Why No Theological Terms in Watchtower Publications?

The author of a theodicy consents that his case be tried before the court of reason, and offers to represent the accused by refuting all the accusations of the planitiff.’ — Immanuel Kant. (1704-1804)*

Is that why publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses never use the term theodicy—nor any other theological term? Why submit to trial in a kangaroo court run by rationists, replete with myriad ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ rules, some of which you suspect are specifically designed to ensure that ‘the accused’ is found ‘guilty?’

Witness governing members look to those taking the lead in the first century, men they strive to emulate, men described in the Book of Acts (4:13) as “unlettered and ordinary.” They ask, ‘Would these ones know a theological term if it bit them in the rear end? Taking as self-evident that they answer is no, they say, ‘If it worked for them, it should work for us.’ They hold to the thought expressed by Paul to Timothy. “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

If Scripture really has that effect, that of setting things straight and making the man of God fully competent, then aren’t theologians out of a job? Isn’t in their interests, therefore, to maintain that it doesn’t? They become like the agency head who insists ‘much work remains to be done.’ The moment he says that the work is done, he faces the unemployment line. Those above words of Paul are a threat to the theological machine. So, with regard to Scripture, the theologians make themselves a middleman. ‘It sets things straight’ when we say it does,’ they say. Thus, the Book of Job is not, per them, a record of a man who actually lived. It is the work of a writer presenting his theodicy, perhaps his evolving theodicy. Or, perhaps it is the work of multiple writers presenting multiple theodicies, of which you may take your pick or reject them all.

The Jehovah’s Witness Governing Body will have none of it. ‘Try God’s ways in a human court, will they?’ they say. It is the other way around. You look into a mirror so as to adjust your skewed appearance. You don’t look into that mirror and wonder what is wrong with it for reflecting such an appearance. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, So my ways are higher than your ways And my thoughts than your thoughts,” are the words attributed to God at Isaiah 55:9. Should higher thoughts be tried in the courtroom of lower thoughts?

Dr. James Hall is a theologian setting up such a courtroom. Introducing his Great Courses Lecture series, entitled, Philosophy of Religion, he says, “Let me assure you up front I'm not going to tell you what to think. The real purpose, the real goal of this course, is to encourage you to think, to push you to think and to help you organize your thinking equipment so that you can think more effectively.” Is it worrisome that five variations of ‘think’ are included in this mission statement? All of those thoughts, per Isaiah, will be ‘lower thoughts’—even though enhanced (or lowered still?) by embracing the modern critical thinking. Should such thoughts be the criteria for judging the higher ones?

Exploring the merits of the ontological argument for God—a term that,  once again, you will never hear from Jehovah’s Witnesses, though possibly a Watchtower article somewhere quotes someone uses it and the editors figured it was more trouble than it’s worth to pull it out, Dr Hall cites an earlier philosopher and churchman (Anselm of Lucca) who quoted Scripture: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” He then (incorrectly) repeats the phrase, apparently so his audience can mull it over: “The fool has said, ‘There is no God.’ (dropping the ‘in his heart’) Then, he contrasts ‘God’ and ‘no God.’ From there, he goes on to explore the attribute of ‘existence’ as opposed to non-existence. He holds aloft two identical books with identical attributes, attributes he describes at length, save for one: The one in his right hand “has a counterpart in reality.” The one in his left hand (which holds nothing) does not.

About this time, the unkind reader may think of a certain internet profile which begins with an apology for “not having a PhD in whatever b******t your PhD is in.” Be that as it may, he or she may also note that the only point of significance is how the doctor, seemingly unaware, changed the underlying ‘fact’ of Psalm 14:1. Is the fool saying something in his heart the same as the fool saying it aloud? Or doesn’t the in his heart imply that he doesn’t say it aloud? Were there even people in that ancient Hebrew society who said there was no God? Isn’t the reference, in reality, to those who act as though there is no God—who think they lack accountability to God? You probably don’t want to use that scripture in calling atheists ‘fools’ because that is unlikely to be its intent. Whether they are or not is another matter, but this is not the verse to clinch it either way.

This is the fellow you want running your rationalist courtroom, who passes over what is significant to quibble over word salads of existence and non-existence?  Who can be confident submitting their theodicy before a such a court that may even disbar the defense attorney for failing to take that nonsense seriously, who just wants to focus on what is meaningful? Why would anyone feel obliged to submit their case to it?

*as cited in Kraeling, ‘The Book of the Ways of God,’ (1939) p243

To be Continued (maybe)

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Jesus and Socrates—the Parallels

We don’t know much about Socrates. If we’re called upon to read his name aloud from print, we say what an embarrassed Michael Jackson said, that he had heard the name many times but had never seen it spelled out. How was he to know it was three syllables and not two? So, what do we know about So-Crates? We know he died from hemlock poisoning. We know he drank it himself, that he had been sentenced to die. And that’s about all we know, plain ‘ol people that we are.

