Friday, January 31, 2014

Reflections on My Year (or More) of Nixon

Sometime in 2012, I got in the mail a book that I had ordered off of Amazon for a cheap price: Irwin Gellman’s The Contender, which was primarily about Richard Nixon’s years in Congress (both the House and the Senate).  I had seen the book years earlier at one of Columbia University’s libraries (I had library privileges there as a Jewish Theological Seminary student), and it intrigued me.  The book came across to me as a defense of Richard Nixon against detractors who claimed that Nixon ruthlessly and unfairly exploited anti-Communism to advance himself politically.  One of the book’s arguments was that Nixon was actually a level-headed voice of sanity on the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

When I received Gellman’s book in 2012, I had a thought: I knew that the centennial for Richard Nixon’s birthday was coming up—-for Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, and it would soon be January 9, 2013.  How about if I read Gellman’s book during the month of January?  But then I thought some more.  Richard Nixon had long intrigued me, for he was socially-awkward, introverted, resentful, and yet rather hard working, like me.  He had a kind side, and also there were liberals and conservatives who were claiming that he was politically progressive in areas, and that was of interest to me.  I had long noticed Stephen Ambrose’s trilogy about Nixon in libraries and I had wanted to read it, yet I did not feel that I had the time or the discipline for such a task.  But what if I were to devote an entire year, or even more, to reading about Richard Nixon?  Instead of just blogging about Gellman’s book in January 2013, perhaps I could devote all of 2013 to reading books by and about Nixon!

I had reservations.  For one, I feared that I would become bored with the topic.  Wouldn’t I be reading the same stories over and over, which would get old after a while?  Second, I feared that my blog stats would plummet because my readers would become bored with the topic, and potential readers would not read my blogs because they would see that I write primarily about Nixon.

But I decided to go ahead with the project.  On my fear of boredom, I reminded myself that I would read thirty pages of a Nixon book a day: I could handle that, even if I became bored.  On my fear of my blog stats plummeting, there was a part of me that said “So be it.”  I felt that I had to do this project for me, even if nobody else appreciated what I was doing.  If I could not blog about my own interests, then what was the point of me blogging?  But another part of me hoped that my posts on other topics would allow my stats to remain as high as they were, or to increase.

I went into the project with a list of books that I wanted to read.  Many of them, I read.  Some of them, I did not.  And there were books that I read that were not on that initial list.  My plan was to read Gellman’s book, the Ambrose trilogy, Monica Crowley’s books about her time working for Nixon, Richard Reeves’ book about Nixon, a psychological profile of Nixon that I saw at a Harvard library years before, all of the books that Nixon wrote, Theodore White’s books about the Presidential races in which Nixon ran, and others.  I read most of these.  I never got to Theodore White’s books, however, but I’ll probably read them during the next Presidential election (in 2016).  As I read Gellman’s response to Roger Morris’ book, and I noticed that I could get Morris’ book off Amazon for a cheap price, I decided to read Morris for My Year (or More) of Nixon.  I also added other books to the list in the course of the year.

I am proud of myself for sticking with this project.  I also think that most of my blog posts for it were good.  The project did not result in a drop in my blog stats.  On my blogger blog, my Nixon posts got the same amount of views that my other posts usually got.  (My hunch is, though, that the 200-plus views for one of my posts on Gary Allen’s Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask was largely due to spam or robotics!)  On my WordPress blog, my stats actually increased in 2013, but that was not due to my Nixon posts: I had a lot of views of posts that I had written in the previous years, or of non-Nixon posts that I had written.  But at least My Year (or More) of Nixon did not hurt my WordPress stats!

I think that I wrote a lot of good posts about life and social skills as a result of My Year (or More) of Nixon, but many might not read them because they don’t have a catchy title.  I titled my Nixon posts in reference to whatever book I was reading (i.e., “Six Crises 3), and that does not exactly catch readers!  I thought that a number of my posts were rather antiquarian, in that they discussed historical situations that many may think are not particularly relevant today.  I can understand why those posts would not attract people, but my hunch is that some of them eventually will.  I won’t be surprised if someone who is interested in learning the nuances of the Alger Hiss case will find my blog after doing a Google search!

Interestingly, I can’t say that I became thoroughly bored in doing this project, for I did it for a year, and there was enough material in the books that engaged me enough for me to write blog posts.  There were stories that crept up in most of the books that I read, but each book had a story or a take that was unique.  Still, I have to admit that I am itching to move on to another project!  I decided to end My Year (or More) of Nixon today because there are books that I want to read for Black History Month, which is in February 2014.

What was my favorite book about Nixon?  To be honest, I think that it would be Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.    It was far from being the best book about Nixon that I read, for there were other books that I found far more informative.  I was initially hesitant to read Black’s book because it seemed to me to rely largely on secondary sources, a number of which I had already read.  But I have pleasant memories of Black’s book, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I loved the scene where Richard Nixon’s father was driving Richard and some of his schoolmates, and Black was talking about the improvements around them on this road-trip that were due to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Second, I liked Black’s analysis of issues and his suggestions of what Nixon and others should have done.  Granted, Black did come across to me as somewhat of a know-it-all in these discussions, but I still liked them.

Irwin Gellman's The Contender has a warm place in my heart because it inspired this project and was the book that introduced me to prominent aspects of Richard Nixon's life----the controversy surrounding Nixon's activity at the 1952 Republican National Convention, for example. But, as I read books after Gellman, my conclusion was that he did not say much that was particularly new, that others (I think of Jonathan Aitken) had defended Nixon better than he did, that some of his arguments were not that good, that his representations of the other side sometimes amounted to being strawmen (for example, the biographers Gellman criticizes acknowledge that Helen Gahagan Douglas lost the 1950 Senate race not only on account of Nixon’s attacks of her), and that the authors Gellman criticized themselves presented a fairly decent case.

There were books that I liked, but my liking them had little to do with what they said about Nixon.  For example, Fawn Brodie had some interesting things to say about Nixon’s lying or embellishments of the truth early on in her book, but what she had to say about Nixon got pretty boring as the book proceeded.  But I was fascinated as she told the story about the Kennedys and how Joseph Kennedy had to struggle to become accepted in the United States on account of his Irish and Catholic heritage.  Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland told many of the same stories about Nixon that I had read elsewhere, but it had a number of interesting stories about other political figures, and it, more than any other book I had read, effectively told the story of the political developments and turmoil of the 1960′s-1970′s.

Did I learn more about Nixon as a result of this project?  Well, I learned a number of facts that I did not know before, but I can’t say that my conceptualization of the man is all that different from how it was before the project.  I will say that I am more familiar now with the arguments of those who do not feel that Nixon was overly progressive, with the view that Nixon was a calculating politician rather than a principled leader.

All of that said, I am glad that I did this project, and I hope that some of you got something out of it, or will get something out of it if you stumble upon my posts in the future.

My Church's Bible Study on "Faith, the Future, and Jesus" (the Lesson We Were On)

My church had its Bible study last night.  We’re going through The Unbreakable Covenant: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, with Michael Rydelnik. We did Session 4, which is entitled “Faith, the Future, and Jesus.”

On the DVD, Michael Rydelnik argued that the Torah itself was about faith, not just works, citing (among other things) God’s rebuke of Moses for not having faith when Moses struck the rock rather than obeying God and speaking to it (Numbers 20:1-13).  Rydelnik also contended that the Torah does not just point to the past, but also to the future itself, for there are places in the Torah that speak of the last days.

Moreover, like the Book of Acts, Rydelnik interprets the prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 to be Jesus Christ.  Rydelnik said that other prophets spoke God’s words, as was said about the prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, and Rydelnik there may have been addressing (albeit not explicitly) the scholarly argument that Deuteronomy 18:15-19 concerns the prophetic office, not a specific future prophet.  But Rydelnik ultimately thinks that Deuteronomy 18:15-19 is about a specific future prophet like Moses, namely, Jesus Christ.  Rydelnik referred to Deuteronomy 34:10-12, which states that a prophet has not arisen like Moses, and Rydelnik mentioned the scholarly argument that this passage was put into Deuteronomy long after the time of Moses.  Rydelnik also cited Numbers 12:6-8, which distinguishes Moses from other prophets, saying that other prophets have visions, whereas God spoke with Moses face to face.  The other prophets were not like Moses, Rydelnik was arguing, whereas Jesus Christ was, for God spoke with Jesus face-to-face.  The prophet like Moses of Deuteronomy 18:15-19, therefore, is Jesus, according to Rydelnik.

In terms of the group’s discussion, there was some question about whether or not all prophets except for Moses received their revelations through dreams or visions.  Abraham had a vision in Genesis 15, but did everyone who heard from God hear through a dream or a vision?  The text doesn’t always say!  I think there is good reason to believe that Deuteronomy 18:15-19 is talking about the prophetic office in general, for the prophetic office would meet Israel’s desire for an intermediary that is mentioned in that passage, plus other prophets in the Hebrew Bible appear to be modeled on Moses, on some level: Moses parted the Sea of Reeds, and Elijah in II Kings 2 parted the waters.

