Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is Genesis 1 Poetry?

Some time back, a person on Nick Norelli’s blog recommended that I read Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning. This commenter’s argument was that evangelical scholarship nowadays does not view Genesis 1 as literal history, but rather as poetry. I started Blocher’s book today. It will be my Saturday night book for a while!

I’m not in the mood to delve deeply into it right now, for I’m tired and want to watch a movie. But I want to get into the question of whether Genesis 1 is poetry. On pages 32-33, Blocher discusses this question. He says that Genesis 1 doesn’t have “the rhythms of Hebrew poetry, nor its more or less synonymous parallelism.” But we do find in Genesis 1 repetition, a “rhythm of the sentences”, alliteration, and a phrase that appears primarily in Hebrew poetry, “beast of the field.” We also see heptads, or groups of seven (seven times that certain phrases are used). Blocher refers to the view that Genesis 1 is a hymn, as well as a mixture of poetry and prose.

Meanderings on II Kings 16

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 16. It’s about the reign of King Ahaz of Judah.

According to v 2, Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he ruled sixteen years in Jerusalem. At face value, that means that Ahaz’s reign ended when he was 36. II Kings 18:2 says that Ahaz’s son and successor, Hezekiah, was twenty-five years old when he began to reign. So how old was Ahaz when Hezekiah was born? At the latest, he was 11.

One explanation for this is that there are times when people in the East get married at a very young age. Although Keil-Delitzsch ultimately do not go with this explanation, they give examples of spouses in the age-ten range—in India, Abyssinia, and Tiberias. Another explanation is that we should take into account co-regency: that Ahaz ruled as a co-regent with his father, Jotham. I guess what that is getting at is that Ahaz technically ruled longer than sixteen years (which only refers to the time that he ruled all by himself), so he wasn’t 11 when Hezekiah was born. A third explanation is text-critical. Keil-Delitzsch point out that the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Arabic of II Chronicles 28:1 say that Ahaz was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, meaning that Ahaz was in his late teens at Hezekiah’s birth.

An interesting point: II Kings 16:3 says that Ahaz made his son pass through the fire. Many interpreters have viewed this as the sacrifice of his first-born son (see II Kings 3:27; Micah 6:7). So Ahaz had a son before Hezeziah? How old was Ahaz when his wife had him?

The chapter is about an alliance between Northern Israel and Syria to bring down Judah, presumably to force her into an anti-Assyrian confederation. And Syria gets some licks in, for she conquers Elath, in the South, which Judah had recently taken back for herself (II Kings 14:22). But the Syrian-Ephraimite alliance fails to conquer Jerusalem and depose Ahaz. Still worried, Ahaz buys help from Assyria, using riches from the Jerusalem temple. Assyria responds by conquering Syria. (Northern Israel’s turn is coming soon!) People of Damascus (in Syria) are then exiled to Kir, which (ironically) Amos 9:7 says was the original home of the Syrians—the place from which God had brought them, in a sort of exodus, if you will.

Assyria’s act of nipping the Syrian threat in the bud comes with a price for Judah, however, for II Kings 16:17-18 says that Ahaz got rid of the bronze oxen upholding the “sea” outside the temple (see I Kings 7: At the Library), along with a “covert for the Sabbath” and an entrance to the temple. V 18 states that Ahaz turned from the house of the LORD “for the king of Assyria” (KJV), which may mean that he was using that temple-stuff as tribute for his Assyrian liberator!

II Kings 16 also contains a story about a Syrian-style altar. Ahaz sees a Syrian altar in Damascus when he goes there to meet the king of Assyria, who had just conquered Syria. He likes it so much that he sends plans of it to Urijah, a priest of Judah, so that Urijah can fashion something like it. Urijah does so, and this Syrian-style altar supplants the brass altar as the altar for sacrifices. The brass altar is now to be used for Ahaz’s own personal worship, so he can “enquire” there (KJV of v 15). Many claim that Ahaz wanted to use the brass altar for divination, but, as Mordechai Cogan points out, the word that v 15 uses for enquire, baqar, appears in Psalm 27:4 to refer to the Psalmist’s visit of the temple (cp. Deuteronomy 12:5, where darash, a synomym for baqar in Ezekiel 34:11-12, is used in a similar way: to refer to “seeking” at God’s sanctuary). Ahaz was probably using the brass altar for his own personal worship, not for divination.

There are interesting points to note. First of all, Urijah the priest. Isaiah the prophet considered him to be trustworthy enough to be a witness (Isaiah 8:2). Yet, for some reason, I Chronicles 6:3-15 omits him when it lists the succession of high priests. Josephus has Urijah in his list of high priests in Antiquities 10, yet the names in his list are so different from the list in Chronicles after a certain point, that I wonder if he’s even drawing from Chronicles. Why does I Chronicles omit Urijah? Because Urijah built a Syrian-style altar for Ahaz? What’s funny is that Chronicles doesn’t even mention the Syrian-style altar in its own version of Ahaz’s reign (II Chronicles 28), so the Chronicler couldn’t have been that upset about it (right?).

