I was interviewed last week by Brian Saint-Paul at InsideCatholic.com. We talked mainly about distance learning and new educational technologies mainly in connection with my job at the Augustine Institute. You can read the interview at this link.
In Verbum Domini, the Pope provides a quick summary of the theology of revelation:
In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of “the word of God”. They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: “a polyphonic hymn”. The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God’s self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, “became flesh” (Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression “word of God” here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.
While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit “he has spoken through the prophets”. God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”. Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable. (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, sec. 7)
It is funny to me how we use the term “word of God” with so many different meanings. What connects them all is that each meaning somehow denotes God’s revelation. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the word of God. Even creation is the word of God. I’d like to set the whole thing up as an equation:
The Word of God = Creation + The Bible + Jesus + Salvation History + Apostolic Preaching + Tradition
But I do not think it is quite that simple. Somehow, each element listed can be said to be the Word of God, not just a “part” of the word of God. They are all interrelated and yet not one of them is perfectly complete without the others. I mean, for example, Jesus stands outside of creation and yet is part of creation through his incarnation. Tradition somehow encompasses the Bible and yet is distinct from it. The Apostolic preaching included biblical material, especially from the Old Testament, but it also proclaimed the resurrection of Christ before the New Testament was in written form. Salvation history is recorded in the Bible and yet extends beyond the reach of the Bible. Jesus is the culmination of Salvation History and yet the story extends beyond him into his effects on the whole world. All the elements of the Word of God, of God’s revelation to man are essential, interrelated and overlapping. Rightly do the Synod Fathers declare the word of God to be a “symphony.”
Ok, so the Pope finally released his document on the Bible,Verbum Domini. It was posted on the Vatican website on Thursday, November 11. So…you may have thought I was asleep at the wheel since I have been watching for this. But…I’ve been doing a lot like eating turkey and going to the SBL conference. More on that in a bit.
Anyway, I plan to go through the document here on the blog and comment on different sections. For now, here are my initial thoughts: The document is very long–much longer than is typical for this kind of document. There is nothing in the document that is surprising or ground-breaking. It is pretty much a faithful elaboration on the Synod’s earlier documents, especially the Propositions. It is a restatement of many important Catholic positions on the Bible and all things biblical. It also deals with how the Bible ought to function in the life of the Church in all its aspects. I think it will be a valuable touchstone in the years to come, but not a sea-change document. I’ll post more thoughts as they come to me.
Ah…and about that Society of Biblical Literature conference. I went to the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. At the meeting, I attended a session on “biblioblogging,” with presentations by some of the major academic Bible bloggers. It was very interesting and inspiring. It made me feel that I am not alone in the world of blogging about the Bible and re-invigorated me for this blog. Most of the presenters posted their papers on their blogs before delivering them at the meeting. I felt a little weird–yet kind of cool–sitting there reading Jim Davila’s paper on my Android while he spoke. It was also nice to be able to put a face with a name for a lot of Bible bloggers out there.
Here’s what the session looked like:
Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Blogging and Online Publication
- Robert R. Cargill, University of California-Los Angeles, Presiding
- James Davila, University of St. Andrews-Scotland
- Christian Brady, Pennsylvania State University University Park
- Michael Barber, John Paul the Great Catholic University
- James McGrath, Butler University
- Robert R. Cargill, University of California-Los Angeles
The room was packed–far beyond what I anticipated. Unfortunately, there were very few women. It was a great collection of Bible scholars and computers nerds all together in one place. I would encourage you to read some of the papers that were presented, which I have linked to above. Or perhaps you’ll find some other interesting posts at their authors’ blogs.
When the Iranians announced that a worm had got into their computers last week, I was a little surprised. I mean, most computers have hard plastic cases and are not usually placed in muddy puddles. But then I realized, “Oh, they meant a virus, a trojan a computer worm, not just any old worm.” With that cleared up, the NY Times released a related story yesterday which prompted some Catholic Bible Student interest. (In case you have not read about what happened–basically, a big ugly computer worm called “Stuxnet” infested the computers at Iran’s nuclear facilities.) Apparently, one of the files in the worm is entitled “Myrtus.” The NY Times intelligently relates how this title may be an allusion to the Book of Esther. This allusion may indicate that the Stuxnet worm is connected to the Israelis, specifically their cyberwarfare unit in their intelligence service. Unfortunately, the Times article does not get into explaining the exact connection between the word “Myrtus” and Esther until late in the article, except for saying it is connected to the myrtle plant. So what is the connection?
The NY Times tells us this:
Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.
Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.
It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.
“If you readyou can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
Ok, so that’s all fine, but let’s get into the details about this so-called allusion.
The word at issue is actually a Latin word. In the Latin Vulgate, the word only shows up in Isaiah 55:13 (“pro saliunca ascendet abies et pro urtica crescet myrtus et erit Dominus nominatus in signum aeternum quod non auferetur”). The word in Hebrew here is “hadas”. In Latin, it is less common than the adjectival form, myrteus. Here’s the dictionary entry from Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary, provided by Perseus Digital Library:
A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.
So that’s the word which shows up in the Stuxnet computer worm files. We have three more questions to answer. What does myrtle look like? How is the Latin word myrtus related to Esther? Why would an allusion to Esther indicate any kind of Israeli involvement?
