Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Robert Bennett

Senator Bennett passed away today. That is sad.

I chanced to meet Senator Bennett a few years ago, after he had left office. It was a brief meeting. He was very gracious. I thanked him for his years of service. I told him that I thought he had been rather poorly treated by his party the way he was forced to leave office. He told me that it was one of the best things that could have happened to him. It allowed him to spend more time with his grandchildren. True to his word, he then excused himself to attend to his grandchildren. I admire someone (especially a politician) who can make his deeds match his words.


Congratulations to Nathan Hawks. I know Nathan and am very pleased to see him garner this recognition.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ancient Israelites More Literate Than We Thought

This news item in the New York Times argues that ancient Israelites were more literate than previously thought. We went through this all last year. I pointed out that:
This all serves to indicate that scribes and scribal activity in ancient Israel was greater than some biblical scholars would like it to be, and all this while not requiring literacy to be as widespread as the New York Times claims. Will some people believe it now that the New York Times says it?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What This Year’s Early Easter Date Tell Us about Early Christianity

The bright moon this morning provoked a conversation in which my daughter asked a telling question that reveals a lot about early Christianity.

The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. This year, the Vernal Equinox was March 20 (it is often on March 21). The full moon was March 23. The Sunday following is March 27. So we have an early Easter this year.

There is a logic to the date of Easter. Jesus was crucified on Passover, which is the fourteenth of Nissan, which is the month of spring (hence the Vernal Equinox). Nissan, like other months of the Jewish calendar, is a lunar month starting on the new moon. The fourteenth is thus the date of the full moon. The Resurrection was the Sunday following the crucifixion. 

On the calendar that we use, the Roman calendar, the date of Eastern changes from year to year. My daughters question was: “Didn’t they record the date of the Resurrection?”

The answer is that that they did, but they recorded it in the Jewish calendar, not the Roman calendar. The earliest Christians were all Jews or converts from Judaism. It was only later that the Christians started accepting converts from Gentiles, such as Greeks and Romans. So the early Christians recorded the date of the Resurrection according to the date on the Jewish lunar calendar, not the Roman solar calendar.

Starting in the second century, there was a controversy in Christianity between those that wanted to celebrate Easter on the 14th of Nissan (following the gospel of John) and those who wanted to celebrate it on Sunday and so the Sunday following (following the gospel of Matthew). The Easter controversy was not ostensibly settled until the fourth century.

There are only two Christian Holy Days that follow a Jewish calendar, that thus go back to the earliest period of Christian history. Both commemorate the Resurrection. Those Holy Days are Easter, and the Lord’s Day (Sunday). All the other Christian Holy Days follow the Roman calendar (including Christmas) and are thus later.

So, what we learn about early Christianity is that the Resurrection was the only event commemorated; it was memorialized in two Holy Days, Easter and the Lord’s Day. The dates of these events were recorded in the Jewish calendar, which was the one that the earliest Christians used.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Upcoming Forum

Tomorrow's forum at BYU will feature Professor Christian Smith of Notre Dame speaking at the BYU Marriott Center at 11 am. Those who have paid much attention to this blog will know that I have a high opinion of his work and have cited it many times. Over on the book list, seven of his works have two star ratings (out of three) and one has the rare three star rating. It will thus come as no surprise that I highly recommend attending the forum.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Randall Jones (1939-2016)

A couple of weeks ago I was looking in the library for a particular sort of book to replace one that I had years ago but had lost. I finally located one on the library shelf and when I checked it out was surprised and pleased to find that Randy Jones was one of the co-authors. He had served as my bishop for a few months, although I did not know him that well since I worked mainly with one of his counselors.

I was sad to discover today that he passed away last week. My condolences to his family. We will miss him.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Same Data, Different Questions

In his recent book, Rodney Stark makes the following observation:
Contrary to stereotypes of Muslims as ardent worshippers, their numbers have been reduced almost as greatly as those for Christians when the data are limited to weekly attenders.
(Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith [Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2015], 15.)
This comes from the way that Stark is framing his question. What he is looking at is, if you took all the people who attend religious services during the week, what percentage of them belong to which religion. If that is the question you are asking then a typical worshiper is more likely to be Christian (39%) than Muslim (31%).

But there is another way at looking at the question. Instead of asking, "What percentage of the world's weekly worshipers belong to various religions?" we could ask, "What percentage of various religions are weekly worshiper?" That is a different question and Stark provides (on pp. 14-15 of his book) the information to answer it. Here in descending order are the percentages of adherents to different religions worldwide who worship weekly:
  • Hinduism     66%
  • Muslims     64%
  • Christians     52%
  • Others     50%
  • Buddhists     28%
  • Jews     24%
  • Secular     2%
This does not invalidate Stark's argument. It is just using the same information to ask a different question. What it shows is that there is a basis for the stereotype, since on any given week almost 2 out of 3 Muslims will attend mosque, whereas just over 1 out of 2 Christians will attend church. That is a statistically significant difference.

Incidentally, I have no idea whether Latter-day Saints would be classified as Christians or Others in this study. I would be curious to know what the specific Latter-day Saint number were, but given the geographic variation that probably exists they would be no particular help to any particular congregation. And, given the magnitude of people we are talking about in the study, whatever the Latter-day Saint numbers are, they would make a negligible difference on Stark's overall numbers.

What really impresses me are the Hindu numbers. So what are Hindus doing right? (Since we do not know what Latter-day Saint numbers are, we do not know what we may or may not be doing right compared to Hindus, but clearly Hindus are doing something right, and so are Muslims.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Plug for BYU?

Brigham Young University gets a plug from an unlikely source on its diversity, of all things. (I do not endorse the crudeness in the title; the article itself I did not find crude.)