Friday, May 22, 2015

Dark skies

This is a surrejoinder to Alan's rejoinder:

But to answer Steve's question, no, it would not automatically connote a lunar eclipse since I presume ancient people could easily distinguish between a lunar eclipse that causes a reddish color and something more dramatic such as a nearby volcano causing severe atmospheric conditions.

To begin with, most ancient people never witnessed a volcanic eruption. You must live where there are active volcanoes. And even then, volcanic eruptions are rare. By contrast, a lunar eclipse is far more common. 

The biblical description—and this was a point in my article—conveys a cluster of heavenly and terrestrial events happening in conjunction with each other (e.g. Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, Rev 6). Not piece meal. Which explains why it terrifies the wicked. Meteorites, volcanoes, and perhaps some other catastrophe most certainly will cause this.

i) On what exegetical basis does he conclude that volcanoes (in conjunction with other phenomena) "most certainly" will cause this. None of his prooftexts specifies volcanos. At best, that's a possible way to explain the imagery. 

ii) Moreover, none of his prooftexts says the wicked are terrified by volcanic eruptions (in conjunction with other phenomena). 

this is not some normal eclipse that lasts mere moments or minutes,

A lunar eclipse can last for 100 minutes, not "mere moments" or a few minutes. 

it conveys a universal phenomenon, not a local region

A volcanic eruption is a local, regional phenomenon–not a universal phenomenon. 

At best, Alan can postulate a supervolcanic eruption with global atmospheric effects. But that's reading something into the text rather than reading something out of the text. At best, that would be consistent with the text, not an implication of the text. 

"Then the kings of the earth…"

i) To a modern reader, "the earth" will trigger a planetary perspective, but it would be anachronistic to impute that outlook to John's audience.

ii) In addition, taking refuge in mountains and caves indicates a local, regional perspective. Many parts of the world don't have mountains or caves. 

iii) Another problem with taking a global perspective is that endtime prophecy is typically set in the Mideast. What was the known world to the original audience.

If, however, we're going to broaden that out to include North America, South America, Japan, Iceland, Indonesia, &c., then why assume the Middle Eastern locale for endtime events is literally intended? Why not view that as a placeholder for events which may, in fact, occur in different capitals, with different superpowers? There's that tension in dispensational hermeneutics. 

But volcanic ash can cause the moon to have a reddish color.

But in that event an observer would seen the sun as well as the moon. Indeed, the sun would be more clearly visible than the moon-give the superior brightness of the sun. 

Steve is assuming some constant effect as well as only being perceived in a single, local region. The way the sun and the moon will appear to someone in say America will likely be perceived at a greater or lesser degree in Europe.

I don't see how that rescues Alan's argument. If the volcanic ash is thick enough to obscure the sun, it will be thick enough to obscure the moon. If, conversely, it's thin enough to emit filtered moonlight, then it's thin enough to emit filtered sunlight. Although the effect may be localized, it will be the same effect depending on the locality. If the fallout is think in that region, it will obscure sun and moon alike. If it's think in that region, it will filter sun and moon alike. 

Indeed, it could filter sunlight but opaque moonlight since moonlight is dimmer than sunlight–whereas Alan's theory requires the reverse. That's his quandary. 

Sure it did, at least the sun. 

I have doubts about Alan's interpretation of the NASA pictures:

i) To begin with, what they clearly show is not the sun or moon, but a landscape floodlit by red illumination.

ii) Alan doesn't point to what he has in mind, but I guess he identifies the fireball directly above the volcano as the sun. If so, I question that identification. To begin with, it would be unusual for the sun to rise or set right over a mountain. If a mountain is located in the north or south, it will never be in the vicinity of sunrise or sunset. 

And even if a mountain is located in the east or west, it would only be during a few days of the year that the sun might rise or set right over the mountain. 

iii) Volcanos generate plasma clouds and St. Elmo's fire. They eject fiery particles into the atmosphere directly above the volcano. 

In addition, clouds above the volcano will be underlit by the lava and magma in the crater. That's not the sun. Rather, that's a reflection. 

iv) Moreover, the pictures don't' show the moon at all. 

Further, the thicker the clouds of ash, the more it would block out the moon, the lighter the more likely to give it a red tint.

Again, though, Alan's dilemma is that sun and moon are paired prophecy. Ash that's thick enough to block sunlight will block moonlight, while ash that's thick enough to filter moonlight will filter sunlight. So he needs to explain how his theory is consistent with reddish moonlight but opaquing sunlight. 

Lunar eclipses do not cause the reaction we see in the Bible from the celestial disturbances (notice the plural). 

That's not an exegetical conclusion. Alan is projecting what he thinks the observer will find fearful. 

God's eschatological harbinger will not be an atomized luminary event—it will be a cluster of events warning the wicked of his impending wrath.

You can have a cluster of events involving a meteor shower, solar eclipse, and lunar eclipse. You can have a sequential solar and lunar eclipse.

Not sure what Steve's point is. Ancient as well as modern people regard them as ominous. 

Modern observers don't typically regard a solar or lunar eclipse as an omen. 

I am sure Steve is not a preterist. I am almost certain he interprets the celestial disturbances in Mt 24 happening in the future. So not sure how "ancient people" is relevant since this is a prophetic description of a future people's reaction.

i) When we interpret an ancient text, we must consider for what that would mean to the original audience. 

ii) Moreover, even prophecies about the distance future are couched in imagery familiar to the ancient audience, viz. calvary, archers, warhorses, fortified cities, siege warfare. So that's the interpretive point of entry. 

John saw a vision of a harbinger that God will use to warn the world of his impending wrath. This harbinger is obviously nature, where John uses imagery to describe a unique cluster of heavenly-terrestrial events that will happen just before the day of the Lord.

If the imagery is symbolic, then we must ask what it stands for. For instance, what about Zechariah's vision of a lying scroll and winged women (Zech 5:1,9). Does Alan think that's literal?

What about Joseph's dream of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him (Gen 37:9). Does he think that's literal?

I think it's useful to explore how eschatological imagery could be physically realistic. But I don't regard that as the default meaning. There's no presumption that it must be physically realistic. That's just one of the interpretive options.

Steve selectively left out eyewitness accounts of seeing a reddish moon caused by volcanic ash. 

Alan keeps evading the conundrum of moonlight without sunlight. How does volcanic ash obscure the sun without obscuring the moon? 

So my point is that no one can read the biblical accounts of the harbinger in Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, and Rev 6 and walk away thinking that there is going to be a single, isolated lunar eclipse. 

No doubt the eschatological imagery is far more varied. 

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