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Confessions of the Lovelorn (image by dickuhne)

As some of you know (despite this week working on my “Assertions of YHWH’s sovereignty and imperial context in the book of Isaiah” paper – provisional but current title, watch this space ;) I am continuing my series of short biblical studies podcasts on The Confessions of Jeremiah adding two more to the series, which now comprises:

On this latest one, I wonder how YOU think Yahweh might have wished to respond to this complaint from our Jerry?

PS: Plus another in the series: Jeremiah’s fourth confession: Jer 18:18-23 the continuing drama of Jeremiah and his Yahweh

Present or absent? (Photo by e³°°°)

John Dyer at Don’t Eat The Fruit frequently has thought provoking meditations on the values implied by or developed by technology. His latest is a non-review of a project to offer “a social-media application built for church“. It’s a non-review because John has not seen the project, but it’s more than a review because it asks useful questions about the relationship between faith and technology, questions that too often get overlooked.

Among the interesting and challenging things John has to say in his post:The Table Project: Values Driven Technology? There are a few lines I’d like to question (as well as hopefully pointing you to the post to read for yourself because I am NOT pretending to have summarised it for you).

The task for Christians is to figure out where the values built into a technology’s usage conflict with the values system Christ gave us. For example, Jesus models things like being physically present, having  times of solitude and focus, and memorizing Scripture. We, however, through the use of online technology have come to value being virtually connected, being always online, and using our phones to search for verses we don’t want to memorize.

I think this confuses what Jesus DID with what Jesus’ values were. Take “being physically present” this is often produced by pastors and theologians as a trump card to beat down those who want to teach by distance or even do anything churchy online. But was physical presence one of Jesus’ values, or simply a by-product of the technologies available? The only alternative to physical presence for any sort of communication in the first century was hand written, hand copied, hand delivered letters (or other documents). Jesus did not choose physical presence, he had NO choice.

But as soon as the Christian movement was at all established, still within the first century Paul (and others, but none seem to have matched Paul’s prolific, enthusiastic and effective use of the technology) started writing letters. Others began telling the gospel in writing… Even Jesus, when faced with a crowd too large for just talking (without an amphitheatre – more technology to distance presence) used a boat and the hills of Galilee as a makeshift amphitheatre.

The issue is not PHYSICAL but PRESENCE. The problem with Facebook, Twitter and the rest is not that they are not physical for they manifestly are! It is that they attenuate presence. (I have a string of posts discussing “presence” do read one or two). Basically presence is not binary. Two people can be in the same room, but barely mutually present. People can be at the four corners of the earth, but highly present to and for each other. It is presence that matters, not physicality!

Memorising Scripture is also potentially a problematic value, as Socrates points out in Plato’s Phaedrus the technology of (hand)writing destroys memory. The issue again is not the technology but (perhaps) how we use it. If we use our phones etc. to recall a passage whose exact wording we have forgotten this is potentially a good thing, for we may see the “verse” in context. The ancient who relied on memory often had little idea of context, we can…

In my recent request for information “The Confessions of Jeremiah: who coined the usage? I cited T. K. (Thomas Kelly) Cheyne, Jeremiah, his life and times. James Nisbet & Co., 1888, 2 as the first usage of the phrase “the confessions of Jeremiah” that I could find, and asked if anyone had more sure information.

No one did, but Stephen kindly tracked down Cheyne and sure enough the quote is there. Mysteriously it is on the second page 2 (it is not mysterious that it is, I trust Google books implicitly, what is strange is that there are two page twos, one after the other – a misprint :) BUT in the quote Cheyne is calling the whole book “the confessions of Jeremiah” not just the texts we now know by that name. There seems still to be a reference that (given I only have access to Google snippet view) looks like current usage given that it is a whole section with this title:

BUTTENWIESER, Moses. The Prophets of Israel from the Eighth to the Fifth Century. Their Faith and Their Message. 1914, 80ff.

Can anybody, either confirm this usage, or propose a more solid information on the origin of this name for a collection of some of the laments in Jeremiah?

