Tuesday 30 September 2014

From one extreme to another

Stay curious has this amazing set of pictures of a giant prehistoric science fiction deep sea creature yuch. (we have a little one that is fossilized.)

And Ken Schenck has an interesting set of posts on his own theology - very tidy indeed. I have not read them in detail but I like the outline.

Saturday 27 September 2014

A few more good links

Here's a nice book review by James Pate.
Tom Thatcher’s Why John Wrote a Gospel addresses the question of why the Gospel of John was written down. He raises some of the same sorts of questions that I have: Why write, when most people arguably could not read, and when there was an oral culture? But he also asks questions that rest on other considerations. Why did the author of the Gospel of John see a need to write a Gospel, when he said that the Holy Spirit would bring things about Jesus to people’s remembrance (John 14:26)? If the Holy Spirit could cause believers to remember what Jesus said and did, would it not be unnecessary to write those things down to preserve them and to keep them from being forgotten?
And here's Jim Davila on Daf Yomi and Jewish Mysticism.
The “act of Creation,” we read in Chagiga 11b, can be taught only to one student at a time, and the Chariot—the name for the prophet Ezekiel’s baroque vision of the Godhead—cannot be taught at all. It must be studied alone, and then only if the student is “wise and understands on his own.
Eventually I will get around to some notes on Jewish Theology by Louis Jacobs. It is curious to me that I have found significant misprints. (I actually check references.) And I have also found both strong and weak reasoning, both strong references and weak ones - like C. S. Lewis on pain in animals - exceedingly weak. I hope to address the whole nine yards of the science of God at some point: Unity, relationship to humanity, reward and punishment, Anointing and the world to come, time and science, election and the scandal of particularity, predestination, providence, and miracles, and who knows what else. This is my death-wish I suppose. For I like anyone else, cannot see God's face and live (Exodus 33:20). Whatever... I have died already in the Anointed. I will start and end there. I took this list of topics, this subdivision of a theological treatise from Jacobs' summary on page 8. I changed a number of his words since I think his words lead him along some paths that are not fruitful. But my theology is and I hope will continue to be 'in God', and 'in Christ' (which I will redefine as 'in the Anointing'. Christ is bigger than Jesus. God is Spirit - not three old men throwing olives at each other among the clouds and shouting Tov! Tov! Tov Me-od' to each other.

And here's Rabbi Rachel's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah. What can we learn from the other? What then can we learn from the One who is wholly Other? Locally, our Christian preachers, Christopher and Alastair muse of the ultimate question and what preaching is about.  Just so you know, even though neither is of my parish, I do read some local Christian stuff too.

But I haven't been reading much recently - I am using a pair of reading glasses that cost $1 and 0.10 cents - bought at Dollarama the day after my second laser eye operation to remove cataracts. The results are good. In a month or so I will get a proper prescription. $1.10 - who says good deals are no longer available?

Enough - I am behind on my reading - must go visit and later watch the Ryder cup.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Translation principles

Here is a radical insight, not dissimilar to the principles that have informed my own work in translation. More developed and disciplined - as must be from one who has had more formal opportunity - but I think not without convergence from another outsider.
  1. Take the biblical text seriously in all its plurality. Her listening to the marginalized voices respects the context of the canon.
  2. 'Attending to the orality of the text means not sacrificing form for function or meaning.' (My emphasis).
  3. Concordance. (Her words are too 'big' - too many syllables - to copy for this point). Her example(s) are really fun. 'God revealed Godself as male and female in the first two verses of Genesis.'
  4. 'Translate for all ... from each perspective present (or hidden) in the text.'
There are several more principles but since I am not a black woman, they don't apply to me in quite the same way - but I hear them as any 'other' should. The whole article is worth reading. Thanks to Kurk Gayle for the pointer.

Monday 22 September 2014

What's going on in my blogosphere

The world keeps turning even if I am only turning in my grave. What grave thoughts! Grave and grace differ by only one letter - and the typo is easy on a querty keyboard :)

Phil Long is putting his introductory course on the historical context of the NT on line through a blog series - and they are rather good. Here's the latest on the importance of keeping Sabbath in the first century.

The kerfuffle at Mars Hill is emerging even in Northern Anglican blogs such as this one by a neighbour in Victoria. Follow the links in the comments to Rachel Held Evans' blog and another Canadian from Montreal.

I don't want to miss Jewish-Christian Intersections. Always worth the read. I myself am reading Louis Jacobs book A Jewish Theology. I may have some posts on it later...

There may be other worthy posts, but I have a habit of marking all as read recently. Same old, same old. Who will give me something stimulating?

Hey bloggers, what's up these days? What's important on your blog?

