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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Ealriest Hebrew Inscriptions?

I recently received a request to evaluate a news report claiming that the earliest Hebrew inscriptions have been discovered in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions.These inscriptions have been known for more than a century, so the inscriptions are not new. I was not there for the presentation so it is difficult to evaluate. This is what I wrote:
It is really difficult to assess a scholarly argument presented in a news story since reporters often garble the essential information. With only that to go on, I offer the following comments for your consideration.

(1) I do not know Petrovich or his previous work. His scholarship might be solid or shaky or anything in between. I do know Christopher Rollston (who is cited in the story). He is a good scholar and very conscientious. I would take anything that he says seriously. He sounds dubious and so there may be very good reasons to be skeptical of the claims presented in this story.

(2) From the story, it sounds like Petrovich is working from some basic assumptions about this script which is usually called Proto-Sinaitic. Most scholars assume that the writing is a Semitic language. One of the problems is that almost nothing in the script can actually be read. Some of the assumptions that Petrovich seems to be using have recently been challenged by Karl-Theodor Zauzich who has a very thought-provoking book on the origin of the alphabet. Zauzich points to fact that almost nothing makes sense in Semitic as an indication that the standard assignments (which Petrovich seems to follow) cannot be correct. He suggests others. If Zauzich is correct, Petrovich is probably not. I know Zauzich and he is also a very good scholar, although I am still considering his arguments.

(3) I think that it is probably best to wait until Petrovich's book comes out and his arguments and evidence can be fairly evaluated. Until then, take them with a grain of salt. The media likes sensational stories but is not very good at evaluating them.
Fortunately Christopher Rollston was at the presentation and has written a preliminary report on his blog. Those interested in the topic should consult it. Given what Rollston says about Petrovich's interpretation of Egyptian, I would be interested in seeing the argument.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Inhalt über Form

Today a visiting member of the Stake Presidency began his talk with the statement "Inhalt über Form." That was the subject of his talk: Content over Form. He pointed out that the gospel was designed to free us from the focus on the form rather than the content. He mentioned the concern in the early Christian church over whether an individual was circumcised or not. He went on to discuss how sometimes we think that if things do not go exactly according to the handbook then we get upset. Those people, he said, might be focusing on the form above the content. He made a number of other good points, but I will not go into them.

I see the same issue sometimes in academia. For example, some universities or university departments consider only where a faculty member published, not whether the content was any good. If one were to publish utter gibberish in a top tier journal, these universities would consider that meritorious because who cares about the content, the form is all that matters. The consequent of this is that I regularly get solicitations from journals to publish in them where the journal exists only for the purpose of inflating the resumes of faculty members who are under such pressure.

The so-called tone of something is also a form over content matter. No one seems to be able to define tone or point to any objective criteria for detecting it. Psychologists point out that individuals are terrible at detecting the intended tone of written communications. Their experiments show that coin-flipping is about as accurate in identifying the intended tone of a written communication as humans are. Focusing on the tone can serve as a means of dismissing the content.

Jesus pointed out that focusing on form was a means of dismissing the content of the message:
Τίνι δὲ ὁμοιώσω τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην; ὁμοία ἐστὶν παιδίοις καθημένοις ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς καὶ προσφωνοῦντα τοῖς ἑτέροις αὐτῶν
καὶ λέγουσιν, ηὐλήσαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ οὐκ ὠρχήσασθε· ἐθρηνήσαμεν ὑμῖν, καὶ οὐκ ἐκόψασθε.
ἦλθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης μήτε ἐσθίων μήτε πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Δαιμόνιον ἔχει·
ἦλθεν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, τελωνῶν φίλος καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς.

What shall I liken this generation to? It is like children sitting in the market place calling to their companions
and saying, "We piped but you did not dance; we cried and you did not mourn."
For John came neither wining nor dining and they say, "He has a devil."
The Son of Man came wining and dining and they say, "Look, the man is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of extortioners and sinners." But wisdom is vindicated by her works.

(Matthew 11:16–19)
Inhalt über Form.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Counsel from the First Presidency and a Surprize Maxwell Quote

The other day when I was looking for something else, I stumble across this counsel from President N. Eldon Tanner, then a member of the First Presidency:

Someone said to me the other day, “Why is it that people who know what they should do and seem to have a testimony of the gospel are not prepared to live it and haven’t the courage and strength to stand up against opposition?” My reply was, “There are many reasons, it seems to me, that cause people to favor and to do things which are contrary to their teachings and contrary to their beliefs.” Then I referred him to two or three scriptures.
His first two were "their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men" (D&C 121:#5), and the long list from 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Then he added John 12:42-43:
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42–43.)

It is this last passage with which I should like to deal this evening.

I wonder how many of us are guilty of this or any of these, and if so, are we ready tonight to change our ways, and repent, and try to be worthy of the praise of God and his blessings rather than forget who we are and try to be popular? How important it is that we remember who we are, servants of the Lord, and then act accordingly.

