Living in the Cloud

I get lots of questions from people about which web applications I use and why I’ve replaced most (all?) of my desktop applications with stuff from the web. So, here’s how I get things done using web apps and my BlackBerry…

Part 1 (web apps and screencast):

And part 2 about BlackBerry and mobile stuff:

This is more of a pointer post that I’ll be sending people to when they email or ask me how I use GMail or Evernote as part of my work or study flow instead of relying on Outlook, Word, etc.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, though…

Doing It Better


Neil Stephenson’s new work Anathem
is coming out next week and I can’t wait.

Here’s the brief description:

Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world.

Not only does it look like an incredible piece of fiction, but Stephenson appears to be on the verge of putting our increasingly trivialized notions of “contributions,” “knowledge,” and “conversations” to the test as he reflects back on a wired and contemporary 21st century America.

Having been involved in the online marketing/web2.0 scene for the last few years, I’ve gotten to the point in my own personal life where I’ve recently realized that glancing blows in blog posts or Tweets about subjects and companies I know little to nothing about is not the sort of contribution I want to make.

Merlin Mann wrote the post that crystallizes my own feelings, and this is the post I wish I would have written.

kung fu grippe – Better: “What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, makebelieve insight, and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it’s making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I’ve come to despise it.

With this diet metaphor in mind, I want to, if you like, start eating better. But, I also want to start growing a tastier tomato — regardless of how easy it is to pick, package, ship, or vend. The tomato is the story, my friend.”

So, I’ve been cutting back on all the cacophonous noise and focusing on what I really have passion for and long term ideas, theories, notions or principles for which I want to make a contribution (like doing my PhD work on Dura Europos).

That doesn’t mean I’m going to trade in my Identi.ca and Twitter accounts or stop reading RSS feeds from TechCrunch. What it does mean is that I’m putting the things I really care about first. If I have time for the latest and greatest new iPod Touch app, I’ll download it. But first, I want to finish a few pages of this dissertation and let everyone know how important Dura Europos is to the past, present and future of the world.

So, if I start caring a little less about the latest and greatest in web2.0, please bear with me.

Persecutions and Early Christian Identities


Here’s a short thought piece I did in response to W. Ward Gasque’s piece, “The Challenge to Faith” in Tim Dowley’s work, The History of Christianity
.

Basically, this section covers both the internal and external challenges that faced early Christianity such as persecutions, infighting over doctrinal matters and eventually the canonization/orthodox theological movement. Gasque is covering a great deal of time and space in 12 pages, so most of my points below can be seen as extensions of the issues raised about persecutions in the first and early second centuries but not elaborated on…

Enjoy!

W. Ward Gasque spends a brief amount of time (pages 82-85) giving a surface presentation of the persecutions that early members of the Christian movement faced in the first and second centuries before tackling the more documented persecutions in the third century before Constantine ties the Empire to Christianity forever in the compilation The History of Christianity (edited by Tim Dowley). While Dowley spends just a couple of pages on the persecutions under Nero, Domitian and Trajan, I would argue that these events had formative effects on the Jesus movement in this very crucial time of its development into what would become formal and orthodox Christianity by the Nicea.

The context of persecution in the first and early second centuries gives us a suitable lens to examine three interesting facets of the early Christian experience:

1. What do the empire sanctioned persecutions say about Jewish-Christian relations in the formative years of Christianity?
2. What do the persecutions say about the members themselves of the Jesus movement in the first and second centuries?
3. And what are the effects of the persecutions on the development of what would become canonical texts and orthodox theology within the Christian movement?

First, it is beneficial to consider what these various empire sanctioned persecutions tell us about the relationship of Jews and members of the Jesus movement (I hesitate to use the term Christian given that the movement is still in its infancy and the term Christian denotes more of a full-fledged religion and orthodox system of thought rather than what is reflected in the historical record) in the first and early second centuries. What Gasque and others seem to gloss over is the reality that it was still difficult to tell the difference between Jews and the members of the Jesus movement in this time frame. Within the New Testament itself, we are constantly reminded of the conflicts that occurred in the first century between Jews, Judaizers and gentiles in reference to the formation of local communities of faith in Jesus. The writings of Paul (Galatians particularly) as well as Acts and eventually Matthew and John allude to strained relations between Jesus’ followers and Jews as well as Jewish Christians intent on keeping kosher and Torah. Even by the late second century, writers such as the medical doctor and philosopher Galen was lumping the two groups together from his perspective in Rome by referring to “the followers of Moses and Christ (de Puls. Diff. 33).” In other words, defining Christians as a complete and separate group apart from the Jewish faith, even into the earliest parts of the second century, does injustice to the historical, textual and archaeological records that indicate the “parting of the ways1” was not so clean cut and quick in nature. What the persecutions in Rome and the urban centers of Asia Minor (and possibly in Palestine) do tell us is that instead of viewing the entire Jewish and Christian movements as monolithic institutions by the end of the first century, it would be better to look at local circumstances and how Jewish and Christian groups interacted and were seen as different or similar depending on time and place. The events of 66-70 with the Jewish War as well as the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 (and perhaps the anecdotal Council of Jamnia, though I suspect its importance has been over emphasized) helped to lead to the eventual split between Jews and Christians, but this was by no means an empire wide and systematic occurance as attested to by the New Testament, the Patristics and archaeology.

