Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adam Cartwright, Creating Identity, Not So Vague This Time, Prayer About Distractions

1. I just watched the “In Memoriam” part of ABC’s This Week, and I learned that Adam from Bonanza died this week. I always liked him because he was the level-headed, responsible Cartwright brother. I preferred Michael Landon more in his Little House, Highway to Heaven, and Us roles.

2. Today, I’m going to combine my write-ups on my Ancient Israelite Religion reading and that of Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations.

In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read George E. Mendenhall’s “The Nature and Purpose of the Abraham Narratives.” His thesis seems to be that the Davidic monarchy took over old traditions to create a “common ancestor” story, which would unite the estranged rural and urban areas of Israel.

In Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations, Mullen argues that Israel’s “history” was formed much later, in the exilic or (most likely, according to him) post-exilic period. The exile threatened the Jews with assimilation and religio-cultural dissolution, so Judahite groups “compiled a past” that people identifying themselves with the group would embrace (71).

The approaches of Mendenhall and Mullen are different. Mendenhall thinks that the Abraham stories reflect Early-Middle Bronze language and ideas (e.g., possession of land). Mullen, by contrast, argues against scholars who believe that the concept of Israelite tribes point to the ancient, pre-monarchical nature of certain Pentateuchal traditions, for he notes that modern anthropology has a concept of “retribalization,” which indicates that exilic writers could’ve come up with the idea of the tribes of Israel.

Mendenhall and Mullen date Pentateuchal narratives to different periods, but they agree on why they emerged: to give identity to an estranged people.

3. In Reading Between Texts, I read David Penchansky’s “Staying the Night: Intertextuality in Genesis and Judges.” On Friday, in my post, YHWH and His Asherah, Genesis 12 and 20 and the Reader, Samaritan Priestly-Line, under (2), I discussed another essay in that book, which talked about the wife-sister narratives in Genesis. My problem with that essay was that it portrayed Abraham as a selfish jerk who devalued Sarah, when the ancients may not have viewed Abraham so negatively. It’s possible that they did, but not certain.

Penchansky’s essay, however, acknowledges that there are a variety of ways to read the texts that he discusses, Genesis 19 and Judges 19. In both stories, a man offers a woman he supposedly loves to thugs who want to rape him or his guests. Penchansky states that he wants to go with the view that the man was wrong to do so, that he devalues women. But he states that the ancients may not have read the text in the same way. I don’t remember him making this point, but protecting one’s guests was important in the ancient Near East.

In this case, though, I’d say that the text stands with Penchansky. In the Judges story, the tribes of Israel disapprove of the rape and murder of the man’s concubine, since that’s why they gather against Benjamin, which was harboring the thugs. And the man who owned the concubine didn’t mention to the tribes that he handed her over to the thugs, probably because that would be embarrassing to him. In many cases, there are different ways to read a text, and a variety of possible moral judgments that one can make about its characters. For Judges 19, however, I think that the text disapproves of the man who handed over his concubine to the thugs.

4. At Latin mass this morning, we had the priest who speaks about love. He was encouraging us to spend ten minutes a day in prayer. And, if our mind wanders, we should not worry, he said. We should tell God what we’re thinking or what’s worrying us, and the distraction becomes a prayer. I like that. I don’t think prayer should just be talking about what’s on my mind from my day-to-day life, for it should also contemplate God. But, in my opinion, it’s good to approach God as if he’s loving, cares about our problems, and invites us to find strength in him.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Kings 12: I Identify With Rehoboam's Stupidity!

I’m getting hungry right now, so my write-up of I Kings 12 will be brief.

Something I notice in I Kings 12 is that the people have power over the king. V 1 illustrates this: Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were coming to Shechem to make him king. The people don’t come to Rehoboam to make him king—in his own city of Jerusalem. Rather, Rehoboam has to go to where the people have decided to have their coronation—in Shechem, which is located in the tribe of Ephraim. The same goes with Jeroboam. The people summon Jeroboam so they can crown him king of Northern Israel.

What’s puzzling is that Rehoboam doesn’t seem to recognize the people’s power. Here he is, going to Shechem at their summon to be crowned king over Israel. He should realize that, obviously, the people are the ones with the power, not him. Yet, for some reason, he decides that now’s a good time to become a tyrant, to impose heavier taxes and to whip the people into submission. Smart guy!

Yet, strangely, I can somewhat identify with Rehoboam and his young friends, the ones who advised him to lay down the law. I can imagine myself heading to Shechem to become king, thinking that I’m just going through the normal coronation procedure, without even being aware of the power dynamics that going to Shechem entails. My young friends are like, “Dude, you have all this power! Use it! You’re the boss!” Meanwhile, the older advisers are talking to me about serving the people and earning their devotion, which doesn’t sound all that attractive to me. And so I go with what appeals to my vanity and desire for power, as short-sighted and as stupid as my decision may be.

I thought a little about David, though. David didn’t go to the people of Israel, to the city where they wanted to have the coronation; rather, the people of Israel came to where David was, in Hebron, and they crowned him there (II Samuel 5:1). How did this happen?

A big reason was probably that the Israelites wanted David to rule them, after they had lost their own leadership: Ish-bosheth and Abner. There was a void, and there was no charismatic leader from their midst stepping into it. And so they figured that David was good enough and strong enough, and they sought his leadership. I think this was also how David managed to maintain or recover Israelite loyalty later in his reign. Absalom led all of Israel against David, but once Absalom got killed, Israel didn’t have a charismatic leader, so she returned to David. When David then snubbed Israel for Judah (Stopped in My Tracks, God in My Life), much of Israel revolted against David under the leadership of Sheba, a Benjaminite. Once Sheba got killed, however, a void emerged once more, and the Israelites wanted a strong leader. So they went back to David.

What comes to my mind from all this is that not everyone is charismatic. The impression I’ve sometimes gotten in Christian community is that we all have charisma and God will exalt us to leadership, in his own time, as he did for Joseph. But a charismatic person can arise who is not of God. And there can be a void in charismatic leadership, indicating that not everyone’s cut out for the task. So not all of us have to be chiefs. Many of us can go our way, planting our crops and thanking God for the harvest.

Friday, January 29, 2010

YHWH and His Asherah, Genesis 12 and 20 and the Reader, Samaritan Priestly-Line

1. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read P. Kyle McCarter’s “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data.”

Kuntillet ‘Arjud is located in the Sinai region and was under the control of Judah during the eighth century B.C.E. An inscription found there refers to “Yahweh and his Asherah,” and there is also a picture of a bull-man and a bull-woman. Because the Hebrew Bible seems to acknowledge the existence of bull- imagery for YHWH (see Hosea 8:6), many scholars assert that the picture illustrates “Yahweh and his Asherah,” and that the Asherah is the female consort of YHWH.

McCarter wrestles with the definition of “his Asherah” in the inscription, for the biblical and the archaeological evidence say different things. Asherah was a high-ranking goddess in the ancient Near East, and there are places where the Bible recognizes that (e.g., I Kings 11:5). But the Hebrew Bible also portrays the Asherah as a cultic device that is built and can be destroyed (Judges 6:25; I Kings 16:33). When the Kuntillet ‘Arjud inscription mentions “his Asherah,” some scholars believe that it’s referring to a cultic object, not the goddess, for the Hebrew didn’t make a proper name into an object of possession, as we sometimes do (i.e., “my Mary”). Some argue that YHWH’s Asherah is his wife, while others say it’s a cultic object.

In my search on Bibleworks, I found references to an image to or of the Asherah (I Kings 15:13; II Kings 21:7; 23:5). Could the Asherah cultic device be an image of the goddess Asherah?

McCarter mentions this possibility. But he goes on a slightly different track in his attempt to offer an explanation. He refers to examples in Northwest Semitic religion in which a goddess is a hypostasis or manifestation of a god. For McCarter, YHWH’s Asherah was his visible manifestation, which appeared in the cult. And that manifestation was marked with a wooden pole, which is called an Asherah. YHWH’s Asherah is somewhat like YHWH’s consort, but it’s also like YHWH’s Shekinah—his manifestation, which conveys the transcendent God to humans. And the pole is a symbol of that visible presence.

2. In Reading Between Texts, I read Ilona Rashow’s “Intertextuality, Transference, and the Reader in/of Genesis 12 and 20.” On pages 61-62, Rashow discusses a question: Where do texts get their meaning? Is it in the text itself? Is it imposed by the reader? Rashow says it’s a little of both.

In her interaction with Genesis 12 and 20, she tends to read the text in a certain way: Abraham was a scum-bag to say his wife was his sister to Pharaoh and Abimelech. And, in a sense, she bases her interpretation on the text itself. Abraham thought that Abimelech was godless, for example, when actually Abimelech turned out to be quite God-fearing.

But are there other ways to read the text? I find it interesting that the biblical text doesn’t explicitly criticize Abraham for lying to protect his own skin. Why didn’t God rebuke Abraham the first time that he did it? Genesis 20:13 says Abraham did this “in every place,” meaning that, if he was supposed to learn not to do this practice, the lesson apparently didn’t take!

Is the lesson of these stories that Abraham was wrong, or rather than God will uphold his people before the mighty of the earth? I guess that, in interpreting this text, we bring ourselves and our buttons that can be pushed, even as we’re guided by the text itself.

3. I found this item of information interesting in Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations, on page 44:

With respect to the priesthood, the Samaritans constructed a priestly genealogy that was descended directly from Phinehas and Eleazar, descendants of Aaron, but that did not form a collateral line with the Zadokite line of Jerusalem.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sheol

I blogged more than once this week about the Hebrew Bible’s conceptions of the afterlife: see Rephaim, Undeceptive Deception, Suffering and The Dead, and the Rising. My assumption was that all of the dead went to the Underworld, known in the Hebrew Bible as Sheol.

