Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ecclesiastes 2 and the Softening of Qoheleth’s Nihilism

Today is a Sabbath, the Last Great Day, and so I did my weekly quiet time in Ecclesiastes 2.

A question that’s been swimming around in my mind has been, “How have religious interpreters of Ecclesiastes dealt with the book’s notion that there is no afterlife, when they themselves believe in an afterlife?” Last week, I read Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:4, which states that, while Ecclesiastes is correct to say that there’s no reward “under the sun”, that doesn’t exclude a reward for the righteous above the sun, namely, in heaven.

I observed a similar approach in today’s study, as rabbis distinguished between this world and the World to Come. In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:1, we read that Torah study and prosperity in this world are vanity, since people can forget what they learn from the Torah, and (as Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes 2) their wealth can easily be bequeathed to fools after their death. Solomon is therefore correct when he discusses the futility of wisdom and of prosperity in this world. In the World to Come, however, the rules will be different. Israelites won’t forget the Torah that they learn, for God will write his law on their minds and their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). People’s hard-earned prosperity won’t fall into the hands of fools, for Isaiah 65:22 predicts that the Israelites won’t build, only for another to inhabit.

At the same time, there are rabbis who deny that Solomon is even talking about the labor of Torah when he discusses the futility of labor. Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:4, for example, states that Solomon is saying in Ecclesiastes 1:3 that “his labor”—the earthly labor of human beings—does not profit, but that doesn’t apply to labor in Torah, which is profitable.

Today, in my study of Ecclesiastes 2 and its interpreters, I encountered other ideas. In Ecclesiastes 2, Qoheleth says that, while wisdom is better than folly, the fact that both wise people and fools die puts a damper on having wisdom: why be wise if you’ll meet the same end as fools? That appears to be a denial of an afterlife, or at least Qoheleth doesn’t seem to conceive of the possibility that there is a post-mortem reward for the wise. How have religious interpreters dealt with this?

Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:18 basically disagrees with Qoheleth. Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes 2:15 that there is no remembrance for the wise and the fools, and Ecclesiastes Rabbah states that Qoheleth was remiss to think that. After all, Israelites appeal to the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Exodus 32:13) long after their deaths, but the heathen do not appeal to the memory of Nimrod. Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (the wise) have been remembered, whereas such is not the case for Nimrod, a fool. This passage in Ecclesiastes Rabbah doesn’t pertain to the afterlife, but we do see that it attempts to undercut Qoheleth’s nihilism, affirming instead that being wise is worthwhile.

The Jewish commentator Rashi tries to undercut Qoheleth’s nihilism without disagreeing with the biblical text. In Ecclesiastes 2:15, Qoheleth asks why he became wise, since what happens to the fool (death) will happen to him. Qoheleth then asserts that this is vanity. For Rashi, Qoheleth is saying in v 15 that his nihilistic statement is vanity: Qoheleth flirts with the notion that the same end meets the righteous and the wicked, right before he repudiates it. In his comment on v 16, in which Qoheleth asks how the wise shall die with the fool, Rashi treats Qoheleth’s question as rhetorical, as if behind Qoheleth’s question there lurks a sentiment that “Of course the wise won’t perish like the fools!” V 16 also states that there’s no remembrance forever of the wise and the foolish, but Rashi essentially ignores this, commenting that the passage teaches that the heroism and success of the wicked are forgotten: Rashi limits the statement’s application to the wicked, when Qoheleth is talking about both the wise and the foolish.

The eighteenth century Calvinist commentator John Gill says that Ecclesiastes 2 is talking about wisdom and intelligence about the world, not spiritual wisdom, which profits people eternally. The following passage humbles me, as one who thinks that I’ll achieve a degree of immortality through my writing:

“a wise man may not only be caressed in life, but may be remembered after death for a while; the fame of him may continue for a little time, and his works and writings may be applauded; but by and by rises up another genius brighter than he, or at least is so thought, and outshines him; and then his fame is obscured, his writings are neglected and despised, and he and his works buried in oblivion; and this is the common course of things.”

Essentially, many of the preachers I heard go the route of the rabbis and John Gill, saying that this life is pointless if you’re not right with God, and so you should be right with God so as to find satisfaction in this life, and to live forever in an afterlife.

In my study today, I also observed a tendency among commentators to soften the nihilism of Ecclesiastes 2:18-26. Qoheleth asks why he should work so hard, when his wealth could easily pass on to a fool. Christian preachers and commentators note that Solomon’s wealth indeed did pass on to fools, namely, Rehoboam and Jeroboam! But many see in vv 24-26 Qoheleth’s answer to his dilemma. Both evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Harvard professor Peter Machinist make the same sort of point: that Qoheleth advocates enjoying one’s work and the fruits thereof with gratitude to God, without worrying about what will happen to one’s wealth after death; the wicked, however, are vexed, for they are obsessed with accumulating wealth that will fall into the hands of the righteous, under the direction of God. But doesn’t Qoheleth say that it’s vanity and vexation of spirit for the wealth of the wicked to pass on to the righteous? Here at least, Qoheleth doesn’t appear to be all that positive when it comes to reward-and-punishment scenarios, either because he doesn’t believe in them, or he sees them as pointless even if they are true. And they’re not entirely true, for wealth can easily fall into the hands of fools, not only the righteous.

Another thought: Qoheleth may be relevant to people who are materialistic, who work a lot for luxuries that they do not need. Qoheleth does well to ask, “What is the point of that?” It’s better to enjoy one’s work and life itself, without looking to material things or lusts of the flesh as if they will satisfy the cravings of the human heart. But what about people who toil long hours for their very survival? How can they enjoy work and life? Qoheleth is aware of this kind of problem, for he talks about oppression later in his book. But how would his advice of “Enjoy work and life” speak to their situation?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Problems and Hope Before the Exile; Water

1. In my reading today of Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, the following passage on page 47 stood out to me:

[Jacques] Vermeylen suggests that Isaiah 11:1-5, which depends upon the preceding oracles, comes from the second half of the seventh century and gives them a new interpretation…Isaiah 11:2-5 offers an antithetical response to the abuses imposed by the leaders of Judah (5:19-23) and Assyria (10:5, 13). The new king who receives his wisdom from God is contrasted with the Assyrian’s false claim of wisdom (10:13). The Assyrian oversteps his role as the rod of the Lord (10:5) but the figure in 11:1-5 will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth: (10:4).

Could some form of Messianism have existed in Israel’s pre-exilic period? Randall’s conception of Messianism answers in the negative, for he believes (if I’m understanding him correctly) that Messianism would speak to Israel when she lacked a Davidic monarchy, for Jewish Messianism was largely about the reconstitution of that very monarchy.

Fair enough. But Israel had problems even before her exile. Judah had bad Davidic kings, oppressive rulers, and threatening foreign powers. In the midst of this, could she have hoped for a Davidic king who would be righteous, who would uphold the rights of the poor rather than oppress them, and who would preside over an era of international peace?

2. In Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states (on page 106) that, according to rabbinic exegetes of Leviticus 11:34, 37-38, dry food “is not susceptible to uncleanness.” It must be wet to be susceptible to uncleanness.

I learned that a while back in my weekly quiet time on Leviticus, but it’s good to be reminded. But I’m not sure why water is an impurity carrier.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Isaiah Affirmed or Superceded?; Pure Gentiles

1. In my reading today of Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah, Randall Heskett argues that Cyrus within the Book of Isaiah as a whole has been de-Messianized, even though Cyrus is called God’s Messiah in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 45:1).

My understanding of Randall’s argument is as follows: Granted, the Book of Isaiah as a whole acknowledges that Cyrus defeated Israel’s enemy, Babylon, brought Israel’s exile to an end, and contributed to the restoration of Jerusalem. In doing these things, Cyrus acted as God’s instrument, as Assyria and Babylon likewise served God’s purposes (only Assyria and Babylon expressed God’s wrath, whereas Cyrus was an instrument of God’s mercy and goodness towards Israel). But Cyrus was not a Messiah in the sense that Isaiah as a whole depicts the Messiah: a Davidid who would promote righteousness and preside over an era of paradise. In the Book of Isaiah as a whole, Randall argues, Cyrus is overshadowed by the Davidic Messiah. Randall maintains that the predictions of eschatological paradise in Isaiah 65:17-25 pertain to the Davidic Messiah, even though this passage does not explicitly mention the Davidic monarch. Randall notes that Isaiah 65:17-24 cites Isaiah 11, which actually does concern the righteous Davidic king who would preside over a time of peace and paradise.

As I said in my post, Kenites in the White Hats, Except…; Literary Simultaneity, Paul Hanson has a different approach: he believes that Third Isaiah was opposed to the reinstitution of the Davidic monarchy, and (if I’m not mistaken) the Zadokite priesthood as well. During my thesis defense, he asked me why a canonical approach to Isaiah could not assume that Second-Third Isaiah’s opposition to the reinstitution of the Davidic monarchy superceded First Isaiah’s support of the institution. Maybe God changed his mind and decided to accomplish his eschatological restoration apart from the seed of David! (Dr. Hanson didn’t explicitly say this, but both he and John Townsend, who was my second reader, made the point that God can change his mind.) When Third Isaiah refers to Isaiah 11, therefore, is he affirming everything in that chapter, including its prediction of a righteous Davidic king? Or is Third Isaiah saying that many of the eschatological hopes of Isaiah 11 are still valid, but that God won’t use a Davidic king to bring them to pass? Rather, God will use Cyrus, the servant, and the nation of Israel.

