Saturday, March 31, 2012

Connie Marshner, Part 2

For this my final post of Women's History Month 2012, I will look at something that Susan Faludi says about conservative activist Connie Marshner on page 243 of her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

"In the winter of 1974, [Connie] discovered she was pregnant. 'I assumed I would give it [the job] all up, but then we were dirt poor so I didn't.' [Her husband] Bill was in graduate school and she had no maternity medical benefits; her emergency delivery and seven-day hospital stay nearly wiped out their savings. In 1976, she was pregnant again. By then, she was holding down two jobs----as a research consultant for the Heritage Foundation and a field coordinator for the Committee for Survival of a Free Congress. And she had just accepted a publisher's advance to write a book on education. Bill, meanwhile, was enrolled in a divinity graduate program in Texas. Rather than move west and sacrifice her work, Marshner stayed on in Washington and sent her one-year-old son to her mother's house in Baltimore. In the final months of the pregnancy she rejoined her family in Texas, so that her husband could handle the child care and cooking----'thank goodness for Bill'----while she finished the book, writing into the night. 'I was typing the final draft when I went into labor,' she recalls."

It's tempting to assume that conservatives have no idea about the problems that lower and even middle income people face: women having to bring in a paycheck to support their family, and the threat of having one's savings wiped out by medical bills. That may be true with many conservatives, but there certainly are exceptions, as you can see in the passage above. That said, why would Connie Marshner not support the government making things easier on families that are in the same predicament that hers was at some point----by helping them with child care, housing, and health care? Fortunately, she had extended family that could help her. But what about people who do not have that kind of extended family support? Perhaps Connie Marshner believes that the government makes things worse, or she supports conservative solutions to problems such as the high cost of health care. One reason why I switched from Republican to Democrat, however, was that Republicans did not appear to me to be all that concerned about pushing for their proposals to reform health care. The Democrats, by contrast, strike me as more concerned about the issue.

Psalm 70

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 70. I have three items:

1. Psalm 70 is similar to Psalm 40:13-17, only Psalm 70 uses "God" in some places where Psalm 40:13-17 has the tetragrammaton (YHVH). Consequently, there is a view within biblical scholarship that Psalm 70 is an Elohist Psalm, perhaps an Elohist adaptation of Psalm 40:13-17. But I don't think that is necessarily the case, for the tetragrammaton shows up in Psalm 70.

Why was part of Psalm 40:13-17 made into an independent Psalm? Keil-Delitzsch speculate that a fragment of Psalm 40 "accidentally came to have an independent existence." The Nelson Study Bible holds that there was a more deliberate process, however, for it states that "The description of the poor and needy was such a necessary element in the encouragement of people enduring troubles that this section was selected for individual use as a freestanding poem." And then evangelist Jimmy Swaggart says that Psalm 40:13-17 is about the sufferings of Christ, whereas Psalm 70 concerns Israel crying out to God for speedy deliverance during the Great Tribulation. Swaggart, like the rabbis, appears to seek a deep theological reason for repetition in the Bible.

2. Marvin Tate believes that Psalm 70 has a post-exilic origin. Psalm 70 refers to people who seek God, love God's salvation, and view themselves as poor and needy. For Tate, that fits the time of post-exilic factionalism, of the sort that we see in Isaiah 56-66, in which groups regarding themselves as true seekers of the LORD and seekers of God's presence feel marginalized by the religious establishment. That could be, but I am curious as to how a marginalized and poor group can afford to write a Psalm, since literary writing in the ancient world was more of an elite enterprise due (among other factors) to its costliness. Perhaps the community had elite connections or sponsors who could support its scribes.

The Midrash on the Psalms presents the view that Psalm 70:2-3 is about God's punishment of those who are envious of and angry towards the Psalmist. In Psalm 70:2-3, the Psalmist hopes that those desiring his hurt will be shamed, confounded, turned back, and confused. But is not the Psalmist's attitude similar to the attitude of his enemies: he desires the hurt of his opponents?

There are a number of cases in which Augustine says that passages in which the Psalmist appears to desire the hurt of his enemies are misinterpreted: that the Psalmist does not desire his enemies' hurt, but rather is saying what will happen to them: they will be punished. This is because Augustine regards a number of the Psalms to be the words of Christ himself, and Christ on the cross did not desire for hurt to befall his enemies. Rather, Jesus asked for God to forgive his enemies, for they knew not what they were doing (Luke 23:34). But Augustine cannot make that claim regarding Psalm 70:2-3, for the Septuagint for that passage uses the optative for the verbs, and an optative expresses a wish rather than simply saying what will happen.

In any case, once we get away from the political factionalism and "us vs. them", Psalm 70 does teach me the value of seeking God and God's presence, loving God's salvation, and avoiding destructive envy and anger.

3. The superscription says that this Psalm is to bring to remembrance. Could this be why this Psalm repeats much of Psalm 40:13-17: because we need to be reminded of Psalm 40:13-17's content? Perhaps, but "le-hazkir" ("to cause to remember") does not always appear in Psalms that repeat content from elsewhere in the Psalms, for it is in the superscription to Psalm 38, and that does not repeat what is elsewhere in the Book of Psalms.

I liked what Rashi had to say about Psalm 70's superscription, as he drew from the Midrash on the Psalms: that Psalm 70 is reminding the Jews about God after the restoration of Zion that the end of Psalm 69 talks about. The flock and the sheepcote have been restored, Rashi says, but Israel should not forget the shepherd, namely, God. This makes me think about God's desire for a relationship with us, and God's hope that we acknowledge him and not just his gifts, and that we thank him for those gifts.

I guess my main problem with Rashi's interpretation is that it does not appear to fit Psalm 70 as a whole, for, there, the Psalmist is asking God to deliver him speedily from his enemies, rather than trying to remember God after restoration has already taken place. Still, if we bring into the equation Tate's view that Psalm 70 reflects post-exilic factionalism, Rashi's interpretation might work. Israel has been restored, and there is a marginalized community that feels that it is seeking God and desiring God's presence, whereas the religious establishment is not sufficiently doing so. This marginalized community prides itself on remembering and reminding people of the shepherd, God, since it believes that so much of post-exilic Israel has forgotten God.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Connie Marshner

Connie Marshner is a conservative figure whom Susan Faludi discusses in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. In this post, I'll talk about the times when I have come across that name.
The first time that I came across the name "Connie Marshner" was when I was in high school. I had an interest in political conservatism, and I was reading a book from my high school library: Alan Crawford's Thunder on the Right: The "New Right" and the Politics of Resentment. Crawford referred to Connie Marshner, a lady who (according to Crawford) became a conservative because she was rebelling against her liberal Catholic parents. According to Crawford, Marshner wrote a widely-circulated critique of Walter Mondale's bill for federally-funded child care in the 1970s. I could identify with Crawford's picture of Marshner for two reasons. First of all, one reason that I was a conservative Republican was that I was rebelling against my parents and seeking my own identity. My parents were not exactly die-hard liberals, for they had conservative ideas. But my Mom was pro-choice on the abortion issue, and my Dad was so anti-establishment that he distrusted the Republicans and the institutions that they supported, not just the Democrats. In reaction to that, I was a gun-ho right-wing Republican. Second, I could identify with Marshner writing a critique of federally-funded child care, for a way that I expressed my conservatism in my high school days was through my writing: I wrote letters to the editor, and I also wrote a monthly newsletter offering a right-wing perspective on issues. I didn't become prominent like Marshner through my writing, but it was something that I enjoyed doing!
The second time that I came across the name "Connie Marshner" was when I was getting my M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School. I had a break from my schoolwork, and I was spending that time reading William Martin's excellent book With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. One of Martin's chapters was about the White House Conference on Families during the Carter years. Martin talked about how Connie Marshner led a conservative faction at that conference, a faction that defined the family as nuclear and opposed abortion, homosexuality, and a greater domestic role for the federal government. I did not realize at the time that this lady was the same person in Alan Crawford's book, but Martin's discussion of the White House Conference on Families influenced me to start re-evaluating my right-wing conservatism (which was a long process that did not occur overnight, but Martin's discussion was definitely a seed). Martin referred to a philosophical difference between Marshner and John Carr, the executive director of the conference. Marshner said that feeding the poor should be done by individuals and charities rather than the federal government, whereas Carr thought that private charities were not sufficient to tackle large societal problems. I'll quote what Carr said, which is on pages 187-188 of Martin's book:
"What we've got in family policy and so many other areas is one group that says what we really need are better values----more personal responsibility, more time with our kids; children need to stop having children; we need more sexual restraint; we need good old-fashioned morality. Then another group says that what we really need are better policies----better jobs that pay a living wage, better child care, better health care, less homelessness and hunger. The fact is that we need both better values and better policies. We need policies that reflect our best values. Churches can't feed every hungry person in America. I go down to the soup kitchen and I bring my kids. I think that's part of what I'm called to do as a believer, but as a society we have got to do something about millions of hungry kids, and that's not only by making lasagna and bringing it down to the soup kitchen. It's also by deciding what kind of policies, what kind of budget priorities we're going to have, what kind of supports we're going to give families."
Carr criticized many of the right-wing delegates for encouraging polarization rather than seeking common ground, whereas Marshner believed that the conference was pushing an extreme left-wing agenda, an agenda that included expansion of the federal bureaucracy, which entailed inflation (as a result of more government spending), higher taxes, and the government supplanting the role of the family to provide for its own needs (in such areas as child care, housing, and health care); a guaranteed annual income and guaranteed jobs; and support for abortion-on-demand, gay rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment. What surprised me was that Carr actually characterized Dr. James Dobson as a voice of moderation at the conference, for, although Dobson wrote a minority report, he also sought to build bridges and find common ground, as well as declined to walk out of the conference with other conservative delegates.
Reading about Connie Marshner's stand at the White House Conference on Families was not the same as watching it on television! Years later, I watched the television documentary With God on Our Side, which was related to Martin's book. Although my reaction to what Marshner says changes whenever I watch the episode about the White House Conference on Families (from thunderous applause, to annoyance that she is focusing on trivialities when there are poor families that need help, to seeing her point-of-view as valid), I've had to admire her because she is bold, articulate, attractive, stands up to the powerful, etc. I especially like the scene of the documentary in which she is on the Today Show and she says to Jim Guy Tucker (who was the chair of the conference and was an Arkansas congressman at the time), "Come now, Jim Guy, let's not con the audience." When I saw her on TV, I did not remember that she was the same person as the lady in Martin's book. But I was thinking to myself, "Who is SHE? And why don't I see her on TV nowadays?"
It turned out that, for years, she was raising her family at home, even as she was writing books. But it's been interesting what I've found whenever I've searched her name on the Internet. I've found some articles that she has written, such as one against expanding S-CHIP, and another arguing (if I recall correctly) that contraception is not effective in protecting teens against certain STDs. Although there is not a wikipedia article about Connie, there is one about her theologian husband, William. I was surprised to read the late conservative activist and Connie's mentor, Paul Weyrich, saying that Connie was shy and learned to come out of her shell (which I liked because I myself am shy). And I learned that Connie has a business nowadays, Connie Marshner and Associates, which helps people in fund-raising and organizational development. On her web site, she tells potential clients about her network, which she gained as a leader of the religious right.
Tomorrow, I'll refer to something about Connie Marshner that I learned from Susan Faludi's Backlash.