The group was somewhat struggling to understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  People were agreeing with Michael Rydelnik that the Torah was pro-faith, yet they were also saying that the Torah was based on works and law, whereas the New Covenant was based on faith.  I can understand their point of view, since there are times that Paul seems to make such a distinction between the covenants.  There were faith, grace, and works under the Old Covenant, so how was it different from the New Covenant?  Well, Rydelnik referred to Deuteronomy 30:6′s circumcision of the heart so that Israel would love God, God under the new covenant writing God’s law on Israel’s heart in Jeremiah 31, and the new heart in Ezekiel.  Perhaps that’s the difference: God in the New Covenant internalizes God’s law in people’s heart, whereas God did not do that to the same extent (if at all) under the Old Covenant.

Other than that, we talked about such hot-button topics as climate change, homosexuality, whether the Hebrew Bible truly prefigured the New Testament, and the list goes on.  I was pretty heated, sad to say, but the discussion near the end amounted to us listening to each other with respect, even if we disagreed.  I felt a need to be honest about my thoughts on issues.  People were giving authentic testimonies, and I did not feel that I could give a canned testimony.  Yes, there was a time way-back-when when I felt a conviction of sin and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  But I never felt authentic sharing that with people.  I feel more authentic when I share honestly where I am now religiously, with my doubts and struggles.  I don’t want to be disruptive about it, though.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nixonland 12

I finished Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland.  In this post, I will discuss three items from the book.  In my post tomorrow, I will offer an overall reflection about My Year (or More) of Nixon.

1.  On pages 343-344, Perlstein tells an inspiring story about Edmund Muskie, who ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1968 and 1972.

Muskie in 1968 was speaking before a crowd in Pennsylvania, and some long-haired college students were trying to disrupt his speech with chants to end the Vietnam War.  Such disruptions occurred at the speeches of other candidates, too, such as Vice-President and Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.  Rather than attempting to outshout the demonstrators, Muskie pursued another approach: he would allow the demonstrators to pick a spokesperson who would speak for ten minutes, on the condition that the demonstrators would listen to what Muskie had to say afterwards.  The demonstrators picked a spokesman, a nervous college kid, who would learn what it was like to try to speak when people were heckling!  But the spokesman’s essential message was that people should not vote in the Presidential election, for candidates George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Hubert Humphrey were “no answer” (his words).

Muskie then spoke.  Perlstein states: “He reviewed his modest upbringing.  He described what the price of political apathy had been for the poor Maine region he came from: the special interests ran things and made the people poorer.  But once the people became engaged and started electing Democrats, things started getting better.”  Both hippie students and George Wallace supporters liked Muskie’s speech, and they began mingling with one another.  The Washington Post said that this event was “one of the spectacular performances of the 1968 political campaign” (its words).

I like this story for three reasons.  First, the sentimentalist in me appreciates the themes of different people coming together and listening to what each other has to say.  Second, the story makes me think about the issue of participation in the political process.  Is government too corrupt to be reformed, or should people at least try to reform it?  I’m not for utter naivety about the political system and the politicians within it, but I also don’t believe that sitting out of the political system is the way to make a difference.  When we participate, the politicians are more accountable to us than if we do not participate.  Third, the story came to my mind as I read other parts of Perlstein’s book, which discussed what happened when a number of New Left activists started to participate in the political process rather than shouting at it from the outside.  Nixon encouraged this in supporting the extension of voting rights to eighteen-year-olds, out of the alleged hope that this would divide the Democratic Party.  And it did, as young New Left activists were at odds with Democratic power-brokers and machines.

That makes me wonder: Do I prefer governance by mainstream politicians, or by outside-of-the-mainstream people?  My hope is that outside-of-the-mainstream people can challenge the powers-that-be and bring about reforms that previously were not even on the table.  The thing is, though, that the Tea Partiers were outside-of-the-mainstream, and their contribution was bringing the government to a screeching halt just because they were not getting their own way.  Standard, mainstream powers-that-be don’t act that way!  Maybe I would prefer the outside-of-the-mainstream left over the outside-of-the-mainstream right, but then I wonder if they themselves would stir the pot in disastrous directions!  Should I stick with establishment politicians and all of the problems that accompany them?  Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t know?

2.  On page 660, Perlstein narrates the following about Arthur Bremer, the man who shot George Wallace:
“Bremer was an unemployed busboy whose only extended conversation with another friendly human in months was with a girl in a massage parlor whom he was disappointed to learn wasn’t a prostitute.  He had a plan, however, to get noticed: he would shoot the president of the United States and go down in a blaze of glory.”

Charles Colson of the Nixon Administration would try to portray Bremer as a leftist, but Perlstein was saying that the truth was different: Bremer was a lonely man who wanted attention.

This passage made me think about how many friendly extended conversations I have had with people.  I have often felt my share of loneliness and disconnection with others, but I cannot say that I was totally alone for any extended period of time.  I would go to church or support groups, or I would talk with people online, or I could talk with my family.  Imagine not having anybody.  That very thought scares me.

3.  On page 740, Perlstein quotes 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern saying: “We don’t have John Connally with us.  He’s with his rich oil-baron friends.  But we don’t need John Connally and the oil barons.  We’d rather have the oil workers.”

This passage stood out to me because it showed McGovern playing the anti-elitism card.  The point of Perlstein’s book, however, is that Nixon was a politician who often played the anti-elitism card: he appealed to the white middle class, many of whom felt alienated from the establishment and the educated elites.  The thing is, though, many have argued that Nixon himself was entrenched with elites, particularly big business.  Democrats have frequently made this charge about Republicans—-that Democrats are the party of the little guy, whereas Republicans are for the rich and well-to-do.  I guess that both sides play the anti-elitism card, because both sides have their share of elites, and thus one side can attack the elites of the other side.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Nations That Know Thee Not

Robert Goldenberg.  The Nations That Know Thee Not: Ancient Jewish Attitudes Toward Other Religions.  New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Robert Goldenberg’s The Nations That Know Thee Not is largely about ancient Jewish views on Gentile religions.  There was the view that there is only one God, and the view that other gods existed and God permitted the Gentiles to worship them.  There was the view that idolatry was foolishness, and the view that it was wicked and immoral.  There was the view that Gentiles could worship their gods, and that what was important was that they be moral people.  There was a strong Jewish desire to uproot idolatry from the holy land.  However, there were devout Jews who may not have participated in idolatry, but they were not phobic about pagan temples or pagan people.  Overall, ancient Jews were attempting to navigate their way through a world in which they were vulnerable, and that shaped their interaction with Gentile idolatry.

I was hesitant to write a blog post about this book, not because I disliked it (since I did like it), but rather because I had already read and blogged about other books that pertain to Jewish views of Gentiles and Gentile religions: Terence Donaldson’s Paul and the Gentiles has an excellent section about this topic, which I blogged about, and I also blogged about Louis Feldman’s Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World, David Novak’s The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism, and Shaye Cohen’s The Beginnings of Jewishness.  Overall, the data in Goldenberg’s book is the same as the data in the other books, although Goldenberg does disagree with how Novak applied the data, at times.  There were some new things that I learned from Goldenberg’s book, however: how the ancient Israelites who worshiped gods in addition to YHWH were trying to make themselves secure by getting more of the pantheon on their side; devout Jews who felt no compunction about hiding in pagan temples or making pagan items for Gentile worship; Hellenistic Jewish literature that appears to have no problems with Gentiles worshiping idols, just so long as they are moral people; reasons that Philo believed that God forbade Jews to blaspheme other gods (i.e., doing so would desensitize them to blaspheming the true god); statements in Josephus and the Jerusalem Talmud about representatives of Temple authorities going out and collecting tithes from Israelite farmers; and the list goes on.

One concern that I had in reading Goldenberg’s book is that I saw that scholars do not always interpret statements in an absolute, straightforward manner.  When an ancient Jewish text says that God is the only God, does it mean that God is the only God, or is that rather a sign of enthusiasm, nationalism, or devotion, not an absolute theological statement?  When Jephthah in the Bible was acknowledging to a Gentile nation the existence and power of its god, did that truly reflect Jephthah’s beliefs, or was that diplomatic maneuvering on Jephthah’s part?  It is difficult for an Aspie like me not to take what people say at face-value, and I wonder what boundaries there may be once one does not.  Yet, who can deny that humans are complex creatures, and that there is more behind what they are saying than their actual words?

There is a part of me that wishes that Goldenberg’s book had more historical explanation.  I can understand why someone would take issue with me on that, for Goldenberg does discuss important aspects of historical context: how Gentiles viewed Jews and Jewish religion, both negatively and positively; the impact of Hadrian’s decree against genital mutilation; Christian fears of Judaism winning Gentiles over, alongside Jewish reluctance to proselytize, etc.  I cannot exactly say why, but there is a part of me that does not think that Goldenberg was diachronic enough, but rather was referring to different Jewish stances on Gentile religions, without mounting a sufficient historical explanation for those stances.  Maybe I was wishing that he would make the connections between the stances and the history more clear and linear than he did (according to my impressions).

Good book, though.

Nixonland 11

On pages 739-740 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein tells the following story about George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate:

“‘In a recent month,’ McGovern intoned in a radio ad, ‘a quarter of the wounded civilians in South Vietnam were children under twelve.  As we vote November seventh, let us think of Tanya and all the other defenseless children of the world.’  The candidate was howling, howling into the wilderness.  If he was going to lose, he would lose his way.”

