Menil Collection to send back Cyprus Frescoes

If you have not ever had a chance to see the famous Byzantine frescoes that have been on long term loan from the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, don't wait any longer.  The Menil campus will be returning them to Cyprus in February.  I don't know what will happen to the gorgeous chapel and the equally gorgeous glass and iron inner sanctum that holds the frescoes.  So now is the time to go over to the Menil and see them one last time.

Here is the letter from the Menil Director Josef Helfenstein distributed to Friends of the Menil Collection:
After more than two decades in Houston, the beloved Byzantine frescoes will go back to Cyprus in 2012. While this moment is bittersweet, the story of these frescoes—from their rescue, to their long-term loan to us, and now to their return—very much reflects the essence of the Menil Collection, its focus on the aesthetic and the spiritual, and our responsible stewardship of works from other nations and cultures.

In 1983, Dominique de Menil, founder of the Menil Collection, was presented with an extraordinary prospect: to acquire two 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. Mrs. de Menil was struck by their beauty and understood immediately their art historical significance. However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus.

That knowledge led to an act of extraordinary generosity—in fact, a series of generous actions that eventually engaged many other people. First, the frescoes were acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Then, the Menil Foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 pieces when they were stolen. In gratitude, the Church lent the frescoes to the Menil on a long-term basis, for presentation in a consecrated chapel in Houston. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened to the public in 1997, with support for its construction provided by donors in Houston and across the country.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experienced the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion. Moreover, the frescoes’ installation in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel—a consecrated space that simultaneously honors their sacred origins and the tragic history of their looting from their true home church in Lysi—includes a profound, sacred dimension and is therefore different from traditional museum presentations of antiquities.
While the loan of the frescoes formally concludes in February 2012, this will not be the end of their story—or the story of the building. We are exploring how best to use it in the future, in ways that carry forward our mission. We will also be organizing a number of public programs focused on the frescoes over the next few months, and I hope you will join us for these events.
Thank you for your interest and support.  We look forward to seeing you at the Menil Collection soon.

Unbelievable news

"Today belongs to the people of Egypt". I salute you! I smile for every cab driver who has taken me around Cairo and told me about his family's plight, and his inability to find a job even with a top college degree. I smile for every woman I saw caring for her family, trying to cook over open fires while tending the donkey that pulled her cart. I smile for every merchant who wanted to sell me goods, trinkets, rugs, scarfs, to help make ends meet. I smile for every young boy who led the camels I rode on, who sailed the feluccas I sat in, who waited my tables and made sure I was not hungry. I smile for you all. Today is your day!

Praying in Her Own Voice

Two showings of the documentary film by Yael Katzir in Houston! This is not one to miss.

Praying in Her Own Voice
The Struggle of Women of the Wall for Freedom of Worship in Israel



Monday, April 12th, 7:30 pm, Rice University Cinema, 6100 Main Street, Houston FREE
Thursday, April 18th, 7 pm, Temple Sinai, 13875 Brimhurst Drive, Houston

Producer Ravit Markus will attend both screenings and be available for Q&A after the screening.

The tragedy in Haiti

I was horrified this morning when I read in the newspaper that as many as 500,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake on Haiti. I can't even get my head around this. The survivors are going to need so much help and immediately. I am remembering IKE and KATRINA and the devastation wrecked here in the south and the length of time it has taken a wealthy nation with many resources to rebuild and take care of its misplaced, its injured, and its dead.

Want to help? Here is a LINK to some national organizations and some suggestions for local aid in the Houston area. Check your local newspaper for your own city's local help centers. Survivors are going to need clothing (consider an early spring cleaning of your closet), food, medicines, and water immediately.

Upcoming lecture on GEM: Gnosticism, Esotericism and Mysticism

Four of us at from Rice Religious Studies department (me [ancient gnosticism]; Claire Fanger [medieval esotericism and magic]; Bill Parsons [psychology and mysticism]; Jeff Kripal [modern mysticism] are going to be holding a forum lecture-discussion for the Foundation for Contemporary Theology on Friday evening and Saturday October 23 and 24.

