Monthly Archives: July 2007

Vatican Webcam

The Vatican City State launched its own website recently. It has a lot of good content and really detailed information about the buildings, gardens and even the government structure. You can get Vatican stamps and coins by calling the number on the website. Also, you can find the phone number for the Vatican pharmacy and a link to the Vatican observatory.

But the coolest thing is the webcam page. It’s only viewable with MS Explorer. It has five webcam views: St. Peter’s Square, the basilica’s facade, the Governorate building and the tomb of John Paul II. It’s a really cool supplement to the Vatican’s website. So, check it out!


My Inspirations #1: Mortimer Adler

You may have wondered about the portraits in my sidebar of various individuals. I labeled this group of people “My Inspirations,” not because no one else has inspired me, but because these individuals have touched my heart in a certain way that is unique and life-changing. In an important sense, I want my life to be like their lives. Obviously, I don’t want to relive Mother Teresa’s life or reproduce the works of C.S. Lewis, but I do want to live in the same spirit of love that animated Mother Teresa and I want to be able to write with the simple profundity of C.S. Lewis.

So I’m going to write a series of profiles of each of these persons and explain their influence on my life. I also will strive to provide a bibliography of their published works and significant links to where you can find out more about them. I will not attempt to provide full biographies, just some vital statistics that will introduce you to some people who have inspired me. Maybe they’ll inspire you too.

We begin with Mortimer Adler, not because he is the most important on the list but because his name comes first in the alphabet.

Mortimer Adler
Life: 1902-2001
Profession: Writer and professor

Mortimer Adler’s most significant intellectual contribution was his creation of the Great Books program at the University of Chicago. He also edited the “Great Books” series published by Encyclopedia Britannica, which you may have spied on your grandparents’ bookshelf.

His greatest influence on my life was a little book called How To Read a Book. This handy little book has helped me make the immense amount of time I spend reading more fruitful and productive. Frankly it’s the best book about reading a book. I highly recommend it if you get a chance to pick it up. He presents a method for systematically reading a book and he even tells you how to mark a book’s margins. At the back of How To Read a Book he includes a very good list of most of the best books ever written–really good reading material if you need something to perk up your mind.

Adler had struggled with theological and philosophical ideas his whole life, yet he had remained a self-professed pagan. But in 1984 God touched his life and Adler became a Christian, an Episcopalian to be exact. Amazingly, this was not enough. Just two years before his death, Adler converted to Catholicism. He had been going to a Catholic church with his wife and finally decided to be received into the Church himself. (Weirdly enough, his funeral was held at an Episcopalian church. I’m not really sure why. If I can figure it out, I’ll update this post. There’s also conflicting information as to whether he became Catholic in 1999 or 2000.)

I think I have a special affinity for Adler, Lewis and Muggerridge because they all struggled intellectually with the ideas of faith and Christianity before they actually converted. There’s an intellectual honesty about these men which inspires me and encourages me as I think about and struggle with the ideas of faith and philosophy.

Links about Mortimer Adler:
The Wikipedia Article
A brief biography by Margaret Farrand
A stub article from Christianity Today
The Radical Academy: Bio, Bibliography, Adler Anecdotes
Outline of Adler’s Life
A comprehensive bibliography

