Friday, May 21, 2010

Suicide; Don’t Waste; Witnessing; Parallel Development; Anti-Cult; MB Exodus; Planet of the Apes Prequel

1. William P. Young, The Shack.

I can’t find the reference that I’m looking for, but it concerns suicide. Mack’s daughter has just been killed by a psychopath, who murders little girls. Mack thinks that killing himself could end the pain, as well as allow him to get back at God. Fortunately, he doesn’t go through with it.

A number of thoughts entered my mind. There’s the episode of The Jeffersons, in which the Marla Gibbs character thinks about committing suicide because this life is so hard, and she wants to go to heaven. There’s an episode of the sci-fi miniseries, Taken, in which a guy is threatening to shoot everyone in a room, and people there ask him how he will fare when he stands before his Maker to receive judgment. He replies that he himself will have questions for God, such as “Why is this life so hard?”

Then there’s the episode of Star Trek: Voyager that I watched, “Emanations”, which is one of my favorite episodes because it gets into issues of the afterlife: is there one, and what is it? But one of this episode’s story-lines is that an alien is about to commit suicide because his family deems him to be a burden. And his family is not worried for him, for that culture has a strong belief in the afterlife, maintaining that this guy will go to a better place and see his departed family and friends.

Then I recall something an agnostic professor at DePauw said to me. I asked him about the Heaven’s Gate group, in which people took their lives to go to another place. My professor responded that this is no different from Christianity, which also says that people will go to another place after death. When I told my Christian employer this, she astutely pointed out that Christianity prohibits suicide.

When I watch Ghost Whisperer, I often wonder what happens to those departed ones who commit suicide? Do they go into the light and find peace? Or must they wander around in an intermediate state for a while? In the movie, What Dreams May Come, suicide bars people from heaven. It’s like the unpardonable sin!

Actually, some have maintained that suicide is unpardonable, since you can’t ask forgiveness for it. You die before you get to ask forgiveness, so you don’t receive it. But, in II Kings 5, Naaman asks God for forgiveness for an act that he had not yet done. In Matthew 12:32, Jesus seems to imply that God can forgive sins in the age to come, indicating that this life is not the only time we can receive forgiveness. Yet, the general rule is that repentance is a precondition for receiving forgiveness. Is a person repentant when he asks forgiveness for something that he is about to do? Naaman felt that he couldn’t get out of that pagan ritual, being in the position that he was. But there are alternatives to suicide—options short of taking one’s own life that one can pursue to cope with or solve problems.

But I don’t want to Monday-morning quarterback on whether or not suicides go to heaven. I don’t know, and such a question can be insensitive. I just try to live by the rule of not judging others, and not taking my own life, since it is precious (as are all people’s lives).

I’ve wondered, too: Why is this life so hard? If we’re preparing to go to the perfect place, where people’s hearts are warm and there is security, why do we need to be so toughened up with trials? Is it so we can appreciate the perfect place more? Armstrongites would say that we’re being prepared to become god-like beings, and trials develop the character that we will need to function as that.

Here’s another issue: belief in an afterlife can actually discourage suicide. I once read a Calvinist web site, and it said that we should not kill ourselves because we could go to an everlasting hell, a place without hope. At least when we’re here and alive, there’s a chance that our relationship with God can get better, and we can take the steps to avoid hell.

For some reason, we have to be in this wilderness, but it’s an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and see what God can do, as was the case for the Israelites when they were in the wilderness.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

I didn’t read anything particularly quotable today, but I read somewhere in this book that a character didn’t like to waste food. Neither do I, for that matter! Some of that may be because I know what it’s like to be low on food, and so I appreciate it. But my alcoholism may also have something to do with it. Alcoholics don’t like to see alcohol go to waste! They’re shocked when people leave half a glass! Well, that’s how I am with a lot of things. And I frequently clean my plate!

3. Raphael Loewe, “The Medieval History of the Latin Vulgate”, Cambridge History of the Bible, volume 2, page 130:

Whereas the Anglo-Saxon gospellers were missionaries by design, the Irish monks proved to be missionaries despite themselves. Finding themselves impatient of monastic discipline at home, and yet impelled by ascetic ideals, they frequently wandered abroad in search of their personal salvation…only to find that their sincerity, personality, and learning won for them the admiring emulation of those with whom they came into contact.

I used to dream about something like this: I’d be thrust into a new situation, and that would be an opportunity for me as a Christian to reach people for Christ. It somewhat made each new situation into a sort of adventure. But I turned out to be too shy, and I didn’t reach people for Christ. Nowadays, I don’t worry about this so much. I’m getting to know God better—relying on him, praying to him, etc. If that can impact my relationship with others for the better, then so be it. But I’m not trying to force things right now.

4. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 29:

Schafer recalled the complicated research history, that had led to the perception that several relationships were concurrently possible: sometimes the Mishnah presupposed the Tosefta, whilst at other times the Mishnah seemed to presuppose the Tosefta…So probably here too, the model of various editorial stages would apply.

