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Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby Last One » Tue Feb 19, 2019 5:40 pm

I said that if I were to tell someone something was "true," that I would have to have evidence to support that it was true. My mom's pastor responded that he didn't feel like his job was to tell people the truth, it was to be a shepherd and bring people to Jesus. I think that was his way of justifying lying to people because he knows he doesn't have evidence to support his beliefs as "true." If anything he said brought people to Jesus, that was good enough. What do you think?
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 19, 2019 5:45 pm

> I were to tell someone something was "true," that I would have to have evidence to support that it was true.

Correct. We have to support the truth with substantiation and evidence.

> My mom's pastor responded that he didn't feel like his job was to tell people the truth, it was to be a shepherd and bring people to Jesus.

If I may say, this sounds horrible. Say what? If it's not his job to tell the truth, to be blunt I'd say he's missing the whole point of being a preacher.

> I think that was his way of justifying lying to people because he knows he doesn't have evidence to support his beliefs as "true."

Well, I don't about that guy, but of course Christians have evidence to support our beliefs as true.

> If anything he said brought people to Jesus, that was good enough.

Horrible. Just atrocious. That's what I think. Yuck.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby Last One » Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:35 pm

Thanks for your comment. How my mom's pastor different from any pastor? His response actually made me respect him in a strange way because I think it made him acknowledge that he didn't know but actually just believed. I hope this makes him think more about whether his belief is justified. I don't think he's lacking the evidence that other pastors have. I think he was acknowledging a flaw in his belief, in a subtle way.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:38 pm

> How my mom's pastor different from any pastor?

I have never in my life heard any pastor say such a thing, and I've heard HUNDREDS. I would say that dude is very different from many other pastors.

> it made him acknowledge that he didn't *know* but actually just *believed*.

It's a misunderstanding of the nature of faith to say that knowledge is different from belief. It's a false dichotomy.

In the Bible, faith is evidentiary. I define Biblical faith as "making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable." In my opinion, belief is always a choice, and is always based on evidence. When you sit down in a chair, you didn’t think twice about sitting down. You believe that the chair will hold you. Faith? Yes. You've sat in chairs hundreds of times, but you can't be absolutely sure it will hold you this time. Things do break on occasion. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sit down. That's faith, and it was a conscious choice based on a reasonable body of evidence. It's not really an opinion, but an assumption of truth based on evidence.

Almost all of life works this way because we can never know what lies ahead. Every time you turn a door knob you are expressing faith, because 10,000 times you've turned a door knob, and it opened the door. So you turn the knob and move forward. Does it always work that way? No. Sometimes you turn the knob and the door doesn't open. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you walk forward in faith.

We know chairs hold people. That's past experience and learning. We know turning door knobs open doors. We know that when we turn a key a car starts. But every time we turn a car key, we do it because we believe it will start. The evidence is compelling, and it was a conscious choice. We don't know for sure that the car will start, and unfortunately sometimes it doesn't. Then we use our knowledge to try to figure out what to do about it. We dial our phone (as an act of faith, assuming it will work and help us reach another person), and try to get help.

You'll notice in the Bible that evidence precedes faith. Faith doesn't pertain to "opinion" or just "belief" in the Bible. There is no "close your eyes and jump off a cliff" and good luck to ya! God appears to Moses in a burning bush before He expects him to believe. He gave signs to take back to Pharaoh and the Israelite people, so they could see the signs before they were expected to believe. So also through the whole OT. In the NT, Jesus started off with turning water into wine, healing some people, casting out demons, and then he taught them about faith. And they couldn't possibly understand the resurrection until there was some evidence to go on. The whole Bible is God revealing himself to us all—and I mean actually, not through some exercise of faith.

My faith in God is a conscious choice because I find the evidence compelling. It's in a different category than blind belief. It's an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for me to make that assumption. When you read the Bible, people came to Jesus to be healed because they had heard about other people who had been healed. They had seen other people whom Jesus had healed. People had heard him teach. Their faith was based on evidence. Jesus kept giving them new information, and they gained new knowledge from it. Based on that knowledge, they acted with more faith. People came to him to make requests. See how it works? My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all. The resurrection, for instance, has evidences that give it credibility that motivate me to believe in it. My faith in the resurrection is an assumption of truth based on enough evidence that makes it reasonable to hold that assumption. Jesus could have just ascended to heaven, the disciples figured out that he had prophesied it, and went around telling people He rose. But that's not what happened. He walked around and let them touch him, talk to him, eat with him, and THEN he said, "Believe that I have risen from the dead." The same is true for my belief in the existence of God, my belief that the Bible is God's word, and my understanding of how life works.

