CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

(This is a republication of an earlier post regarding the genre of Acts and Ancient Novels).

I have elsewhere responded to the notion that The Acts of the Apostles is of the genre of ancient novel. One example of this genre to which Acts has been compared is the ancient novel of Chaereas and Callirhoe. F. Scott Spencer, Journeying Through Acts, page 16. I have read Chaereas and Callirhoe (C&C), as well as other ancient novels, and studied them further through secondary sources. In this post I hope to elaborate on some points of comparison by using C&C as representative of some of the features of the ancient novel.

C&C is probably the earliest of the ancient novels. Written around the mid-first century, it places its narrative around 500 years earlier. Its author was a lawyer named Chariton. The name means “man of graces” and many commentators thought the name “too good to be true for an inhabitant of the city of Aphrodite; but it can be shown to be authentic.” B.P. Reardon, Collected Ancient Greek Novels, page 17. I thought this an interesting connection between C&C and Acts, because some commentators have supposed that Theophilus, the addressee of Luke-Acts, was a literary fiction because his name means “lover of God.” I agree with most scholars that Theophilus was a real person. As the C&C example shows, meaningful names are abundant and too much can be read into them.

The Story

But what about the genre comparison of C&C and Acts? Here is a helpful plot summary of C&C from Wikipedia:

The action of the story, which is to a certain extent historical, takes place during the time of the Peloponnesian War. In Syracuse, Chaereas falls madly in love with the beautiful Callirhoe and they are married, but when he suspects her faithlessness, he kicks her so hard that she falls over dead. There is a funeral, and she is shut up in a tomb, but then it turns out she was only in a coma, and wakes up in time to scare the pirates who've opened the tomb to rob it, but they recover quickly, and take her to sell as a slave in Miletus, where the new owner Dionysius falls in love with her and marries her, she being afraid to mention that she is already married (and pregnant). Meanwhile Chaereas has heard she is alive, and has gone looking for her, but is himself captured and enslaved, and yet they both come to the attention of the Great King (of Persia), who must decide on who is her rightful husband, but is thinking about acquiring her for himself. When a war erupts, Chaereas wins a naval victory on behalf of the Egyptians and the lovers are eventually reunited and return in triumph to Syracuse.

A more detailed summary can be found here. For the most recent English translation of the entire novel, read B.P. Reardon’s Collected Ancient Greek Novels. The Loeb Series also provides a translation.

Preface

In my article on Acts, I argue that the prefaces of Luke-Acts are strong evidence that the work was to be read as historical. Like other ancient historians, Luke refers to previous works on similar topics and compares them to his own, he refers to accounts being handed down by eyewitnesses, he refers to his own personal investigation into the matters about which he writes, and describes his narrative as an “orderly account” so that his audience would know the “exact truth” about Christianity.

The very brief preface to C&C, on the other hand, contains none of these indications of historical intent:

My name is Chariton, of Aphrodisias, and I am clerk to the attorney Athenagoras. I am going to tell you the story of a love affair that took place in Syracuse.

Chariton's brief preface clearly states the author's intent to write a “story” of a “love affair,” indicating that he is writing a romance. Some ancient novels do not even have a brief introduction. They just begin their story.

The Characters

The families of the two main characters are real, as are some of the rulers they encounter, but the two central characters are fictitious. Most of the secondary characters, such as Mithridates and Pharanaces, are fictitious though given typical names. Not so with Acts. In Acts the leading characters, Peter and Paul, are historical figures attested by contemporary evidence. Other important characters are also historical, such as Barnabas, James and John. Many of the secondary characters are attested by Paul’s own letters, including Priscilla and Aquila, Silas, Timothy, Apollos, Mark, Aristarchus, Sopator, Tychicus, and Erastus. Thus, C&C focuses on fictional characters whereas Acts focuses on historical characters.

In addition to the fictional/historical dichotomy, there is another important difference between the leading characters in C&C and those in Acts. In C&C, Callirhoe and Chaereas act in their own interests concerning their private capacities. This is typical of the ancient romance, which focus on “[t]he adventures or experiences of one or more individuals in their private capacities and from the viewpoint of their private interests and emotions.” B.E. Perry, The Ancient Romances, page 45. Acts, on the other hand, focuses Peter and Paul in their capacities as spreaders of “the Way.” Little or no interest is shown in their personal lives or fates. All that matters is their role in furthering the Gospel.

Historical Setting

The historical setting of Luke-Acts is not vague (though sometimes his chronology is inexact). This does not require that Acts be devoid of historical mistake, though I have argued that Acts has an excellent historical record when it comes to rulers and geography. But Luke “tries to relate his story to the broader historical context. He does this first by providing chronological references for pivotal events (see Luke 1:5; 2:1-2; 3:1-2; Acts 18:12). In addition, he identifies power blocs and governing agents, not only in Palestine (Acts 18:12-17).” Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, page 200.

On the other hand, in C&C “the historical setting is vague” and it “displays a number of anachronisms.” Reardon, op. cit., page 18. “[T]he story reflects a number of historical events and people distributed over most of the fourth century.” Id. Callirhoe’s father, for example, actually died around 407 BC. Yet C&C includes the siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great, which took place over 70 years later. More dramatic is the reference to a woman from Sybaris, which was a Greek colony that was destroyed over 100 years prior to the earliest possible setting for C&C. Also, C&C commits a “gross anachronism” by including women in public assembly because “at the dramatic date of this story women took no part in politics.” Id. page 56. Another geographic anachronism is the reference to a ship putting in “at Paphos. Paphos is a real city, but it was several miles inland from the coast. “It was only after the dramatic date of the story, in the early Hellenistic period, that a port was built near Paphos; and the port usurped the names.” Id., page 113, n. 123.

Some of these anachronisms are simply too extreme to be the result of ignorance or simple mistake. It appears that Chariton consciously incorporates events and details from widely different times for simple dramatic effect. Even assuming some historical mistakes in Acts, they are incomparable in substance and purpose to those present in C&C.

Action & Adventure

It is undeniable that Acts contains some exciting elements in its narrative. Paul escapes an unpleasant fate by being lowered down from a window in the city wall. He escapes death by drowning after his ship is shipwrecked. His life is threatened by a violent mob. He faces trials before government officials.

C&C is also full of harrowing tales, including shipwrecks and trials. But too much can be read into such similarities. "The general themes of travel and adventure, though they are characteristic of the novel, are by no means unique to it.” Bauckham, "The Acts of Paul as a Sequel to Acts," TBATALS, page 145. Historians also added spice to their accounts to maintain reader interest, which appears to be Luke’s goal. In his How to Write History, Lucian noted that historians should write “what will interest and instruct” their audience. § 53. In any event, we know from Paul’s own letters that he in fact did escape by being lowered through a city wall, that he suffered beatings and violence at the hands of his enemies, and that he survived shipwrecks. Thus unlike the tales in C&C, Acts’ dramatic portrayals involving Paul -- even if embellished -- are based on real events that happened to real people. Moreover, if one compares the “entertaining” dramatic elements in C&C to Acts, the ratio towards drama is much greater in C&C than in Acts. The “action” is continuous, with the goal of the narrative to move from one harrowing circumstance to the next.

Finally, pirates play a key role in the C&C narrative. After Callirhoe is buried alive, it is pirates who “rescue” her in their attempt to plunder her grave. She is taken away by them and courted by their members, eventually being sold by them into slavery. Pirate or bandit gangs play similar important roles in other ancient romances, yet play no role in Acts.

Romance

The most notable difference between C&C and Acts is the romance. C&C is a story of a couple separated by dramatic events, who find their love tested by dramatic events and notable suitors, and who are finally reunited to live happily ever after. Richard Bauckham’s description of erotic novels captures the essence of C&C: “the erotic novel [] tells the story of two lovers who remain faithful to each other through separations, trials and dangerous adventures, before arriving at a happy and final reunion.” Bauckham, “The Acts of Paul as a Sequel to Acts,” TBATALS, page 145.

C&C is full of descriptions of the protagonists’ beauty, describing in detail its effect on secondary characters. Callirhoe is described as “a wonderful girl, the pride of all Sicily, her beauty was more than human, it was divine, and it was not the beauty of a Nereid or mountain nymph at that, but of the maiden Aphrodite herself. Report of the astonishing vision spread everywhere, and suitors flocked to Syracuse….” Chaereas is described as “surpassingly handsome, like Achilles and Nieus and Hippolytus and Alcibiades as sculptors and painters portray them” and as “radiant as a star.” When the two met by chance on the streets of Sicily, “[a]t once they were both smitten with love.”

Physical suffering or irrationality due to the love or lust inspired by the protaganists' beauty, usually Callirhoe's, is described in detail in C&C. After meeting Callirhoe, Chaereas “was like a hero mortally wounded in battle” and “began to waste away bodily.” When a later suitor first met her, “her voice seemed the voice of a god to Dionysius; it had a musical sound, with the effect of a lyre’s notes. He did not know what to do; he was too embarrassed to continue talking to her; so he went off to his house, already aflame with love.” Kings, nobles, and the wealthy fall madly in love with Callirhoe instantly upon seeing her.

Obviously, there is nothing comparable in Acts. There are few physical descriptions, no mention of romantic love, nothing that could be deemed erotic or romantic. The constrast is stark.

