Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The problem of metaphors

That is not, however, the end of the matter, because the notion that the God of the Bible is masculine rather than feminine is false. Despite the overwhelmingly masculine language used for God in the Bible, to extract the notion that God is male is an example of the error of the via eminentiae: the idea that God is like something else, only more so. In this case: God is like a king, only much more powerful; God is like a father, but a better father than any human. It is necessary, albeit difficult, simultaneously to affirm the metaphors as metaphors and to admit that they fall so far short of divine reality that they threaten to lead us astray in crucial ways.—Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 217–18 (emphasis original)

Well, did it or did it now happen?

We do not believe the flood story of the Bible is myth, but neither do we believe the author of Genesis 6-9 intends to give us a straightforward depiction of the event that lies behind it. We believe there is an event that inspired the story; after all, Genesis 6-9 is theological history. However, we believe the best understanding of Genesis 1-11, which of course includes the flood account, is that it talks about real events of the past through the use of figurative language. In the case of the flood story, we have identified the use of hyperbole to describe the flood. But there is a real event behind the story just as there was an actual conquest behind the hyperbolic presentation of Joshua’s conquest as presented in Joshua 1-12 (see proposition four).—Lost World of the Flood, 145 (emphasis original)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Keep making those cakes!

As long as a church is patriarchal, or indeed outright misogynistic, as long as it is a means for men to worship and reinforce their own power, which is often what it has been throughout history, then people will always feel a need for a goddess. If Christians are going to worship our own likenesses, then femininity is, after all, not less worthy of adoration than masculinity. As long as God the Father reinforces patriarchy, it is entirely natural that many will want to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven.—Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 217

About those statues…

"Social memory theory maintains a group’s memory of the past is always socially constructed—never how it actually was. The past has run through a social filter so that it serves the needs of the community and its coherence. Further, this past impinges on the present moment, as a community understands and acts in the present moment in a way that for them seems consistent with that memory. Communities keep the constructed past alive and in front of the community through myth, stories, festivals, sites, media, and various social institutions. Likewise, the community structures its future vision based on this constructed history."—Rodney Werline, in Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL Press, forthcoming).

<idle musing>
And don't forget to add statues! They are part of the ordering of our memory. We need to always be examining that ordering; perhaps—no! definitely—it needs to be reordered and modified to bring it more into line with what actually happened and whom we want to be as a nation and as a people. This should especially be true of Christians, who follow the only truth.
</idle musing>


When the theme of order by means of divine presence is recognized in Genesis 1-2, and when the restoration of divine presence is recognized as the motivation of the ziggurat builders, Genesis 1-11 can be seen as a unit with these important bookends serving as a rhetorical inclusio for the record of the primordial period.—Lost World of the Flood, 138

Friday, June 26, 2020

Augustine and the dea nutrix

At the roots of monotheism, then, there began a kind of theological dance in the tension between the desire to preserve female imagery for God, including the dea nutrix, and the denial that this is possible for a single deity who was more commonly imagined as male. This would go on through the ages. Even individual theologians were often of two minds. For example, the same Augustine who spoke of “the Lord’s breast” elsewhere declared that, in “the image of God,. . . there is no sex,” and that the woman is not the image of God except when she is joined together with her husband.—Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 212

<idle musing>
Augustine was wrong! I suspect that the reason he went the route of women not being fully the image of God, aside from his patriarchal frame of reference, was that the church is the bride of Christ, and apart from Christ can't reflect the glory of God. But those two don't have to be, in fact, shouldn't be, tied together.

The problem with Augustine is that he wrote so much that you can find pretty much anything you want in there. Unfortunately, it seems his worst stuff is what the church adopted! But that is just an
</idle musing>

Who are they?

In contrast, focus on the use of terminology in the Bible suggests that “sons of God” (as rare as it is) refers consistently to the members of the divine council (e.g., Job 1-2), and this is the interpretation adopted in the earliest sources (Second Temple period works like the Book of Enoch) as well as reflected in the New Testament (2 Peter and Jude).—Lost World of the Flood, 123

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Filling the void

The polemic against dea nutrix imagery for God is deeply connected with the process by which Israelite religion came to focus on a single deity for whom masculine pronouns were most commonly used. The attempted exclusion of goddess worship, particularly that of Asherah (e.g., 2 Kgs 23:4–7),34 left a psychological void for Yahwistic worshipers that continued to be filled in various ways. Monotheism was a revolutionary idea—or to put it a different way, an irregular one. It is not surprising that it was resisted; consider the backlash against the religious innovations of Akhenaten or Nabonidus. Rather, it is surprising that it endured.—Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 210

