon to Hamilton.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Deadwood and Deep v. Surface Structure...

I've been watching the first season of HBO's Deadwood.  One of the bits of controversy that has surrounded this story of an old-west town is the use of profanity.  Deadwood is the story of the real historical town of Deadwood, an outlaw settlement in the Black Hills of Montana in 1876.  But here's the thing, the characters in the TV show swear like sailors.  The language is so offensive that I won't even give examples.  Of course these words that the writers use are not words that people really used in 1876.  But the profanity of 1876 would sound silly to people in our time and culture, and so the writers decided to import modern profanity as a creative anachronism.  On a visceral level at least, this works very well indeed.

This goes to the heart of an issue in linguistics that I've been thinking about lately.  Linguists talk about deep structure and surface structure.  Surface structure is the actual grammatical structure of a particular sentence or phrase or utterance as found in reality.  Deep structure is the so-called "kernel" sentence or essence that underlies the surface structure.  A passive sentence is the classic example.  According to this thinking sentences 1a and 1b have different surface structure but identical deep structure:

1a: Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall.
1b: Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok.

Linguists who believe in deep structure say that the semantic value (the meaning for lack of a better term) of these phrases is identical.  Linguists who don't believe in deep structure might deny this.

In Deadwood the use of anachronistic language assumes that modern swearing has essentially the same deep structure as the swearing of 1876.  Therefore replacing one with the other is actually a faithful way of translating.  But I wonder, and here is where deep structure becomes a problem, if there isn't something else going on apart from semantics and if that something else might not be the same from 1876 to 2009.  Like I said, I'm still thinking about it.

Half-Blood Prince the Movie...

**spoiler alert**

Jinny and I had a rare night out on Friday night and went to see the newly release Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This movie is based on one of my favorites of the 7 book Potter series and so I was curious (though frankly not excited) to see what they'd do with this one. My one word review? Mediocre. This film is more evidence that these kinds of books just don't translate well to the big screen.

There was, however, a lot to love in the film. Dan Radcliff, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint (the actors who play Harry, Hermione, and Ron) seem finally to be coming in to their own. Grint's physical comedy was particularly good, and he and Radcliff had a number of great scenes together. All in all the dynamic between the three friends was very good, much better in fact than in any of the previous five films. Additionally, Michael Gambon's Dumbledore is a vast improvement over the absurdly intense Dubledore of Goblet of Fire and the ridiculously stoic Dumbledore of Order of the Phoenix. Gambon does a much better job this time out capturing Dumbledore's odd combination of brilliance, intensity, ferocity, and oddball goofiness. It's that eclectic nature that people like about Dumbledore, and I think that Gambon's failure to capture it represents one of the key failures of films 3-5. Here he gets it right.

But those good things are not enough to make this a good film. It is just too choppy, too disjointed to ever be great. This choppiness notwithstanding it may have been a much better movie had it not been for the two worst adaptation decisions I've ever seen in a film. You'll have to watch the movie to know what I mean, but let me just say that for the life of me I don't understand what the Christmas scene was for, nor why they removed all of the action from the climax of the movie. Those writing/directing decisions were just plain weird.

If you're a Potter fan by all means go and see the movie. There are enough fun bits to make it worth your money. If you're not a Potter geek, just wait for the DVD, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Buyer Beware...

A discussion has been making the rounds regarding whether or to what degree amateur biblical scholarship is a legitimate enterprise.  You can see the relevant history (and trace the backlinks for the longer backstory) on Matthew's page here, Jim's here, and Doug's here.  Though I find Jim's position (leave the Bible to the experts alone) to be extreme, I certainly sympathize with his point.  There is an awful lot of nonsense out there that pases for "biblical scholarship."  And it's not just silliness like ex-firefighters chasing down the "treasure" of the Copper Scroll.  AKMA pointed to a new Bible software system the other day, and I must say that the list of "biblical scholars" who contribute to the expert videos was very worrying.  I mean, I've got nothing against Max Lucado, but he isn't a Bible expert of any kind.  He's a very good preacher, and I'm sure a good pastor, but his reflections on Scripture in his books tend to be rather shallow to be frank.  But people assume he's an expert because he's written and sold a lot of books.  I'll let Jim and the others fight it out over whether Lucado is a bad guy because he hasn't got a PhD (I tend to think not), because I want to make a slightly different point here.

