Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mosiac of Pharisee and Publican in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

The Pharisee and Publican in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Both the mosaic of the Separation of the Sheep and Goats parable (discussed in the previous post) and the mosaic of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10-14) are found in the nave of the church in the upper level of the north wall. These two mosaics make up part of thirteen mosaics that depict events of Jesus' life. The Sheep and Goats is fourth, and the Pharisee and the Publican is sixth (they are separated by a mosaic depicting the story of the Widow's Mite).

The entire set of 13 images on the north wall of the nave look like this. They are at the very top:

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, north wall of the nave

Of the thirteen mosaics in the upper-left section of the nave, this depiction of the parable of the Pharisees and the Publican is the only one that does not include the figure of Jesus in it. In this mosaic, both figures stand near a door in/to the temple. It is more likely that the Pharisee stands on the right with his hands up in prayer, and the tax collector is on the left, since his head is bowed down and his hand is near his breast (cf. Luke 18:13). It is possible--but not likely, however--that the conclusion in Luke 18:14 is being depicted, with the reversal of fortunes being portrayed in the mosaic (and hence the newly-justified tax collector is on the right and the "humbled" Pharisee is on the left). The depiction of the Widow's Mite, for example, clearly shows the point at the end of the story where Jesus speaks about the woman's act of giving (interpretations of the text itself today vary about whether Jesus is merely praising the woman's giving and/or criticizing the economic system that produced her dire situation).

An additional possibility is offered on the http://www.christianiconography.info website by J. R. Stracke (professor emeritus at Augusta State University; which is now part of Georgia Regents University). The website notes that the appearance and the clothes of the man on the left are very similar to a man who appears as among Jesus' accusers in the mosaic of the Trial before the Sanhedrin. It is one of the thirteen images that are found on the opposite side of the nave, on the south wall (again, at the uppermost level). These thirteen images begin with the Last Supper and end with Jesus appearing to the Apostles. Here is the Trial before the Sanhedrin (the man with similar clothes and appearance to one of the men in the Pharisee and Publican mosaic is on the far left):

Trial before the Sanhedrin

In addition, note a similar person who appears in the mosaic of the Way to the Cross, also on the south upper wall of the nave of the church (again, he is on the far left):

The Way of the Cross

Stracke thus offers the possibility that the man on the left in the Pharisee and the Publican mosaic could be the Pharisee who possibly reappears in these two later mosaics as one of Jesus' accusers. This interpretation is possible; the iconography of the other figures is fairly stable (although there is a small amount of variation in the Jesus' face though out the images), although I still lean to the interpretation (as noted above) that the Pharisee is on the left. Pictures, like texts, can be polyvalent.

I send this post as I get ready for our college's convocation this evening. Jim Wagner, the president of Emory University, is giving the address. My first two classes of the semester are tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to meeting with them! Both classes are taught in our "Ways of Inquiry" approach.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Byzantine mosaic of Christ Separating Sheep from Goats at S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Byzantine mosaic of Christ Separating Sheep from Goats S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

I think I will cover a few early Christian responses to the parables before moving on to other things. I'll start with some Byzantine mosaics and then move on to people like Augustine, Ephrem the Syrian, Origen, and Romanos the Melodist. I'm surprised that I haven't covered the first three yet. I might also deal briefly with the Gospel of Philip and the parable of the Good Samaritan in a future post or two. 

A very small bit of context about mosaics and what they are:

Mosaics consist of a number of tesserae—small pieces of stone or glass—placed together to render a work of art. Pliny the Elder gives the Greeks credit for inventing the mosaic form of art (Natural History 36.31), but the earliest extant mosaics, from around 700 BCE, are found in Gordian in Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Almost no mosaics with Christian motifs are extant from the period before the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313 CE), which granted religious toleration throughout the Roman Empire. The surviving Christian mosaics before 313 tend to be found in tombs (Poesche 2010: 9-12).

