Month: July 2010

style and a test

A fellow blogger and far better scholar pointed out this website, which compares your writing style to that of other known/famous writers.  (The instructions, if you want to give it a whirl, are self-explanatory).  Out of morbid curiosity, and because my style of writing has been the topic of discussion between myself and a few others, I decided to see what would happen.  Hence, I indulged.  I got this outcome from sampling the last two paragraphs from this post:

In many ways I was quite pleased with the result.  Thankfully, the sampling was from something rather basic and slightly sarcastic.  I then thought, ‘Why not try something more serious?’  With my newfound toy, I supplied some more text and got this outcome, which came from the last two paragraphs of this post:

I admit that I was a bit disturbed by that one given the genre and content of Lovecraft’s work.  Also, I didn’t imagine that the form of my critique of FC Baur would be on par with the style of Lovecraft.  In an attempt to wipe the slate clean, as it were, I gave it another go; this time using a sampling from the last three paragraphs of this post and received this outcome:

Oh dear; this can’t be good.  It would seem that when I critique the works of others, my writing takes on a dark and ghastly demeanour–something I would have never done intentionally.  (Maybe I should seek counselling).  However, in some ways Poe is a fascinating writer, so I wasn’t put off too much by the comparison; but I did think that such associations had to stop, so I gave it yet another try.  This time the sample came from the first three paragraphs of this post and yielded this result:

I almost didn’t want to admit this one, but results are results.  I guess the only redeeming quality with this is that the original post (give above) was an attempt to expose a devious plot by someone trying to peddle things as their own truth, when in reality they’re not.  In an attempt to get this result out of my mind, and still wanting to know more about my style of writing, I gave it another shot.  On this next attempt, I used a couple of paragraphs from a sermon I preached earlier this year, and was given this:

In many ways, I could not have been more excited with that result; Adams is one of my favourite authors.  He is an amazing storyteller and he knows precisely what to do and when to do in what he writes.  I just wish that I consciously knew those things; the connection here had to be a fluke. However, I then wondered if other things I’ve written, that are more narrative-like, would give the same result.  If only I were so lucky.  I got this result from using a few paragraphs from a story I started writing a few years ago:

Oh, this can’t be good.  What really disturbed me was that the story in question is a happy story; nothing evil and sinister.   (Yeah, yeah; I know the website determines the connections based on the Flesch and Flesch-Kinkaid scales and not actual content; blah, blah, blah).  However, my only solace with this comparison was the fact that King’s writing style sells books.  Well, to move away from the basic and to see if my style was really worth anything, I gave it one final go.  This time, I used the final two paragraphs from a recent submission to my project, and I received this outcome:

Not really sure how to take that one, especially since it was a critique of a portion of my PhD thesis.  Admittedly, the paragraphs used were summary, so the style would not be as technical as the rest of the paper.  (I tried inserting other bits from the paper, where things are more technical, but the analyser had difficulty with the Greek).  I’ll have to think about how this connection might be a good thing and/or how I might learn from it.

All of that aside, this entire process raised a concern for me, especially as I am thinking through a continuous scholarly debate in my field.  (I know I’m going to rip open a can of worms with a chainsaw on this, but here it goes).  One of the key debates in Pauline studies involves the question of authorship of the letters bearing Paul’s name–i.e. Romans thru Philemon.  When it comes to defending the position that Paul did not write certain letters–i.e. Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians and the Pastorals–a central point in this defence is the issue of stylistic differences.

In other words, scholars arguing against Pauline authorship for the letters just mentioned will say (and I’m oversimplifying things just a bit): ‘the style of writing between these letters and the “known Pauline letters” is just too different to say that they come from the same hand.  The grammar, the syntax, the word choice, the length of sentences, the vocabulary; all of it, in the “disputed Paulines” just doesn’t fit with what we find in the “authentic Paulines”.’  Oh, you mean the kinds of things that the Flesch and Flesch-Kinkaid scales would measure?  You mean the sorts of measurements used that told me seven different pieces of my own writing reflect the styles of seven different authors?


