Category Archives: History

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Transforming Nokia ties together three business stories I’ve been reading about for years: the history of Bell Labs, the history of cell phones, and the history of Microsoft. The perspective is biased — told from the perspective of the last Chairman of Nokia’s cellular era and first Chairman of Nokia’s networking era — but informative. The book’s only weakness is it feels like a rough draft of a business self-help book glued onto a corporate history — I would take less self-help, and more corporate history.

The last ten years of the cell phone business has seen the death of companies like Blackberry and Palm, while Apple and Google formed a duopoloy.

Two other players in this market where Nokia, with the Symbian Operation System, and Microsoft with Windows Phone. The middle episodes of Transforming Nokia place place during events which made it clear that Symbian was now obsolete, but where it was unclear if Windows Phone provided a meaningful way forward. Windows Phone had less technical debt, better design, better monetization options for the company, and better tooling for engineers.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to combine Symbian’s marketshare with Windows Phone’s modern platform. There was no ability for apps written on one platform to run on another, and seemingly no discussion about this either. Windows Phone entered the market with no apps that could run on it, leaving it a worse library than any operating system. And new apps were written for the new market leaders, Apple iOS and Google Android, which already had share. To have bet the company on two different operation systems, both of which had complementary advantages and neither of which were able to survive on their own, must have been incredibly frustrating.

And not just frustrating — a major failure for another company too. Microsoft’s failure with Windows Phone lead to the firing of CEO Steve Ballmer and new CEO Satya Nadella’a major strategy shifts. Microsoft’s investments in Nokia were scrapped, and even Microsoft’s internal hardware development focused on a sister project, Windows RT, was fundamentally impacted by Nokia and Microsoft’s total defeat in the hardware market.

Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO during its attempted transition, temporarily ran the Microsoft Mobile division it bought from Nokia until Satya gave up on that effort. A lot of the book is given to the perspective of Risto Siilasmaa, who regularly criticizes the actions of the prior chairman while defending Elop, who had been hired by the prior Chairman. It seems that Riisto sees his role as primarily that of chief investor — a position typically taken by the CEO in the U.S. — and not of executive leader — also a role for the CEO in the U.S. While Risto ultimately abandoned the phone as a business, he seems to believe that Elop ran the phone business as successfully as possible given the circumstances.

Ultimately, Nokia sold the phone business to Microsoft, and used that successful sell to buy one and a half real businesses: the half of Nokia Siemens Networks the company did not earn, plus Alcatel-Lucent — Lucent itself being a rebrand of Bell Labs. The history of (Nokia) Bell Labs is tragic. The invention of the semicoonductor made computer miniaturization possible. Terrible leadership clapped itself on the back for changes that lead to the death of its ability to function as a first-class company or laboratory. Four years ago I read the most recent book about the firm, which was “high detailed, impressionist, echoing with nostalgia,” and impossibly beautiful.

Bell Labs – in the form of Alcatel-Lucent — enters Transforming Nokia near the end. Nokia is seeking safety in the telecommunications business, and Alcatel-Lucent is a similarly sized company with similar problems but complementary product lines. What feels like it should have been the most dramatic part of the story — a potential merger-of-equals under French control becoming a takeover of Alcatel-Lucent by Nokia — is oddly downplayed. Perhaps because those events are the most relevant inside the company, Siilasmaa is careful to avoid providing signals as to the company’s future intentions.

I enjoyed the history a lot, and the Siilasmaa’s in general seemed more forthright about Nokia than Satya did about Microsoft. The tone feels closer to very self-critical works, such as We Were Yahoo or Robert X. Cringley’s takedown of the modern IBM. My gripe is that the author uses a lot of buzzwords – phrases like “The Paranoid Optimist” and other jargon is used a lot, and I’m not sure if this is how the author thinks or if he’s planning a consulting career after Nokia. Or just really likes some phrases.

On a personal note I enjoyed hearing about the post-Nokia history of their phone business, called “Devices and Services” in the book. I knew Nokia D&S became Microsoft Mobile, I did not know these assets then formed the core of HMD, the company that made my (current) Nokia phone.

I read Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base,” by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51 is the best institutional history I have ever read.

Annie Jacobsen tells the story of the work done in and around Area 51, a section of the Nevada Test Site used for work the government needs to keep secret. Projects such as AQUATONE, CROSSROADS, GRUDGE, HARRASS, OXCART, and PAPERCLIP come to life through interviews with security guards and generals, de-classified documents and the findings of Presidential inquiries. Jacobson’s work is all the more impressive because of overlapping work by three government agencies that are sometimes rivals — the Air Force, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Central Intelligence Agencies — and their corporate suppliers, such as EG&G, Lockheed, and Raytheon. Two separate systems of classification are discussed, including one in which the President does not have a “need to know.” Annie frames the work by two events she believes are closely related — the War of the Worlds broadcast and the Roswell crash.

Jacobsen focuses on four great efforts by the United States — recruiting German scientists after the War, testing atomic bombs, building spy aircraft, and reverse engineering “alien” technology. The “alien” technology was primarily Russian, such as with captured MiG fighters as well as Soviet radar installations. Spy planes that traveled high and fast, and were distinctive, included the the A-12 spyplane, an early version of the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 spyplane, as well as (since the 1960s) drones. German scientists were recruited primarily for help with the rocketry program, though this program was not flawless. The United States repeatedly and accidentally bombed Mexico with V-2 rockets, and the recruiters did not understand the importance of the Horton flying wing soon enough

The number of people who kept the secrets of Area 51 is astonishing. The figure has to be in the tens of thousands. Jacobson outlines a few reasons. The most obvious is the classification system. The use of disinformation to hide real facts within ridiculous ones is also used. Lastly, there is guilt and self-incrimination.

I was fascinated by the overlapping methods of classification Annie Jacobson described. One is to shuffle a project between agencies or contractors, often under new names. It becomes hard to track a project over time, or request information about a project, if one does not know organizational where it exists or what it is called. Another is to use the two separate systems of classification in the United States. Some forms of Classification require only Presidential action to unclassify. Others exceed the President’s “need to know”. Thus, sensitive or potential controversial work — such as nuclear tests or exposure of retarded children to radiation — can be kept secret.

Another is what I called the “veil of laughter” a decade ago. To use one example, the U.S. Army Air Force hid its jet program by having pilots wear gorilla masks, so that any pilot close enough to confirm a lack of a propeller would have to confirm a gorilla flying a plane. To use another, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations “leaked” information about aliens to hide the actual Air Force drone program. The only individual to actively leak about Area 51, Bob Lazar, appears to have been a victim of this disinformation.

There also was self interest. Some things could not be disclosed without incrimination the people who would leak them. For instance, “safety tests” that exposed civilians to nuclear radiation or missile attacks on other countries. Likewise, the competitive nature of the US military-industrial complex meant that a disclosure of information could help a rival agency. The only known breach of Area 51 during the period of the book was when a worker at a rival defense contractor “accidentally” landed at the Watertown airstrip, for example.

Jacobsen begins the book by teasing a theory of the Roswell crash, and provides it explicitly near the end. She has stated it was provided to her by one or two sources who had a means to know, but it’s striking that nearly every element of it had been documented elsewhere in the book, at least in isolation. Briefly, Jacobsen believes that Soviet-aligned ex-Nazi scientists had taken Jewish children, deformed them, and had them occupy disk-shape “hover and fly” craft launched from a semi-stealth captured long range German bomber that flew from over Alaska. Roswell was chosen as it was a major location in CROSSROADS, the Hydrogen bomb project that Truman attempted to hide from Stalin. In my Roswell theory I speculated we had not disclosed the truth (which I took to be a crash of a German glider piloted by quasi-defected Japanese pilots) because failure to return or disclose Prisoners of War would be a war crime. Jacobsen’s explanation is darker — other ex-German scientists had conducted similar experiments on children for the U.S. government.

Area 51 is the best history of a government program I ever read. It is more balanced than other histories I’ve read of post-WW2 institutions, whether the American university system or the foreign policy elite. If there is a weakness, I wish that Jacobsen’s work on the Roswell crash had been as exhaustively researched as the other programs she discussed.

I read Area 51 in the Audible Edition. An excellent, and recent, long-form interview of Jacobsen by Joe Rogan is available online.

Impressions of “Paul: A Biography,” by N.T. Wright

Recently I read Paul, N.T. Wright’s biography of The Apostle. Paul fits within other books I have read that emphasize the Kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Wright emphasizes faithfulness to this King, and the freedom that following the King gives to His subjects. Along the way N.T. Wright reconstructs Paul’s journeys, creating a chronology that is both traditional and revisionist.

Heaven and Earth

The oldest Christian creed we have is the Apostle’s Creed. Paul’s missionary journeys took place about halfway between the first of Christ and the writing of the Creed, in A.D. 120. It concludes:

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting
.
Amen.
The Apostles Creed

Christians look forward to a resurrected body and everlasting life. Heaven is not promised as a place of living. Though having one’s own body, a physical existence, is promised.

