Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Light: A Trajectory to Jesus

A Very Divine Mystery Hunt Through Scripture, Involving Seven Points of Ancient Exegesis

Genesis 1:3 Then God said, "Let there be light!"; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that [it was] good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light YOM (Day), and the darkness He called Night.

One: The ancients were very curious about everything in the Bible…They were always wondering about things. They were always asking questions. What was the light of the first day of creation? (Do we not see by the light of the sun, moon and stars created on the fourth day?). Where is the light God named YOM?? Was it the light of a lamp??? What did it illuminate???? What is the purpose of this YOM, what time did it keep without the sun????? Have we ever even seen this light?????? If it is around, where might it be??????? If it was around on the first day, where, oh where, did it go????????…The questions piled up.

Two: The ancients read the Bible really carefully, and I mean really carefully. In order to find out where the YOM went, they read through the Bible with a fine-toothed comb. They spotted the YOM first in a very surprising place:

Genesis 22:10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." 12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your YAHID [lit. “only-one”] from Me." 13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind [him was] a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said [to] this YOM [day], "In the Mount of The LORD it shall be provided."

Three: The ancients read the Bible creatively, and I mean really creatively.
The Greek Septuagint (ca. 2nd Century BCE) reads the Hebrew text another way:

(2ndOption, LXX’s) Genesis 22:14: And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Has-Seen (to it); that they might say today, “In the Mount, The LORD was seen."

Four: The Hebrew text was very important to these ancient interpreters. And the various nuances that the Hebrew text provided (as seen in the verse in question here) could be very significant indeed. …In fact, bearing in mind our “divine mystery hunt” for the enigmatic YOM, an even other interesting way an ancient might have read this verse in Hebrew is as follows:

(3rd Option, possible) Genesis 22:14: And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Be-Seen; as it is said, “The YOM, in the Mount of The LORD, shall be seen."

Five: The ancients were ready, willing and quickly able to relate disparate verses in Scripture with one another, bringing verses to bear on one another just because of similar Hebrew wording, “thematic material”, or subtle relations….if not flights of fancy altogether. Usually, the appearance of shared words among verses was sufficient enough to warrant a connection; this was called “Stringing Pearls”. Another place where ancient Jews spotted the special YOM is in a Psalm:

Psalm 118:24 This is the YOM that the LORD made.

Six: The ancients could also creatively link entities in adjacent verses that we might not necessarily connect together or perceive as (sufficiently) related. For example, they might connect “the stone that the builder’s rejected” in Psalm 118:22 with “the YOM that the LORD made” in verse 24:

Psalm 118:22 The stone that the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. 24 This is the YOM that the LORD made; we will rejoice and be glad in him.

Seven: Watching the ancients use scripture is as fun as it is enlightening. The Gospel of John links all the verses we discussed above to solve the mystery hunt of the YOM’s identity, its purpose, its special time to keep, its special object to illuminate. It opens up by telling us of the light’s “advent” – its coming into the world, its appearance, as foretold to Abraham (I have included parenthetical remarks to help you “feel” the special bearing of scriptures we referred to above):

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and what God was the Word was. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being [He “illuminates”]. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it …10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him [Only those who are his own can see by his light]. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God [like Isaac]. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. ...[The earth experienced a “YOM” of God’s glory.]

John 8:12 "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." … 56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." ...[What Abraham “saw” is told in Psalm 118.]

John 9:4 "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." ...[While Jesus was in the world, it was “Day One” of God’s work.]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Measuring the Might of God

In Judaism, the preeminent sign of God's power is not the fact that God spoke the world into being. It is not that He the shaped Adam from the dust, either, that he created him (and her) in His image, and breathed into them His speaking spirit. Nor is the preeminent example of God’s exploits to bring Israel out of the house of bondage seen as enough of a challenge for God,…No, not the splitting of the Reed Sea, nor sustaining Israel with water and heavenly bread, leading them with a pillar of fire and smoke for forty years in the desert, nor vanquishing nations of giants before them.

Sure...Those things are of course evidence of His incomparable greatness, but one act represents the paradigmatic “power” of God. One act affirms God's might before all these. In a prayer religious Jews pray daily, God's might is simply described and praised the following way:

G-d's Might

“You are eternally mighty, my Master, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save.

