Just Because it’s Luther

luther_melIt makes me tingle with pleasure from head to toe when I see that through me, poor wretched man that I am, God the Lord maddens and exasperates you hellish and worldly people, so that in your spite you will burst and tear yourselves to pieces – while I sit under the shade of faith and the Lord’s Prayer, laughing at you devils and your crew and you blubber and struggler in your great fury.

From Against Hanswurst, pg. 185 of Luther’s Works, Vol. 41

I’m Completely Ashamed of the Government of the United States

The depraved miscreants at AIPAC must be telling the State Department what to say. And think.

US State Department blames Hamas for Israel’s murder of Gaza children

Yes- let’s blame the victims- children playing soccer on a beach. It’s their fault the navy lobbed bombs at them.

The US State Department absolved Israel of responsibility for the murder of four Palestinian children in Gaza on Wednesday, placing the blame squarely on Hamas.  The four children were killed and three others badly wounded by Israeli fire as they played on a beach in Gaza on Wednesday afternoon. Dozens of international journalists stationed at the nearby Al-Deira Hotel watched in horror as after an initial strike, Israeli fire chased after the terrified children as they ran for their lives screaming for help, firing at them a second time.

Forty-six children have been killed and hundreds more injured during Israel’s relentless bombing of the besieged Gaza Strip, now in its tenth day. But this latest slaughter happened in the presence of journalists from major media outlets accross the globe, garnering more attention for the killings than they would have otherwise received.  During Wednesday’s US State Department press briefing, a reporter asked, “How is an Israeli airstrike on what can only be described as a civilian target in full view of international journalists be acceptable to the US government?”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki replied that the loss of life in Gaza is “absolutely tragic,” but she blamed Hamas for the deaths, specifically citing Hamas’ rejection of a unilateral ceasefire proposal by Egypt and Israel, which Hamas was never consulted on.  “I would remind you that yesterday there was a ceasefire proposed that was abided to by the Israelis for a couple of hours that Hamas did not abide to,” said Psaki, adding, “they’re putting their own people at risk by continuing to escalate the situation on the ground.”  Reporters continued to raise questions about the rising civilian death toll caused by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and each time Psaki blamed Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, saying, “Hamas is putting their own people in Gaza at risk by continuing their actions.”

For instance

QUESTION: So the people who have been killed, including these children – it’s – frankly, it doesn’t seem to – it doesn’t faze you?

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I said. I think I’ve stated multiple times that the deaths of civilians, the loss of lives for children and individuals in Gaza is horrific and is a tragedy. And that’s why we’re so focused on bringing an end to the violence, and I think that’s far more important than a speculation about —

QUESTION: Right, but it’s – but it’s horrific and it’s a tragedy, but you’re saying that it’s the fault of Hamas for not stopping the rocket fire.

MS. PSAKI: They certainly are at fault in part here, yes.

Shameful.  Hamas, as far as any report to this point, hasn’t fired any rockets at ships at sea, have they?  So why were warships targeting children?  Shameful.

Palestinians mourn over the body of boys from the Baker family, whom medics said was killed with three other children from the same family by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat

Utter Barbarism

Dozens of men at an anti-Israel demonstration in Antwerp shouted slogans about slaughtering Jews. Approximately 500 people attended Saturday’s protest in the capital of Belgium’s Flemish region, where one of the speakers used a loudspeaker to chant a call in Arabic that means “slaughter the Jews.”

Utterly disgusting.  What sort of twisted logic is it that leads people to think that violence and hate are useful instruments?  For anyone, about anything?

Your Book Isn’t More Important Than Scripture

I saw an advert for a book which asserted that if Christians would read it the Church and the world would be changed.

Rubbish. If reading Scripture doesn’t change Christians nothing can. Your book isn’t more important than Scripture and you’re a bit of a heretic to suggest it is.

As Abraham said to the rich guy in hell when he begged to send a message to his brothers- ‘they have Moses and the Prophets. Let your brothers listen to them’.

AIPAC and the Destruction of the Palestinians

This guy writes the truth.  Even if he does it for the HuffPo.

It occurs to me that the continuing Gaza war can be viewed (in addition to viewing it as part of Israel’s continuing battle to maintain the occupation) as a testament to the failure of American democracy. Hear me out.

Everyone knows that the only way to permanently end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by Israel getting out of the territories occupied after the ’67 war in exchange for ironclad security arrangements guaranteed by the United States.

