« September 2013 | Main | November 2013 »

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Red Bull Air Race Practice in Olney, Texas

Red Bull Air Race LogoIf you follow this type of thing, you may have heard that the Red Bull Air Races are back (Wired - Crazy Red Bull Air Races Returning to the Skies in 2014). If you don't follow this type of thing, then here's a very brief background - the Red Bull Air Races consist of pilots flying light aerobatic planes through a series of pylons, at altitudes of less than 100 feet, doing some pretty amazing maneuvers to keep on course.

In preparation for their upcoming season, they decided to set up a mini training camp in Olney, Texas (Olney Enterprise - Pilots train for Red Bull Air Race). I guess they chose Olney because it's a nice big airport out in the middle of nowhere - perfect for the type of practice they're doing. And they kept the whole thing pretty hush hush. That Olney Enterprise article is the only online mention I've been able to find on them being in Olney, and it seems like the only reason they published that was so that the residents of Olney wouldn't question the giant inflatable cones popping up west of town.

But luckily for me, the company I work for does some flying down at the Olney airport, so some of our guys watched the entire Red Bull entourage come in and set up camp. So, I knew they were there, and knew they'd be flying. So, this past weekend, I went with a few of my friends to go watch the practice (and we were just about the perfect group to watch something like that - one aerospace engineer and three fighter pilots). It was great. Because of how quiet Red Bull had been about the whole thing, we were some of the only spectators there. So, not only did we get to watch some amazing flying, but we had an up-close and personal experience with the entire operation.

I managed to remember to take a few photos while I was there, but for the most part, I was just enjoying myself watching the flying. So, below are a few of the better pictures I managed to snap. Had I been more interested in taking pictures than just watching, I might have been able to get some better shots. (Click on any of the photos for a higher-res version.)

The Red Bull Air Races Come to Olney, TX

The Red Bull Air Races Come to Olney, TX

The Red Bull Air Races Come to Olney, TX

The Red Bull Air Races Come to Olney, TX

The Red Bull Air Races Come to Olney, TX

I also managed to capture a few videos. Just like with the photos, these aren't the greatest, since I was more interested in watching the goings on with my own eyes (not to mention the fact that I didn't have as good of a zoom lens for the video). And keep in mind that this was a practice, not a competition, so the pilots weren't flying the entire course every run, nor pushing it to the edge every time, especially in the earlier runs as they were getting used to the course.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, and a fine exhibition of some incredible piloting skills. I think I might just try to get tickets when they're actually racing at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Logo Source: Wikipedia

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Ezra 1 to Ezra 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 1 through 10 constitute the entirety of Ezra. However, Ezra was originally part of a larger book - Ezra-Nehemia, combined with, as is obvious from the name, Nehemia (which immediately follows it in the Bible). These were about repopulating and rebuilding Judah after the Babylonian exile. However, as the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) points out, it's difficult to figure out the chronology just from Ezra-Nehemiah as it's not very clear. In fact, there are multiple anachronisms throughout the book, and its depiction of events contrasts with the books of Haggai and Zechariah (I'm not going to point out the anachronisms and conflicts in my review, but you can read a bit more about them here). Additionally, as with so much of the Bible, the archaeological evidence indicates that whatever actual events the story might be based on, it wasn't as grand as the Biblical narrative would indicate, "Archaeological studies suggest only limited development in the province of Judah during the Persian period. This raises questions about the extent and effectiveness of the reconstruction that Ezra-Nehemiah describes." However, that is still development. A footnote in the NOAB in chapter 2 also noted that there was development at some of the sites mentioned in the book. So, there probably is some truth to the stories, just a little more humble than what's written here.

There's one very interesting aspect of these books that gets lost in translation - they're written in multiple languages. This is because they quote different sources, such as letters to and from kings. So, there are passages in both Hebrew and Aramaic. But this gets lost when you read an English translation.

Ezra, Chapter 1

The first few verses of this chapter were nearly identical to the last few verses from 2 Chronicles - the part where King Cyrus of Persia sent out a decree to the Jews to go back to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The NOAB notes that despite this, there are enough differences elsewhere to indicate separate authorship for the two books. It seems that one of the authors copied from the other.

While it may seem a bit strange for a king to fund the rebuilding of a temple for an outside religion, the NOAB notes that there are records of King Cyrus doing this. I suppose that if you're a polytheist rather than a monotheist, then it's not really so strange - just one more god you're supporting. It could also be more political than religious, garnering support from your subjects by helping them out.

The remainder of the chapter was about the surviving Jews getting together to return.

Ezra, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 was little more than a long list of how many people were returning, listing specific numbers for each family. For example:

The number of the Israelite people: 3the descendants of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two. 4Of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two. 5Of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five. 6Of Pahath-moab, namely the descendants of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve.

A few notable people were listed by name, particularly priests, Levites, and temple servants. This section and the numerous 'begat' sections from other books show just how important genealogy and bloodlines were to the Israelites. In fact, there's a passage in this chapter related to this that I found interesting:

These looked for their entries in the genealogical records, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean; 63the governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

The community was so concerned about heredity (and scared of Yahweh), that they wouldn't let unconfirmed priests practice, at least until they could break out their magic divination tools.

The last few verses announced their arrival in Jerusalem, and how a few of them immediately made freewill-offerings to God.

Ezra, Chapter 3

Now that they were back in their homeland, the Jews began to rebuild the temple. Much of this chapter described the offerings that were made to accompany different stages of the construction. There was a mention of "the law of Moses the man of God", which according to the NOAB, this might have been some form of the Pentateuch. The chapter closed with the foundation for the temple being laid, and a mixed reaction from the people:

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house.

Ezra, Chapter 4

When the "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" learned that the Jews had returned and were rebuilding the temple, they at first approached them asking to help, "for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here." So apparently, these were the remnant of the settlers from 2 Kings 17. Though they could also be composed partly from Judeans who had escaped the exile. At any rate, the returning Jews rejected their help so that they could do it on their own. This upset their adversaries, who subsequently gave them problems throughout the rest of the reconstruction process, from bribing officials to sending letters of accusation to the king. In fact, the remainder of the chapter dealt largely with one of their letters to King Artaxerxes and his response. The letter accused the Jews of being a rebellious people, and that they would revolt as soon as they finished rebuilding the city. Artaxerxes had officials search the country's archives, and found evidence "that this city has risen against kings from long ago, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it." So, he put a stop to the reconstruction. The final verse of the chapter notes that this stoppage lasted until the reign of King Darius of Persia.

Ezra, Chapter 5

With the start of chapter 5, the Jews were back to rebuilding the house of God. The governor of the region, Tattenai, questioned their actions, and sent a letter to the then current king, Darius. Most of this chapter was Tattenai's letter. It wasn't accusatory like in the previous chapter, but merely questioning the story he'd heard from the Jews about Cyrus's decree.

Ezra, Chapter 6

King Darius had the Babylonian archives searched, "But it was in Ecbatana, the capital in the province of Media, that a scroll was found ..." This scroll confirmed the decree from Cyrus, and even said "let the cost be paid from the royal treasury". So Darius gave the Jews his support, instructing Tattenai to give them whatever they needed to complete the temple.

The new temple was completed "on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius." There was celebration and animal sacrifice, and when the time came, the returned exiles even kept the Passover. The chapter included the statement that the Passover lamb was even eaten "also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel." So, even though they'd been rejected from helping in the reconstruction of the temple, they were being allowed to join the community, now.

Ezra, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 introduces the book's namesake, Ezra. I found it a bit amusing as it was so stereotypical of a topic I've already discussed - genealogy:

After this, in the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of the chief priest Aaron-- 6this Ezra went up from Babylonia.