22831E0C-15F6-4966-8358-60D356D7A8EFOf course, if we have had some training on the topic, then we know more. We also know enough to say his name correctly. But most people are rank and file, unconcerned with Socrates because Socrates does not touch upon their daily lives—or if he does, they don’t know just how. They do know about Jesus, however, because Jesus is the lynchpin of the major religion. To be sure, much of what they know about Jesus is wrong, but they do have a lot of wannabe-facts at their disposal, some of which are true, whereas for Socrates they have almost nothing.

Simplify Greek history exponentially by knowing his relationship to other big names of the era. Socrates was one-on-one teacher to Plato, Plato was one-on-one teacher to Aristotle, and Aristotle was one-on-one teacher to Alexander the Great. There, doesn’t that help?

I was already delving into the unlikely. I was already drawing some parallels between Socrates and Jesus. Both had a way of buttonholing people, prodding them to think outside the box. Both attracted a good many followers in this way. Both were outliers to the general world of their time, and were looked upon askance for it. Both infuriated their ‘higher-ups’—so much so that both were consequently sentenced to death. Their venues were different, and so we seldom make the linkage, but linkage there is. As a result of auditing the Great Courses lecture series, I was beginning to play with the idea.

Imagine my satisfaction when I come across one of those professors, J. Rufus Fears, who has not only begun but has fully developed the idea in his lecture series entitled ‘A History of Freedom.’ Happy as a pig in mud I was, for it proved I was not crazy. Nearly all subsequent points are taken from his lecture, “Jesus and Socrates:”

They were both teachers, for one, Jesus of the spiritual and Socrates of the empirical. They both refused pay, a circumstance that in itself aroused the suspicion of the established system. (Victor V. Blackwell, a lawyer who defended many Witness youths in the World War II draft days, observed that local judges recognized only one sort of minister: those who “had a church” and “got paid”—“mercenary ministers,” he called them.)

7CAC7F61-0CCF-44E9-BF12-876C94793101Fears may be a bit too much influenced by evolving Christian ‘theology’—he speaks of Jesus being God, for instance, and the kingdom of God being a condition of the heart—but his familiarity with the details of the day, and the class structure social mores that both Jesus and Socrates’ transgressed against, is unparalleled. Jesus reduces the Law to two basic components: love of God and love of neighbor. This infuriates the Pharisees and Sadducees, because complicating the Law was their meal ticket, their reason for existence. After his Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching, for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” Depend upon it: the scribes didn’t like him. Socrates, also, did the Sophist’s work—the paid arguers who ‘made the weaker argument look the stronger,’—better than they. They were jealous of him.

Neither Jesus nor Socrates encouraged participation in politics of the day. Jesus urged followers to be “no part of the world.” Socrates declared it impossible for an honest man to survive under the democracy of his time. Both thereby triggered establishment wrath, for if enough people followed their example, dropping out of contemporary life, where would society be?

Both Jesus and Socrates were put to death out of envy. Both had offended the professional class. Both became more powerful in death than in life. Both could have avoided death, but didn’t. Socrates could have backtracked, played upon the jury’s sympathy, appealed to his former military service. Jesus could have brought in witnesses to testify that he never said he was king of the Jews, the only charge that make Pilate sit up and take notice.

Both spoke ambiguously. In Socrates case, he was eternally asking questions, rather than stating conclusions. His goal—to get people to examine their own thinking. In Jesus case, it was “speak[ing]to them by the use of illustrations” because “the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes, so that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back and I heal them.” He spoke ambiguously to see if he could cut through that morass, to make them work, to reach the heart.

What if Jesus were appear on the scene today and enter one of the churches bearing his name, churches where they don’t do as he said? Would they yield the podium to him? Or would they once again dismiss him as a fraud and imposter, putting him to death if he became too insistent, like their counterparts did the first time?

If Jesus is the basis of church, Socrates is no less the basis of university. His sayings had to be codified by Plato, his disciple, just as Jesus’ sayings had to be codified by some of his disciples. Thereafter, Plato’s student, Aristotle, had to turn them into organized form, founding the Academy—the basis of higher learning ever since. Professor Fears muses upon what would happen if Socrates showed up on campus in the single cloak he was accustomed to wearing, “just talking to students, walking around with them, not giving structured courses, not giving out a syllabus or reading list at the start of classes, not giving examination” at the end. Would they not call Security? And if by some miracle he did apply for faculty, which he would not because he disdained a salary, but if he did, you know they would not accept him. Where were his credentials? Yes, he had the gift of gab, they would acknowledge, but such was just a “popularity contest.” Where were his published works?

Similarly, where were Jesus’ published works? Neither Jesus nor Socrates wrote down a thing. It was left for Jesus’ disciples to write gospel accounts of his life. It was left for Plato to write of Socrates’ life. If either were to appear at the institutions supposedly representing their names, they would not be recognized. Shultz, the chronicler of early Watchtower history, recently tweeted that when he appends a few letters to his name, such as PhD, which he can truthfully can, his remarks get more attention than when he does not. He says it really shouldn’t be that way, but it is what it is. Both Jesus and Socrates would have been in Credential-Jail, neither having not a single letter to stick on the end of their name. It wouldn’t help for it to be known that each had but a single garment.

