Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Skewed Picture?; Proseuches: Houses of Prayer and Scripture

1. I started Rolf Rendtorff’s The Old Testament: An Introduction this morning. On page 8, Rendtorff states regarding the Genesis narratives about the patriarchs:

We get the impression from the narratives that they do not have an exact historical idea of the period of the patriarchs, but that they want to stress that the patriarchs were not sedentary by depicting their nomadic life-style.

Rendtorff says this because, according to him, the Genesis narrative does not describe the inhabitants of the Promised Land in the time of the patriarchs. It’s like they are merely background for the protagonists. For Rendtorff, this indicates that the authors didn’t have much knowledge about the historical setting they purported to represent. A professor of mine once said that the Genesis narratives place the patriarchs in some sort of bubble.

This reminds me of a post I wrote a while back on John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition: Abraham’s Slaves?, Mechanical Christianity. According to Van Seters, the Genesis narratives offer a skewed picture of the patriarchs as nomads, without really understanding nomadic life.

2. The following passage on pages 592-593 of The Place Is Too Small for Us stood out to me:

…if the texts published under the prophets’ names contain very few real “prophetic words,” if the reconstruction of “oral tradition” from literary texts is not really reliable, if the picture of a “prophet” in Deuteronomistic texts differs fairly substantially from that in Chronistic texts, if “prophet” really is an ex post factum [['after the fact']] title, if the distinction between “true” and “false” prophets was only possible ex eventu [['after the event']] and if the designation of the “classical prophets” as “true prophets” is to be ascribed to Deuteronomistic editors and not to prophetic consciousness as such, what then was a prophet? Did the “prophets” occupy any office in society? How are the “prophetic words” regarding social, economic, and political issues to be evaluated? What was the real role of these figures in the shaping of Israelite religion? In what sense are they to be regarded as “unique”? And can we really speak of “prophetic circles” and of a prophet’s “disciples” if the locus classicus [['classic passage']] for these assumptions is not “genuine”? Why would the Deuteronomists, whose theology so extensively “called in” corroborating prophetic words, keep silent about prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Micah?

What I get out of this passage is that we’re heavily dependant on the Deuteronomists for our understanding of prophecy. But what if the Deuteronomists aren’t presenting us with an accurate picture? What can we conclude about the prophets then?

I think that the Deuteronomists were fairly accurate, since prophetic books in the Bible have many of the same themes that the Deuteronomists harp upon: Israel needs to get its act together, or God will punish her for her sins. Some may say that the Deuteronomists redacted the prophetical books. But, in my opinion, such a theme (sin, punishment, restoration) is the essence of the books. If you’re going to say that the Deuteronomists contributed that idea, then you might as well say that they wrote the prophetic books! And they most likely didn’t, because the books have different ideologies, showing that they came from a variety of hands.

3. I’m reading (or whatever you want to call it) an article in French, Charles Perrot’s “The Reading of the Bible in the Hellenistic Diaspora” (my translation). So far, he has argued on the basis of Philo and Second Temple writings that Scripture was read in proseuches, houses of prayer in the diaspora, designed to serve as a mini-temple for Jews away from what Isaiah 56 calls God’s house of prayer, the Jerusalem temple.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prophets

I finished Lee Levine’s Judaism and Hellenism and Antiquity this morning. Levine’s final paragraph said that the Jews of antiquity adapted to their Hellenistic surroundings, even as they tried to maintain particularism. Many people believe that Judaism survived on account of its particularism—its commitment to remaining distinct from the nations of the world. But Levine says that a culture needs to adapt to new circumstances in order to survive.

I went to the public library after work to read G.A. Kennedy’s New History of Classical Rhetoric, since I won’t be able to go there on Sunday, which is the Fourth of July. (Incidentally, that means that, this coming Sunday, I won’t be blogging about masses in downtown Cincinnati, but rather about my good old, trusty Latin mass near my apartment complex.) Unfortunately, the librarian could not find it. So I’ll try again in a couple of weeks.

Instead, I read some essays in The Place Is Too Small for Us: The Israelite Prophets in Recent Scholarship. I plan to read more essays in this book. They’re not assigned, but they give me a run-down of how modern scholars see the prophets.

On page 275, somebody states:

For a number of recent writers the prophets of the pre-exilic period were more in the way of religious poets who were retrospectively recognized as prophets when the term began to be used of others who stood in the same succession. It is claimed that the distribution of the prophet terminology in the prophetic books suggests the redactional origin of the title where it describes the classical prophets…

I don’t have a problem with the prophets being poets. Elisha had his prophecy played on a harp in II Kings 3. In Ezekiel 33:32, God tells Ezekiel that, in the eyes of the Israelites, Ezekiel is merely a musician who plays and sings beautiful music. The prophets may have been poets and musicians. But could they have been prophets as well?

A professor of mine said that many scholars today date the prophets quite late, and hold that the “historical setting” that the prophetic books ascribe to themselves is artificial, as if the “prophecies” were historical fiction, or something to that effect. After all, in the Second Temple Period, there emerged pseudepigraphic writings that claimed to be from an ancient time, when, actually, they were speaking to their own time. So why couldn’t this be the case with the prophets? (Personally, my answer to that is “because not all of the prophecies were fulfilled, so why would someone retroject false prophecies into the mouths of prophets?”) Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take this professor’s class on prophets, so I’m not sure about the nuts-and-bolts of what he believes.

But the quote on page 275 overlaps with that view, in some sense. As I read the book, there seems to be an emphasis on redaction: that prophecies were developed and redacted over time, so we cannot say that one prophet spoke all of the things attributed to him. One essay I read claimed that the Deuteronomist made additions to Jeremiah (though, of course, Richard Elliott Friedman would say that the Deuteronomist was Jeremiah!).

But, when I took a class with Stephen Geller at Jewish Theological Seminary, he acted as if Jeremiah wrote and delivered some of the prophecies attributed to him. He also contributes an essay to this book, in which he argues that the prophets were poets (yet prophets as well).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Unclean Lands; Bible and ANE Documents; Rabbis and Images; Robert Byrd

1. I finished my assigned reading of Jacob Lauterbach’s Rabbinic Essays. What stood out to me today was something Lauterbach said on page 255:

Indeed, the decree of the two Joses declaring the land of the gentiles unclean (Shab. 15a) may have been issued for the very purpose of stopping this extensive emigration of the people into foreign lands…

The Talmud reference reads as follows (in whatever translation my Judaic Classics Library is using):

Jose b. Jo’ezer of Zeredah and Jose b. Johanan of Jerusalem decreed uncleanness in respect of the country of the heathens and glassware. But the Rabbis of the eighty years decreed this? For R. Kahana said, When R. Ishmael son of R. Jose fell sick, they [the Rabbis] sent [word] to him, Rabbi, Tell us the two or three things which you stated [formerly] on your father’s authority. He sent back, Thus did my father say: One hundred and eighty years before the destruction of the Temple the wicked State [sc. Rome] spread over Israel. Eighty years before the destruction of the Temple uncleanness was imposed in respect of the country of heathens and glassware. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin went into exile and took its seat in the trade Halls.

The Joses lived in the second century B.C.E. They declared the foreign lands unclean, according to legend, and yet, another view is that the lands became unclean eighty years before the destruction of the temple, which would be in the first century C.E.

I remember Fishbane saying that some authors in the Hebrew Bible viewed foreign lands as unclean. I wonder how he would address Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 15a.

2. I read Mordechai Coogan’s introduction to his II Kings commentary. Coogan says that texts from the time of Nebuchadnezzar say that King Jehoichin was in Babylon, which is consistent with the Bible. But there are differences between what one ancient Near Eastern text says and what the Bible has. Sargon says that he conquered Northern Israel, whereas the Bible attributes that to Shalmanesar V. Which is right is a matter of debate.

The ancient Near Eastern texts can also illuminate the historical context of the Bible. According to Coogan, the Babylonian Chronicle records “the downfall of the Assyrian empire, the military intervention of Egypt on its behalf, and the unsuccessful struggle with Chaldean Babylon allied with the Medes.” This provides a context for Josiah’s meeting with Pharaoh Neco in II Kings 23:29.

3. I continued my way through Lee Levine’s Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity. Levine documents that many rabbis opposed the depiction of humans and animals, as a violation of the commandment; that Rabbi Gamaliel said it was all right, as long as the representations weren’t used in worship; and that there were synagogues in Palestine that didn’t care or didn’t know what the rabbis taught, for they depicted humans and animals.

4. Robert Byrd has passed away. Sean Hannity liked to call him Robert “KKK” Byrd because Byrd was a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan back when he was younger; Byrd also filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. There were conservatives who pointed to Byrd to argue that there were racists in the Democratic Party, in response to the liberal charge that Republicans are racist. Hannity made a big deal about Byrd’s statement that there are “white niggers”. Personally, I don’t think Byrd should have used the “n” word, but we should remember what he was trying to say: he was explaining why he wasn’t a racist anymore. He learned that there were good people and bad people in all races, and so he should judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Byrd himself had some conservative leanings. I remember reading in George Stephanopoolos’ All Too Human that Byrd gave President Clinton a flamboyant speech about how gays in the military led to the fall of Rome. And anti-war conservative Bill Kauffman remarked that he wasn’t surprised that Byrd opposed the Iraq War, on account of Byrd’s conservative, constitutionalist leanings.

