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Archive for April, 2007

Religious Literacy 101

30th April 2007

While this isn’t really new news, the Kansas City Star has recently published an excerpt from Stephen Prothero’s new book on religious literacy, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007; Buy from or

The book rightly laments the lack of religious literacy of most Americans. I don’t think that Canadians would fare much better.

Here’s the test; take it and see how you do!

  1. Name the four Gospels. List as many as you can.
  2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism.
  3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?
  4. Where according to the Bible was Jesus born?
  5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road. What Bible story was he invoking?
  6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
  7. What is the Golden Rule?
  8. “God helps those who help themselves.� Is this in the Bible? If so, where?
  9. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.� Does this appear in the Bible? If so, where?
  10. Name the Ten Commandments. List as many as you can.
  11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
  12. What are the Seven Sacraments of Catholicism? List as many as you can.
  13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause.� What are the two religion clauses of the First Amendment?
  14. What is Ramadan? In what religion is it celebrated?
  15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear. Hint: Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa:
Adam and Eve
Binding of Isaac
Garden of Eden
Parting of the Red Sea
Road to Damascus
Garden of Gethsemane
Olive branch

Here are answers in amazing selecto-vision (select the text with your cursor and you will be able to see the answers)

  1. 1. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (1 point each)
  2. 2. They include the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Laws of Manu and the Kama Sutra. (1 point)
  3. 3. Qur’an (1 point)
  4. 4. Bethlehem (1 point)
  5. 5. The Good Samaritan (1 point)
  6. 6. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (1 point each)
  7. 7. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“ (Matthew 7:12), or a similar sentiment from Rabbi Hillel or Confucius. “Love your neighbor as yourself� is not the Golden Rule. (1 point)
  8. 8. No, this is not in the Bible. In fact, it is contradicted in Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts in himself is a fool.� The words are Ben Franklin’s. (2 points)
  9. 9. Yes, in the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3). (2 points)
  10. 10. The Protestant, Catholic and Jewish versions of the Ten Commandments differ. Give yourself credit for any 10 of the following 12 — each of which appears in at least one of those three versions. (10 points)I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.
    You shall have no other gods before me.
    You shall not make yourself a graven image.
    You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
    Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
    Honor your father and your mother.
    You shall not kill/murder.
    You shall not commit adultery.
    You shall not steal.
    You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
    You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
  11. 11. Life is suffering. Suffering has an origin. Suffering can be overcome (nirvana). The path to overcoming suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 points)
  12. 12. Baptism; Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion; Reconciliation/Confessionenance; Confirmation; Marriage; Holy Orders; Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites (7 points)
  13. 13. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.â€? The words before the comma are referred to as the establishment clause; the words that follow constitute the free exercise clause. (1 point each)
  14. 14. Ramadan is a Muslim holiday characterized by a month of fasting. (2 points)
  15. 15. Adam and Eve (Garden of Eden); Paul (Road to Damascus); Moses (Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea); Noah (Olive Branch); Jesus (Road to Damascus and Garden of Gethsemane); Abraham (Binding of Isaac); Serpent (Garden of Eden) (7 points)

So, how did you do? To figure out your score, add your total points, then multiply by 2 to get your score on a standard 100-point scale.

  • 90 points or higher – Hallelujah. You know your 4 R’s!
  • 80-89 – Brush up on your 4 R’s, you’re ready for cocktail conversation.
  • 70-79 -You’re in intellectual purgatory.
  • 60-70 – Make flashcards of the dictionary at the back of Prothero’s book.
  • Below 60 points – Don’t do anything before reading this book.

While I wouldn’t be surprised about people’s lack of knowledge of some of the eastern religions, the sad reality is that many/most people who identify themselves as Christians don’t actually know much about the Bible or the differences between denominations, among other things.

Posted in Bible, Popular Culture, Religious Literacy | 5 Comments »

Satan and Illegal Immigration

27th April 2007

OK, methinks Canadian politics are a bit different than those in the United States! According to the Salt Lake Tribune, District 65 Chairman Don Larsen (any relation to Bob Larson? … probably not since their names are spelled differently!) has brought forward a formal resolution to oppose the devil’s plan to destroy the United States. He claims that illegal immigration is the Satan’s plan to destroy the nation by “stealth invasion.” Here is a choice excerpt:

“In order for Satan to establish his ‘New World Order’ and destroy the freedom of all people as predicted in the Scriptures, he must first destroy the U.S.,” his resolution states. “The mostly quiet and unspectacular invasion of illegal immigrants does not focus the attention of the nations the way open warfare does, but is all the more insidious for its stealth and innocuousness.”

Right… I recall C.S. Lewis’s sage words about Satan:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall not learn it from me.

Posted in News, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Classroom Etiquette — Or Lack Thereof!

