Sunday, October 31, 2010

Latin Mass: 10/31/2010

At my Latin mass this morning, we had the priest who speaks about love. He said that Christ has transformed the flesh of Christians such that they've become new creations---righteous people. He also lamented that there is not much civility in today's discourse, compared to the "good old days." I could identify with him here, especially after the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rally calling for sanity. But then the priest used an example that rubbed me the wrong way: he said that, back in the old days, people treated the monsignor as if he were divine! Personally, I think it's good that we don't put religious leaders on so high a pedestal: nowadays, if they try to order people around, people will tell them where to go!

I also found that I had problems with the priest's statement that Christ has transformed the flesh of Christians. It's the same problem I have had on a Christian lady's site: she and commenters say that recovery groups can't save us, for only Jesus Christ can do that. My problem is that Christianity did not transform me when I was gun-ho evangelical---deep into my quiet times and church attendance and praise and worship, along with the other rituals of evangelical Christianity (some of which I still do). But things like therapy and recovery groups helped me to find my way, as flawed as I still am, and as far as I still have to go.

I'm not saying that my experience is universal. There are people in recovery communities who bang their heads against the wall, until they make a decision for Christ and then begin to experience genuine transformation. Christianity has brought transformation to many. But I have a hard time identifying with those who say that only Christ brings transformation, for I don't believe that my Christian faith really changed me when I was really into it.

Part of the problem was that I had difficulty becoming a part of evangelical communities. Right now, I have mentors. In evangelical Christianity, I didn't so much. It was difficult for me to walk into a church and to fit in. And I can't totally blame others, for I was afraid to become friends with Christians. I feared they would ask me to do things that I did not want to do (e.g., witness, reach out to others). I had bad experiences with Christians who tended to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and so I shyed away from Christians in churches.

I also had issues with evangelical small groups. I never knew how to act in them! I still don't, to tell you the truth. I talked, and people thought I was spiritually-immature. I didn't talk, and people didn't like that either. I just couldn't please people! In recovery groups, however, I can just go, sit down, and listen. And nobody makes a big deal about that.

I believe in a higher power who can transform me. But, because of my fruitless experiences in Christianity, I have problems interpreting that higher power within a Christian context. Still, I find myself saying on numerous occasions, "Jesus, give me love," or "Jesus, give me peace," or "Jesus, give me strength."

Ken Pulliam Has Passed Away

I just learned from James McGrath’s site that ex-fundamentalist Ken Pulliam died suddenly from a heart attack. Ken’s blog was Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity.

Ken Pulliam received a Ph.D. from Bob Jones University and became a professor of apologetics. At some point, he concluded that the answers he was giving to his students were inadequate, and he ceased to be an evangelical Christian. The issue that apparently concerned him the most was the doctrine of penal substitution, the view that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Ken wondered how it was just for an innocent person to be punished in place of the guilty, and he searched far and wide for a Christian solution that could convince him. But, as you can see from his blog, which continually featured and critiqued prominent Christians’ defenses of penal substitution, he found their solutions to be wanting.

Ken also struggled with other issues, such as the biblical Conquest (which included the Israelite slaughter of Canaanite children) and God’s approval of slavery in the Bible. Again, Ken found evangelical attempts to address these issues to be lacking.

Ken wrestled with what he should do in response to his loss of Christian faith. Should he continue to teach in seminary, when he no longer believed? That would make him a hypocrite! And yet, how else could he support himself and his family? He wasn’t trained for other lines of work. Fortunately, an opportunity for him to support himself came along, and he could have the necessities of life while maintaining his intellectual integrity. He once joked that his experience in this case was similar to the testimonies of Christians he knew, who talked about not having work, until God provided for them at just the right time. Personally, I’d like to think that God did provide for him. Why would God want anyone to be a hypocrite, or afraid to ask the hard questions?

I always admired Ken’s tact. Unlike many atheist bloggers, he didn’t call people stupid or put people down. He simply said why he agreed or disagreed with a position. He relied on logic, not smug condescension or a sense of intellectual superiority.

I’ll miss his blog. He posted on it yesterday, so I’m shocked that he is now dead—and in his 50′s, at that. I didn’t read all of his atonement posts, but I did visit and cite his blog a lot. It was one of my favorites. I came to his blog because I was intrigued by the story of a Bob Jones graduate who walked away from his evangelical faith. But I also enjoyed reading the comments on his blog by Christians and those who were disenchanted with evangelical Christianity. As I said on a number of occasions, the comments were often as interesting and as educational as Ken’s post! And I got laughs when I visited Ken’s blog, as he posted fractured Bible stories from YouTube as well as the comic strip, “Jesus and Mo.”

Many will miss you, Dr. Pulliam.

Three Races in Ohio: My Struggle

Tuesday is Election Day! Many of my readers know that I’m leaning Democratic this election year, on account of my disillusionment with Republicans and a number of conservatives. I’m not saying that the Democrats are perfect, but I want to make my own personal protest against the right-wing rhetoric that has been pushing my buttons over the past couple of years. Here’s a sample of things I have written to illustrate where I am right now:

Free Market and Fiscal Responsibility My…

Conservative Judgmentalism

Why’s Christine O’Donnell Get to Me So Much?

Oh Brother…

Islamophobia

Is the Tea Party Movement Good for America?

But I am struggling with three different races here in Ohio. On two of them, I’m leaning Democratic. On one of them, I’m not sure how I will vote. Here they are:

1. In my district, former Republican Congressman Steve Chabot is trying to get his seat back from Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus. I voted for Driehaus in this year’s Democratic primary, in which he was running against a pro-choice Democratic challenger. Driehaus is a Catholic and calls himself a pro-life Democrat, and he was one of the Democrats President Obama was trying to appease with his executive order banning taxpayer funding of abortion. (Whether that order will work or not has been debated.) In that primary, I sought to make a statement that I wanted there to be more pro-life Democrats. In my fantasy, the Democratic Party would stand for the rights of all vulnerable people, including the unborn. I’m tired of having to choose between Republicans (not all, but many), who speak about the poor with contempt and support a smaller safety net, and Democrats, who side with the vulnerable yet cater to abortionists in the name of “reproductive freedom.”

It turns out, though, that Driehaus only has a 33 per cent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, whereas Chabot has a much higher rating. I don’t think this is because the National Right to Life Committee is biased towards the Republicans, for liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich has gotten very high ratings from that organization. And, sure enough, Congressman Driehaus voted against an amendment that would have cut off particular funds from Planned Parenthood, and he supported the Office for Global Women’s Issues, which could pay for overseas abortions. Driehaus has talked as if he’s had to choose the lesser of two evils: he wants poor women to have health care, but, sometimes, that entails supporting organizations that perform abortions, among other things.

I wish Steve Driehaus were more pro-life, but I’m hesitant to support Steve Chabot. In the debate that I watched on ABC, Chabot spoke derogatorily about Section 8 housing for low-income people. Although Chabot talked about ways to reform the program, he referred in his statement to the possibility of eliminating it. I realize that Section 8 can draw a lot of sordid characters into a neighborhood, such as drug dealers. But I also know people with Asperger’s who need the affordable housing that Section 8 provides, since they don’t make an adequate income. What I liked about Driehaus in the debate was that he talked about reforms that he had helped to bring about in Section 8. I trust Steve Driehaus to be both compassionate and fiscally responsible. Moreover, Steve Chabot is too tied to corporate special interests for my comfort. So, in this race, I’m leaning towards Driehaus.

2. For Senate, Republican Rob Portman is running against Democrat Lee Fisher. Here is Portman’s page, and here is Fisher’s. I like Portman because of something that the wikipedia article says about him:

“Portman also co-authored legislation to protect tropical rainforests worldwide (The Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998); to eliminate capital gains taxes on the sale of most homes; three bills to promote drug prevention and education; and a bill that was very recently enacted to help prisoners safely reenter society (The Second Chance Act of 2008).”

Portman is open to protecting the environment, and he is compassionate towards drug-users and convicts who want to re-enter society. He wants to help people who have made bad choices, not leave them to rot. Portman also talks about funding for infrastructure, so he doesn’t appear to be against the concept of stimulus: he just doesn’t like how President Obama has gone about it.

Fisher, by contrast, talks on his page about fighting the war on drugs, without discussing ways to help drug users to heal. What I like about Fisher’s page, though, is that he draws from his own personal experiences when he talks about health care:

“Nearly 40 years ago, my younger brother Richard and I were in a terrible car accident while on a camping trip in Idaho. The accident was so serious that it was initially unclear whether I would live or ever walk again. I was fortunate enough to have health care coverage and after three months in recovery, my doctors and my parents, who had temporarily moved to Idaho to be at my bedside, deemed me healthy enough to return home to Ohio. Just over 20 years ago, my mother was suddenly diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a disease that would take her life at the far-too-young age of 58. I cannot bear to imagine how much worse her illness would have been if she had not had health insurance. Though my family had the best care available to us at the time, these moments of crisis stiffened my resolve never to give up the struggle to ensure every American has access to quality and affordable health care.”

Portman also laments that health care in America is too expensive, but Fisher communicates that he understands the experiences of many Americans. Although I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, I liked how Obama referred to his sick mother’s suffering at the hands of insurance companies, for that communicated to me that Obama had a personal stake in addressing America’s flawed health care system: for Obama, health care reform wasn’t just talk, for America’s system deeply touched people he loved.

Fisher also supports anti-discrimination laws, including for gays and lesbians, so, on this issue at least, he’s willing to side with the marginalized.

There are still more things that I like about Portman, though. Portman’s conservative political philosophy was shaped by hearing small business people complain about taxes and regulations. I hope that he supports tax cuts and fewer regulations for small businesses, not just the big boys. (In my experience, middle-class people complained about regulations even when the Republicans were in power! That makes me think that many Republicans support deregulation for the wealthy, but they don’t go out of their way to accomplish it for the middle-class. I could be wrong on this, but that’s just my impression.) But I have problems with Portman’s pro-Israel policy, which strikes me as uncritical and one-sided.

