Friday, April 29, 2022

YHWH or Elohim? Why the switch?

Although we cannot be sure of the reason for the narrator’s switch from YHWH to hā’elōhîm in 22:1, 3, and 9, my hunch is that we are thereby put on notice that the issue at stake is whether Abraham’s God is just a generic deity, like the gods of the nations (hā’elōhîm), or the one known as YHWH, whose distinctive character Abraham needs to come to understand.” Indeed, while it is hā’elōhîmwho commands the sacrifice of Isaac, this sacrifice is stopped by a messenger or angel of YHWH (22:11), who speaks in YHWH’s name; and the name YHWH becomes connected to the place of Isaac’s rescue (22:14)—in both a place name (“YHWH sees/provides”) and a saying (“On the mount of YHWH it shall be seen/provided”). Perhaps this switch from hā’elōhîmto YHWH in the narrative is a signal to the reader that the instruction to sacrifice Abraham’s son could not be something that the deity known as YHWH really wants (or expects) Abraham to do. —Abraham's Silence, 128

Thursday, April 28, 2022


However we evaluate the details of the epilogue, it is clear that Job’s response to God at the end of the second speech involves a retraction of his earlier abased silence (along with his lawsuit against YHWH) because he has come to understand that God values this human dialogue partner, especially for his honest, abrasive, unsubdued speech. And Job is appropriately consoled or comforted over this. A careful reading of the book of Job thus suggests a fundamental coherence between God’s intent in the speeches from the whirlwind, on the one hand, and God’s explicit approval of Job in the prose epilogue, on the other.

The book of Job thus suggests that between the extremes of blessing God explicitly (which is, of course, appropriate speech and which Job does at the outset) and cursing God (which is clearly folly, and which Job therefore avoids), there is the viable option of honest, forthright challenge to God in prayer, which God (as Creator) both wants and expects of those made in the divine image—and this is right speech too.—Abraham's Silence, 128

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Expanding the inheritance

Significantly, only the daughters are named—Jemimah, Keziah, and Kerenhappuch (42:14), beautiful names that evoke the beauty of the daughters themselves, which the narrator tells us is beyond the ordinary (.42:15a). But more important than their names or beauty is the fact that Job gives his daughters an inheritance equal to his sons (42:15b), something highly unusual in the Hebrew Bible.

This goes beyond the case of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27:1-11. That text records an incident in which Zelophehad’s five daughters (who are named [27:2], like Job’s daughters) come to Moses after their father dies, requesting that his inheritance come to them, since there are no sons to carry on his name (27:1—4). Moses takes their request to YHWH, who not only agrees (27:5—7; also 36:2) but makes it a standing ordinance in Israel that the inheritance should go to daughters if there are no sons (27:8). But Job goes well beyond this, since he had sons, yet he gave his daughters an inheritance equal to theirs. Why might this be important? Has Job’s experience of being ostracized (at the bottom of the social ladder), along with his protest about the injustice he felt was being done to him and his recognition of YHWH’s concern for him even in his suffering, profoundly impacted his ethical sensibilities and spilled over into advocacy on behalf of those suffering the injustice of patriarchy?—Abraham's Silence, 127–28

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Job yells at God and…

Having critiqued the speech of Job’s friends, YHWH instructs them to go to Job (whom YHWH calls “my servant” four times in 42:7—8) and offer sacrifices, While Job prays for them: “I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to folly; for you have not spoken to me what is right, as my servant Job has done” (42:8; my translation). Here it is significant that Job not only follows the pattern of the psalmists who bring their complaints to God in honest prayer; he also functions like Moses, who intercedes for Israel, turning away God’s wrath (after the golden calf episode at Sinai and again after the episode with the spies at the border of the Promised Land).

And YHWH accepted Job’s prayer on behalf of his friends (42:9) and “restored the fortunes of Job,” giving him twice as much as he previously had (42:10), specified in the numbers of his livestock (42:12). When it comes to interpersonal relationships, Job both receives and gives. He receives comfort (and gifts) from his brothers and sisters, and from others who knew him (42:11), and he also receives new children—seven sons and three daughters were born to him (42:13).—Abraham's Silence, 126–27

Monday, April 25, 2022

Like a beast

Through a complex web of associations, ]ob’s fearless and courageous strength, by which he stood up to the verbal and emotional assaults of his friends, is evoked in the description of Behemoth and Leviathan. Like them, Job has been impervious to the assaults of his adversaries, and this is a good thing.

