Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Abram's generosity

“Although he inhabits a world of limited resources, Abram acts with generosity, humility, and even self-sacrifice, offering Lot first choice of land. Instead of giving priority to his own needs and exercising the prerogatives of the paterfamilias, he gives priority to his relationship with Lot and yields to his nephew’s wishes. His generosity counteracts the strife and anger between himself, his nephew, and their shepherds, introducing an alternate logic, a different means of relating that diffuses the anger and conflict.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 145

<idle musing>
Selfless love, death to self, etc. Hey! I thought those were New Testament themes! :) So much for a strict dichotomy, eh? Amazing what the grace of God can do when it gets a hold on someone—no matter which 1/3 of the Bible they are in!
</idle musing>

Monday, January 30, 2012

Primal disobedience

“Remarkably, of all the ways that the narrator could have portrayed primal disobedience and sin outside Eden, anger is the one chosen. Genesis names this emotion as one of the most fundamental threats to moral living and human existence. It endangers one’s ability to do what is right and can lead to both the destruction of community and the slaughter of the innocent.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 140

<idle musing>
I'm back, as you can tell :)
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I bet some of you (all two of you!) are wondering about the lack posting here this week. Well, I'm on vacation! Right now, we're in Grand Marais, Minnesota where it is about 18 degrees F and it's been snowing lightly. We look out the south window of Joel and Renee's place and see Lake Superior! What could be better than that?

Oh, and we are getting to play with 4 of our grand kids. And, great times with Joel and Renee, too :)

I may or may not post again, but regularly scheduled programming will resume on Monday, January 30...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Word play

“Cain’s name is significant for several other reasons as well. First, while Cain’s name initially refers to the gaining, acquisition, and creation of life (see ,)4:1he ironically is responsible for the losing, taking, and destruction of life. Second, his name is quite similar to both the verb קין [qyn], which in the Polel means ‘sing a funeral song’, and its related noun קינה [qynh], which refers to a ‘dirge’. It is striking that words closely associated with death are quite similar to the name of the individual who brings death into the world. Finally, it may not be accidental that Cain’s name has a homonym used in 2 Sam 21:16 to describe one of the weapons with which Ishbi-benov intends to kill David. Although readers are never told the means by which Cain strikes down his brother (Gen 4:8), the fact that Cain’s name sounds like an instrument of death does not bode well for Abel.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 132, footnote

<idle musing>
The Hebrew Bible loves word-play—most of which is lost in the English translations.
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Formulas and rules

“Readers who approach Genesis hoping to gain a formula, rule, or paradigm to help them handle anger will be disappointed. However, it is not apparent that rules are what one should be looking for in the first place. Rules and formulas work very well in science, but they are at best half-truths in a complex and imperfect world containing a plurality of conflicting goods.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 132

<idle musing>
What? You mean I can't just get out my checklist? You mean I have to actually listen to God? What kind of religion is this, anyway?! Oh, one where God does the leading and I follow! Now I get it—and prefer it. Don't you?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Around the blogs

Some good stuff the last few days.

A good post by Roger Olson on hierarchy and submission

Hierarchy is more than an organizational flow chart. Hierarchy exists where a person’s authority over others is independent of truth. A social unit, organization, can have leadership without hierarchy. Hierarchy is when the leadership’s power over those led is independent of accountability to truth. Hierarchy naturally inclines toward abuse because of our fallen nature. Its social structure encourages abuse and subjects truth to power-over.

Christians claim to be concerned with and committed to truth. And yet we betray that concern and commitment when we insist on hierarchy. Hierarchical Christians, like all hierarchical people, show by their organizational theory and behavior a preference for power and control over truth.

Peter Leithart has an interesting post on the bad girl goddesses of the ancient Near East where he draws in interesting correlation to Song of Solomon. Go read it.

Finally, Michael Gorman has a post where he quotes extensively from Stanley Hauerwas:

It is impossible to avoid the fact that American Christianity is far less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America’s god is not the God that Christians worship.

Join the conversation

“Texts provide ethical guidance not only by eliciting conversations with their readers but also by eliciting conversations between their readers. A point made well by both Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum is that reading is most conducive to moral formation when it takes place in a community that can reflect together on their textual encounters. Because of the rich imaginative experience provided by narrative, it can be an especially useful forum for dialogue among readers, leading to their moral edification. There is ample evidence to suggest that the Hebrew Bible has been used in communal settings of this sort for almost all of its existence. To some extent in the biblical text itself and certainly in the rabbinic and early Christian commentaries, one sees communities gathered before the text, awaiting ethical instruction while recognizing that instruction frequently comes through conversation and interaction with the text and with one another.

