bible study group preparing for bible aptitude test

The Onioni loved this story from the onion today:

ALBANY, GA—A local Bible study group led by 18-year-old Elna Parker has begun meeting more frequently and taking regular practice exams in preparation for the upcoming high-pressure Bible Aptitude Test. “The fact is, if you want to get into a good church these days, you have to do really well on your BATs,” Parker told reporters Wednesday as she flipped through a heavily highlighted King James Bible. “My cousin didn’t take them seriously, totally blew his Second Maccabees, and wound up in a Unitarian congregation.” Parker went on to say that the math section was a breeze, since it was all threes, sevens, and 12’s, but memorizing the 3,087 character names is where most people trip up.

info on the 2010 biblioblogger dinner in atlanta

Gibney's Irish Pub

Gibney's Irish Pub, Atlanta, GA

the 2010 biblioblogger gathering in atlanta this year will be held at gibney’s irish pub (map) on sunday night, november 21, 2010, at 6:45 pm. it’s less than a block away from the main sbl hotel, the hyatt regency atlanta, so los angeles bloggers have no excuse. a dinner menu is available here.

if you are a blogger, a reader of blogs, or are even thinking about blogs, and you blog about the bible, bible places, bible translations, ministry, religion, notes about religion, scripture, god, hebrew and technology, hebrew poetry, epigraphy, scribal practices, the church, christendom, nt interpretation, gnostic gospels, the ancient near east, the biblical worldarchaeology, the roman world, ancient world, christian origins, catholics, academia, total depravity, lost, debunking, palaeobabble, obscure english bands no one has ever heard of, stalin, tea, travel, technology and targums, politics and faith, education, higher ed, old stuff, abnormal stuff, random stuff, awesome stuff, clay stuff general musings, the cleverest things on the net relating to all of the above, or anything else, then you should be at gibney’s in atlanta on sunday, nov. 21 at 6:45 pm. come and go as you’d like, but that’s where we’ll be.

don’t miss the special guest appearance by all 80 of raphael golb’s aliases. and remember, if anyone asks, we’re all jeffrey gibson. ;-)

see you there.

the double standard

The sign of a modern, intellectual society is not its tolerance for free expressions of speech, but the consistency by which it tolerates various forms of free speech. Likewise, the sign of a sound faith in a credible system of beliefs is the manner in which it responds to criticism. Those that respond violently to questions and criticisms about their religious beliefs betray the uncertainty of their own convictions. However, those who entertain rational discourse and admit the inherent problems within all systems of beliefs demonstrate a confidence that unsettles many who insist upon their certitude.

ht: jim west

Quote of the Day: On Burning Books

Henry Jones“It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.” – Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (.wav)

Goose-stepping morons. That is perhaps the most appropriate term ever used to describe those who burn books. Be it a Bible, a Torah, a Talmud, a Qur’an, the Hadith, the Sruti, the Upanishads, the Adi Granth, the Tao Te Ching, the Kojiki, the Pali Canon, the Book of Mormon, the Ginza Rba, Dianetics, the Avesta, the U.S. Constitution, the Little Red Book, Mein Kampf, the Humanist Manifesto, or Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, YOU DON’T BURN BOOKS!

Of course you have the First Amendment right to burn a book a protest, but the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from looking like a bigoted fool. Burning Qur’ans to commemorate 9/11 is as foolish as Muslim extremists who burn the U.S. flag in protest of U.S. policy, or fundamentalist Christians who ban and burn their science textbooks because they teach evolution. You all look like idiots!

If you want to protest the behavior of an extremist, don’t become an extremist. If you want to exercise your First Amendment right to draw the face of the prophet Muhammad, or draw Jesus in a cartoon, OK, but remember that your act is designed to piss people off, and the less intelligent patient among us often take the bait and actually get pissed off. While it is true that radical Muslims exhibit a hypocritical double standard by becoming apoplectic at the desecration of a Qur’an while they burn the U.S. flag and label Christians and Jews “infidels,” you do not overcome bigotry by becoming one.

The Rev. Terry Jones and his 50-person band of disciples at the Dove World Outreach Center are no more representative of Christianity than al-Qaeda is of Islam. Likewise, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought to. And, while the First Amendment does not protect all speech (forgery, threats to personal safety, criminal impersonation, libel, defamation, etc.), it does protect one’s right to protest and demonstrate in a peaceful manner. Then again, the First Amendment also allows people to act like idiots.