Second, the brass altar. Rashi (an eleventh century Jewish commentator) says that this couldn’t have been the one built by Moses (see Exodus 38:30) because that one was hidden. Rashi may mean that Solomon replaced it because it wasn’t big enough (I Kings 8:64; II Chronicles 4:1), and so the original brass altar that Moses built is hidden somewhere. (And yet, the brass altar that Solomon built wasn’t big enough either, according to II Chronicles 7:7!) Christian commentators take Ahaz to task because he did not preserve the pattern of the sanctuary that God revealed to Moses (Exodus 25:9, 40), for Ahaz replaced the brass altar with a Syrian-style altar. That may be the perspective of the narrator. And yet, technically-speaking, Solomon didn’t strictly preserve the pattern either, for he replaced the Mosaic altar with a larger one. Was the problem that Ahaz was incorporating foreign elements into Israelite worship? Arguably, Solomon did that, too, when he built the temple (see I Kings 6: At the Library). What made Solomon right and Ahaz wrong?

Third, II Kings 16 differs from II Chronicles 28. In II Chronicles 28, Syria and Northern Israel devastate Judah and take captives, and a prophet instructs Northern Israel to release the captured Judahites. Ahaz appeals to Assyria for help, to no avail, for Assyria torments Judah. And II Chronicles 28 doesn’t mention the Syrian-style altar, but says that Ahaz encouraged the worship of Syrian gods and closed the temple. Josephus and rabbinic literature portrayed Ahaz’s reign as suppressive for Yahwsists, claiming that Ahaz banned worship at the temple. According to certain rabbis, Isaiah had to teach his disciples in secret, for Ahaz had banned Yahwistic instruction!

In terms of their descriptions of Judah’s precarious situation in the realm of geo-politics, II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28 overlap. Both agree that the Syrio-Ephraimite alliance did not conquer Jerusalem. In terms of their claims about Assyria, maybe they’re describing the same situation in different ways. II Kings 16 says that Assyria heard Ahaz’s plea, accepted his bribe, and destroyed Judah’s enemy, Syria. II Chronicles 28, however, does not believe that Assyria technically helped Judah, for Judah only opened the door for Assyria to afflict her. Was that really a response to Ahaz’s plea—to what Ahaz truly wanted from Assyria?

In their descriptions of Ahaz’s religious life, the accounts differ somewhat, for II Kings 16 portrays Ahaz as someone who engaged in personal piety, and yet did not stay on the straight-and-narrow. II Chronicles 28, however, presents Ahaz as a gross idolater, a portrait that led interpreters to conclude that Ahaz tried to ban Yahwism! Could Ahaz have degenerated, going from a weak Yahwist to an anti-Yahwist? Did his abandonment of the straight-and-narrow in favor of his own aesthetic desires (the beautiful Syrian-style altar) and his trust in Assyria rather than the LORD lead him to hate God? And yet, so many righteous kings of Judah compromised, for they failed to take away the high places. Why didn’t they degenerate into hatred of God? Did Ahaz go a bit too far?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Will the Culture Wars Remain with Us?

Rachel Held Evans has a post today, A Response to Ken Ham: Let’s Make Peace.

Rachel’s book, Evolving in Monkey Town, was discussed in a Nashville article that made its way into USA Today. The article states the following:

Pastors and professors at Bryan College once told her if she questioned creationism she was no longer a true Christian.

“My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars. It seems like our parents, our pastors, and the media won’t let us do that. We are ready to be done with the whole evolution-creation debate. We are ready to move on.”

Ken Ham of the Young-Earth creationist Answers in Genesis takes issue with Rachel’s claim that young evangelicals are ready to “call a truce on the culture wars” and “be done with the whole evolution-creation debate.” He states in a post:

Well, Rachel, I have news for you. Your generation is not ready to call a truce in this battle in the culture wars; in fact, we are finding more and more people are getting enthusiastically involved in fighting the culture war by standing uncompromisingly and unashamedly on God’s authoritative Word.

Hundreds and hundreds of young people recently attended our Defending the Faith conference in Tennessee, and they are fired up to battle against evolution/millions of years compromise in the church—and the loss of biblical authority in the nation. Thousands of young people each month come to the Creation Museum—and go out more fired up than ever for their faith. Thousands of books and other resources are pouring into the nation from Answers in Genesis and other such apologetics organizations, which equip young people and others to fight this culture war. Millions of people—including millions of young people—go to AiG’s websites each year. And we continue to see increasing numbers of testimonies from young people who have turned away from their compromise positions—like that of Rachel’s—and/or have become on fire for the Lord.