Location: St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Fondren Hall

5501 Main St., Houston, TX 77004

Times: Friday 7:30-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-2:30 pm

For registration or more information contact: The Foundation for Contemporary Theology 713-668-2345

For this weekend event, we will present synopses of our work and then engage one another and the audience on topics ranging from the historical origins of those traditions to their continued attractions, transformations and enthusiasms today. If you are in the area, I hope you will consider joining us for one or both of these days. It isn't often that you get four scholars to sit together for this many hours and talk to each other and an audience about their work and these topics! In fact, I have never heard of it done before. So this might be a first (and a last?!).

Golb Arrest

Last night Wade mentioned the piece in the NYT that there had been an arrest of Golb. Jim Davila has the scoop HERE. In January I think that I too received a series of emails from this person. The emails were very inflammatory about the fact that the Houston Museum of Natural Science has a Dead Sea Scroll on display and that I should be ashamed of myself for promoting the overturned theory that there was a Qumran community responsible for the scrolls. He used some scholars' names as if he were representing them. I knew that these scholars would never support or say such things, so I trashed the e-mails. I would have kept them had I known that an investigation was going on!

This goes to show that we all need to be careful and keep our wits about us. Anyone can write anything, attach our names to it, and publish it on the web or via e-mail. So if it looks harmful, inflammatory, or just doesn't sit right, we probably should contact the scholar directly and give warning that something may be amiss.


What a great name for a radio show! Justin Brierley has sent around a link to his UK radio show "Unbelievable" with its two latest interviews: one with Bart Ehrman and Peter Williams on both Misquoting Jesus and theodicy; the other with Michael Bird and James Crossley debating how Christianity began. There are other shows that look interesting too, and all can be downloaded as mp3 files or subscribed to as podcasts.

About the show:

Each Saturday, in the award-winning programme Unbelievable, Justin Brierley asks questions like:

Can Christianity live up to the claims it makes?

Can we trust the Bible?

Why should I believe in Jesus over anything else?

Justin tackles these and other issues, on a show that gets Christians and non-believers talking to each other.

The studio is packed with guests from all walks of life, talking about the differences between their beliefs. An atheist, agnostic or person of another faith appears each week to discuss their views on the world and why they don't believe in Jesus. At the same time, a Christian guest is given the opportunity to defend the faith.

Check it out HERE.

A Magisterial Day

Today is a magisterial day, filled with hope and prayers as a new generation - my own - takes over our country's leadership. I cannot express the joy I have to see this day finally come, and to have Obama be the person to mark this transition. My prayers are with Obama and those who will be part of this shift in government. May they lead us to make the world a better place - a place for all of us to live peacefully with our differences. We can do it, yes we can.

Best Value Private Colleges

David Hamilton sent me this news.

The Princeton Review's top 10 "Best Value Private Colleges for 2009" are:

1. Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.
2. Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass.
3. Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
4. Rice University, Houston, Texas
5. Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
6. Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.
7. Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.
8. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
9. Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.
10. Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Source: The Princeton Review and USA TODAY

For full story, go HERE.

PHOTO: Taken by me, just outside my office. This is an arch entering the Humanities Building courtyard. I am in love with the tree.

Back but buried

I'm back from Amherst, but buried in work. So haven't been able to post much this week. My apologies. As a quick update about things that have been on my mind:

1. I was knocked out by Colin Powell's appearance on Meet the Press and what he had to say which I thought was an honest assessment of the situation.

2. I am trying to prepare for Society of Biblical Literature conference in Boston at the end of November. More an this later.

3. Continuing my work on the Gospel of Judas, which has gone to another level. More on this later too!

4. Classes are progressing well. Actually great! I have wonderful very bright students who love these materials as much as I do.

