Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Roller Coaster of Trusting God

I want to tie my reflection from this weeks hangout into this weeks blog post. We’re going to look at trust and which ancestral stories relate to trust of divine promises and how that trust looks in these stories and changes over time. 

As it was the focus of the hangout reflection we will begin with Abram and Sarai. At the very beginning of their story together Abram is called by God to leave his homeland and settle in Canaan. Abram obeys God’s call, putting his trust that they will survive. However, due to a famine they end up traveling down to Egypt where Abram tells everybody that Sarai is his sister and not his wife. Here, Abram, who had initially trusted God, stops believing that God will take care of him. He believes that the Egyptians will kill him to marry his wife, so he lies to them and they marry her anyway. Once they learn what he did they kick Abram and Sarai out of Egypt for what they did in calling each other siblings so that in the end his life wasn’t in jeopardy at all. (Gen. 12) This movement from trust in God’s promises to disbelief will be continued throughout their story.

Later, God makes a covenant with Abram to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Gen. 15) Immediately after God makes this covenant Sarai tells Abram to sleep with Hagar so that she may have a child for him since Sarai was barren. (Gen 16) This is often attributed to her lack of faith in God’s promise but God’s covenant did not say that Abram would have children with Sarai, just that his descendants would be numerous. With this considered it is possible that it is because of Sarai’s faith in God that she tries to help God’s plan along by having Hagar bear Abram’s children. 

Once God renames Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah three men appear and tell Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son. Unlike last time when Sarai was willing to believe and do what she thought she should to help this take place, this time, Sarah laughs in disbelief. (Gen. 18)

The next story with Abraham and Sarah involves them traveling to Gerar where Abraham’s faith fails once again. Despite Sarah’s last failure of trusting in God Abraham’s faith is no better. The fact that Sarah has not yet had a child means that Abraham will remain safe until that time unless God has lied. Yet, while in Gerar, Abraham once again tells people that Sarah is his sister because he’s worried once again that people will kill him for her. (Gen 20) His lack of trust in God is almost certainly at the lowest it will ever be. In the last two stories both Abraham and Sarah have failed to trust God’s word and yet, after Abraham learns of his failing, God fulfills the promise to them and Sarah gives birth to Isaac. (Gen 21:1-7)

Finally, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham, having so recently in the story failed to trust in God’s promise of having descendants, takes his son, in whom that promise was borne out, and prepares to sacrifice him. (Gen 22:1-19) Abraham’s faith reaches a level which it had never been at before. He fully trusts in God despite that it looks like God is going back on God’s promise. This is the highest point of Abraham’s faith. The back and forth between trusting in God and lacking faith ends with Abraham showing that he trusts God fully, so close in the narrative after he failed so horribly. You can see in this story how the people Israel will trust in God. They will be like Abraham and their faith will not remain strong and steadfast. It will rise and fall over time but God’s faithfulness to them will not fail just as it did not fail for Abraham. 

This is a pattern we see with the ancestors of Israel. Isaac mirrors his father’s faith. When he goes down to Gerar, just like Abraham did, he, just like Abraham, tells them that his wife, Rebekah, is his sister. As Abraham’s failing in Gerar was his lowest point, Isaac’s failing is even worse. Isaac fails immediately after God reinforces the covenant to Isaac that was made with Abraham. Isaac’s story is fairly short, and mostly revolves around his children, Esau and Jacob, but after Isaac leaves Gerar he is successful and is once approached by the king, his advisor, and the commander of the army. Instead of fearing for his life, Isaac greets them, hears them out, and has a feast prepared for them. (Gen 26) It’s not a revolutionary of a change as Abraham, but his faith, in the end, returned. 

The ancestral stories reflect this struggle with trusting God’s promise despite the overwhelming evidence that God is faithful. If the ancestors struggle as much as they do, then surely the people Israel will struggle in their faith. In fact, when Jacob is renamed Israel it is for this very purpose. They are to be the people who struggle with God. However, God’s faithfulness endures through their doubts and failings and their faith and trust always returns in the end.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Lack of Faith or Buying into the Vision: Google Hangout Reflection

(Warning: there’s a discussion about sexual violence in Genesis in this blog)

In our Google Hangout for this week Dr. Lester and Dr. Koenig continued our discussion about the Pentateuch. What I found particularly interesting was their discussion of the matriarchs and other women in the Pentateuch and how they are classically treated compared to the men. 

The question was raised whether Sarai truly displays a lack of faith when she has Abram sleep with Hagar so that she may have a child with him. (Gen. 16) Could it be that Sarai knew of the promise God had just made with Abram and, knowing herself to be barren, did what she had to so that God’s promise would be fulfilled? This is a possibility, although when she then gets upset and drives Hagar into the wilderness we see something else. I’m not willing to say that she was or wasn’t trying to be an active participant in God’s plan because of that though. People are complicated beings and letting your husband sleep with another woman would certainly not have been incredibly easy.

Sarai/Sarah’s story is countered with the two occasions when Abram/Abraham passes her off as his sister and not as his wife. These stories take place both before and after Sarai sends Abram to sleep with Hagar. Just as Sarai had her spouse sleep with somebody else Abram’s declaration of Sarai as his sister is done knowing that she will be taken by other men and be forced to sleep with them (although the second time the man who takes her, Abimelech, doesn’t sleep with her). 

Let’s be clear, Sarai does offer her slave to Abram, and even if she does do it out of a lack of faith, it is Abram who then rapes Hagar. But it is Abram/Abraham who concocts plan to call Sarai /Sarah his sister so that other men will take her and rape her. The first time Sarai is taken by Pharaoh who sleeps with her and as mentioned the second time Abimelech takes her but doesn’t sleep with her.(Gen. 12:10-20, Gen. 20) In both occasions it is either mentioned or implied that Abram/Abraham does this because he’s afraid people would kill him out of jealousy if they knew Sarai/Sarah was his wife so he protects himself and allows violence to come against her. Yet it is Sarai who is treated as not having faith, not Abram/Abraham who expects God would not keep him safe.

It’s worth mentioning that Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, seems to have learned this trick from his father. (Gen. 26:1-11) When God sends Isaac to live in Gerar he tells everybody that his wife is his sister because he has the same fears Abraham did. When the king finds out he’s upset, but luckily nobody had taken Isaac’s wife yet. Funnily enough, the king in question is Abimelech who I imagine is tired of Abraham and his son’s ridiculous fear and the risk it puts them all in. In modern times I image he’d say something along the lines of “what is this? I can’t even…” Putting up with the line of Abraham was not the easiest thing to do.

To finish, I’d like to leave you with a quote from the hangout. While discussing the possibility to see the actions of women in the Old Testament in a new light Dr. Lester said, “women act in the ways that are available to them and they are not the same ways that are available to men. And so what often looks kind of like sneaky, deceptive, conniving behavior, if you look at… the constricted and warped shape of the social space in which women live… their actions, which look like corkscrews, are a straight line in the space in which they live.” We shouldn’t read the Old Testament as if women were allowed to take the same actions as men. We should read their stories as if they have to act and behave differently if they want to achieve their goals.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Divine Council

This week we get to look at the divine council. I personally love the image of the divine council since it forces us to seriously consider monotheism and the ancient Israelites beliefs about YHWH and other gods. 

