The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Chesterton and me

I had no idea that G.K. Chesterton had an "amusing definition of the Euphemist": “I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them.”

So, what's your historical agenda?

Fascinating discussion by Dr. Sherwin in the video lecture I was viewing last night. He was explaining how the course on "Medieval Judaism" fits into the Spertus curriculum, and he said "Every curriculum makes a statement that's conceptual, political, and ideological." Also, he said that any scheme of periodisation of history has an agenda. Say what?

The way we divide history into periods reveals our ideological agenda. For example, reflecting upon my year of General Church History in seminary, I believe the periodization was "Pre-Reformation", "Reformation", and "Post-Reformation" - which strongly suggests a Reformation-oriented agenda. The Catholics and Orthodox would no doubt have different schemes. To be fair, I believe our professor gave much more time and credence to Centuries II - XV than most Protestants would have.

According to Dr. Sherwin, the thing that holds a period together in the history of Judaism is common questions, rather than common answers. In the Medieval Period, Judaism was tackling the question, "Why do we do what we do as Jews?" Jewish Philosophers and Jewish Mystics (Kabbalists) gave very different answers to this question, but they were answering the same question. Rabbinic Judaism had concentrated, rather, on the question of "What do we do as Jews?"

In each period, whichever group "wins" (i.e., comes up with the most influential answer to the period's leading questions) sets the agenda for the next historical period.

The Spertus core curriculum includes four courses corresponding to four basic periods of the history of Judaism:

1. Religion of Biblical Israel (Biblical Period)
2. Rabbinic Mind (Rabbinic Period)
3. Medieval Judaism (Medieval Period)
4. Modern Judaism (Modern Period)

According to Dr. Sherwin, this four-course, four-period scheme consciously rejects the ideology of Progressive Revelation found in Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism. This is the view that, the closer we get in history to the present time, the better the religion becomes - a development of the religion from a lower to a higher form over the course of time. Reform & Reconstructionist seminaries generally follow the Modern Period with a Post-modern or Contemporary period, beginning with the formation of modern Israel in 1948. Dr. Sherwin & others believe that the Modern Period is still an experiment with an unknown outcome. It's too early to tell if a large enough agenda-changing event has sent Judaism into a new historical period. (Seems to me that the Holocaust would be a big enough event to cause a major shift, but perhaps we need a few more decades, at least, to see what direction is taken)

The Spertus curriculum also contradicts the historical ideology of Orthodox Judaism, which holds that the higher form of the religion is found the further back you go in history, until it reaches its highest form at Mt. Sinai with the bestowing of the Torah. The Spertus scheme is non-committal about what direction the religion is going; it only says that, to understand the history of Judaism, one must understand something of the Biblical, Rabbinic, Medieval, and Modern Periods.

Though Spertus is officially not affiliated with any certain form of Judaism, it seems to me that it generally reflects the viewpoint of Conservative Judaism (a slightly misleading name, as it falls along the midpoint of the Jewish ideological spectrum, rather than the right wing - but, then again, when has the whole "right/left", "conservative/liberal" thing really held up to intense scrutiny, anyway?).

This answered one question I had: why didn't Spertus have a course that corresponded to my special interest, the Post-exilic period (about 530 BC - AD 70)? It had seemed to me that they were leaving a gap between the Biblical and Rabbinic periods, but now I see that, though there was a period in there when no new writings were being added to the Hebrew canon, the general mindset of the Biblical Period still held sway, until the destruction of the Temple.

Naturally this all leads me to ponder what agendas we reveal with the schemes we use to divvy up Christian history and general history. Do our agendas blind us to any ephochal, agenda-changing events that we should really be using as our major historical markers? I welcome your thoughts, one and all.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


"I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!" - Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:1

I relate to Paul in this verse. It looks like he may have been mild-mannered in person, and much more bold and forceful in his writing. That happens to me, too. My in-person style is so mild and non-confrontational, it would probably astonish some of my parishioners to read some of the sharply worded things I've written. As I reread my comment on the post below this one, I find myself thinking two things:

1. I agree 200% with the substance of my comments, and
2. If I had it to do over again, I would be slightly more diplomatic, though no less adamant.

There's a place for confrontation and confuting of error (Titus 1:9), and also "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ", Ephesians 4:15. The truth and the love both must be there. They're part of the same thing, or rather the same Person.

What Would Luther Do ...