Tanya was a twelve-year-old girl whom Richard Nixon mentioned in his 1972 acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention.  She lost her family in World War II, and Nixon exhorted, “Let us think of Tanya and the other Tanyas and their brothers and sisters everywhere—-in Russia, in China, in America, as we proudly meet our responsibilities for leadership in the world in a way worthy of a great people.” McGovern was turning Nixon’s reference to Tanya on its head: Sure, lets think of Tanya and people like her, but let us remember that defenseless people like her are being wounded due to the war in Vietnam.

I like what Perlstein says on pages 739-740 because it is about transforming a loss into an opportunity.  If McGovern was going down, he was going to go down making an important statement.  Granted, people were seeing him as a cliche of himself.  He himself was much more moderate than many believed him to be: he wasn’t in favor of drug legalization, abortion-on-demand, or many of the radical or controversial groups at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, but many people thought that he was, one reason being that a number of his prominent supporters had those stances.  When McGovern tried to explain that he wasn’t for putting half of the country on welfare whether the recipients wanted to work or not, but instead wanted for everyone to have a job, many did not believe him.  They thought he was flip-flopping.  McGovern was on the defensive and was trying to explain himself, and, as someone Perlstein mentions in the book asserted, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.  (Well, not always: there was Nixon’s Checkers Speech, and Arnold Vinick’s exhaustive response to reporters’ questions at the nuclear power plant on The West Wing!)

Maybe McGovern had been caricatured and his loss was certain.  But he was still going to make a clear statement.  He was still going to call out evil when he saw it.  He would appeal to people’s moral sensitivity.

Book Write-Up: Worthy Is the Lamb, by Ray Summers

Ray Summers.  Worthy Is the Lamb: Interpreting the Book of Revelation In Its Historical Background.  Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1951.

Ray Summers was a professor of New Testament and Greek who taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Baylor University.  A colleague of mine recommended this book to me because I wanted to learn about partial preterism, which was the view on the Book of Revelation that my colleague held.  According to partial preterism, as I understand it, much of the Book of Revelation pertained to the first century C.E., and yet the second coming of Christ that is talked about in the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles of Paul will have a future fulfillment.

There are at least two strands of preterism with which I am familiar.  The first strand interprets the Book of Revelation in light of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and thus it dates Revelation to around that time, which is roughly two decades prior to when many scholars date it.  The second strand interprets the Book of Revelation primarily in reference to God’s judgment of pagan Rome in history.  Ray Summers adheres to this strand, and he dates the composition of the book to the 90′s C.E.

There was a lot that was valuable in this book.  There was Summers’ discussion of apocalyptic literature in general.  I was particularly interested in Summers’ assertion that the reason that much of apocalyptic literature was pseudonymous and attributed to prominent figures before or during the time of Moses was that the law had attained prominence, and thus there was a feeling that revelation after the time of the Torah would not be as legitimate as revelation before or during the time of the Torah’s revelation.  I have questions about this, since the prophetic writings in the Hebrew Bible came after the time of the Torah and were considered (on some level) to be revelatory.  But I do agree with Summers that there is significance in the attribution of much of apocalyptic literature to Moses or prominent biblical figures prior to the time of Moses: perhaps it is that earlier was considered better, or more authoritative.

Summers defends the idea that the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.  He appeals to the views of church fathers, and he attempts to respond to arguments that have been advanced against Johannine authorship.  On the dramatic differences in writing styles between the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, one argument that Summers makes is that John may have had someone to put his thoughts into refined language when he was writing the Gospel of John, but he did not have such a person when he wrote the Book of Revelation.  On the early testimony that the John who wrote Revelation was John the Elder, Summers contends that John the Elder could have been the apostle John.  Whether or not one agrees with Summers’ conclusions, his arguments deserve thoughtful consideration.

Summers argues against some of the other Christian approaches to Revelation that are out there, including the futuristic, premillennial perspective, and the historicist interpretation that focuses on the medieval Roman Catholic church and the Protestant Reformation.  Summers has at least two arguments against some of these approaches.  One is that they can be rather arbitrary, as they posit connections between parts of the Book of Revelation and historical or (in the case of strands of futurism) current events.  The second argument, which appears often throughout Summers’ book, is that these approaches violate the purpose of the Book of Revelation, which was to comfort persecuted Christians during the first century C.E.  Summers wonders: How would first century Christians be comforted by John telling them what would happen in the Middle Ages or two-thousand-or-so years in the future?  Summers does not believe that they would have been.

Summers interprets much of the Book of Revelation in light of realities of the first century C.E.  He believes that the first horseman of the apocalypse relates to Parthia, noting that the first horseman resembles certain Parthian images.  He contends that the Beast is the emperor Domitian, who insisted on being worshiped and persecuted Christians mercilessly.  Summers believes that the story of the two witnesses conveys the message that the church will survive, notwithstanding persecution.  According to Summers, the coming of Christ in Revelation is not the same as the second coming of Christ in other parts of the New Testament, but it is Christ coming in judgment against pagan Rome, which came to pass in history.  The binding of Satan, for Summers, meant that Satan would no longer deceive people to engage in emperor worship.  Summers does acknowledge that there is an eschatological element in Revelation: he interprets God’s judgment after the second resurrection and the casting of the Beast and the false prophet into hell to be things that will occur when Christ comes back in the future.  But, overall, Summers believes that Revelation pertains to what historically happened to pagan Rome.

What about some of the fantastic events narrated in Revelation: mountains going into the sea, vicious scorpions stinging people, etc.?  Summers interprets some of them in light of volcano eruptions and an earthquake in the first century C.E., but often he regards the fantastic phenomena as symbolic, noting that apocalyptic literature frequently uses symbolism.

I am not entirely convinced by Summers' partial preterism.  I agree with Summers that much of Revelation can be associated with events in the first century C.E., but I believe that the author of Revelation expected for Christ to return, to defeat Rome, and to set up his kingdom in the first century C.E., and that this was what he thought would give hope to the suffering Christians.  Revelation 11:15, after all, presents the kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdom of Christ, and Christ reigning forever and ever.  That sounds to me like Revelation is depicting Christ returning to rule the earth.  Moreover, I think that work should be done on determining when Revelation should be interpreted literally, and when it should be interpreted symbolically.  In my opinion, it is not enough to say that Revelation is a symbolic book, and thus we should interpret fantastic phenomena in Revelation as symbolic, for what is to prevent symbolic exegesis from becoming as arbitrary as the approaches that Summers critiques?

Overall, I found parts of Summers’ book to be deep and meaty, and parts of it to be rather shallow.  Summers is quite deep when he goes into different interpretations of parts of Revelation, highlighting what he considers to be their strengths and weaknesses and offering his own opinion.  Summers does not always do this in his exegesis, but he is very impressive when he does.  Also, there were times when I wished that Summers provided documentation for some of his claims.  Summers cites sources for different opinions on Revelation, but not so much for first century C.E. history.  Summers’ book would have been better had it done the latter.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nixonland 10

On pages 674-675 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein tells a story about Shirley MacLaine’s campaigning for Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, and the disconnect between her and some of her audiences:

“Shirley MacLaine’s alienation from her audiences was never plainer than when she addressed a black women’s luncheon and fashion show in Pittsburgh during the Pennsylvania primary.  She spoke extemporaneously, as she always did, and said underprivileged women like them understood, as she and McGovern understood, that material things didn’t matter, that too many Americans cared about the wrong things.  The response was stony silence.  The wealthy movie star was baffled.  A young black man had to explain it to her: ‘You can’t tell those women that stuff.  You can’t tell them they don’t have much.  They’re proud people.’  They ‘want the things—-those very things—-you think are useless.’”

As I read this, I thought about the attraction of a number of African-Americans to the prosperity Gospel, a Gospel that promises health and wealth.  See here for search results about this.  I was one time standing behind two African-American gentlemen in the post office, and they were chatting about religion and their desire for God to bless them with riches.  They agreed that God waits to bless people with lots of money until God knows they can handle it.

I’m sure that a number of Christians would snub their noses at that.  After all, shouldn’t we prioritize spiritual riches over material riches?  I think so, but who am I to judge people who desire material prosperity?  When white people have jobs, work their way up, and get to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of life, that’s the American dream.  Why should we look down on African-Americans desiring this?  I would also like to note that having material things does not have to be inconsistent with valuing what’s important in life: faith, family, good morals, giving to charity, and the well-being of one’s community.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Nixonland 9

On page 656 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein quotes a conversation between President Richard Nixon and John Connally.  Connally is urging Nixon not to worry about killing civilians in Vietnam.  People already thought that Nixon was doing so, Connally argued, so Nixon had might as well do so.  Nixon’s response was “That’s right.”  Earlier in the book, on page 649, Perlstein quotes a similar conversation between Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  Nixon said that he thought it was time to “take out the dikes” and asked if that would “drown people”, and Kissinger replied that it would drown approximately 200,000 people.  Nixon then said he’d prefer to use a nuclear bomb, and Kissinger retorted that this would be “Too much.”  Nixon then said that he wanted Kissinger to “think big".

