A Christmas present

December 25, 2010

Earlier this year, I began making available on this blog digital recordings of the New Testament, read chapter by chapter in the original Greek (links to them are found on the page titled The New Testament read in Greek.) As of today, Christmas Day 2010, these recordings are finished; I added the Gospel of John to the page early this morning. Those who wish may now download, gratis, a complete recording of the Greek New Testament.

Wishing all readers of this blog a Merry Christmas.

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ!


Final exam

December 23, 2010

Last week, I gave my students at Seton Hall University their final exams. A couple of hours ago, I finally got their grades sent off to the university registrar. The long semester is, for me, officially over.

Because I thought some readers of this blog might be interested in seeing the text of this exam, I have placed it on-line below. I claim no great originality or profundity here; as will be evident to the reader, the test is mostly concerned with getting some very simple facts straight. But there is, I think, some value in doing that.

If nothing else, the following text will show readers what sort of thing my poor students have had to suffer through for the past four months.

Part One: Eastern Religions

A. Associate each of the terms in the left column with one of the definitions/descriptions in the right column.

1. Ahimsa a) Hindu god, “the preserver”
2. Amida b) Hindu god, “the destroyer”
3. Atman c) literally, the “wisdom” or “knowledge of hymns”
4. Bodh Gaya d) the founder of the Jain religion
5. Bodhisattva e) the individual soul
6. Brahman f) religion; custom; right; duty
7. Buddha g) the language of most Hindu scriptures
8. Dhammapada h) name literally meaning “Thus-Come” or “Thus-Gone” (a title of the Buddha’s)
9. Dharma i) an avatar of Vishnu
10. Karma j) ultimate reality
11. Krishna k) a Buddha-to-be
12. Lotus Sutra l) name meaning, “Enlightened One”
13. Mahabharata m) a sacred circle
14. Mahavira n) a Mahayana Buddhist writing
15. Mandala o) a Theravada Buddhist writing
16. Mantra p) non-violence
17. Pali q) a sacred syllable or phrase that is repeated
18. Parinirvana r) probably the world’s longest poem
19. Rig Veda s) place where the Buddha achieved enlightenment
20. Samsara t) language of most Theravada Buddhist scriptures
21. Sanskrit u) complete extinction
22. Siva (or Shiva) v) the round of rebirth
23. Tathagata w) a Buddhist sect known for its use of koans (spiritual riddles) and strenuous meditation
24. Vishnu x) action or the result of action (often in a bad sense)
25. Zen y) a Buddha who is worshipped in the Pure Land Mahayana sect

B. Answer, as best you can, the following questions.

1. What are the Four Noble Truths?

2. Name one of the main characters of the Bhagavad Gita.

3. Name one of the main characters of the Ramayana. (Hint: Why is the poem called this?)

4. Which of the following is a teaching of the Upanishads: (a) No-Self; (b) only matter is real; (c) Atman = Brahman; (d) all material things have soul; therefore one should not light matches unnecessarily or step on bugs.

5. Which of the preceding teachings was taught by the Buddha?

6. Which of the preceding teachings is a doctrine of Jainism?

7. What is a mudra? (a) A Hindu school. (b) A sacred water-buffalo. (c) A symbolic hand-gesture, characteristic of pictorial representations of the Buddha. (d) A short phrase or syllable that is repeated to produce higher states of consciousness.

8. What is Moksha? (a) a chocolate drink; (b) liberation from rebirth; (c) suffering.

9. If a person is given to singing love songs to the deity, which of the following would this person most likely practice? (a) Karma Yoga. (b) Jnana Yoga. (c) Bhakti Yoga.

10. If a person is given to non-pictorial meditation upon Being-in-Itself, which of the preceding three forms of yoga would this person most likely practice?

11. If a person is a Brahmin, this person would likely spend his/her time: (a) digging ditches; (b) waiting on tables; (c) buying and selling real estate; (d) engaging enemy forces in hand-to-hand combat; (e) writing exalted poetry on union with the divine.

12. If a person is a member of the Vaishya caste, which of the above options would most likely apply?

13. The name “Mahayana” literally means: (a) great vehicle; (b) white elephant; (c) true doctrine; (d) big umbrella.

14. What sort of clothes did Mahavira wear?

15. How did Mahavira die? (a) He didn’t die, but was translated into heaven. (b) He was run over by an elephant. (c) He stopped eating. (d) He was killed by a Hindu nationalist.

16. The author of the Tao Te Ching was: (a) Confucius; (b) Mencius; (c) Lao Tzu; (d) Chuang Tzu.

17. The author of the Analects was: (a) Confucius; (b) Mencius; (c) Lao Tzu; (d) Chuang Tzu.

18. In Ancient China, during the Shang Dynasty, people practiced divination using: (a) Sudoku puzzles; (b) animal bones; (c) Urim and Thummim; (d) all of the above.

19. The name “I Ching” means: (a) Yin and Yang; (b) the Way and its Power; (c) the Book of Changes; (d) “My Name is Ching.”

20. Confucius was: (a) a successful merchant; (b) a Chinese warlord; (c) the son of the Duke of Zhou; (d) a frequently unemployed scholar.

