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27 Jul 15:56

Miniblog #235: Biblicism, “The Bible Says…” & Pavlov’s Dogs

by Carson T. Clark

Anybody else struggle not to cringe whenever someone says the words, “The Bible says…”? It doesn’t matter who says it or what follows. The speaker could be N.T. Wright and he could be offering a brilliant exegesis of a passage in Romans. I’d still have to fight back that initial knee-jerk cringe. Shoot, I’ve even cringed at hearing myself say it! Every time I hear or read those three words I emotionally brace for impassioned nonsense, fundamentalist militancy, decontextualized paraphrasing, poor hermeneutics, ignorant ranting, anachronistic assertions, overly-simplistic generalizations, pious dismissals, and abusive rhetoric. It’s like Pavlov’s dogs. Such are the lingering effects caused by years of exposure to biblicism. As I’ve said before, I affirm the Bible contains the divinely-inspired Scriptures as communicated by human authors and redactors living in precise cultural-historical contexts. I also affirm that the Bible is authoritative in so far as it’s rightly interpreted and discerningly applied. Thus, I care a great deal about what the Bible says. What I don’t care for is when people carelessly toss it around to proof-text their every comment.

27 Jul 15:38

More Secret Scriptures 5: Pseudo-Memoirs of the Apostles

by Tony

(The latest in a series of posts about little-known Christian Apocrypha that could not be included in my recent book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the the Christian Apocrypha, now available in Europe and to be released in North America in November, 2013. My own copies, alas, are on a very slow boat from the UK to Canada.)

Alin Suciu, administer of his self-titled blog, recently completed his PhD. at University Laval in Quebec. His dissertation—“Apocryphon Berolinense/Argentoratense (Previously Known as the Gospel of the Savior). Reedition of P. Berol. 22220, Strasbourg Copte 5-7 and Qasr el-Wizz Codex ff. 12v-17r with Introduction and Commentary”—is available, at lest temporarily, on his blog (HERE). Though I am interested in Suciu’s work on the so-called “Gospel of the Savior,” it is a particular section of his dissertation that attracted my attention. In a chapter entitled, “The Place of the Apocryphon Berolinense/Argentoratense in Coptic Literature” (p. 71-129), Suciu situates the gospel within the genre of what he calls “Pseudo-Memoirs of the Apostles.” The texts are usually found embedded in homilies attributed to such recognized Church Fathers as Cyril of Jeusalem, John Chrysostom, and Basil of Caesarea; the author pauses in his address to quote from a book found, typically, in the home of the mother of John Mark in Jerusalem (mentioned in Acts 12:12), and which contains first-hand testimonies recounting the words and deeds of Jesus. These books are ascribed to particular apostles (e.g., Peter, Bartholomew, and James the Just), disciples of apostles (Stephen, Evodius, Gamiliel, and Prochorus), or to the apostles as a group. Two of these books, the Lament of Mary and the Martyrdom of Pilate, were discussed in my last post. Now that I have read Suciu’s detailed treatment of the topic, I wanted to add a little more to that discussion—if only to help document the material for my own sake.

The Pseudo-Memoirs of the Apostles are a uniquely Coptic genre—though some of the texts survive only in translation into Arabic, Garshuni, Old Nubian, and Ethiopic. Observing Miaphysite Christology in the texts, Suciu places their origins in the context of fifth-century Christological debates, specifically after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE (Suciu, p. 122). But the function of the texts is “to lay an apostolic foundation for the different liturgical celebrations of the Coptic church. As the liturgical year became more and more elaborated and the number of feasts increased, the Coptic church felt the necessity to claim apostolic authority for its religious celebrations” (Suciu, p. 118) Two of the most well-known of the group of texts, the Book of Bartholomew and the History of Joseph the Carpenter, do not us the homiletic framework and the claim of a manuscript discovery, but they otherwise accord well with other features of the genre.

Here follows a complete list of the Pseudo-Memoirs of the Apostles texts enumerated by Suciu (and reproduced with his permission). I have listed the most readily available editions of the texts; more complete information is provided by Suciu.

Homily On the Life and the Passion of Christ attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem (CPG 3604; clavis coptica 0113). Includes Peter’s narration of events of Holy Week as found by a certain Theodosius in the house of the mother of John Mark. Cyril needed assistance in reading the book from a certain Bachios, who is said to come from a monastery near Ascalon. Published in Roelof van den Broek, Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ (Brill, 2013) (discussed previously HERE and HERE). Available in Sahidic.

A homily on the apostles attributed to the same Bachios (clavis coptica 0067) which contains apocryphal insertions. Published in F. Morard, “Homélie copte sur les apôtres au Jugement Dernier,” in D.H. Warren et al. (eds.), Early Christian Voices in Texts, Traditions and Symbols. Essays in Honor of François Bovon (Biblical Interpretation Series, 66; Boston – Leiden: Brill, 2003) 417-430. Available in Coptic.

A homily on Mary Magdalene attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem (CANT 73; clavis coptica 0118). From a book in the house of the mother of John Mark ascribed to a certain Simon the Eunuch, a disciple of the apostles. Published in R.-G. Coquin, “Un encomion copte sur Marie-Madeleine attribué à Cyrille de Jérusalem,” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 90 (1990): 169-212. Includes portions of the Cave of Treasures as a revelation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary Magdalene and Theophilus. Available in Coptic.

Homily on the Virgin attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem (clavis coptica 0005). The author claims to be recounting the life of Mary “as we read it in the writings of our fathers the apostles.” Published in Forbes Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels. Translations Together with the Texts of Some of Them, Text and Studies, 4/2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896 (available HERE).In Sahidic and Arabic.

Homily on the Dormition of the Virgin attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril derives his information from a letter which John sent his disciple Prochorus and desposited in the home of Mary, mother of John Mark. Unpublished. Available only in Arabic.

On the Four Bodiless Creatures attributed to John Chrysostom (CPG 5150.11; clavis coptica 0177). Contains a dialogue between Jesus and his apostles found, again, in the home of Mary, mother of John Mark. Available in Sahidic, Old Nubian, Arabic and Ethiopic. Sahidic text published in C. S. Wansink in L. Depuydt (ed.), Homiletica from the Pierpont Morgan Library 2 vols. (CSCO, 524-525. Scriptores coptici, 43-44; Louvain: Peeters, 1991).

Sermon on the Archangel Michael attributed to Timothy II, patriarch of Alexandria (CPG 2529; clavis coptica 0404). Contains a text attributed to Prochorus, the disciple of John found in the house of the mother of Prochorus (though the Ethiopic witnesses say instead it was written by John himself and found in the home of Mary, mother of John Mark). Available in Sahidic, Ethiopic, and Arabic. Sahidic text published in E.A.W. Budge, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1915; available HERE).

Homily on the Dormition attributed to Cyriacus of Behnesa (CANT 147; 153). Contains a revelation of Christ by John, transcribed by Prochorus, and in the possession of Archelaos, a teacher of Athens. Available in Arabic and Ethiopic (Arabic unpublished). Ethiopic text published in S. Bombeck, Die Geschichte der heiligen Maria in einer alten äthiopischen Handschrift, 2 vols. (Dortmund: Praxiswissen, 2004-2010).

Homily on the Lament of Mary attributed to Cyriacus of Behnesa (CANT 74). Contains a book by Gamaliel and Nicodemus found in the library of Jerusalem. Available in Sahidic, Arabic, Garshuni, and Ethiopic. Arabic version published in A. Mingana, “The Lament of the Virgin,” in Woodbrooke Studies vol. 2 (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1928; available HERE).

Homily on the Martyrdom of Pilate attributed to Cyriacus of Behnesa (CANT 75). A continuation of the Lament of Mary, attributed also to Gamaliel and found in the library of Jerusalem. Available in Garshuni and Ethiopic. Garshuni text published in A. Mingana, “Martyrdom of Pilate” in Woodbrooke Studies vol. 2 (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1928; available HERE).

Homily attributed to Basil of Caesarea on the building of the first church dedicated to the Virgin (CPG 2970; clavis coptica 0073). The homily mentions the Lament of Mary and the Martyrdom of Pilate and incorporates a letter purported to be by Luke, all found, again in the house of the mother of John Mark. Available in Bohairic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. Bohairic text published in M. Chaîne, “Catéchèse attribuée à Saint Basile de Césarée. Une lettre apocryphe de Saint Luc,” Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 23 (1922/23) 150-159, 271-302.

