Monday, October 25, 2010

Land Claims in Greater Israel, 1946-2009

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2012-2013 Election Season Calendar

1-22             State of the Union in Washington, DC
1-23             Debate         Tampa, FL
1-26             Debate         Jacksonville, FL
1-31             Primary          FL
2-4               Pri./Cau.        NV
2-(4-11)       Pri./Cau.        ME
2-(9-11)       Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC
2-7               Pri./Cau.        CO, MN, MO (non-binding)
2-22             Debate         Mesa, AZ
2-25             Pri./Cau.        NMA
2-28             Pri./Cau.        AZ, MI
3-1               Debate         GA
3-3               Pri./Cau.        WA
3-5               Debate         Simi Valley, CA
3-6               Pri./Cau.        AK, GA, ID, MA, ND, OH, OK, TN, VT, VA
3-(6-10)       Pri./Cau.        WY
3-10             Pri./Cau.        KS, VI, GU
3-13             Pri./Cau.        AL, AS, HI, MI, MO
3-18             Pri./Cau.        PR
3-19             Debate         Portland, OR
3-20             Pri./Cau.        IL
3-24             Pri./Cau.        LA
4-3               Pri./Cau.        MD, TX, DC, WI
4-(18-21)     Constitutional Party National Convention in Nashville, TN
4-24             Pri./Cau.        CT, DE, NY, PA, RI
5-(4-6)         Libertarian Party National Convention in Las Vegas, NV
5-8               Pri./Cau.        IN, NC, WV
5-15             Pri./Cau.        NE, OR
5-22             Pri./Cau.        AR, KY
6-5               Pri./Cau.        CA, MT, NJ, NM, SD
6-26             Pri./Cau.        UT
8-(27-30)    Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL
9-(3-6)        Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC
October      Presidential Debates
11-6            General Election
1-3-13         Congressional Inauguration
1-20-13       Presidential Inauguration

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2009

This essay was written for a university course on the United States Congress. The letter was not mailed; it was merely written for an assignment and as an exercise.


   Texas Congressman Pete Olsen (R-TX-22)

A Letter to Texas Congressman Pete Olsen (R-TX-22):

Dear Mr. Olson,

I am writing to encourage you to cosponsor House Resolution 1146, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2009. The legislation is sponsored by Dr. Ron Paul, the seven-term Republican from Texas’s 14th district, which neighbors and has included areas in the 22nd district, which you represent.

The bill would “end membership of the United States in the United Nations.” It currently has two cosponsors – one in Texas’s 3rd district and the other in Tennessee – and in the past it has had as many as eighteen cosponsors. The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on February 24th of this year.

The bill originated as the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 1997. It was introduced by Congressman Paul at the beginning of his service to the 14th district following a 3.5% victory against a Democratic opponent when the district’s Democratic incumbent became a Republican and failed to defeat Paul in the primary.

Congressman Paul has re-introduced the legislation in each of his seven terms representing Texas’s 14th district, and he has been rewarded with ever-increasing margins of victory from his initial election to the office in 1996 until the 2004 election when he ran unopposed. That margin also increased from 2006 to 2008, when he defeated Republican Chris Peden by greater than a two-to-one margin. In 2007, Paul was received with cheering and applause when he expressed his support for withdrawing from the U.N. to an audience in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In its original form in 1997, the bill called for the repeal of the United Nations Participation Act of 1945; the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Act of 1946; the United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act of 1947; and the United Nations Environment Program Participation Act of 1973. It also called for the cessation of funds to the U.N. and to its military operations, required that no member of the U.S. Armed Forces serve under U.N. command, and mandated that the U.N. cease to occupy and use all U.S. Government properties and facilities. In the following Congress, the bill was revised to repeal U.S. participation in the World Health Organization.

In September 2000, Congressman Paul argued that President Truman and the Senate did not possess the Constitutional power to enter into such an agreement when the U.N. Participation Act was signed and ratified. He stated that “[t]he American people have not… approved of the Charter of the United Nations which, by its nature, cannot be the supreme law of the land for it was never ‘made under the Authority of the U.S.,’ as required by Article VI.” Quoting Herbert W. Titus, Rep. Paul agreed that “the people’s government officials… have no authority to bind… any… nation’s people to any terms of the Charter of the [U.N.]”, and that treaties may only be made “between or among independent and sovereign nations.” Paul has stated that the U.N. Charter is not a treaty but an illegitimate constitution.

Paul also claimed that past presidents have used the U.N. Security Council to bypass Congress in authorizing the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces. In 2006, Congressman Paul denounced the U.N. as “greedy” and “corrupt” in his criticism of its global tax policy, and he articulated a fear of U.N. encroachment on free speech and the right to bear arms. He opposes “the imposition of global standards of economic and social justice by international agencies and tribunals” on the grounds that global integration undermines State sovereignty. Paul also opposed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, and claimed that an international superhighway from Mexico through Texas to Canada would “require eminent domain takings on an almost unimaginable scale.”

In 2005, House opponents to withdrawal passed a bill to halve appropriations to the U.N., which would cut its budget by at least ten percent, in an attempt to enforce “reform” upon the international organization. Title I of the bill provides that “it shall be U.S. policy to use its influence at the [U.N.] to pursue an efficient and accountable U.N. regular assessed budget, and shift funding mechanisms for… U.N. programs from the regular assessed budget to voluntarily funded programs”. That legislation also expressed that “reforms, particularly in the areas of planning, management, training, conduct, and discipline, are necessary to restore confidence in U.N. peacekeeping operations.”

