Thursday, June 30, 2011

Do You Think About the Things That You DO Think About?

I'm reading Rachel Held Evans' Evolving in Monkey Town right now, and I'll be writing some blog-posts about it, on-and-off, that is. I also have Jason Boyett's O Me of Little Faith, and I will get to that, at some point.

The Scopes trial in the 1920's plays a significant part in Rachel's book. At the Scopes trial, renowned statesman and devout Christian William Jennings Bryan assisted in the prosecution of John Scopes, a science teacher who violated a Tennessee law against teaching evolution. Famous attorney Clarence Darrow assisted in the defense of Scopes. The climax of the trial came when Darrow put Bryan on the witness stand as an expert on the Bible. Rachel includes pieces of that interaction in her book, and it overlaps with how the movie Inherit the Wind depicts the scene (though scholars have pointed out that Inherit the Wind is inaccurate in certain areas). I think that the most poignant question that Darrow asked Bryan was this: "Do you think about the things that you do think about?" Darrow asked Bryan if he ever studied ancient civilizations---which pre-dated the time that Archbishop Ussher calculated (from the Bible) that God created the heavens and the earth. Darrow inquired if Bryan ever wondered what would happen if the earth stood still---as supposedly occurred during Joshua's long day. To these questions and others, Bryan responded that he had not thought about such issues. Rather, Bryan believed in the Bible, and he found the Bible to be a sufficient source of spiritual nourishment. Darrow criticized Bryan's apparent lack of intellectual curiosity. As a result of that incident, Bryan's fundamentalism became a laughing-stock to many.

According to Rachel, Bryan's inadequate answers on the witness-stand prompted a wave of Christian apologetics, as apologists faulted Bryan for being unprepared to defend his faith. Rachel does not explicitly say this, but I can imagine that these apologists thought that, if they were put on the witness stand in Bryan's place, they would have done a whole lot better, and would probably have sent Darrow packing!

But Darrow's question of "Do you think about the things that you do think about?" got me thinking about when I am curious enough to research a topic, and when I am not. There are situations in which I can be as intellectually lazy as William Jennings Bryan, perhaps because I feel that a topic is not important to me, or I am uninterested in a topic, or I am interested in other things, or I am content having a particular worldview and do not want to change. But there are other times when I do research---because I am trying to win a debate, or a topic really does interest me, or I want to uncover the truth about a matter. Then there have been times when I have been reluctant to research a topic but have forced myself to do so. In some cases, I feel like I'm being absorbed into a bottomless pit of uninteresting data. In other cases, I find the process of research to be enjoyable, and the results to be fascinating.

I'll use the age of the cosmos as an example of when I feel like researching, and when I do not. Recently, someone posted on a site an excellent blog-post by famous atheist P.Z. Myers, entitled Dear Emma B. At a NASA display of a moon-rock, a lady said that the rock was 3.75 billion years old. Nine-year old Emma then asked the lady a question: "Were you there?" Creationist Ken Ham is praising Emma for her question, for he himself has asked how evolutionists can be so dogmatic about their claims, when none of them was actually present when the universe originated.

In his blog-post, P.Z. Myers praises Emma for asking a question, for inquiry is essential to science. But he disputed that Emma's question was really all-that-productive. Of course the lady showing the exhibit was not present at the origin of the moon-rock! Emma has learned nothing by asking that question! A more productive question would have been, "Why do you think that the moon-rock is that old?" Emma would have learned something new had she asked that question. Myers then proceeds to tell Emma that we all make conclusions about events at which we were not present, but that doesn't mean that the conclusions are wrong. For example, many of us were not present at the American Civil War, but we believe that there was one. Then, Myers explains radiometric dating in a clear and cogent manner.

Underneath the post of Myers' piece, a creationist posted an article from Creation Science Evangelism, entitled Evidence for a Young Earth. This article argued that the earth is young, on the basis of trees, reefs, the earth's rotation, population, the magnetic field, Niagra Falls, and salt in the ocean. Here I was, applauding P.Z. Myers for urging Emma to be curious about people's positions, and the rationales behind them. And yet, I was uninterested in evaluating the basis for a creationist's arguments!

Why? Part of it is that I am content with my notion that conservative Christianity is wrong, on account of my own bad experiences with conservative Christianity---with all its dogmatism, its arrogance, its manipulation, its authoritarianism, its bullying, its group-think, and its cliquishness. (Man, you can tell that I feel strongly about this!) But part of it also is that I'm not all that interested in science, and I feel out-of-my-league when it comes to science. As I've said before on other sites, I'd probably lose a debate with a creation scientist or an evolutionist---for the simple reason that I do not know much about science, and, therefore, I can't evaluate claims that are made. Plus, I have often doubted the importance of the issue. A creationist can present me with what he considers to be evidence that the earth is young, not old. I can respond that most scientists disagree with him. He would then reply that there have been times in history when most scientists have been wrong. But here's what I can come back with: Even if the world is young, what does that prove? It doesn't prove that Christianity is true. It doesn't even prove that all of the Bible is inerrant in every detail! All it would prove is that the earth is young! Many conservative religionists act as if proof for one piece of their ideology means that their entire ideology is true, and they then feel free to bully others with that ideology. But, in my opinion, their "proofs" for particular ideas do not prove their ideology! Suppose an archaeologist finds proof that King David existed. That doesn't prove the truth of conservative evangelical Christianity! All it proves is that King David existed.

Okay. So I didn't want to evaluate the creationist's claims because I'm uninterested in science, and I don't feel that the creation/evolution debate really matters. But this isn't entirely the case, for I have read debates between evolutionists and creationists, as well as books about the topic. A debate that really got me questioning creationism was that between Berkley-educated scientist (and creationist) Duane Gish and scientist (and evolutionist) Ken Saladin of Georgia College (see here). I've also read a debate between Intelligent-Design proponent Phillip Johnson and evolutionist Ken Miller. I blogged through Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, as well as looked at arguments by Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis against the sorts of arguments that Coyne presents. So I am interested in the issue, on some level. Why? I think it's fun to look at arguments and to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, to see why people believe the way that they do, and to weigh different interpretations of data---even if there are cases when I feel way out of my league. That said, perhaps I will look at Creation Science Evangelism's arguments for a young earth, as well as how an evolutionist site (such as www.talkorigins.org) addresses those arguments. And I will blog about it, since blogging helps me to think through things, plus I want to create a resource of information for others. But I don't feel like doing so right at this moment, since there are other issues that interest me---such as stories about people's faith journeys.

Will Mainline Protestantism Fade Away?

A friend of mine wrote recently, "With the historic mainline denominations in the US graying rapidly, with little influx of younger members, it's likely they'll all die out within a generation."

Will mainline Protestantism die out within a generation? I attend a Presbyterian Church (USA), and, I will admit, most of the people there are older than me! But, at the same time, I do read comments by young people who are discontent with evangelicalism and attend mainline Protestant churches. Conservative evangelicalism has its share of baggage---personality cults, guilt-trips, a union of Christianity with Republican politics---and so there are young people who want to be Christians, yet have no desire to hitch themselves to conservative evangelicalism.

Personally, although the church that I attend is probably on the conservative end of PC(USA), I like how it does not try to force me to do things that I do not want to do. Moreover, I like how a person can be gone from church for a long time, and, when he comes back, he's not hounded with some guilt-trip about being absent from church, nor is he smothered with phony and obligatory "I miss you"s. Rather, people shake his hand and tell him they're glad to see him. It's like he's part of the family, whether he's there, or not. I find that the church that I attend is a comfortable place.

Of course, some conservative would say that's a bad thing. They'd say that I should feel low or convicted at church. They'd say that this is the only way that I can grow. I don't buy that.

I have a conservative Christian friend, who criticized those who complain about conservative Christian churches. He asks why they don't attend a Unitarian-Universalist church, or some church that shares their beliefs. He remarked that he wouldn't go to a Buddhist temple and start complaining about how it does things. Rather, he'd go to a religious house that shares his belief. On some level, I dislike his comment because he acts as if conservative Christians have the copyright to Christianity---when Christianity is diverse, plus conservative Christians themselves pick-and-choose from Scripture, just like most Christians. But there is a degree of wisdom to what he's saying. If I have a problem with conservative Christianity, why stick around and complain about it? I should just let conservative Christians be who they are, while I am who I am.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Corporate Worship on the Sabbath

A few weeks ago, I was having a discussion with former Seventh-Day Adventist (and now Catholic) Theresa Beem on synagogues. See here for a post that she wrote on the topic. The question that she asks is this: "Did Jesus and the apostles go to the synagogues to worship?"

I was coming across as rather dogmatic in the discussion, but, here on my blog, I will be more three-dimensional, for the discussion got me thinking about certain issues, and it highlighted both what I do know, and also what I do not know.

The reason that this question is important to Theresa is that it relates to the question of whether or not we are commanded to attend church on the Sabbath. There are Adventists who have contended that we are commanded to do so, for Jesus and Paul attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2). But, for Theresa, the synagogue in the first century was not a place for corporate worship, but rather a place for study, teaching, and debate on the Scriptures---like a Sabbath school class, as opposed to a worship service. Theresa argues that the synagogue became a place for corporate worship under rabbinic Judaism, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Theresa's point here is that corporate worship on the Sabbath is a rabbinic tradition, not a command from God. As far as commands from God are concerned, Theresa contends that the Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible is a day of rest, not a day of corporate worship, and that corporate worship was only to occur in the Tabernacle or Temple---which was where sacrifices were made to God, and where the Israelites were to gather before God three times a year. But the Israelites did not worship corporately every Sabbath day, since, for many of them, the journey to Jerusalem was quite a trek! That may be why they only had to appear before God at the central sanctuary three times a year.