No, the coming generations are not “ready to move on,” Rachel; they are increasingly seeking answers to the bankrupt compromise positions taught by many churches and Christian colleges. And they are gearing up to be reformers like Martin Luther, so they can call church and culture back to the authoritative Word of God.

Rachel’s response is that there are a number of young people who are leaving the church, and that she has observed evangelicals abandon the faith when they have learned that science contradicts Young-Earth creationism. She says:

According to Ken, the fact that thousands of young people visit the creation museum each year proves that this army is growing. But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the numbers tell a different story. Young adults are leaving the church, with some studies suggesting that up to seventy percent of Protestants age 18-30 drop out of church before they turn 23. (In fact, Ken himself has observed this phenomenon.)

While the factors behind the trend are complex, I think I speak for a lot of young Christians when I say that you can’t argue us back. We are tired of fighting. We are tired of drawing lines in the sand. We are tired of Christianity being cast as a position in a debate when it is supposed to be a way of life.

What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I’ve watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth. Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn’t have to make.

When I first read the USA Today article (before Ken Ham responded to it), I didn’t really care for Rachel’s implication that she speaks for her generation of evangelicals, since I know young people who are Young-Earth creationists. I wish she had said that there are many in her generation of evangelicals who are ready to call a truce to the cultural wars, or that she knows several evangelicals in her age-group who feel that way.

But I’ve often wondered what the future holds. Will the culture wars continue? Will tomorrow’s future of evangelicals be conservative, moderate, liberal, or even non-believing—or will one side even predominate? In Conservatize Me, John Moe says that he thinks conservative Christians will be running the show in the future, since right now they’re having a bunch of kids, whereas secularists and liberals are not. That doesn’t sit well with me. We already have enough people who think that their way is the only legitimate way to see things, and who try to shove their ideas down people’s throats, through arguments, or social pressure. At least right now, the different groups counterbalance each other so that none has complete control. But I’d hate for one group to dominate in the future, for that could severely curtail my freedom to be honest about my thoughts.

But there is the possibility that the children of evangelicals will leave the faith, or adopt a more moderate version of it, as they rebel against their parents, or are exposed to different ideas in life. That’s happening right now with people in Rachel’s generation, as Rachel notes.

What does the future hold?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Real Testimony

I just got done with a public speaking engagement, in which I gave a personal spiritual testimony, if you will. Let me say that this was the first time in public speaking when I have spoken from my heart. In the past, when I have preached or given a testimony, I felt inauthentic.

And my speech wasn’t all about me, me, me, for I got to talk about what others have taught me. Nor was my speech about how I was a rotten bastard before, and now am absolutely perfect and spiritual. I pointed out areas in which I still need to grow. I told my audience that I was conveying to them where I am now, and that I’ll probably be open to different things down the road, as I’m more open now to things to which I was closed in the past.

As far as the audience’s reaction goes, some people looked bored, then they looked interested, then they looked bored again. One lady was asleep during part of my presentation, then she was laughing at something I was saying the next minute. People shook my hand after my presentation, and they offered me tips on spiritual growth, without coming across as patronizing or condescending.

I was surprised that I spoke for a full hour, for I was expecting to blank out at places, or to really struggle in coming up with things to say. But I had a good time, and my audience was encouraging, for which I am grateful.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Self-Transparency

Why’s it so difficult for me to take a personal moral inventory, to take an honest look at bad (or inappropriate) things I have done? Is it because I’m afraid that I’ll find out I’m a bad person, when I’m really not? Or that I’ll uncover flaws that I won’t be able to solve because they’re endemic to my nature? I don’t like others probing me because I think that they’re calling me a bad person when they do so. But I also have problems probing myself. I’m reluctant to be transparent to others because I’m afraid of being put down. But why do I have a problem being transparent to myself?

Of course, you, my reader, won’t know the answers to these questions, for you’re not me. But do you have problems being honest with yourself? If so, why? And how do you solve that problem?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is Typology a Good Excuse?

Today, I read my friend's notes on New Testament interpretation. He talks about Richard Longenecker's book, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, as well as Leonhard Goppelt's Typos.

What shines through my friend's notes is the notion of typology: that a historical event can foreshadow something later and greater. Abraham leaving Egypt with wealth, for instance, is viewed by certain rabbis to foreshadow the Exodus. The Exodus is treated as a type of God's future deliverance of Israel from her oppressors, in both the Hebrew Bible and also in other Jewish literature. Many Christians have believed that the Old Testament contains types of Christ.

