Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why Religion? (I)

"You can't write honestly about human beings if you want to be popular." (Steven Pinker)

Steven Pinker's article in the latest issue of The Humanist, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion" (Sept/Oct '06, pp 10-15), explains religion as an evolutionary byproduct of other adaptations, rather than as an adaptation itself. He objects to adaptation theories on grounds that they beg the question, wrongly assuming religion to be an inevitable outcome.

Here are the common explanations for religion as biological adaptation, to which Pinker objects (see pp 11-12).
1. Religion gives comfort. But why is the mind comforted by the ineffable, intangible, or even that which is plainly false? Usually we're comforted by things we have good reason to believe are true.

2. Religion brings community together. But why do organisms cooperate better when religion enters the picture? Why aren't emotions like trust and loyalty and solidarity enough, as indeed they can be.

3. Religion provides a source of ethics. But why look to religion for this? Secular philosophy and atheism can give us ethics as much as religion -- just as religion can be a source for unethical behavior as much as ethical.
I agree that there is nothing inevitable about religion when considered this generally, and thus should not be viewed as an adaptation. Religion is more like reading and less like spoken language. (Spoken language, as Pinker points out, emerges spontaneously, inevitably, everywhere in all societies, while reading is a byproduct of spoken language; kids don't read spontaneously unless taught.) It is a byproduct of other adaptations which yield more concrete benefits than the general ones above. Pinker suggests some of those benefits, which we will consider in the next post.

Quote for the Day: Bultmann's Isolationism

"Bultmann's existentialism directly related God to nothing at all in the world at large, which is why his audience was made up entirely of theologians and church members. Bultmann ended up proclaiming an isolated world, a world isolated from both Nature and culture, isolated from everything save the church. But there is no future in that. Without vestigia Dei in mundo there is no Deus." (Dale Allison, The Luminous Dusk, pp 17-18)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Jerusalem Council: Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 15:1-29

Mark Goodacre confirms my belief that Gal 2:1-10 should be identified with the event reported in Acts 15:1-29. Read his post -- it's classic Goodacre and drew a lot of comments, including one from Ben Witherington. Matthew Bates, who like Witherington thinks that Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 11:27-30, responded to Mark with the following seven points:
1. Paul's going down to Jerusalem in response to a revelation could be correlated with the "revelation" given to Agabus concerning a world wide famine in Acts 11:28.
But Mark addressed this, pointing out that Paul uses "revelation" to refer to a direct communication between himself and God, not to the words of a prophet who had come from Jerusalem. "Paul does not use the term 'revelation' when he is talking about words that come through human agency, even prophetic ones."
2. Paul reports in Galatians that the Apostles instructed he and Barnabas, "only to continue to remember the poor" -- Gal 2:10. The most natural way to understand this instruction is in the context of a famine relief visit such as Acts 11:29-30: "The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." On the other hand, Acts 15 provides no immediate context for "continuing to remember the poor."
The famine visit is a red herring, because the collection for "the poor" was really a franchise fee -- for the Jerusalem apostles. Thus Donald Akenson:
"Paul says the collection is for the poor of Jerusalem and he must have used that explanation as he tirelessly begged from community to community, but that was a face-saving formula... Jerome Murphy-O'Connor puts it well in his summary of the Jerusalem Deal: 'a financial contribution from Gentile believers seemed like a reasonable quid pro quo for Jerusalem's concession on circumcision'... In promising to raise funds from his Gentile mission to turn over to the Jerusalem 'saints', Paul can be seen to have been paying what we would today call a 'franchise fee'. Pay or you can't play..." (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, pp 164-165)
On top of this, there was always an abundance of poor in ancient Palestine, whether in times of famine or not. But that wasn't the issue. If it was, Paul wouldn't have taken so many years to raise the collection. (Assuming multiple collections, as Richard Fellows does, is cumbersome and unnecessary.)
3. Acts 15 seems to be a public meeting, while the meeting in Gal 2:1-10 is called, "... a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders." This makes identification of the two events less likely.
The argument depends on assuming that Luke must agree with Paul on every detail. But aside from that, Mark further points out that advocates of Acts 11:27-30 = Gal 2:1-10 simply trade one "private vs. public" discrepancy for another: "Those who think that Acts 11.27-30 equates with Gal. 2.1-10 regularly say that Acts 15 cannot equate with Gal. 2 because the latter depicts a private event. But for the Acts 11.27-30 = Gal. 2.1-10 equation to work, one has to overcome exactly the same difficulty with respect to Acts 9.26-30 // Gal. 1.18-20, where one depicts a private and the other a public event."
4. Peter's inconsistent behavior regarding table fellowship in Antioch is best explained as occurring prior to the Acts 15 council, before such issues were made clear.
The Antioch incident is seriously misunderstood. Antioch was about circumcision (not food laws), and that issue had been made perfectly clear. James, in an act of treachery, revoked the decision made in Jerusalem, and Peter followed his lead. See my Treachery at Antioch for details.
5. Paul's habit was to refer to regions by their political rather than ethnic label (e.g. Macedonia), contrary to Luke. Since the debate is over the identity of the group called "Galatians" by Paul, Paul's usage must take priority over Luke's when attempting to identify the recipients of his letter.
See (6.) below.
6. We have clear evidence that Paul evangelized Southern Galatia (in the "political" sense) on his first mission (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, etc.) whereas we have no evidence that Paul ever evangelized Northern Galatia (in either the "ethnic" or the "political" sense). This first mission was prior to the Acts 15 council, allowing for the possibility that Galatians was written in the wake of the first mission prior to the Acts 15 council.
The North Galatian theory is preferable. Not only can a strong case be made for Galatians being written after I Corinthians (see Goodacre's series: I, II, III), there are problems with confining Paul's activity to the regions of Syria and Cilicia for a fourteen-year period followed by Herculean accomplishments across Greece and Asia Minor during the closing years. There's a lot to be said for Peter Bercovitz's timeline, on which I commented recently.
7. Finally, if Gal 2:1-10 corresponds to Acts 11:27-30, then the famous conflict between the number of times which Paul claims to have visited Jerusalem in Galatians and the record of Paul's visits in Acts disappears.
This assumes that resolving such discrepancies is desirable in the first place. John gave Jesus two Jerusalem visits (against the synoptic writers, and putting the temple incident early); Luke could have done similarly for Paul. Goodacre, however, points out that there may not even be a discrepancy if the visits mentioned in Acts 9:26-30 and 11:27-30 are the same. (And despite Witherington's objections, Luke does seem to favor a flash-forward technique, however anachronistic the term itself sounds.)

