Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

If anyone is interested in studying Biblical Hebrew I am willing to do some tutoring this Fall. I am located west of Innisfail but could meet somewhere more central. I’d like to use the textbook “Basics of Biblical Hebrew” by Pratico and Van Pelt. I know that college and university study is difficult these days so this might be a way to continue with your studies. Please use the contact form at the top of the page if you are interested and would like more information.

Peace.

Lockdowns in Alberta

In a recent press briefing, Alberta’s health minister, Deena Hinshaw, baldly stated that the 16 MLA’s who opposed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s lockdown order must not believe that the virus was a real threat. In an unbelievable piece of maternalistic tripe, Hinshaw further suggested that many Albertan’s were not abiding by the new lock-down mandate because they themselves had not personally suffered from the virus. Generally speaking, anyone who opposes the actions taken by the province are depicted as “conspiracy theorists”.

I went to Gracelife Church today and took some photographs of those who gathered to protest the fencing off of the church. Based on what I overheard, and the conversations I had with those who attended the demonstration, people are worried about government spending and the precarious state of small businesses in the province. “There will be nothing left for our children,” was a common refrain. People also expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of lock-downs (our third and last one…) and the wearing of masks (no one was wearing one). I spoke with one lady (this was actually this past Friday while standing in line to get into Lee Valley) who was disgusted that children were being forced to wear masks in schools and while playing sports. No doubt there are many (myself included) who feel the same way about masks in churches, but I think the real concern right now is with the lock-downs and the economic impact it is having on nearly everyone in the province.

There is nothing unreasonable about these concerns. It is our lawmakers who should be fending off questions of sanity… but the gaslighting continues. Of course, there is another layer of fear and concern about what forces are at work behind the scenes exploiting this crisis to gain power. Some of this is necessarily speculative and sometimes unwise, but none of those sentiments (many of which are also valid) were expressed today at the demonstration at Gracelife. There was an impromptu worship service in front of the hastily erected fence around the church where a loudspeaker and a mike circulated freely in the crowd. It could have been a train wreck but not a single person who spoke said anything that could be construed as a conspiracy theory.

I would like to come back to the press conference conducted by our health minister, Deena Hinshaw, this past Friday. None of the journalists in attendance posed a serious question during the Q & A session. But there are many questions that need to be answered by our health minister and premier. What happens when the bid fall out from beneath our bond market due to excessive debt and rising inflation (or cascading defaults)? Are the policies of our government destroying the incentive to work and innovate? What evidence is there for the effectiveness of lock-downs over the long term? How many businesses will fail due to forced closures? Having fostered a climate of fear and hysteria, and having presented the vaccinations as our salvation, how will you restore normalcy if the vaccinations prove ineffective? Should the government be coercing people to receive an improperly tested vaccine? Are lawmakers willing to accept the liability that may ensue? Why has there been so little focus on effective therapies? Why wasn’t the Alberta Pilot Program (which must have cost huge sums of taxpayer money to set up) allowed to work? Why are critics of government policies being de-platformed, harassed, and labelled “conspiracy theorists”? Why did the RCMP close a church and cordon it off with an armed guard while the matter was still being litigated in court and there were no active cases in the church? What happened to the provincial police force?

These questions, and many more besides, are being asked by people in this province in increasing numbers. I think we will be getting some answers in the months ahead.

Mary, the Impractical Woman

El-Azariya is the Arabic name for Bethany. It means “The Place of Lazarus.” The school I attended in Jerusalem was not more than a few hundred meters from Bethany, but since El-Azariya is in the West Bank, one has to take a circuitous route to get there. I had never visited the place until a few years ago, when I took an Arab bus to the village. I was disappointed to discover that the church that marked the grave of Lazarus appeared to be closed to visitors. I tried knocking on the door of the church courtyard until finally a nun appeared and graciously escorted me inside. She did not speak English but she was very kind and showed me to a place where I could sit and cool down. Eventually, another nun came and informed me that I was in a convent and that the church was further down the road!

