Monthly Archives: April 2012

Book Review: Barefoot Disciple by Stephen Cherry

Unlike last year, when, in the weeks leading up to Easter, I read almost exclusively theology, I opted this year for a more laid-back approach and only read one “Lent book” which was this. I only started it about 10 days before the start of the Easter weekend, but as it is quite a short book (172 pages + introduction, acknowledgements, bibliography, etc.) I was able to go through it quite slowly and ponderously and finished it on Good Friday.

The subject of the book is humility, which the author (a fairly high church Anglican at my old stomping ground of Durham Cathedral) acknowledges is very tricky to write about. Most of the first chapter is devoted to the challenges of writing about the subject without taking pride in the fact that one is humble. He puts it much better than I do, though.

This is what I would describe as a “lifestyle christianity” book. It’s not self-help dressed up in christian clothes but neither is it a detailed theological study. Cherry picks out examples from his own life and draws on as many, if not more, secular sources as he does biblical quotations. In this respect, the writing style is not entirely dissimilar from that of C.S. Lewis.

The barefoot of the title is derived from Cherry’s own experience of pilgrimages to Lindisfarne where some people went barefoot as they crossed the mud flat at low tide. The subtitle of the book, “walking the way of passionate humility,” is sort of defined but is really demonstrated throughout the whole book. It is hard to sum up in a paragraph, so having made several attempts whilst writing this review, I decided not to and simply recommend that you read the book yourself.

What is core to Cherry’s viewpoint that passionate humility goes firmly against conventional (or we might say ‘worldly’) wisdom. It is not piousness or grovelling, where the example of Dickens’ character, Uriah Heap, is held as an example of exactly what Cherry doesn’t mean. This is far more affirmative, yet not self-seeking. It is the practicalities of ‘living out’ this worldview that Cherry unpacks.

The only downside I found in the book is that Cherry does adopt an extremely “high church” position where there is some talk of “holy spaces” (a subject I have been intending to write about for some time, and hope to pick up soon) and at one point slights some elderly people for saying bits of liturgy that only the priest ought to say, as if some words ought to be forbidden from being uttered by the hoi polloy.

Yet this is a small aside and may well pass unnoticed by readers of a similarly high church background. This is an intensely thought-provoking book and one that I would recommend to you to read at any time, not just during Lent/Easter.

Stephen Cherry’s personal blog may be found here.

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The first day and a half of unemployment

Plans

So the first day and bit of unemployment is now complete. My plan for the first day was to ring up the department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and make an initial claim for Jobseekers’ allowance (JSA). After so doing, I was going to travel to London for a day out as a tourist. As poor as the latter may seem in light of the former, this was to be just a one-off. The train ticket I used to get to work was always a weekly one, but because of the Easter holidays, the week had been disrupted so the ticket was valid from Tuesday to the following Monday. Hence, I was able to use it on Monday at no extra cost. I wouldn’t quite say it was free, as I had already paid over £90 for it, but it only got me to work for 4 days instead of the usual 5.

1st phonecall

Having already phoned up the DWP in the prior week, I knew the phone number I needed and was able to navigate my way through the options menu. I got through to a call centre but this was not like anything that you get when calling the private sector, such as for utility or telephony companies. There was no sales patter or script. They simply had a form with lots of questions on there, which I did my best to help them fill out.

All in all, the telephone interview went on for 50 minutes, though it would probably been a lot longer if my personal circumstances weren’t as simple as they are. With no dependents, no partner and no mortgage, some parts just sailed by.

We probably spent a lot longer than normal on the banking section. This is because I have a small myriad of bank accounts that I keep for various purposes. Trying to explain this over the phone was not fun, and at the end they said it would probably need to be reviewed again when I have a face to face meeting at the Job Centre. This particular appointment was made for the next day (which is why this blog post is called the first day and a half, as there is more this later).