I'll start with where I disagree with Theresa, and then I'll detail some of the thoughts that the discussion engendered in my mind. I think that there is evidence that Jews before 70 believed that they could pray outside of the central sanctuary, and that the New Testament presents approval of that practice on the part of its heroes. In the discussion, I quoted a paper that I wrote for a class on pre-70 synagogues:

"The synagogue was also a place of prayer. Such a function is evident in Diaspora proseuchai (see Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 14:260; Philo, Flaccus 120-123), which is not surprising, since Diaspora Jews probably used prayer to compensate for their distance from the Jerusalem temple. Regarding Palestinian synagogues, Josephus refers to the Jews in the Tiberias proseuche engaging in the customary service and offering up their prayers (Josephus, Life 295). Moreover, Josephus implies that the synagogue was a holy place, for he says in Jewish Wars 2:289 that a Judean synagogue was defiled when Gentiles sacrificed birds at its entrance. First century C.E. literary sources present synagogues as holy locations for the study of scripture, community meetings, and prayer."

So, according to first century sources, there were houses of prayer in the Jewish Diaspora, as well as in Palestine. The New Testament acknowledges this point, for Acts 16:13-16 depicts Paul going to a prayer gathering in Philippi on the Sabbath. There is debate about whether or not we can conflate the proseuche with the synagogue, but, in Matthew 6:5, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for their showy prayers in the synagogues. That tells me that synagogues were not only places of study, but also places of prayer. One could argue that Matthew dates after 70 and thus is depicting a post-70 reality, but I did not open that can of worms, for my impression was that Theresa accepts the Gospel of Matthew as a historically-accurate source for what was happening before 70. But, even if Matthew is presenting us with a post-70 reality, I still feel that I have documented that there were prayer gatherings outside of the central sanctuary prior to 70---from Philo and Josephus.

But my mind is still unsettled. At this point, my thoughts will be rather scattered. Here are some issues:

1. A point that I repeatedly made in my discussion with Theresa was that Deuteronomy prohibited sacrifice outside of the central sanctuary, but not worship. Her response, which she supported with Scriptural references, was that worship is integrally connected with sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. And, indeed, in many cases, it is, for the gatherings at the central sanctuary and the activity at the Temple are referred to as worship, and there are places in the Hebrew Bible where worship and sacrifice appear to be in parallel with each other (i.e., II Kings 17:36). I cannot downplay the connection between worship and sacrifice while the Temple still stood.

I referred to incidents in the Hebrew Bible in which prayer was made without a sacrifice, but she pointed out that those were incidents of individual worship, not corporate worship. I then wondered if there is evidence in the Hebrew Bible of corporate worship occurring outside of the central sanctuary---without animal sacrifices being offered---and I remembered Deuteronomy 16:7-8. In that passage, God commands the Israelites to sacrifice the Passover at the central sanctuary, and, in the morning, they are to return to their tents. On the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, they are to hold a solemn assembly to the LORD their God.

Jeffrey Tigay, in his Jewish Publication Society commentary on Deuteronomy, states that this means that the Israelites are to leave the central sanctuary after the Passover sacrifice and return to their homes. On the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, they are to have a solemn assembly at a local site. According to Tigay, Jewish halakhah assumes that the Israelites went home after the Passover sacrifice, for halakhists struggle to harmonize the Israelites going home right after the Passover, with the rule that there is to be no long-distance travel on the Sabbath (which the first day of Unleavened Bread---right after the Passover---is). Bernard Levenson states that Deuteronomy allows for a local solemn assembly because Deuteronomy needed to preserve some localization in its dramatic shift of society towards the central sanctuary, for only so much custom could be uprooted! And the New Jewish Publication Society's translation of Deuteronomy 16:7 affirms that the Israelites are to go home right after the Passover.

Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the Israelites returning to their tents meant that they were going back to their homes, rather than to tents that they set up in Jerusalem. In I Kings 8:66, the Israelites go to their tents after they are done celebrating a festival. Granted, there are passages in which the Israelites remain in Jerusalem for all seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread---such as II Chronicles 30:21 and 35:17. But there is good reason to believe that Deuteronomy 16:7-8 presents the Israelites going home after the Passover sacrifice, and having a local assembly on the last day of Unleavened Bread---an assembly which would not have had animal sacrifices, for (according to Deuteronomy) those could only be offered at the central sanctuary.

2. Theresa's argument that the Israelites celebrated the Sabbath in their homes has merit, for Exodus 16 says that the Israelites could not leave their homes on the Sabbath. Rabbinic Judaism takes this command seriously, which is why it has the eruv---a way to make a number of houses into one "home" so that Jews can travel to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Such a practice may even have existed before 70 C.E., for Acts 1:12 refers to a Sabbath day's journey. But did the eruv exist in the time of the Hebrew Bible? I do not know. Perhaps Exodus 16 commanded the Israelites to remain in their homes on the Sabbath, period, but that is not the only perspective in the Hebrew Bible. II Kings 4:23 implies that Israelites visited prophets on the Sabbath day. Plus, there are places in the Hebrew Bible that appear to associate the Sabbaths with assembly (Isaiah 1:13; 66:23; Lamentations 2:6; Hosea 2:11; etc.), which would occur outside of the home.

3. In a sense, prayers in the exile were intended to take the place of sacrifice. I think that we see this sort of notion in the Hebrew Bible, for Hosea 14:2 refers to the calves of the lips, or prayer. The rabbis regarded prayer as a replacement for sacrifice after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. But why were there houses of prayer while the Temple was still standing---during the Second Temple Period? One reason was probably that there were Israelites who lived far from the Jerusalem Temple. But the Jewish Encyclopedia states, "According to one legend, there were 394 synagogues at Jerusalem when the city was destroyed by Titus (Ket. 105), while a second tradition gives the number as 480 (Yer. Meg. 73d et al.)." If these synagogues existed, did they arise after the destruction of the Temple in 70?

I have a few other questions: Does orthodox Judaism require Jews to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day? If prayer replaces sacrifices, and those sacrifices were required by the Torah, are the prayers required? And, if so, are they required in an assembly, or a minyan?

4. My discussion with Theresa made me recall a class that I took with David Kraemer at Jewish Theological Seminary. Kraemer's argument (if I'm remembering it correctly) was that there is no evidence of Jewish corporate prayer in the Second Temple Period. The Book of Daniel, for example, presents Daniel praying in isolation, not in a community. Theresa's distinction between individual and corporate worship has been made by others.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Concluding Peckham

I finished Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy. I have two quotes from my reading for today:

"The epic was the first to create a past and a future. From myth, legend, folklore, hearsay, and opinion its writer wove the family history of Israel on its blessed journey to individuation and separation from the nations" (page 818).

"The Deuteronomistic Historian, in the first part of the sixth century, in an age of great libraries and literary revival, bereft of kings and patrons, citizen of a world expanding in commerce and colonization, abandoned local pride and regional interests to write a history of the universe where God was king" (page 817).

John Van Seters would reverse this. For him, the Deuteronomistic Historian was the one who created a past and a future that gave Israel an identity, as well as sought to separate Israel from the nations. But the Yahwist then came and offered a more universalist message---about God as king of the universe. Personally, though, I don't recall Peckham portraying the Deuteronomistic Historian as universalist in his orientation. But, unlike Van Seters, Peckham does extend the Deuteronomistic History back to the time of creation. Whereas Van Seters argues that J is the author of Genesis 2-3---and that J is communicating the message that all peoples are responsible to God for their actions, whereas the Deuteronomist focused on Israel---Peckham maintains that the Deuteronomist was the one who gave Genesis 3 an ethical orientation, for the Deuteronomist emphasized law and punishment for sin.

I do not know what Peckham believes gave rise to a desire to compose a history for Israel, but Peckham does appear to date the biblical writings after the fall of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E. That may have inspired the author of the epic to encourage his people to seek refuge in the covenant. It opened Isaiah's eyes to the possibility that Judah could fall on account of sin. And other writers wrestled with the issue of destruction---whether they wrote before or after the fall of Judah in 587 B.C.E.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Peckham on Jonah, Third Isaiah, and Style

I have three items for my write-up today of Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy.

1. Peckham argues that the Book of Jonah is a parody that is mocking the prophets. Peckham states on page 690 that "The original work was written in response to the fatalism of the Deuteronomistic History and the book of Jeremiah, in which the fall of Jerusalem was a necessary consequence either of sin or of the rejection of the prophets." According to Peckham, the Deuteronomistic History is fatalistic in that it depicts the reform of Josiah as ineffective in preventing the coming catastrophe, for the sin of Manasseh was so great that it needed to be punished. Regarding the Book of Jeremiah, the book presents Jeremiah refusing to intercede for the people of Judah. The Book of Jonah mocks these ideas, for it features the repentance of the Ninevites preventing the destruction of their city, and Jonah the prophet being rebuked by God because of his reluctance to help the city to repent and avoid destruction. Moreover, Jonah the prophet brings trouble to people on the ship to Tarshish, which is another put-down of prophets.

There may be something to Peckham's argument, but, on page 702, Peckham states that the Deuteronomistic History portrays the prophets as preachers of repentance, urging people to prevent their doom. So which is it? Was the Deuteronomist fatalistic, or did he believe that repentance could overturn a coming catastrophe? Maybe both.

2. Peckham presents Third Isaiah as anti-establishment. Unlike Second Isaiah, he did not desire the restoration of the Davidic monarchy---and, according to Peckham, Isaiah 8:16-23's condemnation of necromancy is actually Third Isaiah's condemnation of Second Isaiah for envisioning the restoration of the defunct Davidic dynasty (page 739)! As far as Third Isaiah is concerned, Israel should not rely on that corpse! Third Isaiah envisions the habitation in Zion of a purified worshiping community, a remnant, and he downplays parts of Isaiah that magnify Hezekiah, replacing him or Immanuel with the remnant in God's plan. For example, Peckham states on page 718 that "The issue is defined at the start by identifying the Davidic shoot from the stump of Jesse with the holy remnant (6:13; cf. 4:2-3; 10:33-11:10) and by including among the children of Isaiah one who is called 'A Remnant Shall Return,' a rival of the child Immanuel (7:3; 10:20-23)."

Peckham also appears to depict Third Isaiah as xenophobic, for he says that Third Isaiah substitutes Second Isaiah's vision of nations flocking to Jerusalem to worship with "unwanted foreigners who fill the city" (page 718). I wonder how Peckham would address Isaiah 56, which welcomes foreigners into Israel's worship, for Peckham does identify that chapter as part of Third Isaiah. Peckham also says that Third Isaiah believed God would not forgive the worship of idols but would reject the nation, which contrasts with Second Isaiah's encouragement of Israel. Under this model, Third Isaiah probably held that God would reject the nation, yet would rebuild it on a purified remnant.

