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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Were Jesus' Disciples "Illiterate Peasants"?

Image result for the gospels symbols

Many argue that the Gospels could not have been composed by Jesus' disciples on the grounds that those disciples were illiterate, Aramaic-sspeaking, low-class Jewish peasants from Galilee, while the Gospels are written in good enough Greek.
Bart Ehrman gives a telling presentation of this viewpoint:

"These authors [the Gospel writers] were not lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants from Galilee.  but isn't it possible that, say, John wrote the Gospel as an old man? That as a young man he was an illiterate, Aramaic-speaking day laborer--a fisherman from the time he was old enough to help haul in a net--but that as an old man he wrote a Gospel?...I suppose it is possible.  It would mean that after Jesus' resurrection John decided to go to school and become literate..." [Ehrman, Bart.2009. Jesus Interrupted. Harper One, pp. 106-107]

In short, men like Peter and John couldn't have written anything--especially in Greek--because Aramaic-speaking Jewish peasants from Galilee couldn't have been literate; nor could Matthew or Mark, because they were associated with Peter and John, and hence low-class, monolingual illiterates, too. In fairness, Ehrman notes from Jesus' reading of the Torah in the synagogue that Jesus himself must have been literate (disagreeing with Dominic Crossan, another media star in Gospel research). However, the general assumption is that pre-modern, non-urban, non-elite folk "had to be" illiterate and monolingual.

What a monoculturalist, time-bound assumption this is!  In fact, there are a number of historical, cultural, religious, and sociological reasons that tell against this reconstruction of Jesus and his disciples.

First of all, monolingualism is a condition of peoples who live in very large, geographically extensive, and politically powerful linguistic communities and who belong to highly immobile or insular cultures. A peasant from Henan can be monolingual in Northern Chinese; an American farmer in western Pennsylvania can be monolingual in English.  Speakers of Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Panjabi, Malay, or Turkish might also be able to afford monoglossia.  However, much of humanity, regardless of formal education, must learn second--or even third or fourth languages--due to minority status, residence in a linguistically diverse region, or a position in a border area.  It is worth noting that the Galilean Jews of the first century A.D. fit all of these criteria. As such, they were in a position not too different from many Central Europeans from medieval times to the interwar era, or Hill Tribes in northern Southeast Asia today--who were often polyglot regardless of formal education.

'First century 'Eretz Yisroel seems to have been ideally situated as a home for a people for whom polyglossy would be desirable and monolingualism a handicap. To begin with, while we can safely assume that most inhabitants of first century 'Eretz Yisroel probably spoke forms of Western Aramaic on a day-to-day basis, it is known that the Greek-speaking and Gentile cities of Sepphoris and Tiberia were planted squarely in the midst of Galilee.  Caesarea, the port-city, was a primarily Hellenophone enclave; while to the east there must have been contacts with the Decapolis, a federation of ten Greek-speaking cities dating back to some time after Alexander's conquest of the area .  The Jews themselves were not uniformly Semitic-speakers.  The existence of a large, Greek-speaking diaspora that sometimes resettled in 'Eretz Yisroel is amply attested to in the Book of Acts, in which conflict between linguistic communities appears early (Ac. 7), and from the archaeological record.  For much of Western Diaspora Jewry, Greek rather than Hebrew was even the language of the Bible and religion. Hence, the opportunity to learn and use Greek was not rare and certainly far from implausible.Some Hellenophone Jews moved back to 'Eretz Yisroel itself, forming their own synagogues and existing as a distinct subculture.  The New Testament itself witnesses to a linguistic divide in the primitive Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1), while ossuaries and other epigraphic remains provide archaeological testimony to the use of Greek as well as the Semitic languages.

It is doubtful that Jesus' first followers were invariably poor and socially marginal.  The Gospels mention that when John and James joined Jesus, they left their father Zebedee with the hired men (Mark 1:20).  While fishing may not be a prestige profession, it did not, apparently, condemn its practitioners to mere subsistence. We read also of wealthy women supporting Jesus and his disciples, plus such sympathizers as Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus who were members of the Sanhedrin.  In this, Jesus may well have been part of patterns attested to later in Talmudic Jewish history of a rabbi and his disciples supported by family and wealthy friends; and of men from ordinary walks of life who were nonetheless literate, and hence able to move into the ranks of the learned.

