Experts and Expertese

I have a great deal of respect for experts. Actual, real, honest-to-goodness experts. The people who have written theses. The people who put massive amounts of work into coming up with original ideas, then do their very best to poke holes in them before publishing them. The people who will graciously admit defeat when they’re proven to be wrong, and will carry on working, carry on developing new ideas. I have a great deal of respect for the scientific method and for scientists themselves. And I know it doesn’t always work like that, but it does often enough.

And what really annoys me, what really gets me going, is seeing that respect misappropriated by “psychic healers” and similar bullshit artists. Those people dream up ideas which sound good, but are disdainful of the tools humanity has painstakingly developed over centuries for checking whether ideas are true. In fact, in many cases, they seem to not even care whether or not their ideas are true. It is dispiriting to see such people given respect that is not their due.

The utter contempt these scam artists have for the real experts, the people who put their life’s work into working out how the world really works, is the rudeness.

And besides all that, there’s the issue of how dangerous these people can be. Should I mention vaccines?

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Dublin LGBT Pride was asking for feedback. I gave them some.

I will say that I didn’t go to the remembrance ceremony this year, after being utterly disgusted with it the year before last.

There’s nothing wrong with religious ceremonies. It is, however, utterly disgusting to foist them on an unsuspecting audience. The ceremony was in no wise advertised as religious, and I attended in good faith, expecting something that would be respectful and which I would be happy to observe.

First, I was handed a candle, asked to participate. Well, okay, I suppose. I held the candle, still expecting something open and respectful.

And then suddenly we were in the middle of prayer and talks of heaven. Let me make one thing very clear: Praying on other people’s behalf, claiming to represent other people in prayer without their explicit consent, is fucking rude and extremely exploitative. Let me make another thing clear: Inviting people to attend an open ceremony and suddenly making it explicitly Christian with no warning is a rather nasty bait-and-switch tactic. I don’t know who organised and ran this event, but I have no respect for them whatsoever, as they clearly had no respect for the people they conned into attending with their dishonest advertising.

These are all general concerns. One other thing from a more specifically LGBT perspective: Many there have been hurt, seriously hurt, by the church. That doesn’t mean that many LGBT people are not still religious, and there is certainly a place for religious LGBT commemorations. It does mean, though, that tricking people into participating in a religious service when they were not expecting it is likely to be more hurtful to LGBT people than it would be to others.

I put down the candle smartly enough, as I did not want to be marked as participating in any religious ceremony, but I did not immediately leave. I don’t mind observing religious ceremonies, and I was hopeful that we would soon move onto more of the “remembering” bits. I was hoping for some anecdotes about much-loved and much-missed friends and activists. (Not my personal friends, as none of my LGBT friends have yet died, but still. I was there mainly to show support.) But no, the religious language went on and on, with quite a lot of “we” language, presumptuously intending to include us all in the prayers, and claiming to speak on all our behalfs. I soon got pretty sick of it, and left along with my friend. Others were leaving too.

I was utterly disgusted by the entire débâcle.


Am I small-minded?

This thought occurred to me just last night:

There are some opinions I understand and agree with. They are based on arguments and presuppositions which make sense to me, and which seem to me reasonable and well supported.

There are some opinions I disagree with. The arguments in their favour seem to me lacking in some way, perhaps by being based on presuppositions which I do not share, or perhaps due to a failure in logical reasoning from those presuppositions.

There are some opinions I disagree with completely. The arguments in their favour are non-existent, or are based on presuppositions so completely alien to my mind that I simply cannot make sense of them, or follow a chain of logical reasoning which I cannot grasp.

It occurred to me last night that the middle set, the arguments which seem lacking, but not fundamentally unreasonable or utterly incomprehensible, is a quite likely to be a reasonably good proxy for how open-minded we are. (Compare Aristotle’s dictum that it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. What I’m saying is not quite the same thing, but it is a related concept.) It also occurred to me that, for me, the middle set of ideas is, actually, rather small. I find it quite hard to get my head around conservative politics; I find it very difficult to understand or communicate with people who are uninterested in scientific evidence for or against the types of medicine they advocate; and I often find religious concepts difficult to grasp (which last is especially odd, given that I was raised religious).

So, how worried should I be about that?

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Do Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own version of the Bible?

