Friday, April 17, 2015

Verb-first

Biblical scholars have long been aware that finite clauses in BH are most frequently verb-first. This fact was noted by the 19th-century biblical exegete Malbim (Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Jeḥiel Michael, 1809–79). Malbim (1973: §111) states that the general rule is that the sentence begins with the verb. In his commentary on 1 Kgs 20:18, Malbim (1964: 209) explains this rule as deriving from the principle that the most important item comes first. The verb is generally first because it is usually most important. A noun may be preposed in order to specify something about the noun or in order to express contrast, contradiction, or exclusion (Malbim 1973: §111).— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 10

We are communal beings

The Cartesianism Heidegger targets throughout his treatise [Being and Time] famously revolves around the conception of a self-possessed subject: I am who I am first; I am affected by the world second. But if, as Heidegger contends, this conception is untenable, if, on the contrary, affectedness is ontological or basic then it follows that people are among the things which affect me at my very core. The corollary of the Cartesian affirmation that I am who I am first and affected by the world second is that I am first in isolation and second in community...[But] we are not free-floating subjects who flit in and out of community at will. Rather, in the crowd is where we find ourselves. Accordingly, ‘concern’ for another person, him or her mattering to us, in not an option we select. It is intrinsic to our way of being; it is natural for us.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, page 101

But is it really a resource?

Most contemporary economic theories, whether capitalist or socialist, treat labor as a natural resource or commodity, on a par with raw materials, and speak in the same terms of its cost and supply. What is hidden by the metaphor is the nature of the labor. No distinction is made between meaningful labor and dehumanizing labor. For all of the labor statistics, there is none on meaningful labor. When we accept the LABOR IS A RESOURCE metaphor and assume that the cost of resources defined in this way should be kept down, then cheap labor becomes a good thing, on a par with cheap oil. The exploitation of human beings through this metaphor is most obvious in countries that boast of “a virtually inexhaustible supply of chap labor”—a neutral-sounding economic statement that hides the reality of human degradation.—Metaphors We Live By, pages 236–37

Forgiveness is first

These passages illustrate two things: first, to be included among the sons of God, a disciple must be willing to forgive even their enemies. Second, would-be sons who refuse to forgive their enemies exclude themselves from being or becoming “sons of God.” Moreover, forgiveness is concretely related to repentance (Luke 24:47) and to a disciple’s acceptance that the ways that Jesus proclaims as the way for Israel are indeed God’s ways (Mark 2:5).—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 80

Thursday, April 16, 2015

If it were simple, we wouldn't be arguing about it...

One of the parameters by which languages can be classified is basic word order. “Basic” is often understood to mean the pragmatically unmarked or neutral word order. Of the several orders allowed by a particular language, usually one order occurs in a wide variety of discourse contexts, whereas the others have more restricted uses. The word order with a broader contextual distribution is the unmarked or basic order…

Basic word order is sometimes used to mean the statistically dominant order, the one that is most frequent in spoken or written texts. There is a widespread assumption that the pragmatically neutral word order is also the most frequent. According to Greenberg (1966b: 67), textual frequency is the only criterion by which basic word order can be established. “Statistically dominant” is clearly a less meaningful definition of basic word order than “pragmatically neutral,” because frequency is a feature of language use rather than language structure. In practice, however, researchers usually rely on textual frequency in establishing basic word order, because proving that a particular order is pragmatically neutral is an extremely involved procedure, requiring the identification and classification of all discourse contexts in which each word order occurs.— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, pages 7–8

Origins matter

How do they come among us, these bodies? We see around us smaller instances of ourselves, younger bodies, the less developed forms of children, infants, and babies, of those on four legs and those on two. But these smaller ones do not come from nowhere. They are not self-posited, nor simply deposited among us. How, then, do they arrive in our midst? Answer: we look back and we find them emerging out of the bodies of others, every single time.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, page 14 (emphasis original)

It is true

In general, the true statements that we make are based on the way we categorize things and, therefore, on what is highlighted by the natural dimensions of the categories. In making a statement, we make a choice of categories because we have some reason for focusing on certain properties and downplaying others. Every true statement, therefore, necessarily leaves out what is downplayed or hidden by the categories used in it.—Metaphors We Live By, page 163