Ezra "was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him." King Artaxerxes gave Ezra a letter of support to take with him back to Judah. It authorized Ezra to use royal supplies in rebuilding Jerusalem, and also gave Ezra himself authority over the region. This doesn't fit with the description of Artaxerxes from chapter 4, but like I wrote in the intro, this book is hard to follow.

There was a passage here that I find interesting because of its possible historical significance. It was in the king's edict, "All who will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgement be strictly executed on them, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of their goods or for imprisonment." According to the NOAB, some scholars think this verse suggests that the Torah was compiled by Ezra at this time.

The chapter closed with a first person perspective supposedly written by Ezra himself, thanking God for his good fortune.

Ezra, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 continued with the first person perspective from Ezra. It began with a list of the family heads of those that went with him back to Judah. Then it listed a few details of the trip from Babylon to Judah. One of the details that stood out to me was rejecting an offer from the king of "a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way". Ezra thought that would have been an insult to God, since he was supposed to rely on God for protection.

After giving "the silver and the gold and the vessels" to the priests for safekeeping, the exiles continued their journey back to their homeland. Once they arrived, they made a few sacrifices, "twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin-offering twelve male goats". I suppose this is in agreement with Chapter 2, describing the first return to Jerusalem.

Ezra, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 still continued on from Ezra's perspective, though it's the last chapter to do so. The theme of this chapter was a major crisis - intermarriage with non-Jews, "For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way." Ezra was horrified and ashamed of what his people had done, and led some of the faithful ones in a prayer to God asking for forgiveness and mercy. The whole prayer sounds a little pathetic - God, you're so great and merciful, and even though you punished us so harshly, we deserved it. We made you treat us that way.

And of course, the crisis shouldn't even be a crisis, but apparently the tribal mentality made intermarriage with outsiders a big taboo.

Ezra, Chapter 10

While Ezra was busy making a spectacle of himself "weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God", another of the exiles offered a solution, "So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law." So Ezra got up off the ground and made everyone present swear that they would follow the plan.

Ezra called for a meeting of all the exiles, and attendance was compulsory - anyone who didn't show up would have "all their property ... forfeited". At the meeting, everyone was told what must happen. Because the problem was so big, they asked for some time to take care of it. Anyone who'd taken a foreign wife was to meet with the elders of their town at an appointed time, confess their sins, and then, apparently, boot out their wives and kids. Next came a sort of list of shame, so to speak - a list of all the men who had married foreign women.

This whole episode is just horrible. What type of values does this represent? First there's the xenophobia banning intermarriage. And then to make matters worse, once the intermarriages had happened and resulted in children, the solution was for fathers to abandon their families, because that was apparently the less sinful option than the possibility of being tempted by foreign religions. Just try to picture this scene in your mind - a now single mother carrying whatever possessions she might own, kids in tow, walking away from the man she had married, with a bunch of priests looking on disapprovingly to make sure that she actually leaves. If this portion of the narrative is true, it's heartbreaking.

There was an issue with the last verse. The NRSV stated it as, "All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children." However, there was a footnote that the Hebrew was uncertain, and that the verse was taken from the apocryphal book, 1 Esdras. Not all translations translated it that way, however. The King James Version, for example, had "All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children." The NIV had a translation in spirit with the KJV, but a footnote with an alternate translation along the lines of the NRSV. At any rate, it's still a horrible story.


Well, last week I was glad to be done with Chronicles. It had gotten tedious and boring, and I was looking forward to whatever book was going to be next. However, once I actually started reading Ezra, I was disappointed. It wasn't particularly good. There were some decent parts, but it was hard to follow with the way it jumped around the chronology of what supposedly happened. And the last chapter was such a horrible story that it left a bitter taste in the mouth. And knowing that many aspects of the Historical books are more likely to have actually happened than the stories in Genesis or Exodus just makes the story that much worse. Oh well, next week is on to Nehemiah. I've already read most of it, and it is better than Ezra*, at least.

*No pun intended.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Books, A Year in Review - 2013, Part I

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia CommonsAs has become my yearly tradition, every October I take some time to examine the books I've read over the past year (see previous reviews for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, 2012). It all started with an article about an AP-Ipsos poll on people's reading habits. Among other things, it pointed out that around 1 in 4 adults in this country hadn't read any books at all in the previous year, and that among those that had, the average number of books read was 6. (Yes, this is the fifth time I've copied that sentence verbatim). A more recent poll by YouGov and Huffington Post seems to be pretty consistent, so it doesn't seem that Americans' reading habits have changed much in the past few years (here's another one from Pew).

As usual, this review will come in two parts. This first part will take a look at my personal reading habits (meaning it probably won't interest too many people), while the second part will provide short reviews of each book that I've read.

Here are all the books I read in the last year, sorted by topic (not the order in which I read them).

Children's & Young Adult Fiction

  1. Wild Jack
  2. The Cabinet of Wonders (The Kronos Chronicles, Book I)
  3. The Celestial Globe (The Kronos Chronicles, Book II)
  4. The Jewel of the Kalderash (The Kronos Chronicles, Book III)
  5. Stardust
  6. The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
  7. Uglies (The Uglies, Book I)
  8. Pretties (The Uglies, Book II)
  9. Specials (The Uglies, Book III)
  10. Extras (The Uglies, Book IV)

Adult Fiction

  1. Tribulation Force (Left Behind, Book II)


  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (partial)

Light Non-Fiction

  1. Around Pottstown (Postcard History Series)
  2. Wichita Falls (Images of America)
  3. Feynman
  4. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas


  1. Night
  2. Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man
  3. Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  4. The Darwin Experience: The Story of the Man and His Theory of Evolution
  5. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy

That's 21 books altogether, but with 4 of those being comic or picture books (the light non-fiction), that's a bit less than I normally read in a year (since I've been keeping track, my yearly totals have been 13, 25, 19, 21, 23, & 22 - mostly 'real' books). I think this is in large part due to my project of trying to read and blog about the entire Bible. I wrote about this in the entry, Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Chronicles 1 to 1 Chronicles 10:

A somewhat surprising aspect is the way this has cut into my other reading. It's not that I devote a tremendous amount of time each week to reading the Bible and don't have any time left for other books. Rather, when I have a bit of spare time, instead of picking up a good book that I'd enjoy reading and get sucked into, I feel obligated to catch up on my Bible reading. So, I'll either procrastinate and watch TV instead, or read just enough to get caught up and then feel burnt out on reading. In effect, I devote less time overall to reading now than I did when I wasn't reading the Bible, and my yearly book "consumption" has suffered noticeably.

I think I might have found a rhythm, though, getting my Bible reading done weekend mornings, leaving me the rest of the week to read good books. Hopefully I'll be back to a normal pace next year.

As usual, I tend to read quite a bit of young adult fiction. And as usual, this is due to receiving book recommendations from my teenage daughter.

My Carl Zimmer drought has now extended into its second year, but I still read his blog, The Loom, and his other online articles on a regular basis, so I'm not going through withdraws.

I only read one book from this list, and it was one I'd already read (The Hobbit), so I don't get to check off any more of those. There are a few of those on my nightstand, though, so maybe I'll get a few more done this coming year.

I put that 'partial' note after the New Oxford Annotated Bible because I'm only partway through. As part of my Friday Bible Blogging series, I've read right around a quarter of the Bible. At this rate, it'll take me a few more years to finish.

