Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Xavier-Léon Dufour Obituary

Tomorrow's Times has an obituary of Xavier-Léon Dufour who died on 13 November, aged 95.

Xavier-Léon Dufour
Liberal scholar who brought historical analysis to Bible study
Xavier-Léon Dufour was one of the greatest liberal Bible scholars of the 20th century. As such, he often found himself at odds with the conservative Catholic hierarchy, not least with Pope Pius XII himself.

Using historical and critical scholarship to challenge more fundamentalist approaches to the Bible was not, he insisted, to deny the divine element in the origin of Scripture. But the text as we have it today was written by men at specific periods of history.And a critical study of both the men and the history, Dufour maintained with passion, was vital to an understanding of the sacred text.

The new scholarship which had its origin in the work of 19th-century German Protestant scholars, met resistance both from the Catholic hierarchy and from parts of the Protestant establishment. Dufour himself was accused of seeking to deprive priests of their faith . . .
This was the first I had heard of Dufour's death (but I now notice that it was announced in Bibbiablog a few weeks ago). I never met him but one of my great influences, John Ashton, was taught by him and often used to sing his praises.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tyndale Tech Goes Blog!

I am delighted to see David Instone-Brewer finally getting assimilated to the blogosphere:

Tyndale Tech
Electronic resources for Biblical Studies
Tyndale Tech tries to keep you up to date with electronic resources for Biblical Studies. I've now moved it to a blog-style site where you can add your comments on the issues. All the old posts are there, and new ones will be posted there as well as appearing in email. This means you can add your wisdom on the various topics to share with other scholars. It also means you can hear about new posts using RSS as well as or instead of emails . . .
Since David's first new post in the blog format, The Future of Communication, is full of fulfilled prophecies of his from the past, along with some new prophecies about technological changes, perhaps I may indulge myself by repeating my exhortation of 18 March 2005:
A public thought for David Instone-Brewer: you do a fantastic job with the Tyndale Techs and other contributions to Biblical scholarship and the internet, but are emailed alerts getting a little passé? Has the time now come for you to be assimilated to the biblioblogosphere? You'd do a great job and would enrich the community enormously.
In a subsequent update to that post, it looks like I repented of the "ruddy cheek" shown here but still expressed hope for his eventual assimilation, which has now arrived, I am happy to say. Since, as far as I know, David does not read the biblioblogs, it just goes to show that I can prophesy too.

Nativity Story Review back online

I complained recently that my review of The Nativity Story had vanished from the SBL Forum in its reorganisation. I was happy to hear today that it is now back, and it is at the same URL:

The Nativity Story: A Review

Monday, December 17, 2007


It's all happening at the BBC at the moment. The production with the working title of The Passion is currently being edited ahead of its broadcast next March (and the edits of episodes 1-4 that I have seen are wonderful); yesterday we had the Liverpool Nativity and all this week we have Witness, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Episode 1 was broadcast today and you can listen again here:

The Afternoon Play
Witness: Five Plays from the Gospel of Luke

By Nick Warburton

The story of Jesus imagined through the eyes of those who witnessed it.


The Lake

Peter and his brother Andrew tell the story of how Jesus was baptised and began to teach in Galilee, and how they were inspired to leave their lives as fishermen and follow Him.

Jesus ...... Tom Goodman-Hill
Peter ...... Peter Firth
Andrew ...... Paul Copley
Baptist ...... Stephen Greif
Elder ...... Sam Dale
Possessed man ...... John Lloyd Fillingham
John ...... Simon Treves
Woman ...... Laura Molyneux
Tempter ...... Peter Marinker
I am listening at the moment. It has a very Man Born to be King feel to it, and is great listening, though the accents are more obviously regional than they were for the Dorothy Sayers classic. I hope to continue to comment as the week goes on. I will post periodic reminders about listening to it. It's actual broadcast time is 2.15pm daily.

Note too that there is a short documentary series following the play each day, 3-3.15pm. It is presented by Ernie Rea. Details and the listen again facility are found here:

Witness: Behind Luke's Story

The blurb for today's episode is as follows:
Ernie Rea presents a series exploring Luke's gospel. 1/5: He looks at the social and political context of Jesus's radical teaching on the Kingdom of God.

Liverpool Nativity: Overnight news

There is some early coverage of the Liverpool Nativity. The Liverpool Echo has an article and pictures:

City in spotlight as thousands turn out for Liverpool Nativity
Dec 17 2007 by Catherine Jones, Liverpool Echo
THOUSANDS gathered to watch the Liverpool Nativity acted out on the streets of the city.

People braved freezing temperatures to cheer, boo, sing and clap along in the BBC’s live televised event.

Crowds started arriving at William Brown Street two hours before the start of last night’s event which was beamed nationwide to TV viewers on BBC3 . . .

. . . .The hour-long production opened with the iconic image of a star shining high in the sky above Liverpool and culminated with the nativity scene brought to life to the sound of some of the city’s greatest music.

It included songs by The Beatles, Teardrop Explodes, Dead or Alive, The La’s and The Zutons.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, described it as a “brilliant” live experience.

He said: “It had poignancy and the joy of the Christmas story. There were so many resonances there.”

The Liverpool Nativity sprang out of a meeting between writer Mark Davies Markham and the Bishop at Liverpool cathedral.

Mr Markham said: “I owe the story to Bishop James. All I did was fill in the dots.” . . .
The same paper declares today that the City's star is rising with further positive comments about the production. And then there is a third article:

Thousands brave freezing weather for Liverpool Nativity

The second page of this is a short review of the piece by Phil Key, which also appears in the Liverpool Daily Post. The article also notes that there will be a repeat on 23 December on BBC3.