2. In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states (on page 102), “Gentiles are not susceptible to this form of uncleanness (M. Neg. 3:1; 11:1; 12:1).” Gentiles do not contract impurity from leprosy, neither do their clothes or their houses. That only applies to Israelites. This interests me because you’d think that impurity is impurity and defiles the land, regardless of who the person is. But the Mishnah says otherwise.

I was thinking some about the Torah and the Gentiles during my weekly quiet time in Ecclesiastes 1. In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:28, we read that some Gentiles have abstained from swine’s flesh, but only the Israelites will be rewarded by God for doing so, for the Israelites avoid pork in obedience to God’s command. A note said that, according to the passage, some Gentiles abstained from pork and benefitted thereby because they were protected from ills. This surprised me somewhat, for the popular Christian, Jewish, and scholarly view is that the Israelite food laws had nothing to do with health, but rather with ritual purity. But here, a note is saying that abstention from pork is good for one’s health, according to the rabbinic document of Ecclesiastes Rabbah. At the same time, it affirms that God gave the food laws to Israel, not to the Gentiles.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pre-Exilic Messianism?; Women’s Testimony

1. I’m continuing my way through Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. Randall is discussing the topic of Cyrus as Messiah in Second Isaiah. There are plenty of scholars who have problems with the notion that Second Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s Messiah. Some say that “Cyrus” was added later into the text, for instance.

On page 24, Randall says that Second Isaiah doesn’t understand “Messiah” in terms of the “full-blown eschatological meaning that accompanied messianism in later Judaism”. Rather, Second Isaiah is saying that Cyrus is fulfilling the function that was performed by Israel’s pre-exilic Messiahs, her Davidic monarchs: to defeat Israel’s enemies as her champion. Cyrus is acting like David did. But was he seen as the Messiah, the one who would come and make everything right? No, Randall argues. That concept came later.

That could be. But allow me to ramble for a bit. Cyrus delivers Israel from exile, causing her to return to her land. Wasn’t that the eschatological understanding of the Messiah that came about in later Judaism: the Messiah would deliver Israel from exile? Isn’t that at least one reason that Randall does not believe that the concept of the Messiah could have existed before the exile: because the Messiah is supposed to deliver Israel from exile, as the Davidic monarchy is reconstituted, and such a concept would have been meaningless before the exile? I guess what I’m asking is this: Why not interpret Second Isaiah to mean that Cyrus is the Messiah? He’s doing some of the things that the Messiah of post-exilic Judaism would do.

At the same time, Randall’s thoughts have gotten me thinking about where Second Isaiah fits in among other Messianic texts (if they indeed are such). I guess what I’ve often assumed is that Second Isaiah is arguing against the notion the the Davidic monarchy would be reconstituted and deliver Israel from exile: he’s saying that Cyrus is functioning as God’s anointed, doing what God’s anointed would do. But that would mean that there had to be a Messianic understanding in his cultural repertoire, right? Could that have developed in exile?

But here’s a thought. I’m not much of an Isaiah scholar, but First Isaiah seems to me to be presenting a possible scenario: Judah would be exiled by the Assyrians, God would bring her back to her land, and a Davidic king would emerge who would preside over a time of peace and paradise. But that did not happen, for Judah was not exiled by the Assyrians. God delivered her from Assyria on account of her faith. But, if the parts of First Isaiah communicating that unfulfilled scenario of exile and restoration were written or promulgated before the exile, when the Assyrians were a threat, then we have a Messianic view that was pre-exilic. The exile didn’t have to occur for Israel to develop Messianism, for the possibility of exile was a looming threat even in pre-exilic times. But Messianism popped up again when Israel was in exile, or had returned from exile, for that was when it was most relevant to the Jews.

Second Isaiah could have been reacting against a pre-exilic Messianism, which was put on the shelf until it became relevant again: during the exile.

Clear as mud?

2. On page 84 of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states:

Special testimony is paid to the testimony of normally unacceptable witnesses, e.g., women about their own husbands or the husbands of their sisters-in-law or daughters-in-law. In general a woman is believed who testifies about her own status, but not about the status of some other party to the marriage (M. Yeb. 16:2, 7).

Losing Their Edge?

I had a hard time feeling inspired by Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters just now. I taped them so that I can watch them again this week and see if I feel inspired after a second viewing. Otherwise, I’ll wonder if the shows have lost their edge.

I have watched a lot of TV this weekend, and part of my problem may be TV fatigue. I’ve been going through the first season of Stargate-SG1 with Netflix, while doing reading or homework, of course. So far, the characters crack me up, especially that serious general, but they don’t strike me as having that much depth. Some of the characters are over-the-top. I’m thinking of the villains here. But I do get a comfortable feeling when I watch the show. Plus, I think it’s interesting how it handles religion (people see aliens as gods).

Regarding Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters tonight (or last night, since, technically, it’s now Monday morning), I just had a hard time caring for the characters. They were like cardboard cutouts. I’m not sure if it has to do with my mood, for I watched a couple of Brothers and Sisters from Season 1 last night, and they inspired me. I’ve been watching Season 1 episodes of Desperate Housewives whenever ABC has presented them on Saturday nights, and I’ve relished them. For some reason, I didn’t have that good feeling tonight. Are the shows losing their edge?

But it could be me. I remember when Season 6 of Desperate Housewives was going on, and I felt nothing the first time I watched the episode in which the characters shared their memories about Eedie, who had died. But I enjoyed the episode when I saw it again a year or so later.

On Desperate Housewives tonight, I liked Felicia Tillman saying from her jail cell that she has friends in Wysteria Lane who will deal with Paul Young. As I said in my last post, I was afraid that we’d see a rehash of Seasons 1-2, in which Paul Young and Felicia Tillman were at each other’s throats. Indeed, it does appear that they’ll be in conflict this season, but there will be a different plot-line demonstrating that conflict. Felicia will somehow get her revenge from jail, and we’ll have to wait and see how that will pan out.

Another thought on the episode tonight: I have a hard time getting used to Carlos without a beard! He always looked so manly with his beard.

And what was with Tom’s social faux pas tonight?

Regarding Brothers and Sisters, Justin looked buffer and grayer after his time in Iraq or Afghanistan, and he appeared to have his act together, which is rare for Justin. I liked how he was encouraging the family to talk to each other and get things out in the open, for, after the car accident that closed off last season, they were hiding from their feelings and their problems. Kevin had given up his dream to adopt, and he was pouring himself into pro-bono work, without really listening to his clients. Sarah was making a deal to sell Narrow Lake and to move to France with her French boyfriend (who, alas, is still around, but, I have to admit, he is a source of stability and wisdom in Sarah’s life). Kitty is holding out hope that her comatose husband, Robert (the Rob Lowe character), will come out of his coma. And Nora, who’s ordinarily a concerned, busybody mother, is not getting involved in her kids’ problems. As Justin said, it’s like they all went to their own rooms after the accident.

I admired how Justin was strong enough to take Kitty’s verbal-thrashing. Justin wanted his family to be honest with each other, and he was willing to take the consequences of that. But I had problems with how he was telling Kitty that Robert had no chance to come out of his coma, and was encouraging her to pull the plug. I admired Kitty’s devotion to her husband, and how she was holding out hope for his recovery. For her to ditch that devotion for her own self-fulfillment struck me as, well, kind of shallow—not that I judge those who may choose to pull the plug on a comatose relative and allow him or her to die with dignity.

Those are my scattered reactions for tonight.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Still Tithing?; P and Ezekiel; No Pre-Exilic Messianism; Second Coming; New Seasons Tonight

1. I read more of Jacob Neusner’s Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah. On page 82, Neusner states, “The basic notion at this time between the wars was that priestly gifts remain required, even though the priesthood has momentarily lost its liturgical justification.” So Jews had to give gifts to the priests between 70 C.E.—the time when the Romans burned down the Jerusalem temple—and the Roman defeat of Bar-Kochba in the early second century C.E. Were Jews after that point no longer required to tithe?

2. I started Avi Hurvitz’s A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel. Hurvitz, like many other scholars, notes linguistic similarities between the priestly source in the Pentateuch and the Book of Ezekiel. In this book, he tackles a question: Which came first, P or Ezekiel? In accounting for the similarities between the two writings, should we hold that P drew from Ezekiel, or vice-versa?

On pages 8-9, Hurvitz says that he has argued in the past that P was pre-exilic, but that he’s open to modifying his position. If P is pre-exilic and Ezekiel is exilic (roughly speaking), that would mean that Ezekiel drew from P, right? I’ll see where Hurvitz goes.

3. I started Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. On page 3, Randall attempts to define Messianism. He views Messianism as a belief that God will restore the defunct Davidic dynasty to power. Under this definition, Messianism could not have existed in Israel’s pre-exilic period, when the Davidic dynasty still stood, but only in her exilic and post-exilic periods, when it did not exist. Randall acknowledges that there’s more nuance to Messianism, however, for there was a belief within post-exilic Judaism in a priestly Messiah.

