Tuesday, March 31, 2020

But it's in the plural…

The use of a morphologically plural term for a singular referent that is a deity is an ANE literary convention, where it is used to flatter an Amarna-era pharaoh or refer to a Phoenician deity. Interpreters have considered this manner of marking a singular referent as an honorific expression, a plural of majesty, an expression of a superlative nature, or most plausibly in the case of the OT, as an abstraction indicating the essence of deity. However we sort out the motives of the biblical tradents in their uses of the term, we note that the frequency of its employment in the OT is a distinguishing characteristic of the collection in its ANE setting and a mark of differentiation in the use of generic vocabulary for deity.—J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 79

Love broke through!

Today we start a new (2018) book, Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, by Douglas Campbell. Follow along!

We can now see two revelations working together whenever God is being revealed and understood. There is Jesus, and there is the Spirit. These two figures operate like the two hands of God gathering people up and bringing them back to the Father. Presumably this is what happened to Paul near Damascus as well. He was touched by both the Lord Jesus and by God’s Spirit.

These claims can frustrate modern historians who like to build pictures of people out of the factors that shaped them as children and young adults—their families, early childhood homes, cultures, and so on—and explain their subsequent behavior in the light of those influences. What happened to Paul earlier on that made him convert in this astonishing way? But this assumes that the most important factors in history are things that take place within history, where we can see them—things like sociological and psychological factors. This would miss the point of what Paul tells us. He says that the most important factors in history come from outside of it, from God. He goes out of his way in his longest account of this event, in his letter to Galatians, to emphasize that whatever his background was, whatever the preceding factors, they didn’t matter that much. He was a learned Jew, he says in Galatians 1:14, and so dedicated, he says in the previous verse, that he was persecuting religious deviants. But he was heading in the completely wrong direction and God changed him by breaking into his life, the chapter continues. It was a surprise, a shock, a sudden about-face. Conventional historical analysis couldn’t predict this and can’t explain it. It can only be explained by divine revelation—and this applies just as much to Christians today. Christians believe that Jesus is Lord (God), because God has revealed this to us through God’s Spirit.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 17–18

Monday, March 30, 2020

Swearing an oath

To swear an oath is a performative act. Swearing by a deity is a precarious and daring speech-act. The practice of swearing an oath was well-known in the ANE, including Pharaonic Egypt. The oath-taker indirectly invokes the deity as an observing witness to the case. Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Israelites, and Khwarezmians respected the divine realm as a powerful reality. This implies that the contents of Mahseiah’s oath were understood as truth. The oath goes beyond a mere declaration; it signi es that Mahseiah’s statements could never be a lie. In case these words turned out not to be true, the court and the disputants expected the deity to punish the liar. It should be noted that swearing by the deity of another group within Elephantine was not uncommon.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 73

And we are that image

Even as we have seen many points of contact between Genesis and the ancient Near East, we should not neglect to notice the places where the Israelites were departing from the standard ways of thinking in the ancient world. People (God’s images) were placed in sacred space just as the images of the Babylonian gods were placed in sacred space in their temples to mediate God’s presence and God’s revelation. But images were excluded in worship in Israel—we are the only images God allows.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 196

<idle musing>
That's the end of this book. Hope you enjoyed it. Next up, we'll move to the New Testament for a bit.
</idle musing>

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Is it Sunday again already?

Seems the only thing in the news is the novel corona virus and related disease, COVID-19. In fact, it's so much in the news, that it is now being referred to as Covid-19, lower case. That type of migration typically takes years, e.g., MODEM becoming Modem, now simply modem (it stands for Modulator-Demodulator), or RADAR to radar (Radio Assisted Detection and Ranging), but I digress.

I've found that the Atlantic seems to have some pretty balanced reporting. Here's a sampling: How the Coronavirus Became an American Catastrophe; How the Pandemic Will End (pretty sobering); and The President Is Trapped. And this on BBC is worth the read, too.

And then there are those who look to past plagues, which typically were much worse as far as death tolls go, to see how people responded. Andy LePeau looks at the 165 CE plague; Philip Jenkins relates the story of Eyam, which I had never heard of before. A very nice illustration of sacrificing self-interest for the sake of others.

Which brings us to the most controversial aspect of the pandemic: the economic one. Religion Dispatches' headline, "‘Restart the Economy’ Is a Prayer to a Conservative God Who Demands Human Sacrifice," is chilling, to put it mildly. And The Week's opinion piece, "A pro-lifer shrugs in the face of mass death" is just the tip of the iceberg over Reno's First Things editorial. As Benjamin Corey's blog post says, "It’s Not Pro-Life If You’re Going to Sacrifice the Old Folks."

Roger Olson, though, takes a broader theological approach:

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut famously said “We’re terrible animals. I think that the Earth’s immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should.” (I am not going to get into a debate with anyone here about whether Vonnegut really meant it or what. The statement here stands on its own because I agree with it—unless there is a God or something like God as I will explain.)
He goes on to explain what he means. And Scot McKnight asks "God and the Virus: Do we say God sent the virus?" Ken Schenk takes on the question "Is COVID-19 God's Judgment?" Read it to find out what he says.

Related, but not directly, Roger Olson again. This time he makes an important distinction between "The 'Ultimate' and the 'Penultimate': An Important Distinction in Christian Ethics." Good stuff; read it.

OK, enough of that. If you are still with me, take a look at this piece about the danger of smoothing out the differences in middle America, the "fly-over country" that I call home.

Most of all, pop culture normalizes the region: Think about how differently we would read the myth of Superman if his ship crashed in rural Connecticut, or how Fargo loses its irony (and everything else) if reimagined in Fargo, Arkansas. It must be Kansas that Dorothy returns to, not Schenectady or Dallas.

Anytime a region this large, this diverse, and this hard to define becomes a symbol for a concept that has the combined vagueness and life-regulating power of “normalcy,” it should tell us that we’re in the presence of myth. In its worst form, the association between Midwesternness and normalcy can become a proxy for whiteness, straightness, and/or maleness. There are people in the world who think that our outer-borough, rich-guy, New Yorker president better represents the Midwest than does Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant elected in 2018 to the House of Representatives from Minnesota, where she has lived for more than 20 years. This kind of thinking legitimizes prejudice while obscuring the region’s actual demographics, which are all over the place.

Read the rest. Meanwhile, Michael Bird takes on the Biblical Manhood people in his post entitled "Imitation of Christ vs. Gender Roles."

That about does it this week. Be wise, but not fearful. Radiate the love of Christ, not the blaming too often displayed by some in power. This isn't the first, nor is it the worst, pandemic in history. Yes, I know, that doesn't make it any easier, but putting it into perspective can be helpful. Valete!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Are you against socialism?

If you are, then you had better return those checks from the government when they come, because that, my friends, is a form of socialism. If you accept those checks, you are de facto endorsing socialism.

Remember that the next time you complain about SNAP/food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, and those "lazy bums" who get government aid. This time, you are the lazy bum.

For a much better way of saying it, read this post. Here's a snippet:

Who would have thought that during an election year which was expected to be spent by republicans flogging anything that smelled of socialism or big government, that we’d find them so enthusiastically embracing it… at the hands of Trump, no less?

Goodbye days of, “Trump is gonna stop those stupid socialist libs from getting power and ruining the country by handing money out to people.”

Hello unexpected era of, “OMG, thank you Trump. When does my check come??” (emphasis original)

Read it all, and ponder it. And then read the New Testament book of James, especially chapter 2. Of course, it wouldn't hurt you to read a bit of Matthew 25:31–46.