Yet, Byrd was called the “King of Pork”, on account of all the pork that he got for his poor state of West Virginia.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Language of the Returning Exiles; Following Jesus

1. In Rabbinic Essays, Jacob Lauterbach argues on pages 214-215 that the exiles who returned from Babylon spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic. He appeals to Nehemiah 13:24, in which Nehemiah is upset that some of the Israelite children could not speak the Jews’ language, which Lauterbach interprets to be Hebrew. Lauterbach notes that, according to Emil Schurer, “the Aramaic spoken in Palestine was the Western Aramaic and not the Eastern Aramaic spoken in Babylon”, meaning that the Jews returning from exile in Babylon did not bring the Aramaic of that nation with them.

Lauterbach contends that Aramaic became the language of Palestine in the second century B.C.E., if not later. The medieval Jewish philosopher Saadiah Gaon affirms that it was “about three years before the rule of Alexander in Palestine” that “the Jews began to neglect Hebrew and adapted the language of the other nations of the land (i.e., Aramaic).

But this is not the view that I heard in one of my classes. In Nehemiah 8:1-8, Ezra reads the law to the Israelites, and the Levites help them to understand the reading. According to my professor, this was because the Israelites could not understand the Torah: they spoke Aramaic, whereas the Torah was in Hebrew.

I wonder who’s correct.

2. I actually attended three masses this morning. The best one was probably the very first that I attended, the one at 11:00. (The homily at the second mass may have been better, but I wouldn’t know, since I couldn’t hear it with the horrible acoustics of the building, plus the priest had a thick accent.) At this 11:00 mass, the priest was talking about Luke 9:51-52. One of the events in this passage is that a man offers to follow Jesus, but requests permission to bury his father first. Jesus tells him to let the dead bury their dead, but he is to proclaim the kingdom God. Another man asks for permission to bid farewell to his family before following Jesus, and Jesus responds that one who sets his hands to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.

Regarding the first man, the priest said that this guy wanted to wait for his father to die so that he could receive his inheritance; then, he would follow Jesus. I’ve heard this argument before. I read once that, if the man’s father had actually died, he wouldn’t be in public, talking with Jesus. The implication is that the man’s father was still alive, and this guy desired to receive his inheritance before following Jesus.

Regarding the second man, the priest said that the lesson was that the man’s family could pull him back into his old lifestyle, making him forget about following Jesus. According to the priest, we should leave our old lifestyles behind when we follow Jesus.

I doubt that the priest means that we should leave our families behind. He’s probably talking about our old selfish lifestyles. But I wonder: Why couldn’t the first man receive his inheritance before following Jesus? What would have been the big deal? Abraham was rich and followed God. Mary Magdalene had money and used it to minister to Jesus and his disciples (Luke 8:2-3). A person can have money and be a follower of God.

And what would have been the harm of the second man doing his family the courtesy of saying ”good bye” to them? Elijah allowed Elisha to do that before Elisha followed him, in I Kings 19:19-21. And, incidentally, that was another reading in Catholic mass this morning. The priest I’m discussing acted as if Elisha were making a radical departure from his old life, the sort that Jesus advocated in the Gospel reading: after all, Elisha burned his plough and sacrificed the oxen that had dragged it. That’s pretty dramatic! Another priest said that there are different commands for different times: God allowed Elisha to say “good bye” to his parents, but not the guy in the Gospel who wanted to do so. Perhaps God realized that Elisha was willing to follow him, whereas the guy in the Gospel was not.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? The priests I listened to this morning defined it as doing good. But why’s that have to entail forsaking one’s inheritance, or leaving behind one’s family without saying “good bye”? I like this one sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, called Going Home—A Christmas Sermon. Spurgeon preaches on Mark 5:19, in which a demoniac whom Jesus heals asks to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go home to his family, and testify about the things that God has done for him. Spurgeon said that true Christianity is not about us leaving our families, but rather us becoming better sons, daughters, parents, brothers, and sisters. I especially appreciated this sermon the first time that I read it, for that was when my first Christmas vacation from DePauw University was about to occur, and I was soon to go home.

Some biblical scholars argue that the urgency of Jesus’ message entailed a higher degree of commitment among those who wanted to follow him. For these scholars, Jesus was preaching the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, in which God would soon intervene in earth’s history and break the rod of the Gentile powers that were oppressing Israel. But God would also chastise Israel. And so the Israelites needed to repent to escape God’s wrath and enter God’s kingdom. And, because the kingdom was near, those who desired to follow Jesus couldn’t dilly-dally by waiting for their inheritance, or saying “good bye” to their familes, or greeting people on the way. They needed to be single-minded, for God was about to intervene and thresh the inhabitants of the earth.

But that didn’t exactly happen. Granted, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., and the New Testament presents that as God’s wrath. But there was no literal kingdom of God after that—not of the sort that some scholars believe that Jesus was expecting.

I like something that Brian McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy, though: that the simple act of standing up for good can bring about division and persecution on those who do so. The reason is that those who do evil do not like to be challenged or exposed. In that sense, doing good would require a great deal of commitment, perhaps of the sort that Jesus demanded of his followers in the synoptic Gospels.

Seneca the Younger: Do As I Say?

Seneca the Younger was a first century C.E. rhetorician. In A New History of Classical Rhetoric, on pages 176-177, G.A. Kennedy states the following about Seneca's ideal style, and the question of whether or not Seneca himself followed it:

Much of what Seneca has to say relates to style. "Speech which addresses itself to the truth should be simple and unadorned" (40.4). "If a man is sound, self-controlled, serious, temperate, his artistic ability is also dry and sober; if the former is vitiated, the latter is also affected" (114.3)...Excessive use of archaism should be avoided, as should a too-pedestrian or an overwritten style. Those who write unrhythmically or too rhythmically are equally at fault...Judgments differ somewhat as to whether Seneca's own prose style accords with his precepts. It is jerky and brittle and to some has seemed mannered and artificial. At the same time, it is appropriate for expression of his own complex personality. The word choice in his prose works is simple, sometimes even colloquial; his many metaphors are usually drawn from daily life. His sentence structure is equally simple but is constantly given "point" by an epigrammatic or ironic twist...His poetry is a different matter; he favored mythological themes that are psychological studies of violence and insanity, for which his tense, emotional poetic style is an appropriate medium.

So Seneca could follow his rules and use a concise, "just-the-facts-maam" style of writing, even though there are also times when his writing appears messy and disjointed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not So Much "Survival" of the Fittest

I'm still working my way through Jerry Coynes' Why Evolution Is True. In today's reading, Coynes tackles a question that (according to him) baffles a lot of creationists: Why did God make male animals that have the ability to attract women with certain characteristics---such as bright colors, or long tails, or loud calls, or (in the case of deer) huge antlers to use in jousting contests that impress females---and yet those very characteristics can inhibit those animals' survival? Bright colors and loud calls can attract females, but also predators. And the huge antlers of deer can be a heavy burden for them.

Coynes' answer, from an evolutionary standpoint, is that the survival of the male animals is not what truly matters. Rather, what's important is the ability of the male animal to sexually reproduce and pass on his own genes. His attractive characteristics accomplish that, even if they hinder his survival.

II Kings 11

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 11. II Kings 8:26 informs us that Athaliah was the daughter of Omri, who started the Northern Israelite dynasty that included his son, King Ahab. But she was technically the daughter of Ahab, for II Kings 8:18 states that Joram, the king of Judah, was married to Ahab’s daughter, and Joram was the husband of Athaliah. So the word “daughter” can mean grand-daughter, as “son of David” can refer to David’s descendants, not just his immediate offspring. Athaliah was the daugher of King Ahab, and the grand-daughter of Omri. Her marriage to Joram was most likely the result of an attempt to create an alliance between Northern and Southern Israel.

Joram rules Judah for eight years and dies, and he is succeeded by his son, Ahaziah. In II Kings 9-10, Ahaziah and his brothers are killed in Jehu’s massacre, which Jehu conducts as he takes over the throne of Northern Israel. When Athaliah hears that her son, Ahaziah, is dead, she resolves to exterminate the rest of the line of David.

Why did Athaliah attempt this? Was she lashing out against Yahwism—the religion that Jehu championed when he conducted his purge and killed her son—by seeking to elimate the pro-Yahwist line of David? Did she want more power? When Ahaziah ruled, she was the Queen-Mother, which was a powerful position in its own right. But perhaps she wanted to be more than the Queen-Mother: she desired to be the absolute ruler of Judah! Some of her motivations may have been selfish, in that she sought power for herself. But maybe she also wanted to uphold the dignity of the house of Omri, which Jehu had just slaughtered. The house of Omri no longer ruled in Northern Israel, but perhaps it could remain a force in Judah, if Athaliah could hold on to its throne.

But couldn’t the children that Athaliah had with Joram continue the line of Omri? Why did she feel compelled to take an extreme measure, of slaughtering the entire line of David?

What’s ironic is something that Walter Bruegemann points out: that Athaliah actually continued the mission of Jehu, the man who had killed her son. Jehu killed Ahaziah and his brothers, and Athaliah sought to murder the other Davidides. But, whereas Jehu was seeking to eliminate Northern Israel’s pro-Baal orientation through his purge, Athaliah wanted to continue the Baal-cult that she had helped to establish in Judah. So their acts were similar, but their motivations were different.

Then there’s another suggestion that Bruegemann makes: maybe Athaliah was just plain crazy!

In any case, as Athaliah conducts her massacre, there is also an attempt within Judah to preserve the Davidic dynasty, by hiding a child named Joash. Jehoidah the priest is the leader of this conspiracy. Another participant is a woman named Jehosheba, who actually stole Joash and hid him from Athaliah. Jehosheba herself was a daugher of King Joram and a sister of Ahaziah, so she was a part of the royal family.

