Friday, September 30, 2016

Listen! And respond

In 1 Chronicles 21 we see YHWH staying the hand of the angel as if waiting for David to intercede. We also see YHWH lingering after sending off the other “men” to investigate Sodom, waiting to share his plan with Abraham. Repeatedly, we see YHWH giving his intercessors warnings and thus openings for intercession. Amos responds to YHWH’s visions in Amos 7:2, 5, while Moses and Aaron fall on their faces and intercede when warned to move away in Numbers 16.

What these texts model is human initiative, as much as courage, intelligence, verbal agility, and responsibility for others. These intercessors come up with their own speeches, not words already dictated by YHWH.—Forestalling Doom pages 239–40

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dual role

One concept noted repeatedly in this study is the mystification of agency found in causative and particularly in hybrid speech acts. In the namburbis and Text 3, the agency responsible for the magical effect is either attributed to the gods or obfuscated through ambiguous verbal forms. The double illocutionary force of the hybrid speech acts fits particularly well with the role of the Mesopotamian ritual practitioner as recently described by both Maul and Rüdiger Schmitt. Both scholars claim that ANE practitioners “slip into” the role of a god when carrying out magical rituals, actively bringing the gods’ powers into the ritual context. As a human, the practitioner can only petition the gods for help, but as one acting the part of a god, the practitioner can actually enact the desired transformation with speech. Such dual action results from the practitioner’s double role in the blended space of the ritual, both drawing on divine power while retaining his or her human identity as a servant of the gods.—Forestalling Doom pages 238–39

<idle musing>
This is actually very common; if you read much anthropology and/or history of religions, you'll see it repeatedly. The line between the divine and the human is bridged by the ritual practitioner. Eliade called it illud tempus (that time) in his writings.

Now the question to ask is, how do we fall into this trap as Christians? How do we think we can control God and circumstances? I would venture to say that we do it without realizing it...

As always, just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Available to all!

The biblical writers have taken care to avoid the appearance of ritual speech. These narratives instead show characters apparently speaking in their own voices, demonstrating the best qualities of which humans and human speech are capable: justice, courage, initiative, verbal agility, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and compassion for others. The intercessors display these extraordinary qualities to the deity at precisely those moments when YHWH plans to wipe out the population, and thereby fend off doom. Instead of “channeling” the gods or changing reality with their words, these intercessors show a kind of agency that is theoretically reachable by anyone. Herein lies one reason that these stories have been passed down for millennia. Rather than any scripted speech or access to divine power, it is the intercessors’ human qualities that are meant as models for re-use: qualities that can—potentially—pull communities from the brink of disaster in a whole range of circumstances. So it is that these biblical texts have achieved a kind of posterity that the ritual texts have not.—Forestalling Doom page 236

<idle musing>
Well, I wouldn't limit the reason they survived to just that; there is a good bit of Holy Spirit action involved, too! But, a good point nonetheless.

Intercession is available to all. Let's make use of it for the good of our neighbors. Intercede on their behalf—not to "make America great again" or "keep America great," whatever that means (see here). But so that they might enjoy the presence and peace of God in their lives.
</idle musing>

Monday, September 26, 2016

A theology of prayer

Intercessors with ritual agency can follow divinely modeled instructions to resolve the problem of disastrous omens. Intercessors with magical agency are capable of divinely empowered speech and can slip into the gods’ roles with the gods’ consent and help. Intercessors with persuasive agency, in contrast, rely on traits and resources available to humanity at large, although such intercessors may enjoy special access to the divine (a common trait among intercessors in human contexts as well). Because persuasive agency is the only kind of agency depicted in the biblical texts, the skill with which these intercessors deploy it is crucial indeed.—Forestalling Doom page 234

<idle musing>
As I was reading this, all kinds of prayers that I've read from the ancient world came to mind, along with the techniques they used. Some obviously magical, some more do ut des, some repetitive—as if to wear the god out until the request was granted—, some full of rhetorical flourishes, and some, especially the from the Psalms, just the pouring out of a heart in distress. And then the admonition by Jesus about vain repetition came to mind.

