Letter from Dr. Larry G. Herr in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Larry Herr, which I am posting below.


Dr. Larry G. Herr

I would like to add my voice to those who admire Chris Rollston, his
integrity, his scholarship, and his caring attitude toward colleagues
and students. Right now he must be considered the North American
leader in his field of Near Eastern Epigraphy. I, too, do epigraphy
and he and I have discussed inscriptions often. Every time I talk to
him, I gain a new view on the field.

It is unfortunate that my only knowledge of Emmanuel is that Chris
Rollston teaches and works there. I wish my knowledge of the
institution could be made better.

Larry G. Herr
Professor of Religious Studies and Archaeology
Canadian University College
Lacombe, AB, T4L 2E5

Carrie Mayes San Angelo writes in support of Chris Rollston

Milligan College alum Carrie Mayes San Angelo has penned a blog post in support of Dr. Chris Rollston. You can read it at Carrie’s Cultural Commentary blog.

Letter from Dr. Athalya Brenner in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Athalya Brenner, which I am posting below.


Dr. Athalya Brenner

Dr. Athalya Brenner

Dear Dean Holland, dear President Sweeney:

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve been following for a couple of weeks the unfolding story of Dr. Rollston’s troubles at ECS. This is your institution; as an outsider, I thought I had no right of interference in your institution’s internal matters. My mind changed, however, when I read tonight an article by Dr. Paul Blowers, Professor of Church History at ECS, as published online in Bible and Interpretation.

Dr. Blowers made it known, publicly, that his objection to Rollston’s article in Huffington Post about attitudes to women in the Bible was wrong on the following points: it was imbalanced; it shouldn’t have been published to lay readers; and it ran counter to confessional responsibilities, such as are practiced in Emmanuel.

I’d like to relate to this claims, first by introducing my credentials, then by assessing the claims. I am a Hebrew Bible scholar. My main fields of interest are feminist criticism of the Bible and Semitic Philology. I have published over 25 books, edited and authored, on feminist and gender issues in the Bible, including the New Testament. I have taught in Israel, The Netherlands, The States and Hong Kong. In the latter two places, although I am Jewish, I taught in confessional frameworks (Anglican in Hong Kong, Disciples of Christ in Texas). Details of my extensive teaching experience and publications on matters pertaining to women in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and to a lesser extent in the New Testament are to be found in my webpages, URL’s below.

Writing from my experience, as delineated here, I would like to completely refute Dr. Blowers’ contentions. Rollston’s article, against my background of undisputed  expertise in the field, is balanced and mild. In the Bible, regrettably, women are second-class, and much more so than Rollston sketched. There are positive female roles in it, as he himself indicated, but those are too few to offset the general picture. This is regrettable since the Bible is for many of us and including Rollston and me, regardless of creed, a source of fascination and a Book of Life; exposing less savoury elements in it is painful to say the least, albeit necessary in order to continue the ages-honored process of its interpretation, reinterpretation, updating and usage for current believing and cultural communities. I believe this is what Rollston did: he exposed a biblical bias, in a balanced and responsible fashion, as to say: This is our heritage. We do NOT discard this foundational heritage; but, looking at it critically, in the footsteps of Jewish Sages, Church Fathers and readers and believers over millennia, it is up to us to update, reinterpret, and continue to use the Bible as our life companion. In doing that Rollston in effect displayed the same concerns for the public of both genders as Dr. Blowers displays for Emmanuel students and future pastors, extending the good work and bringing it to the surface.

In short: if the Huffington Post article is at the root of this upheaval, it seems to me wrong on scholarly as well as pedagogical grounds to fault Dr. Rollston in any way. He is a rarity: a first-rate scholar who is well-respected and respectful and humanistic in his approach, a person who cares deeply about people and their beliefs, always cautious to nurture—even when he critiques—and to find positive angles. To claim otherwise is simply not borne out by the facts of the matter.

Please excuse me if my words constitute an interference in Emmanuel internal matters. Rollston is a colleague, not a friend of mine. My education and interests simply prevent me from keeping silent on this matter.

Respectfully and Shalom,

Dr. Athalya Brenner
Professor Emerita of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Chair, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Professor in Biblical Studies, Department of Hebrew Culture, Tel Aviv University, Israel

How NOT to Issue a Press Release: Lies, Misleading Statements, and Coverup at Emmanuel Christian Seminary

The scandal at Emmanuel Christian Seminary involving the attempt to (wrongfully) terminate Professor Chris Rollston appears to be much uglier and more mishandled than we first thought.