Meier on the Essenes, Samaritans, Scribes, and Herodians

For my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I'll use as my launch-pad some of what Meier says on page 567, where Meier summarizes what he considers to be Jesus' interaction (or lack thereof) with certain Jewish movements.

Regarding the Essenes, Meier sees no evidence that Jesus interacted with them, though he is open to the possibility that Jesus distinguished his own teachings on the law from theirs. Meier's discussion of the Essenes had interesting material. One point Meier made was that the Qumran Essenes waited for an eschatological Temple to supplant the current Jerusalem Temple, which they deemed to be corrupt, on account of its different calendar. In the meantime, they treated the Qumran community as a sort of Temple in itself, in which members worshiped with angels; consequently, some of them were celibate (since the Torah sought to separate sexuality from the sanctuary), and they had strict rules on (say) not defecating on the Sabbath. Another motivation for such rules, according to Meier, was probably that the Qumranites regarded themselves as part of a holy army, and avoiding sex was part of being a soldier of God. Meier also demonstrates that some Essenes were not celibate, and that some were more integrated into mainstream society than other Essenes. And Meier refers to the economic egalitarianism within Essene communities, as they attempted to avoid the concentration of wealth and power that was a bane to all sorts of societies, including the Judean one.

On the Samaritans, Meier states that it's multiply attested that Jesus had a benign stance towards this maligned group. I did not get whom exactly Meier believes that the Samaritans were, but he does appear to dismiss what he considers to be myths concerning them. First of all, Meier has issues with II Kings 17's claim that the Samaritans were half-Israelites who resulted from the foreigners whom the Assyrians imported into Northern Israel mating with the remaining Israelites. Meier contends that most Northern Israelites remained in Northern Israel rather than being exiled, and he states that it was primarily the small elite that had the foreigners. Second, Meier does not think that Samaritans were the ones who challenged Ezra and Nehemiah. These enemies' headquarters had no association with Gerizim, the mountain that the Samaritans revered. Third, Meier appears to be skeptical that there was a rift between the Samaritans and the Judeans, for that implies that the two were united at one point. For Meier, the Samaritans and the Judeans drew from a common ancient Israelite religion, but he must think that their situations led them onto separate paths, not that there was a dramatic rift.

On the scribes, Meier says that the Pharisees and the priests had them. (On pages 550-551, Meier briefly yet aptly discusses the development of scribalism: that scribalism developed with urbanization, tax-collection, and militarization, as scribes were needed to record information.) But Meier believed that the portrayal in the Gospels of the scribes as Jesus' opponents reflects "later theological debates, not the historical record" (page 567).

Regarding the Herodians, Meier defines them as members of Herod's court and as supporters of Herod. He speculates that their problem with Jesus was the fear that he could become a king or a Messianic pretender, for they hoped for Herod to be king.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Open-Ended on Judging

I enjoyed my church's Bible study last night.  We're going through Margaret Feinberg's Scouting the Divine: Searching for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey

Something that I appreciate about Feinberg's curriculum is that its questions are truly open-ended.  For instance, one question in our workbook was whether we think that Jesus in Matthew 7 was contradicting himself when he told us not to judge, right before he said that we know whether prophets are true or false by their fruits.  Not surprisingly, most of the people there did not believe that there was a contradiction.  One lady said that we are to be discerning but not judgmental, and her point may have been that we should be careful about whom we trust and yet we shouldn't be condemning people or presuming to know everything about them. 

I wouldn't be surprised if I'd be a little out of place in the group were I to say that Jesus did contradict himself.  But what impressed me was that, as far as I could see (and I have not seen the Teacher's manual), Margaret Feinberg did not provide us with some canned attempt to forcefully harmonize the passages.  Rather, she let us come up with an answer.  She did not tell us what to think, but she encouraged us to think I had a different impression when I went through a Kay Arthur Bible study, for I felt that I was being told what to think in that case. 

Nancy Barrett, "Poverty, Welfare, and Comparable Worth"

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly edited a 1984 book entitled Equal Pay for UNequal Work: A Conference on Comparable Worth. I do not plan on reading the entire book right now, but I may do that for a future Women's History Month (since what I have read so far has been good, even when I disagree). Yet, I have been blogging about select presentations within it.

What intrigued me as I was looking through the book last night was that Schlafly included three presentations that defended comparable worth----a policy that mandates some form of pay equity between men and women. Most of the presentations in the book are by conservatives who are critical of the policy----who argue that there are legitimate reasons for pay inequity that have nothing to do with discrimination, that comparable worth results in equal pay for unequal work (since women have different jobs from men), or that comparable worth would impose a costly burden on businesses. But three speakers went to Phyllis Schlafly's conference and actually defended comparable worth in the presence of an audience of conservatives. The pro-comparable worth presentation that I read was by Nancy Barrett, an economist at American University who received her Ph.D. in economics at Harvard and has worked for the U.S. Department of Labor and the Urban Institute.

Barrett interacts with presentations that appear later in the book, for the book is organized topically rather than according to the order of the presentations as they occurred at the conference. I read and blogged about some of the presentations that she discusses, such as the ones by George Gilder and Michael Levin. I especially appreciated that Barrett was trying to find common ground with conservatives, as she acknowledged that the conservative presenters raised valid concerns about comparable worth. She did this in two ways.

First of all, Barrett acknowledged that George Gilder had valid concerns about welfare, and she affirmed that getting people off of welfare was important. But she did not think that cutting benefits really solved anything. After all, the government under Reagan cut benefits and more people then went on welfare, with the result that more money was being spent on it. Barrett argues that comparable worth----paying women more----can help single mothers to support their families and thus keep them off welfare. She contends that a reason that men are paid more than women (as at hospitals, where men tree-trimmers are paid more than women nurses) is that men are seen as household providers. But Barrett contends that employers should remember that women, too, are providing for their families. Barrett also expresses openness to a guaranteed national income (a negative income tax), which was proposed, not by some wild-eyed liberal, but by conservative economist Milton Friedman.

Second, Barrett acknowledges the concern that comparable worth could burden businesses, and she agrees that it would be wrong to make businesses swallow the cost. One solution she has is to make the women's jobs more productive, or to give women more productive jobs. Barrett maintains that, with the right equipment and technology, women can be just as productive as men. Barrett notes that union firms are higher in productivity than non-union firms because firms with unions "are forced to economize on labor and they do it by getting more capital equipment and organizing work more efficiently" (page 31). That, even though unions get high pay for the workers. For Barrett, more production will take care of whatever cost comparable worth imposes. Another solution Barrett has is that "firms that do raise pay for 'disadvantaged occupations' get special tax incentives or tax credits for capital equipment that will raise the productivity of these workers" (page 32).

It would be nice if Barrett's presentation had some influence on the conservatives at the conference. When I read Judith Finn of Eagle Forum's overview of the conference, however, I was not overly optimistic, for Finn refers to Barrett to show that advocates for comparable worth vacillate between saying that women should be paid the same as men because they make as much of a contribution to the business and saying that women should be paid the same due to social justice, since women raise families. While Finn acknowledges that there was a time when men were given job preference because they were the providers, she does not appear to absorb Barrett's points, but rather appeals to them to highlight inconsistencies in the arguments of comparable worth supporters.

I liked Barrett's presentation, though.

Meier on the Sadducees

For my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I'll talk about some of what Meier says concerning the Sadducees.