The core of the comparison is found in the description of the powerful mouth of each beast. Whereas [Job] 40:23 pictures Behemoth standing fearlessly facing the turbulent Jordan, as its waters rush against its open mouth, Job had previously (in 6:15-21) compared his friends’ attempts at consolation to a treacherous Wadi or torrent bed that at first seemed full of rushing water but that quickly dried up and disappeared in the face of Job’s sufferings and complaint. That Job was able to verbally stand against and outlast his companions (much as Behemoth is able to stand against the raging Jordan) belies his own sense of impotence just a few verses before (6:12—13). Indeed, Job’s own self—description in 6:12 (“ls my strength the strength of stones?/ or is my flesh bronze?”) is echoed in God’s description of Behemoth in 40:18 (“Its bones are tubes of bronze, / its limbs like bars of iron”). The implication is that Job, in standing up to his friends, is more powerful than he thinks.—Abraham's Silence, 112

Friday, April 22, 2022

The power of prayer

These prohibitions of prayer in response to Jeremiah’s continuing inter- cessions are not simply a statement of God’s firmness or wrath in the face of the people’s recalcitrance. Rather, they testify to the power of prophetic prayer, which appeals to YHWH’s predisposition to show mercy. And they are intertwined with expressions of God’s own grief and pathos over the coming judgment (as in 14:17–18).—Abraham's Silence, 59–60

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Speak it out!

The fact is that silence will not get us through the pain. Only speech addressed to God gets us through—speech that summons God into our suffering, which says to God, as the writer of Psalm 30 did, “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! / O LORD, be my helper!” (30:10). Or, even as the writer of Psalm 39 did in his impropriety, “Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again” (39:13a). It doesn’t have to be theologically correct speech. But it has to be gut—honest speech. 36

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Don't be afraid to yell!

Following the lead of the psalmists, we can take our anger, our doubt, and all the dismay and the terror of life, and we can put it at the feet of the Most High. We can bring our pain to the throne of God and say, “You’re supposed to be faithful, but I don’t see it! You’re supposed to be good, but I don’t experience it.”

And, contrary to appearances, that desperate, honest voicing of pain to God is not blasphemous, but is a holy, redemptive act. Prayers of lament are radical acts of faith and hope because they refuse, even in the midst of suffering, to give up on God.—Abraham's Silence, 35 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

the importance of being honest—especially with God!

Just as it is inappropriate to bad-mouth someone behind their back, yet important to directly confront them, letting them know how they have let you down (for the sake of the relationship), so there is an important distinction to be made between general claims about God’s character (say, in a theology book) and speech addressed directly to God in prayer. These are fundamentally different sorts of speech acts.—Abraham's Silence, 34 n. 27

<idle musing>
One of my favorite books in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is Habakkuk. He's so honest. He sees injustice and complains to God about it. God answers, and he complains again, and again. In the end, he praises God because he believes, but along the way—well, it's honest, rugged, and raw.

I like to tell people not to be afraid to yell at God. He's big enough to take it. And it's not like he doesn't already know what you are thinking! Be honest. You might find your faith strengthened instead of weakened.

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, April 18, 2022

Knowing just enough Greek to get into trouble

Saw this over the weekend on JSTOR. It highlights the dangers of knowing some, but not enough Greek. The error is fairly easy to do, in that Greek upper case R looks like a P, but overcorrection is always fun :)

Again, it emphasizes the necessity of proof reading front matter! Check your work!

Advance the fight (nonviolently!)

Christians may work with others outside the church who hold, at points, overlapping interests and aims. In the face of neoliberal capitalism, that should include work to limit the market’s reach and reembed it in and subordinate it to the public weal. It should also include a forthright recognition of class conflict and the fact that ncoliberalism radically favors the wealthy’s welfare at the expense of the less wealthy and the poor. This last, in a world where policy debate tries to ignore or deny class, will incite complaints that Christians are promoting class warfare. But as William Cavanaugh wryly observes, that is like accusing firemen of arson because they keep showing up at burning houses. The church can and should brave nonviolent conflict, not least in its concern for the neediest among us.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 205-6 (embedded quotation from Cavanaugh, Field Hospital, 28)

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from the book. I hope you've enjoyed the journey and learned a thing or two. I know it helped me put together pieces of stuff I had been noticing for a long time. To see in "named" was extremely helpful, just as Clapp said it would. Once something is named, it is harder for it to stay hidden.