... if he were forced to choose between the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions (parts of which he wrote himself) as the one book he could save in an emergency? I think it's very clear from his own writings that he would choose the Bible.

Yesterday, via Lars Walker, I came across this post in which "Othniel" argues that the Book of Concord (the collection of confessional documents which officially define Lutheran doctrine - some, but not all of them were written by Martin Luther) would be the one book to save if you were only permitted to "choose one (count'em "1") book by which to salvage all of human history, knowledge and spirituality."

I dashed off a response/challenge to his argument, which may be viewed as a comment on Othniel's post. I'll also include it at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday I had also posted something about it on this site. Then, after awhile, my conscience told me that in my fury I had let a little of the flesh show through, so I deleted it. Nevertheless, I stand by the content of my comments. I think Othniel meant well, but it seems very clear to me that Luther and the Reformers would have never, never, never intended their writings to take the place of the Bible.

Maybe I'll blog more about this issue in upcoming days. Meanwhile, we're praying for you, Othniel, and thanks, Lars, for the nod.

My comments, as posted at Othniel's "Cross Theology":

I'm a Lutheran pastor, and I can't leave this post unchallenged. To put it bluntly, I think if Luther were a blog reader today he would post you a comment, and it might not be printable in the "Lutheran Witness." Furthermore, I think he would lament, loudly, that the things he and others fought for were on the verge of being lost.

Let's ask the age old question, "WWLD" (what would Luther do?) - He said, "...nothing better could be wished than that all books would be put aside and nothing else stay in all the world, especially among Christians, but simply the pure Scripture or Bible." Seems like that just might be what his answer would be to the question you pose. He also said, "I ... often wish that [my books] would perish, because I fear that they may hinder and keep the readers from reading Scripture itself, which alone is the fount of all wisdom." Keep in mind that parts of the Book of Concord were written by Luther. He also said, "Why make many books and yet forever stay outside the really principle Book? Come now, drink more of the spring itself than of the rivulets which have led you to the spring." I get those quotes from Ewald Plass' "What Luther Says", paragraphs 341, 342, and 350.

It's certainly true that the Small Catechism contains sufficient Scripture to lead us to salvation, but it DOES NOT contain all the Scripture that is "God-breathed" or "profitable" (2 Tim. 3:16); nor does the entire BoC.

You overstate the impact of the lack of the "original source documents" of the Bible. Scripture has, by far, the most extensive array of manuscript evidence of any ancient writing, even compared to much more recent writings such as Shakespeare. Even the BoC has its manuscript discrepancies, as a look at a scholarly edition will attest.

What do you mean by "losing" the Apostles' Creed? Memorize it, man! It's short! Memorize the Catechism, too - you should have already done so in Confirmation.

You say that saving only the BoC will "guarantee" against the rise of a "cult of dispensationalism", but you underestimate the power of the human imagination. Sooner or later someone reading AC article XVII will wonder, "what 'Jewish opinions' are they talking about?" And when it's explained, they'll say, "That doesn't sound so bad!" And people will start wondering, "Where's this Bible that the BoC is always quoting, and why did the 'Cross Theology Guy' withhold it from us? Especially since FoC Epitome Intro. I says "We believe, teach and confess that the only rule and standard according to which at once all dogmas and teachers should be esteemed and judged are nothing else than the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament..."

BTW, what "antilegomena" are you talking about? The book of Revelation? Take care not to to risk disobeying Revelation 22:18,19.

So my answer is to save the Bible (the spring) rather than the Confessions (the rivulet). It's readily available in compact, inexpensive editions. You can memorize a good portion of the Confessions and should have been doing so already if you're confirmed.

And I am so audacious as to claim that I think Luther would agree with me and have some choice words for your proposal to withhold God-breathed Scripture from future generations.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Who are your greatest influences?

I thought I'd try my hand at starting a new meme, though this one's so obvious I'm sure it's been done before. It's "MY TOP TEN (OR SO) GREATEST INFLUENCES, OUTSIDE OF GOD AND MY FAMILY MEMBERS." Here's the list, not necessarily in exact order (as you can see, I'm allowing a bit of doubling up in case more then ten belong in the top ten).

