Rock badgers: biblical animals, pest in modern Israel

Rock badgersMost of the animals mentioned in the Bible are quite familiar to English speaking readers, although some of the birds are rather obscure. But there is one small animal mentioned several times in the Old Testament which is a bit of a puzzle to many readers, not least because it goes by so many names: “coney” (KJV, ASV, NIV 1984), “badger” (RSV, NRSV, CEV, CEB), “hyrax” (NLT, HCSB, TNIV, NIV 2011), “rock badger” (GNT, NCV, NKJV, ESV), “marmot” (The Message) (all renderings in Proverbs 30:26). As Agur son of Jakeh teaches,

hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags.

Proverbs 30:26 (NIV 2011)

So it is interesting to read a BBC Nature report today (incidentally misquoting KJV) Hyraxes: why Israel’s ‘rock rabbits’ have become pests. Apparently these cute furry creatures “have moved into residential areas of Galilee”, where they live in piles of rubble, artificial equivalents to their favoured crags, and “have been destroying people’s gardens”. As they are not kosher (Leviticus 11:5), eating them would not be a solution. So, the BBC report concludes,

Although hyraxes are generally quite popular with suburban wildlife-watchers, some people have called for a cull.

But early research indicates that simply filling in the boulder piles would drive hyraxes out of the villages and back to the cliffs, just as it says in the Bible.

If only the BBC would broaden its recognition that problems can be solved by doing things “just as it says in the Bible”!

Is Rick Warren still Rupert Murdoch's pastor?

Rupert MurdochRick WarrenA few years ago a story was going around, for example as reported by Richard Bartholomew, that the megachurch pastor and best-selling Christian author Rick Warren claimed that he was the pastor of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. This was based on a quote from a 2007 story at WorldNetDaily:

In the New Yorker interview published in September 2005, Warren is quoted as saying: “I had dinner with Jack Welch (former chief executive officer of GE) last Sunday night. … And he said to me, ‘Rick, you the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting. I’m Rupert’s pastor! Rupert published my book!’”

In fact WorldNetDaily starts the same story with a denial of the most obvious interpretation of Warren’s words:

Rick Warren Chief of Staff David Chrzan wrote to me last week to say WorldNetDaily made “some errors in definition, assumption and application” in our news story about the mega-pastor’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

“First, the story is based on the assertion that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., is a member of Saddleback Church, which is not correct,” writes Chrzan. “In fact, he doesn’t even live in Orange County, CA, and has never attended a service here.”

Nevertheless it does seem that in some sense Warren considered himself, in 2005, to have some kind of spiritual responsibility for Murdoch. Warren has also sold at least 30 million copies of his book The Purpose Driven Life, published by Zondervan which is owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. Warren has profited from his book sales enough to be able to return 25 years of his salary to his church. No doubt Murdoch’s corporation has also made a good profit from Warren’s books.

In 2007 Batholomew and others like Chris Rosebrough called Warren out for failing to discipline Murdoch over his ownership of pornographic TV channels, and suggested that he might have kept quiet because of the publishing relationship between the two.

In view of the latest scandals relating to Murdoch and his newspapers, likened by Ruth Gledhill to the Augean Stables, should there be renewed calls for Warren to discipline Murdoch?

Well, first we would need to ascertain that there is a continuing pastoral relationship between Warren and Murdoch. I have found no evidence of this more recent than 2005. It may well have terminated in the intervening years. Indeed it is quite probable that Warren did indeed attempt to discipline Murdoch about the pornography channels, in private as would have been proper, and at that time Murdoch repudiated Warren as his pastor. But in this case it would be helpful for Warren to clarify publicly that what he said in 2005 is no longer true.

If there is in fact a continuing pastoral relationship, I would indeed expect Warren to discuss the current scandal with Murdoch. But he should do so privately, initially, according to the clear teaching of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-16). As Murdoch is not a church member, the biblical next step of bringing the matter to the church cannot apply. It would be appropriate, if the matter cannot be resolved, for Warren to terminate the pastoral relationship and to announce this publicly. But this should be the end point of a possibly prolonged process of clarifying how far Murdoch’s business practices are compatible with whatever kind of Christian faith he may profess.