Here's where inspiration lies

[I]f we wish to get to the core of the authority of the author, we have to focus on what the author (who has been vested with God’s authority) is doing with the event.—Lost World of the Flood, 121

<idle musing>
Because Walton/Longman restrict where they believe the inspiration lies (and I agree with them), there is no issue with many of the issues that are hang-ups for so many. This view frees you from having to defend undefendable positions; you're not continually on the defensive, looking for offense. That kind of defensive attitude seems pretty anti-Christian, by the way. At the least it is the opposite of the attitude you see in the scriptures.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The nourishing God

Blending the imagery of flowing milk into that of flowing water, the passage goes on to promise that the wealth of nations will be “like an overflowing stream,” inverting the negative imagery of floods as a violent threat in, for example, [Isaiah] 30:28; 28:2, 15–18; and 10:22. God then says: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13). So this passage distances YHWH from breastfeeding imagery both through the use of simile and by projecting the divine nursing onto Jerusalem/Zion as a proxy. Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the effort to connect God with dea nutrix imagery. —Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 207

Quick! Hit the reset button!

The naming of Noah could indicate that he will be the one through whom order is preserved and restored in the aftermath of the insurgence of nonorder represented in the flood. Be that as it may, however, the text indicates that Noah would comfort us (presumably humankind) “from our labor and from the toil of our hands from the ground” (authors’ translation). The combination of the verb nhm with the preposition min (from) occurs three times in this verse and nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. The combination does not suggest consolation or comfort concerning those things—that uses a different preposition. It can mean only that nonorder related to the labor, toil, and ground are going to be resolved and a greater semblance of order would be restored. It is difficult to deduce how that is taking place; what is important is that it is taking place. The vocabulary shows us how the flood is being interpreted—it is an order—bringing event. The connection of Noah’s name to the flood suggests that besides being presented as an act of judgment, grace, and deliverance, the narrator is recounting this event as a sort of order “reset button.” God uses nonorder (the waters) to eliminate disorder (pervasive violence) and then to reestablish optimal order (even as he recognizes that disorder remains [Gen 8:21]).—Lost World of the Flood, 118 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

El Shaddai as mother?

Significantly, one of the major theological perspectives that makes up the HB did understand Shadday as related to childbearing. David Biale points out that “all of the passages using El Shaddai in Genesis, with one exception, are fertility blessings.” Thus he argues that an early Israelite tradition “understood El Shaddai as a fertility god.” He demonstrated the point through a survey of passages from Genesis in which Shadday occurs (17:1–2; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3–4), all of which are blessings to be fruitful and multiply.—Christopher B. Hays in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 204

Vengeance is mine! I will repay, says who?

[W]e also receive a glimpse of the persistent disorder personified in the boast of Lamech (Gen 4:23-24). Here we find a warped perspective on the vengeance God offered in protection of Cain. With Lamech it is reflected as a right to his own vengeance as he builds order around himself. So even as order progresses, disorder also becomes entrenched and is rationalized with self-justification.—Lost World of the Flood, 116

Monday, June 22, 2020

He's there, hiding in plain sight

Yet a fuller recognition of chance as a divine look-alike for YHWH in ancient Israel serves to highlight the strong account of providence evident throughout the biblical witnesses. The HB is drenched in a providential understanding of God’s activity within the world. At the same time, it offers what might be termed a realistic understanding of how divine providence works. Sometimes there are indeed miracles: God is not restricted by the world’s standard operating system. However, God often chooses to act more locally, more incrementally, and more indirectly, working through human agents, social institutions, inherited customs, and ordinary circumstances. This hidden quality of YHWH’s work had the effect of compelling an interpretation of current events on the part of YHWH’s Israelite worshipers, a pressure that is now actually preserved even in the literary style of biblical poetics. The Bible is written so as to pose the character of God’s action as a question to its readers. Even a random arrow may kill a disguised king and thereby fulfill God’s sure prophetic word (1 Kgs 22:34, 38; cf. 21:19). So too, God’s express will may occur in the form of an accident.—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 197

Chaos ensues

In Genesis 4 it is evident that Cain and Abel are seeking to remain in contact with God as they offer their sacrificial gifts (by the label given to their gifts, minhah [offering], they are clearly not thinking of dealing with sin but of retaining God’s favor). Sacrifice here is a relationship—building activity but a poor substitute for divine presence. It becomes evident, however, that Cain does not have God’s order in mind when he rejects God’s offer of a way to gain favor and chooses instead to seek order for himself by killing his brother. Thus he pursues disorder as he seeks his own benefit.

