Monday, August 31, 2009

Rest in II Samuel 7

I raised some questions about "rest" in II Samuel 7 in my post, Rest, Then Centralization. It turns out that P. Kyle McCarter believes all the references to "rest" in II Samuel 7 are Deuteronomic. That would include vv 9b-11a. V 10 is especially of interest:

"And I will set up a place (maqom) for my people, for Israel, and I will plant it, and it will dwell in its place, and it will not be agitated again. Sons of unrighteousness will not again afflict it as formerly."

This is my translation of the verse. McCarter argues that the "place" is the central sanctuary, whereas most contend that it refers to the Promised Land. But didn't God already plant the Israelites in their land? A.A. Anderson says in his Word Commentary that the verse means God will keep Israel safe under David and his dynasty (Anchor Bible 121).

For McCarter, the verse means that God will establish a central sanctuary that will not be disturbed, as it was formerly. McCarter applies the "sons of unrighteousness" to Hophni and Phinehas (I Samuel 2:11-26). The Deuteronomist says that the priestly line of Eli will come to an end (I Samuel 2:27-36), which occurs by the time the temple is built, since, a little bit before that, Zadok replaces Abiathar, the descendant of Eli (I Kings 2:26-27, 35b). McCarter states, "In the new sanctuary, we are assured, such corruption [(that of Eli's sons)] will not take place" (204).

I wonder if the Deuteromistic History ever criticizes the priesthood, or if it reserves its criticism for others: the king, the people of Israel, etc. Moreover, could the part of v 10 about the sons of unrighteousness refer to the Philistines' destruction of Shiloh before Israel had a king (Psalm 78:6; Jeremiah 7)? While the judges failed to protect the central sanctuary, the rationale would run, the king would safeguard it. Would that imply that II Samuel 7:10 is pre-exilic, since the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, thereby invalidating v 10 (at least apparently)? Maybe, but not necessarily: If a king behaves as a good Deuteronomist Davidic king should behave, the Deuteronomist may think in the back of his mind, then the temple will not be destroyed. I don't know.

I asked yesterday about II Samuel 7:1, which states that God gave David rest all around from his enemies. Does McCarter view this as Deuteronomic? If so, how would he reconcile that with I Kings 5:3-5, which says rest came under Solomon, whereas David was a man of war? McCarter believes that the part of II Samuel 7:1 about rest was a post-exilic insertion into the text, for he notes that I Chronicles 17 (which interprets and revises II Samuel 7) in the parallel verse (v 1) does not mention rest, and Chronicles was written after Samuel (191). So McCarter doesn't think the "rest" belongs in II Samuel 7:1, meaning the Deuteronomist did not write it, and Dtr's being consistent with his claim in I Kings 5:3-5 that true rest came under Solomon, which is why he and not David built the temple.

A.A. Anderson disagrees, for he says that the Chronicler may have omitted the part about "rest" because there are wars in later chapters. "God granted David rest, but there are still wars? That doesn't make any sense!," A.A. Anderson's Chronicler is thinking, as he deletes "rest" from his retelling of the story.

Personally, I like the "rest" in II Samuel 7:1: David has defeated his enemies, and he's relaxing. Then he thinks that maybe God deserves a temple as fancy as David's palace. The rest provides David with an opportunity to think about building a temple. But the problem is that, if the "rest" of II Samuel 7:1 is from the Deuteronomist, who's big on "rest," then the Deuteronomist may be contradicting what he says in I Kings 5:3-5: Solomon not David will build the temple because rest finally exists under Solomon.

At the same time, McCarter says that rest was fulfilled in a preliminary way by the Conquest, but that true rest came under Solomon. I posted yesterday references to Joshua that refer to rest after the Conquest. Couldn't the rest of II Samuel 7:1 also be preliminary?

That reminds me of what I was reading today in Moshe Weinfeld's Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School: For the Deuteronomist, the king is the one who truly implements the moral law of the Torah for Israelite society. During the time of the Judges, it's chaos! Joshua did it somewhat, but he was a semi-royal figure. So, for Weinfeld, the monarchy was the best institution to safeguard Israel's religion and worship. Previous people could do a halfway decent job on occasion, but not as well as the monarchy (170-171). Even in the time of Joshua, things could be pretty ad hoc, as when all of Israel gathered against their fellow Israelites across the Jordan for building another altar, when that wasn't what the Transjordanian Israelites were doing at all (Joshua 22)! Before there was a king, centralization (when it was enforced) was enforced in a chaotic manner. For the Deuteronomist, that changed when Israel had a king!

Here's another thought: Maybe Solomon built the temple because he was the only king who ruled over a time of complete and perfect rest, which, according to the Deuteronomist, was a prerequisite for the building of the temple. But the rest did not last, for wars occurred after Solomon's death. Centuries later, the exile occurred, a dramatic disruption of Israel's rest from her enemies. Could that be why the Deuteronomist emphasizes Solomon so much in II Samuel 7:13, and I Kings 8: he was the only king who had true rest?

Rest, Then Centralization, Part II

This is Part II of my post, Rest, Then Centralization. Please read that if you want background information for this post.

Okay, why is it that the Deuteronomist in II Samuel 7:13 makes the generalized zera of v 12 refer specifically to Solomon, who will build a house for God's name? I think part of the answer is this: the II Samuel 7 that was in front of the Deuteronomist said that David didn't build the temple. That was puzzling in the ancient world, for kings worth anything built temples. You can tell that the Deuteronomist was concerned about this issue from I Kings 5:3-5, which says that David didn't build the temple because he was a man of war, so Solomon will build it because the LORD has given him rest from his enemies. The Deuteronomist was addressing an issue that people had: Why did Solomon and not David build the temple?