Arguments explicitly criticizing the provisions of H.R. 1146 are scarce in the 111th Congress due to the proposed legislation’s overwhelming unpopularity and due to the support of advocating the reform of the United Nations with acts of Congress as the default method of addressing dissatisfaction with the discrepancies between the policies of the U.N. and the U.S..

Since its initial proposal, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act has been repeatedly referred to the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, and also to the Committee on International Relations, now known as the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and each time it was cleared from the books before it had the opportunity to see debate.

In the 111th Congress, the bill has again been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and without many more cosponsors, it is destined to die in committee like its predecessors. Should this occur, and should Rep. Paul be re-elected, the bill would likely be re-introduced to the Committee as early as January 2010.

Prior to his tenure serving Texas’s 14th district, Congressman Paul represented the 22nd district from 1976 to 1977, and again from 1979 to 1985. In accordance with the redistricting resulting from the 2000 U.S. Census, Brazoria County is split between the 14th and 22nd districts. The 22nd district has elected Democrats only twice since Congressman Paul was first elected to serve it, while the 14th district was consistently represented by Democrats for over fifty years until 1985.

In 2000, the districts both had median incomes over $40,000, although residents of the 22nd district earned over 40% more than residents of the 14th district. The districts’ white population percentages were in the low seventies, Hispanic populations were between 20% and 25%, and black populations were approximately 10%. The districts do not appear to be affected by the same problems of racial representation that were suffered half a decade ago by areas to the northwest, and neither district has recently seen a race with a black or Hispanic challenger.


Congressman Pete Olson served the U.S. as a naval aviator, on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a Naval Liaison Officer to the U.S. Senate, as an aide to Texas Senator Phil Gramm, and as Chief of Staff for Senator John Cornyn prior to becoming a member of the House. He has served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Homeland Security Committee, and the Scence and Technology Committee, of which he is a ranking member in the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. In the 111th Congress, Olson has authored legislation to delay the increase of the minimum wage by a year, to require states to report information on Medicaid payments to abortion providers, and to recognize 100 years of military aviation and express continued support for the U.S. Air Force.

Congressman Paul of the 14th district and Congressman Olson of the 22nd district are both white male Christian Republicans over the age of forty-five. Paul is an Episcopalian while Olson is a Methodist, and both have served in the military, Paul having served as a flight surgeon.

While Ron Paul is one of a dozen members of the libertarian-leaning Liberty Caucus of the Republican Party in the House, committed to reducing the size and scope of government, Pete Olson belongs to the hundred-member Republican Study Committee, worked as a staffer for conservative Republicans Phil Gramm and John Cornyn, and represents many of the same constituents in the 22nd district who re-elected embattled former House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay for over 21 years – 27 years for those living in Congressman Olson’s home town of Sugar Land – as Olson won the 2008 election with nearly 60% of the vote.


A September 2006 poll by Rasmussen found that only 31% of American adults had a favorable opinion of the U.N., and that 26% favored withdrawal. The poll also found that 18% of those faithful to the G.O.P. and 25% of independent Republicans favored the U.N., that Republicans were split on the issue of ceasing U.S. participation, and that Democrats overwhelmingly favored continuing U.S. participation.

Congressman Olson, in 2004, your predecessor in the 22nd district, Congressman Tom DeLay, called the International Criminal Court a danger to the war on terrorism. DeLay has also expressed sentiments regarding gun-owners’ rights and immigration that are similar to those espoused by Congressman Paul. It appears that the Republican constituents who would consistently re-elect Congressman DeLay for over two decades could easily be convinced by their new Republican representative that their support for gun rights and immigration reform would be protected from international influence by Dr. Paul’s legislation. If you pledge support to H.R. 1146, it is very likely that most Republicans and even some Democrats in your district would vote to re-elect you.

Congressman Paul’s overwhelming electoral victory in his seventh consecutive run for the U.S. House indicates that his status is that of a delegate-legislator. His growing clout in national politics became well-established with the outpouring of grassroots support from the American public during his 2008 run for the Republican Party’s nomination for President, for which Paul was permitted to bid without abandoning his seat in the House. He has been re-elected multiple times to the offices of two different congressional districts, and is likely to remain a representative of the 14th district until he chooses to retire.

Due to the history of influence by Representatives Tom DeLay and Ron Paul on the south suburbs of Houston, and considering the fact that you are the only freshman congressman from Texas in the 111th Congress, I would like to encourage you to cosponsor H.R. 1146, to support other similar anti-U.N., anti-globalist, and anti-internationalist legislation – however unpopular – and to represent the constituents of the 22nd district as a politico by showing early support for the new introduction of this long-ignored legislation, despite the fact that the data regarding public opinion on this issue have not been determined for your district.

Traditional conservative Texan concerns such as supporting gun rights, supporting immigration reform, and opposing big government will always need to be represented, and as long as you never waver on these issues, your constituents will view you as a faithful delegate-legislator and consistently vote to re-elect you. Besides, the vast majority of freshman congressmen are re-elected to a second term.

Considering your significant electoral victory margin in 2008, you could very likely pledge support for H.R. 1146 without risking defeat in 2010. You can deflect criticism that you have taken too much liberty as a trustee-legislator by explaining to your constituents that supporting H.R. 1146 helps to support the same issues, only on an international level. This should convince the voters in your base that you still represent their interests, as well as gain support from moderate or independent Republicans and possibly a few Democrats.