Sunday 21 September 2014

The Present

When you have a present in front of you ready to be opened, the first thing you do with it is remove the wrapping paper. Then you take the present out of the box and remove the inner packaging. If you are an organized person, you use the box to hold the wrapping and packaging with a view to getting them into the recycling. In other words, the present is the important part that you keep, and the other stuff you throw away.

The present in front of us is the Psalms. A book containing the whole collection of these 150 poems is called a Psalter. In this case, don't throw away the box or the wrapping material. The outer wrapping and the inner packaging are both important to understanding each of the poems. And in each psalm, there is tissue paper stored with the words and phrases. Hear the rustle of the paper as you mutter the words of the psalm. Though the packaging and wrapping are not the essence of the present, they do from their shape reveal the mind of the One who is the present.

In a word, the Psalms in their sequence reveal a story. It is your story and mine. So much is shared between us in joy and sorrow. These things were written for our learning. We will move from the negative to praise, from exile to consolation. In all these things we will learn from the One who teaches humanity knowledge. These words were written to form us together into a people who know mercy.

Here is the opening negative word – listen for what is repeated: Happy the person, who does not walk in the advice of the wicked, and in the way of sinners does not stand, and in the seat of the scornful does not sit. Here is the final invitation – listen to its joy: All the breath-bearing, praise Yah. Hallelu Yah. Between these two verses, Psalm 1:1, and Psalm 150:6 you will find a complete story, creation, redemption, exile, consolation, sin, forgiveness, anger, and joy.

The Psalms, collectively known as Tehillim, or praises, are partitioned into five books. Book 1 begins with Psalm 1 and ends with Psalm 41. Book 2 begins with Psalm 42 and ends with Psalm 72. Book 3 begins with Psalm 73 and ends with Psalm 89. Books 2 and 3 contain many great laments, both personal and collective. Book four runs from Psalms 90 to 106. And so Book 5 begins at Psalm 107 and ends at Psalm 150. Each book ends with a verse of praise. Book 5 builds praise into a great crescendo. It ends with five psalms of praise following a psalm that is called a praise of David, Psalm 145.

In Books 1 and 5, there are eight special poems that are children’s games. They are alphabet poems, though they are a little more complex than A is for Apple. In Book 1, the four poems are all broken. First are Psalms 9 and 10, a single alphabetic poem but spread over two Psalms with seven missing letters. Then comes Psalm 25 (two missing letters). Then Psalm 34 (one missing letter), and finally Psalm 37 (two missing letters). Psalm 37 is named the wicked acrostic since the word for wicked occurs 14 times in that poem. In Book 5, the four acrostics are Psalms 111, 112, 119, and 145. Each of these alphabetic poems is perfect. There is no letter out of place.

You can just begin to see that this present comes in a complex box with five different compartments. The first and last compartment have these 9 poems constructed in this obvious special form of the child’s game. The second and third compartment are filled with laments over various difficulties in the history of Israel. The fourth compartment begins with a prayer of Moses and reveals a consolation and ultimate establishment of the work to be done: And let the pleasure of the Lord our God be upon us, and the deeds of our hands establish upon us, and the deeds of our hands establish. And consider the fourth verse of Psalm 106: remember me YHWH[1] in the acceptance of your people, visit me in your salvation.

But the box is yet more complex. In the first and last books, each alphabetic poem celebrates the psalm that immediately precedes it. So the first of these acrostics, Psalms 9 and 10, celebrates Psalm 8: YHWH our Lord ,how majestic your name in all the earth. Psalm 8 presents joy in the child of humanity: you make it a little less than God and with glory and honour you crown it. And in Book 5, the last of the acrostics, Psalm 145, celebrates Psalm 144. And this psalm mirrors Psalm 8 with a touch of humour. In Psalm 8, For I see your heavens, that your fingers make, moon and stars, which you have established; and In Psalm 144: Blessed is YHWH my rock, the teacher of my hands to close combat, my fingers to war. These two psalms contain the only use of the word fingers in the Psalms. Psalm 144 also presents the child of humanity, but this time with a different touch, what is this humanity that you know it, a mortal child that you devised it; humanity is like futility, its days as a shadow passing away.

Similarly, Psalm 25 celebrates Psalm 24, gates, lift up your heads, and be lifted up, doors everlasting, and the king of glory will come in. And Psalm 119 celebrates Psalm 118, Open to me the gates of righteousness. I will go into them; I will give thanks to Yah. This is the gate of YHWH. Righteous ones will go into it. Psalm 34 celebrates the first mention of the new song in Psalm 33. Psalm 37 celebrates the oracle that is Psalm 36. And Psalms 111 and 112 celebrate the only other oracle in the Psalms, Psalm 110. These sixteen Psalms are like a great set of eight pillars holding up the tent of this book of praises.

