Adventures in Indexing

I spent some time this morning indexing some marriage records from 1882, and I noticed something funny in the lines shown here.

The top half is the marriage of John Dwyer (1) and Eliza Horan (4). John’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (2) and Ann Young (3). Eliza’s parents are Thomas Horan (5) and Mary McGrath (6).

But then, on the bottom half, we see the marriage of Michael Horan (11) and Mary A. Dwyer (12). Yes, they seem to be the siblings of the couple above. However, Michael’s parents are given here as Thomas Horan (5) and ANN YOUNG (3). And then Mary’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (12) and MARY McGRATH (6).

Whoever recorded this list seems to have switched the fathers’ wives by accident. I mean, either that or there was some crazy 19th century partying going on. But then some of the newly wedded couples would be half siblings already, so that’s much worse than a simple clerical error.

At any rate, I wonder if this was a double wedding–both weddings happened on April 17th (7) and were performed by the same reverend (9). I’m guessing the weddings recorded in this register happened in the order they’re written, which means that John married Eliza and then Eliza’s big brother Michael immediately married his brand new sister-in-law Mary. Notice that, in a delightful family arrangement, Michael was the witness at John’s wedding and John was the witness at Michael’s (8).

Another cute detail: under each groom’s name is his occupation. John Dwyer was an engineer (10), and Michael Horan was a “saloon keeper” (13), which seems like a pretty stereotypical job considering that he was born in Ireland (14).

1882

 

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My YouTube Interview With a Christian Apologist About the LDS Church

Nick K. of the “Next Generation Saints” channel is a really awesome guy. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago wanting to do a live online discussion about the our respective beliefs. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for a while, so I gladly agreed. We streamed our discussion yesterday, and we both think it went great. In fact, we want to do more of these! I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my testimony of Jesus Christ.

Eleven More Old Albums

There are actually seven other albums between the last music post and this one, but I’ll cover those on Wednesday.

23. Pixies, Doolittle 

I really liked this as a kid, but found much of the B-side hard to get into. Not anymore. This is an enjoyably eccentric success from start to finish.

New verdict: A

 

24. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses 

For a while I’ve felt that, of the bands I really liked as a teen, the one that still holds up the least has to be Depeche Mode, but I was only thinking that from memory, so I was worried about revisiting a few of their albums. Imagine my surprise at really liking this one still! Some tracks are weaker than others, but overall, I got back into this one pretty cleanly. Not awesome, but not bad at all.

New verdict: B

 

25. Depeche Mode, Violator 

The first album I heard by this band, when it was new, is still my favorite. I once read a disparaging remark about DM to the effect that their catalog is so simplistic that a truly talented musician like Leonard Cohen could have tapped it out on a keyboard while eating breakfast. That had a ring of truth, and maybe it’s why I devalued them in hindsight. But putting this influential album back on brought it all back, and even the minor tracks felt great, maybe even more so than the hits. Alas, nostalgia is like that, isn’t it?

 

New verdict: A

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2018 Book of Mormon Central Conference: Notes

My wife and I drove up to Provo Friday with our 12-year old and 13-year-old to attend this awesome conference. Thanks to our friends who watched our three youngest kids while we went, and thanks to Book of Mormon Central for organization such an amazing, enjoyable, educational event. Not only did we hear from several great teachers, but we got to take a tour of Herod’s temple with virtual reality headsets, see some museum displays about metal plates from Roman times and a Bedouin tent, the kids got to meet John Bytheway, and they even gave us lunch! :)

Here are my notes:

 

Matt Roper & Paul Fields: Abinadi to Zenos: 28 Speakers in the Book of Mormon

  • Multivariate Tukey-Kramer multiple comparison procedure shows 28 distinct speakers in the Book of Mormon.
  • Book of Mormon style cluster is completely distinct from other major 19th century works.
  • Diversity of speech in the Book of Mormon is easily far greater than any of the great novelists of the 19th century.
  • Style of each character is consistent throughout the text.
  • Mormon has 96,000 words, 36% of BoM
  • BoM narrator only = 15% of text, vs. 66% of 19th century novels
  • BoM voice diversity = 300, vs. 200 in 19th cent. Novels
  • BoM uses 28 styles consistently and congruently

 

Mark Wright: “In the Fields and in the Forests”: Mesoamerican Ecology and Cosmology in the Book of Mormon

  • Title from Mosiah 20:8.
  • To ancient Mesoamerica, fields are safe, forests (wilderness) is dangerous
  • Social spaces are modeled after cosmic spaces.
  • Preclassic period starts restricting temple space to high priests. Poor people couldn’t wear jade–reserved for upper class (priests, royalty).
  • Mayan temple rituals included a culmination in becoming god.
  • Mayans would integrate and adapt foreign influences: reflected in Ammon correlating “great Spirit” with God. After conversion, Lamoni’s father refers to “Great God,” not Great Spirit.
  • Jun Ajaw in a Mayan god, “one Lord,” lots of similarities to Jesus Christ.
  • Argemone mexicana–poisonous thistle. Mosiah 12:12, 7:30.
  • Mosiah 12:6–hail, east wind, pestilence, perhaps like destroyed maize and aftermath.
  • Helaman 5 on whirlwind and hail = Ritual of the Bacabs, colonial Yucatan document.
  • Alma quote Zenos to poor Zoramites: wilderness -> field -> house -> closet very much like inner / outer courts of temples
  • Mayan word saq means white/pure, tzuc means germinate/sprout/light breaking through. Compare Alma 32:42. Corn was considered a fruit, like the colors of corn above.