Today people are used to viewing “career” as the high road, “vocation” as the lower. Vocation is associated with working with ones’ hands. Fears turns it around. “Vocation” represents a calling. Jesus was literally called at his baptism: the heavens open up, and God says, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.” Socrates had a calling in that the god Apollo at Delphi said no one is wiser than he. Socrates took that to mean God was telling him to go out and prove it. “Career,” on the other hand, stems from a French word meaning “a highway,” a means of getting from one place to another, considerably less noble than “a calling,” a vocation.

We who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite used to pointing out that religion has run off the rails. What is interesting from these parallels is the realization that academia has no less run off the rails. Both have strayed far from their roots, and not for the better. Both have devolved into camps of indoctrination.

 

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Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Why the Fall?

The speaker Sunday quoted Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) on the peaceful nature of the first-century Christians:

“It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes,” Gibbon wrote. I included that and three similar quotations in I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses: Searching for the Why in the Statecraft chapter. I chatted up the speaker after the program and he had about fifteen such quotes.

What he did not say is that Gibbon did not admire Christians for their course, as the out-of-context quote might suggest. It was not a plus for him, as it is for us. It was a minus. It is what he holds largely responsible for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, that innovative development of human rule he champions and is sorry to see go.

Here are the other three quotes presented in Don’t Know Why:

“A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [121-180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.” (Barnes: The Rise of Christianity),. “It will be seen presently that the evidence for the existence of a single Christian soldier between 60 and about 165 A.D. is exceedingly slight. . . . Up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least, no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism.” (Cadoux: The Early Church and the World). “The behavior of the Christians was very different from that of the Romans . . . Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers.” (Platt & Drummond: Our World Through the Ages)

They’re not positives for Gibbon. They’re negatives. They sap the will of the country. Let people drop out and who’s going to fight for the Fatherland? Notice that Gibbon goes the farthest in uncovering what Christians would not do. It’s not just soldiering they abstained from. He extends their abstinence to being “magistrates” or “princes.” It ruined the Empire, he says, to have vast swaths of people turn their attention elsewhere, consumed no longer with the nature of the king but with the nature of God and Christ and of the interplay between them. They weren’t taking a stand against the government. They weren’t refusing to obey it laws—in fact, they were pretty good at obeying laws and not stirring up mischief. But they weren’t pulling for the then system-of-things, and this is what Gibbon laments. Rome would in time encounter invaders whose people were 100% behind the cause of human rule (theirs), and then it was goodby for Rome.

So Gibbon didn’t like Christianity. It torpedoed what he thought was the grander project of an innovative system of human rule. Of course, it soon morphed (apostatized) to become less of what he did not like to embrace more of what he did like. In time and by degrees, Christians veered from staying ‘no part of the world’ to decide that they were the ones to fix the world by any means possible. If political maneuvering and wars were among those means possible, so be it. Constantine converted to morphed Christianity, transformed it from persecuted minority to in-time persecuting majority. He did not get baptized until on his deathbed, after he got all that warring out of his system, so even then was the notion that Christians renounce the violence of the age. It was common at the time, says J. Rufus Fears (below), for persons to postpone baptism till the last moment and undergo it as a sort of final cleansing act—a far cry from churches in the present day who perform it on babies as a sort of introductory cleansing act.

2DA2789F-8898-4A8B-9DB8-B6DD38CA60BDGibbon’s condemnation of Christianity is found to various degrees in countries of the here and now. Western ones, by and large, allow religion to be religion. They grant freedom of worship as a fundamental right. But other governments are more machiavellian. Yes, you can have your religion, they say, but religion must know its place. It must not only be subservient to ruling powers, but must advocate for them. For many human governments, and many students of human government, it is not ‘he who is not against us is for us.’ It is ‘he who is not for us is against us.’ Anti-cultists in particular build upon the notion that it is wrong to depart from the mainstream of rule by human efforts. Any serious consideration of a ‘God’s kingdom’ that calls the shots is disagreeable to them and, they would have you believe, to you. The human experiment of self-rule is what must consume people. It’s wrong to sit it out, they maintain,

(A History of Freedom, J Rufus Fears, Lecture 11:  Gibbon on Rome’s Decline and Fall)

To be continued…here

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Things That Drive You Crazy About the Faith—and How to View Them: Part 1

This will be a multi-part series. See Preface  2nd Preface.

Six times the Great Courses professor (Alan Charles Kors) spoke about “ideas which had stood the test of time.” It took every one of those times for the words to sink in. It wasn’t just my obtuseness. The concept is hard to get your head around. But once you do, all is a breeze, like when you learned to ride a bike.

Francis Bacon is #90 in the book by Michael Hart, The 100, a book that ranks the 100 most influential persons in history. Plato is #40. Many times I’ve written how his famous ‘philosopher-kings’ method of good government almost exactly parallels the governing body structure of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even allowing for how my perennial return visit Bernard Strawman (who continues to make fine progress!) calls our guys ‘janitor-plumbers,’ not ‘philosopher kings,’ the parallels are striking.