If that is part of the box that contains this present, what is the inner wrapping like? Each psalm has its own individual tissue paper, and many pairs of psalms also are packaged together. For example, if we look at repeated words, Psalm 145 has the word all repeated 17 times. It is like a drum beat in the poem. Or if we look at Psalms 1 and 2 together, we find seven key words joining these two psalms together. Psalm 2 uses five of the words in Psalm 1 in the same sequence, sit – day – gives – judge – perish. Who is seated in Psalm 2 and what is the dangerous seat in Psalm 1? What is the common time period shared between the two psalms? Who gives in Psalm 2 to whom and what is the subject of gives in Psalm 1? Who judges and what perishes? In addition, the word way is used after this sequence in Psalm 2 but before the sequence in Psalm 1. Way and happy are an overall frame for the two poems.

You can see that we cannot throw out this material. The poems are packaged with the words themselves, teaching us by means of their own patterns. When you read a psalm, look for these patterns.

That was the red tissue paper, but there is also white, green, blue, yellow and other colours of tissue paper packaging the words. What! More packaging – when do we get to the present itself? The present itself is invisible, but definitely still present. And the present will be known by presence itself, your presence to it, and its presence to you. The packaged tissue of words is exquisitely formed because the present is itself exquisite. All your senses will be needed and action too. No part can be omitted.

There are 150 starting places, some small, some large. Psalm 78 is the longest single poem at 72 verses. Psalm 119 is longer, but it can also be seen as 22 short eight-verse poems. Psalm 76:4 contains the words that are at the centre of the praises. They are a suitable hope: there he shatters the fire-brands of bow shield and sword and battle. Selah.

But let’s pick up a lesser known part of the gift, a psalm not often studied, but important because it deals with the tongue, our tongue. How well do we control what we say? Here is Psalm 52.
For the leader, An insight of David: In comes Doeg the Edomite and he makes it clear to Saul saying to him, David goes to the house of Ahimelech.
Why do you boast in evil, O valiant one? The reproof of God is all the day long.
Calamities your tongue devises, like a honed razor that acts with deceit.
You love evil over good, falsehood over a matter of righteousness. Selah.
You love to swallow up all sorts of things, tongue of deceit.
But God will overcome you in perpetuity, he will take hold of you and pluck you from your tent and root you out of the land of the living. Selah.
And the-many righteous will see and fear and they will laugh at him: So this is the valiant one who did not set up God as his strength but trusted in the abundance of his riches and strengthened himself in his own calamity.
But I am like an olive tree, green in the house of God. I trust in God’s reproof now and for ever. I will thank you forever, for you have acted and I await your name for it is good, made clear to those under your mercy.
This poem is in Book 2. Notice that it does not use the personal name of God, YHWH, but just the word for God (Elohim). Psalms 42 to 86, that is most of Books 2 and 3, use Elohim more often than YHWH. This is yet another aspect of the packaging, a set of Psalms with a differing style.

Notice the repeated words in bold in this angry psalm. David is escaping from Saul, and Doeg squeals on him. Not a nice usage of the tongue. I wondered if David as much as calls Doeg a reproof of God. But it is not so complicated. I have rendered the word for loving-kindness almost as its opposite. It is true, however, that reproof, if we listen, is also loving-kindness. There is a real standard to behaviour in the people of God. We cannot simply snitch on others just because we think the boss (in this case, the disturbed Saul) is going to reward us. Not only is it bad for us, but given that we belong to God’s people, it doesn’t do much for God’s reputation either. Notice also who makes evidence clear to whom: Doeg makes his evidence clear to Saul and God makes the goodness of his name (reputation) clear to those who are under his mercy.

Repeated commonly used words also show us a connection between Psalms 52 and Psalm 51. The word for come and go appears twice at the beginning of Psalm 51 when Nathan the prophet came to David as he had come to Bathsheva, and twice in the beginning of Psalm 52. One could say that these Psalms, being juxtaposed, recognize both David’s sin and Doeg’s sin. Both these persons are in need of correction and covenant mercy. For more on the tongue see Psalm 12, YHWH will cut off all lips divided ... tongue speaking greatness, who said with our tongue we will prevail; our lips are ours; who is Lord to us! And Psalm 15, the one who will dwell on the holy hill is one who does not slander with his tongue. The tongue is a theme throughout the Psalms. In Book 5, Psalm 120, the first of the 15 Psalms of Ascent asks YHWH for deliverance from a false tongue, and then poses a question to the tongue: what gives with you or what next with you deceitful tongue? Psalm 141 is the last of the prayers in this theme, asking YHWH to: set a guard on my mouth; preserve the gateway of my lips.