As far as the usual mudslinging goes, I really don’t care. Democrats point out that Portman served in the Bush Administration, and so they think that must mean he’s responsible for the current economic crisis. In my opinion, both parties are at fault for the current crisis. It was Bill Clinton and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress who removed the wall separating different kinds of banks. A supporter of this disastrous idea, Lawrence Summers, served in the Obama Administration. And the Bush Administration wasn’t overly rigorous when it came to monitoring and regulating the careless maneuvers on Wall Street. So there’s plenty of blame to go around. The question is: Where do we go from here?

In this race, I don’t know how I’ll vote.

3. The third race is for Governor of Ohio, and it is between Republican John Kasich and Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. I like something that I read in the documented wikipedia article about Kasich:

“Kasich is considered a fiscal conservative, taking aim at programs supported by Republicans and Democrats, teaming up with Rep. Ron Dellums to cut spending on the B-2 Bomber and Ralph Nader in seeking to reduce corporate tax loopholes.”

Kasich is willing to work with liberals, and he’s not just for “fiscal restraint” in the areas where many Republicans want to see it. Many Republicans blab on about “fiscal responsibility” when it comes to programs for the poor, even as they support a bloated defense budget and corporate welfare. At least John Kasich is consistent when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

But detractors have argued that Kasich wants to cut programs for the poor. And, while Kasich is right to suggest that Ohio needs a lower tax burden to attract businesses, I wonder what that will do to Ohio’s looming deficit. Meanwhile, I think that Governor Strickland has tried to maintain a healthy balance among fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and compassion for society’s vulnerable. He attempted to cut funding for our public libraries, for Pete’s sake! (Good thing we voted to pay more property taxes to maintain them—or, at least, I voted that others pay more property taxes to support our libraries!) That tells me that Governor Strickland is committed to making tough choices, without going overboard.

Republican critics like to talk about the jobs that have been lost under Governor Strickland. But jobs are being lost throughout America. We’re in a recession. That’s not Strickland’s fault. But jobs have also been created on his watch. I wonder if a Republican could handle our recession any better.

And so, in this race, I’m leaning towards Governor Strickland.

We’ll see how things turn out on election night, though. Even if the Republicans take both houses, I won’t despair, for divided government can mean that both parties will block each other’s spending proposals, and that may be what our economy needs. Milton Friedman attributed the economic boom of the 1990′s to that! But I will be taking my own personal stand this coming Tuesday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ecclesiastes 7

For my weekly quiet time today, I studied Ecclesiastes 7. I’d like to discuss two issues, using certain passages as a fulcrum-point:

1. Ecclesiastes 7:16-17 states (in the NRSV): “Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself? Do not be too wicked, and do not be a fool; why should you die before your time?”

This passage resonated with me. I’ve often been burned out by evangelical Christianity because it makes demands that are too unrealistic for me: don’t lust after women; don’t hate; forgive everybody; reach out to people; put God first; avoid “worldly” entertainments; stay married to the same person for the rest of your natural life, no matter what (well, this last one doesn’t apply to me, but several people in unhappy marriages may find this rule to be a burden). I’ve felt that I need to be perfect each and every day in order to earn God’s favor, or to demonstrate that I already have God’s favor (which is how many Christians like to incorporate works salvation into their doctrine of “free grace”).

There are times when I just want to stop beating up on myself for my imperfections. So there are people I don’t like, and I’m not friends with every person on the face of the earth. That’s true for everyone! Should I beat up on myself because I’m not divine?

Ecclesiastes 7:16 tells me that I don’t have to be perfect, and that I can easily destroy myself by being too righteous. At the same time, v 17 warns me against immorality. I can die before my time through immoral activity. If I give into my passions and casually sleep with a woman, I can end up with an STD. There can be legal consequences to a person who caves into his desires without really thinking. Nursing bitterness can lead to health problems; as Ecclesiastes 7:9 says (in the KJV), anger rests in the bosom of fools. (For me, Christianity makes this worse by demanding that I like and be friends with those who have hurt me. I’d much rather forget about them and move on!) And the list goes on. In short, there can be consequences for bad behavior.

Ecclesiastes 7 talks about the value of wisdom. We become wiser and deeper when we go to a funeral and regognize the transitory nature of life, than when we merely eat, drink, and be merry. When we realize that life is short, we value what we’re enjoying a whole lot more. Instant gratification does not necessarily serve us, for the end of a thing can be better than the beginning, and so we should be patient. Looking at our past as “the good old days” does not help us, for, not only is our view of the past most likely unrealistic, but we have to deal with the here-and-now. We shouldn’t desire to overhear what people say about us, for it might be negative; and we should forgive those who curse us, for we have cursed others.

Another piece of wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7: it’s better to be rebuked by a wise man than to be praised by fools, for rebuke by a wise man actually helps us. I’ve experienced abuse of this concept from evangelical Christians, who have delighted in rebuking me for being an introvert, when they think that I should be a happy, happy extrovert, as Jesus supposedly was. But I’ve not found their rebuke to be helpful: rather than bearing positive fruit in my life, it has rubbed salt in my wounds. But I’ve appreciated those who have given me constructive ways to view situations and to address my problems. That sort of advice has usually come from people who aren’t serious Christians, and therefore they don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Ecclesiastes 7:19-20 says that wisdom is good, right before noticing that people are not righteous. What’s going on here? Tremper Longman says the point here is that we can’t apply wisdom perfectly anyway, so why should we try so hard? After all, doesn’t v 15 say that the good may die young, even as the wicked live a long time? Even those who are wise and righteous can’t be assured of a long life. So why stress out over it? I guess that we can gain benefit from applying rules of wisdom, for those rules accord with how the world is. But why should we beat ourselves up for not being perfect?

I need to mention something: not everyone shares my interpretation of Ecclesiastes 7:16-17. Rabbinic literature (such as Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:25) cites Saul as someone who tried to be over-righteous: Saul thought that his own decision to spare the Amalekites was more merciful than God’s command that he exterminate them. Because Saul was merciful to those God wanted to punish, Saul put himself on a slippery slope that led him to exterminate innocent people: the priests of Nob. Ecclesiastes Rabbah may be saying that Saul should have followed God’s standards of righteousness, rather than making himself his own moral authority. I agree that there are times for mercy, and times for justice, since justice is necessary for the existence of order. I also concur that my morality should come from someplace other than myself. But I’m not gun-ho about the fundamentalist “don’t question God” creed.

Another thing to note: the Jewish commentator Rashi (who may be referring to a rabbinic passage) says that Saul misapplied the rabbinic principle of qal va-homer: what applies to the less, applies to the greater. Saul reasoned that, if it was wrong to kill an individual, then it must be wrong to exterminate an entire nation, the Amalekites. The rabbis often used qal va-homer in their exegesis, but they apparently did not consider it fool-proof, for they held that one could reach wrong conclusions through its application.

But, back to Ecclesiastes 7:16, the Nelson Study Bible says that it means we shouldn’t be legalistic or self-righteous, nor should we consider ourselves to be wise (cp. Proverbs 3:7).

2. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 says that prosperity and adversity both come from the hand of God. This is a hard teaching. Calvinist Douglas Wilson makes a lot of it, for he believes that God causes both good and also misfortune. Tremper Longman says the idea in vv 13-14 is that God is trying to throw us off so that we don’t know the future. Maybe Qoheleth’s view is that, when we don’t know the future, we can find value in the present: we won’t take our prosperity for granted, and we can work and enjoy the fruit of our labor in the moment, without stressing over what will someday happen. Or perhaps Qoheleth’s God thinks that knowing the future should be his prerogative alone.

We see this sort of determinism in James 4:13-15, which states that we shouldn’t brag about our plans for tomorrow, for we may die; rather, we should say that we’ll fulfill our plans for tomorrow if it’s God will. Does that imply that it’s God’s will if we die tomorrow in an accident? Exodus 21:13 distinguishes between premeditated murder and accidental manslaughter, calling the latter an act of God.

But Ecclesiastes 7 is not totally deterministic. Its message is that we have the power to make decisions that can affect our life, for good or for evil. Granted, this is not a fool-proof rule in Qoheleth’s eyes, for the good can die young, even as the wicked live a long time! But goodness contains principles that are beneficial, whereas evil contains seeds of misfortune. Misfortune is not necessarily a divine punishment, for it can flow from an evil act, as evil begets evil. Ecclesiastes 7 is saying, in a sense, that we are masters of our own destinies, through the decisions that we make. And yet, we’re not, for bad stuff can happen to us. Qoheleth blames bad stuff on God, for, in Ecclesiastes 7:13, he says that God makes the straight crooked. And yet, Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes 7 is not consistent on this point, for he says in v 29 that God made man good, and yet man has botched things up through his own devices.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ben Zvi on Zephaniah

Yesterday, I read the introduction to Ehud Ben Zvi’s A Historical-Critical Study of the Book of Zephaniah. Ben Zvi disputes the notion that the Book of Zephaniah was a transcript of a speech that the prophet Zephaniah gave on the street corner, for “the reading of the entire book of Zephaniah takes about ten minutes” (page 12). Would a prophet deliver a ten minute sermon? Ben Zvi thinks that the message in Zephaniah was for somebody, and that a community transmitted the book because it was important to a particular group of readers.