The same First Amendment right that grants freedom of speech also grants the freedom to act like a fool.

a lesser-known (but better) model of social justice

Social JusticeI’d like to present the following text and ask that you consider it as a model for social justice.

When I passed through the city gates, To take my seat in the square,
Young men saw me and hid, Elders rose and stood;
Nobles held back their words; They clapped their hands to their mouths.
The voices of princes were hushed; Their tongues stuck to their palates.
The ear that heard me acclaimed me; The eye that saw, commended me.
For I saved the poor man who cried out, The orphan who had none to help him.
I received the blessing of the lost; I gladdened the heart of the widow.
I clothed myself in righteousness and it robed me; Justice was my cloak and turban.
I was eyes to the blind And feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy, And I looked into the case of the stranger.
I broke the jaws of the wrongdoer, And I wrested prey from his teeth.
I thought I would end my days with my family, And be as long-lived as the phoenix (alt: sand),
My roots reaching water, And dew lying on my branches;
My vigor refreshed, My bow ever new in my hand.
Men would listen to me expectantly, And wait for my counsel.
After I spoke they had nothing to say; My words were as drops [of dew] upon them.
They waited for me as for rain, For the late rain, their mouths open wide.
When I smiled at them, they would not believe it; They never expected a sign of my favor.
I decided their course and presided over them; I lived like a king among his troops, Like one who consoles mourners.

The above lament from Job 29 (JPS) serves as a wise model for social justice. It is powerful because it demonstrates a proper balance between service to and defense of the poor, the marginalized, and the victims of those who would seek to do them harm. It avoids the common debate that pits non-violent advocacy against a justified use of force, and balances the often conflicting concepts of mercy and justice. In this model, it is just as important to provide for the needy as it is to defend them physically and be willing to risk bodily injury to do so.

This model of social justice is markedly different from many modern concepts of social justice that often avoid physical conflict at all costs often in exchange for an arguably naïve, and at times, inefficient service to others. Many pacifist notions of social justice regularly struggle with issues of treating the symptoms of social issues without addressing the underlying problems. What good is it to continually give money to the poor if it is regularly and immediately taken away by the pimp, the boss, or the shark? Treating symptoms without addressing the root of the social problem both allows the problem to persist and increases the potential for still others to be harmed. The socially just advocate should not only serve the poor, but defend them as well, and should be willing to risk physical and professional harm to do so.

Job’s description of his former life effectively balances service to the needy (the poor, the orphan, the lost, the widow, the blind, the lame, the needy, and the stranger) with a firm concept of justice (“I broke the jaws of the wrong does, And I wrested prey from his teeth”). This is not unlike Jesus’ use of force in John 2:15, when he made a whip of cords and used it do drive out of the Temple moneychangers, who were taking advantage of those coming to worship. In the end, Job’s concept of social justice is willing to both be a service to victims and to pursue vigorously their persecutors.

Job 29 is also a good wisdom text, as it paints a beautiful picture of the expected and deserved rewards that await those who defend the poor and the marginalized. The socially just not only experience praise and respect from the elders of the city and the children alike, but also come to be regarded for their wise counsel in other matters, demonstrating that those who are willing to walk the talk are more likely to have their “talk” considered as wise counsel over time. And this is as it should be; the words of those who have done will always trump the words of whose who have only said.

In the end, while we should not seek conflict, we also must not stand idly by and hold the coats of those who would do others harm. Despite the fact that it is easier to turn the other cheek and wait for a bully to become bored with his victim and move on, and despite the fact that involvement in a conflict may cause the aggressor to turn and pursue you for a while, the socially just advocate must be willing to draw fire from an aggressor’s victims and do what he or she can do to stop the aggression, even if it causes him or her harm. The socially just advocate must pursue justice even in the difficult times, even if it potentially involves conflict, ridicule, harassment, exhaustion, and even physical harm. But, if it is done properly, the socially just advocate will not only have helped his neighbor, but will enjoy the thanks and respect of those who witnessed the struggle.

The Day After: Thoughts on the Response to the Overturn of Prop 8

It has begun. The response from those who supported California Proposition 8 is underway now that:

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice.