Conclusion

Other than suggesting caution before reading too much into the meaning of an author or addressee's name, C&C is most instructive as an exmple of what Acts likely is not--an ancient novel. It also is helpful in illustrating an acceptable definition of the genre.

After examining C&C’s preface, characters, historical setting, action and adventure, and romance, it is clear that to the extent that it is representative of ancient romances, Acts is fairly distinguished from that genre. Moreover, with a better understanding of C&C, the first of the ancient romances, we can better understand the genre definition for the ancient novel provided by Niklas Holzberg, Professor of Classics at the University of Munich:

[B]y ancient novel we mean an entirely fictitious story narrated in prose and ruled in its course by erotic motifs and a series of adventures which mostly take place during a journey and which can be differentiated into a number of specific, fixed patterns. The protagonists or protagonist live(s) in a realistically portrayed world which, even when set by the author in an age long since past, essentially reflects everyday life around the Mediterranean in late Hellenistic and Imperial societies; the actual characters, however, are given idealistic or comic-realistic features.

Niklas Holzberg, The Ancient Novel, pages 26-27.

Acts is not an entirely fictitious story. Its characters are real historical figures who indisputedly did things or have characeristics as reported in Acts. Rather than being ruled by erotic motifs, the course of Acts is set by the Holy Spirit and spread of the Gospel. Although there are missionary journeys in Acts, they are not part of one grand adventure resulting in a definite conclusion (such as the happy ending of C&C). Rather than setting its narration in an "age long since past," Acts is most commonly dated around 25-30 years after the events it narrates. Even a dating into the second century appears too small a gap for what we would expect in an ancient novel like C&C. Additionally, though left out of Niklas' definition (but included by Perry), it is notable that C&C's story focuses around the private lives of private individuals caught up in extraordinary events. Acts, on the other hand, focuses on the public ministries of Peter and Paul and their place in the history of the spread of Christianity. All in all, C&C proves a very helpful illustration in distinguishing Acts from the ancient novel.

I originally planned to post this response over on Neil's blog, but it was apparently too lengthy for his comments section to handle. Neil has responded to my posts in his fashion. He makes some odd arguments, such as that he never claimed there was a genre of "ancient adventure", that his whole argument was premised on the lengthiness of sea voyage accounts, and that he never really intended to respond to Loveday Alexander. Since I could not post my response fully there, I will put it here.

Neil,

APOLOGY


I apologize for not including a link to your site. I meant to and realized this morning that I had not. I’ve fixed that. I do not have a "no link" policy to skeptics I criticize. Just the opposite in fact.

REVISIONIST REFLECTING

You are making arguments now that you did not make in your original post.

Neil Before: "Historians liked to include as set pieces accounts of sieges or orations for dead soldiers, not shipwrecks."

Neil Now: "But the critiquer nowhere addresses the point Pervo makes and that I attempt to underline — the proportion of space devoted to such a story is all out of whack in comparison with ancient histories."

You did not say that Historians included shipwrecks but did not devote as much space to them as Luke does in Acts. You said they had no reason at all to include them. In fact, in your original post you did not make any mention of the length of accounts of sea voyages in ancient histories. If I missed it, please point it out to me.

You also made no mention of the length of the accounts in the “ancient adventure” you cited. How could you have ignored such details if you were intent on proving something about the length of the accounts? If the whole point was a comparison of lengths of such accounts how come you neglected to mention such details? In fact, let us look at some of your examples from “ancient adventures”, starting with the Acts of Phillip:

And he came to the sea in the borders of the Candaci and found a ship going to Azotus, and agreed with the sailors for four staters, and sailed. A great wind came, and they began to cast out the tackle and say farewell to each other and lament.

Philip consoled them: Not even the ship shall be lost. He went up on the prow and said: Sea, sea, Jesus Christ by me his servant bids thee still thy wrath. There was calm, and the sailors thanked him and asked to become servants of Jesus. And he instructed them to forsake the cares of this life. And they believed, and Philip landed and baptized them all.

This is by far much smaller than Tacitus’ description of the storm and shipwrecks in Annals and the lines you quote from Polybius. It is quite a bit smaller than that in Acts 27.

What about Jonah? There are 17 verses devoted to the sea voyage and near shipwreck. Another 10 devoted to being in the fish, if that counts. Hardly close to the claimed “60 verses” of Acts. Not even half.

What about the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs?

And again, after seven months, I saw our father Jacob standing by the sea of Jamnia, and we his sons were with him. And, behold, there came a ship sailing by, full of dried flesh, without sailors or pilot: and there was written upon the ship, Jacob. And our father saith to us, Let us embark on our ship. And when we had gone on board, there arose a vehement storm, and a tempest of mighty wind; and our father, who was holding the helm, flew away from us. And we, being tost with the tempest, were borne along over the: sea; and the ship was filled with water and beaten about with a mighty wave, so that it was well-nigh broken in pieces. And Joseph fled away upon a little boat, and we all were divided upon twelve boards, and Levi and Judah were together. We therefore all were scattered even unto afar off. Then Levi, girt about with sackcloth, prayed for us all unto the Lord. And when the storm ceased, immediately the ship reached the land, as though in peace. And, lo, Jacob our father came, and we rejoiced with one accord.

I also tried your reference to Lucian’s Philosophies for Sale (or Sale of Creeds) but could not find an account of a sea voyage or ship wreck. Can you please point it out to me? This is the closest I could find: “Second D. All this is of no use to me. But I might make a sailor or a gardener of you at a pinch; that is, if you are to be had cheap. Three-pence is the most I can give.” And there isn’t really any narrative here at all, just a parody of different philosophical schools being sold and questioned at auction.

As I have said, I am no classicist, so if I missed the extended sea voyage narrations in the above-referenced work, please point that out. But as it stands, I must ask: What the heck? These are many of your examples proving that sea voyage/shipwreck accounts of the length in Acts 27 must be “ancient adventures”? Did you even read them? Have any idea what they said?

You have cited works much too short to be related to any argument about length. So I am inclined to either believe you really were not focusing on length or that you had no idea what sources you were citing to and did not realize that many (most?) of them have accounts shorter than those in the ancient histories. Which is it?

METHODOLOGICAL CONCERNS

You also have no methodology in determining the length of any accounts. When referring to ancient histories, you refer to their accounts of “shipwrecks.” But when you refer to Acts, you claim 60 verses, sweeping up larges numbers of verses taking place on land (Acts 28:1-10) and many other verses of mundane sea travel that has nothing to do with the shipwreck (Acts 27:1-8; 28:11-16). When recounting the length of “lines” devoted to narratives in your new argument about ancient histories did you include associated events on land or at sea later?

WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT “VIVID DETAIL” DISCUSSION?

Although you did not discuss the relative lengths of sea voyage accounts in ancient histories and “ancient adventure” you did compare the vividness of details in Acts against those in “ancient adventures.” But you ignored the fact that much vividness of detail occurs in the ancient histories I cite. In fact, you appear to pretend you did not make any arguments about vividness.

MIDDLE-AGE VERSE SYSTEM

Neil Now: "The critiquer sophistically argued that the reason was that our verses were introduced into the bible in the middle ages and not part of the original. Oh dear. What silly duffers Pervo and I are for not thinking of that!"

I nowhere said that the reason for the amount of space devoted in Acts to the sea voyage was the number system. But it is an important point because the Bible is uniquely broken down by chapter and verse. Many ancient works are just broken by chapter or by chapter and a subsystem of numbering that includes more words than in the verse of the Bible.

GENRE OF “ANCIENT ADVENTURE”

Neil Now: "More than once the critique objected that I was asserting there was a “genre” of “ancient adventure” (apparently in addition to genres such as romance novels, satire, history) where nowhere did I ever assert such a thing."

You sure did. I did not coin the phrase "Ancient Adventure" and use it in a header for listing ancient literary works, you did. Remember?

Neil Then: "for shipwrecks being a staple of ancient adventures."

Neil Then: "The story is clearly fictional, drawing on the common sea adventure motifs of the day."

And you did so without any mention of what their genres are in that list. Do not blame me for this, blame yourself.

Furthermore, your point only makes sense if you are trying to argue there is some genre of ancient adventure or "adventure motif" that renders all sea voyage accounts of a certain length as fiction. Your use of these sources was also weakened by the fact that they are devoid of context. More to the point, you did not and still do not tell us how lengthy such accounts are, but apparently your entire point rests on an unstated comparison of the length of the account in Acts with the accounts from these "Ancient Adventure" writings? Now that we have seen how short some of these accounts are, we know that you yourself are either deceiving your audience or had no idea how lengthy the accounts you were sighting from "ancient adventures" were.

And why did you not address travelogues? There is a genre of ancient literature about guys who went on trips and described in detail the places they went and interacted with. Did none of these include sea voyages? I'm skeptical of that.

APOCRYPHAL ACTS

Neil Now: "The critique picks up on one point I cited from Pervo that related to a single feature of the Apocryphal Acts (a point so generic I could have made by comparison to almost any other novel) and thought thereby he was countering my argument by citing other criticisms of a more general nature against Pervo’s treatment of the Apocryphal Acts."

You appeared to be arguing that the Apocryphal Acts were useful points of comparison for establishing the genre of Acts. You offered one response to an anticipated criticism of the use of the Apocryphal Acts. Because you had overlooked so many other problems about such a comparison, I did not feel bound by your lack of knowledge on the subject and so undertook to raise those objections myself.

