Thursday, June 30, 2016

It's beyond that even!

“Nothing earthly is able to envision appropriately God, resulting in the paradox that the God of the Old Testament is not invisible, but is also unconceivable” [“Reicht nichts Weltliches aus, Gott zu vergegenwärtigen, so ergibt sich das Paradox, dass der Gott des Alten Testaments zwar nicht unsichtbar, aber auch nicht vorstellbar ist”], W. H. Schmidt, A. Graupner, and H. Delkurt, Die Zehn Gebote im Rahmen alttestamentlicher Ethik (EdF 281; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1993) 73.— Job's Journey, page 55 n. 1

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Entitlement thinking

Job does make one theological mistake, however: from his own high ethical standing, he concludes that he is entitled to a certain treatment by God. This conclusion is presumptuous on two levels. For one—this is what Job’s friends tried to show—even the best of lives falls short of the radical demands of God’s holiness and remains dependent on God’s grace. Second, Job’s arguments imply that he did not act righteously for the sake of righteousness but only with the silent expectation that he was entitled to some kind of reward. In this manner, his ethical reflection turns into hypocritical sin; it mutates into boastful pride. God reacts to Job’s ambitions of demanding his happiness on the basis of what he supposedly deserves with silence and contributes to the counseling of Job with wordless judgment.— Job's Journey, page 54 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ignore the text, then

The concept that God educates human beings through suffering, that Job’s illness is a constructive didactic measure, has moved to the center of much recent scholarship on Job. Yet there is much that speaks against advocating such pedagogy of suffering. Even if the Greek proverb that opens Goethe’s autobiography states that only a tried and tested individual can become a truly educated individual, the idea that God deliberately brings about suffering so that certain individuals may grow in maturity is more masochistic than sarcastic, nor is it justified by the text.— Job's Journey, page 36

<idle musing>
<sarcasm>Well, then just import it via your theology. Don't let the text get in your way! </sarcasm>

I know, when you state it that baldly, it's obvious, right? But how often do we import assumptions into our exegesis? Right. Continually. That's why we need the inbreaking power of the Holy Spirit, continually knocking down our presuppositions, expanding our horizons, and generally making us uncomfortable with our present interpretations of pet scriptures and pet doctrines. Semper reformandum, as the Reformers said (some say it actually goes back to Augustine [reference, please, before I believe it]). Continually being reformed; I agree, and would go further, continually being made anew, experiencing more completely the new person I am (and you are) in Christ.
</idle musing>

Monday, June 27, 2016

To whom do you speak?

The frequent passages in which Job addresses God as “you” (see 7:12–21; 9:28– 32; 10:2–18; 13:22–27; 14:13–20) are of high theological importance. This is exactly what Job is praised for in the end. Human beings can and should voice their lament to God.— Job's Journey, page 30

<idle musing>
I agree whole-heartedly! Addressing God is the beginning of theology : )
</idle musing>

Friday, June 24, 2016


As much as the idea of disputare de deo is rejected, the book of Job continues to advocate a form of speech transformed through suffering: lament as speech to God. Instead of speculation about God, the book advocates existential and authentic speech to God.— Job's Journey, page 25 n. 83

<idle musing>
Note the pronouns! about God, versus to God. That's huge! You can whine to God—the prophets do it all the time! Or you can whine about God, like the Israelites did in the wilderness with devastating results.

It's all a matter of the heart...
</idle musing>

Too true

From the ASOR Program Abstracts:
If a terracotta figurine has a head, however schematically rendered, combined with a pair of circular protrusions, however small, or widely or narrowly spaced, and wherever located on a fictive torso, however flat or oddly shaped, we are, apparently, culturally conditioned to see a female in spite of the fact that the form has no real feminine qualities, no curves or marked genitalia.
<idle musing>
Yep, and everything we don't understand is a cult object, too... (as Jim Eisenbraun quipped to me)
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Theology or Pseudo-Theology?

The book of Job does not promote silence about God because we cannot say anything about him. Otherwise, this book would never have been written. But the book of Job does bid farewell to certain types of theology—and we do not have to bemoan their loss: theology as the wisdom of the world projected into heaven; theology as pious reflection on a higher being that then mistakes traditional or innovative ideas about God entirely for God himself; theology that purports to communicate direct revelation from God. The book of Job distrusts and disbelieves all this to its core. Instead, it states clearly that this is not God; these are only graven images. Such fundamental criticism of all pseudo-theology is—and here we can only agree with the book of Job—not the end but the very beginning of theology.— Job's Journey, pages 24–25 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God is...

