Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why you should go on Briercrest's next study tour to Israel and/or Turkey and Greece

"Once again we realized how necessary it is to see in order to understand, and especially to hold in the memory. Knowledge gained from books is certainly not enough, for names which are not attached to any reality are nothing more than ghosts. Ghosts of cities, shadows of men, vague floating shapes, without solidity, though one tries to capture it with the aid of a drawing, a photograph or a vivid description. All students of archaeology know this by experience: nothing can replace actual contact with the object. That is why museums are so important; because there one can recognize the long chain of human history stretching out continuously from its beginning, but in which, instinctively we have a special interest in detecting and observing the first links. But the object is a prisoner in its glass case. Torn from its natural surroundings it has lost its true speech. Nevertheless it exerts a pull, it beckons one to take the road." - André Parrot, as quoted by Ferrell Jenkins (HT: Todd Bolen)
Here is a link to Briercrest's 2013 study tour of Turkey and Greece (related blog posts here). Briercrest study tours of Israel took place in 2009 and 2011.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Church Fathers on Paul's Wife

Yes, I also ask you loyal yokefellow (σύζυγος), “Help these women who struggled beside me in the Gospel." (Phil 4:3)

Commentaries on Philippians mention, as a matter of course, that Clement of Alexandria took the "loyal yokefellow" of Phil 4:3 as a reference to Paul's wife. To find out where Clement says this, you apparently have to go back to the 19th century (e.g., J.B. Lightfoot and Eadie), when NT scholars thought it was worth reading the church fathers. (BDAG also includes the references.) As usual, going ad fontes, repays the effort:

Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) discussed Paul's "yokefellow" in book 3 of his Stromateis, but--unless you read Latin--you can't find the passage in Schaff, the most widely-available English edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, because Clement's description of the sexual practices of heretics didn't pass T&T Clark's Victorian-era censors. Thanks to Henry Chadwick, there is a modern English translation, which has been made available online here. Here is the relevant psassage:

Even Paul did not hesitate in one letter to address his consort (σύζυγον). The only reason why he did not take her about with him was that it would have been an inconvenience for his ministry. Accordingly he says in a letter: 'Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?' But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction,and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord's teaching penetrated also the women's quarters without any scandal being aroused. We also know the directions about women deacons which are given by the noble Paul in his second letter to Timothy. Furthermore, the selfsame man cried aloud that "the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink," not indeed in abstinence from wine and meat, "but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
(The passage was not as clear as I expected until I checked the Greek and found that the word Chadwick translates as "consort" is the same word, σύζυγος, that is translated as "companion" or "yokefellow" in Phil 4:3.)

When we look at the context, we find that Clement refers to Paul's wife in order to argue--against the followers of Basilides, who rejected marriage altogether--that marriage (and sexual relations within marriage) is okay. Like the clean and unclean food of Romans 14, marriage, for Clement, is an adiaphora.

Clement's younger contemporary, Origen (d. 253/4), had rather different reasons for mentioning Paul's wife.Origen's commentary on Romans 1:1 seems to suggest that slavery to Christ excludes the possibility of sexual relations:
Paul, then, if certain traditions are true, was called while in possession of a wife, concerning whom he speaks when writing to the Philippians, “I ask you also, my loyal mate, help these women.” Since he had become free by mutual consent with her, he calls himself a slave of Christ. But if, as others think, he had no wife, nonetheless he who was free when he was called is yet a slave of Christ. In fact what does it mean to be a slave of Christ? It means that one is a slave of the Word of God, of wisdom, righteousness, truth, and of absolutely all the virtues which are identical with Christ himself. - Origen, Romans 1.1.3 (trans Schenk p. 62)
Origen returns to Paul's marital status in his commentary on Romans 4:

In order that we might remove such objections in a fitting way let us shift the explanation of [Abraham’s] dead body to say that Abraham was not dead with the infirmity of old age but in accordance with that power which the saints have at work, first of all, in themselves, and which they also admonish others to possess by saying, “Put to death your members which are earthly!” For I consider it to be absurd that we should fail to believe that this good which Paul possessed in himself—seeing that [Paul] would not command to others what he himself did not do this good which Paul possessed, I say, Abraham did not possess, so great a patriarch that the Apostle even calls him his own father. In [Abraham] as well, then, there was this mortification of the members. He was not enticed by luxury; he did not burn with lust like those of whom Paul says, “It is better to marry than to burn.” This same good was also in Sarah; and therefore it is written about her, “womanish things had ceased to function in Sarah.” For in her there was none of that feminine lasciviousness or the dissoluteness of incontinence, nor were either of them carried off unwillingly into the enjoyment of lustful desires. 4.6.7 (Schenk p. 271):
Here we learn that Abraham and Sarah couldn't have children because they had advanced to such a degree of godliness that they had lost all sexual desire. They had succeeded in putting their bodies to death, as Paul instructs the Romans to do in chapter 6. Paul, says Origen, would not have exhorted the Romans to such a state of sanctity, if he did not possess it himself.

Truly the world has changed

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reflections on Paul's Wife by a 17th-Century Woman Interpreter of Scripture

These reflections by Lady Anne Halkett (1622-1699) are of interest not only for her views on Paul's marital status, but also for her reconstruction of the chronology of Paul's life:

And St. Paul says Marriage is honorable in all. And doubtless he was married himself as may be concluded from what he says in giving several admonitions, “I entreat thee also true Yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the Gospel” (Phil 4:3). Others were called his fellow labourers, but only this his Yokefellow, by which is ordinarily, in common speech, called a wife. Which it seems the other Apostles had and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas. And where he treats of marriage in all sorts of persons, he says, “If thou marry, thou has not sinned” (1 Cor 7:28). But it is probable that his wife died at Philippi, while he was at Rome for that Epistle [Philippians] was dated from Rome where he was brought twice before Nero. And as the Lord stood by him the first time and delivered him out of the mouth of the Lion, so doubtless he was the second time (2 Tim 4:17), and came then to Philippi from whence these Epistles to the Corinthians was dated where in the former chapter cited he says to the unmarried and widows, “It is good for them if they abide even as I” (1 Cor 7:8). And whatever further he advises to any, married or unmarried, he doth it for their profit, and not to cast a snare upon them but for that which is comely that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction (1 Cor 7:35). - Anne Halkett (NLS 6501 pp. 11-12; spelling standardized)
  • Lady Halkett's idea that the "Yokefellow" of Phil 4:3 is Paul's wife goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria, so she is not being original here. In this, I hasten to add, Halkett is no different from modern commentators who duly note the range of options without citing their sources. At least she provided reasons in support of her conclusions. How Halkett encountered Clement's view remains a mystery. 
  • According to Halkett, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and tried before Nero (twice!) between his second and third missionary journeys. I expect that Halkett would have dated the other "prison epistles" as well as Philippians to this Roman imprisonment. On his release from prison, Paul returned from Rome to Philippi where he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians. This reconstruction is probably not original to Halkett either, but it is intriguing because it is so very different from modern scholarship, which puzzles over the provenance of Philippians--was it written from imprisonment in Ephesus, Caesarea or Rome?--but typically places Paul's imprisonment in Rome at the end of his three "missionary journeys." It is good to be reminded that our modern convention is not the only way to put the puzzle pieces together.
Beyond these two points, which interest me as a student of the New Testament, Halkett is of interest as a prolific 17th-century woman interpreter of Scripture. My own "Yokefellow", who is an expert on all things Halkett, informs me that about 5,000 pages of Halkett's religious meditations survive in manuscript. The excerpt I quoted comes from a meditation entitled, "Serious Reflections Concerning them that are Seduced," which was written in 1696, a few years before Lady Halkett's death.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