So what do we do with all these data? I'm still (after 40+ years as a Christian) trying to formulate a theology of prayer. I think the best I can do is, "It's messy, but it works (sometimes)!" What do you think?
</idle musing>

Friday, September 23, 2016

Rituals are minimal...

Persuasive agency is the only kind of human agency found in Texts 5-15. As we have seen, the biblical speech is presented as meaningful in context, non-prescribed, and conforming to the specific situation of the speaker. Gestures and manual rites are minimal or absent. In 1 Chr 21:26 (cf. 2 Sam 24:25) David demonstrates ritual agency only after the apotropaic intercessory speech has been received—and uses an ad hoc ritual prescribed for this particular occasion only, without direct discourse. All of these features present agency in addressing the divine as similar to agency in addressing powerful human superiors.—Forestalling Doom page 233

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Unlike the portraits of the other gods in these apotropaic intercessory texts, YHWH is often shown as making room for human responses to his plans before enacting them. Texts 5, 6, 13, 14, and 15 show YHWH as secretly or not-so-secretly inviting intercession, or at least pausing before acting in expectation of a response. In Gen 18:17-22, YHWH explicitly awaits Abraham’s response, and in 1 Chr 21:15, he stays the angel’s hand, giving time for David to intercede. Less obvious are the phrases “Leave me be” and “Leave me alone,” in Exod 32:10 and Deut 9:14. As we have seen in Sections and, however, these seeming rejections actually serve as “backhanded” invitations for intercession. Although YHWH does not always accede to human desires, he does so often enough—and thoroughly enough—to show that he attends to such protest. As Patrick D. Miller notes, YHWH must be affected by intercession to some degree, or he would not bother prohibiting it on occasion (see, e.g., Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12).—Forestalling Doom page 231

<idle musing>
Fascinating idea, isn't it? God wants us to intercede! May we rise to the challenge!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Circular reasoning

Based on the notion that persuasive speech is tailored to its presumed audience, we can learn something about cultural perceptions of the gods by examining the rhetoric addressed to them. Rhetorical strategies in the namburbi hymns suggest a view of these gods as king-like figures granting an audience to the beneficiary with the intercessor’s help. The deities are offered the gifts of food, drink, incense, praise, and other elements of protocol adapted from the human court to the needs of the ritual and the gods (including the setting and props such as portable altars). In these acts we see the assumption that the gods, like kings, are motivated by glorification and offerings. The praise concentrates on those aspects of the divine personality that the intercessor and supplicant wish to enhance: compassion and love toward humanity and a sense of responsibility for the supplicant’s well-being. Apparently, the deities are assumed to want to stay true to the glorious reputations broadcast in these hymns. The praise-vow in Text 1 indicates Šamaš’s assumed desire for human adherents. Additionally, the ritual structure presupposes a divine interest in following protocol. We see orderly, quasi-legal processes in the juridical language in the hymns as well as in the causative speech acts formally establishing a substitute in Text 1’s second oral rite. The implied success in the progression of ritual steps suggests the view that the deities are, for the most part, accommodating to the intercessors’ efforts and the supplicant’s needs.

The rhetoric of the causative and hybrid speech acts presents a somewhat different image of the gods. Rather than appealing to the gods’ personal reasons for desiring the ritual’s success, here vivid analogies are designed to entice the gods into transforming reality in the ways depicted. The gods are assumed to recognize and validate the conventional associations on which the persuasive analogies are based. There is a circular process here: the gods are understood to have given humans rituals containing verbal techniques and references that the gods themselves would find particularly compelling. This circularity supports the view that the gods desire the rituals’ success.—Forestalling Doom pages 229–30

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Summary of Intercession in the Hebrew Bible

The texts suggest that apotropaic intercession was considered to be generally, but not universally, effective, although even in cases where it appears to have failed YHWH refrains from wiping out all Israel. Yet intercession merely has a partial effect; the HB emphasizes YHWH’s freedom of action throughout. He “does what he wishes” (cf. Pss 115:3, 135:6, Jonah 1:14). YHWH may “change his mind” based on repentance, apotropaic intercession, direct appeal by the targeted victim, or YHWH’s own “good nature”; however, he also seemingly disregards much human intervention and persists in his planned punishment.

