Weekly Meanderings 9 July 2016

Annette Brill Bergstresser:

When [oft-imprisoned and blind] Matt [Yeater] became a student at AMBS in the fall of 2013, he faced higher hurdles at seminary than most students, both in terms of accessibility and academics. He had never studied languages before, and the resources available for studying biblical languages in Braille were limited.

Paul Keim, professor of Bible and Religion at Goshen (Indiana) College and a sessional instructor of Hebrew at AMBS, began tutoring him in Greek two times a week, using Braille versions of the Greek grammar and New Testament text. However, after more than two weeks, they realized that the New Testament text they were working with was not ancient Greek, but modern Greek. Back to square one.

“I’ve been teaching language for a long time, but at every turn I realized how most of the strategies and protocols for learning language are for sighted people,” Paul says. “The dictionary and encyclopedia articles were full of symbols Matt couldn’t read.”

Matt and Paul began to explore gaining access to scholarly articles and commentaries in Braille. While they were able to connect with others who had converted biblical language documents into Braille, they realized there was no way for a blind person to successfully produce ancient language material in print in a way that would make sense to sighted scholars.

“Our approach very early on was that we were going to try to reproduce the text [in print] to contribute to the sighted community and to scholarship as a whole,” Matt says. “I wanted to create tools that would help blind people compete with sighted people on terms of equality.”

That same semester, Matt called Duxbury Systems, Inc., a company based in Westford, Massachusetts, that specializes in Braille translation software, supporting up to 147 different languages. He explained to David Holladay, a senior technical staff member, the challenges he was facing in translating the Hebrew characters.

Matt didn’t know it, but David’s father was Bill Holladay, a well-known biblical scholar who translated the Hebrew Bible from German to English. David talked to Bill about Matt’s problem. The next time they talked, he told Matt, “My dad’s a theologian; I’m going to help you.”

Matt said David and his wife, Caryn Navy, also a senior technical staff member at Duxbury, dove into the project, even working on their own time at home to create a new biblical language software profile in Braille that would help Matt and other blind scholars study the ancient languages.

They began building in the Braille software the critical apparatus, which gives scholars information about other manuscripts to find the best reading of a passage. Matt and Loren Johns, professor of New Testament, would write the code; David and Caryn would translate it into the software; and Matt would work through the text and identify where revisions were needed.

“The critical apparatus gave me the opportunity to engage with the biblical textual criticism,” Matt says. “That had never been done by a blind person.”

Matt adds that once they plugged Greek and Hebrew into the new software, they realized they would also need to write code for Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic in which many early Christian texts are written. He and Paul created the consonants, and he worked on the vowels with a fellow student, Ryan Harker; and Ray McAllister, who is blind and has a Ph.D. in Hebrew from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“We didn’t just want to assign the same vowels for all three scripts [Hebrew, Greek and Syriac],” he says.
“We had to create a systematic code so that it would be the same for a blind person as a sighted person, who could recognize the difference immediately.”

Matt notes that the project has taken three years and is still ongoing. In addition to the critical apparatus, Duxbury’s biblical language software currently contains ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, ancient Greek, ancient Syriac, Coptic and Latin — all of which can be converted to Braille at the touch of a button.

According to Matt, the timing of the project is significant. The Marrakesh Visually Impaired Persons Treaty, passed in June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco, grants copyright exceptions so that accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works can be created and shared across borders. So the code Matt and his colleagues have created will set the standard globally for access to biblical languages.

“This is a big deal for the blind community,” he says. “The biblical language profile is now accessible to people all around the world in their own language. There hasn’t been anything like this since Nemeth Code [a Braille code for encoding mathematical and scientific notation linearly].”

He recently also learned that Humanware, a company that makes Braille devices, is adding the software to two of its devices.

