Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday Science: Adam and the Genome 4

Here's chapter 2 of a new book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight called, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. Both are men of faith. Chapter 2 is titled, "Genomes as Language, Genomes as Books."

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction
Evolution as a Scientific Theory

1. 1. In chapter 2, Dennis Venema gives a basic explanation of how genes replicate themselves and activate proteins. It is actually a quite impressive simplification of genetic science. In the process, he gives us a small taste of the genomic evidence for evolution. At the end of the chapter, he says, “It is no exaggeration to say that (the very, very few) trained biologists who reject common ancestry do so because of prior religious commitments, not for scientific reasons” (40).

He actually quotes from a blog post of one of the them. Todd Wood is a young earth creationist by faith. He is quite clear, however, about how the evidence looks. “Evolution is not a theory in crisis… There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution… I say these things not because… I’ve ‘converted’ to evolution… Creation students, listen to me very carefully… evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true… It is my own faith choice to reject evolution” (41).

I am just a beginner when it comes to such things, but my guess is that the situation is this. We could suppose, by faith, that God created in an instant the genomic map of all organisms to look as if they could have gradually evolved following processes we now can observe on a small scale. But the most natural explanation, if we had no prior commitments to go either way, would be to conclude that there has been a gradual development from simpler to more complex organisms over millions of years.

2. Some of the chapter consists of some basic genetics. Most of us have heard of DNA. DNA exists in a double spiral. Sections of DNA are called “genes,” and sections of genes are called “chromosomes.” Humans have 46 chromosomes, 23 from our father and 23 from our mother. Women have two “X” chromosomes. Men have an X and a Y chromosome. In children, women always contribute an X chromosome, while men contribute either an X (making it a girl) or a Y (making it a boy). So Henry VIII should have had himself executed for not having a boy.

There are only four basic building blocks in DNA, chemicals called cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine. Cytosine only bonds with guanine, and adenine only bond with thymine. So you can replicate a strand by breaking it in half and then making all these “nucleotides” available. The right ones will find the right plug-ins and bond. In fact, this is how our cells reproduce.

It is also how our DNA puts into motion our physical characteristics. Something called “messenger RNA” duplicates one of the DNA strands, takes that information off and uses it to produce a variety of proteins, which in turn activate things like our eye color or hair color or nose length, etc.

There is apparently a lot of dead space in our genes, stuff that doesn’t do much of anything. In fact, only about 5 to 6 percent of our genome are the actual genes. Three genes make a codon, which collectively code for the production of a particular protein.

3. Errors and mutations do happen. Perhaps a nucleotide doesn’t bond to the right corresponding nucleotide. Perhaps a “stop” mutation cuts off the gene so that it doesn’t finish giving complete information. Perhaps there is a deletion mutation, which throws off the three codon pattern.

For a parent-child generation, of the some 3 billion pairs of nucleotides in our DNA, there might be about 100 mutations, most if not all of which will go completely unnoticed.

4. None of the above is particularly controversial. What is controversial is how to interpret what we observe when we set the genome of humans alongside chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, even chicken, dogs, and whales. Venema gives the example of insulin in dogs and humans. The gene sequence has a great deal in common.

In fact, it has enough in common that dog insulin would work in a human. Apparently, there is a lot of wasted space in DNA so that there can be quite a bit of variety and it all still work. This is not how a German would design it—too much unneeded and irrelevant space. But you can imagine that if a process was wandering somewhat randomly, it would be convenient if you only had to randomly come close for something to work.

Then he puts the sequence of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans alongside as well. Even closer agreement to the human sequence. Chimpanzees and gorillas are slightly closer to humans in sequence than orangutans.

Later in the chapter, he looks that the olfactory sequence for primates. It turns out that there are the remnants of genes that do not function that are present in, say, wolves. Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans all have a certain stopped gene that is complete in wolves. This is a shortened gene that doesn’t do anything. Humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas all have a certain gene deleted that wolves have and orangutans still have. Humans and chimpanzees have a deletion that the gorillas and orangutans still have. Meanwhile, each of these primates have a mutation in this sequence that none of the others have.

So this could all be God having fun, knowing that in the early 2000s humans would be able to unlock these codes. Wait for it, Gabriel, Francis Collins is almost ready for that joke we planned 6000 years ago. But if we were just going on the evidence alone, we might hypothesize that orangutan split off from a common ancestor first, then gorillas, then lastly chimpanzees and humans. This explains why some still have functioning genes that wolves and others still have working and why others have the same traces of earlier mutations.

Similarly, the stretch of human genes that corresponds to the part of the chicken gene that codes for an egg shell has a large number of nucleotides in the same sequence. It’s just that the key genes to make a shell are missing in humans. But there is a lot of junk in that stretch of human DNA that corresponds to a stretch of chicken DNA that works.

5. I found his opening to the chapter brilliant, since I love languages. First, he compared genomes to languages. He has a background in West Frisian in the Netherlands and put two sentences up next to each other, Apparently they sound much the same:

English: “Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Frise.

West Frisian: “Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.

By implication, the young earth creationist would have to say that God created these two languages to look and sound very similar, but he created them this way from the very beginning. He created them to be very, very similar but there would be no historical relationship between them.

If we had no prior assumptions, however, we would more naturally conclude that at some point, perhaps in the 600s AD, a common group of Anglo-Saxons split, some going to the island of England and others staying nearby on the continent. Over time, little variations arose in the way they wrote and pronounced certain words. Today, you can see a common ancestry, but the isolation of the two has resulted in some interesting “mutations.”

He shows the same in English translations of John 14:6 from the 1300s to today. Wycliffe spelled truth, “treuthe.” Tyndale in the 1500s spelled it “truthe.” The original 1611 KJV said “trueth.” And the 1769 edition of the KJV says “truth.” Same word, variations over time.

If I wrote a commentary on Hebrews...

... how would I lay it out? Just day-dreaming here. If you're a publisher, this would have the characteristic of a book Hebrews scholars and commentators buy because it's so unique and they need to footnote it in disagreement. :-)

I. Overview of Hebrews
  • Literary Survey of Hebrews in paragraph form (with a visual outline also). What are the main divisions of Hebrews as a book? How do the parts of Hebrews interrelate with each other? What are the primary themes that run throughout the book? 
  • A key feature would be dialog with the main "players" in Hebrews research right now. So there would be a beefy page long text box in this section engaging George Guthrie and Cynthia Long Westfall.
  • Purpose of Hebrews. Why was it written? In an attempt not to bias the interpretation too much, I would sketch out the main possibilities and present the scenario toward which I lean, but the other options would be given their space both here and in the commentary
  • This would include a look at the genre. A dialog partner on genre is Gabriel Gelardini. I lean toward sermon.
  • The question of dating is crucial here. A Tale of Two Datings. I lean toward soon after the temple was destroyed.
  • Destination. I lean toward Rome. Significant. Point of origin less significant (Ephesus?)
  • Audience. I lean toward Gentile. Significant.
  • Author. We don't know. I think someone in contact with the Pauline circle. Male. Apollos fits but it would be perilous to say so.
  • Many will know my favored scenario, a sermon sent to a predominantly Gentile church in Rome ahead of the author to encourage them in the wake of the temple's destruction and an ensuing crisis of confidence.
II. The Commentary
  • The commentary would proceed as normal, according to the outline (largely Walter Uberlacker's): chapters 1-2 as a kind of narratio, with chapter 1 as a celebratory introduction. chapters 3-10:18 as the argumentatio with frequent hortatory interruptions (a la Guthrie). 10:19-12 as a peroratio, the practical take-aways. Chapter 13 as a letter conclusion to a sermon.
  • The commentary would continue to have interruptions with beefy text boxes engaging key Hebrews scholars of the day and excursuses that engage key questions like Christology, cosmology, Middle-Platonism, apocalypticism, word studies, etc.
  • Another key feature would be my engagement with the development of Christian thinking in the early church. Here you would have unique hypotheses on topics like the development of early Christian worship, soteriology, the pre-existence of Christ, afterlife. 
  • For Christian readers, there would also be textboxes and/or excursuses with "canonical" and theological readings of key passages. How do (and have) Christians read key passages? 
  • Basically, all the weird ideas that people associate with me would be on pretty full display.
III. Reflections
  • The goal would be to create a commentary that could be read from beginning to end in a process of discovery, perhaps in a somewhat casual style. It is thus appropriate to stop and reflect at the end to see how the tentative hypotheses of the beginning ended up playing out.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gen Eds LC1: World Language and Culture Overview