The Deuteronomist looked at II Samuel 7 and saw the following: David offers to build God a house, God tells David "no" because he's never dwelt in a house, and God promises to build David a house, an everlasting dynasty. The document in front of the Deuteronomist may be from the time of David, which is why it doesn't mention that Solomon would build the temple. Or it came long after David and was anti-temple, for whatever reason.

But the Deuteronomist doesn't like II Samuel 7 not mentioning the temple, for he's big on the central sanctuary. And so he inserts v 13, which says that Solomon will build it. He also goes to I Kings 8 and ties that chapter with II Samuel 7, the chapter he had before him plus his additions.

The Didache on Prophets

Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. I: The Beginnings of Patristic Literature, from the Apostle's Creed to Irenaeus (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1983) 34.

Quasten discusses the Didache, a Christian document from the second century C.E. After quoting Didache 15:1-2, which concerns bishops, deacons, prophets, and teachers in the church, Quasten states the following about the Didache's stance on prophets:

This reference prompts us to conclude that beside the local hierarchy the so-called prophets played an important role. In ch. 13, 3 we read regarding them: 'They are your high priests.' They are entitled to celebrate the Eucharist: 'Permit the prophets to give much as they desire' (10, 7). They are entitled to tithes of all earnings: 'Therefore, take all first fruits of vintage and harvest, of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets...Likewise, when you open a fresh jar of wine or oil, take the first draught and give it to the prophets. Of money and cloth and any other possession, first set aside a portion according to your discretion and give it according to the commandment' (13, 3-7). The position they occupied was evidently held in high esteem for it was said of them that they could not be judged: 'He (the prophet) is not liable to your judgment, for his judgment rests with God' (11, 11). To criticize them is in effect a sin against the Holy Spirit: 'If any prophet speaks in ecstasy, do not test him or entertain any doubts; for any sin may be forgiven, but this sin cannot be forgiven' (11, 7).

A few pages later, Quasten says that the Didache emphasizes the prophets' importance to correct a prevalent disregard for them: "the regard for the prophets of the New Dispensation is waning and has to be stressed anew" (36).

This quote interested me for three reasons.

1. First of all, it shows how an early Christian document dealt with the issue of tithing. Tithing is a controversial issue among Armstrongites and those recovering from Armstrongism. The Worldwide Church of God argued for a long time that the ministry was the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament priesthood, so it was entitled to the congregants' tithes and offerings. My dad tells the story of when he was in the Worldwide and a nice couple brought fresh vegetables to church. The minister said that he had first pick of the veggies, since he was a Levite and didn't have an inheritance (see Numbers 18:23-24). The brave couple responded, "Okay, take what you want, but you won't get anything more from us!"

Against the Armstrongite position, ex-Armstrongites argue that tithing is not a New Testament command for the church, and that the church doesn't have an equivalent to the Old Covenant priesthood, which passed away with the Old Covenant. For them, the parts of the NT that talk about "give, give, give" concern voluntary giving, not a mandatory tithe. It's interesting that the Didache resembles the Armstrongite position: it says that a group of people in the church is equivalent to the Old Testament priesthood and should receive firstfruits.

2. The Didache is not like Armstrongites and other cessationists on the issue of prophecy, however. Cessationists believe that spiritual gifts like tongues, healing, and prophecy have ceased for the church, since we now have the Bible. If they believe that prophecy still exists, they define "prophecy" as preaching and expounding the word, not as ecstatic utterance. My impression of Armstrongism was that it was anti-charismatic and pro-Sola Scriptura, but there were exceptions. Garner Ted Armstrong called himself a prophet and referred to a vision he had of standing before authorities and causing the earth to shake. And John MacArthur, in Charismatic Chaos, refers to Herbert Armstrong's alleged supernatural experiences to argue that a belief in continued revelation can lead to cults.

In any case, the Didache is not cessationist, for it holds that ecstatic prophecy is still for the church.

3. The part about not testing or questioning prophets rubs me the wrong way. The fact that the Didache equates doing so with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit outrages me even more! According to the New Testament, prophets are supposed to be tested. I Corinthians 14:29 states, "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said" (NRSV). The word for "weigh" is diakrino, the same word that Didache 11:7 uses when it tells Christians not to test their prophets. And Revelation 2:2 has, "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false."

At the same time, I think that Quasten's quotation of the Didache is pretty one-sided. Here is Didache 11, in whatever translation the "APE" on my BibleWorks is. I've emboldened the parts that I want to highlight:

1 Whosoever, therefore, cometh and teacheth you all these things that have been said before, receive him.
2 But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not; but if he teach so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.
3 But concerning the apostles and prophets, according to the decree of the Gospel, thus do.
4 Let every apostle that cometh to you be received as the Lord.
5 But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet.
6 And when the apostle goeth away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodgeth; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.
7 And every prophet that speaketh in the Spirit ye shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.
8 But not every one that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he hold the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known.
9 And every prophet who ordereth a meal in the Spirit eateth not from it, except indeed he be a false prophet;
10 and every prophet who teacheth the truth, if he do not what he teacheth, is a false prophet.
11 And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself doeth, shall not be judged among you, for with God he hath his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets.
12 But whoever saith in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, ye shall not listen to him; but if he saith to you to give for others' sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

Far from telling Christians not to test prophets, Didache 11 provides them with guidelines on how to do so. False prophets teach wrong doctrine, are greedy, and/or do not practice what they preach.

