NLT Study Bible Blog.
How Is the NLT Study Bible Different #2
CD-Host asked Tyndale editor Keith Williams about some of the distinctives of the NLT Study Bible, so I answered his questions in a comment.
posted by Sean Harrison at 10:52 AM
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How is the NLT Study Bible Different?
Many people ask a variation of the following question: “How is the NLT Study Bible different from / better than [other study Bible X]?”

I don’t want to parody any other study Bible, because (as the editor of one) I know just how much effort they require, and I want to honor the truly excellent contributions of all who have been involved in making study Bibles. So I’m not going mention other products—not because they aren’t worth it, but because I cannot do them justice. I’d better leave that job to more impartial observers.

Okay, that’s my disclaimer. Now, here’s my perspective on the matter: Basically, the NLT Study Bible focuses on the meaning and message of the text as understood in and through the original historical context. I don’t see other study Bibles focusing so fully on that. Some study Bibles focus on helping people to accept a particular doctrinal system, while others focus on “personal application.” Others simply provide interesting details about the context, language, grammar, etc., without asking how that information will impact people’s understanding of the text. Still others focus on a particular type of study methodology—topical study, word study, etc. Our goal, by contrast, was to provide everything we could that would help the readers understand the Scripture text more fully as the original human authors and readers themselves would have understood it.

One way in which this goal works out is this: In many passages, we don’t discuss the theological implications “for us” in our culture, where it is different from the biblical world. We simply discuss what the text meant in the original context and let people extrapolate from there. This means, for instance, that we don’t have a discussion of "Creation vs. Evolution" in Genesis 1—because that question was really not at play for the original human author and readers of Genesis (I’ll probably post more about Gen 1 in the future).

Another way to put this distinctive is this: We don’t try to take the place of the Christian tradition/community in providing a systematic doctrinal understanding of Scripture. Within the scope of “evangelical Protestant Christianity,” there are a lot of different systematic ways to understand the Bible. What we are trying to do is supplement that understanding, deepen it, and (on occasion) challenge it in light of a contextual reading of Scripture. We are not trying to mold the readers to a particular systematic theology, but to deepen and enrich their own reading of Scripture. So people from a variety of traditions/communities should be able to benefit from studying the Bible with the NLT Study Bible.
posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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The Family Redeemer, Part Three (Ruth #7)
[part 1 | part 2]

While reading Ruth 2, we learned that Boaz was a “family redeemer” for Naomi and Ruth, and through the study materials we were able to understand what that means in a general sense. Now let’s see how it plays out in Ruth 3–4. As we do, we have a couple of unanswered questions:
  • Did Naomi have in mind that Boaz would buy back her family’s property?
  • How did Boaz’s status as family redeemer for Naomi relate to Ruth?

As we read Ruth 3:1-4, it becomes clear that Naomi has a plan to provide her daughter-in-law Ruth with “a permanent home”: Naomi instructs Ruth to make herself attractive and go present herself to Boaz in the night. As Ruth does so, she makes a remarkable request:
“Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my dfamily redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9)
In other words, “Marry me, because you are a near kinsman whose role is to act as a go’el.” This is an amazing request: Apparently both Naomi and Ruth had made a connection between the Boaz’s status as a go’el and his ability to provide an heir who would inherit the family property. As we discussed previously, he was not under a strict obligation to provide an heir, because he was not Elimelech’s brother. He was, however, eligible to do so, and evidently Ruth and Naomi believed that he would do so because of his generosity up to that point. Certainly there was a connection between the family redeemer’s obligation to help keep property in the family, and the need to have an heir who could inherit the property.

The study note on Ruth 3:9 does not provide much information at this point, because the idea of a family redeemer has already been explained at 2:20 and in the theme note, and all the connections really become clear in ch 4. So the note simply points to those resources:
3:9 ... Ruth appealed to Boaz’s status as a family redeemer (Hebrew go’el; see “The Family Redeemer,” above) to persuade him to marry her (see 4:5).
The connection between Boaz’s status as a family redeemer, and the need to provide an heir to inherit Naomi’s property, becomes clear in ch 4.