I may post an excursus on one point in the book; we'll see. Meanwhile, the next book is J. Richard Middleton, Abraham's Silence. I'm not sure how much I'll post from it, as it seems to be one of those books where excerpting it destroys the argument because of how it is built up. But, we'll get at least a week or three out of it.
</idle musing>

Friday, April 15, 2022

Compelling, but not coercive

Third, and relatedly, beauty is compelling but not coercive. God, by Christian accounting, does not overwhelm us and crush us with imperatives. God is interested in our genuine love; God woos but does not rape. God stoops to the human level and accommodates human finitude and fallibility, culminating in the cross where God hangs broken and dying to take on human sin and defeat death. In these senses, God “evangelizes” not through implacable propositions, hemming us in with logical arguments, but through participating in our very earthly life and offering costly love. And there is something unsurpassably beautiful about this. Especially in a post-Constantinian, post-Christian world, we can no longer—to our own as well as to others’ benefit—attempt to coerce faith. We can, however, live it in a way that we hope will be beautiful and so draw others to it. The early church, itself literally unable to coerce participation, recognized this as appropriate to the very ways and character of God.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 201

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The importance of proofreading front matter

The most overlooked part of a book while proofreading is the front matter. I was discussing that the other day with Gary Rendsburg, and he forwarded this gem to me.
Yep, 1804! He added the [1904] to illustrate the actual date of publication. Anyone who is familiar with Akkadian knows 1804 is impossible; Akkadian wasn't even deciphered until the second half of the 1800s. Nippur itself wasn't seriously excavated until 1889 (Layard briefly excavated around 1850).

Moral of the story: Check the front matter—twice!

Table of Contents for copyediting stuff.

Hero Worship

Have done, then, with hero-worship and admiration first and foremost of the famous. Look instead to a church or churches you know well and to everyday examples of faithfulness there. Think of the couple sixty years married, still delighting in one another and God. Think of the neighborhood church that stood up against injustice to immigrants. Think of your own church’s quiet victories of endurance in the face of setbacks and opposition. The point is not, again, to idolize or stop our vision on these exemplars, which all have clay feet. It is to treat them as icons we look through to see and focus on Jesus. It is Jesus alone who lived without sinning. It is Jesus alone who never fails. It is Jesus alone through whom all creation was made and redeemed.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 199

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Seen in my wanderings

Saw this last week in a store. If I didn't already have too many mugs, I would have bought it. It pegs me. I suspect it pegs a lot of you also.

Word for the century

The Christian response to failure is repentance and the relinquishment of hero-worship.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 198

<idle musing>
Let those who have ears to hear, hear!
</idle musing>

Monday, April 11, 2022

Going back to go forward

In three regards, then—non-Constantinianism, hyperpluralism, and Epicureanism—the world today is rather like, or parallel to, the world of the church before the fifth century. We can accordingly expect both the Bible and early Christian traditions to have renewed, keen, and thoroughgoing resonances for our time and place.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 196

Friday, April 08, 2022

Ultimate control?

Lastly, it [the promise of the resurrection] grants us courage in the face of slavery to the fear of death, which otherwise can lead us to readily succumb to political and economic regimes that may, to keep us in line, wield their ultimate threat: death. Psychologists have found that people’s attitudes are most friendly to political authoritarianism when they are reminded of the reality of death. Christians are those people who, if true to their convictions and the victory of God in Jesus Christ, should be most impervious to authoritarianism. This was the case with Paul in light of his apocalyptic gospel. Paul saw the law as “ultimately in the service of Death. As Tedjennings explains, "Law and death are inextricably bound together. Death is the 'or else' of law, without which law does not have the force of law." Hence, the law is described in Rom 8:2 as the "Law of Sin and Death" (and see 1 Cor 15:55–56). The law requires Death, the threat of Death, or various lesser deaths (imprisonment, impoverishment, enslavement) in order to operate. Because it is fundamentally dependent upon Death (and thereby operates in the service of Death), the law contributes to the spread of Sin.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 182–83

<idle musing>
And that's why I find it so troubling that so many "Christians" live in such fear. If you really believe that God in Christ has conquered, not just death, but everything (see Rom 8), then how can you live in fear? How can you embrace a strongman to protect you when you are already "hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3)?

