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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Admissions, academic presses, the S.G., and more

January-February 2019

Early Christianity

At the very end of the article (“The Bits the Bible Left Out,” November-December 2018, page 40), we read of “what is valuable about so-called heretical texts...[and] their closeness to the beginning...”

But these texts did not have a “closeness to the beginning,” which is precisely why they were rejected by the earliest followers of Jesus. In contrast, the texts that comprise the New Testament were written by the apostles of Jesus or the followers of the apostles. We have copies of these first-century texts dating from the early second century, and by the end of the second century, compilations of the four gospels and of Paul’s letters were in circulation. Later texts—however sincere or pious—were not included with the canonical writings because their provenance was not assured. While the article leaves the impression that only “heretical” texts were not included, in fact, many early texts that were considered orthodox were also excluded. It was not the content that got a text excluded, but the lack of a clear connection to the viva voce of the apostles.

The earliest disciples of Jesus were Jews living in Palestine whose neighbors had also heard Jesus teach, seen him perform miracles, and watched as he died in a very public crucifixion. Those who wrote the gospels and letters in such a period would not have manufactured new Jesus stories because of their allegiance to Christ. The title “apostle” means “one sent with a message”; they were commissioned by Jesus to pass on what they had seen and heard. Moreover, even had they wanted to, they could not have made up new Jesus material because fellow Jews would have known that Jesus had never said or done such things. As the Apostle Paul said to a Roman official, “these things were not done in a corner.”

Dr. Todd L. Lake ’82
Vice president for spiritual development
Belmont University
Nashville

 

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to yourturn@harvard.edu.

 

While there are many things I disagree with in the article on Professor Karen King, I will confine myself to comment about just one: it is in Lydialyle Gibson’s report on the lecture that King gave at Williams College. About it she writes, “The worshippers whom Irenaeus called Gnostics…were silenced and marginalized. Their sacred texts largely disappeared from the world, ‘at a considerable loss,’ King said, ‘to Christian thought and practice.’” Contrary to King, I believe that excluding Gnostic thought from Christian orthodoxy is a good example of the church’s wisdom rather than simply the exercise of the power to silence.

While Gnosticism is a complex and sprawling subject, one of the central ideas that runs throughout its various expressions is that the material world (including the human body) is itself evil and must be escaped for salvation. If the Church had embraced this idea as orthodox, all sorts of mischief would have followed. Modern science grew in part out of the Jewish and Christian idea that God had created a good and ordered cosmos which could be studied and comprehended. The exclusion of Gnostic beliefs by Irenaeus and other theologians of the Patristic period led William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44), to describe Christianity as the “most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.” Hence, some words of advice to King about Gnosticism: ideas have consequences; bad ideas always have bad consequences.

The Reverend David Montzingo ’71
San Diego

Thankfully, there are other scholarly ways to consider the Christian canon of Scripture than through the lenses of Karen King’s postmodern, feminist American Christianity.

Rob McKee ’74 (’75)
Duncanville, Tex.

Editor’s note: Peter Desmond ’69 queried the identification of the Nag Hammadi facsimile shown on page 42 of the article as part of the Gospel of Thomas, given the large letters on the left sheet referencing John. That is a postscript title placed at the end of the Apocryphon of John, Karen King explains. The text that follows is the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas.

 

At the end of the article there is a poem which seems bewildering and contradictory, apparently by a female speaker. It begs the question, “Who or what is this speaker?” The answer is: LOGOS; The Word. The Word is referred to in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Today, it has become widely accepted by Christians that the Word become flesh is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Readers who could not find the answer, or doubt the answer in this letter, should re-read each line of the poem with the answer in mind and hopefully the Light will shine.

Anthony Placeres ’68
Los Angeles

In regard to the article about Karen King’s scholarship on early Christianity, while I appreciate what it includes, I regret its omission of any reference to the Ebionites, who took Jesus very seriously as the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15ff. Their story has been painstakingly reconstructed from patristic and rabbinical sources by Hans Joachim Schoeps in his Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (Tübingen: Verlag J. C. B. Mohr, 1949), and as was pointed out by Hans Kung at the Parliament of World Religions in 1993, is invaluable for understanding the historical relationship of Islam to Christianity. Their complete denial of the divinity of Jesus sets them as the polar opposites of the gnostics, with “traditional” Christianity occupying a middle ground between two extremes.

George F. Dole, Ph.D. ’65
Bath, Me.

