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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Just the Facts, Maam"

I've been reading "Associations, Synagogues and Congregations" by Philip Harland, Asst. Prof. of Christian Origins at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. It's a secular book examining the sociological aspects of 1st/2nd Century AD Graeco-Roman society in the East [primarily Asia Minor], via inscriptions and literature from that period. In general, I have avoided such sociological interpretations, mainly because of my educational background in Sociology. I find much of Sociology is based upon sheer speculation, rather than hard evidence. There's also an annoying tendency by modern sociologists to incorrectly apply modern sociological models to ancient societies. On the other hand, most of what is considered "Christian" literature is seldom backed up by any actual evidence either. Rather, there's a propensity to quote other Christian authors (who in turn are quoting still other Christian authors) as evidence, rather than looking for primary sources [archaeological, epigraphical, inscriptional, etc.] - such information ultimately ends up in Commentaries and study Bible notes, resulting in the perpetuation of false analyses from pulpits and in Bible studies. And that, unfortunately, greatly hinders an accurate understanding of the Bible.

An example of this would be a "proof" frequently cited concerning the corruption of 1st Century AD Corinth - the alleged practice of widespread temple prostitution connected to the Temple of Aphrodite on Corinth's acropolis [the Acrocorinth - see picture]. I've run across this in numerous Commentaries and study Bibles... but it's just not true! This assertion turns out to be based upon ONE sentence in ONE ancient writing - by Strabo (writing in the 1st Century AD) about a story he HEARD from someone concerning an alleged practice which supposedly occurred during archaic times in Greek Corinth. Ancient writers like Strabo and Herodotus didn't write "history" in the manner of modern historians. They included every story anyone ever told them - some of which may have been true or partly true, but much of which was fictional, or at least mythologized.

Even IF there had been such a practice in archaic times, which would have been contrary to practices everywhere else in archaic Greece, it certainly wasn't true by the 1st Century AD. The Romans under Lucius Mummius completely destroyed Greek Corinth in 146 BC. The city lay in ruins until Rome, under Julius Caesar, rebuilt it in 44 BC (102 years later!) and repopulated it with Roman veteran military colonists (as they also did in Philippi, btw). Greeks, Jews and Asiatics also settled there, but 1st Century AD Corinth was primarily a Roman city (as was Philippi). There was still a Temple of Aphrodite on the Acrocorinth in Paul's time, but it was much, much smaller [10 x 16 meters] and much less significant than in archaic times. The Roman colonists built temples more important to them - to Apollo, Athena Chalinitis, Poseidon, Herakles, Hermes, Venus-Fortuna (a very Roman version of Aphrodite) and Asklepios.

Were there prostitutes in Corinth? Absolutely. Paul speaks of it in 1Corinthians. Every Roman city had brothels, whether on Italian soil [Pompeii] or Provincial soil [Ephesus]. Nor was it unusual for men to use one of their own slaves in this capacity. [Some of whom actually ended up marrying their masters! We know that because of funereal inscriptions, giving considerable detail about the deceased's personal life.] But there is absolutely NO proof that there was temple prostitution in 1st Century AD Corinth. Not even Strabo suggested that! There are indications in some cities that particular temples may have owned slaves used as prostitutes as money-makers for the temple, but these slaves were NEVER involved in temple worship as priestesses, etc. It's just like the Roman Catholic church owned the brothels on the Left Bank of Paris at one time, as a fund-raising mechanism. [later replaced by Bingo... ;)]

There are some other issues that I'd like to write about, but this post has already exceeded the blogging attention span. So I'll save them for another time. I DO want to encourage you to read discerningly and make sure the author has primary evidence to back up his assertions. And if you ever have to write a paper about the ancient world, I hope you will dig a little deeper for factual information and not just quote another author as "proof".

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Redefining Words

Language evolves. That's true of any language - modern or ancient. But I've noticed there's been an acceleration of the process. I'm not referring to all the new words that have been added to our language [nobody knew what a pixel was when I was born!], nor do I refer to trendy, short-lived changes in definition [such as "bad" meaning "good"]. I'm thinking about changes in definition that reflect a change in the way we look at or think about something.