But it's one thing to test a prophet and examine his fruit. It's another thing to have a hyper-critical spirit, one that disrespects true prophets and their message of righteousness, refuses to give people the benefit of a doubt, and is stingy about the needs of others. The line between these may look thin and obscure. Many may do the latter (hyper-criticism), claiming that they're doing the former (well-intentioned testing). And power-hungry false prophets may accuse people who test them of doing the latter (hyper-criticism), when they're actually doing the former (testing). I wish the line were clearer in the Didache, if the Didache is correct that crossing it leads to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which cannot be forgiven. At the same time, the Didache prompts me to ask myself why I am criticizing a person: is it out of good motives, or bad?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rest, Then Centralization

In II Samuel 7:13, the Deuteronomist wants to emphasize that Solomon would build a house for God's name. P. Kyle McCarter, in his Anchor Bible commentary on II Samuel, maintains that the Deuteronomist applies the zera (seed) of v 12 to Solomon, even though the "seed" originally referred to David's entire dynasty, not just Solomon.

Why would the Deuteronomist want to focus so much on Solomon? McCarter refers to Deuteronomy 12 and Deuteromistic passages, which may shed light on the issue (191, 217). Deuteronomy 12 states the following:

You shall not act as we are acting here today, all of us according to our own desires, for you have not yet come into the rest and the possession that the LORD your God is giving you. When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety, then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, and all your choice votive gifts that you vow to the LORD. (Deuteronomy 12:8-11, NRSV)

The order that Deuteronomy 12 prescribes is (1.) Israel gets rest from all her enemies, then (2.) worship in the central sanctuary. Centralization of worship comes after rest, according to Deuteronomy 12.

Why did the Deuteronomist think God forbade David to build the temple? I Kings 5:3-5 puts the following words in Solomon's mouth:

"You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to my father David, 'Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.'"

For the Deuteronomist, David couldn't build the temple because there wasn't complete rest under him. But Israel had rest from her enemies in the time of Solomon, so he could build the temple. The Deuteronomist is adhering to the pattern of Deuteronomy 12: rest, then centralization.

Of course, the problem is that II Samuel 7:1 says the LORD granted David rest from his enemies. Yet, vv 9-11 treat God granting Israel rest from her enemies as future. I wonder how McCarter handles these verses. Many see Israel's "rest" from her enemies as a Deuteronomist concept. It first appears in Deuteronomy 12:10. It also pops up in the Deuteromistic History, in Joshua 21:44 and 23:1. Those passages say that Israel got rest immediately after the Conquest, but we see from Judges that this didn't last long. But my impression of McCarter (which could be wrong) is that he views II Samuel 7:9-11 as pre-Deuteronomic. How can he do this, when these passages mention "rest"?

I'd like to do two things. Maybe I'll get to them tomorrow. Maybe I won't entirely:

1. I want to see how McCarter handles the verses in II Samuel 7 that talk about "rest" from enemies, a Deuteronomic concept.

2. I want to look at Moshe Weinfeld's treatment of "rest" in Deuteronomy and the Deuteromistic History.

Messiah ben Joseph

H.L. Strack and Gunter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash: Second Edition, trans. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 327.

[The seventh century apocalypse Sefer Zerubbabel] describes the eschatological struggle between Armilos, the leader of Rome and of Christianity, and the Messiah ben Joseph, who falls in battle but prepares the way for the Davidic Messiah.

I first learned about the Messiah ben Joseph when I read Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. It was during a Feast of Tabernacles in the late 1980's, and my family was in Florida. We were heading to Medieval Times, a restaurant in which we played dukes and duchesses and watched knights fight each other (our guy lost). I was reading Hal Lindsey in the back of the van, and he had a chapter on the fulfillment of prophecy.

Hal Lindsey said that the Old Testament predicted a Messiah who would suffer and die, yet defeat evil and reign. He remarked that even Jews see these two portrayals of the Messiah in their own Bible, but, unlike Christians, they don't conclude that a single Messiah will die, rise again, and return in the future to destroy the wicked. Rather, they hold that there will be two separate Messiahs: one who will suffer and die, and another who will defeat Israel's enemies and rule the world.

Hal Lindsey did not use the terms "Messiah ben Joseph" and "Messiah ben David." I may have encountered those terms at various points in my reading, but the first time I understood the "Messiah ben Joseph" concept was when I was at Harvard. I read a book for Harvey Cox's "Contemporary Images of Jesus" class, entitled Jesus through Jewish Eyes. One of the chapters argued that Jesus could have been a Messiah ben Joseph, a figure who would do good for Israel yet come to a terrible end. According to the chapter, Jesus was not the Messiah ben David, since the Messiah ben David will bring peace to the earth, something Jesus did not do. But he may have been a Messiah son of Joseph. And, for this chapter, Jewish tradition believed there could be more than one Messiah ben Joseph before the coming of the Davidic Messiah.

Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus lean heavily on the "Messiah ben Joseph" concept in rabbinic literature, perhaps because it shows that Judaism believed in a suffering Messiah. That would (a.) assure reluctant Jews that believing in Jesus does not contradict their Jewish heritage, since Judaism itself had a concept of a suffering Messiah, and (b.) show that the suffering Messiah is in the Hebrew Bible, which is why even anti-Christian or non-Christian Jews had to do something with that motif. But Christianity is the religion that fulfills it, Christians argue, since Jesus came, did Messianic things like heal and raise the dead, died for our sins, and rose.

One Messianic congregation I know of claims that Jesus was the Messiah ben Joseph whom the sages talk about. I've often wondered what it means by this. For one, I doubt that the rabbis believed in Jesus. And, second, Jesus wasn't from the tribe of Ephraim, which is what "ben Joseph" means. I think that some Messianic Jews think "ben Joseph" means the son of a man named Joseph, which Jesus was (according to Matthew and Luke), rather than a tribe in Northern Israel. Consequently, they get a lot of nods from people when they speak of the rabbis foretelling a Messiah son of Joseph, who would die for the sins of Israel. "Of course that's Jesus," people in the congregation are thinking. "He was the son of Joseph, and he died for our sins." They don't consider that "son of Joseph" may not mean what they think it means, nor do they consider the unlikelihood that the rabbis believed in Jesus, since rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were at odds.

