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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Not Pretty, but Truthful

What should a preacher sound like? Michael Ruffin suggests he or she might want to embrace Bob Dylan as a model.

Jews Were Still Using the Septuagint in Medieval Cairo

Professor Nicholas de Lange and other experts and Cambridge University have discovered evidence that the Jews of Cairo were familiar with the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Bible long thought to have fallen out of use among Jews, perhaps because it was the translation favored by early Christians.

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek – showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.” chris.elliott@cambridge-news.co.uk

(H/T: Jim Davila)

The Psalms for Personal Devotion

Chuck Huckaby discusses several resources for incorporating the Psalms into one’s daily devotions, with emphasis is on the metrical psalmody of the Genevan Psalter.

The Universe according to Genesis 1

Robin Parry summarizes three papers on Genesis 1 by Paul H. Seely appearing in the Westminster Theological Journal in the early 1990s. According to Parry,

Seely comes from a Reformed evangelical background but, in these articles, he is reacting against creation science attempts to read modern scientific cosmology from the Bible. He demonstrates convincingly that the biblical authors presupposed an ancient cosmology and not a modern one.

Very interesting. Thanks, Robin, for bringing these to our attention.

Armageddon and Near Eastern Chronology

A new archeological project is attempting to synchronize ancient chronology by relying on the twenty-nine destruction layers at Megiddo, which span the entire history of the region from 3000 to 300 BC.

Megiddo is the only place in the world with so many destruction layers — archaeological strata resulting from a calamity such as a fire, earthquake or conquest — that resulted from a specific event in history.

[Archeologist Israel] Finkelstein told AOL News that the site provides “a very dense, accurate and reliable ladder for the dating of the different monuments and the layers.”

“These destruction layers can serve as anchors for the entire system of dating,” Finkelstein said. “Megiddo is the only site which has 10 layers with radiocarbon results for the period 1300 to 800 B.C.E.”

Scientists hope that by analyzing the archaeological strata they can nail each layer to a specific year or decade, using the physical data from Megiddo to set the clocks of history and create a definitive timeline that can be used as a basis for accurately dating all archaeological sites.

The project will take samples from Megiddo and other sites where dates are fairly certain and subject them to a battery of four different scientific tests: 14C, archeo-magnetism, optical luminescence, and rehydroxilation.

Christ Is Born!

Glorify him!

About that X in “Xmas”

“Christ” comes from a Greek word meaning “Anointed.” In Greek letters, you spell it Χριστός (khrees-TOHS). The first Greek letter is a chi, corresponding to the ch in the Latin spelling we’re all accustomed to.

If you want to wish someone Merry Christmas in Greek, you say, “Καλά Χριστούγεννα” (kah-LAH khrees-TOO-yen-nah). Χριστούγεννα is the Greek word for Christmas. Notice that letter chi right at the beginning?

That letter looks an awful lot like an X, doesn’t it. It’s not. It’s the first letter in “Christ.” When people write “Xmas,” they’re using a Greek abbreviation. It’s the same as if we wrote “C-mas” in English.

This abbreviation isn’t a modern invention, nor does it necessarily imply disrespect. In fact, there are numerous abbreviations for God, Christ, and even the Virgin Mary that appear in ancient and medieval Greek biblical manuscripts as well as on Orthodox icons.

  • Χριστός is often abbreviated ΧΣ, using the first and last (capital) letters. In old-fashioned uncial Greek writing, it looks more like “XC.”
  • Ἰησοῦς, the word for Jesus, is similarly abbreviated by using the first and last letters: ΙΣ (“IC”).
  • The word for God, Θεός (“Theos”) is abbreviated to ΘΣ (“ΘC”).

There are several more (ΥΣ for Ὑιός, “Son”; ΠΝΑ for πνεῦμα, “Spirit,” etc.), but those are the most common. The technical term you can use to impress your friends is nomina sacra, “sacred names.” Almost all of them have been found in Greek manuscripts from third century or earlier. I guarantee you many of them can be found in the frantically scribbled notes of most seminary students!

In the Bible and on icons, nomina sacra are usually marked as abbreviations by putting a little line over them. For example, here is an icon of Jesus. If you didn’t know who it was, you could tell from the abbreviation IC XC: “Jesus Christ.”

