Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Ends of Power 9

In The Ends of Power, H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona) offers an idea about the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat,” the Nixon Administration official who secretly leaked Watergate information to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  Bob Woodward would identify FBI official Mark Felt as Deep Throat, but Haldeman and DiMona wrote The Ends of Power prior to this revelation.

Haldeman speculates that Deep Throat was Fred Fielding, an assistant to White House Counsel John Dean.  First of all, on the basis of what Woodward has said, Haldeman notes that Deep Throat was in the Executive Branch and had access to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, the FBI, and the Justice Department when Watergate was going on.  According to Haldeman, this would only fit Dean or Dean’s associate.

Second, Haldeman believes that identifying Deep Throat as Fielding would account for the erroneous information that Deep Throat leaked, information that “every White House staffer knew was wrong” (page 187).  For example, Deep Throat said that Attorney General John Mitchell investigated Watergate and that E. Howard Hunt (one of the people involved in the break-in) was assigned to gather information, and Haldeman believes that this claim was wrong and “comical”.  According to Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean did the investigating, plus why would Hunt be assigned “to investigate his own break-in” (page 188)?  Haldeman notes that Dean said that he kept Fielding “out of things” (Dean’s alleged words) when Watergate was going on, and Haldeman believes this would explain how Deep Throat had incomplete or distorted information.

Do these criteria fit Mark Felt?  I guess it depends on when Mark Felt worked for the FBI, and whether that overlaps with the time that Deep Throat was feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein.  Felt was in the Executive Branch, yet he was not a close adviser within the Nixon Administration, and (assuming that Felt worked for the FBI when Deep Throat was divulging information) that would be consistent with Deep Throat’s incomplete knowledge.  As Ann Coulter notes, however, Felt had left the FBI before the story about the 18 and 1/2 minute gap (which Deep Throat supposedly fed Woodward and Bernstein) came out (see here), so she is skeptical about Felt being Deep Throat.  At the same time, Felt probably had contacts within the Executive Branch, and perhaps one of them could have given Felt that information.

(UPDATE: This article indicates that Felt was working for the FBI during some of the time that he was leaking information to Woodward, and also that Haldeman himself feared that Felt would leak information.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Write-Up: All You Want to Know About Hell, by Steve Gregg

Steve Gregg.  All You Want to Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013.

This book is about three Christian views about hell.  The first is the Traditionalist view that hell is a place of conscious eternal torment for unrepentant sinners.  The second view is Conditionalism, which states that the wicked are destroyed in hell after a period of torment, the length of which depends upon the gravity of their sin.  The third view is Restorationism, which affirms that hell is a place of temporary discipline and correction, meaning that everyone will eventually be saved.

Although I have some disagreements with this book, I am giving it five stars, and the reason is that this is the book that I would give to people if I wanted for them to learn about different Christian views about hell.  To be honest, I was not expecting to like the book as much as I did.  I read an online summary of the book that said that it explained what the Bible “really says” about hell, and that was a huge turn off to me.  But, upon reading the book, I found that Gregg was quite sensitive to the nuances of biblical interpretation and history when it comes to the topic of hell. 

I have often been annoyed by shallow universalist arguments that I have read online, such as the argument that Gehenna in Jesus’ time was understood to be a garbage dump and not hell, or the argument that the Greek word aion and the Hebrew word olam absolutely do not mean eternity.   Gregg, however, avoided these sorts of simplistic arguments, although he struck me as rather critical of Traditionalism and open to Restorationism.  (Gregg claims that his treatment of the three perspectives is neutral, but Restorationism appeared to me to have the upper hand in this book.)  Gregg acknowledges that there were rabbis who regarded Gehenna as hell, even though Gregg seems to argue that Jesus himself was echoing Jeremiah in treating the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) as a place where the dead bodies of the wicked are dumped rather than as a place of the afterlife.  Gregg also contended that the words aion and olam can relate to eternity but do not always.

While I consider myself to be someone who is rather familiar with the debates about hell and the arguments of different Christian perspectives about the issue, I found myself learning new things from Gregg’s book.   For example, Jesus in Matthew 10:28 warns his disciples to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.  Gregg argues that this does not necessarily relate to an afterlife, but that it could be an expression for utter destruction in a temporal sense.  Gregg refers to Isaiah 10:18, where God’s military judgment on Israel is said to consume soul and body.

In terms of criticisms, I have two.  First of all, on page 308, Gregg responds to the Traditional argument that Jesus’ statements about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit contradict Restorationism.  Jesus said in the synoptic Gospels that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age and in the age to come, and some Traditionalists have contended that this undermines the notion that all people will eventually be forgiven by God and enter into eternal bliss.  Gregg offers different arguments against Traditionalism on this, but what he says on page 308 (or, more accurately, what he characterizes as a Restorationist comeback says) is that the person who blasphemes the Holy Spirit and serves a temporary sentence in a coming age is technically not forgiven, since the blasphemer has served his or her sentence, as opposed to being let off.  Presumably, the blasphemer serves a temporary sentence and then enters eternal bliss, and that does not count as the blasphemer being forgiven for his or her blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  That makes me wonder what Restorationists believe is the exact role of the cross of Christ in Restorationism.  Gregg says, for example, that Restorationists believe that the cross of Christ saves everyone.  But, if a sinner can go to hell and serve a temporary sentence and then go onto eternal bliss, and that temporary sentence is technically not forgiveness, then does the sinner even need God’s forgiveness to enter into eternal bliss?  If so, why?  How, according to Restorationism?

Second, I tend to disagree with Gregg’s conservative approach to the Bible, and that leads me to reject some of Gregg’s arguments.  Gregg more than once characterizes the Traditionalist perspective on hell as pagan, and Gregg presents the non-Traditionalist perspective that Jesus would not endorse a pagan view (and it seemed to me that Gregg agreed with this argument, notwithstanding his attempt to stay neutral).  But Gregg appears to presume here that the biblical writings were not influenced by foreign thought, as if God sealed the biblical writers in a pure container.  I believe that there is evidence, however, that biblical writers reflected the contexts and cultures of their time, whether that be ancient Near Eastern or Greco-Roman.

Daniel 12:2 states, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (NKJV).  Gregg notes that Daniel 12:2 says that MANY will awake, whereas John 5:28f affirms that ALL of the dead will be resurrected.  Gregg flirts with the possibility that the resurrection in Daniel 12:2 may be different from the resurrection that John 5:28 talks about, and that Daniel 12:2 may not be about an eschatological resurrection at all—-that it could be figurative like the resurrection in Ezekiel 37:1-14, or that it could relate to the events of 70 C.E.  A historical-critical way to understand Daniel 12:2 would be to say that Daniel 12:2 was about a literal resurrection, albeit not a universal one: that the person who wrote Daniel 12:2 was expecting for God to resurrect and reward those who were faithful to God during Antiochus IV’s persecution of Jews, while condemning the enemies of the faithful during that crisis.  My impression (and I am open to correction on this) is that Gregg does not regard the Bible as a collection of diverse theological beliefs, but rather sees all of it as the work of God.  The result, in my opinion, is that he really stretches in his attempt to explain away the resurrection in Daniel 12:2.  (Gregg’s argument, however, that the everlasting contempt in Daniel 12:2 does not necessarily mean that the wicked are in conscious torment, but could instead indicate the contempt that others have for the wicked, struck me as reasonable.)

Philippians 2:9-11 states: “Therefore God also has highly exalted [Jesus] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NKJV).  Some Restorationists have argued that this passage supports universal salvation, whereas some Traditionalists have maintained that the passage says that everyone SHOULD worship and confess Christ, not that they necessarily will.  Gregg responds that Philippians 2:9-11 refers to Isaiah 45:23, and that Isaiah 45:23 means that everyone shall now or will bow.  But, just because a New Testament author uses a passage in the Hebrew Bible, that does not mean that the New Testament author is being faithful to the original meaning of that passage.  If Gregg believes that it does, then he should argue for that, rather than just assuming it. 

Overall, however, I found the book to be a thorough discussion of the topic of hell.  See here for Booksneeze’s page about the book.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the Booksneeze.com book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

The Ends of Power 8

On page 276 of The Ends to Power, H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona) says the following about President Richard Nixon’s valet, Manolo Sanchez, and how his serving Nixon coffee made a lot of racket on Nixon’s tapes:

“Manolo is well known—-and damned—-by all listeners to the tapes as the creator of the thunderous, ear-splitting crashes which usually occurred as the sound was turned up in order to hear a low pitched voice.  The thunder was caused by Manolo delicately placing a cup of coffee on Nixon’s desk in which the microphones were installed.”

I laughed out loud when I read that!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Praying Before Entering a Situation

At church this morning, the pastor emeritus was talking about praying before entering a situation, and knowing that God is with us through it.

I am believing in that more nowadays than I have in the past.  Maybe that’s because I am not in stressful social or academic settings as much nowadays.  In the past, I would pray at the beginning of the day, and the day would still turn out pretty badly.  But I am finding that, at least currently, praying does put my mind into a more positive state.  That is helpful in a time when my main enemy is myself and my own resentments, my disappointments, and my fears.

