Seth Rodriguez introduced the SBTS OT Colloquium to the Maps of War website the other day. The map below (may have to click through to see it) shows who controlled the land God promised to Israel from 3,000 BC to AD 2006. Fascinating. Check it out:
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Watch this video:
The Scriptures and the Shrine: On the Keeping of an Authoritative Copy of the Scriptures at the Temple
Some questions have been raised by Charles Halton and T. Michael Law about the suggestion that an authoritative copy of the Scriptures would have been maintained at the temple in Jerusalem, making discussions of the canon unnecessary prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Law tweeted that there is “not a shred of evidence.”
I think there is abundant evidence for this already in the Old Testament, and then the indications that the Scriptures were kept at the shrine continue in extra-biblical Jewish literature.
- Exodus 40:20, “[Moses] took the testimony and put it into the ark . . .”
- Deuteronomy 31:9, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.”
- Deuteronomy 31:24–26, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.’”
This explains why the king was to write a copy of the Torah that would be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The priests had the authoritative scroll and were its stewards.
This process continued after Moses:
- Joshua 24:25, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. . .’”
And the reality of the Word of God being kept in the temple is attested in Kings:
- 1 Kings 8:9, ”There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”
This also explains why there was a scroll for Hilkiah to find in the temple in 2 Kings 22. Incidentally, in view of the reference to the “lying pen of the scribes” in Jeremiah 8:8, I would suggest that the significance of the scroll that Hilkiah found was not that it was the only one in existence but that it was the authoritative one that could demonstrate the falsehood of the lies against which Jeremiah contended.
Milton Fisher writes:
“There is now abundant evidence from the ancient Near East of a ‘psychology of canonicity’—viz., a sensitivity to the inviolability of authoritative documents as far back as early second millennium B.C. This will not surprise the careful reader of the Bible. He finds no difficulty in statements that Moses (Deut 31:9ff. ), Joshua (Josh 24:25, 26), and Samuel (1 Sam 10:25) placed written covenant documents in the sanctuary, for this paralleled the common practice among surrounding peoples of that day” (Fisher, EBC 1:387).
R. K. Harrison notes
“Such language was also found in Hittite suzerainty treaties, which contained a clause requiring deposition of the text in some secure location so that in subsequent generations the treaty would be available for public reading” (Harrision, ISBE 1:593).
2 Maccabees states that Nehemiah had “founded a library,” probably a reference to the collected canonical Scriptures, and like him Judas Maccabee “collected the books that had been lost on account of the war . . . and they are in our possession.” The text reads as follows:
- 2 Maccabees 2:13–15, “The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession. So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.”
Roger Beckwith cites texts from Josephus, the Mishna, and the Tosephta on the point that there was “a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple called ‘the Book of Ezra’. This was probably the oldest and most revered copy of all, traditionally believed to have been written by Ezra the Scribe. If the standardization of the Massoretic text was a process which began in Temple times, as it now seems to have been, the existence of the ‘Book of Ezra’ and the other Temple Scriptures probably had much to do with it” (OT Canon of the NT Church, 83–84).
I think this evidence shows that Moses initiated the preservation of God’s word in the ark of the covenant, making the Levitical priests the stewards of the Torah. Later OT texts indicate that God’s authoritative word was kept at the temple, resulting in it being there for Hilkiah to find in Josiah’s day. Ezra’s significance in his return to the land, seen in both Ezra and Nehemiah, included his being “a ready scribe,” one who thoroughly knew the Scriptures and could quickly find his way in them.
What evidence is there that this canonical consciousness seen in the OT texts suddenly disappeared? What evidence is there that the practice of keeping God’s authoritative word at the temple ceased to be a concern of the Jews who lived between Malachi and Jesus?
Arguments from silence based on deductions from fragmentary evidence or translation practices do not overturn the asseverations in 2 Maccabees and Josephus (along with other texts) that there was an authoritative scroll kept at the temple. See Beckwith for full documentation.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, to say nothing of a fascinating history lesson, an instance of one master of the English language writing about another, and an all around mind-widening read, I commend William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill for your reading or listening enjoyment. I’m in the first of three volumes on Audible, highlighting diamonds in the hard copy as I have opportunity.