ENGAGING LOVEDAY OR NOT?

Neil Now: "The critique objects that I “never really engage [Loveday] Alexander’s argument”. Well, no, I do stand guilty. I never intended to, never claimed to. Only addressed one point of hers as cited to me in an exchange in this blog and hence within a limited context."

You seem to be saying you adequately responded to the summary conclusion of her argument without responding to all the details the argument relied on. That makes little sense. How can you know that the details in all those "ancient adventures" are the same as in Acts if you didn't read her comparative discussion of those accounts?

AH, THE IRONY

"One thing my experience in christianity taught me was to never sweep details under the carpet. Always check out every niggling doubt. You might find the whole house about to collapse. And it seems nothing has changed in many quarters of “christian critiques” of sceptical views."

How about the details of how long all those "ancient adventure" accounts you cite? Why did you ignore them? Because they counted against your case? Why did you conceal the fact that so many of them had much smaller sea voyage narratives than the ancient histories you are so eager to ignore? Heck, you now claim that your entire point was about length yet you never discussed the length of any of the supposedly comparable accounts?

It is clear that you have failed to defend your initial case about Acts 27 and have failed to construct a convincing substitute out of its debris.

In Part III, I will pick up some loose comments and statements by Neil and add a few points of my own. Check Parts I and II if you have not been following the arguments regarding the genre of Acts.

Purpose of Placement

In something of a rehash of an earlier point, Neil asks, “Why would the author introduce such a piece of narrative here? The sea voyage and storm and wreck add nothing to the advancing of the church or gospel.”

Actually, as I have shown, the sea voyage narrative serves a number of uses for Luke, including demonstrating how the Gospel prevailed even in reaching Rome through adversity and opposition. It also exonerates Paul from likely accusations against him and enhanced the author’s esteem as a historian. It certainly does relate to the advancement of the Gospel.

The Apocryphal Acts

Neil then turns his attention to the Apocryphal Acts, which do show more signs of being fictitious. He, apparently, tries to claim that they are of the same literary genre because when Paul appears on the scene he is the central character. But you only get to Paul by going through Peter and to a lesser extent James. Paul is not the central character of Acts, only of part of it. And even then only because Paul is the representative of the Gospel spreader highlighted at that time. The Apocryphal Acts on the other hand focus on telling the stories about their central characters.

The reality and significance of this difference is demonstrated by consideration of the notably un-novelistic ending of Acts. Whereas ancient novels have certain, usually predictable endings that close off the stories, even Pervo admits that Acts’ abrupt ending is problematic for an ancient novel. Much of what follows in this section from my Article on Acts.

To emphasize this point we can examine the apocryphal Acts, which clearly contain fictional elements. The Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Thomas, and the Acts of Andrew all narrate the deaths of their leading characters. The Acts of Paul narrates Paul’s judicial sentence and execution in detail. (10.5). The Acts of Peter likewise narrates the sentencing and execution of Peter. (37-40). Nero plays prominent roles in both accounts, but in the Acts of the Apostles Nero does not even make an appearance. Moreover, what happened to Peter? Or James? And what about Paul? By the time Acts was likely written, all three of these figures were dead. Yet Acts narrates nothing of their fates.

The failure to narrate Paul’s fate is especially glaring because he is the hero of the second half of the book. Nevertheless, Paul is left in Rome awaiting trial (and thus in danger of his life or about to be set free). This is far from what we would expect from an ancient novel. But if Acts is a history of the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, it is not surprising as ancient historiography.

Another significant problem with equating Acts with the Apocryphal Acts is that it smacks of question begging:

The circular and anachronistic nature of this argument is manifest. He uses texts that are self-evidently derivative in order to assess the primary source. However, these later fictive interpretations of scenes from canonical Acts cannot be used to assess the literary or historical dimensions of Acts itself. This is confirmed by the treatment of canonical Acts even by classicists who consider Apocryphal Acts to fall within the ancient novel tradition. For example, Hagg assumes canonical Acts is a different sort of literature than the Apocryphal Acts of Paul, which he sees as a type of ancient novel.

Stanley Porter, Paul in Acts, page 17.

Finally, there is the very notable absence of romance – or a romance substitute – in Acts whereas such elements are prominent in the Apocryphal Acts. As I state in my Article:

"The absence of any hint of romance from Acts is all the more telling in light of its presence in the apocryphal Acts. Far from proving a Christian lack of interest in the characteristics of the ancient novel, the apocryphal Acts prove the opposite. “Many of the motifs of the Hellenistic romance recur in the Christian apocryphal acts.” Goodspeed, Edgar J. A History of Early Christian Literature, revised and enlarged by Robert M. Grant, page 64. Perhaps the most telling example is found in the Acts of Paul, which narrates the plight of the young virgin Thecla. This story is what we might expect from a Christianized version of the romance novel. As Richard Baukham explains:

The story of Thecla is of special interest because it is the only part of the Acts of Paul in which a character other than Paul takes centre-stage and because it bears a very close relationship to the themes of the Greek novels that tell the story of two lovers (such as Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe, and Xenephon’s Ephesiaca). . . . Thecla, like the heroines of the novels, is a beautiful young girl who preserves her chastity and remains faithful to her beloved through trials and dangers in which she comes close to death but experiences divine deliverance. Thamyris and Alexander are unwanted suitors such as appear in the novels. Unlike the heroines of the novels, of course, Thecla’s chastity is not temporary, but permanent, and represents her total devotion to God. But her devotion to God is also devotion to his apostle Paul, and the author does not hesitate to depict this devotion in terms which, while not intended to be sexual, parallel the erotic (cf. Athe 8-10, 18-19). As in the case of the heroes and heroines of the novels, the plot partly turns on the separation of Paul and Thecla, her search for and reunion with him (Athe 21-25, 40-41). Thecla’s offer to cut her hair short in order to follow Paul where he goes and her adoption of male dress when she travels in search of Paul [resemble] the novelistic theme of a woman traveling in male disguise to escape detection. The wealthy upper-class circles in which the story takes place, including the historical figure of the emperor’s relative Tyrphaena, are also consonant with the character of the Greek novels. It seems clear that the story of Thecla has been directly modeled on the themes of the Greek erotic novel. . . .

Richard Baukham, “The Acts of Paul as a Sequel to Acts,” in The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting, pages 135-36.

So, there are clear novelistic elements of romance, but adapted for its Christian message and audience. There are other examples:

● The Acts of John includes a story about the pious Druisiana being romantically pursued by “a messenger of Satan.” She was so pious she had even “separated herself” from her husband for a time. After she died, the “messenger of Satan” defiled her corpse.

● In the Acts of Peter, the martyrdom of Peter’s wife is described, even recounting the last words of Peter to his wife.

● In the Acts of Thomas, a king’s daughter is getting married. At the wedding, Thomas sings a mystical bridal song and persuades the bride and groom to renounce marriage. There is also a side story of a flute-girl who obviously becomes infatuated with Thomas. After his song, she was “gazing and looking earnestly upon him” and “loved him well.”

● In the Acts of Andrew, it is lending aid to a woman in distress that lands Andrew on a cross. Maximilla is the wife of the proconsul of Greece. Following her conversion by Andrew, Maximilla wants to escape from her husband and Andrew encourages her to do so. When she is successful in leaving him, the proconsul has Andrew crucified. Maximilla saw to it that Andrew received a proper burial.

While it is true that these “romances” are different than the pagan ones in that the emphasis is often on abstinence even within marriage, the similarities remain. Women in distress or difficult situations are followed through until resolution of their plight. As noted by Goodspeed and Grant, this Christian fiction was “valuable as a substitute for the romances current among Greeks and Romans. It is sometimes supposed that these romances were characterized by what we should call pornography, but generally speaking they were rather edifying narratives of love and adventure. The emphasis put on sex in their Christian counterparts is rather more impressive, in spite of – and partly because of – the enthusiasm of the heroes and heroines for asceticism.” Goodspeed, Edgar J., op. cit., page 64. That the romantic features of ancient fiction are so common in the apocryphal Acts but absent from Acts itself is telling. It counts heavily against Acts being an ancient novel.

Tail Wagging the Dog

Next, Neil argues that you cannot isolate this one section of Acts and determine its genre from it: “it is simplistic to argue on the basis of a face-value reading of one piece of datum for an eyewitness account (or two, actually — Loveday Alexander draws in the prologue to support her view as well) when there are so many other larger questions about Acts that could overturn any such narrowly based assessment” In other words, you cannot let the tail wag the dog. There is something to this criticism but what is perhaps most interesting is how easily it is turned back on Neil. He appears perfectly willing to take this one section and conclude that Acts is ancient fiction. All the while he gives scant attention to other evidence, such as the prefaces of Luke-Acts or the “we-sections.” We will turn to this evidence briefly.