The territories Israel would evacuate would become an independent Palestinian state.

So why does the conflict continue? No, not because the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel. They have,repeatedly.

It continues because the one nation in the world which can make mediate such a deal, the United States, will not do so because it fears retribution from big donors mobilized by the lobby. That is why the Kerry mission failed. It is why every peace initiative going back to Oslo has failed. Every U.S. position has to be cleared by the donors. (I was working at AIPAC in 1982 when President Reagan himself telephoned its executive director to clear a proposal the United States was planning to issue.)

Big donors will not permit the United States to even call for a settlement freeze, let alone for ending the occupation, making any negotiations ridiculous. Why should Palestinians negotiate over the final disposition of the West Bank when, even while the negotiations are going on, Israel continues to gobble up more land and expel Palestinians from homes on that land?

Because of the occupation, because of the settlements, and because of big donors who are mobilized by the Israel lobby to protect both, the United States is forced into a position of helplessness.

As for this war, the United States cannot propose a reasonable and fair solution to it because donors won’t permit it. President Obama cannot even express what he must feel about the dead children of Gaza. Every word must be crafted and weighed not to offend the donors. The dead kids of Gaza don’t exist because Israel “has the right to defend itself” against them.

That is why no one ever mentions that America could use its $3.5 billion a year in aid to Israel to influence its behavior. Impossible. The donors would go crazy.

And more.  And he’s right.  Our cowardly snivelling politicians are toadies of lobbyists and nothing more.  America is no Democracy, it is an Oligarchy.  An Oligarchy in service of the idol it worships, the almighty dollar.

How Were Children on a Beach a Threat to Israeli Security?

Why did the Israeli navy shell a beach where children were present?

Four children were killed in Gaza City on Wednesday, medics said, in Israeli shelling witnessed by The Telegraph and other foreign journalists.  The four were among a group on the beach when the attack took place, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, with some of the surviving injured children taking refuge at a nearby hotel where journalists were staying.

Oh, but we’re told, Hamas lies and makes such things up.  Not this time.

Journalists heard two loud explosions outside the Gaza City hotel, before children were pulled into the restaurant area for treatment.  A journalist who saw the incident said some of the children who survived were running away when another shell seemed to be aimed at them.

A journalist saw it, not a member of Hamas.

The overall death toll in the Gaza Strip is now 213.

Dear God.

A young boy lies on the floor of a restaurant in a hotel, where his wounds have been treated, following the attack (Robert Tait)

A young boy lies on the floor of a restaurant in a hotel, where his wounds have been treated, following the attack (Robert Tait)

World University Rankings are Out

And the University of Sheffield is in the Top 200 of ALL universities in the world!  Hebrew University, Jerusalem is in the Top 25, Tel Aviv University is in the Top 100,  as is the University of Zurich.  And finally, the University of Copenhagen is too.

More precisely:

Hebrew University – 22
Geneva – 75
Copenhagen – 79
Zurich – 85
Tel Aviv – 86
Sheffield – 178

The entire list is available here. Congrats to all the highly ranked (i.e., above 200).

What is a Book Review?

Is it a thorough analysis of a volume?  No.  If one wishes to write a thorough analysis of a monograph one is obliged to not only analyze but offer a new direction or a better understanding.  And that requires a monograph length treatment of its own.  One cannot, in fairness, offer criticism of a volume over this point or that point or here and there without engaging the entire volume, its entire argument, and entirely and that can’t be done in brief.

A book review, on the other hand, is either a recommendation, from one’s own personal perspective, to read a book; or it is a recommendation to avoid a book because it has been found wanting.  Recommendations to read or avoid needn’t be long because they do not, cannot, and are not intended to examine every aspect of a volume.  If they do, then they should be monographs themselves (as stated above).

When I review books I tell potential readers what I like or dislike about them.  It’s up to readers themselves to read the book and make up their own mind.

Unfortunately, some people want to be told not only to think, but how and what to think.  They don’t want to read books, they want to read reviews about books and then deem themselves experts on those books.  This ‘second hand’ scholarship is so widespread today that book reviews are now seen by some to be surrogates for both reading and thinking.  That’s a tragedy.

I’ve gotten plenty of mail from students from various schools asking me to answer this or that question about this or that subject or book.  What they’re actually trying to do- and it is transparent- is to get me to ‘do their homework for them’.  But I refuse.