A wise lady said something years ago that has popped into my mind more than once in recent days.  She said that one way she copes with the day is by resolving at the beginning of each day that a certain situation will not get her down.  That allows her to feel more empowered.  I think that sort of approach can help me, in that I can resolve to be prepared for whatever situation I may face, rather than allowing it to take me by surprise.  The thing is, though, we can’t be prepared for everything that we will encounter each day.  But that’s why retrospective prayer and reflection can be important.

The Ends of Power 7

In my latest reading of The Ends of Power, by H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona), Haldeman talks about the time when President Richard Nixon wanted to ban The Washington Post from his daughter Tricia Nixon’s wedding.  Before, at Julie Nixon’s wedding, an anti-Nixon reporter went to the event and wrote a rather negative story.  Richard Nixon was angry about that, and he didn’t want the same thing to happen again.

In Haldeman’s narration in The Ends of Power, Haldeman had developed a fairly decent relationship with Kay Graham, who owned The Washington Post.  According to his telling, this began after he had been seated next to her at a dinner.  Haldeman narrates on page 245:

“I talked to her at length, trying to show that we were reasonable men at the White House, and therefore her treatment of us at the Post should be reasonable.  I think I made some headway; at least it was a start.  Mrs. Graham told me to be sure to call her directly anytime I felt the Post was not being fair in its treatment of us.”
Haldeman states that he did not take advantage of this offer, until Nixon decided to ban the Post from Tricia’s wedding.  Haldeman says on pages 246-247:

“I…explained [to Kay Graham] the Nixon family concern with what might happen if a certain reporter were assigned to the wedding, and asked if anything could be done to avert it.  I tried to appeal to her personal side, citing the family’s natural desire that the wedding be a happy occasion.  I didn’t mention my orders from the President that the Post was to be banned altogether because I hoped we could work out something that would solve the problem.”

Kay Graham responded that she couldn’t “interfere with the decision of who covers a story” (Graham’s alleged words, quoted on page 247), and that she couldn’t allow the White House to dictate the Post‘s press coverage, but that she understood.  Haldeman narrates that the problem of the reporter was solved, and the Post was not banned from Tricia’s wedding.

I like this story because it is about the of building bridges between different people, being fair and acknowledging people’s humanity, and using diplomacy.  Haldeman was effective because he appealed to Nixon’s humanity in his conversation with Kay Graham, and also because he did not raise an issue that could raise barriers rather than lowering them (in this case, Nixon’s desire to expel the Post from Tricia’s wedding).  And it helped that he was dealing with a lady who herself could be reasonable and fair-minded.  But would this relationship have developed had Haldeman not been seated next to her at that dinner, had he not been given the opportunity to humbly make his case to her, had he not permitted her to see him as a person, not as some character she knew about who worked at the White House?  Would the barriers have still been there had they not gotten to meet each other and to have a discussion?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Psalm 140

Psalm 140:11 states (in the King James Version): “Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.”

The Hebrew that the KJV is translating as “evil speaker” is ish lashon, which literally means “man of tongue.”

The Septuagint has aner glossodes, which Brenton translates as “a talkative man.”  On my BibleWorks, I found glossodes in two other places.  First, there is Sirach 9:18, which the NRSV translates to say: “The loud of mouth are feared in their city, and the one who is reckless in speech is hated.”  Second, there is Sirach 25:20, which says in the NRSV: “A sandy ascent for the feet of the aged– such is a garrulous wife to a quiet husband.”

And the Vulgate understands Psalm 140:11 to be about a man full of tongue.

E.W. Bullinger makes the point that the ish lashon in Psalm 140:11 is an “evil speaker” or a “slanderer”, not someone who is talkative.  Augustine, however, who is using the LXX, believes that the verse is criticizing a talkative person.  Augustine states: “‘A man full of words‘ loves lies. For what pleasure has he, save in speaking? He cares not what he speaks, so long as he speaks” (Tweed’s translation, see here). Augustine apparently believes that a talkative person is not very particular about what he says, and thus he is prone to lie.

In my notes, I speculated that the reason that the person in Psalm 140:11 is called a “man of tongue” may be that the man is skilled in speaking.  Psalm 140:3a states, after all, that the Psalmist’s enemies “have sharpened their tongues like a serpent.”  Sharpening, as in making more effective?  Throughout the book of Psalms, there are villains who are skilled in speaking, and they use their skill for evil purposes: to flatter, and to slander.  What can a person who is quiet or clumsy with words do around such people?  Well, the Psalmist proposes trusting in God!

Personally speaking, I don’t take every single statement in the Bible as an absolute principle.  I don’t believe that God condemns talkative people, any more than I believe that God condemns quiet, introverted people—-the types some evangelicals would accuse of not being “loving” enough.  But I do believe that I can learn some practical principles from Psalm 140:11 and its interpreters: the principle of being discrete with my speech; the principle of listening, rather than being quick to talk; and the principle of valuing authenticity, truth, and substance rather than skill in speech.

The Ends of Power 6

For my blog post today about The Ends of Power, by H.R. Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, I will use as my pivot-point something that Haldeman says on page 191.  Haldeman is talking about the idea that there was a CIA connection with the Watergate break-in, and Haldeman states that Charles Colson, an aide to President Richard Nixon, was investigating that.  According to Haldeman, Colson was finding information, but Colson then decided to terminate the investigation due to new-found religious commitments.  Colson had become a born-again Christian, and “he had apparently decided to turn the other cheek, as the Bible suggests, and ignored almost completely all the facts he had uncovered about the CIA involvement” (page 191).

I have two items:

1.  One reason that people probably bought this book was that they were curious about Haldeman’s take on Watergate.  Haldeman, after all, was President Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff and a close adviser.  In The Ends of Power, Haldeman explores different ideas about why the Watergate break-in occurred.  One idea was that those who broke in were trying to find information about Democratic strategies for the 1972 Presidential election.  Another idea was that the CIA was seeking a way to undermine Nixon’s Presidency, since the CIA feared that Nixon might interfere politically with its operations.  Haldeman also mentions the argument that Democrats knew about the break-in in advance and allowed it so as to discredit Nixon’s Administration, as well as the notion that the CIA sought to sabotage the break-in because it feared that the bugging of Lawrence O’Brien’s phone would uncover CIA connections with magnate Howard Hughes.  Haldeman does not believe that a break-in to uncover Democratic strategies would have been particularly wise, since Nixon was ahead of George McGovern in the polls, and the Democratic National Committee headquarters was not the place to find McGovern’s strategies.  But Haldeman offers arguments for the possible role of the CIA, appealing to people in the CIA who were involved in the break-in, as well as bizarre occurrences during the break-in that may indicate CIA sabotage.

The explanation for Watergate that Haldeman settles on goes as follows: Nixon desired information on DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien, for Nixon was upset that O’Brien was harping on the ITT scandal (see here), and Nixon wanted to find information about O’Brien’s links with Howard Hughes.  According to Haldeman’s theory, Nixon ordered Colson to dig up information about O’Brien, Colson handed the mission over to E. Howard Hunt, and Hunt conferred with G. Gordon Liddy, who decided to tap O’Brien’s phone at the Watergate.  Meanwhile, the “Democratic high command” (Haldeman’s words) expected the break-in, and the CIA was monitoring and sabotaging it.

2.  Haldeman’s discussion of Colson’s religiosity intrigued me.  Haldeman mentions religion earlier in the book, when Haldeman says that he (meaning Haldeman) used to drink but quit for religious reasons.  Now, on page 191, Haldeman mentions Colson’s conversion.  Haldeman refers to Colson’s religiosity later in the book as well, for Haldeman notes Colson’s work in prison ministry and says that he believes that Colson is a changed man.  At the same time, Haldeman wonders if Colson might be blackmailing Nixon.  Haldeman notes that Nixon, in David Frost’s interviews of him, did not mention Colson once, and Haldeman is curious about whether or not that was due to blackmail.

Since Haldeman quit drinking for religious reasons, that must mean that religion was important to Haldeman, right?  How, then, did Haldeman react to Colson’s religiosity?  I detect some sadness on Haldeman’s part that Colson did not continue to investigate the possible CIA role in the Watergate break-in.  Did Haldeman believe that Colson in that case was misapplying the biblical command to turn-the-other-cheek, or rather that the biblical command itself was impractical?  Moreover, later in the book, Haldeman appears to miss the old Colson.  “There may never be his like again”, Haldeman says in page 219.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ends of Power 5

On page 145 of The Ends of Power, H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona) states:

“Ironically enough, given my own involvement in the White House taping system, I hate wiretapping because I hate prying into anyone’s private life.  I remember when J. Edgar Hoover called me at the White House and said he was sending over the transcripts of the Martin Luther King tapes.  The FBI had bugged King’s hotel room when the Kennedys were in power and caught King enjoying extramarital trysts.  I don’t blame the Kennedys completely for that wiretapping because I know how much Hoover was personally obsessed with King.  When I received the FBI Director’s call, I said I didn’t want to see the transcripts.  The man was dead.  But Hoover, no great fan of the Civil Rights movement at any time, wanted the White House to see them to show that King wasn’t ‘such a saint as they’re making him out to be today.’  Presumably, we would inform Civil Rights leaders that their idol had feet of clay.  Hoover sent the material over.  I took one glance at the top page and pushed it back into the envelope.  I found the content of that first page almost as disgusting as Hoover’s attempted use of the transcripts.”