Perhaps it might be useful to see Peter and Andrew, James and John, and even Jesus himself not just as primary producers or workingmen, but as businessmen as well.  Fish can be salted and dried, then transported to places distant from the waters in which it was caught.  A skilled craftsman such as a carpenter might well work an itinerary that might take him away from his home village.  In both situations, the need to keep accounts would provide an incentive towards literacy.

When first encountered, Jesus' first disciples are not only fishermen,, but also spiritual seekers.  Andrew and Simon Peter were apparently initially drawn to John the Baptist (John 1:35-42)who also preached the approach of the Messianic age.  This suggests that the sons of Jonah had some familiarity with biblical prophecy and the leisure to ponder its possible implications. These spiritual aspirations in a culture that eschewed images as foci of worship (although first century 'Eretz Yisroel apparently had few objections to art for the purposes of decoration or illustration) would have been yet another incentive for literacy. 

Jesus himself may well have known Greek from an early age.  The Gospel of Matthew notes that the Holy Family spent some time in Egypt fleeing Herod's attempts to kill the infant Jesus.  We know that they returned to 'Eretz Yisroel some time after Herod's death--quite possibly after the lapse of some years. In Egypt, the Holy Family probably would have gravitated towards Alexandria, that vast, polyglot,albeit mostly Hellenophone, which was the center of the Mediterranean world's Jewish diaspora and the place where the Bible itself was first put into Greek two centuries before Jesus' birth. It was home as well to a vibrant Hellenophone Jewish culture attested to by the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo and the writings of Gentile historians and critics.In intertestamental times, the Apocryphal book of Jesus son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), while evidently first composed in Hebrew, was early translated into Greek and preserved in that language.  The additions to Daniel (Susannah and Bel and the Dragon) also seem to have originally been Greek compositions rather than Hebrew or Aramaic. Even a later son of 'Eretz Yisroel, Josephus, writes an elegant Greek, and defends the Jews against the calumnies of the Egyptian priest Manetho in an interchange that clearly was conducted in Greek. So pervasive is the Greek influence among the Jews that even in 'Eretz Yisroel itself, one of the sages in the times shortly before Jesus' own, Antigonos of Socho, bears a Greek name, as do some of the Jewish protagonists of the First Book of Maccabees.

It is also important to note that while Matthew Two is often taken as a birth narrative (and used as such every Christmas), it is more accurately a narrative of Jesus' childhood, a synopsis of Jesus' earliest years whose chief purpose is to show how the life of the Messiah recapitulates the life of the Israelite nation, the star echoing the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers; the adoration of the Magi reflecting the status of Israel under David and Solomon; the flight into and return from Egypt reflecting the origins of the nation.  Thus, the likelihood is that the Magi from the East found a toddler rather than a newborn; that toddler going on to find his early speech shaped not only by the presumed Aramaic of his earthly parents, but also by the Greek of his likely Egyptian home.

By the time of Jesus, Jewish culture had already become an "exegetical culture".  Its cult had no images, and stressed a sacred text that long had been known and used, even to the point of being translated for the Greek-speaking diaspora community.  While the climate and soils of most of 'Eretz Yisroel are not conducive to the preservation of ordinary scraps of inscribed papyrus and leather (save in the very dry regions close to the Dead Sea and the Negev), it is known from Hellenistic Roman Egypt that large numbers of common people often wrote letters, accounting documents, contracts, and the like (thanks to Egypt's uniquely dry climate, these were preserved); while ostraca probably inscribed by ordinary Jews in 'Eretz Yisroel have also been found.

The image of Jesus and his disciples as illiterate, monolingual peasants must thus be discarded.  Some, doubtlessly, were from very ordinary or even poor backgrounds.  But even in such instances,their Galilaean homeland was well-situated to foster multilingualism, including knowledge of Greek; and the already dispersed condition of their Jewish people would have given them opportunity to encounter and interact with Greek-speakers, even if they may have had few contacts with Gentiles.  Their Jewish culture was literate, possessed a strong historical sense, and even possessed writing for purposes far removed from the religious ones best represented in ancient Jewish Hebrew,Aramaic, and Greek texts.

