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If there is anything good that is going to come out of the Peter Enns ordeal is that discussions of this and similar issues are becoming more and more common. I appreciate your thoughts (as always). My take on names in the OT is that I'm looking more for theological significance than historical significance. Names are so important in the OT, but I don't know if historicity is their primary importance. For example, in 1 Sam. 25:3ff., was Nabal's real life name really Nabal ('Foolish')?

On a side note, what font do you use for your Hebrew font? I seem to have trouble posting Hebrew fonts on the web. Thanks.


I agree.

Especially here:
But I happen to think that another explanation for a number of features of the narrative is more likely, and don’t think I am less Reformed or evangelical or orthodox in my theology because I do.

And here:
Secondly, does the classical doctrine of scripture of Jewish and Christian tradition stand or fall on the assumption that the narratives of Genesis and Exodus are sui generis, and have little or nothing in common in terms of genre conventions, despite appearances, with comparable literature from antiquity?

I don’t think the narratives are sui generis in terms of literary genre. Furthermore, the narratives are more compelling, not less, because they aren’t.


Hi Ben,

I use the SBL font.


I can't say how impressed I am that you are bold on this while so many others who think likewise keep their mouths shut for fear of negative fallout.

Alan Lenzi

One of the things that bothers me about the whole inerrancy issue is how it can answer everything it encounters in the text. Any good theory should be able to do that, right? If not, if one finds anomalies that the theory cannot explain adequately, then the theory must be modified or discarded. Inerrancy doesn't really seem open to the falsifiability test precisely because it isn't technically a theory at all. It's not an idea that arises from the text to help explain the phenomena of the text as much as it is a theological presupposition that will, no, must make everything in the text conform to its presupposed idea. Why bother? Because the certainty of the superstructure built on the text (i.e., this form of Christianity) depends on the inerrancy of the text.

In other words, inerrancy of the Bible seems to be the ultimate epistemological bedrock for some brands of Christianity. I think, at least presently, that all ultimate epistemological claims have the same problem as inerrancy in some measure (e.g., are empiricists really willing to doubt their most basic epistemological assumptions about the centrality of perception for understanding the world? If you've heard someone like Dawkins, it appears the answer is no.) The difference with this view of the Bible and other ultimate epistemological claims is their level of circularity. The Bible is to all appearances like other ancient documents. The assumption of its inerrancy, however, is CLOSELY (or trivially) circular (i.e., not operating at the same level of abstraction as say the empiricist's epistemological assumptions) and sui generis itself because inerrancy is a complete non-issue for ALL other ancient writings. No one bothers to make similar claims about ancient documents from Assyria because they do not have "ultimate" status for any group. In other words, it seems to me that some Christians have mistaken a book for an epistemological foundation and have then tried to justify the mistake by making completely unique and ever more complicated claims about the book to maintain the book's uniqueness. It's so very, very tired.

When someone wants to reshape the way one wields the inerrancy presupposition, things get rough and careers are attacked. Why? Because of the very fundamental nature of what the reformer is playing with. When the reformer pushes the border out a little, he finds himself out of bounds and out of a job. It won't matter where the border lies, someone who pushes on it (at least among the groups who find inerrancy of utmost importance) will get themselves crucified. It's too bad contemporary people forget that it is often the "crucified" of a former age that are responsible for their present understanding of the Bible or their current theological formulations. If Reformed-type Christians would stop reading their Bibles and just listen to the theologians about what MUST be true, things might be easier.


Hi Alan,

I think it's true that the inerrancy of the Bible is an all-embracing epistemological framework for some. But that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I don't think, though, that inerrancy, or a high view of scripture, of necessity is formulated such that it is not falsifiable. Often enough, it is not so formulated, which is why people walk away from the belief, or modify the formulation in signficant ways, based on new understandings.

As for epistemological frameworks that are better suited to be such, yes, I couldn't agree more, foundationalism is dead. All we have is beliefs about things; some of those beliefs we treat as givens. We have grounds for those beliefs, but, as Godel's theorem has it, we have no way to prove the correctness of those grounds this side of heaven. At the most we can say that the beliefs appear to be consistent with everything else we think we know.

Your last sentence hits upon a saving grace of the traditional reformed doctrine of scripture. That is, scripture is its own interpreter. Strictly speaking, that's nonsense, but in another way, it captures a powerful truth: this literature still has the ability to "stand over against" a culture, religious or secular, and judge it.

In Judaism and more tradition-bound forms of Christianity, such as Catholicism and Orthodoxy, biblical literature, the constant reading of excerpts from it, has a profoundly transforming effect on faith and life. The biblical narrative does not take the place of other metanarratives which govern the lives of believers, but it impinges upon them in interesting and unpredictable ways.