Just an
</idle musing>

Hey, you! Can I borrow your god for a bit?

The third model is not present in the HB [Hebrew Bible], with the exception of the book of Ruth. In her passionate declaration that she will not return to Moab without Naomi, she expresses an intriguing belief system. Her adoption of the deities of her mother-in-law sounds like an example of lending a divinity.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 70

Marred, not removed

[W]e can affirm that all human beings must be considered as participating in the divine image. It is something that is more corporate than individual. Furthermore, it is clear from the occurrences throughout the biblical text that the image was not lost when Adam and Eve were sent from the garden, though it was marred. The functions that were entrusted to us in Genesis 1 are still our responsibilities, though our ability to carry out those functions may be hampered in a variety of ways by our current condition.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 196

Thursday, March 26, 2020

But what about those other gods?

Within the HB itself, a second model is identifiable; I would label it as conditional acceptance. Important parts of the HB imply a belief system that can be classified as monolatry, mono-Yahwism, or inclusive monotheism. “Monolatry” means recognizing the existence and value of other gods but discouraging their veneration by the members of the community. The concept of mono-Yahwism presupposes the possibility that the veneration of YHWH differed from region to region in ancient Israel.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 68

Much more than sin

Yes, many humans, though not all, are deeply aware of problems in their own lives, of pains and fears and sorrows and deep—rooted puzzles, and that may well bring them to the foot of the cross. But the message ought never to be simply about me and my salvation. It ought to be about God and God’s kingdom. That’s what Jesus announced, and so should we. The full good news is that in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, God has become king of the world. We look out at the world and see it in a terrible mess, and we are aware in our bones that we want to do something about it. But our own sin, our greed, our pride, our arrogance get in the way, and we rush off and try to do it in our own strength and (worse) our own way, like Moses trying to liberate Israel from Egypt by Egyptian means. He first needed liberating himself. We humans know in our bones that we are called to bring God’s wise order into the world. That is our Adamic inheritance, just as much as the entail of evil. But for that to become a reality we need, ourselves, to be rescued from the same problem that afflicts the rest of the world. We are rescued by the blood of the Lamb in order to be a royal priesthood; and the way in which that works, according to the New Testament, is the same way it worked for Jesus: taking up the cross, a suffering but joyful witness. That, too, is part of Paul’s picture of the redeemed Adam: we suffer with him, that we may (in line, remember, with Psalm 8) also share his glory. The distortions Western theology has introduced into Paul’s Adam-theology are cognate with the distortions, or the downright ignoring, that have happened in relation to the kingdom of God. They belong together; and together they may give us a sense of how to talk wisely both about salvation and about origins.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 180

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Queen of Heaven

They [the people of the land after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem] have a different view as to the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. To them the catastrophe is not the outcome of their continued veneration of “other deities” but results from a breach in what they construe as legitimate religion. They communicate the fact that from times of old they have worshiped the Queen of Heaven. At some point they stopped this veneration. Most probably this should be interpreted as a reference to the cult reformation under King Josiah. 2 Kings 22–23 narrate how this king of Judah reacted to the discovery of a law-book in the temple of Jerusalem. After finding this book of law—which most probably contained the kernel of what is now the book of Deuteronomy— Shaphan the royal secretary reads it aloud to the king. Josiah then takes drastic measures: the worship of YHWH must be concentrated in the temple of Jerusalem. All other sanctuaries throughout the land are declared illegitimate. Next, the cult is purified of strange and foreign elements. It is plausible that, in that process, the veneration of Asherah and/or the Queen of Heaven was banned. The Judeans whom Jeremiah confronts in Egypt understand the ruination of Jerusalem and their exile to Egypt as the consequence of this cult reformation. Their abandonment of the worship of the Queen of Heaven has caused the disfavor of this goddess. Ending their offerings to this deity has, in their perception, ended her protection, patronage, and blessing of the people of Judah, with catastrophic results. To regain the blessing of the Queen of Heaven, they start to appease her by bringing offerings.— Bob Becking in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 67

What is this imago dei anyway?

The notion of the “image” doesn’t refer to a particular spiritual endowment, a secret “property that humans possess somewhere in their genetic makeup, something that might be found by a scientific observation of humans as opposed to chimps. The image is a vocation, a calling. It is the call to be an angled mirror, reflecting God’s wise order into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to the Creator. That is what it means to be the royal priesthood: looking after God’s world is the royal bit, summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit. And the image is, of course, the final thing that is put into the temple (here I draw on John Walton’s careful exposition of Genesis 1 and 2 as the creation of sacred space, and the seven days of Genesis 1 as the seven stages of temple building), so that the god can be present to his people through the image and that his people can worship him in that image.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 175

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


To sum up: the Canaanite-pagan world has generally had a greater sensitivity for the numinous in creation than Judaism and Christianity. Like Baal in the Ugaritic epics, the Canaanites still heard and understood the “word of tree and whisper of stone, converse of Heaven with Earth, of Deeps with Stars, . . . the lightning which the Heavens do not know . . . and earth’s masses do not understand.” The Wisdom of Solomon suggests that this sensitivity of the pagan world confuses creation with the creator to some extent (Wis 13:1–7). In contrast to, for instance, the Roman disregard for humanity in slavery, gladiator games, or the exposure of infants, Judaism exhibits respect for all human beings and especially for small social units like nuclear or extended families; it has raised up the idea of social justice. In opposition to the worship of any kind of worldly greatness, especially the emperor, it placed the worship of the one invisible God at the center. Christianity has largely neglected the pagan sensitivity toward nature as well as the struggle for more justice in the world; instead it has focused on eternal life and a heavenly homeland untouched by worldly needs and pains. This orientation finds its realization in a universal compassion and love that is not directed at any single group of people, as was practiced by Francis of Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, or Mother Theresa.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 58

<idle musing>
Wow. Where do I begin? That description paints with far too wide a brush! Maybe coming from his background that's how things were, but coming from a Wesleyan background with a healthy dose of social justice and having grown up in the woods, that just doesn't ring true at all.
</idle musing>

Come on down!

Most interpreters agree that the Tower of Babel should be understood as a ziggurat. Ziggurats were the famous towers that characterized all the major cities of ancient Mesopotamia. They were built adjacent to the temple and were part of sacred space. Modern readers are often confused about the tower, having assumed that the people building it intended to use it to ascend to heaven. In fact, however, all evidence points in the other direction. The ziggurats were provided to facilitate the deity’s descent and were intended to invite him to do so. The idea was that the god would have a convenient means by which to descend to the temple so that he could receive the worship of his people.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 163

Monday, March 23, 2020

A bit of good news for a change

If you read nothing else today, do read this.
The virus can grow exponentially only when it is undetected and no one is acting to control it, Levitt said. That’s what happened in South Korea, when it ripped through a closed-off cult that refused to report the illness.

“People need to be considered heroes for announcing they have this virus,” he said.

The goal needs to be better early detection — not just through testing but perhaps with body temperature surveillance, which China is implementing — and immediate social isolation.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate appears to be significantly higher than that of the flu, Levitt says it is quite simply put, “not the end of the world.”

Based on the experience of the Diamond Princess, he estimates that being exposed to the new coronavirus doubles a person’s risk of dying in the next two months. However, most people have an extremely low risk of death in a two-month period, and that risk remains extremely low even when doubled.

