Friday, December 28, 2007

The Death of High Fidelity

Rolling Stone ran a fascinating article on the audio quality of professional music today. The interesting part wasn't that MP3's are poorer in quality. The format was created to reduce file sizes. That's expected.

But the albums today are mixed louder in anticipation of their being ripped into MP3's or being played in loud settings.

Here is an interesting thing. Look at a snapshot of the volume level for Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Now look at the volume signature for an Artic Monkeys song.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stand by Steyn
Actions like the one against Steyn threaten the foundation of free society. Once you declare one group off-limits for critical examination, once you declare that these people -- whoever they may be -- must at all costs not be offended, then you have destroyed one of the essential elements of free speech and political debate. In a free society, people with differing opinions live together in harmony, agreeing not to force their neighbor to be silent if his opinions offend them. If offensive speech had been prohibited in the 1770s, there would be no United States of America, and that is one of the reasons for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Of course, Canada is a different case -- but wherever offensive speech is prohibited, the tyrant’s power is solidified. That is no less so in this case, although the tyrant in question is of a different kind.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Muslims Trying to Silence Mark Steyn for Saying Muslims Want to Silence People

If not so sad, it would be funny.
If Maclean's, Canada's top-selling magazine, is found “guilty," it could face financial or other penalties. And the affair could have a devastating impact on opinion journalism in Canada generally.

As it happens, Canadian human-rights commissions have already come down hard on those whose writings they dislike, like critics of gay rights.

Nor should Americans dismiss this campaign against Steyn and Maclean's as merely another Canadian eccentricity. Speech cops in America, too, are forever attempting similar efforts - most visibly, on college campuses.

When people say I oppose hate crimes because I don't care if blacks or gays are attacked, they are wrong. I just don't want to end up like Canada.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How Not to Read the Bible, Part 11

The New York Times concludes:
But vanquishing the literalists is only half of Kugel’s project. He also seeks a safe haven for rationalist believers. In other words, having broken all the windows, trashed the bedroom, stripped the wires for copper, sold the plumbing for scrap, and jackhammered into the foundation, Kugel proposes to move back into his Bible house.

Kugel spends the final chapter trying to salvage the Bible for rational believers like himself. And give him credit: he refuses to take an easy way out. He won’t say — as many Reform Jews and Christians do — that the Bible is just a series of excellent moral lessons. (After all, Kugel asks, what then are we supposed to make of all the ugly, morally repellent laws and stories?) He also won’t say that Jewish observance is enough, that following God’s laws — independent of accepting their truth — is satisfactory. Instead, Kugel tries to separate scholarship and belief. At bottom, Kugel seems to conclude that, scholarship be damned, there is some seed of divine inspiration in the Bible, even if he can’t say exactly where it is. The fact that we can’t prove any particular passage isn’t important, and the fact that it’s a pastiche of myths and plagiarized law codes doesn’t extinguish the holiness that’s in it, and doesn’t diminish how it still inspires us to love and serve God. That’s a humane and humble conclusion, but it won’t reduce the delight of Bible skeptics, cackling with glee about Chapters 1 through 35.

The reviewer nails it.

Kugel destroys the house he wants to live in.

As we have seen, scholarship (which means only scholarship that agrees with you I guess) is not be feared. They start with presuppositions of disbelief.

So scholarship be damned indeed. But because it is false.


How Not to Read the Bible, Part 10

From the NY Times book review:
One purpose of “How to Read the Bible” is to recapture the Bible from literalists, and Kugel certainly succeeds.

As the previous posts in this series should help show, Kugel hasn't succeeded.
His tour through the scholarship demonstrates why it makes no sense to believe that every word of the Bible is true history.

Scholarship, of the sort they find persuasive, starts with a position of doubt and ends there because of it.
Piling on, he also contends that modern Bible literalism, that brand of six-day-creationism favored by fundamentalists, is wildly out of step with traditional Christian interpretation.

