Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Road Not Taken

Regardless of what time zone my WordPress blog is in, here in Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s still March 31—that last day of Women’s History Month. For my final post for this year’s Women’s History Month, I want to start with a scene from Mona Lisa Smile, and then proceed from there.

I gave a brief synopsis of the plot of Mona Lisa Smile in my post, Choice. Here’s what I wrote that relates to the scene I’m about to discuss:

On [the movie], Julia Roberts plays an art professor at Wellesley College during the 1950’s. She wants her students to be so much more than housewives. For example, she desires for the Julia Stiles character to attend Yale Law School and become a lawyer…The Julia Stiles character decides not to go to Yale and become a lawyer, but rather to stay at home with her husband and raise children.

In a scene in which Julia Roberts is pressuring Julia Stiles to attend law school in Pennsylvania, close to where Julia Stiles and her husband will be living, Julia Stiles asks her professor: “Do you think that decades from now I’ll be regretting not becoming a lawyer?” And Julia Roberts replies, “Yes, I do.” But Julia Stiles thinks that she’d regret missing out on her children’s lives and the company of her husband, so she wants to become a full-time homemaker.

I want to take Julia Stiles’ question as a starting point for my final post in Women’s History Month 2010, for that is really the crux of what I’ve been discussing this entire month. How are women fulfilled? Well, according to some, one way to find out is to look down the road at when you are older, and to ask yourself what choices you would like to have made when you were younger. Then, since you actually are younger, make those choices so that you’ll have no regrets!

Phyllis Schlafly says that many feminists have barren lives now that they are older, for they skipped marriage and children in order to pursue a career, and now they’re empty and alone, without grandchildren to enjoy. Betty Friedan contends that older women who lived their lives as full-time homemakers look back and wonder if they could have been more, and they regret not establishing their own identity in pursuit of their dreams.

Today, I watched A Woman Called Golda, a 1982 miniseries about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. It starred Ingrid Bergman, who played Golda during and after middle age (which was the height of Golda’s political career). The movie received three Emmy Awards and even more Emmy nominations. It was Ingrid Bergman’s final role, for she died that very year (1982). Her daughter accepted Ingrid’s Emmy on her behalf. Let me say this: My friend Felix said in his post, Give Morgan The Oscar! Two Thumbs Up for Invictus!, that ”Morgan Freeman seemed that he was born to play former South African President Neslon Mandela.” Well, I don’t want to detract from Casablanca, but Ingrid Bergman embodied Golda Meir in this miniseries, as if she were born to play that role!

But back to my discussion. Golda Meir regretted in her older years that she didn’t spend much time with her family when she was younger. She was busy working to build the nation of Israel, while she left her kids to relatives, or sitters, or day-care institutions. She said that she felt sad whenever she left to go to work, and her kids looked at her with sad expressions because they didn’t want her to go. When Israel finally became a nation in 1948, and people were celebrating, she encountered her husband Morris (played by Leonard Nimoy, for which he received an Emmy nomination), who no longer lived with her. At Morris’ funeral in 1952, she recollected that she loved Morris, yet she regretted the fact that her marriage was a casuality of her successful work for Zionism. In her older years, Golda got a chance to dote on her grandchildren, which she appreciated. Yet, she thought that maybe Israel would have been strong enough to survive without her.

But suppose Golda had chosen to abandon her Zionist dreams and to build a family with Morris, in Israel or America? Would she have then looked back and regretted not pursuing her dream for a Jewish state? I doubt that she would have thought, “Oh, I could have been Prime Minister,” for that was never an ambition of hers. She initially wanted to be a teacher, and her involvement in Zionism was what led responsibilities in the Israeli government to fall into her lap. Even when she was elected Prime Minister, she didn’t want the job, but so many Israelis were telling her that her country needed her, that she reluctantly accepted. But, back to my question: Had she chosen family, would she have regretted not pursuing Zionism? Zionism was an idea in which she firmly believed, due to her experiences as a child in Russia, where her family suffered from pogroms. She fervently desired for the Jews to have a country of their own, a safe haven in a world that rejected him. It was a huge cause, and one above herself and her own need for self-fulfillment. Would she have regretted not being a part of history had she chosen the path of family?

I think about women in my family. They were full-time homemakers at times, yet there were also seasons in which they did things outside of the home. My mom opened a health food store with my grandma, then went back to school for a B.A., then a master’s. My aunt sold tuppeware for some time, and eventually she opened a furniture store across the street from my mom and grandma’s health food store. Both of them may have been seeking fulfillment. Yet, my aunt eventually left the furniture business because she didn’t want to miss time with her family. (For my mom, we were around her all the time anyway!) In whatever they chose, they were trying not to miss out on something before it was too late. At least that’s my opinion. I can’t read their minds.

Something that I appreciated as I read Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan was that, in their own individual way, they favored balance. They realized that women could benefit from having a family, while also highlighting that they needed other challenges as well, opportunities to use their intelligence and creativity. How they formulated their conception of balance was different, but each, in her own way, acknowledged the multi-faceted nature of women.

On that note, I hope you had an educational Women’s History Month this year. Tomorrow, I will begin my celebration of Autism Awareness Month, for which I will read books on autism. Stay tuned!

Are You Truly Saved?

Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen has a blog post that’s getting me riled up, entitled Why I Don’t Like “Once-Saved-Aways-Saved”. Here are some passages from the post, and I’ve included the link so that the reader can see them in context:

I have often said that it is easier to tell when someone is a true Christian than to tell if they are not. In other words, some people wear their conviction on their shoulder. The power of the Holy Spirit could not be clearer. Their passion, understanding, grace, humility, and faith are clearly evident in everything they do. I know and can state with a great degree of confidence that they trust in Christ and are saved. They are in the race and they are running. Others, however, it is hard to tell. They may say they are saved, but I am not convinced with the same degree of conviction. They may be convinced, but I am not. I am not saying they are not saved, I just don’t know. Some live in a perpetual state of doubt, failure, and terrible sin. They may be in the race, but they are not running. However, even when they are at their worst, I cannot say with the same degree of confidence that they are not saved than when I can say someone is saved…

I have someone who I can’t figure out. Conversations with him are always very frustrating. I just want to crack his head open and see what is inside. I want to gaze where only God can see. What I want to know is does he really know Christ? My heart says “I hope” but my mind says “I don’t know. I doubt it.”

If you were to look at the life of this friend, you would not suspect that he has ever broached the throne room of God. You would not expect that he has ever humbly bowed at the cross, understanding his own condition and asking for mercy. I have never seen him read his Bible and I have never heard him honor Christ with his words. His life is one of constant pursuit of what the world has to offer and it completely controls his emotional state. Comforting him with spiritual talk is useless as you will get the gaze of ridicule and quickly share in the humility of having your conversation cut short by awkward silence.

Yet, when push comes to shove, this guy will give you his testimony. Every once in a while he will tell you why you don’t need to be worried about his spiritual condition. He will confidently tell you of the time when he was twelve years old and walked the aisle at Church to accept the Gospel. Once his tale is complete, he has exhausted his ability to have a spiritual conversation and the awkward silence ensues.

Is this guy saved? Can it be that he truly walked the aisle so long ago and has not flexed a spiritual muscle since? Why is he so secure in his salvation?

In his office, there is one spiritual relic. It is an old piece of paper that hangs prominently by his desk entitled “The Believer’s Security.” On it are listed all of the passages of Scripture that give assurance that a believer cannot lose their salvation. This unqualified doctrine was something that he was taught immediately after his saving experience. This is what he banks on every day.

That reminds me of something John MacArthur says in Chapter 7 of his book, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles:

A dear friend of mine once ministered in a church where he encountered a retired layman who thought of himself as a Bible teacher. The fellow would seize every opportunity to teach or testify publicly, and his message was always the same. He would talk about how “positional truth” had given him new enthusiasm for the Christian faith. The “positional truth” he spoke of included the perfect righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers at justification. The man also loved to point out that all Christians are seated with Christ in heavenly places ( Eph. 2:6 ) and hidden with Christ in God ( Col. 3:3 ). He was eager to remind his fellow Christians that we all stand before God as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” ( 1 Pet. 2:9 ). Those “positional” realities are true of all genuine Christians, regardless of our level of spiritual maturity. Our unassailable standing in Christ is one of the most precious truths of Christian doctrine. But this particular man, obsessed with “positional truth,” lived a deplorable life. He was a drunkard. He was addicted to cigarettes. He was ill tempered and arrogant. He was unloving to his wife. He had created division and strife in several churches over the years. He was completely undisciplined in almost every way. My friend once visited the man’s home, and signs of his ungodly lifestyle were all over the house. To this man, “positional truth” evidently meant truth that has no practical ramifications. He had wrongly concluded that since our position in Christ isn’t altered by our practice, Christians really needn’t be bothered about their sins. He evidently believed he could be assured of the promises of the Christian life even though none of the practical fruits of faith were evident in his walk. In short, he loved the idea of justification but seemed to give scant attention to sanctification. My friend rightly encouraged him to examine whether he was truly in Christ ( 2 Cor. 13:5 ).

As with most things, I have a mixed reaction to these statements. Let me start with the negative, for that’s stronger in my reaction. How can we tell that these people are not saved? Granted, Michael Patton says that he doesn’t know whether or not his acquaintance is truly saved, since he can’t see into the person’s heart. But he goes on to say that he doubts it. And John MacArthur praises his friend in the ministry, who encouraged that one guy to “examine whether he was truly in Christ.” So Patton and MacArthur are expressing doubt about somebody’s salvation.