Alan Lenzi

What goes for inerrancy goes likewise for inspiration or any other idea that the Bible is ontologically distinctive. Everything except a tradition perpetuated by insiders points to the fact that the Bible is a human book with a long and checkered history. To say otherwise is to argue a priori in a closely circular manner and to treat the Bible as something broadly sui generis. No matter what we learn about the Bible or discover about its production, inspiration, the Bible's ontological distinctiveness, is maintained by believers in ever more creative ways. It's an amazing feat of intellectual and hermeneutical gymnastics.

You said, "At the most we can say that the beliefs appear to be consistent with everything else we think we know." That's where the power of circularity kicks in. Comparative religion, cognitive science, sociological analysis, archaeology, everything that we use to understand religious movements will never be enough for some to shake them free from their presupposition about the Bible (or god). Even if Moses himself appeared to them to tell them otherwise(!), it wouldn't be enough.

I know what you mean about the "prophetic" and existential uses of Scripture. But it is not necessarily distinctive in this respect nor does such imply inspiration. All kinds of literature, visual art, and music, especially when a part of a culture's canon, can move humans in very interesting ways. I would say that the Bible's power (or apparent ontological distinctiveness due to the perception of this power) is mostly due to a cultural construct, one that is losing ground in North America, at least in some sectors or it.


Bold? Foolish? I think the jury's still out. But, either way, I can't see any point in hiding what I think. If it makes me unemployable, I'd rather find that out at the beginning than go through the kind of thing Pete has. One of the things that has saddened me most about my whole time at WTS has been the level of fear that exists. People are afraid to say what they think, afraid to ask questions, afraid to tell their churches that there are hard questions to be asked. I've never understood why Christians (and especially reformed evangelical Christians) are afraid of the truth. If the gospel is true, if the bible is true - well then it'll stand up to any kind of questions we ask, any kind of scrutiny we subject it to. And yes, we may have to rethink our views of what the bible is and what kind of truth it offers, but I'd rather do that than be left holding on to some abstract notions that bear no relation to the real truth.

David Guttmann

I am fascinated by these exchanges. They are no different in our communities though the issues go back to medieval times and indeed to Talmudic and Midrashic sources with even some halachik issues depend on it.

The name Moshe and who named him, is discussed in Ibn Ezra ad locum, Chizkuni ad locum.

The fear and intimidation caused by fundamentalism and ignorance seems to be universal.


I use SBL Hebrew all the time, but your posts do not show up as SBL Hebrew. Another Unicode font is displaying the Hebrew. I am using Firefox and when I go to preferences, to set the Hebrew font, I do not find SBL Hebrew in the font list! Anyone know why? If the preference is set to "allow pages to choose their own fonts" and if John has encoded SBL Hebrew, I wonder why I can't see it?


Hi Karyn,

I use the Firefox browser, too, but for me, the SBL font shows up as such. Maybe the SBL people have addressed this problem already, and know of a workaround.

Alan Lenzi

Ros, I was saying the same thing about the Bible two years before I left the faith. I honestly don't know how people, knowing what we know about the Bible, continue to rely on it or believe it religiously (without becoming a mystic). Good luck.

Suzanne McCarthy

Does this make John a mystic?

Jim Getz

John, the fact still seems to be that the whole episode is a false etymology for an Egyptian name (regardless of how you want to spin it). The real question to me is always why the narrative sticks this information in.

I'm not above thinking that a pre(or post!)exilic international scribe would be aware that there were Egyptians with the same name. If the Bible was primarily an in-house, scribal document (as van der Toorn suggests), then the deliberate use of a false etymology becomes important for the discussion. (Sort of like the unreal geographical markers and humorous name of Cushan-Rishathaim in Judges 3).

The episode makes sense if we see it as literary and not historical -- as a foreshadowing of the Sea of Reeds. However, that only works 1)if we either empower Pharaoh's daughter with both a knowledge of proto-Hebrew AND the gift of prophecy, or 2)we allow the text to ere in some regards.


That's a very interesting typo, Jim. Err vs. "ere," the latter being a verb.

In a sense, what I'm suggesting is that the author who relates that Pharaoh's daughter named Moses to mark her rescue of the child - with the name and its explanation prefiguring the salvation God would accomplish through Moses at the Sea of Reeds, - ered [placed a multinodal hyperlink in the narrative stream], but did not err in so doing. That is, according to the rules of the ancient genre of narrating primeval realities, it was not wrong to do this. It was even expected.

I might also add that I agree with you that the narratives of Genesis and Exodus are literary, but I query your strategy of playing off literary and historical. Have you read Jacob Neusner's seminal article on this topic (I'll dig out the reference later)?