1. Meier spends a lot of time dispelling or modifying certain ideas about the Sadducees. Did the Sadducees accept only the written Torah as Scripture, while rejecting the other parts of the Hebrew Bible and ancestral tradition? Did the Sadducees dismiss the concept of divine providence, as Josephus relates?

For the first question, Meier dispels and modifies some stuff. Meier sees no evidence that the Sadducees dismissed all of the Hebrew Bible except for the Torah. But, in Mark 12, did not the Sadducees appeal to the Torah to argue that there is no resurrection? And did not Jesus respond to them with his own appeal to the Torah, showing that he was meeting the Sadducees on their own grounds, rather than appealing to the prophets, whom they allegedly did not accept? And would not accepting the other parts of the Bible have compelled the Sadducees to believe in the resurrection, since Daniel 12 has such a concept?

Meier does not think that any of this demonstrates that the Sadducees rejected all of the Hebrew Bible except for the Torah. First of all, the Sadducees and Jesus appealed to the Torah because that was the most important document in Judaism. Second, elements of Judaism that accepted the resurrection usually did not refer to Daniel 12 for support, and they even appealed to the Torah (as did the rabbis). And third, Daniel 12 was written "only a decade or two before the Sadducees and Pharisees began to crystallize as parties" (page 406). The Sadducees accepted the older view----that people after death were shadows in Sheol (the underworld)----whereas the Pharisees embraced the newer doctrine of resurrection.

While Meier agrees that the Sadducees technically were Sola Scriptura, he does not think that they were literalistic and wooden in their interpretation of the Torah. After all, we know from the Mishnah that the Sadducees had halakhot, which do not coincide with a literal reading of the written Torah. For Meier, the Sadducees may have believed that they were faithful to the true sense of the Scripture, the same way that Christian fundamentalists think this about their own interaction with the Bible, even though their interpretations of Scripture are loose at times and tend to project their own ideologies onto the text. But the Sadducees had their own tradition of interpretation. And, as an aside, contrary to the stereotype that the Pharisees were more lenient than the Sadducees, there are instances in which the halakhot of the Sadducees are actually more lenient.

Regarding Josephus' claim that the Sadducees did not believe in divine providence, Meier does not buy this, for the Sadducees accepted the Torah, which told stories about divine providence, plus their very activity as priests in the Temple was predicated on the notion that God has an active interest and participation in the affairs of Israel. Why else would priests be trying to appease God, if not to get him to act on Israel's behalf? For Meier, Josephus was trying to fit different Jewish groups within neat philosophical schools, for the issue of fate and free will was prominent in Greek philosophy. Consequently, as Josephus exaggerated something about the Essenes to portray them as complete fatalists, he also exaggerated a tendency about the Sadducees. The Sadducees acknowledged "human initiative, actions, and obligations" (page 411), for they ran the Temple and Judean society when the Romans were ruling directly. According to Meier, Josephus exaggerated that tendency in order to present the Sadducees as people who believed primarily in human initiative, to the point that they excluded divine intervention.

2. I appreciated Meier's discussion of Mark 12, in which Jesus discusses the resurrection from the dead with Sadducees. Jesus in Mark 12 defends the resurrection through an appeal to Exodus 3:6, in which God claims to be the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Jesus says that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, and so Exodus 3:6 indicates that the patriarchs had to have some existence beyond the grave. Moreover, in response to the Sadducees' question of whom a resurrected woman would marry if she had a bunch of husbands on account of Levirate marriage, Jesus denies that there will be marriage in the resurrection, for people will be like angels.

First of all, Meier's discussion of angels was interesting to me because I have heard people appeal to Jesus' discussion with the Sadducees to argue that the sons of God who slept with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 were human beings (i.e., the sons of Seth), not angels. After all, if angels cannot marry, presumably because they lack sexual capacity, doesn't that indicate that the sons of God in Genesis 6 could not have been angels? By appealing to I Enoch, however, Meier demonstrates that there was a belief that the angels did have sexual capability, but that God wanted for them to remain celibate. That strikes me as rather cruel, to tell you the truth, but if that was an ancient belief, then that was an ancient belief!

Second, Meier presents information indicating that Jesus had biblical support for his belief that God was not the God of the dead but of the living. On page 429, Meier states: "Apart from a few late apocalyptic passages, the Jewish Scriptures regularly assert that the one true God has no relationship with the dead, who are, by definition, unclean and defiling. It is a source of lament in the OT that death means the end of one's relationship with God (see, e.g., Isa 38:18-19; Pss 6:6; 30:8-10; 88:4-12)."

Third, Meier argues that Jesus historically had this interaction with the Sadducees. Meier thinks that it fits the criterion of dissimilarity, which states that things about Jesus that are discontinuous from his Jewish context and what the early church taught are probably from Jesus himself. For Meier, Jesus in Mark 12 is discontinuous from Second Temple Judaism because he appealed to Exodus 3:6 to defend the resurrection, something that Second Temple Judaism did not do. And Jesus is discontinuous with the early church because he justifies the resurrection with Exodus 3:6, whereas the early church appealed to Jesus' resurrection as the basis for the resurrection from the dead. Consequently, Meier does not believe that the early church invented the story in Mark 12 about Jesus' interaction with the Sadducees. Meier also appeals to the significant place of the resurrection in Jesus' teaching, as it appears in different sources. That means that Jesus' belief in a resurrection is supported by multiple attestation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part I

I watched Atlas Shrugged, Part I last night.  Although the movie got bad reviews, and there is talk that Atlas Shrugged, Part II will get a new cast, I decided to watch the movie for three reasons.

First, I absolutely love the trailer for the movie----its music, its drama, its powerful characters, its sense of mystery, and its reference to Ayn Rand.  Second, I watched some clips of the movie on YouTube (see, for example, here and here), some of which accompanied comments by a consultant to the movie about how the scenes illustrate Rand's philosophy (see here, here, and here).  What I saw wasn't that bad.  The acting was all right, I guess, or at least it was on the same level as the acting in other movies that I have seen.  Plus, the actress playing Dagny was nice to look at.  Third, I loved the book, Atlas Shrugged, which I read over a decade ago.

But when I actually watched the movie, I did not care for it that much, for a variety of reasons.  For one, the acting appeared to me to be stiff, and the characters struck me as cold.  I had a hard time feeling anything for them.  Whereas I could tolerate watching scenes in isolation, sitting through the entire movie was quite an ordeal.

Second, parts of the movie seemed to me to be unrealistic.  I find it hard to believe that James Taggart could meet with a handful of political cronies and get legislation passed as fast as he did.  Moreover, some of the legislation struck me as contradictory and as arbitrary: the antagonists wanted to stop or prevent monopolies, yet they passed an "anti-dog-eat-dog" rule to suppress competition and to force people to use the services of Taggart Transcontinental.  The movie was trying to show that these antagonists preached equality and the common good, but I wish that they spent more time demonstrating why they thought that their policies would promote the common good.  And my critique on this point extends to the book as well: Ayn Rand tended to present the proponents of views with which she disagreed as caricatures rather than as people who supported their viewpoints, as mistaken as those viewpoints were.  Reading the book, that was not a problem for me.  Watching it on my TV, it was.

Third, I thought that the movie took away the sense of mystery that propelled me to keep on reading the book.  When I was reading the book, I was wondering who John Galt was, and I kept on reading in order to find out.  But Part I of the movie has already strongly hinted at who John Galt is: John Galt is taking the wealthy industrialists of the world to a utopia where they can achieve with minimal government interference standing in their way.  Plus, the movie strongly hints that Galt was the one who invented a motor that would stop the motors of the world.  If my memory is correct, this stuff appeared later in the book, which was why I kept on reading.  But Part I, by including this stuff early on in the story, takes away that sense of mystery.

There was one part of the movie that moved me: When Dagny at the end shows up at Wyatt's oil fields, which he has burned up in protest against collectivism.  Dagny screams "No!"  The reason I found this scene poignant is that Dagny and Hank Rearden are being left behind to make the best of a bad situation----to achieve and to stimulate the economy in a world where the government is stifling that. 

Michael Levin, "The Earnings Gap and Family Choices"

An anti-feminist intellectual whom Susan Faludi profiles in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women is Michael Levin. In this post, I will talk about a presentation that Michael Levin gave, which is in a 1984 book that Phyllis Schlafly edited: Equal Pay for UNequal Work: A Conference on Comparable Worth. It is entitled "The Earnings Gap and Family Choices".

In essence, many of Levin's arguments overlap with those of George Gilder, whose essays I discussed yesterday. Levin maintains that women are not paid as much as men because they gravitate towards jobs that pay less and do not spend as much time working as men do. Levin cites statistics, and he also refers to studies about the proficiencies of women as compared to the proficiencies of men (i.e., women are talented in performing repetitive tasks, according to certain neurologists). Levin made an argument that Gilder also made, which I forgot when I wrote my post on Gilder: that women are paid less than men because a large number of women are competing for certain jobs, with the result that companies do not have to pay much to attract women to those occupations. It's a matter of supply and demand, according to Levin! On a similar note, Levin attributes the increasing gap between male and female wages to the reality that, in the 1950's, women wanted jobs, and so companies paid more to attract them. In the 1980's, by contrast, women needed jobs, and so they were more at the mercy of the companies, which could pay them less.

