Thursday, April 30, 2020

A comparison

The HB is usually much more explicit than the Mesha Inscription about motives and why God acts in certain ways, and due to the strong impulse in the HB to encourage Israel’s faithfulness to God, this moral foundation plays a more dominant role in the HB than it does in the Mesha Inscription. An important way this is expressed is in terms of God’s covenant with Israel and the faithfulness and loyalty that God expects from her.—M. Patrick Graham in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 133

A counter-cultural God

Greco-Roman cities loved appearances. They loved what people looked like, how much money they had, their connections, and how they spoke. Fully trained rhetorical professionals could captivate audiences for hours. They were the rock stars of the ancient world, and they commanded huge fees for their performances. They looked beautiful and spoke beautifully

In one of the most profound passages he ever wrote, Paul points out that the Christian God revealed in the crucified Jesus could not be more different from this ([1 Cor] 1:18—2:16). By journeying down into the human condition and ultimately accepting a shameful death, Jesus revealed that God was a reaching God, an inclusive and gentle God, who valued everyone, including the most despised and marginalized. Those whom society looked down on, God was especially concerned about and eager to reach. (The older theological term for this virtue was “condescension,” but it has now been inverted into its opposite, being freighted with unhelpful connotations of superiority and haughtiness.) This is what a Christian leader should look like. It could hardly be more dramatically countercultural, and Paul lived this leadership style out in person.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 98

<idle musing>
Indeed! Measure the current crop of megachurch pastors against those standards. How do they measure up? Right. I suspect Paul would have a few choice words for their lifestyle. Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Chemosh vs. YHWH

[I]t is essential to note that, at least in two respects, the HB differs strikingly from the Mesha Inscription. First, the HB goes to great lengths to show that Israel’s God is righteous, just, and merciful and that humans routinely fall below the divine standard (Eccl 7:20), even the most righteous of the kings (see 2 Sam 11–12). In addition, God exemplifies grace by continually forgiving a wayward people and blessing them, even when they disregarded the divine faithfulness (1 Kgs 8:22–61; 2 Chr 30:6–9). Therefore, God violates the principle of reciprocity time and again, and the reason or justification for this is hidden in the mystery of God’s grace and sovereignty (Exod 33:19).—M. Patrick Graham in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 132

Remember those in prison

The officials detaining people in the ancient world had little interest in their welfare, and less accountability. They provided few if any resources—things like water, food, fresh clothing, bedding, and so on. Prisoners might hope for a daily cup of water and a slice of bread from their jailers and that was it, and they didn’t always get even this. People in prison in Paul’s day were primarily supported by their friends and family on the outside. But this was expected, and facilitated by bribes, and Christians developed a reputation for being involved with their imprisoned brothers and sisters to a positively irritating degree. Lucian, a cynical Roman writing in the second century CE, wrote the following about a Christian leader who had been imprisoned: “from the very break of day aged widows and orphan children could be seen waiting near the prison, while their officials even slept inside with him after bribing the guards. Then elaborate meals were brought in, and sacred books of theirs were read aloud, and excellent Peregrinus—for he still went by that name—was called by them ‘the new Socrates.’” In view of this practice, a likely explanation for the epithet “fellow-POW” switching between Aristarchus and Epaphras in Colossians and Philemon is that the two men are taking turns sitting with Paul through his incarceration and probably staying overnight, thereby sharing in its conditions.“ When he wrote Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus was staying with him; when he wrote Philemon 23 Epaphras was.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 82

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

About some of those comparative models that people use…

When comparing two distinct phenomena, the temptation is always toward reduction—to count things in each to see which is greater or to list things for quick and easy comparison. Results are typically superficial. More substantive and useful comparisons require some sort of qualitative approach.—M. Patrick Graham in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 129

What is church all about then?

It is about relating, and about learning to relate together ethically, in a good way. This means gathering together and learning from one another, especially from the community’s teachers, who are copied and imitated. Admittedly, this is a Christian development of the ancient Greek philosophical tradition. But it enjoys strong theological warrant. Jesus did this, and Paul and the Thessalonians continued the basic pattern, although in a distinctively flexible way since the guidance of the Holy Spirit at Antioch. However, in the light of what we have just said, this flexibility makes perfect sense. In a relational community the how is more important than the what—something the Pharisees sometimes failed to appreciate.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 71

Monday, April 27, 2020

The ineffectiveness of preaching

Most of our pedagogies are not set up imitatively, and this might explain why most of them are so ineffective at transforming people’s actual relationality and relating. Protestants have long placed their faith in the transforming power of the preached word. They are frequently surprised at how little the communication of information about the Bible and from its texts—however eloquently and passionately done—changes the behavior of its churchgoing listeners. How unsurprising though. There is nothing to imitate here, or to copy. People cannot copy a preacher except by becoming a preacher, and that activity can leave a lot of other moral activity unaddressed. Writing a book will not change much either. It can help, but it can only be secondary to the main business of constructing healthy learning communities out of people that are influenced by people.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 68

Friday, April 24, 2020

Thought for the day

You could make worse use of your time than following the Sankes and Ladders blog. Today's is especially memorable. Final paragraph:
Our investigations indicate there are no epidemiologists, virologists, or infectious disease doctors in the entire freaking world who think Trump is right about this stuff. The President is talking through his hat and wishing on a star.

