I have been appointed a Fellow of Sinai and Synapses, a Jewish-based organization in New York City, founded to stimulate critical interaction between faith traditions and contemporary science. Sinai and Synapses is a sort of Jewish version of BioLogos, though BioLogos is an explicitly Christian organization, while Sinai and Synapses has an interfaith focus.
I met the founder and director of Sinai and Synapses, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman, at a BioLogos conference in Baltimore in 2019 (the picture below was taken at the National Aquarium, Baltimore).
The Fellowship is a two-year appointment (2021-2023), during which time I will attend meetings with other Fellows, possibly be interviewed for their “Down the Wormhole” podcast, and write blog posts and do public speaking on issues of science and faith.
We are thrilled to announce the fifth cohort of Sinai and Synapses Fellows! We had some of the strongest applications ever in this round, and selected seventeen people from nine states, plus Washington, DC, the United Kingdom and Brazil. These brilliant, thoughtful and dedicated people will be learning together over the next two years, helping raise the discourse on religion and science in their communities and beyond. With the incredible work that our previous Fellows have already created, we can’t wait to see what happens with this group!
You can see the bios of the current group of Fellows here.
I am very much looking forward to interacting with the other Fellows (and alums of the Fellowship from previous years), We come from such different backgrounds and have such a range of diverse expertise and experiences that I am sure to be energized by the conversations.
I am also hoping that what I learn through participation in this Fellowship will be fruitful for a book I’ll be working on in a couple of years, entitled Life and Death in the Garden of Eden: A Theological Reading of Genesis 2-3 (contracted with Cascade Books).
I am privileged to teach at a Seminary that is associated with a liberal arts college. I have wonderful faculty colleagues at both institutions.
Northeastern Seminary is on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College (in Rochester, NY) and while they are formally separate institutions, there is much practical overlap and collaboration between both the institutions and the faculty.
Of late, there have been joint meetings of the Seminary faculty with the faculty of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at the College. And, although faculty members find their home primarily in either the Seminary or the College, some of us teach in both institutions.
Here I want to highlight some of my faculty colleagues (in both institutions) who are presenting papers at the 2020 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, which is being held virtually this year (the first time in this format since I began attending in 1991).
In his paper, David examines the changes experienced by those who receive cochlear implants, including new relationships and a different sense of selfhood, to “shed light onto the experiential and subjective dimensions of the transformations that Paul describes in Philippians 3,” including his sense that what he previously viewed as “gain” is now counted as “loss.”
In her paper, Kristin examines competing suggestions for where Zechariah got his image, and ends up suggesting that it is drawn not only from the network of persons in ancient Persia known as “the eyes and ears of the king” (suggested by some scholars), but also from the portrayal of Mithra in Persian religion, who is “associated with fire, light, and eyes that roam throughout the earth for the sake of seeking out injustice.” She apples this background to Zechariah 4:10b, suggesting that the text uses this imagery “to encourage the people that YHWH, the Emperor of the cosmos and maintainer of justice, is at work to bring about a hopeful, purified future.”
He insightfully demonstrates that both Deuteronomy and Luke give similar instructions to those who are sent out, including an offer of peace to those they encounter and two possible outcomes depending on the responses of those they meet. Yet while Luke’s Gospel presents a battle with the powers of evil and the disciples are parallel to Israel’s soldiers, the texts diverge in that in Luke it is God and not the disciples who bring judgment.
My Own Paper Presented on December 1
Although I was scheduled to give a paper at SBL in a session on the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, the organizers decided to postpone the session until next year, when (hopefully) the SBL will meet in person (in San Antonio, TX).
What—not another essay on creation, Middleton! How much longer are you going to write on this topic? Do you really have anything new to say?
It’s true, I’ve been teaching and writing on creation theology for a very long time.
In a recent blog post I recounted how I got interested in creation theology in the first place and how my teaching and writing on the topic developed.
This T&T Clark Companion contains essays surveying the history of Christian thought for how various thinkers and traditions have understood the relationship of theology to the sciences. There are also essays on contemporary issues in science, from various Christian perspectives.
I met John Slattery at the the Society of Biblical Literature in 2018, where I gave a paper on New Testament eschatology grounded in creation. Based on that paper, John invited me to contribute an essay on New Testament cosmology. After I explained that my expertise was actually in Old Testament, he changed the invitation to that topic.
However, I suggested that the topic was big enough to warrant two essays and I nominated Bill Brown of Columbia Seminary to join me in the project. Bill wrote a beautiful essay on creation in the wisdom literature (“Wisdom’s Wonder and the Science of Awe”).
This allowed me to focus on Genesis 1–2. My essay, “The Genesis Creation Accounts,” addresses the ancient “world picture” (Weltbild) implicit in Genesis 1 and 2, in order to explore the “worldview” (Weltanschauung) or abiding theological vision of these chapters, which is relevant for our thinking about contemporary science.
Did I actually write something new on the subject of creation theology?
Yes and no.
The essay integrates new material from unpublished presentations I’ve given on Genesis 1 and 2 with some of my previous reflections on these chapters.
It’s a new synthesis, articulating in one compact essay a contextual understanding of the symbolic world of the first two chapters of the Bible (as would have been understood by ancient readers).
The discussion of Genesis 1 addresses the relevance of the ancient biblical understanding of the world for contemporary readers who are aware of the immensity of the universe. The discussion of Genesis 2 focuses on parallels between ancient and contemporary understandings of our ecological embeddedness in the created order.
It is my hope that this synthesis will be helpful for pastors, students, and laypeople interested in thinking about the subject of creation in Genesis 1–2.