Sunday, May 9, 2010

Liberty Is Tyranny; Disclosure; Ps. 32 and Job’s Friends; Understanding Samaritans; T; From EJ 1; Faith and Transubstantiation

1. Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes, 1810-1899, pages 88-89:

As abolitionist agitation increased in the North, the large slaveholders sought to ensure southern unity at home. Planter propagandists relentlessly depicted themselves as the defenders of southern society in the face of increasingly hostile attacks. The New Orleans Daily Picayune emphatically argued that a natural unity of thought and conviction existed between planters and plain folk. Proslavery ideology increasingly stressed the connection between white freedom and black slavery, arguing that support for slavery was tantamount to support for southern republicanism. An 1856 article in De Bow’s Review noted “the perfect spirit of equality so prevalent among the whites of all slaveholding states,” a condition the author found absent in the class-conscious North. The article continued: “It is this spirit of equality which is both the generator and preserver of the genuine spirit of liberty.” Similar arguments can be found in local papers. The Greensburg Imperial published articles praising North American slavery for liberating the blacks from heathen oppression in Africa. Likewise, the Feliciana Democrat insisted that if southerners did not present a united front against abolitionist agitation, then “our people are so dead to every feeling of independence and manly courage as to suffer themselves to be absorbed after a faint, and reluctant struggle, into the North, and to become the ready and cringing slaves to all its arrogant and unreasonable demands.” Abolitionist attacks on slavery were thus equated to attacks on the republican institutions of the South that ensured white liberty. As a result, by the late 1840s the political rhetoric of the planters, which equated support for slavery with support for republicanism, greatly influenced the political philosophy of the plain folk. According to John Inscoe, slavery took on “a centrality in political rhetoric far out of proportion to any commitment which the extent of slave ownership alone would have justified.”

On the Civil War miniseries The Blue and the Gray, a Northern soldier flees to the woods and encounters a Southern soldier. Rather than trying to kill each other, the two of them start to converse. The Northern soldier assumes that every white man in the South owns slaves, and that’s why the Southerners are fighting for slavery. But the Southern soldier responds, “I can’t even afford shoes, let alone slaves!”

This paragraph by Hyde is about how Southern plantation owners got the loyalty of people like that fictional Southern soldier. Somehow, they associated slavery with republicanism and equality. I’m not sure how they did that. It’s not just because I grew up in the North, where my history classes presented slavery as the antithesis of freedom and equality. I just don’t have enough information to understand what the slave-holders’ case was.

I can slightly understand their rant against Northern demands: they didn’t want a bunch of Yankees telling them how to run their culture. It’s because of that mindset that abolitionism, desegregation, and civil rights were actually deemed to be Northern acts of tyranny in the South, even though many of us would deem slavery and segregation to be the institutions of oppression. I remember reading William F. Buckley’s Up from Liberalism, and he said that many Southerners feared that, if the federal government could force the South to desegregate its schools, then it would gained unprecedented power, and who knows what it would do with that?

Personally, I’m not too sympathetic to the conservative and libertarian argument that the federal government could do something tyrannical if we gave it more power. Maybe I should be—I don’t know. It’s just that this “tyranny might happen” argument was used to allow the oppression of African-Americans and the suppression of their liberty. Which is worse: the tyranny that might be, or the tyranny that actually exists?

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 36:

“—it can be stated authoritatively,” the stereo image was saying, “that the man from Mars is being kept constantly under hypnotic drugs to keep him from disclosing these facts. The administration would find it extremely embarrassing if—”

In this book, we have an earthling who was raised by Martians, and now he is back on earth, in a hospital water-tank, monitored by authorities. I’m not sure what facts the authorities don’t want to be disclosed. In this section of the book, this quote was on television, and an official shut off the TV while remarking that the anchor didn’t know what he was talking about!

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 143:

[Psalm 32] comes very close to being a homily on penitence, a sermon preached from the life of a community, not so much from Scripture. Its theological reflection follows the line of Job’s friends and much of wisdom literature at that. The one who suffers should make an honest confession and then be redeemed.