1. A little over a year ago, I started a series called, Gen Eds in a Nutshell. To be honest, it has been a humbling series, to realize how much I don't know. It didn't take me too long to wander through philosophy, because I've written a philosophy textbook and taught philosophy for years.

I started a Friday math and science series. I'm over half-way through it. I've decided to take my time in the home stretch and read some books I've been wanting to read as I finish it. I'm trying to come to grips with having a 50 year old brain. It's not pretty.

Then last week I finished a world history series. It was far more challenging than I thought it was going to be.

So I'm a little surprised to find myself starting this post at 10 at night. I had read material from another book thinking I would be posting some summaries from it. But it lifted my spirits to make this post instead.

2. The next topic I had in mind for the series is "World Language and Culture." Part of a general education is usually some sort of intercultural experience. Although it is often not practical, an ideal liberal arts education would involve learning another language. The purpose of such learning in large part is to become more aware of yourself.

Americans in particular tend to be incredibly culturally ignorant. We assume we are smarter and better than everyone else in the world. We assume not only that other cultures do things the wrong way but that people who are different from us in our own country are stupid. At worst, we dub our cultural blindspots "Christian" and then assign a negative spiritual connotation to other cultures for not being like we are.

We go on a mission trip for a few days and think we have mastered another culture. Maybe we live on a base in another country and think we therefore know a culture we only encountered on our own terms and in our own language. While people in other cultures in the world often know several languages, we can hardly speak English correctly. Little do we know how those elsewhere often joke about much we think we know about them when we know almost nothing about them.

When I lived in England for three years, there were constant jokes about how shallow (and loud) Americans were. When my family was in Germany, an Ethiopian asked my wife at a laundromat, "Why is it that I know so much about your country, and you know almost nothing about mine?" Of course these jokes slowed down considerably after Bush invaded Iraq.

Basically, we would do well to be forced to live somewhere else for a year, be forced to learn their language and do things their way. It would end a lot of the foolishness going on in politics right now. I won't be able to capture the benefit of knowing world languages and cultures here. But I'll do what I can.

3. In the other series, I've tried to capture the subject in ten general headings. Here's my map for at least the next 10 weeks. With history, these ended up expanding to multiple posts on each. I have arranged them somewhat in order of my familiarity (meaning I'll have to study more the further down the list we go). Chinese is actually the language spoken by most people on the planet, so if I went in that order, it would be much closer to the top. Similarly, three languages in the Indian region are in the top ten languages spoken in the world.

Here is my outline for the next weeks:
  • Culture Classification
  • Mapping World Languages
  • English-Speaking Cultures
  • Spanish-Speaking Cultures
  • European Language Cultures
  • Russian and Slavic Language Cultures
  • Semitic Language Cultures
  • Indian Language Cultures
  • Asian Language Cultures
  • African Language Cultures

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

18. Hitler Becomes Chancellor

This week I read chapter 21 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. This is the turning point. This is the beginning of the end.

1. A few things impressed me about this chapter. I suppose the biggest one is what Camus called the "theater of the absurd." Hitler coming to power was not inevitable. In fact, it seems to come on almost unexpectedly. It is as if he has tried and tried and tried and tried to come to power. Finally, the vastly more prudent powers around him give in. They make him promise he won't do all the things they know deep down he will do.

Hindenburg doesn't want him as Chancellor. But the guy he had as Chancellor, Schleicher, offended Hindenburg with straight talk. "The fickle old man felt the weight of Schleicher's domination and shook it off when it became just a fraction of an ounce too much" (534). Hindenburg refuses to see Hitler unless he comes with someone else. Hitler swears he will submit to every conceivable restriction Hindenburg comes up with.

Schleicher himself could have taken the reigns of government and ruled as a dictator until things settled down. But he didn't want to go against the constitution, and he didn't want to rule as a dictator with so little support from the people. He had some honor, so hands the chancellorship over to Hitler in effect, because Hitler does represent a substantial part of the people. Hitler would have him murdered a year later.

Hitler has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy now for some time but he is bailed out by industry that think he won't impose socialism.

Hitler sides with the Communists to oust Schleicher. These same people that he will soon kill vote with him because of stubbornness and the expediency of the moment. Two weeks earlier Schleicher thought Hitler was through. "The game which the National Socialists played with the Communists in the last months of their fight for power will always be remembered as a masterpiece of political strategy" (526).

2. There were forces causing unrest among the populace. A mild winter in early 1933 meant that the coal miners were in trouble. A mammoth harvest meant that the farmers were in trouble because it would drive the price of grain down. Danish butter was forced out of England and poured into Germany, causing butter prices to fall because of too much supply.

At the same time that the Nazis were partnering with the Communist in the Reichstag, they were destroying the peace on the streets. Schleicher's final fatal decision was to stop the Communists from marching in Berlin while not stopping the Nazis. The show of strength made Hitler seem the clear person with authority over the people.

The various forces in the Reichstag seem exhausted. "The misery of the nation, the disintegration of society, destroyed the confidence and energy of most men; cynicism, herald of all world twilights, had a greater share in the political commissions and omissions of the day than any calculation or lust for power.

3. Hitler promised everyone everything. His people told Jewish businessmen that Hitler had outgrown the anti-Semitism of his earlier days. "The party has become more realistic," they told the powers that be (520). Hitler renounced the blood baths (that were still taking place). He will let others work with industry policy. "I won't take emergency powers," he assures them.

Again, they think that because he is brainless he can be controlled. "Over and over again the idea that National Socialism was rich in demonic force, but poor in brains, beguiled this upper-class type into the arrogant experiment of 'curbing' and 'sifting.'" Those around Hitler act as if, "We don't trust you, but say something satisfactory and you shall have a satisfactory answer" (541).

The Nazis do maneuver well in the second half of January 1933. Hitler acknowledges to his people that he has made some mistakes in the past. "I too can go wrong and make mistakes. But what counts is who makes the most mistakes" (525).

The leaders of lesser parties work with Hitler because they think they can save the constitution. Schleicher won't take dictatorship power because that would destroy the constitution. They appoint a cabinet with only three Nazis on it, with Hitler as chancellor. They think they have the right people in place to keep him from going crazy or destroying the whole thing.