In sum, identifying Gal 2:1-10 with the event reported in Acts 15:1-29 is most natural and plausible. Luke has retrojected the Jerusalem conference back into an earlier stage of Paul's ministry -- before he evangelized Asia Minor and Greece -- and reworked the facts with the apostolic decree, smoothing things over and portraying things less controversial than they really were.

UPDATE: Mark responds to his critics.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Quotes for the Day: Epiphenomenal Paul

"However frequently one encounters distasteful attitudes in Paul's epistles, these moments are irrelevant. They should be treated as epiphenomenal, like a rain shower occuring in the face of a volcanic eruption. Whatever his rebarbarative moments, Paul seems to me to be the character who is most authentically defined of all the figures we find in the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Talmuds... Paul is a jagged, flawed, and therefore totally convincing human being. And, unlike everyone else in the scriptures and the Talmuds, he has left us writings that are not merely ascibed to him by others, but are unassailably his own creation. Saint Paul we meet in person; and when we finally become at ease with his angular personality, he talks to us in his oblique way of the historical Jesus and starts us on an historical pilgrimage that is pure joy." (Donald Akenson, Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, p 13)

"In the case of New Testament criticism, the most accessible personality has got to be Paul. His letters convey a person wracked with both doubt and hope that can still touch us today... What makes historical criticism so interesting are all the interesting people that it studies. Never forget that in the end we are studying humans and that we too are all human, just as complicated, talented, and flawed as those whom we study."(Stephen Carlson)

The Happy Agnostic

Don't miss the interview with Bart Ehrman on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. I like this part:

P.J. Williams: "Do you think that anyone might ever come away from reading Misquoting Jesus with the impression that the state of the New Testament text is worse than it really is?"

Bart Ehrman: "Yes I think this is a real danger, and it is the aspect of the book that has apparently upset our modern day apologists who are concerned to make sure that no one thinks anything negative about the holy Bible. On the other hand, if people misread my book – I can’t really control that very well. Maybe ironically, this could show the fallacy of the view also held widely among evangelicals, that the intention of an author dictates the meaning of a text (since my intentions seem to have had little effect on how some people read my text)."

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Unity of II Corinthians

I've finally come across an impressive argument for II Corinthians as a single letter. For years I've favored the following the reconstruction:

Letter #1: II Cor 2:14-6:13, 7:2-4 (written before the dispute)
Letter #2: II Cor 10:1-13:14 (written during the dispute)
Letter #3: II Cor 1:1-2:13, 7:5-16 (written after the dispute)

Later inserts: II Cor 8:1-24 and 9:1-15
Fragment not written by Paul: II Cor 6:14-7:1

But in "Revisiting II Corinthians: Rhetoric and the Case for Unity", J.D.H. Amador explains why II Cor 10:1-13:13 should not be identified with the "painful" letter mentioned in II Cor 1:1-2:13, 7:5-16:
"The argumentative situation of II Cor 10-13 and that reported in II Cor 1:23-2:11, 2:5-13 are quite distinctive. In the former, Paul is defending his ethos in the community as a result of a perceived threat by outsiders. In the latter, Paul's ethos is not under question. Instead, it is respect to the ethos of someone in the community as a result of Paul's previous deliberative advice that he is concerned. These are two radically different argumentative sections. Therefore, chapters 10-13 have simply been misidentified as 'the tearful/painful' letter."
Read the whole thing. It's a first-rate essay and devoid of apologetics. I'll have to revisit my ideas about II Corinthians.

(Hat-tip to Stephen Carlson for the reference.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Respect Identity? Not.

