Thursday, July 26, 2012

Isaiah and Woe.

Isaiah is because I am taking an intensive seminary class on Isaiah.  Woe is because my internet at home is down and I am trying to get it back up. I have to head over to the public library or go to a coffee shop to get any internet.  The class has been good with Prof. Ron Allen giving us much instruction down to the discussion of Hebrew vocabulary and how their cognates in Ugaritic and Akkadian can be considered for better understanding.  Good thing I had one semester of Hebrew before signing up for this.  At least it is helping me to develop some enthusiasm for continuing the next two semesters of Hebrew, which should start a few weeks later.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yum!  Since all great blogs have recipes, I decided to include this one which is in a book that we checked out from the Fremont Main Library.  Can you figure out what it is?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Josephus:  A note on the Sadducees.

We have very little information on this Jewish sect, but they seem to be the most popular nowadays.  The Sadducees did not believe in any resurrection.  Other than that, we have the following from Antiquities of the Jews:

"4. But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of any thing besides what the law enjoins them; for they think it an instance of virtue to dispute with those teachers of philosophy whom they frequent: but this doctrine is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity. But they are able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them."

"But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]."

We are usually taught that the Pharisees were the extreme limit of judgmentalism, but Josephus tells us that they were the mildest of the three sects.  The worst were the Sadducees, who also had some clearly modernist tendencies.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great Courses: Science and Religion, by Prof. Lawrence Principe.

4. God and Nature - Miracles and Demons.

This is a continuation of an earlier post.  Lecture 4 is really two lectures packed into one, so that neither subject can be done properly.  Since I am full of faith, I will guess that a better set of lectures was prepared, but last minute editing for time caused things to lose their coherence.  

The first part deals with the view of Christians regarding causality:  Prof. Principe suggests that there is one school that believes that God directly causes every thing that happens, event by event, and arbitrarily doing whatever each time something comes up.  At an opposite extreme, there is a belief that God defined laws of science which act as an intermediary and that God simply started the ball rolling.  There is a spectrum of beliefs in between.  From my perspective, I don't know that Christians have ever believed the first view, while the opposite extreme was alleged by Pascal against Descartes, but probably misrepresents Descartes and doesn't really have any serious takers outside of modernists.  Christianity mostly flowed with a different view as I discovered elsewhere by reading authors like Bede and Anselm, then moving on to Bacon.  Maybe this will show up in another lecture?  Yes, there are laws of space and time, but God intervenes periodically.  Cluttering up things more is the asserted Muslim connection which certainly existed, but did it really change things?  Mostly the Arabic writers commented on Aristotle, but Aristotle's world view was hopeless as a foundation for modern science - and Latin civilization was already infused with classical views.  This isn't significant to any argument, but Prof. Principe lists Averroes as a Muslim, yet Averroes was deemed a heretic by Islam due to his modernist views.  The lecture thus ignores the stream of science that was already active in Western thought while giving the usual confused view of what was transported over from Arabic. The other point that mustn't be passed over is that Latin scholars frequently traveled to the Byzantine Empire to obtain training in Greek and Greek literature, without the intermediary of Arabic or Muslims.  Finally, this being Silicon Valley, it is important to note that the charismatic churches (the Christian extreme that is most focused on God's day by day interventions in His creation) are doing quite well, and that a good number of scientifically trained folk are in their congregations.  (No, I am not a charismatic.)  The net result is that the lecture doesn't seem to have brought us any closer to an understanding of historical views and developments on this subject nor gave us any help to understand modern Christian views.

The second half of lecture 4 deals with miracles.  It starts well with a discussion of miracles from Aquinas.  Prof. Principe then asserts that Christians believe demons to be utterly powerless creatures, yet full of knowledge so that they can perform illusions.  The first half of the lecture asserted there are many Christian views on how nature is effected by God, although I would claim the vast majority of Christians fall very nearly to one viewpoint.  The second half asserts only one view regarding demons where a rich variety does exist.  So ... if demons can't effect anything, how could they possibly trick anyone?  The Bible asserts that demons are fallen angels, while also assigning great power to angels.  Did God take away the power of demons?  Where does it say that in the Bible?  Demons only seem to act within people, yet is this because they can't act otherwise?  Or is it simply because they much prefer to take up residence in a victim?  The first chapter of Job both clarifies and confuses matters much more.  The number of plausible alternatives within Christian theology is quite large so that I could not choose a view, but I would reject the one prof. Principe has offered as neither being consistent with the Bible nor with itself.  Then we still have the inexplicable silence on the subject of angels in all this.  The next two lectures are on the trial of Galileo.  Given that there was no transcript from the trial, this should be interesting.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Josephus (37AD-100):  How the Olympics began awarding the silver and bronze medals.

"He also built the other edifices, the amphitheater, and theater, and market-place, in a manner agreeable to that denomination; and appointed games every fifth year, and called them, in like manner, Caesar's Games; and he first himself proposed the largest prizes upon the hundred ninety-second olympiad; in which not only the victors themselves, but those that came next to them, and even those that came in the third place, were partakers of his royal bounty." - Wars of the Jews

Thus, it appears that Herod the Great (73-4C) is the one who initiated the three-tier award system that we have today for the Olympic games.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Behaving badly at the annual general council of atheist churches atheists?