As much as non-specialists can be dangerous when they spout off, the fact is that they are only dangerous if people listen to them.  The responsibility lies, in the end, with the reader to make good judgments about what is being read.  Credentials don't equal correctness, but credentials do tell you one thing.  They tell you that the person who's work you are reading has done his or her homework (literally).  I don't care what anyone says, a PhD or ThD is not an easy get.  So, dear reader, if you want to know about the Bible and you want to avoid the dangers of being misled by people who may or may not know what they are talking about, let me recommend the following:

  1. Ask why the person you're reading has the authority to say what he/she is saying.  Why are his/her ideas more valuable than your own?  Google the author, know who it is that you're trusting.
  2. Ask where and to what degree the author is educated...and in what field for that matter (a PhD in Chemistry doesn't make you an expert in Biblical Studies).
  3. Remember that the person who wrote the book you're reading probably borrowed some of those ideas from other books.  Find out which ones and maybe read them too.
  4. Get to know an expert personally and ask that person for advice.  Most of the churches I've been a part of over the years have had at least one or two professors of theology or biblical studies hiding somewhere.  If there's nobody in your congregation, then email a prof at your local denominational seminary.  I'm betting you'd get a very cordial reply.
  5. Instead of reading popular Christian literature about Jesus or the Bible, try reading a commentary along with your regular Bible reading.  I'd recommend a very accessible series like NIV Application or Interpretation, or the New International Biblical Commentary.  I talked my wife into doing this once and she said it was one of the richest devotional experiences she's ever had.

The long and the short of it is this: buyer beware.  Getting a book about the Bible published is no harder than getting a self-help book published, and we all know what nonsense those things can be.  If you are a Christian you should take the Bible very seriously indeed, so consider your supplimentary reading carefully as well.  And by the by, all of this goes doubly and triply so for internet sources and blogs (including this one...I don't consider myself an expert on anything yet).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Road and Adaptation...

Early this summer I finished the best work of fiction that I've read in a long while. It was The Road by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men). It is simultaneously the most haunting and most powerfully touching story I've read in ages. A post-apocalyptic journey tale, it seemed like an odd fit for McCarthy (admittedly I only know some of his other work), but he elevated the genre to perhaps its highest point. He sidesteps all of the post-apocalyptic clichés with grace. McCarthy's greatest accomplishment in this work is his ability to make you feel, down to your very bones, the emotions that his characters feel. Their dread is your dread. Their loneliness is your loneliness. Their despair is your despair. And most importantly, their fragile, precious, tenuous (even tendentious) hope belongs to the reader as well. I've never had an author capture me emotionally in that way.

One of the thoughts I had when I picked the book up at first was, "I bet somebody's gonna make a movie out of this." After all, post-apocalyptic stories are all the rage, and McCarthy's last book-to-movie adaptation was essentially perfect (No Country). But as I was reading I became more and more convinced that The Road is un-adaptable to the big screen. Or maybe it's better to say that Hollywood could never adapt it, because they would be unwilling to do what would be necessary to make the adaptation true. What makes an adaptation true? It isn't necessarily about detailed accuracy, making sure all the little characters and side-stories and inside jokes make the cut. It is about spirit. It is about ensuring that the emotion of the film, the themes, the main characters, the ethos and pathos mirror the book. The Road is, it turns out, being adapted into a film. I've only seen the trailer but I knew immediately that it will not be a good adaptation. I won't run down the specifics, but let's just say that all of those clichés that McCarthy side-steps, the film very clearly blunders straight into. It might be a good movie, and it will probably be a popular movie (maybe even critically successful), but I cannot see how it could ever be a good adaptation.

Let me put this another way. All of the things that the Coens did to make No Country perfect, Hillcoat (director for The Road) has clearly failed to do. It's too bad nobody got Joel and Ethan on board for The Road.


Crap, I've been added to a list.  I commented on a post over at Hebrew and Greek Reader and in reward for my thoughts Daniel and Tonya (they are two people right?) put me on their list of student bibliobloggers.*  Which means that now I have to actually pay some attention to my poor old blog.  For the past three weeks or so I've been right on the verge of taking randomcolin off the air for good, but I suppose that, now I'm on a list and all, I should try to live up to this great trust.  Though on an upnote, I did make their top ten list for their favorite comments recently, huzzah!