<idle musing>
So, keep your social distance and don't panic.
<idle musing>

And the bottom line was blessing

If we follow the direction suggested by the omnipresent pillar figurines, we discover that, while the covenants, the election of Israel, YHWH’s presence in history, the law, sin and forgiveness, and justice and wisdom may be important, they nevertheless represent secondary themes. What the grand compositions of the First Testament point to—whether it is the so-called primordial history, the patriarchal narratives, Deuteronomy, or the Holiness Code—is blessing: blessing for individuals, for families, for tribes, for the people (Gen 9:1–7; 49:1–28; Lev 26:3–13; Deut 28:1–14, 33). The primary and often exclusive interests of exegetes (covenant, law, etc.) are only means to an end, means and ways of obtaining a blessing that guarantees vitality, fertility, and survival.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 42

Low-functioning creatures

Consequently, and third, we also live in a world characterized by disorder. This disorder is found in the ways that we harm the environment, the ways that we harm one another and the ways that we harm ourselves. Disorder is the result of sin, and it continues to reflect our inability to be as good as we were designed to be. Among its many deleterious effects, sin has made us low-functioning creatures, and the paltry order that we manage to bring is a caricature of what God has intended us for. All of creation groans (Rom 8:19–22) in this state of delayed order and rampant disorder, the latter being the result of sin. That sin is most basically manifested in the idea that we thought we could do better than God—a delusion that still plagues all of us.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 151–52

Sunday, March 22, 2020

And it's Sunday again

Seems that everybody is consumed by the latest news on the novel corona virus. But there was some other stuff that happened last week, too. For example, the Museum of the Bible announced that their Dead Sea Scrolls fragments are fakes. Chris Rollston, epigrapher extraordinaire, read a paper, saying among other things,
I shall be fairly forthright here. Here is a profile of the forger: I believe that the forger of these Dead Sea Scrolls forged fragments is a trained scholar in our field, with access to actual ancient scrolls. I believe that the forger forged them during the course of a few months, or more likely, a couple years (this also accounts for some of the variation in the script). I believe that venality (indeed, outright and blatant greed) is a primary motivation (literally, netting the forger millions of dollars for these Museum of the Bible forgeries), but greed is not the only motivation. I believe the scholar of these forgeries is particularly hubristic, and assumed he (or she) could fool all other scholars (and also probably delighted in this assumption). I do not think that these were forged as some sort of a joke (as was the case in the Coleman-Norton forgery and in the case of the Hebron Philistine Documents). Clearly, I believe that the forger is amoral. Also, I believe that the forger worked primarily alone, but could have included a paid friend or associate who had at least a high-school level knowledge of chemistry (these forgeries are not sophisticated enough to have included the assistance of a trained scholar in chemistry).
Sobering, isn't it? Wouldn't be the first time that's been true. Meanwhile, Sidnie White Crawford, who has probably spent more time among the physical scrolls than just about anyone alive, chimed in with her paper. Her conclusion? Yep, they're fakes.

In other non-COVID-19 posts, Roger Olson asks whether God can change. Read it.

And Scot McKnight discusses retirement—or why to delay it. Personally, I plan on working full-time until I'm at least 70 and continuing to copyedit stuff on a 20–30 hour/week basis as long as I'm mentally able.

Shift gears a bit here, as Philip Jenkins looks at martyrdom in the 20th century. Good stuff there; read it.

OK, the rest is pretty much COVID-19, so if you are sick of it, stop reading. But before you do, check out Bob on Books post about the difference between physical distancing and social distancing. Read it. He ends with this sobering paragraph:

None of our countries will be the same when this ends. David Brooks observed that after the 1918 flu pandemic, people avoided talking about it “because they were ashamed of how they behaved.” This pandemic could rend the fabric of our society even worse than it has been in recent years. Or it could re-focus us on what is important–the ways in which we are mutually dependent upon each other and every human being is of value. Are we going to hoard toilet paper and ammo, or invest in strengthening our social connections? While we practice physical distancing, will we focus on our social connectedness? You and I will make decisions in these next days and weeks that not only affect the health of millions but the fabric of our society. How will you choose?
Yep. A crisis reveals who you are. Don't like what you see in yourself during this time? Remember that's who you were all along and submit it to God and let him change you as you humbly allow him to. That's pretty much what Stephen McAlpine is saying, too, only much better than I can. Here's a snippet, but read it all:
But I check that larder just in case. How much flour is in there? Way more than I’ve ever had there before. If Elisha the prophet came to our place and offered us flour and oil until the virus is over I’d be like “No thanks, we’ve got this.”

Which is part of our problem. We’re so damned – and I mean that word – self sufficient. We’ve always got this.

Here are a few posts with some good pastoral advice: David Fitch on the power of a small group:
Could it be that God has given us this time to force us to discover again the power of presence in a group of fewer than ten people? To learn how to be present in the smallest of ways in our neighborhoods, even if they have to become virtual by necessity? As we sit, eat, listen, dialogue, testify, and pray, will we see space opened for the working of God’s Spirit in this land? Will we engage, pray for, and help neighbors during this time? Will we see an outpouring of God’s Spirit in this time of crisis?
Mike Glenn on how a punch in the face (like this pandemic) tends to show how your planning is, well, insufficient. After some very good advice, he sums it up with this:
The other major change is communities are watching to see how churches respond to their communities. Those who minister well during these challenges will be “validated” by their communities and new doors of evangelism and ministry will open in the future. Seeing the love of Christ lived out in real and life impacting ways will never be forgotten by our neighbors.
Yep. It shows what's really in us. That's the problem, as is our herd instinct, so says Benjamin Corey, in a post aptly entitled "Group-Panic is a Faster Moving & Far More Dangerous Virus than Corona." Good insights.

Carmen Imes wrote a post on liminal states, a good anthropological term that describes where we are. Allow this liminal state to be used by God to mold us, as they apparently did in a plague during the 1500s. Steve Perisho has the details. While the Anxious Bench looks at the history of Psalm 91 and death. Good stuff.

For those interested in the medical side of the virus, check out this pair of Atlantic articles: An interview with Francis Collins, director of the NIH and a devout Christian, and this, on how the virus as a virus operates. And Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, gives some straight talk. Read all three.

What about the economic implications? Nobody really knows, but this article compares it to other recessions/depressions, and comes to the conclusion that

The markets are not normal, either. The stock market lost 20 percent of its value in just 21 days—the fastest and sharpest bear market on record, faster than 1929, faster than 1987, 10 times faster than 2007. The financial system has required no less than seven emergency interventions by the Federal Reserve in the past week. The country’s central bank has wrenched interest rates to zero, started buying more than half a trillion dollars of financial assets, and opened up special facilities to inject liquidity into the financial system.

Yet in the real economy, everything has halted, frozen in place. This is not a recession. It is an ice age.

OK, I can't leave you in a depressed state with all this, so take a look at a humorous version of Teaching Online:
Due to concerns about COVID-19, our university recently gave me three hours to move our entire class online for the next three to sixteen weeks. I am providing these instructions for a seamless, uninterrupted course experience. I have never taught online before, but with the help of our men’s field hockey coach turned online-learning coordinator, I have developed a virtual experience that matches the intimacy and rigor we cultivated in our Philosophy of Face-to-Face Discourse In the Public Square class.
It devolves from there, but hopefully got a laugh from you, if only because it is far too accurate.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Flatten the curve

Updated 3/22/20: I don't delete posts, no matter how wrong-headed they are. When I wrote this one, I was in a very negative state of mind. Before you read it, you should check out this one. I hope he is right and the following is wrong.

