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Bob MacDonald

Thanks John - very nice summary. I should ask you my hard questions. ... about learning to read with the same ear. It must be possible... Or whether there is disjunction between Torah and Christ. I think it cannot be that there is...

Lamont

John--

“Those who hold that nothing of religious importance can hang on the contingencies of history are supposed to be the people who..." sounds like a strawman to me. Who, specifically, is Barton speaking about?

Lamont

John Hobbins

Hi Lamont,

I can send you a copy of Barton's piece if you wish. Barton is not putting forth a strawman. There are plenty of movements afoot, and entire religions, which see history as the last place, or not a place at all, in which God reveals himself.

If I remember correctly, you are not a theist.

Still, even a non-theist has to pose the question: does the good, the true, and the beautiful reveal itself in history?

Or are these things confined to the ductwork of the soul? Or is there no soul at all, with history also best understood as an illusion (as some versions of Buddhism teach)?

Judaism and Christianity on the other hand see history as the theatre par excellence of God's self-revelation. They also see history as the arena in which personal identity is created, an identity which God will preserve beyond death.

Lamont

John--

1) You remember correctly. I am not a theist. No God, no soul.

2) Just send along a John Barton reference, if you would. I have access to good libraries nearby.

3)let me define a few terms, so there's no misunderstanding when I use a word.
Truth: matches objective reality.
Contingency: matches truth in some instances not others; and under some conditions, not others.
I think that truth and contingency are Often conflated by design or mistake- a contingency is presented, and treated as truth.

4) 'way things really are:'
I have a hierarchy of principles that relate to the way things really are:
Physical principles, like conservation of angular momentum
Social principles, like codes of conduct
Theological principles, like the existence of an anthropomorphic God.
The order I've presented them in is the order of primacy in my worldview.

5) Your list of myth, bios, etc. relates to social principles. Prayer and praise are theological principles. The principles of God's revelation and salvation history are theological principles, Your order of primacy is theological/physical/social, yes? Theological principles influence physical (creation) and social (code of conduct) principles?

6) You then look for physical and social principles to validate you theological principles as 'true.' (Am I correct in this?) Your truth claims about revelation and salvation history, because theological principles hold primacy, must be validated in social principles? To the point of truth, or is contingency good enough?

7) I'm sure your understanding of 'true' is not the same narrow understanding I use. What is your understanding of truth? (With apologies to Pontius Pilate)

8) what is your argument that Exodus/Numbers is true, and not fake, fake, fake?

9) What is a 'true conscience?' And what is a false, or fake conscience?

John, don't misunderstand me. As an agnostic, I think there is great value in many theological principles, but they are a subset of social principles for me. Unlike the dissident who found the stories abot Lei Feng of no value because they didn't match objective reality (they weren't true), I don't require stories, myths, bios', and the like to be true; I don't discard them if they are constructs. As reflections of social principles, both 'is' and 'ought', they are still be of value. Exodus/Numbers doesn't need to be true to be of value.

Lamont

John Hobbins

Lamont,

The reference is: John Barton, "Preparation in History for Christ," in The Religion of the Incarnation (ed. R. Morgan), Bristol: Bristol Classical Press 1989, pp. 60-73.

Comments on your comments.

Protological narratives, considered myths designed to contain truth of the deepest kind according to Wendy Doniger and other scholars, traffic in social and metaphysical principles, not only one or the other.

It's not true that Plato looked to physical and social principles to validate his metaphysical principles (for example, the distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal). For a variety of reasons, he found his metaphysical principles to be convincing, apart from whatever physical and social principles he found congenial.

I think this has been true for philosophers down through the ages. Most of them developed a robust metaphysics of one kind or another. It is not just theologians who do this.

You ask very interesting questions about how various categories of knowledge relate to one another. The epistemology I was taught in seminary is recursive in nature among the categories, with a strong emphasis on the autonomy of each.

It is important to take note of the layeredness of reality, such that consistent and exhaustive explanations of phenomena can be offered on several discrete levels simultaneously.

An analogy. Everything that I did a few evenings back, watching my youngest daughter perform in the spring dance recital; my participation in confirmation rite in which another daughter was honored, the food I ate (and didn't eat), the countless conversations I had, can be analyzed on a series of discrete levels.