Now, with Francis Bacon—what great deed did he do to be rated 90th most important person who ever lived? He advanced what is known as “the empirical method of inquiry.” Hart explains: “To understand the world one must first observe it, first collect the facts, then draw conclusions from these facts by means of inductive reasoning.”

You’re kidding me! That’s it?! If you want to figure out something, you should look at it first?! He’s ranked #90 in the whole world for that big duh?! C’mon! Who doesn’t do that?! 2866AF9F-884A-43C8-BCB6-0F7C1190AC59

For most of human history, people did not. For most of human history it was, ‘if you want to figure out something, go to what has been revealed about it.’ That was Scripture—information given from on high, information revered because it “had stood the test of time.”

To be continued:

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Things That Drive You Crazy About the Faith—and How to View Them: 2nd Preface

This will be a multi-part series. See Preface.

On all the important questions topics Jehovah’s Witnesses are spot on. In these present days, when atheists are perfectly content with a few decades of life followed by eternal non-existence, even holding fast to God is a significant win. But besides holding to God, they get it straight on who he is. They carted off that trinity doctrine that paints him unknowable 100 years ago, about the same time they discarded the hellfire doctrine that paints him cruel, someone you would not want to know. Within his lifetime people called C.T. Russell “the man who turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.”

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Not to mention how they explain why God permits evil and suffering, and tell what he’s going to do about it. They preach the good news of the kingdom. They tell about the resurrection. They heed what God says on how to live, and to the extent they do, their “peace is just like a river.” And their “righteousness?” Tell me about it. (Isaiah 48:18) Like the circuit overseer said, we are all “one big, happy, united, somewhat dysfunctional family.” All is bliss.

And yet—and yet—there are a hundred aggravations. Basking in the big picture, you won’t notice them at first. But in time, they can be like that pebble in your shoe, driving you nuts with every step.

What is it with these aggravations? Some are because Witnesses hang out closely even with those with whom they don’t mesh. They don’t take the easy way out and put distance between themselves like Lot and Abraham. Some are because, should a respected Witnesses do dirt, it can seriously stumble a person because the congregation is the one place he/she didn’t expect to find any.

Yes! That’s the answer. Surely that accounts for it. Just smother your plate with agape love and you’re home free! And yet—and yet—there is one indefinable something . . . There is one—how can we define it? We can’t—it’s indefinable, unless, unless . . . what is it that’s so hard to put a finger on? I thunk and thunk and thunk about it and finally came up with the answer. Not me, really, but the Great Courses professors—college professors, every one of them. And I didn’t have to go to college to hear them. I found them free in the library and listen to them an hour each day walking the dog—which unfortunately died not long ago, but he lived to a ripe old dog age of 14, so I’m grateful for the time my wife and I had with him.

Six times the Great Courses professor (Alan Charles Kors) spoke about “ideas which had stood the test of time.” It took every one of those times for the words to sink in. It wasn’t just my obtuseness. The concept is hard to get your head around. But once you do, all is a breeze, like when you learned to ride a bike.

To be continued:

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Things That Drive You Crazy About the Faith—and How to View Them: Preface

Great scriptures and reasoning to some one who is anti witness,” she told me. “I did write up some things and then I thought….oh blow it…I’ll back him up…all the way!!!”

Make no mistake. It is a concious choice. I could easily attach a “But what about such and such…” addendum to some paragraph in nearly every Watchtower if I wanted to. Some nettlesome point will stick in my craw, but then I will ask myself should I obsess over it? Wouldn’t that be like the pundit who reads that North Korea has launched all its nuclear missills? D00D607B-D550-4B2B-88ED-210705B7C079 People with sense will run for the hills. He runs to his keyboard to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right. Isn’t that called ‘losing sight of the big picture?’ Why would anyone want to do that? (Photo: Janes.com)

The fact is (so says me, so take it for what it’s worth) that Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right in all the important things, but there’s a lot of minor aggravations. What to make of these? Is it because we’re all jammed together in close proximity whereas in the greater world you just put distance between those with whom who don’t readily mesh? Partly. I’ve heard two circuit overseers describe us in the past few years as “one large, united, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family,” a phrase I suspect is not in the outline.

Too, I’ve heard tell from young ones who’ve flown the coop that they don’t miss the “drama.” Yes, just pulling the Abraham/Lot stunt goes a long way in alleviating tension: “So Abram said to Lot: ‘Please, there should be no quarreling between me and you …  separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.’” (Genesis 13: 8-9) We don’t do that. We stick together and with mixed success try to apply Bible counsel to lessen “drama.’

But if scrunching up is hard on us, what is to be said of the world in general? That’s why I gave Vomodog the answer I did when he tried to undermine 2 Timothy 3:1-5. “Humanity is no better or worse than in past centuries,” said he. “The scenography has changed and other global changes have taken place, but the nature of man is constant.”

