Articles for the Month of August 2012

“Marriage Equality”?

The discussion/debate/fight about proposals that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry continues to provoke heat, rhetorical flourishes, opinion polls and petitions, but little light. Many people seem to have made up their minds, or at least to know where they stand on the issue,1 but for those of us who would like to think things through there is little food for our thought. Two articles provoked my thinking (from different directions) today.

First, David Instone-Brewer’s visual sermon “Jesus likes Children” with its visual from the Warren Cup2 was a harsh reminder of the brutal sexual cruelty Graeco-Roman culture took for granted. David wrote (only exaggerating a little?):

Here is a picture of a boy Jesus may have played with. I mean that quite literally.
– it comes from a silver goblet which was made near Bethlehem in about 10 AD
– so the model for this artist was born about the same time as Jesus
– he is dressed in the rags of a slave, but perhaps the model wasn’t a slave
– it is a cute picture, but you can’t see here what he is looking so worried about

It comes from the Warren Cup, which is on exhibit in the British Museum
– other museums had refused to buy it and the USA even refused it entry
– the USA customs considered it too pornographic to allow into the country
– but by the 1960’s when the British Museum bought it, attitudes had changed
– it shows two graphic scenes of adult male homosexual acts in progress
– and in the middle, is this door and the little boy worried by what he sees
– he is worried, probably, because he has been sent to service one of the men

Multitudes of children like him were victimised throughout the Roman empire
– Roman morality didn’t think that this was wrong, especially for slaves
– but Jesus thought this was wrong, and was incensed by it.

Detail from the Warren Cup, from Wikimedia

Whatever our “modern” liberal culture believes sexuality is dangerous and left without social and legal controls will cause untold harm. (This recognition could be used to argue either side of the “debate”, but for me it instantly disposes of the trite claim that the decision is a small one.)

The second food for thought came from an article with the off-putting title “Those kinky Hebrews: marriage in the Judeo-Christian scriptures“. I expected the usual simplistic Abraham, Isaaand Jacob (not to mention the Hebrew kings) had decidedly dodgy family structures, so anything goes. However, though Alan Austin does descend to such depths often he works at a more sophisticated level. Not least he points out clearly how the laws of the Pentateuch attempt to legislate (and mitigate?) some decidedly odd sexual and family practices.

The better parts of his article are a sharp reminder that simplistic arguments from Scripture do not work. All in all I thoroughly recommend to those in or near Auckland the forthcoming Carey Conversation on Same Sex Marriage.

  1. Which is not always the same things at all, for many seem to simply accept their community’s understanding as “obvious” without thought. []
  2. David and the British Museum assume it to be genuine, I’m more sceptical of such dubiously provenanced “antiquities” of great value, but actually  it does not matter for my point here, since the genuineness of the artifact is not germane. []

Who’s that talking? Jer 4:19-26

Rembrandt’s Jeremiah Lamenting (from Wikimedia)

Teaching the prophets I often stress how helpful it can be to try to identify the “voices“.1 So I was interested to read Brenda’s post at Joining the Conversation (Part 1: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-21?) Her main interest is in Jer 4:19-21, arguing that there “Jeremiah” is the speaker, while YHWH begins to speak in v.22.  Her main engagement in the post is with Korpel2 who argued that in Jer 4:19-21 the speaker was Zion.

In the context of this argument Korpel claims that Jer 4:23-26 are spoken by YHWH. There are two planks to the claim.

  1. That the third person reference to YHWH in v.26 is not determinative, citing as well as Biblical evidence an example from the Ugaritic texts. Where the goddess ‘Anatu is quoted:
    She raised her voice and cried:
    ‘Now listen, o hero Aqhatu!
    Ask for silver and I will give it to you,
    gold and I will send it to you,
    but give your bow to the Virgin ʿAnatu,
    your arrows to the Wanton Widow of the Nations!’
    (KTU 1.17:VI.16-19 cited from Korpel, 89)I’d agree that such third person references are not determinative, but am convinced that they are at least suggestive.
  2. She also claims:  “All these verses [23-36] start with rʾyty, ‘I have seen’. If we disregard for a moment Jer 23:13-14, where the problem of identification is the same as in Jer 4, it is significant that in all other cases where rʾyty occurs in the book of Jeremiah God is the subject ( Jer 7:11; 13:27; 30:6; 46:5).” (Korpel, 92)I think this dismisses Jer 23:13, 14 too quickly, it seems to me far from clear that these verses should be attributed to YHWH, indeed the formula ne’um YHWH at the close of v.12 might suggest they are not.

In the light of this, if we look again at Jer 4:23-26 Korpel’s critique of Roberts (“that he does not pay any attention to the literary context of Jer 4:19-22” p.92) seems appropriate, for the opening formula in 4:27 ki koh ‘amar YHWH strongly suggests the possibility of a different speaker (“Jeremiah”?) in 4:23-26.