If your support for H.R. 1146 backfires and your constituents begin to complain that you are out of touch with their interests, I would suggest that you attempt to reinforce the public’s perception of you as a home-style legislator by making more trips to your offices in Houston and Sugar Land, spend more time speaking and answering question posed by your constituents, and, pending a successful re-election, considering the addition of a third office in the 22nd district, as Congressman Paul has done in the neighboring 14th, or else appropriating more money to the two existing offices in Texas.

Do not be discouraged if legislation favoring the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations continues to die in committee. Only about one-twelfth of bills make it past this stage in the legislative process.

Congressman Olson, I urge you to act sooner rather than later in pledging and garnering support for the American Sovereignty Restoration Act. The legislation has suffered a decrease in support over the past half-decade, and with only two cosponsors, it has virtually no chance of being considered for debate unless and until it begins to receive continuously increasing support in the House of Representatives, especially from Texans, Republicans, and all small-government fiscal conservatives.

Your double-digit electoral margin of victory in 2008 makes your re-election in 2010 a virtual certainty. Support for H.R. 1146 has only appeared to strengthen Congressman Paul’s success and influence. Demographic trends between the two districts are similar, and ideals that can be construed to support withdrawal from the U.N. appear to be held by a majority of Republican voters in the 22nd district.

Supporting H.R. 1146 and garnering additional support for the legislation among moderate Republicans without risking your chances for re-election and without alienating your base should prove to be easily achievable by increasing communication with your constituents, by directing more attention towards your home offices in general, and by convincing the public face-to-face that ideas that favor U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations also favor the interests of Republicans from Houston’s south suburbs.

Although H.R. 1146 is far from being passed and becoming law, withdrawal from the U.N. will continue to be an issue in the minds of the American public. Considering that Congress and the Presidency are currently controlled by Democrats, who overwhelmingly oppose withdrawal, the issue will likely become more partisan and grow in gravity in the coming several years, especially if the economy fails to rebound quickly enough such that U.S. financial independence is threatened, causing non-interventionism to become a viable option in U.S. foreign policy once again.

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Socrates's Defense

Greek philosopher Socrates (ca. 469 B.C.E. - 399 B.C.E.)

Mental and ethical traits such as intelligence and virtue are what make up a person’s character. Personality is a unique set of behavioral and emotional traits and shows in a person’s actions. Reputation is public knowledge and value of an individual. It is important to know the difference because they may not always reflect each other. A person may not always do as their conscience tells them. Here, personality does not reflect character. Reputation is based on others’ knowledge of an individual’s personality, which is subject to change.

Socrates is concerned with his accusers’ conceptions of character, personality, and reputation because he feels that some of the charges against him are based on his reputation among the citizens as an annoying man who has corrupted the youth. The so-called “crimes” of being a “curious person” and a “busybody” are more personality traits than tangible actions that are either just or unjust. Thus, they do not warrant government intervention or punishment. Socrates asks the jury to “concentrate your attention on whether what I say is just or not.” He tells Meletus, “You… have avoided my company and were unwilling to instruct me, but you bring me here, where the law requires one to bring those who are in need of punishment, not of instruction.” Socrates believes that his accusers were rash in their recommendation of punishment when a simple conversation would have been more enlightening to both parties. It is probable that the accusers would have been too annoyed by Socrates or threatened by his argumentative skill to confront him.

Socrates asks his hypothetical interlocutor, “…are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom and truth, or the best possible state of your soul?” Socrates believes that when he examines the people he meets, he is fulfilling his “divine mission” as “a gift of the god to the city” to improve people’s souls by determining whether they have the wisdom they are reputed to have.

The Oracle revealed that there was nobody wiser than he, although he did not believe himself to be wise, so he was confronted with a paradox. He concluded that to begin any argument by admitting ignorance is to start from a neutral perspective so that he may be open to the many different possible truths, while using reason to discern what possibilities are false. Socrates accuses his accusers of lying, slandering him, contradicting themselves, and trying to deceive the jurors. He shows that Meletus contradicts himself in accusing Socrates of both atheism and believing in gods other than those endorsed by the state. He begins by making it clear that he is different from the depiction of him in Aristophanes’s play “The Clouds,” which helped give rise to his reputation as a person concerned with the sky.

Socrates also tells the jurors that they were influenced by that depiction at a young age and that it is unfair for that past event to have such a great influence on jurors’ opinions and he regrets that it is something he is unable to cross-examine. He reasons that if he were truly a corruptor of the youth, then the youth or their families would have brought charges against him instead of Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. Socrates says, “Someone might say, ‘Are you not ashamed, Socrates, to have followed the kind of occupation that has led to your being now in danger of death?’” and proceeds to argue that there is greater shame in knowing what is virtuous and not doing it because of fear.

Heraclitus would characterize Socrates as a person with more potential for understanding than his accusers. Heraclitus says, “Much learning does not teach insight.” and “Men who are lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into many things indeed.” Socrates’s ability to admit he knows nothing enables him to consider whatever opinions he encounters, and argue against them not based on what he has been taught, but whether the opinion his interlocutor presents makes sense logically.

The mathematikoi is more similar to the Socratic method than the akousmatikoi because the akousmatikoi were more concerned with memorizing Pythagoras’s sayings and were not allowed to interpret, add to, or argue about them. The mathematikoi emphasized understanding and insight and were encouraged to think for themselves about the substance of what was being said. Like the mathematikoi, the Socratic method encourages deliberation instead of mere acceptance and memorization of unproven sayings.