The issue, I think, hangs around a means-tested element of JSA, since one of the questions was “do you have more than £x in savings?” The answer was no, but if you add on the amounts I am owed in terms of salary and redundancy pay, then this may just tip the scales. Though at the time of writing, I don’t know what will become of this.

2nd phonecall

Having finished the call and made the appointment for a face-to-face meeting, I left the room to go and find my shoes so I could head out. But no sooner had I left the room than the phone rang again. I thought there was some piece of information they had missed off (which was fairly unlikely, as they were fairly thorough, with the possible omission of asking about borrowings).

It wasn’t the DWP calling back at all, but a recruitment consultant telling me that I have a job interview! This has now been booked in for Monday lunchtime. It’s not terribly far away. It’s about half an hour on the train and then about 15 minutes by foot. The company is quite different from that which I just left, but it is a return to the high-end technology companies that I enjoyed working at when I was working in audit.

The London trip

After getting all this out of the way, I was finally ready to go back to London for one last time. Since I don’t know if I’ll be working there again, I went with the mindset that this was the last time I’d likely see the capital for some time. After initially getting on an ultra-slow train, I hopped onto the Gatwick express. At this time, after rush hour, the place was full of tourists and the train seemed to be packed with people who had fled France after the 1st round of voting in the general election. There were a few German voices as well, but as far as my carriage was concerned, my native English was definitely a minority as far as first languages went.

I made my way on a very soggy day to the British Museum, which I had never visited before. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. I’ve been to the Victoria & Albert Museum once, but this was the last of the ‘biggies’.

To begin with, I didn’t really know where to begin. The place was fairly busy with tourists but not packed. I dread to think what it would be like on a bank holiday. I started off on the right and just allowed myself to get lost. I did start to get drawn into the trap as I sometimes do of simply reading the descriptions of the objects instead of really observing them. I won’t bore you with all the details, though it was somewhat sad to see that in this ‘British Museum’ the vast majority of the items had been plundered from other countries and civilisations. Great for learning, but it did leave me feeling a little uneasy about how so many objects had arrived there, particularly as lots of them simply stated “donated by Lord Somethingorother in Suchandsuchayear” without stating how and when the donor had acquired the object.

One item of note, which is probably the most famous object there, is the Rosetta stone. I managed to scare my dad a bit with regards to it. The real stone is housed in a glass cabinet and is almost impossible to view. It’s the most famous and most popular object there, and trying to get close enough to see it is like trying to get on an underground train at London bridge at 8:35am: there were crowds of people 4 -7 rows deep, tightly packed. However, an exact replica of it is housed in a room a few feet away with the sign “please touch” since it’s a replica. So I took this photo and sent it to my dad, without telling him about the replica, just so he’d think I’d got my grubby mitts on the real thing.

After a few hours of very slow walking, I opted to make an exit and head home, which I thought was for the best, overall.

The meeting at church

The following day I headed to the next town down the road, where I go to church. I had made two appointments for this day, one of which was at church and the other back at the job centre which is just a 5 minute walk from my flat. The meeting at the job centre required me to bring a paper copy of my CV with me, but as I don’t have a printer I had to ask a friend to do it, which they were most gracious to do. So I went to pick it up from them around 9am.

My meeting with the pastor was only vaguely booked but I texted him to say I was around in town and free until 11:30, whereupon I’d need to get a train back in order to make my 2 nd appointment on time. He said to come along at 10:30 so in the mean time I looked for somewhere to sit down and either read a book or write some blog material. As it happens, I ended up starting to write this post, which I am conscious is now getting rather long! Sorry; now that I have more time I may need to learn brevity now that it is no longer enforced upon me.

Anyway, we discussed various things about joblessness and church life. This was mainly triggered because I said that since I was going spare (and in another sense, I may go spare, let the reader understand!) I might as well offer to help out. The church has a very small staff, and I thought it would be very easy for little things to get glossed over or where there are those things that you want to do but never get round to actually doing. Anyway, I won’t divulge anything that was confidential, but it was a really helpful chat, though I think I scared the pastor a little and I know he contacted his personal tax accountant shortly afterwards based on some information I gave him which he was unaware about.