While a fairly wide literacy among Jewish common people must be conceded to be a possibility (albeit a strong one) rather than a demonstrated certainty, it would be by no means unique among pre-modern peoples.  In Korea during the 15th century A.D., King Sejong promoted the development of the Hangul alphabet in order to foster literacy among Korean commoners, for whom the traditional Classical Chinese traditionally used was inaccessible (and hard enough to learn by young males whose families could afford to educate them, for Korean and Chinese are not linguistically close).  This was a fairly successful project.  Further, Hangul itself seems to have been inspired bythe Phagpa script commissioned by Khubilai Khan to provide a common alphabet for Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan. A few monuments in this writing exist, including, interestingly enough, a Christian grave monument from Fujian memorializing an individual with a clearly Han Chinese name.  While the Phagpa script did not take except among users of Tibetan, its imperial sponsorship is yet another example of a ruler seeking to foster literacy among the common people he ruled.

A further consideration is that speakers of Hebrew and Aramaic used alphabets designed for the phonemes of those languages.  The Greeks, while adopting the Semitic alphabet, heavily modified it to suit their own phonemes.  In this, users of all three languages were in a position somewhat different from that of an English speaker, who must find ways to twist an alphabet designed for a language with only five vowels (Latin) to serve his own vowel-rich spoken language.  Perhaps, then, the storm and stress accompanying an Anglophone child's introduction to spelling and decoding may not have been as severe for a child of first-century 'Eretz Yisroel or Alexandira being put to the task of learning to read.

Finally, as recognized leaders in the primitive Christian community, the apostles would have had access to bilingual secretaries and amanuenses.John Mark, identified in Acts as close to the wealthy Cypriot Jew Barnabas, was probably one who was skilled both in the native Semitic of 'Eretz Yisroel and Greek. While it is clear that Paul was a literate and bilingual former student of Gamaliel the Elder, the presence of Apollos of Alexandria in the pages of the New Testament suggests he was not the only lettered and cultured convert gained by the primitive church.  Papias' account that he worked as Peter's interpreter and that his Gospel represents the memories of Peter is thus entirely credible.  His being mentioned at the end of First Peter along with Silvanus makes it highly possible that he and Sylvanus took dictation from Peter, putting his less-fluent Greek into the relatively polished form found in the Epistle as they worked.  Eusebius also identifies Papias of Heliopolis as John's assistant; so it may be that the elegant if simple Greek of the Fourth Gospel hints both at Johanine authorship, as evidenced by the accurate knowledge of pre-70 A.D. 'Eretz Yisroel, and Papaias' editorial help; while the rugged, near-Pidgin of the Book of Revelation may offer John's own, unaided Greek.

Nor should too much weight be placed on the observation of that Peter and John were "unlettered men"  (Acts 4:13).  This merely indicates that they, like their master, were not trained in the Scribal and Pharisaic Academies.  While history is full of academies or systems that gained much prestige in the cultures that nurtured them, education has never been successfully monopolized; even by philosophic schools, churches, and states that actively sought to do so. A Bible-reading, theologically-minded 17th century England could produce an uncommon author in John Bunyan,the tinker of Bedford; a first century 'Eretz Yisroel with its Jewish exegetical culture teeming with Messianic speculation and aspiration could also have produced similar "uncommon common men".

Thus, questions of literacy and skills in second- or third languages should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles for Jesus' first disciples. True, they were not born into the linguistically dominant ctulure; but if the experience of other peripheral peoples offers any guidance, this would provide an incentive to learn Greek as a second language.The environment in which the apostles lived, the needs of their livelihoods, and their religious background all provided incentives to both literacy and second language acquisition (if that second language was Greek). The status they  gained in the early church also gave them access to a number of human resources, if not further educational ones.  Hence,Ehrman's dismissal of the possibility that John may have been a writer ignores much.  Even if the apostles had help from their friends (and Peter's mention of Mark and Silvanus, along with Luke's admitted dependence on earlier witnesses, suggests that these were by no means unrecognized), their position as authors as well as witnesses is no longer so far-fetched.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent Meditation, 2016

I don’t normally make much of a to-do about Advent, Christmas, or other holidays in the so-called “Christian Year”.  My Reformed tradition (commonly called “Calvinistic”) seeks to limit its cultic observances to what can be found or deduced by “good and necessary consequence” from Scripture.  However, I’ll nod away from the Puritan branch of the family towards the Swiss, and note with the Second Helvetic Confession (1564), that those holidays focused on the events of Christ’s life, are in themselves indifferent, if not made binding on the consciences of believers. 

