September 2009

For those interested in biblical archaeology, this is potentially a very exciting find, assuming that the source can be believed. From the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute] show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.

According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.

The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.

“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.

The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.

“Studies by Dr. Thabet’s team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face – just like the coins we use today,” the report added.

I don’t know if either Al Ahram or Dr. Thabet are correct, but if so, the confirmation of Joseph’s standing in Egypt would be striking. The real significance of this story is not so much the question of the use of coins in ancient Egypt (though it certainly would be significant in archaeological terms) so much as the presence of Joseph’s image and name on the artifacts. MEMRI’s translation of the report provides further details:

“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.”

Hopefully Biblical Archaeology Review will cover this story in the near future.

For years, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has maintained the fiction that  it is a religiously neutral organization that is simply looking out for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans. It isn’t often that AU drops the mask enough to demonstrate that it is actually a coalition of religious liberals and secular leftists whose mission demands the condemnation, not just of church-state separation violators, but of any conservative form of faith (especially Christian, of course). Rob Boston illustrates this nicely on the “Wall of Separation” blog:

A new survey about religion in America has the Religious Right all worked up.

Researchers at Trinity College in Hartford noted a sharp rise in the number of Americans who, when asked to state their religious preference, replied “none.” According to some polls, this bloc of Americans now accounts for about 15 percent, and Trinity researchers say it may rise to 20 percent by 2030.

There’s no mystery why this would be disturbing to faithful Christians (those to whom Boston is referring with his sneering expression “Religious Right”). To the extent that people are losing faith, or leaving the church of Christ, that should bother anyone who considers matters of faith to be something more than trivial matters of fashion. But Boston has an idea why this is happening:

I have to wonder if church-based politicking hasn’t played a role in the rise of the “nones” as well. Several polls have shown that Americans are uncomfortable with politics emanating from the pulpit. People go to a house of worship to get close to God or share fellowship with other believers – not to be told which candidate to support or hear a lecture on public policy.

Yet the Religious Right keeps egging pastors to politicize their pulpits and to sermonize constantly about abortion, same-sex marriage and now even health-care reform. No wonder people are voting with their feet.

I happen to agree that endorsing candidates and lecturing on public policy don’t belong in the pulpit. What I find amusing is that Boston seems to think that this only goes on in churches beholden to the “Religious Right.” In the cloistered halls of Americans United, they have apparently never heard of Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Michael Kinnimon, Katharine Jefforts-Schori, John Thomas, Clifton Kirkpatrick, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, Carlton Veazey, Welton Gaddy, or any of the other hundreds of leaders of the “Religious Left,” or the thousands of liberal preachers who regularly use their pulpits to deliver themselves of their opinions about environmental legislation, health care reform, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, immigration reform, or, yes, abortion and gay marriage.

But that’s only apparently. Of course they know all about the Wallises and McLarens and Kinnimons at AU, and they heartily approve of what they do in politicizing churches to the left. Americans United also approves of their seeking to push churches to the left in terms of their approach to theological teaching:

This trend terrifies the Religious Right, of course. How dare Americans presume to interpret holy books and articles of faith for themselves, unaided by TV preachers, dogmatic clergy or other go-betweens?

Leaders of the Religious Right just don’t get it. The intolerance, near-fanatical insistence on adherence to a narrow dogma and obsession with politics are driving many away – yet they just keep it up.

You’d think that Boston didn’t know that there are some denominations where clergy are expected to be “dogmatic” (i.e., teach Christian doctrine as revealed by God rather than as mere human opinions, and thus dismissable), and where members don’t want their preachers offering mush. You’d think that Boston didn’t know that some denominations and many Christians don’t consider the glories of historic orthodoxy “narrow dogma.” In fact, he does, and doesn’t care. For AU, the enemy isn’t simply breaches of the “wall of separation.” It’s conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christianity.

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you read stuff like this. From Episcopal Life:

The Hindu American Foundation honored two Los Angeles area priests with its 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism September 23 at the foundation’s sixth annual Capitol Hill banquet.

The foundation also acknowledged the efforts of Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles along with the Rev. Canon Gwynne Guibord and the Rev. Karen MacQueen, for “electrifying Hindus last year after issuing a formal apology for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination including attempts to convert them.” [Emphasis added.]

