Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lesser Known Bible Passages

Most people know "Love is patient, love is kind" and "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." But here are some less celebrated verses from the Bible and how some people have tried to defend them.

Note: The terms "liberal" and "conservative" here are used theologically, and used throughout as broad, non-exclusive simplifications, as the nuances of centuries of biblical interpretation are impossible to fully explicate here.

In general, "conservative" is used throughout to denote a more traditional approach that treats the biblical text with some measure of divine inspiration, whereas a "liberal" perspective might be more interested in a historical-critical approach that views the text as a document, or literarily.


No. 1: Basically: Killing babies is okay.

Historical context: The writer has been exiled from Babylon. The Hebrew here is mournful; this psalm is often set to music.

What more conservative readers might say: It's a metaphor wherein the babies are "the sadness of the Babylonian exile" who should be “dashed against the rock of faith," or "dashing your sins against the rock of reason."

What more liberal readers might say: Noted Hebrew Bible scholar Robert Alter writes, "No moral justification can be offered for this notorious concluding line. All one can do is to recall the background of outraged feeling that triggers the conclusion.”

No. 2: Basically: Women cannot have authority.

Historical context: The vast majority of scholars believe that despite tradition, 1 Timothy was not actually written by the apostle Paul. But in the letter, "Paul" writes to Timothy, who's now pasturing a church at Ephesus, giving him instructions for running the place. The chapter also urges women to "dress modestly" and "learn in quietness and in full submission."

What more conservative readers might say: Though most modern scholars and pastors interpret this verse a bit more leniently, many churches and religious institutions throughout history have used this verse to bar women from leadership positions, ranging from ordination to teaching Sunday school.

What more liberal readers might say: The verse was directed at a specific church context, perhaps "feminist" women congregants who were usurping authority - radical at the time -- or women who were attempting to spread Gnostic doctrine. Some also note that that the Greek verb authenteo (to "have authority") has a long and weird history of meanings, including committing suicide, murdering one's parents, and being sexually aggressive, and thus shouldn't be interpreted as some sort of administrative injunction today.

No. 3: Basically: When you are disobedient, God will permit you eat your own children. 

Historical background: In this chapter, God relays a prophesy through Jeremiah of a destroyed Israel, using a smashed potter's vessel as an analogy. Israel had reunited a century before Jeremiah was active. The cannibalism reference is an almost verbatim quotation of Deuteronomy 28:53, which threatened that Israel would one day come to this terrible point if it disobeyed the law.

What more conservative readers might say: These terrible acts really happened, as a result of Israel turning its back on God.

What more liberal readers might say: The author of Jeremiah was picking up on the Deuteronomistic themes of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, which put forth the twin ideas of a grand nation united by God and then subjected to destruction for disobeying him. (FWIW, the historian Flavius Josephus reports that Jews starving in Jerusalem during the Roman siege of 70 CE ate their own children.)

No. 4: Basically: Slavery is okay.

Historical context: Addressed to Christians of all social strata facing social and/or physical persecution in the early church, likely under the reign of Domitian from 81–96 CE.

What more conservative readers might say: Submission to masters, even "cruel" ones (from the Greek word meaning "crooked") is commendable as an extension of the command in Luke to love one's enemies. One's response to unjust treatment can be an opportunity to praise God. Theologically, we see the author giving the idea of suffering a moral import; as Christ suffered his wounds, so slaves are to bear theirs with perseverance.

What more liberal readers might say: In the contemporary Roman Empire, there were as many as 60 million slaves who performed a variety of tasks, many of them menial labor. They weren't allowed to marry, and if they had children those offspring became the property of the master. Some suggest that the injunction here is political: that the intention was to suppress any social revolution or uprising. This passage was used during America's period of slavery by both abolitionists and slaveholders. For more, see Slavery in Early Christianity by Jennifer A. Glancy.

No. 5: Basically: There was a secret naked disciple.

Historical context: This young man appears only in Mark, the earliest gospel, and makes no appearance in the later gospels. In this account, after Judas leads the guards to Jesus with a kiss, Jesus is seized and the rest of the disciples flee, even though they'd promised they wouldn't. This guy was also lurking, wearing only a towel, and the guards tried to catch him, but he ditched the towel and fled.