I have to admire someone who respects people’s privacy and does not feel a need to catch up on the latest gossip.  I’m not entirely like this, for I enjoy reading biographies that get into how people were—-the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I do find that I don’t want to know what people are saying about me, however, but that is primarily so that my own feelings can be spared.  But I think that letting people be is a fine rule of life.  At the same time, I also believe that people going about their merry way and living their own lives, without concern about what is going on in the lives of others, can be quite lonely (not that tapping phones is a solution to this!).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Write-Up: Scripture and Tradition, by Edith M. Humphrey

Edith M. Humphrey.  Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

I would like to thank Baker Academic for my review copy of this book.  See here for Baker’s page about it.
According to Edith Humphrey, “tradition” has gotten a bad name in a number of Protestant circles.  I can vouch for that personally, for I myself grew up in a church that rejected extra-biblical tradition.  We did not observe Christmas, Easter, or Sunday, seeing those as human-made institutions that lacked divine sanction and even went against the word of God.  Like many Christians, we interpreted the Jesus of the Gospels to be very critical of Pharisaic traditions, as if Jesus were in favor of sticking with Scripture as the authority for faith and practice rather than adding human commandments.  I suppose that we believed in Sola Scriptura, even if we did not know the technical name for our stance.  But we did not go as far as some Christians we knew, who did not even have instrumental music at their church services!  For them, virtually every religious practice needed Scriptural support before it could be done by Christians.

Humphrey is responding to Protestant anti-tradition mindsets, and yet, at the same time, she is also addressing an increasing Protestant tendency to embrace Christian traditions in what she considers to be a flippant manner.  Reading part of her book was like listening to a Catholic who is debating James White about Sola Scriptura: she appeals to New Testament passages in arguing that the early church did not just rely on a written word but also on oral instruction, and that the early church itself had traditions that it passed on.  She even goes so far as to argue that Jesus wasn’t particularly opposed to the Jewish traditions of his day, which (according to her) played an important role in the Jews’ religious lives.  Jesus’ problem, according to Humphrey, was that there were Pharisees whose treatment of the tradition was lopsided: it emphasized certain elements at the expense of weightier matters.  When Jesus in Matthew 23:23 criticized Pharisees who tithed while neglecting the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith, Humphrey notes, Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to keep on tithing, but he wanted them also to focus on the weightier matters.  Jesus, according to Humphrey, was not anti-tradition.

To be honest, I had a hard time figuring out what exactly Humphrey’s main point was in her book.  If tradition is not a bad thing, does that mean that she thinks we should become like Roman Catholics, who regard the ancient Christian tradition (embodied in the church fathers, among other sources) as somehow authoritative?  Or does she believe that Christians can find the traditions spiritually edifying, without seeing them as authoritative?  She covers a lot of interesting territory in her book: the importance of Christian community, how Christians can sift between traditions that are obsolete and traditions that may still have relevance, why Paul in I Corinthians 11:10 said women should cover their heads on account of the angels (she thinks that Isaiah 6 is relevant to this), her reflections on an encounter that she had with a Jehovah’s Witness, and the list goes on and on.  The book is worth the read on account of its many rich discussions, and I found Humphrey to be a very thoughtful writer.  But I had a hard time discerning what Humphrey’s main point was.

If I were to rate the book, I would give it four out of five stars.

The Ends of Power 4

On pages 110-111 of The Ends of Power, H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona) offers an opinion as to why President Richard Nixon did not have personal friends, such as Herb Klein and Bob Finch, close to him in his Administration, whereas Haldeman actually did serve close to Nixon:

“Nixon viewed Klein and Finch in human terms, as people, which meant he would have had trouble dealing with them on an official basis.

“He didn’t see me as a person or even, I believe, as a human being.  I was a machine.  A robot.  Shortly after it came out I saw the movie Star Wars: there is a robot, a metal machine clanking along doing what it’s told by a computer-like mind.  From Nixon’s viewpoint, that’s what I was.  And I was a good machine.  I was efficient, I didn’t require a lot of ‘oiling’—-and he wasn’t good at ‘oiling’; or what LBJ called ‘schmoozing.’”

I wouldn’t exactly treat what Haldeman says here as absolutely true, though there may be some truth in it.  Granted, Nixon may have treated Haldeman in an impersonal manner, but I read in The Final Days that Nixon regarded Pat Buchanan almost as a son, and Buchanan was a fairly influential adviser within the Nixon Administration.

But this passage from The Ends of Power got me thinking: would I like to work with friends in an official capacity?  I was watching The Wonder Years recently, and there was an episode in which Paul got Kevin a job at a Chinese restaurant.  Paul was the assistant manager, and Kevin was chopping onions!  I was thinking to myself that this would not be a bad set-up.  You have a friend getting you a job, which means that you’re more of a shoe-in: you’re not submitting an application, only to be forgotten, or to be given the brush-off.  And, because your boss is your friend, your boss may be more understanding.  I’m not saying that therefore you can be a bad worker, but rather that you’re not walking on eggshells as much as you may be if you were going into a new, unfamiliar setting where you knew nobody, and you were afraid of making mistakes.  (I say “you” here, but that may not be appropriate, since some people reading this are not as timid as others.)

But there are downsides to working with friends in an official capacity.  It can destroy the friendship.  For example, if I were to write a book, I would prefer for it to be edited and critiqued by someone I did not know.  I would take criticism harder and more personally were it to come from a friend.  But, from someone I did not really know, I wouldn’t care as much.  On the other hand, though, perhaps there are situations in which criticism can come from a friend much more smoothly: the friend may know how to be diplomatic with you, or how to offer constructive criticism that is tailored towards your unique personality.  (Again, I can’t really say “you” here, since some people are stronger and more receptive to criticism than others.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Whole World Was At Peace?

I went to midnight mass last night.  The priest was saying that the people in the world put aside their resentments and divisions when Jesus was born.  I had no idea where he was getting that.  Herod certainly didn’t put aside his ambitions in the Gospel of Matthew, for Herod saw the recently born Jesus as a rival to his throne and tried to kill him.

I thought of a Bible study group that I attended years ago.  We were going through the Gospel of Luke.  The group leader was saying that, the way that he long saw the Christmas story, people at Jesus’ birth are all happy and are singing songs together.  In reading Luke, however, he was seeing a different picture: people’s reactions were, “This is strange stuff.”

The Ends of Power 3

On pages 106-107 of The Ends of Power, H.R. Haldeman (with Joseph DiMona) talks about President Richard Nixon’s social awkwardness, contrasting Nixon with President Lyndon Johnson:

“The awkwardness was sometimes also a problem for the President in the conduct of his official duties.  Contrast, for example, his relations with Congress with those of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson.  LBJ was rough-tongued, but at the same time he could charm or bluster you into anything.  He was an absolute master at Congressional persuasion.  Nixon was not at his best at this vital art.  Johnson could envelop a Congressman in charm, make him come out doing what Johnson wanted and at the same time lay in a very tough threat of what would happen if the Congressman didn’t do it.  Nixon tried the same approach, but the charm wasn’t there—-and the threat would be left hanging bald, bare, and glaring.”

If one is socially awkward (like yours truly), is it a good idea for that person to imitate someone who is more socially adept?  I’ve heard people answer “yes” to that.  And, sometimes, it can work.  One time, a friend and I were walking to class in the bitter cold, and my friend remarked, “Still winter.”  Later that day, I saw another classmate, and I was walking with him unsure of what to say, so I adopted what my friend had said earlier that day: “Still winter.”  The classmate laughed and said, “Yeah.”

But there are times when trying to imitate someone else may not flow smoothly.  It’s like when I was taking gym as a youngster: the gym teacher or a student would demonstrate an athletic skill to us, and it would look so easy.  Then I would try it, and I’d botch it up!  Well, trying to imitate people’s social mannerisms can have that result, as we see in Haldeman’s description of Nixon’s attempts to imitate Lyndon Johnson.  What may be easy for somebody else may be more difficult for me.

And yet, I should be willing to learn from others.  If my social repertoire is limited, then watching and learning from what others say and do may allow me to give it some content—-as long as I remember what is appropriate to a given context (what I observe in one context may not be appropriate in another context).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ends of Power 2

My main topic for my blog post today on H.R. Haldeman’s (and Joseph DiMona’s) The Ends of Power will be change.

The topic of change came up more than once in my latest reading.  Disputing biographies about him, Haldeman narrates that he was not interested in politics when he was in college, that when he initially became involved in politics it was on behalf of a leftist, and that he turned to politics because he was bored with his advertising job.  Haldeman also states that he gravitated towards Nixon because Nixon was in the center of things, and he admired Nixon’s courage in the Hiss case and the Checkers Speech.

Haldeman also talks some about his temperament and his management-style.  Haldeman states that he was much more easygoing when he was in advertising, but that he was a harsh iron-wall within the Nixon Administration out of a desire to do his job well.  He sought results, and he was very particular about who would meet with the President because he did not want to waste the President’s time.  You would think that Haldeman is saying that he’s actually a fun guy, and that he chose to become harsh or strictly-business out of professional necessity.  But Haldeman also seems to be saying that he is who he is.  He says that he prefers to spend time with his family rather than going to parties.  He contrasts himself with John Dean, Alexander Butterfield, and Ron Ziegler, saying that they liked to have fun, whereas he was strictly business on trips.  Haldeman expresses regret at his harsh management style, but he also tells the story of when Nixon’s friend, Bebe Rebozo, was trying to encourage Haldeman to be more diplomatic, even as Rebozo was snapping his fingers at a busboy.  Haldeman states, “I, of course, couldn’t have changed my character any more than Nixon could his, and so Bebe’s mission was a failure” (page 89).

