The State of Israel

I had not come across George Athas’ occasional blog until Jim West mentioned it. Gone are the days when a new blog by a biblical scholar was such a rarity that it was eagerly shared around the community. (That’s both exciting, blogging is slowly becoming more “normal”, and sad, there is a lesser sense of community among biblical studies bloggers.)

George had three fine posts last month that relate closely to the topic of our book, so I thought I’d mention them here (since I’ve been going on about the book so much in this last week some of you could well be interested ;)

In the first: Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 1) George questions the claim that the modern state of Israel can be seen as a restoration of biblical Israel. In Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 2) he deals with “replacement theology” the claim that the church has with the messiah Jesus at its head replaced Israel and become the inheritor of the old promises. Having, gently but firmly demolished these two (often polemically presented as the only approaches to the issue, conveniently simplifying the modern socio-political issues) George moves on in Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 3) to construct an alternative view which fits better with the biblical teaching and contemporary situation. What he does not perhaps achieve is a satisfactory simple answer to questions about the specific promises of the land.

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Apologia pro libro sua

Any new book needs to have its existance justified, even one with an anti-Brillian price tag, and at US$17.50 plus postage (NZ25 from  Laidaw or Carey)  The Gospel and the Land of Promise: Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible has a remarkable page to dollar ratio. Here1 from  last night’s launch party is my somewhat polemic justification for our book:

Land and especially “the land” is such a focus of many OT books, looking forward, losing and regaining the land promised to the ancestors are frequent themes. Of course, in Hebrew the land ha’arets does not just mean that “land”, sometimes it is “lands” belonging to other inimical polities and claimed by foreign gods and their empires, sometimes ‘arets is land itself, as opposed to sea or sky. But within Scripture the prime sense, the one that risk being our default as readers is of the promised land and the political and religious entities that sought to control it (ideally in the name Yahweh, the one real creator God).2

 

Those promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob – who becomes known as Isra’el “God fights/God fighters” – are later claimed, in Yahweh’s name, by exiles dreaming of return. So this “land” has always been subject to contestation, not just by the easy to denigrate pagan Canaanites (the ‘am-ha’aretz “people of the land” of the day) but later by those worshippers of Yahweh we read of in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, whose ancestors were a ragtag collection of the leftovers of Imperial policy, the ‘am-ha’aretz who maintained worship in the land, while the exiles enjoyed complaining their lot closer to the heart of the imperium.

This book we have produced is of particular interest not just because it is produced – or at least composed – locally but because it was composed here, in Aotearoa – New Zealand also a contested land, where also an ‘am-ha’arets or tangata whenua cries out alongside, and sometimes against the voices of the more recent immigrants. What does it mean to live in the land of God’s promise, and can one inherit it? Is it heritable? The answers given from this land should not (and do not in this volume) echo the facile Christian Zionism of many Evangelical voices from nearer the heart of the current imperium. Yet if the voices in this book are in any sense “Evangelical” they cannot either neglect the concrete promises of God, for those promises are given as good news (gospel) long ago to the people called Isra’el (God fights/God fighters).

  1. Lightly edited for the written format. []
  2. For there are times as in Amos 7:10 where the term “land” stands in for the political and social system that controlled it. []

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Rave reviews and a book launch

This evening (7pm @ Laidlaw if you are in Auckland) we launch our book  The Gospel and the Land of Promise so it was great to be pointed to this collection of rave reviews. As an editor and author in the volume I would be more restrained in my praise ;) as it is all I’ll say is read the comments from reviewers here. They might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment!

