Jots & Tittles
Walking in Jesus’ … Wake
Jesus did it, according to the Gospels (John 6:19–21, Matthew 14:25–33 and Mark 6:48–51)—and he wasn’t the first. The Egyptian god Horus did it long before him. And the Buddha too, if you believe the stories. For many thousands of years, walking on water has been a powerful symbol of the miraculous. Now, thanks to an Israeli-American inventor following a childhood dream, ordinary consumers will be able to stroll on the waves. Perfect faith not required—just a pair of pontoon-shoes.
In July, Yoav Rosen of Newton, Massachusetts, a former software company executive, received a U.S. patent for his walking-on-water device(see photo). The inventor claims his device succeeds where many others before have failed.
A contraption that would make the walking-on-water feat a practical reality has been a dream of inventors since the dawn of the scientific age. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a design for such a device in the 15th century, and in the U.S. alone, over 100 water-walking devices have been patented in the last 150 years.
The trouble is, according to Rosen, none of the designs have ever really worked.
Rosen’s first step in creating a truly workable water-walking solution was to analyze all the previous patents and figure out where they went wrong. Then he built his own prototype, which he improved through trial and error on the Charles River near his home. The process took 18 months and, according to Rosen, a lot of his own money.
The inventor told The New York Times in August that he has been fascinated by the technical problem of walking on water since he was a child—his mother still has a picture of a contraption that he drew when he was 11 years old. But it was only after he moved to the U.S. with his wife a few years ago and had trouble finding a job in the post-dot-com U.S. economy that he devoted himself full-time to realizing his dream.
Rosen, who already markets another of his aquatic inventions, called the “W Boat,” hasn’t set a release date for his new brainchild since he doesn’t yet know what kind of store would want to carry it (although recent publicity may make that less of a problem). For more information visit his Web site: www.wavewalk.com.—L.B.
New Translation Okays Sex, Sin
A recent translation of the New Testament is attracting controversy due to its updated (critics say dumbed-down) language and its modern take on sexual mores.
Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures (O Books, 2004), edited by retired Baptist minister John Henson on behalf of the ONE Community for Christian Exploration—a network of Christian organizations in the U.K.—is attempting to reach a wider audience by giving the Bible a modern, less intimidating feel.
Gone from Good as New is the ever-controversial Book of Revelation (though Henson says it may be added later). Following modern views on psychology, demonic possession is rendered as “mental illness.” In an effort to eliminate all gender-exclusive expressions, Jesus is no longer the Son of Man but rather “the Complete Person.” Neutralizing the exclusively religious connotations of “baptize” in English, the Greek word baptizo is translated as “dip.” (Thus John the Baptist is now “John the Dipper.”)
Traditional renderings of person- and place-names—many of which are simply Anglicizations of the Greek that have stuck ever since the King James Version (KJV) was published five centuries ago—have also been updated in Good as New: Peter is 013now Rocky (which to Henson represents the meaning of the name—“rocklike”—as well as its affectionate, informal nature) and Nicodemus is now just Nick (following the precedent of early Christians, who shortened Priscilla to Prisca).
According to Henson, ONE’s goal was to produce a contemporary version of the New Testament that is accessible to the average secular reader, for the purpose of evangelism. He says anyone who shared this goal—theologically conservative as well as liberal—was welcome to participate in the translation project, which has been underway for more than a decade. (A “fundamentalist Calvinist” worked on Romans, according to Henson.)
The unabashedly “woman, gay and sinner friendly” Good as New has garnered a warm recommendation by the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. But critics on both sides of the pond have been hostile toward its apparent sexual permissiveness.
The controversy mainly centers on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. For example, the phrase rendered in the KJV as “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1) has sometimes been taken as a recommendation of celibacy. Good as New, however, follows a majority of scholars in treating this verse as something Paul quotes and then refutes. “I think [abstinence] is more likely to lead to sexual offences,” Paul goes on to say in the new translation. “My advice is for everyone to have a regular partner. Husbands and wives should strive to meet each other’s sexual needs” (1 Corinthians 7:2–3). Softened, also, is the condemnation of homosexuality found in other translations of this letter.
Henson says the new translation more accurately reflects Paul’s intended meanings on sexuality. He acknowledges, however, that there is probably not a single innovation in Good as New that could not be disputed for a host of reasons. Thus he calls ONE’s work a “rolling translation,” subject to continual revision.
Good as New is available from bookstores or by calling (from the U.S.): 011-44-1962-736880.—L.B.
