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Churchill: What Kind of a People Do They Think We Are?

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Charles Barkley’s Golf Swing

Wikipedia’s description of Charles Barkley’s golf swing must be quoted in full:

Barkley is well known for his fondness of golf. However, his swing is often regarded as one of the most bizarre and broken swings in the sport. Barkley’s swing unravels after he brings his club back. He starts to take it forward then jerks to a stop, throwing his body off balance, before wildly striking at the ball.

You have to see it to believe it:

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C. S. Lewis and Biblical Theology

In his “Introduction” to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis noted that “Every age has its own outlook.” Reading “the controversies of past ages,” Lewis was struck that “both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. . . . they were all the time secretly united . . . by a great mass of common assumptions.”

I am convinced that the biblical authors have their own outlook and share a great mass of common assumptions. The task of biblical theology is to trace out the worldview that the biblical authors share with one another.

In What Is Biblical Theology?, I’m trying to get at the outlook, shared assumptions, in short, the worldview of the biblical authors, by examining the Bible’s story, symbols, patterns, and the church’s role in it all.

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Satchel Paige’s Six Rules to Keep Young

Just heard these on Ken Burns’s tribute to Baseball:

How to Keep Young

by Satchel Paige

  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
  2. If you stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
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Greek Palindromes

Here’s a great post from Rod Decker:

A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads identically forward and backward, e.g., “Do geese see God?” The Greek palindrome inscription:


is from the Hagia Sophia. (In Greek, Ἁγία Σοφία is short for Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.” This was an Eastern Orthodox church building in Constantinople, constructed in the fourth century. For over a thousand years it was the Patriarchal Basilica of Constantinople. It is now a museum.)

Written in modern orthography the palindrome reads,

Νίψον ἀνόημα μὴ μόναν ὄψιν

and means, “Wash your sin, not only your face.” I first found this palindrome in Bruce Metzger’s Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, 23.

The word palindrome is itself a Greek word, παλίνδρομος, a compound of πάλιν, “again” and δραμεῖν, “to run”/δρόμος, “a race, race course.” There were apparently many Greek palindromes current in the ancient world. Another example that I’ve run across is:

ἀμήσας ἄρδην ὀροφόρον ἥδρασα σῆμα.

“Having reaped I established a lofty-roofed monument.”

(This one I found in Lloyd W. Daly, “A Greek Palindrome in Eighth-Century England,” American Journal of Philology 102 [1982]: 95–97.)

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The Authorial Agony of Charles Dickens

My friend Scott Corbin sent me this poignant excert from Clair Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life, 113-114:

“These were all distractions from the central business of the year, which was the story that had started as a few episodes and was being made into a novel, week by week, The Old Curiosity Shop. Against all the odds, it became the second-highest seller of all his books, surpassed only by the The Pickwick Papers, another improvised tale. What sort of a story was it? A very odd one, a picaresque tale of a child who tries and fails to escape from her fate, with a supposed protector, her grandfather, addicted to gambling, and a grotesquely wicked pursuer, the dwarf Quilp, both putting her at risk and driving her towards her death. Nell herself has no character beyond sweetness, goodness and innocence, which endeared her to male readers; and Lord Jeffrey, the great Scottish judge, critic and sometime editor of the Edinburgh Review, even likened her to Cordelia, although the only resemblance is in their untimely deaths. At the age of thirteen, Nell effectively has to look after her grandfather, who has been corrupted by his fascination with money, rather as Dickens’s maternal grandfather had been corrupted by money, and his father also, overspending, borrowing and failing to settle his debts; so this aspect of the story was quite close to home. And while there is very much more in the book than Nell, it is her death that made its fame. It was Forster who suggested that Dickens should kill her off: he seized the idea, and the slowly approaching death of Little Nell held readers in a state of excited anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic for many weeks. Letters came to Dickens imploring him to save her, and grave and normally equable men sobbed uncontrollably when they read that she was dead.