I thought about that today. First of all, it entered my mind when I read former fundamentalist Ken Pulliam’s post, The Movie–The Invention of Lying. (Speaking of the dying and the rising, Ken has returned to his blog after a month-and-a-half hiatus!) Ken states the following about a movie that he saw:

I think it illustrates why religion is so popular with people.

1. People desperately want to believe that there is something after death. They want to believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones.

2. People want to believe that there is some purpose in life.

3. People want to believe that there is someone in control of this universe and that this someone will eventually make all wrongs right.

For these reasons, religions are very popular and will probably never cease to exist.

I have to admire Ken’s humility. Some atheists I read on the blogosphere act as if they can single-handedly overthrow religion with their clever arguments. At least here, however, Ken Pulliam acknowledges that religion ministers to people’s concerns in some way and will probably remain with us for a very long time.

But a thought entered my mind about religion and the afterlife. Actually, it’s been in my mind before, so it’s more the case that Ken Pulliam’s post drew it out of the inner recesses of my mind. What about the ancient Israelite religion that entered the Hebrew Bible? It didn’t have a rigorous conception of the afterlife. People just went to Sheol and hung out! How can one say that, in this case, religion emerged out of people’s fear of death and desire for an afterlife? One purpose behind Levirate marriage was to prevent a dead person’s name from being cut off (Deuteronomy 25:6). A man’s name was also preserved after death through the passing on of his property to his offspring (Numbers 27:4). In my opinion, the ancient Israelites were concerned about keeping their name alive because that was the closest to immortality that they could get, since their afterlife in Sheol wasn’t much to brag about.

But Ken’s post got me thinking: they still believed that they’d see their loved ones in Sheol. Even in their belief about the afterlife, they’d never truly lose a person they care about. So maybe Ken’s statement about why religion is popular would apply to the ancient Israelite religion that entered the Hebrew Bible.

But then another experience in the blogosphere screamed “Wait a minute! Not so fast!” I was reading Chris Smith’s post, My Parents’ Dissertations Are on ProQuest, in which he talks about his parents’ dissertations. His mom wrote hers on Sheol in Psalm 49. I expressed my interest, and Chris replied:

In addition to my mom’s dissertation, you might be interested in the book, Shades of Sheol. The author makes a [s]urprisingly convincing case that only bad people go to Sheol in most of the OT passages on the subject, whereas good people go to “rest with their fathers”.

I vaguely recall reading about this book on one of James McGrath’s links. I’d be interested in reading Philip Johnston’s (the author of Shades of Sheol) case. One the one hand, I’m not sure that good people were the only ones who slept with their fathers, for the Hebrew Bible uses such a phrase for such wicked characters as Jeroboam (I Kings 14:20), Omri (I Kings 16:28), and Ahab (I Kings 22:40). I wonder how Johnston interacts with such passages.

One the other hand, Sheol does seem to be a place for the wicked. In Isaiah 14, the Rephaim are there. Moreover, Sheol is often a threat for the wicked in the Hebrew Bible. If both the righteous and the wicked went there after death, would that make sense, for everyone gets the same end? Some would say “yes,” since the threat of death and Sheol entails that the wicked will enter Sheol prematurely, whereas the righteous will enjoy a long and happy life before going there. But is there another way to see the issue?

I read some Amazon reviews of the book (see Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament), and one of the reviewers wrote something that struck me: “Johnston criticizes studies by Pedersen and Barth that suggested that the Israelite sufferer actually experienced Sheol in this life.” There are people who say that one can experience Sheol in this life? That’s an interesting statement, and I wonder if it can harmonize apparent contradictions in what the Hebrew Bible says about Sheol. Psalm 139:8 says that God is in Sheol. Psalm 6:5, however, states that there’s no remembrance of God there. Could God be present in Sheol in the sense that he’s with the sufferer in this life? I’ve often heard that, in the Psalms, deliverance from Sheol is God saving a person from a near-death experience, not God resurrecting him. In a sense, the person who almost died was in Sheol, even though his death was not a done deal!

But I could be off-base, since Psalm 139:8 contrasts Sheol with heaven; its argument seems to be that God is in the highest and the lowest realms of creation, not that Sheol is a state in this life. And deliverance from a near-death experience may not mean that the person who almost died was literally in Sheol, but rather that Sheol was grasping her with its clutches, pulling her in its direction. I don’t know. In any case, Johnston’s book looks like an encyclopedia on the subject, so I’ll take a look at it!

The Conquest, Affirming and Denying the Bible with the Same Act, Pharisaic Bible

1. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read William Dever’s “The Contribution of Archaeology to the Study of Canaanite and Early Israelite Religion.” The following statement stood out to me (page 236):

It must be stressed that in light of archaeology today, it is the LB-Iron I continuity—not the discontinuity—that is striking, and the more so as research progresses. In other words, of the two biblical accounts, Joshua and Judges, the latter is by far the more realistic and thus more historically reliable.

Dever believes that there is archaeological continuity between Late Bronze Age Canaan and ancient Israel, which emerged in the Iron I Period. Both appear to have a similar culture. For Dever, a huge part of ancient Israel came from the Canaanites, meaning that most of the Israelites weren’t foreigners who left Egypt and killed off the natives of Canaan. On the contrary, Dever contends, most of the Israelites were Canaanites, and their settlement of Palestine “was a gradual, exceedingly complex process,” not a swift takeover, or Conquest.

I’ve often read his sentiment about Joshua and Judges in other scholarly writings. On some level, I don’t understand it, if he’s saying that Judges presents the Israelites as Canaanites. My impression is that the Book of Judges presumes some sort of Exodus and Conquest. But Judges doesn’t present the Conquest as total, for there were still Canaanites who lived with the Israelites in Palestine, influencing them to accept their religion. Moreover, as Baruch Halpern states in his article, “Settlement of Canaan,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Judges 1 “recorded a series of triumphs by individual tribes rather than a united invasion, as in Joshua 10–12.”

On page 232, Dever states: Despite the general breakup of Canaanite cultural hegemony at the close of the Late Bronze Age, with the destruction or disruption of many sites in Palestine, Canaanite influence continued, especially at sites that did not become “Israelite”[.]

Is this consistent with the biblical pictures of Conquest, since Dever is saying that Canaanite sites were destroyed or disrupted at the close of the Late Bronze Age, right before the Israelites set up their sites in the central hills? Many have argued that others (e.g., Philistines, Sea People) could have destroyed the Canaanites sites. And Israel Finkelstein has argued against the historicity of the Conquest, saying that the cities were destroyed over one hundred years, not in one fell swoop.

I should know more about this issue than I do, but at least my post puts questions in my head that I should explore.

2. In Reading Between Texts, I read Peter Miscall’s essay, “Isaiah: New Heavens, New Earth, New Book.” The following quote was quite provocative:

…a commentator on a text—here Speiser on Gen 1:1-2:4a—accepts and supports the [biblical] text’s authority by asserting that it is worthy of commentary and by explicating its meanings and implications. At the same time, the commentator modifies and even undermines the original text’s authority by declaring that it needs commentary (i.e., it is not clear enough on its own), and this commentary is what the original text really means (i.e., the original text does not mean what it says).

I’ll let this quote stand on its own, without my commentary!

3. Here’s a provocative quote of M. Smith in Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations (page 39):

“…the Hebrew Bible, as we have it, is primarily evidence of the interests of the Pharisees and their successors, who not only selected and interpreted the books but also carefully determined and corrected their texts…”

Mullen dates this process to the second century B.C.E.

Smith’s book, Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Old Testament, may be worth reading. What was the extent of the Pharisaic contribution to the development of the Hebrew Bible? I don’t think that the Pharisees were the only ones who accepted the Hebrew Bible, for biblical books are found in Qumran, a priestly sect. The New Testament states that the priestly Sadducees accepted the Law of Moses. But did the Pharisees and their successors interpret and correct biblical texts? Most likely so. I talk about that in my post, Theological Correction, where I link to other posts I wrote on the subject.

Zelda Rubinstein, J.D. Salinger

Two people have passed away: Zelda Rubinstein and J.D. Salinger.

1. Zelda Rubinstein played on the movie Poltergeist, though I knew her more as the mischievous secretary on Picket Fences. My family didn’t watch Poltergeist, probably because we felt that it was flirting with evil, and some of the people who played on the movie died shortly thereafter (see Poltergeist (film)). I’m not sure if that was a curse or just plain coincidence. I mean, tragic things happen!

But I watched Poltergeist at some point in my adult life. It had Craig T. Nelson from Coach, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad! It was okay. Plus, many people still use the catchphrases “He’s baaaack!” or “They’re heeeere!”, and that movie is, what, twenty-eight years old?

2. J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t read it in high school, but I just now read the plot of it here. I first heard of the book when I was reading about the religious right taking on the public schools. One of its favorite targets was Catcher in the Rye, a big reason being that it had a lot of cuss words. And, sure enough, when I looked at the first page of the book, it did! But, when I read the wikipedia summary, I saw other objections that the religious right had to it: it undermines family values, encourages promiscuity, etc.

Ironically, a New York Times article on the controversy surrounding the book quoted someone who compared the religious right to Catcher’s provocative protagonist, Holden Caufield. Holden hoped as an older kid to protect the younger children and their innocence, to catch them in the rye as they fell. And that’s what the religious right tried to do in banning Catcher in the Rye (see “In a Small Town, a Battle Over a Book”).

The book covers the sordid side of life, but it also speaks about alienation and the belief of the protagonist that others are “phony.” I don’t think wrestling with those issues is wrong. Personally, I don’t like being judged as phony, but there have been Christians (i.e., Francis Schaeffer) who’ve offered similar critiques of American culture. I once had a conversation with a guy, and he asked me if I’d seen The Bridges of Madison County and Six Feet Under. I replied “no,” for the former has an affair, and the latter depicts homosexual activity. He then replied that I don’t have to approve of those things, but I should still listen to what the stories are trying to say.