1. Francis Schaeffer: Christian theologian, philosopher, apologist, evangelist, writer.
2. David Schonberg: personal friend, self-taught Christian thinker, organic farmer.
3. C.S. Lewis: Christian literary giant, apologist, writer on the history of ideas.
4. Suzanne Winters, and
5. Dr. Joan Garvin, cello instructors.
6. Drs. Olin Storvick & Stanley Iverson, Greek & Latin Professors.
7. Dr. Dale Sweeney, Latin professor who influenced me in a difficult, unique, but significant way.
8. Prs. Philip Haugen and Robert Lee, seminary instructors.
9. Morris Berman, semi-obscure & not entirely reliable writer on history of scientific thought, who nevertheless influenced me in a significant way.
10. Prs. Herbert Malm and John Kilde, pastors.

In future installments I'll write some posts on 1-3 of these people at a time to tell you how they've influenced me. Here are some "honorable mentions" - Dr. Ann Alton, cello instructor; Prs. Phil Rokke & Del Palmer, internship supervisors; Dr. Dan Hornstein, Peggy Atwood, Dean Dainsberg, Dr. J. Robert Hanson, orchestra directors.

I'll also "tag" Dave Holford & my sister to see if they'll divulge their major influences.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Confessions of a 40-year-old beginner

Some years ago a family I knew in Wisconsin taught me a board game called "Don't Get Mad!" I don't remember the details, but the main point of it was that, after making slow, steady progress through the game board, you could suddenly find yourself back at Square One. This would happen several times per game. Sometimes I feel like my life has been a long game of "Don't Get Mad!"

For the third time since 1988 I'm a beginning Hebrew student. The first time was my second year of seminary, and unfortunately I didn't get securely grounded in Hebrew that year, because I had some major discouragements/hangups that I was dealing with, and it got in the way of my academics. It was a real shame. Hebrew should have been the same kind of "entering a new world" experience that Latin and Greek had been for me in college.

I had actually written off Hebrew as something I wouldn't ever get back to - but then came Spertus, which was the best distance ed program for my needs - an accredited, legitimate program which connected with my special interests in ancient languages, thought, culture, and religion. I need to pass a Hebrew exam in order to complete the degree, so in mid-2004, after I was done with the first course and awaiting the second, I plowed through the first ten chapters of Biblical Hebrew Step By Step by Menahem Mansoor, a simpler Hebrew text than Weingreen, my seminary Hebrew text. Then the second course came and I abruptly dropped the Hebrew. Then I finished the second course and found that I was almost back at Square One with Hebrew! So Now that I'm starting the third course, I've decided that I'd better keep at the Hebrew a little bit each day, so I don't have to begin a fourth time. Though Weingreen is harder, I've gone back to it, as it's more comprehensive, and there's something satisfying about actually being able to compose some simple but biblical-sounding phrases after trudging through a jungle of odd-sounding grammatical rules.

Here's a fun sentence I recently translated from Weingreen:

מי אני ומה־אני

mi eni w'mah eni, "Who am I, and what am I?"

In other news, I sometimes feel like a beginner on the cello after 27 years, though I know it isn't really true. But I don't feel as sharp with it as when I was taking lessons and playing in orchestras every week. This year I set out to teach myself Bach's Suite #4 for Unaccompanied Cello, just so I would be learning new stuff and not just playing the same old things. I think I'll be continuing with Suite #4 in 2006 as well.

I also feel like a beginner as a Christian apologist, a full 28 years after I first encountered the works of Francis Schaeffer and first caught the vision from him (and from an extraordinary Bible study fellowship we were part of when I was growing up) of a Christian faith which connected with all areas of life, the mind as well as the heart.

I also feel like a beginner as a philosophical thinker, 20 years after an undergrad philosophy course which revolutionized my thinking by introducing me to the concept of a Paradigm Shift. Long before that phrase had become a banal buzzword at the hands of Steven Covey and others, a "paradigm shift" meant an all-encompassing change in an individual's or society's basic World View. Already prepared by Schaeffer for this kind of idea, I've spent the last 20 years looking for my next major personal paradigm shift, a new lens bringing into new focus my perennial questions about the Bible, the Church, the world, etc.

I feel like I should be farther along in these pursuits than I am, considering what good beginnings I had. Perhaps I'm farther along than I think. It's my nature to dig ever deeper into the roots, so that could be part of why I don't feel like I've reached the treetops. Perhaps rather than feeling like I'm too old to be beginning, I could tell myself that it's a way of being young again!