Following the example

People are incredibly sensitive to one another. They respond to mute shifts in emotion, often without even registering the fact consciously. These responses then radiate through their relational networks to four degrees of separation and beyond. Aristotle’s insight consequently seems well confirmed, both by theological warrant and by the evidence of social psychology, that people change in relation to one another, communally. To teach people to relate lovingly, then, we must construct a loving community and live in it, copying its most loving members.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 68

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Is this church?

A loving person will trust God, and other people where this is warranted. They need not be naive, but neither should they be needlessly cynical or suspicious. In part this trust will be oriented toward the future. There will be an expectation of promises fulfilled and good things over the horizon——an attitude of hope. To live as love and within love is to be happy, although to be happy in a deep and profound way, not in a superficial fizzy one. We can speak here of joy. It is also to be fundamentally at peace with God and the cosmos, and to work for peace where people are disrupting and sabotaging this. Love is restorative. People who love respond in particular ways to those who are misbehaving or struggling. They are patient and kind. They are giving when this is needful, and they are generous with their time and resources. They are not violent or coercive, actions that violate loving relationality at a very fundamental level. Conversely, they are gentle and self-controlled. All of this activity—what we might call love in action—constitutes goodness. We see Paul thinking in these terms in his letter to the Galatians:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
But someone might ask me, is this really what church is all about? Is church basically ethical? Is it focused on how we behave and relate to one another? Is this it?

If we turn to the earliest Christian community we know about from Paul, the Thessalonians, the short answer is “yes, it is.”—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 65–66

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Read this article!

If you only read one thing today, read this article. A couple of excerpts:
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.
And this:
Both parties were slow to grasp how much credibility they’d lost. The coming politics was populist. Its harbinger wasn’t Barack Obama but Sarah Palin, the absurdly unready vice-presidential candidate who scorned expertise and reveled in celebrity. She was Donald Trump’s John the Baptist.
and finally,
The fight to overcome the pandemic must also be a fight to recover the health of our country, and build it anew, or the hardship and grief we’re now enduring will never be redeemed. Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation. But putting an end to this regime, so necessary and deserved, is only the beginning.

We’re faced with a choice that the crisis makes inescapably clear. We can stay hunkered down in self-isolation, fearing and shunning one another, letting our common bond wear away to nothing. Or we can use this pause in our normal lives to pay attention to the hospital workers holding up cellphones so their patients can say goodbye to loved ones; the planeload of medical workers flying from Atlanta to help in New York; the aerospace workers in Massachusetts demanding that their factory be converted to ventilator production; the Floridians standing in long lines because they couldn’t get through by phone to the skeletal unemployment office; the residents of Milwaukee braving endless waits, hail, and contagion to vote in an election forced on them by partisan justices. We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death. After we’ve come out of hiding and taken off our masks, we should not forget what it was like to be alone.

Tolle! Lege! And then put legs to it!

The freedom of faith

When we accept that our faith is in a living God who meets us in history but is not fully contained or defined by that history, it frees us to study the history with an open mind and genuine curiosity. In this way, the ancient look-alikes need not pose a problem to people of faith at all. In fact, rather than a problem, I might call it an opportunity. If other ancient peoples believed similar things about their deities, then we have even more opportunity to study and learn about the world the Israelites inhabited and how that world shaped their depictions of God. This, in turn, gives us more opportunity to come to understand our own story and the myriad ways God has entered into it to seek us. 125


Many of us probably think about church as a walled compound like a fortified city or castle. This sort of church is a bounded entity with a space inside it and a great barrier between Christians and non-Christians—a wall. This leads to endless discussions about what non-Christians have to do to get through the wall—presumably through a gate by saying the right password—and what exactly the wall consists of. Church is a gated community. The relationality and personhood of those both inside and outside the wall are neglected.

Alternatively, Christians are all independent entities that gather together consensually to affirm the basis of their gathering. They are like a bag of marbles. They get collected together into the bag for church on Sunday, and then get thrown out of the bag to cannon around for the rest of the week with all the other marbles in the world. (Perhaps they regather in a small bag on Wednesday nights for home group.) Here again the terms of the gathering are to the fore, and the nature of the interactions between the marbles is secondary.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 63

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

But, what if…

So, what should all of this mean to a modern-day person of faith? First, and perhaps most importantly, people of faith should not be afraid of the data. No matter the direction the evidence points, the evidence itself need not become a stumbling block. Faith in God cannot be challenged or changed by any evidence or data one might unearth. Simply put, no data could ever prove or disprove God’s identity or existence. That is why belief in God is called faith. As a scholar and a person of faith, I find great comfort in this fact. Yes, it is possible that the data will challenge things we believe about history or the Bible. It may even challenge things we believe about God or ourselves. But the data has no power to change God, to make God any less real, or to make us any less beloved by God.

Second, God gave us brains, and it is okay to use them. Faith will always be belief in things we cannot know, but it does not require turning a blind eye to things that can be known. Nor does it require forcing the evidence to fit any particular viewpoint in order to “prove” a certain perspective. Studying the Bible can and should change what we believe about who God is. The more we learn, the more our faith grows and matures. Sometimes that growth is uncomfortable, and sometimes it takes us places we did not expect, but God does not abandon us along the journey.— Josey Bridges Snyder in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 124

Who are we?

