Isaiah 7:14 and Scriptural Hermeneutics

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14, KJV)

Isaiah 7.14 is one of three prophetic sign-acts in Isaiah chapters 7-8 in which Isaiah of Jerusalem associates or gives an ambiguous or multivalent ominous name to a child as a means of sharing the divine message to his contemporaries.  The historical context of these chapters is the Syrio-Ephraimite War. At this time Israel (the northern kingdom), Aram, and others, joined in an alliance  to combat the rising Assyrian threat headed by king Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE).  The kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom) would not join the alliance and so Israel and Aram sought to remove the new Judean king, Ahaz (r. ca. 734-715), from power in order to install a more politically favorable king (referred to by Isaiah as the son of Tabeel; Isa. 7.6) who would join the alliance to stop Assyria.  Ahaz, however, appealed to Tiglath-pileser III for help against Israel and Aram and submitted to Assyria as vassal to suzerain, stripping the temple in the process in order to pay the necessary tribute (2 Kgs. 16:17-18). Assyria would go on to conquer Aram and reduce Israel to vassal status before Israel’s final destruction in 722/721 BCE by Sargon II. [Read more...]

The Dumbing Down of Mormon Books, Made Easy!

A recent book review of Eric Shuster and Charles Sale’s The Biblical Roots of Mormonism describes the book as “a 258-page overview of about 350 Latter-day Saint beliefs referenced in the Old and New Testament.” On the face of it, the book sounds like an extended exercise in proof-texting. I’ve talked about a few potential problems with such easy “likening” elsewhere but I haven’t read this particular book myself, so I can’t comment on its quality. Instead, I want to focus on the rhetorical approach of the book as described in the review. The book is an example of a larger trend in the marketing of recent LDS books generally: the marketing of stuff “made easier.”

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Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood

Introduction [1]

The Bible often privileges men as normative for what it means to be human, frequently considers women as inferior to men, and presents God in overwhelmingly male terms. For the contemporary believer who is committed to the full equality of men and women the problem is not simply one of reconciling isolated patriarchal, sexist, or misogynistic biblical passages with an egalitarian or feminist perspective, but the revelatory nature of the biblical text itself.  “How can a text that contains so much that is damaging to women function authoritatively in the Christian community as normative of faith and life?” (36). A theology of Scripture that takes this problem seriously must reject the traditional understanding of Scripture as divinely revealed in verbal form to its ancient authors lest the pervasive androcentrism, patriarchalism, and sexism of the biblical text be understood as divinely revealed.  1) What then does it mean for Scripture to be the “Word of God”? 2) How can the Bible function authoritatively for the Church? 3) And is the Bible materially normative for modern faith and practice? [Read more...]

Dawkins versus the 'ultimate ground of all being'

In God and the New Atheism, John F. Haught describes what he sees as the big question facing Richard Dawkins and Intelligent Design (ID) theists, respectively: ”how to explain the incredible complexity and diversity in living organisms and cells” (88).

ID proponents see the hand of a “master intelligence” making order from chaos, or complexity of simplicity. Dawkins cuts out the theological middle man by sticking to a naturalistic, Darwinian account summed up by Haught:

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Lucretius on Walking Pornography

If you have been around the ‘Nacle for a spell you can’t have missed the oft discussed issue of men, women, and sexual response (one strap messenger bags, walking pornography, and thus and so).  Sometimes it seems that this anxiety is peculiar to modern day Mormons, but, as Qoheleth would point out, it is not new under the sun.  In the first century BCE Lucretius composed his De Rerum Natura setting forth versified Epicurean doctrine in an attempt to seduce Romans of the elite ruling class to eschew the agonistic life of war, politics, and the forum and embrace the contemplative and quiet existence of the Epicurean sage.  In the fourth book Lucretius takes on the question of love and sex and the snares which they pose to a man (this and the following translation are taken from the Loeb addition).

As soon as the seed comes forth, driven from its retreats, it is withdrawn from the whole body through all the limbs and members, gathering in fixed parts in the loins, and arouses at once the body’s genital parts themselves (4.1041-44).

So far the discussion is conventional enough, if a bit quaint to our sex educated ears.  Lucretius asserts that semen is generated in the body and coalesces in the genitals.  But what he says next is startling.

Those parts thus exited swell with the seed, and there arises a desire to emit it towards that whither the dire craving tends; and the body seeks that which has wounded the mind with love.  For all generally fall towards a wound, and the blood jets out in the direction of the blow that has struck us, and if he is close by, the ruddy flood drenches the enemy.  So therefore, if one is wounded by the shafts of Venus, whether it be a boy with girlish limbs who launches the shafts at him, or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he tends to the source of the blow, and desires to unite and to cast the fluid from body to body (4.1045-56).

This is a devastating view of a man’s sexual attraction.  His mind is wounded by visual missiles launched from the body or body part of the viewed person, his mind and body then lurch forward, ejaculating metaphorical blood/actual semen directly at the person or body part counterattacking the visual assault with a tangible humor.  Both parties suffer; the assailant, the woman or boy, wounds the man, but the assailant is stained in return by the man’s emissions.  Aggressive, violent, messy.  Nobody wins, everybody is hurt.