Was Athaliah her mother? On this, there is disagreement. Mordechai Coogan argues that she was, for the fact that II Kings 11:2 calls her the sister of Ahaziah indicates that she was his full-sister: she wasn’t just the daughter of Joram, but she was also the sister of Ahaziah, meaning that Athaliah (Ahaziah’s mom) was her mother. Coogan cites Genesis 34:25, in which Simeon and Levi refer to Dinah as their sister. Simeon, Levi, and Dinah are all the offspring of Jacob, but Dinah is their sister, one who has the same mother as they do, not just the same father. Similarly, Coogan maintains, II Kings 11:2′s statement that Jehosheba was the daughter of Joram and the sister of Ahaziah means that she had the same father and the same mother as Ahaziah, indicating that Athaliah was her mother.

Others contend, however, that Jehosheba was Ahaziah’s half-sister. One reason is that II Chronicles 22:11 states that Jehosheba was the wife of Jehoida, the priest, and some biblical expositors don’t think that a priest would marry the daughter of an idolatrous woman like Athaliah. Also, Josephus, in Antiquities 9 (141), states that Jehosheba was Ahaziah’s sister by the same father. Josephus may believe that II Kings 11:2 refers to Jehosheba as the daughter of Joram and the sister of Ahaziah to indicate that she and Ahaziah had the same father, but not the same mother. After all, the text says that she was the daughter of Joram; it does not say that she was also the daughter of Athaliah! So one side thinks that II Kings 11:2′s statement that Jehosheba was the daughter of Joram indicates that she was Ahaziah’s half-sister, while the other side holds that its statement that she was the sister of Ahaziah means she was his full-sister. In the former scenario, Athaliah is her mother; in the latter, she is not.

Why did Jehosheba take part in the conspiracy to preserve the Davidic line? Perhaps her compassion towards baby Joash or her devotion to God played a significant role. Maybe her loyalty to her husband, Jehoida, was a factor. Some ascribe to her and Jehoida sinister motives, as if they were part of some palace intrigue to control the throne.

There are soldiers and guards who are with Jehoida, as well as a group called “the people of the land” (v 18), who tear down Athaliah’s temple to Baal. Who are these “people of the land”? As Coogan observes, they later set up Josiah and Josiah’s son, Jehoida, as the kings of Judah, protecting the Davidic line (II Kings 21:23-24; 23:30). Ezekiel lambastes them for exploiting the poor (Ezekiel 22:29). They may have been the elite of Judah. And yet, the term “people of the land” can also refer to humanity in general (as in the Yehawmilik inscription from Byblos), or to everyone in a particular country, both Israelites and non-Israelites (Genesis 23:7; 42:6; Exodus 5:5).

Whether “people of the land” in II Kings 11:18 means an elite, or representative samples of Judah’s population, why would they want to overthrow Athaliah? Maybe they felt that she was a nut, and they were uneasy about being ruled by her. Or they were comfortable with the house of David. Or they decided to be faithful to the LORD, as rarely as such an impulse came upon them. The people of Judah may have held on to some vestiges of Yahwism, even as Athaliah promoted the worship of Baal. Jehoida was still the priest, and II Kings 11:5-9 refers to the Sabbath, indicating that it was still a recognized institution, even when Athaliah was reigning. Athaliah may have sought to incorporate Baalism into Judah, but she couldn’t eliminate the worship of the God of Israel.

These people may have had a variety of motivations behind their conspiracy—religious, humanitarian, political, and personal. But they tried to honor God along the way. Jehoida said that Athaliah was not to be slaughtered in the Temple of God, presumably because he wanted to guard the sanctity and dignity of God’s house. Jehoida didn’t make the mistake of Solomon, who disrespected God’s sanctuary when he ordered Joab to be murdered while Joab was clinging to the altar (I Kings 2; see I Kings 2: Mentoring the Wise, A Fresh Start, God’s Plan B). Such a callous disregard for God for the sake of getting rid of his political opponent may have set the stage for the bad decisions that Solomon made later in his life: dishonoring God by marrying foreign women and upholding the worship of their gods.

Jehoida was not like Jehu, who eliminated Baalism, only to dishonor God by upholding Jeroboam’s sanctuaries (although, if Jehu saw those as sanctuaries of God, then maybe Jehoida and Jehu had similar motivations—to eliminate Baalism and to uphold the worship of the God of Israel). Jehoida wanted his revolution to result in the honor of God, and not to be the replacement of one despot with another power-hungry monarch.

We can get power, but what do we do with it?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Scripture---Standing Above the Church

In the assigned readings from Jacob Lauterbach’s Rabbinic Essays, I notice the following passage from page 209:

In the opinion of these democratic lay teachers…the right to decide religious questions given in Deut. 17.9ff. to the priests was not given to them as a family privilege merely because they were priests, but because they were teachers of the Law, and only as long as they were teachers of the Law. The same right was equally granted to the teachers of the Law who were not priests.

I guess that’s how the Pharisees gained the right to interpret the Torah, in the eyes of many Jews. The Pharisees weren’t priests, but they claimed to be teachers of the Law. Although Deuteronomy 17:9 gives the priests the authority to decide in matters of the Law, Lauterbach’s point is that some felt that the priests were not necessarily faithful to the Torah (if I’m reading Lauterbach correctly).

Catholics have appealed to Deuteronomy 17:9 to argue that the Catholic church has the authority to decide in matters of faith and practice. Like the Pharisees, however, Protestants hold that the Bible does not equal the Catholic church’s interpretation and application of it, but rather stands independently of the church, over and above it. The Catholic church probably doesn’t support abusing its power, however, for it admits that the church has done wrong things in the past, implying that there is a standard of right and wrong that is above the church. Yet, I’ve also read Catholics who claim that, when the pope speaks ex cathedra, God keeps him from making an error.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lessons from a Spiritual Loser?

Alise has a good post today, Putting my money where my mouth is. She asks near the end of her post: “Do you think you could enjoy a Christian song if you found out that it was written by an atheist?”

To be honest, that would bother me. The same goes for my reaction to Christian artists who get a divorce. For some reason, I think that Christianity should result in changes in a person’s life, produced by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. A true Christian should have a faith that runs so deep, that it makes a person endure a bad marriage, or overcome doubts, or respond kindly in the midst of difficulties.

I tend to divide the world into good people and bad people. Without the right to make such judgments, where would I be? Would I have to hang around with drug-pushers and serial womanizers? I have to draw the line somewhere, don’t I?

But then there’s the question: am I a good person, or a true Christian, or whatever you want to call it? I blow up in some circumstances, even though I’m weak and timid in others. I don’t write Christian music, but I do write a blog. Should I expect that you might have something to learn from me, someone who is so fallible? Can we learn from the spiritual losers in life?

Gnostics; Tensions in Rabbinic Judaism

1. I read Birger Pearson’s “Jewish Elements of Gnosticism and the Development of Gnostic Self-Definition.”

According to Pearson, Gnostics “identify themselves ontologically with the highest God and understand themselves as originating ‘from the Primeval Father’ (Hyp. Arch. II.96.19-20).” He further states that “the heart and core of the Gnostic religion” is “the idea of the consubstantiality of the self with God”. Regarding Seth, Pearson says that, in Gnosticism, Seth is “understood as a pre-cosmic, heavenly being, as well as an incarnate saviour-revealer.” Also, Pearson gives the meanings of the names that Gnostics ascribed to the God of the Old Testament, whom they regarded as a sinister sub-deity (though there is more nuance to their position, according to some scholars): “Yaldabaoth” means “Child of Chaos”; “Samael” means “Blind God”; and “Saklas” means “Fool”.

2. I also read Richard Sarason’s “Kadushin’s Study of Midrash: Value Concepts and Their Literary Embodiment”. According to Sarason, Max Kadushin was responding to Protestant beliefs that rabbinic Judaism was dry, legalistic, and tribal, contending instead that rabbinic Judaism valued religious authenticity and the value of all human beings, Jew and Gentile. Sarason states, however, that there is more to rabbinic literature than that, for it contains “tensions…between universalism and particularism, and between ‘inwardness’ and formalism or routinization.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Many Plants, One Body

1. I read the assigned passage from Israel Bettan’s Studies in Jewish Preaching. On pages 20-21, Bettan refers to a midrash of Leviticus 23:40, which discusses four plants that the Israelites are to use during the Feast of Tabernacles. The quotes will be from Bettan’s book.

The first plant is the “fruit of goodly trees”. According to the midrash, this plant is “both palatable and fragrant”, and thus represents the Jews who are learned in Torah and do good deeds. The second is the “branches of palm-trees”, which “though palatable is lacking in fragrance”. It represents Jews who are learned in Torah, and yet lack good deeds. The third plant, the “boughs of thick trees”, is fragrant but yields no delicious fruit, and it symbolizes Jews who have good deeds but not much Torah knowledge. The fourth plant, the “willows of the brook”, lacks both fragrance and delicious fruit, so it depicts Jews who “are destitute of good deeds as well as of Torah”.

According to the midrash, “when these four types merge into one united body, even as the four kinds of plants combine to form one complete ceremonial object, the shortcoming of the one is redeemed by the strength of the other, and the preservation of the whole is assured.”

At Harvard, Professor Jon Levenson said that this was one of his favorite midrashim. I remember him saying that it shows one doesn’t have to be “born again” to please God. I doubt that I can go with that and be a Christian in good standing, but I do feel that the midrash is a beautiful description of community—which allows people to edify one another, to fill in each other’s “gaps”, to quote Rocky Balboa. It reminds me of I Corinthians 12, which talks about the various members of the body of Christ, and how they need one another.