They say "well begun is half done." Maybe if I keep at it now I'll be half-way done when I die. And it'll help if I don't get mad!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Euphemist: Cello-related Spam Magnet

It's not often that spam actually makes sense. Overnight somebody generously posted multiple versions of a cello supplies link. It looks half-way legitimate, though, of course, I must say "caveat emptor." Just one version of the link would have been enough. I'm most intrigued by the version of the comment that says "mothers day cello bags". In my 27 years as a cellist I had never, to my recollection, strung the words "mothers day cello bags" together in that order.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Interesting discussion in the opening video lecture in "Medieval Judaism". The subject: The Agenda of Medieval Judaism. According to Dr. Sherwin, Rabbinic (Talmudic era) Judaism was mainly concerned with the question of "what does God want us to do?", whereas Medieval Judaism concerned itself more with "why does God want us to do it?" He said that earlier Jewish thought had actually resisted giving an answer to "why", partly because of a fear that if you give a rationale, you then give later generations an excuse to change a law, for example, if they think the original reason for the law no longer exists. & Dr. Sherwin states that to some extent that very thing actually happened.

Interesting thought. Does an attempt to answer the question "why" result in a sort of situation ethics? If we try to understand the spirit of the law, might it lessen our attention to the letter of the law? Any thoughts or observations?

In other news, I already have a theory about who the North Dakotan is in the video lectures (see this previous post). The backs of the heads of two ladies are prominent in the foreground of the opening lecture video, and the one on the left has a certain plain clean-cutness that I've seen in many of my fellow citizens of the three "ota states" (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota). The other lady has more of an urbane appearance, probably from Chicago or New York or some such place, but of course I could be wrong - I've known people like her all my life, though they tend to stand out just a little around here. In the "ota states" we have our exceptions who prove the rule. Awhile ago I did a bit of web snooping to find out what I could about the handful (I found five of them) of synagogues in North and South Dakota. I found out that one in ND, in defiance of more than one stereotype, had a young African-American female rabbi. Anyway, I'll probably just have to keep listening until I hear the tell-tale accent of Lutefisk Land ...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Public Service Announcement

I am happy to annouce that as a public service, The Euphemist will from now on be providing an AUTOMATIC COMPUTER SCREEN CLEANER, accessible through the link in this article or on the sidebar, at absolutely no charge! I just can't help being so kind, generous, and helpful ... aw, shucks, don't mention it ...

You coax the blues right out of the horn, Meme!

I've just figured out that the word meme is used as a name for these blogging games where you answer some kind of question about yourself that someone else has already answered. The larger definition of meme, according to the Wikipedia article, is "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." Makes sense. I especially enjoy this paragraph from the Wikipedia article:

"The concept of memes itself comprises a meme. Even the idea that the concept of memes is itself a meme has become a widely spread meme. However, the idea that the idea that the concept of memes is itself a meme is not yet particularly common as a meme. (Not to mention that, at this stage, the idea makes most people's heads hurt.)"

Another meme I might respond to soon is one about Time magazine's list of 100 best English language novels since 1923. Meanwhile, I was "tagged" by David Holford to do this meme, so here goes:


Five things I plan to do before I die:

1. Earn an accredited doctor's degree
2. Do more with music, maybe be in a dinner music string ensemble again.
3. Get back down to a healthy weight (I've already lost 20+ lbs!).
4. Write a book.
5. Pay off all my debts.

Five things I can do:

1. Play cello, bass, banjo, harmonica, vox, etc.
2. Read Hebrew (gaining), ancient Greek (moderately rusty), Latin (very rusty).
3. Speak in public.
4. Design simple but, I think, good web pages.
5. I once successfully changed the spark plugs on my car.

Five things I cannot do:

1. Imitate an Irish accent.
2. Keep my office clean for longer than a week at a time.
3. Speak really fast.
4. Lick my elbows (not that anybody else can ...)
5. Make someone do something they don't want to (I don't understand people who seem to enjoy trying ... it's a battle I haven't the heart to fight).

Five things that attract me to the opposite sex:

1. Authenticity.
2. Kindness.
3. Desire to live a good life.
4. Ability to discern the truth.
5. Has a relationship with God.

(All characteristics which my wife possesses.)(This is exactly what Dave's friend, the other Dave, put down, & I concur.)

Five things I say most often:

1. I see!
2. As a matter of fact ...
3. Actually,
4. We must do this very scientifically!
5. Your attention please! (Several times each time I teach confirmation class)

Five Celebrity Crushes:

Can't think of any, and I wouldn't put them down anyway. I don't know how Dave gets away with this kind of thing. In our marriage it would never fly.