“Matt always emphasized that he wanted the results of his work to be accessible to other blind people, to show them that it’s possible to study languages, that tools are available and that they wouldn’t have to start from scratch,” Paul notes. “I don’t know how many people out there want to learn languages and have the capacity, but Matt was convinced that if they could create the software, other people would use it.”…

[HT: JS]

Todd Pruitt at Mortification of Spin:

I will not speculate about motives. Neither will I draw conclusions about anyone’s love for Jesus. But I need help from those who would defend the above passages. If words mean anything at all, if there are any limits to nuancing and massaging statements to death then what else can those words be but profound departures from historic trinitarian orthodoxy?

I have no interest in engaging in a debate about the character or sincerity of Dr. Ware. I have no reason to doubt that he is anything other than a good and decent man. But that has nothing to do with whether or not his views are orthodox. I don’t know how Southern Baptists handle these sorts of things. Perhaps they don’t. But I can say this for sure: No man who wrote those words would be considered for ordination in my presbytery. His words would be identified as nothing better than old fashioned Arianism. Keep in mind, the way we judge a theologian and preacher is not by what we imagine he must mean but by what he actually writes and proclaims.

This is not nitpicking over esoteric minutiae. This is about the nature of our glorious God and Savior. Men were tortured and exiled for the sake of such truth. In an excellent address on Athanasius delivered by Dr. Al Mohler at a pastor’s conference some years ago he made a statement which I have never forgotten. He said that “Athanasius went to war over an iota.” Indeed he did. I cannot think of a single major heresy the roots of which are not traced to an undermining of the doctrine of the Trinity.

[SMcK: One more consideration. This sub-Nicene thinking about Trinity is shaped if not entirely by complemeentarianism in male-female relations.]

Michaeleen Ducleff:

Americans are also much less active than people in traditional cultures, Mummaneni says. “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak.”

Everyone knows that weak abdominal muscles can cause back pain. In fact, Mummaneni says, stronger muscles might be the secret to Gokhale’s success.

In other words, it’s not that the J-shaped spine is the ideal one — or the healthiest. It’s what goes into making the J-shaped spine that matters: “You have to use muscle strength to get your spine to look like a J shape,” he says.

So Gokhale has somehow figured out a way to teach people to build up their core muscles without them even knowing it. “Yes, I think that’s correct,” Mummaneni says. “You’re not going to be able to go from the S- to the J-shaped spine without having good core muscle strength. And I think that’s key here.”

So indigenous people around the world don’t have a magic bullet for stopping back pain. They’ve just got beefy abdominal muscles, and their lifestyle helps to keep them that way, even as they age.

[HT: PA]

John Turner and Karen King:

Sabar’s article also reminded me of our own Philip Jenkins’s penetrating analysis of what Morton Smith presented as a Secret Gospel of Mark allegedly referenced by Clement of Alexandria. As Jenkins notes, “the authenticity of that find is still hotly debated,” this despite circumstances rather similar to “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” in their unbelievability.

The simple fact is most of us are rather gullible. We tend to believe information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and hopes. Republicans believe evidence of Hillary Clinton’s venality, and Democrats believe the worst stories about Donald Trump’s business dealings. And the history of religion shows stubborn belief in rather obvious forgeries, such as the Publius Lentulus Letter and the Donation of Constantine.

And, let’s face it, those of us who are religious tend to take a lot of things on faith rather than provenance and scientific analysis. That’s certainly true of our scriptures.

So, yes, Karen King might have been eager to believe Walter Fritz’s claims, but even if an eager victim, she was still the victim of fraud, something outsiders and even scholarly detractors should refrain from celebrating.

[HT: JS]

Carl Trueman at FT:

Thus it is in modern America. To repeat myself: Confident pluralism assumes either a balance of power or a basic common decency between the various sides in any of the cultural debates. The balance and the decency no longer exist. Nor does it matter that there might be a democratic majority supporting the dissenter in whatever public-square conflict occurs. Power is not a function of numbers any more, if it ever was. It is a function of organization and of having one’s hands on the levers of cultural and legal power. Expect no quarter in the conflicts that are already upon us, however many of your neighbors may initially express sympathy with you.

