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I have not given away a book on Reading Acts in a while, but a giveaway is a good way to overcome the summer blogging malaise.  I recently reviewed Gerald McDermott’s recent book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2017).  I ended up with two copies, so I am offer a copy to a reader of this blog.

From my review:

Gerald McDermott edited a volume of essays on the status of Israel in the current age (The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, InterVarsity Press, 2016). The volume included essays by two scholars associated with progressive dispensationalism (Darrell bock and Craig Blaising), two writers associated with the Philos Project (an organization which promotes positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, Robert Nicholson and Shadi Khallou), two writers who edited an Introduction to Messianic Judaism (Zondervan, 2013; Joel Willitts and David Rudolph). This new volume by Brazos Press is an attempt to present the ideas of this previous work at a popular level.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on June 21, 2017.

mcknight-galatiansToday is the day I pick a winner for a hardback copy of the NIVAC commentary by Scot McKnight on Galatians.

There were 23 comments (after I deleted some duplicates), so I pasted your names in a spreadsheet, sorted them randomly, then generated a random number at random.org.

And the winner is…..

Sam Van Eerden

Congrats to Sam! His favorite commentary on Galatians was Leon Morris, but I think F. F. Bruce was the most popular among the comments, with Luther getting honorable mention. Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP.

If you have not already done so, head over to Jennifer Guo’s blog, she is giving away the NIVAC volume on Psalms by Gerald Wilson. You have until 11/13 and several ways to enter to win the Psalms commentary. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I have another book or two to give away soon. You can follow this blog or follow me on twitter (@plong42) to hear about future book giveaways.

Thanks to Zondervan for providing this book for the giveaway. Zondervan is offering the 42 volumes of the NIV Application commentary for $4.99 each for a limited time. You have until November 13, 2016 (11:59pm ET) to purchase any volume of this series in an eBook format for only $4.99. They also have a few “bundles” which offer more savings.

Papandrea, James L. The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 144 pgs., Pb.; $18.00 Link to IVP

In his introduction, Papandrea explains the challenged faced in the post-apostolic era. Jesus taught and did miracles, was raised from the dead. This lead to the worship of Jesus from the very beginning of Christianity (15). There were good reasons to understand Jesus as divine, yet he suffered and died on the cross. It was difficult for the first few generations to reconcile Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. If Jesus was God, then he ought to be immutable; how then could he live as a human?

Papandrea-ChristologyPapandrea has limited his study to the post-apostolic age, primarily the second century. One reason is to avoid monarchic modalism which flourished in the third century and was a Trinitarian heresy rather than an attempt to explain who Jesus was. It also limits the discussion to the period before Arianism, a far more complicated view of Jesus worthy of a monograph on its own. By limiting himself to the second century, Papandrea has set a manageable goal for a short monograph. He does, however, mention both modalism and Arianism as the legacy of adoptionism in his final chapter.

As believers genuinely struggled with defining who (or what) Jesus was, several competing views emerged. Papandrea places these views along a continuum, beginning with Angel Adoptionism and Spirit Adoptionism, both of which emphasize the humanity of Jesus. He then describes Docetic Gnosticism and a hybrid form of Gnosticism emphasize the divinity of Jesus, concluding eventually Jesus a kind of “Cosmic Mind” devoid of humanity.

These four views might be called heresy, and they certainly were by the time Christians began to define orthodoxy. But Papandrea rightly points out these views all represent the sincere efforts of genuine Christians within the church to make sense of the difficult problem of who Jesus claimed to be. For the most part, these views “grew up rather organically or around certain teachers” (15).

Each chapter begins with a short definition of a view of who Christ was and a short survey of the literature used by the group. Angel Adoptionism is associated with Ebionism and may be represented in the eighth Sibylline Oracle, the Shepherd of Hermas, and (perhaps) an edited version of Matthew’s Gospel. Angel Adoptionism essentially believed that Jesus was a righteous human who was rewarded by God with the gift of an angelic spirit, called Christ. Similarly, Ebionites were also associated with Spirit Adoptionism, in which the man Jesus was given the Holy Spirit like an Old Testament prophet. Relying on the Gospel of the Nazarenes (possibly another name for Matthew, perhaps in Aramaic) and apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, this group also rejected the preexistence of Jesus as well as the virgin birth.

