Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen and the Laborers in the Vineyard (part 2)

Hildegard of Bingen

My last post on Hildegard of Bingen was on November 21, and it talked about her Homily 22 on the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. This post is a short one of Homily 23's treatment of the same parable.

In a move reminiscent of Origen’s exegesis of this parable, Homily 23 interprets the calling of the various groups of laborers with the human body’s five senses and the struggle of the human soul. Like the householder “going out” to hire workers, the “rationality” in humankind goes out “in the knowledge of perception to lead the body’s five senses into faith in the salvation of souls” (104-5). Those standing idle in the marketplace at various times represents deliberating over what they wanted to do, whether good or evil; they need to be occupied with work: Going “into the vineyard” means doing “good deeds into faith in the salvation of souls.” At the end of the day the five senses are given

praise and honor according to what they have merited before God and humankind: from those who repented from their evils, when knowing their sin they refused to sin, whereby they became innocent, up to those who, out of simplicity and innocence, did not know how to sin, or because they completed the righteous and upright deeds they began. Therefore, when they who had arrived at about the eleventh hour came for remuneration, they each received a single denarius. Clearly, those who failed to work and fell away to sin “received” only the hope of a heavenly reward (105-6).

Those who had worked from the beginning were those who had not sinned because “they did not have the appetite for sin.” Yet they received the same denarius as the others, because “to give to the one who knows how to sin, and stops sinning” (i.e., the later workers) is the equivalent to those “who do not know how to sin, due to the simplicity of innocence” (i.e., the first workers; 106).

Friday, November 28, 2014

SBL 2014 (p. 2): Guercino's Return of the Prodigal Son and a new Reception History series

Guercino, Return of the Prodigal Son, 1654/5 (Timken Museum, San Diego)

This year's SBL was great; it's always wonderful in San Diego. The sessions were good, the book hall is always excellent, and the other meetings (both personal and editorial) were great as well. One exciting piece of news: Another outstanding publisher will soon begin a Reception History of the Bible book series. More on that in future posts.

Next year the AAR/SBL is in Atlanta, so the trip to the conference will only involve a MARTA ride downtown.

We stayed an extra day in San Diego this year so that we could visit the art museums in Balboa Park. The above photo is of Guercino's 1654/5 The Return of the Prodigal Son that I went to see in the Timken Museum of Art.

I won't write much about this painting in this post. Instead I will refer you to the excellent discussion in the book Illuminating Luke (volume 2) by Heidi Hornik (+Heidi Hornik-Parsons) and +Mikeal Parsons. Both are outstanding scholars--Heidi an art historian and Mikeal a NT Scholar--and both the Lukan text and the painting are covered extremely well in the book. I use this book in my Portraits of Jesus (Art and the Gospels) course and recommend it highly (I recommend all three volumes).

Guercino (1591-1666) painted this scene five different times over his long career. The first was in 1617, and the last was in 1655. Let me add a few notes from the Hornik/Parsons volume about this work (please see their book for more details):

The hands of the father and son are in the classic pose of reconciliation.


The gesture of reconciliation is not only found in the center of the painting, it also is the only time it occurs in any of the five paintings. The lost son has been found and welcomed home.

Also, in this painting and not in earlier versions, the son's head is turned away in a classic gesture of shame.



The son's tears are found in the 1651 version, but the difference is that we now can see both faces fully, instead of the son's in profile. 

Even with high-quality photos online, seeing the painting in person makes a real difference. The son's glistening tears, for example--both on his face and on his chest--are brilliantly done.

As Hornik/Parsons note, however, this painting achieves its effect primarily through rhetorical devices. The earlier versions utilized more overt depictions of pathos. The father, for example, does not display as much pathos in this version. In previous versions his hand has been lovingly placed around his son's back or grasping his side. Here, except for the gesture of reconciliation, he does not display as much concern for his son.




The servant is also a bit different. In the earliest versions, he participated in the scene by bringing the clothes for the returning son. In the 1651 version, the servant stands back and observes the reconciliation and seems to be moved to tears himself. In the 1654/5 version, however, the servant faces the audience, silently asking the viewers how they will respond to the prodigal, an invitation to celebrate that the father will soon extend to the elder son.



I also was delighted to see some other works about the parables that I hope to discuss in future posts. In addition, it was great seeing a lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton, The Departure of the Joads, that I utilized in my SBL paper about Benton's Prodigal Son. I will return to that subject in future posts as well.

