Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

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

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write off the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Acids of Modernity and Christian Theology, Part 2

Modernity has been an age of revolutions—political, scientific, industrial and the philosophical. Consequently, it has also been an age of revolutions in theology, as Christians attempt to make sense of their faith in light of the cultural upheavals around them, what Walter Lippman once called the "acids of modernity." Modern theology is the result of this struggle to think responsibly about God within the modern cultural ethos.

In this major revision and expansion of the classic 20th Century Theology(1992), co-authored with Stanley J. Grenz, Roger Olson widens the scope of the story to include a fuller account of modernity, more material on the nineteenth century, and an engagement with postmodernity. More importantly, the entire narrative is now recast in terms of how theologians have accommodated or rejected the Enlightenment and scientific revolutions.

With that question in mind, Olson guides us on the epic journey of modern theology, from the liberal "reconstruction" of theology that originated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, to the post-liberal and postmodern "deconstruction" of modern theology that continues today. The Journey of Modern Theology is vintage Olson: eminently readable, panoramic in scope, at once original and balanced, and marked throughout by a passionate concern for the church's faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will no doubt become another standard text in historical theology.

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Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.

Modernity’s Challenges to Traditional Theology

by Scot McKnight
August 29, 2014

Modern theology arises from the challenges, some of them successful of course, to traditional theology. In Roger Olson’s splendid volume, The Journey to Modern Theology, one can find a rapid, clear, and insightful sketch of the challenges to traditional theology (pp. 31-124). I can provide but a sketch of his sketch, but this is just the kind of book intelligent pastors not only put on the shelf but also read slowly in order to digest. Someone once said there is nothing new under the sun. Well this sketches these nothing-new-challenges. Except in their day they may well have been new.

He begins with the famous question Napoleon asked of the astronomer Laplace, asking where God fit in his scheme. Laplace is reported to have said, “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” That is modernity’s challenge to traditional faith. Natural theology, the belief that God was needed to explain empirical and experiential realities, handed its goods over to the scientists who explained them without God.

Here are Olson’s major points, and if you read this slowly (with your own knowledge or memory kicking in), you will get a refresher on how we got from the Enlightenment to modernity.

1. Science revised the heavens when (1) Copernicus proposed a revolution and Galileo made it happen; (2) Newton depicted the world as a great machine; (3) and the scientific revolution set out its challenges to the Christian faith (e.g., William Jennings Bryan, whose ghost is still kicking in Dayton Tenn).

2. Philosophers lay new foundations for knowledge when (1) people begin to think more and more for themselves (a Kantian proposal); (2) Descartes established a Copernican revolution in philosophical method in creating indubitable foundations of knowledge; (3) John Locke argues for a “reasonable Christianity” rooted in the foundation of empiricism or sense-experience (e.g., Thomas Jefferson); (4) these Enlightenment thinkers reconstructed philosophy and religion but others pushed back.

3. Deists create a new natural natural religion. (1) Lord Herbert of Cherbury anticipated deism but it was (2) John Toland who effectively articulated it by making Christianity entirely rationalistic and nothing “revealed” was outside of reason, while (3) Matthew Tindal rejected special revelation. Yes, (4) traditionalists pushed back, including Joseph Butler and William Paley.

4. Critical philosophers limited religion to reason. The general belief in God of deism was invaded by a more severe and radical kind of empirical thinking. We are looking now at (1) David Hume, who used reason against both science and religion in a mode of skepticism, (2) Immanuel Kant, who rescued science from Hume’s skepticism but who reduced religion to practical reason (moral life, ethics) and (3) G.W.F. Hegel, who returned religion to reason with his idealism.

5. Realists, Romanticists, and Existentialists strike back against the critical philosophers. (1) Common sense realism, e.g., Thomas Reid, challenges Hume’s skepticism and called philosophy back to common sense; (2) Samuel Taylor Coleridge emphasized experience in religion, and (3) Kierkegaard [spell it according to Danish pronunciation if you can] challenged religious rationalism.

RNS: The Politics Of Every Major U.S. Religion, In One Chart

Credit: Tobin Grant, Religious News Service.Click here to enlarge with more information.

The Politics Of Every Major U.S. Religion, In One Chart

August 29, 2014

For many political analysts, it’s an established truism that religion — for better or worse — is a force to be reckoned with in American politics. The religious affiliation of candidates (or lack thereof) is at least a minor point of discussion in virtually every election, and pundits regularly pour over data about the “Evangelical vote,” the “Catholic vote,” and even the “nonreligious vote.” Implicit in all of this number-crunching is the idea that when it comes to a American voter’s political opinions, religion matters.

But despite all the attention given to the voting patterns of the faithful, the question remains: does where you go to church (or temple, or mosque, or service, etc.) actually dictate your political views? A new chart, compiled by Tobin Grant of the Religion New Service and using data from Pew Research’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, takes a stab at answering this question by visually illustrating the general political beliefs of religious people on two policy questions. In it, an individual’s income bracket — and political opinions generally [are] reflective of one’s economic situation — looks to coincide with what “kind” of church he/she attends. Except for when it doesn’t.

As Grant explains: “This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.”

In other words, the dimensions of each color-coded circle reflect the relative size of the religious group it represents, and a circle’s position on the graph illustrates how the faithful feel about the government’s involvement in both the economy (bigger government with more services vs. smaller government with less services) and morality (greater protection of morality vs. less protection of morality). While the chart is revealing on its own, the policy questions in play — the economy and morality — are perhaps best analyzed alongside data detailing the average income of religious people from different faith groups. Pew Research has information on just that, which was used by GOOD magazine and Column Five in 2010 to create this beautiful infographic:

Credit: Good and Column Five. Click here to enlarge.