The convent that I visited during my first visit to Bethany (I think it is more properly referred to as an abbey) was founded by Queen Melisende (1105-1161 AD), a remarkable woman who ruled Jerusalem for 30 years. She was born in Edessa to Morphia, an Armenian woman, and Baldwin, a Frankish knight. Melisende’s son, Amalric, had a daughter named Sibylla, who was raised in the same abbey founded by her grandmother. She too was destined to become a queen of Jerusalem. Her life has become the subject of many works of fiction, the most recent of which is the movie, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” The Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had an unusual number of queens since women had a longer lifespan than men in the besieged kingdom. Their husbands, having fallen in battle, bequeathed their estates to their wives.

But of course, the most famous residents of Bethany are Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Of the three, Mary is accorded a special place of honor. When Martha expressed frustration that Mary remained seated listening to the teaching of Christ while she did all the serving, Jesus responded that “only one thing is necessary” and Mary “has chosen the better part.” When Jesus returned to Bethany in response to the news of Lazarus’ death, Mary did not rush to meet Jesus like her sister Martha, nor did she engage Jesus in a dialogue about the resurrection of the dead, she simply stated that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. These are the only recorded words of Mary in the Gospels. Jesus’ reaction to Mary is not that of a philosopher or a teacher but of a friend. “Jesus wept.”

Later in the gospel we find Mary pouring expensive myrrh on Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair. Judas hypocritically protested that the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He was a calculator, a philanthropist, a public relations manager, a thoroughly modern man, and Mary was none of these things. She was impractical. Her actions had no perceivable utility. Her life stands as a repudiation of all rational systems of ethics. “Do your duty!” says Kant. But Kant’s “categorical imperative” doesn’t work. We are still “anxious and troubled by many things.” But only one thing is necessary. We need redemption, the forgiveness of sin. And Mary, I think, understood that better than anyone else.

Dig at Et-Tell and other Happenings

I’ve been intending to post some pictures from our dig in November… I know, that was a long time ago… seems like ages past. So here is brief update.

We uncovered several important structures from the Bronze Age at Et-Tell. Particularly noteworthy was a bronze age destruction level exposed during the last several days of digging. This was a nice reward for two weeks of digging through what was mostly sterile soil. We were down well over 8′ when we began to uncover pieces of burnt mud-brick and charcoal, and then the corner of a building constructed with large stones typical of the Bronze Age. During final days of the dig we encountered a definite destruction level comprised of compacted mud brick and charcoal. Unfortunately, we did not have time to dig into this level. It will have to wait for another season. It is never easy to find stratification on a site that has already been dug extensively, but we have it at Et-Tell.

Luke was able to come and join us for a week. He is officially the first student of the Jerusalem Field School. He was also the only student of JFS so we dubbed him “the student body.” If we can get more like him then it will be worth it. We packed a lot into the week, including a trip to the Dead Sea, a tour of Tel Balata (Shechem), Gerizim, Samaria, and major sites around Jerusalem.

I stayed in Israel several more weeks to lead a tour for some friends from Nantucket and East Virginia. We spent a day visiting sites in the Shephelah and spent the rest of the time in the Galilee. It was a privilege to tour with them. I fully expect them to reciprocate when I visit the birthplace of Melville’s Moby Dick!

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling since then, in Jordan, Greece and Egypt. One of the fellows I met on the dig joined me in Jordan. I was grateful for his company for that leg of the trip. I made it back back to Canada for a few months at Christmas.

I am envious of the explorers who explored Syria and Palestine on horseback. They got to experience the land in a way that we never will. Gone are the days when you could ride a horse through the Galilee, cross the mountains into Lebanon, survey the great city of Damascus, and then continue on to Baalbek! What a ride that must have been! Their travel diaries make for fascinating reading.

You can still find a decent horse in Egypt although it is hit and miss. I found a guide at Giza who had horses and also knew how to get us into the site after closing hours. Unfortunately a dust storm blew in that afternoon. I told the guide that there was no point in making the journey since I was there to get pictures of the pyramids. He insisted that the storm would pass and the air would clear! Yeah right! But it turned out to be the perfect photo-op.

I met Titus in Cairo and the next day we caught a ride to St. Catherine. It began to rain the day we arrived which is a rare occurrence in the Sinai… and continued raining for the next three days. We just so happened to arrive in the Sinai during a 100 year flood. It was cold, the power cycled on and off leaving us in the dark for much of the time, and the roof of our lodge leaked profusely. But the cook made pretty good shish-kabab and rice and he poured our drinks with all the flair of a Parisian waiter: heels together, slight bend at the waist, arm placed behind his back. That lodge had seen better days but tourism in the Sinai has fallen to barely a trickle.

