Visualizing Isaiah 36: Hezekiah and Sennacherib

This installment regarding Isaiah’s prophecies features the “Sennacherib Prism” — one of which is in the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, and featured in my tours there as a Docent at the OI. Check out other installments on “Ferrell’s Travel Blog.”

Ferrell's Travel Blog

Two significant historical characters are mentioned together in Isaiah 36. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria from 704–681 B.C., claims to have taken 46 cities of Judah in the days of Hezekiah. The biblical account says,

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. (2 Kings 18:13 ESV)

There are three known clay prisms in which Sennacherib mentions Hezekiah, king of Judah.

  1. The Taylor Prism, in the British Museum
  2. The Oriental Institute Prism in Chicago
  3. The Jerusalem Prism, in the Israel Museum

Sennacherib admits in the prism-account that Hezekiah did not submit to his yoke, but was “shut up in Jerusalem” like a caged bird.

The Jerusalem Prism, now displayed in the Israel Museum, is perhaps the least well-known of the three documents. Our photo shows that document displayed under the replica of the relief of…

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“Jesus’ Wife Fragment”: Further Observations

“Jesus’ Wife Allegations Are ‘Misleading Tripe:” Hurtado

Larry Hurtado's Blog

As a follow-up to my initial observations yesterday, I’ll offer a few more to underscore where I think things are at this point.

  • First, let me reiterate that all references to “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” are completely misleading tripe.  What we have is a purported small fragment with several incomplete lines on each side, in which one line contains the words “my wife” ascribed to Jesus there.  If the fragment is authentic (i.e., from some Christian hand ca. 7th-10th century CE, as per the Harvard radio-carbon test), only God knows what it was.  But it’s totally mischievous to claim that it comes from some “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”.  We have a “Jesus’ Wife fragment.”  That’s it.
  • The most recent palaeographical, chemical and radio-carbon tests reported in the latest issue of Harvard Theological Review support the conclusion that the writing material is old, that the ink seems composed per…

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“Jesus’ Wife” Articles in HTR: Initial Thoughts

Careful analysis — countering a lot of speculative publicity.

Larry Hurtado's Blog

From an initial (and rapid) reading of the articles in the latest issue of Harvard Theological Review about the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment, I’ll offer the following preliminary thoughts.  (I had planned to pursue another project today, but an email early this a.m. alerting me to the HTR publications drew my attention to this “breaking” story.)

First, I’ll speak to Malcolm Choat’s preliminary observations about the fragment from a papyrological and palaeographical perspective.  (Choat is a recognized figure in these matters, with special expertise in things Coptic.)  I note that essentially Choat concludes that he wasn’t able to find “a smoking gun,” i.e., some clear indication of inauthenticity.  I was particularly impressed with his note that there didn’t appear to be any ink-traces on the part(s) of the fragment that seem to have suffered damage.  So, either the damage happened after the text was written, or else a supposed forger damaged…

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The Porn-Free Family

The Porn-Free Family

From Tim Challies’ Blog — Informing the Reforming

I’m a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

THE PORN-FREE FAMILY PLAN

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor….

 Read more at: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-porn-free-family-plan

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

Matt Bassford on Writing “Exalted”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

— 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)

I can’t find my writer’s notebook from the late 1990s, but if memory serves, I wrote “Exalted” in April 1999, which makes this the 15th anniversary-ish of my having done so.  At the time, I had no inkling that it would make its way into the repertoire of the Lord’s church; indeed, to this day, its success leaves me both thankful and bemused.  Hopefully, my account of its creation will prove of interest.

In April 1999, I had no idea how to write hymns.  I had been through two sessions of Craig Roberts’ Hymninar; I could analyze hymns according to the technical trinity of rhythm, rhyme, and meter; but my own ability to duplicate what I had studied was negligible.  Writing an “Abide with Me” or “In the Hour of Trial” was as far beyond me as playing in the NBA.

That was a problem, because I had something I wanted to say.  It too came from Craig, from a sermon that he had preached for the Sunday-morning assembly of R.J. Stevens’ 1998 singing school.  It was entitled “The Glory and the Shame”, and it was a study of the contrast between Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion less than a week later.

