Friday, March 25, 2011

59% of White Evangelicals Think God Causes Natural Disasters

That is the number according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Institute. But even more curious is the next number. 67% of white Evangelicals believe that the increased severity of natural disasters is evidence of the end times. On the other side, 52% see it as evidence of Global Warming.

I am already skeptical of statics and surveys. And the numbers above don't help to change my mind. Either I don't understand the statistics or my math skills are off. Last I checked 67% and 52% equaled 119%. So either their numbers are off or those surveyed were VERY convinced of their opinion.

In any case, what is troubling is that a majority of people are more willing to blame God or God's plan to end the world for the recent spat of natural disasters. That a majority seems to think that human activity does not have at least some contributing factor is worrisome. The 40% who see this as God's way of testing faith or the 29% who think it is God punishing nations (see above graph) is also curious.

If one is going to embark upon such a theological explanation one would needs to look at all of the factors. If God punishes nations with natural disaster then God is a fairly capricious God. What I mean is, I can't remember when that last time a major earthquake or tsunami hit, say, England, or France. I suppose we could make a serious case for those countries being punished in much the same way as Japan. So the question is then, why some and not others? Is there an invisible set of scales in heaven that when tipped a little to far then "pow" some sort of natural disaster is sent from God?

And what about all of the innocent people who also are killed? Those who did not commit evil. The story of Abraham's negotiations with God over the fate of a "few righteous" (as few as ten) in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 suggests that God would, at the very least, rescue the "good people" before bringing a disaster upon a city or nation.

Or how about Cambodia during the time of Khmer Rouge? Here is a perfect example of evil. The atrocities committed against the people of Cambodia during this time were horrendous. Countless numbers of innocent people died. A former student of mine here at the seminary lost her entire family during that period. Yet, God never sent a tsunami to destroy those people. If ever a group of people deserved to be punished for their evil it was them.

Once again, I think Fretheim's suggestion that God created the world good, but not perfect is an appropriate way to think about things. And natural disasters are just that, natural. They are part of the created order. And we as humans only make things worse. Either through the way we pollute the planet, or our practice of building homes, schools and nuclear reactors on known fault lines, and then thinking that we can avoid the consequences. In such instances we demonstrate more evidence of the creature thinking that it is smarter than the creator.

Sometimes we blame the devil. Other times we blame God. I wonder how much we should just blame ourselves. We seem to be perfectly capable of creating our own messes and exacerbating the natural ones. Why would God or a devil need to get involved at all? We are perfectly capable of destroying ourselves and bringing about our own end.

Words that Shaped the World: Celebrating 400 Years of the King James Bible

Over the last three months Ashland Theological Seminary has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. As part of that celebration we held three lecture forums featuring eight speakers and/or panelists. Not all of the lectures focus on the KJV. In fact, only one does. We begin with a look at ancient manuscripts, move through church history, explore modern translation, and finish with a panel discussion.

Last night was our final event, but I have decided to make the video recorded lectures available to you below. Each session is approximately 90 minutes long and includes more than one lecture. These are unedited versions and so there is some lag time at the beginning of each one. Once the link loads you can fast forward to the beginning of the program. We had a great series of lectures and I hope you benefit from them as much as we did.

Shaping the Page - Watch Here

Dr. David deSilva -The First Translation
Dr. Terence Mournet - From the Scroll to the Book
Dr. John Byron - Many Manuscripts, One Book

Shaping the Culture - Watch Here

Dr. Paul Chilcote - Putting God's Words in the King's English
Mark Hepner - Translation in Papua New Guinea

Shaping You - Watch Here

What Translation is Right for Me?
A Panel Discussion with the ATS Biblical Studies Faculty

Dr. David Baker
Dr. Daniel Hawk
Dr. Paul Overland
Dr. Terence Mournet
Dr John Byron

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Animal Inclusive Translations of the Bible.

CNN is reporting that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is asking the NIV translators to remove species specific language from the Bible. Rather than refer to animals as "its" they should be "he" or "she". Here is an excerpt from the article.

PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is calling for a more animal-friendly update to the Bible.

The group is asking translators of the New International Version (NIV) to remove what it calls "speciesist" language and refer to animals as "he" or "she" instead of "it."