If you're into Greek and Hebrew or linguistics generally (and who isn't?!) go check out Daniel and Tonya's blog, it's excellent.  Plus they like Derek Webb and so must be very nice people indeed.  Plus they go to school at Stellenbosch and study with Christo van der Merwe, which is unassailably cool.

*For the record I hate this term, but as there are whole websites and tracking systems and rankings devoted to biblioblogs (a blog devoted, at least in part, to biblical studies), to say nothing of the annual SBL bibliobloggers' dinner, the name is clearly here to stay.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Jin and I just got back from Ottawa where I was attending the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. I had the opportunity to present my first paper at an academic conference. The paper is called "(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse," and is based on some ideas that I worked on in my MA thesis. I presented it in the Ancient Historiography session, and in it I discuss the use of pseudonymous authorship and clean/unclean divisions in the imagery of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch 85-90. I won't publish the paper here as I'll be submitting it for publication in the edited volume that the session puts out each year, but if anyone wants a copy feel free to drop me an email.

It was a great conference over-all. My presentation went very well, and the paper was well received. I had the chance to argue with Prof. John Van Seters, which was an honour. There were any number of other interesting and enjoyable papers during the conference. I think that my two favorites were Ehud Ben Zvi's paper on whether the label "Deuteronomistic" is anything more than a modern scholarly construct, and John Kessler's paper on the "Empty Land" motif in Persian period Yehud. It was also great to meet some well-known OT scholars, as well as many other grad students. I got to put faces to a lot of names, which is always nice. Everyone was tremendously welcoming and though I was quite tired by the end, it was an excellent experience and I look forward to going again.

As a side note, I was involved in an online discussion with AKMA and Mark Goodacre a few weeks ago over whether it is better to read from a manuscript or to use skeletal notes during academic presentations. Though I argued there for manuscripts, I decided to take Dr. Goodacre's advice and try presenting from notes alone. I must say, I believe that he was very right. I was able to hit all of my major points, I didn't get bogged down in the complicated technical language you find in lots of presentations, and my friends tell me that mine was one of the more relaxed and accessible presentations they saw. I think that I'll try the "notes only" formula again in future and see if it keeps working for me.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This Too...

I've been listening to Derek Webb again today.  His song "This Too Shall be Made Right" off of The Ringing Bell did what it always does to me; it took hold of me, shook me, beat me, and embraced me all at once.  Here are the lines that cut the deepest, for me at least:

There's a time for peace
There is a time for war
There's a time to forgive
and a time to settle the score
A time for babies to loose their lives
A time for hunger and genocide
and this too shall be made right.

Oh I don't know the suffering of people outside my front door
And I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore
I'm trading comfort for human life
And that's not just murder it's suicide
and this too shall be made right.

The world in which we live is broken.  I am a part of that brokenness.  I am a collaborator.  I don't want to be, and I try not to be, but I am.  Even that wasn't really true.  I try to try not to be.  I want to try to try not to be.  You get what I mean.  That's where this song cuts.  But it heals as well.  It heals with an honest belief in the possibility, the hope, that the God who made the universe still cares for it, and that he has determined that his creation shall be made whole.

This is the tension of true apocalypse.  I'm not talking about Left Behind garbage, but about the late prophetic and early apocalyptic literature of the Bible.  Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Daniel, and Revelation (among many others).  This is the message of the writers of the apocalypses and the so-called proto-apocalyptic literature.  God will intervene.  Not just will, but must.  The world is irrevocably and intrinsically broken, and though we try, and we try to try, and we want to try to try to fix it, to reconcile it, to be reconciled to God himself, we are unable.  So he does it.

An honest appreciation for this biblical literature, and an honest attempt to hold it in tension with the rest of the canon, leads to the kind of paradoxical but true sentiment of Webb's lyrics.  The world is filled with horror.  We must be conscious of it, we must act against it, but we must also understand that it is God who will, in the end, bring it to an end.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

12 Hours Ago...

I'm just getting ready to pack it in for the day and as is often the case I popped open my browser to check on my blogroll.  I looked down the list at posts I had read earlier, around dinner time, and then I saw the most recent post over on 4712.  It's a wonderful little question that I found in one of the comment threads and I encourage anybody who is interested to wander over there and check it out.  What surprised me when I was looking at my blogroll just now is that I posted that question 12 hours ago.  Twelve hours ago I was taking a 15 minute break from working on my major linguistics paper (pragmatic fronting of non-Predicate constituents in Obadiah...yeah, I know how to party).  I just now finished working on it for the night.  Twelve hours ago.  This is just silly.  Didn't quite finish either.  I still have to write the conclusion.  In theory that should be easy, so I'm gonna leave it till tomorrow when I go back to the library and work for another 16 hours.  Two more days, two more days, two more days....


