Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Write-Up: Farewell to God, by Charles Templeton

Charles Templeton.  Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.  Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.

Charles Templeton was a Christian evangelist and a close friend to Billy Graham.  Templeton left the Christian faith and became an agnostic.  In this book, he explains why.

A lot of his reasons are not particularly new.  They include the problem of how God can permit evil and suffering, the implausibilities within the Bible (i.e., the Flood story), biblical contradictions, the problem of how God can damn so many people in the world to hell for not being Christian, inconsistencies between the Bible and science, the reality that many people embrace the dominant religion of their surroundings, the deficiencies in character and temperament of the God of the Old Testament, and Old Testament laws that marginalize or are unfair towards women.  I suppose that even someone who has already interacted with these issues can learn something new from Templeton’s discussion: I, for one, never thought about the problem of ventilation on Noah’s Ark!

The book is about more than Templeton poking holes in the Bible and Christianity, though. Templeton also reflects on the decline of Christianity (except for fundamentalist Christianity) in the West, the humble Christians he knew and admired, and technological advancement that is accompanied by emptiness and moral corruption.  While Templeton does not believe that Jesus was God and thinks that the Sermon on the Mount is rather unrealistic, he admires Jesus for his moral insights and courage.  He contrasts Jesus with mainline pastors whose messages do not rock the boat!

Templeton says that he is not an atheist but an agnostic.  He believes that something started the universe but that it was an impersonal force rather than a personal being.  For Templeton, the universe is indifferent to human beings.  Templeton still maintains, however, that there are natural and moral laws, and that obeying them can result in positive consequences.  Society works better when people are kind to each other.  If people treat nature well, then nature will treat them well.  (Templeton asks why God does not send rain to areas plagued by drought, yet he also blames drought on human beings.)

Does Templeton regret leaving Christianity?  He acknowledges that church can bring people comfort, community, and solidarity, and he misses that.  At the same time, he says that he was plagued by doubts when he was a Christian, as a result of what he was reading.  Now, he is free to explore different things, without fear that what he learns might contradict Christian orthodoxy.

I enjoyed his telling of his own conversion story, how he became a Christian, perhaps because it is somewhat similar to my own.  Templeton felt guilty and unclean but felt peace, warmth, and light after he asked God to come into his life.  In my case, I felt guilty and aimless, and I was looking for comfort and a moral compass.  I felt peaceful and grounded when I committed myself to Christ.

My favorite passage in Templeton’s book was what he said on page 233 about loving his neighbor: “I believe that you cannot love your neighbour as yourself but that you should care about your neighbour, whoever he is and wherever he lives, help him when you can and co-operate with him to make the world a better place.”

I myself question whether I am called to love my neighbor in the exact same proportion that I love myself, or to love my neighbor more than I love myself.  I doubt that is possible or that even many evangelical Christians attain to that.  I do believe, however, that I should love my neighbor, and that there are times when I may need to put others first for the sake of peace, or because it is the right thing to do.

In terms of criticisms of the book, I have three.  First of all, Templeton did not really interact with Christian voices that were not fundamentalist.  In a movie about Billy Graham’s early years, the Templeton character praised an academic for his dissertation on theologian Karl Barth.  I wonder where Templeton would find Barth’s thought to be inadequate.  My understanding is that Barth tended to dodge modernist criticisms of Christianity and the Bible by focusing on how God can use the Bible to challenge Christians in church.  In my opinion, even if the Bible has problems, God can still use it to bring people into relationship with God, and to challenge them about their sin and need for redemption.

Second, Templeton did not have much of a critical methodology in determining what in the New Testament was historical and un-historical.  He dismissed the Temptation story of Jesus because that sounded to him like a legend serving to highlight Jesus’ humanity.  He rejected the stories of Jesus’ resurrection because they were contradictory.  Yet, he largely accepted the parts of the Gospels about Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion, even though he had just said that the Gospels were written after the time of Jesus by people who did not even know him, casting doubt on their historical reliability.  Templeton seemed to accept those parts because he found them plausible and did not think that they contradicted each other, even though they arguably do.  Interestingly, Templeton even found Jesus’ miracles to be plausible, but that was because he thought that Jesus may have been curing psychosomatic illnesses, or people’s symptoms manifested themselves again after Jesus left (as occurs with a number of faith healers).  Templeton’s discussion of the historical Jesus was interesting, but he should have offered a better methodology of why he was deeming parts of the Gospels to be historical, especially after arguing that there is reason to doubt the Gospels’ historicity.

