Friday, March 27, 2020

Are you against socialism?

If you are, then you had better return those checks from the government when they come, because that, my friends, is a form of socialism. If you accept those checks, you are de facto endorsing socialism.

Remember that the next time you complain about SNAP/food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, and those "lazy bums" who get government aid. This time, you are the lazy bum.

For a much better way of saying it, read this post. Here's a snippet:

Who would have thought that during an election year which was expected to be spent by republicans flogging anything that smelled of socialism or big government, that we’d find them so enthusiastically embracing it… at the hands of Trump, no less?

Goodbye days of, “Trump is gonna stop those stupid socialist libs from getting power and ruining the country by handing money out to people.”

Hello unexpected era of, “OMG, thank you Trump. When does my check come??” (emphasis original)

Read it all, and ponder it. And then read the New Testament book of James, especially chapter 2. Of course, it wouldn't hurt you to read a bit of Matthew 25:31–46.

Just an
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Hey, you! Can I borrow your god for a bit?

The third model is not present in the HB [Hebrew Bible], with the exception of the book of Ruth. In her passionate declaration that she will not return to Moab without Naomi, she expresses an intriguing belief system. Her adoption of the deities of her mother-in-law sounds like an example of lending a divinity.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 70

Marred, not removed

[W]e can affirm that all human beings must be considered as participating in the divine image. It is something that is more corporate than individual. Furthermore, it is clear from the occurrences throughout the biblical text that the image was not lost when Adam and Eve were sent from the garden, though it was marred. The functions that were entrusted to us in Genesis 1 are still our responsibilities, though our ability to carry out those functions may be hampered in a variety of ways by our current condition.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 196

Thursday, March 26, 2020

But what about those other gods?

Within the HB itself, a second model is identifiable; I would label it as conditional acceptance. Important parts of the HB imply a belief system that can be classified as monolatry, mono-Yahwism, or inclusive monotheism. “Monolatry” means recognizing the existence and value of other gods but discouraging their veneration by the members of the community. The concept of mono-Yahwism presupposes the possibility that the veneration of YHWH differed from region to region in ancient Israel.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 68

Much more than sin

Yes, many humans, though not all, are deeply aware of problems in their own lives, of pains and fears and sorrows and deep—rooted puzzles, and that may well bring them to the foot of the cross. But the message ought never to be simply about me and my salvation. It ought to be about God and God’s kingdom. That’s what Jesus announced, and so should we. The full good news is that in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, God has become king of the world. We look out at the world and see it in a terrible mess, and we are aware in our bones that we want to do something about it. But our own sin, our greed, our pride, our arrogance get in the way, and we rush off and try to do it in our own strength and (worse) our own way, like Moses trying to liberate Israel from Egypt by Egyptian means. He first needed liberating himself. We humans know in our bones that we are called to bring God’s wise order into the world. That is our Adamic inheritance, just as much as the entail of evil. But for that to become a reality we need, ourselves, to be rescued from the same problem that afflicts the rest of the world. We are rescued by the blood of the Lamb in order to be a royal priesthood; and the way in which that works, according to the New Testament, is the same way it worked for Jesus: taking up the cross, a suffering but joyful witness. That, too, is part of Paul’s picture of the redeemed Adam: we suffer with him, that we may (in line, remember, with Psalm 8) also share his glory. The distortions Western theology has introduced into Paul’s Adam-theology are cognate with the distortions, or the downright ignoring, that have happened in relation to the kingdom of God. They belong together; and together they may give us a sense of how to talk wisely both about salvation and about origins.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 180

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Queen of Heaven

They [the people of the land after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem] have a different view as to the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. To them the catastrophe is not the outcome of their continued veneration of “other deities” but results from a breach in what they construe as legitimate religion. They communicate the fact that from times of old they have worshiped the Queen of Heaven. At some point they stopped this veneration. Most probably this should be interpreted as a reference to the cult reformation under King Josiah. 2 Kings 22–23 narrate how this king of Judah reacted to the discovery of a law-book in the temple of Jerusalem. After finding this book of law—which most probably contained the kernel of what is now the book of Deuteronomy— Shaphan the royal secretary reads it aloud to the king. Josiah then takes drastic measures: the worship of YHWH must be concentrated in the temple of Jerusalem. All other sanctuaries throughout the land are declared illegitimate. Next, the cult is purified of strange and foreign elements. It is plausible that, in that process, the veneration of Asherah and/or the Queen of Heaven was banned. The Judeans whom Jeremiah confronts in Egypt understand the ruination of Jerusalem and their exile to Egypt as the consequence of this cult reformation. Their abandonment of the worship of the Queen of Heaven has caused the disfavor of this goddess. Ending their offerings to this deity has, in their perception, ended her protection, patronage, and blessing of the people of Judah, with catastrophic results. To regain the blessing of the Queen of Heaven, they start to appease her by bringing offerings.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 67

What is this imago dei anyway?

