Articles for the Month of January 2012

Gmail annoyance

Miniature of men harvesting wheat with reaping-hooks, on a calendar page for August. Queen Mary's Psalter (Ms. Royal 2. B. VII), fol. 78v (from Wikimedia)

As part of my preparation for leaving Carey I’m moving to Gmail. On the whole I find the web interface nearly as good as (if quite different from) Thunderbird especially given the limitations imposed by the choice of living in the cloud. However, I am not yet a convinced cloud dweller,1 so I wanted the “offline” feature. That meant installing and using Chrome (I use Google for my diary too). That’s OK, Chrome is hardly bloatware :) BUT while in FF mailto links open Gmail in Chrome they persistently ask me why I have not installed and set up Outlook Express !?* :(

I’ve searched the rabbit warren of user comments that serve Google instead of an organised help feature, to no avail. Apart from a couple of third party2 plugins there seems to be no way to remove this weird “feature”.

I thought Chrome was supposed to be nearly as tweakable as FF or even (God forbid) IE3 but no, as a matter of simple basic functionality Chrome is a locked down Microserf shop. Weird!

PS Here’s a hack a friend just found (9th Feb 2012):

Open Gmail in Chrome. Press Ctrl-Shift J.

Paste this into the code window:

 navigator.registerProtocolHandler("mailto",
                                  "https://mail.google.com/mail/?extsrc=mailto&url=%s",
                                  "Gmail");

Chrome will ask if you want to use Gmail, say yes. Problem solved.

Now why could Google not tell me that?

  1. Being often out of Internet contact – I have a 3G phone but don’t use the data services because of cost, and because 90% of the time I am not within cell phone coverage. []
  2. And lacking any seeming “official” acceptance. []
  3. Which at least back in the Dark Ages when I last used it, let me set up other email clients. []

New Ice Cream Flavour: Plum and Licorice

You can tell I'm no food stylist ;) but what matters to me is taste and this new flavour is superb :)

The Fig Ice-cream was toppled from the position of family favourite very quickly by fig and licorice, even the scoffers who laughed to scorn my claim that this was a great ice-cream when I sampled a professional attempt at the Gisborne food festival a few years ago were converted. But now after weeks of testing there’s a new favourite, Plum and Licorice.1 It’s made just like the fig ice-cream except a load of prunes and finely chopped licorice are used instead of figs. As you will note the name is a marketing ploy, since some of the testing panel were hesitant about prune ice-cream, even the thought of prune and licorice failed to impress :(

However, under its marketing name “Plum and Licorice”2 this brand new, and according to a Google search world-first ice-cream is now an established favourite.3

Recipe: Plum and Licorice Ice-cream

  • 1.5l Cream
  • 300-500g Prunes
  • 300g Licorice
  • 3 eggs
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sugar to taste

Cut the licorice into small chunks, the smaller the better. Put the licorice, prunes and egg yolks into a food processor and zap them.4  In one bowl whip the egg whites till stiff, in another whip the cream to firm peaks. Fold the fruit mix into the cream and add the egg white.

Freeze. It may help if you stir with a fork when the mix has begun to freeze  but frankly the fruit and licorice content should stop large crystals forming.5

  1. The favourite ice-cream is judged on the basis of a litres/person-day score. Plum and Licorice now beats all previous contenders. []
  2. Despite initial consumer resistance, spouses are often a chef’s toughest critics. Which is quite fair because they also suffer the chef’s toughest meats ;) []
  3. Actually to be 100% transparent, Google books does suggest that one ice-cream company may have tried prune and licorice, but this depends on an abstruse point of exegesis, and the absence or disuse of an “oxford comma” in the report. If they did actually reject prune and licorice, and not both prune and licorice separately, then they missed a fine and delicious ice-cream. But I’m claiming the report was written suggesting the rejection of each of the single flavours and not of the combined delight! []
  4. The longer you can bare the noise the smaller the licorice lumps in the final ice-cream, though the initial cutting actually has even more effect on this, so for small nuggets cut small! []
  5. Having all the ingredients really cold before you start really helps the freezing process. []

Two ways to read: suspension of disbelief

Until more complex theories of aerodynamics were developed accepting the possibility of "the flight of the bumblebee" required a suspension of disbelief - Photo by by stuant63

Yesterday I was asked: If Noah lived before the law was revealed to Moses, how did he know how to distinguish “clean” and “unclean” animals?

