Sunday, March 26, 2006

In the day thou eatest

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
-- Gen 2:17

Is God here threatening that if Adam ate from the forbidden tree, he would be dead before the day was over? A number of critics have made that statement that Satan, who denied that Eve would die (Gen 3:4) was more honest than God, for Adam lived 900 more years after eating of the tree. A number of atheists have even called this "God's first lie."

Christian commentators have occasionally tried to get around the fact that Adam did not drop over dead by saying that ‘spiritual’ death, rather than physical death, is what God is threatening (e.g. "The primary warning is undoubtedly that of spiritual death" - Morris, The Genesis Record, p.94). This seems to get around the ‘immediacy’ problem, because we can then say that Adam died spiritually without dying physically, necessitating a savior who would rescue us who were "dead in tresspasses and sins" (Eph 2:1). The savior is promised to Eve and all mankind in the next chapter (Gen 3:15).

However, as the ideas of "spiritual death" vs. "physical death" are developed so much later in scripture, I cannot help the feeling that we are imposing on the text to make such a proclamation; that certainly was not what the ancients had in mind when they read the passage. God seems here to be talking about physical death, the kind of death Adam and Eve likely witnessed for the first time when God made clothing from an animal (Gen 3:21) to cover their nakedness, and the kind of death we speak of when we say someone died. But if physical death is what is in view here, then our original problem remains: Adam did not die on the day he ate.

On the other hand, the fact that he did not die the very day he ate never seemed to bother the ancients. They never tried to tidy up the text or gloss it over. In fact, those critics who say that this story is a pious fabrication - of course, they would say ‘late tradition’ - must also add idiocy to the list of maladies allegedly suffered by the ancients, for no intelligent person would create a story with such a blatant faux pas only 2 chapters in. The fact that it did not bother the ancients, however, gives us a clue to understanding the verse; maybe they did not understand it the same way we do from a casual reading.

So let us begin by looking where our problem lies, in the words ‘in the day you eat’. To our minds, this suggests an immediacy of consequence: eat, then die. But is that the way the Hebrews understood the phrase?

Fortunately, we have a good example of how the phrase was used from another source: 1Kings 2:36-46.

The story is this: King Solomon sent for a man named Shimei who had cursed his father David (2Sa 16:5) when Absalom rebelled. Upon his entrance to the court, Solomon condemned him to a form of house arrest and threatened him with death if he ever crossed over the Brook Kidron (1Ki 2:36-37).

Some time later, Shimei took a trip to Gath to chase some of his runaway servants and Solomon found out about it. Calling him to the palace, Solomon reminded him of the oath: Did I not make you swear by the LORD, and protest to you, saying, "Know certainly that on the day you go out and walk abroad anywhere that you shall surely die?" (2Ki 2:42). After which Solomon carried out the promised death penalty.

Solomon's threat "On the shall surely die" parallels God's threat to Adam, yet it is clear from Solomon’s usage of it that the promised penalty was not carried out the very day, for Shimei had to go to Gath, then return, then the king had to deal with it. And Solomon did not say "Well, since you lived past that day, I guess I can’t carry out sentence on you". What Solomon was saying was "When you cross the brook, your fate is sealed, and that fate is death."

In fact, reading the original oath spells this out clearly: "For it shall be that on the day you go out and pass over the brook Kidron, you will know for certain that you shall surely die: your blood shall be upon your own head." 1Kings 2:37

Now, if this usage is carried back to Gen 2:17, it will cause us to read God’s command something like this: "You shall not eat of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you do, your fate is sealed, and that fate is death". "On that day" represents not an issue of immediacy, then, but an issue of certainty.

So although Shimei lived on past the actual day of his transgression, he was in fact a walking dead man; his fate was sealed. Adam was the same way, "for the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23a). But God mercifully extended Adam’s physical life, gave him a reprieve so to speak, from immediate judgement, and he was allowed to live a long time afterwards. Just as we do not immediately die upon sinning, Adam did not.

Thank God, though, he allowed Paul to finish the verse:

"but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom 6:23b

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The One Minute Sermon

And male and female of all flesh went into the ark as God had commanded Noah: and the LORD shut him in.
-- Gen 7:16

It is an interesting detail that God himself shut the door of the ark once Noah had entered.

The detail, perhaps surprisingly, is left out of the Epic of Gilgamesh’s remembrance of the event, though what it does recall might lead well into my point:

"I watched the appearance of the weather, the weather was awesome to behold. I boarded the ship and battened up the gate. To batten up the whole ship, to Puzar-Amurri, the boatman, I handed over the structure together with its contents."
— Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI

I’m sure the sight of clouds rolling in was awesome to behold, not only for Noah, but for everyone around, and Genesis tells us that once the animals were safely loaded the Lord himself shut Noah into the ark (Gen 7:16). The question immediately arises, “Why did God do it himself?” The biblical Noah could have battened up the gate just as easily as Utanapishtim, the Sumerian Noah.

