Archive for the ‘Pentateuch’ Category

Gay Christians and Scripture

In the circles I move in it often seems to be assumed that Gay Christians (at least the ones who do not agree to “settle” for celebacy, nor “recognise” that God “must” be calling them to celebacy – and who consequently support gay marriage) “must” be soft on Scripture.

I have recently been following Allan Hooker’s blog while I never agree with everything anyone says (not even myself) I find much that he writes makes sense, and he seems to care deeply about reading Scripture in faith and not merely “against the grain”. In this he reminds me of some of the Feminist biblical scholars who influenced my Bible reading most a few decades ago.

Whatever your attitude to the questions around Scripture and sexuality I recommend his blog. (His most recent post, as I write this, is on Genesis 11 )

  1. Public Health Warning: Those who prefer to let their knees jerk instead of their minds better avoid it, because it includes phrases like “Queerly Divine”… []

Aronofsky’s “Noah”

Later than most of the (vaguely) interested public1  I finally watched “Noah” on one of the flights the other day.

I won’t comment on the story, or its relationship with Scripture, other have done that well. Nor will I offer erudite comments on the legend of the watchers – I’m not competent. I want to focus on ideology. Again even within this category, I won’t comment on the radical “green” claim that humanity is a blight upon creation, others have. I’ll focus on the blatant misandry. Consistently in this film the men are against life, whether “goodies” or “baddies” those who kill or seek to kill are male. Indeed when humanity’s anti-file tendencies are in view we are named “Man”. By contrast the women consistently seek to preserve life.

I despise such blatant and crude stereotyping.

  1. Only vaguely because I have little interest in “biblical” films, which almost always spoil fine literature making it clumsy film, and on the whole I feel SciFi (the genre descriptor which seems best to fit this film) also works better as text than film. []

“Notes” quick thought starters from NZ Christian Network

NZ Christian Network have begun to produce a series of thought starters. Aimed to fit on one double-sided sheet of A4 (in PDF format for printing and folding). The goal is to be simple, clear, and to start people thinking. They call them “Notes“. So far they have:

S14-01     Secularism 101 – What it is, why does it matter and how to address it

M14-01     Marriage – Why it matters, where it’s heading and what we need to do

M14-02     Marriage – Towards a strategy for Building a Healthy Marriage Culture

S14-02     Secularism is religious – A gospel by any other name

M14-03     There’s more to marriage! – Is marriage for you?

The format is great for people who still live in the print age (like many church people, especially those too old to have grown up in the Internet and mobile ages). 

Since I wrote the last one, I am delighted that they are also making them available in a format that’s more user-friendly for the e-age. As blog posts (with a Feed if you want to subscribe, mine is here, I hope the others will be appearing soon :)

Looks good to me on laptop, tablet and phone, how about you?

Social media as staffroom for distance teachers

After thirty years as an onsite teacher, though for the last several years teaching many distance classes, I am now a distance teacher. I used to work from an office at the institution I was teaching in, with the luxury of research and writing days/time at home. This was true whether I was teaching distance classes or onsite ones. Now, however, I am teaching for the Australian College of Ministries (with possible PhD work for Asia Pacific Theological Seminary) but I live and work in the hills between Tauranga and Rotorua, up here there are very few other people around and no other biblical scholars.

When I was an onsite teacher one of the benefits I loved was the help colleagues offered. That wisdom and knowledge is a priceless resource. It is not available face to face over coffee for a distance teacher.

When I ran into a problem in the early stages of planning a course on the Pentateuch I turned to Facebook. I wrote:

I am preparing a course on the Pentateuch/Torah which could be some students first encounter with source criticism. Can anyone suggest good (fairly simple) chapters that introduce this approach in a way accessible to conservative beginning students?

The helpful comments included a wealth of suggestions of possible readings, most of which I had not seen. (Who can keep up with all the textbooks as well as trying to keep some sort of “tabs” on the latest research?)

Reading them suggested a reorientation of the course. The first outline of teaching blocks had looked like this:

 

Sessions

Topic

1

Torah and Covenant: Looks back at what was learned about the Pentateuch in “Introduction to the Old Testament” and also explores the genre covenant.

2

Narrative: looks closer at how Bible stories are told and how narratives work in the Pentateuch.

3

Law: considers genres of law and how they work, also looks at different law collections in the Pentateuch.