Jehovah’s Witnesses use the standard 66-book Protestant Bible, but usually use their own translation thereof (they do reference other translations from time to time, but generally use The New World Translation). It’s fair to say that the NWT is quite, let’s say, distinctive in places, and has received a fair amount of criticism. The Witnesses do not in any way claim that the translation of the NWT was inspired by God, and are happy to argue their doctrines from other translations if you ask them to. (Indeed, they did so for many years before the release of the NWT, and continue to do so in languages which do not yet have a version of the NWT.)

Here are some of the distinctive features of the New World Translation.

In the specific case of John 1:1, which is always brought up in discussions of the translation philosophy of the NWT, it’s probably fair to say that the Greek is a little ambiguous, and the NWT rendering is defensible. They do, of course, provide a footnote and an appendix article on the subject in The New World Translation — with References.

The terminology is slightly different: what is commonly called the “Old Testament” the Witnesses (and the NWT) call the “Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures”; what is commonly called the “New Testament” they call the “Christian Greek Scriptures” (the word Christian is intended to prevent any possible confusion with the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). This is, arguably, more neutral terminology than the usual. I like it.

The Greek text of the New World Translation is the Westcott and Hort master text, not the Textus Receptus used by the King James Version. There’s a certain amount of dispute in Bible translation circles about which text is better. (The NWT is far from the only translation based on the Westcott and Hort text.) Textus Receptus is based on the majority of ancient manuscripts found. Westcott and Hort is based on fewer, but older, manuscripts. The argument in favour of W&H is simply that older manuscripts are probably better. The argument in favour of TR is that the Bible was copied very carefully and the few old texts which happened to survive merely because they were in Egypt, which has a better climate for this kind of thing, were probably inferior copies. Some also claim that if W&H was the better text, God wouldn’t have allowed it to be lost for so many thousands of years. All of this debate (and yes, I have read a book on the subject, firmly in favour of the Textus Receptus and the related Majority Text) is rendered somewhat moot by the fact that most theologians say that few of the differences between the various Greek texts are theologically meaningful. Footnotes reference other texts and ancient translations (including the Vulgate and Syriac translations) in places, but in general the translation is based on W&H.

(The Hebrew text is far more standard. The NWT uses the Masoretic Text, just like almost everyone else. The footnotes of NWT Ref occasionally reference the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and various Syriac translations, but in general they use the Masoretic.)

One of the distinctive features of the NWT is the use of the name Jehovah. The Tetragrammaton (four-letter name of God) appears multiple times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Many translations render this as LORD, following the Jewish practice of not pronouncing the Divine Name (though the Jews do write the name in their scriptures). The Jerusalem Bible renders the name as Yahweh, which is a scholarly “best guess” at the original pronunciation. The Witnesses use Jehovah, which is almost certainly not the original pronunciation, but is the traditional rendering in English, found in both religious and secular books for many many years. Certainly including some form of the name is more accurate than bowdlerising it.

One of the even more distinctive, and certainly less defensible, features of the NWT is that they also use the name Jehovah in the Greek Scriptures, although it is not found there in any extant manuscript. When the Greek text quotes the Septuagint, they reinsert the name (yes, reinsert, as they maintain that it was there originally). Certainly there do exist editions of the Septuagint which contain the untranslated and untransliterated tetragrammaton, and others which render the divine name as Pipi, suggesting that they were copied from an earlier version which contained the original tetragrammaton, the Hebrew letters of which look a little like the Greek letters for Pipi. (I now feel the need for a fantasy novel in which God is called Pipi. It’s a wonderful name.)

However, NWT includes the divine name in other places too. Sometimes support comes from the existance of the tetragrammaton in Hebrew translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures (some of those Hebrew translations used for support are actually fairly recent, so any support they offer is tenuous at best). The name Jehovah occurs many times in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, each time accomapied by a footnote and an explanation of the rational in NWT Ref.

In general, the footnotes and appendices in NWT Ref are about the mechanics of translation, not theology. They are about tricky linguistic points and textual variants.

Originally published on Christianity Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

What does it mean for a priest to ‘lose faith’?

Alex asks an interesting question on Christianity Stack Exchange, and gets an answer which is well worth repeating here. The answer is from Affable Geek, a Christian minister.