True greatness

Jesus thus defines true “greatness” as suffering service to others, not the exercise of dominion over others. For, according to Jesus, those who consider themselves to be the rulers of the nations do when they “lord it over” (κατακυριεύουσιν [katakyrieuousin]) their subjects and “exercise authority” (κατεξουσιάζουσιν) over them do not establish justice and peace, but treat those over whom they rule as if they were foes, and exploit them for their own personal advantage.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 78

<idle musing>
And that is just as true today as it was then...we see a lot of public servants serving themselves and exploiting the public for their own enrichment. The more things change, the more they stay the same...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Word order

The VSO language group makes up about 10% of the languages in the world (Carnie and Guilfoyle 2000: 3), including most of the West Semitic languages, Egyptian, Berber, Celtic, and other languages (O’Connor 1980: 118).— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 7

No ethics? Meta-ethics might be a better term

[W]hen phenomenological scholars have declared that Heidegger ‘had no ehtics’, they were simply appreciating the fact that phenomenology is a descriptive rather than an action-guiding philosophy. Devoid of ethical claims, phenomenology has never sought to issue forth policy recommendations. To that extent, in the final analysis phenomenology returns us to the metaethical debate about the foundations of ethics, about which principles are needed to sustain practices we already cherish and, if those principles are adopted, what their full implications are.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, page xvi

Concealing or revealing the truth?

Though questions of truth do arise for new metaphors, the more important question are those of appropriate action. In most cases, what is at issue is not the truth or falsity of a metaphor but the perceptions and inferences that follow from it and the actions that are sanctioned by it. In all aspects of life, not just in politics or in love we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor.—Metaphors We Live By, page 158

Take up the cross

These texts show that the disciples’ cross is not what it is often thought to be—a metaphor for some difficult family situation, a personal loss, a crushing debt, the frustration of one’s hopes, a nagging in-law. It is, rather, what Jesus’ cross was—the price likely to be extracted by the rulers of the world for one’s nonconformity to the ways of the world and for challenging injustice and worldly conceptions of power. For this is not only what brought Jesus himself to be crucified. It was what he was consciously aware would bring him to this end. So being a “son of God” entails being ready and willing to endure persecution and suffering, even to the point of martyrdom, for the sake of faithfulness to God (cf. e.g., Matt. 5:9-12).

Self-Denial:Despite what many of us who were brought up in penitential atmospheres have been taught, in the teaching of Jesus to “deny oneself” (ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτῷ [aparnēsasthō heautō]), especially when it is linked, as it is here, with a command to “take up one’s cross,” has little to do with the practice of asceticism (i.e., to deny something, especially pleasures, to oneself). Rather, it involves the rejection of a presumed prerogative, in this case the right to defend one’s life (ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι [psychēn autou sōsai]) at all costs when faced with danger or death. More particularly, when we take into account how Jesus links “saving” one’s life with seeking “to gain the whole world” (κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον [kerdēsai ton kosmon holon]) and what seeking “to gain the whole world” signifies, to “deny oneself” means to give up as valid any idea that one has the right to preserve self or life from danger or death through the exercise of self-aggrandizing power. So, “to deny oneself” entails not only accepting a posture of defenselessness in the face of danger and death but also rejecting seeking worldly power and dominion through worldly means.—The Disciples’ Prayer, pages 71–72

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Planting time

We've been having some amazing weather here the last few days. The temperatures have been in the lower 60sF, which is about 20ºF warmer than average. In fact, the whole of spring from the beginning of March has been warmer than the last few years.

Of course, that gives me the gardening itch : ) I was tempted to plant in the cold frames at the beginning of March, but knew better than that. But, this weekend I couldn't resist (and it's about time anyway). I planted peas, radishes, and spinach seeds in the cold frames. And I transplanted 36 small heads of Romaine lettuce from the basement into two frames.