This sentence from Psalm 141 reveals another piece of the internal packaging of a psalm verse. Notice how the two parts of the verse say the same thing in different words. This is an example of a synonymous parallel. One can also have an antithetical parallel where one phrase is contrasted with another. For example in Psalm 30: for a moment is in his anger, lives are in his acceptance; in the evening weeping stops over, but of the morning, a shout of joy. The parallels may be sequential in form a-b, a-b as above or opposite  a-b, b-a. They may even contain more than two elements, such as in the first verse of Psalm 1 a three by three parallel, or the next to last verse of Psalm 3: for you strike all my enemies on the cheek, the teeth of the wicked you break. This is in the form a-b-c, c-b-a.

[1] Y-H-W-H is the personal name of the God of Israel.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Does Ezra have music and other miscellany?

Here is a fine article on Matthew and the fulfillment motif - very fine - anticipate Christmas with it - but read it all.

I have already facebooked (verbed that noun) a speech by Solzhenitsyn and a comment on his nationalism - a nice combo if you are worried about humanity. But more comment is required on the potential for a difference to be discovered in the one who is the Vine. Better is not my favorite word.

And here is Ezra 1 - hmmm what will one do with the default mode?

Monday 8 September 2014

Stephen Hawking on PBS

Diana and I were captivated by the PBS show on Stephen Hawking. It is astonishing what the team around him was able to support during the last 40 years. It is a beautifully tender film.

The technology, the nursing support, the support of his students in the face of such a debilitating disease is for me a testament to the presence of God in the community of his supporters. For my money, even spontaneous creation is not an argument for non-existence.

That Jonah can point to the one who creates the sea and the dry land, and the psalms to the one who creates the heavens and the earth is as good an argument for presence. Let's take our responsibilities seriously and not squander our lives on falsity.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Blogging History, motivation and meaning

Although this is a top 50 , even a top 20 Biblioblog, I do not have a lot of activity. I have had in the past 8 years about 210,000 page views on just over 2500 posts. You might think I need my head examined.

What is your motivation, Bob?

You know, I mean, well, shucks, um, yeah/no, it's hard to say.

After all, you might say, you're not a liberal theologian, you're not a scholar, you're not even a card-carrying evangelical. You don't believe a whole lot of nonsense that North Americans argue over incessantly. No posts on males and females, very few on same-sex relations at least in the last 10 years, nothing on evolution or un intelligent design, I mean on ..., but a few on stupid design decisions.

Do you even think about these things?

Yes I do. It's true I am not trained in theology, but there is almost no post that does not point to a theological issue: like responsibility, prayer, maturity, care for the other, and so on. And there is no post where I have not dug the words out of deep recesses, treasure old and new.

I am prejudiced too. (I have two sons who are not Caucasian, so I don't mean racially prejudiced.) I am prejudiced towards, ... what shall I say? - not equal, because things are not equal, but rather in favour of forms of judgment and justice that enable growth in others, whatever form that judgment must take.

What I see in the sexual and gender related discussions in the blogosphere is anger and fear. What I see in the young earth creationists is fear and ignorance. If I meet one, I can sometimes find words to undermine the fear and soothe the anger and stimulate the question-mechanism that any individual has. But I admit this is difficult, especially with (some) old and encrusted rationalizations that one finds in the older folks who grew up in differing times.

Of course I am talking about those who are open to some aspect of listening. There are many who have too much vested interest in their own self-image and for whom some questions would collapse the structure of their lives. At times one gives up for a while, and perhaps the opportunity arises again. I do have my own struggles too - a lot of lesions, crunched fenders, and the odd loose nut or bolt in my conditioning. But this old model car is still putting along.

You are, I think, a person of faith. How do you manage with your relations?

My relations? All my relations: cousins, siblings, children, parishioners, university, medical folks, fellow patients, and all the suppliers of goods and services I am dependent on - there's a long list.

In many ways we live in an age of unbelief, but I could divide even the believers, the 'parishioners' into a hundred types, scholars, administrators, lovers, singers, clergy active and retired, teachers, authors, and so on. Each face presents a different question.

They asked me this question at the university in the company of scholars. But they, the questioners, had some very strange ideas about what they thought I believed, as if repeated words are some sort of magic. If I find a psalm that uses 9 words and I find that the next psalm uses the same 9 words in reverse sequence, I am not in the presence of magic, I am in the presence of the mind that wrote the second psalm based on a study of the first or vice versa. And I am in the presence of someone who loved that primary poem.

Love. The entire Torah is summed up in that one word. That relates to family and responsibility, to hope, even if only temporal, to shared history, and unshared history (family always has a few surprises), to inheritance, or to more distant now independent sibling and cousin relations. The shared history always gives rise to a willingness to talk, write, and express some aspect of what is up. So we have written our online newsletters that speak volumes of untold story. One of my old school friends found me through these old writings - it was cool to make contact again after 50 years.

All the Christmas files have had to be moved - should now be accessible here.

Perhaps then that's my motivation - a reaching out to unknown folks, now some of them known around the world. It's good. That seems a sufficient reason.

Do you then, believe in God? Or is it humanity that holds your hope?