But what is the basis of their doubt? Patton says that there’s an “awkward silence” when he tries to have a spiritual conversation with the person. But does that mean this person is not saved? Not everyone is glib when it comes to talking about their faith. Not everyone is comfortable talking about spiritual matters with other people. Maybe they see religion as a private matter—between them and God. Perhaps they don’t enjoy being comforted with spiritual talk because they like to handle their problems privately, or they’re not always sold on upbeat religious platitudes. I know even mature Christians who are like this.

Patton says that this person’s “life is one of constant pursuit of what the world has to offer and it completely controls his emotional state.” Yeah, him and who else? We’re all like this, to some degree. Believing in Jesus Christ and looking to him (and not the world) for my security and sense of identity is difficult. I’m not going to judge a person just because he fails at it, or doesn’t grasp it at this moment in his Christian walk. (Or at least I’ll try not to judge him.)

Patton says that this person does not “honor Christ with his words.” What’s that mean, exactly? Not everyone says “Praise the Lord” when they enter a room. Plus, it appears from what Patton describes that this guy actually does honor Christ with his words: he gives his testimony, and he has passages of Scripture on his desk that comfort him with the doctrine of God’s love.

Throwing the guy MacArthur criticizes into the mix, maybe these guys are trying their best to love God and other people, but it’s not particularly easy for them. Perhaps the guy MacArthur criticizes has difficulty internalizing God’s love for him, and so he tries to remind himself and others of the “positional truth” that he’s saved through God’s grace, or he causes divisions in church to get attention, or he vaunts himself, or he seeks comfort in booze and cigarettes. This man deserves our prayers and compassion, not our judgment. Instead, his pastor implies to him that he’s not truly saved.

I’m sensitive about this issue because of the times Christians have judged me for not appearing passionate enough, or not being glib enough in spiritual conversation, or not loving others according to their definition of love (namely, social extroversion). With all due respect, I don’t need that judgment! I have enough people judging me in my day-to-day life, so I don’t need that from Christians. Michael Patton wrote a post a little while ago about why some people ditch the Christian faith. Maybe this is one reason!

Yet, some of what Patton and MacArthur say resonates with me, for (as my readers may detect) I judge conservative Christians. I don’t understand how some of them can believe in Christ and have Jesus Christ living inside of their hearts, and yet be jerks, or cliquish, or snobbish, or manipulative just like people in the world. I’d like to think that their faith would make them a cut above the rest, but, alas, that’s not always the case. I can tell myself that they may be trying to be good, even as they battle a painful past, or urges. The temptation to judge them is so great, such that I can fume about them all day long. But I should try to have compassion and pray for others to find peace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Eternal Covenant

For my write-up today on Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought, I want to look at pages 102-105.

I Kings 8:21 reads (in the translation Japhet uses): “And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

The parallel passage, II Chronicles 6:11, reads: “And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with the people of Israel.”

Japhet notices that the Chronicler has made two changes. First, he changed “with our fathers” to “with the people of Israel.” Second, he omitted the part about the Exodus from Egypt.

Japhet believes this is significant. For her, the Chronicler rejects that notion that “a historical event determined the relationship between God and the people of Israel.” Not the Exodus. Not Sinai. Not something that happened to Israel’s fathers. Rather, according to Japhet, the Chronicler saw God’s covenant as eternal and timeless.

Japhet still acknowledges passages in which the Chronicler alludes to the patriarchs, the Exodus, and Horeb (I Chronicles 16:15-17; II Chronicles 5:10). But she states that, in these cases, “parallel texts are transmitted.” I take this to mean that such passages are merely the Chronicler dumping other sources into his text, without making an attempt to alter them according to his ideology. In the case of II Chronicles 6:11, however, he alters I Kings 8:21, so we’d better take notice: the Chronicler is telling us what he really thinks about the covenant! He’s altering the text according to his two cents!

I wonder what Japhet has in mind when she refers to a timeless covenant. Is it something like what we see in Jubilees, in which the patriarchs are observing the laws of the Torah? Is it the concept that God foreordained at creation (maybe before) that he would make a covenant with Israel, so, while he may have officially done so when Israel’s ancestors came along or when Israel emerged as a nation, the covenant per se existed before then, and the Chronicler wants to make that clear by avoiding any implication that a historical event brought about the covenant?

One thing I see in Japhet’s book (though I’m not going to hunt it down right now) is that the Chronicler believes that God chose Israel, period. That’s the basis of the covenant. It’s not that God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and so they owe him. Nor is it that they agreed at Sinai/Horeb to obey God’s laws. Rather, the basis of the covenant is God’s free choice, which has existed for eternity. Sounds rather Calvinist!

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Today, I saw at my local theater The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg worked with the Rand Corporation, which developed strategy for the U.S. Government for the war in Vietnam. His claim to fame is that he took top secret government documents about the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the Presidency of Harry S. Truman to that of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he leaked them to the press. These documents are called the Pentagon Papers, and they revealed that American Presidents had misled the American people about what they were and weren’t doing in Vietnam. (I saw them in book form at my local public library in Brazil, Indiana.) When President Nixon got an injunction that stopped the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, they appeared in the Washington Post. And when Nixon got an injunction against the Washington Post, they appeared in the Boston Globe!

Nixon didn’t like the fact that Ellsberg was being made into a national hero. And, although John Dean—Nixon’s counsel who turned on Nixon during the Watergate scandal—appeared in the documentary to laud Ellsberg for standing up to an “imperialist President,” he could somewhat understand Nixon’s concern. He said that it wouldn’t be good if Nixon’s coming up with an idea one day, and the next day his idea is splashed on the front page of the New York Times!

I don’t want this to be an “on the one hand…on the other hand” sort of post, so I’ll mention three things in the documentary that stood out to me.

First, we have Nixon on tape telling Henry Kissinger that he (Nixon) does “not give a damn” about the civilian casualties in our bombing raids. Civilian casualties were a big reason that Ellsberg became an opponent of the Vietnam War. And it was sobering to read that the Vietnam War killed two million Vietnamese people. I’m sure not all of those were civilian casualties, but there were many civilians who died. I feel that we should not turn our eyes away from the Communist atrocities that were committed throughout the world, including by North Vietnam. But we’ve done our share of harm as well. My impression is that the left ignores the former while pointing out the latter, while conservatives do the exact opposite.

Second, I gained respect for certain people in the anti-war movement, who faced the prospect of decades in prison for following their convictions. I respect those who fought in Vietnam because they risked their lives. But there were also people who stood against the war who were not “cowards” or “bums”—far from it.

Third, someone on the documentary said that a person told Ellsberg that he’d better hope his jury does not consist of middle-aged males! The reason was that many males of middle age had already compromised their principles for financial security, so they’d resent Ellsberg for doing the opposite. That reminds me of something Ellsberg said on the movie. He narrated how Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, said behind closed doors (with Ellsberg in the room) that the Vietnam War is going poorly, despite the vast number of additional troops that were sent to the region. Right after that, McNamara is beaming in front of the camera, saying that he’s “encouraged” by our progress in Vietnam. Ellsberg said that he hoped never to have that kind of job—one in which he’d have to lie in front of the cameras.

Someone else who was on the movie was one of Nixon’s “plumbers.” He admired Daniel Ellsberg for taking a risk—for sacrificing his job and facing possible time in prison to follow his convictions. The plumber said that he (the plumber) didn’t do that, for he was so enmeshed in the system. I’ve got to admire his honesty there!

The documentary is narrated by Ellsberg and features interviews with him, his wife, people at the Rand Corporation, John Dean, staff at the New York Times, and others. I tended to limit my picture of Ellsberg to the 1970’s, so it was interesting to see him as an old man.

I want to close this post with a few questions/comments. Conservatives tend to distrust the domestic sphere of government, while they trust its national security apparatus. Liberals, by contrast, distrust the national security apparatus, yet they favor entrusting more power to the federal government in the domestic sphere. Is this consistent? And is our government evil, or does it mean well, even as it ends up doing evil in the belief that the ends justify the means?

The Accused

Hi readers! I'm at the library right now. For Women's History Month today, I want to post a few lines from Buddy Foster's book, Foster Child: A Biography of Jodie Foster. Buddy is Jodie Foster's older brother. In the following passages, he's talking about The Accused, a 1988 movie in which Jodie Foster plays a rape victim, Sarah Tobias. Sarah was gang-raped at a bar while spectators cheered the rapists on, as if the rape was a sporting event. Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for the role.

Page 184: Loosely based on a vicious gang rape that took place in a New Bedford, Massachusetts bar in the early eighties, The Accused is a harrowing tale of waitress Sarah Tobias's struggle to regain her dignity in the face of her unrepentant tormentors and a seemingly callous judicial system.

I want to comment on this, for the cover of the VHS tape also says that Sarah Tobias was treated like a criminal when she was actually a victim. That's probably why the movie was called The Accused---because the question in the movie is, "Who is the accused here?" Is it the rapists? The cheering onlookers? Or even Sarah Tobias, whom some people blamed for the rape, on account of her revealing clothing, her flirtation with the men, her dancing, and the fact that she was drunk and high during the event?