On pages 36-37, Ben Zvi discusses the superscription of the book, Zephaniah 1:1, which states that the LORD’s word came to Zephaniah during the reign of King Josiah. Was Zephaniah’s book intended to promote Josiah’s reform, threatening the Jews that God would cause the defeat of Judah if they did not get with Josiah’s campaign against idolatry? Ben Zvi doesn’t think so, for the Book of Zephaniah seems to assume that the destruction of Judah is inevitable, and that God will preserve a remnant. There is no explicit reference to Josiah’s cultic reform. Moreover, Zephaniah 1:4 refers to the remnant of Baal, and that leads some to believe that Zephaniah prophesied after Josiah’s anti-idolatry policies had left a mere remnant of Baal. Still another view is that Zephaniah’s prophecy relates to the time of Josiah’s successor, Jehoiakim, and that Zephaniah is saying that, notwithstanding Josiah’s reform, the destruction of Judah is coming.

A humorous point: Ben Zvi says that Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Zephaniah that, “Among the minor prophets, he makes the clearest prophecies about the kingdom of Christ.” But Luther didn’t talk about the Book of Zephaniah in his sermons. Maybe Luther was being over-dramatic, or he couldn’t think of much to say about the book!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blenkinsopp on Ezra-Nehemiah and Interpreters

Yesterday, I read the introduction to Joseph Blenkinsopp’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah. Blenkinsopp believes that the school that produced I-II Chronicles also produced Ezra-Nehemiah, for Ezra-Nehemiah continues the story of I-II Chronicles, as well as shares terminology with that of the Chronicler. When the writing styles of the Chronicler and Ezra-Nehemiah differ, Blenkinsopp argues, that’s probably because Ezra-Nehemiah uses a variety of sources, which accounts for its various styles. For Blenkinsopp, I-II Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were intended to give post-exilic Israel the hope that she had a future.

Rabbinic tradition holds that Ezra wrote Chronicles and Ezra (Babylonian Talmud Baba Bathra 15a), but another rabbinic view states that Nehemiah wrote Ezra-Nehemiah but “did not get credit for it on account of vainglory and his habit of disparaging his predecessors (b. Sanh. 93b)” (page 59).

On pages 56-57, Blenkinsopp discusses what he considers to be a debate within Second Temple Judaism: did Nehemiah restore Jerusalem and the temple, or did Zerubbabel? Blenkinsopp notes that II Maccabees votes “Nehemiah,” and he thinks that’s because the Hasmoneans admired Nehemiah as a political leader and a faithful restorer of Israel’s national traditions, ideals that they sought to emulate. I Esdras, by contrast, attributes to Zerubbabel actions that the Book of Nehemiah ascribes to Nehemiah. Blenkinsopp sees here an anti-Hasmonean swipe on the part of the author of I Esdras. After Judea collapsed as a political entity, Ezra the scribe became the person who was emphasized. II Esdras presents Ezra as the restorer of Jerusalem and the temple.

And then there’s the rabbinic tradition that Zerubbabel was the Babylonian name for Nehemiah, meaning that the two were one and the same person (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 38a).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Mom’s New Blog; Hurvitz on Pre-Exilic P

1. My Mom has started a blog: see here. People on my blogger blog probably know Janice from her insightful comments. Now, you can read more of her insights on her own blog. Take a look!

2. Today, I read Avi Hurvitz’s 1974 article in Revue Biblique, “The Evidence of Language in Dating the Priestly Code.” Hurvitz argues that P does not use later biblical Hebrew, of the sort that we find in the exilic Book of Ezekiel; the post-exilic books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah; and rabbinic literature. Even when P discusses the same topics as books from Israel’s exilic and post-exilic periods (i.e., the cult), P does not use the terminology that is popular in later books. Consequently, Hurvitz concludes that P is pre-exilic.

Maybe P was archaicizing, meaning he was a post-exilic figure, writing in older Hebrew. Hurvitz doesn’t think so. Hurvitz doesn’t believe that P would archaicize, for P was writing a technical manual for the priesthood. According to Hurvitz, P wanted priests to follow the correct procedures exactly. After all, this was a matter of life and death for them and the nation! So why would P write a manual that had obsolete terms, which would not be readily understandable to his readers? For Hurvitz, archaism is understandable when it comes to poetry, but not for a priestly manual.

But suppose that P did not intend for his document to be applied to the real world, but was merely writing a utopian book about how things would work in an ideal world? (I think here of some things Jacob Neusner says about the Mishnah.) Hutvitz still finds it odd that P contains no later Hebrew terminology. Even an author who was archaicizing would slip, Hurvitz maintains. After all, the Dead Sea Scrolls that archaicize contain some later elements. But P does not, and so Hurvitz concludes that P is pre-exilic.

Hurvitz also does not believe that P was a post-exilic figure ostracized from the post-exilic mainstream, which is an argument some may have given for how P can be post-exilic and yet be untouched by post-exilic Hebrew. Hurvitz notes that even those who believe that P was exilic or post-exilic don’t think that he was some hermit, isolated from the mainstream. After all, Ezekiel and other books contain similarities to P. Some try to date P as post-exilic because it shares elements with post-exilic literature. I’m not sure what Hurvitz has in mind here, for his argument is that P doesn’t use popular post-exilic terminology. And, as my faithful readers know, Hurvitz wrote a book saying that Ezekiel drew from P, not the other way around.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shalom Paul on Amos

Today, I read Shalom Paul’s introduction to his commentary on the Book of Amos. Paul believes that the prophecy was delivered in the eighth century B.C.E., prior to Assyria’s emergence as a threat to Northern Israel. Paul notes that the prophecy never mentions Assyria, but only discusses an anonymous nation that God will use to punish Israel.

Paul doesn’t appear to care for the attempts of scholars to identify certain layers in the book: the first two layers from the time of Amos (Amos 3-6, then the oracles against the nations), the third layer from Amos’ ”school of disciples” during the years 760-730, the fourth layer (the Bethel redaction) during the time of Josiah, the fifth layer from the Deuteronomist, and the sixth layer (a message of salvation) in Israel’s post-exilic period.

According to Paul, Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. It was a time of Northern Israelite expansion, security, and economic prosperity, at least for the few, who lived in opulence while oppressing and exploiting the masses. This was a time when Northern Israel pat itself on the back as God’s people. But Amos aimed to knock the Northern Israelites off their high horse. One point he made was that God delivered other nations besides Israel, and so Israel shouldn’t assume that she’s so special in God’s eyes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hagglund's Thesis on Isaiah 53

Today, I started Fredrik Hagglund’s Isaiah 53 in the Light of Homecoming after Exile. On page 4, he states his thesis. For Hagglund, Isaiah 40-52 describes a glorious scenario of Israel’s restoration from exile. But the restoration of Israel to her land turns out not to be glorious because the native Israelites did not embrace the returning exiles, who suffered for their guilt. As a result, there were the divisions among the Israelites that are recorded in Third Isaiah. So, for Hagglund, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is the returning exiles.

We’ll see how this plays out! He may say that the exiles suffered God’s punishment, whereas the Israelites who remained in the land did not, and so the exiles suffered for the natives.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Historical or Didactic? Banned Coin? Did Dr. Mildred Jefferson Run for President?

1. I just finished Jacob Neusner’s Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah. On pages 307-328, Neusner discusses two Jewish stories: that of Honi the circle-drawer, which appears in Mishnah Taanith 3:8 (second century C.E.), and that of Vespasian’s interaction with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, which is in chapter 4 of Abot de Rabbi Nathan (fourth-fifth centuries C.E., according to Neusner).

In the story of Honi the circle-drawer, people ask Honi to pray for rain. Honi does so, and rain does not fall. And so Honi draws a circle around himself and tells God that he will not leave the circle until God sends rain. In response to Honi’s prayer, God sends tons of rain, such that the people ask Honi to pray that the rain might stop. Honi does so, and the rain ceases. A sage from the first century B.C.E., Simeon ben Shetah, tells Honi that he would have imposed a ban on anyone who acted as Honi did towards God, but Simeon recognizes that Honi has a special relationship with God, as if Honi is God’s son. Simeon then applies to Honi Proverbs 23:25, which says that a mother and a father should be glad.

In the story of Vespasian’s interaction with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, Yochanan asks the conquering Roman, Vespasian, that the city of Yavneh might be reserved to Yochanan for Jewish study. Vespasian agrees. Yochanan then tells Vespasian that he will soon become king, for Isaiah 10:34 predicts that the Temple will be surrendered to a king, not a commoner. A few days later, Vespasian is told that the emperor has died and that Vespasian is now king.

On page 315, Neusner sarcastically dismisses the scholarly argument that the story of Honi was history about a one-time event: “To be sure, the story occurs in diverse compilations, from the Mishnah onward. So I suppose we are expected to count each time the story is told as evidence of yet another miracle of rainmaking.” For Neusner (if I’m understanding him correctly), the stories are didactic, not really historical. Their point is that a sage has power through his mastery of Scripture: Simeon could apply to Honi Proverbs 23:25, and thus desist from banning him. And Yochanan could tell Vespasian that he would soon become king, through the knowledge of Isaiah 10:34. The rabbis have a power that is neither supernatural nor political. For Neusner, the stories served to highlight this power of the sages before the community of Israel.

2. At Latin mass this morning, the priest said that the Jew who showed Jesus the coin with Caesar’s image on it was violating the Torah, for Jews were not allowed to carry images of another god, which (in the eyes of the Romans) Caesar was. I’m not sure whether this is true or not. I know that even Herod was queasy about images.

3. Dr. Mildred Jefferson passed away this week. She was the first African-American graduate of Harvard Medical School, as well as an influential pro-life activist. If I’m not mistaken, she ran for President in 1980 on the Right-to-Life ticket. At least that’s how I first heard of her: through my reading about the 1980 Presidential election.

R.I.P., Dr. Jefferson.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

God of Borg

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied Ecclesiastes 6.