What I find fascinating is how similar the comments being made by all of the various talking heads are to one another. They don’t mention that Prop 8 barely passed with 52.2% of the vote, which was down from the 61.4% that the very same measure (Prop 22) passed with only 8 years earlier, they speak about how “over seven million voters voted for the measure.” They don’t speak about how certain groups regularly seek to bypass around our elected representatives (as we are, in fact, a democratically elected representative democracy), and use direct ballot initiatives to place what are now, in fact, unconstitutional measures on California ballots. Rather, we hear speak of how “activist judges” “disregarded the will of the people,” “set aside a democratic vote,” and “legislated from the bench,” as if the popular views of a voting public always produce fair and equitable laws. (Seriously, ask yourself: were the issue of slavery or the equal rights of African-Americans placed on the ballot in a southern state in 1860 – or 1960 for that matter – would the voting public abolished slavery? The fact that a war was fought to, among other things, defend the practice – with guns in the 1860s and water canons in the 1960s – may help answer that question.)

We are also hearing the “slippery slope” argument invoked at every opportunity: if now this, what’s next? Similarly, we are hearing form many Christians appeals to the Bible that Prop 8 supporters dared not make during the campaign for fear of revealing their obviously unconstitutional desire to influence the state with church directives.

Regarding the “illicitness” of homosexuality in the Bible, allow me to make a few brief observations. It is interesting that the other forms of what many refer to as illicit sexual behavior are actually condoned in the bible. Polygamy was all the rage until Paul encouraged Christians in 1 Cor. 7 to stop getting married altogether (unless, of course, you lacked self control, in which case he asked Christians to limit themselves to merely one wife). Marrying a bride-child under the age of 18 was the norm as long as her father agreed to the price he was paid for her. Incest wasn’t frowned upon because staying in the tribe was considered more important than staying out of your half-sister’s pants.

The point is, there are many things sanctioned in the Bible that are today considered criminal (slavery, suppression of women’s rights, etc.). Today we have remedied many of these things, despite what the biblical text says.

Likewise, there are sexual restrictions in the Bible that modern society has maintained because they are exploitative towards marginalized persons. You can no longer marry or have sex with a child, despite the fact it was done legally all the time in the Bible. It is exploitative of children and therefore forbidden. It is argued that many women in polygamous relationships are suppressed and exploited, so after much debate, the U.S. banished it. I am open to having the debate once again, as it is never wrong to revisit issues that were once decided long ago. But I think we’ll find that on both popular and civil rights grounds, polygamy will not pass muster.

The difference with homosexuality is that it is a decision made by two consenting adults with no victim. Because married couples no longer feel the pressure to produce children, and because few Americans no longer feel that sex is only for the “reproduction of children,” a childless relationship is no longer considered inappropriate. And, because there are no data showing that the presumed negative effect on children being raised outside of a relationship consisting of “one mother and one father” is any greater than children raised in families that have experienced divorce (and there is certainly no constitutional amendment barring divorce or barring divorced individuals from remarrying!) the “it’s bad for the children” argument also falls flat.

This generation has witnessed homosexuality depart the category of “illicit activity” (bestiality, polygamy, incest, etc.) and join the category of previously prohibited biblical activities that modern people (Christians and non-Christians alike) now find acceptable (like eating pork, mixing milk and meat in the same meal, planting different crops side by side, allowing divorced people to remarry, mowing the lawn on Saturday, allowing women authority over men, and, you know… not owning slaves!

“It’s icky” is no longer a good argument against gay marriage. Slippery slope arguments (like, “If we allow gay marriage, then what’s next? Polygamy? Marrying a goat?” etc.) also fall flat on a case-by-case basis because they exploit the civil rights of others (not to mention the goats). Appealing to biblical precedent is hypocritical (see slavery, genocide, etc.), and arguing that it’s “unnatural” casts aside hundreds of other human behaviors that are obviously unnatural and self-destructive like overeating, eating processed foods (what other animal does that?), smoking, drinking, and wearing makeup.

In the end, all that’s left is a simple appeal to the way it’s always been: “preserving traditional marriage.” And just like this same appeal to the status quo has time and again been defeated (slavery, women’s rights, etc.), so too has the restrictions on gay marriage. And this is a good thing. Of course, some will object and deny gay marriage, while others will speak out on the side of equal rights for all. But I believe in the end, many Americans will do as Jesus did and not mention the subject at all. Because most Christians and most Americans simply don’t care about what other people do in their bedrooms… unless a video of it can be accessed anonymously via the internet.