Homily on the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt attributed to Cyriacus of Behnesa (no clavis number). Incorporates a book written by Joseph found in Jerusalem. Available in Arabic. Summary provided in P. Dib, “Deux discours de Cyriaque évêque de Behnésa sur la Fuite en Égypte,” Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 15 (1910): 157-161.

Homily on the Archangel Gabriel attributed to the Archelaos, here associated not with Athens but Neapolis or another town, depending on the source) (clavis coptica 0045). Incorporates a book written by the apostles and found in a library of the monastery of St. Romanos (in Palestine). Available in Sahidic/Bohairic, Ethiopic, and Arabic. Bohairic text published in H. De Vis, Homélies coptes de la Vaticane vol. 2 (Coptica, 5; Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Roghandel-Nordisk Forlag, 1929).

Sermon for the celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin attributed to Theodosius of Alexandria (CPG 7153; clavis coptica 0385). Contains information the author found in ancient records in Jerusalem, but came into his hands in the library of the holy Mark in Alexandria. Available in Bohairic and Arabic. Bohairic text published in M. Chaîne, “Sermon de Théodose patriarche d’Alexandrie sur la dormition et l’assomption de la Vierge,” Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 29 (1933/34): 272-314.

Encomium on Abbaton, the angel of death, attributed to Timothy Aelurus (CPG 2530; clavis coptica 0405). Said to be written by the apostles and deposited in the library of Jerusalem. Available in Sahidic, published in E. A. W. Budge, Coptic Martyrdoms in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1914; available HERE).

A book of the Virgin concerning her adventures with the apostle Matthias in the town of Bartos, from a homily attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem (BHO 654; CANT 281.2). Available in Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. Coptic text published in Forbes Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels. Translations Together with the Texts of Some of Them (Text and Studies, 4/2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896; available HERE).

A homily on John Baptist attributed to John Chrysostom (CPG 5150.3; CANT 184; clavis coptica 0170) which contains a book attributed to James the Just. Available in Sahidic and Arabic. Coptic text published in E. A. W. Budge, Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1913; available HERE). Recent French translation by Anne Boud‘hors in F. Bovon and P. Geoltrain (eds.), Écrits apocryphes chrétiens vol. 1 (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade; Paris: Gallimard, 1997, p. 1552-1578).

Sermon on the Dormition attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, containing a book attributed to James the Just (apparently an adaptation of the Syriac Transitus).

Texts not embedded in homilies:

History of Joseph the Carpenter (BHO 532-533; CANT 60; clavis coptica 0037). The opening of the text says that Jesus related Joseph’s life to the apostles and they deposited the book in the Library at Jerusalem. Available in Coptic and Arabic. Widely published, most recently in Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese, The Apocryphal Gospels (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Book of Bartholomew (CANT 80; clavis coptica 0027). Available in Sahidic. Published in E. A. W. Budge, Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1913; available HERE), and readily available in W. Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2 (trans. R. McL. Wilson; Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 1991).

Enthronement of Gabriel attributed to Stephen (clavis coptica 0378). Features a dialogue between Christ and the apostles concerning the angelic world. Available in Sahidic and Coptic. Published in C. D. G. Müller, Die Bücher der Einsetzung der Erzengel Michael und Gabriel 2 vols. (CSCO, 225-226. Scriptores coptici, 31-32; Louvain: Sécretariat du CorpusSCO, 1962).

The Mysteries of John the Evangelist (clavis coptica 0041). Contains a vision of John in which a Cherub reveals to him the mysteries of the heavens. Available in Coptic (Sahidic and Bohairic). Published in E. A. W. Budge, Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1913; available HERE).

Enthronement of Michael attributed to John the Evangelist. Available in Coptic, Old Nubian, and Ethiopic. Published by C. D. G. Müller, Die Bücher der Einsetzung der Erzengel Michael und Gabriel 2 vols. (CSCO, 225-226. Scriptores coptici, 31-32; Louvain: Sécretariat du CorpusSCO, 1962).

Homily on the Dormition attributed to Evodius (CANT 133; clavis coptica 0151). Available in Coptic (Sahidic and Bohairic). Evodius is the bishop of Rome in Coptic tradition but also known as the disciple of Peter and his immediate successor on the episcopal See of Antioch (in one text he is the brother of Cleopas from Luke 24:13). Published in Forbes Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels. Translations Together with the Texts of Some of Them, Text and Studies, 4/2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896 (available HERE).

Homily on the Passion attributed to Evodius (clavis coptica 0149). Available in Sahidic. Published in Leo Depuydt (ed.), Homiletica from the Pierpont Morgan Library 2 vols. (CSCO, 524-525. Scriptores coptici, 43-44; Louvain: Peeters, 1991).

Homily on the Passion perhaps attributed to Evodius (none of the fragmentary Mss preserve the title) (CANT 81; clavis coptica 0150). Elaborates on the resurrection of Lazarus and contains a long dialogue between Jesus and Thomas. Published in Forbes Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels. Translations Together with the Texts of Some of Them, Text and Studies, 4/2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896 (available HERE).

A fragmentary dialogue between Jesus and the apostles published by C. W. Hedrick, “A Revelation Discourse of Jesus,” Journal of Coptic Studies 7 (2005): 13-15.

Suciu has provided a great service in compiling all of this information on the Pseudo-Memoirs of the Apostles and in situating them in their literary and theological contexts.

27 Jul 13:48

Karl Barth’s Dialectical Washing Line #2

by rickwyld

Karl Barth's Dialectical Washing Line 2

27 Jul 02:22

Lady Theurgists

by Sarah

It’s hard to come by voices of women in antiquity. It would be enough to ask “Where are the women” for most ancient matters, but what about those who engaged in esoteric practices? Did they exist?

Surprisingly, though we know little about them, there is evidence that some women did engage in theurgical and alchemical practices. I’ve found two: Theosebia, an acquaintance of Zosimus of Panopolis and Asclepigeneia, a teacher of Proclus.

Let’s start with Theosebia.

Theosebia was a contemporary of Zosimus of Panopolis, one of our earliest sources for alchemy. They were active around the end of the 3rd century, a time when a lot of folks were preoccupied with eschewing the “base” material world and focusing on more lofty spiritual concerns. Zosimus’ relationship with Theosebia seems to be that of either spiritual mentor or contemporary—it is difficult to tell. On the one hand, he wrote a lengthy instructive text to her (The Final Quittance) outlining alchemical techniques. On the other hand, she also seems fairly competent in her own right: She comes under criticism from Zosimus for leading her own groups and keeping alchemical secrets, well, secret. Nevertheless, Garth Fowden suggests that Theosebia “appears to have been among the most influential exponents of alchemy in her day.” Influential, but almost invisible from a historical standpoint!

We know a little bit more about Asclepigeneia, from whom Proclus learned about theurgy. Were going to move a couple hundred years forward here to the 5th century, and we’re going to change the location from Egypt to Athens. Proclus had been taught many things in many places, but he found his teachers Syrianus and Plutarch in Athens. This is no mere “let’s talk about Proclus.” This is relevant.

So Plutarch.

Plutarch had a grandfather named Nestorius who apparently knew tons about theurgy and how to do things like perform incantations with barbarous words and read astrological charts. Where did Nestorius learn all these wonderful things? No one knows, but he teaches these things to Plutarch. Plutarch then pulls a total dick-move and dies before he can pass his knowledge onto Proclus. The situation is truly awful. My scholarly guess is that Proclus was hella pissed.

You may have guessed by now that Asclepigeneia plays the protagonist here. She’s the great-great granddaughter of Nestorius and has somehow inherited the theurgic knowledge from her father, Plutarch. Ah ha. Is she the missing link? You betcha.

With Plutarch dead, it is up to Asclepigeneia to initiate Proclus. And that’s what she did. It was quite magical…literally:

“In passing on theurgic lore only within the family, the theurgist [Asclepigeneia] is taking a leaf out of the book of the magician, since magicians also maintained the fiction that theirs was an esoteric branch of knowledge, only to be handed on to trusted intimates.”