“He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!

“And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who resuscitates the dead.”

The might of God is tied here to the idea of mankind’s redemption…in particular, mankind’s redemption from death. God’s might to Jews is best evinced in the empowerment of the lowly, which is the definition of redemption in Jewish culture. God’s power is almost cast as a function of God’s mercy for the powerless. So all-encompassing is God’s might that even the carcasses of the lowly shall be raised by Him. There is very little else that could define paradigmatically the relational thrust of Jewish theology. Jewish religion, it could be said, is about the loyalty and devotion of the powerless to their one Great Sustainer…or rather, more accurately, the loyalty of the Great Sustainer to the powerless.

Of all the theological ideas the Jews have contributed to the world, the concept of God as a merciful, powerful resuscitating redeemer, it could be said, is the most definitively “Jewish”. God’s great work is fundamentally redemptive in character and not awaiting our belief in Him (the Pharisees too had “belief”!) God’s might, rather, unseats presents powers and lifts up those without power…those are usually the ones who are pliable, penitent and humble enough to reach out to Him. When Jesus instructs his followers to claim the least desirable seat in the banquets, he is expressing this relational Jewish disposition. John 3:16 is best understood as, “For God so loved the world that He sent down his beloved Son, so that whosoever would grasp His hand should not remain in the grave but be raised up to eternal life.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

O Trite Heresy!

Why the DaVinci Code is “Emergent”

Lately, I’ve been somewhat pensive about the impact of Dan Brown’s book (the DaVinci Code--from hereon “DVC” for sake of space). What was the 15 minute appeal of Dan Brown’s book all about? I can think of several reasons, some that make me question what is truly behind the Emergent Christian movement. The DVC may be a poster-child of “emergent faith”. I’m not stating this as a “post-emergent” malcontent, here. I posit the comparison because it usefully clarifies questions I have with the both the Emergent movement and the movement to understand the Jewish underpinnings of the New Testament. I sympathize and participate to some degree in both movements, and I find that the DVC appeals to my loyalty similarly (though not at all convincingly of course). Anyway, here are the reasons:

Reason #1) It reconstructs authentic faith.

The alternate faith history of “authentic” Christianity in the DVC has, I believe, an ambient appeal because it is a palliative response against the insipid faith, contemporary hypocrisy and a spotty popular history of the Church. This has, broadly speaking, an “Emergent” appeal. Of course, that attack was present even before Luther, but I’m referring particularly about the framing of (what today is called) a spiritually bankrupt “narrative” of historical Christianity. This critique paints a picture of Church history as an unmoored drift of the Kingdom of God away from its “authentic” beginnings in Galilee, because of the worldly concerns of the Church, namely its political aspirations. To his credit, Dan Brown uses this appeal against Church worldliness to great effect. Who can blame him for exploiting this tug on our faith-seeking culture, in the wake of church sex scandals and cover-ups, to sell his cheesy, paint-by-numbers mystery novella?

Reason #2) Post-9/11 nostalgia for good ‘ol fashioned Westernism.

But it’s not the “authentic” beginnings of the Church that is the real concern of the DVC…I mean, who are we kidding here? Overall, I’m proud of our ability to immediately spot the DVC’s spongy attack on Christian orthodoxies. What I’m not so proud of is that we have failed to see its underlying target: a wimpy postmodern Westernism that is no longer able to convince and innovate and have some roots and self-pride for once. If we could only throw off the shackles of effete Kantian wallowing or nihilistic deconstructionisms and all that emasculated pop cultural wash! Let’s rescue the Renaissance by God!

The only critiques to have spotted this subtle obsession in the DVC that I have heard thus far are Anthony's (posted on his blog a while ago), as well as Ingrid Rowland's "Pop Esoterica" review in the New Republic(published about two years ago). Reframing old values in the guise of poetry, current causes, and peacenik ideals, like emergent bands, just gives people wounded by the transgressions of organized religion great succor. It’s just nice to see that the human condition can be analyzed in a few simple, aphoristic lyrics that fit better with our bedtime story views of Jesus (the only Jesus we intellectually know). Though Dan Brown does a bad job at presenting anything about Christ’s message at all, notice that (except for the sex stuff) he is not out to do any real harm to teddy-bear Christ.

