Ireland: a nation

I don’t think people who aren’t from this island realize the extent to which Ireland really is one nation, even if it’s two different jurisdictions. The vast majority of sporting, religious, and other cultural bodies in Ireland operate on an all-Ireland basis.

In sports like rugby, there is a single national team for the whole of Ireland. In sports which don’t generally have national teams, such as golf and showjumping, the organization is nonetheless on an all-Ireland cross-border basis. Association football (soccer) is an exception. (I think the sole exception, though I’m not sure about sports like gymnastics.) The Gaelic Athletic Association also of course operates on an all-Ireland basis, and that too doesn’t generally have national teams. (There actually are national teams, in International Rules Football, Compromise Rules Shinty-Hurling, and Rounders, but none of these contests are the pinnacles of their sports.)

The Irish Shows Association, which organizes agricultural shows, is all-Ireland. So is the Association of Irish Musical Societies, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and many others. On the Wikipedia category list “All-Ireland organizations“, I also see the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation, the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies, the Irish Museums Association, the Geographical Society of Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches. There are also a few trade union bodies: the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, and SIPTU, and one professional body: Accounting Technicians Ireland. There’s also the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which also operates in Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

There are even government departments which operate across the island, under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council. One that I am aware of is Waterways Ireland, responsible for the management and upkeep of internal navigable waterways (canals and rivers) across the island, because their headquarters on the Grand Canal are in Tullamore, a stone’s throw from my house. There is therefore a sign up on Harbour Street in three languages: Waterways Ireland, Uisceabhealaí Éireann, Watterweys Airlann.

Undefined Behaviour Killed My Cat

schroedinger=/dev/null             # We'll need this guy.
heisenberg=/dev/urandom            # Also needed, for uncertainty principle.
cat $heisenberg > $schroedinger &  # Steal cat from Heisenberg and give it to Schrödinger.
felix=$!                           # Name cat for future references.
exec 2> $schroedinger              # Send all results to Schrödinger.
kill -SIGSTOP $felix               # Catch Felix and put him into a box.
if (($RANDOM & 1))                 # Flip a coin.
then kill $felix                   # Heads: Kill! Kill! Kill!
fi                                 # By now, Felix can be thought of as both alive and dead.
read -sn 1                         # Wait for somebody to open the box.
kill -SIGCONT $felix               # Let him open it.
if ps p $felix > $schroedinger     # Let Schrödinger check on Felix.
then echo The cat is alive.        # Hooray for tails!
else echo The cat is dead.         # At least, now we know.
fi                                 # This concludes the experiment.
kill -SIGKILL $felix               # Felix is no longer required.

From Dennis on Programming Puzzles & Code Golf Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

Why does the Septuagint contain non-Tanakh books?

The deuterocanonical books, treated as part of the Bible by the Orthodox and Catholic churches, are accepted because they appear in the Septuagint. However, they are excluded from the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh (and are therefore also excluded by most (all?) Protestant Christians). Given that the Septuagint was a Jewish publication, why does it contain books which are not part of the Tanakh?

I’ve wondered that for a while, which is why I asked the question at Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. And there I got an answer: basically, at the time the Septuagint was built, the Jewish canon wasn’t finalised. Here’s an informative, but unsourced, answer from JoanW:

The Greek translation of Jewish scripture (the Septuagint) occurred between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The canon of the Tanakh was finalized hundreds of years later. The Christian canon was debated from the 4th to the 16th centuries. We have a tendency of thinking of the Bible as written in stone, so to speak, but the canon has been the object of scholarly debate and change for millennia. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles are generally based on the Septuagint, whereas Protestant Bibles are based on the Masoretic (the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible), which was developed between the 7th and 10th centuries CE.

That’s a nice, straightforward overview. I like it.

Here’s a more detailed and referenced answer from Noah Snyder:

In Judaism the final decision of which writings (Ketuvim, the third part of the Tanakh) were canonical did not happen until at least the end of the 1st century CE. This was after Christianity and Judaism had largely split, and so the two groups made different decisions about which writings were accepted as canonical.

In particular, nascent Rabbinic Judaism made the decision to only include writings which were originally written in Hebrew (possibly with parts in Aramaic), but not books which were originally written in Greek (or thought to have been originally written in Greek). The deutorocanonical books are roughly the books which were popular among the Greek speaking Jewish diaspora in the 1st century, but were excluded from the writings on the basis of their being written in Greek (and possibly also excluded for other reasons). Around the same time nascent Rabbinic Judaism also rejected using the Septuagint in favor of only using the original Hebrew texts.

(A key search term to find more to read on this topic is the “Council of Jamnia,” which is the name of the hypothetical council which made the decision on canonizing the Ketuvim. The hypothesis that there was an actual council is no longer particularly popular, instead people tend to think it was a more gradual process, nonetheless the name is still useful for finding material on the topic.)

This entire blog post, both my own writing and the answers I quoted from others, is under the license CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

Delanceyplace: Debt forgiveness

Delanceyplace publish fascinating extracts from non-fiction books. Here’s a recent one.