But what about the Jew who has both Torah learning and good deeds? Why would he need the other Jews, the ones who have deficiencies? Maybe so he can avoid self-righteousness and practice service and compassion. Which should we be more interested in: patting ourselves on the back, or passing along our wisdom so it can help somebody else?

2. I read more of Lee Levine’s Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity. On page 93, Levine states that Herod avoided “figural representations in his palaces and public buildings (within Jewish Judea) and also demanded circumcision before allowing female members of his family to marry non-Jews”. Herod was notorious for being scrupulous about the rituals of the Torah, while ignoring the love-aspect. There was a saying that it was better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. The reason was that Herod did not kill pigs to eat them, for he observed kosher. Yet, he had some of his sons put to death.

I wonder what kind of plant he would be…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Too Heavy a Burden

Today, I read the assigned parts of Michael Fishbane’s Garments of Torah. The following is on page 24:

On the basis of Job’s rebuttal of Eliphaz’s claim (in 15:4) that his condition weakens other men’s faith, the passage is now construed to yield the theological assertion that God…gives strength…to the righteous in order “that they may do His will.”

I checked out Job 15:4, which has been translated in a variety of ways. The KJV says that Job casts off fear, and restrains prayer before God. I understand this to mean that Job himself (according to Eliphaz) isn’t fearing God enough, and isn’t praying. But the NRSV says that Job is doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation. I can understand why one would conclude that this means Job is hindering the faith of others.

But Job was expressing how he feels. He wasn’t a plastic Christian. Why should he have to pretend that he thinks things are all right, when he really doesn’t believe that?

I’ve been reading Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church, which is an excellent book. But the following passage on page 184 made me go, “Oh brother…”:

Sometimes unbelievers will come at us with a hostile posture and ask us an accusatory question, like “How could you possibly believe in a God who would condemn people to hell?” If we accept the premise that God is a villain, we are put in a defensive stance and we let the other person control the conversation. Instead, rephrase the question. For example, you could respond, “Perhaps the real question is how could humans rebel against a God who created such a beautiful world?”

But I think the unbeliever is raising a good question! It shouldn’t be blown off with the evangelical tactic of making the questioner feel guilty (as if evangelicals even succeed at this, try as they might).

One reason I dislike witnessing is that I feel as if I have to defend things that I don’t want to defend. Overall, McHugh shies away from the approach of coming up with good (Ha!) responses to the questions that unbelievers ask, as he presents evangelism as two people exploring a mystery together. Yet, unfortunately, in the above passage, he chooses to lean on an evangelical platitude as if it’s an example of good evangelism.

I’m also tired of feeling as if I’m responsible for the belief and unbelief of other people. Sheesh, I have enough of a problem taking care of myself!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Meyers and Propp

For my reading today, I read the introductions to Carol and Eric Meyer’s Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, and William Propp’s Exodus 1-18.

On pages lxx-lxxi, the Meyers state the following about Paul Hanson’s position regarding the post-exilic apocalypticists:

In promulgating his engaging view of the emergence of apocalyptic visions, he portrays the followers of the so-called Third Isaiah as visionaries and the audience and followers of Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 as pragmatists dedicated to stabilizing the status quo and selling out to the Achaemenids.

The Meyers have a different point-of-view from that of Hanson. Is it that Haggai and Zechariah themselves were radical and didn’t support selling out to the Achaemenids? Of course, Haggai and Zechariah were pro-Temple, whereas Third Isaiah is somewhat snarky about the Temple in Isaiah 66. At the same time, Third Isaiah can be pro-Temple, as in Isaiah 56. Is building the Temple under the auspices of the Persians an act of selling out to the Persians?

On that note, on to Propp! I’m not sure why I was assigned this introduction. It doesn’t really get into much meat about the Exodus, and it regurgitates the Documentary Hypothesis, like one would do for beginners in the historical-critical method. Propp does appear to have a dry sense of humor, though, and he doesn’t treat the Documentary Hypothesis as infallible.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Human; Roman Rhetoric; The Summons; Father’s Day 2010

1. I finished my required reading of Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period: 330 B.C.-A.D. 400. The following is from Ronald Hock’s essay, “The Rhetoric of Romance”:

…the consequence of mastering the three branches of oratory is not merely becoming a trained rhetor or even a sophist, but the way of becoming human, as it is only through skill in composing and presenting all three kinds of speeches that a person can give full expression to his soul and hence can be human in the fullest sense of the word. Given the amount and centrality of speeches in the romances, it therefore becomes clear that their characters…are not only rhetorically adept but human in terms of their rhetorical culture: ready and able to speak eloquently in whatever situation may arise.

I feel most human when I can express myself, and people listen to me. Unfortunately, I feel that others base my humanity on whether or not I talk in certain situations—if I’m quiet (which I tend to be), then I must not be human. But I am human, since I have a self, feelings, thoughts, and reactions.

2. I read more of G.A. Kennedy’s New History of Classical Rhetoric. Here are three things that I learned:

—Greeks required people to defend themselves in court, whereas the Romans allowed defendants to be represented by patrons, who were not paid for their services.

—Cicero tended to speak at the top of his voice, with tension in his entire body, but that kind of fervency was ruining his health. And so he learned from the Greeks how to control his voice and repress the “excesses of his style”.

That reminds me of Bill Clinton during his 1992 campaign. He was speaking a lot, and he lost his voice. My speech teacher said this was because Clinton spoke relying primarily on his vocal cords; for her, he should speak from his diaphram.

—The Romans didn’t write their speeches and memorize them; what we have of their written speeches was composed after their delivery. But the Romans did use mnemotic devices to recall things while they were speaking. They divided what they needed to remember into scenes, and associated them with pictures.

3. At church this morning, I sang a beautiful hymn, called The Summons. The following stanza is my favorite:

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

I like the ideas of loving the not-so-pretty me that I hide, and of not being afraid. The third line teaches me that, even if I have difficulty loving people and having faith, whatever faith I do have can inspire me to make the world a better place, in some capacity.

4. Today is Father’s Day! A few days ago, I watched the 1985 two-part Family Ties episode, “Remembrances of Things Past”. Steven had always argued with his dad, who was cheap and ultra-conservative. When Steven’s dad, Jake, wouldn’t get his family a TV, Steven told his brother, Rob, “He’s so cheap! I wish he wasn’t my father.” When Steven saw his dad’s hurt face, he apologized, and he cried about saying that years later.

But Steven’s dad did get his family a TV, and it was touching to see Steven take a puff out of his father’s pipe while watching Milton Berle, right before he handed the pipe to his father, who put his arm around him.

In another flashback, Steven’s father, mother, and brother are dressed up, preparing to see Jake’s mom on a Sunday. Steven comes into the living room with a T-shirt and jeans. He refuses to go. He says that he worked all week, that he wants to take it easy on Sunday, and that he’ll see grandma the next day. Jake asks him, “Will you say no to your own father?” But, in the end, he doesn’t spank Steven. He just says, “Are you from another planet or somethin’?”

Happy Father’s Day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Natural Selection

In my reading today of Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, the topic was natural selection. According to natural selection, organisms with certain beneficial (or useful) characteristics live to pass on the genes for those characteristics to offspring. As a result, more organisms with those characteristics emerge. That’s why there are more white mice than black mice in areas with white sand: the white mice survive long enough to pass on their genes, because they’re able to blend in with their surroundings and protect themselves from predators. They then live on to produce more white mice.

What is the origin of these beneficial characteristics? According to Coyne, the answer is “mutation”. There are creationists who have argued that most mutations are harmful or inconsequential. Coyne concedes that point. But Coyne points out that there are times when a mutation can be beneficial. Those beneficial mutations are what Coyne calls “The Engine of Evolution”.

Coyne talks about viruses, which mutate and evolve to protect themselves against vaccines. This does not always occur, for “there are some spectacular cases of microorganisms that haven’t succeeded in evolving resistance” (page 131). As Coyne states, “We must remember that the theory of evolution doesn’t predict that everything will evolve: if the right mutations can’t or don’t arise, evolution won’t happen.” But there are times when a beneficial mutation (beneficial at least for the microorganism, not us) does occur.

As I’ve blogged through Coyne’s book, I’ve consulted what the creationist organization Answers in Genesis has to say. What does Answers in Genesis say about viruses that evolve to protect themselves from vaccinations? In the article, Bird Flu – Has It Evolved? , Dr. Ryan Kitner (who has a Ph.D. in genetics from Clemson University, in South Carolina) states the following:

The word evolution has certainly been given a biological stigma in the last century. It’s hard to use “evolve” in any biological context without it being interpreted in the Darwinian sense of the term. So, are the mechanisms that bird flu uses to spread and escape extermination considered evolution? It is plain to see that the genetic code of bird flu viruses does not stay the same but is constantly mutating and rearranging. Because virus proteins interact with proteins in the cells they infect, changes in the viral protein can and do have effects on what type of cells can be infected and how it affects the host.

So what should one say if asked, “Is the ‘bird flu’ evolving?” It could be said that the bird flu is continually changing and modifying, but not in the Darwinian sense that it will at some point become something other than an influenza virus (i.e., it is not evidence that particles can turn into people). Yes, influenza viruses do possess a certain degree of genetic “wiggle room.” However, the amount of genetic information that a virus can carry is extremely limited, and so are the changes that can be made to its genome before it can no longer function.

