Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pre-Crisis Theodicy; Snakes; Pre-Exilic Universalism?; Only 10%; Through Edom?; Literary and Exilic; Reconstruction

1. William P. Young, The Shack, page 31:

Missy: Is the Great Spirit another name for God—you know, Jesus’ papa?

Mack: I would suppose so. It’s a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great.

Missy: Then how come he’s so mean?

Mack: What do you mean, Missy?

Missy: Well, the Great Spirit makes the princess jump off the cliff and makes Jesus die on a cross. That seems pretty mean to me.

Mack: Sweetheart, Jesus didn’t think his daddy was mean. He thought his daddy was full of love and loved him very much. His daddy didn’t make him die. Jesus chose to die because he and his daddy love you and me and everyone in the world. He saved us from our sickness, just like the princess.

Mack is the father of Missy, a little girl. Something tragic happens to Missy in this book, which sparks Mack’s crisis of faith. But this conversation occurs before that. It’s easy for Mack to give the glib defenses of God that many have used, when nothing up to this point has led him to question the love of God. This isn’t to say that he had a peachy life before Missy was missing, for his dad beat him severely when he was young. But he was able to move on from that and to find healing in God and the Christian community. What happens when an event causes him to doubt God’s care for him? What will he do then? Will he agree with his daughter, who considers God to be mean? And how will Jesus respond to him when Mack and he have their conversation in the shack? Will Jesus try to say that suffering can be redemptive, as Mack tells Missy? Or will he go another route?

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 157:

“I don’t like snakes.”

“Prejudice again, rank prejudice. Most snakes are harmless, useful, and fun to raise. The scarlet snake is a beauty—red, and black, and yellow—docile and makes a fine pet. I think this little fellow was fond of me, in its dim reptilian fashion. Of course I knew how to handle snakes, how not to alarm them and not give them a chance to bite, because the bite of even a non-poisonous snake is a nuisance. But I was fond of this baby; he was the prize of my collection. I used to take him out and show him to people, holding him back of his head and letting him wrap himself around my wrist…”

This reminds me of certain things: my mom petting a snake in a museum; a “fact vs. fiction” blurb at the zoo that said that snakes aren’t slimy, contrary to the stereotype; the guy in New York who was in the city with a huge snake around his neck, which would scare me, since I’d fear it choking me; what people say we should do if we encounter a cobra: no sudden moves!

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, pages 237-238:

That everybody shall know Yahweh is certainly a theological insight that arose only in exilic and postexilic times…Second Isaiah is the most impressive witness to this development.

This coincides with what Gerstenberger has said elsewhere in this book: that some of the Psalms originated in the synagogue, an exilic setting. Not all of them originated in the Temple, in short.

I remembered writing a post about a scholar who argued that universalism in the Psalms doesn’t have to mean that those Psalms are exilic and post-exilic. The post was Black History Month at the Library, Mean Persians, ANE Universalism, Saul’s Reminder, Desolation—However Long It Takes, and the scholar was Mitchell Dahood. I wrote as follows:

On page 357, Dahood contends that the Psalm’s universalism (“Declare among the nations his glory”; “He will govern the world with his justice”) does not necessarily mean that the Psalmist here is indebted to Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), who has a universalistic vision of the nations worshipping YHWH. As Dahood says, “it is widely recognized that universalism, namely, the rule of God over the whole world as well as over one people, was current in the ancient Near East from the third millennium onward.” Dahood cites some secondary sources, which I’m not in the mood to look at right now. But what he says makes sense: every nation believed that its god was the top one. I know that many of them saw their god as the creator, so it’s not a far leap to conclude that they believed their god was supreme. But did they expect all nations to worship their god? That’s where I’m uncertain, and maybe those secondary sources Dahood cites could shed some light thereon.

4. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 261:

…but we must be certain that the tithe which we remove in fact comes from the untithed portion. Otherwise, we violate the prohibition against separating tithes for produce which is liable for tithing from produce which already has been tithed.

Ten per cent, and no more. This is good because, even though the rabbis favor tithing, they also want people to keep what’s theirs. Priests are not to be power-hungry extortionists! But can a person give more than ten per cent to a priest? I’m not sure if one can support a priest with over ten per cent, but one can give more for the maintenance of the temple. Example: the widow and the other donors in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 2:1-4.

5. Baruch Levine, Numbers 21-36, page 56:

How the Israelites Got to the Plains of Moab and Their Encounters on the Way. Numbers 33 records a forty-year route of march, beginning in northeastern Egypt and reaching to the plains of Moab. What is singular about this route is its course from Kadesh to the Plains of Moab, because it charts the Israelite march northward through Edom, traversing Punon, a known site, and onward through Dibon-Gad, anachronistic in context, but realistic in expressing later Gadite rule in North Moab. This route comes in place of one that had the Israelites circumvent these lands, as is projected in both the JE and other priestly historiographies, notwithstanding their disagreements with each other. Numbers 33:40 also mentions the Israelite incursion into the Negeb reported in Numbers 21:1-3. We are unable to determine whether this alternative route has an historical basis, just as problems remain with the more widely attested route east of Edom and Moab…These two different routes are hardly reconcilable, and are probably to be attributed to different priestly traditions. Specifically, it is possible that the projected route through Edom and Moab is also envisioned in Deuteronomy 2, which is the work of the Deuteronomist.

Deuteronomy 2:29 says that the Israelites ask Sihon, king of the Amorites, for permission to go through his land, as the Israelites buy food and water along the way. They say the Amorites should do this, just as the Edomites did.