There are two accusations that Socrates must refute with regard to spirituality. He says, “It goes something like this: Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things.” Socrates begins by leading Meletus to say something very similar to “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes;” Meletus claims that Socrates does not believe in any gods at all. Socrates insists that he believes the sun and moon to be gods, which Meletus refutes by telling the jury that Socrates believes them to be stone and earth, and since stone and earth may not be gods, Meletus may be right. Then Socrates begins leading Meletus to his logical contradiction. Socrates asks him whether anyone believes in spiritual activities who does not believe in spirits, and Meletus says no. Socrates states that Meletus has said that Socrates believes in spiritual things and that “if I believe in spiritual things I must quite inevitably believe in spirits” and he asks Meletus “Do we not believe spirits to be either gods or the children of gods?” Meletus responds affirmatively, which proves that Socrates believes in spirits, so he believes in gods, so he cannot be an atheist.

The goal of the elenchus is to find logical contradictions in the interlocutor’s argument and to conduct the conversation in a way that exposes that contradiction. In this elenchus, Socrates is faced with two accusations that can be shown conflict with each other as long as he can prove Meletus believes a third thing about Socrates. Socrates is accused of believing in some false gods or spirits, but he is also accused of not believing in the city’s gods. Once Socrates can get Meletus to say that Socrates teaches the youth about spiritual things besides the gods that the state endorses, and also that Socrates is an atheist, then he can go about proving to Meletus, that he has contradicted himself, through a reductio ad absurdum. At the end of this, Socrates says, “Socrates is guilty of not believing in gods but believing in gods” and ridicules the statement.

Although at first glance it might appear that Socrates is leading Meletus into a trap, Socrates makes it clear that Meletus is among those making the accusations. So when Socrates leads Meletus to say that Socrates doesn’t believe in any gods at all, Meletus and the other accusers’ assertion has fallen through. Socrates has brought up a new accusation, but has disproved it and two other accusations simultaneously.

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The Platonic Forms

Plato (ca. 427 - 347 BC)

In the Parmenides, Plato, represented by Socrates, thinks that objects can be at once both one and many. He thinks this because an object can be shown to partake of oneness when it is shown to be a single entity out of multiple separate entities, and an object can be shown to partake of multitude when it is shown to be comprised of several parts. Socrates tells Zeno that he would be amazed if someone were to distinguish opposite forms (i.e., oneness and multitude) as separate things, and then show that in themselves the forms can mix together and separate.

Parmenides gets Socrates to agree that things partake of forms by being likened to them, and that things cannot be dissimilar to things they are like. This poses a problem because it means that if something were shown to be both one and many, then it has oneness and multitude, so it is similar to both oneness and to multitude, so the thing and its two forms are all similar, so the thing is both forms themselves, so both forms are the same.

Plato thinks (and has Socrates and Parmenides agree) that someone who won’t allow that there are forms will “destroy the power of discourse” because “he won’t have a direction for his thought, since he doesn’t allow that for each thing there is a character that is always the same”. Parmenides argues that there are difficulties and objections involved in trying to make sense of the forms, so people argue that the forms “do not exist, and that, even if they do, they must by strict necessity be unknowable to human nature”.

Parmenides thinks that a form is separate from itself if everything that partakes of a form partakes of it as a whole because the form is separate from the things that partake of it.

This is not a good argument against the forms because Parmenides is thinking of a form as if it were an object of finite size instead of as a property. He seems to think that when several things share the same property, they can somehow use it up and take it away from itself. This is why using the phrase “to get a share of” instead of “to partake of” can be misleading, because “to get a share of” gives the impression that when a thing gets a share of a form, part of the form is lost to the thing, causing the parts of the form to separate.

Parmenides is right to say that Socrates’ example of the day is like his own example of the sail because they both cover many parts at once and part of each covers different places and different things. Those things exist during the day and under the sail, all at once, without the day or the sail having to be divided so that the things can fall under them.

In the dialogue, Parmenides presents the argument that objects partaking of a form have sameness, which makes the observer conclude that the form is one thing. When the observer thinks of the form and the things that partake of the form, the mind’s eye views them all as sharing a form that is different from the first form. Objects partaking of the form largeness and largeness itself partake of a form labeled the “third large.” Each time one thinks of what is common to a form and things that partake of it, a separate, different form is conceived of in the mind. The “fourth large” would be partaken of by the “third large,” largeness itself, and large things, and so on.

Parmenides says, “There is for each thing some being, itself by itself… to begin with” and “the forms are what they are of themselves and in relation to themselves”, which is to say that forms do not originate in the things that partake of the forms. This could provide an escape from the “third large” argument, but another problem is encountered when Parmenides says this argument means we cannot possess the forms themselves, so we cannot possess knowledge itself, but if anything partakes of knowledge itself, it is a god that does so. This is a problem because it contradicts Parmenides’ and Socrates’ earlier agreement that “the forms are what they are of themselves and in relation to themselves”.

Considering the forms thoughts would not help escape the argument. Socrates says, “[E]ach of the forms is a thought of the many… and properly occurs only in minds”. Socrates thinks that the mind recognizes a form when it observes many things partaking of it, and that to partake of a form is to be likened to it. Parmenides says that if Socrates is correct and a thing and a form resemble each other, and if “that which is like… partake[s] of the same one thing as what is like it”, “and if like things are like by partaking of something”, then that something is the form itself. Parmenides ends this argument by concluding that the thing and the form cannot be alike, otherwise “a fresh form will never cease emerging”, so this argument fails to refute the “third large” argument.

I believe that Platonic forms can be salvaged. Considering the forms thoughts comes close to refuting the “third large” argument, but a different approach must be taken. I think it is true that “each of the forms is a thought of the many… and properly occurs only in minds”, but I disagree that to partake of a form is to be likened to it. I think things are what they are in and of themselves, but I think forms are dependent on the things that partake of them.