So you have a Reichstag that is functioning. You have a leader as Chancellor, Hitler, who commands significant popularity among the people. You have Hindenburg as ultimate authority. And you have a cabinet with good representation. It looks like a tenuous solution to Germany's instability.

4. Now Hitler is Chancellor. What will he do? He calls an election and dissolves the Reichstag. He is currently popular. Those who have compromised on him to form a cabinet may not find themselves with as many seats. "Don't worry," Hitler assures them. "I'll make sure everyone is back in the cabinet."

Yeah right.

We can see the mistakes in hindsight:
  • Never underestimate an idiot.
  • Someone with the heart of a dictator will always end up ruling like a dictator because that is who they are.
  • Liars will promise everyone everything, but don't get upset when they break every promise.
  • You can't control the winds. A feather can turn the tide. You can only be paranoid well in advance.
Previously on Hitler:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Paul Novel 4.2: Down to Jerusalem

Continued from last week. Previous chapters now archived
So after a few weeks back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were ready to go up to Jerusalem to share what God had done in Cyprus and Galatia. They had kept their eyes out for a Gentile convert who was full of the Holy Spirit and who embodied good news for the whole world, not just Jews. It did not take long for them to agree on Titus. In fact they both thought of him independently of each other. They took this fact as a sign that the Holy Spirit was behind the idea.

Titus was a young man, almost eighteen. Paul saw in him not only a good example of what God was doing among the Gentiles, but a potential replacement for John Mark on their next missionary journey. Titus' parents had been God-fearers in the synagogue, and they had believed in Jesus the Christ the very first time they heard about him. [1]

Baptism quickly became the central ritual for a Gentile becoming part of God's people. And so Titus' father had his whole household baptized, including Titus. It was not long before Titus himself had fully embraced his new family in Christ. [2]

It was over a two week journey south to Jerusalem, but by now Paul and Barnabas were well used to such travel. On the other hand, Titus had never been outside the city of Antioch. He was a very serious young man, and very responsible. In just the weeks Paul had known him, he had won Paul's complete confidence.

Peter greeted Barnabas warmly when they arrived. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a little more formal. John Mark had that hesitancy around Paul that betrayed a little sense of guilt for having talked about someone behind their back...

[1] We do not know the details of Titus' background. It is reasonable to assume that he was a relatively young man. Although he is never mentioned in Acts, he is with Paul and Barnabas in Antioch around the year 49 (See Galatians 2). So either they picked him up in Galatia, perhaps as a replacement for John Mark, or he was a convert from Antioch.

[2] Acts may give us a somewhat idealized picture of the early church, so it is not entirely certain how quickly baptism became a universal practice among Jesus-followers. Paul seems rather casual about it in 1 Corinthians 1:14-16. We can imagine that baptism was very important for Apollos at Corinth, since he was a follower of the teachings of John the Baptist long before he became a Jesus follower (cf. Acts 18:25).

In other words, it is entirely plausible that baptism was a whole lot more central to Apollos' teaching than it was for Paul at this point.

Acts suggests that Gentile converts may have baptized their whole households (cf. Acts 16:15, 34). This is what we would expect in a group culture. As Western individualists, we find it hard to believe that a parent would have made such a decision for a child, but this is exactly what we would expect of the ancient Mediterranean world.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Seminary CM6: The Church and Culture

This is the sixth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
1. In 1951, H. Richard Niebuhr published what soon became a classic work of theology and mission, Christ and Culture. In this book, Niebuhr suggested that the various ways in which Christianity interacts with culture can be captured in five basic approaches.

1. Christ against culture
The first is Christianity in opposition to the surrounding culture. Those with this approach typically try to withdraw from culture as much as possible. Culture is seen as antithetical to Christianity.

2. Christ of culture
A second approach virtually assimilates Christianity to the culture. The values of the culture become the values of Christianity. This approach blurs into whatever the surrounding culture is and does not have a clear or distinctive Christian identity.

The other three approaches are mixtures of the first two and are together categorized by Niebuhr as "Christ above culture."

3. Christ and culture 
Niebuhr calls this one a synthesis of Christ and culture, so we might call it Christ and culture. It tries to combine Christ and culture in some way that considers them both valid in various ways. I have often thought of the American impulse to "civil religion" as an example of this sort of synthesis--baseball, hot dogs, and Jesus waving an American flag.

4. Christ and culture in paradox
The opposite impulse toward a synthesis is to keep Christ and culture separate without trying to synthesize them. Perhaps one is Christian in church but Christless the rest of the week. We are both sinner and saint at the same time.

5. Christ the transformer of culture
For Niebuhr, this is a "conversionist" approach. We accept in culture whatever we can accept and then work to transform the rest to conform to Christianity.

2. Understandably, these categories--and Niebuhr's implementation of them, have been substantially critiqued over the last fifty years. For example, it is impossible for someone to remove him or herself from culture. All human existence is enculturated, "incarnated," as it were. The question of withdrawal is one of degree of removal and the question of assimilation is one of degree of assimilation.

So the Amish are not completely removed from the surrounding culture. In many respects, they have simply locked themselves into a past time when they were more acculturated. That is to say, they tried to stop changing with where culture was at in a previous point in history, at which time they were far more acculturated than they are now. Some holiness groups have followed a similar path, locking themselves into the dress standards of an earlier era in the early to mid-1900s. At that time, however, they were more acculturated in their clothing.

In this respect, Christianity at any time and place is always on some level a synthesis of the kingdom core with the surrounding culture.

3. A second observation is that different times and places call for different stances toward the world around us. "For everything there is a season" (Eccl. 3:1). You could argue that we are always in exile because the world stands under the power of Sin and thus we are always "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Heb. 11:13). Similarly, you could argue that we are always meant to be a force for good in the world, both in spreading the good news (Matt. 28:19) and in just plain doing good (Gal. 6:10).

But the degree to which we engage or withdraw will differ from time to time and place to place. There is a time to mostly blend in (1 Peter times) and there may be a time to conquer the land (Joshua times). In this respect, there is probably not a single stance that the church will take toward culture in every time and place.

4. Let me suggest some of the different stances toward culture that Christians may be called to take at various places and times.

1. Cultural Take-Over
There certainly have been times and places where Christians have taken over the culture or at least tried. [1] In ancient Israel, Joshua was commanded to take over the land of Canaan, and throughout the monarchy, Israel was in control of its land. After Constantine and Theodosius in the 300s AD, Christianity became the dominant force in the Roman Empire, and Christianity dominated the culture of Europe from then till the present.

In Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin made his understanding of Christianity the law of the city. Similarly, in Puritan, New England, the Puritan understanding of right and wrong was the law of the land. Many fundamentalist Christians in the United States are zealous to see American law mirror various elements of their moral understanding.

There's an important caution here. Since true Christians are strangers and aliens on the earth, since narrow is the way and only a minority finds it (Matt. 7:14), it seems unlikely that the true people of God were never coterminous with Israel, Geneva, New England, or American fundamentalism today. That is to say, only a minority of Israelites were truly the people of God. Only some of those in Geneva and New England were true Christians. And we must reckon with the likelihood that most of those who have called themselves Christians in America probably are not. The rise of the "nones" today may in part simply be a peeling away of those who were never true believers in the first place.

