Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Intermarriage & the future of Jews

Those who follow the Jewish press will notice from time to time the appearance of articles about intermarriage. Many think this is the No.1 threat to the existence of the Jewish people. It is sometimes referred to as a "silent Holocaust".

In case there was any doubt as to the sensitivity of this subject, a recent controversy involving Alan Dershowitz (about whom I have blogged here) has revealed and highlighted the tensions within the Jewish community on this subject .

It has struck a raw nerve and I would not be surprised if the commotion around it grows.

Well what are some of the issues here ? Let’s open it up a little.

One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognise that the chances of a Jew or Jewess marrying a non-Jew are very much reduced if one happens to be living in the Land of Israel.If intermarriage is the chief threat to the Jewish people then aliya must be the best and perhaps only solution.

But America, with a Jewish population just over 5 million, has traditionally been a land where aliya hardly exceeds 1,000 families per year. And why should it ? America offers health wealth and perhaps happiness , has been and continues to be, next to Israel itself, the most welcoming country for Jews.

Now if we turn to the Bible and consider foremost Matthew 23:37-39 and also Romans 11:26-29. These Scriptures tell us there must be a Jewish presence in the world and even a Jewish nation centered in Jerusalem when JESUS returns.

Look, if God can bring down the Soviet Empire to “let His people go”, he is able and willing to shake America so it also will “let His people go”.

But perhaps a different kind of shaking will be required.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Muslim Christian Debate on Premier Radio

Yesterday on the “Unbelievable “programme on Premier Radio, Abdul Rahman (Jaffah?) from the Muslim Council of Britain presented the Muslim side.

He had been filling the shoes of  Anas Al-Tikriti originally scheduled but “kept away because of illness”. I’m sure it had nothing to do with him realising he would be facing Jay Smith, of the Hyde Park Christian Fellowship and a veteran debater with Muslims.

Rahman was introduced as a barrister currently standing for public office on the Respect Coalition platform. Each side gave a brief personal history and the moderator Justin Brierley did as best a job as could be expected in making the Muslim guy feel welcome and of keeping the lid on the proceedings when each side started talking above and/or  past the other.

The proposition being considered for debate was: “Which faith, Islam or Christianity, is most compatible with the West”. I may be biased but I do think Jay Smith “won” the debate – he defined his terms and stuck to his definitions, always kept himself under control, and rebutted every argument which Abdul Rahman put forth.

The most memorable impression Abdul Rahman made was of getting emotionally agitated at various points in the dialogue so that Justin Brierley had to come in on his side, to the rescue, as it were, so that Smith found himself debating and rebutting both Rahman and the moderator.

A. Rahman started the proceedings and decided to get the first punch in quick by accusing Christianity of having a history of “demonising” Islam while Islam, he said, exhibited a level of co-existence which he characterised by the use of the word “pro-existence”.

He made claims that in the Ottoman Empire and in Iran the government built churches and synagogues (false). Smith calmly countered by asking “Is it demonisation to ask the pertinent questions ?”. Smith later picked up on the “demonising” terminology and used against A. Rahman himself who was doing just that to Abu Hamza (aka The Hook).

It is not my intention to give a “blow by blow” account but touch on some highlights. I suppose one could say the discussion turned chiefly around the theme of “women” and “violence” as regards to how each faith fared in these two aspect in terms of being more compatible with the West. Of course, the Muslim guy was largely reduced to being on the defensive.

Rahman admitted a number of times that he was “not a scholar” when confronted with the fact that Jay was quoting specific Quranic verses.  A. Rahman ,when presented with one Quranic verse after another, regarding the treatment of women nevertheless did try to counter by saying women in the West had not received voting and inheritance rights until recently whereas the Quran had codified such.

When faced with the Sura 4 permission to men to “beat their wives” A. Rahman responded with an anecdote about Meccan men married to “liberated” Medinan women complaining to Mohamed that their wives were always “talking back” to them. He claimed as a result that ayah or verse had been “revealed” to Mohamed as a “time bound” concession for the men to control their wives.