A Select Bibliography of Mortimer Adler(from Wikipedia)
* Dialectic (1927)
* The Nature of Judicial Proof: An Inquiry into the Logical, Legal, and Empirical Aspects of the Law of Evidence (1931, with Jerome Michael)
* Diagrammatics (1932, with Maude Phelps Hutchins)
* Crime, Law and Social Science (1933, with Jerome Michael)
* Art and Prudence: A Study in Practical Philosophy (1937)
* What Man Has Made of Man: A Study of the Consequences of Platonism and Positivism in Psychology (1937)
* The Philosophy and Science of Man: A Collection of Texts as a Foundation for Ethics and Politics (1940)
* How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education (1940), 1966 edition subtitled A Guide to Reading the Great Books, 1972 revised edition with Charles Van Doren, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading: ISBN 0-671-21209-5
* A Dialectic of Morals: Towards the Foundations of Political Philosophy (1941)
* How to Think About War and Peace (1944)
* The Revolution in Education (1944, with Milton Mayer)
* The Capitalist Manifesto (1958, with Louis O. Kelso) ISBN 0-8371-8210-7
* The Idea of Freedom: A Dialectical Examination of the Conceptions of Freedom (1958)
* The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings (1961, with Louis O. Kelso)
* The Idea of Freedom: A Dialectical Examination of the Controversies about Freedom (1961)
* Great Ideas from the Great Books (1961)
* The Conditions of Philosophy: Its Checkered Past, Its Present Disorder, and Its Future Promise (1965)
* The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (1967)
* The Time of Our Lives: The Ethics of Common Sense (1970)
* The Common Sense of Politics (1971)
* The American Testament (1975, with William Gorman)
* Some Questions About Language: A Theory of Human Discourse and Its Objects (1976)
* Philosopher at Large: An Intellectual Autobiography (1977)
* Reforming Education: The Schooling of a People and Their Education Beyond Schooling (1977, edited by Geraldine Van Doren)
* Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy (1978) ISBN 0-684-83823-0
* How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th-Century Pagan (1980) ISBN 0-02-016022-4
* Six Great Ideas: Truth-Goodness-Beauty-Liberty-Equality-Justice (1981) ISBN 0-02-072020-3
* The Angels and Us (1982)
* The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982)
* How to Speak / How to Listen (1983) ISBN 0-02-500570-7
* Paideia Problems and Possibilities: A Consideration of Questions Raised by The Paideia Proposal (1983)
* A Vision of the Future: Twelve Ideas for a Better Life and a Better Society (1984) ISBN 0-02-500280-5
* The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus (1984, with Members of the Paideia Group)
* Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985) ISBN 0-02-500330-5
* A Guidebook to Learning: For a Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom (1986)
* We Hold These Truths: Understanding the Ideas and Ideals of the Constitution (1987)
* Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind (1988, edited by Geraldine Van Doren)
* Intellect: Mind Over Matter (1990)
* Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth (1990) ISBN 0-02-064140-0
* Haves Without Have-Nots: Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism (1991) ISB
N 0-02-500561-8
* Desires, Right & Wrong: The Ethics of Enough (1991)
* A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher At Large (1992)
* The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought (1992)
* Natural Theology, Chance, and God (The Great Ideas Today, 1992)
* The Four Dimensions of Philosophy: Metaphysical-Moral-Objective-Categorical (1993)
* Art, the Arts, and the Great Ideas (1994)
* Adler’s Philosophical Dictionary: 125 Key Terms for the Philosopher’s Lexicon (1995)

Edited works

* The New Technology: Servant or Master (in work, with Phillip W. Goetz)
* Scholasticism and Politics (1940)
* Great Books of the Western World (1952, 52 volumes), 2nd edition 1990, 60 volumes
* A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas (1952, 2 volumes), 2nd edition 1990
* The Great Ideas Today (1961-1977, 17 volumes), with Robert Hutchins, 1978-1999, 20 volumes
* Gateway to the Great Books (1963, 10 volumes), with Robert Hutchins
* The Annals of America (1968, 21 volumes)
* Propædia: Outline of Knowledge and Guide to The New Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition (1974, 30 volumes)
* Great Treasury of Western Thought (1977, with Charles Van Doren)


Ancient Sayings on Debt

I have hauled sand
I have carried salt
But nothing is heavier than debt.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend.

The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender
-Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

Painful to a sensitive man
are abuse at home and insults
from his creditors.
-Sirach 29:28 (NAB)

Debt is the slavery of the free.
-Publius Syrus

Update! 9/21/07
Ok, so this quote isn’t ancient, but it’s really good:

What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of
debt, and has a clear conscience?
– Adam Smith (1723-1790)


Council of Jamnia

jamnia_sea-752419If you ever read anything about the differences between the Protestant and Catholic canon, you will most likely see mention of the Council of Jamnia. At this council, the first century AD Jewish leaders are supposed to have thrown aside the deutero-canonical books (Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach and parts of Esther and Daniel) as non-Scriptural since they were preserved only in Greek and Aramaic, not in Hebrew.

But what if the Council of Jamnia never happened?