An Explicit Claim to Authorial Participation

The we-sections occur in places in Acts, not in other, and never in Luke. Giving such slight attention to the we-sections is hard to understand, for it is not just the vivid detail that leads Alexander and so many other scholars to conclude that Acts contains eyewitness accounts, it is the fact that the author writes such a vivid account while claiming to have been there. I have an extended argument for accepting the we-sections as evidence of authorial participation, here. For now, I think a helpful citations about how Pervo mishandles this evidence will suffice:

"Pervo fails to consider the significances of the use of the first-person plural in any of the passages in which it is found. This includes the passage in Acts 27, a chapter which does figure heavily into his discussion of Act since it contains an account of a sea voyage. His only direct reference to the ‘we’ passage in terms of a sea voyage is an excursus, where he states, apparently as fact, that the conventions of this passage had been established in Homer’s Odyssey (14:244-258) and were fixed through centuries of imitation, as Robbins has supposedly pointed out, the best example being the Voyage of Hanno. One can usefully speculate why Pervo fails to exploit the supposed conventions in Acts. One possible reason for failing to discuss the use of ‘we’ could be the lack of suitable parallels in the novel accounts, evidence that would hurt Pervo’s comparison; another reason might be the failure to find a category by which it clearly seems to imply the use of a recognizable source, not simply a historical antecedent… The sea-voyage convention is not established by usage in the Odyssey, including the passage cited by Pervo above, or in Vergil’s Aenid (3.5), or in any number of other writers sometimes mentioned (see section c below for further discussion). Citation of the Odyssey is not surprising, because the entire epic account is formulated around travel, much of it by sea, so almost all any use first-person could be construed as failing within the sea-voyage genre. The majority of the account in the Odyssey is not told in the first person sea-voyage convention. The obvious differences between the book of Acts and the Odyssey further mitigate comparison. One of these differences is the radically different literary genres of these work (poetic epic versus prose historical/fictive narrative), another is the alternation of singular and plural in the Odyssey, quite dissimilar to the sustained usage of the first person plural (without alternation with first-person singular) in Acts, and a third is the lack of identification of the ‘we’ character in Acts, but who is identified in the Odyssey, occurring as part of a flashback technique unparalleled in the book of Acts. Thus, the usage of the first-person plural in Acts is without apparent parallel in at least the sources that Pervo has surveyed.”

Porter, op. cit., page 19.

As for Vernon Robbins, his theory was dealt an exhaustively fatal blow by Peter Kirby, here, and I have focused on other deficiencies in his theory, here.

Good Greek As Evidence of Cheating?

Neil also offers the odd suggestion that Luke is “cheating” and has “borrowed” Acts 27 from someone else because Pervo notes that the Greek is at its best in this part of Acts. This is a flawed methodology which would rob all the works of antiquity of their best parts if applied globally. It is also, as Neil admits, not a claim made by Pervo. Moreover, given that GrecoRoman education would have emphasized how to write sea narratives, it is not surprising that Luke follows that education here. Moreover, as Witherington notes, “with Paul in a situation familiar to he readers of classical literature, Luke resorts to more classical Greek.” Witherington, The Acts of the Apostle, page 75. There is no mystery here, unless one is intent on finding it.

Alexander's Comparative Analysis

A concluding problem I found in Neil's analysis is that he never really engages Alexander's argument. Alexander is perfectly aware of the sea voyage accounts in other literary works of her time. She also appears to know that there are some parallels. It was the intent of her work to consider the density of specific nautical and geographical references and knowledge in Acts and compare it with the kind of specificity we find in ancient literature. She finds that it is unlike that of the ancient novels. Having read many ancient novels, I would agree with her. So to do other scholars. Neil has no response to that except a few anecdotes, yet that is the heart of her case.

This is Part II of a response to Neil Godfrey concerning the genre of Acts.

Neil claims that “storm and shipwreck stories were a staple of ancient adventure writings. Historians had no need to liven up their material with a shipwreck, but composers of fiction did, often enough to inspire parodies. (Pervo, p.51). Historians liked to include as set pieces accounts of sieges or orations for dead soldiers, not shipwrecks.” Neil then proceeds to list several supposed examples of “ancient adventures” that use ship wrecks.

In Part I, I showed that historians certainly did have reason to liven up their material with a shipwreck. They, like novelists, were expected to make their accounts exciting. Where, as with Paul, we know that shipwrecks actually happened to the person being written about it should not be surprising that an ancient historian would pick at least one to recount in more detail. And, obviously it would seem, because there are no battles in Acts, it is rather silly to claim the author would have included accounts of sieges or orations for dead soldiers in his book to add spice. Acts is an account of how the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Rome, striking deep into the heart of the Pagan world despite powerful opposition.

There Is No Genre of "Ancient Adventure Writings"

More to the point of this post is the fact that there simply is no genre of “ancient adventures.” The list Neil has lifted from Richard Pervo is not from one genre, but many. He includes Roman, Greek, Pagan, Christian, and Jewish literature. From these traditions he cites Tragedies, Plays, Poetry, Romances, History, Satire, Jewish Prophetic Literature, Comedy, and, Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Given the list’s literary diversity, it is useless as a means of establishing one literary phenomenon supposedly restricted to one genre. There simply is no magic formula, such as A = Fiction, that can be gleaned from such a broad array of writings. The problem here, and it is fatal, is one of methodology. Moreover, Neil and Pervo cast their net too widely in their search for supposedly parallel accounts. As Stanley Porter explains:

The way Pervo cites the Apocryphal Acts and other texts verges on parallelomania. He is engaging in what appears to be a piling-on of sources that have parallel elements, but are of highly questionable value when analyzed more closely. Most of the supposed similar elements can be paralleled in ancient historians besides novelists, and their use in the ancient novels is not treated in the same way as it is in Acts. The result is an uncontrolled use of purported parallel accounts. For example, not only does Pervo overstate the importance and significance of the shipwreck motif, present in the part in the ‘we’ passages, but he gives a distorted view of its relationship to Acts in the ancient novels. He claims to show that the major features of the convention of the shipwreck appear in Acts. In the parallels that he cites from the ancient novelists, however, not one of the sources he cites has all of the features that Acts does. His model of the shipwreck is apparently his own reconstruction of this type, and not one found in ancient literature in the kind of detail that he claims, or that is necessary to establish the validity of the parallel. (One could legitimately ask the further question of how many of these features are ‘literary’ and how many are required simply to relate the account of a shipwreck). In her study, Praeder, after comparison of ancient sea voyage accounts, concludes that these accounts are quite varied in style and approach, with none of them a true parallel with the accounts in Acts 27-28. She concludes, ‘Thus the fact that Acts 27:1-8 and 28:11-16 are travelogues is no guarantee of their literary genre, reliability or unreliability, or purpose in Acts 27:1-28:16.

Stanley Porter, Paul in Acts, page 18.

Sea Voyage Narratives, Including Shipwrecks, Were Used by Ancient Historians

As Porter alludes to above, Pervo and Neil are simply wrong when they claim that sea voyage narratives were not used by ancient historians. Such narratives were in fact written by some of the leading historians of classical times. Indeed, rhetorical training taught the narration of sea voyages and shipwrecks across the board, including for use in histories. As Professors Talber and Hayes remind us, the writing of exciting sea voyages was a widespread part of rhetorical training. Charles H. Talbert and J. H. Hayes, “A Theology of Sea Storms in Luke-Acts”, in Jesus and the Heritage of Israel, pages 269-70. Moreover, “[s]ome of these sea stories functioned merely as a record of historical events (e.g., Tacitus, Annals 2.23-24); others served primarily as entertainment (e.g., Petronius, Satyricon 114). Certain narratives, however, taught either theological or moral lessons.” Id.

This, of course, does not deny the influence that the Odyssey may have had on Acts. Historians would have been smart to use such elements of one of the most popular literatary work of the time – the Odyssey -- to appeal to their audience. As Professor Witherington notes,

That Luke’s account of the journey to Rome is a lively one, no one would dispute. That such accounts, having been influenced by the Odyssey (5.291-332; 9.62-81; 12:.201-303) and the later ones by the Aenied (1.44-153), where staple items in ancient Hellenistic novels or romances is also beyond question…. But as Johnson rightly points out, such tales were also not uncommon in historical works in Greek (cf., e.g., Thucydides, Pelop. 2.6.26; 6.20.104; 8.24.31; 8.24.34; Herodotus, Pers. Wars 3.138; 7.188). The presence of such material in Acts then gives us no sure clue to the genre of this work and to whether it is largely history or fiction.


Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostle, page 755.

The scholars listed above have already offered some citations to historical works that narrated sea voyages and shipwrecks. There are others. In fact, there are many examples of ancient historians narrating sea voyages, including storms and shipwrecks and rescues.

The Roman historian Tacitus in Annals describes the voyage of several of Caesar’s ships under initially calm conditions that turn into a violent storm, terrorizing crew and passengers, and wrecking ships. Tacitus then describes the rescue of several who had been lost in the sea. Tacitus, Annals 2.23-24. Tacitus’ account is quite vivid, describing “a hailstorm bursting from a black mass of clouds, while the waves rolled hither and thither under tempestuous gales from every quarter,” noting that the passengers were “terrorstricken and without any experience of disasters on the sea,” telling how ships were “swallowed up” or “wrecked on distant islands” and decscribing a rescue operation by which “[m]any by that means were recovered.”

Josephus also writes about a personal experience he had on a sea voyage. He wrotes about how in his own harrowing sea tale his ship, bound for Rome, sank. He and his fellow travelers were in the sea for more than a day until Josephus and some others were rescued. Life. Josephus writes of the many “hazards of the sea” and how he and his companions “swam for our lives all the night” but that Josephus and some others were saved by a passing ship “by God's providence.”