Just for fun: I ran a few random passages from each of Paul’s letters through the website just to see what would happen.  Here’s what I found:

Romans 2.1-11:  H.G. Wells
1 Corinthains 2.6-16:  H.P. Lovecraft
2 Corinthians 5.11-21:  James Joyce
Galatians 4.21-31:  Arthur Conan Doyle
Ephesians 1.15-23:  Daniel Defoe
Philippians 3.2-11:  James Joyce
Colossians 1.3-14:  James Joyce
1 Thessalonians 2.1-16:  James Fenimore Cooper
2 Thessalonians 2.1-12:  H.P. Lovecraft
1 Timothy 3.9-16:  Vladimir Nabokov
2 Timothy 3.1-9:  James Joyce
Titus 2.1-14:  William Shakespeare
Philemon 8-16:  Mary Shelley


random find while rooting around the library

[T]heology as a whole is more than systematic theology or dogmatics.  There is biblical theology, too, historical theology, practical theology, and other theologies as well.  Systematic theology is only one contribution to a greater shared theological whole.  This means that it cannot be a closed system, but must indicate the points of contact where there can be dialogue with the other theological systems.  The age-old dispute about ‘the crown of theology’ is a vain one.


It is impossible to say anything that is theologically valid for everyone at all times and in all places.  A perennial theology is out of the writer’s power.  So he [or she] must critically resolve the naive, absolute self-centeredness of his [or her] thinking.

-J. Moltmann,
Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology, xvi, xvii

I would suggest that what Moltmann says about theological systems applies just as well to the various interpretative disciplines.  No one discipline is able to answer all of the questions that arise from the text, and thus no one discipline has the final say–or, provides the best (read: only) way for understanding the text.  To say otherwise not only supplants beneficial dialogue, it is also nothing more than academic snobbery. 

restful Fridays with Ridderbos

This is going to be a rather longish quote, but it is one that has been resonating with me for some time now.  I originally encountered when I was reading Ridderbos’ book in a more sporadic fashion, trying to get my head around how to wrestle with Paul’s understanding of the cross of Christ.  I cam across is it again today when I was being more focused and purposeful in my reading.  I hope you enjoy:

For the proper understanding of the great theme of justification by faith it is necessary above all to obtain an insight into the manner in which it is connected with the basic eschatological-christological structure of Paul’s preaching . . . and, as it were, how it issues forth organically from that preaching.  Because this background has frequently been lost sight of, for a long time this theme was ascribed too predominating a significance in the whole of Paul’s proclamation of salvation and everything else was subordinated to it; at a later period, others have, leading to a still greater dislocation of the organic relationships in Paul’s doctrine, thrust this theme entirely into the background, in the interest of what was then regarded as the mystical-ethical main line.  The inadequacy of the one as well as the other of these two ways of judging Paul’s preaching can be recognized easily when we endeavor to understand Paul’s doctrine of justification primarily in the light of the general redemptive-historical or eschatological character of his preaching.

-Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 161-62.

hang on a minute

A while back (as referenced here), I began reading the Bible from cover to cover . . . in the longer version . . . because I’m a dofus for not having read the whole thing earlier.  (I’m currently in the book of Numbers, which, in many ways, is more interesting than I imagined).  Each morning, before I get on with my studies, I’ll read through at least three chapters and then meditate on what I’ve seen in the text as well as new things I’ve not encountered before–hence: they’re ‘new’.

The other morning–Tuesday, I think–was a time where I came across something I had not seen before, and I would not have noticed it had I stuck with my original plan.  The original plan was to read through the longer version of the Bible as found in the New Jerusalem Bible.   Here is the verse that I should have read, had I stuck with the NJB:

When camp is broken, Aaron and his sons must come and take down the screening curtain, and cover the ark of the Testimony with it.  Over this, they will put a covering of fine leather, over which they will spread a cloth entirely of violet-purple.  They will then fix the poles to the ark.