Many people today think that a person is something deep and internal and individual. We are who we are deep down inside, in our hearts or minds or spirits. To understand ourselves we must journey within. But we aren’t and We shouldn’t. These things are important. Without them We can’t function as people. But they are just a sort of platform that we need in order to get on with the really important activities that define who We are as people—our relationships with other people.

We need to let this insight sink down into our bones. We are our relationships.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 61

Monday, April 20, 2020

What's a believer to do?

Growing up in the church, I was taught from a young age that there is only one God. I was aware that other peoples in the Bible worshipped other gods, but I knew them only as “fake” and “bad.” They did not warrant any attention because they were not real. To the extent that we did discuss the gods of other peoples in the Bible, we contrasted them to the one true God. There was no room for acknowledging similarity between, say, the (“little g”) god of Moab and the (“big G”) God of Israel. One was fake and one was real. End of story.

I am still a person of faith grounded in my belief in one, true God. However, I no longer feel that beliefs about other deities in the ancient world are irrelevant to my faith. Beliefs about the God of Israel did not emerge in a void. The ancient world was full of ideas about the gods and how they interacted with the human and natural world, and the Israelites were clearly familiar with these other peoples and their deities.

Whether the earliest Israelites themselves worshipped one god or many—a question debated among scholars of the ancient world—we know that they lived in a world where the existence of multiple deities was assumed. Moreover, examination of these other gods and the beliefs and practices associated with them reveals many similarities with the beliefs and practices of the earliest Israelites.— Josey Bridges Snyder in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 115

What taking the form of a servant looks like

We need to let the full implications of this statement sink in. Paul, a former member of the Jewish ruling council no less, whose learning was legendary, arrived in Thessalonica and worked away like a humble craftsperson. He would have looked like one as well, wearing a single set of clothes, carrying a few tools, dirty and bedraggled from his journey, and with little to no money in his belt. He could have showed up and asked for free meals and lodging. He could have insisted that his former hosts send him on in the manner to which he was accustomed, possibly in a rented carriage. A professional like him could demand to be paid a speaking fee. His rivals did. But he didn’t. He abandoned his cultural capital, lowering himself to the place where the Thessalonians lived, and became like one of them, so they could become like him (see Gal. 4:12). And this is just what we would expect. In another highly significant passage Paul says exactly the same thing about Jesus.
Christ Iesus . . . being in the form Of God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he emptied himself
by taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6—8, NIV modified)
Paul: An Apostle’s Journey,57–58

<idle musing>
One can't help but make a comparison to many of today's megachurch pastors, with their expensive toys. But, as Jesus said, the last will be first and they have already received their reward. 'Nuff said.
</idle musing>

Friday, April 17, 2020

Among the gods

Because it is God’s free decision to become a god among gods, the equation of YHWH and God (“YHWH—he is God!”) is sealed with the tensile strength of God’s own volition. It is thus not like the association of divinity and YHWH in the “ray of truth” approach, which does not embrace the fullness of God’s coincidence with this one, specific god, instead imagining a divine being that YHWH only partially concretizes–and which other gods partially concretize also! This third theological way of addressing YHWH’s ancient look-alikes also improves on the “ray of truth” approach in that it can full-heartedly praise YHWH’s incomparability. It does not divert that praise solely to an all-transcending One who connects only tenuously back to the biblical God. Rather, like Israel, it wonders at the singularity of God’s act of drawing near—in Deuteronomy, by exodus and fire: “Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire? . . . Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation?” (4:33–34a)—but also, on this line of thinking, by taking on human form, and even by accepting a human artifact as true divine self-disclosure.—Collin Cornell in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 113

He emptied himself

As James Scott has shown, centuries of social hierarchy have equipped disempowered groups with techniques for dissembling and subtly subverting those above them who have power and resources. Lying, parodying, stealing, cajoling, avoiding, loitering and mocking are entirely understandable ways of resisting the powerful and exploitative. But they are deadly to any healthy relationship, which ultimately needs to unfold between equals. Moreover, once they are in play, these corrosive dynamics are next to impossible to erase. A relationship that begins in this fashion tends to stay there.

The church today is especially aware of this dilemma. The modern missionary movement was launched by Christians from Europe and the USA, areas that were the cradle of the industrial revolution, which in turn catapulted these regions to enormous accumulations of capital and to global dominance. Consequently, missionaries sent out from these regions to evangelize other parts of the world arrived with vast amounts of capital, in material, political, and cultural terms. The result was frequently a pernicious colonial dynamic. Converts were framed in terms of need and were victimized and infantilized. Missionaries were framed in terms of provision and identified with European mores—often described as quintessentially white values. Authentic relationships were distorted and difficult. What are we to do? Can Paul help us here?

In fact he can. Although he was not materially rich, Paul was rich in cultural capital. He was highly educated, well connected back in his homeland, and a leader. He was accustomed to organizing, pronouncing, and formulating and directing policy. So he was a wealthy person compared with the despised handworkers who occupied one of the lowest echelons in the ancient city and had no such training, connections, or confidence. But what did he do?

