Where’s That Letter? I’d Sign It

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter commended a letter from Christian leaders to Congress calling for an investigation of Israel’s human rights record and criticizing U.S. military aid to the country.

“Like these church leaders, The Carter Center has long been concerned about Israel’s disregard for stated U.S. policy,” said a statement issued Wednesday from the human rights group named for and headed by Carter. “This is demonstrated by an unprecedented massive increase in encroachment on occupied Palestinian territory, with illegal settlement expansion during recent years.”

“This is precluding the possibility of a two-state solution and endangers a peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Carter said in the statement.

The substance of the letter in question:

The letter said that Congress should make U.S. military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

I’d sign that.  I’d sign it every day.  America needs to stop pretending that Israel is an ally when its present government acts in ways that prove it isn’t.

A More Perfect Torah: At the Intersection of Philology and Hermeneutics in Deuteronomy and the Temple Scroll

With thanks to James Spinti for telling me about this forthcoming volume.

The historical-critical method that characterizes academic biblical studies too often remains separate from approaches that stress the history of interpretation, which are employed more frequently in the area of Second Temple or Dead Sea Scrolls research. Inaugurating the new Eisenbrauns series, Critical Studies in the Hebrew Bible, A More Perfect Torah explores a series of test-cases where the two methods mutually reinforce one another. The volume brings together two studies that each investigate the relation between the compositional history of the biblical text and its reception history at Qumran and in rabbinic literature.

It’s a shorter book (at 120 pages) and that’s just the sort of thing TM Law has been discussing just today.  Given the fact that my own books are on the shorter end of the spectrum (by design) I’m biased- but I think that books should only be as long as they need to be to adequately cover the subject succinctly.  Any more than that is just pomposity.

A New Volume From TVZ: Paulus und die Anfänge der Kirche

Nach Jesu gewaltsamem Tod musste sich seine Jüngerschaft neu formieren und ihre Botschaft in Auseinandersetzung mit diesem Tod und im Licht der Auferweckungsbotschaft formulieren. Das Neue Testament belegt die unterschiedlichen Positionen dieser spannungsreichen Entwicklung. Briefe, Apostelgeschichte und Offenbarung zeigen, wie sich die ersten Gemeinden mit ihrer Botschaft ihren Platz im Gefüge der antiken Welt gesucht haben. 

In diesem Band werden neutestamentliche Schriften in ihrem zeitgeschichtlichen Kontext interpretiert. Die Anfänge der Jerusalemer «Urgemeinde» werden dabei ebenso gewürdigt wie das Leben und Wirken des Völkerapostels Paulus, die Hauptthemen paulinischer Theologie ebenso wie ihre Nachgeschichte in neutestamentlicher und nachneutestamentlicher Zeit.

More here at the TVZ website.  It’s for you folk interested in the early church, and Paul.

The Riddle of Ramat Rahel: The Archaeology of a Royal Persian Period Edifice

A new essay by that title by Oded Lipschits, Y. Gadot, and D. Langgut, in Transeuphratene 41: 57-79 has just appeared. Its abstract:

From the time the first archaeologists began excavating at Ramat Raḥel, it seemed evident that the tell was an archaeological and historical “riddle”. On the one hand, the palatial compound uncovered at the site was dated to the Iron Age. On the other hand, the presence of hundreds of yhwd stamped jar handles and many other finds from the Persian period were left without apparent architectural context. Stratum IVb, dated by Aharoni to both the Persian and Hellenistic periods, included only segmented and poorly built walls and a few installations that could not explain the many stamped handles.

The renewed excavations at the site and the final publication of the architecture and finds from Aharoni’s excavations have made it possible to reevaluate the archaeology of the site and its significance vis-a-vis the political history of Judah as a province in the Achaemenid Empire. This paper presents for the first time the architecture and all the associated finds from Persian period (5th-3rd century BCE) Ramat Raḥel. The study demonstrates how Ramat Raḥel reached its zenith during the Persian period, serving as an imperial administrative center, and as the residency of the Persian governor. It also demonstrates that the site declined towards the end of the Persian period only to regain some importance toward the later part of the Hellenistic period.

With many, many thanks to Oded for sharing it.

