Friday, October 31, 2014

Well, I Did Try

I have heard from a number of sources that I have produced no significant or worthwhile work. So published expressions like this one are at least comforting:
I only wish I had read Gee’s review before working through the book myself! I would have saved myself a good twenty minutes of head-scratching.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How on Earth Did That Get Confused?

This notice of a correction came to my attention. I have not given much thought to either subject, much less considered them interchangeable.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Death of Ancient Studies, Part 2

This message came across my desk last week:
Yesterday the Swedish Government announced that they will end all state funding for the Swedish Institutes at Athens, Rome and Istanbul from 2017. Our research Institutes have no private funding and will therefore have to close down and terminate their work within two years.

The decision has been made without any prior consultation or investigation of the consequences: the Institutes will not be able to fulfill their responsibilities of taking care of archaeological material or sites in the Mediterranean and providing education with the fields of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, Classics, Art History, Architecture, Turkish studies and Social sciences, nor to conduct and publish research, give conferences, host cultural activities, take part in heritage management or run our research libraries in the Mediterranean countries.
Apparently, the Swedish government either does not think the ancient world is relevant, or does not want it to be relevant. At least in this case, he who pays the piper actually calls the tune.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

On Going to Hell

I have been thinking a lot over the past months about an incident that a friend told me about. A mutual acquaintance had harassed him to the point where he told the acquaintance to go to hell. A couple of minutes later he regretted his actions and sent a note of apology.

I agree with my friend that he should not have told this individual to go to hell. But the incident has had me pondering the expression a great deal. I understand the impulse, but it was the wrong thing to say, in part because it was pointless. It was the pointlessness that had me pondering. I can think of two cases when there is no point to using the expression.

1- One group of people to whom it is pointless to tell to go to hell is those who are already living in hell. These can include the molested, the abused, the persecuted, those suffering the consequences of others' poor choices. (For the moment I will set aside those suffering the consequences of their own poor choices). These individuals might be forgiven for wondering how much worse hell might be than what they are suffering at present. God might know but I do not.

2- There is another group of people on whom the phrase is wasted. These people make everywhere they go into hell, either for themselves or for others. They are like the devil; "he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27). One of these people could be sent to heaven and he (or she) would not be satisfied until he had turned it into hell and proudly point back to the good intentions lining his path. There are those, of course, who make a hell for others and then refuse to live in the hell that they have created or sometimes even visit; they may yet have their chance.

Of course, for us mortals, telling people to go to hell reflects only a wish on our part. We have not the power to compel or order people to go to hell for real even if we have the power to torture and torment others to the point where they think they are there.

There is one who can tell someone to go to hell, and that is God. Whomever God tells to go to hell will no longer have any choice in the matter.

Some people think that it would not be just for God to send people to hell. They "do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery" (Alma 42:1). The sinner's victims might disagree with that thought. Alma explains that God provides sinners a way to repent and time and opportunities to do so and thus his decisions are just (Alma 42). If they choose not to repent, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Others think that it would not be merciful for God to send people to hell. Moroni deals with this argument:
Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?

Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.

For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you. (Mormon 9:3–5)
God will send some people to hell precisely because he is merciful both to the perpetrators and the victims.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Death of Ancient Studies: Part 1

The following was sent to me this week:
Study Programmes at Copenhagen University in Danger of Closing

The Situation
The Minister for Higher Education and Science plans to lower the student intake at the Humanities in order to prevent future over-unemployment of highly qualified young people. This entails a 30% cut of students at the M.A. level. Danish law, however, insists that every B.A. graduate has the right to an M.A. course of study. Logically, then, cutting the M.A. intake will automatically mean a huge cut in the B.A. intake since the M.A, intake is generally (and understandably) only a small portion of the B.A. intake for the subjects below.

For large subjects such a cut is difficult but not life-threatening. For the subjects at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies the plans announced by the Ministry and to be implemented by the Faculty are a disaster.