> I think he was acknowledging a flaw in his belief, in a subtle way.

Well, don't think that all Christians accept such a flaw.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby Last One » Wed Feb 20, 2019 10:51 am

Thanks for your comment. The first part of your comment is a good explanation of inductive reasoning: we have evidence for lots of things but when expectations don't match reality we know that those explanations are really probabilities. The failures all have solutions in the natural world. The faulty doorknob or car both have natural solutions. When you move to the supernatural, this analogy isn't very good because we don't have the body of evidence to support believing anything: no supernatural doorknobs, cars or gods are evident in the physical world for us to know. When you talk about stories in the Bible, those are not evidence any more than stories of Zeus, Baal or Ra are evidence. If you believe your preferred story is true, that isn't evidence or the existence of all of those other gods would also be true. What do you think? Thank you!
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 20, 2019 10:51 am

> The failures all have solutions in the natural world. The faulty doorknob or car both have natural solutions. When you move to the supernatural, this analogy isn't very good because we don't have the body of evidence to support believing anything: no supernatural doorknobs, cars or gods are evident in the physical world for us to know.

Here's where we disagree. According to the Bible, God works in the natural world using natural items and even sometimes natural phenomena (an east wind that blows all night to part the seas). Though there are no supernatural doorknobs, there are very natural iron axeheads that float, very natural seas that part, very natural bread and fish that multiply, and at the time there was a substantial and undeniable body of evidence to support what happened to lead people to belief in their reality. Our "problem" is that none of these leave behind any material artifacts or evidence that can be studied. While at the time there was convincing natural evidence of a supernatural occurrence, for us it's a cold case, and we can't go back and have a re-do.

When we talk about the stories in the Bible, we cannot assess the original material evidences we have to rely on the testimony of those who saw it. Evidence, at its core, is ANYTHING presented in support of an assertion. It might be strong or weak. In the Bible, we have a little bit of material and direct evidence (archaeological artifacts), some circumstantial evidence (such as "the birth of the Church speaks to the truth of the resurrection"), documentary evidence (corroborating historical documents), and testimony. Testimony is all the evidence that remains for the miracles, and such testimony is admissible in court and is believed under certain conditions. Its strength depends on the reliability of the source. It doesn't mean we have to close our eyes and believe blindly. The combination of the evidences (material, direct, circumstantial, documentary, and testimonial) add up to allow us to make reasonable inferences about the veracity of the biblical account. This surmounting of evidence puts the Bible in a complete different league than Zeus, Baal, or Ra. The Bible is a historical account of God working in history and with natural phenomena that had verifiable evidence at the time. Zeus, Baal, and Ra aren't even in the same league.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby Last One » Wed Feb 20, 2019 1:32 pm

Hi thanks for your response. That was well stated. I think my issue is that I can't tell the difference between a story in the Bible that actually happened vs a story that was just made up. Something like the later addition of the story of the adulterous woman in John 7:53, seems more likely to be fictional but it's presented as being historical. The evidence that the Bible is reliable doesn't really seem different to me than evidence that the Quran is reliable, for example. Moreover, how do we know Sampson is historically accurate but Hercules is not? How is the flood historically accurate but Gilgamesh is not? I have no answers to these questions.

Saying the Bible's stories are true because they had verifiable evidence at the time doesn't really work. We don't know if verifiable evidence existed at the time because one or more stories could be fictional, like the adulterous woman story. If this worked as an argument, then Islam is also true because the Quran contains testimony that its miracles had verifiable evidence at the time. This type of thinking doesn't seem to get us closer to the truth. What do you think? Thank you.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:42 pm

> I think my issue is that I can't tell the difference between a story in the Bible that actually happened vs a story that was just made up

We have to take each one (which I know is cumbersome and time-consuming) because it's not fair to just make a blanket statement to cover all things when there is so much variety. Not only that, but the eras in question cover about 1300 years of history on three different continents. Generalizations aren't fair.

> Something like the later addition of the story of the adulterous woman in John 7:53, seems more likely to be fictional but it's presented as being historical.

Now here is something solid we can discuss. My first question would be what about it sounds like fiction to you? It has the earmarks of historicity:

    * Jesus was often on the Mount of Olives (v. 1)
    * Jesus often appeared in the temple courts to teach (2)
    * The Pharisees often tried to trap Jesus (3), especially with "no-win" situations involving the law (their questions about divorce, about marriage at the resurrection, about taxes to Caesar, about the Temple Tax, etc.)
    * Jesus often avoided the direct questions and instead went below that to a deeper level of conversation
    * Jesus often showed mercy and judgment at the same time (11).

So there's a quick list. What makes you say it "seems more likely to be fictional"?