C.S. Lewis on being an agent as well as a patient

"He looked back on that time as on a nightmare, on his own mood at that time as a sort of sickness. Then all had been whimpering, unanalysed, self-nourishing, self-consuming dismay. Now, in the clear light of an accepted duty, he felt fear indeed, but with it a sober sense of confidence in himself and in the world, and even an element of pleasure. It was the difference between a landsman in a sinking ship and a horseman on a bolting horse: either may be killed, but the horseman is an agent as well as a patient." - C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 86-87

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Productivity Software: Time tracking and cloud encryption

Technical post alert: I had another "productivity software" episode this weekend, as I tried to find a (free) way to backup my work on Onedrive securely, and cast about for a (free) alternative to the time-tracking software I have been using. Details about my (failed) attempts follow, in case anyone else has wondered about the same things:

(1)  Time-tracking software: I started looking for a way to track the time I spend on various projects last fall, mostly to find out where my time was going and to try to be more efficient. I have since become addicted to the process, even though I rarely go back and analyse the data.

In the fall, I settled on Grindstone 3. The program is very powerful and fairly intuitive to use; I like it a lot--except that it is a resource hog: My tiny computer fan comes on for no reason, I check task manager, and find that Grinstone is using 10% of my CPU, when all it is supposed to be doing--as far as I can tell--is running a timer in the background. When I emailed Grindstone to report on the problem, they recommended Grindstone 2, but I can't get version 2 to work on my Windows 8 computer, which runs a newer version of Net Framework.

Long story short: I looked at a lot of different options, and decided to give Eclipse Manager another go. Eclipse Manager is a nicely designed Windows 8 app, not as powerful as Grindstone, and you have to pay a little something for reports, but it barely registers in Task Manager when it is running in the background. Current plan: Try Eclipse Manager again as my primary timer, and possibly enter the details into Grindstone periodically as a more permanent log of hours, especially for projects that are currently underway. Other Suggestions are welcome.

(2) Cloud encryption: Microsoft is giving away oodles of OneDrive cloud storage these days, and I have been tempted by the idea of using my free space to backup my data in the cloud, if not sync everything the way Windows 8 wants me to. Trouble is, I haven't been able to convince myself that it is a good idea to put my private data online where it could be stolen or spied upon by Big Brother--even if my private data amounts to class notes and useless drafts of writing projects. Still.

So I looked at encryption options. I installed Boxcryptor, and read about alternatives like ncrypted, vivo, and credeon. As far as I can tell, every option stores a copy of the encrypted files on your local hard drive before syncing it to your cloud storage, and my hard drive isn't big enough to handle two copies of my data. (Here is someone else with the same question.) Unless there is another alternative, I will need to purchase an external hard drive or a large Micro SD card and then move my OneDrive to the extra storage to make this work. Again, other suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Religious Motivation in a Secular Age

In a speech yesterday to the "White House Summit on Countering Terrorism," the president of the United States said:
“Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam...We must never accept the premise that they put forth because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.” (Source: ABC News)

I'd like to think that what Obama really meant was that ISIS does not represent most Muslims or is not regarded by most Muslims as a legitimate form of Islam--but that is not what he said (though see here for more measured comments). What Obama did say should concern all religious people, regardless of their particular religion, because his remarks could be taken more broadly to imply that "religion" has no explanatory power. In a secular world, religious beliefs must be reduced to some other, more real economic, political, or social motivation. Those who claim to be motivated by their religious beliefs are really driven by something else, or they are simply incomprehensible. Religious people are irrational. They are crazies, terrorists.

But it turns out that people still act on the basis of their religious beliefs. Faith commitments prompt some people to abandon lucrative careers to serve the poor, winning the grudging praise of Nicholas Kristof. And faith commitments prompt other people to commit acts of brutality. We will not understand the crusades if we are unwilling to grant that the crusaders were motivated, at least in part, by religious motivations. And we will not understand ISIS if we are not willing to take seriously the religious beliefs that motivate them. To label someone a 'terrorist' is to fail to understand.