Personally, I didn't think that the judicial system in the movie was horribly callous. A while back, I posted on the National Organization for Women's proposals for how to handle rape cases. It said that female officers should investigate them because men aren't particularly sensitive in this area, for they tend to blame the victim, as if she brought it on herself.

In The Accused, however, Sarah didn't have to go to the police station and tell her story to skeptical male cops who were telling dirty jokes; rather, women examined and questioned her. Sarah had a female rape counselor, who was on the city payroll. Sure, the defense attorneys treated her in an insensitive manner, like she was the person on trial. (One was friendly, but the other was a jerk who made a big deal about Sarah crying "no" rather than "help" or "police." Um, hello, "no" is what makes it a rape, for that's where the lack of consent comes in.) But that's part of our system: people have a right to a defense, especially when a conviction can wreck their lives.

Page 185: Sarah Tobias was a victim, but she was also one of Jodie's heroines because she refused to allow the rapists to get away with it. She is a flawed character with rough edges and a foul mouth, who has a provocative SXY SADIE for a vanity license tag. But in Jodie's rendering of the character, she finds an inner strength that elevates her, convincing a female prosecutor it is worth defying the odds to fight for justice. The performance was so convincing that mom, certainly a consummate Hollywood pro who knows it's just make-believe, wept when she first saw the rape scene. "Sarah is not exactly a mature, intelligent, sophisticated role model," says Jodie. "But she is human and is entitled to dignity and respect."

I want to note: I read in this book---and Jodie Foster said on Biography---that the rape scene was so intense that even the actors were shaken by it. Buddy says on pages 177-178: When the [rape] scene was finally finished, she was bruised all over, as well as psychologically drained, but still found the strength and presence of mind to comfort the equally shaken men who played the rapists.

Page 186: Jodie's hope was that even if The Accused was her last hurrah, the movie would change some women's lives by giving them the strength to overcome the anguish of a sexual attack and would show men how devastating rape is for a woman.

This is an important point. Some may see The Accused and feel that Sarah was at least partly at fault for the rape, since she dressed and danced provocatively and flirted with the men. But she still said "no." She didn't want to have sex with the men right then and right there in the bar. She felt dehumanized and degraded by what those men did. And the rapists and the cheering onlookers were wrong to dehumanize her and to treat her solely as a sexual object, when she was a person with dignity who probably felt that she was just having fun when she danced and flirted.

Page 187: Jodie's Accused Oscar speech was also a triumph. Unlike many actors who sputter drivel, Jodie succinctly expressed the reason the movie was made: "...And I'd like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from, the wonderful crew on The Accused...and most importantly my mother, Brandy, who taught me that all my finger paintings were Picassos and that I didn't have to be afraid. And mostly that cruelty might be human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable, which is what this movie is about. Thank you so much."

I like this quote because she thanks her mom for affirming her in her younger years. And she also makes a good point about cruelty being unacceptable, even if it's human or cultural. When I first saw The Accused, an acquaintance told me that the men were acting according to their nature---their sex drive and desire to reproduce. I don't think he was trying to justify the rape, but he was questioning my Christian insistence that people are more than highly-evolved animals. But having urges and a society that nods at them does not make cruelty acceptable. That's something that I'm learning during these Days of Unleavened Bread: I may have a sinful nature, which inclines me in a certain direction, but sin is still unacceptable---to other people who get hurt, and also to God.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Choice

For Women’s History Month today, I have two items:

1. One of my favorite movies about feminism is Mona Lisa Smile, a 2003 movie starring Julia Roberts. I’ll probably watch it on Wednesday, March 31, the last day of Women’s History Month. On it, Julia Roberts plays an art professor at Wellesley College during the 1950’s. She wants her students to be so much more than housewives. For example, she desires for the Julia Stiles character to attend Yale Law School and become a lawyer. And Kirsten Dunst plays a conservative student who undermines the Julia Roberts character at every turn and actually looks forward to becoming a housewife.

But what’s beautiful about the movie (in my opinion) is that it neither promotes feminism in a heavy-handed manner, nor does it support the Feminine Mystique, the notion that women can only be fulfilled as wives and mothers. Rather, it favors choice. The Julia Stiles character decides not to go to Yale and become a lawyer, but rather to stay at home with her husband and raise children. And, after the Kirsten Dunst character learns that her husband is cheating on her, she feels devastated—as if she has failed as a woman. At the end of the movie, she decides to become a lawyer. “I wouldn’t want to confront you in court!”, Julia Roberts tells her, after they reconcile.

What’s ironic is that Julia Roberts played a die-hard feminist in that movie, yet she herself at the time was looking forward to staying at home with her children and doing housework. Here are some quotes from an interview with her that appeared in Reader’s Digest (see here):

Reader’s Digest: It wasn’t quite what you’d imagine: Hollywood’s most bankable movie star, at home in California, wearing sweaty workout clothes (she’d just finished a yoga class), knitting (a baby blanket for a friend’s newborn) and confiding that, “It’s tricky to swing dance in a girdle.” We’ll get back to the girdle. For now let’s put it this way: That’s Julia Roberts. Fifteen years into a career that started with Mystic Pizza and won her an Oscar as Erin Brockovich, the Pretty Woman star is back with another mind-bending role. In Mona Lisa Smile, out this month, Roberts plays a free-thinking professor of art history who challenges the conservative, altar-bound young women of Wellesley College in the uptight 1950s. Hence the girdle, the only concession to tradition for her rebellious character.

RD: In Mona Lisa Smile, you’re accused of waging a war on marriage. And here you are, Miss Happily Married.
Roberts: It was one of the paradoxes of playing this character because when we started I was a newlywed — I still had rice in my hair. She’s a woman who’s not anti-marriage but is pro-independence and concerned — truly, deeply, tenderly concerned — that these Wellesley girls are going to throw away so much to simply become housewives. It was a moment when the thing that I believed in most, the focus of my heart, was being a housewife. And it was interesting to play this person who I’m not dissimilar to — and yet I’ve kind of morphed into the other side of that coin.

RD: I have read that you actually like cleaning house. Tell me it’s not true.
Roberts: Well, it is. This morning my husband went to work and I did laundry. I’m happy to report I’m not anal, but I’m a good housekeeper.

Of course, Julia Roberts probably doesn’t have the problems that Betty Friedan identified in the Feminine Mystique: Julia does not lack a sense of self, nor is her identity subsumed in her husband and children. She’s Julia Roberts, the accomplished actress! But, as a newlywed, she was looking forward to being a housewife and a mother. That’s what she yearned for in that season of her life. She wanted to be with her children and to watch them grow up.

2. As I said in my post, Feminine Mystique 1, the show Quantum Leap had some excellent episodes on feminism. My favorite Quantum Leap episode (period) is “Liberation,” in which Sam leaps into a housewife during the Women’s Liberation Movement. See Liberation for information, as well as quotes from the episode. There are so many things that I like: Sam’s sexist husband being willing to give a woman at work a chance after (at Sam’s prompting) she presents her ideas for the company; the feminist leader who hates men because her dad abused her when she was little, and who punches a cop while saying, “Let go of me, you’re not my father!”; Sam’s quotation of his stay-at-home mom, who said in the 1960’s-1970’s that women’s liberation is probably a good idea—for other women, and yet her husband (Sam’s father) never treated her in the patronizing manner with which some traditionalist men regarded their wives; the way that Sam earned the respect of a police-officer for women’s rights after persuading the feminist leader to put down her gun, while she was holding up a men’s lodge.

Here is some dialogue from the scene in which Sam is trying to convince the feminist leader—Diane—to put down her gun. Suzi is Sam’s daughter:

Diana: “You’re asking us to quit. Just like you quit. I won’t be like you! Just take a good look at yourself. You’re just like my mother. You’re turning into the dutiful house frau. A messenger for the oppressor.”

Sam: “Housewives and mothers are not your enemy. They’re your ally. Now don’t segregate us!”

Diana: “They’ll never let me play fair. We need to take a stand. (Her voices rises) “Are you with me or this housewife?”

Suzi: “You said this was about choice. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. Mom’s right. We’ll never get anywhere if we keep blaming each other and fighting among ourselves.”

In my opinion, Mona Lisa Smile and that episode of Quantum Leap indicate that the present trend in women’s issues is in favor of choice: that women should have opportunities to work, but that it’s perfectly acceptable if they choose to stay home and be wives, mothers, and homemakers.

The Chronicler Approaches Two Ideologies

I’m going to get my academic write-up out of the way right now, but I’ll be doing some academic reading this afternoon. On pages 90-92 of The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought, Sara Japhet says the following:

Although not found in the source material in Samuel-Kings, the choosing of the Levites is mentioned twice in Chronicles:

(a.) 1 Chr 15:2: “for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister to him for ever.”

(b.) 2 Chr 29:11: “the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to be his ministers and burn incense to him.”

The meaning of “Levites” in these passages and in Chronicles as a whole is a controversial issue. Is the word used in a narrow sense, referring only to the non-priestly members of the tribe of Levi, or in its broader meaning, denoting all members of the tribe, including priests? It seems to me that the two meanings appear side by side in Chronicles and can only be distinguished in context. The above verses are related to, although not an exact quotation of, Deut 10:8: “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day”…In 1 Chr 23:13, “set apart” describes the selection of the priests alone: “Aaron was set apart, he and his sons, forever, to be consecrated as most holy, to make burnt offerings to the LORD and serve Him and pronounce blessings in his name forever” (NJPS).

