Monday 30 July 2012

Dashing Through the Land

In a previous issue of The Journal an article of mine appeared which mentioned Psalm 137, and specifically the final verses which speak of bloody vengeance taken upon the infant children of Babylon.  Uncomfortable stuff.  Apparently Ray Daly agreed, writing the following in response.
This is in regard to Psalm 137:9 as mentioned by Gavin Rumney in his editorial about the Bible canon in the May 31, 2012, JOURNAL.
The word for "dashes" (as in "Happy is the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock" in Psalm 137) can indeed mean exactly what it seems to be saying.
However, "dashes" can also mean "scatters."  The word for "rock" is Strong's No. 5553, celaCela represents the Lord in the cloud who led the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Thus a good rendering would be "Happy is the man who scatters your little ones against the Lord," a very positive meaning.
In OT scriptures, the Lord-Cela, Israel's God, is "loving, faithful, forgiving, patient, long-suffering, desiring good things."
But this is only one believer's opinion.
I appreciate Ray's effort to make sense - and positive sense - of a disturbing passage.  I can only observe that Strong's, despite looking impressive on a bookshelf, has never been a particularly helpful resource.  The strategy used here is to go hunting for a definition that ameliorates the unthinkable, and then appropriating it, however unlikely.  The context - as witnessed by every translation I know - clearly determines otherwise.

The "texts of terror" are unfortunately real.  Our choice is to either explain them away, as Ray does with the finest of motives, or eyeball them without flinching and deal with them honestly. 

New Journal released

It's that time of month again, and a new Journal, the essential news source for members of the post-Armstrong diaspora, is en route to subscribers in the shattered alternate worlds of COGdom.  Once again editor Dixon Cartwright has made the entire issue available to download in PDF format.

I don't even want to mention the interview with the journo from the vile, reptilian Wing Nut Daily... so let's just pass that one by.  Elsewhere the controversy rages over the role of women in the Churches of God.  Tina Englebart responds to her critics, New Zealander Max McFeat, retreaded Canadian GCI member Velvet Delorey, and Lawrence Mumme of Tucson in an article that's a pleasure to read.  Sir Anthony Buzzard has an article headlined "Disdain for Real Scholarship Dooms COGs."  Prophetic words, but sadly his comments on the canon which follow just don't, in my opinion, add up.  It's never good enough to say something must be true because it, um, must be true.

And yes, there are more of those incredible ads!  Brian Convery takes up no less than nine (I counted twice) full tabloid pages in one text-dense advertorial cleverly entitled "The Bride of Christ vs. The Pride of Life."  Read it all and you can probably apply for a medal.

There's also a comprehensive list of the 2012 Feast of Tabernacles sites for the various COGlets.  Here in New Zealand the LCG is gathering in the Bay of Islands, the UCG in Kerikeri, the RCG (Packites) in Taupo, as is CGWA.  Not mentioned is the WCG (yes, here at the bottom of the Pacific the much depleted Tkach franchise is still using the old name and holding a watered down version of the festival) which will be congregating in Rotorua.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Art Ferdig, Angels and Mammon

Art Ferdig is one of those names out of the past that I half remember.  His name appeared on the masthead of The Plain Truth in the Seventies, and he ascended to the inner circle as personal assistant to Herbert Armstrong.

So, whatever happened to dear ol' Art?  It seems he subsequently went off the deep end, as so many other former high-flyers in the Empire did, creating his own wacky religious enterprise.  Art, we are led to believe, has been taught by angels.
My name is Art Ferdig. Since autumn 2002, I've been taught by Angels and other wonderful beings of light, including the Christ Energy, Holy Spirit and more! It was an amazing wake-up call, and a privilege perhaps unparalled in modern times.

These divine beings put me on a profound spiritual path. I have been given much, and it is now my destiny to share their wondrous truths with all hearts ready to receive.
Lucky Art. Truly a blessed man.  His imaginary friends in the ether have even bestowed on the old boy the title "The  Bridge."  More likely, "the bridge to nowhere."

Bridge to Nowhere
But Art has been getting his blessings in other ways too.  Using his faith networks, he promoted his company Tradex, an investment scheme which gambled on minute fluctuations in the currency markets.