This brings up a distinction between C.S. Lewis, who Wright reminds me of, and Wright himself. Both were Anglican, both had a knack for talking to a Catholic and Reformed audience simultaneously, and both have a delightful British writing style. But there’s a striking difference. Lewis focuses on Christianity as a philosophy, or even cosmic worldview.

The Weight of Glory focuses on dimensional projection, and The Great Divorce on an image of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Yet if there’s a central difference between Wright and Lewis, it’s that Wright emphasizes Christ’s mission in this world, and not a platonic understanding of the next world. Our home is earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here in part, and the promise of the future is the resurrection of the dead on a new earth, and not eternal souls living in Heaven. I suspect Wright would state that Lewis’s Christianity was less bodily and more abstract than anything written in the Bible, and that such Platonism was not a legitimate development of doctrine, but a forgetting of the good news of the Bible: the Heavenly Kingship of Jesus Christ. To give a brief illustration, the first mention of “Heaven” in each of the gospels is either announcing Heaven breaking into earth, or Heaven as the location that God lives:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2:13-15

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 1:32-33

Heaven is not promised as a location for us to live in either the Creed or the gospel text. But the invasion of Heaven into this world, a royal brigandry against the forces of darkness, is:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matthew 12:25-30

By Faithfulness to the King You Are Saved

The Bible was written for us but not to us — it was written to the Jews and later Romans of the near east thousands of years ago. Understanding its message for us requires understanding how it’s message would have been understood by the people to whom it was written.

This is the approach taken by thinkers like Michael Heiser (Reformed), Taylor Marshall (Catholic), and N.T. Wright himself (Anglican). All argue that it is clear that Christ established a Kingdom during his earthly ministry, and his teachings (and those of other early Christians) should be read in that context. What Christ brought was not a philosophy called Christianity, but a Kingdom that reorganized the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Kingdom of God. In this way Mormonism — at least in its corporal understanding of the importance of Jesus — is onto something.

A consequence is an sudden ending of the debate around “justification by faith alone” or “justification by faith and works” — the great dispute between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. If Christ’s Kingship is literally true, then the Biblical term “faith” is better translated and “allegiance” or “faithfulness,” and the distinction between “faith” in Christ and working for Christ melts away. The Greek word translated as ‘faith’ — pistis — refers to the faithful obedience of a subject to a king, or a soldier to a commanding officer. Consider the two passages that had been held up by these rival groups of Christians — the message is the same:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has pistis but does not have works? Can pistis save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also pistis by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have pistis, and I have works.” Show me your pistis without your works, and I will show you my pistis by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that pistis without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that pistis was working together with his works, and by works pistis was made perfect?
James 2:14-22

and Paul’s justification “by faith” becomes

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by pistis in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by pistis in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16

Faithfulness in bad faith is not faithfulness. Faith in God is not like the Chinese Imperial Religion where the relationship between fully transactional. And faithfulness without obedience is not faithfulness. Though the purpose of works is to climb the ladder of faithfulness to a closer relationship with God.

According to Wright, Paul argue that God’s righteousness refers to His continued upholding the covenant with Israel. God is a conquering Sovereign who upholds a terms of surrender with a lesser party, in spite of repeated breaches by the lesser party. When Paul speaks of righteousness, Wright argues, is not speaking of individual entrance into heaven — but that in spite of Covenant breach by the inferior party (Israel), but superior party (God) would remain loyal. This makes sense to me. The Old Testament description of Covenant is clearly along the lines of an Status-of-Forces or Instrument-of-Surrender, so it makes sense this theme is continued in the New Testament as well.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by pistis.”

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 1:6,5:17

Freedom in the Kingdom

A “kingdom” reading of the Bible involves at least two offices Christ establishes — the Queen Mother (Mary) and Prime Minister (Peter). Wright elides the issue, noting that (whatever was said in the Gospel itself) by the time of Paul’s ministry a de facto office of “pillar” had been established that included Peter, as well as James and John

And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:9-10

This trio was the group that had witnessed the Transfiguration, or in other words were present at the apparent Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven, and seemed already at that time to be part of an inner circle:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

Paul though at least seems to subvert the new Christian government, whether based on Peter’s Prime Ministership or these “pillars.” He derived his apostleship directly from Christ, and not from the Twelve. This is a challenge to a fully incarnate understanding of the Kingdom, as Paul emphasizes the Sovereign is still God in Heaven:

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Though Paul argues that in doing so he is not subverting the government, but enjoying his “right” as a subject of Christ:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1 Corinthians 9:1-5

It is this sort of “freedom” — not a reading of Reformation-era concerns against the Curia, but Paul’s actual position within the Kingdom of Heaven, that he talks about when he speaks of freedom from the law. The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a rule of law by a rule by Christ:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4

This is a profound point I did not grapple with before. God is greater than the Covenant, and greater than the Prime Ministership he appointed. Whether in the old or new Israel, the reality of the Covenant and the Papacy are confirmed and not undermined by the righteousness of God in upholding them along with the direct access of the believer to God. Thus when Elijah tried to lift the Covenant, he emphasized the superiority of God over the merely human King of Israel. With Christ, we now have a righteous King, but are left with merely human Prime Ministers — Popes. This is a view — that the Pope is Christ’s Prime Minister, but a Prime Minister who presides over free subjects, is perhaps best reflected in a document Wright does not mention — the Second Vatican Council. Note how the Council not only restates Paul’s message on freedom, but insists on God’s “righteous” upholding of the terms of His kingdom, as God upholds His covenant.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
Dignitatis Humanae, A.D. 1965

The Journeys of Paul

Wright reconstructs Paul’s travels in terms of major political cities in the Empire. A typical pattern of Paul was first to appear in the Jewish synagogue, and then elsewhere in the city:

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.
Acts 13:14-16,42

This is in keeping with the literal Kingship of Jesus Christ, whose arrival is announced to the country he is king of — Israel — and then to the newly liberated areas of the gentiles. While Heiser emphasizes Christ’s kingship over supernatural forces and powers — the Canaanite gods and the like — Wright emphasizes that it is Caesar himself who is now subjugated. Caesar had been called…

A Savior who has made war to cease
and who shall put everything in peaceful order;
and whereas Caesar,
when he was manifest,
transcended the expectations of all who had anticipated the good news,
not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors
but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him,
with the result that the birthday of our God signaled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him
Priene Calendar Inscription, 9 B.C.

From the beginning, the Church used this rhetoric to make an identical but opposite point: the King is here, but the King is Christ.

Wright also addresses the question of the order of Paul’s travels, and where documents were written. The imprisonment traditionally ascribed to Paul’s stay in Rome, Wright places in Ephesus. If so, this is only obliquely referenced as part of the “uproar” mentioned by Luke:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen…

But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia
Acts 19:23-24,34-41,20:1

Wright also identifies the Letter to the Ephesians (whose initial line “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” does not occur in the oldest surviving manuscripts) as a catholic letter, and the same as the supposedly lost Letter to the Laodiceans. Wright’s new chronology of Paul has other implications too. He does not find room in this chronology for some of the pastoral letters, leading the possibility open that either Paul traveled extensively during his pre-trial imprisonment in Rome (possible, as he was a citizen) or even was acquitted. The earliest extra-biblical mentions of Paul are ambiguous here:

Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience:
seven times was he cast into chains;
he was banished;
he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West,
he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world,
and having come to the extremity of the West,
and having borne witness before rulers,
he departed at length out of the world,
and went to the holy place,
having become the greatest example of patience.
1 Clement 5:5-7

Another example is Paul’s fundraising efforts to Jerusalem. The Apostle repeatedly mentions this effort in his letters:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.
Romans 15:25-32

but their reference to it by Luke in Acts is brief, does not address the raising of the money, or how the money was received. The brief mission is bracketed by Paul (at trial) saying he had a clean conscience and no one disputed his mission.

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, n the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me
Acts 24:16-19

So what does this mean? I don’t know. Its interesting Paul refers here to the “pillars” as Holy Ones, the same terms used for high-ranking functionaries of God in Daniel when translated to Greek:

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Daniel 4:17

This is both a high praise (being compared with angels!) and a subtle knock (like the angels, subject to a higher power). What’s the purpose of including this reference in such a moment? As I said — I don’t know.

Final Thoughts

N.T. Wright’s biography of Paul made The Apostle a fascinating man for me in a way he wasn’t before. I knew the focus on Christ’s Kingship, Paul’s dual identity as both Jew and Roman, and about his travels. But I hadn’t thought to consider the chronology of Paul’s actions, or how the events in Paul’s letter interact with Luke’s recording of similar events.