In today’s  excerpt – in ancient city-states such as Babylon, Sumeria and Judaea, rulers found it necessary to cancel all consumer debt from time to time to keep peasants from becoming permanent debt-peons and thus to keep society from being torn apart – a phenomenon all the more interesting from the perspective of our debt-laden 21st century:

“Mesopotamian city-states were dominated by vast Temples: gigantic, complex industrial institutions often staffed by thousands – including everyone from shepherds and barge-pullers to spinners and weavers to dancing girls and clerical administrators, [and these Temples owned many of the assets of the city-state]. …

“We don’t know precisely when and how interest-bearing loans originated, since they appear to predate writing. Most likely, Temple administrators invented the idea as a way of financing the caravan trade. This trade was crucial because while the river valley of ancient Mesopotamia was extraordinarily fertile and produced huge surpluses of grain and other foodstuffs, and supported enormous numbers of livestock, which in turn supported a vast wool and leather industry, it was almost completely lacking in anything else. Stone, wood, metal, even the silver used as money, all had to be imported. From quite early times, then, Temple administrators developed the habit of advancing goods to local merchants – some of them private, others themselves Temple functionaries – who would then go off and sell it overseas. Interest was just a way for the Temples to take their share of the resulting profits.

“However, once established, the principle seems to have quickly spread. Before long, we find not only commercial loans, but also consumer loans – usury in the classical sense of the term. By C2400 BC it already appears to have been common practice on the part of local officials, or wealthy merchants, to advance loans to peasants who were in financial trouble on collateral and begin to appropriate their possessions if they were unable to pay. It usually started with grain, sheep, goats, and furniture, then moved on to fields and houses, or, alternately or ultimately, family members. Servants, if any, went quickly, followed by children, wives, and in some extreme occasions, even the borrower himself. These would be reduced to debt-peons: not quite slaves, but very close to that, forced into perpetual service in the lender’s household – or, sometimes, in the Temples or Palaces themselves. In theory, of course, any of them could be redeemed whenever the borrower repaid the money, but for obvious reasons, the more a peasant’s resources were stripped away from him, the harder that became.

“The effects were such that they often threatened to rip society apart. If for any reason there was a bad harvest, large proportions of the peasantry would fall into debt peonage; families would be broken up. Before long, lands lay abandoned as indebted farmers fled their homes for fear of repossession and joined semi-nomadic bands on the desert fringes of urban civilization. Faced with the potential for complete social breakdown, Sumerian and later Babylonian kings periodically announced general amnesties: ‘clean slates,’ as economic historian Michael Hudson refers to them. Such decrees would typically declare all outstanding consumer debt null and void (commercial debts were not affected), return all land to its original owners, and allow all debt-peons to return to their families. Before long, it became more or less a regular habit for kings to make such a declaration on first assuming power, and many were forced to repeat it periodically over the course of their reigns.

“In Sumeria, these were called ‘declarations of freedom.’ – and it is significant that the Sumerian word amargi, the first recorded word for ‘freedom’ in any known human language, literally means ‘return to mother’ – since this is what freed debt-peons were finally allowed to do. …

“Nehemiah was a Jew born in Babylon, a former cup-bearer to the Persian emperor. In 444 BC, he managed to talk the Great King into appointing him governor of his native Judaea. He also received permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar more than two centuries earlier. In the course of rebuilding, sacred texts were recovered and restored; in a sense, this was the moment of the creation of what we now consider Judaism.

“The problem was that Nehemiah quickly found himself confronted with a social crisis. All around him, impoverished peasants were unable to pay their taxes; creditors were carrying off the children of the poor. His first response was to issue a classic Babylonian- style ‘clean slate’ edict – having himself been born in Babylon, he was clearly familiar with the general principle. All non-commercial debts were to be forgiven. Maximum interest rates were set. At the same time, though, Nehemiah managed to locate, revise, and reissue much older Jewish laws, now preserved in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, which in certain ways went even further, by institutionalizing the principle. The most famous of these is the Law of Jubilee: a law that stipulated that all debts would be automatically cancelled ‘in the Sabbath year’ (that is, after seven years had passed), and that all who languished in bondage owing to such debts would be released.

“Freedom,” in the Bible, as in Mesopotamia, came to refer above all to release from the effects of debt.”

Author: David Graeber
Title: Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Publisher: Melville House
Date: Copyright 2011 by David Graeber
Pages: 64-65, 81-82

Following this link to buy the book will benefit a children’s literary project sponsored by Delanceyplace.

The Road Ahead

There are two things I need to tell people; to tell my friends and more importantly to tell my family.

I need to tell them that I no longer have any firm belief in the existence of God and I need to tell them that I am gay.

On the first issue, my parents already have an inkling that my spirituality is on the wane. My mother has talked to me about it. She’s quite concerned. I’d be worried if she wasn’t.

The second issue is separate, and must be treated as such. I shall not leave the Witnesses because I am gay. That’s no reason. I shall leave because I no longer believe what they teach. Then, having left, I shall have no further reason to fight against my homosexuality. I have that sequence very clear in my head, and I want it to be clear for everyone else too. To me, it’s a matter of moral integrity.

Well, wish me luck. You can pray for me too, if you feel like it.

Originally published on GreenTambourine.