I'm an Old-Earth Creationist. But saying that six-day-creationism is wildly out of step with traditional Christian interpretation is a bit much. Now, nuances of historical thought on the matter should be examined, but this seems plain wrong to me. And I believe the Earth is billions of years old.
Such monomaniacal focus on the Bible’s literal truth is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s not so much that readers of yore didn’t believe the Bible’s truth; they just didn’t waste a lot of time trying to prove impossible events like the Flood.

I'm not sure if this statement makes sense. "Monomaniacal" seems to be poisoning the well. People believed the Bible as true. Maybe they didn't waste time trying to prove things because events weren't challenged.

But I like how the Flood is described as "impossible" from the outset. As far as I can tell, the flood was universal in nature in regards to humanity but confined to a particular region of the world. But those who view things differently are prevented from even presenting evidence for their case in the first place. Why? Because such an event is "impossible."


How Not to Read the Bible, Part 9

God himself has an equally murky personal history. At the start of the Bible, God is often viewed as just one of many gods. Only later in the book does he become the sole deity. More confusingly, he doesn’t even seem to be the same god throughout the book. Mostly, God is called YHWH, but sometimes, especially in the earlier books, he’s known as El. According to Kugel, these are probably two different deities fused into one: El may have been a god in the Canaanite pantheon, while YHWH may have been a Midianite god imported, via nomads, to the early Israelites, who made him their only god.

This is the conjecture of the Documentary Hypothesis. "El" may be from the Canaanite. God's personal name may be from the Midianites.

Why is all this conjecture taken as established? The only thing I can gather is the author of the book wants it to be the case.

Furthermore, is there not allowed to be progressive revelation? God reveals more and more as we get a clearer picture. Even the Torah shows that God's personal name was a revelation to Moses.

And while Scripture may talk about God being one of many gods in some places, I haven't read any portion of Scripture which describes any of those gods as real. Those gods don't do anything except provide a foil to the living God. And since the Bible is addressing a people in the midst of rampant polytheism, that makes sense.

Just think of that term "living God." (Deut. 5:26) What does that imply? The other gods are dead, i.e. not real.

This theory seems to be based more on prejudice than a careful reflection of the facts.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

How Not to Read the Bible, Part 8

From the New York Time article:
Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel’s chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence — archaeological, historical, cultural — for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.

Here and here are some articles which deal with the archeological issues from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. The basic gist is that there is some evidence, but not a lot of it. And these articles help explain why.

This article goes into the conquest of Canaan in very fine detail.

Now, before I quote some portions of the above articles. Let me say that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

That said, writes:
Through the 1980s it was commonly held opinion that excavations in Jericho had failed to discover a city there at the time of Joshua.

In the early 1990s, however, Dr. Bryant G. Woods, then of the University of Toronto, reported finding startling remnants of Jericho in Joshua's time. The error of previous excavations, he asserts, was that archaeologists were digging in the wrong section of the mound of ancient Jericho.

Woods reported finding a 3-foot layer of ash covering the entire excavated area, clear evidence of destruction by fire. He further discovered large caches of wheat from the spring harvest that had barely been used. This means that the city fell not as a result of a starvation siege, as would be expected against a walled city, but rather after a very brief siege. All this matches the account in the Book of Joshua. Furthermore, the wheat was from the spring harvest; Joshua conquered Jericho immediately after Passover, the spring holiday.

Concerning Woods' work at Jericho, Dr. Lawrence Stager, the respected professor of Archaeology in Israel from Harvard University said: "On the whole the archaeological assessment is not unreasonable. There is evidence of destruction and the date isn't too far wrong."