I found the Jewish Encyclopedia's description of the Messiah ben Joseph to be interesting:

Finally, there must be mentioned a Messianic figure peculiar to the rabbinical apocalyptic literature—that of Messiah ben Joseph. The earliest mention of him is in Suk. 52a, b, where three statements occur in regard to him, for the first of which R. Dosa (c. 250) is given as authority... In the last of these statements only his name is mentioned, but the first two speak of the fate which he is to meet, namely, to fall in battle (as if alluding to a well-known tradition). Details about him are not found until much later, but he has an established place in the apocalypses of later centuries and in the midrash literature—in Saadia's description of the future ("Emunot we-De'ot," ch. viii.) and in that of Hai Gaon ("Ṭa'am Zeḳenim," p. 59). According to these, Messiah b. Joseph will appear prior to the coming of Messiah b. David; he will gather the children of Israel around him, march to Jerusalem, and there, after overcoming the hostile powers, reestablish the Temple-worship and set up his own dominion. Thereupon, Armilius, according to one group of sources, or Gog and Magog, according to the other, will appear with their hosts before Jerusalem, wage war against Messiah b. Joseph, and slay him. His corpse, according to one group, will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; according to the other, it will be hidden by the angels with the bodies of the Patriarchs, until Messiah b. David comes and resurrects him...

Two details stand out to me:

1. The Messiah son of Joseph will rebuild the temple. In the New Testament, a "temple of God" is prophesied for the end times. II Thessalonians 2:4 states that the man of sin will sit in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Revelation 11:1-3 says that God will give the outer court of the temple to the Gentiles, who will trample the city for forty-two months, during which time the two witnesses will prophesy wearing sackcloth.

Those who believe that Revelation was fulfilled in the first century with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem will interpret these passages in a certain way. But people who think Revelation predicts the future will have a question: Where will the temple of God come from, considering that it is not standing today?

Many believe that the Jews will rebuild it, or that the Antichrist will negotiate a deal between Jews and Muslims so that the Jews can build a temple in its traditional site, where the Dome of the Rock now stands. But here is a problem: the New Testament calls the temple the "temple of God," meaning that God recognizes it. Would God recognize a temple that the Antichrist built? That's why some believe that a person God designates will be the one who will rebuild the temple. According to my dad, the two witnesses will be the ones who will perform this task.

But it's interesting to see how a strand of Jewish eschatology addresses this issue: the Messiah ben Joseph will rebuild the temple. This brings me to my second point:

2. Could the two witnesses be Messiah ben Joseph? We don't know how early the Messiah ben Joseph legend is. Could it go back at least to the time in which the Book of Revelation was written? There are parallels between Messiah ben Joseph and the two witnesses of Revelation: both have temporary success against the powers of evil, both confront and are killed by an "Antichrist" sort of figure, and both lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem, until they are raised. Moreover, Zechariah 4:14, which Revelation 11:4 partially cites, refers to the two witnesses as "the sons of fresh oil," implying anointing. And what does "messiah" mean? "Anointed."

It's something to think about.

The "Apostolic" Church: Unity from Dialectic?

At Latin mass this morning, the priest was talking about the part of the Nicene Creed that calls the church "apostolic." He said that means (in part) that the doctrine of the church goes back to the apostles. While he acknowledges that the doctrine may have developed over time and has been communicated differently to various contexts of time and place, he said that the doctrine has remained unchanged. He also dismissed "dialectic" ways of viewing church doctrine, the sorts that say Peter disagreed with Paul and the church hashed out their differences.

As I've read Quasten's Patrology and Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, my impression has been that unity in the church came out of diversity. As early as the second century C.E., there were differences of opinion about the nature of Jesus and universalism. I think the church pretty much agreed that Jesus was divine, but it differed as to whether he had an origin, and on the exact manner in which his human nature related to his divine nature. Moreover, regarding universalism, some influential Christian thinkers, such as Origen, believed that God would save everybody in the end, including Satan, whereas others held fast to the doctrine of eternal torment in hell. As time went on, orthodoxy was defined, and heretics got excommunicated.

But what about the first century church? Was it united? Many Christians think so. When I was a kid and my mom was going back to school, she was surprised to read in her textbook that Paul disagreed with James on whether or not Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (or so I remember, with my flawed memory). She grew up in Armstrongism, which held that all of the apostles believed the same thing, including the notion that Christians should observe the Old Testament law. I often wondered where textbooks got the idea that Paul and James had different ideas on the Gentiles, since James essentially agrees with Paul in Acts 15.

Right now, I can somewhat understand where that perspective is coming from. In Galatians 1, we read that Peter was eating with the Gentiles, until people from James came. Then, Peter ditched the Gentiles out of fear of the "circumcised." Paul then accused Peter of trying to force the Gentile Christians to behave as Jews. Does this whole incident imply that James wanted the Gentiles to live as Jews, since Peter ditched the Gentiles to appease the party of James? Perhaps.

Some scholars may dismiss Acts 15 as propaganda, an attempt to present the apostles as more united than they really were. But I wonder if I can accept the portrayal of James in both Acts 15 and Galatians 1. Maybe at one point, the apostles were divided about whether or not Gentile Christians should keep the law, and Galatians 1 describes an incident that occurred when James was still a Judaizer. But, after reflection on Scripture and what they perceived as God's activity in their midst, the apostles arrived at a consensus: that the Gentile Christians didn't have to be circumcised or keep the Torah. Acts presents Peter as a person who changed his mind: God had to teach him to regard no man as common or unclean. Rather than presenting a scenario in which all of the apostles agreed on doctrine and heretics deviated from their consensus, perhaps the Bible and church history display the sort of "dialectic" that my priest criticized this morning, in which unity emerges out of debate, disagreement, growth, and hashing things out.