Dickens himself suffered as he wrote of Nell’s decline, and shared his sufferings with his friends through November and December 1840. He told Forster, ‘You can’t imagine how exhausted I am today with yesterday’s labours… All night I have been pursued by the child; and this morning I am unrefreshed and miserable. I don’t know what to do with myself… I think the close of the story will be great.’ Then, a few days later, ‘The difficulty has been tremendous — the anguish unspeakable.’ To his illustrator, Cattermole, he wrote, ‘I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it.’ In January, Macready was told, ‘I am slowly murdering that poor child, and grow wretched over it. It wrings my heart. Yet it must be.’ A few days later it was Maclise who heard, ‘If you knew what I have been suffering in the death of that child!’

Another letter to Forster shows how Dickens used his suffering, deliberately summoning up painful feelings, in the cause of telling a better story: ‘I shan’t recover it for a long time. Nobody will miss her like I shall. It is such a very painful thing to me, that I really cannot express my sorrow… I have refused several invitations for this week and next, determining to go nowhere til I had done. I am afraid of disturbing the state I have been trying to get into, and having to fetch it all back again.’

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Hans Frei’s Central Idea

Thanks to Patrick Schreiner for pointing to this essay, in which William C. Placher describes Hans Frei’s central idea:

Frei certainly never thought of himself as a “great theologian, ” but he did have a central passion, a central idea. That idea emerged through long study, in the 1950s and ’60s, of l8th- and 19th-century ways of interpreting the Bible. He grew convinced that nearly the whole of modern Christian theology, from the radical to the fundamentalist, had taken a wrong turn.

For many centuries before the modern age, most Christian theologians had read the Bible primarily as a kind of realistic narrative. It told the overarching story of the world, from creation to last judgment. Moreover, the particular coherence of this story made “figural” interpretation possible: some events in the biblical stories, as well as some nonbiblical events, prefigured or reflected the central biblical events. Indeed, Christians made sense of their own lives by locating their stories within the context of that larger story.

But somewhere around the 18th century, people started reading the Bible differently. Their own daily experience seemed to define for them what was “real, ” and so they consciously tried to understand the meaning of the Bible by locating it in their world.

They did that in — to overgeneralize — two ways. They saw the meaning of the biblical narratives either in the eternal truths about God and human nature that the stories conveyed or in their reference to historical events. The Bible thus fit into the world of our experience either as a set of general lessons applicable to that world or as an extension of that world developed by means of critical history.

Those two ways of interpreting the Bible remain prominent. Those who set out the moral lessons of Jesus’ teaching or focus on the insights provided by his parables believe that the real point of the Gospels lies in their general lessons for our lives. On the other hand, fueled by Wolfhart Pannenberg’s early arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and continuing scholarly efforts to establish which of the Gospel sayings were really spoken by the historical Jesus, some Christians still tend to treat the Bible as a historical source whose value lies primarily in its historical accuracy.

The whole is worth reading. I think this is basically right, and this is why I sometimes say that the aim of biblical theology is to get at the presuppositions of the biblical authors, to get into their world, and to stay there. We want to live in the world as the biblical authors conceived it.

As Placher puts it, summarizing Frei:

Frei’s theology is finally church theology: it first of all addresses the Christian community and invites that community to let the biblical narratives shape its vision of the world. To what extent parts of that community will respond to such invitations may be the most important unanswered question regarding Frei’s work.

See further Frei’s Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.

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Halton on the Human Element of History

Reflecting on a post entitled “The Spiritual Ground of History,” Charles Halton describes a poignant moment in his own research:

. . . as I was going through the cuneiform tablet collection that belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I was bogged down in trying to read from broken tablets and keep track of the accounts mentioned in the various texts when, as I held a 4,000 year old tablet in my hand, I saw a fingerprint. It was a powerful sign that reminded me that as I read the tablet I was not merely reading a “sheep text” but a record of the work of a real human being. Someone who probably enjoyed his work some days and other days found it difficult and frustrating. Someone with parents who loved him or was he abused? Maybe he had a wife and child at home and worried about feeding and clothing them and about buying a new house, and so on. This tablet was no longer just about sheep, it was about the humans who engaged in these tasks.

A few lines later he has this description of history from a novel:

in Julian Barnes’ new novel, A Sense of an Ending, in which this definition of history is attributed to one of the characters:

History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.

The whole thing.

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J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address: Failure and Imagination

In 2008 Rowling gave a stirring address at the Harvard commencement on the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. Some highlights:

by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.


Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.


Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.


Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.


Read the whole thing here.

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Adoption Can Change the World

Jenn Philpot closes a post on domestic adoption with this profound paragraph:

In light of Steve Jobs passing away, a few news reports have talked about the fact that he had been adopted.  One great article titled Steve Jobs Changed the World: Adoption Changed His mentions other notable figures that were also adopted, such as Babe Ruth, Charles Dickens, Nat King Cole and Dave Thomas (Wendy’s).  The article ends by saying “No matter the perceived worldly success of an adoptee, adoption is a loving act that transforms, not only the life of the child, but the entire family. And, sometimes, the world.”

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Brevard Childs on the One Basic Fault of OT Theologies (according to James Barr)

James Barr (Concept of Biblical Theology, 49) recounts that in B. S. Childs’ essay “Old Testament in Germany 1920–1940”:

“Childs argues that the acceptance of the historical-critical method as a base is the one basic fault running through the entire series of modern Old Testament theologies before his own.”

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Is Satan the Hero of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”?

Some have alleged that Satan is the real hero of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. For instance, William Blake held that Milton was “‘of the devil’s party,’ though ‘without knowing it’” and Percy Bysshe Shelley thought that Satan was “‘a moral being,’ one ‘far superior to [Milton’s] God as one who perseveres in some purpose . . . in spite of adversity’” (The Great Books, 256).

Satan is no more the hero of Paradise Lost than Judas is the hero of the Gospel according to Mark.

Why would people think Satan is Milton’s hero? A big reason seems to be the way that Milton so faithfully presents Satan’s point of view. In presenting Satan’s perspective, Milton doesn’t impose his authorial voice on the drama to pronounce condemnation on Satan. Instead, he allows the evil of Satan’s actions and purposes to be shown. Milton isn’t telling us Satan is evil; he is showing us. Milton expects his audience to recognize the evil of what Satan says and does.

Commenting on Satan’s speech in Book 9, lines 119–30, Anthony O’Hear (The Great Books, 266) writes:

This speech, as Milton surely intends, puts into perspective the admiration of Satan of some of Milton’s critics, who see only Satan’s splendid defiance in the earlier books, but pass over the extent of his sheer malice in the later ones.

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The Heresy of Explanation

Alan Jacobs joins in Robert Alter’s lament of “the heresy of explanation” at work in dynamic equivalence translation theory. Here’s how Jacobs opens his review of Alter’s The Five Books of Moses:

As the Italians say, traduttori, tradittori: translators are traitors. But the translator who shrugs and—cheerfully or resignedly—agrees that “every translation is an interpretation, after all” has too readily embraced the way of the tradittore. The translator who strives for strict fidelity, even knowing its elusiveness, will be less treacherous. In translation, fidelity is the ultimate imperative and trumps every other virtue: even clarity or readability.

Translators of the Bible seem often to forget this, if indeed they believe it at all. In the introduction to his extraordinary recent translation, The Five Books of Moses, Robert Alter points out that modern translations operate under the (perhaps unconscious) “feeling that the Bible, because of its canonical status, has to be made accessible—indeed, transparent—to all.” Alter is certainly right that modern translators have this feeling, and obey it, but the Bible’s “canonical status” is less to blame than a particular conception of how the Bible functions in the lives of believers.

Read the whole things, which Jacobs has appropriately entitled, “Robert Alter’s Fidelity.”

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Can Dostoevsky’s Translator Weigh in on Bible Translation?

Mirra Ginsburg translated Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, including a three page meditation “On the Translation.” I would love to transcribe the entirety of these three pages, but won’t take the time to do so. This paragraph (p. xxviii) gets at the heart of what I want to emphasize–I put the final sentence in bold for emphasis:

“As always, however, translation is a struggle with impossibility, and there are losses that must be accepted as inevitable. Thus, the Russian ‘deyateli,’ which is rendered here as ‘men of action.’ The literal meaning of the word is ‘doer,’ and in Russian it is used to denote a ‘leading figure’ active in a given field–politics, the arts, science–with the field usually specified. To the Russian reader it is entirely clear that Dostoevsky’s (or his character’s, for it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the author’s voice from the narrator’s) mockery of the obtuse, limited ‘doers’ or ‘men of action’ (field unspecified) is aimed primarily at the liberals, the ‘public citizens,’ the ‘do-gooders’ of his time. This, alas, disappears in translation, unless the translator arrogates to himself the entirely inadmissable right to interpolate.