The job centre

Finally, we come to the 2nd meeting of the 2nd day of unemployment. This was back at on office I had actually been to before. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much and I wasn’t disappointed. As mentioned above, they had some questions over my savings accounts, and I said I was perfectly happy to demonstrate the evidence for them by logging on either using a spare computer or if they could get my laptop connected to the web. Would they have this? No.

I’ll be writing another whole blog post on this soon as it delves into the question of epistemology and what one regards as acceptable evidence.

They dug out a copy of an agreement I signed 6 years ago where I agreed to do 3 things per week to look for a job, which I would have to keep a record of. The boxes they have are tiny, though so I’ve mocked it up on a spreadsheet and will then try and slim it down so it’ll fit. Though at this stage I’m not sure if “answering a phonecall from a recruitment consultant” counts since it’s a fairly passive action which resulted from a much earlier action.

I’ve got an appointment to go and sign on at the office on the 1st Friday of May, but I need to talk to the building society first to see if they will issue me paper statements for my e-savings accounts, which kind of negates part of the point of e-savings.

The saga continues, and I’ll try to keep you informed.

The Last Day

As regular readers will be aware, I have now been made redundant from my job and am, for want a better turn of phrase, a gentleman of leisure for the time being. I began to write this piece in my head on the way home after my leaving drinks, though I did not start to actually type anything until the Saturday afternoon. I wanted to write fairly close to the day’s events so as to not start forgetting this, as I am wont to do. However, the lack of immediate internet facilities has delayed the publication until now.

The night before my last day was somewhat ambivalent. I have been ready to leave now for a good couple of months and in my mind I had already left. I was simply playing out the time, trying to make sure all loose ends were tied up and that I was able to hand over everything that needed to be handed over. I got the last train I could get that would get me into the office on time, so I arrived duly at about 8:50 and decided to go for breakfast in the canteen. Others who were down there were puzzled as to why I had come in any time before 11am; after all, who can really complain and what could anyone do about it? One late morning is not a sackable offence, so I wouldn’t have been risking my redundancy package.

The point, though, was that I always wanted to be, and to be seen to be, straightforward, honest and transparent. As an accountant, I believe that one of the best virtues you can have is to be accountable. This is why much of the work I have done over the last year has been to remove levels of obfuscation that my predecessors had put in place over some areas of the finance function. Of course, there is need for confidentiality, so when dealing with salaries, I would always lock my computer even if walking out of the room for 3 minutes to get myself a cup of coffee.

So, having started my day on time, even though I had not much to do, I set about writing my goodbye emails and saving them in a draft folder, ready to go out later that afternoon. I had to rack my brains thinking of who I might have left out so as to not unduly offend anyone.

As it happens, I had some time off in the middle of the day to go and speak to some more recruitment consultants. These ones were based in a new building called Heron tower, which seems to have been overshadowed by the Shard (not literally, they are about a mile apart!) and which is one of the tallest buildings in the country. I’d never been in before, but it was a bizarre experience. Outside the door was a guy in a long coat and bowler hat, who wanted to know why on earth I might want to enter. Once I’d got past him and through the revolving doors, there was another chap standing between myself and reception desk. My intention was simply to walk past him, but he stepped across my path to block me, demanding who I was going to see. This chap more than the bowler hat guy, had a serious US Secret Service inferiority complex. It seemed that his entire job was to stand in the lobby with a little wire in his ear and look cross.

Having negotiated my way to the reception desk I was finally able to get to make known who it was I wanted to see. Though it wasn’t until I had sat down to wait that I realised the entire backdrop to the reception was a giant fishtank. I didn’t have a measuring stick with me but at a rough guess I would say it was about 50 feet wide, 12 feet high and 7 feet deep. It was full of large tropical fish. It was like a much bigger version of the tank my parents have, and with supersized fish too, though some did appear to be a similar species/variety/genus (please forgive me, biology wasn’t my strongest point).