That's what they are saying now (and have been for about a week). It makes sense, but it also means that the lockdown will be more extended. But the best way to prepare is not by hoarding and stockpiling! The best way is by being calm and exuding the peace of God in your daily life.

And this is serious stuff, too. The death rate in China for those who got the virus was running about 2–3%. That's double to triple what the average flu causes. But, the death rate currently in Italy, which is more like the United States in diet and habits, is running between 7–8% for those who get the virus (NPR). Think about that for a minute. If, as some are predicting (Merkel, prime minister of Germany), 80% of the population gets the virus, then we are looking at a potential of 18 million deaths (327.2 million in the US times 80% times 7%). Do the math!

By practicing social distancing, we flatten the curve. Yes, that means longer shutdown. But, by extending the time it also gives researchers a chance to develop a vaccine or discover other methods of mitigating the death rate.

Of course, you could change your diet, too. Stop eating junk food! It lowers your resistance. Take a look at this. Eat more fruits and vegetables. That's evidence-based advice, not a fad diet to make a quick buck.

And that's not just an
<idle musing>

How far is too far?

After stone and tree worship in Israel had been classified as typically Canaanite and proscribed as such, rejection took on increasingly radical forms. The walls of the sanctuary in the preexilic temple were adorned with palm trees, and there were apparently living palm trees in the courts, marking the temple complex as a paradisiac place of life (see Pss 52:10; 92:13–4). At some point in the postexilic period, the trees in the temple courts were cut down, as attested by a text written around 100 BCE and attributed to the Greek author Hecataeus of Abdera. There was no trace of any plant or sacred grove, as Flavius Josephus proudly reports (Against Apion 1.199). This process may seem strange to us, if not repugnant. The fear of being seen as worshippers of wood or the like often led to a completely insensitive relationship with nature.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 39

Saved from or saved to?

At the same time, it [viewing Adam and Eve as archetypes] changes nothing about the need we have for salvation and the importance of the work of Christ on our behalf. Perhaps, however, it will help us to remind ourselves that salvation is more importantly about what we are saved to (renewed access to the presence of God and relationship with him) than what we are saved from. This point is significant because too many Christians find it too easy to think only that they are saved, forgiven and on their way to heaven instead of taking seriously the idea that we are to be in deepening relationship with God day by day here and now.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 148 (emphasis original)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Image of the week

Someone showed us this image last Friday on their phone while we were at the grocery store. I finally got around to locating it today.
I'm sure you feel more secure now, right?

Psa. 121:1    I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
4 No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests!
5 The LORD is your protector;
the LORD is your shade right beside you.
6 The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither will the moon at night.
7 The LORD will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
8 The LORD will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.

Hang onto that promise. Even when things are dark, he is there.

Thought for the day

You really, really should be reading Heather Cox Richardson for historical commentary each day. Here's the final paragraph from today's post:
After more than a generation of a culture that idealized individualism and said selfish greed was good, the coronavirus is forcing us to evaluate whether that is what we want to be as a government, and as a nation.

Those nasty Canaanites!

As the physical removal of adherents to another religion was not usually possible, their religion was dealt with through caricatures and ridicule and neutralized as a temptation in order to turn it into a dark foil for one’s own religion. The First Testament is interspersed with severe and subjective derision of non-Jewish or non-Israelite religions.— Othmar Keel in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 36

It's theology

In conclusion, Genesis 3 is more about the encroachment of disorder (brought about by sin) into a world in the process of being ordered than it is about the first sin. It is about how humanity lost access to the presence of God when its representatives tragically declared their independence from their Creator. It is more focused literarily and theologically on how corporate humanity is therefore distanced from God—alienation—than on the sinful state of each human being (with no intention of diminishing the latter fact).—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 147

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

SBL Press publishes surprise Fs for Jim Eisenbraun

Entitled He Inscribed upon a Stone, it was supposed to be presented at the AOS meeting this week, but a pandemic intervened. You can download the volume here. Below is a screenshot of the announcement, which you can read here.

So what is it? Alike or Different? The answer is:

Here is a touchstone of that religion, and perhaps it is as close as we can come to marking the particularity, or uniqueness, of Israel’s religion. One can say that for two reasons: (1) the intention of the first commandment is spelled out in various ways throughout the documents which are our basic source for understanding that religion, and in a way that indicates they are basic for understanding Israel’s religion throughout its course; and (2) we know no genuine analogies in the ancient Near East to this exclusive, imageless worship of one deity. Thus in the first commandment we encounter a basic principle that reflects both the radical integration or centralization of the divine realm in Yahweh and also his exclusive claim over against all other gods.

I would argue, therefore, that the focus of concern properly belongs on the interplay of discontinuity and continuity. The careful investigation of the history of Israel’s religion impresses one with both realities, as I have tried to indicate in the preceding section. And although various interpreters may come down more strongly on one side or the other, no true analysis of that religion can ignore either element or set it aside. While Israel’s understanding of its God is distinctive, the tendency to regard it as utterly unique and sui generis is misleading in that it fails to take account of the way in which that conception is similar to or shaped by the religious environment. It is not simply a matter of a few metaphors or epithets which are paralleled elsewhere, but of basic language, thought forms, and relationships between deity and nature, history, tribe, state, and individual. The claim of Yahweh to the exclusive worship of Israel is represented with such flexibility and creativity that it may at one time involve explicit rejection of language or forms associated with another deity while at another time appropriating them openly. Association with one deity (Baal) may be rejected at an early stage, while association with another deity (El) may be implicitly accepted for a long period of time. To seek to discard all this as form and not content, to disregard all the complex associations of Yahweh and the gods is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Commonality, therefore, or continuity, both synchronically and diachronically, is just as strong and significant a history of religion conclusion as is discontinuity.—Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 29 (emphasis original)

Why ethics?

Though ethical behavior was essential in the ancient Near East, a moral imperative based on a discernment of God’s nature, as is found in Israel, was lacking. The gods had not revealed themselves, and they were not known to be consistent in character. Consequently, we find many of the same ethical expectations in the ancient world at large as we find in Israel, but the source of such norms in Israelite thinking (God instead of society), the reasoning behind them (holiness for retaining the presence of God) and their objectives (being godlike) are all very different. The ethical norms of the ancient Near East are most concerned with order versus disorder in society whereas in Israel the main focus is on relationship with deity and what is right or wrong as one seeks to live in accordance with the holiness of God. We likewise find similar ritual performances, but, again, they are driven by a very different ideology.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 146–47

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The first commandment

Here is a touchstone of that religion, and perhaps it is as close as we can come to marking the particularity, or uniqueness, of Israel’s religion. One can say that for two reasons: (1) the intention of the first commandment is spelled out in various ways throughout the documents which are our basic source for understanding that religion, and in a way that indicates they are basic for understanding Israel’s religion throughout its course; and (2) we know no genuine analogies in the ancient Near East to this exclusive, imageless worship of one deity. Thus in the first commandment we encounter a basic principle that reflects both the radical integration or centralization of the divine realm in Yahweh and also his exclusive claim over against all other gods.—Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 27

Half-baked ideas

We did not lose paradise as much as we forfeited sacred space and the relationship it offered, thereby damaging our ability to be in relationship with God and marring his creation with our own underdeveloped ability to bring order on our own in our own wisdom. Yoda laments similarly about Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back” that he is not yet ready because his training is not complete (“Reckless is he . . . now things are worse”).—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 145