Is God the source of evil? Qoheleth says that God is the source of at least one evil: that men attain wealth and honor, only for God to prevent them from enjoying their accomplishments (v 2). What they have accumulated may fall into the hands of a stranger. Or a man may have a bunch of kids, and his accumulations are swallowed up by the cost of taking care of them (v 3).

In v 9, Qoheleth says that the sight of the eyes is better than desire. Tremper Longman says that ‘The general idea of the proverb is that what is present in hand is better than what one only desires and does not have.” Good advice! But I don’t think that, here at least, Qoheleth is intending it to be good advice. Rather, my impression is that Qoheleth is talking about people who only have desire, meaning that they don’t get to enjoy what is “present at hand.” They work a lot, with little to show for it. As v 7 says, people labor for their mouths, but their appetite is not satisfied.

But Qoheleth realizes in v 10 that God has fore-ordained these things, and that resistance to God (like resistance to the Borg) is futile.

In v 12, Qoheleth wonders if we can truly know what is good for human beings, when we don’t even live that long. The Artscroll commentary says (based on the eighteenth century Jewish writing Metzudas David) that “only a small minority have the intellect to comprehend what is the proper course for a man to take during his short life”. When I am older, I’ll have wisdom about what I should have done when I was younger. But it will be too late then, for I’ll be older. It’s like Ms. McCluskey told Bree on Desperate Housewives a few weeks ago: “Risks you don’t take will become regrets before you know it” (or something like that).

Some commentators I read noted that Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes 6 contradicts his sentiments in Ecclesiastes 3:11: that God makes all things beautiful in their time, implying that we should trust God. In Ecclesiastes 6, by contrast, Qoheleth is saying that God is responsible for the unprofitable toil in life. But commentators then say that we shouldn’t look for flawless consistency in Qoheleth: Qoheleth is musing.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Islamophobia

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about Islamophobia. I’ve often had problems with the politically-correct narrative I’ve heard about Islam. President Bush called Islam a “religion of peace” shortly after 9/11. On the West Wing episode about 9/11, “Isaac and Ishmael,” Josh Lyman tells a group of students that radical Islam is to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity: small and on the margins. A professor once told me that most Muslims don’t interpret jihad as a literal battle, but rather as a spiritual war, the conquering of sin, if you will.

I didn’t buy into this politically-correct narrative because, well, I have problems saying that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, whereas radical Islam constitutes a small minority. There are Islamic nations that hate the United States and shelter Al Qaeda. Muhammad himself fought wars of conquest.

But, even though I have questioned the politically-correct spiel I’ve heard about Islam, I’ve still had enough sense to realize that not all Muslims are violent fanatics, intent on destroying America. I’ve known that there are many Muslims who are good people. I knew Muslims at DePauw University and Harvard Divinity School. I once saw a group of Muslim teenage girls in their Islamic garb, going into a music store. They were like your typical American teenage girls, talking about the latest music fads, only they were fully covered in their Muslim garb. A Muslim family once gave me a ride to school when they saw I was carrying a bunch of books. I’m not going to say that radical Islam is merely a tiny, marginal fringe of Islam, but I know there’s a large segment of Islam that isn’t radical.

What disturbs me is how prevalent Islamophobia has become among bright, intelligent people who should know better. These people aren’t bigoted against Jews, Catholics, or African-Americans, as far as I know. They have friends of different races and backgrounds. They try to judge people by the content of their character. And yet, they are prejudiced against Muslims. I’d expect Islamophobia in America to be on the fringes, among fanatical elements of American society. But it’s not. Decent, mainstream people are Islamophobic.

Don’t they remember why we have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? The foreign policy of conservative Presidents has not been to lump all Muslims into the same category and to regard them all as radicals. It has been to cultivate relationships with moderate Muslims. I once heard Sean Hannity say that we should promote moderate Muslim societies in Iraq and Afghanistan: we shouldn’t be trying to overthrow Islam, but we should work with elements of Islam that are compatible with democracy. I mean, for crying out loud, we’ve been fighting for the right of Muslims in other countries to vote, to be free from oppression by dictators! How can we support the rights of Muslims one minute, then turn right around and assert that all Muslims want to destroy America? Yet, there are Americans who do precisely that! I even know service-people who talk about Muslims in Iraq who are grateful to us for removing Saddam Hussein, yet these same service-people say we shouldn’t be “nicey-nicey” with Muslims, as if all Muslims are part of some sinister conspiracy.

What especially disturbs me is how Islamophobes like to bring up taqqiya. I’m not an expert on taqqiya, but what I’ve heard is that it means a Muslim can lie about being a Muslim when he is threatened or persecuted (here is a link to Quran references, but this particular site appears to be anti-Islam). But Islamophobes take taqqiya to mean that Muslims who present their religion as peaceful and tolerant are deliberately lying: that they’ll say anything to gain converts for Islam, and their true aim is to bring down America and to impose sharia law, Iranian style! Can you imagine being put into the situation in which Islamophobes are placing Muslims: people accuse you of nasty things, and, when you try to prove that you’re a good person through your words and actions, you’re accused of being deceptive! You’re told that, deep down, you must have evil motives! You’re never allowed to prove your accusers wrong, to allow them to judge you by the content of your character, for they’ll always assume that you are lying.

Overall, I’m getting tired of the Islamophobia of the Right. And it’s mainstream in the Right at this time—it’s not on the margins! That, coupled with the judgmentalism of many conservatives, is why I’m very reluctant to vote for Republicans this coming election year.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Neusner, Sanders, and the New Perspective

In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner critiques E.P. Sanders’ classic of the 1970′s, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Sanders’ book played a big role in launching the “new perspective” of New Testament studies, which reacted against the tendency of many Christian New Testament scholars to assert that Paul was rebelling against Jewish legalism in his emphasis on God’s grace.

The new perspective’s position was (1.) that (contrary to Christian stereotypes) Judaism was not legalistic, but believed in God’s grace, and (2.) that Paul did not leave Judaism because he felt burdened by its demand that he do good works to earn God’s favor, for, as (1.) says, Judaism’s not even about that. Rather, Paul left Judaism because he held that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, and Judaism did not share that belief. Moreover, for Sanders, Paul emphasized dying and rising with Christ unto a new life and the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s community rather than forgiveness from God. In short, as far as Sanders is concerned, Paul himself did not wrestle with a guilt complex amplified by the Jewish Torah, for Paul says in Philippians 3:6 that, prior to his becoming a believer in Christ, he was blameless with regard to the righteousness of the law.

Neusner’s problem with Sanders is that Sanders rips rabbinic texts from their contexts, rather than allowing them to speak within their own literary and historical settings. For Neusner, Sanders is looking at the rabbinic texts with the issue of the New Testament in mind, when many of them came after the time of the New Testament, meaning they were speaking to a different historical context from that of the New Testament. Moreover, Neusner seems to be saying that Sanders is pulling from different rabbinic texts to create a picture of Judaism, without respecting those texts’ meaning in their own contexts.

But Sanders looks at a variety of Jewish texts, both from Israel’s pre-70 and post-70 periods. Sanders shows that covenantal nomism—the notion that God saved Israel by grace, but expects her to obey—was a common motif throughout the history of Judaism, both before and after the temple was destroyed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Connections and Purpose

In my reading today of Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett says (on page 277) that Psalm 1:2 assists “the readers/hearers in their understanding of the scriptural psalms as meditations on Torah”. I wonder if Randall is saying that Jewish interpretation treats the five books of the Psalms as meditations on the five books of the Pentateuch, like E.W. Bullinger does in his Companion Bible. I’ll be reading more about this when I get to my weekly quiet times in the Psalms, in which I will read Bullinger and (hopefully) rabbinic midrashim on the Psalms.

I’ve looked a little at Bullinger’s treatment of the Psalms, and he seems to artificially attach the Psalms to the Pentateuchal books. When the Psalmist complains about his problems in the second book of Psalms, for example, Bullinger ties that to the affliction of the Israelites in Egypt, for he holds that the second book of Psalms must be connected with the second book of the Pentateuch, namely, Exodus. The problem here is that the Psalmist complains about his afflictions throughout the Book of Psalms, not just in the second book. So why should I assume that his complaints in the second book have anything to do with the Exodus? But Bullinger is trying to find a purpose in the arrangement of the Psalms within five books, and he makes connections in his attempt to do so, whether or not those connections even exist.

On Monday night, I read scholarly articles that maintained that things are ordered in certain parts of the Bible or in pieces of rabbinic midrashim by design, rather than as a result of scribes throwing traditions together in a haphazard manner. Stephen Kaufman’s article in the 1978-1979 Maarav, “The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law,” argues that the Deuteronomic laws are ordered according to the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. He maps it out as follows:

I-II. Deuteronomy 5:6-10 (no other gods, no graven images) is connected with Deuteronomy 12 (destroy Canaanite sanctuaries, honor central sanctuary).

III. Deuteronomy 5:11 (don’t take God’s name in vain) is connected with Deuteronomy 13:1-14:27, which discusses apostasy and dietary laws. But it is also relevant to testimony, which is where not taking God’s name in vain is an important rule.

IV. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 is about the Sabbath, and the laws in Deuteronomy 14:28-29 pertain to Israel’s festivals.

V. Deuteronomy 5:16 commands Israelites to honor their parents, and Deuteronomy 16:18-18:22 concerns authority figures.

VI. Deuteronomy 5:17 prohibits murder, and Deuteronomy 19:1-22:8 discusses manslaughter and respect for human and animal life.

VII. Deuteronomy 5:18 prohibits adultery, and Deuteronomy 22:9-23:19 discusses sexual sins.

VIII. Deuteronomy 5:19 bans theft, and Deuteronomy 23:20-24:7 talks about respect for people’s property, kidnapping, and divorce (which is about whose property the wife is).

IX. Deuteronomy 5:20 bans bearing false witness, and Deuteronomy 24:8-25:4 is about leprosy (which was a divine punishment on Miriam for her slander of Moses) and respect for people’s dignity.