There are a number of reasons, the chief of which is doubtless that the door was a symbol of God’s salvation, an image Jesus revived when he said in John 10:9, I am the door: if any man shall enter by me, he shall be saved. The door symbolizes the way to God, that there is only one way to be saved: God’s way. There is only one place we have to go and only one entrance created for us to use. Today it is Jesus Christ, in that day it was belief in the message that Noah preached, which was similar to Jesus’ message (1Pet 3:19-21) - this should not surprise us in the least, for our God doesn’t change. Going through the door is not only symbolic of accepting God’s grace, but it in the case of the ark was a physical necessity. There was no praying the Sinner’s Prayer and sneaking home to catch Jon Stewart. You either entered through the door or you did not. Eight did.

But the act of closing the door has a symbolic meaning as well, that of the end of God’s patience. God is longsuffering with us (2Pet 3:9), not willing that any should perish. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11), and had given 120 years (Gen 6:3) for the antediluvians to turn away from slaughtering one another all over the earth (Gen 6:11). That time was over, and God declared it to be over by closing the door with his own hand. Once that portal was closed there was no more opportunity, no more turning. His patience had run out.

But I think there is also a more pragmatic reason, and it is an insight my wife had while we were discussing these things. We often forget that these men were men just like us. They had like passions, similar weaknesses, they shared our concerns and our sympathies.

When the weather became awesome to behold, when the Earth burst forth in pelagic fury, when the ark began to lift into the waves, it became undeniable to those outside that everything Noah had been telling them was true, and they were doubtless horrified. The crowds who had to that moment considered Noah but a crazy old man swarmed about the ark, pounding on it, tearing at it, desperately seeking an entrance. Their screams of panic and fear echoed within the ark, piercing the hearts of all who were inside.

How painful it must have been for those safely inside to listen to the screams of Let me in! and Take my baby! How guilt must have twisted the guts of Noah and his passengers as those fervent pleas were subsumed by wind and wave. And how tempting to open the door. To save a life. To offer just one more chance. If we imagine Noah was not nearly destroyed by the death that reigned around his rising sanctuary, we do not know the hearts of men who know the heart of God.

But the decision of life or death for the people outside was not Noah's to make. God had made the decision (Gen 6:17), God’s judgment had fallen, and God bore the responsibility for its consequences, not the old man shaking and sobbing in a pile on the ark's filthy floor.

God was and is in control - not men - and God closed the door because he is God, and ultimately it was his door to close.

Let us then enter through the door he holds open for us today, Jesus Christ, before we find ourselves in weather awesome to behold, pounding on an ark, a salvation, that is lifting off into the waves.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five theories

If you don't really care about long-dead kings, you might as well skip this entry...

One of the joys of the Bible is its errors. It seems a funny thing for a fundamentalist to say, for we're supposed to believe that the Bible as we have it today (or at least as it was in the original manuscripts) is without error. Perhaps it was, yet it is a fact that every manuscript upon which our bibles are based contains differences from every other, and there is a complete discipline, lower textual criticism, that compares passages in one copy to the passages in the others to discover what the original said. As a result the "final final" text of the Bible always has a bit of uncertainty. Not much, but some.

Does that bother me? Not particularly. I believe that the Bible is authoritative, whether 'perfect' in the version I have or not. And the odds are higher that I will misinterpret some passage - either through translation issues or misunderstanding of culture or context - that is well-attested than that I will come across in insoluble moral dilemma in the few percent of biblical passages that are in question. For all intents and purposes, I take is as read. But there are still issues, especially where several passages cover the same material and seem to disagree. It's the old problem with watches: a man with one watch always knows the time; a man with two is never sure. That uncertainty provides no end of subjects upon which an anal-retentive wannabe historian like me can spend his Friday nights.

2Chron 22:2 and 2Kings 8:26 are one of those problems, for in the first, King Ahaziah is said to begin his one-year reign at 42, yet in the latter, it's said to be 22. As is often the case, there are a multitude of possible solutions, one of them being that there is a genuine copyist error here.

There are some 5 theories that I've located thus far that attempt to explain the discrepancy:

1) That some copyist made an error, since the Hebrew letters representing the numbers ‘22’ and ‘42’ are very similar. This is supported by the fact that a lot of manuscripts say '22' instead of '42.'

2) ‘42’ is the age of Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, since she was the power behind his throne.

3) ‘Began to reign’ refers not to his actual ascension to the kingship, but to an earlier annointing, so he was annointed at 22, but began to reign at 42, his reign lasting a single year.