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Eleven More New Places To Eat

One of my goals for my year of being 40 is to eat at 40 new places, and I’m up to 17. Four of the first Mexican places I went are reviewed here. Here are the most recent eleven:

 

7. La Casita De Doña Machi, 1/18. I saw this on the drive from work to my son’s basketball game, and stopped in. I loved the atmosphere right away–the TV was tuned to a Spanish language news station. I had a burrito, which was so different from the fast food I’m used to–not nearly as mushy and juicy. Though that made it seem a bit dry to me, it was tasty, and washed down well with some hot sauce and soda. Very nice place–would definitely go again.

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8. New China Cuisine, 1/26. One of a few Asian places near my house that I’ve never gone to. It doesn’t look like much from outside, near the edge of a middlebrow strip mall, but on the inside the atmosphere wraps you up and draws you in. I took my wife there on a date night–she likes Chinese food even more than I do. The waitress had solid suggestions for us–I tried some excellent sweet and sour shrimp. The appetizer was egg drop soup, which I love and haven’t had for years. It made me find some recipes online and try to make it at home–alas, not nearly as good as theirs.

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9. Tacos El Gordo, 2/1. This came recommended from an old colleague, and I’m seriously grateful. The counter setup inside is a bit odd, but the food is sweet and solid. It’s like an In-N-Out Burger for genuine Tijuana tacos. Almost as good as the tacos was a creamy orange soda called Bang! Totally have to go back again soon.

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10. El Nopal Mexican Grill, 2/3. Continue reading

Reading Update

I’ve finished eleven books so far in 2018. Here they are:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (1.20, fantasy)–A. One of my goals for the year is to read this whole series–to the constant consternation of my students and my own children, I never have. This first entry was enjoyable and solid.
2. The Way Things Are, Lucretius (1.24, philosophy/poetry, Humphries trans)–C. This is a Roman item from the Great Works of the Western World, and it was so-so. Some interesting procedures in its progress, but ultimately I just didn’t care about most of what it had to say.
3. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington (2.9, memoir, sports)–A. A fantastic, important, inspiring story. A student (who happens to be a female athlete) saw it on my desk, so I summarized it and she seemed interested. I hope a movie gets made of this one, so more people will get exposed to Chrissie’s awesome story.
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (2.13, fantasy)–A+. The best of the three I’ve read so far–several plot strains weave together at the end quite organically. The suspense builds in increasing episodes throughout the book.
5. Praise of Folly, Erasmus (2.17, satire, Radice trans.)–B. This bit of cheeky caricaturing of life and society’s foibles was surprisingly accessible, for a satire written 500 years ago.
6. Lightning, Dean Koontz (3.2, suspense)–C. Ugh. What a predictable, stale bore. I’ve liked some of his books, and this is highly rated by fans, but I rolled my eyes several times, the writing was so bad.
7. I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, Robert I. Eaton & Henry J. Eyring (3.5, biography)–A+. An amazing life story! The method here is not hagiographic, but quite plainly presents Eyring’s life as a series of growth experiences, where he humbly learned and tried to improve. The narratives rooted in his journal entries are gripping. A great read.
8. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 1, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.10, history)–A+. Thoughts and notes here.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (3.20, fantasy)–A. Meh. The writing and characters, etc., are all fine and good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that not much was at stake here. Much ado about nothing. Plot wise, Rowling also seems in a bit of a rut, with a third book that follows a template that’s pretty familiar by now. Fans I’ve mentioned this to say that she really shakes up the series with book four, so I’m looking forward to that.
10. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 2, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.30, history)–A. Notes here.
11. What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Robert Bly (4.5, poetry)–B. Never read anything like this before–Bly writes prose poems. I enjoyed his subjects, style, and approach…mostly. He loves wildly juxtaposed comparisons, and often they work, but sometimes they really don’t. The final section was much weaker, to me, than the rest of the book. Still, I plan to read another of his collections soon.