What more conservative readers might say: It's the author Mark himself. Or, he could be a metaphor for the disciples, who are now naked in the world after abandoning Jesus.

What more liberal readers might say: Various people have attempted to identify the man historically, but it's truly impossible to ascertain. He might be part of a literary motif crafted by the author; see Mark 16:5, which depicts a man in a white robe outside the tomb telling the women that Jesus has risen, and which uses the same Greek word for "young man."

No. 6: Basically: It is okay to have a bear attack during which children are eaten.

Historical context: In verse 23, the prophet Elisha is on his way to Bethel when many youths start teasing him, "Go on up, you baldhead!” Not only were they mocking his lack of hair, but the "go on up" is a jab at Elisha's ascension to heaven, which occurred earlier in the chapter. God then sends many of bears to eat them up.

What more conservative readers might say: God's judgment on the "gang of youths" was fair, as they were teasing a prophet of God and were likely set out to rob and possibly assault him.

What more liberal readers might say: Located in its literary context, it's a brutal fable meant to convey the idea that God should not be mocked.  

No. 7: Basically: Being gay is punishable by death.

Historical background: Leviticus and its so-called holiness code had a long period of transmission and editing, probably reaching its final form in post-exilic Israel (c. 530s BCE.) The book comprises both the "Priestly code" and the "Holiness code," which both contain instructions for priests and Israel alike to lead pure lives in front of God. This code for sexual ethics in Leviticus 18 also includes prohibitions against incest, bestiality, and sex with a menstruating woman.

What more conservative readers might say: To be fair, many churches have abandoned a literal interpretation of this verse, as the same Levitical holiness code forbids eating pork and wearing clothing made from two different fibers. But in both Christian and Jewish tradition, these verses have been used historically as a blanket prohibition against homosexual behavior. Here's one evangelical commentary that argues that "ceremonial" laws, like the one prohibiting consumption of pork, are no longer valid, but that the "moral" laws, like the one prohibiting homosexual behavior, still are.

What more liberal readers might say: The prohibition of gay sex must be read in the historical context of the time. There was really no contemporary equivalent of a loving homosexual relationship like we have today, much ancient same-sex activity involved pederasty. In addition, male "seed" was prized as valuable for producing offspring, and any activity that "wasted" it was frowned upon. (See also the injunction against "onanism" in Genesis 38.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Political Cartoons of the Week, No. 79

The Hidden Dangers of Makeup and Shampoo

There's more to your makeup than meets the eye. New research shows that health-related complaints about cosmetic products like shampoo and makeup are at an all-time high since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began keeping track more than a decade ago.

That's concerning, because when cosmetic products cause health issues, addressing the problem or even getting a potentially unsafe product off the market—isn't a simple process. Currently, cosmetic manufacturers have no legal obligation to report health problems from their products to the FDA. Cosmetics also do not need to go through a pre-market approval process before they are sold in stores, and regulators do not assess the safety and effectiveness of the claims on the products. Instead, people and doctors are asked to report any health complications to the FDA's database (called the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System, or CFSAN). If the FDA sees any increases that warrant concern, they can investigate.

"As a dermatologist, we live and breathe cosmetics and personal care products," says study author Dr. Steve Xu, a resident physician in the department of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, citing his motivation for the study. "I get asked every day, 'What is safe to use?'"

In the new research letter, Xu and his colleagues looked at the number of adverse events reported to the FDA and found that over a 12-year period, there were 5,144 health-related complaints submitted due to cosmetic products.

The study authors were able to evaluate the number of cases reported to the agency because in 2016, the FDA made the CFSAN database publicly available. The new researched shows that between 2004 and 2016, an average of 396 events were reported per year, with an increase between 2015 to 2016. The three most commonly cited products were for hair care, skin care and tattoos. "This isn't designed to be alarmist," says Xu. Still, "we have this huge industry and there are lots of chemicals in these products that largely go unregulated."

After and Before

Relying on self-reported cases means there's a lot of under reporting, and it can be tough to definitively determine whether a given item is causing harm - even when there's a spike in complaints. In 2014, for example, the FDA started to investigate WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners when the product received 127 complaints from users that it was causing their hair to fall out, among other problems. When the FDA reached out to the company, they discovered that the manufacturer had received 21,000 complaints related to hair loss and scalp problems. However, as of now, the product remains on the market.