A. Rahman tried to bring up the verses in Deuteronomy regarding God’s command to the Israelites to annihilate the inhabitants of Canaan. Smith responded to that point by saying that was 1400 B.C. and needed to be left there thus supporting the notion of normativity and time boundedness for the Christian as well.

The issue of “normative” versus “time bound” verses in the Quran continued to be an important part of the discussion which is not a surprise. One reason this is interesting is because, while in Mecca, Mohamed and his followers did not have economic and political power. And so it is in these verses which “came down” at this time that we find pronouncements regarding co-existence and such verses that say “there is no compulsion in religion”.

What was very surprising was Abdul Rahman’s claim that the earlier Meccan verses were the “normative” ones while the later Medinan verses were “time bound”. In arguing in this manner, he was arguing differently from the logic of “abrogation” in Islam where later verses abrogate the earlier ones.

So by having to go against his own Islamic tradition, A. Rahman was making the point that an earlier teaching of the Quran was normative, universal and thus compatible with Western pluralism.

Smith had said throughout the discussion and re-iterated in his concluding statement that his ultimate authority was the New Testament and the example of Jesus Christ for which no exceptions need be made for the 21st century. This is truly a “beautiful thing”. He also concluded, (and demonstrated) that this was not the case for the Quran or for the example of Mohamed which should be left in the 7th century.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"The Greek Bible & the Jews" Nicholas de Lange

This was a lecture I attended at King’s College (located on The Strand - see pics below) on Thursday evening.

Had I realised it was given under the auspices of Kings as well as the The Maccabeans society, I might not have been expecting him to touch on the manuscript transmission tradition of the Christian church - which he didn’t - except to say the Byzantines probably purchased old reject Greek manuscripts from the Jews.

I also might not have been surprised that he said next to nothing on  the LXX (except to pay it a compliment by mentioning there was evidence that so-called Hebraisms of  the LXX Pentateuch probably were not Hebraisms after all but proper Greek usage of the time).  

The lecture was basically a subdued plug for Aquila (surprise, surprise) with added personal speculation about some “lost tradition of translation” distinct from that of Aquila and the LXX.

Before I mention some of the key points of the jam packed hour long lecture, here are a few biographical facts presented to us by way of introduction by Judith Lieu:

“He wrote ‘Origen and the Jews’ circa 1970’s.
He is also translator of Amos Oz’s novels.
He studied classics then taught Hebrew.”

Now for some bullet points from the lecture itself:

  • Justinian I issues an edict in mid-6th century A.D. concerning a quarrel among Jews in Constantinople over the usage of Greek or Hebrew translations. The nature of the controversy is not completely understood but seems disputes arose in Constantinople to impose a Hebrew reading. Prior to the 8th century A.D. there is no evidence of Hebrew Scripture usage. By the 1st millennium A.D. the usage of Hebrew is established mainly due to Justinian’s exclusion of Jews from Greek schools.

  • Sextus Julius Africanus (& Origen?) report that the Aquilas translation is preferred among the Hebraists.

  • Origen refers to the translations by Aquila, Symmachus & Theodotion as “The Three”

  • Byzantine Judaism:  had a high regard for tradition as well as an openness to new ideas”. 11th century as schism arose in opposition to the Karaites. The Byzantine Greek Bible has not come to us in its entirety only two 14th century manuscripts of “Jonah” in existence. Otherwise, there is not a full book. What is available shows “a careful literal translation”. Soncino in Constantinople prints the Torah in Greek. Earliest Jewish Biblical Glossary dates from c.900A.D. as a manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum Library (from ‘Negroponte’ ?) with fabulous glosses in the margins.

  • Cairo Geniza fragments: a depository of manuscripts dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. The translation of Ecclesiastes into Greek was made in Israel in the 2nd century A.D. possibly by Aquila himself. In Aquila the Gk participle “sun” is used in the accusative while usually in Gk it is used as the direct object of a verb – and so highly unusual and characteristic of Aquilas. Geniza fragment circa 1000A.D. uses “sun” in the accusative – the only place outside of Aquila.