4) There were 2 Ahaziahs, one twenty years older than the other, who was the son of a previous marriage of Athaliah.

5) That ‘42 years’ here refers to the House of Omri, not the actual age of Ahaziah.

We shall deal with each of these in turn:

Copyist error: it is possible, given the nature of the Hebrew numbering system, that the original Chron passage has been corrupted in some manuscripts. This, however, should be an answer of last resort, given the existence of other ‘strange’ numbers (e.g. 2Chron 16:1, which I'll address below) which have inconsistencies on the surface, but which can be understood with a little digging. Secondly, the fact that many mss have ‘22’ instead of ‘42’ is just as easily explained as a ‘fix’ to bring the Chronicles passage into conformity with the Kings one as they are a true witness to the original reading.

Ahaziah's mother: This is the view held by Poole, and is also possible, since the Hebrew phrase literally says Ahaziah is ‘the son of forty two years’. So what is ‘forty two years’ but his mother mentioned in the same passage? I find it unlikely, for lack of other verses which follow this pattern, but it does illustrate the difficulties inherent in translation from one culture to another.

Annointed at 22, King at 42: This can be thrown right out, as is it ignores the fact that both versions plainly say he reigned one year. If he was annointed at 22 and died at 43, he should have reigned 21 years. Furthermore, the text says nothing about annointing, but in both passages simply that ‘he began to reign’. If Ahaziah did begin to reign at 42 after being annointed at 21, then he was 2 years older than his father Jehoram who was ‘thirty two years old when he began to reign, and reigned in Jerusalem eight years’ (2Chron 21:20), dying at the age of forty. Clearly, 42 cannot be the age at which he was made king.

2 Ahaziahs: This theory is created to get around the obvious problem, with a strange twist: it is promoted by a few KJV-only people, who cannot (from their understanding that the KJV is ‘inpired in translation’) understand the 42 to be anything other than Ahaziah’s actual age, since the KJV says ‘Forty and two years old was Ahaziah’. The argument is that the Kings passage talks about one Ahaziah, and the Chron passage talks about his older half-brother. The problem is, of course, that both passages are obviously talking about the same person, unless we believe that there are two kings in Jerusalem with the same name, the same parents, who go to battle with the same ally in the same battle, and both visit that ally when he is wounded. These kings are also both killed by the same man (Jehu) in the same place at the same time, yet neither of the Kings/Chronicles authors mentions the other. I think this theory can be discounted on the grounds that these passages and history (e.g. Josephus, ‘Antiquities’ IX/vi/2-3) both only mention one Ahaziah, and the contortions we need to go through to justify it are unsubstantiated in the text and history.

House of Omri: This theory goes to the Hebrew to discover that the phrase which troubles us is an ambiguous one, that Ahaziah was ‘the son of forty two years’ (as mentioned above). Now, looking at the house of Omri, from whom he was descended through his mother, we find that Omri reigned 6 years (1King 16:23), Ahab his son 22 years (1Kings 16:29), Ahaziah his son 2 years (1Kings 22:51), and Joram his son 12 years (2Kings 3:1), for a total of 42 years (6+22+2+12). So a ‘son of 42 years’ could easily mean ‘a son of the dynasty 42 years old’, i.e. Omri, which he proves in verse three where Ahaziah ‘walked in the ways of the house of Ahab’ (who was the son of Omri). A clue to this is that his mother is called ‘the daughter of Omri’ in 22:2, though given the fact that Omri is dead almost 40 years, she is probably his granddaughter. Ahaziah, then, is called a true son of Omri, not only in descent but in morality, and the forty-two years here belong to that house, not his own life.

Now, as you might have noticed from my treatment of Abram's genealogy below, when I find an issue, I find it helpful to see if there is a parallel passage that has the same issue. In this case, like that case, there is: 2Chron 16:1, which states: "In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah."

However, that gives us a problem, for "In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years." — 1Kings 15:33

and "In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, two years". — 1Kings 16:6

So if Baasha began to reign in the third year of Asa and reigned 24 years, then he was dead and his son Elah took his place in Asa’s 26th year, how then did Baasha come against Asa 10 years later?

The answer is, he didn’t. 2Chron 16:1 says 36 years, which is made up of the ’Kingdom of Asa’, which is the Kingdom of Judah counting from the time of the division. Rehoboam reigned 17 years (2Chron 12:13), Abijah 3 years (2Chron 13:2), and Asa 15 (2Chron 15:10), making 35 years (17+3+15). In Asa’s 15th year (15:10), Asa entered into a covenant with God (15:12), and in the next year, Baasha declared war on him ‘that he might let none go out or come in to Asa’ (16:1). Therefore, the ‘thirty sixth year’ of Asa is counted as the thirty sixth year of his family’s rule, not of his personal rule.