At first glance, one of the most notable correlations between the two charts is how closely racial and economic trends track with the demographics of religious groups — particularly on the question of government services. Since churches often serve as community hubs, pastors and congregants — and, by extension, full denominations — are usually sensitive to issues faced by people in their pews. Historically black Protestant denominations, for instance, are shown as having a high percentage of congregants (roughly 47 percent) who make less than $30,000 a year. This income bracket disproportionally benefits from crucial social programs such as the Affordable Care Act and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a., food stamps), so it makes sense that denominations such as National and unaffiliated Baptists show up as overwhelmingly in favor of a government that offers more services. Similarly, White Mainline Protestants such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have some of the wealthiest congregants in the country (36 percent of White Mainliners make over $75,000 a year) who don’t usually come in contact with many social services. As such, it’s not entirely surprising that they skew towards the “smaller government, less services” section of Grant’s scale. Meanwhile, Catholics, whose numbers include a relatively even distribution of income brackets that closely matches the national average, are situated roughly in the center of the chart.

But while income seems to indicate the probable political positions of some faith groups on the graph, Grant’s compilation also highlights several notable — and politically perplexing — exceptions. Sixty-five percent of Hindus make over $75,000 a year, for instance, but Grant’s chart depicts this wealthy group as firmly endorsing big government. Conversely, 58 percent of evangelicals — who, in Pew’s designation, are overwhelmingly white — make less than $50,000 a year, and many benefit directly from social services: white non-Hispanics make up 42 percent of our nation’s poor and receive 69 percent of government benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yet most of the evangelical denominations, marked in dark blue, are huddled near the upper right side of Grant’s graph, indicating a solid preference for a smaller government with less services.

There are also odd outliers, such as white Pentecostals — who, on average, are poorer and less educated than the average American. They, like historically black churches, show up as decidedly left-of-center on the big government question, breaking the trend set by their fellow white conservative Christians.

Interestingly, the economic divide is also arguably even more consistent on the question of whether or not the federal government should do more to protect morality. One could contend, for example, that Grant’s graph adds weight to studies positing that wealthier people tend to gravitate towards looser moral standards. As mentioned, historically black churches and conservative evangelical denominations both have high percentages of churchgoers who earn less money than the national average, and both groups sit almost entirely on the half of the graph that calls for a greater protection of morality. But groups with high income rates — Buddhists, Unitarians, non-conservative Jews, the religiously unaffiliated (listed here as “nothing in particular”), and Mainline protestants — all lean towards a hypothetical administration that does less to reinforce moral codes. But this “the rich hate morals” argument gets muddled pretty quickly: Mainline protestant denominations are relatively wealthy, but they are also decidedly more liberal than evangelicals on social issues such as homosexuality. As such, it’s possible that these progressively-minded respondents conflate the idea of “protecting morality” with harmful policies that restrict the rights of LGBT people.

The notable outlier on the morality question is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, who live pretty comfortably as a people yet fervently support a more morally-minded administration. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but one could be that the top-down style of the LDS church and its teachings simply have an unusually deep impact the lives of Mormons. Three scholars actually explored this phenomenon a new book about the church, highlighting how Mormons are now one of the most “politically cohesive” groups in the country. This “theological impact” argument could also explain another odd division within the Jewish community that shows up in Grant’s chart: Adherents to Judaism fair relatively well economically across the board, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews seem to prefer a government that does more to protect morality. More liberal Jews, on the other hand, deeply support leadership that does less to protect moral standards.

Grant’s graph also exposes some possible disconnects between the professed beliefs of religious institutions and the opinions of those in their pews. For example, according to the chart, virtually all Mainline protestant denominations are firmly situated in the “smaller government, less services” side of the ideological spectrum. Yet Mainline protestant denominational heads have repeatedly and passionately participated in efforts such as the “Circle of Protection,” an ecumenical effort to safeguard social services that help poorer Americans. The same is true for Catholics: Catholic leaders have lobbied fiercely for both social programs (such as food stamps) and against policies they see as morally abhorrent (such as contraception), yet Pew’s data and Grant’s chart shows the average Catholic as roughly at the center of the idealogical spectrum on these questions.

So does where you go to church dictate your politics? Well, sort of. Regarding the two issues discussed above, the data hints that a voter’s religious affiliation is a strong indicator of their political beliefs, but it’s not totally clear whether religious teachings are the main forceshaping those political beliefs. A longer analysis of history, theology, and actual voting patterns of parishioners would be required to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on here. However, it is clear that your wallet can say a lot about what kind of faith community you might attend. How you respond to the teachings of your church once you get there — and whether you’re self-selecting a religious community based off of your income bracket — is still mostly up to you.

Minister to Monsters: How an American pastor gave comfort to the Nazis

Amazon link

The definition of civility is whether a religion might reach beyond itself to do the right thing. Here is an instance of a Christian minister who reached beyond himself. Against all the revulsion within himself, to do what was right to a band of human-rights abusers and genocidal monsters of mankind.

Of the wickedness, evil, and oppression the Nazis on trial had committed upon small children, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, grandparents, families, and friends, was uncontested. Even for Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran minister, who witnessed their sinful deeds and held them accountable before the Judge of all mankind, was a fact he too could not deny. But of the grace and mercy that is made known in Christ Jesus the Savior and Forgiver of men, this truth was a truth that Henry had also to acknowledge as a minister of the grace of God in the gospel of Christ.