Each form is a positive or negative value of a dimension, and thus each form has an opposite. For example, large and small are positive and negative values of size, and beauty and ugliness are positive and negative values of aesthetics. Thus, when a thing partakes of a form, it does not get a share of one form or the other; rather, a thing’s size or beauty is relative. It depends on what other thing – something bigger, smaller, more beautiful, or more ugly – it is being compared to.

This conflicts with superexemplification because it rejects the proposal that a form is the thought of a perfect example, which is to say, using my examples, that there is something of ultimate size or beauty, of which everything else large or small or beautiful or ugly is a thought.

If we imagine something with a size, and that size were greater than the size of the smallest conceivable thing and smaller than the size of the largest conceivable thing, this would present no problem because everything besides those two things fits that description. But this is distinct from claiming that the universe is largeness itself, or a subatomic particle is smallness itself. Size is relative. It is possible to conceive of something larger than the universe, and it is possible to conceive of something smaller than a subatomic particle. Every description we can attach to something only exists relative to its opposite.

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Sifre Deuteronomy 26: Moses and David

 Moses and David

Sifre Deuteronomy 26 comments on Deuteronomy 3:23, the story in Scripture in which Moses asks God to allow him to cross the river Jordan and enter the land of Israel. The commentary focuses on the passage, “And I besought the Lord at that time, saying…,” among others, and independently addresses fragments of that passage. It discusses two leaders of Israel, Moses and David, and how they answered God for their sins. The text shows the difference between Moses’ and David’s methods of asking for forgiveness, and re-interprets the consequences of those methods as evidence that God will forgive a person who recognizes that they have sinned, recognizes what they are guilty of, and recognizes that they should be punished.

The first commentary on the scriptural passage focuses on the choice of the word used to describe the action Moses performed to God. This translation of Scripture uses “saying.” The commentary makes clear that here, “saying” is not simply an address from one person to another to be taken at face value and understood as one that does not stand in contrast to any other verb that could be used in its place. Rather, “saying” is one of several types of prayer and the word has been chosen over other verbs because of their connotations, which are to be understood based on context.

In Deuteronomy 3:23, “saying” is used in conjunction with “besought.” The commentary says that what Moses has said is explained by Proverb 18:23, which says, “The poor useth entreaties, but the rich answer impudently.” This can be interpreted as the author of the commentary saying that, since Moses uses the word “besought,” he is using entreaties, or that, because he uses the word “saying,” he is answering impudently. To agree with either would be to characterize Moses as either poor or rich, respectively.

After this, the commentary moves to the discussion of Moses’ request that God record his transgression. Moses says to God, “…let any transgression that I have committed be recorded against me, so that people will not say, ‘Moses seems to have falsified the Torah,’ or ‘said something he had not been commanded to say.’” Moses wants the sin of which he is guilty to be known, so that when the people know he has been punished and not allowed to enter the land of Israel, they will know the reason for his punishment and not assume he was punished for any other reason.

The sin of which Moses is guilty is having disobeyed God’s command that he speak to a rock so that water will issue forth from it. Moses instead struck the rock, which once before, on an occasion when God commanded Moses to do so, caused water to come.

Following this, a parable is told of a woman who gathered and ate unripe figs against the decree of the king, and was punished by being paraded in disgrace around the arena. The woman asked the king that her offense be publicly proclaimed so that the people will not think she is guilty of some other crime such as adultery or witchcraft.

According to Scripture, God told Moses that he recorded that the reason for Moses’ punishment was that he rebelled against God’s commandment that he speak to the rock.

The next parable tells of a king whose son was injured when they were traveling, and each time the king passed the scene of the accident after that, he would say that that was the place where his son was injured. The commentary draws a connection between this parable and what happened to Moses by saying, “Thus also God mentions three times the waters of contention…, as much to say, ‘This is where I doomed Miriam, …Aaron, [and]…Moses.’”

Following this parable, the commentary moves from Moses to David. The sin of which David is guilty is having caused the death of Uriah the Hittite and having married his wife Bathsheba. David said to God, “Let not this transgression committed by me be recorded against me.” This stands in contrast to Moses’ request to God that the transgression that he committed be recorded against him.

God denies David’s request by telling him, “It is not fitting for you that people should say, ‘God forgave him because He favors him.’” To not record David’s transgression would be to forgive him without David having asked for forgiveness. This is what sets Moses and David apart. Moses’ request that his transgression be recorded against him serves two purposes: it makes the truth known to the people, and it acts as an acknowledgement that Moses has sinned. Once Moses has acknowledged that he has rebelled against God, he is eligible for forgiveness. But because David has asked God not to acknowledge his sin, he will not be forgiven. Although David seeks the same ends as Moses, he sought forgiveness from God in the wrong way.

Next, a parable is told of a man who borrowed a large amount of wheat from the king. The people saw that it was such a large amount that it would be difficult for the man to repay the king, so they thought the king gave the wheat to the man as a gift. But when the man could not repay the king, the king sold the man’s family into slavery, so the people knew the wheat was not a gift and that the king held the man accountable.

In this parable, the king and the man represent God and David, the wheat represents the bounty that God gave to David, and the selling of the man’s family into slavery represents David’s punishment. The parable serves as a reminder that everything that David has was given to him by God, and David is obligated to repay him with obedience. Even though it may appear to the people that God favors David, God will punish anyone who does not fulfill their obligation to Him in exchange for everything He has bestowed upon them.

