Monthly Archives: March 2012

The World’s Best Letter from a Tax Official

Via Chris Tilling:

Apparently, this is a real reply from the UK Inland Revenue. The Guardian newspaper had to ask for special permission to print it.  The funniest part of this is imagining the content of the letter sent to the Tax Office which prompted this reply!

Dear Mr Addison,

I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise.   I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a “begging letter”.    It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a “tax demand”.    This is how we at the Inland Revenue have always,  for reasons of accuracy,  traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the “endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat” has been noted.    However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from “pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers”  might indicate that your decision to  “file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies”  is at best a little ill-advised.    In common with my own organisation,  it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a “lackwit bumpkin” or, come to that, a “sodding charity”.    More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain , with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point.   Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay  “go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services”,  a moment’s rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to “stump up for the whole damned party”  yourself.    The estimates you provide for the Chancellor’s disbursement of the funds levied by taxation,  whilst colourful,  are,  in fairness,  a little off the mark.     Less than you seem to imagine is spent on “junkets for Bunterish lickspittles”  and  “dancing whores”  whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to,  for example,  “that box-ticking facade of a university system.”

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:

1. The reason we don’t simply write  “Muggins” on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system;

2. You can rest assured that  “sucking the very marrow of those with nothing else to give”  has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn’t render it irrelevant,  the sheer medical logistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped.   In the meantime,  whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other,  I ought to point out that even if you did choose to  “give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India ”  you would still owe us the money.

Please send it to us by Friday.

Yours sincerely,

H J Lee
Customer Relations
Inland Revenue

So funny!  I’d love to see the man’s letter to them.

PRDL’s Latest Interesting Addition

Christenliche Ordnung und Gebrauch, antreffend die offentliche übung des Catechismi, bey der lehr und underweisung der lieben Jugend in den Kilchen der Statt und Landtschaft Zürich, 1637.

Something useful in instructing the young indeed!

Following Up on the Legacy of W.G. Lambert

From Tony Watkins:

Dear former colleagues, students, friends, relatives, associates etc. of Wilfred G. Lambert.

I wish to repeat my thanks to everyone who contributed to Wilfred’s memorial fund and especially to Dr. Alasdair Livingstone of the University of Birmingham for suggesting & arranging the provision of the memorial bench which now stands in the university grounds.

I am also grateful to all those who helped with Wilfred’s funeral, provided information for obituaries or supported in other ways.

In particular I wish to record my thanks to Alasdair & Birgit for determining which of about 5,000 scholarly books should go under the terms of Wilfred’s will to the University of Cambridge and which to the University of Birmingham, and for delivering them!

I include 3 pictures which may be of interest to many of you. The picture of Wilfred at work in the old Students’ Room on the top floor of the British Museum was taken by Annie Seawright, a Near Eastern archaeologist. Those of the bench & plaque were taken by Graham Norrie of the University of Birmingham.
With kind regards,
Tony Watkins.

Via Viv Rowett

International Seminar on Bible Translation

Lydie Kucova and Alec Gilmore are planning an International Seminar on Bible Translation, with particular reference to Eastern Europe, in February 2013, at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. The main item on the agenda is the way in which the text (and certain texts in particular) are influenced by language and culture as well as by doctrine. They are therefore looking for specialists in text and canon, versions, linguistic skills and methods of translation.

They would like to hear from any scholars with these skills, preferably but not necessarily, living and working in Eastern Europe for linguistic reasons.

This is not a request for papers and does not necessarily imply subsequent participation in the seminar, but to identify sources of knowledge and experience would be useful and widely helpful in their planning and preparations.

Responses may be made either to Lydie (kucova@ibts.eu) or to Alec (a.gilmore@gilco.org.uk) or both.

Via Viv Rowett of SOTS.

Following Up on the Doctrine of Prayer

The previous post on the Archbishop’s call for children to be taught the Lord’s Prayer seemed to strike a chord- so, as a little followup, let me direct folk to the fullest treatment of the ‘theology’ of prayer in the Reformed tradition:  John Calvin’s Institutes, III.20.  In particular (though the entire section is stunning in its brilliance) do note III.20.4-

Engraved from the original oil painting in the...

Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God. This we shall accomplish in regard to the mind, if, laying aside carnal thoughts and cares which might interfere with the direct and pure contemplation of God, it not only be wholly intent on prayer, but also, as far as possible, be borne and raised above itself. I do not here insist on a mind so disengaged as to feel none of the gnawings of anxiety; on the contrary, it is by much anxiety that the fervor of prayer is inflamed. Thus we see that the holy servants of God betray great anguish, not to say solicitude, when they cause the voice of complaint to ascend to the Lord from the deep abyss and the jaws of death. What I say is, that all foreign and extraneous cares must be dispelled by which the mind might be driven to and fro in vague suspense, be drawn down from heaven, and kept groveling on the earth. When I say it must be raised above itself, I mean that it must not bring into the presence of God any of those things which our blind and stupid reason is wont to devise, nor keep itself confined within the little measure of its own vanity, but rise to a purity worthy of God.

What’s he on about?  He wants readers to know that prayer must first and foremost be a purposeful engaging with the Divine.  Purposefulness, it has to be admitted, lies outside the grasp of those devoid of faith.  Faith is the first factor of prayer and without faith there is no prayer.  None.

Luther: On Clandestine and Illegitimate Preachers

What a fine model I imagine that would be, for anyone to have the right to interrupt the preacher and begin to argue with him! Soon another would join in and tell the other two to hush up. Perchance a drunk from the tavern would come in and join the trio calling on the third to be silent. At last the women too would claim the right of “sitting by,” telling the men to be silent [I Cor. 14:34]. Then one woman silencing the other—oh, what a beautiful holiday, auction, and carnival that would be! What pig sties could compare in goings-on with such churches? There the devil may have my place as preacher.   — Martin Luther

Racism is Vile

It doesn’t matter if the racist is a defender of George Zimmerman or a gang of 7 black kids beating a Latino boy senseless:  racism is vile.

Seven black teens have been arrested on suspicion that they committed a hate crime when they attacked a 15-year-old Hispanic boy while he was walking home from school in Southern California, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  The March 14 beating in Palmdale was captured on video and posted on YouTube, but has since been removed from the site. The seven boys, ages 13 to 16, were arrested Wednesday for investigation of assault and committing a hate crime, Lt. Don Ford said.

Vile.

The Cowardice of Anonymity: An Observation

Attempting to leave comments anonymously is the equivalent of cowering behind a wall and throwing rocks at others.  If you can’t own your words, you don’t deserve to have them heard.

There Are Only a Few Hours Left…

Till the March edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival goes live (at 1 minute past midnight, April 1).

I’ve received a goodly number of fine suggestions and they’ve been included.  The not-so-good or irrelevant ones, not.  Come on people, pimping your cat video?  Really?

Anyway, take advantage of the opportunity to make suggestions.  Speak now or forever hold your peace.

No, Archbishop, They Don’t

The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks children should be taught the Lord’s Prayer.  No, Archbishop, they shouldn’t.  The Lord’s Prayer isn’t a magical talisman that will somehow or other lead children to live good and moral lives.  Teaching it to children won’t make them better citizens or happier human beings.  It won’t mean anything to their lives at all.

Unless, that is, they’re Christians.

To be sure, Christian parents should teach their Christian children to pray the Lord’s Prayer; to obey the 10 Commandments; to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbors as themselves.  Christian parents should be teaching their Christian children all of those things.

But non Christians?  No.  They don’t need to learn it because it isn’t a prayer they can honestly pray.  Only Christians can.  Only Christians can utter the words ‘Our Father…’ with any meaning or significance.  ‘Our Father’ is the core of the prayer and it indicates that those praying it have an intimate, familial, familiar relationship to the one to whom they pray.  Teaching persons to pray a prayer which shows a familial relationship to the One with whom they have no such relationship is the very definition of pointlessness.