That's not to imply that there was no consensus in early Christianity, for one can find common ideas in most New Testament and ancient Christian writings, including those of the "heretics": that Jesus brings forgiveness of sins, that Christians should do good works, and that Jesus was no ordinary man. So I disagree with those who act like early Christianity was totally diverse, as well as those who say it was united in every detail of doctrine.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Piety: Ziba, David, and Mephibosheth

In II Samuel 16, David is on the run from Absalom. A man approaches David during his flight: Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth is the paraplegic son of Jonathan whom David welcomed into the palace. Ziba tells David that Mephibosheth stayed behind in Jerusalem to take back the throne for the Saulites, in the midst of the turmoil of Absalom's revolt. While commentators have argued that Ziba's claim was implausible, since a paraplegic couldn't take back the throne, A.A. Anderson points out that Mephibosheth had a son in his 20s (II Samuel 4:4; 9:12), so he'd have help if he wanted to become king.

Because Ziba and his servants had charge over Mephibosheth's produce (II Samuel 9:10), Ziba had access to a lot of food, which he brought to King David to sustain him and his men. When Ziba tells David about Mephibosheth's act of treason, David gives Ziba all of Mephibosheth's land, which at one time was Saul's estate.

In II Samuel 19, after Absalom has died, Mephibosheth comes to David, who is heading back to Judah to resume his kingship. According to the narrative, Mephibosheth hadn't taken care of his feet, washed his clothes, or trimmed his beard since David's flight from Jerusalem. Mephibosheth tells David that Ziba had lied about him trying to take the throne for the Saulites. David then orders Mephibosheth to divide his land with Ziba. But Mephibosheth lets Ziba have all of the land, for he's just happy that David has returned safely.

I've not yet come to II Samuel 19 for my weekly quiet time, so I'm not entirely sure why David divided the land between Mephibosheth and Ziba, rather than giving all of it back to Mephibosheth. But my hunch is that David wasn't sure whom to believe: Ziba, with his claim that Mephibosheth tried to take the throne, or Mephibosheth, who said Ziba was lying.

I tend to believe Mephibosheth. The reasons are (1.) that the narrative indicates Mephibosheth was genuinely sad when David fled from Jerusalem, showing he loved David, and (2.) Mephibosheth let Ziba have all of the land, which shows he wasn't selfish.

At the same time, one could argue that Ziba had qualities as well. Ziba approaches David and offers him support, when there's a solid possibility that Absalom can take the throne. That's pretty gutsy! Of course, things weren't totally in Absalom's favor at the time Ziba came to David, for later, in v 21, Ahithophel advises Absalom to sleep with David's concubines so as to encourage his supporters. According to Rashi, Absalom's supporters were afraid that Absalom would reconcile with David and leave them hanging, so they weren't completely gun-ho about Absalom. "What if Absalom and David make up, and David comes after us?," they feared. But, when Absalom slept with David's concubines in public, Absalom officially made a claim to David's throne and permanently alienated David, thereby encouraging his (Absalom's) supporters that he meant business and had no intention to reconcile with his father. So Ziba approached David when Absalom's supporters weren't entirely certain about their stance, since Absalom hadn't yet made his bold move with David's concubines.

Still, it was gutsy for Ziba to approach David and his handful of men, since it wasn't yet certain that David would regain the throne. And this is the point I want to make: I think that Ziba believed God was on David's side and would restore David to the throne. Ziba saw God do this for David before, when God took the throne from Ziba's master, Saul, and gave it to David. So Ziba had some sort of faith.

But Ziba's belief in God didn't result in moral character, for he was selfish and greedy. He lied about his master to get Mephibosheth's property for himself. Belief in God doesn't always make a person moral. We may approach God solely to get goodies for ourselves. Granted, it's not wrong to believe that God wants to bless us, for David himself in II Samuel 16:12 hopes that God will take notice of his punishment or his eyes (perhaps the tears therein), take pity, and return good to him, while Shimei is cursing David and pelting him with rocks. Many suggest that God allowed Shimei to curse David so David would have an opportunity to look to God as his deliverer and vindicator, rather than taking vengeance on Shimei himself.

I don't think that self-interest should be removed from the religious life, for God wants to bless us and takes notice of the good things that we do, hopefully rewarding the good and punishing the bad. But the religious life should not be solely about "get, get, get," as if it's a sort of magic. It should also be about being good people, who love God and their neighbors. Ziba believed in God, and he thought that God was on David's side, but that didn't lead him to have a good character.

Mephibosheth, by contrast, was loyal to David. He was grateful that David had shown him such compassion when he (Mephibosheth) was a paraplegic from a dejected and forsaken royal house. Mephibosheth should have been history, but David gave him a future. So Mephibosheth loved David and was torn apart inside when David had to flee Jerusalem. When David returned after his victory over Absalom, Mephibosheth didn't care so much about Ziba taking his land; Mephibosheth was worried that David thought badly of him on account of Ziba's slander. He was perfectly willing to let Ziba keep the land, as long as David could continue to be king, and Mephibosheth could be in a relationship with him (okay, the last part isn't explicitly in the text).

Mephibosheth is a model of the Christian life: being grateful to God on account of his love and mercy, loving God and desiring his rule on earth, being so satisfied in God that material things and personal resentments don't matter so much. Mephibosheth's attitude was like that of the Psalmist in Psalm 84:10: "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness" (NRSV).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Elisha ben Abuya: Apostate!

H.L. Strack and Gunter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash: Second Edition, trans. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 316-317.