The following table illustrates what will happen to the subjects at the Department from 2015:

                                            BA intake 2014    BA-intake 2015     Reduction

Middle Eastern Studies     50                          10                            80%         
Japanese Studies                25                          5                              80%         
China Studies                     50                          10                            80%         
Russian                                25                          5                              80%         
Religion                               70                          20                            70%         
(Thai and Indonesian)       15                          0                              100%         closure
Korean Studies                   15                          0                              100%         closure
Indology                              10                          0                              100%         closure
Tibetology                           10                          0                              100%         closure
Iranian Studies                   15                          0                              100%         closure
Turkish Studies                  15                          0                              100%         closure
Hebrew Studies                  10                          0                              100%         closure
ANE Studies
(Assyriology, Egyptology,
NE archaeology)                 30                          10                            67%         
Greek Studies                     10                          0                              100%         closure
Balkan Studies                    15                          0                              100%         closure
Polish                                   10                          0                              100%         closure
Arctic Studies                      10                          0                              100%         closure
American Indian Studies   10                          0                              100%         closure

                                            395                        60                            85%         
I treasure my contacts with both the people and the institutions of the University of Copenhagen and its Carsten Niebuhr Institute for Near Eastern Studies. They have done some impressive work in the past and have a tremendous amount of important work in progress. This is not encouraging news.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Mormon Version of Cheap Grace

An amateur theologian hiding behind the ironic pseudonym "Um, Not Quite the Truth" (in the comments here) is advocating a form of cheap grace for Mormons:
Dan [Peterson] wrote: "[C. S.] Lewis’s observation rings absolutely true for anybody who has ever been the surprised victim of scheming intrigue and betrayal by false friends."

Thank goodness this type of behavior is few and far between among LDS, thanks in large part to living the Gospel.

Also, on those rare occasions when this does happen, we've been taught to quickly forgive and move on. Just as the Savior has done with us and our trespasses to others.
A little later, this armchair theologian observed:
No one knows more about "double-dealing" and "betrayal" more than the Savior. That's why it's so fundamentally important to quickly forgive and move on. Just the Savior has commanded.
These are watered-down and potentially self-serving sentiments. They fall into the category of what Elder Jeffery R. Holland here called "a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories."

True, we are commanded to forgive. For example, God tells us:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
But one will search the scriptures in vain to find the adverb quickly applied to the verb forgive. Neither the Savior nor anyone else in the scriptures commanded us to forgive quickly. I think God, who is wiser than we are and knows much more about repentance and forgiveness than we do, knows that some things are not easy to forgive and may not be possible for us to forgive without God specifically bestowing grace on us to forgive.

Let us take the specific example of betrayal. Jesus, whom we betray from day to day in our own petty way, suffered betrayals both large and small. Thus, it might be worth looking at what he had to say about betrayal:
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?

And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (Matthew 26:21–25)
The same sentiment is repeated in the other gospels:
woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)
And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! (Luke 22:22)
Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:70–71)
In every one of the gospels, Jesus condemns his former friend who betrayed him. We are never told that he forgave him at all ("I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive"), much less that he forgave him quickly and moved on. Jesus explicitly said it would have been better for the betrayer never to have been born.

God tells us that for certain sins it is difficult to obtain forgiveness and for one or two it is not even possible. But he reserves those decisions for himself. He commands us to forgive, but knows that in some circumstances this can be a very difficult thing to do.

The Coptic expression for forgiving is kō ebol. One could translate it with the popular expression "Let it go!" but that makes it look easy. One could also translate it with the verb abandon as though we needed only leave others' sins by the wayside. But it is also the expression used in pre-Christian legal contracts for divorce, which even then were sometimes ugly, messy, difficult and protracted affairs. Forgiveness can be like trying to get a messy divorce from a forced marriage to someone we never liked or wanted to be married to in the first place.

To some individuals is granted the grace to be able to forgive even awful things like abuse, molestation, rape, betrayal, infidelity, murder, torture, or persecution quickly and easily. We stand in awe of those who can do so. Yet, for others forgiveness is a protracted and difficult process. Those of us who are untouched by their afflictions should not stand by unmoved by their afflictions and pat ourselves on the back about what better Christians we are for being unwilling or unable to shoulder their cross.

And now we come to where forgiveness can be like cheap grace. Some people want others (including God) to forgive them cheaply and easily for deep and grievous wounds without producing any fruits of repentance, without trying in the least to repair the wrong that they have done or even acknowledging that they have done it (see Alma 39:13 in the critical text). Expecting forgiveness without repentance denies repentance, one of the core elements of the gospel of Christ (3 Nephi 27:13-21). Cheap grace also denies repentance by claiming that God dispenses unmerited grace while we persist in our sin. Both cheap grace and telling others to forgive without repentance deny the gospel of Christ.

I suppose that the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan might have called out to the man on the side of the road that he needed to "quickly forgive and move on" but would that really have been practically different than passing by on the other side?

Just because forgiveness is essential does not mean that it is easy.

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.