PETA is hoping the move toward greater gender inclusiveness will continue toward animals as well.

“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area ... it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area," Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president for policy, told CNN.

Friedrich, a practicing Roman Catholic, said, "Language matters. Calling an animal 'it' denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God."

“God’s covenant is with humans and animals. God cares about animals," Friedrich said. "I would think that’s a rather unanimous opinion among biblical scholars today, where that might not have been the case 200 years ago.”

Friedrich, who is also a vegan and suggests the Bible promotes vegetarianism, puts a religious face on PETA's ethical arguments.

“What happens in slaughterhouses mocks God,” he said. People know intuitively that "animals are 'who' not 'what.' ... Acknowledging it would better align our practices with our beliefs.”

David Berger, the dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel graduate school of Jewish studies, said making the shift in English PETA is requesting would be difficult given the nature of ancient Hebrew.

“In Hebrew all nouns are gender-specific. So the noun for chair is masculine and the noun for earth is feminine. There’s simply no such thing as a neutral noun," Berger told CNN. “It’s unusual to have a noun that would indicate the sex of the animal.”

I am really not sure what to say about this. And lest my blog be pummeled by spam, uh I mean zucchini, I think I will leave it up to you to read the rest of the article and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Infertility and the Bible 9: Conclusion

This will be the last installment of this series. I have had some interest in the topic, but not enough to move into other chapters that I have written on the topic. Many thanks to those of you who were reading.

Last week I wrapped up the plight of the childless widow. This week I provide a summary of the posts.

In summary, childlessness was not an option for women in ancient society. Unlike modern society, women did not have the choice to delay having children and they certainly could not choose to have a career rather than a family. A woman’s status and significance within her husband’s household was determined and/or confirmed by her ability to produce an heir. Bearing children was of such paramount importance that numerous marriage contracts which have survived from antiquity contain provisos about what would happen should the woman fail to conceive. Childlessness was seen first and foremost as a defect in the wife. Moreover, it led to the suspicion that she was guilty of some nefarious act that had caused the gods to withhold the blessings of children from her.

When a woman was unable to have children her status in the home was threatened. Without an heir the husband’s legacy was under threat of extinction. The childless wife faced several possible outcomes. Her husband could divorce her and marry another woman. If the man produced a child with his new wife, the childless wife was relegated to a life outside of marriage. Who would want to marry a divorced woman who had already demonstrated her inability to conceive? The second option was for her to remain in the home while her husband married a second wife. While this allowed the childless woman a place within the household it did not guarantee her future financial and social security. If a second wife had been brought into the home and produced an heir, then it was that woman who would benefit most from the marriage. The first wife’s status was ambiguous. She was a wife, but did not provide the needed heir. Since a woman’s place in society was predicated on her association with a male, the thought of being a childless widow was a frightening prospect. Once her husband was gone there were no guarantees that wife number two and her son would care and provide for wife number one.

Adoption was an option that probably worked best for both husband and wife. This way of circumventing infertility protected the childless wife from being excluded from the household and provided an heir to the husband’s legacy. But while this is well attested in antiquity, its presence in the Bible is strangely absent. It is never presented as an alternative to childlessness. Although a viable alternative, it is not presented as such by the authors of the Bible.

For those who could afford it, surrogacy through a female slave was an option. But while this method solved the problem of childlessness for the wife, it projected her ambiguous status onto the slave woman. Motherhood altered the status of the female slave within the household. If she displeased her master and/or mistress she could be treated harshly, demoted within the ranks but not sold. The presence of her son, the recognized heir of the household, provided her some protection. But she was unable to fully benefit from his position. Her son was the heir, but she gained nothing from that status. Her status was ambiguous. She was a slave but could not be sold, a wife who had no power and a mother who would not be supported by her son. She was relegated to a life of slavery and then released whenever her master, the father of her son, died.

In antiquity infertility did more than create a social stigma. The outcome could mean a lost inheritance and social and financial ruin. In an era with limited medical knowledge about infertility and no adoption agencies, powerlessness to alter the circumstances was more than a feeling. It was the unavoidable reality. There was often very little that could be done. For the childless women, the consequences and stakes of infertility were quite high. They were emotional, relational, financial and social.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update: a Photo of one of the "Jesus Plates" and a question about the number of arms on the menorah

Jim West via Robert Cargill has posted a picture of one of the recently discovered plates. Bob's comments are below the photo.

