According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Friday, October 30, 2020

Notice - Process Thought Invitation: Oct 31, 9a-noon PST

 
https://cobb.institute/event/process-thought-at-a-new-threshold/

xJohn Cobb invites the process movement to reflect on the possibility that we are at a new threshold. Maybe, at last, the thinking we have done about creative transformation and ecological civilization will capture the imagination of millions and make a real contribution to radical change of collective behavior. At this gathering we will consider how we can work together to respond to the call to save the world. It’s worth trying.

When

October 31, 2020 9:00 am – 12:00 pm PDT

Where

Online Zoom Meeting

RSVP to receive Zoom meeting information.

RSVP
Free Public Event

Let us know you'd like to attend by clicking on the "Going" button, and we'll send you the information you need to access the meeting.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Process-Based Reading of the Living God and His Word

 



A Process-Based Reading of the Living God and His Word

I woke up today still burdened by a subject I'm not sure how to approach. My burden is that I cannot get past the idea of how many in the church, including the church itself, is reading the bible heretically.

Reading the bible plainly (or literally) has caused a lot of unloving words and deeds to be done in the name of the God of Love. Reading the bible spiritually (metaphorically or allegorically) is also unhelpful in that it gets away from the historical nature of God's revelation being communicated to ancient peoples many years ago.

Comparative literary analysis has been a large help when approaching the bible from a historical, grammatical, and contextual point of study. But it also neglects reading the bible from an evolving sociological, psychological, and philosophical point of study (or, paradigms; sic, sociological frames of context).

These last three areas especially have caused theologians and philosophers to question how we are reading the bible today. The question before us then is this:

"Is God's revelation always a product of being in a relationship with the God of the universe? Or did God speak once, and we are left alone with only the bible as God's spokeman?"

The short answer is yes. The bible is not God's only means of revelation, but that God is always present and communicating with us through His Spirit as individuals, communities, and societies.

More so, because of humanity's long histories of societal experience we have been evolving in our generations and civilizations in our attitudes of love, responsibility, and identity of ourselves in relation to each other, the world at large, and to very creation itself.

Is the Bible Relevant?

My first burden is that our 21st century ideas of society will not be found in civilizations thousands of years before us. Yes, smatterings of them, but not in any cohesive, formulated, or directional way. The beauty of process-based cultural history is that each succeeding generation and regional cultural has its own unique beliefs and identities. We learn from one another when we study the past as well as study the present. But we cannot expect to find any one generation or culture to have lived and thought "perfect lives and perfect thoughts". It’s never been done and never will be done. Not even in the bible. That is to say, the bible is a time-dated study of ancient cultural beliefs which have some pertinence today and some not (cultural dress, foods, practices, and idiom for one).

Saying this means that in a process-based world its very nature is one of evolving from one moment to the next. This was true for bible people then and cultures of their time even as it is true for us now in our generations and varied histories. We are always evolving as a creation; always, concrecsing forwards (growing, moving uniquely forwards). It may be two steps forwards and one step backwards; it may be with interation, interruption and discontinuity; it may be with harm and death; but it always forwards on a path of survival, wellbeing, and restorative livelihood.

We live in a processed based world. A world God inhabits and has given His essence too. Not only by His design but created from God's Essence. Which is why creation is always moving forwards restlessly, generatively. And as it moves forward it restores, it creates opportunities for goodness and wellbeing, it seeks for peace, harmony, and balance. Evolution in its essence is a process filled with God Himself. Its nature can be fierce and wonderful, unique and uniquely in motion, resplendent and dangerous, in the exercise of its God-given freedom.

Saying this means for me that those oral transcribers who wrote down the legends of the bible had their own beliefs and societal standards even as the oral histories of the originators had their own beliefs and cultural worldviews. But being time-bound, whether Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the Judges, Kings, and Prophets, or the generations after them writing and re-writing down those stories, none of those historical events and personages could escape their own or, their society's, evolving thoughts and ideas about God, themselves, and their place and purpose in this life.



How Are We to Read the Bible?

Which brings me back to my burden. Is the bible written down perfectly? Or was it meant as a starting point for communication between God and man? If we take the "magic" out of the transmission process where traditional systematics teach that God wrote the bible ONCE AND FOR ALL using men and women to communicate His revealed Word, then we are left with a God using time-bound evolving culture's to communicate an early expressive theology that ended with its expression.

