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Japanese, Germans, and Jews

Whats the connection between Japanese, Germans, and Jews? It may go deeper than you think.

Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with languages. Particularly the history of language. I think it has to do with the fact that I was born in Germany as a foreigner and for the first 6 years of my life I regularly faced ostracism and bullying because of it. The more I study language, the more I realize everything is connected and that we are all the same. And that the negative treatment I received wasn’t based in anything other than misunderstanding.

Anyways

Studying language and history has brought to some very interesting and surprising lines of thought.

This article is about one them.

On the surface, German, Semitic, and Japanese people are completely different. Their locations in the world are completely different. Their language looks and sounds completely unrelated.

But is there a connection?

Linguistic connections in German and Hebrew

In his book “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue” (Affiliate link), John McWhorter shares the interesting, convoluted history and development of the English language. I read it back in 2009 and was tantalized by something in the ending:

The inexplicable connection between Semitic and Germanic languages.

Some things of note:

Past Tense Verb changes are similar

Most European Languages made past-tense verbs by changing endings.

Spanish: “To Play”: jugar

Spanish “I Play” : juego

Spanish “I played”: jugué

Spanish “I used to play”: jugaba

But German changes verb tense by changing vowels. (This was standard in Old German and English. The “-ed” ending became popular after influence of French)

Drink Drank Drunk

But in Semitic languages, tense is shown by changing the vowels in the verb.

The Curious Case of Seven

Other European languages have a “t” in their word for “seven”

Spanish: Siete

French: Sept

Greek: Hepta

Polish: Siedem

But German doesn’t. It’s “sieben.”

What about Hebrew? “Sheevah”

Arabic? Saaba.

Verbs come at the end

Anybody who has tried to study Turkish, Japanese, or Korean know that one of the most difficult things for European speakers is that verbs come at the END of the sentence.

So, to say “I went to school yesterday,” the actual word order is “I yesterday to school went”

And while in German the main verb comes in the same position as English, verbs in “subordinate clauses” (sentences within the sentence) come at the end:

I go to school: Ich gehe zur Schule (Lit: “I go to school”)

I say that I go to school: Ich sage, dass ich zur Schule gehe (Lit: “I say, that I to school go”)

there are other linguistic connections, but it doesn’t stop there.

Archeology

In Germany’s northern Schleswig-Holstein region (north of Hamburg and below Denmark) artifacts and pottery belonging to Greece, Minoa, and Phonecia dating back to as far as 1500BC were discovered.

Even in Antiquity, we can see that there was rich trade between the Germanic people and the Greeks/Phoenicians. And normally where there is trade, there is language transfer.

There are many other references in the book.

A is for Ainu, B is for Berserker

The English word “Berserk” comes from a North Germanic type of warrior called “Berserker” literally Bear-shirter, because they frequently wore bear skins to battle. These warriors got high and went “Berserk” on the battle field and struck fear into those that faced them.

Why did they were bear skins? They worshiped the bear. But Northern Germanic peoples were not the only ones who are known to have bear cults:

Among them are

Basque

Finn

Siberian

and Ainu: the indigenous people of Japan.

Interestingly, though there is high respect for bears in American tribes, I couldn’t find something on the same caliber as what is in these cultures.

Is that just a coincidence? It could be. Could it be the sign of a deeper connection? I’d like to think so.

History books can be rewritten. Language cannot. Our language is itself a history book: a record of interactions and influences from before we were born that shaped us into who are today.

What other secrets could it be hiding?

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“Satori” and the true meaning of enlightenment

Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Alan Watts talks on YouTube.

The man was speaking 60+ years ago and he basically brought Buddhism/Eastern Philosophy to the USA (himself being an Englishman).

He was giving a talk where he talked about the concept of “Enlightenment.” What it really means, and he mentioned in Japanese the word for enlightenment is “Satori.”

What does “Satori” actually mean?

It’s actually not that straightforward.

Looking beyond the writing to find the meaning

Japanese is a really interesting language, because there are more layers to it when compared to other languages.

The Japanese writing system was taken from China, so many indigenous words were given Chinese characters.

Like the word for “man,” (otoko / 男).

The thing is, this conforming of Japanese to Chinese characters obfuscates a layer of meaning as to what the words originally mean.

What does “Otoko” really mean? By looking at the Chinese character 男 it’s simple. It means “man.”

But when we look at another word, the word for “maiden” (otome / 乙女), we see a connection here that isn’t apparent just from the writing.

Here’s another example.

In Japanese, “ko” means “child” and is used for male children. “Me” means “female.”

You can see this in the Japanese word for “prince” (hiko / 彦) and the Japanese word for “princess” (hime /姫).

You wouldn’t catch it by just looking at the writing, but both words are formed by the word “hi” + either “ko” (for men) or “me” (for women). So we can infer that “hi” originally meant something like “royal.”

What is the true meaning of “satori”?

This brings us back to our main point, the meaning of “satori.”