X. Deuteronomy 5:21a bans a man from coveting his neighbor’s wife, and Deuteronomy 25:5-16 is about levirate marriage, the only way a man can legally marry his brother’s wife (to raise up offspring for his dead brother). Deuteronomy 5:21b bans an Israelite from coveting his neighbors goods, and Deuteronomy 25:13 prohibits unjust weights, which were used to defraud people.

Some laws don’t fit neatly into this grid, at least not on the surface. For example, Deuteronomy 22:5 bans transvestism. What’s that have to do with the commandment under which it falls in Kaufman’s scenario, the one against murder? Kaufman says that Deuteronomy 22:5 could have been misplaced, but he prefers a structural argument: other law-sections that pertain to commandments discuss garments within a certain structure, and so that may be why the “murder” section in Deuteronomy 19:1-22:8 has something about men wearing women’s clothing, and vice versa. Kaufman offers other explanations for the laws that don’t appear to fit. Is there a structure of the Deuteronomic laws that accords with the order of the Ten Commandments, or are scholars who claim such merely seeing what they want to see in a mass of various laws, which lack a particular order? This is debated within biblical scholarship.

I also read two articles by Norman Cohen, “Leviticus Rabbah: Parashah Three: An Example of a Classic Rabbinic Homily,” and “Structure and Editing in the Homiletic Midrashim.” In the first article, Cohen disputes the claim that literary homilies are merely a mash of rabbinic traditions haphazardly thrown together, for he believes that the different traditions in Leviticus Rabbah: Parashah Three were purposely brought together to communicate a theological point: that Israelites should offer themselves to God (i.e., pray, repent, do good deeds) to bring about atonement. In the second essay, however, Cohen acknowledges that some midrashim are better edited and have fewer loose ends than others, so not all midrashim are created (or edited) equal.

I felt really excited as I read these essays, for they were making cool points—making connections, seeing purpose. It’s for this sort of thing that I entered the realm of religious scholarship, as much of a baby as I still am in this area.

But then there are scholars who don’t always believe that we should be looking for something deep in the details of the biblical text. One of my professors once said that the number forty in the Bible is not used for a specific reason; rather, it’s a trope (or maybe he used another word for it). But people like Bullinger or Adrian Rogers try to identify a meaning in each number that appears in Scripture. They’re probably not pulling their proposed meaning out of the clear blue sky, for they’re basing it on something. But are they establishing an absolute rule: a number appears in the biblical text, and so it must mean this? But what if the number doesn’t appear to mean that? Can exceptions to a rule prove that the rule does not exist?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Calvin on Isaiah 61:1-2; Tom Bosley

1. In my reading today of Messianism in the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett mentions John Calvin’s interpretation of Isaiah 61:1-2. Isaiah 61:1-2 states (in the NIV):

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn[.]“

In Luke 4:18-21, Jesus quotes much of this passage and applies it to himself, affirming that he is fulfilling it through his own ministry.

On pages 250-251, Heskett says that many Jewish sources applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to the prophet Isaiah. A Targum added words that mean “the prophet says,” and the scholar J. Oswalt argues that “perhaps this is an attempt to contradict the messianic interpretation stemming from Jesus’ use of the passage (Luke 4:16-21).” The medieval Jewish commentator Ibn Ezra also relates Isaiah 61:1-2 to the prophet, who is anointed to bring good tidings. But Heskett also refers to Lamentations Rabbah’s comments on Lamentations 3:49-50, which interpret Isaiah 61:1-2 in terms of redemption, a messianic sort of concept. And he says that many scholars (but not all) hold that the Dead Sea Scroll passage, 11QMelch, interprets Isaiah 61 messianically.

Interestingly, John Calvin ultimately applies Isaiah 61:1-2 to Christ, but he is open to the possibility that it could have functioned as a mission for previous prophets as well, who predicted Christ, not only in their words, but also in their actions (see here). Calvin’s view that Isaiah 61:1-2 can have a dual meaning strikes me as odd for him, for, in his interpretation of Isaiah 7, he relates “Immanuel” to Christ; he does not say that Immanuel lived in the time of Isaiah and forshadowed Christ.

How does Calvin believe that Isaiah practiced Isaiah 61:1-2? He mentions such things as the Jubilee year, the defeat of the Jews’ enemies, and the restoration of the Jews to their land after a period of exile. Maybe he believes that Isaiah comforted the broken-hearted exiles with the message that God would restore Israel to her land after smiting her Babylonian captors.

Here’s another thought, though Calvin doesn’t mention it: Within a Calvin-sort-of-paradigm, couldn’t Isaiah 61:1-2 be about God’s defeat of Sennacherib in the days of Hezekiah? Isaiah assures the nation of Judah, which suffers under Assyria’s heavy hand, that God would smite Sennacherib.

2. Tom Bosley passed away today. He played Mr. Cunningham on Happy Days. (He was an Eisenhower Republican on that, along with the Fonz.) But I also remember him as the voice of David the Gnome, as Father Dowling (maybe I should call bald Tom Bosley priest at my church “Father Dowling”), as the host of a documentary at the end of my It’s a Wonderful Life video tape, and as Jimmy Hoffa in the Jesse Owens Story (which wasn’t all that believable, since Tom Bosley can’t appear sinister and corrupt, as hard as he may try, and as entertaining as it may be to watch him try!).

R.I.P., Tom Bosley.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bar Kosiba and the Suffering Messiah; Pre-70?

1. In my reading today of Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett says (on page 224) that “some views” in “later Judaism after the death of Simon Bar Kosiba (135 C.E.)” embraced the concept of a suffering Messiah, drawing from Isaiah 53. Here is a page that lists such passages. One is from Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b, and it talks about a Messiah who is a leper scholar, since Isaiah 53 refers to the Servant as someone who is stricken with a disease. Ruth Rabbah 2:14 applies to the Messiah the part of Isaiah 53 about the Servant being wounded for our transgressions. The Babylonian Talmud dates to 500-600 C.E., and Ruth Rabbah probably came about in the same century (see here). Yet, they often refer to earlier rabbis.

I wonder what role Simon Bar Kosiba’s death played in the development of the suffering Messiah idea within Judaism. I don’t think that rabbinic Jews thought Bar Kosiba would rise from the dead and become the Messiah. But the Roman defeat of Bar Kosiba may have convinced them that the Messiah would take power from Israel’s Gentile captors after much difficulty, even pain. The application of Isaiah 53 to a Messiah who would suffer appears in rabbinic texts that came about long after the death of Bar Kosiba. Yet, the rabbis had a long memory, for they tell stories about Israel’s defeat at the hand of the Romans. That was when the temple was destroyed, after all. Bar Kosiba’s death may have lingered in the memory of the rabbis, reminding them that the Messiah’s rise would not be a cake-walk.

2. In my reading today of Jacob Neusner’s Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, I read (on page 296) Peter Haas’ piece on Maaser Sheni in the Mishnah. Haas states that many laws there are attributed “to authorities who lived before 70 C.E.” But how can we be sure that those authorities were actually the source of those laws? There are cases in which we can’t be sure. According to Haas, post-70 authorities debate the same issues after 70 C.E. that Hillel and Shammai supposedly debated before 70. Haas skeptically aks: Why would the post-70 Yavneans and Ushans “reopen debates already resolved a generation or two earlier”? Haas concludes that later authorities put their own views “into the mouths of earlier masters.”

But, for Haas, if later (post-70) authorities appear to “carry forward” or “refine” an earlier law, then that law is probably pre-70. I’m not sure what Haas means by “carry forward.” Perhaps he’s saying that later authorities seem to agree that an earlier law is valid. Moreover, if the later authorities are refining a law, then that law is probably early. After all, why would later authorities need to refine a law that they themselves made up? Couldn’t they make it up in its refined state? Therefore, Haas concludes that, if there’s a law that is attributed to an early sage, and a later sage tries to refine that law, then the law probably really did come from the early sage.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Perfect Society? Cure for Lust?

1. In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states (on page 235) that the Mishnah “portrays a world fully perfected and at rest.” If that’s the case, however, why does it discuss punishment of crimes, or ways to deal with sins? Or is the Mishnah saying that law and order that deal with human flaws create a world that is perfected and at rest?

2. At Latin mass this morning, we had political priest. He referred to John Cassian, the desert monk of the fourth-fifth century C.E., who encouraged monks to fight off their lust through memorization of Scripture. The more their mind is pre-occupied with the holy, his rationale was, the less it would be focused on the carnal.

Maybe this can work, at least somewhat. When I’m trying to memorize something, I’m focusing a lot on what I’m trying to memorize. But lust can still be in the back of my mind.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Barbara Billingsley

I just learned that Barbara Billingsley has passed away. She played the Mom on Leave It to Beaver, and Nanny on Muppet Babies.

Ecclesiastes 5 and Vows

For my weekly quiet time, I studied Ecclesiastes 5. The chapter warns against talking a lot to God, for, in our many ramblings, we may end up making God a promise that we can’t keep. Then, when God, an angel, or a temple messenger (however one understands malach in v 6) comes to collect, or to judge us for not paying what we vowed, we end up offering a poor excuse, and God destroys the work of our hands.

Personally, I will continue to talk a lot to God. “Pray without ceasing,” I Thessalonians 5:17 says in the King James Version. To echo Philip Yancey, I pray for the company. I need to talk to someone about my life, with its ups and downs, and, in my opinion, God is there to listen to me, even though Qoheleth is correct to note that God is in heaven, while I am on earth. But I’m also in favor of being a man of my word: In my ramblings before God, I should take heed not to promise something that I won’t be willing to deliver. Christian commentators whom I read today said that this sort of principle carries over into the New Testament. In their interpretation of Acts 5, God struck down Ananias and Sapphira because they promised to give God all the money that they made from selling their land, but they did not deliver.