So in the funhouse mirror world of some members of the Episcopal left, it is now “religious discrimination” to try and bring the light of Jesus Christ to Hindus. But if anything, it gets worse:

Guibord, who is the diocesan officer for ecumenical and interreligious concerns, told the gathering, “We must continue to bear witness to the truth that it is simply not possible to say with any integrity or authentic witness to the values that undergird our two great faiths, that one loves God but hates another human being.”

So now seeking to bring the love of God in Christ to Hindus is not just discriminatory, but “hateful.” Her bishop echoed this:

Bruno, who was unable to be present, sent a letter expressing gratitude for recognition of efforts “to build bridges of cooperation between the great religious traditions … [and] assist you as your community strives for justice and equality.

“The world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we Christians often sought to dominate rather than to serve,” according to the letter, read to the gathering by Guibord, who is also the consultant for interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church.

“In order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I renew the apology that I have offered to the Hindu community for the religious and racial discrimination that Christians have directed towards Hindus for far too long. Such discrimination is wrong; it is a sin. There is no justification for it.”

Bruno committed to working together to put an “end to racial and religious discrimination against Hindus. We desire to work together in the great divine task of our time: to build reconciliation and peace, honoring the God-given dignity of each person, sharing and learning the wisdom of each other’s traditions, recognizing God’s equal love for each of us, and sincerely responding to God’s desire to bring us together into one human family, rich in diversity and mutual respect.”

Well, that’s that, then. Take this as a semi-official announcement that the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has concluded that Christ no longer requires its services, J.J. Bruno and Gwynne Guibord will soon be getting real jobs, and the Anglican Christians of the L.A. Basin can get back to the work of carrying out that oh-so-hateful and discriminatory Great Commission thingy.

(Via Stand Firm.)

I’ve been away for three days, mostly attending the Presbytery of the East, which met at Christ the King EPC in Westfield, Massachusetts. For me, the most important thing to come out of the meeting was that my church plant, Redeemer, has been re-christened. After several months of discernment, conversation and prayer, we are now the Church of the Occoquan Valley, which will also be known as “The Cove.” We have three primary reasons for this:

1) Aesthetic: “Church of the Occoquan Valley” has a wonderful sound to it. The valley in question, incidentally, straddles Fairfax and Prince William counties, between which the Occoquan River runs as it empties into the Potomac. Given that we are at work in both counties, in Lorton and Woodbridge, it makes sense to acknowledge both as part of our mission field.

2) The acronym: “The Cove” is meant to be suggestive of our ministry. We have been called to be a safe haven for those who are buffeted by the storms of life, a channel through which the peace of God may flow into the lives of those who are sinking under the weight of their sin and troubles.

3) Community-building: While “Occoquan Valley” is not a phrase that comes to mind among residents of this area, we are seeking to create a community that transcends the geographical (and racial, ethnic, linguistic, social, and cultural) barriers that separate people.  The Occoquan River is a symbol of that division, and with God’s grace that division can be overcome.

The worship bulletin today already reflected the change, and this week we will be activating a new Web site ( that will hopefully be an improved way to showcase what God is doing here in northern Virgina. Take a look, and let me know what you think. And by all means, if you are in the area, join us on Sunday.

At the United Nations today, Holocaust denying Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to a lot of empty seats as some nations boycotted his speech, while other walked out. According to the Brisbane Times of Australia (I know that’s a weird source, but Hot Air had a link to Down Under):

France on Wednesday led a walkout of a dozen delegations, including the United States, to protest a fiery speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UN General Assembly.

“It is disappointing that Mr Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” Mark Kornblau, spokesman to the US mission to the United Nations, said in a statement.

Delegations from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Denmark, France Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and the United States left the room as Ahmadinejad began to rail against Israel, a European source said.

Israel had already called for a boycott of the speech, and was not present when the Iranian leader began his address. Canada had already said it would heed the boycott call.

I want to thank President Obama for ordering the U.S. delegation to take this action (they wouldn’t have done so on such an occasion without presidential direction). It was the right thing to do, and regardless of what you might think of American policy toward Iran, it was the only treatment that a lunatic such as Ahmadinejad deserved.

I also have to offer you the line of the day on the bizarre performance by Muammar Qadhafi at the U.N., from Hot Air’s Allahpundit:

As loathsome as he is, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny — tiny — bit of sympathy at watching someone who quite clearly lacks the mental capacity to realize he’s making a spectacle of himself. Ever seen a homeless guy ranting at no one in particular, and quite convinced that he’s winning the “argument”? Dude.