Five People to whom I am passing on this meme:

Right now I think the only person I have to pass it on to is my sister at Ripples of Faith, but maybe eventually I'll share the fun with others as well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Just what you need ...

I've just been tagged by Dave, so I'll work on it soon. Meanwhile, I've just discovered another fun blog game, while visiting, for the first time, Brandywine Books, done partly by Lars Walker, a sci-fi author who also happens to be a member of the same small, obscure church body as moi.

Here's the deal: you Google "(name) needs" and post the first ten results. For example, "Phil needs" or "Someone needs", etc. I did "Georg needs", inspired by a passing reference Lars had made about Georg Sverdrup, a significant figure in my church body's background. The results were pretty wild:

Plume's Guestbook of Horror
... selling. Spam is junk mail, a hassle for the recipients. That's the main
point Georg needs to get. Georg is excessively thick. Hehe ...

Letter from the provinces
Georg needs the people of God to give him community and tell him the stories that
will draw him into the Kingdom. And the people of God need Georg to help ... (btw, I wholeheartedly agree)

 Kieran Foster is currently working down on Level 1 to sort this room out, but
Georg needs him to working in the Heavy Lab. ... ooh, shiny
... stuff but i think you'd dig it anyway. actually, i think you'd both really
dig it, but i can understand if georg needs to avoid childhood traumas :) ...

All About Spike - The Heart's Filthy Lesson by MustangSally and ...
... The circle of power Georg needs to raise the Wirtschaftsministerium is created through
the sacrifice of twenty vampires." "You're just showin' off because you ...

Minutes of July 20-21, 2004 Meeting
Signatures were obtained from EPA, DCDOH and USACE Baltimore, however C.
Georg needs to continue to work with USACE Huntsville on the language of the ...

Giorgio armani cosmetic
... armani exchange. giorgio armani fragrance. armani jewelry. goirgio amani frgrance
products. armani and georg needs arani and geor. armani exchange store. ...

Georgio armani
... The giorgio armani fragrance. The giorgio armani fragrane related to armani and
georg needs arnani and goerg, armani emporium. I need srmani emporiu. ...

Commitment Jean Lorrah Risa lay at the top of the hill above Keon ...
Georg needs a Companion, and this seems a likely way to get him one. I can do
it, if anyone can." "All right. See what you can do, with my blessing. ...

Who's going to Rockcrusher?
... (Currently 0 replies) Posted At 10:32:26 07/22/2003 E'nick will be traveling
that way. Let me know if Georg needs any help. Travis. ...

Eradicating the disabled

Very insightful post on Eradicating the Disabled at Mere Comments. Things Francis Schaeffer predicted thirty years ago are coming true.

10 Ten Reasons I'm doing this Jewish Studies thing

Top Ten things I'm trying to accomplish with the Spertus MSJS Degree Program (not necessarily
in order):

1. Learn especially to understand the post-exilic "Second Temple"
period (roughly corresponds to "intertestamental" period + period
of very early Christianity).

2. Use that knowledge to understand early Christianity more clearly
and in a new light.

3. Use that knowledge to respond knowledgably to people's questions
about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library, and many other
things that people get funny ideas about.

4. Sharpen my knowledge of the History of Ideas, world views, and "intellectual history."

5. Get out of an intellectual rut by pouring new stuff into my skull that
I wouldn't have otherwise thought of.

6. Sharpen my Hebrew, Greek, & Latin (The Gk & Lt will be involved in my
own research into the "Second Temple" era), & probably learn a bit of Aramaic
eventually as well.

7. Prepare for eventual work on some kind of doctorate degree.

8. Exercise my mind so as to help prevent Alzheimer's.

9. Probe the very roots of my own Christian faith.

10. Learn better to understand and spread the Good News of Yeshua Ha Mashiach.

UPDATE: two more things

I read my list & realized it somehow didn't seem like it mentioned the Jews that much, so I thought I'd add these two things:

11. To further love & appreciate the Jews and "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).

12. To learn what there is to learn about the Jewish perspective on history, culture, religion, etc., to learn a "second opinion" from a people who have all along been a part of Western civilization and yet a distinct civilization of their own as well.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Video courses: an audio-visual extravaganza

Twenty years ago as an undergrad I took an African history course, in which the prof showed us a series of filmstrips (yes, filmstrips), the good old-fashioned kind with a phonograph record soundtrack, complete with beeps telling you when to advance to the next frame. Some of you remember exactly what I mean, others are scratching your heads. It was outdated technology even for the mid-1980s, so when he brought out one of the filmstrips he always called it an "audio-visual extravaganza."