Calvin’s Letter to Melanchthon on Luther’s Bombastic Pomposity

On 28 June, 1545, Calvin writes to Melanchthon-

Would that the fellow-feeling which enables me to condole with you, and to sympathize in your heaviness, might also impart the power in some degree, at least, to lighten your sorrow. If the matter stands as the Zurichers say it does, then they have just occasion for their writing. Your Pericles [i.e., Luther] allows himself to be carried beyond all due bounds with his love of thunder, especially seeing that his own case is by no means the better of the two. We all of us do acknowledge that we are much indebted to him. Neither shall I submit myself unwillingly, but be quite content, that be may bear the chief sway, provided that he can manage to conduct himself with moderation. Howbeit, in the Church we must always be upon our guard, lest we pay too great a deference to men. For it is all over with her, when a single individual, be he whosoever you please, has more authority than all the rest, especially where this very person does not scruple to try how far he may go.*

Noteworthy here are two points: Calvin’s view of the Eucharist is closer, by his own admission, to the viewpoint of the Zurichers (i.e., Zwingli and Bullinger) than it is to Luther’s utterly Roman Catholic viewpoint.  And second, Calvin isn’t a fan of Luther’s fanboys.  Lutherans then, as now, tended to idolize the beer swilling chap.


* According to the Editor of Calvin’s letters –    Hurt at the new attacks which Luther began to direct against their doctrine in his Short Confession upon the Supper, (see Letter CXXII.,) the ministers of Zurich published in 1545 an Apology, intituled:—“Orthodoxa Tigurinæ Ecclesiæ Ministrorum Confessio, una cum æqua et modesta responsione ad vanas et effendiculi plenas D. Martini Lutheri calumnias, condemnationes et convitia, etc.…”—Hospinian, Hist. Sacrament., tom. ii. p. 354. Provoked by Luther’s violence, this reply irritated the zealous Lutherans, afflicted Melanchthon, delighted the adversaries of the Reform by the unseemly divisions which had got the upper hand among them.

‘Zwingli’, the Oratorio

Girogio Girardet pointed this out on Facebook and I wish I could attend!

Am Sonntag steht in der reformierten Kirche Bubikon Ausserordentliches auf dem Programm: Der Frauenchor Bubikon wird die Chordichtung «Zwingli» für Frauenchor und Orgel der 21-jährigen Bubikerin Michal Muggli singen – eine Welturaufführung. Dieses Werk hat Giorgio Girardet, der bei der Kirchpflege Bubikon für das Ressort «Gottesdienst und Musik» verantwortlich ist, in Auftrag gegeben. 2010 hat die junge Komponistin als Matura-Arbeit eine Oper geschrieben Ein Jahr später schrieb Muggli für den Musikverein Bubikon eine symphonische Komposition zum 1200-Jahr-Jubiläum Bubikons. Nun sollte Muggli im Rahmen eines Gottesdienstes ein geistliches Werk schreiben.

Oh man I want to go!  I hope it will be recorded and made available online.  If you go, let me know how it is.

Aufführung der Chordichtung «Zwingli» von Michal Muggli für Frauenchor und Orgel am Sonntag, 4. November um 9.45 Uhr in der reformierten Kirche Bubikon im Rahmen des Gottesdienstes zum Reformationssonntag.

Have a Happy ‘Luther Finally Caught Up to Zwingli, 2 Years Later’ Day

Happy Lutheran Reformation Day.  Luther was 2 years late as the initiator of Reformation- Zwingli having begun work in that direction in 1515.  So, congrats, Lutherans- just as was true at Barmen- while the Lutherans slept, the Reformed worked.

According to his own testimony, it was in 1515 that the ‘reformatory’ spirit began to stir in his heart so that when he moved to Einsiedeln (in 1516) to serve the congregation there, he was already pursuing the beginnings of Reformed thought.*

*Jim West, in ‘Christ Our Captain’: An Introduction to Huldrych Zwingli (pp.12-13). Quartz Hill, CA: Quartz Hill Publishing House.

For the Last Time, Concerning ‘Reformation Day’

‘Reformation Day?  No!’

‘The Reformation’ is a misnomer if ever there were one, for in fact there was no ‘one’ Reformation any more than there was just one Reformer. ‘The Reformation’, when used by students and the general public, usually refers to the Reformation of Martin Luther which commenced at the end of October in the year of our Lord, 1517.