3. On page 736, Peckham refers to parts of the Book of Jeremiah that were "composed in imitation of [Jeremiah's] dramatic style". In this book, I have not seen Peckham differentiate sources on the basis of style, but rather on the basis of ideas. After all, can style be a reliable in helping one to differentiate sources, when styles can be imitated?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Knowing God's Will

At church this morning, the topic was hearing God's voice. Two of the congregants were graduating from high school and moving on to the next stage of their lives, and the pastor was assuring them that God is there to guide them. In the children's service, the pastor asked someone from the fifth grade if he knew what sort of job that he wanted when he grew up, and the young man replied that he did not know. The pastor then responded that God will guide him. In the sermon, the pastor told us about the time that he graduated from high school---51 years ago (which took me aback, since he looks like he's in his 50's!). The pastor said that he wanted to be a history teacher, but he did not have the grades to do so, and so he went to Utica School of Commerce. The pastor said that he does not regret that. He feels that God was guiding him into his vocation.

The Scripture readings were interesting. I think that their focus was God having a plan for each person's life. The liturgist read Psalm 139, which is a beautiful Psalm about God being intricately involved in our lives, even from birth. But it was odd to watch the liturgist read the "I hate" parts of the Psalm---in a low-key mainline Protestant church! The next text was Matthew 4:18-22, in which Jesus calls the disciples. And the third text was I Samuel 3:1-20, which was about God's call of Samuel. I've heard a few sermons about that particular text, and, usually, they are about God's guidance of the individual. But the sermons do not really discuss the actual message that God gave to Samuel: that God would punish Eli and his sons. Indeed, that would have implications that affected Samuel, for Samuel took Eli's place. But the message was communal in its implications. As I thought about this point while singing a hymn, my eyes welled up because my mind wandered to how Eli was not a bad guy---but the biblical God punished him in his thirst for justice, holiness, and honor. It was the sort of feeling that I've gotten from watching Stephen King's Desperation, or the 2006 Ten Commandments movie: God is cruel, but there is some justice in his cruelty---even though it does diverge from our sense of fairness, in areas.

For some reason, the pastor's message about God's guidance made a degree of sense to me. I think there is a way to mis-apply that sort of message, though, at least in my experience. "Does God want me to get this job, or that job?" "Does God want me to take this class, or that class?" When I got to Harvard Divinity School, I was eager to witness to my faith in that bastion of liberalism, and so I told people "I'm waiting for God to lead me" in terms of what classes I should take. One day, I felt that God did not want me to major in Bible, since Bible classes would use the historical-critical method, which contradicts biblical inerrancy. The next day, however, after hearing presentations from Bible professors, I concluded that Hebrew Bible was the field that I desired to pursue---for the presentations fascinated and intrigued me. When I told a professor that I was waiting for God to lead me, he glibly replied, "Well, you better hear from him soon, because there's a deadline!" Good point!

Personally, I do not live as if God has a specific will for my life, and he will communicate that will to me in a clear manner. If I were to live that way, I would continually wonder if I am doing God's will, or something else. I had a friend at Harvard who was being persecuted by students on account of his opposition to homosexuality, and he told me that, as he looked back, he concluded that God wanted him to attend Yale Divinity School, but, because he went to Harvard instead, God was punishing him. I'm not sure if God works that way. As I look back, I can't really say that God wanted me to go on Path A, and I went on Path B. I took the path that I took, based on my preferences, influence from other people, and what I knew at the time. Maybe I would have been happier someplace else, or maybe not. But there were advantages and disadvantages to where I was. As I look back, I'm not sure where God was in my life. But I do feel that God is with me now, for some reason. I am very reluctant to say "God wants me to do THIS," but I am open to wisdom. I'm tempted to wait passively for God to open doors, but I realize that I myself need to research where the doors are! Perhaps God works in this process.

Peckham on Joel

In this write-up on Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy, I will talk a little about Peckham's view on the Book of Joel.

Peckham believes that Joel is disagreeing with the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH). The Deuteronomist believed that the Babylonian destruction of Judah and Jerusalem as well as the exile were divine punishments for Judah's sin. The Deuteronomist also thought that God preserved Israel out of faithfulness to his promises, and he denied that God dwelt in an earthly temple, for he maintained that the earthly sanctuary was for God's name, whereas God actually dwelt in heaven.

Joel, by contrast, does not say that the Judahites are being punished for sin. Rather, Joel blames natural cycles or nearby nations for Judah's predicament; at the same time, Peckham does seem to acknowledge (if I am understanding him correctly) that the suffering Judahites are experiencing the Day of the LORD, according to Joel. For Peckham, Joel advocates humble prayer as the means to convince Israel's gracious God to reverse her predicament. Joel does not endorse repentance of sin, as if Judah's sin led to her downfall, nor does he refer to any promises to which God is faithful. And, unlike the Deuteronomist, Joel assumes that God dwells in the temple (in whatever capacity it existed after 587 B.C.E.).

Another point: As with his understanding of the Book of Ezekiel, Peckham holds that the Book of Joel had an editorial stage designed to create a practical program of restoration. There is a difference of opinion within prophetic literature over who were God's favorites: the exiles or those who stayed behind in Judah. Second Isaiah and the author of the Book of Jeremiah answer "the exiles". (See Jeremiah 24. I'm not sure if Peckham attributes that to the prophet Jeremiah, for Peckham says that Jeremiah himself thought that God would deliver Judah at the last minute, preventing a large-scale exile. But Peckham may distinguish the prophet Jeremiah from the author of the book that bears Jeremiah's name.) But, according to Peckham, the editor of Joel believes that the remaining people of Jerusalem were "now the nucleus of the holy restored community" (page 677).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Psalm 30

For my weekly quiet time today, I will blog about Psalm 30 and its interpreters. I have three points:

1. The Psalm is about God delivering the Psalmist from death. There are different ideas about the setting of this Psalm. Christian preacher Jon Courson interpreted the Psalm in light of the events in II Samuel 6: David is celebrating God, but he is proud when he marches the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem on a cart, in violation of God's command that certain Levites carry it using the Ark's poles. David is then humbled and saddened after Uzzah touches the Ark and dies. But there is joy in the morning, and David dances before the LORD, to the consternation of his wife, Michal. The Psalm talks about the Psalmist boldly declaring that he shall never be moved, which many interpret as pride, as well as the Psalmist putting off his sackcloth and dancing before the LORD.

Others have maintained that the Psalm has been used for Hanukkah, and that it was utilized as far back as the re-dedication of the Temple in 164 B.C.E. Nowadays, it is used on Hanukkah, which is not surprising, considering that the superscription has the word, which means "dedication." The Babylonian Talmud relates the Psalm to Hanukkah, and the medieval Midrash on the Psalms applies the Psalm to events in 164 B.C.E. But Jews also use the Psalm in daily services, Sabbath services, and services on festival mornings. Psalm 30 contains ideas that can apply to any day of the year: God's deliverance of people from death and sadness, and God's holy ones singing to God and remembering his holiness. It is understandable, therefore, that Jewish interpreters have posited other reference-points for Psalm 30. Rashi, for example, states that the rabbis believe that Psalm 30 refers to Esther and Mordecai.

Others have proposed alternative historical reference-points. As he does with other Psalms, the fourth century Antiochian Christian exegete Theodore of Mopsuestia prefers the deliverance of Jerusalem under Sennacherib as the reference-point for Psalm 30. According to Theodore, David the Psalmist is foreseeing that Hezekiah will become proud after God delivers Jerusalem (II Chronicles 32:23), and so God will humble Hezekiah with sickness. But God will deliver Hezekiah from his disease and from death.

The superscription affirms that Psalm 30 is a song of dedication of the house of David. Does this mean the dedication of the Temple? Many would say "no" because David did not build the Temple, but others would point out that, according to I Chronicles, David dedicated the Temple in all but name! E.W. Bullinger argues that Psalm 30 concerns David's dedication of his own house, not the Temple, for Deuteronomy 20:5 refers to the dedication of houses, which shows that other places besides the Temple could be dedicated. In this scenario, perhaps David was celebrating God's goodness in bringing him to the point where he could live in a house, or palace.

Peter Craigie locates the Psalm in the cult, as he speculates that Psalm 30:11 concerns a ceremony of taking off sackcloth. But Craigie acknowledges that there isn't much about the cult in this particular Psalm: there is nothing about sacrifices or the payment of vows (cp. Psalm 66:13-14), or a banquet (Psalm 22:27). At the same time, the Psalm does appear to acknowledge the presence of fellow worshipers (Psalm 30:4). Is Psalm 30 an exilic or post-exilic Psalm, which was used by small assemblies of Jewish worshipers?

2. The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary had some good items. You have probably heard people say that hell is a state of mind on earth---that we create our own hell. Traditional Judaism certainly acknowledges that Gehinnom is a place where many people go after their death, but there is also a notion that one can experience hell in this life. The Babylonian Talmud, in Nedarim 22a, affirms that those who are angry are subjected to all kinds of Gehinnom. The Artscroll concludes from this: "The flames of frustration, anguish, and melancholy are the equivalent of the fires of Gehinnom. Throughout the Book of Psalms, most references to 'falling into the lower world' refer to this type of emotional inferno."

This reminds me of how C.S. Lewis portrays hell: as a place where stinkin' thinkin' basically takes a person over! Personally, I don't worship a God who kicks people when they are down, just because they have a problem with resentment, or unforgiveness, or a generally bad attitude. I worship a God whose love is bigger than any resentment we may have, and who offers us hope. Speaking for myself, I do not know if I will ever be free of resentment, or depression, or worry---and I take refuge in the notion that God loves me, even when I have those things. But I will be thankful to God for the times when I do have a sound mind---when those things do not dominate me. And I would like to think that God's compassion extends even to people in hell---assuming that C.S. Lewis' portrayal is the correct one---and that there is hope that even they can be delivered from their own personal torments.