Can people change?  Sometimes, change is not something that we choose, but rather it’s something that happens to us:  Haldeman’s boredom with advertising and his search for something exciting comes to my mind.  Circumstances may also lead us to change: Haldeman could be easygoing within advertising, but he felt that he had to be down-to-business and harsh as Nixon’s Chief of Staff.  But change may be inhibited by our preferences and desires: Haldeman liked spending time with his family rather than going to parties, for example.  And change can also be hindered because we continue to see the rationale behind the status quo, viewing that as the best option out there: Although Haldeman would acknowledge flaws in his management style, he still believed that there was a rationale for it (i.e., not wanting to waste the President’s time, desiring results, etc.).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review of Christ's Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer

John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, ed.  Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about the book.

Christ’s Prophetic Plans is an explanation and a defense of futuristic premillennialism, the pretribulational rapture, and classical dispensationalism.  Futuristic premillennialism is the notion that Jesus Christ will come back to earth in the future and will rule the world for one thousand years.  Prior to Christ’s second coming, according to futuristic premillennialism, there will be a Great Tribulation that will befall the world.  The pretribulational rapture is the idea that God will take Christians to heaven (as well as resurrect past saints) before this Tribulation occurs.  Classical dispensationalism states that God is still committed to the nation of Israel, and it interprets the Old Testament promises to Israel literally rather than spiritualizing them out of a belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people (replacement theology).  For classical dispensationalists, Israel continues to be God’s chosen nation.  (Note: I use the term “Old Testament” rather than Hebrew Bible in this review because the authors of Christ’s Prophetic Plans regard the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament.)

This book contains contributions by John MacArthur, Richard Mayhue, Michael Vlach, Nathan Busenitz, and Matthew Waymeyer, all of whom are associated with the Master’s Seminary.  The contributions by MacArthur, Vlach, and Waymeyer are very lucid and well-argued.  Mayhue’s writing is rather complex and elliptical in areas, and yet his defense of the pretribulational rapture is quite thought-provoking, and it avoids (perhaps even repudiates) some of the weak defenses of the pretribulational rapture that I have encountered over the years (i.e., Matthew 24:40-41 concerns the pretribulational rapture, or Christ’s coming as a thief in the night indicates a pretribulational rapture).  Busenitz’s chapter might be useful to scholars in the field of the History of Biblical Interpretation or Church History, for it quotes church fathers who believed in a literal, future millennial reign of Christ, as well as offered reasons that much of the church departed from futuristic premillennialism in favor of amillennialism, the idea that the millennium in Revelation 20 refers to Christ’s present spiritual reign (which commenced after Jesus’ resurrection) rather than a future earthly reign.

Overall, I found the book’s defense of futuristic premillennialism and classical dispensationalism to be effective.  Against amillennialists who argue that the millennium of Revelation 20 is Christ’s present spiritual reign and that (in accordance with Revelation 20:2-3) Satan is currently limited in terms of his ability to deceive the world, more than one contributor referred to New Testament passages indicating that Satan has been active in the world even after Christ’s resurrection.  The book also appealed to New Testament passages in arguing that God is still committed to Israel.  John MacArthur even contended that Calvinists especially should believe in God’s commitment to Israel, since God has elected Israel, and Calvinists often regard God’s election as unconditional and lasting.  MacArthur offers reasons that a number of Calvinists have instead embraced replacement theology and a non-literal interpretation of parts of the Old Testament.

I did not find all of the book’s arguments to be convincing, however.  The book purported to support a literal hermeneutic of Scripture, yet there were times when I thought that it failed to take the text at face value due to its commitment to biblical inerrancy.   Mayhue, for instance, said that the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3 refers to a first century church and also an end-time church, and the reason is probably that Mayhue wants to use Revelation 3:10 as a proof-text for the pre-tribulational rapture, and he cannot do so if Revelation 3:10 applies only to the first century church in Philadelphia.  Consequently, he embraces a notion that Revelation 3:10 has a first century and an end-time fulfillment, when Revelation 3:10 could simply have been an expectation of what would happen in the first century.  Similarly, on page 99, Mayhue says that God often warned God’s people in the past about a judgment that they would not experience in order to encourage them to repent.  I think that this is Mayhue’s attempt to account for imminent eschatology: the idea that God will soon exact judgment and set up a paradise.  This idea appears in prophecies in the Hebrew Bible and also in the New Testament, but the eschaton did not materialize in the past, and this can pose a problem to those who regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God.  In my opinion, not only does Mayhue deal with this problem inadequately, but he also skirts the literal meaning of the biblical text.

In addition, there were times when I wished that the book went more deeply into certain issues.  For example, there was a chart near the beginning of the book that explained futuristic premillennialism, and it distinguished among the Judgment Seat of Christ that Paul mentions, God’s judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, and the White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15, asserting that these are three separate judgments.  I was hoping to read a discussion about the judgment of the sheep and the goats later in the book, but I was disappointed.

On page 43, Vlach quotes the dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, which states regarding John 1:17 that “The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation.”  Vlach is arguing against the idea that dispensationalists teach that there have been multiple paths to salvation—-that the Old Testament held to salvation by obedience to the law, whereas people today are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Vlach refers to dispensationalist statements that even people in Old Testament times were saved by grace, but, unfortunately, he does not explain what that passage in the Scofield Reference Bible meant in implying that legal obedience was once a “condition of salvation.”  Instead, Vlach quotes Charles Ryrie’s statement that earlier dispensationalists made “unguarded statements that would have been more carefully worded if they were being made in the light of today’s debate” (Ryrie’s words).  I wish that Vlach had explained how dispensationalists believe that salvation occurred in Old Testament times, and what role (if any) the law played.

I also wish that the book went into more detail about the significance of Israel’s establishment as a nation in 1948.  The book mentions that event, but I was curious as to whether the book’s contributors believe it fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament about Israel’s restoration.  Many of the glorious occurrences that are associated with Israel’s restoration within the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible did not occur in 1948.  I wonder about how the contributors to Christ’s Prophetic Plans would address that.

Overall, however, I found this book to be interesting and informative.

The Ends of Power 1

I started H.R. Haldeman’s The Ends of Power, which Haldeman co-wrote with Joseph DiMona.  Haldeman was White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon.

Why did I decide to read this book?  Well, Haldeman has somewhat fascinated me.  I suppose that he has ever since I read Eli Chesen’s President Nixon’s Psychiatric Profile, which noted Haldeman’s 1950′s style haircut, and also the fact that Haldeman was a devout Christian Scientist.  Moreover, I have long read and heard that Haldeman was rather intimidating, and I often wonder what is underneath people who put on a tough front.

So far, The Ends of Power gets into some of the intricacies of Watergate.  Reading this book is similar to my experience of reading volume 2 of Nixon’s memoirs, which talked a lot about Watergate.  This is not because Haldeman necessarily agrees with Nixon’s account: Haldeman agrees with Nixon in some areas, but disagrees with Nixon in others (i.e., what was discussed on the 18 and 1/2 minutes erased from the tape).  Rather, the two are similar because of their ambiguity.  Both of them, on some level, agree that the break-in at the Democratic Committee’s headquarters was a mistake, and Haldeman takes some responsibility for it, even though he says that neither he nor Nixon ordered it or even knew about it until after it occurred.  (UPDATE: Later in the book, however, Haldeman says that Nixon wanted information about DNC chair Lawrence O'Brien, and that this might have been an impetus for the break-in.) And yet, both Nixon and Haldeman say that they don’t have much of a problem with bugging because Democrats did that, too.  The initial reaction of Nixon and Haldeman, according to their accounts, was that the break-in was stupid, since what was at the DNC headquarters?  But they stop short of criticizing the mindset that was allegedly behind the break-in: the use of bugging to gather information on one’s political opponents.  I’m just speaking based on my reading of Haldeman so far.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Departing from Serving the Lord?

I had an interesting discussion before church this morning.  Someone was walking into the church, and he said to the ushers that he went to church for fifty years, and he was tired of serving.  The lady sitting in front of me overheard that, and she remarked that one should never get tired of serving the Lord.  Sure, she acknowledged that one may need a vacation, but she said that a person should get back into the game after the rest.  If a person departs from serving the Lord, that indicates that the person’s relationship with God is off, she was saying.  She also stated that God sustains people who are serving him through difficulties.

My reaction to what she was saying was rather mixed.  She’s decades older than I am, so, while deep down there was skepticism within me about the truth of what she was saying, I was hesitant to dismiss it.  I tend to identify with pastors who leave the ministry and never look back.  But to depart from serving the Lord?  Let me say this: I don’t believe that a person should depart from trying to do good.  And, in my opinion, doing good can take places within the service of the church, but also outside of it.

But what if a person is burned-out?  I think that people in that situation should remind themselves of the importance of what they are doing.  And I believe that turning to spiritual resources—-prayer, fellowship, etc.—-can strengthen a person, too.

The Final Days 15

I finished The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  On page 455, we read Bruce Herschensohn’s reaction to Richard Nixon’s final speech to his White House staff: “That’s probably the real Nixon.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have been like that more often.”