I asked myself this question and went to the Anchor Bible Dictionary to take a look. I found a great article by Jack P. Lewis who explains the intellectual history of the Council of Jamnia hypothesis. Yep, hypothesis! The Council of Jamnia has always been a hypothesis.

Here’s the scoop: A German scholar, Heinrich Graetz, introduced the idea in 1871 based on a tiny passage in the Mishnah, m. Yadayim 3:5. Yadayim is one of the last sections in the sixth order (part) of the Mishnah, called Tohorot. Since then, tons of scholars have repeated over and over and over that the exclusion of the deutero-canonical books relies on the Council of Jamnia’s decision. But very few scholars go back to Graetz’s work and take a look at m. Yad. 3:5. I was curious, so I took a look.

Guess what I found? Nothing. Exactly, nothing.

m. Yad. 3:5 presents a few rabbis’ arguments about whether Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are canonical or not. That is, whether they “render unclean the hands.” (If a book is canonical then it “renders unclean the hands.”) After a few arguments are presented, then votes are cast and both books are considered canonical. That’s it. There is no discussion of the deutero-canonical books. There is no definitive list of the canonical books. There is nothing that indicates they made more decisions. It only presents two sides of an argument over the canonicity of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.

So what the heck is going on? Why do people use this tiny passage to make a huge argument when the two have nothing to do with each other? And what happened at Jamnia anyway?

After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD and before the Bar-Kochba rebellion of 135 AD, Judaism underwent huge changes. There was no Temple, so Judaism had to be re-thought. Some Jewish scholars, scribes, priests, rabbis and theologians lived in Jamnia (a.k.a. Yahvne)–a small coastal town in Judah. They formed an academy of sorts which had theological discussions and began many of the traditions in the Mishnah. They helped re-create Judaism without a Temple. But there was nothing official. They were scholars, not officials. None of them were voted in by other communities. And they did not have a formal system for establishing orthodoxy. They voted on certain things, but were free to disagree. But most importantly, they did not fix or establish a canon of Scriptures. They had a debate over the canonicity of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, but we have no record at all of them debating or establishing the canonicity of ANY OTHER BIBLICAL BOOK. There were no official sessions, no formal power. Just scholars trying to rethink Judaism. That’s it.

So, yes, Jewish thinkers were gathered at Jamnia, but not for a “Council.” They were there for an academy, a school, a community of scholars not a body of official decision makers. And we have no record of them working on the canon except for the two books mentioned above. THEY DID NOT ESTABLISH A CANON. They did not throw out the non-Hebrew books and repetition of the saying will not make it so. For all intents and purposes, the so-called “Council of Jamnia” never happened. It is a fiction proposed by a nineteenth century scholar. There is no historical basis for the claims made about it.

People use it as an argument because they’ve heard about it. They’ve read it. But that doesn’t make it true. People use it because it’s ancient. It sounds credible, but it’s not. So next time you hear someone cite the “Council of Jamnia” to support a Hebrew-only Old Testament canon, just remember Heinrich Graetz and m. Yad. 3:5.

Wikipedia articles:
-Council of Jamnia

I tracked down the place where Graetz makes his claim. J.P. Lewis points to Graetz, Heinrich. Kohelet, oder, Der salmonische Prediger. Leipzig, 1871. Unfortunately very few libraries in the United States have this book and my German is poor. But I did find Graetz making the same claim in his History of the Jews, vol. II, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1893, p.343-4.

Graetz is narrating the events at Jamnia based on m. Yad. and he states, “The second question concerned the holiness of the two writings ascribed to King Solomon, Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), and the Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim). The school of Shammai had not recognized them as holy. This old contest was now taken up by the College of the Seventy-two, which had not approved of the decisions of Hillel, but it is not clearly known with what result. Later on these Halachas were included in the collection (Canon) of the Holy Writings, after which the Canon was completed and several writings in the Hebrew language were rejected as Apocrypha, such as the proverbs of Sirach, the first book of the Maccabees, and several others.”

There are no citations or footnotes in the book. Clearly, Graetz is relying on m. Yad. 3:5, but he offers no back-up for his huge claim that the Canon–capital “C”–was established at Jamnia. There is no back-up. Period.