Friday, November 30, 2018

Considering (again) how to read The New Testament

For Westermann, every presentation of the motif of the Father-Son relationship is shaped by language and thinking rooted in the Old Testament.
I found the above quote in Consensus, A Canadian Journal of Public Theology.

I was searching in Google for 'the new testament in the the light of the old testament'. There are plenty of writings who reverse the light to the other way round. In the same PDF I also found Westermann's comment on gnosis in John. The physical order of the pages in this PDF is confused and incomplete, but this comment stood out:
Gnostic dualism is restricted to the later layer, found mostly in the controversy dialogues (5:17-47; 6:25-67; 7:14-36; 8:12-59 and 10:22-39); these dialogues are a “foreign element” in the Gospel of John. They are governed by motifs such as establishing contrasts between separate realms and people (8:23f “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world”), between spirit and matter (6:63 “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail”) and judgement (5:30 “as I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just”). Westermann argues that the statements of the later layer stand in opposition to the language and thinking of the Old Testament.
It occurs to me that we have been told before that the Old Testament is without dualism. And there is a truth here, but is it the whole truth and nothing but the truth? There we find both gospel and flesh. Each is expressed by the same Hebrew stem בשר. Flesh, as a body part 276 times. Good news, bearing good news, in the domain of speech and engagement about 30 times. The reality of the Old Testament is very present and tangible. Like the psalms, it is about the act of bringing forth the fully human child to maturity. Is this emergence good or not?

There is also a dualism in the Old Testament language. Not a Greek body-soul dualism, but not as far off as might be imagined. It is expressed in Qohelet 3:19,
For what transpires for the children of the earthling and what transpires for the beast? And what transpires for them is one thing. // As death for this, so is death for that and one spirit for all. And for the earthling over the beast there is no advantage, for the whole is futility.
Qohelet goes on, well deserving of a read: The whole ambles to one place. The whole comes from the dust and the whole returns to the dust. Who knows if the sprite of the earthling child ascends herself upward, or the sprite of the beast descends herself to the couch of the earth?

People read the opening of Genesis as if soul applied only to the human. This is a patently biased reading. The word commonly translated soul is נפשׁ, and it is used of all beings in Genesis 1 in the sea and on land before is it used of the earthling in Genesis 2. All life is living being. Or if you wish, living soul. Indeed נפשׁ is sometimes corporate, a group or subgroup of that living being. Qohelet is not using נפשׁ, but רוח, spirit, sprite, wind.

There is an act of Yahweh God in Genesis that is unique. It is the act of exhaling into the nose of the earthling. By that act, not as if it were a static result, the earthling became alive to self, or traditionally a living soul. The רוח returns to God. It is no longer differentiated when it is apart from the flesh.

It occurs to me also that we should ignore the idea of layering of a text. Not only do we read it as one, but we also think in layers, so even so-called layers can be a single product of a single time. Who understands the human thinking or speaking process?

This post in itself is only a beginning of thought. And I see that my question is anthropological as well as metaphysical. It is not so much that we must read forward from Old to New and critique our Biblical Study, as if we were recapitulating its example, but that we must also particularly critique our theology and christology, especially a Christology of separation. These theologies are the result of our taking control over things we do not have full control over. These theologies have resulted in some abominable teaching. Do we really think our teaching is supported from these Scriptures?

Is there a language through which we can pursue this question?

I note this book review (Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity) as relevant. There is clearly a major shift in the New Testament - but are its elements already visible? Obviously this study is more complex than simply translating. The New Testament is beginning to seem to me like a painting, perhaps even an impressionistic painting, not representative, not a photograph. I think this will be even more clear from some of the links in the carnival due out tomorrow. At the same time, if we have some teaching that has led to violence that completely undoes the same teaching, then what, if anything will we do about it? Is regulation (law) sufficient?

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