A couple of posts below I noted concerns making their way into the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald re headship teaching in the Diocese of Sydney (i.e. teaching about male headship and female submission to that headship) (here and here).
That prompted some thoughtful comments posted in the thread to that post (thank you, Bowman) and I ask that this post be read in the light of those comments.
I also ask that you do not read this post as a direct engagement with either the Diocese of Sydney or with teaching within that Diocese - something of a large and multi-faceted set of topics and I do not presume to know everything one should know for such a direct engagement. Besides which, I imagine that while there may be strong themes, heavy emphases and so forth across the Diocese, there likely is not on uniform, standard, universally taught doctrine. Nevertheless, whatever is going on, in our neighbouring Diocese across the Ditch, it is enough to provoke a secular newspaper to publish an article about it.
Let's engage directly with Scripture itself and let's be realistic, this is but one post on a matter or two, and not a monograph on the subject, on which many books have been written, especially in recent years.
1. It's observable in the New Testament that Paul (in particular) develops an understanding of salvation which universalises humanity: salvation is no longer for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles; a relationship with God through being "in Christ" is possible for all humanity including male and female (Galations 3:28).
2. It's observable in the light of (1) that women and men are involved in the communication of the gospel and establishment of the churches as the mission of Jesus spreads beyond Israel (e.g. the Samaritan woman of John 4; Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syndeche). Further, no specific rules constraining the ministry of women are invoked within the narratives in which such women feature.
3. It's also observable that many leadership roles in the apostolic mission are taken up by men. This is unsurprising given the patriarchal societies of Israel and the surrounding nations. It is also the case that Jesus said and did things which invoked visions of a "new" Israel, the nation historically of twelve tribes founded on the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, and thus consistent with this invocation, the leading body of disciples who became also known as the apostles were twelve men.
4. It's observable in the pages of the New Testament that some questions arose about how men and women are to deport themselves in church meetings.
5. This is a particular concern addressed by Paul in1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (cf. Ephesians 5:23-24). In that address Paul certainly talks about men in relation to women and vice versa and links this to the relationship between God and Christ and the talk involves a Greek word kephale which could mean "head" or "source". We will come back to this passage.
6. Two other passages, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 have common themes (notably women being silent in church meetings) and may reflect (depending on one's understanding and determination) a Later Paul (i.e. Paul at the end of his ministry) or a Deutero-Paul (i.e. interpreter of Paul writing as Paul). The former passage is held by many to be an interpolation (because it interrupts the flow of 14:33-37; it is at odds with 11:5 which assumes women will not be silent in church because they pray and prophesy in the meetings; and, in some manuscripts, verses 33 and 34 appear after 14:40).
7. It seems reasonable to assume that material in 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2 arose because some disruption in the meetings of the church was taking place. There is no sense reading through the gospels or Paul's other epistles (with the exception of Titus) or any other epistles that either Jesus or any apostle taught relationships between men and women as intrinsic to the essence of the church.
8. Indeed, Paul's strong start on the "headship" (or "sourceship") of men over women at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, as he seeks to respond to questions of length of hair for men and women, and wearing of headcoverings (or not), gives way by verses 11-16 with a recognition that "in the Lord" men and women are interdependent and the answers to the questions at hand may not be agreeable to his readers who need to judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
9. That is, it is not clear that Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) is setting out in these passages timeless church rules to govern the church in all cultural contexts through all generations. There is a strong sense in the passages of ad hoc rules for present situations.
10. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 there are two very difficult (if not quite obscure) theological arguments introduced in support of women being silent in church.
11. Before we get to the first, let's recall another Pauline invocation of Eve. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 Paul likens the church as the bride of Christ to Eve, being in a position prone to deceit: "as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning." Here Eve stands for the whole church, male and female.
12. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (Later or Deutero-) Paul argues in support of his ruling that a woman is to be silent in church that (a) "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (i.e. shades of 1 Corinthians 11's approach to male headship over females), and (b) "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" which is a curious if not obscure argument in the light (c) Romans 5:12-21 (where sin enters the world through Adam) and (d) 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 (where Eve is the counterpart to the whole church when it is prone to being deceived and not solely reponsible for the faults and frailties of women generally).
13. Then, in 1 Timothy 2:15 a way forward is offered for women in respect of their salvation which seems oscurely at odds with Paul's emphasis on salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The NRSV reads, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." This version nicely captures the ambiguity of the reference to childbearing: does it mean "saved through the risk and danger of giving birth to a child" or "saved via the bearing of children (e.g. as a fulfilment of the destiny of women, as a faithful discharge of the primary role of women)"? It is also faithful in translating the Greek which begins with a single woman and ends with women plural.
14. Again, with specific reference to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the question arises whether we are being given a permanent, universal ruling against women speaking in church and/or exercising responsible authority, applicable in all contexts and all generations? If we are, it is a ruling underpinned by arguments which are difficult to uphold - for example, that women should be silent in church, not teach and not exercise authority over a man/husband because of inherent proneness to deceit.
15. What is the way forward here? I suggest a couple of recognitions we can and should make.
16. First, across all such passages as discussed above, and if we also include 1 Peter 3:1-7, we find nothing particularly surprising in the sense that, in the context of the times, we would expect to find material setting out relations between men and women in a manner which assumes the primary authority of men/husbands and the consequential expectation of submission to that authority by women/wives.
17. We could scarcely expect documents from the Graeco-Roman-Judeo world of the first century AD to second guess first, second or third wave feminism of the 20th and 21st centuries! (It is not as though in New Testament writings in respect of slavery that we find language which anticipates 19th century American and British arguments against slavery and for the emancipation of slaves.)
18. Secondly, what is important, then, in respect of what we find in the New Testament are the hints and clues and seeds of a new way of looking at relations between men and women. A way, we perhaps could say, that looks out from the present order of relations between men and women to a new situation which flows from a new appreciation of men and women being utterly and completely human, so that Genesis 1:27-28 flows into Gal 3:28; and Galatians 3:28, at least prior to some disruptions in church meetings, is evidenced as being lived out in the mutual ministries of Paul and Phoebe, Paul and Lydia, Paul, Euodia and Syndeche, Priscilla and Aquila, Junia and Andronicus among the apostles and being expressed in Paul's language about men and women such as:
"Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:11)
"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21 which frames the subsequent exposition of wives being subject to husbands, husbands being heads of wives, and husbands loving their wives just as Christ loved the church).
19. There is a similarity here between what the NT says about men relating to women in the contexts of the day while opening up a new way of looking at relations between men and women and what the NT says about slavery (i.e. not directly challenging it as an institution of society and economy) while opening up a new way of looking at humanity (notably in Galatians 3:28) such that there can no longer be masters and slaves, all should be free and treated equally by one another.
20. Is there an NT reason for thinking that we might, today, view relations between men and women differently to Graeco-Roman-Judeo times? I think so. We read in Titus ... 2:3-5a, which sets out the way a woman should live, including "being submissive to their husbands", that the Later or Deutero-Pauline writer gives as a reason "so that the word of God may not be discredited" (5b). The Christian movement, the early churches, did not want to be seen as upsetting the accepted social order lest such upset brought discredit on the Christian message.
Today, we can ask the same question about teaching about headship which goes against the accepted social order of orderly marriages and family households today: it brings discredit to the Christian message - a message whose primary concern is not how men and women relate to each other in a particular hierarchical order.
20. We can also - of course - dig deep into NT material about Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, female prophets and so forth, and determine that women in the early church did not fit neatly into a "women must be silent, must not teach, must not lead, should focus on home-making and child-rearing" model beloved of some churches today. (As, indeed, women have not neatly fitted through church history.)
21. Yet, when Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 or Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) in Ephesians 5 write about headship, connecting God/Christ and man/woman and/or husband/wife, a theology is being articulated which (whatever we then determine about what it means for life in home, community, workplace, classroom, church meetings and worship services) which cannot simply be excised from Christian consciousness.
22. How then do we teach/discuss/ruminate upon "headship" in an era fraught with risk to discourse (cancellation of participants, weaponization of tropes and memes, etc)?
23. And, noting current discourse which tends to smooth over difference between sexes (noting, most up to datedly, a UK Methodist decision to approve same sex marriages in churches), what is the relationship between teaching about headship and teaching about humanity, male and female God made us?
24. Yet, whatever we might think headship means, in Pauline thought, headship is always connected to God's relationship to Christ and Christ's relationship to God.
25. So, finally for now, what does it mean to think about "headship" in a Trinitarian mode of thinking about relations in communion: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; husband and wife as one flesh; male and female in one body of Christ bound together by one Spirit?
Believe it or not, Folks, I am rather diffident in responding to Bishop Peter's call to reflect on and respond to what he is saying here about 'headship' and the relativity between men's and women's 'place' in ther Christian community.
However, there is one important question to be asked of the relevance of binary marriage to the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. We are told in Scriptures that there will be no such marriage in heaven. This surely points to the need for a new understanding of earthly marriage as a place of mutual respect, into which, if such a gift is given, children can be intruduced and nurtured into faith.
It seems to me that to try to equate the relationship within the Holy Trinity to that of 2 people in a marriage is to mistake the im/permanence of such a bond.
A Minor Quibble
"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
-- L P Hartley, The Go-Between
Around the world today, myriad women are captured, then sold, and then rented out for sex. In some places this is done legally and in others illegally.
Through several decades of life, I have never heard a single soul defend this widespread practice as a good thing. Indeed, I have heard many of the wise and the good deplore it as a horrible evil. But it persists.
Would some future generation be warranted in saying that, because *sex trafficking* is ubiquitous, all we of this less enlightened age believe in it?
Or, would it be reasonable for our future moral superiors to regard those who denounce the practice as lone prophets who bravely opposed the barbarism of all the rest of us?
If they pointed to trafficked women in the novels, films, dissertations, and news reports of this moment, would that close observation of sex trafficking prove that we cherished it as an institution?
And if, despite their many advances over our own generation-- longer lives, faster travel, better phones, etc-- they still had women being sold for sex in the shadows, would they be justified in positing a great difference between their own evaluation of that and ours?
No. All four opinions would be absurd. They would reflect a sensibility that is fervent about moral ideals but unempathic about the complex past that is our present. Memes are not lives.
Alas, we ourselves often bring that sensibility to the apostolic documents in their social context. Plainly-- we posit bad societies to get good, even heroic apostles, and a caricature of Second Temple Judaism to get Jesus the Liberator.
St Paul thought that our faith would be vain if Jesus were not raised from the dead, but we think our faith would be vain if the ancients turned out to be reasonably ethical folk who needed a much better god, but not a new code. Nevertheless, some opinions we favour were current among the ancients. And not to put too fine a point on it, some horrid practices of antiquity have reappeared in recent time. Slavery, for example.
(At this stage, we need not consider this apologetically. But who exactly would become a Christian today because the religion was so improving for C1 Jews and Gentiles? And who, for the sake of that improvement long ago, forgives the horrors since-- ghettos, pogroms, Inquisition, etc?)
At roughly the same time that St Paul was collaborating with women, innovative Roman jurists were allowing brides to use contract law to circumvent the worse than patriarchal provisions of the Twelve Tables. Reframing marriage as a contract gave women the standing to bargain for the terms they wanted.
(That was such a good practice that we use a weaker form of it today. In fact, when we ponder headship in the NT, we unconsciously project Innocent III's interpersonal contract into the page that is open.)
We do not gain much by arguing, in effect, that Jesus and the apostles said and did things that were good, not with respect to God, but relative to some now misunderstood world.
Thought provoking - thanks... re note 13; I think that whatever we understand Scripture to be saying about how sex differences should translate into roles / expressions/ ontological understandings of biological sex, it needs to do so for those who followed the path that is apparently preferred by Paul and Jesus - singleness. So I don't see that he could be arguing that childbirth is the primary destiny of women... And as an aside I'm not sure that the "species" of singleness being envisaged by either Jesus or Paul is remotely expressed by the impoverished word, "unmarried"...
On 13, Peter and Jonathan, my first and rather Protestant guess has been that St Paul was referring to salvation, not in its justification phase but in its sanctification and vocation phases. So Farmer John too will be saved by the struggles of ploughing, sowing, awaiting rain, harvesting, and gathering into the barn. Everyone is saved by living with trusting gratitude for the unbidden fate we are given by God. Insofar as the text is about vocation, it is about having a heart oriented to Providence. As God is free, it cannot be about any permanent human order of things.
Ancient listeners to these texts were encountering a new god for the first time, not updating Leviticus or drafting manuals for ecclesiastical administration. Even for Jews, Resurrection proof that there were three thrones in heaven put the YHWH familiar from Hebrew texts in a bold new perspective. But pagans were discovering that, all the way down to their perceptions and feelings, recognition of the Creator changed everything about the way one lives one's life. Patient hope in the face of Providence-- absurd in a polytheistic cosmos-- was for them the beginning of a new wisdom. Directly and obliquely, that wisdom is St Paul's theme.
Moderns hated it. Whether liberal or reactionary in their cultural politics, they were mostly too preoccupied by personal ego and its agency to absorb a wisdom that makes the self provisional, cancels self-assertion with divine will, and energizes agency but only as a leaf in the cosmic tree swaying in a wind from heaven. St Paul's wisdom, taken straight, broke the heart of every self-confident modern who aspired to climb the stairs of Babel.
The conflict over these texts is generally between two ways of misreading them to conserve modern egoism intact. One falsely supposes that St Paul's wisdom underwrites male egoism, and then tries to find equal room in it for female egoism. The other reads difficult wisdom as tractable law, the mysterious as the mundane, religion as custom. Neither is rooted in what the Resurrection showed St Paul's hearers about Israel's God. And in practice, both tribes exhibit modern contempt for the Christian virtue of patience.
Now one of my teachers along the way was Hans Georg Gadamer who argued that deep conflicts between the horizons of a reader and a text are inevitable in serious reading and even the main motive for doing it. For narratives written directly to our own mindsets and wishes, we have Hollywood and genre fiction.
Of course, he would say, persons born into the vast social and economic changes 1500-1900 were going to adapt to them. And that adaptation was going to favour some practically useful ideas over others. Useful? For getting the meal, climbing the ladder, seizing state power, not for assimilating foreign wisdom. So moderns usually misread old books.
Of the Greek tragedies, Antigone may be the one most performed today. Creon, a tyrant, forbids funerals as tyrants often do, but Antigone has a sacred duty to bury her brother. Centuries before Christ, the action onstage caught audiences in a vise between two dangers they feared, the threat of political anarchy v the vengeance of the gods. But the past is a foreign country, so moderns watch the play to applaud Antigone as an nth wave feminist speaking her personal truth to arbitrary masculine power. The applause is loud and sincere but would make only partial sense to ancient Greeks. The tragedy is a masterpiece, but it is more or less an accident that it still works onstage.
Moderns bring the same preoccupations and blind spots to the Bible. If it were not a religious text, they would all just ignore it as too weird to read, as most people in fact do. The Iliad still has obscurities, but a bitter fight over one today would be comical.
However moderns who must read the Bible to practice their religion pass a fork in the road on one side or the other. They can project their own world's concerns into the text and then read them back out again as moderns watching Antigone do. Or, they can work at making the text's original concerns their own and then trying to see the horizon around them from that point of view. The first is obviously the broad road most traveled; the latter is a narrow one into a new condition that is no longer just modern.
The way less traveled, as Robert Frost put it, has a back and forth movement between a biblical horizon that is close to God's own, and incidents of daily life that we usually see with modernish concerns in mind. Notwithstanding all our due diligence in religion, these transits will not at first be easy ones. But then hiking is most pleasurable where it is most difficult.
My favourite historical example of this back and forth is John Calvin trying to interpret the OT prohibitions against usury for the marketplace in Geneva. Prohibitions? Modern readers are disquieted to find that some OT prophets were more implacably opposed to the bank cards in their wallets than to even That.
One way of taking the way more traveled is to take those prophecies as legislation that is binding on Christians because it is in the Magic Book. That, with some scholastic elaboration on *acts against nature*-- a notion first applied to usury and only later by imitation to That-- was the consensus of medieval canonists.
But the context of those prophecies is outrage that interest payments had burdened the poor of Israel. Calvin, taking the way less traveled, went to the marketplace in Geneva in search of poor families burdened by heartless financiers. Although the potential for abuse was obvious, Calvin actually found that *low* rates of interest help the poor by mobilising capital to their aid that would otherwise have gone elsewhere. Returning to his study, Calvin rethought the texts and concluded that his scholastic predecessors had known more about both the prophecies and usury than was in fact true.
Gadamer's argument was that interpreting an ancient or otherwise foreign text depends as much on this back and forth as on what we know of the author, language, etc. The art of interpretation is spiritual.
Naturally, I asked him whether he knew of anyone who had worked this out with respect to the Bible. He paused to consider this.
"There is an American theologian... Have you heard of Robert Jenson?"
Along the way less traveled, Jenson or some old Jensonian might read #18 as saying that St Paul addressed say a devotee of Aphrodite thus--
"The stories about your goddess show many true things about your attraction to the bodies of others, and indeed their attraction to yours. Lust, ecstasy, pain, marriage, motherhood. But they do not explain why that powerful attraction is so universal in the cosmos, nor how there can ever be peace in the war of the sexes that lacerates souls and consumes lives.
"You ask why we have so much more peace than you do. We live by a different story in which peace is the ultimate reality that will eventually enfold all things. By it, we know that women and men can live without destructive conflict.
"And we can live from that knowledge because, having given our *selves* to our god, we have left behind the darkness that knows only childish conflict.
"It is much better to join us than to read, but if you wish to read first, then forget everything you think you know about your gods, open the book called Genesis, and read it very slowly. When it begins to make sense to you, find us."
+ Peter's 21, 24, and 25 pose the dilemma that for many evangelicals is the really hard one. If in St Paul's writings--
Christ : church :: man : woman :: husband : wife
--then it seems that we must choose between equal marriages of heretics and patriarchal marriages of dogmaticians.
Arguments about this go round and round a Greek word that some read as "head" and others as "source." Ancient usage is too scanty to settle that dispute. But if our Aphrodite devotee follows the advice just above, s/he will probably not be led into confusion.
The coherence of the creation is the proper work of the Son (Colossians 1); his headship of the Body is a visible sign of that. Our pagan would presumably have heard this framed in a more Judaic way-- Jesus defeated the forces for chaos on the cross and now sits on the second throne in heaven (Daniel 7), where as the Messiah he reigns in the Kingdom of his Father on the first throne.
If the relations of men and women were not part of that coherence, or better, peace, then why would they even rise to mention? Even if they hadn't been, disciples would have inferred the Lord's work from his teaching, not just on marriage, but also in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. If one ever makes God-sense of Jesus's teaching against violence, one will probably not be the same person one once was, but none of these passages on the sexes will be perplexing.
The Son's ontological work with creatures cannot be fully echoed in man : woman or husband : wife. There is a line there, but of significant echoes, not equivalent relations. The dilemma is unreal.
Anyway, when couples are good at dogmatics (eg Robert and Blanche Jenson), they tend not to be all that patriarchal. Rather, getting to + Peter's 25, they recognise the Holy Spirit as the agent of the Son who enables the husband to use his strength for his wife's weakness, and most definitely vice versa.
Is this equality? St Paul did not say. Perhaps nobody asked him.
"...neither marrying nor giving in marriage..."
Nobody expects weddings in the aeon to come. Apparently on the basis of Roman civil law, the West supposes that a marriage ends with the death of a spouse. With respect to a first marriage, the Eastern churches have always denied this, holding it to be an eternal relationship.
Thanks Bowman for considered and considerable engagement with the matter at hand.
I especially like the story about Calvin ... there is a lot in that for evangelicals to ponder!!!!!
In a fascinating article, Andrew Goddard has not only told the tale of Calvin's pondering of the prophecies against usury, but supplied a running commentary on That Topic in its footnotes. I'm on my phone, so I don't have the link handy, but search engines find it readily.
So far as I know, Gadamer and Goddard never met, but I think both would stress to evangelicals that, despite what we might first intuit, the back and forth (eg Calvin) is more careful and more faithful than a flat positivism of the text (eg those scholastic canonists). Philological competence alone cannot show us what planks in our eyes are causing us to see motes either in the text or the world.
In his Table Talk, Luther comments often on how overconfidence hides the gospel from us. Stepping out under the open sky requires recognition that we are very dependent on the Holy Spirit for a true understanding in every moment of life. But thankfully-- "my strength is made perfect in weakness."
And it is very encouraging to know that the Holy Spirit opens hearts and minds to the Father's will precisely in that back and forth where our fullest engagement with the text is clashing with what we had previously considered obedience to God. Like Jesus, the Spirit goes to the lost who want to do the Father's will.
Note to B.W. - in contrast with the understanding of 'The Go-Between' by L.P. Hartley, may I reccont 'The Go-Between God' by Bishop John Taylor - a very wise and deeply Spirit-centred publication by a renowned Pastor in the Mission Field.
Very punny, Father Ron ;-)
Whether a contrast or not, a timely suggestion insofar as the *back and forth* (aka hermeneutics) of reading very old books and preaching in very exotic cultures pose the same problem: making sense where expression and reception meet some local strangeness.
A final comment on this fine OP.
Christians on the usual sides of the culture wars have erred in going straight to sex and gender texts to read rules for sex and gender off the top of them. For better results, they should instead (a) apply Jesus's radical teaching on life to myriad personal situations at hand, and (b) read NT S&G texts, not as an unfinished Leviticus, but among the data showing how believing Jews lived into the post-Resurrection new creation and how converting Gentiles discovered life in the providence of YHWH. To those who in fact believe in YHWH, providence, and new creation, this is the simplest, most intuitive way to read the Bible.
Doing that, a husband and wife will have paid due attention to the Lord's teaching on eg non-violence, and will have been thereby equipped by the Holy Spirit to make reasonable sense of what St Paul wrote about *mutual submission*. From that point, which view of headship they take together does not much matter.
Why don't we all do that? Three distractions: believing that it is our job to legislate for whole societies, (c) we mostly ignore Jesus's basic teaching to his Spirit-led disciples and instead (d) search apostolic documents for a civil code that is obviously not there; (e) neglect of the Resurrection leaves us incurious about how souls first learned to live in its light, so that we read the documents from that generation in forced, roundabout, ahistorical ways.
So the planks in the eyes of well-meaning but mote-picking exegetes are the false beliefs that (f) the NT was written directly to them, and that (g) it addresses them as persons of power over, or at least influence on, the unbelieving masses who in fact ignore them.
The good news is that as we stop pretending to be powerful-- that's God, not us-- the Way of Jesus begins to make a lot more sense, experientially and theologically. Along his Way, the Bible is very helpful.
Peter, you might like to ponder an episteme for the foregoing.
The Resurrection supports confidence in the testimony of the post-Resurrection Body, including its apostolic documents.
Given the Resurrection (eg by the creed), the existence of the apostles and the purpose of their writings makes sense. Counterfactually, neither makes any sense without it. That cause-effect relation is a sufficient ground for reading the Bible and following the Way.
Further beliefs about the text do us no good. Yet many passionately promote them, and even disbelieve common knowledge for the sake of them. Why?
To avoid relying on a testimony of the Body (eg the papacy, the creed, the saints), they have backed into the episteme of the Talmud. Now that is not wholly without value, but if one can get from it to the gospel, then why...? The rabbis have put more effort into this. Perhaps they understand its implications better?
They often seek a modern civil code in the apostolic documents. Yet it seems that, along with everything else in Second Temple Judaism, Jesus's Resurrection renewed the believer's relation to the canonical texts and to the laws in them (eg St Mark 7, St Paul on how law kills and pistis enables wisdom).
Finally, their tight focus on the cross, praiseworthy in itself, has left the full implications of the Resurrection in a blur. Hence they underestimate the testimony of the post-Resurrection Body.
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