It is still holiday time (it’s the summer in NZ, though with all the rain and cold in recent weeks you wouldn’t believe it) so my answer was less full than it ought to have been:

Hmm… on Noah, Moses and the animals, there are two likely lines for an answer (a) the story of Noah is being told after the delivery of the law and so the telling reflects those categories; (b) there was perhaps a cultural practice of distinguishing clean and unclean animals even before the law was revealed to Moses (as there was already such a practice of not eating pork).

Of course the short simple answer is “we really don’t know” but people don’t like that one ;)

But it’s not as simple as that1 behind any attempt to answer such a question lie two fundamentally different ways to read.

One way looks at the text from the outside, and reads as a “critic”. For a couple of centuries, in academic biblical studies, the most frequent way to thus “objectify”2 the text has been to examine it historically to see where it came from and how it got to us. Such an approach noticing that there seems to be a “continuity error” here suggests that the text was written at some time later than the events described, and uses this and other signs to work out when and by whom. We could objectify the text in other ways, by examining it as an example of a particular genre or class of texts, against its sociological background…

The other way enters the “world” of the text, and reads it from the inside. This is to behave like a “reader” for this is how we read novels and other stories, indeed it is how we read physics textbooks too ;) In the case of Noah’s distinction my second answer (though it depends on a historical hypothesis and so perhaps looks like the same kind of answer as the first) tends in this direction. It is asking how we might explain this, not as a continuity error (the critic’s approach), but within Noah’s world (a readerly approach).

The great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi took a different readerly approach he explained it thus:

Of all the clean animals: that are destined to be clean for Israel. We learn [from here] that Noah studied the Torah. (From Chabad.org)

Each basic direction of reading offers several different options or styles. But the basic question facing a reader of any text whether to read as critic or as reader. “Readers” must offer the text a willing suspension of disbelief3 Indeed the idea of a need to suspend disbelief can be helpful in thinking about the reading (as opposed to the criticism) of all narrative. For in a laboratory report also there are elements of the narration of the experiment that are omitted, or poorly described, where the reader must suspend disbelief. Despite the variety of both critical and readerly approaches, and despite the fact that they can even share approaches (as above either can examine the text historically), on the suspension of disbelief they differ fundamentally.

[Incidentally,4 Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair has a really interesting meditation for Purim on “The Willing Suspension of Disbelief“.]

  1. Except the last answer, because we really do not know ;) []
  2. Make into the object of study and examination. []
  3. The phrase is Coleridge’s from the Biographia Literaria of 1817, to explain how readers might approach the fantastic or supernatural elements in his work, but has been widely used in thinking about how readers can read many sorts of fiction. (( JRR Tolkein has also nuanced it speaking about “secondary belief” based on an inner consistency to the reality described in the narrative. But that’s getting too complicated for a short blog post ;) []
  4. Though not at all a HT ;) []

Global Perspectives on reading the Bible – Call for contributors

Photo from Soil-net

I have read the Bible professionally, and encouraged and taught others to read it, in three continents. The situations differed, including an African and a Western University, a Baptist theological college and a Bible School in a refugee camp. I have also supervised some exciting theses that develop interesting perspectives on understanding the Bible. So I am delighted to be participating in a project Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament, I’ll be writing on Gender-bending as a male reader of Esther and on Jeremiah, possibly taking account of my current context (fencing a piggery and building a pig house ;)

Mark is looking for more contributors, so please read the Call for Contributions below, and think about writing something, or at least repost it on your blog and so share in an interesting project :)

Mark Roncace is seeking contributors for two volumes, Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament. Pearson Prentice Hall is publishing Global Perspectives on the Bible this year. Next, separate OT and NT volumes, also to be published by Prentice Hall, will be produced. Both books will feature much of the same material as the original Bible volume, but with added essays.

The books—designed as entry level college textbooks—gather four different essays around one biblical text. The essays are brief (about 1,000 words and need not be “scholarly”) and articulate insights from a particular geographical, social, cultural, economic, religious, or ideological context/location. Here is the list of texts/books for which he need essays.