It is highly significant that Paul arrived in Thessalonica looking like the people he was hoping to befriend and to convert. He adopted the persona of a handworker and worked alongside the humble Thessalonians.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 57

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The god we have

Anybody who simply cannot “put up” with the incarnation will also not know what to do with YHWH, who speaks and hears, who wounds and heals, who comes down and visits us, who walks in the garden and confuses the language of the tower builders, who accompanies his people in pillars of fire and cloud, who sits enthroned on the cherubim and precisely as such is the God of heaven and earth.—K. H. Miskotte, When the Gods are Silent, 128, quoted in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 112

Do you really want to be friends?

We must value our initial relationships with people for what they are and not in terms of what we want out of them. This means that we must want to become their friends. Moreover, it must be a friendship with no strings attached. We must seek out relationships because we are interested in and value other people for who they are, right where they are. Conversions would be nice, but they are not our main agenda. We hope and pray for the best for our new friends, but that is not our principal motivation for relating to them. In this way and only in this way do we avoid colonizing people as we convert them.

There is a simple way to test if this is what we are doing.

Will we initiate and stay in relationship with someone if they never become a Christian? If the answer is yes, then we are conducting our relationship in the right spirit. If the answer is no, then we are lapsing at some point into one or more of the power-plays just described.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 55

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Just a societal construct?

Garrett Green writes of Karl Barth that his “phenomenology of religion shows him to be in general agreement with the dominant tendency in sociology of religion since Durkheim that interprets religion as a structural aspect of human societies.” [Garrett Green, “Introduction: Barth as Theorist of Religion,” in Karl Barth, On Religion: The Revelation of God as the Sublimation of Religion, trans. Garrett Green (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 1–29.] Gods—including the biblical god—are the precipitate of human, societal forces.

This line of thinking offers a robust answer to the question of YHWH's ancient look-alikes. Chemosh and YHWH resemble one another because they are both patron gods of the southern Levant, and therefore generated by many of the same societal needs and conditions. This approach has the advantage of simplicity. It faces the phenomena of similarity and renders a squarely historical account of it. It would seem, however, to create an insuperable drawback: it results in a YHWH who is as dead, absent, and otiose as all the other ancient deities long since consigned to the “graveyard of the gods.” Not only would this result fly in the face of the Bible’s bedrock confidence in YHWH’s livingness; it would belie the basic sensibility of Jews and Christians that their communities relate to a true divine counterpart.—Collin Cornell in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 111 (emphasis original)

Missionary imperialism

Christians often fail to get in touch with the shocking message that can lie at the heart of evangelism: “I am here to change you, and I’m going to change you so that you become like me.” There are some obvious dangers here once we think about all this. If we approach people in this way, we are not treating them as people. We are not respecting them. We are treating them as part of our own program, like an objective and a statistic, and this is self-centered as well as disrespectful. An obnoxious smell of superiority is apparent. Further, we are judging people as fundamentally inadequate. We are okay, of course. Missionary work conducted in this spirit is a well-intentioned but self-centered power-play.

It is true that Christians do want to convert people to their own position, as Paul did. There will be judgment on non-Christian behavior as well. Change of a certain sort can be expected. But if we lead with this agenda and only this, we lapse into this somewhat unattractive missionary imperialism. We must, rather, place these concerns within the correct broader framework, and that begins with the reorientation of our intentions.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 54

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Those pesky gods

In the end, not only the substance of the prophets’ message but also the language in which that message was delivered shaped Jewish and later Christian monotheism. The problem of the look-alikes that this volume addresses arises not from the substance of the prophets’ monotheism, but from their language. The look-alikes could have been incorporated into a monotheistic scheme without threatening YHWH’s supremacy, but this would have required acknowledging at least their existence, and the prophets’ rhetoric made this harder and harder. The solution to “the problem of the look-alikes” is to adopt any of the solutions that can be found in other biblical contexts and reduce the “gods of the nations” to their proper size and place in YHWH’s world.—Robert Goldenberg in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 95

Strange friendships!

We can see clearly now how Paul was operating.

He was open to what we have called strange friendships. He was inclusive. God had sent him to the pagans he had previously despised, but he had gotten to know them now for several years and found that many of them were really quite nice people. God loved them and had a wonderful plan for their lives.

Paul was also highly motivated. He was prepared to travel. This meant covering geographical distances. But it meant traveling across social distances as well. He was prepared to hang out in unexpected places, and he couldn’t do this—or couldn’t do it as easily and constantly—before the breakthrough in Antioch, when he was observing Jewish practices vigilantly. Jews cannot eat and drink with people all the time, and they have scheduling clashes, while various pagan social spaces are downright problematic. Jews don’t want to be too exposed to pagan idols, or to corpses, thereby incurring corpse impurity, or to eat food with blood in it. Paul’s new flexibility with respect to food, drink, and timetabling meant he could access new social spaces without these impediments. Unexpected places offered strange new friendships, and these friendships could be with anyone, whether someone of high status like Sergius Paulus, or of low status, like Lydia. No one was too important or too unimportant to talk to and to befriend.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 49

Monday, April 13, 2020

Do they even exist?