One thing I have noticed in my recent book reviews. The reality of the writer behind the book shows through much like the questions on the face of each parishioner. But they, books or people, are really hard to read, these individual realities. Not many of them talk to me. Perhaps I put them off. Some few I think I encourage, and some few encourage me. In the hospital, I met a man who was encouraged by my study and my questions. Both of us were in some state of anxiety so the psalms were a good conversation piece. Perhaps I can ask no more of humanity.

I fear more than I hope for humanity. There is an aching void in the violence and ignorance and it's a void that can be filled with horror. There is a randomness that I fear also. Yet sometimes there is joy in the random encounters. Perhaps that too is a rationale for blogging, for writing 2500+ essays and snippets.

But yes, with respect to God let me close with Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Anne. Don't miss the horns at the end. Only Purcell can turn an augmented major third into such unbearable lightness.

And here's an embedded shorter piece from the same funeral.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears unto our pray'rs;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty.
O holy and most merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal,
suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Reviews and Books - the Popular and the Useful

Sometimes you are sitting on a rough-cut gem and not really making use of it. Sometimes a glass diamond glitters and you are captivated but the impact is short-lived. Sometimes you hold a rock which may be polished to a shine but does not reveal any depth.

From an old school copy of essays by Francis Bacon, I remember this advice:
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
There are many books but there is one you. There are many distractions but there is One who loves you and who wants to build you into the likeness of the Eternal. There are many others like you and like me who form this building, a temple suitable for the indwelling Spirit of the Most High.

It is not a simple thing to build this building. The One who teaches humanity knowledge is the One who builds and who knows the cost. The cost is in the cup of salvation, a cup prepared for the wicked to drink to the dregs (Psalm 75:9):
for there is a cup in the hand of YHWH
and the wine is red
full of mixture
and he spills from it
surely they will suck the dregs
all the wicked of the earth will imbibe

and yet it is drunk by the elect instead (Psalm 116:13):
the cup of salvation I will bear
so in the name of YHWH I will call

This word cup is the same as the word for owl, used in the prayer of Psalm 102:7
I am like an unclean bird of the wilderness
I have become like an owl of the desert

Here the cup is an image of the body, as in Psalm 23:5, where my cup is saturated.

The pointer forward to Jesus and his use of the image of cup is very clear - can you drink of the cup that I must drink? If we are to be a cup fit for the master's use, then should we not chew and digest our instruction, the same instruction from which Jesus learned his own calling?  There is no better way to do this than by meditation on the Psalms and the use of the imagery of these poems in both the New and Old Testaments.

This is the work of my book Seeing the Psalter. I use it myself to consider my own calling. I wrote it so that I could learn Hebrew poetry as fully as possible and it is serving me well on a daily basis. This useful book has now been reviewed by Professor Susan Gillingham of the University of Oxford for the Society for Old Testament Studies. The review is short but very encouraging. She calls it an "unusual commentary on the Psalms, in part technological, in part aesthetic, in part hermeneutical".

Yes - it is unusual. It is meant for growth for me and for the reader (that's the hermeneutical part). It does not waste time on distractions. She ends her review with these words for which I am deeply grateful:  "Overall this is an ambitious and intriguing project, but is still very much work in progress: interested readers should look at MacDonald’s shared documents at this website."

I concur with her comment that the book is a work in progress. It is like a huge canvas, impossible to finish. The Psalms are part of the infrastructure of the temple. A commentary is, like me and like you, a work in progress. But God forbid we should fail to progress towards the full scope of the image of power and love and a sound mind that we are called into and that is prepared for us.

[Susan's review is available online through Sage Publications, but hold your clicks. It is behind a pay wall. Sage offers a one month free access once a year. When it becomes available I will note it. I am pleased indeed that the review directly references my presentation at the Open University in London last year. It is a good summary of my intent. I will make sure this address does not get deleted any time soon. The summary is in no way a substitute for pondering the Psalms!]

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Religion without God (4)

Continuing the previous posts on Religion without God, a very short book (30,000 words or so) by the late philosopher and legal expert, Ronald Dworkin.

Dworkin (p.24) divides religious values into godly convictions, worship, prayer, and obedience, and the value of ethical responsibility. He rejects the first three and accepts the last as a value shared with many who do not necessarily believe in God.  It seems to me that obedience and ethics might well overlap, but he doesn't make the connection. Worship and obedience do not appear in his index. Prayer only appears under the entry "prayer in public schools". In the third entry on this subject, he notes the US compromise of a moment of silence that allows for prayer or meditation, or just resting the eyes.

Worship would focus the dispute if he had addressed it. Perhaps he makes a stab with his appeals to truth and beauty from Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn, but neither the calling out of beauty with a loud voice (A Room with a View) not the engraved for ever panting and for ever young quite does the full job of suggesting a conscious and mature worship. And the brief mentions of Otto and Tillich on the numinous are likewise not satisfying, since many do not come to worship in such a state.