21. Which of the following is not a doctrine of Confucius? (a) filial piety; (b) love all people equally; (c) maintain proper ritual; (d) be a gentleman.

22. “Wu wei is a characteristic doctrine of Confucianism.” True or false?

23. “Wu wei is a characteristic doctrine of Taoism.” True or false?

24. Wu wei means: (a) non-action; (b) emptiness; (c) right mindfulness; (d) the Mandate of Heaven.

25. A person with a lot of Yin would likely be: (a) quiet and passive; (b) loud and confrontational.

26. “The Way that can be known is not the eternal Way; the Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.” Which of the following books is the source of this quotation: (a) the Analects; (b) the I Ching; (c) the Tao Te Ching; (d) Mencius.

27. “In Taoist thought, the Yin/Yang distinction is equivalent to the distinction between good and evil.” True or false?

28. If you had a friend who was a practitioner of Shinto, which of the following would your friend be unlikely to do: (a) make frequent pilgrimages to mountain shrines; (b) pay respect to the Japanese emperor; (c) pay offerings to ancestral spirits; (d) keep an untidy house.

29. The word “kami” means: (a) a Communist; (b) something powerful; a nature-spirit; (c) a medieval Japanese warlord; (d) a Shinto priest.

30. A “torii” is: (a) a ceremonial wand; (b) a fox, sacred to the Shinto religion; (c) a gate in front of a Shinto temple; (d) a monster from the ocean depths.

Part Two: Western Religions

A. Associate each of the terms in the left column with one of the definitions/descriptions in the right column.

1. Bethlehem a) Abraham’s first son
2. Christ b) king who built the first Temple in Jerusalem
3. Easter c) name meaning “Savior”
4. Good Friday d) name meaning “Anointed One”
5. Hagar e) name meaning “Praised”
6. Hegira f) most sacred site of Islam; a cubical building
7. Hijaz g) most sacred site of Judaism
8. Hillel h) received the Law on Mount Sinai
9. Ishmael i) wife of Isaac; mother of twins
10. Jesus j) wife of Abraham
11. John the Baptist k) handmaid of Abraham
12. Ka’ba l) Muhammad’s first wife
13. Khadija m) Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina
14. Moses n) the “Tetragrammaton”; a divine name
15. Mount Tabor o) a famous rabbi who died when Jesus was young
16. Muhammad p) acronym, signifying the whole Hebrew Bible
17. Pentecost q) part of Arabia in which Muhammad lived
18. Peter r) a day on which Christ’s crucifixion is especially remembered
19. Qur’an s) Christian feast that celebrates the resurrection of Christ
20. Rebecca t) Christian feast the celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit
21. Sarah u) name meaning “Rock”
22. Solomon v) city of Jesus’ birth
23. Tanakh w) a slightly older relative of Jesus’
24. Wailing Wall x) word meaning “recitation”
25. YHWH y) probable site of the Transfiguration

B. Answer, as best you can, the following questions.

1. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” In what book of the Bible is this sentence found?

2. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In what book of the Bible is this sentence found?

3. What was the sign of God’s covenant with Noah? (a) circumcision; (b) a rainbow; (c) two doves and a raven

4. Jacob had two wives, and two concubines. Which of the following were not wives, or concubines, of Jacob (choose more than one): (a) Jane; (b) Rachel; (c) Leah; (d) Betty

5. Why did Joseph’s brothers envy him? (a) Because of a coat. (b) Because of his dreams. (c) Because his father loved him best of all. (d) All of the above.

6. What event does Passover commemorate?

7. When Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 587 B.C., where were the Jews carried away to? (a) Assyria; (b) Babylon; (c) Spain; (d) Arabia

8. When the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 A.D., where did Jewish scribes regroup? (a) Rome; (b) Athens; (c) Constantinople; (d) Jamnia

9. Which of the following early Jewish sects was especially connected with the Temple at Jerusalem: (a) Pharisees; (b) Sadducees; (c) Essenes; (d) Zealots.

10. Which of the foregoing sects was the predecessor to rabbinic Judaism?

11. Which of the foregoing sects was probably connected most closely with the Dead Sea Scrolls?

12. Of the following modern Jewish sects, which is most strict in its observance of the Jewish law: (a) Orthodox; (b) Conservative; (c) Reformed.

13. Which of the following men was a medieval Jewish philosopher: (a) Edmund Husserl; (b) Johanan ben Zakkai; (c) Maimonides; (d) Spinoza.

14. Were any of these men modern Jewish philosophers? (If so, name one.)

15. “Jesus was an observant Jew.” True or false?

16. In what language did Jesus normally speak? (a) Latin; (b) Greek; (c) Hebrew; (d) Aramaic.

17. What promise did Jesus give St. Peter? (a) I will build you an everlasting house. (b) I will multiply your seed like the stars of heaven. (c) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (d) I will grant you to sit on my right hand in the kingdom of heaven.