Words of wisdom for the campaign trail

This editorial from the Houston Chronicle struck me when I read it this morning:

Campaigning going too far

I am sick and tired of this election, which is not dealing with the real issues that affect all of us. I watched in horror these last few days as Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee, stirred up racial hatred, getting responses such as "off with his head" and "kill him." To what point? Does the Republican Party want Barack Obama assassinated? Is this what John McCain represents? How can anyone possibly not be upset with this type of campaigning?


As I was reading through the last page of the Sentences of Sextus this morning to post an apocryphote of the day, one of Sextus' proverbs (393) from the second century made me remember McFarland's editorial and so I decided to post it. Sextus' proverb is something for us to keep in mind during this last month of the campaign when last ditch efforts of highly skilled campaign spin-doctors try to stir up deep fears and hatreds to keep us from thinking straight.
Guard yourself from lying. (Because when you lie) there is a deceiver and the deceived.

Why do I occasionally post on politics?

From the comments in a few of my past posts, I can see that some of you don't want to see my blog discuss politics because it shows my biases. I have this to say:

1. Religion (and its making) is tied to politics. It is now and it was then. Watching what happens now, can help us to understand what happened then. Why do you think the Gnostics were thrown out? Because they held different beliefs? Or because the different beliefs they held meant that certain people could and could not be in power?

2. Objectivity is not neutrality. The press confuses these two, and in trying to be neutral (i.e., unbiased), they forget to be objective and call a spade a spade. So it is up to people such as myself to try to raise the objective observations above the fray. In this case, the objective observation is that Palin is not prepared on either a national or international level to become our next VP or President (should that happen).

3. Half of my readers are from the international scene. Many send me comments by e-mail, thanking me for my posts on Palin because all they get from the media is a crazy view of Americans who appear to not know what they are doing. These international readers are in total shock over the American reaction to this campaign. They cannot fathom how such an ill-prepared person as Palin can be so close to the White House. In fact, one of my international readers said that Palin makes George W. Bush look like an intellectual giant, something which he would have never thought possible.

4. This campaign is HISTORIC. Not only are we having to face sexism and racism, but we will be witnessing the hostile takeover of our government by the religious right if we are not careful. Too extreme? Consider the Supreme Court which is likely to lose at least two justices in the next presidency, and if they are replaced by conservative judges, there will be no more debates or controls in our government against the imposition of the values of the religious right on all of us. Is this what we want for our country?

Communal memory in operation

As I have been watching the various reactions to this presidential campaign, I am fascinated with the way in which I can see communal memory in operation - how older memories are refashioned to meet the needs of a current group, especially as it attempts to solve some crisis. Usually I have only ancient texts to study, and so I cannot observe this process as an organic one. So seeing it in process now is very educational. Perhaps it will allow me to bring even more insight to my old text studies.

What do I see? Well I see some evangelical and conservative Christians in a real crisis over this campaign. Why? Because the republicans have nominated a woman as VP, and according to their strict literal readings of scripture, women cannot be in leadership positions, especially if those positions dominate men.

Let's take the Southern Baptist Convention which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on my blog. Ten years ago there was a conservative hostile takeover of the Convention that resulted in a doctrinal and practical shift - women were told to stay home, and be helpmates to their husbands based on what the bible says literally. At the time, this was applied to secular vocations, not simply pastoral.

In fact, just last year, Sheri Klouda a Hebrew professor in Dallas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) was denied tenure because of her gender. According to the Dallas news the controversy was over 1 Timothy which says, "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man." This was used to fire her from her teaching post. Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor who came to her defense said, "Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties. She is a professor, for heaven's sake," Mr. Burleson said. "The same institution that conferred her degree and hired her has now removed her for gender. To me, that is a very serious, ethical, moral breach."

Now that Palin is on the republican ticket, there is a dilemma for these communities. So we see a shift now in some of these circles to begin emphasizing part of the past, while redefining the other part. The emphasis is now being placed on spiritual leadership - women cannot be leaders in church. But they can take on these roles if they are secular, like perhaps becoming one of the most powerful people in the world - the President of the United States. And the redefinition comes in terms of "this is what we always meant, but are just clarifying."