And yes, whatever sublime angelic counsel Art might have been receiving from Metatron and his pals, it all ended in tears, lost investments, arrest and exposure.

Gary Leonard, who is consistently on top of most of the developments in the ruins of Armstrong's legacy, has recently posted on the Ferdig story, and there are a couple of articles in the media at and

It's all very sad really.  Any complaints can presumably be taken up with Metatron directly.

Thursday 26 July 2012


"But just don't tell Gavin Rumney who hates Revelation intensely and frankly doesn't need any more material to moan about."  Jonathan Robinson.
Jonathan Robinson pens some quite good stuff on his blog, despite being a Baptist mullah.  In fact, if you've got a spare moment, check it out.  I mean, I quite like some Baptist preacher types, as long as they're not demon-possessed, NKJV-toting Southern Baptists like Al Mohler, and Jonathan seems to be quite a long way along the enlightened end of the Baptist bell shaped curve.  As I've confessed here before, I attended a Baptist Church when living in the Taranaki in the long ago, and have some good memories - despite the culture shock for a poor Lutheran-raised lad encountering competive hand-holding prayer circles for the first time.  You know the type: the group leader launches out in an avalanche of awesomes, we just wannas, and semi-orgasmic moans and groans (oooohhhh, Jesus, we just, ummmmm, thank you Lord) parading as praise.  Ugh!  Meanwhile the next poor schmuck in the circle is desperately thinking "how the @#$! am I gonna compete with that." 

Anyway, "resident alien" Jonathan (he's from the UK) is under the impression that I'm a moaner and guilty of hate crimes against the Apocalypse.  Perhaps he's right, but I have to make one small correction, I don't really hate Revelation, intensely or otherwise.  No, Revelation is a nice example of the apocalyptic genre, full of the rich, fruity mix of world-hating metaphors and imagery that go into the standard recipe.  That it ended up in the New Testament however is tragic, and I take some comfort in the fact that a lot of folk in the early church fought its inclusion tooth and nail.  Luther was keen on bouncing it out into a kind of appendix of dubious documents, and even the late, great J. B. Phillips made some starchy comments on its value.  Given those qualifications it's perfectly possible to still appreciate it for what it is, warts and all. What I do passionately abhor is the way it continues to be appropriated and misused by 'evangelicals' and deranged fear-engendering tithe farmers, and of such things I can personally attest, as presumably can Jonathan, given the apocalyptic-rich chiliastic diet that many Baptists wallow in, even in Auckland's inner suburbs.

As for all the prattle about Revelation being more some kind of ancient team-building motivational text, and that we can strip away the Scarlet Harlot, the rivers of blood and sociopathic horsemen, leaving behind a sanitary, faith-enhancing text... not so likely.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

It's Tough to be a Samoan Seventh-day Adventist

What do you do when the government changes the days of the week on you?

Probably not much, unless you're a committed Seventh-day Adventist.

Samoa's SDA's are in conflict with the denominational leadership in the United States.  They want to keep observing the unchanged Sabbath, which is no longer Saturday but, horror of horrors, Sunday.

Can we all say "mark of the beast" brethren?

Adventists in Tonga, Kiribati and Wallis and Futuna are similarly discombobulated by the evolving bumps in the dateline.  It gives a whole new meaning to the canard that somebody "doesn't know what day of the week it is."

The implications of planet Earth being a whirling sphere in space don't seem to have sunk in yet in Battle Creek, Michigan. My advice: brush up on your Brinsmead.

Give the SDAs credit though, at least they're grappling with the issue, whereas - to my knowledge - Pasifika members of the Sabbath-keeping splinters of the Worldwide Church of God are not.

Problem?  What problem?

Sunday 22 July 2012

Geeky Bible Translations

It's been a while since I put in a plug for The Human Bible, hosted by that affable heretic of the fringe, Bob Price.  The show is already up to episode 11, and the lead topic this time is Bible translations.