Perlstein draws both conversations from the Nixon Library Tapes, and Perlstein is the one transcribing them.  They appear to me to differ from what Nixon says in his memoirs and in No More Vietnams.  In his writings, Nixon affirms that he did not deliberately bomb dikes, and that America bent over backwards to avoid killing civilians, which was why American soldiers were taken as POWs: in their attempts to avoid killing civilians, they left themselves more vulnerable than they would be if they did not care.

Perhaps one could argue that the tapes do not contradict Nixon’s books, that the tapes present Nixon talking big about what he could or should do, whereas the books are about what he actually did as President.  Perhaps.  I can see Nixon’s point in his memoirs that, had he wanted to kill innocent civilians, he would have waged the Vietnam War much more aggressively than he did; still, one cannot deny that many civilians died in the Vietnam War.

(UPDATE: Later in the book, Perlstein talks about the American bombing of Vietnamese dikes.)

Even if Nixon’s words on the tapes contradicted his actions, his words are really cold.  It is one thing to wage a war that one thinks is necessary and that may entail the deaths of civilians; it is another thing not to have second thoughts about this, or not to think about how horrible civilians’ death is—-these are people trying to live their lives, many of whom have families.  Of course, one could argue that these two things are not significantly different in terms of the civilians themselves, that they are still getting killed.  That would be a fair point, but it would be part of a broader conversation about if and when war is necessary.

Should Nixon’s character be judged on the basis of these sorts of statements on the tapes?  Well, I would hate for my entire character to be judged on the basis of things that I have said here and there.  I have been more compassionate than I have sounded to others, and perhaps that was the case with Nixon, too.  Jesus said that out of the heart the mouth speaks, but I have a problem going from there to saying that everything I say manifests the sum total of my character.  At the same time, I do believe that what I say reveals elements of my character, some of them bad.

Book Write-Up: The Sinners' Garden, by William Sirls

William Sirls.  The Sinners’ Garden.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013.

The Sinners’ Garden is about broken people being healed, supernatural phenomena, and mystery.  The strongest feature of this book is its characterization.  There is Andy Kemp, a reclusive, moody teen with a scar on his face because his abusive father years before inadvertently threw on him hot water that he was aiming at Andy’s mother.  There is Andy’s mother Judi, who blames herself for not protecting Andy.  There is Judi’s good-humored brother Rip, who spent time in jail for selling marijuana.  Rip is now a Christian and acts as a father-figure, friend, and mentor to Andy.  There is Rip’s crusty pastor, Pastor Welsh, who is familiar with the hard knocks of life and offers Rip spiritual counsel as Rip attempts to live better, amidst people’s suspicions of him.  There is Heather, a police officer and love interest to Rip.  She is tracking down the mysterious “Summer Santa,” who is breaking into people’s houses, not to steal anything, but rather to leave generous gifts.  And there is Kevin Hart, the wealthy pillar of the community, who is prominent at church, gives Rip a job and a place to live after Rip gets out of jail, and does works of charity.  Yet, Kevin lives another kind of life when he is away from the spotlight.

Essentially, Andy speaks God’s words that he hears through a broken iPod, specifically to Jodi, Heather, Kevin, and Rip.  Incidentally, a new garden has appeared, and these four people have plots in the garden.  Their plot disappears once they have resolved something in their life that is troubling them—-once their brokenness is healed, or they have repented.  Jodi’s problem is guilt at not protecting her son.  Heather is perplexed about whether her late father, a police officer who was shot to death, is in heaven.  And Rip and Kevin are dealing with issues: one of them resolves his issues, while the other one does not.

My favorite part of the book revolves around Andy’s romance with a girl named Chelsae.  Andy is interested in Chelsae, but he does not think that Chelsae will be interested in him on account of his scar.  Rip bets Andy a coke that Chelsae will accept Andy.  When Chelsae asks Andy to dance, and the two of them are dancing, Rip yells out to Andy, “You owe me a coke!”

In terms of any criticisms that I have of the book, there are two.  First, in the scene in which Heather has finally cornered the Summer Santa, Heather is thinking that the Summer Santa is one particular person, but it turns out to be somebody else.  The thing is, my understanding is that the two people had different body builds, so I am perplexed as to how Heather could have confused the two.  Second, there is a scene in which Heather’s mother appears to have spiritual insight, which is odd because mostly in the book Heather’s mother sat in front of the television set all day and did not go out.  I think that the book should have elaborated more about her spiritual insight—-how she gained it, and how it fits into her character as a whole.

A common theme in the book is that Andy does not need his iPod to hear from God, since God is everywhere and is continuously speaking.  Yet, it is interesting that God in the book still uses iPods to prompt people to do the right thing: God uses Andy to speak to people’s situations, and, at the end of the book, God speaks through an iPod to an abused boy, giving him the strength to confront his mother’s abusive boyfriend.  (The book begins and ends with a scene about abuse.)  This issue may overlap with another issue in the book: Why doesn’t God do as many miracles as God did in biblical times?  William Sirls does not strike me as a cessationist, for Pastor Welsh asks, “Why is it that people think God could only perform miracles two thousands years ago?  Where is it written that He was going to stop?”  But healing comes to one person and not to another in the book, and William Sirls in the back asks “Why do you think we don’t see as many miracles today as they did in Bible times?”

I really enjoyed this book.  I pictured Rip as a young Kevin Costner (only I modified my image of him when I learned that Rip was blonde), and Kevin Hart reminded me somewhat of J.R. Ewing, only (unlike J.R.) Kevin Hart tried to project a Christian facade.  Overall, the characters were what made this book.
Click here for Thomas Nelson’s page about this book.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

When to Confront, When to be Silent

At church this morning, the pastor was talking to his puppet, Jake, who was saying that he had a bad week.  The pastor asked the congregation what Jake should do to feel better, and someone said, “Talk to God about it.”

I was thinking of the show Family Ties during this part of the service.  I see a pattern when it comes to Mallory: she often makes a scene when something is bothering her.  I feel embarrassed for her, making a scene in front of all those people, many of whom she doesn’t even know.  I wonder: Why should one even express oneself when one is feeling badly?  Why not just go with the flow?  Well, that doesn’t always work.  On the episode that I watched last night, Mallory is upset that her friend from college and her Mom are becoming such good friends, due to their common interest in architecture.  Sure, Mallory can just say nothing and avoid conflict.  But her Mom and her college friends will then become closer, and Mallory will only get madder, as she feels left out.

Prayer is one way that people try to cope with an imperfect world.  That can be helpful.  It may be better to confront someone about his or her behavior that offends us, but that may work, or it may not: the person might become offended, and the relationship could be ruined.  Moreover, if I were to voice my frustrations on a continual basis, I would get annoying.  There are times when perhaps one should talk to God about one’s problems, rather than confronting the person who is bothering us.  But there may also be times when confrontation is important.  I often don’t have the courage for it, but I do believe that it may be better than continuing to sulk privately and becoming more alienated from people.

Nixonland 8: Violence

A recurrent topic in Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland is violence, for the time period that Perlstein covers in this book was a time of significant upheaval.  Perlstein, in fact, dedicates the book “to the memory of the dozens of Americans who lost their lives at the hands of other Americans, for ideological reasons, between the years of 1965 and 1972."

Perlstein talks about riots and protests, trigger-happy and repressive law enforcement authorities, and average Joes and Janes in America who actually cheered on the tragedies at Kent State and in My Lai.  The shape of the Second Amendment debates was rather different back then than it is today.  Perlstein mentions a conservative in California who proposed a gun control measure in order to suppress African-American militants, African-American militants who appealed to the Second Amendment as something necessary for their self-protection, and whites who liked the Second Amendment because they believed they needed guns to protect themselves from criminals and rioters.

The book is very sobering when it talks about violence: when it tells the story of an African-American male who was taking his pregnant wife to the hospital and got shot by a white cop, as well as the stories of people with families who got killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while a riot was occurring.
Nixonland‘s narration of the Kent State tragedy is perhaps the best part of the book, for I was impressed by its balance and the way that it highlighted the human dimension of the tragedy.  When I read about the Kent State tragedy, I usually see a pattern (which is probably not absolute, but I’m just saying what I see): Conservatives tend to defend the National Guardsmen who shot the students, noting that  students in the crowd were committing provocative and antagonistic acts against the National Guardsmen, whereas liberals tend to demonize the National Guardsmen while bemoaning the tragedy of students being killed.  Perlstein is rather liberal, but he acknowledges that some of the students were committing provocative and antagonistic acts.  Perlstein also characterizes the National Guardsmen as either people who envied the students because the students could get out of the Vietnam War on an easy path, whereas they could do so only by serving in the National Guard, or as people who had fought in the Vietnam War and were now trigger-happy.

But what is interesting about Perlstein’s narration is that he talks about National Guardsmen and Kent State students becoming friends.  It’s almost as if Perlstein believes the whole tragedy could have been averted, had the Governor not decided to talk tough against the protesters.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Psalm 144

In Psalm 144, there are two parts.  Vv 1-11 concern deliverance from battle, and v 10 affirms that God “giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword” (KJV).  Vv 12-15 are about prosperity.