In a big picture sense, I agree with Randall’s definition. But I wonder if Judaism only viewed the Messiah as a restored figure. Yes, rabbinic Judaism believed in a Messiah who would be a Davidic king, emerging after a long period of time in which the Davidic monarchy was dormant. But there’s also a rabbinic tradition that King Hezekiah blew his opportunity to be the Messiah, the Davidic king who would reign over an era of peace (see The Messiah in Ruth Rabbah). Hezekiah was a pre-exilic figure, yet a rabbinic tradition thought he could be the Messiah, even though he didn’t live in a time when the Davidic monarchy was inoperative.

4. At Latin mass this morning, we had the priest who speaks about love. He said that we shouldn’t fear the Second Coming of Christ. Yet, he asked us: if Christ were to come soon, what would he find?

This reminds me of what I used to hear in Seventh-Day Adventist churches: “Are you ready for Jesus to come back? Don’t get ready. BE ready.” How do I get ready for something like that? Become morally perfect? Like that will ever happen!

I agree with the spirit of what Jesus talks about in Matthew 25: I should conduct myself in a manner that won’t disappoint my Master were he to return unexpectedly. I shouldn’t oppress people. I should help others when I can. I guess I should use my talents rather than burying them in the ground. These are good ideas to follow, whether or not Jesus is returning soon.

On the other hand, I’m at the point where I’m jaded by intense eschatological expectation. Why should I assume that I’m living in the last days? Numerous people before me have believed that Christ would return in their lifetimes, and he didn’t. Several (but not the more conservative) New Testament scholars have contended that Jesus believed the end was near when he lived in Palestine about two thousand years ago. But it wasn’t—at least not as I understand “end.” Life went on.

Like the scoffers in II Peter 3, I wonder at times if I should even buy the Christian notion that Christ will come back. The notion has usually accompanied fear—that I’ll be persecuted, or end up following the Beast, a dilemma I don’t ever want to face. It’s also been an excuse for some Christians to dodge trying to improve the current world—through voting, or (if you don’t believe voting accomplishes anything) through helping make society better. After all, why rearrange furniture on a sinking ship?

But I hope that life won’t be forever horrible—that a good God will intervene in this world to bring forth justice and to end suffering. I believe in a loving God, so I can’t envision him not doing so at some point.

5. A new season of Desperate Housewives starts tonight. Paul Young has returned, and Felicia Tillman will be coming along at some point this season. I hope this season isn’t a rehash of Seasons 1-2, in which they continually fought. I love their characters, but I want to see new plot-lines, not recycled old plot-lines.

Vanessa Williams will be an addition to the cast, playing a rival to Lynette Sciavo. I would never want to be a rival to Lynette, for she could destroy me! But I haven’t watched much of Ugly Betty, so I don’t know how ruthless Vanessa Williams’ characters can be.

Brothers and Sisters also starts another season tonight. Saul has HIV. The Rob Lowe character dies. I’m saddened by that, to be honest, since Rob Lowe was a big reason I started watching Brothers and Sisters. I loved him on the West Wing, in which he played a Democrat, so I wanted to see him play a Republican, which he did on Brothers and Sisters. And I just liked him: he’s funny, he’s approachable, his characters are principled, even if they’re a tad-bit intellectually arrogant. I’m going to miss him. But I love the other characters by this point, and so I’ll live. But I’ll still miss him.

Brothers and Sisters will fast-forward years into the future, as Desperate Housewives did a few seasons ago. I hope Sarah has dropped the French guy by then!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ecclesiastes 1

I studied Ecclesiastes 1 for my weekly quiet time today. Qoheleth is bored with pleasures and distressed by wisdom, and he feels that nature is one big monotonous cycle, in which nature keeps going on, even as generations come and go.

Some points:

1. What is a Qoheleth? There’s actually a lot of unclarity about that within biblical scholarship. I side with those who consider it a function rather than a nickname for the author, for the word “Qoheleth” appears with the definite article in Ecclesiastes 12:8 (the Qoheleth). I also think that the title “Qoheleth” has to do with speaking before a group of people, for the Hebrew word qahal means “assembly”, plus Ecclesiastes 12:9 states that Qoheleth taught people wisdom.

2. Ecclesiastes 1:12 is intriguing, for it says that Qoheleth was king in Jerusalem. “Was”? Not “is”? A Jewish targum has a legend that explains this: Solomon was getting too big for his britches, and so God sends the demon Ashmodai to remove Solomon from his throne. Solomon then wanders around the world and rebukes it. In one version of the story, Solomon eventually gets his throne back.

I like this story. It adds a cozy, bed-time story element to my study of Scripture, stuff that’s ”Church of James Pate’s Brain” material when I try to fall asleep. It explains why Solomon said he “was” king. And it also accounts for another puzzling feature in Ecclesiastes: the author complains about oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3; 5:8-9). Would this come from a king, who had the power to punish oppressors? The author appears to write from the standpoint of a powerless onlooker, not a king. But suppose Solomon wasn’t king for a while, and actually got to look at the oppression in his kingdom as a regular guy.

I’m not saying I believe this, but it’s interesting.

3. The Jewish interpretations I read tried to add some hope: Sure, life is boring, but the study of the Torah is interesting, because it gives us light and continually teaches us new insights! Yes, life is hopeless “under the sun”, but we will be happy “above the sun”, in heaven.

For me, Bible study and blogging give me goals. Do they completely satisfy me? No. But they entertain me, make me think, and give structure to my time. Up to now, they’ve been interesting. I hope they remain that way!

Friday, September 24, 2010

On to Another Randall Book!; Finished Hazlitt

1. I finished Randall Short's The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David. Randall aims to refute a notion within biblical scholarship that the History of David's Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 was an apology for David's replacement of King Saul and accession to the throne of Israel. According to this view, opponents of David viewed David as a bloodthirsty terrorist who murdered his enemies, and so the History of David's Rise was composed to explain away their concerns so that the Davidic king could rule in peace. Scholars have compared the History of David's Rise to the Hittite Apology of Hattusili.

If I were to write a book review of Randall's book---for a class or for publication---I would read the Apology of Hattusili in The Context of Scripture, which is at my school's library. I may do so at some point, or I may not. The reason I'd do so is to see if I agree with Randall's characterization of it. Randall made an effective argument when he pointed out that the Apology of Hattusili emphasizes Hattusili's royal blood-line, whereas the History of David's Rise acknowledges that David lacked royal blood. But Randall also contends that the Apology of Hattusili is flat in its depiction of the characters---Hattusili is good, and his enemies are bad---whereas the History of David's Rise highlights good and bad characteristics in both David and Saul. I wonder, though, if the Apology of Hattusili is thoroughly flat---in the sense that it portrays Hattusili as flawless. That may be something for me to check out, at some point!

On page 194, Randall cites Steven McKenzie, who refuses to take the biblical narrative at face value because its presentation of David contradicts how other Middle Eastern kings acted, as well as "human nature in general". McKenzie and other scholars think that David in real life was worse than his character in the History of David's Rise. But Randall wonders why we should necessarily think the worse of David.

What's ironic is that McKenzie is basically upholding a Christian belief in human corruption, even as Randall appears to acknowledge some goodness in human nature in his attempt to defend the biblical narrative. This sort of issue pops up in other contexts. Many Christians dislike postmodernism because it questions the existence of absolute truth. But postmodernism's point is that people promulgate narratives in order to safeguard their own selfish interests---money, power, etc. Postmodernism's view of human nature looks rather Christian! The difference is that many Christians (at least several of the conservative ones) would deny that the Bible is tainted by the selfishness of human nature, presumably because it's a divine book.

I'm also reminded of something a friend and a colleague of mine once said to me. He's a conservative evangelical, and he criticized historical-critics for projecting their own characteristics onto the biblical authors: because they're selfish, the biblical authors must have been self-seeking, they seem to assume. But my friend wondered why we should assume the worse about the biblical authors. I'm with him on that. But why should we always assume the worse about human nature period? Christianity made a contribution to anthropology when it said that humans are selfish and corrupt, but is that the sum total of what human nature is about?

Another point: I wish Randall had fleshed out a little more how the History of David's Rise would have functioned for ancient Israel. He says that it upheld the election of David and of Israel in a time when the nation was vulnerable. For Randall, it's virtually impossible to attach that to a specific historical context, for there were many times in Israel's history when she was vulnerable and needed assurance. But I'm curious about what kinds of situations the History of David's Rise could have been addressing. When Joab kills Abner in the story, what is the message for ancient Israel? In my post, Joab and Gedaliah?; Neusner and the Hillel and Shammai Passages, I refer to Randall's statement that the story warns Israel of "the ongoing threat against God’s elect from the treachery and lies of enemies, whether from within or without” (126). But I wonder what a specific historical example of such treachery and lies would be.

I enjoyed Randall's book. Now, I'm going to move on to a book by another friend of mine named Randall: Randall Heskett's Messianism within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. I'm interested in this issue for a couple of reasons. First, in my Harvard Divinity School thesis, I tried to demonstrate that Isaiah 11 and 53 were Messianic, but my professor said that I was projecting a later construct (Messianism, in an eschatological sense) onto biblical books. Randall Heskett appears to wrestle with this sort of issue in his work.

Second, I've been interested in Second-Third Isaiah lately. When Duhm says that the Servant Songs were from the time of Third Isaiah (Israel's post-exilic period) and were incorporated into Second Isaiah, I wonder what he has in mind. Why were the Servant Songs incorporated into Second Isaiah, and what were they referring to? Does Randall interact with these sorts of issues? He does discuss Duhm, so we shall see!