The result is that God banishes him (the thrust of the Hebrew word ’arur, translated “under a curse” in Gen 4:11). Being driven away from society and the provision of the ground places him in further nonorder. Cain notes this by the three things he has lost: provision of the land, access to the presence of God (further reduced), and protection of society (Gen 4:14). Nevertheless, he retains the order that was established in the blessing of Genesis 1:28—he is able to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 4:17).—Lost World of the Flood, 115

Friday, June 19, 2020

Hiding in plain sight

In style as well as content, the biblical literature invokes a God who is relentlessly present but whose actions are characteristically disguised, with the result that the arena of human experience is full of beckoning coincidences: “Truly you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isa 45:15).—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 196

Not a dichotomy, a trichotomy!

It is common for people to think that we live in a world of dichotomy between good and evil. The previous interpretation suggests a further nuance: that we live in a trichotomous world: nonorder (still to be resolved), order, and disorder (evil, the results of sin).

These concepts frame our understanding of the coherence of Genesis 1-11. When we try to understand the coherence of a biblical book (or section of it), we do so by trying to identify the rhetorical strategy that drives the compilation. Episodes were carefully chosen from among many possibilities. The narration of those episodes was presented with purposes in mind. The most acceptable interpretation of that rhetorical strategy is determined by how well it accounts for all of the pieces (both included and omitted) and for the way each episode is presented.—Lost World of the Flood, 114

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Is it chance? Or is it God? Or can it be both?

What the chapter [1 Sam 9, Saul and the lost donkeys] evidently means to thematize is not simply a high view of providence but also the contrast between how providence works and how it appears when it does. The chapter’s theological purpose is no doubt to provide reassurance to the implied reader that God is in control despite how things seem, but this reassurance is not given in such a way as to sweep aside as misinformed or ignorant the admittedly real difficulty of spotting God in action. Religious faith, the chapter is saying, can embrace the epistemological deficits of human experience. Indeed, those deficits are themselves marks of true faith and genuine faith experience. This insight will be pressed even further in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible (whether to the breaking point or past the breaking point is debated), and so more references to miqreh cluster in Ecclesiastes than in any other biblical book. Ecclesiastes is thus not the first biblical book to recognize the tension between the objective and subjective aspects of divine providence, but it might be the first one to pull them apart by questioning the objective reality of providence from the subjective perspective of its human participants.—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 195


Divine presence in the ancient world has significance not just in regard to enabling relationship of some sort between humans and deity but as that which brings and maintains order in the world and in the cosmos. God is the center and source of order; in and through his presence the whole cosmos coheres. Though Genesis 1–11 is framed by the element of divine presence, the driving theme through this section is order, which derives from the divine presence.

In the beginning there was nonorder (Heb. tohu wabohu [Gen 1:2]). This condition is not evil or flawed; it is just a work in process. Order in the ancient world defined existence and is characterized by having a purpose (whether in human terms or in the larger sphere of God’s plans as much as they could be perceived). Material objects (such as the sea or the desert) in the ancient world could be considered nonexistent if their role and purpose could not be identified by people or if they had no function in human experience.—Lost World of the Flood, 112–13

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


miqreh can be employed for both “fortune” and “misfortune,” which offers a vantage point for understanding one of the HB’s most profound and challenging theological claims: God may also work through misfortune. This theme is particularly prominent in the Joseph narrative and elsewhere in the book of Genesis. Thus Joseph can tell his brothers: “At last you see that you did not send me, God did, and he has placed me as a father to Pharaoh, as lord of all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen 45:8). And again: “While you intended harm for me, God intended it for good, in order to bring about this day, to bring life to many people” (Gen 50:20). To style this perspective “deterministic” would be to the miss the point. The thrust of this aspect of the biblical tradition is not that God determines every outcome in advance or that everything that happens is for the best. The point is rather that God is continuously, redemptively working to bring goodness out of misfortune and calamity (cf. Rom 8:28).—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 194