Before we go there, though, we should take note of Boaz’s response in 3:10-13: Boaz clearly understood that Ruth was asking him to marry her to fulfill his role as the family redeemer, and he understood this to be an act of loyalty to the family. Boaz saw Ruth as willing to provide an heir for Elimelech’s family rather than seeking a marriage for her own satisfaction. That is why he exclaimed that she was “showing even more family loyalty now than you did before” (Ruth 3:10).

In ch 4, Boaz takes the issue to the town assembly and presents the opportunity to the man who is a nearer relative, who has the right of first refusal. Here everything becomes clear: Naomi was “selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech” (4:3), and Boaz was offering this other kinsman the right to “redeem” the land first (4:4), because he was a closer relative (3:12). While it is both clear and accurate to translate 4:3 that Naomi was “selling” the land, in the original context the situation was more complex than our idea of selling, as the study notes makes clear:
4:3 Naomi ... is selling the land: Naomi probably did not have control of Elimelech’s ancestral land, though she did have legal title. She was selling the right to redeem it, or buy it back, from whoever was currently using it (see 4:4).

4:4 redeem it: The law called for a near relative, the family redeemer, to buy land when a landowner had to sell it (see Lev 25:23-34). This practice kept land in the family; the redeemer was a conservator for the land until the destitute landowner could recover economically and buy it back.
Thus, the offer to the nearer relative was that he could buy the use of the land and hold it as conservator until Elimelech or his heir could buy it back.

As 4:4 makes clear, the nearer kinsman immediately offered to buy the land. The study note on 4:4 explains:
All right, I’ll redeem it: The kinsman could see a great opportunity—there was no male heir and no apparent likelihood that there would be one, so he could add the land to his own estate while doing his social duty for the family.
It was a win-win situation for him: It was unlikely that Elimelech would produce an heir, because he was dead, his sons were dead, and his wife was old. So he could look like a hero and serve his own interests as well.

But now, in 4:5, Boaz introduces Ruth into the equation, and it is clear from the other kinsman’s response in 4:6 that this move was a surprise to him. Why was it a surprise? After all, everyone knew about Ruth, so shouldn’t the other kinsman have realized that he would be called on to provide an heir for Elimelech through her? Apparently not! The second part of the note on 4:5 explains this situation:
4:5 ... • That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family: This sentence draws heavily on Deut 25:7. Boaz connected the duties of a family redeemer (see notes on 2:20; Lev 25:25) with the duties of a brother-in-law (Latin levir) to provide an heir for a deceased brother (see Deut 25:5-10 for a description of levirate marriage; cp. Gen 38). There is no precise precedent for Boaz’s legal maneuver. The duty of the levir as stated in Deut 25:5-10 was not binding in this situation (neither Boaz nor the other kinsman was Elimelech’s brother, and Ruth was not Elimelech’s widow). Boaz was apparently using the spirit of the law concerning the go’el (family redeemer) to establish a moral, if not a legal, obligation to serve as levir and provide the deceased with an heir to inherit the land (see note on Lev 25:25). The concepts of land ownership and provision for an heir were intimately connected in ancient Israel (cp. Num 27:1-11). Because Naomi was beyond childbearing age, Ruth, the widow of Elimelech’s son, would be the mother for such an heir. This maneuver apparently surprised the other kinsman (4:6), but it is clear from what follows that Boaz’s argument, while perhaps novel, was accepted as valid.
The other kinsman replies, “Then I can’t redeem it, ... because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it” (4:6). Why would it endanger the other man’s estate to marry Ruth? The note on 4:6 explains:
4:6 Then I can’t redeem it: The addition of Ruth to the transaction completely changed the equation for the other kinsman. • this might endanger my own estate: If he bought the land, married Ruth, and raised an heir for Elimelech, he might invest many resources only to lose control of the new land, and he might not have enough to maintain his own land. If he then failed to have a second son with Ruth as his own heir, his land would be inherited by Elimelech’s heir, and his own name would die out. Even if this kinsman had acquired the land and not Ruth (see notes on 3:11; 4:5), he still might lose his investment in the land to the heir born to Ruth. By acting to preserve his own name, this man became the no-name who refused to help his close relative.
What Boaz did was a brilliant legal manueuver: He made it certain that Ruth would be provided for and that Elimelech would be provided an heir. It is also not too far a stretch to say that he knew the other man’s character and was ensuring that he himself would be the one to redeem the land, marry Ruth, and provide Elimelech an heir through her. What a Mensch! Just like Jesus.