Most of those who to take over a culture probably do not really represent God. When any religion takes over a culture, oppression is usually close behind. Whether it be sharia law in Muslim contexts or fundamentalist law in America, these impulses largely amount to power-hungry human beings using religion as a tool to control others.

God does not rule the world in this way at this time. When people reject him currently, he "lets them go" (Rom. 1:24, 26). The very fact that most in the world are not Christians proves that God does not rule this world with an iron fist at this time. Those Muslim extremists who use terrorism to exact destruction on the world are missing a fundamental fact--if God was as they think he is, he would not need their help. If God wanted to take over the world, he would. The fact that he lets evil continue shows that his way is not at this time to force the world to follow him. The same observation follows for fundamentalists whose agenda is to make US law mirror their understanding of the Bible.

On the other hand, when we see others being oppressed or others are in danger, this can be a time to step into culture and intervene. When the abolitionist movement tried to put an end to slavery, that was arguably an appropriate time for Christians to work for change. When Christians work to end abortion, this is arguably an example of Christians acting to protect others from harm. Even in these cases, though, there are different ways Christians can go about working for change.

2. Extreme Assimilation
You could argue that complete assimilation to the culture ceases to be Christian at all. "Liberalism" is sometimes painted into this category because "conservatism" and fundamentalism resist cultural change. But you might just as well say that conservatism mistakes the culture of the past for Christianity, that it is just as much an assimilation but to the culture of the past rather than the culture of the future.

In truth, liberalism and conservatism often both are emphasizing core Christian values--they are just emphasizing different ones. Those who emphasized the fundamentals in the early 1900s were emphasizing Christian values, namely, those of orthodox belief. But those who preached the social gospel--helping those in need--were also emphasizing a Christian value.

So it is today. Republican Christians tend to emphasize God's justice, God's stance for life, and for a biblical sense of family. Democratic Christians tend to emphasize God's love and his concern for the needy and marginalized. Both at least think that they are standing true to the essence of Scripture.

I would argue that it is actually the "Christ and culture in paradox" perspective that reflects the real assimilation danger. This is when a person says Christian things on Sunday, but it has no impact on his or her life during the week. This person may say the right things in church, may even see themselves as a defender of ideas. But when it comes to the kingdom core, it isn't present in their lives.

3. Principled Assimilation
1 Peter represents a different kind of assimilation situation. 1 Peter was written at a time of Christian suffering. Rome is pictured as "Babylon," that foreign power that once destroyed Jerusalem (5:13). The suffering was so bad that Peter talks of the judgment having begun with the house of God (4:17). The key verse of the letter instructs its "strangers and exiles" to live good lives among the nations in this time of suffering (2:11-12).

Accordingly, 1 Peter is a kind of defensive strategy. [2] It instructs slaves to endure unjust masters. It instructs wives of unbelieving husbands to be good first century wives. That is to say, Peter instructs Christians to assimilate to the culture of the first century without compromising their faith.

There is no sense of changing the culture to the kingdom ideal. That simply wasn't in the cards. Rather they assimilate in a principled way.

4. Separation ("In but not of")
The situation was not that dire when Paul wrote his letters. Nor were matters at a flash point when Jesus was ministering in Galilee. Yet Paul and Jesus had no agenda to take over the secular powers of their context either. Both of them modeled what we might call an "in the world but not of the world" approach.

Paul saw matters of the church and matters of the world as two separate worlds but he only really belonged to one of them. His citizenship was in heaven (Phil. 3:20) even though he was a Roman citizen. It was his job as an apostle to exercise authority on his churches, even to participate in judgment, but it was God's job to judge the world at this point in time (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:12-13).

Paul thus does not try to stop sexual immorality in the world. He does not try to get the Romans to enact laws against divorce or homosexual practice. But he insists on stopping sexual immorality within the church.

Jesus similarly divides the earth into two kingdoms. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17). Jesus is not legitimating the Roman empire. He is simply pointing out that its parallel world has nothing to do with the kingdom. It is a different world. Followers live in both worlds but really only belong to one of them.

5. Withdrawal
Some of course take the separation in identity of #4 and take it to a physical withdrawal. The Shakers, the Oneida colony, other Christian groups have removed themselves physically from the surrounding culture.

In the Bible, Israel itself is an example of this withdrawal, in a way. This is what the conquering of the land was about. This is what the food laws were probably about. Not eating pork was not probably about hygiene, but about distinguishing Israel from the Philistines and their gods.

It seems that this option is rarely open for believers, although there may be a place and time for it. If we are to be witnesses to Christ in the world, it is hard to see how this option fulfills that task very well.

6. Influence
At all times and places, Christians are thus witnesses. We should not often try to take over the culture. We should never assimilate ourselves into oblivion. We are never "of the world" even though we are in it. We should not often completely withdraw.

But we should always be witnesses. We should always be trying to lead others into the kingdom of God. We should always stand against oppression. We should always be a positive influence on the cultures we are in, whether they are hostile to us or threaten to allure us with their comfort.

Next Sunday: Culture 7: Our Global Context

[1] My category here is an extreme version of Niebuhr's conversionist "Christ transformer of culture."

[2] Scot McKnight, 1 Peter. NIV Application Commentary.

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry

Saturday, June 24, 2017

9.3 The Universal Time Constant Chart

This is the third week of Module 9, "Relationships of Current, Counter EMF, and Voltage in LR Circuits." These modules are part of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series from the 1970s. The third section of this module is titled, "Using the Universal Time Constant Chart."

9.1 Rise and Decay of Current and Voltage
9.2 LR Time Constant

The so called universal time chart gives the percentages of maximum I (current) or E (voltage) for each of the five time constants it takes for a circuit with an inductor in it to reach the maximum when powering up or to reach zero if powering down. The chart is to the right.

The time constant, as we learned in the previous section, is calculated by dividing the inductance by the resistance. So you can see on the chart that TC1, TC2, TC3, and so forth are expressed as L/R, 2L/R, 3L/R and so forth.

The line that starts at zero and increases to 100% is the powering up line. So at one TC (time constant), the voltage or current will be at 63.2% of its maximum value. At T2, it will have reached 86.5% of its maximum value, and so forth.

The line that starts at 100% and decreases to 0 is the counter-EMF coming from the inductor as the circuit powers down (EL). It has the percentages opposite the percentages on curve A. So at one time constant interval, the circuit will still have 36.8% of what its maximum voltage was. At T2, voltage will be down to 13.5%. At T3 it will be at 5%. At T4 you will have 2% left. Then final at T5 the circuit will have completely powered down.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Science: Adam and the Genome 3

Hit and run this morning with a new book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight called, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. Both are men of strong faith.

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction

1. Now quickly chapter 1. Chapter 1 is titled, "Evolution as a Scientific Theory." Venema gives a bit of his personal story. Grew up against evolution. Didn't agree with it even through his PhD program. He now teaches biology at Trinity Western University

He spends a section of the first chapter correcting the sense that scientific theories are guesses or conjectures. A hypothesis in science does get to be called a theory until it has produced an extensive body of results that fit with it. In common language, we might say, "It's just a theory." But that is not how theories work in science. "A hypothesis that is not rejected after many, many predictions and tests eventually becomes a broad explanatory framework that has withstood repeated experimentation and that makes accurate predictions about the natural world: in other words, a theory" (4).