Isaiah and the others were desperately trying to prevent the disaster that would eventually engulf Israel if wholesale violation of the national covenant persisted. To do so, they depicted the other deities—the “idols” whom their fellow Israelites could not bear to insult or to ignore—in the most unappealing terms they could muster: weak and unreliable, unable to protect the people from YHWH’s wrath once that wrath burst forth, and hardly worthy of being called gods at all, as though they do not even exist.—Robert Goldenberg in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 94

It's a matter of whom you know

Paul contacted Lydia in a Jewish way. She was a God-worshiper whom he encountered at a Jewish meeting place. However, his mission continued down the Via Egnatia through a network of artisans. Lydia knew and dealt with artisans as a businessperson and handworker. So she was the key contact, positioned within two important networks, which allowed Paul to segue from Jews and God-worshipers to handworkers. Once we notice this practice of missionary snakes and ladders we can see it in Paul’s earlier evangelism as well.

Paul and Barnabas traveled from Antioch to Salamis on Cyprus, Barnabas’s homeland. This was a family network within a broader Jewish network. Sergius Paulus’s conversion is unusual because it was so dramatic and sudden—a direct work of the Holy Spirit. But once that conversion had been made, Paul traveled to Pisidian Antioch exploring his family network, a1though this time of an out—and—out pagan family. And Paul’s later letter to the Galatians suggests that more than just family members converted in Pisidian Antioch. Whole households turned to Jesus (see Gal. 6:10). Households in the ancient world, especially wealthy ones, contained more than immediate families. They were full of relatives, friends, retainers, and slaves. The household of a wealthy upper-class Roman also anchored a network of clients spreading out from their immediate area to other dependent households in their cities and to their country estates—their patronage network. Clearly Paul worked all these contacts in Pisidian Antioch and as they extended down the Via Sebaste. He could travel and be supported as far as letters of introduction from the Sergi Pauli had influence, although they could not guarantee his safety in other cities.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 48–49

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Around the 'net

I missed posting last week because of a deadline on a book and the heavy load of shifting everything on line at PSU Press and Eisenbrauns, so this is two weeks worth of goodies. I hope you find at least a few of these helpful. I'm mainly going to post links, instead of excerpts. Please take the time to chase the links.

First off, the thing everybody has been talking about for the last few weeks, the corona virus. Let's start with a bit of historical stuff as ANE Today takes a look, ranging from antiquity on.

Of course, there is the economic end, as Mike Frost asks "What is the Worth of Another Person's Life?" Some good insights there; do read it. And then there are the food shortages—or are they shortages? This NPR story looks at a different side of the problem: food rotting in the field because the normal market, restaurants, has dried up. Too much food in the wrong places. Food shelves desperately need it, but how to get it to them?

What about the social side of this? George Yancey takes a look and makes some suggestions. Read it, and be sure to keep what he says in context. He is not saying to ignore the health officials. He's saying we need input from all the interrelated disciplines to come to a good decision. And that isn't just when it comes the the corona virus, either!

The rise of anti-Asian feelings is also a concern. The Anxious Bench discusses some of them and what a Christian response should be. Read it and weep for those who are attacked. And for the attackers, who feel it is necessary to respond in hatred. May the love of Christ set them free!

And what to do to recover economically from this? The Hill has an op-ed worth reading. The guy has good creds, too: "Richard Vague is Pennsylvania’s acting Secretary of Banking and Securities. He previously was a managing partner of Gabriel Investments, based in Philadelphia, and co-founder and CEO of Energy Plus, Juniper Financial, and First USA Bank. He is the author of “A Brief History of Doom” (2019), which analyzed the world’s largest financial crises of the past 200 years. The opinions expressed here are his own." I've read bits and pieces of that book at the library; it's a fascinating read.

What about the other side of this? Pete Enns meditates on it via the book of Ecclesiastes. Good stuff! And Stephen McAlpine asks if the post-virus world will be all that new, as some people say it will. Hint: It won't. People will still be selfish. But he isn't going to let that stop the hugging that will happen. While Chris Gehrz warns us to "Beware the Return to Normalcy."

And why is it so hard to create an accurate model of how the virus spreads? FiveThirtyEight explains; well, they give you an overview of why. It's actually even more complicated, but they say their editors won't let them get too deep. Good thing; what they do explain is complicated enough!

What about the theological side of this thing? Apparently someone wrote a new Easter hymn, but Ponder Anew explains why it focuses on the wrong things. You should also read Pope Francis's March 27 address. Good stuff in there. And while you are at it, take a look at Philip Jenkins post "And Mercy Danced." Mercy always has the last word.

You've seen or read about those who are claiming Ps 91, right? Well, Assembly of God theologian Andrew Gabriel takes a look. Remember, he's a pentecostal, so he's no stranger to the miraculous. If he were a cessationist, you could just discount what he says, but he's experienced the power of God, which makes his insights more valuable.

Let's end this string of virus posts with two feel-good ones: Fort Wayne, IN is urging people to come outdoors every night at 7:00 to wave to their neighbors. And a five-year-old boy in the town down the road from us, Lake City, is making driftwood crosses.