Many biblical scholars agree that the priestly writings and Deuteronomy present different opinions on the division of responsibilities within the Levitical priesthood. The priestly writings distinguish between the responsibilities of the sons of Aaron and the other Levites: the sons of Aaron offer the sacrifices, whereas the other Levites transport the holy objects, guard the Tabernacle, and do grunt work (see Numbers 3, 8). Deuteronomy, by contrast, does not distinguish between the responsibilities of the sons of Aaron and the other Levites: it just refers to “Levites,” as if they do all the work—sacrifices, grunt, transportation of holy objects, etc.

Why this diversity? I’m not familiar with every single explanation for this in the world of biblical scholarship, but one view that I’ve come across is that Deuteronomy was written by Levites who weren’t sons of Aaron, so, of course, they thought that they had more privileges than the sons of Aaron were willing to grant them!

So what is the stance of the Chronicler? In I Chronicles 6:48-49, he affirms the Aaronide division of responsibility: the Aaronides do the sacrifices, whereas the Levites take care of the Tabernacle. Yet, as Japhet notes, the Chronicler also says things that resemble Deuteronomic passages: God has set apart the tribe of Levi to minister before the LORD. Perhaps the Chronicler is rereading Deuteronomy to make it jibe with the Aaronide passages. Maybe he assumes that Deuteronomy makes a blanket statement: God chose the Levites to serve the LORD. But the Aaronide writings add specificity to that blanket statement: the Levites descended from Aaron perform the sacrifices, whereas the other Levites take care of the Tabernacle.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pluralistic Exclusivism

For my academic reading today, I didn’t start the books that I said I may begin in my post, “Elohim” for “YHWH”: Is This Significant?. The reason is that, on Tuesday, I’ll probably go to the downtown public library to check out some other books that I will read. Then, at a later point, I’ll come back to the ones I checked out at the Hebrew Union College library, for I can have those out longer.

I’m still plugging along in Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought. I want to interact with something she says on page 52:

We may conclude from this survey that the references in Chronicles to the question of monotheism are infrequent and indirect. Declarations that the LORD alone is God are rare and do not appear in the book’s key speeches. Apart from a few vestiges of the popular view, passages in which the gods of the nations are accorded a real existence, Chronicles asserts that YHWH is the only God, ruler and governor of the world. However, we find no new formulations or emphasis of this conviction in the recounting of events, nor does monotheism inspire any reworking or recasting of the source material. We must therefore assume that, for the writer or his generation, the subject was of little interest; an equilibrium in Israelite religious conviction—including the matter of other religions—had already been established.

According to Japhet, the Chronicler doesn’t really care about the issue of monotheism—of Israel’s God being the one true God, while the gods of the other nations do not exist. The Chronicler asserts monotheism in a few places, but he also preserves passages affirming that the LORD is above the other gods, which acknowledges their existence. Why didn’t the Chronicler try to iron this stuff out? Japhet’s answer is that he didn’t care a great deal about the issue.

And, on a related issue, she also maintains that the Chronicler was not a missionary: he didn’t care whether or not the other nations accepted the Israelite God. As Japhet states on page 53: …the phrase in Hezekiah’s prayer—”that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone (2 Kings 19:19)—and many others of its kind found in the rest of the Bible are missing in Chronicles. (Japhet mentions II Chronicles 6:33 as an exception, but it draws from I Kings 8:43).

I’ll take Japhet’s word on this for the time being. In the Persian period, there were exclusivist voices. In Ezra-Nehemiah, the returning exiles do not accept Samaritan assistance in rebuilding the temple (although they receive donations from other nations). They also try to clamp down on intermarriage and exlude certain foreigners from their midst. They are becoming more insular, perhaps because they think that will keep them pure and prevent another exile. And is there a chance that they didn’t want to come across as people who looked down on other nations, who believed that everyone on the face of the earth should believe as they do? They were in their land at the favor of the Persians, who were religiously tolerant, believing that the gods of the nations were legitimate. Perhaps the returning exiles didn’t want to appear square against such a pluralistic background. Sure, they as Jews would worship the LORD alone, but they weren’t about to insist that others do so!

But there were more inclusivist voices in the Persian period, such as Second-Third Isaiah, who looked forward to the time when all the nations would worship YHWH. Was the Chronicler in the more exclusivist school, which, ironically, may have been more compatible with the pluralistic attitudes of the period?

Lord's Supper 2010

My religious tradition celebrates the Lord’s supper the night before Passover, which is tonight, for Passover is on Monday evening (March 29). I’ll be celebrating the Lord’s supper alone this year. I have some Matzos in the cupboard, and some grape juice in the refrigerator. The only thing I lack is a person whose feet I can wash. I’m not going to ask a random stranger if I can wash his feet, since that’s weird. And I’m not going to wash my own feet, for part of the lesson of that ritual is service to others, and serving myself misses the point. At the same time, I can remember another lesson of the foot-washing, even if I don’t do it this year: that Jesus has washed me clean, but I need him to wash me on a continual basis. I’m justified by faith, which is why God accepts me. But God’s not through working on me yet, for I still have a lot of character defects.

I’m thinking of watching a Lifetime Movie Network movie tonight right before I conduct my personal Lord’s supper. It’s called Amish Grace, and it’s based on a true story—about an Amish mother who struggled to forgive. A disturbed man who had lost his own child shot a group of Amish children in their school right before taking his own life. One of them was the child of the Amish mother. The movie is based on a book of the same name that I read a while back, and it describes how the Amish reached out to the killer’s widow. The book also went into some detail on Amish ecclesiology—how they conduct church discipline, etc.

I’d like to share a few quotes that, for me at least, are apropos for this season. The first is from this morning’s bulletin for my Latin mass:

The narrative of the Passion is read whole and without pause on the Palm Sunday of the Passion. The story, found in each of the Gospels, is unchanging. We are the ones who change. Each year, we bring ourselves with another year’s history to hear and heed the story that we so badly need.

That reminds me of something that I continually tell myself: that no matter what happens to me, or what I believe down the road, I will continue to pray and read my Bible. Even if I find some day that I don’t believe in God anymore, I will still pray and read my Bible. In certain respects, I’m not entirely the same person each year that I conduct the Lord’s supper. This year, as a matter of fact, I was seriously thinking of not doing it—maybe because of apathy, or on account of bitterness against Christianity, or a sense of my flaws. But that’s where I am. And, wherever I am in my thoughts and attitudes, I think it’s important for me to look at the life of Christ and to absorb the values that it conveys—values of forgiveness, of selflessness, of love.

That brings me to my next quote, which is from page 406 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (fourth edition):

The last big hurdle was closing the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. As a Jew, I was uncomfortable with it and decided to talk to my sponsor about it. So I said, “The Lord’s prayer bothers me. I don’t like closing with it.” “Oh,” he said, what’s the problem?” “Well, I’m Jewish and it’s not a Jewish prayer.” “Well then,” he said “say it in Jewish.” I said, “It would still be the Lord’s prayer.” “Right,” he said. “Then say something else that you like. Your Higher Power, whatever you call it, is helping you, and you need to say thank you.”

That’s the basis of what I’ll be doing tonight—wherever I am or aren’t spiritually: to say “thank you” to God, my Higher Power. I should do that more often than I do!

For the Days of Unleavened Bread, I’m not going to remove all leavening from my apartment, for I’m not big on wasting food. But I’ll be eating my share of Matzos and Triscuits. And I don’t plan to eat any leavening this week. I also hope to watch my Moses movies, which I’ve written about during past Days of Unleavened Bread: see My Moses Marathon, Moses Marathon Awards, and Bithiah. I won’t be doing a Moses marathon this year, but I hope to watch part of a Moses movie each Day of Unleavened Bread, and to write something about it on my blog. I may miss some days, but we’ll see how it goes! Stay tuned!

Dolley Madison

For Women’s History Month today, I watched a beautiful and moving documentary about Dolley Madison, the fourth First Lady of the United States. It was part of PBS’s American Experience series.

I’ll get to Dolley Madison in a moment, but, first, I want to share some funny Thomas Jefferson stories that were in the documentary. There was a debate in the new nation of America about how much royal fanfare should surround the American Presidency. George Washington didn’t desire to be America’s king, but he supported a limited amount of formality and ceremony to give the Presidency a dignified aura. Thomas Jefferson, however, went the opposite direction! He didn’t want the Presidency to resemble a royal monarchy in any sense of the word! Consequently, when the British ambassador visited the White House, Thomas Jefferson greeted him in his bathrobe! And, when Thomas Jefferson was supposed to escort the wife of the British ambassador and lead her to her seat at a White House function, Jefferson walked right past her and escorted Dolley Madison instead (even though Dolley was whispering to him the proper protocol). Yeah, there’s my Aspergian brother! I think it was Cokey Roberts who said that some believe that led to the War of 1812, but she doubts it.

The announcer at the beginning of the movie said that Dolley Madison was the first wife of a President to define the role of First Lady. She beautified the White House and started social functions there, making it a welcoming place where politicians of different parties and ideologies could come, socialize, and enjoy Mrs. Madison’s famous ice-cream! As a result, she was able to advance her husband’s agenda, while creating a kinder, gentler political climate in Washington. (We need her now!) After the War of 1812, she made the assistance of orphans from that war her cause. Since her, many First Ladies have sought to advance causes that are important to them.