The Gospel and the Land of Promise
Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible
Edited by Philip Church, Tim Bulkeley, Tim Meadowcroft, Peter Walker

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Shaping Godzone

My colleague Laurie Guy’s “big book” and it is in every sense, 900 or so pages they say, and chapters on everything from sex to rugby ;) Here are the details:

Shaping Godzone: Public Issues and Church Voices in NZ 1840-2000

Guy, Laurie

Published 2011

ISBN 9780864736413

Format paperback

Category Religion, New Zealand, History
Among other things VUP say this about the new book:

This ground-breaking book highlights the influence of the church in the shaping of ‘Godzone’ – Aotearoa New Zealand. It audaciously claims that the church has been midwife to the nation. Without missionary influence there would have been no Treaty of Waitangi and no New Zealand as we know it today.
In the nineteenth century church voices were nation-shaping on issues as wide-ranging as alcohol restraint, voting rights for women, the use of Sunday and the exploitation of workers.

He’s having the launch party at Carey on 1st July. When the book will be available at a fine discount :)

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Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Two: The creation of human gender

Although Gen 1 talks of humanity as created “male and female” it only uses the biological terms, and not the particular words for “woman” and “man”. Like most languages the gendered terms for man and woman suggest much more than mere biological significance.

‘ishah the word for woman is first used in Gen 2:22 where the LORD God builds a woman from the material taken from the human/humanity. The word for “man” is first used in the next verse, where in identifying her as “woman” the first man identifies himself as such ‘ish.

[At this point we need an excursus on the relationship between Gen 1 and 21 These two chapters cannot be a sequential narrative for at 1:27 human female(s) already exist. Therefore, I will not try to harmonise the two narratives, though one perhaps might by seeing Gen 2 as a description of what happened in Gen 1:27.) Rather I will try to ask what each separately is seeking to teach us.]

Gen 2:25 seems to me more closely connected to chapter 3 than to chapter 2, note not least the keyword “naked” – though it may serve as a narrative bridge linking the two episodes.2 In that case the conclusion to Gen 2 (before we start to think of what is to come in Gen 3) is Gen 2:24:

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The linking word “therefore” (‘al-ken) strongly suggests that this verse provides the conclusion (or punch line) of chapter 2. Both Jesus and Paul cite this verse in teaching about marriage (Mat 19:5-6; Mark 10:8; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31) in each case it is the unity created by this union that is stressed.

That too is what Gen 2 has stressed. When presented (v.22) with the “woman” the human says:

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken. (Genesis 2:23)

Coming after the “unsuitable” helpers that all the animals proved to be, though it is clear that in purely functional terms animals can be a great help – horses carry us faster than legs, elephants lift tree trunks it would take many humans to move at all… – they do not fulfil the divine intention of 2:18 to provide a helper kenegdo (like opposite/corresponding to him). What woman has that animals do not (since reproduction is NOT mentioned at this point in the narrative) is that man and woman correspond.

Noticing further that a “helper” is usually one who supplies a lack or need, and is never a term for an inferior in Scripture reinforces the overall impression that this chapter teaches the equality and complementarity of the two human genders.

[I am aware that the two “tendencies” at war in debates over gender in Christian circles today are named “complementarian” and “egalitarian”. My point here is not that either (or even both) doctrinaire positions are correct, but that both have names that express biblical truth.]

So, in Gen 1 we learned that humanity was created (male and female together) in the image of God, and that this image does not reside in one part of humanity or the other alone. Here in Gen 2 we learn that humans are made for each other, that we need the companionship of beings who are like us but different. The need of Gen 2:18 is not for mere physical help, that animals can provide, nor merely to reproduce (however highly the Bible values that) but for complementarity and equality. Both Feminism (as it is often expressed to imply some sort of quasi-sameness rather than equal-but-different) and Complementarianism (as it is often expressed to imply less than equality) are unbiblical. Yet both are also (understood “rightly”) thoroughly biblical, Feminism (with the Bible and against thousands of years of popular culture) afirms the equality of women and men, Complementarianism (with Scripture and against some strands of contemporary culture) affirms that women and men are meant to be different (Hurray! ;) and should not be forced to behave or think alike, forced into uncomfortable molds.

