Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We love to categorize

I want to consider how language creates worlds, objects and relationships, which in no other sense exist. Language makes us think something is there when it isn’t. It deceives us.

The human race is always prone to give names to aspects of experience, and then to take for granted that whatever corresponds to those names exists. Give something a name (like intelligence, or perseverance, or wickedness), and many people will think that it exists, not as a kind of behavior that fits a certain description, but as the cause or underpinning of the behavior. Thus for example reading, which in general is easily identifiable behavior, has become transmuted into the reading process, which is assumed (by many) to actually exist within the human brain (which is also supposed to contain a writing process, a grammatical process, and a phonemic awareness process) .—Understanding Reading, pages 7–8

Sentence? What sentence?

In Biblical Hebrew, the quest for the sentence is probably an exercise in futility. The researcher trying to define the sentence in Biblical Hebrew must grapple with texts that appear to be one interminably long sentence, because almost every clause in narrative begins with the coordinator ו. Although the traditional verse division groups clauses into units, there is no particular reason to think that verse division corresponds to syntactic sentence boundaries.— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 49

Come? Or "draw us near"?

In the formal and material parallel to the “kingdom” request found in Rev. 22:20c—namely, the petition ἔρχου, κύριε Ἰησοῦ (erchou, kyrie Iēsou), which, like the “kingdom” request in the Disciples’ Prayer, consists of a form of ἐρχομαι (erchomai) in the imperative subject, and also is uttered in the context of an announcement of the dawning of a divine visitation. The function of the verb ἐρχομαι is not so much to express a sense of distance and separation as it is to invite closeness, and concomitantly to express the desire to be acceptable to the one invited to “come.” It is not the Lord (or, in the Disciples’ Prayer, the kingdom) that must be “turned” so that it “come”; rather, both prayers express the desire that the one praying be turned from disobedience and conformed to the reality, or the person, that is called upon to “come.” This suggests that the ἐλθέτω in the petition ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου expresses the wish to be made worthy of God’s kingdom and to be protected from all that would prevent this end.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 112

Monday, April 27, 2015

The weight of obligation

Too many Christians struggle under the weight of trying to do enough. They’re so busy trying to be spiritual enough that they miss God’s blessings in everyday life. They’re like frightened children who refuse to go to the beach because they think their father would be more pleased if they did extra chores.—Radically Normal, electronic edition

<idle musing>
Right on! Do you think God would be more pleased with you if you read another couple of chapters in the Bible? Or if you spent more time in prayer? Or if you went to a soup kitchen? Or helped the homeless?

While none of those are bad in and of themselves—actually they are commendable acts—but if you are doing them to "please God more" then they are dead works. Trash! Garbage! Worthless! You are trying to earn what you already have—the love of God. Stop it! Change your heart and mind (i.e., repent) and accept the love of God in Christ.

He might still lead you to do those things—in fact, he probably will!—but now they will be out of a different motivation. And that is what counts.
</idle musing>

Consistency? Not so much...

All live religions are many things. The formal ritual of public occasions teaches one set of doctrine. There is no reason to suppose that its message is necessarily consistent with those taught in private rituals, or that all public rituals are consistent with one another, nor all private rituals.—Purity and Danger, page 205

<idle musing>
And should we expect consistency? Look at your own life and theology. I'll bet there isn't a whole lot of consistency there! I know that I catch myself in inconsistencies all the time. Humanity is not a rational being, despite what we would like to think. My goal is to prayerfully eliminate the inconsistencies, though; I want my life to be consistently Christian, with Jesus shining through in thoughts, words, and deeds.

What about you? Is that your goal too?
</idle musing>

If only it were easy

A structural approach, in which syntactic categories are defined using formal rather than semantic criteria is followed wherever possible. Unfortunately, linguistic categories do not always have neat boundaries even when defined in structural terms (Huddleston and Pullum 2002: 90). A category may have central members that possess all of the characteristics typically associated with the category, as well as peripheral members that have only some of these characteristics. Trying to decide which category to assign to a peripheral item is at times a fruitless and artificial endeavor.— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 48

<idle musing>
As I told someone the other day, "If it were easy, we wouldn't still be arguing about it!" But that's the fun of it, right? Right? Oh, come on—it's fun, right? : )
</idle musing>

Hold on!

It [the Lord's Prayer] was intended to shape the disciples as a group that, in word and deed, would stand as a witness against the teachings of “this generation” regarding how Israel should be Israel. The occasion of Jesus’ giving it to the disciples was his perception that they were in grave danger of falling away from their calling and becoming members of “this generation,” and so he gave them the prayer as a means to secure from God the divine aid necessary to remain faithful to their calling. Its petitions echo the narrative of the wilderness generation, which Jesus regarded as the biblical prototype for the disobedient in his own time.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 104

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I don't like this

I just ran across this summation of some bee-related research. Seems the bees are just as good at getting addicted to bad food as we are. That does not bode well for the future...
Neonicotinoid apologists reject these studies, in part because the researchers force-feed neonic-laced food to the bees. The critics say that the most important thing for bees is freedom of choice. Give bees the right to pick their own nectar in the wild, they say, and they will eat a wide variety of foods that best suits their individual needs, mostly avoiding the poisonous plants. It sounds oddly like the talking points of soda manufacturers in soda ban debates: Let consumers “make the choice that’s right for them.”