I'm open to typology, for who's to say that God can't foreshadow later events? But I'm not sure if the existence of typology in the ancient world absolves the New Testament authors of the charge that they took Old Testament texts out of context when they applied them to Jesus. I doubt they were trying to be deceptive, mind you, for they viewed Jesus as so wonderful that all of the Old Testament had to relate to him. But the Hebrew Bible is the Hebrew Bible, with its own message; and the New Testament is the New Testament, with its own message. When the New Testament authors applied Old Testament passages to Jesus by lifting them out of their contexts, they're not letting the Hebrew Bible be the Hebrew Bible. They're making it something Christian.

Or are they? Something typologists have said is that they actually respect the original historical contexts of the Old Testament writings: they're just treating the events in those contexts as types of Christ.

Still, I think that's forcing the Hebrew Bible into a Christian mold.

Is there a way to let the Hebrew Bible to be the Hebrew Bible, while also allowing it to function as a type of Christ? Maybe we can make sense of Jesus in light of the messages of the Hebrew Bible, on their own terms.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Latin Mass 7/25/10

I didn’t write about my Latin mass yesterday, so, today, I’ll share my favorite items from the church bulletin (published by J.S. Paluch Company).

1. St. Monica was upset that her son, Augustine, wasn’t following the Christian faith. She talked to her son about God continually, to no avail. When she told her local bishop about this, the bishop suggested that she stop talking to Augustine about God, and started talking to God about Augustine. She did so—incessantly—until Augustine finally “abandoned his wild ways, was baptized, and later was ordained and named bishop of Hippo.”

2. A life journey without prayer would be like traveling across country with your best friend—but never speaking to each other! No one travels life’s journey alone. God is our constant companion, accompanying us from beginning to end, even when we get off the path, move too slowly, or take a step backwards. Prayer is one of the ways we always keep God at our side.

Well, actually, he’s at our side, whether we pray or not. But prayer reminds us that God is at our side.

3. Our service has been in the auditorium rather than the sanctuary, which is being remodelled. I feel like I’m in an Armstrongite service. Those met in hotel meeting rooms, auditoriums, gyms, etc.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Posts on Hebrew Bible Comp Readings

I want to consolidate my blogs about my comps reading, and I’ll be starting that process today. Here, I’ll post links to the posts I’ve written about my readings for my Hebrew Bible comp (though I also include one link from John Loftus, since he summarizes a book by Mark Smith rather well).

Biblical Religion, Literature, and the Ancient Near Eastern Context

Phyllis Bird, “The Place of Women in the Israelite Cultus.” Here.

William Hallo, “The Origins of the Sacrificial Cult: New Evidence from Mesopotamia and Israel.” Here.

P. Kyle McCarter, “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data.” Here.

Theodore Mullen, The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.

Mark Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. John Loftus’ post: The JEPD Theory In A Nutshell.

Jeffrey Tigay, “Israelite Religion: The Onomastic and Epigraphic Evidence.” Here.

Moshe Weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Sociological and Anthropological Approaches

Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, The Savage in Judaism: Anthropology of Israelite Religion and Ancient Judaism. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Theodore Mullen, Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.

Theodore Mullen, Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations: A New Approach to the Formation of the Pentateuch. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14.

Theories of Composition and Literary Studies

David M. Carr, “Controversy and Convergence in Recent Studies of the Formation of the Pentateuch.” Here.

D.N. Fewell, ed. Reading Between Texts: Intertextuality and the Hebrew Bible. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14.

Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Fishbane Paper: Post-Exilic Controversy, Fishbane Paper: A New Traditum, Killing Two Birds With One Stone, Fishbane Paper: Not Always a Citation, Apologetics, Shamar, Fishbane Paper: Authoritative Law Code?, Fishbane on Mesopotamian Legal Exegesis, Fishbane’s Chronology of Sources, Fishbane’s Chronology of Sources 2, Fishbane on Nehemiah 8, Psalm 78 and Manna, An Addition in Exodus 22:25-27: Part 1, Unclean Exile, An Addition in Exodus 22:25-27: Part 2, Harmonizing on Sanctuary, Work Means Work!, Kidnapping Law, Part 1, Kidnapping Law, Part 2, Fishbane on Numbers 15, Part 1, Fishbane on Numbers 15, Part 2, Fishbane on Numbers 15, Part 3, Fishbane on Numbers 15, Part 4, Child Sacrifice, Part 1, Child Sacrifice, Part 2, Child Sacrifice, Part 3, Fishbane and the Abortion Passage, Fishbane on the Temple Scroll.

Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? Here, here, here.

Richard Elliot Friedman, “Some Recent Non-Arguments Concerning the Documentary Hypothesis.” Here.

Sid Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence. Second Degree Impure Food, Uninspired Canonical Books?.

S.L. McKenzie and M.P. Grahm, ed., The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11.