He then dismisses the often referenced studies on diet and health. Most of this is not good science. It is rather sensational journalism and people trying to sell you stuff. Don't mistake the fake science from the long, painstaking real stuff.

2. He has a long quote from John Edwards dismissing the idea that the earth goes around the sun. Edwards gives both theological and scientific arguments against it. One argument against it, the absence of a stellar paradox, Venema indicates was shown to be present two hundred years later. His point is that what seems difficult for Christian belief today might not seem difficult to a later generation. And sometimes it takes a little time to show what at first seems counterintuitive.

The latter part of this chapter gives an example. The idea that mammals descended from fish seems odd to say the least, as does the idea that tetrapods came out of the water to land and then that some of them returned to the sea as whales. Darwin suggested the latter and was soundly laughed to scorn for it.

Venema then gives evidence that, while not proving these hypotheses, has made them more plausible and has failed to disprove the theories. Lungfish are an example of a fish that to this day has the breathing apparatus both of water and air. They also have bones in their fins. Paleontological work in this time period has also found fossils of several species that blur the distinction between fish and tetrapod.

Finally, he speaks of fossils of species found around the Indian Ocean that have features that are suitable for water but that are still tetrapods. He follows up with the embryology of whales, which shows that the embryos begin toward developing back legs but then call it off in later development.

These fossils do not prove the hypothesis, but they support it and "fail to reject" it upon further experimentation.

Here endeth the first chapter.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jamestown 2

From last week
4. In December of 1606, three ships set sail from Blackwall, at that time just outside of London to the east, on the north side of the River Thames. These were the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. Christopher Newport captained the largest of the ships, the Susan Constant. Captain John Smith was also on board. John Ratcliffe captained captained the Discovery.

Captain John Smith was one of those personalities who did not do well as a subordinate. Maybe he was smarter than everyone else or maybe he was not, but he certainly found himself repeatedly in trouble with his superiors. He was jailed on the trip over for mutiny, and scheduled to be hanged upon arrival. But when they arrived, instructions from Virginia Company were opened, and Smith was to be on the governing council.

Throughout his time he would repeatedly clash with the leadership of the colony. He probably also was a key player in keeping the colony alive, as opposed to the earlier attempt at Roanoke Island in 1587. When Governor John White returned in 1590, the colony was gone, leaving only the word "Croatoan." Many think the colony moved and, perhaps, blended into some of the surrounding native American groups.

On those first three ships to Jamestown, there were some 105 passengers and 39 crew, all men. Only 38 men were still alive when Captain Newport returned again from England with the "First Supply" in 1608.

5. The three ships made their "first landing" in what they called "Cape Henry" after the son of King James, April 26, 1607. Chaplain Robert Hunt offered a prayer and they set up a cross. He would be dead the next year. His remains have been found on the site of the first church in Jamestown, the first one to be buried in the new church--no coffin, only in a shroud.

On May 4, 1607. they settled on the spot up the "James River" that would become "Jamestown," both named after King James. They had the original triangular fort up and built by June 15.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gen Eds 11: The First Humans

The end of my world history posts! And only after ten months.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. This is the final post in the world history part:
1. The last post began to delve into some sensitive waters. An Archbishop named James Ussher in 1650 suggested that God created the world in 4004BC. This date fits with a fairly literal reading of the chronologies in Genesis.

However, in my last post I gave some dates from mainstream archaeology that go back further than 4000BC. Archaeologists date the walled city of Jericho back as far as 8500BC and Çatalhöyük as far back as 7000BC. These dates would require at the very least for the genealogies of Genesis to be significantly incomplete.

2. On the one hand, the fingerprints of history in Genesis coincide extremely well with the history of Mesopotamia from the previous post. We have Abraham at the time of Hammurabi. We trace him back to Ur in Sumer. And in the area of Sumer we have the beginnings of civilization. This is the area from which the ziggurat arose, like the Tower of Babel. There is evidence of a devastating flood in this area. Even Genesis points to the Garden of Eden being in the area of the Tigris and Euphrates (Gen. 2:14).

These breadcrumbs point back to about the same time as Ussher in the right region. The birth of human history is exactly where Genesis locates it--in Mesopotamia around the fourth millennium BC.

3. According to our previous post, human "history" began with the beginning of writing in the late 3000s BC in the area of Sumer. However, the current state of archaeology wants us to push back further, back to an "agricultural revolution" around 10,000BC. The current state of paleontology, which goes back beyond that point, wants to push back even further. How are we to fit these dates with the Bible?

In the last two decades, genetics has caused us even more problems. The mapping of the human genome, according to the current state of research, suggests that a common female and common male ancestor might have lived somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 years ago in Africa. But not at the same time. [1] The current estimate is that "The DNA in current humans could not have come from a pool of fewer than approximately 10,000 humans." [2]

These theories of course are probably not in anything like their final form. We are in a dialog between Scripture and science, between possible interpretations of the Bible and possible interpretations of science. For example, John Walton's proposition is that perhaps Adam and Eve were royal representatives for a community of early humanity at some point in our early history. [3]

According to one theory, all humanity can be traced to East Africa about 70,000 years ago. According to current theory, Homo sapiens left Africa about then. So following Walton's theory, we might speculate that Adam and Eve ruled the Homo sapiens of East Africa some time before 70,000 years ago.

This of course is speculation, a discussion that hasn't hardly even started. For many, it is a conversation that should never start.

4. My goal in the rest of this post is simply to sketch out what seems to be the current dominant timeline for humanity among experts in this area at large, to do with as you will. My dates are based on Yuval Noah Harari's book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It is a clearly secular book.

According to the current theory, a female ape had two daughters 6 million years ago. One would become the progenitor of all chimpanzees The other would become the mother of all humanity.

In this theory, about 2.5 million years ago, the genus Homo originated. This is not Homo sapiens or human beings as we are. These were animals in our genus, just as a lion and a tiger are in the same genus Panthera. According to the theory, this new genus Homo emerged from a genus of apes called Australopithecus.

Again, the current theory sees Homo sapiens emerging as a new species in Africa about 150,000 years ago. There were other "humans" around in the world at that time: Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo denisova. According to DNA, about 1-4 percent of Middle Eastern and European DNA is Neanderthal, and about six percent of Aboriginal Australian is Denisovan DNA.

So these "humans" would have intermingled a little, perhaps until as recently as 50,000 years ago. Neanderthals may have lasted until 30,000 years ago.

The success of these broader humans was the use of fire, going back as far as 300,000BC according to the current theory. Because humans could cook their food, they could eat all the needed food for a day in an hour, as opposed to the five hours of chewing raw food that chimpanzees need to do a day.

They were not particularly spectacular in comparison to other predators out there. In fact, some speculate that tools may have developed so that humans could break into bone to eat after the more skilled predators were done eating off all the meat from a kill.

There are no longer any other humans other than Homo sapiens. We apparently eliminated the others, according to the "Replacement" theory.

5. Some then suggest that the real point of origin for humanity as we know it took place about 70,000 years ago in East Africa. Yuval Harari calls this moment the "Cognitive Revolution." According to the current theory, some Homo sapiens had left Africa about 100,000BC for the Middle East, but they had not managed to compete against the Neanderthals, who actually had bigger brains.