In reading your cover article on early Christianity in the November-December issue, I noted that the article had left out bits of its own. The story of the Armenian Church is part and parcel of the story of early Christianity. Yet Armenia—recognized as the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion in a.d. 301—is nowhere mentioned. One need only visit “Armenia!” the current exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, to marvel at the voluptuous flowering of early Christianity in the Armenian Highlands, under the auspices of the Armenian state. It is well established that many pertinent Greek and Assyrian texts have survived and reached us solely in Armenian translation, due to the effort and zeal of early Christian-Armenian translators. Furthermore, Karen L. King is described as having visited a Greek Orthodox church in Los Angeles. Did she not visit any of the many Armenian Orthodox churches? I am aware of 19 such churches in the Greater Los Angeles region alone. Seek pieces of this jigsaw in Armenian sources also.

Shahé Navasart Sanentz, Ed.M. ’82
Bedminster, N.J.

Karen King contributes an important approach to studying the origins of Christianity. Early writers of Biblical texts turned the Bible into a confusing description of Christian beliefs, by each bringing his or her own preoccupations to bear on the text. Thus, Paul’s writings are affected by changes made by later followers of Paul. There are, for example, both a nice Paul and a mean Paul. The nice Paul speaks of God’s love and gifts of salvation for all. The mean Paul bashes “homosexuals” and tells women to be quiet and sit in the back. (The part about “homosexuals” is probably a mistranslation of passages referring to sexual exploitation generally.)

 Theologians are still trying to foist their agendas on the texts. N.T. Wright wants to turn Jesus into a provincial figure, an agitator against the Roman Empire, a view contradicted by Jesus’s own express lack of interest in Rome: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”; “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

Marcus Borg suggests that even the Resurrection—the core belief of Christianity—is merely a metaphor (for a “spiritual” rebirth), thus, as it were, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What remains remarkable about the Bible, which C.S. Lewis described as an incoherent, self-contradictory leaky vessel of a book, is that it is alive. God, some theologians say, guides believers through particular passages and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, communicates directly with the individual believer. The communication may be unexpected, as when some readers of the Book of Mary found in the text a meaning that was unusual and personal.

Evan Hoorneman, J.D. ’63
South Harwich, Mass.

Admissions

I trust the court in the admissions case (“Litigating Admissions,” September-October 2018, page 17) will validate Harvard’s admission policies as both legal and equitable.

However, we should also see this as an opportunity to make Harvard’s admissions even more equitable by eliminating all legacy preferences. Legacy students are neither more accomplished nor better members of the Harvard student and alumni communities. In an era when mangled notions of loyalty and heritage are being used to embolden authoritarians and undermine democracy, we in the Harvard community can do better than rely on these concepts when building our future.

I do not expect my daughters to be chosen over other applicants when they apply to Harvard, and am confident that other fair-minded parents feel the same. Harvard has been a leading light of reform in higher education over the past decade on matters of tuition, curriculum, investments, and admissions. Let’s continue that legacy, and stop giving an unearned boost to the children of alumni.

Eric Johnson, J.D. ’05
San Francisco

Harvard should promote diversity of cultures, not diversity of skin colors. Harvard should concentrate on class, not race problems. Harvard’s racial preferences distract American people from the greatest issue—financial inequality—which affects all human races. The Harvard racial engineering is hypocrisy, a fig leaf on the crotch of America’s corporate culture that pretends to be democratic but is definitely not.

Anatol Zukerman, M.Arch. ’75
Plymouth, Mass.

Editor’s note: For more on the litigation, see “What Legacy?,” “Admissions on Trial,” and “Who Belongs at Harvard?” from this issue.

 

Admissions and Diversity

“Diversity” is the monstrously barbaric belief that the primary locus of a person’s identity and worth is in that person’s skin pigment; and which then unhingedly attempts to stuff all seven-billion of humanity into five or six fact-free categories so that rewards and punishments can be dispensed on that basis. Only the malevolent genius of the mendacious Left could persuade people that opposing this racism is a “tool of white supremacy,” as one student was quoted in the national media.

The sole redeeming function of so-called “liberal education” is to overcome the tendencies toward evil that are embodied in grotesque practices such as “diversity.” As long as this intellectual, moral, and spiritual descendant of the Nazis, the apartheidists, and the Ku Klux Klan is part of the University’s standard operating procedure, then it will prevent Harvard from achieving the full measure of success.

The chaos at Evergreen State College, the attacks against students at Hampshire College and San Francisco State University over “cultural appropriation,” the discord at the University of Missouri, the attack on Charles Murray ’65 at Middlebury College, the Texas State University student who wrote about “white” people “I hate you because you shouldn’t exist”—these are the real fruits of “diversity.” Harvard needs to be held to task for what it has unleashed.

