July 22, 2012

The Linchpin of Galatian Chronology

The primary sequential issue isn't whether Paul wrote Galatians before or after the Jerusalem council. Instead, the real critical point lies in whether the Men from James/Judea went into Galatia before or after the council.

Traditionally, those whose religious-historical lens fixates on ideology and politics try to argue that Paul would or wouldn't have said such-and-such after James' letter in Acts 15 - as if anyone knows what Paul would, could or should have said! However, some commentators seem to care only about [their view of] Paul's thought, and therefore primarily focus on trying to reconcile his developing rhetoric against James' Jerusalem letter, as against James' famous [eponymous] Epistle

In contrast, those who care to inspect the historical foot paths of all known participants have a larger set of data upon which to base their chronological judgments. That's why this task cannot focus on tracing the ideas of an ongoing conversation, that being the ancient "conversation" between James & Paul (as if there was only one such ongoing conversation, and as if conversations are always progressive and never rehash their old arguments). Most of all, we cannot proceed as if church councils always solve everything when the big wigs throw their weight around. Typically, they don't. They almost never do.

But here are the more likely historical [and scriptural] facts:

The travelling Men from James/Judea had to have an itinerary. From Judea, they either went to Antioch of Syria and then onwards to Antioch-near-Pisidia, or else it must have been the reverse. Now, there were only two routes between Antioch of Syria and Antioch-near-Pisidia, in the mid first century. One could go through the Lion's Gate in Cilicia, or one could go up the Via Sebaste from Pamphylia (as Paul & Barnabas did). Obviously, the same was also true in reverse. But while the routes between Syria and Pisidia were clear and well traveled, as were the trade routes from Judea to Syria, there was no such frequent travel between Judea and Pisidia.

Westward bound ships from Judea only went north of Cyprus during the annual nor'easters, around August, and northern bound ships from Judea would invariably stop at Seleucia (the port of Antioch, Syria) before heading around to (or beyond) Cyprus. But what of Pamphylia? The safe passage granted by Augustus' Via Sebaste was barely 50 years old (give or take) when Barnabas & Paul first trod up its steep paths. That not only means it was a less popular destination; that means it was a less populated destination! There just weren't an awful lot of ships heading purposefully towards Perge or Attalia. Even Paul and Barnabas headed there on a relatively localized shuttle route, probably on a small ship, and almost certainly one of Paul's first three shipwrecks. The point, again, is that Pamphylia would quite naturally have been the Judaizer's far least likely route into Pisidia, and Galatia beyond. Geography alone suggests strongly the Judaizers' route ran: Judea - Syria - Galatia - Pisidia.

Logic, also, suggests strongly that these Judaizers would not have gone from Judea to Galatia without first having heard of Galatia through visiting Syria. Granting, obviously, that these Men from James/Judea were highly motivated to make such a long journey from Jerusalem in the first place, and further granting - as virtually all commentators seem to do - that the Judaizers' trip to Galatia came before the Council of Acts 15, the natural question can be brought back in time to their point of departure. In other words: at the moment when these men first set out from Jerusalem, is it more likely their plans were to head straight for Galatia, or is it more likely they were heading for Antioch? In fact, we do not even know that Judea had heard of Galatian churches before the Council of Acts 15, but we do know that the christians in Antioch, Syria, had all been appraised of the mission to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch-near-Pisidia, and we also know this Galatian news came to Antioch some time prior to the visit from these circumcising Judeans.

To sum up so far, it's extremely unlikely these traveling 'Judean-izers' had even heard about Galatia as a region, let alone heard there were gentile believers in towns there, let alone that they would go to Galatia before they would go straight to Antioch. The church in Jerusalem absolutely had heard about Antioch early on, since they'd sent Barnabas up to check on them, about three years or so after Paul's dramatic conversion. Add to that, Peter himself was finally planning a visit to Antioch, Syria. Since the Judaizers happened to reach Antioch after Peter's arrival, it seems Peter's journey itself was actually the strongest impetus for their own decision to travel north in the first place. And, naturally, upon meeting the "christ-ones" in Syria, these Judaizers would not require long to discover (from anyone!) that there were uncircumcised gentile believers in those four towns of Galatia.