On the issue of slavery, Dolley was rather ambivalent, as were many of the Founding Fathers. Many of them didn’t care for the institution, but they felt that they couldn’t live without it. Dolley herself had an experience that shaped her approach to the issue. Her Quaker father freed all of the family’s slaves, and the result was the impoverishment of the family. Consequently, when she grew up and left home, Dolley lived a life with slaves. Yet, she tried to be a humanitarian. When she was old and had to sell her slaves to pay off her profligate son’s debts, she sold them to neighbors to keep together the slaves’ families. And, although she renigged from her promise to free a mulatto slave, he still had a lot of affection for her, and he visited her regularly after he purchased his freedom from his new master.

Dolley Madison was charismatic throughout her life. In her younger years, she was so beautiful that men would wait for her outside of her home—sometimes ten at a time—to see her and to wave at her. She dazzled people at White House functions. In her older years, in the 1840’s, she was viewed as a remnant of America’s founding, and she would entertain people with her stories about George and Martha Washington. And, as an old lady, she was the only private citizen who was granted an honorary seat in the U.S. Congress!

Although she was attractive and charismatic, she married the shy, short, un-charismatic James Madison (who could still be charming and tell dirty jokes in small settings). She was introduced to Madison by Aaron Burr, whom many of us know as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. There’s a chance that Dolley was initially unenthused by her marriage to James, for she signed a letter, “Dolley Madison, Alas.” But he turned out to be the love of her life, even though she had a husband before him, who had passed away. They enjoyed each other’s company. James tried to shield his wife from the details of her son Payne’s misdeeds, and he asked Payne why his mother hadn’t heard from him for such a long time. And, years after Madison’s death, Dolley said that she needed her counselor, and that she missed her little Madison.

She was a strong woman. During her first marriage, when most of her family was dying of a fever, she managed to survive, even though she also suffered the fever. During the War of 1812, when the British were about to invade Washington, D.C., she said that she was staying in the White House, and that, even though she was a Quaker, she still kept her Tunisian revolver close at hand! As the British approached, and she and a few slaves were alone in the White House, she stuck around long enough to save a large portrait of George Washington, for she didn’t want the British to parade it through the streets. And, even though she fled, she resolved to come back to Washington to show the British that they hadn’t shattered the iron will of the United States.

Her blind spot was her son from her first marriage, Payne, who didn’t know what to do with his life and behaved irresponsibly (and being treated as a prince in Europe didn’t help matters!). She still loved her son and hoped that a nice lady would settle him down. She also liked to hear from him, but he often did not write to her. She gave him money, and that ended up impoverishing her. She finally put her foot down later in life, when Payne was trying to get his hands on money that Abigail earned when the U.S. Government bought her husband’s writings, out of sympathy for Mrs. Madison. Dolley didn’t like Payne alienating her friends by threatening to sue them!

As a First Lady, Mrs. Madison had a sense of style and a willingness to show-off her physical beauty. Her dresses showed a little more cleavage than was common at the time. (It’s sort of like the flack that Michelle Obama gets for her bare arms.) I liked what one old lady wrote to her: she should hide her breasts from the eyes of the vulgar!

I enjoyed the documentary for a variety of reasons. Like many good American Experience documentaries, it was narrated by David Ogden Stiers, whom I appreciate from The Dead Zone (but whom many people like from MASH). I enjoyed what Cokey Roberts had to say, and Richard Norton Smith was another familiar face—from other American Experience episodes. I also liked the actors, who portrayed Dolley, James, the mulatto slave, Dolley’s niece, etc., using the very words of these figures from their letters.

In previous posts (see Oleson Vs. Oleson and Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Proverbs 31 Woman), I’ve asked what Betty Friedan would think about certain things. She’d probably frown at some of the volunteer work that Dolley did—not because it was bad, but because she wasn’t paid. Perhaps she’d say that Dolley was too much of a homemaker, preoccupied with interior decoration, or that her identity was subsumed into that of her husband, James Madison. There may be a place for Betty Friedan’s critiques of the Feminine Mystique and how women have been regarded in America, but, in this case, I ask: Who cares? Dolley Madison did a lot of good for the people and the society around her, and she received honor and recognition as a result. And she deserves the praise that she received.

A Conversation at a Latin Mass...

Okay, I chickened out and went to Latin mass this week, rather than to the Unitarian-Universalist church I was thinking of trying out (see I’m Flirting with Trying Out a New Church (But One Many of My Readers Won’t Like)). Why? Oh, there were a variety of reasons. Fear of seeing people I know on the way to the UU church. Comfort with the known, as opposed with discomfort about the unknown.

Fortunately, at the Latin mass, we didn’t march around the sanctuary carrying palm branches. We had palm branches, but we didn’t march with them. That was a relief!

I got to hear a conversation before the church service started. An old woman was talking about her grandson. She said that he’s really smart and has a law degree from a major university. But he has a hard time communicating with people. And he’s unwilling to try any religion, for (in her words) he’s had “too much college.” She then remarked that, in her opinion, those who have problems getting along with people have that difficulty because they neither rely on God nor practice the faith. Then, they expect life to be hunky-dory, and they’re shocked when it isn’t. I don’t remember if she threw the word “Asperger’s” into the conversation, for I didn’t hear the entirety of what she said.

Now, if these words had come from the mouth of an attractive, young or middle-aged evangelical, I would have let out a loud sigh of irritation—loud enough for her to hear it. And, if I had the courage, I would have asked her, “Is being smug a fruit of the Spirit?” But I have more tolerance for low-key, elderly Catholic grandmothers, than I do for young, chirpy, know-it-all evangelicals, especially when they’re attractive and probably didn’t have one social struggle in their lives (or at least not as many as some of us!). That’s just a prejudice I have.

As far as her statement goes, as with most things, I agree with it, and I disagree with it. Initially, I disagreed with it. I thought, ”Well, I relied on God and practiced a faith for years, and I still had a hard time getting along with people, regardless of how hard I tried.” I have a hard time viewing Christianity as a solution to my problems, for, in the past, it really wasn’t. It made me feel guilty that I wasn’t cheerful or extroverted enough. It pressured me to talk with people who made me feel uncomfortable—either to reconcile with them, or to tell them why I had a problem with them, or to fellowship, or to convince them to embrace the evangelical spiel. Granted, it may have tried to offer me some good advice, since we all have to learn to deal with difficult people. But, when it tossed a “Thus saith the LORD” into the mix, such that I felt like I was disappointing God with my failures, that created an incredible burden for me. Moreover, I often didn’t hear actual tips on how to (say) socialize: most of it was telling me that I should, and leaving me alone to figure out how to do it. In all the Christian platitudes about “love” and “witnessing” and “community,” there wasn’t much of an attempt to understand where I was coming from. I had problems clicking with people—regardless of how many services I attended, or how many hours I spent praying, or how many chapters of Scripture I studied, or how many songs I sang.

I think one sign of progress is that I now do things for God without expecting a reward—or at least I’m closer to doing that. I used to think that, if I studied enough Scripture and prayed enough, then I’d become a sage within the evangelical community, as people would eagerly anticipate the drops of wisdom that would flow from my mouth. I’d fit into the evangelical community, and I’d meet a nice-looking Christian girl, who would be drawn to my spirituality. But, in ten years, that hasn’t happened. But I now study the Bible and pray for other reasons. I need those activities, and they are things that I can do for God. If someone is edified by my insights, then that’s good, but I hope to still do those activities, even in seasons in which not one person swoons at what I have to say.

But am I secure enough to re-enter the evangelical community? Not really. But it’s not just because I wouldn’t fit in, as big of a reason as that may be. It’s also because there are so many things in that evangelical community that turn me off: smug people, the phony chirpiness, the dogmatism, the pressure to be a happy-happy extrovert, the tendency to look down on others (as if I don’t do plenty of that myself). Add to that where I am: I struggle with Christian doctrine—Jesus being the only way, homosexuality being wrong, a belief in biblical inerrancy, the desire for Christians to be doctrinally correct on issues that don’t really matter to me (i.e., the Trinity, or Christ’s divine and human natures), etc. I can tolerate that sort of stuff at Latin mass, for people there aren’t in my face, trying to ramrod their beliefs down my throat, telling me that I’m “lukewarm” because I don’t fulfill what they expect a good Christian to be. But, as I’ve said before, at this season in my life, I like Alcoholics Anonymous, for the very reason that some conservative Christians dislike it: it promotes a spirituality, without being overly dogmatic about doctrines (though individual members can be as dogmatic as they wish). And I can go to a meeting, sit, and listen, without people analyzing whether or not I’m “spiritual” enough.

I feel that my prayer life is a little different in this season of my life. In the days when I was religious, I would have told you that I rely on God, but did I really? Is whining about my problems for an hour in “prayer” reliance on God? There may be a place for that, but I think there’s a better approach. Why not ask God for help, rather than criticizing him for not helping? “God, help me to get along with this difficult person.” “God, help me not to take the first drink.” “God, help me to get through this social situation.” I know that sounds simple, but, for some reason, that idea has escaped me in my devotional life! Maybe I was afraid that I’d make a request and God wouldn’t honor it, so that would put me in a faith crisis.

I agree with the old Catholic woman when she said that many of us expect life to be hunky-dory, and we’re shocked when it isn’t. I think all of us—believers and non-believers—would do well to learn to cope with reality, rather than to expect reality to conform to our fantasy life. I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream or hope, but, so often, I find myself living in a fantasy land, and I’m upset when reality doesn’t conform to that. I’d like to learn how to cope with it when it doesn’t, without being bitter or without hope.