It was also a truth that had to be faced by those who were to to be executed for their heinous crimes against humanity. Of the truth that what they did was evil. And that what Jesus had done in His atonement was for all evils - not just those select sins a humane society might deems more evil (and unforgiveable) than others. As difficult as it was for Henry Gerecke to minister to these cruel men even so he knew the truths of the gospel were explicitly written for "such a one as these."

It is a truth that the Christian faith acknowledges there is evil in this world. Even now, this past month's events have shown to the world the brutal evils of ISIS' inhumanity to unfortunates caught in their web of terror and horror. But cruelty exists on many levels - from the injustice done to children in the home by unloving moms and dads, to the sins that exists on so many levels of our human existence. However unfortunate the act of sin, the truth is that in Christ has God made propitiation for the sin of the world through the atonement of His Son Jesus.

This is a spiritual truth that goes beyond human understanding. That is wiser than we can many times allow. That is the harder to admit when seeing the crime of the criminal. The Christian faith has been tested and in its wings rests the terrible truths that all are sinners. That all are held accountable. That all stand guilty before the God of creation.

But it is also true that in Jesus - and by His atonement - men may find salvation through repentance from sin to the One who has borne all the sin of the world. It is what is described as salvation. That upon the cross of Calvary hung One who died at the hands of unjust men that for those unjust men might God's holy salvation be effected for all time.

Christianity admits to the evilness of mankind but it also admits to the redemption of God that can justly remove evil's sentence of spiritual death. Its faith is most appropriately fulfilled by humanity when observed in this life and lived to its fullness. But it is also a faith that can reach past the fallenness of mankind to disturb its evils and hold all accountable before the holy One of Israel.

Justice is defined in a God who not only judged mankind as fallen but has also saved mankind from its fallenness. Who not only commanded judgment upon sin but did something about the judgment to be rightfully executed. For it was in Himself - the God of creation - that sin might be bourne upon His holy Person in Christ, the Son of God, who was very God of very God, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Who was obedient even unto death that He might bear the sin of mankind and be raised as Redeemer to the penitents of this wicked world. Who, like ourselves, was deeply repulsed by evil's cruelty and wanton affects. But unlike our sinful hearts demanding cruelty in return, had given His very self for its necessary judgment and payment.

This is a God-act that the redeemed heart of the Christian finds so hard to acknowledge or enact. It was an act of confession that Henry Gerecke undertook against the vileness to his own sense of injustice and condemnation. It was what marked his crucified faith against the sensitivities he rightfully held for the land of the living. He wished to condemn and execute upon the witness of the Nazi camps of the Holocaust, but his very hand was stayed by the all merciful hand of His Redeemer God who commanded justice in forgiveness. And forgiveness in judgment. Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 30, 2014

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God at Nuremberg: How an American pastor came to comfort Nazis

August 22, 2014

(RNS) He was a minister to monsters.

That’s what Tim Townsend writes of Henry Gerecke, the unassuming Lutheran pastor from Missouri who shepherded six of the most notorious Nazis to the gallows in “Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis.”

The book is one of a string of new titles that dust off a remote corner of World War II history — the role religion played both in and beyond the conflict.

“That’s why I wanted to write this book,” Townsend said from Washington, D.C. where he is a senior writer and editor for The Pew Research Center.

“A large part was trying to figure out why did the Allies provide spiritual comfort for men who were on trial for what was ultimately called the Holocaust,” he said. “They clearly did not have anyone’s spiritual welfare in mind when they were murdering Jews, so why did we feel it was necessary and humane to provide them with chaplains to see to their spiritual comfort?”

Townsend combed the National Archives for some piece of paper, some order that explained more deeply why the Allies felt those charged with the most horrendous crimes of the century needed — even deserved — a chaplain of their own, beyond the fact that the Geneva Conventions required it.

Beyond the rules of international law, American culture has long accepted the idea chaplains ministering to criminals from the common thief to the death row murderer.

Townsend finds his answer in Gerecke, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor charged with caring for men such as Hermann Goering, Albert Speer and Wilhelm Keitel — men responsible for the mass-extermination of six million European Jews. How, he asks, did he understand his role in leading the condemned Nazis to their deaths?

Tim Townsend’s 400-page “Mission at Nuremberg” details an American Army chaplain’s mission to save the souls of Nazis imprisoned following the end of World War II. RNS photo courtesy Heidi Richter, HarperCollins.

Gerecke volunteered in 1943, when the Army was desperate for chaplains. His unit was sent from England to Germany after the Germans surrendered in 1945.

There, he visited Dachau, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were gassed and cremated in ovens.

As the Nuremberg Trials began, higher-ups heard there was a German-speaking Army chaplain and asked Gerecke to take on the role of ministering to 21 high-ranking Nazis on trial for their lives.

In saying yes, Gerecke played one of the most puzzling and under-examined roles in what Townsend calls “the judicial improvisation we now call the Nuremberg trials.”

“Gerecke was the perfect choice,” Townsend said. “He was able to go in with his mind and his eyes wide open. He had seen Dachau, he knew what these people were responsible for but he was able to move past that in terms of his ability to relate to them.”

Townsend thinks Gerecke looked beyond the terrible men imprisoned in front of him to the children they had once been. One of the most lovely — and chilling — pieces in the book comes when Gerecke accompanies Keitel up the 13 steps of the gallows and prays aloud with him a German prayer both were taught by their mothers.

“He knew that he needed to save the souls of as many of these men as he could before they were executed,” Townsend said. “I think for him he thought it was a great gift he had been given.”

And not one he took lightly. Gerecke did not give communion to any of the Nazis unless he believed they were truly penitent and made a profession of faith in Jesus. Only four of the 11 sentenced to hang met Gerecke’s standard.