How corrupted has Harvard become under “diversity”? Think back to August 2012: What a revealing coincidence that Harvard filed its amicus brief on behalf of the racists in Fisher vs. University of Texas during the same month that the “cheating scandal” came to light. We know that the admissions office is over-preoccupied with the color of its applicants’ skin; does it not care equally about the content of its applicants’ character?

Of the things that the (mercifully) outgoing Drew Faust could address as her parting valediction, she chose to advertise her commitment to this repugnant racism (“Defending Diversity,” June 12). Lawrence Bacow paid the usual lip-service: “I think diversity is a pathway to excellence”—a stance that, with appropriate cosmic justice, came around to bite him in the backside when students complained that he was too Pigmentally Incorrect to be president (Crimson, 13 Feb. 2018).

A morally healthier attitude from a distinguished graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Chief Justice John Roberts: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Or, as the great Harvard-educated political scientist Thomas Sowell damningly asked, “But what justifies diversity? Nothing but unsupported assertions, repeated endlessly, piously and loudly. Today, as in the past, diversity is essentially a fancy word for group quotas.”

Read The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture by Heather Mac Donald (St. Martin’s, 2018) for more insight into this ugly racket.

Harvard deserves to lose this lawsuit so badly that it is forced to go out of business. Good riddance.

D.C. Alan ’86
Washington, D.C.

 

Academic Presses

The article on George Andreou’s becoming director of Harvard University Press (“Taking a Page from Knopf,” November-December 2018, page 32) illustrates the real biggest challenge facing academic publishing—the commercialization of academic presses! If the focus on marketing is to avoid “turning the presses into a mere extension of the academic process by which scholars publish work to gain tenure”—what if that work to gain tenure is the best? Who needs academic presses whose decision to publish is based on marketing rather than innovative scholarship?

Laura Nader, Ph.D. ’61
Department of anthropology, UC, Berkeley

The S.G.

The main thrust of Lincoln Caplan’s “The Political Solicitor General”  (September-October 2018, page 47) is that the SG should be a pure exponent of what the law is. There are several impediments to this idealized view:

  1. Federal statutory and constitutional law are not religious dictates, but are derived from political processes and judgments; thus it is impossible to separate law from politics entirely. The most effective way to keep the politics out of legal interpretation is to be an originalist or a textualist, but that is not necessarily appropriate nor does it square with Caplan’s progressive bent or the idea of the “Living Constitution” that he obviously favors.
  2. In arguing that the president and the attorney general, both of whom rank above the SG, are too political to decide what the law is or should be and should therefore defer to the SG, Caplan is taking a position that there are areas of executive-branch activity and authority over which the president should not exercise any control or discretion. That is untenable politically except with independent agencies that are so organized with an explicit independence mandate from Congress. A venerable tradition surely counts for a lot, and the SG must be scrupulously honest about what the law is and resign if the bosses disagree, but no one should expect them always to defer to the SG. To illustrate: many would have called for the previous administration’s SG’s head on a pike had he told the president flatly that there is no right in the Constitution guaranteeing same-sex marriage.
  3. Caplan also tries to have it both ways on stare decisis. He decries Charles Fried’s amicus brief urging that Roe v. Wade be overturned 16 years after it was decided and a few years after it had been affirmed by a narrower majority, yet applauds Archie Cox’s recommendation to the Court to enter the thicket of reapportionment in 1962 only 16 years after characterizing the matter as non-justiciable. Caplan is mum on the Court’s invention of a right to same-sex marriage equality even though it overturned a settled understanding that reaches back to the dawn of time. Cases like those, like Roe v. Wade, and like Brown v. Board of Education may be necessary as game-changers to reflect major societal developments and shifts—but, then, cases like Citizens United and Janus should be viewed in the same light. My sense, though, is that in the Caplan world, stare decisis is designed only to protect gains that progressives achieve in the courts when they cannot get them at the ballot box. His is not a new theory, either. It was called the “ratchet theory” when Caplan and I went to law school in the years just after the Warren Court. Coming full circle, it is an attractive political theory which may be quite beneficial to us as a nation, but it is hard to support on neutral legal principles.

Robert Kantowitz, J.D. ’79
Lawrence, N.Y.