Here’s his meditation on losing faith:

In short, it sucks. It sucks eggs. Really. It’s like believing the Gospel, but not having any grace to go with it.

The biggest problem with “losing one’s faith” is that your moral compass remains unchanged. Unlike what I suspect many can do — namely ignore their own internal compass — priests are, by and large, a self-selected lot. People who are attracted to the priestly vocations have a strong sense of right and wrong, and at least in my case, I have a physical reaction to it. At the risk of having too graphic an image, when I act in a way that is contrary to my internal sense of ethics (call it the opposite of integrity), I feel that pain in my stomach that is felt when you need to throw up, but can’t. My heart pounds, my stomach turns, and I feel ill. Stressed seems so quaint a term. Trust me, its physical.

Jeremiah 20:9 has the prophet telling God:

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

For many of us, real honesty is fundamental to that integrity. We cannot preach that which we do not believe, lest that feeling arise. Were losing that honesty and commitment to transparency and integrity something that was lost along with one’s belief, it would be easy. We would merely be actors playing a part. Being a charlatan or a hypocrite would have no hold on us. But no, sadly, if its your job to preach and minister, you still have to do it.

I would suggest that there are three categories of “losing one’s faith,” and there are different effects of each. Hebrews 11:6 says,

“Who ever would come to God must

  1. believe that he exists and
  2. believe he rewards those who do good.”

Using that verse as an outline, I would suggest that as Tolstoy said, “Happy [Christians] are all happy alike. But miserable [Christians] are each miserable in their own way.”

  • Category 1 would be what is often called “the long, dark night of the soul.”Many Christian leaders, from Mother Teresa to Billy Graham, echo the sentiment of the Middle Ages mystic who describe a period in which God seems to simply be silent. In these cases, the work of ministry is merely a drudge, devoid of the music that God brings. I would argue this is the least “bad” of the categories of losing one’s faith. No one suggests that God is anything but silent. Your moral compass remains, your theology is intact, and your ministry can continue as leader and teacher. Individually, it just becomes a matter of work like anything else. You do what you need to do, you don’t violate your conscience, and you just eagerly anticipate God’s return, both in your life and the next.
  • Category 1b would be the full-on rejection of God’s existence.NPR had an amazingly good story about a Methodist minister who became an atheist. In that story, she describes the same gut-wrenching feeling that I describe, and speaks of the consequences in her life. She describes how she came to the rationalization that God is a myth. (If you will forgive the commentary, it seems a natural extension of too cereberal and metaphorical a faith. It can be a very natural progression from mythic to myth.) In her case, she got up and addressed a convention of atheists, much to the applause of that body, but was then somehow astonished that her temporal boss — the Methodist bishop, fired her. Grant you, if I spoke glowingly about a competitor’s product at the competitor’s function and urged everyone to ditch my own company in favor of the competition, I would expect to be fired too, but I digress. The point is in that instance, she was able to find both solace and connection in a new group of “believers” (albeit atheist believers), and restore her sense of integrity. For her, “losing her faith” was simply a job change, and in this day and age, job changes are easy.

    In my case as a Baptist minister who found himself desiring a stronger liturgy, changing from the Baptist denomination to the Episcopal one was fairly easy. I could preach as I wanted, and I could continue to minister. Different clothes but the same God. It doesn’t turn your world upside down to modify your faith. It’s different when it breaks.

  • Category 2 is the one that sucks the most. It says, “God exists, but he is not good.”That is my current dilemma. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the circumstances of my life have made it increasingly difficult to believe that God is good. I can only hold on secure in the knowledge that I am not yet ready to “curse God and die,” but I’m beginning to like Job’s wife a lot more than Job.

    You see, it’s real work to maintain a love for a God whom you secretly hate. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. When a minister loses his faith, the job is the easy part. Pastors, of course, tend to find alternative employment. (I know of one who, after leaving his wife — my college friend and a girl I considered marrying! — became a used car salesman. Talk about about transferrable skills!) They do this because they cannot be honest with themselves in ministry.

    No, the hard part isn’t the money but the music. You see, for me, God’s love is like music. I can live without it, but life lacks color. It lacks joy. I know in turning my back on Him, I turn my back on myself too. I lack purpose, I lack … music. I am left only with that gnawing pit in my stomach: Insufficent to expurgate, but sufficient to cause distress. Were I able to deny the existence of God, I could rewrite my life. Absent that, I left in a state of limbo that churns against my very core.