So now, according to David Kotter executive director of the Louisville, Kentucy-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, "Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world" (Houston Chronicle). Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says that their leadership beliefs are based on New Testament teachings, and do not apply to women in secular leadership. "Where the New Testament is silent, we're silent," he said. "Where the New Testament speaks, we're under its authority" (Houston Chronicle).

Has this shift opened a crack for women's leadership in areas that Land and Kotter may not have intended? Sheryl Brady, one of the five pastors featured in the recent edition of Gospel Today (which I also blogged on last month), reasons, "My problem with all this is, how can we have a Sarah Palin running for vice-president and yet (Southern Baptists) don't think a woman can be preacher?" Colorado-based author Margaret Feinberg, an up-and-coming evangelical voice says that for a lot of young evangelical women, Palin's nomination is "exciting" because "it speaks to young evangelical women who face a glass ceiling in our workplaces, but also the stained-glass ceiling of the church" (Associated Press).

This shift in communal memory - really the development of a counter-memory in order to deal with a crisis situation in the present - is not being met with open arms by some of the conservative Christians because they are recognized as a change from the previous platform. In March 2007, the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of white evangelicals thought that mothers with young children (i.e., Palin?!) working outside the home was a "bad thing" rather than a good one. Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry, says, "The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least. The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities -- of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home" (Los Angeles Times). Voddie Baucham, a Texas pastor who has criticized the Palin selection as anti-family in a series of blogs, said that the overwhelming evangelical support demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics. "Evangelicalism has lost its biblical perspective and its prophetic voice," Baucham wrote. "Men who should be standing guard as the conscience of the country are instead falling in line with the feminist agenda and calling a family tragedy . . . a shining example of family values" (Los Angeles Times).

Send me material and links that you have noticed about these shifting communal memories.

My reaction to the Biden and Palin debate

I watched the VP debate last night and was again very uncomfortable seeing Palin in action. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, but to see her so out of her league makes me upset. Women have fought so hard to be able to break into politics, against stereotypes that we are intellectually inferior to men and can't go the distance. And now to see Palin emerge on the VP scene as unprepared as she is, well, I wish it were different.

The fact that the media is falling over themselves to increase their ratings with nonsense "analyses" after the interview is equally troubling. To call her style "folksy" and to say that because she surpassed expectations she had a victory is nothing but media spin.

This is what I saw from my couch. I saw a woman who, because she didn't know enough about the subjects and thus refused rudely to answer the posed questions, resort to flirting. I saw her wink and use voice and body language that was inappropriate to a professor, let alone a VP presidential candidate who might become a President one day. Her remark to call John Biden by his first name was not folksy. It was rude and pretentious. Her invocation of socceer moms and Joe six packs, her use of slang jargon, and her mispronunciations were not cute. They were demeaning, as if the middle class of which I am a part, cannot understand anything but street conversation.

George Stephanopoulos of ABC gave her debate an A- and her style an A. Based on what? The fact that she was coherent, even though she had little knowledge of the issues that were being debated? As a professor, this is so offensive, I don't even know where to begin. We don't give grades based on exceeding sub-standard expectations. We give grades based against a knowledge-set that must be met. We don't give grades based on "a good try." We give grades based on the quality of the work. And Palin performance was neither of these. It showed how much she doesn't know (as oral exams often do).

UPDATE: J.K. Gayle left this link in the comments. I didn't know about this blog previously.

More dead found after IKE

Three more bodies have been found according to the Houston Chronicle HERE. Two on the island of Galveston. The bodies will have to be identified by autopsies. The third body has been identified as Mr. Greg Walker of Orange County. Searchers expect to find more bodies as the debris is cleared.

This picture is of the memorial on Galveston seawall that was built in honor of those 6000 people who died in the hurricane of 1900.

Photo by Johnny Hanson for the Houston Chronicle
Waves crashing into the seawall reaching over the memorial to the hurricane of 1900 as Hurricane Ike began to hit Galveston.