I read Paul: A Biography in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 6: The Cattle

The sixth chapter of the Qur’an is centered around the soul’s individual and direct connection to God. The Qur’anic author teaches that no intermediary of any kind or nature can help or hinder the soul’s relationship with God. He believes his teaching is a summary of the scriptures. The Church, the Holy Spirit, the Papacy, even Wisdom are found lacking by the Qur’anic author. There is only God, Who said “Be,” and all was.

Partners to God

“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 22:16-17

Christians believe the Church is the Bride of Christ — that God has a spouse. For most Christians through most of history this has meant the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, including both the visible church ministering sacraments and the invisible Church known only to God. A lot of Christian history has been disputes over degrees of meaning in these descriptions of the church. The Qur’anic author denies this, and thus separates himself from the religion of the monk Arius as well as billions of other Christians through the millennia.

On the day when We gather them all together, We shall say to those who ascribe partners, ‘Where are your partners that you used to claim’ Then their only excuse will be to stay, ‘By God, our Lord, we were not polytheists.’

Look how they forswear themselves, and what they used to fabricate has forsaken them!
Qur’an 6:22-24

The Qur’anic author states that believers will be together in the end for judgment. But this gathering is not an entity in itself, anymore than the author believes the Church is an entity. The Church is not purified at the judgment — to paraphrase Ayn Rand

The “Christian Church” (or “the bride of Christ”) is an undefined and undefinable concept: there is no such entity as “the Church,” or “the Synagogue”; the people of God (or Jesus or Israel) is only a number of individual men. Nothing can be good for the Church as such; “good” and “value” pertain only to a ensouled organism—to an individual ensouled organism—not to a disembodied aggregate of relationships.
with apologies to Ayn Rand, “The Common Good,”

At the end of the world, according to the Qur’an, the Church will not be there anymore than she is now here:

And We gave [Abraham] Isaac and Jacob and guided each of them. And Noah We had guided before, and from his offspring David and Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron — thus do we reward the virtuous — and Zechariah, John, Jesus, and Elijah — each of them among the righteous — Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot – each We preferred over all the nations — and from among their fathers, descendants and brethren — We chose them and guided them to a straight path.

That is God’s guidance: with it He guides whomever He wishes of His servants. But were they to ascribe any partners, what they used to do would not avail them.

They are the ones whom We gave the Book, the judgment, and the prophethood. So if these disbelieve in them, We have certainly entrusted them to a people who will never disbelieve in them. They are the ones whom God has guided. So follow their guidance.
Qur’an 6:85-90

Virtually the entire canon is surveyed, with perhaps the notable exceptions of letters at the end of the Christian New Testament. Jews (Aaron, David, Solomon) and Non-Jews (Noah, Lot, Ishmael), Moses who created the covenant and Elijah who tried to destroy it, and Jesus who did both: all are both mentioned. They share a similarity: no plain reading of any word for any of them would imply the existence of a “church” that is primarily viewed as God’s wife. (Jeremiah, who hilariously writes of God seeking a divorce from Israel, is not mentioned.)

Intercessors

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:15-18

The Qur’an and the New Testament both speak of the Holy Spirit — but then so do the Psalms. The Qur’anic author’s point seems to be either the Holy Spirit is an angel or aspect of God, but not as equal to God. In this the Qur’an accords with a plain reading of the Psalms.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Psalms 51:10-11

Warn by its means those who fear being mustered toward their Lord, besides whom they will have neither friend nor intercessor, so that they may be Godwary.

Do not drive away those who supplicate their Lord morning and evening, desiring His face. Neither are you accountable for them in any way, nor are they accountable for you in any way, so that you should drive them away and thus become one of the wrongdoers.
Qur’an 6:51-52

The Qur’anic author quotes the Psalms, both in reference to times of prayer and also in reference to God’s role as savior. The Qur’an omits the mid-day prayer mentioned in the same list, but perhaps there is a point: if the Scripture is so detailed about times of days to prayer, would not it have been equally detailed about a need for intercessors?

As for me, I will call upon God,
And the Lord shall save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I will pray, and cry aloud,
And He shall hear my voice.
Psalms 55:16-17

The first sign given so that people would believe was given to Moses:

And He said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail” (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand), “that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
Exodus 4:3-5

and later Christ was explicit in linking the signs to epistemology, though it’s interesting that Christ demands obedience, not belief:

Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”

The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”

Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.”
John 4:48-50

The Qur’anic author sees the same path — the goal is obedience, but faith in signs is an easier first rung of the ladder of righteousness:

When those who have faith in Our signs come to you, say, ‘Peace to you Your Lord has made mercy incumbent upon Himself; whoever of you commits an evil out of ignorance and then repents after that and reforms, then he is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 6:54

The Qur’anic author adores Jesus, but along the lines of the most beloved Prophet, as Jews adore Moses or Catholics adore Mary. Christ cannot bare the burden of sins, not because he is week or without righteousness, but because there is no intermediary between God and man:

Say. ‘Shall I seek a Lord other than God, while He is the Lord of all things?’

No soul does evil except against itself, and no bearer shall bear another’s burden, then your return will be to your Lord, whereat He will inform you concerning that about which you used to differ.
Qur’an 6:164

Papacy

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:16-19

Christ explicitly made Peter his Prime Minister, giving him the Keys of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Qur’anic asserts that Christ’s keys (whatever the specific nature of his Kingdom) are either still in heaven or returned to heaven upon Peter’s death:

With Him are the keys of the Unseen; no one knows the except Him. He knows whatever there is in land and sea. No leaf falls without His knowing it, nor is there a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor any fresh or withered but it is in a manifest Book.
Qur’an 6:59

The Qur’anic author accepts there may be a worldly entity known as the church, and it may even be the source of prophets and righteous men, but the church is more of a concept than an entity. It is not the Church that delivers…

Say, ‘Who delivers you from darkness and land and sea, you invoke Him suppliantly and secret;y “If He delivers us from this, we will surely be among the grateful.”
Say, ‘It is God who delivers you from them, and from every distress, then you ascribe partners.’
Qur’an 6:63-64

and when there are prayers or signs, those are to individual believers. This accords with Paul, if body is assumed be a collective association and not a metaphysical reality:

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:27-28

This individual-level reality includes non-human and even non-material individuals.

O community of the jinn and humans! Did there not come to you apostles from yourselves, recounting to you My signs and warning you of the encounter of this Day? They will say, ‘We do bear witness against ourselves,’ The life of this world had deceived them, and they will testify against themselves that they had been faithless.
Qur’an 6:130

An “angel of the church” is simply another entity who has his or own or its own relationship with God:

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,

‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
Revelation 2:8

It is thru these non-material creatures that John warned Babylon, a coded reference to Rome:

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written:

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.
Revelations 17:4-6

It is this great woman, this great city, that the Qur’anic author also warns. She who claims a special relationship to revelation. She who claims to be a mediatrix. She claims her priests bring the true presence to earth:

Blessed is the Book that We have sent down, confirming what was before it, so that you may warn the Mother of Cities and those around it. Those who believe in the Hereafter believe in it, and they are watchful of their prayers.

Who is a greater wrongdoer than him who fabricates lies against God or says, ‘It has been revealed to me,’ while nothing was revealed to him, and says, ‘I will bring the like of what God has sent down.’

Were you to see the wrongdoers are in the throws of death, and the angels extend their hands, ‘Give up your souls! Today you will be requited with a humiliating punishment because of what you used to attribute to God untruly, and for your being disdainful towards His signs.
Qur’an 6:92-93

The Qur’anic author contrasts his own work with this Mother of Cities: he does not add or subtract from the Book, and indeed his authority is simple paraphrasing of what has already been said and done:

Thus do We paraphrase the signs variously, lest they should say, ‘You have received instruction,’ and so that We my make it clear for people who have knowledge.

Follow that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, there is no god except Him, and turn away from the polytheists. Had God wished they would not have ascribed partners. We have not made you a caretaker for them, nor is it your duty to watch over them.

Do not abuse those whom they invoke besides God, lest they should abuse God out of hostility, without any knowledge. That is how We have made their conduct seem decorous to every people. Then their return to their Lord and He will inform them concerning what they used to do.
Qur’an 6:105-108

God does not need a mechanism or suffering to save others, according to the Qur’anic author, just his will:

You Lord is the All-sufficient dispenser of mercy. If He wishes, He will take you away and make whomever He wishes succeed you, just as He produced you from the decedents of another people.
Qur’an 6:133

It is this view Paul adopts once — God as the nailer to the cross, and not the nailed:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Colossians 2:11-15

Wisdom

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.: So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Luke 4:20-22

The Qur’an insists on the reality of the celestial Book, the equivalent to The Book of Jubilees Heavenly Scrolls, that have been revealed to a few men, to Christ, and also to Moses:

Then We gave Moses the Book, completing on him who is virtuous, and as an elaboration of all things, and as guidance and mercy, so that they may believe in the encounter with their Lord.