Thomas Stark, who first broke much of this story on the Religion @ the Margins blog, has posted a new story that at first seems too unlikely to be true. But after reading the story, and more amazingly, viewing the screen shots, it unfortunately appears to be all too real.

Emmanuel President Michael Sweeney apparently asked Thomas Stark to issue a press release for Emmanuel that addressed the Chris Rollston disciplinary action presently underway at Emmanuel. This is, quite frankly, insane! (With all due respect to Thomas Stark and the Religion @ the Margins blog.) Since when does a university president ask a blogger to issue a press statement on the blogger’s blog?  Does the Emmanuel President not own a computer and a website? And how is it that we STILL haven’t heard a single thing from Emmanuel on this issue (outside of Paul Blowers divulging the confidential business of a disciplinary action to the public on Facebook, and then writing an entire article to the B&I website discussing the situation publicly)?

Who taught these guys to deal with press? And who taught them to do damage control? Silence from the Emmanuel administration only further exacerbates the perception that they have committed a grievous crime and STILL haven’t even figured out how to begin to address it. The Emmanuel administration’s complete failure at damage control (i.e., Blowers’ self-serving, and quite unhelpful article at B&I, and nothing else?) and their inability to communicate to the public even an acknowledgment that something is, in fact, going on at Emmanuel, belies just how bad things are there.

(Side note: screaming “mind your own business” and “cheap seats” is not considered effective damage control.)

Not only is Emmanuel missing opportunity after opportunity to address and settle this matter in an expedient manner, now they have apparently taken to attempting to convince bloggers to release “official” statements containing numerous falsehoods on their behalf. That is, they appear to be trying to get bloggers to lie to the public for them. This is absolutely shameful.

Stark’s latest post offers examples of four misleading, incorrect, or false statements in the Emmanuel statement. Here is an example of just one of them:

A fourth and final problem with Emmanuel’s statement is this: “nor is a disagreement over the content of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article an issue in our discussions.” This statement is, in no uncertain terms, false. It is not simply a mischaracterization; it is a lie. It is a very troubling lie, and it is a lie that could not have been unintentional. As revealed last Monday in the Inside Higher Education article, President Sweeney’s letter to Rollston does in fact bring up the Huffington Post article as one of the causes justifying termination proceedings against Rollston. A whole paragraph is devoted to the subject of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article and his Facebook posts. In fact, the letter mentions the Huffington Post article more than once, and does in fact express disagreement with Dr. Rollston’s conclusions.

But of course, Sweeney’s letter resorts to obvious mischaracterization of Rollston’s conclusions in his Huffington Post article. Sweeney’s letter alleges Dr. Rollston’s article made the claim that “the Bible, as a whole, marginalized women,” and that its conclusion was, “we cannot put our trust in ‘biblical values.’” This is of course completely false. Rollston did not argue that the Bible “as a whole,” marginalized women. He argued that a majority of texts relevant to the question of women’s status in ancient Israel reflected patriarchy, while a minority of texts pushed back against this ideology in various ways. In the article, he identified eleven examples of such push backs. Moreover, he did not conclude that we cannot put our trust in “biblical values.” He concluded that patriarchy was one biblical value among many (and who in their right mind can deny this?), and that this specific biblical value is not something we ought to value. (Does President Sweeney wish to defend the patriarchal institutions established throughout much of the Bible, and argue that they should remain in force within modern Christianity?) Clearly Dr. Rollston’s article showed that he saw a clash of values within the Bible, and demonstrated that he found some of those values to be morally praiseworthy. President Sweeney and the experts in hermeneutics at Emmanuel should be defending him from those who have plainly misinterpreted his article, not engaging in the same careless and sweeping mischaracterizations themselves.

More to the point, clearly this displays that there was discussion of and disagreement over the contents of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article in connection to disciplinary proceedings. So when President Sweeney releases a statement in which he flatly denies that any “disagreement over the content of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article” was “an issue in our discussions,” we know he is lying. I have spent a great deal of time trying to imagine a charitable interpretation of this claim that does not amount to an intentional lie, and I have been unable to do so.

Unbelievable! But there it is. Not only has Emmanuel apparently begun termination proceedings against a tenured professor (wrongfully, I might add), but they have yet even to address the matter publicly, because their one attempt to quell the growing outrage from other scholars and former students against them failed miserably when the blogger they asked to release an official statement refused to do so because the statement was utterly false – falsehoods that were immediately confirmed by the publication of the Inside Higher Ed article.

Had Thomas Stark published the Emmanuel statement from President Sweeney as-is (like he was asked to do), Stark would have been roped into lying on behalf of Emmanuel, which based on the evidence, Emmanuel asked him to do!