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Never Again?

Just the other day AKMA was lamenting about his perceived lack of impact in the theological guild.  There are some good encouragements and some very astute observations in the comments from that post that I strongly recommend you read.  That post and those comments, in concert with conversations in the TA room here at Mac and some other stuff that's going on around the College, have gotten me thinking about the nature of the biblical and theological guild these days.

There was a time, especially in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries when the work of a single scholar could bust the whole enterprise open.  Gunkel, Bultmann, even Childs who's work is often dismissed...all of these people and more blew the doors off of the scholarly community.  I wonder if that's even possible anymore.

One of the things that is constantly on the mind of a PhD student is how to make that friggin dissertation work.  Every institution that I know of has listed as an explicit requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy that the disseration "make an original contribution to the field of X."  Of course there's a part of me that agrees that this is absolutely necessary.  How can you be an expert without demonstrating that you can push the discussion forward?  Another part of me is forced to admit that "pushing the discussion forward" means an entirely different thing now than it has before.  There was a time when a single scholar could actually "push the discussion forward."  Now all one of us can hope to do is to nudge the monolith half a milimeter one way or the other.

Take the work of Cristo Van der Merwe.  Chances are even some biblical scholars out there don't really know his name.  The fact is, however, that Van der Merwe, in his relentless attempts to engage OT/HB research with the latest in modern linguistics, has made serious contributions to our understanding of Hebrew.  In my opinion his Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar should be the standard text in the field.  But it ain't.  It ain't, and there are two reasons for that.  In the first place there is the "old school" that needs to defend the validity and importance of its work, and so upstarts need to be put in their place.  In the second place there's me, the (hopefully) up-and-coming scholar who's job it is to show why my work is better than the last guy's.  And so what should be a sea-change, is instead just one more stiff breeze.

I don't know if there's anything to be done about all of this.  I don't even know if anything should be done about all of this.  Even as I'm writing this I feel ambiguous, conscious of the fact that even nudging the conversation is a pretty incredible accomplishment.  Having said that there is a part of me that is also working to redifine success in the field of academic biblical studies.  We need to move success beyond publishing contracts and good reviews, beyond the glory of 5,000 super-specialized uber-nerds relishing our work, and toward the grace of 30 undergrads who are shocked and challenged by the biblical texts, or the honour of bringing our humble contribution to the community of faith in worship services and bible studies.  This isn't just about academics either.  As a whole our culture has so badly mis-difined success.

Is it true that the academic landscape will never again be redrawn by a single hand?  Yes, it probably is.  But who says that's a bad thing?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Words Do...

I've been thinking a lot about language and linguistics lately.  It's possible that this is a by-product of the fact that I'm taking a rather challenging course in advanced grammar and linguistics.  Just a guess, it's hard to say why I think what I think.  In any case, one of the most interesting and engaging concepts that I've come across lately is related to the question of what language is for.  There's a linguist out there, a guy named Halliday (I quoted him about a zillion years ago in my last post), who suggests that language has a whole bunch of different functions.  That is to say, language does a lot of things.  Most of these things (I won't bother listing them all, it's kind of complicated) eventually clump together as we grow older.  Eventually the most important clump, or meta-function, is the informational function.  Language for adults is mostly about communicating information, about telling something to somebody that he/she doesn't know (or that we think he/she doesn't know, whatever).

Here's the thing, though.  For kids this is one of the least important functions that language performs.  I'm not sure exactly when this happens, I haven't read all of the relavant research, but early on in life when we are learning language we don't really think about language as a tool to give others new information.  If you have little kids who have only recently learned to talk watch them and see if this seems right or not.  It works with my son.  If he sees a picture of a cow he says "Cow!"  I'm pretty sure he's not telling me it's a cow.  He knows I know that.  What he's telling me is that he likes cows.  He's using language to communicate not information, but emotion.  He's engaging with me relationally.