As I said before, we just cannot imagine or calculate in any way what a great influence for good we would have in the world if every holder of the priesthood would magnify his calling, and how much happier and more successful each individual would be if he would always choose the right. How sad it is to see one who would rather be popular than do what he knows is right. I have in mind and remember so well a good member of the Church who was elected to the legislature but who wanted to be a good fellow, popular with everyone. He, wanting to be popular, let down his standards and took one drink at a social and then another. It happened again and again. He began drinking with the fellows at lunch and at dinner. And then, unintentionally I am sure, and contrary to his greatest desire, he became an alcoholic and lost the support of his constituency and the respect of his friends and family who loved him and sorrowed for him. He died an early death as an alcoholic. What a sad situation—all because he sought the praise of men more than the praise of God.

This is not a single case. We have examples of congressmen and senators who have lost their positions and self-respect and the respect of others because they wanted to be popular or didn’t have the strength to resist the temptations. We have the promise of the Lord that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be added unto us, meaning, of course, the things that are for our good.

Let us always remember that people expect us to live up to our standards and respect us much more when we do, even though they may entice us to do otherwise.

I want to bear my testimony that I was never embarrassed in any way, when in the government, or industry, or in my private life, by trying to live up to the teachings of the gospel. Nor was I impeded in any way in my progress. On the contrary, I feel that I was respected and I was blessed by the Lord, and always felt free to call upon him for strength and guidance, which I often received.

My observation is that the Lord keeps his promise to all those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

It is most important that we be on guard all the time and never abandon our standards in order to be popular or to enjoy the praise of men.
At this point his tells a story about an individual who resisted temptation when placed in a situation where it would have been very easy to go along.
As I told this story to a young man one day, his response was, “That action surely took guts, didn’t it!” I have thought since how true it is that to do right under similar circumstances does take guts or backbone or willpower, while to succumb shows weakness. Even the strongest must always be on guard.

It is at times like this that our decisions and actions often determine the course of our lives. Young men and some adults have trials or tests of this nature. There are different kinds of temptations where their loyalty and strength of character are really tested. If we will always remember who we are and that God is watching over us, we will be able to shun, or avoid and withstand such temptations. Always remember that you cannot play with fire without danger of being burned.

Though it is important that we make a living for our families, and as good citizens participate in community affairs, we must not become so involved in the things of the world that we forget or neglect our duty and responsibility as called and chosen children of God and holders of his priesthood. Unless we are continually on guard we will find ourselves gradually off the straight and narrow path until we have completely gone astray, becoming a great disappointment to ourselves, our families, and the Lord, and certainly not what we had anticipated or intended or wanted to be.

We find examples of this so often where a person, forgetting who he is, wants to be popular with his peers and wants their praise. So often athletes get so carried away with their success and desire for praise that they forget their duty to God and the importance of his approval and as a result lose their way. This applies equally to politicians, members of fraternal organizations, professions, and business. This craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as they succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow.

Someone said to me the other day when we were talking about this that those who constantly love the praise of men more than the praise of God are faint reflections of another—meaning Satan, of course—who in the preexistence wanted to save all mankind, but with one condition attached—that the honor and glory go to him, not to God. He was more concerned with credit than with results; glory and praise were the end in themselves. My friend went on to say that on the crucial issues, if individuals are more concerned with pleasing men than pleasing God, then they suffer from the same virus Satan had, for there are many situations where seeking the praise of men will clearly result in their hurting, not helping, mankind for they will do expedient and temporary things instead of those which are lasting and beneficial.

How much more satisfying it is when we receive the praise of God, knowing that it is fully justified and that his love and respect for us will persist, when usually the praise of men is fleeting and most disappointing.

It is shocking and appalling indeed to those who believe in the teachings of Christ to see how people in high places, in order to enjoy the praise of those who are so vocal in encouraging and promoting immorality, do not take a stand against these evils and promote the teachings of Christ which are so clearly stated in these words in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Ex. 20:14.)
He gives some other scriptures that are relevant.
We also find legislation having been passed and being passed legalizing these very things contrary to the will of the Lord. It is permissive legislation of the worst kind. Brethren, the Lord expects us as his priesthood holders to take a stand for right and do all in our power to oppose and discourage such action and to encourage our people to live according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I quote from Elder Neal Maxwell:

“The leader who is willing to say things that are hard to bear, but which are true and which need to be said, is the leader who truly loves his people and who is kind to them. Nothing is more cruel than that leader who, in order to have the praise and plaudits of his followers, entices them from safety into the swamp out of which some may never return. The straight and narrow way is just that—straight and narrow. It is an arduous up-hill journey. The way to hell is broad and wide and slopes ever so gently, and those who walk that path scarcely notice the descent; sometimes they don’t notice the descent because praise of men distracts them and they do not see the warning signs! The choice is still between the golden calf and the Ten Commandments.” (Unpublished letter dated Aug. 12, 1975, “Some Thoughts,” from Neal A. Maxwell to President Tanner.)
(I am unaware of this quote being published elsewhere. Elder Maxwell recognized that we are not necessarily kind to people by telling them the things that they want to hear, doing so can actually be cruel. We are kind when we tell them things that are true and need to be said even if they are hard to bear.)

My experience has been that President Tanner had it exactly right.