The homily somewhat related to this old Catholic woman’s statement. We had philosopher priest, and he said that the Jews who waved palms in celebration of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem may not have been the same Jews who shouted for Jesus’ crucifixion. We often assume that they were, but that’s not necessarily the case! Rather, philosopher priest said that the Jews who waved the palms probably didn’t care about Jesus about a week later, when he was about to be crucified. Jesus was yesterday’s news, and they wondered what Jesus had done for them lately. And, similarly, philosopher priest said, we should ask ourselves if we’re like that with God: “Lord, what have you done for me lately?”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nancy McKeon on Firefighter

Today, for Women’s History Month, I watched Firefighter, a 1986 television movie starring Nancy McKeon, of Facts of Life fame. You can watch it by going to www.youtube.com, then typing “Nancy McKeon Firefighter” into the search engine.

In my post, Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 8, I pasted the Internet Movie Database’s description of the movie: Cindy Fralic[k] (Nancy McKeon) plans to become a Los Angeles County firefighter. However, in the 60-year history of the department, no woman has ever passed the department’s physical skills test. Battling divorce, stereotypes and opposition from both men and women, Cindy Fralic passes the physical agility test to become the first female firefighter in Los Angeles County.

Parts of the movie were familiar to me, for my family watched it in 1986. I recognized the scene at the beginning of the movie, in which Cindy took off her helmet, revealing to us that one of the firefighters was a woman. I remembered her talking to an auditorium of young students on career day, telling her story of how she became a firefighter. I also recalled the scene in which a wild fire-hose moved around on the ground after Cindy dropped it. And I recognized the part in which her superiors instructed her to cut off her hair in accordance with regulations, and she did so, saying “I look like a boy” in a sullen tone as she looked in the mirror.

I was expecting to see a lot of sexism on the movie, and, granted, it was there. One of the captains flat-out stated that he didn’t believe women should be firefighters. The firemen’s wives were uncomfortable with their husbands sharing a bunk-room with a nice-looking woman like Cindy. And Cindy’s teammates were uncomfortable around her because they didn’t feel as if they could do their usual guy-stuff in her presence. Plus, none of the men could use the shower while Cindy was occupying it, and that was a pain. Cindy’s first husband left her, and, while her boyfriend after that (a fellow firefighter) admired Cindy because of her athletic and firefighting acumen, he wasn’t crazy about her wanting to become a fire-chief! He hoped that she’d have kids one day, with him! But (for some reason) she stuck with him, and that turned out as it turned out (however that was)!

But what surprised me was the vast number of people who were rooting for her. “You’d better see this—history is in the making,” one of the firemen said to a chief as Cindy was excelling at every physical task she was assigned, to the applause of her fellow applicants and the secretary who gave her the application. When Cindy wanted to quit because she didn’t like the pressure of being in the spotlight (e.g., being on the news, signing autographs, etc.), her male superior encouraged her to stick with program. It was like the first Indianapolis 500 in which Danica Patrick was racing and appeared for a few minutes as if she would win. Both men and women were moved by that because they believed they were witnessing history in the making!

I liked Cindy’s story of how she decided to become a firefighter. She was dissatisfied with her job as a meter-maid because she was always the “bad guy,” and she was inspired to become a firefighter when she saw some paramedics helping a sick person. She desired a job in which she could help people. After her husband left her, her best friend advised her to stop moping and to physically train for the firefighting exercises, even if she decided ultimately not to try out: “I don’t know if you’ll still feel the same way weeks from now, but, even if you decide at that point not to become a firefighter, at least you’ll be in great shape, and you’ll be able to beat up your husband!” I like the idea of being inspired to pursue a certain career path, and of undergoing the discipline of preparing for it, even if there’s a possibility that I’ll change my mind. As a teacher once told me, “God’s not an efficiency expert.” The teacher said this in reference to his own background. He majored in anthropology in college, then he switched to religious studies in graduate school. But he still drew from his anthropological background as he studied religion.

At the end of the movie, Cindy was more comfortable signing autographs. She embraced her role as an inspiration for people. That was another way she could help others—in addition to putting out fires and pulling people out of burning buildings!

I Kings 20

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 20.

King Ben-Hadad of Syria, his army, and thirty-two kings have besieged and attacked Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel. Ben-Hadad lays claim to the wives, children, silver, and gold of King Ahab of Northern Israel, and Ahab does not refuse him. Then Ben-Hadad says that his servants will go through Ahab’s house and the house of his servants and take whatever pleases them. At that point, Ahab concludes that Ben-Hadad has gone too far. At the advice of his elders, Ahab sends messengers to Ben-Hadad, telling him to kiss off (my paraphrase). Ben-Hadad then threatens to fill Samaria with Syrian troops, such that each Syrian soldier will be unable to grasp a handful of Samarian dust, for there won’t be enough dust to go around, with all of the Syrian soldiers there!

Ahab tells Ben-Hadad that one who puts on armor shouldn’t brag like one who’s taking it off. Essentially, that means that Ben-Hadad is counting his chickens before they’re hatched: he’s acting like he’s already defeated Northern Israel, before the battle has even begun! And indeed, Ben-Hadad is cocky, for, at the time, he’s getting drunk with his kingly allies. He assumes that the battle is finished, and in his favor!

A prophet promises King Ahab that God will deliver the Syrian multitude into the hands of Israel, who will know that God is the LORD. God will do this by the hands of “young men of the governors of the province” (my translation). The word translated as “young men” can mean “servants” (Genesis 22:3), or it can be a term for some kind of soldier (II Samuel 2:14). In any case, Israel was the clear underdog in this battle. The number of Israelite “young men of the governors of the province” is 232, plus there are 7,000 additional Israelites going out to fight (I Kings 20:15). The Israelites slaughter the Syrians, and, because v 25 states that Ben-Hadad later replaced the Syrian army that he had lost “horse for horse, and chariot for chariot” (which implies that his new army was as big as that which the Israelites had slaughtered), the 7,232 Israelites had defeated an army of at least 127,000 Syrians (see vv 29-30)!

Ben-Hadad retreats back to Syria and plots to attack Israel again. The prophet warns Ahab that Ben-Hadad will return in the spring, which scholars say was a good season for battles because of the pleasant weather and the greater availability of provisions (e.g., food). That spring, Ben-Hadad brings an army to Aphek. Many cities bear that name—one in the Northern Israelite tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:29-30), one in modern-day Lebanon (Joshua 13:4), and one near the Philistines further south, in Sharon (Joshua 12:18; I Samuel 4:1; 29:1). But the Aphek in I Kings 20 is probably the one in Southern Syria (see II Kings 13:17), close to a Northern Israelite boundary.

The man of God affirms that Israel will defeat the Syrians once more, especially because Ben-Hadad has downplayed the power of the Israelite God. Ben-Hadad said that the Israelites only won the last battle because it occurred in the hills, where their gods possess their power; in the plains, however, the Syrians will triumph. The commentaries that I consulted made a couple of good points. Mordecai Cogan pointed out that the Syrians’ chariots were not as effective in the hills as they would be in the flat plains, and that’s a good practical reason that Ben-Hadad thought he’d have better luck in the plains. And the Intervarsity Bible Background Commentary said that Israel was very hilly, so that’s why the Syrians assumed that the gods of Israel were more comfortable with the hills than with the flat-lands. The Syrians wanted to draw the God of Israel out of his comfort zone so that they could beat his people, Israel. But God wanted the Syrians to know that every place is his comfort zone, for he’s a powerful God.

The Israelites kill 100,000 Syrian foot-soldiers in one day, and the remaining 27,000 are killed by a wall which falls on them in Aphek, as the Syrians are retreating to that city. Ben-hadad hears that the kings of Israel are generally merciful, so he sends servants to Ahab. Ben-Hadad’s servants put on uncomfortable sackcloth and tie a rope around their necks, probably to indicate their surrender to Ahab as well as Ahab’s newfound power over them. Ahab regards Ben-Hadad as his brother, probably because the two of them had a relationship by treaty (see I Kings 9:13 for a parallel example). And the two kings arrive at an agreement: Ben-Hadad restores to Israel the towns that his father took, and he allows Israelites to do business in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

But a prophet is not very happy with this agreement! He asks a fellow prophet to smite him, and the fellow prophet refuses. The prophet then says that, because the fellow prophet didn’t obey the voice of the LORD, a lion will smite him! The Hebrew word translated “smite” can mean to “smite” or to “kill” (see Exodus 2:11-12), but most commentators maintain that the lion kills the disobedient fellow prophet, rather than just wounding him.

The prophet then asks another man to smite him, and this man does so, to the point of wounding the prophet. The prophet now looks like a beat-up Israelite soldier, and he approaches King Ahab. The prophet says that a Syrian hostage was entrusted to him, and he was told that, if the hostage got away, he (the prophet disquised as a soldier) would lose his life or pay a talent of silver. But, alas, the hostage got away, so what should happen to him? King Ahab says that he (the prophet disguised as a soldier) should be punished. The prophet then reveals himself to be a prophet, and he proceeds to upbraid Ahab for letting Ben-Hadad go free. In the name of the LORD, the prophet in v 42 refers to Ben-hadad as “the man of my cherem”, meaning that Ahab should have killed Ben-Hadad to honor the LORD, who had helped Israel in battle. The prophet predicts that Ahab will lose his life, and Israel will lose out as well. Ahab then returns to his house and sulks.