In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan tells David about a rich man who had many sheep and cattle and a poor man who had only one ewe lamb. When a hungry traveler came to them, the rich man slaughtered the poor man’s ewe lamb instead of slaughtering one of his own many cattle in order to feed the traveler. David immediately cursed the rich man for having no pity on the poor man, saying that the rich man is worthy of death and that he should pay for that ewe four times over.

Nathan then tells David that he represents the rich man in the story. Nathan reminds David of all that God has given him, and that he has sinned against God by causing the death of Uriah and marrying his wife. David then said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and Nathan said, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Thus, as soon as David recognizes that he has sinned against God, he is absolved of his sin.

The commentary says that, as in the story of the men and the lamb, “So also all the punishments which came upon David were made multiple, as it is said, ‘And he shall restore the lamb fourfold.’” This is the author of the commentary suggesting that when David responded to the story by saying that the rich man should be punished fourfold, he caused his punishment to be made multiple.

The next section of the commentary says that Moses’ and David’s “meritorious deeds could have sustained the whole world, yet they begged the Holy One… only for a favor.” Then it is asked, “If those whose meritorious deeds could have sustained the whole world requested from the Holy One… only a favor, how much more so should a person who is not even one thousand-thousand-thousandth… part the disciples of their disciples beseech the Holy One… only for a favor.”

To say this is to assert that Moses’ and David’s good deeds entitle them to something. But it is also to say that the thing that God could have done in exchange for Moses’ and David’s good deeds was to sustain the whole world, and that Moses and David, by asking God for favors, forfeit the sustenance of the whole world in favor of the satisfaction of their own desires.

The next section of the commentary lists ten terms for prayer and cites examples from Scripture in which the different words are used.

Next, a parable is told about the people of a city, who thought of asking their king to grant their city the status of a colony, and they asked him after he had defeated two of his enemies, because they knew the time was right to do so. When Moses saw Sihon and Og defeated by God, he thought it would be a good time to ask Him to enter the land of Israel. The purpose of this parable is to explain the use of the phrase “at that time,” from the original Deuteronomy passage, “And I besought the Lord at that time, saying….”

Then, the text addresses the use of the word “saying.” It states several times that “Scripture does not use the term ‘saying’ except for a special purpose.” Between these statements, the text cites other passages in Scripture in which the word is used, each time re-interpreting Moses’ request to God that he be let into the land of Israel. The interpretations include “Let me know whether I will fall into their hands or not,” “Let me know whether Thou wilt redeem them or not,” “Tell me whether Thou wilt heal her or not,” “Let me know whether Thou wilt appoint leaders for them or not,” and “Let me know whether I will enter the land or not.”

The commentary ends by showing the distinction between two names of the Lord, Adonay and Elohim. By examining contexts in which each name for God is used, the commentary concludes that the name Adonay is used to refer to God’s quality of mercy, while the name Elohim is used to refer to his quality of justice.

Sifre Deuteronomy 26 takes the passage in which Moses asks God to allow him to enter the land of Israel and juxtaposes Moses’ relationship with God and David’s relationship to God to teach a lesson about not taking God’s gifts for granted and about the proper way to seek forgiveness from God. It discusses the meaning of “besought” and “saying” and clarifies the meaning of “at that time” in the original passage, and it also shows that Moses’ and David’s request for favors, which at surface value would appear to benefit them, actually would do harm to the whole world.

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Aristotle’s Criticisms of Plato’s Form of the Good

Greek philosophers Plato (ca. 427 - 347 BC) and Aristotle (384 B.C.E. - 322 B.C.E.)
The categories are Aristotle’s attempt to place the senses of being into ten classifications. They are substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and affection.

Aristotle argues against the Platonists’ view that there is such a thing as the “form of the good.” Aristotle believes that good is not a single, common universal because what it is to be good is particular to the essence of the individual; that is, what makes something good varies depending on what the thing is.

Aristotle defines what goodness is with respect to each category of being. For example, he says the good place is the right situation, the good relative is the useful, and the good time is the opportune moment. He says that if good were a common and single universal, it would be spoken of in only one of the categories and not in them all.

To describe two different individuals as “good” is to assign them a homonymous quality. They are both called “good,” but what it is to be good is different for the two individuals. For example, what it is to be a good master is different from what it is to be a good slave because different properties define each individual and different properties define what makes each individual good. Were a slave to try to be a good slave by partaking in that which makes his master a good master, he would either cease to be good, cease to be a slave, or both.

Aristotle says that “good” is the same as “good itself” because they both have the same account of “good” in the same way that “the human being itself” and “human being” have the same account of “human being”. To argue this is to disagree with the Platonic idea that “good” and “human being” are individuals that partake of the forms “good itself” and “the human being itself.” To add the word “itself” to an idea is to suggest that the idea is a form that is dependent upon the things that partake of it.

Aristotle also says, “good itself will be no more of a good by being eternal; for a white thing is no whiter if it lasts a long time than if it lasts a day”. Aristotle means that just because some individual may have a quality that is thought of as a perfection, it does not mean that that individual is any more perfect with respect to what makes that individual what it is. In other words, if an individual (“f”) has a perfection (“p”), its “f-ness” is not affected.

Next, for the Platonist who would respond to his criticisms by distinguishing goods which are good in their own right from goods which are merely useful, Aristotle poses a dilemma. He asks, “is nothing except the Form good in its own right, so that the Form will be futile?” He then says that if practical wisdom, pleasures, and honors are goods in their own right, and if there is a Form of good, then the same account of good turns up in all of them. He says those three things have different and dissimilar accounts, so “the good is not something common corresponding to a single Form”.