Monday, March 16, 2020

Social Justice in the heavenly realm

One of the clearest and most interesting is Psalm 82, highly mythological in character. Its setting is the divine council with the gods seated all about. In some obvious ways the psalm looks as if it could have come straight out of Canaanite mythology—the heavenly assembly, the technical language, the casual acknowledgment of the gods, the theme of conflict in the cosmic realm. But in significant ways it departs from that typical mythological context. There are no other named deities here, no battle between Baal and Yamm, Marduk and Tiamat. The gods are nameless, colorless, silent. They have no autonomy and independence apart from Yahweh. In the midst of this assembly, according to the psalm, Yahweh rises and in explicit and, to my knowledge, unprecedented fashion condemns all the other deities to death for their failure to carry out justice in the social realm. Justice in the human realm is a concern of all Near Eastern religions, but here it is claimed that the cosmic realm also depends upon justice in the social order. This psalm is therefore a story of the death of the gods. The immortals are condemned to mortality. Only Yahweh has any power in the divine realm. —Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, pp. 24–25

A timely word

In taking from the tree, Adam and Eve were trying to set themselves up as a satellite center of wisdom apart from God. It is a childish sort of response: “I can do it myself” or “I want to do it my way!” These are not a rejection of authority per se but an insistence on independence. The act is an assertion that “it’s all about me,” and it is one that has characterized humanity (individually and corporately) since this first act. With people as the source and center of wisdom, the result was not order centered on them but disorder. This disorder extended to all people of all time as well as to the cosmos, and life in God’s presence was forfeited.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 142–43 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
A timely reminder, as the world descends into chaos. Unfortunately, times of stress seem to bring out the worst in some people. Or, perhaps more accurately, reveals who they really are, as some people are responding in amazingly loving ways. But others seem intent on proving that the above quotation is true.

Which will you be? A blessing or a curse? A hoarder? Or a giver?

Me? I'm going to choose to follow Jesus and be a giver.
</idle musing>

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A few links

Not too many links this week; seems everyone is distracted by COVID-19 and the resulting chaos of our (lack of) response to it. Yesterday, when we went to the store to pick up a few things, we wandered the aisles to see how much panic-buying had taken place. Suffice it to say, a good bit. Toilet paper seems to be everyone's favorite item to hoard. Please explain that one to me! I don't get it. But then, I don't understand hoarding; it seems to speak volumes about the level of trust people have in God.

How about those gas prices? I didn't think I would ever see gasoline under $2.00 a gallon, but there it is. Heather Cox Richardson takes a closer look at what might be going on. Worth thinking about anyway.

A new book came out looking at the "City on a Hill" sermon. The Anxious Bench has an interview with the author. The final paragraphs are worth quoting here, but (as always), read the whole thing:

In my last chapter I explain how “America First” differs sharply from the rhetoric of American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism narrates a history based in high ideals, like liberty, democracy, self-government, prosperity, and so forth. It is often blind to anything in American history that contradicts those ideals—and blind as well to the way other countries instantiate those ideals—but it is nonetheless a language of history and a language of ideals.

America First is not. It doesn’t bother with history. It has little interest in discussing democracy, liberty, or all the rest. It is a language, instead, of sovereignty and self-interest. Those are the twin concepts that matter most. In the rhetoric of America First, every nation is basically the same: each is locked in a zero-sum struggle, where the point is to win and where winning makes others lose. “I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them,” Donald Trump declared. When he won the 2016 election, he never embraced American exceptionalism and never referred to the United States as a “city on a hill.” In fact, those who turned to this rhetoric on both the left and the right were those who most strongly opposed the rise of Trump.

In other words, America First is the perfect theology (and it is a theology) for our selfish, fallen, sinful self. Which, of course, means it should be the first thing we shed once we become redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Why isn't it? Maybe because we need to get back to the fundamentals of the faith, at least that's what Mike Glenn thinks (and I agree with him, although I wouldn't capitalize "Word"—when used of scripture, it should be lower case; only Jesus as the Word of God deserves to be upper case).
Whenever you hear about some major Christian leader falling, almost every time, they got too busy to take care of the fundamentals.They’re leading conferences, going to meetings, writing books, preaching and teaching – all good things! What they push out of their lives is time alone with God. They forget the fundamentals and they lose the game.

So, if I ever have the chance to sit down and talk with you, this is what I will talk to you about – the fundamentals. Sure, we may talk about your church and your ministry, but what I want to know is how you’re doing with the fundamentals. Are you reading the Word? What is Jesus teaching you? Are you in a group of brothers and/or sisters who are holding you accountable to your best self in Christ?

These are the fundamentals. These are foundations of every winning team. They are the foundations of every winning life.

I know it's not flashy, but it's how you win the game.

Again, over at the Anxious Bench, they discuss the changes in feminism. Seems there's a generation gap there. Definitely worth the read. As a white, over-60, male, I am not terribly qualified to say much, but I fear too many have been seduced by the world's version of success (and that could be said of males, too!), which seems to rate outward appearance higher than inner substance. Just sayin'.

Shifting gears a bit, Scot McKnight is reading through David Opderbeck's Law and Theology. Here's a good lesson (the further indents are quotations from Operbeck's book)

First, the struggle for liberation can only be understood through the experience of the oppressed.
Second, law is the difference between the violent and nonviolent struggle for liberation.
Third, the rule of law is not absolute because only just laws are legitimately enforceable.
Finally, the church cannot sit on the sidelines of legal change if it truly loves the oppressed.
So the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned racial discrimination in public places. Many appealed here to “big government.” Bob Jones Universitiy had a law at the time prohibiting dating between whites and blacks, and this energized the evangelical coalition that became the Moral Majority. The IRS prohibited donations to such institutions to be exempt from income, and Bob Jones University fought this to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled 8-1 against BJU. Only in 2000 did it change its policies.
My point here is that even though today conservatives and liberals alike agree, or at least say they agree, with the goals of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and of related federal civil rights legislation, deep doctrinal and ideological divisions remain about the legitimacy of the Congress’s ability to reach into areas of state and local governance in order to impose national values. The history of slavery and the civil rights movement in America shows that positive law was, and remains, an important tool in the struggle for liberation against the American original sin of racism. It also shows that objections to Supreme Court precedents and federal legislation regarding civil rights on the basis of religious liberty and limited government are deeply connected to racism, including racism in the church.
Speaking of racism, I found this piece on the integration of the Billy Graham crusades very enlightening. Do read it.

Finally, two pieces on how the church should respond to the corona virus scare. The first is by Stephen McAlpine:

Whether you are panicking right now, prepping for doomsday because you’re reading and watching everything about it, or if you’re just being realistic and taking sensible precautions, this is a good test run for church.

In the West we’ve built a church infrastructure, that requires certain favourable conditions, including—though not limited to—economic ones, in order to survive. And the para-church organisations gathered around churches picking up those crumbs have also hitched a ride on this model.

And what we’ve seen this past week shows that it’s precarious. And we don’t even think about it. We’re not on our guard.

