Sunday, May 29, 2016

The womb as tomb

I'm in the process of reading The Overturned Boat right now. I wasn't aware of the following:

Birth incantations aid the woman in labour to break free the “boat” from the darkness of womb, to wash out the baby bound by the umbilical cord to the “quay of death” (Stol 2000: 69). The following recitation is intended for a woman having difficulty in giving birth:

The boat is detained at the quay of death; the magurru boat is held back at the quay of hardship. ... May it come out from hardship; [may it see] the sun (Scurlock 2014: 601, half brackets omitted).
The association between the drowning boat and dying woman was used in scientific texts, e.g. in the apodosis of an Old Babylonian liver omen: “the full(y loaded) boat will sink; or: the pregnant woman will die in her giving birth” (Stol 2000: 62). Therefore the unborn baby in the womb that was too voluminous to be delivered could be regarded as being fatally locked in the netherworld prison, failing to find its way out from the amniotic fluids. Nobody except the divine exorcist Asalluhi could see what was inside of these waters (Frymer-Kensky 1977: 603). In the following Old Babylonian incantation, the locks and doors are broken down to let the baby out:
In the waters of intercourse, the bone was created; in the flesh of muscles, the baby was created. In the ocean waters, fearsome, raging, in the far-off waters of the sea: where the little one is – his arms are bound, inside which the eye of the sun does not bring light. Asalluhi, the son of Enki, saw him. He loosed his tight-bound bonds, he made him a path, he opened him a way: “Opened are the paths for you, the ways are [alo]tted for you. The [divine mid]wife is sitting for you, she who creates [...], she who creates us all. She has spoken to the doorbolt: ‘You are released’. Removed are the locks, the doors are thrown aside. Let him knock at [the door], like a fish (dadum), bring yourself out!”
Those who are not released are detained in the ordeal prison, which prevents them to advance to the world of the living. In the Maqlû incantations the terms “ford, entrance” (nēberu) and “quay” (kāru) are used for such places of detention. The exorcist binds the witches and their sorceries to remain there (I 50-51):
Incantation: I have blocked the ford, I have blocked the quay, I have blocked their sorceries (coming) from all the lands!
The exorcist intends to prevent the entrance of the witches to the world of the living, leaving them eternally blocked on the “quay of death”. The opposite is the case in exorcistic birth incantations where the child is expected to become delivered from the “quay of hardship” to the world of the living (BAM 248 I 44-50):
“The boat is detained [at the quay] of narrowness (pušqi), the magurru-boat is held back [at the quay] of hardship. [Whom should I] send to merciful Marduk? May the boat be loosed [from the quay] of difficulty, may the magurru-boat be freed [from the quay] of hardship. [Come out to me] like a snake; slither out to me like a snake. May the woman having difficulty having birth bring (her pregnancy) to term so that the infant may fall to the earth and see the sunlight” (Scurlock 2014: 595, 601).
In comparison to Maqlû passage, the birth incantations intend to achieve just the opposite – to release the unborn bodies from the “quay”. The same Akkadian verb for “holding back” (kalû) is used in both contexts. This difference is related to the positive and negative outcomes in the reintegration stage that is crucial for the Self going through a religious experience. While child’s birth assures the positive integration of the Self from the point of view of a healthy mother and her baby, the witches and demons experience a failure in their binding process and remain stuck at the quay of death, unable to leave the netherworld.— The Overturned Boat, pages 52–53

<idle musing>
Fascinating, isn't it? This is a very interesting book, if you are into ANE religion, that is. Some of the stuff is highly speculative and reminds me somewhat of reading the early 20th century history of religions—which I love to read, but take with a pound of salt : )

Anyway, here's the details on the book:
The Overturned Boat

The Overturned Boat
Intertextuality of the Adapa Myth and Exorcist Literature
State Archives of Assyria Studies - SAAS 24
by Amar Annus
Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project - NATCP, 2016
Pp. xii + 148, English
Paper, 17.5 x 25 cm
ISBN: 9789521094910
Your Price: $59.00
www.eisenbrauns.com/item/ANNOVERTU

Now it's off to clean a few cabins...
</idle musing>

Friday, May 27, 2016

Just how polysemious is that text?

Is that even a word? Oh well, here's some good insight into answering the question:
I tap Eco for a variety of reasons. He was among the first theorists to emphasize the reader in a clearly postmodern way, but unlike more radical reader-response theories, he contends it is the text that is interpreted, not the reader’s drives. As a result, Eco is able to account for the potential multiple interpretations of a text, and provides a moderate postmodern theory that allows for textual polysemy without capitulating to the idea that texts can be made to say whatever the reader wants.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 120–21
<idle musing>
I like that...
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 26, 2016

To what end scriptural interpretation?