Anyway, the meeting went pretty much as every other meeting I’ve had with recruitment consultants. Afterwards, I headed on back to the office post haste. I finished clearing down a lot of old emails, as I had checked with work that they wouldn’t mind if I deleted emails confirming that I authorised a supplier payrun in Luxembourg in September 2010.

Throughout the day, I had the occasional person come up to me and wish me well for the future, which was really nice. The odd thing about my role is that I predominantly deal with people across Europe and in the United States. I have very little to do with the people who physically work in the same office as me. That’s not to say I never interacted with them, it just wasn’t anywhere near as much as they had with one another. I was just the quiet bloke sat in the far corner near the finance director and who drank a lot of black coffee.

After sending out emails spanning a reasonable part of the globe, I again got quite a few nice responses. Some weren’t aware I was leaving. This was particularly annoying as there was a small delegation from the US who were coming to the UK this week (w/c 23 April) who wanted to meet up, since we talk regularly on email and on the phone, and I’m just going to miss out on the chance to meet them.

There was small presentation for me at 4:30 with a couple of speeches. I didn’t prepare anything other than a wisecrack on our forecasting ability given that I had been there for 27 months on a 12 month contract! Oddly, though, at that point I still had not been informed that I would definitely be made redundant. Officially, it was still the case that my role was at risk of redundancy. So I still had to have a meeting with HR at 5:00 to confirm this.

Now, it is a truism that you should never trust HR with numbers. This was no exception, as I had calculated how much holiday I was owed, and knew that they would pay me for any unused holiday. They miscalculated and gave the figure too low. I picked up on this in an instant. So even on my very last day, I couldn’t leave on time as I had to wait for the official letter to be redrafted. That said, the extra 2.5 days is worth a few hundred pounds so that’s the closest I’ll have come to paid overtime during my tenure there.

After all this was done, we eventually managed to make it to a bar, where many many drinks were consumed and which I paid for none. Considering when I left my previous job, only one person showed up, I was dreading another no show. But quite a lot of people came out. However, I was standing just behind one guy who I heard saying “who was this guy leaving anyway” which I think sums up how ‘high profile’ I was. But most of the finance team and IT were there, who I do speak to every day. Once the drinks got flowing and the tongues loosened, an interesting portrait was revealed about who really thought what of whom. This is not the place to spread gossip and how much the strength of feelings may have been exaggerated by alcohol is questionable. But I did get more encouraging feedback from folks with comments like “you’re one of the good guys” or “whenever I needed help, you were the one who provided it.” As the evening wore on, the advice got a little more tenuous.

Several of them didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed a proper holiday last year. When you have a line manager who ignores employment law, compounded with a vague HR policy, all I could take was the odd day either side of a weekend, but not a full week at any point in the year. So I’ve still only been on holiday twice in the last 12 years. At this, I was told that I ought to travel to Thailand and “bang as many women as possible.” This was the point to call it a night. I’m not quite sure how I was still standing at this point, as I had consumed considerably more alcohol in the space of 4 hours than is recommended for a week.

I managed to get on the last train home and well aware that I was at risk of falling asleep and waking up in Brighton at 11pm, long after the last train back from there, I sent a message on twitter and to my sister to remind me to change trains at a 10:40. Spot on time, my sister phoned. I hadn’t fallen asleep (I don’t think) but I was able to get home fine and then randomly watch an episode of Father Ted on DVD before heading to bed. However, I was wide awake and stone cold sober at 5am on the Saturday.

So as I come to finish this now at just after 10:20pm on Saturday night, I’ve been up for a fair old while and am pretty tired, so I shall head off to bed and think about scheduling this for publication later in the week.

Book Review: The Metamorphosis and other stories by Franz Kafka

The first thing to note is that this is not a single novel but a collection of short stories, of which The Metamorphosis is the longest. I’ll review each story in turn. Another thing that ought to be noted is the translation. This is known as the “Dover Thrift Edition” and the introduction states, “These new translations, in idiomatic modern American English, attempt to be more complete and correct than the old British versions”. This instantly arouses suspicion, and these are well-founded as the text is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors which does spoil the enjoyment a little.