The most moving courses I ever took in school were on special relativity. Time dilation has gripped my soul ever since those heady for ever days. No one can convince me that eternal and everlasting are for ever in a linear sense. Even the universe as we see it in scientific theory has beginning and end. And the ancients also knew that whatever release there was from our troubled lives was for ever in a sense that is different from a linear model of time. So Revelation speaks of the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. And Jewish tradition knows of the primal 'existence' of Torah.

Redemption is thus embedded in creation. (Psalm 75) Who can pay for our damage? (Psalm 49) How can we be forgiven? (Psalm 103) Time as a straight line is quite boring.

Dworkin approaches the beauty of science quite well in his chapter 2 on the universe. Yet even such awe, bordering on the numinous, does not come to the full recognition of that which is worthy of worship. Psalm 19 as I have noted before makes a direct connection between creation and Torah and the human problem of sin. The full recognition of worship is embedded in the story that is in the Psalms. For example, note Psalm 22, known for its famous verse 1: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. In verse 23, the forsaken one announces your name to my kin. Then in verse 28, the poet proclaims:

All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to יהוה [the name, YHWH]
All the families of the nations will worship in your presence

Verse 30 then notes:

All the sleek of the earth will eat and worship in his presence
All who go down to dust will bow

The parallel would suggest that it should read all who sleep in the earth. In Seeing the Psalter, I have translated the error into a single character slip in English from a single character adjustment in the Hebrew. Translation really can be fun. [(p. 81) sleek, דשׁן (dshn) fat, feels like a misprint for sleep, ישׁן]. Mind you sleek works too for it shows that the fat are economically exploiting the afflicted (verse 27).

The afflicted will eat and be satisfied
Those who search for יהוה will praise him
May your heart live for ever

Worship is associated with eating and being satisfied. It does not require a religious experience of the numinous. I say this for the majority who do not find such experience. Neither does it preclude the numinous. But justice with equity, and satisfaction, is the key to worship. If nations or tribes or nature or even the universe could bring about justice then patriotism, tribalism and sun worship would be justified. But they can't bring about justice, nor can vague appeals to beauty be satisfactory in themselves.

There's a lot more about worship in the psalms. They end, as is well known, with the great noise of Psalm 150 where all those who are engaged in the birthing of the universe breathe their thanksgiving. It is a remarkable collection of poems.

I have 16 references to the topic of worship in the psalms in my topical index. Read them - in fact, if you have enjoyed this series, read them in my translation with my comprehensive 55 page Hebrew-English and English-Hebrew glossary (471-526) and 7 part index where the wholeness of this poetry can be experienced. I did not shortchange you. The index alone was the work of several months. Software helps but completeness is a manual thing.

If you live in Victoria, you can order the book from me - in fact I have a few on hand. You will not be disappointed in 'the One' who is portrayed in the story and 'who teaches humanity knowledge'. (Kimhi). If you live far away, please order through Energion Direct. At 526 pages you will have plenty to occupy your capacity for poetry.

Now I am done with Dworkin. There is neither satisfaction nor completeness in Religion without God. There is no salvation either. אין ישועה בדת בלי אלוהים

Worship is most effectively expressed with praise and thanksgiving. So among many examples in the Psalms:

I will thank you for you have answered me
and you are my salvation

(Psalm 118:21)

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor by Joel Hoffman

"Perhaps surprisingly, their first question wasn't how to survive. It was why they had to survive. Or, more precisely, why no one was taking care of that for them."
So begins Joel Hoffman as story teller, page 171 of his new book: The Bible's Cutting Room Floor. I am grateful to St Martin's Press for sending me a pre-publication copy of this book. It has been a pleasure to have my attention drawn to this subject.

Cutting room floor is a modern expression first used in 1708 for the stone cutters, and only recently used in the context of editing of documents - but mostly of film. Here is a little of what the Oxford English Dictionary gives us: "(a) a room where the cutting of clothing materials, meat, etc. is done; (b) a room where surgical operations are performed; (c) a room where a film is cut or edited" (this is a cinematographic use of cut as in 'cut to scene 3').

Is the cutting room floor an apt metaphor for the editing of the Bible? Does it suggest a set of collectors, authors, editors, readers and critics preparing a volume for publication and accepting or rejecting the contents of the Festschrift for God? Or was God making a film? Applying this metaphor to the Bible leads me wondering about the means by which written texts were collected, used, stored, and modified. Why is there such a thing as a canon of Scripture? Without raising these questions explicitly, the book nonetheless addresses many issues that can arise from considering an ancient text that is called 'Holy'.