Read the whole. The second is by Carmen Imes; the final paragraph:
Maybe COVID-19 will re-teach us what we have forgotten—that we are made for embodied community. As wonderful as social media is, it can never replace a handshake or a hug. And as inspiring as online sermons can be, they cannot replicate the taste of bread and wine or deep-throated song in community. This quarantine won't last forever. Hopefully it will be just long enough to help us more deeply appreciate that we were made for each other and that we can't be fully ourselves in isolation. See you on the other side!
Indeed. And on that note, I'll close.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Disruption and alienation

It [the idea of alienation] is built into the ideas surrounding sacred space in which holiness must be maintained for the presence of God lest he be driven away. Sin is therefore disruptive to the relationship with God that is the deepest desire of humans. Relationship was God’s intention in creation of human beings. It was lost in Genesis 3, and the rest of Scripture documents the stages of its being reestablished. Another way to express this is in terms of the disequilibrium caused by sin.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 142

YHWH against the gods

What has been said in the preceding section about the integration of the divine world in Yahweh should not be interpreted as implying a gradual evolution from polytheism to monotheism. Such an interpretation would not conform to the complexity of the origins of Yahwism, nor would it account for the fact that this radical centralization of divine power and authority in Yahweh is present from the earliest stages. From the beginning also, insofar as we can press the question of origins, there is present what might be called a counter-theme: Yahweh against the gods. The God of Israel, who comes out of the gods and in whom the world of the gods may be discerned, stands over against all other gods, claiming a unity and exclusiveness that rules them out. Such a claim is not primarily an ontological assertion but a claim on Israel, the worshipers of Yahweh. It nevertheless carries with it a theological perspective on the nature of the divine reality that is of far-reaching significance in the history of Israelite religion.—Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 24

Thursday, March 12, 2020

History of religion

History of religion appears at times to be an embarrassment to the theologian, whether biblical or systematic. It may seem to undermine the basis for faith by relativizing it. The awareness of commonality with the “pagan religions” of the ancient Near East raises disturbing questions about the absoluteness and revelatory character of Israel’s faith.—Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 15. Forthcoming from Eisenbrauns.

<idle musing>
This essay is actually a reprint of an essay that was originally published in 1973! Sure there are spots where it hasn't aged so well, but the majority of it is very good. I'm reading through the whole book now, which is currently in press and should be out in the next few weeks. Tag along with me as we discover the wonders of this book, which originally was going to be called God among the gods. Note the lower case "g" on the second one.
</idle musing>

There's more to life than cause and effect

In our culture, we think “scientifically.” We are primarily concerned with causation, composition and systematization. In the ancient world they are more likely to think of the world in terms of symbols and to express their understanding by means of imagery. We are primarily interested in events and material realia whereas they are more interested in ideas and their representation.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 136

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Non-order or disorder? Chaos reconsidered

As a chaos creature, the serpent would be more closely associated with non—order than with disorder. Non—order has a certain neutrality to it, whereas disorder is evil in nature and intent. We might describe an earthquake or a cancer as forces of non—order with evil consequences. But they are not inherently evil. We do not control them, and therefore they can have disastrous effects. If the serpent truly is in the category of chaos creature, neither his contradiction of God’s statement nor his deception about the consequences are part of an evil agenda. They are simply the disruptive, ad hoc behavior that chaos creatures engage in. More complete understanding is offered in intertestamental literature and New Testament theology, but if we limit our analysis to the ancient context of the Old Testament, things look very different.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 136

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

What's that thing in my garden?

The Israelite reader would have thought of the serpent [in Gen 3] as a sort of disruptive free agent with less of a thought-out agenda. The Old Testament does not give the serpent an ongoing role. Like the serpent in the Gilgamesh Epic who did what its nature led it to do and then disappeared from the scene, no continuing role or place is recognized for the serpent in the Old Testament, though the consequences of the human act remain in place (again as in Gilgamesh).—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 134

Monday, March 09, 2020

Hoarding or sharing?

In the ancient Near East, life and wisdom are the prerogatives of the gods that they are reluctant to grant as they try to maintain distance between themselves and humanity. In the Bible, life and wisdom are possessed by God, and they are made available to humans as they are in relationship to him. The trouble comes when humans try to seize wisdom on their own terms. They are told that the fruit will make them like God, but unfortunately this is as independent agents rather than in relationship to him. In this way, the Bible has a very different read on these issues than its ancient Near Eastern counterparts.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 127

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Another week gone by

and here's what I've been reading (well, some of what I've been reading anyway).

First off, Roger Olson explains what he means by his version of Evangelical. Personally, I'd just drop the label; no matter what you do, people will still think if means Trump-supporting fundamentalist.

Political Theology Network takes a look at guns and Christianity. Balanced approach, but right now it just raises more questions than answers. But that's good. Read it.

Anxious Bench argues for women theological education, but for a novel reason. Read it to find out. And speaking of ministry, Mike Glenn on Jesus Creed talks about our lack of capacity in the church. Nope, not physical space, but—well, read it. Here's a good taste:

Right now, we must grasp this idea of giving ministry away. The first Reformation gave the Word back to the people. The second Reformation will give ministry back to the people. Pastors will have to be the first ones to understand this. As long as we think we’re the only ones who can do the ministry of the church, our churches will be hampered in their effectiveness and limited in their impact. As we’ve mentioned before, Christ-followers are called from their sinfulness and called to a partnership with Christ in the service of His kingdom.
And speaking of capacity, how about our capacity to forgive? Fr. Stephen Freeman broaches that subject:
Of course, our experience of those who are truly enemies is that we do not want to forgive them. We do not trust them; the wound has been too deep; their offense is not against us but against someone we love who is particularly vulnerable. I could enlarge the list but we are all too familiar with it. The reasons we find it hard to forgive our enemies is endless.

But the commandment remains – not as a counsel of how to live a healthier, happier life – but with the added reminder that we will only find forgiveness as we forgive. Forgiveness is not optional – but a fundamental spiritual action which we must learn to use as though our salvation depended upon it – for it does.

Speaking of forgiveness, David Fitch is back with part 2 of the enemy-making machine:
If the enemy-making machine works to keep us locked in a zero-sum game, where only one person wins and the other person must lose, this passage in Matthew [18:15–20] moves us to a new place altogether. Here in this space of mutuality, “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.” We are being taken into God’s future, releasing the power of the kingdom to heal, transform, create something new.
He then shows how Jesus models conflict management in John 8. Yes, he knows the text-critical problems of the chapter (as do I); get over it!

Meanwhile, down under, Stephen McAlpine has a pair of posts, the first one looks at the great toilet paper run and how COVID-19 reveals the lack of foundation in our lives. The second one looks at the fallout from the willingness of society to encourage gender change in teen-agers. Hint: It ain't pretty. Remember, Ideas have consequences! If I were a lawyer, I'd say there is a marvelous opportunity to make a few bucks there. But, aside from that, all I see is ruined lives.

A little closer to home, on the Anxious Bench they tackle "political hobbyism"—a term I had never heard of before.

And so, for Lent, the solemn season of reflection and repentance, I have vowed to give up political hobbyism. I’m striving instead to trade shallow political engagement for deep political engagement, which focuses on building relationships, serving my community, and effecting real change that has an impact on my neighbors. I know from my research on religious communities and their involvement in immigration and refugee issues that this type of work matters immensely—not simply for meeting the real, immediate needs of people, but for creating enduring and impactful political change.
She then goes on to list some actual concrete examples. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, Bob on Books would settle for a bit of modesty. I'm with him.

I love my country. But as a Christian I love a God who loves the world (John 3:16), and so I need to see my country within the world God loves. To share God’s heart is to share his love, and to love the United States alone is too small to share the heart of God. I love a God who is holy, just and true, and this requires me to look at my country through these lenses as well.

When I look at things this way, it leads me to far greater modesty about my country. While not denying the goods, there is another kind of history about which I’ve learned since I was in school. Much of it isn’t pretty.

Again, read it!

John Hawthorne is retiring at the end of this year after 39 years in Christian higher ed. He muses over it in two parts part 1, looking back, and part 2, looking forward. Good insights.