In World War I Churchill argued that Britain should take Constantinople, and when the operation failed he became the scapegoat and had to resign. He continued to believe that he was in the right and that the operation would have succeeded if it had been carried through according to his instructions. He was probably right, but someone had to suffer the political consequences. On this occasion it was Churchill’s head that had to roll. Manchester writes:
“as was customary when ministers stepped down, he made a personal statement in the House of Commons . . . He said: ‘You may condemn the men who tried to force the Dardanelles, but your children will keep their condemnation for those who did not rally to their aid.’ In his peroration he cried: ‘Undertake no operation in the West which is more costly to us in life than to the enemy. In the East, take Constantinople. Take it by ships if you can. Take it by soldiers if you must. Take it by whichever plan, military or naval, commends itself to your military experts. But take it; take it soon; take it while time remains.”
That is a closing statement worthy of imitation!
Savor the power of the language in this stanza from G. K. Chesterton’s tribute to the Battle of Lepanto:
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,That once went singing southward when all the world was young,In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,Don John of Austria is going to the war,Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts coldIn the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.Love-light of Spain—hurrah!Death-light of Africa!Don John of AustriaIs riding to the sea.
The rest is just as good. Whole thing here.
PROPERTY PRAYER – There were many nights where the men’s ministry consisted of monthly gatherings on the corner of Branch Crossing and Alden Bridge to pray. I remember hot nights with lots of mosquitoes, and a group of guys asking God to move so that we could leave that old YMCA and build a campus on these 5 acres filled with woods. I think many felt like we were hoping against hope, all we could see were tall trees and low funds, and the people driving by in the middle of the night must have thought we were nuts. But God proved once again He does hear and answer prayer.
MACY’S PARKING LOT – It was your ordinary Sunday in 2008 that turned extraordinary with one phone call. Suzanne and I were going to the mall when I got a call from Roger Yancey explaining that someone had anonymously donated $700,000 to TCAAB to help build our new campus (see above prayer). For a church whose annual budget at the time was south of $200,000 this was BIG news. I remember running from the Macy’s parking lot where I took the call, all the way in to the store where I found Suzanne and started crying. God is good.
The whole thing – 10 Years of God Memories
I didn’t feel that I did enough for my Dad this past Father’s Day, and in the early hours of the Monday that followed that Sunday I had a dream about My Dad’s Coins that, it seems to me, was connected to that feeling. Having awakened from that dream, I was having a hard time getting back to sleep. I was thinking about the dream and about the advice that my good friend Denny Burk had given me about incorporating more personal illustrations in my sermons.
So I got out of bed and typed up my account of the dream, then went back to bed and got right to sleep.
Following Denny’s advice, I talked about this dream at the conclusion of my sermon this past Sunday. You can hear it here: Jeremiah 25:15–38, The Cup of Wrath.
Then I edited the written account, added some, and it’s now posted over at Christianity.com. Here’s an excerpt:
There I was in my dream, holding those coins in my hand. They had become priceless to me because of what they signified, and I was horrified that I had almost thrown them away on a cola that wouldn’t have been good for me anyway.
This is how our ignorant, wayward, and weak hearts find their way to sin. We forget the gifts our God and Father has given us. We become unmindful of what his mercy means to us. We neglect the mementos, the testimonies, the stories and songs of the Scriptures.
And all too often we are prepared to cash in our relationship with the living God for filth, filth that would ruin our lives and destroy everything precious and sacred to us. We are ignorant, wayward, and weak enough to throw away the world to come in exchange for a syrupy mixture of caffeine, sugar, and fizzy water, or worse, far worse: shameful things not to be named. God help us get hearts of wisdom.
You can read the whole thing.
Here’s a great post from Rod Decker:
A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads identically forward and backward, e.g., “Do geese see God?” The Greek palindrome inscription:
is from the Hagia Sophia. (In Greek, Ἁγία Σοφία is short for Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.” This was an Eastern Orthodox church building in Constantinople, constructed in the fourth century. For over a thousand years it was the Patriarchal Basilica of Constantinople. It is now a museum.)