18. Which of the foregoing promises was actually a promise to Abraham?

19. Who appears with Jesus at his Transfiguration? (Name two) (a) Abraham; (b) Moses; (c) David; (d) Elijah

20. Where was Jesus crucified? (a) Gethsemane; (b) Golgotha; (c) the Mount of Olives; (d) Mount Tabor

21. When one first meets St. Paul in the New Testament, what is he doing? (a) Preaching that Jesus is Lord. (b) Selling tents. (c) Arguing with Pharisees and Sadducees. (d) Standing around approvingly while people stone St. Stephen.

22. “The Gospel of John teaches that Jesus is truly the Son of God, and that God is truly Father.” True or false?

23. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a dogma of: (a) the Orthodox Church; (b) the Catholic Church; (c) the Protestant Churches; (d) all of the above.

24. “The Qur’an affirms that Jesus was the Son of God.” True or false?

25. “The Qur’an affirms that Jesus was crucified.” True or false?

26. “The Qur’an affirms that Mary was a virgin.” True or false?

27. Where did Muhammad travel to in his “Night Journey”?

28. During what month did Muhammad begin receiving his revelations? (a) Ab; (b) January; (c) Ramadan

29. Which of the following is not one of the Five Pillars of Islam? (a) Prayer. (b) Fasting. (c) Almsgiving. (d) Jihad.

30. Who was the first Caliph? (a) Ali. (b) Abu Bakr. (c) ‘Umar. (d) ‘Uthman.

Part Three: Essay Questions.

Please answer at least two of the following.

1. In this course, we have studied nine different religions. What are some of the things they all have in common? (And don’t tell me that they are all religions.) Or, if there are no things that they all have in common, then why are they all called by the same name, “religion”?

2. Christianity and Buddhism are two great world religions. How do they differ, or how are they alike, in their approach to the problem of human suffering?

3. Christianity and Islam agree on some fundamental things, and disagree on some fundamental things. What do you see as the possibilities for their coexisting peacefully in the years to come?

4. What is the most important thing that you have learned during this course?

It is getting towards the end of the semester, and, as might be expected, books sit poised in precarious piles on my kitchen table, and there is a stack of students’ papers that needs to be attended to, though my aging body tells me to sleep. When I am able to summon up the willpower, I do attend to them. Not surprisingly, those papers that are most poorly written take the longest to read, and are the hardest to evaluate — for example, although it seems clear that so-and-so actually found an essay written by someone else in another language and applied Google Translate to it and handed me the results as though it were her own work, and, even so, didn’t really follow the assignment, nevertheless, I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and give her a C for this paper; particularly since her grade for the semester is already close to failing, and I don’t feel like pushing her over the edge.

Today’s class was a particularly difficult one to teach, but I think I got through it okay. We are at the point of talking about Islam. It is a subject upon which I have very mixed feelings. Having spent last Wednesday talking about Muhammad and his personal history, I spent today talking about the origins of the caliphate, and the phenomenal early growth of the Islamic empire that, within a century of the death of Muhammad, spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus Valley. The question was inevitably raised, whether Islam is a religion of the sword. The textbook we are using, Mary Pat Fisher’s Living Religions, states categorically that it is not. I tried to point out that the question is not so simple, that there are different passages in the Koran that lead different Muslims to interpret their own religion in different ways; one passage (Sura 2:256) states: “There is no compulsion in religion”; another, later passage (Sura 9:29) commands Muslims to fight against the Peoples of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians) “until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled,” that is, become “Dhimmi.” Pagan Arabs are given the simple choice of death or conversion. (“Slay the polytheists wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, let them go their way; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate”) (Sura 9:5). So, I said, it seemed to me that different Muslim scholars, by laying emphasis upon one or another of these passages, arrive at different interpretations of Islam’s relationship to the non-Muslim world; some do see it as essentially militant, others do not. There are a couple of Muslims in my class; I asked them if they thought I was misrepresenting the religion; one of them said no, the other answered as though I were asking about religion in general, and protested that people ought simply to be nice to one another and not make religion an excuse for their differences. The first student then added that religious violence is not an exclusively Islamic problem, and I agreed with that. But by this time many students in the class were showing signs of feeling uncomfortable, and, as I am sensitive to the limitations of their patience and attention spans, I moved on as best I could to speak about other things.

Were I an ideal professor, I might provide my students with answers to all questions: to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to thirteen centuries of Christian-Muslim antagonism, etc. But I am not an ideal professor, and I do not know the answers to all questions. I know that, as a Christian, I cannot accept the claim that God does not have a Son, or that Jesus did not really die upon the cross, claims which are taught by the Koran and which plainly conflict with the teaching of the New Testament. But also, as a Christian, I cannot simply watch fellow human beings be treated as subhuman. St. John, in his first epistle, says that the one who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist (1 John 2:22). I take that warning seriously. But I do not think it gives me, or anyone else, a license to hate.

Hold the Old Faith

December 3, 2010

Hold the old faith
and let it not go
nor wander in ways
that lead down below.
Keep to the path
the saints loved to tread.
Turn not aside
to haunts of the dead.
Strait is the way
and narrow the gate.
Recognize this
before it’s too late.
Holiness dwells
not under all roofs.
Under some robes
one finds devil’s hooves.
Honor the Cross
on which the Lord died.
All other signs
are emblems of pride.