Frankly, I think that the final solution is the correct one, and the author of Chronicles, having a more 'long-term' and 'theological' approach than the drier approach of the author of Kings, approaches his numbering to illustrates dynasties more heavily than individuals. Such is not evident from a newspaper reading, of course, but it does provide a chance to wrestle with the hidden treasures that can be found in God's word.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

There's no reply at all

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible notes a contradiction:
Acts 7:4 says that Abram didn't leave Haran until after his father died.

Gen.11:26 says that Abram's father was 70 years old when Abram was born, and Abram's father lived to be 205 (11:32). Clearly, then, Abram was at least 135 when he left Haran.

Yet Gen.12:4 says he left Haran when he was only 75.
Most interesting is their note that they have "Christian Responses (none yet)". Allow me to provide one.

SAB correctly notes an issue that bothered me when I first studied the genealogies of Genesis. Yes, a straight-forward newspaper reading of Genesis gives us an issue to deal with.

Before I deal with it, let me say that there is the possibility that Stephen, whose speech is quoted in Acts 7:4, is just flat out wrong in his rendering of Jewish history. Luke, the author of Acts, is recording for posterity a speech given by Stephen, and as a recorder is only responsible for ensuring that the recording is accurate, not that the original material is. A parallel example might be the New York Times reporting that a politician said something that turns out to be incorrect. Does that make the NYT wrong? Not at all. So long as their recording of the statement is accurate, then the NYT is not in error. Such a politician DID say such a thing, and it's the politician, not the NYT, on the hook when that statement turns out incorrect. Same for Acts. There are no guarantees that every statement recorded is accurate. But I do expect that Luke has accurately recorded what happened and what was said. I'll let the others work out that theology.

Now I don't believe that Stephen is wrong; it's just a possibility that must be admitted before we start.

But here's what I think is really going on here:

The SAB misquotes (or at least truncates) Gen 11:26 when they say that "And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram." with a period at the end. What it actually says is that "And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran." That might seem a small thing, but I think the existence of the other names in the genealogy is significant because it parallels another passage with a similar problem (Gen 5:32) which I'll examine first and then back therefrom into my solution. Though the vast majority of the genealogies name one son (at age x, y fathered z), these two both allege (on the surface) triplets. We shall see that beneath the surface we have clues that explain what's happening.

Gen 5:31 says that, "And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth," leading us to think that he had triplets that year. But such is not the case. Ham is noted as the youngest (Gen 9:24) and Japeth as the eldest (Gen 10:21) and that might be fine for triplets, except for this:

"Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood" -- Gen 11:10.

If Shem celebrated his centennial 2 years after the flood, then he was 97 when the flood came. Yet Noah is said to have fathered Shem at 500 with the flood at 600 (Gen 7:6) so Shem should have been 100, not 97, when it came. The fact that Shem is not the eldest give us the possibility that the 100 years was the age of the elder brother only, and that the author did not bother to give us as much detail as we'd like.

We have a similar pattern in Abram's case: Abram, Nahor, and and Haran all born in the same year (from a straightforward reading). Yet it's likely that Haran is older than Nahor, since Nahor marries Haran's daughter (Gen 11:29). If, as Josephus alleges, Abram's wife Sarai is also Haran's daughter, then Haran is likely older than Abram as well.

In each case we have these similarities:
  • An allegation of triplets.
  • The person in the main Jewish line is named first.
  • The person named first is not the eldest
  • The person named first has demonstrable chronology problems if alleged to be the eldest.
So the simple solution is this: the author of Genesis, in cases where only one son is part of the story (c.f. Gen 5:4-28 for a whole busload of them) the age "at birth" is the age of the father when that specific son was born and the others are subsumed under a note that he had "other sons and daughters". In the two cases where multiple sons come into the story they are named together, but the age "at birth" is the age of the father at the birth of the eldest of the three.

Applied to Abe, that means Abe probably left Haran at 75, meaning he was born when Terah was 130, the 70 referring to the birth of Abe's brother Haran, Terah's firstborn.

Is it the correct solution? I don't know. Does it fit the data? I think it does. Does it resolve the contradiction? Yes. If it is a correct reading then Genesis is not in error, we have simply failed to understand the method of the author. I think that's very likely, and in a lot more cases than just genealogies. There are many, many passages where we are assuming that a newspaper-like reading explains everything even as it gives us seemingly insurmountable problems.

But those are a speculation for another day.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Big Love

Stanley Kurtz dispproves:

We can't licence polygamy without also promoting polyamory. Traditional polygamy, by its nature, will have limited appeal in America (as Tierney correctly notes). But polyamory has much greater potential appeal, and poses a much deeper danger to the American family (which Tierney ignores).