The problem is this: In Numbers 20, the Edomites do not allow the Israelites to pass through their country. Rather, the Edomites come against Israel with soldiers. And so the Israelites don’t pass through Edom.

How do conservatives harmonize this? I’m not sure what all of the solutions are, but Rashi and John Gill state that Deuteronomy 2:29 is talking about the Edomites selling Israel food and water, not the Edomites allowing Israel to pass through their land. But Gill goes on to say that the Edomites changed their mind and allowed the Israelites to pass through.

I’d have to look up the sites to see where the Israelites went in the proposed biblical scenarios. Did they go through Edom, or did they bypass it? I find it interesting that Numbers 33:37 says that the Israelites camped at the edge of Edom, which seems to imply that, in this scenario, they don’t go through the land of the Edomites. And John MacArthur says that Deuteronomy 2:8 indicates that the Israelites bypassed Edom, which is consistent with Numbers 30. But MacArthur doesn’t address v 29.

Could one solution to Deuteronomy 2:29′s contradiction of other passages be that the Israelites were lying to Sihon?

6. Terence Collins, The Mantel of Elijah, page 23:

The subjection of the material to an artificial arrangement according to predetermined categories is sufficient indication that, in this kind of narrative, historical considerations are subordinate to literary ones. This is not to say that because something is well written it cannot be historical, but there are good grounds for concluding in this case the primary intention of the writer was not the production of a historical record of what happened. The work is an artistic composition inspired by serious theological and ideological intentions. It has a historical theme, but it cannot be reduced to mere history, any more than Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra can be. Whatever they may once have been, the kings and prophets as presented to us in the Deuteronomist story are no longer straightforward historical figures. They have been subjected to an image-making process which has transformed them into symbols that transcend the limits of any specific historical times and events. The Deuteronomistic writers were interested in the past only in so far as this had something to say to their own generation. They used material from the past in a creative, literary way. Their work contains many examples of real or alleged historical figures who have been elevated to the level of symbolic images. The historical setting is important as a backdrop to the drama, but the presentation of the characters is controlled by the ideas, and appropriate words are put into their mouths in the form of speeches and prayers. We shall find that much is true about the portrayal of the prophets in the prophetical books. There are, for example, many connections between the picture of Elijah and the portrayal of prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

I’m taking a break today from book reviews, but I’ll probably write about them tomorrow and Thursday, while returning to Collins’ book on Friday. I’m only assigned two chapters from Collins’ book.

Collins argues that the prophetic writings may have a kernal that relates to a historical situation, but stuff was added to them in the exilic and post-exilic periods, to speak to Israel in that time. And Collins views parts of the prophets as literary—an example of creative writing—not necessarily as historical. Jeremiah’s laments resemble those of Elijah in the story of II Kings, so the character of Jeremiah in that book may be based on a character type.

How would that speak to Israel’s exilic and post-exilic periods? Would it speak to Israelites who, like Jeremiah, were in despair and doubted God’s love for them in exile, and so they’d benefit from God’s assurance of Jeremiah?

7. I watched a PBS documentary on Reconstruction, in the aftermath of reading Samuel Hyde, Jr.’s book, Pistols and Politics. Hyde presented post-Civil War Reconstruction in pretty dismal terms. In his telling, Southerners in the Florida parishes of Louisiana resented Northern interference, especially after the Union army had brought them a lot of destruction during the Civil War. The carpetbaggers and the Republicans were corrupt, motivating even some African-Americans to vote for the Democratic Party, which was conservative, yet helped African-Americans in some ways. And so whites revolted against Reconstruction, and racists brutally targeted African-Americans.

I’m not trying to make Hyde’s book sound like Birth of a Nation, because it wasn’t like that. There were no good guys and bad guys in his book. But his portrayal of Reconstruction was pretty dim.

The PBS documentary was much more glowing about Reconstruction, highlighting the African-Americans who received government positions under it, as well as the Civil Rights legislation that the Radical Republicans passed over President Andrew Johnson’s veto. Its picture was this: there were the Republicans, who were trying to help African-Americans, and there were the bigoted white Southerners, who fiercely resisted that. As for the carpetbaggers, the South initially welcomed these Northerners and their investments, before turning around and resenting them!

There were interesting details in this documentary. First of all, I learned more about Andrew Johnson. He was a Senator from Tennessee, who fiercely opposed Southern secession. He was the only Southern senator to remain in the U.S. Senate, for the others went with the Confederacy. Because he wasn’t a friend of the planters, siding instead with the poor, there were Southerners who were afraid of what he might do to them as President. But Johnson turned out to be their friend, as he fiercely and stubbornly resisted the Radical Republicans.

Second, the documentary narrated how Reconstruction came to an end. I wondered why a Republican President, Rutherford P. Hayes, would be the one to end Reconstruction, a Republican project. The answer was that he was in a heavily contested Presidential election, and he ended Reconstruction as part of a deal with the South.

My high school history teacher once talked about revisionist history, and how historians now are more sympathetic towards Reconstruction than they were in the past. The pre-revisionist view (which many would argue was itself revisionist, only in a different direction) was what I got in elementary school: although our history book sided with the North in the Civil War, it said that Johnson was impeached because he was resisting the Radical Republicans, who wanted to punish the South. There was no hint that the Radicals were trying to help the freed slaves.

Things were probably more complex than either side may portray them, as Hyde’s book depicts.

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