40 For 40 Progress Report 5/12

Today ends my 5th month of being 40. I finished 5 more goals this month, bringing my total to 12:

Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes: I did this by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Holy cow, not a dud in the bunch! So many great moments I’d forgotten about. Maybe the biggest surprise was “Whacking Day,” a Schwartzwelder masterpiece that was even better than I’s remembered: the snake story is really a small part of it–this episode has the awesome Alien parody at the start, just after the bullies are locked up and forgotten until the episode’s final joke. Genius. I’m also surprised at just how many different great writers worked on those seasons, though the biggest writer surprise was noticing that Conan O’Brien wrote “New Kid on the Block.” I never knew that.

Write in my journal 40 times: I recently finished a biography of Henry B. Eyring, a book which was helped along greatly by the fact that he was apparently an inveterate journal-keeper in his middle years, when he was my age. Inspiring. I really enjoy this habit, and tend to be bemused/motivated/flabbergasted by reviewing old entries. I’ve tried to inculcate this habit in my children as well. Still, it’s a tough habit for me to keep: I’ve written more in that journal since my birthday than in the last few years combined.

No Netflix for 40 straight days: Continue reading

April 2018 General Conference Notes

Saturday Morning

Elder Ballard: Record in journal what you feel about today’s solemn assembly. Testimony of President Nelson’s calling. Urges us to sustain and follow. Faith is how we move forward. Also, gifts of sabbath day, sacrament, service, and our Savior. Vote for “honorable” people. Do not hesitate to run for public office if you desire. Some activities must always be at the heart of our membership. Lift and strengthen others. Visit and assist them. Answer questions and concerns in clear and kind ways. CHRISTLIKE SERVICE

Brian K. Taylor (70): [he tears up right away talking about how we’re all children of God.] The pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line: you are a child of God. Teach children identity and purpose. Story of a girl’s tragedy, told to write and say “I am a child of God” ten times a day. She drew nearer to Christ and felt better. [Reaches out to young mothers especially.] Seek God and His beloved Son! [Beautiful testimony—review this talk!] IDENTITY AS A CHILD OF GOD

Larry Echo Hawk (70): Focuses on forgiveness. [2nd speaker in a row to tell story of a fatal car crash!] Learned to have a forgiving heart from the Prince of Peace. Are there people in our lives who have hurt us? Do we harbor “fully justified” feelings of anger? Forgive completely and let healing come from within. Follow the example of Jesus on the cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” FORGIVENESS

Elder Stevenson: [Tells of his love for the prophets during his life.] 1. The passing of our prophet. 2. The time awaiting the reorganization of the new presidency. 3. The calling of a new prophet. 4. The sustaining and work of the new presidency. Details about President Nelson’s character. [Review the material about President Nelson’s teaching methods.] THE CALLING OF A PROPHET

Lynn G. Robbins (70): Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Why doesn’t the Lord give us success right away? 1. to give us experience. 2. to learn to know bitter from sweet. 3. the battle is the Lord’s  4. to learn Christlike attributes “I wanted to be on the same side as the students.” Repentance is the Lord’s plan for us to progress along the covenant path. The sacrament is not a license to sin. Not “going” from failure to failure but “growing.” BKP: “When we are through changing, we’re through.” Spiritual growth is as invisible as physical growth from day to day.  REPENTANCE

Elder Anderson: This assembly is everywhere in the world. The job of a prophet is to teach about Christ and lead us to Him. More details about President Nelson’s life. He is our watchman on the tower. [look up Ezekiel reference.] Elder Anderson’s wife went back and read all of Pres. Nelson’s conference talks from the past 34 years. [Some mighty fine cultural criticism in here!] Encourages us to follow the prophet, even if personal views are contrary to teachings. President Nelson: don’t put question marks after prophet’s teachings, put exclamations! FOLLOW THE PROPHET

Saturday Afternoon Continue reading

Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 2

And here are my notes on the twenty articles in the second volume!

 