In his recent post on Gal 3:27-28, Loren suggests that Paul gradually matured by dropping the formula of Gal 3:27-28 and reasserting distinctions between genders and ethnic groups, in effect moving from an apocalyptic naiveté to a realism demanding "respect for identity":
"Paul's world was one in which different ethnic groups, genders, and social classes could get along only by preserving their identities rather than eliminating them. Attempts to eliminate actually encourage groups to reassert their identities in overly aggressive ways, especially in competitive honor-shame societies. Paul matured by gradually relinquishing the formula of Gal 3:27-28."
This sounds like a mere historical/cultural assessment, especially when prefaced by Loren's disclaimer that Gal 3:27-28 actually "appeals to his modern Unitarian sensibilities". The lie can be dismissed out of hand. Loren likes the idea of breaking down barriers as much as he looks forward to a new crop of hemorrhoids. I suspect his notion of a Unitarian church is one where oppressed women docilely trail their husbands ten feet behind, and then sit in absolute silence, while a few pews over Caucasian feminists boss their husbands while patronizing -- and "respecting" -- these victims of patriarchy; or where pacifists and jihadists bond over a mutual hatred for the U.S. government, again, oxymoronically "respecting" each other.

The alarm can't be sounded loudly enough: multicultural liberals have become the prime bedfellows of social conservatives. Thus Nick Woomer:
"Amongst both conservatives and multicultural liberals, there is a desire to preserve supposedly traditional or authentic ways of life that are threatened by outside groups or forces. The multiculturalist 'preservation impulse' is identical to the fascist one, except that it's addressed to members of non-dominant, often oppressed, groups."
Listening to these liberals, you would think that western arrogance and imperialism are worse crimes than jihads and clitoradectomies.

But back to Paul. The apostle didn't mature in Romans, as Loren claims; just the opposite. Galatians is his most mature letter (if he has one) precisely because it is so offensive. His failure in Galatia, rightly spotted by Mark Goodacre, owed to ideas, however apocalyptically accidental, that were light-years ahead of his time -- ideas still doomed to fail in many places because the thought of breaking down barriers is so threatening. When people like Loren wake up to cosmopolitanism as a true agent of progressivism, liberals will finally be on the same page, free to rejoice in cultural genocide.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Letters-Based Pauline Chronologies

I'm enjoying the chronology discussions prompted by Mark Goodacre's series (I, II, III) on the dating of Galatians with respect to I Corinthians. Before I spell out my own ideas further, I want to emphasize the importance of a letters-based chronology and holding Acts at arm's length. I've become increasingly Knoxian in my approach to reconstructing Pauline timelines, not because I'm apriori hostile to "Acts as history", but because attempts to save all the evidence by meshing Paul with Luke yield artificial and incredible solutions. That's one of the reasons I long ago abandoned trying to equate Gal 2:1-10 with Acts 11:27-30. (Though see Michael Pahl for a recent defense of this.)

One letters-based approach has been offered by John Hurd, parts of it worth considering, but Peter Bercovitz's is less radical. He produces two alternate timelines:

Letters Based Chronology (A): Pre-Conference Founding Missions (Contra Acts)

Letters Based Chronology (B): Post-Conference Founding Missions (Acts Friendly)

Bercovitz favors option (A) for many reasons, the two most important being that (1) option (B) limits Paul's activity to the regions of Syria and Cilicia for fourteen years and then requires Herculean accomplishments across Greece and Asia Minor during the closing years; and (2) option (B) means that it took Paul twice the time to deliver the collection to Jerusalem, 6-8 years instead of 3-4.

Stephen Carlson notes that Bercovitz's timeline agrees with Mark Goodacre's defense for the dating Galatians shortly after I Corinthians.

Here are the highlights of option (A); there's a lot I like about it and will have more to say later.

First Jerusalem visit

In Syria and Cilicia, then founding of churches in Galatia, at Philippi, at Thessalonica, and at Corinth.


Second Jerusalem visit (agreement on the collection)

Antioch Incident

Second visit to Galatians (collection begun there), then founding of church in Ephesus

Previous Letter to the Corinthians

Titus sent to Corinth (collection begun there)

I CORINTHIANS (directions given for collection there)

Crisis in Galatia (lapse of collection there)


Imprisonment in Ephesus



Release from prison

Crisis in Corinth (lapse of collection there)

Second visit to Corinth

Back in Ephesus


In Troas, then Macedonia where meets Titus


Titus to Corinth (collection resumed there)

Third visit to Corinth (collection completed there)


Third Jerusalem visit (presumed delivery of the collection)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Guest Blogger: Leonard Ridge

Readers may recall Leonard Ridge who did some guest blogging back in July (see Shame on Rosson and the Context Group and The Prodigal Son Revisited). I've invited Leonard to be a regular contributor, so his name is now on the sidebar under mine. He plans on making occasional appearances, perhaps once every month or two, when he feels he just can't let me slide unchecked. Welcome Leonard.