In the meantime, I have some student papers to grade, as I return back to my Emory University work after the SBL conference. Thanksgiving with our family was also a wonderful respite.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

SBL 2014 (p. 1)


Went to some good papers this morning and afternoon--nothing on the parables, however. I also had a chance to get to the book hall and buy some books. Cornelis Bennett's A Theory of Character looks promising; a lot of studies have been done on characterization in the Gospels since I started working on it in 1987. I'll be returning to that topic next year in a chapter for a book, Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts (edited by Julia Snyder and Frank Dicken and to be published by Bloomsbury), and Bennett's book will be very helpful.  My chapter will revisit what I wrote about the parable of the Prodigal Son for my 1991 book on characterization, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend, and I will include some interesting elements of the reception history of that parable about both the younger and elder sons (i.e., their "afterlives") that I have found in my research for this reception history of the parables book with Baker Academic.

At the book hall, I also tried ordering Amy-Jill Levine's Short Stories by Jesus (about the parables), which should be fantastic, but it is currently out of stock.

It's also been great catching up with friends, especially the ones I only see once a year at SBL.

Right now I am going through my own paper one more time before I present tomorrow. Not a bad place to work, as the above photo demonstrates!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen and the Laborers in the Vineyard parable

Hildegard of Bingen, a mural at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard near Bingen

A post about Hildegard of Bingen and the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard before I get on the plane for AAR/SBL:

Homilies 22 and 23 interpret the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, and the differences between them reflect the same concerns as Homilies 1 and 2. Homily 22 focuses on creation story (including the history of salvation), but Homily 23 focuses on the soul (including moral explanations and exhortations).

Homily 22 again illustrates Hildegard’s concern for the natural world, including her ideas about God’s divinely appointed role and function for all creatures. (Kienzle 2011: 175). Although the details of the parable do not correlate exactly with the days of creation in Genesis 1, Hildegard’s homily integrates them extensively. God is the householder of the parable, and Hildegard equates the householder going out early in the morning with the day that God created the heaven and earth. Likewise, the other aspects of the parable all designate aspects of the seven days of creation and the functions of all God’s creatures. The agreement with the first laborers, for example, designates God’s work on the second day of creation when God divided “waters from waters” (Gen. 1:6-8), and the “eleventh hour” in the parable represents the sixth day of creation when God created humankind, male and female. God then tells humankind “to work in accordance with what I appointed for you,” which includes supervising the work of all the animals (Hildegard 2011: 102).

The sin of Adam, however, affected all of God’s creatures, because they went with Adam “into the whirlwind.” The scene in the parable where the landowner pays the workers each a denarius signifies the creatures each receiving “particular functions according to their nature, with the result that wild creatures were in the forest but domestic ones in the farmland with humankind” (102-3). The laborers hired first in the parable correlate to the animals who were created first in Genesis 1; they have a greater opinion of themselves, according to Hildegard:

Led first to Adam were the ones who had come forth first in creation, such as birds and the like; in their opinion they would have greater potential in thee things than would the herds, since they could both fly in the air and walk with humankind on earth.

These first creatures thus grumbled when the animals created after them, who fulfill only one function—fish only swim and other animals only walk—were given the same denarius for their work:

These last, who were created after us, like the herds, labored one hour, because coming forth in their creation, they had supported no other creature to be created after them, as the prior creatures did; and you made them equal to us, in the full and not half function of their nature; equal on the pastures of the earth alone, because the birds, herds, and remaining creatures all feed at once from the earth alone. We have borne the burden, in our estimation, of flying and walking, what we were going to do, the time of our proceeding forth, and the heat of the sun, the moon, and the vicissitude of the other creatures following us (103).

The laborers’ complaint against the owner of the vineyard, then, represents the creatures’ complaint against God for the extra burdens they had carried before the other creatures were created. God, however, replies that God had assigned duties to all creatures justly and according to the capabilities of each. In addition, God says, the Creator is allowed to do with the creation whatever the Creator judges best, especially since the Creator had created them “rightly and beautifully” (104). 

My next post (I have two more about Hildegard) will cover Homily 23, unless I find something at AAR/SBL about the reception history of the parables that I should include first.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen and the Unjust Steward

Hildegard of Bingen; Codex Latinus 1942

Back to Hildegard of Bingen and the parables.

