The First of the Ten Words speaks to the question of whom we worship: We are to have no other gods before the face of Yahweh. The Second Word had to do with how we worship: We are to approach God as He commands us to approach Him. The Second Word is sometimes misunderstood. It has gotten tangled up in debates about whether or not we can paint or draw pictures, or make sculptures, of Jesus, or of God the… Read more

There are Ten Words, but they are grouped in several different ways. The first two commandments stand out from the rest. Only in the first three commandments does the Lord speak in the first person (FW Farrar): “I am Yahweh your God . . . thou shalt have no other gods before My face”; “for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God.” From then third word on, Yahweh speaks in the third person. Each of the first five words… Read more

A little over a year ago, I wrote the following in a post reflecting on the Hebrew term tabnit, used in Exodus and Chronicles to describe the heavenly “pattern” of the sanctuary: “Deuteronomy 4:16-18 uses the word five times, not of a ‘model’ or ‘plan’ but of likenesses made according to a plan or model. Yahweh prohibits Israel from making and venerating a tabnit of male or female, animals, birds, creeping things, or fish (note the Genesis 1 classification of creatures). Here… Read more

Franz Rosenzweig didn’t buy Maimonides philosophical critique of the Bible’s anthropomorphism. In 1928, he wrote a short essay on the topic and, in the summary of Leora Batnitzky (Idolatry and Representation) he “argues that the tendency to rationalize away biblical anthropomorphisms . . . is both dishonest and a misunderstanding of the Bible” (21). He charges that “the very term ‘anthropomorphism’ is laden with rationalist prejudice. Properly speaking, Rosenzweig argues, there is no ‘anthropomorphism’ in the Bible. Rather, ‘the anthropomorphisms… Read more

In Theology and the First Theory of Sacrifice, Ivan Strenski recounts an epochal shift in the study of religion, and of sacrifice in particular, that took place in the France of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, the “lions” of the field of religion were openly Christian liberal theologians: “They had achieved an enormous degree of prestige for themselves in higher education with their establishment of the national center of the study of religion in the… Read more

Jason Josephson-Storm (Myth of Disenchantment) offers this potted history of modern physics: “Even as Descartes liberated an autonomous realm for the thinking subject, his mechanism denied action  at a distance and rejected the concept of the void. But this form of corpuscular mechanism was disrupted by Newton’s emphasis on occult forces like gravity, which produced action at a distance and also in some versions required constant divine or angelic intervention. Later natural philosophers worked to eliminate these, but as soon… Read more

“The habit of treating named entities such as Iroquois, Greece, Persia, or the United States as fixed entities opposed to one another by stable internal architecture and external boundaries interferes with our ability to understand their mutual encounter and confrontation,” writes Eric Wolf in Europe and the People Without History (7). This habit “has made it difficult to understand all such encounters and confrontations. Arranging imaginary building blocks into pyramids called East and West, or First, Second, and Third Worlds,… Read more

“Human life is radical, constituent insecurity,” writes Julian Marias (Metaphysical Anthropology). “It consists in having to do something, in a frequently hostile, always problematical, and largely latent circumstance, and in not knowing what to hold to. This is man’s condition: his insecurity, his neediness, his ignorance, his indecision, his helplessness” (154). Yet the specific quality of the male is strength: “If he does not have it he feels a ‘lack,’ feels inferior to his condition.” His strength might be physical,… Read more

Jason Josephson-Storm tells us what Weber’s disenchantment is not: It doesn’t mean that magic is eliminated. Protestants “were against magic and superstitious rituals” but they never doubted the reality of magic or the crowdedness of the universe (Myth of Disenchantment, 280). Disenchantment also “is not a new pessimistic mood, nor is it the fragmentation of social cohesion. It is not the rise of instrumental reason, because magic itself is instrumental. It is not yet secularization insofar as disenchantment happens earlier… Read more

Mary Emerson’s Greek Sanctuaries and Temple Architecture is a concise, informative introduction to her topic. After introductory chapters explaining the meaning, uses, architecture and artistic adornments of sanctuaries in the Greek world, Emerson devotes a chapter to the major cultic sites of Greece –  Delphi, Athens, the sanctuary of Apollo at Bassae, the temple of Olympian Zeus on Sicily. The book is richly illustrated with diagrams and black-and-white photos, some of which show the stunning settings of these Greek temples. Emerson’s… Read more

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