When Aristotle says that good “is not like homonyms resulting from chance,” he means that it is not due to chance that one definition of “good” shares something with another. “Good” has many meanings depending on the nature of the individual to which it is applied. This is why the idea “good” can be represented in a single word; for each individual, there exists a property or a set of properties required for the individual to be called “good.”

Aristotle also asks whether good is spoken of by analogy. This may be so, as when two individuals each have the set of properties that respectively make them good, the goodness of one individual is analogous to the goodness of the other with respect to what the individuals are and what makes them good, even though the properties that make them good may be in completely different categories.

Aristotle says that in trying to determine whether there is a Form of the Good, we are looking for “the sort of good which a human being can possess or achieve in action.” He says, “If there is some one good predicated in common, or some separable good, itself in its own right,” that is not the sort of good that we can possess or achieve. He disagrees with the proposition that if we have a view to the Form of the Good “as a sort of pattern, we shall also know better about the goods that are goods for us, and if we know about them, we shall hit on them.”

Aristotle says it is useless for a craftsman to know good itself because the craftsman has nothing to gain by knowing it. What makes a doctor or a weaver or a carpenter useful is his understanding of the work he practices; not simply knowing good itself and thus being able to partake of it.

It may not be the case that the “possess and achieve in action” argument is an argument against Plato at all. What is probable is that it was not intended as an argument, but rather as a rationalization. In this section of the text, Aristotle is not using his statement about the uselessness of understanding the Form of the Good to mankind to argue against its existence, but  rationalizing the difficulty of determining, once and for all, the answer to the question of whether there exists a Form of the Good.

Aristotle’s weakest argument against Plato is the argument that “good itself will be no more of a good by being eternal, for a white thing is no whiter if it lasts a long time than if it lasts a day”. Aristotle is trying to say that if an individual “f” has a perfection “p”, the “f-ness” possessed by “f” is no greater. This statement seems true, as it does not contradict Aristotle’s assertion that for an individual to have a superfluous characteristic in a state of perfection does not make that individual any more “good.” However, the first statement makes it necessary to ask, What does Aristotle think is the property that allows for goodness itself to be good?

Aristotle’s strongest argument against Plato is the argument that good is spoken of as an analogy. If two individuals are described as good, a Platonist would take that to mean that both individuals partake of the same thing, goodness. Aristotle, on the other hand, understands that the individuals are good with respect to what it is for each individual to be good. He rejects the idea that their goodness is the same, but he also rejects the idea that they are both called good for no reason whatsoever. Instead, he sees goodness as something abstract and difficult to define, proposing that the goodness possessed by the individuals are analogous with respect to what makes the individuals what they are. This argument is fair to Plato in that it seems to reconcile that notion with Plato’s position that the Form of the Good exists as something that encompasses all different types of good.

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Distinctions in Death Penalty Sentencing in Sanhedrin 67

Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 67a-b of the Babylonian Talmud contains a discussion of the proper death penalty for a person who is found guilty of inciting others to idolatry and for a sorcerer.

Before going further into this discussion, some background on the death penalty is required.

In ancient Israel, stoning was the customary mode of execution. According to Josef Blinzler, “stoning became the regular mode of execution because the participation of the community was more possible than with any other form of execution.” Blinzler adds that the Old Testament “very often explicitly call[s] for… those who carry out the punishment [to] appear as ‘the whole community.’” It was necessary to involve the community in an execution because the whole community was thought to be responsible to God for the crime committed by the person being executed.

Blinzler, quoting I. Benzinger and Kurt Latte, says, “‘The whole community participates in the stoning as a way of riddling itself with guilt.’ ‘By showing his horror at the deed through casting his stone and dissociating himself from the perpetrator, each individual hoped to escape the vengeance of the gods who could visit unexpiated sins on the whole community.’” Blinzler also points out that it may be that the crime was perceived as directed at all the people, and not only at Yahweh, and therefore must be punished by as many people as possible, in order to “bring home to each individual in a particularly impressive and vivid way the reprehensibility of certain failings.”

According to Rabbi Richard A. Block, there is also “support for the notion that capital punishment was preventative. Since capital punishment was held to expiate the crime, it was also said to be in the interest of both society and the defendant.”

Considering that, according to Scripture, several explicitly mentioned types of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, blasphemy, several types of idolatry, profaning the Sabbath, cursing one’s father or mother, beguiling others to idolatry, sorcery, and being stubborn and rebellious are all deemed punishable by death, it would seem that the death penalty would be administered too frequently to be considered fair.

However, although the rabbis disagree on whether the death penalty should ever be imposed, “the anonymous mishnah, which presents the authoritative position, holds that the death penalty should be imposed infrequently, not never.”

David Novak describes the practice of hatra’ah, or ‘forewarning,’ which consists of the witnesses informing the criminal that he is about to commit a crime proscribed by the Torah, its punishment, the status of the victim, and the criminal telling the witnesses that he is going to commit the crime anyway. This was done to ensure that the criminal was compos mentis. It effectively made capital punishment very rare, as hatra’ah alerted the criminal to the presence of witnesses, and made it unlikely that the criminal would proceed with the crime.

Josef Blinzler explains why, according to Scripture, stoning has to be carried out outside the camp or the city. He quotes Rudolf Herzel in doing so: “[Taking the guilty party outside the house for the stoning] only became natural when, in accordance with the original intention of stoning, there was a desire to give the accused and condemned man the possibility of fleeing.” This explanation is one of several cited by Blinzler, including that people and property may be hurt if the stoning were to take place in the home, and so “the city should not be polluted by the corpse of the executed person.”