I am therefore, with Roberts3 and against Kopel, inclined to see Zion as the speaker of 4:19-21 with YHWH responding in 4:22. Note the adversative “For foolish [are] my people…” that opens this verse. With a commentary by “Jeremiah” in 4:23-26.

(Duane Smith in a comment on Brenda’s post asked: “Is it possible that YHWH is speaking and Zion is his mouthpiece?” I think my argument above suggests my answer is “possible but not likely”.)

  1. Or, more generally, these podcasts.  []
  2. Marjo Korpel. “Who Is Speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22? The Contribution of Unit Delimitation to an Old Problem.” Vetus Testamentum 59, 1 (2009): 88–98. []
  3.  J. J. M. Roberts, “The Motif of the Weeping God in Jeremiah and its Background in the Lament Tradition of the Ancient Near East.” OTEs 5 (1992),  361-374  []

Uncritical unthinking

According to the NZ Herald  which yesterday was happy to carry one of the tobacco company’s full-page adverts:

British American Tobacco announced today it will throw “hundreds of thousands of dollars” at a campaign against the Government’s push for plain packaging.

It will use print, television and radio advertising to sell its message that plain packaging “will not work”.

Yeah, right! Plain packaging won’t work, but we are willing to pay through the nose to oppose it.

The advert says: Tobacco is dangerous and can kill you. But we have intellectual property rights to our branding, so we should be able to protect out “right” to sell you the means to kill yourself. Yeah, right!

Cool neat and really useful

Bookshare is such a neat, simple and useful service. Perfect for blind or reading impaired (dyslexic) students. For a small annual fee (unless you are an American registered student) you get textbooks as audio files. If you know a “qualified” (which means certified visual impairment or reading impairment) starting undergraduate studies now, look into this :)

Is “marriage equality” a trivial matter?

I ask because in NZ we have a bill before parliament that has not been considered, discussed and carefully thought through, which would enact “marriage equality”. The triviality of the proposed process, basically a few angry segments on TV and in the papers where each side in the very polarised “discussion” slangs off the other in terms that are hateful.1 Then MPs will attempt to conduct a brief evaluation and refinement of the bill, before voting. New rules on parking meters would get as thorough a scrutiny!

Something does not compute. On the one hand, the proposed process seems to claim this change is a trivial one, and therefore can be conducted with minimal study and advance scrutiny of the implications. On the other, the two groups who are most concerned (both for and against) are passionate, determined and convinced that something of fundamental importance is at stake. On one side basic human rights for a long oppressed and despised minority group, once subjected to violence and calumny, and still to prejudice; on the other the structure of the most basic unit of society is to be meddled with willfully.

Either both sides are wrong, and the issues really are trivial. Or at least one side has some claim to be right, in which case the issue is an important and significant one. If that is the case then care and study are needed before our parliamentarians vote. Could parliament not set up a study commission of some sort, to work through the issues and set them before us?

I have not here considered NZ First’s appeal for a referendum as that would merely substitute millions of ill informed and confused people (like you and me) for the few confused and ill informed (or perhaps worse, already convinced and prejudiced) people whose job such decisions are since we voted them into parliament for that purpose.

  1. And please accept that (at least some members of) both sides do this. If you do not accept that, I suspect your capacity to imagine the effect such “arguments” have on others when their deep convictions about life are threatened. []

All rights are equal?

In discussion of the “Gay Marriage” issue in NZ I have not seen much mention of a significant new right that the proposed bill would seem to offer to gay couples that they were not offered by the Civil Unions act. Civil Unions gave almost the same rights and responsabilities to everyone who contracted them as marriage. The one exception of the right to adopt – as far as I can see (see this page on The Beehive Website).

If this is correct, the new legislation while seeming to be about the right to “marry” is really about the “right” to adopt. To my mind this makes it more problematic. There is no such right. Rather the welfare of the child must (and proponents of equal marriage also recognise this) come first.

Has the NZ Government conducted a thorough review of this issue and come to the conclusion that having two gay “parents” is as good for a child as having a father and a mother? No such review of the research as been done. And none is proposed by the proponents of the bill.

We need a Royal Commission. Our parliament should pass no hasty rushed legislation to confer new “rights” until the evidence has been assessed. Major social change on a whim is bad practice!

Looking for someone special…

BiBIL, the biblical studies bibliographic database at the University of Lausanne, are looking for a new  project manager to supervise the team and help guide the project. It is an 80% position but they are looking for someone special:

We are looking for a person with both IT competences and an academic training in the field of either biblical studies, ancient Jewish and/or Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphic literature, or other fields related to ancient Jewish and Christian literature. Written and oral proficiency in French is desirable, but not mandatory as long as the candidate is willing to learn French during the first year of employment in Lausanne.

The details are here:  in French and English.