Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Enough, Not Enough; Passive; Pax Israela; Samaritan Tithers; Egyptians in Canaan; Presuppositionalism; New Technology

1. Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes, 1810-1899, page 148:

The freedmen understandably proved reluctant to continue serving their former masters in what amounted to a semiservile state. The initial contract between Joseph Embree and his laborers contained many features of the slave system. Embree’s employees worked from dawn to dark, with a portion of their salary deducted if the overseer judged their work inferior. Laborers were forbidden to ride Embree’s animals or to curse in his presence, and leaving the plantation without permission resulted in a stiff fine. Such a situation amounted to an effort to keep the freedmen as close to slavery as possible. But blacks’ refusal to labor in the same manner they had in the antebellum period helped expose a crucial flaw of Reconstruction and aggravated prevailing circumstances. Owning no land, blacks lacked means to achieve the self-sufficiency central to the piney-woods freemen’s existence. Without funds to purchase food or land on which to grow it, many soon became desperate. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided temporary relief to some, but its resources proved woefully inadequate to sustain a significant portion of the state’s population indefinately. As a result, many blacks resorted to stealing privately owned livestock, primarily hogs, in order to survive.

I decided to review what happened to the idea to give freed slaves forty acres and a mule, which would place them on the path to financial independence. As I wrote in my post, Roots 6, Job the Humble Ruler, Defend the Poor or Abdicate, The First Servant in a While, God the Creating Father, President Andrew Johnson revoked that order, which was made by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

It seems as if different forces were fighting, and all sides felt screwed in the process. There were the Northern forces that banned ex-Confederates from voting, which angered many Southern whites, who by that time had had enough of Northern interference. They still remembered how the Northerners burned and looted their property and treated their women in a savage manner! But you’d hope that there would be a bright side in all of this Northern meddling: that the situation of freed slaves would actually improve. But there was Andrew Johnson, preventing the freed slaves from getting forty acres and a mule! So Northern interference was enough to make the Southerners feel powerless and angry, but not enough to improve the conditions of African-Americans.

Incidentally, that’s how I feel about the U.S. Government when the Republicans are in charge: it’s big enough to suppress competition, but not big enough to assist those who need help. And all sorts of people get caught in the middle! Maybe such a situation also exists when the Democrats are in power: they enact part of their agenda, but only enough to screw a lot of us. Their ideas that can actually help us do not get passed!

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, pages 91-92:

Smith had relapsed into his attitude of passive waiting. Not understanding what it was all about, he had done only the minimum he had to do.

I’m in a passive mood this evening. I had a job interview today, in which I got what I interpreted as “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” So I’m passive tonight. But fear will motivate me to continue my job search!

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 194:

The concept of world peace, achieved by the destruction of all armament (Mic 4:3), may go back to Canaanite ideas[,] or it may have genuinely Israelite roots, either prophetic or covenantal…More important is the contemporary situation of Israel. The actual hope of this exilic or postexilic psalm [(Psalm 46)] is for absolute peace and not for an empire.

I’ve wondered about this: Does the Hebrew Bible or rabbinic Judaism envision a Pax Israela, in which Israel keeps the peace by being dominant over the Gentile nations? An Intervarsity sponsor once told me that the Jews of Jesus’ day expected a Messiah who would make them like the Romans, giving them dominance over the world.

I’m not sure. Isaiah 14:2 presents the Israelites making servants of the sojourners who join themselves to them. Isaiah 60 describes the Gentiles bringing gifts to Israel. Isaiah 11 says that the Davidic king will bring peace to the world. Does that imply that he has power over the nations?

Perhaps. But they also have their own kings, so they probably will have a degree of independence, yet not enough to start a war.

4. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, pages 195-196, 224:

Eliezer holds that some Samaritans tithe produce which they sell. Samaritan produce purchased in the marketplace is thereby deemed to be [demai], and each item must be tithed separately…

Samaritans here are deemed to be like gentiles and those who certainly do not tithe, rather than like Israelite [amme ha-aretz].