The rainbow wasn't a good sign in the ANE

Signs are, not surprisingly, integrally related to the specific character of the covenant they are attached to. In the case of the sign of the Noahic covenant, the rainbow comes out after the storm, thus signaling the cessation of the flood. [Footnote: In contrast, when rainbows are attested in celestial divination texts, they are malefic signs in five out of eight occurrences. W. Horowitz, “All About Rainbows,” in Laws of Heaven—Laws of Nature: Legal Interpretations of Cosmic Phenomena in the Ancient World, ed. K. Schmid and C. Uehlinger, OBO 276 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2016), 40–51.]—Lost World of the Flood, 106

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

God and chance

But here too YHWH is shown to operate in a fashion that is not altogether different from the ways of chance. There is first the matter of the suppertime test: Why can David and Jonathan not just ask YHWH whether Saul is dangerous? Why construct an elaborate randomizer based on what might or might not happen at the meal? Then there is the follow-up procedure introduced by Jonathan to contact David and inform him that the coast is clear once the meal is over: Jonathan will shoot three arrows in a field and employ coded phrases when he calls out for his servant to retrieve them (1 Sam 20:17–22). Not only was this type of activity with arrows a standard form of divination in the ancient world (belomancy), it is “theologized” in this biblical narrative as indicative of YHWH’s will (v. 22: “Then leave, for yhwh has sent you away”; my emphasis). Once more YHWH is depicted as similar to chance while simultaneously being differentiated from it.—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 192

No! The corona virus isn't a judgment from God!

How's that for click bait? But, seriously, read this disclaimer and take it to heart because they are correct.
Even as we present the flood of Genesis as bringing about judgment, we want to issue a strong caution that such an interpretation does not give us a precedent interpreting any other flood (or other such calamities), ancient or modern, as the result of divine judgment. Our ability to identify a catastrophe as divine judgment depends entirely on the presence of an authoritative voice to so interpret that catastrophe. The Bible provides that authoritative interpretation for the Genesis flood; we have no such authoritative voice to interpret other events for us. Not all catastrophes are manifestations of God’s anger or judgment.—Lost World of the Flood, 100–101
<idle musing>
Don't listen to those who claim to have the word from God on current events. Chances are good that they are wrong. Especially if it is wrapped up in hate language. And that's usually what it is, isn't it? God's mad, so he comes down and takes it out on us. Wrong god; that sounds more like one of the other deities wandering around in the ancient world than the God of the Exodus and the Father of Jesus the Messiah.
</idle musing>

Monday, June 15, 2020

How free are the gods?

Like Kaufmann, Lawson views fate as having a prior authority over divinities, even as he explores how acquiring possession of the mythic ṭuppi šīmāti (“tablet of destinies”) may bestow upon one god a limited power over other deities and a degree of flexibility over against fate. Lawson adds:
The real source of power in the cosmos comes from the primal, meta- divine realm. The gods and their individual of offices may give form and direction to this power but they are not the final masters over the cosmos or even their own fate. [Lawson, Concept of Fate in Ancient Mesopotamia, 39]
The point can also be expressed by saying that, while the gods are subject to fate, they exercise a degree of agency. On the human plane—the “downstairs” level to the gods’ “upstairs” habitat—the fixed character of destiny was that much stronger and the degree of agency even smaller, to judge from omen texts and the logic of divination. The only exception seems to lie in the notion of prayer. For mortals, prayer could sometimes alter destiny.—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 188

It's theological!

We believe the story goes way back to a period well before the invention of writing and, therefore, the advent of literature. In the far distant past (though we are unable to date it now) a devastating flood killed many people (see proposition fourteen). For reasons described in other parts of this book, we do not believe the flood was worldwide, but we do believe it was particularly devastating. We don’t think it is possible to date the event, locate the event, or reconstruct the event in our own terms. That is not a problem because the event itself, with which everyone in the Near East is familiar, is not what is inspired. What is inspired and thus the vehicle of God’s revelation is the literary-theological explanation that is given by the biblical author. We are interested in how the compiler of Genesis used the flood and how he described what God was doing in and with the flood.—Lost World of the Flood, 85

Friday, June 12, 2020

A power higher than the gods!