For all of these reasons, we should take it as virtually certain that the Judaizers' mission followed a route: Judea - Syria - Galatia - Pisidia.

So much for Geography. Now, at last, for Chronology.* 

[Although, technically, none of this is "chronology" properly speaking, but merely "event sequencing". For "chronology" we would need to add dates, or at least estimate time frames. See below.*]

In Paul's letter to Galatia, he says "When Peter came to Antioch...". Now, there was either one visit of Peter to Antioch (Syria) or there was more than one. Several things about Peter's m.o. (in Acts) suggest he did not manage that trip more than once, but those points are circumstantial and largely character based. Nevertheless, what should convince us that Peter only visited once is this. We know the Men from James/Judea went into Galatia criticizing Paul. We know they built up the "mother church" [Jerusalem] as more significant than the Antioch church.  We know they compared Paul against the original apostles, and also James the Lord's brother. Given this pattern in Galatians, it appears to be certain that these Judaizers must have also tried to defame Paul by telling a story about how Paul rebuked Peter in Antioch.

But then, given the geography of their itinerary, as concluded above, it appears also to be certain that this visit of Peter was one and the same as the visit in Acts.

In other words, it was the selfsame controversial occasion in Antioch, the one which led Antioch to send representatives down to the Council in Jerusalem - that same occasion covered in Acts 15:1,2 - which also led the Judaizers to head onwards from Antioch and pursue these "Galatians" they'd just heard about.

In other words, the Judaizing of Galatia was happening at the same time as the Council in Jerusalem.

Now, let's review the best reasons for adopting this scenario, and not an alternative one:

At the one time Peter came to Antioch, these Judaizing men from James/Judea were present. Later, in writing Galatians, Paul sets the record straight about his rebuke against Peter only because these notorious Men from James had already told the Galatians a harsh Paul-bashing version of that same story. That, in turn, very strongly suggests that those Men from James had been able to swear, first hand, that they saw Paul rebuke Peter. The Judaizing agenda alone (circumcision as necessary for gentile christians) makes this hypothesis stronger than all other theories.

Against this scenario, it is much harder to imagine the Antioch church being troubled by two separate controversial periods - such as an early one at which Paul rebukes Peter about eating customs, and a later one at which Judaizers rachet up tension to the foreskin level. It is even more difficult to imagine two sets of Judaizers, one working before the Council and one after, or even one Judaizing group that traveled to Galatia without passing through (and causing trouble in) Antioch. Very few were so driven to go so far, as I have said at length elsewhere.

Our primary understanding must be the most likely, that these Men from James in Galatia are extremely unlikely to be anyone but these same Men from Judea in Acts 15. Putting that differently, the Men from Judea, who went up to Antioch and sparked the need for the Jerusalem Council, they are almost certainly the same men who went further on to Galatia. It is therefore highly probable that these Judaizers caused the controversy in Antioch not very long before they knife-vangelized the Galatians. That, in turn, means the Judaizing was going on at about the same time as Jerusalem's council. This, at last, means the Galatian letter must have followed the council.

As I said at the start of this post, chronological* work on Galatians shouldn't be about when we think Paul "would have said" what he wrote in Galatians. Nor should it be about what we think Paul "would have said" in hypothetical letters before or after the Council. No. Much more critically, chronological* work on Galatians should begin with the basic "pre-chronological"* questions of when the Judaizers could have learned about and then traveled into Galatia, whether they went to Antioch first, and whether Peter visited just the one time. To all of these questions, as I have tried to show, the most solid conclusions are that this is precisely what must have happened.

Therefore, Paul's rebuke of Peter belongs at the same time* as the controversial season of Acts 15:1.

Therefore, the occasion of Galatians 2:1-10 refers to the same occasion as Acts 15:1-29.

Therefore, Paul's Galatian Letter was written sometime* after those events, and sometime before the journey beginning with Acts 15:40ff.

*Technically there's no actual "Chronology" in this post because it contains no specific dates for these events. However, chronological sequence is the fundamental element of chronological dating. That makes this post another example of what I've termed "Pre-Chronology". (Blame the Math-teacher brain.)