Within the context of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Job thus primarily contradicts the God of justice as presented by the prophets: God, as Job shows us, can destroy us without reason. It also contradicts the merciful God of Priestly literature: we must accept God not only as the present God; he is also the absent God. Finally, the book of Job also provides, in some of its parts, a parody on the piety of the Psalms: Job’s situation transcends the options for reaching God provided by the Psalms.

For the book of Job, God is not just or merciful, yet he is also not unjust or cruel; instead God is—God. In the context of these various biblical positions, this statement is more than mere tautology, it is a critical position all its own. It is a striking statement, because it shows us that speaking of God was no easier in antiquity, with its mythically charged worldview, than it is for modern times.— Job's Journey, page 24

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! Maybe the primary reason for including Job in the canon was to let people know that God is bigger than our concepts of him?
</idle musing>

Monday, June 20, 2016

About that prologue...

The prologue of the book of Job is shaped like a fairy tale in order to prevent us from using it as the Archimedean point from which to set the book in motion and speculate on God and the world. The fairy-tale quality is not merely there as a container of content, but the form itself signals theological criticism of what is presented: the unreal perspective embodied in the prologue remains fictional and the prologue is very aware of this.

What do these thoughts imply for the theology of the book Job? We gain the impression that the book of Job, read from the perspective of the prologue, embodies all the characteristics of negative theology. All affirmative speech about God is called into question by the prologue. The prologue suspends the logic of the friends’ theology in the dialogues, it suspends the finality of the divine speeches, and it even suspends its own logic to a certain degree. The prologue thus successively lays out all possible solutions to the reason for Job’s suffering: theological speculation as contained in the dialogues, divine revelation as contained in the monologues of God, even metaphysical constructions as presented in the prologue. All these options must be discarded as solutions to the Job problem.

By using a sophisticated system of literary checks and balances between the prologue, the dialogues and the divine speeches, the book of Job does not answer the problem that stands at its center. Instead, by criticizing each of its own answers, it thrusts the problem back at its readers. This process of giving back the problem is a process of theological education that is designed to reject any objectified speech about God, which turns God into an object of reflection or projection. Who or what God may be is outside of human grasp—this is the message of the book of Job.— Job's Journey, page 23 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Wow! That's a mouthful. I'm still digesting what he's saying here, but the one thing that stands out more than anything else is the danger of making God an object instead of a being. Easy to do in academic settings, isn't it? It's a continual temptation to me, at least.

This is a great little book! I'm loving it. What about you?
</idle musing>

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nobody mentions that...

Whatever thoughts the friends entertain may be part of a usual repertoire of theological insights into the Job problem, but the prologue states in rebuttal: all this has nothing to do with what is actually happening. The logic of heaven is completely different than that used by the friends. It is so different that no one would even think of it unless they were given insight into heaven itself. In the light of the prologue, the friends’ theology is reduced to nothing more than speculation about God that has nothing to do with God himself.— Job's Journey, pages 16–17

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

That's too harsh!

I believe that we can make a strong and much more plausible case for the opposite hypothesis: the combination of the proleptic solution to the Job problem in the prologue with the later solutions in the rest of the book stands as the center of the theology of the author of the book of Job.

The following considerations provide explanation for this statement: first of all, the readers are given a unique perspective from which to evaluate the friends’ explanations for Job’s suffering, which appear from chapter three on. The friends move through almost the entire spectrum of possible explanations for the Job problem. Perhaps Job refuses to admit he has sinned, or he has sinned unconsciously. Perhaps he has to suffer because he—like all other human beings—is guilty by nature und must be educated in a certain manner. The friends argue back and forth within these possibilities. Job, however, rebels against all of these explanations, and the readers of the book know that he is right!

Job’s suffering cannot be explained by anything Job has done against God, nor is it the result of the fact that humans cannot be justified in the eyes of God. Even the idea of divine pedagogy is not correct. The reason for Job’s suffering lies solely in a cruel heavenly test, to which God and the satan have subjected Job. The prologue makes this absolutely clear.— Job's Journey, page 16

<idle musing>
Sounds harsh, doesn't it? But it does make sense of the evidence...what does it say about the character of God, though? I'm wrestling with that...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

It's all there, from the beginning

When we interpret the prologue within the context of the rest of the book, we realize quickly that the prologue contains important theological statements with regard to the book as a whole. The most important statement, which we must mention first of all, is: the prologue provides not only an exposition of the problem of the book of Job but also presents its solution. The first two chapters not only describe the circumstances of Job’s suffering; they also provide the reason behind it.