Besides that, it’s a lie.  One who mutters the words ‘Our Father’ without having God as Father, without the familial relationship necessary, is one who lies.  And teaching children to lie is a very bad thing.  Teaching them that God is their Father when they ignore, dismiss, and live their lives completely apart from his Fatherly guidance is also a lie.

Archbishop, your interest is in ‘cultural christianity’ and not Christian faith.  Cultural christianity is meaningless- and in fact, a distortion of real faith.

Parents – if you wish to teach your children something meaningful teach them to love God and know his Son their Redeemer.  Then you can teach them to pray, with other believers, ‘Our Father…’  If you think, however, that teaching them a certain prayer will result in something wonderful you’re simply blind and mistaken.  You’ve turned prayer into magic.

Total Depravity: The Human Sacrifice Edition

Down in Mexico

Eight people have been arrested for allegedly killing two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in ritual sacrifices by the cult of La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, prosecutors in northern Mexico said Friday.  Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the victims’ blood was poured around an altar to the saint, which is depicted as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.

Barbarism.  Mexico.

What’s The Latest from George Zimmerman’s Defenders? The Trayvon Martin Smear Campaign

It was inevitable that the media blitz on the killing of Treyvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, would breed skepticism in some circles. No story that seems so open-and-shut—that seems like such a textbook example of criminalized walking-while-black—can, or should, pass without scrutiny.

Much of that scrutiny, though, involves finding implausible excuses for the incident, or digging up completely irrelevant dirt on Mr. Martin.

On the implausible-excuse end of the spectrum we have:

  • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera saying Mr. Martin’s hoodie was as much to blame for his untimely death as his killer, George Zimmerman.
  • Mr. Zimmerman’s friend, Joe Oliver, suggesting that Mr. Martin could have defused the situation by simply explaining that he was in the gated community because he was staying with his parents.

As for the irrelevant dirt:

  • The Daily Caller, a conservative website, posted Mr. Martin’s tweets. The site provided no explanation for why it considered these communications newsworthy, but it’s pretty clear that the point was to highlight Mr. Martin’s unsavory (or just juvenile, depending on how you look at it) Twitter handle.
  • The Sanford Police leaked information (where do they get off?) that Mr. Martin was caught carrying an empty baggie with marijuana residue at school and was suspended as a result.
  • The Daily Mail (among other sources) pointed out that he was also suspended on two other occasions: Once for skipping school, and another time for allegedly being caught with a “burglary tool” and a bag full of women’s jewelry. The Daily Mail says these allegations “paint a different picture of a teenager who frequently found himself in trouble with authorities.”
  • A photo composite has made the rounds showing a grinning George Zimmerman in a suit and tie next to a young, shirtless black man flipping off the camera. We’re supposed to think that the teen is Mr. Martin, and to conclude that he’s a punk. But actually it’s a picture of a completely different person.

Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast compared “the way people talk about Martin and the way they talk about rape victims, whose clothes and histories are often subject to scrutiny no matter how cut-and-dried the case seems.” That’s exactly right.

There’s much more that you should read.

Quote of the Day

But is it not true that of this [i.e., Christian suffering] there is very little to be seen among us? Why? Quite simply because we still take much too lightly our service to Christ. If a farmer stays at home, then he can keep his hands fine and his skin white; if we Christians make it comfortable for ourselves to be Christians, hesitate and are afraid to bear witness to our Lord, squeeze around drawing the conclusions of our Christian faith, then we can escape suffering. But only so. By that every one of us may prove how faithfully he walks or does not walk behind his Lord.  — Emil Brunner

[Via Doug on FB with thanks for the reminder of this gem from the inestimably brilliant Brunner]

If America Supports Gay Marriage, Why is Obama Afraid to Push It?

President Barack Obama could be caught in an election-year bind on gay marriage, wedged between the pressure of supporters who want him to back same-sex marriage and the political perils of igniting an explosive social issue in the midst of the campaign.

If he supports it he should say so and make it an issue he’s unwilling to evade.  If he isn’t in support of it he should say so.  If he equivocates (the thing politicians constantly do because they’re more interested in votes than facts) then it says rather a lot about his character.