OK, other stuff also has been happening! Righting America asks whether the progressive theologians' obsession with fundamentalism has skewed their theology. Spoiler: it has. But, I would say it has also skewed the theology of "big-tent" evangelicals, as well. We should be defining our positions with respect to the scriptures, but instead we end up defining them vis-a-vis some real or imagined opponent.

That thought segues nicely into John Hawthorne's post "On Evangocentrism." Take a look and then take a gander at the Bible. Which one defines your outlook more? I pray it wouldn't be your peer-group or chosen tribe, but instead be the King of kings. But I fear that, in my own life at least, it is far too often the former instead of the latter.

Let's shift gears here a bit, heading back into the ancient world of scripture. Mike Glenn talks about watching idols topple, while RJS talks about dates and numbers in their setting. And Scot McKnight discusses Ancient War Atrocities, Now Compared to the Bible's, and Our Reluctant War God. That whole series has been good. I need to buy the book!

Stick with me! We're almost done. Roger Olson, using strict Calvinist Charles Hodge's definition, explains why Calvinism is "impossible." Read the post; he is correct.

Let me end with a link to how Gore, the company that invented Gore-Tex, tests their products. Pretty amazing!

And here's a view out my study window this Easter morning! He is risen!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Whom do you know? It matters!

You only showed up unannounced to stay in an ancient city if you had a death wish. Life in the ancient world was proverbially nasty, brutish, and short. There was no social welfare and little sympathy for outsiders. Similarly, you did not show up in an ancient city and practice a trade. There were local organizations that protected the precarious lives of handworkers, and there needed to be opportunities to work—shops, contracts, materials, and so on. Without an introduction, starvation and exposure were the probable outcomes for poor single traveling handworkers. It is highly likely then that Paul had an introduction to certain artisans in Thessalonica, asking them to welcome him and to provide him with work. It was this work opportunity that opened up in turn into the friendships that formed the Christian community. Moreover, this opportunity almost certainly came from Lydia’s contacts as an artisan with the handworking communities in this city neighboring hers, and from any other businesspeople in the Philippian congregation.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 48

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Some good news

Little Free Libraries are being adapted to Little Free Pantries! From Publishers Weekly:
Ever since the novel coronavirus arrived on U.S. soil, disrupting lives and now, making access to food and other necessities more difficult for many, a number of little free library volunteer stewards -- both registered and unregistered with the Little Free Library organization – have switched from filling the mounted boxes in front of their homes with free books to filling them with household items: food, toilet paper, sanitizer, toiletries, and other necessities, all for the taking by passersby.

While many stewards are filling boxes with cans of food and packaged goods, some are taking a more personal approach: for instance, one woman in Ojai, Calif. is stocking her little free library box with fresh citrus fruit from her trees; another, in Anacortes, Wash. is placing hand-sewn face masks in hers.

Mass evangelism? A waste of time!

The study of conversions to the LDS [Mormon/Latter Day Saints] community yielded the same results. In fact the LDS statistics are particularly compelling. The LDS community gives an enormous amount of time and talent to formal evangelism. Its leaders devote two years to this practice full-time. Who has not met LDS missionaries many times knocking on the front door? But the actual conversions from these efforts are next to negligible: about one in a thousand (0.1 percent). The impressive growth rate of the community—about 4 percent annually—is achieved almost entirely through the conversions of relatives and close friends. An astonishing 50 percent of these contacts are converted after a period of around three years of general informal contact.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 45

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The problem

The look-alikes become a problem because certain scriptural passages go beyond asserting YHWH’s greatness or power; they acclaim his uniqueness. If Isaiah had been satisfied to deny that any other god can match the strength of YHWH, the problem of the look-alikes would not have arisen; it would have been enough to say that those other so-called deities just could not match YHWH’s power. But Isaiah seems to deny that there is any god other than YHWH at all, and that denial is found in the collection of holy Scripture, with the result that many of the readers of Scripture have believed him. Once it has become clear, however, that Israel’s neighbors worshiped national gods who seem very like YHWH in numerous respects, such readers no longer know what to make of Isaiah’s proud boast.—Robert Goldenberg in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 88

The evil eye

Paul now got into what ancient people would have viewed as a contest of magical powers, A Jewish magician employed by the governor was trying to hex Paul to discredit his powers and his message. But Paul blasted him with “the evil eye,” striking him blind, and the governor was deeply impressed. Clearly hoping to avoid the same fate, he did the intelligent thing and became a Christian (see Acts 13: 5-12).

This is noteworthy because the governors of provinces run by the senate, which included Cyprus, were drawn from the uppermost echelons of Roman society. Sergius Paulus had to have previously been a “praetor,” an office to which just ten high-ranking and extremely wealthy senators were elected every year. It was as if Paul had just converted a former member of the US president’s cabinet, now on diplomatic duty.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 42

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

YHWH as Israel’s and Judah’s husband (baʿal)

The marital metaphor of “husband” is not used of Phoenician deities otherwise invoked as Baal, where one might expect to find it. Moreover, there is no extant evidence of this metaphor for deity in ANE texts, and it is plausibly an inner-Israelite development. In any case, it is a mark of distinctiveness in YHWH’s portrayal. The relative infrequency of identifying YHWH explicitly as a “husband,” using the lemma baʿal, is belied by the broader employment of the marriage and household metaphors for relating YHWH and people in the OT.— J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 84

What do you hear?