Rarely can an archaeologist claim that "this is the very item the Bible spoke about." Yet Dr. Adam Zartal, chairman of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, may have done it. Joshua 8:30-35 tells of the fulfillment of Moses' command to build an altar on Mount Eval (Deut. 27). Zartal reports that his excavation team found this very altar. The place is right, the time is right, and the animal bones are consistent with the biblical offerings. Even the style of the altar is right, in such detail, says Zartal, that it looks nearly identical to the description of the Temple's altar as described in the Talmud -- a uniquely Israelite design that no Canaanite temples used then or later.

Zartal laments the response of the revisionist archaeological community. "What happened regarding the new accumulation of facts I have cited? Almost nothing. Since the appearance of the detailed report and the many articles I have published on the excavation... silence has descended on the scholarly world."

Regarding Zartal's find, Dr. Lawrence Stager said: "If a sacrificial altar stood on Mount Eval, its impact on our research is revolutionary. All of us [biblical archaeologists] have to go back to kindergarten."

This is how Glen Miller summarizes the data:
In summary, I consider the biblical model of the Conquest/Settlement to be a better predictor of the data we find, than competing theories (especially the 'gradualist' views):

It explains the large and sudden population explosions in the border communities of Israel.
It explains the large and sudden emergence of a 'new' (but mixed) material culture in the central areas.
It explains how 'Israel' got such significant and sudden attention from Egypt.
It explains how the mixed material culture came to be.
It explains the uncommon aspects of the 'destruction' phenomena--specifically the anti-cultic behavior.
It explains how most of Transjordan was 'spared' from the disruptions/warfare that occurred in Palestine.
It explains the emergence of the Hebrew language as a dialect of Canaan.
It has tons of supporting archeaological data for the details.
It has adequate explanations for (and generally, contrary data against) the alleged 'contradictions' in the archix record.
It is the only model that actually explains the 'stubborn persistence' of the Exodus story in the history of the Jewish people.

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How Not to Read the Bible, Part 7
From the New York Times review:
Modern scholars have also unmoored many of the most beloved stories in Genesis and Exodus. These tales are now viewed as etiological — that is, they were invented to explain how the world got to be the way it is. In this reading, the conflict between Jacob and Esau isn’t a true story of sibling rivalry but an account of why, at the time the story was written down, the Israelites had such hot and cold relations with the Edomites, a nearby tribe identified with Esau. Similarly, the “mark of Cain” that God places on Cain after he murders Abel, promising sevenfold vengeance for anyone who harms him, was probably a tale designed to highlight the brutality of the Kenites, Israel’s notoriously fierce neighbors.

So thousands of years from now, we discover stories involving Israelis and Palestinians and disputes over land in the Middle East. Are stories about Yassir Arafat made up to explain Israeli-Arab conflicts?

Now, Moses may have added details that were of interest. But that doesn't necessitate that they were made up.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Not to Read the Bible, Part 6
Kugel points out the Bible’s plagiarism from earlier, non-Israelite sources: laws nicked from Hammurabi; chunks of the Noah flood story lifted from the Epic of Gilgamesh; prophecies of Ezekiel inspired by Middle Eastern temples. He even implicates the Ten Commandments, which were apparently derived in part from ancient Hittite treaties.

First, a general thing. If the Bible uses literary and other forms known or familiar to its audience, so what? Moses should have written in completely unfamiliar categories?

Secondly, Hittite treaties. There was a time when Bible critics disbelieved the Hittites ever existed and held that against the Bible. So if the Torah is borrowing from the Hittites, that would be evidence that the Torah is much older than the Documentary Hypothesis posits (400 BC last I read).

In regards to Gilgamesh, why must we assume that the flood stories of Noah are copied from Gilgamesh? Why can't it be the other way around? In fact, Gilgamesh helps establish that there was a flood universal in nature. (At least universal in its extent on the human race.)

From a webpage which touches on this:
data to support a universal flood would not be limited to geophysical data (which is what I understood your comment to be referring to it)...

By far and away, the most reliable sources of information we have about life on Earth are LITERARY, MATERIAL, and ICONOGRAPHIC--not geological.