Was that the real Nixon?  I remember reading in David Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow that there were people who did not think so.  They thought that Nixon was positioning himself for a comeback, feeding people sentimentalism, as he had in the past.  Some have pointed out the apparent errors in Nixon’s stories in that speech: Nixon’s father did not sell the lemon ranch before oil was found on it, for example, but rather the Nixons failed to purchase land on which oil was later found.  Maybe Nixon was giving that speech to look better in the eyes of history, for he did insist that it be televised, and there were instructions about where his wife, his daughters, and his sons-in-law would stand.  On the other hand, he put on his glasses at this event, something he rarely if ever did in public before.  And there seemed to be tears in his eyes, and the fact that he let them be seen in public differed from a tendency he often had to want people to see him as tough.  And yet, did not Nixon cry after giving the Checkers Speech, prompting one of his former acting teachers to remark that he was acting?  Did Nixon recognize that a certain form of sentimentalism could look good to people?

Do people like us when we are vulnerable, when they see the real us?  According to the Final Days, Nixon did not want it to be known that he cried when he was with Henry Kissinger on one occasion, under the pressures of the Watergate scandal.  Many of us may want for people to see us as tough and as strong.  We can identify with vulnerability, and even feel sorry for people who are vulnerable.  But do we respect and admire vulnerability?  Maybe we do when vulnerability appears to us in a particular package—-when it does not convey weakness or self-pity, for instance.

Of course, I cannot say “we,” as if I have some right to speak for everyone.  I’m just stating my general observations and speculations, and what I am saying may not apply to a number of people.

I'd like to add my final impressions of The Final Days.  At first, I liked the book on account of its descriptions of the legal reasoning of pro-Nixon and anti-Nixon people.  But I came to enjoy it even more because of its narration of the relationships in its stories: the loving ones, the complex ones, etc.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Comments on the Phil Robertson Controversy

I’d like to offer my brief comments on the Phil Robertson controversy.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here and here.

I don’t think that Phil Robertson is a bad guy.  He prayed for a woman with cancer after learning that he had been suspended from his hit A&E TV show, Duck Dynasty (see here)He has affirmed continually that his faith teaches him to love and respect all people.

Yet, I can understand why people find his comments to be offensive and hurtful.  There are many homosexuals who see their same-sex relationship as special, beautiful, and loving, and they do not appreciate someone coming along and putting it in the same category as bestiality and terrorism.  There are African-Americans who are aware of the oppression and discrimination that existed in the Jim Crow South, and they do not care for Robertson’s implication that things weren’t that bad for African-Americans under that system.

I was reading an article yesterday that suggested ways that Phil Robertson can recover his image: he can apologize, or he can appear on a talk show spouting some mea culpas.  But, for one, I do not expect for Phil Robertson to retract his sincerely-held religious beliefs.  In his eyes, the Bible is against homosexual relationships, and he is committed to that standard.  And, secondly, even if he were to retract his religious beliefs and offer a public apology, that would only be a band-aid solution.  He’d simply be appeasing his critics, without necessarily learning and growing from this experience.

In my opinion, this should be a learning experience—-not a “gotcha” experience (for Robertson’s critics), and not a “we have to stand by Phil Robertson in these end times” experience (for many of Robertson’s supporters).  I hope that Robertson learns why people found his comments offensive, and that he can somehow come to empathize with them, even if he chooses not to change his religious beliefs about homosexuality.  And I hope that other people besides Robertson can learn from this: that, for example, white people can learn that racism does exist, even if they do not see it.

Polarization can start this sort of discussion.  For example, had GLAAD and the NAACP not complained about Robertson’s comments, we would not be talking about why they are so offensive and hurtful.  But polarization and an us vs. them mindset, if it is continued, can obstruct learning, discussion, and growth.

Psalm 139

Psalm 139:8 states: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (King James Version).

The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “hell” is Sheol.  In the LXX, the word is Hades.
Matthew Henry offers an interpretation of Psalm 139:8 that refers to hell.  Henry states that God is in hell in God’s “power and justice”, and that “God’s wrath is the fire which will there burn everlastingly, Rev. 14:10.”  St. Augustine makes a similar point.

Here are some thoughts:

1.  Can hell be a place of separation from God, when God is actually there?  The only biblical reference I could think of that may depict hell as a place of separation from God is II Thessalonians 1:9, and there are two ways to understand that verse.  The New Revised Standard Version translates it as: “These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”.  The King James Version, however, translates it as: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”.  The difference revolves around how to understand the Greek preposition apo in this verse.  As I can see in the Gingrich lexicon on my BibleWorks, apo can occur within the context of separation from, but it can also mean “from” in the sense of cause: something is coming from something else, or someone.  Does II Thessalonians 1:9 mean that the sinner is separated from God’s presence and the glory of God’s power, or rather that the everlasting destruction is coming from God’s presence and power?  Interestingly, Matthew Henry cites Revelation 14:10, and that affirms that the recipients of God’s wrath will be tormented in the Lamb’s presence

2.  Would interpreting Sheol in Psalm 139:8 as hell make sense within the context of Psalm 139?  According to Theodore Lewis’ article about the abode of the dead (entitled “Dead, Abode of the”) in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, there is scholarly debate about whether Sheol is the realm of all of the dead, or rather the realm of the wicked dead or those who die prematurely.  On the one hand, there is a statement in the Hebrew Bible that connects Jacob with Sheol (Genesis 37:35), and the deceased Samuel in I Samuel 28 appears to be ascending from the underworld.  These were righteous men.  On the other hand, Lewis quotes A. Heidel, who states that “there is no passage which proves that [Sheol] was ever employed as a designation for the gathering-place of the departed spirits of the godly.”  Lewis also quotes R. Rosenberg, who thinks that Sheol in the Hebrew Bible relates to premature death or the death of the wicked, and who notes that Sheol is never mentioned as a place where ancestors meet after they die.  (Lewis goes on to say that Rosenberg acknowledges that there are some contexts in which Sheol can be a place where all of the dead meet.)  As I wrote in my post here, however, I am not convinced by the argument that Sheol is where the wicked go, whereas the righteous are said to be gathered to their fathers after death, for there are passages in which the wicked are said to be gathered to their fathers after death (I Kings 14:20; 16:28; 22:40).  At the same time, I don’t thoroughly dismiss the idea that Sheol may be a place where the wicked or those who die prematurely go after they die, and the reason is that the Book of Psalms often presents death as God’s punishment of the wicked, and the Psalmist exults in God’s salvation of his life.  Would this make sense, if everyone got the same fate in the end—-if everyone ended up in Sheol, sooner or later?

I should also note that the Greek word Hades is ambiguous.  Josephus in Antiquities 6:332, 336 affirms that Samuel was in Hades, for example, and yet Josephus also presents Hades as a place of punishment.  In Jewish Wars 2:155-157, he says that the Greeks stated that the righteous went beyond the ocean after death, whereas the wicked went to Hades.  In Jewish Wars 3:375, he says that the righteous go to heaven, whereas the wicked go to the darkest parts of Hades.  Could the LXX of Psalm 139 mean that God is even in hell, the place where the wicked are punished after death?  Could even the Hebrew of Psalm 139 be about God being in Sheol, while seeing Sheol as a place where the wicked go after death?  That brings me to item 3.

3.  The Psalmist in Psalm 139 could simply be making the point that God is everywhere (even in Sheol) as a way to comfort himself.  That’s how a number of Christians treat God’s omnipresence in Psalm 139.  But perhaps the Psalmist is not only comforting himself, but is also warning himself: God’s omnipresence can be comforting, but it can also coincide with God’s power, and even God’s judgment.  The Psalmist could be encouraging himself to stay on the straight and narrow by reminding himself that God not only sees all, but also that God is in Sheol, where the wicked and premature dead go.  In v 19, the Psalmist talks about God killing the wicked.  In vv 23-24, the Psalmist asks God to search for any wicked thing within him (the Psalmist), and to lead him in the everlasting way.  Many scholars would deny that the everlasting way in Psalm 139:24 pertains to an afterlife, or eternal life.  But, as Peake’s Commentary states, how do we know?  Maybe this Psalm was written in a time when Hebrew religion had a concept of eternal bliss for the righteous.  Could the Psalmist in Psalm 139 be desiring eternal bliss rather than Sheol?

All of this said, the Christian concept of hell as a place of everlasting torment disturbs me, and I have a hard time believing that a God of love would operate in that manner.  At the same time, I am somewhat attracted to the notion that even God’s wrath and justice are good, and that we see something of God’s righteous character even in hell, where the wicked are punished.  Maybe there is a way to embrace that sentiment, without committing to a traditional Christian concept of hell as a place of eternal torment.

The Final Days 14

On page 433 of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, President Richard Nixon’s White House Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, is asking a secretary in the White House press office, Anne Grier, is she will be coming with him, Nixon, and two people on Ziegler’s staff—-Frank Gannon and Diane Sawyer—-to San Clemente, California.  Nixon is about to leave the office of the Presidency.  After pausing to consider how she will respond, and being told by Ziegler that she didn’t have to go, Anne finally says: “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  Of course I’ll go.”