> The evidence that the Bible is reliable doesn't really seem different to me than evidence that the Quran is reliable, for example.

Have you read the Qur'an? It's a very different kind of book than the Bible. The two aren't really similar at all.

> Moreover, how do we know Sampson is historically accurate but Hercules is not?

Great question. Hercules was never meant to be historical. His was always meant to be a theological, not a historical, rendering. Samson is a question worth asking. He is couched in historical terms (dates, places), but so might be Harry Potter or any sci-fi (Chicago, the year 2125...), so we need more than that.

He is in the context of a historical book. None of judges, however, can be confirmed. Even archaeologically it is the least known era of the area's history. We have very few artifacts or documents from this era. Close to nothing, actually, even of the HISTORY that obviously had to have been there.

Anthropologically, the book makes sense. After the Exodus there was no central government. The Israelites were under the rule of tribal leaders. Some of the Canaanite city-states were still in existence. Worship of YHWH was decentralized and often compromised. It all makes sense, but there's no proof of anything.

Culturally the story of Samson makes some sense. A Phoenician inscription from the 9th c. reports dedication to a deity by shaving the hair in response to a vow. Israelites were intermarrying with Philistines. Lions, foxes, bees—all make sense. They were part of the landscape during that era. Riddles, yes.

Politically the story makes sense. The Philistines were active in the region at the time.

So here's the deal. Everything about the narrative sounds like history (which separates even this story from Harry Potter), except his exceptional strength. So then we ask, "On what basis do we doubt the parts about his strength?" Let's look at those.

    * Nothing is said or prophesied about his abnormal strength in the birth narrative. We only learn that the child was set apart to deliver them from the Philistine oppressors (13.5). No outrageous claims. No particular expectations in that regard
    * In Judges 14.5-6 he killed a lion with his bare hands. But something like this just happened the other day (https://www.foxnews.com/us/man-says-kil ... ling-match). So should I doubt the Samson story? Maybe not yet. The text does say it was a young lion (14.5).
    * A little later he kills 30 men in Ashkelon (14.19). But it doesn't say he killed them all at one time, as a group, in the same place. He could have killed them over the course of several days, one at a time. I'm still not ready to doubt the story.
    * In Judges 15.4, he alleged captures 300 foxes, ties their tails into 150 pairs of foxes, and sets them loose in the fields to burn. First of all, it's historical that foxes and jackals were native to Palestine in this period, so that's believable. But again, we are not given a time constraint. This could have happened over the course of a week or more. The practice itself is believable. The Romans had a custom at the festival of Cerealia (feast of the corn-goddess) of attaching torches to the tails of the foxes in such a way that the flames ultimately consumed the animals. Philistia was grain country, so there are lots about this that are believable. It's a little over the top, but not outrageous.
    * Judges 15.7-8 says that he slaughtered a lot of Philistines as an act of revenge and then hid in a cave. OK, that could have happened.
    * Judges 15.15 says he killed 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. OK, a clarification. The same word that means "thousand" also means "clan." So maybe he didn't kill 1000, as the text translates, but more likely he decimated a large group that came after him. If he were a good fighter, and we're talking about a group rather than a 1000, this is a little over the top, but possibly believable.
    * Judges 16.3 says he tore a city gate loose and carried it to the top of a hill. This is obviously hyperbole, but it we break it down, we get to a more reasonable scenario. Gates of the era were of 3 parts: the gate itself, the flanking posts, and the locking bar. In this era in this region they were anywhere from 6-12' wide. Is it possible he tore off the locking bar (which would render the gate useless), lifted it and whatever debris came with it to his shoulders, and carried them off in the direction of Hebron, dumping them on a nearby hill that faces Hebron? It's possible, but it sounds like I'm trying too hard. But it's true that he doesn't have to have carried all of the wood, the frames, the posts, and the locks to qualify for ruining the gate and carrying away the parts that would have made it secure.
    * The final incident of strength is that at his death he pushed two pillars apart. This is possible. They didn't use mortar in those days, but only the physics of architecture, forces, and gravity. A temple that belonged to the Philistines in the 11th century BC has been uncovered at Tel Qasile. It had two central wooden pillars approximately 2 meters apart that held up the building. A large man could reach them and, with sufficient strength, push them apart. Remember that Samson had been grinding a mill as a prisoner, which would have increased his muscle mass and generally his shoulders and leg muscles. The verb in 16.30 suggests a twisting motion from which we can infer that Samson pushed and turned the pillars off their stone bases. Pushing aside these pillars is not an unreasonable claim.

In other words, there are more elements of the story that lead to the conclusion that it's historical than there are elements that make us think it's fictional or mythological.