While there are creationists who argue that most mutations are harmful, making evolution unlikely, there are also creationists who contend that micro-evolution occurs, but there’s no evidence for macro-evolution. As Fred John Meldau says in his book, Why We Believe in Creation Not Evolution, there are mutations, but no transmutations. Sure, they argue, organisms can mutate within their species (or maybe it’s their genus), but they can’t become something entirely different. In the case of the Bird Flu virus, Dr. Kitner affirms that it has mutated in its genetic code, allowing it ”to spread and escape extermination.” But it’s still a virus, not something else.

But why can’t an organism mutate and, over a long period of time, become something else? I don’t see why that’s impossible.

Another question I had: How would creationists account for the ability of viruses to mutate and protect themselves? Why would God make things this way? Was he playing a cruel joke on humans? I didn’t find an article that tackled this question head-on, but I did encounter one entitled, Why Did God Make Viruses?, by Dr. Jean Lightner (whose alma mater I could not find, but her biography states that she worked as a veterinary medical officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Her argument is that viruses could have had a useful function, and that’s why God created them. Here are some quotes from her article:

If God created everything good and with a purpose, why are there disease-causing bacteria and viruses in the world? It is true that we first learned about bacteria and viruses because of the problems they cause. Bacteria have been studied in considerable detail and are now recognized to be mainly helpful and absolutely essential for life on earth; bacteria that cause disease (which occurred as a result of the Fall) are the exceptions, not the rule. But what about viruses: what purpose could they possibly have?

Viruses vary considerably in their ability to cause disease. Many known viruses are not associated with disease at all. Others cause mild symptoms that may often go undetected. Some, like the HIV virus that causes AIDS in people, appear to have come from another species where they do not cause disease. Given our current knowledge of viruses, it is quite reasonable to believe that disease-causing viruses are descended from viruses that were once not harmful.7 It has been suggested that they have played an important role in maintaining life on earth—somewhat similar to the way bacteria do.8 In fact, they may play a role in solving an intriguing puzzle that faces creationists.

Interestingly, there are some portions of DNA in animals that look like they came from a virus. While some of these were likely originally present in the genome since they have essential functions, others may have been introduced by viruses.23 A number of years ago, one creationist proposed that horizontal gene flow (genes picked up from somewhere in the environment rather than inherited from parents) may help to explain rapid adaptation and the interesting pattern of DNA in animals. In fact, the author lists 13 different biological phenomena that might be explained by horizontal gene flow.24 Since viruses carry genetic material (DNA or RNA), they are the most logical agents to suspect in transferring genes. While horizontal gene transfer would not change the identity of an animal (i.e., it would still belong to the same kind), it could rapidly provide a source of genetic variability that allows for rapid adaptation. If this is the case, then viruses were created “good” (as in Genesis 1) with a support role much like bacteria are known to have. While the evidence is largely circumstantial, further scientific investigation does seem to support these ideas.

You can read more of the article to see the evidence that she cites for her claim. But what I’m getting from this is that viruses can help animals to adapt rapidly. And, by the way, Dr. Lightner holds that the existence of rapid adaptation in certain animals undercuts the theory of evolution, which maintains that adaptation is a slow process. But do evolutionists necessarily prescribe a set pace for adaptation, as if it always has to be slow and gradual? Coyne and others have pointed to the virus as an example of evolution in action, and it evolves rather quickly.

II Kings 10

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 10. In it, Jehu brings about the death of three groups of people: seventy sons of Ahab; the visiting brothers of Ahaziah, who was the slain king of Judah and also the son of Athaliah, the daughter of Omri, Ahab’s father (II Kings 8:26); and the prophets, servants, and priests of Baal. In the process, Jehu eliminates people from Ahab’s family who can challenge his claim to the throne, as well as extirpates Baalism from Northern Israel.

Eliminating potential competitors to the throne was standard practice for a usurping king (Robert Wilson cites II Samuel 3-4; I Kings 15:28-30; 16:8-14), and yet, there’s some sense in the Bible that such a practice is wrong. For example, although Jehu gets leaders in Samaria to chop off the heads of Ahab’s sons, when he goes before the people of Israel, he acts as if he had nothing to do with the slaughter. He confesses that he slew the king of Israel, probably because that was common knowledge by that time. But then he publically wonders who murdered the seventy sons of Ahab, as if he wasn’t the one who ordered that to occur. Jehu goes on to say that this occurred to fulfill Elijah’s prophecy that the house of Ahab would be destroyed. And so Jehu justifies the gruesome murder of Ahab’s sons, without taking responsibility for it. There was a sense in his mind and that of his audience that such an act was abominable, albeit a necessary evil.

Similarly (but with more authenticity than Jehu had), David expresses sadness at the deaths of Saul, Jonathan, Ish-bosheth, and Abner—all potential claimants to the throne of Israel. When Solomon becomes king, he doesn’t immediately kill every Saulite or adherent to his competitor for the throne, Adonijah. Rather, in most cases, he waits for them to screw up, and then he has them killed. In I Kings 16, God acknowledges that he lifted Baasha out of the dust and made him the king of Israel, and yet God condemns Baasha for killing off the house of the preceding dynasty, that of Jeroboam. But wasn’t the destruction of the house of Jeroboam the express will of God (see I Kings 14:10), God’s judgment for Jeroboam’s sin?

This sort of issue crops up again in terms of II Kings 10: God condemning someone for doing something that was a part of God’s judgment against a people. Jehu slaughtered a lot of people in Jezreel, carrying out God’s judgment against the house of Ahab and Jezebel. And yet, in Hosea 1:4, God promises to avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and to bring to an end the kingdom of the house of Israel. This, even though God expressed pleasure at Jehu’s act in II Kings 10:30! In II Kings 10:32-33, we read that God began to “cut Israel short”, as Hazael, the king of Syria, smote the Israelites in Gilead, in the Transjordan. We see here an act of God’s judgment. And yet, in Amos 1:3-4, God promises to punish Syria for threshing Gilead.

Why does God condemn people who carry out his judgment? I can’t find all the relevant Bible passages, but a big part of the issue is that the instrument of God’s judgment becomes proud, or takes pleasure in inflicting pain on others, or is more excessive than he needs to be. That’s what makes God mad. And I read commentaries today that said that Jehu fit this description: Jehu was more excessive than he needed to be, but he also didn’t conduct his activity for the glory and honor of God. Rather, he was looking out for his own political self-interest. The evidence for this is that he didn’t completely honor God after he took the throne; instead, he maintained the worship of the golden calves, which Jeroboam had set up.

Then there’s the mysterious character of Jehonadab, the son of Rechab. We encounter this guy in Jeremiah 35. God praises Jehonadab’s sons because, in obedience to Jehonadab, they refused to drink alcohol, to sow seed, and to plant vineyards; rather, they chose to live in tents. Maybe they preferred the simpler life, viewing civilization and settlement as signs of corruption. Or perhaps, as some scholars have suggested, they were in the metal industry, and so they refrained from alcohol in order to keep secret their prized knowledge of metallurgy, and they refused to settle because they were continually on the move, going to new places after they used up the metal resources in a previous place. Obviously, they did move! In II Kings 10, the Rechabites are in Northern Israel. By the time of Jeremiah 35, they’re in Judah!

In any case, this fierce Yahwist, Jehonadab, is on Jehu’s side. To Jehu’s credit, he sought the support of a true-blue Yahwist, someone whom many Northern Israelites would consider a fanatic. But what did Jehonadab think about Jehu’s slaughters? We don’t know if Jehonadab was aware that Jehu was the one who killed the seventy sons of Ahab. But several commentaries that I read affirmed that Jehonadab liked what Jehu was doing: he thought that Jehu was reforming Israel and bringing her back to God.

It’s tempting to view Jehonadab as a cold religionist: as someone who observed legalistic orders (no alcohol, no agriculture, no vineyards), while neglecting to love his fellow human beings, in this case, the sons of Ahab, the brothers of Ahaziah, and the religious establishment of Baal. And yet, Jehu was conducting God’s justice on the house of Ahab for its slaughter of the prophets of the LORD, and of Naboth. So there was some humanitarian impulse in what Jehu was doing: he was avenging the house of Ahab’s acts of injustice. But Elijah himself killed the prophets of Baal. Was the problem in the Bible that Ahab murdered human beings, or that he murdered human beings who were prophets of the LORD, people who would kill off the other side (the Baalites), if they had a chance?

For me, the Bible is a document that teaches compassion. We see this when God condemns his instruments of justice for being too severe, for actually enjoying their performance of brutal acts! But I also observe that religion can become cold, as it adheres to legalism or “one right way”, while disregarding the humanity of those who are different. And yet, even then, there is a need for justice, for blood does cry out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Lottery of Life

I just read the new Internet Monk’s (Chaplain Mike’s) review of Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town: see IM Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town. The following stood out to me:

The second part of the book describes the cracks and fissures that developed in Rachel Evans’ [conservative Christian] worldview. An experience of watching the execution of an Afghan woman began a prolonged process of deep questioning and reexamination of the foundations of her faith. In a key conversation with her father, she expressed the exasperation that was growing within her:

["]It’s like God runs some kind of universal sweepstakes with humanity in which all of our names get thrown into a big hat at the beginning of time….Some of us are randomly selected for famine, war, disease, and paganism, while others end up with fifteen-thousand-square-foot houses, expensive Christian educations, and Double Stuf Oreos. It’s a cosmic lottery, luck of the draw” (p. 99).

The rest of the review gives a rough outline of how Rachel’s faith developed in response to this question.