July 19, 2012

What High School Math Teachers can do in Today's Classroom

My past systemic criticism notwithstanding, and desire for change very reasonably postponed, if I had a Math Classroom again, I'd do my absolute best to educate young students, in all sorts of ways. Many positive outcomes are entirely possible, especially if the objectives, methods and goals are presented honestly and straightforwardly, between Administrators and Teachers. For a teacher in such an arrangement, the only tangible questions are: Where's the target? - and - How do you want me to hit it?

In all educational honesty, Algebra is like any other field of study. It presents different aspects of itself to different classrooms, and offers different lessons at different levels. When the rich American in Italy asked his proverbial tour guide, "How long do I need to gain a real appreciation of Rome's culture and history?" the Italian responded, "Un'ora, Una vita." There are layers of brilliance to Algebra that many students will (and ought) never encounter, but there are aspects of brilliance to Algebra that all students can encounter and be 

So, although I strongly believe the US Educational System will eventually diversify, and that this is needed nowhere more so (Godspeed) than in Math classes, the unfortunate reality is that today's Math teachers still have to play with the cards they've been dealt. Better ideas may crack the system someday, but they aren't currently helping those who are currently on the inside. 

So, what can be done, at the moment?

The major trick, I believe, is to teach more than Algebra. The major opportunity is to teach them to learn, to collaborate, to apprehend, to master, and to re-present for their peers. Make no mistake, we CAN get students to master the content, and we CAN get students to conquer the 'State Test', but we'll be MORE effective at that AND more productive in general, if we concern ourselves less with particular standards of how "True Algebra" ought to be taught, and more with how STUDENTS ought to be taught. Sorry for shouting. I get so excited sometimes.

Without further ado, then, here are just a few personal and (hopefully) practical suggestions for anyone with the good fortune to receive a contract this year:

* Ask permission to "flip" the Math classroom. Make one good video lesson per day, have it available on at least one playback screen in the room, playable over and over. Play it to start class and then allow groups to split up. 

* Set up a flexible system to facilitate peer tutoring and Those who finish early can earn bonus points and/or extra rewards for re-teaching the lesson, either in small groups or at the front of the board. Any students who prefer isolation can watch the lesson again as many times as they like, with headphones. 

* Even better, ask permission to post the lessons online, in advance. Aggressively organized kids can do the work before coming to class, and then (again) earn rewards by teaching the lesson to others.

* As much as possible, make the students talk more than you do. Most teachers ask, "Any questions?" And a five second question is followed by more Charlie Brown style Wah-wah-wah. Dynamic teachers ask, "Who can explain this?" Or at least, "Who can tell me what I just said?" Then they listen.

* Require pens, and forbid pencils. The old tradition was born from a scarcity of paper, and modern teachers support it for convenience in grading, but erasers are terrible things. Erasers enable cheaters to change answers, and - what is far worse - they cover over helpful evidence of actual thinking. 

* Give partial credit for observable reasoning. Right thinking, wrong thinking, or absent thinking, the scratch work that gets erased in Math classrooms today amounts to a ginormous waste of valuable information, which a good teacher should use as a gold mine for planning individualized remediation.

* Give 100% make-up credit for anyone who can explain, using any functionally communicative words, why their first problem was wrong, and/or also why their corrected work was more correct. Explanations during class must be offered in writing. Verbal explanations become interviews, and therefore must wait until tutoring time is available. (Point variations apply. If the first assignment was not attempted, 50% make-up credit might be more appropriate, naturally. Etc.)

* Allow calculators on every problem assigned, classwork, homework, quiz or test. Yes, because the Big Test allows them, but far more importantly because of this reason: For math students, calculators are both fearsome and ubiquitous tools, and any dangerous power that is also omnipresent should be something children are taught how to handle, not whether (or when) they're permitted.

* Train students in how to interpret and re-present what the calculator produces. The future of math-related fields is less in need of people who can crunch all the formulas, and more in need of those who can apprehend complex information and re-present it to others in more easily understood terms.

There are more, but those few suggestions best get into the heart of what I have to say about teaching Algebra in today's (US) high school classroom.

And now, if I may elaborate...