Does this overblown rhetoric sound at all familiar?

Interestingly Lucretius does not tack in the direction to which which we Mormons are accustomed.  The women and attractive boys are not told to cover up.  Rather, Lucretius more or less says: ” Men, don’t look at women and attractive boys, think of other things.  And if you can’t think of other things, remember that women are petty things, gussied up but not really appealing, not really worth a man’s time or energy, and pretty disgusting once you get to know them–oh, and they fart too, and their farts stink (et miseram taetris se suffit odoribus ipsa).”

So a good way for a man to overcome the desires caused within him by an attractive woman is to belittle her in his mind to the point that she is no longer appealing and to think of her doing gross things.

Or sing a hymn.

Lesson #5: Have Faith

I have lost my faith. Quite the challenge when you blog at Faith-Promoting Rumor.

However, Tuesday I awoke and read the following comment by Ronan over at BCC:

This week we read Job 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth”. We spent perhaps an hour discussing this one verse: what does Job mean? A Christian reading is clear—he is appealing to the intercession of the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. But such an interpretation will not do for a secular biblical program [for reasons Kevin has explained].

As a scholar pursuing a PhD in Near Eastern Studies, I am bound by certain rules. Objective, secular scholarship demands that I reject the notion that this passage refers to Jesus. I would not write it or suggest it, and if I were teaching a class on it I would criticise any student who raised the idea. Why? Because the only way to make this passage refer to Christ requires an injection of religious faith, which cannot be allowed to color our judgements of history, theology or literature. This is the creed of secular scholars, whose number, whilst I am being paid by a secular university, I am among. In short, I am required to see the Bible as a completely different book than the Bible I read on Sunday.

But in my other world, this passage clearly refers to Christ! Even as I sat in class I felt a strong, personal feeling towards the Saviour. Job’s trial is immense and his hope is gone, so he appeals for a redeemer, a “go’el”, who in Hebrew law was often the kinsmen who bailed you out of trouble. Is this not Jesus, our own brother who satisfies justice on our behalf? Indeed it is. But is it exactly what Job is referring to here? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care. Jewish rabbis realised long ago that the greatest boon of the Hebrew Bible is that it lent itself to contemporary interpretation i.e. we can “liken the scriptures to ourselves.” Which is what I do as I try to balance the demands of scholarship (of which I am an an advocate) and the mysteries of religious faith (of which I am a believer). I’m not Job and I didn’t write his book, but “I know that my Redeemer lives”.

The thing which touched me most about Ronan’s comment was not what he had to say about Job, but his feelings about Jesus Christ. As I sat in bed reading this comment…I felt the spirit. My heart was pricked. I am not sure if I have felt the spirit in a meaningful way in years.

My relationship with the Church has been a positive one externally, but internally it has been rocky. After  working 5 years at CES Institutions, I have grown tired of the institutional church. However, I think that as I have grown tired of the institutional church, I have allowed my faith to suffer, even die, amongst the frustration. Now this is not so much because of anything about the Church, but more the result of not being a very good company man.

Tuesday night, I went with my family to the movie Nanny McPhee Returns. It was a cute and fun show. Nanny McPhee comes in and teaches the struggling family five lessons. These include “not fighting,” and “sharing.”

At the very end of the movie, we find out that the final lesson is: have faith. As the credits started to roll, I realized that while I have little to no faith…I desire to have faith. Many of the people who I know that have abandoned faith, act as though they have overcome faith. However, faith has never been something that I have not wanted, it is just not something I am good at. Part of this is because depression has heavily clouded my head in many ways.

Now, I have decided to have faith. Not sure what that really means. I have decided that I will start by praying for more faith in Christ.  We will see where that takes me.

Either way, between Ronan and Emma Thompson, I will have to thank the British for getting me back on the path.

(Re)writing the Bible in Antiquity and Today

CANON

The New Testament writers and early Church Fathers used the Septuagint (LXX) for proof texts and for personal and communal worship.  The LXX is based on the Old Greek translations of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures [Read more...]

My God Is Bigger Than Your God–Literally. Part VI

Although YHWH clearly was perceived by biblical authors in anthropomorphic terms, YHWH’s body was still different from regular human bodies.  For YHWH, like many other deities of the ancient Near East,[1] possessed massive size. [Read more...]

Polytheism and Ancient Israel’s Canaanite Heritage. Part V

Of course, much of this [i.e., that Israel worshiped El and Asherah alongside YHWH] is really to be expected given that recent syntheses of the archaeological, cultural, and literary data pertaining to the emergence of the nation of Israel in the Levant show that most of the people who would eventually compose this group were originally Canaanite.   [Read more...]

Asherah, God's Wife in Ancient Israel. Part IV

One of the most important deities that many, if not most, ancient Israelites worshiped was YHWH’s heavenly spouse or consort, the goddess Asherah (the Hebrew linguistic equivalent of Ugaritic Athirat, the wife of El). [Read more...]