The Judgement

The collection opens with this little skit between a man and his bed-ridden father. The judgement of the title is the condemnation that the father passes down to the son at the very end of the story. This is not a particularly captivating story and I didn’t really see much depth in it, so won’t say any more.

The Metamorphosis

The longest story in this collection is really quite bizarre. The premise, given in the first sentence, is that a man wakes up and finds he has suddenly turned into a giant bug. Unwilling to show himself, he hides in his room and evades his family and his boss who comes to find him. When he does eventually reveal himself his family reject him, and he is confined to his room.

The story can be read on several different levels, which is why I think it has enduring appeal. On the surface, it could be just a piece of weird fiction where one element is distinctly sci-fi but all else is normal. Given that the man was a travelling salesman, it can also be read as the dehumanising process that modern business can have on people. If the focus is shifted to his family, then we could also see it as a parable on how disabled people are treated.

There are some incongruities in the story, though this may be due to the Americanised translation. Specifically, these relate a wound that appears on his side which is never explained and also later on in the story there are hints that his insect form has shrunk somewhat, though it is never made explicit. It is perhaps these ambiguities that ensure there is always room for debate.

In The Penal Colony

In my opinion, this was the best story of the collection and is more provoking than the more famous story above. It revolves around a torture/execution instrument. A visitor to the penal colony is shown his this machine works with the help of an officer who works there and is loyal to the old governor. The new governor is not convinced that the use of the machine has any future, and this was why he invited the visitor to inspect it.

The machine is described in some detail which I shan’t go into here. In short, a person is strapped naked, face-down on a table and a board with lots of needles on it hangs just above, and swings about, with the needles etching out a pattern on the person’s body. The pattern they etch out is related to the crime for which they are accused (though, as is very Kafka-esque, they are not informed beforehand what it is they are accused of). The injuries are always fatal.

[Spoiler alert]

Having explained how the machine works with a great deal of fondness for it, the officer begins to second-guess the purpose of the visitor’s inspection. He here begins his own defence of why it is necessary, but in so doing gives the condemnation himself. In an act that has strong resonances with that of the Easter passion, the officer pardons a prisoner mid-way through his sentence, strips naked and subjects himself to the machine. Only whereas before the the device etched out patterns in the back that were related to the crime, the setup is tampered with by the officer so that it simply punctures and impales him. He takes the punishment that was owed to a prisoner and puts it upon himself in the most brutal manner.

Only this time, there is no resurrection. The story is left hanging somewhat, but the richness of the story leaves the reader’s mind whirring with thoughts.

I fully expect to come back to this in the future, though it is not for the squeamish.

A Country Doctor

This is the shortest story of the collection and tells of a doctor as he does his rounds in a rural region. Much like the first story, there is very little of interest here and it can be skipped over without missing anything of any importance or interest.

A Report To The Academy

The final story in the collection is a letter, in which a “person” writes about their former life. Now it happens that their former life was spent as an ape. I could not help but think of the idea that this may have had some influence on the Planet of the Apes films. The emphasis, however, doesn’t really touch on the issues brought to the fore by the first 2 films of the series. Instead, the question posed is (in a very Philip K Dick-esque manner): what does it mean to be human?

It Is a short critique of how humans treat both themselves and others, especially others who are different from themselves. It is fairly thought-provoking, though I think some of the issues dealt with are not as significant in the 2010’s as they were in the 1910s, when it was first written.

Conclusion

The Metamorphosis and In The Penal Colony are far and away the best contributions to this collection of short stories. The others are OK, but there is nothing in them that really stands out as first rate writing, though as mentioned at the top, this may be because of the Americanised translation. But it is absolutely worth reading for the 2 stories mentioned alone.

Is this the worst email reply ever?

