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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Pelagia the Harlot: An interesting account (part one)

I'm posting excerpts from an online English translation of Lives of the Fathers.
There's a lot to comment on here, but for now I'll just include what I think is important and maybe come back to it later.

I'll start out with one comment: In 4th-century Antioch, slaves wore torcs around their necks to identify their status. Bet you didn't know that.
Make that two: In 4th-century Antioch, wealthy people sometimes rode around on donkeys.  Bet you didn't hear that in your last Palm Sunday sermon.

The Life of St Pelagia the Harlot
       [Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on October 8]
--all comments in brackets by the English translator, The Revd. Benedict Baker--
by Jacob the Deacon
translated into Latin from the Greek by Eustochius

Prologue of Eustochius
Since the words of such a great priest could not be understood by Latin speakers, I, Eustochius, have translated them by the help of Christ. You who read them, be mindful of my labours and pour out your prayers to God for me.

Author's Preface
We ought always to give hearty thanks to God that he does not wish for the death of sinners, but rather that they repent and live. (1 Timothy 2.4). Listen, then, to this miracle which has been done in our time. It has seemed right to me that I, Jacob, a sinner, should write to you, my holy brothers, so that the knowledge of it might come to your ears, either by reading it, or by hearing it read, that you may obtain the greatest possible help and consolation for your souls. The merciful God who desires that no one should perish has demonstrated in our day that sins can be wiped out by making satisfaction for them, so that in the world to come when all shall receive according to their works the judgment shall be just. Pray now, keep silence, and listen to me with all the diligence of your hearts, for our story is redolent of the most fruitful compunction.

The Life

Chapter I
The most holy bishop of Antioch summoned his neighbouring bishops to a meeting to discuss certain matters. [The Synod of Antioch met in 341 to discuss certain theological difficulties still in dispute since the Council of Nicaea in 325]   There were eight of them altogether, among whom was my bishop Nonnus, a most holy man of God, a most wonderful and effective monk from the monastery of Tabennisi. He was taken out of the monastery and ordained a bishop simply because of his incomparably beautiful life. Once we had arrived at Antioch, the bishop directed us to the basilica of the blessed martyr Julian, [Rosweyde conjectures that this would probably be a Julian who was martyred in Syria, in which province Antioch was situated]   where we found all the other bishops meeting in the porch.

Chapter II
Some of the other bishops asked my superior, Nonnus, whether he had any edifying comments for them, and without delay our holy bishop began to tell them something for the instruction and salvation of all who were listening. As we were all listening with enjoyment to his holy teaching, suddenly there passed by in front of us the foremost actress of Antioch, the star of the local theatre. She was seated on a donkey and accompanied by a great and fanciful procession. She seemed to be clothed in nothing but gold and pearls and other precious stones. Even her feet were covered with gold and pearls. The male and female slaves accompanying her were extravagantly clothed in costly garments, and the torcs round their necks were all of gold. Some of them went before, others followed after.
The worldly crowd could not get enough of their beauty and attractiveness. As they passed by us the air was filled with the scent of musk and other most delicious perfumes, but when the bishops saw her passing by so immodestly, with her head bare, and the outlines of her body clearly visible, nothing over her shoulders as well as her head, and yet the object of such adulation, they all fell silent, groaned and sighed, and averted their eyes as if being forced to witness some grave sin.

Chapter III
The most blessed Nonnus, however, looked at her long and hard, and even after she had passed by he looked after her for as long as she remained in sight. Not till then did he turn round and speak to the other bishops.
"Weren't you delighted to see such beauty as hers?"
They answered nothing. He leant his head down on to his knees and shed tears into the handkerchief which he held on his lap between his holy hands. He sighed deeply and turned again to the bishops.
"Weren't you delighted to see such beauty as hers?"
Again they answered nothing.
"Truly, I was extremely delighted. Her beauty pleased me very much, for God has preordained to bring her here into the presence of this worthy and eminent bishop of Antioch as a judgment on us all personally as much as on our episcopacy. Think, my beloved brothers. How many hours did this woman spend in her dressing room, washing herself and dressing herself and decorating herself with the utmost care and attention, so that there might be nothing lacking in the beauty of her ornamentation, simply so that she would not disappoint all her various admirers, who are here today and gone tomorrow? But for us there is an almighty father in heaven, an immortal spouse who makes promises to those who serve him, who offers heavenly riches and eternal rewards which are beyond estimation, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet have entered into the heart of mankind, which God has prepared for them that love him (1 Corinthians 2.9).
"What more can I say? We have his promise that we shall see the great and splendid and inestimable face of our bride, which Cherubim dare not gaze upon, but we do not take care to adorn ourselves, or purge ourselves of all the filthy thoughts of our wretched souls. We just let them lie there."