Another item in the Artscroll that interested me was its comment on Psalm 30:9, where the Psalmist tries to convince God to save his life by saying that he cannot praise God and declare God's truth when he is dead. Many historical-critics argues that verses like these show that the Psalmist did not have a rigorous conception of the afterlife, for, if the Psalmist did have such a conception, he would recognize that death was no barrier to his praise of God. The Artscroll acknowledges that the soul continues to exist in an afterlife, but it maintains that the Psalmist's concern is still valid, for, even if the Psalmist's soul survives his death, he cannot spread the knowledge of God among human beings when he is deceased! That reminds me somewhat of Paul's statement in Philippians 1:21 that to live is Christ but to die is gain: Paul's point is that he desires to be with Christ after his death, but that he can still do a lot of good on earth while he is still alive.

3. In Psalm 30:6-7, the Psalmist declares that, in his prosperity, he thought that he would never be moved. The Psalmist believes that God was the source of his prosperity, for God, by God's favor, made the Psalmist into a strong mountain. But the Psalmist was devastated when God hid his face, and suffering resulted. Many interpreters contend that the Psalmist was proud, and God humbled him. Maybe that's what Psalm 30 is about. But perhaps the Psalmist was not proud in his prosperity. I've been watching Little House on the Prairie, and I'm in Season 4 right now. On a couple of episodes, there is a particular plot-line: a farmer is thanking God for his harvest, and, soon thereafter, a disaster causes the farmer to lose his crop. You'd think that thanking God would influence God to keep disaster from hitting God's blessings, but, in these particular episodes, it does not.

Different people on Little House have their explanations for the disasters. Caroline Ingalls says that perhaps God is testing her husband to see if he deserves God's love. (I find this notion appalling, for why should I assume that God's love is something that should be deserved? It just is.) The pastor tells his congregation that God may not insulate them from problems, but God promises to be with them through the problems and to give them strength. Whether these explanations are adequate or not probably depends on if they give comfort to the person who is suffering.

I'm also reminded of Brian Peckham's view on Joel in History and Prophecy. Peckham states that Joel did not believe that the Babylonian conquest of Judah was God's punishment for Judah's sin. Rather, Joel blamed the Babylonians for the catastrophe, not God. But Joel still encouraged the Judahites to ask God for deliverance from their problems. Many are tempted to think that the existence of problems shows that God is inactive in the world, if God even exists at all, and so there is no point to asking God to intervene in a situation. But, in my opinion, it doesn't hurt to try.

Peckham on the Deuteronomist

For my write-up today on Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy, I have two items:

1. On page 518, Peckham states that "The Deuteronomistic History was written after the fall of Jerusalem to situate the catastrophe in a systematic history of the world." This quote is important because it dates DtrH and refers to the Deuteronomist's goal as a historian.

2. On page 566, there is an unusual statement. Peckham says that "the rebellions in the wilderness are an occasion to formulate laws that reflect and counteract them." Examples of laws that (according to Peckham) the Deuteronomist formulates include sacrifices to atone for unintentional sins, the condemnation of "high-handed and willful crimes", the death penalty for violation of the Sabbath, the requirement that Israelites wear tassels to remind themselves of the law, the subordination of the Levites to Aaron as servants, and "rituals for purifying the people and rules for maintaining the cleanliness of the camp". These laws are in Numbers 15 and 18-19. Peckham's view is that the Deuteronomist emphasizes law, and that the Deuteronomist's thesis is that Israelite disobedience of the law led to her downfall.

But Peckham is attributing to the Deuteronomist what many scholars have attributed to P. Among such laws are purity rituals, and the subordination of the Levites to Aaron. The latter is salient, for many scholars have argued that, whereas P in the Pentateuch elevates Aaron above the Levites, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History do not differentiate between the line of Aaron and the other Levites. In my opinion, that is a sound observation, so I do not really understand why Peckham is going against the grain on this.

But Peckham does overlap with other scholars on some of the ideology of DtrH, such as a belief in individual punishment rather than collective punishment.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peter Falk

I just learned that Peter Falk has passed on. Falk played Lt. Columbo in the mystery series, Columbo. Columbo was a cool series because of its celebrities (Johnny Cash, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc.), and also because of its usual plot-line. What usually happened on a typical Columbo episode was this: A person (usually someone who was rich, famous, or influential) would commit a murder. Columbo would then investigate the murder, and it was interesting to see the murderer feign sadness when Columbo informed him that the victim had been killed. Because of Columbo's raggedy raincoat, his disheveled hair, his dumpy car, and perhaps his glass eye, the murderer would underestimate Columbo. As a couple of fraternity brothers who committed a murder said on one episode, "I think Columbo's parents were related." Throughout the episode, Columbo would annoy the murderer with his questions. When the murderer thought that Columbo was finished, Columbo would annoyingly say, "There's one more thing." On one episode, a murderer was playing golf and about to perform a winning swing, when Columbo rode into the golf course, eager to ask some questions!

It was always funny to see Columbo corner the murderer with evidence, and the murderer would try to refute Columbo's reasoning, continually in vain. (Columbo usually did not explicitly say "You're the murderer", at least not at first, but he presented evidence that did not look good for the murderer.) One of my family's favorite episodes is where the police commissioner killed his wife for money, and he was trying to pin the blame on a jewel-thief. The commissioner continually urged Columbo to investigate the jewel-thief, but Columbo kept coming back with reasons that the chief's proposed scenario did not work.

Columbo often solved his mysteries on the basis of little things---socks, nickles, thread, etc. My Dad asked my Grandpa Pate, as we watched Columbo solve a mystery on the basis of socks, "Can you see Columbo rambling on the witness stand about socks?" My Grandpa replied that this was why Columbo tried to wrap things up as fast as he could---so there wouldn't be a trial!

For an excellent blog post on Columbo, see Michael Westmoreland-White's Columbo: The Detective as Class Warrior.

Peter Falk also had memorable roles in movies, such as The Great Muppet Caper, in which he played a homeless man. He was also the Grandpa in The Princess Bride, the one who told Fred Savage the story.

It is ironic that Peter Falk passed on this week, since, last week, I was excited to find the episodes of Columbo on Netflix Instant-Play.

R.I.P., Peter Falk.

Peckham on Zephaniah and Ezekiel (and Their Editors)

For my write-up today of Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy, I have two items:

1. On page 472, Peckham states that "Zephaniah saw the whole known world being swept away and creation reverting to indiscriminate origins." But did Zephaniah have any hope of a new beginning? Not that I can tell, from Peckham's description---though Zephaniah does exhort Judahites to repent while there is still time. But, according to Peckham, a later editor of Zephaniah applied Zephaniah's vision of cosmic destruction primarily to Judah and Jerusalem, as well as predicted that a remnant would be spared, that Israelites would return from the Diaspora, that a pious and humble community of worship would be formed, and that God would be relaxed in the midst of Zion.

2. Peckham also maintains that the Book of Ezekiel manifests at least two layers. On pages 470-471, he summarizes Ezekiel himself as follows:

"He set himself out from the beginning as a son of Adam who had seen what seemed to be the glory of God in the likeness of Adam...He ends up in a city that has no name but has all the characteristics of Eden and that is centered on a mountain inhabited by the glory of God...He starts in exile, where he imagines the siege and capture of Jerusalem and understands it as the end of the world...He comes to realize that the land will flourish again and that life will follow on death and sees the dead bodies of the slain rise out of their graves...He begins with the desecration of the temple, the departure of the glory of God, and the sorry flight of the king...He sees in the end, in the image of Egypt and Tyre, that the glory of Adam has departed and the kings lie limp in Sheol...He knows that life and death are individual, in the instance of the lover, the king, the innocent son, but he comes to a resolution when he realizes that the whole nation must die to be brought back to life..." Moreover, on page 272, Peckham states that Ezekiel did not believe that the new Israel would be centered on Jerusalem.

Peckham affirms that Ezekiel wrote late in exile, and his vision in Babylon enabled him to conceptualize exile and restoration. But his vision was not deemed to be all that practical by the survivors of the catastrophe, specifically those who wanted a specific program about how they could rebuild their society. Ezekiel's vision of the death of the old and the rebirth of the new was too abstract for them, as was his appeal to mythological concepts, such as Adam, avenging angels, and kings in Sheol. Peckham does not use the word "mythological", but his argument seems to be that a Jerusalem establishment updated Ezekiel so that his person and the reference-points of his visions could be securely anchored within historical events, and also so that the existence of survivors would be acknowledged. More importantly, the Jerusalem editors sought to develop a specific program for a restored cult.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peckham's Optimistic Jeremiah

For my write-up today on Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy, I'll start with a statement that he makes on page 395:

"Despite the optimism of Jeremiah and his mentors, it soon became evident that the reform would have no long-range effect on the future of Judah and Jerusalem. Nahum knew Jeremiah's work but did not agree with his tempering of the tradition, and described the onrush of the divine storm that would be the undoing of the city. Habakkuk recalled and reconfirmed the vision of Isaiah and knew that it would be accomplished by the Chaldeans. Zephaniah went back to the day of Yahweh envisaged by Amos and saw that the end of the world was at hand. Ezekiel wrote when the worst was over to describe how and why the people had died and the conditions of their rising again. For some the reform had failed; for others it made no difference; for all there was a prophetic fate and doom and historical predestination unrolling in their own time before their very eyes."

For Peckham, certain prophets after the time of Jeremiah took up the mantel of Isaiah: they predicted destruction. They may not have viewed the destroyers as the Assyrians, as Isaiah did, but they prophesied that some nation would destroy Jerusalem and Judah. On page 353, Peckham talks about Jeremiah's vision of the "crumbling of a world order that the Priestly writer described", which sounds like Richard Elliott Friedman's argument in Who Wrote the Bible? that Jeremiah argues against P---and one way that Jeremiah does so is by predicting in Jeremiah 4:23 that there will be a reversal of the created order of P's Genesis 1, as the land reverts to a state of tohu va-vohu.