“It hardly matters, does it?” I told him. “You can fart all you want and as along as there is plenty of space between you and your neighbor, there are no real consequences. But when population, technology, and competition for resources brings people shoulder to shoulder, your unpleasant ways provoke strong reaction.” We’re cramped and it’s inconvenient. They’re cramped and it brings chaos to entire planet. But if you’re just one person, you can sort of just live in your own bubble and ignore all that, at least most times you can ignore it, at least you can until you can’t.

These days I’m like Richard Kimble replying to Sam Gerard. “That’s right—I’m not trying to solve puzzles here,” Sam says. Richard replies that he is “and I just found a big piece.” Same here. I knew those Great Courses lectures would do more than prepare me to hold my own should that obnoxious know-it-all Alan F ever show his nasty persona here again. He was getting seriously up there in years and it could be he has died, but I think not because the birds in heaven have not all broken out in song. When he does die no doubt his headstone will call the cemetery caretaker an ignoramus for supposing the surrounding flowers and trees were created by God

Those Great Courses lectures produced something valuable in their own right. And totally unanticipated. No way did I see it coming. And helpful? Tell me about it. More helpful than even the brother who had the odd mannerism of ending sentences with, ‘It’s helpful to know that, don’t you think?’ I mean, he was a wonderful brother, he really was, I went to visit him when he was ill, but that mannerism wore. One time he announced the date of the upcoming circuit assembly, adding, ‘It’s helpful to know that, don’t you think?’ I had to admit that it was.

What I found through the Great Courses professors is even more helpful. It will better enable me to weather all the minor aggravations of earthly organization, because they all boil down to the same thing. And that same thing, while it can be trying, is anything but a dealbreaker.

To be continued…

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Notes from Ancient Egypt: Weighing in on Joseph and the Exodus Account: Part 1

Sitting in on Bob Brier’s Egyptology lecture series for Great Courses, you learn that nations don’t war on their neighbors. They don’t conquer them. They “beat up on them.” If he said it once, he said it a hundred times. List the accomplishments of any pharaoh: he built the temples, he built the tombs, he beat up on the Syrians (or whoever).

“Beating up” is especially emphasized in Egypt, for with them, there was no place like home. Egyptians warred with their neighbors constantly—“peace was not a virtue in Egypt,” Bob says—but they never established garrisons in those conquered lands. Why—were you to die thousands of miles from home, how could you be properly mummified? And if you weren’t that, what would happen to your chances at the afterlife?

So they didn’t stay. They “beat up” their neighbors, left demands for yearly tribute, but after a while, people forget. You have to go and “beat them up again,” to remind them they had better pay—carting off “everything that wasn’t nailed down” while you were at it.

What is it with this guy? Is he from the Bronx? In fact, he is. And even though he’s a professor steeped in Egyptian honors at Long Island University, he still lives in the Bronx. (as of 1999, when he recorded these lectures). Of the supports used to raise a body so mummy wrappings could be wound beneath him—“it’s like jacking up a car,” he adds helpfully, possibly while gazing through his window at a muffler being attached to a jacked-up car). 

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(Photo by Sam LaRussa)

What would he do when he comes to Bible accounts? I wondered. He will blow them away, of course, but will he do it with respect or ridicule? He seems like a nice guy. But sometimes people with brains lose it when it comes to spiritual things.

To my surprise, he does not blow them away. He treats them with great respect and allows that they are probably true in essence. To be sure, the “external evidence” that is archeology is scant. Archaeology corroborates the Bible in many things, says Bob, but it says next to nothing about the Israelites in Egypt. However, what he calls the “internal evidence” is strong, and as an Egyptologist, he has learned how the two must be combined.

After the Old Kingdom period, during which the pyramids were built, there arose the “Hyksos,” kings who ruled from the north, the delta region. The word means “rulers of foreign lands.” Could Joseph’s family have been the Hyksos? Not much is known of the Hyksos, Brier says, they “didn’t integrate well,” Some have said they were the family of Joseph. Josephus says so. Therefore, I say so, too. I mean, someone has to correspond to Joseph and his brothers. The north is a  damp and marshy region, where archeological finds are meagre, inferior, and badly damaged. It is the dry climate to the south that preserves papyri for thousands of years.

At this point Bob Brier assigns his listeners homework. They are to read Genesis 37-50. Then he narrates the story—just who was Joseph and what was his involvement with Egypt, highlighting what these “guys” are doing and what those “guys” are doing.

There is no external evidence for Joseph, but what is the internal evidence? Does the story “hang together?” It does, he thinks. He recounts the Bible story, which ends in a tearful tale of forgiveness—Joseph sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, his quick rise in Potipher’s house, his reversal and hard times, his meteoric rise to fame upon deciphering the dream that had perplexed Pharaoh, and how those same brothers approach and bow before him decades later—he, the one now in charge of alleviating famine.

In a dream that nobody can figure out for Pharaoh until someone remembers that Joseph in prison had a knack for that sort of thing, he is brought to interpret the dream. Seven lean cows are preceded by seven fat cows. The lean ones eat up the fat ones! They are years of famine following years of plenty. During the years of plenty, preparation can be made for the years of famine. “Based upon Joseph’s interpretation of dreams, the economy of Egypt is planned for the next 14 years.”