Biblical Historiography and Pentateuchal Studies

Philip Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Stephen Kaufman, “The Temple Scroll and Higher Criticism.” Here.

Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

Gary Knoppers and Gordon McConville, ed., Reconsidering Israel and Judah: Recent Studies on the Deuteronomic History. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

Jon Levenson, “The Sources of Torah: Psalm 119 and the Modes of Revelation in Second Temple Judaism.” Here.

Patrick Miller, Paul Hanson, ed., Ancient Israelite Religion. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33.

Rolf Rendtorff, The Covenant Formula: An Exegetical and Theological Investigation. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

John Van Seters, In Search of History. Here (meager).

John Van Seters, “Joshua 24 and the Problem of Tradition.” Here.

Werner Weinberg, “The Qamatz Qatan Structures.” Here.

Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic School. Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Commentary Introductions

William H. Propp, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Exodus 1-18. Here.

Jacob Milgrom, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Leviticus. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.

Baruch Levine, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Numbers. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.

Biblical Law in Context

Joseph Fleishman, “Legal Innovation in Deuteronomy.” Here.

T. Frymer-Kensky, “Patriarchal Family Relationships and Near Eastern Law.” Here.

Samuel Greengus, “A Textbook Case of Adultery in Ancient Mesopotamia”; “Sisterhood Adoption at Nuzi and the ‘Wife-Sister’ in Genesis”. Here.

V.H. Mathews, Bernard Levinson, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, ed., Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and ANE. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

John Van Seters, A Law Book for the Diaspora: Revision in the Study of the Covenant Code. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.

Prophetic Literature: General Studies

Joseph Blenkisopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Terence Collins, The Mantel of Elijah: The Redaction Criticism of the Prophetic Books. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

David Petersen, “Rethinking the Nature of Prophetic Literature.” Here.

Moshe Weinfeld, “Ancient Near Eastern Patterns in Prophetic Literature.” Here.

R.R. Wilson, “Interpreting Israel’s Religion: An Anthropological Prospective on the Problem of False Prophecy.” Here.

Ehud ben Zvi, ed., Writings and Speech in Israelite and ANE Prophecy. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.

Historiographic Books

Robert Boling, “Joshua, Book of;” “Judges, Book of.” Part 1, Part 2.

M. Cogan, The Anchor Bible Commentary: I Kings; II Kings. Here, here.

Sara Japhet, The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19.

Literary Prophecy

J. Blenkinsopp, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Isaiah 40-55. Here.

Moshe Greenberg, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Ezekiel. Here.

C.L. Seow, “Hosea, Book of.” Here.

Theogore Hiebert, “Joel, Book of.” Here.

Peter Ackroyd, “Obadiah, Book of.” Here.

Jonathan Magonet, “Jonah, Book of.” Here.

Kevin Cathart, “Nahum, Book of.” Here.

Marvin Sweeney, “Habakkuk, Book of.” Here.

Carol and Eric Meyers, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Haggai. Here.

David Petersen, “Zechariah, Book of.” Here.

Andrew Hill, “Malachi, Book of.” Here.

Writings and Scrolls

M. Dahood, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Psalms I-III. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20.

Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I: With an Introduction to Cultic Poetry. Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21.

William Holladay, “Hebrew Verse Structure Revisited (I-II).” Here, here.

Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

Steven Weitzman, Song and Story in Biblical Narrative: The History of a Literary Convention in Ancient Israel. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Michael Fox, The Anchor Bible Commentary: Proverbs 1-9. Here.

Mattitahu Tsevat, The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

Marvin Pope, The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Song of Songs. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.

Phyllis Trible, “Ruth, Book of.” Here.

Delbert Hillers, “Lamentations, Book of.” Here.

James Crenshaw, “Ecclesiastes, Book of.” Here.

Carey Moore, “Esther, Book of.” Here.

General Studies/Anthologies for Consideration

Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Final Tidbits from Coyne

I finished Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True last night. He said that hobbits lived 18,000 years ago in Indonesia (page 207), that paleontologists think the T-Rex had feathers (page 237), that sickle-cell anemia helped black Africans to ward off malaria (page 214), that there is a mutant gene that protects a person from the AIDS virus (page 219), and that food lacks an inherent flavor, meaning that “Rotten meat is probably as delicious to a hyena as an ice cream sundae is to us” (page 245). I guess truth can be stranger than fiction! (For an Answers in Genesis take on the hobbits, see here.)

I didn’t really get something that Coyne says about homosexuality. Coyne states on page 228:

Homosexuality? Even though this behavior seems the very opposite of what natural selection would foster (genes for gay behavior, which don’t get passed on, would quickly disappear from populations), one can save the day by assuming that…homosexual males stayed home and helped their mothers produce other offspring. In this circumstance, “gayness” genes could be passed on by homosexuals producing more brothers and sisters, individuals who share these genes. None of these explanations, by the way, are mine. All of them have actually appeared in published scientific literature.