In a corresponding editorial, three experts - including the most recent former commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Robert M. Califf - say that the challenge of overseeing cosmetic safety is "daunting" for regulators. The global cosmetics industry is expected to reach $265 billion in revenue in 2017, yet, the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors has a budget of about $13 million for 2017. "For products that are used routinely, small effects over time within large populations can be almost impossible to detect without active surveillance," they write. "Even when health risks are substantial, as with tobacco products, the path to identifying and interpreting those safety signals clearly enough to justify regulatory action is often long and tortuous."

To combat the problem, the writers of both the study and the editorial argue that better surveillance is needed. Xu encourages more people and their doctors to provide thorough reports to the FDA, and he argues companies should take a greater role in this reporting, too. "I think broader reporting from all parties and mandatory reporting from manufacturers is not a controversial thing to ask for," says Xu. Increasing the agency's budget and oversight is another solution, and the editorial authors argue the agency is "under resourced for even the very limited responsibilities it currently has for the safety of cosmetics." However, a bump to the FDA's budget, at least for now, doesn't seem likely, as the agency is facing the potential for budget cuts in the near future.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Magnificent City Of Bruges

The City of Bruges by Air
Bruges (/ˈbruːʒ/DutchBrugge ('ˈbrʏɣə];): French: Bruge (bry,3) s is the capital and largest city of the  province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country.
The area of the whole city amounts to more than 13,840 hectares, including 1,075 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge (from Brugge aan zee meaning "Bruges on Sea". The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It is oval and about 430 hectares in size. The city's total population is 117,073 (January 1st. 2008),  of whom around 20,000 live in the city centre. The  metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 616 km2 (238 sq mi) and has a total of 255,844 inhabitants as of January 1st, 2008.
Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam and Stockholm, it is sometimes referred to as The Venice of the North. Bruges has a significant economic importance thanks to its port and was once one of the world's chief commercial cities.  Bruges is well known as the seat of the College of Europe, an elite university institute for European studies regarded as "the EU's very own Oxbridge.
Origin of The Name
The place is first mentioned in records as Bruggas, Brvggas, Brvccia in 840–875, then as  BruciamBruociam (in 892), Brutgis uico (toward end of the 9th century), in portu Bruggensi (c. 1010), Bruggis  (1012), Bricge (1037, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle),  Brugensis (1046),  Brycge  (1049–1052, again in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), Brugias (1072),  Bruges (1080–1085), Bruggas (c. 1084), Brugis (1089), and  Brugge (1116).
The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for "bridge": brugga. Also compare Middle Dutch  brucge, brugge (or brugghebrigghebregghebrogghe), and modern Dutch bruggehoofd ("bridgehead") and brug ("bridge").The form brugghe would be a southern Dutch variant. The  Dutch word and the English "bridge" both derive from the Proto German word brugjō.
Bruges was a location of coastal settlement during prehistory. This Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement is unrelated to medieval city development. In the Bruges area, the first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar's conquest of the Menapii in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the 4th century and administered it as the Pagus Flandrensis.
The Viking incursions of the ninth century prompted Count Baldwin I of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. Early medieval habitation starts in the 9th and 10th century on the Burgh terrain, probably with a fortified settlement and church.
Golden age (12th to 15th centuries)
Bruges became important due to the tidal inlet that was important to local commerce, This inlet was then known as the "Golden Inlet". Bruges received its city charter on July24th,1128, and new walls and canals were built. In 1089, Bruges became the capital of the County of Flanders. Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, however, re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to Damme, a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.
Bruges had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern trade routes. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century, but when the old system of fairs broke down the entrepreneurs of Bruges innovated. They developed, or borrowed from Italy, new forms of merchant capitalism, whereby several merchants would share the risks and profits and pool their knowledge of markets. They employed new forms of economic exchange, including bills of exchange (i.e. promissory notes) and letters of credit. The city eagerly welcomed foreign traders, most notably the Portuguese traders selling pepper and other spices.
With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a wool weaving industry, and the market for cloth all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic  ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Damme to Sluys to accommodate the new cog-ships.