One who did not was Goering, who many historians credit with helping to create “the Final Solution,” the genocide of the Jews. When he and Gerecke discussed the divinity of Jesus, Goering disparaged the idea.

“This Jesus you always speak of,” he said to Gerecke, “to me he is just another smart Jew.”

Gerecke held that unless he accepted Jesus as his savior, Goering could not receive communion.

“You are not a Christian,” Gerecke told Goering, “and as a Christian pastor I cannot commune you.”

Within hours, Goering was dead, robbing the hangman by swallowing cyanide he had secreted in his cell.

In the end, Gerecke walked five men to the gallows. After the war, he was criticized by some of his fellow pastors for not granting Goering communion. And he was criticized for ministering to such monsters in the first place.

During the trials, a rumor spread among the Nazis that Gerecke would go home before the end. They wrote a letter to his wife, Alma, asking her to please let him stay. That letter, which Townsend first saw in a St. Louis exhibit, led him to the story.

“Our dear Chaplain Gerecke is necessary not only for us as a minister but also as the thoroughly good man that he is,” the letter reads above the signatures of Goering, Keitel, Speer and others. Then it includes a word Townsend writes is not often associated with Nazis: “We simply have come to love him.”


Friday, August 29, 2014

Huff Post - 7 Habits Of Considerate People

7 Habits Of Considerate People

The Huffington Post | By Alena Hall

Posted: 08/27/2014 8:32 am EDT Updated: 08/27/2014 8:59 am EDT

"Being considerate of others will take you and your children further in life
than any college or professional degree." - Marian Wright Edelman

Edelman, a renowned American activist, not only dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of disadvantaged children, but also served as a strong advocate for acting with consideration toward others. Being considerate, one of the roots of pure kindness, comes in many shapes in sizes. And whether you offer compliments solely for the emotional well-being of others or share what you have without expecting anything in return, it is a sense of civility that drives you to act considerately.

Abdulla M. Abdulhalim, a University of Maryland Ph.D. candidate in pharmaceutical health services research, served as a President's Fellow in 2012. Alongside six others selected for the program, he examined the issue of civility, being considerate, why the two are important and how the university could help address them for society as a whole.

"We like simple definitions," Abdulhalim told The Huffington Post. "Civility really is a more broad term compared to being considerate. Civility is simply just being nice, and it’s not only an attitude of benevolence, thoughtfulness and relating to other individuals. It also entails a real, active interest in the well-being of communities and even concern for the health of the planet. You have to really do an effort in order to be civil. And being considerate is a part of being civil."

Taking a passive approach to behaving with consideration toward others can stem from our subconscious nature rather than intentional actions. However, that doesn't mean we all can't put a little effort toward being more considerate of those and the world around us. Here are seven habits that set considerate -- and civil -- people apart from the rest.

They practice empathy.

"Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."
- Plato

It's one thing to harbor a sense of empathy and another to put it into action. Considerate people are not only capable of figuratively putting themselves in other people’s shoes, they also actively choose to view the world beyond themselves. Theirsense of compassion for others drives them to connect, and they derive personal joy and satisfaction from this selfless exchange.

"I think when someone is not acting this way, just the behavior itself seems really selfish," said Abdulhalim. "No one will ever understand the perspective of another unless they take that person’s hand and consider things how they see it."

They smile often.

Believe it or not, choosing to smile makes a significant impact on how others perceive you and your presence, not to mention your own mood. According to Abdulhalim, the body uses 42 different small muscles to smile, whereas a frown is the easy default. Make the effort to smile for the positive impact it has on others around you.

Abdulhalim suggests creating a reminder for yourself in developing this habit. "In the entrance of my building here, for example, there’s a big banner that says, ‘Civility, power,’ and different phrases that remind me that I need to smile at the face of a stranger, or maybe open the door for someone whom I don’t know, or maybe let them in the elevator first," he said. "I think it is also very helpful to practice with yourself. If someone looks at themselves in the mirror and they frown or they smile, it’s a huge difference. You’ll realize how you look differently. People just don’t know how they look when they frown or when they give a nice smile."

They are intuitive of other people's needs.

As you channel your sense of empathy and consider how others around you are feeling, choose to act on that information. You never know, simply asking someone how they're doing -- regardless of its impact on your life -- can do wonders for their mood and self-esteem.

"When you get into the elevator and you have 10 seconds to make a good impression or just remain quiet and look at your cell phone, I think if you ask, 'How is your day?' just to be nice, that’s being considerate," said Abdulhalim. "Let’s face it: Do you really want to know how that person’s day is going? Is it something that would add to or change your life? Especially if that person is a stranger. From the face of it, you really don’t want to know. You just ask the question because you want to make the person in front of you feel like they’re valued. And that’s the point of being considerate in this situation -- it’s not the content of the answer, it’s the intention."

They mind their manners.

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have
that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."
- etiquette expert Emily Post

Being polite doesn't begin and end with saying please, thank you, and you're welcome. It involves a comprehensive acknowledgement of another person's feelings and behaving accordingly. Follow the golden rule and treat others like you want to be treated -- from being punctual (respecting others' time) to not talking over others (exercising self-control) to actively listening to what others have to say.

"You can’t be considerate if you’re not really listening," said Abdulhalim. "You have to really pay attention and grasp information, and even repeat it within yourself, to then provide feedback based on actual logic. Listen, process, and then act by logic, and pass that logic through empathy rather than blurting it out. Then the answer should come up with logic but in a considerate way."

They put others first... sometimes.