There are multiple references to the divine council throughout the Hebrew Bible. These explicit references to either the “divine council” or the “sons of God” appear in Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, Job, the Psalms, and Isaiah. This concept isn’t limited to one author or redactor of the Bible. It is a long held tradition which deserves to be examined. 

Many of these references to the divine council are ambiguous about what the nature of the beings on the council. The quick, monotheistic interpretation, is that they are the angels in heaven. However, Psalm 82:6 says, “I say, ‘you are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;” and Deuteronomy 32:8-9 speaks of God dividing up the nations according to the number of the gods. With two explicit examples naming these beings as gods it is not so easy to just call them angels. Though this interpretation is not impossible, but it deserves a bit more thought than a quick write off. Another interesting possibility is the satan (or the accuser) being a member of the divine council. Although the two examples in Job where the satan is present with God and the council does seem to also single the satan out as being separate from the council. While still being in the heavenly realm, the satan may not be on the divine council which leaves open the possibility that being a heavenly being doesn’t mean automatic inclusion in the council.

Whether made up of angels, gods, or both, the divine council has very specific roles. In relation to that text from Deuteronomy, the divine council keeps watch over the world. Each member has a specific people they are assigned to. The divine council also does not remain gathered together at all times. The passages from Job speak about the council coming together at specific times. This would be like what you would see in a royal court, where the advisors are out doing their jobs and report back to the king on how things are going from time to time. The This imagery of the royal court is useful for imagining the divine council. There are also examples throughout the Hebrew Bible where God asks a question of the council and a member of the council (or in one case, Isaiah) gives God answers to that question. In 1 Kings 22:20-22 God asks a question and many of the council members answer until one finally gives an answer that God chooses. They advise God on what God should do based on what God wants help on. 

This is all well and good, and at the end of this post I will put the nine examples of the divine council that were given in the prompting for this weeks blog if you want to read them for yourself. However, this post is about more than those nine references to the divine council. There are three times in the book of Genesis where God says “we” or “us” instead of “I”. Those examples are Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7. For this exercise we will consider what changes in our interpretation of these three verses if we read them as an address to the divine council as is suggested to be the most likely explanation by Bandstra.

The first example from 1:26 says, “ the God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;”” Bandstra suggests that the creation of humanity is so important that God calls together the divine council and asks for their approval (43). This also can have some very interesting effects on our interpretation of what this passage is saying. Is this God making humanity in the image of YHWH, or in the image of the divine council? Certainly, since YHWH is the one saying these words YHWH is included in this image. But is humanity made in the image that is shared between YHWH and the rest of the council or just YHWH? If God’s plan is to make us like the divine council then it makes sense to consult with them first. After all, if they are created by God earlier and then later on God wants to create beings who are similar to them it is only fair and wise of God to bring it before them first. 

The second example from 3:22 says, “Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil;”” This adds an interesting wrinkle to the previous example. If we are made in the image of God and share that with the divine council, but are made not knowing of good and evil like the divine council, then what is it the image that we share with the council? With these two examples put together we are not made equal to the divine council as we are to lack knowledge that they hold. Perhaps it is in the rest of 1:26 which speaks of the dominion given to humanity over the earth. Just as the divine council shares in dominion, so too does humanity. However, humanity oversteps the bounds of this shared dominion and attempts to become even more like the divine council.

The last example is 11:7 says, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” This comes from the story of the tower of Babel. Once again humanity is trying to become like the divine council by building a tower that reaches into heavens giving humanity the ability to directly access the council itself. So God calls on the council to help disburse and confuse the people so that humanity will not overstep its bounds once again.

Each of these three stories is related to one another. First, God and the council work together to create humanity in the likeness shared between God and the council. Then, God and the council work together to punish humanity for seeking to become even more like the council and God. Finally, they work together a third time to stop humanity from overstepping their bounds again in their quest to become even more like God and the divine council. Unlike the divine council which God consults and works with in creating humanity, humanity is shown to not be content with the role assigned to them and instead seeks to become more the God and the divine council.  

What are your thoughts about the divine council and the we/us statements in Genesis?

Here are the nine scriptures referencing the divine council:
Deuteronomy 32:8-9
1 Kings 22:19-22
Job 1:6
Job 2:1
Job 38:7
Psalm 29:1-2
Psalm 82
Psalm 89:6-7

Isaiah 6:8

Mythological Creatures

In this weeks hangout our group of scholars discussed the numerous interesting things related to the Pentateuch. One of the more fascinating things they talked about was material found inside the Old Testament that is frankly a little weird. Not all of this comes out of the Pentateuch but it is certainly worth looking at. These stories aren’t just weird to us today either, brought up in the discussion are 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees which are extra-canonical books that deal with, in part, these stories found within the canon. 

The first these stories that is brought up is from Genesis 6:1-4 in which “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown” (Gen. 6:4). Next, we leave the Pentateuch and head over to Daniel 4:13-23 in which celestial beings known as “the watchers” are referenced. 

Both of these stories hint at the idea of a divine council which is explicitly named in numerous other places in the Old Testament. The divine council is the court of the gods in which, in the Hebrew tradition, YHWH sits at the head of. These gods can be interpreted as not truly being gods, but angels, but that is something to wrestle with. Of course the first story also deals with these members of the divine council sleeping with humans and having children who are neither gods nor human called the Nephilim. Odds are, this isn’t going to be preached about on Sunday morning. 

Personally I am fascinated by these brief mentions of the Nephilim and the watchers, along with any mention of the cherubim or the seraphim in the scriptures. These figures are usually interpreted as being different types of angels (although the Nephilim don’t really fit into this category). But I think it’s amazing and should be embraced that our scriptures have references to things similar to other ancient traditions. In other traditions we would call them mythological creatures like the Titans in Greek mythology. We see these repeatedly in scripture from all the above mentioned creatures to leviathan and Rahab (not the person), as well as the numerous mentions of dragons that come up in scripture. I won’t tell anybody how to interpret these different creatures. But I find them fascinating and wish we could talk about them more.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hangout on Ice Cream

In this weeks hangout Dr. Lester pushed back against a fairly commonly held idea that the God of the Old Testament was violent and lacked grace, while the God of the New Testament is full of grace and peaceful (or as a God who is a big meanie and a God who takes people out for ice cream). Part of this discussion had to deal with intentionally reading the grace found in the Old Testament (like the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt before the Law was given) and acknowledging the images of a Christ standing in the blood of his adversaries found in the New Testament Book of Revelation. 

