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.