"He who doesn't consider himself is seldom considerate of others."
- David Seabury

Selflessness can be a double-edged sword for considerate people. While prioritizing others' needs over our own makes people happy and creates a sense of fulfillment for us, we often lose our ability to take care of ourselves first when necessary and say "no." However, striking that balance is just as important as being considerate in the first place -- otherwise, we fall into the realm of people-pleasing, which leads to a decrease in our own productivity, according to Abdulhalim.

"It’s hard, he said. "But practicing the ‘no’ in smaller situations will help you say ‘no’ in more crucial situations. Practice is very important. The sweet spot is to know when to be considerate of others and when to be considerate of yourself."

They are patient -- even when they don’t feel like it.

Patience is far from a passive characteristic. It can be difficult to come by -- especially when we feel stressed, overwhelmed, and surrounded everywhere by impatience. However, that's all the more reason to find a sense of motivation and work on it.

"Many people I’ve met who are very nice and considerate would actually say, ‘Why should I be considerate when 95 percent of the time I finish last?’" said Abdulhalim. "And I agree with that logic, but you never lose if you are considerate. It depends really on how you look at it. Let’s say you’re civil to someone and they don’t reciprocate. Why don’t you use this as a motive for you to set a better example of how civility is really important for everyone? That goes back to being a positive influence. If you have this positive influence, then you have the motivation to be better and to influence others in a positive way."

They apologize -- but only when warranted.

Some people say "sorry" incessantly for fear of offending others with any and every move they make. Others forgo apologies altogether, coming across as quite rude and insensitive. Similar to the people-pleasing tendencies of kind and considerate people, apologies must find a sense of equilibrium.

"Sorry is a big word," said Abdulhalim. "It means that you’re regretting an action you did. Being considerate means apologizing when you made a mistake and apologizing when you think you’ve made a mistake. But when you’re a people pleaser or overly apologetic, the only person you’re harming is yourself. People pleasers are usually less productive because they may not be available but make time anyway to help another person. Then that person knows they’re always available for them and they keep coming to you."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peter Enns - Interview: "The Bible Tells Me So"

Peter's latest interview can be heard on the liturgists.com site. Here's what Peter has to say about his interview and his latest book along with a little tongue-in-cheek humor found on Buzzfeed....

R.E. Slater
August 26, 2014


my Liturgists Podcast interview on The Bible Tells Me So

by Peter Enns
August 26, 2014

Last week I was interviewed over at The Liturgists podcast by “Science Mike” McHargue, Michael Gungor, and Lissa Paino, and here it is. We talked about the Bible and hit a lot of themes I cover in The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (available for pre-order now and officially out September 9).

And speaking of which, if you think you may be one of those people who takes the Bible too literally, a Buzzfeed list has 10 signs to help you find out for sure.


The Liturgists
Episode 3 - The Bible

War. Genocide. Incest. Murder. No, we're not talking about Game of Thrones–this episode is about the Bible. Some people view it as the infallible Word of God, others as the Word of God through words of men, and some people think the Bible is much ado about nothing. Guest Peter Enns joinsLissa Paino, Science Mike and Michael Gungor to talk about what the Bible means to Christians today.

Peter's latest book The Bible Tells Me So is available for preorder here.

The Liturgists
The Bible

Posted on August 26, 2014 by Mike McHargue and filed under podcast and tagged bible peter enns.


10 Signs You Take The Bible Too Literally

Maybe it’s time to read between the lines.posted on Aug. 22, 2014, at 11:16 p.m.

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1. You laugh when you read about dinosaur fossils, because you know they are really God’s little inside joke to confuse atheists.

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind.” … And it was so… . God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them… . God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Not bad for a day’s work. Now why isn’t that in the new common-core curriculum?

2. When confronted with a snake, your first impulse is to try to reason with it.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” (Genesis 3:1, NRSV)

The universal lesson from all stories like this one, including the Harry Potter series, is that if a snake starts to speak to you, run—do not reason with it.

3. You buy ark-simulation software so you can know exactly where Noah could have kept all those animals.

“Go into the ark… . Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 7:1-3, ESV)

Simulation software for factoring in how to take care of the animals’ “business” sold separately.

4. When your teenager acts out and gives you lip, you break out in a cold sweat, fearing that you may have to have him stoned.

“If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place… . Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-22, NRSV)

Sort of makes spanking look tame, doesn’t it?

5. You have the bumper sticker “The only good Canaanite is a dead Canaanite.”

“So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” (Joshua 10:40-41, NRSV)

And no, a “Canaanite” isn’t your grouchy neighbor or nasty boss, so don’t get any ideas.

6. When you see a clam bake next door, you hide in your basement fearing God’s wrath might spill over into your yard.

“But anything in the seas or the streams that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and among all the other living creatures that are in the waters—they are detestable to you and detestable they shall remain.” (Leviticus 11:10-11, NRSV)

On the bright side, you won’t have to return your neighbor’s weed whacker when he disappears.

7. You check “prostitute” and “adulterer” on Match.com as qualities for a mate.

“Jehovah said unto Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom.” (Hosea 1:3, ASV)

Is this what people mean by “a biblical view of marriage”?

8. You take out an “eye and limb” insurance policy, because, well, you never know.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:8-9, NRSV)

Don’t laugh. People have actually done this.

9. You seriously consider castration of your opponent as a legitimate option for settling theological disagreements.

“I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12, NRSV)

Whoever said church meetings need to be boring?

10. You download the End Times Calculator app that surveys names of every global leader and celebrity to see how their name might add up to 666 and gives odds on who is most likely to be the Antichrist.

“This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” (Revelation 13:18, NIV)

Just because everyone so far has been wrong a hundred percent of the time does not mean we should stop trying to figure this out, right?

Do you take the Bible too literally?

If so, you might want to update your views and ask, Is this really how God wants us to read his Word?