Maybe Catcher in the Rye is the same way. There are people who prefer stories with heroes we can admire, and they may shy away from an anti-hero like Holden Caufield. For them, stories should depict how things should be, not how they are. And they can easily point out the negative effects of bad stories. I once heard a sermon that said some women have affairs after seeing The Bridges of Madison County. The wikipedia article on Catcher states that some have blamed the shootings of John Lennon and Ronald Reagan on the book.

But life is a struggle, a hard path with a clearly sordid side. And we ourselves, like Holden Caufield, are a mixture of good and bad. I’m not sure if everything in Catcher is age-appropriate for certain levels of school, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading about a person who struggles with himself and others, while learning lessons along the way.

Tim Tebow

I joined a Facebook group supporting Tim Tebow’s pro-life commercial, which may or may not appear during the Superbowl. (Go Colts!)

I joined it because, on the commercial, Tebow talks about how he’s glad that his mom didn’t abort him when she was presented with the opportunity. A friend of mine called this a political ad, and I then realized that I should probably see it if I’m going to be in a group defending it. So I did a search.

I didn’t find the ad, but here’s a picture of Tim Tebow’s girlfriend: See full size image. Man! How’s a born-again Christian like him handle the no-sex-before-marriage rule? It would be hard for me, if I had a girlfriend like her!

I know, I’m a pig.

But this should make up for it: Izgad’s posts on why sex outside of marriage is ethically wrong.

The Ethical Case Against Sex Outside of Marriage (Part I)

The Ethical Case Against Sex Outside of Marriage (Part II)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn

The AP has a story, Howard Zinn, liberal author of ‘A People’s History,’ dies.

I don’t know much about him. I heard of him on Good Will Hunting because Matt Daimon told Robin Williams’ that Zinn’s People’s History will “knock your socks off.” I have a CD of some of Zinn’s speeches, for one of my relatives was a fan of his. This relative of mine likes anyone who’s anti-establishment, whether it’s leftists such as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, or rightists such as the John Birch Society. That makes a degree of sense, for both Mother Jones and the Birchers criticize Rockefeller! There’s a place where the radical left meets the far right, and vice versa.

The AP story characterizes Zinn’s history as follows:

At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, “A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

The story says that Zinn himself fought in World War II. The book may be worth reading if it picks apart FDR, even from a liberal perspective!

Tigay and Khirbet Qieyafa?, Judges and Intertextuality, Is Mullen a Minimalist?

1. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Jeffrey Tigay’s “Israelite Religion: The Onomastic and Epigraphic Evidence.” Tigay’s conclusion after his survey is as follows (page 178): Since personal names, salutations, votives, prayers, and oaths express thanks for the gods’ beneficence, hope for their blessing and protection, and the expectation that they will punish deception, the low representation of pagan deities in the names and inscriptions indicates that deities other than YHWH were not widely regarded by Israelites as sources of beneficence, blessing, protection, and justice. In short, for Tigay, eighth century B.C.E. evidence indicates that most of Israel worshipped only one god: YHWH.

Why, then, does the Hebrew Bible assert the contrary? For Tigay, its authors were trying to find a reason that Israel fell, a sin for which God punished their nation. Tigay acknowledges that there were a few idolaters in ancient Israel. Because God often punished the entire group for the sins of a few individuals (e.g., Achan in Joshua 7), God held all of Israel responsible for the idolatry of a few, in the minds of certain biblical authors.

Some of the evidence that Tigay considers contains the names of a foreign god—some, but not the vast majority. Tigay accounts for this in a variety of ways: the names with foreign deities belonged to foreigners dwelling in Israel, it took a while for some Israelites to shed their pagan names, or some of the non-Yahwistic names refer to demons or spirits, not full-fledged gods. Here, I want to interact with another of his explanations.

Tell Qasile is located on the western coast of Israel. An ostracon found there refers “to a shipment of Ophir gold to, or belonging to, the town of Beth-horon” (175). The ostracon is in Hebrew script but has a Phoenician numeral, perhaps because Phoenician influence existed in the harbor town of Tell Qasile. Is the ostracon referring to a temple of the deity, Horon?

What intrigued me was this statement by Tigay (page 176): One may even wonder whether the Hebrew script necessarily implies that the inscription was written by an Israelite. The Moabites used Hebrew script (witness the Mesha inscription), and perhaps it was used in Philistia too. Tigay then refers to a “fragmentary inscription in Hebrew letters” found on “a fragment of an eighth century jar at Ashdod,” which indicates to scholar M. Dothan that “by the eighth century B.C.E., if not earlier, the Ashdodites shared a common script and language with their neighbors, the Phoenicians, and with the people of Israel and Judah.”

Of course, Tigay’s whole point in all of this is that the Tell Qasile finding doesn’t show that the Israelites worshipped another god besides YHWH. Even if the ostracon is in Hebrew script, Tigay contends, it could’ve belonged to the Philistines rather than the Israelites.

I wonder if this information is relevant to the discussion about the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription, which was found on the Judahite-Philistine border and dates to the tenth century B.C.E. (see here and here). Because it’s in Hebrew and contains biblical-like language, many have argued that it demonstrates that much of the Hebrew Bible was written early and that King David’s kingdom actually existed. But could it belong to the Philistines rather than the Israelites, even if it’s in Hebrew? The name YHWH does not explicitly occur in the inscription, though scholars have put it in brackets. Perhaps it’s a Philistine inscription, urging the Philistine king to do justice.

I don’t want to be dogmatic in this case, though, because there’s plenty that I don’t know. The Khirbet Qieyafa inscription doesn’t just use the Hebrew script: it’s in Hebrew. But a document can use Hebrew script without being in Hebrew. Was the Mesha inscription in a language other than Hebrew, even though it used a Hebrew script? Is the Tell Qasile ostracon in Hebrew in terms of its language, not just its script? Still, M. Dothan affirms that the Ashdodites shared a common script AND language with the people of Israel and Judah. Does that indicate that a Hebrew inscription found near Philistia could be Philistine rather than Israelite?

2. In Reading Between the Texts, I read Timothy Beal’s essay, “Ideology and Intertextuality: Surplus of Meaning and Controlling the Means of Production.” Beale discusses Mieke Bal’s feminist interaction with the Book of Judges. To be honest, I’m not sure if I thoroughly understand her point. She says that biblical scholars tend to focus on the nationalistic wars in the Book of Judges, rather than the women, who have a voice in the book. I get that. But does she believe that the Book of Judges itself subordinates the women to the nationalistic battles? That’s where I was unclear.

Intertextuality is relevant here because we’re juxtaposing two texts: the Book of Judges, and the scholarly approaches to it. Feminists look at the scholarly approaches and compare them with the Book of Judges itself, and they see things in the Book that are not really on the radar of the scholars. Beale even went so far as to suggest that the scholarly focus on nationalistic battles may have been culturally-conditioned, for “theologically driven nationalism” was big in nineteenth-twentieth century Germany.

3. I found a key quote in Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations, which may explain where he’s coming from. It’s on page 25:

…it may have been during the Persian period, and not earlier, that the Torah was created as the basis of the community and that the mode of this creation and its transmission was through the scribal schools associated with the Jerusalem priesthood as functionaries of the Persian government.

Does Mullen believe that the national history of Israel was written during the Persian period? I’ll see. There are indications that he leans in a minimalist direction. He doesn’t really accept the historicity of Josiah’s reform, for example. He may acknowledge that it existed on some small level, but (for him) it wasn’t big, and it wasn’t in response to a book of the law.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Intertextuality, Beginning Mullen

1. I started Reading Between Texts: Intertextuality and the Hebrew Bible, a collection of essays on (well) intertextuality and the Hebrew Bible. My hope is to comment on an essay a day (except Saturday), as I’ve been doing with Ancient Israelite Religion.

So far, intertextuality appears to be reading two texts side-by-side. When this happens, we compare and contrast. We approach one text with the other in mind, and new questions emerge, for one text leads us to notice things in the other text. For example, God dramatically intervenes in the Exodus, but he doesn’t in Esther. Rather, Esther has to use her wits and beauty. What’s that say about the Book of Esther’s view concerning the roles of God and humanity in the well-being of Israel?

Daniel is bolder with the king than Esther is. She has to crawl on egg-shells to get an audience with him. And, although she is clearly intelligent, she’s not valued for that by the king, who focuses instead on her beauty. What’s that say about the treatment of women in Israel’s exile?

I’m going to enjoy this book because intertextuality allows one to play a little bit with the text. I’m not saying that we can abuse the text or make it mean anything we want, but rather that we can compare, contrast, juxtapose, and arrive at interesting insights in the process. I’m especially looking forward to reading the essay that reads the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 in light of Samson. I doubt the essay is saying that the author of Isaiah 53 had Samson in mind. Rather, it’s seeing what happens when we read the two texts together.

It should be fun!

2. In the meantime, I’ll be reading Theodore Mullen’s Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations: A New Approach to the Formation of the Pentateuch. I’ve not gotten enough into the book to see what his perspective is, but I have impressions, which could be right or wrong. Mullen doesn’t seem to care for the Documentary Hypothesis, which divides the Pentateuch into four sources: J, E, P, and D. He recommends R.N. Whybray’s The Making of the Pentateuch, which (if I’m not mistaken) argues that contradictions in the Pentateuch don’t mean that it had to come from different hands. Mullen appears to speak glowingly of synchronic approaches to the text (i.e., the literary approach), which treat it as one piece, rather than dividing it into sources. And he points out on page 2 that one can create national traditions from whole cloth. So will his point be that, at some point in Israel’s history, someone wrote the Pentateuch to be Israel’s national history? We will see!