 

Anti-Semitism

I can’t let slip Alex Bruner’s off-target letter  (November-December 2018, page 2) that conflates Judaism, the religion, with the government of the country of Israel. If you love your Jewish neighbors but despise the clearly brutal and apartheid policies of the Israeli government, you have a right to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement without being called anti-Semitic. Roman Catholics don’t take offense when the Italian government is criticized, and Presbyterians have no stake in what the Scottish government does, so U.S. Jews also need to see that they are totally separate from the Israeli government. You can’t have it both ways!

John F. Millar ’66
Williamsburg, Va.

Rising anti-semitism on college campuses is the concern of Alex Bruner, in a letter in the November-December issue. I have not followed all the ins and outs of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, nor do I follow whether pro-Israeli speech is censored. What I do know as I have followed from decades back, from The New York Review of Books, Tikkun (a U.S. Jewish magazine), Ha’aretz (the Israeli newspaper), The New York Times, etc. etc.), is that the State of Israel has treated the Palestinians, who lived peacefully in the land that the Zionists took over by force in 1948, abominably, brutally, illegally.

It’s on the record, look at it. The Israelis ignore the record, don’t like to be called Nazis. Then they must stop behaving like them! The story of the Jews of Europe in World War II is tragic beyond belief. Hitler’s Germany worked hard to exterminate them. The rest of the world didn’t help the Jews much then or after the war. The surviving Jews of Germany and other places where they’d been unwelcome had no place to go. If I, a non-Jew, had been a young Jew in 1948, I would have been a Zionist.

But then the abused by the Nazis, the creators of the nation of Israel, became abusers in their turn—of the innocent Palestinians. This has gotten worse as time goes on, as Israeli politics has become dominated by the views of religious fanatics exploited by cynical politicians. Peace seems a long way away as the homeland of a great people, the Jews, goes so far astray from justice.

This is a terrible thing to say, but worse than anti-Semitism is the repressions of the present Israel regime that provide such pretext for it. Harvard, and its magazine, is certainly an appropriate forum to discuss this.

Tom Blandy ’54
Troy, N.Y.

Roe v. Wade

In his letter (November-December 2018, page 4), Martin Wishnatsky states that “immoral mandates” like Roe v. Wade “facilitated…a holocaust of infant life.” Leaving aside the loaded word “holocaust,” two things: a fetus is not an infant; and the decision did not change the total number of abortions. It only made more abortions legal and safe.

According to Planned Parenthood, one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45. Therefore, Wishnatsky is calling one-quarter of American women immoral. He has nothing to say about the men who played their part in these unwanted pregnancies.

I reject this kind of shaming. I got an abortion for the same reason most women do: I was not ready, financially or emotionally, to support a child. Like about half the women who get abortions, I was using birth control, but the contraception failed.

Nobody is happy about having to terminate a pregnancy. But I take motherhood seriously. When I did have children, I wanted to be able to keep them safe and healthy, and raise them in a stable household. Bearing and then taking care of a child is a huge responsibility. Nobody should be able to force anyone else to do it.

If people like Wishnatsky who are so passionately against abortion would show any concern for children once they are born; if they fought for affordable childcare, housing, healthcare, and education; if they supported free contraception and sex education, which are proven to cut abortion rates; if they cared about the children and pregnant women killed by American bombs every day; then one might consider their claim to righteousness. Otherwise, they’re just hypocrites.

Jane Collins ’71
Medford, Mass.

29-29

George Howe Colt’s piece on the 1968 Game (“The Players,” November-December, page 58) notes the geographic transformation of Harvard in the 1960s from a bastion of Northeastern privilege to “something more attuned to the country at large.” My experience of this process had nothing to do with football but reinforces Colt‘s thesis. Coming from a public school in western Virginia, I was matched in Eliot B-12 with a group of similar non-preppies from North Dakota, Alabama, Florida, and Kentucky. We became and remain fast friends. One can only imagine the “patrician” Master Finley’s chagrin at having these outlanders thrust into his “handpicked” cohorts from St. Paul’s, Groton and Exeter, but we drank deep from the Finley spring, and he remains a revered legend among us. If he was troubled by our pedigrees, it did not show in his storied letters of recommendation to graduate schools. Not at the stadium (which Master Finley might have preferred), but academically, we and no doubt throngs of others vindicated Harvard’s outreach to the hinterlands.

William C. Wooldridge ’65
Suffolk, Va.

Editor’s note: A caption in “The Players” credited “an anonymous undergraduate” for the headline “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.” We forgot that our March-April 2001 issue included letters from Thomas M. Zubaty ’72 and William J. Clark ’66, each claiming to be the source (see harvardmag.com/29-29recap-18). We thank Mr. Zubaty for pointing out our error.