I had planted them back in February in a 4 foot section of rain gutter filled with potting soil. I also planted radishes and spinach about the same time. The spinach get real leggy and tough—it just won't grow well for me under lights. That's my second year attempting it and I'm giving up. But the radishes and lettuce did OK. We've been eating fresh radishes from the basement for about 2–3 weeks now. They aren't as bit as from outside, but at least they exist : )

Anyway, back to the lettuce...I tried it last year with poor success. It didn't germinate well and got too leggy. This year, I had newer seed and I made sure to keep the lights very close. The results were much better. The heads are shorter and tighter. And now that they are outside, they should do well. In a few weeks we'll be eating fresh Romaine from the garden. Even if it gets cold and snows, it should do OK; I always use a Winter Density version to resist the cold. In Indiana, I had it growing most all winter in the hoop house, so a few cold blasts won't harm it.

We had a few Romaine plants left after transplanting, so we ate them. Not much of a meal, but were they ever tender—and tasty! So much better than the store-bought stuff, even the organic, locally-raised stuff...

In other gardening news, I've got pepper, tomato, broccoli, cabbage, leek, and onion seedlings growing under lights in the basement. They are doing well and should be ready to go out under row cover by the middle of May.

I'm also experimenting with a few broccoli plants in self-watering containers down there. I was hoping to get fresh broccoli over the winter, but I delayed in planting them too long. But they do appear to be doing ok. We'll see what they produce...

We also started cleaning up the cabins, getting ready for the new season. We don't open until May 8, but it doesn't hurt to be ready early. I'm starting to replace the bathroom floor in Birch. I'm hoping it isn't too bad, but I won't know until I get the tile up. Last year, what we thought would be an easy repair ended up being a large section of rotted subfloor once we got the tile up...at least this year it's above freezing : )

It, too, is lacking

In a parallel way, in Chapter 3, I contend that the contract formulation of encounters, emanating as it did from the seventeenth-century political philosophy, tempts us to conceive of human encounters which are not mutually dependent and equally willed by both parties as in some way lacking. This leads in turn to our missing the significance of what Heidegger termed the Geworfenheit or essential fortuitousness of life—the fact that in the first instance we are ‘thrown into’ an encounter in which we are fully dependent upon the other party.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, page xiii

All grace, all the time

[H]eaven surely does not compartmentalize its grace, but we speak about types of grace because of the way that they have come to us. The same gracious act of God that enables people to believe is the same grace that saves, which is the same grace that brings necessary, cooling rains to a rebellious world with each new providential morning.— Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity, pages 221–222

Through narrow glasses

New metaphors, like conventional metaphors, can have the power to define reality. They do this through a coherent network of entailments that highlight some features of reality and hide others. The acceptance of the metaphor, which forces us to focus only on those aspects of our experience that it highlights, leads us to view the entailments of the metaphor as being true. Such “truths” may be true, of course, only relative to the reality defined by the metaphor.—Metaphors We Live By, pages 157–58

Becoming a "son" of God

Jesus taught a number of things about how one becomes or remains a “son” of God. Some of them involved eschewing traditional sources of gaining or maintaining “honor,” such as family connections (see Matt. 10:37-38 // Luke 14:25-35; Matt. 12:46-50 // 8:19-21 // Mark 3:31-35), wealth (Matt. 19:23 // Mark 10:17–23 // Luke 18:24), social status (Matt. 18:1-5 // Mark 9:33-37 // Luke 9:46-48), and possessions (Matt. 19:16–30 // Mark 10:17–31 // Luke 18:18–30). But it seems that the most important of these ways had to do what Jesus called “taking up his cross,” “denying oneself,” “manifesting true greatness,” showing indiscriminate and limitless forgiveness (especially of one’s enemies), and being what Jesus called an εἰρηνοποιός (eirēnopoios), a “peacemaker.”—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 69

Monday, April 13, 2015

I-it or I-thou? It matters

Buber’s picture of encounters, so I argue in Chapter 2, has ‘held us captive’ by making us think that any human encounter which is not characteristized [sic] by a certain degree of reciprocity—which is not suffused by affection or highly inter-subjective—is sub-personal (for Buber, an ‘I-It’ form of relation). Though Buber is more nuanced in what he actually wrote (particularly in the later essays, which serve to qualify his pioneering treatise of 1917), the legacy of his strongly polarized scheme is essentially to idealize encounters. And the effect of this is to dismiss the original encounter between mother and ‘newone’ [his word for the entity in the womb] as in some way ‘inauthentic’, in turn ensuring that we miss the significance of the condition of hiddenness in which human beings first make their entrances in the world.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, pages xii–xiii