An earlier theology which wasn't intended to be complete nor completed when speaking of an infinitely evolving God amid an evolving, dynamic creation. I say an "evolving" God because of His experience with an evolving creation. God's experience with creation is moment-by-moment just as creation experiences itself. And I like the word infinite in that it speaks more fully of a process-based creation, if not of God Himself as He is in eternal process with creation as its Creator.

Is it correct then to state the bible to be a record of an earlier, ancient theology serving as a means to begin collectively thinking about God and learning to listen to Him through His Spirit? If so, then the bible isn't fully as evolved in its theology as we would like to think of it as. And if not, then we must admit the bible's theology is historically bound by its theologies and philosophies of its earlier cultures.

This seems a radical proposition but perhaps we shouldn't regard the bible as the once-and-for-all definite word of God. When we have its follows have committed some very un-godlike thinking and actions in their day. A processed-based reading of the bible would regard it as a product of its times and a beginning point for discussion re ethics, morality, and even the atonement of God through Jesus.

So then, how are we to be guided by the bible if we cannot be guided by its stories and illustrations? Might I simply suggest we be guided by the Author of the bible Himself? By Jesus and His words and deeds? By the idea of God's love and what it means to be loving?

If so, then when reading of the violence of Israel towards its neighbors in the Old Testament, or the violence at the end of the world as perceived by five hundred years of speculative eschatologists of the time (from the third century BC to the second century AD) may not be what God is intending. Violence is never love. And preaching a God of violence is antithetical to God's essence (nature) as a God of love. But isn't God a God of judgment? Hmmm, let's discuss that next....

Sin and Evil

Holding the belief that God is in control of everything may have been how one thought of God in ancient times but after centuries and centuries of sin and evil one can say in the affirmative that God is not in control of everything. In the Old Testament I read again and again the sentiment by the biblical ancients that if God is God then He is always in control. Thinking through in the New Testament of Jesus' words and His sentiments on this subject of God being in control we Jesus' word to be a bit more nuanced yet those who later wrote down His words in the early church - as well as the apostles' revelations - came back to their own societal beliefs and restrictions claiming a controlling God.

Since the bible is a product of its historical generations I wouldn't expect NOT to see these sentiments. It is exactly what I expect to find - that the OT and NT are fully consistent in speaking of God as a controlling God of historical events and coming futures. This is borne out by the biblical text as by product of its ancient transcribers. And yet, God is not a controlling God. Why is this? Let me suggest a couple of ideas....

Because God gave to man freewill it is implicit that with freewill comes an undetermined future. Each are part-and-parcel of the other being divine gifts granted creation. To say God is in "control" is not necessarily the best word to use then - even though the sentiment wishes to give the God of creation and of its salvation His rightful place of glory and honor. The problem of theodicy - that is of sin and evil - in a free willed world can be stated immediately that by its nature God cannot be in control. We are using the wrong word to express how we think of God's sovereignty.

Lately, the problem of theodicy is being answered in redirecting the idea of theodicy back upon what a God of love would do when creating a free willed creation. Originally I thought God "chose" to give man freewill but, I've learned since then that creational freewill originated because of God's love. Love is not a choice. In its essence divine love means the ability to choose as well as to live in an open, undetermined future.

ORPT

Thus, the Arminian-based (sic, Wesleyan) idea of an "Open and Relational (Process-based) Theology" has been born to answer the problem of theodicy. ORPT states God is fully sovereign but not in control of creation. Rather, God is a fully-pledge participant with creation in its direction, evolvement, and fulfillment. Though God is not in control of indeterminate, freewill event and future, God is fully imbued within creational structures by gifting creation with His Essence, His Spirit if you will, which flows through all things.

That sin and evil are is because they are the other half of the coin of goodness and love. This defines freewill. The choice between good and evil. Creation is both a product of good and evil even as it struggles against it to find its fulfillment in obedience and submission to its essence. That essence being of course the essence of God. It is no mystery to see this eternal struggle in the evolution not only of creation but in humanity's society evolution to find goodness, beauty, and love in this world. As long as creation exists so too will this titanic struggle continue.

