Rowan Williams has a great series of lectures on the Gospel of Mark given in Holy Week 2010 during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury.  The audio links are provided below.

The beginning of the gospel – Reading Mark’s Life of Jesus:

1. History & Memory

2. Unveiling Secrets (with separate Q&A)

3. A Lifelong Passion

The series has now been published as a book.



Love this map of Paul’s missionary journeys from the blog theologygrams.  As someone quipped in the comments “Mind the Agape”.



See also this timeline map of holy week: Holy Week Tube Map.

200+ US evangelical scientists call on Congress to act on climate change.  This is what they say in the opening paragraph

As evangelical scientists and academics, we understand climate change is real and action is urgently needed. All of God’s Creation – humans and our environment – is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas. The negative consequences and burdens of a changing climate will fall disproportionately on those whom Jesus called “the least of these”: the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed. Our nation has entrusted you with political power; we plead with you to lead on this issue and enact policies this year that will protect our climate and help us all to be better stewards of Creation.

Here is a copy of the full letter together with the list of signatories, which includes very prominent climate scientists, such as Tom Ackerman and Katherine Hayhoe.

Hayhoe’s work has been shared here before (see blog post An Evangelical Climate Scientist), but Ackerman has also written and spoken on his perspective as a climate scientist and an evangelical Christian (see webpage).  His views are outlined in the paper

T. Ackerman. Global Warming: Scientific Basis and Christian Responses. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 59, 250-264, 2007.

Well today sees Rick Santorum finally calling an end to his bid to become the Republican nomination for US president. I’ve been meaning to blog about his views on climate change for a while so hear goes.  Santorum went further than all the Republican candidates who ran for the presidental nomination, the vast majority have stated that the science on climate change is unsettled.  However, Satorum goes further and says climate change is “an absolute travesty of scientific research …”.  Indeed he has called Obama’s theology phony and not based on the bible because he sides with radical environmentalists!  For reporting on this Bible-tinged climate change denial see this article.

Unfortunately the Christian theology of “dominion” has and still is contributing to environmental degradation.  You can read my own views on the use of dominion in Genesis 1 here.  The Bible actually says is that the Earth is not ours to use and misuse as we please, but

“The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1)

According to recent polls evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that humans play a role in climate change and also the most likely to indicate that there is no scientific proof that climate change exists.  Yet, some scientists and Christians are suggesting that this has nothing to do with theology, and more to do with political science.  Environmental issues are often seen as liberal agenda items and many conservative information sources present climate change as a theory rather than scientific fact.  A recent study stated that views were strongly partisan, with 78% of Democrats believing in climate change and only 47% of Republicans.  Although, I have heard of a study that shows that the carbon footprints of Democrats and Republicans are no different, in other words whatever you believe people are not doing anything about it! Incidentally I also heard that this is true of climate scientist themselves who have the highest carbon footprints of any discipline.

“When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida.” Luke 9:10 (NET Bible)

The small fishing village of Bethsaida, mentioned on several occasions in the New Testament, literally means “house of fishing”.  However, Bethsaida lies almost three kilometers from Lake Galilee’s waters edge!  How can this be?  The solution to this conundrum provides a classic example of how Earth Science and Archeology can interact with Biblical scholarship to shed light on Biblical interpretation.

The most likely location of Bethsaida is the present day location of Et-Tell, which as I say lies some distance from the waters edge.  In order to understand how this could be we must appreciate that landscapes change and evolve over time.  In this particular instance an understanding of plate tectonics, landslides, lake level variations, and delta formation are needed in order to appreciate how these processes have shaped the landscape.