However, there is an obvious reason why this thought is so prevalent. The violence in the Old Testament is plentiful and real and in contrast to the prophetic violence found in Revelation. Perhaps it is cynical of me, but with all texts one must be cautious of author biases. When Israel conquers a people and kills everybody in the city and burns it all is this really God’s command or is this the people’s understanding of what God wants? Basically, do the people read God into their own actions when things work out in their favor, and read reasons for God’s punishment into their failures? 

Perhaps this is a mixed bag of answers. From literary techniques to make certain points long after events actually happened, to God’s actual ordaining of events and actions. No matter what you believe, we must struggle with both Testaments and ask hard questions about why the authors wrote what they did. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Difficult stories

This week we're looking at a story that is not one you will likely hear preached on Sunday morning. It feels odd to post about this on Easter Sunday. Before we begin I must give a trigger warning. Be aware that this story contains acts of sexual violence and brutality.

This story takes place from Judges 19:1-21:25. It describes a story of a levite and his nameless concubine who are on a journey home from her father's house. Because of her father's hospitality they leave late and are unable to make it home before nightfall. The levite decides to press on until they reach the city of Gibeah where nobody in the town will take them in for the night. A man who is staying in the town comes and invites them to stay the night at his residence once again showing hospitality. However, once they are inside the men of the city come an demand the levite come out so that he may be raped. The man sheltering the pair refused and instead offered the concubine as well as his own daughter for rape instead. Ultimately, only the concubine is mentioned as being forced outside where she is raped throughout the night. In the morning she is found by the levite who tells her to get up because they are leaving, but she is dead so he puts her on a donkey, takes her home, and dismembers her and sends the parts of her body around Israel.

This is only the set up to the story. The rest of the story revolves around all of Israel coming together in response to this vicious act of rape. All, except for the tribe of Benjamin that is for it was in a city of Benjamin that the rape occurred. The rest of Israel goes to war against Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin comes out to defend it. After multiple days in which Benjamin has been winning the rest of Israel finally traps the Benjamin army and defeats them. From there Israel slaughters the remaining Benjaminites except for 600 men who escape into the wilderness. Israel, not willing to let the tribe of Benjamin die off, try to gain wives for these 600 men in the wilderness but they won't allow any of their daughters to marry them do to an oath they gave. So they found a city that did not come out in support of the war and they abducted women from that city so that they could force them to marry the remaining Benjaminites except they are either unable to get enough women this way. So Israel has the Benjaminites lay in wait for a festival to YHWH in which women from another city will leave the safety of the city at which point the Benjaminites abduct those women and force them into marriage so that the tribe does not die off.

This story is the final story contained within the book of Judges and it ends with the rather ominous sounding phrase "In those days there was no king in Israel, all the people did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25). This story leads right into the story of how Israel got a king in 1 Samuel. While Samuel warns the people against having a king the book of Judges seems to reinforce the absolute need for a king because atrocities are being committed by the people when they rule themselves. This story has many atrocities, from the rape, to the slaughter of the Benjaminites, to the abduction of the women to force them into marriage which brings us right back to rape. This story is a justification for the need of a king and to remind Israel of how they can easily fall into acting in such a way.

Today, virtually every element of this story is offensive to us. The way the woman is treated by the levite, the way the man offers up his daughter and the woman to the men of Gibeah, and the desire to rape and the actual rape and murder of the woman. The genocide of the Benjaminites and the multiple abductions of women to force into marriage. All of this is offensive today and is a real point of struggle to read about.

For the ancient Israelites, these elements are more of a mixed bag. The desire of the men in Gibeah to rape the Levite and the subsequent offering of the women to the men alludes to the earlier story of Lot where the men of Sodom wish to rape the two strangers he is housing while Lot offers his daughters to them instead. Unlike in this earlier story where the strangers end up being angels who protect the family from the town, here no such protection is found. This seems to indicate just how far everybody in Israel has fallen from righteousness. Lot was considered righteous and he is spared and protected for that. The people of Israel have fallen so far that there is no protection anymore. In fact they are the ones committing these acts. At no point in the story does Israel act justly. Even in the war against those that raped and murdered the other Israelites are defeated time and again despite consulting God first about what they should do. Even when compared to the Benjaminites the other Israelites are not considered righteous and given easy victory.

The leadership of this pre-monarchical seems incredibly democratic with the people (men) in masse deciding what to do against the tribe of Benjamin and how to handle obtaining wives for the remaining Benjaminites. Instead of one person taking responsibility for the actions of all there is more of a mob rule mentality where the decisions are not carefully thought through and considered. Ultimately, I see no doubt that this text is the perfect ending for the book of Judges in that justifies so thoroughly why a king was needed over Israel despite Samuel's insistence that a king would not be good.

This is a text for us to struggle with today and it is important to read it as an awful story that was used as a justification for later action. None of the actions found within it are to be considered good. Instead, we should see that the ancient Israelites would have seen just how far they had fallen in this story and used that to support a kingship over themselves as a way of saving them from their own brokenness. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hangout Reflection: Revising History

This week the hangout centered pretty heavily on the Deteronomistic revision of history. 

Like Dr. Lester, I too am far more comfortable with a revisionist history being presented in the Bible than I am with modern attempts at revisionist history. At least this remains true when the modern revisers are the ones who already hold power. I am withholding examples to avoid turning this into a political blog. 

That being said, Dr. Junior brought up a great example of modern day revision of history, particularly around the Bible of this discussion. Dr. Junior mentioned the feminist movement and critique of scripture as being a revisionist movement. Now, unlike the Deteronomist writer, the feminist movement hasn’t altered or added to the scriptures that we have. What they have done, however, is change what questions we ask about scripture and from what perspective we read scripture from. This is, at its core, very similar to what the Deteronomist does. 

The Deteronomist changes history for a variety of reasons. Dr. Lester talked about how the Deteronomist alters history to provide a perfect example for how Israel should act in contrast to how they actually end up acting. Similarly, Dr. Junior talked about how feminists pushed for us to look at women in scripture as being independently important characters and not just as the wife of some patriarch. Both of these attempt to say something about the current situation that they live in and both see that current situation as being fundamentally flawed. The end action of the Deteronomist and the feminist may be different, but ultimately they both see something wrong in their respective present day that needs to change so they look back at history and use that history to make a case for that change.

So I guess Dr. Junior made me realize that I can be comfortable with modern day revisions to history. So long as those revisions are not to support the status quo, but instead show what’s wrong with the status quo.

Redaction and Morality

This week begins our examination of the former prophets of Israel. For this first make I will be examining five passages from this section of the Tanak and discovering what they have to say about God’s promises, history, and the point of their inclusion in the scripture.

Deuteronomy 28

The focus of Deuteronomy 28 is around persuading the people to remain obedient to their covenant with God. The first 14 verses speak to all the positive things that come from being obedient to God. The remaining 54 verses speak to all the horrible things that will happen if the covenant with God is broken. As one might suspect, for every positive thing that would happen by following God, there is an opposite, negative thing for going against God. It should also be clear, since there is significantly more space given to the negative consequences, that there are negative consequences that have no positive opposite. The negative isn’t just the opposite of the positive. It is the opposite of the positive and so much worse then even that. 