    1. Israelites and pre-Israelites built elaborate water tunnels in rock that provided water during sieges. Impressive engineering feats that developed over time, and were refined throughout centuries.
    2. Underground tombs in First Temple period Israel have a standard floor plan similar to older catacombs in nearby parts of the world: entrance chamber with several rooms attached to it for burying bodies, with a preparation/funeral room. Engraved walls may resemble what the walls of Solomon’s temple looked like. Empty space between rooms stored bones as new generations were buried, perhaps inspiring Biblical phrases “gathered unto/buried with/slept with his fathers.” Such complexes are large–some are 10k square feet, including one under St. Etienne’s monastery. Rooms are built with a 8:10 cubit ratio, as with the temple–1 Kings 7:10.
    3. Excavations at Lachish show massive destruction in 12th century BC, as Joshua 10 says (by Israelites or Sea Peoples)–clearly done by fire. A large, detailed wall relief of Sennacherib at Nineveh shows his Assyrian conquest of Lachish in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13), and another destruction by Babylon in 588/6 BC (including the burying of the very important Lachish letters). Side note: in 1938, the original British excavator of this area, James L. Starkey, was murdered in the street on his way to a museum ceremony!
    4. Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a random 8th century BCE structure west of the Gaza Road in Sinai, was some sort of religious site, but no other details are clear. Multiple pottery inscriptions of YHWH and the Egyptian figure Bes are ambiguous, maybe indicating an asherah (a symbol of divinity) or Asherah (proper name–a goddess–and maybe even Yahweh’s wife). One inscription there contains a poetic blessing similar to that in Numbers 6. Name suffixes used there connect it to northern kingdom of Israel, not the nearer southern kingdom of Judah. As with all else at this site, nobody knows why. Side note: Artifacts were given to Egypt in 1994 as part of a peace treaty, and never seen since. A 2011 robbery, soon recovered by government and moved to Cairo, might be them.
    5. Israel was a victim of conflicts between Egypt to the southwest and Babylon to the east. Babylonian Chronicle tells of the destruction of Philistine city of Ashkelon in 604 BCE. Jeremiah 47:4 alludes to economic partnerships. Ashkelon has evidence for rooftop altars, condemned in Jeremiah 32:29. Many Egyptian artifacts there, such as figures of Bes, show a strong cultural influence. A 7th c. BCE ostracon there uses a pseudo-Hebrew script called Neo-Philistine. Contrary to stereotypes that Philistines were beer guzzlers, Ashkelon had refined wine facilities and stores. “Streets” in 2 Samuel 1:20 should be “bazaars.” Jeremiah railed against pro-Egypt policy of Judah; they ignored him and were destroyed.
    6. Small figures show lots of cultural exchange and borrowing from Egypt and Greece in Palestine. Pagan idols were very popular in Israel (despite reforms of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:3-6 and Josiah in 2 Kings 23:1-15), until after the return from Babylonian exile, when they suddenly disappear forever. Elephantine papyri from Egypt shows that dispersed Jews built a new temple there; Samaritans did the same at Gerizim in 4th century BC after being expelled.
    7. 1975-1996 excavation at Ketef Hinnom, a hill outside St. Andrew’s Scottish Church and Hospice of Jerusalem, found uses by several civilizations from 700 BCE (burial tombs) to World War I (ammo and weapons storage for Ottoman Turks). A Byzantine church on the site may have been “The Church of St. George Outside the Walls.” Most important find: a First Temple Period tomb repository unraided by looters! Includes a seal from “Palta” (maybe the official from Ezekiel 11:1,13), jewelry like that in Isaiah 3:18-21, two silver scrolls with variations of Numbers 6:24-26 and Deuteronomy 7:9. These inscriptions are the oldest known copies of writing similar to Biblical text–400 years older than the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls. This shows that the text of P (Priestly) author was developed by First Temple Period.
    8. 1970 excavation found a house in Jerusalem burned by Romans in 70 AD, belonging to family of Kathros, a High Priest (name inscribed on a stone weight in the ruins). Bones and a spear in the debris tell a dramatic story of sudden destruction.
    9. Dead Sea Scrolls were clearly written by Essene sect. Essenes applied Joshua 6:26 in their Testimonia document to their own plight; the “Cursed Man” there may be the same as their arch-enemy, the “Wicked Priest”; best candidate for that is High Priest Simon Maccabeus, founder of an illegitimate priestly line who persecuted those minorities who opposed him, like the Essenes.
    10. A house south of a synagogue in Capernaum dates from 1st century BC; in middle of 1st century AD, its largest room became a Christian church–domestic items disappeared, it was built up, and Christian inscriptions appeared on the new walls; in 4th and 5th centuries it was built up into even larger holy structures, ending with an octagonal church, a shape used for very sacred spaces. Early pilgrims identified it as originally St. Peter’s house, and there are ambiguous inscriptions on the walls that may or may not confirm that.
    11. Around Sea of Galilee, fish species named “musht” is called St. Peter’s fish, but the fish in Matthew 17:24-27 is probably a barbel, though the fish in Luke 5:1-7 is surely a musht caught by a trammel net (multiple nets are mentioned, partners are involved). Different kinds of nets are mentioned in figures of speech by the prophets.
    12. A drought on the Sea of Galilee in early 1986 revealed a sunken boat that was excavated and dated to the 1st century BC or 1st century AD. It is of the kind used by Jesus and the Apostles: four rowers (or an option for sailing with a mast), and could carry up to 15 men. Sandbags at one end could be used as pillows (Mark 4:37-39). Exciting story of digging it up while racing rising waters, would-be looters, and decaying timbers!
    13. A student photographing Jerusalem’s Golden Gate in 1969 kneeled in the adjacent cemetery and fell through the ground, into an old tomb that revealed parts of another double-door gate below the Golden Gate. Its age is unknown, but 19th century digging by Charles Warren found a wall 41 feet underground and 46 feet in front of Golden Gate. He described masonry similar to lowest courses of the wall on either side of the GG, which is probably pre-Herodian, and maybe as old as Solomon.
    14. In June 2004, a sewer repair project in Jerusalem revealed steps that were then fully excavated; they turn out to be part of the Pool of Siloam, from John 9:1-11. Coins in the plaster of the steps show that it is from the time of Jesus. (This corrects a location for the pool from Byzantine times by the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel.)
    15. The historian Josephus says that John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded at the remote hilltop fortress of Machaerus. Forgotten for centuries, it was rediscovered in the 19th century, and explored from 1968 off and on until recently. Very well preserved, it’s easy to see the courtyard where Salome would have danced and even where Herod’s throne would have been there!
    16. In 1968 a tomb was discovered in Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period with eight ossuaries (boxes to hold bones permanently after the rest of the body has gone). One of these boxes held the bones of the only victim of crucifixion ever found (though many near Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations did so). His heels had been pinned together by a nail that bent in the upright wood, so his feet were cut off so the body could be buried; some wood was still on the nail. His legs had been lined up together, then, with his knees sticking out to the side from the cross. Arms bones showed that he was nailed between the bones of the forearm, not his hands. His legs were broken so he would die faster, so he could have been buried before dark the same day (see John 19:18). Evidence from throughout the tomb shows that his family was wealthy, but most died young. He was in his 20’s, and was probably executed for politics. His name was scratched into the box: “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.”
    17. A plaque in the Colosseum in Rome gives information about the emperor who built it and when, but holes in the stone suggest other metal letters had been attached before this carving. An expert did some great logic puzzle work and surmised that the letters on those holes said that it was built with “booty.” The only place that much money could have come from for Rome at that time was their recent looting of the temple when they destroyed Jerusalem. The riches stolen from the Jewish temple financed the building of the Roman Colosseum.
    18. Christians were often sent to the infamous ancient copper mines of Faynan district in Jordan as punishment by Roman and even by early Byzantine rulers (for being the wrong kind of Christian). Faynan is mentioned, with different spellings, in Genesis 36:41 and Numbers 33:42. These mines were very dangerous–early Christian historians thought of men sent there as martyrs. Damnatio ad metalla: condemned to the mines!
    19. Sussita was an impressive mid-size city on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, probably established 3rd century BCE by Hellenistic Ptolemies, then integrated into Roman territory as part of the decapolis, and later by Byzantines. All three civilizations built sacred structures there, including hundreds of heavy columns. Sussita was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 CE and never inhabited again.
    20. Aphrodisias is a city in southeast Turkey. In late classical times, it was clearly home to a diverse array of religious groups, pagan, Christian, and Jewish. Religious graffiti (such as menorahs and crosses) is common in the city. A marble pillar has the longest Jewish inscription in Greek, a list of donors to the synagogue. Among the many names are theosebeis (“Godfearers”), non-Jews who supported and even participated in Jewish religious life.