2. I finally finished Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. Here are some points:

First of all, you know how liberals criticize Reaganomics (lower income tax rates) because they think the rich will just sit on their money and not use it to stimulate the economy? Hazlitt's response to that kind of argument (in the 1940's) is that saving actually helps the economy. When the rich put their money in the bank, it can then be lent out to people so they can start businesses.

Second, Hazlitt makes points that are relevant to our current economic climate, probably because he was writing not long after the Great Depression! He said that people hoard money because of economic uncertainty, which occurs because they don't know how the government will interfere in the economic sphere. We hear this argument from conservatives today: people are reluctant to invest their money, because there's a possibility that their taxes will go up, or new regulations will be put into place.

Third, Hazlitt defends profits (which were criticized even in his day) because they provide an incentive for people to take the sorts of economic risks that create jobs. That may be true. But I wonder how Hazlitt would respond to the gross escalation of profits, on the level of hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the recent phenomenon of CEOs running their companies into the ground and getting rich doing so.

Fourth, Hazlitt made the claim that printing more money leads to inflation. But, as economist Bruce Bartlett points out here, there is now more money in circulation, and yet we're experiencing deflation. The reason is that the money is not being used. People aren't spending or borrowing money to create new businesses. The money is just sitting there. Bartlett's argument (if I understood it correctly) is that people will start spending if they realize that inflation is right around the corner.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

II Kings 25; Almost Done with Randall’s Book

1. Today was a Sabbath, namely, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and so I did a weekly quiet time. I studied II Kings 25, which is the last chapter of the book.

I like how it ends on a note of hope: Evil-Merodach, the king of Babylon who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar, releases King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison, elevates Jehoiachin above the other captive kings, allows Jehoiachin to dine in his presence, and gives him a regular allowance. If the Deuteronomistic History was composed in exile, then it seems to be searching for some glimmer of hope amidst dark circumstances. The Deuteronomist doesn't draw sweeping conclusions from Evil-Merodach's elevation of Jehoiachin ("Oh, the exile is coming to a close!"). He just mentions it. But why does he mention it? I think it's because he deems it significant: he wonders if its an indication that God hasn't given up on his people.

I'm not big on getting my hopes up, for that leads me to disappointment. I've had times in my life when I've interpreted good things in my life as a sign that God was leading me in a certain direction, only to find myself, well, not where I was expecting God to lead me! But I don't think it's wrong for me to look at a situation that appears to be hopeful and to think, "Maybe, just maybe." But I also have to be willing to cope with a "maybe not."

Where will I go next in my weekly quiet time? Answer: the Book of Ecclesiastes! I'm curious about how faith communities that believe in an afterlife cope with a book that appears to deny an afterlife. Well, many of them reinterpret the book's message to be consistent with an afterlife! But how do they interact with the passages in Ecclesiastes that contradict that? That's one question that will be swimming through my mind as I study the Book of Ecclesiastes and its interpreters!

2. I was expecting to finish Randall Short's The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David today, but that did not happen! I'll probably get it done tonight, though.

In my reading today, Randall points out times in the narrative where Saul calls David his son, and he also notes that Saul rarely refers to Jonathan as his son, nor does Jonathan call Saul his father all that often. When they do so, the context is usually negative.

I'm not entirely sure what Randall's point is here, but it may have to do with the narrative's attempt to uphold David's right to the throne. Randall says that David takes Jonathan's place as the one who fights the battles of the LORD. In a sense, David is like a son of Saul, the one who will obviously become Saul's heir and successor. Randall also notes passages in which David is said to perform kingly duties even before he becomes king, in a time when he's on the run from Saul! David fights the LORD's battles and leads people, even then.

That reminds me of a book I read at Harvard Divinity School, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. Palmer said that we can tell what our destiny will be---or what our vocation should be---by looking at what we've enjoyed doing throughout our lives. He, for example, liked to write as a child, and he grew up to become a writer. There's a connection between where we are and where God is taking us. At the same time, if you're in a bleak situation, my opinion (for what it's worth) is that you shouldn't despair, for God can put you in situations to discover and develop your talents.

Randall also discussed the point that Samuel needed to anoint David in secrecy, for he didn't want to get in trouble with Saul. That may be true in the narrative. At the same time, Samuel did confront Saul and declare that God had rejected Saul from being king, so was Samuel really that afraid of Saul? But telling Saul something is one thing. Actually going out and anointing another king is something else!

As I've told my readers before, I've done "The Church of James Pate's Brain" to help me fall asleep. Most of the time, I fantasize about having a church radio program (or, actually, a station) in which I preach about God's love and mercy. But I've tried to do some episodes in which I speak to Bible times. In some cases, I just pretend that radios existed back then and that ancient Israelites were listening to them! But that's too unrealistic, and so I imagine myself setting up proclamation sessions in the open air, preaching to ancient Israelites---like a tent revival. When I was on the Saul and David times, I was preaching in favor of David. Then it hit me: had I really done that, I probably would have lost my life, for I would have been proclaiming treason against King Saul---at least in the eyes of Saul and his sympathizers!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nugget Christianity; Right, Yet Sinful

Here are a couple of passages from Miroslav Volf’s Against the Tide, along with my comments:

1. Page 110: We need to resist the temptation to “package” religious wisdom in attractive and digestable “nuggets” that a person can take up and insert into some doomed project of striving to live a merely experientially satisfying life…From a Christian perspective, sharing religious wisdom makes sense only if that wisdom is allowed to counter the multiple manifestations of human self-absorption and to connect human beings with what ultimately matters—God, whom we should love with all our being, and neighbors, whom we should love as ourselves.

I don’t see what’s so wrong about packaging religious wisdom into digestable nuggets. That’s what I like about visiting Catholic churches: they’re not overly intense. I just hear a brief homily, which has stories and a lesson about trusting in God and being kind to people, and I go home. Although I don’t read Daily Bread, it has the same sort of format: daily nuggets of inspiration about trusting in God and being nice. I’m reading a book like that right now, a daily devotional through the Book of Proverbs. It has a Scripture, a story, a lesson about the story, and a prayer—all on one page. I especially think it’s beautiful when I hear people talk about how they read Daily Bread each morning with a friend, then briefly discuss what they read. Nothing intense or over-the-top. Just good ol’ nugget Christianity!

2. Page 127: We often engaged in interpretive endeavors as self-enclosed communities at odds with one another; we interpreted scripture not just to bolster our own identity in the face of the other but also to put down the other, even to harm the other. As a Christian, I have come to consider such interpretations of scripture sinful, even when they turn out to be factually correct?

What? There are more important things than being right?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Intersection of Merit and Grace; P’s Central Message

1. In my reading today of The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, Randall continues to affirm his thesis that the History of David’s Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 “emphasiz[es] the intent of YHWH to elect whomsoever He wills, even the least among Israel’s sons, and…de-emphasiz[es] natural rights based on pedigree, merit, ability, and so forth” (163). According to Randall, “This stands in marked contrast to the Apology of [Hattusili].”

Randall makes a good case that the History of David’s Rise does not defend David’s right to the throne on the basis of his pedigree, for the term “son of Jesse” is often used by characters in the narrative as a pejorative.

But Randall also includes a quote from James Kugel affirming that God in the Bible often chooses people who are undeserving or lack merit. Kugel states that “it seems that they have been chosen for reasons that are inscrutable, or perhaps for no reason at all, and in this fact the biblical narratives seem to take some pleasure” (169).

I talk some about this issue in my posts, Final Gems from Sommer; A Surprising Choice?; Filling in the Gap and David: Not the Anti-Saul!; Neusner on Foot Moore. In the first post, I wonder if the narrative presents God’s choice of David as arbitrary and lacking in any consideration of David’s goodness on God’s part. After all, I Samuel 13:14 says that David is a man after God’s own heart, and I Samuel 16:7 affirms that God looks at the heart rather than outward appearance, indicating that there’s something about David’s heart that pleases God. And yet, in the second post, I’m impressed by Randall’s argument that David makes many of the same mistakes that Saul does, prompting the question of whether David indeed was good enough to replace Saul as king.

On page 138, Randall acknowledges that there was something about David’s heart that pleased God: “YHWH sent Samuel to anoint David because there was something in and about the heart of this one among the many sons of Jesse, indeed, among all the sons of Israel, that YHWH saw or found to meet His good pleasure” (138). But Randall does not really elaborate on this, perhaps because “Neither the narrator nor YHWH explicitly state in I Samuel 16 what it is about the heart that YHWH sees or looks for when deciding whom to reject and whom to choose.” My Mom once said that God loved David because he was so sorry when he did wrong.

Did God choose David because he was a shepherd, and that would be a job that could train a person to become the shepherd of Israel? And yet, could God have been the one who providentially arranged for David to be a shepherd, even before Samuel anointed him? Randall interacts with this question. On pages 142-143, he appeals to I Samuel 17:37, where David states that the LORD delivered him from the lion and the bear while he was looking after the sheep, and so he is confident that the LORD will deliver him from the hand of the Philistine Goliath. Was God preparing the shepherd David to fight the battles of the LORD, a key role of the king of Israel? Randall says that God could have been preparing David to be king even before Samuel anointed him, and yet there’s a possibility that God delivered David from the bear and the lion after the anointing, which is when the Spirit of the LORD comes upon David (I Samuel 16:13), presumably to empower him.