The Strand

King's College
Some famous professors who once taught there
Australia House
An historic church in the Strand
Ice skating at Somerset House adjacent to King's College
Another icy activity at Somerset House

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Divine Guidance Checklist

Your answers to the following questions should help you evaluate your ability to make a God-honoring decision when faced with difficult choices.

[ ] Have I asked for God’s help?

[ ] Do I show my trust for God with every area of my life, not merely this decision?

[ ] Do I obey God’s clearly revealed will?

[ ] Am I operating on the basis of good reasons rather than changing feelings?

[ ] Am I filling my mind with God’s Word so that my mind is being transformed?

[ ] Are there biblical commands or principles that apply to my specific situation?

[ ] What are the alternatives and consequences of each possible option? How do these fare when evaluated by what the Bible says?

[ ] Do my abilities and weaknesses have a bearing on the decision? How?

[ ] What decision will glorify God, build me up spiritually, and edify others?

[ ] Have I sought out worthy advisors?

[ ] Have I carefully evaluated the advice, not merely accepted or rejected it?

[ ] Is this decision a matter of my own freedom?

[ ] Do I have peace that my decision is right?

[ ] Would waiting be profitable or detrimental?

[ ] Am I determined to obey and please God?

and see also here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quote of the Day

So long as philosophy is the free pursuit of wisdom, it arises wherever men of character and penetration, each with his special experience or hobby, looks about them in this world.

That philosophers should be professors is an accident, and almost an anomaly. Free reflection about everything is a habit to be imitated, but not a subject to expound; and an original system, if the philosopher has one, is something dark, perilous, untested, and not ripe to be taught, nor is there much danger that anyone will learn it.

The genuine philosopher -- as Royce liked to say, quoting the Upanishads -- wanders alone like the rhinoceros.

-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States (New York: Norton, 1967), p. 35.

via – Maverick Philosopher.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Genesis 2:18-22

(Gen 2:18 ESV) Then the LORD God said,

"It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

(Gen 2:19 ESV) So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

(Gen 2:20 ESV) The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

(Gen 2:21 ESV) So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

(Gen 2:22 ESV) And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Click here to read the story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"...Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27)

My church has this “verse for the year” tradition. And, this year it’s Colossians 1:27. I’ve really gotten blessed by our verse this year.

We’ve had a sermon entitled “In Christ alone” around the text of Colossians 1:1-8 which amplifies and fleshes out our theme verse.

You can listen online or download the MP3 by right clicking and selecting “Save Target As” here.

Fame and Fortune are fleeting if at all attainable.

And, at death we leave all of earthly ‘glory’ behind.

But the Christian at death obtains the glory for which “Christ in us” has been the “hope”: it’s the genuine article.

We have Christ “in us” which is what every believer is promised
( John 20:22
, Acts 2:38, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Romans 8:9, and many others).

This is what it means to be a “Christian”.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Physics & Metaphysics - Part 1

I don't know what you might think of the fact that I have links to Theological as well as Physics sites on my blog.

I have been almost equally interested in both and have periodically gone from intense reading, study and thinking on the one subject only to feel some strong psychological need to move over to the other subject. "Why is that?" I ask myself. Well, I don't have the full and final answer but today I think I may have a little more insight.

You see in theology, taking for example the interpretation of a particular biblical verse, it seems to be considered more rigorous scholarship to have been exposed to all the possible explanations that have been given to a passage over the centuries by different people than to actually come to and state a final conclusion about the one single meaning that the passage must have.

With theology, it's not so easy to be assured that one has reached the final and correct answer. You might have the whole gamut of interpretations without coming to any particular final conclusion on any one of them. You might even want to consider the meaning of a passage in a wider textual, historical or philosophical context. Every such effort may even yield incrementally more 'knowledge'. Although there are such things as wrong answers in theology these are far from being commonly obvious otherwise we would all believe the same thing.