We’ve followed the theme of the family redeemer through the book of Ruth, and we’ve seen how much more fully we can understand what is going on in that book if we understand the cultural customs that guided the people involved. The study notes, theme note on “The Family Redeemer,” and the word study on Hebrew go’el have all helped us to overcome our cultural difference and catch a glimpse of Ruth’s amazing faith and Boaz’s remarkable generosity.

Sometime soon, I would encourage you read through the book of Ruth afresh and enjoy more fully than ever the romance and beauty of what God did through these ancestors of King David.
posted by Sean Harrison at 8:00 AM
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The Exodus Plagues
Now that we’ve given out one hundred copies of the NLT Study Bible, we’re already getting feedback from readers on other materials in the Study Bible. One reader noticed that, with regard to the plagues in Exodus 7–11, we don’t say anything by way of explanation for how the plagues happened. He was pleased with that decision, because to explain the plagues by means of natural causes might suggest that they are not miraculous.

That is, in fact, why we did what we did. It was a hard decision — after all, it is natural to try to understand how things happened, and there is no doubt that God uses natural means to accomplish his purposes. And I suppose there is nothing wrong in principle with seeking to understand the means that God uses on various occasions. But in the end we believe that the plagues were supernatural manifestations of God’s power, not really explainable by natural means. Our study notes say as much:

7:3 The Lord would use miraculous signs and wonders to convince Pharaoh, just as he had promised to use signs to convince the Israelites that they should follow Moses (3:12; 4:5, 8, 9).

7:5 my powerful hand: A further revelation of God would take place in the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, revealing God’s incomparable power.
If the plagues were miraculous manifestations and signs of God’s power, there really doesn’t seem to be much point in looking for natural causes.

In addition, our purpose in developing the NLT Study Bible was to help people understand Scripture as much as possible in the same light as the original readers. The original readers would not have asked about whether or not a particular miracle could have occurred, or how it could have occurred by means of natural processes. They did not have a modern, naturalistic worldview that discounts and explains away the supernatural. Instead, they had a polytheistic worldview in which various gods controlled the various forces of nature. Exodus was addressing that worldview, by showing how God is supreme over all the forces of nature, without any regard for so-called gods. So we focused our notes in this section on the ways in which God, through the plagues, was communicating the impotence of the gods of Egypt and displaying his own power over all things. Here is a sample:

7:8–11:10 God showed that all the Egyptians’ so-called gods, supposed to be sources of life, were really sources of death apart from the life-giving power of the Lord (see 12:12; 18:11).

7:14-25 The first plague was the plague on the Nile, when the whole river turned to blood (7:20). The Egyptians correctly understood that without the Nile there would be no life in Egypt. They worshiped the Nile as the Mother of Egypt, but God showed that life is his to give or withhold.

8:1-15 The second plague was the plague of frogs (8:2). The Egyptians gave special reverence to amphibians because of their ability to live in two different worlds; Egyptians were deeply concerned with survival in the next world, after death. God showed that frogs have no special hold on life.
God was in the process of taking the people of Israel out of Egypt and making them his people, the nation of Israel. They had swallowed much of the water of the Nile and had incorporated Egyptian gods into their own thinking (see, e.g., Exod 32). So the Lord was showing them that he alone is the Lord.