In sum, then, biblical apotropaic intercessory utterances aim to persuade the deity, rely on many of the same rhetorical strategies and arguments as supplications to human authorities, and are generally portrayed as effective at reducing or appropriately targeting divinely planned doom. As for the theology of the intercession proper, apotropaic intercessory appeals depict a deity moved by human passion as well as pain, a deity sensitive about his reputation, and a deity attached to his chosen, particularly his patriarchs. This God is stirred by justice but sometimes in need of reminding to protect the innocent in his rush to punish the guilty. YHWH is depicted as resembling a well-intentioned and all- powerful monarch, who relies on his advisers for guidance when the concerns of his subjects are brought to his ears—but who always reserves the final judgment as his own.—Forestalling Doom page 213

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where does repentance fit?

Notably, in none of the cases analyzed does the intercessor claim that the people have turned aside from their wickedness, nor does the intercessor promise that they will. Despite its prevalence in Deuteronomy, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, this theme is absent in the intercessory speeches I analyze. Only in 1 Chr 21:17 do we see repentance by the perpetrator of an offense. But here David confesses not out of a desire to diminish his own punishment (as he did in v. 21:8), but to spare the innocent.—Forestalling Doom page 212

<idle musing>
Kinda blows the stereotypes out of the water, doesn't it? But it sure does make God more merciful and illustrates the depth of ḥesed!

Another thought: You don't turn/repent in order to avoid punishment. You turn/repent out of thankfulness that God has delivered you! Just an
</idle musing>

Friday, September 16, 2016

Just own up to it!

“Indeed experience demonstrates that we inflict heavier punishment upon persons who deny guilt and advance arguments in their own defense, but that anger desists from those who admit the justice of the punishment to be meted out to them. This, moreover, is reasonable, for denial of the obvious is insolence and effrontery, and there is no mockery or disdain like it.”&mdashJudah Messer Leon, The Book of the Honeycomb’s Flow: Sēpher Nōpheth Sūphīm (ed. I. Rabinowitz; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 331 as quoted in Forestalling Doom page 169 n. 82

<idle musing>
Indeed. But our natural tendency is to bristle and deny, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What do we make of that?

Two speech act categories are absent from the corpus [of intercessory prayers in the HB]: commissives and declaratives, both hallmarks of transformative ritual speech. By omitting all declaratives, the biblical writers appear to be representing apotropaic intercession as something other than ritual—emphasizing, rather, the spontaneous, personal exchange between the intercessors and their God, fitting Moshe Greenberg’s definition of “prose prayer.”—Forestalling Doom page 202

<idle musing>
Interesting insight, once again illustrating that YHWH isn't a tame deity that we can put on a leash. Something we all need to remember when we try to bend God's will to our own.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It isn't in the ritual

Like biblical intercession with human superiors, biblical apotropaic intercession with YHWH uses ordinary discourse, persuading through appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos. Without causative language, these utterances lack the need for a special connection to the sacred domain for their language to have illocutionary force. They are also presented as lacking a ritual context. Even in 1 Chronicles 21 (cf. 2 Samuel 24), David’s ritual sacrifice—itself lacking direct discourse—is separated from his verbal intercession in time and space.—Forestalling Doom pages 201–2

<idle musing>
He isn't a tame lion...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Aaron’s use of incense in Numbers 17 is anomalous in the HB in that Aaron brings it to the people, running into their midst and “standing between life and death.” Except for the High Priest’s ritual in Lev 16:12-13, no biblical descriptions of atonement rites mention incense. Typically incense is prescribed or portrayed in routine offerings at the Tent of Meeting and Temple, as in Exod 30:7-8. Milgrom argues that its use here stems from the literary context, observing, “The same incense that causes destruction when used by unauthorized persons [in Num 16] averts destruction when used by authorized persons.”[footnote: Milgrom, Numbers, 141. Incense must be used only by those authorized or the penalties are extreme (cf. the rebels in Numbers 16, and possibly Nadab and Abihu who are punished for their use of “strange fire” in Lev 10:1).]—Forestalling Doom page 200