Third, Templeton should have explained how the stories about the resurrection of Jesus originated.  He said that Jesus’ followers made them up because they were disappointed about Jesus’ death, but Christian apologists can then ask questions:  Does that mean that Jesus’ disciples were lying?  Would they be willing to suffer or even die for something they made up?  Templeton should have interacted with such issues.  I will say, though, that Templeton did raise an interesting consideration: If Jesus’ tomb was empty, would not Jesus’ disciples be able to point all of the Jews to the empty tomb, resulting in mass conversions to Jesus?  The Gospel of Matthew has an answer to that, though: Many Jews believed that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while the Roman guards were asleep.

This was a worthwhile book for me to read.  It is important for me to read books like this so that I can clarify to myself what I believe, and why.  I think that Templeton asks good questions and raises valid points.  I personally do not dismiss the existence of God or a higher power, but I struggle with questions about God’s existence and activity (or lack thereof) in the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nicolle Wallace vs. Rosie O'Donnell

On The View yesterday, Republican Nicolle Wallace and Rosie O’Donnell were arguing over whether President Obama loves people.  See here to read more about that.

Personally, I think that Rosie O’Donnell was missing Nicolle Wallace’s point.  Nicolle Wallace was not saying that President Obama wants to harm others or is totally uninterested in their well-being.  My impression is that she was simply saying that he’s not much of a people-person: he does not like to schmooze with people on Capitol Hill.  He is rather introverted.  People all across the political spectrum have made this point.  But Rosie was likening Nicolle’s point to the claim some made that George W. Bush neglected New Orleans after Katrina out of a dislike for African-American people.

What puzzled me was that Nicolle Wallace was really making no attempt to clarify what she was saying and to correct Rosie’s misunderstanding.  Why not?  Is it because Nicolle is getting used to The View?  Was this all a design to increase conflict on the show so it will be talked about on the Internet the next day, as has happened?

Book Write-Up: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

Richard J. Foster.  The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex & Power.  HarperSanFrancisco, 1985.

If you are looking for a book that provides clear-cut rules about how a Christian should handle money, sex, and power, then this may not be the book for you.  What the book does do is offer things to think about.

Can a Christian man have sexual fantasies, or does that violate what Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 about lusting after women being adultery?  Richard J. Foster says that sexual fantasies can be a legitimate outlet, but that one should take heed not to think that reality is like one’s fantasy, and that sex should be about mutual love rather than dehumanizing other people.

Is homosexuality a sin in the eyes of God?  Foster believes that it is, even as he acknowledges that people do not always choose their sexual attractions (and how advanced of an understanding that was in the 1980’s, I do not know for sure).  Still, Foster on page 112 likens homosexuals pursuing a relationship to a less-than-ideal war: sure, it is less than ideal, but there can still be moral constraints and limitations placed on it if that is what one chooses.  Foster also does not think that Christians should abandon homosexuals who choose to have a relationship but should stay around to help pick up the pieces if things fall apart.  That is pretty presumptuous—-it’s like Foster is saying that we should expect homosexual relationships to lead to disaster because they go against God’s will, when Foster is very much aware that there are heterosexual relationships that fall apart.  Yet, Foster’s discussion was different from the absolutist stance that many conservative Christians take.

Should Christians get a divorce?  Foster believes that Jesus criticized divorce because there were Hillelite Pharisees who dumped their wives for any reason, leaving them vulnerable.  Foster thinks that we should keep that in mind rather than applying Jesus’ teaching legalistically.  Foster argues that Paul himself was rather flexible in applying Jesus’ teaching in I Corinthians 7, where Paul allows couples to separate if one is a Christian while the other is not, something that goes beyond Jesus’ teaching that one should not divorce unless there is sexual immorality.  Foster also contends that marriage should be about mutual love and the benefit of others, and, if a marriage is not manifesting that, it may be best to end it.