The Guardian notes that it was a ratings success:
BBC3's ambitious attempt to re-create a modern day nativity on the streets of Liverpool was rewarded with more than 700,000 viewers last night.

Liverpool Nativity, which starred Jennifer Ellison, won its slot with an average of 710,000 viewers and a multichannel share of 3.2% between 8pm and 9pm, according to unofficial overnights.

The BBC3 drama peaked with 770,000 viewers in the quarter hour from 8.15pm
This might sound low to those unfamiliar with the British scene, but this is very good for non-networked TV. BBC3 is one of the BBC's channels only available via satellite, cable or freeview.

Update (10.34): There is also a BBC Video News item with some interviews and rehearsal footage. I should also have linked to BBC3's page on the Liverpool Nativity which features rehearsal photographs and a trailer. BBC Liverpool have pictures from the event.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool Nativity: Comments

I watched The Liverpool Nativity and found it a laid back, enjoyable, refreshing hour's viewing. It was broadcast live from Liverpool on BBC3, at 8pm. The event was very similar to last year's Manchester Passion, the Biblical story adapted and set in a modern British city, set to music familiar from that city's recent heritage. Something like half of the music tonight was Beatles (Across the Universe, Lady Madonna, All You Need is Love, Here Comes the Sun) or Beatles related (My Sweet Lord, Imagine). And there were other Liverpool favourites like The LAs' "There She Goes" (I once went to see them live in concert!) and that Dead or Alive song, "Spinning Right Round". There were one or two I didn't recognise.

Several of the actors were familiar faces. Nerys Hughes (Liver Birds) appeared at the beginning as a sympathetic server at "The Grill" and Geoffrey Hughes (Twiggy in the Royle Family and a ton of other things) was Gabriel, also the ever present compere. He held the production together, addressing the massive assembled crowd of Liverpuddlians, acting as narrator and moving loosely in and out of character as Gabriel, and occasionally addressing those taking part via audible voice or TV screen. His narration was lightly Christian and broadly traditional but not overtly evangelistic, with references to what "the Bible" says, and drawing attention to the contemporary translation to Liverpool.

The narrative thread was fairly straightforward, a fairly even and traditional harmonizing of Matthew and Luke translated into a contemporary setting, often in interesting ways, but often without the necessary time to get properly developed, so that it raced along. The story was stronger in the first third of the piece, where we see Mary in a cheap diner, meeting her boyfriend Joseph, an asylum seeker, and finding out that she is pregnant by the holy spirit at the same time that Joseph finds out that he needs to register as an asylum seeker. They get the ferry across the Mersey, and work out their problems with further communications from Gabriel. All this was the strongest, most compelling part of the story, not least because we were allowed some insight into what Mary and Joseph were thinking, the music well chosen, and the performances very good.

In the next phase, the other characters dominated. A purple-suited local government official of some kind called Herodia was the cartoon villain, and her two or three songs were set pieces with dancers, one with the magi, who arrived in a Rolls Royce. The shepherds (singing "Imagine" -- did this represent their secular lifestyle ahead of their encounter with Jesus?) were homeless people who were addressed by Gabriel on their faltering radio, and who were joined by a handful of angels in silver suits, all of whom marched to the centre of Liverpool, where the stages, the crowds and Gabriel were located.

The narrative had a slightly rushed, going-through-the-motions feel as it resolved itself with the birth of Jesus, and a reprise of "All you need is love". But the whole production was beautifully constructed and choreographed, and remarkable for being a live performance. The quality of the singing was mostly excellent, all the more impressive given the way the characters were moving around the streets in what must have been a pretty cold evening, probably close to freezing temperatures. There was a large orchestra on one of the central stages, and for other parts, there was a small ensemble of guitar, accordian and violin. For the bigger pieces, the crowd were encouraged to sing along and unfortunately no one told Geoffrey Hughes not to join in; he sang along like your uncle at the wedding who wants to encourage everyone else but doesn't realize that he is singing off key and only occasionally knows the words.

Mary (Jody McNee) was brilliantly cast and was one of the best things in it; Joseph (Kenny Thompson) was also impressive.

These are first impressions after an initial viewing. I hope to get a chance to catch it again tomorrow and perhaps to extend and modify some of these thoughts.

Paul of Tarsus (1960): more details

Over on Bible Films Blog Matt Page comments on my recent posts on Paul of Tarsus and Jesus of Nazareth. He mentions a comment on his earlier post from a certain WitlessD who has done a little more research on the series and confirms the episode titles I set out. S/he also confirms the location, "Filmed in Aghios Nikolaus, Crete, and at Ealing Studios".

Liverpool Nativity

The Liverpool Nativity, BBC3, 16 December, 8pmTonight on BBC3, live, was the Liverpool Nativity. I can't wait to see this one, but it is looking like it will be tomorrow before I get the chance, at which point I will post my comments here. Today's BBC News reported on the upcoming performance and yesterday's Guardian has a great anticipatory write-up:

Miracle on Merseyside - Liverpool remakes the nativity
David Ward
Saturday December 15, 2007
The Virgin Mary comes from Knotty Ash, one of the angels used to be in Brookside, and Herod is a woman.

This version of the Christmas story, to be played out on the streets in the centre of Liverpool and broadcast live on BBC3 tomorrow night, has a cast of 300, including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, a technical crew of 150 and is produced by the BBC team responsible for last year's Manchester Passion.

It's a risky enterprise: Manchester United are playing Liverpool at Anfield that day, which could make for a lively post-match crowd looking on when Jesus is born in a real ale pub named after the first chief public health officer to be appointed in the UK.

Christmas weather in Liverpool can also be unkind so producers have not only given the angel Gabriel a decent part but beseeched him to arrange a meteorological miracle around St George's Hall and the Walker art gallery.