Chapter IV
Having said all this he took me, his sinful deacon, to the hospice where a cell had been assigned to us. He fell down and laid his face on the floor, [The Latin text literally has 'threw himself face down on the floor'. But it is impossible to beat one's breast in such a position, so I assume that what is meant is that he assumed the position which we are familiar with today from TV pictures of Islamic men prostrating themselves in the mosque]  beating his breast and crying.
"O Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me an unworthy sinner, for the decoration of a harlot lasting but a day is greater than the decoration of my soul. How can I show my face before you? What words can I offer to justify myself in your sight? But I will not hide my heart from you, for you know all our secret thoughts. Woe to me, an unworthy sinner, for I stand before your altar, and I do not offer the beauty of soul that you expect of me. That woman vows to make herself pleasing to men, and she succeeds. I vow to make myself pleasing to you, and I fail because of my slothfulness. I stand stripped bare before you in heaven as in earth, for I do not fulfil your commandments. I cannot put any trust in my own achievements. My hope lies solely in your mercy, by which I trust to be saved."
With these words, and a great deal of loud weeping, we celebrated the feast of the day.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Is the Insitute in Basic Life Principles a Cult?

I've been writing about cults for several years now, and it's finally time to call one out.

Five years ago I wrote:
But the question of cults has really hit home to me in recent years as I have watched a cult forming before my very eyes--perhaps several of them; they are all still in such early stages that it isn't yet possible to definitively describe them as such, but they share with other movements the seeds that generally develop into cultic behavior.
It's taken me this long to finally pin down just what about the Insitute in Basic Youth Concepts qualifies it as a cult. In the aforementioned post (by the way, all my posts on this topic now carry the label 'cult'), I also wrote:
Every cult starts out small, focused on a single individual who brings his followers a never-ending stream of fresh messages directly from God. The lure of new revelation is a temptation to so many that Small Cults, in the normal progression of things, always grow rapidly. At this point the Leader needs to decide whether to keep his flock small enough to manage, or to share some of his authority with deputies who will hopefully carry on his vision. Should he choose the first option, his cult will eventually expire, but usually not until long after he is removed from the scene. Should he choose the second, his cult will go on to evolve into something so far removed from the original structure that even the word 'cult' will no longer adequately describe it as a sociological phenomenon. It will have become a religion.
I actually had Bill Gothard in mind when I wrote this. Since starting Campus Teams fifty-four years ago, Bill has remained both on the board and at the helm of his organisation through all of its iterations into The Institute for Basic Youth Principles with over thirty corporate divisions. Well, that is, all except for a 17-day period in 1980, when he was forced to resign over a sexual scandal but brought back on through the influence of his father, another board member; and for the past few weeks, when it emerged that the pattern of sexual misconduct first identified in the mid-1970's has continued into the present century.

IBLP prides itself with the mission of "Giving the World a 'New' Approach to Life." And indeed, for half a century the Bill Gothard machine has continued to churn out one new revelation after another. Now granted, these are never advertised as new revelation, but are marketed as rediscovered insights revealed to Bill Gothard through meditation on the Scriptures and faithful application of basic principles. Nonetheless, the particular recipe is unprecedented in Church History:
- The Umbrella Principal, in which staying under authority protects a person from spiritual attack
- A revival of the Levitical Code for ritual cleanliness in relation to menstruation and childbirth
- A revival of circumcision as a religious ritual
- A new definition of Grace
- One novel interpretation after another of the Sermon on the Mount, as revealed in the 52-volume set of Wisdom Books.
- A fantastic retelling of American History
- Bizarre psychosomatic diagnoses and treatments
- The spiritual necessity of shaving off facial hair on a regular basis

And so on. A typical cult leader never runs out of new revelations, and although the output from Bill Gothard has slowed in the past decade, he has never slowed his pace, continuing, almost at the age of 80, to run his organisation like a one-man show. At one point he constituted a third of the Directors, needing only one of the other two votes for a majority. What probably doomed him faster than anything else was bringing in a bunch of new board members last year, who constituted enough of a majority to outvote the remaining incumbents and remove him from the Presidency.

But now that its guru is gone, can the cult survive? According to material newly posted to its website, its programs are all still in full swing, and the man appointed to 'investigate' the scandal is on the roster of speakers at the next Family Gathering. But the deadline is fast approaching for renewing membership in the organisation's flagship  department, The Advanced Training Institute. How much of the 'ministry' will be left when the numbers are finally crunched?

Here is a link to 100 marks of a cult. No cult will have all of them but all will have at least ten of them.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Where is Malaysian Airlines Flight 370?