And this Book We have sent down is a blessed one; so follow it and be Godwary so that you may receive mercy.
Qur’an 6:154-155

But the book is to be understood with Wisdom. So, for instance, the counterposition of different rules against “mixing” in the Old Testament:

“You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning. The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Exodus 23:18-19

Is with Wisdom interpreted as a prohibition against the ultimate mixing — polytheism.

Meat boiled in milk is undoubtedly gross food, and makes overfull; but I think that most probably it is also prohibited because it is somehow connected with idolatry, forming perhaps part of the service, or being used on some festival of the heathen. I find a support for this view in the circumstance that the Law mentions the prohibition twice after the commandment given concerning the festivals “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:17, 34:73, as if to say, “When you come before me on your festivals, do not seethe your food in the manner as the heathen used to do.” This I consider as the best reason for the prohibition: but as far as I have seen the books on Sabean rites, nothing is mentioned of this custom.
Moses ben Maimon, Guide for the Perplexed, Ch 48, AD 1190.

The Qur’anic author uses the same pattern. Food laws are not given because the food it was unclean. They are given. Because the followers of God are unclean. (It is from this passage that the chapter gets it title, “the Cattle”):

And two of camels and two of oxen. Say, ‘Is it the two males that He has forbidden or the two females, or what is contained in the bombs of the two females? Were you witnesses when God enjoined this upon you? So who is a greater wrongdoer than him who fabricates lies against God to mislead the people without any knowledge? Indeed, God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.

Say, ‘I do not find in what has been revealed to me that anyone should be forbidden to eat anything except carrion or spilt blood, or the flesh of swine — for that is indeed unclean — or an impiety offered to other than God.’ But should someone be compelled, without being rebellious or aggressive, indeed your Lord is all-forgiving, all-merciful.

To the Jews We forbade every animal having an undivided hoof, and of oxen and sheep We forbade them their fat, except what is borne by their backs, or their entrails, or what is attached to the bones. We requited them with that for their rebelliousness and We indeed speak the truth.
Qur’an 6:144-146

To a follower of Christ who denies His Divinity, Wisdom is a useful parallel. The world may have been created with the word Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
John 1:1-3

but it was already created by Wisdom, and no one worships her:

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
By understanding He established the heavens;
By His knowledge the depths were broken up,
And clouds drop down the dew…

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.”
Proverbs 3:19-20, 8:22-23

The Creator

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
Genesis 1:14-15

The Qur’an agrees with the Bible that God created the heavens for keeping time:

Splitter of the dawn. He has made the night for rest ,and the sun and moon for calculation. That is the ordaining of the All-mighty, the All-knowing.
Qur’an 6:96

But the bigger point is that God created. He is the Creator, and all other things are creatures:

It is He who created the heavens and the earth, and with consummate wisdom, and the day He says, ‘Be!’ it is, His word is the truth, and to Him belongs all sovereignty on the day when the Trumpet will be blown. Knower of the sensible and the Unseen, He is the All-wise, the All-aware.
Qur’an 6:73

All things besides the Creator become more or less great as they change. Abraham uses this rustic logic to conclude that the stars should not be worshiped, as they become less great as they pass over the horizon:

Thus did we show Abraham the dominions of the heavens and the earth, that he might be of those who posses certitude, ‘When night darkened over him, he saw a star an said, ‘This is my Lord! But when it was set, he said, ‘I do not like those who set.’
Qur’an 6:75

John the Baptist at least partially agreed with this:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 3:27-30

Though many Christians would disagree with an obvious, if implied, corollary: anything that is made more or less great cannot be God.

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
buried with Him in baptism, in which
you also were raised with Him
through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Acts 2:11-12

The Qur’anic author denies both that God the Father has a son, and that God the son has a spouse. He denies the plurality of persons of God at all. To him there is one God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, of the sensible and the invisible.

The originator of the heavens and the earth — how could He have a child when He has had no spouse? He created all things and He has knowledge of all things.
Qur’an 6:101

Qur’an 5: The Table

The fifth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Table,” refers to the Table of the Lord’s Supper. The theme of “The Table” is the sacraments, and the break in many sacrament that Arian Christianity suffered in areas subject to Emperor Justinian’s rectification campaigns. This break made it impossible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Confession, Confirmation, or Holy Orders. The persecuted Arian members of the Church saw themselves as the new Israel, as did the persecuted Christians under the pagan Roman emperors. Allegiance to the Arian church fathers did not prevent suffering, but provided a meaning and hope to that suffering… until the emergence of the ‘apostle.’

The Loss of the Sacraments

Given that the Qur’an seems to have been written by a late Arian writer, a man who saw himself as Catholic but held the heretical belief that Jesus was created, it’s no surprise that sacraments play a role in the Qur’an:

O you who have faith! Do not violate God’ sacraments, neither the sacred month, nor the offering, nor the necklaces, nor those bound for the Sacred House who seek their Lord’s bounty and pleasure. But when you emerge from pilgrim sanctity you may hunt for game. Ill feeling for a people should not lead to to transgress, because they barred you from the sacred place of prayer. Cooperate in piety and Godwariness, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression, and be wary of God. God is indeed severe in retribution
Qur’an 5:2

The Qur’anic author’s interpretation of sacraments seems to include Holy Orders. The kindness of Christians to the Qur’anic community is because they understand the Qur’an’s calls, and because of the presence of these religious:

Surely you will find he Jews and the polytheists to be the most hostile of all people towards the faithful, and surely you will find the nearest of them in affection to the faithful to be those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant. When they hear what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes fill with tears because of the truth that they recognize.

They say, ‘Our Lord, we believe; so write us down among the witnesses. Why should we not believe in God and the truth that has come to us, eager as we are that our Lord should admit us among the righteous people?’

So, for what they said, God has requited them with gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them, and that is the reward of the virtuous.
Qur’an 5:82-85

The reference to “We believe” seems to be to the original Nicene Creed, though later variations include the same opening:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…
Nicene Creed,” Wikipedia

“Those who say ‘We believe'” is used as a way of saying Nicene Christians — those still in communion with the apostolic Church, and their reception of the sacraments continued in spite of their unbelief in the Arian fathers and councils:

When they come to you, they say, ‘We believe.’ Certainly they enter with disbelief and leave with it, and God knows what best what they have been concealing. You see many of them actively engaged in sin and aggression and consuming illicit gains. Surely, evil is what they have been doing. Why do not the rabbis and the scribes forbid them from sinful speech and consuming illicit gains? Surely, evil is what they have been working.

The Jews says, ‘God’s hand is tied up.’ Tied up be their hands, and cursed be they for what they say! No, His hands are wide open: He bestows as He wishes.

Surely many of them will be increased in rebellion and unfaith by what has been sent to you from your Lord, and We have cast enmity and hatred amongst them until the Day of Resurrection.
Qur’an 5:61-64

and again:

O Apostle! Do not grieve for those who are active in unfaith, such as those who say ‘We believe,’ with their mouths, but whose hears have no faith, and the Jews who eavesdrop with the aim of lies and eavesdrop for other people who do not come to you. They pervert words.
Qur’an 5:41

Muslims, a religious community in which the text of the Qur’an is one important feature to their religion, generally hold the Qur’an’s composition dates no earlier than AD 610. This is in the middle of the last stage of the life of Arianism. This is 50 years after Justinian I_ eradicated Arianism in the Empire and North Africa and 30 years after the date Spain rejected Arianism. But it is before the last Arian king in Europe.

I say this because the Qur’anic author mentions a ‘gap in the apostles’, until ‘our apostle’ arrived. Something ended between the last of the apostles and ‘our apostle.’ The simplest explanation, to me, is apostolic succession — or at least the recourse to it in the near East.

O People of the Book! Certainly Our Apostle has come to you, clarifying for you after a gap in the apostles, lest you should say, ‘There did not come to us any bearer of good news nor any warner.’ Certainly there has come to you a bearer of good news and a warner. And God has power over all things.’
Qur’an 5:19

Emperor Justinian I criminalized Arianism in the Empire. This adds some depths to the Qur’anic author’s rewording of Paul

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.
1 Corinthians 10:23-26

As the Arian religion itself was said to no longer be lawful:

They ask you as to what is lawful for them. Say, ‘All the good things are lawful for you.’ As for what you have taught hunting dogs, teaching them by what God has taught you, eat of what they catch for you and mention God’s Name over it, and be wary of God. God is indeed swift at reckoning.
Qur’an 5:4

The focus of “The Table” on the sacraments — indeed it opens with them — help explain why the Qur’anic author accuses Christians of not following the Gospel — the Christian emperor is not allowing what he saw as the licit mass to be held, and may indeed have made it impossible to be held! Note the defensiveness of the Qur’an — “it is they who are the transgressors” implies an accusation that the Qur’anic author or community have been accused of transgressing the Gospel:

We followed them with Jesus Son of Mary to confirm that which was before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming what was before it of the Torah, and as guidance and advice for the Godwary.

Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down — it is they who are the transgressors.
Qur’an 5:45-47

and:

So, ‘O People of the Book! You do not stand on anything until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has been sent down to you from your Lord.’
Surely many of them will be increased in rebellion and unfaith by what was sent down to you from your Lord. So do not grieve for the faithless lot.
Qur’an 5:68

The New Israel

As John connected the Christians to Israel, and emphasized that the true Israelites were the early Christians and not those who remained in the culturally ‘Jewish’ places of worship, the Qur’anic author sees his community as the continuation of God’s people:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,

‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Revelations 2:8-11

The Qur’anic author picks up this theme, to insist this new persecuted community of believers, the Qur’anic community, is continuous with Israel and the early Christians. In the same way the Qur’anic author interlaces Mary-sister-of-Moses and Mary-mother-of-Jesus, the Qur’anic author interlaces the two Twelves — the twelve chiefs of Exodus, the twelve apostles of Acts:

Certainly God took a pledge from the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chiefs. And God said, ‘I am with you! Surely, if you maintain the prayer and give the zakat and have faith in My apostles and support them and lend God a good loan, I will surely absolve you of your misdeeds, and I will surely admit you into the gardens with streams running in them. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the right way.’
Qur’an 5:12

The grammatical response to God saying ‘I AM with you’ would be to say ‘God with us’ — IMMANUEL

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:22-23

Faith and Suffering

Fittingly for a group of persecuted believers in Christ, suffering is central to the sacraments. Two explanations of suffering are given. One, a result of faithlessness:

Had the People of the Book believed and been Godwary, We would have absolved them of their misdeeds and admitted them into the gardens of bliss. Had they observed the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have drawn nourishment from above them and from beneath their feet. There is an upright group among them, but what many of them do is evil.
Qur’an 5:65-66

The other, a result of faith, as for the first martyr:

Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. Said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’

Said, ‘God accepts only from the Godwary Even if you extend your hand toward me to kill me, I will not extend my hand toward you to kill you. Indeed, I fear God, the Lord of all the worlds.’ I desire that you earn my sin and your sin, to become one of the inmates of the Fire, and such is the requital of the wrongdoers.’
Qur’an 5:27-29

Faith does not protect one from suffering.

They supposed there would be no testing, so they became blind and deaf. Thereafter God accepted their repentance, yet many of them became blind and deaf, and God watches what they do.
Qur’an 5:71

But it creates meaning in the suffering, and hope for the last things:

Indeed, the faithful — the Jews, the Sabeans, and the Christians — those who have faith in God and the Last Day and act righteously — they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
Qur’an 5:69

The Lord’s Supper

“The Table” began with the sacraments, and ends with the sacrament: the Lord’s Supper.

When the Disciples said, ‘O Jesus son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us a table from the sky? Said he, be wary of God, if you are faithful.’

They said, ‘We desire to eat from it, and our hearts will be at rest, we shall know that you have told us the truth, and we will be among witnesses to it.’

Said Jesus son of Mary, ‘O God! Our Lord! Send down to us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first ones among us and the last ones and a a sign from You, and provide for us; for You are the best of providers.’

God said, ‘I will indeed send it down to you. But should any of you disbelieve after this, I will indeed punish him with a punishment such as I do not punish anyone in all creation.’
Qur’an 5:112-115

The Qur’an uses the prototype of the Last Supper, Christ’s feeding of the multitudes:

Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
John 6:30-33

with the actual last meal:

“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
John 14:8-11

The ‘gap in the apostles’ ended the presence of the men who were capable of speaking for God. In Catholic (and thus Arian) thought, the teaching authority of this role was given to the Church through the Holy Spirit:

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:15-18

The Qur’anic author identifies ‘His Apostle’ as the resumption of this office. God, the faithful, and ‘His Apostle’ together are able to teach, as the Church once taught for them:

Your guardian is only God, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down. Whoever takes God, is Apostles, and the faithful for his guardians — the confederates of God are indeed victorious
Qur’an 5:55

The Qur’anic author likewise quotes Christ from after his resurrection, emphasizing his continuity with John:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”
John 20:15-17

But with an addition of the question of partners, which only became an issue worth comment during the Arian crisis. The Qur’anic author loves to sacraments but does not believe that the Church is the bride of the man-God:

There are certainly faithless who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ But the Messiah had said, ‘O Children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and you Lord. Indeed, whoever ascribes partners to God, God will forbid him paradise and his refuge will be the Fire, and the wrongdoers will not have any helpers.’
Qur’an 5:72

Deus Vult

Throughout all this the community is protected by God, the ‘apostle,’ and the faithful.

As he surveyed the splitting of God’s people into numerous communities, the Qur’anic author took solace that it only is because God permits it:

For each among you We had appointed a code and a path, and had God wished He would have made you one community, but that He should test you with respect to what He has given you.

So take the lead in all good works. To God shall be the return of you all, whereat He will inform you concerning that about which you used to differ.
Qur’an 5:48

Years later the Catholic pope would echo these words:

The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.
Bishop of Rome Francis and Great Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” 2019

Perhaps one day these communities would indeed be one

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Romans 11:25-29

Impressions of “Introduction to Patristics: Learning from the Church Fathers,” by David Meconi

Sometimes you get exactly what you ask for.

In my impressions of When the Church was Young by Marcellino d’Ambrosio, I said how much I enjoyed the work, but wish I could read a more academic companion to it. Introduction to Patristics by David Meconi is that companion. And When the Church was Young is the superior book.

There are no substantial disagreements between the texts. Both begin with the apostolic fathers like Justin Martyr and Polycarp. Both end before John of Damascus. Both reference the Shepherd and the Protoeveangelium The fundamental difference is that the Church was Young attempts to presents a narrative church history and emphasizes memorable personal anecdotes or events in the lives of the Fathers, and how their lives intersected. Patristics is organized in a rough chronological order but primarily around major academic themes. But except for the slightly deeper discussion of heterodoxy, the Church was Young provides more memorable information than Patristics.

While Patristics (unlike the Church was Young) is more about what now-heterodox ideas were believed by some Church Fathers, that benefit does not overcome the other burdens in the text. For instance, take Origin (AD 184 – AD 253), a teacher of the saints who himself was never canonized.  Both books addressed major moments of his life, including the arrest of his father, his rivalry with his bishop, and his arrest and torture by the Romans.  And from Patristics (but not from the Church Was Young) I learned that Origen believed that even demons could come to repentance and salvation. But the Church was Young provides more context around the catechatical school in Alexandria, the continuity of Origen with other Fathers before and after, a  more vivid description of the man in general.

The situation is even worse with another heterodox church father, Tertullian (AD 155 – AD 240). Both books credit Tertullian with coining the term Trinity (in Latin “Trinitas”) to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both conclude with Tertullian all but leaving the Catholic Church. The Church was Young establishes Tertullian’s belief in rigor and confessed impatience. It concludes with Tertullian joining the Montanists, “a rigorist sect.” This is implied to be a pattern in North Africa, and the implications for the Islamic conquest are left to the reader. Patristics does not establish Tertullian’s personality or reasons for leaving, aside from to joining a “gnostic” sect.

Yet neither of these are, perhaps, fully true! Certainly Tertullian seems like a kill joy — Wikipedia’s description of “public amusements, the veiling of virgins, the conduct of women, and the like” certainly matches The Church was Young‘s description of him. But Wikipedia’s description of Montanism implied something more:

Montanism held similar views about the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to those of the wider Christian Church, but it was labeled a heresy for its belief in new prophetic revelations. The prophetic movement called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic.

Neither book nor Wikipedia make the comparison, but the focus on the Holy Spirit’s new age of revelation recalls the Blessed Joachim of Fiore, a personal favorite of Jordan Peterson:

There are three states of the world, corresponding to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. In the first age the Father ruled, representing power and inspiring fear, to which the Old Testament dispensation corresponds; then the wisdom hidden through the ages was revealed in the Son, and we have the Catholic Church of the New Testament; a third period will come, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, which will proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it, and in which there will be no need for disciplinary institutions.
Joachim of Fiore,” Catholic Encyclopedia

There are a lot of lose ends, and neither work is a complete overview. But from When the Church was Young I can at least ask the question. Patristics, despite being more dry, provides less depth

Reading Introduction to Patristics probably helped me re-encode information I already learned in When the Church was Young. It was not very long, and along with The Orthodox Christian Church helped orient me to better understand this stage of the Church’s history.

I read Introduction to Patristics in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone,” by Satya Nadella with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

Impressions of “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone,” by Satya Nadella with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

Hit Refresh is a book published by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to cultivate a cult of personality within Microsoft, to cement the use of rhetorical phrases common in the company, and to sell himself to both large enterprise clients and regulators. While Lou Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance was written on the retirement of a CEO, and Alan Mullaly’s American Icon was effectively a resume aimed at larger corporations, Nadella is aimed at cementing and continuing his leadership of what is now America’s most valuable company. Of this genre, Hit Refresh is the first where I am able to judge in a context of closely following the company in question at the time.