There has been scholarly speculation that these two sections were originally separate Psalms, and that they were later combined into one.  Maybe that’s true.  It does appear that vv 1-11 are about one topic, whereas vv 12-15 are about another topic.  And yet, I do believe that the theme of prosperity is connected with the theme of deliverance from foreign enemies in Psalm 144, for, when God delivers Israel from her foreign enemies, that allows her to have the space to have prosperity.  She is no longer busy fighting wars, and she does not have to worry about foreign oppressors taking the fruit of her labor. 

I read Shalom E. Holtz’s “The thematic unity of Psalm cxliv in light of Mesopotamian royal ideology,” which was in Vetus Testamentum 58 no. 3 (2008).  Holtz notes that, in Mesopotamian texts, the king is the warrior and also the provider, but these themes are usually in “unified compositions” rather than two separate sections, as is the case in Psalm 144.  Holtz speculates that an Israelite Psalmist who was familiar with ancient Near Eastern conventions may have joined together two Psalms—-one about victory in battle, and one about prosperity—-to convey the message that the king of Israel, like Mesopotamian kings, was both warrior and provider.

But there is a problem.  Holtz and others have stated that Psalm 144 has Late Biblical Hebrew.  For example, we see in Psalm 144 the particle sh- and the word zan, which are characteristic of Late Biblical Hebrew.  The post-exilic period, which is when Late Biblical Hebrew was prominent, did not have a Davidic monarch.  How would a Psalm about a king bringing Israel victory in battle and prosperity be relevant in this time?  Holtz presents some ideas: that the Psalm was originally pre-exilic and was updated in post-exilic times to reflect Late Biblical Hebrew and to give a royal Psalm a more general relevance, or that Psalm 144 was pertinent to post-exilic times because there was hope that the House of David would be restored.  Leslie Allen says that we see in Psalm 144 a royal Psalm that was later used in post-exilic times to express post-exilic Israel’s dependance on God while surrounded by foreign countries.  Allen does not believe there is Messianism in Psalm 144, but that Psalm 144 reflects the sort of notion that is in Isaiah 55:3-5: that God’s promises to David now apply to the Israelite community as a whole.

I can see Allen’s point.  While v 10 does mention kings and David, that does not necessarily mean that Psalm 144 is pre-exilic, for it could just be referring to David as an example of one who received God’s deliverance, the message being that, just as God delivered David, so God will deliver us as we are beset by our enemies.

I’d like to note one more thing.  As I look at Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint (and the LXX itself), it seems that the Septuagint understands the prosperity section of Psalm 144 differently from how the Masoretic understands it.  The MT of v 12 appears to say that God will deliver Israel from the strange children, and that, as a result of that, Israel will have prosperity.  The LXX of v 12, however, seems to be saying that the strange children are the ones with the prosperity.  Brenton translates the LXX of v 15 to say: “Men bless the people to whom this lot belongs, but blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”  The message of the LXX for Psalm 144 may be that, while Israel’s enemies are currently prosperous and receive acclaim on account of that, the truly blessed ones are those who have the LORD as their God, the community of Israel, whom God would deliver in battle.  The LXX applies Psalm 144 to the David and Goliath story; in that context, Psalm 144 would mean that the Philistines are prosperous and are afflicting Israel, but God would deliver Israel, and David’s defeat of Goliath would play a significant role in that salvation.

Nixonland 7: Plain Speech vs. Eloquence

On page 224 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein quotes George Wallace’s comments about riots and lawlessness in the late 1960′s:

“You people work hard, you save your money, you teach your children to respect the law.  Then when someone goes out and burns down half a city and murders someone, swaydo-intellectuals explain it away by sayin’ the killer didn’t get any watermelons to eat when he was ten years old….The Supreme Court is fixing it so you can’t do anything about people who set cities on fire.”

Perlstein then remarks: “It sure made Nixon look respectable when he couched the same sentiments in four-syllable words.”

Perlstein makes this point more than once in his book: that Nixon was expressing George Wallace’s sentiments in refined, eloquent language.  That makes me wonder: What is the better means of communication?  Is it plain speaking, or are eloquence and big words the way to go?

I recall a scene on The Cosby Show, which I watched years ago.  Rudy had a friend over, and this friend’s father was the editor of a newspaper.  Rudy and her friend were bothering Theo, who was working on a paper about his first day of school.  Theo was writing was he was at the brink of his destiny, and Rudy’s friend did not know what that meant.  Theo explained that it meant he was scared.  “Then why don’t you just say you were scared?”, she asked.  Theo responded that his teacher would not like his paper as much if he did that.  Rudy’s friend then shared with Theo her father’s wisdom: “My Dad says keep it simple: Only people with small minds use big words.”

And, in the newspaper business, keeping it simple is the way to go.  Granted, newspaper articles don’t express things quite like George Wallace did, for newspapers have to sound objective and respectable.  But they try to explain current events and ideas in easy-to-understand language.

But there is an appeal in eloquence and big words, within certain contexts.  While what George Wallace said undoubtedly resonated with a number of voters, Nixon sounded more like a statesman with intelligence.  When writing academic papers, plain speaking is not necessarily the way to go, for I have to sound like I’m smart and have a grasp of complexity and nuance.  I will say, though, that there are plenty of times when academics don’t want to sound abstruse, when they express their thoughts in a down-to-earth, accessible manner.  This is helpful to me, not because I can’t understand them when they are abstruse, but rather because their plain, down-to-earth language reminds me that their ideas are part of the real world and relate to the real world, not some inaccessible world that is above most people’s heads.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Nixonland 6: A Free Press

On page 438 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein contrasts the criticism of the media by Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, with Thomas Jefferson’s approach:

“A querulous American press—-far more opinionated, nasty, and partisan than anything Nixon would have to suffer—-predated American government.  Thomas Jefferson used to lay out the most scabrous articles about him in the White House antechamber where emissaries of foreign potentates waited to be received by him.  They would stride forth, waving the pages: Mr. President, are you aware of the things they’re writing about you?  Jefferson found nothing so delightful.  Yes, he would reply, and they’re welcome to say it, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  This is what America means.  But Agnew argued these gentlemen of the media were a usurping cabal.”

I thought of the miniseries John Adams as I read this.  In one scene, Secretary of State Jefferson has a hard time getting interested in a cabinet meeting.  He had just been in France, where revolutionary fervor was in the air.  Because he was so excited about the movements against French authoritarianism, the tedious day-to-day details of running the American government were not of particular interest to him.

Jefferson valued the American experiment and the freedom that accompanied it.  Consequently, he loved freedom of the press, even when the press was attacking him.  I admire Jefferson for this.  But I can also understand Agnew’s criticisms of the media.  Here President Nixon would be, laying out an agenda before the American people, and, before the American people could even digest it, the pundits would be nitpicking what Nixon said and saying that Nixon was wrong.  I don’t think that the media should be an arm of the government, as exists within many dictatorships.  But I do believe that people should be exposed to different perspectives when they turn on the news.

A Simpler Sinaitic Covenant, Replaced by God's Plan B?

For its Bible study, my church is going through The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David with Michael Rydelnik.  In our latest session, Michael Rydelnik made some interesting points on the DVD.  Essentially, Michael Rydelnik speculated that God’s original design was for Israel to observe the Ten Commandments alone, for all Israel to be a priesthood to God, and for Israel to come up on the holy mountain.  But Israel was afraid of God on account of the lightning that was accompanying the Sinaitic theophany, as the Israelites pleaded for Moses to go up the mountain in their place to hear God’s revelation.  As a result, Rydelnik argued, God changed God’s plans for Israel.  All of Israel would not go up the holy mountain, but only Moses would.  Rather than just requiring Israel to keep the Ten Commandments, God also gave Israel the Covenant Code; God would give Israel more laws (i.e., the Tabernacle, the Holiness Code, etc.) in response to her sins, in order that Israel might not be able to find loopholes.  Rather than Israel being a royal priesthood, God would require for Israel to have priests.  Instead of being a kingdom of priests, Rydelnik contended, Israel would now be a kingdom with priests.

I’m still not sure what to make of all this.  One person in the group, whom I have called “Joe” on this blog, said that he did not know where Rydelnik was getting his ideas.  Joe did not see any evidence that God wanted the Israelites to go on the holy mountain, for he said that what is stated repeatedly in Exodus 19 is that the Israelites are not to ascend the mountain.  The NIV of Exodus 19:13 states: “He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.”  I can see why one would think that this is saying that Israelites could eventually go on the mountain, but it had to be at a specific time, namely, during the blast of the ram’s horn.  The thing is, though, God is wanting to restrict the Israelites from ascending the mountain even after (or maybe even during) the trumpet blast (Exodus 19:19-24).

I was skeptical about Rydelnik’s idea that God’s original plan was for the Israelites to be priests, but God then decided to go with a Plan B of establishing a priesthood within Israel.  I thought that there were other passages besides Exodus 19:6 calling Israel as a whole a priesthood, and I did not think that there was a contradiction between Israel being a priesthood and having a priesthood.  Even when Israel had a priesthood, the Israelites served and worshiped God like priests did; Israel was holy and set apart from the nations, as her priests were set apart within her midst; and Israel arguably performed a function of exposing the Gentiles to the worship and ways of the true God, as the priests within Israel served a function of mediating God to the Israelite people.  I did not think that Israel’s role as a royal priesthood vanished after she requested that Moses ascend the holy mountain in her place.  Now, I’m not so sure.  The only passage in the Pentateuch that I can find that calls Israel a kingdom of priests is Exodus 19:13.  I do not see that idea of a democratized priesthood pronounced later in the Pentateuch, at least not explicitly.