Coyne’s not overly enthusiastic about evolutionary explanations for human behavior, for he treats them as speculative. Personally, I don’t understand the view about the gay gene that he discusses above. Are gays prone to incest? Is that what it’s saying?

I did appreciate, however, the evolutionary explanation for depression that Coyne mentions:

Depression? No problem: it could be a way of withdrawing adaptively from stressful situations, mustering your mental resources so that you can cope with life. Or it could represent a ritualized form of social defeat, enabling you to withdraw from competition, recoup, and come back and struggle another day.

On page 228, Coyne wonders why so many animals sleep. Maybe sleep, too, is a way for them to recoup so they can come back and struggle for another day.

I like the idea of introversion being something positive—a withdrawal that occurs so I can recoup!

On pages 218-219, Coyne addresses the question of “Are we still evolving?” He says that medicine, eyeglasses, sanitation, etc., have have allowed us to compensate for bad genes, so they get passed on, rather than being selected out. One doesn’t have to be particularly fit in order to survive and to pass on his genes. (And, lest one call Coyne a eugenicist, Coyne classifies himself as among the unfit!)

Coyne also says that “genes that were once useful may, due to cultural change, now have destructive effects.” For example, a love for fats and sweets may have given our ancestors “a valuable but rare source of energy”, and they ate fat to “store up calories for lean times”. But the love of fats and sweets today gives us “tooth decay, obesity, and heart problems”. Some of what we inherited from our ancestors harms us, Coyne asserts. But could natural selection weed out the human love for fats and sweets?

I’ve been writing about this book for weeks, and I didn’t do it complete justice, for I wrote about the things that interested me. You can read the book for yourself to learn more about Coyne’s case for evolution.

Next Saturday, I may start Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning, which is about Genesis 1-2. Stay tuned!

II Kings 15

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 15.

Every commentator that I read today talked about the chronological problems in this chapter. I-II Kings usually discusses the reigns of the kings of Israel in reference to those of the kings of Judah, and vice versa, and it also tells us how long each king ruled. For example, II Kings 15:1-2 says that Azariah began to rule Judah in the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and that Azariah reigned for fifty-two years.

The problem is that the years of the kings' reigns do not always add up. I did some of the leg-work in my notes to see what the problems were, basing my calculations on the years that the kings ascended the throne (according to the chapter), as well as the number of years the reigns lasted (again, according to the chapter). In terms of II Kings 15, the problems are largely concentrated in vv 1, 8, and 30.

V 1 says that Azariah began to rule Judah in the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam II of Northern Israel, but, if such were the case, then there were thirteen years between the end of the reign of Azariah's predecessor, Amaziah, and Azariah's ascent to the throne. Was there no king on the throne of Judah for thirteen years?

V 8 says that Zachariah came to the throne in Northern Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Azariah, king of Judah. But, if that were the case, then there were twenty-four years between the reign of Zachariah's predecessor, Jeroboam II, and the ascent of Zachariah to the throne. Did Northern Israel lack a king for twenty-four years?

V 30 says that King Pekah of Northern Israel died in the twentieth year of Jotham, king of Judah. But v 33 says that Jotham only ruled Judah for sixteen years.

The commentators I read tried to solve the discrepancies by appealing to co-regency. II Kings 15:5 says, for instance, that Jotham ruled Judah while his father, King Azariah, had leprosy. So the reigns of kings in Judah could overlap, and we shouldn't be perplexed if some of the numbers don't add up.

Regarding the years of "missing kings", eighteenth century Calvinist commentator John Gill states that these were times of struggle for the throne, meaning there wasn't a clear claimant to the monarchy right after the king died.

Eleventh century Jewish commentator Rashi offered some interesting solutions. Regarding v 1, Rashi says that it's talking about Azariah's reign from the time that he got leprosy. And so Azariah was on the throne during the preceding thirteen years, but II Kings 15:1 talks about a specific aspect of Azariah's rule: when he was a leper.

On v 30, Rashi says that some of the years of Jotham's successor, Ahaz, are attributed to Jotham, for Ahaz was wicked. God is expressing his dim opinion of Ahaz by ascribing some of his years to a righteous king, Jotham.

What's interesting is that many features of this chapter are confirmed by non-biblical sources, for Assyrian records mention some of the Israelite kings, plus Tiglath-Pilesar is called "Pul", the name that II Kings 15:9 gives to the king of Assyria, who (at the time) was Tiglath-Pilesar III. So conservative apologists can make a case for this chapter's historical accuracy. And yet, the years of the reigns don't add up, which skeptics can point out to mock the inerrancy of Scripture.