They have also taken the precaution of pre-recording the part of the story that unfolds on the Mersey ferry. But Mary and Joseph will still have to cross the river in real time.

If a force eight is blowing, Jesus's first glimpse of the world he has come to save could well be Birkenhead . . .
And there are similar amusingly worded comments. I have been meaning to blog on this for a while, but it's good to see that Matt Page, as ever on top of these things, commented back in November, on Bible Films Blog. More here when the reviews start coming in tomorrow.

No Other Gospel - Nick Perrin

The Fall 2007 issue of Christian History and Biography features an article of interest by Nicholas Perrin:

No Other Gospel
Despite the appearance of Gnostic "gospels," the early church decided that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were without rival.
by Nicholas Perrin
from Issue 96: The Gnostics Hunger for Secret Knowledge

It turns out that Nick was at school with Dan Brown; and he admits to
being "one of the few literate adults living who has not read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code". Count me in the same club; and I have no intention of ever reading it. The short article is nicely written, and it provides a good introduction to the issues from a conservative perspective, though it side steps some of the issues that scholars might wish to highlight. It does not, for example, make clear that the issues under discussion are controversial within the academy, even if it is universally acknowledged in the academy that Dan Brown has no serious understanding of these issues. The most problematic paragraph is this one:
Historically speaking, those touting the apostolic origins of the apocryphal gospels had little to stand on. These texts came much later than the four-fold gospel collection. The canonical gospels were all first-century documents; all four offer credible eyewitness accounts of Jesus of Nazareth. The apocryphal gospels, written generations later, can barely compete with this claim.
This drives too strong a wedge between "canonical gospels" and "apocryphal gospels". We may not be talking about "generations"; that sounds a bit like overstatement. In contemporary New Testament scholarship, the idea that "all four offer credible eyewitness accounts" is a highly dubious claim, and one that should not be made with so little qualification. It is true that there is now a case that the canonical gospels are reliant on eyewitness testimony (Richard Bauckham) but as far as recent New Testament scholarship is concerned, this is a new and highly controversial claim that is only now beginning to be tested, and even Bauckham does not claim that the four are written by eyewitnesses (except perhaps John).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth (BBC, 1956)

So, have you ever seen the TV series Jesus of Nazareth? No, not that series, but the one made twenty years earlier by the BBC? Me neither. In fact I didn't even know about it until yesterday. Here's the story.

I have been reporting recently on my research into the forgotten BBC production Paul of Tarsus (1960), research which led to the book of the series produced by its writer, producer and director Joy Harington. In the preface to that book, she writes the following:
The idea for this book and the Television series that preceded it was born in 1956 when the series 'Jesus of Nazareth' ended with these words from Jesus to his disciples: 'Go and teach all nations the things that you have seen and heard . . . . . And know that I am with you always -- even unto the end of the world.' It left one with the feeling 'What happened then?' After all, it was a big order to give a handful of fishermen and peasants in a small occupied country . . .
And so on. So, it seems, there was a TV series on Jesus' life broadcast in 1956 on the BBC. I didn't think I had heard of this before, so I went to the net to see how many others had heard of it. The answer is: very few.

IMDb weakly mentions Jesus of Nazareth from 1953, starring Tom Fleming. In the light of the above, the date is certainly wrong. Is it even the same production? Well, it looks like it is because this TV series clearly featured Tom Fleming playing Jesus. There is a good paragraph or so on it on the BFI's Screenonline Profile of Joy Harington:
But perhaps what is considered her most notable work for television was the eight-part Sunday serial Jesus of Nazareth (BBC, 1956) for which she received the 1956 award of the Guild of Television Producers and Directors (now BAFTA), the first to be presented for a children's serial. A live studio production with exteriors filmed on location in Galilee and Jerusalem, it was a courageous undertaking. At that time, censorship regulations prohibited the portrayal of Christ by an actor in public performances. However, the Central Religious Council approved the project and Tom Fleming was cast as Jesus Christ. The serial was an outstanding success. Harington followed with a similar ten-part series, Paul of Tarsus (BBC, 1960), for which the exteriors were filmed mainly in Crete.
So we now know that Paul of Tarsus was filmed in Crete, and Jesus of Nazareth was partly filmed in Israel, and the latter was considered "a children's serial". There is more research to be done about this lost series, and I look forward to reporting back on this in due course.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More on Paul of Tarsus (BBC, 1960)

Earlier this week I discussed a forgotten Bible film called Paul of Tarsus, which starred Patrick Troughton, and was broadcast by the BBC in 1960 in 10 episodes. I mentioned then that I had tracked down a book based on the series. My copy has now arrived and I can bring to light one or two other things about the series. First, the bibliographical details:

Joy Harington, Paul of Tarsus (Leicester: Brockhampton Press, 1961)

As far as I can tell, the author was also the writer of the screenplay, the producer and the director of the series (see previous post), though that is not made clear here. The book's inside flap is not as revealing as it might be, but here is what it says:
Joy Harington was inspired to create this life of St. Paul, which she herself calls 'a chapter in the history of man's search for God'. Paul of Tarsus traces the growth of Christianity from the upper room in Jerusalem, through the disciples' fearless witness for the risen Christ; Saul's sudden conversion on the road to Damascus; his establishment of the early churches in Asia and Greece; his shipwrecks and torments, until, as a prisoner in bonds, he reaches his heart's desire -- Rome.

This book is profusely illustrated with photographs, some coloured, many taken on location in the Mediterranean countries for the BBC Television production in the autumn of 1960.

