“Self-styled bishop”

A tweet from SecularNZ this morning reminded me about a phrase that irritated me in a New Zealand Herald article last week. In yet another story about the finances of Destiny Church, the article referred to its leader as “self styled bishop Brian Tamaki.”

Without entering into a discussion of Tamaki, his church or its finances, I wonder what the writer thought the difference was between a “bishop” and a “self-styled bishop.”

Like other men and women who get to be called “bishops,” Brian Tamaki had the title conferred on him by other leaders of his church in 2005. In this respect it makes no more sense to describe Pope Francis as a “self-styled pope.” Francis I may style himself “pope,” but like Bishop Tamaki, he also had the title officially conferred on him by other leaders of the Catholic church in 2013. Like “Bishop” Tamaki, “Pope” Francis shares his title with a number of contemporary  contenders.

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Webb, Murray, 1947-. Webb, Murray, 1947- :Destiny Church [Brian Tamaki] [ca 15 December 2004]. Ref: DX-001-962. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22779958
My guess is that the confusion comes from some expectation that “bishop” is an exclusively Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox term – that, somehow, unless you wear a purple shirt and/or a mitre, you don’t get to be called a bishop.

In fact, “bishop” comes to us from the New Testament via the Old English word biscop. Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 refer to church leaders called episkopoi in Greek (Old English biscop is just a rendering of the piskop in the Greek episkopos).

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ROME, THE VATICAN-12 MARCH 2013 : The Cardinals are leaving the Pro Engleindo Mass, which is immediately prior to their entrance into the Sistene Chapel for the voting process that elects the new Pope. Cardinal O’Malley from Boston is the one with the white beard. Image by Jeffrey Bruno. Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Episkopos is notorious difficult to translate, and its origins are uncertain. It may come from the non-religious world of the early Christian era, referring to someone in charge of a building site or other group activity. In this context it’s sometimes translated as “overseer” or “superintendent.” It may come from the Septuagint (a Jewish-Greek translation of the Old Testament), where Ezekiel is called to be a “watchman” or episkopos for the people of Israel (Ezekiel 33:3). Here the office is something more like a prophet.

Of course “bishop” could have both origins. Unfortunately, though, the New Testament doesn’t tell us much about what an episkopos does, except that, according to 1 Timothy at least, he should be of irreproachable character and the “husband of only one wife.”

In the two centuries following the Reformation, most Protestant churches wanted to abandon the term “bishop” because they associated it with what they regarded as the corruption of the medieval church. But Protestants were aware that episkopos was in the Bible, and so they experimented with translating it in different ways. They also experimented with what the office meant in practice (beyond being irreproachable and the “husband of only one wife”).

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John Wesley ordaining Thomas Coke as a “General Superintendent” in 1784, a move that greatly scandalised Wesley’s fellow Anglicans. They believed that Wesley, as a priest, had no right to do this. Coke later called himself a “bishop.” Anglicans felt the same way about this title as the New Zealand Herald appears to feel about Bishop Tamaki. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop_(Methodism)#/media/File:The_Ordination_of_Bishop_Asbury.jpg

So, for example, John Knox’s Church of Scotland experimented with an office known as the “superintendent,” before abandoning after a few decades. Some modern Methodist churches still have leaders called “superintendents.” Other Methodists opt for the older translation of “bishop.” A lot of Protestant churches who don’t use either term would still argue that their leaders and ministers met the job-description of “oversight” or “watching” implied in the Biblical Greek.

Which is all a long way of saying that there isn’t a standard blueprint for what a “bishop” is, does or wears. There’s also no regulating body, patent office or copyright agency that gets to decide who can and can’t use the title “bishop.”

More broadly speaking, in a secular, liberal democracy, all religions deserve equal treatment under the law. So if I want to call myself the Dalai Lama, Pope or Jedi Master, the law has no interest in this. Nor, I think, does the secular media – except, perhaps, as a matter of curiosity.

But if I were to use my church’s money in ways that looked legally questionable, then both law and media would have an interest, and both would entitled to call me to account.

 

 

Murderous Texts: Call for Papers

We are delighted to announce a call for papers for an exciting new volume being organized by Auckland TheoRel’s Caroline Blyth and Dr Alison Jack from New College School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Murderous Texts: The Bible in Crime Fiction and Drama will be an edited volume of essays that will consider the complex ways the crime genre in literature, film, television, and theatre engage with biblical texts, stories, and themes. More details below!

Murderous Texts: The Bible in Crime Fiction and Drama

Call for papers

rankin2Religious themes and motifs have, for many years, been grist to the mill for creators of crime fiction and drama. In particular, the Bible has enjoyed a certain notoriety within the crime genre, where a biblical story, text, or motif serves as a thematic focus within the plotline to explore contemporary concerns of criminality, violence, and the search for justice.  In Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), and its film adaptations (2009, 2011), a list of biblical passages hold the clue to identifying a ritualistic serial killer. An episode of ITV’s police drama Vera (‘A Certain Samaritan’, Vera, Series 2, 2012) retells the parable of the Good Samaritan, re-evaluating its significance within the context of a contemporary secular world. Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø cites a biblical passage (Isaiah 63.1) at the start of his 2005 novel, The Redeemer, using this as a starting point from which to explore the ethics of violence, retribution, and redemption, while in a scene from Ian Rankin’s first novel, Knots and Crosses (1987), police inspector John Rebus sits reading the book of Job, pondering its themes of suffering and divine justice in light of his own personal and professional traumas.