The psalm is about a person who is sick until he confesses his sin and repents. I guess that this overlaps with what Job’s friends were telling Job. But does that mean that Psalm 32 and the Book of Job are in opposition to one another? Just because sinners get sick, that doesn’t mean everyone who’s sick is a sinner who needs to repent!

4. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 144:

We now apply to the case of an agent M’s principle that [amme ha-aretz] and Samaritans are assumed to respect the scruples of the man who is meticulous about tithing and to treat his produce with care, while gentiles are not assumed to behave so.

I wonder why Samaritans are presumed to be understanding of the tithing practices of meticulous Jews. Is it because the Samaritans were related to the Jews and had their own Torah-based religion? Probably. Samaritans and Jews hated each other, and yet there was an assumption that blood was thicker than water—that Samaritans wouldn’t deliberately cause Jews to stumble in the area of tithing.

5. Baruch Levine, Numbers 1-20, page 48:

Recently it has been suggested that a third source [besides J and E], representing biblical creativity in Transjordan, is to be identified in Numbers, primarily in the poetic sections of Numbers 21 and 23-24. These poems, part of an El repertoire, relate to the experience of the Israelites in Transjordan and include the Balaam orations…I tentatively designate this Transjordanian archive T (=Transjordan) and regard it as a subsource of the E tradition.

Is Levine saying that the stories of Israel’s wilderness sojourn are historical—in the sense that Israel actually was in the wilderness before she came into the Promised Land? What else could be the historical setting of the T authors?

6. My ATLA has been transferred to another web page, so I’m waiting for information about where I should go to access it; consequently, I didn’t read my five book reviews today (see Five Book Reviews a Day; Finished Milgrom; Finished Gnostic Religion). But I did read some Encyclopedia Judaica articles, one on “Midreshei Halakhah”, and one on “Aggadah”.

The “Midreshei Halakhah” article was about midrashim that are considered early, such as the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, the Sifre, and others. For a while, scholars divided the Midreshei Halakhah works into A and B, A being from the Ishmael school, and B being from the Akiva school. The reason was that A had lots of stuff attributed to Ishmael and his pupils. Then new documents were discovered, and scholars noticed that there was stuff by Akiva’s pupils in A. Also, some scholars challenged the notion that these Midreshei Halakhah were even early, even though they contain opinions attributed to early rabbis, the Tannaim. The problem is that the Talmuds don’t know about things in these documents. But the same is true for the Tosefta. And so there are some who date the Midreshei Halakhah to the fourth-fifth centuries C.E., rather than the second-third centuries C.E.

In the “Aggadah” article, one of the authors noted that the rabbis consider the statements about the dimensions of the Temple by the Mishnah and the Tannaitic baraitot to be hyperbole, not literal. The author concludes that the rabbis didn’t take their legends as literal and historical, but rather as stories that convey spiritual truths. That reminds me of Pat McCullough’s recent posts, The Bible Is Not a History Textbook and It Doesn’t Matter if Noah’s Ark Existed.

7. At Latin mass this morning, the priest talked about the Eucharist. He said that, when we believe that the bread and the wine literally transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are practicing believing in God’s word rather than our feelings and the harsh reality around us. To our reason and our emotions, that bread and wine are just bread and wine, nothing more. But we believe that they are more on the basis of God’s word, which (for the priest) states that they’re the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Many people have problems with this idea because they think it’s the church telling people to turn off their minds and embrace a bunch of oppressive dogma. I once worked with a woman who said that the church is laying claim to a lot of power when it commands people to disregard what their senses tell them and believe its doctrine instead. I agree. But, for me, it’s important that I believe in a loving God, even when the reality in front of me seems to point in the opposite direction. You know that statement in a concentration camp: “I believe in God, even though he’s silent”? There are times when I need to put my faith above my sight. So I can understand what the priest was getting at this morning.

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