Saturday, January 7, 2017

On Not Learning From the Past

In the nineteenth century the college entrance exam required the prospective student to submit a translation of a selected passage from Xenophon's Anabasis to show proficiency in Greek. Nowadays you would be fortunate to find a college graduate who had heard of Xenophon.

I ran across a very tragic tale from St. Paul, Minnesota. This story is indescribably sad but not surprising to anyone who has read the Anabasis, or Petronius's Satyricon, or certain of the works of Lucian. Unfortunately because of the actions of five Ivy-league educated individuals who ignored the evidence of the ancient world, we probably will see a lot more stories like it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Bruce Porter (1952-2016)

I just received news that Elder Bruce Porter died. This is very sad. I only met him once when we had lunch in the Skyroom at his request before he became a General Authority. I was impressed at his grasp of the intellectual issues in a subject outside his area of expertise. I am very sad about his passing. He was an intelligent and articulate advocate of faith.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book of Mormon Central

Book of Mormon Central is a great organization with some very talented people who love the Book of Mormon. This article gives it some well-deserved recognition. What they have accomplished this past year is impressive. Its current popularity has spread by word of mouth. In less than a year it has become the premier organization promoting Book of Mormon scholarship. I know many of the excellent people involved with it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

BYU's Top News Story This Year

This year's top news story at BYU was one about my colleague Lincoln Blumell, and his work publishing an ancient Egyptian epitaph. It is nice to see that many people still find ancient studies important.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Theological Anniversary

Four-hundred forty-four years ago today, on 23 December 1572, in the main market square, in front of the Heiligegeistkirche in Heidelberg, a criminal was executed. His crime was particularly heinous.

The ruler of Heidelberg, Friedrich III, was under enormous pressure not to let it go unpunished. The criminal, Johann Sylvanus, had been Superintendent of Ladenburg, a town under Friedrich's jurisdiction, and a member of the clergy. Friedrich III needed to distract attention from his own sins, and making a public example of a criminal like Sylvanus could show that he was tough on crime.

To reinforce the lesson, Sylvanus's children were forced to watch with the rest of the populous as an executioner took off his head with a sword. One simply could not allow such awful crimes to be committed.

Johann Sylvanus's crime was to doubt that the doctrine of the Trinity as propounded in the creeds was found in the Bible. As a matter of fact, it is not. The doctors who propounded it knew that "not one word of it is found in the holy scriptures" (μηδεμιας γουν θεοπνευστου γραφιας) according to Eusebius. Their congregations knew it wasn't either. The doctors had had to explain to their congregations that they should adopt a creed that was not found in the scriptures because the committee had worked hard (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, I.8), but that was more than a millennium before Sylvanus.

The whole problem of the creeds started one day in Alexandria. It was the big center of intellectuals of the Roman empire with its famous university and large library. One day, the bishop, Alexander, "started theologizing using philosophy" (φιλοσοφων εθεολογει) seeking for his own glory (φιλοτιμοτερον). One of his elders, Arius, a man "not lacking in learning" (αμοιρος διαλεκτικαης λεσχης) preferred someone else's dogma and responded to the bishop out of a desire to win the argument (εκ φιλονεικιας). (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, I.5) This theologizing started the argument that ended in the creeds, and in Sylvanus's beheading 444 years ago.

In one of those happy coincidences, however, Sylvanus was vindicated. Two-hundred thirty-three years to the day after his death, a prophet was born. God would tell this prophet that "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [i.e. those who professed or supported the creeds] were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”" (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

On this, the 444th anniversary of the martyrdom of Johann Sylvanus, it is useful to know that the product of theology is an abomination in the sight of God. Sylvanus knew at least that it was not scriptural--which Eusebius and everyone else at Nicaea also knew--and for that he gave his life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More on Proto-Sinaitic as Hebrew

Douglas Petrovich has responded to Christopher Rollston (link here, registration required). I will note a few salient points about this exchange:
  1. Yes, we will have to wait for the book to see the full arguments. That is a fair argument, up to a point. Petrovich's book is not yet available (though it can be pre-ordered here. It is surprisingly expensive given that the publishing costs were underwritten.) The problem is that Petrovich's arguments cannot be checked. He wants us to trust his conclusions, which are public, without the supporting argumentation, which is not.

  2. I am curious to see how Petrovich deals with Zauzich's arguments. Zauzich's book, unlike Petrovich's, is published and available (here, or here, or here).

  3. Petrovich's assertions that certain individual words can only be Hebrew is impossible to judge without seeing the word in context. Without the ability to see the full inscription, we cannot see that the word makes any sense in context. Inscriptions are meaningful messages, not random word salad. We need the book for Petrovich's arguments to make any sense.

  4. The same logic that Petrovich evokes to claim that Rollston's refutation is premature cuts both ways to say that Petrovich's conclusions are premature. Until Petrovich actually publishes his study, his confident assertions of the superiority of his position can convince no one but himself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Böser Fritz

Friedrich I ruled Heidelberg from 1451-1476. He had a number of nicknames such as the exalted "Friedrich der Siegreiche," and "Pfälzer Fritz," but he was also known as "Böser Fritz" which translates roughly as "evil Fritz".

Friedrich I showed an interest in the academy because he thoroughly reformed the University of Heidelberg in 1452. In 1456, he invited Peter Luder to become the first instructor in the studia humanitas in a German university. Alas, Luder left the university only four years later. He wanted to become a professor but had not actually possessed the academic qualifications for the post--he apparently did not actually have a degree. What he lacked in credentials he made up for in profligacy, fathering a number of illegitimate children. To ingratiate himself with the ruler, he wrote a long ode in 1458 singing his praises. Two years later, he used the plague coming through as an excuse to skip town and move to the University of Erfurt. The university's first essay into humanities appears to have been something of a disaster.

Friedrich was a successful general, expanding his territory through a number of wars. Notable among them was the 1462 sack of Seckenheim. At one fell stroke he captured the Markgraf of Baden, the Bishop of Metz, and the Graf of Baden-Württemberg, all of whom he held for ransom. When the kingdoms paid the ransom, Friedrich found his coffers flowing with gold which he subsequently invested, and donated.

With all of the money Friedrich attracted lots of mendicant orders who wanted to use his funds to support their studies in philosophy and theology. One was set up at the corner of Hauptstrasse and Brunnengasse, where the psychological institute now is. (There is probably something significant in that change). The Cistercians also set up shop in Heidelberg with his assistance. It probably is not the only time in history when theologians lived off funds forcibly taken from others. At least the Cistercians believed in working for a living.