Given this, when re-reading of the bible's ancient cultural dispositions we see that earlier generations really had a difficult time in describing how God is God and yet not in control of everything. the Process philosopher and theologian will say that this is not a problem. God is in control but in a different kind of way. God's control is one which releases creation to become what it was made to become. Who empowers creation to overcome sin and evil? To become that which is kind and loving, good and holy. God doesn't "force" a free willed creation to become this, God "assists" a free willed creation in becoming what it was made for; that is, for unbounded fellowship with itself and with its God.

Again, finding these sentiments in the bible can be found, it’s just that those oral legends and transcribed records believed in theological ideas of a "controlling God". The ancients did not have the many-centuries "backwards" look we have today of wars, revolution, societal experiments, enlightenment, dis-enlightenment, and so forth. Our backwards look gives us the advantage to speak of God in a different way than earlier, evolving generations were able to think of God. But again, in a process world, nothing is static, not even our beliefs.


Conclusion

Is it fully allowable then that God may be perceived as speaking to us through our own generations, commentaries, and preaching? Sure, why not? God is always communication to creation. To the trees, rocks, wind, earth, moon, and stars. Why not then mankind?

How God spoke and was perceived by the ancients is no less different in our generations today. God's bible is in the people who speak for God, who disagree with heretical church sentiments and beliefs, who write, who author, who reflect philosophically on God and consider what our scientific and academic discoveries are telling us about God today.

I would fully expect an "incomprehensible" God to be an evolving story of "comprehensibility." That is, God began with ancient primal man in his thoughts who thought "just maybe, there was a God, perhaps a God beyond all other Gods" (read James A. Michener's book, The Source). From there, the "story of God" has been evolving... even unto this day.

All that can be said of a God of love and salvation can never be said in several generations, not even across many generations. The Story of God is an evolving story of enlargement, beauty, holism, and grandness. I, for one, am not surprised that what I thought I knew about God continues to surprise me. Surprise me in that God continues to become larger than the God I thought I knew and been taught to know by wise and holy men and women.

The bible of common men and women was becoming a collection of narratives of holy-and-unholy men-and-women learning who God is in their lives. (1) This God is always in the state of revealing Himself beyond our imaginations. (2) That the bible is a product of its times, albeit many, many centuries earlier. But (3) when its stories ended its lessons did not. The bible is being written and re-written by the philosophers and theologians of every century. Its lessons are being written upon our heart by the Spirit of God breathing into our imaginations what a God of love means to the generations of today.

This God of the bible is not static. God is a "living, breathing, relational cosmic entity" who wishes to be in a living relationship with us as we face an open future of good and bad.

Our story is God's story even as God's story can be our story. The Spirit presence and relationship we have with the divine is manifold: From a simple walk on the beach to a walk on the moon; from beholding the wonder of our firstborn to the wonder we find in the books of the academics; from sliding into Homeplate without a prayer of a chance of making it, to looking up at the twinkling stars far above.

The Wonder of God is everywhere, and we shouldn't be surprised not to hear His Voice upon the deeps of heavy hearts awashed the sins and evils of the day. A God who speaks against the unfairness and injustice of society being committed towards each other. Who speaks through its newspapers, through podcasts, even through social media, challenging hearts, motives, and purposes. The bible is being rewritten afresh upon the hearts of God's people speaking out against the ill we are doing to God's Self, His love, His salvation, to one another, and to His creation.

The bible is every bit of our experience today even as God was back then in the ancient's lives. We may think of the bible as a one-time revelation - or as a series of one-time revelations - but what if it was marking the "officious" beginning of God speaking to mankind all the time, in every way possible?

What if the bible is not a dead thing but an expanding compendium reaching beyond old, dead-and-gone, cultural thinking of God, to the best of humanity's thoughts, discoveries, and deeds of God? That instead of thinking of the bible in literal ways as a collection of stories time-bound and time-dated in its theologies, that instead we might consider the bible's lessons as the first steps of humanity towards understanding and developing Christ-centered theologies emphasizing God's love and His work of redemption throughout the concourses of humanity's livelihoods?

God has not ceased speaking. God is speaking everywhere and in every way. Through every culture, every generation, and every soul burdened to resist evil and speak for right and truth. Do not think only one agency, the church, may speak for God. When such agencies lose their way, God finds the rocks of this world to speak out His Word like the turbulent winds sent across the treetops. Words of weight and infinite wisdom. 