This week, the tv signal got switched off once and for all. In order to be able to watch tv, I would have to upgrade to digital. Now, since (as you can tell from recent posts) I am being made redundant, this is not a justifiable expense.

So I decided it would be better to cancel my tv license and get a partial refund. However, having gone through the rigmarole of the online form, at the end of it I was asked to print off another form which had to be posted along with supporting evidence as to why I no longer needed a license.

Now I’m all for backing stuff up with evidence. My background is, after all, scientific. But the list of things they suggested just didn’t match my circumstances. I don’t need a tv license because there is no signal any more. Evidence of the non-existence of something is very tricky to do!

So I asked this question of them:

I wish to cancel because the tv signal has been switched off. I cannot afford to upgrade to digital as I am losing my job. I have printed off an application for refund form but I have been asked for a piece of evidence backing up my reason. What would you consider to be admissible evidence for this reason?

Below is a copy of their reply, copied exactly from the email.

Dear Mr Meadows

Thank you for contacting us.

If a TV Licence isn?t needed again before it expires, we can refund any unused whole quarters of the fee (three month periods) remaining on the licence.  A refund cannot be given earlier than the date we receive the application without further evidence.

Your application must be submitted within two years of the expiry date of the licence for which you need a refund.

If you believe you are eligible, please visit tvlicensing.co.uk/refund. The form will tell you whether you need to send us any evidence. If you do, then you need to print the completed form, sign it and send it with a photocopy of your evidence to:

The Refund Centre
PO Box 410
Bristol
BS99 5HP

Alternatively please call us if you would like me to post a refund application form to you.

Please Note: As a signature is required, the application must be made in writing; we cannot accept emails, but we can accept a scanned signed copy.

I hope I?ve been able to explain the situation and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Mr W Kimball
TV Licensing

The frustration of the jobhunt

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

As I write this on Saturday afternoon, I know that I only have 5 working days left in my current job. Technically, I’ve not actually been informed I’m being made redundant; rather, my current role is “at risk of redundancy” and that it will not actually be determined until Friday, which is the day that my temporary contract expires.

So far, I have had 5 job interviews and have succeeded with none of them. The first one I have written about before. There was one more where it was very clear that I was not suited for the role, though I had been misled by the recruitment agent and he misled the company about me. After a few terse words, I told him I didn’t want to have anything to do with him any more.

These two were a waste of time, and were frustrating for that reason. But the other 3 were even more frustrating. These were jobs I had a real shot at. Two of them involved a greater level of direct involvement with the commerce side of the business. In my current role, I am very much back office staff, and my day to day interactions are with the company directors, account managers and other finance staff;  I have no need to interact with sales and to do so would be overstepping my mandate, besides the fact that I have nothing to talk to them about.

Yet this was my downfall for 2 of the interviews. So on this basis, I have had to revise my short term goals and avoid anything that has a commercial aspect, as I will not lie in an interview situation. But every time I mention that I working with commerce would be something I’d look forward to, the level of interest on the part of the interviewer drops.

The last one was the most frustrating of all. The job description was the most similar to my current role and 90% of it I could have done with next to no training at all. The only difference was the software systems they use, though I am very adept at picking up new software skills and quickly surpassing those who teach me. One part of the job description was to line-manage a graduate student. In my current role, I am nobody’s line manager, though I do have lots of people reporting into me.

Yet someone else they interviewed was currently line-managing an ACA student. I had really high hopes for this role, as it was walking distance from home and I got on really well the group financial controller. The interview had been due to be an hour, but ran on for an extra 20 minutes, the close of which I had been asked about my salary expectations, notice period and availability for second interview. Talk about getting someone’s hopes up!

So where am I now? Pretty much back at square one. I am due to have an interview sometime this week, though I have not been given a time for it. I’m putting my CV out on more and more websites, which usually ends up with a flurry of phonecalls, but it often seems more like fuss than progress. By now, I’ve had the same conversation with so many different people that I’m starting to lose track of who I’ve spoken to. At one recruitment consultancy, I keep speaking to different people, so every time they call me and they say I’ve spoken to one of their colleagues, I have no recollection of whether or not that’s true. I decided to just call them all ‘Mark.’