In many ways we are like the Egyptians (or, the Israelites in Egypt). We live in a world in which there are many sources of “life” and “power” that people revere. But when we come to the Lord by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, he shows us in unique and wonderful ways that he holds all power over all the forces of heaven and earth. We can trust him and look to him for all things, because he alone is God.
posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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ICRS 2008
Most of our team has been at ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) all week. On Monday morning, our sales team gave away 100 free copies of the NLT Study Bible — they went really quickly! I barely got my own first copy, but the marketing manager did manage to scrape up a copy in bonded leather black (my favorite “color”). I love it! Everything about it is beautiful. I am especially thankful for Tim Botts’ exquisite interior design.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Tyndale booth talking with owners of Christian bookstores about the NLT Study Bible. It was fun talking with these folks about the distinctives of the NLT Study Bible and have them ask insightful questions about it. There seemed to be genuine enthusiasm for the product at the show — one group of retailers was asked (not by Tyndale people), “What is the most exciting thing at the show this year for you?” Several of them answered, “The NLT Study Bible.” Our sales team is also catching the vision, and they are beginning to tell me about the store owners “getting it.”

Getting what? What really is so special about the NLT Study Bible? I think it’s a combination of things, but if I had to put it in one sentence, it would be this: The NLT Study Bible focuses on making the meaning of the text clear in its original historical context, so that readers today can understand it, as much as possible, just as the human writers and first readers did. This focus on clear meaning in context guided everything we did.
posted by Sean Harrison at 10:11 AM
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The Family Redeemer, Part Two (Ruth #6)
Last time, we began discussing the concept of the family redeemer in Ruth 2:20. The question we’re asking is, What does it mean that Boaz is a family redeemer, and why is it important in this context?

Ruth 2:20 study note
We learned from the word study on go’el that the “family redeemer” has an obligation “to buy an object or person from indenture, slavery, or otherwise harsh circumstances.” Okay, so how did this obligation apply to Boaz, whom Naomi recognized as a family redeemer for her and Ruth?

According to the study note on Ruth 2:20, a family redeemer’s obligations included helping a relative “who fell into economic difficulty.” Certainly this was the case with Naomi and Ruth. Let’s see exactly what those obligations were. First off, we look on the facing page and find that there is a theme note on "The Family Redeemer":

“The Family Redeemer” theme note.

In this theme note, we learn that the family redeemer had an obligation to “redeem” (buy back) land that had been sold. Naomi and Elimelech had no doubt sold their land when they had moved to Moab, so now the family property was in other hands, and Naomi didn’t have the means to buy it back herself. She needed someone else to buy it back, so that it would remain in the clan. Did she have in mind that Boaz would be the one to buy it back?

The study note on Ruth 2:20 also refers to the note on Lev 25:25, in the passage that discusses this obligation. Here is that note:

25:25 The Hebrew word translated buy it back (ga’al) is often translated “redeem.” It means “to restore something to its original or proper state of existence.” The noun derived from this root (go’el) indicates the close relative who will restore what is out of order. The relative’s duties were to redeem the property of his kinsman and keep it in the family (see Ruth 4:1-4; Jer 32:6-15); to seek out the murderer of his kinsman and bring him to justice (Num 35:19); and to marry his brother’s widow and father a male heir to inherit the estate of his dead kinsman (Deut 25:5-10; see Gen 38:6-30; Ruth 4:9-10).

The note on Lev 25:25 introduces another obligation of the family redeemer: “to marry his brother’s widow and father a male heir to inherit the estate.” This custom, called “Levirate marriage” (from Latin levir, “brother-in-law”), was an important custom in ancient Israel and the near east in general. In the ancient world, it was absolutely crucial that property stay in the clan. So if a man died without a male heir to inherit the property, a male heir had to be provided. The custom is explained in Deut 25:5-10, Judah’s sons are an example of it (Gen 38:6-30), and it forms the basis of the trick question that the Sadducees posed to Jesus (Matt 22:23-28). In Ruth 2:20, was Naomi thinking that Boaz would not only buy back Elimelech’s family property, but also provided an heir to inherit it? According to Lev 25, the legal obligation to provide an heir applies to a brother and does not necessarily extend beyond a brother. If Boaz was not Elimelech’s brother, how could that obligation apply in this situation?