In terms of mathematical equations descriptive of the physics of the kinesis; in terms of biochemical actions and reactions; the sociobiology of the events might be described; explanations for altruism, love, humor, prayer, and so on offered in terms of human evolution; the class structure, hierarchies, and so on implied in the interactions elucidated synchronically; the speech interactions characterized in terms of modes of address, from prayer to thank you to well-wishing to exhortation, from a linguistic anthropological point of view; from the point of view of political theory; in terms of economic transactions; in theological terms, insofar as what occurred instantiated the three so-called theological virtues, faith, hope, and love (1 Cor 13); etc.

I have no problem with the notion that my interactions are describable on all these levels simultaneously. Scientific knowledge derives its explanatory power via abstraction and reductive analysis, through concentration on the layers of reality one layer at a time.

As I see it, you, like the great Steve Pinker, have an aversion to pondering some of the layers. I discuss this further here:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2010/04/steven-pinkers-imponderables.html

Put another way, I can go up and down the ladder of knowledge with the same result. That is, if I start with physical principles, I note their inner coherence, beauty and logic, as if they were purposed. From there, I expect to come up with social and metaphysical principles which partake of the same features. Or I can start with the concept of a single being that is supremely good, beautiful, and truth-conveying, a being I sense not only when I read the Bible but in fragments of experience. From there, I expect to come up with social and physical principles which share the same features.

As for the other terms you want me to define, I don't think I am using them in non-canonical fashion. I remember from past discussions that it bothers you if I depart from whatever you consider to be the "right" definition. It can't be helped sometimes. In my view, truth is by definition poetic in a sense you have chosen (out of fear?) not to accept, no matter how many sunsets you observe. If I'm wrong about this, the least you can do is describe the nexus between your theory of truth and your theory of beauty.

John Hobbins

For the rest, I would not deny that Exodus-Numbers has value even if it does not convey truth. But of course, it claims to convey truths of the deepest kind, and I concur with the claim. It rings true to me.

Lamont

John--

One step at a time. What do you consider are some of the 'truths of the deepest kind' in a particular protological narrative?

Lamont

John--

Go back to your thoughts about 'fake, fake, fake.' The opposite of true is false, not fakery. Fakery is a special case of the false; it lies in the intent of the presenter. In the case of the Chinese dissident, a story is presented as true that the presenter knows is false, with the intent that the story will influence belief (a conversion) and subsequent behavior. The opposite of fakery is authenticity.

Exodus/Numbers strikes me as authentic. It is the result of the evolution/catastrophe/evolution of generations of lived experience. The sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity, and the traditions associated, I find to be quite authentic.

And while it is rooted in a long history of lived experience, and richly authentic, it doesn't make it true.

The analogy of your time with your daughter and the food you ate is a very nice description of the daily inter-weaving of the theological, social, and physical domains. It's an example of 'the way things are,' which is quite recursive and layered. But an answer for you of 'how things got this way' begins in the theological, moves to the physical, an then to the social (Gen 1/Gen 2). Your cosmology begins in God. God wasn't prayed and praised into existence...or was he? Did early humankind, in a need to express gratitude to something greater than him/herself, praise God into being? Did he/she, in expressing needs too large for the local community to respond to, pray God into being? Is this the protological story of the construction of God? If so, then there's some merit in the Pinker quote: "religion is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success."

You are not a convert. You grew up, and then further studied, in an authentic tradition of American Christianity. So the Pinker quote doesn't resonate with you. But I personally know at least three Christian converts that became Christians in response to situations of high personal stakes in which they had exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success. They may not have prayed God into existence, but they prayed their connection to the Judeo-Christian God-construct into existence, and they continue to pray and praise. Their pre-conversion worldview(s) didn't begin in theological principles, but their converted world views are now rooted in those principles.

I know of two other converts to Catholicism who were drawn to the authenticity of the texts and the traditions. For them, the Pinker quote doesn't apply. His quote is an example of a contingency, not a truth: it applies to some cases, but not to all cases. There's a mistake in treating such statements, either as affirmation or denial of a principle or position, as truths.

I also have listened to Christians who presented the texts and traditions of American Christianity as 'fake, fake, fake.' Telling some wonderful 'Christian' stories that they know are not true, with the intent of influencing the listener's beliefs.

Let me think more on the phenomenal/noumenal divide.

Physical and social principles, like metaphysical and theological ones, are hardly congenial; this is a bit dismissive. If there weren't conflicting feelings and thoughts about tightly and loosely held principles in a single person and between people, we'd be shy alot of great literature. And a lot of conversions; and conversions are hardly congenial. And a lot of conversations on blogs and the editorial pages of the local paper.