Docetic Gnosticism is an early form of Gnosticism which held that Jesus only appeared to be human. It is customary to cite 1 John as engaging this form of early Christology, although Papandrea suggests Docetists may have used a text like 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” to support their view of Jesus. If he was human (flesh and blood), then how can he ascend to heaven? Papandrea suggests some documents in the Nag Hammadi library may have been Docetic, especially the Thomas traditions (Gospel and Acts of Thomas) as well as the Acts of John. In this book, Jesus is not only intangible, he is invisible (55)!

Papandrea’s fourth view is a hybrid form of Gnosticism which thought of Jesus as a “Cosmic Mind.” The problem for Docetism is that there are too many stories about Jesus eating for him to have been some sort of phantom. He therefore suggests later Gnosticism was also a variation on adoptionism. He cites the Carpocrations and Sethians, and the teachers Basilides and Valentinius as examples of this view that a cosmic mind inhabited Jesus unto the crucifixion. The mind abandoned the man Jesus at that point, or switches bodies with Simon of Cyrene (73). Papandrea is sensitive to the wide variety of Gnostic teaching in this period and he is well-aware there was no standard view. But proposing this new category of “hybrid Gnosticism” he hopes to highlight the elements of Gnosticism which see divinity as a spark within humans while avoiding hedonistic aspects of Gnosticism appearing later.

At the center of his continuum, Papandrea places Logos Christology as a balance between the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The view opposes adoptionism by arguing Jesus pre-exists as the Logos, part of the Godhead, and develops a view of incarnation that can affirm a real bodily death and resurrection of Jesus. This eventual orthodox formulation is represented by Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Tertullian.

Finally, Papandrea concludes with a short chapter asking “what is orthodoxy?” To a certain extent, the orthodox view is the middle course between two extremes. Rather than asking “humanity or divinity?” the orthodox view sought to balance both since both were part of the apostolic preaching. Papandrea points out the important implications of adoptionism or Docetism have for the resurrection of Jesus. Neither adoptionism nor Gnosticism leave room for union with God at the resurrection, so that only Logos Christology affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus (117).

Conclusion. This book makes a good supplemental reading for a systematic or historical theology class. Papandrea clearly and fairly presents the non-orthodox position and is to be applauded for avoiding the language of heresy for many of these positions. The orthodox view of the two natures of Jesus simply had not developed in the second century. He also avoids any of the conspiracy theories often present in a popular presentation of this period of history. It is not the case that orthodoxy suppressed the more spiritual (or liberal) Gnostics. The second century was a time when honest Christians struggled to make sense Jesus’ own question, “who do people say that I am?”

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on August 2, 2016 on Reading Acts.

 

Samuel-AdamsI have a huge pile of papers to grade before the end of the semester, so I have decided to do a little spring cleaning in my office instead of dispatch my responsibilities.

I have an extra copy of Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarstiy, 2015).

Alan J. Torrance (University of St. Andrews) says “Adams draws on the immense strengths in Wright’s program while offering critical yet constructive theological engagement of a kind that significantly advances the discussion of his work. As such it is an outstanding theological introduction to what Wright is seeking to accomplish that should also inspire and challenge biblical scholars and theologians to examine the interface between their work and the essential affirmations of the Christian faith. Not only should this book prove invaluable to academics and students alike, but its lucidity and eloquence should also make it accessible to a wider audience. Highly recommended!”

This is the first book in a new monograph series from IVP Academic which hopes to publish the work of younger scholars in systematic, historical philosophical and practical theology.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment mentioning  Or just leave your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on Monday, April 25.

Logos Bible Software is going with a historical text for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. They are offering Athanasius’s On the Incarnation of the Word of God in the Logos library and they will add a free audio version of the book shen production is complete. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 296–298 – Athanasius373)  wrote just before the rise of Arianism in AD 319. This is his best-known work and addressed to a recent Christian convert.  On the Incarnation “laid the foundation for the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as the noble champion of Christ.” (Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, 18).

This edition was published in 1903 by the Religious Tract Society, although the text first appeared in the third volume of the Christian Classics Series in 1887. T. Herbert Bindley revised that translation and wrote an introduction to the book and a summary of each chapter (about 40 pages). The second part of the book contains a refutation of the Jews and the Gentiles, providing a window into evangelistic apologetics of the fourth century.

Athanasius-of-AlexandriaFor a mere $2 more, you can add Tertullian’s Against Praxeas. Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) wrote this text to combat the rise of Sabellianism. This edition was published by A. Souter in 1920 by SPCK. The 25-page introduction outlines a basic introduction to Tertullian’s life and includes a brief synopsis of Against Praxeas. 