But in physics (and perhaps mathematics also) there is cognitive benefit only in the single most complete explanation of any physical phenomenon. Once you have it that is all that will ever be needed with respect to that phenomenon. But theology is not like that.

Why is that? Anybody out there have some insight into any of this?

I'm reading Roy Clouser's book where he deals specifically with examples of theorising in the fields of mathematics, physics and psychology. So far it's an excellent read; no obfuscatory language despite the very abstract subject matter.

I want to think on this and hopefully be able to write a little something about it from a Dooyerwerdian perspective.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Watched Condoleeza Rice's press conference on TV last night. She wants to bring Iran up before the U.N. in a process which could terminate with the imposition of sanctions.

Excuse me, but if you tell countries they can't trade with Iran any more doesn't that also mean Iran can't sell it's oil to them either ? Who is that going to hurt more ? Iran ? Or the rest of the natural gas and petrol hungry world ?

Time will tell; but, that can't look like anything anybody really wants.

The only place in the world where there is a genuine will against Iran going nuclear must be Israel - and perhaps to a lesser extent the Gulf Arab states. Fancy that! Israel and Arabs on the same side of an argument, for a change!

Of course, I haven't heard any official statements emanating from any Arab nation; but, I'm sure "consultations" are happening between the U.S. and Arab governments, as Condi had intimated in the press conference. I'm sure, the "consultations" will be largely one-way (guess which way) and result in Arab states agreeing to increase oil production to support prices in the event of some kind of military action. So, it's "be nice to Saudi Arabia" time, again.

All of this would be just such a golden Al Qaeda planning opportunity to disrupt oil supply lines out of the Middle East; but, perhaps I'm just getting carried away in my speculations.

Time will tell.

So I don't think this is going to be solved in the U.N.; but, most likely by some kind of Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The controversial N.T. Wright

N.T. Wright is accused of many things.

One accusation is that his scholarship focuses inordinately on letting the Jews who rejected Christ decide what Jews like Paul who accepted Christ mean. A related accusation is that Wright pays insufficient attention to first and second century Christian writings that seem to display Judaism as a works based religion. I guess these people will also take offense at Wright’s focus on Second Temple Judaism and the intertestamental period for one reason or another.

Well these are good points to raise. It' all a question of balance, isn’t it ? And I think all that NTW is doing is trying to redress it. Of course, there is always the danger of going too far in the opposite direction.

There is a real and worthwhile agenda in trying to learn what Judaism was about through a combination of the following:

(a) what Jews who rejected Christ thought, wrote and did

(b) what Jesus had to say about *some* Jews he encountered in his ministry and

(c) what Paul had to say about:
(i) Jews who had accepted Christ but wanted Gentiles to convert to Judaism and

(ii) Jews who rejected Christ and were persecuting Christians (be they Jewish or Gentile).

All of these elements are important and so need to be distinguished and considered carefully on their own merits . This has not been the case in the past.

We do get the impression from the letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation that it was unbelieving Jews who were having Christians persecuted, arrested by the roman authorities, thrown out of the synagogues etc. We also get a feeling of this kind of activity in Acts during Paul's missionary journeys through Asia Minor.

This experience fed and fueled and in some sense legitimised the widespread anti-Judaism that we see in first and second century Christian writings and even beyond that period. It is my own conclusion , that this anti-Judaism has affected and infected a lot of things from the way the OT is interpreted (or mis-interpreted) to the way Jews have been treated (or mis-treated) to this very day and hour.

So there is a lot of work to be done to undo a lot of rubbish :-)

Monday, January 09, 2006

A World Leader for Islam to Arise ...

. . . out of the sea ( Revelation 13:2)

What do an Islamist political party, a roman pontiff, a decaying European culture, and the protagonists of the “War on Terror” all have in common?

They all want or need (for different reasons) an Islamic Pope.

Ever since an Islamist party has taken the reigns of power in Turkey, it has become ever more commonplace for thinkers previously kept quiet by secularist governments to come out in ever higher profile ways with the revisionist agenda of rehabilitating the Caliphate. Here is one example.