In this text God and humanity share in power and responsibility. God remains faithful to the covenant but the people have to remain faithful as well. It is only when the people break the covenant that God’s end of the covenant is broken. Not because God is unfaithful, but because the covenant is ended by Israel. This passage does not provide any context for return to the covenantal relationship with God once it has been broken. Instead, the chapter ends with the note that the people will be so desperate, they will try to sell themselves into slavery but nobody will even take them as slaves. In this the text is fairly incoherent with the rest of the scripture. Some of the latter prophets will not see any hope for the people to avoid punishment, but there would be no point if there was only punishment with no hope of return to right relationship. 

Joshua 23

Just as with the chapter from Deuteronomy this text speaks to what will happen if the people break their covenant with God. Joshua spends a lot less time (only a few verses) and goes into a lot less detail onto the punishment for disobeying God. Instead much of this chapter is given over to the good things God has already done for the people as a sign for why they should continue following their covenant. Again, God has remained faithful and will continue to do so if the people also uphold their end of the bargain. 

This text might also come from the exilic period. However, unlike the last text this one’s softer approach to the issue of punishment might mean it is a call for repentance. The Wesley Study Bible notes that this passage is most likely written in response to the Babylonian campaign against Judah, and not about Assyria. This is because verse 12 mentions intermarriage between the people and other nations which is the sin listed in Ezra 9 as the reason for the exile. 

1 Samuel 12

This text from Samuel begins like the above texts, particularly Joshua, by looking at what God has already done for Israel. Unlike the others, this includes not just the positive things, but the negative things as well which were caused by past disobedience. However, after each of these negative outcomes the people came back to God who once again delivered them. Samuel’s focus is on the sin of the people for asking for a king to rule over them. The people accept this as a sin and repent of it. Though they will still have a king, if they begin to sin again Samuel tells them they and their king will be swept away. Here we really get to see God’s faithfulness come through. God never forsakes Israel forever, but forgives them once they repent after they are punished. As long as Israel is willing to come back to the covenant, the covenant is not truly gone. 

2 Kings 17:5-18

In this text we finally get to the actual story of Samaria being conquered by Assyria. The details about the conquest are very limited. Most of the text is used to explain why it is that Samaria was defeated and taken into captivity in the first place. According to the text, Samaria sinned against God by worshiping other gods. The author is also very careful to explain that Samaria had plenty of warnings to stop from prophets and seers. However the people did not listen and after a long while God’s anger was so great that God sent Assyria to take the people away. The people in Samaria, as told through the author’s point of view, clearly were unwilling to do what was right with God and remained unfaithful to both God and the covenant. A theological justification stating such was necessary for the author of the text since, if Israel had been faithful, it should have been impossible for Assyria to prevail against them. However, since Samaria was conquered a justification needed to be given and so we get the condemnation of forms of YHWH worship that were considered completely acceptable before worship was centralized in Jerusalem (see verses 9-13 for examples of these formerly acceptable practices).

2 Chronicles 36:11-21

The last text we will look at describes the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon. Unlike the Assyrian conquest of Samaria, a lot more detail is given to the actual activity of conquest in this section. This is likely due to both texts being written by authors who were likely from Judah and therefore not present for the fall of Samaria, but had at least some connection to the fall of Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles also specifically mentions Jeremiah’s prophecy as being fulfilled. The reasoning given in this text for the fall of Jerusalem primarily centers on King Zedekiah failing to heed Jeremiah and rebelling against Babylon. However, the text also mentions that the people and priests were also unfaithful, going so far as to pollute the temple of God. Here we might see the fulfillment of the text from 1 Samuel. The people and their King have sinned against God and they are either killed or taken away to exile. 

Wrapping Up

Most, if not all, of these texts are likely written by an exilic redactor or editor. Whether the redactor is writing about the Assyrian takeover of Samaria or the Babylonian takeover of Jerusalem is not necessarily clear in every passage. In the Deuteronomy text, verses 64-65, for example, speak to the people being taken away to a foreign land as punishment. No matter which of the situations it is speaking to, the redactor is trying provide an explanation for why Assyria or Babylon were able to conquer the people and take them away. Ultimately, the judgment is that the people were not faithful to God. This theme runs throughout each of these texts. Certainly this worldview still exists today (look at people claim God’s judgment in natural disasters), but it is also a minority view among people today. Also, while it is used to speak to natural disasters, it is not used to talk about invading armies, at least not when the invading armies don’t believe in the same God we believe in. 

Finally, some of the texts seem to be lacking in what we would consider moral today. The Deuteronomy text talks about famine and drought hitting the people so hard that they have to resort to eating their children (see verses 53-57). Certainly, this text seems to go a bit too extreme on the proscribed punishments. The Joshua text isn’t as gruesome, but it still revolves around the sin of intermarriage being the reason for death and exile. The 2 Kings text seems to be a redactor ascribing formerly acceptable worship as sin because the people didn’t embrace religious reformation. Finally, 2 Chronicles text deals with the slaughter and enslavement of the people as punishment which lasted for 70 years. These all seem to be excessive to us in modern society, but each is trying to explain why punishment had to happen. This is how I think we can deal with these excessive punishments. We don’t have to agree with the redactors that they are God ordained. Instead we can see them as the result of a people trying to understand how these things could happen if God was on their side. They ultimately decide that God wasn’t on their side for these horrible periods in their history. Not because God was unfaithful to them, but because they were unfaithful to God.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Letter on the Messiah

Howdy Partner!

I write to you this week to explain the perspective of messianic figures in the Hebrew Bible with a specific focus on Second Isaiah. Speaking of Second Isaiah, scholars lean towards reading the book of Isaiah as having three distinct authors writing at three different times. Second Isaiah is found in Isaiah 40-55. According to Bandstra and Lester, Second Isaiah is written around 546-538 BCE. Others, like Fried, date Second Isaiah to sometime after 539 BCE. Fried also attributes Isaiah 40-65 as Second Isaiah, rather than stopping at 55. Clearly, scholarship isn’t completely unanimous. The dating of this author might seem close enough to not really matter, but there are some implications based on how it is dated. If Fried is right then Second Isaiah is written after Cyrus of Persia has defeated the Babylonians and freed the Judeans from captivity then the words of hope written in Second Isaiah are there to match what has happened in history. If it is written before Cyrus defeats Babylon then Second Isaiah’s words are truly hopeful and awaiting the Persian’s to come set Israel free. 

Whether written before or after the fact, Second Isaiah makes a bold claim about Cyrus of Persia saying, “Thus says YHWH to his anointed, to Cyrus” (Is. 45:1). The one who is anointed by YHWH is the messianic figure (Messiah literally means “anointed one”). While the Hebrew Bible names many different anointed ones throughout the history of Israel, Fried points out that Cyrus is the only who is given the title of YHWH’s anointed. Cyrus is also the only messiah in the Bible who is a gentile. Thus, this is a break in the Jerusalemite tradition which believed that the title of messiah could only be given to somebody in the Davidic lineage (Bandtsra, 531-532). 