And yet, Peckham's argument is that Jeremiah had optimism, and prophets after him sought to counter that. Peckham's claim takes me aback, for Jeremiah strikes me as a prophet of doom. But Peckham bases his argument on Jeremiah 2-3, 4-5, 6 and 8, 9-10, and 30-31. From these chapters, Peckham concludes that what is going on in Jeremiah's message is this: God is threatening to destroy Jerusalem and to send Judahites into exile, and Judah indeed experiences God's discipline. But, right before she is hurled into exile, Judah repents and submits to God's law, and God forgives her, and also restores Northern Israel from exile. Peckham may think that the Book of Jeremiah as it comes down to us---which presents Jeremiah as one who predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and exile for Judah---was the result of redaction, as people sought to bring Jeremiah into line with what had actually happened: Jerusalem's destruction and the exile of the Judahites.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Peckham on the Deuteronomist, the Covenant, and P's Cosmic Orientation

I have three items from my reading of Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy:

1. On page 345, Peckham states the following:

"The plagues [of the Priestly writer] have to do with portents on land and sea and in the sky, affect humans and animals, and are initiated by the magical creation of sea serpents (tannin, Exod 7:9, 10, 12; cf. Gen 1:21). The Deuteronomistic Historian added other plagues that affected the Pharaoh's court, estates, and servants, but noted the cosmological significance of the Priestly plagues by replacing the primordial process of separation (bdl, Gen 1:4, 6, 7, 14, 18) with the process of differentiation between Israel and Egypt (plh, Exod 8:18; 9:4; 11:7)."

There are two things in this quote that interest me. First of all, many English translations render tanin as "whale" in Genesis 1:21, but as "serpent" in Exodus 7:9-10, 12. Exactly what did God turn Moses' staff into? Second, Peckham says that DtrH adds specific plagues to the Exodus narrative. On this point, Peckham differs from many other biblical scholars, who say that the Deuteronomist spoke of "signs and wonders" but did not specify plagues. That's why some say that Joshua 24 is post-Deuteronomistic, even though it contains Deuteronomistic language: it speaks of plagues.

2. On page 346, Peckham states that "The epic covenant is defined as the words that Yahweh spoke on Sinai (Exod 34:27...) and instructed Moses to inscribe on tablets (Exod 34:27-28a), and the sequel refers to it in the same terms (Deut 1:1a...)."

Exodus 34 contains the cultic Decalogue, but Peckham does not appear to attribute all of the cultic Decalogue to the Epic. Rather, from what he says on page 53, I see that Peckham says that the Epic is responsible for Exodus 34's promise that God will dispossess the Canaanites, as well as the rules for the Israelites to (1.) avoid making a covenant with the Canaanites, (2.) worship the LORD only, (3.) give God all of the firstborn (then cattle are mentioned), (4.) rest on the Sabbath, (5.) observe the Feast of Weeks, and (6.) appear before the LORD three times a year. If these are the Epic's terms of the covenant, I can understand Peckham's argument that Isaiah had problems with it because it emphasized worship in the cult, but not ethics.

3. On page 346, Peckham states that, for the Priestly writer, "The sabbath is an eternal covenant (Exod 31:13, 16) and the Priestly alternative to the epic covenant concerning the land." On page 347, Peckham says, "The Priestly writer shared [Isaiah's] disdain for the covenant that ordained political activity and regular worship and presented Yahweh as the God who made the world and rested and who expected people to observe the same rhythm."

My impression from what I have read elsewhere in this book is that, for Peckham, P thought that the Israelites should dwell in the Promised Land. But P's emphasis was more on Israel participating in the order that God established at creation---an order that included resting with God on the Sabbath day. P had a cosmic orientation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Peckham on Isaiah's Influence (and P)

I'm continuing my way through Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy. In this post, I'll talk about Peckham's summary on pages 254-255 of the Priestly writer, the Elohist, Micah, Jeremiah, and the Deuteronomistic History. (Unless indicated otherwise, the quotes are from pages 254-255.)

I'll start with a quote from page 254, to set the stage for the discussion:

"Under the impetus of prophecy the Priestly writer and the Elohist set about revising the historical documents that were the foundation of Israelite faith. With these revisions in hand Micah and Jeremiah urged specific reforms in Judah and Jerusalem and extended the menacing oracles of their predecessors beyond the time of divine discipline to repentance and forgiveness and national reunification."

My understanding thus far of Peckham's scenario is this: We have the Epic, which talked about a covenant, in which God was committed to Israel, and Israel worshiped God. Then there's the prophet Isaiah, who did not believe that Israel should place her faith in a covenant, and who faulted the covenant for elevating worship above ethics. Isaiah chided Hezekiah for not having faith, and he also predicted that Judah would fall, just as Northern Israel recently did. Then there's the Sequel, which defends the covenant against Isaiah, and ends with God's defeat of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, which (in the eyes of the Sequel's author) affirmed the efficacy of the covenant.

But not everyone was on board with the Sequel, for the message of destruction by Isaiah and other prophets (such as Amos and Hosea) was influential. Micah and Jeremiah preached repentance, forgiveness, and national reunification, so as to prevent disaster.

Now let's look at specific authors:

According to Peckham, the Priestly writer sought to rewrite the Epic. He humbled the Epic's heroes and "demystified their myths", as well as "replaced the covenant that the sequel supposed with the creation of an ordered world". The Priestly writer abandoned annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and said that God's glory was in a moveable shrine. I don't think this means that he believed there was a literal, moveable tabernacle in his day, but rather that God could be honored anywhere, for Peckham affirms that the Priestly writer favored "natural and familial celebrations". Elsewhere in the book, Peckham mentions the Sabbath and the family Passover as examples of what the Priestly writer advocated. The Priestly writer viewed Israel as devoted to a transcendent God, who created an orderly world.

The Elohist had a Northern point of view. He embraced a God of consolation and traced the Bethel sanctuary back to Jacob, and the Golden Calves back to Aaron. On page 280, Peckham states that E viewed the calves as an indication of Israel's lack of faith and a contributing factor to the fall of Samaria, but, unlike the Sequel, he did not see it as a major crime, for, in E's story of the Golden Calf, Israel still had a future after the Golden Calf incident. E also highlighted the importance of Joseph, and he "responded to the prophetic critique of contemporary Israelite society by incorporating a codified law into the revelation of the past." For Peckham, E was the author of the Covenant Code, which was about justice and ethics. The prophets did not believe that the Epic and the Sequel emphasized ethics enough, and so E added a code.

Micah criticized the injustice of prophets, priests, and leaders who were supposed to enforce the law, but were not doing so. He encouraged Judah to repent. And Jeremiah predicted that repentance and restoration would occur. But, after Josiah's reform failed, with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the Deuteronomistic Historian criticized the prophets for their optimism about the efficacy of the Judahites' "partial repentance and reform". At the same time, he agreed with the prophets "that the covenant did not work without the law and could not overcome the history of sin." The covenant could not be a blanket for sin, DtrH and the prophets agreed!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Peckham on Genesis 3, Rabshakeh Speaking Isaiah's Words, and the Date of Amos and Hosea

I'm continuing my way through Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy. I have three items:

1. On page 127, Peckham offers interesting insights on Genesis 2-3:

"The tree of life (Gen 2:9) was ultimately beyond the reach of Man (Gen 3:22), as the plant of life was beyond the reach of Gilgamesh...Its contrast with the tree of knowledge resembles the contrast between wisdom and life in the story of Adapa...In the epic the tree of knowledge, or the two trees together, may represent the groves on high places where Israel worshiped. These were associated with wisdom and knowledge and natural cycles (Hos 4:6a, 12-13a) and, as later polemic reveals, were incorporated into temples as shrines or symbolized as ornate pillars representing the Goddess Asherah."

I looked up those verses in Hosea 4, and I could somewhat see Peckham's point: Hosea 4 seems to be saying that people go to the wooden idols for knowledge, and yet they are perishing for lack of knowledge. Could the trees in the garden represent the Asherah? Is Genesis 3 telling the Israelites not to go to the Asherah for knowledge? This interpretation is tempting, but Genesis 2-3 is not negative about the tree of life, and one could argue that the groves epitomized life, or fertility. So, if Genesis 2-3 (or at least a certain stage of it) is anti-Asherah, why is it positive regarding the tree of life? And yet, Adam and Eve are cut off from the tree of life. Could the message of Genesis 2-3 be that we cannot have knowledge and life apart from God, and obedience to him?

2. I gained more insight into Peckham's view on what Isaiah thought regarding the covenant. According to Peckham, Isaiah held that the covenant emphasized worship at festivals above ethics, and he criticized Judah for relying on that covenant for safety. At the same time, Peckham believes that Isaiah felt Judah should seek refuge in something: the Zion that God built on faith and fortified with truth and justice. I am not entirely sure what separates Isaiah's belief that Israel should trust in Zion for safety, and the view that Isaiah was criticizing---that Israel should rely on the covenant. Both can be taken in an antinomian direction---that God will protect Israel, no matter how she acts. But that's not necessarily the case. Even the Epic that Isaiah criticizes has ethics. And Isaiah wanted Zion to be built on faith and fortified by truth and justice, so there is a degree of conditionality in the protection that he felt God would give to Zion.

Pages 156-157 are interesting, for, there, Peckham argues that the Sequel is refuting Isaiah by placing Isaiah's message in the mouth of the Assyrian Rabshakeh, who was taunting Jerusalem. The Rabshakeh ridicules Hezekiah for trusting in both YHWH and Egypt, something that Isaiah also criticizes. The Rabshakeh said that God sent the Assyrians against Israel, which Isaiah also claimed. Peckham seems to argue that the Rabshakeh both echoes Isaiah and refutes him: Isaiah said that Judah chooses to rely on her army rather than God, and that her army will fail, whereas the Rabshakeh says that Hezekiah does not have his own army, but that, even if he did, he'd lose. Isaiah's message is presented as inaccurate, and also as similar to Assyrian boasting.