Exegesis plays a central role in Hildegard’s works, and her exegetical homilies in particular establish her “as the only known systematic female exegete of the Middle Ages” (Kienzle 2009: 2). Fifty-eight of her homilies were collected in her Expositiones euangeliorum (Homilies on the Gospels; Hildegard 2011). These homilies were initially preached to her religious community in Rupertsberg (and possibly Disibodenberg), and they focus on twenty-seven gospel passages, including seven parables: one in Matthew (Laborers in the Vineyard) and six in Luke (Great Supper, Prodigal Son, Dishonest Steward, Rich Man and Lazarus, Pharisee and Publican, and Fig Tree). Hildegard works through the text systematically, verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase, and even word-by-word.

Homilies 1 and 2 both discuss the parable of the Unjust Steward, but they interpret it from different perspectives. Homily 1 envisions God as Creator as the foundational idea. The rich man symbolizes God, and the steward represents Adam to whom God entrusted Paradise and all creatures. As the steward of creation, Adam is “brought up on charges” by the angels and has to give an account to God, because Adam disobeyed God’s command. The reviewing of the steward’s accounts represents God’s question in Gen 3:11: “who told you that you were naked?” Likewise, dismissing the steward symbolizes Adam’s banishment from Paradise. Other details of the parable also represent what happens to Adam in Genesis 3: The steward not being able to dig is equated with Adam no longer having the creatures being subject to him); just as the steward makes deals with the debtors so they will receive him into their homes, Adam, after his banishment from Eden, arranges deals with the creatures who had been subject to him so that they “will receive me into their homes, namely, into their cohabitations, so that we may live and dwell together on earth.” Similarly, just as the master commended the unjust steward for the arrangements he had made with the debtors, so God also commends Adam for his arrangements with the creatures of the earth. By turning to God’s creatures, Adam showed the prudence that would eventually lead him back to God (Hildegard 2011: 31).

The first homily concludes with Hildegard assuming the voice of Jesus to exhort her listeners with words that incorporate Jesus’ words at the end of the parable (in italics):

And I,” namely Christ, “tell you,” human beings: “Make for yourselves friends,” namely, good angels and humans, in justice and truth, so that they may hold you in esteem for good deeds . . . . They whom you have led in this age from unfaithfulness to faith, and from sin to righteousness and thus into eternal habitations, will hasten to you with extreme mercy and welcome you into the heavenly and unfailing homeland which you lost because of Adam (33). 

The obedience of the creatures in Paradise to Adam (as their “superior”) parallels the obedience human beings owe to God. Hildegard’s focuses, then, as she preaches to the members of her spiritual community at Rupertsberg, on the obedience, including good deeds, necessary to follow God: “Proper work carried out in obedience to the superior”—including one’s superior in one’s religious community—“benefits all” (Kienzle 2011: 177).

The second homily on this parable repeats the exegesis of the entire parable but does so from the perspective of the soul’s inner struggle between good and evil. The rich man still represents God, but in this homily the steward designates the human will that leads human beings either to obey or disobey God. As in the first homily, Hildegard concludes with a direct exhortation to her audience: They should repent and


leave behind the burning lust of vices. In that way, when you lack vices, and you do not want to sin further, they will receive you, repentant and renewed in the good, into life’s pastures, where there is no lack of security or fullness of eternal joys (36).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SBL Section on the Bible and Visual Art (Nov 23, 2014)



Vincent van Gogh, The Sower (1888)

For those of you who are interested and are able to attend, there are a couple of papers being given in the Bible and Visual Arts Section concerning the parables in visual art. Christine Joynes (Oxford University) is presenting a paper on the parable of the Sower--Christine is always excellent; don't miss her--and I am presenting on Thomas Hart Benton's Prodigal Son (the lithograph, not the painting). There is a chance that I may be called out of town and will miss the session, but I intend to be there if at all possible.