Lehi presents an even starker picture. Nephi describes how Lehi "also saw other multitudes pressing their way towards that great and specious building. . . . And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away." (1 Nephi 8:31-34) My experience is that the worst persecution comes from Church members who want the praise of the great and spacious building.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Growing the University

A growing university needs expanded facilities. So it was with the new University of Heidelberg. The University was founded in 1386, but benefited from actions of its benefactor in 1392. That was the year that Ruprecht II expelled the Jews from Heidelberg. So the university took what others had built and used it for their own, very different, purposes. Their synagogue became a chapel to Mary and a lecture hall. The university took over the other possessions of the Jews, particularly their land, for their own purposes. The current Marstallhof seems to be on this land.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Right to Bear Arms

The last couple of years, some of my American colleagues have protested the existence of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Some states had passed laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons on campus. These colleagues have determined to punish these states by boycotting them on the grounds that they would not feel safe on campuses in those states.

How things have changed! In fourteenth century Heidelberg the right to bear arms was also a source of tension between the students and professors at the university and the citizens of the city. But at that time, the citizens were not allowed bear arms, while the students and professors were!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Report on the Jerusalem Papyrus

For those who have been curious about the recent publicity given to the so-called Jerusalem papyrus. (See here, here, and here, for example.) Christopher Rollins, who is really good on Hebrew epigraphy, has a couple of posts on the subject on his blog. There are grammatical, lexicographical, and ductus problems with the papyrus that make it very likely that it is a forgery. More on the controversy can be found here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

About the Book

I see that the book has been announced, and has been getting some publicity. At least one of the advertisements claims that this is an update of my book A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri. Well, yes and no. The other book focused on the papyri and their relationship to the Book of Abraham. This one focuses on the Book of Abraham. So let's focus on some basic questions.

How are the books similar?

Both books will be informative to a scholarly audience but both are designed to be accessible to a non-scholarly audience. This means that I have tried to write it in a clear manner without scholarly jargon. Footnotes have been generally limited to direct quotations. Neither is terribly verbose.

How are the books different?

  1. The Introduction has fifteen more years of research behind it.

  2. The Introduction is focused on the Book of Abraham rather than the papyri, which is the subject more people are interested in.

  3. The Introduction is longer than the Guide. It has a different set of topics and covers more topics than the Guide did. It has about three times as many chapters.

  4. The Introduction provides annotated bibliography of works for further reading so that the reader has an idea of what might be hiding behind some of the mysterious titles in the bibliography.

What the book is not

This book is not a second edition of the Guide. There is some material in the Guide that is not covered in the Introduction. Where the two overlap, the Introduction is more up-to-date.

This book is not a fat scholarly tome that will necessarily answer every technical question about the Joseph Smith Papyri.

This book is not a commentary on the Book of Abraham. It follows the introduction genre that is generally well known and established in scholarly literature.

The book does deal with the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham, but this book is not a point by point analysis of the figures in the facsimiles. I have written that book but do not expect to ever see it appear in print.

Some other points

Over the last five years publication outlets for scholarly work on the Book of Abraham from a faithful perspective have mostly disappeared. I had about a five year backlog of research on the Book of Abraham that I had not published at that point. What I have been able to publish in scholarly venues has consequently slowed to a trickle. I now have an essentially ten year backlog of material that I have not been able to publish. This book is compatible with the unpublished research up to the time that the manuscript was closed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Idea of a University

In 1386 the ruler of Heidelberg, Ruprecht I, founded the university in Heidelberg. It was the third university in the Holy Roman Empire, following after Prague (founded in 1348) and Wien (founded in 1365). It was modeled after the Sorbonne in Paris. It was inaugurated on 18 October 1386 with a mass in the chapel at the Marktplatz in Heidelberg. The first classes were held the next day, covering Paul’s epistle to Titus, Aristotle’s Physics, and Logic. The university had three faculty members, led by the Dutch scholar, Marsilius von Inghen. It was not unusual for students to be as young as twelve.

The founding documents of the university called for four faculties: theology, law (both civil and canonical), medicine, and the arts. What distinguished the university from other institutions of learning is that students were expected to study in all the subjects and to be universal in their knowledge rather than specialists in one narrow subject. Echoes of both the subjects and the approach can be seen in the opening lines of Faust in Goethe’s play by that name:
Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie!
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor!
(Goethe, Faust, 354-359) 

Modern universities have strayed rather far from the original intent of a university. It is typical to emphasize the students becoming specialists rather than generalists. That narrowness of vision is exactly the kind of thing that a university was originally designed (and designated) to combat.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting III

From one brother's testimony at the end of the meeting:
Kehrt um!
What else is there to say?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting II

This thought from a sister who talked about her experience going to the temple for a couple of days during her time off from work:
If we are going to withstand the influence of Satan we need to hold fast to our covenants.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting I

I took some notes of some of the things that were said in Fast and Testimony meeting on Sunday. I wish I could properly attribute the thoughts but I am still trying to learn names.