This frequent and fascinating engagement with the Bible in fictional crime texts newbo(including novels, film, television, and theatre) deserves further investigation. Exploring the explicit and implicit use of biblical texts and themes offers insights into the multiple layers of meaning that may be present within the crime text itself, including the complex intersections understood to be present between violence and religion. Additionally, it also raises fascinating questions about the significance of the Bible as a religious and cultural text – its association with the culturally pervasive themes of violence, intolerance, guilt, and atonement, and its relevance as  a symbol of the (often fraught) location that religion occupies within contemporary culture.

Despite this relative popularity of biblical themes and allusions in crime fiction and drama, there has been little sustained scholarly engagement with this subject to date. In our proposed volume, Murderous Texts: The Bible in Crime Fiction and Drama, we seek to redress this, bringing together interdisciplinary scholarship from the fields of biblical interpretation, literary criticism, and studies in film, television, and popular culture. We are therefore looking for contributors who are keen to explore the different ways cultural crime texts (including literature, film, television, and theatre) The-Girl-with-the-Dragon-Tattoo-2009engage with biblical themes or traditions. Essays may consider explicit references to the Bible in these texts, or focus instead on their implicit biblical allusions, including explorations of biblical themes such as sin, redemption, and sacrifice. We are defining ‘literature’ broadly here to include both traditional novels and more contemporary literary forms, such as graphic novels and comic books.

Contributors should submit an abstract of their essay for this volume (c. 200-300 words) to the editors Caroline Blyth (c.blyth[at]auckland.ac.nz) and Alison Jack (A.Jack[at]ed.ac.uk) by 30 April 2016. Final essays should be 5000-6000 words in length and submitted by 31 December, 2016.

If you wish more information, or have any questions about the volume, please contact Caroline or Alison.

A pdf of the call for papers can be located here: Murderous Texts CFP

Advent offering 24 December

For our final advent offering of 2015, I thought I’d share some images of a gospel tradition that follows shortly after the story of the nativity. In Matthew 2.13-23, after the magi have paid their visit, God visits Joseph in a dream and tells him to take his family and flee to Egypt, as Herod intends to search for the child and kill him. This tradition has become very popular in art, with paintings from across the centuries showing these dramatic events as they unfold.

Often, artists have captured the family making this long and difficult journey, travelling through hostile territory, looking weary and unsure.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner, Flight into Egypt (1923)
Hans Sandreuter Flight to Egypt 1885
Hans Sandreuter, Flight into Egypt (1885)
Carl Spitzweg, The Flight to Egypt (c.1879)
Carl Spitzweg, Flight into Egypt (c.1879)

Other artists have added to the gospel traditions, showing the family taking a rest on the journey, perhaps to emphasise how long and tiring their travels were.

Luc-Olivier Merson Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1876
Luc-Olivier Merson, Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1876)

Mary is snoozing with Jesus in the embrace of a Sphinx!

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Rembrandt, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1647)
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Adam Elsheimer, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (17th Century)

Less often, we see the journey as it reaches its end, and the holy family arrive at their destination.

Edwin_Longsden_Long_-_Anno_Domini 1883
Edwin Long, Anno Domini (Flight to Egypt), 1883

One of my favourite images of this gospel tradition, however, has to be this modern take by Russian artist Ivan Korshunov.

Ivan Korshunov Flight to Egypt
Ivan Korshunov, Flight to Egypt (n.d.)

I love this visual interpretation of the story – Mary and Joseph are depicted as strong, confident characters, content in the knowledge that they are going to outrun any dangers that are snapping at their heels. On their motorcycle, they have speed and power. Mary smiles contentedly, her limbs wrapped around Joseph in a gesture of both comfort and desire. Even the infant Jesus seems blissfully unaware of his surroundings, snugly sheltering on his mother’s back. This is a family of refugees that exudes contentment and care, looking ahead to the safety of the life that awaits them in a new land, far away from Herod’s grasp.

Well, that’s it for 2015. From all of us at the Auckland Theology and Religion blog, health and happiness to you and yours over this festive period and we look forward to sharing more with you on the blog in 2016.

Advent offering 23 December

With only two sleeps to go, today’s penultimate Advent offering brings us another beautiful image of the nativity, capturing the moment when the shepherds come to pay homage to the infant Jesus. The artist, N.C. Wyeth, uses light and darkness to great effect here, bringing a sense of wonder to the scene. As the shepherds crowd into the dark space of the byre, the only light source seems to be the infant Jesus himself, whose tiny sleeping body is emanating a warm glow that brightens his mother’s face and radiates towards those who draw near to him.

NC Wyeth Nativity 1912
N.C. Wyeth, Nativity (1912)

Back tomorrow for our final Advent offering – see you then.