The notion of the “image” doesn’t refer to a particular spiritual endowment, a secret “property that humans possess somewhere in their genetic makeup, something that might be found by a scientific observation of humans as opposed to chimps. The image is a vocation, a calling. It is the call to be an angled mirror, reflecting God’s wise order into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to the Creator. That is what it means to be the royal priesthood: looking after God’s world is the royal bit, summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit. And the image is, of course, the final thing that is put into the temple (here I draw on John Walton’s careful exposition of Genesis 1 and 2 as the creation of sacred space, and the seven days of Genesis 1 as the seven stages of temple building), so that the god can be present to his people through the image and that his people can worship him in that image.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 175

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


To sum up: the Canaanite-pagan world has generally had a greater sensitivity for the numinous in creation than Judaism and Christianity. Like Baal in the Ugaritic epics, the Canaanites still heard and understood the “word of tree and whisper of stone, converse of Heaven with Earth, of Deeps with Stars, . . . the lightning which the Heavens do not know . . . and earth’s masses do not understand.” The Wisdom of Solomon suggests that this sensitivity of the pagan world confuses creation with the creator to some extent (Wis 13:1–7). In contrast to, for instance, the Roman disregard for humanity in slavery, gladiator games, or the exposure of infants, Judaism exhibits respect for all human beings and especially for small social units like nuclear or extended families; it has raised up the idea of social justice. In opposition to the worship of any kind of worldly greatness, especially the emperor, it placed the worship of the one invisible God at the center. Christianity has largely neglected the pagan sensitivity toward nature as well as the struggle for more justice in the world; instead it has focused on eternal life and a heavenly homeland untouched by worldly needs and pains. This orientation finds its realization in a universal compassion and love that is not directed at any single group of people, as was practiced by Francis of Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, or Mother Theresa.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 58

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Wow. Where do I begin? That description paints with far too wide a brush! Maybe coming from his background that's how things were, but coming from a Wesleyan background with a healthy dose of social justice and having grown up in the woods, that just doesn't ring true at all.
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Come on down!

Most interpreters agree that the Tower of Babel should be understood as a ziggurat. Ziggurats were the famous towers that characterized all the major cities of ancient Mesopotamia. They were built adjacent to the temple and were part of sacred space. Modern readers are often confused about the tower, having assumed that the people building it intended to use it to ascend to heaven. In fact, however, all evidence points in the other direction. The ziggurats were provided to facilitate the deity’s descent and were intended to invite him to do so. The idea was that the god would have a convenient means by which to descend to the temple so that he could receive the worship of his people.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 163

Monday, March 23, 2020

A bit of good news for a change

If you read nothing else today, do read this.
The virus can grow exponentially only when it is undetected and no one is acting to control it, Levitt said. That’s what happened in South Korea, when it ripped through a closed-off cult that refused to report the illness.

“People need to be considered heroes for announcing they have this virus,” he said.

The goal needs to be better early detection — not just through testing but perhaps with body temperature surveillance, which China is implementing — and immediate social isolation.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate appears to be significantly higher than that of the flu, Levitt says it is quite simply put, “not the end of the world.”

Based on the experience of the Diamond Princess, he estimates that being exposed to the new coronavirus doubles a person’s risk of dying in the next two months. However, most people have an extremely low risk of death in a two-month period, and that risk remains extremely low even when doubled.

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So, keep your social distance and don't panic.
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And the bottom line was blessing

If we follow the direction suggested by the omnipresent pillar figurines, we discover that, while the covenants, the election of Israel, YHWH’s presence in history, the law, sin and forgiveness, and justice and wisdom may be important, they nevertheless represent secondary themes. What the grand compositions of the First Testament point to—whether it is the so-called primordial history, the patriarchal narratives, Deuteronomy, or the Holiness Code—is blessing: blessing for individuals, for families, for tribes, for the people (Gen 9:1–7; 49:1–28; Lev 26:3–13; Deut 28:1–14, 33). The primary and often exclusive interests of exegetes (covenant, law, etc.) are only means to an end, means and ways of obtaining a blessing that guarantees vitality, fertility, and survival.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 42