With the ruled nature of the literal sense in mind we can note, secondly, that interpreting Scripture—again, a means of grace—is not something done for its own sake, but to achieve a particular end. All of Scripture for Wesley participates in a message; it has a general tenor summarized in the analogy of faith. As a result, the point of interpretation is not to understand the text itself, but to understand through the text.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 94

<idle musing>
A point that needs to be remembered by people like me. I too often get so lost in the text and what it might mean—the possible interpretations, the textual variants, the intertextual references, and on and on we go&mdasah;to the point of missing the heart of the text: to know God.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The language of...

[Paul Holmer [The Grammar of Faith, 62–68, 90] argues that the desire of theologians for systematic concepts that are more precise than ordinary religious language causes them to create a scientific language, a language of learning that is at a remove; it is a language “about” religious belief. Religious language, on the other hand, is a language “of”; it is the language of faith requiring self-involvement. Concepts in the scientific sense move away from lived faith into something abstract and neutral, but concepts in the religious sense help mediate faith, aiding believers in faithful living.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 94

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How do you read scripture?

Following Protestant tradition, Wesley adhered to the primacy of the literal sense, unless tensions in the text demanded something else; at that point he would allow a “spiritual” or allegorical, reading to circumvent the problem. However, in his soteriological reading of Scripture, Wesley is constantly interpreting with an eye to how Scripture converts and sanctifies.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 93

<idle musing>
In other words, his hermeneutic was one of holiness. I like that, myself. I might phrase it a bit differently, but the substance would be the same. Maybe that's why I identify the most with the Holiness tradition (at its best, without the legalism that too often accompanies it).
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Scripture as a means of grace

Scripture is therefore open to all persons seeking salvation through it because it is through Scripture that God addresses them. As a means of grace the literal sense of Scripture is the instrument by which the God who is creator of all reveals both who he is and who humanity is as well. The analogy of faith is obviously at work here, and it orients, or patterns, Wesley’s attention to the text in a way that allows him to see connections of divine intent throughout the Bible. Of course, Wesley also learns to see these connections from Scripture itself, as his commentary on Rom 9 shows. This intent is to save humanity from sin and lead it on the path of sanctification. The literal sense is thus the sense of the Bible pro nobis.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 92

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Leaders better watch out!

"The proper role of the leaders is to obediently carry out YHWH’s instructions according to the divine plan (see esp. Exod 39:32, 43; 40:33b) and witness to what YHWH is doing for the Israelites as he unfolds his covenant promise to be their God (see esp. Exod 16:6–7, 9, 15; Num 14:7, 9*). As long as they exercise this role in a proper manner they are the true leaders of the nation. However, if they do not, by not witnessing to YHWH and his holiness but seeking to take his place in relation to the people, blocking the knowledge of YHWH from them, they are not the true leaders of the nation and they will lose their leadership. However, even if Israel’s leadership is disobedient YHWH will still provide for the nation. Such leaders will be obliterated but the divine plan will still unfold, and YHWH will ensure that there will be subsequent leaders in terms of the high priests of the Aaronic priesthood (symbolized in the transference of Aaron’s clothing to his son Eleazar), so that this can occur, with each one judged in similar terms. If he is obedient to YHWH and witnesses to YHWH by mediating the presence of YHWH (as symbolized in his garments) he will remain leader; but if he blocks the knowledge of YHWH by not exercising correctly his priestly duties, he too will be stripped of his leadership."—Suzanne Boorer, forthcoming from SBL Press

What's the literal meaning?

For Wesley the literal sense of Scripture is its soteriological sense. When Wesley reads Scripture, he does so assuming that all of it contributes to the economy of salvation, as was evident in the way he could bring various texts throughout Scripture to bear on a particular theme in the sermons.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 92

<idle musing>
But I think it is only fair to say that for Wesley, soteriology was more than just salvation as we understand it today. To him, sanctification was as much a part of soteriology as justification. There was no dichotomy in his theology between them.
</idle musing>

How to read the Psalms

What is interesting is that Wesley does not merely read the verses [of Ps 22] that show up in the New Testament christologically; he sees the entire psalm as a consistently christological text, complete with an evangelical message. Wesley assumes the Old Testament is to be read as part of the Christian canon, without question, because even there the Gospel is plainly evident. The upshot is that without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be unintelligible for Wesley.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 91