There’s more I can say about this. When I was young (maybe in my teens), I once promised God that I’d never again commit a certain act. But I broke that promise many times because, well, I’m human. I don’t think God has cursed me and my family on account of that. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t give me a free ride to make more frivolous promises to God, and so I don’t make promises that I may not be willing to keep. I wonder why I should even have to make a vow to get God to hear and answer my prayers. Shouldn’t God’s love for me be a sufficient reason for him to provide for my needs, to bless me, to comfort me, etc.? But people in the Hebrew Bible made promises—they gave God a sacrifice if God answered their prayers. I think it’s good to be thankful and to express that thanksgiving in some tangible manner, but I don’t want to make promises that I may regret in the future.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ska on Exodus 14:11-12 and Ibn Ezra

I read some more of Jean-Louis Ska’s Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch last night and today. Here are some thoughts:

1. On page 76-77, Ska says that Exodus 14:11-12 is a later addition. There, the Israelites cry out that it would have been better for them to remain in Egypt than to die in the wilderness. Ska thinks that Exodus 14 would flow without those verses. In v 10, the Israelites are afraid and cry out to the LORD. In vv 13-14, Moses tells them to fear not, for they shall soon see the salvation of the LORD. VV 13-14 respond to v 10, using some of the same vocabulary. Moreover, vv 11-12 stand out stylistically and on account of their content, which Ska identifies as “legal vocabulary; dangers in the wilderness; longing for Egypt; the problem of slavery.”

Personally, I don’t think vv 11-12 are intrusive to the story. They elaborate on the Israelites’ fear. It’s interesting, though, that they could cry out to God, while questioning God’s wisdom in bringing them out of Egypt.

2. On page 99, Ska talks about the eleventh century Jewish exegete, Abraham Ibn Ezra, who believed that parts of the Pentateuch were not written by Moses, as well as questioned that the entire Pentateuch could be written on plastered stones, as Moses supposedly commanded Israel to do in Deuteronomy 27:2-3. Ska says that Ibn Ezra “was to remain isolated for a long time and, until the time of Spinoza, he had only a few followers.” At first, I thought this meant that Ibn Ezra was unpopular on account of his views regarding the Pentateuch, but that’s not true, for he was prominent and prolific. Ska means that few agreed with Ibn Ezra that Moses didn’t write all of the Pentateuch, until Spinoza came along.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Whom Did the Servant Suffer?

In my reading today of Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, there was a discussion on pages 208-209 about the beneficiaries of the Suffering Servant’s atonement: for whom did the Servant of Isaiah 53 die? Was it for the Jews, the Gentiles, or both?

In my post, The “We” of Isaiah 53; Bible-Based Mishnah Rules, I talked about the debate concerning the speakers of Isaiah 53: is it the Gentile nations marveling that Israel suffered for their sins, or is it Israelites talking about a Servant in their midst who died for them? Randall says, “Koole solves this problem by ‘cautiously’ opting ‘for the view that it refers to Israel; salvation reaches the world via Israel.’”

Second Isaiah talks about Israel’s sins, but it also discusses Israel being a light to the nations, and it’s probably the most universalistic section of the Hebrew Bible, in that it exhorts the Gentiles to turn to the LORD. Isaiah 49:5-6 says that the Servant’s mission is not just to restore Israel, but to be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (to draw some from the KJV).

I can understand the view that the Servant is Israel, and that, in Isaiah 53, the Gentiles are marveling that Israel suffered for their sins, and are now astounded at her restoration. Second Isaiah has a lot about Israel being restored in the sight of the nations, which then acknowledge that the LORD is God.

But I can also understand the view that the Servant was an individual or community who suffered for Israel. My mind turns to R.N. Whybray’s thesis: that the Servant was trying to get Israel in exile to join his program of restoration, and yet Israel was reluctant. The Servant is saying that Cyrus will soon topple Babylon, and, naturally, the Babylonians put him in jail as a traitor and torture him. But the Servant is released, and the Israelites realize that the Servant suffered because of their reluctance to get with God’s program. Israel could have joined God’s plan to be restored as a nation and to become in consequence a light to the Gentiles. But she was dragging her feet. God’s Servant had to show Israel what being God’s servant entailed: devotion and faithfulness to God’s mission.

On another note: I remember reading a hyper-dispensationalist book, and it was trying to argue that God’s plan to save the world through Jesus was hidden until the time of Paul. But what about Isaiah 53? If my memory serves me correctly, the author argued that all we can really get from Isaiah 53 is that the Servant would suffer and die for Israel’s sins. The notion that his death was for the Gentiles, too, was first revealed to Paul, in this view.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ashir in Isaiah 53:9; Not an Archaism

1. Many English translations of Isaiah 53:9 say that the Suffering Servant was with the rich in his death. Randall Heskett, in Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah (pages 198-199), refers to attempts to apply this verse to Jesus’ burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. A.J. Motyer makes a big deal about ashir (“rich”) in this verse being singular. According to Motyer, ashir is collective only when it contrasted with the poor. Because such is not the case in Isaiah 53:9, that verse must be referring to a particular rich man, whom Motyer probably understands to be Joseph of Arimathea.

Randall cites others. Delitzsch says that without “the fulfillment it would be impossible to understand verse 9 at all”, and that reminds Randall of Irenaeus’ statement that “if it had not been for the fulfillments we would not have known the prophecies”. For Delitzsch, Isaiah 53:9′s remark that the Servant will be with the rich in his burial makes no sense, apart from its fulfillment—when Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

Because ashir is parallel with reshaim (“wicked”) in Isaiah 53:9, Randall goes with another interpretation: “It seems that the analogous terms resha and ashir underscore the wicked traits of the rich against whom the prophets uttered judgment because they exploited and oppressed the poor. This verse appears to be saying that the Servant was given a grave with criminals and oppressors.” According to Keil-Delitzsch, Martin Luther had the same impression: that the Suffering Servant (whom Luther understood to be Jesus) died like a rich man “who sets all his heart upon riches, i.e., a wicked man.”

The Jewish commentator Rashi appears to interpret v 9 to mean that the Servant “subjected himself to be buried according to anything the wicked of the heathens…would decree upon him”, even if the death were humiliating. Regarding the wealthy, Rashi seems to be saying that the Servant subjected himself to the will of the ruler, who is presumably the wealthy person. At the same time, Rashi notes that the Servant obeyed the Torah rather than stealing, so could he be understanding the verse similarly to Randall and Luther: the Servant did not get rich through illicit means, but he was punished as someone who had?

2. I finished Avi Hurvitz’s A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel. Hurvitz’s argument is that P uses language that doesn’t appear much in later sources, and P doesn’t use later Hebrew, and so P must be early. Ezekiel uses aspects of later biblical Hebrew more, and the Book of Ezekiel emerged during the exile. Therefore, for Hurvitz, P is probably pre-exilic. Hurvitz wrestles with the idea that P could have been a later scribe who was trained to use archaic language. But, on page 163, Hurvitz says that we can detect archaism when earlier expressions occur alongside later ones, and we don’t see that in P.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The “We” of Isaiah 53; Bible-Based Mishnah Rules

1. A controversy regarding Isaiah 53 is the identity of the speakers in the chapter: who is the “we” who talk about the Suffering Servant who was wounded for “our” sins?

Because Isaiah 52:15 says that the Servant will sprinkle many nations, and that kings will shut their mouths in amazement at him, many have contended that the speakers in Isaiah 53 are the kings of the Gentiles: they are amazed that the Servant has been exalted, and so they reflect on the Servant’s sufferings, concluding that they were for their sins. This sort of argument appears among Jewish interpreters of the text who believe that the Suffering Servant is Israel. They envision the Gentile persecutors of the Jews being amazed at Israel’s exaltation, after they had considered her of no account, and they reflect that she suffered for their iniquities. But this sort of scenario can also work for Christians who interpret the Servant as Jesus: Gentiles reflect on Jesus as the atonement for sin.

Others maintain, however, that the “we” in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel: the sinful Israelites conclude that the Servant—a righteous individual or community in their midst—suffered for their transgressions, that they might be healed.

On pages 176-177 of Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett goes with the view that the speakers of Isaiah 53 are the nation of Israel. His arguments are that (1.) “we” in the Hebrew Bible pertains to Israel, but never to the nations, (2.) culanu (“all of us”), which appears in Isaiah 53:6, always refers to Israel in Isaiah 40-66, and (3.) the speakers in Isaiah 53 liken themselves to sheep, which is often used for Israel in the Hebrew Bible, but never for the Gentiles.

I disagree with (1.), for the nations in Psalm 2:2-3 use the first-person plural when they conspire to throw off the cords of David from them. But Randall’s other arguments strike me as sensible.

2. On page 220 of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states: “And so the polemic of Sifra and the Talmuds is against the positions that, first, what the Mishnah says (in the Mishnah’s own words) is merely logical; and that, second, the position taken by the Mishnah can have been reached by any way other than through grammatical-syntactical exegesis of Scripture.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lamo; Divisions, Not Tractates

1. People have debated whether the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is an individual or a collective. An important piece in this debate is Isaiah 53:8, which uses the Hebrew word lamo. Lamo often means “to them.” Jewish interpreters who believe that Isaiah 53 is collective—about the nation of Israel—appeal to lamo to support their point. They translate the phrase to mean, “because of the transgression my people, a blow to them.”

But Gesenius, on page 302, cites passages in which the suffix mo can be singular: Isaiah 44:15; Job 20:23; 22:2; 27:23; and Psalm 11:7. The Holladay entry on my Bibleworks cites Genesis 9:26 as another example in which mo means “him.”