It’s not hard to see why Second Isaiah elevates Cyrus to this title of messiah. Counter to the Babylonian Empire, which had taken the Judeans into exile, Cyrus had a policy of allowing conquered peoples to remain in their lands and maintain their customs. Therefore, it is with Cyrus’ blessing that the Judeans return home from exile and rebuild the Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonian conquest. Cyrus, though not a follower of YHWH, still allows the people of YHWH to worship their God. 

There could also be another reason for Cyrus being given this title of messiah. As Fried points out the Egyptians and Babylonians both called Cambyses (Cyrus’ son and successor) by the names typically reserved for their own royalty. That is, the Egyptians call him Pharaoh and the Babylonian’s call him the Crowned Prince. Both of these titles are reserved for the legitimate King (or soon to be King) in these nations. Therefore, when Second Isaiah calls Cyrus the messiah it is perhaps fitting into the culture in that region to use the language of legitimate royalty to describe the new Persian ruler. 

Of course, Fried also points out that this title isn’t some secular title that is easily bestowed onto somebody. The title of messiah has a full theology wrapped up in its use. This is the theology that says the messiah “is the legitimate king appointed and protected by God” (Fried). Thus, Second Isaiah claims that God has appointed Cyrus as king over the Judeans. Cyrus should then not be opposed by the people as he has God’s blessing. 

Clearly this idea of a messianic figure is a unique one. Not only from the examples in the Hebrew Bible but from our modern idea of what makes a figure messianic through the New Testament lens of Jesus. Cyrus is a good model for understanding why Jesus claim to be the messiah is met with skepticism. Cyrus, while being unique among messianic figures in different ways, still maintains many of the traditional traits of a messiah. He is a king, he saves the Jewish people from an oppressive foreign power, returns them to prominence, establishes peace for Israel, and brings correct worship back to Jerusalem. The context in the time of Jesus is similar to the context of the Judeans in exilic period. While they might not be in exile they are still under an oppressive foreign power, the threat of violence is ever looming, and they are seen as fairly insignificant by the powers that be. Jesus comes to them from a lower status family, does not even talk about overthrowing the foreign power, instead spending lots of time tending to the needs of the socially forgettable and arguing with religious authorities. He is far more concerned with the Jewish authorities than the oppressive empire. This is important to remember. The Hebrew Bible has a certain notion of what a messiah is. Cyrus is unique, but still fits the traditional model in many ways. 

While this idea of what a messianic figure looks like was still prevalent in Jesus time, the post-exilic community began to alter their ideas of what a messiah was. No longer did a messiah have to be a single person who was a king. Joshua (or Jeshua) was the high was anointed (or at least hinted at being anointed in Zechariah 4, specifically the 14th verse) along with the new governor Zerubbabel. So not only is the political leader a messiah figure, now the religious leader is as well. There is also a thought, as can be seen in Lester’s hangout on the subject, that Second Isaiah has a more corporate vision of a messianic figure. That is, not just one person, not just two people, but the entire nation of Israel. The people then are the collective anointed ones. 

I hope this letter was informative for you friend. 

Reflections on the Responses to Exile Hangout

After being unable to take part in this weeks hangout live I will reflect on part of what was discussed by Dr. Lester. For those who would like to watch the hangout, you can do so by clicking here.

A large part of the hangout was devoted to Messiah figures both in and outside of the Bible. Char made the bold claim that one must be anointed to be a Messiah, although that sounds appealing to me from a Biblical perspective, our extra-Biblical Messiah figures are rarely anointed. Many of them are not even kingly figures. This is in large part due to our looking at the Messiah figure through the lens of Jesus, the one who saves, and not through the Old Testament lens. Of course this is in spite of the notion of Jesus as King, but our focus tends to be on the salvific action of Jesus, not on the Kingship of Jesus.

Thus, for extra-Biblical Messiahs, I don't think anointing or Kingship is a requirement. Even in late Biblical texts Dr. Lester points out that even Kingship stops being a requirement as objects become anointed and Joshua is anointed as the high priest. A sub-conversation of this came up as to who are these extra-Biblical Messiah figures. Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings is an all to easy example that fits many of the Messiah tropes, if you will. Star Wars was also brought up and Luke Skywalker was discussed as the Messiah figure. Luke is certainly the hero who follows many of the Russian folktale components mentioned as well as the classic hero's journey, but he is not a Messiah figure. You can argue original trilogy, both trilogies, or full saga (including the clone wars and whatever else Disney has ruled as canon). No matter which of these you argue from (although the more you include the more obvious it becomes), it is Vader who is the Messiah of Star Wars, not Luke. Vader is the one who overthrows (literally) the Emperor, not Luke. Luke fails. Of course, in the latter trilogy Vader is literally named the chosen one. And if you've seen the clone wars cartoons you (SPOILERS) actually see what this means for him. It expands on our notions of Messiah and has him as the one who is to contain the deistic beings of good and evil and keep them in check without letting evil run rampant. He fails to accept this task, but then at the end of episode six makes up for this by destroying the one who most clearly personifies this deistic being. (END SPOILERS)

You also get with Vader an illusion to Belshazzar of Babylon/Cyrus of Persia. That is the crowned prince of Babylon. Not actually the King, but one who learns how to be King from doing Kingly things while being underneath the real King. This works well in some other ways too. Cyrus is an Empire builder, but he's also an Empire destroyer. He overthrows the Babylonian Empire just as Vader overthrows the Emperor. In fact this is Vader's goal for quite some time, he wishes to build a new Empire with his son. Of course Vader is within the original Empire anyway, unlike Cyrus. And instead of taking command he dies and leaves the Empire without a ruler. So Vader is not perfectly a Messiah figure, but he does fit some of the motifs of Messiahship. He even goes through an anointing of sorts in Episode 3 (albeit at the hands of the one who must be overthrown). Lucas is, no doubt, not a Biblical scholar, but it is still interesting to see just how many of these motifs are used in Star Wars and how they line up less with the idea with Messiah through the lens of Jesus, and much more with Messiah through the lens of the Hebrew Bible.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jeremiah 20:7-13: Deceit, Doom, and Irony.

This week we take a look at Jeremiah’s last lament psalm in which he claims God has enticed, deceived, or even seduced him. We are looking specifically at Jeremiah 20:7-13. This deception of God mirrors the language used to describe rape in the book of Exodus. This is language that shows that Jeremiah feels as if he never really had a choice in life on whether to be God’s prophet. Indeed, in Jeremiah 1:5 God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” In modern times this verse gets used as a proof text as for why abortions should be illegal or to teach children that God has some grand purpose for them. However, there is no indication here that this is a universal pronouncement by God, but is instead spoken just to Jeremiah. And for Jeremiah, this grand purpose God has for him causes him grief and is the very nature of the start to this lament psalm.

