Monday, December 27, 2010

My PhD Proposal, take one

For any student at Durham taking the MA in hopes of continuing on to the PhD, the single most important thing they can do (other than getting decent grades) is to articulate a provisional PhD topic that is interesting to your hoped-for advisor and has the potential to contribute (in even the smallest way) to current scholarly debate. I came to Durham with the hopes of studying under Professor Francis Watson (for a list of his books, click here). He has written extensively both in the field of hermeneutics (how to interpret texts) and Pauline Studies. The latter has won him wide acclaim and a reputation of being a creative, independent thinker. Upon reading his books on Paul, it was/is my hope to apply his hermeneutical approach to a study of the Gospels. I am glad to report that my few meetings with Professor Watson have been both helpful and fun. More importantly, he seems very interested in my PhD proposal.

So what is this proposal? Let me first say that this is a very rough beginning and the exact topic will not be determined for quite a while. At this point, I know the direction I am heading, but do not know where it will lead.


Within the field of current Jesus studies there is a widespread agreement that Jesus was a Jew, yet surprisingly there is little consensus as to how it is Jesus relates to his context. With each new historical reconstruction of second temple Judaism a new portrait of Jesus emerges. Jesus is a sage, a revolutionary, eschatological prophet, the restorer of the nation in exile, etc.

My goal is to investigate the question of how Jesus relates to aspects of his Jewish context as portrayed by the various perspectives of the canonical gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. In other words, how do Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Thomas think Jesus relates to his Jewish context? What answer do they provide? Each gospel will be examined first in its own right as each represents its understanding of Jesus. This will illustrate the specific theologies of the evangelists as they has been received through tradition and interpreted through writing. This isn't all that straightforward. For example, Matthew is known for his citation of OT texts and the endorsement of many Jewish practices like prayer and giving alms, yet he also includes the chilling indictment "Let the dead bury their own dead", or the "antithesis" of Chapter 5, not to mention Matthew 23! I include Thomas in my discussion because it represents an early Christian tradition that, in its own way, interprets the Jesus history. To exclude it on the basis of canonical authority seems premature and artificial, and its inclusion could ultimately illuminate the inner-logic of the canonical selection.

Secondarily, I hope to compare and contrast each portrayal alongside the others within a common field of interpretive possibilities. This creates a metaphorical conversation between texts as they each articulate an answer to the common concern of how Jesus relates to his Judaism. The hope is that by comparing each author with each other will demonstrate the different ways that Jesus could have been understood in the early Church. If Matthew appears hostile to Jewish practice, this qualification must be tempered in comparison to Thomas' rejection of all things Jewish.

Sooo, that's what I have so far! We'll see where it leads...

(A final point of clarification: on the surface this proposal seems to ascribe to the writers of the Gospels a high degree of creativity that would seem to detach the Gospels from history in a 'false,' legendary way. This impression is only partially true. The evangelists are foremost the recipients of an oral and written traditions about Jesus; but to receive knowledge is simultaneously to interpret it. There is no such thing as a pure, unmediated historical knowledge. That said, if you cannot separate interpretations from history (i.e.. fact from value), then interpretations must positively correspond to history. Interpretation does not obscure the meaning of history, rather it can enrich it. All that to say: don't worry, I don't think the Gospels are making it up as they go along, or making up teachings of Jesus to suit their own purposes).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gingerbread Todd and Kelly

Our friend Tara and her daughter made Todd and Kelly gingerbread people and they were yummy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Waiting for Santa

Gran Canaria- Canary Islands

On December 18th we left our house in Durham and took the train to Edinburgh. We spent the evening walking around the Christmas market in Edinburgh, which was filled with food, rides and anything Christmas or not that you could want to buy. The Christmas market is along a main block of regular retail shops and we were able to peruse the stores until 6pm. For some reason, all stores close at 6pm or before, even during the holiday shopping rush! It was a surprise to us when we first arrived in the UK and we are still uncertain of how these shops do any business if everyone works from 9am-5pm. The Christmas Market was open later than these stores, so we walked through the crowds in the market and then found a local place to eat pizza, grab a pint and have some dessert. We stayed in a hostel in Edinburgh that night- our first experience. Todd had trouble sleeping with the heater that kicked on every 10 minutes and I awoke several times by a woman who repeatedly left the room in the night slamming the door on her way out. This was still the best option for us since we had to leave the hostel at 4:30 to catch our bus to the airport for our 6:45am flight.

We met a couple in the hostel at 4am that told us their flight had been canceled due to bad weather conditions, but everything went smoothly in the airport for us and we took off in Edinburgh while in began to snow heavily.