The Dead, and the Rising

I’m going to do something slightly out of character today. Ordinarily, I do all of my readings and then write one post about all of them. Today, however, I’ll be writing one post on an Ancient Israelite Religion article, then I’ll write one on my other readings. Aren’t I a rebel?

The reason I’m doing it this way is that the article I read in Ancient Israelite Religion covered issues that are important to me as well as revealed gaps in my knowledge. This post is my attempt to correct that.

The article is Brian Peckham’s “Phoenicia and the Religion of Israel: The Epigraphic Evidence.” Here are the two topics:

1. Peckham talks about Sidonian royal inscriptions warning people not to disturb the sleep of the dead by opening their coffins. On page 82, Peckham states the following, and I’ve omitted the transliterations that he places in parentheses: For a Sidonian king, the tranquillity of death is sleep with the Rephaim that can be disturbed either by opening the coffin to search for treasure, by taking it out of the tomb, or by removing it from its resting place.

I wondered about ancient Near Eastern notions about the afterlife. If they held that the dead go to the Underworld, why did people offer food to the dead? Did the dead come up from their sleep every now and then to eat?

I found these items in Charles Kennedy’s Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Dead, Cult of the”:

At Ugarit and elsewhere tombs were equipped with libation tubes or jars without bottoms to conduct fluids into the grave.

The dead especially needed liquid refreshment, since the realm of Death (Mot) was widely regarded as an arid place, a desert devoid of life-giving rain. Liquids—water, wine, and blood—were particularly welcome. This need on the part of the dead raised a problem for the living. The libations poured on graves could be matched by cups of wine drunk by the living.

Somehow, the nourishment reached the dead in the Underworld, where it was eagerly accepted.

Why’s the Bible dislike the cult of the dead? Did the biblical authors (of the Hebrew Bible) not believe that the dead needed subsistence? According to Kennedy, they apparently did not:

The dead were declared outside the sphere of God’s cult (Ps 88:3–12) and therefore divorced from him. They no longer required food and drink, much less sex, since they are in a state of rest. In the Apocrypha the pragmatic argument is made that drink poured on a mouth closed in death was as much a waste as food left on a grave. Equally useless is offering fruit to an image of the deceased, “for it can neither eat nor smell.”

For the biblical authors, the dead were in a state of rest. The Sidonians conceptualized death as that as well, but they probably believed that the dead could wake up and have a snack every now and then.

In my post, Rephaim, Undeceptive Deception, Suffering, I quoted Patrick Miller, who said that Ugaritic people provided their dead king with services to “secure the blessing of his successor.” Could the dead have an impact on the living? How could they do that from the Underworld? A statement Peckham makes on page 86 may offer insight (again, I omitted the transliterations in parentheses): The earliest king of Byblos [in Phoenicia] prays that whoever disturbs his grave will both lose his throne and the legal authority that gave the city authority. He “prays.” Maybe this means that the dead king couldn’t do much on his own, but he could ask the gods to bless or to curse. Or perhaps the blessing or the curse itself had a certain power.

2. Peckham talks about the death and resurrection of the Phoenician god Eshmun, whom the Greeks called “Adonis.” I thought of the Star Trek episode, “Who Mourns for Adonis?”, and I realized that I didn’t know much about him.

Still, I’ve written about dying and rising gods in my posts, God’s Size, Differences, Three Stages, Moving to the City, Dying and Rising Gods, the King as God, Renegade Priest in Eden and YHWH in the Underworld. The god’s death meant winter or the absence of stability; his resurrection entailed spring and prosperity, or the restraint of the forces of chaos. This, I glean from Richard Baukham’s informative article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Descent to the Underworld.”

One point in Bauckham’s article that impressed me was that people in the ancient Near East believed that those who went to the Underworld never came back. When Baal returned from the dead, therefore, it was because he had help from other gods. I’d often heard that people in the ancient Near East during the time of the Hebrew Bible lacked a rigorous conception of the afterlife, but I wondered how dying and rising gods fit into this. Apparently, it’s because of the former that the latter is so remarkable! Death is pretty powerful, so when one manages to defeat it, it’s something to talk about!

As Peckham points out, the Hebrew Bible condemns the celebration of the dying and rising god. Ezekiel 8:14 criticizes women who weep for Tammuz, and Jeremiah 7 and 44 lambaste the worship of the Queen of Heaven. The Queen of Heaven fits into this in the sense that she was the love of the dying and rising god: once the god arose, he went to be with her.

I wonder if these pagan customs can teach Christians to associate Christ’s resurrection with spring—God’s plan to renew or recreate us and the world around us. Some of my readers may take offense at this, for did not the biblical authors condemn such customs? And yet, according to Peckham, they may have also appropriated them at times! Peckham refers to the Book of Hosea, in which Israel is God’s spouse and rises from the dead on the third day (see Hosea 6:2). In Hosea’s mind, was Israel like a dying and rising god? Was Hosea drawing from pagan imagery to express a concept: that Israel, like the dying and rising god, would rise from the dead and meet her beloved?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Lily Values the Church

When I watched the final episode of Joan of Arcadia today, I liked a comment that Lily made. Lily is Helen’s blunt spiritual advisor, who tried to be a nun at some point. Helen is Joan’s mom, and she’s preparing for confirmation to become a Catholic.

Someone has just defaced a Catholic church, and Lily explains to Helen and Helen’s son, Kevin (a reporter), why that bothers her:

People pray in here. Do you get that? They come in here with their insides all churned up and their hearts hurting, and all of their dead relatives, and their hopes and dreams and failures, and what keeps them awake at night, and they put it in here. And some creep comes in here and does this without even thinking about what it means. See here for the script.

Searching for Ryan Hunter, Dreams, Psalm 29

1. My WordPress stats jumped dramatically today, and I think I know why. The Sci Fi Channel had a Joan of Arcadia marathon today, and people (like me a year or two ago) have been left hanging with the last episode. Is Ryan Hunter good, bad, or neither? What role will Joan’s friends and mom play in Joan’s battle with Ryan? Since I posted links to fan-fiction, which you can access by clicking on “Joan of Arcadia Season 3″ underneath this post, people are flocking to this site and leaving it to visit the stories of MShaffer, Charles the Bold, Neias, and others.

I just watched this episode for the second time. This time around, I wasn’t mad at there not being a Season 3 on television, as I was when I watched the episode the first time. I’ve seen various attempts to continue the story, and there are ways that I’d continue it, if I knew how to write fiction. It’s been a while since I read fan-fiction on Ryan Hunter, but there are some things I wished it addressed. For example, I don’t recall the charism of Joan’s mom (i.e., dreams, premonitions) being used that much. I also don’t remember the dead little boy popping up either, though Judith did. Also, I wish the fan-fiction presented Ryan making a deal with the devil, which would explain why a fierce wind blows in his aftermath. But maybe the fan-fiction addressed some of those things, and I don’t remember it. The fan-fiction did an excellent job showing why Ryan Hunter was mad at God, however. I also want to add that I haven’t read all of the fan-fiction. I read how MShaffer and Neias treated Ryan, but I haven’t yet read Charles the Bold, who has a lot of first-person character studies. I hope to get to that sometime.

Enjoy the fan-fiction! I enjoyed listening to the Lady in the Water soundtrack while I read it. It was a therapeutic experience!

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read “Aspects of Aramean Religion,” by Jonas Greenfield. What stood out to me today was the importance of dreams in ancient Near Eastern religion. A god could appear to someone in a dream with a message of “Fear not.” One figure, Keret, induced a dream athrough incubation (whatever that is) and was commanded therein “to sacrifice to the gods, to muster his troops, and to go on a campaign to acquire a wife” (73). Even a god could see dreams. The high god El knew that Baal (the storm god) had been dead for seven years, but he declared that Baal was alive after seeing a dream of rain and prosperity. And the Mesha Stone says that King Mesha of Moab was told by the god Chemosh to attack Israel.

Did they actually see these dreams? Jeremiah 23:32 talks about dreams of deception. Yet, Judges 11:24 appears to regard Chemosh as an actual god who blesses his people, Moab. So would the biblical authors be open to the possibility that Chemosh could guide Mesha through a dream? But God in II Kings 3 promises that Israel would defeat Mesha. Both can’t be legitimate prophecies, can they? Perhaps they can—it depends on which god is stronger and able to effect his will! Yet, Israel failed to defeat Moab, either because Mesha’s sacrifice of his child appeased his god and led him to give the Moabites extra help, or because it disgusted the Israelites and made them withdraw.

Some of these dreams may reflect wishful thinking. A person wants comfort, and he gets it in a dream. Or he desires a wife, and a dream encourages him to go out and get one. It’s somewhat like the topic of Rachel Held Evans’ blog-post for today, Does God Speak To You? : Many Christians hear from God what they want to hear, which calls into question whether they’re hearing from God at all!

But I have heard stories about people dreaming of things they couldn’t have known on their own. Ex-cessationist Jack Deere has some in his book, Surprised by the Voice of God. These dreams enable God’s people to minister to others.

And dreams can also be a means for God to teach moral lessons, or to comfort and encourage. Yes, skeptics can say that people in those cases are doing some “wishful dreaming,” but, as a person of faith, I believe that God can comfort people through dreams, as he can through other means, such as the reading of the Scriptures, sermons, and other people.

I read in some essay that the ancients believed dreams and the real-world were both aspects of reality. Moderns would view dreams as fiction in our heads, or as real in the sense that they are windows into our sub-conscious. But the ancients may have believed that dreams were from the gods. We know they thought some were, at least.

I had a weird dream yesterday. It was 2000, and Al Gore was talking about the recount. I told a person next to me that Bush would win, and that crucial events would occur during his Presidency: a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and a financial crisis, which I blamed on the government pushing unwise home-sales and people speculating with bad mortgages. Surprisingly, the person believed me! What’s the meaning of that, in terms of my own sub-conscious or reality, if dreams have a significance beyond myself (which may not be the case for all of them).