How much money should a Christian give?  Foster does not say, but he does give us things to consider.  Jesus was very critical of money, probably because Jesus recognized its power in gaining people’s devotion and motivating them to do almost anything for it.  But there are also passages about wisdom, good stewardship, and enjoying God’s creation, which differs from asceticism.  Foster makes the point that, technically, our money belongs to God, so we should be asking ourselves how much of it we can use for ourselves rather than how much we should give to God.  Foster also stresses giving to others.

In one interesting case, Foster shows how rules can get in the way of love.  He tells of an African Christian man who inherited his father’s wives.  The man could have put the wives away to obey a rule, but that could have left them alone, vulnerable, and unsupported in the world.  Consequently, he chose to stay married to them, while refraining from sex with them and allowing them to pursue their own romantic interests.

Foster transcends the liberal-conservative divide, for he largely affirms conservative sexual morality, while also criticizing war.  In one part of the book, he asks if a Christian scientist can legitimately work for the military-industrial complex.

Foster also provides interesting historical information, such as the Puritans’ permissive attitude towards divorce.

I have two criticisms, though.  First of all, I think that there are times when Foster ignores historical or cultural explanations for certain biblical commands.  While I am open to accepting that biblical commands about sexual restraint were about love, they were also about keeping property in the family, fathers being able to know for sure that their children were really their children, and the negotiations that families made with each other regarding marriage.  Foster largely ignored those considerations.

Second, I am a bit ambivalent about Foster’s biblical arguments about divorce.  Was Jesus critical of divorce because it left women vulnerable, or simply because he opposed divorce?  Jesus does not say anything about divorce leaving women vulnerable, so maybe he just opposed divorce.  Early Christian writings, including patristic writings, were practically absolutist in opposing divorce.  Could that stance go back to Jesus?  And was Paul really unfaithful to Jesus’ teaching, or (to put it more charitably) trying to modify it?  Not necessarily.  My impression is that Paul in I Corinthians 7 does not allow the Christian spouse to initiate the divorce, which would be consistent with Jesus’ anti-divorce stance, but permits the divorce only if the non-believing spouse wants it.

At the same time, there are other considerations.  Whereas Jesus in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 is anti-divorce, Matthew 19:9 has an exception clause: divorce can take place if there is sexual immorality.  That tells me that not everyone in the early church interpreted Jesus’ sayings absolutely but were willing to allow some flexibility, as Foster argues.  There is also Exodus 21:7-11, which says that a man can put away his female maidservant if he has absolutely no intention of supporting her.  Some point to this text to argue that God would permit divorce if a husband does not provide for his wife or is abusive to her.

I would now like to quote my favorite passage from Foster’s book, which is in his section about power.  On page 207, Foster tells the following story:

“I once experienced this power that frees in an especially vivid way.  I had just returned from a conference where I had made some rather significant decisions, and I was telling a friend who was a spiritual mentor about the experience.  At one point I exclaimed, ‘Oh, by the way, I made one decision that I know you have been wanting me to make for a long time…’  My friend interrupted, ‘Wait just a minute!  Let’s be clear about one thing.  My business, my only business, is to bring the truth of God as I see it, and then to simply love you regardless of what you do or don’t do.  It is not my business to straighten you out or to get you to do the right thing.’  After our visit I thought about the significance of this simple statement.  His care and compassion had always been evident, but in those words I discovered a new dimension of freedom—-a freedom that allowed intimate friendship without a slavish need to please on either side.”

“…intimate freedom without a slavish need to please on either side.”  Imagine that!  Wouldn’t we all like that kind of relationship!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Movie Write-Up: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

I watched the recent Lifetime movie, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, which is about the actors and actresses in the 1990’s TV series Saved by the Bell.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story got poor reviews, but I still enjoyed watching it.  Although many have alleged that the movie is based on Dustin Diamond’s scathing expose, Behind the Bell, the movie actually lacked many of the book’s scandalous allegations (i.e., sex and drug use on the part of certain actors).  The movie essentially depicts the actors and actresses as good people, who largely got along with each other and supported each other.