In addition to the accounts in Tacitus’ Annals and Josephus’s Life, there are other examples of sea voyages and shipwrecks narrated by ancient historians: Thucydides (leading Greek historian), Pelop. 2.6.26; 6.20.104; 8.24.31; 8.24.34; Herodotus (Greek historian known as the “father of history”), Pers. Wars 3.138; 7.188; Polybius (leading Greek historian), Histories 1.37; Quintus Curtius Rufius, History of Alexander, 4.3.16-18; and Josephus, Jewish War 1.279-80 (leading Jewish historian). Given that classics are not my field and I came up with this list in one day, there are likely other examples from other ancient historians. But in this list are the most famous of the Greek, Roman, and Jewish historians.

I would add that, to Luke, the story of Jonah would have been a historical episode rather than a fictitious narrative. Significantly, this would also have been true of a harrowing sea voyage that Luke had already written about (Luke 8:22-2). So these are additional “historical” accounts that could have motivated Luke to incorporate a sea-voyage narrative in Acts.

Conclusion

Neil’s attempt to group all ancient narratives of sea voyages into a genre of “ancient adventure writings” indicating that all such are fiction completely fails. There was no such genre and his attempts to cram in quite disparate writings to demonstrate one are misplaced. MNeil's claim that ancient historians had no interest in narrating sea voyages likewise completely fails. Several historians did, often with gusto. Thus, the inclusion of a vivid sea-voyage narrative in Acts is no grounds for claiming that the account, or Acts, is a work of fiction.

A friend of mine brought to my attention yet another attempt to argue that Acts was some sort of ancient fiction. Usually this allegation claims Acts is an ancient romance novel, but Neil Godfrey does not seem to be that precise. He is supposedly reacting to the arguments of Loveday Alexander, but apparently has not read the arguments nor does he really engage them. His entire case seems to rest on the vivid nature of the narrative of a sea voyage in Acts 27. If you want to read a full treatment of the issue of Acts’ genre, date, authorship, and historicity, see my article on Acts, here. However, I thought it worth a few blog posts to respond. This is Part 1 and it will address the purpose of the Acts 27 narrative in Acts. I will address Neil’s other arguments in later posts.

Neil asks why “the author” of Acts devotes “60 verses on this story.” Obviously, because the current verse/numbering system was introduced in the middle-ages, the author did not have any particular number of verses in mind. But he obviously knew that he was writing a detailed and vivid account; more so than for any of the other sea voyages in Acts. For Neil, the only offered answer is that such narratives “were a staple of ancient adventure writings.” Setting this erroneous claim aside for the moment – there is no such genre as “ancient adventure writings” as I will explain in Part II – are there any other possible explanations as to why Luke chose to write such an account in this particular part of Acts?

Yes. In fact, there is more than one possible explanation.

1. Ancient Historians Wrote to Entertain

Neil and Pervo are simply wrong that a writer of ancient history would have no interest in writing an exciting narrative of a sea voyage. Indeed, writing to entertain the audience is one of the characteristics of the ancient history genre. As Professor Mason explains, “[h]istorians of the period were also obligated to make their narratives exciting and ‘delightful.’” Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, page 264. This element of the genre was well known in ancient times. In How to Write History, Lucian noted that historians should write “what will interest and instruct” their audience. § 53 (emphasis added). The author of 2 Maccabees tells his audience that he was writing “to provide for the entertainment of those who read for pleasure, the convenience of students who must commit the facts to memory, and the profit of even the casual readers.” 2 Mac. 2:25.

Professor Soards points to additional examples of such historiography that Pervo overlooks or downplays:

[S]cholars have long recognized that one of the goals of ancient historians was to please their readers. . . . The presence of entertaining or pleasing elements in an ancient work does not automatically mean that it is not history. Yet Pervo takes this position. He is able to do so largely by ignoring this characteristic in ancient historiography–for example, it is remarkable that while Pervo mentions Thucydides (only!) five times in his study, he completely ignores Herodotus, “The Father of History,” who writes in a lively, engaging, entertaining, and even fantastic manner–not unlike the author of Acts. Similarly, Pervo refers several times to Lucian of Samosata and Xenophon of Ephesus, but he brings Dionysis of Halicarnassus into the study only twice; Polybius, once; and Sallus, three times. Many–perhaps most or all–the common characteristics Pervo identified between Acts and the ancient novel may be located in these ancient historians whom Pervo basically ignores.

Marion L. Soards, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 58.2 (Summer 1990), pages 307-10.

So, historians and novelists would have shared an interest in portraying a sea voyage in an exciting way. And as I will show in my next post on this topic, many historians did just that.

2. The Exoneration of Paul

The most extensively argued theory on the purpose of Acts 27 I have encountered is that Acts 27 was written to exonerate Paul. Charles H. Talbert and J.J. Hayes, “A Theology of Sea Storms in Luke-Acts,” Jesus and the Heritage of Israel, pages 267-283. Paul was a man accused on many fronts. Many of his fellow Jews accused him of blasphemy. Some of his fellow Christians accused him of lawlessness. Some Greek and Roman authorities accused him of disturbing the peace or of teaching false gods. Additionally, Paul had experienced more mundane travails, such as poor health and shipwrecks.

This was a problem because some would see these troubles as portents of divine disfavor. To dissuade such concerns, Acts shows that Paul is innocent of these charges. Just prior to Acts 27, Acts demonstrates Paul’s innocence, before men, of violating Jewish and Roman law. In Acts 27, Acts shows Paul’s innocence before God. Luke is careful to emphasize that the storm faced by the crew was a natural one (not sent by God), while also emphasizing that Paul’s survival was a result of God’s intervention; prompted by God’s favor. Thus, Paul stands innocent as proclaimed by man and by God. Id.

Brian Rapske puts it this way:

Luke’s object at Acts 28f. is to recount the actual events of a rough sea journey and shipwreck in a manner which helpfully addresses what would have been their troubling theological implications to a reader who knows a Paul of distressing experiences and mixed reputation. To this end, Luke furnishes his readers in the record of a divine assurance at Acts 27:23f. the hermeneutical tool by which known Pauline difficulties—storm, the threat of summary execution, the shipwreck, and the snakebite—may be accurately deciphered. These actual experiences, when properly interpreted by this key, indicate that neither the messenger nor his message is disqualified.

Brian M. Rapske, “Acts, Travel and Shipwreck,” in The Book of Acts in its GraecoRoman Setting, page 46.

3. Reinforcing the Claim to Authorial Participation

Acts 27 also served to validate Luke’s claim to being a serious historian. Participation in the events about which a historian wrote was a credibility enhancer. No doubt Luke would have liked to have inserted himself in his first book, The Gospel of Luke, but since he was not there he could not do so. He could, however, stake this claim in his second book, The Acts of the Apostles, by writing an exciting sea voyage in vivid detail, claiming throughout by the use of the first-person plural that he was present. As Witherington writes, “the Greek historical tradition emphasized the importance of travel, investigation, and eyewitness participation and testimony. For the sake of the credibility of his work as a piece of Greek history writing, at some point Luke needed to be able not merely to claim but demonstrate that he had participated in at least some of the events he chronicled.” Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, page 755.

4. Supernatural Spread of the Gospel

Another theory is that Luke intended to show that God’s word prevailed through incredible hardship. F.F. Bruce articulates this view when he agrees with Henry Chadwick, “who sees in this detailed narrative the author’s emphasis on the divine determination that Paul’s purpose of seeing Rome should be fulfilled, despite all the circumstances that rendered his ever getting there extremely improbable. ‘For the author of Acts the preaching of the apostle to the Gentiles in the capital of the Gentile world is a supernatural fact’”. F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, pages 509-10.

Conclusion

Nothing about any of these purposes precludes Acts 27 from being an eye-witness account, as the author claims it is and the early readers of Acts understood it to be. Additionally, it is most likely that more than one motivation is at work. As Luke was nearing the end of the second of his two volume work, he apparently decided to build to a climax, holding the attention of his readers and preparing them for the end. This made his work more likely to be read and served the interest of entertaining his audience, as historians were supposed to do. It also demonstrated that despite all the opposition – from man and nature – that Paul had experienced, he was still acting as God’s instrument in spreading the Gospel. A Gospel that no amount of opposition could stop from reaching even the capital of Paganism, Rome.

In short, Acts 27 is an entertaining account that educates the audience about the author's status as a historian and about Paul's mission and the spread of the Gospel.

At the time of the last update regarding the James Ossuary, several co-defendants had pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and the trial of Oded Golan -- owner of the James Ossuary -- had begun. (It should be noted that the co-defendants who plead guilty to fraud were apparently not involved in the possession or presentation of the James Ossuary and most were not connected to Mr. Golan). An expert witness for the prosecution had caused a stir by testifying that the James Ossuary was authentic. There was also talk of a picture of the James Ossuary dating from the 70's showing the inscription on it.

Now that almost ten months have passed, where does the trial stand?