4

Genesis: What the first book contains and how it was meant to work.

5

Exodus: Two parts, the narrative of liberation and laws for the freed.

6

Leviticus: Holy living laid out.

7

Numbers:: Laws introduction and hermeneutics

8

Deuteronomy: (re)viewing the law.

9

Theology in the Torah

`10

The Theme of the Pentateuch

 The revised draft looks like this:

 

Sessions

Topic

1

The Pentateuch: revision from “Introduction to the Old Testament” and asking how many books make a Torah.

2

The Books: examines the contents and shapes of the five books.

3

Narrative: looks closer at how Bible stories are told and how narratives work in the Pentateuch, recognising that the whole Pentateuch is a narrative.

4

Israel’s Primary Narrative: The Torah serves as an introduction to the Bible, but especially to a narrative that runs from Genesis to 2 Kings.

5

Covenant: examines the content and shapes of the covenants in the Pentateuch and compares them with ANE treaties.

6

Law: considers genres of law and how they work, also looks at different law collections in the Pentateuch.

7

Origins: asks questions about how the Pentateuch came to be as we have it.

8

The purpose of the Torah: was it revolution and/or (re)construction of a community.

9

Theology of the Torah and the Theme of the Pentateuch: explores answers to the question what is the Torah/Pentateuch “about”.

10

Preaching the Pentateuch: invites consideration of what these ancient texts say to us today.

Which I think is more interesting and an improvement. What I’ll be really interested to see is if the blog post generates even a fraction of the helpful comments and ideas Facebook did.

Brian and Claude asked:: “Are Biblioblogs Dying?” and Are Biblioblogs Dying? Here is a test case. I have linked to both or them, thus attempting to put right one of the things they identify as a problem. Based on my recent experience, and in the light of my Tenth Blogiversary post, you may consider this a challenge :)

Christian thinking on gay issues

The series is not finished yet, so I can recommend it without grinding any axes, but for any Christian wanting to work out more clearly where they stand on any or all of the moral and theological issues surrounding LGBT people and activities this series of posts1 by Preston Sprinkle offers an excellent resource. The writing is sympathetic, gentle and leavened with a touch of humour. His conclusions may not be mine2 but I am enjoying3 the journey and appreciate the tone of the series so far.

  1. Thinking towards a book :) []
  2. Who knows? Neither of us seem to have completely made up our minds yet! []
  3. If that, as they say, is the right word. []

“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. []

Performing (texts from) Genesis: Massacre at Shechem

I have again been most impressed by many of the performances of texts from Genesis prepared by my students. I will post some here, they are selected mainly by who (among those I ask) gives permission.

Steve Allen, based over in Aussie, produced this video of Gen 34, which leaves this enigmatic and troubling story enigmatic and troubling while still (I think) helping viewers to really “get” the passage better.

 

Can Jim West pull off his trick?

Jim West has a post which he seems to think defuses one common argument used in debates about issues like gay marriage. He wrote:

If you apply the OT legislation concerning homosexual behavior – that is, a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, than you have to stop eating shrimp and you have to stop wearing garments of mixed fabrics’.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.  As such, and as a failure to understand genre, category, and purpose, these arguments are flawed and inappropriate.

Sounds good. Sounds scholarly… But will it work?

To be fair to Jim this is a longstanding and very convenient Christian approach to eating their cake and having it around still too. The problem, gay marriage apart, is that there are a ton of Old Testament laws Christians (even those who claim to be faithful Bible-believers) don’t want to follow. But even more they don’t want to be accused of cherry-picking the Bible – a horrible sin.

Along comes a fine upstanding, grey-bearded biblical scholar (or in view of recent discussion in various places, rabid scholarship hating religious person who happens to spend their life studying and teaching the Bible) and waves a magic wand and the nasty problem goes away. “You no longer have to obey ritual law because it has been anulled by the superior sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” They intone, “But you should still, of course, obey all the moral laws.”

Sounds good, but does it work?

Take Ex 21:22-25 :

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Sounds like Christians for the death penalty are onto a good thing? “Oh, no!” interrupts the grey-bearded scholar (or possibly religious bigot in disguise) “That does not apply any more either, civil law is also abolished in Christ.”

Hmm. So, what makes the treatment of disorderly conduct, or slaves civil law and something else moral law? It’s quite simple really. Moral law is about sex and civil law isn’t.