Reason # 3) We rather like our insipid faiths and shallow philosophies

One of the things that is true of Americans and probably always will be is that we have an approach to faith and values that is irrepressively individualistic. Some may try to pin this way back to American transcendentalism or Thoreau’s cult of the Individual, but the truth is Americans have always had and will always have a great distrust for anything formalized, organized, hierarchical, etc. I hate to say it, but it’s our backwater “don’t tread on me” waspy heritage. This is why American intellectuals have always had a profound ambivalence towards urbanism, industrialism, commercialism, social utopianism, nationalism, and any phenomenon whatsoever that involves the aggregation of more than two people (in Thoreau’s case, more than one). “And as well we should!,” you say, quoting the Bible. But who we really need to credit for this position is not the Kingdom, but Immanuel Kant’s “Two World Ontology”, which posits that we poor industrialized/commercialized masses are fundamentally alienated from our souls. If the German response to Kant was national socialism - the beehive model (John Dewey called it right – Nietzche and Heidegger had little to do with what happened to Germany in the 1930’s), the American response has been Emerson’s transcendental individualism - the hedgehog. Don’t get me wrong, I much rather prefer the hedgehog model myself. But, thankfully, most of us are both “men of valor” and “men of the committee”. (Forgive the archaic language…I’m not leaving out you women-folk by any means). The values of 21st century are risk, innovation and individualistic opportunism but also good ‘ol fashioned back-scratching and hard-nosed pragmatism. Likewise, the noumenal forays of American intellectuals have tended to keep their pragmatic nose to the ground. But every once in a while, we hanker for something more Emerson-like, especially in moments of national crisis, and we stumble about for some private metaphysical juice to suck. I’m not post-modern enough to be opposed to this, but what I think very sad is the pop-cultural tendency to look for it in some pseudo-philosophy or New Age religion that remains fundamentally mysterious and unavailing. The DVC’s goddess-worshipping, mystery cult may offer a cheap veneer of this, but really it is its appeal to a mythical Renaissance “Westernism” that tugs effectively at us…call it “Metaphysical Westernism”, oh, DaVinci our free-thinking savior. The real mission of the DVC and books like it (e.g. The Rule of Four, where Westernism is rescued, how appropriately, in a Princeton eating club) is to replace Christianity with Heretical Westernism and if this is not really possible, then to marry Christianity with the West once and for all.

Pointing out our rampant metaphysical shallowness to our contemporaries, fellow critics, may be much more effective criticism of the “pop-esoterica” of the DVC’s vein. Why, at the very least, we may do our contemporaries a favor by accidentally inspiring a return to the spirited American metaphysical bravado of the 19th century – we’d be doing our forebears a favor if nothing else. Kabbalah, please!…Emerson and Thoreau would be ashamed. Is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the best we can do, people?

For example, just look at how badly Dan Brown’s airhead Westernism authentically bungled even New Age values. Lets begin with his obsequious loyalty to the “open-specificity” of Americans’ world-views, which claims that organized religion must be distrusted at face value, analyzed and then retrofitted to reflect contemporary trends and values (this is Immanuel Kant’s victory). The DVC is tentatively innovative but somehow always remains shallow, contrived all the more for its blanket strive for irresolution. In its predictable fair-handed open-endedness, Mr. Brown wants to claim that his book is a celebration of the value of “faith”. And the DVC would attempt to replace the insipidness of faith with a reconstructed Christianity….only (thank you Anthony Smith!) it is exactly in this task that the book ultimately proves not only to be a literal royal disappointment but a bore. The hidden history of a goddess worshipping European family is simply offensive to our sensibilities (religious or otherwise). Christ’s descendants are (white) elites obsessed with Gnostic-sexual rites of Messianic primogeniture (“Gnostic-sexual” is oxymoronic, but not to Dan Brown). The concept is not only un-Christian but wholly un-New Age. To whom is this version of Metaphysical Westernism not distasteful to?…A weed-smoking skinhead cult? Stupid and Insipid.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Parables of Doing, the "Four-Item" version of Jesus

In our previous post, we showed how Jesus' parable of the housebuilders imitated the flavor and point of others like it circulating in the Rabbinic world.