The Pictures

The rumor about pictures dating from the 70's appear to be true. At least, copies of the pictures were given to the press and they will be submitted as evidence during the trial. However, can you see the inscription on the pictures and are they themselves authentic? Here is how Haartez describes the pictures:

In the defense's photographs, dated 1976, the ossuary is shown on a shelf, apparently in Golan's home. In an enlargement, the whole inscription can be seen with great difficulty. The photo was examined by Gerald Richard, a former FBI agent and an expert for the defense. Richard testified that "Nothing was noted that would indicate or suggest that they were not produced in March 1976 as indicated on the stamps appearing on the reverse side of each print."

So, the pictures may be authentic. But if they are, how do they help Mr. Golan's case? The argument is that no one would forge the inscription in 1976 and then wait almost 30 years to try and profit from it. This makes some sense and may play havoc with the prosecution's time line. This is all the more problematic because the indictment accuses Mr. Golan of forging part of the inscription "recently."

It should also be noted that there may be an extra incentive for forging pictures of the purported forged inscription. Not only does it help Mr. Golan's case, but the law in Israel states that any antiquities found after 1978 are the property of the state.

The Pantina

Pantina is a chemical compound that is often found on ancient artifacts and can be useful in dating objects or testing their authenticity. It has become an issue in the James Ossuary trial because the prosecution admits that most of the inscription on the ossuary is genuine, but alleges that Mr. Golan added, "brother of Jesus" to make the connection to the biblical James. If this is true, one would expect the pantina formation on "brother of Jesus" to be of more recent origin. Apparently, a prosecution witness -- Prof. Yuval Goren -- admitted on cross-examination that there is "genuine ancient patina" on two letters of the name "Jesus" on the ossuary. This would count against a modern forgery.

A Connection to the Jesus Tomb?

Perhaps the most remarkable but least trustworthy news lately about the James Ossuary is that it actually came from the sensationalized Jesus Tomb. James Cameron's "special" made this allegation. In fact, the Jesus Tomb theory itself has fallen apart and is not taken seriously by the academic community and the connection with the James Ossuary is even more tenuous. In short, there is nothing to the claim. For more, just search for Jesus Tomb and BK's posts on the subject will bring you up to speed.

Why is it Taking so Darn Long?

Oded Golan was indicted in December 2004. Trial was supposed to begin on May 19, 2005, but was delayed until September 4, 2005, after the defense complained that the prosecution produced evidence on the eve of trial. So we are two years plus five months from the indictment and over a year and a half from the beginning of trial. In the United States, once a trial starts, it generally continues more or less consecutively and rarely lasts more than a few weeks. Not so in Israel.

Probably the key factor in the length of this trial is the lack of a jury. The judge will decide the issue (as is the rule in Israel). In my experience, this leads to longer trials not shorter (in calendar days, not necessarily in court hours). With a jury there is always the pressure to get it done so the 14 jurors (usually there are two alternates) can get back to there lives. Not so with judges. Especially this judge, apparently. The trial plan was for the judge to hear witnesses on two days for each of the first six months. The initial plan called for 126 prosecution witnesses, which at the rate they were proceeding would have put the trial at lasting between 10 and 15 years. No one expects it to take that long, but that should give you an idea of why this is taking so long.

An interesting article entitled Religion Is Good for Kids is available on Fox News. According to the article:

Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.

The conflict that arises when parents regularly argue over their faith at home, however, has the opposite effect.

John Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociologist and his colleagues asked the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 kids, most of them first-graders, to rate how much self control they believed the kids had, how often they exhibited poor or unhappy behavior and how well they respected and worked with their peers.

The researchers compared these scores to how frequently the children’s parents said they attended worship services, talked about religion with their child and argued abut religion in the home.

The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services — especially when both parents did so frequently — and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.

Personally, I don't find this surprising at all. But then, I'm sure our atheist friends will disagree.

The two detectives stood around the body lying supine on the floor. "Well, what'dya think?" the first inquired in a voice coarse from too many cigarettes.

The second, a large, younger broad-shouldered man with jet black hair looked over his notes. "While the crime lab needs to take some samples, I think it's pretty clear that the victim was poisoned. I think we need to bring the business partner in for questioning. He had a strong motive and he was seen in the area within half an hour of the time of the murder."

"I agree," the rumpled older detective muttered. "Ya' better . . . aw, crap. Here comes Dawdins."

A third detective with bright, alert eyes and wispy grey hair entered the room. "Parsons. Anderson," he said, addressing the two detectives by name. "Guess we're done here, eh? Let's call the morgue and let them clean the place up."

Parsons, the older detective, looked at Dawdins incredulously. "Done? What the hell are you talking about? There's been a murder. We have a lot of investigating ta' do if we hope to identify the murderer."

"Nonsense," Dawdins retorted. "The man obviously died accidentally. There's no murderer to be discovered."

"No murderer?" Anderson was now becoming animated, raising his large frame up in a show of intimidation. "How can you so callously proclaim that there's no murderer?"

Dawdins was nonplussed. "Look, do you think that his wife is the murderer?"

"No," said Parsons, "his wife is in Sacramento on business."

"How about his son? Is he the murderer?" Dawdins pressed.

"No," said Parsons, "the son is in the military serving in Korea."

"What about his secretary? Is she the murderer?"

"No," Anderson chimed in, "she can't be the murderer. She has an air-tight alibi."

"There you have it," Parsons concluded. "You ask how I can think there's no murderer. In fact, you don't think any of the other thousand possible people I could name are murderers. So, really, I just think there's one fewer murderer than you do."

Last night, Richard Dawkins made a brief appearance on Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News. During an early moment in the conversation, O'Reilly is talking to Dawkins about the fact that he had faith of a sort (in atheism) and Dawkins, in his usual lame way, pulled out the old standby of "I believe in just one fewer god than you." Of course, this is a standard rhetorical tool used by atheists. In fact, I find it always so interesting when so many of the self-styled free thinkers all say the same thing like this. But what's really interesting about the "I just believe in one fewer god than you" argument is how hopelessly flawed it is.

When someone makes this argument the first counter should be, "so what?" I mean, what does saying "I believe in one fewer god than you," prove? Does it prove that there's no God? As my little dialogue above illustrates, it really doesn't prove anything. Just because I don't think that Zeus is god or that Odin is god or that Brahma is god doesn't mean that there isn't a God. All it shows is that we are in agreement that those other entities (whether real or mythical) aren't God. It does nothing to prove that there isn't really a God any more than establishing the wife, son and secretary aren't the murderer proves that there isn't a murderer.

Second, the argument would make more sense if the entire argument for the existence of God was that we should have blind faith. Then the argument could show that if I don't have blind faith in one god then there really isn't any reason to hold blind faith in another. But the Christian faith is not a religion of blind faith. It is a religion that calls on people to "come and see". It calls on people to look at its claim and evidence in its entirety. In other words, it gives reason to believe that God exists and that Jesus is His one and only Son. When a person tries to put belief in Zeus or Odin on the same level as belief in Jesus or the God of Christianity it simply demonstrates how little they understand Christianity or the truth claims that it makes.

Third, there aren't really thousands of other gods that are taken seriously, and anyone who sees religions as the same except that they have "different gods" has a very childish grasp religious belief. Sure, a thousand and more years ago some people believed in Ishtar and Odin and Zeus, but only a handful of people (if any) really give those types of religions credence today because, unlike Christianity, they don't ring true. C.S. Lewis addressed this question back in 1945 in an essay entitled "Christian Apologetics" when he made the following observation:

For my own part, I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn't really, for an adult mind, an infinite variety of religions to consder. We may salva reverentia divide religions, as we do soups, into 'thick' and 'clear'. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I eman those which are philosophical, ethcical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now, if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hindusim and Christianity.


Additionally, many atheists use this to try to give the impression that there is little difference between believing in one God and holding no belief in God. But there is a much larger difference between atheism and theism than there is between those who believe in different gods. The believer in Brahma, Allah, and Jesus, while differing in important ways, all believe in the fact that there is a supernatural reality that is beyond scientific measurement. A person who rejects all gods lacks any belief or comprehension of the supernatural -- in fact, they almost certainly reject the idea that the supernatural realm exists at all. That is a huge leap that many people, especially those who have experienced the supernatural, cannot and should not make.

To me, this infantile argument about believing in one fewer god is repeated time and again in the "freethinker" echo chamber (together with the flying spaghetti monster and the "Jesus Myth"-myth), yet it proves nothing. It is mere piece of rhetoric that Christians need to be better equipped to identify and critique.

Last week, of course, the United States Supreme Court upheld the legislative ban passed by both Houses of Congress banning the practice of DNX abortions, more commonly called Partial Birth Abortion. In the vote, it is useful to remember that the Senate supported the ban by a vote of 64 to 34 and in the House of Representative the ban passed by a vote of 282-139. Both of these votes show strong agreement with the measure.

So, what did the measure say? The precatory language at the outset of the measure speaks volumes:

(1) A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion--an abortion in which a physician deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living, unborn child's body until either the entire baby's head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby's trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb, for the purpose of performing an overt act (usually the puncturing of the back of the child's skull and removing the baby's brains) that the person knows will kill the partially delivered infant, performs this act, and then completes delivery of the dead infant--is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.

(2) Rather than being an abortion procedure that is embraced by the medical community, particularly among physicians who routinely perform other abortion procedures, partial-birth abortion remains a disfavored procedure that is not only unnecessary to preserve the health of the mother, but in fact poses serious risks to the long-term health of women and in some circumstances, their lives. As a result, at least 27 States banned the procedure as did the United States Congress which voted to ban the procedure during the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses.