Was there anything within David himself that qualified him before God to be the king of Israel? Or did God give David his qualifications—by training him, something God could have done with anyone? Or is it a combination of the two? God may have observed that David was teachable, which implies that David had qualities, but still needed to grow through training.

2. In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Neusner wrestles with why priestly ideology emerged from the seventh-fifth centuries B.C.E. and occurs in the Mishnah. He connects its emergence with the intermingling of cultures, peoples, and races, in part as the result of trade. He thinks there was thus a push for Israelites to define themselves and to distinguish themselves from other people.

I’m not sure why this doesn’t sit right with me. I guess I don’t really see distinguishing Israel from other nations as one of P’s primary messages. I’ve always seen Israelite purity with respect to the sanctuary as P’s main concept. But I’m open to learning, here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joab and Gedaliah?; Neusner and the Hillel and Shammai Passages

1. In my reading today of The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, Randall Short discusses the murder of Abner in II Samuel. Randall acknowledges that the narrative—”in the reported speech of David and in the words of the narrator” (125)—transparently seeks to defend David from the charge that he murdered Abner. So has Randall’s thesis—that the History of David’s Rise is not a court apology for King David—been overthrown? Not so fast, Randall responds.

First of all, Randall asks, if the History of David’s Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 was an apology defending David from numerous accusations of murder, then why do we only see an explicit defense in the narrative when it comes to the death of Abner? Why don’t we see this transparent sort of apology with regard to other alleged accusations, which (according to Randall) certain scholars are reading into the text?

Second, Randall asks, if the story about the death of Abner only makes sense as an apology for King David, then why was “it transmitted from generation to generation, when the issues of the historical David’s life were no longer ‘lively’” (126)? Obviously, the story can speak to people as something other than a court apology for King David. Randall states that “the accounts of the deaths of Abner and Ishbaal dramatically demonstrate the ongoing threat against God’s elect from the treachery and lies of enemies, whether from within or without” (126).

I wonder what Randall has in mind here. Joab was a zealous official in David’s army who killed David’s enemies, such as Abner (who technically wasn’t David’s enemy when he was killed). What sort of historical situation could such a story have been addressing? I suppose that there were numerous hotheads in the camp of Israel in Israel’s history. I think of the murder of Gedaliah by Judahites intent on re-establishing the David dynasty, after Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem.

2. I’m not sure what to say about my reading today of Jacob Neusner’s Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah. So far, Neusner is discussing the pre-70 C.E. opinions in the Mishnah on certain issues. He concentrates on the opinions attributed to Hillel and Shammai. He seems to believe that the opinions attributed to Hillel and Shammai really did come from them. At some point in the book, though, he acknowledges that later people could have put words in the mouths of earlier rabbis. So why does he believe that the words attributed to Hillel and Shammai were really spoken by Hillel and Shammai? I vaguely recall reading him say that the parts of the Mishnah that contrast Hillel and Shammai look like sayings that would be memorized and passed down, so he concludes that they go back to Hillel and Shammai. Why else would they be considered important enough to memorize and pass down?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Insights from Bald Tom Bosley Priest

Well, my blog has been one big pity-party today! I just want to write one last post—about my Latin mass—and then I’ll stop blogging for the day.

I’m not sure what to call the priest we’ve had for the past couple of weeks. I guess I’ll call him “bald Tom Bosley” priest, since he’s bald, and he talks like Tom Bosley.

The priest made some interesting points:

1. He defended pre-Vatican II Catholicism against charges that it focused on worshipping God to the exclusion of helping humanity, contending that pre-Vatican II Catholicism did more to help humanity than Catholicism does today. Back then, he said, there were hospitals that offered free health care to the poor. Now, imagine a poor person going to a Catholic hospital and saying he can’t pay!

But could that be because those pre-Vatican II hospitals hadn’t been hit with escalating health care costs, at the level that exists now? Or is there another reason that they could offer free health care to the poor—such as the doctors not being as greedy?

Of course, conservatives will say that emergency rooms must treat everyone, even those who can’t pay. That may be true in a lot of cases. But hospital bills can sure be back-breaking to people who can’t afford it.

2. The priest appeared to say that the Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be divine. A friend of mine knows someone who converted from Christianity to orthodox Judaism. When this guy was in the process of leaving the Christian faith, he used the typical Jewish counter-missionary arguments—such as the one claiming that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t predict a Messiah who would be God. But, after this guy was in orthodox Judaism for a while, he told my friend that Jews believe the Messiah would be a divine sort of figure.

Maybe. But divine doesn’t necessarily mean God, or second person of the Trinity, right? If Jews say that the Messiah would be divine, do they mean the same thing that Christians mean?

3. The priest said that we need to love God in order to love others, and to love others in order to properly love God. That reminds me of things that I’ve read this week. In an essay in Against the Tide, “Is It God’s Business?”, theologian Miroslav Volf said that we actually sin against God when we hurt others, for we’re more than God’s teddy bears; we’re his creation, and he’s intimately involved with us. In Who Needs God?, Harold Kushner acknowledged that non-theists could be moral, but he said that God and our faith in God empower us when we are weary of doing good; his implication seemed to be that atheists lack this resource, as long as they remain in their state of non-belief. Kushner also said that God needs to exist for right to be right and for wrong to be wrong. He acknowledged that wrong could still be harmful even if God did not exist, but he didn’t seem to think that one could legitimately call something “wrong” apart from the existence of God. (At least that’s how I interpreted him.)

I’m not sure if Kushner is endorsing the divine-command view—the notion that something is right or wrong simply because God says so. Critics of this view would maintain that something is not right or wrong because God says so; rather, God says so because it’s right or wrong. God’s influenced by morality, meaning he does not create it.

Along these lines, I appreciated something Volf said in another of his essays, “Can We Be Good Without God?” Volf referred to a book by John Hare, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, entitled Why Bother Being Good? The Place of God in Moral Life. According to Hare, an atheist could be good, but morality makes more sense against a theological background, when there is a good God working in the world, accomplishing his goodness in the lives of men and women. For Hare, that can motivate us when morality is too hard, or doesn’t make us happy.

This overlaps with Kushner’s view that God can motivate us to be good when the going gets tough. It also overlaps with another point that Kushner made: that God has created a world in which things turn out all right. Theists have contended that God created the world according to morality. But that doesn’t necessarily work, for there’s plenty in the world—in both the natural and the interpersonal realms—that hurts innocent people, as Kushner stresses in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Things don’t always turn out all right. But, like Kushner and Hare, I’d like to believe there’s a God who empowers us with hope even in dismal circumstances.

Why Am I Mad At Evangelicalism?

There’s an interesting discussion going on under Rachel Held Evans’ post, Why Glenn Beck Isn’t A Big Deal. What really got to me was a comment by Char:

I view both of my sons as even tempered, respectful, mature, and knowledgeable young men. Yet, they have become very angry toward evangelicalism. As a mother, I finally chose to listen trying to understand. I am now convinced that much of their anger is a righteous anger toward the lies and denials of a generation that claims to know everything about “Absolute Truth” and the only right kind of saving faith. Actually, I believe that behind their anger lie deep disappointment, grief, and confusion. I welcome their anger. I am challenged by it. I feel exposed by it. I ask them to keep raising their voice. I do not expect the younger generation to respond to their disappointments and disillusionment with the maturity and wisdom of the elderly. As of now, I want to hear the cry behind their anger and the message it conveys to me. I am convinced that their appeal is not about agreement and disagreement. It goes much deeper than that.

I found her reference to “the maturity and wisdom of the elderly” to be condescending, but perhaps there’s something to that. Maybe older people can handle disappointments and disillusionment with poise and maturity. But I’ve heard and read plenty of rants from people in their fifties and older, so it’s not a universal principle!

Char’s comment reminds me of something that’s been on my mind for quite a while: Why am I so angry at evangelicalism? So I’m not much of a conservative evangelical these days. Do I have to be upset at evangelicals? Can’t I move on and live my spiritual life in peace? What’s keeping me from doing so?

So evangelicals claim to “know everything about ‘Absolute Truth’ and the only right kind of saving faith.” I disagree with them. I disagree with a lot of people, including myself. But why does my disagreement with them have to entail me being angry and ranting against them in my mind on a continual basis?

Is it because I’ve always expected them to be friendly and accepting—since they are Christians—and I’ve been disappointed with them when they’ve not been? That’s part of it. I feel as if certain evangelicals have hurt me, and that there’s some sort of debt that they owe me. But that’s not the whole story, for there have been conservative evangelicals who have accepted me, on some level. But I’ve felt like an outsider to their cliques for the past few years because I don’t see eye-to-eye with them on significant issues. Even if they’re nice people, I don’t agree with the Islamophobia and hard-core dogmatic Republicanism that I observe among many of them. And I haven’t really found a community of more liberal Christians. I don’t fit in among liberals because I feel as if I have to impress them intellectually for them to accept me, and I can’t do that. And so, in certain respects, I feel I’m walking my spiritual journey alone (though there are things that I attend that are helpful to me along the way).