But scholars have so far not noticed that Jesus uttered another such gem like it. It too elaborates on Exodus 24:7's "Do - Hear" dichotomy, which in Jewish culture is the dichotomy between the doing of Torah and the hearing (or study) of Torah. Jesus, however, expands the comparison structure from the familiar two item comparison to the novel version comparing four items. Probably the most well-known of Jesus' parables is a four item, compare-contrast parable - the Parable of the Sower (or the Parable of the Four Soils).

Compare-contrast aphorisms of four items are well known in Rabbinic writings and are among the most ancient of Jewish homiletic delights. Some famous examples are found in the compilation of Rabbinic sayings Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers), which contains some of the most ancient teachings of Jewish tradition:

Pirke Avot 5:13. There are four characters among men: he who says, "What is mine is mine and what is thine is thine," his is a neutral character; some say, "This is a character like that of Sodom"; he who says, "What is mine is thine and what is thine is mine," is a boor; he who says, "What is mine is thine and what is thine is thine," is a saint; he who says, "What is thine is mine and what is mine is mine," is a wicked man.

14. There are four kinds of tempers: he whom it is easy to provoke and easy to pacify, his loss disappears in his gain; he whom it is hard to provoke and hard to pacify, his gain disappears in his loss; he whom it is hard to provoke and easy to pacify is a saint; he whom it is easy to provoke and hard to pacify is a wicked man.

15. There are four qualities in disciples: he who quickly understands and quickly forgets, his gain disappears in his loss; he who understands with difficulty and forgets with difficulty, his loss disappears in his gain; he who understands quickly and forgets with difficulty, his is a good portion; he who understands with difficulty and forgets quickly, his is an evil portion.

16. As to almsgiving there are four dispositions: he who desires to give, but that others should not give, his eye is evil toward what appertains to others; he who desires that others should give, but will not give himself, his eye is evil against what is his own; he who gives and wishes others to give is a saint; he who will not give and does not wish others to give is a wicked man.

17. There are four characters among those who attend the house of study: he who goes and does not practise secures the reward for going; he who practises but does not go secures the reward for practising; he who goes and practises is a saint; he who neither goes nor practises is a wicked man.

18. There are four qualities among those that sit before the wise: they are like a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, or a sieve: a sponge, which sucks up everything; a funnel, which lets in at one end and out at the other; a strainer, which lets the wine pass out and retains the dregs; a sieve, which lets out the bran and retains the fine flour.

Save except for the last, all of the above sayings contain the structure: A-B, a-B, A-b, a-b. Remember high school biology class, and your fruit fly experiments? Think of this as that Mendel chart you drew:

AB | aB
Ab | ab

Now read the Parable of the Sower and see if you can ascertain the "Mendelian Chart" structure:

Luke 8:4 When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: 5 "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. 8 "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 9 His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. 10 And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. 11 "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. 12 "Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. 13 "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. 14 "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 "But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

It may not immediately be clear to the reader that the "Hear - Do" elements are the contrasting traits of the four soils. In particular the differences between the four soils can be said to be their different qualities of a) the "Hearing"--that is, the reception/implantation of the Word (the seed) and b) the "Doing", the ability of the soils to allow growth to happen. Thus, lets label our Mendel-chart traits as follows:

A -- "Much Study" (the Rabbinic take on "hearing Torah")
a -- "Little Study"
B -- "Much Doing"
b -- "Little Doing"

The logic (and genius) of the Parable of the Sower suddenly pops out:

1) a-b: The soil exposed to the birds (does not study, does not do)
2) A-b: The rocky soil (studies enthusiastically but does not follow through in action)
3) a-B: The thorny soil (fleeting study because it has way too much "doing" going on)
4) A-B: The good soil (studies and does)