What about Rydelnik’s idea that God originally intended Israel to observe only the Ten Commandments, but then decided to give Israel more laws in response to her sin and disobedience?  On some level, I have heard and read those kinds of ideas.  When I was doing my weekly quiet time in the Book of Exodus, I encountered the idea that God gave Israel the Decalogue of Exodus 34 specifically in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.  Israelites made an idol and had a festival, and God in Exodus 34 exhorted Israel to shun idolatry and paganism, and also told her what festivals to celebrate, and how.  On pages 143-144 of Early Biblical Interpretation, James Kugel states that Justin Martyr regarded the Torah as an accommodation to the Israelites on account of their wickedness.  I grew up in religious circles that observed the seventh-day Sabbath, and there were a number of Sabbatarians who believed in keeping the Sabbath but not the annual holy days.  They justified their stance by distinguishing the Ten Commandments from the rest of the law.  The Ten Commandments were God’s eternal standard, they claimed, whereas the rest of the law was added because of Israel’s transgressions, to allude to Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:19.

Rydelnik seems to see a major factor in Israel’s fall to be Israel’s reluctance to ascend the mountain and hear God themselves, as she preferred for Moses to do so in her place (Exodus 20:18-21).  Was Israel necessarily bad in feeling that way?  Within Christian circles, I’ve often heard Israel portrayed as somehow wrong in her reluctance and in her request that Moses go to God in her place, but I wonder if the text itself supports that.  Moses in v 20 tells Israel: “Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not” (KJV).  That looks to me as if Moses believes that Israel is right to be afraid, on some level, and that her fear can serve a godly end: it can inspire obedience. 

Rydelnik was going pretty fast in saying what laws he believed were in response to what sins.  He may have said that the Tabernacle was a response to the Golden Calf—-I only vaguely remember, so don’t quote me on that—-but God’s plan for the Tabernacle appears before the Golden Calf story.

(UPDATE: I just rewatched that lesson.  The scenario that Rydelnik laid out was as follows: God wants Israel to ascend the mountain, she is too afraid, and so God adds the Covenant Code of Exodus 20-24 to the Ten Commandments that God was originally planning to give to Israel.  Moses ascends the mountain again to receive instructions about the Tabernacle, and the Israelites meanwhile worship the Golden Calf.  Because Aaron was instrumental in this sin, God added laws concerning the priesthood.  The people sin with goat idols in Leviticus 17, and so God adds the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17-26.)

I am not entirely convinced by Rydelnik’s overall scenario, but there may be something to it, somewhere.  It does appear to me that the Covenant Code can function as an elaboration of the Decalogue, whether or not that was its original intent.  Does that mean that God originally intended to give Israel the Decalogue alone and later decided to expand on the Decalogue in response to Israel’s sinfulness, as a way to close loopholes?  My question then would be: Why would God give Israel the Decalogue in the first place, unless God already knew that Israel was sinful?  Did not the very existence of the revelation of the Decalogue to Israel imply that Israel needed to be told what was right and wrong, since she was not doing good and avoiding evil by herself?

Rydelnik’s scenario may also unwittingly highlight the fissures within Exodus 19-20.  There do seem to be two currents in Exodus 19-20: an assumption that God wants Israel to ascend the mountain or to approach God eventually (I base this on Exodus 19:13 and 20:18-21), along with a desire on God’s part to keep Israel from getting too close.  Perhaps there were priests who added the latter part because they were uncomfortable with any Israelite being able to approach God directly.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nixonland 5: A Godly Leader?

On page 173 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein states the following about Republican politician George Romney, who was the father of Mitt Romney, the Republican who lost the 2012 Presidential election:

“[George] Romney, a Republican who kept on getting elected in a Democratic state (he called America’s cult of rugged individualism ‘nothing but a political banner to cover up greed’), was a media darling.  The Mormon bishop with what Jules Witcover joked was a ‘full head of silvering Presidential hair’ made great copy: he didn’t work on Sundays.  He fasted before big decisions.  His granddad had fled with three wives one step ahead of the polygamy laws.  A new book of personal reminiscenses of JFK had just come out.  ‘The fellow I don’t want to run against is Romney,’ it reported him saying.”

What tanked George Romney’s Presidential ambitions was his statement that he had been brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam War.  Not only did that make him look weak, but many people may have thought that Romney was a phony after they heard that statement.  After all, one observer noted, Romney continued to publicly support the Vietnam War even after the time that he said he had concluded that he had been brainwashed about it!

But I can identify with why Romney was such a darling, and with how his religiosity actually contributed to his political stature.  My guess is that, in the eyes of many, being religious is an indication that one takes matters seriously—-that one takes morality and human worth seriously.  That is very attractive to me.  And yet, I can’t say that all politicians’ religiosity is attractive.  For example, I do not care for how many evangelical conservatives seemed to equate genuine Christian commitment with political support for George W. Bush.  George W. Bush said that he looked to his heavenly Father rather than his earthly father for advice on Iraq.  In my opinion, he should have consulted his earthly father rather than giving the impression that God was the source of his decision to wage the Iraq War.  Moreover, the haste with with he got us into Iraq arguably contradicts the virtues that one can associate with religiosity: gravity and carefully weighing one’s options in prayer before God so as to make the best decision and to minimize harm to human beings.

Jimmy Carter’s religiosity was attractive when he first ran for President.  Here the country was, recovering from the stench and corruption of Watergate, and this church-going man came along and gave the impression that he would clean up Washington.  But his religiosity may have gone sour, a bit.  I think of his sermonizing against greed.  People in those hard times did not want to hear a sermon, but rather they longed for hope and encouragement.

In 2008, I thought that Republican Mike Huckabee’s religiosity was attractive.  He appeared to be a kindly man.  He was a pastor.  And he manifested a concern for the poor and illegal immigrants, something that I did not see too often among Republicans.  But, in my opinion, Huckabee became a right-wing shrill, one whose religiosity amounted to encouraging evangelical conservatives’ whiny persecution complex more than empathy or concern for the marginalized.

Personally speaking, I would like a President who fasts and prays—-not to the exclusion of learning, mind you, but as a way for that President to humbly acknowledge his or her limitations and the gravity of decisions.  But something else that attracts me is intelligence: I like for Presidents to display some intelligence on the topic of religion.  I don’t know if President Barack Obama fasts and prays, but I have been impressed by his thoughtful insights about religious issues.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nixonland 4: The Diverse Media

On page 183 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein discusses the role of different publications in influencing opinions about the Vietnam War:

“An argument proliferated on the right: that winning would be easy—-only, Reader’s Digest argued, ‘Our government has not permitted it.’  A woman reading that in a dentist’s waiting room might sink down into the chair a confirmed hawk.  But if she happened to choose Ladies’ Home Journal instead, she might read this letter to the editor: ‘Before I went to Saigon, I had heard and read that napalm melts the flesh, and I thought that’s nonsense, because I can put a roast in the oven and the fat will melt but the meat stays there.  Well, I went and saw these children burned by napalm, and it is absolutely true.’  That might make you a dove.”

On pages 206-297, there is a similar passage: Reader’s Digest was talking about how Americans in Vietnam were visiting orphanages and reconstructing schools, whereas the “prestige press” was painting a picture of American soldiers wrecking South Vietnamese hamlets and killing inhabitants.  But Perlstein goes on to say that even Reader’s Digest readers were wondering what the Vietnam War was for.

I one time read an article for an American Government class about the diversity of media, and how Americans nowadays listen to viewpoints that agree with their own ideological persuasions.  I’ve heard more than one liberal hearken back to the good old days when there were three networks, and most people got their news from one of those three networks.  At least there was a commonality among Americans back then, as opposed to people getting their “information” (true or not) within their own little worlds.  Or so the reminisce goes.

Actually, there were diverse media outlets during the so-called good old days.  Sure, there were three networks that many Americans watched, but there were also local newspapers, many of which were conservative.  There was Reader’s Digest.  And a number of doctors and dentists had John Bircher publications on their waiting room tables.

And, nowadays, while people may read or listen to things that agree with what they already believe, there is more opportunity for different people to come together and discuss issues.  This happens on the Internet.
I wouldn’t say that things are rosy right now, however, for there is still suspicion of the “other,” and thus a reluctance to read an alternative point-of-view in an open-minded manner.  There are plenty of good discussions on the Internet, but there is also a lot of people talking past each other.

A professor once told me that he had a solution to all of the acrimonious political discussions that students were conducting online: put them into a room in a library, and have them read only the opposite point-of-view.  I think there’s something to this proposal, and yet it’s far from perfect.  I may have been an acrimonious conservative back then, but I shouldn’t have been put into a room where I’d read only liberal thought.  I hadn’t been exposed to the best of conservative thought!  I hadn’t mastered the conservative perspective!  Consequently, I believe that people should read as many perspectives as they can.  A helpful resource can be the Opposing Viewpoints series, or similar series: the types that include different perspectives on controversial issues.  In my opinion, that can provide people with a fuller picture of how things are: not a perfect picture, mind you, since different “sides” in America may share presuppositions that someone outside of America may disagree with, but a fuller picture—-at least fuller than reading only one side would get a person.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nixonland 3

On page 164 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein states regarding Nelson Rockefeller’s brother Winthrop:

“Nelson’s brother Winthrop beat Justice Jim in Arkansas—-on a platform of school prayer, opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and excoriation of HEW education commissioner Harold Howe II.”