Stark describes how he felt when he finally realized that he had been asked to lie for Emmanuel:

Then, when I was sent a deeply problematic “statement” described as “officially” from President Sweeney, to be published on my website, I had come firsthand into solid confirmation of my suspicions of incompetence. No matter whose idea it may have been, how incompetent would President Sweeney have to be to approve the publication of an official statement from Emmanuel, with his name on it, on my blog! Does this evoke a sense of direction? Does this communicate a sense of properly handling a potentially damaging scandal? What is more, to include in that statement a number of mischaracterizations, evasions, and an outright lie—a lie he should have known full well could be proved false at any time—I ultimately concluded that President Sweeney appears to be in over his head, and is having a great deal of trouble managing the combination of this financial crisis, this ideological controversy over the direction of the seminary, and now what appears to be the wrongful termination of Professor Rollston, in anything remotely resembling a competent manner. It seems to me that President Sweeney has made mistake after mistake after mistake, and in doing so, has put Emmanuel’s reputation and its viability in serious jeopardy.

IMHO, Emmanuel should settle this case ASAP. They should either drop this farce of a “disciplinary action” against Professor Rollston immediately, apologize, and perhaps open an inquiry into Professor Blowers’ activity in this whole mess, OR, Emmanuel should pay Professor Rollston his salary for the next bunch of years, apologize, part ways (I can’t imagine Dr. Rollston (or any other faculty member for that matter) wanting to stay at Emmanuel after this), and end this absolute nightmare before they end up in court and the national press picks this up. It’s only a matter of time. Emmanuel should go to their “six-figure donor”, ask him for the money to buy out Dr. Rollston (and avoid court), and then at least Emmanuel can claim a partial victory (the departure of Prof. Rollston). Professor Rollston can go to a school that will actually appreciate him, and the remainder of the faculty can watch their backs as the Paul Blowers thought police plays hall monitor in Johnson City.

Only time will tell if Emmanuel’s credibility and reputation are too damaged to recover from this inexplicable mess, brought upon their own heads by their own mismanagement.

on ‘absalom’s tomb’ in jerusalem and nephesh monument iconography

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into a burial ossuary.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796 (http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/brian796/2/1264692913/the-tomb-of-absalom.jpg/tpod.html). Center: MSNBC Cosmic Log (http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/27/10521007-new-find-revives-jesus-tomb-flap) Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Avtomb.JPG).

Here’s a thought:

In response to Simcha Jacobovici’s sensational claims of a “Jonah’s Great Fish” icon on a burial ossuary in Jerusalem, Duke University’s Dr. Eric Meyers states the following:

In fact, the image in the book is so poorly reproduced in my copy that one suspects it has been intentionally altered so that no one could see what the the image really is. Indeed, the image actually seems to resemble a nephesh, or tomb monument, like those found in many places in Jerusalem in the first century CE and depicted on ossuaries of this very period (so for example in fig. 13 or 30 of Rahmani’s A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, 1994). A nephesh is the above-ground monument of a tomb that marks the tomb below and the one(s) buried there.

Chris Rollston adds:

I must emphasize that I am confident the engraving  is simply a standard “nephesh tower motif,” an ornamental motif that is fairly widely attested on the corpus of ossuaries.  In fact, in Rahmani’s discussion of the ornamental motifs of ossuaries, the first ornamental motif he mentions is that which has the appearance of a tomb façade or nephesh tower. (Rahmani, L. Y., 1994. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, p. 28).

By the way, the features of  this ossuary’s ornamentation that Jacobovici and Tabor contend are the “fins of a fish,” are actually a standard feature of a roof, namely, the eaves (which, of course, are important for directing the water away from a building).  Note also that eaves are visible in multiple of Rahmani’s drawings of ossuary ornamentation.  In short, this is not a fish.  It is a nephesh tower or tomb façade.

The initial thought that came to my mind was the so-called Tomb of Absalom (that we coincidentally discussed today in my “Jerusalem from the Bronze to Digital Age” class at Iowa). The shape of the figure resembles the shape of the Tomb of Absalom, which is dated to the 1st C. CE in Jerusalem. I suggest that the “round” figure at the top of the ossuary image may be an attempted representation of a lotus flower that Kloner and Zissu state is carved into the top of the Absalom monument. (Kloner A. and Zissu B., 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and The Israel Exploration Society. Jerusalem (in Hebrew), pp. 141-43.) It certainly could be interpreted as an attempt at the petals of a flower.

Likewise the lower panels of the image could be an attempt at a representation of the tomb’s pillars.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into a burial ossuary.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796. Center: MSNBC Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia.