2. The Latin word myrtus translates into Hebrew as “hadas”, which I stated above. This exact Hebrew form shows up only in Isaiah 55:13 and Nehemiah 8:15. Other forms of the same word occur in Isaiah 41:19 and Zechariah 1:8, 10 and 11. In every case, the word is translated as myrtle. But…where this gets interesting is that the name of Esther in Hebrew is “Hadassah”. The word only appears once in the Bible in Esther 2:7. The Bible is talking about Mordecai who “was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther.” Hadassah is her Hebrew name and “Esther” is her name in Persian. The Hebrew name, Hadassah, comes from the same root as the word for myrtle (hadas). So…by a long, circuitous, multi-langugage path, the word myrtus which is “hadas” in Hebrew, the basis for “Hadassah,” the Hebrew name for Esther, connects us to the biblical story of Esther.
3. Ok, great. We have traced the linguistic connections, but why Esther? Well, in Esther, the Jews beat the Persians. Esther and Mordecai are living in the capital of the Persian empire and are under attack by a certain high Persian official. Through a series of twisty-turny events, Esther and Mordecai avoid the persecutions of the official and win peace and prosperity for the Jews in the Persian empire. It is a story of the underdog overcoming a powerful foe. In addition, the Persian empire was the ancient version of Iran. Susa, the capital, was in modern-day Iran. Iranians speak the Persian language. And modern-day Iranians think of themselves as the heirs of the great Persian empire of ancient times.
So, the connection is rather apt, if a little obscure. Just as Esther subverted the power of the Persian empire in ancient times, so the Stuxnet worm is subverting the neo-Persian-Iranian empire in modern times.
So, I gave you a false alarm back in March that the Pope’s Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible would be out by Easter. That did not happen. However, I just obtained new information that the final edits to the manuscript were in the works during the first week of July and that it now has been submitted to the official Vatican publisher. The document exists and will soon be published. As soon as I hear anything more, I will let you know.
A new Catholic hymnal, which promises to be very different from what we American Catholics are accustomed to is on its way to the printers. The St. Augustine Hymnal from International Liturgy Publications (Watch out! The page plays music!) contains hymns and songs by Catholic composers. Most of the music is not available in other hymnals–namely the ones that most parishes purchase annually from GIA (Gregorian Institute of America) and OCP (Oregon Catholic Press). The St. Augustine Hymnal, I hope, will be very good for the Catholic music market in the United States. The music is new, different and hopefully, very good. I would not be surprised if you find it in the pew at a lot of Catholic Churches over the next few years. It might force GIA and OCP to change up some of their music, but we will see. Church musicians and music directors can get a free copy of the new hymnal here. ILP is doing something new and different. I think we could all use a breath of fresh air in our congregations’ music. I hope that the St. Augustine Hymnal will provide it. I’ll pick up a copy and let you know what I think. Oh yeah, and the new hymnal is very economical at only $7.95. Lots of parish finance committees will breathe a sigh of relief over that!
The NY Times is reporting that the Hobby Lobby founding family is purchasing huge numbers of Bibles and Bible manuscripts for their projected Bible museum. The Times reports that their collection has grown to over 30,000 items. The plans for the museum are not final, but the likely location will be in Dallas. So I may have to plan a visit when the open up shop. It does not seem that the museum has a website yet.
For some reason the whole project reminds me a lot of the enormous manuscript and Bible collection that was acquired by the Holy Land Experience and is now housed in their Scriptorium. The Holy Land Experience is a biblical theme park in Orlando. Their collection actually belongs to the Sola Scriptura Foundation, a trust set up by Robert Van Kampen (d. 1999), who formerly housed the collection in Grand Haven, MI. Perhaps the Hobby Lobby folks could attempt to acquire some of the Van Kampen collection or convince the foundation to move it from a theme park to a mueseum. The Evangelical Textual Criticisms blog claims that some of the texts in the Van Kampen collection are dated very early and have not been officially included in lists of NT manuscripts used for textual criticism.
Once every three years, on the second Sunday of Lent in Year C of the lectionary cycle, the story of Abraham’s covenant with the Lord is retold from Genesis 15. In the context of this important biblical story, we find one of the most hilarious translation problems in the New American Bible. God speaks to Abraham and the patriarch prepares a covenant ceremony by slicing animals in two and separating the pieces. Verse 17 tells us that “When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking brazier and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces” (NAB).
While most lectors are highly educated and pronounce words correctly, many of them stumble on the word, “brazier.” The definition of a “brazier” from Wiktionary: “An upright standing or hanging metal bowl used for holding burning coal for a source of light or heat.” The word in question should be pronounced with a “zh” sound in the middle and the accent on the first syllable. Unfortunately, many lectors are unfamiliar with the word and have pronounced it without the “zh” sound and with the accent on the second syllable, so it sounds like another word, perhaps more familiar: brassiere, which is pronounced with a regular “z” sound and the accent on the second syllable rather than the first. But I’ll let you look up the definition for that word on your own.
The point is that using a relatively rare word, which may be easily mis-pronounced as word that is inappropriate for liturgy, is not a good translation idea for liturgical texts. The NAB revisers should follow the more mundane translations of other versions: “fire pot” (NRSV, ESV) or “furnace” (JPS, KJV). I suppose though, the word makes for a good chuckle in the pew every now and again–at least once every three years. So, if you happen to be a lector on the Second Sunday of Lent, beware.