Joseph shows what a “sharp businessman” he is during the famine period, is how Bob Brier puts it (perhaps as he is buying a used car from a sharp businessman on the corner lot). People get destitute enough that they eventually sell him their land in return for food. He makes Pharaoh very wealthy, and Pharaoh rewards him.

The ring that Pharaoh gives to Joseph—that also is how they would do it in Egypt, a ring to the “right hand man.” A signet ring. A sign of authority. When the Bible says, everybody cried out Abrek after Joseph—that’s “real Egyptian.” Somebody knew what he was talking about. He deciphers the phrase as roughly meeting ‘Let God be with you.’ (Genesis 41: 42-43)

For a long time, Bob had a problem with Egyptian priests admitting defeat in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. They never admitted defeat in anything. But later finds cleared it up for him. There is a papyrus in the British Museum which is a book for interpreting dreams.

All dreams meant something, the Egyptians believed. They were all prophetic. The trick was in interpreting them. When you had a dream, you went to the priest to see what it meant. Everything was written down in a book. The priests didn’t “just wing it.” They looked it up in a book. “If it’s not in the book, you’re stuck,” Bob says. So Joseph‘s account has the ring of truth to it, he says. When they said to Pharaoh, We don’t know, about his dream, it just meant that nothing about fat cows or lean cows was in the book—it didn’t go there. So it wasn’t the fault of the priests, who never would have admitted a fault—it wasn’t in the book. (Genesis 41)

There’s a Egyptian inscription on Sahel Island of seven years when the Nile did not rise, resulting in famine. Another inscription shows skeletal figures of people who were not slaves. Potipher is an Egyption name. Goshen is where the brothers of Joseph settled—a real Egyptian place in the delta region. Two cities are cited with names they had at the time, and not names they would be given later. Joseph (and Jacob) are embalmed by the Egyptians and mourned for the proper period. The Joseph story is written by someone who knew Egypt, Brier states. Testifying that Hebrews did indeed come to settle in Egypt is the excavation of a classic Israelite four-room house, with its unique floor plan. A full-sized model of one can be seen at Semitic Museum at Harvard University.

“Internally, we get a feeling for the Joseph story that it fits. It’s not archaeological evidence, but the story fits.” Embalming for 40 days, mourning for 70. For a long time that was not understood, but it turns out that is how Egyptian‘s did it. (Genesis 50:3)

The Hyksos did not control all of Egypt. Instead, they coexisted with the Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Dynasty, which were based in Thebes, 500 miles to the south. Warfare between they and the pharaohs of the late Seventeenth Dynasty eventually ran the Hyksos out of Egypt. (and Bob approves of this, because the Hyksos are not “his guys”—they are not real Egyptian) Later leaders of them would be portrayed as oppressive and warlike.

A papyrus of the time, sent by the last Hyksos king to the Prince of Thebes, reads: “The hippopotami in your pool are keeping me awake at night. They have to be silenced.” What exactly does that mean? Dunno, but it’s not friendly. Inflammatory for sure, Bob says. The Prince sends an army in retaliation. How does it turn out? No idea. The papyrus breaks off. The first and the last portions of an ancient papyrus roll is often no good. The inside end is wrapped so tightly that it breaks. the outside end is on the outside where it gets knocked around a lot, torn and scuffed up over time.

See Part II, Evidence of the Exodus

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Live Tweets from Ancient Egypt: Part 14

Great Courses, Bob Brier, tweets composed and sent while dog-walking. AI screwups corrected in brackets

For continuity, start with Part 1:

Lecture 27: What mummies tell us

“A mummy is a mummy is a mummy” to most people, Bob Brier says, but all cars are not alike—neither are mummies. They made them over thousands of years. They differ.

Early mummies of the First Kingdom aren’t very good. Bodies are encased as with statues, but not preserved. X-rays reveal they have fallen apart, bones lying at the bottom.

Hetepheres, wife of “my man Sneferu” is an exception—with internal organs that had been removed.

Great story of high-quality artifacts suddenly appearing on the antiquities market in the 1870s, so authorities figured tomb robbers had made a massive find (steal) and, sure enough, found the culprits and (eventually) tortured the location out of them.

A huge trove of mummies, the grave robbers had found. Mummies spanning many dynasties. Shipped off to the Cairo museum, where researchers learned much about mummymaking—what innovations had been made at what time periods.

One other cache of mummies found later, the tomb of Amenhotep II. That’s where Bob Brier discovered that the king had bad teeth, maybe he needed a coregent because he was incapacitated.

All Egyptians had bad teeth, on account of the sand from the grindstones that found its way into its bread.

Lecture 28: Making a modern mummy:

Cool! Bob makes his own mummy. Only he doesn’t identify the person. This reminds me of when my wife took anatomy for nursing. These bodies are donated for research, she was told. They might be someone you know. They were to be treated respectfully.

He says he did it not to make a mummy but to learn how it was done. Lots of unanswered questions after reviewing the papyri. Only way to answer them was to do one, he said.