LITERARY information shows up in universal flood traditions--spanning all cultures (except Egypt so far) from China to Hawaii(!!) to Native America to the Ancient Near East (138 recorded in the first half of this century);
MATERIAL remains are those artifacts of culture (e.g. weapons, cooking items, economic artifacts, etc.) that we find--in the case of a flood, about all you would expect here would be evidence of the boat maybe; and
ICONOGRAPHCIC evidence is similar to literary, but pictoral or image-based--in the case of a flood, this would show up as maybe inscriptions/monuments (part of the 138 accounts mentioned above) or the Chinese ideographs.

Let me touch on the main problem with this quoted section. Any time there is borrowing, the author of this book assumes that means the underlying Biblical text is not genuine and derivative. As I tried to show above, similarities do not necessarily show that the Bible is inauthentic. Again, the problem is not giving the Bible any benefit of the doubt.

Also, when people point to similarities they barely ever point to differences. For instance, the Noah flood is less elaborate than the Gilgamesh epic if memory serves. So if there was borrowing (and I'm inclined to believe the Gilgamesh epic is spruced up historical memories), why does it always have to flow from pagan sources to the Hebrew? If you don't want to believe in the Bible, you will be inclined to want it to go in that direction. But that doesn't mean that explanation is the best fit for the evidence.

similarities vs. differences

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How Not to Read the Bible, Part 5
Some of the territory Kugel covers will be familiar to lay Bible doubters already. He reviews the “documentary hypothesis,” which demonstrates pretty conclusively that the first five books of the Bible were not written by a single person (Moses, according to tradition), but actually cobbled together from four, or maybe five, different writers.

Ok, the documentary hypothesis isn't my area of expertise, but I have two articles to bring to your attention.

This one is an abbreviated response. Here are the highlights:
By far, the majority of those holding to the JEDP theory presuppose that the miraculous cannot happen. Therefore, they must conclude beforehand that the Pentateuch is not inspired and Moses could not have written it. They must find another explanation for the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible.

Such a presupposition does not allow a proper examination of the documents and will result in inaccurate conclusions.
Whether or not a biblical critic wants to take Jesus' word for anything is up to the individual. But no less than Jesus authenticated the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

This article and this book seem to be worth reading. I read an involved article in a book which pointed out authentic Egyptians features in the text of the Torah. The kind that the actual Moses would be aware of. I will try to post something about that later.


Damning the Episcopal Church Unintentionally

Mr. Axberb, in a New York Times article, unintentionally says a large swath of the Episcopal Church are heretics.
“You have two different world views in the diocese: There are those with a real concern for purity and orthodoxy, which are very important, and I admire that they stand up for bedrock values, like the fact that Jesus is Lord,” Mr. Axberg said. “The Episcopal Church has stood up a great deal for social justice. You really need both sides to hold each other to the fire. But they have blinders on to one another.”

So one part of the church won't stand up for Jesus being Lord?

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How Not to Read the Bible, Part 4
It’s not news to anyone — at least anyone who reads the Bible even a wee bit skeptically — that the book is chock-full of contradictions and impossible events. Instead of carping snidely about this, in the style of a college bull session, Kugel gives us a magisterial, erudite, yet remarkably witty tour through the research. If reading the Bible demands a suspension of disbelief — Moses turned the Nile to blood? Joshua stopped the sun at noon? Samson killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass? — then “How to Read the Bible” will prompt a suspension of belief.

Well, here it is on full display.

Chock-full of contradictions. I would dispute that, but no alleged contradiction is given. Let me say about that many contradictions involve 1) mistranslations or understandings of the original language 2) genuine known issues regarding textual transmission 3) ignoring context 4) ignoring the vagaries of human language 5) not giving Scripture the benefit of the doubt.

Let me give an example. I was always told that my uncle escaped his concentration camp and was taken in by a convent. An article about his life said he was rescued by the U.S. Army. Is this a contradiction? No. He got to the convent and then the U.S. Army liberated the area. This surface problem can be resolved by just asking my uncle some questions.