The Spertus MSJS program is an audio-visual extravanza of its own, done partly with video lectures, partly with one-week intensive campus sessions (I haven't done any courses on-campus yet, though I did make an actual visit to the Chicago campus nearly two years ago). I'm now starting my third video course, and through the miracle of VHS the Spertus campus comes right to my living room or office out here on the prairie.

Whether deliberately or by chance, the Spertus video course camera crew have a penchant for capturing students in mid-yawn. Most of the screen shots consist of an enthusiastic professor in front of the blackboard, with the backs of the heads of one or two students adorning the foreground. Occasionally they throw in a shot of the students in the classroom, looking a bit glazed-over. Frequently on the video you can hear the soft sound of a student asking a question in class, but for some reason there are never any visual shots of questioners asking questions. Perhaps it was hard for the camera crew to tell which set of lips was actually moving.

The instruction booklet for this course even contains this paragraph: "The recorded class met 4-5 hours each day during a hot summer, and class participants inevitably found it difficult to maintain an attention span for such an extended period, especially with material of the complexity of medieval Judaism. You do not have this problem." Don't be too sure. I've awakened on the floor a few times with the tv screen blue because the video was done.

This is no reflection on the content of the lectures, which are always highly interesting and thought-provoking. But over the years I've lost none of my talent for drowsiness during lectures, and apparently the same is true for the mostly old-than-average students co-starring in the Spertus video lectures.

The profs are highly qualified scholars with great enthusiasm for their subjects, and it comes through. One professor, a consummate Hebrew scholar, often turns a Hebrew phrase with great verve, and her pronunciation of the letter 'ayin is something I'll never achieve. It is the most gutteral of the gutterals, though the heth is also rather gutteral - a fluent speaker can almost raise the concern that something's about to be coughed up.

The introductory notes for my new course also mention that three distance learners were in the class while it was being taped, two from Texas and one from North Dakota, which fascinates me, since I've lived both places. In fact, the lectures were taped during July 24-29, 1994, which happens to have been during the first full week of my two-year residence in Texas. I wonder if I'll be able to pick out the North Dakotan. People from ND usually don't dress much differently from others, but generally have a conspicuous cleanness, like Paul McCartney's grandpa in "Hard Day's Night" ("He's a stone mixer, but he's clean ..."). And of course, North Dakotans (like East River South Dakotans & Minnesotans, I'll admit) talk not unlike the characters in the movie "Fargo" (though I adamantly maintain that the movie lays it on a little thick - on the other hand I admit I've known people all my life who talk exactly like the "Fargo" characters ... I've been told that I do, too ... ), so if he/she pipes up with a question it'll be a dead giveaway.

I haven't actually begun watching my new video lectures yet, as I'm supposed to read some of the assigned readings first. But I eagerly await my new "audio-visual extravaganza." The intro notes also say, "Unlike students in the classroom, you have the advantage of 'instant replay.' You have access to 'class sessions' at any time - particularly at times that you are most alert." Most alert, eh?! I'm not sure I ever am at my most alert ... so I think I'll be doing a lot of replay, which is nothing new ...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Oh ClustrMap, my ClustrMap

I've added a fun (I hope) thing to this page - my very own ClustrMap on the sidebar, obviously much more interesting than a plain old hit counter. Now I just have to give people reasons to visit. Thanks, Dave, for stopping by and leaving my first red dot on the map other than the one I left by visiting my own site! I'm guessing you're the one who made the red dot in England. Maybe I can collect countries, like people who have a map on the back of their RVs showing what states and provinces they've visited.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Jewish "Protestants?"