To explore further, read Peter Enns’s The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It from HarperOne. Available wherever books and e-books are sold.

The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 1

Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Ralph Stearley

August 26, 2014

For the second installment in our series interacting with Stephen Meyer’s significant book Darwin’s Doubt, we draw your attention to the work of Ralph Stearley. Stearley is a professor of geology and paleontology at Calvin College, having received a PhD in those disciplines from the University of Michigan in 1990. His research includes studies of rock-boring marine invertebrates in the intertidal zone of the Gulf of California, and studies of Neogene fossil fishes from western North America.

Last year Stearley published a review essay of three recent books that deal with the Cambrian explosion. Besides Darwin’s Doubt, his treatment includes The Rise of Animals: Evolution and Diversification of the Kingdom Animalia (Johns Hopkins UP, 2007) by Mikail Fedonkin, James Gehling, Kathleen Grey, Guy Narbonne, and Patricia Vickers-Rich; and The Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity (Roberts and Company, 2013) by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine. In addition to reviewing these books, Stearley provides an intriguing history of the field in recent decades as views on the Cambrian explosion have developed in response to other fossil discoveries. In the process, the reader is equipped with a treasure trove of data about the Cambrian and Ediacaran periods, the time scales involved, and the species that were precursors to the explosion. This discussion provides the context for Stearley’s engagement with Darwin’s Doubt.


Stearley recognizes that Meyer has made a legitimate challenge to some interpretations of the Cambrian data, but ultimately he is not persuaded. In one section of the book, Meyer highlights the work of researchers who have discovered more and more complexity in the regulation of the developmental process. This creates problems for the standard neo-Darwinian explanations, but in Stearley’s estimation, Meyer makes more of this than it warrants:

“But, while it is true that Goodwin and others believe that their discoveries pose a major challenge to neo-Darwinian orthodoxy, this does not cause them to abandon their belief that the history of life can be explained as the outcome of biological processes! Indeed, many evolutionary biologists and paleontologists are looking to build the notions provided by morphogenetic fields and developmental constraints into a larger synthesis. Meanwhile, I suspect that the average (non-biologist) reader will come away from Chapter 14 with a mistaken impression that this previously innocuous or neglected topic has just-now been revealed to completely overturn our understanding of the history of life.” (p. 255)

We encourage you to read Stearley’s full review in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 65, Number 4, December 2013. The issue is available online here, and a pdf of Stearley’s review can be accessed here.


Ralph Stearley is a paleontologist with broad interests in the history of life and in biogeography. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in geological sciences, with an emphasis on vertebrate paleontology. He is professor of geology at Calvin College, where he has taught since 1992. His published research has included work on marine invertebrate ecology and paleoecology in the northern Gulf of California; fluvial taphonomy; the systematics and evolution of salmonid fishes; Pleistocene mammalian biogeography; and zooarchaeology of fish remains from sites in Michigan and New Mexico. He was privileged to be able to co-author, with former Calvin College colleague Davis Young, The Bible, Rocks and Time, published by InterVarsity Press in 2008.

for additional reference please read the following - 

for additional articles on evolution go to the
science section of the sidebars along the
right hand side of this blog site.

*Strictly speaking, as a Christian evolutionist, we use here as our template for scientific discussion the scientific theory of evolution without modification - but with modification as respecting the theological precepts as developed here on this blog site these past several years.

For instance, we deem God's act of creation willful and willfully spoken into a creation knit together by random disorder and chaotic quantum structure, underneath which permeates the song of the Creator (think string theory here). A divine music that guides without commanding specifics of an evolutionary creation that may form its own future but with an efficiency to always re-assemble itself so that life may adapt and survive regardless of life-extinction events. That through this complex process God rules but with an open handedness towards redemption which is profoundly distinct from scientific determinism (Stephen Hawking) or the (strong) Calvinistic models stating God's exacting "control" of creation and life altogether.... A theological distinction which Robert Stearley may be oriented towards (though I do not know) because of affiliations within his present Calvinistic setting (Calvin College, GRR) but which we would here advise away from any doctrine of "meticulous sovereignty". Even that which is oriented toward scientific evolution or evolutionary creationism. That divine "control" is a fiction best re-described theologically as a "divine weakness" or a "process-based partnership with nature" rather than one of iron-handed rule over nature, time, and very life forces itself. Statedly, even within its chaotic quantum structures. Meaning that, "Freedom isn't free unless it is truly free." Any movement away from this sovereign position of divine fiat subtends freedom towards determinism and is thus wrongly expressed by church doctrine teaching otherwise. More has been said of this subject but it behooves the reader to search through the many articles offered here rather than to attempt a combine of summary statements all at once.

Hence, we approach evolution from a theistic viewpoint but allow for evolution itself to inform our theologyWhat this means is multifaceted and cannot be condensed here in a few words (as attempted by the example immediately above). Simply, we do try to err here to the side of evolution in all respects but within those respects to pay attention to theology in its details and what this means to the church's present (but dated) modernistic orthodox doctrines as we posit a postmodern, post-evangelic church orthodoxy that is contemporary, relevant, and scientifically informed.

R.E. Slater
August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BAS - Josephus on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes of Qumran

Steve Mason argues that the texts of Josephus cannot be relied upon to support
the conclusion that the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and
the  inhabitants of Qumran.