Written in modern orthography the palindrome reads,
Νίψον ἀνόημα μὴ μόναν ὄψιν
and means, “Wash your sin, not only your face.” I first found this palindrome in Bruce Metzger’s Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, 23.
The word palindrome is itself a Greek word, παλίνδρομος, a compound of πάλιν, “again” and δραμεῖν, “to run”/δρόμος, “a race, race course.” There were apparently many Greek palindromes current in the ancient world. Another example that I’ve run across is:
ἀμήσας ἄρδην ὀροφόρον ἥδρασα σῆμα.
“Having reaped I established a lofty-roofed monument.”
(This one I found in Lloyd W. Daly, “A Greek Palindrome in Eighth-Century England,” American Journal of Philology 102 : 95–97.)
They also left some comments in margins, like these listed by Tommy Wasserman:
“New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.
“I am very cold.”
“That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.”
“Let the reader’s voice honor the writer’s pen.”
“This page has not been written very slowly.”
“The parchment is hairy.”
“The ink is thin.”
“Thank God, it will soon be dark.”
“Oh, my hand.”
“Now I’ve written the whole thing; for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”
“Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims you sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.”
“St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.”
“While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.”
“As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.”
“This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, ‘The hand that wrote it is no more’.”
If so, you’ll want to check out The Rhetoric Companion from N. D. Wilson and Douglas Wilson.
I’m not saying that reading this book will enable you to write a book like N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl or be as clever as Doug Wilson in a verbal swordfight. After all, it’s one thing for Michael Jordan teach you his moves, it’s something else for you to try to dunk from the free throw line. Some things have to be put there by God, and if God didn’t give it, there’s no getting it. These guys have talent.
But even if you’re not going to win the NBA dunk contest, working on your fundamentals will help you in pick up games and the church league ball. You won’t become Michael Jordan, but you can make the best of what you have. And you should. And this book can help you do it.
Please don’t object at this point that I’m introducing worldliness into this conversation. I’m not suggesting that what N. D. and Doug Wilson do is somehow more holy or more pleasing to God than what the rest of us do. It is the case, though, that N. D. Wilson’s fiction is being published by Random House and he’s appeared on Good Morning America and been featured on NPR. Meanwhile, Doug Wilson’s prose is an inimitable combination of G. K. Chesterton and P. G. Wodehouse. What theologian is more fun to read?
They’re playing in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean the pick up ball the rest of us enjoy on Monday nights is any less significant (or fun), and it doesn’t mean that we should ignore the fundamentals of basketball. Hone your skills. Serve your people. Love them. Work on your technique. Practice your free-throws and ball handling. Learn how to see the floor. Read this book.
Here’s the exchange:
How would you respond to someone who said he would never read your book for the simple fact that James P. Boyce was from the South and owned slaves?
I would try to resist the production of a long list of insults to the intelligence of one so bigoted, narrow-minded, unthinking and hypocritical as even to think such a thing. Employment of such a principle would shut one off from the study of the Old Testament, virtually all of the ancient cultures, Greek dominance of the intertestamental period, the Roman Empire, the history of England until the first half of the nineteenth century, the history of colonial America, the lives of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, the entire ante-bellum South and so forth. If one believes that the union of church and state has brought untold suffering and evil to both church and state as well as society in general (which I do), and feels that avoiding the documents produced in that context is a moral necessity for a Christian and that awareness of their viewpoints on theology, politics, philosophy, and society are reprehensible and unworthy of the intellectual and spiritual life of a Christian (which I don’t), then avoid the study of the German Reformation, the English Reformation and all western medieval culture. Bring to void any benefit from the study of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. Know nothing of the City of God, the Proslogion, and the Summa. If one studies history and gains interest in persons and nations simply on the basis of personal moral approval of the subject or the era in which he lived, he probably can find justification for the study of nothing and spend his life congratulating himself that he is ignorant of everything. But if one wants to see the operations of the mind of a highly gifted, intellectually and morally driven person, whose flaws are obvious and will not hurt us and whose strengths are massive and will inspire and help us, then go for Boyce. If one wants to see the way in which theological and biblical commitments transcend the ability of any individual to facilitate the moral, intellectual, and spiritual loftiness engendered in the study of divine revelation, study Boyce. If one want to see how that same commitment, nevertheless, raises a common sinner such as we all are to uncommon heights of self-sacrifice inspired by a vision of the divine glory, study Boyce. If one wants to see how Christian character constantly nourished by increased knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ can interrupt the natural tendency to bitterness and resentment and seething hostility fostered by the crushing destruction and snarling ridicule of deeply-held conviction and unfettered commitment to a cause and transform the soul to the sweetness of a reconciled and reconciling posture of mind, study Boyce.