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On Combining Priesthood Quorums

Maybe the most important thing said about the big reorganization change at today’s General Conference wasn’t in President Nelson’s ultimate priesthood session talk, but in the brief introduction he gave before making the initial announcement:

I’m very grateful for each man who bears the holy priesthood. You are the hope of our Redeemer, who desires that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world. He wants all of His ordained sons to represent Him, to speak for Him, and bless the lives of God’s children throughout the world. (italicized words emphasized in the original)

I think that’s the key. Besides the other reasons given tonight for this change–unity, harmony, communication, flexibility, diversity, etc.–consider this in light of other changes in recent years: starting the Preach My Gospel method of missionary work, lowering the missionary age, creating “Come Follow Me” curriculum for various ward groups, instituting monthly councils for various groups, eliminating First Presidency messages in the Ensign, and now this…what do they all have in common?

The recurring theme is putting more responsibility on individuals. Or maybe, to put it better, helping individuals see their existing potential. The point of all these changes is to empower people to live up to their abilities to serve the Lord.

So many critics want to paint our church as some repressive conspiracy run by a cabal of octogenarian oligarchs, but all of these changes show just the opposite. These are choices made by men who want to help put everybody behind the wheel of their own life. As Elder Neil L. Andersen said in the morning session, “A prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. He stands beside you and points the way to the Savior.”

Or, as it says in Number 11:29: “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”

Church leadership seems to be trying very hard to make that beautiful dream come true.

12 Great Adult Books That Teens Always Love

I’ve seen a lot lately about using YA (Young Adult) literature to help get students more interested in reading. I have mixed feelings about that–I primarily teach juniors, and my mindset is that I should be preparing them to be adults, not preparing them to be children. After all (as I often remind them when they’re being immature), in less than two years, they’ll actually be adults. Why not guide students to read things that will introduce them to the world they’ll soon be entering and living in for the rest of their life, instead of pandering to what is currently comfortable but which will be obsolete in a matter of months?