One insightful brother works fixing things. He talked about how when you first come into a situation, the problem could be a thousand different things. What you want to do is figure out the simplest solution, and you need some understanding of the laws of physics in order to figure out what might be wrong and how to fix the problem.
The only way to solve the problem is to follow the laws that govern it.
This can apply to many things in the gospel and in our lives as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


From the New York Times:
Viewed in the least charitable terms, academia is a small fraternity of ambitious backbiters engaged in the production of work so dense that only other members of the order can hope to understand it.
 The writer then goes on to praise those who reject this idea.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Jacob Neusner (1932-2016)

I was sad to hear that Jacob Neusner passed away last week. He was a remarkable man, and an extremely prolific scholar.

My parents once spent an enjoyable evening at the opera with Professor Neusner and his family.

Neusner's amazing output was the subject of a joke I first heard about thirty-five years ago:
A man called Jacob Neusner's office. The secretary answered the phone and told the man, "I''m sorry. Professor Neusner is writing a book and cannot be disturbed." To which the man replied, "That's okay, just put me on hold."
About twenty-five years ago, Neusner weighed in on an argument going on in Mormon Studies. At the time David Wright and others were arguing that the Book of Mormon was not historical but merely inspired fiction, but that that somehow made it "true" in some sense. Wright and others also redefined the term "prophet" so that a prophet was some sort of inspired leader of a community, but not that he actually spoke with God or received revelation that had any sort of actual specific content. Others were publicly espousing these views but it was to Wright that Neusner responded in a nice little piece called "Is Wright Wrong?" The BYU Administration of the time wisely decided that Wright should not be paid with tithing funds to spread his ideas.

I am grateful for Professor Neusner weighing in on the side of the Church in this controversy. He was a decent man.

Good Intentions

Last night I attended a fireside. One of the comments that was made by one of the people in the audience struck me as profound. He said that good intentions were the opposite of courage.

The context was a discussion was how it takes courage to reach out to a spouse who may be critical. It is so much easier to substitute our good intentions that things be better than to actually have the courage to do anything about the problem. We can talk all we want about how we want things to be better, and how it is our intention to be kind and loving, we can even make some half-hearted efforts in that direction, but if we never have the courage to actually do something to demonstrate that, then our good intentions and empty words do not do anything.

Of course having the courage to demonstrate love can be taken as being offensive (and often is), and it is thus safer to retreat to the cowardice of good intentions.

In this context the old saying about how the road to hell is paved with good intentions takes on some interesting nuances.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Success Story

According to this news story:
"We helped over 100,000 people make advances in jobs and education and in starting and growing businesses" in 2015 alone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Question about the Exodus

Over at Sic et Non, Michael Hoggan asks the question:
Interesting, I remember reading about the possibility that Abraham wasn't from Mesopotamia several years ago. Since Dr. Gee places Abraham in the 2000-1800 time period, I wonder when he dates the Exodus.
Actually, I place Abraham a bit lower in time. The events in Abraham chapter 1 fit best into the reigns of Sesostris III and Amenemhet III. Conventionally that is dated about 1860-1800 BC. This means that Abraham is dated somewhere in the 1850-1750 BC range.

If we take the reference to Israel in the Merneptah stele as indicative of Israel being established in the land of Canaan, then the Exodus would fit somewhere in the middle of the reign of Ramses II (conventionally about 1280-1220 BC). There are other scenarios that can be entertained, but this is the simplest.

Monday, September 26, 2016

German vs. American Honesty

Last week in Priesthood meeting the topic was honesty. The instructor gave, as example of dishonesty, when an American is asked, "How are you?" and answers, "Fine." Americans see this as being polite. Germans see this as being dishonest or at least insincere. (The same word, Ehrlichkeit, is used for both honesty and sincerity.) Many American value politeness above honesty. Many Germans value honesty above politeness. While I do not want to advocate rudeness, I do note that I can recall more lessons on honesty than politeness.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Just a Nice Old Man who Tells Stories?

A couple of months ago I heard one of these Mormon Studies scholars refer to President Thomas S. Monson as "a nice old man who tells stories" but went on to complain that his messages had no importance. This seems to me at least a debatable proposition. So, I have assembled some of President Monson's messages over the last year and a half.

I plead with parents and leaders of our youth to help them stand firm for truth and righteousness. Help open wide to their view the gates of learning, of understanding, and of service in the kingdom of God. Build within them strength to resist the temptations of the world. Give them the will to walk in virtue and faith, to be prayerful, and to look to heaven as their constant anchor. (First Presidency Message August 2015)

Let us take most seriously the callings, the responsibilities, and the duties which come with the priesthood we hold.(General Conference April 2015)

Before you put yourself and your priesthood in jeopardy by venturing into places or participating in activities which are not worthy of you or of that priesthood, pause to consider the consequences. Remember who you are and what God expects you to become. You are a child of promise. You are a man of might. You are a son of God. (General Conference April 2016)

My brothers and sisters, in our lives we will have temptations; we will have trials and challenges. As we go to the temple, as we remember the covenants we make there, we will be better able to overcome those temptations and to bear our trials. (General Conference April 2015)

There is yet time this year to extend the helping hand, the loving heart, and the willing spirit—in other words, to follow the example set by our Savior and to serve as He would have us serve. (First Presidency Message December 2015)