And just how do you find fear in my unwillingness to accept an understanding of truth that up to now you've been unwilling (out of fear?) to define?

I appreciate the conversation.

Lamont

John Hobbins

Lamont,

It's good to have you back. As you will observe, I have not changed my ways. I am not a particular fan of genteel conversation, unless I am conversing with a true gentleman. Trouble is, I haven't met one yet; remember, I am a pastor, the kind of person apparent gentle men and gentle women "confess" to; the stories I could tell.

I assume, especially in someone like you who is committed to a germ-free definition of truth, that you are crawling with a thick layer of microbes (guilt, shame, fear, violent urges) that you are trying to pretend you don't have and you don't need. Occasionally I will diagnose based on that assumption. Please take it personally. I want you to. And I am happy, too, when you return the favor, as you sometimes do.

You find it worth pointing out that Pinker's definition of religion is sometimes the case; in my use of the English language, that means his definition contains a measure of truth. That is, it matches (some) objective reality.

Thus far I have no issues with Pinker's definition of religion, which is truth-conveying to a limited extent, or with the "matching" theory of truth that you propose.

To begin with, then, I would state that my definition of truth matches (that word again) your stated definition of truth.

I realize of course that you are something of a positivist; the kind of theorist Wittgenstein took aim at. There are whole worlds of discourse ("language games," in W's terminology) that do not relate to reality in a way you feel comfortable with.

Even if we leave to one side the kind of truth-conveying distinctions Plato, not exactly an idiot, thought essential, on the definition of truth you want to impose on others, the realm of aesthetics (judgments about what is beautiful and what is ugly) is truth-free. Or so it seems to me.

This bothers me. It makes me wonder whether we live in the same world and share the same coping mechanisms. Or perhaps you regard the coping mechanisms you depend on to be truth-free as well.

If you can propose a definition of truth we can both work with which does not make questions like self and identity imponderable and allows for true/false judgments to be made in the realm of aesthetics, then it is game; set; match.

Otherwise, you are going to bore me out of my gourd.

Furthermore, I can't help but point out that your repeat of Descartes' error leaves you unable to make decisions in the real world except by, on your own definition, caprice. For further discussion, go here:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/02/objective-morality-overturned-by-objective-science-.html

Again. If you wish to claim that Pinker's observation about religion is clearly authentic but not necessarily true, I think you sell him short. By analogy, I think you sell Exodus - Numbers short by saying that the narrative matches lived experience but is not necessarily true.

In both cases, that of Pinker's observation and the truths Exodus-Numbers seeks to convey, I am not going to deny that they are not *necessarily* truth-conveying.

The real question: how do you decide where the truths they convey stand in the hierarchy of truth? How do the various truths relate to each other?

You asked for an example of truth as opposed to falsehood that a particular protological narrative conveys. Here goes. According to Gen 1, the cosmos is, neither in origin nor in fact, the product of opposing divine principles. It is the product of a single, sovereign mind. It is imbued with order, symmetry, and purpose.

My take: it is very difficult to unweave that tapestry in the hopes of separating the wheat from the chaff. Some scientists have tried but the results have not been compelling.

Which is why Einstein found it congenial to pepper his speech with God-language. Which is why great biologists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are happy-go-lucky theists. The construct as you call it makes far more sense than you are willing to admit.

John Hobbins

For the rest, I understand that an atheist, in order to remain an atheist, has to assume that humanity prays deity into existence.

Still, the least you can do is try to look at the matter from an emic rather than an etic standpoint.

From an emic standpoint, human beings down through the ages, homo sapiens religiosus, have looked *within* themselves, and seen the kind of things Freud and Jung talk about. Are the archetypes nothing more than the flotsam and jetsam of an evolutionary process, or do they correspond to objective realities, and if so, in what sense?

They have looked *beyond* themselves, and seen such beauty and encountered so many numinous realities that worship seemed the only appropriate response. How then shall we worship (ascribe worth)?

They have related *to each other,* and have tended to privilege some social constructs (heterosexual monogamy) and shame others (ephebophilia). What shall we then do?

They have pondered the possibility that a transcendent singularity unifies all these fields.

And so, in philosophical religion and, with even greater audacity and hope, in classical theism, a working hypothesis was developed, that of a singularity that is immortal, invisible, and all-wise; at the same time, a singularity that is all-caring, and, in what seems to be an utter contradiction, an ultimate principle of justice and truth.