The Advent tradition calls on Christians to focus on prophecy, both that related to his first coming as Messiah of Israel, and his second, in which he will judge the living and the dead.  Hence, after an adult Sunday School class that went through Samuel and Kings, books which the Jewish tradition sees as the Former Prophets, the Advent text on which I am now meditating  is  Matthew One, with all of its begats and Old Testament names (given according to the Greek Septuagint, for those who don’t recognize King James’ Ezekias and Hezekiah as the same man).  It’s a reminder that all of God’s actions in human history, including how he became man, worked redemption, and conquered death itself, were for the sake of flesh-and-blood, living and breathing, ordinary human beings.

First, individuals matter.  The genealogies tell us that humanity is not some abstraction called “society”, or “mankind”, or, in this anti-sexist world, “humankind”.  Names point to individuals, each of whom has his own little story and needs.  Maybe this is confusing to an age, overwhelmed by the vastness of space, wonders how God can worry about little specks such as us.  If that describes you and me, we’re in good company:  the Psalmist David himself wondered along similar lines when he wrote:

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?  And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:3-4)

Second, history matters.  Part of everyone’s humanity—including that of Jesus, whom I confess to be God the Word incarnate as man—belongs to a community and has a history.  We didn’t choose to be born Americans in the 20th and 21st centuries; Abraham didn’t choose to be born in Ur of the Chaldees four thousand years before our time.  Even if, as biblical prophecy teaches us, we look forward to a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (II Pet. 3:13), we cannot forget where we’ve been, and biblical religion tells us that if we do, we’ll lose sight of where we ought to be going.  We’re called not only to hope, but also to remember.

Third, damaged and derailed as individuals and their histories may be, Jesus came to save sinners.  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool.” How, Brother Isaiah?  Matthew One tells us.

Jesus came and freely owned himself kinsman to Abraham and Isaac, who prevaricated with the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Philistine Abimelech out of cowardice and thus compromised their wives; with Jacob who defrauded his brother Esau; with Judah who committed incest with his daughter-in-law Tamar while thinking he was just finding a prostitute; with the fallen woman Rahab and proselyte Ruth; with adulterous, scheming King David who abused his power to put an innocent man to death; with backsliding Solomon, who despite all his God-given wisdom, allowed his foreign wives to lead him into coldness towards his own God; and all those unworthy descendants of David who ignored or persecuted the prophets, provoked God to righteous wrath, and thus got their people conquered and exiled to Babylon.  No, I cannot find the model of a holy and upright kingship or living image of the Messiah or an earthly picture of the divine throne in heaven as I read the Bible; only a dreary list of men who “waked in the way of Jeroboam the Son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.”

Yet, the letter to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brethren—despite all their issues, failures, and baggage.  It is for them, and us, that he became man, worked righteousness, suffered death on the cross, and rose from the dead on the Third Day.  So, if the sinless Son of God is not ashamed to call the likes of Judah, Rahab, Manasseh, and Amon kinsmen, there may be hope for issues-ridden people like you and me.

I was oh-so-subtly raised to justify myself against the accusations leveled by biblical prophecy.  If I would’ve called myself a Christian, I was at best an American Moralistic Deist.  Had I known more than bowdlerized versions of the Biblical stories way back when, I’d have thought, surely, had someone like me been around, Jeremiah wouldn’t have been dragged off unwillingly to Egypt by the rebellious people, and Zechariah the priest would not have been murdered before the altar by King Jehoash.  Of course, we’re more advanced than “those people” were (Bronze Age savages, after all—even if, for the sake of covering myself with my fellow pedants, the use of iron seems to have found its way into Israel around the time of Saul).  And, yes, had I known the story then, I’d have reacted like Clovis of the Franks, who said Jesus would never have been crucified had he and his men been around.   Oh, of course: I’d never have been a Caiaphas, a member of the mob that cried, “crucify him!”, and certainly not a Pontius Pilate, cynically asking “what is truth?” when the Truth itself was literally under his very nose.   Fat chance.

That incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection happened for our sinful sakes precisely because we’re not our idealized, truth-loving, [self-] righteous selves.  We are indeed Judah and Tamar, Rahab with her scarlet past and fear of the invading Israelites, backsliding Solomon, and Amon and Manasseh.  We’re Caiphas and Pilate, too (think of that the next time you use the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed).   This season, let us not justify ourselves when challenged by what we read; but recognize ourselves for what we are in humble repentance and accept the gift of redemption which God offers in the Messiah.

Have a joyful Advent and Christmas season!

Seen your Bathsheba today, brothers?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are the Chinese Children of Heth? 华人是否赫族的后裔?

    For better or worse, every Christian people likes to read its own name into the Bible.  Sometimes this theological pastime is harmless; sometimes, as in certain forms of Anglo-Israelism, dangerous. Having both studied theology from a very conservative standpoint and lived among the heirs of the great Hua-Xia culture,I have encountered some intriguing variations on this theme. From such encounters, I would urge Christian writers and thinkers to be very cautious in finding associations between their own peoples and times and those of the Bible.  While I accept that the Bible is basically historical, its very historicity should warn us against reading some of our own perceptions and predilections back into it.
    With the remarkable spread of the Gospel in Sinitic Asia, well-meaning Christians both Western and Chinese have taken up the game of finding their roots in the Bible. In Taiwan, in a town inhabited mostly by Hakka-speaking people, a good friend who was a minister of the Gospel held that perhaps his people were anciently Hebrew, for they were a migratory folk who had long ago moved into southern China from the North China Plain, while the red strips of calligraphy framing the doors of their homes recalled the blood of the passover lamb marking the doors of the Israelites in Egypt.Others insisted that their people were no closer to the Jews other than being descendants of Shem, since "Shem is the ancestor of all the Asians, just as Japheth was father of the Europeans and Ham the father of the Africans."
    Later, after leaving an international student ministry in the Midwest, someone passed around a handout identifying how various parts of the world related to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.  I noted that this paper linked the Chinese to Heth, the son of Canaan.This shocked me, since it is commonly known to most students of Scripture that the Canaanites were a cursed people.  There is a tradition in American folk Protestantism that this curse devolved on the African, and explains his servitude down to 1865; while in a much older and more respectable tradition of exegesis, it is understood that this curse on Canaan in Genesis 9:25 met its fulfillment first in Joshua's subjection of the Gileadites who had  tricked Israel into making a covenant with them (Joshua 9) and later in Rome's conquest of the last independent Canaanite people in Carthage.
    As far as I can tell, this linkage of the Chinese to Heth goes back to The Doorway Papers by Arthur Custance (1910-1985), a British-born Canadian Christian scholar with wide-ranging interests, including the development of a comprehensive anthropological doctrine from the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.  In a nutshell, Custance notes an apparent etymological correspondence between the name Heth (in which the initial letter is pronounced something like the German "ch" in "Ach!") and the native name of the Khitan people (Qidan 契丹) who bequeathed the names "Cathay" or "Cathaya", by which China (or, more properly, northern China) was known to Westerners between the times of Marco Polo to the 19th century.  To be fair to Custance, his attempt to trace all of the "colored peoples" to Ham was not racist; for he interpreted the "servant of servants" not as indicating a lowly status for Canaan, the Son of Ham, but that many of the fundamental technological innovations of mankind were originally found among the non-white peoples of the world--hence this prophecy of Genesis 9:25 speaks of important services rendered to mankind as a whole rather than subjection. Yet it is also noteworthy that this connection of the Chinese to Heth has since then taken root among Chinese-speaking believers themselves.
    This posting is an objection and a refutation.  While Custance and exegetes like him meant and mean well in connecting the Chinese to Heth, their method ignores China's own millennia-long recorded history, which itself reveals how peoples migrated and dynasties rose and fell, no less than the histories of the various Western and Middle Eastern peoples.  Further, the China-Heth connection ignores the wider growth of Scripture and the expansion of the Hebrews' geographic and historical horizons in the centuries between the tales that came to be part of Genesis and the time of the Davidic kingdom. Indeed, it places a burden on the Table of Nations which that section of Scripture was not intended to bear.
    To start, I do not doubt that the Chinese descend from Noah via his three sons. All of us do.   But exactly how and through which migrations and intermixings, I do not pretend to know, and doubt that this can be known after so many millennia.