Like I almost always say in these entries, I definitely need to expand my reading habits. My non-fiction reading tends to be very science heavy. I did read a couple history books this year, but they were picture books, so even though they were interesting, I could still do better (technically, The Darwin Experience was also mostly history, but with a strong connection to the history of biology). And all of my fiction reading this year fell into sci-fi/fantasy (yes, I'm counting Tribulation Force as fantasy). But, I'm already doing better on that this coming year - I just started on To Kill a Mockingbird.

Part II, where I'll post my reviews for each book, is still a few weeks out, so stay tuned.

Updated 2013-11-19: I completely forgot about one of the books I'd read, Self-Made Man, so I've added it and fixed the totals to account for it. It's not that it was a forgettable book, but just my general absent-mindedness and not keeping my list of books I've read up to date. Speaking of, I better go update the list with the last book I read and the one I'm reading right now, To Kill a Mockingbird and Medieval Britain: A Very Short Introduction.

Update 2013-12-06: Part II is finally here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 31 to 2 Chronicles 36

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 31 through 36 are the final chapters of 2 Chronicles, as well as the final chapters of the combined First/Second Chronicles. Finally. Like I've written the past couple weeks, I was starting to get pretty bored with this book. While it does have a bit of extra information that wasn't included in Samuel and Kings, and there are differences in the stories, for the most part, Chronicles was very repetitious of the previous books. However, that caveat doesn't completely apply to these last few chapters. While there was some repetition, there were several significant differences that made these chapters rather interesting, particularly following along in the footnotes with the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). Plus, these chapters contained one of my favorite scenes from the Bible.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 31

Chapter 31 continued on with Hezekiah's reforms. First it was tearing down all the pillars and sacred poles devoted to other gods, along with the high places and altars (since worship was supposed to be centered around the temple). Then it was reorganizing the priests and Levites, then stockpiling stores in the house of the Lord. There was also quite a bit of information about which specific people had which specific jobs.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 32

The first part of this chapter dealt with the attack of Jerusalem by King Sennarcherib. But it was a bit different than the telling in 2 Kings 18 & 19. Other than just being shorter, Chronicles left out certain details, such as Sennacherib attacking other cities, and Hezekiah trying to appease him with gifts, before the attack on the capital city. As the NOAB notes, the attack on Jerusalem in Chronicles was "a complete shock". Further, the NOAB noted that "some parallel texts from the source text have been conflated to create a smoother depiction of the events."

After Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah prayed to God for deliverance, the Lord took direct action. He "sent an angel who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria." No working in mysterious ways here. Sennarcherib "returned in disgrace to his own land", and was killed by his sons once he got back.

The next few verses in the chapter went through a series of events in very rapid succession - Jerusalem was at peace and seemed to be doing well; Hezekiah became sick, prayed, and got a sign from God that he would become better; Hezekiah didn't respond like he should have and became proud; as punishment "wrath came upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem" (again with the collective guilt); and finally Hezekiah repented and so God turned aside his wrath.

Next came a description of Hezekiah's riches, and some of the public works he accomplished, before he "slept with his ancestors".

There were two verses in this chapter that caught my eye in particular, and they actually happened to be back to back. The first was verse 18, "They shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah..." The NOAB pointed out that the 'language of Judah' was what would later become known as Hebrew, but apparently it wasn't called as such, yet. The second verse was 19, "They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as if he were like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands." It was a unique bit of editorializing on the part of the Chronicler.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 33

Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was the next to take the throne, and he was not a good king. He basically undid all the reforms his father had instituted, added on additional sins, and even put a carved idol in the temple. As punishment, God had the Assyrians attack Judah, and Manasseh was taken captive and delivered to Babylon in manacles and fetters. Manasseh prayed to God while there, and was delivered. Thus, he "knew that the Lord indeed was God," and he undid almost all the damage he had done previously. This whole story is completely at odds with 2 Kings. In that previous book, not only was there no attack and capture of Manasseh by the Assyrians, but Manasseh never repented for his sins, and it was these sins that were responsible for the eventual fall of Judah to Babylon and the Babylonian exile. Here in Chronicles, Manasseh doesn't seem so bad after his change of heart. The NOAB notes that this may be to make Manasseh "a model for Judean deportees living in other lands." It also presented a more hopeful message to the Judeans in the wake of the Babylonian exile - that they could be forgiven by God and start over. When Judah finally does fall in this book, it's due to Zedekiah's sins.

The NOAB did make a note that Manasseh's imprisonment in Babylon was possible, "because the Assyrians maintained a major presence in Babylon at this time," but also noted that the historical record indicated that Manasseh had been a loyal vassal to the Assyrians - i.e. that there would have been no reason for the Assyrians to act that way.

The chapter closed with a brief description of Amon's evil reign and subsequent assassination.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 34

Josiah succeeded Amon, and as in Kings, he was a good ruler. In the eight year of his reign, he began seeking God, and in the twelfth year, he began reforming the nation and purging the non-Yahweh religious paraphernalia. This included a mention of burning the bones of the false priests. Once he'd cleaned up the nation, he began renovations on the temple. This led to one of my favorite stories - while the priests were cleaning the temple, they found "the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses". They brought it and read it to Josiah, who was horrified at the punishments it detailed for all the sins Judah had committed. So, on top of all his other reformations, he had the Judeans pledge themselves to the covenant laid out in the book. Unfortunately, one generation's worth or repentance wasn't enough to save the nation, "my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched." But, for Josiah's sake, because he had been so penitent and humble, the punishment would be saved until after his death.

I guess the reason I like this story so much is because of the absurdity of it. I mean, here's the book of the law, supposedly one of the most sacred artifacts in Judah, written by Moses under the divine influence of the Lord, and it's mustering away in some forgotten corner of the temple covered in dust. It seems like it could be the plot of an Indiana Jones movie. The NOAB gives a more sober account of what the book might have actually been - most scholars think it was Deuteronomy, but it may have been "the entire Pentateuch (or an earlier version of it)."

2 Chronicles, Chapter 35

Josiah instituted a Passover celebration, in accordance with the instructions from the newly rediscovered book of the law. This was described in some detail, along with all the requisite animal sacrifice. One interesting aspect is verse 3, "He said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the Lord, 'Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon son of David, king of Israel, built; you need no longer carry it on your shoulders." According to the NOAB, this was the only mention of the ark "in the Judahite monarchy". For as important as the ark was in earlier portions, it's interesting that it's been relegated to such a small role, here.

Another interesting aspect is verse 13. According to the NOAB, the correct translation of this verse is, "They boiled the Passover lamb with fire." The Chronicler chose this wording because Exodus 12:8 states that the lamb should be "roasted over the fire", while Dueteronomy 16:7 states that it should be boiled. (This looks to be another translation issue. The NRSV merely states cook in the Deuteronomy passage, while a few other translations I looked up actually use 'roast', but discussions such as this one indicate the 'boil' is the appropriate translation.) To try to harmonize these two different instructions, the Chronicler used 'boiled... with fire'.

The final portion of the chapter contained the story of Josiah's death. As in Kings, he fell in battle against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Unlike Kings, however, when Josiah first confronted Neco's forces, Neco sent emissaries saying that he was on a mission from God. But Josiah "did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God", and so as punishment was killed in battle. As opposed to Kings, this at least gives some justification for his death, since God had previously promised him that "you shall be gathered to your grave in peace". I still find this odd that people in the Bible are just supposed to know who is a false prophet and who's truly speaking for God, even when false prophets like Pharaoh's magicians from Exodus could perform convincing tricks. In this story, there was no indication that Neco gave Josiah that he was being truthful other than his word.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 36

The final kings of Judah were given much less coverage in Chronicles than in Kings. According to the NOAB, this could be because the Chronicler had a shorter version of Kings from which to draw this history, or because, being so close to when it all happened, he didn't feel the need dwell on the details. So, it's a quick succession through Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin, who all had rather brief reigns, before spending a little more time on Zedekiah. As in Kings, Zedekiah was an evil king, and Judah was under the rule of Babylon at the time. And also as in Kings, it was Zedekiah's revolt against Babylonian rule that brought about such a harsh punishment from Babylon. But a detail unique to Chronicles was that King Nebuchadnezzar had made Zedekiah swear fealty by God. So, by revolting against Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah was also breaking an oath to the Lord. So, there was a divine justification in this book for the fall of Judah based on Zedekiah's actions rather than Manasseh's.