In Japanese script it is 悟り. The Chinese character 悟 means to see clearly or understand. Based on the writing, we infer that the meaning of “satori” is “true understanding.”

But what about the meaning beyond the writing?

“Satori” is made up of two components:

“sa” (差: gap/difference) + “tori” (取り: take)

It’s a gerund, where if made into a phrase would be “take away the gap/difference.”

How is that related to “enlightenment”?

The path to Enlightenment: Take away the gap

Japanese society is very rigidly structured. Who is below and who is above in the social hierarchy is built not only into the culture, but into the language itself. These “gaps” between people’s status are called “sa”(差).

Someone who is very aware of, and very considerate of, peoples status in society are always aware of these gaps. They always have them in the back of their minds when they are talking.

“Is this person above me or below me?” “How should I talk with this person? What is appropriate?”

“Satori,” in essence, means to take this gap away. To stop seeing people as above or below. To see that, in reality, there is no gap between you or the queen of English or the Emperor of Japan.

We are all on the same level.

To stop caring about your status related to others. To stop comparing yourself with others.

That is the true meaning of Satori. That is true enlightenment.

And it’s something that I still need to work on.

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Review of “How (Not) to Read the Bible” : A case in dishonesty

I have been an atheist since 2018 but frequently challenge what I believe to see if it reflects truth. My motto in life is “Believe the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.”

So I decided to read “How (Not) to Read the Bible” by Dan Kimball.

What I hoped for was an elucidating explanation of the tough verses in the Bible about slavery and women. I read the book with an open mind, but it was a huge disappointment.

0. My general assessment

Instead of an honest assessment of the facts, it is packed with fluff, misdirection, and glossing over inconvenient facts (ironic, because this is what the book was NOT supposed to do).

Let’s talk about biggest issues I have with this.

I give it 2 stars and not 1, only because he doesn’t outright lie in this book. 

1. This book is about 60% fluff.

Before getting to the actual meat, the verses which people have issues with, the author dallies around the for a full chapter talking about how Christians are pro-women and anti-slavery and how people misuse these verses to give Christianity a bad name.

Yes, that is why we are reading this book and got a good dose of that explanation in chapter one. We don’t need it as bookends for each section, creating 3 chapters when there only needs to be one.

2. The difficult points are addressed with weak conjecture and apology, not with facts.

Let’s look at some examples of this.

2.1 On the section about slavery.

He starts by saying slavery is bad. That people have misused the verses to justify slavery. That Jesus never condones slavery (but doesn’t also criticize it). 

He talks about how Paul asked Philemon to take back Onesimus and treat him as a brother (but not asking Philemon to free Onesimus).

Then, he describes how slavery at the time of the Bible was very different from the Race-based slavery of the post-enlightenment era. He mentions that anyone who kidnaps someone is sentenced to death in the Old Testament.

Then, he mentions some verses that reference slavery. In it he says it was common to sell yourself into slavery to pay for a debt or to not starve. That about 30% of the population were slaves, so if God outlawed slavery it would have created an economic upheaval (even though all the Hebrews were slaves just let out of captivity and everyone was free).

He then mentions that the Bible brought positive safe-guards to slavery in that you couldn’t beat a slave to death.

What does he miss?

  • The verses that command the Hebrews to take slaves
  • The different prices for male and female slaves
  • The provision for an owner to keep his slave forever
  • The decreed difference in treatment of Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves

2.2 On the section about women.

This section addresses the verses where Paul refuses to let women teach men or speak up at church or lead men.

He starts by saying that women and men were created equal (that Eve was created from the side of Adam) and that Eve is called Adam’s “Ezer” or “helper”, which is used of God in reference to his people Israel.

He talks about Deborah, the female Judge, the women of honor like Ruth and Esther. He talks about Miriam being in the same rank of Aaron and Moses (though she is mentioned as a prophetess, not a leader). He talks about all the other women mentioned as prophesying in the Bible.

When it comes to the verses requiring a woman to be silent in the Church, all he comes up with is conjecture. He plainly says “no one really knows, but maybe it was because the women didn’t know as much about the Bible and so they were asking too many questions and bothering the Church service”.

He also mentions that the local temple of Artemis was female-run, so the influence from that COULD have caused problems in the Church.

Once again, he approaches these uncomfortable sections with conjecture, not fact. He even says to not criticize church leaders who believe women shouldn’t have leadership roles in the Church, but to talk with them.

At the end, he points out 3 more verses:

“But there are others as well, such as:

  • Does a woman have to keep he head covered when church gatherings happen? (1 Corinthians 11:3-16)
  • Does a woman need to submit to her husband in everything? (Ephesians 5:24)
  • Does a woman need to have a baby in order to be ‘saved’? (1 Timothy 2:15)”

And what is his response. To gloss over them:

“Oh the many amazingly weird and wonderful questions the Bible raises! But when you look into the backstory to understand the cultural background, there is sense to be made from what sounds so strange to us.”