Am I jealous of evangelicals because they appear to have their lives together? I can admire their sense of inner peace, and how they help each other out. But I don’t envy their smug attitude or the bigotry (i.e., Islamophobia) that I’ve noticed among them. I also feel as if I’m not good enough to be around Christians, conservative or liberal. Here are people who reach out to others, who go to other countries to either convert them to their religion, or to help them with their needs. They have a strong sense of mission. I, by contrast, am obsessing over whether others like me, as I try to handle my discomfort among people. I just have a hard time getting out of myself. And I’ve continually found it difficult to make Christianity work for me—for it to be a path that I could comfortably travel. “But it’s not about your comfort”, Christians may tell me. Yeah, but it’s often seemed to me as if other Christians have intuitive knowledge about how to be good Christians—at peace with themselves and with others—whereas I lack this. It’s like I’ve been trying to be a Christian, without a Christian gene.

Am I angry in my present state because I’m rebelling against God? The thing is, I wasn’t happy when I was a conservative evangelical. I felt as if I wasn’t good enough because I was a shy introvert, and I thought God only liked people who could make a difference for Christ among their fellow human beings. I had a hard time shaking certain sins, such as lust and resentment. Consequently, the Bible passages about God not hearing the prayers of those who clung to sin really disturbed me. I found Christianity to be narrow in light of the great big world that was out there. My encounter with people who experienced spiritual transformation or growth outside of an explicit Christian context led me to believe that God could be involved in the lives of non-Christians, not just Christians. But, for some reason, I can’t just accept this premise and move on. My anger at evangelicalism remains.

I’m not sure if finding a particular belief system will make me feel hunky-dory, for I’ve been unhappy and discontent in whatever belief system I have found myself. And I feel alone because others are so, well, different from me. I’m not sure how to navigate that, to be honest.

Why's Christine O'Donnell Get to Me So Much?

Why does Christine O’Donnell get to me so much? Is it because she reminds me of attractive evangelical women who never gave me the time of day? Is it because I admire her as an underdog, and yet I just wish she could give us more than platitudes, and wouldn’t be afraid to take on the media by actually showing up for interviews? Is it because many of the conservative mantras I hear are now making me sick—with their notion that the government should adopt a “You’re on your own” attitude towards people struggling with problems, their judgmental attitude toward those who need help, and their criticism of Obama for apologizing for the United States, as if this country is perfect and other nations have no reason to be upset with us?

Is it because I’ve seen the back-breaking financial effect of America’s health care system on individuals and families, and I admire President Obama for trying to do something about that, even as I resent tea-partiers and Republicans for obstructing his attempts to find a solution?

(Not that Republicans haven’t floated their proposals. They just didn’t do jack about rising health care costs when they were in power! Moreover, I roll my eyes when tea-partiers subsume people’s problems under a discussion about federalism: “the federal government shouldn’t offer unemployment benefits or address rising health care costs because that’s not its constitutional role.” Fine. But is there a way to keep people from falling through the cracks within a strict interpretation of the Tenth Amendment? And will people get help if the tea-partiers’ libertarian ideology ever becomes official U.S. policy?)

Here’s a comment under this article that is not entirely fair, and yet it resonated with me:

Let me get this straight. She rails about non-Christians but dabbled in witchcraft. She is obsessed with “coverting” gays while her sister is a lesbian. She promotes “Family values” but has never been married. Since she tells us that sex, even with yourself, outside marriage is sinful. Can we assume she is still a virgin? LOL. She goes on and on about “hard working Americans” but she has been unemployed for 5 years.

Republicans want to prevent injured people from suing, but she filed a dubious multi-million dollar lawsuit against a former employer. Tea baggers talk about hard work and complain about lazy people on the dole. Yet she owed back taxes, has unpaid student loans, and is in arrears with her mortgage.

Of course, much of this comment is unfair. Christine’s point was that she used to dabble in witchcraft, but doesn’t anymore. Christine can’t help it if her sister violates Christine’s religious beliefs. Christine has said that she made her anti-masturbation comment when she was less spiritually mature than she is now. Christine can believe in family values and still be unmarried: maybe she hasn’t found the right guy yet. And many of us haven’t paid off our student loans.

But I like this comment because conservatives love to preach about responsibility and tell others how to live their lives, even as their own lives are not necessarily in order. They should take the beam out of their own eye before telling us to take the splinter out of ours. Or, at the very least, they should try to be less judgmental and more compassionate. This commenter was responding to Christine’s speech, in which she criticized extending unemployment benefits (during this recession, I might add) and praised the hard-working people who save. I see judgmentalism in her remarks. Maybe I’m being judgmental, but that’s the paradox. I’m not entirely comfortable with the vision conservatives and tea-partiers have for this country, and, in the process, I’m judgmental. I fear that I (and others) will fall through the cracks of their social Darwinian “utopia”, and that scares me.

Plus, she reminds me of attractive evangelical women who don’t give me the time of day! Usually, they’re around my own age, as Christine appears to be. (Well, actually she’s 41, but she looks like she’s my age!) I used to have a crush on Sarah Palin, but I can at least picture Palin being nice to me, as many women in their forties and older are.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finishing Blocher; Price-Controls; II Kings 24

1. I finished Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning just now. In his appendix, he discusses the creationist/evolutionist debate, presenting each side in a fair manner (in my opinion). He finds the young-earth, anti-evolution creationist arguments to be wanting, contending that one can believe in the Bible while accepting the old age of the earth and evolution. Blocher says that we don’t have to take Genesis 1 literally, and that God can use natural processes. Regarding early man, I’m not sure where Blocher stands. He talks some about when man got to the point where he was in the image of God, but he remarks that “we are not quite certain what it is we are looking for when we try to discover the first man largely in terms of incomplete skeletons” (page 231).

I was hoping that this book would focus more on how to reconcile the Bible and evolution, from an evangelical perspective. Maybe there are jewels in it that I missed. Right now, I want to move on to something else. I’m thinking of Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God.

2. In Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lessons, I read about government price-controls, the minimum wage, and unions. Hazlitt criticizes all three as detriments to production, although he does praise unions for promoting skills in workers. Hazlitt’s argument against price-controls is that they create shortages. If a company can’t raise prices so it can earn enough money to produce stuff and make a profit, then it just won’t produce stuff. (I think that’s what he’s saying.) But why can’t the company produce more stuff, sell it at a low price, and earn more money that way? Maybe Hazlitt would say that the high prices are essential for the company to get the structure it needs in order to do that.

3. My weekly quiet time was on II Kings 24. I guess what stood out to me was the oddness of the chapter. God sends enemies against Judah in the days of King Jehoiakim, in order to remove Judah from his sight, on account of the sins of Manasseh. But Judah is not removed from God’s sight during the reign of Jehoiakim, for Jehoiakim is replaced with another king from the line of David, Jehoiachin. Under Jehoiachin, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieges Jerusalem and takes away her palace elite, her mighty men of war, and her smiths and craftsmen. How could Judah do anything militarily now? And yet, Jehoiachin’s successor, Zedekiah, feels confident enough to revolt, under the prompting of God, who’s setting Judah up to fail! Zedekiah may have gotten soldiers from the population of Judah, only they weren’t “mighty men”.

Closing Off Yom Kippur...

The Day of Atonement is drawing to a close. This year, I’ve drawn lessons on it from a variety of sources: my weekly quiet time on II Kings 24, Harold Kushner’s Who Needs God?, Miroslav Volf’s Against the Tide, Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning, Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, and my personal experience.

What I’ve concluded is that there have been times in my life when I have been selfish and have not thought about how I have impacted others. Now, I should work to have compassion and empathy for other people.

But don’t I already know this? Don’t I write about it on my blog? Don’t I remind myself of that when I do the “Church of James Pate’s Brain” at night, as I try to fall asleep?

Yes, but it’s still a battle. There is good and there is evil within me. I need to “yield to that right spirit”, as my Grandpa Pate would say. It’s a daily decision. And God loves me through all of it.

Why fast this time of year? Well, I think it’s a good idea for me to fast sometime—to get closer to God, or to be reminded of my vulnerability, or to learn to appreciate food. Fasting also sets apart this day as special, and gives me an opportunity to think about God and where I am going with life.

I’m debating whether I should eat at an Indian restaurant or eat macaroni at home. I’ll see!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Star Trek Voyager: Living Witness

This is one of my favorite Star Trek Voyager episodes. It's entitled "Living Witness", and it's about how history can function as an ideological narrative that impacts the present. I may show this to students if I ever become a professor.


Volf on Approaches to Scripture; What’s Kushner Leave Us With?

Today, I’m going to take a break from my usual topics and comment on some of my other readings.

1. I read a few good chapters last night in theologian Miroslav Volf’s Against the Tide. In “Way of Life”, Volf talks about pastors who learned about the Bible and theology at school, only to conclude that their education was useless when it came to the needs of their congregants. As a result, they fall back on fundamentalism or pop psychology in their sermons.

I myself struggle to apply my academic learning to the realm of real life. There have been times when it’s not been overly difficult. But there are also a lot of times when it’s hard. Some may say that it’s hard for me because I’m not a conservative Christian and thus don’t have the Holy Spirit guiding me as I read Scripture. But I had difficulty with the “application” part of Bible study even when I was a conservative Christian. For me, there was only so much I could draw from the Bible’s continual message of “God is going to punish you if you don’t repent.” That brings to mind another chapter in Volf’s book, in which he talks about an old man who never had a television, but instead read the Bible. I’d consider that torture! I enjoy studying the Bible, but I’d need to balance the dark revelations of Scripture with the levity of television!

There are many Christians who can apply the Bible, though. Perhaps I should consult their resources more than I do.

