Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The War on Extremism?

With all the chaos in the world, it is impossible to say anything sensible.  I will thus limit my comments to trying to parse out the meaning of the scientific term "Extremism".

"Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission.  Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife.  But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals." - Brainy Quote

"The United States of America is engaged in a war against an extremist group of folks." - Zimbio.

"The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be ...  The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." - Martin Luther King Jr.

"To boldy go where no extremist has ever gone before ..." - Captain James Tiberius Kirk

And, if we are going to fight a war, we might want to keep in mind Sun Tzu's advice from The Art of War:

"He who knows the enemy and himself will never in a hundred battles be at risk; He who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win and sometimes lose; He who knows neither the enemy nor himself will be at risk in every battle."

It would undoubtedly be helpful to have a working notion of the term "extremist".  The dictionary definitions seems to favor something that is as far in a particular direction as is possible.  Starting at the most general level, we can try taking the set of animal behaviors and working from there.  This seems reasonable since many groups have taken to justifying their behaviors by referencing the mating habits of slugs.  Of course slugs don't go through elaborate ceremonies complete with priests and government recognition, but these are minor trappings compared to the more important evolutionary behaviors.  Then there are wolves and sheep and sharks and black widows.  Some, like rabbits, are born to be chased.  Others, like foxes, are born to hunt.  This range of human behaviors is clearly on display just up the road in Oakland.  Then we have animals that eat their young, which has a lot of similarity to abortion.  Or perhaps we can consider the Black Widow.

There is another opinion from anthropologists that normal human behavior is that which would have been normal for an aboriginal village.  From this perspective, it would be quite normal and unsurprising for a young man to have his brains bashed out by the young men in the next village over, followed by a wild dance celebrating the event.  The Bible tells us of the first such instance when Cain bashed out the brains of his brother Abel.  There is nothing quite like brotherly passions.

To conclude, I really have no idea what the word "extremist" means in a modern, secular context.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Onward.  My theology program will require me to have some familiarity with Greek in addition to Hebrew, so I started an audio modern Greek program that should last two months.  Sanskrit is next. Or maybe Aramaic so I can read the classical Jewish commentaries.

What I have learned so far about Greek is that there are many versions, starting with Homeric Greek.  Afterwards came classical Greek which a few varieties like Attic Greek of Athens and Ionian Greek of the areas of modern Turkey.  After Alexander the Great's conquest, the Greek language spread across the empire but had morphed into a Koine Greek that is used by the Bible and most of the other Greek writings over a few century period unless they were affecting a different style.  During the middle ages, Greek developed into a Byzantine Greek variety and supposedly modern Greek is quite similar to the Byzantine variety having undergone little change in the last thousand years.  That is what I have read, but in practice I know next to nothing.

With the audio lessons, I am learning that there are slight differences of pronunciation. For example, we learn that classical Greek β is beta and pronounced as an English "b" sound.  In modern Greek, however, the letter is read víta and pronounced as the letter "v".  If I want the English "b" sound, I need to take two consonants and smash them together with the combination μπ. The letter is unexpectedly pronounced as "th" in "then", rather than the "d" sound.

The three semester Greek sequence won't formally get going until December, but I hope to be fairly well along before the classes start.  Or maybe I will manage to bring my pronunciation to a point where it is beyond repair.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tatanka Part 2: A Costly Mistake

My wife wanted us to take a friend to see a Chinese art exhibit in San Francisco.  Being culturally clueless, I simply chose The Museum in San Francisco, which is the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  Checking their exhibits online, it appeared to me that there was no Chinese art at the museum, but we went anyway.  A museum employee told us that we had gone to the wrong museum.  With more checking, it appears that we were really wanting the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  The reason this mistake is costly is that I am now obligated to take my wife to the real location for the Terracotta warriors, which is in 西安 (Xi'an) China.  

Making the best of a disastrous situation, we went to the 17th century Dutch Masters special exhibit.  There were a large number of drawings and paintings with the highlight being a work entitled "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer in 1665.  

After getting a closeup look at many of these Dutch paintings and then wandering the rest of the gallery, I could finally appreciate the superiority of their technique.  The eyes, nose and mouth were executed to a level of realism that simply could not be achieved by the other artists, while some of the other effects involving color and dynamic range would be extremely difficult to reproduce with photography. 

The art at De Young Museum comes from all over the planet, but two items stood out for special notice that were both more than 100 years old.  The first below is a representation of the Sioux Lakota Indian Sun Dance.  The second is of Indians hunting the bison.  The horse was first brought to America by the Europeans a century before the Dutch Masters were painting.  From Fanny Kelly's book, the Indians used steel arrow heads sold to them by the English in Canada, and then there were pots and kettles sold to them by American traders.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


For those of you who haven't watched "Dances With Wolves" five times, "tatanka" is the Sioux (American) Indian word for the American Bison.  A  week ago I cooked some bison steaks, so this post is a bit in commemoration of that experiment.

My audio listening has taken me to Fanny Kelly's "Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians".  If Fanny were alive today giving lectures and it became known to a PC gentlewoman, the gentlewoman would go into a red faced rage, followed by howling and screaming until she had successfully acquired Fanny's scalp.