~ Matthew W. Dickie, 317

Like Theosebia, beyond these small details, there isn’t much more information about Asclepigeneia (or maybe there is and it hasn’t been found yet!). However, there are a couple of conclusions we can draw from the examples of these two women:

  1. Women indeed had access to esoteric knowledge, be it that of alchemy or theurgy.
  2. Women could be in positions of leadership in controlling this knowledge, either through initiating others (Theosebia) or teaching their skills to students (Proclus).

These are two really awesome and amazing roles! While women really didn’t get to take the lead very much in Greco-Roman society, apparently it happened enough in esoteric circles to warrant documentation on two separate occasions. Perhaps as research moves forward into these areas we’ll learn more about the status of women in ancient esoteric traditions.


Fowden, Garth. The Egyptian Hermes. Princeton University Press. 1986. 120-126.
Dickie, Matthew W. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. Routledge. 2003. 316-318.

Photo by Abode of Chaos.

Filed under: Alchemy, Ancient, Astrology, Feminist Theory, Theurgy
27 Jul 00:31

If God Has Chosen the Weak and Foolish…

by Jeff Carter


If it is true, as it is so often claimed, that the United States of America is a Christian nation, founded on and guided by biblical principles,


If it is true that God  has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, (1 Corinthians 1:27)

then why do we continue to spend so much money on our military?  Why do we continue to invest in predator drones, attack helicopter, M1 Abrams tanks, and firearms and explosives of all caliber and variety?  Why do we strive so desperately to ensure that our military is strong and powerful?

If this is, after all a Christian nation, then shouldn’t we abandon those tools of power?  Shouldn’t we renounce the use of violence and force?  Shouldn’t we embrace weakness?

But, you will say, 'how would we defend ourselves and our interests?  This suggestion is foolishness.'

And I say, exactly so.

26 Jul 22:52

Reconsidering the legacy of religion's leftward tilt

by Kurt Wiesner

The New York Times' Jennifer Schuessler considers a number of books looking at the history of "the religious left":

For decades the dominant story of postwar American religious history has been the triumph of evangelical Christians. Beginning in the 1940s, the story goes, a rising tide of evangelicals began asserting their power and identity, ultimately routing their more liberal mainline Protestant counterparts in the pews, on the offering plate and at the ballot box.

But now a growing cadre of historians of religion are reconsidering the legacy of those faded establishment Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, tracing their enduring influence on the movements for human rights and racial justice, the growing “spiritual but not religious” demographic and even the shaded moral realism of Barack Obama — a liberal Protestant par excellence, some of these academics say.

26 Jul 22:51

Bryan Fischer is very brave when confronting imaginary monsters

by Fred Clark

Like many small children, when I was a little kid I was worried that there might be … something in my bedroom closet — something that lurked there, hidden, waiting until after dark to creep out and do me harm.

My dad was pretty terrific about that. I don’t remember many things from when I was that young, but I remember when he came in with a flashlight and we searched all through the closet to see that nothing was there.

And all the while he was telling me about when he was a little kid and he was worried that there was a monster in the crawlspace under their house until his dad took him under there with a flashlight. So I wound up not scared of either the imaginary monster in the closet or of the fear that I was weird for being afraid of the imaginary monster in the closet.

That’s what being a good dad looks like.

Religious right spokesman Bryan Fischer offers an alternative response to childhood fears:

Click here to view the embedded video.

“I would ask them if they’d experienced any demonic presences in their room,” Fischer says. And then, when the children respond to this encouragement by saying yes, yes they have “experienced demonic presences in their room,” Fischer touts this as evidence of his finely honed spiritual discernment.

“Once we dealt with the demonic spirits, and took authority over them,” Fischer says, “then that problem was resolved and it went away.”

That’s just terrible parenting. It reminds me of this bit of advice from Mister Rogers:

Some families give their children a spray bottles with water as “monster spray,” or put a sign on the door “No monsters allowed.”  That may seem to work in the short term because children are so trusting of us adults and so willing to believe the fantasy — but what it could say to them is that their parents, too, think that monsters are real, and that the monsters might actually be there.  In the long term, we want them to know that monsters aren’t real and they really are not there.

That describes exactly what Fischer is doing with/to these children. He’s giving them imaginary “monster spray” that doesn’t really do anything except confirm in their minds that “monsters are real, and that the monsters might actually be there.”

Fischer doesn’t mind that he’s teaching children that monsters are real because he believes that monsters are real himself. Gay monsters. Feminist monsters. Baby-killing monsters. Muslim, atheist and liberal monsters.

And also actual monster monsters. Like from scary movies. Exactly like from scary movies because that is where Fischer’s ideas about such monsters comes from, even though he’s convinced himself that he got his ideas about them from the Bible.

Witchfinder General Bryan Fischer really believes in the witches he is hunting:

There are covens. These are clusters of witches that meet. They’ll start meeting at midnight, they’ll break up a 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, and they will send demonic spirits out on assignments against their chosen targets. One night, 2:00 in the morning, I’m awakened by something grabbing my ankle. … Something grabbed my ankle and was trying to pull me out of the bed.

Fortunately, Fischer says, he knew the counter-spell. He said “Jesus” and “it went away.”

This calls to mind something else Fred Rogers said about the fears of small children:

Fears might also grow out of children’s struggles with their own angry feelings at their parents for making rules and setting limits, paying more attention to a new baby than to them, or for not giving them something they really want. Children can be afraid of getting too angry at their parents because they wonder if maybe their anger could result in losing their parent’s love, and that would be devastating. They sometimes project those angry feelings onto some outside thing — a dog, a tiger, a vacuum cleaner or a toilet drain — and then they fear that the very angry thing may just destroy them.

I think what Mister Rogers says there explains a great deal about Bryan Fischer and his followers.

But on the other hand, it’s possible I’m getting things backwards. It may be that Bryan Fischer isn’t frightening small children by helping to convince them that monsters are real. It may be that the child in his story was frightening Bryan Fischer by helping to convince him of that.

“What brought me into the conversation,” with the children he talks about, Fischer says, is that these kids “were very disobedient, very rebellious to their parents.”

Consider for a moment the kind of church and the kind of family in which it makes sense to the parents to invite someone like Bryan Fischer into their home to speak to their children about proper discipline. The threshold for what such parents regard as “very disobedient, very rebellious” is probably not very high.

So these kids are in trouble with mom and dad — big trouble, so big that their parents have called in the Witchfinder General to talk to them. But with his very first question, he provides them with an escape hatch: “I would ask them if they’d experienced any demonic presences in their room.” There’s no need to take the blame themselves — Fischer is practically pleading with them to pull a Flip Wilson and say the devil made them do it.

So they tell Fischer what he wants to hear:

These demonic presences would tell them, “Look, if you don’t disobey your parents, I’m gonna hurt them. If you don’t disobey your parents, I’m gonna kill them.” And so the girl was frightened then, out of her love for her parents, wanted to protect them, frightened into disobeying them.

And he swallowed it. No getting grounded or spanked or forced to copy pages out of 2 Chronicles longhand or whatever else passes for punishment in such households. All the kid has to do is nod earnestly as Fischer prays for her, then he goes off to tell their parents that the kid was just acting out of love for them because they’d been threatened by the scary monster under her bed.

If that’s what happened here, then I’m impressed with this kid. And I hope that is what happened, because the other possibility is too depressing to contemplate.

Either way, though, thanks to Bryan Fischer’s hard work it’s 10-to-1 odds that this kid will be an atheist by age 19.

26 Jul 22:20

Janet Soskice video lecture on Augustine

by Nijay Gupta

Can’t wait to listen to Janet Soskice teach on Augustine in this sample video. The two parts  combined amount to nearly an hour of instruction. There are several other wonderful videos (samples) from St. Johns Nottingham’s timeline project. I recommend, especially, the ones on Luther, Bonhoeffer, and the OT/NT.

I tend to listen to them while I cook. I would consider buying the whole set of lectures (by various scholars in church history, theology, and Biblical studies), but apparently the project has not been completed. I do appreciate these bits of lectures, several of which I assign students to watch.Enjoy!

26 Jul 21:36

Does This Say Elisha?

by Duane Smith

’Elisha’ Ostracon from Tel Rehov

I’m not so sure.

Now does it say Elisha?

’Elisha Ostracon’ from Tel Rehov - higlighted


These images are slightly enhanced screen captures from a CBN News video about Amihai Mazar uncovering of a rather strange building from 9th century BCE Tel Rehov. Tel Rehov is in the Jordon valley near Beit She’an. The first image was on the screen for little more than a single frame at which point the red tracing was superimposed. Archeologists discovered the ostracon in the strange building.