To be an example of faith means that we trust in the Lord and in His word. It means that we possess and that we nourish the beliefs that will guide our thoughts and our actions. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in our Heavenly Father will influence all that we do. Amidst the confusion of our age, the conflicts of conscience, and the turmoil of daily living, an abiding faith becomes an anchor to our lives. Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. I reiterate what we have been told repeatedly—that in order to gain and to keep the faith we need, it is essential that we read and study and ponder the scriptures. Communication with our Heavenly Father through prayer is vital. We cannot afford to neglect these things, for the adversary and his hosts are relentlessly seeking for a chink in our armor, a lapse in our faithfulness. (General Conference October 2015)

May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. Without such faith, we go nowhere. With it, we can accomplish our goals. (General Conference April 2016)

In the Church, the goal of gospel teaching is not to pour information into the minds of God’s children, whether at home, in the classroom, or in the mission field. It is not to show how much the parent, teacher, or missionary knows. Nor is it merely to increase knowledge about the Savior and His Church.

The basic goal of teaching is to help the sons and daughters of Heavenly Father return to His presence and enjoy eternal life with Him. To do this, gospel teaching must encourage them along the path of daily discipleship and sacred covenants. The aim is to inspire individuals to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles. The objective is to develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to become converted to His gospel. (First Presidency Message March 2016)

Disregard for the commandments has opened the way for what I consider to be the plagues of our day. They include the plague of permissiveness, the plague of pornography, the plague of drugs, the plague of immorality, and the plague of abortion, to name just a few. The scriptures tell us that the adversary is “the founder of all these things.” We know that he is “the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men.”

I plead with you to avoid anything that will deprive you of your happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come. With his deceptions and lies, the adversary will lead you down a slippery slope to your destruction if you allow him to do so. You will likely be on that slippery slope before you even realize that there is no way to stop. You have heard the messages of the adversary. He cunningly calls: Just this once won’t matter; everyone is doing it; don’t be old-fashioned; times have changed; it can’t hurt anyone; your life is yours to live. The adversary knows us, and he knows the temptations which will be difficult for us to ignore. How vital it is that we exercise constant vigilance in order to avoid giving in to such lies and temptations.

Great courage will be required as we remain faithful and true amid the ever-increasing pressures and insidious influences with which we are surrounded and which distort the truth, tear down the good and the decent, and attempt to substitute the man-made philosophies of the world. If the commandments had been written by man, then to change them by inclination or legislation or by any other means would be the prerogative of man. The commandments, however, were God-given. Using our agency, we can set them aside. We cannot, however, change them, just as we cannot change the consequences which come from disobeying and breaking them.(General Conference October 2015)

Some find it difficult to withstand the mocking and unsavory remarks of foolish ones who ridicule chastity, honesty, and obedience to God’s commands. The world has ever belittled adherence to principle. When Noah was instructed to build an ark, the foolish populace looked at the cloudless sky and then scoffed and jeered—until the rain came.

On the American continent long centuries ago, people doubted, disputed, and disobeyed until the fire consumed Zarahemla, the earth covered Moronihah, and the water engulfed Moroni. Jeering, mocking, ribaldry, and sin were no more. They had been replaced by sullen silence, dense darkness. The patience of God had expired, His timetable fulfilled. (First Presidency Message July 2016)

We will all face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us—all of us—have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. . . .
[May] you have the courage to stand firm for truth and righteousness. Because the trend in society today is away from the values and principles the Lord has given us, you will almost certainly be called upon to defend that which you believe. Unless the roots of your testimony are firmly planted, it will be difficult for you to withstand the ridicule of those who challenge your faith. (First Presidency Message April 2015)

In these messages, we find specific counsel and, in some cases, repeated warnings. Many of these themes were repeated by President Uchtdorf this morning. Now I understand that some of these counsels will not be popular in certain quarters. Some, for example, might want to impress others with their learning and might be offended that President Monson has pointed out that theirs is an inferior goal. They might wish to dismiss him as a nice old man who just tells stories. Yes, he tells stories, but he does much more than just that. To me his counsel is wise and deserves to be heeded.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Today's Quote

From Russell M. Nelson, "Protect the Spiritual Power Line" (October 1984):

"Learning can be misused! A sharp mind, misdirected, can cut into that line of spiritual power. Some 'learned' souls delight in leading others astray, all in the so-called name of learning. Years later their victims may realize that they have climbed their ladder of learning, only to find it leaning against the wrong wall."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Today's Quote

I witnessed something yesterday that reminded me of a quote by Peter Novick:
"There is nothing more tedious than the spectacle of disgruntled authors complaining that they have been misrepresented or, even worse, whimpering that they have been misunderstood. Academic authors, above all others, should be immunized from such concerns, after years of seeing the versions of our lectures we get back in blue books at the end of the term."
(Peter Novick, "My Correct Views on Everything," American Historical Review 96/3 (1991): 699.)
I have often thought I have been misunderstood. Sometimes I have even felt deliberately misunderstood. When that occurs I often remember this quote.

Alas, authors who pretend to be academic but never teach classes have no such immunization. Such immunization also avails nothing to narcissists.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Metaphor for Apostasy

Psalm 73 in the Septuagint (where it is numbered Psalm 72) contains an unusual metaphor for apostasy:
οτι ιδου οι μακρυνοντες εαυτους απο σου απολουνται εξωλεθρευσας παντα τον πορνευοντα απο σου
For behold those who remove themselves from thee are lost; thou shalt destroy all those who fornicate from thee (Psalm 72:27 LXX).
This is actually a fairly close translation of the Hebrew. In the minds of the ancient Israelites immorality and apostasy are closely linked (see also Hosea).