Jeremiah never gets the chance to say no to God. He tries, in words that echo Moses (Bandstra, 327) but ultimately God rebukes his argument and then puts God’s words into his mouth before he consents to his role as prophet. This runs counter to Moses where God never forces Moses to accept, but instead answers each of Moses’ concerns (of which there are many) until Moses finally leaves having accepted his task (Ex. 3-4:17). 

So Jeremiah has a valid point in that God overpowered him. In another contrast to Moses, Jeremiah only learned what message he was to deliver after God’s overpowering action. It is this message that has caused him so much grief “for whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (Jer. 20:8). 

Jeremiah has grown tired of the message of doom that God wants him to deliver. In verse nine he talks about being unable to stop despite it being his one wish. Again, his desire is to no longer be a prophet, but God’s overpowering word inside him will not let him cease. 

Even Jeremiah’s closest friends want Jeremiah to fail due to his message. In an ironic twist Jeremiah says, “For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’” (Jer. 20:10). This is ironic because in the narrative just before this lament psalm it is Jeremiah who renames the priest Pashhur and calls him “Terror-all-around”. Now it is Jeremiah who has this nickname due to the nature of the message he has to give.

Towards the end of his lament, Jeremiah asks God to let him see retribution onto his enemies and his reason for asking this seems to counter his earlier lament because he says, “for to you I have committed my cause” (Jer. 12). Despite the fact that Jeremiah feels he had no say in his lot in life he remains fully committed to God’s will. 

What is not immediately clear is what causes Jeremiah to add this lament at this part of the book. He had just suffered under some persecution under Pashhur in which he is struck and then is locked up for the night (Jer. 20:2). God had earlier promised that the people of Judah, from the kings to the peasants, “will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:19). Perhaps then it is this clear example of Jeremiah suffering under persecution that leads to his lament feeling as if God did not live up to the promise. 

It is hard for me to call this an actual lie by God. Jeremiah is released the next day after all. Though perhaps Jeremiah thought that if his enemies weren’t to prevail against him that this would mean that he wouldn’t be harmed at all. The notes in my NRSV study Bible mention that this is the first time, of many, that Jeremiah is physically assaulted for his message. So this seems the likely catalyst for his lament. So it would be better to look at God as withholding the full truth from Jeremiah, leading him to feel a bit more secure than he actually is. God will keep him safe, but that doesn’t mean that no harm will come to him. 

Jeremiah expects God will follow through on God’s end and he will be vindicated. This is a strategy used in the modern day to deal with things not going our way. Another common response from people today is to say, “God works in mysterious ways”. This is similar to Jeremiah’s response, although it is much more general in its scope of things. It also let’s God off the hook, as it were, from having to act in ways that are recognizable to us as being faithful to God’s word. 

While this modern day example is by and large considered to be bad theology, it is not what Jeremiah’s ultimate statement is on this. The end of this section ends with the praise and thanksgiving portion of the lament psalm and Jeremiah proclaims, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Jer. 20:13). No matter how we feel God has lied, hidden the whole truth, or deceived us, Jeremiah ultimately affirms that God has the last say and does deliver the needy. Jeremiah never claims that this will look like what we want it to look like, but neither does he simply state the mystery of God’s way due to lack of an answer. God is a God who works for some and against others. Hope is not lost.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Prophets: A look at Amos

The book of Amos is not a particularly long book. Amos is also the earliest prophet with his own book, other than Samuel (Bandstra, 288). Amos has a broad, three part, structure to it which can be difficult to notice. For this look at Amos, I will look specifically at what Amos has to say about Israel. It is worth mentioning that at this point in history there were two kingdoms for the Hebrew people. The southern kingdom was known as Judah, and the northern kingdom was Israel. Both are talked about in Amos, but we will focus on the latter. Israel was also the primary audience for Amos, and while judgement is given against Judah first, Israel’s judgement is given a lot more time from Amos (Bandstra, 289).

This judgment of Israel begins by explaining just what it is that Israel has done wrong. The first thing Amos mentions in 2:6 is that the people have been selling others into slavery. Slavery was not an uncommon thing at the time, and it’s not even slavery itself that is being condemned by Amos. Instead Amos says that those who don’t deserve to be slaves, the righteous, are being sold into debt slavery. Or, Amos also allows that some of those being sold into debt slavery do own debts, but they are for a trivial amount likened to “a pair of sandals”. This, along with other abuses of power over the poor found in verses 7-8, make up the bulk of what Amos call Israel into judgment over. The rich are sexually assaulting women (who are most likely slaves), they are abusing the power to use the blankets of the poor, and they levy fines unjustly against people to buy wine to drink in the Lord’s house. Amos is clearly concerned with the poor first and foremost. This theme of pointing out that Israel has abused their power over the poor continues to come back throughout the rest of the book as well.

So what is to happen to Israel now that they have treated the poor in this manner? First in Amos 2:13-16 God talks about pressing down the Israelites and making the strong grow weak. However, this is only the beginning of Israel’s problems. Exile seems to be the expected punishment for Israel. In Amos 5:11 says “you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.” All that the Israelites have built will be taken away from them, but it does not say that it will be destroyed, only that Israel will not have access to them. Amos then clearly calls for exiled in 6:7 “Therefore, they shall now be the first to go into exile.” It is likely that Amos wrote these words down shortly after Tiglath-Pileser III came into power in Assyria due to how accurate Amos is in his predictions (Bandstra 291). 

In Amos 5:17 God declares “in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you.” It is the very presence of God that brings this judgement and punishment against Israel. This is a case when Israel cannot hope for God to save them. This leads into another punishment from God that is yet to come. In chapter 8 God declares “The time is surely coming… when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord… they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12). The last punishment we look at comes from the fifth vision of Amos found in 9:1-4. Amos sees God standing beside the altar and commanding that the capitals be struck until they shatter onto the heads of the people after which God will kill all who survive. This could mean the entirety of the people of Israel, or the capitals could represent just the leaders of Israel (Bandstra 293). 

So what is to be done? Amos actually gives almost no hope to Israel for salvation from these punishments (Bandstra 291). Remember that God is the one who will exact these punishments on Israel. Amos 8:7 says “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” If God will not forget what they have done hope is very slim. In the sections I looked at for this post there is on small sliver of hope that manages to shine through. Amos 5:14-15 provides the one look of hope in these sections. Amos tells Israel “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” So there is hope for Israel, but they must stop abusing the poor. Amos has little faith in Israel to do this, and with the Assyrian conquest shortly thereafter, salvation did indeed not come to Israel in the end.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Son of Man

The phrase "son of man" has come to have a special meaning in the Christian tradition as a title for Jesus. However, this title did not always refer to a messiah figure. We will walk through the various ways “son of man” has been used throughout the Hebrew Bible. Son of man in hebrew is ben-adam and it appears almost exclusively in the Book of Ezekiel. This text contains ben-adam 94 of the 107 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible.