But it contradicts my favorite presuppositions

Prevenient grace is an attractive doctrine in many ways, most of all because it makes overall sense of Scripture’s powerful collection of human opportunity verses, command and exhortation passages, and the rational thinking capacity that the Lord expects us to employ in the process of biblical understanding. Many opponents of prevenient grace oppose it not because it is an injustice to the biblical data, but simply because it offers a solution to the human depraved condition through the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit that undermines the exaggerated larger sovereignty of God. Additionally, the doctrine supports the genuinely universal opportunity of the gospel and confronts the unconditional election and perseverance that construct Calvin’s theology. We have shown how prevenient grace is strongly implicit in Scripture, not contrary to any other biblical passage, and the best overall theological explanation for the universal opportunity and free will passages in the New Testament.— Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity, page 217

<idle musing>
Indeed! As usual, presuppositions block the ability to see the forest...
</idle musing>

A bit of action

New metaphors have the power to create a new reality. This can begin to happen when we start to comprehend our experience in terms of a metaphor, and it becomes a deeper reality when we begin to act in terms of it. If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our action on, it will alter that conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system give rise to.—Metaphors We Live By, page 145

What's expected

To answer this, let’s first note two things about Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. First, it takes its cue from the presentation in the book of Deuteronomy regarding (a) who Israel was divinely commissioned to be and (b) what faithful Israelites were exhorted to do to avoid showing themselves as a “wicked and adulterous generation.” This notably involved, among other things, not grumbling against God when he provided for their needs, not doubting the efficacy of his ways for them to bring them to their promised destiny, and not putting him to the test. This fact will prove to be significant when we come below to assess the long-standing and widespread view that the aim of the Disciples’ Prayer is to pray down into the present some things that Jews thought to belong properly to Israel’s expected future.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 68

Friday, April 10, 2015

The goal is God

Theological hermeneutics is not an intermediate, descriptive step between biblical studies and systematic or dogmatic theology that must somehow find a way to be relevant. I will not be offering here an approach where first the theology of a particular New Testament book is described, then its relevance for Wesleyan systematic theology is established. Instead, the approach here will consider the interpretation of Scripture as vital to the formation of Christian identity, specifically within the Wesleyan tradition. It will pursue, through interaction with John Wesley’s hermeneutics, how Wesleyan beliefs and practices inform the reading of Scripture, and in turn how Scripture informs Wesleyan beliefs and practices. It will assume that reading Scripture is not a set of steps—say, from grammatico-historical exegesis, to theological description, to constructive theology—but rather an ongoing, living interaction that has no clear starting point, and whose end is not the execution of a methodology but God.—Reading the Way to Heaven, page 5

Phenomenology and ethics

The pivotal presupposition which justifies this application of phenomenology to ethics is that ethics has a stake in description. Some of the most pivotal moral decisions we face, even decisions taken at moments of crisis, hinge upon competing descriptions. How we describe something—some phenomenon in the world, some situation in which we find ourselves involved—makes all the difference as to how we decide we are permitted to act. Say, for example, someone was to describe sex as a purely physical encounter. Would it be coincidental that that person then seized any sexual opportunity that presented itself regardless of any existing relational commitments he or she might have? Well, so too with the beginning-of-life ethics: how we think we are justified in acting depends upon how we have described the entity found inside the mother’s womb and, indeed, to the whole phenomenon of human emergence.—Ethics at the Beginning of Life, page xi

<idle musing>
This dovetails nicely with the last post, doesn't it? How we picture things affects what we see. Metaphors matter. The stories we tell ourselves, the way we picture ourselves, all influence who we are and how we act.
</idle musing>

The hound of heaven

The Spirit convicts the sinner and invites him or her to salvation, but the Spirit also permits hard-heartedness to be a legitimate human response. In fact, generally the Holy Spirit gives stronger and weaker evidence of the presence and blessing of God according to our response to him. In doing all of these acts, the Holy Spirit gives evidence of God’s presence and calls for all glory of a saved sinner to be credited to God.— Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity, page 206

Words matter

Is paraphrase possible” Can two different sentences ever mean exactly the same thing? Dwight Bolinger has spent most of his career showing that this is virtually impossible and that almost any change in a sentence—whether a change in word order, vocabulary, intonation, or grammatical construction—will alter the sentence’s meaning, though often in a subtle way.—Metaphors We Live By, page 136

<idle musing>
Another reason that the Italian phrase "traduttore, traditore" (the translator is a traitor) is so accurate. Every change affects meaning, however subtly.