Gal 3:27-28: On Respecting Identity

Most would agree that Galatians is Paul's most offensive letter, and some (like myself, Philip Esler, and Mark Goodacre) think that Paul ultimately failed in Galatia. On the other hand, the text of Gal 3:27-28 is often seen as one of the most attractive things Paul ever said:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Judean nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Mark himself, for instance, says this statement represents Paul's "more mature developed thought" when compared to what he thinks is an earlier version of the formula in I Cor 12:13 lacking the "male/female" part. In the past I've been inclined to see the movement in the other direction -- that Paul later dropped the "male/female" part of the formula out of sensitivity to emerging controversies over women's roles in the church (I Cor 11:3-16). We know that he later dropped the entire formula in Rome, realizing that distinctions between Judeans and Greeks were important after all. As I mention in my Romans commentary/outline,
"In Galatians Paul says that baptism results in the abolition of ethnic boundaries: 'in Christ there is neither Judean nor Greek' (Gal 3:27-28). In Romans that's the last thing he wants to say. Here the lesson drawn from baptism (Rom 6:1-15) is not the abolition of ethnic boundaries, rather just the opposite: Greeks escape the power of sin (Rom 6:16-23) in a completely different way than Judeans (Rom 7:1-25). Greeks die to ungodliness -- that is, to "impurity and lawlessness" (Rom 6:19) -- and then become slaves of God (Rom 6:22). Judeans die to the law (Rom 7:4)." (See Philip Esler's Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 218-219)
Gal 3:27-28 was as theologically offensive, immature, impractical, and doomed to fail in the real word as anything else Paul said Galatians. It was as bad as claiming that Abraham was the ancestor of Gentiles (Gal 3:6-9); that the law was an active agent consigning Israel to sin (Gal 3:19-26); that Judeans were illegitimate descendants of Hagar (Gal 4:22-5:1); that the Christian movement was now Israel (Gal 6:16).

Gal 3:27-28 appeals to my own modern Unitarian sensibilities, and it evidently appeals to Mark too. But historically it was more apocalyptically naïve, and offensive, than "theologically mature". Paul's world was one in which different ethnic groups, genders, and social classes could get along only by preserving their identities rather than eliminating them. (Attempts to eliminate actually encourage groups to re-assert their identies in overly aggressive ways, especially in competitive honor-shame societies.) Paul "matured" by gradually relinquishing the formula of Gal 3:27-28. It's the last thing he wanted to say in Rom 6:1-7:6 -- where in the context of baptism he went out of his way to assert differences between Judeans and Greeks -- and indeed in the entire letter of Romans, where he shows greater sensitivity and maturity than perhaps ever before.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Difficult Dating of Galatians

Of the seven undisputed Pauline letters, Galatians is the most difficult to date. It's been dated early (sometimes even before I Thessalonians), late (along with Romans), and in-between (somewhere amidst the Corinthian letters, but often right before both). In the past I've favored an early dating, around the time of I Thessalonians, but never really been happy with it. Mark Goodacre now offers good reasons for placing it between I & II Corinthians.
"It cannot escape the most cursory of readers that Galatia has dropped out in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul is still on good terms with the Galatians in 1 Corinthians, and has recently given them directions concerning the collection. By 2 Corinthians and Romans, they are no longer mentioned as participants in the collection. The rupture with the Galatian churches, to which the epistle to the Galatians bears witness, has occurred in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul has lost those churches, and Galatians is his last desperate attempt to win back people he sees as apostate."
That's a good point, and one also noted in passing by Philip Esler in New Testament Theology, discussing Paul's strategy of dealing with ethnic conflict in the Roman church:
"Paul seems to have hit upon [a better way of resolving ethnic conflict], perhaps because of his prior experience in Galatia, where his hard line against Judeans seems to have backfired, as shown by the failure of the Galatians to contribute to his collection for the poor..." (p 280)
That Paul asked the Galatians to contribute is clear from I Cor 16:1. That they didn't end up doing so is implied, as Esler and Goodacre say, in Rom 15:26 -- and even earlier, as Goodacre notes, in II Cor 9:2. So the falling out between Paul and the Galatians (occasioned by Paul's flaming letter) must have happened between I & II Corinthians.

Mark also compares I Cor 7:19 to Gal 5:6/6:15, concluding that the former must precede the latter:
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts. (I Cor 7:19)

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love...Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Gal 5:6, 6:15)
Paul's rivals in Galatia were stressing that circumcision is a commandment of God, and so Mark concludes that Paul would not have said I Cor 7:19 after the Galatian controversy: Galatians indeed comes after I Corinthians.

Another good point, but I think one could argue similarly, in the reverse direction, by comparing Gal 3:28 to I Cor 12:13:
There is no longer Judean or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Judeans or Greeks, slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one spirit. (I Cor 12:13)
The controversy over women's issues in Corinth caused Paul to drop the "male/female" part of his theological forumula, and so using Mark's logic, Paul would not have said Gal 3:28 after the Corinthian controversy: I Corinthians thus comes after Galatians.

So in comparing theological remarks between Galatians and I Corinthians, I think it's a stalemate. But in comparing what Paul says about the collection between I Corinthians and II Corinthians & Romans, Mark is on much stronger ground.

UPDATE: Mark addresses the relationship between Gal 3:28 and I Cor 12:13, as he sees it, arguing that "Paul's addition of the more liberated 'male nor female' represents his more mature, developed thought" (Galatians indeed coming after I Corinthians), "not something that he dropped because his attitude had changed" (as if I Corinthians were the later letter). Mark sees this as an understandable development because Galatians centers on the issue of circumcision,
"a very andocentric affair, but what Paul sees in 3.28 is that baptism, unlike circumcision, is an initiation rite that involves women as well as men. Perhaps it was this context that caused him to reformulate the statement. I would like to think so."
I responded to Mark by acknowledging the point -- about circumcision being andocentric, and relating this to the implications of baptism. I'm now convinced that I Corinthians was written before Galatians. But it's important to realize that Paul's erasure of distinction between male and female (Gal 3:28) doesn't necessarily represent a "more mature" development. As I said,
"There were more 'abolitions of distinction' in the earliest days [of the Christian movement] on account of apocalyptic fervor, and only subsequently, as the kingdom didn't come and problems arose, such distinctions gradually reasserted themselves.