As Marty Feldman said in Young Frankenstein, “on the nosey!”

On September 8, the United Church of Christ began a campaign to collect 100,000 signatures over the INterbet for the purpose of telling Congress how important it believes health care reform to be. The Web page where the sign-up was taking place proclaims:

Before Sept. 18—in just 10 days—our hope is to send 100,000 messages to Congress and deliver a huge book of 100,000 names to the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, starting with the in-district office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during [UCC President] Rev. Geoffrey Black’s upcoming trip to visit churches in the San Francisco area. Together, speaking as people of faith, we have the power to change the conversation and envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity.

Well, the 10 days was up on Friday, and I went to check out how they did this morning. As of 11:30 AM, three days after the end of their 10-day campaign, they had collected all of 16,500 signatures. This despite the fact that the form was open to anyone–they don’t ask on it whether the signer is a Christian, much less a UCC member. This also despite the fact that when they’ve run campaigns such as this before–for instance, in opposition to the Iraq war–they were able to garner most if not all of the signatures they sought. I’m not sure what their inability to get even 20% of the names they were looking for says. Maybe that UCC members aren’t interested in the subject, maybe that they oppose the denomination’s stand, maybe that the petition was too vague (like so much of the advocacy on health care reform, it talks about goals but not means), maybe nothing at all. In any case, I’d be willing that this is one petition that won’t be delivered to anyone any time soon, or if it is, it will be without an explanation of why their list of names is so short.

UPDATE: According to UCC News, Rev. Black presented Nancy Pelosi with what he termed a “down payment” on Friday:

While visiting local churches this weekend in the San Francisco area, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, incoming UCC General Minister and President, brought with him the names, addresses and phone numbers of 16,177 fellow UCC members and supporters which he delivered Friday to the in-district offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“This is a down payment on the 100,000 messages that we expect to gather and deliver in the coming weeks in support of health care reform,” Black told Mark Herbert, deputy director of Pelosi’s office. “We come out of the tradition of Jesus, the healer, and we believe that gift of healing should be available to all.”

That was Friday. As pf today, they are up to 16,593. At that rate, Pelosi will get her 100,000 around the time of the next New Hampshire presidential primary.

Continuing with today’s humor theme, I ran across the results of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. If you’ve never heard of the BLFC, it’s a year-round event (in the sense that you can send them entries any time) run out of the English Department at San Jose State University. It’s named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century politician, poet, and novelist whose work Paul Clifford opens with the immortal line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and went downhill from there–the actual first line in toto reads thus:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

So anyway, the contest consists of people submitting the worst opening lines they can conceive of for imaginary novels. Among my favorites this year:

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests. (David McKenzie, overall winner)

In a flurry of flame and fur, fangs and wicker, thus ended the world’s first and only hot air baboon ride. (Tony Alfieri, runner-up in the “Adventure” category)

She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida – the pink ones, not the white ones – except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn’t wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren’t. (Eric Rice, winner in the “Detective” category)

Darnell knew he was getting hung out to dry when the D.A. made him come clean by airing other people’s dirty laundry; the plea deal was a new wrinkle and there were still issues to iron out, but he hoped it would all come out in the wash – otherwise he had folded like a cheap suit for nothing. (Lynn Lamousin, dishonorable mention in the “Detective” category)

Towards the dragon’s lair the fellowship marched — a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from “Lord of the Rings.” (Andrew Manoske, runner-up in the “Fantasy” category”)

Using her flint knife to gut the two amphibians, Kreega the Neanderthal woman created the first pair of open-toad sandals. (Greg Homer, winner in the “Vile Puns” category)

Medusa stared at the two creatures approaching her across the Piazza and, instantly recognizing them as Spanish Gorgons, attempted to stall them by greeting them in their native tongue, “Gorgons, Hola!” (Eric Davies, runner-up in the “Vile Puns” category)

Eyeing the towering stacks of food colouring that formed the secret to his billion-dollar batik textile empire, grumpy Old Man Griffington was forced to admit that dye mounds are a churl’s best friend. (Janine Beacham, dishonorable mention in the “Vile Puns” category–can you tell this is a favorite of mine?)

Check all of them out, and give it a try yourself in 2010. You have nothing to lose but the respect of your high school English teacher, and you never really care about that, did you?

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