  • Genesis 6-9
  • Numbers 22-24
  • Leviticus
  • Judges
  • 1-2 Kings
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel 1-25
  • Esther
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Daniel
  • Crucifixion narratives
  • Acts (other than chapter 2)
  • Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • 1-2 Thessalonians
  • James
  • Pastorals (1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • 1-3 John
  • 1-2 Peter

Please let Mark know if you are interested (mroncace@wingate.edu) in writing an essay on one (or two) of these texts and he will forward specific guidelines and a sample. In addition to scholars, Mark is particularly interested in gathering perspectives from non-professional readers. He is trying to run on a tight schedule: final OT essays are due April 1 and final NT essays are due June 1 (but remember they are only about 1,000 words).

Psalm for a new year

Psalm 90 makes a fine reading for a new year. Through the psalm, time (and especially the haunting disparity between short brutish human time and the timeless divine reality) is a strong theme. The psalm is peppered with time words:

  • dor generation in v.1 (x2)
  • b’terem before in v.2
  • shanah year in vv.4, 5, 9, 10 (x3), 15
  • yom day in vv.4, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15
  • ashmorah night watch in v.4
  • boqer morning in v.5, 6, 14
  • ereb evening in v.6
  • chish quickly in v.10

The psalm opens in the distant past with a heading associating it with Moses the great leader from Israel’s pre-monarchic origins.1

The rest of the first verse forefronts the two key ideas of the psalm, time and our relationship with God. The wording of the opening stresses the persons involved. Very literally it would read: “Lord, a dwelling, you, you have been for us from generation to generation.

This attention to time carries on through the psalm, and is straightaway extended in the next verse from a human timescale from “generation to generation” to extend from before the birth of the world into the “age”2  to come:

Before the mountains were born
or ever you had given birth to the earth and the world,
from age to age you are God.

From verse 3 to 11 the focus on time stresses time and again that the human and the divine timescales are incommensurable, and that humans suffer the divine wrath. This is not a psalm for the faint hearted, or for people living the comfortable smooth lives our TVs and magazines tell us should be ours. This psalm is not compatible with the Western dream.

But it “works” in a world full of natural disaster: earthquakes (still going on in Christchurch after over a year), floods (and even the minor ones in the Bay of Plenty yesterday cause pain and disruption), and all of man’s inhumanity to man (although 2011 was a year with more glimpses of hope for Burma that anyone expected as 2012 begins the Army is still attacking ethnic villages and destroying their crops, the political prisoners kept in inhuman conditions in the jails can still be counted as over a thousand).

Ps 90:10 is often quoted in something approximating to the fairly literal KJV: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years” this with its mention of strength suggests (or in the last few generations reminds us) that we might even live longer. However, in the psalm the effect is quite different, to quote the whole verse:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labour and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

The whole point of the verse is that even if our life is long it is marked (sooner or later) by toil and trouble, and in any case (by any measure but our own pitifully brief one) are so short. Anyone who has reached “a certain age”3 will recognise how the years begin to fly away faster and faster.

So far, if I have presented it as I think it should be read, Psalm 90 is as far from contemporary cheery upbeat “worship songs” as it is possible to be ;)

Yet, it was my grandmother’s favourite psalm. Perhaps because the hymn based on it “Our God, our help in ages past…” used to be sung every “Remembrance Sunday”, and she had cause to remember. Her groom, my father’s father, was killed in the first world war leaving his new wife and toddler. Psalm 90 is a good new year reading in such circumstances. For as well as human mortality it reminds us of the divine author and finisher of our lives. “…our hope for years to come!

There are two more reasons why this psalm is a favourite of mine. It is one of the few passages in Scripture to deal seriously and in any depth with human aging. And it contains one of the Bible’s few descriptions of creation as birthing:

Before the mountains were born
or ever you had given birth to the earth and the world,
from age to age you are God. (Ps 90:2)

As a result it gets a brief appearance in my new book Not Only a Father,4 and will deserve much fuller treatment in the one on human aging, if I ever write it ;)

  1. Although there is considerable evidence that the headings may have been added to psalms after they were first written and used, there is no textual evidence for them being absent from the psalms that have them in most modern translations. Rather the reverse the early Greek  translation and the Qumran psalms scrolls seem to have more of these headings, suggesting that they were later additions. []
  2. Whatever exactly ‘olam means. []
  3. 50, 40, 30…? []
  4. I will add a link to the print version soon, for now the text is already available online in discussable format. []