"That's exactly what happened between Galatians and Romans. In Romans Paul doesn't even say 'in Christ there is no Judean or Greek', let alone the 'male/female' part. That's because (so Esler) the erasure of differences -- while appealing to us today in the abstract -- is impractical, doomed to fail in the real word, and seriously backfired on Paul in Galatia. In Romans he went out of his way to assert differences between Judeans and Greeks. Does that make Paul 'less mature' in Romans, or more?"

Friday, September 15, 2006

Nerd Test

How Nerdy Are You? At 43 points I'm somewhere in between the poles of Jim West (10 pts: Not Nerd) and Stephen Carlson (96 pts: Nerd God). I'll have to start genuflecting when I visit Stephen's blog.

UPDATE: Rick Sumner is another Nerd God (97 points), and Rick Brannan comes in pretty high too, High Nerd (87 points). I feel so substandard.

UPDATE (II): Tyler Williams is a Low-Rank Nerd (64 points), and both Kevin Wilson and Brandon Wason fall in at Mid-Rank (71 points each). Tyler registers suprise that I'm so light; frankly it suprised me too. But I simply can't believe Mark Goodacre's pitiful score of 17. Something's not right there.

UPDATE (III): I retook the test, because there were a couple of questions I should have answered differently. I'm still Lightly Nerdy, but at 54 points instead of 43. The question regarding the speed of light has two correct answers, both of which I knew, but chose the "less nerdy" answer; so that was cheating. I also have more RAM on the computer I use most often, so I changed my answer there. Then too I used a different browser this time when taking the test (Firefox instead of Safari). Perhaps the fact that I'm taking this test so seriously should kick me up more points.

I am nerdier than 54% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Dumbing Down of English Nouns

"Dictionaries are the arbiters of the acceptable parts of speech for each word. But adherence to the rules governing word class is on a sharp decline as people bend or ignore rules and adapt unconventional uses that spread through work environments like computer viruses." (EditPros)
Mark Goodacre's post on unnecessary abbreviations got me thinking about one of my bugaboos: the increasingly common (but wholly foul) practice of turning nouns into verbs. "Dialogue" is an example -- whenever I hear "Let's dialogue" it's enough to make my piles burst -- and "verbs" like "office", "podium", and "medal" don't do my blood pressure any favors either.

I hate to sound like a linguistic fundamentalist, because the English language evolves like any other. Says EditPros: "About 20 percent of the verbs in English began their lives as nouns, and most don't encounter much resistance on the way in." That's obviously true, and language will continue to evolve accordingly. But recently it's been evolving a bit too casually and indiscriminately. In my view, if good verbs already exist to describe an action, there's no need to dumb down our speech by fabricating pretentious verbs. And there are plenty of good verbs to convey what "dialogue", "office", "podium", and "medal" are supposed to.

EditPros advises accordingly:
"Those who routinely apply nouns as verbs in defiance of convention defend it as a creative and time-saving practice. Many people who respect the conventions of the language still wince at such uses, however. Our advice: have fun fiddling with the language in casual conversation or informal notes, but adhere to semantic and grammatical rules in business communication if you want to be taken seriously by people who admire and respect propriety."
But as these very advisors point out, the rules can be ambiguous. They offer a test for determining your ability to distinguish between legitimate and non-standard uses of the English language. Try it yourself. It's a fun (though painful) exercise to see what horrific usages have become, or are becoming, acceptable. Of the following thirty, nine are acceptable, nine are improper, and twelve are questionable -- "questionable" meaning there's currently no clear answer; it all depends on whether you consult the Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary or Oxford Online Dictionary.
1. The benefits office has identified several ways to INCENTIVIZE employees to reduce absences.

2. A disturbing DISCONNECT between the company's product development policies and marketplace realities has become apparent.

3. The planning commission members excused themselves briefly from the city council meeting to CONFERENCE outside.

4. We will recycle that scrap metal, but we'll LANDFILL the old logs.

5. The new purchasing procedures ADVANTAGE larger suppliers.

6. The Peace Corps' campus representative will OFFICE in Thompson Hall and report to the director of international education.

7. The agency favors foster parent applicants who previously have PARENTED or cared for children in some capacity.

8. The organization's attorney is WORDSMITHING a draft.

9. The agency is helping growers to TRANSITION to organic production.

10. Cooking contest rules state that chefs must SOURCE all of the ingredients within the county.

11. Sharon said she welcomes the opportunity to MENTOR children.

12. In our analysis, we are EFFORTING to determine the cause of the decline in water quality.

13. The report will BENCHMARK business processes, including average order processing time, average margins, inventory turnover and average sales per employee.

14. Ellen was TASKED to analyze the competition.

15. Each entry point in the building is ALARMED after business hours to detect unauthorized intrusion.

16. A team composed of senior officers was formed to hold an OFFSITE to discuss and recommend appropriate action.

17. The bank has begun TRIALING a new voice-recognition system to ease telephone account access for customers.

18. School administrators encourage parents to PARTNER with their child's teacher.

19. We can help the company diversify by LEVERAGING our office leasing experience.

20. We must seek ways to NORM the data with other agencies that have conducted similar surveys.

21. The police department rerouted traffic until construction crews UPRIGHTED the fallen crane.

22. He REFERENCED a previous variance granted in 1996 that authorized 15-foot setbacks.

23. After making their presentation, the consultants DIALOGUED with interested business owners.

24. Do not SEWER melted agar, which will congeal and then clog the pipes.

25. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to SUMMIT Mt. Everest.

