Thursday, May 12, 2016

May-June Lecture Series

May 17, Tues (7 pm): What Is the Book of Revelations Actually About?  The Book of Revelations is among the most enigmatic texts in the Christian Bible. Rich in symbolism and gruesome in its imagery, the Apocalypse has been intently studied by prognosticators for nearly 2,000 years. Christians in every generation have read the text and decided that a literal destruction of the world would occur in their own lifetime and that they were the people to whom the text was directly addressing. And every one of them has been proved wrong in their interpretations, as time marches onward and this world continues to exist. If everyone has always misread the text, what is the Book of Revelations actually about? Who was its author and who was his actual audience? What if the book is actually a theological proposition and not at all a prediction of future history? If so, what does it mean?

May 24, Tues (7 pm): The Platonic Foundations of Christianity.  The early Christian writer Tertullian contemptuously asked "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" in his attempt to dismiss the Greco-Roman inheritance of learning. However, when the actual history of Christian thought is explored, it turns out that Athens has everything to do with Jerusalem. In the end, partisans like Tertullian lost out to theologians like Augustine of Hippo who ensured that Greek philosophical thought remained at the heart of Christian theology. Since the Enlightenment, Socrates and Plato have been misremembered as secular figures. In fact, they were deeply mystical religious reformers. Our lecture will discuss the degree to which ancient Greek philosophical thought, as opposed to the writings of ancient Israelite prophets, has always been at the core of Christianity.

May 31, Tues (7 pm): The Invention of Hell.  From Dante's "Inferno" to the sermons of revival preachers, grotesque visions of the eternal tortures of Hell litter the Christian imagination. And yet these images are completely absent from the Old Testament. We are not told in Genesis that Cain, the first murderer (and fratricide) is condemned to Hell — nor is any other villain in the text consigned to eternal torment. Indeed, there is no mention or notion that such a place exists in the text. If the ancient Israelites had no concept of Hell, what are its origins and how did it infect Christian thought?

June 7, Tues (7 pm): Deleted from the Bible.  Only a tiny percentage of early Christian texts made it into the canon of the New Testament. Most of the texts left out were revered as scripture by different Christian groups. What do these texts contain and how do they differ from canonical scripture? What do the texts left out of the Bible tell us about the history of early Christianity? What insights do they give us about the writings that were canonized? Our history, theology, and philosophy seminar will take a look at some of the lost books of the New Testament and discuss these and other questions.