Articles for the Month of April 2011

My favourite is fig and licorice, what’s yours?

Randal Rauser has yet another excellent post: “Why conservatism is often riskier than you might think (and other observations on losing faith)” in which among other sensible stuff (that you really should read, if you don’t already subscribe to his blog) he says:

A Christianity (liberal or conservative) which doesn’t present its adherents with a sufficiently rich range of belief to work out their own faith in fear and trembling is a faith impoverished. 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins (an ice cream shop for those who don’t know) is a good thing. So it is in a range of areas in Christian doctrine like atonement theory and theories of biblical inspiration. So I lament that so many Christians are given only vanilla or chocolate and then walk away thinking they hate ice cream when they really would have loved licorice had they only been given a lick.

My favourite ice-cream, at least at present, is fig and licorice (an improved variant of February’s Fig Ice-cream, and I suspect my faith is just as strange and tasty ;)


Humour in every book in the (Hebrew) Bible

An ironically blond European Moses discovered (Paul Delaroche 1797–1859 Moïse exposé sur le Nil)

I have completed the first (of the three) sections of my response to David’s Funny Stuff in the Bible challenge:

I must confess I was hoping for more help with Leviticus, I am saddened by my listeners’ lack of appreciation of humour, you must be a sombre bunch. Indeed, for Deuteronomy my help camed from a Rabbi, much better at recognising and appreciating humour than most Evangelicals, sadly.

I was fully expecting to fail on Leviticus, however, that hurdle overcome, I am sure the rest will come tumbling out – I’m relying on Miriam to suggest some lighthearted laughs from Lamentations ;)

Help needed with humour

Thomas Nelson that flagship of American religion and commerce (they are not quite the same thing are they?) publishes this pink sequin Bible a "fun sparkly and shiny Bible for little girls embellished with sequins…Cute to carry and easy to read!"

David Ker is back po-faced in Why the Bible is just not (so) funny claiming that the Bible is not funny. Back in 2007 he issued a challenge claiming readers of his blog could not give examples of humour from every book in the Bible: Funny Stuff in the Bible.

Then I ignored (I think) his silly claim, but this time it’s serious, he plans to publish his rubbish, and another generation will grow up unable to laugh or even smile as they read Scripture (or more likely simply don’t read Scripture). So I plan a series of podcasts, book by Bible book, showing that (at least almost) all the Bible is full of humour. I’ve done Genesis, Exodus is easy, but Leviticus (not to mention Lamentations) may be harder. If any of you, kind and humorous readers, would like to help me out, please post a comment suggesting possible funny bits in the more sombre books!

Why proprietary file-formats are bad for institutions

By Paul Downey

A growing institution that despite growth is somewhat strapped for cash has most of its staff on OfficeProduct 2006, it less than the latest thing, but does everything the staff need. New staff are employed (it is a growing institution) new laptops are bought, they come with OfficeProduct X an easily “upgradeable trial version”. So, of course, to keep things simple they run OfficeProduct X.

Now disaster strikes, OfficeProduct 2006 cannot read OfficeProduct X files and the whole institution must be upgraded to OfficeProduct X. Strangely the same institution runs OpenOffice (a standards compliant open source Office package) on the public access terminals in the library. They do not need to upgrade, for OpenOffice CAN read the OfficeProduct X files…

As a further bonus advantage OfficeProduct X uses strikingly different menu structures from its predecessors, that means staff will need training, or possibly will just suffer the frustration of wasting hours learning the new “improved” product by trial and error, and then more hours helping their colleagues who are slower at learning such arcane 21st century skills.

A further disaster, but one that in the past could not have been avoided, many staff still have files from OtherOffice 2.0, those files are now unreadable by almost every modern Office suite. Lost data :( Now in the past such disasters were unavoidable, now however, suppose the files were saved in Open Document Format (an open standard that non-proprietary office suites use). Guess what in 10 or 15 years if ODF 2.0 has come out there will be plugins available to read the old files.

Now remind me, just how does paying for Microsoft Office make economic sense?

Bumper crop!

King Hezekiah on a 17th century painting by unknown artist in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden.

Jim West posts more rubbish every day (often in his attempts to prove two obvious truths: humans are depraved and [probably a particular case of the former one] governments act stupidly) than most bloggers manage in a month of Sundays, but today he has not one but two posts that are well worth reading:

The Hezekiah Syndrome

Oh No, Not More Fundamentalist Baptist Craziness… Make it Stop…

Those of you who have removed his feed because of the volume of junk should look at these two ;)

Kaimai Cheese Factory Cafe, Waharoa

My lunch yesterday was not Vegan, I was breaking the journey down to Tauranga, and eating out Vegan is seldom a rewarding experience (except at Cosset, and even there it is mainly the baking rather than a hearty meal that I expect).