26. The underwater seismic survey was PURPOSED to delineate faulted zones and evaluate the physical properties of the bedrock.

27. Frank, can you STATUS us on the fund-raising campaign?

28. If you were not the instructor for the last lesson, please INTERFACE with the previous instructor before class starts.

29. She ARCHITECTED Web-based content management, electronic learning and electronic commerce systems for dozens of companies.

30. The legislation will SUNSET the state Acupuncture Board, and replace it with a bureau within the Department of Consumer Affairs.
See EditPros for the answers. It's good to know that "to office" is still unacceptable, but there are enough ambiguities here (like "mentor" and "dialogue") to make my blood congeal. The dumbing down of our nouns indeed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Crusader Kingdoms

The Periphery of Francia: Outremer is an excellent site detailing maps, geneologies, and timelines of the crusader territories: Jerusalem, Cyprus, Tripoli, Antioch, Edessa. (It takes amusing potshots at The Kingdom of Heaven and The DaVinci Code in passing.) Definitely a page to bookmark if you're interested in the crusades.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Quote for the Day: The Nobility of Failure

"The tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth. It is the meaning of life -- and the hope. The noblest is eternally the most tragic. The people who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classers." (Playwright Eugene O'Neill)

Monday, September 11, 2006


Like another blogger, I remember 9/11. And as before, I recommend the film United 93 for those who can take it. (The DVD came out last week.) Greengrass does an amazing job portraying the chaos of the morning as communications broke down between the FAA and the military, alongside the terror going on inside the fourth aircraft. A notable acting performance is that of Ben Sliney, who plays himself. 9/11 was actually his first day on the job as FAA Operations Manager. What a reward for being promoted.

On third viewing, I remain extremely impressed with how the film was shot and edited (not a single exploitive frame to be found), and the acting performances are too real for words. The use of non-actors -- actual 9/11 air-traffic controllers and military personnel reliving their disbelief and helplessness -- alongside seasoned professionals is a powerful combination. I'm hard to please, but this is a masterpiece, and completely unlike Oliver Stone's sentimental World Trade Center.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Quote of the Day: The Crusade Reformation

"For most of its 2000-year history the papacy has not been in the forefront of reform. It has supported reformers and it has taken over and controlled reform once it has begun, but only once, in the late eleventh century, can it be said that the popes found themselves in the invigorating but dangerously exposed position of being the leaders of a radical party in the church." (Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A Short History, p 4)

The crusades, yes, were part of a reform movement. The Holy War in the East was as much a part of this reformation as the Peace of God in the West. Both sought, in part, to correct the chaos and violence tearing apart Christendom, in different ways.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Crusades: To Apologize or Not

Yesterday's post called forth stimulating comments, and it may help to reiterate the point. The medieval crusaders were motivated, for the most part, by religious idealism. Contra decades of scholarly claims, there's no evidence that the holy wars relieved families of surplus sons, or attracted knights to seek fortune abroad. Family members and relatives had to make harsh sacrifices in providing cash for departing crusaders, and knights often had to shell out up to twice their annual income in order to bring along their equipment, horses, and servants. There were few rewards to be won in Palestine in any case; the possibility of settlement after a 2000-mile march to the east was wild and remote, and everyone knew it.

The factors which did motivate crusaders -- aside from self-defense -- are rather alien to us. The medieval period was an age of vendettas and pilgrimages, and the crusades were both. Knights readily identified with papal vendetta-calls to aid their lord Christ, who had "lost his inheritance in the holy lands" and was being humiliated by the infidel; and everyone warmed to the idea of crusading as a public pilgrimage (private devotions were foreign to most of the laity). Holy wars were penitential before anything else, assuring indulgence for sins.

The crusaders may end up looking more or less attractive than before, but it's the historical understanding we're after. Defensive responses to Muslim aggression, zealous vendettas over holy places, and reverent pilgrimages paint a different picture than boorish colonialism.

In yet another article, "Rethinking the Crusades", Jonathan Riley-Smith (a Catholic) asks whether or not the church should be apologizing for the crusades. He makes the point that the war-atrocities against Muslims abroad were no worse than those seen in any ideological war, while the horrors inflicted on Jews, heretics, and fellow Christians at home were appalling by any standard:
"If the behavior of the crusaders in the East cannot be considered to have been quantitatively worse than that of those fighting in any ideological war, the behavior of the crusaders in Europe could sometimes be abominable, even by the standards of the time. Before heading off to the Jerusalem crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some Europeans 'prepared themselves' through violent outbreaks of anti–Judaism in France, Germany, and England. During the crusades launched against fellow Christians or heretics, the most unpleasant examples of loss of discipline and control took place (the sacks of Constantinople in 1204 and of Béziers in 1209 spring to mind). If we are going to express contrition for the behavior of the crusaders, it is not so much to the Muslims that we should apologize, but to the Jews and to our fellow Christians.