There were exceptions to this in the movie, though.  I would say that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkeley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Mario Lopez were the closest to each other in the movie’s depiction, whereas Dustin Diamond and Lark Voorhies were outsiders.  Lark Voorhies and Mark-Paul Gosselaar had somewhat of a romantic relationship, but Mark-Paul was frustrated by Lark’s reluctance to define what their relationship actually was, plus her strict Jehovah’s Witnesses faith may have alienated her from him.  Mark-Paul and Dustin Diamond initially got along: when they were both auditioning for Good Morning, Miss Bliss (the precursor to Saved by the Bell), Mark-Paul actually was friendly towards Dustin, whereas another person auditioning for the role of Zack Morris wanted Dustin to leave him alone.  Mark-Paul and Dustin became more estranged from each other as the movie progressed, however, and Mark-Paul, to his credit, apologized to Dustin for this near the end of the movie.

In a sense, Dustin further alienated himself from the group through things that he said.  When Mark-Paul and Elizabeth Berkeley were doing the notorious scene in which Zack was confronting Jessie about her addiction to speed pills, most of the other actors and actresses watched it with silent solemnity.  Not Dustin, though.  Dustin laughed and said that she wasn’t using heroin but mere caffeine pills, which was not that big of a deal!  Mario Lopez then called Dustin an idiot, and Dustin stormed out of the room.  Fortunately, Dustin found some people with whom he connected.  There was an NBC executive who mentored Dustin and encouraged Dustin to look on the bright side of playing the geeky Screech, and there was the executive’s daughter, who loved Screech.  It was sad when they were both hurt in an automobile accident.  Dustin made another friend, but this friend later blackmailed Dustin by threatening to reveal a video of Dustin smoking marijuana, unless Dustin got him a better job on the set.  In their reconciling scene, Mark-Paul offered Dustin advice on how to handle this problem.

As someone who likes Hayley Mills and her Disney movies, I was glad that The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story acknowledged that Saved by the Bell derived from Good Morning, Miss Bliss, in which Mills starred as a beloved teacher.  My favorite scene in The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was when Hayley Mills was meeting Dennis Haskins, who would play Principal Belding in both series.  Haskins said to Hayley Mills (and his zany mannerisms were like those of Principal Belding), “I had such a crush on you in The Parent Trap—-both of you!”  (Mills played identical twins in that 1961 movie.)  Classic!

A theme in the movie was the attempt of some of the actors and actresses to make a positive impact on their world and to grow.  When Tiffani-Amber, Lark, and Elizabeth learn from some female fans that an episode of Saved by the Bell encouraged one of the fans to stand up to her lying boyfriend, they lobby the board to have more serious episodes of Saved by the Bell, noting that there have been comedies that have touched on serious issues (i.e., All in the Family).  And Tiffani-Amber and Elizabeth both come to conclude that Saved by the Bell is holding them back and leave the show for a while.  The movie ends on a positive note, however, as the Dustin Diamond character tells the viewers all the positive things that the actors and actresses went on to accomplish.

What shocked me a bit was how some of the NBC executives in the movie could make a big deal about race or ethnicity.  “A.C. Slader is supposed to be an Italian ladies man, not a Latino!”  “Seinfeld is too Jewish and New York!”  I don’t know if that is technically racist or bigoted, but it did not sound good.

Good movie.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Life You Always Wanted

John Ortberg.  The Life You Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 2002.

Someone recommended this book to me years ago.  He said that the title was a bit cheesy, but that it is a really good book that he found to be helpful to him in his Christian life.  Years after my friend’s recommendation, I decided to read the book, probably because I was looking for guidance on how to see and to live the Christian life.

Writing from my current perspective and where I am, I found the book to be all right.  Ortberg is well-read, and that comes out in his writing.  Have I decided to make any significant changes to my life after reading this book?  Well, mostly no, but I am open on some things.

Let me share a bit with you about myself.  Over the past four years, I have prayed each day for at least ten minutes.  At first, I just talked to God, sharing what was on my mind.  Later, I was finding my prayers to be rather aimless and self-centered, so I decided to incorporate the reading of Scripture into my ten-minute prayer time.  I initially felt that I had to comment on the Scriptural passage I was reading for most if not all of those ten minutes.  Then, I got to the Book of Psalms and found that I had a hard time finding something to say about the Psalm passage I was reading, so I just read the passage then commented on whatever I wanted (usually my life) for the rest of the ten minutes.  I did not want to fall into a pattern of not absorbing the Scripture, however, so I decided that I would read a passage, say at least something about it, and then talk about what I wanted.  My ten minute prayers currently vary.  Sometimes, I interact with the passage during all of the ten minutes.  Usually, there is a mix between commenting on the passage and commenting on other things.  When I find that I have nothing to say, I look at a list of people to pray for, which my church provides every week, and pray for people on that list.  But don’t think that I don’t pray for people otherwise: I do.