Even then, though, Luther’s intent wasn’t as earth-shattering as later ages took it to be. For Luther, the placement of a series of theses in Latin on the Church Door at Wittenberg Castle was nothing more than an invitation to debate. In other words, Luther didn’t see his act as the commencement of a revolution; he saw it as an academic exercise.

‘The Reformation’ is, then, little more than a label derived from historical hindsight gazing mono-focularly at a series of events over a period of time across a wide geographical landscape. Each Reformer had roots sunk in fertile ground and their work was simply the coming to fruition of generations of shift in the Roman Catholic Church.

Hence, it would be more appropriate to speak of ‘Reformations’ in the same way that we now speak of ‘Judaisms’ and ‘Christianities’. The Reformation was no monolith.

Who, then were the Reformers who gave birth to the Reformations most closely associated with them? They were Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, in just that order.

In 1515 while he was Pastor of the village Church in Glarus, Huldrych Zwingli began to call into question the dependence of the Church on the teachings of the Scholastics. He also questioned the value of the Vulgate for preaching and began earnest study of the Greek New Testament. There, memorizing the letters of Paul (in Greek) he discovered the Gospel which would come to feature so prominently in his Reforming efforts: Salvation is by grace, through faith, and not through works as proclaimed by the Scholastic theologians. By 1519, when he moved to Zurich to become the Pastor of the Great Minster, Zwingli was already well on his way to Reforming the worship of the Church and the administration of the ‘Sacraments’. In short order, within a few years, the Mass was abandoned and replaced by the ‘Lord’s Supper’ and the fixation of the Church on images was denounced and those images removed in due course.

Zwingli’s Reformation was carried out with the cooperation of the City government, which is why Zwingli, along with Luther and Calvin, were to be known to history as ‘Magisterial Reformers’. Not because they were ‘Magisterial’ but because each had the support of their city’s magistrates.

North of Zurich, in Wittenberg, Luther’s Reformatory efforts were coming to full steam around the same time. In 1520 he broke with Rome irrevocably with the publication of his stunning ‘On The Babylonian Captivity of the Church’. From there, there was to be no turning back. And here we must remind ourselves that at this juncture Luther was not dependent on the work of Zwingli, nor was Zwingli dependent on the work of Luther. Both were pursuing reform along parallel tracks, separately.

Further to the West of Switzerland a decade later John Calvin, an exile from France, a lawyer by training and a theologian by training and desire, began his own efforts at Reform. Several years after Zwingli’s death and long after Luther’s demise Calvin plodded away in Geneva attempting manfully to bring that raucous city to heel under the power of the Gospel.

Each of these Reformers were ‘Fathers’ of their own Reformation. Each was, originally, independent of the other and in many ways they tried very hard to retain that independence even when their common foe, the Church of Rome, was the target as their common enemy. Each contributed to ‘The Reformation’ in their own unique way.

If, then, we wish to honor their memory and their efforts, it behooves us to set aside our preconceptions or our beliefs that ‘The Reformation’ began on October 31, 1517. It didn’t. It began in 1515 in Glarus. And it began in 1517 in Wittenberg. And it began in Geneva in 1536.

Happy Reformations Days.


Worried after a week of increasingly bizarre conversations with his younger brother, Glen Birdow drove to Fort Worth last weekend, hoping to understand why his brother was saying people were trying to kill him and that someone had stuck a needle in his arm.

Derrick Anthony Birdow was fidgeting and acting paranoid, but refused to check himself into a hospital. The 33-year-old married father of four insisted he was fine, his brother said.

But Derrick Birdow left his Fort Worth home Monday, passed by numerous churches and rammed his car into the side of Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church in nearby Forest Hill. There, he got out of his car and beat the Rev. Danny Kirk Sr. to death with an electric guitar.

“The person that I knew was loving and caring, and he was not a killer,” Glen Birdow, 39, of San Antonio, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I just don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry for the pastor’s family.”

Derrick Birdow did not know the pastor or attend that church, though his wife might have gone there a few times, his brother said. Derrick Birdow enjoyed his job as a truck driver and didn’t have a history of mental illness, his brother said, adding that he didn’t believe that his brother used drugs.

Random acts of senseless murder and horrific violence.  Unbelievable.