    In my case, I console myself with the last lines of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The hymn writer himself was once a pastor, but also gave it up to, in his words, “chase after worldly things.” He so eloquently phrases it:

    Prone to wander, Lord I feel it — Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it to thy courts above!

    If only, I think. If only. You can imagine how much it sucks to know the music, and yet be bereft of the assurance that it will come to pass. I personally tend to “blow hot and cold,” preaching to myself (really the main I reason I preach!) the goodness of God, hoping only that I can convince myself of that fact. If only I were a better preacher 🙂

So that, my friend, is what it means to lose one’s faith. It is to choose a personal hell in which you get hit on both sides. You become your own worst enemy, and you cannot rest.

If you will forgive the Ferris Beueller riff, “I most heartily do not recommend it.”

Copyright Affable GeekOriginally published on Christianity Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.


So, yesterday and today I moved to a different server. It’s now on the Dotser webserver: my boss offered me free hosting for my websites on the company’s server, and since I wasn’t happy with the existing provider it made sense to switch. I hope nothing on this site is so inflammatory that he asks me to move it again!

Before moving over, I went through and tidied up stuff. I started this blog by importing posts from three old blogs: Voice of Timothy, GreenTambourine, and PoliticalTambourine. The first of those was a lighthearted Blogger blog I created to supplement my h2g2 journal, largely because you can’t embed pictures or videos on a h2g2 journal. The other two were a place for me to vent and to think out loud when I was coming to terms with being gay. They were also written with a different Blogger theme which didn’t have titles on posts, which created problems when I imported those posts here: the posts appeared, but didn’t have a slug (permalink). I dealt with that by simply setting them all to private and deciding to sort it out later. Well, I sorted it out yesterday, going through all my old private posts, giving them titles (in many cases they already effectively had titles, in the form of some bold text at the top of the post, which I could pull out of the post body and turn into a real title), correcting some of the more noticeable spelling errors and fixing some of the formatting, and then resetting to public. It was a strange and slightly unreal experience, rereading those old posts. I was a different person then, cautiously feeling my way into a new sense of self, and yet much of the writing is somewhat bombastic in tone (and some of it isn’t: it’s a bit of a mixture). You can find all that stuff by looking for anything written by The boy with the green tambourine. (I rather liked that pseudonym; perhaps I should resurrect it.)

In other news, while I was moving the database from one server to the other, I took the opportunity to trim it a little. I got rid of all the metadata Akismet (the default WordPress spam filter) stores about each comment, and I deleted a lot of the spam comments. It was fairly easy to go through the database and find and delete every comment from “The Official Louis Vuitton Store”. Much quicker and easier than using the web interface. It’s amazing how many of the spam comments (Louis Vuitton and others) were trying to sell sports jerseys. (The other major spammer product was Dr Dre headphones.)

This is completely unrelated, but it’s in my head right now for some reason, so I’m including it. This is Tim Minchin’s song “Greed (Balsa Wood and Glue)”. It’s amazingly catchy.

And while I’m posting Tim Minchin songs, I may as well include a seasonal one, so here’s “White Wine in the Sun“.

Abram and Sarai made a mistake, twice


There was a famine in the land. Abram went down into Egypt to live as a foreigner there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he had come near to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman to look at. It will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me, but they will save you alive. Please say that you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that my soul may live because of you.”

When Abram had come into Egypt, Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. He dealt well with Abram for her sake. He had sheep, cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. Yahweh afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this that you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now therefore, see your wife, take her, and go your way.”

— Genesis 12:10-19, World English Bible

And then,

Abraham traveled from there toward the land of the South, and lived between Kadesh and Shur. He lived as a foreigner in Gerar. Abraham said about Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken. For she is a man’s wife.”

Now Abimelech had not come near her. He said, “Lord, will you kill even a righteous nation? Didn’t he tell me, ‘She is my sister?’ She, even she herself, said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands have I done this.”

God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also withheld you from sinning against me. Therefore I didn’t allow you to touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife. For he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live. If you don’t restore her, know for sure that you will die, you, and all who are yours.”

Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ear. The men were very scared. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done!” Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you have done this thing?”