The use of ben-adam in Ezekiel doesn’t reference a messianic figure nor does it reference any sort of eschatological figure (in other words, a figure who comes at the end of this age and the start of the next). Instead, ben-adam is used repeatedly throughout the text to refer to the author, Ezekiel. It is the title used by God when addressing the author. Some examples of this are “He said to me: O son of man, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you” (Ezekiel 2:1), “then he said to me, “Son of man, dig through the wall”; and when I dug through the wall, there was an entrance” (Ezekiel 8:8), or “Son of man, set your face toward Si’don, and prophesy against it” (Ezekiel 28:21). Ezekiel is clearly the ben-adam in these examples. Remember, these make up nearly 88% of the examples of ben-adam in the Hebrew Bible. 

Another common usage of ben-adam in the Hebrew Bible is in couplets. Couplets make up the structure of Hebraic poetry but also appear outside of poetic material too. Couplets are repetitive, repeating an idea between the two lines. The first example of ben-adam that shows up in the Hebrew Bible is in the Book of Numbers which says “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Here, human being and son of man are used together for the same meaning. Again, we see that son of man is not a reference to a messianic or divine figure. In fact, it is used to show a stark contrast to the divine in this case. 

The Book of Job as well as the Psalms also offer examples of the couplet form where man is used in parallel with son of man. In Job we find “how much less the son of man, who is a maggot, and a human being, who is a worm!” (Job 25:6). Human being and son of man here have identical meanings shown through the comparison between a worm and a maggot. In the Psalms we find such examples as “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, son of man that you care for them?” (Psalms 8:4), or “O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them, or son of man that you think of them?” (Psalm 144:3). These two Psalms not only continue the use of son of man to be the couplet to human being, but also nearly mirror each other in content as well. Isaiah also uses son of man in this fashion saying “why then are you afraid of a mere son of man who must die, a human being who fades like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12). 

This all does not mean to say that son of man never takes on a eschatological meaning in the Hebrew Bible. However, This only happens in the Book of Daniel, our focus for this weeks Ootle Old Testament class. Son of man appears twice in Daniel. The second occurrence of it mirrors its earlier use in Ezekiel, only this time the person being addressed is Daniel. “So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, “Understand, o son of man, that the vision is for the end of time.”” (Daniel 8:17). While this passage still references the eschaton, it is not in the context of the son of man, but instead an earlier vision that is being interpreted for the son of man, or Daniel. 

The first example from Daniel remains as the eschatological use of son of man in the Hebrew Bible. Daniel has a vision of four beasts who have dominion over the earth and then of God sitting on a throne when he  says “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (Daniel 7:13). It is here that many Christians have read Jesus back into the Hebrew Bible, seeing Jesus coming down on a cloud from heaven at the end of the world. While this passage is eschatological, it doesn’t mean the world is ending. Indeed, the eschaton here is about the end of the rule of foreign powers over Israel and the founding of the unending kingdom of God to be overseen by this son of man. It is tempting to argue from our Christian perspective that this means Jesus, however the vision is interpreted almost immediately in Daniel. The interpretation says “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever- forever and ever” (Daniel 7:17-18). These “holy ones of the Most High” are mentioned again in Daniel 7:25 and 7:27. The son of man mentioned earlier is a reference to these holy ones who are most likely all of Israel as the chosen people of God. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015


This week in my Old Testament course we took a look at the wisdom literature in general and I looked at the book of Job in particular. I listened to episode 270 of the Professional Left (henceforth to be referred to as PL) podcast (from around  the timestamps of 22:00-32:00) and their discussion of Job. Advanced warning of language used within the podcast, but it is worth a listen. I won't be summarizing their words, instead I will just be looking at what it is that they get right about Job, what they get wrong, and where are the grey areas that need more information.

PL levies the claim that God makes a bet with the Devil. This is a mixture of being true and false. God does indeed make a bet, but it is with the accuser, a heavenly being whose has the job of trying to get God to find humans as being guilty. Because the accuser in Hebrew is ha-satan, our podcasters attribute this title of satan to the Devil. But when the book of Job was written ha-satan didn't have any of those cultural meanings behind it that we think of when we hear "satan". So PL misunderstands the role of ha-satan in the podcast, but they are trying to talk about the right thing, and that's the wager God enters into with ha-satan concerning Job. Dr. Lester points out in his lecture that this wager isn't even initiated by ha-satan, but by God.

PL correctly identifies that God is the epitome of a righteous man in the Old Testament (they technically call him the "other" righteous man after briefly mentioning Noah). This plays out in the scripture where Job is called "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1), and then later God echoes the narrators words exactly when challenging ha-satan (1:8 and 2:3). 

PL states that God murders a bunch of people in this bet with ha-satan and this is true with an asterisk after it. Technically, God doesn't kill anybody in Job, instead ha-satan does. However, ha-satan kills Jobs family and servants with the express permission of God to do so. God knows full well what ha-satan will do and gives the ok for it. So God doesn't really kill anybody, nor is it God's idea to kill people to test Job, but God is certainly ok with the plan to do so. 

PL rightly points out that Job is pissed off at God for turning on him, and the even maintain Job's blamelessness like happens in the story. Job is always adamant that he did nothing wrong and this is true. Job wants to know why God is treating him in this fashion, or as PL puts it "where the hell do you get off doing this?" What PL misses here is Job's deep understanding that by asking God this question and demanding an audience that he cannot win for God is more powerful than he is and there is none who can fairly decide between him and God. This is exactly what happens when God shows up to respond to Job. Instead of answering Job's questions, God explains how much bigger God is than Job and how Job could not possibly understand things because of that (Job 38-41). 

Early on in their discussion PL brings up the perspective that the lesson of Job is about how the inner life is more than what can be represented by a lifestyle. This seems like a pretty simplified explanation but is decently adequate. What's missing here is a discussion on wisdom and how this message that being righteous doesn't necessarily equate to a good, comfortable life, is counter the the conventional wisdom found within scripture and within ancient Semitic people's worldview. 

Dr. Lester discusses Carol Newsom's experiment of looking just at the narrative frame of Job in which Job is righteous, has everything taken from him, but is then vindicated and given more than he had before as payment for his suffering. This fits within the conventional wisdom, that Job had lots because he was good, unjustly had things taken away, and was therefore rewarded even greater for that injustice. All is well. But in doing this we ignore the arguments Job has with his friends and is these arguments that force God to come and respond to Job, even if God never answers the questions. Job is rewarded for speaking correctly and those arguments Job gives run directly counter to the conventional wisdom espoused by his friends. 