* * *

(13) There exists substantial record evidence upon which Congress has reached its conclusion that a ban on partial-birth abortion is not required to contain a 'health' exception, because the facts indicate that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman's health, and lies outside the standard of medical care. Congress was informed by extensive hearings held during the 104th, 105th, 107th, and 108th Congresses and passed a ban on partial-birth abortion in the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses. These findings reflect the very informed judgment of the Congress that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman's health, and lies outside the standard of medical care, and should, therefore, be banned.

(14) Pursuant to the testimony received during extensive legislative hearings during the 104th, 105th, 107th, and 108th Congresses, Congress finds and declares that:

(A) Partial-birth abortion poses serious risks to the health of a woman undergoing the procedure. Those risks include, among other things: An increase in a woman's risk of suffering from cervical incompetence, a result of cervical dilation making it difficult or impossible for a woman to successfully carry a subsequent pregnancy to term; an increased risk of uterine rupture, abruption, amniotic fluid embolus, and trauma to the uterus as a result of converting the child to a footling breech position, a procedure which, according to a leading obstetrics textbook, 'there are very few, if any, indications for * * * other than for delivery of a second twin'; and a risk of lacerations and secondary hemorrhaging due to the doctor blindly forcing a sharp instrument into the base of the unborn child's skull while he or she is lodged in the birth canal, an act which could result in severe bleeding, brings with it the threat of shock, and could ultimately result in maternal death.

(B) There is no credible medical evidence that partial-birth abortions are safe or are safer than other abortion procedures. No controlled studies of partial-birth abortions have been conducted nor have any comparative studies been conducted to demonstrate its safety and efficacy compared to other abortion methods. Furthermore, there have been no articles published in peer-reviewed journals that establish that partial-birth abortions are superior in any way to established abortion procedures. Indeed, unlike other more commonly used abortion procedures, there are currently no medical schools that provide instruction on abortions that include the instruction in partial-birth abortions in their curriculum.

(C) A prominent medical association has concluded that partial-birth abortion is 'not an accepted medical practice', that it has 'never been subject to even a minimal amount of the normal medical practice development,' that 'the relative advantages and disadvantages of the procedure in specific circumstances remain unknown,' and that 'there is no consensus among obstetricians about its use'. The association has further noted that partial-birth abortion is broadly disfavored by both medical experts and the public, is 'ethically wrong,' and 'is never the only appropriate procedure'.

(D) Neither the plaintiff in Stenberg v. Carhart, nor the experts who testified on his behalf, have identified a single circumstance during which a partial-birth abortion was necessary to preserve the health of a woman.

(E) The physician credited with developing the partial-birth abortion procedure has testified that he has never encountered a situation where a partial-birth abortion was medically necessary to achieve the desired outcome and, thus, is never medically necessary to preserve the health of a woman.

(F) A ban on the partial-birth abortion procedure will therefore advance the health interests of pregnant women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

(G) In light of this overwhelming evidence, Congress and the States have a compelling interest in prohibiting partial-birth abortions. In addition to promoting maternal health, such a prohibition will draw a bright line that clearly distinguishes abortion and infanticide, that preserves the integrity of the medical profession, and promotes respect for human life.

(H) Based upon Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), a governmental interest in protecting the life of a child during the delivery process arises by virtue of the fact that during a partial-birth abortion, labor is induced and the birth process has begun. This distinction was recognized in Roe when the Court noted, without comment, that the Texas parturition statute, which prohibited one from killing a child 'in a state of being born and before actual birth,' was not under attack. This interest becomes compelling as the child emerges from the maternal body. A child that is completely born is a full, legal person entitled to constitutional protections afforded a 'person' under the United States Constitution. Partial-birth abortions involve the killing of a child that is in the process, in fact mere inches away from, becoming a 'person'. Thus, the government has a heightened interest in protecting the life of the partially-born child.

(I) This, too, has not gone unnoticed in the medical community, where a prominent medical association has recognized that partial-birth abortions are 'ethically different from other destructive abortion techniques because the fetus, normally twenty weeks or longer in gestation, is killed outside of the womb'. According to this medical association, the 'partial birth' gives the fetus an autonomy which separates it from the right of the woman to choose treatments for her own body'.

(J) Partial-birth abortion also confuses the medical, legal, and ethical duties of physicians to preserve and promote life, as the physician acts directly against the physical life of a child, whom he or she had just delivered, all but the head, out of the womb, in order to end that life. Partial-birth abortion thus appropriates the terminology and techniques used by obstetricians in the delivery of living children--obstetricians who preserve and protect the life of the mother and the child--and instead uses those techniques to end the life of the partially-born child.

(K) Thus, by aborting a child in the manner that purposefully seeks to kill the child after he or she has begun the process of birth, partial-birth abortion undermines the public's perception of the appropriate role of a physician during the delivery process, and perverts a process during which life is brought into the world, in order to destroy a partially-born child.

(L) The gruesome and inhumane nature of the partial-birth abortion procedure and its disturbing similarity to the killing of a newborn infant promotes a complete disregard for infant human life that can only be countered by a prohibition of the procedure.

(M) The vast majority of babies killed during partial-birth abortions are alive until the end of the procedure. It is a medical fact, however, that unborn infants at this stage can feel pain when subjected to painful stimuli and that their perception of this pain is even more intense than that of newborn infants and older children when subjected to the same stimuli. Thus, during a partial-birth abortion procedure, the child will fully experience the pain associated with piercing his or her skull and sucking out his or her brain.

(N) Implicitly approving such a brutal and inhumane procedure by choosing not to prohibit it will further coarsen society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life, making it increasingly difficult to protect such life. Thus, Congress has a compelling interest in acting--indeed it must act--to prohibit this inhumane procedure.

(O) For these reasons, Congress finds that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother; is in fact unrecognized as a valid abortion procedure by the mainstream medical community; poses additional health risks to the mother; blurs the line between abortion and infanticide in the killing of a partially-born child just inches from birth; and confuses the role of the physician in childbirth and should, therefore, be banned.
The pro-abortion community, led by Planned Parenthood (which has a clear financial stake in the continuing practice of abortion) responded in a . . . well, typical way for them. They continue to pound the table about the fact that decisions such as this should best be left to the discretion of a woman and her doctor. Consider the following from Abortion foes rejoice, abortion rights advocate glum:

Julie Mickelson, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta, said it injects politics into decisions that should be for women and their doctors to make, in a state where women seeking abortions already have problems.

Or consider Supreme Court abortion ruling draws local criticism, praise

Eve Gardner of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who argued in front of the justices to allow partial birth abortions, was disappointed by the decision.

"This ruling flies in the face of 30 years of Supreme Court precedent and the best interest of women's health and safety," Gardner said. "This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them"

It is like a broken record that ignores the basis on which the law was passed in the first place. Congress held extensive hearings on this issue and found, almost without exception, that this horrendous procedure is never medically necessary! In such circumstances, it doesn't matter what the doctor says -- the legislative body that is charged with the responsibility under the police power to safeguard the health, safety and morality of the United States -- has determined that this particular procedure is "brutal and inhumane", serves no legitimate medical purpose, and compromises the medical profession. Moreover, at minimum, it broaches the line that separates abortion from infanticide (in my humble opinion, it goes way over the line, but that's another story). Congress has the right, power and responsiblity to act to prevent this procedure -- even if some rogue doctor thinks contrary to the findings that this procedure may be the best suited to his patient.

It seems to me that if the logic of the pro-abortion community were carried to its logical extreme, they would have to support the right of a woman and her doctor to amputate the woman's arms to treat stomach cancer because that is a private medical decision between a woman and her doctor. Hogwash! If the medical treatment recommended by the physician has been found to never be medically necessary and is barbaric, then the Congress has the right to ban it in its entirety.

Really, the pro-abortion community needs to get a new template for arguing on this point because their repeated claims that this is a decision that should be left between the woman and her doctor in light of the proponderance of evidence that the "treatment" is never medically necessary and is both inhumane and brutal appears to be a pathetic half-effort to defend the indefensible.

A few weeks ago, Layman began a discussion concerning some difficult claims, disputed to some degree among various schools of Christian theology. The record of this discussion so far can be found here and here and here.

In the second round of discussion, I was asked by Puritan Lad (one of the other regular contributors to that discussion), to explain if I could the case of Absalom, son of David. PL’s contention was that Absalom counts as an example of someone pre-determined by God to do things for which God would then hopelessly damn him. (At least, if this was not PL’s intention, then bringing up Absalom’s case would be kind of useless, since this is the topic we were discussing at the time. {s}) Specifically, PL asked me to explain (tacitly meaning explain in another way, if I could), the prediction testified to in 2 Samuel 12:11-12.

At the time, I opted to answer as well as I could according to principle, rather than according to story context, seeing as how principle would be of more immediate importance, besides which I was (at that time) engaged in editing and posting a complex (though thankfully previously composed {s!}) series of harmonization entries concerning the final 80 days (more or less) of Jesus’ earthly ministry. So, being already deeply engaged in one story-context project, and realizing that trying to answer along _both_ lines I would only double the length of what was necessarily a long comment on principle anyway, I deferred until a more opportune time.