Two early sixth-century mosaics depicting parables are found in the nave of the basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy (an early fifth-century mosaic of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is found in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, also in Ravenna). The basilica was built by Theodoric the Great (???-526), who lived in Ravenna. Since Sant’Apollinare Nuovo served as the palace church, the mosaic decorations are extensive, originally covering the nave’s side walls, the inner façade, and the apse (some mosaics, such as the one in the apse that was damaged by an earthquake, were replaced). The mosaics of the parables are included in the Theodoric-era mosaics that still are found in the upper sections of the walls of the nave. These mosaics include representations of sixteen prophets, all of whom hold scrolls or codices and have halos. Just above those mosaics of the prophets are found twenty-six smaller (approximately 50 X 40 inches) mosaics that depict events from the life of Christ. The mosaics on the north wall primarily depict parables and miracles, and the ones on the south wall mostly depict events during the Passion (Poesche 2010: 144-47).

Among the mosaics on the north wall, barely discernible from the church’s floor, is a depiction of Matthew’s parable of the Sheep and Goats. The primary focus of the mosaic, in the middle of the image, is Jesus in a purple robe and seated on the judgment seat. Jesus’ halo also serves to distinguish him, since it includes a cross nimbus embedded with three blue jewels. His right hand is slightly raised, guiding our eyes to the three white sheep on his right. On his left (and our right) are three goats of darker color, and Jesus does not acknowledge their presence. The goats are placed at a level lower than are the three sheep on the other side of the panel, and they are placed closer together, which also highlights the greater importance of the sheep. Two angels stand beside Jesus, both with their right hands raised in blessing. The angel of Jesus’ right is clothed in orange and red, and his wings and halo are also orange and red. The clothes, wings, and halo of the angel on Jesus’ left are blue. Jesus stares straight ahead—into the eyes of the viewer, if the viewer were at the same level as the mosaic—which serves as a warning to viewers who call Jesus “Lord” but do not do what he commands them to do: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. Luke 6:46). 

The other mosaic in this section depicts depicts the Pharisee and the Publican parable. I'll write a note about that image next, assuming I have time during the first week of classes. 

P.S. Some time soon I will also add the photos I took of parable sculptures at St. James Church in London this summer.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chapters 3, 4, & 5 so far, and an announcement

John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels
Faculty meetings for the fall semester started yesterday, so my pace of research and writing the book will slow significantly. I will be teaching two classes this fall (Introduction to Biblical Literature and Introduction to the New Testament), will continue serving as Director of the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Service, and will be doing the other things that all faculty members do (advising students, committee work, etc.). I will also continue to serve as co-editor of Emory Studies in Early Christianity (ESEC) and have been named as associate editor of the Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity (RRA) series, which includes forthcoming Sociorhetorical Exploration Commentaries (SREC). All of these volumes will now be published by the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Press in Atlanta (the other main editors are Professor Vernon K. Robbins of Emory University and Professor Duane F. Watson of Malone University in Ohio).

Now on to my progress on the rest of the parables book:

I wrote the first two chapters of the book following the chronological order of the people/items I was covering. Since May, however, I have been jumping between sections of chapters 3, 4, and 5. This change in approach first started because I needed to write two sections of chapter 5 (the Blues; Thomas Hart Benton) for my June lecture in England. Then I returned to chapter three and wrote about John Bunyan--a long and difficult section to write. So then I decided to write about the images on the parables by John Everett Millais, which was a refreshing change of pace. 

Now I am primarily focusing on Chapter 3 but am still moving back and forth every once in a while to chapters 4 and 5 (I have written sections on William Blake and Elsa Tamez). That process is helping me to balance out the chapters more, and it is also giving me more time to select the final choices for chapter 3.

Here are the people/interpretations about whom/which I have written so far in these last three chapters:

Update on Chapter 1:

I decided to add a section on a kontakion about the Prodigal Son by Romanos the Melodist. I have just finished writing about the kontakion and a brief biography of Romanos to set the context. Chapter 1 is now over 30,000 words (it needs to be ~20,000).

Chapter 3:

  • Rembrandt
  • Martin Luther (focusing more on his sermons)
  • John Calvin (focusing more on his commentary, A Harmony of the Gospels)
  • John Bunyan
  • William Shakespeare
Next up: Anna Janz (and the Ausbund), George Herbert, and probably Bloemaert. I am also trying to decide between covering Maldonatus or Bartolomé de las Casas (I haven't found much material on the latter with connections to the parables).

Chapter 4:
  • William Blake
  • John Everett Millais 
Next up: Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Fanny Crosby. Then probably Sojourner Truth, Emily Dickinson, and Washington Irving.