The journal Nature published two studies today that disprove the “freedom of bee choice” theory. In the first, researchers offered bees two food sources: a pure sugar solution and a sugar solution laced with neonicotinoids. The bees did not avoid the contaminated food—they actually preferred it! The researchers then went a step further, testing the bees’ neural response to the insecticide. (Isn’t science amazing?) Although bee brains have bitter-sensing neurons that help detect poison (humans have them, too), this defense mechanism didn’t respond to neonicotinoids. In the end, the neonic-fed bees died earlier than their health food-eating peers, essentially poisoning themselves with junk.

Textual Criticism

Textual criticism traffics in critical analysis, not in claims of authority. Cappel [Critica Sacra, 1650] made a distinction between the content of Scripture, which in his view was divinely inspired, and its textual transmission, which was a wholly human phenomenon. The accumulated errors in the texts are the product of human hands. The necessary remedy is textual criticism, a rational procedure whereby one can repair these accumulated errors and restore the text closer to its pristine state.—Ron Hendel, "The Idea of a Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible: A Genealogy" in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel 4 (2014), 400

Saturday, April 25, 2015

ANE backgrounds

On Thursday morning, I had the privilege and pleasure teaching a 4.5 hour seminar (via Skype) to a group of YWAM Minneapolis students on the Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

I've posted the outline that I created, along with a supporting file of graphics, on Academia.edu. I hope at least a few of you might find it helpful.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be an academic/scholarly outline. It is intended to give a good overview of the ANE backgrounds to a group of Christians who want to better understand the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. The presentation takes about 4.5 hours, allowing for three breaks and questions; in this case the questions took between 30–45 minutes. Of course, depending on the group, the question session may be shorter or longer.

I had a blast doing it. I hope I get the privilege of doing it again sometime soon. I'm sure I'll continue to modify the outline, so if you have suggestions, please leave a comment. Again, bear in mind that this is designed as an overview for the advanced lay person with a basic knowledge of the Bible, so suggestion should be appropriate for that audience.

As an aside, they posted an interview with one of the students (Marie) on their Facebook page. Although I have to say, I am not a professor!, but thanks for the compliment : )

Friday, April 24, 2015

What exactly is "radically normal" anyway?

In our human sinfulness, we tend to be proud of our obsessiveness or to excuse our complacency. But the life that God desires isn’t found at either extreme. Wholehearted devotion to God consists of radical obedience lived out in surprisingly normal, joy-filled ways. This is what I mean by being radically normal. It’s the biblical art of fully engaging this life while focusing on the next.—Radically Normal, electronic edition

<idle musing>
Isn't that a refreshing viewpoint? I think I'm going to like this book...
</idle musing>

It's all about context

[A] Martian anthropologist might come to the wrong conclusion on overhearing an English plumber asking his mate for the male and female parts of plugs.—Purity and Danger, pages 106–7

<idle musing>
OK. That one brought a smile to my face : )

Context really is everything. And sometimes I wonder how correctly we get the context in the ancient world...and how can we know if we get it right? But that's the challenge that keeps me digging deeper all the time!
</idle musing>

Now we're getting somewhere

As the emphasis-centered model has largely fallen out of favor, backgrounding/temporal-sequencing and information-structure models dominate the field of contemporary research on BH word order…

The present study explores the significance of information-structure functions for preposing in BH. The concepts of focusing and topicalization are clarified and redefined so that they provide insights into when and why preposing occurs. A sample of preposed clauses is examined to determine whether information-structure functions are statistically dominant or whether functions that relate to the clause as a whole, such as simultaneity and anteriority, are the dominant kind. In addition, differences between preposing in narrative and direct speech are explored. In subsequent chapters, focused and topicalized clauses are analyzed in detail from the syntactic and the pragmatic perspectives.— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, pages 46, 47

Not of "this generation"

Each of the individual petitions of the Disciples’ Prayer not only recalls but also appears to be set out in (conscious?) contradistinction to the description of the wilderness prototype of “this generation.” The “wilderness generation” was called by a messenger of God (Moses) to be God’s people by following the ways this messenger had proclaimed. Yet it refused to sanctify God’s name and instead profaned it (Num 20:12; 27:14). It did not do God’s will (Psalm 95). It called on God to stop giving them the “bread for the morrow” it received from him, and with which it should have been satisfied (Num. 11:1-6; Ps. 78:17-18). And it put God to the test (Exod. 17:1-9; Deut. 6:16; Ps. 78:40-41; 95:1-11; 106:14).