Although the rain forced us to spend several more days in the Sinai than originally planned, we were able to get some unique pictures of Jebel Musa and the monastery covered in clouds. Father Justin kindly gave us a tour of the monastery library and showed us the high tech cameras they are using to scan manuscripts. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The monastery also served real coffee.

Our next stop was Serabit El-Kahdim. The road passed through some beautiful and wild country. The only signs of civilization were the expansive poppy fields. Apparently opium is a major export of the Sinai. That night we stayed at a bedouin camp. I had forgotten how the stars look in the desert on a cool, clear night. It is something we miss in our cities.

The trip back from the Sinai turned out to be more difficult than anticipated since the main highway was washed out in several places and many of the smaller roads were washed away completely. Thankfully, we had a Land Cruiser and an expert Bedouin driver.

Road to Serabit el-Khadim

Titus and I were just about to board a flight for Aswan when a mutual friend of ours called from Jordan. “You have to get out of there!” he warned, even as the gate attendant pressed us to board. Sadly, we had to walk away from that ticket but it turned out to be the right decision. Almost immediately Egypt Air announced that they would suspend all domestic flights. This created a stampede for the exits as people tried to buy tickets out of Egypt. Not many days later all international flights were suspended.

I spent a month in quarantine in a small flat in downtown Calgary. It looked pretty good on Air BnB but after a month in a small flat decorated with IKEA accessories I was ready to get out of there! Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied. My main project these days has been an online history curriculum. I had hoped to have a first version up and running by Christmas but obviously that hasn’t happened. It’s proven to be a greater technical challenge than anticipated.

The developers calculations for an interactive timeline.

So what’s next? We plan to continue the excavation at Et-Tell in the Fall. I’ve updated the sign-up page to reflect the new dates. Unfortunately, we will not be able to confirm these dates until one month before the dig begins. Of course, I will not collect payment before then. If you are interested, sign up, and I will keep you posted.

The Son

Descartes sent a copy of Meditations of First Philosophy to his friend and confidant, Father Mersenne, with the request that he circulate it among the influential members of his inner circle. As its title suggests, the manuscript contained a description of Descartes’ new philosophy. One of those who read it was Le Maistre de Sacy, who offered the following critique:

God created the world for two reasons… one, to provide an idea of his greatness, the other to depict invisible things in the visible. M. Descartes has destroyed the one as well as the other. ‘The sun is a lovely piece of work,’ one says to him. ‘Not at all’, he replies, ‘it is a mass of metal filings.’ Instead of recognizing invisible things in the visible, such as the God of nature in the sun, and seeing an image of this grace in all that he has produced in plants, he insists, on the contrary, on providing a reason for everything.” (Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 402)

As far as I can tell, Le Maistre de Sacy was not the reactionary type. He was the driving force behind the translation of the Bible into the French vernacular which means that he was willing to risk offending church authorities. Blaise Pascal and Antoine Arnauld were among his close associates. What disturbed Le Maistre de Sacy about Descartes’ philosophy was that it inclined towards a completely mechanistic view of the cosmos, and of life. This criticism was also shared by Blaise Pascal. “I cannot forgive Descartes,” said Pascal, “In his whole philosophy he would like to dispense with God, but he could not help allowing Him a flick of the fingers to set the world in motion, after which he had no more use for God.” Perhaps nothing illustrates Descartes mechanistic view of life better than an experiment he conducted to learn how the circulatory system functions in animals. He nailed a live dog to a plank and cut it open in order to observe its still beating heart. The howls of pain emitted from the creature meant nothing to Descartes because his philosophy taught that animals are machines. They have no soul. Well ok, but then what would prevent Descartes’ beast-machine doctrine from morphing into a completely materialistic account of man? It wouldn’t take long to find out. One of Descartes’ disciples, Benedict Spinoza, went the logical next step and argued that it was time to dispense with the notion of a soul completely. To see what this philosophy looks like in practice, we have only to look outside our window (I am in a 1970’s apartment tower seemingly inspired by brutalist architecture). It is the world we live in.

