On Dr. Stella Immanuel

So I’ve seen the video circulating from a press conference given by a group of physicians in Texas headed by Dr. Stella Immanuel. We’ve all seen it by now. In it she passionately claims that there is a cure for COVID-19 and that is a combination of hydroxychloriquine, zinc, and z-packs. She was immediately ridiculed and dismissed, but on what basis? Here are the major arguments I’ve heard:

  • She’s a charismatic minister
  • She believes that certain medical conditions are caused by demons
  • She believes in alien DNA
  • She’s a conspiracy theorist
  • She has only anecdotal evidence
  • The treatment she recommends is not FDA approved

Much of this is ad hominem. Rather than attacking her claims people have been attacking her character. So what if she’s a charismatic minister? Does that inhibit her ability to practice medicine?

So what if she believes that certain physical conditions have spiritual causes? That’s actually a biblical concept, but even if she’s wrong about that it doesn’t necessitate that she’s wrong about this.

So what if she buys into conspiracy theories? To start, every alleged conspiracy theory isn’t so farfetched as some would have us believe. Second, even if every last one of them was, just because she’s wrong about these conspiracies doesn’t mean she’s wrong about this.

The claim to anecdotal evidence is probably the strongest of the group, but we can’t dismiss anecdotal evidence wholesale. She’s not the only physician who has claimed to have had success with hydroxychloriquine. And our culture is apt to accept anecdotal evidence when it fits a narrative we deem worthy.

And finally, the treatment is not FDA approved. Well, we wouldn’t expect it to be yet, would we? COVID-19 hasn’t been around for that long and from what I’ve read there haven’t been many randomized trials testing HDQ’s efficacy. The one I read about this morning was a bit janky in nature as they recruited participants through social media, mailed them the drugs/placebos, and depended on the candidates to report the results.

Update: At the time of writing this post I was unaware that the FDA has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) based on early evidence that HDQ worked . https://www.fda.gov/media/136784/download They have since revoked the authorization, saying that the potential cardiac risks outweigh the potential benefits of the drug in COVID-19 patients according to clinical trials. I plan to research these trials but my basic point still stands with regard to the ad hominem rejection of Dr. Immanuel’s claims. There’s a reason that the FDA objection is last on my list. It’s the one I’ve seen the least when it seems to me that this would be the one that people would want to cite the most if the science is in their favor.

So while those who are dismissing Dr. Immanuel wholesale are going about smugly congratulating themselves for landing on the side of sanity, ask yourself this: why are you really so quick to dismiss Dr. Immanuel? Is it because she holds some beliefs that you personally find incredible or ridiculous? If so then do you recognize that’s fallacious?

If there haven’t been enough randomized trials then any claim to the ineffectiveness of the treatment is just as anecdotal as claims to its effectiveness. Why do you side with those who claim to have not had success rather than with those who claim to have had some? And not for nothing, if chloriquine worked in inhibiting SARS then is it really crazy to think that hydroxychloriquine could possibly have some effectiveness in treating SARS-COV-2?

Also, if you contracted COVID-19 and developed serious symptoms, wouldn’t you want to try anything possible to combat it? I know I would.

I suspect that the majority of people railing against Dr. Immanuel and her claims to success wouldn’t be quite so skeptical and dismissive had President Trump not mentioned the drug a couple of months ago.

In the end I pray that Dr. Immanuel is correct and that this is an effective treatment. I also recognize that she likely over-spoke in claiming this a definitive cure. Even proven treatments for certain ailments aren’t always effective in everyone. But if we want to dismiss her claims we need to come up with better reasons than she believes in alien sperm and deep state conspiracies.

B”H

On ScribD

I’ve had a ScribD account for years. Over the years I’ve used the service to download PDF files of books and articles and it was a pretty even exchange where I would have to upload a document in order to download a document. But then they started to get greedy and I’d have to upload multiple documents to download a single document. That’s when I decided on taking advantage of the free trial.

So I signed up for 30 days and that gave me unlimited downloads without me having to upload anything. It was pretty good. I downloaded dozens of books and articles but time eventually got away from me and I exceeded the 30 day trial. Once I was charged I considered cancelling immediately but then I figured I might as well ride the month out and cancel at the end of it.