This is, I think, why we have so much difficulty with poetry.  We are so fixated on what the poem means that we completely miss what it is that poems are for.  Poetry is trying to do something other than give information, it is trying to create an emotional encounter.

Let me put it another way.  If I come home and my wife looks at me angrily and says "You're late," she is not using the informational meta-function of language.  She is not trying to inform me of the fact that I am late.  If I assume that her words are being used to communicate information the evening is likely going to go badly for me.

Your words do a lot of things, and though communicating information is an important one of those things, it isn't the only one.  As an excercise today, try being more conscious of the relational aspect of your language and the language of those around you.  Be attentive to what your words do and not just to what they mean.  It is, at the very least, a fun experiment.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Surprised by the Successes...

Michael Halliday, the renowned linguist, once wrote: "[Rather] than being surprised at the failures [of language], given the complexity of modern cultures, it seems to me we should be surprised at the successes." - Language, context, and text, pg. 9.

We so often become upset, even angry, that we are misunderstood.  The fact is, it takes only a very little time studying the theoretical structure of language before one starts to realize that it is a miracle of the most profound order that anybody understands anything said by anybody else at all.  Human language is a cultural sign-system of such monumental complexity that studying linguistics (that is, studying the nature of language) is one of the more difficult philosophical and socio-scientific tasks out there.  But for all of that, the fact remains that language works in the world every second of every day.  You are using language right now, in order to read this post.  Though you, whoever you are, are nowhere near me right now, you understand me.  Even the errors of grammar that are likely present in this post matter very little.  Your mind is simply too fluent, to magnificent, to be stopped by what should, by all accounts, be an all but impossible task.

So perhaps we should be slower to anger when we are misunderstood.  Perhaps we should be more joyful when we feel that another person has grasped what it was that we meant.  Let us not be surprised by our communicative failures, but let us be surprised, and delighted, by our successes.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


I'm writing today and tomorrow, and that title is simply the only way to describe my current outline. Before I write a paper I always create an extensive outline to make sure that I stay on track (I have a tendency to rabbit-trail [mostly a by-product of my love for parenthetical remarks {which is probably due to my constant need to over-qualify every statement that I make (which is, I'm sure, evidence of some kind of deep-seeded psychosis or neurosis)}]). Today's outline is officially totally and completely out of hand. It is currently 3,949 words long. The paper is supposed to be 5,000 words long. Did I mention that the outline isn't done yet? It's hardly 2/3 done in fact. Ya, this is gonna end well.

Update: How's this for perverse? As I mentioned in the comments yesterday, my final outline was around 6,800 words. The final paper? 7,173 including bibliography, so really more like, 6,500 words. Ya, that's right, the outline was longer than the paper. Well, kind of. As always you can game stats almost interminably. When you add the footnotes to the word count of the final paper it's actually 9,600 words or so. Ya, I've got 3,000 words in the footnotes, got a problem with that? Also, I just want to reiterate that I love Endnotes. Without Endnotes I would have been up until 1:30am writing my bibliography, instead of just 12:30am. I can't believe that nobody ever told me about Endnotes, or anything like it for that matter, until last year. Typing out footnotes and bibliographies is for suckers!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Miami's Worst Cop...

I can't stand CSI: Miami.  The reason is pretty simple; Horatio Cane is an ass.  I'm sorry to put is so bluntly, particularly if you're fan,but there it is.  It's hard to know if Cane's many irritating idiosyncrasies are the product of David Caruso's influence, or the influence of the writers and directors of the show.  It's probably a combination of the two (though the rumours of Caruso's troubles on NYPD Blue may be some indication).  Caine's bizarre manerisms and idiotic dialogue are enough reason to dislike him as a character, but that's not why I call him the worst cop in Miami.

I've never seen a single episode of CSI: Miami where Caine does not at least draw his weapon, and he fires it almost as often.  CSI: Miami is currently running its 7th season.  As of January 19/09 they will have produced 155 episodes.  If we figure Caine's weapon-drawing ratio at once every second show (a wildly conservative estimate), then he has drawn his sidearm at least 72 times in 7 years.  That's more than 10 times per year.  I'll be even more conservative with my estimate of the number of times that Caine has discharged his firearm.  Let's say he shoots at someone only once every four episodes.  That means that he has, in seven years, fired his sidearm roughly 38 times.  Though he does not always hit what he shoots at, I'm sure that he has shot at least one person per season (again, a wildly conservative estimate).  So let's summarize our estimates of the good detective's stats.  In seven years Caine has drawn his sidearm 72 times, discharged it 38 times, and killed or injured more than 7 people.