    First of all, it is not difficult to locate the children of Heth, or Hittites, who are mentioned in the Old Testament.  From roughly 1400-1000 B.C., an Indo-European people who called themselves Nes established an empire over central Anatolia, ruling an earlier, non-Indo-European people called the Hatti, from whom the Indo-European conqueror adopted a number of cultural features, including a logographic or hieroglyphic written language and the name for the land they inhabited. The Hittites of the Old Testament 'Eretz Yisroel, from the Ephron who sold Abraham a burial plot for his family to the ill-fated Uriah, whose wife Bathsheba tempted King David, were most likely a diaspora people who had settled in various parts of the Middle East, including Canaan, which lying along an important trade route linking the richer lands of Mesopotamia and Egypt, might be expected to attract a dispersed people. In this, they were not unlike their latter-day linguistic relatives the Armenians, who prior to the horrors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were an important dispersed and trading people of the Middle East.
   A second issue is that China was not known as Cathay or Cathaya from time immemorial. Throughout their long history, the Chinese have often referred to themselves by the dynasties that ruled them.  The most ancient of these were the Xia (夏), which lasted from 2070-1600 B.C; the Shang (商), which lasted from 1600-1040 B.C.; and the Zhou (周), which lasted from 1046-771 B.C.  As the last degenerated into a collection of contending states, which was China's condition in the times of such sages as Confucius, Lao Zi,and Zhuang Zi, there arose the coneption of Tian Xia (天下), or "Under Heaven", denoting the area of a common Hua-Xia --what we Westerners would call "Chinese"-- civilization, as opposed to outsiders who were denoted by terms usually translated as "barbarian". While some see the Xia as legendary, by Shang times a clearly identifiable Chinese culture had arisen, including not only cultural features that would last to modern times, but also a writing system and language that is identifiable as the ancestor of the modern Sinitic languages just as Latin is identifiable as the ancestor of modern French, Spanish, and Italian.
   Most noteworthy, the Shang Empire was partly synchronous with the Hittite Empire of Anatolia and the Hittite presence elsewhere in the Middle East.  Yet there is no evidence at all that the ancient ancestors of today's Chinese referred to themselves by any name at all cognate to the Hatti of the non-Indo-European common people of the ancient Anatolian empire or the Nes of their Indo-European overlords.
   As a cultural and ethnic unit, the Chinese often refer to themselves as the Hua-Xia (华夏) culture or the Han (汉) people, the last referring also to the Han dynasty that ruled roughly from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. None of these are cognate to the name of Heth or Hatti.Significantly, the name Han as an ethnonym for the majority people of the Huang He basin and North China Plain long predated the arrival of the Khitan.
     Indeed, the Khitan, who gave us the name Cathay, first appeared in Chinese history in the early 10th century A.D., following the collapse of the Tang Empire (618-904 A.D.). They saw themselves as heirs of an earlier tribe of northern invaders, the Xianbei (鲜卑), who were known as early as the third century B.C.  Scholars see the Xianbei and their Khitan descendants as forerunners of the Mongols.  Despite the long association of China and Mongolia, the Mongol and Chinese languages derive from very different roots; the linguistic relatives of China lying to the south while those of Mongol lie to the north and west. The Khitan left behind two distinct scripts imitative of but not identical to the Chinese logographic script, which can be deciphered just enough to identify their language as proto-Mongol; perhaps closer to the Dahur of China's Northeast than to the Halh of Mongolia or the Buryat of Siberia; but certainly not kin to either Hatti or Nes-Hittite. .
  The Khitan established a dynasty in northern China and Mongolia that is called Liao (辽), which lasted from 907-1125 A.D.  It was conquered by another non-Han people called the Jurchen, a people from what would later be called Manchuria, who established the Jin (金) dynasty, which lasted from 1115-1234 A.D., when it was conquered by the Mongols under Genghis Khan. Both of these dynasties were in conflict with the Song (宋), a series of native Han Chinese dynasties ruling central and southern China.  It is said that the last speaker of the Khitan language was an official by the name of Yelu Chucai (耶律楚材) who served the last of the Jin emperors and went on to serve Genghis Khan, organizing a civilian administration for the northern Chinese regions conquered by the Mongols.It appears that most of the Khitan and Jurchen people who settled in the lands south of the Great Wall were absorbed by the Han, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the peasant and urban populations.
    Therefore, very great temporal, geographic, linguistic, and cultural differences separate the Khitan in the northern China of the 12th century A.D. and the Hittites of central Anatolia in the 12th century B.C. No historic, linguistic or other cultural data support a connection between the Hua-Xia or Han peoples who form the overwhelming majority of the Chinese nation and the Hittites.A chance, superficial relationship between the ethnonyms of an ancient Anatolian tribe and that of a much later northeast Asian tribe is too little on which to base a historical connection between Heth and Khitan. To do so is analogous to fanciful derivations of "British" from the Hebrew word b'rit, or "covenant", or "Saxon" from "Isaac's Sons".
   Of course a common humanity links the various peoples of eastern Asia, those of the Middle East, and all of the rest of us.  As a Bible-believer, I have no doubt that offspring of Noah and his three sons moved eastward to populate Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and the Americas. As a student of both biblical and secular history, I have no doubt at all that there were ancient contacts between the Middle East and Far East.  But I find it very doubtful that the Sinitic peoples have any other connection to the Hittites of the Bible. 
    This might, however, lead us to some considerations about how to read the Table of Nations itself, a subject for a different post.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Science and Moral Responsibility