In a polytheistic worldview, deities are not all-powerful or unconditionally immortal. They are subject to nature and fate. The divine forces of nature and fate are themselves typically imagined as old, primordial (e.g., pre-Olympian) gods that already existed prior to the currently reigning pantheon. “Monotheism” is then not so much about reducing divine actors to a single deity, but rather repositioning deity to hold an authority beyond nature and fate. The determining aspect of monotheism in this account can be expressed as “transcendence”—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 186

Reading with blinders on

In light of the recognition of academic arithmetic in the ancient world and the practice noted in iconography to supersize that which is important, we suggest that in the dimensions of the vessels in the various [flood] accounts, more than hyperbole is going on. That is, we are not suggesting the boat was actually only half the stated size and they doubled it to aggrandize the size of the vessel. The dimensions are not relative to the actual size. Alternatively, the dimensions can be viewed as devised with a rhetorical effect in mind. Neither jibes by skeptics about the impossibility of the vessels nor the apologetic defenses of practicality and realism are to the point. Both groups are reading the text through their modern filters and thereby expect to conform to how such information would be conveyed in our current—day cultural river.—Lost World of the Flood, 76–77

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Thought for the day

But to the wicked God says,
“Why do you talk about my laws?
    Why do you even mention my covenant?
17 You hate discipline, and
    you toss my words behind your back.
18 You make friends with thieves whenever you see one;
    you spend your time with adulterers.
19 You set your mouth free to do evil,
    then harness your tongue to tell lies.
20 You sit around, talking about your own siblings;
    you find fault with the children of your very own mother.
21 You’ve done these things and I’ve kept quiet.
    You thought I was just like you!
        But now I’m punishing you;
        I’m laying it all out, right in front of your face.
22 So consider this carefully, all you who forget God,
    or I’ll rip you to pieces with no one to deliver you. Ps. 50:16–22 CEB

The power behind the powers

What is particularly interesting about the notion of destiny or fate is that it was understood to affect deities as well as humans. Drawing on the distinctive approach of Yehezkel Kaufmann, Benjamin Sommer stresses how deities other than YHWH were conceived as being created or born from something that preceded them, and how they remain “subject to matter and to forces stronger than themselves.” He continues:
In Mesopotamian religion, there exists a realm of power independent of, and greater than, the realm of divinity. It is for this reason that in some Mesopotamian texts, humans attempt to ward off evil without turning in any significant way to the gods.. . . The role of the gods, when they are mentioned in texts of this kind, is merely to aid the humans in accessing those powers, which transcend even the gods’ realms but are better understood by the gods than by humans. [Benjamin Sommer, “Monotheism,” 259]
One of the most powerful of these forces is fate, which the gods themselves cannot merely overturn or negate. Indeed, the contrast between polytheism and monotheism may finally be less about the number of deities within a particular worldview and more about the relationship between deity and the divine forces of nature and fate. Monotheism thus entails what Peter Machinist has termed “a restructuring of the comic order.” [Peter Machinist, “How Gods Die,” 235]—Stephen B. Chapman in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 185–86

Save the culture!

When we observe the people given passage on the ark 1n the Mesopotamian traditions, there is a contrast compared to the eight members of a single family in Genesis. Atrahasis and the Eridu Genesis are vague or broken, but in the Gilgamesh Epic, not only the hero and his family are saved but also a variety of craftsmen. This suggests that the intention was not only to spare human life but to save human‘ culture—in fact, to preserve society and its order.—Lost World of the Flood, 74

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

He's become (?) unhinged

OK, over the last four years, I've seen and heard stuff from the White House that makes Nixon look like a saint. But this is just nuts!

I saw the video, as I'm sure you did. Only someone who really wanted to see something other than overt police brutality would think such a stupid thing. Religious News Service (among others) has more background on the guy. Read it here.

OK, White, middle class evangelical voters. You have seen the deal you made. You've destroyed any shred of witness that you might have had left after 40 years of supporting Republican candidates based on their lip service to you about abortion. Face the facts. Billy Graham warned you way back in the 1970s that the right would use you and discard you when you became unnecessary. Well, there's no need to discard you any longer, because you have allowed power to corrupt you.

Power always corrupts. Always! The church does better as a prophetic witness outside the wings of power than inside. Once inside, it will become complicit. Sure, there will be moments that are the exception, but generally it's been quiet submission, or even (as the court evangelicals are doing) overt support for policies that are antichristian.