“The Enlightenment taught interpreters to approach Scripture as an object with a single meaning available for extraction. The Hebrew Bible, however, stubbornly refused to elicit a singularity of meaning. Its ambiguities defied resolution. Although individuals who continue to hold onto Enlightenment ideals have contended that these ambiguities are grounds for objecting to the enterprise of Old Testament ethics, there is another way of understanding them. These ambiguities serve the essential function of prompting deep reflection and formational dialogue. Rather than rejecting the ethical value of texts like Genesis 34 that contain their share of ambiguity, one can understand these texts as (1) realistically presenting the ambiguities inherent to the moral life and (2) inviting the audience to draw its own conclusions about how individuals should act in similar situations. Lacking resolution, these texts invite readers both to discussion with the multiple perspectives they present and to ethical conversation with each other.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 131

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Public service announcement

Well, I've been waiting for winter to post this, but with it being 45ºF today, I've pretty much given up on winter this year...

Winter bicycling: a short guide

1. You will probably overdress.
I've found that all you need until it gets to around 15ºF is a t-shirt under your jacket.
Once it gets below 15º and until it gets to around 0º, all you need is a collared shirt under your windbreaker.
Once it gets below 0º, you will probably need to wear tights/long underwear and a light jacket under your windbreaker. But, don't overdress! It is better to be a bit cool than to overheat and sweat. The sweat condenses and you get cold.
You might feel cold for the first mile, but if I do 40-50 pushups before going outside, I stay warm—I know some of you are saying you will need to go to the hospital if you do that! :)

2. Your hands will get cold—unless you wear mittens. I use leather outers and wool inners. We called them "choppers" when I was a kid. The two piece is nice because it allows you to pull the inners out and let them dry if they get wet.

3. Your head will probably be warm enough, but you should invest in a mask-type stocking cap. I usually end up pulling it back, but the neck part is handy for keeping cold air off your chest.

3a. Keep your chest warm. If you don't, you might end up with bronchitis, which is why I suggest a mask type stocking cap. They usually have a neck portion that goes down over part of the chest.

4. Studded snow tires aren't what they are cracked up to be—an exception might be the $200 ones, but I'm not going to find out! I've run studded snows for 3 years now, and they do grab on snow and somewhat on ice, but they slip on corners pretty badly when there is no ice or snow. And the studs come off over time. I won't be replacing them with studded tires when they wear out. Now, if some bicycle tire manufacturer is looking for somebody to test those nice $200 tires, contact me...I ride 11 miles per day, 5 days per week, year round...

5. It is a blast riding in the cold and snow! The most fun is when it is -20ºF and people's jaw drops as you go blasting through an intersection with your beard all frosty and your hat down because you are too warm.

Enjoy the winter—if it ever decides to arrive!

The first thing after Eden

“...anger may be too painful a topic to withstand extended reflection as it is encountered in everyday experiences. However, when anger is readers’ first encounter outside Eden, and when they see it leading to nothing less than fratricide, they are called to reflect on this emotion in ways that they cannot consider when they are in the middle of their personal experiences of it.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 128

Ancient Personhood

“...the ancient notion of personhood was primarily relational—that one defined oneself through the functions and roles one was given in relation to others rather than by asserting one’s individuality.

“Furthermore, people in the ancient world did not distinguish the person from the body. Contrary to the Platonic and Cartesian tradition, which contrasts the body as anatomical, material, spatial, temporal, and fallible, and the mind as mental, spiritual, eternal, universal, and infallible—a distinction made also by modern cognitivists and evolutionary psychologists—this sort of dualistic view is not expressed in the Sumerian and Babylonian sources. The person was, rather, conceived as a multifaceted assemblage of parts: the organic body, name, roles, and image, even his or her seal, which in specific contexts could operate as an independent center for activities that were normally performed by the individual him/herself. The body was considered a component of rationality and understanding.”—Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism, page 139

What really happens in a bookstore at night

HT: Shelf Awareness

Monday, January 09, 2012


“The modernist infatuation with science has deceived many into thinking that, if one knows all the formulas and rules, one can always arrive at the right solution. However, as workers in most nonscientific fields know well, formulas and rules can only guide novices so far; they also need to gain experience in the field. Narratives help equip readers with the type of field experience required for moral competence.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 126


We've been having some weird weather here lately. Friday was over 50ºF, and Saturday was in the mid-40s. So, what do you do when it's January and it hits 50ºF? Why, you plant your garden, of course!

So, I did. Well, I planted it in my hoop house, but I did plant a good bit of stuff. Let's see if I can remember it all...

Swiss Chard
Romaine Lettuce
Broccoli Raab
Sprouting Broccoli

I think that's it. We should be eating the first of them before the end of March. Right now we just finished pulling the last of the carrots and are still eating fresh spinach. The Romaine and Broccoli Raab from last fall are getting there—I planted too late in the season.

Friday, January 06, 2012


Black, White, and Gray has post about living in community. Here's the finale, but do read the whole thing—it's very thought-provoking.