Although Levin dismisses the view that wage disparity is a problem, saying that the wages of married women are being combined with the wages of their husbands, he does have a degree of compassion for the plight of employed women. He just thinks that the solution is lower taxes and reducing government spending, which can bring down inflation. Requiring businesses to provide day-care and to pay women more will contribute to inflation, in his eyes.

In a number of cases, I thought that Levin did well to cite statistics, as when he referred to a 1981 study by the Urban Institute comparing how many hours men and women work on the job. In one case, though, I thought that he should have cited a more appropriate statistic. Levin was arguing that women do not work as much as men because of their domestic responsibilities, and that single women, who do not have these responsibilities, do not experience as much of a wage gap with men. Levin then goes on to refer to the wage ratio in Canada between single women and men, which is 99.2%. In my opinion, he should have mentioned that ratio in America, not Canada. Whether or not Levin's argument would apply here in terms of statistics, I do not know, but I did learn from Susan Faludi's book that single mothers struggle economically.

On page 131, Levin states that "Women in every culture have been the ones responsible for childcare and allied domestic tasks, while men have pursued extrafamilial activities." Elsewhere in the presentation, however, I get the impression that he acknowledges exceptions to this generalization. He says on page 132: "Liberated female mammals, as heedless of their offspring as male animals tend to be and as feminists would like human females to be, went extinct a long time ago." Yet, in his mind (it seems), that set-up did exist at one point! On page 134, he states: "Left to their own devices, responding to the contingencies of the environment and the unalterable constraints of the human condition, men and women in modern technological society develop skills which tend to be exchangeable in a ratio of roughly 6:10. In other societies the ratio might be different." So there can be a degree of variety in how societies arrange their responsibilities. Overall, though, Levin appears to believe that traditional gender roles are logical, and perhaps even natural: women are nurturers who have children and bond with them, whereas men are strong and competitive and thus provide for their families. See here for my post on Rosemary Ruether's discussion of gender roles.

The Sadducees and Angels; the Pharisees' Lemons

For my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I have two items.

1. Acts 23:8 says that the Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits. Meier finds this odd because the Sadducees accepted the written Torah, and the written Torah talks about angels. On page 380, Meier attempts to account for Acts 23:8 as follows: "Perhaps Luke is reflecting in a garbled way the idea that the Sadducees rejected the explosion of speculation about angels and demons that was current in Jewish apocalyptic, mystical, and magical circles around the turn of the era, while at least some Pharisees were open to such developments." For Meier, the Sadducees did not reject the existence of angels, but rather the speculation about angels in Jewish apocalypticism, mysticism, and magic.

2. I like what Meier says on page 395 about why the Pharisees were more influential than the Sadducees with the people, even though the Sadducees had the political power:

"Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not have a great amount of influence with the common people. Perhaps this might be explained in part by the fact that, at least during direct Roman rule, the Sadducees were accustomed to issuing orders backed up by police power, and so felt little need to rely heavily on moral suasion, exemplary living, and exact knowledge of the Scriptures, as did the Pharisees. Needless to say, the usual tension in ancient Mediterranean society between the poor common people and the rich and powerful elite played its part as well."

This has a flavor of "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" The Pharisees did not have much political power (though, as Meier notes elsewhere in the book, some of them had a degree of influence with Herod the Great, since they helped him out when he was a commoner). But they used that lack of political power as an opportunity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Does Everyone (or Anyone) Have to Be a Theologian?

There was an excellent post on Rachel Held Evans' blog by an anonymous poster, entitled Will You Always Believe in Jesus, Mama? I heartily recommend the post. But what I want to talk about here is something that a commenter going by the name of "Littlepanchuk" said:

"As a philosopher, I feel compelled to point out that there is a huge difference between being a skeptic and never ceasing to ask questions. The skeptic believes that it is in principle impossible to find answers. The questioner as always searching for answers and is willing to admit that the one she thinks she has found may be wrong. The former involves a level of pride (e.g. 'I know that there are no answers out there'), while the second involves an certain amount of humility ('These questions are difficult, and I may not always get it right'). Though I don't have children, my goal for myself and for any children I have in the future is for them to be a questioner without falling into the pitfalls of skepticism."

My question is this: Why do I have to be continually looking for answers to theological questions? Can't I just enjoy life and the people around me?

I'll use the Conquest as an example. By the Conquest, I mean God's command that the Israelites slaughter every Canaanite man, woman, and child. Most of the apologetic defenses or explanations of the Conquest strike me as pathetically inadequate. So should I spend a vast amount of time and energy looking for some defense that works? Maybe I don't want to do that. Maybe no defense works, and defenses are a shabby attempt to smooth over what is not smooth. Perhaps the truth is that the ancient Israelites chose to marginalize an entire group of people, the way that other cultures, religions, and societies marginalize entire groups of people. If feeling this way makes me a skeptic, so what? If it makes me proud, so what? I certainly have not seen a lot of conservative Christians who are qualified to give me lessons on humility!

Why's life have to entail profound theological questioning and struggle? How do we even know that theology is based on something real? I suppose that a person could construct some elaborate doctrinal system about, say, Santa Claus, but why would it be pride if some people didn't see value in playing that game----in explaining how Santa can fit in the chimney, or why people visiting the North Pole have not come across Santa's home? Personally, I believe that there is a spiritual reality, but there are so many claims about it out there that I doubt that anyone can know who is right----at least not entirely.

Of course, I myself think about religion and theology. It's my interest, and it's what I hope to do as a profession. But why's it important to demand that everybody do so? And maybe I have other concerns than, say, justifying the Conquest. Maybe I'm interested in how to live a more fulfilling life, how to be patient, how to love others, etc.

George Gilder and Susan Faludi

For today's Women's History Month post, I will talk about two articles by conservative economist George Gilder, whom Susan Faludi talks about in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. The first article is "The Relationship of Women to Wealth and Poverty", and it appeared in a 1984 book that conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly edited, entitled Equal Pay for UNequal Work: A Conference on Comparable Worth. The second article is "Child Care in a Gender-Neutral Society, and it appeared in a 1989 book that Schlafly edited, entitled Who Will Rock the Cradle? Two Conferences on Child Care.

Gilder believes that the nuclear family is essential for a growing economy, for men are particularly motivated to work when they have to support their families. As a matter of fact, Gilder maintains that the shift from the extended to the nuclear family played a significant role in the rise of the industrial revolution. Consequently, Gilder thinks that society should support, promote, and encourage the nuclear family rather than families headed by single-mothers or couples who do not have children. That's a reason that religion is so important, Gilder argues: it promotes monogamy. Gilder regards families headed by single-mothers and couples who do not have children as parasitic, for many single mothers are poor, their children are more likely to become delinquents than kids from a nuclear family, and people who do not have children are being supported in their old age by other people's children, through Social Security. Gilder believes that the United States does the opposite of what it should be doing, however, for, although fathers who head the nuclear family are increasing in their incomes, taxes are a burden on them. Meanwhile, welfare programs subsidize single-parent families, and that discourages single mothers from getting married, for their needs are already being met by the government. Gilder quotes Jack Kemp, who said that "If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less, tax it."

Gilder thinks that women should get married when they are in their twenties. At least in these articles, he buys into an idea that Susan Faludi spends pages trying to refute----that women decrease their chances of getting married the longer that they wait. For Gilder, the feminist movement is so abrasive because its adherents realize that they have made the wrong decision and are going overboard trying to justify it. Gilder seems to believe that women should stay home with the children and should wait until their children are grown before pursuing a career. Gilder regards women as nurturers, and he also thinks that women gravitate towards the home. He cites a poll that indicates that women prefer part-time work over full-time work, and he believes that this is because women desire flexibility so that they can take care of their kids. The reason that women are paid less than men, according to Gilder, is that men work harder, and women are not willing to put in the time and the energy to do what is necessary to make a higher income, since that would interfere with their parental duties. Women also gravitate towards sedentary jobs rather than jobs that demand intense physical labor, and so Gilder thinks that it is mistaken to treat men and women as exactly the same. Gilder also believes that federal funding for child care is a bad idea, for it takes mothers out of the home, thereby depriving children of a mother, and it also puts women in competition for work with men who are trying to support their nuclear families. Because Gilder would prefer for women to stay at home raising the kids, he is critical of certain conservative proposals for welfare-reform, which encourage workfare and support child care institutions.

So Gilder believes that the nuclear family is necessary for a prosperous economy. Yet, he notes that Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world and has an "illegitimacy rate" of 40 per cent. Does that undermine his argument by showing that a country can be prosperous yet be deficient in the area of the nuclear family? Not so fast. Gilder states that European welfare states "have gained virtually all their growth for a decade from increased government consumption and exports to America." Gilder's point here may be that the prosperity of the European welfare states is dependent on the United States, where the nuclear family is the bedrock of its strong economy.

How would Susan Faludi respond to these arguments? In Backlash, she makes some claims that may strike one as contradictory, or as demonstrative of how complex reality is:

On the one hand, Faludi argues that no-fault divorce does not hurt children because the women eventually recuperate from the economic setbacks of the divorce and make more money. This appears to undermine Gilder's argument that single-parent families are generally poorer than nuclear families. On the other hand, Faludi presents the economic plight of single women who are struggling to raise their kids on their own, yet have to deal with a discriminatory workplace that does not pay them the same as men and that prefers for them not to be there in the first place.