The reason that this stood out to me was that, a few weeks ago at church, the priest giving the homily made a similar statement. His point was that we Americans have been fortunate in the lottery of life, and so we should give to those in the world who are less fortunate. Fine. I agree with that. But why is there a lottery of life in the first place, if God is in control?

BTW, I’ll be blogging through Rachel’s book at some point. I’m waiting on two things: (1.) To finish Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, which I’m currently blogging through, and which may take a while, since I only read it on Saturdays, and (2.) for the price of Rachel’s book to fall on Amazon. I’m all for Rachel making lots of money off of her book, and I’m sure it will be successful. But I’m on a budget!

Should Christians Use Rhetoric to Witness?

Folker Siegert, “Homily and Panegyrical Sermon”, Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, pages 425-426.

The refusal to use fine rhetoric on the part of those who would perhaps have been able to use it—the Cynics in particular—testifies to their aloofness from a society which they criticized. The low style of the early Christian message has been interpreted that way; and there is no doubt that Christians of the second generation, such as Luke and the author of Hebrews, are more “conformed” and acculturated to Hellenism as is, for example, the Apostle Paul. In this sense Paul’s scorn of rhetoric (1 Cor. 1:17, 20; 2:4-5, 13 etc.) could be termed “cynical”. With respect to the paltriness and intellectual mediocrity of many utterances of second-century Christianity, however, it may be asked to what degree rhetorical restraint was based on voluntary discretion. Wasn’t the Christian mission from its very inception dependent upon the use of the available means of communication? In line with Matthew 28:18-20 is the fact that the bishops soon became rhetoricians—or, to put it more exactly, that Christian rhetoricians became bishops.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The “We-Passages”

In the Book of Acts, there are “we” passages. They include Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16. Essentially, they tell the story of Paul’s journeys using the first person plural (“we”). For many, this indicates that the author of Acts (probably Luke) accompanied Paul on his travels.

When I was a first-year student at DePauw, however, I read another idea by New Testament scholar David Barr. He said that the use of a first-person plural occurred in ancient writings when they were talking about sea travel. Here’s an informative article that I found about this (though I only scanned it). This sort of thing occurs in Homer’s Odyssey, for instance.

But there are times when the author of Acts uses “we” when discussing Paul’s adventures on land. Was “we” used for narratives about journeys—which encompass the sea travel and also the time spent on land?

In the Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, I read Stefan Rebenich’s essay, “Historical Prose”. On page 307, Rebenich states:

The so-called “We-passages” probably do not show the author as a companion of Paul, but are rather a literary device of which Luke makes use, partly in accordance with tradition and partly at the instance of his sources.

On page 333, Rebenich talks about Ammianus, a fourth century C.E. Roman historian. Rebenich states that Ammianus departed from traditional history writing, in part by narrating in the “we-form”.

This raises questions in my mind. Where was the “we-form” found in the ancient world? Was it in histories, or poems, or both? Did it fall out of favor at some point in time? And why did Acts use it (assuming it wasn’t saying that Luke, the author of Acts, accompanied Paul on its trips)? Did the author of Acts use it to be more vivid in his narrative?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Qamatz Qatan; We Didn’t Overthrow One King George…

1. I read “The Qama[tz] Qa[t]an Structure” in Wener Weinberg’s Essays on Hebrew.

I should probably review this chapter before I take my comp because I read on the front cover that my professor is a Werner Weinberg Anthology donor.

For now, I’ll quote the opening paragraph of the essay. I’ll spell qamatz as qamatz, even though Weinberg doesn’t do so:

There are three ways of identifying a qamatz as a qq: one is etymological—tracing back the history of a given qamatz to a Semitic /u/; another is phonological—considering such factors as a closed or open syllable, the place of stress, and the proximity of another /o/ sound; the third is morphological—focussing on the grammatical pattern of the word which contains the qamatz. This essay concentrates on the third approach because it is the most practical: the first requires an expert knowledge of Hebrew languages, and the second is unreliable.

A qamatz is a Hebrew vowel. A long qamatz is an /a/ sound, whereas a short qamatz—a qamatz qatan—is an /o/ sound. Often, in the Hebrew Bible, there are rules as to when we should read the qamatz as a qamatz qatan—or when the Masoretes did so. One rule is that a qamatz in an unstressed closed syllable is a qamatz qatan. But qamatz qatans occur when such is not the case. And so Weinberg details the many occurrences of the qamatz qatan—in hyphened infinitives, in certain types of imperatives, etc.

2. I read more of Dirk Schenkeveld’s essay, “Philosophical Prose”, which is in the Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period. When Cicero was banned by Caesar from his official duties, he wrote theses to keep his chin up. One is about the following topic:

Whether one should remain in one’s country, even under a tyranny. Whether any means are lawful to abolish a tyranny, even if they endanger the existence of the State. Whether one ought to take care that one who tries to abolish it may not rise too high himself.

I’m not sure how Cicero answers this, for, in the source I checked, these are questions among other questions that he’s thinking of considering. But these questions remind me of the American Revolution: we overthrew a tyrant, and sought to create a government of checks and balances, the type that was supposed to be tyrant-proof.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

True Prophets; Church of James Pate’s Brain

1. I read Robert Wilson’s “Interpreting Israel’s Religion: An Anthropological Perspective on the Problem of False Prophecy.” On page 344, Wilson says that the conflict between Jeremiah and Hananiah was one between “two prophets having different social locations and different supporters.” Jeremiah was on the periphery, and Hananiah was an establishment prophet. Jeremiah supported a Mosaic sort of prophet, who communicated a divine message that was audibly heard. And Hananiah relied on dreams. Both accused one another of being false prophets.

I remember Stephen Geller at Jewish Theological Seminary making the point that Jeremiah—in contrast to Isaiah and Ezekiel—did not discuss a vision of God that he had. As a result, he doubted his prophetic status. Could this relate somehow to the point that Wilson is making? I’m not sure. As Wilson states, Jeremiah’s criticism is that the false prophets relied on dreams from their own imaginations, which contrast with true prophecies. True prophecies come from the divine council and are effective. So maybe Jeremiah would regard Isaiah and Ezekiel as true prophets, for they got their message from the divine council.

2. I read some of Dirk Schenkeveld’s essay, “Philosophical Prose”, which is in the Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period. The fourth-third centuries B.C.E. philosopher Epicurus advises Menoeccus to meditate on the following: “God presents no fear, death no worries. And while good is readily attainable, evil is readily obdurable.”

That resembles the Church of James Pate’s Brain, in which I tell myself soothing sermons to help me fall asleep. I try to meditate on the love, grace, and sovereignty of God, which takes care of the “God presents no fear, death no worries” (though Epicurus would probably disagree with me, since, if I understand him correctly, he didn’t believe that the gods were active in human affairs). And, in the Church of James Pate’s Brain, I aim to cultivate good attitudes towards people, while suppressing bad ones. I try to see everyone as a person of value, created in God’s image. That’s what I do when I’m trying to fall asleep. As far as my day-today life goes, well, that’s a different story!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bedtime Stories; Stumped

Today was an especially long day, so this post will be brief!

I read a huge chunk of Judah Goldin’s “The Period of the Talmud (135 B.C.E.-1035 C.E.)”, which is in Louis Finkelstein’s The Jews: Their History. I like this chapter because of its romantic story-telling. There are heroes, such as Jochanan Ben-Zakkai, who was humble enough to open the door for his students. Then there’s a midrash about Moses, whom God prepared for leadership over Israel by making him a shepherd of sheep. You know what Jesus said: Whoever is faithful in little, will be entrusted with much.

I kind of like this midrash as a bedtime story—something soothing, like the dream that I could be President of the United States. In my evangelical days, I dreamed of God having a plan for me in which I’d be important and famous. I still do have that dream, in a sense, for I hope to write books some day. But I doubt that I’ll be head of a corporation, or a big-time preacher, or a U.S. Senator, though I wouldn’t be overly surprised if, some day, I sit on a city council or a school board. I’d have to be a lot more knowledgeable than I am now for that to happen!

I also started on Jeffrey Reed’s article, “The Epistle”, which is in The Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period. Reed says that Cicero talks about the difficulty of picking a topic to write about. I don’t have a great problem with this when it comes to my blog. When it comes to writing articles, or talking to people, however, there is more difficulty, on my front.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Petichta; Symbolist; Confession; Unclear Foresight; Revisiting the Politeia

1. The first essay I read today was Lewis Barth's "The Midrashic Enterprise". What I'll share from that article is that there's a debate among scholars about the petichta in midrashic literature. What is a petichta? Let's take Leviticus Rabbah. It's interpreting a passage from Leviticus. But it introduces its exegesis of the Leviticus passage with a verse from (say) Psalms. Then, it tries to tie that verse from Psalms into the Leviticus passage.

In any case, the debate is over whether the petichta was originally an introduction to a sermon, or was a sermon by itself. I'm not sure what the arguments are for each side. But the debate appears to be this: Was the petichta leading up to the action of interpreting Leviticus and drawing lessons from it, or was the whole process of tying the petichta verse back to Leviticus in itself a sermon, intended to teach the Jewish people lessons? Personally, I like the idea of meandering around and learning stuff along the way.

2. My second reading for today was from pages 68-82 of Saul Lieberman's Hellenism in Jewish Palestine. What stood out to me from that was Lieberman's discussion of the exegesis of dreams, and how the rabbis applied some of those techniques to their interpretation of Scripture. But did the rabbis believe that dreams mattered? Lieberman quotes a rabbinic passage stating, "If the contents of dreams which have no effect may yield a multitude of interpretations, how much more then should the important contents of the Torah imply many interpretations of every verse."