“These were all distractions from the central business of the year, which was the story that had started as a few episodes and was being made into a novel, week by week, The Old Curiosity Shop. Against all the odds, it became the second-highest seller of all his books, surpassed only by the The Pickwick Papers, another improvised tale. What sort of a story was it? A very odd one, a picaresque tale of a child who tries and fails to escape from her fate, with a supposed protector, her grandfather, addicted to gambling, and a grotesquely wicked pursuer, the dwarf Quilp, both putting her at risk and driving her towards her death. Nell herself has no character beyond sweetness, goodness and innocence, which endeared her to male readers; and Lord Jeffrey, the great Scottish judge, critic and sometime editor of the Edinburgh Review, even likened her to Cordelia, although the only resemblance is in their untimely deaths. At the age of thirteen, Nell effectively has to look after her grandfather, who has been corrupted by his fascination with money, rather as Dickens’s maternal grandfather had been corrupted by money, and his father also, overspending, borrowing and failing to settle his debts; so this aspect of the story was quite close to home. And while there is very much more in the book than Nell, it is her death that made its fame. It was Forster who suggested that Dickens should kill her off: he seized the idea, and the slowly approaching death of Little Nell held readers in a state of excited anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic for many weeks. Letters came to Dickens imploring him to save her, and grave and normally equable men sobbed uncontrollably when they read that she was dead.
Dickens himself suffered as he wrote of Nell’s decline, and shared his sufferings with his friends through November and December 1840. He told Forster, ‘You can’t imagine how exhausted I am today with yesterday’s labours… All night I have been pursued by the child; and this morning I am unrefreshed and miserable. I don’t know what to do with myself… I think the close of the story will be great.’ Then, a few days later, ‘The difficulty has been tremendous — the anguish unspeakable.’ To his illustrator, Cattermole, he wrote, ‘I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it.’ In January, Macready was told, ‘I am slowly murdering that poor child, and grow wretched over it. It wrings my heart. Yet it must be.’ A few days later it was Maclise who heard, ‘If you knew what I have been suffering in the death of that child!’
Another letter to Forster shows how Dickens used his suffering, deliberately summoning up painful feelings, in the cause of telling a better story: ‘I shan’t recover it for a long time. Nobody will miss her like I shall. It is such a very painful thing to me, that I really cannot express my sorrow… I have refused several invitations for this week and next, determining to go nowhere til I had done. I am afraid of disturbing the state I have been trying to get into, and having to fetch it all back again.’ “
As I’ve noted before, Andrew Steinmann has been remarkably prolific in recent years:
2008 – a 600 page commentary on Daniel
2009 – a 700 page commentary on Proverbs
2010 – a 600 page commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah
And now this year, 2011, he has brought out a 400 page book on biblical chronology. There is a lot of great stuff here, but what I want to highlight is what Steinmann says about the date of the exodus. I won’t repeat his whole argument, but in my view his discussion is a great summary of the reasons the late date of the exodus (1200′s BC) should be retired altogether.