The Atlantic compares the COVID-19 virus to the Spanish influenza a century ago. Hint: it was much worse that this one. In fact, there's no real comparison. But there are some lessons to learn from it.

The BBC looks at the death of the apostrophe. I doubt it's dead, but it is certainly misused/abused. Fun read, though.

Rounding out this week, is a look at James Daunt, the guy who is now running Barnes & Noble. I hope he can bring them back from the brink of bankruptcy. One thing is certain, he's on the right path in emulating the independent bookstore. And for the first time in years, B&N is being run by an actual bookseller.

Final note: Incoming college students—you know, the digital natives—would still rather use a physical textbook! And not just a majority, but 76 percent. So that's good news for the booksellers, isn't it?

And no, I didn't read a post about Amazon this week. But, I did see an interesting note on Bicycling about a NASCAR racer who is apparently pretty famous but is also a bicyclist, Jimmie Johnson. Maybe he can raise awareness so I don't have to worry as much about getting run off the road. Well, I can wish, can't I?

OK; I really am done here. Read the links and have a healthy week.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Trees, tress, everywhere are trees

In Genesis, the trees are understood best in the context of sacred space rather than as isolated trees that happen to be in a garden. Whether interpreters consider them real, physical, floral specimens With the ability to bestow benefits to those who partake, figurative symbols of divine gifts, mythological motifs, or anything else, we must not miss the theological and textual significance that they have. Whether they confer or represent, they provide what is only God’s to give. He is the source of life, which is given by him and found in his presence (Deut 30:11-20). He is the center of order, and wisdom is the ability to discern order. Relationship with God is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Prov 1:7). Consequently, we make a mistake to think that this is simply about magical trees in a garden paradise. It is about the presence of God on earth and what relationship with him makes available.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 124

The end of the matter

We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, through either pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through sanctification of time. To men alone time is elusive; to men with God time is eternity in disguise.

Creation is the language of God, Time is His song, and things of space the consonants in the song. To sanctify time is to sing the vowels in unison with Him.

This is the task of men: to conquer space and sanctify time.—The Sabbath, p. 101

<idle musing>
Well, that's all for this book; it's just a short little thing. But as with all things by Heschel, well worth your time. I hope this encourages you to find a copy and read it!
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Restricting access? Mediating knowledge?

Israel’s priestly role is found neither in the offering of rituals on behalf of the rest of the nations nor in servicing sacred space for them. Their role is to mediate knowledge of God, and their end goal is ultimately not to restrict access to the presence of God but to mediate access through instruction. The role of Adam and Eve in the garden, I would propose, has less to do with how the priests operated within Israel and more to do with Israel’s role (and later, that of believers, 1 Pet 2:9) as priests to the world. In such a view, we need not be concerned about the lack of women priests in Israel.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, pp. 112–13

God of time

Pagans project their consciousness of God into a visible image or associate Him with a phenomenon in nature, with a thing of space. In the Ten Commandments, the Creator of the universe identifies Himself by an event in history, by an event in time, the liberation of the people from Egypt, and proclaims: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth, or that is in the water under the earth.”—The Sabbath, p. 95

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

How free are you, really?

Nothing is as hard to suppress as the will to be a slave to one’s own pettiness. Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, man must fight for inner liberty. Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people. There are many who have acquired a high degree of political and social liberty, but only very few are not enslaved to things. This is our constant problem—how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent.—The Sabbath, p. 89

<idle musing>
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis:
I talk of freedom,
A scholar's parrot may talk Greek
But self-imprisoned
Always end where I begin

It anything shows that our culture is actually not free, it is our enslavement to our passions, especially among those we consider leaders and role models.
</idle musing>

Nope, not Enkidu!

In this sense, the scene in Genesis 2 indicates that Adam is not Enkidu—he finds no companion among the animals, but, like Enkidu, he learns that he is not a beast. Many of the elements in Genesis 2-3 find points of contact in the descriptions of Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic, but none of them works the same. In this way, we could say that Genesis 2-3 is engaged in discussing some of the same topics as the Gilgamesh Epic but stands in juxtaposition to it at nearly every point. At one level, then, it is no surprise that Genesis 2 brings up man’s relationships with the animals for discussion.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 110

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Archetypal priest

In the account of his origins Adam served as an archetype with all humanity represented in him. In his priestly role he serves as a representational agent serving on behalf of humanity; all humans are represented by him.

Adam’s role must then be understood in light of the role of the priests in the ancient world. When we read the Bible, We often think of priests as ritual experts and as those instructing the people in the ways of the Lord and the law. That is true, but those tasks fit into a larger picture. The main task of the priest was the preservation of sacred space.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 108 (emphasis original)

Holy place?

In the Bible, no thing, no place on earth, is holy by itself. Even the site on which the only sanctuary was to be built in the Promised Land is never called holy in the Pentateuch, nor was it determined or specified in the time of Moses. More than twenty times it is referred to as “the place which the Lord your God shall choose.—The Sabbath, p. 80 (emphasis original)

Monday, March 02, 2020

Finally! Somebody said it!

I realize I have been pretty harsh on the current ruler and the Republican Party of late. Some of you probably are thinking that I have the opinion that the Democrats are better. Not really. Our political system is a human invention and consequently, tainted by sin. And so, when I point out the failings of the current ruler, it isn't because I think a Democrat would do better; it's because I think somebody would do better (in the case of the current ruler, almost anybody would do better!), especially as Christians. We don't need to settle for the lowest common denominator.

Normally I would save the post I'm about to link to until the weekend, but this needs to be seen by as many as possible, so in my little corner of the internet, I'm doing my part.

John Fea, whom you should read, posted this last night. Read it all, but the most important paragraphs are these:

Christians don’t justify immorality by pointing out the sins and flaws of other people and say “what about them?” Since when is the moral behavior of Christians in public dependent upon the behavior of others? Christians are called to live faithful lives according to the standards God has given them through the sacred scriptures. When they see sin at the highest level of government they don’t ignore it, they call it out.

Many evangelicals will vote for Trump again in November because they believe he will continue to appoint conservative federal justices, oppose abortion, defend religious liberty (as evangelicals understand the term), and support Israel. Other evangelicals will vote for him because the economy is doing well. As an evangelical who is pro-life, a defender of religious liberty, and a believer in a strong economy, I strongly disagree with the choices these voters will make. Read my book Believe Me to understand why. But please don’t stand by and let this president’s words, tweets, and actions degrade the character of this country and the witness of the evangelical message–the “Good News”–with his nativism, racism, xenophobia, narcissism, fear-mongering, and disrespect for American institutions.

<idle musing>
That first line is the telling one. Far too many have justified the current ruler's obscenities, etc., by pointing the finger. Stop it! As John said, don't stoop to the standards of this world. We are called to something better!
</idle musing>

Upholding creation

In ancient thinking, caring for sacred space was a way of upholding creation. By preserving order, non-order was held at bay.—The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 106

Fun little book

Over the weekend, I managed to pick up a used copy of The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel at a thrift shop. While I was waiting for Debbie to finish shopping, I started reading it. Because I didn't have any way of marking sections (I only had a pen and I don't write in books in pen), I don't have anything highlighted until today's excerpt. I'll be highlighting a few more over the next week or so. It's a delightful little classic (written in 1951); I have the 2005 edition with an introduction by his daughter.
There is much that philosophy could learn from the Bible. To the philosopher the idea of the good is the most exalted idea. But to the Bible the idea of the good is penultimate; it cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the holy is the summit. Things created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy.—The Sabbath, p. 75 (emphasis original)

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Once more, round the 'Net

Not sure where to start this week. Maybe let's start with this, from Bicycling, on how social media affects, wait for it. . . what you eat! Yep. According to this article, "new research shows you’re more likely to consume the types of food you see most while scrolling on the ’gram." Not only are you what you eat, but you eat what you see. I guess placement ads must work for the same reason. There's a theological lesson there, isn't there. Something about fixing our eyes on Jesus.