V 37 was also interesting. It says while discussing Jotham that, "in those days", the LORD began to send Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria against Judah. Why did God want to punish Judah at this time, when she had a righteous king, Jotham? Some argue that the ancient Israelites attributed everything to God, so God was blamed even for bad things that didn't make sense; others claim that Jotham wasn't righteous enough and that's why God punished Judah during his reign---v 35, after all, tells us that Jotham didn't remove the high places! Or maybe God was setting the stage to afflict Jotham's successor, the wicked King Ahaz, whom God knew would be wicked once he ascended the throne.

We see an example of God setting the stage for a future punishment elsewhere in Scripture: in I Kings 11, incidents in the time of David affect a person who will be a thorn in the side of Solomon, when Solomon is going astray (see Struggles with I Kings 11). God prepares for Solomon's punishment (or the possibility thereof) long before Solomon even came to the throne, let alone sinned! And, according to Judges 2:20-21, God in Scripture does allow afflictions (or potential afflictions) in order to keep us humble and on the straight-and-narrow, since we can easily forget God when everything is going well (Deuteronomy 8:12-18). (But that may not fly for some people, whose suffering has gone too far, to the point of breaking them.) Was God trying to remind Judah under Jotham not to get too cocky, but to rely on God?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Prosopon (for the Antiochenes)

I read my friend’s notes about Diodorus’ (fourth century C.E.) description of the Antiochene school of biblical interpretation, which is literal. One key term for the Antiochenes is “prosopon”, which (in my friend’s words) “is the point of view of the speaker (David speaking from the prosopon of Hezekiah).”

I think this means that there are times when David speaks from the perspective of a future figure, such as Hezekiah and Jesus, as if David is a prophet. Acts 2:25-30 presents David speaking as a prophet, foretelling the resurrection of Christ. Yet, David speaks in the first person, as if he is taking the perspective of Jesus.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Irrational Passions from a Rational Faculty

Today, I read my friend’s notes on Neo-Stoicism. The Neo-Stoics believed that there were four passions: pleasure, desire, fear, and sorrow. They didn’t think that these passions proceeded from an irrational faculty, though. Rather, they held that the rational faculty is making an error, the same way that our mathematical mind can make mathematical mistakes. In the case of the passions, our rational faculty is treating indifferent things—wealth, honor, power, and pleasure—as if they are good, when actually they can harm us and are outside of our control. We should be valuing the virtues alone.

Earlier Stoics, such as Zeno and Chysippus, likewise thought that the passions are mistaken judgments. But Posidonius went with the Platonic view that an irrational part of the soul was the source of the passions.

The Neo-Stoic position reminds me of Augustine’s belief that evil comes from good, since good was what we started out with, God having made all things good at the outset. For the Neo-Stoics, the passions proceeded from the rational faculty—something good—making a mistake, by valuing things that seem to be good as if they actually are good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Philo Ends Up with a Trinity?

Today, I read my friend’s notes on Hellenistic Jewish Interpretation. He says that, according to Philo, God created the kurios (lord) on the seventh day, and that the logos was in between them. The kurios orders everything once it is made. I thought that Philo believed the logos did that, but there may be more nuance in Philo’s position than I am seeing. So Philo has God, a logos, and a kurios. Sounds like a trinity—although Philo holds that the kurios was a created being.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Origen and Pagan Exegesis

I read my friend’s notes on Origen today. He said that Origen, in his interpretation of Scripture, followed the techniques of pagan exegesis in six ways: text-criticism, explanation of words, explanation of points or facts, metrical and stylistic criticism, identification of the person speaking in the text, and clarifying the Bible with the Bible (the pagans did this with Homer).

But is this distinctly pagan? It sounds like the sort of exegesis that many interpreters do.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fosdick's Individualism

I was reading my friend’s notes about Philo of Alexandria, the first century C.E. Jewish philosopher. Philo viewed the Exodus as (in part) an allegory about the soul’s migration from material pre-occupation to the contemplation of virtue.

That’s very individualistic, in that it makes the Exodus about the journey of the individual soul. I was thinking about individualism today as I read Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Guide to Understanding the Bible. The book originally came out in the 1930′s, and the one I’m reading is a reprint from the 1950′s. Fosdick was a liberal Protestant and a critic of fundamentalism, but he was very thoughtful and spiritual. Desmond Ford’s evangelical publication, Good News Unlimited, loves to quote Fosdick.

Fosdick believes that there’s an evolution of religious thought within the Bible (though he doesn’t think that the later biblical writings are necessarily more progressive than the earlier ones, since he sees relapses in the Bible towards vengeance, or nationalistic xenophobia, or other primitive ideas). Here’s what Fosdick says about collectivism and individualism (on page 94):

…the ordinary man was submerged in the corporate mass of his tribe, without individual status, separate hopes, personal rights, or claim on divine care apart from the group. In the end, an immortal being, endowed with capacity for moral living and divine fellowship, man stood distinct from the mass, possessing in personality the supreme value, having separate status and individual rights of his own, and gifted alike with the privilege of sonship to God and the responsibility of an eternal destiny.