Having finished posting my larger Easter project, then, and having rested for a week or so--now is a more opportune time. {g!}

Besides which, I decided I would prefer to wait until I finished telling the story (according to the scriptures) of one Son of David hanging on a tree, pierced by a spear; before going into detail about the story (according to the scriptures) of another son of David hanging on a tree, pierced by a spear.

To begin with, then: Absalom _was_ alive when the prediction given by Nathan in 2 Sam (as referred to by PL) happened, and was already of the age of a warrior. (This is incidentally a reply to the contention that God made this decision _for_ Absalom, _before_ Absalom’s birth.)

Not long after the Bathsheba incident, for which sin God had promised to punish David as reported in the scripture referenced by PL, Absalom's sister Tamor was assaulted and raped by their half-brother Amnon (same father, different mother). Instead of taking immediate revenge (despite the public anger of David against Amnon) Absalom bided his time and carefully waited over two years until he could slay Amnon in revenge in a fashion that wouldn't start a civil war among the sons. This occurred not very long after the birth of Solomon.

In order to avoid the expected wrath of David (and the definite wrath of the other sons of David), Absalom fled to Geshur, and remained there for three years. But David wasn't angry with Absalom, and in fact was comforted that Absalom had arranged a proper punishment for Amnon that wouldn't involve civil war. Still, neither did David invite Absalom to return for three years, until a prophetess from Tekoa (put up by Absalom's friend Joab ben Zeruiah) played a role very similar to Nathan in encouraging David to summon back Absalom.

(Incidentally, this woman is rather interesting. She is evidently not a Jew, for she constantly speaks of the Lord being _David's_ God, and is not exactly giving prophecy--more like Joab hired her to give wisdom to the king. Even so, she knows and respects YHWH by reputation at least, and speaks along lines she expects David to accept; and one of the arguments she gives, which David does accept as being a right description of YHWH, is this: that in not bringing back his banished son, David is not properly representing YHWH to the people. "For we shall surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does _not_ take away life, but plans devices so that the banished one may not remain cast out from Him!" Be that as it may.)

David then summons Absalom to return from exile; yet at the last minute as Absalom is approaching, David makes a decision (political expediency is strongly implied by previous story context) to prevent Absalom from even meeting him, much less returning to live with him.

After about two more years of living in this new effective exile, on property outside Jerusalem, Absalom decided enough was enough and instituted a long-range plan (running over the next four years) to stage a coup against David. David refused to fight the coup, essentially accepting that this was his punishment for what he had done regarding Uriah (the loyal husband whom David had had murdered in order to cover up his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and claim the woman for himself.)

When Absalom's troops invested Jerusalem (some of whom had come not realizing a coup was in progress), he sent for a chief among the priests, Ahithophel the Gilonite, one of David's trusted counselors--the story puts it this way, that "the advice of Ahithophel which he gave in those days was as if one had inquired of the Logos of God", i.e. he was treated as a prophet. This is how David had considered him, and how Absalom considered him as well.

Absalom inquired of Ahith, "Give me your advice, what shall I do now?" By story context, he is asking advice on helping cement the coup against David.

Ahith replied that Absalom should sexually take David's wives (ten concubines or secondary wives had been left behind by David in order to keep the court going in his absence--possibly for spying and intelligence purposes, too, as David clearly did in other regards such as leaving his counselor Hushai behind as an agent); and he instructed Absalom to make sure to do so publicly. In this way he would make himself 'odious' to David, i.e. David would not be able to negotiate with him (as this would be a symbolic way of making a public stance permanently against David in supplanting him). Consequently, the hands of those who were currently supporting Absalom would be strengthened--there would be no negotiation, it would be all or nothing now.

Which is what Absalom did, pitching the tent on the roof of the palace, so that everyone in Jerusalem (who cared to do so) could see that he was going into David's concubines.

And _THAT_ was the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy, back in 2 Sam 12:11-12, which was specifically given to be a mirror of what David had done in regard to Bathsheba and Uriah: "Thus says the Lord, 'Behold I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I Myself will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. You yourself did this, secretly; but _I_ will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun!'"


Now, should we focus on this having been done via God simply 'hardening' Absalom's heart?

The story is rather more nuanced than that, concerning the general coup: Absalom, who himself had waited several years in quiet to commit revenge against his brother, could have naturally thought that David's lack of action against him pro or con (the story puts Absalom's initial lack of action the same way) was intended to be a similar threat against him. And David chooses to keep the ban against his son, apparently for political expediency, _rather than_ doing justice and mercy for his son; this is also very strongly put in the story. The upshot is that this happens partly because David allows political expediency to get in the way of doing what he ought to have been doing as a servant and representative of God: working to bring the rebel child home in reconciliation!

In any case, nowhere in the story does it ever say that God even put anything into Absalom's heart, much less compelled Absalom to misbehave against David insofar as Absalom _was_ misbehaving. There was certainly some of that, too; but much of his side of the story involves wanting to have been treated fairly by his father for doing the right thing in regard to avenging Tamor with as little bloodshed as possible, and being upset that David wasn't rendering justice to him, and probably fearing (given the story contexts and emphases) that after all David was planning to murder him--something that David had already done once in secret by careful policy wrangling, remember. (Which is not-incidentally connected to _this_ story, via the prophecy of Nathan.)

As the story proceeds, David shows mercy to a man who had once served Saul, who treats David as a traitor and usurper constantly cursing him (indeed, David treats him in return as being perhaps a prophet!) More importantly, David is constantly instructing his troops to go easy on Absalom if they get the chance.

Interestingly, Joab, Absalom's friend (who knowing that David wanted the prince to return acted as mediator for the return) is given command of a third of David's troops. Despite being strictly charged by David _not_ to hurt Absalom when Absalom's forces pursue David's withdrawing army to a fortress past Jericho, instigating a battle, Joab insults a soldier for not taking advantage of Absalom's vulnerability (the prince having been caught by his famously dense hair when his mule ran under thick tree branches during the fight in the forests of Ephraim), and then goes himself and mortally wounds Absalom with spears, his bodyguards afterward hacking Absalom to death--while the son of David is hanging helplessly and in wrenching pain from that tree.

Now, does everyone rejoice and jump up and down that Absalom is dead? Yes, there is some of that at first--from the victorious troops anyway, routing the armies of northern Israel.

But does David the king rejoice in this?

_NO!_ Instead, his heart is entirely _for_ his rebellious son!--and when he learns that Absalom has died, he is greatly grieved and tries to go off in private to mourn, but the people can hear him wailing, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!!”

And the salvation of that day was turned to mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day that the king was grieved for his son; and they went by stealth into the city that day, as people who are humiliated steal away when they flee in battle...

...and yet, somehow, these millenia later, we are asked by some theologians, to look upon Absalom as an example of one who was driven by God to be _forsaken_ by God!!--the implication being that here is a man to whom _we_ should show no mercy, expecting no mercy to be shown to him by God!!

Yet David cried, “would that I had died instead of thee!”


Would we not do better, then, to show mercy in _our_ hearts to Absalom, as David himself would have had us do, had we been alive in that day?

And would we not do better, then, to see how the Son of David, God Incarnate, submitted to be hung _Himself_ on a tree, to be stabbed with a blade to the heart, mutilated by a corps of bodyguards--does He _not_, then, in doing so and dying, fulfill the cry of David?

Or shall we say that the Son of David, the Anointed King, the Word of God Incarnate, does _less_ in fulfilling all righteousness, than his father David the merely human king--the murderer and the adulterer?


I suggest, then, that a theologian had better be careful in bringing up Absalom as an example of one pre-damned by God.

For I perceive that the Son of David hung from a tree for the sake of the son of David--who hung from a tree.

If not for him, then not for me either,

the sinner.

.......


Thus says the Lord [proclaims the prophet Jeremiah]:
A voice is heard in Ramah [or on the height],
wailing and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refuses to be comforted
for her children
--for they are _not_!

Thus says the Lord,
“Restrain your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is reward for your painful labor
declares the Lord!

“And they
(that is, her children, who had been destroyed to the utmost death)
shall return from the land of the enemy
and there is hope for your future
declares the Lord!

“And your children shall return
to their own homeland!

“For, I have surely heard Ephraim sorrowing,
‘You have chastened me, and I was chastened
just like a rebellious calf!
Bring me back (cries Ephraim)
that I may be restored,
for _You_ are YHWH Adonai!

‘For now that I have turned back
I am filled with remorse (‘I repent’)
And now that I am made aware,
I _strike_ my thigh!!
I am ashamed and humiliated,
for I bear the reproach of my youth.’

“Ephraim--truly, to Me a dear son,
a child of joy!
I promise, as often as I have spoken against him,
I certainly _do_ remember him still!!
This is why My innermost heart
is yearning for him!
I certainly _will_ receive him back in merciful love!!”
declares the Lord.

Set up roadmarks for yourself,
put up guiding signs,
and keep in mind the highway,
the way by which you went!

Return, O maiden Israel!
Return to these your cities!
How long will you go here and there,
rebellious daughter?

For the Lord is doing a new thing in the earth:

a woman will encompass a man!

(Jeremiah 31:15-22; meaning of Hebrew in final phrase mysterious... how is it then that in encompassing a man, a woman shall do a new thing for God, involving the redemption and restoration of the beloved rebellious chastised son Ephraim...?)


Jason Pratt

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