Yesterday The Box came - my study materials for my new Spertus course in Medieval Judaism. At first glance it looks like I may find it more interesting than the Jewish Theology course, with more interaction with primary sources, and interesting topics such as Medieval Jewish Bible Commentaries. Regarding the Bible - I'm not sure there'll be much about the Masoretes, the scholars largely responsible for the form of the Hebrew Bible we know today, but there was a bit about them in the opening pages of my very first assigned reading from Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People. It seems that Jewish efforts to establish one authentic text of the Bible to circulate amongst the Jews paralleled Muslim efforts in "fixing an authentic Koran, a Textus Receptus, that would disqualify all other versions." (p. 227) The Masoretes "took it upon themselves to ... decide for all time what the text of the Bible was in every detail. All Hebrew Bible produced since the period of the Masoretes represent in the main the text established by them. It is called the Masoretic text, and it is the work of a family of Karaites, the Asher family" (p. 227-228)

So who were the Karaites? My brief impression is that they were (and are - apparently a few are around today) Jewish "Protestants" who differ from most Jews in rejecting the Oral Law (Talmud, etc.) and relying on the Tanakh alone as sole Scripture. Sounds to me like an interesting parallel to the Christian divide between sola scriptura (Protestant) and "Scripture as a part of Tradition" (Catholic/Orthodox - I borrowed that phrase from an Orthodox priest). Interesting that my Orthodox friend David Holford had just made a brief blog entry on that very subject, to which I left a half-baked comment a little too late at night.

So, how good a job did the Masoretes do? I've read pros & cons on the subject. It's something I'm hoping to gain the tools to make my own assessment of, in the process of working on this degree. On the other hand, I've read interesting suggestions that the Septuagint & other early versions (not to mention super-early mss. such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) offer some interesting & valid challenges to the Masoretic Text. On the other hand, the Preface to the English Standard Version of the Bible, which I like, mentions a "currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text." Well, another piece of the Big Puzzle which I'm trying to put together as I putter along through perpetual studenthood.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

End of an era

First, praise the LORD for a successful scholarship application for my upcoming course at Spertus, "Medieval Judaism." I already was receiving an automatic 1/3 reduction in tuition for being a full-time clergyperson, and an additional 1/3 will also be paid through the scholarship I just applied for. So, I just had to pay the remaining 1/3 tuition plus course materials, fees, etc.

The "end of an era" is that I'm using up the last $145 of my Americorps Education Award which I earned working at the Helpline in Indianapolis late in the previous millennium. And just in the nick of time, as I had seven years to use up my $2362.50, and those seven years end this Saturday! It sure came in handy - first I took two computer courses, then an online linguistics course, then it paid for my first two courses at Spertus. So thanks, Americorps, for helping me get started. And thanks, Spertus, for finding me financially and/or academically worthy of the scholarship help.

So now I await the arrival of my new course materials. It'll be interesting to see what I learn of Maimonides, Rashi, the Masoretes, etc. I'm interested in what kind of comparison/contrast can be made between Jewish and Christian modes of thought during the Medieval period. And I suspect there'll be a bit of Kabbalah as well. In my previous "Jewish Theology" course, I remember some rabbi being quoted as saying something like this: "People who study the Kabbalah without being thoroughly grounded in the Torah first are likely to go mad." Good advice. If I follow it, I just might, in a way, know Kabbalah even better than Madonna does.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement
16:1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves [1] and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father's place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him.

Leviticus 16, ESV

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The return of Milli Vanilli

I couldn't believe my ears. I was driving home from a church council meeting, listening to a local radio station's "Totally 80s Hour" - I'm a real junkie for the music of my favorite decade - & I must not be the only one, with "Nina Blackwood's Absolutely 80s", "Amazing 80s with MG Kelly", the "Jack" radio format, etc.. Suddenly a song began to play with a strangely familiar synth-pop sound. Yes, it was true - for the first time in 15 years, I was hearing the song "Girl You Know It's True" the signature hit of the disgraced Milli Vanilli! I never was a fan, even before the lip-synch scandal. Yet, the song somehow sounded better than I remembered it. I have to admit their sound was kind of catchy, regardless of who was doing the actual singing.

There's a kind of justice in it. The fact is, Milli Vanilli was a part of the sound of the late 1980s, and we can't make it not so by ignoring it - just as disco and the Osmonds were a big part of the 1970s, "Classic Rock" stations notwithstanding.

The sad part is that Rob Pilatus didn't live to see the day that their signature hit could once again be nonchalantly played as part of 80s nostalgia.

Supreme Court Qualifications

Yahoo! News' current lead story on U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers bears the headline, "Court nominee has no judicial experience". Sounds rather ominous, eh?

I don't know the current, updated statistic, but as of 1991, "Out of the 105 Justices serving on the Supreme Court in our Nation's history, 41 had no prior State or Federal judicial experience" (see

If Miers is confirmed, she will join the company of John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, Earl Warren, Byron White, Lewis Powell, Abe Fortas, William Rehnquist, and many other justices with no previous state or federal judicial experience.