As you can see, the purpose of the Parable is purely admonitional (what scholars call "hortative"). Jesus is pointing out the foils that can impede the progress of the Kingdom in our lives. Recognize that soil #2, the shallow soil, above is the exact same foolish fellow we encountered in the "Parable of the Housebuilders", the guy who likes to study but is shallow in execution. He is the hypocrite. But there is another "Kingdom underachiever", the guy who over-executes everything, the ambitious, busy fellow who drowns out the Kingdom among the weeds of his various exploits. These two soils are in fact not far from the Kingdom, but they have recessive deficiencies that prevent true growth...and they can be us at various stages of our lives. Ben, Christy and I discussed that we could all recognize our own stages in life as progressing through all four soil types. In fact, I recognize in myself the recessive soil traits of both shallowness and thorniness. Looking honestly, I think the vast majority of us exist in similar soils. The parable tells us we need to go back to the "Do - Hear" staples of the Kingdom, and to prioritize our lives. If we read this parable fatalistically (as a "mechanics" of predestinary salvation/damnation) we miss the broader hortative point. In simple but revelatory dichotomies (such as those in Pirke Avot above), the parable encourages us to reset our priorities: we need to deepen our soils and push out the distractions that foil our walk in the Word.

Parables of Doing

Exodus 24:7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: 'All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and we will obey (lit. "we will hear").

When the Rabbis read Exodus 24:7 they noticed something curious wording of the Israelite vow. How can the "doing" of the covenant precede the "hearing" of it? Some argued "...we will do and (then) we will hear" meant that they resolved to do Torah before they even heard its injunctions. From this some got that the doing of Torah took precedence over the study of Torah. Others disputed that both were equally important. Thus they launched into "Parables of Doing" to explicate the matter. One Rabbi, Elisha ben Abuyah, seized on the primacy of "doing" in a parable he taught:

If a man does good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To a man building first with stones and then with bricks;
Even when much water comes and the water stays (the building) does not move from its place.
And if a man does not do good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To a man who builds first with bricks and then with stones;
Even with a little water (the building) is turned upside down.

Another parallel:
If a man does good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To a tree that stands by the water, his foliage is small and his roots are large;
And if a man does not do good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To a tree that grows in the desert, its foliage is great and its roots are small; with a weak wind it is uprooted and tossed away.

Still another parallel:
If a man does good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To plaster painted on stones; Even when it is washed with running water, it does not move from its place.
And if a man does not do good deeds and studies much Torah, What is he like?
To plaster painted on bricks; Even when only a little rain drops, it is dissolved.

In Luke chapter 6 we encounter Christ teaching with one such "Parable of Doing":

Luke 6:46 "Why do you call Me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? 47 "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

It can be easily shown then that Jesus was probably borrowing his parable from those in circulation in the Rabbinic circles of his time. His point, like Elisha ben Abuyah's, is very basic. Hearing the word of God, without doing it, does not serve the student any better than an abacus he knows how to use but never employs to good use. It is in the use where the worth of the instrument stands the test of time. A good student is able to succeed in life with it because its use becomes second nature to him...and is thus able to remain steadfast on a solid foundation no matter what deluge life might throw at him.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No. 8: Legion visits our Bible Study

So, we usually conduct our Bible studies at a coffee shop which has wine tasting the same night. Anthony shared his thoughts about composing a narrative about the demon Legion and while we are studying the cross and the Jewish people, a Jewish lady at the wine tasting happened to be listening in. She and her husband drop in and out of our conversation. I guess in a spirit of ecumenisism, this lady, who apparently organizes meditation sessions, begins relating to us about her regular visits with "spirit guides"...then it got really weird. Needless to say, I think Anthony is now spooked about inviting Legion's perspective. I just think it's too darn hilarious...I say, let's use the opportunity to plumb his minds, he, he.

Can't wait to see what happens next time. =)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

33AD Huddle Gets Started!


Our format for our bi-weekly studies has changed. We are still going to have one "33AD Session" a month, where we will look in depth at certain passages throughout the gospels. We are still continuing with our Gospel of John studies. Every other week, however, we will gather to discuss our book writing project One Hell of a Week which we are undertaking in order to ramp up our personal growth and study of the Gospels...concentrating on the Passion Week of Jesus our Messiah.