The long Gramscian march of the activist bien pensants through the institutions is reaching its conclusion. It really is. And it is time to face that fact and abandon the myth that the world is run by people who respect difference and diversity, and that all we need to do is behave decently in order to win their respect and earn their favor. They do not think that way. They will never think that way. And they will crush those who do. By any means necessary.

Yes, by all means, certainly, find the minority voices, but….Robby Soave:

The “Major English Poets” sequence, a mandatory two-course commitment for English majors, is particularly problematic, according to the students. These classes cover Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and T.S. Eliot. It’s not the most diverse line up, to be sure, but it’s the one that best reflects history the way it actually happened. Inarguably, these are the most influential poets in the English language.

But students think this sequence “creates a culture that is hostile to students of color.” They write:

When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong. The English department loses out when talented students engaged in literary and cultural analysis are driven away from the major. Students who continue on after taking the introductory sequence are ill-prepared to take higher-level courses relating to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, ability, or even to engage with critical theory or secondary scholarship. We ask that Major English Poets be abolished, and that the pre-1800/1900 requirements be refocused to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.

It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings. A 21st century education is a diverse education: we write to you today inspired by student activism across the university, and to make sure that you know that the English department is not immune from the collective call to action.

There’s nothing wrong with providing a greater variety of courses for students, and if students want to read more female and minority authors, the English Department is welcome to oblige. But there’s only so much that can be done. There just aren’t that many early modern writers who were gay or transgender.

Katy Waldman, at Slate, responds:

This is great, and I applaud your commitment to inclusivity and diversity (as well as your command of rhythm and anaphora.) Rethinking the major’s prerequisites to reflect a wider array of perspectives, gifts, and experiences is an awesome idea. Also, you’ve pointed elsewhere to some deplorable statistics: Of 98 English faculty members, only seven identify as nonwhite, and none identify as Hispanic or indigenous. Yale urgently needs to address the homogeny of its professorship, both for students’ sake and its own.

Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight….

I want to gently push back, too, against the idea that the major English poets have nothing to say to students who aren’t straight, male, and white. For all the ways in which their particular identities shaped their work, these writers tried to represent the entire human condition, not just their clan. A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, Othello takes on racial prejudice directly, and Twelfth Nightcontains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars. The “stay in your lane” mentality that seems to undergird so much progressive discourse—only polyamorous green people really “get” the “polyamorous green experience,” and therefore only polyamorous greens should read and write about polyamorous greens, say—ignores our common humanity.

But even if you disagree, there’s no getting around the facts. Although you’ve written that the English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history,” what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past. Same goes for people of color in Wordsworth’s day, or openly queer people in Pope’s, or …

Scruffy hospitality:

On his blog, Father Jack defines scruffy hospitality this way:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

He encourages people not to allow an unfinished to-do list to stop us from opening our homes to friends and family.

I agree, but here’s the problem. It’s hard to let go of the belief that our homes need to be picture-perfect — or maybe I should say “Pinterest-perfect” — before we can welcome guests. But the idea that we must make our home look un-lived in before having people over stops so many of us from sharing life together.

My slow journey to scruffy

Before kids, entertaining for me meant a whirlwind deep cleaning of the entire house. Not being a zealous housekeeper, I used to joke that I had to entertain or my home would never get a thorough cleaning. When I first had kids, I ended up entertaining a lot less, partly because of the mess in the house that I no longer had time to deal with.

Then one day, a woman I very much admired said something so simple. She said whenever someone was coming to her home — a home with five children in it — and she started to worry about how her home looked, she would stop and think: “Are they coming to see me, or are they coming to see my home?” It occurred to her that someone who would have a problem with her home looking like a family of seven lived in it wasn’t really someone’s opinion she cared about.

I’d love to say I embraced that wisdom immediately, but I didn’t. Slowly, though, I have let go of some of the crazy things I believed must happen before people entered my front door. The first thing I let go was the upstairs. Over the years, I’ve became more relaxed.

Next, I didn’t dust. Nobody said a word, and they came back again.

[HT: :mic]

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.