A Note to Christians Opposing Gay Marriage: Get Over It

Get Over ItRemember how the Bible used to say, “Slaves, obey your masters” (Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:18; Eph. 6:5)? Remember that? Remember how it used to say, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34; Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22)? Remember when the Bible used to say that? Remember how the Bible used to instruct people not to divorce, and those who divorced not to remarry (1 Cor. 7:10-11)? Remember when the Bible used to say all of that?

Now, I know what you’re saying, and you’re right: it still does say that. And yet, we got over it! The Bible never stopped saying, “Slaves, obey your masters,” and yet, we got over it and rightfully abolished slavery. We got over it just like we rightfully conceded the equal rights of women. We got over it just like we rightfully allow people to divorce and allow divorced people to remarry. Simply put, we got over it.

In the same way, we will soon get over the way we treat homosexuals – Christians and non-Christians alike. Despite the Bible’s explicit moral injunctions to slaves, women, and divorcées, we have learned that these social injunctions were the product of the social environment in which the Bible was written. In the same manner, so too will we get over what we are doing to gay individuals today.

Just like the army got over the integration of black soldiers into white battalions, the army will get over the integration of openly gay soldiers into its combat forces. We got over the integration of women into traditionally “male” positions in the workplace. We got over the integration of African-American children into segregated schools. We got over insisting that abused women remain in their abusive relationships because “no unchastity had been committed” (Matt. 19:9), and we got over the stigmatization of divorced people trying to put their lives back together.

We got over it. And, we’ll get over using the Bible and ambiguous notions of “traditional marriage” to deny gay Americans the privilege of a state-recognized marriage. We’ll get over it and will one day look back and shake our heads at how we’ve treated gay Americans, just like we look back and shake our heads in disgust at how “those people” treated slaves, African-Americans, women, and divorcées.

We are “those people,” and we need to get over it.


For more by Dr. Cargill on this subject, see: “It’s OK for Christians to Vote No on Prop 8
and “Full Text of Dr. Cargill’s Remarks at the Pepperdine GSEP Panel Discussion on Racism and Homophobia.”
See also the classic West Wing segment on YouTube.


UPDATE: See also the news today that a U.S. Judge has ruled the Federal Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional.

from jason boyett – noah’s ark found! robert cargill debunks!

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

here’s a piece from a friend and colleague, jason boyett. the picture’s a little older (beard is thicker w/ fewer grays), but the interview is new. he interviewed me about the recent claims of the discovery of noah’s ark and other issues of archaeology and faith. read it.

ucla history of jerusalem class available free on itunes u

Dr. Robert R. Cargill, UCLA lectures in his class, Jerusalem, the Holy City.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill, UCLA, lectures in his class, "Jerusalem, the Holy City."

my history of jerusalem class at ucla is entering its third week. so far, six itunes u lectures have been made available to the public for viewing. if you’re up for a free class on the history of jerusalem, download the free itunes u lectures and enjoy!!

on ‘heresy’ and the critical study of the bible

Cap and Gownthought for the day:

it is never heretical to point out the inconsistencies of the biblical text to students. ever! if one’s faith can’t survive a few critical questions, it’s either deeply flawed or it is not worth maintaining. shielding students from textual problems does not help their faith, it only sets them up for a greater fall.

professors should challenge students to examine the biblical text as critically as they do any other piece of literature or legislation. if even half as much time that is spent attempting to disprove ‘other’ religions or unpopular pieces of legislation was spent critically examining the bible, the faith would not only be far better off, but people of faith would be far more educated, and might even know what their bibles say and how to interpret its message properly.

since when are scholars heretics because they ask tough questions of the bible? since when is pointing out inconsistencies within the text harmful to a student’s faith? (unless we want them to believe something that is simply not true or possible.) and since when is the dogma and inbred self-affirmation of systematic theology the final say on all things religious? any system of belief or government that cites itself as an authority is doomed to fail. all systems of government or faith must be constantly examined and critically prodded to ensure their integrity and viability. otherwise, they are not worth maintaining.

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