We must see this with utmost clarity: according to the prologue, Job’s suffering has a very simple, not to say a grotesquely simplistic, explanation: Job is subjected to a heavenly test. This is the only reason for his suffering. God performs a cruel experiment on Job; despite the figure of the satan, it is he who is solely responsible for Job’s fate (compare 1:11 with 1:12; 2:3; see also 1:21; 2:10). The text is especially careful to show that each of the satan’s actions affecting Job is legitimized and limited by God. In 2:3, God himself admits that it was not the satan who destroyed Job, but that the satan drove God to act against Job (סות Hiphil [swt]).

There is one modification we must immediately make to this proleptic solution to the problem of Job: neither Job himself nor are his wife or friends aware of this solution. Job only knew his suffering, not the book that carries his name. The readers alone have knowledge of the true reason for the blows that befell Job; and they have been aware of this reason from the very beginning, from chapter one.— Job's Journey, pages 14–15 (emphasis original)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sure, that's true, but what does it mean?

In order to deal with ancient texts such as the prologue of the book of Job, scholars tend to refer to ancient cosmology that imagines a heavenly sphere existing above the earthly realm. The heavenly sphere can be the setting for actions and events just like the earth below. Although this perspective is certainly true, its relevance is limited. The limits lie where the reference to ancient cosmology leads to a cessation of interpretation. It does not suffice to explain the scene in heaven as merely the result of ancient cosmology and then pay no further attention to it.— Job's Journey, page 13

Friday, June 10, 2016

Not coherent. So, what's new?

The narratives examined in this study do not form one coherent story, but rather several ones with a wide spectrum of variations, deletions and developments. The unifying trait in all these widely different narratives is that they all relate to the duties of āšipūtu – sending evil omens and demons to the netherworld, moral judgement, healing a patient, bringing dead human souls to the hereafter and helping new-born babies into world. In regard to the curriculum of the cosmos, these narratives relate to the creation of the world, deluge, cosmic battle and to questions of legitimate political power. In allegorical and compressed manner, the Adapa myth told all these stories from the point of view of exorcism.— The Overturned Boat, page 101

<idle musing>
Why should we expect them to be coherent? Our lives rarely are, so why should the lives of the ancients be different? Most people's theology is created on an "as needed" basis, just like it was back then. If it works, great.

Mind you, I'm not endorsing that mindset! I agree with Socrates that the unexamined life isn't worth the living; but I also realize I'm in the minority there. And my life isn't always coherent! My life and theology are a work in process.
</idle musing>

The divine economy

Scripture is not an end in itself. Scripture and its interpretation are part of a larger divine economy; Scripture is a witness to God’s action in the world, and faithful interpretation of Scripture by the church is testimony to the continued action of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unity cannot be found merely on the level of the text, but within the totality of the church’s life. It is reflected partially in Scripture, in creed, and in faithfulness. But this “unity” is not the same thing as conceptual neatness; it does not sidestep the partial, human act of interpretation.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 152

<idle musing>
That's the final excerpt from this book. Next up is Job's Journey.
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 09, 2016

It's by grace

The identity of Jesus within Scripture is never finally interpreted because it is textually mediated. Second, because it is textually mediated, Christ is not contained within Scripture, but is made known to us through it. Although Scripture’s depiction of Christ is part of the economy of salvation, Christ is not the text itself. And third, because the righteousness we receive as the image of God is renewed in us is simply the restoration by grace of God’s creative intent, we do not overwhelm Christ’s identity because we never cease to be creatures. The righteousness Christ gives us is his human righteousness. That is, we do not receive the divine nature itself by participating in the means of grace. We become only by grace what he is by nature.— Reading the Way to Heaven, pages 141–42

New garments

The giving of new garments also has a legal significance. The donning of clean garments was the final ceremony in trials such as judicial ordeal, and served as an indication of acquittal and legal purity (Frymer-Kensky 1977: 110). It was a general Near Eastern custom for somebody declared clear by the trial to wash oneself and put on clean clothes. In Zechariah 3:4 the angel of God gives Joshua the High Priest clean garments for his office. The Sumerian hymn Enlil in the E-kur associates clean garments with righteousness (lines 29-31): “the city which is endowed with truth, which makes righteousness and justice endure forever, where clean garments are put on at the quay” (Frymer-Kensky 1977: 111). As in the Mesopotamian witchcraft literature and medical incantations, the quay is here a symbol for detainment and redemption, a place associated with liminality.— The Overturned Boat, page 86

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

So that's how it works!