Of course there might well be legal reasons, part of Warren’s publishing contract, preventing him from making public statements about Murdoch, similar to what may have kept Wayne Grudem from commenting on the NIV 2011 update. On the other hand, it would hardly be in Murdoch’s interests to terminate such a lucrative publishing contract.

Please note that I intend here no criticism of my friends at Zondervan, who, like Ruth Gledhill, are innocent people caught up in a scandal for which they bear no responsibility.

Thanks to Phil Groom, @notbovvered on Twitter, for reminding me of this story.

Ruth Gledhill on cleaning the Augean Stables

Ruth GledhillRuth Gledhill, Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Times, used to be one of my favourite bloggers. That is, until her blog, along with most other content at The Times, was put behind a paywall. That was reportedly at the insistence of the newspaper’s owners, News International, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. As the BBC reported last year, before the change,

NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks said it was “a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition”. …

Mrs Brooks said the decision to charge came “at a defining moment for journalism… We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value”.

Rebekah Brooks? We have heard that name again recently. Is she still proud of “our journalism”?

But back to Ruth Gledhill: she has now started her own personal blog, with an interesting name for someone who I think calls herself a Christian, Goddess of Small Things. She writes that this blog

will be a place for reflections on life as a working mum, as a parent of a chorister, as a breeder of Ragdoll cats, as an Anglican churchgoer, as a photographer of flowers, as a singer and classical guitar player.

But her latest post goes well beyond these subjects to reflect on her life as a journalist at a Murdoch newspaper, as she writes about Milly Dowler? Soham? Dead Soldiers? She reflects movingly on her personal dilemmas as an innocent employee of a company that has been accused of some shocking criminal activities. But I can’t help wondering whether she will get in trouble with her employers for other parts of what she has written:

How could they?


How could WE.

I am a journalist. I work for News International. I am on Twitter. I read The Guardian. I know what is being said. …

The shame. The terrible shame.

She goes on to suggest that the News of the World should print on its front page the Church of England’s General Confession, including

We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.

And she concludes:

I can’t forget about Milly Dowler. Soham. The dead soldiers.

I don’t want to forget. I will never forget.

The Augean stables are being cleaned at last. Bring on the tsunami.

Indeed. And it seems that the cleansing tsunami will sweep away the News of the World. Breaking news from the BBC:

Breaking newsNews of the World to close amid hacking scandal

This Sunday’s issue of the News of the World will be the last edition of the paper, News International chairman James Murdoch has said.

I look forward to seeing what kind of confession they will put on their final front page.

UPDATE a few minutes later: I posted this quickly to get the breaking news out. But there is a bit more I want to say. First, the BBC breaking news report has already, within 15 minutes, been updated to include a statement from James Murdoch, in which he says that “the good things the News of the World does”

have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong – indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company. …

the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose. …

The company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.

Not yet quite “The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable”, but a major step in that direction.

But I note a tweet from @subedit that

Sun staff have been told they are moving to a 7-day operation.

So perhaps what will really happen is that the News of the World will be rebranded as the Sunday Sun, as @subedit and Lord Prescott have already suggested.

I was also going to link to the campaign by Avaaz and 38 Degrees to stop News International from taking over BSkyB. Apparently the decision is to be delayed, until September according to @subedit. So it looks as if the campaign is having its effect, but we await further details.

Obama dead, reports Fox News

President ObamaFox News announced this morning that President Obama had been assassinated. At least that is what appeared on the Fox News political Twitter feed, @Foxnewspolitics.

These particular tweets, reported by the BBC, are of course hoaxes perpetrated by hackers. But it took eight hours for Fox News to remove the tweets and issue an explanation.

As I wrote yesterday in a comment on a different topic, “I don’t trust Fox News”. In fact I don’t trust any news outlet, although the BBC is generally better than most. But one reason why I am especially wary of Fox News is that, as confirmed by Wikipedia, it is owned by News Corporation.

It is not just that News Corporation is pushing a particular conservative agenda worldwide – indeed they would probably be pleased to have Obama if not dead at least out of the way. But this corporation, or at least its subsidiaries, seem to have scant regard for ordinary morality or decency, or for the law, in the way that it pursues its goals.