Josephus on the Essenes

Biblical Archaeology Society Staff
August 1, 2014

Steve Mason argues that the texts of Josephus cannot be relied upon to support the conclusion that the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the inhabitants of Qumran. Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian, politician and soldier whose literary works provide crucial documentation of Roman Palestine in the first century A.D. At age 29, he was appointed general of the Jewish forces in Galilee. He was eventually captured by Vespasian, who was at that time the supreme commander of the Roman army. Josephus capitulated and sought to ingratiate himself with the Roman general, eventually becoming part of the imperial court in Rome. He was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D. He spent the rest of his life in Rome pursuing his literary career, the surviving results of which comprise a vital source of historical information.

Josephus’s commentaries on the laws and characteristics of the Essene community have been invaluable to scholars studying ancient Jewish laws and customs. They have also been the subject of much debate, particularly as they pertain to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Researchers have relied heavily on Josephus’s works as they try to determine who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, who inhabited Qumran, and whether or not the authors of the scrolls and the community at Qumran were in fact one and the same.

Professor Steve Mason asserts in his article “Did the Essenes Write the Dead Sea Scrolls? Don’t Rely on Josephus” (BAR, November/December 2008) that the texts of Josephus cannot be relied upon to support the conclusion that the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the inhabitants of Qumran. So what does Josephus have to say about the Essene community? Following is a translated excerpt from The Jewish War, in which Josephus provides his main description of this fascinating group.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest manuscript find of all time. Visit the BAS Dead Sea Scrolls Page for dozens of articles on the scrolls’ significance, discovery and scholarship.

This deliberately literal translation of the Greek is from Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: translation and commentary, vol. 1b: Judean War (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

The Jewish War, Book II, Chapter 8


119 For three forms of philosophy are pursued among the Judeans: the members of one are Pharisees, of another Sadducees, and the third [school], who certainly are reputed to cultivate seriousness, are called Essenes; although Judeans by ancestry, they are even more mutually affectionate than the others. 120 Whereas these men shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue. And although there is among them a disdain for marriage, adopting the children of outsiders while they are still malleable enough for the lessons they regard them as family and instill in them their principles of character: 121 without doing away with marriage or the succession resulting from it, they nevertheless protect themselves from the wanton ways of women, having been persuaded that none of them preserves her faithfulness to one man.


122 Since [they are] despisers of wealth—their communal stock is astonishing—, one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions. For by a law, those coming into the school must yield up their funds to the order, with the result that in all [their ranks] neither the humiliation of poverty nor the superiority of wealth is detectable, but the assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all. 123 They consider olive oil a stain, and should anyone be accidentally smeared with it he scrubs his body, for they make it a point of honor to remain hard and dry, and to wear white always. Hand-elected are the curators of the communal affairs, and indivisible are they, each and every one, [in pursuing] their functions to the advantage of all.


124 No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. And for those school-members who arrive from elsewhere, all that the community has is laid out for them in the same way as if they were their own things, and they go in and stay with those they have never even seen before as if they were the most intimate friends. 125 For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all—though armed on account of the bandits. In each city a steward of the order appointed specially for the visitors is designated quartermaster for clothing and the other amenities. 126 Dress and also deportment of body: like children being educated with fear. They replace neither clothes nor footwear until the old set is ripped all over or worn through with age. 127 Among themselves, they neither shop for nor sell anything; but each one, after giving the things that he has to the one in need, takes in exchange anything useful that the other has. And even without this reciprocal giving, the transfer to them [of goods] from whomever they wish is unimpeded.


128 Toward the Deity, at least: pious observances uniquely [expressed]. Before the sun rises, they utter nothing of the mundane things, but only certain ancestral prayers to him, as if begging him to come up. 129 After these things, they are dismissed by the curators to the various crafts that they have each come to know, and after they have worked strenuously until the fifth hour they are again assembled in one area, where they belt on linen covers and wash their bodies in frigid water. After this purification they gather in a private hall, into which none of those who hold different views may enter: now pure themselves, they approach the dining room as if it were some [kind of] sanctuary.130 After they have seated themselves in silence, the baker serves the loaves in order, whereas the cook serves each person one dish of one food. 131 The priest offers a prayer before the food, and it is forbidden to taste anything before the prayer; when he has had his breakfast he offers another concluding prayer. While starting and also while finishing, then, they honor God as the sponsor of life. At that, laying aside their clothes as if they were holy, they apply themselves to their labors again until evening. 132 They dine in a similar way: when they have returned, they sit down with the vistors, if any happen to be present with them, and neither yelling nor disorder pollutes the house at any time, but they yield conversation to one another in order. 133 And to those from outside, the silence of those inside appears as a kind of shiver-inducing mystery. The reason for this is their continuous sobriety and the rationing of food and drink among them—to the point of fullness.


134 As for other areas: although there is nothing that they do without the curators’ having ordered it, these two things are matters of personal prerogative among them: [rendering] assistance and mercy. For helping those who are worthy, whenever they might need it, and also extending food to those who are in want are indeed left up to the individual; but in the case of the relatives, such distribution is not allowed to be done without [permission from] the managers. 135 Of anger, just controllers; as for temper, able to contain it; of fidelity, masters; of peace, servants. And whereas everything spoken by them is more forceful than an oath, swearing itself they avoid, considering it worse than the false oath; for they declare to be already degraded one who is unworthy of belief without God. 136 They are extraordinarily keen about the compositions of the ancients, selecting especially those [oriented] toward the benefit of soul and body. On the basis of these and for the treatment of diseases, roots, apotropaic materials, and the special properties of stones are investigated.

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism when you download our free Dead Sea Scrolls eBook.