But chiefly, if America supports marriage equality (and we’re constantly told that more and more Americans do) then what’s the President got to fear?  If the majority were for it, he would say he was for it (like he does when he mentions his support of the troops- because everyone supports the troops [if not the policies which send the troops overseas]).

The fact is, though, and the President knows it- most Americans are NOT in favor of marriage equality as is proven whenever the issue is put to the populace.  So Mr Obama wants to support gay marriage but he is afraid to.  Afraid to.  Afraid to.  Because he wants folk to vote for him.  After all, he is a politician.  Better to stick one’s finger in the wind to catch the public movement than actually believe in a cause and support it.

Come on Mr Obama, say it.  Say the words ‘My aim is to see to it that gay marriage becomes a reality in America’.  Then those who vote for you won’t be left unsure of where you stand, or how you stand.

But he won’t say it.   At least not until after the election.  Because he knows that while gay folk are more willing to support him than any of the other candidates, he also knows that most Americans don’t see it as he does.  So he’s in a pretty good place.  The folk pushing marriage equality can either vote for him or Romney or Santorum…  Which do you think is more likely.  Or, they can stay home.  And since they are a tiny minority of the population it won’t matter if they do.

I suppose, given the political reality of the situation, the President is just being prudent (if simultaneously altogether disingenuous).

Real Evidence From Real Archaeology

Matti Friedman’s latest contribution to his continuing series on objects in the Israel Museum is grand!

The heel bone and nail from the ossuary of Yehohanan. (photo credit: Courtesy the Israel Museum, photographer: Ilan Shtulman)

In Jerusalem around 2,000 years ago a Jew named Yehohanan, who was in his mid-twenties, committed a crime against Roman authority. The nature of his transgression has been lost to time, but his punishment is known — he was crucified.

Convicts were executed by crucifixion in the Roman Empire as a matter of course, and histories of the time regularly describe the practice, which was designed to make death prolonged, painful and public. After the famous slave uprising led by Spartacus was crushed in 71 BCE, for example, an estimated 6,000 rebels were crucified along a highway leading to the capital as an illustration of Roman power.

It is therefore an odd fact that archaeological evidence of this punishment — crosses, for example, or perforated skeletons — has never been found anywhere in the world, with one exception: the stone box containing Yehohanan’s remains.

After Yehohanan’s body was removed from the cross, it would have been laid out in a burial cave. After the flesh had decomposed a year or so later, leaving only the skeleton, his bones were gathered in a simple stone box, an ossuary, in keeping with the Jewish practice of that time. Today, the box is displayed in a gallery at the Israel Museum alongside other artifacts from the period of Roman rule in Judea.

His name is inscribed in simple letters on one side: Yehohanan, son of Hagakol. (Some scholars, interpreting the letters differently, believe the second name is Hezkil.)

Inside the box, archaeologists found a heel bone with an iron stake driven through it, indicating that the occupant of the ossuary had been nailed to a cross.

Read it all!

Buy the Book, Watch the Movie, Suit Yourself: But Know the Truth Before you Do

On April 12th (just at the Easter Season passes) the Discovery Channel will air a program called ‘The Jesus Discovery’.  Watch it if you must.  Buy the book if you must.  But before you do there’s something you need to know: it is a load of nonsense.

To be sure, the tiny cohort of promoters and fame seekers and folk with dollar signs in their eyes behind it will insist that it’s all 100% pure science.  Don’t be fooled.  Here’s a listing of what actual scholars think of the absurd claims made by the project-

Mark Goodacre made a short but important observation here and a bit of a longer one on the whole ‘Jonah’ issue here.

Bob Cargill completely denuded Tabor’s claims of legitimacy for the ‘find’ here and delivered what can only be described as the coup de grace here, when he shows that the images used by Tabor et al have been manipulated (and amusingly, shortly after he posted his piece, the photos Cargill questioned were removed from Tabor’s page).  He also offers a handy chart if you’re trying to keep up with the constant mutations of Tabor’s theory.  Think of it as a program guide.  And above all, don’t miss Bob’s post here, exposing the logical failings of the Tabor theory.