This has been seen most clearly in the News of the World telephone tapping scandal here in the UK. Journalists at this News Corporation newspaper have been found guilty of illegal tapping, and investigations into wider scandals are continuing.

In the latest development reported today by the BBC (but not linked by them to the Obama tweet hacking), it has been alleged that the News of the World hacked into the mobile phone of a missing 13-year-old girl, who was later found murdered. They even deleted some voicemail messages, it is said, giving her family false hope that she was alive. Not only would this be a gross intrusion into a family’s grief, it would also seem to have interfered with the police investigation.

The editor of the News of the World at the time, Rebekah Brooks, is now chief executive of News International, “the main UK subsidiary of News Corporation” which owns the News of the World and three other newspapers, and is bidding for full control of the TV news channel Sky News.

The corporation which hacks other people’s telephone records can hardly complain when it falls victim to hackers itself.

Why Americans don't like British roundabouts

A British roundaboutBBC News Magazine has an article Is the British roundabout conquering the US? And it seems the general answer is “No”, in spite of the popularity of these traffic circles in a few parts of America like Carmel, Indiana.

Apparently despite

on average a 40% decrease in all accidents and a 90% drop in fatal ones when a traffic intersection is replaced by a roundabout

there is a lot of resistance in the USA to making this change. The BBC reports the views of one American journalist who

thinks there is something deep in the American psyche which is fundamentally opposed to [roundabouts].

“This is a culture predicated on freedom and individualism, where spontaneous co-operation is difficult and regimentation is resisted.

“You see it in the way Americans get in line, or as the Brits say, queue. We don’t do that very well.

“Behind the wheel, we’re less likely to abide by an orderly pattern of merging that, though faster for the group, make require an individual to slow down or, God forbid, yield.”

Americans tend to be orthogonal in their thinking and behaviour, he says.

“We like right angles, yes and no answers, Manichean explanations. Roundabouts require more subtlety than we’re used to.”

Interesting. Is this true? I must say I find the way Americans handle four-way stop sign junctions (unknown in the UK) requires even more “spontaneous co-operation” than negotiating a roundabout. And as a Brit who also resists regimentation, I much prefer roundabouts to traffic lights or stop signs, at least unless the roads are very congested.

Meanwhile here in the UK the traditional roundabout is under threat. More and more are being rendered pointless by having traffic lights added to them. And here in Warrington a major roundabout is currently being ploughed up to be replaced by traffic lights. Perhaps in a few years they will found more often in America than in Britain.

As for Americans requiring “Manichean explanations” (something no British journalist would write expecting to be understood!), perhaps that explains a lot about their theology and their church life.

Justin Bieber's Jesus tattoo: why in his armpit?

Justin Bieber's Jesus tattooTeen idol and professing Christian Justin Bieber has a new tattoo, it is reported, and the tattoo reads יֵשׁוּעַ, i.e. the name “Jesus” in Hebrew. At least it should read that if correctly spelled, which it is not in the text superimposed on the image I reproduce here.

This image is allegedly of part of Bieber’s body. But I had trouble finding the supposed “Jesus” tattoo. The mark to the right of Bieber’s navel is presumably the seagull tattoo mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article. But where is the new tattoo? Apparently it is what is just visible in the image underneath the armpit.

What message, I wonder, is 17-year-old Bieber trying to put across by having the name of Jesus written on one of the most hidden and smelliest parts of his body? In an interview last November he clearly stated:

I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here …

So perhaps he intends to honour Jesus by having his name tattooed on his armpit. But I can understand some thinking that in fact he intends to ridicule the name by his choice of where on his body he had the tattoo done.

Here in the UK he would not be allowed to get a tattoo, as he is under 18. The law sensibly protects minors from having their bodies disfigured in ways they might regret in adulthood. Unfortunately Bieber, a Canadian who is said to have had his latest tattoo done in Israel, has not benefited from this protection. But from this point of view it is perhaps for the best that the tattoo is in an easily hidden place.