[The really hard questions will, of course, come when we ask about this “difference”. Some “Complementarians” will assert that all sorts of gender roles are “built in” by the creator, and that particular men and women must try to conform to these predetermined roles. As I hope to show my view is that such attempts go beyond the biblical hope expressed in Gen 1-2, and are not called for elsewhere in Scripture. But that’s another story ;) ]

  1. Always remembering that the “real” chapter division takes place after the seven days of the week in chapter one are finished, at Gen 2:3-4. []
  2. See Ruth 1:22 for a nice example of such a bridge that clearly links to both chapters. []

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Biblical understandings of human gender: How to read the Bible: Larger passages trump verses

Before I progress to Gen 2 and 3 I need to add another principle to the two I presented in the previous post. In a way it could be argued as a corollory.

We have recognised that parts (“verses”)1 of larger texts do not necessarily convey the meaning of the whole, now I want to claim that it is the meaning of those larger “wholes” that are the meaning of a text.

Principle 3

Larger textual units take precedence, and if there is a conflict between the apparent meaning of a chapter, or book section, and that of a “verse” then we prioritise the meaning of the larger segment of text.

What this means is both, that we should be cautions of basing much on the apparent meaning of a small chunk (Principles 1 & 2) but also that we should be asking ourselves: What is (or, sometimes possibly often, are) the meaning(s) of this passage? Rather than asking: Can I see this meaning in this passage?

Although texts can and do point in many directions they are usually only teaching a limited range of things. Subsidiary ideas, even though present in a passage may not be what God intends us to learn.

Randal Rauser has a couple of posts on Paul’s use of the stereotype “All Cretans are liars” in Titus 1:12-13. Whether one agrees with his views on inerrancy or not2 it is clear that in this passage Paul is not teaching about the truthfulness of Cretans, and that if we were to argue from Titus 1:12-13 that we should believe nothing any Cretan tells us, we would have misunderstood the passage.

  1. For the use of this word to mean small chunks of text, not necessarily the same as the small chunks that are numbered in our Bibles, though like them parts of larger wholes see the previous post also. []
  2. Though I pretty much do. []

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Biblical understandings of human gender: How to read the Bible: Verses are meaningless

Preface

Following a comment from Heather (on the post that prompted this series) I realised that I’ll need to tackle the larger and more important topic of how to read the Bible (logically before, in practice alongside) looking for a biblical understanding of gender.

The spoof post I linked to, and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that it parodies, are both (in places) close to textbook examples of how NOT to read Scripture. The discussions in Christian circles about gender roles  have largely been like this, as most of us who have strong views on the subject have happily twisted the Bible to support our views. So, this time, in the hope of mitigating this tendency, I will post occasional contributions that set out the standards to which I want to be held, and to which I would expect to call my interlocutors to account.1

Verses are meaningless

This subheading is patently untrue. Verses do carry meaning. Yet it is an untruth that mediates a deeper truth. For no fragment of text can be properly and fully understood apart from the larger discourses of which it forms part.

On the smallest scale the simple clear sentence: “There is no God.” is thoroughly biblical.2 Yet only the most stupid person would claim that atheism is taught in Scripture.

On the largest scale each of Job’s friends makes long and complex speeches seeking to defend God’s justice against Job’s accusations. At the end of the book, like the “The fool says in his heart:” that precedes the sentence “There is no God.” in the psalms, stands God’s clear warning about the friends’ speeches: “The LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’” (Job 42:7) Which should warn us at the very least not to take the friends’ teaching as unequivocally the teaching of Scripture!

So “verses” (by which I mean here not only actual numbered units, but any small fragment of Scripture) should never be read alone, but always as part of a longer passage. Usually this longer passage is a chapter, paragraph or similar unit, which itself is part of a book.3

Principle 1

Therefore, to put it positively, the first standard of interpretation to which I want to be held accountable is that: When using any fragment of Scripture we consider it  in the larger discourse of which it is part and take account of the role it plays.