One other comment about the theme note on “The Family Redeemer”: This theme note follows the thread of this custom through Scripture and into the New Testament. It explains how the custom of the family redeemer speaks of the character of God, and points to Jesus as “the perfect family redeemer.” This is a good example of how the theme notes in the NLT Study Bible function. They don’t just deal with the theme in a given book, but they follow the threads of the tapestry where they lead. In many cases, we find that the themes of the Bible are “tied off” in Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself said, “The Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39).

Next time we will continue our discussion of the family redeemer theme in Ruth and see how it plays out in Ruth 3–4.
posted by Sean Harrison at 12:36 PM
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The Family Redeemer (Ruth #5)
As I mentioned previously, I really love the story in the book of Ruth. But one of the key questions that comes up while reading the book of Ruth is, What is the whole family redeemer thing all about?

In Ruth 2:20, after Ruth has come home with a report of Boaz’s kindness to her, it is significant to Naomi that Boaz is a family redeemer.

“May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our cfamily redeemers.”

What does it mean that he is a family redeemer, and why is it important in this context?

We can start by looking at the NLT text itself and noticing a superscript “c” next to the phrase “family redeemers.” This superscript letter indicates that there is a word study on this Hebrew word. In the cross-reference column we find the corresponding Hebrew word (go’el), along with the Strong’s reference number (1350)—we use the Strong’s numbering system for Hebrew and Greek words, based on the original Strong’s concordance. This numbering system has been used in countless Hebrew and Greek word study tools in the English language. The word study tool is a chain reference system, with the next reference in the chain being listed on the next line (Ruth 3:9). So we can read a sampling of passages that use the same Hebrew or Greek word, in order to get an idea of the usage of that word. Here is where dynamic equivalence really shines for word study: Hebrew and Greek words have different meanings in different contexts. The NLT helps us to see the range of meanings that is possible for a given Hebrew or Greek word.

Hebrew Word Study for go’el, p. 2217.
Now, if we look in the Hebrew and Greek word study index in the back of the NLT Study Bible, we will find all the Hebrew and Greek words in the chain reference system listed in numerical order. The entry for Hebrew 1350 (ga’al, go’el) gives a short definition of both the verb and noun forms of this word, along with all of the references in each of these chains.

The family redeemer had an obligation “to buy an object or person from indenture, slavery, or otherwise harsh circumstances.” We know that Ruth and Naomi, although not indentured or in slavery, were indeed in harsh circumstances. Naomi recognized that Boaz's kindness fit with his status as a family redeemer. It seems that an idea was beginning to form in Naomi’s mind, an idea that comes to fruition in chapter 3.

We’ll continue this study of the concept of the family redeemer in the next installment.
posted by Sean Harrison at 3:45 PM
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Let Us Make (Gen 1:26)
A reader recently raised a question regarding the study note on Gen 1:26. Here is the NLT text and study note for reference (which you can also see on p. 10 of the Genesis sampler):

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Gen 1:26, NLT)

1:26 Let us make is more personal than the remote “Let there be” (e.g., 1:3, 6). • The plural us has inspired several explanations: (1) the Trinity; (2) the plural to denote majesty; (3) a plural to show deliberation with the self; and (4) God speaking with his heavenly court of angels. The concept of the Trinity—one true God who exists eternally in three distinct persons—was revealed at a later stage in redemptive history, making it unlikely that the human author intended that here. Hebrew scholars generally dismiss the plural of majesty view because the grammar does not clearly support it (the plural of majesty has not been demonstrated to be communicated purely through a plural verb). The plural of self-deliberation also lacks evidence; the only clear examples refer to Israel as a corporate unity (e.g., 2 Sam 24:14). God’s speaking to the heavenly court, however, is well-attested in the OT (see 3:22; 11:7; 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; 38:7; Ps 89:5-6; Isa 6:1-8; Dan 10:12-13).