Chronicles did end on a more hopeful note than Kings. Once Cyrus became king of Persia, he issued an edict:

Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.


The combined books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are somewhat interesting to study, if boring to actually read. The beginning of 1 Chronicles offered a very condensed summary of Israelite history, starting with Adam, and focusing on genealogy. As I wrote in my summary to those chapters, " It may have been valuable for being such a concise summary of genealogies, but it was about as exciting as reading a phone book." From there, it moved on to the stories covered in Samuel and Kings. In many ways, Chronicles was an abbreviated summary of the stories from those older books, but there were significant differences due to the Chronicler's bias/theology. In some cases, it was notable omissions. For example, David and Solomon were rather idealized in Chronicles, with just about every negative aspect of their characters stripped from the story. And the Chronicler wasn't too fond of Israel after the split with Judah, and considered its kings to be illegitimate, and so didn't give them any coverage except where it was relevant to events in Judah. But there were also additions. Some times, this may have been due to drawing from additional source material, but other times it seems that the Chronicler invented details.

As I've written before, there are multiple levels of interpretation when reading these stories. One is as a skeptic, thinking of the people who believe these stories literally, and seeing all the reasons why they couldn't be true. But moving past that and ignoring those problems, I can try to read this as I would other mythology, and try to see it through the eyes of the people who wrote it, and what it says about their mindset. Perhaps what I find the most interesting level, however, is trying to discern the kernels of truth, and how these stories could have developed. There is real evidence for some of these kings and some of these events, so we can be pretty sure that some of this did actually happen. But then there's the Chronicler's interpretive gloss on the whole thing, trying to rationalize why it all happened. And then there's some myth and legend added to it all as well. I can think of an analogy in American history. There's a lot that we know of what actually happened in this country, and multiple sources to draw that information from. And then there's the commentary and political theories on why it all happened. But even in American history, there are myths and legends, from stories like George Washington and the cherry tree, The midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the origins of Thanksgiving. There are even people who seem to be almost deliberately trying to rewrite history, such as claiming America was founded as a Christian nation, or that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery. When all this can happen in the modern day and age with the advantages of the rigor and demand for evidence that exists in modern historical studies, it's easy to imagine similar goings on back in the ancient world. But it's fascinating to learn what parts might have been true to gain some insight into what that ancient world must have been like.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Exploration Day 2013

Moon PrintToday is traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but Columbus really was a horrible excuse for a human being. It's not just the myth about him proving the world was round, or lucking into finding a continent that nobody knew existed, but his horrible, horrible treatment of the natives and even the Spaniards in the first Spanish colony in the Americas.

The Oatmeal has a new webcomic explaining just how bad of a person Columbus was, in more detail than I've done and in a more entertaining way than I could do. I highly recommend going to read it:

The Oatmeal - Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not) Modified Portion of The Oatmeal's Christopher Columbus Comic

While the Oatmeal proposes changing the holiday to Bartolome Day, I prefer a proposal I read before, changing it to Exploration Day. I could simply link to that old entry, but if you're here already reading this, I'll save you the click. Below is an excerpt of the main portion of that old entry, Happy Exploration Day:

I've written briefly about Columbus a couple times before, Debunking a Columbus Myth and Columbus Day. There are a lot of misconceptions about Columbus and his role in history - misconceptions that are still being taught to my middle school daughter, by the way. In reality, he was a bit of a crank. The concept of the Earth being a globe had been known for thousands of years prior to Columbus. In fact, Eratosthenes had calculated the size of the earth to a very accurate degree back around 240 BC (or BCE). Why Columbus had such a hard time securing funding for his trip was that he was so far off in his estimate of the size of the Earth - 15,700 miles in circumference vs the true 25,000 miles. Educated people knew that in theory, you'd eventually end up in Asia by sailing west, but they didn't think any of the ships of the time would allow someone to carry enough supplies to complete the journey. And they were right. Had there not been two unknown continents, Columbus and his men would have starved to death. And Columbus never did figure out that he'd discovered a new continent. He went to his dying day thinking he'd found islands off the coast of Asia.

And if his technical incompetence weren't enough, Columbus was a pretty ruthless governor. To quote an article from The Guardian:

As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people's ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

His actions were so bad that he was arrested and taken back to Spain in shackles. He later received a pardon from the crown, but only after a new governor was put in charge of the colony.

Granted, Columbus was important historically. His unintended discovery of the New World set off a wave of European exploration that changed the course of history. But why do we have a holiday celebrating this tyrant who only lucked his way into the history books instead of starving at sea?

If what we truly want to celebrate on this day is the spirit of exploration, then why not just come out and make that the focus of the holiday? Make a day that honors those like Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, Armstrong and Aldrin, the Wrights, Amundsen, Hillary, Cousteau, the engineers behind the Mars rover. Make a day that honors all those that push the frontiers of our knowledge.

More Info:

I'll note that after I shared some of that information with my wife and daughter, we began using 'Christopher Columbus' as a profanity in place of a certain orifice that everybody has. e.g. Bill O'Reilly can be a bit of a Christopher Columbus when he starts yelling at his guests. I think that's the most appropriate way to remember his legacy.

Updated 2013-10-18: Okay, so it's a few days after Exploration Day, but reading back over this entry, I saw a couple things worth changing. I slightly reworded the paragraph explaining The Oatmeal's comic, and added an image of a portion of the comic (Photoshopped slightly).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 21 to 2 Chronicles 30

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleToday marks a mini milestone in this series - it's 1 year anniversary. My first post, Friday Bible Blogging - Introduction and Picking a Translation was posted on October 12th, 2012. Today is October 11th, 2013 - just one day short of a full year. I've covered 397 verses as of today, which is a bit short of my original goal of averaging 10 verses per week, but not too bad. At least I've stuck with it and stayed pretty consistent.

Chapters 21 through 30 of 2 Chronicles continue on with the narrative. Like I wrote last week, it's now a little more than just a summary of what was in Kings. At least there's a bit of new information, but it's still largely repetitious and subsequently a bit boring.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 21

Jehoshaphat's story was pretty much finished in the previous chapter, but the first verse of this chapter was where it was finally noted that he died. His son Jehoram succeeded him. Jehoram was a bad king, "He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." He'd even killed all his brothers and a few court officials when he took the throne to eliminate any chance of competition. And actually, while Jehoram was presented as a bad king in Kings, he's presented even worse here. Interestingly, Elisha was left out of the account in Chronicles.

This chapter was basically a detailed accounting of Jehoram's transgressions, and the ways he was punished for it. This included Edom revolting, being invaded by Philistines, Arabs, and Ethiopians (or Cushites), and a rather unpleasant bowl disease, "After all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony."

When Jehoram died, the people didn't honor him at all, "He departed with no one's regret."

An interesting aspect from this chapter was that Elijah delivered a prophecy to Jehoram through a letter. Prophecies had always been spoken in Kings. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), it "reflects the increasing significance of a written book-culture in the Chronicler's time".