Enthusiastically welcomed by church leaders everywhere.
So we discover that there was some location shooting, in the frustratingly vague term "Mediterranean countries"! And the date of first broadcast is confirmed as the autumn of 1960. The photographs, though, are the highlights of the book. One of the black and white pictures shows Eutychus asleep in the window. Another shows "Paul and Barnabas rejected from Iconium" in what is clearly an original location and not a film set. Indeed, Barnabas appears to be something of a co-star and appears in many of the pictures.

The text itself is not especially interesting except in giving an idea of how the series itself must have worked out. It is a retelling of the Acts narrative with insertions from Paul's letters, and other insertions from the imagination (e.g. Paul gets malaria in Troas, p. 129). In fact, it appears to be quite Acts heavy, e.g. the break from Barnabas is the Acts-based argument over John Mark (p. 129) rather than the Galatians-based argument about eating with Gentiles.

It looks like the book's ten chapters correspond to the series' ten episodes. The chapter titles are:
Part One - The Feast of Pentecost
Part Two - The Road to Damascus
Part Three - Simon Peter
Part Four - Herod the King
Part Five - From Saul to Paul
Part Six - To the Gentiles
Part Seven - Greece
Part Eight - Diana of the Ephesians
Part Nine - Jerusalem
Part Ten - To Rome
Since the two episodes that are listed by BFI are entitled To the Gentiles and The Feast of Pentecost, it looks like these chapter titles are indeed the episode titles.

The book ends with Paul in Rome, with Acts, and bits of 2 Timothy quoted:
At Paul's dictation Luke wrote many letters to cheer and strengthen them. One of these letters was to his 'beloved son' Timothy . . .

. . . . In his lodgings in Rome Paul stood, chained now by his wrist to a ring in the wall, looking out of the window at the great city of Rome with its statues and noble buildings. Luke sat on the ground near him, his pens and scrolls around him, ready if Paul should wish to send another letter of comfort and encouragement to one of the churches.

Only Luke was with him now . . . .
And that's how the book ends (with the ". . .").

We can find out a little more from a foreword by "the Rev. Canon Roy McKay, BBC Head of Religious Broadcasting":
I was privileged to be associated with Joy Harington in the early days when she was preparing for the writing of the scripts. I know how much time and thought she gave not only to the biblical record in The Acts and the Epistles but also to the social, political, and religious background of the age. the results of that careful study are apparent in the scripts she has written. Joy Harington has been faithful to the story in the Bible, and she has kept close to its spirit. One of the many good things she has done is the incorporation of passages from St Paul's Letters in their appropriate place in the story.

Those who watched this story on BBC Television will be glad to have it in book form. Those who did not see it, having read the book, will be waiting eagerly for the series to be repeated . . .
It is interesting to see not only that this foreword describes the book as "scripts", which suggests that the prose narrative is closely adapted from the scripts, but also that it speaks about repeats, which means that it cannot have been wiped, at least not in the early 60s, and so we can be hopeful that it survives somewhere (e.g. at the BFI, where I will plan a research visit one of these days!).

Joy Harington also has an interesting "Author's Note" at the beginning of this book, and it reveals something else of great interest, and that will be the subject of a separate blog post later.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Harvard Papyri Online

This is definitely worth a second mention: on Evangelical Textual Criticism, Peter Head writes:
The Houghton Library at Harvard have begun putting digital images of their papyri online (front page here). (HT PapyL also What's New in Papyrology?)
They haven't finished yet, but there are two of interest to NT scholars (and two more to come):

P10 (Rom 1.1-7; POxy 209 = Harvard MS Gr SM2218)

Gospel of Thomas (POxy 655 = Harvard MS Gr SM4367)

071 (Matt 1.21-24; 1.25-2.2; POxy 401 = Harvard MS Gr SM3735)
P9 (1 John 4.11-12, 14-17; POxy 402 = Harvard MS Gr SM3736)
It is great to have P.Oxy 655 in particular, and the quality is remarkably good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

73% of Britons know where Jesus was born

First Followers points to a survey in today's Daily Telegraph that attempts to show how ignorant Brits are about the Nativity Story:

Britons who don't know where Jesus was born
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
A survey found 27 per cent of Britons aged 18 and over were unable to identify Bethlehem as Jesus's birth place, while the figure rose to 36 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24.

One in ten of those questioned thought the answer was Nazareth and a similar number said Jerusalem.

The poll also found that more than one in four people - 27 per cent - were unaware that an angel told Mary that she would give birth to a son, with some saying she was informed by the shepherds.

Most people surveyed believed that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Nazareth rather than Egypt when they escaped from King Herod, and a few even said the holy family's destination was Rome.

The survey also revealed that just over half did not know that John the Baptist was Jesus's cousin . . .
It's a regular feature around this time of year to have a survey like this. A couple of year's ago, The Times attempted to trick clergy into providing wrong answers to questions too in order to grab a headline. The article pulls a classic stunt in the presentation of dull statistics and instead of drawing attention to the bland but relevant fact that according to its survey, the vast majority answered the key question correctly, it focuses instead on the 27% figure who did not. So the headline becomes "Britons who don't know where Jesus was born" rather than "the vast majority of Britons know where Jesus was born".

There are other problems too. It is true that Elizabeth is described as Mary's kinswoman (συγγενίς, Luke 1.36), but it may be a little too specific to talk about John the Baptist as Jesus's "cousin", and this is a detail that is distinctive in Luke. I don't think that it is shocking that "just over half did not know that John the Baptist was Jesus's cousin". Rather, it's impressive that so many know this (possible) minor detail in Luke's account. And it is worse. Look at how the question is framed, "3. Who was Jesus' cousin?" This is not the right way to frame a question if you are trying to find out whether people are aware of a possible relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. I think the 26% who said that they did not know might have been on the ball here. And the 6% who said "James" may also have been right, at least if they were following Jerome.