God raises up babies from carpenter's cradles to challenge the establishment. From raises up the cries of the Church Fathers, the burdens of missionaries, revolutionaries, scientists, novelists, poets, and orators. God raises up the children of the next generation to re-right the lostness of their parent's generations. To stand against unrighteousness and war. To seek revolutionary ways to not lose this earth to the plagues we have unleashed upon it. God's prophets and disciples of this world is the now generation willing to envision a God who is beyond our imaginations. A God whose mystery continues to amaze us as we study His heavens, His creation, one another, and the wisdom of the ages.

Be amazed. God speaks today!


R.E. Slater
October 21, 2020






Saturday, October 17, 2020

Being An Alumni of a Bible College/Seminary Can Sometimes Be Aggravating



Being An Alumni of a Bible College/Seminary
Can Sometimes Be Aggravating

I learned today that my Baptist College and Seminary has finally decided they maybe should do something about science and the bible. Specifically, how to handle evolution. Added to this question of science they are also deciding to let go of the teaching of "divine accomodation" where God speaks to us as if we are idiots, in ways we might understand Him. Which is all well and good as it seems we still are in need of being spoken to as idiots by God for all the harm and destruction we do among ourselves and planet earth.

However, in the school's infinite wisdom they are now adopting a newly devised doctrinal term named "divine relevance" (curiously mimicking the title of my own blogsite, Relevancy22, or to that of the publication Relevancy Magazine, which came out several years after I began writing of a contemporary postmodern theology). I find it highly humorous and flattering to name a new doctrinal direction based upon their observation of becoming more "relevant" to the world. I sincerely pray my fellowship continues forward in this direction.

Reading on... I came across my school's most recent words and quote: "The more things change the more they stay the same." This kind of sentiment quite defeats how far behind my conservative evangelical college and seminary have become in terms of philosophical, theological, and sociological relevance. I suppose, given enough time, they will work themselves out beyond their present boundary sets to someday admit gays and trans-, that they are just as much people as my fellowship's brothers and sisters are themselves as church people. People whom God loves and the church should learn to love too instead of sniping behind their backs privately or condemning in their bible study groups to one another.

Reading further, I see how their statement about "relevance theory" seeks to help in explaining the relationship between "the explicit words of the Bible [originalism] and [its] broader cognitive environment [cultural relativism], [pertaining to] the cultural and intellectual context of the original bible audience [added brackets are mine own]." But this explanatory statement really doesn't do it for me. It's simply not apologizing for misreading the bible in the first place nor looking for a more sanitized way of re-stating the bible in an updated fashion to keep people in the church listening to their dogmatic beliefs.

In my experience dogmatists assume they know how people were thinking back in "bible days". But if bible schools do not have heavy concentrations in comparative ancient language, literature, and history in other ancient civilizations beyond Israel, Egypt, and a smattering of a few others, I really don't think they can accomplish their stated task of knowing what the cultural milieu was thinking back in their ancient settings. Heck, I can't even remember 30 years ago with any accuracy how I was thinking or feeling about something let alone pass it along verbally for generations with any accuracy as explicitly as I once knew it then. So usually the theologian or preacher draws upon present day examples and think those personal experiences are "biblical" enough when usually they've completely misconstrued the biblical text they were exegeting.

As an example, let me come down on sports DJ's who stand up one minute for one thing they believe in, then hammer it for a year as if life and death depends on it, and the very next year back out of what they had been saying by agreeing with the other side and supporting it. This drives me crazy as I've heard it once too many times. Needless to say, I don't stay around long enough to hear anything more these talking heads have to say about sports. Being harsh and pig-headed about a disagreeable subject such as denying Black lives matter to then turn around and say, "Hey, I was wrong, let's look at this way instead" doesn't win my allegiance back when that same subject was obvious from the start. Black lives mattered then to me when they didn't matter to those spewing out invectives on Colin Kaepernick taking a knee at the advice of a military veteran to show his commitment against systemic racism.

A holistic purist like myself simply hates the disingenuousness of act and speech. I had tried to the best of my ability at the time to study the bible in a way which would be helpful to those unable to do the same. To be thorough and to listen and pray through those studies during very long years of training. I feel the same way towards Christians who did not apply themselves as hard; who twenty years ago condemned their fellow Christians for speaking out against their moralistic judgments, then preached those same judgments for years and years, to finally say, "La-dee-la-dee-la, 'Oh! I've changed my mind... now it's this way and you should believe what I believe now!'" Which, in shorthand, is that they should've studied and listened twenty years ago instead of condemning what they knew not and preaching against. Teaching the bible carries with it a great responsibility.