Just wondering…
</idle musing>

Thursday, April 07, 2022


But did they thereby [through baptism] altogether eliminate the fear of death? I doubt it. What they may have learned was an increased courage in the face of death. Note that courage is not the absence of fear but its mastery. Failing to experience fear where fear is appropriate is not the Virtue of courage; it is the vice of foolhardiness. What matters, or what we might most fittingly aim for, is not the total absence of feelings of fear in the face of death but again a sort of bifocal vision, on the one hand seeing death in all its fearsome power, and on the other hand also seeing it overcome in Christ’s cross and resurrection. We might not erase all fearful emotions, yet we might master the fears and proceed in the face of death. We might no longer be frozen or take flight in death’s shadow.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 177

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Silent scream

At the behest of an unrestrained market, we have in just over two centuries depleted goods it took millions of years for nature to accrue. Future generations may look back on us and, mashing up the verb squander and the noun scoundrel, call us something like “squandrels.” In any event, the damage already done by climate change is considerable. Beyond the overwhelming science, we can see with our own eyes the melting ice caps or the ice fishers unable to venture onto Lake Michigan in the winters of 2019 and 2020. Creation is speaking, even shouting now. How much more blessed we will be—cocreatures and coworshippers all, men and women, rocks and trees, dogs and bees—if humans relearn how to hear creation’s voice, not just at a scream, but at a whisper.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age,169–70

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

In cooperation with, not in competition with

Accordingly, in the face of neoliberal capitalism, which envisions creation only as exploitable nature, an apocalyptic perspective calls the church and the world to exercise not merely or primarily power over creation but power with creation. We may—we must—long and work for an economics that responds to creation gently and attentively. And as the climate crisis demonstrates, we must work for a sustainable economics, not one that assumes and promotes infinite growth in a finite world. Such an economics “does not idolize or fetishize nature, but it affirms that salvation is cosmic in scope, and it enacts a participation in Christ in which the sacramentality of all nature is affirmed in proclaiming God’s glory. The question is not so much whether we are to evangelize nature as whether we will allow ourselves to evangelize with nature and to be evangelized by nature”—which already, by biblical testimony, is constantly and copiously praising God.

All told, though we need not deny the place of the market, we must recognize that it does have a place—not as the all-encompassing and all-defining framework of being but as within, limited, and constrained by a surrounding and suffusing social and ecological matrix. Within that matrix, it should serve the rightful and prospering ends of society and all of creation. Its own survival depends on this.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 168-69 (embedded quotation from Stone, Evangelism after Christendom, 220)

<idle musing>
I would add, our survival depends on it as well! Relatedly, see this video of Sandra Richter on what the Old Testament says about creation care (compliments of Jim Eisenbraun).
</idle musing>

Monday, April 04, 2022

Exploitation vs. worship

Human solidarity with all of creation is twofold. First, humans are created by God with all other creatures. Second, humans, like the entirety of creation, are created toward the end of worshipping and praising God. We are creatures alongside other creatures. And those creatures, like us, find their fulfillment in the worship of the God of Israel and Jesus Christ. When we exploit creation, we abuse fellow creatures and coworshippers.

An apocalyptic frame disallows seeing the earth as a wreck from which some human individuals are rescued. Instead, Christ’s apocalyptic work is about the re-creation of the cosmos, human and nonhuman, toward the end that it be in proper relationship with God and its myriad cocreatures and coworshippers. Nor do we correctly understand apocalypse if we imagine creation—except for some lucky humans—being destroyed, consumed in fire. The apocalyptic fire is a purifying and transforming fire, not one of simple destruction. As J. Christiaan Beker puts it, “The apostle [Paul] is not charged with simply pronouncing the end of the world to the world. Rather that charge must be executed in the context of enlarging in this world the domain of God’s coming world because God’s coming world envisages the transformation of the world’s present structures and not simply their dissolution.”— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 167–68 (embedded quotation is from Long, Augustinian and Ecclesial, 155, 249–50, emphasis original)