Abraham said, “Because I thought, ‘Surely the fear of God is not in this place. They will kill me for my wife’s sake.’ Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. When God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you shall show to me. Everywhere that we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

Abimelech took sheep and cattle, male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored Sarah, his wife, to him. Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you. Dwell where it pleases you.” To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. Behold, it is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you. In front of all you are vindicated.”

Abraham prayed to God. God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his female servants, and they bore children. For Yahweh had closed up tight all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

— Genesis 20:1-18, World English Bible

So, what gives? Did Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai) make the same mistake twice? Once again, Ron Maimon has interesting things to say. First, read his take on the authorship of Genesis, then come back here and read this essay about this specific incident.

Summary: It didn’t happen twice: it’s told twice (three times, actually). But the incest angle is interesting, and suggests that real history underlies the myth.

The following essay is quoted from Ron Maimon. Full details, attribution, and link are at the end of the post. Note that I do not consider myself qualified to comment on the veracity of this essay, but I do think it’s interesting.

The Genesis text is widely believed by modern secular scholars to have been put together from various traditions, compiled in at least two major independent narratives, which were merged to produce the final text. The merger is very rough, so that the two narratives may be easily distinguished, because one consistently uses the sacred name “Yahweh” to refer to God, and the other uses the more generic identifier “Elohim” (God) in Genesis and the early parts of Exodus.

To those who doubt this idea, the textual boundaries are sometimes glaringly obvious, as in Exodus 3:14, where the first 14 verses are Elohist, and the rest a Yahweh tack-on. In Exodus 6:2, God says to Moses that he did not reveal his name “Yahweh” to Abraham Isaac and Jacob, only to Moses. But this is contradicted by the Yahwist narrative in Genesis, where all the patriarchs reference Yahweh several times by name. For a nice Genesis example, consider the entire chapter of Genesis 39, which is a lovely Yahwist narrative about Joseph’s attempted seduction by his master’s wife, which ends with Joseph in jail. This chapter throws off the rest of the narrative, because in the rest, Joseph seems to be Potiphar’s servant throughout. The inconsistency is resolved in KJ by a stretched translation— which claims that Potiphar who is “Rosh Ha-tabachim” is actually the head of the guard. These examples are just those I noticed, but the arguments about this division date back to the 19th century, and it is universally accepted by secular Bible scholars today.

The two narratives have different and recognizably consistent authorial voices, indicative of at least two separate authors, both excellent writers. By the end of Exodus and throughout Leviticus, there is a third much less inspired author writing, who uses a legalistic language, full of unnecessary repetitions and pedantic double-speak, and narration, when it comes, is jarringly bad (like the first verses of Leviticus 10). This author is referred to as “Priestly”. Aside from J, E, and P, as the Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly authors are called, I could not clearly distinguish any other voices, although the academics sometimes do.

The narrative in Genesis 20 is an Elohist narrative, and it is just repeating a different tradition regarding the narrative in Genesis 12, which is Yahwist. The two narratives come from the same tale, but they differ in a few details. The distinguishing details are revealing, since it is here that one learns the most about Abram’s relation to Sarai. In the first narrative, Abraham tells Pharaoh that he was lying about Sarai being his sister. In the second narrative, Abraham says that Sarah is his half-sister.

This is very strange, since incestuous ancestry is most often used in the Pentateuch to indicate that a certain tribe is somehow cursed, or weakened, or inferior. Here, the implied incest is for the ancestors of the Hebrews, so it is really very striking— it suggests that there was a deep rooted tradition for Abram/Sarai being both brother/sister and husband/wife, a tradition that was able to survive transmutation through many retellings, even with the strong incest taboo that is evident in other parts of Genesis (Gen 35:21 & 49:4, 19:30-38).

On the internet, one finds a possible explanation. Abraham/Abram and Sarah/Sarai have a very striking parallel in Hindu mythology in the couple Brahma and Saraiswati, who are both brother and sister and husband and wife. The narrative parallel here has led some of the internet folks to suggest that the origin of the Hebrew religion is as a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism. According to John Newbrough’s book Oahspe Bible Part 2: A New Bible in the Words of Jehovih and His Angel Embassadors, Jesuits suggested the connection.