There’s a tension here with the tenets of Christianity. Today’s ethos is do what you want with the people that you like. In contrast, the Bible has ideas of loving others, even when you don’t like them. Putting others first. Attending to the stranger.

Living in a strong community becomes more of a moral choice than a practical necessity. A commitment to relationships is inherent in Christianity, but we’re finding less and less support/ need for it.

<idle musing>
Ouch. He stopped preaching and done gone to meddling...
</idle musing>

The advantage of knowing Hebrew

“No reader of Genesis has literally been expelled from the Garden of Eden. No reader has seen firsthand the cherubim and whirling, flaming sword east of the tree of life. And yet, Genesis clearly invites its readers to adopt Adam and Eve as metaphorical representations of themselves. In fact, it is a casualty of translation that the Hebrew אדם ['adam] and חוה [ḥavah] are typically rendered ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’, when in fact their names literally are ‘Humanity’ and ‘Life’. Few readers of the English Bible are aware of this connection, and thus they fail to realize how the text itself invites them to see these characters less as historical figures and more as metaphorical representations of the human race. Once one understands the driving metaphor WE ARE EXPELLED FROM PARADISE [emphasis his], however, suddenly the remainder of Genesis and even our own lives make much more sense.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 125

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The universals are specific

“The book of Proverbs, when viewed as a collection, is less about offering readers an enormous set of universal ethical principles than the collective wisdom of communities whose members participate in a shared humanity while displaying considerable variation. In some circumstances, a maxim can offer sound guidance—but not in all. A level of practical wisdom, what Aristotle called φρονησις [phronesis], but what the Hebrew Bible calls תבונה [TBWNH], is necessary to know which maxims can best guide one on particular occasions. Their validity depends in no small part on their context.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 104

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Aristotle, move over!

“Many interpreters have observed that the Old Testament contains (1) texts that appear morally problematic (such as the ḥērem texts), (2) texts that are morally ambiguous (for example, is Jacob’s trickery praised or condemned?), and (3) texts that are very diverse, potentially in conflict with one another. Dynamics of this sort make it nearly impossible to formulate a modernist vision of Old Testament ethics—that is, a vision that is unified, consistent, systematic, and focused on moral principles. However, these textual dynamics do not present insurmountable problems for articulating a more postmodern vision of Old Testament ethics. Postmodernity has brought an awareness of the value of diversity and particularity, as well as an awareness that morality is about far more than ethical rules.”— From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis , page 95

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Polytheism and the elite

“...for almost all of Egyptian history, the pantheon was multiple, and people understood the world as being a place of many gods. During the brief episode of Akhenaten, the number of deities celebrated, at least in his new capital of el-Amarna, was reduced to one, but it does not follow that the existence of other gods or of intermediate suprahuman beings was excluded...The elite was clear and explicit in its adherence to polytheism; it found monolatry—not to speak of monotheism—deeply repugnant.”—Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism, page 86

<idle musing>
I would say that not much has changed. The elite still like polytheism—the names of the gods have changed, that's all. Now, they are called money, power, sex, and prestige...and the non-elite want to be like the elite—just like then.
</idle musing>


“The prototypical script of anger in the Hebrew Bible needs to be understood not in terms of an American or Japanese model but on its own terms. It arises in response to perceived wrongdoings more than mere frustrations over daily affairs. It is concerned with ethical issues and is communal, directed not toward things but toward people. It almost always results in some form of estrangement and frequently leads to violence. Consequently, it tends to be evaluated negatively but, because of its moral dimensions, it also has positive qualities. The associative networks of biblical anger pertain to the concepts of jealousy, fire, evil, extreme violence, and pouring out—far more than to the Western associations with being mad, inner fluids rising, or explosiveness.”— From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis , page 87

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it, that we get mad at things when they don't go our way, but the Israelites would get mad about ethical and communal issues. I wonder who should be considered more "civilized"?
</idle musing>

Monday, January 02, 2012


“One can also note that the word למה [LMH] (‘why’) often finds itself in the context of angry speech. There are several reasons. First, angry individuals who perceive a wrongdoing often ask why the wrongdoing occurred...Second, given the fact that people become angry not necessarily because of actual wrongdoing but because of perceived wrongdoing, other individuals sometimes challenge their reasons for anger, asking why they are angry. This is the case with God’s question to Cain (Gen 4:6). Finally, anger can trigger a series of events that others seek to avoid. In a couple of instances, people ask why these sorts of events should take place...In all, the word למה [LMH] appears approximately three times more frequently in verses such as Exod 32:12 that mention anger than in the entire Hebrew Bible. These data provide additional evidence that anger in the Bible does not automatically and immediately result in violence (see ,3§ ,4.3.4§ above) but instead may lead, for example, to verbal confrontation.”— From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis , pages 72-73