And then take the last question, which is really badly worded:
4. Where did Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to escape from King Herod when Jesus was a young child?

22 per cent correctly said Egypt. Of the 78 per cent who were wrong, 52 per cent said Nazareth, five per cent said Babylon and one per cent said Rome.
The correct answer is, of course, Egypt (Matt. 2.14). But Nazareth is not so daft an answer, since it is where the family had arrived by the end of Matthew's story (Matt. 2.23) and they were going there to escape another Herod, Archelaus. True, Archelaus was an ethnarch and not a king, but then Mark calls Herod the Tetrarch (Antipas) a king too (Mark 6.14), so if some of the British punters in this survey got their Herods mixed up, who can blame them?

In other words, this piece is a fine example of how to turn a not-very-well-worded survey into a news story.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Students should use Wikipedia, says its creator

This one, from BBC News, is likely to generate a bit of comment:

Students 'should use Wikipedia'
By Alistair Coleman
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said teachers who refuse students access to the site are "bad educators".

Speaking at the Online Information conference at London's Olympia, he dismissed the long-running controversy over the site's authority.

He said he now thinks that students should be able to cite the online encyclopaedia in their work . . . .

. . . . Since the controversy, in which it emerged that the "free editing" policy had allowed articles containing inaccuracies and bias to appear, the site has introduced a system of real-time peer review, in which volunteers check new and updated articles for accuracy and impartiality.

Despite advances in technology, there are no plans to automate this process. "There is no substitute for peer critique," Mr Wales told delegates.
As I have mentioned in previous discussions of the issue here, I am not in favour of citing Wikipedia as an "authority", if by this we mean using it as a means of establishing points without any further discussion. I encourage my students, who are preparing for examinations at the moment, to engage critically with a range of secondary sources, one of which may indeed sometimes be Wikipedia.

April DeConick's New York Times article causes a stir

April DeConick's Gospel Truth, published in The New York Times earlier this week is a model of how to write a clear, informative op-ed piece on a controversial academic subject. It is no surprise, as the T and T Clark Blog mentions today, that it is "causing something of a stir in the blog world". The backlash begins today, though, with robust responses from Marvin Meyer and Terry Garcia in letters to the New York Times, The Gospel of Judas: A Word from the Translators.

Unofficial Biblical Studies Carnival Post

On Metacatholic, Doug Chaplin has a great little unofficial Biblical Studies Carnivalette, which just goes to show that non-canonical texts can be as interesting as canonical ones.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Paul of Tarsus (1960), starring Patrick Troughton

I posed a trivia question yesterday, "Which of the ten doctors also played the apostle Paul?" Some of the suggestions in comments were amusing, including Eric Idle (who played neither) and Anthony Hopkins (who played Paul but not the Doctor). The correct answer is Patrick Troughton (1920-1987), the second doctor (1966-9), who played the tile role in Paul of Tarsus, a BBC series which broadcast in 1960.

Until yesterday, I head never heard of this production, but I was listening to the latest episode of Doctor Who Podshock (Ep. 96), which featured an archive interview from 1986 with Patrick Troughton. He mentioned Paul of Tarsus as one of the things he was most proud of.

The production has relatively little internet presence. It has no IMDb page, for example, and no Wikipedia entry. It has never been released on video or DVD. Indeed, it is not even clear to me whether it still exists. A lot of the BBC productions from that era, including many of Troughton's own Doctor Who episodes, were wiped.

So what do we know about it? BFI's Film and TV database lists it as:
A cycle of ten plays telling the story of the Acts of Christ's Apostles. BBC tx 1960/10/16 - 1960/12/18 (Sun).
It names two episodes, To the Gentiles and The Feast of Pentecost. The associated Cast List credits the screenplay, production and direction to Joy Harington. This latter clue proves helpful since there is a book by the same name produced in 1961 which apparently features pictures from the production (see book cover above). I have this book on order, and will report back when I have it.

I can find only one other picture from the production online, but it is a good one, of Troughton in the key role, folding his arms and looking rather mean.

Does anyone know anything about this forgotten production? Does anyone remember seeing it? Does anyone have a copy? I hope to do some more investigation over the coming months and to report back.

BBC Passion in the News

Following on from yesterday's press release, lots of today's papers have picked up on the news about BBC's Passion drama (co-produced with HBO). Perhaps most surprisingly, it even makes it into The Sun where it is described as "a controversial new drama", and there is a nice picture of James Nesbitt (most recently seen in Jekyll), who plays Pontius Pilate. The Times has perhaps the fullest and most interesting article:

Sopranos herald retelling of Passion
After a year of scandal, BBC One has found God. The final week of Christ’s life will be dramatised in a £4 million series that rehabilitates Pontius Pilate.

The Passion, a co-production with HBO, the American company behind The Sopranos, will run nightly, in soap-style episodes, across the Easter week next year.

Joseph Mawle, 33, a relative unknown, will play Jesus in the first television attempt to present the greatest story ever told since Robert Powell starred in the 1977 series Jesus Of Nazareth. Written by Frank Deasy, who won an Emmy for the final instalment of Prime Suspect, The Passion will challenge popular assumptions surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Pilate, played by James Nesbitt, is shown as a troubled Roman prefect who is forced to clamp down on insurgents running riot in Jerusalem.

The Resurrection will be depicted in a deliberately ambiguous manner, which may anger Christian groups when the series is shown in the United States.