Traditionally - no, to be more precise - Historically, there are two reasons why High School Algebra has stood as the principal gateway to collegiate entrance. One reason is fundamental, and the other is practical. Fundamentally, those who master basic Algebra (especially in its more traditional renderings) have demonstrated the ability to reason abstractly. In other words, Math pre-dates IQ tests, and - again, speaking historically - Math was a method both simple and thorough for determining which minds were at the top levels of aptitude, and most suited for college. But today, "everyone" can go to college. No, truly. Everyone can go to some sort of college or other.

The second reason why Algebra has historically stood as the principal arbiter of young people's collegiate potential, as I said, is more practical. In the process of mastering basic Algebra (again, this is more true as you move closer toward more traditional curricula) students are required to process familiar situations that contain endless variety, to process and then to decide! A simple two-step equation presents a surprisingly high number of variations on its own theme. 

Practically, one who memorizes patterns and regurgitates "steps" in responding, honestly, can get by alright without help about 50% of the time. Critically, however, one who captures the internal logic of what balancing equations actually requires - and actually this can be done by any cool headed kid who takes enough time to observe while sincerely engaged (the hard parts there having nothing to do with mental aptitude and all to do with general mental state at the moment of study) - the one who gets what's really going on has a rare opportunity. Such a student can do more than respond in a limited number of situations based on what "steps" he's been programmed and authorized to follow. Such a student can become an autonomous decision maker.

In other words, proper Algebra requires complex analysis and decision making.


Like any other field of study, practical Algebra can still convey benefits to various worthwhile degrees.

"Un'ora. Una vita."

Of course there are limits to what we can teach with our limited resources, but Algebra always contains within it an inherent richness of its own challenging nature... and there are no limits to how creatively we can adapt Algebraic learning objectives (from probably any curriculum) and make their completion serve the increased growth of the student... rather than purely making the student serve the needs of the Math curriculum.

There are ways to achieve what the system requires - today - without bucking the system, but while ALSO providing more diversified levels of engagement with what Algebra does and with what Algebra requites. Yes, requires.

In a lot of Math classrooms, typically, teachers come to believe that they have to pretend everyone's going to college, and yet the most common method of getting them there doesn't necessarily prepare kids to do much more than take orders (and never to issue them). 

There are more educational opportunities in present day High School Education than a lot of Math Teachers often realize. Yes, there are always personal opportunities. You help a kid, you support a kid, you drag them kicking and screaming to graduation, you change a life, you sow a seed. Amen and amen. But I said educational opportunities.

If we're going to teach Math, we may as well teach Math in a way that combines what we all need (kids, teachers, schools and politicians all have particular problems today) with what Math needs. Math needs to be understood. It requires processing and representation. It should not merely be regurgitated.* 

(*Please note: this is somewhat equally true for Literature, History and Science as well... but those subjects can more easily be reduced to regurgitation of facts, which is what a lot of Math gurus have been trying to do with Math now, in high schools, for years. Yet, Math remains unique in it's inevitable demand for decision. This remains a central part of my thesis here, and this remains the best reason to do Math as more than algorithms and facts.)

What Algebra offers - at almost any level of offering - is more than traditional forms of algorithmic troubleshooting and transformation of symbolic equation language - to any particular standard. 

What Algebra offers is a unique opportunity:

* Students can be challenged to embrace the abstract (at any level of abstractness).

* Students can be engaged to observe details of the abstract (and to contrast divergence with patterns).

* Students can be allowed to communicate their incorrectness (and to walk better by stumbling onwards).

* Students can be encouraged to re-process and to re-present ideas and information that is new-to-them.

* Students can be challenged to teach others, and thus discover (and plug) various holes in their own understanding.

* In solving problems (applying the lesson), students can be challenged to perform practical analysis (really just basic and careful observation), and then to decide what's required, and then to implement what's required, and then to test that solution with further analysis (ideally through multiple methods of testing).

To sum up:

Teaching Algebra does not have to be all of these things - or any one of these things - at every possible moment... but teaching Algebra ought to be all of these things - in various degrees and for various students - at some key points during the year.

And so therefore, if you are so fortunate as to receive a teaching contract this year, I will tell you this one more time. It doesn't matter so much what curriculum you're given by Admin, or what key skills need to be tested by the State at year's end, or how closely the methods you're asked to use might approximate "Math" as you yourself once experienced it.