There is a short section on Satya’s childhood in India, which largely cuts off around high school. I assume the material in that section is accurate. After that, Satya’s narrative suffers from very selective editing and time dilation. Events are presented as causal when years have (silently) passed between them. Important events are described, sometimes using tortuous language, to hide the presence or activities of certain others. One specific example of this is the renaming of Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform to just “Azure” (dropping the name Windows), which is presented as the result of a specific customary verdict. Another is when a chain of pronouns is needed to hide former Windows-head Terry Myerson‘s role in delaying the purchase of Mojang AB (creator of the popular game ‘Minecraft’) for years.

Nadella either elides or downplays the most significant decisions he made during his first years at Microsoft: the shift away from consumer products and the shuttering of the “Nokia / Microsoft Mobile” smart phone and manufacturing business. (Nokia herself, which sold the phone business to Microsoft, used the proceeds to acquire Alcatel-Lucent, which was profiled in Douglas Coupland’s mesmerizing Kitten Clone). The first is not mentioned at all, and the second is quickly discussed in what seems a paragraph. But these were the most high-stakes, high-risk and potentially high-payoff decisions that Nadella made. Microsoft literally scrapped one of the most modern and effective manufacturing organizations in the consumer electronics business as virtually his first decision. I understand that the renaming of “Windows Azure” to “Azure” is something of a shorthand which describes the point without boring business readers with details, but it means Satya’s narrative is not factually — at least — reliable. This is neither an in-depth portrait of a leader like Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs nor a journalist history of an industry like Blake Harris’s Console Wars.

And yet…. And yet there’s no arguing with success. Microsoft under Satya Nadella left a generation-long malaise and is now the most valuable company in America. Nadella’s Microsoft is more valuable than Apple. And this has not been the result of “cost cutting” or hasty decisions. Satya’s starving and demoting of the Windows organization — not covered in this book — was Solomonesque, and Microsoft’s handling of political risk well before it lands has been masterful. Perhaps the nature of Satya’s authorship here — collaborative, intellectually, and hiding more than it shows — is typical of his leadership. If so, it may be for the best.

I read Hit Refresh in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Wrestling the Angel — the Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity,” by Terryl L Givens

Before I read Wrestling the Angel by Terryl L. Givens I was confused. I could not make sense of what I heard of Mormonism. I knew a few concepts, such as spirit baptism, a theology that was a hybrid of polytheism and atheism, and an ecclesiastic hierarchy that seemed like an imitation of Rome. But I could not place it within the broader Christian tradition, nor identify even a point of divergence of Mormon thought from another Christian branch.

I expressed my ignorance to my friend Tanner Greer, who recommended that I read this book. I am glad he did so. Wrestling the Angel is a terrific book, generally sympathetic to Mormonism and by an author apparently most comfortable with Calvinist terminology. Like Medieval Christianity: A New History, which provided a context for 1,000 years of Catholic thinking, Wrestling the Angel situations Mormonism without the intellectual currents of American Protestantism (and especially American Calvinism) in the 19th century. The literary context of Mormonism (such as the View of the Hebrews or the literary significance of the King James Version) are completely ignored.

But my most valuable take away was this: cosmologically, Mormonism operates as an extremely old branch of Christianity. Much of the Mormon thought would be much more familiar to the audience of Peter’s Didache than, say, the Confessions of Augustine or the Homilies of Chrysostom. The “Weirdest” parts of Mormon thought are straight forward given the Hebraic outlook of the religion. This is most clear in the Mormon conceptions of creation, God’s literal fatherhood of mankind, theosis, and the nature of heaven. That said, it’s questionable how seriously the Mormon assertion that there is no philosophy or theology of Mormonism can be taken, given it exists within a western context. Mormonism is more Hebraic than even Judaism, because Judaism coherently responded to western philosophy in the 13th century. It is too early to tell how Mormonism will respond to philosophical thought.

Creation

All other branches of Christianity assert that God created that universe from nothing. Mormonism denies this, asserting instead that God organized the universe from chaos. A consequence of Mormon denial of creation from nothing is that the Mormon “God” is not even a “God” – he is just a supernatural alien that has better control of technology that than we do.

As a creature, the Mormon “God” is bound by the laws of the universe, and can be forced to do the will of any other creature who understands the laws. Just as Assyrians celebrated making their gods indebted to them, Mormons know that God has no freedom but to act in the way their own holiness dictates

Marduk, the king of gods, is reconciled with the king my lord. He does whatever the king my lord says. Sitting on your throne, you will vanquish your enemies, conquer your foes, and plunder the enemy

Yet the Mormon focus on organization is closer to the meaning of the Hebrew Bible. The very first chapter of Genesis probably is a discussion of the universe’s organization. Likewise, the Book of Joshua tells of Canaan’s organization.  Western Christians may respond that for the God of Israel to the God of Philosophy, he would have had have created the universe from nothing as well as organized the universe from chaos. This may be the case. But it makes God contingent on the western laws of logic, instead of the Canaanite laws of order.

God’s Literal Fatherhood of Man

Given its continuity with the Canaanite worldview of the Hebrew Bible, Mormons believe that God is our literal father.  This is to say, God the Father is a man.

Abraham might not have been surprised by this. God after all ate and drank with him. But also John the Evangelist would not have been surprised. Christ sweats blood, thirsts, eats and drinks — fully like man

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

but also was in the beginning — fully like God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
John 1:1-3

These elements were also present in the stories from ancient Canaan. God’s daughter threatens to cut him open and make him bleed by a lamb. God hosts a drinking party and has a hang-over. He cries tears when Death takes Ba’al, and his male genitalia is as long as the Euphrates.

Indeed, as most Christians follow the Athanasian Creed which asserts all persons of the Trinity share attributes with all others, the extent to which God the Father fully participates in God the Son’s incarnation is interesting. But in any case God’s literal fatherhood of man is most surprising to those who hold a stronger form of spirit-body dualism than any writer of the Scriptures apparently held.

Angels, Heaven, and Hell

Mormonism teaches that humans can become angels. While this is foreign to Christian angelology, it’s not ridiculous. The 2nd Book of Enoch, written during the Second Temple period, describes Enoch fulfilling the role of an Angel. And indeed “angel” means “Messenger,” thus Mormon references to angel’s can be replaced by the ghosts of souls in heaven given tasks by God.

Likewise, Mormonism seems to use Protestant terms but Catholic conceptions of the afterlife. In Catholic terms, virtually all souls spend an extended period of time in purgatory. For those with worse sins it begins as a more painful process, but those with better works it is very pleasant, but in these cases it serves to cleanse and perfect the souls of the dead. Mormonism do have the idea of choices being made in this state that can effect the future, but on the same hand so did the allegory of the afterlife presented by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. I’m perfectly happy to see any conflict here as a result of the impoverished way we think of and talk about time.

Yet this view of purgatory — as a place decisions can be made — also helps explain another issue that troubles Christians: the baptism of the dead. The actual acceptance of baptism occurs by the spirit in purgatory (perhaps translated into Catholic terminology as the soul having received grace and the baptism by desire in life). But because Mormonism emerged from mid-19th century Protestantism that recognized only baptism by water, a proxy baptism by water is allowed that, when combined with the spirit’s acceptance of Christ, becomes a canonical baptism.

Theosis and Transcendence

One of the differences between western and eastern Christianity is a difference in focus on how to be faithful. Catholics and Orthodox agree that being faithful to Christ requires imitating him, but Catholics are more likely to emphasize immediate fulfillment of specific commands (feed the hungry, visit the sick, and so on) while Orthodox are more likely to emphasize the use of prayer and meditation to obtain a divine orientation. Mormonism is within these traditions, focusing on a rule-based ladder to spiritual betterment (made possible by grace), combined with a future goal of full participation in the divine.

This becomes problematic to other Christians when the Mormon rejection of divinity as anything other than very well ordered humanity is taken into accounts. Some people say Mormons are Arians but I don’t see how this can be true — it is not that Mormons believe that Jesus was substantially difference from the Father, but it that they do not believe the Father was substantively different from a cat. There is simply some energy state referred to as “organization” that beings we call divine (God, gods, etc) have more of and others have less of. Perhaps it can be scientifically measured one day.

This introduces a crisis in Mormon thought that Wrestling the Angel never addresses: this idea (a hidden quantity of Organization which determines observed divinity) is completely foreign to the Old Testament foundations that so much of Mormon thought is based on. It’s not a Hebrew idea, it’s not a New Testament idea. Even the Canaanite worshipers of Ba’al rejected it:

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
The Ba’al Cycle

It is basically a western, Greek, philosophical idea of abstract concepts and hidden quantifiable attributes. The Mormon claim of not being philosophical or theological, of not having Creeds or dogma, fall apart here. Perhaps there is some resolution, but if so Terry Givens does not give a hint of one.