Le Maistre de Sacy and Pascal perceived something in Descartes philosophy that troubled them. Jesus taught us to see nature in terms of parables: the lilies of the field, the wind that moves imperceptibly, the seed that multiplies, the little children, the water that springs up to eternal life, the fire that cannot be quenched, the unfailing love of a Father. These parables follow a pattern rooted in the Old Testament where nature is treated, not as the subject of mythology, but as an allegory that points to a transcendent reality: the glory of the heavens, the sun shining overhead, the pounding of surf against the rocks, the tree planted by quiet waters, the snow falling on Zalman, the pinions of a dove, the stork in the heavens, the gleam of gold in the inner sanctuary, the gentle breeze, the quiet whisper, the love of a woman, the crouching lion, the slithering serpent, and yes, even sickness and death.

I remember sitting in a botany course while the prof explained how a parasite feeds on a healthy tree. It is truly gruesome what a parasite can do to its host. What struck me is that a tree can live with a parasite for a long time and still look quite healthy. But it will eventually succumb to the disease until it is reduced to a scabby, gnarled, stump. The thing about a virus or a parasite is that it is an alien thing. It has no life of its own. The only way it lives (or replicates) is by attacking and destroying the life of something else. A virus takes over the machinery of a cell that is designed to give life, and uses it for destructive ends.

Although we’ve always known that a pandemic may strike at any moment, we’ve only recently had to come to grips with this reality. The result has been widespread panic and a total lock-down of our economy. It seems to me, that, if Jesus were walking among us today, he would use this opportunity to remind us that we should not fear what kills the body, but what destroys the soul. Sickness is, after all, one of the many metaphors employed in the Bible to describe the effect of sin on our soul. “Is there no balm in Gilead… no physician there… to restore the health of the daughter of my people,” lamented Jeremiah. “The healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick,” Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. If we thought of sin in terms of the coronavirus it might change our outlook.

Descartes was fixated on matter in motion. But life cannot be reduced to mathematics, nor the sun to a mass of metal filings. This Easter morning, as the sun shines brightly through my apartment window, I am reminded that there is medicine for the sick, that the sun’s rays kill the virus, and that where there is death, there is also life. The Son has risen!

Merry Christmas!

Shepherd in mountains above Thermopylae, Greece.

I encountered this kid goat in the mountains above Thermopylae. The mother goat ran away but the kid had not yet found his legs. All it could do was bleat helplessly. The shepherd soon appeared, ambling up the road, carrying a wooden staff in his hand, and scooped the little goat up in his arms. It was a very nice picture of the good shepherd.

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs
with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are
with young. ~ Isaiah 40: 11

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and
He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He
is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. ~ Matthew 11: 28-29

These two passages appear towards the beginning of Handel’s Messiah. They are followed by passages that speak of the coming Judgement. I was struck, in particular, by this passage from Malachi.

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. ~ Malachi 3:2

The good shepherd and the refiner’s fire… comfort and fear… may we keep both in mind this Christmas season.

Our Mephistophelian Money

“I will let the Conservatives explain why cuts and austerity — if they really think so — are going to help Canadians…” (Justin Trudeau)

(The second book of Goethe’s Faust begins in the Emperor’s Court. The Steward, Treasurer and Chancellor enter the king’s chamber, each bearing bad news.)

The Chancellor to the Emperor: …Look down from this high place, look far and wide
Over the empire: it must seem
A nightmare of deformity, a dream
Of monsters, law to lawless power unfurled,
And rooting error spread about the world.
One man steal flocks, and the next a wife,
A third the altar’s treasure:
And yet can boast himself scot-free
From pains of law to limb or life.
While plaintiffs throng the hall, and from
His sumptuous seat the judge looks down,
rebellion like a gathering storm
mutters and laps. Must justice drown
In these fierce waves? A miscreant
Protected by accomplices can vaunt
his crimes, while he whom only guiltlessness
Defends is pronounced guilty none the less.
And thus society falls to pieces,
Order and decency decay:
How shall men not be led astray
As the true guiding instinct stunts and ceases?
So in the end good men and true
Succumb to bribes and flatter,
And judges can impose no penalty,
For crime, but become criminals too.
I have painted a black picture, but I would
Draw blacker veils across it if I could…

(The steward laments that everything is now purchased on credit.)

The Steward: We buy tomorrow what we eat today,
We slaughter pigs while they’re still thin,
We pawn the very beds we’re sleeping in;
In fact we are living, Sire, on mortgaged bread.