Beyond that, however, subtle nuances can have profound effects.4 Think of the error we would make in interpreting an ironic remark at face value.5 Because subtle nuances that we can easily miss, especially in written texts, can have such strong impacts, we should never take as “biblical” any teaching that seems to fit poorly with its surrounding text.6

Principle 2

If our understanding of a fragment does not “fit” with the tenor and contents of the surrounding text we should not extract “biblical teaching” from our understanding of that fragment.

  1. By this I mean, if we disagree about how to handle Scripture we can deal with it slightly outside the “gender wars” forum and so perhaps render our conversations less acrimonious. []
  2. It only occurs as a sentence in English in the NIV in Ps 14:1 & 53:1, but there are several other places where the phrase in Hebrew might be read as a sentence. []
  3. The case of the proverbs in Pr 10ff. is a special one, as there often a proverb must be read with others that occur at seemingly random places in the whole. For proverbs “work” through the wisdom of knowing when to apply which. “He who hesitates is lost.” and “Look before you leap.” do not really both apply to the same situations, yet both are good proverbs. []
  4. And in speech these subtle nuances are often signaled, not in words, but by features like tone of voice that are not represented in writing. []
  5. ‘Oh good!’ I exclaimed as I slipped and fell on the wet concrete, ‘Now I’ll be hobbling when I preach in Taupo this Sunday.'” does not actually mean that I was happy to have fallen because my swollen toes would cause me to hobble, and so not appear confident and proud, when I preached in Taupo yesterday. []
  6. In the case of my ironic remark, in the previous note, my failure in the surrounding text, not quoted here, which was purely concerned with fitting the hot tub lid and cleaning and covering my wounds, to mention humility should signal the likelihood that this literal interpretation of my words is not the full story. []

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Biblical understandings of human gender: Part One: Beginnings

Photo of Pleiades Star Cluster by aresauburn™

I’ve been prodded by a couple of careful and humane responses1 to my quick and thoughtless post pointing to a neat mocking of the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to address in greater depth (and I hope with more respect to those I disagree with) why I come to the conclusions I do about gender and gender roles.

Where should I start? As a Baptist, obviously with Scripture. But different people start in different places in Scripture, we might begin by looking at the gender roles described or assumed in the Bible, but it seems to me worth beginning at a more fundamental level.  Why not start at the start of Scripture itself, in Genesis 1ff. with the strong clear teaching there about God, the world and humanity?

God and Human Gender in Genesis 12

Genesis chapter one is a powerful piece of highly polished writing, it often seems on reading it that every word has its place and has been carefully chosen.3

God

Among many other important things the chapter hammers home an understanding of the God (‘elohim – the word looks like a plural of the word for a god, “gods”, but is clearly singular here and throughout the Hebrew Bible except where it does refer to a collection of gods) who is the only character to speak4 in the chapter. This “God”:

  • acts alone, is accompanied by no pantheon of subsidiary – still less equal – powers
  • creates by mere volition: “‘Let light be!’ and light became“…
  • is not to be included in any class or group with other beings, for all other beings are creatures (including explicitly the lights in the sky worshiped by Israel’s neighbours as divine beings, who here serve as clocks and calendars regulating the worship of God).

This is important. Any theology which sets God alongside another, which fails to recognise that God is creator and every other being a creature, or which places God into some class or group with other beings who are similar in some way, would make this chapter a lie.

Human gender

This magnificent chapter is more mysterious and less clear about humanity. For example, what does “having dominion” and “subduing” entail? Or, why were humans created last? What does it mean to claim we are “made in the image of God”?

However, on human gender it seems much clearer:

So God created humanity in his own image,
vayibra’ ‘elohim et-ha’adam besalmo

in the image of God he created them;
beselem ‘elohim bara’ ‘oto

male and female he created him.
zakar uneqebah bara’ ‘ota

Humanity5 is made explicitly in two biological genders. The words “male” and “female” are the biological ones that would be used by animal breeders and such contexts, not the more respectful “man” and “woman”. These two sorts of human are created together.

Whatever the “image of God” is, it applies to them together. The parallelism of the verse is strong and powerful, there is no way we can make this “image” apply to one gender and not equally to the other.