Scientific American ( just ran a blog item about the discovery of Homo Nalendi and its opening of Apartheid-era wounds.  Apparently, a number of black South African churchmen, aware of how evolution was used to justify colonialism and white supremacy, have expressed resentment against being characterized as the descendants of "baboons".  Hence, Scientific American brings out the usual sighs about "fundamentalism" and charges the scientific racism of the 19th century with being "pseudo-science". Unhappily, this is a prime example of both the anti-historical thinking and moral irresponsibility of the modern world-view.

There is also a now aging book by John Haller entitled Outcasts of Evolution, describing how 19th century scientists used evolution to buttress white supremacy.  Unhappily, from Haller's exposure of the available methods used, the cognition required, care in selecting samples, meticulousness in measurement (down to the exact numbers of grains of wheat needed to fill various cranial cavities), and the eminently respectable persons and institutions nurturing it, this racist evolutionism was in fact some of the best science of its time rather than the "pseudo-science" its heirs charge it with being.

Scientific racism died an unnatural death in the ashes of World War II.  The horrors of the holocaust wrought by German National Socialist racial doctrine caused an understandable and thorough justified reaction against the direction that evolutionary anthropology had often taken.  However, this reaction came not from scientific self-correction via better information or method, but was prompted by the political, emotional, and moral climate off the times. After horrors amply documented by the capture of the German government's archives, the witness of countless military and civilian personnel, and the witness of the survivors themselves, it was simply impossible to maintain that ideas about the progression of "races", eugenics, and other products of the racist stage of evolutionary science could be even morally neutral.

Before the holocaust, scientific Americans and others were not only glibly and supinely racist about their neighbors of color, but also took great interest in such movements as eugenics.  The eminent jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. justified the sterilization of mental defectives, no less than many others decried the importation of such inferior breeds as Italians, Slavs, and Jews via immigration in the name of that movement, which turned out to have had a seminal influence on the mind of the young Adolf Hitler.

Then there is the unhappy case of a Congolese Mbuti named Ota Benga and the eminent Henry Fairfield Osborn, a benign-looking statue in the American Museum of Natural History,that shrine of my much younger self.  Ota Benga, taken from his family in the then-Belgian ruled Congo, was kept in the Bronx Zoo as an example of a less-evolved human being.  This was loudly protested by African-American preachers in New York, even then becoming stock figures of fun in the American press and infant motion picture industry.  The same injustice was defended by Osborn, who was among other things, an eminent geologist, paleontologist, and popularizer of evolution.