Cheyne, T. K. (Thomas Kelly)

The more I look at the “Confessions of Jeremiah” the more puzzled I get (not by the contents, though Jeremiah is a puzzle of a book for sure) it is a commonplace of scholarship (and also to some extent of preaching) to identify a collection of passages from the book of Jeremiah as “the confessions of Jeremiah” (the exact list of passages varies a bit, but the lists are substantially the same).This usage was already common and unexplained by the start of the twentieth century. But is seems almost absent (at least from Google books, as far as they are available outside the USA) before that. The only sure example I can find is:

Cheyne, T. K. (Thomas Kelly). Jeremiah, his life and times. James Nisbet & Co., 1888, 2

This may suggest Cheyne coined the term, and perhaps even first identified the passages as a group (I am not sure because all I get is snippet view, and none of my other usual sources of e-texts seem to have the work :(

BUT if he was, why does no one else give him a hat tip?

Does anyone know what is going on here, or have better information about the origin of the name “confessions of Jeremiah”?

Nearly six years ago I wrote a post in which I tried out a free machine translation service:

Then I commented: Of course, machine translation is still a developing technology, somewhere about the level of voice recognition 10 years ago is my estimate. And tested  the  service with a paragraph from my Amos commentary, the first from a page about city gates:

In the Ancient Near East city gates were neither merely entrances, nor only used for military protection. As a potentially weak point in the defenses, the gates of Israelite walled cities typically had three chambers giving four sets of “doors” and defended spaces between. The gates of Hazor (left – plan above) and Gezer from the time of Solomon show this triple construction.

Which gave the practically readable French:

Dans la ville antique du proche Orient les portes n’étaient ni simplement des entrées, ni seulement utilisé pour la protection militaire. Comme point potentiellement faible dans les défenses, les portes d’Israelite ont muré des villes ont typiquement eu trois chambres donner quatre ensembles d'”portes” et d’espaces défendus entre. Les portes de Hazor (laissé – projetez ci-dessus) et de Gezer dès l’exposition de Solomon cette construction triple.

The service now uses Google as its translation engine, so today I plugged the same English into Google:

Dans l’ancien Proche-Orient portes de la ville ne sont ni seulement les entrées, ni seulement utilisé pour la protection militaire. Comme un point de faiblesse potentielle dans les défenses, les portes des villes d’Israël parois étaient généralement trois chambres donnant quatre séries de “portes” et défendu les espaces entre les deux. Les portes de Hatsor (à gauche – plan ci-dessus) et Gezer du temps de Salomon voir cette construction triple.

Notice the huge improvement! In 2005 the French in turn gave as the German the somewhat less than pelucid:

In der für den Militärschutz antiken des Nahen Ostens die Türen waren weder einfach von den Eingängen noch nur benutzt Stadt. Als potentiell schwacher Punkt in den Verteidigungen haben die Türen von Israelite Städte eingemauert gehabt typisch drei Kammern, vier Gesamtheit von “Türen” und von Räumen zu geben, die verteidigt wurden, zwischen. Die Türen von Hazor (gelassen – oben planen Sie) und von Gezer von der Ausstellung von Solomon an diese dreifache Konstruktion.

Now from the 2011 French we get:

Im alten Orient Stadttore sind nicht nur Ein-oder nur für militärische Schutz. Als Ausgangspunkt mögliche Schwäche in der Verteidigung wurden die Türen ummauerten Städte Israels in der Regel drei Zimmer mit vier Sätze von “Türen” und verteidigte die Zwischenräume. Die Tore von Hazor (links – über Plan) und Gezer in der Zeit Salomos sehen diese Konstruktion dreifacher Ausfertigung.

Then the final back translation was totally incomprehensible:

In for the military protection antiken of the Near East the doors were neither simple from the entrances nor only use city. When potentially weak point in the defenses the doors have typically three chambers immured of Israelite of cities had to give four whole of “doors” and from areas to which were defended, between. The doors of Hazor (calmly – above you plan) and of Gezer of the exhibition of Solomon to this three-way construction.