Thus and thus are the Christian jedi mind tricks I've lived under and have spoken out against more recently and have become greatly tired of its harmful proclamations. Which is why I went public against evangelical teachings several years ago, though at the time I didn't understand my discontent nor wish to become stigmatized as "heretical". To have to re-discover on my own how the God of the bible and the Christian faith could be much larger than He was from inside my "God-ordained and Divinely sanctified" earlier fellowships. It was hell to leave, hell to figure it out, and hell to speak up. But this was the path the Spirit led me on whether I wanted it or not - which frankly, I didn't. But the burden I carried weighed heavily on me and I felt I had no choice but to write of a new, post-evangelical, postmodern orthodoxy. And I'm glad I did.

What this meant to me then, and what it means to me now, says that I'm the more willing to write down my questions and observations publically - to be scrutinized and criticized for these observations so that what I, and other like-minded individuals write, may become healthier, more informed, and more loving as time passes by in our faith, actions, and words. But my patience for "books of the hour" that titillates the itching brains of the church has run thin.

Lastly, whatever my brothers and sisters were hoping to accomplish in D.C. earlier this fall of 2020, I pray I, like they, have committed ourselves to loving others who are different from us in better ways then we have in the past as an unsympathetic church having backed outrageous civil and political policies of harm and suffering. If the D.C. gathering was just for sympathetic fellowship and conservative political partisanship which continues laying down inhumane and unjust laws for the refugee, immigrant, non-white, or genderly different, than no, your idea and my idea of repentance is completely different. I do not stand with the church in these matters nor in matters of the divisive dogmas and dogmatic doctrines they preach and teach. With deepest apologies, rant ended.

R.E. Slater
October 17, 2020





Lessons in Writing: The Palaeolgraphy of the Bible

The teacher you would do anything for as an elementary school kid...

My apologies. I had gotten sidetracked on several projects in preparation of the winter season soon upon us here in West Michigan. I took off about three weeks to work through 400 sq yds of woodchips (about 16 full dump truck loads) which I had dumped by loggers working behind us clearing off a tract of land. Once collected, with the help of my 93 year old neighbor and his tractor, he would spread it out as I raked it in, across an acre+ of land due to water erosion around the ponds, driveway, yards, and fields. After this I went to the local farmer's elevator to buy roadside grass mix for its hardiness to then spread across the woodchips previously laid in and to plant native plantings into the chip distributions to strengthen it against water runoff. 

While doing this I also weeded out all unwanted weeds and non-native growths around the property. Since buying this tract of land a few years ago my goal has been to restore it to its wildness and to create an urbane kind of preservation where man and beast might live together. It was a timeful expenditure which left my older body sore and aching nearly every day. As an ex-amateur athlete, it felt good to work with my hands-and-back and to feel the pain coursing again through my body. Pain is not always evil, many times it can be good or serve as a warning to strengthen a part of it. In addition, I just needed to close up the outdoor areas with the change in colder weather rapidly descending, visit our grown children, manage various committee affairs, and so on. This is my so-called non-eventful life in the Covid-19 era living out in the country near a frenetic metropolis, itself in the throes of chaos, change, and livelihoods.




Today I'd like to introduce the subject of paleology/palaeology, which is the study of antiquities (adj. var., paleologist, palaeologist, n. — paleologic, palaeologic, paleological, palaeological) and its subset paleography, which is the study of ancient manuscripts:


Wikipedia - Palaeography (not to be confused with Palaeogeography) - Paleaeography (UK) or paleography (US; ultimately from Greek: παλαιός, palaiós, "old", and γράφειν, gráphein, "to write") is the study of ancient and historical handwriting (that is to say, of the forms and processes of writing; not the textual content of documents). Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts,[2] and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria.[3]

The discipline is one of the auxiliary sciences of history. It is important for understanding, authenticating, and dating ancient texts. However, it generally cannot be used to pinpoint dates with high precision.