Judaism, Philosophy, and The Open Canon

The crisis around theosis in particular echoes the Judaeo-Christian crisis of the 13th century. The spread of philosophy in Western Europe made both Jews and Christians uncomfortable with an arbitrary or imprisoned God. Catholicism faced this through a new focus on lived imitation of Christ and the Christianization of philosophy (as with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas). Judaism suffered a deeper rupture, in the forms of the Nachmanides’s mysical intepretation of the Torah and Maimonides Judaization of philosophys, but even the mystical school adopted the forms and competencies of rational discussion.

The Mormon bias against philosophy and theology may delay this reckoning, but it seems unlikely to stop. The empirical evidence seems that philosophical incoherence is not sustainable over the long term — no other branch of the Abrahamic face that I am aware of has maintained this. And Mormonism has a mechanism to allow to it adapt to the culture it exists in: the open canon.

Like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Mormonism has no mechanism for identifying when Scripture starts and church teachings begin. Some books, like the Mormon King James Version and the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, change over time. Other well known Mormon works, such as the King Follett discourse, are not part of the canon at all. A similar mechanism, the Holy Tradition, fulfills a similar role in Catholicism or Orthodoxy. The faith in those churches have unfolded over great expanses of time. Mormonism will as well.

Final Thoughts

I began Wrestling the Angel knowing little about Mormon theology or cosmology. I feel I have a grasp of it now, and I thank Tanner for the excellent recommendation.

I read Wrestling the Angel in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites,” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is an examination of the Israelite conquest of Canaan as described primarily in the Book of Joshua. John H. and J. Harvey Walton argue the war was fought to properly order Canaan under God’s sovereign rule, and not as punishment for the Canaanites. The term herem, normally translated as “place under the ban” or “utterly destroy,” should be translated as “remove from human use” or even “purify.”  The process of establishing sovereignty in an area — called “Making a Name” or “Placing a Name,” — is completed by God through the Temple (though Saul, the builders of the Tower of Babel, and many other kings  previously tried to make a name for themselves, as recorded both within and outside the Bible). The authors introduce the idea of The Ban as a type, or foreshadowing, of Living in Christ, but do not convincingly argue this. Likewise, the propose an explanation for the apparent presence of inhuman monsters in Canaan. during the Conquest

Seven Days that Shook the World

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; 6 but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Genesis 2:2-7

The Book of Joshua is a war story, the third book the ExodusNumbersJoshua narrative that chronicles the life of the savior of Israel, Joshua, who follows (and then apparently deposes) Moses and leads an army against the Canaanite cities. Men, families, and entire cities are placed “under the ban” and “doomed to destruction” (herem). It is as exciting as a tale of the rise of ISIS told from the perspective of a military commander would be. Angels, stars, prostitutes, and spies are all characters in a book that makes church ladies uncomfortable all over the world.

But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times.
And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people:

“Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!

Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it.
Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”
Joshua 6:16-17

This pattern will be created later, when the Temple is opened in seven days. The Creation, the Conquest, and the Indwelling of the LORD in the Temple are are three stages in the proper ordering of the universe. God creates the universe, God is granted title to the land, God is invested in the Temple. A force completely outside the cosmos orders the cosmos and lives in the cosmos. Christians of course will see parallels — antitypes — in this process to the Creation by the Word, the Victory at the Cross, and the Indwelling of the Spirit at Pentecost.

At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days,
and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly,
for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days,
and the feast seven days.
On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel.
2 Chronicles 7:8-10

Under the Ban

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest could have been written as an extended examination of two verses:

So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned.
Joshua 11:12-13

and

For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.
Leviticus 18:25

Examining the three words in bold, the authors argue

  • utterly destroy, or herem, means remove from human (as opposed to Divine) use
  • defiled, or tm’, means ritually unclean or unfit for use, as in Judges 13:4
  • punishment, or pqd, means determine the density, and
  • iniquity, or ‘awon, means purify as with fire, as in Numbers 31:23
  • vomit is accepted as such, but can proceed the proper use of a thing, such as the whale’s vomiting of Jonah

The authors argue that Joshua “utterly destroyed” the kings by killing them,t the city of Hazor by burning it to the ground, and the other cities by transferring their sovereignty from the Israelite army (which had it by right of conquest) to God. The authors also argue that that Leviticus 18:25 really should read

For the land is unfit for use; therefore I will determine the density of its cleansing on it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants

The proposed translations are similar to Robert Alter‘s translation of the verse in Joshua:

And all the towns of these kings and all their kings Joshua took and struck them down with the edge of the sword, he put them under the ban as Moses servant of the LORD had charged. Only all the towns standing on their mounds Israel did not burn, except for Hazor alone that Joshua burned.

as well as Leviticus:

And the land was defiled, and I made a reckoning with it for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants

This is persuasive. The Land of Canaan is to be put through an earthly purgatory, but the goal is to make it properly ordered, not to vindicatively punish it. As Rabbi Stuart Federow argues, many Christians ignore the Biblical emphasis on proper ordering by trying to reduce all forms of disorder to sin, just as some Christians ignore the Biblical emphasis on faithfulness by trying to reduce all forms of faithlessness to doubt. The lesson here, that God desires proper ordering of things and our allegiance to Him, means giving up some of pop Christianity.

Make a Name

The Israelite Idea of “Covenant” emphasized that Israel already surrendered to God, and was under an occupation regime similar to Japan’s experience after World War II. God, not Israel, was sovereign. Not just certain cities, but the entire nation, was under the General Orders (or “Laws”) of the Sovereign God-King.

This pattern (to a smaller extent) already existed in the Near East. The Babylonians, for instance, would grant specific cities or fields to their Gods similar to how modern companies will grant sovereign rights to consular compounds:

As long as heaven and earth and mankind will be, in future no son of man may inhabit [this land. I have offered] it to Tesub my lord, together with fields, farmyards, vineyards… [Let] your bulls Seri and Hurri [make it] their own grazing land

Yet because the other Near Eastern peoples treated Gods as a very powerful external partner, but not their ultimate Sovereign, they could congratulate themselves on entering into alliances with gods who were then bound by law to defend them. As one Assyrian memorial records:

Marduk, the king of gods, is reconciled with the king my lord. He does whatever the king my lord says. SItting on your throne, you will vanquish your enemies, conquer your foes, and plunder the enemy

Thus, what is happening in Joshua is that the Israelites are conquering a country and then transferring the title to The LORD in keeping with the Instrument of Surrender (“Covenant”) negotiated by Moses. By removing Canaan from Israelite use — making it herem — it is God, not Israel, that places his name in the Holy Land as recorded in the Chronicles

Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.
2 Chronicles 6:6

This contrasts with King Saul’s attempt in The Book of Samuel to indicate that he, and not God, is sovereign

So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying,
“Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.”
Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
But Samuel said, “”hat then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
1 Samuel 15:12-14

As well as against the Babylonian’s attempt to do likewise with their Tower

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Genesis 11:4

Living in Christ

If the theme is the rule of God — His creation of the universe, His sovereignty over Canaan, His indwelling at Zion — what does the King of the Universe want from us? Simple this: the full use of us.

The Waltons connect Herem from the Hebrew Bible with the Christian idea of being in Christ, or putting off the “old man” in the Letter to the Ephesians

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:20-24

The old man is “put off” (or “crucified” in Romans 6:6), not as a punishment, but as a necessary preparation for something greater. As the Waltons write:

We don’t destroy our former selves because they committed crimes and deserve to be destroyed; we destroy them because they are in the way of God using us for his purposes.

The logic of this is that just as God placed Canaan as herem or “under the ban,” God also placed us under the ban as well

Herem of identity in the new covenant means removing from use all identities (which recapitulate the Canaanite nations) other than Christian from the self (which recapitulates the land)

This is fascinating, but not as convincing. For one, the Septuagint Bible used by Bible translates Herem as Anathema, a term he never uses for living in Christ. Further, the Waltons extend the claim to viewing our individual identities not as things for God to use, but as things for us to reject. This seems to lead to a reductio ad absurdum of placing one’s identity as male or female under the ban, but the Waltons seem to accept this

On the other hand, and privilege or status that accompanies the identity markers is not to be asserted. Paul has the identity of apostle, but he repeatedly refuses to assert the rights that accompany that identity.

The obvious scriptural counter-argument to this is never addressed:

He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.
Genesis 5:2

Inhuman Monsters

A second interesting idea is explaining the otherwise inexplicable inclusion of Rephaism and Nephalim in the Joshua accounts. Rephaim appear to be the ghosts of dead kings (as in the Canaanite Story of Danel), while Nephalim would be the gigantic offspring of half-angelic / half-human hybrids. The Waltons argue that this is part of the trope of invincible barbarians called “umman manda” who are described with inhuman features.