On the one hand, Faludi argues that women are not competing with men for jobs because the work that they're doing is often low-income work that men don't want to do anyway. On the other hand, she does present women seeking the jobs that men are doing and finding fulfillment in work outside of the home. She thinks this undermines the conservative argument that women do not want those jobs that men are doing, and she also believes that women are justified to seek more fulfilling occupations. Against the argument that they end up competing with men who have families to support, Faludi notes that the women have to support families as well.

On the one hand, Faludi believes that women are willing to do full-time work. On the other hand, she notes that they leave their jobs reluctantly because the workplace will not provide them with a flexible schedule, which takes into account their parental responsibilities. Faludi believes that federally-funded day care can take care of a lot of this, and, unlike Gilder, she does not think that everything the federal government sets its hand to do will be disastrous. She argues that day care is a place where children can learn social skills, and that federally-funded day care is better than other kinds of day care because less abuse occurs in institutions that are federally funded and certified.

As far as I could tell, Faludi does not interact with the conservative argument that men are more suited than women for physically-demanding labor. But she does argue that women are discriminated against regarding sedentary jobs as well, and other jobs that do not have intense physical requirements.

Faludi would probably also disagree with what seems to be Gilder's solution to the problem of female poverty----to encourage women to marry----for she discusses examples of abuse and unhappiness within marriages. She does appear to want for women to have a degree of independence and autonomy so that, if they're in a relationship, it's because they want to be in it, not because they have to be in it.

I think that both Gilder and Faludi make good points, but I doubt that either comes up with a comprehensive narrative that takes everything and everyone into consideration.

Josephus Hated the Pharisees; Any Pharisees in Galilee?; A Return to the Garden

I have three items for my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

1. I wrote a paper on the Pharisees for a class years ago. What I found in my reading of articles was a scholarly assumption that Josephus was a Pharisee, and so there was debate about whether Josephus was conceptualizing the Pharisees accurately or was simply promoting the Pharisees to the Romans because he was one and wanted the Romans to grant the Pharisees authority, meaning that the positive things that he says about the Pharisees' widespread influence are loaded with bias and can't be trusted. Some who argued that Josephus was accurate in his depiction of the Pharisees noted that there were times when Josephus depicted the Pharisees negatively, and, in their eyes, that meant that Josephus was a reliable historian because he contradicted his own support for the Pharisees by airing their dirty laundry.

What I read in Meier was a different argument altogether. According to Meier, Josephus could not stand the Pharisees, one reason being that it was Pharisees who removed Josephus from command. And Meier contends that Josephus was lying when he claimed to be a Pharisee. The first reason that Meier believes this is that the chronology in Josephus' account in Life about his exploration of different branches of Judaism and his settling on Pharisaism does not add up. Second, Meier notes that, in the works of Josephus before he wrote Life, Josephus says nothing about being a Pharisee. For example, when Josephus talks about Pharisees who removed him from command, he gives no indication that he was a Pharisee, too. For Meier, Josephus in Life was claiming to be a Pharisee because (notwithstanding his disdain for them) he wanted to latch on to the Pharisees because they had become a powerful and influential group.

2. On page 335, Meier talks about a scholarly argument that there wasn't much Pharisaic activity in Galilee in the first century C.E. Meier agrees that Pharisaism was primarily in Jerusalem and large Judean towns, and he states that "In general, it seems to have been an urban rather than a rural movement, demanding as it did a certain level of learning and a certain modicum of leisure (and material resources?) to engage in regular study and punctilious practice of the Law." According to Meier, Acts and the Gospel of John are consistent with this in that they place the Pharisees at and around Jerusalem. When Mark depicts Jesus' interacting with Pharisees in Galilee, Meier speculates that these interactions actually occurred in and around Jerusalem, but Mark places them in Galilee because Mark wants to present Jesus being in Galilee until the final week of his life.

I don't know much about this issue. I will say, though, that many rabbis in the second century and beyond were in Galilee. And, because rabbinic literature speaks so much about agricultural topics, there has been speculation that many rabbis were engaged in agriculture. So I don't see why a first century Pharisee could not live in Galilee, work the soil, and find time and resources to engage in the study of the Torah.

3. On page 337, Meier says that Jesus opposed divorce because of his "eschatological hope that the end time would restore the Creator's intention for what he had created in the beginning (i.e., the permanent reunion of one man and one woman in marriage, Mark 10:1-12)."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stand Your Ground Laws

I can see some point to the controversial Stand Your Ground laws, even though I agree with critics that something is seriously wrong when those sorts of laws can be used to excuse George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin. I'm saying this, not as a lawyer or an expert, but as someone who has begun learning about what those laws are.

I was thinking about this issue after I watched last night's episode of Desperate Housewives. In the story-arc for this season, the ladies have been trying to cover up Carlos' killing of Gabrielle's step-father, Alejandro, who raped Gabrielle when she was a teenager and returned into her life years later to threaten her. Carlos whacked Alejandro on the head (and I think it was the back of the head) when Alejandro was giving the impression to Gabrielle that he had a gun and was implying his intention to rape Gabrielle. But Alejandro did not actually have a gun, and so Carlos feared going to jail for killing an unarmed man. That's why the ladies buried Alejandro's body and have been trying to cover up what Carlos did throughout this season.

But couldn't Carlos come forward to the police and claim self-defense? I don't know. A salient feature of Stand Your Ground laws is that they say that a person does not have to retreat before defending oneself from an assailant (see here). A person can stand his ground, in short. As I look at wikipedia's summary of Florida's law, my impression is that, had Carlos lived in Florida, he would have been able to claim self-defense, even though he did not retreat before he whacked Alejandro from behind. The reason is that Carlos was protecting his wife from an attacker. But suppose that Carlos lived in a state that required him to retreat before using deadly force, perhaps to show that he was the one who was defending himself as opposed to being the attacker? In that case, I doubt that he could claim self-defense.

But should the Stand Your Ground law get George Zimmerman off the hook? Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law when he was Governor, says that he did not envision the law being carried out in that manner, for Zimmerman was the one who was following Trayvon Martin. I think that I can see the purpose behind Stand Your Ground, but I wonder if there's a way for the law to be written so that it cannot be abused----so that it cannot allow people to shoot others unnecessarily in cold blood and to claim self-defense.

UPDATE: As often turns out to be the case when I write posts like this, the issue is more nuanced than I thought. This article says the following:

"Florida's increasingly controversial 'stand your ground' law was passed in 2005, eliminating the requirement that a person seek an alternative -- like fleeing -- before using force if they felt they were in physical danger. The National Rifle Association and other advocates had argued that citizens were being arrested for merely defending themselves.

"Florida, like many other states, has long held that citizens have the right to defend themselves in their own homes. Court rulings have expanded that right to include employees in workplaces and drivers in their cars. But there was long a reluctance to extend those rights to public places, so judges had ruled that citizens under threat must make some alternative attempt to violence to escape danger.

"In 2005, the Florida House of Representatives voted 94-20 in favor of a new, 'stand your ground' bill that eliminated the requirement to flee."

My understanding is this: Even before the 2005 Stand Your Ground law, Carlos would have been able to claim self-defense, since Alejandro was threatening Gabrielle in Carlos' own home. If this occurred in a public place, however, Carlos and Gabrielle would have to seek an alternative----like fleeing----before using deadly force. But the 2005 Stand Your Ground law gets rid of the requirement that people retreat before using deadly force in a public place.

Abby Johnson's Conversion

I was rummaging through some old papers recently, and I found something that I picked up at the Latin mass that I attended in Cincinnati. It was the Cincinnati Right to Life News Brief, and it was talking about Abby Johnson, who worked (and eventually became director) at the Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas----until she became a pro-lifer.

Abby narrates that she became a pro-lifer when she was performing an abortion on ultrasound. "I could see the whole profile of the baby 13 weeks head to foot", she says. "I could see the probe. I could see the baby try to move away from the probe." Abby witnessed the baby crumble as it was vacuumed out of the lady's uterus. As this procedure was occurring, Abby realized that she and her husband had recently seen an ultrasound picture of their own baby, who was the same age.

Abby's story has been disputed. According to the documented wikipedia article about her: "Johnson's description of her conversion has been questioned. Planned Parenthood stated that its records do not show any ultrasound-guided abortions performed on the date when Johnson says she witnessed the procedure, and the physician who performed abortions at the Bryan clinic stated that Johnson had never been asked to assist in an abortion. Although Johnson said the abortion was of a 13-week-old fetus, records from the Texas Department of Health show no such abortions performed at the Bryan Clinic on the date in question."

In my opinion, even if Abby's account of events is incorrect, her point is still valid. Unborn babies still crumble when they are vacuumed out of the uterus. And it is ironic that expectant parents can see ultrasounds of their unborn children and rejoice, whereas children that are that very same age somewhere in America are being eliminated through abortion. Something's not right here.

Susan Faludi argues in Backlash that the anti-abortion movement is about economically-insecure men who are worried about losing control of their women. That is probably a generalization, for there are women in the pro-life movement, but Faludi may have a point somewhere in there. Why, after all, are these men so agitated over abortion, when there are innocent people dying from all sorts of other things that don't appear to be on their radar? What draws these men's attention to the abortion issue, exactly? Moreover, Faludi may have a point that opposition to abortion has historically served to keep women down.

Still, I wish that pro-choice feminists would at least realize that what pro-lifers say about abortion could have some validity: that there is a problem when an unborn child is being vacuumed out of the uterus in a clinic, when elsewhere a child that very same age is being celebrated by expectant parents.