There is another monotheistic tradition which comes from the Persian region which is identified as Abraham’s birthplace, which is Zoroastrianism. The existence of different monotheistic traditions claiming to come from the same place suggests a common ancestry, and it could be a monotheistic Brahma cult. If you google “Brahma Saraiswati” you find lots of websites.

The sister/wife story is repeated a third time, with Isaac and Rebekah as the couple. This third repetition is in Genesis 26:7 and thereabouts. The third repetition is not as salient as the other two, but it suggests that different tribes assigned the same stories to different patriarchs. This uses Yahweh as God’s identifier.

Copyright Ron Maimon. Originally published on Christianity Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

Who wrote the book of Genesis?

This post is entirely a quote from Ron Maimon at Christianity Stack Exchange. Full details, attribution, and link are at the end of the post. Note that I do not consider myself qualified to comment on the veracity of this essay, but I do think it’s interesting.

Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus are a compilation of several narratives, all dating to the 10th century BC or thereabouts, which are evident by the seams in them, and by the radically different styles. They are considered to be compiling Jewish narratives to make a unified tale which will bring the disparate tribes together in a kingdom.

There are three major threads:

Yahwist (J)

This author is first rate, one of the greatest writers in history, if not the greatest. She writes about God in a very visceral, fully embodied fashion. She tends to emphasize the stories of women, providing first person internal monologues from the point of view of Eve, Rebecca, Sarah, and provides a wonderful story of female attempted seduction in Genesis 39. For this reason, I refer to her as a “she”, although this is obviously uncertain.

You can identify J easily by reading the narrative. There is no doubt when she is writing. She consistently uses “Yahweh” as God’s name, or “Yahweh God” in Genesis 2. She writes internal monologue and easy natural dialogue. She tends to write stories of women in detailed human terms, and of men in distant heroic terms.

The quintessential Yahwist narrative is exemplified by the following passage in Exodus, chapter 33, verses 17, in my translation, available here:

And Yahweh said to Moses: “Also this thing that I have spoken I will do, because you are pleasing to me, and I will know you by name.”

And he said: “Please show to me, your honor.”

And said, “I will bring by all my goodness in front of you, and I will call on the name of Yahweh in your presence, and I will grace that which I will grace, and I will feel for that which I will feel for.”

And He said: “You could not see my face, because a man will not see me and live.”

And Yahweh said: “Here is a place filled with me, and you will post yourself against the rock. And it will be as mine honor will pass, and I will put you in the nook of the rock, and I will lean my palm against you until I pass. And I will remove my palm, and you will see my back, but my face will not be shown.”

The idea of seeing God’s back, as He is moving away, lifting an enormous palm from a nook in the rock to uncover his mighty passing form, is simultaneously beautiful and haunting, and masculine erotic.

Elohist (E)

Elohist has a less fleshy description of God than J, and the drama is not as tense. Elohist writes about blessings and omens a lot. Here is some E (Genesis 48, in my translation, available on Wikisource):

And Joseph took the two of them, Ephraim in his right hand, to the left of Israel, and Menashe in his left hand, to the right of Israel, and he approached him. And Israel sent his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, and he is the younger, And his left hand on Menashe’s hand: with consideration upon his hands, because Menashe is firstborn.

And he blessed Joseph, and said: “The God in whose presence my fathers came before, Abraham and Isaac, the God who has shepharded me from before until this day, the angel who spares me from all harm, will bless these youths, and will call into them my name, and the name of my forefathers Abraham and Isaac, and they will multiply in the face of the land.”

And Joseph saw that his father had sent his right hand on the head of Ephraim— and this was wrong in his eyes. And he supported his father’s hand to take it off the head of Ephraim, to Menashe’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, father, because this is the firstborn, put your hand on his head.”

And his father declined, and he said: “I knew, my son, I knew. He also will be a great nation, and he also will grow in number; but his younger brother will grow more than him, and his seed will fill the nations.”

E uses “El Shaddai”, which is a weird moniker for God. He also has the extraordinary “I am that I am” (more literally, “I’ll be what I’ll be”), which is followed by a Yahweh tack-on with an obvious seam.

Priestly (P)

Priestly can’t write to save his life. He is almost surely a Levite priest, who is trying to canonize Leviticus law by attaching it to the timeless masterpieces produced by J and E. Priestly’s voice is heard at the end of Exodus and throughout Leviticus.