In “Teachers, Crusts, and Toppings”, Volf talks about his attempts to reach out to different students in his classes: the students with a heart for God but little theological knowledge, the students who are too conservative and use the Bible to promote sexism, and the students who are pluralistic and view Christianity as one voice among many, with its strengths and weaknesses.

I thought he wouldn’t discuss the type of student that I am—and then he mentioned that third category! His strategy for dealing with people like me is to show that Christianity does not always accord with my stereotypes of it, nor can it be domesticated.

I don’t mind that. But when people assert that Christianity is “radical” and that Jesus wants me to “leave all”, I wish they’d clarify what that means for me at a practical level. Otherwise, their statements are meaningless to me.

2. Lately, I’ve been reading a chapter of Harold Kushner’s Who Needs God? each night before going to sleep. It’s a very thoughtful book. I like what he says about how ritual creates community in tough times, how religion enables us to view life in a positive sense, and how we are each inadequate in terms of our own resources, and so we need God.

But I’m unsatisfied because I’m not entirely clear what Kushner believes God can do for us. As far as I can tell, from this book and also When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Kushner does not believe that God grants our wishes. In the latter book, he basically said that God is unable to do so. So what can God do? Can God do anything to affect the course of human events?

Part of me is attracted to Kushner’s proposal because of the existence of evil and the times that God does not appear to answer our prayers in a way that’s beneficial for us. But I still wonder what I’m left with, if Kushner is right.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Paper (for School) on Halpern’s David’s Secret Demons

I wrote this paper for a class about five years ago. It has its strengths and weaknesses, in my opinion, but I’m posting it so you can read about Baruch Halpern’s rationale for portraying David as a power-hungry killer, one of the ideas that Randall Short is combatting in The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David.

Here it is. I apologize for the poor format (visually-speaking).

David and His Critics, Halpern and His Critics: A Review of David’s Secret Demons


In David’s Secret Demons, Baruch Halpern contends that David was a power-hungry killer. Looking at tensions within I-II Samuel, which he deems Solomonic propaganda, Halpern observes in the pro-David text indications of David’s immorality. Halpern’s portrayal of David will probably not appeal to the faithful, but he is still a maximalist because he believes that David existed. Consequently, he has drawn criticism from minimalists who dispute the biblical narrative’s historicity. Overall, Halpern’s arguments for David’s existence and brutality are quite convincing, except he ignores a crucial minimalist point: the lack of evidence for advanced writing in tenth century Palestine.

Summary of Halpern

Halpern views I-II Samuel as Solomon’s attempt to defend David from certain accusations, and he tries to ascertain from the biblical text what those accusations actually were.[1] Part I, “David in Writing,” is a summary of the content of I-II Samuel. In Part II, “Penetrating the Textual Veil,” Halpern defends a tenth century B.C.E. date for much of I-II Samuel (or its sources)[2] and posits that David was a serial killer. He defends a tenth century date on the basis of I-II Samuel’s language and portrayal of the ancient Near Eastern landscape, settlement patterns, and political situation.[3] Halpern argues that the language reflects the eighth century or earlier, while the geographical and political factors point to a date prior to the late ninth century.[4]

Halpern believes that the content of I-II Samuel originated shortly after David’s death, when Solomon sought to solidify his power by appeasing David’s opponents.[5] Because I-II Samuel tries to distance David from his enemies’ (convenient) deaths, Halpern contends that many saw David as a serial killer.[6] Despite his claim that the truth is somewhere in between the pro- and anti-David views,[7] Halpern consistently sides with the latter. He argues that David’s laments for his dead enemies are propaganda, since David does not even mourn the death of his son in II Samuel 12:22-23.[8] Halpern also refers to examples of David’s bloodthirsty activity in I-II Samuel,[9] and he elicits from the text scenarios of David’s sinister behavior. For example, why did David’s nephew Jonadab remain in the court after his disastrous advice to Amnon (see II Samuel 13:3-5, 32-33)? Halpern speculates that David instigated Amnon’s rape of Tamar in order to eliminate Amnon, a Saulide.[10] Halpern often believes the worst about David, even when he does good. According to Halpern, David spares Shimei and takes in Jonathan’s son Mephibaal to dismiss accusations that he killed Saul’s entire line (see II Samuel 16:7-8).[11] By reading I-II Samuel against the grain of its pro-David ideology, Halpern depicts a David who is cold, calculating, bloodthirsty, and power-hungry.[12]

In Part III, “Defining David’s Empire,” Halpern argues that the extent of the Davidic empire is not as vast in II Samuel 8 as it is in later biblical texts.[13] For example, II Samuel 8:1 says that David subdued Philistines, but it does not explicitly claim that the Philistines brought him tribute, as it does with Moab in II Samuel 8:2.[14] Consequently, despite I Chronicles 18:1's later assertion, David did not conquer Gath, as I Samuel 17:52, II Samuel 15:18-22, and I Kings 2:39-40 confirm; he did, however, defeat a few Philistines.[15] According to Halpern, David wants to give his general audience the impression that he conquered Philistia, but he refrains from literally saying this to avoid mockery from the elite, which knows better.[16] Halpern sees a similar approach in the Assyrian inscriptions of Tiglath-Pilesar I (1115-1077 B.C.E.).[17] For Halpern, an author after the time of Solomon would be free to explicitly exaggerate, since no one would know he is wrong; therefore, the modest claims of II Samuel 8 indicate a tenth century date.[18]

After a further discussion on David’s empire (Part IV), Halpern makes interesting arguments in Part V, “A Life of David.” First, Halpern portrays David as a Gibeonite agent for the Philistines. His reasons are that I-II Samuel addresses David’s service to them, refers to his entry into Jerusalem with 600 Gittites (II Samuel 15:18), and contains hints of the peace with the Philistines that characterized his reign.[19] Second, Halpern states that David introduced the ark of the covenant and created the tribe of Judah. Halpern observes in the biblical text that the ark remained in the Gibeonite town of Qiryath Yearim until David retrieved it (I Samuel 6:21-7:1), yet Saul attacked the Gibeonites (II Samuel 21). For Halpern, this would be strange if Saul deemed the ark sacred.[20] He also argues that David created the tribe of Judah, which is not in the earliest tribal list (Judges 5) and was sparsely settled in Iron I.[21] Third, Halpern says that the biblical text’s reference to Absalom’s popularity (e.g., II Samuel 15) shows there was widespread dissatisfaction with David’s oppressive, pro-Philistine regime.[22] Halpern also notes that David was able to consolidate his dominion over Israel by crushing Absalom’s revolt, meaning he probably instigated it.[23] Fourth, Halpern denies that Solomon was David’s son. Why, he asks, would Solomon’s great-grandfather Ahithophel join Absalom if he thought Solomon could be king?[24] For Halpern, Bathsheba designed the story in II Samuel 11 to present Solomon as David’s (not Uriah’s) son, to exalt him as a new beginning after David’s punishment, and to exact revenge on David for the deaths of her grandfather and husband.[25]

Halpern’s Critics

Paul Ash and John Van Seters offer effective critiques of David’s Secret Demons. In his review, Ash regurgitates some common minimalist arguments against the United Monarchy, yet they pose a strong challenge to Halpern’s tenth century date for I-II Samuel. Ash states that current archaeological evidence does not present the tenth century as a time when “monumental inscriptions, administrative texts, [and] belles lettres...were being produced in ancient Israel.”[26] Rather, almost all excavated tenth century “texts” are names found on potsherds, which Ash calls “rudimentary.”[27] Therefore, Ash disputes that tenth century Israelites were producing sophisticated documents like the sources for I-II Samuel.[28] He disagrees with Halpern’s argument that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” for “[w]ritten remains have been found in too many sites in ancient Palestine and from too many periods to support the conclusion that we simply have not yet found them for tenth century Israel.”[29] Moreover, unlike Halpern, Ash denies that the tenth century is the only possible context for I-II Samuel’s composition, for the Davidic dynasty had supporters and critics throughout its existence.[30] Ash speculates that northern Israelites could have come to Judah after the fall of the northern kingdom (721 B.C.E.) with anti-David traditions, prompting someone to write I-II Samuel to answer their concerns.[31]

Like Ash, Van Seters appeals to common minimalist arguments. For example, contra Halpern, Van Seters does not believe that the six-chambered gates at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer are from the tenth century, for Jerusalem at that time lacks such monumental architecture. He doubts that provincial centers would be grander than the capitol.[32] Van Seters also disputes that Tiglath-Pilesar I’s inscriptions influenced II Samuel 8. His reasons are that the earliest inscriptions of the Levant (ninth century B.C.E.) follow the Hittite rather than the Assyrian style, that no evidence indicates the tenth century Israelite court was advanced enough to understand a distant foreign language, and that II Samuel 8's use of the third person corresponds more with the Babylonian Chronicle (seventh-second centuries B.C.E.) than Assyrian inscriptions, which use the first person.[33] Moreover, he denies that I-II Samuel was a Solomonic apology, for Nathan in II Samuel 12:10 tells David that the sword will never leave his house. Van Seters asks why Solomon would curse his own dynasty.[34] Elsewhere, Van Seters dates I-II Samuel’s stories on David’s rise and reign to Israel’s post-exilic period, after Dtr. He believes that the stories were incorporated into Dtr rather than vice versa because Dtr treats David as the exemplar king. For Van Seters, Dtr would have omitted embarrassing details of the court history, as the Chronicler did.[35] Van Seters thinks that the post-exilic period, with its conflicting views on messianism, provides a likely context for much of I-II Samuel.[36]