2 Chronicles, Chapter 22

Following Jehoram's death, his son Ahaziah ruled briefly - about a year. He was also a bad king, but was assassinated by Jehu before he could do too many terrible things. Somewhat brutally, the reason for Ahaziah's death was because Jehu " was executing judgement on the house of Ahab". In other words, he was killed not for his own sins, but those of his grandfather. But since his other grandfather was the noble Jehoshaphat, he was at least given a proper burial.

In the end of the chapter, Ahaziah's mother, Athalia, took the throne. Just like in Kings, she was presented negatively, attempting to kill all of David's descendants. But her sister, Jehoshabeath, managed to save one boy, Joash, keeping David's line from being completely eradicated.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 23

Chapter 23 covered the retelling of the story of a group of loyalists led by the priest, Jehoida, revolting against Athalia, bringing Joash to power (who was still just a boy), and killing Athaliah. Jehoida renewed the covenant between the people and the Lord, and all of the non-Jewish religious paraphernalia was torn down and destroyed, along with killing the priest of Baal, Mattan.

If I stop and try to envision all this as real, it really does seem quite tumultuous and barbaric. Just imagine if a group of evangelical Christians took over the government in this country, and went around destroying every church & temple that wasn't their particular religion and killing all those priests - Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. Calling it unnecessarily violent is an understatement. But, unfortunately, this story doesn't sound unrealistic - I can easily imagine an episode like this happening in ancient Judah.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 24

Chapter 24 covered the actual reign of Joash. Following the Chronicler's more typical motif, Joash began as a good king, and then later in his reign abandoned the Lord. The first part of his reign, when he was still good, was under the influence of the priest, Jehoiada. He had the temple repaired along with its furnishings.

But once Jehoiada died, "They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols." God sent prophets to try to bring them back to faithfulness, but they wouldn't listen. Gode even "took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada", and used him to deliver a speech, but Joash had Zechariah killed.

Because of Joash and Judah's unfaithfulness, The army of Aram invaded and Joash was wounded. While he lay recovering on his bed, he was killed by his servants in revenge for the death of Zechariah.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 25

Amaziah was next in line. His story was similar - starting off good, then turning to other gods. After first killing the murderers of his father, he assembled a force to attack Seir. He had actually hired warriors from Israel, but "a man of God came to him and said, 'O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with Israel...' " I find this interesting on two fronts - first that God's chosen people were so thoroughly abandoned and disdained by God. I suspect this is the Chronicler's prejudice against Israel. The other was the idea that I discussed last week, that God doesn't want people trying their best to use Earthly means to accomplish what needs to be done, but to instead rely solely on faith.

After defeating Seir, Amaziah brought back their gods and set them up to worship them. This really is unbelievable as presented here. After just having won a battle thanks to the Lord's support, why would Amaziah immediately abandon the Lord for these new gods?

As punishment, Judah was defeated by Israel in battle, Jerusalem was plundered, and Ahaziah was captured, but he wasn't killed. And here I lose the story a bit, but it appears that Ahaziah must have been released by the king of Israel. However, there was still a group in Jerusalem faithful to God. Amaziah fled to Lachish, but they tracked him down and killed him.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 26

With Amaziah dead, his son Uzziah was made king. His coverage was more extensive here than it was in Kings, and the NOAB noted that while some of it may have come from other sources, some of it was probably created by the Chronicler.

His reign followed the same motif of going from good to bad, but his bad aspect wasn't really all that bad. In the first part of his reign, he was victorious in wars with various neighbors of Judah, including the Philistines. He established new cities in some of the conquered territory. He built cisterns and other public works, and just in general had a good reign.

However, "when he had become strong he grew proud, to his destruction." He went into the temple and tried to "to make offering on the altar of incense". But he wasn't a priest, so it wasn't his place to do so. He was struck with a leprous disease on his forehead. "King Uzziah was leprous to the day of his death, and being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord." Because of his exile, his son Jotham ruled in his place, and then assumed the throne once Uzziah died.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 27

Jotham received very short coverage. Chapter 27 is only 9 verses long. He had a good reign, continuing on in his father's tradition, minus the ill-fated attempt at being a priest. There's not even any mention of him turning away from the Lord.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 28

Ahaz became king after Jotham died. His reign started off bad:

he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made cast images for the Baals; 3and he made offerings in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 4He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

Note that 'passing through fire' may be a reference to human sacrifice.

Most of the chapter was a detailing of military defeats Judah suffered because of Ahaz. One of these defeats was to Israel, who took many Judeans captive. However, the Lord sent a prophet, Obed, to tell the Israelites not to make slaves of the Judeans, and so the captives were released. This is odd. Look back to Chapter 25, and God's attitude toward Israel. But here he is in this chapter giving them victory over Judah (albeit, mostly because of Judah's sins), and sending a prophet to speak to them directly. And the Israelites actually listened to the prophet, so apparently they hadn't completely abandoned their faith in the Lord.

This also drives home something I haven't discussed as much recently - collective punishment. All of Judah was being punished for Ahaz's crimes.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 29

After Ahaz died, Hezekiah became king, and he received fairly extensive coverage in Chronicles - four chapters worth. The focus was different than Kings. While the earlier book focused on the invasion by Sennacherib, this book focused more on the restoration of the temple and religious practices. Like his coverage of Uzziah, the Chronicler appears to have invented some details in this story.

Chapter 29 was mostly about re-opening and repairing the temple, re-instituting the priests and Levites, restoring all the furnishings, etc. Of course, there were the requisite sacrifices, "seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin-offering" to sanctify the altar, and "seventy bulls, one hundred rams, and two hundred lambs" for burnt offerings, along with " six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep" for consecration offerings. It must have been a bloody affair.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 30

Chapter 30 contained the story of Hezekiah re-instituting the Passover celebration. Apparently, there hadn't been a large scale Passover since the time of David and Solomon. Hezekiah sent letters to all of Judah and Israel, but only a handful of Israelites joined the festival. The use of letters is again noteworthy, signaling the importance of the written word to the Chronicler. And again, there were more sacrifices and dashing of blood.

There was a passage here that seemed out of character for the vengeful God I've become used to. Many of the people hadn't cleansed themselves properly before eating the Passover meal. In previous books, I'd expect a harsh punishment from God for not following proper protocol, but here he didn't seem to be too mad. "But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.' The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people."

Another interesting passage was how Hezekiah used letters to spread word of the Passover celebration, again showing the importance of the written word to the Chronicler. The NOAB had an interesting footnote on this, "The distribution of royal declarations by missives was common in the Persian period. The Persian empire was renowned for its international postal system."


I don't have any particularly new thoughts to add here that I haven't already written about Chronicles. I can say that I'm actually a little excited that next week is my last Chronicles entry. I'll be done with it, and can finally move on to something new and hopefully a little more interesting.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More Thoughts on the Government Shutdown, or !*#%!#@ Republicans

Political FightingI've written about my political affiliation previously:

As far as party affiliation goes, I'm an independent who usually votes Democratic, but not exclusively. I've never voted a straight Democratic ticket. I always try to look at individual candidates to decide who to vote for. It's just that more often than not, the Democratic candidates match my views more closely than the Republicans (and I'm not about to throw my vote away on a third party candidate).

But I have to say, it's getting harder and harder to take anyone seriously who associates themselves with the Republicans, and this latest stunt with the government shutdown is about the last straw in my mind. It doesn't matter how much they disagree with the Affordable Care Act, holding the government and economy hostage to try to achieve their goals is unacceptable. It's not the way our government is supposed to work, and is quite frankly un-American.