The rest of what is said about humanity, including the subduing and dominion over the rest of creation is said about an ‘adam defined as “male and female”.

In my next post in this series I will move on to Gen 2.

  1. For which I thank my interlocutors both here and on Facebook :) []
  2. When I speak of Genesis One I mean Gen 1:1-2:3 or 4a, for our purposes here there is no need to join the arguments over where exactly the division should be made 1:31 might even work for these purposes. []
  3. The great German scholar von Rad even said that it was hard to overinterpret this material! []
  4. Apart from the anonymous and mysterious narrator. []
  5. ‘adam while it becomes a name for the first man in the next chapter, here seems – as in a number of other places – to mean either a human or humanity. []

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Free open-source textbook project: call for participation

A while back a number of us talked about producing a free open-source textbook to the Hebrew Bible/OldTestament/TaNaK/whatever you call it today. Since that first flurry the idea has quietly dropped. However, also since then I find I have one day a week next semester to do with as I please, and even more time next year :)

So, I would like to put some of that time into this project. In order to start this rolling I want to do two things:

  1. Gather a small group to be the editorial team: this group would correspond by email in private and take the final decisions, its members should be established teachers willing to spend at least a little time thinking and planning, and perhaps some more in bursts on editing tasks (though if we could get funding this might largely be outsourced). To nominate yourself or someone else please either comment here or write to me: tim at carey.ac.nz
  2. Begin and sustain a wider discussion of the parameters of the project: that is I hope the blogging community will contribute criticism and ideas that will inform the editors decisions. I’ll begin this here.

Some items for early decision.

Scope:

We need to decide the scope of the project, in at least two ways:

  • Do we deal with the Hebrew or Greek canon? (I think this one is easy, put the first priority with the shorter Hebrew canon, and extend to enable a version that includes the rest when contributors permit.)
  • Is the textbook to be sectarian? By “sectarian” I am thinking of sects both religious: Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant…, and scholarly: minimalist, maximalist, etc…   (I think a similar approach might be possible. In the first instance the core chapters would try to take a non-sectarian line, and we might deliberately ask  for a reviewer from different “sects” from the author to ensure at least fairness, if not the mythical “balance”. While, once the basic chapter is written, anyone might add to it a section that suggested how this information becomes a INSERT SECT ADJECTIVE reading.)

There will be issues of size etc. but they can be discussed later.

Name:

Since the first suggestion, by Brooke on Facebook and AKMA in his blog, we have been calling this FOSOTT (Free Open-source Old Testament Textbook). While I like the acronym, and the meaning, I am less sure about designating the object of study as “Old Testament”. This is a sectarian description. I am sure different instructors can use different terms for their classes, a simple search and replace would enable one to use different terms throughout. But what name, for this rose we study, should we use in the project title?

Peer review:

Above I have mentioned reviewers, I think this work, in its “canonical” form should be peer-reviewed. As I suggested above I think for a textbook chapter such a review process might help ensure less bias and better balance, while hopefully not stiffling individuality… but I imagine others may think differently.

License:

Like AKMA I think a CC license is the obvious choice, for me too attribution is a minimum. But he preferred non-commercial, and I would go for even greater openness…

Format:

Are we thinking text plus pictures, like a conventional print work, or will we build in the possibility of a richer electronic edition with internal and external links, video and sound… (My take is that we ask for a basic text-plus-pictures, but also seek to produce in parallel a richer electronic edition, the “print format” version could include the links to media on the project site in print format.)

Earlier discussion of this idea:

FOSOTT (Free and Open Source Old Testament Textbook)

Open Access Intro to OT

The Shortcomings of Traditional Textbooks in the Digital Age, and Our Invitation

Funding Neopublishing

multiauthor multiple possibility neotextbook

Several posts on this blog (posts in reverse chronological order :(

Open Access, Open Source, and Open Ended Textbooks

I know I have missed bookmarking quite a few contributions, so please let me know and I will add a link to yours :)

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