This viewpoint holds that dreams have "no effect" (if I'm interpreting it correctly). And Lieberman notes that the rabbis condemned the superstitious belief that encountering a weasel is a bad portent. They weren't too big on superstitions! Yet, Lieberman refers to rabbinic statements that dreams were significant. There were rabbis who thought that seeing certain letters in a dream was a good omen. Some maintained that the presence of barley in a dream meant that the dreamer's sins were forgiven, for the Hebrew word for "barley" sounds like a Hebrew phrase for "sin is removed".

And so there were rabbis who tried to decode Scripture, and other signs in the universe that may be significant (such as dreams). There were people whom Lady in the Water would call "symbolists". But there were other rabbis who opposed superstition, and the fear in which it held people captive. They probably looked down on superstition because they believed that God was the ultimate power in the universe, so who cares about your bad dream, or if a weasel crosses your path?

3. I read more of G.A. Kennedy's New History of Classical Rhetoric. Kennedy refers to Plato's dialogue, Gorgias, in which Socrates says that a guilty person can help himself more if he uses rhetoric---not to get himself let off---but rather to get himself convicted, since then he's helping himself out more. But Kennedy goes on to say that Socrates wasn't being overly serious when he made that point, but he was just trying to get Ponus to think.

But Socrates' point reminds me of some Desperate Housewives plots. Orson ran over Mike Delfino, and his wife, Bree, wanted him to confess his crime and to go to jail. In Season 1, her son, Andrew, accidentally ran over Carlos Solis' "MaMA" (as Carlos calls her), and left the scene. In the last season, someone was using that to blackmail Bree so she'd sell him her company. Andrew told Bree that it was time for him to pay for running over Carlos' mother---by going to jail. That demonstrated a lot of growth on Andrew's part---from the cocky kid of the early seasons to the responsible adult of this past year.

Then there are Dostoevsky novels, such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, in which a character decides to go to jail to pay for what he did, and to let God prune him and make him spiritually fruitful.

Jail can be a place of growth, as one encounters people who have experienced problems, and learns empathy as a result. But it can also be a place that hinders growth. My sister knows someone who went to jail for many years for burning down his fraternity house when he was drunk. When he got out, he dated younger women, for jail had placed him in a sort of time-warp, if you will, in which he was away from society. When he got out, it was like he was the same age as when he went in, in his mind.

The Big Book tells alcoholics that they may need to go to jail as a result of making amends, but not everyone chooses to follow that rule. For some, the best way to make amends is to try to be a better person.

But Socrates was probably criticizing the sort of person who successfully defended himself in court, and learned nothing. He had no intention of using his freedom to become a better person.

I'll tie into this item my church for this morning. I went to two masses: one at 12:00, and another at 12:30. The Scriptures and the homilies were about forgiveness: the importance of us knowing that we're forgiven (which, to me, sounds rather Protestant, since some Protestants harp on assurance of salvation), and of seeing every sinner as a potential saint.

4. I read a few essays be Renee Bloch on midrash. Bloch talks about various versions of a midrash about Exodus 1. In one version, the Pharaoh decrees that every newborn baby boy---Egyptian and Hebrew---is to be drowned, for he wasn't sure if an Egyptian or a Hebrew would deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. According to the midrash, the reason that the Pharaoh chose to kill the babies by drowning them was that the astrologers foresaw "that the Savior of Israel would be punished by water, and they thought that he would drown in the water." Moses was punished on account of water---he struck the rock and claimed credit for the water coming out of it, rather than speaking to the rock and giving God the glory. But the astrologers misinterpreted what they saw, I guess. And apparently they tried to hasten Moses' downfall through water---back when he was an infant!

5. While the maintenance man was vacuuming gallons of water from my wet apartment carpet (I'm serious---it was gallons!), I was reading more of Lee Levine's Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity. In a footnote on page 39, Levine distinguishes between maximalists---who believe that Hellenistic influence was great right before the Maccabean revolt---and minimalists---who believe it was not so great. In the maximalist camp, he has Elias Bickerman and Martin Hengel. In the minimalist camp, he has Victor Tcherikover. He has other names too, but these were the scholars I used in writing my . And, in retrospect, I find Levine's characterizations to be accurate. My problem with Tcherikover was that he acted as if the Hellenizers merely changed Judea's political structure, while leaving the Jewish religion intact. I wondered how that would incite a revolt! Hengel overlapped with Tcherikover on this issue, but at least he argued that the change in Judea's political structure had profound ramifications, which offended religious conservatives.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny

I’m continuing to work my way through Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True.

Coyne talks about how embryos from a variety of animals go through stages: a fish-like stage, a reptilian stage, etc. According to Coyne and many evolutionists, this is because of the principle that “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”—”that the development of an organism simply replays its evolutionary history” (78). Coyne gives another example:

During development, the human embryo actually forms three different types of kidneys, one after the other, with the first two discarded before our final kidney appears. And those transitory embryonic kidneys are similar to those we find in species that evolved before us in the fossil record—jawless fish and reptiles, respectively.

How do we make sense of embryos developing and discarding kidneys? Would an Intelligent Designer create kidneys that sink into oblivion? What’s the purpose of that? Or are the embryos replaying their evolutionary history, demonstrating features of our ancestors, who “evolved before us in the fossil record—jawless fish and reptiles, respectively”?

I looked for what Answers in Genesis had to say about “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, and I found this article by Elizabeth Mitchell (not Juliet from LOST), who graduated from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1984. Mitchell’s argument is two-fold:

First, according to Mitchell, the idea that “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was the creation of nineteenth-century zoologist Ernst Haeckel, who “fabricated the embryologic evidence for evolution by fraudulently producing the diagrams to ‘prove’ the theory.” Mitchell goes on to say that “Reputable German scientists immediately began refuting his evidence, demonstrating that Haeckel had falsified his pictures.”

Second, Mitchell argues that the “gill-slits” in human embryos are not gill-slits. They don’t function as gills: Never in the course of development does a human embryo absorb oxygen from water as fish do with gills. (The human embryo is fully supplied with oxygen through the umbilical cord.) And, according to Mitchell, there’s another explanation for what they are: Actually, they are nothing more than folds in the region of the tiny embryo’s throat. By the 28th day of life, the embryo’s brain and spinal cord seem to be racing ahead of the rest of the body in growth. Therefore, for a time, the spinal cord is actually longer than the body, forcing the body to curl and flexing the neck area forward. (This curled embryo with the long spinal cord is mistakenly accused by some people of having a tail.) Just as many people develop a double chin when bending the neck forward, so the embryo has folds in its neck area due to this flexing.

And so, for Dr. Mitchell, so much for the so-called “gill-slits” and the tail in human embryos! They’re explicable in light of the human embryos’ response to a rapidly growing spinal cord.

Coyne appears to be aware of certain creationist critiques of evolution. On page 78, he expresses his own problems with Haeckel. Coyne denies that embryonic stages “look like the adult forms of their ancestors, as Haeckel claimed”, maintaining instead that they look like the embryonic forms of ancestors. For example, “Human fetuses…never resemble adult fish or reptiles, but in certain ways they do resemble embryonic fish and reptiles.”

Coyne also denies that that recapitulation is “strict” or “inevitable”, for “not every feature of an ancestor’s embryo appears in its descendants, nor do all stages of development unfold in strict evolutionary order.” Moreover, “some species, like plants, have dispensed with nearly all traces of their ancestry during development.” So, with Coyne (if I’m understanding him correctly), recapitulation does not have absolute rules, but it does occur.

Coyne also dismisses the charge that Haeckel “fudged some drawings of early embryos to make them look more similar than they really are”, maintaining that Haeckel was merely lazy, and that he corrected his error when called to account.

I wonder how Coyne would respond to Mitchell’s other argument. Would he say that it doesn’t matter that the embryo doesn’t breathe through its gills, since it doesn’t need every feature of its ancestor to show some form of recapitulation? That it could have gills that it doesn’t use, but the very existence of its gills demonstrates that it’s recapitulating its ancestry? How would Coyne (or other evolutionists) respond to Mitchell’s argument that the “tail” and the “gill slits” have to do with the embryo’s spinal cord, and are not a “tail” and “gill slits” at all?

On an unrelated note, on page 89, Coyne states: “On the Beagle voyage, Darwin himself discovered fossil seashells high in the Andes, proving that what is now mountain was once underwater.” This caught my eye because an Adventist pastor once appealed to this as evidence for a global flood, even though he didn’t mention Darwin. Coyne, however, says that “Lands could rise or sink”, and he expresses his reservations about the biblical Flood story in his book.

II Kings 9

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 9. Elisha sends a son of a prophet to Ramoth-Gilead to anoint Jehu king of Israel. Both the Northern Israelite and the Judahite armies are in Ramoth-Gilead, fighting Hazael, the king of Syria. Perhaps Israel is attempting what Ahab and Jehoshaphat tried to do in I Kings 22: to recapture Ramoth-Gilead for Northern Israel.

Jehu is a captain in the Israelite army, and he’s in Ramoth-Gilead, among other captains. The prophet’s son comes and asks to speak with the captain, and Jehu inquires as to which one. The prophet’s son apparently knows who Jehu is, for he replies, “To you, O Captain.”

Elisha had instructed the prophet’s son to speak with Jehu privately, in an inner chamber, and Elisha told him not to tarry. Why? One explanation is that the prophet’s son, by anointing Jehu king, was committing an act of treason against the reigning king of Israel, Joram. If the prophet’s son were to anoint Jehu publically and to tarry, perhaps he’d fall victim to Joram’s sympathizers and get killed, or word would get back to Joram and he’d soon be an outlaw.