In today's paper there was an article about Patrick Kennedy recently being in drug rehab for his addiction to OxyContin. [The Kennedys are always considered good fodder for a story here in New England!] In an interview on the Today Show he said "he felt great as he continued his recovery from substance abuse and was determined not to let the disease 'take its toll on me ever again' ". Did you get that? He was determined not to let "the disease" of substance abuse ever take its toll on him again. Substance abuse is now a "disease"? Did Patrick wake up one morning and "come down with substance abuse"? Did he "catch" it from someone? Are researchers trying to develop a vaccine to immunize people against the disease of substance abuse? The thinking behind all of this, of course, is that he is a VICTIM, and thus NOT RESPONSIBLE for his actions. Do you see the change in thinking that prompts the change in definition? I appreciate all the pain he had to go through in rehab, but we shouldn't loose sight of the fact that HE put the OxyContin in his mouth and swallowed...again...and again...and again. He is not the only one who becomes addicted to OxyContin. So does everyone who ingests it in the same manner Patrick did. He's not special. There ARE consequences to certain actions.

Isn't this just another way to avoid calling sin what it really is? [Sin!] This reminds me of a question that came up in 5th/6th grade SS class last week. Exodus 9:27 says "Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones." The KJV, NKJV, NASB, ASV and LITV (Literal Version) ALL translate it as "wicked ones" or "wicked". The NET uses "guilty". But one of my kids had an NIV that used the word "wrong". The kids thought that took a lot of the punch out! They asked me to look it up and get back to them with the definition for the Hebrew word. The BDB definition says it means "wicked, criminal", "one guilty of crime", "guilty of sin", "wicked, hostile to God".

And "wrong" means what? "Oh... guess I was wrong." Somehow I just don't see the intended Hebrew meaning there. I vote with the kids.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Archaeological Tidbits

I just received my quarterly issue of "Artifax", which gives an interesting overview of current archaeological stories in the news. Here's a sampling:

In Luxor [think Karnak & Valley of the Kings] they recently discovered facilities belonging to Cemetery Workers, near the Rameseum [the Mortuary Temple of Rameses II; see picture]. It includes kitchens, ovens and a school for children, as well as their own nearby cemetery. [Yes...a cemetery for Cemetery workers... ;)] I always find it interesting when they find something dealing with the average guy.

At Qumran a dig by the Univ. of N.C. at Charlotte has discovered a latrine site that would seem to backup the suggestion that Essenes lived in this community. [There's been a lot of debate about this. Recently a group has suggested Qumran was a pottery factory.] According to Josephus & others, the Essenes made it a practice to locate their latrines at a distance from and out of site of the village. [It makes you feel bad for the guy who had to go in the middle of the night! I wonder if they used chamber pots?] Anyway, this latrine site meets those requirements. And you'll be thrilled to hear that they found intestinal round worms, tapeworms, whipworms and pinworms. Apparently the Essenes, in their desire for cleanliness, required human waste be covered (little shovels provided to all), which actually contributed to the survival of intestinal worms...and their spread. Medieval Arabs, on the other hand, did not bury their waste, leaving it out in the open, where the worms quickly died. That's ironic, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"The Reformed Pastor", Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter [1615-1691] was a Puritan pastor known for his shepherd's heart. His best known work is The Reformed Pastor, which I have been absolutely enjoying to the max. What a great book! Once you get beyond the Puritan propensity for repetition [not a bad thing in making sure a point sticks], this book is a gem. I was surprised to find out "reformed" did not mean what I thought it did - he's really talking about "the regenerate pastor", to whom the book is addressed.

Though not a pastor, I am finding his exhortations are applicable to all believers to a certain extent. That is the spirit in which I have been going through the book - with a big finger pointed back at ME. I am most convicted about what he has to say about evangelism and most encouraged by what he has to say about the seriousness and effort one must take in studying God's Word. Here's an excerpt:

"So great a God, whose message we deliver, should be honoured by our delivery of it...Do not reason and conscience tell you, that if you dare venture on so high a work as this, you should spare no pains to be qualified for the performance of it? It is not now and then an idle snatch or taste of studies that will serve to make an able and sound divine. I know that laziness hath learned to allege the vanity of all our studies, and how entirely the Spirit must qualify us for, and assist us in our work; as if God commanded us the use of means, and then warranted us to neglect them; as if it were his way to cause us to thrive in a course of idleness, and to bring us to knowledge by dreams when we are asleep, or to take us up into heaven, and show us his counsels, while we think of no such matter, but are idling away our time on earth! O, that men should dare, by their laziness, to 'quench the Spirit,' and then pretend the Spirit for the doing of it!...God hath required us, that we be 'not slothful in business,' but 'fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.' Such we must provoke our hearers to be, and such we must be ourselves. O, therefore, brethren, lose no time! Study, and pray, and confer, and practise; for in these four ways your abilities must be increased. Take heed to yourselves, lest you are weak through your own negligence, and lest you mar the work of God by your weakness."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Food of My Dreams