Anyway, now that I’ve written myself into this hole, on to number 3!

3. I finished Matitiahu Tsevat’s The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies. Tsevat states on pages 196-197:

Imagine now the reaction of scholars should there come to light an ancient duplicate of a biblical text with Baal appearing where now we have Yhwh. Our received text would by unanimous pronouncement be declared to be an Israelite adaptation of a Canaanite original. But we need not appeal to imagine when, in fact, a biblical text, Psalm 29, has been and is, with mounting frequency, being identified as such in the absence of that imaginary duplicate or any other textual evidence deserving this name.

I long assumed that Psalm 29 came from a Canaanite hymn to Baal, for whom the Israelites substituted YHWH so they could use it for their own religion. But Tsevat says there’s no evidence for this. After reading that, I realized that I should check out why scholars believe Psalm 29 is a re-used Baal Psalm.

I didn’t read all of the relevant articles, but I looked at what Mitchell Dahood had to say about Psalm 29. According to him, the discovery of Ugaritic Ras Shamra texts had unearthed parallels to Psalm 29 in Ugaritic literature. But, as far as I can tell, there’s no actual “Psalm 29 to Baal” text in Ugaritic. Here’s a Christian apologetic article, which has useful information: Apologetics Press – Pagan Mythology and the Bible. But I’m sure there’s more to the issue than I found in my google search and reading of Dahood!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rephaim, Undeceptive Deception, Suffering

1. I read Patrick Miller’s “Aspects of the Religion of Ugarit” in Ancient Israelite Religion. Miller is discussing texts from second-millennium B.C.E. Syria-Palestine. His comments on the Ugaritic cult of the dead on page 63 stood out to me:

The key text is RS 34.126, which appears to be a funeral liturgy for a recently deceased king. The ritual serves to provide for the dead king with essential services and secure the blessings of his successor. In this context the rpum, apparently the long-dead ancestors, and the mlkm, the recently dead rulers, are invoked to take part in the ritual. In the Ugaritic king list (KTU 1.113) a deceased ancestor is referred to as an ilu=”god.” This does not necessarily mean a high god of the pantheon, but rather a divinized ancestor who has become part of the rpum and through the funerary cult has some relation to those living.

In a sense, parts of the Hebrew Bible reflect Ugaritic culture. Both believed in Rephaim, or long-dead ancestors in the realm of the dead (see Psalm 88:10; Proverbs 2:18; 9:18; 21:16). Mark Smith’s article on the Rephaim in the Anchor Bible Dictionary states that the Rephaim were a “line or group of heroes and monarchs at Ugarit[.]“ Similarly, Isaiah 14:9-10 treats the Rephaim as mighty kings who are now in the realm of the dead, having been humbled by God. In addition, there is a sense in the Hebrew Bible that the Rephaim were great men during their lifetimes. They were the giants of the land of Canaan, after all (Deuteronomy 2:11, 20; 3:13)! And, although Genesis 6:4 doesn’t refer to Rephaim, it does mention Nephilim, which could be a synonym for Rephaim (see Numbers 13:33, where the giants of Canaan are called Nephilim). According to Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim were mighty men of old, men of renown (KJV). The Rephaim were dead people who were great men during their lifetimes.

While Ugaritic culture saw the Rephaim as gods worthy of honor and provision, the Hebrew Bible took the opposite approach. In Deuteronomy 26:14, the Israelite is commanded to swear that he has not given food to the dead. Psalm 106:28 criticizes the Israelites in the wilderness for eating the sacrifices of the dead.

Why did the Hebrew Bible take this negative approach? In Christian circles, I’ve often heard that the dead people were really demons. If a person is consulting a dead person, this argument runs, then he’s opening himself up to demonic influences or deception. But, in my opinion, this projects later Christian ideas onto the Hebrew Bible. I’d like to understand the Hebrew Bible on its own terms, in light of the cultures of the ancient Near East.

One reason for the Hebrew Bible’s prohibition is that it didn’t want the Israelites to treat the dead as gods, for they were to worship the LORD alone. In this mindset, one shouldn’t try to secure blessings from ancestors, for God is the source of blessings. To treat anyone or anything other than the LORD as a god is to detract from God’s glory.

Second, the Hebrew Bible probably discouraged honoring the Rephaim because it didn’t consider them worthy of honor! They were oppressive and vain bullies, the types who picked on Israel (Isaiah 26:13-14). Why should the Israelites try to appease or honor them?

2. In Matitiahu Tsevat’s The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies, I read the essay, “The Throne Vision of Isaiah.” Tsevat wrestles with God’s command to Isaiah to make the hearts of the Israelites dull so that God won’t forgive and heal them (Isaiah 6). He draws a parallel between this and the story in I Kings 22. In I Kings 22, King Ahab wants to know whether or not he should go out to battle, so he consults the court prophets of YHWH, who tell him that God will prosper his campaign. At the urging of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, Ahab then consults another prophet, Micaiah. At first, Micaiah tells Ahab that he will prosper, but that doesn’t fool Ahab, for Micaiah generally gives him negative prophecies. Micaiah then tells the truth: God has sent an evil spirit to deceive Ahab through the court prophets of YHWH, but Ahab will lose the battle and his life.

For Tsevat, the parallel with Isaiah 6 is this: Like the false prophets of I Kings 22, Isaiah gave positive, upbeat prophecies to lull the people to sleep, but these prophecies are not recorded for us. At the same time, Isaiah told the Israelites that he was deceiving them and that the situation was actually quite perilous—the same way that Micaiah informed Ahab that God was deceiving him, allowing Ahab to repent.

There may be something to this, but it’s a roundabout way for God to act. I somewhat like the approach that Tsevat dismisses as “apologetic”: that Isaiah incorporated that part about God leading the Israelites into peril after “retrospection, reflection, and interpretation” (161). Tsevat doesn’t specify what he means, but it could be this: Isaiah had a commission to bring the people to repentance so that God wouldn’t destroy Judah. But he failed, for Assyria did a lot of damage to Judah (without ultimately destroying her). Isaiah then reflected back and concluded that this was part of God’s plan all along—to use Isaiah to bring Judah down. Why would God do this? Probably so he could rebuild the nation on a righteous remnant, a theme in Isaiah 6:13.

3. At Latin mass this morning, we had philosopher priest, but I saw the priest who speaks about love. I thought the latter only came to the church when he was speaking, but I must be wrong on this.

Philosopher priest said that mass doesn’t help God out, for God is always happy and does not need us. Still, he said that God is pleased by the mass. That sounds contradictory to me, but he may reconcile the two concepts, in some way, shape, or form.

Philosopher priest also commented on the earthquake in Haiti. He said that part of Christianity is suffering with Christ. Indeed, Paul talks about knowing Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10), and that tribulations produce character (Romans 5:3ff.). I can understand Jamie Sullivan’s statement in Walk to Remember that “without suffering, there’d be no compassion,” meaning that suffering can make us deeper and more compassionate of others.

But I don’t see this as the end-all, be-all of the issue. What about the people whose suffering leads to quick death? What moral character did they get to develop?

Also, what’s the point of knowing Christ in his suffering? I thought Christ suffered so that I wouldn’t have to. Is it a matter of suffering redemptively, as Christ did—of suffering so that we can be vessels to minister to others?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Struggles with I Kings 11

I just finished my quiet time on I Kings 11. I’m a little full right now—physically, that is—because I went to the Indian buffet earlier this afternoon. So I’m stuffed and sleepy and lazy. But I’ll try to keep this quiet time coherent! Here are some issues:

1. My write-up in my notebook revolved mostly around the number of tribes that Jeroboam and Rehoboam got. The chapter says that Jeroboam will get ten tribes, whereas Rehoboam will get two. But there are problems with this. As I’ll read next week in I Kings 12, Benjamin went with Rehoboam, which means he had two tribes. But wait a minute! Simeon is also in the south, below Judah. So it had three tribes. At most, Jeroboam’s northern kingdom had nine tribes, and that’s when you count Ephraim and Manasseh as separate.

Ultimately, the commentaries I consulted were not much help. Keil-Delitzsch cited some information that may be important, right before dismissing it. For example, some say that Benjamin was an ambiguous tribe, for some of its cities belonged to the North. Joshua 18:21ff. gives Bethel, Ramah, and Jericho to Benjamin, yet they were cities that belonged to the Northern Kingdom (I Kings 12:29; 15:17, 21; 16:34). As I’ll see next week in I Kings 12, Bethel was actually a significant sanctuary for Jeroboam’s realm! So maybe there was a tradition that considered Benjamin to be part of the North.

Keil-Delitzsch also interacted with a view that said Simeon moved north. It happened with other tribes, such as Dan. And II Chronicles 15:9 mentions Simeon after it refers to Ephraim and Manasseh, which are northern tribes, and II Chronicles 34:6 also names Simeon after Manasseh and Ephraim, and before Naphtali (which is in the North). So could Simeon have been in the Northern Kingdom?

Keil-Delitzsch dismiss these proposals, maintaining instead that the number ten in I Kings 11 is symbolic, not arithemetical. Ten is supposedly symbolic of completion (i.e., the Ten Commandments), so its use in I Kings 11 serves to convey to Solomon that he (or, actually, his son) would lose all of his kingdom, with a few exceptions.

2. I’ll let that rest with you, even though it’s tough to digest because it appears to be a stretch! Meanwhile, here was another problem that I encountered. I Kings 11 talks about enemies of Solomon who find friendship in Egypt. One is Hadad the Edomite, who fled from Edom after David and Joab had slaughtered every male in Edom. Or so says vv 15-16. Actually, they didn’t slaughter every male in Edom, since Hadad and some servants managed to escape. So this may be hyperbole. The ancient world used this. If I’m not mistaken, the Pharaoh in the Merneptah Stele bragged about slaughtering entire populations, right before he mentioned survivors. But back to Hadad: Hadad was a child when he fled to Midian, but, at some point, he entered Egypt, found favor in the eyes of the Pharaoh, and married into the royal family.