And here is a sliver of a thirteenth-century manuscript (the opening words of the book of Romans) which uses the same abbreviation in the Greek genitive case: ΙΥ ΧΥ for Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, “of Jesus Christ.”So, the next time you are tempted to condemn someone for writing “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” please take a moment to think about whether you’re also willing to condemn all those faithful copyists and icon writers who have used similar abbreviations almost since the beginning of Christianity.

Oh, and Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

Lessons and Carols 9

The Ninth Lesson:

St John unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)


“O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Neville Longbottom and the Deathly Wager

“Magi, I believe you had better start explaining yourself,” Principal Towne said almost in a whisper, his lips barely moving.

“Of course, Principal,” said Mr. Corntassel. “You see—and I know you disapprove of gambling, Athansius, but please hear me out—Jacob and I had placed a small wager on the outcome of Saturday’s Quodpot game. The winner would cover three lessons with the loser’s most incorrigible, most exasperating class. Well, though they distinguished themselves by their superb flying and their unparalleled sportsmanship, Proudfeather lost.”

“We all know that!” Mr. Malleus spat.

“And I agreed that I would teach three lessons to the class of Mr. Malleus’s choosing.” Now all eyes fell upon Will, Kate, and Dana. “Second-year Proudfeathers and Fairgarlands. The very definition of ‘incorrigible’ and ‘exasperating,’ wouldn’t you say?”

Madame Glapion joined in Mr. Corntassel’s grin. Mr. Malleus and Principal Towne remained grim-faced. Neville just stood there, mouth agape.

“Then I realized that neither of us had clearly stated when these lessons were to take place. So I figured, No time like the present!”

“So are you saying, Magi, that you put these children up to breaking into Mr. Malleus’s office?” said Principal Towne, his volume rising ever so slightly.

“Not at all, Athanasius. I’m saying that, like all forms of magic, Defense against the Dark Arts involves a bit of detective work. You see something suspicious—a prematurely exploding Quod, for example—what do you make of it? Is it worth investigating or not?

“Magi, you didn’t sabotage that Quod? Someone could have been hurt!”

“Now, now, Justine, I’d never do anything of the sort. I was still hoping for a Proudfeather comeback! You always get an unpredictable Quod now and then. We all know that. But you should have heard the Proudfeather fans walking back to the dormitories. They were convinced someone was up to no good. I thought, ‘Here’s a teachable moment if there ever was one.’ A defective Quod by itself is an accident. But add some strange noises in the Proudfeather common room, a scrap of parchment with a coded message falling into the hands of an overly suspicious Fairgarland—” (Dana blushed at this statement) “—a mysterious cloaked figure prowling the grounds…”

“I never heard anything about a stranger on campus!” Mr. Malleus interjected.

“I made sure the intruder was only seen by second-year Proudfeathers and Fairgarlands. It’s their lesson, after all. I, uh, arranged for her to be seen departing from certain rooms a few moments after you did, Jacob, or else to skulk around outside your office when I knew the right students would be passing by.”

Her?” Mr. Malleus started.

“By the way, Athanasius, my sister is in town and we’d like you to be our guest Christmas Eve if you don’t have other plans.” Mr. Corntassel paused to reclaim his line of thought. “They’d have never come to you, Jacob, they figured you were in on it!.”

“And we fell for it,” Will said, dejected.

“You pieced together the clues I left you, Will, and you did so correctly to the best of your knowledge. None of your classmates did, though they had the same opportunities—I’d take that into consideration when grading this assignment, Jacob.” He turned back to the three. “Your only fault was in failing to inform a teacher. Confronting Dark wizardry is something best left to adults.” Mr. Corntassel turned to Neville. “Where do these children get the idea that they’re up to fighting monsters?”

Mr. Corntassel crossed his arms. “And that, my friends, was lesson one: Adequate Defense against the Dark Arts requires strong allies. Don’t go it alone if you can help it—especially when you’re only twelve years old!”

By now Madame Glapion was mesmerized. “And lesson two?”

“Lesson two, it turns out, involved only Kate, Dana, and Will, as they were the ones who put my clues together. They can write up a summary of their experience to share with the rest of the class in January. Twelve inches of parchment should do—and, Jacob, I’ll be happy to attend that day’s class and help with the debriefing.