Imagine that I have just heard this challenge from a smart student in a classroom: “How can even part of us be resurrected in the Spirit, with one foot in the Age to Come, when we are so obviously still caught up in the world of the Flesh?” Instead of responding with some elaborate argument about false Newtonian dualisms or some such, I click on a link and start to play a song by Zao through the classrooms loudspeakers. I crank up the volume a bit. “Praise the War Machine” floods the seminar space—the music (with due apologies to death metal rock music) of the Flesh. “We shall destroy the earth. Rebuild it. None shall inherit it.” Then, while Zao is in full voice, I take my iPhone and flick to Bach’s Air on a G String and begin to play it—quite softly. I can just catch the delicate resonances of the strings as they move through their interlacements of pizzicato and bowing—the music of heaven (at least, for those who love Bach). Then I begin to slowly turn down the volume on Zao.

As the death metal fades—perhaps we catch “Carry us off in your claws”—-Bach’s music begins to become audible. I turn down Zao’s music still further and turn up Bach a little more. The Air can now be heard easily all over the room and begins to dominate Zao, although the pulse of the death metal can just be heard in the background. Then I explain the metaphor to my doubting but intrigued students.

There is nowhere in the room that lacks thusic of both pieces. Every part of the space that we occupy together is touched by Zao and by Bach at any given moment. Both pieces of music were fully present, within and alongside one another, and yet completely distinct. Moreover, even when the volume of one piece was drowned out, we knew that the music was was still there. Both pieces were present, but we couldn't hear one because our senses were dominated by the other arrangement.

Just so, Paul’s suggestion that we live in two dimensions simultaneously makes sense when it is conceptualized sonically and musically. The music of the Flesh might dominate, but this does not in any way prevent the music of the Spirit from being fully present and accessible. Both arrangements occupy exactly the same space in all their fullness. Christians live with the music of the world and the music of heaven playing in the same location all the time. So if the presence of the music of heaven is doubted, the volume on the music of the world might be turned up too high. If it is turned down the Spirit’s music might emerge—a gentle, delicate music present there all along that we were just unable to hear. The problem was not the music itself then, but our inability to hear and our lack of attention. Hence the real question for our doubter might actually be—as it has always been——“Where do I go to hear God?”

In short, the resurrected mind of the Spirit can coexist quietly in, behind, and within the jarring music of the Flesh. So to affirm the presence of the resurrected mind is by no means to deny the ongoing presence of the Flesh, of sin, and of death. Paul’s basic claim that converts to Christ possess the resurrected mind of Christ remains plausible as long as we remember that reality is musical.Douglas A. Campbell, Paul: An Apostle’s Journey —Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 38–39

Monday, April 06, 2020

YHWH is Lord

YHWH is ʾādôn. Signifying sovereignty/authority in relationships, the term is used for both humans and deities in the Levant. Although OT tradents are keen to distinguish YHWH from his baalistic rivals, there is repetitive use of this similar epithet to mark his cosmic authority. One can only speculate on the reason(s) why there is no polemic against invoking YHWH as ʾādôn, but a plausible one is that no Levantine deity so invoked was a serious rival to YHWH in Israel. The name of David’s son Adonijah affirms YHWH's sovereignty as cosmic Lord. Additionally, addressing YHWH as Adonay (e.g.: Gen 15:2; Ps 8:2) follows a pattern noted earlier of using plural nouns to mark him. As the Deuteronomist puts it (Deut 10:17): “YHWH is God [ʾelōhê ] of Gods and Lord [ʾádōnê] of Lords.”— J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 83

The music of the spheres

People shaped by modern culture tend to think about entities as occupying discrete and mutually exclusive spaces. Rather like 011 and water in a bottle, we expect different things to separate out from one another and occupy different layers when they are introduced to one another. Things don't mlx together. Moreover, we seem to be biased toward visual metaphors. When we think of accessing reality we imagine looking at it with our eyes and then we see things that are, again, mutually exclusive. We see tables sitting next to chairs and on carpets and they don’t move through one another. The world is full of prepositions! We even think about people this way, a problem we will have to correct shortly. If we insert these convictions into Paul’s claims about the world of the Spirit being present with the world of the Flesh, then we will find his claim nonsensical. The fact that the world of the Flesh is present means that the world of the Spirit cannot be here. They can’t coexist. It is one or the other and the Flesh is definitely still here, so the Spirit is by definition excluded. Either it is somewhere else—perhaps in the distant future—or it doesn’t exist.

But these difficulties can be resolved if we switch metaphors, Let’s think about this situation sonically, using music, with our ears, instead of optically, visually, and with our eyes. Reality is musical. This will enable us to think about things in ways that are both more accurate and not necessarily mutually exclusive.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 38

Friday, April 03, 2020

It's even more evil than you think!

If you aren't reading Letters from an American, you should be. Yesterday evening's post ended thus:
There was a remarkable moment tonight in the press conference tonight at the White House, flagged by Josh Marshall at TPM (Talking Points Memo). Countries have been sending supplies of masks, gowns, and so forth that our medical professionals so desperately need. But at the same time, ProPublica has reported that states are paying up to 15 times what medical supplies usually cost to get this equipment. So what’s going on?