Why would Jesus make reference to all of this, and why would he frame the petitions of the prayer he gave his disciples in terms of not doing what the biblical prototype of “this generation” does, unless he was trying to give to his disciples something that would help them avoid becoming like them?—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 98

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Another new book—well, new to me anyway

So many of us have a deep-seated fear that we have to choose—do we want to be obsessive Christians who don’t enjoy this life, or do we want to be complacent Christians who have a lot of fun here? We feel as if those are our only two options. Should we give up football, sell all of our possessions, and become missionaries to India? Or should we have nice houses, be well liked, and climb the corporate ladder? We know those aren’t really the only options, but we’re still haunted by the feeling that God must be happier when we read our Bibles than when we watch football. I wonder how many Christians remain lukewarm primarily because they think that being on fire would be miserable.—Radically Normal, electronic edition

It's got to fit!

In a chaos of shifting impressions, each of us constructs a stable world in which objects have recognisable shapes, are located in depth, and have permanence. In perceiving we are building, taking some cues and rejecting others. The most acceptable cues are those which fit most easily into the pattern that is being built up. Ambiguous ones tend to be treated as if they harmonised with the rest of the pattern. Discordant ones tend to be rejected, If they are accepted, the structure of assumptions has to be modified…

Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we find ourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb these established assumptions.—Purity and Danger, pages 45, 46

Topic? Who knows!

The various definitions of topic remain problematic. The most accepted conception of topic, the notion of “aboutness,” has thus far resisted objective formulation, despite valiant efforts on the part of many researchers. Gómez- González (2001: 31) sums up the state of the field as follows: “the intricacies raised by the numerous and heterogeneous variations of the semantic interpretation have led many scholars to conclude that Theme/Topic in terms of aboutness cannot be regarded as an objectively identifiable unique category, but as a clearly intuitive, and therefore subjective concept.”— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 33

<idle musing>
Ain't that the truth! I'm wading through Lambrecht's Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus, and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents right now. Talk about dense! And confusing doesn't begin to describe it...I've heard people say it is one the hardest books they ever read. I agree. I'm not sure if it is the subject or the writing—or both!

So, for someone to say that the whole idea of topic is "problematic" is refreshing. At least I'm not the only one confused...
</idle musing>

Why disciples?

But Jesus called and gathered disciples for another reason as well: to found what sociologists have called “intentional communities,” small groups and cells of followers, some living within their home villages and towns, some on the road as itinerants. These cells would, by living out a particular kind of corporate life consistent with the path of faithfulness to God that he was calling Israel to adopt, make incarnate his vision of what faithful Israel should look like. This must not, mind you, be in any way understood as something tantamount to a desire on Jesus’ part to found a church. For as far as Jesus was concerned, there already was a “church,” one he wholeheartedly belonged to, namely, the ἐκκλησία κυρίου (ekklēsia kyriou), the “congregation of the Lord,” that is, the people of Israel. Moreover, he never spoke of the group he called into being except in terms of titles used previously by the prophets and his contemporaries to designate the people of Israel, one of which was, notably, “son” or “sons of God.” Rather, he called and gathered disciples around himself in order to accomplish what he believed was another task given to him by God, namely, to reconstitute Israel and to rescue it from what he and other figures of his day called the “wrath to come,” that is, the judgment, often embodied in national calamity, that the prophets declared was inevitable for Israel if they were persistent in covenant unfaithfulness.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 86

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Huh? Say that in English please

In conclusion, the backgrounding model and temporal-sequencing models are not applicable to all preposed clauses. The most plausible formulations of the theory apply exclusively to subject-preposed clauses; thus, object-preposing and adjunct-preposing are not afforded an explanation. Furthermore, many subject-preposed clauses do not describe backgrounded or nonsequential events and cannot be accounted for within these models.— Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Finite Clause, page 31

Love that dirt

As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread of holy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of our behaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order. Eliminating it is not a negative movement, by a positive effort to organise the environment.—Purity and Danger, page 2

It ain't easy

Above all, the key sticking point is the existence of conceptual metaphor. If conceptual metaphors are real, then all literalist and objectivist views of meaning and knowledge are false. We can no longer pretend to build an account of concepts and knowledge on objective, literal foundations. This constitutes a profound challenge to many of the traditional ways of thinking about what it means to be human, about how the mind works, and about our nature as social and cultural creatures.

At the same time, what we have discovered is fundamentally at odds with certain key tenets of postmodernist thought, especially those that claim that meaning is un-grounded and simply an arbitrary cultural construction.

What has been discovered about primary metaphor, for example, simply does not bear this out. There appear to be both universal metaphors and cultural variation.—Metaphors We Live By, pages 274–75

Loving means not willing the destruction of enemies

To be a son of God, then, is to act in the world as God does, showing mercy and forgiveness toward all, refusing to retaliate injury for injury, accepting suffering and persecution as the price of living in conformity to God’s will, and, most importantly, loving and not “hating” (seeking or willing the destruction of) those ordinarily deemed the enemies of Israel.—The Disciples’ Prayer, page 84

<idle musing>
And the standard hasn't changed in 2000 years...mercy and forgiveness, loving. And the last time I checked, those three words don't have a meaning of "hate" or "bomb them to death" in their definition. No, not even for "American interests" that "need to be defended."
</idle musing>