However, 2011’s back translation is rather readable, not perfect, but for many purposes “good enough to be helpful.

In the ancient Orient gates are not only on or only for military protection. As a starting point of potential weakness in the defense of the doors were walled cities of Israel, usually three rooms with four sets of “doors”and defended the spaces. The gates of Hazor (left – above budget) and Gezer in the time of Solomon to see this design triplicate.

Back then I concluded I’m sure that with a bit of selection I could have achieved funnier results, but this is enough to show why I still have problems making any real life use of such services! Now in 2011 I am beginning to use Google to help me make sense of dense writing in languages I only know a little. So far I think the results though NOT “close enough for government work” are helpful.

What’s your experience? Do you really (not just for back translation fun) make use of machine translation, and if so how does it work for you?

I’m writing that focuses quite a bit on the “confessions of Jeremiah”. I suddenly came to realise that though I know the terminology “confessions” dates before the start of the twentieth century I do not know who coined it or when. Does anyone have any evidence to help me? (My excuse for asking is that I am cut off by a three hour drive from my usual print reference works and my Google skills have so far failed to help me!)

As part of my preparation to teach a course on Biblical Narrative next semester I am collecting together links to my podcasts on this topic here is what I have so far (if you can spot any “missing” podcasts – either ones I’ve done but forgotten, or ones I should do – please let me know :)

The big picture: what are biblical narratives like and how do they work

What is a narrative “about”

Biblical narrative is realistic

Biblical narrative is terse

Biblical narratives preach rather than inform

Humour in bibllical narrative

Judge for yourself, and in so doing judge yourself!

Technical aspects

Point of view




Use of direct speech

Flat Earth Society


The image of Domitian’s coin, mentioned below, comes from Wikimedia.

Apparently the old canard that people before Columbus believed that the earth was flat is going around again. Or at least Theology Geek NZ feels the need to explain that it is plain wrong. They seem to be a blog without a comments facility (is that an oxymoron or what?) so here’s what I’d have added to their post (drawn from my post of  Monday, August 04, 2008 Interesting questions):

One of the real benefits of teaching is the questions students ask. Recently one exposed my shameful forgetfulness of what I once knew about the history of science :(

The question ran something like this:

The emperor Domitian had a coin made to celebrate his son’s divinisation showing the boy sitting on a globe – presumably representing the earth, with 7 stars around him.

The Romans like other ancients believed the Earth to be flat.

Why was a globe used?

Of course, the image is typical of a tradition of picturing gods seated on globes, see for example the coin representing Victory seated on a globe (from the page on coins from the time of Nero from the Classics Dept. at Monmouth College).

The Romans regularly used “orbis”, a circle, ring, or disk, in the phrase orbis terrae, terrarum “the circle of the world” to mean the whole earth.

For of course, as I had forgotten, and the student did not know, the story which claims that before Columbus people “all” believed that the Earth was flat is simply a myth.

A Greek, Eratosthenes (c 276 to 195 BCE) estimated the Earth’s circumference by getting measurements taken of the Sun’s position in the sky at two different places Syene (now Aswan, Egypt) and Alexandria which is directly north of Syene. From the difference (and assuming that the Sun is so far away that light is parallel in the two places) he got a value close to the current measurements. (There is a good well documented presentation of this and the whole history of the “flat earthers” on Donald Simanek’s site.)

Most early Christians, in the Roman empire, largely following Aristotle, accepted that the earth was round. Though at least Tertullian and others argued that the Bible spoke of it having four “corners” etc. so it must be flat.

So it is no surprise that Roman coins pictured the globe as round, that was the majority view among educated people at the time!

[Inaccurate snide comment removed 13 Jan 2011.]

Chris in a comment on Network Selves pointed to a post by Kester Brewin ‘You Will No Longer Be Called…’ | Facebook, Identity and Rebirth (the post riffs off an interview in the  Wall Street Journal with Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt).