At the press conference, Weijia Jiang of CBS News asked the official in charge of the shipments, Rear Admiral John P. Polowczyk, what was happening to them. He explained they are not going directly to the states or to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Rather, they are going to the private sector, which has systems in place for distributing such materials. But the states are in a bidding war in the private sector to buy this equipment, which is driving prices up.

Shouldn’t the federal government step in to stop profiteering and make sure states get the supplies they need? “I’m not here to disrupt a [commercial] supply chain,” the admiral said.

What?! Translated into common English he just said that the Vulture Capitalists have every right to scalp the states for every penny they can—all the while people are dying in the streets.

The corona virus isn't changing people, it's just revealing who they really are.

Where is Amos? Where is Micah? Or Jeremiah?

Their modern successors are basking in the light of evil and not even knowing it. Speaking truth to power? Nah, too uncomfortable!

Enjoy it while you can, because the day will come when all the deeds of humanity will be revealed, and as scripture repeatedly says, that judge is no respecter of persons!

There's something about that name

So much of YHWH's identity in the OT is marked by attention (and even devotion) to his name. Textually speaking, the most distinctive characteristic of Israel’s God is the personal name YHWH, given the frequency of usage in the OT and its nonappearance in ANE pantheons. This is differentiation at a fundamental level, even with the convergence of many attributes from the ANE world. In emic perspective, “most distinctive” applied to YHWH can also be a value judgment, but in etic perspective, it indicates a fundamental identity marker.— J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 82

Is amnesty biblical?

If nice neighbors came and patiently inquired if they could become Jews, most Jews didn’t turn them away. But Paul was out there begging any pagan who would listen to convert willy-nilly, so he wasn’t just accepting the occasional pagan as a proselyte. Foreigners to the USA can go through an arduous process and obtain a green card and then eventually become a US citizen—a process I, a New Zealander, have still not managed to complete as I write these words after fourteen years living in North Carolina. But some advocates want an amnesty for everyone who walks over the border, north or south, or who enters by air or sea and overstays. Paul was throwing the green card process under the bus. He was proclaiming an amnesty.

Wow. The special privileges of the Jewish nation quashed again. Not only was present history a struggle, but a horde of despised, unclean, bullying pagans were being admitted into the playground of the future. We can practically hear Paul’s offended compatriots crying “Jews for Heaven and Heaven for the Jews” as they flogged him in their synagogues, expelled him from their communities, and eventually planned to take him out for good.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 26–27

Thursday, April 02, 2020


YHWH is the only sufficient deity. Affirming YHWH’s sufficiency is one way to summarize a broad pattern in the OT: advocacy of monolatry. Israel should have no other ʾelōhîm beside YHWH (Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7), which covers anything from benign neglect of YHWH to hostile rejection. Such a profile differentiates the OT from much of the ANE tradition, with its various permutations of polytheism.— J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 81

Postconversion perspective

This must have been a humbling moment [the Damascus road encounter], and I doubt that Paul ever forgot the way that his own zeal had misled him. He now realized that in and of himself he had nothing to offer God and was in fact deeply twisted in his understanding of his Lord. The God revealed in Jesus Christ judged his activity and exposed its corruption. The result was a Paul who speaks very much like a recovering substance abuser. He was able to look back on his previous life with a mind clarified by this revelation and see where his previous activity, which looked entirely reasonable if not praiseworthy at the time, was profoundly distorted. Moreover, the story he now tells retrospectively, after the fact, is the correct one. It is the story clarified by the gift of truth in Jesus. “Whatever I previously considered gain or advantageous, I now consider, in the light of Christ and in comparison to him, loss. Indeed, compared with the surpassing wonder of Christ I consider everything as mere excrement!” (Phil. 3:6—7).—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 22

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

What? No geneology?

The OT contains no theogony for YHWH, and while he is associated with more than one earthly locale, he is not limited by terrestrial geography. [fn.: Correspondingly, YHWH is not included in any extrabiblical pantheon.]— J. Andrew Dearman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 80

More than a doctrine

The Father and his Son Jesus are people, and so the Spirit is best understood as a person too. Later Christian thinkers pulled these revelations about God together into an all-important position or “doctrine” we know as the Trinity. God is one, but made up of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This claim stands at the heart of the confessions that all Christians recite, confess, and affirm to the present day. But we know from Paul’s conversion near Damascus that this is not just a definitive account of who God is. It is a definitive account of how we know God, indicating that this knowledge does not rest on our own efforts or insights, which is just as well. As Job said some time ago, where would we go to find God (Job 23:3, 8-9; see also 28:12-22)? The creeds affirm that God reveals the truth about God, reaching all the way down to us in our humanity in Jesus, and to our hearts and minds with his Spirit. This might seem obvious, but it is incredibly important. We must remember with crystal clarity that God is in charge of how we know about God, and of the definition of what God is really like, and we must hang on to these truths through life and death.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 18–19

<idle musing>
Not sure I would have started the paragraph the way he did. Yes, they are persona, but people has a connotation of human/mortal that I would rather avoid in the definition of God. But here we run into the problem of the inadequacy of finite words to define the infiniteness that is God. Which basically is what he is saying, too.
</idle musing>