In 1277, the first merchant fleet from Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges, first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared, in 1314, they were latecomers. Numerous foreign merchants were welcomed in Bruges, such as the Castilian wool merchants who first arrived in the 13th century. After the Castilian wool monopoly ended, the Basques, many hailing from Bilbao (Biscay), thrived as merchants (wool, iron commodities, etc.) and established their own commercial consulate in Bruges by the mid-15th century. The foreign merchants expanded the city's trading zones. They maintained separate communities governed by their own laws until the economic collapse after 1700.
Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals, which were for the most part harshly contained by the militia. In 1302, however, after the Bruges Matins (the nocturnal massacre of the French garrison in Bruges by the members of the local Flemish militia on May 18th, 1302), the population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijk on 11 July. The statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of the uprising, can still be seen on the Big Market square. The city maintained a militia as a permanent paramilitary body. It gained flexibility and high prestige by close ties to a guild of organized militia, comprising professionals and specialized units. Militia men bought and maintained their own weapons and armor, according to their family status and wealth.
At the end of the 14th century, Bruges became one of the Four Members, along with Franc of BrugesGhent and Ypres. Together they formed a parliament; however they frequently quarreled amongst themselves.
In the 15th century, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, set up court in Bruges, as well as Brussels and Lille, attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The weavers and spinners of Bruges were thought to be the best in the world, and the population of Bruges grew to at least 125,000 and perhaps up to 200,000 inhabitants at this time around 1400 AD.
The new oil-painting techniques of the Flemish school gained world renown. The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges by William Caxton. This is also when Edward IV and Richard III of England spent time in exile here.
Decline after 1500
Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, (the Golden Inlet) which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting and the Golden Era had ended.] The city soon fell behind  Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace  industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made. During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile. The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success, as Antwerp became increasingly dominant. Bruges became impoverished and gradually faded in importance; its population dwindling from 200,000 to 50,000 by 1900. 
The symbolist novelist George Rodenbach even made the sleepy city into a character in his novel Bruges-la-Morte, meaning "Bruges-the-dead", which was adapted into Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City).
19th century and later: The revival
In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world's first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists. By 1909 it had in operation an association called 'Bruges Forward: Society to Improve Tourism.
In World War I German forces occupied Bruges but the city suffered virtually no damage and  was liberated on October 19th,1918\, by the allies. From 1940 in World War II the city again was occupied by the Germans and again spared destruction. On 12 September 1944 it was liberated by Canadian troops.
After 1965 the original medieval city experienced a renaissance. Restorations of residential and commercial structures, historic monuments, and churches generated a surge in tourism and economic activity in the ancient downtown area. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts have resulted in Bruges being designated 'European Capital of Culture' in 2002. It attracts some 2 million tourists annually.
The port of Zeebrugge was built in 1907. The Germans used it for their U-boats in World War I. It was greatly expanded in the 1970s and early 1980s and has become one of Europe's most important and modern ports.
The municipality comprises: The historic city centre of Bruges, Sint-Jozef and Sint-Pieters,
Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic center of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire reaches 122.3 m (401.25 ft), making it one of the world's highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.
Michelangelo's Madonna and Child
Bruges' most famous landmark is its 13th-century belfry, housing a municipal carillon made of 48 bells. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis.
Other famous buildings in Bruges include: The Béguinage, The Basilica of the Holy Blood  (DutchHeilig-Bloedbasiliek). The relic of the Holy Blood, which was brought to the city after the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, is paraded every year through the streets of the city. More than 1,600 inhabitants take part in this mile-long religious procession, many dressed as medieval knights or crusaders, The modern Concertgebouw ("Concert Hall Building"), The Old St. John's Hospital, The Saint Salvator's Cathedral,  The Groeningemuseum, which has an extensive collection of medieval and early modern art, including a notable collection of Flemish Primitives. Various masters, including Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck, lived and worked in Bruges, The City Hall on the Burg (Bruges) (nlBurg (Brugge)square, The Provincial Court (Provinciaal Hof), and the preserved old city gateways: the Kruispoort, the Gentpoort, the  Smedenpoort and the Ezelpoort.  (However, the Dampoort, the Katelijnepoort and the 
Boeveriepoort are now all gone.)


Pictures of Bruges

Manneken Pis