But how about the mouth? Well, for you word of faith people, Andrew Gabriel, an Assembly of God theologian, so no cessationist, says it's overblown:

When I point out that there is no verse in the Bible where anyone ever says, “I decree and declare X over my life,” one question Christians sometimes raise is, “But don’t you believe the Bible when it says there is power in the tongue?”

Yes, I do. But we have to ask, what does the Bible mean when it refers to the power of the tongue?

Some Christians claim that because we are created in the image of God, we, like God, have the power in our tongues to speak things into being.

This is poor reasoning. God spoke the world into being literally out of nothing. No human has ever done that. And this is why no theologian in church history has ever suggested that being created in the image of God means that human words have creative power. Well…this, plus the fact that this idea has no biblical support.

But, as he does not hesitate to point out, the tongue does have real power to hurt and to heal, a theme that Ron Sider takes up via a guest post. Final two paragraphs:
We are speaking and hearing creatures. We live by words spoken and heard, words addressed and answered. In Finally Comes the Poet, Walter Brueggemann writes, “How we speak matters enormously…because the shape and power of everything else is put at risk and made possible by our speech with each other.”

Given our current situation, we have an option. Obama didn’t walk on water, but we have in him something far better in presidential rhetoric than what we’ve heard over the past three years. It seems worth talking about the difference words make and voting for something better in November.

Speaking of which, Heather Cox Richardson posted this Feb 23:
Ukraine journalist Marko Suprun and Russian-born foreign policy journalist Julia Ioffe said something interesting this morning on CNN. They were pointing out that observers often make the mistake of thinking that Russian disinformation is designed to pit the American left against the American right to sow chaos. But, in fact, they pointed out, Russian disinformation is designed to pit the American left and the American right against the American center, because it is in the great American center that democracy lives.
And David Fitch has this to say about reconciliation (part 2 to follow next week):
The “enemy-making machine” is my label for how antagonisms work in a society that lives in autonomy from God. Using observations taken from the field of “critique of ideology” (or “critical theory”), I’ve noticed several repeatable patterns to how antagonisms work in our culture and even in our churches. There are several elements to it that can help us ask the right questions, diagnose what is happening, and resist entering into the enemy-making machine. I contend if we can resist its temptation, we can open space for the presence of the living God to unwind the antagonism and make way for grace, forgiveness, and healing.
He follows that with some solid advice; read it!

On a darker side of things, this op-ed says that maybe it's just a dark comedy

I’m sorry not sorry to be a Cassandra about this — and I sure hope I’m wrong. But confronted with this reality, it is staggering to me that anyone can say we should chill. The nature of Trump’s instinctual tyranny is that it never stops by itself. And, like any psychological disorder, it never rests. It has an energy all its own. Each new beachhead of power is simply a means to acquire more of it in an ever-more ambitious and dynamic form. This is not a comedy; it’s a tragedy we want to believe is a comedy. Because the alternative is too nightmarish. A Kierkegaard quote, of all things, popped on Twitter this week that seemed to capture the dynamic beautifully: “A fire broke out behind stage at a theater. The clown walked out to warn the public and they thought it was a joke and they applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s exactly how the world will end: to generous applause from wits who think it’s a joke.”
Or maybe, this whole thing is because we have a warped view of masculinity.
The gospel of Jesus is not a gospel of proving yourself or measuring up. It’s a gospel of acceptance. Proving yourself is unnecessary. Before you can make your case that you belong, the Father places his signet ring on your finger and calls you “son.” Your title, your place, your identity has been secured by an act of love. Not a show of strength.
This one is compliments of Jim E. (who says he got it from James E.). David Bentley Hart looks at what socialism really is, not the imaginary versions that are used as scare tactics, and then proceeds to dismantle a few things that need dismantling. I'll just grab one paragraph, but as always, read the whole thing
Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?
OK, this is getting long, so a couple on education. First, the situation for adjuncts. Summary: not good. Fix: complicated. And Chris Gehrz asks if your Christian college will close. Hard thoughts, but good ones. And the old curmudgeocrat takes a look at the loss of shared public spaces via technology. Worth a read.

In other news, A.J. takes a look at productivity. BW3 quotes from Volf on divine retribution. Interesting quotation and worth thinking about (chase the link). And Christianity Today talks about identificational repentance.

Daniel was taken into captivity along with thousands of other Israelites during the Babylonian exile. There he was confronted with the complexities of living out his faith in a foreign culture while working for a pagan king. His prayer comes after decades of service to a foreign nation.

You do not have to read very much of the text to recognize the prayer as a confession. Daniel finds just about every way imaginable to ask for forgiveness. And he fully identifies himself with his people: We have sinned. We have rebelled. We have not listened. We have done wrong. We have been wicked. We have transgressed. We have turned away. We have been unfaithful. We have refused to obey. We have not sought the Lord. We have not turned from our sins. We have not given attention to your truth.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive acknowledgment of guilt, which is a little mystifying because, up until this point, Daniel hasn’t exhibited any obvious moral lapses. He’s been the very model of a faithful servant of God.

There’s a disconnect between his exemplary behavior and his humble confession. It makes you want to protest and say, “Daniel, you don’t have to do that. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s those who were unfaithful who should be apologizing!”

Daniel’s approach is so opposite from my own. When it comes to collective sins—whether those of the church, the clergy, or the nation—I want to distance myself from the offense. I want to point out why “they” are not “me.” And I want to denounce what I see “them” doing.

Yep. Here's an encouraging post, via Jim E. again, about a boss who put actions to his words by taking a pay cut back in 2015 and giving that money to his employees. Guess what? It worked. His employees are more productive and less stressed. Whodda thunk, eh? If you're not spending all your energy working 2–3 jobs to make ends meet on minimum wage, maybe you'll have energy to do one job well. Duh, as we used to say.

OK, two final posts on books. Nick Norelli on book gluttony (he should post more often). And the Literary Review of Canada looks at a book about books:

One thing to keep in mind when we talk idealistically about books is that many of the people who work directly with them—publishers, retailers, librarians, and authors alike—generally value one form of paper over all others: money. Publishing, like all other industries, is a profit-minded business, and bottom-line thinking often has ugly consequences for the object itself. Price’s book, for instance, contains a provoking “interleaf”—a section of about eight pages in which you read each line of text from the left-hand page across the gutter of the book to the adjoining right-hand page. It’s a clever game of mise-en-page, driving home visually and phenomenologically how our posture affects our experience of books and how habituated we are to using the material form of a book one page at a time. But the “interleaf” is also a failed experiment, thanks to the sloppiness with which Price’s book was bound up. Not a single one of the eight pages in my copy lines up properly across the gutter, rendering a hands-on study in graphic design just an unreadable, vertiginous nightmare. You should love books, we are told, even when they’ve been assembled with the care usually allowed to a last-minute science project.
Ouch! Wish I could disagree with them, but I can't.

That's it for this week. Hope you found something worth reading and didn't get to mad at me : )