I want to comment some about how this chapter relates to surrounding chapters. In I Kings 19, which we read last week, God instructed Elijah to appoint Hazael as the King of Syria, predicting that Hazael will ravage Northern Israel. In I Kings 20, however, God helps the Israelites to defeat Syria (under Ben-Hadad). But Ahab lets Ben-Hadad go, after making what appears to be a lucrative agreement for Israel and Syria. In I Kings 21, Ahab kills Naboth to get his vineyard, and God through Elijah prophesies the destruction of Jezebel and the house of Ahab as punishment. But Ahab repents, so God decides to postpone the destruction to the time of Ahab’s son. In I Kings 22, Ahab decides to go to war with Syria to get back for Israel the city of Ramoth-gilead. The false prophets of the LORD tell Ahab he’ll succeed, whereas Micaiah says that Ahab will die in battle. Ahab puts Micaiah in jail and dies in battle. Ahab’s death demoralizes the Israelite army, so it retreats.

God had predicted that Syria would defeat Northern Israel at some point, as judgment for Israel’s slaughter of God’s prophets. Yet, God didn’t allow that to happen right away. Rather, God took the time to demonstrate to Ahab, Israel, and also the Syrians that the LORD is God. Perhaps God was giving the Israelites another opportunity to repent. After Ahab defeated Syria, Ahab chose to trust in Ben-Hadad rather than to honor the LORD. Ben-Hadad proved to be a disappointment, however, for he promised as part of his agreement with Ahab to return the Israelite cities that the Syrians had taken, yet he apparently didn’t return Ramoth-Gilead. But God still gave Ahab somewhat of a chance, for Micaiah warned Ahab not to fight the Syrians for that city. Ahab could have lived and not died.

Interestingly, the Septuagint reverses I Kings 20-21, so that the story of Naboth’s vineyard precedes that of Ahab’s defeat of Syria. Is this order conveying the message that Ahab repented for killing Naboth and taking his vineyard, so God decided to protect Israel in the days of Ahab from Syrian domination?

Or maybe God didn’t punish Northern Israel right then and there because it wasn’t the right time. God wanted the punishment to come later, under Ben-Hadad’s successor, Hazael. Then, the time for judgment would be ripe, and God would bring along Jehu to purge Israel of Baalism. This is an example (albeit a grisly one) of how God operates in seasons. Yet, free will can still come into play, for God can postpone punishment based on repentance.

The part about the Syrians recognizing the mercy of Israel’s kings has often caught my eye when I’ve read this chapter. I’ve seen this as an indication that even Israelite kings in their corruption learned from the mercy of God, and showed that mercy to others. As Ellen White said, “By beholding, we become changed.” Yet, as a preacher I heard pointed out, Ahab didn’t show mercy to all of the prophets of the LORD he slaughtered! Ahab was willing to show mercy to people he deemed important, those who could help him out—through lucrative agreements or consent to be ruled. But he didn’t show mercy to those who annoyed him or did not benefit him. And, ironically, he was willing to show mercy when it wasn’t to God’s honor, and to dispense with mercy when it was.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I’m Flirting with Trying Out a New Church (But One Many of My Readers Won’t Like)

I’m thinking of trying out a new church this coming Sunday. At Latin mass last year, I felt slightly awkward walking around with people carrying a palm branch on Palm Sunday, so I kind of want to dodge that this year.

I’m thinking of trying out my local Unitarian-Universalist church, St. John’s, which is within walking distance from me. See St. John’s Unitarian Church for information.

Here are some things that I read on its web site that I liked:

1. The sermon this coming Sunday is on giving. The description states: What does giving mean? What is support of St John’s all about? How does each of us know how to set the amount we give? I’ll tell you what I think.

I’ve often wondered about this issue. How much does God want me to give? To be honest, Christians are not very helpful on this issue. I’ve heard some Christians say, “In the Old Testament, God wanted people to give ten per cent, but, under the New Covenant, he desires 100 per cent.” I have no idea what this means. I doubt they’re suggesting that we should give 100 per cent of our incomes, for they themselves don’t do that. Even if they’re talking about us giving our lives to God, what exactly does that mean? That we should do religious stuff or think about God 24-7? I feel as if all I hear from a lot of Christians are cliches, not solid, practical advice. So I’m interested in hearing what a UU pastor has to say.

And don’t worry, family and friends! Unitarian-Universalists are not cultish. I won’t be asked to sign over my bank account!

2. I looked at some of the sermons in the archives and they appear to be thoughtful and learned. Also, I’m glad that the archives are a little dated: the last sermon there is from August 2009. I won’t go to a church if I can read or listen to its sermons online. What’s the point of going if I can do that?

3. I like the section of their web page entitled “What to expect.” I appreciate being told what I should expect! It makes me feel comfortable! Here are some quotes that I like from that particular section, along with my comments:

Community Services are held on Sunday at 11 a.m. and typically last until 12:15 p.m.

I like being told when the service will end!

What should I wear? Dress is casual. Wear what is comfortable for you. Some people dress more formally and that’s fine too.

I’ll probably wear a nice shirt and khaki pants. But I like doing what’s comfortable for me. And it will be nice if some people are dressing more formally, since that will add a measure of dignity to the service. I’m not for making people feel guilty for failure to wear a suit and (choke) a tie, but I also thought that the attire of people at a Vineyard church that I once visited went a little too far: leaders of that church were wearing spandex!

What can I expect at your services? A typical Community Service includes thoughtful readings, musical performances, singing together, and a sermon by our minister.

I like that. Thoughtful readings about living life spiritually. But I’m not sure what to expect in terms of the music and singing together. I hope that there’s something about God in that. I visited a few UU services at Harvard, and there were theistic elements in some of the songs. I also enjoyed a little Hasidic melody being thrown into one of the services. But I’m not eager to sing about how we’re all one people, or one stream, or one-whatever, or how we depend on the earth. And no Kum-Bay-Yah!

Will someone try to “sell me” on your church? No. You will find friendly greeters willing to answer any of your questions. I’m not sure I believe in God; is that OK? Yes, our members search for truth on many spiritual paths.

I like these parts the most: no shoving stuff down your throat, or church members eager to ramrod their conception of “the truth.” I can just go there, enjoy the service, shake hands with a few people, and leave.

I’m gay/lesbian, will I be comfortable? Yes, comfortable and welcome.

I’m not gay myself, but I like the concept of not only feeling comfortable at a service, but welcome, as in wanted. I hope I’m not asked to stand and introduce myself to the congregation, for I don’t want any spotlight. I’d prefer to shake hands with the greeters, and maybe the people sitting close to me, perhaps even the pastor as I leave.

Can I be involved in activities if I’m not a member? Membership isn’t required for many activities: Adult Religious Education and music, social action, and just plain socializing are open to all. Spiritual seekers may also be attracted to Meditation, EarthSpirit, or Small Group Ministries.

I appreciate the sense of inclusion and welcome here. Also, I wonder what a UU small group would be like.

4. I’m sure that this church will be liberal—politically and religiously. But, as I looked at some of the mainline Protestant churches, they looked not only liberal, but liberal and flaky! A Presbyterian minister said that we’re in the womb of God. A United Church of Christ site took stances on political issues. There are UUs who are like this, but St. John’s web site appears rather level-headed. One of the sermons I read summarized a conservative and a liberal position, and said why it favored the liberal view. I like the approach of thinking through issues.

I’ll see what I do this coming Sunday! There’s a chance that I’ll stick with what’s familiar to me and go to the Latin mass.

Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Proverbs 31 Woman

In this post, I’d like to look at the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, and comment about whether or not Betty Friedan (and, in a few cases, Phyllis Schlafly) would approve of her. I’ll paste the NIV, then I’ll comment on any verse that draws my attention:

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 [c] A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

This chapter is about what a man should look for in a wife. I doubt that Betty Friedan would appreciate a woman’s value being attached to how she functions as a wife.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

Ms. Friedan would probably appreciate a woman’s husband having full confidence in her, as opposed to being a husband who feels that his wife is too dumb to understand the family’s finances or to spend money without his permission. At the same time, Betty Friedan doesn’t care for the version of the Feminine Mystique (the view that women can only be fulfilled as wives and mothers) that exalts the housewife as intelligent in an attempt to make her feel good in her subservient, boring role.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

Betty Friedan isn’t against this. She feels that a husband may not appreciate his wife’s attempts at independence at first, but she also maintains that a woman working outside of the home could benefit her husband. The woman is no longer nagging him in an attempt to feel good about herself. She’s better in bed because she has confidence. And she’s bringing more money to the family through her job.

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want the woman to do this solely as a hobby, for she’d desire for the woman to get recognition and payment for this work. Would she be okay with the woman making clothes for her family? Sure. She’s not against women performing a role as homemaker, wife, and mother—though she does say that it would be good if the man chipped in on the housework. She’s just against women being made to feel that their sole usefulness comes as wives, mothers, and homemakers. Also, she may say that a woman who makes her family’s clothes has too much time on her hands and is trying to stretch out her housework to make it fulfilling, when she should be looking for a sense of identity outside of the home. On the other hand, Betty Friedan may also acknowledge that people made their own clothes back then, since there weren’t any Gaps or Wal-Marts, but that women need fulfillment outside of the home nowadays, when they no longer have to make their family’s clothes.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

Betty Friedan would probably admire the woman’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in acquiring food. But, at the same time, she may frown if the woman’s only doing that to support her family, for she should be doing something for herself. Ms. Friedan wants for women to have their own identity rather than existing solely to support their family.

