Wednesday, October 22, 2014

There are Still Tickets Left

There are still tickets left to BYU's superb production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

It runs from 22-25 October 2014. Tickets are only $18.

More information here. More information and tickets available here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creating Distrust

The second edition of Shaye Cohen's important book, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, has a poignant postscript to the preface:
The first edition of this book was published by the Westminster Press in 1987 in the Library of Early Christianity series edited by Wayne Meeks. I was delighted then to be associated with a Presbyterian publishing house. It is one of the blessings of America that a Presbyterian publisher would commission a Jew to write a book on early Judaism for a series oriented to students of the New Testament. This never happened in the old country. Eighteen years later I am grateful to Westminster John Knox Press for publishing this second edition and remain grateful to the press for its courtesies to me over the years. I am no longer happy, however, to be associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the parent body of WJK, because I am deeply pained by the recent anti-Israel turn in its policies. The fact that WJK is editorially and fiscally independent of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) afford small consolation; by publishing this book with WJK I am associating myself perforce with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an organization whose anti-Israel policies I condemn and distrust.
(Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006], xiii-xiv.)
Cohen did not elaborate the specific Church policies, but they are not difficult to find.

In 2004, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy of "selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." They ostensibly backed down in 2006, but apparently this was only a PR stunt. According to this official document, the apology never happened and they have continued with divestment. In 2010, the denomination called for political demands against the Israeli government and in 2012 called for a "boycott of all Israeli products produced in the occupied Palestinian Territories."

This year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) distributed a pamphlet by Kyle Christofalo pushing the boycott. Christofalo sends people to this site for a full list of companies that they think should be boycotted. Christofalo is vague about what he considers to be "illegal Israeli settlement;" his map seems to indicate that it includes almost the entire state of Israel. Christofalo not only urges people not to buy products but to write "to urge them not to sell products made in the settlements." (Sorry, you'll have to wade through the document to see the English errors associated with this sentence.)

Given the actions of the Presbyterian Church, I can see how Professor Cohen can be deeply pained and regard the Presbyterians with distrust.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Math is Hard: Grade School Edition

This is an article explaining why parents should not be upset with the new common core making the math more complicated. The common core is just trying to help the children understand how math works in a better way.
It's reasonable that parents will be confused by the new way of doing things, says Meyer, the former math teacher and Ph.D. student. But he says that parents' education wasn't particularly effective, even if they're confident in their arithmetic.
But that is why the common core is largely not going to work. If the parents' math education wasn't particularly effective, it is the same math education that the teachers had. So if the parents are confused can we expect the teachers to do any better?

Those who understand and are good at math usually end up majoring in something like physics, math or engineering, not math education. Usually the math education majors are not the same caliber as the math majors. But from the examples I have seen of common core math problems, the math education majors should be able to handle them.

The problem is that math education majors are often shooting for jobs as high school math teachers and the common core has to be taught in grade school as well. Grade school math teachers teach everything else as well and they come from elementary education majors. Unfortunately education majors tend to come from the bottom half of college students and tend to score particularly poorly on math. The mean SAT scores in math for education majors are below the mean scores for those majoring in things like English, theology, acting, trucking, and journalism (none of which are noted for math ability).

Before the common core, I ran into otherwise good elementary school teachers who did not understand math well. Trying to get these teachers to teach tricky ways of dealing with math problems seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.

I am in favor of better math education. I am in favor of children understanding math better. I am dubious that trying to get people who do not understand math well in the first place to teach unusual approaches to basic problems is the best way to do it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Faith and the OED

Usually in English a monosyllabic word has a good chance of being a native English word, but faith is not. Although many French and Latin words were imported into English during the Hundred Year's War (AD 1337-1453), faith is actually brought in earlier. Here are the definitions of faith listed in the Oxford English Dictionary according to first usage:

1250 the duty of fulfilling one's trust, fealty, the obligation of a promise or engagement
1250 faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty
1300 confidence, reliance, trust
1300 the Christian faith
1325 a system of religious belief
1380 what is required to be believed on a subject
1382 assurance given, formal declaration, pledge, promise
1382 belief in the truths of religion
1393 attestation, confirmation, assurance
1551 belief preceding from reliance on testimony or authority
1638 power to produce belief

When the term faith entered the English language it meant loyalty (which the editors of the OED listed last). Later, it came to mean trust. After that time it came to mean a system of religious belief, about the same time when it came to mean a pledge or promise. Only much later did it come to be a belief based on something someone else said. (Ironically, the last meaning developed is listed as obsolete.)

So at first faith in God meant loyalty to God. A little later it came to mean trust in God. Only later did it weaken to belief in God. Far from being merely an intellectual assenting to the existence of God, faith in God was originally a loyalty to Him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Quote from William Gay

I just stumbled on this quote from William Gay that I rather like:
Godly responsibility always precedes individual opportunity. Ours is a choice to see if we will take the talents, the resources, and the blessings God has given us and blaze new paths to realize His purposes or sit on the sidelines content in our individual successes or failures. … In the world of faith, you always stand at this crossroad.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Being Held an Offender for a Word

It is hardly a secret that I have persistently and publicly argued that the Book of Abraham is historically authentic.

Some people are spreading the gossip that I do not believe in the Book of Abraham. They are taking something I said out of context for their own malicious ends.

Here is what I actually said two years ago at the FAIR conference:
It will probably come as a surprise to many that I do not have a testimony of the Book of Abraham. That is, I have never received a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Book of Abraham. I do not need one. I have those for the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel, the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the continuation of those keys and authority through the present day. If you have these things confirmed to you, you do not need to get a cold from every wind of doctrine that blows.
I have never had a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Book of Abraham. I do not know many Church members who have. I have never really heard a convincing case that one is necessary. No question on the subject shows up in the baptismal interview or the temple recommend interview. In the Church, we are urged to get a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon, but not the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price or the Bible.

Without a spiritual confirmation I rely on scholarship, that is on evidence and argument. Perhaps there are better means but that is what I have to work with and I have no other authority.

Based on the research I have done, I am convinced that the historical setting that most closely matches the Book of Abraham is: for the first chapter, an Ur located in the area of north-west Syria or southern Turkey during the end of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (the reign of Sesostris III or more likely Amenemhet III); by the time the text has reached the end of the published account we have moved into the area of modern Israel during the Thirteenth/Fourteen Dynasty in Egypt. That setting is based on a careful reading of the text and current scholarship. Like everything based on scholarship, it is subject to refinement and revision as new evidence comes in.