The Republican talking point about trying to claim that Democrats have refused to negotiate is horse puckey. Take a look at the article, 19 Times Democrats Tried to Negotiate With Republicans, for a list of all the times the Democrats tried to enter into negotiations with the Republicans before it came to this.

I'm also tired of hearing about them supporting the 'will of the people'. Go read this article, Poll: Don't Shut Down the Government Over Obamacare, reporting on a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Even on the point where the Republicans are closest to reality, the number of people favoring or opposing the Affordable Care Act, they still don't have a good case. Roughly 45 percent of people support the Affordable Care Act, while around 47% oppose it. That's a pretty even split, and not even a majority in opposition. So, according to that poll, Republicans are basing this whole fight on a law that less than half the country disapproves of. Granted, other polls do show the numbers skewed a bit more towards disapproval, but nowhere near an overwhelming majority - nothing that calls for the type of scorched earth approach they've taken.

But, that was the one point with the most support for Republicans. Look at another stat, and it's far worse. A full 72% of those polled opposed shutting down the government in an effort to defund the law. According to another article, Poll Shows Disapproval of Threat of Government Shutdown, it was 8 out of 10 who disapproved of the Republicans' tactics. So the House Republicans can't even pretend that they're representing the will of the people here. They're hijacking the country in an effort to enforce the wishes of around 1/4 of the population.

I could go on an on venting about this situation, but it's difficult not to devolve into using strings of four letter words. Instead, I'll post a couple links to people that have already made the points I was thinking. The first of these is more humorous, from Tom Tomorrow. I'm only showing the first panel - click on it to read the full thing.

The second is an article by Charles Pierce, The Reign Of Morons Is Here. Here's the opening, to give you an idea of what to expect.

Only the truly naive can be truly surprised.

Only the truly child-like can have expected anything else.

In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress -- or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress -- a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party's 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.

It's hard to describe how disgusted I am with the Republican party right now. I didn't have a very high opinion of them before, but they've gone and lowered the bar to a depth I wouldn't have guessed it could reach.

Related Entries (i.e. the government shutdown, and general Republican stupidity):

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 11 to 2 Chronicles 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 11 through 20 of 2 Chronicles pick up shortly after the time of Solomon, and continue on with several of the kings of Judah. As I mentioned last week, the Chronicler didn't consider the Israelite kings to be legitimate, and so didn't discuss them much, other than in how they affected Judah. One change in these chapters compared to previous chapters of Chronicles - there's now actually a bit more detail than there was in Kings for the monarchs that actually are covered. This extra information is mostly brief descriptions of the blessings the kings received, following the Chroniclers motif of faithful to God - blessings, unfaithful to God - punishment.

I'll be honest - this is getting tedious. It was bad enough reading about all these monarchs the first time around. Reading about them again, even with the little bit of extra information, is pretty boring.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 contained the details of the positive aspects Rehoboam's reign, from an intended campaign against Israel that God called off, to a list of his wives and sons.

In describing Jeroboam's revisions to Israeli religious customs, there was a mention of something interesting that wasn't included in Kings - priests for the "goat-demons".

2 Chronicles, Chapter 12

Once Rehoboam became powerful, he turned away from God. So, this chapter contained the details of the negative aspects of his reign, particularly an invasion by Egypt and the subsequent plundering of Judah's treasures. At the end of the chapter, Rehoboam "slept with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David".

2 Chronicles, Chapter 13

This chapter gave a completely different account of Abijah than Kings. While in 1 Kings 15, when Abijah was described, it was "He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David," here in 2 Chronicles, Abijah was described defending the Lord.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) noted a textual issue in this chapter concerning the name of Abijah's mother. According to the NOAB, "The Hebrew gives Abijah's mother a Yahwistic name (meaning "Who is like the Lord"), whereas the ancient versions name her "Maacah" in conformity with 1 Kings 15.2 and 2 Chr 11.20."

To me, the most interesting part of this chapter was how the battle played out between Abijah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. God actually fought for Judah, "when the people of Judah shouted, God defeated Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah." After that, Abijah's men went in for the requisite slaughter.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 14

Chapter 14 begins the story of Abijah's son, Asa. As noted in the NOAB, the coverage devoted to Asa is much more extensive here in Chronicles than it was in kings. The first half of the chapter was devoted to Asa's public works and his removal of religious installations that weren't devoted to Yahweh. The second half dealt with a battle between Judah and a group whose name depends on the translation - either Ehtiopians, Nubians, or Cushites. Again, there's mention of direct intervention by God in the battle, "So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled." And of course, the Judeans pursued and slaughtered the remnants of that army, and then went on to plunder the surrounding cities.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 15

Chapter 15 continued on with the good period of Asa's reign - a prophecy from Azariah son of Oded, and Asa and the people of Judah subsequently committing themselves to the Lord. It stated that "King Asa even removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah."

There was one verse I found interesting in the context of the people in the modern age who disparage Islam as being violent towards infidels, while implying that the Judeo/Christian tradition is peaceful. Consider verses 12 and 13, "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman."

2 Chronicles, Chapter 16

This is where Asa's reign went downhill. King Baasha of Israel "went up against Judah, and built Ramah, to prevent anyone from going out or coming into the territory of King Asa of Judah." To defend Judah, Asa formed an alliance with King Ben-hadad of Aram. Now, to you and me, that might seem like a reasonable thing to do - becoming a temporary ally of a country to defend yourself against a common enemy. As the old saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. But, that saying isn't actually anywhere in the Bible, and that's not actually the type of thing Yahweh likes. Because of Asa's impertinence in not having complete faith Yahweh, God sent a prophet to condemn him, "You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars." Asa was further punished with a disease in his feet that lasted until his death (I wonder if feet was still being used as a euphemism for genitals in the Chronicler's time).

2 Chronicles, Chapter 17

As was the case with Asa, the Chronicler has devoted much more coverage to Jehoshaphat than what was in Kings. According to the NOAB, there's debate among scholars on whether this extra information comes from other source material, or whether the Chronicler just made it up from whole cloth. Interestingly, despite there being more material devoted to Jehoshaphat, the prophet, Elijah, is complete absent from the account in Chronicles.

This chapter was devoted to the good aspects of Jehoshaphat's reign - remaining faithful to God, sending out officials to teach the people the ways of the Lord, public works, receiving gifts from other nations, etc. Actually, the NOAB notes that the part about sending out officials to teach "having the book of the law of the Lord with them" may have post-exilic, after the first temple had been sacked and the Torah became much more important.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 18

This chapter contained the story of Jehoshaphat joining forces with Ahab, and the prophecy from Micaiah son of Imlah. All of Ahab's prophets save Micaiah foretold of victory in battle, but Micaiah gave a different story. I still find his prophecy to be very interesting - he saw the Lord sitting around with the rest of the host of heaven, trying to think of a way to mislead Ahab so that he would go into battle and be defeated. Finally, a spirit came forward and offered to go be "a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets". Yahweh apparently liked the idea, and sent the spirit to give the prophets false visions and lead Ahab to his doom. This is just such a strange story. It definitely doesn't present Yahweh as all-knowing, since he's brainstorming with his host to try to figure out a solution to his problem. And he's not particularly nice or honest, either. But then you also have to wonder how Micaiah was able to get the correct prophecy when all the other prophets were mislead. Did Yahweh give him alone the correct vision? Or did Micaiah have some power that allowed him to see even God's secrets? In other words, it seems that Yahweh isn't omnipotent and the source of all power in the universe, but just a powerful being himself, and that there are other sources of magic power, such as Micaiah's vision.