I liked this part of the book because Ziegler is sticking with Nixon, even though Nixon is departing as a disgraced President.  And, as someone who watches ABC News each weeknight, I also think it’s cool that Diane Sawyer went with Nixon to San Clemente.  I already knew that Diane Sawyer worked for Nixon after his Presidency on account of the movie, Frost/Nixon, in which an actress plays her.  But it’s interesting to me how often she shows up in The Final Days, often dutifully doing her work, and sometimes expressing an opinion (of sympathy for Nixon, or of shock that John Connally was being attacked for a particular scandal).  Jonathan Aitken in Nixon: A Life narrates that Nixon and Sawyer had a breach in their relationship after Diane Sawyer interviewed him on CBS.  Aitken states on pages 559-560: “She needled him particularly harshly on Watergate, possibly because of a feeling on her part that she had to demonstrate her journalistic independence from her former boss.  Nixon coped more than adequately with her tough questioning, but was inwardly hurt by it and felt he had been betrayed by an old friend.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Final Days 13

On page 404 of The Final Days, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein depict a conversation between White House Chief of Staff (under President Richard Nixon) Alexander Haig, and White House Counsel for Watergate J. Fred Buzhardt.  They are discussing whether or not Richard Nixon will commit suicide under the pressures of the Watergate scandal.  Haig fears that Nixon might, whereas Buzhardt doubts that Nixon will, saying that Nixon was a tough and a religious man.

In this telling of the conversation, Haig brings up a movie in an attempt to shed light on the situation:
“Haig said the President was a battered man, strained to his limit.  He compared Nixon’s behavior to that of Captain Queeg, the erratic naval officer in The Caine Mutiny.  Queeg had been relieved of duty by his second in command because he was unable to function as his ship swirled out of control in a typhoon.  Buzhardt thought the analogy argued against a suicide.  Queeg was a fighter.  He had fought to the end.”

It’s easy to look at this interaction about Captain Queeg and to ask, “Who cares?”  How is Captain Queeg even relevant to Richard Nixon’s situation?  Nixon is not Captain Queeg, but is Richard Nixon.

But my impression is that reference to movies, TV shows, and books occurs often when people try to understand and to navigate their way through real life.  You’d think that people would see this as a no-no, realizing that stories are fictional and do not always portray things as they really are.

In some cases, though, people might be inspired by something they see on television to go out and to try to make the world a better place.  On page 8 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein refers to a white minister from Boston who went to Selma to help out with the Civil Rights movement.  He had just watched the movie Judgment at Nuremberg, which was about people doing nothing while the Nazis committed their atrocities.  He decided that he would not sit back on the sidelines during one of the greatest struggles for justice in the twentieth century, so he went to Selma.  Unfortunately, he was beaten to death by local thugs.  He took his stand, and his stand was righteous.  But his own life was not the sort of happy ending that one often sees in stories.  But he may have known the risks when he went into the situation.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Write-Up: Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus

James W. Watts.  Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From Sacrifice to Scripture.  Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Watts argues in this book that Leviticus 1-16 employs rhetoric to uphold the authority of the Aaronide priests.  Watts notes examples in the Hebrew Bible of texts being read aloud to the people, and he believes that the use of the second person in Leviticus is one indication that this text is intended to be read aloud to persuade the people using rhetoric.

The message and intent of Leviticus 1-16 is largely political, according to Watts.  Sin offerings were invented so that more offerings would come to the Aaronide priests, in a time when they lacked a royal sponsor and were suffering a dearth of priestly revenues.  The story of the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, highlights the serious (even dangerous) work that the Aaronide priests are doing.  Burnt offerings are often mentioned before other offerings because that would highlight to the people the importance of offering to God.  And the Aaronide priests are depicted in Leviticus 1-16 as the only people who brought atonement, or purification.

From a religious perspective, one that looks to the Bible for spiritual edification or enlightenment, this book is quite baffling.  I may be post-evangelical in many respects, but I still want to be edified when I read the biblical text.  At the very least, I would like to understand what the details of the Bible have to do with religious conceptions of God.  But Watts challenges this tendency within me and many others in a variety of ways.  Not only does he contend that aspects of Leviticus 1-16 had a political motive, but he argues that rituals often precede the interpretation that is attached to them, and that many writings of the Hebrew Bible attained authoritative status on account of the rituals within them, meaning that the stories and theological ideas came along for the ride and were actually secondary.  Watts also dismisses one scholar’s theological idea that the Book of Leviticus was about the healing of the world.

Is there a way to be theologically edified, while embracing Watts’ ideas in this book?  Well, maybe one can learn the lesson of supporting one’s leaders and appreciating the difficult work that they are doing.  From a Christian standpoint, perhaps one can apply what Leviticus 1-16 says about the Aaronide priests to Jesus Christ.  Watts in this book points out that, while many Christians have presented Jesus as the sacrificial offering itself, the Book of Hebrews is actually closer to the spirit of Leviticus 1-16 in that Hebrews emphasizes Jesus’ status as high priest.  Overall, however, Watts appears to believe that the goal of deriving spiritual or theological meaning from Leviticus 1-16 has baffled many.  Watts notes interpreters, such as Philo, who seek to interpret the sacrifices in Leviticus from a spiritual standpoint.

Watts’ book is interesting on a variety of fronts.  He discusses a variety of scholarly ideas about the Book of Leviticus, such as the view that Leviticus 11 has an environmental purpose for forbidding the Israelites to eat unclean meat (an idea that Watts rejects).  Watts also compares and contrasts Leviticus 1-16 with other ancient Near Eastern books of ritual.  While Watts notes some overlap, he also sees differences: the way that Leviticus 1-16 puts the commands for rituals in the mouth of the deity (which occurs occasionally and briefly in ancient Near Eastern stories, but not on the level that we see in Leviticus), and the status of the Torah, not only as a book of rituals, but as a religious book that is to shape the lives of the Israelites.  Watts also makes an interesting observation about how the Samaritan priests held that they were Aaronides, and Watts contends that this was pertinent to the attempts by Judean priests to form connections with the Samaritans.

I found the book to be a difficult read, not because the prose and the vocabulary were hard for me, but rather because Watts was throwing at me one pearl after another, and it wasn’t always easy for me to stay caught up.  There were also times when I was unsure of where Watts was going with his points.  He did well to summarize his main arguments in the course of his book, but that tempted me to want to go back and see how the trees related to the forest.

The Final Days 12

On page 378 of The Final Days, we read of the following interaction between two officials in the Nixon Administration, Raymond Price and Ben Stein:

“‘Here’s your chance to do something great,’ Price instructed.  ‘Write a speech that will bring tears to the eyes of Americans and demands that the President stay in office.’  Stein took to his typewriter with the old enthusiasm.”

Of course, Richard Nixon never used Stein’s speech, for Nixon resigned from the Presidency rather than staying in office.  But this passage makes me think about the topic of rekindling old enthusiasm.  What rekindles it?  In this case, I think it was Price giving Stein an important mission, an opportunity for Stein to use his talents, and a challenge.

There are times when my old enthusiasm is rekindled.  I may see a TV episode or a movie that really grabs me, and I feel inspired to share thoughts about it on my blog, as opposed to doing my usual perfunctory writing.  I may read a book or an article, or hear a lecture, in my field of study, and that reminds me of the whole reason that I went into my field in the first place: to encounter thoughts like that!  Unfortunately, disappointments can follow.  Ben Stein’s speech was not used, and there are times when I can be excited about a thought that I encountered, only to see that thought undermined in another book or article.  It’s like cold water being thrown on a flame!  Yet, it’s good when the old enthusiasm comes back!  Many of us have to persevere without it, and that is an important discipline in itself, but how exciting it is when we get that flame back!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Final Days 11

On page 344 of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we read:

"As was his custom, the President had not called for anyone to come.  When he wished company, he simply made himself available."

I'm somewhat like this.  I usually don't call people, asking them if they want to get together with me.  But I have done so in the past.  People are busy, and so, if I don't call them asking them if they want to get together to socialize, the socialization probably won't happen.  But people have called me sometimes, asking me if I want to hang out; in those cases, I either say yes, or I try to find some excuse to say no (since I'm not in the mood to socialize).  I guess that my point here is something that many point out: that, for a number of people, initiating and preserving relationships takes a conscious decision, and effort.

In the past, I have simply made myself available to people when I wanted company.  Sometimes, that works out.  If people are watching TV in a room, for example, it's not overly awkward for me to walk in and to join them.  But, at times, I have made myself available to people when it wasn't a particularly convenient time for them.  So live and learn!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Write-Up: Matthew and Empire, by Warren Carter

Warren Carter.  Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations.  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2001.

Warren Carter argues that Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew was against the Roman empire and its oppression of Israel.  That’s not the message one often hears when watching Jesus movies, I’ll tell you that!  I was recently watching the 1961 movie King of Kings, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus.  The movie did a good job showing why there were many Jews who wanted a Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression, and yet it depicted Jesus as one who was not overly concerned about Rome.  Rather, Jesus in the movie focused on preaching peace and love.  Some Romans were wondering if this could have anti-Roman political implications: for example, Pilate wondered if Rome would get its taxes if Jews decided to heed Jesus’ exhortation to sell all they have and give to the poor.  But the Roman soldier defending Jesus sought to reassure Pilate that Jesus was not seeking to overthrow Rome, for Jesus was promoting a spiritual kingdom rather than a new political kingdom.