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Bitter Cup

In Matthew 26:39 Jesus said:
Πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ’ ὡς σύ.
The King James translation gives this as:
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Because the cup is mentioned by Jesus, the expression is familiar, but where does the cup come from? Cups do figure into the Passover ceremony but not in such a way that it makes sense in the way that Jesus uses it.

The same term, cup (ποτήριον), shows up in Psalm 74:9 (Psalm 75:8 in the KJV):
ὅτι ποτήριον ἐν χειρὶ κυρίου οἴνου ἀκράτου πλῆρες κεράσματος καὶ ἔκλινεν ἐκ τούτου εἰς τοῦτο πλὴν ὁ τρυγίας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἐξεκενώθη πίονται πάντες οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ τῆς γῆς
For a cup of undiluted wine is in the Lord's hand, full of mixture and he tips it from this to this but its dregs will not be poured out, all the sinners of the earth shall drink them.
So the reference to drinking the cup seems to refer back to the cup that the Psalmist sang about, the cup of the wrath of God directed at sinners.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Ad for Addicts

Just in case you, or someone you know, is addicted to Ethiopia's most famous food, you can watch this video here.

One of the more interesting things to me is that this particular delicacy was mainly used by Muslims through the Middle Ages:
At one time coffee was consumed by Oromos and Muslims only. The clergy condemned the use of coffee. However, at a later date coffe won the palates and hearts of even the strictest of the priesthood.
Coffee did not become an intrinsic part of Ethiopian culture until the 1880s when Menelik [II, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to 1913] himself drank it. At that time the Egyptian Bishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Matewos [bishop from 1881 to 1926], dismissed the clergy's contention that it was a Muslim drink.
(Daniel J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking [Falls Church, VA: Ethiopian Cookbook Enterprises, 1993], p. xxvii.)
Abune Matewos, was born and educated in Egypt. He may not have understood the local Ethiopian Christian aversion to coffee; he certainly did not share it.

Why was coffee a Muslim drink. One of the main reasons was that coffee did not contain alcohol (like beer or wine) and so you could not get drunk from it, it required boiling so it killed the germs in the water, and it had its own chemicals with neurological side effects.

So coffee has always been prohibited by some Christian sect or other throughout its entire history.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Some Belated Kudos

I just noticed that my friend, Gary Gillum, is on the advisory board for Oxford Biblical Studies Online. That is great news. I have known Gary about thirty years. He is a wonderful man with an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects. He has quietly produced a wide variety of good work. I remember as an undergraduate extensively using two bibliographic works that he had prepared. I am glad that even though Gary has retired that he is still productive. What a coup for Oxford to get him involved in this project!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jürgen von Beckerath (1920-2016)

This came in from Angelika Lohnwasser:

Prof. em. Dr. Jürgen von Beckerath, 1920-2016

Am 26.6.2016 verstarb in seinem Haus in Schlehdorf/Bayern der frühere Direktor des Instituts für Ägyptologie und Koptologie der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Prof. Dr. Jürgen von Beckerath im Alter von 96 Jahren. Er war der zweite Vertreter der Ägyptologie in Münster und amtierte von 1970 bis 1985. Seine Karriere verlief nach früher „klassischem“ Muster: Promotion in München 1948, 1952 Reisestipendium nach Ägypten (als erster deutscher Wissenschaftler nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg), 1955 Stipendium der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft, später Assistent am Ägyptischen Museum in München, 1958 Lehrauftrag für Ägyptologie in München, Habilitation ebendort 1963, 1966/67 Associate Professor an der Columbia University in New York, 1970 Ruf nach Münster als Nachfolger von Walther Wolf. Chronologie und Geschichte des Alten Ägypten waren seine hauptsächlichen Forschungsschwerpunkte. Neben zahlreichen einschlägigen Artikeln (der letzte aus dem Jahre 2003) gehören drei Bücher zu seinen wichtigsten Veröffentlichungen: Untersuchungen zur politischen Geschichte der Zweiten Zwischenzeit in Ägypten (Habilitationsschrift), 1965; die beiden folgenden sind Handbücher geworden: Chronologie des pharaonischen Ägypten. Die Zeitbestimmung der ägyptischen Geschichte von der Vorzeit bis 332 v. Chr., 1997; Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen, 1984, 1999.
 I have found von Beckerath's Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen extremely useful (I was using it just yesterday).

I would like to highlight an article of von Beckerath's which I have found extremely helpful. Jürgen von Beckerath, "Die Lesung von "Regierungsjahr": ein neuer Vorschlag," Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 95/2 (1969): 88-91. In this article von Beckerath establishes that the reading of the regnal year group is ḥsbt, not ḥ3t-zp or rnpt-zp. This reading was confirmed in Kaul-Theodor Zauzich, "Das topographische Onomastikon im P. Kairo 31169," Göttinger Miszellen 99 (1987): 83-91.