That made me wonder if Withrop Rockefeller, in contrast to his controversial brother Nelson, was a conservative Republican, a black sheep of the Rockefeller family, if you will.  In reading wikipedia’s article about him, it seems that he was like Nelson: a moderate liberal Republican.  But Withrop was politically active in Arkansas, so perhaps he had to put on a conservative front on some issues.  The wikipedia article states, for example, that he was instrumental in racially integrating Arkansas’ public schools as Governor, yet he did so quietly.

Book Write-Up: Her Good Name, by Ruth Axtell

Ruth Axtell.  Her Good Name: A Novel.  Chicago: Moody Publishers (River North Fiction), 2012.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

Her Good Name is a novel that is set in late nineteenth century Maine.  A key theme in the book is the romantic feelings between Espy, who is from a lower-economic class, and Warren Brentwood, who is from the town’s upper economic class and is being groomed by his father to take over the family lumber company.  Espy and Warren are from two different worlds, and they suppress their feelings for each other.  But they work together at a recently-formed church group that is designed to help the poor of the community.  Espy brings her sister Angela and a couple of her friends to the group, and Warren brings his shy sister Annalise and some of his rich friends.  Elements of the two factions clash, and yet the two factions need each other for the group to be effective. While the rich members are instrumental in raising funds from their rich acquaintances, the poorer members can deliver those funds to the poor without sounding patronizing or condescending.

Espy takes a housekeeping job at the home of a local professor, the respected Mr. Stockton.  She appreciates that Mr. Stockton allows her to borrow books from his extensive library, and that he gives her fascinating insights about the books that she reads.  Not only does that open her eyes to a world of learning, but she also hopes that the job will allow her to be closer to Warren, and that the professor’s tutorial of her will help her to become good enough for Warren.  When Mr. Stockton makes an unwanted pass at Espy, however, and Mrs. Stockton catches him kissing her, Mrs. Stockton spreads the rumor that Espy was making advances at the professor.  Espy leaves town in humiliation and goes to another town, where she finds refuge at an accepting Christian mission house.  There, the pastor and his wife listen sympathetically to her story, provide her with the tools to get a job, and help her to grow as a Christian.

Meanwhile, Warren has a dream and is feeling a call to the ministry, which goes against his father’s plan for his life.  Warren goes to seminary, but he struggles to find a vibrant relationship with God there.  Will Warren pursue the ministry, or will he take over his father’s business and marry Christina, a local rich girl whom her parents want him to marry?  What’s more, what will become of his relationship with Espy?  How will he react to her scandal?  Will they be together?

It is a beautiful story, and I cried during parts of it.  One part that I found particularly moving was when Espy presented a resounding defense of the poor of the community, after some of the rich people of the church group had implied that the poor were shiftless.  Espy said that the poor work hard and struggle to get by.  And, when the minister and his wife at the local mission house were sharing the love of Christ with Espy, I thanked God for the church.

If there was one character whom I loved the most, it was Warren’s sister, Annalise.  I could identify with Annalise’s shyness, but I also admired that she was an accepting person, even though she was in the upper-class, and a number of her rich relatives and acquaintances looked down their noses on Espy and Espy’s social circle.  If there was a character who intrigued me, it was Warren’s father, who owned a prominent lumber company.  Warren’s father was quite judgmental, and yet there was a side of him that could commiserate with people’s humanity, even if they were in a lower economic class.  This side manifested itself very rarely, yet it was there.

I decided to read the book because I was hoping that it could provide me with insights on forgiveness.  It did not do that as much as I hoped: Espy essentially asks Jesus to come into her heart, her heart is strangely warmed, and her joy then rests in Christ rather than how other people treat her; at the same time, she still feels badly when she returns to her home town and continues to experience rejection.  For a second, I thought that Espy’s religious experience was making her into a flat character, but her feelings after her return home convinced me that she was still human.

A question that I had as I read the book concerned the religious views of the author, Ruth Axtell.  The book strikes me as rather charismatic, especially near the end, as the minister at the mission house stresses the Book of Acts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That made me wonder what Ruth Axtell’s view was of the religiosity that was in the book before Espy came to the mission house: the church group, the pastor in Espy’s town who is kind and devout yet initially does not rush to Espy’s defense, etc.  Is Ruth Axtell’s point that the church group and the pastor of Espy’s town need the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and also need to seek God more fervently?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nixonland 2

On pages 208-209 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein quotes the 1953 memoir of screenwriter Ben Hecht, who was describing Hollywood standards:

Two generations of Americans have been informed nightly that a woman who betrayed her husband (or a husband his wife) could never find happiness; that sex was no fun without a mother-in-law and a rubber plant around; that women who fornicated just for pleasure ended up as harlots or washerwomen; that any man who was sexually active in his youth later lost the one girl he truly loved; that a man who indulged in sharp practices to get ahead in the world ended in poverty and with even his own children turning on him; that any man who broke the law, man’s or God’s, must always die, or go to jail, or become a monk, or restore the money he stole before wandering off into the desert; that anyone who didn’t believe in God (and said so out loud) was set right by seeing either an angel or witnessing some feat of levitation by one of the characters; that an honest heart must always recover from a train wreck or a score of bullets and win the girl it loved; that the most potent and brilliant of villains are powerless before little children, parish priests or young virgins with big boobies; that injustice could cause a heap of trouble but it must always slink out of town in Reel Nine; that there are no problems of labor, politics, domestic life or sexual abnormality but can be solved happily by a simple Christian phrase or a fine American motto.

Perlstein goes on to contrast these standards with the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, which glorified outlaws while portraying the establishment as corrupt and morally bankrupt.

As I read Hecht’s description of the older standards, however, I thought, “Man, I actually believe some of those things.”  Maybe it’s because of all the Little House on the Prairie and Touched by an Angel that I watch.  That makes me wonder if what I believe is actually true in real life, or is rather somebody’s value system that he or she is trying to propagate.

There is a significant part of me that likes to be inspired and uplifted, and so I tend to prefer the sorts of movies that Hecht talks about over movies like Bonnie and Clyde.  I don’t like movies that are too corny and cheesy, mind you, but movies that have values while still being believable, on some level.  Of course, what is believable to me may be corny and cheesy to someone else.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

After the Sinner's Prayer, Then What?

At church this morning, we sang the old Charles Wesley hymn, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”  One line in particular stood out to me: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free…”

God not only came to cancel the penalty for our sins, Charles Wesley was saying, but to break the power of sin itself.

I was recently watching a Christian documentary recently, Beware of Christians.  It is about four Christian young men who reflect on faith and ask people questions about it.  There was some annoying silliness in the documentary, but I appreciated most of what the young men had to say, for I detected a certain humility behind it.  I especially appreciated their conversations about poverty, as they put to rest the myth of the undeserving poor, asking each other what they did to deserve the privileges, advantages, and opportunities with which they were born.

Near the end of the documentary, one of the young men was bemoaning cheap grace: people who reduce Christianity to saying a prayer that gets them out of hell.  This young man was saying that Christianity was a way of life, requiring us to say “no” to some of the things that we may want to do and “yes” to what Jesus wants.

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care about attempts to determine whether I or anyone else is a “true” Christian, or instead one who is self-deceived about one’s salvation.  But I do believe that Christianity has to be about more than saying a sinner’s prayer, that faith should make a difference in one’s life.  I’m leery about describing that as self-sacrifice, or portraying the Christian life as nebulous bars that I should be reaching.  Maybe I am wrong about this, but I just find myself screaming when people talk about surrender in the Christian life, “What the do you want from me?!  When will I be good enough?”

I was thinking some about my religious upbringing.  I grew up in a form of Christianity that criticized other branches of Christianity as antinomian: we believed in doing good works and observing the Old Testament laws, whereas the other branches thought all one had to do was say a prayer and that would get him or her into heaven.  I doubt that our characterization of other branches of Christianity was particularly fair, for there are many Protestants who believe in doing good works.  But I don’t believe that we were pulling our caricature out of the clear blue sky, either.  On the few occasions when I as a child was exposed to mainstream Christianity, I noticed that Christians were placing a lot of emphasis on getting people to say some prayer, as if that was the gateway to heaven.  I wondered what was supposed to come next: Did mainstream Christians reduce Christianity to saying a sinner’s prayer, or was there more?  What was supposed to happen after the sinner’s prayer?  The answer should have been “a lot”: it is after saying the sinner’s prayer that one should supposedly live in a different way, resting one’s faith and sense of identity continually in God’s love, participating in a journey towards becoming more like Christ.  Unfortunately, that seemed to me to be eclipsed by all of the focus I saw in mainstream Christianity on getting people to say the sinner’s prayer.