Here are the reader’s question and comments:

I was just reading through some notes in the Genesis sampler and am concerned with a conclusion reached in Gen 1:26. The scholar(s) that worked on it seems to have gotten away with endorsing their own view while quickly rebutting the other 3 views.... The conclusion reached in this passage is that “Let us make human beings in our image” is referring to God’s conversation with the ‘heavenly court’ or ‘angels’ and dismisses the view that it is the Godhead. Why then in verse 27 did He say that God created human beings in his own image (not in the image of angels)?

If they would have just listed the various views and not their bias, it would have been a truer Study Bible....

In reply, it is worth repeating that we do our best to explain the text in its original context. I agree with the contributor’s judgment that “Let us make” probably does not refer to the Trinity in the original context of Genesis. To put it another way, Moses would not have understood it that way, and neither would the people of Israel to whom he was writing.

I’m concerned with the perception that we are “dismissing” alternate views. We do present them, and we explain briefly why they are less probable, and why the idea that God is speaking to the heavenly court is more probable, including pointing to other passages that help set the context of this passage and give us insight as to what was probably meant here.

The doctrine of the Trinity—the uniplurality of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—did not become clear until Jesus and the apostles explained it. So Gen 1:26 probably was not intended by Moses to refer to the Trinity or to God as a plurality. Yet Christian readers have, from very early on, seen the Trinity reflected in this verse. Are they wrong? No, not necessarily. The Old Testament understanding of God in the midst of his heavenly court is fully compatible with the New Testament understanding that God’s “court” includes the uniplurality of his own identity. It is not necessarily wrong to see dim reflections of the Trinity in Old Testament passages like this, but the question we are asking in the NLT Study Bible is, how would the original human writers and readers have understood the passage? That is our focus.

It also concerns me that the reader perceives the authors and editors as trying to sneak bias into the notes. We’re really just trying to provide as much cutting-edge evangelical biblical scholarship as we can. In the NLT Study Bible, we do our best to go where the Bible itself takes us, as understood in light of the best available scholarship, within a frame of reference of faith that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable” (2Tim 3:16).

We do understand that different interpreters have different judgments about various things, which is why we include a variety of resources in the “Further Reading” for each book—so that readers can pursue these questions to greater depth than a study Bible can address.

In the case of Gen 1:26, The description of God addressing his heavenly court in the process of creation speaks of his majesty and authority as King—which is very much at play in Genesis 1. In response, the ancient people of Israel and we ourselves today should fall down before him in worship and say, “How great is our God! Not only does he rule the heavens and the earth, but he rules all the hosts of heaven. Nothing is beyond the bounds of his authority.”
posted by Sean Harrison at 11:53 AM
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Ruth behind the Harvesters (Ruth #4)
Ruth 2:2-3 talks about Ruth going out into the fields “behind the harvesters”:

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. (Ruth 2:2-3a)

Why did Ruth do this, and why did she think she could go gather grain for free? The study note on Ruth 2:2 provides some guidance for understanding this custom:

2:2 to pick up the stalks of grain left behind: Harvesters were to leave some grain for the poor to glean (see Lev 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut 24:19-22). God provided the poor with food.

So we learn that Ruth was exercising a right that God’s law had provided for her (as recorded in the referenced passages). She was doing it because she and Naomi were very poor, as ch 1 makes clear.

Ruth had a right to gather grain after the harvesters had gone through the fields, but Boaz showed her kindness beyond the requirement of the law by letting her gather right behind the harvesters and share in their supply of water, by giving her lunch, and by instructing his harvesters to leave her extra grain on purpose. Boaz’s kindness became the context in which Naomi recognized Boaz as one of their family redeemers, to which we turn in the next installment.
posted by Sean Harrison at 6:00 PM
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