Ok, Let’s Hear The Derision Reserved for Pat Robertson Leveled at Oliver Stone

If Pat Robertson got on his 700 Club and made the claims that Oliver Stone has, about Sandy being ‘punishment’ for something or other, people everywhere would be on him like white on rice.  So where’s the derision of Oliver Stone?  Or are Hollywood sorts exempt?

Ever-honest director and author Oliver Stone stopped by HuffPost Live on Tuesday to discuss Barack Obama’s presidency, climate change and his new book and documentary series, “The Untold History of the United States.”  Stone is an equal opportunity critic, arguing that neither Obama nor Mitt Romney tackled climate change in a substantive way. “I was a little disappointed at the third debate when neither of them talked about climate control and the nature of the situation on Earth,” Stone said. “I think there’s kind of a weird statement coming right after … this is a punishment … Mother Nature cannot be ignored. That’s all I thought about.”

Oliver Stone, Hollywood’s own Pat Robertson.  Let the snark commence.  (But I won’t hold my breath).

Richard Land’s Meaningless ‘Endorsement’ of Mitt Romney

I hate to put it bluntly, but Mitt Romney is not a Christian.  He doesn’t accept the teachings of historic Christianity and he doesn’t believe what the Bible teaches about salvation.  He. Just. Doesn’t.  He can’t.  He’s a Mormon.

Given those facts, the willingness of Richard Land, the disgraced (and frequently disgraceful) head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission‘s ‘endorsement’ of Romney is utterly without meaning.  An SBC leader endorsing a Mormon, for anything, is like a Roman Catholic endorsing Martin Luther for Pope.  Further, since Land has now lied about refusing to endorse a politician by so endorsing Romney, he isn’t deserving of trust or respect.

But Land is willing to do so because politics have trumped theology for him, just as it has for the formerly great and eminently respectable Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Christians in general and Baptists in particular who are bending over backwards to support someone who’s theology is erroneous and justifying it because of fiscal policies and the false opinion that Romney is ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-marriage’ are either intentionally blind or simply fools.  They are, worse, idolaters.

[And before you get your big girl undies in a wad, remember, I’m not supporting any politician, so don’t bother attempting to accuse me of partisanship.  I’m smart enough to know that there aren’t significant differences between any of them].

When You’ve Been Let Go, It Gives You A Better Perspective on Those Who Suffer Similarly: LeDonne on Pahl

Anthony LeDonne has posted a brief entry on the Pahl debacle.

Taliban ‘education’

Notice that, in the official statement of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal, there is a clear indication that the constituency and trustees hold sway over the interpretation of the doctrines listed. They are in a position of power to decide who “concurs fully” with their worldview and who does not. If I were a parent considering Cedarville University for my children, I would be very concerned that the worship of media and money has been placed in idolatrous prominence over the worship of God. I would be concerned, further, that an administration, board of trustees, and constituency that demotes the belief in God to second place might not be the best arbiters of Christian doctrine.

He has a unique perspective having himself felt the ax of Taliban-esque administrators.  Give it a look.

Michael Brown is the LAST Person Who Should Give Advice Concerning Disaster Response

And yet, because the world is as it is, he has accused President Obama of, get this, responding to Hurricane Sandy TOO QUICKLY!

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown offered criticism of President Obama’s early responses to Hurricane Sandy yesterday, including a dig at the administration’s response to last month’s attack in Libya.

Yesterday, ahead of the storm’s pummeling of the eastern seaboard, Brown gave an interview to the local alternative paper, the Denver Westword, on how he believed the Obama administration was responding to Sandy too quickly and that Obama had spoken to the press about Sandy’s potential effect too early.

Mr Brown, anyone who listens to your advice on disaster response is as foolish as someone who listens to Simcha about biblical archaeology or Little Honey Tee-Tee on intelligent interpretation of the Bible.

Regarding The Earlier Post on Theodicy

Here and there on Facebook and the Twitter I’ve seen complaints about my little piece from earlier which only the dimmest would take for a full-blown explanation of a complicated problem.  To those who have weighed it in the balances and found it lacking, a word from Soren Kierkegaard is in order-

Critics are like eunuchs.  They know what’s supposed to be done, they just can’t do it themselves.

So to all the carpers I say- I await your contributions to the discussion.