Take away the stigma against multiple-partner marriage, and our larger family system will be profoundly weakened. It's the stigma and the resulting secrecy that limit the social effects of multi-partner unions now. Change that, and you will see deep systemic consequences.

The weakness of the libertarian position is the illusion that the effects of legalization and destigmatization would be limited to what Tierney calls "a few consenting adults."
This is the problem that arises out of the government licencing marriage in the first place. Rick Santorum was raked over the coals for saying that allowance of gay marriage would eventually mean allowance of polygamy and polyamory; his only mistake was that he probably didn't mean "eventually" to mean "within a few short years." The gays, of course, recoiled at the accusation, yet there's no logical reason to stop at any given point once the dike is breached. But is that a weakness in the libertarian position? What's wrong with the government simply letting anyone marry whom they choose?

The question for the Christian when it comes to polygamy is twofold: "is the practice immoral" (in other words, should Christians take part in it?) and "should the government enforce a certain kind of marriage through licencing?"

The first question is easy to answer. While single marriage is probably preferred, plural marriage was practiced by men of God and implemented by God on occasion. Therefore it is not, in and of itself, immoral.

In fact, when God was chewing out David for adultery and murder, he spoke through the prophet Nathan:

And Nathan said to David, "You are that man. The LORD God of Israel says this: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; And I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given you even more.'"
-- 2Sam 12:7-8
In short, God gave David multiple wives. Abraham had several wives, as did Jacob (the father of the Israelites). The scriptures show that this caused severe family problems - or at least contributed to them; the patriarchs weren't always the best parents anyway - but that does not make the practice universally immoral, merely unwise on occasion.

For the Christian in church leadership, however, the question is closed:

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
-- 1Tim 3:12
I wonder, at times, at how the church imposes the "one wife" rule so consistently, but not the "have your kids under control" rule. PKs are legendary for their troublemaking, yet I have never seen a Christian booted from leadership for failing the second part of God's leadership rule.

But on the second question, the libertarian and the Christian have some common ground: marriage is not a creation of government; it is a creation of God. It stands before the state and is above the state, and if the state were, for example, to only recognize gay marriages, it would still be the duty of the Christian to act as God intended, that is to marry someone of the opposite sex, for life, no matter the consequences.

National Review and the conservatives state that widespread polygamous or polyamoric marriage would tend to weaken society, and I agree - or rather I would if the state was as fond of enforcing marriage contracts as it is of licencing the act in the first place. Yet what is the difference, as far as the strength of the family is concerned - between polyamory and what happens at most bars every Friday night? What is the difference - as far as the strength of the family is concerned - between a man who has 3 wives and a woman who has kids by 3 different men, none of whom she has married?

Polygamy would weaken the family if the family today was made up solely of couples who had kids solely in marriage. But it is not, and so polygamy would probably strengthen certain families while at the same time undermining others.

Marriage arrangements arise through culture, which is driven over the long-term by survival needs. In a land where many men die young and women have no ability to care for themselves, polygamy acts as something of a Social Security system. In some agrarian societies it's necessary, which is why it survives. In modern societies where everyone can learn and earn and take care of themselves, it is not necessary. But then neither is single marriage.

Which is precisely why I think the government ought to simply butt out. If anyone can have sex with whom they wish (and they can and do) what is the problem with people who wish to make a commitment of that?

I don't think it will survive or at least be widespread. Call me selfish, but I have no desire to share my wife, nor she any desire to share me. Our marriage, no matter what government says, will remain single and heterosexual. I suspect that feeling is nearly universal.

What it would do is give the church a chance to show how its marriage (whether defined as single universally or only in church leadership) is more stable and creates better families than polyamory, polygamy, or no marriage at all. If we're correct that this is what God wants, then that should have real effects in our lives when compared to the lives of those doing what God doesn't want.

We currently have the ability to demonstrate that though we as an organization have failed, for the most part, to create better families than those outside the church. That, to me, is the real issue.

As Paul said:

For it is no business of mine to be judging those who are outside; but it is yours to be judging those who are among you.
-- 1Cor 5:12
What the world does is its own business, and it not a concern of the church nor the Christians in it. If our way is better, that will be shown through our actions, our marriages, our families. If it's not shown there, then that is a far greater problem for us than polygamy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Biblical Tectonics

From the files of historical speculation...just for fun, let's see if we can count my assumptions.

I mentioned below that the modern theory of Continental Drift (plate tectonics) was proposed in about 1912 and became a dominant geological theory in the late 1950s, once the generation of scientists who held to the fixity of the continents died off.

We look at a map and Continental Drift is obvious to us (and actually, I think the evidence for it is pretty good as well, which is a whole different kettle of fish). So what does Genesis have to say about it? Quite a bit, actually. Well, possibly.

In the original creation account, God creates the globe covered with water. Then in Genesis 1:9, it says, "And God said, 'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.'"