We are not talking modern editing or selection, and we are certainly not talking about surgical operations or film or butchery of meat. But clothing is apt, the Bible being a habit, as it were, and clothing a significant metaphor in the canon for both God and humanity. In the Psalms alone, the metaphor is applied to nature, hills clothed with flocks, to YHWH, pride clothed, and clothed with splendour and honour, even with the abyss. The garment will fade but the clothing is also renewed. See Psalms 22:19, 35:13, 26, 45:14, 65:14, 69:12, 93:1, 1, 102:27, 104:1, 6, 109:18, 29, 132:9, 16, 18.

But my thoughts are tangential to Joel's stated intent for the book: to start "in ancient Jerusalem" and venture "through a wide variety of texts", to bring us "back to modernity with a renewed appreciation for the Bible ... and a better understanding of some of the forces that were most influential in shaping Western society ..." (page 10). To do this, he focuses on a few of the stories that were somewhat contemporaneous with but were left out of the canon. This negative focus produces a book that tells stories we may not have heard of from their own point of view, yet addressing issues that may be compared with the treatment of the subject matter in the generally accepted canon of the Bible.

Joel deals with three main collections: The Dead Sea Scrolls (chapter 2), the Septuagint (chapter 3), and Josephus (chapter 4). These are a matter of record and he reports on them, introducing and telling the story behind each one. Then he has three chapters on specific examples of elaborations that are not in the Bible: The Life of Adam and Eve, (chapter 5) otherwise known as the apocalypse of Moses, Abraham's story from the apocalypse of Abraham (chapter 6), and 1 Enoch (chapter 7), so named for the one who 'walked with God'.

Enoch, with its imaginative historical visions, provides a clever back portion of the envelope for the book. The front portion of the envelope is Joel's summary of the 1000 year history of Jerusalem (chapter 1) in relationship to all the cultures of the ancient world, taken one at a time. Beginning with the siege of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE, he traces how this confrontation was prepared from David to the Maccabees, showing Jerusalem in conflict with Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, the influence of Lydia via the origins of banking, and Carthage through Hannibal's influence on Antiochus III. The back portion of the envelope (chapter 7) traces Enoch's vision of the animals as identified with many of the same historical cities and their rulers in conflict with Jerusalem.

This is a useful if brief history and will be helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with it or who have remembered isolated history lessons from their school days about Carchemish, Marathon, and the Punic wars, but have not seen them integrated into a single narrative focused around Jerusalem. One should not doubt that a reader of the Bible needs this extra-Biblical context in order to understand several of the Biblical words and stories. No language or story emerges fully formed without its meaning being enmeshed and, at least in part, defined by the surrounding culture.

Textual variations between versions of stories from the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Hebrew are particularly important and Joel cites some very good examples (e.g. pages 86-88 on the text of 1 Samuel 11). Here he describes the text of 4QSam(a) which has an additional section explaining why Nahash has such a brutal desire for the pact with Jabesh-Gilead. For this example, one might not question the appropriateness of the book's subtitle: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible. But the other pseudepigraphic stories are less than illuminating and more a set of anecdotes. These writings (including Josephus) are curious, useful, provide context or even data for clarification of the canon, but are they Holy?

Joel summarizes the big picture in a short chapter 8 making his key point that "we have an ancient culture that welcomed different opinions rather than focusing on one answer." The chapter on Josephus has a number of opinions on things related to the Adam and Eve story. But one doesn't need Josephus to know that there are multiple intertwined stories in the Bible admitting of differing opinions and interpretations. I doubt that anyone consulted Josephus as the canon was forming. Joel does a good job of showing how unreliable the Josephus tradition is including its most popular English translation, (but I note a counter to my negative take on Josephus where he is called "our single most important source for ancient Jewish history".)

Joel draws from Adam and Eve, from Abraham, from Enoch, three different reasons why humanity suffers and contrasts these with the reward and punishment of Deuteronomy and its counter-argument in Job, "which suggests that life is fundamentally impossible to understand" (Page 262). I suspect that Joel wants to get inside the closed mindedness that can be produced by a canon, but I am not sure he will succeed with this approach nor am I convinced of his conclusions. I agree, though, that Job is a direct response to Deuteronomy. Just to touch on the direct allusions to the covenant, consider the successive destruction of Job's livestock and children, Deuteronomy 28:31-32 and the final straw, Job 2:7 echoes Deuteronomy 28:35. All this in the context of blessings and cursings.

I tend at this time in my life to less breadth and more close reading. That's why I am not sorry that lots of things are not in the Bible. I have found enough to study already. The Psalms alone provide all the variety about the nature of human life that these apocryphal stories do. Reward and punishment, unjustified suffering, futility, love, and glory are all adequately dealt with in that one canonical text.

I suspect that the textual transmission even in what we have as canonical is far more complex at the detail level than can be contained in the curious elaborations that were left out. Examples of such thinking arrived across my desk as I was reading. Here for instance is an abstract of how harsh expressions may have been dealt with. Redressing the Calamity in the Transmission of the Bible by Alexander Rofé.