Does that mean that we should all become right-wing Republicans? I personally don't go that route. I recognize that abortion is not a decision that is reached lightly, for having children takes a physical and an economic toll on women. I also do not believe that simply banning abortion will solve the problem, for, as Faludi notes, there are countries that ban abortion that have high abortion rates. Meanwhile, there are countries where abortion is legal and yet the abortion rate is lower, and these countries provide universal health care. Overall, I wish that both sides of the debate would acknowledge the strengths of the other side: that pro-choicers would not reduce the entire debate to "choice" but would see that abortion is problematic, and that pro-lifers would do more to create a society that supports women who are having children.

Effecting Restoration, Zealot and Iscariot, Christology Debate, Multiple Attestation

I have four items for my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

1. On page 153, Meier talks about how Jesus believed that his selection of twelve disciples was actually bringing about the regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. Symbolic actions were often thought to have some power in bringing about the event to which they pointed, Meier contends. When Isaiah went naked in public (Isaiah 20:1-6)), Jeremiah smashed a wineflask (Jeremiah 13:12-14), and Ezekiel laid on his side and looked at a clay tablet on which was a picture of Jerusalem, they did not merely think that they were foreshadowing what was coming, but that, in some sense, their "symbolic gestures unleashed future events, setting them inexorably in motion" (page 153).

For Meier, Jesus' mission was to reconstitute Israel and to regather its lost sheep in anticipation of God's dramatic intervention in history, which was to include God's wrath and inauguration of the Kingdom of God. That's why Jesus was reaching out to the sinners and the marginalized. For Meier, by selecting twelve disciples, Jesus was foreshadowing and also bringing about the renewal, regathering, and restoration of Israel.

2. Meier was talking about Simon the Zealot and the "Iscariot" part of Judas Iscariot. Meier disagrees with those who interpret "Zealot" and "Iscariot" in light of the Jewish rebels whom Josephus discusses, for Meier deems that to be anachronistic, perhaps because he assumes that these movements of rebels were active decades after the time of Jesus. Meier interprets "Zealot" to mean that Simon was religiously zealous, like Phinehas in the Hebrew Bible, which (for Meier) set Simon at odds with Levi the toll-collector (so Meier preserves that popular sermon point, even though Meier does not believe that Simon was a Zealot in the sense of being an anti-Roman rebel).

Regarding Judas, Meier concludes that the name "Iscariot" remains an enigma, but he mentions that John 6:71 and 13:2, 26 refer to Simon Iscariot, Judas' father. Meier thinks that Iscariot may have "designated the town from which" Judas and his father came (page 211).

3. On page 228, Meier states that the part of John 6 about many of Jesus' disciples leaving him while the Twelve remained reflects a "late 1st-century debate among Christian Jews over the high christology and eucharistic theology championed by some Johannine Christians but rejected by others."

4. On page 249, Meier states: "...while a few members of the Twelve, notably Peter and the sons of Zebedee, were prominent leaders of the early church in Jerusalem, most of the Twelve and the Twelve as a group disappear very quickly after Easter. The idea that they were such a significant and dominant group in the early church that they were massively retrojected into the Marcan, Q, L, and Johannine traditions is contradicted by the actual flow and ebb of their career."

I disagree with Meier on this (if I am understanding him correctly), for, as he notes, the Twelve appear in a writings of Paul, which was decades after Easter. But the reason that this passage stood out to me is that I thought it might come close to explaining why Meier believes that the multiple attestation of something in independent sources makes it more likely to be historical. I've wondered if that is necessarily the case, for Meier himself says that a tradition could become so strong that it then appears in multiple sources. Plus, are early Christian sources truly independent from each other? Who's to say that Mark, Q, L, and John could not have been drawing from a common tradition? Why does the appearance of something in multiple sources make it historical? Is Meier saying that these sources reflect independent eyewitness testimony of something that actually happened? Or that it's primarily a historical event that has the ability to become widely accepted?

From the passage, what I get is this: in certain cases, it's easier to assume that something appears in multiple sources because it occurred in history and stood out to different people, than it is to think that it was invented by some stray thinker and massively retrojected into the sources. The first has more of a natural feel to it, I guess.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Shooting of Trayvon Martin

This post is about the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin.

1. George Will and Donna Brazile had insightful comments on ABC This Week. Click here for the transcript.

George Will said: "That the law in question, the so-called Stand Your Ground law, is a bad idea, because it tries to codify a right of self-defense, but it really confers upon citizens the illusion at least that they have something like powers exercised by highly trained police officers. Mr. Zimmerman says he was acting under this self-defense law, but he is said to have been recorded saying that he was in pursuit of the person. You cannot be in pursuit and acting in self-defense...But the problem, of course, is at this point we all ought to remember something. The last time everyone in the media and certain well-known agitators got up on their high horses and galloped off in all directions was the Duke lacrosse case, and everyone was wrong."

Donna Brazile remarked: "Neighborhood -- I'm a Neighborhood -- I belong to a Neighborhood Watch. We don't -- we don't carry pistols. We don't carry guns. We try to protect the streets. We try to protect the neighborhood. We don't profile people. We just try to make sure everybody is safe, get in and out. But this has, of course, awakened some wounds, some wounds that go back generations, where young black boys are taught and told at a very early age -- I heard my mom, it's called the talk, my father, the code. The talk is, of course, watch yourself, be careful of your surroundings. If you're stopped by the cops, protect your pride, but act with humility, and try not to run, to flee. But in Trayvon's case, he didn't know who George Zimmerman was. He didn't know what this guy was up to."

I don't know exactly what the events were that surrounded George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin. I read wikipedia's article on it this morning, and it was well-documented, going so far as to include sound-clips from George Zimmerman's call to the police and 9-1-1 calls. The wikipedia article states the following:

"When the police arrived, they reported finding Martin face-down and unresponsive, with a gunshot wound in the chest. The police report states that they attempted CPR, paramedics arrived and continued CPR, finally declaring him dead at 7:30 p.m. Statements by the police say Zimmerman had grass on his back and his back was wet. Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and the back of the head; subsequently his lawyer stated that Zimmerman's nose was broken.[48][49] However, the police report does not indicate that Zimmerman required medical attention. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, telling police he had stepped out of his truck to check the name of the street he was on, when Martin attacked him from behind as he walked back to his truck. He said he fired the semiautomatic handgun because he feared for his life.[50] Martin was unarmed, and was carrying a bag of Skittles candy and a can of Arizona brand iced tea.[50][51]"

I wouldn't be surprised if there was some physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman. As Donna Brazile said, Martin didn't know who Zimmerman was, and Martin wondered why this guy was following him. An altercation may have broken out, and that escalated into Zimmerman shooting Martin. I don't think either person was evil. From what I have read, Zimmerman deeply regrets shooting Martin. Could that be because Zimmerman looks back and sees that this action was unnecessary, over-reactive, and impulsive? While he was fighting with Martin, Zimmerman may have felt that his life was in danger, when it really wasn't, since he's much bigger than Martin. But he acted on impulse, with tragic results.

If that's what happened, does that mean Zimmerman should be let off? I can understand why Martin's family and many others would be outraged at such a possibility, for an innocent person lost his life----and it all started when Zimmerman thought that Martin looked suspicious for highly nebulous reasons. I can feel for both sides. Some have wondered why the American evangelical community has been largely silent about this tragedy. What could evangelical pastors do? I think that they should do what Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) did in the movie, Dead Man Walking: reach out to the victim's family, and also the perpetrator and his family. Both are suffering.

UPDATE: Evangelical pastor John Piper has spoken about the tragedy. See here.

2. Newt Gingrich is criticizing Barack Obama for highlighting the race of Trayvon Martin. Obama said that, if he had a son, the son would look like Trayvon Martin. Newt Gingrich finds Obama's remarks to be disgraceful because Newt does not think that Trayvon Martin's race is relevant: that it would have been a tragedy, whatever Trayvon's race was.

Indeed, it would have been a tragedy, even if Trayvon Martin were white. But I don't think that race should be considered irrelevant in a discussion of this issue. For one, African-American males are often racially profiled and suspected in American society, and that could have been what was going on when Zimmerman called the police about Martin. Second, I don't see why it's wrong for President Obama to speak as an African-American man about a tragedy that befell another African-American man, and that befalls other African-American men as well. Should we expect people to leave their racial and ethnic backgrounds at the door when commenting on issues, when that is a significant part of who they are? And should we pretend that racism had absolutely nothing to do with this tragedy, when it very well could have?

The Old and the New

For my write-up today on church, I'll quote the Prayer of Confession from the liturgy:

"O God of laughter and tears, we come in this Lenten season weighed down by the past. Sometimes we feel trapped by past actions, past attitudes, past beliefs. We feel as if we are wandering in a desert, carrying burdens, losing our way. Sometimes we hold fast to this past, hold fast to our prejudices and our fears. We criticize, we judge, we despair, we doubt our ability to change. Break open our hearts, pour in your transforming and renewing love. Keep our eyes on the prize----new life in You. Amen."

Charlotte Allen's Critique of Susan Faludi's Backlash

For this post, I will share some comments that I read on Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I will focus primarily on a February 1992 article by Charlotte Low Allen in Commentary, but I will also bring into my discussion a comment by an Amazon reviewer who goes by the name "Hieronymus Braintree" (see here).