Isaiah says that the Judahites will listen to incomprehensible speech in a state of terror. In the Sequel, however, the leaders of Judah understand the Assyrians' Aramaic, and the Judahites listen silently (not in terror) to the threats of the Assyrians. Isaiah calls Judah's covenant a pact with Sheol (according to Peckham's interpretation of Isaiah 28:18), and the Rabshakeh denigrates the covenant by proposing a covenant of his own, which is similar to Judah's covenant with God: Assyria will bless Judah if she submits to him. Here, Peckham argues, the Sequel is defending the covenant with God by saying that "Jerusalem is secure in its covenant with Yahweh and life" (page 157).

These are interesting thoughts. I remember when I was doing my weekly quiet time through Isaiah, and a thought that I had was that the Rabshakeh is like Satan: he can use the words of God to put God's people down. Peckham, however, says that the Sequel is criticizing Isaiah for putting God's people down in the name of the LORD.

3. Peckham appears to date Amos and Hosea to the time after the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E., which is odd, since many have asserted that these prophets addressed Northern Israel, warning her of coming destruction at the hands of the Assyrians---meaning that their prophecies were before 722. Peckham's argument seems to be that Amos and Hosea were intended for the Judahites: they were saying that, just as Northern Israel fell, so would Judah, on account of her sins. Peckham thinks that Amos and Hosea respond to Judahite, post-722 literature, such as the Epic and the Sequel, and so their works came after them in date.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday

At church this morning, we honored both Trinity Sunday and also Father's Day. In seeking to explain how God could be three in one, the pastor essentially presented a modalist model: God is one person, but he reveals himself in three ways, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The pastor said that, in the same way that a man can be a father, a grandfather, and a son, and yet be one person, so likewise can God be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and still be one person.

I've heard this in a variety of circles. I remember a lady who went to a Pentecostal church---which was not a oneness Pentecostal church, mind you---explaining the Trinity to my Mom and Grandma in a modalist manner. At a liberal Adventist church that I attended, a lady was saying that "person" in the ancient world meant "role"---the mask that a person wore. Consequently, in her telling, the same God performed three different roles: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But I seriously doubt that the Presbyterian church that I attend each week is modalist, for the cover of the bulletin refers to "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit---the holy Trinity, one God in three distinct and equal persons". So the cover of the bulletin presents God as three persons who are distinct and equal, not as one person performing three roles.

The modalism notwithstanding, I liked how the pastor presented the Trinity in his sermon---that God has revealed himself as a Father, as a Son and a servant, and as a Holy Spirit who dwells in people. Because today is Father's Day, the pastor focused on God as Father, and he seemed to use a model of progressive revelation. He stated that the Old Testament depicted God as one who rewarded the good and punished the bad, but the problem with that notion was that we are all sinners. But Jesus revealed God as a Father and a provider---as one who is eager to hear our cares and concerns. Whether or not the pastor's characterization of the Hebrew Bible is completely accurate, I agree with him that the Hebrew Bible can be interpreted as he states, and I appreciate his presentation of God as a loving father---who is eager to listen to us, whether others are or not.

Something that I noticed this morning: We sang "Holy, Holy, Holy", and, in the past, I had problems with that hymn, since it has the line "God in three persons, blessed Trinity". My religious background was Armstrongite, which viewed God as a binity (Father and Son) and as a family that would expand to include believers, not as a Trinity. When I was growing up, my family sometimes attended a Church of God (Seventh-Day) group, which saw God as a binity, though there were many who were unitarian. Instead of the "God in three persons" line in "Holy, Holy, Holy", the Church of God (Seventh-Day) hymnbook had "God ever glorious, praises be to thee." Consequently, I dreaded attending evangelical worship settings in which I'd have to sing "Holy, Holy, Holy". I either did not say the Trinity line, or I said "God in two persons, blessed binity." Either way, my worship was disrupted, since I could not fully enjoy the song.

This morning, however, I sang the Trinity line without any problems. The reason was not that I now believe that the Trinity is the only legitimate way to conceptualize God---which is what I believed about the binity during my Armstrongite days. Rather, I sang it because I honor it as one model for the Godhead, an expression of how people have experienced God. When I was binitarian, I thought that the "early church" was binitarian, and that the Trinity was a pagan incorporation, or merely a human tradition, which lacked biblical support. Nowadays, however, I'm skeptical about our ability to recover the teachings of the "early church".

Some argue that there are different Christologies in the New Testament---as some voices present Jesus as primarily a human figure, whereas others depict Jesus as the incarnation of the eternal God the Word---while others maintain that the New Testament only has one Christology (Jesus as God, or Jesus as a sub-deity). Some contend that the church fathers were all Trinitarian, whereas others have argued that Justin Martyr and Tertullian thought that God the Word had an origin and was not eternal. Some have argued that, even if Jesus was believed to be God by the early Christians, that did not necessarily mean that they held that Jesus was God the way that mainstream Christians today do. Rather, some may have thought that Jesus became God at his birth, baptism, or resurrection, or that "god" can mean a sub-deity---for even Arius (whose view was that God the Word was created) held that Jesus was a god, in some manner. Regarding the Holy Spirit, some argue that the Holy Spirit is a person, since the Bible ascribes to him personal characteristics; others, however, argue that the Holy Spirit is God's power, for the Bible ascribes to the Holy Spirit certain impersonal characteristics (i.e., it can be poured out), and they chalk up the personal descriptions of the Holy Spirit to personification.

I remember reading Whaid Rose of the Church of God (Seventh-Day) saying that the Trinity is a model for the Godhead. I do not know what he means by that, but I, too, view the Trinity as a model. People have experienced God as a Father. The early Christians saw something in Jesus that they regarded as divine---whether it be his love and compassion, or his miracles---and so they came to conceptualize him as God. And people have experienced a personal touch from God---such as God living within them and giving strength to them and communities (such as Christian churches). Many have explained these realities with a Trinitarian model. But others use other models. In my opinion, many Christians (on different sides) are preoccupied with getting the model exactly right, and with dismissing as "heretics" those who do not embrace their model, when they should focus on the reality behind the model: that God is at work in people's lives, and that people have experienced God's love and grace in various ways.

Beginning Peckham's History and Prophecy

I started Brian Peckham's History and Prophecy. On pages 8-9, Peckham states the following:

"The next author to take a position was the author of II Isaiah. This update emphasized points of disagreement between Isaiah and the Deuteronomist concerning history and the prophetic tradition. In the Deuteronomistic interpretation the nations were Israel's natural adversaries and were inimical to the proper worship of God, but in the opinion of Isaiah and II Isaiah the nations did what God wanted them to do and in better times would even worship in Zion. In the History, law was the basic motive and meaning of events, but the Isaiahs thought that it was truth and justice that made the world go round. Isaiah was the only true-to-life prophet mentioned in the History and the Deuteronomist had misquoted him mainly to show that the sequel to the epic was wrong in its glowing opinion of Hezekiah. II Isaiah quoted the whole story of Hezekiah but rewrote it first in oracular form to prove that the sequel was right, that Hezekiah was the paradigm of the future Davidic king, and that the original Isaiah was in basic agreement with it. The Deuteronomist was disdainful of the individual prophets whose writings are preserved. The History told an unflattering story about Amos, dramatized Micah's conflict with the prophets but associated him with the court of Ahab, tinged the itinerant prophets of the North with Ezekiel's madness, and included a snide allusion to Jeremiah in the guise of Huldah the prophet, who encouraged Josiah to think that all would be well with his reform and ultimately misled him. In response, II Isaiah repeated what Jeremiah had said about prophecy falling on deaf ears and made Jeremiah's troublesome prediction of the reunion of Rachel and Ephraim the model of his own account of the reunion of Jacob and Sion and of universal harmony.

"The librarian who revised Micah's prophecy used the occasion to quote and correct II Isaiah toward agreement with the Deuteronomistic viewpoint. The Isaian irenics were replaced by antagonism toward the nations, who have to be punished before they become acceptable to Yahweh. The future Davidic king will fulfill II Isaiah's expectations, but he will be a humble viceroy of Yahweh. The universal reprieve that II Isaiah described is partial in this version, and only a remnant will be spared to return from exile. Apparently this librarian or archivist was convinced that there was too much at stake in the Deuteronomistic position to be undone by faith or hope or inspired writing."

Before I try to unravel this quote, I should provide interested readers with a little background information about Peckham's view on the Hebrew Bible. Peckham believes in at least three stages of the Hebrew Bible. The first stage is what he calls the "Epic", and it goes from Eden to Balaam (Numbers 22-24). Peckham maintains that this Epic was based on poetic originals, and that it drew from Mesopotamia, Homer, and the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. He dates it to 700 B.C.E., and he locates its origin in Judah.

The second stage is what Peckham calls the Sequel, and it stretches from Moses to the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701. Peckham dates the Sequel to 680 B.C.E. The Sequel was designed to refute the prophet Isaiah, who disliked Judah's reliance on the covenant, which the Epic promoted, as well as preached that Judah would fall, as Northern Israel did. According to Peckham, the Sequel was written to demonstrate that (contra Isaiah) the covenant really did work, for God delivered Judah. Peckham labels this Sequel "Deuteronomistic". Peckham states that the Sequel accounted for the fall of Samaria by saying that Northern Israel broke the covenant by worshiping in Bethel rather than the central sanctuary, Jerusalem, which was special in the eyes of God. Later, Amos would agree with the Sequel that Northern Israel fell on account of some sin, but he focused on the sin of oppression, not failure to worship at a central sanctuary. And, although I have not yet read Peckham's full treatment of Isaiah, the impression I have from some of the book reviews that I have read is that, for Peckham, Isaiah disliked the Epic's emphasis on the covenant because it focused on worship, to the exclusion of other things (perhaps ethics).

The third stage is also Deuteronomistic, and it seeks to explain the failure of Josiah's reform. It also substitutes the law for the covenant.