PL talk about how Job has lived up to the contract, God's covenant with the people, and God ignores this completely. This is Job's argument. He is not being punished because he has failed to follow his end of the covenant, but because God isn't upholding God's end of the covenant. God ultimately finds that Job is correct in this and rewards him for it.  PL also mentions how Job is given a new family as part of his rewards with a large emphasis on how the book seems to just think the original family was unimportant because Job gets this new (and better) family in the end. They particularly focus on Job's wife, however, unlike their assertions Job's wife is never killed. She survives with Job. While this certainly doesn't excuse the idea that Job's new kids make up for him losing his earlier children, the wife isn't treated as being necessarily like chattel as PL argues. 

PL took a good attempt at examining Job for a ten minute discussion that included other things as well. They didn't fare too poorly, but more information on the context of wisdom literature and having examined the text to make sure all of their claims were accurate would have helped their discussion.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Psalm 44

I will be looking at Psalm 44 this week for my Old Testament class. Using questions found here, I will examine this Psalm. I will list the question before answering it so that you do not need to follow the link unless you want to read more about how to read poetry.

Who is the speaker?
The speaker is an anonymous member of the Israelite community writing on behalf of the people. Note that the author begins with "We have heard with our ears, O God." (emphasis added). The author continues throughout the poem using we, us, our, etc.

What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
It appears as if a key military defeat caused the author to write this poem. The poem begins (44:1-8) with the history of military successes, all of which are attributed to God. Immediately following this section is a description of military defeat. Examples are in verses 10 and 11"you made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations." This last sentence also suggests that the defeat was not a solitary incident but instead was a larger defeat that ended in a period of exile as the Israelites are now scattered.

What situation is presented?
In the face of this defeat and exile the author also finds no cause for God turning God's back on the people "All of this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant." (verse 17).  The people want to know why God has let them suffer when they have not failed to follow their end of the covenant.

Who or what is the audience?
God is almost certainly the one being written to. But the NRSV also begins with the sub-heading of "To the leader. Of the Ko'ra·hites. A Mas'kil." So it would also appear that the author is writing to whoever leads the Ko'ra·hites.

What is the tone?
This is a lament Psalm. It is the people crying out to God in their suffering.

What form, if any, does the poem take?
This Psalm uses the typical Hebrew couplet throughout it. An example of a synonymous couplet comes in verse 23:
A"Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?"                                                               
B "Awake, do not cast us off forever!"
Early on the Pslamist uses two couplets to repeat the same idea. From verse 2:
A "You with your own hand drove out the nations,"
B "but them you planted,"
A "You afflicted the peoples,"
B "but them you set free;" 
Here, the A lines mirror each other in describing how God treated the non-Israelites and the B lines mirror in God's treatment of the Israelites. Making both couplets work together while each couplet also serves as an example of antithetic parallelism, where what is put forward in line A is opposite of line B.

How does the form relate to the content?
Hebrew couplets are often used to reinforce ideas. For example, the stanza of verses 9-12 is focused on God's rejection of the people. Each couplet expresses this in a new way and each B line emphasizes a specific point made in the more general A line. For example, in verse 11 the A line is "you have made us like sheep for slaughter." This is a broad statement that could mean lots of different things, but the B line defines this general statement: "and have scattered us among the nations." It is the scattering of the people that makes them like sheep for slaughter.

Is sound an important, active element of the poem?
It is hard for me to answer this question. As Bandstra's textbook makes clear, the importance of the sound of Hebrew poetry is almost always lost in translation. It is most likely that sound is indeed important in the Hebrew text, but in the English translation any rhymes or alliterations that exist in Hebrew disappear.

Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?
Yes and no. As Pslams are often specific, yet vague, it can be hard to identify with certainty what exactly caused the Psalm to be written. We've already identified that the Psalm appears to come after a military defeat, possibly even a defeat that led to exile. However, since Israel suffered more than one military defeat and more than one exilic period, it is difficult to place exactly which defeat/exile is being referred to in this Pslam without more information.

Does the poem speak from a specific culture?
The poem speaks from the culture of ancient Israel. Some time between 740 and 580 BCE if either the Babylonian or Assyrian exilic events are the cause of this poem.

Does the poem have its own vernacular?
Without knowing the original Hebrew and the hebrew found in other Pslams it is not really possible to answer this question.

Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
The Psalm does use imagery to reenforce ideas. We have already discussed the imagery of being sheep led to slaughter found in verse 11. However, verse 19 is also a use of metaphoric imagery. "Yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness." These images reenforce the hopelessness and abandonment felt by Israel.

What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
Again, the examples given in the last answer work for this as well. Also, the language of Israel being sheep for the slaughter is repeated in the B line of verse 22.

If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
This Psalm is a question of sorts. It is asking God why are the Israelites made to suffer and feel forgotten. No answer is given in the context of this Psalm. If one of the exilic periods is indeed the reason for this Psalm than elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible the answer given is that Israel did not hold up their end of the covenant. This runs counter to the claims made within the Psalm itself in verses 17 and 18. However, that does not mean that the Psalmist is correct in their interpretation of Israel's conduct. Nor, does it mean that they are wrong however. Again, more historical knowledge would be needed to answer the question.

What does the title suggest?
The title given in the English NRSV translation is "National Lament and Prayer for Help". This is a Psalm of all of Israel crying out to God and asking for relief.

Does the poem use unusual words, or words in an unusual way?
Again, without more knowledge of the Hebrew involved in this poem, or what was common at the time of its writing, it is not really possible to answer this question for Psalm 44. Although, as far as I can tell from the English translation, no unusual words are used, nor are words used in an unusual way with the exception of certain words that are seemingly lost to history like Sé'lah and A Mas'kil. Both of these words are not translated, and my attempts to seek reputable sources for translations failed. A Mas'kil has been re-appropriated in more modern times it seems, but the ancient use of it, as far as I can tell, remains to be unanimously agreed upon.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Hermeneutical Triangle

The hermeneutical triangle is a series of three points (author, referents, and reader) which all center around a fourth point, which is the text. By beginning with the text itself and then examining it through the lenses of the other three points you can derive meaning and understanding. This is what hermeneutics is, finding the meaning in a text.

One of the points of hermeneutics has puzzled me, not because I think it unimportant, but because I have been unsure how we can truly go about understanding it fully. This is the referents point of the triangle (and by some extension the reader point as well). Referents deal with understanding what is going on in the world of the author. This means historically and culturally understanding their context. However, this is very difficult for us to do. When dealing with something from the distant past, thousands of years removed from the present day, understanding the culture and ways of thinking of the people in that culture is quite difficult. We may be able to identify some of the historical pieces, but even that will remain incomplete. Further, this seems to rely on the author closely mirroring or embracing what we do know of the culture from that time. This is almost certainly not the case over a collection of books like the Bible. Just in our own time we can recognize that different people speaking to the same events in our time come to very different conclusions and these conclusions may or may not be tied into the broader culture.

Ultimately, hermeneutics will never be perfect because our knowledge is not perfect. While I have particular problems with parts of the hermeneutical triangle, I recognize that we must do our best to deal with these issues of context, even if we assuredly fail to take everything into account. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

For Class

This post is just to make sure that the blog is ready to go for my Introduction to the Old Testament course.