I notice On the Incarnation is the free Verbum book this month, but for 99 cents you can purchase Historical Tracts of St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria translated and edited by John Henry Newman (the volume contains the encyclical epistles of St. Athanasius).  Noet is giving away a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in exchange for an email address.

As always, Logos is giving away something related to the Free Book, so you can enter to win Enter to win Life and Works of Athanasius the Great (7 vols., $89.99 value). Enter early, enter often, but the free book offer and contest ends on April 30.

 

 

Michael Bird - The Gospel of the LordToday is the day I pick a winner for Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans, 2014). There were 46 people signed up (there were more comments, but I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-57, and the winner is…..

Craig Benno

Congrats to Craig, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will whip the book to you ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I will probably run another giveaway in a couple of weeks.

As for the Gospels scholar people are most thankful for, N.T. Wright led the list with six votes, followed by Michael Bird with five. I was hoping for a tie so I could schedule a steel-cage death match to decide a winner. Scot McKnight had three votes followed by R.T. France, Jonathan Pennington, Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson, Craig Blomberg, Chris Tilling and Ben Witherington with two each. Thanks to everyone who offered their favorite scholar, there were many good suggestions, it is worth looking over the list for a basic reading list for Gospels studies.

NB: This book was my own personal copy; it was not provided by the publisher.

Reading Scripture

Today is the day I pick a winner for these two excellent books. There were 57 people signed up (62 comments, but I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-57, and the winner is…..

Alan Jones

Congrats to Alan, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will pop these in the mail ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I will probably run another giveaway in a couple of weeks.

The contest was for a copy of Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers Paperback (IVP 1998) and Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century-Essays In Honor of Thomas C. Oden (IVP 2002), edited by Kenneth Tanner  Christopher Hall. The Festscrhrift for Thomas Oden includes essays by Richard John Neuhaus, Alan Padgett, J. I. Packer, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Carl Braaten, Stanley Grenz, Bradley Nassif, Thomas Howard. These were my own personal copies and were not provided by the publisher.

Reading ScriptureIt is August, so it is just about time to start thinking about “back to school.” In fact, I have just started teaching an OT Survey course in an August intensive format, so to celebrate a new school year, I am going to give away a couple of Church History books.

I have extra copies of Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers Paperback (IVP 1998) and Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century-Essays In Honor of Thomas C. Oden (IVP 2002), edited by Kenneth Tanner  Christopher Hall. The Festscrhrift for Thomas Oden includes essays by Richard John Neuhaus, Alan Padgett, J. I. Packer, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Carl Braaten, Stanley Grenz, Bradley Nassif, Thomas Howard.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment mentioning , or at least your name.  I suppose some other snarky comment will do as well.  I will announce the winner picked at random on August 21.

Chung-Kim, Esther and Todd R. Hains, editors. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 6. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014.  430 pp. Hc; $40.00.  Link

This is the latest installment in the Reformation Commentary Series (RCS). Following in the footsteps of the popular Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture from InterVarsity, this commentary collects key sections from Reformation commentators and presents them in an accessible format for the modern reader. Esther Chung-Kim is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College specializing in the History of World Christianity and Todd Hains is a PhD candidate in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity.

Timothy George’s General Introduction to the RCS is a good 23 page refresher on what constitutes the literature of the Reformation in terms of chronology and confession. There is far more to read from this period than just Luther and Calvin. This commentary therefore includes Erasmus as a biblical humanist as well as obvious examples from (Wittenberg, Luther; Strasbourg, Bucer; Zurich, Zwingli; Geneva, Calvin). There are also examples from the British reformation (including John Donne and William Perkins) and a few from the Anabaptist tradition.

RefCommentaryThe editors draw together a few key themes in their introduction to the commentary on Acts. First, the reformation commentators thought of themselves as “actors on the same stage” as the apostles in Acts. Acts was not history to a writer like John Donne, it is the story of what continues to happen in the present experience of the Church. In fact, Acts provided Reformation commentators an opportunity to discuss the “office of the Word,” or how one goes about preaching the Gospel. An additional interest of the Reformation commentators is baptism. This is not surprising given the variety of views sacrament during this period of history as well as the inconsistency of Acts in portraying the rite. In the body of this commentary, diverse opinions are included, so that from the text of Acts 2:42 Michael Sattler (a Swiss radical, 1490-1527) can argue circumcision is not a type of baptism, Peter Walpot (a Moravian radical, d. 1578) can dismiss infant baptism, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) argues in favor of efficacious infant baptism (p. 32-33). Luther can turn Paul’s baptism in Acts 9 into a defense of infant baptism, while Leonhard Schiemer (an Austrian martyr, d. 1528) uses the same text to argue for believer’s baptism (146-7).