Both the written and the video reports claim that this strange building may well have been the house of the Biblical prophet Elisha. The evidence for such an extraordinary claim is transparently thin. Of course, that didn’t keep Cary Summers of Nazareth Village for making this wild remark, “Well, it's like any other archeological site, in essence…every scoop of dirt it proves the Bible, one scoop at a time. And this site is absolutely magnificent dealing with the prophet Elisha.” Nonsense - but it may help the local economy.

But Summers’ mockable remark is not the only weird thing about this report. To my mind the ostracon is the best evidence that this building had anything to do with some Elisha or other. Yet it is buried rather deep in the article (and the video), after a discussion of an outside area with incense burners and the supersized serving vessels. I’d think the inscribed this pot shard would be the lead of the story.

By the way, the name Elisha (אלישע) is found at least once and possibly twice on one Ostracon from Samaria (S 1:4, 7[?] and perhaps once on another (S 41:1). For the sake of convenience (mine) I am using Gogel’s designations. The name is also found twice on an ostracon from Arad (A 24:15, 19-20). From context it is rather clear that these Elishas are not the Biblical Elisha. They are also likely from later centuries. I think the name is also known elsewhere but I'm too lazy to track down the references if there are any. There doesn’t seem to be any remaining textual context for the name, if it is a name, on the ostracon from Tel Rehov. The archeological context, no matter how strange, isn’t really helpful.

As usual, we await a properly published report on the ostracon and on the strange building.

26 Jul 21:22

In praise of M. R. James

by (Jim Davila)
PHILIP JENKINS: JAMES THE GREAT. Lots of interesting information about James's work, some of which I did not know. I have collected a number of posts on Montague Rhodes James here and links.
26 Jul 21:19

On Human Plurality

by Mark

Recently, Alana and I were both invited to speak at a symposium on Paul Ricoeur and Hannah Arendt in Oxford. Because Alana would be going right on the heels of giving a paper at another conference (the Nordic Society for Philosophy of Religion, meeting in Stockholm), and because our reading and knowledge of the two writers in question has been quite different (Alana knows more about Arendt than I do, while I have done more work on Ricoeur) we decided to present one co-written paper. We have worked together before—we have co-presented in seminars as postgraduate students and since, we edit one another’s writing, we discuss topics of mutual interest, we have this blog, etc.—but this would be our first officially co-written piece of scholarship. We were not exactly sure what was going to happen.

For our paper, we investigated Ricoeur’s reading and use of Arendt’s work. Both thinkers were interested in narratives and the way that people tell stories about their lives: Ricoeur wrote in several places about the way that Arendt connected narrative to action. Ricoeur also pointed to Arendt’s idea that promising and forgiving help to make the continuation of human action possible, and referred to her discussion of natality (that birth marks ever-new possibility for hopeful human action). At the heart of all the connections between the two of them, though, lay the phenomenon of human plurality. The fact that humanity consists of an incredible diversity of people, with no two persons seeing the world in exactly the same way, and no one expressing themselves precisely like another, leads to the rich variety of human life in the world, including so many different stories, languages, cultures, histories, faith traditions, and more. Multiplicity in viewpoints complicates relationships among human beings; thus human plurality makes politics necessary, as well as translation and interpretation. However, the real potential for conflict that appears with the acknowledgement of diversity is not in itself a bad thing to either Arendt or Ricoeur. Both view human plurality as a source of hope and possibility. For Arendt, the reality of human plurality provides the opportunity to share with others in storytelling, as well as experiencing the joys which can come from being with other people. Ricoeur writes of diversity as creating the potential for hospitality, for attending to the different perspectives of others in a way that may enrich your own, and for building strength into relationship by seeking mutuality—recognising that another person is truly other, not someone to be absorbed or assimilated but who could potentially alter the way you are in the world for the better.

When Alana and I began to write the paper, we thought—or at least I thought—that this would involve a relatively straightforward process: write a block of text and then hand it over to the other person for a while; continue until done, with frequent breaks to discuss what had been written, what might come next, and what should be edited. But before all of that we would sit down together and talk about the shape we wanted the paper to take. However, that is not quite the way that writing the paper turned out. For one thing, time has a way of altering plans. Alana’s preparation for the conference in Sweden meant that we did not have as much time to talk over the Ricoeur/Arendt paper as we might have hoped. We ended up doing the bulk of the actual writing while we were in different countries, something possible thanks to to the internet. More significantly, perhaps, Alana and I write differently. I usually take a great deal of time thinking and jotting down notes about a project, then drafting an outline, then writing the piece from its beginning. Even if the introduction I write is horrible, bloated, or both, I need to write it before getting on to the body of the work—which means that my beginnings always require the most editing. Alana, on the other hand, is not really one for detailed outlines and notes, nor does she have as much of a problem starting in the middle and writing the beginning later. Because of all this, co-authoring the paper started off more slowly and haphazardly than either of us had imagined.

Then, with each of us watching the other’s words appear as if by magic on our screens (thank you, Google Drive) something strange began to happen. The way we were writing the paper began to change so that our blocks of text grew shorter, and what we wrote became responsive to one another’s words. Our questions and comments to one another while chatting about the paper began to be incorporated in the actual text we were composing; even our interjections transformed from being notes that we assumed we would delete to part of what we were going to say in the symposium. In short, our paper turned into an actual dialogue.

This was not just a style or a form for us. It meant that the paper went in directions we never expected it to go. It meant that Alana and I queried one another’s thoughts and assumptions, and made one another look at our topic differently. As her ideas opened my eyes to other angles on the connection of Ricoeur and Arendt, Alana changed my mind (something which worked in the other direction too, I hope). I would be fooling myself if I said that this was easy, because sometimes it was exasperating—how could she have a different view on x than I did, or how could what I wrote about y lead to that conclusion? But as we worked together we came up with something different than what either of us would have produced alone, something new.

And that is the hope which comes from human plurality.

(Writing the paper together was fun, too, in the end. We plan on trying it again sometime.)

26 Jul 20:58

The Galileo fallacy and denigration of scientific consensus

by Ken

Statue of Galileo outside the Uffizi, Florence

It’s one mark of the significance of Galileo to scientific progress that many myths about him exist even today. He seems to still be a focal point in  present day debates between science and religion, pseudoscience and magical thinking.

But one of the most cynical myths is the opportunist interpretation of his promotion of the Copernican heliocentric solar system as being simply a David vs Goliath struggle. And that Galileo was correct because he was standing up to the “orthodoxy,” or consensus, of the then “establishment.”

A recent example is that promoted by British playwright Richard Bean “who reckons  climate change science is junk, the findings alarmist, data frequently tortured into submission and the mainstream media not in a position to confront the complexity of the issue and question whether it’s really happening” (see Herald article Beyond belief). He said in his interview:

“Orthodoxy closes off thinking and if you can’t express an opinion or question an idea, well, Galileo is the perfect example of what happens.

“He declared that not everything revolves around the Earth and paid the price for his beliefs [he was tried by the Inquisition as a heretic, threatened with torture, was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest] while human thinking and endeavour were held back.”

But this is wrong on 2 counts:

  1. It relies on the fact of being in the minority, of opposing the consensus, as being “proof” of correctness.
  2. It implies that because the user of the fallacy is in the minority and opposing the consensus then the user is correct. In  other words – “bugger the evidence, I must be right because I am coming out against the consensus.”

As Rational Wiki puts it:

“The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right.”

It’s a favourite argument used by creationists, by climate change contrarians/deniers/ pseudosceptics (see the egregiously named Galileo Movement in Australia) and, as I have found lately, anti-fluoridationists. A way of claiming superiority while at the same time discounting, even denigrating, the wealth of scientific knowledge with which the user disagrees.

Being vilified doesn’t make you right

And, it didn’t make Galileo right in everything he advanced. Classically he made a big mistake with his theory of tides where he tried to use tides to “prove” the movement of the earth. He was wrong there, and probably wrong in many other places, like all great scientists . Those people comparing themselves to Galileo are opening themselves up to the charge that they are “proving” themselves wrong, and not right.