The point here is that the Mishnah and the Tosefta went through stages. Scholars have debated about what depends on what. Does the Tosefta presuppose and comment on the Mishnah, or is the Mishnah aware of the contents of the Tosefta? Actually, it could be a little of both. Maybe there was some version of the Tosefta when the Mishnah was being compiled. And maybe the Mishnah existed at a certain stage while the Tosefta was being developed. So both documents could have drawn from each other as they went through stages.

5. James Crenshaw, “Transmitting Prophecy across Generations”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 39:

Interpreters have understood the harsh attacks on the cult as either absolute or conditional. The infusion of Roman Catholic scholars into the mix, as well as renewed appreciation among Protestants for liturgy, has brought about a shift in favor of the latter interpretation, i.e., criticizing certain features of the cult but coming short of rejecting it entirely.

Most of the time in academia, I heard the view that the prophets didn’t oppose the cult per se, but their criticism of the cult was rooted in the hypocrisy and sinfulness of the worshippers, meaning that the cult was all right, as long as the worshippers obeyed God. I think that Hebrew Union College was the first place that I heard another perspective: that there is a biblical voice that indeed criticizes the cult. And, in Israel Knohl’s Sanctuary of Silence, Knohl appears to assume that the prophets criticized the cult, whereas the priests upheld it. For Knohl, the Holiness School was an attempt to combine the two perspectives: to emphasize the holy behavior that the prophets supported, while preserving the cult that the priests sought to maintain.

Why would Jewish scholars act as if the prophets were anti-cult? I’m sure there are plenty who do not. But Reform Judaism itself subordinates ritual to other values: it’s not as strict as the Conservatives and the Orthodox on kashrut and the Sabbath. At the same time, there are plenty of Reform Jews who are quite observant.

6. This is from evangelical scholar Robert Hubbard’s review of David Baker and Bill Arnold’s The Face of Old Testament Studies:

For example, if Chávalas and Adamthwaite are correct (“Archaeological Light on the Old Testament,” pp. 59-96), neither the early-nor late-date models for the exodus and conquest account for the evidence. Instead, if I read their tentative proposal correctly, events chronologically fit best at the end of the Middle Bronze period and historically consist of a dynamically shifting struggle back and forth between Israel and Canaan’s inhabitants rather than a once-for-all blitzkrieg conquest. How, then, are we to read the scenario in Joshua? Here Younger (“Early Israel in Recent Biblical Scholarship,” pp. 176-206) also maps out the new terrain, calling for us to read Joshua in a more carefully nuanced way, one that both takes seriously Biblical claims and accepts—and this is a stimulating new challenge—its evidentiary limitations as well.

The proposed date here for the Exodus interests me. The two dates that are often proposed for the Exodus are the fifteenth and the thirteenth centuries B.C.E. I Kings 6:1 appears to date the Exodus to the fifteenth century B.C.E., but there are scholars who prefer the thirteenth century, because that’s when Raamses ruled (see Exodus 1:11), as well as the time when “Israelite” settlements started to appear in the central hills of Palestine. Both of these proposed dates are in the Late Bronze Age, which is from 1550-1200 B.C.E.

But the two scholars in this book date the Exodus to the Middle Bronze Age, which is 2200-1550 B.C.E. I’m not sure what their reasoning is, but one problem some critical scholars have had with the biblical story about Joshua and Jericho is that Jericho was a Middle Bronze city, yet (for these scholars) the Bible presents the Israelite conquest of Jericho as occurring in the Late Bronze Age. One approach conservatives have taken is to suggest that Jericho was a Middle Bronze city that continued into the Late Bronze Age. Does this mean that it was like a Middle Bronze Age bubble during the Late Bronze period, unaffected by Late Bronze culture?

Then another approach is chronological. It’s called revisionist chronology, and it moves periods back, such that the Conquest would occur in what we call the Middle Bronze Age. Is that the view of these authors?

7. A prequel of Planet of the Apes will be out in 2011. I loved the original Planet of the Apes movie, but I didn’t care as much for its sequels because they contradicted the original. In the original, the apes believed that God created them in his own image, period. They didn’t think that there was a time when humans could talk—or at least that wasn’t the official ape position. Some ape scientists were trying to propose the view that apes evolved from men, but that wasn’t ape orthodoxy. The point of that talking doll in the cave was to show the orthodox ape scientist, Dr. Zaius, that there was indeed a time when humans were intelligent, contrary to his view that God made apes intelligent and humans dumb. But Dr. Zaius already knew that humans were intelligent at one point. It was in the Sacred Scrolls. And yet, such knowledge was esoteric.

In sequels, however, it’s suggested that the entire ape society celebrated the first time that an ape told his human master “no”. That implies that all the apes believed that humans were intelligent at one point, whereas the first movie says the opposite.

I hope that the prequel lines up with the first movie, in some manner.

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