I’ve tried many different strategies for engaging young people with worthwhile literature over the years. While most of the stuff I offer fails big time (Alas, I’m looking at you, Stranger In A Strange Land, Catch-22, and A Farewell To Arms), some titles tend to make solid connections year after year. Here are twelve perennial winners:

  1. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I’m continually surprised by how many high schoolers haven’t even heard of this. It always scores a new fan, though.
  2. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. Even before the Hulu series, this one was a big hit, especially with feminist students. Two years ago, when one student was researching things about the book for a presentation after finishing it, and she learned that a trailer for the upcoming series has just been released, she made us all watch it. She smiled from ear to ear. That’s an extreme example, but still, kids who read this tend to dig it.
  3. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. This dark nostalgia-fest is easier going for those who struggle with reading. The details and the themes tend to resonate.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night. Everyone reads Gatsby in class and everyone loves it, but time and again, when students pick this one for other reading projects, they universally tell me how much they enjoyed it.
  5. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. While some teens are disappointed by the lack of gore, most of them get the creepy psychological vibe here, and it’s a quick, easy read. Never had a kid read this and regret it.
  6. Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men and/or The Road. Man, kids like Cormac McCarthy. I’ve had several good conversations comparing and contrasting the book and movie versions of these with teens. They don’t always get the deeper ideas he wants to impress, but the violent plots do certainly get them ready to think about them.
  7. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. Probably the easiest of Morrison’s works, this is still timely in regards to race and sex issues.
  8. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. Like other titles here, this one uses its scandalous appeal to communicate wonderfully deep ideas and style. The shocking sensationalism is always a hit; students may not even know that they’ve been educated by a classic!
  9. Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood. Like McCarthy in that her style brings deeper ideas to pop consciousness, but even more than being violent, kids just find her attractively weird. In a good way.
  10. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. What teen won’t relate to this, in some way, sometime? Bonus: if you’re expecting to see Catcher in the Rye in this list, forget it: you might be surprised by how many teens hate it, seeing Holden himself as a phony. The Bell Jar is where it’s at.
  11. Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels. Generally, this one is favored by young men who want to avoid anything too soft or fancy in their reading–ROTC types always love it. As with every title on this list, I’m happy to connect every type of student to something worthwhile for them to study, enjoy, and be enriched by.
  12. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five. Ditto from the last entry. The multi-genre weirdness of this one tends to rock readers a bit, but it’s a worthy and rewarding ride!

8 More Old Albums

Picking up where the last entry left off…

 

8. The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

I listened to this after hearing of the passing of Dolores O’Riordan in January. The album more than holds up; though the singles still strike me as the most impressive tracks, little if anything here is filler. Most tracks pop out with a fiercely effervescent personality.

New verdict: B

 

9. The Sundays, Blind

As I listened to The Cranberries, the 1990 single “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” by The Sundays, came back to mind, so I returned to their biggest album, the one after the album that ave us that great single. Sadly, though I liked Blind, and I truly loved Harriet Wheeler’s singing (which sounds not unlike Dolores O’Riordan’s), many tracks felt a little flat, a bit incomplete. The last track on Blind, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” may be the most surprisingly solid, but regardless, you should go back and enjoy “Here’s Where the Story Ends.”

New verdict: C

 

10. INXS, Welcome To Wherever You Are

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Notes on Biblical Archaeology Review’s Greatest Hits, part 1

40by40One of my goals for the year is to read 40 articles about the Bible. Casting about online and through library catalogues in January for suitable material, I came across this: in 2015, the venerable journal Biblical Archaeology Review celebrated their 40th year with a “greatest hits” collection of their 40 best articles ever. And that’s what we call serendipity.

I was able to borrow a copy of the massive, 600-page, two-volume set from the good people at the University of New Mexico. I just finished volume 1, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve never read anything like this before–it’s not technical at all; on the contrary, it’s clearly written to be accessible and exciting to a general audience. Every article was at least very good, and some were actually gripping page turners. Here are my notes on the first 20 articles, the ones in volume one. I’ll start volume 2 today.