The Devil (Mephistopheles) presents himself to the Emperor in the guise of a Fool. The people can see that there is something preternatural about the Fool.

Murmurs from the Crowd: This sly rogue knows-what he’s about
He’ll be well in – till he’s found out –
He’s up to something – I guess what –
What do you guess? – Some scheme he’s got –

Mephistopheles: Do we not all lack something, of one sort
Or another? Here it’s money that’s run short.
It does not grow on trees, that’s true, I fear;
But from the depths wisdom can bring it here.

There is gold in the earth, coined and uncoined,
Hoards hidden under the walls, rocks precious-veined:
This treasure’s for the wise man to collect,
By Nature’s power and human intellect.

Listen as Janet Yellen is introduced to Congress in 1997 – long before she was made chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. She then proceeds to explain why congress should not pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. (47:30) The nation chose to follow the counsel of Janet Yellen instead of that of Senator Lauch Faircloth. Faircloth served only a single term. He was unseated by John Edwards. The mayor of DC told him to go back to his pigs (he was a farmer before entering politics).

The Chancellor: Nature and Intellect, Who dares profess
Such dangerous heresy to Christian ears?
Atheists have been burnt for less
Nature is sin, the intellect’s ideas
Are Satan’s, and between them Doubt is bred,
The mongrel offspring of their monstrous bed.
Away with them! – The Emperor’s lands are old,
And here two native kindreds are alone
The worthy guardians of his throne:
The men of God, and all our bold
And valiant knights. Against the storms of fate
They are proof, and their reward is Church and State.
There are confused plebeian minds in whom
The spirit of revolt finds room:
Such men are heretics and sorcerers,
The empire’s ruined and the fault is theirs.
And you, fool, with your insolent arts,
Would smuggle them in here!
They are close kin
To fools, and quite depraved by sin.
We cannot trust such black corrupted hearts.

Only a recognition of the severity of the disequilibrium into which so many of the biggest economies of the world have fallen, and of the nature of the alchemy of our system of money and banking, will provide the courage to undertake bold reforms – the audacity of pessimism. (Mervyn King, Former Governor of the Bank of England)

Mephistopheles [to the Chancellor]: I recognize a learned man’s speech!
What your hands cannot touch, lies far beyond your reach
What your minds cannot grasp or calculate,
Does not exist for you; nothing has weight
If you have not first weighed it; and unless
A coin was struck by you, you think it valueless.

The Emperor [to the Chancellor]: None of this solves our problems; I can see
No point, sir, in your Lenten homily.
I’m sick of all this endless hem and hum.
We need more money: all right, get us some!


Trudeau explains how magic works.

The Chancellor: Satan lays golden snares to catch you all!
The whole thing’s impious and unnatural.

The Steward: If I could give the court a decent dinner,
I’d not mind all that much being a sinner.

The Army Commander: He’s a sound fool; he knows
what’s good for us.
As for his methods, soldiers mustn’t fuss.

Mephistopheles: Perhaps you do not trust me? I refer
You to this expert: as the Astrologer!
The heaven’s houses he can scan, he can peruse
Its hours; come, tell us the celestial news!

(The Astrologer and the Fool convince the emperor that they can find the money he needs to pay his bills.)

Murmurs from the Crowd: A pair of rogues – So near the throne –
Dreamer and fool – They speak as one –
The Wise Man – (here’s a tale we’ve heard!)
Talks, and the Fool – prompts every word –

Carolyn A. Wilkins (University of Western Ontario), Stephen S. Poloz (University of Western Ontario 1982); Lawrence L. Schembri; Timothy Lane (University of Western Ontario, 1983); Filipe Dinis; Lynn Patterson (University of Western Ontario); Not Shown: Toni Gravelle, (University of Western Ontario) (Source)

(The court celebrates carnival. Spirits attend the festivities. Plutus (Wealth) and The Boy Charioteer (Plenitude) arrive. They have assumed the place of Father and Son in the Trinity.)

The Herald [introducing Plutus]: Such dignity no words can praise.
A moon-shaped visage bright with health,
Beneath his jeweled turban’s wealth;
A rich commodious robe. What shall
I say of his demeanor? All
The world must know him as a king!

The Boy Charioteer [introducing Plutus]: Plutus, the god of riches (for
That is his name) in triumph here I bring;
He is badly needed by the Emperor….