A typical Priestly passage (Leviticus 11, vs 41-45) in my translation, available on Wikisource:

And all the vermin that infests the Earth, it is an abomination, it will not be eaten. All the walks on its torso, and all that walks on four, unto any centipede, onto all the vermin that infests the earth— you will not eat them, because they are an abomination. Do not abominate your souls in all the vermin that infests, and do not defile in them, and you were defiled by them. Because I am Yahweh your God, and you were blessed holy and became holy, because I am holy. And you will not defile your souls in all the vermin that crawls on the earth. Because I am Yahweh, who raises you from the land of Egypt, to be a god for you, and you became blessed holy, because I am holy.

This block is particularly repetitive, but even this example does not do justice to Priestly’s cloying, unnecessary, mind numbing repetitions. Things are a “comforting smell to Yahweh” six times in a chapter, detailed grilling instructions are repeated, detail by detail, three times for three only slightly different situations. Priestly is boring, uninspired, pedantic, and generally unreadable. One of the best things about Christianity is that you can ignore nearly everything he wrote.

Priestly is also the master of stilted narrative. Here is Leviticus Chapter 10 (my translation, on Wikisource):

And the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, each took from their sinstuff and they put fire to them, and they put incense upon it, and they sacrificed before Yawheh, on a foreign fire, which was not commanded of them. And a fire came out from before Yahweh, and consumed them, and they died before Yawheh.

And Moses said to Aaron: “That is what Yahweh spoke, saying: that with me I shall bless, and in front of all the people, I will be respected.” And Aaron fell silent.

And Moses called to Mishael and Eltzaphan, the sons of ‘uzi-el, Aaron’s uncle, and said to them: “approach and carry your brethren from facing the holiness, to outside the camp.” And they came close, and they carried them in their cloaks, to outside the camp, as Moses spoke.

This is so stilted and badly written. Aaron’s sons are immolated in his presence, and there is none of the drama of Lot running from the fire and brimstone, pleading with God to let him find shelter in a Mizar. None of the beauty and elegance of Jacob’s pining for his lost son, preyed on by wolves. No sign of the genius of pacing or drama of Genesis and the early half of Exodus. Their crime basically amounted to cooking communal meat on a grill different from the communal grill.

The only line of genius which can be safely attributed to Priestly is Leviticus 19:18 (in generic translation— I went with “You loved your compatriot as yourself”, but this phrase is famous).

“And you loved your neighbor as yourself”

This is surely his, because it is embedded in a set of verses that repeat “I am Yahweh” for no good reason again and again and again.

Redactor (R)

The Redactor is whoever put the narratives together to make a whole. This is probably Priestly, the way I see it. You can see the redactor at work at several places, where verses are inserted for no reason other than the discomfort of the editor at what is being said.

Consider Genesis 18, verses 16-22 in my Wikisource translation:

And the men stood from there, and they gazed towards Sodom, and Abraham walked with them, to send them off.

And Yahweh said: “I disguise from Abraham that which I am doing,

And Abraham, onwards will be a great big people, and through him all the nations of the Earth will be blessed.

Because it was known to him that which he commanded his sons and his household to do, and they kept the way of Yahweh, to make charity and justice— leading to Yahweh bringing Abraham that which he spoke to him about.

And Yahweh said, “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is so loud, and their sins, so very heavy. I will descend there and see if its cries which comes to me are due to them all; and if not, I will know it.”

And the men turned from there, and did go towards Sodom; and Abraham, still left standing before Yahweh.

There is an obvious break in the otherwise extraordinarily beautiful narrative, coming right after “I disguise from Abraham that which I am doing.” The thing that God wishes to disguise from Abraham is the destruction of Sodom and Gommorrah, but as the angels walk toward the city, Abraham argues with God about the destruction.

Anyway, redactor didn’t like that God is disguising something from Abraham, and so stuck in the completely inane two verses that follow, which simply repeat promises of God to Abraham from other passages, which are completely out of context here.

Unlike other translations, the translation above seeks to preserve the tone-deaf narrative and horrible writing style of redactor, which match the tone-deaf narrative and horrible writing style of Priestly. I don’t see any reason to think they are separate authors.