I think it makes sense to interpret mo as singular in Isaiah 53:8, for that very verse uses singular verbs and suffixes when speaking of the Suffering Servant. Does that have any bearing as to whether the Suffering Servant was an individual or a group of people? Not really, for the nation of Israel in the Hebrew Bible is often described using individual terminology (as a woman, for instance).

Gesenius also makes another point: the Septuagint translates the part where the Masoretic Text has lamo as “to death.” For Gesenius, the Hebrew was originally la-mavet (“to death”), and the tav fell off in the course of textual transmission, leaving lamed, mem, vav. And so, presumably for Gesenius, the text should read, “because of the transgression of my people, a blow to death.” (At the same time, the LXX of Isaiah 53:8 doesn’t use a word for “blow”, but it says that the Servant was led to death.)

2. In my reading of Jacob Neusner today, I discovered a mistake that I’ve been making: I’ve been calling divisions of the Mishnah “tractates”, rather than “divisions.” Tractates are sections of the divisions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Second Isaiah Is Risen? What God Had Joined Together? Ledorotheykhem? Waiting for the Meat of Ska? God’s Will Be Done?

1. I’m in the chapter on the Suffering Servant in my reading of Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. I’ll probably be there for some time. I read on pages 145-146 that Sigmund Mowinkel believed that the Suffering Servant was Second Isaiah himself, and that the songs were composed as funeral dirges by the “Third Isaiah circle, [who] later inserted them into Second Isaiah.”

What does Mowinkel do with the part of Isaiah 53 that says the Servant will be exalted and will see offspring, as his days are prolonged? Did the Third Isaiah circle expect for the prophet who wrote Second Isaiah to rise from the dead?

2. In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner says (on page 194) that Tractate Yebamot of the Mishnah has a theme of “establishing the marital bond through supernatural action”. Is this just a matter of following rabbinic rules to ensure that God sanctions a marriage? Or is it something more?

3. In my reading today of A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel, Avi Hurvitz discusses (on page 100) the Hebrew word ledorotheykhem (“to your generations”). It appears only in P. So can we date it within a chronology of biblical Hebrew, since it’s only used in one biblical Hebrew source, and we can’t see if it’s used in earlier or later biblical writings? The word is plural and has pronomial suffixes, and we don’t see non-priestly biblical sources using the plural and pronomial suffixes in that manner (or something like that—Hurvitz just says that these peculiarities have “no counterparts in the non-Priestly biblical sources”). But Hurvitz notes a Babylonian parallel for the use of the plural in such a word—ana dariatim. For the pronomial suffix part, he dismisses a suggested Akkadian parallel, and says that ledorotheykhem “should be considered a peculiarly Israelite innovation.” He sees the expression as post-Canaanite, but not as post-exilic. He says that the word does not appear in the “late biblical corpus” and so it must have fallen “into disuse in post-classical times.” Hurvitz appears to be maintaining that P is pre-exilic.

4. In my reading today of Jean-Louis Ska’s Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, I didn’t really find anything that interested me. He’s just discussing the discrepancies and redundancies in the Pentateuchal narrative that lead scholars to conclude that there are multiple sources in the Pentateuch. I can read this in any intro to biblical criticism. What I want to get into is the alternatives to the Documentary Hypothesis, which Ska discusses later.

5. At Latin mass this morning, we had bald Tom Bosley priest. He asked us how often we ask for our will to be done, rather than God’s will. But God’s will is going to be done anyway. Why should I ask God to do anything if he’s going to do what he wants, regardless of what I ask? Also, is everything that happens God’s will? How about earthquakes? Or hurricanes? Actually, Douglas Wilson maintains that God is responsible for those, for Amos 3:6 asks, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” God causes people to suffer? That is a scary thought. Why should I worship such a God?

As far as “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer is concerned, that’s linked with the “Thy kingdom come” part. God’s will is already done in heaven, a place of peace, harmony, and life. But strife, disharmony, and death occur on earth. “Thy will be done”, in my opinion, is asking that earth might become like heaven.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ecclesiastes 4

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied Ecclesiastes 4. It reminded me of a variety of things.

Its statement that it’s better to have a little with rest than a lot with turmoil called to my mind last Sunday’s Brothers and Sisters, which I re-watched last night. Kitty’s husband has passed on, and Kitty does not know what to do with her life. She was offered the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (replacing Michael Steele, I take it), but she hasn’t accepted the job yet. Her mother, Nora, gave her a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which Nora had crossed out the masculine words and pronouns and substituted feminine ones, for Kitty’s benefit. The passage Nora had Kitty read was the one in which Thoreau said (with Nora’s substitutions) that, if a woman finds that she can’t keep up with others, then she needs to take time for herself so she can hear her own inner music. I was glad that I watched this episode a second time around, for I wasn’t paying attention to the quotation of Thoreau the first time that I watched it.

I find that I have difficulty keeping up with others. I’m in a Ph.D. program, but, unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not a walking encyclopedia. I haven’t written books or articles, nor do I have a clear idea what I can write that would be published. I don’t have a clear vision about what or how I can teach religion. To be honest, I’m not even sure if academia appeals to me, with its ruthlessness, its personality conflicts, and its preoccupation with what strikes me as trivialities. And I sometimes feel that my areas of interest aren’t really the same as much of academia’s. It’s like I’m on another planet!

But I’m taking the time to hear my own inner music. I’m reading books for my comps, looking for things in them that interest me (as well as identifying the parts that I have to know for the tests). But I’m also reading other scholarly and religious books that intrigue me. I’m not forsaking academia, but I’m enjoying it in my own way—in a manner that brings me rest rather than turmoil on account of me not “keeping up”. Maybe productivity will come out of my approach—in the form of articles, books, classes I can teach, etc. Or perhaps I’ll keep reading books and blogging about them, as I enjoy doing right now. Personally, I wouldn’t mind working at the Goodwill during the day, and reading and blogging at night! I’d like to do my work in a state of some rest.

Qoheleth’s statement also calls to my mind a woman whom I heard recently. She said that she was once a top salesperson in her field, and she made loads of money. But she has given up the long hours and big money for a simpler life, in which she can cultivate her spirituality. And she is happier as a result. Better is a little with rest, than a lot with turmoil.

Qoheleth also talks about the importance of companionship. For Qoheleth, friends can help us when we have problems, and Qoheleth also mentions friends (perhaps they were travellers) who keep each other warm at night. I remember attending an Intervarsity Bible study, in which the leader was discussing this passage in Ecclesiastes 4. He said that we can write our dissertation and neglect building friendships within the Christian community, but, if we follow that path, we’ll basically be left with ourselves—alone. Someone in the group then said that people like to interpret this passage tritely—”it’s good to have friends”—but they fail to realize that, in the ancient world, a person needed others to keep warm in the cold. Friendship was a necessity!

Someone else said that two Christians could be bound together by their common love for God, and a young woman then remarked that, if you’re not getting along with Christians, then that’s an indication that you’re not getting along with God.

I hated that Bible study. I have a hard time making friends. I feel alone in Christian groups. I do not feel bound together with other Christians based on our common love for God. And, quite frankly, I don’t get along with Christians, nor do I know how to do so. Some of it’s my social awkwardness. Some of it is because, right now, I’m not on the same page that they are.

But I can see Qoheleth’s point that it’s good to receive help and support from others, and to give it as well. There have been times when I’ve had problems—with my computer, or my finances, or simply knowing what to do in life (e.g., How can I stay cool in the summer, without increasing my electric bill with the air conditioner?), or in terms of my health. I’m grateful for my friends and family who have helped me out, and I’m not sure what I’d do without them. There are plenty of times when I want to be alone, for people are complicated, and I can easily be hurt or offended. That’s one reason that I’m hesitant to make friendships. But I can’t make it through life all by myself.

Qoheleth then talks about the rise and fall of the powerful and powerless. He discusses a poor, wise youth who manages to replace an old, foolish king. But, in the broad scheme of things, that’s just a blip on the radar screen. Several people lived before this political upheaval, and many will live after it, without even remembering it.

That’s sobering—how things that are considered important today won’t be deemed as important years from now. But this reminds me of something I once heard Joyce Meyer say: she remarked that she’s not expecting to be a prominent preacher forever, and so she’s not going to let her fame go to her head. There will come a time when she must decrease, and God will have a different stage of life for her. I admired her sense of perspective. Fame comes, and fame goes. But what do we do when we’re famous and not famous? What kind of people are we? What matters to us in these different situations of life? These are the important questions.

Did the Ten Commandments Exist Before Moses?

I wrote this article for Helium. It’s a little rambling, but I haven’t written Helium articles for a while. But writing this helped me to arrive at some clarity on this issue. It’s part of a debate, “Did the Ten Commandments Exist Before Moses?” I argue for the “No” side.
———-
According to the Hebrew Bible, there were certainly moral standards before the time of Moses. In Genesis 4, God punishes Cain for killing Abel. In Genesis 6:11, God disapproves of the human race on account of its violence. In Genesis 12 and 20, non-Israelite nations have some notion that adultery is wrong, and God punishes rulers when they are about to sleep unwittingly with the wife of Abraham. Indeed, there was some moral law prior to Moses, and it overlapped in many areas with the Ten Commandments that God later gave to Israel at Sinai, or Horeb.

But did the “Ten Commandments” exist before the time of Moses? The Ten Commandments were a part of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel, such that there are places in which the Torah equates the Ten Commandments with the covenant (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13). The Ten Commandments were the terms of God’s covenant with Israel: God would bless and preserve Israel, if she obeyed God’s voice; otherwise, God would punish Israel. Many of these commandments overlapped with the moral standards that existed before the time of Moses; the Sabbath command, however, may have originated after the Exodus. But the Ten Commandments AS Ten Commandments—a list of precepts that God gave to Israel as ten stipulations, to serve as the terms of God’s covenant with her—came to exist in the time of Moses. Consequently, in the part of the Bible that narrates the time before Moses, we see no reference to the “Ten Commandments.”