It’s about evidence, silly

The real lesson from Galileo is not to oppose the “establishment” or current scientific consensus – but to rely on evidence. It was this argument of his, which today most of us accept and see as almost self-evident, that describes Galileo’s real contribution to the progress of science.

His argument for the heliocentric solar system, and against a geocentric solar system, was really an argument of evidence against dogma, prevailing philosophy and the Church’s use of scripture. he expressed it very well in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He said:

“I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages, but with sense experiences and necessary demonstrations.  . . . and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.”

He was arguing against the idea that science should be a handmaiden to, or slave of, religion. That for matters of the natural world, in astronomy for example, science trumped scripture (or its specific interpretation). And it did so because it was derived from experience, from interrogating reality, rather than relying on dogma and preconceived “revelations.”

So what about the “scientific consensus?”

Scientific authority no longer rests with the Church and religious philosophers, as it did in Galileo’s time. When we talk about scientific consensus today we usually refer to the widespread acceptance of a scientific idea, theory or facts based on evidence. The consensus on climate change represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, are not dogma typical of Galileo’s time. It can in no way be compared with the consensus of theologians who rejected the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system (see Consultant’s Report on Copernicanism (24 February 1616). It is in fact a consensus on the facts and conclusions based on an extremely thorough review of the scientific literature.

It is actually those people who use the Galileo gambit to support their own dogmatic, contrarian or pseudoscientific views who are not using evidence. They are relying on personal beliefs, religious ideas or magical thinking and not evidence. Their use of the Galileo gambit is a substitute for interrogating reality.

Of course, none of what I have said means that new ideas in science are never in the minority. obviously they often are – and must be fought for. But new ideas don’t win credibility by using the Galileo gambit, by arguing that just because they oppose the scientific consensus they must be right. They win credibility because their proponents gather the evidence that supports them, and evidence which conflicts with the prevailing ideas.

A minority viewpoint can and does win credibility because its proponents provide evidential support. The Galileo gambit is for losers.

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26 Jul 20:42

Ball State Closes Review Report

by Jimpithecus
Ball State University has decided not to make public the report concerning Eric Hedin.  The Muncie Star Press reports:
Provost Terry King created the panel to advise him after BSU received a threatening letter from an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which alleges the honors science course is “a one-sided monologue by a government-paid employee whose agenda is to show that science proves the truth of religion.”

Ball State earlier also declined to release student evaluations of the course.

FFRF and The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank that is supporting physicist Hedin, are criticizing Ball State’s decision to keep the records secret.
Ball State University has invoked the defense that these reports are part of the life of the university and should not be public:
BSU spokeswoman Joan Todd said: “We define student evaluations and other teaching evaluations, such as the review panel's report, as part of a personnel file. It is not our practice to release such materials. We have a consistent history of protecting the privacy of personnel records and do not believe that Dr. Hedin should be treated differently.
Eventually, however, the results of the report will be felt. Although you can't see a black hole, you can tell it is there based on what happens around it. Hedin's class will either continue or be cancelled and the report will have a role to play in his tenure application, when it happens. It may also be leaked at some point. Until then, Ball State University has gone silent on the matter.
26 Jul 19:19

Marriage Equality, by Steve Kindle -- Review

by Robert Cornwall
MARRIAGE EQUALITY:   Why Same-sex marriage is good for the church and the nation.  By Steven F. Kindle., 2013.  178 pages (Kindle version available).

When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June on a 5-4 vote it confirmed what growing numbers of Americans had already begun to believe – the definition of to whom one can be married has begun to change.  In recent years, slowly but surely the states have begun to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The vast majority of states continue to ban such marriages, but as for the Federal Government, at least in states where marriage rights have already been granted, the Federal Government shall henceforth affirm them as legal marriages.

The trend may be moving toward both openness and affirmation, but there remains a strong though diminishing opposition.  Most opponents argue from a religious perspective – arguing that the Bible forbids it.  They may also turn to “nature,” but nature is proving to be a dubious ally.  And then there’s precedent.  We’ve just not done it that way.  Despite the push back by a small majority, support for same-sex marriage has continued to win the day.  While most of the resistance to extending marriage rights/rites to gays and lesbians comes from the religious community, not all religious communities share the same views.  My own denomination took the tentative step of extending welcome and grace to all persons, no matter their sexual orientation.  This resolution didn’t legislate marriage equality, but it recognized by a sizable margin that the denomination is moving toward not just openness but affirmation as well.

In Marriage Equality, Disciples of Christ pastor and advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT persons, Rev. Steven Kindle, gives the reader a straightforward, no-holds barred, defense of marriage equality.  Steve is Straight, but he has heard the call to advocacy.  The book is rooted in the seminar he has led for quite a number of years – a seminar that inspired the wonderful film For The Bible Tells Me So.  Steve hasn’t always been an advocate, but over time he came to believe that the church should be open to and affirm all of God’s children, including those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender.  The results of many years of diligent study is made available in this book, which was released at the time of the Supreme Court Ruling.

In the course of this relatively brief book, Steve introduces the reader to what it means to be gay, helps us understand the nature of the closet many Christians are happy to push their LGBT neighbors back into, discusses the nature of marriage, and shares his insights into the biblical texts that are used in denying LGBT folks a place in church and society.  He has a chapter in the book that outlines the various options the Supreme Court could take – one may now look back and see if Steve has rightly defined the issues.  He also offers a word to pastors as to how they might take a stand in this cause and lead closed churches into being open and affirming ones.  As he deals with issue after issue, he reminds us that our LGBT neighbors are human beings, just like those of us who are straight – the only difference is the person to whom one is attracted.  He reminds us that this really isn’t about sex or even pleasure – it’s about relationship – intimacy.  In making his case he looks at the Bible and Theology.  He looks at church practice.  He also looks at the scientific and psychological evidence.  In the end he is able to examine and address many of the myths and even lies that have entered into the conversation.  The reader ends up with a much more complete picture of the situation, and as a result is enabled to take another step toward fully embracing LGBT neighbors as fellow Christians.

The book can be hard-hitting at times.  It can even be graphic when Steve feels that is necessary.  He’s not afraid to step on toes, largely because he believes this is a topic needing to be addressed for the good of the individuals involved, but also the church.

The book’s usefulness is enhanced by the presence of  discussion questions after each chapter for groups.  Faith communities looking to move toward affirmation will find this a most useful book.  Because the book humanizes and personalizes the story of our LGBT neighbors, readers are better able to stand with those seeking full equality.  So, If you are giving this question serious thought –  and I hope you are – you’ll want straightforward and reliable information.  Steve’s book provides this.   I believe that if you take seriously the arguments in this book you will become better acquainted with your LGBT neighbors.  You will likely find that your attitudes are changing.  You may even find any opposition you’ve had begin to dissipate.  Like Steve and like me, you may also become an advocate for the rull rights of our LGBT neighbors.

I would suggest that one read Steve’s book together with Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus really Love Me?  Jeff provides the narrative, while Steve provides the foundations for the work toward inclusion. Hopefully, in the end you will cease to wonder if Jesus loves his LGBT brothers and sisters.  If Jesus loves them, then surly the same is true of the rest of us. Indeed, one may even discover that the Bible isn’t as clear-cut as some had originally believed.
26 Jul 19:16

Are We Being Fooled? (RJS)

by RJS
Several years ago I read an article in Science that led to a post on the idea of knowing – and the reliability or unreliability of intuition. The questions raised in that post are worth looking at again. None of us can know everything in every subject. We all trust intuition, common sense, and authorities.  [Read More...]
26 Jul 19:14

Responding to Paul Foster’s Review of My Book

by Tim Henderson
Much has been discussed in the blogosphere about appropriate ways to reply to critiques of one’s scholarly work. Does one attempt to publish a response in a journal? Send a private e-mail? Respond on a blog? Chris Keith has recently … Continue reading →
26 Jul 19:06

Tcherikover: collected essays?

by David Lincicum

Larry Hurtado has a nice post calling attention to the significance of Victor Tcherikover’s papyrological work for the understanding of the ‘re-hebraization’ of early Judaism in the early centuries of the common era. Reading it reminded me of an idea I once had to collect Tcherikover’s shorter works into a collected volume, analogous to the two-volume Brill set of the great historian Elias Bickerman’s short works.