<idle musing>
Bad pun alert: Incense to calm an incensed deity...
</idle musing>

Monday, September 12, 2016

There's an narrow opening

Verse 15, in which YHWH is said to change his mind (נחם) even before David intercedes, makes the reader wonder how important David’s intercession was to YHWH’s ultimate decision. According to 1 Chr 21:15, “God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy, YHWH saw and changed his mind about the calamity and said to the destroying angel, “Enough! Now let your hand fall!” YHWH does not annul the danger with this instruction, however: the sword still hangs over Jerusalem until YHWH has accepted the sacrifice. It appears that YHWH stays the angel’s hand to give David a chance to intercede, much as he presents openings for intercession in other texts (e.g., Gen 18:17-21, Exod 32:7-10 and Deut 9:12-14). Unlike Abraham’s intercession in Gen 18:23b-32a, David’s intercession is successful: not only does YHWH spare Jerusalem but he exacts no further punishment on David or his household.

Overall, David’s intercession parallels others in that YHWH presents an opening for intercession, David argues for protection of the innocent, and the intercession succeeds. Even its two unique features—confession and a link to ritual—follow biblical precedent: as in Lev 5:1-6, the guilty party must realize his sin, confess, and offer sacrifice before his sin is expiated (נשלח).—Forestalling Doom page 198

<idle musing>
I guess the question is, how sensitive are we to the openings that God gives us to intercede? Are we too busy condemning the guilty to hear God say, "Intercede!"?

Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 08, 2016

What qualifies you as an intercessor?

David’s opening words add ballast to his prior confession, not only clearing the people but also seeking to reconcile his own relationship with YHWH, thereby making himself a more credible intercessor. [footnote: Compare the instructions to Aaron to make confession on behalf of himself and his household (Lev 16:6, 11) prior to confessing his people’s sins (Lev 16:16). In the eyes of the biblical writers, David may not have been considered eligible to intercede if burdened with unconfessed sin.]—Forestalling Doom page 197

<idle musing>
In other words, "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift." (Matt 5:23 CEB).

So, to answer the question:

Who can ascend the Lord’s mountain?
Who can stand in his holy sanctuary?
Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart;
the one who hasn’t made false promises,
the one who hasn’t sworn dishonestly.
That kind of person receives blessings from the Lord
and righteousness from the God who saves.
Holiness matters...and I'm talking heart holiness, not rule-based pseudo-holiness. You know, the kind that is imparted by the Holy Spirit.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Turn aside

The goal of Amos’s intercessory appeals is to prevent the divine punishment in the respective vision. In Amos 7:2, the verb סלח (“pardon!”[slḥ]) means “do not destroy” or in Milgrom’s terms, “reconcile.” He argues that there is no nuance of exoneration in this term, which signals rather the cancellation of punishment in order to maintain the covenant. According to Milgrom, “when God extends to man His boon of salaḥ, He thereby indicates His desire for reconciliation with man, to continue His relationship with him—in Israelite terms, to maintain His covenant. . . . Thus, the reaffirmation of the covenant is the most apposite form for divine ‘pardon.’” The verb חדל [ḥdl] in 7:5 has the sense of “refrain from, not to do” a specific action. In Jer 41:8, the verb is used specifically in the sense of “refrain from putting to death.” Often it appears in the context of paired options—either to do something, or not to do it (חדל). Again, there is no nuance of sin being wiped away. Rather, Amos asks that YHWH refrain from bringing the predicted punishment.—Forestalling Doom page 190

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Are we practicing atheists, or not?