This time it is not Joel Watts but his co-blogger Gez who is the author of the post at Unsettled Christianity where I found this news, The new Bieber Jesus tattoo. No doubt they have chosen this topic in an effort to lift their end of the month Alexa ratings enough to dethrone Jim West from his #1 Biblioblogger spot. So I offer this post to support their effort – and hoping it won’t do my own ranking any harm. Anyway I am following in a venerable tradition of bibliobloggers such as John Hobbins and David Ker posting about celebrity tattoos.

CORRECTION: The correct Hebrew spelling for the name “Jesus” is not יְשׁוּעַ as I wrote at first, but יֵשׁוּעַ, i.e. with the sign for a long “e” (tsere) rather than a short one (sheva) under the initial consonant. Both are pronounced “Yeshua”. Bieber’s tattoo artist presumably didn’t know which to use, as he seems to have omitted this vowel sign completely.



Easter Saturday: Not St George's Day

St George slaying the dragon, by Gustave MoreauAs I wrote at the time, St Patrick’s Day was moved from 17th March 2008 because Easter was so early that year. This year, because Easter is so late, it is St George’s Day which has fallen foul of the rule that Holy Week takes precedence over regular saints’ days. So, as 23rd April falls this year on Easter Saturday, we English are not supposed to celebrate our national, if perhaps mythical, saint on his regular day.

The Church Times confirms that the Church of England, and not just the Roman Catholic Church, is officially observing this rule – while also noting that most people are ignoring the date change. Apparently St George’s Day has officially been postponed to Monday 2nd May.

This seems an odd choice of date except that it is a bank holiday, here in the UK. If this was the reason for changing to 2nd May, perhaps a better choice would have been Friday 29th April, to coincide with the royal wedding day, also a bank holiday. That way we English would only need to break out the bunting and patriotic flags once.

Thanks to Archdruid Eileen for the tip. This is apparently not one of the Easter myths that she is debunking.

Royal Wedding Bargain: Kate Middleton Jelly Bean, £500

Kate Middleton jelly beanThe Independent reports that the Kate Middleton jelly bean is expected to fetch £500. This piece of confectionery (that’s how you spell the word, Independent editors!) is supposed to resemble next week’s royal bride. And its owner Wesley Hosie,

a trainee accountant, said he plans to sell it for £500.

Well, I don’t think he will ever get past being a trainee if he lets this go for a mere £500. Souvenir sellers are expecting to rake in hundreds of millions of pounds, mostly from selling mass-produced rubbish. Surely someone with more money than sense will pay a small fortune for this unique jelly bean.

I think it’s the newspaper, not the owner, suggesting that the jelly bean is sold on eBay. That is probably where it will go for its proper value. But if the owner is prepared to part with it for £500, then I suggest someone with a bit of sense as well as money snaps up this bargain – and then sells it on eBay at a handsome profit.

Meanwhile the wedding I am looking forward to is not William and Kate’s.

How to quit smoking, in the Name of Jesus

Smith WigglesworthI came across an interesting snippet about how to quit smoking through the name of Jesus, – or perhaps more accurately, how to get others to quit through this name. These words are from a report written in 1915 by the famous Pentecostal evangelist and healer Smith Wigglesworth, on his 1914 ministry trip all around the USA and Canada. The snippet is interesting partly because it reveals an understanding of evil smoking is, from long before it was recognised as a major cause of cancer.

Wigglesworth writes:

A young man came to me to be delivered from nicotine poisoning through cigarettes which was wrecking his nerves, and he had tried all means to be free. By faith I cast out this evil power in the Name of Jesus. Oh, if we knew the power of the Name, what it means, and how God intends to honour the simple faith in the Name.

Millions around the world are still trapped by smoking, knowing that it is ruining their health and wanting to give up, but unable to do so. Neither human willpower nor chemical remedies can help many of these people. But Wigglesworth named this trap for what it is, an evil power, and invoked the name of Jesus. He alone has the power to deliver anyone from this and every other power of evil and bring them into the freedom of new life following him.

Smith Wigglesworth's own picture: leaving New York

Smith Wigglesworth's own picture: leaving New York

It was many years later that this same Smith Wigglesworth gave the prophecy which I previously discussed on this blog.