To understand why the Church of Rome might be interested in a revived caliphate just check out this report.

Not a day passes without some pundit writing or talking about the declining birth rate of Native Europeans versus the rising numbers of Islamic immigrants to this continent. There is a clear urgency to stem the tide or to somehow tame or control the rising Islamic influence otherwise in a generation or at most two Europe’s Christian heritage will disappear entirely.

It should be obvious why the protagonists of the “War on Terror” might want a single, recognised, authoritative Islamic voice. The so-called “coalition countries” have done much militarily speaking; but, they have been unable to touch the cred that people like Bin Laden and Zarkawi command on the “Islamic street”. It would be nice to have someone to counterbalance this influence.

Don’t ask me the mechanics of how it is going to happen; but, if these various parties all want it to happen, the chances are very much improved that it will, one day, happen. Just remember you read it here first.

UPDATE : more on this subject HERE .

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bunglawala on Premier Radio

Mr. Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain was invited to the ‘Unbelievable’ programme broadcast on Premier Radio today.

It was, as the moderator stated in his concluding remarks:”conducted in a spirit of tenderness, gentleness and sympathy” by all who participated including the callers.

The topic under discussion was The Trinity and presenting the Christian point of view was Professor Peter McEnhill of Cambridge University.

Some of what I thought was interesting and important:

  • Mr. Bunglawala gave a piece of personal testimony. He said he had read a Gideon’s New Testament while in hospital at the age of 15 which then led him to truly become a believer – in Islam. If that has you scratching your head wondering what’s going on, it’s important to realize there is an identity issue here. Islam, in his case, seems to have operated along an axis of ethnic identity :
    "You are a white Englishman THEREFORE your religion is Christianity. I am a brown Pakistani THEREFORE my religion is Islam. The Gideon’s New Testament has awakened a desire to be ‘religious’ THEREFORE I will become a believer in Islam."
    But Truth transcends ethnic identity or ‘being religious’ : if Islam is Truth we should all be Muslims; if Christianity is Truth then *all* are commanded to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, Mr. Bunglawala’s Islamic faith and understanding would then have developed as he would subsequently immerse himself in Islamic teachings.

  • Mr. Bunglawala kept coming back to the notion which he stated and implied numerous times that neither the word (and hence it seemed to him) nor the concept of the Trinity was found in the Bible itself. All these arguments were ably addressed by the professor who reminded us of the monotheistic Jewish origins and backdrop of the writers of the New Testament.  

  • A caller brought up the I AM saying from John 8 which then led to discussion and finally comments by Bunglawala that John was the latest of the Gospels and so represented the Trinity as a notion that had gradually crept in to the faith. Professor McEnhill responded by stating the doctrine of the deity of Christ could be found in the Synoptic Gospels (penned within 30 years of the death of Christ) and in Paul’s writings which go back to 15 years prior to the Synoptics.

  • Professor McEnhill noted the word “person” was used very circumspectly by Tertullian and then gave the best definition of the Trinity I had ever heard: “a communion of love between Father, Son and Spirit Who is one in will and purpose”.

  • Bunglawala wanted to place Jesus in a “line of prophets” and Professor Mackenhill made it clear it would have been easy for the writers of the New Testament to do so if that was their intention.

  • When one caller mentioned YHWH was God’s proper name Mr. Bunglawala jumped on that piece of information by saying Jesus had never said he was YHWH. First, one could ask Bunglawala why God’s proper name does not occur in the Koran but more importantly the Apostles quoting the Old Testament did place Jesus where the OT passage was saying ‘YHWH’( i.e. : Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-28; Isaiah 8:12-13 in 1 Peter 3:14-16)

  • In summary, the professor hit on all the points I would have expected one would need to cover in a discussion on the Trinity. I also welcomed his concluding comments that the debate needed to move out from strictly biblical considerations toward a more wider philosophical discussion questioning “the prime value placed in Islam on this simple, absolute, unrelated, indivisible Monad... it can look sterile, transcendent and unrelated to Creation”.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Trueman on Blogging


"Carl, the world is flat!