But Carter wants to argue that Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel was opposing Rome, and that his ministry in that Gospel had political implications.  Carter doesn’t go as far as S.G.F. Brandon in Jesus and the Zealots (read my review of that book here), for Carter does not argue that Jesus was a revolutionary who was open to using violence, nor does Carter believe that the Gospel of Matthew was trying to downplay or obscure any political significance in Jesus’ mission.  Rather, Carter maintains that Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel was countering Rome by promoting and practicing love, service, and recognition of the value of all, rather than the Roman empire’s way of seeking to lord it over others.  Moreover, according to Carter, Jesus believed that the coming Kingdom of God would overthrow Rome and inaugurate a reality in which the poor are fed rather than exploited.  For Carter, Jesus in his ministry of healing and exorcism was foreshadowing that sort of reality.

On what basis does Carter argue that Jesus was opposing the Roman empire?  Carter places a lot of emphasis on Matthew 20:25-27, in which Jesus contrasts the Gentile princes’ exercise of power with the service that Jesus exhorted his disciples to practice.  Carter also argues that Jesus in his ministry was acting as an alternative to Rome: whereas the Roman empire maintained that the emperor was a son of a god and brought divinity and peace to the world, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and was healing the brokenness that was in Palestine under Roman rule.  Moreover, amidst Rome’s insistence that the empire was a place of prosperity and peace, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was highlighting just how bad the Roman empire was: it was a place where people mourned.  But Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel was promising a new reality in which the mourners would be comforted and the meek would inherit the earth.

Carter tries to refute interpretations of Matthew’s Gospel that disregard or contradict Jesus’ opposition to Rome.  Against the view that Jesus in Matthew was to be one who would liberate people from sin rather than political oppression, Carter maintains that, within ancient Jewish thought, the political and the spiritual were interconnected, for Israel’s political destiny was contingent on its relationship with God; Carter also interprets forgiveness in parts of Matthew in reference to the cancellation of debts and the Jubilee, which had socio-political implications.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (KJV).  Carter interprets that politically, in reference to Rome, noting places in ancient Jewish literature where toil, rest, and yokes had political significance.  Against the argument that Matthew’s Gospel is downplaying Pilate’s guilt in the crucifixion of Jesus, Carter holds that Pilate in Matthew’s Gospel is far from innocent: that Pilate exemplified why Roman power was so horrible.

There was one place where I did not exactly buy into the entirety of Carter’s interpretation, but I found it to be quite interesting.  Remember the story in Matthew 17:24-27 in which Peter draws a coin out of a fish to pay tribute?  Carter argues that the story is about tribute to Rome, and that Jesus was demonstrating God’s sovereignty over the Roman empire.  I tend to disagree with Carter’s argument that Jesus in vv 25-26 is criticizing a situation in the Roman empire in which kings’ children are exempt from paying tribute, for it seems to me that Jesus’ point is that the disciples do not have to pay tribute because they are the king’s children, and yet Peter should pay it so as not to cause trouble or unnecessary offense.  But Carter does make the interesting argument that the scene with the fish demonstrates God’s sovereignty.  Carter notes examples in Roman literature of birds, animals, and fish acknowledging the sovereignty of the emperor, and Carter contends that Jesus is demonstrating his own sovereignty over nature, amidst a situation in which Peter had to yield to Rome. 

Carter’s discussion of Pilate reminded me somewhat of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Mel Gibson back when the Passion of the Christ was coming out.  Scholars and critics were saying that Gibson’s film blamed the Jews for Jesus’ death while downplaying Pilate’s culpability, but Gibson appeared to be puzzled by that accusation, for he felt that he was portraying Pilate negatively: as cowardly.  That tells me that there should probably be more nuance in discussions about the Gospels’ depictions of the role of Rome in Jesus’ death: I do think that the Gospels largely blame Jewish authorities for Jesus’ death, and yet I don’t find their depiction of Pilate to be all that flattering.  The widespread idea that the Gospels were trying to downplay Roman involvement in Jesus’ death out of an attempt to appease Rome strikes me as rather simplistic, and it should be nuanced more.  Carter, in my opinion, does well to criticize scholarly arguments about the portrayal of Pilate in Matthew’s Gospel, not because there is nothing to such arguments, but rather because the issue is more complex.

At the same time, I do wish that Carter had dealt more with the implications of the criticism of Rome in the Gospel of Matthew.  According to Carter, the Roman empire had influence in Syria, which is where Carter (and many scholars) believe that Matthew’s Gospel was written.  If so, why wasn’t Matthew afraid to write a Gospel that criticized the Roman empire?  Wouldn’t he have feared Roman retaliation, on himself and his Christian community?  I think that fear of Rome, or at least political wisdom, explains why opposition to Rome is not that explicit in Matthew’s Gospel.  I agree with Carter that Matthew’s Gospel is pertinent in some manner to the Roman empire, but I do not see Rome being criticized in an explicit and head-on way in Matthew’s Gospel.  Similarly, within ancient Jewish literature, we often find implicit or coded criticisms of Israel’s imperialistic oppressors, but rarely are the criticisms explicit.

There were other interesting discussions in Carter’s book: Carter’s statement that Jesus was telling the rich young ruler to sell his goods and give to the poor because the rich young ruler had gotten his wealth at the expense of others, and Carter’s argument that Matthew in quoting the Hebrew Bible was echoing the contexts of the passages he was quoting.  Matthew quoted passages that originally related to Assyrian imperialism, and the promise of redemption in the midst of that.  According to Carter, Matthew was doing so to reassure Israel that God would redeem her from Roman imperialist hegemony.  This sounds like typology.  In one place, Carter says that Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel anticipated possible death, for servants of God before him, including the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, died in their mission.  That is actually a notable thought: that Jesus in Matthew did not see himself as the Suffering Servant, but rather regarded the Suffering Servant as a figure before him, one who perhaps foreshadowed him.  I am reluctant to wholly accept that, for it seems to me that Matthew believed that Isaiah was predicting Jesus and identified Jesus as the Suffering Servant.  But I am interested in learning more about how the Hebrew Bible can predict or foreshadow the New Testament, while still having meaning for its own identified historical contexts.

Carter briefly tries to tackle a theological issue: How can Matthew criticize Roman imperialism, exclusion, and violence, while embracing a model in which God will come and violently overthrow Rome?  At first, Carter seems to be saying that God can’t be Mr. Nice Guy in overthrowing oppression: that God may have to use force to bring about a just society.  But Carter holds out hope that perhaps it won’t come to that: that, if we take political steps towards justice and peace, maybe God won’t need to use force to overthrow oppression.  This may be overly idealistic, but it is better than saying that we should not pursue political and economic justice because such efforts would be futile, since we are corrupt sinners, and Christ will come back anyway to fix things.  Moreover, so many of God’s acts in the Bible are presented as contingent on human behavior, so who is to say that God couldn’t change God’s plans if we were to behave a bit better?

While Carter was addressing theological problems, he should have addressed how we can hope in Jesus’ promise of a new world, when his promise of Rome’s overthrow did not come to pass.  Carter should have said something about the failure of Jesus’ imminent eschatology to materialize, and whether that effects the Bible’s status as divine revelation that can provide people with hope.

Overall, this was a good book.

The Final Days 10

On page 303 of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we read the following:

“[Ben] Stein never knew what to tell [Julie Nixon Eisenhower].  Throughout the spring and summer their frequent conversations had followed a pattern.  Stein always tried to think of something positive to say.  Partly to have something else to talk about, he had given Julie a copy of Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem.  She had liked it immensely.  Tonight Stein counted himself lucky: he could tell her about Sandman’s and Wiggins’ arguments.”

Ben Stein was a speech writer in the Nixon White House.  It’s interesting to me that his name comes up more than once in The Final Days, more than it comes up in later books about Nixon that I have read.  The Final Days came out in 1976, and that was before Stein’s acting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wonder Years, the “Moisture Eyes” commercials he was in, and the movie Expelled.

The passage on page 303 stood out to me because I could identify with Stein in that situation.  I’m often not sure what I should talk to people about in social situations.  Often, this is simply me not knowing what to say.  At other times, I don’t want to talk about a specific topic (i.e., politics, religion) with someone, due to bad experiences in the past, so I look for alternative topics of conversation.

Something that I’ve done in the past to form connections with people is to watch a TV show that they like, or to follow their blog.  This can work.  But conversations are much better when the person I am conversing with likes the same shows I do, rather than me watching a show just to have something to discuss with someone else.  Moreover, I have tried to research sports to have something to talk about with people, and that usually doesn’t end up well, since I appear ignorant of sports, even after reading scores.  The reason is that sports just do not interest me.

I’m happy when I come across something that I can share with someone else.  Otherwise, socializing can be a mundane, uphill-battle experience for me.  “How are you?  How was your week?”

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Write-Up: Jesus and the Zealots, by S.G.F. Brandon

S.G.F. Brandon.  Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Political Factor in Primitive Christianity.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967.

Before Reza Aslan’s Zealot, there was S.G.F. Brandon’s 1967 work, Jesus and the Zealots
I decided to read Brandon’s book due to the controversy surrounding Aslan’s work.  I read book reviews that were highly critical of Aslan, and I wanted to see what Brandon’s case was for Jesus being a Zealot revolutionary.  I was expecting Jesus and the Zealots to be a sensationalist book, but it turned out to be quite judicious and reasonable.  Even though I question Brandon’s conclusions, I think that he asks good questions.

