Baker Academic

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish Neighbors

The following is a letter jointly authored by the faculty of United Theological Seminary, of which I count myself a member. This was written last year but seems relevant today.

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish neighbors

March 24, 2017
In light of the demonstrable uptick in anti-Semitic incidents since November, we the Christian faculty at United Theological Seminary offer this statement of solidarity with our Jewish neighbors:
Locally and globally, we have observed bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and schools, desecrations of Jewish gravestones and defacements of Jewish institutions. While this has been a national trend, we witnessed one such incident at a local institution — a public act of hatred in the form of a swastika.
We are greatly disturbed by this trend along with its historical precedents and implications. Not only does this activity evoke the hostility toward Jewish life and culture in Europe leading up to the Shoah, it is a symptom of the present political climate in America. In short, we acknowledge that these are acts of terror specifically targeting our Jewish neighbors. We also acknowledge that these incidents are part of a larger social trend, one that injures a wider network of neighborly relationships. Recent reports of our Muslim neighbors who have helped to restore Jewish cemeteries after vandalism are inspiring. We count this show of friendship as a courageous example for Christian hospitality.
We therefore stand with our neighbors and denounce this trend as both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Such hatred stands in opposition to the good news upon which our faith is built. Central to historic Christian doctrine is extravagant love as taught by the author of our faith, a rabbi who was first and foremost a Jew. We believe that Jesus’ entire life was lived as a Jew and that his central mission sought the wellbeing of the Jewish people and their neighbors. We also believe that Jesus’ command to love our neighbors extends the ancient Jewish teaching that all humankind is made in the image of our Creator and deserves respect. As such, symbols of hate are an affront not only to those targeted but to all of G-d’s children.
At the same time, we acknowledge that Christian history is replete with examples of Christians perpetrating or condoning acts of hatred. We at United Theological Seminary hope that we can help to break this pattern and to seek the well-being of our Jewish neighbors. Toward that end, toward the world to come, we stand and will act as we are led in the days to come. If there is a seed of collaboration to be planted here, we stand at the ready to listen and to participate. We invite others in our community to do the same.
In determined hope,
The faculty of United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio
Peter Bellini
Sarah Brooks Blair
Presian Burroughs
Wendy Deichmann
Thomas Dozeman
James Eller
Phyllis Ennist
Lisa Hess
Harold Hudson
Justus Hunter
Vivian Johnson
Scott Kisker
Anthony Le Donne
Luther Oconer
Andrew Sung Park
Joni Sancken
Jerome Stevenson
David Watson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Game of Thrones Religion Book

Everyone needs a hobby and mine is teaching seminarians at a United Methodist place of higher learning. My day job is that I think deeply about fantasy literature, fake religions, and real baseball. The following book thus combines two of my central professional interests. Moreover, it is presently the number one rated new release in the category of comparative religions on Amazon:

Gods of Thrones will do three things for you. It will explain the fictional religions in George R. R. Martin's fantasy. It will explain ancient and modern religions using examples from the novels and HBO show. And it will bring more texture to your favorite plots, characters, and fan theories by explaining how the ancient and medieval worlds worked.

Here is an excerpt:
Premodern Jewish mythology tells of a subhuman creation called the golem. In most iterations of the story, the golem is formed of clay or mud and then animated by a rabbi or sage. In early forms of the myth, the golem is unable to speak, lacking much intelligence. But the golem is usually obedient, following directions well (albeit taking some directions too literally). As the myth evolves in later centuries, the golem gets too large to control or goes on a violent rampage. The golem is created by writing the holy name of God (or a variation of it) on the creature’s forehead or inserting a piece of paper with the name into its mouth. In some stories, the word “truth” is used. In order to decommission the golem, one letter is removed, changing the word from “truth” to “dead”. The most famous golem myth is set in 16th-century Prague. In this story, the golem is created to protect Jews against anti-Semitic attacks.  
 . . . perhaps the best analogy for Ser Robert Strong is the golem myth. First, both Frankenstein’s monster and Osiris are intelligent and able to speak. But like the golem, Ser Robert is mute and functions as an automaton. Second, neither Frankenstein’s monster nor Osiris serve as a personal bodyguard. But like the golem, Ser Robert’s primary purpose is to defend. Indeed he is reanimated specifically to fight Cersei’s enemies. Ser Robert’s story and golem mythology differ, however, in their religious significance. The golem is created by a holy man to defend the pious. By contrast, Ser Robert is reanimated by an infidel and thought to be an abomination. So it seems that Ser Robert Strong is stitched together using parts of multiple fictions.
As you can see, I take my day job very seriously.