    1. 3rd millennium BCE for patriarchal age–Joseph story reflects drought and famine in Egypt @2000 BCE–now-extinct “Kuwait River” may be Pishon, because of minerals nearby (like gold and bdellium)
    2. 2nd millennium BCE Mesopotamia inspired Biblical religion, esp. with a parental, personal God
    3. First alphabet invented by Canaanite miners (many immigrant cultures came to work in Egypt at this time) adapting Egyptian hieroglyphs, 19th century BCE–the evolution of forms is apparent in inscriptions. They took hieroglyphics and simplified their forms, but used them for the initial sound of each, to spell out their intended subject phonetically. “The alphabet was invented in this way by Canaanites at Serabit in the Middle Bronze Age, in the middle of the 19th century BCE, probably during the reign of Amenemhet III of the XIIth Dynasty.” alphabet
    4. First illustration of Israelites is in the 4th of pharoah Merenptah’s reliefs near his stele mentioning them, end of 13th century BCE, 600 years before any other reference outside Bible. They have no city and dress like Canaanites. merenptah stele
    5. Egyptian documents that indirectly parallel elements of the Exodus–as a series of smaller events over time, climaxing in late 13th century BC–include the Leiden Payrus 348 (mentioning ‘Apiru [Hebrew?] workers at Ramesses), Merneptah Stele, Papyri Anastasi (mentioning groups immigrating from drought and slaves escaping into the Sinai), and the Elephantine Stele (“Asiatic” enemies in Egypt robbing them before escaping).
    6. The common assumption that “Red Sea” means “Reed Sea” has no linguistic or physical basis–more likely is that the term is often literal but, as in the case of the parting mentioned in Exodus, symbolic of chaos and ending.
    7. Interview with legendary Israeli archaeologist about the uses and abuses of Biblical archaeology. yadin.jpg
    8. Physical evidence that Canaanite city Hathor was destroyed by intense fire in late 13th century BCE, as book of Joshua says, and by process of elimination, that the early Israelites are the only real contender for the destroyers. (However, most of Joshua, including battle of Jericho, has no physical evidence.)
    9. Lack of formal burial sites, as well as Spartan nature of pottery and architecture, and the lack of temples and royal inscriptions–all common to nearby societies–suggest that Iron Age I-IIA Israel (the time of the Judges) had an ideology of simplicity and egalitarianism.
    10. Ancient Arab town of Izbet Sartah is likely the Israelite town of Ebeneezer in 1 Samuel 4–geography and distances between known places, and location on a road used to get to Shiloh, make this probable. / Izbet Sartah pottery sherd from 1200-1000 BC (the time of the Judges) has longest Proto-Canaanite inscription, and oldest Hebrew abecedary, evidence for literacy among early Bible peoples, early Hebrew read from left to right, and letter forms show that Greek borrowing was also quite early, around 1100 BC. Biblical acrostics with two reversed letters also consistent with this early alphabet, with those letters in the same reversed order.
    11. Large 9-foot tall cultic center on Mt. Ebal from 12th-13th century BC may actually be Joshua’s altar from Joshua 8:30-35. It has very similar form to known altars in and around Israel, w/ evidence of animal sacrifice. It’s boxed to the compass, follows building directions in Exodus 20:26, 27:8 Deut. 27:1-10, and Mishnah. Independent altar–no town or temple nearby. No inscriptions found yet but it’s the oldest Hebrew altar known.
    12. Philistines were clearly part of the Sea Peoples–their armor and pottery attest to that. No Philistine text or language yet discovered.
    13. City of Ashkelon, ruled by Canaanites, innovated metal calf worship, condemned later in the Bible when it was ruled by Philistines during the Iron Age. Philistines are Aegean in origin, migrating from Greek world in 12th century BC. Mycenaean Greek pottery styles showing up later in Palestine, made from local Canaanite clay, shows this. Also, Ashkelon had an engraving of a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, made in Roman times, suggesting an ancient tale original settlers (Philistines) brought over that persisted. Goliath–with riddles, “magic” hair, and super strength–may be influenced by Hercules. Israelite tribe of Dan may come from the Danaoi of Greek legends–they “dwell on ships” & have no Biblical genealogy.
    14. “…the evidence is strong that iron technology developed in the Aegean and was probably brought to Palestine by the Sea Peoples, and perhaps by the Philistines themselves. Based on excavated evidence, it appears that the Philistines did not have a monopoly of sorts on ironworking, as reflected in [1 Samuel 13:19-22]. Iron weapons are found at Philistine sites only; at Israelite sites we find iron agricultural implements, as reflected in the literary tradition preserved in the Bible.”
    15. Excavation at Horvat Qitmit yields first find of Edomite shrine (though we know nothing of their gods and ceremonies), from around the time of the Babylonian destruction of 586 BC. Exact reason why Edomites were living in Judah in 7th and 6th centuries BC is unknown, though invasion of this edge of the ailing nation of Judah is likely. Pomegranates, found on pottery there, represent fertility in the Near East.
    16. 1993 excavation at Tel Dan, in north Israel, found an amazing fragment of a stele from 9th century BCE covered in clear fragments of script, which mentions both the “House of David” and the “King of Israel.” This is the first mention of David outside the Bible, and the oldest reference to Israel in Semitic script.The stele is from Aramean military/royalty boasting of victory over Israel & Judah, maybe a reference to events in 1 Kings 15:16-22 or something similar (the dates match, and both Bible and stele mention Hadad). This site also yields other items of interest with important Hebrew names in the Bible. name of david.jpg
    17. 2005 excavation north of the 12-story “Stepped-Stone Structure” in Jerusalem found a huge, regal palace adjacent to it–some sort of major public building, at least–that may be King David’s palace, called “Large-Stone Structure” for now. That spot satisfies 2 Samuel 5:17–the fortress is “down” from the palace; the rest of the City of David is lower. Pottery dates this building to around 1000 BCE, the time of David; nothing is beneath this excavation, meaning that it was not built on an older site–indeed, this is outside the border of town from the Jebusite period. Beautiful, intact pottery shows that this area existed and ended peacefully. A fascinating find there: a document seal engraved “Belonging to Yehuchal son of Shelemiyahu ben Shovi.” This royal minister is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. [In 2014, a scholar from a skeptical university agreed that this site is a good candidate for David’s palace.] david grandfather.jpg

      david.jpg

      There are many exciting first-person narratives like this in the book!