The Jordan Valley lies along a major fault line.  The friction between the sliding African and Arabian plates has given rise to many earthquakes (about one every hundred years) several of which are recorded in the Bible.  Tectonic rifting has caused significant uplift at et-Tell; furthermore sediment layers at the site have revealed a history of major landslide events.  One such debris layer, carbon-14 dated to a period just subsequent to New Testament events, measures 50 by 200 by 25 metres.  Such a large debris flow would have damed up the Jordan River, eventually causing a catastrophic outburst flood  (as is evidenced by boulders scattered up to 40 meters from the present river course).  In addition silt from the Jordan river has built up over time gradually filling the northern section of the lake, hence the Jordan delta has been extended by extensive sedimentation.  Water levels of the Sea of Galilee have themselves fluctuated in response to climate and have declined drastically due to land irrigation (see for example our discussions on this blog highlighting the historical changes to the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea).  When carefully piecing this evidence together a picture emerges that  suggests this site was located either at the shoreline or easily accessible to the lake via an estuary during New Testament times.  There is also textual evidence (e.g. from Josephus) as well as archeological evidence.   Further and more detailed information on the evidence for this deduction are well described is an article at The Bible and Interpretation entitled Why the fishing town Bethsaida is not found along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The wikipedia entry for Bethsaida also provides some good information.

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the crowd.” Mark 6:45 (NET Bible)

The BBC has reported on some recent research presented at the 2011 AGU fall meeting which suggests that the Dead Sea may well have dried up, perhaps completely, 120 thousand years ago.  Scientists have drilled 460 metres into sediment beneath the Dead Sea (close to the lakes deepest section) in order to analyse lake history and regional climate conditions hundreds of thousands of years ago from evidence revealed in the sediment layers.  In this core, at a depth of 235m, corresponding to 120,000 years ago they found a layer of small, rounded pebbles suggesting a lake beach at that location during this time, i.e. the water must have been close to completely gone.

The Dead Sea, which is the lowest land point on Earth, sitting over 400 metres below sea level, has extremely salty waters.  A natural control exists such that during warming evaporation increases causing a lowering lake level which results in more saline water and therefore a slowing of evaporation, thus making it difficult to completely dry the lake.

Currently the lake is lowering at a rate of 1.2 metres a year due mainly to human influences (as discussed in a previous post).  This recent finding, if proven correct (note at time of writing it has not yet been subjected to the scientific peer-review process), demonstrates extremely low lake levels are possible even without human interference, further raising concerns for the lakes future.

This research project could well shed light on climate and earthquake events reported to have occurred during Biblical times.

“We see a lot of these different stories in the Bible about fat years and lean years,” said Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University in New York. “And we can see in the record that there were these intervals where it looks like it was a land of milk and honey, and there were intervals where there was no water, no rain and I’m sure, famine. Climate validates that there were these rhythms.” [source].

As I’ve been reading through the book of Job I have been noting how the book is ladened with a deep appreciation of nature (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).  At the climax of the poem/debate – God’s speech from the whirlwind, we encounter a full tour-de-force of creation.  In fact chapters 38-41 have been referred to as ‘the first great piece of modern nature writing’ (Bill McKibben).  God’s speech – really a series of rhetorical questions for Job, presumably designed to put Job (and us) in his (our) place!?, progresses from Cosmogony (38:4-11):

”     …                                                                                                                   Who hedged the sea with double doors,                                                                                        when it gushed forth from the womb.                            when I made cloud its clothing,                                                                                                     and thick mist its swaddling bands?                                      …     “

to Meteorology (38:22-38):

”       …                                                                                                                  Does the rain have a father,                                                                                                      or who begot the drops of dew?                                             From whose belly did the ice come forth,                                                                                  to the frost of the heavens who gave birth?                                    …     “

to Zoology (38:39-39:40):

”     …                                                                                                                         Do you know the mountain goats’ birth time,                                                                 do you mark the calving of the gazelles?                                           Do you number the months till they come to term                                                         and know their birthing time?                                                            …    “

and even to mythological zoology (40:15-41:26):

”    …                                                                                                                         Could you draw Leviathan with a hook,                                                                                 and with a cord press down his tongue?                                     Could you put a lead line in his nose,                                                                                    and with a fishhook piece his cheek?                                               …    ”

(Translations from Robert Alter)

The full grandeur of this astonishing outburst from God can not be fully appreciated from the limited quotes provided above, so I would encourage people to read the whole section (NET Bible).  There is so much to comment on here perhaps I’ll have time in a future post to say more.