In my humble opinion, it would be good to have "some of each" - some with prior experience as judges, some without.

Monday, October 03, 2005

L'shanah tovah!

Thirteen years ago I was working as an activities assistant at a nursing home in suburban Minneapolis with a large Jewish population. On the morning of Rosh HaShanah I was employed by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, Religious Coordinator there at the time, to call out a series of Hebrew words as he sounded the shofar to herald the Jewish New Year. The words are "tekiah", "shevarim" and "teruah", and they are instructions for the trumpeter. Of course, the rabbi really already knew what to do without me ignorantly "telling him", but the instructions are part of the ritual. Afterwards he told me, good-naturedly, that I had mispronounced "teruah" - I was saying it like "TERR-oo-ah", when it's really more like "t'ROO-ah" - but it was nothing to worry about ...

To all those out there observing the High Holy Days beginning after sundown tonight, L'shanah tovah!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Occam = Barber of Seville = Bugs! Or, Fomenko & Illig expose the Vast Right-Brain Conspiracy

Rabbit of Seville
Click for picture credit

You can learn lots of things when you browse Wikipedia. Last weekend when I was lightly reading topics related to fictional alternative histories, I somehow ended up learning about revisionist ideas about real historical chronology. Did you know that a Russian mathematician named A.T. Fomenko believes that ancient & medieval history as we know it was mistakenly lengthened, that national histories ranging from British history to the Old Testament (!) are accidental reduplications of Byzantine history?! He holds that Jesus was born in what we call the year 1053, and in the environs of Constantinople, not in the Holy Land (even the Temple in Jerusalem is a garbled reduplication of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, according to Fomenko). I get this strange mental picture of 1-year-old toddler Jesus watching a Roman Church official on his way to the Hagia Sophia where he is about to excommunicate the Eastern Church. Fomenko's contentions seem to be based upon his observations of similarities in the timelines of royalty in various nations, plus that he thinks that the errors in Ptolemy's Almagest, a significant ancient astronomical text, are best explained if he wrote of eclipses, etc. that happened less than 1000 years ago, rather than 2000. A Danish religious skeptic (see Morten's kind comment to this post) named Morten Monrad Pedersen has a rather effective parody/critique of Fomenko's methods, pointing out, among other things, that if you apply Fomenko's methods to the chronology of Danish royalty, you can "prove" that Frederick II of Denmark (d. 1588) is the same person as Christian X (d. 1947, in the living memory of many alive today)! Methinks that Fomenko is overdoing the Pattern Recognition thing, like Dr. Nash in the (semi-fictionalized) movie "A Beautiful Mind." Alarmingly, Fomenko's theories apparently have a following in Russia, and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov is among his followers.

It seems to me that there's an anti-semitic implication in this. He holds that the real Jerusalem was never more than an obscure Palestinian village until early modern times - doesn't leave much room for a historic Jewish claim in the area, does it?

A German mathematician (what is it with these mathematicians?) named Heribert Illig has a more modest proposal, that the reason why the (alleged) "Dark Ages" were so dark was that the years 614-911 AD never happened! Guess what? It's really the year 1708!!!

So why does this get my goat so much, even more than "Faking the moon landing" theories and what not? Partly it would be the consequences for my Christian faith, partly because ancient studies are my field, partly because these these theories are extreme reactions to a real problem, that the dating of historical events in the distant past is in truth more problematic than we often realize. But Fomenko's theories, especially, rely on some rather monumental assumptions. He contends that ancient & medieval history as we know it was faked by medieval/early modern monks and scribes - a Vast Right-Brain Conspiracy, like Tolkien inventing the history of Middle-Earth, only magnified 10,000 times, and somehow getting people to believe it.

If anything, these theories spur me on to learn more about how we know when ancient events really happened - something I wondered about even before running into Fomenko and Illig. I suspect we'll find that ancient chronology as we know it is largely accurate, though perhaps with uncertainties amounting to a few years here and there. I think Occam's razor would reveal that it's simpler and more sensible to suppose that chronology as we know it is mostly accurate though moderately imprecise, rather than blaming the margin of error on some Vast Right-Brain Conspiracy. But of course, Occam allegedly lived in the 14th Century, so Occam and his "razor" could be a conflation of the Barber of Seville, who could be the same person as Bugs Bunny!