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Passover Saga – Myth Or History? (2) Circa 2000AD, UCLA Study Group – Ancient Cultures and Customs
The group of 21st-century scholars, in casual e-mails, tweets or text messages, referred to their once-a-month “fun research” meetings as “C2C” – from “Conflict to Confirmation” – then to “Science versus Bible” and “Easter Miracles: Fiction or Fact?”. The religious belief or unbelief of each individual was not a factor – whether the Bible was truth or myth – most of them probably retained some of the teachings of childhood. But even so, it was not the “force function” – the appeal was intellectual, like solving puzzles, irrefutable facts and logic, mysteries that were being revealed – the iconoclastic knowledge was the emotion and the ‘goal.
As a group, they all respected each other’s religious beliefs: there was no indiscretion, no paternalism, no proselytizing. The intellectual stimulation was found in the ever-advancing march of science, the excitement to establish “truths” in the history of knowledge achieved by mankind – occasionally reversed – or modified – or verified.
They were a mixed bag, scholars in various field specialties. What they had in common was that they were former undergraduate students of Professor Zacharias Henri Barrett, archaeologist and Egyptologist. Now they met on the third Thursday evening of each month, at the teacher’s house in Westwood, California: a refreshment: his coffee, tea, cookies or beer. The assembly and atmosphere was informal, pleasant, collegial. For each session, the teacher would select a topic and a presenter, but all members had to feed research topics to both the teacher and the presenter, the latter to combine them into a power point layout, the presentation into a overhead projector; the format was crisp, concise, verbose and matter-of-fact. Armchairs and sofas were arranged around the coffee table, creating a relaxed atmosphere. Comments from anyone were welcome during the presentation.
The pets and “babies” of the group – everyone else was in their thirties and fifties – were Bethe and Avi, a couple in their late twenties; Bethe, a PhD in mathematics, was the spark plug, with a dynamic infectious joy (she makes others laugh with delight as she “lights up” on a subject, both hands sweeping her thick, curly hair back from the face); Avi was reserved, a PhD in Quantum Mechanical Physics: they had met through Professor Barrett’s class. Both were deeply religious Jews, and although they knew the Talmud and the Torah, the interest here, for them, as for everyone else, was neither piety nor ideology, but scientific fact and logic , the pure pleasure of intellectual discovery.
Then there was Ranah, an environmental doctoral researcher at a Fortune 500 corporation; Stewart, MD and PhD medical researcher, who works for a pharmaceutical company; Laurence, patent attorney; and Sarah, a trial lawyer with a penchant for the unusual.
It had started as a class project: originally ten, now down to half a dozen not counting the teacher; married, single or divorced, male or female, the “fun” was their discoveries. Today, computer research with the Internet or “web” was simple. No longer remote, dimly lit libraries and heavy, damp volumes on dusty shelves, now effortless keyword queries yielded dozens of reference and imaged articles.
Professor Barrett looked forward to these sessions with his postdoctoral students, all enjoying the stimulating academic atmosphere of debate and discovery. Retired from a lifetime of academic pursuits under the auspices of UCLA, he and his student-colleagues had settled on the subject as a sort of group hobby. With all of them having “day jobs” and successful careers in various fields, they occasionally joked about publishing a collective book, whether the biblical narrative was fictional or a mostly true story from ancient times. Someone had even nailed “Science vs. the Bible: From Conflict to Confirmation” to the copyright office, just in case.
The thematic genesis of the subject had evolved from a philosophical discussion about the first civilizations: the pre-recorded historical period. Bethe had noted that there seemed to be consistent similarities in social and cultural development versus biblical stories—strong evidence from thousands of clay tablets, tending to corroborate an almost identical biblical narrative. Avi provided examples of tablets that describe practices and customs of early human relationships
which ran parallel to the biblical stories. Soon everyone was contributing. The theme continued – Bethe, to be the presenter.
Professor Barrett opened the following session with a remark about the Bible and “history”: While the prevailing view in past centuries had been to dismiss the Bible as myth, during this past half century, numerous archaeological finds have re-established the its importance as a credible story. Quoting the eminent British historian, Paul Johnson, “[I]n Palestine and Syria, investigations of ancient sites, and translations of a large number of legal and administrative records, have tended to restore the value of the early biblical books as historical narrative.” generally assumed to be mythical or symbolic, now the onus of proof has shifted; more and more scholars must now assume that the text contains at least a grain of truth.”156
The teacher nodded to Bethe, who stood up, turned on the overhead projector, placed some papers on it, then with both hands brushed the thick hair from her face. She smiled a “Hello” to everyone and began, “There have been so many tablet records from millennia ago, recently discovered and translated, that depict early community life, and that add credence to the biblical narrative as true historical documentation. It is this wealth of biblical detail,” Bethe emphasized in the words, as his eyes searched the audience, one by one, “that involve actual events: there is a ‘ring’ of veracity to many biblical stories in comparison with ancient tribal customs during the culture of man. development. Archival evidence from cuneiform records of early city-type communities show remarkable similarities to biblical tales.”