Plutus [to the Boy Charioteer]: You are, as I will gladly testify,
Spirit of my spirit, acting ever as I
Would wish; your wealth exceeds my own.
Acknowledging your service, let me bear
Witness that this green laurel bough I wear
Is precious to me like no other crown.
This word I speak to all, and it is sure:
Beloved son, I am well pleased in you.


The carnival is over and the king is in his garden with Mephistopheles. The steward arrives, bearing good news.

The Steward: Your Majesty! I never would have thought
I’d one day bring the news I now have brought
Of such good fortune to you! For how
Can it be true? The bills are paid,
The usurers’ rage has been allayed
And from their hellish claws I’m free!
Can heaven offer such felicity?

(Each office holder appears before the Emperor in turn and reports that the economy is booming. The Chancellor, who had previously been the sole voice of opposition, admits that fiat money has solved all the problems of the empire.)

The Chancellor: I am glad not to have lived so long in vain!
Hear then and see this fateful paper, which
Has changed our poverty and made us rich

(The Chancellor then proceeds to read the terms upon which the new fiat currency was issued – namely, the intention to discover the location of all the buried treasure in the land (an obvious fraud…).)

“To whom it may concern: hereby be advised and told,
The present note is worth a thousand crowns in gold.
This sum secured and covered in full measure
By Imperial land’s abundant buried treasure;
The same to serve as its equivalent
Upon recovery as is our intent.

Justin Trudeau was the first candidate to run for office who made deficit spending a major plank of his campaign. An article from Bloomberg states that, “In the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau pledged to run deficits but for only three years and no more than a cumulative $25 billion….” [That was his intention] In actual fact, “Trudeau’s first three budgets were in the negative by a cumulative C$52 billion. His last budget in March projected a deficit for the current fiscal year of about $20 billion.” Source

Furthermore, during the 2019 campaign Trudeau promised to continue running deficits – 93 billion worth over the next four years! That adds up to a total of 165 billion in actual and projected deficit spending across Trudeau’s two terms in office. So much for Trudeau’s expressed intention back in 2014 to spend no more than 25 billion and only for a period of 3 years! Source

(The Emperor thinks that the new fiat currency is a great fraud and can’t believe that someone authorized it without his consent. The Treasurer swears that the Emperor did indeed sign the bill into law. As it turns out, the Emperor signed the bill during Carnival while drunk and dressed up as the Great Pan, the god of lust and every excess. However, the Treasurer assures the Emperor that the paper is working! The kingdom has been made great again!)

Emperor: My lords, this is some fraud, some vast deceit!
Who dared to sign my name in counterfeit?
Has no one yet been punished for this crime?

The Treasurer: You wrote it, Sire, yourself; at Carnival
time,
Last night! You were Great Pan, you will recall;
The Chancellor approached, as did we all,
Beseeching you: ‘A few strokes of your pen
Will crown the feast and mend the realm again!’

You signed: and thanks to prestidigiation
The night sufficed for ample duplication
And in this general boon, to ensure fair play,
We printed the whole series straight away:
Tens, thirties, fifties, hundred – all are ready.
See how the people all rejoice already!
This town, half mouldy-dead of late, now thriving
Swarming with life, its appetites reviving!
Your name has blessed the world for many a ayear,
But never was so gladly read as here.
The remaining alphabet grows valueless,
For in this sign all now find happiness.

A satirical coin depicting John Law pumping money into the economy. Mid 1700’s. (British Museum)
One of the banknotes issued by the Bank Royale, the bank established by John Law that became a central bank to the French court under Louis XV. These notes were eventually rendered worthless but not before the paper money scheme inflated a massive bubble that saw shares in the Mississippi Company go from 500 livres to 15,000 livres before collapsing to zero. The collapse of this bubble resulted in serious inflation and a stampede into gold coin, the purchase of which was made illegal for a period of time. John Law died penniless. (British Museum)

Emperor: My people think it’s gold? Well now, that’s funny.
The court, the army, treat this as sound money?
Astonishing. But now what can I do?

Steward: No one could catch them, and away they flew;
It spread like lightning. Now on every side
The money-changers’ doors are open wide;
They’re honouring every note, both small and large
With gold and silver, though of course they charge
Commission. Butchers, bakers, landlords-good
Money for them! Half the world just wants food
And drink, the rest want fine new clothes to strut
About in; tailors stitch, cloth-merchants cut;
Meanwhile plates clatter, meats are stewed and roasted
In taverns, and “The Emperor!” is toasted.