Chapter 5:
  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • Parables and the Blues (Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Joe Taggart, Robert Wilkins)
  • Elsa Tamez
Next up: Flannery O'Connor, Olivia Butler, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Howard Thurman is an option instead).

I also have several other people/works to include in these three final chapters, and I have many ideas/options. I also will need to include a very small number of parables scholars, like the ones I wrote about in my What Are They Saying About the Parables? People such as Trench, Jülicher, Jeremias, et al. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Blog so Far, and Honors Seminar on the Reception History of the Parables

I am nearing 100 posts on this blog, so perhaps a bit of assessment about what has been accomplished so far would be in order.

Reception History occupies a small niche in the study of the New Testament. Reception History of the parables, then, is a small niche within that small niche, so I realized starting out that the audience for this blog would be a relatively small one. All in all, though, I have been surprised by the number of hits on the blog and the variety of countries around the world represented in those hits (over 70 countries Blogger tells me). 

The total number of hits since I began the blog is less than the most popular biblioblog receives in one week (Jim West's blog), but I knew going in that the audience would be very small even after the blog became established, as it were. I decided, also before starting the blog, that it would be worth it even with that very small audience for the following reasons:

  1. It would help me write the book. That sounds odd, since writing a blog obviously takes time away that I could be spending in researching and writing the book, but it has helped. Most of all, it has helped me keep the audience for the book in mind. I need to write the book so that college-level students could understand and appreciate the Reception History of the parables. So I have tried to explain the complex in simple but not simplistic ways.
  2. When I have posted material that eventually will become sections of the book, I have revised those sections a fair amount before I posted them to the blog to make them clearer to a public audience. The process made me realize better how I need to revise sections of what I had written. After doing so for the blog, I then went back and revised sections of the book draft accordingly. So the book will become more readable and more clear, I hope, because of what I have done on the blog. The same thing happened with my lecture at Oxford University: Although preparing and giving the lecture took time away from the book, in the long run it will make the book better, because I have revised those sections of the book significantly in the process.
  3. I also have been able to include things on the blog that I won't be able to include in the book, such as a number of examples from visual art (e.g., several examples from Millais instead of just one or two). I also will include things that probably won't make the "cut" for the book. For example, I will write soon about some sculptures I saw at St. James Church in London a few weeks ago. Truly amazing. Only about 60 items can make the "cut" for the book, so the blog allows me to share publicly additional interesting interpretations of the parables.
So the blog has taken a little bit of extra time, but that has been helpful for me in thinking through what I wanted to write in the book, and I hope it has been helpful for the relatively small audience that reads all, some, or just one of the posts.

I am wondering whether, after the book comes out, I should continue this blog and expand it to the Reception History of the Gospels. We'll see.

Also, I received word a few weeks ago that I have been chosen to teach one of the three Honors Seminars at Oxford College of Emory in the spring semester (2015). My proposal was a course on the reception history of the parables, so I am hopeful that I can give parts of the book a “trial run” during that course. It should be fun. Once again, I hope that this course, like the blog, can help both the book and the students who read it.

So those are a few observations about what the blog has accomplished so far. In the next post, I will write about the people/interpretations that I have covered so far in chapters 3, 4, and 5.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Chapter 2 so far

John Gower's tomb, Southwark Cathedral, London

The same comments that I made for Chapter 1 apply for Chapter 2. The difference in Chapter 2, though, is that I have already gone through the draft once with a view to trim significant sections. The chapter draft initially was ~29,000 words, and I cut it to ~25,000. It reads much better, but the draft has a long way to go before I am happy with it.

One mistake that I probably made in this chapter is to write both on John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer. They are too similar in many ways to both be included when I can only choose about a dozen examples for this chapter. Both Gower and Chaucer are English, from the same era, were friends, and are important early poets ("moral Gower" came to be overshadowed by Chaucer's works). Of course a similar criticism could be made of the choices of Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas (Italian colleagues at the University of Paris). But Bonaventure and Thomas give interesting and different perspectives (and Bonaventure's Commentary on Luke is incredibly important, often overlooked, and different form Thomas Aquinas's approach). So both Thomas and Bonaventure will stay.  