Now, the authors of the Biblical texts aren't here to query. But there are many possible solutions to alleged contradictions. If you don't want to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt, you will just say it is a contradiction.

The rest of this quote is more problematic. "Impossible events." In other words, miracles are impossible, so if the Bible reports them the Bible is wrong.

If you assume the miracles can't happen, guess what? Miracles can't happen. This is just circular logic. The Bible can't be trusted because miracles can't happen. And why can't miracles happen? They just can't. Not very impressive if you ask me.

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How Not to Read the Bible, Part 3
Second, Kugel leads us through the Bible as it’s understood by modern scholars, who for the past 150 years have used archaeology, linguistics, history, anthropology and all the other tools of science to excavate the truth about the Good Book. Kugel seems to have begun “How to Read the Bible” with the notion of giving equal weight to his two methods, but he soon sidelines the ancient interpreters and focuses on the exceedingly provocative modern scholarship. Though Kugel surely did not intend this, in its own way, his book proves as devastating to the godly cause as any of the pro-atheism books that have been dominating the best-seller lists in recent months.

How about modern scholars who believe in a literal interpretation? Those who have used archeology, linguistics, and history to back up the biblical text?

It is hard to just flatly say "modern scholarship" and react to it. Modern scholarship doesn't want to leave room for God, and (surprise!) it finds no miracles.

When you start with a presumption of disbelief, scholarship rooted in disbelief will come up with a ton of stories and explanations for what is in the text. But do they account for all the evidence?

For example, let's assume I believe scholarship that the Torah was written rather late. And for giggles, let's say it was done for political purposes or some other such story.

Why are all these commands in the Torah about helping the poor and limiting the power of rulers?


How Not To Read the Bible, Part 2
Kugel, an emeritus professor of Hebrew literature at Harvard and, mark this, an Orthodox Jew, aims to prove that you can read the Bible rationally without losing God. He sets himself the monumental task of guiding readers all the way through the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament, more or less, if you’re a Christian) and reclaiming the Bible from both the literalists and the skeptics.

Get this? If you disagree with him you aren't reading the Bible rationally. That will be explained later.

So, how to read the Bible? Kugel proposes two different ways. First, he shows us the Bible as it was read by the “ancient interpreters,” writers who lived in the period a couple of hundred years before and after the birth of Jesus, even as the Bible itself was being codified. Their way of reading the Bible — their assumption of its inerrancy, their belief that scripture teaches moral lessons, and their faith in divine authorship — is the way many of us still read it today.

Guess what? That's how Jesus read the Bible. And He is risen from the dead. The Son of God who is risen from the dead gets to determine our views of the nature of Scripture. We need to start there.

A lot of what is coming is based on presuppositions and assumptions. My presupposition is that I view the Bible the way Jesus did. Presuppositions will color how you view things.

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How to Not Read the Bible, Part 1

I ran into an article that was doing a book review of "How to Read the Bible." There is a lot to tease out of this. Primarily, I want to interact with "don't read this literally."

There are a lot of assumptions hidden in the arguments presented that need to be teased out.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mitt Romney, His Mormonism, and Politics

I have been disturbed by many Christians who do not want to vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. While it hasn't been all Christians, and it may not be the majority of Christians, it is sizable enough to be noticeable.

Martin Luther once said he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk instead of a foolish Christian. That is good wisdom.

What I think most of these Christians are confusing is known in theological circles as Two Kingdom theology, which was first articulated by Augustine. There is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. They are two different kingdoms, two different spheres. They may interact but they have different rules. A vote for Romney is not a vote for church elder.

Now, that is not to say that the faith or lack thereof of a candidate is not pertinent. It is pertinent in so far as a person's faith affects their political views. I do not care if Romney is a polytheist, as far as politics go. I want to know what his political views are.

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