I stopped at Waharoa, at the Kaimai Cheese Factory shop and cafe (thinking to combine buying nice cheese with a pleasant lunch). I chose the “cheese-lovers’ platter” thinking that a cheese factory platter should be superb – a chance to display their products at their peak.

The cafe is in the front part of one of the factory buildings with viewing windows into the factory. The space is pleasant, spacious and airy. The platter was a series of disappointments. It was presented crowded onto a small board, Cheddar, Brie (or was it Camembert?), a washed rind and some blue, also on the board were slices of bread and a few crackers, and a little bowl with pickled onions and some marinated Feta, and another with chutney. Nice, but overcrowded.

The cheddar was a pleasant enough young cheese. The Brie or Camembert was so young and hard that I was not only unsure which cheese it was meant to resemble (when it grew up) but wondered if the cheddar was softer. It did get better, the washed rind had begun to develop some flavour (what a shame I did not come a few days later, and what a pity the cold of the fridge tried to mask what flavour was developing) and the blue was soft and sharp. The pickled onions were lovely, and the Feta fine… but overall what a disappointment! I almost did not stop to buy cheese for home, but remembered that I could ripen that and allow the flavour to develop before eating.

Someone, at least if anyone who is a professional in this business reads this, is sure to say: But they are only giving customers what most want. Kiwis on the whole like their cheeses immature! If that was the case why not offer a choice Cheese-lovers’ Platter (Fresh or Mature). Then everyone could be happy!

If your experience differs plase let me know, as I have had other meals here and enjoyed them, and the coffee is not at all bad usually. (I did not have coffee yesterday as I was meeting someone over the hill for coffee a bit later.)

Boys clubs

Sometimes I don’t understand guys. I mean what is it that ensures that when you get a bunch of men together there is always that male locker room atmosphere. Loud jokes, “veiled” competition, sometimes open sneering… It happened in academic common rooms (until the proportion of women became enough, in most places, to soften the atmosphere) as well as more obviously male locations. It shocked me in the seventies as a young pastor to find to some extent it happened in “Fraternals” gatherings of clergy (in those far off days almost exclusively male clubs)… I’d hoped we’d all grown up and become more sensible. But now just because Rod of Alexandria posts some interesting suggestions for releiving the horrid gender imbalance biblical studies blogging suffers (A CALL FOR WOMEN BLOGGERS: The Bibliobloggers) some anonymous twerp1 posts insulting rubbish under the title The Biblioblog Top 50: Now accepting women!.

Unless there is some swift and widespread denunciation of this post please count me out. Remove this blog and my podcast site from the list. I do not wish to be tainted by association. Can someone make a “NOT a biblioblogger” badge?

  1. I am beginning to see why Jim West reviles anonymous commenters and bloggers so deeply, for surely you’d only make public such stupid attempts at humour under the cover of anonymity! []

2 Biblical Talk of the Motherly God: A Personal God without Icons

Image from a pot found at Kuntillet Ajrud above the inscription mentioning "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah" (from Wikipedia)

The God of the Bible is aniconic,1 meaning never to be painted, sculpted or drawn. The second commandment forbids all idols, even images of the true God. In a world of gods and goddesses, both sculpted and drawn, the Bible pictures God with words alone.

Yet God is person, not an abstract philosophical concept. The Old Testament reveals God as person at the deepest level, using God’s personal name. Indeed, later tradition, through respect and fear, refused to pronounce God’s name, reading simply “Lord”, so that we no longer know how people pronounced the consonants yhwh. The best guess is “Yahweh”.

The name of the not-to-be-pictured-God even had abbreviations “Yah” and “Yahu” (a nickname?), in the exclamation “Halleluia”2 (“Praise Yah!”) and in names like “Elijah” (Eli Yahu in Hebrew). In a previous generation, an Old Testament scholar would say, “His personhood… is involuntarily thought of in terms of human personality… not the spiritual nature of God.”3

The people of Canaan and every other ancient near Eastern culture, except that portrayed in the Bible, depicted gods and goddesses with statues based on human and animal forms. People thought of them as either male or female. Only the Bible’s aniconic God could avoid being of one sex or the other.