It was also von Beckerath who pointed out that we really have no evidence that the Egyptians knew about the Sothic cycle before the Ptolemaic period.

It has been at least a decade since von Beckerath was active in the field, but he made some important contributions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Lutheran on the Trinity

Hans Fiene is a Lutheran pastor in Illinois. I am disappointed with his anti-Mormon tendencies but I appreciate his thoughtfulness. In this video, however, he makes a point that I have often heard my friend, Lou Midgley, make:
You cannot make a popular explanation of the Christian Trinity of the creeds without falling into heresy. 

From my perspective, the formulations of the creeds tend to be incoherent gibberish, and I appreciate a good Lutheran pastor being able to articulate this. Perhaps there is some common ground we can build on.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Many Books in a Preexilic Israelite Personal Library?

So how many books did the typical preexilic Israelite own? By books, we mean literary works or works of knowledge, not things like tax receipts and property deeds.

If I had to guess, I think that it would be pretty safe to say that the mode was zero. That means that a majority of ancient Israelites could not read and did not personally own any books. But some percentage of ancient Israelites could read. Some percentage of them did own literary texts or works of knowledge. Again, the absolute percentage need not be large, but chances are that if you were privileged enough to read, you probably wanted to possess something to read.

Unfortunately, we cannot answer that question, but we can get some idea by looking at ownership of literary works in the Neo-Assyrian empire. SAA VII 49-51 are three lists of tablets owned by various individuals in the Neo-Assyrian empire. The texts are somewhat fragmentary, but they typically list the works and how many tablets in the work, and a summary of the number of tablets accompanied by the name of the individual. Taking the entries where the total number of tablets owned is more or less intact in all of the texts, we get the following list (in ascending order by tablet):
  • Aplaya owned 1 tablet

  • Mushezib-Nabu owned 1 tablet

  • Tabni owned 2 tablets

  • Nabu-balassu-iqbi owned [x]+2 tablets

  • Nabu-shum-[. . .] owned [1]5 tablets

  • Assur-mukin-pale'a owned [1]8 tablets

  • Shamash-eriba owned 28 tablets

  • Nabu-shakin-shulmi owned [x]+37 tablets

  • [...] owned 100+[x] tablets

  • Arraba owned 185 tablets

  • Nabu-nadin-apli owned 188 tablets

  • Nabu-[. . .] owned 435 tablets
What is interesting about this list is the spread. About a third of those who owned tablets owned only one or two. About a third of them more than dozen tablets. About a third owned more than a hundred tablets. Remember these are literary texts or works of knowledge (the ancient equivalent of scientific literature). The average of those whose numbers are completely intact is 120 tablets.

I would expect ancient Israelite personal libraries to show a similar spread. Some would only own a work or two. Some would have several. What is somewhat surprising is that multiple individuals had extensive libraries, the equivalent of dozens of scrolls. We should suppose that ancient Israel would be the same.

It would be nicer to have a larger sample size. It would be nice if we had equivalent lists from Israel. But based on the information we do have, highly literate individuals with large libraries are known from pre-exilic Israelite times.

Friday, June 17, 2016

More on the Gospel of Jesus's Wife Forgery

Apparently Karen King, who introduced the papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife has admitted that the document is probably a forgery.

I noted evidence for it as a forgery four years ago. Interesting that the forger seems to have been an Egyptology student at one time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Some Perils of Mathematical Modeling

Mathematical models can be great. They do, however, have some limitations. Suppose, for example, that you are trying to predict some data that you suspect has some mathematical relationship and you want to know the future behavior. A mathematical model might be useful to predict the future results of the data. Your predictive abilities will only be as good as the model (or formula) that you are using. Presumably, if your model accounts for past data, it should work for future data as well. We'll keep this fairly simple.

Lets say that you start with an initial condition and it starts at zero. The next data point to come out is a one. So at x = 0, y = 0 and x=1, y=1. This gives us a nice formula: x = y. We are ready to predict the future. Our guess is that when x = 2, y =2. Our graph of the function looks like this:

This provides nice steady increase. If it is a graph of your investments, you will not be getting rich very quick, but you might not be getting poor either. If it is global temperatures, it might cause some concern. If it is crop yields per square meter, then it is steady and predictable.

But when x =2 comes out, it turns out that y = 0. Our prediction was off by 2. Our graph comparing our prediction with actual results looks like this:

This looks like a simple problem to fix. We simply change our equation to y = -x^2 + 2x. This equation also works for the first three values. Our graph comparing our prediction with actual results now looks like this:

Those curves are pretty close. We seem to be on the right track. Let's expand our prediction graph and predict what is going to happen in the future:

We predict that the next point on the graph will be -3. It looks as though the graph is going increasingly downward. If this is your return on investment, then it looks like you better get out of the market now. If this is global temperatures, then stock up on winter clothes.

In fact, the next point is -1. Again, we are off by 2. Out graph comparing our prediction with actual results looks like this:

This is a not so easy fix. We change our equation to y = (x^3)/3 - 2x^2 + 8x/3. This gives us the following graph:

This is not exact but it is close. If we look down the road, we can predict the following:

So if this is our investments, we should just ride it out because things look better down the road. If it is global temperatures, then hang on because things will get a lot hotter really quick.