 

I enjoyed the November-December issue. As to “The Players,” I was at the famous Harvard “victory.” In fact I had seen an improvisatory show the night before that mocked “B.D.” But aside from the overdrawn social commentary about Pi Eta, social clubs, etc., I want to point out that as a sophomore in the temporary stands at the far end of the Stadium, I heard, but could not see, the heroics. I would have left, but the stands were too crowded. Obviously Harvard had lost. My future wife, who understood the game was over, left with her date, like many, only to hear the cheers on the way out of Soldiers Field.

But the Crimson, dated Monday, was handed to me as I left on my way to my room, “hot off the press.” I was so impressed (I should have kept it!) that they were so prompt. It was a game for the ages, a remarkable comeback, and I enjoyed reading about it.

Jonathan Vincent ’71
Norwich, Vt.

Editor’s note: The Crimson distributed a planned postgame extra edition that Saturday with the headline “Harvard, Yale Draw, 29-29.” (The famous “Harvard Beats Yale” headline ran two days later, in the Monday morning paper.) For details, see “The Saga of a Great Headline,”  by Alan Schwarz, from the November-December 2000 issue.

 

Ideological Diversity, Continued

The rejoinder letter in the November-December issue from John T. Hansen (page 6) entitled “Ideological Diversity” was, in a word, unworthy of the magazine. It is precisely the kind of intellectual, dismissive snobbery that drives those who are not well-off coastal liberals further and further toward irretrievable polarization.

I know because that describes me to a T, which is to say that while I am a Harvard graduate (Sc.D., HSPH, Biostatistics) with a long list of other academic, business, and intellectual credentials, I am also unwilling to tolerate the dismissive gestures of the bluenoses of the liberal clan. When the writer Hansen says “does not accept science” any fool, educated or not, knows he means “is not enlightened enough to be an atheist.” The attitude of that phrase alone removes all but all possibility of a rapproachment. Lest you take my word for it, consider the long, well-documented, all-inside-Harvard interplay between Stephen Jay Gould and Owen Gingerich.

The canard of “changes long-held beliefs on a dime” is, to be charitable, too vague to comment upon. The closing phrase, “believes truth is not truth” is quintessential smug elite speak that, let me assure you, is instantly recognizable by all us deplorables. It is, at the same time, wildly ironic if one can spare the time to peruse the thousand and one refereed papers arguing that science is a mere social construct, some emanating from Harvard alumni/alumnae.

Daniel E. Geer Jr.
Cornersville, Tenn.

I wanted to thank John Hansen, LL.B. ’63, for alerting me to something I had heretofore been unaware of: “…almost half of the ideological spectrum in this country does not accept science….”

Huh. I’m a trained scientist and I didn’t know that. So I went around and sampled dozens of friends and neighbors. To my naive surprise, most of them pulled a card from their wallet. Some cards were red and some were blue.

And John was right! The folks with red cards didn’t believe the earth was round, or that men had been to the moon. Heck, some of them didn’t even believe in gravity or know where babies came from!

On the other hand I was amazed to find that, to a one, the folks who carried blue cards could clearly articulate why socialism was a better form of government than capitalism, explain to me in exquisite detail the complex interaction of the dozen or so factors causing climate change, and elucidate the precise genetic and environmental influences that made the folks who carry red cards so dull-witted. Even my blue-card friends who were lawyers—and not trained scientists—dazzled me with how much chemistry and physics and biology they knew.

Thanks again, John, for your enlightened contribution to the discussion. I am much the wiser for it.

Drew Lanza, M.B.A. ’87
Portola Valley, Calif.

Writing a Memoir

Here is a major reason for writing your memoir you might not readily think of. This is advice for classes graduating, say, before 1978.

No, you are not writing only for your children, or for posterity, or for a major breakthrough into the Memoir market. I am 91 years old and graduated in ’48. I wrote a first draft of my memoir when I was just retiring and had the time. It was published some 10 years later. Sure, I was thinking of my children and family. But today, the most important benefit from my book is that it helps me remember.

You might not think of it today, but age erodes memory. How wonderful to be able to open a book and clarify to yourself where you were or what you thought, some 50 years prior. Conclusion: plan on writing your memoir and start keeping a file of necessary background documentation. You might enjoy latter years more, as you more easily connect with your own past.

Guy Benveniste ’48
Author, From Paris to Berkeley
Professor emeritus, UC, Berkeley
Berkeley

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