I will not deny that theism is fraught with problems. Nonetheless, many of them are fruitful problems.

Furthermore, the alternative, atheism, smacks of resignation and, in a figure like Dawkins or Hitchens, comes across as impish by nature. It does not take a theist to point this out. Other atheists, Terry Eagleton and Stanley Fish for example, have pointed it out ad nauseam.

Now if you wish to point out that the Ditchkens variety of atheism, even if it is puerile and a form of intellectual and spiritual resignation, may still be true, I will grant you that.

On the other hand, it is interesting that smarter atheists like Eagleton, Fish, and Kolakowski have an almost fatal attraction to theism. Why is this so?

Most days, I admit, I am having so much fun being a theist that I don't put in time contemplating alternatives.

My congregation is sponsoring a family of three Iraqi refugees, a Baghdadi mother (70 plus) and two daughters (each in their fifties), who after 7 years in a camp in Amman Jordan were granted refugee status by our State Department. Yesterday I was able to speak to them for the first time. They arrived not much more than 24 hours ago. Their gratefulness is overwhelming. The first thing they wanted to know was something about my children. Three women who lost all of their menfolk in the war. The deep and touching disappointment of one of the daughters when she learned that I had two daughters but only one son! The great joy of the mother, as she fondled her prayer beads, to learn the name of my youngest, Anna. Anna sounds like the word for Mamma in Arabic. With huge smiles they have taken to call me, not John which must sound mighty weird, but Abuanna.

That was yesterday. Today, I am still Abuanna. Anna is 9 years old. Do you know how much joy is attached to being the father of a 9 year old daughter? In Ephesians 3:14–15, Paul prays, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [patēr], from whom every family [patria] in heaven and on earth is named." Here's the deal: the three Baghdadi women identified that joy in me spontaneously. We want to meet your daughter Anna, they said. They already saw her in the reflection of my eyes.

I try to imagine what one of my high school students (I advise for a high school-based service club, Rotary Interact), a Sunni Muslim whose faith is strong and pure, was saying in Arabic at a mile in a minute to the new arrivals, trying to explain the difference between an imam and a pastor. I realize that people have killed and still kill in the name of this or that version of monotheism (just as the philosophes in France burned witches on the altar of their enlightened views). But I experience theism on a daily basis as a kind of glue that unites people and helps them aspire to unity.

I am at home in a world full of theists. It is a richly layered world. The possibilities to connect are endless.

I don't believe it, but even if theism were nothing more than a handy tool of communication between people who want to converse about the things that matter most, that would be enough.

Even if theism were nothing more than a fantastically supple heuristic tool (the most some philosophers are willing to claim for knowledge of any kind), that would be enough.

If instead it actually gets to a number of very important truths about life, and I believe it does, then it is a treasure to value more than one's own soul.

Which soul, I realize, you don't believe in. But strange things have been reported to happen. I reckon you know why Christopher Reeve the atheist became a theist. Talk about a death-bed conversion.

Lamont

Sorry, John, I've lost interest. I feel like I'm talking to a scientologist who has me hanging on to electrodes saying, "that! What was that important thing about the messes in life you're avoiding!"

I'll pass, thanks. I don't mind inquiry, especially inquiry that leads to aporia, in fact I relish such conversations. But you've moved from straight talk to drama talk.

All the things I mentioned in the last comment, and this is what you choose to respond to?

All to dodge defining truth. You're like a particle physicist who goes to work and refuses to collapse wave functions because it eliminates all other possibilites. Just define the concept, please.

Lamont

John Hobbins

Sorry to disappoint you, Lamont. I feel for you (and I realize that bothers you).

Like Pontius Pilate, you have this question, "What is truth?", and you don't like the definition you are given from the side of Christianity. It is too messy, too dramatic.

Life and many of the truths life embodies are messy and dramatic. That being the case, perhaps the answer to Pilate's question Jesus embodied deserves a closer look.

At some point you may wish to ponder the aporia that emerge once Descartes' error is recognized.

Phil Sumpter

Interesting post, John, thanks for the thoughts.

I love the Barton quote, though I'd be interested to see how he pads that out theory/practise. He claims that the Bible describes reality, but which reality? Historical reality? Theological reality? Are these two related? You claim they are, but Barton subscribes to the critical consensus, so he won't take much of the Biblical report as historical (did God send 10 plagues on Egypt and part the Reed Sea?). As a Christian, is he claiming that the reports nevertheless refers to theological reality rather than historical reality? (He told me he takes Luther's "canon within the canon"--so I take that to mean he doesn't think all of the Bible refers to reality, only "was Christus treibet").