When the next number comes in, it comes in as 0, exactly as our model predicted:

Surely, we are on the right track.

The next number, however, comes in as 1 rather then the 5 our model predicted.

Something is wrong again. If we look at our various model graphs, we can see that they end up going all over the place:

Clearly, while each of these graphs works for a bit, they all fail in the end. They all end up flying off on a tangent. This is even more clear when we look at the long term trajectories:

All of these graphs were based on the actual data, but they differ markedly in their projections (all of which turn out to be wrong in the long term). Remember that the extreme models accounted for almost the same range of data, but after a point made widely divergent predictions.

So, one take away is that the models, at some point, break down. We could make the models much more complicated and account for the first twenty points but they would then still go wildly wrong. The general point would remain. If you are looking at a fluctuating phenomenon and suddenly your model becomes monotonically increasing or decreasing (that is, it stops fluctuating) then that is the point where your model probably has broken down.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Herbert Donner (1930-2016)

This bit of sad news comes via Jack Sasson who got it from Wolfgang Zwickel, the authors are listed at the bottom:

Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Donner (1930-2016)

Am 28. April 2016 verstarb Prof. Dr. theol. Dr. phil. Dr. h.c. Herbert Donner im Alter von 86 Jahren in Kiel. Mit ihm verliert die Theologische Fakultät der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel einen ihrer profiliertesten Vertreter und einen international renommierten Wissenschaftler. Von 1980 bis zu seiner Emeritierung war er hier ordentlicher Professor für Altes Testament und Biblische Archäologie und amtierte zwischen 1985 und 1987 auch als Dekan der Fakultät. Zuvor hatte er seit 1963 als Professor für Altes Testament und Palästinakunde in Göttingen und seit 1968 in Tübingen gelehrt und geforscht.

Donner hatte in Leipzig eine umfassende theologische und altorientalistische Ausbildung erhalten und war dort mit einer Arbeit über die Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsgeschichte der eisenzeitlichen Kleinstaaten Israel und Juda zuerst zum Dr. theol., dann mit einer Arbeit über die keilschriftlichen Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungsurkunden des nordsyrischen Stadtstaates Alalah (Tell Açana) zum Dr. phil. promoviert worden. 1958 verließ er die Deutsche Demokratische Republik und habilitierte sich in Göttingen mit einer Arbeit über die Stellung der klassischen Propheten des 8. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. zur Außenpolitik der Könige von Israel und Juda. 1965 organisierte er die Finanzierung der Restaurierung der byzantinischen Mosaik-Landkarte in Madeba / Jordanien und wurde dafür - zusammen mit den beiden Restauratoren - vom griechisch-orthodoxen Patriarchen von Jerusalem zum "Ritter des Ordens der orthodoxen Kreuzträger vom Heiligen Grabe" ernannt.

In Kiel leitete er seit 1983 auch über seine Emeritierung hinaus bis ins Jahr 2010 die von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft finanzierte Gesenius-Forschungsstelle, deren Ziel es war, das "Hebräische und aramäische Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament von Wilhelm Gesenius" vollständig neu zu bearbeiten. Das Wörterbuch erschien zwischen 1987 und 2012 in sieben Lieferungen. 2013 konnte der Herausgeber zu seiner Freude das Erscheinen der einbändigen Studienausgabe erleben. Mit dem Wörterbuch leistete er einen grundlegenden Beitrag zur hebräischen Lexikographie. Seine zweibändige "Geschichte des Volkes Israel und seiner Nachbarn in Grundzügen", inzwischen in der 4. Auflage erschienen, gehört für die meisten Studierenden zur Pflichtlektüre, und vielen ist auch die Übersetzung der griechischen und lateinischen Pilgerberichte aus dem 4.-7. Jahrhundert ins Deutsche eine willkommene Arbeitsgrundlage. In seiner Eigenschaft als Vorsitzender des 1877 gegründeten Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas förderte er zwischen 1974 und 1992 entsprechende Untersuchungen und Publikationen. Die allgemeine Wertschätzung seiner Person kam auch darin zum Ausdruck, dass er nicht nur ordentliches Mitglied der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, korrespondierendes Mitglied der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft der J.-W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt und des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts war, sondern im Jahr 2000 mit dem Dr. theol. h.c. der Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Leipzig ausgezeichnet und zum Ehrenmitglied des Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas ernannt wurde. Seine Veröffentlichungen zeichnen sich durch umfassende Kenntnisse, nüchterne Urteile und einen unprätentiösen und klaren Stil aus. Seine ungewöhnlich vielfältige und ertragreiche wissenschaftliche Arbeit zur Geschichte und Kultur des antiken Palästinas ist mit ihm nun ans Ende gekommen.

Die Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel und ihre Theologische Fakultät werden sein Andenken in Ehren halten.

Ulrich Hübner,
Direktor des Instituts für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft und Biblische Archäologie,
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Markus Saur,
Dekan der Theologischen Fakultät der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

The last conference paper I presented relied heavily on one of the standard reference compendiums that  Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Donner produced, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. I would like to thank him for his good work. I am sorry that I was never able to do so in person.

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.