Brandon does not seem to me to be overly dogmatic about Jesus being a Zealot revolutionary, but he does appear to believe that Jesus had revolutionary impulses that Gospel authors sought to obscure.  On what basis does Brandon believe that Jesus was a revolutionary?  First of all, Brandon more than once mentions that Jesus had a Zealot as one of his disciples.  Second, in Gospel works that try to refute the charge that Jesus was seditious against Rome, Jesus never speaks a word against the Zealots, even though the Gospels depict Jesus criticizing other Jewish groups (i.e., the Pharisees, the Sadducees), and having Jesus criticize the Zealots would have served the Gospel authors’ agenda; for Brandon, that indicates that Jesus was not a critic of the Zealots.  Third, there was Jesus’ aggressive cleansing of the Temple, which Brandon believes was Jesus’ attempt to purify the Jewish religion in the face of the coming divine judgment; Brandon in one place states that this actually distinguishes Jesus from the Zealots (at least slightly), since Jesus was not attacking Rome but rather the Temple, but Brandon says elsewhere in the book that this Temple cleansing coincided with the insurrection of which Barabbas was a part (see Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19, 25).  Brandon also notes indications in the Gospels that Jesus did not shy away from violent revolution: Jesus’ statement that he came to bring a sword, his exhortations to his disciples to take up their cross and follow them (and the cross was a punishment for revolutionaries), and his exhortation of his disciples to bring along swords when he was about to be arrested (but Brandon acknowledges that Jesus gave up on violent revolution when he saw it was hopeless).  Fourth, Jesus was crucified for sedition by the Romans as a would-be Messiah, and Jesus’ expected mission (even according to certain New Testament passages) was to restore the kingdom to Israel.  The Jewish authorities arguably did not have to trump up sedition charges against Jesus and turn Jesus over to the Romans if they wanted Jesus dead, for they could have simply stoned Jesus on a religious charge, as they did to Stephen in the Book of Acts.  Jesus’ crucifixion for sedition at the hands of the Romans indicates to Brandon that there was something to the charge.  And, fifth, there was the suspicion that Jesus’ followers even after Jesus’ death were believed to be seditious.  According to Brandon, that was why Agrippa killed off certain Christian leaders, such as James.

Brandon argues that there were attempts after Jesus’ death to obscure Jesus’ revolutionary impulses.  According to a number of scholars, the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome, and Brandon contends that there were Christians who were embarrassed by the fact that their founder was crucified for sedition.  Consequently, according to Brandon, the Gospel of Mark tried to argue that Jesus was not seditious, and it blamed Jesus’ death more on Jewish leaders than the Romans.  Against the view of many scholars that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Antioch, Brandon contends that it was written in Alexandria, Egypt, where many Jews fled after the Romans had crushed the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  Some of these Jews were Zealots who were still hungry for revolution, whereas others had decided that war was not the way to go: that it only brought disaster.  For Brandon, the Jewish Christians in the latter group thus depicted Jesus as one who promoted peace and non-retaliation, rather than revolution against Rome.

Overall, Brandon’s depiction of the diversity of early Christianity is quite interesting.  In Brandon’s depiction, there was the Jerusalem church, which held out hope that Jesus would return and overthrow Rome.  There was Paul, who was gaining converts among the Gentiles and who was portraying Jesus’ crucifixion as an assault on demonic powers rather than on Rome, per se.  And there were the Christians in Alexandria, whom Brandon believes are criticized in the pro-Paul Book of Acts.  These Christians in Alexandria are depicted as people who are stuck in a John the Baptist sort of mode, who do not even know about the Holy Spirit.  According to Brandon, Pauline Christians saw the Alexandrian Christians in this manner: as people who were hoping for a political redemption, and who did not recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit, as Paul did.

Like N.T. Wright and others, Brandon inquires why the Christian movement continued to exist after Jesus’ death, when many Messianic movements folded after their leaders died.  Brandon contends that something—-perhaps a vision—-convinced early Christians that Jesus was still alive.  Brandon seems to believe that Paul, too, had a sort of vision that he believed was from Jesus.  For Brandon, a belief that Jesus was still alive motivated diverse strands of Christianity: Jewish Christians, who expected Jesus to return and to finish his mission to redeem Israel, and Paul, who had a more spiritual interpretation of Jesus’ life and work.

One argument that has been made against Brandon and Aslan is that Jesus could not have been a Zealot because the Zealots did not exist until the Jews revolted against Rome in the second half of the first century C.E.  Brandon notes, however, that there were Jewish insurrections against Rome before that.  A man named Judas led an insurrection in 6 C.E. after the Romans took over Judea to govern it directly and imposed taxes, and Brandon argues on the basis of Josephus’ Jewish Wars 7.254-256 that the Zealots considered Judas to be the father of their movement.  Brandon also contends that Josephus had a motivation not to mention the Zealots until he came to the revolt in 66-70 C.E.: because Josephus was writing for the Romans, and Josephus did not want to present the Jews as people who were continually hungry for revolution.

There were at least three points Brandon made that I found particularly interesting.  First, on page 259, Brandon argues that Mark’s claim that there was a Roman custom to release a political prisoner during the Passover was false.  Brandon notes that Josephus mentions no such custom.  But why would Mark make such a claim, if he knew that Romans could read his work and easily refute it?  Doesn’t that indicate that Mark’s claim was accurate?  Brandon does not think so.  He says that Mark was “writing for a public which was unlikely to have the knowledge or inclination to check his story”, and he notes that Tertullian, writing to Roman magistrates, asserted that “Tiberius had been convinced in a report from Pilate as Christ’s divinity” (Brandon’s words, page 259), which Brandon deems to be an obviously false claim on Tertullian’s part.  I liked this passage because of Christian apologists who argue that Christianity was true because no one was refuting its claims.  (See here for an excellent response to that sort of argument.)

Second, on page 312 and thereabouts, Brandon discusses the significance of the temptation story in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 4).  Brandon asks why it was considered wrong for Jesus to turn stones into bread, when Jesus would later perform the similar feat of multiplying bread and fishes.  Brandon’s answer is that the temptation story is trying to show that Jesus did not perform his mission out of any obedience to Satan, for there were people who were claiming that Jesus and his ministry were Satanically or demonically driven.  I had never thought about that before, but it makes sense.  And, third, Brandon talks about Josephus’ reference to Jesus.  Brandon notes that there were Christians in Rome, which was where Josephus was writing, and so Brandon deems it reasonable that Josephus’ reference to Jesus (minus the Christian interpolations) was authentic.  Brandon speculates that Josephus was mentioning Jesus to show the Romans that the Jewish authorities in Palestine dealt with the founder of the Christian movement, which the Romans deemed to be subversive.  For Brandon, Josephus’ reference to Jesus was part of Josephus’ overall agenda to make the Jews look good to the Romans, and to distance the Jews from revolution in his history.

What do I think about Brandon’s arguments?  Well, I am open to his claim that the Romans had reason to deem Christianity to be subversive.  I question whether Jesus was promoting or participating in armed insurrection, however, for even Brandon says things that indicate that Jesus and the early Jewish Christians had a different approach: that, rather than trying to overthrow the Romans and hoping to restore Israel through their own might, they were expecting an imminent divine intervention that would bring about justice (a still potentially incendiary expectation).  But could these expectations and hopes have overlapped somehow, as some believed that it was their duty to assist God in what God was about to do, or to prepare the way for God?  That is a good question.

I think that Brandon makes too big of a deal in noting that Jesus includes a Zealot in the ranks of his disciples, for Brandon fails to acknowledge that Jesus also included a tax collector as a disciple.  I’ve heard preachers go on about how Jesus was including people of different political persuasions in his ranks, and speculating about the sorts of discussions and debates that went on around the disciples’ campfire.  Rather than arguing that Jesus sympathized with the Zealots because he had a Zealot disciple, Brandon should have also addressed why Jesus included a tax-collector in his ranks, when tax-collectors were probably despised by Zealots.

Good book!

The Final Days 9

On pages 263-264 of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we read:

"[President Richard Nixon's White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler's] staff accepted these menial chores with varying degrees of tolerance, recognizing that the demands he made on them were extensions of the pressures the President put on him.  His temper tantrums were excused on similar grounds.  Nixon raged at Ziegler, they knew, and Ziegler raged back at whoever was handy."

I can sympathize somewhat with people who are jerks because they were hurt in life.  Hopefully, that sort of sympathy on my part can keep me from despising them, for despising people is not good for my own soul, or even my personal interactions, for that matter.  But that doesn't mean that I want to be in any sort of close relationship with them.  And there are situations in which a person should leave a relationship with extreme types of those sorts of people----the types that are abusive.  But do I admire those who stick with relationships with difficult people----people who are not abusive, but who are extremely difficult because of some hurt that they experienced?  I do.  I just don't have that sort of unconditional love within me.  I can love from a distance and wish someone the best, but that doesn't mean that I want a close relationship with that person.  And yet, I somehow hope and expect for people to be understanding of me and my problems.  Maybe I shouldn't have that expectation.  I shouldn't burden people with rules in my mind that I myself am extremely reluctant to follow.

Comments are off.

Search This Blog