Another interest of the Reformation commentaries on Acts is treatment of the poor. The church had to deal with the poor in a world that was rapidly changing. While Calvin and the Geneva reformers sought to create a kind of social welfare system to assist the poor, immigrants and others displaced by political turmoil, the radical reformers were abolishing personal property and living lives of voluntary poverty. Obviously the Munster radicals did not write commentaries on Acts, but the model of Acts 2:42-47 was taken seriously. Peter Walpot is included as a voice declaring personal property to be the source of all kinds of sin, while Calvin and others argue for the proper use of property from the same texts.

One of the most important themes of Acts which resonated with the Reformation commentators is suffering for the faith. As Chung-Kim and Hains state, the Reformation “caused a revolution in the Christian theology of suffering” (liv). Menno Simons, for example, describes Paul’s suffering at Lystra as an example of the “misery, tribulation, persecution, bonds, fear and death” that attests the Spirit of Liberty (198).

The body of the commentary begins with the ESV text of Acts followed by a brief overview of the pericope. The editors then collect brief extracts from Reformation commentaries in two columns, providing a short summarizing heading in bold type. The name of the writer appears first in small caps, followed by the extract. Latin is given in brackets when necessary. The entry concludes with the name of the work and a footnote provides the reader necessary bibliographic information on the entry. There are no sidebars or explanations of the details of the text of Acts (with the exception of a chart on the Herodian dynasty in Acts 12, p. 162). Since the purpose of the commentary is to report the interpretations of the Reformers, this is to be expected.

The book concludes with several appendices, including a map of Europe during the Reformation and a timeline for events in the Reformation countries for the years 1337-1691. There is a 23 page collection of biographical sketches of the Reformers collected in the commentary as well as short descriptions of key documents and confessions of the period. A bibliography of primary sources is included along with several indices. The bibliography lists online resources where available.

Conclusion. Like the Ancient Christian Commentary series, this book is not a commentary on the text Bible as much as a collection of observations Acts drawn from a narrow range of history. While some of these issues seem obtuse to the modern reader, many questions the Reformation raised when they read Acts are similar in nature to what Christians ask 500 years later. The editors of the volume are to be commended for culling through a massive literature in order to find salient points of contact over this long period of church history.

One contribution of the series is to provide English translations for some Reformers who have yet to be translated. By arranging these readings in a semi-topical fashion, the editors make it quite easy for the non-expert to read what might be an overwhelming and bewildering commentary. A good introduction to reading Reformation writers for those interested is Reading Scripture with the Reformers by the Reformed Commentary series editor Timothy George.

 

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Graves, Michael. The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What the Early Church Can Teach Us. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2014. 201 pp. Pb; $24.00.  Link

Michael Graves (Armerding Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College) is a well-qualified student of the literature of the early church. He is the author of a monograph on Jerome’s Hebrew Philology (Vigiliae Christianae Supplements, Brill, 2007) and he translated Jerome’s Commentary on Jeremiah (Ancient Christian Texts, IVP, 2012). This monograph is focused on how the early church understood Scripture as well as how they interpreted it. In general, the earliest Christians readers of the Bible regarded it as true, but they approached Scripture with methods “very much at home within the cultural context of the Greco-Roman world” (9). That Scripture was “inspired by God” is axiomatic for these interpreters, the implications of the inspiration of Scripture are in many ways different than what a modern reader of the Bible might assume to be the case.

Graves, InspirationGraves develops twenty “entailments” of the early Church doctrine of inspiration arranged into five chapters. In each chapter he defines his thesis (“Scripture is useful for instruction” or “Scripture has multiple senses,” etc.)  In most cases he illustrates how non-Christian writers had similar commitments to their sacred literature, often using Philo or rabbinic literature, and occasionally the Qu’ran. Graves then illustrates the thesis in the writings of the church fathers. Origin, Jerome and Augustine are the often cited, but he demonstrates his thesis with a wide variety of fathers. He then makes a few evaluative comments on how the early church differs from modern approaches to Scripture. For some of his entailments, there is little difference between the ancient and modern views. For some of the hermeneutical sections, however, the difference between modern approaches to Scripture and the early church is quite striking.