Steinmann observes that the late date for the exodus:
“was popularized by William F. Albright in the 1930s. The primary motive for Albright’s theory was to harmonize the Exodus with archeological evidence from Palestine. In the decades since Albright’s death in 1971 most Palestinian archeologists and most critical scholars have abandoned this theory in favor of denying the historicity of the Exodus and conquest. Virtually all of the remaining adherents of a thirteenth century Exodus are evangelical scholars” (54).
Steinmann demonstrates how the late-date theory is unconvincing on 1 Kings 6:1 and Exodus 1:11, and, though the main impetus for the theory is archeological, even the archeological evidence for it is disputed.
The early date for the exodus, meanwhile, based on 1 Kings 6:1, fits naturally with Judges 11:26 and is confirmed by traditions from Jewish sources that shed light on the calculation of Jubilee years and Sabbatical cycles. Steinmann’s discussion of these matters is a great introduction to the Sabbatical cycles and the Jubilee years, and along the way it becomes apparent that the most natural explanation for this evidence is that the priests faithfully counted the Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles on the basis of Leviticus 25–27, texts that must have been in existence from “the late fifteenth century BC” (52–53).
There is, of course, a lot of other valuable chronological information in this volume, and I expect to return to it often.
Steinmann’s approach at point after point confirms the veracity, historicity, and accuracy of what is recorded in the biblical text. He comes to the texts sympathetically and patiently sifts the evidence, seeking explanations that account for all the evidence. This is evangelical scholarship at its best.
My only regret about this book is its price! I don’t understand why this volume costs twice as much as comparable books do, and I hope the price does not prove prohibitive. From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology is a faithful, up to date discussion of what we can know about when these events in the Bible took place.
Insightful article by Jonathan Gibson in the latest issue of Themelios, looking at how Edwards viewed his mission to the American Indians, how he adapted his preaching to the new context, and how he pursued “social justice”!
Peter Enns assumes there was a dominant world-picture or cosmology in the ancient Near East, and Paul Seely published several articles advocating the idea that the earth is a flat disk and the sky a solid dome in Westminster Theological Journal.
In a comment on an earlier post, Steve Hays has drawn attention to an essay that also appeared in WTJ by Noel K. Weeks,”Cosmology in Historical Context,” WTJ 68 (2006): 283–93.
This essay demonstrates that it is impossible to maintain that there was a universal world-picture held by all people in the ANE, that the world-picture Enns assumes in the graphic to the left from this post cannot be conclusively constructed from Enuma Elish, and thus that Enns and others are assuming their conclusions when they speak of, among other things, all people in the ancient world thinking the earth was a flat disk floating on the waters or that there was a solid dome over the earth [Enns writes: "The biblical writers thought the earth was a flat disk. . . . Likewise, the Bible speaks of the sky overhead as a dome."].
Some highlights from the essay by Weeks (footnotes deleted):
It is common to proclaim this or that element of Scripture as a reflection of views or practices of the time. The confidence with which this is said conveys to the reader that recovering what was generally believed or done at the time is easy. Often that is far from the case. If we are dealing particularly with the OT, then the problem is greater because of the lack of extra-biblical material from Palestine. One passage may be illuminated by another passage of Scripture, but it could be argued that both passages are reflections of common views of the time. Ideally, we need copious documentation external to the biblical text and rarely is that the case. Externally written material from Palestine that will illumine things such as cosmological beliefs is non-existent. The resort to Ugaritic material to fill the gap left by the lack of Palestinian material brings its own problems of being certain that Ugarit is fully representative of Palestinian beliefs and practices. Mute archaeological findings may somewhat fill that gap but material remains speak to a limited range of issues. The course of argument from mute archaeological findings to abstract beliefs is so problematic as to be not worth considering (284).
Is a distinction between the Cosmological and theological demonstrably part of the common conceptions of the world in which Scripture originated? The answer is an unambiguous negative! That distinction is a modern one and thus is part of what we bring to the past. It looks very much like a popular version of Kant’s distinction between the noumena and the phenomena. So an interpretation of the biblical text in which such a distinction is foundational involves an element of eisegesis, no matter how much the user may intend to put Scripture in its context (285).
