What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
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S. E. Morison concludes the Preface to his edition of Of Plymouth Plantation 1620–1647 by William Bradford with this stirring paragraph:
Bradford’s history is a story of a simple people inspired by an ardent faith to a dauntless courage in danger, a resourcefulness in dealing with new problems, an impregnable fortitude in adversity that exalts and heartens one in an age of uncertainty, when courage falters and faith grows dim. It is this story, told by a great human being, that has made the Pilgrim Fathers in a sense the spiritual ancestors of all Americans, all pioneers.
Have you heard references to the “failed policies of the past”? I always wonder if they think, as it seems, that freedom is the failed policy of the past. It seems that many in our culture want to replace freedom with more governmental control of all of life.
Ironically, that’s the failed policy of the past.
John Lewis Gaddis recounts how the Communists in China decided to bring “hope and change” to their people on the basis of what “science” called them to do as they pursued their “progressive” policies as “history marched forward” to a better future for the people:
Then [Mao] decided on something even more dramatic: he would merge the industrialization and collectivization campaigns by transforming peasants into proletarians after all, but by means that went beyond anything Stalin had ever considered. He ordered farmers throughout China to abandon their crops, build furnaces in their backyards, throw in their own furniture as fuel, melt down their agricultural implements–and produce steel.
The result of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” was the greatest single human calamity of the 20th century. Stalin’s campaign to collectivize agriculture had caused between 5 and 7 million people to starve to death during the 1930s. Mao now sextupled that record, producing a famine that between 1958 and 1961 took the lives of over 30 million people, by far the worst on record anywhere ever.
–John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History, 111–12.
Freedom is always better than governmental control. Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
The 20th century is a sad tale of Central Planners who took freedom from their people and gave them death.
What they say is true: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
In his “Introduction” to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis noted that “Every age has its own outlook.” Reading “the controversies of past ages,” Lewis was struck that “both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. . . . they were all the time secretly united . . . by a great mass of common assumptions.”
I am convinced that the biblical authors have their own outlook and share a great mass of common assumptions. The task of biblical theology is to trace out the worldview that the biblical authors share with one another.
In What Is Biblical Theology?, I’m trying to get at the outlook, shared assumptions, in short, the worldview of the biblical authors, by examining the Bible’s story, symbols, patterns, and the church’s role in it all.
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:
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.
- The World Is Whispering August 26, 2014
- What’s the Point of the Millennium? July 10, 2014
- So there could be a Jesus: TGC Interview on Ezra–Nehemiah June 12, 2014
- SBTS Alumni Academy on Biblical Theology June 7, 2014
- May Women Teach Men at Church? September 2, 2006
- Q & A on Paul and Jesus, Women and the Law January 21, 2007
- Three Objections Enns Makes to Mohler: Apparant Age, Authority, and World-Picture November 4, 2011
- How Often Should a Church Take the Lord’s Supper? May 3, 2011