–Numbers 4.5-6

Had I read that, I would have just carried on as normal and not bothered to write this post.  (My apologies for not sticking with the original plan).  However, that other morning (still thinking it was Tuesday), without really thinking about it, I grabbed my trusty, duct-taped NASB instead of the NJB and just started reading.  And when I came to the above verse, I found the NASB had this to say:

When the camp sets out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and they shall take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it; and they shall lay a covering of porpoise skin on it, and shall spread over it a cloth of pure blue, and shall insert its poles.

–emphasis added

Really?  Porpoise skin?  I’ll grant that porpoise skin would certainly represent a ‘fine’ material and may even be classified as a ‘fine leather’ (as suggested by the NJB).  What struck me at first was the fact that the Hebrews in the wilderness would have such a material.  (Sure, they could have easily obtained it from an Egyptian trader/merchant prior to departure; but did they have the means to do so is another question).  However, I was struck by something else when I did a further comparison on the wording.  I first grabbed the nearest translation to my desk, which happened to be the Revised English Bible.  Anxiously I flipped to the verse and found this:

over this they are to put a covering of dugong-hide (4.6).

If you have no idea what a ‘dugong’ is, it’s basically a manatee with a forked tail.  So, not really a porpoise but a sea animal nonetheless, and one whose skin is fairly tough and most likely highly prized.  Not being content with this, however, I searched a number of other versions.  For the sake of space and boredom on your part, here are the versions consulted with their respective findings:

NIV: ‘cover this with the hides of sea-cows’ (footnote: ‘dugong’; cf. NIrV; NIVUK)
TNIV: ‘with a durable leather’ (footnote: ‘possibly the hides of dugongs’)
CEV: ‘with a piece of fine leather’ (cf. NJB; NCV; GW)
ASV: ‘a covering of sealskin’
HCSB: ‘a covering made of manatee skin’

I like how the TNIV departs from the NIV by using a vague description in the text (i.e. ‘durable leather’) and then continues the vagueness in the footnote by making the animal in question only a possibility.  The CEV is to be left alone simply because its description is broad enough to include sea animals whose skins were highly prized.  ASV: seriously . . . sealskins??  A: that’s just mean.  B: seals are not even in the same Family and/or genus as ‘dugongs’.  HCSB: I guess you could be excused for seeing ‘manatees’ instead of ‘dugongs’; they are, after all, similar looking although they are different in family and genus, but that’s another matter.

The one constant in these other translations is that the animal in question is smooth-skinned (more or less) and belongs in the water.  So far, in that regard, nothing in these other translations is too distinct from what I found in the NASB.  Oh, how I wish things were that easy; then you’re agony of reading this post would have come to a speedier end; but alas, things are not that easy.  I knew there were other translations to consult before deciding on the matter.  The quick study of these other translations threw a spanner in the works.  Here are the remaining versions consulted with their respective findings, which really boils down to two options:

NLT: ‘with fine goatskin leather’ (cf. ESV: ‘a covering of goatskin’)
KJV: ‘the covering of badger’s skins’ (NKJV; 21KJV; YLT; DARBY; Luther)

Let’s just deal with the obvious: neither goats nor badgers spend much time in the water–certainly not to the extent that manatees or dugongs or seals do or for the same reasons (i.e. they kind of have to).  Maybe if a badger was hanging out in the water, it might be mistaken for a seal from a distance; but the mistake would certainly be rectified the moment a person tried to catch what they thought was a seal.  The same could not be said about a goat in the water.  There’s no confusion there; no one is going to mistake a goat for a manatee or dugong or even a seal.  I’m thinking the horns might be an inital clue.

