A friend asked me a bit ago whether my day job (trying to understand the Middle East, including Islam and Muslims) wasn’t counterproductive for me as a Bible-believing Christian, or whether it was an attempt to “know the enemy.” In truth, it is neither. Of course, I believe that Christians should explore all fields of knowledge to understand the world in the light of God’s revelation. But I also do not think of Muslims as “the enemy.” Since this latter point is apparently highly contentious at the present among conservative Christians, I thought it might be useful for me to explain my reasoning. (more…)
Now is a good time to pray for America. I have never seen American democracy as weak as it is now. In order for this country to survive, its leaders and its people need to defend its core democratic institutions, and yet I see many leaders and public figures, both Republicans and Democrats, ignoring or even demanding challenges to those institutions, in ways that they think will serve their partisan goals. Partisanship itself can become a threat to the country when it escalates into factionalism. In order to understand this, we might consider a slice of history, that of the longest-lived empire the West has ever known.
Many people have compared the United States to the Roman Empire, but perhaps a more apt, and more sobering, comparison would be with the later Eastern Roman Empire, better known to westerners as the Byzantine Empire. The Roman Empire in the West was quickly overrun by barbarian invasions from the north, and we are simply not in that much danger from Canadians (nor from Mexicans, since that border is well-defended). The Eastern Roman Empire survived the Germanic barbarian invasions just fine. Like the United States, it had much greater military and population resources than its western partner. But it fell in stages, losing large areas of land in the seventh, the eleventh, and the fourteenth centuries, so that it spent the last century of its existence as little more than a city-state. And each of these territorial losses was preceded by factionalism and civil war. If Americans would like to avoid the fate of the Byzantines, we must not let our partisan loyalties escalate into factionalism. (more…)
N.B.: This post is a hypothesis about “what happened” in the US presidential election on Tuesday. It deliberately makes no statement about what ought to have happened, nor should it be read searching for hints regarding my political views.
Numbers, like dead men, tell no tales. As late as the afternoon of election day, mainstream media outlets confidently predicted, on the basis of dozens of polls, a relatively easy victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. That is not what happened. Many people were surprised, whether positively or negatively, by Trump’s decisive victory over Clinton, and many are trying to figure out why it happened the way it did. Yet the bare numbers, the responses to opinion polls and the voting tallies, are silent about what chain of events led to these results. All explanations of what happened are necessarily speculative, but this post proposes one mechanism. In particular, it explores the possibility that the mainstream media might have unintentionally discouraged people from voting for Clinton. (more…)
I do not often write on politics, for a few reasons. Devout Christians come to different political views (which are usually matters of wisdom rather than doctrine, anyway). I think faith in Christ is more important than any particular political stance, and I do not want any political disagreement to overshadow more important issues about what Christianity teaches. Furthermore, I know American politics best, but Christianity is global, so discussing American politics reduces what I might say to my fellow Christians around the world. (That all sounds very spiritual, but I also simply do not find politics interesting, most of the time.)
This US presidential election cycle, however, is surprisingly ugly, and I am not talking about the candidates’ appearances. What are Christians to think and do about it? (more…)
Biblical scholars like something to argue about, because they are academics, and academics make their living by making arguments. (I know; I am one.) And since what is at stake in biblical scholars’ arguments is almost always the question whether the Bible can be trusted, for skeptics who wish not to believe as much as for believers who wish to do so, biblical scholars’ arguments often degenerate into battle lines. Often, I feel, a little more careful attention to the text may shed some useful light on the subject.
One debate which has intrigued me in the past is the question of the (non-)relation between the Hebrew word “Hebrew” (ʿibri) and the word “Habiru” and its variants in Akkadian and Egyptian. It seems that some conservatives have argued that Habiru = Hebrews = Israelites, and thus the Ancient Near Eastern texts which mention the Habiru corroborate the biblical accounts of the Israelites. Against this, some skeptics have argued that the term Habiru is used in contexts where the biblical Hebrews cannot possibly be intended, and sometimes carry non-Semitic names, which these scholars take to indicate that the Habiru were a mixture of Semitic and non-Semitic.
Now, I am not an expert in the Ancient Near East, nor do I read Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or any of the other languages, so I can only approach this question from the Hebrew side. But it seems to me that what the Bible says about Hebrews is not what most people have presumed, and may open the door to a different solution to the relationship between the Hebrews and the Habiru. (more…)