"But should we be apologizing at all? No crusade was actually proclaimed against the Jews, although crusade preaching unleashed feelings that the Church could not control. As far as crusading itself is concerned, most Muslims do not view the crusades, in which they anyway believe they were victorious, in isolation. Islam has been spasmodically in conflict with Christianity since the Muslim conquests of the seventh century, long before the First Crusade, and the crusading movement was a succession of episodes in a continuum of hostility between the two religions. Muslims do not seem to have considered until relatively recently that the crusades stood out in this history... It follows that apologizing to them now can never, as far as they are concerned, get to the root of the problem, because the crusades are merely symptomatic of a much longer–term competitiveness. It is rather like a marksman aiming at an opponent and, while he fires his rifle, expressing regrets for his ancestor's use of a bow and arrow."
I agree, though my infidel outlook targets the issue in a more general way. I have little use for any public apologies -- but especially for historical injustices, whether real or imagined -- because they're patronizing and seem inherently disingenuous. In the case of the crusades, they're not only that, but empty, for the reasons given by Riley-Smith.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Understanding the Crusades

Steven Runciman in 1951:

The Crusades were a destructive episode. There was so much courage and so little honor, so much devotion and so little understanding. High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost. (A History of the Crusades, Vol III, p 480).

Jonathan Riley-Smith in 1990:

Until thirty years ago very few historians were prepared to believe that crusaders acted from idealism -- hence the fashion for discussing the motives of crusaders in economic or colonial terms. But even as Runciman was writing his magnificent peroration the world around him was changing. It is no longer possible for historians to treat the crusaders simply as greedy imperialists or uncomprehending barbarians. (The Atlas of the Crusades, pp 158-159)

Jonathan Riley-Smith is the E.P. Sanders of crusades scholarship, having demonstrated the stereotype of barbaric, imperialist crusaders to be as wrong and misinformed as that of legalist Jews in the first century. He wrote a fine article in The Economist over a decade ago, well worth revisiting. People persist in viewing the crusaders as unsophisticated boors -- not least Ridley Scott, whose Kingdom of Heaven movie is as laughably anti-historical as Dan Brown's DaVinci Code. Riley-Smith had things to say about the film in a Times article, "Truth is the First Victim":
"The makers of Kingdom of Heaven follow a modified version of [19th-century scholarly] constructs. A cruel, avaricious and cowardly Christian clergy preaches hatred against the Muslims and most of the crusaders and settlers are equally stupid and fanatical. At the same time the Holy Land is portrayed as a kind of early America, a New World welcoming enterprising immigrants from an impoverished and repressive Europe. And in the midst of all the bigotry a brotherhood of liberal-minded men has vowed to create an environment in which all religions will co-exist in harmony and is in touch with Saladin, who shares its aim of peace.

"This is invention. There was no brotherhood of free thinkers. There did not need to be, because within a decade or two of their occupation of Palestine the crusaders had adopted a policy of toleration, based on the Muslim treatment of subject Christians and Jews. Muslim and Jewish shrines, mosques and synagogues were open. Muslims worshipped even in Christian shrines and churches and there was at least one mosque-church. Of course the toleration was necessary if the natives were to be kept quiet, but it is a different reality from that portrayed in the film.

"Kingdom of Heaven will feed the preconceptions of Arab nationalists and Islamists. The words and actions of the liberal brotherhood and the picture of Palestine as a Western frontier will confirm for the nationalists that medieval crusading was fundamentally about colonialism. On the other hand the fanaticism of most of the Christians in the film and their hatred of Islam is what the Islamists want to believe. At a time of inter-faith tension, nonsense like this will only reinforce existing myths."
In the post 9/11 world, understanding what motivated the crusaders is more important than ever. And what motivated them wasn't money or material gain: on the contrary, they dreaded the dangers of travel and expensive costs involved over the trek to Palestine, and there were few rewards to be won in the Holy Lands. Crusaders were motivated by anything but economic interests. They were motivated by sincere religious zeal.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm Not Myself (Epilogue)

(Previous posts here and here.)

Paul isn't himself in Rom 7:7-25. He's Adam in the first half and a Medea-character in the second. He assumes these personas because they serve his argumentative purposes perfectly. His chief aim in Rom 7:7-25 is to assure the Jews in Rome that God always acted for the good in giving the law; and to correct the perverse claim of Gal 3:19-24, where the law is an active agent consigning Israel to sin, and where God intends such a result "so that" he may save on another basis.

By taking on the role of Adam (vv 7-13), Paul is able to shift the blame for disobedience onto the power sin itself (~the serpent), exonerate God, and make the law passive in its relationship to sin. Sin (~the serpent) uses the commandment as a host, as it were, and foils God's intent.

By taking on the role of "Medea" (vv 14-25), Paul is able to go a step further and remove the law from sin's influence entirely. Sin now invades human flesh directly, using people as hosts, and turning them into pagans -- unable to do what they know to be right.

These are the shifts in thought spotted by E.P. Sanders long ago in Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (p 75), though Sanders didn't make the Adam/Medea associations. Making these associations lends considerable force to his argument.

The Lutherans are right about one thing: Paul speaks about the law phenomenologically and targets Jews in Rom 7. Gentiles were dealt with in the previous chapter. Pagans die to ungodliness (Rom 6:16-23) -- to "impurity and lawlessness" (Rom 6:19) -- while Jews die to the law (Rom 7:1-6). But that implies that the law is equivalent to ungodliness. Rom 7:7-25 clarifies accordingly. But as Paul saves the law, he damns Israel instead, turning the Jewish people into wretched pagans (vv 14-25) who are unable to control their passions and do what the law requires.