There are more specific accounts of execution in Scripture, but it is debatable whether these accounts were written as regulations concerning how the executions should take place or instead as descriptions of how the executions normally take place.

Chapter 6 of Sanhedrin gives an account of execution by stoning in which several steps are taken in a certain order, and each step is only necessary if the previous step does not cause the death of the accused person. The witness throws the accused to the ground, then witness by witness drops a stone on his heart. If this does not cause his death, he is stoned by all the people, after they all place their hands on him.

Chapter 7 of Sanhedrin gives accounts of execution by burning, beheading, and strangulation. To begin either, the people set the convicted “in dung up to his knees,” and then they put “a towel of coarse stuff within a towel of soft stuff,” and wrap it around his neck. They then pull on the ends of the towel.

R. Judah says, “If thus he died at their hands they would not have fulfilled the ordinance of burning.” This means that, as with the procedure of stoning, the burning or beheading is only necessary if the convicted does not die from the strangulation. According to Rabbi Richard A. Block, “Of the four [methods of execution], strangulation was preferred by rabbis because it was the one that did least injury to the body.”

If burning is necessary, two witnesses pull the ends of the towels until he opens his mouth, and a wick, or a strip of lead, is kindled and thrown into his mouth, burning his entrails. According to R. Judah, if beheading is necessary, it is to be done by placing the convicted’s head on a block, and the beheading performed with an axe, as the Roman method of using a sword is “shameful.”

At the beginning of folio 67a-b, Mishnah declares that a person who is found guilty of inciting others to idolatry “is brought to Beth Din and stoned.” Gemara explains that the person is only stoned because he is a layman, and that if he is a prophet, he is strangled. According to the Rabbis, prophet or not, a person who leads people astray is to be stoned and not strangled. The next Mishnah quote says that a sorcerer is liable to death if he actually performs magic, but he is not liable to death if he merely creates illusions.

Next, Gemara goes much deeper into discussion of the death penalty as the phrase “thou shalt not suffer a witch (to live)” is put under much scrutiny.

R. Jose the Galilean says that this phrase’s similarity to “thou shalt not suffer anything that breatheth (to live)” means that the punishment for sorcery is “the sword,” meaning beheading.

If the purpose of the death penalty is to remove from society those who have committed the gravest offenses, why is it necessary that there be a preferred method of execution for different types of people and for different crimes?

Chapter 7 of the Babylonian Talmud tractate Sanhedrin, in listing the four types of capital punishment that could be inflicted by the court, reveals that there is a descending order of gravity for the methods of execution: burning, stoning, strangulation, beheading. This may be a reason for differentiating the methods and a basis for deciding when each method is appropriate.

R. Akiba likens the phrase “thou shalt not suffer a witch (to live)” to “there shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through, whether it be beast or man, (it shall not live),” so he believes this similarity calls for the convicted to be stoned or shot through.

So why is being “shot through” not viewed as a separate method of execution from being stoned, as different as are strangulation, beheading, and burning?

Josef Blinzler offers the explanation that the phrase “stoned or shot through” unites the two methods of death because, since the stones and arrows are both thrown, and the person “is shot” by both objects. He mentions specifically Exodus 19.13, in which “Going on the mountain was strictly forbidden to everyone. Anyone who transgressed the command could only be got at by throwing stones or shooting arrows at him…”

R. Jose the Galilean contends that R. Akiba’s analogy is false because he wrongfully compares “thou shalt not suffer (to live)” with “it shall not live,” when R. Jose has made an analogy between ‘Thou shalt not suffer (to live)’ written in two verses.”

Because R. Akiba draws an analogy between two verses referring to Israelites, he disagrees with R. Jose the Galilean’s analogy because he believes it compares Israelites to heathens, “in whose case only one death penalty is decreed.”

Does this mean that when a heathen is sentenced to death, it is always by stoning? According to Scripture, “if a heathen committed adultery with a betrothed maiden, he is stoned; with a fully married woman, he is strangled,” so the way a heathen is executed is therefore subject to debate and not restricted to stoning.

R. Judah says of Ben ‘Azzai’s argument, “Shall we, because of this proximity, exclude the former from the easier death implied by an unspecific death sentence changing it to stoning?”, and takes the position that “as the ob and yidde’oni were singled out so that other sorcerers may be assimilated to them,” because they were stoned, all sorcerers are stoned.

This reference to “an unspecific death sentence” makes it necessary to ask when the method of execution is specified. According to Josef Blinzler, when the Old Testament calls for execution for a crime without specifying the mode of execution, it is assumed that the convicted is to be stoned.

On the contrary, Walter Jacob says that, in accordance with new rules, “Strangulation was used for all crimes in which no other death penalty was specified; it was considered the most humane method of execution.”


1. Blinzler, Josef. “The Jewish Punishment of Stoning in the New Testament Period.” The Trial
of Jesus. Ed. Ernst Bammel. Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1970. 147-161.

2. Block, Rabbi Richard A. “Capital Punishment.” Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law: Essays
and Responsa. Ed. Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer. New York / Oxford: Berghan Books, 1999. 64-73.

3. m. Sanhedrin 7

4. Novak, David. “Can Capital Punishment Ever Be Justified in the Jewish Tradition?” Religion
and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning. Ed. Erick C. Owens, John D. Carlson, and Eric P. Elshtain. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004. 31-47.

5. m. Sanhedrin 6

6. b. Sanhedrin 67a-b

7. b. Sanhedrin 57b

8. Jacob, Walter. “Punishment: Its Method and Purpose.” Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law:

Essays and Responsa. Ed. Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer. New York / Oxford: Berghan Books, 1999. 45-63.

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