I became fascinated with the rich irony of the Biblical account.  I said to myself, “I should write a hymn about that.”  I set pen to paper, gave it my valiant all. . . and failed ignominiously.  This was not a, “It’s not THAT bad, Matt” kind of failure.  It was more like, “Matt, are you sure that English was your first language?”  I am notoriously incapable of determining when something I’ve written is bad, but this time I could tell.  It was bad enough to set stray dogs to howling.

Like the builder of Swamp Castle, I tried again a few months later.  Also like the builder of Swamp Castle, I failed again.  The result looked sort of like a hymn, with rhymes and lines of the appropriate length.  However, it had all the elegance and grace of a cinder block.  Whatever one needed in order to capture the ironies of the crucifixion in rhyme and meter, I did not possess.

Fine.  I couldn’t write hymns.  So what?  I was still going to write THIS hymn!  In the depths of my frustration, I hit upon the expedient of structuring the hymn around parallels, like the Hebrew poets did, rather than using rhyme.  Once I made that mental switch, the rest was easy.  I banged out the first draft of “Exalted” in about half an hour, and that first draft was substantially what is sung today.

However, my work created another problem.  If some determined 20-year-old handed me “Exalted” today, I would tell him it couldn’t work as a hymn because the verse-to-verse structure is bad.  As most of our hymns do, “Exalted” has three verses, each intended to be sung to the same tune.   That same tune, then, must match the emotional feel of all three verses.  In most good hymns, all the verses have the same mood or at least reside in the same general part of the emotional spectrum.  This allows the composer to craft a joyful tune that matches the joyful mood of “Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah!” or a rich, sorrowful tune that matches the sorrow of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.

Those hymns have excellent verse-to-verse structure.  The verse-to-verse structure of “Exalted” is terrible.  It has one grand verse about the glories of Christ the King, one ironic verse about the vicious way He was received by His people, and one half-and-half verse about the different ways He is received today.

A hymn like that pulls a composer in two.  He can’t write a grand tune to match the first verse, because then it won’t match the second.  He can’t write an ironic tune to match the second verse, because then it won’t match the first.  All he can do is compose a neutral tune that kind-of matches the tone of the entire hymn, but neutral is boring is not sung is a failed hymn.

This is not a hypothetical.  I spent years writing hymns that failed because of bad verse-to-verse structure.  It still gives me more trouble than any other aspect of hymnwriting.  “Exalted” should have ended up on the dust heap with all of those other failed hymns.  It didn’t because I, having no idea what I was doing, asked Charli Couchman to write the music.

Charli is a phenomenally talented composer, but “Exalted” may remain her finest work.  She’s written plenty of good tunes to good hymns, but in “Exalted” she found a hymn that was destined to die and gave it life.  The flawed verse-to-verse structure meant that she could not write an interesting melody, because an interesting melody would be a mismatch to one or more verses.  Instead, she wrote a boring, flat melody and made it interesting, even unique, by passing it back and forth between parts.  The result is unlike anything I’m familiar with in the tradition of English hymnody, yet simple enough that a congregation with moderate musical gifts can pick it up.

Charli’s success was not apparent at first.  If you’ve ever heard a MIDI recording of “Exalted”, it’s terribly boring, and 15 years ago, the MIDI was all we had to go on.  However, when the hymn is sung, its chords swell and come to life, infusing both the glory and the suffering of Christ with grandeur.  It is quite an achievement.

By profession, I am inclined to supply morals to any story, so here are three.  First, it highlights the utility of good old-fashioned stubbornness.  Even a brick wall may cave in if you bang your head against it long enough.  Second, it helps to have friends who will rescue you from yourself and make you look good!

Finally, though, and most of all, I am reminded that when it comes to the gospel, the talents of the messenger are nothing next to the power of the message.  God is perfectly capable of taking a 20-year-old kid in central Missouri, a kid who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t know how to do anything, and using that kid to glorify Him.  If there are lines in “Exalted” that confuse you, that’s not because I was particularly profound in 1999.  It’s because I wasn’t a very good writer.

And yet, despite the warts, despite the flaws, despite all the things that I yearn to go back and red-pen, the majesty of the story of Jesus shines through.  That’s not only all that I can hope for from my hymns.  It’s also all I can hope for from me.

Posted by M. W. Bassford at 7:28 AM, Monday 14 April 2014

NOTE: EXALTED is #198 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Read more, including comments, at http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2014/04/writing-exalted.html