See also Earle Ellis’s objections to dynamic equivalence translation philosophy:

To my mind the ‘dynamic equivalence’ approach to biblical translation has serious deficiencies.

(1) It rejects the verbal aspect of biblical inspiration.

(2) It gives to the translator the role that rightly belongs to the preacher, commentator and Christian reader.

(3) It assumes that the present-day translator knows what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.

(4) It advocates conforming biblical language and concepts to the modern culture rather than conforming the modern culture to biblical language and concepts.

(5) It appears to discard the Protestant principle that Christian laity should have full access to the Word of God written without interposition of clergy or of paraphrastic veils.

Patrick Schreiner has posted the article where Ellis discusses these points: E. Earle Ellis, “Dynamic Equivalence Theory, Feminist Ideology and Three Recent Bible Translations,” Expository Times 115 (2003): 7–12.

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Wisdom from Father Mapple

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

From Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter ix – THE SERMON.

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Ishmael Describes the Pulpit

As Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, describes the Whaleman’s Chapel, he says this about the pulpit:

Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on the projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.

What could be more full of meaning? – for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Melville’s Moby Dick is free on Kindle.

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The Writer’s Sanity and Taste

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, 201:

“Sanity in a writer is merely this: However stupid he may be in his private life, he never cheats in writing. He never forgets that his audience is, at least ideally, as noble, generous, and tolerant as he is himself (or more so), and never forgets that he is writing about people, so that to turn characters to cartoons, to treat his characters as innately inferior to himself, to forget their reasons for being as they are, to treat them as brutes, is bad art. Sanity in a writer also involves taste. The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been on the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform. He knows what the greatest literary minds of the past are proud to do and what they will not stoop to, and his knowledge informs his practice. He fits himself to the company he most respects and enjoys: the company of Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, and so forth. Their standards become, in some measure, his own. Pettiness, vulgarity, bad taste fall away from him automatically, and when he reads bad writers he notices their lapses of taste at once. He sees that they dwell on things Shakespeare would not have dwelled on, at his best, not because Shakespeare failed to notice them but because he saw their triviality. (Except to examine new techniques, or because of personal friendship, no serious apprentice should ever study second-rate writers).
To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on. . . every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by people who might be persuaded toward life or death.”

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This Is How Biblical Intertextuality Works, Too

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, 192–93:

“It is this quality of the novel, its built-in need to return and repeat, that forms the physical basis of the novel’s chief glory, its resonant close. . . . What rings and resounds at the end of a novel is not just physical, however. What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulation or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values. Coleridge pointed out, stirred to the observation by his interest in Hartleian psychology, that increasingly complex systems of association can give a literary work some of its power. When we encounter two things in close association, Hartley noticed, we tend to recall one when we encounter the other. Thus, for example, if one is standing in a drugstore when one first reads Shelley, the next time one goes to a drugstore one may think of the poet, and the next time one encounters a poem by Shelley one may get a faint whiff of Dial and bathsalts. The same thing happens when we read fiction. If the first time our hero meets a given character it occurs in a graveyard, the character’s next appearance will carry with it some residue of the graveyard setting.
The effect can be roughly illustrated this way. Let a represent a pair of bloody shoes, first encountered at the foot of a willow tree, b; let c equal an orphan home, first encountered in a thunderstorm, d; and let e represent a woman’s kiss, experienced on a train, f. If a (the bloody shoes) is mentioned later in the story, it draws with it a memory of the willow (b . . .). In the same way c produces [d] as an echo, and e produces [f]. . . . Compared to what actually happens in fiction, this . . . is simple and crude in the extreme . . . Even at the end of a short story, the power of an organized return of images, events, and characters can be considerable. Think of Joyce’s “The Dead.” In the closing moments of a novel the effect can be overwhelming.”

My own opinion now: I think the best novelists are in many respects copying what the biblical authors have done.

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