My thinking on this point has been influenced by Graeme Wood's generally excellent essay, "What ISIS Really Wants," in The Atlantic, which Obama really should have read. An excerpt:
"The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers....But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. ....Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal." (Do read the whole thing.)
However, if ISIS has deep roots in one form of Islam, it is important also to recognize that it is not the only legitimate form of Islam, as if authentic Islam leads naturally to terrorism--and here I react against the view of Bernard Haykel, whom Wood quotes:
"Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”"
Outsiders--perhaps especially Christian outsiders--too often assume that the more "literally" a Muslim tries to practice his religion, the more authentic he is. But setting aside problems with the term literal (see AKMA), a religion is in general what its practioners do, not what outsiders say it should be. And a good case can be made that "literal" fundamentalist Islam is a product of Western influences (i.e., assumptions about what a sacred text should do and how it should be read) just as much as forms of Islam that seem more amenable to Western cultural norms.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Observations on Life without Gluten

Exhibit A
I seem to have developed a gluten allergy. It came on quite suddenly last fall, after I consumed a large quantity of delicious home-made cinnamon buns. There followed mourning (see exhibit A to the left), denial (this is only temporary...right?), and a long (and on-going) period of adjusment as I resigned myself to a future without wheat, barley or rye.

(1) When food is sickening: To my surprise, the initial adjustment wasn't that difficult...for me. Much as I like lasagna (!) and fresh bread, it becomes less attractive when a bite or two makes you ill for days. The bigger challenge, by far, has been the radical change in menu suddenly imposed upon the Miller family cook. Top marks to the cook: Home-made gluten-free bread is still a work in process, but we now enjoy tasty gluten-free waffles, gluten-free buckwheat pancakes, gluten-free muffins and cookies, and we've had decent success with gluten-free pizza dough and pie crust.

(2) Gluten allergy and addiction: Once I'm off gluten, my digestion seems to return to normal, and it is easy to imagine I'm better. Surely one home-made bun will be okay? The difference, I suppose, is that I am seldom tempted to go on eating because the symptoms appear quickly.

(3) The sociology of eating: What you can and cannot eat affects where you eat--most restaurants are out--and who you eat with. It is one thing to know this on a theoretical level, another to experience it in practice. Thanks to my gluten-free diet, I now have a new appreciation for the social implications of eating kosher. Inasmuch as eating together enacts community, it is also odd to have to walk past the shared communion loaf in church to get to the small plate of gluten-free crackers. (I'm grateful that we attend a church where consideration is made for celiacs and co.)

(4) Ancient grains: It felt like we turned a corner mentally when we started learning about other flour options, and began to think of them not as wheat-wannabe's, as sorry wheat substitutes, but as ancient grains that are in many cases more healthy than wheat (if you believe the hype), and for whose distinct flavours we could acquire a taste. According to Gluten-free Goddess, "It takes about two weeks or so to adjust your wheat craving taste buds to the alternative charms of gluten-free grains." (Emphasis on the "or so.")

(5) Stages of grief: A couple weeks ago, I squished the home-made gluten-free bread I was trying to use in a sandwich into a ball, out of frustration that it crumbled to pieces on my plate. That didn't go over well, despite my attempt to explain that I was mourning the loss of "real" bread, not upset at the cook. Enter store-bought gluten-free bread (at $6 / loaf).

(6) Am I a celiac? My first reaction was, "obviously not!" But then I noticed that a piece of communion bread or the barley malt in a Rice Krispie treat was enough to cause a reaction, and I began to wonder. Unfortunately, the conventional test requires people to go back on a gluten-rich diet for 4-6 weeks before getting a blood test. If the blood test comes back positive, they will do a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, which involves snaking a scope down your throat through your stomach, and into your small intestine. If you go through all that, you get a tax break (in Canada) to help with the expenses of such things as $6 bread. The problem, as one website noted, is that most people who go off gluten do so because it makes them sick. Apparently, a new more accurate blood test is in the works.

 (7) Causes and symptoms: By all accounts, gluten intolerance of one sort or another is on the rise, and nobody seems to know why. There are all sorts of symptoms; mine are of the digestive variety. Triggers include stress