Nigel Stafford-Clark, the producer, told The Times: “The challenge is to rescue the Passion from myth and tell it as an exciting, unfolding story.” . . .
(There is more). Once again it is described as "Easter Week" when they mean Holy Week. I don't think it's quite right to say that it "rehabilitates Pilate" though it is the case that all the characters in the drama are well-drawn, three-dimensional characters. I would also doubt that the depiction of the resurrection will "anger Christian groups" in the US, though you can never predict these things. I have not yet seen the episode, but what I can say on the basis of the scripts and the extensive discussions about them is that it is depicted in a very interesting and fresh way, quite unlike anything in previous Jesus films.

This is London also has an interesting take:

Jesus Back on TV . . . Thirty Years After Robert Powell's Epic
. . . . The new £4million series has been produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark, who is seeking to repeat the success of the half-hour-episodes format he used to critical acclaim with the BBC's adaptation of Dickens's Bleak House in 2005. 'It is a more extreme version of what we faced with Bleak House,' says Stafford-Clark. 'The stakes are higher, the risk greater.'

Filmed during the summer in Morocco, The Passion has been scripted by Irish screenwriter Frank Deasy, of Prime Suspect fame, and is an attempt to give substance to the characters surrounding Christ. The disciples are portrayed as distinctive individuals, while the scribes and Pharisees will be fleshed out, rather than depicted as cartoon villains . . . .

. . . . At 33, Oxford-based Joseph Mawle is the same age as Christ at the time of his crucifixion. Mawle's last television appearance was in the controversial drama Clapham Junction, in which his character was sexually assaulted by a male teenager who had become obsessed with him . . . .
Meanwhile, Inspire Magazine announces that Churches Welcome BBC Passion series, noting that "Andrew Graystone, Director of the Churches’ Media Council, encouraged the Christian community to welcome the BBC’s Passion unreservedly."

The news was announced in several other outlets including Variety, World Screen, Hollywood Reporter, The Stage and The Guardian.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

BBC / HBO Passion Latest

On Bible Films Blog, Matthew Page got to this before I did, but today the BBC put out a press release on its Passion production which is to air next March. Here is the the full text of today's press release, with a couple of comments about my involvement appended underneath:
BBC One and BBC Drama present a new production of the story of The Passion for Easter 2008

Category: TV Drama; BBC One
Date: 04.12.2007
Printable version

Announced today, the creation of a bold event drama retelling the last week in the life of Jesus Christ – The Passion – written by Emmy Award-winner Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect 7), a BBC Drama Production in association with HBO and Deep Indigo.

Joseph Mawle (Soundproof), James Nesbitt (Murphy's Law), Paul Nicholls (Clapham Junction), Ben Daniels (State Within), Laura Fraser (Casanova), Denis Lawson (Bleak House) and David Oyelowo (Five Days) lead the cast in this unique and compelling dramatisation.

Nigel Stafford-Clark (Bleak House) produces.

The Passion will be stripped across Easter week on BBC One, drawing to a dramatic climax on Easter Sunday.

Visually arresting and rich in colour, the story is rooted in the tangled and chaotic world in which it took place – the city of Jerusalem during Passover week.

Set in the political and religious context of the time, it combines both narrative tension and thematic power to convey the extraordinary events that took place that week in a bold and distinctive way.

This production places the audience at the heart of the action by telling the story from three points of view – the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus.

For the first time, all the key players are intimately characterised with Jesus (Joseph Mawle) at the centre.

Full of emotion and charged with energy, beginning with Jesus's prophetic entrance through the East Gate, following him to his crucifixion and its startling aftermath.

Award-winning producer Nigel Stafford-Clark says: "The Passion is a gripping, multi-stranded dramatisation of not just the most familiar but arguably the greatest story ever told.

"Both truthful and simple, it gives it back to the audience in a way that will feel as fresh, contemporary and surprising as if it were happening for the first time."

Jane Tranter, Controller, BBC Fiction, says: "Challenging and bold programming and scheduling that you would only find on the BBC, The Passion is an example of BBC Drama's commitment to deliver ambitious and distinctive projects.

"It is a privilege to be making such a major piece of drama from the brilliant Frank Deasy, directed by Michael Offer with an amazing cast.

"We are delighted to be collaborating once again with HBO, continuing our strong creative relationship which has seen us working together on many projects, most recently Five Days, Stuart: A Life Backwards and Einstein And Eddington."

The Passion is produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark (Bleak House), written by Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect 7) and directed by Michael Offer (State Within).

The Executive Producer is Hilary Salmon.

The Passion was shot entirely in Morocco.

Notes to Editors

It's the start of Passover week. In the next few days Jerusalem will more than double in size as thousands of pilgrims come to celebrate the most important festival in their religious calendar.

For their Roman masters, it is the tensest time of the year. Palestine is an unruly province at the best of times, prone to insurgency and driven by an ancient religion that the Romans neither understand nor appreciate.

Indeed, for most of the year the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, and his force of 3,000 legionaries base themselves by the sea in the city of Caesarea, where they can enjoy the pleasures of civilisation well away from the perils of Jerusalem's narrow streets.

But for the festivals, and particularly for Passover with its undertones of resistance to imperial power, they move back into the capital city and prepare for trouble.

For the High Priest Caiaphas and his Temple priests too, Passover is not an easy time. The Temple in Jerusalem is the epicentre of the Jewish religion, and during Passover their workload will be immense – on one day alone, some 10,000 lambs will have to be ritually sacrificed in the Temple in the space of a few hours to ensure that every family has its lamb for the Passover meal.

And there is pressure on Caiaphas in other ways. As High Priest, civil unrest is also his responsibility. His Temple guards are the local police force, and it is their job to keep order amongst the civilian population.

Any trouble and the Romans will swiftly move in. And everyone knows what that means.

As Pilate and his wife move rather reluctantly back into their Jerusalem apartments, and Caiaphas and his colleagues review known troublemakers and insurgents who might be on their way to the city, no-one gives much thought to a local preacher from the backwaters of Galilee, who is also making his way to Jerusalem with a gang of followers bonded by two years on the road – a tough, resourceful group whose loyalty is absolute.