Anyway, like in Kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat led their forces into battle, with Ahab disguised to try to protect himself, but Ahab still wound up mortally wounded by a stray arrow.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 19

Jehoshaphat escaped the battle and returned safely home, but he was immediately reprimanded by God through a seer, Jehu, for even joining up with Israel, "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord." However, after that reprimand, no punishment came. The rest of the chapter dealt with further reforms under Jehoshaphat, appointed judges and priests throughout the land.

2 Chronicles, Chapter 20

An alliance of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites came to attack Judah. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah, and the nation assembled to "seek help from the Lord". Jehoshaphat issued a prayer to God while "all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children." A prophet, Jahaziel, delivered God's reassurance and instructions - the people of Judah were merely to assemble, but then let God do the fighting. And it came to pass, "When Judah came to the watch-tower of the wilderness, they looked towards the multitude; they were corpses lying on the ground; no one had escaped." Since there was noone left to kill, the Judeans simply plundered what they could.

Jehoshaphat made one more mistake before his death - he worked with the new king of Israel, Ahaziah, to build ships for trade. And again, Yahweh was upset, " 'Because you have joined with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made.' And the ships were wrecked and were not able to go to Tarshish."


A thought occured to me while reading these chapters. Many modern day Christians ascribe to the Sola scriptura doctrine - that the Bible contains all the knowledge you need to form the basis of your Christianity. These Christians think of the Bible as a coherent work. If some information is missing in one book, it's available in another. But imagine yourself in the time period in between when Kings was written and when Chronicles was written. Since Chronicles contains information that wasn't in Kings, you wouldn't have had that future information. Your scriptures would have been incomplete. Why would God have provided incomplete scriptures?

The main thing I noticed in these chapters was the pattern I mentioned up in the introduction, where a king do good and be faithful to God and subsequently be rewarded, and then turn from God and be punished.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

@%^$#!$ Steelers

SteelersI've never been a huge sports fan. I'm not oblivious to sports, but for the most part, I don't make it a point to watch them. I have gone through a few periods where I'll follow a particular sport for a little while, but none of those periods has lasted long term. When I was in middle school, it was hockey, back when Lindros was just getting started in Philly (when PRISM was still in business). Early in college it was English Premier League soccer - I actually recognized players. Later in college it was NFL football and college basketball, thanks to having roommates who were real sports fans. The college basketball thing was perfect timing, too - Maryland won the national championship the year after I graduated (and look where Juan Dixon is now). Once I moved down to Texas, my first year here I even hung out with a guy who got me to watch NASCAR. But once I got away from the influence of my old Maryland friends, I drifted away from watching sports. Of course, as a red-blooded American, I couldn't miss watching the Superbowl every year, and you can't avoid watching some sports, but I usually spent my time doing other things.

Well, last year, I actually started following football again. The problem is - I'm a Steelers fan. I was too young to watch them win their first four Superbowls during their dynasty years, so I always defended them as having the most Superbowl wins of any team, but never having seen them even make it to the big game. Finally, when I was in high school, they made it to Super Bowl XXX against the Cowboys, but they lost, and I've hated the Cowboys every day since. But then, once I'd moved to Texas, they actually went all the way and won Super Bowl XL, and then again just a few years later for XLIII. But, like I explained above, those were the years when I wasn't following football very closely. So last year, when I started actually paying attention and watching them every Sunday, they began to suck. After a decent start to the season, they lost 5 of their last 7 games, taking them out of the playoffs.

And now this season, it's even worse. They're 0-4 right now. It's their worst start since 1968. The best thing about their bye this week is that I don't have to watch them lose yet again.

Anway, I just read an article on ESPN.com that sums it up pretty well, Steelers fans need lessons in losing. Here's my favorite paragraph:

Abandon all hope: Let's be honest, with so much to celebrate over the years, you may have, on occasion, talked some trash or acted superior to your friends in Cleveland or Philadelphia. These people have been waiting for decades to rub this 0-4 start in your face. Don't you dare give them the pleasure. It's gonna sting a little, but the best tactic is to beat them to the punch by accepting, fully, what is happening to your Steelers. Basically, says Simons, you need to "Accept losing: If you can enter a Zen state in which you abandon all hope and really, really expect them to lose every game, you'll have a fun, happy season."

Well, I've gotten part of that last sentence. I do expect them to lose every game for the rest of the season. I just doubt that's going to make it fun and happy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Website Update - Top 10 (+3) Page List for September 2013

Top 10 ListIt's time for my monthly routine of looking over the server logs to see how things have been going on this site. The trend from last month has continued, with overall traffic increasing even more. By all measures except one (bandwidth), September 2013 was the busiest month ever for my website, and by a large margin in most cases. For example, page views were up 39% from last month, and 253% from the next highest month. And even bandwidth was just barely lower than it was for the highest month - 99.2%. I suspect this has to do with increased spammers, but I hope it's also due to more legitimate traffic.

I'm actually going to list the top 13 pages this month, since they all had similar traffic, and were clearly separated from the rest of the pages. The only one of these that hadn't made the top 10 list before was the blog entry, Chick-Fil-A, Bigotry, and Rights. Technically, it still hasn't made the top 10, but this is still far more views than the page had ever received before. Sadly, my Autogyro History & Theory page missed the list for the second month in a row, despite having its second highest monthly total ever.

Here were the thirteen most popular pages on this site last month.

Top 10+3 for September 2013

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. Blog - Response to an E-Mail Supposedly Summarizing Dr. Charles Krauthammer's Views on Obama
  4. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  5. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  6. Blog - Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire
  7. Blog - Review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
  8. Blog - Book Review - Voyage of the Beagle
  9. Blog - Book Review - Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  10. Blog - Crazy E-mail - Cash for Clunkers
  11. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes
  12. Blog - Evolution No More a Fact than the Civil War
  13. Blog - Chick-Fil-A, Bigotry, and Rights

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to Convert Me Back to Christianity

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI have a couple good friends who happen to be Catholic. If you follow this blog, you know I'm no fan of religion, but I don't think it should be surprising that I have religious friends. As I wrote in the short entry, The Misleading Image of Bloggers, there's so much more I do in real life that I never address on this blog, so debating religion is just a small aspect of life. And I also live in the U.S. where the vast majority of people are Christian, which means most of my interactions are with Christians, and subsequently most of my friends are Christians. Granted, I don't think I could be friends with a Fred Phelps or a David Duke, but thankfully, there are many, many Christians who are far more reasonable in the way they live their lives and treat other people, and these friends of mine are definitely good people.

Well, these particular friends have led a few retreats for their church - a weekend free of distractions to discuss religious matters and help renew your faith. My wife's been considering going to one of these retreats, so she's been talking to the wife half of our friends (they're a married couple). Well, last week our friend told my wife about an upcoming retreat that her husband was going to lead, and wondered if I'd be interested in going. My wife asked her if she was serious considering that it was, well, me, and our friend thought better of it and said that maybe that wouldn't be the best idea.

To be honest, I would find such a retreat interesting, but I also think I'd be rather disruptive to their normal process. It's not that I'd be disruptive on purpose. It's that I've given this topic so much thought and researched it so much, that I know from experience talking to my Christian friends that my objections go far deeper than the average doubts that I'd imagine are typical of the normal attendees of these retreats.

So it got me to thinking. If I were to attend one of these retreats or something similar, and I went in with an open mind ready to be convinced to return to the fold, what would it take? Where could they even start? My objections to Christianity are extensive and multi-layered, so there would be a lot to cover. Below is a list of the broad areas that would have to be addressed. I tried to arrange them in some type of order in which they should be addressed, but it's only a loose ordering. I've put links to related articles I've written previously where appropriate (note that these are related articles, not necessarily a full discussion of that point).