Do your own thinking.  Do your own reading.  If I recommend a book you can either accept it or reject it.  I don’t care.  I only care that I tell the truth about the books I read.  If I like it- I’ll tell you so.  If you want to read it, then you should do so.  But if you only want me to read it for you, then you’re out of luck.  Off, and be lazy elsewhere.


9783290177140The lovely folk at Theologischer Verlag Zurich have just published a new commentary on Qoheleth, by the excellent Annette Schellenberg:

Das biblische Buch Kohelet (oder «Prediger») übt seit jeher eine spezielle Faszination aus. Annette Schellenberg bietet einen Überblick über die Hauptthemen von Kohelets Theologie und zeigt die traditionsgeschichtlichen Zusammenhänge mit anderen Schriften aus dem Alten Testament und seiner Umwelt auf. Im anschliessenden Kommentarteil arbeitet sie heraus, von welchen Erfahrungen Kohelets Reflexionen ausgelöst sind: Weisheit führt nicht zwingend zu Erfolg, Gerechtigkeit setzt sich nicht immer durch, der Tod trifft alle gleichermassen. Dies zeigt, dass die Lehren der klassischen Weisheit zu kurz greifen, und entsprechend klingt manches im Koheletbuch pessimistisch. Doch dabei belässt Kohelet es nicht. Er nimmt die Dissonanzen zwischen der Erfahrung und den klassischen Lehren der Weisheit zum Anlass, um vertieft über Gott, den Menschen und die Welt nachzudenken. Diese Reflexionen führen ihn zu einer Lebensphilosophie, die alles andere als pessimistisch ist.

Schallenberg asserts in the very first sentence that her reading and interpretation of the book is not from the standpoint of a neutral exegete but rather that of a person who loves this book. That love shows on every page, from the foreword through the last word.  What Schellenberg provides, then, is the finest commentary on Qoheleth that has been written in half a century (and longer, truth be told).  She loves the book and as a consequence her exposition is thorough and exact and shows a grasp of the author(s) intention(s) in a way that the cold and calculating commentary written at arms length cannot.

What this suggests, then, is that the best commentaries are written by people who actually love and respect the books upon which they comment.  Schellenberg is not merely appreciative of the author’s work but understands it precisely because she appreciates it.  Sympathetic readers make the best exegetes.  There’s a lesson to be learned here.  And it’s just the first of many which readers of the volume will encounter.

Before, however, I discuss this particular commentary allow me the space to laud the series in which it appears.  The Zürcher Bibelkommentare is astonishing in that each published volume is of incredibly high academic quality.  Some commentary series are uneven and sometimes even contain volumes that are both very good and utter rubbish (as, for example, the Anchor Bible- which contains the brilliant Jeremiah in three volumes and the utterly horrible and completely meritless ‘Revelation’).

Returning to S.’s work- she commences, following the foreword, with the usual introductory material discussing authorship, canonicity, themes, traditions, and the date of the book.  The commentary proper begins on page 45 and concludes on page 165.  After it, S. provides a bibliography.

While the foreword is engaging, the discussion of authorship is eye-opening and provides, in perfect sincerity, many ‘aha’ moments for readers.  Many of those ‘aha’ moments are then immediately followed by those annoying ‘why didn’t I notice that myself’ moments which both thrill and madden.

Turning to the commentary proper, the translation upon which the work is based is really quite lovely.  Eminently readable, it is also amazingly modern and still faithful to the ‘authorial intent’ (if I might be forgiven for using such a term).  Every pericope is carefully explained and when necessary divided into subsections for ease of discussion.  The biblical text is in dark bold print, as are the verse numberings in the explanations so persons seeking information on particular verses can easily find them.

There are neither footnotes nor endnotes.  S. does something amazing for a writer of a biblical commentary: she thinks for herself.  To be sure, she has consulted all the relevant literature but, mercifully, she doesn’t feel compelled to slavishly restate what has already been stated elsewhere.

The volume is an academic tour-de-force which also manages to offer Pastors and Clergy and those responsible for proclamation grist for the mill.  In that, too, S. is nearly unique.  To illustrate the point, ask yourself how many academically rigorous commentaries you’ve read which offer anything useful for proclamation.  S.’s does.

This volume needs to be read.  It needs to be translated into English and published so non-German reading North American academics (their name is Legion) can have it to use.

In sum- Schellenberg disproves the author of Qoheleth when he says ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’.  No, not everything.  Not this book.