In two earlier posts, I analysed the demise of Air France Flight 447. For the last few days the posts have been getting a lot of traffic, so I updated them with reference to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Since we are now in the fifth day of this saga--long enough to have been told that many of the preliminary reports were wrong--I'll take a stab at analysing this disaster. I'm sure there will be several updates, which we shall add as information is received.

First of all, once thing is absolutely certain: The 227 passengers on board (minus the hijackers themselves) were kidnapped at 1:40 am on Saturday, March 8. That wasn't obvious at the time, but it should have been obvious by the time Malaysian Airlines declared the plane missing, an hour after it was to have entered the approach pattern to land in Beijing.

Here's what happened in the first hour of the planes' flight--the only hour we know anything about:

At 12:41 am Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilot of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 9M-MRO, received clearance to take off from the control tower at Kuala Lampur International Airport. The plane continued to climb out under the control of Departure Control, and set course for Waypoint IGARI, at 6° 56' 12N 103° 35' 6E in the Gulf of Thailand. National Air Traffic Control Centre assistant director Siti Sarah Lebai Abu guided the flight until turning it over to the National Air Traffic Control of Vietnam.

It was at that moment that Siti claims to have noticed that Flight 370's transponder blinked out. This should have been a cause for alarm: jet aircraft are required to keep their transponders on at all times, and transponder failure constitutes an in-flight emergency. But no alarm was raised. Vietnam's NATC never heard from flight 370. One hour into its flight, it was already missing at sea.

And at that point our knowledge of Flight 370 ends, five days in. There are scattered reports that a plane was picked up on radar in the Indian Ocean, clear on the other side of Malaysia. Or that one was heard as it passed over the eastern coast. Or that cell phones of passengers continued to ring hours after it would have run out of fuel. But none of this tells us where 9M-MRO went, or where it is now. With the fuel on board, it could have flown as far as Pakistan--or into the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The last time a plane left its flight course and went dark on the radar screens was September 11, 2001, when it happened to four different planes, all at about the same time. So we can't say that this has never happened before. What we can say is that every time this has happened, it was the result of a hijacking.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

According to the NIV, Ishmael was always in his brothers' face. But was he?

Genesis 16:12 O/T/N/NIV
He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward[b] all his brothers.”
[b] Or live to the east of

Genesis 25:17-18 O/T/N/NIV
Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward[b] all the tribes related to them.
[b] Or lived to the east of

The Hebrew phrase is the same both places, and literally means, "in the face of all his brothers."

Now, what we have here is an idiom carried over literally from Hebrew to English, and then paraphrased.

However, it is nonsense. If Ishmael lived in hostility with all his brothers,  then we would expect to read about it. However, nothing is ever said about Ishmael fighting with Isaac, Esau, Jacob, and the six sons of Keturah. In fact, he married off his daughter to Esau! And whatever differences he had with Isaac, they patched them up enough to cooperate in conducting their father's burial. Yes, his descendants took their second cousin Joseph captive to Egypt, but they did it in collusion not only with their other second cousins, the Midianites/Medanites, but also Joseph's own half-brothers! So, nothing to indicate the fulfillment of any particular prophecy about Ishmaelites not getting along with ANY of their relatives.

"To the east of" is even stupider. The area of Havilah and Shur is WEST of the areas where the other descendants of Abraham settled. The only place it is EAST of is Egypt itself.

What the translation should read is "in the presence of all his brothers."  In other words, Ishmael's descendants settled in the same general area as the rest of Abraham's descendents. In fact, their seed intermingled to the point now that you can't distinguish the descendents of Abraham through Keturah, Sarah, and Hagar. They are all now known as Arabs, with the exception of the seed of Jacob.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Moses the Ayoubian

I’ve been looking at the life of Job lately, and pondering just how it fits into the general scheme of Scripture. Job itself is a fascinating work: it’s quite possibly the first book of the Bible to be written. We know absolutely nothing about the author, but he must have lived some time after Job did, as the chronology of the book stretches out for one hundred and forty years. The format of the book lends credence to the idea of an inspired editor, collecting various pieces of data together into one highly poetic stream of discourses, sandwiched between an introductory and conclusive narrative.

1. Job has to be about the age of his friends Eliphaz the Temanite, a descendant of Esau, and Bildad the Shuhite, possibly a descendant of Abraham’s youngest son Shuah. So he couldn’t have lived any earlier than Eliphaz the father of Teman, who quite possibly is the same as Job’s friend. That would put his birth at around 2220 AM, the earliest date suggested by the Babylonian Talmud. And it’s quite likely that he was a fairly close relative of both, being descended, like them, from Abraham—in his case, most likely through Keturah.

2. Job’s story picks up after his ten children are grown, which would put his age around sixty. He then lived another 140 years, and it was very uncommon for someone to live that long after Abraham’s time. And any time after Moses’ generation is completely unreasonable.