Moreover, the difference between a goat and a badger is pretty clear–not only in species, but also in the fact that one will eat your garbage and the other will eat you.  Of the two choices in this regard, ‘goatskins’ would be the more likely translation seeing that goats were more commonly found in the Middle East (namely Egypt, Palestine, Syria, etc) whereas badgers were not really indigenous to the Middle East.   They’re mostly found in Wisconsin.

Once again, though, I was met by the fact that none of these other translations offered ‘porpoise’ as a likely reading of the text.  I began to wonder if the NASB was on it’s own in this regard, or if they simply inserted the word to see if anyone was really paying attention.  To deal with this curiosity, I checked with a few other translations and found this:

AMP: ‘the covering of dolphin or porpoise skin’
MSG: ‘cover this with a dolphin skin’ (nb: this MSG is not to be confused with this one, or this one)

I applaud the MSG for making a singular decision on its choice of word, although it does differ slightly from the NASB.  On the other hand, I have to slap the AMP on the wrist for not only neglecting to make a command decision but also for offering the two terms as though they were the referring to the same animal.  Such a faux pas compells me to quote this:

Whew… now I feel better. ‘Course, that might not do any good you see nobody’s missing a porpoise. It’s a dolphin that’s been taken. The common harbor porpoise has an abrupt snout, pointed teeth and a triangular thoracic fin. While the bottlenose dolphin, or Tursiops truncates, has an elongated beak, round cone shaped teeth and a serrated dorsal appendage. But I’m sure you already knew that.

-Ace Ventura, Pet Detective

All of this leads us to rather significant problem.  The translations consulted supply rather diverse options for how this passage can be read.  We have the options of: a porpoise, a dolphin, a dugong, a manatee, a seal, a goat and a badger.  But then again, we are dealing with translations of the original text.  So maybe a better question would be: is there something about the original terminology used in the passage that leads to this confusion, or is the original fairly straightforward?  To the first part of the question, I would say: for the most part, yes.  To the second part, I would say: it depends.

The three key ancient texts are the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin Vulgate.  To go at this in reverse order, for Number 4.6 the Latin Vulgate reads:

et operient rursum velamine ianthinarum pellium extendentque desuper pallium totum hyacinthium et inducent vectes.

Because I do not read Latin with any fluency, I can only make tentative guesses based on a quick word search and basic logic.  (If I am wrong in this, you Latin jocks can let me know).  While the ASV uses the Vulgate for its foundation, the Latin terms used for the ASV’s ‘sealskin’ are a bit obscure to be certain.  It would seem better to have it read, ‘a violet blue skin-covering’, which leans more towards a dolphin, porpoise, or even a manatee or dugong.  As far as I am aware, sealskin does not have a violet-blue tint to it; it tends to be dark brown, silver(ish), black, white or spotted.  This would also suggest that goats and badgers are not in view–partly because I don’t know of any violet blue goats or badgers.

The next text to consider is the Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew.  (If you picked up on the fact that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew, bravo to you.  The same goes for the Latin Vulgate above; it too is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew).  For the verse in question the LXX reads:

και ε͗πιθησουσιν ε͗π  ͗αυ͗το κατακαλυμμα δερμα υ͑ακινθινον και ε͗πιβαλουσιν ε͗π  ͗αυ͗την ι͑ματιον ο͑λον υ͑ακινθινον α͗νωθεν και διεμβαλουσιν τους α͗ναφορεις

As could be expected, the LXX, like the Vulgate, is a bit obscure in what it says, although one could easily posit the reading of ‘a violet blue skin-covering’.  In view of our translation options, ‘a violet blue skin-covering’ would seem to favour the aquatic options rather than the four-legged ones.  Even you do not read Greek, it should be obvious from the passage above that ‘violet blue’ as a description is employed twice in this one verse; once in the first clause and again in the second, and we know without a doubt that the second is meant to be read as ‘violet blue’.  So, at the very least, both the Vulgate and the LXX point towards something with a blue tint, and the aquatic things mentioned best fit this depiction.  That just leaves one ancient text.