Faust: The abundance of treasure buried deep
Under your lands lies frozen and asleep
Until we wake it. Thought’s utmost scope
Sets a mean limit to such wealth; the hope
Of fancy in its highest flight must fail,
Try as it may, to tell so rich a tale.
Yet worthier spirits whom deep insights bless
Place trust unbounded in this boundlessness.

Mephistopheles: Such paper currency, replacing gold and pearls, is most convenient: you can hold
A known amount, no sale or bartering
Is needed to enjoy love, wine, or anything
You please. And there are banks to sell you coin;
If not, then temporarily you join
The diggers, sell a golden chain or cup,
And thus the paper debt’s at once paid up
And all the mocking sceptics put to shame.
Everyone’s used to this, they want the same
System continued; thus the Empire far and wide
With jewels, gold, and paper now is well supplied.

“Ottawa’s gold holdings peaked in the 1960s at more than 1,000 tonnes. But the government has been steadily selling off its gold holdings ever since. By 2003, Ottawa was down to 3.4 tonnes, which it has now almost entirely sold.” (Source)

“Ottawa sells off almost all its gold reserves, leaving just 77 ounces — or less…” (Source)

(The Emperor gives his kingdom to Mephistopheles – (ie. the central banks). The treasurer agrees that the money supply should now be managed by Magicians.)

The Emperor: The Empire owes great benefits to you,
And a commensurate reward is due.
We entrust you with the ground in all our lands;
To guard that wealth, yours are the worthiest hands.
You know where we must dig, and at your word
we shall recover this great hidden hoard.
As partners now, join masters of our treasure,
Fulfill your honorable task with pleasure!
For here two world to union are invited,
Upper with lower happily united.

The Treasurer: sire, there shall be no strife and no divisions;
I like to have colleagues who are magicians.

(end of citation)

Source: Goethe, J. W. v. and D. Luke (1998). Faust. Part two. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.


Central banks have drawn down the curse of Erysichthon upon our heads. This king of Thessaly, having chopped down the trees in Diana’s sacred grove to build his feasting hall, was cursed with an insatiable appetite.

“Yet when his wicked frenzy had consumed all sustenance and for the dire disease provision failed, the ill-starred wretch began to gnaw himself, and dwindled bite by bite as his own flesh supplied his appetite.” (Ovid, Metamorphosis)

It is supremely ironic that central banks are now vowing to save the environment. (see here) These are the same institutions that financed the strip-mining of our resources and the manufacture of untold amounts of trash. They are the ones that have filled our museums with fake art. They are the ones that enable a debt based economic system that must consume or die. The banks must be reigned in and honest weights and measures restored!

I nominate George Bailey for the next Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. I would pay good money to listen to Senator Paul Sarbanes introduce George Bailey to Congress. (George Bailey graduated from high school. He never made it to college. He took over his father’s bank and has operated it ever since…)

Potter tries to take over the local bank run by George Bailey in Bedford Falls.
George Bailey is given a vision of what Bedford Falls will look like if he gives up the fight for his bank.

Let the dig begin

I stopped by Rome on my way to Jerusalem and got some pics of the Ara Pacis.

The Ara Pacis in Rome

Saw something I hadn’t seen before. The sculptor was having a bit of fun.


I am sorry sir, that will be 50 euros…

Can you give me 10 minutes? It will fit.

It is these small victories in life…


We are a week into the excavation at Et-Tell. Here are a few pics of the preparations for the dig.


The storks were migrating south for the winter during our first day of digging. You can just make them out in the exact center of the frame. They flock in v-shaped patterns like geese, but very high up, and they make a distinct cackling sound that makes them seem as though they are much closer than they really are. They fly as far south as South Africa, but unlike the tern, they do not like to fly over water.

Migrating storks

The Hebrew word for stork is chasida. It shares the same root with the word for ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’. A swan is elegant, a duck is comical, an eagle is regal, a peacock is proud, and the stork is a good and righteous bird. The stork in the heavens “knows her times”, says Jeremiah, but “my people know not the rules of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7) We, unfortunately, do not have an instinct for goodness.