I initially chose Gower because he is so important and not as well-known as Chaucer, but then I realized that Chaucer should not be omitted. I may make Gower's section a introductory subset of Chaucer's to try to give students a flavor of his work and some idea of his importance. I can't tell you, by the way, how many time I typed "Gowler" when I meant to type "Gower."

For this chapter, I got to read a lot of materials from and about people that I had never read before: Hildegaard of Bingen, Wazo of Liège, Bonaventure, John Gower (I had seen his tomb in Southwark Cathedral but had never read his stuff), and Antonia Pulci. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot as well.

Here 'tis:

Chapter 2: 550-1500 CE (trimmed from 29,000 words to ~25,000)
  • Gregory the Great
  • Bede the Venerable
  • Wazo of Liège
  • Golden Gospels of Echternach (four parables)
  • Theophylact
  • Hildegaard of Bingen
  • Chartres Cathedral
  • Bonaventure
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • John Gower (may be deleted)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Antonia Pulci
  • Albrecht Dürer (pre-1500 etching)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chapter 1 so far


Currently included in Chapter 1
The Good Shepherd; Catacomb of Callixtus/Callisto
See the posts from January 20 and 23

Below is the list of the what I have included in Chapter 1 so far.  The chapter needs to be approximately 20,000 words, but the first draft is ~29,000. I needed to "write long," however, so that I could work and think through the material in some depth. When I wrote the section on Irenaeus, for example, I did not yet know (a) exactly what interpretations of the parables the chapter needed to have so that I could build upon that particular interpretation with material from other people later in the book (such as Origen), (b) exactly what interpretations of the parables were so distinctive that they needed to be included (some are immediately discernible, such as Origen's discussion of the Pearl of Great Price), and (c) what needed to be covered to make sure that the book treated most of the NT parables. 

My next task will be to go back over the chapter draft many, many times, to cut, trim, edit, and craft a "coherent" narrative/story. I hope that I can get the chapter near to 20,000 words through that process; if that fails, I will have to consider cutting an entire section (which I would prefer not to do) and use that material elsewhere, such as in an article. The Gospel of Philip might be an option to cut, although that seems helpful to include in light of Irenaeus's writings. The Good Shepherd is another possibility to cut completely, since that technically is not a parable. This work on the chapter draft involves not only separating the wheat from the chaff, but also constructing a chapter (and book) that really is comprehensive and, as much as possible in such a work, coherent.

So I need to cut about one-third of the draft of Chapter 1. Unfortunately, I recently came across an interpretation of the Prodigal Son that I also should include in this chapter. It is from the Kontakia: On the Life of Christ by Romanos the Melodist. kontakion (my automatic spell check changed that to contagion!) is a chanted sermon, and the one on the Prodigal Son is the earliest material that I have found so far that gives the answer to whether the elder brother joins in the celebration of his brother's return (he does). Since I have found that positive answer given elsewhere (Chartres Cathedral stained-glass windows, Antonia Pulci's Prodigal Son play, Robert Wilkins's blues song, etc.), it would be good to add a brief section on that kontakion. That will be one connection upon which the work can build. So the chapter will break 30,000 words before I start cutting/editing it.

The longest section in this chapter currently is on Origen: 4324 words (Chrysostom is 3961 words). The shortest is on the Ravenna mosaics: 534 words.

I always write long, and cutting material is always the most difficult part in the writing process. With so much material from which to choose and with so much that one could say about particular interpretations, the choices are very difficult to make.

Chapter 1: The Early Church until ~550 CE (currently ~29,000 words):

  • Irenaeus
  • Clement
  • Tertullian
  • Origen
  • Gospel of Philip
  • John Chrysostom
  • Augustine
  • Macrina the Younger
  • Ephrem the Syrian
  • Byzantine mosaics (S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy)
  • Roman Catacombs (the Good Shepherd)
  • Dura Europos (the Good Shepherd in the house church)
  • Rossano Gospels

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Update: Parables "covered" in the book so far

Will This Image make the Cut for Chapter 3?

Some of my former students who (claim to) read this blog have often indicated their interest in hearing more about the process of writing a book, so I have included details from time to time about my thought processes, deliberations, and decisions while researching and writing this particular book.