  1. Evidence for a Soul - Given how much we've learned through neuroscience, it really seems that our thoughts, emotions, and personalities are controlled by the physical processes of our brains. Chemical drugs affect us. Strokes and diseases like Alzheimer's affect people's personalities and memories. Physical damage to the brain like happened to Phineas Gage drastically changed his personality. Just what role do souls play?
    Further Musings on the Soul
  2. Christianity vs. Other Religions - Why does Christianity bear so much resemblance to other religions? The flood story seems remarkably similar to the Mesopotamian Flood Myth (Gilgamesh is another variant). Yahweh looks to be evolved from the Canaanite pantheon of gods, having originally been a sky god or a thunder god. The earlier books in the Old Testament show multiple signs of polytheism. God's own designs for the first temple seem to copy the tripartite design common to the region. Osiris and Jesus seem to share some close similarities, as do Christianity and Mithraism. Why does it appear so strongly that Judaism and Christianity evolved out of previous religions?
    Another Similarity Between Osiris & Jesus
  3. Evidence for Judaism/Christianity - Aside from souls, what evidence is there for Judaism & Christianity in particular? What extra-Biblical evidence is there for any of the stories in the Bible (more than just evidence that certain cities existed - even Greek & Roman mythology reference real locations)? What evidence is there for God acting in the modern world? (I don't place a lot of weight on 'faith', because I don't know how to value one faith more than another. i.e. What makes Christian faith valid, but Muslim or Hindu faith misguided?)
    Standards of Evidence for Religion
  4. Bible - Reliability - I'm reading the Bible right now. It's clear that it's not a coherent, unified work, but rather a collection of different writings. And even some of those individual books show signs of being cobbled together from previous sources. Granted, all of the books deal with a similar theme, but the different books reveal different theologies, and they're even contradictory in places. If the Bible is meant to be some type of a guide to Christianity, how do you deal with its shortcomings?
    Friday Bible Blogging
  5. Historicity of Jesus - This is a special case of the above, but a rather important one for Christianity. Why are the only accounts of Jesus the Gospels that were written well after his supposed death. Why are there no contemporary accounts of a man that supposedly had such a huge following and such a huge impact on the politics of his region? What external evidence is there that the Biblical Jesus actually existed?
    Liar, Lunatic, or Lord ... Or Something Else

    [Added 2018-02-15: Note, the above is about the historicity of the miracle working son of God version of Jesus. The historicity of the minor cult leader hardly noticed in his own time is much more probable. For example, take a look at: Do credible historians agree that the man named Jesus, who the Christian Bible speaks of, walked the earth and was put to death on a cross by Pilate, Roman governor of Judea?]
  6. Bible - Squaring with Reality - Some of the stories in the Bible very clearly did not happen literally - the creation stories from Genesis including Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, the Tower of Babel, etc. How do you square those stories with reality? If you're going to explain them as metaphors, how do you distinguish metaphors from actual history? Was Moses a metaphor? King David? Solomon? Jesus himself? And if they are metaphors, what do they stand for?
    Problems with a Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis
  7. Immorality of Commandments in the Old Testament - Why is the Old Testament so full of such horrible rules? Just read through Leviticus - slavery, stonings for modest crimes, stonings for actions that shouldn't even be crimes, etc. And then there are all the actions God directed the Israelites to commit - slaughtering entire cities, including men, women, and children; killing all the men and married women, but keeping the virgin girls for themselves; etc. Why would God issue such commandments? (Note that the New Covenant doesn't really help here - even without the jot or tittle debate, God still supposedly issued these commandments at some point.)
    The Old Testament - It's a Bit Strange
  8. Immorality of Yahweh in the Old Testament - When he wasn't instructing the Israelites to commit atrocities, God was pretty busy himself - indiscriminate punishment of entire nations for one person's sins, killing someone who dared touch the ark to try to keep it from falling, the quail episode from Numbers 11, killing Korah's entire family because of Korah's insubordination, hardening Pharaoh's heart to extend the plagues, the indiscriminate nature of the plagues, the massacre of Noah's flood, etc. How are these horrendous acts from Yahweh justified while still trying to call him a loving god?
  9. Hell - This is another aspect of the immorality of Yahweh, but a Christian addition. How can eternal punishment for finite crimes be just? Here's an excerpt from an old story called The Little Shepherd Boy (it's been paraphrased numerous times).
    In Lower Pomerania is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.
    Think of that length of time. Now think of someone burning in the torment of hellfire that entire time. And like the fable says, that's only the first second of eternity. What crime could possibly merit such a horrendous punishment?

    And the worst part is that most of your actions really have no effect on whether you'll face this punishment or not. No - it all comes down to one action, one choice, whether or not you accept Jesus. If Hitler had a death bed conversion, he'd be playing on his harp in the clouds, while Gandhi, heathen that he was (Hinduism), would experience an eternity of torment with the fires and the gnashing of the teeth. How is this justice?
  10. Purpose of the Resurrection / Sacrifice - One of the only ways the resurrection story makes sense to me is if sacrifices really do propitiate God. The Old Testament, with its emphasis on animal sacrifice, does seem to indicate this. The resurrection, then, is so powerful because it's divine blood, not just an animal. But animal sacrifice in and of itself is barbaric. What is the point of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament? How did it honor God for Solomon to consecrate the temple by "sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be numbered or counted"? How is it reasonable to transfer guilt to scape goats? Couldn't an omnipotent god have come up with a less convoluted way to forgive humanity?

    (As an aside, another explanation I recently heard to explain the resurrection that makes a bit of sense is that God isn't omnipotent. Someone had to sneak into the underworld in order to free the souls trapped there. The only way to sneak into the underworld was to send his son. Jesus had to die in order to enter, but then once there, he could go about freeing everyone else.)

    Really, I'd just like some coherent explanation for the resurrection.
  11. Is God Worthy of Worship? - This ties into the immorality aspects from above. But, if all of God's immoral actions from the Old Testament were true, what does that say about the nature of God? Would a God that horrendous even be worthy of worship?
    The Benevolent Dictator - Should We Worship the Christian God?

So, there you have it. If I was ever going to attend one of these retreats, these are my major objections that would have to be addressed. Honestly, I doubt they can be addressed effectively, or I'd still be a Christian rather than an atheist. But if somebody could answer all these questions for me, I would entertain the idea of returning to the fold*.

I do think I did my friend a favor by not going to the particular retreat he was hosting. He'd probably have thought I was a bit of a jerk if I kept on derailing the conversation.

*Honestly, I have no more desire to renew my faith and return to Christianity than I do to be won over to Hinduism or Islam. I think my other writings and the points I raised above make it clear that I don't see Christianity in a very positive light. The longer and longer I'm an atheist, the more and more comfortable I become with it. In fact, I think it's fair to say that I'm happier now than I was as a Christian. I may have lost the promise of an afterlife, but I've also been freed from the immoral dictates of the Bible, and the guilt and fear of Hell that go along with it (especially fear of Hell for other people besides myself - reading Douglas Adams' last book while I was still a Christian was really difficult - believing that this insightful, thoughtful man was suffering for eternity because of his lack of faith). This whole entry is really more of an exercise in intellectual honesty and being open to other viewpoints. I'm not saying I couldn't be convinced to return to Christianity if these issues were addressed, but I am saying that I don't have a Jesus shaped hole in my heart looking to be filled.

Update 2013-10-17: Made numerous changes - added several links to my Friday Bible Blogging series to cite some of my examples, replaced the Little Shepherd Boy translation (it was originally this one), and slightly reworded the above footnote.

« September 2013 | Main | November 2013 »