All the water in one place implies one ocean and one land mass. For sake of argument, let's call that land mass "Pangaea."

Some years later, the flood comes, again covering that single continent with water. Only Noah and his family survive, finally landing upon "the mountains of Ararat." Of course, at the time they could not have been mountains, having just been covered with water. That they are mountains today makes me think that the odds of finding a boat on them are pretty long, but that's just me. The land arises in an incredibly violent earth movement to push the water away, but we still have one continent.

Some years after that, we have an episode called the Tower of Babel. God has told mankind to inhabit the whole Earth and they refuse, gathering on the Plains of Shinar (probably in modern Iraq) and building a city called Babel that will eventually become Babylon. God throws down the city and confusticates the language in Gen 11, causing the scattering that he originally commanded.

But there's a strange verse at the end of the prior chapter, Gen 10:25. It seeks to explain how a certain man received his name, and the name of the man is "Peleg" (PLG in the original Hebrew, which was written without vowels), the son of Eber from whom the Hebrews will get their name. It says:

And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.

For in his days was the earth divided - now a lot of folks have said that the "earth" here means the people of the earth, as the 1599 Geneva Bible footnotes say, "This division came by the diversity of language." But that may not be the case at all.

The "earth" here is the Hebrew "erets," precisely the same word used in Gen 1:10 when God called the dry land "earth." (It it literally says, "and God called the dry earth," with land being added in English to make the sentence comprehensible).

A second clue that we're talking about the earth/ground as opposed to the earth/inhabitants comes from Peleg's name itself. The root PLG in Hebrew can mean 'division' (PaLaG) and 'a small channel of water; a rill' (PeLeG). It carries a similar meaning in Greek: to divide with water.

Now, why should we care that the root is the same across languages? Remember, at this time everyone spoke the same language, and it's not unlikely that the 'confused' languages carried at least traces of their original meanings.

Bernard Northrup says, "in classical Greek, from the period of Homer, there are 18 nouns that I know of that use the root PLG in the same way that it is used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Indeed, all uses relate to the ocean in some way. Two of these Greek words survive in Modern English having the same implication. They refer to the "pelagic" depths of the ocean and to "archipelagos" or chains of islands in the sea."

There is our root again, PeLaGic and archiPeLaGos, both referring this time to water. The Greek root PLK carries a similar meaning, to divide with an axe, thus our modern English word "Pelican," which comes originally from the Greek "pelekan," showing how words pass language to language.

So it's possible that Peleg got his name from the event where God divided the land (earth/erets) by means of water. In other words, one continent was separated into many continents with water in between.

Same story (one continent to many), same evidence (continents fit, rock formations fit), but obviously a different time scale.

OK, if you counted my assumptions (6451?), you're probably wise in writing the whole thing off. But I think it's at least food for thought, and an interesting speculation. Hey, it's Friday night. What do you expect?

Still Looking

Live Science reports on a habit that dies hard:

High on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, there is a baffling mountainside "anomaly," a feature that one researcher claims may be something of biblical proportions.

Images taken by aircraft, intelligence-gathering satellites and commercial remote-sensing spacecraft are fueling an intensive study of the intriguing oddity.

But whether the anomaly is some geological quirk of nature, playful shadows, a human-made structure of some sort, or simply nothing at all—that remains to be seen.

Whatever it is, the anomaly of interest rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mt. Ararat, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice.

It would be easy to call it merely a strange rock formation.
But at least one man wonders if it could be the remains of Noah's Ark—a vessel said to have been built to save people and selected animals from the Great Flood, the 40 days and 40 nights of deluge as detailed in the Book of Genesis...
Whatever the anomaly is (and obviously I don't know - that's what scientists are for) the current search is simply the latest in a very long line of people looking for the most famous boat in history. Many claims (like sightings by locals, Russian Pilots, and seemingly a squillion others) but very little evidence have been brought down from Ararat, which may or may not even be the correct mountain to be looking on. Every couple years Noah's Ark makes the news cycle; it even makes National Geographic on occasion.

The search, of course, is nothing new. 2000 years ago, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, Book I, Ch. 3) had the following to say:

After this, the ark rested on the top of a certain mountain in Armenia... the Armenians call this place, The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.

Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: "It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs."

Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same.

Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: "There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote."
Of course, it's just like mankind to cut the boat up into pieces for good luck charms, and even several thousand years ago it had the feel of myth (not 'untrue' myth, but 'long ago and far away' myth). Given that even the ancients found the existence of the ark the stuff of myth and legends, I would be very surprised if the baffling mountaintop anomaly under study turns out to be something other than a strange rock formation.

Monday, March 06, 2006

HonorBound_Men brings the theology:

Because of what Romans 1:19-21 says, I always thought that every person was given the capacity by God to know He exists without having to have been told by somebody.