Byzantium at the Getty
The art of the Byzantine Empire and its influence on the religious and royal imagery of neighboring countries is the subject of a new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Byzantium and the West presents numerous bound manuscripts, manuscript leaves and two paintings—works primarily from the Getty’s own holdings but also from other West Coast collections. Besides presenting examples of the distinctive Byzantine artistic tradition, the exhibition traces how aspects of this heritage were carried on in the art of Germany, Armenia and Italy. The Byzantine-style miniature of the Vision of Zechariah, for example, is from a Sicilian book of the Old Testament Prophets, made in about 1300. Byzantium and the West is currently on view until December 5, 2004. For more information visit www.getty.edu.
The Bible in the News
Dancing with characteristic frenzy, Snoopy announces an impending disaster “of biblical proportions.” As is so often the case, beloved cartoonist Charles Schulz got it just right: Almost all current references to events “of biblical proportions” refer to natural disasters or other equally unsettling events. Love or goodness or happy events never seem to achieve biblical proportions in the daily press.
Not surprisingly, floods (think Noah) top the list of Bible-sized disasters. According to Slate Magazine, the town of Kaycee, Wyoming, “was almost entirely flushed away in a flood of biblical proportions two months ago, leaving, in what only can be seen as an act of God, four churches and a bar.” A flood in Ontario, Canada, “wasn’t exactly of Biblical proportions,” the Stratford Beacon Herald reports, “but it was an awful lot of water for a parking lot.” And finally, citing the specific biblical reference writers have in mind when they speak of serious flooding: “The amount of rainfall of late has reached biblical proportions. Nearly 40 days of rain in six weeks in Palm Beach County inevitably recalls the age of Noah.”
Mention of Noah and the Flood can lead in quite different directions. From the Balkans comes this report, with the headline, “Bulgaria Lures the Tourists Two by Two”: “Bulgaria is hoping to inject new life into its fledgling tourism industry by creating a theme park of biblical proportions dedicated to Noah and the Great Flood. Romania has its Dracula so we’ll have our Noah’s Ark.”
Floods are not the only natural disasters to reach biblical proportions, however. So, for example, “Winds threaten to whip more blazes into fires of biblical proportions” in southern California; and “scorched by fire and drought, pummeled by avalanches and thrashed by a hurricane, Canada endured weather of biblical proportions in 2003.” This summer’s invasion of 17-year cicadas also conjured up biblical imagery: “Ugly Bug Ball of Biblical Proportions,” read one headline; another declared, “Insects’ Coming of Age a Spectacle of Biblical Proportions.” Perhaps the writers were recalling a more famous plague of locusts.
Once removed from the world of nature, references to “biblical proportions” are often dispatched to public disputes—some biblically based, some not. According to the Edmonton Sun, the local school system “has risked sparking a crisis of biblical proportions by hiking the teachers’ work week.” And, “at the bottom of a three-year dispute” over rezoning near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “lurks a feud of biblical proportions between neighboring farm families.”
Across the country (and beyond), the Bible has inspired numerous battles of biblical proportions: “Evolving theories about how life began created a debate of biblical proportions Friday before the Nebraska Board of Education”; “A debate of biblical proportions brewed Tuesday at a work session of the Casper [Wyoming] City Council as council members parted like the Red Sea over whether to keep a Ten Commandments monument in City Park”; “Separating Church and Statehouse a Task of Biblical Proportions”; “Battle of Biblical Proportions: Houses of Worship Discuss the Controversy over Gender-Adjusted New International Version”; and “A Debate of Biblical Proportions: An Austrian Archaeologist Says an ‘Israelite House’ found in Egypt Proves the Bible’s Exodus Story.” (In the interest of full disclosure, I note that this final headline comes from the Ottawa Citizen’s report on an article in BR’s sister publication, Biblical Archaeology Review, in September/October 2003).
But with a frequency that many will find reassuring, a closer connection to the Bible does sometimes engender a more positive tone to the reference: “The Public Museum of Grand Rapids, Mich., is billing its new Dead Sea Scrolls show as an exhibition of biblical proportions.” And the headline “Biblical Proportions” aptly characterizes the handiwork of Akatawara Valley, New Zealand, book-repair specialist Bill Tito, who is fixing up a “3000-page Bible [that] weighed about 4.5 kg and was about 130 years old.”
These next two stories have a special place in my columnist’s heart despite (or perhaps because of) their pull in very different directions: “Marking An Era of Almost Biblical Proportions—Jenny’s 40 Years” is the heading for an account of the four decades of service by one Jenny Gason to successive Anglican bishops of Truro in Great Britain: “During this time her discretion, good humour and advice have been much valued.” And finally: “Pub Brawl of Biblical Proportions” describes opposition by “a sub-committee of Christian ministers” in Sydney, Australia, to the proposed expansion of a pub from 90 to 130 patrons. This addition of space for another 40 drinkers may compare unfavorably to Jenny Gason’s 40 years of loyal service to the Church of England, but that, along with any other issues of “proportion,” biblical or otherwise, I leave up to my always astute readers!
Walking in Jesus’ … Wake