I'm wondering if this discord--at least to a degree--between historical and theological reality has been "canonized" in the juxtaposition of Sam-Kgs vs. Chronicles.Note their different portrayals of the hero David: Is the former "historically" accurate and the latter "theologically" (with its typified David; though the is typifying in Samuel too; cf. Childs, Introduction)? And couldn't a sceptic say that the Chronicler's David is more like the Chinese Communist saints: he didn't exist; he's just an ideal projection of what a true Israelite king should be but never was?

Finally, I'm wondering how this stands in relation to your concluding statement that "What we have ... is text which ... constitutes a readership by way of truth claims about the ways things are and the way things are supposed to be. ."

Are not these two dimensions--the way things "are" and the way things "should be"--separated (roughly) into two different books in the OT (Sam/Kgs vs. Chron)?

I'm not expecting you to write an essay in response! I just wanted to share some questions your interesting post has raised in my mind.

John Hobbins

Hi Phil,

Great to hear from you. I trust you and your family are doing well.

I haven't read enough of Barton to know for sure how expansive of a view he has of the historical contingencies to which Scripture is a peerless truthful witness. For example, would he be able to affirm that everyone who believes is an eyewitness of what happened at the Red Sea? That is the affirmation of Jewish tradition, which I think is faithful to the genre of the book of Exodus. Is he able to affirm that the book of Exodus faithfully describes the way things are in the sense of "this is my God, and I will praise him"? Does the book of Exodus describe how God saves in history? Does it get the interplay between divine and human agency right? (I discuss this here: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/02/divine-and-human-agency-according-to-the-book-of-exodus.html). To speak in Reformation terms, does the book of Exodus get the relationship between law and gospel right?

It is possible to answer "yes" to the above questions - I would so answer, and I don't know what to make of someone who says they believe the book of Exodus is Scripture but can't answer said questions in the affirmative - and also affirm that the narrative depends on collective memories of the kind national traditions always rely on, rather than on sources close to the events on which the narrative hangs its "critical theory."

The alternative is to suggest that the book of Exodus is in essence a wish projection, a description of what God should have done but didn't.

It is worth having a great argument around these two alternatives. So far as I can see, the minimalist-maximalist debate on the contrary is premised on category mistakes and genre misidentifications shared by proponents on both sides of the issue.

Again, so far as I can see, it is almost self-evident that the events described in the book of Exodus, seen prismatically through protological narrative, really happened - I describe these events in a few simple strokes in this post: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/02/a-short-introduction-to-the-book-of-exodus.html. From a historian's point of view, it might be suggested that the events happened at least two times, once in the pre-exilic period, and once in the post-exilic period, with the text cramming onto the canvass of a national tradition of origins through a set of semiotic signs realities that accompanied the history of Israel over the long duration. In that sense, the book of Exodus is a lot like Picasso's painting of Guernica, and very little like a photo of the same Guernica taken right after its destruction.

As for your own example, the difference between the Primary History (Gen - 2 Kings) and 1-2 Chronicles to which I would add Ezra-Nehemiah, I don't see matters in the same way as you do. I see the Primary History as a faithful witness to the abiding failure and brokenness of a nation's principal political and religious institutions, with the exception of the witness of the prophets, which witness nonetheless is powerless to avert disaster.

I see Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah as a reaffirmation of the abiding value of a nation's principal political and religious institutions, king (political authority, extending down to Nehemiah) and priest (with a recovery of the positive value of a locus of worship, and a strong emphasis on the centrality of text in the religious life of the people, with the work of Ezra now prototypical).

I think it is the case that Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah supplements the Primary History. From a historical point of view, CEN provides balance to what is a one-sided negative portrait of the nation's political history in the Primary History. I see how one might arrive at the dichotomy of which you speak if 1-2 Chronicles is read in isolation from Ezra-Nehemiah, but I would resist that move.

Enough already. You are certainly free to carry the conversation further.