Fanny was with her husband and daughter on a journey west when their wagon train was, um, greeted by Indians.  When the events were done, the men were dead except for those who somehow got away, and Fanny was taken captive with her daughter.  What the Indians couldn't take was burned.  Later her daughter was murdered and scalped.  Fanny had the relative good fortune to be taken by the chief, who was 75 years old, a cripple, and not in a position to molest her.  She initially looks forward to meeting the women, but then learns about Indian harem life where a strict pecking order is enforced through the most violent means.  The ordeal lasted 5 months and included severe hardship as the Indian group was chased by government soldiers and lost much of their provisions just as winter was setting in.

Fanny gives this analysis of the PC types from her day:

"I had read of the dusky maidens of romance; I thought of all the characters of romance and history wherein the nature of the red man is enshrined in poetic beauty.  The untutored nobility of soul, the brave generosity, the simple dignity untrammeled by the hollow conventionalities of civilized life, all rose mockingly before me, and the heroes of my youthful imagination passed through my mind in strange contrast with the flesh and blood realities into whose hands I had fallen.   ...   Truly, these pictures of the children of the forest that adorn the pages of the novelist are delightful conceptions of the airy fancy, fitted to charm the mind.  They amuse and beguile the hours they invest with their interest; but the true red man, as I saw him, does not exist between the pages of many volumes."

Here is a critique of the modern notion that the Indians treasured oneness with nature:

"Cruelty is inherent in them, and is early manifested in the young, torturing birds, turtles, or any little animal that may fall into their hands. They seem to delight in it, while the pleasure of the adult in torturing his prisoners is most unquestionable."

And here is another mix of political incorrectness:

"One fair little boy, who, with his mother, had just returned from Fort Laramie, came close to me.  Finding the squaw could speak a few words in English, I addressed her, and was told, in reply to my questions, that she had been the wife of a captain there, but that his white wife arriving from the East, his Indian wife was told to return to her people; she did so, taking her child with her.  The little boy was dressed completely in military clothes, even to the stripe on his pantaloons, and was a very bright, attractive child of about four years. 

It was a very sad thought for me to realize that a parent could part with such a child, committing it for ever to live in barbarous ignorance, and rove the woods among savages with the impress of his own superior race, so strongly mingled with his Indian origin."

We also get to learn about other juicy things, like the Dog Feast where Man's Best Friend became Man's Best Stew.  Then there was the scalp dance where Fanny was compelled to hold up a  stick with scalps on it while the warriors danced around it.  All through this, however, Fanny maintains a Christian testimony.

I certainly recommend this as a great read for anyone who feels oppressed by the world.

Strange Traffic

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Critical Scholarship as applied to Jack and Jill

For those of you who might have some doubts about the value of studying for an advanced degree in Biblical Scholarship, I have included a copy of an article summarizing scholarly analysis of Jack and Jill.  By removing the analysis from the religious setting and applying it to something familiar, it should demonstrate the degree of seriousness and rigor required by modern scholars.

Verse 1: "Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water."


The word "and" presents some difficulties which are not apparent to the casual reader.  There is considerable doubt in the minds of most scholars as to whether Jack was actually accompanied by Jill, in the sense that the phrase is intended to record a historical event.

In setting out upon this expedition, which was apparently undertaken for a specific purpose, or, at least, with some definite object in mind, it seems likely that Jack was stimulated to undertake this mission by a basic need for water.  Since most functions in the home involving water, such as cooking, washing clothes, scrubbing floors, and so on, are normally undertaken by the distaff side, it is widely held that the force of "and" in this context probably means that Jack set out with a strong picture image of Jill in his mind, and several existential scholars also insist that her parting words were undoubtedly ringing in his ears.

Grosskopf, in his monumental essay entitled Jackmitjilldamrotarung, takes a contrary view.  He dates this passage considerably earlier than is generally believed (somewhere between 404 BC and the 19th Amendment). On this basis he maintains that the hewing of wood and the drawing of water was exclusively carried on by women at this period, and that the words "Jack and" are a gloss by some later copyist, and did not appear in the original manuscript.

"Went up the hill" is obviously allegorical.  The ancients, although probably ignorant of Otis' First Law of Elevation ("what goes up must come down"), were well aware that the transfer of water by artificial means normally involves transportation from an inferior to a superior position(c.f. "The Old Oaken Bucket," "Down by the Old Mill Stream, " etc.).  Professor Gard de l'Eau, the distinguished hydrographer and mystic, suggests that this anabasis symbolized man's struggle to rise nearer to ultimate unity with the cosmic.  The water, he continues, has precisely the same symbolism as the crossing of the Red Sea, the Jordan, Lindberg's trip across the Atlantic, and the landing on Omaha Beach in World War II, with which everyone is familiar.

Author unknown

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Learning English to learn Hebrew

The third semester of Hebrew is moving on.  This one is pushing us to do academic level text analysis of Hebrew sentences, which I suppose is ideally necessary for a theologian.  Thus, we aren't really immersed in the language, but more feeling like we have one toe in the language and most of the work involves comparisons and touches the disciplines of linguistics and semantics.  A major work that we have, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia (BHS) is a Hebrew Bible, but in the footnotes it has a list of every point where ancient sources deviate from the semi-official Masoretic text of the Hebrew.  That can come from dozens of different documents, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and - as if this isn't enough - we have a Samaritan Pentateuch and Syriac Targums.  Most verses will have some point where a stroke is different across the 100 or so original documents, and then we have to analyze it to death.

Next, we have to start dissecting the grammar.  This is what I hated most in school, but now it is done at a new level.  Most of my vocabulary learning this semester is due to this:  "genetive", "dative", "cohortative", "inclusio", "causative", "factative", ...  They aren't exactly Hebrew words.  Hopefully three months will go by quickly.