In the process of the next 30 days I began to realize what a great service that ScribD actually provides. Aside from thousands of PDFs for download they also offer ebooks of new releases in pretty much every category you can think of. I’ve always been a hardcopy guy but since acquiring an iPad Pro I’ve been doing a lot more with digital books. I love having the PDFs because they’re properly paginated and I can mark them up but it’s nice to be able to consult newer ebooks if I’m really just interested in the content and don’t need to accurately cite something.

In addition to that they offer audiobooks as well as lectures and podcasts. And when I say lectures, I mean good lectures, like Gordon Fee on 1 Corinthians! But the audiobooks are super convenient for when I’m driving or when I want to listen to something while I’m working. I don’t listen to a ton of music these days so having a seemingly limitless supply of material to learn from is fantastic.

In all, after two months of paying for ScribD, I’m fully satisfied that it’s worth every bit of the $9.99 per month and more! I’ve been recommending it to family and friends without the slightest inhibition and those who have taken advantage haven’t regretted it a bit. So subscribe today if you haven’t already. You’ll thank me for it, I promise.

B”H

Cast Iron

Lately I’ve been thinking back on how I used to argue certain things and how I’d behave when arguing these things. Over the years I’ve come to learn that when you address things in a jerklyTM manner then you’ll be received as a jerk. But I’m getting old and the older I get the less inclined I am to be a jerk. I’m seasoned now (like a cast iron pan passed down from generation to generation) and with this seasoning I’ve learned that I can argue calmly, with respect (real respect, not feigned respect), and in the end be a more effective witness for Christ even if I don’t end up being persuasive in said argument. Hopefully I can keep progressing in this and not go back to my former ways.

B”H

Quote of the Day

Priest John Mikitish & Hieromonk Herman:

Before the age of print, each prayer book was necessarily customized to the needs and tastes of the individual user. But even today, when books are massed produced and uniform, no prayer book is printed in order to dictate what everyone must pray, any more than a cookbook imposes a menu!

Orthodox Christian Prayers, xii.

B”H

Bordering on the Gluttonous

Scott Hahn:

In the years when I was educated, books were the conspicuous consumption of an intellectual. And by books I mean the paper product, bound between covers with its distinctive textures, colors, and aromas.

Not to be hidden under the bushel of an electronic device, they once lined floor-to-ceiling shelves in the homes of professors and authors. The spines were delectable in their variety of colors and stoutness.

My own consumption bordered on the gluttonous. In those years before online databases, I haunted library sales, yard sales, and garage sales. I sent off postcards alerting rare-book dealers to my “wants.” When I traveled for business, I routinely spent my meal allowance on books, which I devoured in between meetings, on public transportation, in waiting rooms—wherever, whenever. I would forgo sleep and still read more.

Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church, xiii.

B”H

Sobornost & Katholikos

Andrew Louth:

The word sobornost’ is derived from the word used in the Slavonic version of the creed to translate katholikos, ‘catholic’. It appears that some of the older texts in the Slavonic Creed simply transliterated katholikos as katholichesky, as did the Latin version and virtually all European versions, but in (or maybe by) the fifteenth century katholichesky was replaced by soborny.

It is often said that soborny is derived from the word for a council in Slavonic, sobor, but I suspect the truth is more interesting. In replacing katholichesky, the Slavonic translators went back to the root meaning of katholikos, which is formed from the Greek kath’ holon, ‘according to the whole’, and took the word to mean something like ‘taken as a whole’, ‘gathered together’. So they used the word soborny, an adjective derived from the word sobrat’, ‘to gather together’. The word for council or synod, translating the Greek synodos, meaning a ‘coming together’, a ‘gathering’ and hence ‘council’, is sobor, so the use of soborny in the creed suggested that it is in a council that the Church manifests its nature.

In a remarkable way, then, the word soborny makes a link between the Church as catholic and the Church as conciliar: between the Church as proclaiming a truth that concerns everyone, and the Church as constituted by being gathered together by God.

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, 93.