Bob is always worth listening to, even when you disagree with him.  For me this is one such time.  Despite being a radical scholar, Bob is a long-time fan of the unreadable NASB, a fundamentalist monstrosity, and the now pensioned-off 1953 RSV.  He also slates the New Jerusalem Bible, NRSV and Revised English Bible as being "politically correct", largely because of their adoption of inclusive language.  Of the modern New Testament versions, Bob can't much see past the J. B. Phillips translation which first saw the light back in 1962.

Translation is a funny thing.  There are two languages in the case of the NT, one obviously being koine Greek.  The other, however, is English, and not 1950s or 1960s English either, let alone English from 1611.  One of the characteristics of today's English is the use of inclusive language where both men and women are referred to.  To translate first and second century Greek into contemporary English you have to make that shift.  This isn't "political correctness," it's just best practice.  That's why Phillips (which is a tremendous translation), the RSV and other earlier versions now tend to grate on any reader younger than forty.  More on this maybe in a later posting.

But by no means let me put you off.  The Human Bible is one of the very best podcasts currently available, and a lot more entertaining than anything else in the genre.

Feeling protective about God

The latest killing spree in the US has its bizarre elements as well as its tragedy.  That the shootings occured during the screening of a Batman movie - a character who is the embodiment of vigilante justice - is one example.  What struck me more forcibly, however, was a comment by Anita Busch, a spokesperson for the family of 23 year old victim Micayla Medek.  "I hope this evil act, that this evil man, doesn't shake people's faith in God." 

People say some strange things under stress, but in the wake of another rampage by a spoilt twenty-something brat, to be concerned about God taking a PR hit would seem to be somewhat beside the point.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Two men and a bird?

A gendered god is not the God of Scripture, and it’s time we acted on this truth!

Tim Bulkeley

I really like that statement, so my first reaction was to let out a cheer.  All that bad art sanctified by centuries that portrays the ETERNAL as a manly bloke, beard and all.  Sheer stupidity.

Then I thought... but isn't that the way scripture does portray the Ancient of Days?  The mighty warrior, the lord of hosts (i.e. armies) who lets Moses have a fleeting squiz at his (doubtless) hairy backside?  (Exodus 33:22-23)

Tim may have addressed these issues in his book Not Only A Father.  In fact I'm sure he has.  But despite empathising with his position, and favouring inclusive language, I might take a little convincing that either El or Yahweh weren't conceived as male deities, and rampaged down the ages with girded loins from that point on.  It's hard to imagine Jesus thinking any differently about the presence he addressed as 'father'.

Granted, the Good Book doesn't speak with one voice on issues like this.  But overall, the dominant voice we hear, at the loudest volume level, is surely the one that assumes a Sky Father, "our father which art in heaven".  Whether we like it or not is beside the point.  To pretend otherwise is to make these pre-modern texts over into our own post-Enlightenment likeness.

Against such jaded skepticism Tim presents an alternate case in a free online version of his opus which, given some time to do so, I'm interested to dip into.  There's also a paperback edition available on Amazon.  Too bad he hasn't also surfed the growing e-book wave with editions for Kindle and its lesser brethren...  or I'd have already downloaded it in a flash.

So, whatcha think?  Does scripture teach - or at least strongly portray - God, or the constituent members of the trinity or binity (depending on your theology) as one or more chaps?  Check out the poll in the sidebar.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Rightly Deriding the Word of Truth

Bless you Betty Bowers, every Bible-believer should have a poster-size copy of this hanging above their gun rack.

Another goodie from the blog of James McGrath.

Friday 13 July 2012

Keepin' the Faith

This fascinating graphic appeared on James McGrath's blog.  The stats are just for the US, but I'm assuming there'd be some correlation for those of us in other parts of the planet.

I suspect COG retention rates would flatter the atheist 30%.  How many coglings flee the nest before they turn thirty?  95%?  99.5%?

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Long live the King (LXX)!

I'm excited.  Yep, I know it's a bit sad, but I do get excited by strange things that barely raise an eyebrow among the brethren (and brethrettes).

We're talking about the release of volume 2 in Nicholas King's translation of the Septuagint.

To recap, for those not yet up to speed, King is a British Jesuit scholar, a kind of latter-day Ronald Knox.  Some time ago, after completing his own New Testament translation he launched out on the Hebrew Bible.