Faculty meetings start this week. The beginning of the semester at Emory is just around the corner, and Pierce Institute activities will ramp up in earnest (all of which obviously will give me much less time to work on the book). So I thought it would be a good time to review and explain what I have written so far.

The book is due on or before December 1, 2015, and I have made good progress. I have completed almost half of the book in draft form (it actually might be a bit more than half, since I have written about 30 people/subjects). As I will explain in a later post, I will also need several months to rework the draft. I have intentionally written "long," and I will need to cut about 1/3 to 1/4 of what I have written. That's the painful but necessary part!

For each section/person in the book, I have been keeping a list of the parables I cover. For example, in my section on Irenaeus, I discuss his interpretations of the parables of the Workers in the Vineyard, Good Samaritan, Wise and Foolish Builders, Barren Fig Tree, and Wedding Feast. 

I also am keeping other lists. Another example would be the list of parables I cover, including the interpreters who discuss that parable. For example, in the first two chapters, here are the people I have discussing the Rich Man and Lazarus parable: Tertullian, Macrina the Younger, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory the Great, Echternach Gospels, Bonaventure, John Gower, and Geoffrey Chaucer (with Martin Luther, William Shakespeare, and John Bunyan so far in Chapter 3, which is half-written). I want to be sure that I cover as many parables as possible in the book and also to show a diversity of receptions/interpretations. 

Here are the parables I have treated so far in this Reception History text: 

  • The Unforgiving Slave (Matt 18:23-35)
  • Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)
  • The Lost Sheep (Matt 18:12-14/Luke 15:4-7/Thom 107 / Gospel of Truth 31-32)
  • The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)
  • The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
  • The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
  • The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21/Thomas 63)
  • The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
  • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14)
  • The Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7:24-27/Luke 6:47-49)
  • Building a Tower (Luke 14:28-30) (barely mentioned so far)
  • The Unjust Manager (Luke 16:1-8)
  • The Ten Maidens/Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matt 25:1-13)
  • The Sower (Mark 4:3-8, 13-20; Matt 13:3-8, 18-23; Luke 8:5-8, 11-15; Thomas 9)
  • The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43) (barely)
  • The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
  • The Unjust Judge (Luke 18:2-8)
  • The Talents (Matt 25:14-30)
  • Wheat and the Weeds/Tares (Matt 13:24-30 / Thomas 57)
  • The Dragnet (Matt 13:47-50)
  • The Final Judgment—Sheep/Goats (Matt 25:31-46)
  • The Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24; Thomas 64)
  • The Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14)
  • The Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12 / Matt 21:33-46 / Luke 20:9-19 / Thomas 65-66)
  • The Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32 / Matt 13:31-32 / Luke 13:18-19 / Thomas 20)
  • The Leaven (Matt 13:33 / Luke 13:20-21 / Thomas 96)
  • The Treasure in the Field (Matt 13:44 / Thomas 109)
  • The Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13:45-46 / Thomas 76) 
  • The King going to War (Luke 14:31-33)
  • *The Good Shepherd (not really a parable)

New Testament scholars have varying opinions on what exactly to include in a list of Jesus parables, but the above thirty parables includes most of the ones on all the lists. 

What is still missing? Well, for example, I still don't have anything on:
  • The Seed Growing Secretly (Mark 4:26-29; Thomas 57)
  • The Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32)
  • The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8)


Of course some parables are treated more often and more extensively in the book than other parables, simply because they are more prevalent in Reception History (e.g., the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are almost everywhere during most of these eras). And the above list may change, because I have a lot of trimming/editing to do before this manuscript is ready to head to +James Ernest at Baker Academic. James has already given me valuable feedback on my lists of interpreters in Chapters 1 and 2--as well as other elements of the book--so I look forward to continuing that collaboration.

The lists of interpreters in each chapter--the parts I have written so far, at least--will be the subjects of my next posts. I also will give additional thoughts about what I have done and will need to do in those chapters.

And, yes, it is likely that Abraham Bloemaert's The Wheat and the Tares (above) will indeed be included in the book. I will discuss that painting after I have researched further and written about it for the book.


Models for Grant Wood's American Gothic

Grant Wood, American Gothic  (Art Institute of Chicago) I just finished my chapter, “The Belated Return of the ‘Son’: Thomas Hart Bento...