The Hebrew reads:

ונתנו עליו כסוי עור תחש ופרשו בגד־כליל תכלת מלמעלה ושמו בדיו

Admittedly, my Hebrew is just slightly better than my Latin at the moment, so I am open to correction or chastisement.  The key phrase in the text is, עור תחש, which basically means ‘skin of תחש’.  One key difference is the lack of a colour reference, which was implied in the key terms in the LXX and Vulgate editions.  (In the second clause, a reference to colour is made about the cloth that is to cover leather covering that is to cover the ark of testimony.  Did I cover everything?).  This means that we have to proceed by exploring the single term, תחש and see if it might be the cause for all the trouble.  The short answer is, pretty much.

According to some Jewish Targums, תחש does point to badger skins as being used for the tabernacle equipment–i.e. the stuff mentioned in Numbers 4.  However, we are once again confronted with the problem of scarcity of indigenous badgers, which would enable the Hebrews to have enough product to make such coverings–let alone the number of coverings needed.  Let’s not also forget the logistical problems of rounding up that many badgers; they don’t play well with others.  There are some who have suggested that תחש is related to an Assyrian term which refers to something like coarse leather, which could either be goats (most likely) or badgers (less likely).  On the other hand, there are some who say תחש can be compared with specific Arabic and Egyptian terms that make the connection with ‘dolphin’ or ‘porpoise’ quite possible.  However, on the assumption that such skins were highly prized in the ancient world, we once again have the question of ability or means of acquisition.

So, where does this leave us?  To be honest, I’m not quite sure.  (I must also admit that this post was really designed to be me thinking out loud–i.e. meditating on things I found in the text).  I could see the translation as going either way, given the vagueness of the terminology.  While it would be understandable to read ‘porpoise’ or ‘dolphin’ in view of the connection of ideas–i.e. skins and violet-blue; it would seem to be more plausible (and certainly more feasible) that it refers to finely-made cloths of goat skins that have been dyed violet-blue.  Any one else have any suggestions?  OT nerds?

restful fridays with Ridderbos

Several bloggers in the digital sphere commit a single day of the week to quoting from various scholars.  Nick Norelli, over at Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth has a short list of those involved in this.  (Diglotting has recently begun a ‘Mondays with Moltmann’ series, which has been quite good). 

The standard MO for these kinds of posts has been to find a scholar whose surname fits with the day chosen–see Diglotting’s choice as an example–as well as state a basic reason for choosing the scholar or why that scholar’s work is being singled out.  From then on, the posts tend to be quotations from either single works or different works by that scholar, and then the occasional comment is supplied by the blogger to flesh out the details of the quote. 

My problem is that several of the scholars I considered simply do not match the name-day pattern, so I tweaked things a bit in order to make it work for my choice–hence: ‘restful Fridays with Ribberbos.’

Part of the reason for choosing Herman Ridderbos is because I am currently making my way through his delineating tome on Paul’s theology (1975; repr. 1997), so his comments/ideas are fresh in my mind.  Another reason is because I think he is a scholar who tends to be overlooked or at least not considered as frequently, but I cannot yet tell why this is the case.  (If anyone knows, I would be more than happy to hear from you). 

From what I can tell so far, Ridderbos has a firm grasp on theology in general, Paul’s theology in particular and he is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with competing perspectives.  He confronts these other perspectives not because they are divergent from his own; he confronts them because he sees discrepancies between the methods used to study Paul and how Paul presents himself and his ideas, teachings, beliefs, etc.  Moreover, Ridderbos recognises crucial flaws in these methods as they are used to formulate perspectives on Paul; after all, flawed methods produce flawed conclusions.   

With my choice of scholar and my reasons for singling him out in place, here is the first installment for this series of posts (and I’ll leave this one hanging in the air for now–i.e. no comment from me):

[For the follower of Christ:] In the new obedience the new life must become evident, and without the former the latter cannot exist.

-Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 256