Second, we must consider what the persecutions under Nero, Domitian and Trajan tell us about the persons belonging to the Jesus movement. Clearly, they were a suspect group (in Rome at least) by the 60’s and stood out enough in that community to be recognized as separate scape goats for the fire that destroyed a large piece of Rome. However, with the letters of Pliny to Trajan, we do see that Christians, even under persecution, were otherwise seen as “normal” citizens. In effect, what seemed to make these early Christians stand out was being discovered or confessing to their faith rather than it being outwardly visible that they were followers of Jesus. Coupled with such late first century / early second century works as Revelation and the Gospel of John, the picture of Christians is once again muddied and difficult to portray unless we take into account specific places and times rather than some over-arching definition of what it meant to be a Christian in 100 CE.

Lastly, the empire sanctioned persecutions of Christians during the first and early second century must have had a profound effect on both the faith of the followers as well as the developing ideas of canonical books to be held as scripture and the evolution of orthodoxy that was occurring at this time. The earliest writings of the New Testament, the letters of Paul, reflect a Jesus movement that is wrought with infighting as to Christologies and relationships to Jews and Jewish-Christians. This carries over to the synoptic Gospels and by the time of the Johannine works, a rather high Christology affirming Jesus’ place as God incarnate has been developed and communicated. While Revelation is normally considered the book most associated with Roman persecution, there are still traces of community issues beyond Christology in both the Gospels and the Epistles. Because of the charges levied upon Christians such as being cannibals and atheists (charges which were not made against the Jews who were exempt from Roman cultic observance due to the high regard the Romans placed on the antiquity of the Jewish / Israelite faith), the ideas of the personhood of Christ and the resulting need to eventually decide on a set canon of writings for all of Christendom (even though this was done for three centuries before that decision was made) were starting to be formalized in response to such experiences as persecutions.

While Gasque covers the bases in setting up the importance of the persecutions on the eventual orthodox Christian faith, there are definite points where more refelection and analysis is needed in order to gain an accurate understanding of the historical, sociological and even theological variables influencing the developing early church during this period. Some of the points I’ve made here will be jumping off points that I will continue to explore in the future.

Notes:

1 J.D.G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways (London: SCM Press: Philadelphia; Trinity, 1991); idem (ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways AD 70 to 135 (WUNT, 66; Tubingen: Mohr, 1992).

Autographed Copy of the Bible

Well there goes years of my life working on my thesis about the early years of the Jesus movement in the first century CE…

best of craigslist : Autographed copy of the Bible – $1,000,000,000 OBO: This book was entrusted to me by the Knights of Templar, they borrowed it from Our Savior sometime between 28 and 32 AD and forgot to give it back. It was one of those things where they said they’d return it in a week, but then they didn’t get around to reading it right away. And you know how you always feel bad returning a book you haven’t read, especially when the lender asks you what you thought of it. So in trying to avoid an awkward moment with the Alpha and Omega, they hung onto it until they had more time. Well that time turned into about 2000 years, and it got mixed in with some other books and made it into a yard sale box.

Back to the drawing board…

TechCrunch Army?


I talked about the Laconica open micro-blogging platform last week and how the real time track nature of distro’s like Identi.ca make the platform so powerful.

On top of that base, the one feature that has fascinated me recently has been the ability to federate communities and have them all communicate with each other.

For instance, popular tech pundit and prolific podcast Leo Laporte has opened up the TWiT Army, and it seems to be incredibly popular among his fans and followers.

The amazing thing is that even though I’m on Identi.ca, I can track keywords and communicate with people on TWiT Army. Think about that for a second. Twitter can’t do that. And 14 years ago, users of CompuServe and Prodigy couldn’t email each other.

Micro-blogging is quickly following the path of email in terms of platform development.

What I’m waiting for is the TechCrunch Community or Chris Pirillo’s band of followers or Kevin Rose and the Diggnation to install a Laconica instance. How about Slashdot or Google Code developers? Mac fans of the world federate?

I think it’s going to happen sooner than later, and when it does it will open a lot of people’s eyes as to how similar micro-blogging has become to those other protocols we take for granted today like POP and IMAP.

What If Constantine Had Converted to Judaism Instead?