I personally know three police officers.  To the best of my knowledge between the three of them, only one (a now-retired city cop) fired his sidearm in the line of duty, and that only one time in his entire
career.  Granted none of them worked in Miami-Dade county, which does have a reputation for crime, but I still think the comparison is meaningful.

If Caine were a real cop can you even imagine the number of times that he would have been investigated by IA?  Is there any chance at he would still be a lieutenant?  Is there any chance he would still have a job at all?

The point that I'm trying to make here is that good cops don't pull their guns every second day.  Good cops don't fire their weapons in the line of duty on a regular basis.  Good cops don't shoot lots and lots
of people.  In fact, good cops seem to do the opposite of those things.  Someone might object that Caine is just a television character and that I'm taking him too seriously.  He may be fictional, but the
place he holds in American life is as an icon of justice and that troubles me.  It tells me that justice in the minds of many Americans can be achieved through rampant violence.  That strikes me as a very bad thing.  It reminds me of an episode of the West Wing where Toby is arguing with somebody about gun control and he asks the rhetorical question "What?  Are Americans just more homicidal by nature?"

If Horatio Caine is an American hero, then Toby's question is worth exploring.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Just a quick plug: the first post of the new year is up on Four, Seven and Twelvefold.  For those of you who don't know, 4712 is a collaborative blog exploring conversations about evangelicalism and Christianity in the 21st century.  If you haven't been, check it out and feel free to jump in to the conversation.

Hooray for Empty Rooms...

I love weekends at the beginning of the semester.  Nothing is due tomorrow so there are no undergrads using up all of the plug-ins in the library.  Including me and the staff it looks like there are about 12 people at the Mills library today.  Hooray for empty rooms filled with books.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Locating Inspiration...

Where does divine inspiration lie in relation to the biblical text?  Was the author inspired tying it to authorial intent?  Are the words inspired tying it to the text?  Is the interpreter inspired tying it to reading strategy?  More importantly, how does the idea of inspiration and the location of inspiration relate to hermeneutics?  Do questions of inspirational location even matter if the hermeneutical considerations overshadow the problem?  For instance, if inspiration is tied to authorial intent but authorial intent is hermeneutically impossible to recover apart from the text itself, is it at all meaningful to call the individual authors inspired?  Or, if the text is inspired but texts are only interpreted (and perhaps even constructed) by readers, then is it at all meaningful to call the text inspired?  Or, if the reader is inspired then how does that inspiration proceed and of what purpose is the text at all?

These are the questions that are currently consuming my days as I attempt to write a paper about the relationship between biblical scholarship and Christian Theology.

At It Again...

The Christmas break is over and as of last Monday I'm officially back to school for semester #2.  So far it's been less overwhelming which is not surprising but still nice.  Though I enjoyed my classes last semester (particularly my OT in the NT class) this semester is much more exciting.  I'm taking Advanced Semitic Grammar and Linguistics, and Biblical Theology.  Biblical Theology in particular is a passion of mine, and linguistics is a discipline I've brushed up against a couple of times in the past and found very helpful (especially with some hermeneutical problems).

I also feel like I have a better handle on how to make this doctoral thing doable.  My research has gotten much more efficient and my focus much sharper, both of which are essential.  Hopefully that translates into better writing and less stress.  I'm not super hopeful about the second bit, but oh well.

The other thing I've noticed is how happy I am to be back at it.  I was totally exhausted by November last semester that the last few weeks were just a blur, like that final dash at the end of a long run.  But after a nice long break I was getting a little bored and stir crazy and it's nice to be working again.  After you train yourself for months and months to work all the time it becomes difficult to do anything else.  That's something to watch for I guess.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Joy of Cooking...