Then news is brought that the Galileean is approaching the city on a donkey's colt, and will be entering Jerusalem through the East Gate – thus fulfilling two of the most powerful religious prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The one who many believe will lead them to military victory or spiritual salvation.

On the streets a crowd is beginning to gather. And the week has only just begun...
A couple of minor comments. First, this story is widely reported today with the error that it is five episodes. It is actually six. Second, when the press release above says "Easter Week", it should read "Holy Week". I assume that it will run from Monday-Good Friday + Easter Sunday.

More substantively, I am happy to report that I have seen rough edits of the first two episodes and they are really excellent. I am very excited about this, having been involved with this project as a consultant for just over two years. In due course, I would like to tell the story of the project from the sidelines of my small contribution. At this stage, though, I should not be revealing any of its secrets, so my story will have to wait.

Trivia Question: Doctor Who and the Apostle Paul

A trivia question for you: which of the ten doctors also played the apostle Paul?

Witness - Five Plays from the Gospel of Luke

Thanks to Michael Thompson for alerting me to this interesting broadcast coming soon on Radio 4. Mike was a consultant on the project:

Witness - Five Plays from the Gospel of Luke
Radio 4

Monday 19 - Friday 21 December
Peter Firth (Spooks), Paul Hilton (True, Dare, Kiss), Lorraine Ashbourne (Jane Eyre, Playing The Field) and Penelope Wilton (Shaun Of The Dead) star in five new plays by award-winning writer Nick Warburton which tell the story of the Gospel of Luke.

The story is told through the eyes of Peter, Judas Iscariot, Andrew, Mary Magdalene, Jesus's mother Mary, Caiaphas, Pilate and many other ordinary men, women and children through whose lives Jesus passes, from his birth in Bethlehem, through his ministry, to his death on the cross and resurrection.

Warburton creates his dramas as the Gospel was made: by piecing together the story of Jesus's life from the memories of those who saw him.

On radio, there are no beards, no sand and no sandals. Filmed versions of the Gospel story can get bogged down in these images and make the events and characters seem remote and unconnected to us. The radio format allows Warburton to imagine the private thoughts, hopes and fears of those around Jesus, making these dramas intimate, accessible and alive . . .
Read it all -- there is also news of a related programme presented by Ernie Rea, Witness - Behind Luke's Story.

Biblical Theology Bulletin, Winter 2007

FindArticles have made available several book reviews from the latest Biblical Theology Bulletin (free for all):

Biblical Theology Bulletin, Winter 2007

Online articles on electronic editions by Peter Robinson

Over on ITSEE News, there's an announcement of two new articles on its Online Resources page:

Current Directions in the Making of Digital Editions: towards interactive editions

by Peter Robinson (to be published in Ecdotica, Italy).

Electronic Editions for Everyone
Peter Robinson (Prepublication version of article submitted for publication in the papers of the Kings College London Centre for Computing in the Humanities 2006-7 seminar)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dirt, Greed and Sex: Revised Edition

Another new one from Fortress (with apologies for slight delay in posting):
Desire, Purity, and Pollution — New Testament Sexual Ethics in Context

Minneapolis (November 14, 2007)—One of the most urgent tasks in contemporary discussions and controversies over sexuality, in churches and in wider society, is to put the biblical resources into their proper social and cultural contexts.

In Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today, Revised Edition, L. William Countryman accomplishes this task in an exemplary way, showing how biblical conceptions regarding proper sexual behavior arose from concerns for purity and from cultures in which women and children were often conceived as property. What biblical texts say about sex often arises from concerns about dirt and greed.

This new revised edition, of the landmark 1988 text, includes updated text and notes throughout, taking advantage of recent studies of sexual ethics and, where, appropriate, criticizing them. A new chapter evaluates recent proposals for a normative “ethic of creation,” and in a concluding chapter Countryman offers his own positive statement of a New Testament ethic. The result is an invaluable resource for anyone who seeks to understand what the New Testament says about sex.


Preface and Introduction

Part 1: Dirt

1. What is Purity

2. Israel’s Basic Purity Law

3. Purity in First-Century Judaism

4. Purity and Christianity—a First-Century Historian’s Interpretation

5. Purity in the Gospels

6. Paul and Purity

7. The New Testament and Sexual Purity

Part 2: Greed

8. Women and Children as Property in the Ancient Mediterranean World

9. Household and Sexual Property in the Gospels

10. Paul and Sexual Property

11. The New Testament on Sexual Property

Part 3: Sex

12. Are Other Principles of Sexual Ethics at Work in the New Testament?

13. New Testament Sexual Ethics and Today’s World

Bibliography and Indexes

Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today,
Revised Edition

By L. William Countryman

Item No: 978-0-8006-6224-0

Format: Paperback, 350 pages, 6 x 9 inches

Price: $18.00

To order Dirt, Greed, and Sex please call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at

To request review copies (for media), or to discuss speaking engagements or interviews, please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or e-mail

To request exam copies for classroom use (professors) go to

Adela Yarbro Collins on Mark

I am a little late on this one but as I gradually work through the backlog, it's one not to miss:
Fortress Press Releases Hermeneia Volume on Mark

Minneapolis (November 13, 2007)—In the newly released Hermeneia Volume Mark: A Commentary, Professor Adela Yarbro Collins brings to bear on the text of the first Gospel the latest historical-critical perspectives, providing a full treatment of such controversial issues as the relationship of canonical Mark to the “Secret Gospel of Mark” and the text of the Gospel, including its longer endings.