The Marduk-Ea dialogue seeks to ensure that the incantation of the earthly exorcist comes directly from the gods. When the exorcist declares that “the incantation is not mine”, nothing depends upon his person anymore (Geller 2010: 29). In other words, his identity is fused with that of the Divine Exorcist. The voice of the patient in such incantations is usually not heard, (s)he is a passive object of all that is happening around. He is referred to in the third person, described as “a man son of his god” or the “distraught man” (Geller 2010: 29). The selves of the exorcist priest and his patient became united and identified with the healer deity, positively transfigured and handed back to the participants. This fusion of identities becomes possible because the condition of illness of the patient was experienced by Adapa during primordial times and was a part of exorcist’s identity. This identity cohesion is reflected in a late lexical list of professions, which has fourteen different identifications for the exorcist āšipu, also including the most usual term for “patient”, pap.hal (see Geller 2010: 47-48).— The Overturned Boat, page 73

<idle musing>
So we run into Eliade's illud tempus here. According to that way of thinking, the goal of ritual is to get back to the sacred time (illud tempus [that time] in Latin) when divine activity was stronger, to transpose the current events into that time so that the power of the divinity can overcome the problems.

I've always found the theory attractive, but have also been a bit skeptical; it seems too simplistic. But, at the same time, there are parts of it that resonate with me. Of course, I always run it through my Christian theology filter...
</idle musing>

Self, meet God...

Scripture reveals not only God to us, but us to ourselves, so that we see our need for God. Due to this soteriological context, Paul is not only addressing the Corinthians in his day, but he is addressing all Christians everywhere. To read figurally here is to hear the address of Scripture as directed to the church reading now.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 137

Monday, June 06, 2016

To what end knowledge?

For Wesley, the knowledge and love of God is the end for which humanity is created, the experience of which is happiness. The renewal of the image is induction into the love of God, and as Dawson says, love is a relation. Jesus’ glory must, for those who will respond to the gospel, have a salvific effect, but note too that “his almighty Spirit” performs this effect. For Wesley, it is not simply a matter of negotiating the proximity of two identities, Jesus’ and ours. There is even a certain crudity about doing so, when instead it is more appropriate to speak of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who relates us to Christ in love; the Spirit is the agent of transformation, who works through Scripture as a means of grace. Another way of putting this is that the Spirit reinterprets our identities, so that our reading of Scripture, our interpretation of Jesus’ identity, is responsive to grace.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 136 (emphasis original)

Friday, June 03, 2016

The limits of historical criticism

Historical criticism contributes a consciousness to the difference in contexts that creates questions. The key is not to allow that socio- historically derived knowledge of difference to become absolute, a possibility foiled to a degree by the text itself. Working on the assumption of an absolute difference in context between present and past, and further assuming the “real,” singular meaning of a text was located in that past, historical criticism often tried to bypass the text as it is received in the church through reconstructions of the text’s development. But by respecting the literal sense of the text, the language on the page is taken seriously in its own right, and the theological context of interpretation is preserved, since it is the church that hands down its Scripture through history. For this reason, the canonical, final form of Scripture is taken at face value. From a theological perspective this is actually the approach that best respects its otherness, for it is in this mode that the Bible is read as Christian Scripture.— Reading the Way to Heaven, page 127

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

More on ANE birth rituals

In the Marduk Ordeal, Bel’s fall into the water plunged him into the annual cosmic battle against Tiamat, which took place in the watery realm of the sea or, interchangeably, in the netherworld river Hubur. This imagery is again related to amniotic fluids in the womb, visualized as a cosmic ocean in Babylonian birth incantations (Stol 2000:125). In other words, Marduk is detained in the womb of Tiamat, at the same time fighting his cosmic battle against her in order to release himself from the netherworld prison. Therefore, an unusually harsh combat was imagined to take place between the two in the Marduk Ordeal, and the period in which Bel was detained by the power of Tiamat was extended.

The metaphor of combat is sometimes found in birth incantations in which the struggling mother is compared to a warrior on the battlefield. The unborn child, surrounded with confusion, is locked behind the bolts and doors.— The Overturned Boat, page 58

<idle musing>
See, giving birth really is a battle! : )
</idle musing>

It's never the same text twice...

Texts are not inert objects acted upon methodologically by a reader who discovers the one correct meaning. Rather, texts have numerous (though not infinite) meanings, what is sometimes referred to as a surplus of meaning. A reader comes to the text from a particular point, with questions, and this stimulates the interpretive process that births meaning. The inexhaustible nature of a text, its polysemy, permits continued rereadings, the occasion for which is created by the context of the reader. After all, as Eco notes, the background of the reader is typically different than the author’s, but this can be the fertile ground that raises new questions that drive rereadings.— Reading the Way to Heaven, pages 125–26 (emphasis original)

New blog from SBL Press

SBL Press has started a blog with recommended changes to SBLHS2. If you are a copyeditor, or an author, this would be a good blog to follow. Here's the URL:

Shameless plug:
I am maintaining a list of abbreviation updates here. Yes, I'm behind in answering a query. I hope to get that taken care of this week...