Just before waking this AM I had a dream in which I was supposed to write an essay about peanut butter. In the dream my main problems were finding things to write on and trying to finish the essay before the time was up. I actually composed and edited the essay in my dream! When I awoke I felt compelled to quickly write it down. Now what are blogs for if not to share compelling dream essays? [Do you ever compose in your dreams or is this something unique to me? Is this how "War and Peace" was written? ... lots of naps?] Here's as far as I got with the essay before waking up:

What I love most about peanut butter is how it assails your senses. As you grab for that jar with the familiar red, blue and yellow logo you wonder how ANYONE could choose another brand. If we call products "Kleenex" and "Bandaids" and "Fluff", why don't we call peanut butter "Skippy"? As you unscrew the blue lid the strong peanuty aroma transports you back to the endless days of childhood, full of fresh air and sunshine. Then you slowly, precisely spread it onto your white bread, careful not to tear that precious commodity, and fold the bread in half - the perfect meal held in one hand. The first bite has to come from the middle, of course. The resulting overabundance of peanut butter in your mouth thickens your tongue, forcing you to use a finger to pry cheek from teeth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

On the humorous side - Kids are notorious for getting the words to songs & verses messed up, as well as for being brutally honest. Here are a few good ones. [Thanks, Jane!]

3-year-old Reese:
"Our Father, Who does art in heaven,
Harold is His name. Amen."

After the christening of his baby brother in church,
Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.
His father asked him three times what was wrong.
Finally, the boy replied,
"The pastor said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home,
and I wanted to stay with you guys."

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3.
The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
"If Jesus were sitting here, He would say,
'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'
Kevin turned to his younger brother and said,
"Ryan, you be Jesus!"

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cameron Plays Science

These two articles say more than I could about James Cameron, et. al. [Thanks to Todd Bolen for bringing them to my attention on his blog...] I love the line, "Television is not in the business of education... they're in the business of making money." Let's not forget that! [Btw, this is a shot of the ossuary of Joseph son of Caiaphas, also found in Jerusalem.]

From Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Modern architects of fantastic finds try to provide an air of legitimacy by invoking scientific jargon, said Garrett G. Fagan, a classics professor at Penn State University and author of, "Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public" (RoutledgeFalmer, $46.95).
"They're not scientists, but they need to dress themselves in the clothes of science to pass muster," Fagan said. Some choose prestigious channels that style themselves as vehicles for public education, he said. "Television is not in the business of education, even with the so-called educational channels like Discovery," Fagan said. "Ultimately, they're in the business of making money."

And when critics pounce on the discoveries, Fagan said it's often too late.
"By the time the rebuttals come out, the mass media would have moved on to the next sensation," Fagan said, "and people will have this vague notion that they have found the tomb of Jesus." Fagan said he expects more fantastic archaeological discoveries to be announced in the near future.
"Someone is going to say they've discovered Moses' beard," he said.

From the Washington Post:
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,'' she said. Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries. She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. "If Jesus' family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,'' she said. 

Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father's name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said. "This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end,'' she said.

Speculations & Philosophies of False Teachers

Screwtape to Wormwood: "Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside of his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily 'true' or 'false,' but as 'academic,' or 'practical.' Jargon, not argument is your best ally..."

1 Timothy has quite a lot to say about the danger of false teachers. Timothy was to charge "certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." (1:3) These people had "swerved" from "a sincere faith" and "wandered away into vain discussions, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." (1:6-7) Such a one is "puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth..." (6:3-5)

The word for "teach a different doctrine" (1:3, 6:3) is one word in the Greek, a combination of "another of a DIFFERENT kind" and "to teach". This is doctrine "different in kind" from that taught by Jesus via the Apostles, and now written as Scripture. It's not just "another opinion" or "another point of view"; it stands in opposition to biblical teaching.

How often have you heard doctrinal truth being dissed? "Doctrine divides." "I don't bother with minor issues (i.e. doctrines)." "I just love people. I don't beat them over the head with doctrine." Are we even hearing/reading about doctrinal truth... or are we being told "stories", "narratives", "fresh, new meanings"? When foolish men claim they can "prove" Jesus never resurrected, do we think we can "live with" such false accusations without it affecting our "Christianity"?

2Co 10:3-5 "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God..."