There is also the issue of the “and Aaron”‘s in Exodus. These read more naturally if omitted, so that God is speaking to Moses only. But the Exodus author tacks on “and Aaron” in many places, some places where it mismatches with the singular tense of the verb! This is R at work, although I don’t see any reason why this isn’t P.

Arguing against identifying R with P is the fact that while common authorship of writing of great genius is easy to identify, all hacks of the same era write alike.


There is supposedly a D author, the Deuternomist, who continues the narration into Deuteronomy and perhaps Judges. I didn’t translate those books, so I can’t judge.

As for other authorial guesses, I think that the author of Psalm 137 is also the author of Lamentations, either in whole or in part. The word choice and the strange baby imagery is so distinctive.

Copyright Ron Maimon. Originally published on Christianity Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.


So, here’s a variety of scam I’d not seen before. There’s a page on Facebook called ChristiaNet. It posts only images: some are just text, others have a picture of some sort in the background. The text is always “Like if you …”. It pushes the standard Christian buttons: “Like if you believe in the power of prayer”, “Hit like to have a blessed day in the Lord”. That sort of thing. Well, to be a bit more precise, they push the standard American right wing buttons: “Like if you’ll pray for our troops”, with a picture of a soldier in uniform and a US flag in the background, and “Like if you support Traditional Marriage”, which basically means “Like if you think gay people should be second-class citizens”. But whatever. Fairly standard stuff.

The thing is, these things are a form of tribal marker, as Fred Clark explains so excellently on Slacktivist. If you are in the target demographic, and you see these images on your Facebook feed, you will of course click the “Like” button. You are compelled to do so. Hating gay people is a badge of membership (and, in this particular subculture, the badges are far more important than actual action: it’s all about the stance, baby).

So you click the “Like” button. And you may even comment, usually something small and inane like “I do love Jesus!” There’s no actual conversation in these comment threads: just a series of individual affirmations. All of which you’ll be notified of, because by “Liking” the image, you have subscribed to the comments. So you’ll also be notified of the comments from ChristiaNet itself, which frequently posts to every comment feed on its page, links to their own website. That is, the “personal finance deals” section of its own website. I wonder why they do that. What could possibly be in it for them?

Hate the Crime?

Here’s a brief quote from a post on a messageboard (now removed):

For those people who do hate crimes against homosexuals, shame on you!

And here’s my reply:

Of course. But it’s more subtle than that.

Beating a person up because he’s different is a shameful and despicable way to behave, I hope we can all agree. (I did see one poster here suggest that gay couples who dare to show any degree of affection in public are asking to be attacked, but he’s a nutcase I hope no one takes seriously. Anyway, I haven’t seen him around recently. He must have gone Elsewhere.)

But there’s another part to it. I grew up in a strongly religious household (my family are Witnesses). And I believed it myself. Being academically inclined, and reasonably intelligent, I enjoyed learning the intricacies of the abstruse theology of the religion. There are bits now I understand better than some of the elders in the congregation. (Would you like me to explain the concept of the prophetic year of 360 days?)

But through it all, from my very early teens (perhaps even before), I had to hide a large chunk of myself. I had to hide it from my friends, from my family, and also from myself. Adolescence is perhaps always confusing, but mine, spent refusing to think about what should have been the delightful discovery of my awakening sexuality, was probably more confused than most. Melikio once wrote that he lost a large part of his childhood. I can sympathise.

I remember my mother and my little sister once discussing a cute guy together. They wouldn’t usually do that, but this one was safe. They wouldn’t be seeing him again. He played the Genie of the Lamp in a proper traditional version of Aladdin in Kent. Gorgeous, he was. All I could safely say was that he seemed to be enjoying himself: he did have a big grin.

All I could safely say? All I could safely think! As if hiding it from others wasn’t enough, I hid myself from myself for far too long. Finally facing up to it was such a huge relief.

Your very words, spoken with the voice of authority, may condemn young people, perhaps your own children, to a broken and shattered life. The suicide rate among homosexual adolescents is by all accounts frighteningly high, though proper statistics are of course hard to come by. And it’s not hate crimes that causes that.

The doctrine that homosexuality itself is a sin is a pernicious evil. Do not allow it to be perpetrated. It causes too much misery.

For a believing teen, the thought of a lonely life ahead is burden enough, without that extra load. (Matthew 23:4.)

Originally published on GreenTambourine.