Application

Palaeography can be an essential skill for historians and philologists, as it tackles two main difficulties. First, since the style of a single alphabet in each given language has evolved constantly, it is necessary to know how to decipher its individual characters as they existed in various eras. Second, scribes often used many abbreviations, usually so as to write more quickly and sometimes to save space, so the specialist-palaeographer must know how to interpret them. Knowledge of individual letter-forms, ligatures, punctuation, and abbrevia-tions enables the palaeographer to read and understand the text. The palaeographer must know, first, the language of the text (that is, one must become expert in the relevant earlier forms of these languages); and second, the historical usages of various styles of handwriting, common writing customs, and scribal or notarial abbreviations. Philological knowledge of the language, vocabulary, and grammar generally used at a given time or place can help palaeographers identify ancient or more recent forgeries versus authentic documents.

Knowledge of writing materials is also essential to the study of handwriting and to the identification of the periods in which a document or manuscript may have been produced.[4] An important goal may be to assign the text a date and a place of origin: this is why the palaeographer must take into account the style and formation of the manuscript and the handwriting used in it.[5]

Document dating

Palaeography can be used to provide information about the date at which a document was written. However, "paleography is a last resort for dating" and, "for book hands, a period of 50 years is the least acceptable spread of time"[6][7] with it being suggested that "the 'rule of thumb' should probably be to avoid dating a hand more precisely than a range of at least seventy or eighty years".[7] In a 2005 e-mail addendum to his 1996 "The Paleographical Dating of P-46" paper Bruce W. Griffin stated "Until more rigorous methodologies are developed, it is difficult to construct a 95% confidence interval for NT  [New Testament] manuscripts without allowing a century for an assigned date."[8] William M Schniedewind went even further in the abstract to his 2005 paper "Problems of Paleographic Dating of Inscriptions" and stated that "The so-called science of paleography often relies on circular reasoning because there is insufficient data to draw precise conclusion about dating. Scholars also tend to oversimplify diachronic development, assuming models of simplicity rather than complexity".[9]


The Wikipedia article goes on to give a practical introduction to the science and study of ancient documents by chronological age and geographical region. Reading through it will prepare one for viewing the accompanying technical videos I have placed below regarding the subject of the formal and cursive writing of Greek texts. None of this is difficult to comprehend. It's simply something many have not thought about or studied from a paleographical viewpoint. New words, different subject topics, and newer technical aides. All in all its pretty cool.

Much like the study of our own handwriting from its earliest remonstrances through grade school, college, and into middle age and beyond, so to with ancient documents. My earliest memories were of formally writing in capital letters between a top and bottom ledger line. After the capitals of the alphabet were learned then I graduated to learning how to write in lower-case letters using four lines: the middle top for extending the "b, f, h, k, l" and so on; and the middle bottom for extending the "g, j, p, q" and so on.




    




Then came my first impression of cursive writing which I thought was ugly, quite disorganized, and how I didn't like it. I imagine the ancients went through this same kind of thing when the younger generations came in with their "new-fangled ideas". If the royal formalisms of the day dictated formal capital writings then to transition centuries latter to cursive writing was probably something that just "wasn't done" in royal societies! Thus, the difference between majuscule (caps) and miniscule writing (lower cursive). Human societies have learned to use the tools at hand such as dictating by shorthand - which was all the rage in the first part of the 20th century - then Dictaphones, with steno pools to transcribe the spoken words into typed print, and later document imaging, faxing, etc. The ancients were no less adept even though technology turned at a slower pace back then because of restricted communications between geographic, cultural language, and dominionist boundaries.

At the last, knowing the history and development of an ancient culture’s ideas have assisted future human civilizations to look back on the good, the bad, and the ugly of mankind's achievements. Myself, I've come from a background of fundamental and later, conservative evangelical, biblical training which emphasized the importance of knowing the language, syntax, and grammatical senses of the literary tracts of the bible. It was especially important to not say any more or any less than what the "original" biblical passage did in its day. The trick after that was to determine from comparative literary analysis of other ancient documents extant at the time from other early cultures the passage's sense of meaning and application to its day. Much like our discussions of interpreting the U.S. Constitution in its "originalist and textual" sense so biblical interpretation does so in itself.