Fact: Abortion historically goes down under a Democratic president as opposed to a Republican one. Why? Figure it out! Most abortions are because of economic pressures. They feel they can't feed another mouth. Republican presidents have historically cut any kind of social safety net they think they can get away with.

If you are truly pro-life and not just anti-abortion, you need to consider the impact of government policy from womb to tomb. Then decide which of the flawed parties offers the better option. Get on board with that one and work for change from within to bring it closer to a biblical stand. But always remember that it is a flawed system because it is human.

Ok, this was supposed to be a short post. Guess it turned out differently, didn't it?

Look out world!

From our own modern cultural river, we could assume that the population would react to the announcement of an impending flood with skepticism. But in the ancient cultural river, that would not be the case. Ancient peoples would have readily accepted that the gods would wipe out everyone. They would have more likely clamored to get onboard rather than ridiculing Noah.“ Furthermore, textual evidence argues against Noah engaging in evangelistic activity. Noah was instructed precisely who would be brought on the ark, and space was made for eight passengers. No others are anticipated or given opportunity. 74

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

What to look for

In keeping with our understanding of Genesis 1–11 as a whole (and in particular our previous close study of Genesis 1–3; see proposition three), we expect two things in the presentation of the flood story in Genesis 6–8. First, we expect that the flood story is rooted in an actual event, and, second, we expect that that historical event would be described using figurative language, showing more interest in the theological significance of that event than in giving us the information we need to reconstruct the historical event itself.—Lost World of the Flood, 37

Monday, June 08, 2020

Read this article!

Yes, it's a bit long, but well worth the read: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/
Like Hoffmann, Czesław Miłosz, a Nobel Prize–winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attaché at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Miłosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Miłosz wrote, “he eats with relish, his movements take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.” Miłosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that it solves so many personal and professional dilemmas.

We all feel the urge to conform; it is the most normal of human desires. I was reminded of this recently when I visited Marianne Birthler in her light-filled apartment in Berlin. During the 1980s, Birthler was one of a very small number of active dissidents in East Germany; later, in reunified Germany, she spent more than a decade running the Stasi archive, the collection of former East German secret-police files. I asked her whether she could identify among her cohort a set of circumstances that had inclined some people to collaborate with the Stasi.

She was put off by the question. Collaboration wasn’t interesting, Birthler told me. Almost everyone was a collaborator; 99 percent of East Germans collaborated. If they weren’t working with the Stasi, then they were working with the party, or with the system more generally. Much more interesting—and far harder to explain—was the genuinely mysterious question of “why people went against the regime.” The puzzle is not why Markus Wolf remained in East Germany, in other words, but why Wolfgang Leonhard did not.

More rhetoric

Gods who are spiritual, creative, loyal to their worshippers, intent on punishing wickedness and rewarding goodness, insistent upon the establishment of justice and equity and upon the prevention of the victimization of the weak—these gods stand too close to YHWH to allow the unqualified choice for him and against them which the covenantal monotheism of ancient Israel requires. In contrast, a piece of inert matter shaped by human hands into a cult object poses no threat; it is only ridiculous. A prime objective of interreligious polemics is to make the competitor look exactly so—ridiculous.—Jon D. Levenson in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 172

Writing history

All history writing is rhetorically shaped. Authors cannot be exhaustive in their telling of the event, so they choose what is important or, better stated, what they think is important about the event. Thus, authors provide the perspective through which we hear or read about the event.—Lost World of the Flood, 21

Friday, June 05, 2020

The same—but different

We propose that on several counts they did not think about events the same way we do. In the ancient world they viewed reality with an eye to the metaphysical (spiritual) world, not just through the lens of empiricism. Consequently, the role of the eyewitness was not as highly valued. Seeing events through a lens that included the spiritual world, and not just the human world, meant that categories we might label mystical or mythical overlapped in indiscernible and inseparable ways with what we call the real world. Events in their view therefore consist of more than what we refer to as history. Yet, for all of that expanded view, that does not make the view of events any less real to them. They can have events as the referents to a narrative account, yet view the events in a different way than we do. The ancient world as a whole has different ways of knowing than we do.—Lost World of the Flood, 18