And that's also why the copyeditor's job is tough at times. You want to make sure the author's argument comes through the most effectively—but you have to make sure that in doing so you aren't changing it. Sometimes that's easier than other times.
</idle musing>

What it is

At this point, we have established three things about the Disciples’ Prayer. It is most certainly a prayer and not a compendium of Christian doctrine. It is a Jewish prayer. And, from all appearances, it is the creation of a particular individual, not simply a derivative from corporate prayers allegedly (but doubtfully) used in synagogue worship in the first century.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 62

A simple task

We are not asked to do anything spectacular. We are entrusted with the task of quietly giving the light of Christ’s spirit and God’s love to a world of human need. No storm can extinguish this light, a light that no darkness can overcome.—Christoph Blumhardt in The Hidden Christ, page 67

Thursday, April 09, 2015

It's official!

Just announced, on Jack Sasson's Agade e-list:

Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary
Michael V. Fox
Hardcover $69.95 ISBN 9781628370201
500 pages The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition 1
https://secure.aidcvt.com/sbl/ProdDetails.asp?ID=062401C&PG=1&Type=BL&PCS=SBL

It's nice to see it in print after spending so many hours poring over it in PDF and print outs. I just hope nobody finds any especially egregious errors!

Spirit-assisted

[Wesley] believes that natural man is free only to do evil, while Spirit-assisted man is able to repent of sin, and this has been true since the Fall. God’s enabling us to believe is not meritorious in itself, nor is it inevitably saving. Wesley affirms our absolute dependence on God’s grace for repentance, even though it comes through the divine empowering to have faith: “We must be cut off from dependence upon ourselves, before we can truly depend upon Christ...till we are delivered from trusting in anything that we do, we cannot thoroughly trust in what he had done and suffered.” [Wesley, “The Lord Our Righteousness”]— Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity, page 153

It hides as much as it reveals

The RESOURCES metaphors for labor and time hide all sorts of possible conceptions of labor and time that exist in other cultures and in some subcultures of our own society: the idea that work can be play, that inactivity can be productive, that much of what we classify as LABOR serves either no clear purpose or no worthwhile purpose.—Metaphors We Live By, page 67

<idle musing>
Indeed. A metaphor is a powerful thing. It hides just as much, if not more, than it reveals. By comparing X with Y, you are excluding all other options. You are directing people's thoughts to the particular aspect of X that you want people to notice.

Usually this is a subconscious thing, but not always. You want your version of the truth to be the strongest, so you naturally will choose the metaphor that presents the strongest case.
</idle musing>

First Century Synagogues

For it is now clear, thanks to the investigations of Lee Levine and Richard Horsley on first-century-CE synagogues, and of E. P. Sanders on the beliefs and practices of Palestinian (or Formative) Judaism, that there was no fixed synagogue liturgy in Palestinian synagogues until at least well into the second century of our era. Moreover, they further point out that first-century Palestinian synagogues were not places of communal prayer. They were instead places dedicated only to Torah recitation and instruction.—The Disciples’ Prayer, pages 56–57

That possessive apostrophe

In about 80% of all languages, a prenominal Possessor is finally marked, a postnominal Possessor initially marked.— The Theory of Functional Grammar Part 1, The Structure of the Clause, page 367

<idle musing>
I.e., John’s car versus the car of John. Got it?
</idle musing>

Smashing good

There is a spirit among the pious that has no under­standing of God’s kingdom, so that many are even annoyed to see it alive. Since it is active around you, it is sure to offend such people. Pay no attention. Just carry on, and let your deeds speak for you. If Jesus is not a living reality, giving birth to millions of deeds, then he is no greater than any other teacher. But he lives—he is the Rock on which we stand—and deeds born of his spirit will become the rocks upon which the errors of the world are shattered.—Christoph Blumhardt in The Hidden Christ, page 57