Bethe then put up the Power Point data, reading the highlights:
- “Archaeological excavations at Ebla and Mari: 14,000 tablets found at Ebla, northern Syria, and 22,000 at Mari, north of the Syria-Iraq border. These archival tablets from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC explain coherent cultural events and customs. with many previously obscure biblical passages.”
- “Purchase of land: burial plots purchased by a stranger settling in a community, which required the agreement of local leaders in order for this alien newcomer to acquire land; ritual ceremonial negotiation of the price was required; then there was a formality of witnessing the weighing and transfer of coins; then the recording of the event.” Bethe looked around the group. totally agree”.
- “Murder, revenge, and cities of refuge: in the story of Cain and Abel, the phrase ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ These are such powerful words, they only indicate credibility regarding historical veracity, a reflection of the community’s rejection of murder, as well as the establishment of cities of refuge where a fleeing “murderer” would find protection from any vengeful relatives of his victim”.
- “The tablets at Nuzi, dated to 1600 BC, parallel Abraham’s confrontation with a domestic situation: his wife Sarah was childless and his concubine, his maidservant, Hagar,” Bethe raised her eyebrows as she spoke, while Stewart muttered, “Great custom.” Bethe continued, “Hagar has a son, and like these extra-biblical records, the Bible describes Abraham gaining inheritance rights; then there is a subsequent birth of his son, Isaac, to his true wife Sarah.”
- “Noah-type floods: Although the biblical story of Noah and the Flood is based on a God-man morality theme, there is now strong evidence of a world-changing flood followed by a massive flood of the earth – about four millennia BC -” – Bethe recognized the general settlement of the chiefs, “- and with a figure similar to Noah and a large ship. Cuneiform tablets describing such a flood and character were found in 1850 in Sennacherib’s palace, later confirmed by additional tablets found in a second palace.159 Alluvial evidence of a flood at Ur, dated to between 4000 and 3500 BC, was also found, and two tablets in the British Museum refer to to a great ship. The Sumerian story of Gilgamesh is the earliest version of a flood, dating back four millennia. BC.”
- “Ziggarat Tower,” Bethe shrugged, “it’s a bit much to accept the biblical story of the Tower of Babel: God causes the diversity of languages to prevent a tower from reaching heaven, but a Ziggarat Tower was discovered by the archaeologist Wooley. , dated to the two millennia BC”.
- “Ur, an ancient city in Sumer, was excavated in the 1920s and is described in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham.”
- “The tablets that tell of the deception by the head of a large family and tribal clan who settles in a kingdom, and tell its ruler that his beautiful wife is his sister, really amaze me. ..” Bethe paused.
- “The tablets describe the custom and hierarchy of bearing the name of a deceased person, -” Bethe paused “- this is such a wonderful story, a favorite of many – the story of Ruth and Boaz – about responsibilities and obligations of marriage with a widow by consanguinity of the dead husband.”
- “A Nuzi tablet tells of a firstborn’s sale of his legal birthright, like Esau in the Bible, who sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup.”
- “Nuzi’s archives also tell a complex relationship of a man who adopts his son-in-law as a son – and then has children of his own – just like Laban and Jacob.”
- “Deathbed Blessings: A Nuzi Tablet Speaks of the Binding Meaning of an Oral Deathbed Blessing, Like Rebecca and Jacob, in the Bible, Attempting to Deceive the Dying Isaac.”
- “The Nuzi tablets explain the significance of the ‘family gods’ as title scriptures, such as ‘The son of Nashwi will take the gods of Nashwi.’ – which explains the significance behind the biblical reference to Rachel stealing the gods of Laban – as revenge for his behavior.”
- “The tables of Mari confirm that covenants were solemnized by the legal ritual of killing an animal; as in the Bible, Abraham sacrificed an animal after making his covenant with God, and also by Abraham and Abimelech, after the resolution of a dispute over the digging of a well”.
- “Archival tablets found in various archaeological ‘digs’ list individuals with patriarchal-type names, and also actual biblical figures such as Abram, Jacob, Leah, Laban, Ishmael.”
Bethe smiled at Avi, who gave her a thumbs up as she continued.
“– twice, in the Bible, Abraham claims that Sarah is his sister, not his wife – which implies an unflattering cowardice. Yet the tables indicate that there was wisdom – as a sister he would have more legal status and protection”.
When it was over, Bethe breathed a sigh of relief, Grandpa took her hand and pulled her to his side on the couch, kissing her cheek.
“Good job,” Ranah said. “Well done,” said the teacher, clapping his hands and the others joined in.
“Alright,” Professor Barrett said, looking at the group, “shall we continue on this line?” Everyone nodded affirmatively. “Well…” he said. “- let’s move on. There has always been a real problem in untangling the many pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Who wants to deal with it?”
Avi raised his hand. The teacher nodded in agreement. “See you in a month.”
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