15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

See comments on v 14.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Ms. Friedan may like the fact that the woman makes a financial decision for her family, as well as runs a vineyard. Could that be an avenue for the creativity and intelligence that women have—something that’s more fulfilling than menial housework (which v 15 describes)?

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

The woman trades. Sure, it’s for the benefit of her family, but maybe she can benefit from the challenge of creating something and seeing other people appreciate her product.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

Ms. Friedan believes that women should be in careers that benefit society, so she may appreciate the spirit of v 20. At the same time, she’s not big on women trying to find satisfaction in volunteer roles, for such roles have a lot of tedium and aren’t challenging enough. So she may not want women to limit their search for fulfillment to serving on the boards of charities.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

See comments on v 13-14.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

See comments on v 13-14. I want to note, though, that there he woman does something for herself: she wears fine linen and purple. Ms. Friedan would like that. At the same time, Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want the woman to just focus on being pretty.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

This verse seems to imply that the woman works to make her husband look good. Ms. Friedan wouldn’t want a woman’s identity to be subsumed into that of her husband.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

Ms. Friedan would like this because the woman is selling what she makes and is receiving recognition for it.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

The woman is confident here. Ms. Friedan would like that.

26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

This acknowledges women’s intelligence. Ms. Friedan would like that.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Ms. Friedan would like for the woman to be busy, but not to stretch out the time that she spends on housework in the name of not being idle, or in a vain attempt to find fulfillment in it. Phyllis Schlafly, by contrast, would appreciate the part about the woman watching over the affairs of her household, seeing that role as challenging and fulfilling—like a supervisory position.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

Phyllis Schlafly would appreciate the concept of a good wife and mother receiving praise from her family and finding some fulfillment in that. Ms. Friedan says in her chapter on the suffragist movement that kids admired their mom more when they saw her standing for what she believed was right. At the same time, she’d want the woman to receive recognition outside of the home as well.

29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Ms. Friedan doesn’t talk about fearing the LORD, but Mrs. Schlafly does. Both would agree that women’s value shouldn’t be based on their beauty, for women have minds, and can be good and talented people, however they look. Still, Mrs. Schlafly does say that women have power over men because men’s sex drive is stronger than that of women.

31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Ms. Friedan would appreciate that the woman is being praised outside of the home—at the city gate. At the same time, the woman is mostly praised for helping her family, which Ms. Friedan may not like as much. And still, who’s to say that the people at the city gate aren’t praising the woman’s financial shrewdness, ingenuity, and resourcefulness? If they are, then Ms. Friedan would appreciate that.

On “Give her the reward she has earned,” that sounds like the Little House episode that I discussed yesterday, Oleson Vs. Oleson: the woman contributes to the household by doing housework and looking after the children, so she should be legally recognized as man’s partner, as she keeps her own property rather than giving it to the man at marriage. But that’s not exactly what Ms. Friedan is saying. For her, women’s value doesn’t depend on them doing housework or looking after the children: that’s the Feminine Mystique talking! Rather, women have intelligence and dignity, and they should pursue some degree of independence and fulfillment outside of the home.

I guess what I get out of this discussion is that two things are important: fulfilling our potential and gaining self-esteem, on the one hand; and helping out our families and communities, on the other. It’s good when the two can overlap, in the home and outside of it.

“Elohim” for “YHWH”: Is This Significant?

I started Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought last night. On Sunday, I’ll probably start some other books as well: one book on Gnosticism, another on a Mishnah tractate on agriculture, and an introduction to a commentary on the Book of Numbers.

Here, I want to summarize Sara Japhet’s discussion on “The Interchange of ‘YHWH’ and ‘Elohim’”, which appears on pages 30-37. The author of Chronicles was using the Deuteronomistic History—particularly I Samuel-II Kings—as his source. And there are “some thirty passages” in which the Chronicler uses “Elohim” where his source has “YHWH”. Why did the Chronicler substitute “Elohim” for “YHWH”?

One explanation is that later scribes tended to “refrain from using the tetragrammaton” (YHWH), out of respect for the sacred name and a desire that it not become cheapened with use. Japhet acknowledges that “There is no doubt that the deliberate avoidance of the tetragrammaton is a proven phenomenon in some parts of the Bible, notably Ecclesiastes and the Elohistic Psalms (42-83)” (36). But she does not see that sort of thing going on in the Books of Chronicles, which use the name of YHWH “approximately five hundred times, more than all the other names put together” (36). So the Chronicler wasn’t afraid to use the name YHWH!

Other scholars seek a theological explanation for the times that the Chronicler substitutes “Elohim” for “YHWH”. Japhet states on page 33: [Gerhard] Von Rad follows in the footsteps of Hanel-Rothstein and writes: “The use of God’s name, the frequent substitution of “Elohim” for “Yahweh”, betokens…a clear transcendentalization of Yahweh. Yahweh is cut off from the world of religious phenomena and, to an increasing extent, becomes removed from the human experience.” And so, according to Von Rad and Hanel-Rothstein, the Chronicler uses “Elohim” for the times when God intervenes in human affairs, whereas “YHWH” refers to God in his transcendence. As Japhet summarizes the view of Hanel-Rothstein (pages 32-33):

According to Hanel and Rothstein, the name “YHWH” most fully expresses the divine essence, God in all His glory. In the Chronicler’s time, God was perceived as distant from the human realm, impossible to reach and even approach; if He wished to reveal Himself or approach man, He did so as “Elohim”, without expressing the complete essence of “YHWH”.

This is slightly counter-intuitive for me because my mind has been trained to see Elohim as the name for God in God’s transcendence, whereas “YHWH” is God’s personal name, which expresses his desire to relate to human beings. I read this in conservative Christian writings, in which scholars argued that Genesis 1 (which uses “Elohim”) describes God in his detached majesty, whereas Genesis 2 (which has “YHWH” or “YHWH Elohim”) presents God as relating to humans, walking and talking with them with a degree of intimacy. Rabbinic Judaism views “Elohim” as the name that expresses God’s authority as judge, whereas “YHWH” refers to God in his mercy. And modern scholars who view YHWH and El as two separate deities regard El to be the high God who is somewhat removed from the cosmos, while YHWH is a sub-deity who intervenes in human affairs.

But Von Rad and Hanel-Rothstein think that the Chronicler has it the other way around: YHWH is the transcendent aspect of God, while Elohim is God as he relates to humanity. That somewhat coincides with the first century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who (unlike the rabbis) thought that “YHWH” expressed God as judge, whereas “Elohim” described God in his mercy.

On pages 34-35, Japhet offers a window into Von Rad’s reasoning. For example, II Chronicles 18:31 says, “Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him. God drew them away from him” (whatever translation Japhet is using). Von Rad states: The Chronicler relates how it is Yahweh who hears and is ready to help. However, the concrete, immanent undertaking—drawing the enemies away—comes from Elohim. Here are other examples of Von Rad’s argument that Japhet discusses:

In I Chr 17:2, MT reads “Elohim”: the parallel in 2 Sam 7:3 reads “YHWH”. According to Von Rad: “Revelations, particularly visions in dreams, can no longer be innocently identified with Yahweh.” Similarly, MT for 1 Chr 16:1 has “Elohim”, whereas the parallel passage in 2 Sam 6:17 has “YHWH”, and Von Rad writes: “In 1 Chr 16:1…the sacrifices are no longer offered to Yahweh, but rather to Elohim.” So, according to Von Rad, the Chronicler uses “Elohim” for the times that God relates to humans—by drawing their enemies away from the Israelites in battle, or appearing to them in dreams, or receiving their sacrifices. The name of YHWH, by contrast, is God as he is removed from humanity—God in his transcendence.

Japhet is not convinced by the theological explanation of Von Rad and Hanel-Rothstein for three reasons. First, she notes examples in Chronicles in which YHWH is said to intervene in human events:

II Chronicles 10:15: “So the king did not hearken to the people; for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God that YHWH might fulfil his word, which he spoke…”

II Chronicles 20:29: “And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that YHWH had fought against the enemies of Israel…”

And II Chronicles 13:20 says that YHWH struck Jeroboam so that he died. That sounds like YHWH’s direct intervention to me!

Second, Japhet thinks that “YHWH” and “Elohim” are basically interchangeable in the Books of Chronicles. She refers to II Chronicles 26:5: “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God; as as long as he sought YHWH, God made him prosper.” According to Japhet, seeking God in this passage is the same as seeking YHWH, so the two names must be interchangeable.

Third, Japhet points out that the Septuagint for I-II Chronicles sometimes uses “Lord” (Greek, kurios)—the LXX’s translation of YHWH—where the Masoretic for Chronicles has “Elohim” or substitutes “Elohim” for “YHWH”. For her, the Greek translator was working with a Hebrew text that was different from the MT, so we cannot definitively say that the Chronicler substituted “Elohim” for “YHWH.” Rather, the substitution probably came in “the process of manuscript transmission” which “occured over an extended period of time” (37).

Personally, I think that Sara Japhet’s explanation is less sexy and less interesting than that of Von Rad. But, unfortunately, that’s what I often encounter in biblical studies: the boring explanation is probably the correct one! I hope that’s not always the case, though.

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