26th April 2007

The Constructive Curmudgeon, aka Douglas Groothuis, has a post about the “Rude Things Students Do.” In some ways the list is quite the eye-opener. I’ve definitely had some rude students in my decade of teaching, but I’ve never had students clean their toenails or clip fingernails while in class or — and I think this one takes the proverbial cake — I have nver had a student rudely interrupt a class to get me to sign a drop form (thankfully students at Taylor do not need an instructor’s permission to drop a class).

Many of the other “rude” behaviours I have experienced first hand, though I should note that I’m pretty laid back in the classroom and will usually deal with rude behaviours in creative ways. For what it is worth, here is are some of the behaviours from Groothuis’s list as well as from the comments, in no particular order:

  • Playing video games or surfing the web while in class [see my post on banning laptops]
  • Asking for the assignment two days before it is due when it was handed out two weeks earlier, or asking a question about an assignment/test the day before it is due. [While this isn't necessarily rude, it certainly doesn't instill confidence in a student's abilities.]
  • Eating entire meals in class [considering the scheduling issues with some of my classes, I don't mind students doing this as much -- as long as students are mindful of other students and clean up their mess.]
  • Reading a book or work on an assignment for another class [A mild irritant]
  • Students who think “asking a question” means “expounding a long-winded, irrelevant diatribe” [While I frequently say that the only bad question is the one left unasked, students should at least try to actually have a question somewhere in their comments!]
  • A student misses class and then asks “did I miss anything important?” [This one is rather irritating; I typically answer, "No, of course, not"]
  • Falling asleep in class [When students do fall asleep I will usually point it out to the rest of the class in some creative way. In one class I actually had another student take a picture of me standing behind a sleeping student; I would post the picture, but the student is actually going on to graduate studies and I don't want to embarrass him/her]

Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching. And many of these things don’t bother me as much as make my eyes roll.

What about other instructors or students? Any rude behaviours that top these?

Posted in Teaching & Learning | 2 Comments »

Ancient Egyptian Semitic Snake Spells (or “Snakes in a Pyramid”)

26th April 2007

“Ancient Egyptian Semitic Snake Spells” — say that five times fast! As I am getting caught up on some blogging, Shawn Flynn had brought to my attention an interesting article about some semitic spells found on the walls of the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara (BTW: Shawn has a relatively new blog called Palimpsest that is definitely worthy of our blogrolls).

Here’s an excerpt of the article from the National Geographic News:

The Canaanite spells were invoked to help protect mummified kings against poisonous snakes, one of ancient Egypt’s most dreaded nemeses.

According to the incantations, female snakes—acting as mediators for Canaanite magicians—used their multiple mouths and sexual organs to prevent other snakes from entering the mummified rulers’ remains.

The passages date from between 2400 to 3000 B.C. and appear to be written in Proto-Canaanite, a direct ancestor of biblical Hebrew.


Experts had attempted without success to decipher the serpent spells as if they were ordinary Egyptian texts composed in hieroglyphic characters.

But in 2002 a colleague asked Richard Steiner, a professor of Semitic languages and literature at New York’s Yeshiva University, if the texts might be Semitic.

“I immediately recognized the Semitic words for ‘mother snake,’” Steiner said at a recent lecture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he presenting the findings.

“Later it became clear that the surrounding spells, composed in Egyptian rather than Semitic, also speak of the divine mother snake and that the Egyptian and Semitic texts elucidate each other,” he added.

“It was hiding there in plain sight,” Steiner told National Geographic News. “It’s unintelligible to Egyptologists, but it makes perfect sense to Semitists.”

This discovery perhaps has some interesting implications for history of the Hebrew language and relationships between Egypt and the Canaanites.

Yeshiva University also has a press release about the report, while Shawn blogs about the report here.

Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Archaeology, Discoveries, Hebrew | 1 Comment »

Best Blogs about Biblical Studies?

25th April 2007

There is a list over at UnSpun on the “Best Blogs about Biblical Studies.” I’m not sure what significance the list has and who all made it, but Codex is ranked number 5. Cool.

UPDATE: I just noticed that there is another list “Top Ten Biblioblogs” and there Codex is ranked number 3. Even Cooler.

It seems that these rankings may be voted on by anyone and as such are not really that meaningful. That being said, thanks to anyone who thought of me and gave Codex a good ranking.

I’d like to thank God, my parents…

UPDATE #2: Airton José da Silva left a comment below… he’s the one who started the “Best Blogs about Biblical Studies” list (see his roundup here). I also read the FAQ from UnSpun and it looks like these rankings may have some validity as consensus rankings.

They are a nice gesture, though I doubt if they will contribute to my tenure!

UPDATE #3: I just noticed that there is also a “Biblioblogs I Read Most Often” list in which Codex ranks #4.