From what I read today, I could tell that Peckham believes that the Epic was supplemented by different voices. The Priestly Writer, the Northern Elohist, and the Deuteronomist all had a hand in the Epic, and not always in places that we might expect! For example, although I have read of scholars who see a Deuteronomistic hand in the Book of Genesis, I never read one who saw a Deuteronomistic contribution in the creation story---until I read Peckham! In the Epic, Peckham states, "Yahweh sent Man out of the garden so that he might till the land and not have access to the tree of life" (page 34). But the Deuteronomist made this into a story about God punishing Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and cursing the earth. For Peckham, "this curse becomes a major theme of the Deuteronomistic History [and] illustrates the History's usual interest in the origin and reason of things" (page 34). My impression thus far is that Peckham identifies as Deuteronomistic such things as the land promise (but not all references to it), obedience, theology, worship, and opposition to idolatry. The Priestly Writer appears to be interested in genealogies, though he, too, has an ideology---which includes a moveable sanctuary, simple observances such as the Sabbath and the family Passover, a belief in a normal created order, and the notion that God promised to Abraham "posterity, possession of the land, and the peaceful coexistence of nations and kings" (page 4). (The Deuteronomist, by contrast, was rather anti-foreigner.) The Elohist was Northern, but he added his contribution to the Epic after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E. Peckham's characterization of E is like that of many scholars who believe in E: he had an interest in prophecy, dreams, and angels, as well as glorified the Northern sanctuary that was once at Bethel.

I would like to say a word about Peckham's views regarding the sources for the Epic. Peckham believes that E, who added the Joseph story to the Epic, drew from Greek legend. Peckham notes similarities between the Joseph story and the Greek tale of Adonis. Adonis was loved by Aphrodite, which aroused the jealousy of another god and led to Adonis' death while he was hunting a boar. Adonis goes to the realm of the dead and is lamented, and this corresponds with famine. But Adonis' remains are sought, and land becomes fertile again. In the Joseph story, Joseph is loved by Jacob, which arouses the jealousy of Joseph's brothers, who sell Joseph into Egypt and lead Jacob to believe that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. A famine emerges, and it ends after Joseph is found. Also, Jacob talks about going to Sheol.

Although Peckham believes that Judah drew from Greek ideas, he does not think that this occurred during the exile, as John Van Seters maintains. Rather, he dates the Epic to 700 B.C.E., and the Elohist (who had a hand in the Joseph story) to the seventh century B.C.E. One criticism of Van Seters (not by Peckham so far, but by other scholars I have read) is that there could have been contact between the Judahites and the Greeks before the exile (even if that occurred via Phoenicia, as Van Seters argues).

At this point, I will try to unravel my opening quote, for what will probably interest me as I continue to read this book is its presentation of biblical diversity. According to my opening quote of Peckham, the Deuteronomist disliked the nations and viewed them as inimical to Israel's proper worship of God (think Sennacherib). The Deuteronomist also emphasized law---for he held that Israel's disobedience of the law regarding centralization and the proper and sole worship of Yahweh led to her exile. Although the Deuteronomist differed from Isaiah, he agreed with Isaiah's anti-Hezekiah attitude, and he quoted Isaiah to dispute the Sequel's glowing depiction of the king. (Here, by "Deuteronomist", Peckham apparently does not mean the author of the Sequel, but rather the exilic Deuteronomist.) And, for some reason, the Deuteronomist did not really care for the prophets, even if he may have appealed to them for his own agenda. He saw them as mad, and he mocked Jeremiah as one who made a false prediction about Josiah. (For Peckham, Huldah represents Jeremiah, and she turned out to be wrong when she predicted that Josiah would die in peace.)

Unlike the Deuteronomist, Second Isaiah had an inclusive attitude towards the nations. He prioritized truth and justice above law. Second Isaiah, like the Deuteronomist, also tried to use Isaiah for his own purposes, only in a manner different from that of the Deuteronomist: Second Isaiah defended the Sequel's pro-Hezekiah attitude, and even asserted that Isaiah himself was pro-Hezekiah, which was not the case. For Peckham, Second Isaiah viewed Hezekiah as a paradigm for the restored Davidic monarch. And Second Isaiah had a positive attitude towards the prophets, as he drew from Jeremiah, particularly Jeremiah's positive vision. The Deuteronomist, however, edited Second Isaiah's work---by adding messages against the nations, reducing the king to a mere viceroy, and maintaining that only a remnant would be restored.

It will be interesting to see how Peckham develops these ideas in the course of his book. At the moment, his assertion that the Deuteronomist was anti-prophecy strikes me as anomalous, for many scholars maintain that the Deuteronomist was strongly pro-prophet---on the basis of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. But many would agree with Peckham that the Deuteronomist wanted a limited monarchy (though many would say that the author of Deuteronomy desired that, but the Deuteronomist---who came after Deuteronomy---wanted a strong monarch who would enforce centralization and purge the land of idolatry).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Psalm 29

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 29.

Many academics would sneeze at Matthew Henry's commentary, but one of his insights was actually my favorite thought that I encountered in my study of Psalm 29. Matthew Henry speculated that David wrote Psalm 29 during a thunderstorm, as he wrote Psalm 8 on a starry night, and Psalm 19 on a sunny morning. Nature is directing the Psalmist's attention towards God. Regarding Psalm 8, when the Psalmist looks at the starry night, he realizes how insignificant humanity is in comparison with the vast cosmos, and he inquires why God is even mindful of human beings. And yet, he acknowledges that God indeed is mindful of people, for God has given humanity stewardship over nature. On Psalm 19, when the Psalmist sees the sun on a sunny morning, he admires the sun as something that God has created. And yet, the sun also teaches him about God's law and how it enlightens human beings.

Regarding Psalm 29, the Psalmist is experiencing a thunderstorm, which reminds him of God's power and glory. At the same time, the Psalmist does not assume that God is merely about ripping apart the fabric of nature; rather, the Psalmist concludes that God is sovereign over the chaotic floods and blesses his people with strength and peace. In a chaotic world of natural disasters and enemies---both individual and national---it was comforting to Israel that a God so powerful was on her side. Bob MacDonald states in his post on Psalm 29, "I like to note that this psalm is an answer to the fear of silence in psalm 26." The Psalmist in the preceding Psalms fears God's silence and wants God to vindicate him and punish his oppressors. And, in Psalm 29, God is not silent, for this Psalm refers seven times to the voice of the LORD and its powerful effects.

Moreover, God in Psalm 29 is not only sovereign over the human and the national realms. (Interpreters have said that the trees God breaks and strips in Psalm 29 represent nations, as they do in such passages as Amos 2:9, and the interpreters also note that the LORD in Psalm 29 really humbles the area of Syria.) In addition, God is supreme over the supernatural realm, for the very first verse commands divine beings (benei elim) to ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Much of Psalm 29 has parallels with other ancient Near Eastern ideas, although the idea that Psalm 29 was originally a Phoenician or Ugaritic Psalm to Baal that was later applied by the Israelites to YHWH is no longer as popular as it once was (see my post here). Like YHWH in Psalm 29, Baal was considered to be a god with a voice of thunder, and he was also a god of war; not surprisingly, in the Hebrew Bible, God's thunderous activity is associated with his victory in battle against Israel's oppressors (see Exodus 15:8, 10; Judges 5:4-5, 19-21). Psalm 29:10 affirms that the LORD is enthroned over the floods, and, similarly, the Akkadian god Ninurta was said to sit on the cosmic waters of heaven. There was also an ancient belief that thunderstorms induced childbirth, a notion that Psalm 29:9 may reflect.

One can say that the Israelites were simply copying other nations. But, in my opinion, the Israelites were recognizing that life was insecure, and they were seeking comfort and guidance in a power greater than themselves. If the thunderstorm and the motifs of surrounding cultures gave them the vocabulary to express their faith and to meet their needs, does that invalidate their faith? I don't think so.

At the same time, the Israelites were asserting that God was on their side, whereas other nations---appealing to similar concepts---were proclaiming that a powerful god was on their side. In some cases, perhaps God was on the side of Israel. When the Assyrians sought to invade helpless Jerusalem, God very well could have been on the side of the vulnerable, against the bullies. (And I should note that the fourth century Antiochian exegete, Theodore of Mopsuestia, applies Psalm 29 to God's deliverance of Jersualem from Sennacherib; but this is not surprising, for Theodore seems to relate many Psalms to this particular historical event.) But I have problems with using God for nationalistic purposes, by claiming that God is on the side of certain nations. There may be times when God has to intervene and dramatically punish oppression (though, unlike some preachers I heard, I would not say that all hurricanes are God's punishment on sinful human beings). But I like how Augustine interprets Psalm 29: God breaks and humbles the mighty by bringing them to repentance through the cross, seeks to dwell in people (whom the floods of Psalm 29:10 represent, according to Augustine), and protects his people in the midst of the storms. For Augustine, Psalm 29 is about God's love for all kinds of people, of different nationalities. Personally, I'd like to take Augustine's ideas further by interpreting Psalm 29 in light of God's love for all of humanity, if I indeed can.

Neusner and the Historicity of Rabbinic Literature

In my post a few days ago about Seth Schwartz's summary of trends in the field of rabbinics, I talked about Jacob Neusner, and how he was more skeptical than Israeli scholars about the value of rabbinic literature for the reconstruction of history concerning the rabbis. But Jacob Neusner does not believe that rabbinic literature contains no historical value at all, for he does try to sift out what is historical, and what is not. In this post, I want to flesh that out a bit by looking at book reviews that I have read about his works, a book review by him on the work of Shmuel Safrai, and a paper that I wrote about the Pharisees, in which I used Neusner's scholarship.

1. Jakob Petuchowski states in his review of Neusner's Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah:

"Neusner...takes it for granted that, if a matter of law is discussed in an Amoraic stratum of the Talmud (post-200 CE), and if some matter of law is recorded as having been decided already in a segment of literature which claims to be Tannaitic (up to 200 CE), then it would follow that the purported Tannaitic source is, in fact, later than the Amoraic discussion---the assumption here being that the Amoraim would not have discussed something which had already been settled in the Tannaitic period."

When can we be sure that a discussion is from Tannaitic times, and when it is a later Amoraic discussion that is put into the mouths of the Tannaim? Suppose that there is a "Tannaitic" discussion that presents a matter as settled, even though there are later Amoraim who actually debate that matter? In such a case, the "Tannaitic" discussion is probably not "Tannaitic", for why would the Amoraim debate an issue that was already settled? The "Tannaitic" discussion was probably put into the mouths of Tannaim by later sages in order to give certain points a degree of authority.