Get over yourself; and, give people some credit for a little thing called 'discernment'

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Leap Second

My wife and I were watching Sky News on New Year's Eve when we saw a brief interview with Mike Hapgood about the so-called Leap Second.

It really intrigued me. According to the professor, it's becoming a more serious issue since even a one second discrepancy can cause an error of quite a few meters on very sensitive GPS systems. So a 1 second adjustment was made to the sensitive atomic clocks at the stroke of midnight on last day of 2005..

I did some research and found what looks like a U.S. Navy web site which explains the phenomenon. It says :

"This leap second can be either positive or negative depending on the Earth's rotation. Since the first leap second in 1972, all leap seconds have been positive and there were 22 leap seconds in the 27 years to January, 1999. This pattern reflects the general slowing trend of the Earth due to tidal braking."

Tidal braking ? "Braking" suggests the revolution of the earth is slowing but that and other web sites were saying things that gave me the impression the calibration could in principle go the other way. I still don't understand how this is possible although the portion I quoted above specifically says that all 22 leap seconds were "positive" and that this reflects a "slowing trend".

So what is the amount of the slowing ? Going back to the web site we read:
"The Earth is constantly undergoing a deceleration caused by the braking action of the tides. Through the use of ancient observations of eclipses, it is possible to determine the average deceleration of the Earth to be roughly 1.4 milliseconds per day per century. [...] The length of the mean solar day has increased by roughly 2 milliseconds since it was exactly 86,400 seconds of atomic time about 1.79 centuries ago (i.e. the 179 year difference between 1999 and 1820). That is, the length of the mean solar day is at present about 86,400.002 seconds instead of exactly 86,400 seconds."

Putting it in scientific notation 1.4 milliseconds per century is 1.4 x (10^-3)second/century. If the Earth is 4.55 billion years old (4.55 x 10^9) or 4.55 x (10^7) centuries old then the amount of the slowing in seconds is given as : (1.4 x 4.55) x ( 10^7 x 10^-3) = 6.37 x 10^4 = 63,700 seconds = 1,061.67 minutes=17.69 hours which means that initially an Earth day was only about 6.5 hours long.

This represents a rate of rotation four times as large as the present rate. I ask myself : Is a complete terrestrial rotation in 6.5 hours reasonable ? Currently the Earth has an equatorial bulge. What kind of bulge or deformations would one expect if the Earth were revolving four times as fast ? I then found this which refers to Lord Kelvin's calculations and discusses the bulge issue assuming the days were initially 12 hours (I don't know why my calculations yielded a day half as long) :

"Kelvin investigated the deceleration of the earth's rate of rotation due to the energy lost through tidal currents. He showed that, if the earth had been here for 7.2 billion years, its initial rate of rotation would have been twice its present rate (the days being only 12 hours long). That would have yielded four times as much centrifugal force as at present. If, as historical geologists claim, the earth was molten in its initial state, the centrifugal force would have bulged out the mass in the equatorial region, making the earth's radius 86 kilometers greater at the equator than at the poles (the radius of the earth's sea level is presently only 21.5 kilometers greater at the equator due to the centrifugal force with its present rate of spin). Kelvin reasoned that if the earth had consolidated at that time, the land masses would have retained most of that greatly oblated shape, four times its present oblateness. As the years passed the centrifugal force would have been reduced and the oceans would have settled into two very deep basins, one at the north polar region and the other at the south polar region. The continents would in that case now be extremely high in the equatorial regions, 40 miles higher than they actually are!"

I may have made some conceptual errors in my assumptions and calculations above: but, assuming I'm mostly correct the question in my mind is whether a mass the size of the Earth could have sustained those kinds of rates of rotation and still manage to end up looking like the Earth of today ? If not, then that puts a question mark over long age being attributed to the Earth, doesn't it ?

I would appreciate any comments that would clarify this to me and others reading this.