> How is the flood historically accurate but Gilgamesh is not?

There are vast differences between the two stories.

The Gilgamesh Epic:

    * Starts with fighting men, prostitutes, wrestling matches, and reconciliation.
    * The goddess Ishtar wants a relationship with Gilgamesh, but he refuses. She's angry.
    * Her father, Anu, kills Enkidu, Gilgamesh's new friend.
    * Gilgamesh wants to know the secret of eternal life from Uta-napishti, the only human that has eternal life.
    * the gods want to destroy humanity because they're so noisy.
    * Ea warns humanity to build a boat to survive, and to put animals on board.
    * The flood is so extreme it even scares the gods.
    * Gilgamesh releases 3 birds.
    * The waters recede and Gilgamesh offers sacrifices

The similarities:

    * The general plot lines
    * The anger of the gods
    * The ark, the animals, the flood waters
    * sacrifice after the flood

The differences:

    * Many differences in details: length and duration of flood, size and shape of ark, the reason for the flood, the number and identity of the people on the ark, the order of birds sent out.
    * The portrayal of the gods. In the Bible there is one God, who is entering into a covenant to assure that the world will maintain order and stability. In Mesopotamia, the gods are in competition/conflict with each other.
    * The number of gods. In the Bible there is one; everywhere else there are multiple.
    * The reason for the flood: human sin (Bible) vs. humanity an annoyance (the others).
    * The extent of the flood: In the Bible, hyperbolically the whole world. Mesopotamia: uncertain. Gilgamesh: partial. Atrahasis: total destruction.
    * The length of the flood: Mesopotamia: 7 days. Bible: 40 days.
    * Identification of the hero: All different: a king, a normal human, a righteous human, a priest.
    * What and who are being spared
    * Description of the boat
    * Materials of the boat
    * The mechanism of the flood
    * The kinds of birds and order of birds
    * different reasons for the sacrifice
    * The fate of the hero after the flood
    * Very different theological messages in the story

> Saying the Bible's stories are true because they had verifiable evidence at the time doesn't really work. We don't know if verifiable evidence existed at the time because one or more stories could be fictional, like the adulterous woman story.

We just have to use our brains and do the best we possibly can.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby Last One » Thu Feb 21, 2019 9:50 am

Hi thanks very much for the effort you put into your response. That's very kind of you and I really appreciate it.

On the first topic, I'd say the adulterous woman story is fiction because someone added it to the Gospel of John hundreds of years later. It's used as if it were part of the Bible, but it's not. I couldn't believe that hundreds of years after John wrote his gospel, an unknown person knew that John forgot to record a real event in Jesus's life that no other Gospel writer knew about. The idea is so dubious that it's best explained as fictional.

On the second, I haven't read the Quran, and I'm sure it's very different from the Bible. My point was a little different. I'd like to hear your thoughts on how material, direct, circumstantial, documentary, and testimonial evidence verify the truth of the Bible, but the same types of evidence do not verify the truth of the Quran, for example. It feels like interpreting evidence to reach the desired conclusion.

On Samson, I agree that details of the story have a historical basis and I appreciate that you acknowledge that some parts might be a little exaggerated. The one detail you left out was that Samson's strength came from not cutting his hair. Isn't that enough to say this is fiction? The story of Spiderman is in a historical setting but it's about a man who could shoot webs from his wrists because of a radioactive spider bite. Doesn't a man with incredible strength -- dependent on his hair -- sound equally as fictional?

On the flood, I agree that the stories differ in many details. My question was a little different. How can you tell that the Biblical flood occurred as a historical fact but that Gilgamesh is fiction? I feel like they're both equally unlikely to be historical with equally improbable details.

Your responses have been very impressive, and I can tell you have spent a great deal of time studying and analyzing the Bible. I think all the things we've talked about fall under this general idea: if the evidence and rationales used to verify the Bible also work to verify other religions and myths, then those evidences and rationals aren't useful to determine truth. Do you agree? Thanks again.
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Re: Is truth separate from salvation?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:34 am

> I'd say the adulterous woman story is fiction because someone added it to the Gospel of John hundreds of years later.

Yeah, it was. There's little debate about that. But amazingly it has a collection of features that show it to be old, possibly authentic, and maybe even historical, even though it wasn't added until centuries later.

    * Literarily, it has a lot in common with the Synoptic Gospels of the first century. I mentioned them in my last post: Jesus at the Mt. of Olives, teaching in the Temple, a dilemma presented to him to trap him, the dilemma involves the Torah, Jesus answers cleverly).
    * The vocabulary of the text is, ironically, remarkably close to Luke's, who writes in the early 60s.
    * There are other possible historical references to it (Didymus the Blind, the *Didascalia Apostolorum* in Syrian, and perhaps even Papias in 125).
    * The account sounds so very much like Jesus in several ways (clever, wise, extending mercy to sinners, seeming to subvert the Law but actually confirms it, rebuking hypocrites).

None of those guarantee its authenticity or historicity, but taken together they made me go hmm. The point is that its addition centuries later doesn't necessarily make it fictional. I don't think there's any way we're ever actually know. It's remotely possible that it was a real story of Jesus that someone decided (for who knows what reason) to add it in to John's record. We can be sure, however, that John didn't write it.

> I haven't read the Quran, and I'm sure it's very different from the Bible ... the same types of evidence do not verify the truth of the Quran

The Qur'an is not a historical text like the Bible. Though it occasionally makes brief historical references, it's much more a philosophical text. Without trying to misrepresent it (i.e., I'm trying to be fair to its character), here are the first couple verses of Surah 2, which are quite typical of the whole thing:

    1. A.L.M.
    2. This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah.
    3. Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;
    4. And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter.
    5. They are on (true) guidance, from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper.
    6. As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.
    7. Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur).

It's not really historical narrative. It's not anything like the Bible. If you want to verify the Qur'an with any kind of evidence, good luck. It's not that kind of text.

So what about the Bible? We could take any text, so I'll pull Exodus 1, just to pull something (again, not trying to be manipulative, but rather to be fair to the "evidence").

    * We have a possible early reference to a nation called "Israel" coming from about 1400 BC.
    * Archaeologists have discovered a village at Deer el-Medina that had been inhabited by laborers for over 400 years. Such a scene reflects reality.
    * We know that immigrants from Canaan regularly entered and settled in Egypt. There are many archaeological artifacts confirming this.
    * We know that a group of Semitics (the Hyksos) actually ruled in Egypt for a season.
    * During the 13th c. BC, during the reign of Ramesses the Great, the old Hyksos capital of Avaris in the northeast Delta was rebuilt and expanded under slave labor.
    * The logic of enslaving Israelites is that if they are not enslaved they will join the enemy and be driven out. This feeling could suggest the time period when the Hyksos are being driven from the land.
    * The place names of Ra'amses and Pithom are real. They were store cities. They existed in the Late Bronze age, and there was extensive construction there.
    * The ark of the covenant that the Israelites built has great similarity to one found in Egypt in the 2nd millennium BC.
    * A 4-pillared "Israelite" house has been found along the Nile River near Ra'amses.
    * An Egyptian papyrus reveals the name of a slave with a biblical name identical to the name of an Israelite midwife in Ex. 1.15: Shiphrah.
    * Forced labor was common on Egypt.

In other words, EVERYTHING about the account rings true. There is evidence that the account is historical. The problem is that we have no direct evidence of an Israelite presence there. But as we keep marching through the text, chapter after chapter, there are mountains of evidence of historicity, authenticity, and accuracy, so much so that its historicity becomes not only possible but plausible.

> The one detail you left out was that Samson's strength came from not cutting his hair. Isn't that enough to say this is fiction?

It's not that the hair was magical. The point is neither the hair nor its length but instead what the hair represented: The vow to God that he would be different from everyone else in his dedication to the Lord. The cutting of his hair would bring the vow to an end. He was right: when he allowed his hair to be cut, the Lord's blessing and protection would leave him, and his ability to judge the Philistines with the help of the Lord would be gone. Without the help of the Lord, he was no different than anyone else.

> How can you tell that the Biblical flood occurred as a historical fact but that Gilgamesh is fiction?

I'm not convinced that Gilgamesh is fiction. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. That we have three separate records from the same region telling about the same event allows us to plausibly wonder if they narrate the same historical event. There is no reason to doubt that those accounts and Genesis refer to the same flood. This would certainly account for the similarities. The differences exist because each culture is viewing the flood through its own theology and worldview. Gilgamesh and Atrahasis use mythological, fantastical, and sexual/bloody language, as was common in their theologies. Genesis uses historical language, as was common in biblical theology.

> if the evidence and rationales used to verify the Bible also work to verify other religions and myths, then those evidences and rationals aren't useful to determine truth. Do you agree?

No I don't. I hope from this and the previous conversation, you are getting the honest feel that the Bible is quite different from the mythologies of the ancient Near East, from the Qur'an, and from any fictional tale. The evidences and rationales used to verify the Bible actually do bring us to a point of plausibility of the biblical text, whereas they do not function that way with Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, the Egyptian texts, and even the Qur'an. The Bible stands quite alone and unique among religious texts.
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