There can be no argument that the Roman Catholic Church owns the Spanish Inquisitions.  Protestants and Catholics alike own the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years' War.  Muslims undoubtedly own the cleansing of religious minorities in the Fertile Crescent, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  Theravada Buddhists own the oppression of Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka and the suppression of Kachin and Karen aspirations in Myanmar. Germany owns the holocaust. The USA owns a long history of racism justified by various ideologies. Marxistm owns Stalin, Mao, Mielke, and Saloth Sar.   By the same token, Evolutionary Materialism as a system of thought owns the scientific racism of the 19th century and the political horrors unleashed in the 20th century by parties claiming to be applying the "best insights of science" to social problems.

Hence, Scientific American's attempt to brush off its forbears as "pseudoscientific" while patronizing Zulu or Xhosa churchmen with painful and recent memories of how evolutionary doctrine was used against their people a case of both heaping scorn on the discipline of historical thinking and moral irresponsibility of the worst kind. Can we today fault Columbus for risking the lives of his crew by not using a steam- or nuclear-powered ship in crossing the Atlantic?  Similarly, we cannot fault 19th century researchers who wondered why the North Atlantic nations were seemingly more "advanced" than other, and used the measurements of crania and limbs, rates of mortality and disease susceptibility to explain the differences when they knew nothing of Mitochondrial Eve.  We may indeed criticize their callousness towards their neighbors, but such a critique is rational only on the basis of pre-scientific religious or philosophic doctrines towards which the enlightenment had taught everyone to be skeptical.

This should by no means be read as a defense of the indefensible racism of the past, or as an attack on scientific inquiry.  However, it is a plea to stop pretending that all aspects of the scientific endeavor are morally neutral.  Perhaps, to wax fundamentalistic, it may be time for the materialist community--instead of condemning the forbears who nurtured it as "pseudoscientifc"--to do something about the logs in its own eyes before it removes the specks in the eyes of those for whom ways of seeing other than the empirical retain their validity.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court Fails Again

In striking down the anti-same sex marriage provisions of fourteen states, the Supreme Court has covered the United States with shame. It has proven that a determined and noisy minority may, with sufficient support from the media, impose its will on the country.  But worst of all, there is a good chance that for the sake of "rights" discovered by justices in the "penumbrae" of the Constitution, certain rights spelled out in the black and white of the text may well be sacrificed.

First of all, the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses will come under attack.  Already, same sexual orientation provisions in state law have been used to ruin Christian business people in the hospitality and wedding catering industries who refuse to be drawn into the celebration of something they see as sin--and this by state attorney generals and judges who would never dream of upholding a suit against a halal caterer who might refuse to barbecue a hog for someone's event.It is likely that this present decision will be used to exclude conscientious Christians from public employment, education, academia, and other fields.  As a protected client group of the Democratic Party, criticism of sexual deviants--even in defense of children who may find themselves unwillingly thrust into families consisting of themselves, their fathers, and the creepy guys who edged their mothers out of the picture or via adoption or surrogate parenthood fertilization into a homosexual household--will probably be denigrated as "hate speech".  The time will also come when social workers, teachers, and others tasked with monitoring and reporting possible cases of abuse will forfeit their livelihoods if those they report on turn out to be a same-sex couple.

The conservative movement must not acquiesce in this socially damaging decision and appeal to stare decisis.  the country, for the sake of written liberty and its future generations needs conservative leadership that will be willing to roll back the "inevitable march of history" (an idol of would-be tyrants), and even to investigate and impeach dangerous federal judges.  Perhaps, on the state level, a campaign of civil disobedience should also be launched.

We have seen the great damage that the abolition of fatherhood via the welfare system has wrought on large sections of our population.  Now, the Supreme Court has decided to put traditional believers, children, and those suspicious of sexual libertinism at risk.  While the United States will, via this route, probably kill itself with a whimper rather than a bang, it has put itself in danger nonetheless.