The Limits of Freedom: A Short Post for International Septuagint Day 2020

feb8

Scholars agree that some books are literal translations and others are paraphrases, much like the Living Bible. Given that Greek manuscripts are the earliest witnesses to the Hebrew Old Testament, a more literal manuscript can be helpful for textual criticism. The non-literal translations, however, may shed light on the theology, philosophy, or religious practices of the Jewish faith in the late Second Temple period.

Ryan Reeves, “What is the Septuagint?.”

The above-quoted statement is common in popular literature on the Septuagint (LXX). The idea is usually undergirded by a presupposition regarding the texts that the LXX translators had to work with, in many cases assuming something like the Masoretic Text (MT) as the exemplar. Take note of Reeves’ comment on the helpfulness of “a more literal manuscript” for textual criticism while the alleged “non-literal translations” shed light on things other than the text.

But what if these non-literal translations weren’t as non-literal as one might initially suspect? Could they then be helpful for textual criticism? In other words, rather than assuming that a supposedly non-literal rendering is an example of the translator assuming a certain freedom in their translation, why not ask if there might be another text serving as the foundation for their translation?

After referencing Rudolf Kittel’s comment that the “LXX is not a real translation but a theological commentary,” Natalio Fernández Marcos assures us that:

Once we get into the actual text, as a general rule the translation of the Pentateuch is faithful to the Hebrew text, more than was thought at the beginning of the century. And in the light of recent discov­eries at Qumran, the great divergences in the historical books between the LXX and the Hebrew have to be interpreted more as a witness of the pluralism of the Hebrew text before its consonantal fixation at the synod of Yamnia, c. 100 CE, than as the result of the exeget­ical preferences of the translators.

Natalio Fernández Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Versions of the Bible (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 23.

Laying aside the reference to the mythical council of Jamnia, this is an important point to note. We cannot presuppose that the LXX translators had something like the MT before them, nor can we assume that they were all working with the same text. We have to allow for divergent Vorlagen and then assess how strict or free they were in their translations.

James Barr has an instructive essay called “The Typology of Literalism in Ancient Biblical Translations” in which he expounds on what I’d call the limits of freedom. Around the same time that Marcos’ volume appeared in its original Spanish edition, Barr said:

Thus, in general, where new evidence has become available it has on the whole increased our conviction that, at least in many books, the LXX worked fairly literally and elements in their rendering stand for something that was actually there, rather than being free invention or fancy.

James Barr, “The Typology of Literalism in Ancient Biblical Translations,” (MSU XV, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979), 286.

Barr follows these comments with a quick reference to Ben Sira, which contains a number of “Hebrew variants semantically grossly diverse from one another” (286). So where one thinks that the LXX translator is offering a free rendering of one variant, it is quite possible, even likely, that they are offering a literal rendering of another. But what of a case where there is no known textual variant? Barr uses Sir 5.1 as an example. The Hebrew reads:

אל תשען על חילך ואל תאמר יש לאל ידי

The LXX translates this to say:

Μὴ ἔπεχε ἐπὶ τοῖς χρήμασίν σου
καὶ μὴ εἴπῃς Αὐτάρκη μοί ἐστιν.

Barr says that this appears to be an “excellent free rendering” before asking whether or not it was possible that the final word in the Hebrew text was read as יד rather than ידי (see also W. Bacher, “The Hebrew Text of Ben Sira,” JQR 12/2 [1900], 283) in which case the LXX translator would have been translating quite literally. It is also noteworthy that the Syriac translation of Ben Sira understood the Hebrew in the same way (see W. Th. Van Peursen, Language and Interpretation in the Syriac Text of Ben Sira: A Comparative Linguistic and Literary Study [SSVBTCC 16; Leiden: Brill, 2007], 29, 42), which could indicate that the Syriac version is dependent on the LXX, or that the translators of the LXX and Syriac version had the same or a similar Hebrew text that has been lost, or finally “polygenesis,” that is, each translator read the Hebrew text in the same way independently of one another as Van Peursen suggests.