Analysis and Evaluation

There are at least three significant issues pertaining to David’s Secret Demons: Halpern’s use of the Bible, I-II Samuel’s date, and inscriptional influences on II Samuel 8. In his approach to the Bible, Halpern assumes that I-II Samuel is pro-David propaganda, which depicts him as one who loved his Israelite enemies and opposed the Philistines. Halpern treats most of the contrary details in I-II Samuel as historically accurate.[37] His questions are legitimate. If David were a menace to the Philistines, why did he enter Jerusalem with 600 Gittites?[38] If he did not even lament his son’s death, did he really mourn for his enemies? I have a question: Why did David order Solomon to kill repentant Shimei (I Kings 2:8-9; cp. II Samuel 19:16-23)? Halpern posits wild scenarios, as when he argues that David instigated Tamar’s rape to eliminate Amnon. David may have simply been passive when he retained Jonadab in the court, plus Jonadab did not actually tell Amnon to rape Tamar and then reject her (II Samuel 13:5). Despite his excesses, Halpern’s questions most often buttress his arguments, and his reading makes interesting connections that are not immediately apparent (e.g., Ahithophel as Solomon’s great-grandfather). Regarding I-II Samuel’s date, Halpern argues effectively that it reflects the tenth century, yet his minimalist detractors raise valid concerns. His best support for a tenth century date is that David’s kingdom is smaller in I-II Samuel[39] than in other biblical writings. The portrayal of David’s kingdom as limited most likely occurred in the tenth century, when a literal exaggeration of his accomplishments would not have been credible. Some may argue that such a concept was invented after David’s time[40] to detract from his glory, yet it appears in pro-David sections, which would exaggerate if they could.[41] While this is a strong argument for a tenth century date, minimalists do well to observe that there is little evidence for advanced writing in the tenth century.[42] Moreover, Van Seters’ citation of II Samuel 12:10 deserves response, since it appears to undermine I-II Samuel as Solomonic propaganda. II Samuel 12:10 may refer to a curse on David’s immediate household rather than his dynasty (e.g.,Genesis 7:1;12:1), however, for vv 11-12 discuss punishments that occur in his lifetime. Regarding Van Seters’ belief that Dtr would have omitted David’s embarrassing court history, as did the Chronicler, he should not assume that the two authors would have behaved in the same way. The Deuteronomist may have believed that the court history taught important values to the exiles, since it contains David’s repentance, acceptance of his punishment, and trust in God through difficulty.

Van Seters seeks to refute Halpern’s argument that Tiglath-Pilesar I’s inscriptions influenced II Samuel 8. Halpern has also received criticism on this point by Steven Holloway, who argues that exaggeration and self-glorification characterize inscriptions from numerous periods, and that those of Tiglath-Pilesar I are rather modest in comparison.[43] According to Holloway, Halpern emphasizes Tiglath-Pilesar I because “a date immediately prior to the traditional reign of biblical David speciously suggests that the scribes of the [Davidic] period could have created a royal inscription under contemporary Mesopotamian influence.”[44] Halpern wants to show that II Samuel 8 was a Davidic royal inscription,[45] perhaps to bolster David’s historicity. Van Seter’s arguments against inscriptional influence are sometimes strong, and sometimes weak. His claim that II Samuel 8's use of the third person disqualifies it from being an inscription is unconvincing, for there are Egyptian inscriptions in the third person,[46] and these could have influenced David’s court through trade or diplomatic alliances. Van Seters does well, however, to point out the general lack of evidence for advanced writing in tenth century Palestine, an obstacle that Halpern does not really address.[47] Halpern unnecessarily focuses on Tiglath-Pilesar I to the exclusion of other possible parallels, and he neglects the most important challenge to his position: lack of evidence for advanced tenth century writing.


An evaluation of Halpern and his critics reveals a conundrum. On one hand, I-II Samuel seems to reflect the tenth century, in language, content, and theme. The modest borders of II Samuel 8 make most sense within a tenth century setting, and I-II Samuel appears to defend David from the accusations of contemporaries. On the other hand, there is no evidence that advanced writing existed in the tenth century, making a literary product like I-II Samuel unlikely for that time. Perhaps the content of I-II Samuel existed as oral tradition during the tenth century. If so, then the oral tradition must have been passed down quite reliably for the written document to reflect the tenth century so well.

[1]Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001) xv.

[2]Halpern 57.

[3]Halpern 69.

[4]Halpern 69. Gath, for example, was only a minor site in the late ninth century and afterwards, yet it appears to be major in the narrative of I-II Samuel.

[5]Halpern 99.

[6]Halpern 91,92, 96.

[7]Halpern xvi.

[8]Halpern 96.

[9]See examples in Halpern 76, 93, 96.

[10]Halpern 87. For Amnon’s descent, see II Samuel 12:8, I Samuel 14:50, and II Samuel 3:2.

[11]Halpern 85-87.

[12]Halpern 101.

[13]Halpern 174-177, 430. Examples are P (seventh century B.C.E.) and I Chronicles (fourth century B.C.E.).

[14]Halpern 154.

[15]Halpern 149-150, 154. Later, Halpern says that David was an agent of the Philistines. He states, however, that the Philistines were not monolithic. See Halpern 322-333.

[16]Halpern 130.

[17]Halpern 126.

[18]Halpern 174-177, 430.

[19]Halpern 274, 281, 288. Please see Halpern 332 for Halpern’s arguments that David was a Gibeonite. According to Halpern, the Philistine border at the end of David’s reign remained where it had been in II Samuel 5 (Gezer), there are no recorded skirmishes between David and Philistine city-states when he ruled, and I Kings 2 indicates peaceful relations between Israel and Gath (281).

[20]Halpern 290-291.

[21]Halpern 272.

[22]Halpern 363-367.

[23]Halpern 380.

[24]Halpern 395-402. For Ahithophel as Solomon’s great-grandfather, see II Samuel 11:3; 23:34.

[25]Halpern 402-406. Solomon ascended the throne with the help of David’s foreign mercenary corps, who were excluded from Adonijah’s banquet (I Kings 1:38, 44).

[26]Paul S. Ash, “Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King,” Review of Biblical Literature (9/2002) 3.

[27]Ash 3.

[28]Ash 4.

[29]Ash 4.

[30]Ash 5.

[31]Ash 5.

[32]John Van Seters, “David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. By Baruch Halpern,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.3 (2002) 610.

[33]Van Seters 610-611.

[34]Van Seters 611.

[35]John Van Seters, In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997) 278.

[36]Van Seters, Search 287, 289.

[37]This statement deserves nuance. Halpern believes that II Samuel 11-12 presents David as morally deficient, yet he does not accept its historicity. He does point to II Samuel 12:11 to argue that David does not mourn death, calling into question his laments for his enemies (Halpern 96). Halpern probably believes that 12:11 is historical in that it presents David’s general attitude, not in the sense that he actually lost a son with Bathsheba. Moreover, Halpern says that Bathsheba wanted to exact revenge on David, implying that II Samuel 11-12 has some anti-David motivations. For Halpern, the story’s aims are to present Solomon as David’s son and to give Bathsheba the last word. I-II Samuel as a whole, however, wants to legitimize the Davidic dynasty of which Solomon is part, making it pro-David propaganda, despite the few exceptions.

[38]One could argue that David befriended some Philistines after he fled to them from Saul’s wrath, meaning the 600 Gittites do not make him a Philistine agent. See David M. Howard, Jr., “David,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. II, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 42. Halpern says, however, that I Samuel does not mention any followers of David from Saul’s court, indicating David probably was not there (Halpern 283). Jonathan may be an exception, but he could be mentioned for propaganda purposes, whereas reference to less important people would strengthen the possibility that David was in the court. For Halpern, Saul may not have even pursued David (Halpern 286).

[39]This is a slight generalization, for Halpern shows how the exaggeration of David’s empire begins in II Samuel (Halpern 430). Still, I-II Samuel mostly presents David’s empire as modest.

[40]By opponents of David before the exile, or by anti-messianists after it.

[41]II Samuel 8, for example, still tries to present David as a great conqueror.

[42]People in the tenth century may have written economic records on plaster that no longer survives, indicating that writing beyond the rudimentary level could have existed (Professor Nili Fox lecture–October 19, 2005). Still, if tenth century Israel contained a United Monarchy with such writing ability, why does it lack monumental inscriptions, administrative ostraca, and inscribed seals, which are signs of advanced public administration? See According to this article, Israel Finkelstein says such signs occur in ninth century Palestine.

[43]Steven W. Holloway, “Use of Assyriology in Chronological Apologetics in David’s Secret Demons,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 17/2 (2003) 258, 260.

[44]Holloway 260.

[45]Halpern 141.

[46]See the Gebel Barkal Stela of Thutmose III (1479-1425 B.C.E.), the Memphis and Karnak Stelae of Amenhotep II (1427-1400 B.C.E.), and Raamses II on the Battle of Qadesh (1275). William Hallo, ed., The Context of Scripture, volume II (New York: Brill, 1997-2002).

[47]Halpern offers reasons that tenth century Israelite inscriptions have not been found (Halpern 208), but he does not address the absence of advanced writing in general.

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