I tend to have a sense of accomplishment when I get through a book of the Bible.  On hard days, or days when I am enthusiastic about God or my reading of Scripture, I may add another ten minutes of prayer time, or another.  Moreover, my reading of Scripture is rather academic.  It consists of me noticing puzzling details and looking up commentaries to see how they iron those details out, or drawing conclusions about the ideology of the writers of the biblical books, comparing it with the ideologies of other biblical writers.  I would say that the Bible seems rather human to me when I read it, not as inerrant.  Yet, it also appears to me to have a divine power or authority to it, but I cannot quite pin down where the human ends and the divine begins, and vice versa.  Do I get any guidance from the Bible on how to live my life?  I would say yes, on some level: I struggle with practical ramifications of biblical passages, and I learn about humility, discipline, and love and compassion for others.

Overall, I would say that I am satisfied with my current practice of doing devotions.  Or, at least, I am hesitant to change.  Ortberg gave me things to think about: about not being afraid to go slowly through biblical or devotional readings if one feels a divine encouragement to linger, to talk with God for five minutes each day about whatever, etc.  On the first suggestion, I will probably continue my practice of meeting a schedule in my biblical reading.  Still, I do wonder: I go through these biblical books so fast, and I forget pieces of what I read and learned.  I read Leviticus a year or so ago, and I cannot tell you what I learned from that reading.  Is there a place for being slow and steady in my reading of Scripture?  Ortberg talked about chewing on a single verse or passage throughout the day, especially if that passage is relevant to what one is concerned about.  I am open to that.

In what ways was I challenged or encouraged to change in my reading of Ortberg’s book?  Well, I am encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on how to interact with people before I interact with them.  I also know that I have a problem with approval addiction, desperately craving acceptance from others.  Ortberg says that is a problem because that can prevent people from speaking truth to power, or saying things that people do not want to hear.  I am not particularly concerned about that, at least not right now.  I just do not want to feel like garbage when I am rejected or ignored by others.

The book also had good stories.  Ortberg referred to a psychologist, Milton Rokeach, who wrote about his attempts to deal with three people who thought they were the Messiah.  Ortberg wrote about this in his chapter on humility, on realizing that the universe does not revolve around us personally!

These are my thoughts about how I interacted with the book, from where I am right now.  Others may have a different experience.  I may even have a different experience with it were I to reread it years later.  I will not linger in it right now, though, but will move on to another book!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forgiveness and Giving

At church this morning, the overall theme of the service was forgiveness.  Also, someone from an organization that serves veterans spoke to us, particularly about the problem of veteran homelessness.

Where am I on forgiveness?  Well, I do try to get rid of bitterness and malice within myself, with God’s help.  The pastor this morning quoted Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (KJV).  I do this within the context of prayer.  I do not do so perfectly, but I try.

I do not try to revive or initiate relationships with people I am mad at.  Some may say that means I have not truly forgiven these people.  Well, they’re entitled to their opinion.  Maybe I should work on being less touchy.  At the same time, sticking with certain relationships is not the answer, I don’t think.  Alternatively, I do not believe that cutting people out of my life is the answer, either.  But I do not know what a sensible middle ground between these two extremes would be.  Some say that I should confront people about their faults.  That can be productive, but it can also backfire, so I tend to avoid doing that.  At the moment, I just try to work on getting rid of bitterness—-to see all people as people of worth, whether I choose to dive into a relationship with them or not, and not to allow bitterness to consume my day.

The pastor was saying that God’s forgiveness is unconditional.  Do I believe that?  Well, I can think of plenty of biblical passages that seem to indicate otherwise: that say that God forgives us if we confess our sins and repent, or that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others.  I sometimes get the impression that God in Scripture wants us to be more forgiving than he himself is: we’re supposed to forgive others seventy times seven, but God places all these conditions on us receiving forgiveness from him.  I think, though, that, somewhere within me, I picture God as someone who does not hold my past against me, who gives me more chances than I can count.  Then what about those biblical passages suggesting that God has conditions for us to receive his forgiveness?  I see them as educational tools on God’s part.  God wants us to take moral inventory, and also to love others notwithstanding their flaws.  Is my way of reconciling and applying all this stuff in Scripture perfect?  Some may say that I am trying to bring God’s high standard down to my own level.  Well, everyone who wants to apply Scripture to his or her own life has to make interpretive moves, to decide for himself or herself what is the best or most productive way to apply Scriptural principles, with their diversity and complexity.  I have not found beating myself up to be that edifying to me personally, so I tend to adopt a more charitable interpretation of Scripture.  Others can read the same text and arrive at different conclusions, though.