But something changes in between 70,000 and 30,000BC, on this theory. Harari calls this chapter, "The Tree of Knowledge." Unlike Neanderthals, so the conjecture goes, Sapiens trade over long distances. Sapiens can coordinate with larger groups than small bands. Most importantly, Sapiens can imagine--they can construct realities like founding stories and legal fictions. They can not only talk about what is. They can talk about what could be.

6. In this theory, these Sapiens were all hunter-gatherers. They did not live in any one fixed location. They traveled to find food where they could. They ate on the spot what they could.

The next revolution, according to Harari, is the "Agricultural Revolution." This is when Sapiens transitioned from being a mostly hunter-gatherer species to becoming a farming species. In one place he mentions 12,000BC, but in another he suggests 9500-8500BC.

"Wheat and goats were domesticated by approximately 9000BC; peas and lentils around 8000BC; olive trees by 5000BC; horses by 4000BC; and gravevines in 3500BC" (77). "By 3500 BC the main wave of domestication was over" (77-78). "By the first century AD the vast majority of people throughout most of the world were agriculturalists" (78).

The rest is history. Agriculture tied down people to locations. Locations prepared the way for cities. Cities expanded the number of people in one place. Once the number moves into the hundreds, we need writing. We need bureaucracy. We need administration. We need collective imagination. We need to control violence. We need to organize warfare.

Here endeth world history.

Next Week: Chapters 1-8 of Sapiens

[1] E.g., Sequencing Y Chromosomes Resolves Discrepancy in Time to Common Ancestor of Males versus Females

[2] Both Tremper Longman III (vi) and Scot McKnight pass this idea along (xi) in Adam and Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. These are faith-filled biblical scholars who believe in the inspiration of Scripture but also feel the need to take science seriously in the name of truth. See also the faith-filled scientist, Francis Collins, The Language of God.

[3] The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Paul 4.1 Back in Antioch

Prior novel chapters may disappear after transferred into a Word document. While it lasts, here is the link to the last post in chapter 3.
Chapter 4: Jerusalem Decisions
The whole way back to Antioch, Paul was thinking about what might lie ahead. John Mark had been back in Jerusalem for over a year. Who knows what all he had said to the leaders in Jerusalem? They would of course tend to believe his account because he was one of them.

Paul could hear what he might be whispering into their ears. "Paul hijacked the mission from Barnabas." "Paul has no regard for the Jewish Law." "Paul has abandoned his own people in preference to non-Jews."

Barnabas assured Paul that everything would be fine. Mark was just young and immature. And, with a bit of a smile, "You can be a little overbearing at times, Paul."

Finally, Barnabas had a plan that made sense to Paul. "Let's go down to Jerusalem after we get back," he said. "Let's take one of the Gentile converts from Antioch to show them an actual person. It's hard to argue with a real person in front of you," Barnabas continued. "They'll see that the gospel is for the whole world, Paul. How could they keep such good news all to themselves?"

Paul agreed. It made sense. It would sure be better for the kingdom--and for the churches he had planted--if James and Peter agreed that Gentiles could be saved from the coming judgment without becoming circumcised.

The house churches of Antioch were clearly glad to see them, and they hung on every story Paul and Barnabas told. They were amazed that a Roman governor had believed, although they already knew that part of the story from John Mark. At first they cringed to hear of Paul getting stoned, but then laughed when Barnabas told how Paul "just got up and went into town" while they were looking at his body thinking he was dead.

Paul could tell, though, that there had been some rumblings about his familiarity with non-Jews. Had he started eating pork? "No!" he assured them. Had he succumbed to sexual immorality like the Gentiles? "May it never be!" he protested in anger. "And none of those who have believed do such things either!"

It infuriated him that they would assume a person was sexually immoral, just because he or she was a Gentile!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Science: Adam and the Genome 2

1. I am blogging through a new book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight called, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. Both are men of strong faith. Yesterday, I gave a sort of personal preface.

The Foreword by Tremper Longman III gives a taste of the recent conundrum. If evolution were not already difficult for many Christians to harmonize with the Bible, recent DNA research has suggested that "humanity begins not with a single couple but rather with an original population of some thousands of people" (vii).

2. The Introduction then gives a little more personal detail on the two authors. Dennis Venema wonders "if my path would have been less circuitous if the church had had a better relationship with science to begin with." Venema teaches college biology at Trinity Western University in Vancouver. Interestingly, he did not become convinced that evolution was correct until after he had actually become a college professor (11)!

Venema makes a comment that I have been making for years. The real issue for Christianity and evolution is not in Genesis. That's easy. The real issue is in Paul's writings and, more specifically, with the theological problem of Sin, evil, and death.

Scot McKnight is a New Testament scholar who is coming at the problem from the other side, from the biblical side. He is wrestling with this question that Longman mentions in the Foreword: "The DNA in current humans could not have come from a pool of fewer than approximately 10,000 humans" (xi).

I'll stop there to today, as other things press... See you next Friday, dv.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Preface to Friday Science: My Creation Quest

1. I have decided to blog through a recent book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight called, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science. Scot is a faith-filled New Testament scholar and Dennis Venema is a faith-filled scientist.

Perhaps I should start by giving part of my own story on these topics. Ideologically, I grew up fundamentalist. My family did not have the heart of a fundamentalist, but we had the ideas of them. Fundamentalism is a militant version of a religion whose main goal is to combat forces of change coming from the surrounding culture.

I was going through my teens in the decades when Jerry Falwell was working his magic on America. I went to some of the early evolution debates between Henry Morris and Kenneth Miller because I grew up in the shadow of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was quite convinced that evolution was intrinsically antithetical to Christianity.

I was frankly disappointed with Morris as a debater. He seemed to spend most his time quoting people and giving quasi-philosophical arguments. I wanted him to blast the evolutionist with evidence. I was more pleased later with Duane Gish but let's just say that if I hadn't already been convinced, I don't think he would have convinced me. I've more recently watched Ken Ham debate Bill Nye and, again, it seems like his arguments are far more presuppositional than evidentiary.

2. In the meantime, I received a call to ministry in college. Later I felt within that call a call to train ministers in the Bible. So I went on to get a PhD in New Testament. I went through a common process of learning that there were reasons why scholars had some of the "funny ideas" I had once made fun of.

Having started out as a chemistry major and both loving and having an aptitude for math and science, I was well wired by the time I got to seminary to follow the evidence to its most likely conclusions. What I came to conclude is that at least some of my seminary professors were playing a bit of a game. They went through the motions of gathering evidence and making arguments, but it seemed to me that other interests were really guiding their conclusions, unacknowledged preconditions.

To be honest, I have personally found this to be the case for many biblical scholars, both conservative and liberal. And of course I have been accused of "cooking the books" too. The Bible scholars I have always admired are the straight shooters, but they seem few and far between.

I have at least heard that disillusionment is a common tale for faith-filled believers who go on to do graduate degrees in science. Some of them unnecessarily lose their faith in the process because they have been told that certain conclusions are incompatible with Christian faith. Then as those conclusions seem inevitable to them, they draw the logical inference--Christian faith must be wrong.

3. I am not an expert on matters of science. I have the aptitude (or at least did when my brain was nimble) and I have the interest. But I am not qualified to say what science reasonably concludes.