I didn’t get very far in the process, in part because one would face the thorny issue of permissions, and I’m unsure who holds the posthumous copyrights as Tcherikover’s literary executor (though one could presumably find this with a bit of correspondence). But I think that if one could overcome  the legal obstacles, a nice volume could be made, including the essays below (in fact, at one point I photocopied the English studies and would happily send these along to anyone who were seriously interested in doing the project):

Studies in Jewish History and Papyrology

Victor A. Tcherikover

1. “Palestine under the Ptolemies (A Contribution to the Study of the Zenon Papyri)” Mizraim 4-5 (1937): 9-90.

2. With F. M. Heichelheim. “Jewish Religious Influence in the Adler Papyri?” Harvard Theological Review 35 (1942): 25-44.

3. “Syntaxis and Laographia” Journal of Juristic Papyrology 4 (1950): 179-207.

4. “The Sambathions” Scripta Hierosolymitana 1 (1954): 78-98.

5. “Jewish Apologetic Literature Reconsidered,” Eos 48 (1956): 169-93.

6. “Prolegomena.” Pages 1-111 in volume 1 of Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum. Edited by Victor A. Tcherikover and Alexander Fuks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (on behalf of the Magnes Press), 1957.

7. “The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas.” Harvard Theological Review 51 (1958): 59-85.

8. “The Third Book of Maccabees as a Historical Source of Augustus’ Time” Scripta Hierosolymitana 7 (1961): 1-25.

9. “The Decline of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt in the Roman Period.” Journal of Jewish Studies 14 (1963): 1-32.

10. “Was Jerusalem a ‘Polis’?” Israel Exploration Journal 14 no. 1-2 (1964): 61-78.

Approximately 385 pp.

In addition, there are several Hebrew studies that would be worth including, if a translator could be found:

The Jews in the Graeco-Roman World (Jerusalem, 1961) [Hebrew]. This, I believe, is a collection of Hebrew studies that may include those listed below, among others.

“Antiochia in Jerusalem,” Tarbiz 20 (1950) [Hebrew].

“The History of the Jews of Fayûm in the Hellenistic Period.” Magnes Jubilee Volume (1938) [Hebrew].

“The Documents in the Second Book of the Maccabees,” Tarbiz 1 (1930) [Hebrew].

“Palestine in the Light of the Zenon Papyri,” Tarbiz 4 (1933) [Hebrew].

“History of Jerusalem in the Time of the Second Temple.” Pages 221-51 in The Book of Jerusalem. Edited by M. Avi-Yonah. Jerusalem, 1956. [Hebrew]

Note also two biographical sketches:

Menahem Stern, “In memoriam Victor A. Tcherikover,” Journal of Juristic Papyrology (1958): 9-11.

Moshe Amit, “Victor (Avigdor) Tcherikover (1894-1958)” in Hermae: Scholars and Scholarship in Papyrology II. Studi di egittologia e di papirologia 7. Pisa/Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010.

26 Jul 19:06

Ideas for figures - comments welcome

by M. Wilson Sayres

I’m working on an article discussing “Trends in Evolution”, to be written for a broad audience interested in science, but not experts.  I’ve already narrowed it down to a few sub-topics to focus on, but I would like some advice on figures.

I am working on figures to succinctly illustrate how evolution works, while also addressing common misconceptions. What do you think? How can I improve these? What have I unwittingly misrepresented? Which do you like best?

1. Evolution is the gradual change of populations over time, not distinct transitions between species.

Here, I’ve already received feedback that I should remove the word “gradual”. I agree that “gradual” is a relative term, and in many cases, evolution happens very quickly. Given that I work on long-lived species, I tend to use “gradual”, and like it for this example.

 2. Individuals mutate, populations evolve

3. Individuals represent a subset of variation within populations. Populations evolve.

I think this one might be assuming too much background information, or just be too vague.

26 Jul 18:53

A Tribute to M. R. James

by Tony

Philip Jenkins has contributed a post ("James the Great") to the blog The Anxious Bench on his appreciation of CA scholar Montague Rhodes James, known for, among other things, his collection The Apocryphal New Testament (1924; corrected edition in 1953 and completed updated by J. K. Elliott in 1993) as well as the editing of a number of apocryphal texts in the volumes of Apocrypha anecdota (vol. 1; vol. 2). Jenkins notes several of his other important works in his post. Via Paleojudaica.

26 Jul 17:23

Can a Scientist Pray? (Part 1: Introduction)

by Allan Bevere
Does God answer prayer? Why does it seem as if our prayers are not always answered? What do we pray for? Do we pray to get the job that fifty other people, also in need of employment, have applied for? Do we pray for sunny weather for the family reunion when farmers are praying for rain for their crops? Do we only pray for the big things like peace between warring nations or is it also OK to ask God  for the seemingly trivial matters like not having to wait for a table at the restaurant because we are hungry?

For Christianity, prayer is not a non-essential activity. It is as necessary to the Christian life as blood is to the human body. But there are perplexing questions that surround the activity of prayer, and that is what I hope to poke at in a series of posts that begins with this one.

To get at the matter, I am going to enlist one of my favorite thinkers, John Polkinghorne, who is a theoretical physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest. In his excellent book, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion, Polkinghorne writes a chapter entitled, "Can a Scientist Pray?" He starts the chapter asking this question taking note that prayer can mean different things, such as the wonder a person of faith might sense as she enjoys the beauty of creation. Yet, Polkinghorne notes that the difficult questions surrounding prayer have to do specifically with petitionary prayer-- the kind of prayer that makes requests to God.-- and that is the focus of the chapter.

First, it needs to be said that prayer is a biblical activity. There are prayers uttered throughout the Bible. Many of the Psalms are petitionary prayers. The Gospels indicate that Jesus prayed regularly and taught his disciples a prayer that is uttered in worship some two thousand years later in churches all over the world (Mathew 6:9-13).

Polkinghorne thinks that prayer is a very natural human activity. I am not sure he is right on this, but he is certainly correct to note the significance of prayer in Christian experience. He speaks of his experience visiting parishioners in the hospital, particularly those who were very ill and the almost urgent need he had to pray for them. He writes, "I did not do so expecting that each would be granted some instant miracle, but, rather as a way of sharing in their experience and of seeking God's grace and presence for them in what was happening, which might bring either recovery or the acceptance of death" (p. 79). Polkinghorne also relates how important the prayers of others were to him when he was in the hospital extremely ill.

It is one thing to speak of the importance of prayer in the personal experience of many, but is that all prayer really is-- a comforting human activity that can be explained psychologically? Polkinghorne gets to the heart of the matter in question:
Can we really pray today in a way that asks things of God? In a drought, could we pray for a change in the weather? When people believed that rain came from turning on the heavenly tap, it might have made sense to do so. Now we're a bit more sophisticated. Doesn't the weather just happen? Hasn't science shown us that the world is so orderly and regular that there's no room left for God to do anything in particular?
Is prayer more than wishful thinking on our part?

To be continued...
26 Jul 17:22

Beginning Biblical Hebrew (BBH) is shipping!

by robertholmstedt

Our new textbook, Beginning Biblical Hebrew: A Grammar and Illustrated Reader, is now shipping from Baker Academic (and presumably other booksellers). I received my author copies earlier this week and was holding the book with a mixture of pride (it’s really nicely sized, like a workbook should be, and the layout, type, and binding quality is excellent) and relief (it’s been 13 years since John and I began formally working on Hebrew textbook materials).

A couple months ago, I put a link to the textbook on the left sidebar that takes you to the Baker site for BBH. We describe the principles of our approach herehere, and here. We recognize that our pedagogy may require new effort, even for seasoned instructors. And this is why Baker enthusiastically agreed to host a web page for additional teaching materials to go with the textbook.

Yesterday I noticed that the folks at Baker have now added the pages for resources for students and instructors. For students, there are vocabulary flash cards and audio files. For instructors, already available are sample quizzes and exams (with exam answer keys). Coming soon will be sample lessons plans, vocabulary cards to print out for in-class games or drills, and a full instructor’s manual and answer key.

We hope those of you already using the textbook will find these resources useful. For those not yet using the textbook, we hope you’ll check it out. Perhaps knowing that we’re creating a significant support framework for using it in a highly-interactive, communicative, fun BH learning environment will encourage you.