Well, not the Hebrew Bible actually, but the Septuagint (LXX).  It was, after all, the LXX which was the first Christian scripture, long before uppity types like Jerome and Luther led us back into the badlands where we snatched, appropriated, stole the Hebrew Bible (as opposed to the Greek translation) from its rightful owners, then proceeded to beat them about the head with it.

A thousand travesties have flowed from that, not least in recent times that Great Whore of Wheaton, Illinois, the English Standard Version.

But I digress. 

Already published were volume 1 (The Pentateuch) and volume 3 (The Wisdom Literature).  Now, hot off the press at Kevin Mayhew in Suffolk, comes volume 2, The Historical Books - "Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, plus the added bonus of the Septuagint’s little-known books of Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees."

Who wouldn't be excited? (Please note, rhetorical question.)  King's LXX strikes quite a different tone to the dry academic NET LXX, and the stodgy version that appears in the Orthodox Study Bible.

Alas, Kevin Mayhew is one of those publishers who largely evade the radar at Amazon and the Book Depository.  Unless you live in the UK you'll need to order direct, or find a really good bookshop that'll bring it over for you.  But, what the heck, you only live once.

The final installment, volume 4, (The Prophets) is scheduled for 2014.  

Deterred from Detering

Deterred from Detering am I, as I move into the tail end of his book.  It's not that I don't love a stimulating reconstruction that pokes conservative Christianity in the eye... those good folk desperately need to be broken out of their terminal inertia, so it's almost a positive act of agape.  But Detering, in my view, over argues his case.  Finding connections between Paul and Thecla - on one hand - and Simon Magus and Helena on the other... not so flash.  One strand of legend has Simon described as a leper, therefore Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' was leprosy?  Jesus chowed down with Mr. Magus in Mark 14:3?  Mary Magdalene was a 'tower-virgin', evidenced in part by the Hebrew word Migdal meaning tower?

Methinks we blasted off for the Klingon home world sometime after chapter two.

In fact Detering has threaded a string of improbabilities together and declared them amazing coincidences that can scarcely be doubted.  I've met that kind of argumentation before, and its a sunny walk into delusional von Danikenism.

More modest claims about the Marcionite connection are still interesting, and I suspect there's more than a grain of truth therein.  But this stuff ends up almost as wildly improbable as Maurice Casey's portrait of Jesus (sorry, I'll repent of that comparison later).

Not rigorous history then, but Detering's case does make a great yarn.  Alas, in my view, he has over-peppered the steak to the point of inedibility.

Monday 9 July 2012

Detering, Troxel, Borg

As mentioned in the previous post, I'm working my way through Hermann Detering's The Fabricated Paul.  For Detering the Pauline letters are a post-Pauline creation, baked in a hot second-century Marcionite oven, and only later - heavily redacted - incorporated into the Catholic canon. 

Quite frankly, it's a riveting reconstruction, even though the evidence is, by its nature, only circumstantial.  This doesn't stop Detering, following in the wake of the Dutch Radicals of a bygone generation, laying lustily into his subject.  The man who inspired Marcion, the historical figure who Detering finds lying beneath the Pauline veneer, is none other than Simon of Samaria, a.k.a Simon Magus.

All of this might seem a tad improbable at first blush, but if anyone can convince you otherwise it'll probaby be Detering, and just think of all the fun you'll have irritating earnest mainline Christians along the way.  And expect more in this vein to hit the shelves before too much longer.  A volume of essays by van Manen (1842-1905) on the inauthenticity of the Pauline epistles is on the drawing board, and of course Bob Price's long-awaited The Amazing Colossal Apostle is in the editing stages at Signature Books.

But, just to prove that I can still hew closer to the consensus, also on the reading list is Ronald L. Troxel's Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books.  Putting aside all that moronic nonsense on the prophetic books that you'll find on the shelves of your local Christian bookshop, this is an entry-level academic introduction to what they're really about and how they came to be.  I'd love to be able to present a copy of this to someone like Rod Meredith, except I don't expect he'd be able to deal with it and would toss it aside after a couple of pages.  A better fantasy might be to simply slap the old buzzard with a copy, hard!, and thereby hope to knock some sense into him. 