Low-functioning creatures

Consequently, and third, we also live in a world characterized by disorder. This disorder is found in the ways that we harm the environment, the ways that we harm one another and the ways that we harm ourselves. Disorder is the result of sin, and it continues to reflect our inability to be as good as we were designed to be. Among its many deleterious effects, sin has made us low-functioning creatures, and the paltry order that we manage to bring is a caricature of what God has intended us for. All of creation groans (Rom 8:19–22) in this state of delayed order and rampant disorder, the latter being the result of sin. That sin is most basically manifested in the idea that we thought we could do better than God—a delusion that still plagues all of us.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 151–52

Sunday, March 22, 2020

And it's Sunday again

Seems that everybody is consumed by the latest news on the novel corona virus. But there was some other stuff that happened last week, too. For example, the Museum of the Bible announced that their Dead Sea Scrolls fragments are fakes. Chris Rollston, epigrapher extraordinaire, read a paper, saying among other things,
I shall be fairly forthright here. Here is a profile of the forger: I believe that the forger of these Dead Sea Scrolls forged fragments is a trained scholar in our field, with access to actual ancient scrolls. I believe that the forger forged them during the course of a few months, or more likely, a couple years (this also accounts for some of the variation in the script). I believe that venality (indeed, outright and blatant greed) is a primary motivation (literally, netting the forger millions of dollars for these Museum of the Bible forgeries), but greed is not the only motivation. I believe the scholar of these forgeries is particularly hubristic, and assumed he (or she) could fool all other scholars (and also probably delighted in this assumption). I do not think that these were forged as some sort of a joke (as was the case in the Coleman-Norton forgery and in the case of the Hebron Philistine Documents). Clearly, I believe that the forger is amoral. Also, I believe that the forger worked primarily alone, but could have included a paid friend or associate who had at least a high-school level knowledge of chemistry (these forgeries are not sophisticated enough to have included the assistance of a trained scholar in chemistry).
Sobering, isn't it? Wouldn't be the first time that's been true. Meanwhile, Sidnie White Crawford, who has probably spent more time among the physical scrolls than just about anyone alive, chimed in with her paper. Her conclusion? Yep, they're fakes.

In other non-COVID-19 posts, Roger Olson asks whether God can change. Read it.

And Scot McKnight discusses retirement—or why to delay it. Personally, I plan on working full-time until I'm at least 70 and continuing to copyedit stuff on a 20–30 hour/week basis as long as I'm mentally able.

Shift gears a bit here, as Philip Jenkins looks at martyrdom in the 20th century. Good stuff there; read it.

OK, the rest is pretty much COVID-19, so if you are sick of it, stop reading. But before you do, check out Bob on Books post about the difference between physical distancing and social distancing. Read it. He ends with this sobering paragraph:

None of our countries will be the same when this ends. David Brooks observed that after the 1918 flu pandemic, people avoided talking about it “because they were ashamed of how they behaved.” This pandemic could rend the fabric of our society even worse than it has been in recent years. Or it could re-focus us on what is important–the ways in which we are mutually dependent upon each other and every human being is of value. Are we going to hoard toilet paper and ammo, or invest in strengthening our social connections? While we practice physical distancing, will we focus on our social connectedness? You and I will make decisions in these next days and weeks that not only affect the health of millions but the fabric of our society. How will you choose?
Yep. A crisis reveals who you are. Don't like what you see in yourself during this time? Remember that's who you were all along and submit it to God and let him change you as you humbly allow him to. That's pretty much what Stephen McAlpine is saying, too, only much better than I can. Here's a snippet, but read it all:
But I check that larder just in case. How much flour is in there? Way more than I’ve ever had there before. If Elisha the prophet came to our place and offered us flour and oil until the virus is over I’d be like “No thanks, we’ve got this.”

Which is part of our problem. We’re so damned – and I mean that word – self sufficient. We’ve always got this.

Here are a few posts with some good pastoral advice: David Fitch on the power of a small group:
Could it be that God has given us this time to force us to discover again the power of presence in a group of fewer than ten people? To learn how to be present in the smallest of ways in our neighborhoods, even if they have to become virtual by necessity? As we sit, eat, listen, dialogue, testify, and pray, will we see space opened for the working of God’s Spirit in this land? Will we engage, pray for, and help neighbors during this time? Will we see an outpouring of God’s Spirit in this time of crisis?
Mike Glenn on how a punch in the face (like this pandemic) tends to show how your planning is, well, insufficient. After some very good advice, he sums it up with this:
The other major change is communities are watching to see how churches respond to their communities. Those who minister well during these challenges will be “validated” by their communities and new doors of evangelism and ministry will open in the future. Seeing the love of Christ lived out in real and life impacting ways will never be forgotten by our neighbors.
Yep. It shows what's really in us. That's the problem, as is our herd instinct, so says Benjamin Corey, in a post aptly entitled "Group-Panic is a Faster Moving & Far More Dangerous Virus than Corona." Good insights.