“The second lesson is: Know what you’re getting into. You see, Athanasius, I planted clues pointing to something fishy in Mr. Malleus’s office, but I never gave any hints about what it might be.

“Now, the proper thing to do in a situation like that is to continue to gather information. Research. Books! I’m sure Mr. Malleus has mentioned the concept. You might have discovered some simple techniques of Dark Detection to try. Or perhaps dig deeper into my clues, eliminate possibilities that didn’t match the data. You might have done any number of things. Many of them would have won my praise. Unfortunately, you chose to dive in unprepared. Jacob, I would suggest you take that into consideration as well when grading this assignment.

“I was there at lunch this afternoon when the three of you made plans to investigate Mr. Malleus’s office during the Christmas Banquet. So, as soon as I knew he had finished his day’s work, I hurried down to the root cellar, collected my boggart, and left him here. Oh, and Kate’s Unlocking Charm worked because I didn’t replace all the protective charms on the door when I was finished.”

Principal Towne wore a look of pure bewilderment, half amused and half dismayed.

“Mr. Corntassel,” Kate began, “When we were in Mr. Malleus’s office…. Well, there are an awful lot of Dark Detectors in there. There were a couple of Sneakoscopes and a Secrecy Sensor and a couple of other things I didn’t recognize.”


“Well, none of them were going off. Wouldn’t they… I mean, how did you….?

“My question exactly, Corntassel,” Mr. Malleus said. “They’d have gone off the minute you picked the lock.”

“And I’m sure I would have, Jacob, if I had done the slightest thing to set them off.”

If? What do you—?”

“Well, I wasn’t doing anything untrustworthy, was I? I owed you a debt and I was paying it—and promptly at that! What could be more trustworthy? My motivations in entering your office were purely aboveboard. I wasn’t hiding behind Occlumency or any other form of concealment. I wasn’t even invisible. I just opened the door, let in the boggart, and closed it back again. I wasn’t going to steal anything” Mr. Corntassel looked perfectly satisfied with himself. “I was giving you a present—which I had decided to give you days ago.”

Mr. Corntassel winked at Neville and then addressed Principal Towne. “I assure you, sir, that nothing underhanded has taken place here tonight, and I call as witnesses the silence of Mr. Malleus’s own Dark Detectors. But I thought it best for you to hear this story as soon as possible, Principal, before any unfounded rumors get started. I also thought it best for Justine to be here in her capacity as Miss Good’s Head of House.”

“Much obliged,” said Madame Glapion. “But if you don’t mind: You said the bet involved teaching three lessons….?”

“So I did, Justine. Thank you for reminding me.” He glanced at the grandfather clock near the end of the hall. “Jacob, you might want to find a good vantage point to see the covered walkway between the Great Hall and the Proudfeather and Fairgarland dormitories.”

“Yes?” Mr. Malleus said apprehensively.

“In another twenty minutes or so the first- and second-years will have to be in their dorms for curfew. On their way to bed I’m afraid they’re going to have a run-in with a haint—It’s not a very big one, Jacob, so don’t give me that worried expression. I found it tussling with the boggart in the root cellar. You can have it if you want. I just thought you’d like to see how your students handle it.”

Neville and the other teachers returned to the Great Hall in time for dessert. Mr. Malleus joined them some time later, still glaring at Mr. Corntassel. He didn’t say another word to anyone the entire evening and excused himself from the feast at the soonest opportunity. Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves—even Principal Towne. But the highlight of the evening was when Rufus the ghost floated to the center of the Great Hall and danced the minuet with Annabelle, a pretty young ghost in a flapper dress.

At midnight the rest of the students were run out and the few teachers who had stayed up with them made their way to bed. The hunting trophies had long since drifted off to sleep, and the red-and-green flames in the fireplaces were almost extinguished.

Neville pulled his robes close around his body and lumbered to his guest cottage. Arriving, he magicked fire in this own fireplace and eased himself into an overstuffed chair. After a moment’s thought he grabbed a lap desk and piece of parchment from a side table along with a fresh eagle-feather quill.

Dear Professor McGonagall,

I wonder if you’ve ever given any thought to a more experiential approach to education at Hogwarts….

Lessons and Carols 8

The Eighth Lesson:

The wise men are led by the star to Jesus.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12)


“Coventry Carol”


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