Helen Keller seems to have been a perfert example of this. After she gained the ability to communicate with the world she lived in, when asked if she knew about God, she replied that yes she did know Him but did not know His name.

By scripture it would seem that no one will stand before God and claim ignorance of Him as justification for their sin, they will be without excuse.
I think that's exactly correct. But it also illustrates a point that David Craft mentioned while quoting Simon and Garfunkle: "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Belief, as much as we would like to think it's solely an act of the intellect ("show me evidence and I'll believe") is shown by both scripture and experience to be primarily an act of the will. That's one reason Jesus refused to trick-monkey his miracles. When people told him, "show us and we'll believe," he consistently said that belief was not merely a matter of being shown, but required willfil effort on their part.

Whether in matters divine or mundane, humanity has an incredible propensity to find evidence that supports what we choose to believe. Why is the wife the last to know? Why can some people honestly believe in unseen, worldwide, centuries-long conspiracies or aliens or thetans or virgin births? Because belief is a choice.

But these choices are especially troublesome for intelligent people (who tend to lean on the intellect) who also have a moral reason to deny the consequent, because they forget, in their sometimes honest attempt to justify unbelief, that they are just as prone to self-deceit as other men. Perhaps they are even more prone. And yet according to God, such unbelief, chosen as a matter of will rather than evidence, still has moral consequences.

That's why Jesus said, "You must (moral imperative) believe." There were plenty who saw his miracles and refused, even plotting to murder Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead. There are plenty who believe without evidence many things, including but not limited to belief in God, simply because they choose to do so entirely for reasons of their own.

Does that make evidence, facts, or science worthless? Of course not. For most facts there is no moral consequence. If I believe the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around the earth, neither affects whether I ought to bed my neighbor's daughter. That leaves such facts free to help us, to be applied widely, to improve our lives.

But there are certain beliefs that have such consequences. If God exists, then it's quite possible that he cares very much whether I bed my neighbor's daughter. And if he has some moral authority to say that I oughtn't, then I have two choices: I either obey him or I get rid of him. And I have built into me the ability to choose either and bear myself the moral consequence of such a choice. It is no surprise that the 'science' over which the most rabid fighting occurs (and those areas most wrought with fraud) are those that directly impact the above question.

I think the reason the existence of God cannot be "proven" is simply because He calls us to choose to believe. If we look at the beauty of the stars, we see power and majesty. If we look at a lion eating a gazelle or a young child dying of plague, we see futility, cruelty, and meaningless. "Vanity of vanities," saith the preacher. "All is vanity and a striving after wind."

And therefore each must choose. And what we choose we are confirmed in, by God and our own will, as Paul says in the passage Honorbound_Men quoted in the comments.

But whatever we choose, that we are responsible for. TANSTAAFL. Opportunity cost. Every rose has its thorn. Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Either God rules or we rule. Either He is the final measure or we are. The choice is ours, either through delegation or because we are the highest intelligence on the planet. And that choice often decides the rest of the choices we will make in life, wise or unwise, for good or evil.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dating the Acts of the Apostles

Those of you who have been here a bit have no doubt noticed that while I'm not a big fan of theology, I'm quite tempted toward historical speculation concerning the scriptures. I make no pretentions that I have stumbled upon "long lost truths" or am able to reveal the final word on what has been argued for centries; I simply do it because that's my preferred way to study the scriptures, especially the historical ones.

If there is an historical book in the Bible, certainly the Acts of the Apostles is it. For those of you who are not familiar with Luke's second book, I'll give a quick intro, though I have to warn you that what follows will probably be of little interest to you.

The Acts recounts the first 30 or so years of Church history. Beginning with Jesus' assumption into Heaven, it follows the spread of Christianity from its origins as a 150-member strong sect of Judaism in Jerusalem to the Apostle Paul awaiting trial in Rome ca. 62 ad. It recounts how Christianity expanded to include Samaritans (half-Jews) and eventually welcomed into its arms the gentiles who would eventually take it over in a very real sense. Looking back from today, Acts is something of a baton handoff in history, a bridge between where Christianity had its Jewish roots to where it laid down the European roots that would eventually bring Europe back from the dark ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Acts is a sequel to Luke's Gospel - both being dedicated to the same man, Theophilus, and both obviously the work of the same hand - and is famous for its careful treatment of places, titles, and especially pronouns. And while having been occasionally accused of inaccuracy, Acts has actually been the foundantion of many archaeological discoveries and has always been shown to be precise when the chips are down. It's no wonder archaeologist Sir William Ramsay called the author of Luke/Acts "an historican of the first rank," for whenever digging in the ground has been able to answer questions about Luke's nomenclature, it has consistently resolved them in Luke's favor. If there's one book upon which I base my belief in the historical accuracy of the Bible, Acts is it. Or at least Acts is the starting point.