Joan Taylor too chimed in with some very wise comments and so did many others including James McGrath, Chris Rollston (as well as here and here), Jodi Magness, and Eric Meyers.  You can find all of them right here on the ASOR Blog along with others.

This project certainly isn’t archaeology; as Joel is unafraid to say, it’s about the $.  And Deane G. isn’t afraid to be himself in his scathing denunciation of the claim.

Meanwhile Tom Verenna offers a roundup of the Talpiot joyfulness – including rejections of Simcha’s patently absurd claim that no one has proven he and Tabor wrong!

Why even the place where the ossuary found is steeped in farce.  Only two people on the planet believe Tabor and Jacobovici.  Tabor and Jacobovici (and perhaps people who wear aluminum foil hats or who are employed by the Discovery Channel and are charged with promoting the thing heedless of scholarship contrary to the wishes of the filmmakers).

Others, too, weigh in in an attempt to inform the often all too gullible and sensation-craving public.

Jason Staples exposes the absurdity and contradictory nature of Tabor’s claims.  This is why I suggested above that only Tabor and Jacobovici believe what they’re selling.

If the world were a scroll and the sea filled with ink, there wouldn’t be sufficient space or time to list every single well stated (and not so well stated) denunciation of this unfortunate example of pseudo-archaeology.

So, watch the special, read the book.  Just do it in the same frame of mind as you would if you were watching something on the SyFy channel.

Happy Birthday Biblical Theology

You may not know this, but today’s an important day in the history of Biblical scholarship.  It’s the ‘birthday’ of Biblical Theology.  Yes, it was on the 30th of March, 1787, that Gabler delivered his epoch making speech „De iusto discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus“!

De iusto discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus“ („Von der rechten Unterscheidung der biblischen und der dogmatischen Theologie und der rechten Bestimmung ihrer beider Ziele“; lat. Text und deutsche Übersetzung bei Niebuhr / Böttrich 2003, 15-41; Letztere aus Merk 1972, 273-284; engl. Übersetzung bei Sandys-Wunsch / Eldredge 1980, 134-144). Darin beschrieb er die Biblische Theologie als eine von der Dogmatik unabhängige, aber zugleich auf diese ausgerichtete Wissenschaftsdisziplin. Ihre Aufgabe als eine historisch orientierte Wissenschaft sei es, die normativen Grundwahrheiten oder allgemeinen Vorstellungen (notiones universae; notiones purae) der Bibel von ihren zeitbedingten Einkleidungen abhzuheben. Dagegen müsse die Dogmatik die christliche Glaubenslehre in eine sich immerzu wandelnde Gesellschaft hinein vermitteln.

The central theme of the lecture-

„Die biblische Theologie besitzt historischen Charakter, überliefernd, was die heiligen Schriftsteller über die göttlichen Dinge gedacht haben; die dogmatische Theologie dagegen besitzt didaktischen Charakter, lehrend, was jeder Theologe kraft seiner Fähigkeit oder gemäß dem Zeitumstand, dem Zeitalter, dem Orte, der Sekte, der Schule und anderen ähnlichen Dingen dieser Art über die göttlichen Dinge philosophierte. … und [dass wir] nach Ausscheidung von dem, was in den heiligen Schriften allernächst an jene Zeiten und jene Menschen gerichtet ist, nur diese reinen Vorstellungen unserer philosophischen Betrachtung über die Religion zugrundelegen, welche die göttliche Vorsehung für alle Orte und Zeiten gelten lassen wollte“.

It’s virtually impossible to underestimate the importance of this lecture or its aftermath.  It changed the way biblical studies was done as no other single event has.

So, happy birthday Biblical Theology!

Easter Evidence from Tyndale House

And

And finally

Enjoy all three. Show them to your church or church group. Or even, if you’re the bold and brave sort, your classes!

How Atheists and Cats are Similar

The Headline Led Me To Think It Was a Story about Oded Golan

From the AP‘s twitter feed this gem-

April Fools’ Day exhibit puts prolific forger’s works on display at Cincinnati museum

So naturally I thought it was a story about Oded Golan. Alas, no. But oh well. Could have been and one day probably will be.

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