The point here is that it’s not always necessarily the case that the translator is offering a paraphrase of the source text even if there is no known variant to explain the difference. In this example, the translation itself could be thought to serve as a variant reading of sorts, which gives the reader pause to think about how this reading could have arisen. In this case it’s not difficult to imagine our translator missing the final י in the line. It is, after all, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

So in closing, I want to say two things: First, the LXX translators should be given more credit than they sometimes are for the translations they provide. They’re not like those who produced the Targumim nor are they the Eugene Petersons of their day. There was a limit to the freedom they could exhibit. Second, Barr’s essay is brilliant and says much more than I’ve hinted at in this short post. It should be required reading for anyone working with the LXX.

Happy International Septuagint Day!

B”H

The More Things Change…

I’ve been teaching through various fundamental doctrines in Bible study at my church and right before the New Year we started in on the Trinity. The first class was an introduction, noting differences between the Trinity (who/what God is) and the doctrine of the Trinity (how we speak about who/what God is). The second class started in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, noting how God creates through his Word and Spirit. We noted features of the text that make sense for Trinitarians but not so much for non-Trinitarians. The third and fourth classes looked at the Angel of the LORD and the ways in which he is identified both as the LORD and as distinct from the LORD. Again, this is something that makes sense for the Trinitarian and not the non-Trinitarian.

But in all of this I’ve been hammering home the point that I reject the idea that there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible as such. I’ve read that innumerable times throughout the years. The idea is that we don’t find fourth-century Trinitarian terminology in the Bible so we don’t have the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. Some are more generous and say that we find a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the NT was written after the Incarnation of the Son and the pouring out of the Spirit, but it was only hinted at in the OT at best. I reject these sentiments. Vehemently.

I don’t take fourth-century articulations to be the standard by which we judge everything else. I take the fourth-century for what it is, and likewise the NT for what it is, and before that the OT for what it is. In every instance we have a particular view of God, but if God is Trinity–and God is Trinity–then every witness to God in the Christian Scriptures is a witness to the Trinity. I can’t fault the OT for not saying what the NT says any more than I can fault the NT for not saying what the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers said. We don’t fault the early fathers for not saying what the medieval scholastics said, do we?

In any event, I was looking for a scan of a book chapter I sent someone a few years back and I found it in an email where I said the following:

I guess the standard answer to the question you raise would be an appeal to progressive revelation. It took the Incarnation of the Son and the giving of the Spirit to the Church for us to have all of the pieces in place to then formulate a formal doctrine of the Trinity. Plenty of folks suggest that God didn’t completely reveal himself as Trinity in the OT because of the rampant polytheism that surrounded Israel. It would have been all too easy for Israel to mess up God’s multi-personality and fall into worshipping multiple gods, or so the argument goes. I’d say that the OT gives us plenty to ponder concerning God’s multi-personality. The way that his Word and Spirit are depicted; or the enigmatic Angel of the Lord that is at once YHWH and an agent of YHWH; and those seemingly out of place plural pronouns and verbs that refer to God. Taken cumulatively it’s enough to get us asking some good questions.

And that’s where I’d differ from the standard answers usually offered. I think the OT forces us to ask questions that can only be correctly answered by speaking of the Trinity. We’re only able to get a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the OT already contains it. The NT simply assumes, builds upon, and makes clear what is already there. One thing that I often remind people about is how the Patristic writers’ arguments for the Trinity were exegetical. These early Christians formulated what most people consider “the doctrine of the Trinity” (i.e., Nicene Trinitarianism) from a close examination and interpretation of the Scriptures (especially the OT).

So I’d say that it was both hinted and revealed in the OT. We just have to allow for it to have been hinted and revealed in precisely the way that it was and not impose a later doctrine as the standard by which we judge the OT revelation. In other words, it doesn’t work to set 4th century Nicene Trinitarian theology as the standard and then say that the doctrine of the Trinity is absent from the OT (or even the NT) because they don’t use the language or arguments of 4th century theology. Likewise, I’d argue that the Son was revealed before the Incarnation in the NT. He was revealed in various theophanies; in God speaking to the Israelite King; as the Word through which God created; etc. This is why Jesus can walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explain to them all of the things that the Scriptures said concerning him. They were prophetic, to be sure, but not merely in the sense of foretelling future events. They also spoke to a present reality in Israel’s life.

It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

B”H