Let’s take it for granted most people do stupid things when they are young. Some of us did not stop when we “came of age”, but most of us hope that we do such things less as we get older. In the past, in a predigital age, such actions were largely forgotten or selectively buried. Indeed the mobility of the “modern” world magnified this tendency. I remember Barbara remarking when we came to NZ how strange it was to be somewhere where no one knew anything much about our pasts except what WE chose to tell them.

In a digital society all that changes. Those silly pictures and status updates you post on Facebook today may still be available in 10, 20, 30… years. But wait, has “everything” changed? Step back, beyond the “modern” to a premodern village, or city. Doubtless in First Century Judea there were people who remembered Yakob as a teenager, and quite probably he too did some stupid things, yet Jesus’ younger brother became a respected leader in the early Jerusalem Christian community. Had everyone forgotten? Or had they, as we always do in “real” life developed selective fictive amnesia, by this I mean that people in relationship choose to act as if we have forgotten. It is a basic part of life. The memories are not really wiped, but most of the time (except for school reunions, family parties and such occasions) we act as if they were.

Perhaps in the Facebook age such selective fictive amnesia will need to become more widespread, as we learn to apply the same curtosies to strangers as we do commonly to friends and family… surely of all people Christians, who proclaim that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ can adapt to such a global village?

FacebookThis is a first response to Vinoth Ramachandra’s post Network Selves. Ironically, but quite properly, it was thought through first as I was “doing Facebook” this morning. There was a lot to do as I have hardly looked at Facebook since before Christmas.

One of the things I did was to drop comments on some of my friends status messages. Usually when one does this it is responding to something someone else has already written. In one way it is a nice example of Vinoth’s trivialisation that FB encourages. Few of the comments were deep or challenging – maybe none of them were though I’d like to dream I am better than that, and that some actually cause people to think. They represent a very minimal form of human contact. Sharing a coffee would be so much deeper, richer and fulfilling! And yet… most of the friends I “visited” in this way are in different cities from me, none of them is within half an hour’s drive, some are hours away by ‘plane. This contact may be fleeting and trivial, but it is contact. When we meet (perhaps at next year’s Baptist “Gathering”, perhaps in the next life) we will still be (at least a little bit) in touch. Contrast this with what happened when we left Zaïre. Then too people we had been close to became far away, but then there was no Facebook, no email, telephone was horribly expensive and mail (carried by aircraft or ships, not by real snails ;) was haphazard. As a result when I meet my Congolese (yes, same country, just a different name) friends again (most likely in the next life, as no more local meetings are planned) we will have been “out of touch” for so much longer. This trivial contact through Facebook is better, more “incarnate” than none.

In my Facebook time this morning I also cross posted some of my blog posts. This makes them accessible to people who don’t use RSS feed readers or live otherwise technologically impaired lives ;) One of the items I put onto Facebook points to Vinoth’s post. While you may legitimately argue that increasing the audience for Tim’s blogging is trivialising, you can hardly say the same for Vinoth’s blog. More people, especially people outside Sri Lanka should read him. Facebook allows me to encourage that… If only one of my friends becomes a reader of his posts they will be enriched, become (if only a little) deeper thinking and more broadly experienced (since he writes from a different “place”) people and their faith will be nourished. Without FB and blogging this would not be possible

But enough of my knee jerk technophilic response. What of the dark side? One of my friends linked to a disquieting article that told of the mass deaths of doves (not mere pigeons but admirable turtledoves) another two friends had “liked” this link. In jest I commented on the strangeness of “liking” such news. But the linguistic oddity apart, this is FB at its trivial worst. TV on steroids. We barely see the news, probably (like me) the two who “liked” the link had not followed it up and read the article. We fail to respond adequately to the news, none of us will change our behaviour as a result of seeing the post. Facebook, in making “information” even more accessible, indeed in throwing great heaps of the stuff at us, adds to the numbing that TV, and before that Radio, and before that print, had begun. The more we “see” the less we perceive. We are the people of whom the prophet spoke long ago (Is 6:9b-10).