3. Although written in Hebrew, the text of Job contains several archaic words, references to ice age conditions, mention of a monetary unit current in Jacob’s day, and a total lack of any Levitical system of worship. All of these features support the early date for Job’s life, as well as an eyewitness source for the historical data in the book.

4. The references to Job’s enemies in chapter one are quite compatible with an early date, but not a late one.

5. The reference to iron in ch. 19 and ch. 28 drive evolutionists to a late date, as they don’t believe iron-working had yet evolved by the beginning of the second millennium BC. Those of us who have read the history of those times know otherwise, so the early date is not threatened. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these people that the reason there isn’t any archeological iron in the early layers is that it has long since rusted away by now.

Okay, so we’re going with the early date (not the earliest date, which is before Abraham). Job lived from about 1780 to 1580 BC, and his trials occurred around 1720. The question then arises, who compiled the book of Job in the 16th century BC? The most obvious answer is Moses, who was born in 1576 BC and was not only highly literate, but also a native speaker of Hebrew. 

Now, this is the interesting thing: how did Moses find out about Job? Well, it’s quite possible that Job was one of his own ancestors. The final words of the book are to the effect that Job died after living to see his great-grandchildren. What if one of those was Moses?

Let’s start with Job’s daughters: they are special because Job gave them an inheritance with their brothers. This means that, in addition to the dowery which every daughter was due from her father, they each received an eleventh of Job’s estate when he died (unless he disbursed it earlier). This was their own property which then passed on to their children when they died.

So, let’s say that Job’s last daughter, Keren, was born in 1700 BC, when he was eighty. That was the year that Jacob moved his clan to Egypt. It’s quite possible that when Jacob’s grandsons went looking for wives, that they may have lighted upon the daughters of Job, who had several things going for them: they were beautiful, they were rich, and they were godly. Not only that, Job’s family would also have been traveling the same roads to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. It’s not at all unlikely, in fact, that all three daughters married into the nascent nation of Israel, where their property rights would be respected. 

To carry it just one step farther, Job had three daughters; his second cousin Levi had three sons. If Kohath the son of Levi had married any one of the daughters of Job, Amram would have been Job’s grandson, and Moses his great-grandson. Some of Moses’ second cousins would have been the great-grandsons whom Job lived to see. And it stands to reason that Moses’ grandmother would have brought with her as part of her dowery an account of her famous father, brought up to date as far as her adulthood. It only remained for Amram, when he acquired the document by inheritance, to bring it up to date with the death of his maternal grandfather, before making it available to his son Moses to have copied for his personal library.

The Septuagint edition of Job differs from the Hebrew in many important particulars, indicating the possibility that for this portion of their translation, the Seventy used a local copy of the book that derived from one Moses had deposited in the Egyptian royal archives, with the attendant textual errors that had crept in independent of those in the edition preserved by the Hebrews.

There are several other mentions of Job in literature of the Middle East, all of dubious historical value. They’re all clearly based on the Scriptures themselves, and typically confuse Job with Jobab, the second King of Edom. That simply doesn’t leave enough time for Job to be a contemporary of Eliphaz, so I’m going with the theory that he was descended not from Abraham’s grandson, but from Abraham himself, through one of the sons of Keturah whom Abraham sent off ‘to the east.’

So, there we have it: Job was a descendant of Abraham, but not through the promised seed—so his ascending genealogy was of no interest to the Hebrew compiler. Job was an ancestor of some tribe of Israelites—quite possibly the Levites—but not through the male line, so that was of no interest to the compiler. It is for this reason that neither Job’s father, nor any of his sons, are mentioned by name in the account that has come down to us as Scripture. The fact that his daughters are named, however, is a strong an indication as we need that it was through at least one, and quite possibly all of them, that a major part of the nation that emerged from its Egyptian captivity was descended.

One more thing: remember the daughters of Zelophehad?

"The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses." --Numbers 27:8-11

The judgment Moses rendered in this case is reminiscent of the way Job’s daughters, one of whom was likely his own grandmother, received an inheritance that had passed all the way down to him. And it’s another indication that all three daughters may well have married into the same family.

If this hypothesis is correct, all men carrying the Cohen Haplotype on their Y-chromosome are descended from Job and his wife through one of their lovely daughters. And if the three sons of Levi married the three daughters of Job, all men carrying one of the other two Levitical haplotypes are, as well.

My son, who just read the foregoing, objected somewhat to its highly speculative content. In response, all I can say is that generations of Jewish rabbis did exactly the same thing for centuries, yet it didn’t keep them from being quoted with a growing level of authority.

Future centuries will reveal whether I am fit, or not, to stand in their number.

PS  'Ayoubian' is a fancy way of saying 'descended from Job.'