When I get sent a job specification that is unsuitable for me (often because they lack the understanding that when I say I’m willing to commute up to, but not more than, a total 3 hours per day) that they send me job specs for roles that are in Berkshire, or other places that are a 2.5 hour commute each way. It is interesting to note that are very few jobs in the local area, which is very blue in the political sense. The places where all the majority of new roles are being created tend to be in Labour constituencies; it certainly casts an interesting perspective as to which of the 2 main parties is more pro-employment.

The odd thing about job hunting is that when you think you are on the brink of being employed, you can suddenly find yourself as far as ever, yet not knowing when the right job spec will come under your radar or when you may get called for interview, you can also be extremely close to finding a job before you realise it.

So as a question of epistemology, you never know when you are close and I try not to get my hopes up too much. Because the range of emotions that exist create the illusion of being close to a job, and it is when the rejections come that I feel furthest from getting a job.

It’s like trying to jump over a narrow stream. Even if you get 95% of the way across, you still end up with mud on your face. From the feedback I’ve had, there’s nothing wrong with my run-up or take-off. I’ve just got to keep going, but there now seem to be fewer streams to traverse, as I’ve had a go at most of those around.

Book Review: The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles by P.N. Harrison

My motivation for reading this book came from a post from Gurdur where he stated:

 “A fair bit formally credited to him is not his work (probably 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews not being his)”

It was by no means the first time I’ve heard that stated, but wanted to do was examine the evidence. Where I looked around for references, all I could see were references to “most scholars” or some very vague hand-wavey arguments. It was surprisingly hard to pin down anything resembling original research. Eventually, all the roads that didn’t lead to dead ends ultimately ended up at this book.

It is free to download, but I’m not a fan of e-books so it has taken several months to find a long enough weekend (I read this over Easter) to read the ~200 page pdf file on my laptop.

The opening section contains a very brief outline of the “problem” which forms the title of the book and the approach that the author intends to take in order to tackle the problem.

The problem is stated as the questions over who wrote the books (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus), when were they written and why were they written. Harrison states that his technique is to be open-minded and to review the evidence as independently as possible, without giving any reverence or special treatment to any one point of view. However, he goes straight from this into his giving his conclusion which, in summary, is that Paul did not write the entirety of the books but that they were written by a follower of his in the early 2nd century who had access to some personal notes that Paul did write to Timothy and Titus, where phrases from these are incorporated into the letters as we presently know them.

So that problem that the reader is faced with from the outset is that we have an author who professes all the right things we want to hear for an ‘objective’ view of history but who in the next breath disregards this with a piece of polemic setting out his conclusions in advance of the evidence. To me, it doesn’t matter that he comes out against Pauline authorship, the verdict on the scholarship would be the same if he had pre-emptively concluded in favour of Pauline authorship. The rest of the book then set about trying to give justification for these views.

The main argument focuses on what Harrison refers to as Hapax Legomena, which is a shorthand of saying words which appear in the Pastoral epistles which don’t appear anywhere else in the New Testament (NT). Of course, this refers to the number of Greek words rather than any translation. Curiously the statistical basis on which this is based is the number of such words per page. This is then reliant on the particular edition used and appears quite arbitrary. Another analysis referred to, which Harrison rightly disparages, is the number of unique words per chapter. This is course is dependent on the arbitrary chapter divisions which was made much later than the composition of the letters. Yet the irony of using the number of words on a page is lost on Harrison. It seems to me much more reasonable that the rate of unique words per 1,000 would be much more specific and comparable with other works.

In short, the number of unique words per page in the pastoral epistles is much higher than in the rest of the Paul’s works. There is also a brief discussion on apparent “omissions” where words and phrases (very commonly ‘connecting’ words) which are common in the rest of Paul’s works are not present in the Pastorals.

