Thursday, June 3, 2010

Virginity; Gentile Land Non-Sabbath; King’s Written Word; Non-Arguments?; Imitatio Hominis; OT Law; Rue McClanahan

I’ll be doing something a little different today and thereafter—at least for a while. My comps are coming up in a couple of months, and so I need to step up my reading for that. As a result, I won’t be blogging on Robert Heinlein and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True during the weekdays. Rather, I will do so only on Saturdays—except when I decide otherwise. And, when I’m finished with my comps, I’ll resume my reading of Coyne.

1. I read Tikva Frymer-Kensy’s articles in Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Her article, “Virginity in the Bible”, is pretty good. She discusses the laws in Deuteronomy 22 about the slandered bride and sex with an unmarried daughter. The law concerning the slandered bride presumes that women should be virgins, for, in that case, the woman’s husband suspects that she wasn’t a virgin before he married her, and he demands proof of her virginity.

Tikva talks about why virginity was so valued in the ancient world. She rejects certain ideas, such as the explanation that there were feuds among clans, and clans wanted to make sure that they passed down their property to people in their own clan. If a woman is sleeping around before she gets married, then there’s a chance that her baby will be from the opposing clan. Tikva’s more open to the Freudian view that fathers are attached to their daughters, and don’t want them to be with another man before they officially marry.

The point that Tikva makes, however, is that the family in the ancient Near East was expected to safeguard the chastity of its daughters. That’s what we see in Genesis 34, in which Simeon and Levi avenge the rape of their sister, Dinah. They don’t like their sister being treated like a whore—a woman who is in charge of her own sexuality—for they believe that the family of Jacob is responsible for the future of Dinah’s sex life. Deuteronomy moved the power to uphold the honor of families to the community. Before, Judah could order Tamar to be burned for playing the whore (Genesis 38). And yet, Deuteronomy still honored the reputation of families.

2. I’m continuing my way through Albertina Houtman’s Mishnah and Tosefta. Page 171 refers to Mishnah Shebiit 4:3. Danby’s translation states: “Newly ploughed land may be hired in the Seventh Year from a gentile but not from an Israelite; and gentiles may be helped [when labouring in the fields] in the Seventh Year, but not Israelites. Moreover, greetings may be offered to gentiles in the interests of peace.”

The Seventh Year, of course, is when the land in Israel is to rest: Leviticus 25:4-5 forbids the Israelites from sowing and reaping during that time. But what about the gentiles on the land? The Mishnah appears to suggest that the Gentiles who own land can rent it out and labor in the fields. The Israelites, however, cannot rent it out, and they shouldn’t help a fellow Israelite who is laboring in the fields during the Seventh Year.

But I’m a little confused: is the Mishnah allowing Israelites to rent the gentile’s land from them, or to help the Gentiles in the field? Moreover, how is the land resting, when Gentiles can sow and reap on it? Is this a way for Israel to keep the peace with Gentiles? Or is it a matter of practicality: the Gentile Romans have power over Israel, and so the Jews aren’t going to tell them that they can’t sow and reap. Rather, they’ll keep the law themselves, and let the Gentiles do their own thing, for the law is the law God have to Israel, specifically.

3. Donald Redford, “Scribe and Speaker”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 185:

What the king [of Egypt] proclaimed by spoken word had a binding force, which made its inscripturation obligatory.

“So let it be written…”

4. Richard Elliott Friedman, “Some Recent Non-Arguments Concerning the Documentary Hypothesis”, in Text, Temples, and Traditions:

To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with this essay—and it’s not because I have a problem with Richard Elliott Friedman, for I actually enjoyed his book, Who Wrote the Bible? Friedman supports the documentary hypothesis, the view that the Pentateuch was written by J, E, P, and D. Friedman tries to interact with critics of this view. For example, one critic says that repetition in the Flood story doesn’t mean that it has two sources, for there are ancient Near Eastern and biblical documents that have repetition. This critic also disputes the claim that the Pentateuch’s usage of different names for God indicates multiple authorship, for there are ancient Near Eastern documents that use different names for a deity.

Friedman’s response to this argument is that those ancient Near Eastern documents are poetry, whereas the Bible stories in question are prose. But why can’t a prose story use repetition for dramatic effect?

Friedman also says that believers in the documentary hypothesis don’t accept it primarily on the basis of different literary styles in the Pentateuch. I wish he had gone into more detail on this. On what basis do they accept it? On the basis of different ideologies or agendas in the text, or reflections of various historical contexts?

5. I read David Stern’s “Imitatio Hominis: Anthropomorphism and the Character(s) of God in Rabbinic Literature.” It’s about how the rabbis attributed human emotions and activities to God. Stern concludes that the rabbis don’t take their depictions literally, although (as Stern states) there have been scholars who maintain that the Akiva school did precisely that.

I was unclear as to Stern’s basis for his conclusion, but he does note that rabbinic literature can contain contradictory depictions of God, side-by-side. One depiction says that God is deeply anguished by the destruction of Jerusalem—almost like an Israelite who is excused from prayer and observance of the positive commandments of the Torah on account of anguish over a recent loss (this is called an onein). The next depiction, however, portrays God as firm and unyielding to prayers for Jerusalem, until Rachel shames him with the realization that God need not be jealous of other gods, for they aren’t even real! Is Stern’s argument that contradictory anthropomorphic depictions of God in rabbinic literature indicate that the rabbis didn’t take these depictions literally—that they are instead projections of their own feelings of sorrow and guilt?

6. Mark Karlberg’s Review of R. Goppelt’s Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New:

Although Goppelt speaks of the peculiar redemptive-historical function of the Law of Moses as “a negative preparation for the gospel,” this crucial aspect of the discontinuity between the old and new covenants remains undeveloped in his thought. What Goppelt identifies as a works principle of inheritance under the Mosaic covenant is not consistently worked out in his interpretation of the gracious nature of all God’s redemptive covenants. Goppelt remarks: “When Paul speaks of the ‘law,’ which was added later (Gal 3:18f.), he is not thinking only of the revelation of God’s commands, but also of the status of this law according to the Sinaitic order: its fulfillment is a requirement for existence before God” (p. 138 n. 36).

Old Testament Israel had to keep the law to live before God. Those who inadvertently failed offered a sin offering. Those who deliberately sinned where put to death, or God could forgive them, if they repented. How’s this different from the New Covenant, in which there’s also a moral standard and forgiveness for failure? Also, while some may say that Old Testament Israel was unable to keep God’s law, there were people under the Old Covenant whom God considered righteous, in part on account of their obedience.

7. Rue McClanahan passed on today. She played on The Golden Girls, but I also know her from Maude (starring future Golden Girl, Bea Arthur), Mama’s Family (which also had future Golden Girl Betty White), a Hallmark movie, two episodes of Touched by an Angel, and Celebrity Ghost Stories, in which she talked about an encounter she had with the supernatural. It’s so sad that she died in her 70′s, especially considering that it wasn’t long ago when she was still acting. I can’t think of any favorite Blanche moments, at least not right now. But I admire Rue because her character showed that you’re never too old to have fun, and also because Rue herself learned from her failed marriages! It’s good when people can pass on some wisdom from their bad experiences! I also find it interesting that, although the character of Blanche was a free spirit sexually, she had conservative sexual standards when it came to people in her own family (i.e., her children, her father).

R.I.P., Rue McClanahan.

Search This Blog