I note that the candleabrum/hanukiah in the picture is 9-branched (8 + shamash), not the typical 7-branched menorah that we find depicted, for instance, on the Arch of Titus, which was erected in 82 CE long after the Maccabean Revolt. Were these 9-branched hanukiot typical at this time? If not, would the presence of a 9-branched hanukiah be evidence of a forgery? Or would this have to be the earliest example of a 9-branched hanukiah? If anyone knows of an earlier hanukiah, I’d be interested to learn.

Robert Cargill, UCLA

Bob asks an important question here. I had a quick scan through Rachel Hachlili's The Menorah, The Ancient Seven-Armed Candelabrum (Brill, 2001). She mentions that there are examples of menorot with more or less than seven arms. She lists some on pp. 438-39; 464, 477. Some do come from the land of Israel, although she noted that they are predominately from the Golan (69, 200). Many of these examples come from the 4th-5th century CE, but she also lists some from the 1st century (441-42), which suggests that a nine branched Menorah is not an indicator of a forgery.

New manuscripts detailing the last years of Jesus' life.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the discovery of some 70 lead codices that purportedly contain stories about Jesus' later life. Here are some excerpts from the article, brief as it is.

Artifacts discovered in a remote cave in Jordan could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus. The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices - tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection - has excited biblical scholars. Much of the writing is in code, but experts have deciphered images, symbols and a few words and the texts could be 2,000 years old.

Many of the codices are sealed which suggests that they could be secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra - an appendage to some versions of the Bible. Texts have been written on little sheets of lead bound together with wire.

A number of experts have examined the writings, including Margaret Barker, a former president of the Society for Old testament Study with a renowned knowledge of early Christian studies.

Ms Barker said: 'There has been lots of shenanigans. Vast sums of money have been mentioned with up to £250,000 being suggested as the price for just one piece.' She has had access to photographs taken of the codices and scrolls, and is wary of confirming their authenticity.

But she said if the material is genuine then the books could be 'vital and unique' evidence of the earliest Christians. 'If they are a forgery, what are they are forgery of?' she said.' Most fakes are drawn from existing material, but there is nothing like this that I have seen.'

However, Philip Davies, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield University is convinced the codices are genuine after studying one. He has told colleagues privately that he believes the find is unlikely to have been forged

Read the whole article here. There is also a story about the codices in the Jewish Chronicle.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months and years. There have been many forgeries over the last century. Some were created by those seeking money. Others were created by scholars in an apparent attempt to boast their prestige, or at least to fool their colleagues. I have great respect fro Phillip Davies, but will wait to see what to hear the final determination.

Update: Jim West has provided a link to what is being billed as the official press release concerning what are being billed some as the Jesus Tablets.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How important were Jesus' brothers in the early Christian movement?

Last week I had a link to the 50th episode of Mark Goodacre's NT Pod in which he discusses the possible identification of Jesus' sisters. This week he looks at the identity and activity of Jesus' brothers and asks: What do we know about the brothers of Jesus?

Interestingly, Goodacre does not start with the gospels but with Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul mentions the brothers of Jesus and their wives. Goodacre points out that these family members appear to not only be known followers of Jesus, but are also active in spreading the message about Jesus. Paul compares them to himself and Peter in the context of defending his ministry.

Of course all of this, as Goodacre points out, does not match what we find in the gospels. For instance in Mark 3:20 Jesus' family sets out to get hold of him since they think he is crazy and in John 7:4 we read that not even Jesus' own brothers believed in him.

So what happened?

Was there a change of heart? Was it because of a resurrection appearance to them? Or was it because the brothers were actually much more involved from the beginning and when the gospel writers came to the brothers role it was spin in a much more negative light? Did some early Christian writers have concerns about or objections to the prominent role taken by some of Jesus' family, James in particular, and therefore portrayed them in a negative light? Listen to what Goodacre has to say and see what you think.