Joel cites many examples of copyist and translation difficulties, some from the Dead Sea Scrolls, some from the magical Septuagint translation, and some highlighted by texts gleaned from the unreliable Josephus. These variations are legion. One wonders where to start and how to manage the incoherence. Perhaps, therefore, the title of the book is apt, there being so many hands in the transmission of the text.

Those who should read such a book as The Bible's Cutting Room Floor in order that they be exposed to other ways of looking at the Biblical texts likely won't pick it up, but those who don't need to maybe will, and its introductory material will be helpful to them. I found reading it a fun trial of the questions and a good read but I do not find myself satisfied by the conclusions expressed or implied concerning the Holy, the Bible, or the nature of being human.

One needs the overview of the problems in the canon both of commission and omission. But to address the Holy, one must address also the problem of canon, of Israel as parable, and of the enemy, particularly the enemy that is within each of us, in order that somehow we might begin to achieve some co-inherence within our knowledge of good and evil. It may be that the canonical garment fits well enough to stimulate such wholeness and also that books such as Joel's can begin to help us avoid our tendency to embrace tight-fitting responses to the ancient texts.
"Their new reality was so shocking, in fact, that it would take them a whole week to realize that they were hungry." 
Joel has a delightfully titled blog, God Didn't Say That (rare posts this year - he's been busy). He is now working on the site The Unabridged Bible. He is a clear teacher. I remember with gratitude his patience and help to me many years ago when I could not yet distinguish וְֽהָיָה and יְהוָה. In this clarity, he follows in his father's steps. Lawrence Hoffman's Covenant of Blood was an in-depth eye-opener for my own reading in ancient Judaism.

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor is 276 pages, including a brief appendix on further reading. There is an index of sources and Scriptural references. I missed in the index (at the stage I saw it) a pointer to 'theology' since I did want to recheck some of his theological assumptions and reflections, but I was happy to see several references to 'good and evil'.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Religion without God (3)

Continuing the previous posts on Religion without God, a very short book (30,000 words or so) by the late philosopher and legal expert, Ronald Dworkin.

A great deal of Dworkin's arguments in the first three chapters have to do with the distinct universes of facts and values. In the last legal chapter, this distinction is recognized for how vague it is. Ultimately he cannot sustain the distinction without appeals to forms of words that are, as my mother would say, ridiculous. For example, he writes (p. 23) The science part [of a religion] offers answers to important factual questions about the birth and history of the universe, the origin of human life, and whether or not people survive their own death."

Can one even speak of fact, theory, or value when one considers the creation of the universe? No, one speaks or writes in mythic language, in story language, and experientially as one considers the presence of one's own thoughts. We are alive, we consider, and we react with story, history, myth, and derived value. Fact and value are not separated into science and value.

I am not a philosopher and I have no intention of citing Hume, Kant, Nietzsche or Putnam or anyone else for my justification of my own thoughts. None of these is an authority of necessity. Nor even is the so called idea of revealed religion. One must consider the story with one's self entirely engaged. And that is the problem in a nutshell. Engagement is frightening because there is no remainder of one's self that can stand objectively against the commitment.

This is faith. And it is permitted in all spheres, including the scientific, in sports, in music, in joy and in sorrow. Faith is not a blind leap, but it is a trust that tests its own assumptions as it matures, and that looks for a fruitfulness that is acceptable. The fact of acceptance, and the desire of acceptability are indistinguishable. There is no logic other than the paradox of self-giving. Dworkin does not approach this problem. He gets close in his brief on Tillich and the appropriate antinomy of affirming and denying simultaneously, and ultimately, he himself in his legal arguments approaches the same impasse without passing over.

Anyway, what do I know that I should dare an explanation? I know that an explanation will not satisfy. Satisfaction, the end of the story of Job, is impenetrable via logic. That is why Job's comforters fail, and YHWH presents himself via the mythical behemoth and leviathan, ciphers for Job and for God also. The psalmist writes of awakening: I will be satisfied to awaken in your similitude, in your likeness, created and brought forth after your own kind. (See this post which I wrote a few days before receiving Dworkin's book.)

Now - what is the story and are you willing to commit yourself into its keeping? The question requires some hard work, like any marriage, and its fruitfulness will be evident to others whether they are explicitly committed to this story or not. In fact, they will be your judges even as the salt-seafarers judged Jonah and in doing so themselves became mortals. My words are carefully chosen. I find it curious that these pagans, from Jonah's point of view, get the situation better than the reluctant prophet.

I hope to do one more post on this book, because Dworkin raises the spectre of worship. This requires a little more work from me, but so be it. The churches have a form of worship that has drama and character and a story - let's see if it can be found...