Does he go on to explain the background of these verses? No.

In the end, he never addresses the reason why women are not allowed to be leaders in the church. He mentions that they can be prophets, but a prophet is not a leader. He probably hopes the reader will conflate the terms and leave it at that).

3. He uses a double standard

In the verses about unclean food (forbidding Shrimp and Pork), he mentions that these and other similar verses were PROBABLY intended for the Hebrews to act differently from those cultures around them. To separate them and give them a stronger identity that they are God’s, different from the others.

Once again, this is conjecture. He doesn’t give facts. He plainly says “we don’t know for sure.” 

But if that were the case, then why wouldn’t God have done the same with the cultural matters of slavery and treatment of women? Instead he justifies the slavery and women verses by saying they were part of the cultural milieu at the time.

Me: Why is shrimp and pork forbidden in the Bible?

Author: Because God wanted his people to be unique in culture and sensibility. Distinct from those around him.

Me: So then what about the slavery and the unfair treatment of women?

Author: Well, the culture at that time was like that, so God didn’t want to be TOO different.

4. He add unnecessary interpretation to bible verses to conform them to his view.

This is the part that really took the cake for me and caused me to stop reading.

The author points out verses that HE SAYS support his point, but he doesn’t include them in quotations in the text. I looked them up and found he unfairly adds interpretation to massage them to conform to his opinion.

Some examples:

4.1 

“Paul cannot literally mean that women should be totally silent, because just a few chapters earlier in the same letter, he acknowledges (with no sense of disapproval) that women prophesied and prayed aloud in the church. (1 Corinthians 11:13)

1 Corinthians 11:13 –

“Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?”

This says nothing of praying aloud or in the church service.

4.2 

“With all this in mind, it is important to note that the law requiring a rapist to marry his victim was not forced on the woman It was the woman’s legal right, if she chose, to pursue the law and request marriage or to reject it” 

(There is no citation for this)

“We read in other parts of these realy books of the Bible – that the woman could communicate through her father, who was the one responsible for her care, and choose not to marry her violator” (Exodus 22:16-17)

Exodus 22:16-17 (ESV) –

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and leis with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.”

There is no mention of the woman communicating with her father. She is left out of the discussion.

5. My summary of the book.

Here is the summary up to the part I read.

  • Yes the Bible says some weird things.
  • I thought they were weird, too.
  • But they are not weird if you look at them in detail.
  • Lets look at how to look at them in detail.
  • First, understand that the Bible was not written to us specifically, but to people of a different time.
  • Next, never read a verse by itself. Take it in its context.
  • Now, about shellfish and pigs. God wanted to do that because he wanted his people to be different from those around him.
  • But they don’t apply to us now because the New Testament doesn’t command not to eat those foods.
  • But slavery, that was too big for God to change suddenly. It was too different culturally and would cause big problems in the economy.
  • Slavery is mentioned in the New Testament, but we don’t take that as a command saying it’s ok to have slaves.
  • But slavery is really bad, I promise you. I agree that it’s evil.
  • Now, about women. Why does the Bible say that women couldn’t teach men and had to be silent in the Church?
  • Well, God originally created man and woman equally because Eve was taken from Adam’s side. It’s sin that messed everything up.
  • Polygamy isn’t directly stated as bad, but every time it happens in the Bible problems happen. So there.
  • The Bible mentions many women of honor. It is not anti-women.
  • Women can be prophets (not leaders) in the church, like Miriam.
  • Why must women stay silent? We don’t know for sure, but it probably was because they didn’t know as much as the men and asked too many questions and disrupted the church service.
  • The Bible isn’t anti-women. Let’s trust that and not look into other problem verses, ok?

I hope you can understand why I stopped here.

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The Move from Bundles to Pay-per-item to subscription

I was on Facebook and I saw a link to an article for the Economist. Normally I skip by them, but this time i was so interested I signed into an account I made years ago to read it. Normally, I never do that.

This got me thinking: I was willing to go through the friction of logging in for some articles, but not for others. Why? Is there a way that companies are not capitalizing on this?

This moved me into thinking about a pay per article system like they have for journals, but using micropayments ($0.20, $0.10). Why don’t people implement that?

In recent years we have seen the transformation of business models. The first to go was the music industry.

Bundle: Pay the music label for access to a bundle of songs. No option in choosing single songs unless paying for a single.

Pay per Item: iTunes comes out with a pay per song model. No longer do you need to pay for a whole album, but only for the songs you like.

Subscription: Pay for access to a whole library of songs. You have access to them only as long as you maintain a subscription.

This final, subscription model clearly makes more money and it is surprisingly similar to the bundle model. In fact with even less right to ownership.

We are moving into an age where the consumer no longer owns anything, but have rented out everything.

We no longer own the movies we watch, the music we listen to. With food/cooking boxes we no longer even own the food that we eat.

I get it. Ownership is hard and it comes with responsibilities to maintain. But with that extra effort comes freedom.

But is that freedom worth it?

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