That's basically what it boils down to in article (which you really should read; it's only a few paragraphs long):
If we are convinced that our violence is responsible to secure our future, then our actions will tacitly witness to the death of god in our culture. This atheistic tendency has been prevalent because of our fears since the destruction of the World Trade Towers. The results have been disastrous. The more we prepare for war, the better our weaponry, the more vigilant we become, the more we engage in “preemptive” war or targeted drone assassinations, the more we live the illusion that we can create peace by violence and in turn leave a wake of destruction that mirrors the very destruction we fear. Because peace and security through violence are political impossibilities, our wars are no longer limited political engagements but ideological crusades, and that should concern all people of good will. (A good dose of Niebuhrian realism would be beneficial.) Even more should it concern people of faith who have been told to love their enemy because this love is the nature of God who loved us while we were enemies. Before we can ask the question, “what would you do if” in a hypothetical situation, it would behoove Christians to ask: How do we best witness to this God who loves us while we were enemies? The cross and resurrection are the inconvenient answer to that question.

So how does a prophet spend his/her time?

The first word in Ezekiel’s intercession [Ezek 9] is the exclamation אהה [‘ahah], which Muffs considers to indicate “prophetic opposition to a divine decree.” The particular combination of אהה [‘ahah] followed by ′′אדני ה [ha‘adonai] also occurs in nine other verses, all of which indicate either distress or protest. In Ezekiel’s intercessory appeals, the word אהה [‘ahah] communicates near-hopeless protest, while the title of respect conveys his subservience. Bound to do YHWH’s bidding, he can only plead that YHWH alter his decree. Thus the three opening words combine address, implicit complaint, and implicit petition.—Forestalling Doom page 185

<idle musing>
As I've been saying for many years now, we get the role of a prophet totally wrong. They spend most of their time interceding with God for the very people they are reprimanding.

How different from self-styled "prophets" today, who spend most of their time "prophesying" wealth and prosperity over people! They are closer to the false prophets in the book of Jeremiah than they are to the true prophets of old!

Lord, forgive us! Raise up true prophets who stand in the gap!
</idle musing>

Friday, September 02, 2016

Moses and intercession

Unlike Exod 32:11b-13, which never refers to the Israelites’ sin, the appeal in Deuteronomy [9] mentions their sin at a point of maximum prominence, the center of the chiasm (v. 27b). Such structural emphasis belies Moses’s appeal to YHWH in v. 27b, “Do not pay attention to (אל תפן אל) the stubbornness of this people nor to its wickedness nor to its sin.” If intended as anticipatory refutation, the reference to sin would have been better placed at the beginning of Moses’s appeal, as it is in Exod 32:31. The emphatic placement makes sense, however, as part of Moses’s message to the Israelites on the Plains of Moab in Deuteronomy 9. One aim of the chapter is to confront the Israelites with all the ways they had provoked YHWH since leaving Egypt (Deut 9:7, 8, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24; cf. 9:5, 6). The emphasis on their sin in Moses’s appeal makes sense in that context. Moses is also striving to persuade the Israelites of all he has done on their (undeserving) behalf: hence his emphasis on the 40 days and nights he spent prostrate while making this appeal (9:25). Thus it is fitting as well that no plague is mentioned; in Deut 9:19 Moses’s intercession with YHWH is presented as if it had been wholly successful.—Forestalling Doom page 183

Thursday, September 01, 2016


The major distinction between this speech [Num 14] and the one in Exod 32:11b-13 is Moses’s citation of YHWH’s attributes in Num 14:17-18. Here the formula becomes the basis of Moses’s two petitions: his plea in Num 14:17 that “your forbearance be great, as you promised” in the formula, and his petition for pardon in 14:19, which picks up the formula’s key word חסד [ḥesed] The version of the formula used here, like that in Exod 34:6-7, describes both YHWH’s mercy and his judgment on wrongdoers and their descendants. By using it, Moses acknowledges the deity’s freedom to pardon or to punish, although he stresses the deity’s clemency in his petitions, using the strategy of choice.—Forestalling Doom page 176 (emphasis original)