With the arbitrary nature of the statistical analysis aside, there are plenty of other objections that may be raised against Harrison’s hypothesis and he does duly take note of some of these. Those that jumped to my mind included:

  • The fact that the Pastorals were written to individuals whereas most of the rest of the Pauline letters were to churches.
  • The subject matter of the pastorals is very different from the rest of the Paul’s writings, so it should be no surprise that a slightly different vernacular is used.
  • There is no comparison to other writers and how their usage of words varies across their works.
  • The real significance of the variances considering that the whole of Paul’s recorded works is really very small, especially when considered against the Lucan corpus or the collected works of any other contemporary writers.
  • The assumption in the statistical analysis that what we have preserved represents the entirety of Paul’s writings.

Harrison attempts to answer some of these critiques, but not all. For those that he does tackle, his treatment is not convincing. In his response to the first point, he points out the example Philemon, which was written to an individual. This is, however, the shortest of Paul’s writings and so to draw on that as a source of statistical significance seems suspiciously spurious.

Harrison also tries to address the second, but the argument presented carries no weight, moves to a side-issue and never actually answers the challenge.

For the third point, he makes of comparison with Shakespeare, where a similar analysis has been done. Now the results of the Shakespeare survey does in fact show the same level of variance between his plays as Paul’s writings does (including the Pastoral epistles). This would seem to counteract Harrison’s proposition, though his defence is that the Shakespeare model has a fairly continuous range, with the number of unique words per page not only spanning a range, but filling it is as well. The contrast with Paul is that there appears to be one range for 10 of his letters and then a large jump to the Pastorals; a fact which is demonstrated by numerous graphs.

The fourth and fifth points are never addressed and so any meaningful statement of significance is somewhat lacking.

Moving on from this, Harrison looks at a collection of 2nd century christian writers. This is to look at his conclusion (determined before the examination, remember) that the pastoral epistles were composed in the 2nd century. Here, there is some consideration given to the paucity of writings we have available, though interestingly he never considers alternative 1st & 2nd century writers other than those of the New Testament. For example, I would have considered it reasonable to compare Pauline grammar with that of Josephus and Tacitus, but they are noticeable by their absence from this analysis. At least these would form a better comparison than Shakespeare, writing around a millenium & a half later.

The other point that Harrison misses is that Paul was a significant thought-leader of his time. So the fact that some of his grammatical structures appear to have parallels in 2nd century writings could indicate that it wasn’t necessarily composed then, but rather that there is possibility that those who followed adopted Paul’s pioneering writing style.

The last section of the book is very different in character. Here, Harrison posits that the pastoral epistles, and in particular 2 Timothy, contain some of Paul’s genuine writings. He does this by posing further questions on the authenticity of the composition of the writings. Specifically, he asks when and where they were written. First and foremost in his crosshairs is the idea that Paul was imprisoned twice in Rome and that the letters were written during the 2nd imprisonment. In outline, the idea is that the details of the 2nd imprisonment are so closely aligned with the 1st so as to the make them indistinguishable and therefore show that they were in fact one and the same.

Having ‘plucked out’ the genuine elements of 2 Timothy, Harrison then constructs what he believes to be Paul’s actual writing before giving a short commentary on this passage.

Conclusion

I do not find Harrison’s conclusions to be as firmly grounded as he does. That is not to say that I affirm the Pastoral Epistles are unquestionably 100% Paul’s writings. This work does provide evidence which casts doubt on such a proclamation. Yet the evidence presented fails to take into account the relative paucity of the volume of the writings and the comparisons made to other writers (such as Shakespeare). As such the declaration that the vast majority of the work are not of Paul’s origin and that only a small section of 2 Timothy may be rightly credited to him is unconvincing.

So where does that leave us? I neither confirm nor deny Paul’s authorship of these letters. I remain with doubts in my mind and have not seen any evidence presented here or elsewhere to push me off the fence on direction or another.