Zakaria weighs in on McCain's VP choice

CNN has reported this about a column in Newsweek where Zakaria is interviewed about McCain and Palin:
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a column appearing in Newsweek, world affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria said he thinks it would be best for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain if Gov. Sarah Palin bowed out as his vice presidential running mate.

Zakaria says McCain did not put the country first in making his V.P. choice, and he says Palin is not qualified to lead the United States.
MORE OF ZAKARIA'S INTERVIEW HERE. Zakaria emphasizes the fact that Palin is operating from a set of talking points which she repeats and confuses. Like Parker admitted yesterday in her editorial, Zakaria thinks it would be best for our country if Palin would step down. She is clearly not ready for the President's post if (more likely: when) she would need to take over the helm. Zakaria thinks that McCain did not make this VP choice with the best interest of our country in mind.

Parker now thinks that Palin is "out of her league"

Kathleen Parker who had been an early enthusiastic supporter of Palin has now changed her mind and asks directly for Palin to step down in HER EDITORIAL HERE. After listening to the interviews, Parker has come to the conclusion that Palin is out of her league. Palin doesn't know enough about international politics or the economy to function successfully as our President should the need arise, although Parker did note that the foreign male leaders that Palin met were infatuated with her. The Pakistani president asked to hug her because he was so smitten with her beauty.

So here we are again glaring into the face of sexism at its worse. We have standing before us a woman VP nominee who is not ready for the job. This is nothing but a mockery of women politicians in my opinion as I have said before on this blog (just scroll down to my last several posts). Why don't we have Senator Hutchinson, a woman who knows what she is doing, standing next to McCain? It is painful for me to watch a woman who finally "made it" be so unknowledgeable about the essentials, and for this to be seen as "okay" by Americans because she is a so-called "hockey-mom" and beauty queen. I dare say that if this were a male VP nominee none of us would tolerate it - think Dan Quayle.

The MISSING after IKE are being reported

We now have a more accurate picture of who is missing after IKE. There is a web-page devoted to the MISSING HERE.

As I feared in the aftermath of the storm, the information about the MISSING was not being reported to us. Why I do not know. But today, over two weeks following IKE's devastation, the Houston Chronicle has a sad report HERE on the MISSING which now is at 400. And some survivor stories that are horrifying HERE. Many of the MISSING are hoped to show up yet in shelters. But it is beginning to look more and more like many were washed out to sea, and we are expecting to find more bodies buried in the mounds of rubble yet to be shifted through and removed.

Story and Photo HERE
Photo by Cindy Horswell for Houston Chronicle

Mike Anderson, 49, is a survivor from Bolivar. He was adrift at sea and lost for 36 hours in debris before he was rescued. He was covered in ant bites and flesh-eating bacteria. He said thoughts of his family gave him the will to live.

Bolivar Peninsula video

Residents have been returning home to face what is left and what is not left of their homes and properties on Galveston island and Bolivar peninsula this week.

The Houston Chronicle reported this morning that "the most stunning sight amid the devastation in town may have been Warren and Pam Adams' bright yellow home — the only house along the beach in Gilchrist left standing. Warren Adams credited his home's survival to several reasons: It was built higher off the ground than surrounding houses and its foundation was made with reinforced concrete. Also, the house, completed last year, was built to new hurricane building codes. Pam Adams felt a sense of guilt that her home survived and those of her neighbors didn't. 'It is just devastating. I feel so sorry for all these people,' she said. While their home remains standing, the first-floor garage was wiped away, the wooden staircase to the second floor was knocked out and the home's interior suffered water and mud damage.Warren Adams said he planned to repair and rebuild. But like many other Bolivar Peninsula residents who planned to do the same, he worried whether his home could be seized by the state because Ike eroded so much of the beach that it might now sit on public property."

The photos are from Houston Chronicle. Pam Adams is standing in front of her home in Gilchrist on Friday, Sept. 26, on the Bolivar Peninsula. Hurricane Ike leveled every house on the Gulf side of Gilchrist, except hers. Compare the aerial photo.