[In Midrash Ruth, t]he story of Elisha ben Abuya, which is also included in Midrash Qoheleth, serves in this text (6.4) as a contrast to Boaz...

The question that entered my mind when I read this was, "Who the heck is Elisha ben Abuya?" It turns out that he was a famous apostate from Judaism, who lived in the first century C.E. He was the teacher of Rabbi Meir. See here for more information.

The teacher of Rabbi Meir. That kind of reminds me of Count Dookoo being the teacher of Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars prequels. Qui-Gon was a good guy with a maverick streak, but his very own teacher turned to the dark side of the force. And, according to rabbinic references in the link above, Elisha betrayed his own people, the Jews, when he turned them in to the Hadrianic authorities. That's like Count Dookoo turning against his fellow Jedi.

Another account says that Elisha went to heaven and saw Metatron on God's throne, and he was shocked to see two powers in heaven. That brings to mind Lucifer rebelling against God in heaven, or the story in the Koran (which may be earlier; see Hebrews 1:6) in which God commands all the angels to worship Adam, but Iblis (who becomes Satan) refuses. According to these legends, one can see God and still turn away from him, sometimes because God can offend a person's religious sensibilities. (Imagine that!)

That reminds me of a sermon Tim Keller gave, in which he was encouraging us to adopt a biblical worldview (though, to his credit, he didn't use that phrase). He said that Paul himself had to struggle with God's revelation. Paul had grown up believing that God is one, and he persecuted those who thought God was three in one (according to Keller), the Christians. But Jesus appears to Paul, and, behold, Paul finds out God really is three in one! Paul had to adjust his mindset to what he learned was the truth, and, according to Keller, that's how we should approach the Bible.

In Ruth Rabbah 6, we see a complex discussion about an apostate, Elisha ben Abuya. Rabbis wonder how Elisha could fall away, especially in light of his vast wealth of knowledge about the Torah, which he retained even when he was an apostate. One story is that Elisha apostasized when he saw a man climbing a tree and taking a bird with her young, in violation of Deuteronomy 22:7. That man climbed down the tree safely. Later on, he saw a man actually obeying Deuteronomy 22:7, in that the man took only the young, not the mother. Yet, this man climbed down the tree, got stung by a snake, and died. Elisha wondered how this could be, when Deuteronomy 22:7 clearly promises that those who obey this particular law will be blessed and prolong their days.

The text says that Elisha must have been unaware of Akiba's teaching that "prolong your days" refers to the afterlife, meaning the man who obeyed Deuteronomy 22:7 and died soon thereafter would experience everlasting life after his resurrection. But, according to another story, the martyrdom of righteous men at the hands of Hadrian convinced Elisha that the world is unjust, meaning there is neither reward for the righteous nor a resurrection.

Moreover, Elisha doesn't really feel that he can repent. Meir tries to encourage Elisha with Bible verses that say "the end of a thing is better than a beginning" (Ecclesiastes 7:8; Job 42:12), meaning a man can become better through repentance. But Elisha throws back at Meir Rabbi Akiba's interpretation of the verse: "Good is the end of a thing, when it is good from its very commencement" (the translation in my Judaic Classics Library). Elisha contends that a person only turns out good when he was good at the outset. And Elisha thinks he had a bad start, since his father dedicated him to the Torah out of impure motives.

Elisha breaks down crying at his death, leading some to believe that he repented. But many don't want to honor him by helping out his daughters, and they appeal to Psalm 109:12 to support their position: "May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children" (NRSV). But the daughters respond that Elisha deserves some credit for learning Torah, prompting the mean rabbi to change his mind, saying, "If one whose Torah was not for the glory of God produced such, how much more so he whose Torah was for the glory of God." The passage then praises Boaz for not giving in to his evil inclination by sleeping with Ruth before they were married. The contrast may be that Elisha ben Abuyah turned to the dark side by becoming an apostate, whereas Boaz held fast to righteousness.

There are intriguing features of these legends. Elisha leaves God because the world is unfair, yet he ends up joining the world in its injustice when he turns in his fellow Jews to the Hadrianic authorities. Elisha has all this knowledge of the Torah, even when he doesn't believe in God. Elisha doesn't feel he can repent, yet he changes his mind and breaks down crying at the end. A rabbi could use Scripture to justify not helping someone, yet be moved by the example of those who need the help. And the Torah can have positive effects, even on those who don't obey it fully.

There are lessons for me here. I don't think that the world is fair, but I can't allow my bitterness to make me a bad person, who sells out others for my own selfish ends. I'm not always happy with God, yet something motivates me to keep studying the Bible. A professor once told me that even the staunchest higher critic who rips apart the Bible may be spiritually searching. Maybe I study in the hope that the Scriptures will have a positive effect on me, as hardened as I may be. Like Rabbi Elisha, I sometimes wonder if I even can repent, if I can be like the evangelicals I know who seem to have their acts together. Moreover, I try not to use the Bible to justify hatred or unkindness, and to be open to the people around me. But I'm a work in progress!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Kings 8's Allusion to II Samuel 7, Part III

Here's another allusion in I Kings 8 to II Samuel 7:

NRS 1 Kings 8:26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

¿^yrÀ ‘an" !m,a'ÛyE lae_r"f.yI yheäl{a/ hT'Þ[;w> WTT 1 Kings 8:26

`ybi(a' dwIïD" ^ßD>b.[;l. T'r>B;êDI rv<åa] Î^êr>b"åD>Ð

NRS 2 Samuel 7:25 And now, O LORD God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised.