I think this is a good summary, albeit not absolute. Granted, we do see collective punishment in the Bible, as God often punishes an entire group of people for something that one of its members did. That may be because the ancients viewed things in collective terms. But to say that there was no individuality or “claim to divine care apart from the group”? That’s going a little too far, in my humble opinion, especially since one of the earliest legal collections in the Bible (even by Fosdick’s reckoning), the Covenant Code, protects individual rights and affirms that God hears the cry of widows, orphans, and poor people (Exodus 22:22-27). So I think that a collective mindset coexisted with individualism. And even Fosdick acknowledges that things were messier than he is presenting!

Fosdick treats the New Testament as a book about the individual’s spiritual journey—even though he acknowledges that individual Christians voluntarily joined a community, namely, the church. He almost acts as if communitarianism in the New Testament is a relapse from its usual high regard for the individual, a relapse prompted by persecution.

That differs from Christianity today, which emphasizes community, and sometimes even says that we shouldn’t regard Christ as our personal Savior. I remember reading something by Karl on Rachel Held Evans’ site (though I’m not in the mood right now to dig his comment up): that we should read old books as well as new ones. (Actually, Karl was quoting C.S. Lewis.) People in the past did not see everything the same way as people in the present.

In this case, why was Fosdick more individualistic than Christians today? Perhaps the reason was that he lived in a time when totalitarianism was a threat—whether that threat was from Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, or Communist nations. Those systems elevated the community above the individual, and so Fosdick noticed in Christianity a regard for individual rights, and interpreted that as individualism.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Unjust Steward and Wide Awake

At Latin mass this morning, we had political priest. He preached about the parable of the unjust steward, which appears in Luke 16.

In this parable, a rich man hears that his steward has wasted his goods, so he calls the steward to give an account. The steward, fearful that he will lose his job, makes preparations for a life of unemployment (since the steward doesn’t feel that he’s capable when it comes to manual labor). Because the steward can transact business in the rich man’s name, he has the authority to reduce the debts of those who owe oil or wheat to the rich man. And that is what the steward does, in hope that the debtors will receive him into their houses once he loses his job. The rich man, hearing of this, commends the unjust steward for his wisdom.

Jesus draws many lessons from this parable: that the children of this world are wiser than the children of light; that we should make friends of unrighteous mammon, that (when we fail) they may receive us into everlasting habitations; that those who are faithful in least will be faithful in much, and so we should demonstrate our ability to handle true riches by being faithful with our unrighteous mammon; and that we cannot serve God and mammon. (I draw here from the language of the King James Version.)

To be honest, I really don’t understand the lessons of this parable. There doesn’t appear to me to be a clear line connecting the parable and Jesus’ applications of it. But perhaps I’m missing something.

But the priest drew this lesson from the parable: the steward was anxious to save his own skin, and, similarly, we should be zealous about God, our own salvation, and the salvation of others, for God will require us to give an account as to how we have handled the gifts he has given us.

I don’t care for sermons like this: “Be zealous!”; “Be anxious about your salvation!” I haven’t thought for a long time about how I use the gifts that God gives me. I write my thoughts in this blog, and that’s one way I can influence others, so I assume that I’m doing something with my writing talent and any spiritual insights that I might have. And, in my own way, I pursue after God, through my weekly quiet times and my daily devotional readings. Is that good enough? Why should I care? If God is a taskmaster who can never be pleased, why would I be zealous or enthusiastic about him?

I watched the 1998 M. Night Shyamalan movie, Wide Awake, today. The last time I saw it was about three years ago, and I wrote this post about it: Wide Awake.

This movie is relevant to the priest’s homily because it’s about a young boy’s intense search for God. This young boy, Joshua, really wanted to find God after the death of his grandfather, probably because that would assure him that his grandfather was all right—in the afterlife. Joshua was anxious in his search for God, the same way that the unjust steward was zealous to save his own skin.

I thought: Am I looking for God, or am I looking for what I’m looking for, such as inner peace, or something that makes sense of life, or the ability to love, or happiness? I’d like to think that God is consistent with these things.

An interesting point in the movie is that we must find our own proof for God’s existence. Joshua’s friend in the movie was a skeptic, but he came to faith when he was having an epileptic seizure, and Joshua happened to walk into the room at that point. The epileptic boy saw that as an indication of God’s care for him, but Joshua viewed it as sheer coincidence. What was proof to one person was not adequate proof for another. But Joshua got to experience his own proof.

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