Note also that the sections of the “tail” of the “fish” correspond to the attempted representations of the stacked Greek architectural segments on the tomb’s (frieze, architrave, etc.):

'The Tomb of Absalom.' Peter Bergheim, a Jerusalem resident of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, took this photo, which shows how the rock rubble piled up even inside the tomb. The Bergheim family had a bank just inside Jaffa Gate. Photo by Peter Bergheim, courtesy of Joe Zias. (Available at: http://tfba.co/content/index.php/projects/34-tomb-of-absalom/46-the-tomb-of-absalom-reconsidered?start=9)

'The Tomb of Absalom.' Peter Bergheim, a Jerusalem resident of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, took this photo, which shows how the rock rubble piled up even inside the tomb. The Bergheim family had a bank just inside Jaffa Gate. Photo by Peter Bergheim, courtesy of Joe Zias. (Available at: http://tfba.co/content/index.php/projects/34-tomb-of-absalom/46-the-tomb-of-absalom-reconsidered?start=9)

This may not be the inspiration for the image on the ossuary, but it certainly seems more likely than a “fish” spitting out a “human head.”

cna u raed tihs? a brief thought on ancient orthography

Can You Read This Sentence?I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae and in conxtet. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

(i geuss i cuold say the smae thnig abuot catipalziatoin, but we alerady konw tihs. the acnient grekes uesd all lwoer csae or all upepr csae ltetres, and neevr btohreed to mix tehm. lkiewsie, hberew and arbaic olny use a snigle csae, and tehy udenrsotod ecah ohter pereftcly. but i degrsis…)

The frist pragaarph* avobe is ipmortnat bceuase whtheer tehy siad so or not, ancinet scriebs aslo kenw taht wrods wtih exrta ‘plnee‘ vewols wree the smae as ohter wrods wihtuot tehm. Jsut beaucse a wrod cnotanis ‘plnee‘ vwoles in one plcae in a sneetnce and lakcs tehm in antheor deons’t ncessareliy maen taht the txet was the rselut of two difefrnet ahtours. It jsut maent taht orhtogrpahy and wittren vweols wree not as menaignufl in eraly srcibal sstyems, and it was olny witihn eltie srciabl cmomutniies taht othrgorphay was uesd to dstingiusih bteewen ‘prporely edcuaetd’ inviddiauls and ‘lseser’ educated idinviudals (and eevn tehn olny in wrtietn cnotxets, not vrebal oens). Of crouse, as letiracy bcaeme icnraesinlgy coommn thrugohuot a regoin, spllenig bcaeme an incraeisnlgy pravelnet idnicotar of an idnivdiaul’s itellingnece.

Add tihs to the fcat taht vwoles are amolst unencsseray for wrttein letirautre (voclaiaztoin, yes, but not for wrettin cmomnuciatoin), and we udernsatnd why presnolaiezd lecisne plteas rguelraly dorp volews frsit to fit big wrdos itno 6- and 7-ltteer sapces. The smae phenomenon is apparent in Tiwettr, wehre we are lemiitd to 140 chraactres. Hree aslo, lkie in acninet epagripihc isncpritoins and letirtaure wtriten on exnpesvie pypaurs, sacpe is vlaualbe, and so satdnard othrograhpy is abondaend in fvaor of an eocnmoy of csnonoants. If we rleazie taht a ferthur eocnmoy of chraecatrs can be ahceievd by eilimiantnig dpithogns, dirgahps, and silnet ltteres, we can udrenstnad the ircnaesignly chraactreisitc lnagague taht dsitignushies, imho, kewl twttr ppl frm all othrz, that alloz thm 2 b all lol @ us b/c we insist on spllng out gr8 wurds instd of jst makin em smallr. w00t!

Wihle tihs deos not awlyas hlod ture for prpoer nmaes lkie Steh Sandres, Chirs Rlolsotn, or Wlilaim Schneidiwend (the lttaer of whcih few can sepll crroetcly eevn tdoay ;-), the uncovenntioanl natrue of nmaes exlpians why so mnay proepr naems wree splleed in vraaint wyas (epsecillay with rgerad to veowls). The tutrh is, we can cumomuictae rtaher wlel witohut preopr spllenig, wichh porbbaly expialns why mispsillnegs and abbiveratoins wree mroe acectbaple in aceinnt witring. (and taht catipalziatoin is stlil unenecssray!)

-rboret craglil


*Note: The first paragraph made its way around the internet beginning in 2003. The urban legend portion of this paragraph is that ‘research at Cambridge’ produced the study. This has not conclusively been determined. Read more at Snopes.com here.

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