For example, the brain coming out the nose? Bob thought you could just pull it out with a hooked instrument, but no—it is too viscous. Can’t be done that way. Instead, they—(are you sure you want to know this?)—are swished around up there further, making it more liquid, then inverted the body so as to pour it out through the nostrils.

They made bronze tools. I guess I should have known this, but didn’t. Bronze, a hard metal, results form the mix of two soft ones—tin and copper. But the knife made was not very good.

The “sharp Ethiopian stone” (obsidian) worked well for a knife. Bob says modern surgeons have gone that way—using obsidian.

They used natron (basically salt and baking soda) to preserve. (It takes 600 pounds of the stuff) Bought the frankincense and myrrh from local sites.

Now they have a control sample—they know what they did. They know what works and what doesn’t. It will help with the analysis of ancient mummies.

Herodotus’s 35 day period they figured out (too late) is the time the body has to sit after being dried with natron. It is not completely dry by then, you can still cross the hands in royal style, but Bob & crew had waited too long. They had to wrap with arms at sides.

There’s not a lot of mummies in this neck of the woods. I don’t have any original photos. The best I can do is this one of Tauchannock Man in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

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Go to Part 15

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Shishak Beats Up Rehoboam—From Egypt’s Point of View. And Why did Indiana Jones Search for the Ark in Tanis?

For 200 years Egypt was ruled by Libyans. That’s not a long period of time but its nearly as long as the history of the United States.

Head north on the Nile and turn left, Bob* gives the directions, and you will hit Libya. But you will have to traverse 200 miles of desert to get there, so we should not imagine an invading Libyan army riding that far to conquer. No, Prof Brier is sure that the Libyans that ruled were already in Egypt, in fact full Egyptians in all but ethnicity. They had been assimilated previously.

They were probably descendants of captives taken during the reign of Ramses III, Egypts last great pharaoh, Bob calls him. “One of the things he was proudest of is that he pushed back the Egyptians. The Egyptians were getting a little too populous. It seems that the Egyptians always minded when foreigners become too numerous. It was okay to have a few, but when they became a large body to be reckoned with they didn’t like that. As for example, remember the Exodus?”

Exodus 1:9-10 reads: “In time there arose over Egypt a new king who did not know Joseph.  And he proceeded to say to his people: “Look! The people of the sons of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are.  Come on! Let us deal shrewdly with them, for fear they may multiply, and it must turn out that, in case war should befall us, then they certainly will also be added to those who hate us and will fight against us and go up out of the country.”

The captured Libyans assimilated and, in time, some turned to the military. Sheshonq I was the first of them to assume the throne after a dwindling series of impotent kings bearing the Ramses name. He married the right woman—a sure way to rise in Egypt—the daughter of Ramses XI.

Fighting is what he knew. After consolidating and appointing his sons in key positions, he look northward. Was not Judah ripe for picking? Solomon had just died, and his son Rehoboam didn’t know what he was doing. Sheshonq is the same as Shishak of 1 Kings 14:25-26. He came to conquer but Rehoboam “bought him off.”

“And it came about in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak the king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem.  And he got to take the treasures of the house of Jehovah and the treasures of the house of the king; and everything he took. And he went on to take all the gold shields that Solomon had made.”

Note what he does not take, Bob says. He does not take the ark of the covenant, “the box, that held the Ten Commandments. That’s not mentioned.” A helpful footnote from movie lore: “That’s why Indiana Jones goes looking for the ark of the covenant at Tanis, in the delta, in Egypt, thinking maybe Shishak brought it back.”

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While he’s at it, Bob Brier eludidates ark: “It’s called a ark, by the way, because ark means box. That why you get Noah’s ark. It’s really a big box that floated on the water, basically.”

You know, it’s not a big point, and certainly Bob does not extrapolate on it here, but in a way it is. Artwork of Jehovah’s Witnesses invariably portray Noah’s ark as a floating box. Church artwork almost never does. To them, it is a storybook boat with bow and stern. When my wife and I stayed in the Cincinnati Best Western because we’d been hurricaned out from our original destination, that morning in the breakfast bar nearly everyone else, family groups all, were headed to the Ark Encounter across the state border in Kentucky. A huge ark replica—with bow and stern. (and dinosaurs!)

These are not people who think the ark is fairy tale, for the most part. These are people who think the Bible flood account is true. If they are willing to remold such an obvious facet of the ark, who knows what else they are willing to remold?

*Notes from The History of Ancient Egypt: Bob Brier, part 19

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Live Tweets from Ancient Egypt: Part 12

Great Courses, Bob Brier, tweets composed and sent while dog-walking. AI screwups corrected in brackets

For continuity, start with Part 1:

Egypt 12, Lecture 23: the murder of Tutankhamen: a theory

What he next presents, he makes clear is his theory. Some agree, but it seems most disagree. This is like his theory of Athematem, the religious nut, attracting the flower children.

Why do I begin to equate Bob Brier to Maigret, who insisted upon stepping into the shoes of whatever murder victim, to get a feel for him, before arriving at a solution largely intuitive? 