Biblical history shows that Israel’s folk religion was seldom as pure as biblical law demanded. At “high places” across Palestine and even in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, Jews worshipped the Lord alongside Asherah poles representing a goddess. Popular religion often confused the real God, the Lord, Yahweh, with the Canaanite god, Ba‘al (whose name means “lord” or “master”). Yet archaeologists have found no proof of Yahweh in pictorial form. (Some people claim that one picture shows Yahweh, and his wife! The drawing is on an ostracon4 from Kuntillet Ajrud, an Israelite fortress in Sinai occupied early in the monarchic period). The text speaking of Yahweh and “his Asherah”, has with it three stick figures, two presumed male and female, and a seated (female?) figure playing a lyre. The text reads, “I bless you by yhwh and his ashera”. Yhwh is God’s name and Ashera could be the goddess. If this is so, and if the stick figures represent the text, though they are crude beside a beautifully written text, then here is an Israelite picture of God. That this is unique, and from a distant outpost, at least shows how strongly Israelites prohibited carved images!5

Psalm 131

The Bible wanted people to imagine God in words. In the Old Testament, word-pictures about God refer to mothers, fathers, other humans, animals (including lions and mother bears) as well as inanimate things like a rock or fortress. Psalm 131 is a short but delightful example of motherly language.

1. Lord, my heart is not proud,
nor my eyes haughty;
I’m not concerned with things
too great and difficult for me. 

2. But I’ve calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul with me is like a weaned child.

3. Israel, hope in the Lord
now and forever.

Verse 2 poses problems for translators and I have followed NRSV and NIV6 . The picture is a “weaned” (the passive of gamal) child. Compared with the more usual picture of a child feeding at the breast, later the common motherly image of relating to God, this picture suggests a less demanding (even more mature) relationship, the weaned child who still depends on a parent but not on mother’s milk. In other Ancient cultures divine beings were represented by sculptures, such gods or goddesses in human form must be either male or female. Biblical writing, by contrast, shows a human clinging to God in a way that does not rely on a parent being either male or female. Why? The aniconic God is not limited by belonging exclusively to one sex or the other.

  1. Aniconic, comes from the Greek word “ikon” an image or picture with a prefix meaning ‘not’, so not-to-be-depicted. The Jewish and Muslim religions have obeyed this commandment strictly, Christianity has often understood it as forbidding images of other gods! []
  2. The form “alleluia” is a version for Latin speakers, the Hebrew transcribes as hallelu Yah, “hallelu” being a plural imperative form of the verb “praise”. []
  3. Eichrodt (1961) 211. []
  4. An ostracon was a piece of broken pottery. Since writing materials like leather or later papyrus were expensive, these fragments became writing surfaces for all less important occasions. []
  5. See e.g. the review article Freedman (1987) 241-249. []
  6. But compare e.g. Dahood (1970) 238ff.. []

The Third Preposition: Bible was not written to/for/about you

Photo by LadyDragonflyCC -April Showe

In my previous post Canaanite Genocide and another new (to me) blog I mentioned the interesting discussion in the comments on the post The Bible wasn’t written for David Ker.

One interesting detail is the possible (mis)reading  of David’s title The Bible was not written to you as The Bible was not written for you. Now, it seems to me the first (David’s actual title) is true, but at least among even half-educated people risks being a mere truism. (It is something we know, take for granted, and so risk forgetting. May David’s book help remind some…) The second (John’s misreading) is, at least for anyone who has any belief that the Bible is in some sense “inspired” clearly false. If God inspired the Bible then in some sense it was written “for you”!

I’ll return to inspiration in a future post. For now a different, but similar, wording that I have been using for some years seems to me helpful. It involves a third preposition.  This is the claim that the Bible is not about you. For it seems to me a major problem with much “Christian” reading of Scripture is the underlying claim that the Bible is about the reader. I think it is this that encourages comfortably rich Western Christians to keep applying Jer 29:11 to each other with liberal abandon, and no care for the context. Equally however honesty should surely compel that this belief force them to wield that verse eleven chapters earlier with the same frequency, but Jer 18:11 would hardly be as “comforting”.

I think it is necessary first to remember that the Bible is not about us. (And this is a pretty wide “us” for I think it includes even the “original” hearers, and even the human actors in the story.) Scripture is about God. We should ask: What is the understanding of God here? Before asking: So how does that understanding apply to us?


Canaanite Genocide and another new (to me) blog

In the comments (which are perhaps more enlightening than the post) to The Bible wasn’t written for David Ker the eponymous David (or should be be called the pseudonymous Lingamish?) points to a superb article1 :

Randal Rauser. “‘Let Nothing that Breathes Remain Alive’ On the Problem of Divinely Commanded Genocide.” Philosophia Christi 11, no. 1 (2009): 27-41.

That neatly skewers every attempt to argue that a perfect God could order the Israelites to commit genocide. Rauser’s article makes harrowing reading, but is unflinching.


Randal also has a blog and is reviewing

Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011.

The first part of the review is charitable but again unflinching: “Is God a Moral Monster?” A Review (Part 1) again the comment thread is full of good stuff! I am eager for part 2 :)


  1. PS David helpfully points out below that I also have been a careless reader, it was actually, he says Mike Koke who pointed to the fine article. []