Another enemy of Solomon who found refuge in Egypt was Jeroboam. He worked for King Solomon but fled when Solomon sought to kill him. Jeroboam stayed with Shishak, king of Egypt.

One of the commentaries I read stated that Egypt gave refuge to Solomon’s enemies so it could use them to whip Israel around. But here’s my problem: Solomon married the daughter of the Pharaoh. The reason Solomon had all his wives was to establish peace with other nations, even those who were his vassals, such as Moab (see II Samuel 8). If he had another king’s daughter in his house, then that other king would have a bond with him and wouldn’t try to harm him, since he’d be hurting his own family-member in doing so. That’s how rulers did things in those days.

For some reason, though, it’s not working, for Egypt is harboring people with an ax to grind against Solomon. My guess is that it’s because Shishak is Sheshonq I, who founded a new Egyptian dynasty. Solomon could have been married to a woman from the previous dynasty. Now, there’s a new king in Egypt who doesn’t care about Solomon, and has no stake in his prosperity. (But what about the trade routes that Solomon controlled? Sheshonq would want to suck up to Solomon to get his goods up north, right? Maybe, unless he realized that Solomon was becoming weaker and that Jeroboam could mount a successful rebellion against him. And why not weaken Solomon further by supporting a potential terrorist?)

But do the dates add up? The conventional date for Sheshonq I’s reign is 945-924 B.C.E. But Matthew Henry (who may be using Ussher’s chronology, if he’s even the ones who put the dates in his commentary!) dates Shishak’s invasion of Palestine in I Kings 14 to 960 B.C.E. I’d like to see what year Solomon built the palace for the Pharaoh’s daughter, and what year the king of Egypt accepted Hadad, for that could determine if the two kings are from separate dynasties. But Ussher dates everything so early, that I can’t make that determination with my current knowledge of chronology (which is meager).

But perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree. Sure, Shishak harbored Jeroboam. But maybe the Pharaoh who accepted Hadad was the same one whose daughter was married to Solomon, and he wasn’t trying to hurt Solomon! He just liked Hadad. And, when Hadad wanted to leave Egypt, Pharaoh asked him to stay. He didn’t want Hadad to whip Palestine around, if that was even on his radar!

3. What’s interesting about the story of Hadad is that he could’ve stayed in Egypt and healed from the havoc that David had wrecked on his nation. He could’ve been like Joseph, who, after his exaltation in Egypt, forgot all of his toil and his father’s house (Genesis 41:51). But God used his bitterness to make him a thorn in the side of Solomon, as punishment for Solomon’s idolatry. But, even here, I have a problem. Hadad decided to leave Egypt after he’d heard that David and Joab had died. He couldn’t have left Egypt right when Solomon became bad and started tolerating idol worship. There were years before that in which Solomon was good. Am I to assume that Hadad didn’t know about David’s death during that time, that he just discovered that Israel had a new king when Solomon started building temples to foreign gods? But Hadad had to know about Solomon before then. Hadad was part of the Egyptian royal family, which was intermarried with Solomon through the Pharaoh’s daughter! So wouldn’t Hadad have to leave Egypt before Solomon became bad? Did God allow Hadad to become a potential threat before Solomon degenerated to the dark side—keeping him around in case Solomon screwed up? Then, there’s another point: I Kings 11 doesn’t say Hadad became a terrorist immediately after he left Egypt!

4. Another issue I have: In I Kings 11:38-39, Ahijah (speaking for God) promises Jeroboam that God will make his dynasty eternal if he’s obedient, right before he says that God won’t afflict the house of David forever. Are these ideas mutually contradictory? Jewish commentators say that the part about God not afflicting David’s house forever means that a descendant of David will one day rule over all of Israel, North and South. But how can that happen, if Jeroboam obeys and gets his everlasting dynasty?

There’s a similar problem elsewhere in Scripture. God promised that the sceptre would belong to Judah (Genesis 49:10), yet he said that Saul the Benjamite would have had an everlasting kingdom had he obeyed God (I Samuel 13:13-14). How could both be true?

On I Kings 11:38-39, there may be a variety of ways that God can fulfill a prophecy. Perhaps, if Jeroboam had obeyed, God would’ve given him an eternal dynasty, but he would’ve kept his promise to the Davidic dynasty by making Judah a powerful kingdom, rather than the less-than-notorious kingdom that it was for many years. Jeroboam would’ve had his dynasty in the North, and the Southern kingdom would’ve been powerful too! But Jeroboam screwed up and forfeited his eternal dynasty. Now, God can make the Davidic dynasty prosperous by giving it all of Palestine!

5. There was another interesting detail that I got from my weekly quiet time. In I Kings 10, we read that Solomon gave a chariot and a horse to Aramean kings. Now, in I Kings 12, we read that an Aramean is afflicting Solomon. As one commentary asked, could the Aramean be doing so with the military equipment that Solomon gave him? We’ve seen that sort of thing throughout history!

Jean Simmons

I just read that actress Jean Simmons has passed away at the age of 80.

Yes, I thought she was a hottie on Spartacus and Elmer Gantry. But it's her later work that made more of an impression on me. I remember her as the person who read the Bible passages on Mysteries of the Bible---in a dramatic, eerie sort of way. And then there's her classic line on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she played someone who conducted a political witch-hunt: "I've brought down bigger men than you, Picard!"

R.I.P., Jean Simmons.

UPDATE: I hope this link works. Jean Simmons interrogates Picard, who gives an eloquent speech on civil liberties. If it doesn't work, you can search for the title on YouTube. Enjoy!

Lessons in Humanity: Habeas Corpus

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just, Yet Unjust

1. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Abraham Malamat’s “A Forerunner of Biblical Prophecy: The Mari Documents.” Mari was a city in Mesopotamia, and its documents date to the first half of the second millennium B.C.E.

Some things that stand out to me in Malamat’s discussion of Mari prophecy:

Like the biblical prophets, the Mari prophets were concerned about social justice. A prophetic passage exhorts the king, “When a wronged man or woman cries out to you, stand and let his/her case be judged” (36). A letter offers a tangible example of the king executing justice, when he delivers a woman from kidnappers after her companion (at the instruction of the god Dagan) appeals to him for assistance.

Unlike the Bible, however, the Mari prophets usually don’t rebuke the king or the people; rather, they’re often nationalistic and optimistic.

Yet, not all prophets of Mari were professionals, so one can’t say that all of them were going with what benefitted their pocket-books when they made their prophecies. There were professional prophets, and there were lay prophets.

Malamat also makes this point about how Mari tested prophets, as opposed to biblical criteria for whether prophets are true or false: In contrast [to Mari], in Israel the prophetic word, whether accepted or rejected by the king or the people, is never subjected to corroboration by cultic means; it is simply vindicated by the test of fulfillment (47). Mari’s techniques for verification included seeking omens through divination and “sending the hem of the garment and the lock of hair of the prophesier” (47).

2. Last night and today, I read quite a few essays in Matitiahu Tsevat’s The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies. One essay I read was “God and the Gods in Assembly.” In Psalms 58 and 82, God judges the gods who tolerate or favor the wicked. Although many (perhaps even Jesus in John 8:34-35) have interpreted the “gods” as unjust human judges, Tsevat appears to see them as the actual gods of the nations. After all, does not Deuteronomy 32:8ff. say that the Most High apportioned the Gentile nations to the gods, while reserving Israel for YHWH?

It’s interesting that Tsevat has this essay in his book, considering that his essay on Job says that God in his whirlwind speeches denies that he engages in just retribution (see Vegetarians Start to Eat Meat, God Discusses Justice with Job). Essentially, Psalms 58 and 82 accuse the gods of the other nations of the same things that Job attributes to the true God: of tolerating (and thereby encouraging) wickedness. The message of so much of the Bible, however, is that God judges the wicked.

Why’s the world as screwed up as it is? Could it be that so many nations are ruled by unjust gods? Apocalyptic literature makes this point. The angel Michael, after all, had to contend with the princes of Persia and Greece in order to reach Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 20). Are there unjust spiritual powers behind earthly rulers?

Could this have been Pat Robertson’s point about Haiti? I’m not sure if the Haitian slaves believed they were making a deal with the devil, but (assuming the folklore is even true, which is disputed) could they have made one with an evil spiritual force? Maybe God didn’t cause the earthquake. In the Book of Job, after God allows Satan to do with Job as he pleases, a wind kills Job’s sons and daughters while they are eating and drinking (Job 1:18-19). Can Satan cause natural disasters like tornadoes, perhaps even earthquakes? When people make a deal with an evil spiritual force, are they inviting any mayhem that such a force may cause, for its twisted pleasure? And that’s not to mention the factors behind Haiti’s poverty that clearly flow from injustice, the sorts of things that Psalms 58 and 82 criticize: political corruption, a mal-distribution of wealth, etc.

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not Israel was more just than other ancient Near Eastern nations. As we saw in (1), Mari had a concept of justice. The idea of allowing the poor to glean is found in Egyptian sources. Hammurapi talked about defending the poor from their oppressors. Other ancient Near Eastern countries were more egalitarian than Israel in their inheritance laws, allowing women to inherit property, even when their father had sons. Moving into Greece, Zeus was viewed as a god of justice.