Yet, one must concede a certain attractiveness to this distinction between the physical and the religious. It forms a way in which difficult passages of Scripture may be dealt with while the “theological” truths are apparently still maintained (286).
The force of Seely’s argument depends upon there being a uniform pre-modern belief. All that is needed to undermine the argument is an example of a different belief, preferably from a culture close to ancient Israel. The culture contemporary with the writing of the OT that gives us the most information about cosmological beliefs is Mesopotamia.
Since Seely published his views, a comprehensive review of Mesopotamian cosmology has appeared in Wayne Horowitz’s Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography. Significant Mesopotamian evidence exists in a text which shows a drawing of land surrounded by a circular ocean. In reference to this drawing, Seely does not mention that the map also shows regions beyond the sea. Horowitz is undecided whether these regions are islands or larger landmasses. Whatever the case, the drawing is not evidence for a simple picture of the earth as land surrounded by a circular ocean. We might postulate that the Mesopotamians believed that the landmass on which they lived was surrounded by sea, but that they also knew that theirs was not the only land (286).
Yet, there is not a consistent belief that below the solid surface was a watery Apsu. Building texts describe the foundations of a building being placed on the underworld or the surface of the underworld. The roots of mountains also go down to the underworld. Further complicating the picture is a text where the gods dig a ditch for the sea with a plough so that the sea would actually rest on the earth’s surface. These varying pictures should warn us that there is not a simple, uniform physical picture being presented (287).
Having discussed the details of Enuma Elish, Weeks writes:
What this examination shows us is that one can form a physical and geometric model if one is selective in what one chooses to quote from Enuma Elish, but not if one takes each passage that should be relevant. This situation raises a fundamental issue. Was the author thinking in terms of a physical and geometric model? For modern thinkers cosmology primarily implies a physical model. In trying to abstract the cosmology of an ancient text, we naturally look for what physical model we can extract. By selective quotation, we can obtain such a model. Yet, if all the details will not fit a physical and geometric picture, are we engaging in correct exegesis? (289–90).
On the raqia as a solid dome:
Seely argues that there is a common pre-modern conception of the sky as a solid dome. Hence, the writers of the Bible must have been thinking of the firmament of Gen 1:6-8 as solid. His primary argument from the biblical text itself rests upon the meaning of raqia. The root has the sense of stamping or beating out something. Seely’s view has been contested by J. P. Holding who points out that the raqia is called heaven (Gen 1:8). Birds fly in heaven (Deut 4:17) and God is enthroned in heaven (Ps 11:4), so it cannot be conceived as a solid structure. Seely attempted to deal with this in his original article by saying that heaven is wider than the raqia. However, the proof texts that he cites for that proposition are all texts which show that heaven is not solid. Thus, they prove that heaven is wider than the raqia only if we accept the point at issue that the raqia must be solid; therefore, a non-solid heaven cannot be completely synonymous with the raqia. This is a clear example of assuming the point at issue (291–92).
In other words, I am willing to confess ignorance as to the import of raqia. Since the expectation that a physical model must have been primary in the mind of the author leads in the wrong direction in other cases, I am reluctant to assume that it is primary here. In the case of the Mesopotamian text with a three-tiered heaven, the necessity of three heavens arises from the need to accommodate various gods. The biblical text has no such need; therefore, a greater indefiniteness about the arrangements of the heavens is not surprising. If the argument for a uniform pre-modern mentality is spurious, as I believe it to be, then Seely’s case really rests on one word. I think that is an insufficient basis for determining biblical cosmology (292).
G. K. Beale has shown that the arguments Peter Enns makes about the use of the OT in the New are based on a selective use of the evidence, and Beale has also demonstrated that Enns is reductionistic about how the Biblical authors appropriated ideas from their contexts. This article by Weeks, in my judgment, shows that those who hold the kinds of views on which Enns bases his theological program have rushed to judgment on the basis of cultural eisegesis and a selective appropriation of the available evidence. What can be known, however, will not support the weight of these conclusions. In addition to all this, Enns is trying to synthesize Christianity and evolution.