Overall, I did not care for Allen's piece. Allen spent a lot of time making fun of Faludi's book, without refuting Faludi's overall argument----that there is a cultural push for women to retreat from the workplace into the domestic sphere, even though many women feel fulfilled when they are working for money. For example, Allen states:

"Backlash, an exceedingly long book, is also representative of the prolix new genre of 80′s-bashing, already a little tired though we are only two years into the 90′s. Most 80′s-bashing books fixate on junk bonds and undertenanted office towers, twin symbols of the debt-loaded culture of the Reagan era. To Faludi, the same decade also witnessed a 'backlash' against feminism that 'moved through the culture’s secret chambers, traveling through passageways of flattery and fear.'...Faludi, a Wall Street Journal reporter, writes with a journalist’s easy flair and an occasional striking turn of phrase reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich, who works the same ideological turf in a much more original fashion. (Ehrenreich has her own 80′s-basher out, tellingly titled The Worst Years of Our Lives.)"

So Faludi bashes the 80s. Perhaps the 80s were not perfect but had their flaws like every other decade. And so what if the 80s are over? Faludi believes that developments in that decade had profound and lasting effects on the American economy, such as the stagnation of wages and the decline of American manufacturing. And so what if Faludi was not terribly original (which is not to say that Allen is right on this, but let's assume that Allen is correct)? Faludi is talking about real-life injustices here. That shouldn't be blithely dismissed by treating Faludi's book as a theater-critic would treat a movie.

There was one time (as far as I could see) in which Allen presented a fact that contradicted Faludi's thesis. Allen states: "Did George Bush happen to get 49 to 50 percent of the female vote in the 1988 election? That was 'not a real majority,' sniffs Faludi." Similarly, Hieronymus Braintree in his Amazon review accuses Faludi of cherry-picking facts: "For example, she paints Republican administrations as being totally antithetical to the ambitions of women but omits any mention of Reagan's appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court or the fact that the first Bush administration had twice as many women in it as Carter's." Granted, life is too complex to boil down into a neat thesis that takes all factors into consideration. But does that mean that Faludi is not noticing real-life problems? She provides enough statistics and anecdotes to convince me that she's on to something, even though there may be times when I have a hunch that there is another side to the story or a feeling that perhaps issues are more complex than Faludi is presenting.

I didn't particularly care for this line from Allen: "Faludi faults Gary Bauer because his wife is a full-time homemaker. Then she turns around and faults Michael Levin, an anti-feminist professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, because his wife has a career as a mathematician. Heads, I win; tails, you lose." In my opinion, what was significant in Faludi's discussion of these figures was the commonalities that she observed: that women had a desire to be fulfilled outside of the home and that they enjoyed working outside of the domestic sphere.

But Allen did make good points. Here are some of them, along with my responses:

After quoting Faludi, Allen states that Faludi's argument is slippery because it is "impossible to gainsay." Allen elaborates:

"It requires no proof; indeed, the very lack of proof demonstrates the insidiousness of the phenomenon, a seamless and invisible spider web stretching into every corner of contemporary culture. By maintaining that the backlash is a 'movement' yet not an 'organized' movement, a 'struggle' that appears 'not to be a struggle at all,' a chimera-like phenomenon that exists now as concrete 'threats' from the militant Right, now as mere media-generated 'ephemera,' now as disembodied feelings 'in a woman’s mind' with no objective correlatives whatsoever, Faludi can have it all ways, can seize all sticks with which to beat her opponents."

I thought that Faludi did a decent job in demonstrating that there is a backlash against the advancement of women and that similar backlashes have occurred throughout history. But I was disappointed that Faludi did not offer ideas about who or what was perpetuating the backlash, and why. She said that insecure blue-collar workers are not responsible for the backlash because they are absorbing ideas from the elites, and that the media are not responsible for it because they are merely receptors. So who is responsible for it? Right-wing men from the elite who do not want women on what they consider to be their turf? Even if Faludi does not consider the backlash to be a conspiracy, I think that she should have spent some time explaining why there was a backlash, rather than merely demonstrating that a backlash exists.

Allen states: "In truth, feminism is merely a part of a larger and longer-range trend of universal liberation, not just from oppressive husbands and fathers but from all demands, erotic and otherwise, that have seemed burdensome, annoying, or irrational. People in general have become free to pursue their self-interest—careers, wealth accumulation, romantic passions, sexual desires—unhindered...Or, looking back further in time, one might see feminism’s roots in the Enlightenment idea of the social contract: people would be better off if their ties to others and to institutions were strictly voluntary, a matter of rational choice directed by mutual self-interest. This has naturally wreaked havoc upon the family, for hardly anyone would freely choose the grab-bag of embarrassing and uncongenial characters who happen to be his relatives. Having first stripped the family of its tribal, multigenerational character, social-contract theory then went to work on marriage itself—hence, easy divorce, the sexual revolution, the women’s movement."

While it's easy to conclude that Faludi thinks this way, since Faludi does appear to be down on the domestic sphere, I do not believe that she ultimately does. At times, she argues that women can have both careers and also families, and she praises men and women cooperating so that this can occur. She does not believe that no-fault divorce is necessarily harmful for children (after all, parents fighting with each other can hurt the children, too), and she wants for the government to make things easier on women who work and have families----either because it's economically necessary for them to work outside of the home (since the family depends on their income), or because they are seeking fulfillment. I do not believe that Faludi is anti-family. I just wish that, in her book, she spent more time affirming the importance of family. When she praises women who delay marriage and children (and, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that), one can easily get the impression that she is down on those things.

Allen states: "Many women have found universal liberation to be as disturbing as it is supposed to be exhilarating. The disruption of traditional courtship and marriage patterns that has accompanied liberation means that young middle-class women spend years wondering when and where they will ever find a husband, all the while feeling varying degrees of dissatisfaction, contempt, and rage at the men they do meet and sleep with, or fight off sleeping with. Women who marry discover that it is more exhausting than glamorous to pursue a career outside the home while being a wife, let alone a mother of small children, at the same time. Perhaps, as Susan Faludi suggests, it is wrong and reactionary for women to want to be wives and mothers—status roles left over from the days before all human relationships became matters of the marketplace. Yet most women do so want, and if Susan Faludi means to 'liberate' them from those desires, she is talking about liberating them from womanhood itself. No wonder American women feel so ambivalent about feminism. Today, they will read Backlash; tomorrow, it will be Smart Women, Foolish Choices. Today, they will fret about the 'glass ceiling'; tomorrow, they will have their chins resculpted. They will feel faintly discontented or wildly desperate. They will blame it on feminism, or on men, or on the media, or on themselves. But it is not a backlash. It is more a case of wanting and not really wanting to go back."

Allen presents women as people who don't really know what they want: they seek fulfillment outside of the home, yet they also long for the domestic sphere. I thought that Faludi did an excellent job demonstrating that many women are fulfilled when they are working outside of the home. At the same time, the impression that I got was that she felt that women who craved a husband, children, and physical beauty were merely absorbing the values of the backlash. I find that approach to be one-sided, based on the women whom I have known. In my opinion, Faludi really shone when she argued that women could have it all, as well as advocated society making it easier for them to have it all. I wish I had seen more of that in Faludi's book.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Faith Healer

I watched the Little House on the Prairie episode "Faith Healer" last night. What's ironic is that Nick Norelli had a post this morning about how he used to judge people as not having enough faith if they were not healed of their sickness.

The pieces of the episode's plot that I want to highlight went like this: A charismatic faith healer named Reverend Danforth has come to Walnut Grove, and he has been conducting tent-meetings in which he heals people. A woman gets out of her wheelchair at his first service, for example. A resident of Walnut Grove, Matthew Dobbs, has a son named Timothy, who has problems with his appendix. Doc Baker tells Matthew to take his son to Mankato to see a surgeon as soon as possible, but Matthew instead opts to take his son to Reverend Danforth. Reverend Danforth does a ritual in which he pulls the pain out of Timothy's body, and Timothy then feels better.

Later on, however, Timothy dies of a ruptured appendix, and so Matthew and Doc Baker interrupt Reverend Danforth's meeting. Doc Baker accuses Reverend Danforth of taking away Timothy's pain, which could have saved Timothy's life by warning Timothy to get medical help. Reverend Danforth responds that he cannot circumvent the will of God----that God wanted Timothy to be with God in heaven, and Timothy is happy right now in the presence of his maker.

Charles takes a trip to Sleepy Eye, and he notices that Reverend Danforth is conducting a prayer meeting there. Charles goes into the tent and notices that Reverend Danforth is "healing" the same woman in the wheelchair whom he healed in Walnut Grove! Charles then realizes that Reverend Danforth is a fraud and that the suspicions he has had about him are correct. Charles does not want to interrupt that particular service, however, but he wants to show Mrs. Oleson----who has supported Reverend Danforth in Walnut Grove----that the guy is a fake, allowing her to see that with her own eyes. Charles learns where Reverend Danforth's next appearance will be.

Charles talks with Reverend Alden, the pastor in Walnut Grove, whom Reverend Danforth is about to replace. Charles asks Reverend Alden why a faith healer would conduct fake healings. Reverend Alden responds that the faith healer was probably trying to boost people's confidence by showing them fake healings, and then they would have enough faith to be truly healed themselves. Reverend Alden says that belief is powerful, whether God is behind the healing or not. Reverend Alden also states that he has observed healings at the hands of faith healers (which, by the way, contradicts what he said in a later episode, "He Was Only Twelve, Part 2", where Reverend Alden tells Charles that he never saw a miracle in all his years of ministry).