Yet, I read a good post by Lawson Stone yesterday, Day 308: Post Modern Bronze Age. Here’s how he characterizes economic life under the great kings of the Late Bronze Age:

The end of the Bronze Age in the 13th century B.C. was arguably the most catastrophic event of antiquity. It was a perfect storm. The culture was highly urbanized, based on trade in luxury goods by wealthy ruling elites who controlled all the economic resources of the region primarily with the goal of extracting resources with little concern for local economies and cultures. It was a global culture as the 4 or 5 principal “Great Kings” of the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC) all maintained contact with each other and with their lackeys all over the eastern Mediterranean. These urbanites and the economy they depended on lived off of agricultural produce increasingly imported from subject nations, where it was raised by a shrinking peasant population forced to feed growing but non-producing urban bureaucratic centers with an increasing appetite for imported luxury goods but no concern for local economies, local cultures and local lives.

In the midst of this imperialistic exploitation, “terrorists” such as the Shasu, the Apiru, and other bandits spread their mayhem. Eventually, the oppressive societies weakened as the paper-tigers that they were.

Lawson Stone views the society that the Torah promoted as a refreshing contrast:

But the Old Testament’s vision of freehold agrarianism, local self-sustaining economies whose basic production serves the local needs, never exceeding the carrying capacity of the land, which is cherished and used kindly as a gift of God, a constrained and compassionate use of animals, limits on lending at interest, limitation of trade to surpluses, not staples, selection of leadership from persons most embodying the community’s core values, with families defended by a shared ethos of purity, integrity, memory and relatedness, all united under the concept of a covenant with one righteous and holy God to whose law even rulers and kings submit…these are arguably among the most transformative ideas about human civilization ever proposed.

Could Psalms 58 and 82 have a point that the gods ruling the other nations were unjust, oppressive, and exploitative, whereas the God of the Israelites was a God of compassion and humility? Or were the kings of the Late Bronze Age betraying the principles of their religion, as the Bible accuses Israelite society of doing? Or was their religion a rubber-stamp or a justification for oppression? When that happens, maybe there’s not much of a difference between worshipping the true God falsely, and being guided by an unjust false god.

Ghost Whisperer, John and Jack on Faith

I’m having trouble sleeping, so here’s one of my insomniac posts! Here are some items:

1. I watched the Ghost Whisperer for the first time last night. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Melinda, a lady who can see dead people and helps them to find closure before they go to the other side. In the process, she helps people. I enjoyed the episodes that I watched, but I’m not sure if I want to bind myself to the show, by recording every single episode that comes on. With Ion (PAX), there are three episodes on each day, and that can really accumulate on my DVR!

2. Rachel Held Evans had a post a few days ago, Dear John, Why do you find it so easy to believe? In it, she discusses a conversation on an episode of LOST between two of the main characters: Jack Shepherd and John Locke. Jack is a man of science, and John is a man of faith. That plays out in that Jack wants to do everything possible to get the plane-crash survivors off the island, whereas John thinks they should stay. For John Locke, the survivors are on the island for a reason. Locke also believes that the island is a place “where miracles happen,” since, on it, he was healed of his paralysis. In Jack and John’s conversation, John asks Jack why he finds it so difficult to believe, and Jack retorts, “Why do you find it do easy?” Rachel and her commenters talk about whom they identify with: Jack or John.

If I identify with anyone, it’s Ben Linus, who asked Jacob “What about me?” and got “What about you?” See my post, Ideas about Jacob and his Adversary (LOST), if you’re interested in the details! But Rachel’s post got me thinking about why John is the way he is, and why Jack is the way he is. John Locke had nothing before he came to the island. His father had used then rejected him. His girlfriend dumped him. John looked for love in a commune, which turned out to be a front for the marijuana industry. When he came to the island, he finally had a sense of purpose. And the island healed him. For once, he felt loved and important.

Jack’s a little more difficult for me to analyze. Jack witnessed a miracle before he came to the island. As a surgeon, he thought he knew that a lady would never walk again, but she ended up dancing at her wedding…with Jack! You’d like for this to be a fairy-tale ending, but it’s not, for the relationship goes south, and she and Jack split up. John Locke desperately craves love and wants there to be a happy ending, so his response to a miracle is faith. But Jack is cynical, perhaps because his own encounter with the supernatural had an unhappy ending, and he wondered if there was any purpose at all. And perhaps he carries this cynicism into a desire to stick with cold, hard facts, from a cold, often harsh world. But he still tries to help people in this cold world. For Jack, there’s no God looking out for people, so it’s up to him to come up with the answers as the leader—through his own wits. Eventually, that’s a heavy burden for him to carry.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A God Is Born, Hebrew Persecutes Egyptian Persecutes Hebrew

1. I read Thorkild Jacobsen’s “The Graven Image” in Ancient Israelite Religion. Jacobsen discusses the sorts of issues that are in my post, Did Second Isaiah Misunderstand Idolatry?; Greek Sodom and Gomorrah Story (which is not to say that he cites me, for he wrote his essay before there even was an Internet): ancient Near Eastern texts equate the god with the statue, yet they mean that the god inhabited the statue. It’s like the process of transubstantiation during mass. Catholics believe that the wafer becomes Jesus; similarly, ancient Near Easterners thought their idol became the god it represents.

I was a little thrown by this statement that Jacobsen makes on page 28: In sum, then, the ritual has turned the clock back, thus nullifying all human work, and has prepared for a birth in heaven of the god in question by sympathetic magic on earth. It greets the newborn god the next morning, entreats him to come down from heaven, and escorts him to his temple, where he is enthroned.

Jacobsen is referring to texts from the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, which encompass the first half of the first millennium B.C.E. The texts describe the creation and animation of an idol. Is Jacobsen saying that a god is born in heaven whenever an idol is made? That would make little sense, for Marduk was said to have created the heavens and the earth, so he was around before idols. Or is Jacobsen saying that the ritual commemorates the birth of the god, since he says that it has “turned the clock back”?

2. I read Matitiahu Tsevat’s “Hagar and the Birth of Ishmael” in The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Studies. On pages 69-70, Tsevat draws a parallel between God paying heed to Hagar’s abuse by Sarah in Genesis 16, and God’s recognition of the Israelites’ suffering at the hands of Egypt in Exodus. The irony is that Hagar was an Egyptian. Sarah, a Hebrew, oppressed Hagar, an Egyptian slave-girl. Later, the Egyptians oppressed the Hebrew slaves.

At one of the graduate schools that I attended, a professor of mine pointed that out, but I wasn’t sure where she was going with it. I was hoping for a deep theological point, but she just told me it was a literary device. The lesson Tsevat draws from it is that God has compassion on all of his creatures (Psalm 145:9), Jew and Gentile. I wondered if the lesson was “What goes around, comes around.”

The story of Hagar has long been meaningful to me. Here was a woman who was mistreated by God’s church at the time, Abraham and Sarah. She was an outsider. Hagar’s bad experience was partly her fault, for she was looking at Sarah with contempt because she (Hagar) could conceive and Sarah could not, but that may have been Hagar’s attempt as a powerless person to exert some power, for once in her life. But God took notice of Hagar and promised to bless her offspring. (This is important, according to Tsevat, because, under ancient Near Eastern law, Hagar’s son belonged to Sarah, since Hagar bore him for Sarah; yet, the Bible says Ishmael is Hagar’s!) Hagar was outside of God’s trajectory of promise, for God’s plans were for Isaac’s offspring. But God took notice of this outsider. He told her to return to Sarah, and she did so, only not as a powerless slave. She was a person God had seen, someone armed with the realization that God had a plan for her life.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vegetarians Start to Eat Meat, God Discusses Justice with Job

1. I’ll be reading one essay of Ancient Israelite Religion every day (except Saturday), until I decide to read more. Today, the essay I read was William W. Hallo’s “The Origins of the Sacrificial Cult: New Evidence from Mesopotamia and Israel.” Hallo refers to a Sumerian story about the crown prince Lugalbanda, of Uruk (see Lugalbanda in the Cave).

On one of his campaigns, Lugalbanda is left for dead in a cave, with little food. The plants aren’t fit to eat, so Lugalbanda becomes carnivorous by necessity. He lures an auroch (a kind of cattle) and two goats through cakes, and he binds them. He’s hesitant to wield his cutting-tools against his prey, but a dream from Za(n)qara (the god of dreams) instructs him on how to slaughter them. He follows the instructions to the letter, and (in Hallo’s words) “goes them one better—significantly better” (9). He shares his meat with the four greatest deities of the Sumerian pantheon. The sweet savor rises to the gods like incense, as they consume the best part of the meat. And Lugalbanda recovers from his illness.

Hallo compares this story with Genesis: humans were made vegetarian, but God allowed them to eat meat after the flood. Hallo’s view (if I understand it correctly) seems to be that the sacrificial system served to legitimize the consumption of meat. Israelites wanted or needed to eat it, but they were leery about shedding blood, so sharing their meat with the gods allowed them to eat it without qualms.

But the commonality between Lugalbanda and the Bible is that both present humans as initially vegetarian, until they were allowed to eat meat (which gods/God did anyway).

2. I started Matitiahu Tsevat’s The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies. Today, I read “The Meaning of the Book of Job.”

Essentially, Tsevat argues that the Book of Job says God doesn’t consistently reward the righteous and punish the wicked, so people should be righteous because it’s good, not to receive a reward. I already knew that Job complained about this in his speeches, but Tsevat’s essay was helpful because he referred to places in God’s speech from the whirlwind touching on reward and punishment. For Tsevat, God addressed Job’s complaint head-on.

Here are some examples, and the translation is whatever Tsevat is using:

40:11-14: “Give free scope to your raging anger. Seeing anyone haughty, bring him low; seeing anyone haughty, abase him and tread down the wicked in their tracks. Conceal them alike in the earth, wrap their faces in concealment. Then I, too, will acknowledge that your right-hand is all-prevailing.”

38:12-13, 15: “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, have you directed the dawn to its place to take hold of the skirts of the earth so that the wicked are shaken out of it, so that light is withheld from the wicked, and their uplifted arm is broken.”