The best history writing today is also strewn with hyperlinks to events past, present, and anticipated. I think someone like Ken Burns, for example, is quite self-conscious about this. The rules of the current genre of history writing are less flexible than those that obtained in the ancient genre in some ways, but more flexible in others.

The narrator may have sensed that to have Pharoah's daughter name Moses in accordance with a Hebrew etymology was not verisimilar. The narrator may even have known that the name "Moses" has a good Egyptian etymology. If so, the daughter's comment is all the more savory for that reason.

The exegetical disasters that have followed in the wake of modern scholars imposing their sense of right and wrong on ancient etymologizing is chronicled with aplomb in an article by Michael Patrick O'Connor entitled "The Human Characters' Names in the Ugaritic Poems: Onomastic Eccentricity in Bronze-Age West Semitic and the Name Daniel in Particular," in Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (Fassberg, Steven E; Avi Hurvitz, (eds); Eisenbrauns, 2007).


Alan, I think it depends how big your vision of God's sovereignty is. Mine is of a God who can give his people the bible he wants them to have through the actions (and inactions) of confused, stupid, sinful, wrong-thinking people and through the complicated workings of history. Knowing how the canon came to be doesn't, for me, affect either the inspiration or the authority of that canon, since neither depend on any particular kind of human involvement.

It's why it always surprises me that reformed people, in particular, who you'd think would have grasped what God's sovereignty is about, seem to have such problems with this.

Jim Getz

It's amazing what Firefox has in it's vocabulary! I wouldn't have expected that one to have made their parsing cut. Eclectic folks...

In any case, thanks for the clarification. From your post I was unsure where you were stood on the actual etymological issue.

And thanks for the reference to O'Connor's piece. I haven't read that one yet.

James Pate

Hi John.

So how do the inerrantists explain what Pharaoh's daughter said? Do they think she knew proto-Hebrew? Or is their approach simply, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, you don't believe in inerrancy. You're not a real Christian!"


Hi James. You are enjoying the fact too much that at present, you have no need of the language of inerrancy. I would encourage you nonetheless to think about in what sense you might qualify as an inerrantist.

I've liked the language of inerrancy ever since I ran across it in authors like Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Zwingli.

An inerrantist like me would say, "if you think that, historically speaking, she didn't name Moses as the text says she did, let it pass. Scripture is inerrant in other, more important senses, not the one which assumes that the biblical text must conform to our culture's rules of propriety with respect to writing up accounts of primeval realities."

An inerrantist like Jeremy Pierce would say, "the text as it stands is not implausible. Why couldn't the Pharaoh's daughter not have known enough Hebrew to name Moses as the text says she did?" Suggestions like these are always more or less convincing. But I feel for people who have to pull the plausibility argument out of the hat on the many occasions in which Genesis and Exodus, on its face, is not verisimilar in some way.

It's a spiritually sapping way of approaching sacred scripture.


It's taken me a long time to reconcile the lit major and the bible thumper that both live in my head. I have come to believe that the lit major gives greater honor to the Author.

Alan Lenzi

I had a long response to you, Ros, that I somehow lost in a few errant key strokes. I guess I'll just say this: your view of god is dependent on the Bible (mostly), which means you're arguing in a circle. Your last statement: Knowing how the canon came to be doesn't, for me, affect either the inspiration or the authority of that canon, since neither depend on any particular kind of human involvement must be 1) a mistake, 2) in need of a great amount of theological unpacking, or 3) simply nonsense because everything we know about the Bible tells us about human involvement. I'm betting on 3). But if you go with 2), which is what I suspect you mean, then I'd say you're being circular again. I know presuppositional apologetics revels in circularity, but this is a form of very close circularity where historical data can actually test the assumptions, etc. By you refusing to allow that data to affect your idea of inspiration and authority, you are basically denying to engage your intellect seriously on the very foundation of your system. Thus one is is either being intellectually dishonest or intellectually disengaged, in my opinion. Assuming the better of the two (the latter) is why I say people who continue to believe while knowing what we know about the Bible are mystics. Of course, you can assert that Bible scholars are all wrong (a la John Frame and a number of other Reformed thinkers), but this is so blatantly desperate that it is hard to take seriously.

Rich Rhodes

Sorry I'm coming a little late to this conversation, but I can't let Alan's last comment stand unanswered. He's absolutely right about the circularity of reasoning for most evangelicals or at least those who think that faith is primarily about assenting to doctrines. For those of us who find that we touch something beyond the text (and the doctrines) when we interact with Scripture, the circularity is broken. All the better when we've experienced healing (both spiritual and physical) through that connection. The Word without the Spirit is dead. I'm with Ros on this one. It depends on how big you think your God is. I've said before, and I'll say again, I think the Bible we have (in all it's hundreds of thousands of variants) is EXACTLY the Bible God wants us to have. If you can't look into the Scripture and find God, you're missing the point. (And I feel very bad for those who have to tell themselves that the weird 20th/21st century Euro-American notion of truth trumps all other ways of knowing what is true. It may be very useful but that doesn't mean it applies to relationships.)

Rich, I used to think like you in this matter: "For those of us who find that we touch something beyond the text (and the doctrines) when we interact with Scripture, the circularity is broken." But you're asking me to just have faith in your experience (or get my own) and accept that your circular reasoning is "divinely inspired." The circularity isn't broken at all. You've just pushed the circularity back to an existential level and deployed special pleading as an argument. You can believe it if you want, but don't try to enter it into a historical discussion, especially one that is supposedly academic. That's what inerrancy is trying.

About your "relationship" analogy: When we have a book in front of us that looks very similar to other books and texts and things from the ancient world, why would a person claim to have a special relationship with that book (or its unseen author behind all the other human others--two steps removed from the text!) in order to understand it? Would you allow a linguist to claim that despite all appearances of its humanity Arabic is really a divine language? Would you believe her if she said, "you just have to have a relationship with Allah to see it"? As much as you might understand that sort of appeal, would a serious journal in linguistics (excepting ethno/ socio-linguistics) publish that idea? Some biblicists try to insert theological ideas into a historical discipline. I simply say, No, that's not appropriate and not acceptable. You'd probably say the same about the Arabic argument.

If you want biblical studies to stop using the "weird" epistemological ideas of the Enlightenment, then I'd say you should wish the same for your own field, too.

Alan Lenzi

The last comment was from me.


I don't find it hard to picture the Pharaoh's daughter asking the Hebrew girl "How do you say 'I pulled him out' in your language?", and choosing an Egyptian name that sounded like that word.

Alan Lenzi

Joel, was Pharaoh's daughter speaking in Hebrew or Egyptian to the Hebrew girl? Do you believe the Hebrew slave girl spoke / understood Egyptian? Maybe so. But perhaps Pharaoh's daughter's entourage always had an interpreter on hand. Wait, maybe Pharaoh's daughter turned to the interpreter (that she must have had when she ventured out) to ask the question since the interpreter would of course know both languages and could assist in finding a name that would be an appropriate pun. He offered several options to her, but eventually Pharaoh's daughter chose the Moses option. Better yet, maybe the whole account was actually first recorded in Egyptian. Pharaoh's daughter's entourage probably had a (female) scribe--to preserve decency--who wrote the touching account down. That scribe then showed it to Moses after he had grown up. And then Moses translated the account into Hebrew, created the pun, tucked the document away alongside Joseph's bones when they all left Egypt, and then wrote it down later when compiling the Pentateuch. Or maybe god just showed Moses a bird's eye view of the entire scene while Moses was on Sinai and Moses wrote the account, including the pun on his own name, based on what he heard and saw.

I assume you're willing to offer an outlandish explanation for the "Birth of Sargon" as well, puns and all?


You're right, Joel. If you speculate long enough, and fill in details as necessary, it is usually possible to come up with a scenario concerning which the text is silent, but which explains it such that your assumptions about scripture are protected.

But it might be wiser to ask a different set of questions than you are asking. It might be helpful to ask: how did the ancients write about long-distant historical events concerning which they had no oral or written records dating from the time of the events themselves? Did the biblical authors conform their writings to the rules of the ancient genres, or did they write in anticipation of your assumption that either the dialogues recorded in Genesis and Exodus, at least the gist of them, occurred as presented, or they are false and misleading?

If the latter, then you had better throw the Iliad, the Odyssey, Josephus, even Thucydides, out the window, right along with your Bible. In your view, the authors of all these works are a pack of liars. Or not?

Rich Rhodes

It became clear to me that to give a sensible answer to your points of 4/9, I'd have to use more space than is available in a comment thread, so I've started a series of posts over on Better Bibles about inerrancy.

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    Mississippi Fred MacDowell's musings on Hebraica and Judaica. With a name like that you can't go wrong.
  • p.ost an evangelical theology for the age to come
    seeking to retell the biblical story in the difficult transition from the centre to the margins following the collapse of Western Christendom, by Andrew Perriman, independent New Testament scholar, currently located in Dubai
  • PaleoJudaica
    by James Davila, professor of Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland. Judaism and the Bible in the news; tidbits about ancient Judaism and its context
  • Pastoral Epistles
    by Rick Brannan and friends, a conceptually unique Bible blog
  • Pen and Parchment
    Michael Patton and company don't just think outside the box. They are tearing down its walls.
  • Pisteuomen
    by Michael Halcomb, pastor-scholar from the Bluegrass State
  • Pseudo-Polymath
    by Mark Olson, an Orthodox view on things
  • Purging my soul . . . one blog at a time
    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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