The airport in Gran Canaria is right on the beach so we had a beautiful view flying into the airport and were greeted by the warm sun and the ocean! Todd used his great Spanish-speaking skills to get us on the public bus that took us to your hotel.

We made the best decision of splurging a bit on a room with an ocean-side view. It was a small room, but it had a terrace and a beautiful view! We slept with the terrace door open every night so that we could hear the ocean while we slept and it was a delight to be able to sleep in the fresh 65 degree weather. We spent our days exploring the towns around us and getting some sun on the beach. Our hotel had 3 adult swimming pools and 2 jacuzzis so we spent some time there also. As sunny and warm as it was the weather could change rapidly and a few times we were caught in the middle of a downpour without warning.

The part of island we were on had many touristy Irish pubs called “Mulligan’s” or “O’Neils”, but managed to find different local restaurants (we eat well!) to have tapas every night. We had garlic prawns and prawn stuffed red peppers and yummy fried creams for dessert among other things. We enjoyed the mid to upper 70 degree weather and sunshine everyday and tried to take in as much sunshine as we could.

We said goodbye to the sun and the beach on the 22nd and headed back to Edinburgh to more snow falling and 14 degree temperatures. There were train issues due to London having snow and we had some troubles getting back to Durham. We made it onto a train that took us home and had a nice conversation with a young couple on the train about British vs. American holiday traditions. I learned that mincemeat pies do not usually have any meat in them, just fruit, though upon some more research I’ve found that they are supposed to be a meat and fruit pie combination.

We picked up the pups at a local kennel the next day where they seemed to have a good old time with the caretaker/owner who told us he became quite fond of them.

With the fresh 2-3 inches of snowfall in Durham upon our return, it was wonderful to get away to a place where we could live in flip flops and shorts for a few days and the 6pm sunsets (instead of 3:30 sunsets) will be missed.

Good-bye sunshine! See you in April!

Friday, December 3, 2010

How we wear out our "kids"

In the snow, most parents take their children sled ridding. The process of walking up and down the hill, as I recall, is quite tiring and leads to worn out kids. We don't have kids, but we do still have dogs that need to be worn out every few days. So, since we can't sled ride with them (hmmm....we might just have to test that theory someday) we throw snowballs down the hill so that they have to leap down through the foot of snow to "retrieve" them. The picture at the side is how high the snow is- pretty soon we won't be able to see the dogs!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My first fake Christmas tree

For the past week, we've been having tons of snow here in Durham, England. There is now about 12 inches on the ground and everyday a little bit more falls. Like most people I have a love/hate relationship with the snow. It's beautiful and really makes me feel like Christmas is coming, but I really hate going outside in it.

Last night, Todd and I put up our tree and stockings. In Ambridge, we only had a tree our first year of marriage and thereafter never bothered with a tree. This year we were given all of our Christmas supplies from a family who moved back to the States this summer. I bought a lot of kitchen items and linens from them and they threw in their Christmas stuff for free (Thanks Laurie!). I've never been one for "Christmas spirit", in fact, the holidays usually mean anxiety over what gifts to buy. But this year we put up the stockings and tree that were given to us and we had fun decorating in our Santa hats.

I grew up with always having a freshly chopped-down Christmas tree, the house always smelling like a pine or spruce tree (blue spruce in particular if my Mother had anything to say about it). The tree was always decorated with white lights and red beads and every year my brother and I got a new ornament to put on the tree. It was always fun to open up the ornaments we had gotten before and stroll down memory lane remembering how long we've had each one and which was our favorite. Our tree was always pretty, but had the personal touches of our family.

This year, we have a fake tree- it's my first. There is no spruce smell in the house and the tree is decorated in multi-colored lights, red and silver balls, silver snow flakes and one Piglet and one Eeyore ornament. It's wonderfully tacky and I love that I don't have to water it, clean the needles up or worry about the dogs destroying it! We haven't had a tree for the past three years because we couldn't justify spending money on it and all the decorations, and since we were always not at our home for Christmas, we didn't see the point. Because of that, I also never felt the excitement leading up to Christmas. But this year, I'm delighted in the fact that we spent no money and still got to have a fun night of decorating, watching the snow fall and listening to Christmas music (sadly, I left my Sarah McLachlan Wintersong album at home, but we still had some Bing Crosby to fill the void).

This year, having our tree, Christmas decorations and all this snow, I am excited for the Christmas season. Funny enough, even with all my "Christmas spirit" I've just booked our 4 day getaway to the Canary Islands from December 19-22 (our only Christmas gift to each other), where there will be no snow and only warm sunny days and beaches. I do, however, look forward to coming back to Durham for the days leading up to Christmas and Christmas eve at the Cathedral. Maybe all the snow will still be around for the Christmas festivities when we return.