Charles takes the Olesons and Matthew to Reverend Danforth's tent meeting, and, sure enough, Reverend Danforth is "healing" the same woman of paralysis! Charles confronts Reverend Danforth, as he shows that the man with crutches does not really need them and that the "blind" woman is not actually blind. As the people walk out of the meeting, Reverend Danforth pleads with them to return, telling them that he only used fake healings to build up their faith so that they could be truly healed.

I sympathized somewhat with Reverend Danforth. I used to think that he was a fraud who was conducting fake healings to get money, but some questions lingered in my mind: if he was a fraud, why did he believe that he could heal people who were actually sick, such as Timothy? Why would he invite anyone to come forward at his meetings and be healed? Wouldn't he be afraid that someone would randomly come forward, and he would not be able to heal that person, since he was a fraud? I doubt it. I think that he believed that he could heal, and that his fake healings could build people's faith and set the stage for them to come forward for true healing.

Belief can be powerful. The power of suggestion can make a person's pain go away. That's why placebos are so effective. But there is a difference between "mind-over-matter" and actual healing. Timothy's pain may have gone away, but his appendix was still rupturing, and so, technically-speaking, he was not healed. He should have seen a doctor.

I found Reverend Danforth's explanation for Timothy's death to be intriguing, though I fully understand why many would consider it to be a cop-out: Reverend Danforth claims that God heals through him, and, when God doesn't do so, he chalks that up to God's will. That is a cop-out, but could there be something to it? In my opinion, if I am sick, I should have faith in God's love and goodness, and I should hold on to hope that God will heal me. But if God doesn't, God doesn't. What more can one do?

Susan Faludi, Backlash 23

I finished Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Specifically, I read the end-notes and the Acknowledgments. I have three items:

1. I have long heard the argument (and when I was a conservative I used the argument) that the conservative group Concerned Women for America speaks for more women than the feminist National Organization for Women because CWA has far more members than NOW. On pages 507-508, Faludi responds to that claim:

"Barrie Lyons, Beverly LaHaye's sister and CWA's vice-president, told an interviewer that the organization arrived at a figure of a half-million constituents by counting as a member anyone who expressed 'interest' in the group by requesting a newsletter or signing a petition. About 150,000 women, on the other hand, were actually official members who paid the minimum $15 dues each year. Most of the media, however, accepted CWA's inflated roster claims. A Time cover story, for example, described CWA as having more members 'than the combined following of the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus, and the League of Women's Voters.' ('Jerry Falwell's Crusade,' Time, Sept. 2, 1985.) NOW, in fact, had more dues-paying members than CWA."

2. I talked a few days ago about the Supreme Court decision Johnson vs. Santa Clara County (see here), in which Paul Johnson made a claim of reverse discrimination when Diane Joyce was hired (as a result of her seeking affirmative action) instead of him. Faludi argues that Joyce was actually more qualified, but, in the endnotes, on pages 529-530, she provides more nuance, even as she effectively reaffirms her central point that discrimination against women is alive:

"The county's 'Rule of Seven' hiring policy mandates that the applicants with the top seven scores be treated as equally qualified for the job, because the differences in the top scores are typically minimal. Later in the press, Johnson would nonetheless make much of the two-point difference between his and Joyce's scores----citing it as proof that he was 'better qualified.' What Johnson failed to mention when he made this claim, however, was that when Joyce had applied for a county foreman's job in 1985, she ranked first on the orals test----yet lost out to the man who scored fifth."

3. As an aspiring academic, I appreciated Faludi's acknowledgments, in which she described the process of developing a crisp thesis, which was muddled at first. She acknowledged the role that discussions with others played in arriving at that crisp thesis. I can identify with this process.

Tomorrow, I will look some at critiques of Faludi's Backlash.

Psalm 69

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 69. Five verses in Psalm 69 are quoted in the New Testament. In this post, I will compare how the New Testament uses these passages with what interpreters have said these verses mean in their original and historical context. I will also address Psalm 69:5, in which the Psalmist affirms that his transgressions are not hidden from God. This verse is probably troubling for Christians who believe that Psalm 69 is about Christ, for (according to their religion) Christ did not sin.

1. Psalm 69:4 says (in the KJV, which I will use in this post): "They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away." This verse is quoted in John 15:25. John 15:24-25 states: "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause." Jesus here interprets Psalm 69:4 in light of the undeserved rejection he has received from the people of Israel.

Scholars have maintained that Psalm 69:4 is for people who have experienced rejection. A common view is that Psalm 69 employed Jeremiah or the Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah as models, and that later communities were using this Psalm for their own needs----to lament the exilic or post-exilic suffering of the nation of Israel or the pious Jews, or to ask God for physical healing for their members.

Marvin Tate speculates that the Psalm was originally used by a pre-exilic king, but it underwent post-exilic stages, since Psalm 69:35-36 expresses hope that God might save Zion and build the cities of Judah. Tate may have in mind what I read in Peter Craigie's commentary on Psalms 1-50: that the pre-exilic king recognized his vulnerability to conspiracy from insiders and outsiders to his realm, and so he asked God to thwart his enemies. David himself in II Samuel endured a nationwide revolt against his authority, and this revolt was launched by his own son (Absalom) and was joined by many in Israel. Was Psalm 69 originally about this sort of situation, but exilic and post-exilic themes about restoration were later added?

Of particular interest is the Psalmist's statement that "I restored that which I took not away". According to many interpreters, the idea here is that the Psalmist is being wrongfully accused of stealing. Stephen Geller said in a class that I took on Psalms that the writer of this Psalm was probably a priest, who was being accused of robbing the Temple. Against this accusation, Geller maintains, the Psalmist affirms in v 9 that he is actually zealous for the Temple.

Some Christian interpreters have sought to relate that part of Psalm 69:4 to Christ, as they claim that Christ actually did restore what he did not take away. John Gill says that Christ restored the glory of God, which human beings debased through their sin, and also that Christ paid the penalty for sins that he did not commit. For Gill, Christ restored what he was not responsible for taking away, but that others had taken away through their sin.

2. Psalm 69:9 says: "For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. " The first part of this verse is quoted in John 2:17 in reference to Jesus cleansing the Temple of merchants and money-changers, and the second part is quoted by Paul in Romans 15:3 when Paul is arguing that Christians should aim to please their neighbors rather than themselves, since Christ did not please himself but endured reproach.

In terms of the original context of Psalm 69:9, I like what Christian pastor John MacArthur says about it: "The psalmist has brought hatred and hostility on himself by his unyielding insistence that the behavior of the people measure up to their outward claim of devotion to God. Whenever God was dishonored he felt the pain, because he loved God so greatly." Different ideas have been proposed for the setting of this verse: that it is based on Jeremiah controversially exhorting the people to be righteous rather than worshiping in the Temple hypocritically; that it relates to the attempts of post-exilic Jews to rebuild the Temple, which was opposed by their enemies inside and outside of Yehud; or that it concerns the efforts of the Maccabees to recapture and to purify the Temple after Hellenistic defilement. Some have even contended that the "house" in Psalm 69:9 is not the Temple but rather the nation of Israel or the household of faith.

In any case, the verse appears to be about the Psalmist suffering as a result of his zeal for God. That has happened to many throughout history, including Jesus.

3. Psalm 69:21 says: "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." Matthew 27:34 quotes this verse in reference to people offering Jesus vinegar while he was suffering on the cross and was thirsty. In its original context, according to a number of interpreters, Psalm 69:21 is about the Psalmist being offered gall and vinegar by people pretending to be his comforters. The Psalmist is fasting on account of his suffering (Psalm 69:10), and he desires comforters (Psalm 69:20). Real comforters brought sufferers food, but the people in Psalm 69:21 bring the Psalmist stuff that is either poisonous or bitter in taste. That reinforces the Psalmist's suffering and sense of alienation from others.

4. Psalm 69:22 says: "Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap." Paul in Romans 11:9 relates that verse to the spiritual inability of many Jews of his day to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Originally, Psalm 69:22 was about the Psalmist's hope that God might punish his enemies, whether those enemies were Gentile powers, or conspirators within the people of Israel, or others.

5. Psalm 69:25 says: "Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents." This verse is quoted in Acts 1:20 in reference to the death of Judas, only Acts 1:20 quotes it as referring to "his habitation" rather than "their habitation". The Septuagint has "their", so Acts 1:20 is either quoting the passage loosely, has a variant, or assumes that what happened to Judas is typical of what occurs to all enemies of Jesus, and so it relates to Judas the fate of all of Jesus' enemies. There may be other options, as well.

I'll turn now to Psalm 69:5, which says: "O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee." How would Christians who interpret Psalm 69 as the words of Christ interact with this verse, when they believe that Christ was sinless? Augustine and other Christians have maintained that Christ is not talking about his own sins here, but rather the sins of his body (the church), as it confesses sin while being attached to Christ. Christian interpreters have also noted that Christ bore the sins of others on the cross.

Within its original context, however, Psalm 69:5 may be the Psalmist protesting his innocence of what others have accused him (stealing), even as he acknowledges that he is a sinner. It's like the Psalmist is saying, "You know what I am, Lord, both good and bad." Or the Psalmist is seeking God's mercy.

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