26 Jul 13:18

Exegetical Similarities in the Targumim of the Megilloth

by Christian Brady

We are now just about two weeks away from the 2013 IOTS conference in Munich. My paper, as always seems to be the case, is on the last day, just a few hours before we catch our flight back. My paper is “On Some Exegetical Similarities Between the Targumim of the Megilloth.” I thought I would share my intro with you here.

On Some Exegetical Similarities Between the Targumim of the Megilloth

Writing Partners

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The Megilloth, the Five Scrolls of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Qohelet, and Esther, are an eclectic collection. In terms of content, they have little in common and yet in the Jewish canon they are grouped together, undoubtedly due to their liturgical use on festal days. Once having been grouped together, it seems inevitable that they should have been treated as a group in commentaries. We see this even in modern Christian commentary series where, although the Five Scrolls are not a group within the Christian canon, authors and publishers produce such joint commentaries as Frederic Bush’s Ruth-Esther commentary for Word Biblical Commentary series and Iain Duguid’s for the Reformed Expository Commentary series. In such cases, however, while there may be some comparisons drawn between the two texts (both are about women, living in foreign lands, God’s intervention, etc.) there is usually no more cross interpretation than we might find with any other canonical book.

The Targumim of the Megilloth, however, appear to share certain exegetical themes, interpretative material added to the biblical text that have little contact with the source material yet are common across all five Targumim and promote certain ideals.

It has long been noted that the Targumim of the Five Scrolls are much more expansive than most other Targumim, often incorporating extensive aggadic additions. Étan Levine noticed a number of “significant affinities” between the Targumim of the Megilloth, listing 14 in his introduction to TgRuth. Levine does not elaborate on this list other than to conclude that these are all aggadic midrashim.

Significantly, all of the above are homiletic midrashim (i.e., hag­gadah), rather than juridical midrashim (i.e., halakah). For, whereas the targum to Ruth is widely divergent from Pharisaic-Rabbinic tradition in its juridical midrashim, it has incorporated homiletic elements of a wide currency in traditional literature generally [emphasis is mine], and in the targumim to the “scrolls” specifically.

While, like Levine, I will not go into a detail analysis of this particular list at this time, I will point out that the question regarding such a list is whether these are intentional similarities or just common exegetical motifs of the time. In other words, were these additions predicated by the underlying Hebrew Vorlage and do they provide a significant and sustained argument to the exegetical thesis of the Targum? Consider, for example, the references to “Ammonites and Moabites not permitted into the holy community” in Ruth 2:10 and Lam. 1:10. In Ruth it is an obvious addition given Ruth’s ethnicity and in Lam 1:10 it is not an unreasonable specification of MT’s “enemy.” But this hardly shows an exegetical trend across all five scrolls. This paper will focus upon several exegetical traits or themes that are shared by all five scrolls.

This paper will demonstrate that there are a number of similarities between the Tg. Meg and suggest that they are part of a larger agenda to remind their audiences of God’s guiding hand in Israel’s history and to promote piety through the study of and obedience to Torah, specifically as understood in rabbinic tradition.

26 Jul 13:05

Belief in God in an Age of Science: John Polkinghorne, Part 5

The human paradox is that we perceive so many signs of value and significance conveyed to us in our encounter with reality, yet all meaning is threatened by the apparent finality of death. If the universe is truly a cosmos, if the word is really intelligible through and through, then this life by itself cannot be the whole of the story.
26 Jul 13:03

Scientists ‘freeze’ light for an entire minute

by George Dvorsky

Scientists ‘freeze’ light for an entire minute

In what could prove to be a major breakthrough in quantum memory storage and information processing, German researchers have frozen the fastest thing in the universe: light. And they did so for a record-breaking one minute.



26 Jul 12:08

Suffering and My Blog

by Bart Ehrman

For over a week now I’ve been dealing with a question concerning my views on suffering.  I could go on for days and days, weeks and weeks, about how the problem of suffering is discussed by the writers of the Bible and how I see it from my own perspective.   But it’s not the most cheerful of subjects and I need/want to move on to other things.   I’ve said enough to make my basic points, I think (if anyone wants more on any specific related topic, just let me know and I can squeeze it in):

  • suffering is a real problem for anyone who stands firmly within the Judeo-Christian tradition, where God is understood to be the all-powerful Creator of all there is and Sovereign over what he created, and yet there is horrible suffering going on around us all the time – and has been since time immemorial.  How does one explain that?
  • The biblical authors have many different ways of explaining it.   The prophets have one way, the prose author of Job another way, the author of Job’s poetry another way, apocalypticists another way, Ecclesiastes another way, and other authors other ways (I know I haven’t covered all this ground here on the blog – but I’ve covered some of it, and if you want more, you can see my book God’s Problem)
  • These various views are not only different with one another, they are sometimes very much at odds with one another.
  • Most of the explanations are not satisfying for those of us living in the modern world.

So what’s the answer?  Why is there suffering?  I have to say that for me and people like me who do not hold to the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of God, there is in fact no problem.  There is suffering because people are able to do nasty things when they want, and they often do them, usually because it advances their own purposes; and there is suffering because the universe we live in is a hard and cruel place that doesn’t give a rip about us or our needs and sometimes we get in the way of its workings.  And so some suffering is caused by humans; some by nature; and God has nothing to do with it.   That’s pretty much my view in a nutshell.

But that’s only part of the story as far as I’m concerned.   For me the “problem” of suffering is an interesting intellectual question – the very most important question, I believe , when it comes to religious belief (since if one cannot reconcile the persistence of suffering, intellectually, with the existence of God, then one needs to question the existence of God as a logical next step) – but there is more to suffering than simply an intellectual project of figuring it out.  Even more important than “explanations” of suffering are “responses” to suffering.

I’m constantly amazed at how many people in our world don’t respond at all, or respond so very little, to the suffering of our fellow humans.  I just don’t get it.  For me, being human means in part responding to those in need.  Not helping out those who are suffering is to live the life of dumb animals.   Amoebas and worms and aardvarks don’t respond to suffering.  But humans should.  It’s part of what it means to be human.  And yet so many people don’t.  For me, that means living life as a sub-human.

Not everyone can respond to suffering in the same way.  Not everyone can be a mother Theresa, and not everyone needs to be.   But to *some* extent everyone can respond to suffering in a way that is appropriate to them.   Some people do give up their entire lives to help those in need.  May their tribe increase!  Others give up every third Tuesday evening to volunteer at the soup kitchen.  Others give a large chunk of their income.  Others give a small chunk of their income.  Everyone, though, can do *something*.  And in my view, everyone should.  It’s what it means to be human, rather than a worm.

Those who have paid attention to my blog since its inception know that the very reason for its existence – its raison d’être – is to raise funds for charities dealing with hunger and homelessness.  As much as I’m interested in making my views about the Bible and early Christianity known to the world at large, that’s not why I do the blog.  If the point of the blog were simply to disseminate my knowledge and opinions, frankly, I wouldn’t do it.  I *absolutely* wouldn’t do it.  It’s too hard and it takes up way too much of my time.   The one and only reason I do it is to raise money for to fight for those who are hungry and homeless.

I do try to throw myself into the blog with gusto and to make it absolutely as good as I can.  And I hope people enjoy it.  I actually do enjoy it myself, so it’s a labor of love.  But I have other ways to disseminate my knowledge and views without pounding at the keyboard every day at this rate.

I take some flak from people who don’t think they should have to pay to read a blog.  I fully understand that concern.   But the whole *point* of the blog is to have people pay, since it above all  a fund-raising tool.   In its first year the blog raised $37,000.   Every penny went to the charities that I have specified on several occasions.    This year I’d like to raise a lot more.  I’d like to raise more and more every year.   And as long as I do, I’ll keep going with it, tell death do us part!

I’d like to thank everyone who has seen fit to join the blog.   You’re doing a world of good by paying to hear me rant on every day about this that or the other things related to Christianity in Antiquity (and related topics).    And you can do even more good in two ways:

  1. By telling others about the blog and pushing them to join up.  We need more members!  And people can get a lot out of it.  I absolutely think it’s worth the money.
  2. By making an additional donation to the Bart Ehrman Foundation through the blog site.  It’s easy to do, tax deductible, and goes to some amazing charities doing fantastic things for those in need.

The post Suffering and My Blog appeared first on Christianity in Antiquity (CIA): The Bart Ehrman Blog.