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The ancient context

We can begin to understand the claims of the text as an ancient document by first paying close attention to what the text says and doesn’t say. It is too easy to make intrusive assumptions based on our own culture, cognitive environment, traditions, or questions (i.e., our cultural river). It takes a degree of discipline as readers who are outsiders not to assume our modern perspectives and impose them on the text, but often we do not know we are doing it because our own context is so intrinsic to our thinking and the ancient world is an unknown. The best path to recognizing the distinctions between ancient and modern thinking is to begin paying attention to the ancient world. This is accomplished by immersion in the literature of the ancient world. This by no means supersedes Scripture, but it can be a tool for understanding Scripture. When we are trying to understand the opening chapters of Genesis, our immersion is not limited to the cosmology texts or flood accounts of the ancient world. The clues to cognitive environment can be pieced together from a wide variety of ancient literature. Obviously, not everyone can undertake this task, just as not everyone can take the necessary years to master Hebrew and Greek. Those who have the gifts, calling, and passion for the original languages and the opportunity to study, research, and write use their expertise for the benefit of those who do not. In the same way, those who have the gifts, calling, and passion for the study of the ancient world and the opportunity to research and write can use their expertise for the benefit of those who do not.—Lost World of the Flood, 12

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The locus of revelation

The biblical account has a real event in a real past as its referent, but the revelation of God is not the event, but the interpretation of the event.—Lost World of the Flood, 12

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The rule of faith

I would argue that the dynamic that seems clear enough in the regula dei, even if still somewhat fuzzy, was operative long before the second-century church fathers. This same feedback loop, dynamic “arc of understanding,” and reverberation between faith, practice, and authoritative locus (underwritten by the experience of faith and of its practice) is evident, for example, in 1–2 Maccabees, though of course not only there. Still, this example is useful, since it demonstrates that the kind of regula dei dynamic I am suggesting actually was operational in later stages of Second Temple Judaism.—Brent A. Strawn in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 155

A different paradigm

Yesterday we finished Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, so it's time for an Old Testament book again. We'll be reading through another one of the "Lost World" books, this time ;Lost World of the Flood, by John Walton and Tremper Longman. Follow along and decide if you think they are correct in their conclusions. Here's the first excerpt:
Here is how this paradigm works. First, there is a real world, but the Bible does not describe that world authoritatively. Its description is both culturally conditioned (solid sky, waters above, etc.) and rhetorically shaped. We cannot derive a scientific explanation of the world from the Bible, and it would be misguided to try to find scientific evidence for that description. Nevertheless, the Bible does interpret that world authoritatively (God’s work in it and relationship to it).

We can apply that same paradigm to the flood. There was a real, cataclysmic event, but the Bible does not describe that event authoritatively. Its description is culturally conditioned (the flood tradition we all know) and rhetorically shaped (universalistic cosmic proportions). We cannot derive a scientific explanation of the flood from the Bible, and it would be misguided to try to find scientific evidence for that description. Nevertheless, the Bible does interpret that event authoritatively (what God was doing; why it happened: judgment, recreation, nonorder as response to disorder, covenant, etc.).—Lost World of the Flood, 11 (emphasis original)

Monday, June 01, 2020


A crucial theological issue, quite apart from those important matters, is to somehow prevent an unhelpful and overly historicized “developmentalism.” “Development” is, let it be underscored once more, something of a magic word—not only because it is hard to determine cause and effect in sciences outside the natural ones (and even there, it is not always easy), but also because development often connotes a kind of upward trajectory, a myth of progress. In such instances “developmentalism” is at root little more than a kind of dressed-up dispensationalism, the ramifications and outcomes of which I wish to strenuously avoid, not only because they so often reek of supersessionism, but also because they are inherently and conceptually unable to mark an end to the development in question, which is to say, they are unable to justify why the current, always-superior moment in time will not be surpassed by the next development, stage, or “dispensation.” The whole thing smacks of arrogance, if nothing else, but also arbitrariness: one must simply draw a line in the sand somewhere when it comes to development, a line that, again, does not seem theoretically justifiable, even if in some cases it is theologically understandable.—Brent A. Strawn in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, 154

I'd really like to see this

Christian leadership has a distinctive mode. Such leaders abandon any perceived advantages in status they might have to get alongside different community members in just the way they get alongside people to befriend and to convert them in the first place. Christian leaders build bridges and span divides although they court vulnerability by doing so. This is not leadership as the pagan world viewed it, hence the difficulties some of the Corinthians had in recognizing their real leaders and copying them. But without this type of leader it is clear that the Christian city as Paul built it will struggle.—Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, 180

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from this book. We'll had back into the Old Testament with the next book, starting tomorrow.
</idle musing>