Tsevat interprets these passages to mean that Job can’t punish the wicked, and it’s not God’s general policy to do so, either. For Tsevat, 38:12-13, 15 doesn’t describe what God does, for the morning doesn’t hurt the wicked; rather, the sun shines on the just and unjust alike.

38:25-27 is also pretty telling: “Who has cleft a channel for the rain flood or a way for the thunder cloud to cause rain on land where no man is, on a desert where no people live to satiate waste and desolate terrain and to sprout fresh grass?” As Tsevat points out, the Hebrew Bible often treats rain or the withholding of it as a tool God uses for reward and punishment (see Deuteronomy 28:24, or the Elijah story). But God tells Job in 38:25-27 that God sends rain where there are no people. It’s almost as if God or nature is blind to what humans do, or maybe the lesson here is that God doesn’t consider humans to be the center of the universe!

I checked the MacArthur Study Bible and the Nelson Study Bible, and they have an interesting take on Job 38:12-13, 15, the passage about morning. Nelson says that God here is responding to Job’s complaint in 24:13-17 that God allows the wicked to do their evil deeds at night. For MacArthur and Nelson, God’s response is that he sends the morning to interrupt and expose the wicked, to shine the light on their activities. That’s tempting to accept, but 38:15 says that light is withheld from the wicked.

I’m not sure what to do with Tsevat’s proposal. I always understood God to be saying to Job that Job can’t do all the things God does, for God is superior. That would imply that passages such as 38:12-15 and 40:11-14 affirm the existence of a moral order in the universe. That would be consistent with Job 1, in which God places a hedge around Job for his protection, presumably because of Job’s righteousness. But God can make exceptions to his moral order, as when he tests people, so Job’s friends were wrong to assume that Job was suffering on account of his sin.

At the same time, I like Tsevat’s proposal because it takes seriously Job’s speeches about the existence of injustice in the world, as when Job observes that there are wicked people who die in a state of peace, prosperity, and contentment (Job 21). Can we interpret God to say that he’s just in his whirlwind speeches, thereby sweeping Job’s observations under the rug, as if they’re invalid? But if God is saying that he doesn’t rule the world according to a moral order, that allows Job’s observations to stand. We don’t have to be like Job’s friends, who try to subordinate reality to their belief that God is just.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Conclusion of Song and Story

I'm at the library right now, and I'm writing my post here because I just finished Steven Weitzman's Song and Story in Biblical Narrative, and I want to return it right after I finish this post.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd read Weitzman's conclusion before going through the body of his book. I found myself wondering what his point was. Now that I finished the book and read his conclusion, I'm able to piece parts of his book under his main points, except for one.

The "one" is this: Weitzman said that modern scholars often approach biblical poetry with their own thoughts about what poetry is and should be. He states on page 126: "We thus found that biblical scholars are in fact imposing their own literary culture onto the Bible when they interpret its mixing of story and song as a mixing of reason and emotion, of objectivity and subjectivity, or of the sublime and the mundane." I don't remember much of this discussion.

But his point that Deuteronomy 31 is like the seventh century B.C.E. Words of Ahiqar, in that both present a teacher instructing and chastising his pupils? Yes, I remember that from the body. And Weitzman also argued that, as the Pentateuch became revered, there emerged a felt need to insert songs into the biblical narrative, or to connect Psalms with a biblical story. Why? Because Exodus 15 was a song that commented on Exodus 14: the Israelites sang after the crossing of the Red Sea. So why not imitate the Pentateuch by inserting songs into a story?

Pieces of Weitzman's book make sense to me now that I know he was making that argument. His discussion of the prayer of Hanna being in different locations in various manuscripts may indicate that it was inserted into the story (perhaps in the first century C.E., the approximate date of Qumran manuscripts), as opposed to being part of it at the outset. Weitzman refers to the rabbinic statement that Hezekiah didn't become the ultimate Messiah for the reason that he did not thank God after God had delivered Jerusalem from Assyria: there's a sense among those ancient reverers of the text that a song should have followed the story. And we see that songs were inserted into the story when the Greek-speaking Jews applied their hands to the Bible. In the Greek version of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego sing a long Psalm while they're in the furnace, but this song is absent from the Masoretic Text.

In the end-notes, Weitzman offers evidence for his argument that the emphasis on incorporating song into narrative occurred in imitation of Exodus 15. Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:9 and Revelation 15:3 both highlight the importance of the Song of Moses. As I look at the body of the text, Weitzman also refers to Philo (first century C.E.), who urged singing in imitation of the Israelites at the Exodus. Weitzman states, "All this indicates that songs such as Exodus 15 were perceived by early canon-conscious readers not only as events in Israel's past but as behavioral models for the present and future as well" (171).

This may be why Weitzman dicusses deutero-canonical books such as Tobit and Judith: they reflect an attempt in the Second Temple Period to incorporate song into story, in tales that imitate those of the Bible. So the Second Temple Period was a time in which incorporating song into story was a focus. But does Weitzman believe that songs were put into the biblical narrative in the Second Temple Period? He may have addressed this question, but I don't remember his answer.

I said in a previous post that Weitzman usually approaches the songs and the stories synchronically, as if they're interdependent. This differs from what many scholars do: they view the poems as earlier than the prose. Actually, what I said is only partially true. There are times when Weitzman takes this approach. With the Book of Jonah, for example, he views Jonah's prayer in Jonah 2 as integrated with the larger plot. It's giving us irony, he maintains, for Jonah asks to be delivered and thanks God for his mercy, even though we'll read later in the story that he doesn't want God to show the same sort of mercy to the Ninevites.

But there are times when Weitzman acknowledges contradictions between the prose and the poetry, or when he believes that the poem was inserted into the story. I was especially intrigued by his discussion of Pseudo-Philo (first century C.E.), which actually tries to harmonize the prose and the poetry in certain biblical stories. For example, the Song of Deborah refers to stars fighting against Sisera (Judges 5:20), but that's not in the narrative. Bib. Ant. 31:1 of Pseudo-Philo, therefore, presents Deborah saying in the heat of battle, "I see the stars...prepared to fight along with you."

This was a good book, now that I understand it. But I must move on to the next book!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King's Workfare Proposal

I read more of Steven Weitzman’s Song and Story in Biblical Narrative. On pages 66-67, Weitzman compares Hanna’s song after the birth of Samuel (I Samuel 2:1-10) with Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. Actually, he brings other things into the discussion as well, such as the narratives about Samuel’s birth and that of John the Baptist (Luke 1). Weitzman states: In both texts, pious wives miraculously conceive future saviors who will initiate a new stage in Israel’s history by delivering it from its troubles and preparing for God’s kingdom…[T]he Magnificat helps link Jesus’ birth to a similar moment in the history of biblical Israel, the miraculous birth of Samuel.

An Anchor Bible Dictionary article by Walter Bruegemann helped me understand the relationship between Hannah’s prayer and the rest of the Hannah story, or at least he offered me a way to look at the situation. Hannah talks about the deliverance of the poor from oppression, and, in a sense, Samuel helped to accomplish that later in his life: he defeated the Philistines who were oppressing Israel, and he ruled as a just judge (though his sons were bad).

As to whether or not Jesus fulfilled such expectations, I wrestle with this problem in my posts, A False Hope? and A Community Called Atonement. In the latter post, I state the following:

Years ago, when I read the Gospel of Luke, I noticed its hope that the Messiah would soon come and vindicate the poor. What I thought that meant was that Jesus viewed his kingdom as imminent (Albert Schweitzer style): he was assuring the poor that their liberation was nigh, for he’d soon come and set up a kingdom that would topple the rich and powerful while exalting the lowly. As a believer, I had a problem with such an interpretation, since that didn’t happen. Two thousand years later, the rich and powerful are still oppressing the poor and the lowly. But, in my mind, that was the best reading of the text.

Part of me considered another proposal, however: Perhaps Luke’s Jesus expects the poor to find their relief and exaltation in the church. In Luke’s other work, Acts, the disciples hold their goods in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32), and deacons help the poor widows (Acts 6). Indeed, the church was a place where the poor could be fed, where the first put themselves last so that the last could be first.

Unfortunately, churches are not always places where the poor can find relief. But the call is still there for the church to be like God’s kingdom—concerned for the poor.

I looked through an interesting article today on Martin Luther King’s economic views: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom. As I watched Tom Brokaw’s documentary on Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought to myself, “Okay, so King opposed poverty. But what did he propose as a solution? Government handouts?” It turns out that he wanted the government to create jobs for as many people as possible—jobs that would enhance the social good. Those who still couldn’t find jobs would receive a guaranteed annual income, which they would use to pump money into the economy. King was still sensitive to the government spending within its means, however. In the article, I didn’t exactly see him comment on deficit spending (though the article calls him “Keynesian” for his demand-side emphasis), but he did believe that defense spending and the Vietnam War were taking money away from programs that could help the poor. That seems to imply that the government only had so much and needed to spend it on what was truly important.

I thought about biblical views on poverty. At times, my impression is that the Bible supports throwing money at the poor through almsgiving, and, in a sense, it does. But it also promotes work (I Thessalonians 4:11; II Thessalonians 3:10-12) and supporting the truly needy (I Timothy 5). That’s not to say that we should be judgmental. The last thing we should tell the Haitians is “Get a job!” But the agenda of helping the poor should be to help them move into a position of economic self-sufficiency. But there are also times when it’s a matter of helping people who cannot help themselves.

I’m not going to comment on King’s economic proposals. There are arguments “pro” and “con.” Right now, it doesn’t look like President Obama’s stimulus is working in ending the recession, but is that a condemnation the government employing people and giving them money to spend, or of the way that Obama has gone about it? That’s debated.

But King at some point felt a need to focus on poverty rather than race alone. I see that as a call for concern on my part, however I may choose to express it.

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