She situates the Gospel, with its enigmatic portrait of the misunderstood Messiah, in the context of Jewish and Greco-Roman literature of the first century. Her comments draw on her profound knowledge of apocalyptic literature as well as on the traditions of popular biography in the Greco-Roman world to illuminate the overall literary form of the Gospel.

The commentary also introduces an impressive store of data on the language and style of Mark, illustrated from papyrological and epigraphical sources. Collins is in constructive dialogue with the wide range of scholarship on Mark that has been produced in the twentieth century. Her work will be foundational for Markan scholarship in the first half of the twenty-first century.

“Adela Yarbro Collins’s remarkably learned and thorough introduction to and exposition of Mark’s Gospel deserves a prominent place in every serious theological library. It provides us solid information not only about Markan studies but also about the Jewish and Greco-Roman world in which that Gospel took shape. It is a great achievement, the product of many years of dedicated research.”

—Daniel J. Harrington, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

“Adela Collins’s long-awaited commentary on the Gospel of Mark fulfills and even surpasses the highest expectations. It demonstrates the scholarly expertise and sound critical judgment we have come to expect from this expert on Jewish apocalyptic and Greco-Roman literary culture. This book will now be the definitive resource for historical-critical reading of the Gospel of Mark.”

—Karen L. King, Harvard Divinity School


Adela Yarbro Collins is Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. She has written numerous books on ancient Judaism and Christianity.


Harold W. Attridge is Dean of Yale Divinity School and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. His books include Hebrews in the Hermeneia series (1989, 978-0-8006-6021-5).

Mark: A Commentary, Hermeneia series

By Adela Yarbro Collins

Edited by Harold W. Attridge

Item No: 978-0-8006-6078-9

Format: Hardcover with jacket, 800 pages, 7.25 x 9.25 inches

Price: $80.00

To order Mark: A Commentary please call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at

To request review copies (for media), or to discuss speaking engagements or interviews, please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or e-mail

To request exam copies for classroom use (professors) go to

Review of Biblical Literature

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature under the NT and related heading. It's good to see another of these more extensive review essays, the first on the list, and I am looking forward very much to reading this one since it is a topic of such interest and relevance in contemporary NT studies:

By Werner H. Kelber
- William A. Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion
- David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature
- Susan Niditch, Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature
- Martin S. Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism, 200 BCE-400 CE
- Erhardt Güttgemanns, Offene Fragen zur Formgeschichte des Evangeliums: Eine methodologische Skizze der Grundlagenproblematik der Form- und Redaktionsgeschichte, translated by William G. Doty as Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism: A Methodological Sketch of the Fundamental Problematics of Form and Redaction Criticism
- Richard A. Horsley, with Jonathan A. Draper, Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance, and Tradition in Q
- D. C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels

Andrew D. Clarke
Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-6
Reviewed by Barbette Stanley Spaeth

Peter Stuhlmacher
Die Geburt des Immanuel: Die Weihnachtsgeschichten aus dem Lukas- und Matthäusevangelium
Reviewed by Markus Oehler

John N. Suggit, trans.
Oecumenius: Commentary on the Apocalypse
Reviewed by Pieter G. R. de Villiers

Robert C. Tannehill
The Shape of the Gospel: New Testament Essays
Reviewed by Derek S. Dodson

Ariel Álvarez Valdés
La nueva jerursalén, ¿ciudad celeste o ciudad terrestre? Estudio exegético y teológico de Ap. 21, 1-8
Reviewed by Sylvie Raquel

Laurence M. Vance
Greek Verbs in the New Testament and Their Principal Parts
Reviewed by Jutta Henner

Chris VanLandingham
Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul
Reviewed by D. A. Carson

Christopher J. H. Wright
Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament
Reviewed by James Robson

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Passion of Jesus and the Passion of Women

Latest from Fortress:
Barbara Reid Examines the Passion of Jesus and the Passion of Women

Minneapolis (November 12, 2007)—Discussions of the meaning of Jesus’ passion are at a creative high point, in part because of popular events like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but also because of a groundswell of interest in contemporary biblical scholarship.

In Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations through Latina and Feminist Eyes, New Testament scholar Barbara E. Reid brings her critical and compassionate eye to the different ways the New Testament writings describe Jesus’ death.

Here Reid pays attention to the role of women in the accounts of Jesus’ passion and observes that some of the interpretations of Jesus’ death in the New Testament open us up to life and liberation, while others have been used to perpetuate cycles of violence and victimization.

She also orchestrates a chorus of women’s voices, from Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and the United States, speaking to the countless ways that the cross has been invoked to control and diminish them, and to their rediscovery of the cross as a symbol of emancipation and dignity.

Reid discusses five distinct ways of understanding Jesus’ death, and shows that each holds the potential to bring life and connection as well as the potential for oppression and harm. She moves from the biblical text to the lived experience of women in cultures where the cross has been central to the way suffering and death have been understood. A model of feminist and liberationist biblical interpretation, Taking Up the Cross reads alongside women for whom the cross of Jesus has indeed been a matter of life and death.



1. A Life for Others

2. Obedient to God

3. Prophetic Martyr

4. Healer, Reconciler, Forgiving Victim

5. Birthing New Life



Select Bibliography


Barbara E. Reid, O.P., is Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union and author of a number of books, including The Gospel According to Matthew (2005), Parables for Preachers, Year A; Year B; and Year C (1999–2001), and Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (1996).

Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations through Latina and Feminist Eyes

By Barbara E. Reid, O.P.

Item No: 978-0-8006-6208-3

Format: Paperback, 263 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches

Price: $16.00

To order Taking Up the Cross please call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at

To request review copies (for media), or to discuss speaking engagements or interviews, please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or e-mail

To request exam copies for classroom use (professors) go to