So, every other meeting, which I'm calling for now "33AD Huddle", we will discuss your own personal research and hopefully encourage you to write a dramatic account of an event from the Passion Week using your research. If you choose not to contribute a piece to the book effort, that is ok. You can still research on your own topics that will help contribute to our collective research. Although the topic you choose has to have something relevant to the Passion Week, it need not necessarily be limited to the relevant Gospel accounts of the week...You may, for example, choose to research the references to the crucifixion in Romans, the book of Revelation, etc. or study the foreshadows of the Messiah's suffering in Isaiah, the Psalms, or you may choose to look at more in depth other topics of relevance, e.g. the textual differences of the texts, references to the Passion week in other literature, Jewish society and history of the time period, the Roman occupation under Pilate, and so on.

When we gather for our Huddle, we will discuss our research, ask questions, discuss contemporary events in light of Jesus' Passion, go over our creative writing ideas, and so on. I believe this will completely galvanize our learning and understanding of not only the Gospels, but our personal encounters with the Beloved Son of God.

We are attempting to connect with scholars who are not only knowledgeable about the gospels, but they are fluent in Hebrew, read Biblical languages, have studied at Hebrew University, and so are very knowledgeable about first century Jewish literature, history, culture, Biblical interpretation...among many other things. Hopefully, they will help us on our quest through the "Helluva Week" forum referred to above. Please visit this blog to post a current synopsis of the piece you are going to write (if you are game for that) and ask away your questions to begin getting any guidance from them you need about the Passion Week events, the gospel accounts, background and language issues and so on. I'll do my best to answer myself if they don't.

Looking forward to this in so many ways! =)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Session #7: Here Comes the Son

This image of an Israeli peace activist to me is quite startling. I cannot help to think of the unnerving quality of her empathy...and her look to Heaven perhaps says it all. More than that, her protest has something of a touch of Christ's Messianic vision of his protest in Jerusalem.

For those of you who missed our talk last week, a quick recap: We spoke about the true motivation of the high priesthood in getting Jesus done away with and nature of Christ's problem with them. Jesus sealed his fate with his relentless provocation of the corrupt practices of temple authorities. He opened up his passion week by turning over tables literally. But the final straw came when Jesus made it clear that he was truly coming to recover the fruit of His Father's "vineyard". In the midst of the crowds gathering for Passover, he told the "Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son" (Luke 20:1-19). In it, Jesus makes it clear that the "Son" (the Messiah, see Psalm 2) was coming to collect a debt...the fruit owed to the Father. In other words, he was coming to collect the tithes of the temple (the "vineyard" of Isaiah 5, which was a metaphor for the temple among the Jews of the day) that never seemed to leave the pockets of a lavishly wealthy and corrupt high priestly clan (the House of Caiphas/Hanan) who are the "tenants" in the parable, and hardly ever seemed to trickle its way down to the landless Levite, the alien (hmm...shall we say "guest worker"), the orphan and the widow...which Deut 14:29 makes clear the tithes should go to. In fact, Jesus blasts the Saduccean priestly hierarchy for "devouring widows' houses" (Luke 20:47). Why were the early Christians in Acts feeding the widows of Jerusalem one must wonder, when this was the responsibility of the temple authorities? It is not for nothing that Jesus labelled the widow's two mites "more than all" (Luke 21:1-4)...for the incident provokes his disciples to comment on the architecture (v. 5), which those two mites were going sustain. Thereupon, Jesus begins to prophesy the temple's demise. Looked at another way, God sold his house for two mites. For he too was not going to rob widows' purses. A new temple was going to be founded, Jesus foretold, the "stone" that the builders rejected was to become the "chief cornerstone" (Luke 20:17, see Psalm 118). The Jewish church was founded on that cornerstone, and not at all incidentally, its first martyr, Stephen, was one of its chief widow feeders.

What is probably driving the empathy of the woman above:

(A Palestinian woman grieves the loss of her house).

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Session #6: "Cancelling Debts" - The Business Model of Jesus

What we discussed last Thursday warrants much further consideration. Jesus' vision for winning others through personal and financial integrity offers a very convicting and relevant message for our times. Anthony's discussion of the Missio Dei and Bruce's redefinition of the "Tsadik" as the just person who actually produces a "righteousness" that "the city rejoices" in (Proverbs 11:10) are, in a way, perfectly encapsulated in Jesus' elaboration of the Missio Dei through the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1ff).