    18. No archaeological evidence for Jerusalem as a major city before King David, but the very important Egyptian “Amarna letters” between two pharaohs show that it was. Complexity and detail of later Biblical writing shows literacy in David’s time because of the records that later writers must have referred to. Pottery writing (ostraca) from 8th and 7th centuries BCE show elements of hieratic Egyptian, which must have been incorporated hundreds of years before, since other neighbors closer to Egypt then didn’t use it. Jerusalem may have been more of a “chiefdom” at that time, but they and their neighbors saw Israel’s leaders as kings.
    19. In 1979 an archaeologist found a small ivory pomegranate in an antiquities store that, upon inspection, seems to come from Solomon’s Temple. If so, it’s the only part of that temple ever found. Pre-Babylonian exile Hebrew on it reads, “Belonging to the temple of the Lord, holy to the priests.” Exact function is unknown. Most who have inspected it declare it genuine. Now on display in a museum in Israel. 
    20. The ‘Ain Dara temple in northern Syria, excavated between 1980-1985, is the closest parallel in size and age to Solomon’s temple, of which nothing remains. They have a nearly identical floor plan; indeed, dozens of others also do, showing this to be a standard template. Faces southeast. 1 Kings 6:5,8 also calls for an outer hallway around the perimeter; ‘Ain Dara also has these. 1 Kings 6:4 calls for some kind of window–scholars can only guess what they were, but ‘Ain Dara has some false windows made of recessed frames. Walls of both are heavily decorated with nature and mythology pictures (1 Kings 6:29). Apparently built to honor Ishtar (due to the art’s lion motif), ‘Ain Dara also has a series of 3-foot long footprints carved into the floor. 
      giant

      Who *wouldn’t* want to read a book with lines like this in it?

      temple

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40 For 40 Progress Report 4/12

I just finished my fourth month of being 40–that’s 33% of the way through the year now–and I finished three more goals this month, bringing my total from 4 to 7. The three I just did were: Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in 40 days, Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, and Read Calvin and Hobbes every day for 40 days.

I already wrote about my Book of Mormon reading. Since then, I’ve been reading it in Portuguese, listening here and following along with dual-language text here. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is “E aconteceu.” Book of Mormon readers can probably guess what that means.

I’ve made efforts to make purely random, positive parent phone calls a few times in recent years, but never anywhere near this many. I simply praised the student for some quality, and thanked the parent for the great job they’re doing. Some folks were befuddled, most were sweetly touched, a few cried. Often, the student was grateful to be recognized and rewarded in any way, though some clearly thought it was odd to be complimented like this. I tried to focus on those who don’t always get as much attention in school as they deserve. Even after forty, there are plenty more who need and deserve some extra positive feedback. So…

I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes since the first collection I got in 7th grade. In fact, that book, Weirdos From Another Planet, might actually be the oldest book I still have from my childhood. Not only has it aged well, I appreciate it more now than ever. Obviously, it’s full of social commentary, but there are satirical aspects that younger me couldn’t appreciate. This was by far the easiest goal I’ve checked off so far!

I’m actively in the middle of eleven other goals right now, many I hope to have done by next month. I was trying to give up soda for 40 days, a second attempt this year, but only lasted 15 days. That was still better than the other time–11 days. I was inspired by Lent, so I feel extra bad for failing. But I’m also in the middle of a Lenten Netflix fast, and that’s going surprisingly well!

There are also eleven goals where I’ve made very little to no progress at all yet…

 

Whatever Happened To Eric Coyle?

This spring marks 20 years since UNLV student Eric Coyle made national news when he took 64 credits in one semester, graduating with five degrees at once. I heard about it as I was a sophomore there at the time, and it made a big impression. I’ve told his story to many classes over the years, for motivation and perspective, but they always want a follow up that I can’t give–try as I might, I’ve never found anything else about him anywhere online.

The news reports at the time said that he’d be going to Georgetown for law school, but after that he basically disappears from public record. A Google search for “Eric Coyle lawyer” doesn’t bring up anything useful, and social media doesn’t provide any solid returns at all. His is a fantastic story, and I hope the last two decades have seen great joy and success for him, but I wish he’d pop up somewhere with an update. Eric, dude, where are you?