As some of you know my main hobby is cooking. I spend an awful lot of time cooking, creating recipes, watching cooking shows, reading cooking books, etc. I got some money for Christmas this year from my parents and my Gram J, and I used it to buy two more lovely knives, thus (basically) completing my collection. I bought a Wusthof-Trident paring knife, and a Kasumi titanium 13mm chef's knife (which is really more of a utility knife). Here they are on the left. I got them both for a wicked awesome price at the Boxing Day sale at The Casual Gourmet here in Hamilton.

Yes, the Kasumi (the bottom knife) really is titanium...well, kind of. The knife is actually a Molybdenum-Vanadium alloy (a super hard steel) with a titanium coating. That's why it's black. They say the titanium creates a non-reactive coating on the blade so there's no flavour transfer from the steel to the food. I've heard this argument before with regard to ceramic knives, and it still sounds like utter bunk to me, but the titanium does seem to provide an excellent strength to weight ratio for the knife. In any case, it's absurdly light. A little bit too light honestly. I do like the knife, and it's vastly superior to the crappy old utility knife I've been using up until now, but my Global Chef's Knife and Santoku Knife are in no danger of being replaced. My other criticism is that the angle of attack on the handle is a little bit too steep. It feels like I'm putting my energy in the wrong place when I cut. That might be my imagination or it might just be a comfort issue. Overall I'd only give the knife a B rating.

Though it was the Kasumi that I was excited about, the Wusthof turned out the be the real treat. I went to the store with the intention of buying a MAC paring knife, but nothing in stock really turned my crank plus I've heard some mediocre things about MACs of late. Then the manager showed me the Wusthof Culinar series knife. She's not planning to stock that line anymore so the display models were 50% off, which seemed like just he right price to me, plus the all-steel look blends nicely with my Globals, so I went for it. I'm not generally a fan of German knives. I hate my Henckels knives, especially my five-star paring knife. It doesn't sharpen very well and can't keep an edge at all. It was also rather pricey which only adds to my deep bitterness. I've also tried some Wusthofs before and never been overly impressed. With all of this I wasn't expecting a lot from the paring knife, but it is awesome! Wonderfully sharp, lovely balance and hand feel, cuts like a dream...the perfect knife so far. The only test now is the durability of the edge, but it will take quite a while to finish that test (I hope). Without accounting for durability I'm happy to give this one an A+, though that will drop down to a B if the edge won't hold.

On the subject of cooking, Jin had an idea that I like. She suggested some kind of recipe exchange with my friends, so I thought I'd start on the blog. I've got quite a few recipes that I'm happy with at this point, many of which are my own, and I thought it would be nice to share the wealth. I'd also love to see your recipes, be they your originals or riffs on someone else's work. Here's a start from me.

BBQ Tangerine-Marinated Chicken:

1 medium roasting Chicken
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tangerines (may substitute orange or any kind)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup good honey
2 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
bunch of fresh thyme
BBQ sauce for basting

Remove the breast and back-bones of the chicken so that you have two equal halves (alternatively have your butcher do this). Clean and dry the bird. Season all sides liberally with salt and pepper. In a bowl combine the zest and juice from the tangerines (strain out any pulp or seeds) and oil with the honey, molasses, and mustard. Quantities of honey and molasses are approximate, use enough to balance the acidity of the juice. Roughly chop the onion and smash the garlic and place in a large ziploc bag along with several sprigs of thyme. Place chicken in bag, pour marinade over chicken. Remove any excess air from the bag and ensure that all of the surfaces of the chicken are in contact with the marinade. Leave the marinating chicken in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours, and preferably overnight.

When you're ready to cook, preheat the outside burners of your BBQ (if you only have 2, preheat one side). Place chicken skin-side down over the hot flame until it's achieved a nice golden colour (be very careful not to burn, there's a lot of sugar in the marinade), then transfer to a spot off of direct heat and close the lid. Baste the chicken several times throughout the process with BBQ sauce (I use homemade, but a good store bought variety will do). It's difficult to suggest a precise cooking time as BBQs can vary dramatically in temperature. Instead use a meat thermometer and cook until the temp is about 170-175f (the recommended temp for chicken is 180, but the meat will continue to cook a little bit while it rests). Remove to a plate and tent with foil, let rest approx 10-15 mins.

You can carve the chicken into four pieces if you like, or if you have a couple of people with hearty appetites, go ahead a serve the halves as they are. I like to serve this with homemade fries and either a salad or a nice veg.