Another explanation is that the prophet’s son had a mission to accomplish, and Elisha didn’t want him to dilly-dally. We see this sort of thing elsewhere in I-II Kings. In I Kings 13, the man of God is forbidden to eat with Northern Israelites in his prophetic mission against Jeroboam’s sanctuary, the one in Bethel. In II Kings 4:29, Elisha forbids Gehazi to salute a man on his way to heal the son of a Shunammite woman. According to this view, the business of God is important business, and there were times when it needed to be carried out with single-mindedness.

There does seem to be a concern with secrecy in II Kings 9. The prophet’s son anoints Jehu secretly, and, after Jehu reluctantly tells the soldiers with him what the prophet said, Jehu sets up guards to keep word from reaching Joram that Jehu has been anointed king. Many contend that Jehu wanted to take Joram completely by surprise.

Something that I wonder: presumably, God was aware that the soldiers with Jehu would follow Jehu and support his ascension to the monarchy. So would God be concerned that the prophet’s son might fall victim to Joram’s sympathizers within Jehu’s camp? Why would God want the prophet’s son to anoint Jehu privately and quickly, as if he were keeping a secret? The secret soon got out after the prophet’s son left, and the men with Jehu were supportive of the prophet’s message that Jehu would become king (even though some of these men considered the prophet’s son to be a madman). What was God trying to protect the prophet’s son from?

Or was the idea that the prophet’s son should be secretive and quick in his mission from the thoughts of Elisha, and not God? Maybe Elisha was trying to be practical. Elisha didn’t know for sure that Jehu’s camp lacked sympathizers of Joram, so he sought to protect the prophet’s son, just in case there were some of them in Jehu’s camp.

Or perhaps the prophet’s son was carrying out his mission in the proper manner. If he were to enter Jehu’s camp and boldly proclaim that Jehu would be king—in an environment where people already considered him a madman—pandemonium could erupt. People might dismiss the message of the prophet’s son, or laugh at it, or even spread the message in a disorderly fashion, such that word would get back to Joram. It was more orderly for the prophet’s son to anoint Jehu in private, and then for Jehu to calmly convey the message to the men at his camp. Then, the men would ask Jehu what the prophet’s son had said, and Jehu could respond. That would be better than the prophet’s son bursting into the camp unexpectantly, proclaiming a provocative message out of the clear blue sky!

Overall, that’s what I got out of the chapter: God has a plan, but he still wants us to be wise, practical, and orderly.

But there are times when God can trump our plans. For example, Jehu knew from the prophet’s son and from the message of Elijah that Jezebel would not be buried, but would be eaten by dogs. Yet, Jehu ordered her burial soon after she was thrust down a tower, for he respected her status as a king’s daughter. When Jehu was then told that Jezebel had been eaten by dogs, he recalled Elijah’s prophecy. Throughout II Kings 9, Jehu sees God’s prophecy fulfilled, and he recognizes its fulfillment. This occurs when Joram, the son of Ahab, dies in the field of Naboth, which is similar to what Elijah predicted in I Kings 21. But, for some reason, Jehu was slow to believe that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled to a T, for he ordered the burial of Jezebel, even though the prophecy was that she would be eaten by dogs and thus would not be buried. There’s a place for practicality, but God is larger than our plans.

Then there’s Jehu’s encounter with Jezebel. Jezebel put on make-up, perhaps in an attempt to save her own life by becoming a part of Jehu’s harem. So much for her attempt to be practical, for Jehu decided to honor God’s judgment! Jezebel also called Jehu ”Zimri”, echoing I Kings 16, in which Zimri overthrew Baasha, only to be pushed into suicide by Omri, the father of Ahab. According to one commentator whom I read, Jezebel was telling Jehu that he may not be safe after overthrowing the house of Ahab and Jezebel. Nothing’s sure in this world. Jehu can overthrow the house of Ahab, but what’s to keep him from being overthrown? Maybe Jezebel was implying that Jehu needed an experienced (and attractive) advisor, to protect him through the political infighting. But, at that moment at least, Jehu chose to honor and to trust God, by overthrowing Jezebel.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Peshat; A Silent God; Interdepartmental Feuds; Hearing from God through Midrash

1. I read Raphael Loewe’s “The ‘Plain’ Meaning of Scripture in Early Jewish Exegesis”. Loewe’s argument is that peshat in early Jewish exegesis did not mean the same thing as peshat in medieval Jewish exegesis. Medieval peshat was influenced by how the Arabs treated their texts. Essentially, it was the plain sense of a biblical passage—its literal meaning. According to Loewe, peshat in early Jewish exegesis was unrelated to that (though, on one page, which I can’t find right now, Loewe points out that the third century C.E. rabbi known as Rava once used the word “peshat” in reference to a biblical passage’s plain sense). Rather, peshat in early Jewish exegesis meant an authoritative teaching, which was authoritative either because it was taught by an authoritative teacher, or because the public recognized it as authoritative.

2. In Joseph Heinemann’s “Nature of the Aggadah”, the following passages from pages 45-46 stood out to me:

The verse “Who is like Thee, O Lord, among the gods [ba-elim]” (Exod. 15:11) was interpreted by the sages as reading: “‘Who is like Thee among the mute [ba-'illemim]‘: for He sees His Temple in ruins and remains silent” (B. Gittin 56b and additional texts). This interpretation reflects a burning theological question: “His children are put in neck-irons—where is His might?” (ibid.). This could only be answered with the idea that divine silence and restraint was in itself a manifestation of God’s might, for “Who is mighty? He who subdues his nature” (M. Avot IV 1).

3. In Judah Goldin’s “Freedom and Restraint of Haggadah”, the following passage from page 62 stood out to me:

My literal-mindedness is gullibility; very well, yours is comparative anthropology or literary criticism. So it goes in scholarship and in interdepartmental feuds.

4. In David Stern’s “Midrash and the Language of Exegesis”, the following passage from pages 120-121 stood out to me:

And yet, in a time when classical prophecy had ceased among the Jews, the activity of midrash served a comparable religious need: it helped to restore a sense of God’s presence through discourse. [A] new religious language was created whose very purpose was to reinvoke God as a familiar and intimate presence.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Moshe Greenberg; Suffering Servant; Relevance

1. Was the late Moshe Greenberg a conservative, a liberal, or something in between? Today, I read the introduction to his commentary, Ezekiel 1-20. On pages 14-15, he details the prophecies of Ezekiel that did not come to pass. According to Greenberg, contrary to Ezekiel's predictions, Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre, Egypt did not experience a forty-year desolation and exile (Ezekiel 29:8-12), Babylon's fall was not bloody (Ezekiel 21:36ff.), and Ezekiel's vision of Israel's restoration---which included a restored Davidic monarchy along with a specific type of temple---was not fulfilled.

Yet, Greenberg challenges the versions of higher-criticism that assume that the earliest sources lack complexity and nuance, and so must have been redacted and developed over time. As a result, if my impression is correct, Greenberg attributes more of the Book of Ezekiel to Ezekiel than certain scholars would. Moreover, Greenberg questions the scholarly tendency in which "Doom oracles that end with a glimpse of a better future are declared composites on the ground of psychological improbability" (20). As far as Greenberg is concerned, why couldn't Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel offer hope to the nation of Israel, even as their very universe was collapsing around them? Can faith ever trump psychological probability?

I also appreciate something that Greenberg says in his Acknowledgements: "After rendering thanks to God, who has sustained me to this day, and to my parents, who trained me up in the love of Torah..." Moshe Greenberg may not have been a fundamentalist, but he believed that he was sustained by God, and he was part of a community with a heritage of Torah.

That reminds me of something Dave H wrote under Rachel Held Evans' post, Confessions of a Reluctant Stumbling Block:

Rachel what do you think about the idea that what a person believes maybe doesn't matter much, because it's not like a person can change what they believe anyway?

Maybe we aren't Christians because of what our beliefs are, but instead we're Christians because we've joined up with and committed to a certain community? It's very tricky to pick through because it's a new idea to me, but it's one I've been rolling around in my head for a while. Just wondered what you think.

I often can't help what I believe, but I can make a decision to become a part of a faith community, and maybe the faith of others will rub off on me. In Moshe Greenberg's case, he was part of a community that valued the Torah---that drew from its wealth of stories and lessons. Fundamentalist or not, he remained in a particular community, and had a religious life therein.

2. I read Joseph Blenkinsopp's introduction to his commentary, Isaiah 40-55. On page 120, Blenkinsopp states that an asam offering for the purpose of atonement could not be offered by the Israelites in exile, since they lacked a temple. Consequently, in exile, the suffering Servant "serves as a substitute for the sacrificial guilt offering..." Yet, on pages 76-81, Blenkinsopp's point seems to be that the Servant Songs were inserted into Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) during the time of Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66), which is dated to Israel's post-exilic period. Blenkinsopp appears to identify the Servant as an apocalyptic community that was persecuted. Is his view that this post-exilic community was following an exilic Servant, whom it considered to be an offering for Israel's sin?

3. In Midrash and Literature, I read Michael Fishbane's essay, "Inner Biblical Exegesis". This sentence on page 34 stood out to me:

Exegesis arises out of a practical crisis of some sort---the incomprehensibility of a word or a rule, or the failure of the covenantal tradition to engage its audience.

There are many times when I read the Bible and wonder what it has to do with anything, especially my life! But that's why we have exegetes, especially ones with a spiritual, religious, or theological interest. They either make the text relevant, or (for the less cynical), they show how the text is relevant.

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