The following is a short piece I wrote tonight for a Jewish-Christian Relations seminar in response to Prof Marc Saperstein‘s question of what would have happened had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity in the 4th Century CE:

Prof Marc Saperstein’s question of how history might have been different had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity is freighted with an incalculable number of strands that if tugged at any one location might disassemble into a morass of muddy conjectures. However, what Saperstein taps into with this question is important to consider for properly understanding the history of Jewish-Christian relations as well as the present and future tenses of that relationship primarily because Saperstein advocates for an understanding of faith that allows for, and encourages, self-criticism on all fronts.

Saperstein’s conjecture has merit in terms of helping the contemporary audience seeking to better understand and reckon with Jewish-Christian relationship(s) for three major reasons that will be discussed below. First, as Christopher Leighton and Daniel Lehmann point out, “the coupling of religious conviction with political power has repeatedly generated noxious consequences, and no religious community can place itself beyond the temptations of zealotry.” Second, the interplay of competing religious traditions and convictions within a relatively close (or competing) community engenders the evolution of responses and internal narratives in order to both compete and exist. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question put forth by Prof Saperstein frames the meta-narrative of Jewish-Christian relations within the lens of a needed recognition of the importance of culpability and dialogic conversation on the questions of theology, practice and history.

Leighton and Lehmann’s point that the connection of political power with religious zealotry has repeatedly given rise to less-than-desirable consequences is absolutely apt when considering what would have happened had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity. Given the current model of understanding the history of first century Judaism, the religion was undergoing a period of growth and consolidation that would cement core beliefs in such tenets as the primacy of the Torah, the importance of table fellowship and the establishment of the Rabbinical order. A similar trajectory would occur in Christianity, but it would take the adoption of Christianity by Constantine in order for the final cementing of Christian doctrine to occur at the Council of Nicea. Had Constantine chosen to adopt Judaism over Christianity, a similar formative event such as Nicea would have probably occurred within the Jewish community, giving rise to a set and organized number of orthodox principles ruling out alternative readings of the Torah, Midrash, Targum and tradition, including Christianity. Of course, this would have led to empire-sanctioned crack-downs and/or persecutions on competing religious practices invoking both the Israelite God (in the case of the Christian movement) as well as other “pagan” religions. Given that Judaism had a recognized place in the Roman Empire before the “parting of the ways” with the Jesus movement, it would not be a far reach to imagine that the Christian movement would have been quickly relegated to a cult status and perhaps gone the way of such movements as Mithraism.

The key question here is whether or not the Jesus movement, and eventually the Christian movement, had enough staying power and claim to a line of tradition in order to perservere in light of a systematic adaptation of Judaism, or whether Christianity would have been able to reconcile itself as a facet and subset of a wider Judaic movement within the Roman empire. This question is best answered when the topic of adaptation in light of either reform or adaptation of a movement due to outside influences. Leighton and Lehmann remark on the development of Jewish responses to the dominant Christian culture, and there is little doubt that the Christian movement would have had to undergo similar changes or either collapse under its own weight due in part to the revered antiquity of Judaism and the lack of the Christian movement’s antiquity within the religious world of the Roman Empire. So, unless the Christian movement would have been able to secure a line of tradition or line of theology that convincingly tied it to the antiquity of the Israelite religion, it would have been a very precocious situation for the Christian movement in a Jewish Roman Empire. This would be especially true given the writings of the Patristics such as Justin, Melito, Iranaeus or Epictetus. In other words, the friction which led to the creation of Christianity might have been its undoing had Constantine adopted Judaism rather than Christianity.

Lastly, Saperstein’s question invokes the need for both Christianity and Judaism to not only put away the violent and unproductive practice of ignoring each other in terms of respective practice and theology (respectively), and instead frames the essential need for both Judaism and Christianity, in their varied modern forms, to recognize and attempt to better understand the historicity of their symbiotic relationship. Had Constantine adopted Judaism rather than Christianity, this key point would not be any different, hence the point should be given utmost primacy when considering the current (and historical) state of Jewish-Christian relations. Had Constantine adopted Judaism, there still would have been a fledgling Christian, or Jesus, Movement that would have sought to bring about the reforms within Judaism which Jesus of Nazareth preached and taught. That movement would have certainly have had to react in accordance with empire adoption of Judaism. Similarly, practices such as keeping Kosher, circumcision and table fellowship so important to the Jewish faith (and hypothetically which would still be important and central even if Judaism had been adopted by Constantine) would have been reacted to and perhaps adopted by early Christians.

The final conclusion is that the historical speculation engendered by Saperstein’s question of Constantine’s adoption of Judaism should not be seen as so wildly hypothetical as to be discredited in light of the historical and present-day consequences. Instead, Saperstein’s point in raising the question should be acknowledged and discussed within the wider context of Jewish-Christian relations since the point of studying history is not to necessarily commune with the dead, but to understand from their example and commune better with the living.

Notes:

Christopher Leighton and Daniel Lehmann, “Jewish-Christian Relations in Historical Perspective” in Irreconcilable Differences?, eds. David F. Sandmel, Rosann M. Catalano, Christopher M. Leighton (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001) 25.