The article alleges that women are abandoning the atheist annual conference due to sexual harassment.  To be honest, I don't have any first hand evidence of such behavior nor do I believe everything in the news.  My interests have been more in the origin of the atheist's belief that they are morally superior to theists.  The result of this search has turned up the Epicureans (~300BC) with their explanation about how vile the theists were, thus proving the moral superiority of their scientific atheism:

"I fear perhaps thou deemest that we fare 
An impious road to realms of thought profane; 
But 'tis that same religion oftener far 
Hath bred the foul impieties of men: 
As once at Aulis, the elected chiefs, 
Foremost of heroes, Danaan counsellors, 
Defiled Diana's altar, virgin queen, 
With Agamemnon's daughter, foully slain. 
She felt the chaplet round her maiden locks 
And fillets, fluttering down on either cheek, 
And at the altar marked her grieving sire, 
The priests beside him who concealed the knife, 
And all the folk in tears at sight of her. 
With a dumb terror and a sinking knee 
She dropped; nor might avail her now that first 
'Twas she who gave the king a father's name. 
They raised her up, they bore the trembling girl 
On to the altar- hither led not now 
With solemn rites and hymeneal choir, 
But sinless woman, sinfully foredone, 
A parent felled her on her bridal day, 
Making his child a sacrificial beast 
To give the ships auspicious winds for Troy: 
Such are the crimes to which Religion leads." - Lucretius (99-55BC), On The Nature Of Things.

Certainly for the king to sacrifice his daughter to propitiate the gods is a bit rude, although today's atheist male probably doesn't know who his daughter is - assuming she didn't get aborted.  The shouting match about who is more vile will certainly continue until God puts an end to it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Great Courses: Science and Religion, by Prof. Lawrence Principe.

This is a 12 lecture series that I am listening to with a noon-time group at work.  I have only listened to three lectures, so I may need to revise my impressions later as I get a more complete picture of his views.

Prof. Principe starts well, although he immediately qualifies "religion" as "Christianity".  This is problematic, since classical views permeate much of what the west believed(s), so that this truncates a lot of important discussions.  Ignoring that for the moment, he does well to note that we can't view the mental processes of medieval monks through modernist stereotypes and categories and hope to understand much.  This is true on multiple levels.  Instead, we need to try to enter into the word view of the various actors.  The second lecture discusses the dishonest scholarship of the 19th century intellectuals, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.  I must really commend him for facing some ugly facts, like how a professor of history and founder of Cornell should be instrumental in getting the flat earth hoax accepted around the world - and this continuing more than a century after White's death.  That these two acted out of malice is also noted.  He also read some slightly extended quotes from Augustine to show some of the dishonest ways that Augustine's words were twisted and exploited by White.

The third lecture begins on Augustine, and has much to recommend.  He does a good job at first presenting the key aspects of Augustine's career.  Where things go badly wrong is the well known quote from Augustine that Christians need to know something about science so that they won't get laughed at in discussions.  The quote is fine, but the context is what is missing:  This is part of a book where Augustine takes on the supposed proofs of old earth supporters.  More importantly, the works of Augustine are infused throughout with an anti-intellectualloid mindset that every reader of the American Spectator would be completely at home with.  Augustine would simply note that Draper and White were fairly typical of the way intellectualloids have always been - going back to the time of the ancient Egyptians -  thus, it is not surprising that their (Draper and White) nonsense was preached for more than a century in the halls of academia and with the financial support of governments around the world - and with the conscious support of countless academics.

The second half of the lecture on Augustine is dedicated to a recent document from the Catholic Church regarding faith and science.  I am not going to trace the document down, but it dates from 1998 according to Prof. Principe.  The extensive quote strikes me as the usual post-modern hooey that travels around the halls of mainline seminaries.  It is neither sensible Christianity, nor coherent philosophy, nor responsible science, but it sounds, um, intellectualloid.  I will go out on a limb here and make a guess that Prof. Principe is a Catholic - in the Papist sense of the term.  This is mainly because Augustine is deemed to be the exclusive property of the Catholic church, yet the views that don't conform with modern polite Catholic intellectuals are skipped. As such, I am guessing that he will continue and offer us up a proper Catholic intellectual viewpoint.

I should still offer up some praise for Prof. Principe risking getting shot for what he has said so far, but must note some more glaring holes:  For one, the second lecture on the warfare between science and Christianity metanarrative fails to mention that this was invented by the Roman emperor Julian, and that there were plenty of intellectuals in the 18th century who embraced the same rhetoric.  The other is the failure to link the flat earth discussion to Aristotle's story of the beliefs of Democritus et. al.  Admittedly, I just learned this myself, but I am not a science history professor and Prof. Principe has two lectures on Galileo coming up for which Aristotle's teachings were the center of the controversy.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Binding and Loosing:  Josephus and the Bible

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you." - Matthew 18:15-19.