The biblical traditions considers the Samaritans to be half-Israelite, half-foreigner. That may be why there is ambiguity concerning them in rabbinic literature. One stream of thought says that the Samaritans may tithe, maybe because they are related to the Israelites and share some of their customs. Another view says that they don’t tithe. This may reflect a more hostile view towards the Samaritans, one that sees them as pagan half-breeds.

5. Baruch Levine, Numbers 1-20, page 99:

What about the Egyptians? Almost without exception, the only Egyptians known to the Torah books, as a whole, are living in Egypt, not in Canaan, notwithstanding the considerable biblical and archaeological evidence available on the Egyptian presence in Canaan. Were it not for the cryptic reference in Gen 50:11 to the burial of Egyptians in Canaan, one would hardly guess, based on Torah literature, that they had ever been there!

But Genesis 50:11 doesn’t say that the Egyptians lived in Canaan. It says that they temporarily came there with Joseph to mourn for Jacob, who had died. But Levine's point is that this is the only text in the Torah in which the Egyptians are in Canaan. I think he sees this as evidence that the Torah reflects Israel’s monarchical period, not the pre-monarchical period, which was when the Egyptians were influential in Canaan. For Levine, had the Torah been written in the pre-monarchical period, it would have known that fact, and expressed its knowledge accordingly!

6. For my ATLA book-review reading, I want to comment on R.B. Dillard’s review of minimalist Thomas Thompson’s The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives. Dillard is writing this review for the conservative Westminster Theological Journal, yet, much to my surprise, he actually acknowledges that Thompson makes good points against apologetic attempts in biblical scholarship to substantiate the historicity of the Abraham stories.

One thing scholars tried to do was to associate the migration of West Semites (Amorites) in the third-second millennia B.C.E. with that of the patriarchs. They appealed to texts in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt to posit such a migration, and they attributed the archaeological shift in material culture from Early Bronze IV to Middle Bronze I Palestine to the West Semites entering the region.

Thompson argued that the texts did not support a migration of West Semites to Mespotamia, Palestine, and the Egyptian delta; rather, the Mesopotamian texts indicate that the West Semites were already in Mesopotamia, not that they migrated there. For Thompson, the reason they were in the delta was because Egypt was in chaos, not because they came there from the north.

Dillard actually acknowledges Thompson’s point when he says, ”He has anticipated much that will likely be established in the studies that will grow out of the discoveries at Ebla, particularly the presence of a large indigenous West Semitic population in North Syria long before the alleged Amorite migrations.”

But Dillard still tries to preserve the faith—by resorting to presuppositional apologetics:

Yet it is this very point that Reformed apologists and theologians have been making right along: one’s attitude to the correctness of the historical details of the Old Testament and to its interpretation of history will call forth agreement or disagreement depending on his total world and life view. Scholarly consensus on archeological interpretations may come and go, but how one thinks about the historicity and reliability of the Old Testament will be the product of his answers to larger questions, answers that form the precommitments that he brings to the text. Thompson is a paradigm case.

One’s faith in the Bible shouldn’t rest on whether or not a particular apologetic construction is successful. There may be other apologetic constructions that one can use. But here’s my problem with presuppositional apologetics: is it always the case that the evidence can be read either way—either in favor of the Bible’s historicity, or against it? Can the evidence ever point in one direction and not another?

7. Here’s a rant. I’m tired of how modernization is leading to things that I don’t feel comfortable with. My e-mail account has been “improved”, or so I’ve been told. Before, I could select all of my unread messages and exempt the messages I wanted to read from deletion. Now, I can’t do that, or at least I haven’t figured out how to do so.

I hate DVDs. They get scratches, and that means I can’t always watch a movie all the way through. VHSs don’t have that problem. Yet, I noticed that my local library only has DVDs now. It got rid of its video tapes!

I also wish I could watch TV on my Internet. Sure, there are plenty of times when I can, but those few times when I can’t make me feel I’m on shaky ground whenever I watch a TV show or movie on the Internet.

New technology is leaving me behind, and I don’t think it’s always an improvement. Unfortunately, it’s getting to the point where I can’t keep using the old stuff. The new is the only option presented to me!

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