Other Worlds, Part 2
It’s all Greek to Art Dewey. And it should be. When the professor of theology began researching the writings of St. Paul with three other New Testament scholars, they went back to Paul’s original letters, which were in Greek. And for 17 years, off and on, they scoured the original Greek texts, stubbornly delving into hidden meanings and arguing over intricate phrasings. “It was a long slog,” he says. “Sometimes, we’d spend an hour on a word or a sentence.”
The foursome endured weekly long-distance confrontations, brutal seven-hour conference calls and face-to-face meetings in an effort to achieve the analysis and introspection necessary to reach some kind of truth. And they did. The culmination of the research was The Authentic Letters of Paul: A New Reading of Paul’s Rhetoric and Meaning, a new book that immediately became the publishing house’s best-seller ever and forced a second printing after its November release. The tome distinguishes Paul’s letters from others attributed to him in the canon, disentangling “composite letters” and attempting to free Paul’s voice from 2,000 years of orthodoxy.
Tinkering with the Scriptures or challenging their historical authenticity is, in the eyes of some, blasphemy. Dewey’s heard it all before, though. He is a founder of the Healing Deadly Memories Program, which addresses anti-Semitism in the New Testament, and is a member of Jesus Seminar, a group of academics researching the historical Jesus. To him, it’s just part of his job as a New Testament scholar.
“People think of Paul as a closet Lutheran or a micromanager or anti-women,” he says. “None of these things is true if you read the authentic Paul. People don’t even think about why Paul was beheaded. What he wrote was counter-cultural, counter-imperial letters about who was the true ruler of the cosmos, over the empire of Rome.”
The first key is determining what Paul actually wrote. It was accepted practice in the ancient world for followers of famous figures to write in their names. That happened with Paul. Dewey and his fellow scholars finally judged just seven letters to be authentically penned by Paul—roughly half those that are attributed to him. So they removed the rest and then reversed the traditional order of chapters.
“We also don’t use the usual terminology,” he says. “We don’t use ‘faith’ or ‘Christ’ or ‘flesh.’ We don’t use ‘sin.’ We had to really look at the deep metaphors of Paul’s speech and how they can be translated into comparable metaphors today. What you get ordinarily is a rather wooden translation rather than one that reflects the vigors of Paul’s challenge itself.”
The bug detective
As a child, Mollie McIntosh was chided by her mother, “Don’t play with bugs.” She didn’t pay attention, and today her world revolves around either grotesque dead bugs or live ones that carry horrid diseases. Eccckk.
McIntosh is Xavier’s resident bug brain. The assistant professor of biology is an aquatic ecologist and forensic entomologist with a self-professed passion for scaly, leggy, creepy creatures. Preferably ones that are dripping wet.
Lately, the first-year professor’s attention has been focused on two water bugs in Ghana. A mystery malady, Buruli Ulcer Disease, is sweeping 30-35 tropical countries and McIntosh has been called in to discover if the disease is transported by aquatic bugs. “Not mosquitoes, which is typical,” she says. “But two water bugs: Naucoridae and Belostomatidae. We have both these in Ohio, so that’s how we became involved in investigating.”
So are these water bugs turning out to be the culprits? “We don’t think so. They might possibly be vectors for the disease, but our evidence is showing there are just not enough of these bugs around to affect all the people who have been afflicted.”
McIntosh is still on the trail, however.
“All cases are associated with aquatic habitats,” she says, “and all are habitats that have been modified by humans through deforestation, flooding, agriculture, dams and such. We think it’s something very complex going on in the environment that allows the bacteria to become more numerous.”
It’s all a long way from the recreational Field & Stream magazine. More akin, actually, to Freshwater Biology and the Journal of Forensic Sciences, where McIntosh has documented her other wetland ecosystem studies, such as the effect of water diversions on aquatic communities in tropical Hawaiian streams. But research hasn’t been all fun in the sun. She and her students recently became embroiled in a “CSI” kind of investigation in which a nursing home was being hauled into court over a patient becoming infested with maggots. “It got a little gruesome, yes.”
Other Worlds (continued)