Here is the schedule for the session:

S23-206
SBL Bible and Visual Art Section
1:00 PM–3:30 PM
Convention Center – Room 33 A (Upper level) 


Heidi Hornik, Baylor University, Presiding

Luis Menéndez-Antuña, Vanderbilt University
The queer art of biblical reading (30 min)

Christine E. Joynes, University of Oxford
Sloppy Sowers and Peasant Power: Exploring Some Parabolic Pictures (30 min)

David B. Gowler, Emory University
“The Belated Return of the ‘Son’”: Thomas Hart Benton’s Prodigal Son (30 min)

Ela Nutu, University of Sheffield, Respondent (20 min) 

Discussion (20 min)

Business Meeting (20 min)


AAR/SBL Meeting website

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

The next few posts will be about Hildegard of Bingen and the parables, more contributions to the recent series of posts about people whose interpretations of the parables of Jesus have not received enough attention.

This series of posts will probably continue until the Society of Biblical Literature meeting. Shortly after that meeting, I probably will write about Thomas Hart Benton and his lithograph of the prodigal son parable, which is the subject of my paper at SBL.

But, first, Hildegard of Bingen, and I will start with some biographical context of this fascinating mystic:

Hildegard of Bingen was the first major German mystic and most famous twelfth-century female mystic. She not only wrote about her visions (e.g., Know the Ways, i.e., Scivias; Book of Life’s Merits; Book of Divine Works) but also treated numerous other topics, such as prophecy, poetry, medicine and science (e.g., Physica and Causae et curae), music (e.g., the Symphonia), ethics (e.g., the morality play set to music: Ordo virtutum), theology, as well as writing over three hundred letters, developing a secret coded language for her religious community, and preaching numerous sermons.

The above picture is an illumination from a manuscript of Scivias. It portrays showing Hildegard receiving a vision (the red "five fingers" that reach from above and are around her head). She dictates to Volmar, her scribe/secretary/editor (Note that only his head is portrayed as being inside the inner sanctum where Hildegard receives the vision).

Hildegard was born in 1098 in Bermersheim, about a dozen miles southwest of Mainz, Germany. Hildegard writes that she began having mystic visions in her early childhood (e.g., see Hildegard 1986: 2). She also began a lifelong struggle with painful illnesses, some of which her biographer Theodoric attributes to an early hesitation to write down what the Spirit had revealed to her (Theodoric: 1995: 37-38), and there often appears to be a correlation “between periods of illness and intense visionary activity” (Young 2012: 259). At the age of eight, Hildegard was “tithed” (she was her parents’ tenth child) into a religious life by her parents and entrusted to the care of the holy woman named Jutta (Judith). Both Jutta and Hildegard entered the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg, and a small community of women gathered into a religious community with Jutta as its head. Upon Jutta’s death about thirty years later (1136), Hildegard succeeded her as the head of the community. Hildegard then moved the religious community to Rupertsberg (~1150) and then to Eibingen (1165), across the Rhine River from Bingen. 
           
In a powerful vision in 1141, Hildegard saw a “very great light,” and a voice from heaven told her to “write and speak about the marvelous things” that she saw and heard from God (Scivias; Hildegard 1986:1-2). This vision and subsequent visions in 1163 and 1167 were especially decisive in Hildegard receiving what she divined to be a decisive exegetical mandate to share what the Holy Spirit had revealed to her (Kienzle 2009: 7). Her visionary experiences thus gave Hildegard direct insight independent of the education usually reserved for males:

In that same [experience of] vision I understood the writings of the prophets, the Gospels, the works of other holy men, and those of certain philosophers, without any human instruction, and I expounded certain things based on these, though I scarcely had literary understanding, inasmuch as a woman who was not learned had been my teacher (Dronke 1984: 145).

Theodoric writes that Pope Eugenius III, at the request of Bernard of Clairvaux, approved and blessed portions of Hildegard’s work, Scivias, and commanded her to finish it (Theodoric 1995: 39). This approval proved crucial to Hildegard’s position and influence, since it was extremely unusual during this time period for a woman to produce such visionary writing and to have such authority (see Kerby-Fulton 2010: 344; Young 2012: 260).

Starting around 1158 Hildegard began to travel extensively on preaching tours in the Rhineland, speaking mostly to monastic or clerical audiences about the degenerate state of the church and society and the need for reform and renewal. Hildegard’s homilies demonstrate her role as a visionary preacher and her belief that her understanding of Scripture comes as a gift straight from God. Her visions did not, in her view, authenticate her message; instead they served as the source for her message. She spoke not with her own voice but with the voice “of the Living Light she saw in her visions” (Young 2012: 261).

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...