This expression of binding and loosing is also used in Josephus regarding the time when Alexandra (141-67BC) was ruling Israel:

"And now the Pharisees joined themselves to her, to assist her in the government. These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately. low Alexandra hearkened to them to an extraordinary degree, as being herself a woman of great piety towards God. But these Pharisees artfully insinuated themselves into her favor by little and little, and became themselves the real administrators of the public affairs: they banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed [men] at their pleasure; and, to say all at once, they had the enjoyment of the royal authority, whilst the expenses and the difficulties of it belonged to Alexandra." - Wars of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 5.

The bound and loosed used by Josephus was that of assigning guilt or innocence to men, which is the primary act of judging.  This just provides a little more perspective on the usage of the phrase as Jesus gave it to us in the book of Matthew.  Those of us who are in the church have a similar authority, not only to bind and loose here on earth, but also in heaven?  To me it is something scary, and a great warning to be extremely cautious in our judgments, especially when we have no idea how things are playing out in God's eternal plan.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Book Review:  From Exegesis to Exposition - A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew, by Robert Chisholm.

This is one of the more difficult books I have struggled through recently, but it seems to me quite useful.  The goal is to explain both why knowing Biblical Hebrew is valuable to preparing lessons and sermons along with what the proper procedure is for analyzing Hebrew text and extracting meaning.  The procedure that Chisholm offers is one of painstakingly translating the Hebrew with attention given to every verb form and every idiom.  Each idiom must be compared to all other usages, while a particular verb with a particular form must also be compared with the various usages.  Hebrew has many ways of emphasizing different verbs that don't necessarily come out so well in the English, while certain pronouns are more precise than English and their linkage to other words is more precise due to the grammar.  These and other factors are to be thoroughly tracked down ... before trying to figure out what a passage really means.  My one semester of Hebrew was enough to follow many of the discussions, but somewhat weak for a few of the more advanced topics.

Where this really comes in helpful is that the procedure allows for many similarities to be caught that I would have passed over.  For example, Isaiah 1:2 has "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth ..." in a prophecy regarding Israel's unfaithfulness to the Jewish law and the consequences.  The same sort of expression occurs in Deuteronomy where the law is originally given:  "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth." - Deuteronomy 32:1  This expression is repeated several times in Deuteronomy.  The only way to find these patterns would be to search on "heavens" + "earth" and see what turns up.  This can be done in English, but many of the searches can only be done in Hebrew when we are, for example, looking for all instances of a particular verb in the Hiphil form with a particular type/ending.

A key part of this method is a recognition of what is hyperbole and what is not.  It is important to adhere to attested interpretations as much as possible.  At many points there are subtle disputes among serious students as to the exact meaning of an expression and there is an expectation that the Hebrew student should be able to weigh the relative merits of the arguments.  This is an ambitious goal!

This book is required for the second and third semesters of my Biblical Hebrew sequence.  I am glad to have  finished reading the book before these semesters start, but dread having to do this process, write it out, and then turn it in for a homework assignment.
Hippolytus of Rome (170-235AD): Christ and Anti-Christ.

This short work is a summary of views about the Anti-Christ from about the year 200.  Passages from throughout the old testament and new testament of the Bible are gathered up including quotes from the book of Revelation.  The use of Revelation is of some interest, since some have argued that the early church didn't accept Revelation and have tried to argue that it is spurious.  This usage certainly puts the squeeze on a timeline between John's writing of Revelation and the acceptance of the book as authoritative.

I haven't spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting views of future prophecy among Christians.  The only thing I will note here is that his views sound very much like modern dispensationalists.  What is distinct is that he asserts that the anti-Christ will be a Jew coming from the tribe of Dan.  Otherwise he does not spend a lot of time speculating on the anti-Christ being any particular person of his era.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Josephus (37-100AD): Regarding California's proposed law allowing for children to have more than two parents.

"Nay, Caius's madness came to this height, that when he had a daughter born, he carried her into the capitol, and put her upon the knees of the statue, and said that the child was common to him and to Jupiter, and determined that she had two fathers, but which of these fathers were the greatest he left undetermined; and yet mankind bore him in such his pranks." - Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIX, chapter 1

This is with regard to the Roman emperor Caligula (12AD-41).  Caligula was crazed with sex, but this wasn't quite reflected in a, um, loving temperament.  Instead his greed was insatiable for the wealth of others and his brutality went beyond that of all Roman emperors.  Slaves were encouraged to report any wealth of their masters in return for a 1/8th share, while the masters would be executed and their wealth confiscated when found out.  The result was that the people of Rome lived in a state of terror, until Caligula was murdered at age 26.  His German soldiers - who were generously rewarded by him - then went on a rampage for a time killing anyone remotely associated with the assassination of Caligula.  Thus, the consequences of unrestrained "love".

Anyway, California is trying to formalize Caligula's poly-parent policy.  As the Bible says, " ... there is nothing new under the sun."  - Ecclesiastes 1:9.