Rom 7:7-25 might be called an exercise in theological give-and-take. Do we prefer a God who is sovereign but perverse (Gal 3:19-24) or benign but incompetent (Rom 7:7-25)? Were the Jewish people robust and capable (Philip 3:4b-6) or as hopeless as pagans (Rom 7:14-25)? It depends on the ox being gored.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I'm Not Myself (Rom 7:14-25)

(Previous post here.)

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I delight in the law of God, but I see in my members another law at war, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom 7:15-23; condensed)

Who am "I"? The passage could be depicting:

(a) a pagan's uncontrollable urge to do what he/she knows to be wrong (the Greco-Roman conflict between rational resolve and overwhelming passion)
(b) Paul's experience under the law as a Pharisee
(c) Paul's experience under the law as a Christian

(a) is the correct answer. As before, Paul isn't speaking autobiographically, whether as a Pharisee or Christian, though his rhetoric does imply the former -- (b) that a pre-Christian Jew's plight under the law is hopeless and wretched (contradicting Philip 3:4b-6). Paul is drawing on the common moral dilemma found in Greco-Roman literature and speaking, for the moment, as a pagan. Thomas Tobin, in Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts (pp 232-235) notes the abundant allusions, especially Medea who was compelled to kill her children as revenge against Jason (compare with Rom 7:15-23 above):
"I am conquered by evils. And I understand the deeds I am about to do are evil. But anger is greater than my resolves -- anger, the cause for mortals of the greatest evils." (Euripides, Medea 1077b-1080)

"But some strange power draws me against my will, and desire persuades me one way, and my mind another. I see the better and approve, but I follow the worse." (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7:19-21)
Paul has assumed the role of a Medea-like character in order to portray Jewish behavior under the law as conforming to the dilemma often found in the Hellenized world. In effect, he refers to himself ("I") on the surface, and thus to other Jews by implication ("those who know the law", Rom 7:1), but he's really invoking an argument foreign to Jews who easily counted on the grace of God no matter how often they sinned.

If Paul is addressing the Jewish faction in Rome throughout Rom 7 ("those who know the law", v 1), as I believe, then why does he invoke such irrelevant rhetoric? The reason is that he needs to sever the link between the law and sin, and complete his whitewash of a bad theology advanced earlier in Gal 3:19-24. He's halfway there: he used Adam/Eve and the serpent to disassociate God from sin. But with "Medea" he's able to go a step further and disassociate the law from sin. Rather than sin (~the serpent) using the law (vv 7-13), sin now invades human flesh directly, tormenting people and making them unable to do what they know to be right (vv 14-25). This puts both God and the law completely on the side of good, and heaps the entire blame for immorality on a hopeless and wretched humanity. That's why Paul isn't himself in Rom 7:14-25.

In the next and final post, I'll wrap up in epilogue.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I'm Not Myself (Rom 7:7-13)

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. The commandment which promised my life proved my death, because sin, seizing opportunity in the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. (Rom 7:9-11)

Who am "I"? The passage could be depicting:

(a) Adam/Eve's experience with the commandment in Eden
(b) Paul's experience under the law as a Pharisee
(c) Paul's experience under law as a Christian

(a) is the correct answer, and the fact that it doesn't receive widespread support continues to amaze me.

(b) makes nonsense of Philip 3:4b-6; the Christian Paul thought he had been blameless under the law as a Pharisee.

(c) makes nonsense of the fact Christians are not under the law, even if they fulfil it; Christians have access to the best which the law promised but never delivered, by a different route (the spirit) -- which is precisely why the argument of Rom 7 doesn't apply to them (Rom 8:1-4)

Can there really be any doubt that the Genesis story was in Paul's mind, especially in light of his preface in Rom. 5:12-21? Francis Watson, in Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles (pp 152-153), notes the abundant allusions (compare with Rom 7:9-11 above):
Adam, "alive" and newly created, is placed in Eden (Gen. 2:7-9) and "commanded" by God not to eat of the tree of life (Gen. 2:16-17), whereafter the serpent "seizes opportunity" to further its own ends (Gen. 3:1-5) and Eve complains that she was "deceived" (Gen. 3:13). God then "kills" humanity, punishing it with mortality (Gen. 3:19,22-23).
It's clear that Paul has assumed the role of Adam in order to argue that Jewish behavior under the law replicates Adam/Eve's failure under the primal commandment in Eden. In effect, he refers to himself ("I") on the surface, and thus to other Jews by implication ("those who know the law", Rom 7:1), but he's really referring to Adam/Eve. His argument is exegetical, saying in effect that the Jewish plight under the law traces back to the horror of the fall.

The reason why Paul wishes to evoke the Eden scenario so explictly is because he is intent on severing the link between the God and sin, and thus modify his earlier (perverse) argument of Galatians. Instead of God giving the law to consign Israel to sin so that she might later be saved by faith (Gal 3:19-24), he now gives the law "unto life" (Rom 7:10), but sin (~the serpent) uses the law against the purposes of God, foiling the deity's intent. That's why Paul isn't himself in Rom 7:7-13.

In the next post, we'll see why Paul isn't himself in Rom 7:14-25.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival IX

At the witching hour, the ninth Biblical Studies Carnival appears on Stephen Carlson's Hypotyposeis.