Proverbs 18:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 apply here.
Frei certainly never thought of himself as a “great theologian, ” but he did have a central passion, a central idea. That idea emerged through long study, in the 1950s and ’60s, of l8th- and 19th-century ways of interpreting the Bible. He grew convinced that nearly the whole of modern Christian theology, from the radical to the fundamentalist, had taken a wrong turn.
For many centuries before the modern age, most Christian theologians had read the Bible primarily as a kind of realistic narrative. It told the overarching story of the world, from creation to last judgment. Moreover, the particular coherence of this story made “figural” interpretation possible: some events in the biblical stories, as well as some nonbiblical events, prefigured or reflected the central biblical events. Indeed, Christians made sense of their own lives by locating their stories within the context of that larger story.
But somewhere around the 18th century, people started reading the Bible differently. Their own daily experience seemed to define for them what was “real, ” and so they consciously tried to understand the meaning of the Bible by locating it in their world.
They did that in — to overgeneralize — two ways. They saw the meaning of the biblical narratives either in the eternal truths about God and human nature that the stories conveyed or in their reference to historical events. The Bible thus fit into the world of our experience either as a set of general lessons applicable to that world or as an extension of that world developed by means of critical history.
Those two ways of interpreting the Bible remain prominent. Those who set out the moral lessons of Jesus’ teaching or focus on the insights provided by his parables believe that the real point of the Gospels lies in their general lessons for our lives. On the other hand, fueled by Wolfhart Pannenberg’s early arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and continuing scholarly efforts to establish which of the Gospel sayings were really spoken by the historical Jesus, some Christians still tend to treat the Bible as a historical source whose value lies primarily in its historical accuracy.
The whole is worth reading. I think this is basically right, and this is why I sometimes say that the aim of biblical theology is to get at the presuppositions of the biblical authors, to get into their world, and to stay there. We want to live in the world as the biblical authors conceived it.
As Placher puts it, summarizing Frei:
Frei’s theology is finally church theology: it first of all addresses the Christian community and invites that community to let the biblical narratives shape its vision of the world. To what extent parts of that community will respond to such invitations may be the most important unanswered question regarding Frei’s work.
See further Frei’s Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.
Reflecting on a post entitled “The Spiritual Ground of History,” Charles Halton describes a poignant moment in his own research:
. . . as I was going through the cuneiform tablet collection that belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I was bogged down in trying to read from broken tablets and keep track of the accounts mentioned in the various texts when, as I held a 4,000 year old tablet in my hand, I saw a fingerprint. It was a powerful sign that reminded me that as I read the tablet I was not merely reading a “sheep text” but a record of the work of a real human being. Someone who probably enjoyed his work some days and other days found it difficult and frustrating. Someone with parents who loved him or was he abused? Maybe he had a wife and child at home and worried about feeding and clothing them and about buying a new house, and so on. This tablet was no longer just about sheep, it was about the humans who engaged in these tasks.
A few lines later he has this description of history from a novel:
in Julian Barnes’ new novel, A Sense of an Ending, in which this definition of history is attributed to one of the characters:
History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
The whole thing.
David Zahl has a theological interpretation of Axl Rose and Guns N Roses in three parts. Here’s a snippet from the first:
So Axl is sadly the product of the worst kind of religion: ultra-bootcamp Pelagianism compartmentalized to the point of cruelty (not to mention completely at odds with its founder). It wouldn’t be a leap to say that the distance that young Axl had to travel to escape, both geographically and lifestyle-wise, correlates pretty closely to the toxicity of his circumstances in Lafayette. As soon as he could, and after finding out that the preacher in question wasn’t even his biological father, he hopped a bus to LA, following his friend Izzy Stradlin, where he proceeded to dive headfirst into one of the more decadent scenes in the country. Or so the story goes. We all know that strict parents often produce rebellious kids, that the Law does indeed tend to increase the trespass, but still, there is only one Axl Rose. And his story just begins there.
In 2008 Rowling gave a stirring address at the Harvard commencement on the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. Some highlights:
by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
Read the whole thing here.
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