T'r>B:ÜDI rv,’a] rb'ªD"h; ~yhiêl{a/ hw"åhy> ‘hT'[;w> WTT 2 Samuel 7:25

`T'r>B:)DI rv<ïa]K; hfeÞ[]w: ~l'_A[-d[; ~qEßh' AtêyBe-l[;w> ‘^D>b.[;-l[;(

NRS 2 Samuel 7:26 Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, 'The LORD of hosts is God over Israel'; and the house of your servant David will be established before you.

tAaêb'c. hw"åhy> rmoêale ‘~l'A[-d[; ^Ü lD:’g>yIw> WTT 2 Samuel 7:26

`^yn<)p'l. !Akßn" hy<ïh.yI dwIëd" ^åD>b.[; ‘tybeW lae_r"f.yI-l[; ~yhiÞl{a/

NRS 2 Samuel 7:27 For you, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, 'I will build you a house'; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.

ht'yliøG" laeªr"f.yI yheäl{a/ tAaøb'c. hw"“hy> •hT'a;-yKi( WTT 2 Samuel 7:27

^D>b.[; ac'Ûm' !Keª-l[; %L"+-hn‘^D>b.[; !za-ta

`taZO*h; hL'ÞpiT.h;-ta, ^yl,êae lLeäP;t.hil. ABêli-ta,

NRS 2 Samuel 7:28 And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant;

~yhiêl{a/h'( ‘aWh-hT'a; hwI©hy> yn"ådoa] ŸhT'ä[;w> WTT 2 Samuel 7:28

`taZO*h; hb'ÞAJh;-ta, ^êD>b.[;-la,(rBed:T.w: tm,_a/ Wyæh.yI ^yr<Þb'd>W

NRS 2 Samuel 7:29 now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever."

tAyð ^êD>b.[; tyBeä-ta, ‘%rEb'W ‘laeAh hT'ª[;w> WTT 2 Samuel 7:29

%r:ïboy> ^êt.k'är>BimiW T'r>B;êDI ‘hwIhy> yn"Üdoa] hT'úa;-yKi( ^yn<+p'l. ~l'ÞA[l.

p `~l'(A[l. ^ßD>b.[;-tyBe(

Comments: There's a lot of common vocabulary between I Kings 8 and II Samuel 7: "diber," "eved." Sometimes, I Kings 8 uses a different word, as when he uses "yeamen" (confirm) for II Samuel 7:25's "haqem" (confirm). I thought "emeth" (truth) was like "yeamen" (confirm), so I put both in red, but I may not mention that in my paper. Overall, I Kings 8:26 and the above verses of II Samuel 7 convey the same idea: God promised David an everlasting dynasty, and Solomon (like David in II Samuel 7) wants God to confirm that.

Leviticus for Toddlers?

H.L. Strack and Gunter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash: Second Edition, trans. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 260.

Sifra, Aramaic 'book', designates the book of Leviticus, because in the old Jewish school system this was the first book, with which instruction began: R. Issi justifies this in LevR 7.3 (M.156) by saying that children and sacrifices are pure, and the pure should occupy themselves with pure things.

I looked up the passage in my Judaic Classics Library and could not find it, for whatever reason. Why start Jewish kids out with Leviticus? Wouldn't it be more entertaining for them to hear stories, like the ones in Genesis, or Judges, or I-II Samuel? That's how my dad and mom taught me the Bible. We listened to tapes that dramatized Bible stories. I still remember Jacob crying out, "Joseph has been eaten by a wild animals!" Or Shadrach telling Nebuchadnezzar that his golden image was "just a hunk of ugly junk outside the city wall."

But, on a certain level, Leviticus does make sense to me as the first biblical book that children learn. Why? One reason is that I learned through ritual. As Armstrongites, we kept the biblical Sabbaths and feast days (or so we assumed), and that internalized certain concepts within us (though, of course, many kids raised in the Armstrongite movement depart from it when they become older). So I'm not surprised that Jewish kids read about the rituals that they and their family performed. They approached Leviticus with some knowledge of what the book was about.
Second, the book is pretty simple. Unless one probes it deeply, it won't appear all that exciting, but it's simple enough for a beginning Hebrew student to read. It has numbers and animals, like Sesame Street, or those books that teach kids how to count.

I'm not sure what their teachers did when they got to Leviticus 18 and 20, however, the chapters about perverse sex! Rabbi Issi wants the pure Jewish kids to occupy themselves with pure things, like the sacrifices. In a sense, I can see his point, since Leviticus is all about God's order in terms of his sanctuary and worship. An innocent child not yet exposed to the horrible things in life can perhaps handle that. But there are also chapters in Leviticus that talk about the darker aspects of life. Not only are Leviticus 18 and 20 about perverted sex, but Nadab and Abihu get killed, and the curses of Leviticus 26 can give adults nightmares, let alone children!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy

This will be a different post from what I've written before. Basically, I'll be writing a bunch of words and phrases that I associate with the late Senator Edward Kennedy. And, when I feel like it, I'll throw in some anecdotes.

I first heard of Edward Kennedy from my Grandma Goldie's scrapbook. Grandma Goldie was one of the few Democrats I knew growing up, and she had pictures of her favorite politicians, such as JFK, Jimmy Carter, and Ted Kennedy. I wonder whom she voted for in the 1980 Democratic Primary.

Democrat. Liberal. Judiciary Committee. Arlen Specter says "Let him answer, Senator Kennedy!" Distorted Judge Bork's record. Demagogue. Did he willfully distort Judge Bork's record, or were these legitimate concerns that he had?

I go to my Grandpa's basement--one of my more conservative grandparents, that is--and I see the book Teddy Bare. It's pseudonymous, but its author turns out to be a prince of Romania, who wrote for John Bircher publications. And this book really rips apart Ted Kennedy. It says that he drove a young woman off of a bridge and did not save her. Then, his family uses its influence to get him off. But, according to his own account, he dived into the river several times in an attempt to save her.