I was thinking of something else this morning.  It is easy for me to discourage myself from doing good by saying that I am already bad, and so any good I do would not count before God.  If I am unforgiving or imperfect, do I have a right to do good?  But the speech from that person from the veterans outreach group helped me to think about this differently.  What is important is for me to focus on the needs that should be met: for example, there are veterans who live in their cars or do not know where their next meal will come from.  Any money that can go toward that need will be helpful to them, even if that money comes from someone like me with spiritual or personal hang-ups.  What is important is that I give, not to earn brownie points before God or to count as a truly good person, but to meet a need.  Will I give to the veterans’ outreach, beyond what I gave this morning?  Well, I will consider it.  Let me say that I will not let my hangups discourage me from giving!

Those are my rambling attempts to work through issues for today!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Chronicles 27

I Chronicles 27:5-6 states (in the KJV): “The third captain of the host for the third month was Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, a chief priest: and in his course were twenty and four thousand.  This is that Benaiah, who was mighty among the thirty, and above the thirty: and in his course was Ammizabad his son.”

Benaiah is present in many places in II Samuel, I Kings, and I Chronicles, specifically within the context of the reign of King David or of King Solomon.  II Samuel 23:20-21 and I Chronicles 11:22-23 list some of his great feats: killing lionlike Moabite men, killing a lion in a pit, and killing a large Egyptian warrior with the warrior’s own heavy spear.

But only in I Chronicles 27:5 is Benaiah said to be the son of a priest.  What is more, Benaiah’s father Jehoida is called a chief priest.  That does not mean that Jehoida was a high priest, for the Hebrew uses a different phrase for that (ha-cohen ha-gadol, whereas in I Chronicles 27:5 Jehoida is called ha-cohen rosh), plus, during the time of David, Zadok and Abiathar were the high priests.  But I Chronicles 27:5 may be implying that Jehoida was a descendant of Aaron, for Aaronides in Chronicles are usually the ones who are priests.

Because Benaiah is said to be a son of a priest only in I Chronicles 27:5, one may inquire if the Chronicler made that up.  Good question.  Yet, I wonder if hints of Benaiah’s priestly heritage may be evident in a story in I Kings 2.  Joab is clinging to the horns of the altar, and King Solomon commands Benaiah to go in and kill Joab, which Benaiah is reluctant to do.  More than one person has speculated that this would defile the sanctuary, since there are laws that try to keep death away from the realm of the holy.  I write about that here.  Still, I am curious: Did Solomon assign this task specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of a priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?

Speaking of the holy and death, an issue that I have wondered about more than once on this blog concerns the priests who fought in battles.  Benaiah may be one example of this.  Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, accompanies the Israelites to battles or potential battles.  The Maccabees were another example.  Josephus was a general, and he brags about being descended from one of the twenty-four courses of priests.  My problem has been this: Would this violate the purity rules of Leviticus 21, which try to keep priests away from human corpses?

I recently read an article that may shed light on this issue.  It is by Christophe Batsch, and it is entitled “Priests in Warfare in Second Temple Judaism: 1QM, or the Anti-Phinehas”.  It appeared in the 2010 book Qumran Cave 1 Revisited, and you can read the article (minus a few pages) here.  The article highlights the diversity of views in Second Temple Judaism about whether priests should participate in war.  Some said yes, and some said no.  One view was that they could, as long as they killed people with a long spear so as to avoid direct contact with the corpse of their enemy.  I wonder if Benaiah grabbing the spear of the large Egyptian and killing him with it would accord with such a requirement.

Another issue concerns Benaiah’s city.  Benaiah is repeatedly said to be from Kabzeel, and Kabzeel was not a Levitical city.  Consequently, some question whether he was a priest.  But could Benaiah have moved to Kabzeel from a Levitical city?

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