137 To those who are eager for their school, the entry-way is not a direct one, but they prescribe a regimen for the person who remains outside for a year, giving him a little hatchet as well as the aforementioned waist-covering and white clothing. 138 Whenever he should give proof of his self-control during this period, he approaches nearer to the regimen and indeed shares in the purer waters for purification, though he is not yet received into the functions of communal life. For after this demonstration of endurance, the character is tested for two further years, and after he has thus been shown worthy he is reckoned into the group. 139 Before he may touch the communal food, however, he swears dreadful oaths to them: first, that he will observe piety toward the deity; then, that he will maintain just actions toward humanity; that he will harm no one, whether by his own deliberation or under order; that he will hate the unjust and contend together with the just; 140that he will always maintain faithfulness to all, especially to those in control, for without God it does not fall to anyone to hold office, and that, should he hold office, he will never abuse his authority—outshining his subordinates, whether by dress or by some form of extravagant appearance; 141always to love the truth and expose the liars; that he will keep his hands pure from theft and his soul from unholy gain; that he will neither conceal anything from the school-members nor disclose anything of theirs to others, even if one should apply force to the point of death. 142 In addition to these, he swears that he will impart the precepts to no one otherwise than as he received them, that he will keep away from banditry, and that he will preserve intact their school’s books and the names of the angels. With such oaths as these they completely secure those who join them.


143 Those they have convicted of sufficiently serious errors they expel from the order. And the one who has been reckoned out often perishes by a most pitiable fate. For, constrained by the oaths and customs, he is unable to partake of food from others. Eating grass and in hunger, his body wastes away and perishes. 144 That is why they have actually shown mercy and taken back many in their final gasps, regarding as sufficient for their errors this ordeal to the point of death.


145 Now with respect to trials, [they are] just and extremely precise: they render judgment after having assembled no fewer than a hundred, and something that has been determined by them is non-negotiable. There is a great reverence among them for—next to God—the name of the lawgiver, and if anyone insults him he is punished by death. 146 They make it point of honor to submit to the elders and to a majority. So if ten were seated together, one person would not speak if the nine were unwilling. 147 They guard against spitting into [their] middles or to the right side and against applying themselves to labors on the seventh days, even more than all other Judeans: for not only do they prepare their own food one day before, so that they might not kindle a fire on that day, but they do not even dare to transport a container—or go to relieve themselves. 148 On the other days they dig a hole of a foot’s depth with a trowel—this is what that small hatchet given by them to the neophytes is for—and wrapping their cloak around them completely, so as not to outrage the rays of God, they relieve themselves into it [the hole]. 149 After that, they haul back the excavated earth into the hole. (When they do this, they pick out for themselves the more deserted spots.) Even though the secretion of excrement is certainly a natural function, it is customary to wash themselves off after it as if they have become polluted.


150 They are divided into four classes, according to their duration in the training, and the later-joiners are so inferior to the earlier-joiners that if they should touch them, the latter wash themselves off as if they have mingled with a foreigner. 151 [They are] long-lived, most of them passing 100 years—as a result, it seems to me at least, of the simplicity of their regimen and their orderliness. Despisers of terrors, triumphing over agonies by their wills, considering death—if it arrives with glory—better than deathlessness. 152 The war against the Romans proved their souls in every way: during it, while being twisted and also bent, burned and also broken, and passing through all the torture-chamber instruments, with the aim that they might insult the lawgiver or eat something not customary, they did not put up with suffering either one: not once gratifying those who were tormenting [them], or crying. 153 But smiling in their agonies and making fun of those who were inflicting the tortures, they would cheerfully dismiss their souls, [knowing] that they would get them back again.


154 For the view has become tenaciously held among them that whereas our bodies are perishable and their matter impermanent, our souls endure forever, deathless: they get entangled, having emanated from the most refined ether, as if drawn down by a certain charm into the prisons that are bodies. 155 But when they are released from the restraints of the flesh, as if freed from a long period of slavery, then they rejoice and are carried upwards in suspension. For the good, on the one hand, sharing the view of the sons of Greece they portray the lifestyle reserved beyond Oceanus and a place burdened by neither rain nor snow nor heat, but which a continually blowing mild west wind from Oceanus refreshes. For the base, on the other hand, they separate off a murky, stormy recess filled with unending retributions. 156 It was according to the same notion that the Greeks appear to me to have laid on the Islands of the Blessed for their most courageous men, whom they call heroes and demi-gods, and for the souls of the worthless the region of the impious in Hades, in which connection they tell tales about the punishments of certain men—Sisyphuses and Tantaluses, Ixions and Tityuses—establishing in the first place the [notion of] eternal souls and, on that basis, persuasion toward virtue and dissuasion from vice. 157 For the good become even better in the hope of a reward also after death, whereas the impulses of the bad are impeded by anxiety, as they expect that even if they escape detection while living, after their demise they will be subject to deathless retribution. 158 These matters, then, the Essenes theologize with respect to the soul, laying down an irresistible bait for those who have once tasted of their wisdom.


159 There are also among them those who profess to foretell what is to come, being thoroughly trained in holy books, various purifications, and concise sayings of prophets. Rarely if ever do they fail in their predictions.


160 There is also a different order of Essenes. Though agreeing with the others about regimen and customs and legal matters, it has separated in its opinion about marriage. For they hold that those who do not marry cut off the greatest part of life, the succession, and more: if all were to think the same way, the line would very quickly die out. 161 To be sure, testing the brides in a three-year interval, once they have been purified three times as a test of their being able to bear children, they take them in this manner; but they do not continue having intercourse with those who are pregnant, demonstrating that the need for marrying is not because of pleasure, but for children. Baths [are taken] by the women wrapping clothes around themselves, just as by the men in a waist-covering. Such are the customs of this order.

For more, read Steve Mason, “Did the Essenes Write the Dead Sea Scrolls?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2008.

*This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in July 2012. It has been updated.—Ed.