I said that my church when I was growing up believed in doing good works.  My impression was that it defined these good works in reference to observance of Old Testament rituals: Sabbaths, holy days, avoiding pork, etc.  I don’t recall much emphasis on helping the poor.  There were times when I heard something about that, and there was a belief that we should try to be loving.  But it just seemed to me that my church was reacting to the antinomianism that it believed was in mainstream Christianity by focusing on law, particularly the Old Testament law.

Anyway, those are my wandering, stream-of consciousness ramblings for the day!

Nixonland 1

I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland for some time now.  What has especially stood out to me in my reading of that book has been Perlstein’s discussion of the inner-cities, where there were riots.

The inner-cities had problems, to put it mildly.  The housing was old and dilapidated.  Unemployment was high.  And African-Americans could not really move out of the inner-cities to someplace else on account of racial discrimination.  According to Perlstein’s narration, anti-discrimination laws and government programs were not sufficiently ameliorating these problems.  Moreover, I recall reading in other books that businesses were reluctant to set up shop in the inner-cities, due to apprehensions about crime.  Imagine being trapped, with no way to move up and out of one’s predicament.  That’s what I imagine it was like for a number of African-Americans who lived in the inner-cities.  It may still be like that.  (I speak here from my limited knowledge and experience.)

One of the Democratic candidates for President in 1968—-it may have been Eugene McCarthy—-proposed mass transit as a way to give African-Americans in the inner-city mobility so that they can find work in other areas.  That sounds to me like a good idea.

Book Write-Up: How Should Christians Vote?

Tony Evans.  How Should Christians Vote?  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

I’d like to use as my starting-point for my review something that Tony Evans says on page 63:

“Frequently, when I’m with other African-Americans, and the conversation of politics comes up, many will assume that I am a Republican because of my friendship with former President George Bush and the positions I take on life, marriage, and limited government.  Yet when I am with many Anglos, it is often assumed that because I am an African-American and emphasize justice in society that I must be a Democrat.  So, naturally, I get asked a lot, ‘Tony Evans, what are you?’”

Evans responds that he votes “according to what God says on the matter.”  That means that his votes lean in the direction of being pro-life on the abortion issue and pro-justice.

But Evans acknowledges that things can be more complex than that for a number of Christian voters.  What if a candidate is lousy on social justice issues but is pro-life on abortion?  Evans admits that Christians prioritize issues differently when they vote, and he calls on Christians to be tolerant of each other when it comes to their voting preferences.  On page 79, he appears to be sympathetic to voters who prioritize other issues over abortion, due to their experience of “injustices and disparities…”

I guess that one reason that I am frustrated with this book is that it leaves me perplexed.  On the one hand, Evans is quite dogmatic about what he believes the Bible says about government, and he affirms that Christians should vote according to what God supposedly thinks about political issues.  Although he denies partisanship or commitment to political conservatism or liberalism, his overall stance strikes me as rather conservative: he believes in laws against abortion; he is against same-sex marriage; when he talks about welfare, his main concern seems to be that people who choose not to work are dependent on it; and he supports less government so that the free enterprise system can work its magic, and so that private institutions (i.e., church, family) can thrive.  I wondered more than a couple of times as I was reading this book why Evans couldn’t just say that God wants us to vote for conservatives.  I would disagree with him on that, but at least the book would be direct.

On the other hand, Evans appears to acknowledge that Christians can make different choices, based on where they are.  Although his discussions of social justice in the book are rather anemic (he does, however, refer readers in the endnotes to a book that he wrote about justice), he states that not everyone finds the cliche that “A rising tide lifts all boats” convincing, for what if one does not have a boat?  Good question.  Too bad Evans does not flesh out more why a Christian might choose to vote in a liberal direction.

I think that the book would have been better had Evans talked more about where he believed that Democrats and liberalism lined up with the word of God, and where he believed that conservatism and Republicanism lined up with it.  It should have also had a chapter with sections about the various issues, particularly poverty, which explored their various dimensions and the effects of public policy upon them.  Instead, the book is a combination of dogmatism with an acknowledgment of nuance that is not adequately fleshed out.

Overall, I found this book to be unsatisfying.  If there was something that I enjoyed about the book, however, it was Evans’ discussions about why God acts as God does.  Evans asserted, for example, that God may choose to act in response to believers’ activity, prayer, and thoughtfulness about issues.  The book did not satisfy my thirst for a nuanced discussion of the relationship of the Bible to contemporary political issues, but it was not horrible, for it did contain some thoughtful theological discussion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Psalm 143

I have two items for my blog post today about Psalm 143.

1.  I read an article by Richard B. Hays entitled “Psalm 143 and the Logic of Romans 3.”  It appeared in the March 1980 Journal of Biblical Literature.

Hays is talking in that article about a debate among scholars about the meaning of the “righteousness of God” in Romans.  Romans 3:21 states: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (KJV).  Romans 10:3 has, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (KJV). What is this righteousness of God in Romans?  Is it the righteousness that God imputes to the believer in Christ, or is it God’s own righteousness and faithfulness?

Hays notices that Psalm 143 and Romans 3 have a common theme, namely, the sinfulness of humanity.  Psalm 143:2 states, “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified” (KJV).  Hays also notes that Psalm 143 mentions the righteousness of God.  V 1 affirms, “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness” (KJV).  V 11 has, “Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble” (KJV).  Hays interprets the righteousness of God in Romans in light of Psalm 143: that God is righteous in that God is faithful to sinners.  God loves sinful human beings and is righteous in saving them.

I think that Hays is on to something, but I also believe that more is going on in Psalm 143.  Does the Psalmist in Psalm 143 want for God to be faithful to sinners?  Well, he desires for God to be faithful to him, and he acknowledges that he himself is a sinner.  But he also asks God to cut off his enemies, the ones who are afflicting him (v 12).  The Psalmist doesn’t want for God to be faithful to those particular sinners.

What is the difference between the Psalmist and those other sinners, since everyone sins?  I think that it is that the Psalmist in Psalm 143 thirsts for God and wants God to lead him into righteous paths.  Should Christians therefore desire for God to cut off the human beings who do not believe in God or desire God, or who are not particularly interested in conforming their lives to high moral standards (not that the two are the same, for there are plenty of moral atheists)?  I don’t think so.  In my opinion, there is something beautiful about the standard Christian truism that we should desire the redemption of everyone, wherever he or she may be spiritually.  But one has to remember the sorts of people whom the Psalmist is criticizing: they were afflicting him.  It is understandable that the Psalmist would want for God to deal with that problem.  Still, I tend to admire Jesus and Stephen even more: they prayed for their persecutors, asking God to show their enemies mercy.

2.  Psalm 143:3 states (in the KJV): “For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.”

What the KJV translates as “long dead” is mete olam.  The LXX has vekroos aionosOlam and aionos are words that are frequently discussed in debates about hell.  They can mean eternity, and those who believe in eternal torment in hell maintain that the aionion punishment in such passages as Matthew 25:46 means eternal punishment.  Universalists, however, point out that olam and aionos do not necessarily mean eternal, for they can mean age, or simply a very long time.

In light of that debate, it was interesting to read about the different interpretations of mete olam or nekroos aionos in Psalm 143:3.  You can see that the KJV translates the phrase as “long dead”; in that case, it interprets olam as a long time, not as eternity.  Augustine, who himself believed in eternal torment, likewise does not interpret aionos in reference to eternity in Psalm 143:3, for he believes that the phrase is about the dead of the world (aionos can mean world), the sinful dead (see here).  According to Augustine, Psalm 143:3 is saying that Jesus was treated like the dead of the world in that he was crucified and buried and went down to Hades, and yet Jesus was not like the dead of the world because he himself did not deserve death.  The Targum interprets mete olam to mean the dead of this age (I draw here from Edward Cook’s translation).

Keil-Delitzsch refer to biblical passages that may illuminate the mete olam of Psalm 143:3.  First, there is Ecclesiastes 12:5, which refers to the beyt olam (house of olam) to which the dead go, while mourners travel the market.  Olam there may mean eternity, since the dead could conceivably be in that house of the dead forever, whether Qoheleth believed that the dead went to the grave and stayed there forever (Ecclesiastes 3:19; 9:5), or rather that the dead went up to heaven (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Second, there is Ezekiel 26:20, where God threatens to send Tyre to the pit, where it will be with the people of olam.  The verse later mentions a low land that is like waste from olam.  The KJV and other versions understand the am olam to mean people of long ago, and the waste from olam to be places long desolate.  Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint for Ezekiel 26:20, however, refers to “everlasting desolation.”  Most likely, in my opinion, olam in Ezekiel 26:20 means ancient, not eternity, and it concerns people of old who were once mighty and renowned.  But I wonder if there have been interpreters who have regarded the olam of Ezekiel 26:20 as a reference to an eternal sentence for the wicked: that the people of olam are called that because they have been sentenced to be dead and in the underworld for all eternity.

Third, there is Jeremiah 51:39, which states regarding Babylon: “In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD” (KJV).  There, the idea seems to be that death will be perpetual for Babylon.  We don’t see eternal torment here, but we do see an eternal death from which Babylon will not awake.  Is the Psalmist in Psalm 143:3 afraid that he is on the brink of becoming one who is dead forever, with no hope of escape?

Keil-Delitzsch say that Psalm 143:3 means that the Psalmist feels as if he has been buried forever.  That could be.

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