In Neusner's Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Peter Haas makes a similar point in his piece on Maaser Sheni ("Second Tithe") in the Mishnah. Haas states that later opinions were put into the mouths of pre-70 sages. For Haas, we can tell that such is the case because later authorities---the ones at Yavneh and Usha in the second century C.E.---debate the same things that were debated before 70 C.E. Haas wonders: Why would Yavneh and Usha re-open debates that were resolved a generation or two earlier? But, for Haas, if there is a post-70 attempt to refine a law that is purported to be early, then that law probably was early.

2. Neusner states the following in his review of Shmuel Safrai's work, as he takes the opportunity to blast Israeli scholarship:

"They...take for granted that if a saying is attached to a sage[']s name, that sage really said it; if a story is told, then the event happened in that way; a statement that so-and-so wrote such and such a book forms a secure fact in any account of that book. A further premise throughout is that we may draw conclusions as to the venue or provenience of a passage in a document from the contents of that passage, read discretely as a document unto itself. Because a saying 'does not know' about such and such an event, it therefore derives from the period prior to that event. That saying is assumed, moreover, without consideration of the saying's present location in a document brought to closure long after the event."

This is the Neusner whom Seth Schwartz presented in his summary of trends in rabbinic scholarship: Neusner considers Israeli scholars to be uncritical in their treatment of rabbinic literature, as they view it as historical. For Neusner, they disregard the fact that the sayings and stories are in a document that was redacted and completed long after the setting that is claimed for them within the literature, meaning that these stories and sayings may reflect a later ideology. At the same time, however, Neusner presents Israeli scholarship as having some critical dimension, for it maintains that, if a saying does not know about an event, then there's a good chance that the saying dates before that event. That sounds to me like a critical methodology.

3. Anthony Saldarini states the following in his review of Neusner's History of the Mishnaic Law of Purities:

"Neusner establishes the reliability of these attributions by establishing that no authority is even assigned a teaching that depends upon or presumes the existence of a law assigned to a later named authority. The consequence of this is that the attributions and the substance of the laws harmonize and the attributions are reliable. One obvious alternative explanation is that a later redactor may have imposed consistency. In answer Neusner cites cases where laws and opinions that show no awareness of each other are nevertheless chronologically consistent...The argument seems likely, but the intervention of a redactor is not disproven. Overall, Neusner has verified the common generalization that halakic attributions are reliable."

Neusner sees in Mishnah Kelim a chronological consistency: Whenever an opinion is attributed to a sage (and the challenge for Neusner is that many opinions in this tractate are anonymous), it does not depend upon or presume a law that is assigned to a later authority. Because there are no anachronisms, Neusner considers Tractate Kelim's attributions to be reliable. But couldn't this chronological consistency have been imposed by a redactor? Neusner's response is that even laws and opinions that appear unaware of each other match the chronology---showing that Kelim is an accurate repository of past opinions.

Another point: Saldarini's review here, and also his review of Neusner's History of the Mishnaic Law of Holy Things, talk about Neusner's belief that, many times in the Mishnah, Usha reflects a development from Yavneh: Usha has more detailed discussions, asks more nuanced questions, tries to work out the implications of its principles, and furthers inquiries. Usha came after Yavneh, and the Mishnah accurately reflects that fact. But Saldarini summarizes Jonathan Z. Smith's critique of that kind of developmental model: "Events and ideas in history often develop illogically, asymmetrically, and incoherently..."

4. Saldarini states regarding Neusner's History of the Mishnaic Law of Women:

"...N also uses scattered data to produce meaningful interpretation. For example, the legal acquisitions of property by a woman named in the Bar Kochba letters show that Mishnaic views of women's property rights were not dominant in the early second century..."

Schwartz's summary said that Neusner was sympathetic to E. Goodenough's view that the rabbis were marginal, since Jewish society did not follow the rabbis' aniconism. At the same time, Neusner also portrays the Mishnah as a normative law-code in Late Antiquity, which was why halakhic midrash came along to ties its rules to the Scriptures: people were wondering what gave the Mishnah's rules authority! Saldarini's quote here tends to confirm the former view---that, for Neusner, Mishnaic law was not followed by all of Jewish society. At the same time, there may be a difference between how Neusner conceptualizes pre-70 and post-70 Jewish societies. Regarding pre-70 Jewish society, Neusner clearly does not believe that the Pharisees were the dominant authorities, but rather an insular eating club that was concerned about purity. But Neusner may think that the rabbis were more dominant after 70---or at least after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the early second century C.E.

5. T. Zahavy reviewed Neusner's History of the Mishnaic Law of Damages. Neusner dates Division Nezikin to the middle of the second century C.E. He thinks that it is the "voice of the Israelite landholding, proprietary class", and that "Its problems are the problems of the landowner, the householder" (Neusner's words). At the same time, Neusner states:

"Sages imagine a government out of the materials of the distant past, formed from Scripture and perhaps also their own dim recollections of what might have been done, but above all, made out of their own vivid hopes of what must be done at some point in an undifferentiated future. This act of imagination is the penultimate gesture of defiance. The ultimate one is forming a locative system in no particular place, speaking nowhere about somewhere, concretely specifying utopia..."

There is a lot in this quote. Neusner is saying that Division Nezikin may be the sages' vague recollections of what society was like in the past---showing that their history is not exactly reliable, but it may be based on some remembrance. Neusner also says that the Division was to be a program for the future, which was Ben Zion Wacholder's argument: Wacholder thought that the Mishnah was a program for the Messianic Age. Neusner also says that the Division is an act of defiance, presumably against the Jews' Roman oppressions, and that it is utopian. While Neusner in places maintains that the Mishnah was a law-code that was used in Jewish courts, he also believes that there was a utopian aspect to it.

6. Zev Gerber states the following in his review of Neusner's Comparative Midrash, as a description of Neusner's argument:

"...the rabbis chose a repertoire of scriptural verses distinctive of its self-understanding and self-realization for the dignity and continuity of Israel against the realia of the Roman Catastrophe and the triumph of a diverse group of believers, early Christianity."

Neusner often makes the point that rabbinic literature should be seen as an ideological response to the environment of the rabbis, not as a straight narration of what actually happened. The above quote gives an example of what Neusner means by this: the rabbis' midrash addresses (at least in part) the Roman catastrophe and Christianity.

7. At this point, I will quote from a paper that I wrote on the Pharisees for a class a few years ago. My source was Jacob Neusner's The Rabbinic Traditions About the Pharisees Before 70:

"Neusner is the main skeptic about the utility of rabbinic material [to understand the pre-70 Pharisees]. He concludes from the Tannaitic corpus that 'none of the masters prior to Gamaliel I was personally known to post-70 authorities,' indicating that 'no one after 70 could claim to have heard precisely what they said.' Moreover, Neusner contends that the 70 C.E. calamity in Jerusalem disrupted the transmission of traditions, since Pharisees died and their political conditions were dramatically altered. Consequently, for Neusner, the rabbis tried to portray pre-70 Judea using the few traditions they had, and they sometimes 'invented what they needed.' Neusner definitely believes that ideology played a role in the rabbinic portrayal, for there is a tendency in Tannaitic literature to elevate Hillel (whose party was dominant after 70) at the expense of Shammai, undercutting Shammai's first century predominance in Pharisaism that the literature sometimes acknowledges. In addition, Neusner views pre-70 Pharisaic beliefs, ideas, and values as 'not easily accessible,' for they have been revised by post-70 rabbinic masters with their own theological agenda: to assert that Israel can serve her creator despite the destruction of the temple. While Neusner holds that rabbinic literature contains very few pre-70 traditions, he treats the disputes between Hillel and Shammai as authentic, and he notes that the legal disputes between them are predominantly balanced rather than pro-Hillel. He states, 'We may well doubt that Shammai would have been represented after 70 as an authority of equivalent importance to Hillel,' so 'these materials are highly credible and may well be authentic traditions of the masters' or of Houses' rulings. In this case, Neusner treats traditions that run counter to post-70 rabbinic ideology as authentic."

I won't comment much about what I say in that quote, but I will say that Neusner's methodology leads him to characterize the Pharisees as people who were concerned about purity within table fellowship. To arrive at his characterization of the Pharisees, he relies on the disputes between Hillel and Shammai in Tannaitic literature. He regards those disputes to be authentic. I'd also like to note that, in Saldarini's review of Neusner's History of the Mishnaic Law on Purities, Saldarini states that Neusner makes the following point: "the Q saying about the inside and outside of a cup and plate (Matt 23:25-26; Luke 11:39) may presume and combat a pre-70 Shammaite teaching...that the inside and outside of a utensil have no relationship to each other as regards ritual impurity."

But back to my paper on the Pharisees! In a footnote, I quote Neusner as follows: "Since the Hillelite told stories both to account for Shammaite predominance in pre-70 Pharisaism ('sword in the school house,' 'Shammaites one day outnumbered Hillelites,' 'mob in the Temple'), and also to explain the later predominance of the Hillelites ('heavenly echo came from Yavneh'), it stands to reason that the Shammaites predominated before 70, the Hillelites shortly afterward. This is further suggested by the one-sided, if limited, evidence that Gamaliel II and Simeon b. Gamaliel followed Shammaite rules."

For Neusner, when rabbinic literature tries to account for a detail that is inconvenient to its overall ideology, then there's a good chance that the detail is historical.

We saw that Neusner argued that the Hillel-Shammai debates are authentic because they are balanced. If they were invented after 70, the Hillelites would have given Hillel the upper hand, since they were predominant after 70. But Neusner isn't consistent on the predominance of the Hillelites after 70. I state in a footnote:

Neusner "argues that the post-70 Yavneh community was responsible for organizing the differing Hillelite and Shammaite opinions into Houses' disputes that would be transmitted and memorized. According to Neusner, the Yavneh period was a time when the Houses were of 'roughly equal strength,' so the 'form used for the transmission of their opinions [would] give parity to both sides.' In other words, the Hillelites were not dominant. He acknowledges that the Hillelites eventually prevailed, however. Perhaps he believes that the Houses' disputes were still authentic because the two groups contributed traditions that they actually had, rather than making them up immediately after 70."

I'll stop here.

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