Carmen Imes wrote a post on liminal states, a good anthropological term that describes where we are. Allow this liminal state to be used by God to mold us, as they apparently did in a plague during the 1500s. Steve Perisho has the details. While the Anxious Bench looks at the history of Psalm 91 and death. Good stuff.

For those interested in the medical side of the virus, check out this pair of Atlantic articles: An interview with Francis Collins, director of the NIH and a devout Christian, and this, on how the virus as a virus operates. And Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, gives some straight talk. Read all three.

What about the economic implications? Nobody really knows, but this article compares it to other recessions/depressions, and comes to the conclusion that

The markets are not normal, either. The stock market lost 20 percent of its value in just 21 days—the fastest and sharpest bear market on record, faster than 1929, faster than 1987, 10 times faster than 2007. The financial system has required no less than seven emergency interventions by the Federal Reserve in the past week. The country’s central bank has wrenched interest rates to zero, started buying more than half a trillion dollars of financial assets, and opened up special facilities to inject liquidity into the financial system.

Yet in the real economy, everything has halted, frozen in place. This is not a recession. It is an ice age.

OK, I can't leave you in a depressed state with all this, so take a look at a humorous version of Teaching Online:
Due to concerns about COVID-19, our university recently gave me three hours to move our entire class online for the next three to sixteen weeks. I am providing these instructions for a seamless, uninterrupted course experience. I have never taught online before, but with the help of our men’s field hockey coach turned online-learning coordinator, I have developed a virtual experience that matches the intimacy and rigor we cultivated in our Philosophy of Face-to-Face Discourse In the Public Square class.
It devolves from there, but hopefully got a laugh from you, if only because it is far too accurate.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Flatten the curve

Updated 3/22/20: I don't delete posts, no matter how wrong-headed they are. When I wrote this one, I was in a very negative state of mind. Before you read it, you should check out this one. I hope he is right and the following is wrong.

That's what they are saying now (and have been for about a week). It makes sense, but it also means that the lockdown will be more extended. But the best way to prepare is not by hoarding and stockpiling! The best way is by being calm and exuding the peace of God in your daily life.

And this is serious stuff, too. The death rate in China for those who got the virus was running about 2–3%. That's double to triple what the average flu causes. But, the death rate currently in Italy, which is more like the United States in diet and habits, is running between 7–8% for those who get the virus (NPR). Think about that for a minute. If, as some are predicting (Merkel, prime minister of Germany), 80% of the population gets the virus, then we are looking at a potential of 18 million deaths (327.2 million in the US times 80% times 7%). Do the math!

By practicing social distancing, we flatten the curve. Yes, that means longer shutdown. But, by extending the time it also gives researchers a chance to develop a vaccine or discover other methods of mitigating the death rate.

Of course, you could change your diet, too. Stop eating junk food! It lowers your resistance. Take a look at this. Eat more fruits and vegetables. That's evidence-based advice, not a fad diet to make a quick buck.

And that's not just an
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How far is too far?

After stone and tree worship in Israel had been classified as typically Canaanite and proscribed as such, rejection took on increasingly radical forms. The walls of the sanctuary in the preexilic temple were adorned with palm trees, and there were apparently living palm trees in the courts, marking the temple complex as a paradisiac place of life (see Pss 52:10; 92:13–4). At some point in the postexilic period, the trees in the temple courts were cut down, as attested by a text written around 100 BCE and attributed to the Greek author Hecataeus of Abdera. There was no trace of any plant or sacred grove, as Flavius Josephus proudly reports (Against Apion 1.199). This process may seem strange to us, if not repugnant. The fear of being seen as worshippers of wood or the like often led to a completely insensitive relationship with nature.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 39

Saved from or saved to?

At the same time, it [viewing Adam and Eve as archetypes] changes nothing about the need we have for salvation and the importance of the work of Christ on our behalf. Perhaps, however, it will help us to remind ourselves that salvation is more importantly about what we are saved to (renewed access to the presence of God and relationship with him) than what we are saved from. This point is significant because too many Christians find it too easy to think only that they are saved, forgiven and on their way to heaven instead of taking seriously the idea that we are to be in deepening relationship with God day by day here and now.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 148 (emphasis original)