I would like to open up by recapping Jesus' vision of proselytism.

When we think of proselytism, we normally think of evangelists and missionaries (the bearers of Good News). Successful evangelists are esteemed in America, but when we consider the pious and humble evangelists whose family photos accumulate on our refrigerator - our missionaries, such esteem seems wanting. Typically, these photos remind us our duties to support our dutiful expatriates in love, prayer and financial support. Although not different from other members of our clergy, whose financial support goes unquestioned, missionaries are unfairly thought of as something close to beggars...even those that are "tentmakers", social workers and Bible translators whose work (in scope) brings materialistic as well as spiritual rewards to their host cultures. Missionaries are evangelists on two fronts, in their host country and back home, where they must proselytize for support. While they are thought of admirably by the majority of us, there is still a certain kind of social stigma in evangelical circles associated with their work because of the fact that they must constantly justify our support with what often comes down to a crude head count. Part of the answer, I believe, is in the way the modern evangelical church has calcified a rigid missiological structure that (in its narrowness) has promulgated a tacit economy of (wordly) pietism...we want our missionaries to be beggars, so that when we reward them financially, we get to share in their piety. Unconsciously, thus, they absolve us of our duty to missionize in our own lives. The structure, truthfully, is a system of indulgences...only we're not buying salvation, but a pardon from our evangelical guilt. Something is off kilter here,...What is it?

The answer, I believe, is in our grossly narrow definition of the "Good News" (insert Anthony's and Bruce's comments here). When one studies what Jesus' view of mission work was, a picture emerges (not surprisingly) of a very different view of proselytism. Interestingly, in Christ's "economy", the missionary (laborer) would be supported not by us or even by the personal means of the missionary himself, but by those who hear the message of the Good News, the proselytized! As David Flusser pointed out, "Jesus instructed those whom he sent into the world to eat and drink what was provided for them, 'for the laborer deserves his wages' (Lk. 10:7). In another passage this command is explained as follows: 'You have received without paying, give without charging. Do not take any gold, silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food' (Mt. 10:8-10)."

...In other words, those whose debts were being cancelled would cheerfully repay the bearers of Good News for their services. That, to our modern ears, sounds like a truly idealistic model for missionary support, but it is one that actually has a dramatically higher estimation (to speak in understatement) of the redemptive mission of the Good News.

The question and indictment is this:

What would the message of redemption look like if the receivers of the Good News saw it as something unquestionably worth their financial support? What would happen if missionaries did not patronize, but instead brought home funds (as Paul did for the poor of Jerusalem) for our own poor and our own widows and our own marginilized?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Session #5: "Like a Bridegroom Coming Out of His Chamber"

"And he is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing to run his course." Psalm 19.5

A Huppah (wedding canopy)
The attendants of the bridegroom would stand guard over them. Kings would have three erected for their wedding. Apparently, the first couple enjoyed ten, according to an ancient Rabbinic tradition. God Himself and the angels were the attendants on that occasion.

What does this have to do with John's prologue? That my friends, begins in an interesting fact, at the (second) giving of the ten commandments, when God restored the tablets, in an interesting way: by pointing to His Lovingkindness. The commandments are restored with words of Lovingkindness. Let's go to that passage:

Exodus 34: 4 And he hewed two tablets of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in Lovingkindness and Truth; 7 keeping Lovingkindness unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'

Now, my friends, let us enter into a Rabbinic excursus:

Two tablets, what two tablets? "Like unto the first (Ibid)." What was written on these tablets? “What was written on the first (Ibid).” With ten sayings the Holy One, blessed be He, restored them:

On the One:

1) The LORD (I am the LORD thy God)
2) The LORD (Only I--no other gods)
3) God (nor shall you swear by My name—see, even I show deference to My name)
4) Merciful and Gracious (the Shabbat was given to you)
5) Long-suffering (as your father and your mother)

On the Other (that you be in solidarity with your neighbor, who is made in My image):

6) Abundant in Lovingkindness and Truth (Don’t murder—for thy neighbor is like thyself)
7) Keeping mercy unto the generations (Therefore don’t mess up a generation through adultery)
8) Forgiving iniquity (stealing)
9) …transgression (bearing false witness)
10) …and sin (covetousness).