First, Scripture is useful. All early Christians not only accepted Scripture as useful for instruction (2 Tim 3:16), but also that every detail of scripture has meaning. Even peculiar or extraneous details could be mined for theological significance. Graves illustrates this with Ephrem the Syrian’s interpretation of the three decks of Noah’s ark in Gen 6:16 as representing the three levels of Paradise. Numbers were frequently allegorized, so that the 318 men who helped Abram in Gen 14:14 represented Jesus, since the abbreviation for Jesus in Greek adds up to 18, and the symbol for 300 is tau, which looks like a cross (24-25). Most modern readers would find little in these methods.

Second, Scripture has a spiritual dimension. Because of this spiritual dimension, divine illumination is necessary to interpret the Bible. Only a believer has the spiritual acumen to understand the various “senses” of Scripture. In fact, the spiritual sense was more important than the literal. Unlike modern readers of scripture who demand close attention to the literal sense (although rarely agreeing on what “literal sense” means), most writers in the early church cared little literal meaning of Scripture. Graves comments that “virtually all Christians in antiquity believed that the Old Testament laws should be understood as teaching spiritual truths instead of practices to be observed (51). Augustine famously said that the Old Testament was death to him when he took it literally, only the spiritual sense made it alive. One of the key ways the early church found spiritual meaning in the Old Testament was to find predictions of the life of Jesus in the stories of the Old Testament. This is of course what the writers of the New Testament did, the earliest writers simply expanded on this method.

Third, the early church recognized that Scripture often employs modes of expression that are sometimes puzzling. There are “riddles and enigmas” to solve, but this is not too different than the approach of Greek readers to their own classical documents. Allegorical interpretation of mythic literature was common, even Homer was allegorized to discover deeper, philosophical meanings. The early church writers believed God hid deeper truths in the Scripture in order to reach people at different levels of spirituality and to encourage people to seek deeper things. Like many post-modern philosophical texts, obscure and enigmatic language was thought to better communicate profound ideas. Unfortunately, many of the earliest writers took this to the extreme of finding “deeper meanings” even in the etymology of a word, especially names. While a modern scholar recognizes creative use of language by the writers of the Bible (such as wordplay), few would be convinced by this method today. Since Scripture employed enigmatic expressions, it ought to be appreciated as fine literature. This was not appreciated early, since in translation the artistry of the original Hebrew was lost, but eventually early church writers described the Bible as artistic and having “marvelous sublimity” (79).

Fourth, Graves deals with the problem of historical accuracy of Scripture. In the twentieth century, the historicity of Scripture has been far more controversial than any of the other “entailments to inspiration” in this book. Recent inerrancy debates concerning the accuracy of the Old Testament (historical Adam, etc.) would make as little sense to the ancient writers as their allegorizing numbers makes to us. Nevertheless, writes such as Augustine and Jerome sought to answer potential objections raised by the pagans. Augustine thought Scripture, “when rightly interpreted, will never contradict what we learn from the natural world, when the facts have been correctly understood” (97). Not only was Scripture factual, it will not conflict with “pagan learning.” This should not be a surprise since most of the ancient writers had typical classical educations in Greek philosophy. Commenting on Genesis 1 Basil said the findings of natural science and Scripture are fully compatible (96). This is would be a remarkable thing to say today, since science dismisses Scripture entirely and (some) conservative Christians dismiss the findings of science as a vague conspiracy against Christianity.

Fifth, Scripture agrees with truth. On the one hand, all of Scripture is consistent and self-confirming. The ancient writers often harmonized details between the testaments since they were committed to the fact that Scripture does not deceive. For someone like Augustine, this means reports in Scripture of David’s adultery (for example) are accurate even if this implies David was far from saintly.  Scripture is true, even if some of the characters in Scripture are bad people. Since the focus of Scripture is God, any teaching derived from Scripture ought to be “worthy of God” himself. For a writer like Origen, the stories of Joshua’s slaughter of the Canaanites was disturbing, but his allegorical interpretation of the events brought the teaching of Scripture into harmony with the nature of God.

Conclusion. For some modern interpreters of Scripture, the commentaries of the earliest church are so foreign that they seem of little value. I confess that I struggle to be interested in ancient commentaries and theological texts. At less than 150 pages without the end notes, this book offers a useful introduction to a complex topic for even the non-specialist.

After surveying this material, Graves says that reading the earlier writers of the church offers insight into the “rich and complex reading of Scripture” which “underscores the element of subjectivity involved in interpretation” (147). Every generation of the church has attempted to read Scripture as an authoritative revelation from God, but also to read Scripture within the culture of the day. Perhaps this is the warning of a book like this: what seems to be the proper method of interpretation today may seem strange in a hundred years. What lasts is the commitment to read and apply Scripture as God’s word.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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