Another discussion of how names mean something. I’ve let this pass many times before and remarked upon. I won’t go into it here. But like in the Bible, names are significant. Sometimes people change their name, to indicate new beliefs, often new gods they follow or wish to honor.

Johnson equals John’s son. Goldman equals man who works with or sells gold. It almost looks like the only people in history that use names just as a meaningless tag is our age. Historically they have not been that way.

Tutankhamen changes his name to Tutankhamen, to show that the old religion is coming back. No more monotheism of Athematem. He leaves the city in the desert, and comes back to thieves. [Thebes]

He was about 18 years old when he died. They can tell by molars, they can tell by bone ends, which become less Cine week [senewy] with age. They damaged the money [mummy] getting it out. At the time, before DNA knowledge, people didn’t realize the treasures that were mommies, [mummies] and weren’t as careful as they would be with gold objects.

Because his mommy [mummy] is the only one ever found intact in its tomb, they decided to leave it there. You can’t see it. It is within the sarcophagus. What is there is in the tomb as you go visit.

after Tutankhamen’s death, his widow is the sole survivor of royalty, no one left in the family. She writes the Hittite king.

They were enemies. But she says “they say you have a lot of sons. Send over one, and I will marry him andmake him king.” She ends her letter “I am afraid“. She says “never will I marry a servantOf mine.” It sounds like, Bob says, someone is forcing her to marry a commoner. Who would do that?

“That’s like the British writing to Hitler and saying “come on over “”

He presents all those discussion, not so much to say he is right, though of course he thinks he is, but his goal is to show how an Egyptologist forms a theory.

After checking it out, because he doesn’t believe it at first, the headache [Hittite] king sends a prince. The prince is murdered at the border. A government job, Bob says. This is only in the Hittite records, not Egyptian ones.

 He found the new berry [Newberry] ring in an antique with his shop. He didn’t have the money to buy it. He drew it. It showed Tutankhamen’s wife and Aye together. They were married. Was Aye the commoner Tutankhamen’s wife was afraid of? She disappears from history. Someone else bought the ring, so the question comes up:Did it even exist? It has never been heard of again.

Bob says: “it’s like a murder mystery only better!”

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A similar ring was later found. They were married, yes. It is in the Berlin Museum. Bob went to see it. But on the phone the curator did not know about it. Bob asked to speak to another curator. He did know about it. It’s because east and west Germany had just been reunited, and two museums made into one.

I’ve got to admit, Bob’s theory holds together. That guy killed him, and married his widow. But he says it’s just a theory, you shouldn’t take it as fact. He is from the Bronx, though. Bear that in mind.

Wow! Bob plans to go there himself to the tomb and check it out. He wants to excavate the mommy [mummy] again. Now they have CAT scans. Maybe stomach contents will tell him stuff . Maybe he has done these things by now. Best to check it out.

Lecture 24–Medicine

No Bob Brier will do one of what he calls his side trips, this time into medicine. Last time I think it was obelisks, how to make one, how to transport one, how to set up one.

The physicians are connected with the priest. Serving at different temples.

Writing is obviously an important invention. But for some reason the Egyptians didn’t write an awful lot of things. Not mummification. Not how to make pyramids. But they did write down their medicine.

Play toll [Plato] says Egyptians invented writing, the God toss [Toth], and it was a terrible invention. “Good old Play-Doh?” [Plato}

He says “now men will have the appearance of knowledge, but not true knowledge“. So you don’t have to have it in your head anymore. You’ve got it on papyrus, so you don’t need to know it. Apparently that’s his thought.

So there is a tradition that really important things, you don’t write down. And Plato was a student of Socrates, who never wrote anything down.

Three guards, [gods] he discusses the mall [them all], were associated with healing. You went to the temple for your healing. “It was like the clinic”

“Egypt was famous for his positions [physicians]” There are Greek inscriptions of ones who say they came, they asked the guard [god] for help, and they were cured.

Some think that Egyptian’s were so good at Madison [medicine] because they practice mummification, and that’s how you learn anatomy.

Bob himself doesn’t buy it, though. The priest and the bombers [embalmers] were of different classes. The embalmers kind of more slowly [lowly], they smelled, they reeked of chemicals.

They took all organs out through about a 2 inch opening in the abdomen, so you don’t really see too much that way. You don’t learn too much of anatomy that way.

The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. Three options given physicians  that they can say. One. This is an illness that I will treat. To. This is an illness with which I will contend. Three. This is an illness that I will not treat. Saved face for the physicians, Bob says. There were illnesses you were supposed to walk away from.

The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus has instructions for 48 types of injuries. It mostly deals with physical injuries, breaks and so forth, that you might encounter building huge pyramids, moving huge blocks.

Another papyrus outlines 800 medical treatments. Spells, poultices,

Magical spells for blindness.  For “when the gods made me see night during the day”

If you had a lame foot, wrap it in a deer skin. The deer is fleet of foot. Maybe wrapping it around your foot will make you fleet of foot like the deer.

So there were two approaches. One was clinical, and one was magical, when the calls [cause] wasn’t known.

Go to Part 13

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