Two tablets, what two tablets? The one with the words “(I am) the LORD (thy) God, etc” (the Torah), and the one with the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” written therein, as it is written:

Proverbs 7:2 Keep my commandments and live, and my Torah as the apple of thine eye 3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the tablet of thy heart


Proverbs 3:3 Let not Lovingkindness and Truth forsake thee; Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thy heart

When does one observe Lovingkindness truthfully? When one shows kindness to a bridegroom, as the Holy One blessed be He bestowed upon Isaac. [Gen. 24--Gen 24:27 is the first appearance in the Bible of the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” together. Read Pirke de Eliezer, Ch. 16 “The Service of Lovingkindness”, describing the service of Lovingkindness to bridegrooms. Note how the rabbis read between the lines to ingeniously “unpack” all the often subtle and hidden ways God shows this the service of Lovingkindess to Isaac. God does not like to advertise His good deeds—a token of “Lovingkindness in Truth”, chesed b’emes—so the Rabbis have to do a brain number just to spot them.]

When else does one observe Lovingkindness truthfully? When one shows kindness to the deceased and their mourners, as the men of Jabesh-Gilead bestowed upon Saul. [1 Sam 31:12-13; see 2 Sam 2:6 where David blesses these men with the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” another rare appearance of these words together. Read Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Ch. 17 “Loving Service to Mourners”. Note how important the Rabbis make Saul’s burial out to be.]

Note John 2, how the first “sign” shows Jesus bestowing Lovingkindness to a bridegroom, and John 11, how the last “sign” follows the scene of Him mourning in solidarity with the mourners…Accidental? Well, when the gospel opens up with a theophany that describes the Word as the very “fullness of Lovingkindness and Truth” (John 1.14), what do you think?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The world as we know it...

big news in the middle east.

"It's beyond any shade of doubt that Ehud Olmert is dividing Jerusalem [by allowing Palestinian residents to vote].
Bear in mind that, [if] there were elections in Washington for al-Qaeda, would any American administration, would any American citizen accept that?"

an acceptable comparison? hamas is difficult to analyze because they are difficult to categorize. perhaps if Israel or even the PLO had invested in improving the infrastructure of Gaza since the 1960's or had adaquately supplied medical facilities and schools in the area, we could unabashedly declare Hamas to be a terrorist organization. but, the facts seem to indicate that hamas spends alot of money to build schools and facilities for palestinians that otherwise are without such assistance.

my father emailed today from Tiberius and said this about the elections:
"Everything fine here.  Elections I do not expect to have an effect on us.  Locals believe that until the Israel elections next month, nothing will happen.  We have a guide who is Christian Palistenian. I am planning to tape an interview with her at some point.  Her family has been here for at least 4 generations."

even if everything stays quite over the next several weeks, and the parameters of hamas controlled areas do not change, many still have the expectation that the change from the fatah party to hamas control bodes ill for continuing discussions between israelis and palestinians.

i guess we'll just wait and see.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Session #4: A Food You Know Not Of

Mah nah? --What I beg? ...The bread of HaShem, this thing we call Life everlasting. What is it? What is a water that wells up to everlasting life? How is everlasting life lived?

As we savor John's Gospel, I thought it would be wonderful for us to be thinking very carefully about what it means to live life as Christians...and I mean, REALLY think about it. So, I've assigned some homework:

Write a brief three point "epitome" about what your vision is for HOW you will live life. This assignment will help us all, I believe, to ask the right questions when we read through John....To really suck the juicy marrow out of John's gospel, a succulent gospel that is all about Life.

Feel free to approach this anyway that suits you. One approach is to look at Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues. Pick a few of his virtues, or come up with some new ones. Next, meditate on all you know of Scripture. I suggest reading (in addition to John's gospel) the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the book of James, and Proverbs. Then try to redefine your list of virtues in your own way. See if you can narrow the list to just three (combine some virtues into a broader category).

When we're done with John, I hope we can all share our "epitome" to one another. Keep track of how you do it, and track your changes, new realizations, etc. Pray about it. Enjoy it. Own it.

Happy Contemplating!