Posted in Blog News, Milestones & Visitor Recognition | 3 Comments »

The Book of Psalms for Beginners

25th April 2007

Stephen Cook over at Biblische Ausbildung has posted on “books that provide ‘accessible interpretation’ of the psalms.” He notes four books in particular, two commentaries and two introductions by two authors:

  • Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Interpretation. W/JK, 1994. Buy from or
  • McCann, J. Clinton. Psalms. New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4: 1 & 2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms. Abingdon, 1996. Buy from or
  • Mays, James Luther. Preaching and Teaching the Psalms. W/JK, 2006. Buy from or
  • McCann, J. Clinton. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Abingdon, 1993. Buy from or

These recommendations are excellent. McCann’s works are definitely accessible and chock full of valuable insights on the psalms that takes into consideration the latest of scholarly approaches to the psalms. Mays is a veteran psalms scholar and always has insightful comments and interpretations. The only criticism I have of Mays’s commentary is that it is too brief.

That being said, I would like to add a number of a number of other works to Steve’s recommendations. In regards to accessible commentaries on the book of Psalms from a Christian perspective I would include the following:

  • Broyles, Craig C. Psalms. New International Biblical Commentary: Old Testament. Hendrickson, 1999. Buy from or
  • Davidson, Robert. The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Eerdmans, 1998. Buy from or
  • Goldingay, John. Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41 . Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Baker Academic, 2006. Buy from or
  • Wilson, Gerald H. Psalms Volume 1. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan, 2002. Buy from or

In terms of a one volume commentary on the psalms that is historically and theologically sensitive, I really like Davidson. I would also recommend Broyles. I have been nothing but impressed with Goldingay’s commentary. It is accessible, yet scholarly; theologically deep, yet practical. I highly recommend his first volume and look forward to the others. The commentary by the late Gerald Wilson is also an excellent commentary that is both accessible and theologically rich.

In terms of introductions to the book of Psalms, I would also recommend the following:

  • W. H. Bellinger. Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990. Buy from or
  • Nancy L. Declaisse-Walford. Introduction To The Psalms: A Song From Ancient Israel. Chalice Press, 2004. Buy from or
  • Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. Journey through the Psalms. Chalice Press, 2002. Buy from or

Bellinger’s work is an excellent (and brief) introduction to the book of Psalms that focuses on form-critical interpretation, while Declaisse-Walford’s is another good introduction that covers all the bases of psalm interpretation, especially the more recent interest in the shape and shaping of the book of Psalms.

Hopkins’s work is perhaps the most accessible of any that have been mentioned by either Stephen or myself. It is a Brueggemann-esque introduction that is personally engaging and spiritually sensitive. The book is filled with numerous illustrations of visual art, poetry, and personal stories, as well as many practical group exercises.

For a comprehensive ranking of commentaries on the Psalms, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.

Any other suggestions?

Posted in Commentary Survey, Old Testament, Psalms, Reviews & Notices | 3 Comments »

Cool New Audio Biblioblog

24th April 2007

Tim Bulkeley, of SansBlogue and Hypertext Bible Commentary fame (or is that infamy?) has once again moved to the cutting edge and started an audio blog called “5 Minute Bible.”

He’s started a series on the book of Jonah. So far he’s posted an introductory podcast on Jonah 1:1 as well as one on the importance of genre — which actually deals more with Amos 4:4-5 (rather brilliantly, I might add).

I strongly encourage you to check it out — it’s really pretty cool. The podcasts are informative and witty — and Tim’s New Zealand accent alone is worth the five minutes!

And if you like the book of Jonah… check out my (incomplete) blog commentary here.

Posted in Blog News, Jonah | Comments Off

All Finished!

23rd April 2007

I am finished (in more ways than one!).

I am going to enjoy a nice bike ride into the University now and submit my final grades.

I still have to decide what I will do tonight to celebrate… but now I have to move on to some urgent publishing commitments, among other things!

No rest for the wicked weary!

Posted in Personal, Teaching & Learning | Comments Off

Hermeneutics Humour

20th April 2007

This morning in the final examination for my advanced hermeneutics class, a student entered, looked at me very seriously and said in a very stern and threatening voice, “I’ll fuse your horizons!”

I giggled throughout the exam period (of course, perhaps I thought it was funny because of my lack of sleep combined with my enthralment with Gadamer). If you didn’t get it, don’t worry. I told it to a number of my colleagues and they were also clueless.


Posted in Humour | 1 Comment »

End of Semester Marking Extravaganza

19th April 2007

Once again my blogging has lagged. I just haven’t had the energy at the end of semester and I didn’t know what to blog the last couple days in light of the horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech (I know it sounds like a cliché, but my prayers are truly with all involved).

At any rate, right now I am in the midst of my bi-annual “End of Semester Marking Extravaganza” so I won’t be blogging in the next couple days. Instead, I will be holed up in my home office listening to U2 and making my way through piles of exams and papers. I hope to have all of my grades submitted by end of the workday tomorrow… but I am not entirely confident I will meet that goal. I would love to be able to put the semester behind me so I can move on to other neglected projects.

In short, stay tuned!


Posted in Personal | Comments Off