Weekly Meanderings, 2 November 2013

Weekly Meanderings, 2 November 2013 November 2, 2013

I found this story fascinating — people who lived for a long time in various forms of isolation.

When is the best time to drink coffee? Here’s the science:

If you’re anything like certain members of the Fast Company staff, then you feel more or less undead until you have your morning cup of brains coffee. However, insight into the way our attention rises and dips throughout the day suggests that we can get more precise about the way we caffeinate–and thus become more productive.

How so? Because, as Steven Miller, the man behind brain blog NeuroscienceDCsuggests, the way coffee affects your body is shaped by a few key factors. Those being:

  • Caffeine is a drug
  • Your body has rhythms, hormonal and otherwise
  • To use a drug wisely, you fit it to your rhythms

How do those points combine? To understand, Miller asks us to consider the insights of chronopharmacology, the study of the interaction between drugs and biological rhythms.

Your body has many rhythms: there’s the circadian one that drives your sleeping habits (and gets messed up by over-zealous snoozing), the ultradian one that tells us to unplug every 90 minutes, and most interestingly for our caffeinated purposes, the rhythm of the release of cortisol….

The savvy coffee drinker, then, will enjoy her brew when her natural alertness levels are low, like between 9:30 and 11:30 am–that way you can get the most bang for your cup.

Want to hear what the ancient Greeks were hearing with their music?

[Ancient Greek] instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.

And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.

The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on.

The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch.

Listen here.

Jon Merritt interviews Joel Baden on what David was “really” like:

JM: Enough beating around the theological bush. Let’s get to the $100,000 question: Who did you find David to be? Any surprises? 

JB: Depending on what perspective we start with, there will either be many surprises or relatively few. If we begin with the familiar cultural portrait of David, then there is plenty that will be new and perhaps even somewhat shocking. You described David quite correctly as an “ambitious power player.”  That’s quite right. For someone coming only from tradition, or even from the biblical text, this is a surprise indeed: the Bible goes to great lengths to show that David was anything but ambitious, that the kingship was given to him through no efforts of his own. For someone reading David in light of his ancient context, however, there’s no great shock here: no one in the ancient world simply fell into the monarchy, especially from outside any established royal descent.

There is no value judgment here, nor do I want to propose any. David did whatever was necessary to attain and retain the throne in Israel, to amass and wield the power that came with the crown. If he hadn’t, the world would be quite different today. But the biblical presentation of David as always in the right just doesn’t turn out to be quite right. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the David I think walked the earth did a lot of things that we would find morally, well, difficult. There was adultery, to be sure, but also royal insubordination, murder, in various flavors, and even something that looks a lot like treason. Perhaps most surprising for me, and perhaps most problematic for many readers, was the realization that the entire notion of the “Davidic” dynasty– both as a royal line in Israel and as a family line leading to Jesus–is thrown strongly into question.

David, as I understand him, was an astonishingly successful man, just as the Bible suggests. But I think that he came to that success via means that would make most of us who claim David as our ancestor rather uncomfortable. Which is really only to say that David was a man of his times, not ours–and it is in his times that I am trying to understand him.

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  • Rick

    On the Merritt/Baden interview, I found it interesting that some of Baden’s students thought he “ruined” David for them, yet in the comments on the article people said this fits how the Bible reflects David, thus this is nothing new to them.
    It would be interesting to see why the two groups (students v. readers) had such different takes on the same character.

  • Rick, I wonder if this is the difference between people who have heard preaching/teaching on David versus people who have read the Bible’s own telling. David in Veggie Tales or comfortable sermons or such does seem to be the hero.

    “But the biblical presentation of David as always in the right just
    doesn’t turn out to be quite right. Without giving too much away,
    suffice it to say that the David I think walked the earth did a lot of
    things that we would find morally, well, difficult.”

    I don’t know how anyone who reads the text for themselves would think it presents David as always being in the right. He’s definitely morally complicated. I remember Eugene Peterson pointing this out great in his study Leap Over the Wall. If I remember correctly, he notes how Saul was really less of a sinner than David. It was the particular kinds of sins that made a difference in the Biblical narrative, with Saul’s particular downfall at times being that he wasn’t willing to be quite as violent as commanded. David was. But then David wasn’t allowed to build the Temple because of the blood on his hands, blood that was part of his obedience.

  • mattDavis!

    Scot, I’d be really interested to see your own take on King David. In my opinion his prominent positive portrayal within Scripture is a subtle challenge to a Biblically founded pacifism. What are we supposed to make of Paul’s description of David as, “a man after God’s own heart.” in Acts 13?

  • Dan Yelovich

    Agreed. While I would not ordinarily dismiss a book by a scholar at
    Yale, based on this interview, I see no reason to trust his scholarship. How can he say “the David of the Bible, and
    even more so the David of popular tradition, is a nearly perfected human being”?
    In fact, the Bible describes quite the
    opposite. Contrary to the American habit
    of “viewing our forefathers in a
    uniformly positive light”, the beauty of the biblical account is in its raw
    presentation of David’s imperfections. It portrays David as a deeply flawed
    king. He’s an adulterer and a murderer. His own family turns on him. And as you mentioned, David cannot fulfill his dream of building the
    Temple because he has too much blood on his hands. How can a scholar says this is a portrayal of
    “ a nearly perfected human being”?

  • mattDavis!

    Well yes, but what happens when the morally questionable aspects of David’s character are baptized in our culture? David’s actions in warfare aren’t a problem because we’ve theologized away all the OT passage that condemn militarism through our reading of Romans 13. Rabid political ambition employed in the “service” of God isn’t nearly as grey an area as it should be in America.

    When what the narrator of David’s story in Scripture calls defects aren’t seen to be defects in our culture, it’s easier to valorize David. I think his assesment of the popular opinion regarding David is quite accurate.

    I’m now grumpy because Scot has given me another book that I feel mildly compelled to chase down and read.

  • Allen Browne

    Haven’t we seen this kind of methodology before? It looks like a search for the historical David. Next comes a David Seminar where chosen scholars vote with colored chips about what David actually said.
    Yesterday I was reading the story where Shimei accuses David of some of the ambition that Baden claims to have discovered (2 Sam 16:7-8). David’s compassion is arguably the response of a man whose life is shaped by suffering at this point (the Absalom events), though he never really forgives (1 Kings 2:8-9). Some of these stories may even have shaped Jesus’ attitudes (Luke 6:28).
    I have no desire to read Baden, but I can’t imagine why he would think it inconceivable that a prophet would promise the kingdom to David.