Through the past recent years, I've begun to take a different tact on ancient manuscript reading. Using the U.S. Constitution as an example, the document isn't much good if the ideals and the deficiencies of its hoary history cannot be translated into today's contemporary democratic culture of ideals and injustices. If the Constitution is simply a revered dead document with no relevancy to America today it's of no use except to be twisted and politicized out of its original intentions (as we have seen in the recent presidential impeachments by the Republican lawyers and party). If, however, the Constitution is considered as a living document meant to be imminently meaningful to today's masses then we must be able to discuss social inequality and injustice in terms of systemic racism and political partisanship running rampant under the Trump administration.

So too with my feelings towards evangelical biblical interpretation today. I think it important to know the bible's hoary history and linguistics of the day, but it must be imminently translatable to today's weary masses. Weary of war, division, resource theft, personal and communal usuary and abuse, impoverishment, death, and deformation. I decided several years ago when creating Relevancy22 to restore to theology its imminency by concentrating on highlighting our Father-God as a God of supreme love and goodness. To take all I was trained in and to lift it up beyond its current evangelical boundaries to the humanitarian levels of what it means to live in this world today as a Christian of faith sharing a cosmoecological gospel of people and land restoration, redemption, renewal, reformation, and hope.

If we only concentrate on creating formalized doctrinal rules maintaining dogmatic distinctions such as the "literal, historical, grammatical, contextual" interpretive rules I grew up with, then it doesn't allow one to do much thinking outside of the "biblical evangelical box" we've placed ourselves in. For myself, I needed to erase those boundaries, to not think in literal terms but in societal terms of biblical meaning, and to recognize even theology is bounded by its philosophies which governs it century-to-century. I took the pains to remove myself from Calvinism's unhelpfulness and to concentrate on uplifting Weslyean Arminianism to where it is today, rightfully seated in "Open and Relational Theological" discussions platformed on top of Process Philosophy. I use to call this neo-Postmodern Orthodoxy but now its simpler to simply describe it as Process Theology and along with to fit a new process-based Natural Theology around it.

These weren't easy tasks to do when flying solo by myself but over the years but by the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord it became possible to look beyond my historic roots and origins to the promising lands beyond. Remembering, at the same time, to revisit the past, such as today's subject, and to always remember the earlier foundations which might be transcribed into the impressionable and translatable living cultures we live where as contemporary Christians we might speak, share, minister, and evangelize why Jesus is the bedrock of all of life, its philosophies, and the world itself.

Jesus had discovered when growing up how distant his faith had become from the God of His forefather's, who they themselves had once learned - as roving scallywags of God's outreaching love - to be humble become teachable to the Lord's Spirit. We are no different today. Our faiths and our churches have lost sight of the love of God and what His salvific sacrifice meant to the world in terms of hope and promise. We are not to create counter-religious cultures of legislative laws but imbedded cultures of faith ethics, serving, and doing.

That because the future is open and not determined we, with our mighty God, might create a kingdom of heaven on earth without the use of corrupted "civilized" laws. Laws of love unbounded by civil laws "of duty". Spirit laws written on the heart instead of upon the scrolls of religious and civil documents. We follow the Author of our faith and not the idols of religious zealots too corrupted to see the Jesus of their day. We are seekers of God and of humanitarianism. We live by love, eat by love, serve by love. It is that simple. For these things Jesus died and empowered all the world to follow Him that it might be saved to the higher plains of spiritual worldliness in the hallowed halls of the Lord God's creation of solidarity and love.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
October 17, 2020

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Site Resources

University of Oxford, Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents

the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM)

Evangelical Textual Criticism

Files and Information on Early Jewish and Early Christian Copies of Greek Jewish Scriptures



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Sample Illustrations









Juan Hernandez Jr. of Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, presented a paper titled
Codex Sinaiticus: The Earliest Greek Christian Commentary on John’s Apocalypse?




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Helpful Introductory Videos

Clark Bates on the Origin of Greek Minuscule


Clark Bates, Text & Canon Institute Fellow and PhD candidate
at  University of Birmingham, discusses the origin of the
Greek minuscule script, Sept 20, 2020



Joey McCollum on Identifying Textual Clusters
with Non-Negative Matrix Factorization


Joey McCollum of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
presents his research on using non-negative matrix factorization to
identify textual clusters in the Greek New Testament, Sept 24, 2020



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Helpful Textual Resources
Created by Evangelical Textual Criticism Group

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