I'm not much of a fan of Marcus Borg's work, but was tempted by Speaking Christian anyway.  Borg is fighting on two fronts, the literal approach to Christianity and the bog-standard 'heaven-hell' framework that most Christians operate within.
Christians... are deeply divided by different understandings of a shared language.  About half (maybe more)... believe that biblical language is to be understood literally within a heaven-and-hell framework that emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, Jesus dying for our sins, and believing.  The other half (maybe less) puzzle over and have problems with this.  Some have moved on to another understanding of Christian language.  The differences are so sharp that they virtually produce two different religions, both using the same Bible and the same language.
Ain't that the truth!  Borg's burden is to demonstrate that the literalist, heaven-hell bull-geschichte is far more modern and less authentic than we might imagine, and that those in the "maybe less" category are indeed on the side of the angels.  Marcus I believe!  Help thou my unbelief!

I look forward to seeing how he develops his argument.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Paulus historicus

The sturdy and unyielding consensus among New Testament scholars is that Paul wrote just seven of the letters traditionally attributed to him.  In fact it's something of a surprise find anyone credible, as Jerome Murphy O'Connor is, who is willing to advocate for more than the seven.

On the other hand, for years I've been hearing that, out on the far fringes of the field, there are those who dismiss even those last seven, regarding their rock solid status as rubble.  Among those lonely and unrepresentative figures the name Hermann Detering stands out in particular, a Berlin pastor whose few published works are largely accessible only in German.  Not that Detering has convinced many; even radical scholar Gerd Ludemann finds the idea that the Pauline corpus is a second century concoction "mistaken and refuted by the existing sources."

The man now speaks for himself in The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight (Der gefälschte Paulus - das Urchristentum im Zwielicht), just recently made available in English for the first time, and available for Kindle for under $4.

German scholarship has a deservedly poor reputation for readability, but, whether due to Detering's passion or Darrell Doughty's powers of translation, this is a refreshing exception to the rule.  I'm currently working my way through the book, highlighting as I go, and hope to offer a few thoughts and quotes along the way.

But for a modest layout of $3.70, why bother with second hand impressions?

Tuesday 3 July 2012

God in a box

Granted the existence of God, however you understand that term, it has always seemed to me that our knowledge of God is severely limited.  We wade our way through life, catching glimpses of something beyond ourselves along the way.  These are the steps - metaphors one and all - to the construction of a sense of ultimate meaning that transcends the daily duties and distractions that make up our lives.

There is nothing more obscene than the temptation to erect a system of binding propositions out of the ether.  You can no more do this than capture a flash of sunlight through the trees, or track down that pot of gold that waits at the end of the rainbow.  For a Christian to say that God is known in Jesus is one thing, but to raise a series of whitened propositional sepulchres is another.  Faith defies our pathetic attempts to nail it down in catechisms and dogmas.

Which is why Reformed theology in particular is such an albatross around the neck of its devotees.  Over on the Surprising God blog the latest posting begins thusly:
This post continues our review of Forsaken (The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters) by Tom McCall. Last time we looked at the doctrine of divine impassibility. This time we look at the doctrine of divine simplicity, which states that God is not divided (made up of various "parts"). While this doctrine is not well known and can seem bizarre at first blush, it is of great importance in that it reassures us that our triune God is not divided (conflicted) in his mind toward us. We'll see as we go what this doctrine says about God and how it reassures us of God's love for us.
Divine impassibility, divine simplicity, divine bunkum.  This need to put everything into a tidy package - to take the riotous diversity and pull it apart into neatly organized boxes... dear Lord, what a presumption!  A triune god not divided?  Quick, let's redefine everything and hope nobody notices!  Yes Ted, bizarre at first blush, bizarre at the last.

The so-called 'trinitarian theology' espoused on the SG blog is nothing more than a human construct, somewhat sophisticated but totally groundless and self-referential, erected on the gray, acidic clouds of Calvinism and it's latter-day deviations; Torrance, Barth, Kruger and their ilk.  It is, at heart, as sectarian and arrogant as anything SG writer Ted Johnson once advocated in his pre-"Born Again Barthian" ministry.  The jargon has changed, but Ted still thinks he has God in a box.