The command to keep the Sabbath is a part of the Ten Commandments, in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Did this command exist before the time of Moses? The Sabbath appears to have existed prior to Moses, for it came to be at creation, as God rested on the seventh day and sanctified it (Genesis 2:3). But, as far as I can see, there is no evidence in Scripture that the observance of the Sabbath was a COMMAND for human beings before the time of Moses; rather, we see that God rested on the seventh day, not that God told human beings to do so. God may have been saving his command to observe the Sabbath for his chosen people, Israel. Nehemiah 9:14 affirms that God made known his Sabbath to Israel through Moses, and Exodus 31:13-17 calls the Sabbath a sign between God and Israel that God sanctifies his special nation. The Sabbath, like the broader body of the Ten Commandments, is intricately connected to God’s covenant with Israel, which was established with conditons under Moses. (The covenant existed as far back as Abraham, as Genesis 15 indicates, but the conditions of the covenant occurred when Moses was Israel’s leader.)

Christian Sabbatarians (who believe that God commands all people to observe the Sabbath on Saturday) have argued that Mark 2:27 says that the Sabbath was made for man, meaning that God at creation commanded all human beings to observe it. “Notice that the Sabbath was made for MAN, not only for the JEW,” Sabbatarians have said. But Mark 2:27 occurs in the context of a controversy that Jesus had with the Pharisees over the observance of the Torah, God’s law for Israel. In such controversies, Jesus and the Pharisees often used a word for man, even though the law in question applied only to Israel. In John 7:22, for example, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that they circumcise a man on the Sabbath day, although neither he nor the Jewish leaders believed that God required all human beings to be circumcised. Genesis 17, after all, prescribed circumcision for Abraham’s descendants. (But didn’t Judaizing Christians in Acts 15 and Galatians want Gentiles to be circumcused? Yes, as an entrance requirement for joining the community of Abraham. In Judaism, Gentiles had to be circumcised to become a part of the people of Israel. Paul’s argument was that physical circumcision was no longer a requirement for Gentiles to join God’s special people.) In Jesus’ controversies with the Jewish leaders over Torah observance, “man” means the people under the Torah, namely, Israelites.

Christian Sabbatarians also argue that Isaiah 56 and 66 present Gentiles observing the Sabbath. Isaiah 56 discusses Gentiles who join themselves to God’s covenant, which may indicate that they are converts. Gentiles keep the Sabbath after they join God’s covenant people, Israel, indicating that the Sabbath is God’s institution for Israel, not all of humanity. Isaiah 66 describes all flesh worshipping God on the Sabbaths and new moons in the new heavens and the new earth. The passage does not say that Gentiles will be required to rest, which is a key aspect of Sabbath observance; at the same time, God may very well place Gentiles under the discipline of the Torah in the new heavens and the new earth, as an educational tool. Zechariah 14 describes them keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, after all. But that does not mean that Gentiles before then are required to observe the Sabbath, or that the Sabbath was God’s creation observance for all of humanity. The Sabbath commandment (not the Sabbath itself, but the command to observe it) appears to have originated within the context of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, under Moses.

There were moral standards before, during, and after the time of Moses, but there were also differences between God’s requirements for humanity before the Torah came into being, and after God placed Israel under it. In an article for the “Yes” side, Robert Briggs argues in qal va-homer fashion:

“Now, if the offerings seen under the Mosiac law were in operation before they were written, read and observed; would the most vital of all instructions to man (The Ten Commandments) be in literary limbo at the same time?”

Indeed, there is overlap between God’s pre-Torah and Torah standards, but there are differences as well. Leviticus 18:18 prohibits a man from marrying two women who are sisters, and yet did not Jacob do precisely that when he married Leah and Rachel? Leviticus 18:9 says that a man can’t sleep with his sister, either his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter. But Abraham was married to Sarah, the daughter of his father (Genesis 20:12). Although there is a strong strand within Judaism that tries to argue that the patriarchs observed the Torah, we see indications that they did not. God may not have held them to the same strict standard that he later imposed on Israel. Briggs seems to assume that God had the same standards before and after the time of Moses, and so he concludes that the Ten Commandments pre-dated Moses. But this is not a safe assumption. Prior to Moses, God very well may have had thoughts as to how things should be (i.e., a man shouldn’t marry his half-sister), but God did not enforce that standard until the Mosaic law.

Romans 5:12-21 is interesting and relevant to this debate, for Paul discusses sin before and after the law. Paul says that God’s revelation of the law under Moses multiplied trespass, for God reckons sin to people when they know his law and choose not to obey it. At the same time, death did exist from Adam to Moses, as a result of Adam’s sin. In a sense, God did have a moral standard and punish sin before the time of Moses, and yet, according to Paul, God’s revelation of the Torah under Moses brought something that did not exist before: a clear revelation of God’s righteous standard. In my opinion, that’s how God could let the sexual sins of Abraham and Jacob slide: they lacked God’s full revelation, and so they didn’t know better.
Did the Ten Commandments exist prior to Moses? God had standards for people back then. Many of them overlapped with the Ten Commandments. And yet, there’s no evidence that the Sabbath command pre-dated God’s relationship with Israel under Moses. The Ten Commandments as such were the terms of God’s covenant with Israel. At the same time, they were a fuller revelation of God’s standards, which were not fully and completely expressed prior to Moses.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Little More Light on Duhm

In my reading today of Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett summarizes the views of B. Duhm regarding the Servant Songs in Second Isaiah:

“…Duhm himself speculated that the four Servant Songs were not written by the ‘author’ of the rest of Deutero-Isaiah, but that they depicted a Rabbi who was contemporary with this prophet and died of leprosy” (page 140).

Does that mean Duhm believed that the Servant lived during the Babylonian exile, which is the setting of Second Isaiah?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Exodus 16 Sabbath; Amith; Deuteronomy Is More “Theological”

1. In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner (or somebody, since I’m in a part of the book in which Neusner quotes blocks of scholarly sources) refers to the Sabbath laws in Exodus 16: the Israelites cannot cook (Exodus 16:22-26) and must remain in their homes (Exodus 16:29-30) on the Sabbath day. The context here is God giving the Israelites manna in the wilderness.

I remember when my Dad had a debate on whether or not we should keep the annual holy days (e.g., Days of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.). A Sabbatarian pastor wrote a book saying that Christians are under no obligation to do so, and his argument was that Christians who claim to keep the holy days don’t do them according to the Bible: they don’t make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, for instance. My Dad argued that the Sabbatarian pastor himself did not keep the Sabbath according to the Bible. My Dad pointed out that Exodus 16 banned the Israelites from leaving their homes on the Sabbath, yet the pastor left his home every Sabbath to go to church. (I also saw him kindle a fire on the Sabbath, notwithstanding Exodus 35:3!) My Dad’s position was that Christians should keep the Sabbath and the holy days in “newness of spirit”: we still rest on the days and use them as opportunities to learn and to honor God, but we’re not bound by the Old Testament regulations concerning them.

At first, for some reason, I was a little surprised that my Dad believed that the Israelites couldn’t leave their homes on the Sabbath on account of Exodus 16. Maybe I thought (somewhere in my mind) that such a law only applied to the wilderness sojourn, when the Israelites were receiving manna. Now, I read a scholar saying that Judaism views Exodus 16 as authoritative.

That makes a degree of sense. First, in Exodus 12:16, the Israelites are prohibited to work on the first and the seventh Days of Unleavened Bread. These are Sabbaths. And yet, Israelites can prepare food on those days. In my opinion, Exodus 12:16 specifies that the Israelites can prepare food on these particular Sabbaths because they are not allowed to do so on the weekly Sabbath. The Sabbaths of the festivals are not entirely the same as the weekly Sabbath, in terms of what is allowed and forbidden.

Second, there’s the Jewish eruv. Because traditional Jews cannot leave their homes on the Sabbath, the rabbis devised a way to allow for freer movement—so they can go to synagogue. Basically, the Jews make their entire neighborhood into one “home”, if you will. And so one can go to a nearby synagogue, without technically leaving one’s “home”. That seems to assume that Exodus 16′s ban on leaving one’s home on the Sabbath is viewed as authoritative within traditional Judaism.

By the way, that Sabbatarian pastor doesn’t believe in keeping the Sabbath anymore!

2. Now for my reading of Avi Hurvitz’s A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel. Hurvitz discusses the use of the Hebrew word amith, which means “neighbor”. According to Hurvitz, it appears in early biblical Hebrew, but very, very rarely in later biblical and rabbinic Hebrew. On page 76, he says that its appearance in Zechariah “should not be taken as a neologism signalling the birth of the word in the Hebrew language and its literature, but should be understood as an archaic remnant of a dying word.” P uses amith a lot. Ezekiel, however, does not. Again, Hurvitz concludes that Ezekiel draws from P, rather than vice-versa.

And Hurvitz may also be making a point about the date of P: that it’s pre-exilic. Some people may believe that amith first appeared in the post-exilic Book of Zechariah, and then P—a post-exilic document—picked it up. But Hurvitz disagrees. He notices that Ezekiel and rabbinic literature shy away from amith, and so he concludes it was on its way out in Israel’s post-exilic period. Consequently, P had to be early (pre-exilic?) to be using amith!

3. On page 43 of Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, Jean-Louis Ska states:

“The Deuteronomic Law is more theological than the Covenant Code. Thus, Deuteronomy 15 mentions YHWH three times (15:14, 15, 18). Twice it speaks about blessing (15:14, 18). In addition, it connects the law regarding slaves to the experience of the Exodus, that is, to salvation history (15:15). Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and were liberated by YHWH their God, so they must now liberate their own slaves and must not send them away empty-handed.”

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