Friday, July 3, 2015

Trying to get at the Intended Audience

The First Five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, are traditionally held to have been composed by the same person, and specifically to have been written by Moses, but whether the prophet himself put style to scroll is not my interest today. Rather, since what theologians traditionally call the "literal" meaning of scripture is what the Author first intended his audience to understand, it might help to have also some idea of who the intended audience is and how they understood things.

Particularly, I want to get at the point that, even if written by Moses the Prophet in Exodus, the books of Moses are not principally written for the specific Children of Israel who followed him out of Egypt. According to Exodus, a great many of these died in the Desert, before the books could logically have been finished. Rather, the earliest reasonable intended audience for the Books of Moses (which we might almost call the Books of the Desert) would be those Children of Israel who followed Joshua without Moses out of the Desert over the river Jordan. To them, in particular, the literalistic history would be as fresh in oral teaching as anyone thought important enough to recall, but the theological meaning of it would need to be revealed.

And that is why we are not primarily interested in the question of how literalistic'ly the events of Exodus are described (how much poetically and how much prose) (or whether they happened at all — for in some way they surely did happen) because This Is Not Why These Books Were Written, and it is not why they were written because historians are not who they were written for. Neither is it why, once having been written, they come to be Canon. One can form similar considerations of the Flood, vs. "older" instances of the Flood trope, e.g. Gilgamesh — yes, other people wrote about such things, and real floods have happened, but that is not why it is scripture.

The reason the books were written, and the reason they are Canon, is to proclaim — to reveal — that God's Chosen people got lost among the pagans, and yet in the fullness of time He called them out of their exile; that in coming out of exile, they would have trusted to their own wisdom and so became lost in the Desert, and yet God taught them how (this is the Law) to get through the Desert, and still more, fed and watered them more than mere justice; that when they were opposed beyond their strength, still He protected them, so long as they kept to his commands. So much is certainly true in plain history, but more: the same is true in every ordinary human soul.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Contradiction? Or Contrast?

Someone else pointed this out to me — some other 'blogger, and I forget who, it was a "long" time ago, but anyways...

The Lord looks different to folk of different dispositions. Lege (Malachi 4):
1 For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. 2 But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd.

Again, just to rearrange things, See: "the day shall come", and "the Sun [...] shall arise"; they are "kindled as a furnace" and "health in his wings", respectively; in one and the same movement the "proud ...", they "shall be stubble", and "you that fear my name", they "shall leap like calves of the herd".

Friday, June 26, 2015

My dear foreign Justices (who have chosen an Alien god),

"Do you mean," asked Syme, "that there is really as much connection between crime and the modern intellect as all that?"

"You are not sufficiently democratic," answered the policeman, "but you were right when you said just now that our ordinary treatment of the poor criminal was a pretty brutal business. I tell you I am sometimes sick of my trade when I see how perpetually it means merely a war upon the ignorant and the desperate. But this new movement of ours is a very different affair. We deny the snobbish English assumption that the uneducated are the dangerous criminals. We remember the Roman Emperors. We remember the great poisoning princes of the Renaissance. We say that the dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fulness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people's."
The Man who was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton

And so, be ye welcomed among the "philosophers":
[...] But the petitioners, far from seeking to de-value marriage, seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities [...]

A mathematician, of all sorts

Monday, June 15, 2015

What makes an Old-Testament Hero?

As I've said before (and will doubtless repeat), Father Abraham is a Very Odd Fellow. Naught to do with being so obedient of Offer Isaac for a holocaust, but his relations with Sarah. Either he is being awfully crafty and knows in a supernatural way that she won't be in any actual danger, or he is being rather shrewd and careless with her.

If I were the suspicious- and bible-is-history-in-code sort of person, I might wonder if the poor dear Mother of Isaac were infected with something to which she was outwardly asymptomatic but otherwise virulent and communicable — the reason given for her barenness is considerable age, but at the same time it is implied that her appearance captures the eye of at least two local kings (including the current Pharaoh). The reason given for Abraham's dissembling w.r.t their state-in-life is that he fears for his life, should this or that royal figure behold and desire Sarah's beauty --- on which point, do remember the story of that other towering figure of David, his friend Uriah, and his wife Bathsheba. But twice, the result of Abraham and Sarah dissembling on their state is: the court of this or that King is soon stricken with some uncomfortable plague! I don't actually entertain the suspicious-minded reading as a likely subtext, but that there is some subtext to the repeated story seems more than likely.

So, what is it that makes Abraham a Hero, in the Old Testament? To be sure, it is clear that, when God instructs him, Abraham does. I don't know why God is content to hold the Protection of the Bond in His own capable hands rather than telling Abraham to do his sponsorial duty and actually protect his other-in-one-flesh. It is very strange to me, and Abraham's character certainly seems to imply he would obey --- for he does obey in other much-more-uncomfortable things; but there it is. But above this obedience, and over Abraham's gift of recognizing God (when, at the same meeting, Sarah seems not to), is a genuine interest in Justice. That is: Abraham does make so bold as to dispute with God whether it is right to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, if it should chance there be many righteous people living there. And I certainly think there was more in it than not wanting his earlier rescue expedition to go wasted. While you and I might disagree whether Abraham was (at the start of his story) a very good husband or father, it is more than possible that he was the most upright man between Babylon and Egypt.

I've not thought much about Isaac, but Jacob... sneaky Jacob, Jacob "the Usurper"... On the one hand, he was a combative fellow, one-to-one; on the other hand, he was alternately shrewd and cagey about his neighbors (and his cousins). But the symbolic key, I think, is that famous image: Jacob wrestles with the Angel.

And again I will skip over Joseph and the Pharaohs who knew him; but I will remark that, apart from his making-excuses and his hesitation, it is Moses who asks of God "If they should say to me 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" The rest is clearly fear and trembling (not in themselves bad, but sometimes misplaced), but this... underneath it is a genuine and fascinating Question, which many another might never have thought of, or bothered to ask.

This Bible, this scripture, is not an easy book to read or understand; in particular it is full of tension, and I rather think that that's something of the point. God expects us to wrestle with it, to wrestle in our own consciences against our disordered inclinations, and to ask of God why, and whether, and how.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On Bakeries

Bakeries just might have an interesting pedagogical tool at their disposal, in that bakers are interested in successful substitutions and unsuccessful substitutions.

For instance, a baker might substitute a small volume of liquid oil for a greater volume of solid fat; mayonaise for fresh eggs, on occasion; different choices of leaven, depending on the desired effect.

And furthermore, a baker knows that certain substitutions won't work. Using starch instead of soda, for instance, won't work. Using vinegar instead of oil won't work. An egg won't replace cocoa.

And, what's even more niftier, the baker can demonstrate these unsuccessful substitutions, in short order, in much less time than it takes (for instance) to hatch and raise an adopted child.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Today’s new arXivals in math.AT suggest to me that it’s very possible someone else will finish or obsolete my primary project before I do.

At least, the kind of results they are claiming are very${}^2$ similar to the kind of results I’m looking for, if not the particular conjectures I was trying to decide along the way.

What to do, what to do…

Monday, June 1, 2015

Last week's ad Communionem, gussied-up by (Catholic) James MacMillan

It's loud, and the accoustics of the place "favour" the soprano end of the spectrum. The building was built by and for the use of the protestant established church of Norway. Some things just don't like to die.