What I am an expert on is the Bible, and I know enough from my field to know that the biblical reasons often given against evolution are often based on shoddy understanding. In my opinion, it would not be good exegesis to read Genesis 1 as a blueprint for scientific creationism. Genesis 1 is poetic in nature and is in dialog with Ancient Near Eastern creation stories, not nineteenth, twentieth or twenty-first century science.

In my opinion, the problem for Christian understanding in relation to evolution is not Genesis 1 but Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Evolution requires lots of death, so if physical death entered the world through Adam, then evolution presumably contradicts Christian understanding.

There has been some interesting push-back on this line of thinking. What if Paul is talking about spiritual death rather than physical death? In the Garden of Eden, do not Adam and Eve need to eat from the Tree of Life to live forever, meaning that they are not immortal by nature? And whether you understand Sin as a nature or a power, you could say it came into play with Adam and Eve.

4. So in the not too distant past, even fifteen years ago, it was easy to say, "Could not Adam and Eve have been the first humans into which God placed a soul?" This approach would allow us to retain Adam and Eve in their historical form and yet let each individual make up their own mind on whether they were the absolute beginning or the spiritual beginning.

Enter Francis Collins and The Language of God. Collins is clearly a faith-filled individual. But he has also cracked the human genome. As I understand it, the current understanding of DNA is that we cannot identity a single set of parents who converge in the past. The current understanding is apparently that "the DNA in current humans could not have come from a pool of fewer than approximately 10,000 humans" (xi).

Accordingly, we have seen a few books come out very recently trying to grapple with this new conclusion from genetics in relation to Adam and Eve:
5. I do not assume that the recent finding of genetics is correct. But nor do I assume that our traditional interpretation of Romans is correct. What I assume is that:
  • "All truth is God's truth." Once we understand the Bible appropriately and science appropriately, there will be no true contradiction.
  • Our understanding of the Bible is hardly infallible. Interpretations come and go. Most of us aren't particularly skilled interpreters of the original meaning.
  • There's a lot of truth in science. If I don't believe this, I should probably turn in the computer I'm typing on, as well as my cell phone and car. Most of us aren't particularly skilled at science.
It seems to me that at least some of us need to participate in this discussion. In this age where the democratization of knowledge is reducing Christian expertise to the lowest common denominator, it might be time to bring more advanced discussions out into the open.

Jamestown 1

I novelized my family history for a while a year ago.  It seemed like some people enjoyed it. In the end, I got tired of making stuff up. I've let it sit for about 9 months. Thought I'd try again with a factual approach.
1. When I was a child, my grandmother passed on a tradition that had been passed down by her mother's family before her. The tradition was that we had an ancestor who had come over to America with Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame. Such traditions are a matter of pride in a family.

As it is with most traditions, there would seem to be at least a kernel of truth in the story. My mother's mother's mother's mother's father's father's father's father's father's father seems to have settled in Jamestown in the early 1600s. That is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather (8th great grandfather).

In this day when you can connect to other people's genealogical quest, I was intrigued to find another person out there relating a similar family tradition. "It is tradition among VA families that the first Shelburne, Thomas, came to Jamestown in 1607 and settled there." So we have a tradition I can trace to my great, great grandmother that her ancestor came over to Jamestown in 1607, and I have been able to connect it to the family traditions of others who claim the same thing about the same person.

2. So did Thomas Shelburne come over with Captain John Smith in 1607? It would be nice to think so. It is at least possible. The problem is that his name does not appear on any manifest in those early years. The lists were not exhaustive, especially if Thomas were a young cabin boy who was there only to play a subservient role.

Still, we know of other boys. There was a boy named Milman who was the cabin boy of Captain Newport. And another boy named Helyard was cabin boy to Captain Waldo. Both boys would be dead within a year.

According to some memory, Thomas was Welsh. There was a Welshman named Captain Peter Wynne on board. No doubt we could write a novel where a naive young Thomas Shelburne somehow ended up at the last minute serving as Wynne's cabin boy at the age of twelve.

But there is no record of it. There is no record of Thomas in those dark years of Jamestown where so many died. We have so many names from those early years, but Thomas' is not one of them.

So while I would like to think that he came over in 1607 and while it is indeed possible he slipped through the cracks, I have to consider another option as perhaps more likely for the time being. It seems more likely that, as another family's memory has it, he was born in Great Britain during the reign of King James (1603-25). He then emigrated at some point in the 1630s and married Elizabeth Augustine around 1640 in Jamestown.

3. My DNA supports an ancestry that is some 64% British. How a young Welshman found his way to Jamestown is lost to history. We do know that southern Wales faced significant flooding in 1607. If Thomas really was born in 1595 and came to America at the age of twelve, perhaps here was a possible cause.

The London of 1607 was the London of King James I. It was the London of Shakespeare. The King James Version was underway and would be published in 1611. London Bridge at the time not only had houses on it, but the heads of former enemies of kings, like William Wallace of Scotland fame, as well as Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, both of whom were put to death by Henry VIII.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gen Eds 10d: Ancient Mesopotamia

Ziggurat at Ur
This is the fourth and final post in the Classical Civilizations" unit of my World History series. The first three were India, China, and Egypt.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
1. It is hard to believe, but we have finally hit the dawn of human history. The oldest walled village of which we know is Jericho, around 8500BC by most reckonings. [1] Perhaps there were only a few hundred inhabitants but it represented a movement that began to take place in the region--the formation of cities.

In this scenario, we humans had not really started farming until around 12,000BC, making the shift from being hunters to being farmers. When you farm, you are stuck to one place. People collect in one place. In 7000BC, the largest city may have been in Turkey, Çatalhöyük in Anatolia. It may have numbered between 5000 and 10,000.

But the first empire was in "Mesopotamia," "between the rivers" of the Tigris and Euphrates, modern day Iraq. Egypt united its lower and upper regions into a united kingdom around 3100BC, as we have seen. But the first empire was at Akkad around 2250BC, the empire of Sargon the Great. This area saw dominant kingdoms and empires for some 4000 years from the time of the Sumerians in lower Mesopotamia to the fall of the Babylonians to the Persians in 539.

2. We might say that humanity crossed the line from the pre-historic to the historic during the Uruk period (4100-2900BC) in Mesopotamia. These are the Sumerians, who called themselves, "black headed people." This area, Sumer, is the biblical area known as "Shinar" in Genesis 11:1.

The city of Uruk, perhaps founded somewhere around 4500BC, seems to be the place where writing really began to develop. At first this writing was a partial script--it was not created to write poetry but to keep count of cattle and taxes. [2] Writing develops to facilitate trading.

The form of writing is cuneiform. Cuneiform largely consisted of lines with triangles at the top. The Sumerians would also develop the 24 hour day and the idea of 360 degrees for a circle.

In Uruk, the cylinder seal was also used as far as we know for the first time, giving authority a reach beyond the presence of the king, a guarantee that you were reading something that was truly from the king. Kings ruled cities at this point, and cities conquered other cities. Empire does not as yet exist, only kings ruling individual cities and networks of cities with some kings more powerful than others (cf. Gen. 14:1-2).

The ziggurat also develops at Uruk. This will become the pyramid in Egypt. The Mayans, Incas and Aztecs also had their versions, making us wonder if there was contact of some sort across these continents. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is perhaps a ziggurat of sorts. In the earliest days, kings were probably priests. Only later would the royal authority be sometimes detached from the religious authority.