Pampered royalty. Yet how pampered? He lost two brothers to assassination. Sad. Chappaquiddik. Selfish. Well-connected. The Kennedys stole the 1960 election. "If your name weren't Kennedy..." Teddy kept his cool while his opponent said that. Mentally-handicapped sister. In the hospital. Received good health care, and wanted others to receive the same, even if they didn't have much money.

I'm in my German classroom, and it is the year of the Clarence Thomas hearings. My German teacher is talking with the shop teacher. The shop teacher asks what right Ted Kennedy has to judge Clarence Thomas, considering his own record of womanizing, not to mention Chappaquiddik. The German teacher is moderately liberal, yet she doesn't contradict the conservative shop teacher. She says that Joseph Kennedy was also a womanizer.

Joseph Kennedy. Imagine my surprise when my seventh grade history teacher told me Joe supported Joe McCarthy. So did Jack and Bobby. Bobby was his counsel. I liked the Kennedys better after I heard that. Libido. William Kennedy Smith. I read somewhere that Teddy raped somebody, but even a conservative substitute teacher told me that accusation was absurd.

I'm at the Boston airport, and I see a guy who looks like Ted Kennedy. He looks in a hurry, but he waves at someone who waves at him. Was that Ted Kennedy? He was big. He had stature. Yet, his hair looked darker than what I thought. And would Ted use an airport? I thought these Kennedys had their own private jets! Maybe I'm wrong. I get to vote in the Massachussetts election. I'm happy that I get to vote against Ted Kennedy! But the Republican is too liberal, so I vote Libertarian. Ted Kennedy gets over 60 per cent of the vote, and the Libertarian trails the Republican only slightly.

Responsive to his constituents. He followed up on their concerns after he did something for them. He stood for the underdog. When Reaganism was popular, Teddy stood by his liberal principles. He played political hardball, yet he could work with the other side. Consider Kennedy-Kassenbaum. No Child Left Behind. John McCain said last Sunday that there'd be a deal right now on health care if Ted Kennedy were actually on the Senate floor. He has the respect of many, even those who disagree with him. Yet, I read on Michael Westmoreland-White's blog that he walked away from the 1972 health care bill, which Nixon pledged to sign, and which is better than what's on the table now. Kennedy learned.

His hopes for becoming President were dashed, so he focused on the Senate. He tried to do what he thought was good for the people. When God closes a door, he opens a window. Or when God closes a door, why not pursue a window? Do the task that is in front of us, rather than dreaming about what might have been, or what is beyond our reach. Try to do good where we are, with what we have.

Hiccup. Drunk. Yet, someone on Hardball said that's maybe why he wasn't overly judgmental of others. He knew he had weaknesses.

Intervarsity. A person tells the sponsor that he read a piece saying Bill Clinton was immoral because of his Baptist heritage. The sponsor replies, "Well, Catholicism hasn't helped out Teddy Kennedy, has it?" And this guy was a Democrat.

Ted Kennedy. Part of the problem. He's been in office for too long. He criticizes the cold arms of the HMOs, yet Rush says Ted supported HMOs when they first came out. A liberal woman tells me that everyone thought HMOs were a good idea back then. No one expected them to be cold and ruthless.

A Republican relative of mine says the morning after the 1988 Republican Convention that Ted Kennedy was a good speaker. Yet, years later, she says we need term limits because Ted Kennedy has been in office for over forty years. He's usually the person people cite when they argue for term limits!

Legacy. Did his mistakes make him try harder to help people? Can man be saved, Mr. Heep? Do you believe you can redeem yourself? Repentance. The life God gives you is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God. Chris Matthews says that many things we take for granted were created (at least in part) by Ted Kennedy. This includes 18 year olds having the right to vote.

I read an article in Life magazine in the 1980's. The issue is devoted to Robert Kennedy. Ted wrote it. He says Bobby would have disagreed with the Reagan Administration's policy of "government keep out." That's the philosophy I'm leaning toward: government keep out. Taxers. Spenders. Kennedy the tax-and-spend liberal. I watch an American Experience documentary on the Kennedys a few weeks ago (I mean from now). Bobby visited the poor. He wanted to see their experiences, to get their opinions. Teddy tries that years later. Is government part of the solution, or part of the problem? Can it be part of the solution?

I was watching Brit Hume, and he told a story about an experience with Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy was nailing Judge Renqhuist because he lived in an exclusive neighborhood, one that excluded minorities. Renqhuist said he didn't know the neighborhood did that. Kennedy replied, "But, when my family's in a neighborhood, we make sure to learn the rules and policies." Later, Brit sees Teddy. Brit says sarcastically, "Yeah, I can imagine the Kennedys sitting around the coffee table going through the policies of the neighborhood." Ted laughs! He sees politics as a game, though he views it as an opportunity to help others and stop policies that he deems hurtful.

Political genius. Someone on Hardball said if you were on the millionaire show and had to call someone about politics, call Ted Kennedy. Mentor. Humble. Gutsy. Oh, I loved it when he endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary! Follower of principles. Didn't take himself too seriously. Could laugh.

"Kennedy--one wife at a time." So said a Saturday Night Live "political ad." He failed in his first marriage. He had a second chance in his second. His second wife was in her 30s. She looked good! I learned today that she was almost always with Teddy. They must have loved each other. Grandfather. Loved his family. I saw a black-and-white reel of when he was a little guy, struggling to reach the microphone. We all start off as little guys, or little girls--those we like, those we dislike, those we support, those we oppose.

Gregarious. Pat Buchanan said Ted Kennedy was always happy to see even him! Accessible. A nice person. All the Kennedys were nice likeable people, but you wouldn't want to cross them!

R.I.P., Senator Kennedy.

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