The only questions that matter, for you, my dear Algebra Teacher, are these:

Where's the target? and How do you want me to hit it?

All the big things that Algebra CAN teach CAN be taught with great impact at various points in the year.

Someday US schools will diversify helpfully. Until then, all students will continue being forced to take Algebra, and all districts will continue to "water it down" (comparatively speaking) . Nevertheless, the fundamental aspects of what makes Algebra worthwhile can quite often be utilized to exact more from (and provide more to) your students.

Take it from me. I've been on the inside and the outside. I've talked to teachers in various schools, states and districts.

In the present system as it stands, there are more ways to do Algebra, helpfully, than a lot of teachers [want to] imagine...

July 7, 2012

Did Paul escape Damascus once or twice?

From Galatians, we know Paul departed twice from Damascus, but were both departures also escapes? A common argument against the "two escapes" hypothesis is simple incredulity that Paul would try the same trick twice, but I'd invite all such skeptics to try on this quick thought experiment.

For starters, let's assume, as a great many do, that Acts 9 and II Cor.11 refer to the selfsame event. That is, let's assume Paul escaped from Damascus only once. Now, for this experiment, let's assume that the *one* escape happened to fall at the first departure. The only circumstance we need to remember is the one circumstance common to both Acts 9 and II Cor.11 - that Paul was let down from the wall in a large basket.

Remember, thought experiments like this can be well worth your time. But this one will be quick. I promise!

Alright. Paul's first Damascus departure was an escape. Here is point one: the escape was effective. Well, duh, you might say. Obviously Paul wasn't caught. Yes, but it's more than that.

If Paul had been seen going down from the wall, he'd have been caught by the time he touched ground. If Paul had been spotted so near to the wall, he wouldn't have gotten away. The fact that Paul got away means that - if Paul was spotted - he at least wasn't spotted so near to the wall. Therefore, the fact that Paul got away means that no one saw his particular method of escape, at that moment, when he was coming down the side of the wall. We should further presume the Damascene brothers pulled that basket back up. If they'd left the basket and rope on the ground, any sentries patrolling the wall would have been only a few minutes behind him, at worst.

So, Paul's escape proves that the trick had proven completely effective, and more importantly, that the trick had remained, to that point at least, entirely secret.

Now, Paul goes down to Arabia, where he may or may not have gotten himself in some trouble, because of course, it's very like Paul to get himself into trouble wherever he travels. And then Paul comes back up to Damascus, where he's somewhat if not even more likely to get himself in new trouble, although we don't normally hear of Paul getting himself into trouble the second time he passes through a particular town (cf. Lystra, Iconium, Antioch-of-Pisidia, Thessalonica, Corinth, Philippi, Troas, Ephesus, etc. But not Jerusalem. Hmm.) At any rate, Paul being Paul, let's suppose even odds that Paul gets himself back into trouble again, on this return trip to Damascus.

Now, supposing Paul needs to escape again... hypothetically... and supposing the Damascene church has another discussion about how to help Paul escape. If that had happened, twice, what do you think they'd have done?

Should we suppose they'd be more likely to come up with a new and untested idea for helping Paul to escape, perhaps for novelty? Or should we suppose they'd be more likely to favor the tried and true method which proved effective the first time, and which almost certainly had remained secret since then? In that hypothetical situation, the more likely choice should be glaringly obvious. In general, among ancient peoples, and this being quite contrary to modern sensibilities, particularly those of the well educated, novelty was grossly unvalued. Practicality trumped.

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that Paul therefore *did* escape from Damascus two times. What it does mean is that, logically, one should not think it less likely they'd use the same escape method twice. When one gives proper consideration, one should think it highly more likely they would use the same method as earlier, assuming escape became necessary a second time.

To go further, to actually answer the question - Did Paul escape from Damascus once or twice? - we'd have to study the circumstances in both situations and reconstruct a timeline, judging which of three scenarios were more likely: (1) escape at first departure only, (2) escape at second departure only, or (3) escapes at both departures from Damascus. (For reasons I won't go into just now in this post, I take option #3. Search this site if you want to know more... At any rate, the most common objection (to my pet view) happens to be total bunk.) 

Here endeth today's lesson.  ;-p
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