Advent offering 22 December

With only three sleeps to go ’til Christmas, we move from yesterday’s annunciation to the shepherds to another iconic image from the nativity – the adoration of the magi, who follow a star from the East until it alights on the place that they will find Jesus. Now, according to Matthew 2.1-12, it’s likely these magi visited the newborn Jesus a little while after his dramatic birth in the manger, yet this is usually the location in which artists like to portray them. Another artistic tradition is that, typically, three magi are depicted; the gospels do not say how many of these ‘wise men’ there were, only that they brought three expensive gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. For all we know, there could have been many more. Which is why I find today’s Advent offering so interesting, as it chooses to eschew artistic traditions and offer us a glimpse of the other possibilities for this rather splendid visitation.

A_Adoração_dos_Magos_(1828)_-_Domingos_Sequeira
Domingos Sequeira, Adoration of the Magi (1828)

In Domingos Sequeira’s beautiful work, Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus are standing out in what appears to be a public thoroughfare, rather than in the manger where Mary gave birth. Above them shines that star with a near-blinding brightness; and it appears to have guided a whole host of magi to see this special baby. If you look closely at this image (and you can enlarge it here), you quickly lose count of how many magi-like figures are jostling to meet the holy family, carrying their gifts and paying obeisance. There are also many others present too, including women and children, who have perhaps come out to see these rather exotic visitors. And, in the midst of all the melee, the infant Jesus is ignoring everything that’s going on and staring rather sweetly at the shiny star that continues to hover over his head.

Back tomorrow for our penultimate Advent image for 2015.

Advent offering 21 December

Four sleeps to go ’til Christmas, so only four more Advent offerings left. Today’s artwork follows on with our Nativity story, focusing on the annunciation of the shepherds, as narrated in the gospel of Luke 2.8-14. I’ve chosen two very different images for you that relate this tradition. First, a beautiful painting by  German artist Heinrich Vogeler, which captures the moment when the angel first appears to the shepherds.

Heinrich_Vogeler_Verkündigung_an_die_Hirten_1902
Heinrich Vogeler, Verkundigun an die Hirten (1902)

The colour of the angel’s garment and wings is divine (a lovely change from the usual white) and goes rather nicely with her copper hair. The shepherds (a taciturn looking bunch) don’t seem to know what to make of her, while the cow in the centre of the image appears rather unimpressed. Perhaps once they all turn round and see that shooting star heading towards the byre in Bethlehem, they’ll get a little more excited about the events unfolding.

The second image I have for you is very different, capturing that moment in Luke 2.13-14 when the angelic messenger is joined by a ‘host’ of fellow divine bodies, who then proceed to burst into song. In this beautiful painting by Abraham Hondius, a riot of cherubim tumble from the heavens like confetti, while the central angelic figure lifts her arm as though to conduct them in their singing. The shepherds in this image do look suitably amazed, although note that, once again, the cow looks decidedly blasé.

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Abraham Hondius, Annunciation to the shepherds (1663)

Luke 2.8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Back tomorrow with some magi and mangers. See you then.

Advent offering 20 December

As we are just five sleeps from Christmas Day, the Auckland TheoRel Advent calendar will follow the tradition of previous years and focus for this last week on artistic depictions of the nativity story. Starting us off, a beautiful image of the central event in the nativity – the birth of Jesus. In the gospels, this event is mentioned almost in passing (Matt 1.25; Luke 2.7). Mary gives birth to Jesus in the byre they are sheltering in, with only Joseph present to serve as attending midwife. It’s a little while before visitors arrive (more of which tomorrow), so the couple have a moment to sit and reflect on how this event will shape their future. And while this hiatus in the action is not given explicit mention in the gospels, it has been captured beautifully by the artist I spoke about in yesterday’s Advent offering, Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Holy_Family c1910
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Holy Family (1910)

In this image, Mary and Joseph look less like the jubilant parents of a newborn than two people caught up in a journey that was not of their own planning. Mary sits bathed in an ethereal light, not touching or looking at the infant by her side; instead, she stares into the fireplace, lost in thought. Joseph, meanwhile, stands a little bit away, his eyes closed, with an expression of uncertainty and even sadness on his face. Distancing himself from his family, he appears at a loose end, not entirely sure if he belongs.  He knows that the baby is not his – he knows that his wife-to-be has undergone an experience in which he can never fully share. Both he and Mary seem to apprehend that something monumental has occurred here – their lives have undergone a seismic shift from which they will never fully recover. And so, before the brouhaha begins – before the visitors start pouring in and the drama continues to unfold, they make the most of this quiet moment together, with its strange mix of intimacy and withdrawal, lost in their own, and each other’s, thoughts. Meanwhile, the infant Jesus, lying between them and glowing in the gloom, appears, at least momentarily, to have been forgotten.

Tanner also painted a picture of Mary herself with her newborn son, which again shows this mother deep in thought, and appearing to ignore the child that lies to her right. These images remind us that, while Jesus is the central character in the nativity story, there are two other crucial players within this narrative whom, in the excitement of the birth event, we all too often overlook.

Henry-Ossawa-Tanner Mary
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Mary (c.1900)