But when was it written? Asking anyone that date will reveal more about the answerer than the book: dates are given from the mid 70s ad to the mid second century, because it is not mentioned by name in any of the extant chuch fathers until about 177. But the plethora of answers and reasons simply illustrate that no one knows for certain. And while the answer may not have any theological import, I think it has historical import.

But I am inspired by the character of Sidney Wang, the Charlie Chan ripoff character from Neil Simon's 1996 masterpiece movie "Murder by Death." When a moose head on the wall gives three detectives a significant clue, Milo Perrier (based on Christie's Hercule Poirot) responds that he does not like it one bit.

"I like it," replies Wang. "But do not understand it."

And it's the "not understanding" that drives me to a date of Acts far earlier than most biblical scholars.

Studying Luke is a lesson in precision. For example, Luke says explicitly that the cities of Lystra and Derbe were in Lycaonia, contradicting both Pliny and Cicero. Yet Luke was proven correct once the cities were excavated. He has also been proven correct in unusual Roman titles, and several sites have excavated exact places he spoke of (e.g. the theatre at Ephesus.) It is that kind of precision that I expect from Luke, and yet when I do not find it, I conclude there must be a reason why. And I like it, though I do not understand it.

Up to Acts 12, Peter has been the main mover in Acts, if not in the Church itself. He is the first to baptize non-Jews and must answer for it to a church full of Jews who never expected things to get that far. Eventually he is imprisoned by King Herod and miraculously escapes. Luke says of that (in Acts 12:17) that Peter "left and went to another place." Certainly there is not a more purposefully vague sentence in all of historical literature. It may be exactly this that dates Acts for us, and I'll return to the reason later.

Once Peter disappears from Acts, the book is dedicated to the three missionary journeys of Paul, with whom Luke travels. The fact that Luke was an eyewitness to many of these events has served as sufficient reason for many scholars to ignore what happened to Peter.

Yet Peter is around. He appears once in Jerusalem, when the first Christian council decided that gentile Christians need not embrace the Mosaic law (Acts 15). He appears in Antioch, in a faceoff with Paul over the same issue (Gal 2). And he is eventually crucified in Rome (ca. 64 ad) under the same Neronian persecution that takes Paul's life, after serving as - by Christian "tradition" (not quite the same as history) - the first bishop of Rome, later promoted to and as the first Pope. Why is he not mentioned? And why does Acts end with Paul preaching the gospel rather than suffering the same martyrdom that he visited on Stephen in Acts 7?

I think the reason that he is not mentioned is the same reason Luke says (otherwise inexplicably) that Peter "went to another place." Peter is, due to his escape from prison, a fugitive. He is on the lam. In Peter's first epistle, he says to his fellow believers that "she who is in Babylon greets you," though there has long been a question of whether Peter was in the literal Babylon (unlikely, since it had been mostly destroyed) or in someplace named a spiritual Babylon, with Rome being most likely location. In other words, Peter remained vitally important to the growth of the church, yet his actual location was a closely guarded secret.

Take that back to Acts. Peter and Paul had met on several occasions, the last of which was not mentioned by Luke. Peter was in Rome, the very place that Paul was headed, yet he is not mentioned by Luke. Peter is not mentioned in the last 10 years' worth of territory covered by Acts. Paul does not greet Peter in his epistle to the Romans, though he mentiones a whole chapter of others. The probable reason? Peter's location was a carefully guarded secret.

Now if we accept that as a fact, then certain things fall into place. Peter may have been a fugitive, but after his death in 64 in Rome, his prior movements would not have demanded secrecy. In fact, if it were written after 64 ad, there would be every reason to show how Peter, who in Luke's Gospel denies Christ, paid the ultimate price for his rediscovered faith. If it were written after 64 ad, there would be every reason to show how Paul, who persecuted the Church in Acts 7-8, eventually gave his life for what he had previously denied. Both would have been a valuable witness to Theophilus, the recipient of the Acts. In other words, Acts was written the way it was, hiding the location and activities of its original main character, Peter, because it was still important that his location remain a secret, therefore it was written before 64 ad.

If it was written before 64ad, there's no reason not to conclude that it was written in 61ad, right when the book ends, and that Luke completed it and sent it off at the very time he placed Paul for "two full years in his own rented quarters" in Rome. What happened in 64 ad, that the pillars of the church to whom were assigned both the Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2:7) were both martyred in the same city, was not mentioned because by that time the Acts of the Apostles had already assumed its final form and was circulating among the churches.

I like it, but do not understand it fully, though I'm happy to make a preliminary theory, taking into account that Sidney Wang was also apt to speak before thinking things through completely.