26 Jul 11:56

Open Access Journal: Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal << Charles Ellwood Jones (AWOL: The Ancient World Online)

by (Charles Jones)
Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal
ISSN: 1209-9392
WOMEN IN JUDAISM: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL is an academic, refereed journal published exclusively on the Internet, and devoted to scholarly debate on gender-related issues in Judaism. The ultimate aim of the journal is to promote the reconceptualization of the study of Judaism, by acknowledging and incorporating the roles played by women, and by encouraging the development of alternative research paradigms. Cross-methodological and interdisciplinary, the journal does not promote a fixed ideology, and welcomes a variety of approaches.


Vol 1, No 1 (1997)

"A woman is acquired by three means and acquires herself by two means" - Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1


Vol 1, No 2 (1998)

"Rav Hisda said: A man should never terrorize his household. The concubine of Giv'ah [Judges 19-21] was terrorized by her husband, and she was the cause of many thousands being slaughtered in Israel." - BabylonianTalmud, Gittin 6b


Vol 2, No 1 (1999)

"In the month of Nissan, 5479 [1719], a woman was kneeling by the bank of the Moselle, washing her dishes. It was about ten o'clock at night, and of a sudden it became as light as day, and the woman looked in the Heavens, and the Heavens were opened, like unto a ...[word illegible]... and sparks flew therefrom; and then the Heavens closed, as one closes a curtain, and all was dark again. God grant that it be for our good!" (The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, Translated by Marvin Lowenthal, p. 277)


Vol 2, No 2 (2001)

"I had never considered myself religious. I am the daughter of a secular city, of the generation that witnessed the Holocaust to ask: 'Is God dead?' For me as for other Jewish feminists, religion perpetuated the patriarchal tradition that denied women access to Judaism's most sacred rituals and enshrined them within the strict confines of their biological role. The Judeo-Christian religion kept alive that feminine mystique which was at the heart of the problem.
It took the confidence born of the women's movement for me and other Jewish feminists to embrace our Jewishness, but in a new way. We took the task of making Judaism accept that women are equal to men in the sight of our God." [Betty Friedan, Life So Far: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 330.]


Vol 3, No 1 (2002)

Bread and cake cake and bread which is better, I myself think that bread when there is good butter is better than cake, bread and butter but when there is no bread and butter then there is cake Marie Antoinette was quite right about that. [Gertrude Stein, "The Coming of the Americans," in Collected Writings of Gertrude Stein (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 648.]


Vol 3, No 2 (2003)

"The First Night"
Abaye said, Mother told me: Like hot water on a bald man’s head. Raba said, the daughter of Rab Hisda (Raba’s wife) told me: Like the prick of bloodletting. Rav Papa said, the daughter of Aba of Sura (Rav Papa’s wife) told me: Like hard bread for the gums. [Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 39b] (The Defiant Muse, Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present: A Bilingual Anthology. Edited by Shirley Kaufman, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Tamar S. Hess. With a foreward by Alicia Suskin Ostriker. The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women’s Series. New York: Feminist Press, 1999, p. 59. This passage was translated by Shirley Kaufman and Galit Hasan-Rokem.)


Vol 9, No 2 (2012)

26 Jul 11:55

Picture of the Week: Ancient Harbor of Susita/Hippos on the Sea of Galilee << BiblePlaces Blog

by (Seth M. Rodriquez)
(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

In the 1970's and 1980's, the remains of several ancient harbors were identified around the Sea of Galilee. At least 13 harbors have been identified, all of which most likely date to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. A map of the various harbors can be seen here. The work of archaeologists in this area (most notably, the labors of Mendel Nun) have provided us with significant insights into what life was like for fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee during these periods.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and shows the remains of the main breakwater of the harbor of Susita (a.k.a., Hippos) on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The photo was taken at a time when the water level in the lake was extremely low, so the breakwater stands several meters from the shore. However, in ancient times this breakwater would have provided boats with shelter from dangerous storms that can occur on the lake (for example, see Matt. 8:23-27).

This harbor was a typical one on the Sea of Galilee during this period. The breakwater was man-made and extended from the shore, enclosing an area of about an acre with a gap on the south end for boats to pass in and out.  In the map referenced above, the Hippos harbor can be seen at the bottom right.  Mendel Nun, in his book Ancient Anchorages and Harbours Around the Sea of Galilee (Kibbutz Ein Gev, Israel: Kinnereth Sailing Co., 1988), describes this harbor in the following way:

The harbour of Susita was built to fit the conditions of the sandy shore. The central breakwater is 120 meters long; its base is five to seven meters wide. The stone breakwater projecting from the shore turns to the south and runs nearly parallel to the shore at a depth of -211.25 meters [693 feet below sea level] for another 85 meters.
At the far end it curves sharply to the west and extends into the lake to a depth of -212.5 meters [697 feet below sea level]. This shape makes for a long inner area open to the south; a second breakwater was therefore constructed which extends from the shore for 40 meters. The inner part of the harbour thus formed a closed basin enclosing an area of about an acre. A small jetty leading north from the breakwater was for passengers embarking and disembarking, saving them the tedious procedure of passing through the narrow harbour entrance.  Indications that this entrance was deepended [sic.] may still be seen.
The total lenght [sic.] of all the breakwaters in this harbour comes to 180 meters.  The sides were built of rows of stones, the interstices filled with smaller rocks, re-used building stones, fragments of lime columns. During the past few years of low water, the silt filling the harbour has been overgrown by shrubbery.  (Nun, Ancient Anchorages and Harbours, pp. 13-14.)

Harbors such as this bear witness to the thriving economy around the lake during the time of Christ. Although people have probably always fished in the lake, the Roman Period was a time when fishermen were especially active and an unusually high number of settlements were constructed around the Sea of Galilee. According to Mendel Nun, "all settlements on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, even the smallest, had an anchorage, each built to suit local conditions and requirements." (Ibid., p. 27.) So harbors such as this would have been part of the everyday life of people living next to the lake. Insights such as this add color to our reading of the stories in the Gospels.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Additional images of the Sea of Galilee can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on here.  Images and information about fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in the 19th century can be found here on  Additional information about the ancient harbors around the Sea of Galilee can be found here.
26 Jul 11:54

Open Access Digital Library: AMAR: Archive of Mesopotamian Archaeological Site Reports << Charles Ellwood Jones (AWOL: The Ancient World Online)

by (Charles Jones)
[Originally posted in AWOL 27 July 2009. Most recently updated 25 July 2013 AMAR includes 586 items]

AMAR: Archive of Mesopotamian Archaeological Site Reports

The Archive of Mesopotamian Archaeological Reports (AMAR) collection is under development as part of the Iraq Cultural Heritage Program Grant. The Iraq Cultural Heritage Project (ICHP) was established in 2008 through a grant from the US Embassy Baghdad. The Cultural Affairs Office at the Embassy oversees the project. International Relief and Development (IRD), a US-based non-governmental organization, implements the project for the Embassy.
The project director, Elizabeth Stone, has directed archaeological excavations in Iraq, has been engaged in advanced training for Iraqi archaeologists and has attempted to document and stem the damage to Iraq's archaeological sites. Dr. Stone is collaborating with the University Libraries at Stony Brook University to make the AMAR collection available online. Before developing this online collection, she contributed more than one hundred digitized volumes to the ETANA website. 

The aim of the AMAR project is to digitize 500 archaeological site reports describing archaeological excavations both in Iraq and in the immediately surrounding areas (Turkey, Syria, Iran and the Gulf). This will include both out-of-copyright as well as in-copyright and in-print materials. This online collection is intended to provide basic sources of information to our colleagues in Iraq, and also other archaeologists working in the Middle East. 

The electronic files are only to be distributed from the AMAR Web site. 

Individuals, libraries, institutions, and others may download one complimentary copy for their own personal use. Links to the AMAR Web site are welcomed.

Browse the Complete Archive

26 Jul 03:58

Detecting expertise

by (Jim Davila)
LARRY HURTADO: Expertise and How to Detect It. Some good advice. James McGrath has additional comments in his post on Larry Hurtado on Expertise. See also my posts on consensus.
26 Jul 03:58

Thesis on the Gospel of the Savior

by (Jim Davila)
ALIN SUCIU: My PhD Thesis: Apocryphon Berolinense/Argentoratense (Previously Known as the Gospel of the Savior). Successfully defended and now available online. Well done.