Gilgamesh was a legendary king of Uruk, and we know him best from the Mesopotamian flood story, The Gilgamesh Epic. Gilgamesh was thus the Uruk version of Noah. The epic itself was not written down until sometime between 2100 and 1400BC, but this still qualifies it as the oldest human epic.

3. Uruk was not however the first city of the area. Eridu was perhaps founded in 5400BC and the Sumerians considered it the oldest city in the world. It was a city thought by the Sumerians to have predated the flood. This period before Uruk and writing is called the Ubaid period (6500-3800BC). This is the period right before the Bronze Age, often called the Calcolithic or Copper Age.

We have long associated this region with the Garden of Eden, and Genesis mentions the Tigris and Euphrates as two of four rivers in the area of the Garden (Gen. 2:14).

The city of Ur, from which Abraham originated (cf. Gen. 11:31; Josh. 24:2), was another Sumerian city dating from around 3800BC. The oldest wheels were discovered at Ur, on a four wheeled wagon. The kinds of tools that developed in the late 3000s in the Copper and Bronze Age were almost needed to make wheels.

The last period of Sumerian history ended in 1750BC with the third dynasty of Ur. Most famous in this period is Ur-Nammu, who created a law that foreshadowed the more famous law of Hammurabi.

4. Prior to the end of Sumerian history, the Akkadian empire began with Sargon the Great in the year 2334. This is the world's first real empire because it included multiple peoples over a vaster area of land than ever before. The Akkadians, unlike the Sumerians, were a Semitic people. Sargon ruled from Akkad.

The Akkadian language is often considered significant for Old Testament scholars. It is the oldest known Semitic language and thus is in the same family as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, not to mention Babylonian and Assyrian.

5. The city of Babylon was founded centuries before its most famous king from this period, Hammurabi (1792-50BC). His famous law Code of Hammurabi set down case law whose impact we can see in the Law of Moses. The "law of retribution," for example (the lex talonis) is found there, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (ca. 1776BC).

The Amraphel of Genesis 14:1 has letters strikingly similar to Hammurabi, given that Semitic languages are centered in the consonants rather than the vowels. It is thus no surprise that Abraham is generally dated to about this period of history.

Hammurabi and Abraham were during the Middle Bronze Period (2119-1700). It was probably in this period (ca. 1900) that the city of Ashur was founded, which would be the center of the old Assyrian kingdom. Other cities in that area included Nimrud and Nineveh.

Also during this time was the thriving of the city of Ugarit, in northern Palestine (ca. 1900). Ugaritic is also a Semitic language of great significance in Old Testament studies. Ugaritic literature gives us significant insights into the cultural and literary context of the Old Testament (e.g., what Leviathan might be in Job 41:4).

6. In the middle of the second millennium BC, the Hittites and then the Kassites would rule this area. The Hittites conquered the region in 1595BC. They are mentioned in Genesis (e.g., 23). In the Late Bronze Age (1700-1100BC), the Kassites would come south and conquer the area.

The Kassites have left us the Amarna letters from the 1300s BC, which were sent to Egypt and refer to the Hittites and others. Around 1100BC, the Enuma Elish we have was written down, although it undoubtedly is much earlier. Found in the library at Nineveh, it gives us the Babylonian creation story.

The juncture between the Bronze and the Iron Age, which is happening in the late 1000s BC, is the juncture where Israel is struggling with the Philistines. Israel is a bronze culture; the Philistines use iron. The Trojan War is a bronze war, and thus also dates to this general time.

Next Post in Series: History 11: The First Humans

[1] A book I have found fascinating in writing this post is Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (San Fransisco: HarperCollins, 2015). The question of fitting the dates normally assumed by archaeologists and a very literal reading of Genesis is a controversial one. However, ancient chronologies were not necessarily exhaustive and we can assume that God's purposes in the genealogies of Genesis were much broader than to give us an exhaustive account of the names. The purpose of such lists at the time was to assure us of the ancientness of the lineage and its origins in God's creation of humanity.

[2] Harari, Sapiens, 122-24.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

17 Narrow Misses with Hitler

I've read two more chapters of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer since I last posted. Figured I needed to just say a few words and move on. Previous posts are at the bottom.

Chapter 18 is called, "Hindenburg's Stick," and chapter 19 is called, "The Race with Catastrophe." In these chapters, Hitler seems to advance. Then he faces defeat. Then he inches forward again.

1. I grew up thinking badly of most Germans at the time of Hitler, but it's clear that Hitler did not command majority support in the early 1930s. There were political zig zags and multiple exit ramps when Hitler might have been shown the way off the freeway.

1932 was a bad year for Germany. Much worse would follow, but it was all set in motion during this sad year. The players all played the hands they had. They danced with the devil, thinking they could control him, thinking that they had the power to stop him at a time of their choosing.

At the beginning of 1932, Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor. Paul von Hindenburg was President with Kurt von Schleicher as his close advisor. This would effectively be the last year of the Weimer Republic, German's brief experiment with democracy until after WW2. By the end of 1934, Hindenburg would be dead of lung cancer, Schleicher would be murdered, and Brüning would have left the country to save his own life.

2. You would have thought that with Germany's debt dismissed, the nation would have settled down. But you have two sides who are unwilling to compromise, both of whom want the other dead. One of them is going to win. The other side is going to end up dead. In this case the Communists were the other side.

Missteps. They dissolve the parliament on June 2, 1932, thinking some sort of autocratic control would enable them to establish stability. But the parliament would never return.

Goebbels and Goring try to control Hitler. "He must never be allowed to attend conferences alone" (466).

Papen becomes the Chancellor. He imposes unpopular economic measures to stabilize the economy. Probably a political mistake that would again keep Hitler on the autobahn. In the elections of these years, "the majority was against Hitler, but it was for nothing at all" (477). He would eventually rise not because the people wanted him but because they didn't want anyone else more.

Meanwhile Hitler's people were preparing for the great mass murder, the moment when they would kill their enemies.

Hitler's people are defeated again and he is chastised by Hindenburg. If you ask me, these repeated elections that parliamentary systems have at almost any time often contribute to great instability.

3. Chapter 20, "The Race with Catastrophe," begins with the incredible debt that Hitler and his party had accumulated. They needed to win just so that they could forgive all their own debt.

A good deal of this chapter dealt with a rival of Hitler's within the National Socialist party, Gregor Strasser. In late 1932, the majority of the party expected to lose more and more and had lost faith in the Fuhrer. Here is another moment it seems to me where Germany missed an exit ramp. Strasser seemed almost more popular that Hitler within the Nazi party in late November and December of 1932.

But Strasser resigned and went on vacation on December 7. He gave up the fight. How many catastrophes in history have been the result of people resigning rather than sticking it out in difficult times?

It reflected very poorly on Hitler for a moment, but by morning Hitler had turned it around. Strasser was the loser. Strasser was the betrayer. Instead of undermining Hitler, Hitler solidified his hold on the Nazi party. Hitler set up a central commission over the party, and his private secretary Rudolf Hess emerges as a leader.

But on December 11, the current Chancellor, Schleichter, effectively secured for Germany its ability to rearm. Riding a wave of approval, he easily sets up a government. Papen's economic initiatives were suspended. Hitler is depressed. "This was the darkest Christmas Hitler had had in years" (510).

Previously on Hitler: