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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 21, 2011



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Exodus 1:8-2:10

The portrayal of Moses’ beginnings contrasts strongly with the classic hero story of the ancient world. Moses’ birth narrative parallels that of King Sargon of Akkad, who lived about 2600 BC (although his narrative was recorded much later). [FoxMoses] Sargon too was, in infancy, saved from danger by being put in a basket of rushes sealed with pitch and floated on the river. [NOAB] Egyptian myth tells of the goddess Isis concealing infant Horus in a delta papyrus thicket to save him from death at the hands of Seth. [NJBC]

Almost every key element of Moses’ early life – rescue from death by royal decree, rescue from death by water, flight into the desert, meeting God on the sacred mountain – foreshadows Israel’s experience in the book of Exodus. So what matters is not the customary focus on the young hero’s deeds or his fatal flaw, but on what he shares with his people, or more precisely, how he prefigures them. [FoxMoses]

In Exodus, the biographical portrait of both God and Moses has been reduced to only such facts as will illuminate the relationship between Israel and its God. [FoxMoses]

Pharaoh has paranoid fears about Israel’s growth – he is afraid of being overwhelmed by what is alien. His natural plan of attack is genocide. Fearing war, Pharaoh ironically concentrates his worries around the males, ignoring the true source of fecundity. It is the women who play the major role in beginning the liberation process. [FoxMoses]

The midwives are intended to be Pharaoh’s special agents. The paranoic situation is like that of Nazi Germany, where Jews were blamed for various economic and political catastrophes not of their own making. [FoxMoses]

NJBC says that these chapters are from the Priestly (P) tradition.

1:1-4: Genesis 35:23-26 gives the same list, plus Joseph.

1:1: “sons”: Can denote members of groups [FoxMoses]

1:5: “The total number of people ... was seventy”: See also Genesis 46:8-27 and Deuteronomy 10:22. The book of Exodus reflects the memories of decisive events with which Israel as a people identified itself in faith. The tribal confederacy was formed later and embraced tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) that had not been to Egypt: see Joshua 24. [NOAB] Seventy is a number expressing perfection or wholeness. [FoxMoses]

1:5: “born to Jacob”: FoxMoses offers issuing from Jacob’s loins. He says that loins is a figurative expression for genitals.

1:6: Genesis 50:24-26 tells of Joseph’s death in a little more detail.

1:7: Over four centuries have elapsed since Joseph’s death, as 12:40 indicates. [NOAB] Despite the disappearance of the politically influential generation of Joseph, the Israelites’ success continues. [FoxMoses]

1:7: This verse echoes the language of creation. See Genesis 1:28; 9:1-2. God’s people have grown in number: a reflection of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 18:18. [FoxMoses]

1:7: “the Israelites”: They are now one people. [NJBC]

1:8: “a new king”: Probably a reference to the new regime at the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty under Seti I (1308-1290 BC) and Ramases II (1290-1224 BC). In the hope of regaining Egypt’s Asiatic empire, the pharaohs moved their capital from Thebes to the Nile delta. [NOAB]

1:9: Pharaoh states the case as conflict between one national entity and another. [FoxMoses]

1:10: “the land”: i.e. Goshen, on the northeastern border of Egypt.

1:11: “supply cities”: An allusion to fortification of the area. [NOAB]

1:11: “Rameses”: The new capital was built at the site of the former Hyksos capital, Avari, of Joseph’s time.

1:11: “Pharaoh”: An Egyptian title, not a proper name. [FoxMoses]

1:12: “spread”: The Hebrew word, parotz, literally means burst forth. It is connected with fertility and wealth in Genesis. For example, Genesis 28:14 says: “... your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad ...”.

1:13: “became ruthless ...”: FoxMoses offers made the Children of Israel subservient with crushing labour.

1:14: “in every kind of field labour”: FoxMoses offers with all kinds of labour in the field. He says that in Egyptian accounts, in the field indicates hard labour.

1:15: “Hebrew midwives”: NJBC offers midwives to the Hebrews while FoxMoses offers midwives of the Hebrews. Their names are Semitic but the word Hebrew usually only occurs when a foreigner speaks of Israelites. Yet the women’s answer in v. 19 suggests that they are Egyptian, for Hebrew women are not likely to kill Hebrew babies. [FoxMoses]

1:16: Pharaoh’s folly is to eliminate those who he needs for his future building projects: the men. [NJBC]

2:1: Moses’ parents are anonymous, unlike the usual king and queen of the hero myth in other cultures. That all the secondary characters are nameless helps us to focus on the protagonist and his name. [FoxMoses]

2:2: “that he was a fine baby”: FoxMoses offers was goodly, an echo of Genesis 1:4: “And God saw that the light was good”. The Hebrew word, he says, can also mean handsome or healthy.

2:2: “three months”: Another perfect number. It recurs in the Israelites’ three-month trip to Mount Sinai: see 19:1. [FoxMoses]

2:3-4: Moses’ mother and sister obey Pharaoh’s command to the letter: they throw Moses into the Nile. [NJBC]

2:3: FoxMoses offers little ark. The Hebrew word tewa has been chosen to reflect back to Noah’s Ark. The implication is that just as God saved Noah and thus humanity from destruction by water, so he will now save Moses and the Israelites from the same. [FoxMoses]

2:4: “His sister”: She is called Miriam in 15:20 and in Numbers 26:59.

2:10: “When the child grew up”: Probably when he was three, the normal age of weaning.

2:10: “she took him as her son”: i.e. adopted him legally. [FoxMoses]

2:10: “I drew him out of the water”: While the princess thinks that the name Moses reflects her pulling him out of the water, the Hebrew verb form actually indicates that it will be Moses who does the pulling – when he pulls Israel from the life-threatening waters of slavery and of the Sea of Reeds. [FoxMoses] The narrator sees divine providence at work, causing Pharaoh’s evil design to serve God’s purpose. [NOAB]

2:11-14: In spite of his Egyptian upbringing, Moses identifies himself with his people [NOAB]. Hebrews 11:24-25 says: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin”.

2:11: “One day”: The Hebrew can mean a period of years. [FoxMoses]

2:11: “saw”: The Hebrew word implies sympathy as well as observing. [FoxMoses]

2:11-12: “beating ... killed”: In the Hebrew, the words are the same. [FoxMoses]

2:12: “He looked this way and that”: NJBC considers that Moses killed the man with full intent; however FoxMoses considers that Moses acted with a youthful lack of forethought.

2:14: Moses’ killing makes him unwelcome among his own people. [NJBC] In 5:21, the Israelite supervisors invite Moses and Aaron to judge the rectitude of a situation; however, in the present story, Moses is unable to answer.

2:15b: Moses goes into exile. The Midianites (or Kenites – see Judges 1:16) were distant blood relatives of the Israelites: see Genesis 25:1-2. [NOAB]

2:16: “The priest of Midian”: Biographically it makes sense for Moses to marry into a holy family of some sort. [FoxMoses] The priest is usually called Jethro (see 3:1; 4:18; 18:1) or Horab (see Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11). “Reuel” (v. 18) is called his father in Numbers 10:29 – but the verses may be from different traditions. [CAB] The Midianites inhabited variously the eastern side of the Jordan and Canaan [NJBC] or the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba. [OBA]

2:16: “seven daughters”: The requisite magic number, as in a good fairy tale. [FoxMoses] (Recall Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.)

2:16: “They came to draw water”: The well has been the meeting place for future husbands and wives before: Abraham’s steward (on Isaac’s behalf) meets Rebekah at a well in Genesis 24, and Jacob meets Rachel there too (in Genesis 29).

2:19: “An Egyptian”: Moses is recognizable as such for the manner of his dress and his lack of facial hair. He is not yet, spiritually, fully an Israelite. [FoxMoses]

2:20: Rejected by his kin, here he is eagerly welcomed. “Bread” is synonymous with food.

2:21: “stay”: [FoxMoses] offers settle down.

2:21: “Zipporah”: Her name means bird. Such animal names are still popular among the Bedouin.

2:22: “Gershom”: meaning sojourner or resident alien. The name more accurately reflects the sound of the Hebrew verb garesh meaning to drive out – as Moses has been driven out. [FoxMoses]

2:23: The change of regime, from Seti I to Ramases II, does not benefit the Israelites but it does make it possible for Moses to return to Egypt. Ramases continued the oppressive building project. [NOAB]

2:23: “cried out”: The same verb is used to describe the “outcry” against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:20. [FoxMoses]

Psalm 124

This is a thanksgiving psalm. Plural references and “Israel” (v. 1) suggest national or communal thanksgiving. [NJBC]

Vv. 1-5 speak of a situation in the past when the people were in danger. Vv. 6-8 are thanksgiving for a divine act of deliverance. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side”: 94:17 begins “If the LORD had not been my help ...”. [NJBC]

Verse 3: “swallowed us up alive”: Proverbs 1:10-12 describes “sinners” swallowing the innocent alive like Sheol. See also Numbers 16:30-33. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “the flood would have swept us away”: An echo of the myth of unruly chaos: see Psalm 130:1. Chaotic waters engulfing the psalmist also occurs in Psalm 69:2-3, 15-16. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “as prey to their teeth”: Prey and/or teeth are associated with lions in Amos 3:4; Job 4:10-11 and Psalm 104:21, and with wolves in Genesis 49:27. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “bird”: The heavens (the dome of the sky) was the domain of birds: see Genesis 1:20 etc. The psalm shifts from carnivores on earth to birds in heaven. V. 8b recapitulates, in inverted sequence. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “snare of the fowlers”: a wooden instrument with nets, triggered to capture prey. It is still used in Saudi Arabia for sport. [NJBC]

Romans 12:1-8

Verse 1: “I appeal to you”: Paul speaks as an authorized apostle. See also 1:5; 11:13. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “therefore”: In view of the arguments presented above, particularly in 3:21-8:39.

Verse 1: “by the mercies of God”: As he has mentioned in Chapters 9-11, especially 11:30-32. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “bodies”: As often in Paul, he means selves [NOAB] or whole being [CAB]. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 he asks: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body”.

Verse 1: “spiritual worship”: An NRSV footnote offers reasonable as an alternative translation. The term is taken from Greek philosophical usage, where it is used to state that spiritual or reasonable worship is not confined to any given space or sacred time, but involves the whole person at every moment of his or her life. [CAB] It is guided by logos, reason, ratio (Latin), and befits a human being. [NJBC]

Verse 2: Christians are to live as belonging to the coming age, not this present world. 1 John 2:15 advises: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world”. See also Ephesians 2:2. [NOAB]

Verse 2: “conformed”: i.e. Christian existence is not to be determined by the structures of earthly existence. Vv. 3-13 elaborate this notion and give examples of it. [CAB] See also 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. This alludes to the Jewish distinction between this world/era and the world/era to come. It was adopted by the early Church and was given a Christian nuance. To Paul, the new era has already begun. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “transformed by the renewing of your minds”: This is explained in 12:14-21. See also 2 Corinthians 3:18. The change is internal and not external; it is effected by the indwelling Holy Spirit. [NJBC]

Verse 3: See also 1 Corinthians 4:19; 5:2; 8:1-2; 12:14-16; 13:4.

Verse 3: “by the grace given to me”: In 1:4-5, Paul speaks of “... Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name”. See also 15:15.

Verse 3: “measure of faith”: The gift of faith to work miracles (1 Corinthians 13:2) or of trusting obedience in Christ, with which to measure oneself, or the faith or gospel that Christians confess.

Verses 4-5: In 1 Corinthians 12:12, Paul says: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ”.

Verse 6: “We have gifts that differ”: See also 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Verse 6: “in proportion to faith”: The Greek wording indicates that Christian preaching is accountable to accepted theological standards observed within the prophetic community. [CAB]

Verse 6: “prophecy”: i.e. intelligible preaching. [CAB] See also 1 Corinthians 12:10; 13:2; 14:1-6, 24; 1 Thessalonians 5:20.

Verse 7: “ministry”: The Greek word is diakonia; it is usually translated as service or ministry, as here. It can relate to official forms of office (as in 11:13; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 5:18; 6:3) or to specific tasks, e.g contributions for the poor among the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:31; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1; 12:13). [CAB] To NJBC, it is the administration of material aid or distribution of the alms of the community: see 1 Corinthians 16:15 and Acts 6:1. To him, there is nothing in the text to show that diakonia here refers to the office of deacon.

Verse 7: “teacher”: In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul gives an ordered list of those God has appointed in the Church: “... first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues”. See also Ephesians 4:11.

Verse 8: The gifts listed here have less to do with specific office bearers, and more to do with life and work within the community, perhaps distinctly among lay leaders. [CAB]

Verse 8: “the exhorter”: A gift possessed by the spiritual father of the community. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “the giver”: i.e. the person who shares private wealth by way of alms.

Verse 8: “in generosity”: or with a generous simplicity. Paul also mentions the generosity of Christians in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 9:11, 13.

Verse 8: “the leader”: NOAB suggests the administrator, perhaps of charity (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12) or patron, benefactor (see 16:2). NJBC notes that the Greek is ho proistamenos, the one at the head of the community, i.e. an official or administrator.

Verse 8: “the compassionate”: NJBC offers the merciful helper, one who does acts of mercy.

Matthew 16:13-20

The parallels to vv. 13-23 are Mark 8:27-33 and Luke 9:18-22.

Verse 1: “The Pharisees and Sadducees”: Because these two groups would make strange bedfellows, it is likely that representatives of the religious authorities is intended.

Verse 4: “An evil and adulterous generation”: Old Testament prophets used this expression to describe Israel’s turning away from God. See Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 23:27; Hosea 2:2-10. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “the sign of Jonah”: Perhaps this is a reference to 12:39-40 which says in part: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth”. See Luke 11:29-30, 32 (where it is implied that Jesus is greater than Jonah); Jonah 3:4-5. To BlkMt it is the Resurrection.

Verse 5: “the other side”: i.e. the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Verse 6: “the yeast”: The hypocrisy that starts from the Pharisees and Sadducees and, through their teaching, permeates their followers.

Verse 13: “Caesarea Philippi”: A city built by Philip and named Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “he asked his disciples”: On the basis that the tense is the imperfect, BlkMt says that he asked persistently.

Verse 13: “the Son of Man”: Here equivalent to I. [NOAB] In Daniel 7:13, where the NRSV has “human being”, the Aramaic original is son of man.

Verse 14: “Jeremiah”: He is named here because while he was experiencing rejection and suffering he predicted the rejection and suffering of the Messiah. [NJBC] This prophet is mentioned by name and quoted three times in Matthew (here, 2:17-18 and 27:9-10) and never in the other gospels.

Verse 16: “Simon Peter answered”: NJBC suggests that he acts as spokesman for the other apostles.

Verse 16: “the Messiah”: Both Christ and Messiah mean anointed. While others were anointed for office early in Old Testament times, later only kings were anointed. [NJBC]

Verse 16: “the Son of the living God”: This recalls Psalm 2:4-11, a psalm in which God acclaims the king of the people as his “Son: and as sovereign over the earth. [CAB] This phrase identifies Jesus with the figure in Malachi 3:1-4, expected to come at the end of time. See also Mark 1:2; John 1:49; 11:27. It may also indicate that Peter understands Jesus to be the religious Messiah, not the political one so many people expected. In the popular literature of the time (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17), Messiah described Israel’s future leader in the time before and during the eschaton; he would fulfill Israel’s hopes based on God’s promises.

Verse 17: “Jonah”: I note that “the sign of Jonah” occurs in v. 4. Was Peter the son of Jonah?

Verse 17: “but my Father in heaven”: Understanding spiritual realities involves God’s disclosure. [NOAB] See also 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12.

Verse 18: The Greek text involves a play on two words, petros, (“Peter”) and petra (“rock”). Palestinian Aramaic, which Jesus usually spoke, used the same word for both proper name and common noun: “You are Kepha [Cephas; compare 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9], and upon this kepha [rock] I will build ...”. For the view that all the apostles also form the foundation of the church, see Ephesians 2:20 and Revelation 21:14. [NOAB]

Isaiah 51:1-2 may be in view: “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.” The notion of placing a foundation on a rock also occurs in 1QH (Qumran Hymns) 14:26 (Vermes 6:26).

Verse 18: “church”: See also Galatians 1:13. It is the people of God, called into fellowship with the Lord through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

Verse 18: “Hades”: The place of the dead. To control the “gates” of a city was to conquer it. See also Isaiah 38:10; Job 38:17; Psalm 9:14; Wisdom of Solomon 16:13.

Verse 19: Isaiah 22:22-23 may shed some light on this verse: “I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honour to his ancestral house.” Job 12:13-14 speaks of shutting: “With God are wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, no one can rebuild; if he shuts someone in, no one can open up.” 1 Enoch 1-16 thinks in these terms.

Verse 19: “‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’”: Using terminology found in the rabbinic traditions (“bind”, “loose”), Peter and the apostles will make decisions about regulations to guide the life of the community, which will be confirmed by God “in heaven”. 18:18 also contains these words. [CAB]

Verse 19: “the keys of the kingdom”: They are a symbol of Peter’s power as the leader of the church. [NOAB] While this verse seems to say that Peter has full access to knowledge of the Kingdom, in v. 21-22 he shows a lack of understanding.

Verse 19: “bind ... loose”:

In discussing the question of the identification of the “rock” (v. 18) and the significance of the “keys” and of binding and loosing (v. 19) the author and I came to the realization that we were unable ultimately to extricate ourselves from dialogue on the question of papal authority, for this text has been long used as a proof-text in papal claims. (Petrine mysticism) We realized that our alternative interpretations tended either to support or refute papal claims and we were hard-pressed to establish another line of enquiry external to that dialogue. With that difficulty in mind, I engage in some historical conjecture.
First, Matthew's Gospel appears to be written from a Jewish perspective and/or for a Jewish-Christian audience. It also exhibits a bias toward universalism, ending with the Great Commission. Matthew also shows interest in the community, using here (v. 18) and again (twice) in 18:17 the term ekklesia (church) – the only places in the Gospels where the term occurs. Matthew's Gospel is commonly dated to the 80s or 90s of the first century CE, and certainly not earlier than the 50s.
It is well attested in Paul's letters that there was ongoing conflict between conservative Jewish Christians and liberal Jewish and Gentile Christians on the question of the role of the Law in the new community. This came to the fore in the dispute over Peter's visit to the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Consider, for example, the report in Acts 11:2b-3: “the circumcised believers criticized [Peter], saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’”. Peter's initial response indicates adoption of the liberal perspective that the Law was no longer binding. Yet, notwithstanding the initial claim that the matter was settled (Acts 11:18: “they were silenced”) the matter was clearly not settled, as we see from the convening of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15, c. 45 CE). In the Acts account, Peter continues to speak for his liberal position, although the ultimate decision of the Council still requires abstention from blood, from strangled animals and from food sacrificed to idols. However, in Paul's account of the same incident, he accuses Peter of repudiating his former acceptance of Gentile practises. (See Galatians 2:1-14 – this assumes that Cephas and Peter are the same person, which is not universally accepted). Again from Galatians, we see that there continues to be open conflict on the issue of observance of the Law in the Church.
Now, how does this relate to Matthew? Writing at least a decade – and probably several decades - after the initial conflict, but still in an era of open dispute between Jewish and Gentile Christians, perhaps Matthew is here lending credence to Peter's stance as it was ultimately recorded in Acts. (A majority dating of Acts to 70-85 CE is consistent with the possibility that Matthew even had the text (vv. 18-19) in hand when finalizing his Gospel, though this possibility need not be assumed).
Given Matthew's universalist stance, the use of the terms “bind” and “loose” – possibly rabbinic terms for “oblige” and “permit” - may be a statement of the authority of Peter to modify the (Jewish-)Christian community's stance toward the Law. In other words, perhaps Matthew is here writing in support of Peter's authority to declare eating with Gentiles – and hence other non-observance of the Law – acceptable. Whether this is in support of the statements as published in Acts, or is Matthew's contribution to the controversy when it arose in the 40s (assuming a much earlier date for Matthew), it would seem that this passage may be part of Matthew's contribution to the debate between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Peter, who has correctly determined who Jesus is, now is authorized to interpret the religious regulations for the community. What is bound (obliged) on earth is bound in heaven and what is loosed (permitted) on earth is loosed in heaven. That is, Peter's universalist interpretation will have the seal of God's approval. As Rabbi Leigh Lerner (of Temple Emmanu-El Beth Shalom in Montreal) has written, “That which the correct interpreter permits on earth is truly permitted by God as well.”
If this statement in the Gospel does arise in the context of a specific controversy, it need not necessarily be a pronouncement of authority which continues to bind the church in a specific way for all time. Nevertheless, without presuming to pronounce here on claims of papal authority, the community of the People of God continues to have responsibility – and to need authority – to regulate itself in times of controversy. There continue to be contemporary issues which require correct interpretation as to what is obliged or permitted. [Alan T Perry]

Verse 19: “bind ... loose”: These are technical rabbinic terms meaning forbid and permit some action about which a question has arisen. Later the authority of binding and loosing was also conferred upon all the apostles: see 18:18. [NOAB]

In Gospel of Thomas 12, the key role is assigned to James, the leader of the Jewish Christians. For Gentile Christians, Paul would have been the preferred candidate for leadership. Peter thus represents a compromise that can hold both tendencies in the early church in an uneasy synthesis. Matthew here shows his ecumenical good sense. Peter was also the spokesman for the apostles during the ministry of Jesus. [NJBC]

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