There hands are destructive and their features are those of monkeys; he is one who eats what [a goddess] forbids and does not show reverence. They never stop roaming about…
they are an abomination to the gods’ dwellings. Their ideas are confused; they cause only disturbance.

I was fascinated by this. The apparent presence of these supernatural creatures in both Genesis and Exodus is striking, and whether these are thinking creatures or Augustinian symbols, the Divine Author meant something by them. But the Waltons’ interpretation does not square with the description in Numbers and Joshua as the Canaanites as having strong, established cities. The Waltons’ later claim that Gog represents another form of barbarians, instead of something more bizarre or post-modern, is also questionable.

And as before, the obvious Scriptural complication to a purely human view of inhuman monsters is not mentioned

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

Final Thoughts

I have trouble recommending The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest because of the way it is embarrassed by the Scriptures, and bows too much to church ladies all over the world. Likewise it is not as persuasive a discussion of a concept as was Salvation by Allegiance Alone or even The Lost World of Genesis One. But it gave me a new way to understand herem, and tied it both to later discussions of King Saul and the Apostle Paul, as well as older Near Eastern myths and documents.

I read The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest in the Kindle edition.

The Book of Samuel

Note: It took around three years for me to read the Bible, beginning with Robert Alter’s translation of The Five Books of Moses. At first the material — the text, the stories, the real thing the never teach you — was so new I was mostly reacted in stunned silence. My first blog post on the Bible was The Book of Kings in December 2014. In March 2017, I published my last reflections on The Wisdom of Solomon and the Book of Sirach, and the The Prayer of Manasseh that formerly separated the Old and New Testaments.

The turning point for me was the Book of Samuel. I don’t know the words to say the importance of this book to me. The reason the Scripture contains different genres of books is to reach different genres of hearts — Samuel reached mine! Samuel was the first time my short facebook notes on my Biblical reading expanded into something more. Indeed, I wrote four different posts on the Book.

So, in order to combine my thoughts, I present those four takes here, a sort of redacted post from earlier documents. I’ve kept later editing to a minimum… only what was needed.

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel

The Book of Samuel is hard reading. Not hard to read — Atler’s translation is wonderful. But hard in its implications. The spiraling damage — to Saul himself, to the lives of his ‘enemies’ and even the moral character of David — only gets worse. But Saul did not seek the Kingship — his request to Samuel was only for the location of some lost donkeys, and he physically hid from his own coronation.

 

As Samuel makes his grand statement he believes he has discovered a great rhyme in history: LORD, Tomb, Donkeys, Father, Son. Israel is a stubborn people, perhaps the tribes are donkeys. But perhaps something else is being described

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said:
“Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance?
When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you,
‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found.
And now your father has ceased caring about the donkeys and is worrying about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’
1 Samuel 10:1-3

It very much feels like someone had the idea to make the young woman from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as monarch. Indeed, the horror of the paired “Is Saul, too, among the Prophets?” episodes — the first time Sunday-schooly and humorous,

Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”

So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day. When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?
1 Samuel 10:6-11

The second time is sad and terrifying — is the horror of “Repulsion”: Saul’s suffered from psychosis the entire time he’s been in the story.

So [Saul] went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.
And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night.
Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?
1 Samuel 19:24

I have a ways to go before the Book of Job, but that seems like small potatoes compared of the Book of Samuel.

If the Book of Numbers was war as an adventure, and The Book of Judges was war as a Western, the Book of Samuel is war as a tragedy. A few mistakes by a few people build and build, leading to a complete moral collapse that our heroes are drowning in.

Shakespeare’s got nothing on this.

Including the Beginning of 1 Kings

There’s a director’s cut!

The Book of Samuel, which mostly felt like a cross between House of Cards and Game of Thrones, ends in the dark. King David is an aging prisoner of Generalissimo Joab, who climbed the ladder of power and murdered the General of the Army of Israel, the General of the Army of Judah, and the pretender King Absalom (David’s son).

But Joab has another fate.

The last four chapters 2 Samuel are like the sepia-toned conclusion of The Godfather: four scenes that lose the psychological realism of the main work, and instead twist the knife. These stories are kind of fairy tales — they don’t have the bitter realism of most of the Book of Samuel, but they feel… wrong. Like the that sepia-toned ending of the Godfather, which ends with Michael all alone, the wrongness of the story is just below the service.

There’s a story of David condemning the sons of Saul, and regretting it. As he pardoned Joab, the murderer of Saul’s general, and surely regretted it.

There’s a poem from David’s youth, celebrating the Lord of Armies and how God granted him military victory. But from old age, surely King David knew who commanded the military — Joab.

There’s David’s last poem, praising the importance of a King and saying that “worthless men” must be dragged out. But Joab was originally of David’s “worthless men,” a man with nothing to lose who would follow him.

There’s a story of David conducting a census, against the recommendation of Joab, and regretting it. Because like Michael Corleone, like Frank Underwood, Joab, was many things, but never stupid.

So the Book of Samuel ends, David a prisoner, Joab the Generalissimo, and the reader’s head spins.

Although my house is not so with God,
Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things and secure.
For this is all my salvation and all my desire;
Will He not make it increase?
2 Kings 23:5

But there’s a director’s cut.

That’s not the original ending.

The Book of Kings, which immediately follows, is a compilation of 400 years of dynastic history. Like any such history, the writing style swings dramatically, because it is a compilation of chronicles, of wiki updates over the centuries.

And the first two chapters are the conclusion of Samuel. The same psychological realism. The same sadness. But a real ending.

David isn’t Michael Corleone. He’s Vito.

In his dying words, David praises God and theen asks Solomon to get him his revenge, to kill Joab so he cannot die peacefully. And Robert Alter said, David’s faith is so complete it borders on the subversive

Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man.
And keep the charge of the Lord your God:
to walk in His ways,
to keep His statutes,
His commandments,
His judgments,
and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn;
that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

“Moreover you know also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me,
and what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel,
to Abner the son of Ner
and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed.
And he shed the blood of war in peacetime,
and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist,
and on his sandals that were on his feet.
Therefore do according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to the grave in peace.
1 Kings 2:1-6

One by one, Solomon isolates Joab, using the law to his ends, finding judicial reasons to kill one supporter after another. Until Joab, old and feeble and no longer able to fight, flees to the Arc of the Covenant and holds on, crying for safety.

Who could kill someone in the House of the Lord? Who could deny sanctuary to a fugitive in the Tent of Meeting?

But unlike David (whose grasp of the Law of Moses was sentimentally and shaky), Solomon remembered the Law

But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.
Exodus 21:14

Well, mostly,

So Benaiah went to the tabernacle of the Lord, and said to him, “Thus says the king, ‘Come out!’”

And he said, “No, but I will die here.” And Benaiah brought back word to the king, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.”

Then the king said to him, “Do as he has said, and strike him down and bury him, that you may take away from me and from the house of my father the innocent blood which Joab shed.
1 Kings 2:30-31

The Witch of Endor

I vaguely remembered “The Witch of Endor,” the woman who summoned the Prophet Samuel to King Saul. The story includes with some comic relief — the witch screams and flees, not having expected her spell to actually work.

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice.
And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”
1 Samuel 28:11-12

Saul has been beaten into frailty by the evil spirit, his psychosis. Samuel — the the prophet, seer & priest – berates him for being a horrible king, tells him that Saul and his sons will die tomorrow, and leaves.

Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy?
And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me.
For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.
Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines.
And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.
The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 28:16-19

The witch, after the episode, slaughters a calf, giving Saul some food to eat and a place to sleep on the last night of his life.

Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
But he refused and said, “I will not eat.”
So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice.
Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed.
Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it.
And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it.
So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate.
Then they rose and went away that night.
1 Samuel 28:22-25

Before starting Alter’s translation of the Old Testament, I had only read Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan as a gentile. But they are even more meaningful in light of Jewish traditions. Who is the priest? Who is the good Samaritan?

Final Thoughts

Years after finishing it, I have never read anything like the Book of Samuel. I thought about this or that part of it daily for more than a year. The two ‘cuts’ of it in the Hebrew Bible (one ending at 2 Samuel 24, the other continuing through 1 Kings 2) are like a great theatrical cut and great directors cut: both brilliant but in different ways.

Reading Samuel under Alter’s translation has impacted my other readings. The Art of Biblical Narrative helped shape my view of how to understand the parts of the Bible I read on my own, while Saul, Doeg, Nabal, and the Son of Jesse helped me focus on “minor” characters in the text. I don’t think its possible to understand the Transfiguration without the context of the nightmare Israel experienced trying to reconcile the Kings and the Prophets.

I read the Book of Samuel in Robert Alter’s translation and commentary, Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, in the Kindle edition.