Phil Sumpter

As a family we’re doing great. Ingrid is highly pregnant and we’re expecting our son (child no# 2) any day now!
Thanks for your thoughts, I agree with absolutely everything you say, particularly your statement that the maximalist-minimalist debate is a matter of a genre mistake and your comparison of Kgs/Chron with a Picasso painting. Concerning the latter observation, I’m currently reading through Emma Brunner-Traut’s Frühformen des Erkennens with its distinction between “perspective” and “aspective.” I think this approach may go some way to providing historical plausibility to your (and my) understanding of the relation between text and reality (I’m trying to apply it to the canonical sequence of Psalms 15–24).
My main issue is Barton’s equation of the phrase “contingencies of history” with the phrase “the way things really are.” In your post you also seem to equate them, which is what I am trying to problematize. In your response here, however, you equate “reality” with more than “contingencies of history,” implying that Barton’s equation is inadequate. For example, if the Exodus happened twice (as you say), then yes, you have two historical events and that probably matters, but your typological linkage assumes that there is a certain “something” that binds these chronologically separate events into a unity that transcends mere chronology in a manner that may be termed “ontological.” Two (or more) “contingent” “Exoduses” both witness to the one Exodus , of which the resurrection is the “fulfilment.” But if that is the case, then it seems to me that the simple phrase “contingencies of history” is not a very adequate phrase to describe the issue at stake in Scripture. There is a “trans-temporal” (ontological) element, without which the Bible is theologically mute (I’m thinking here of Childs’ essay, “Does the OT witness to Jesus Christ?”).
Perhaps I could rescue Barton’s phrase like this: whereas he may assume that an event is contingent on history, interpreted in the modern sense of history as a closed causal continuum (i.e. the Exodus, if it happened, is a result of other historical, political contingencies etc.), the Bible sees events as contingent on the divine economy, which is eternal and never changing. The economic Trinity is grounded in the immanent Trinity.
I’m thinking here, for example, of Robert Jenson’s conceptually difficult claim that “there is only one Advent.”
As usual, I worry I’m not making sense, but thanks for giving me the space to try and express this!

Benjamin Smith

Jumping in late, as usual, but here goes:

How much does the 'heilsgesichte' tell us about what 'really' happened in the 'historie'? If, for instance, the historical Moses and proto-Israelites were not in fact monolatrous but worshipped other gods too, does the text as we have it now inform us that, in actual fact, it was YHWH who redeemed them, no matter what they actually thought at the time? Would it then have been sinful for them to follow other gods if they didn't know any better?

John Hobbins

Hi Benjamin,

Better late than never!

I have issues with the binary you construct. It is *biblical literature* that preserves the cultural memory that Moses and the first Israelites were not in fact monolatrous but worshipped other gods alongside Yhwh. It is even possible that this was allowed for centuries so long as things like historical redemption and ethnogenesis were attributed to Yhwh alone. Note Exod 20: "I am Yhwh, who brought you out of Egypt land, the house of slavery ... you shall have no other gods *before* me."

Biblical literature also preserves the memory, not once but many times over, that a minority was true blue Yahwist, sometimes a minority of (almost) one: think Moses and Elijah.

Cultural memories almost by definition collapse onto points in a distant past realities that obtain over the long duration. This is the genre of Torah narrative as I understand it. As such the narrative reflects an engaged and committed understanding of past events retold with a view to current needs. In the retelling of American history, episodes like the first Thanksgiving, Washington's prayer at Valley Forge, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Emma Lazarus's famous poem are re-situated and assigned an importance completely out of proportion to what they had at the time. With the added proviso that in terms of genre, Torah narrative has more in common with Homer and Vergil's foundation legends of their respective civilizations than with the foundation legends of the American people, the analogy I think is reasonably stringent.

Does that help? Put another way: though we have precious little hard data to go on, there is no reason to suggest that Israelites ever ascribed their redemption from slavery in Egypt to anyone other than Yhwh except in a polemical way to that already established view. If you think there are reasons to think otherwise, please tell.

Benjamin Smith

Yes, that makes sense. I'm just trying to think through the implications of your view... I mean, if YHWH didn't mind His people worshiping other gods at certain times, then isn't the redactor of Judges being anachronistic when he condemns the early Israelites for doing something they didn't know was wrong (unless, of course, what was wrong for them was purely the ascribing of ethnogenesis, etc., to Canaanite gods).

A parallel to your example of cultural memory from my side of the pond: the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. Baffling to the rest of the world, but it crystallized a lot about Great Britain's heritage in just two hours.

John Hobbins

The collective memories the author-editors of the Primary History leveraged had to do with the exchanging of Yhwh for a comparable god of the surrounding nations, a Baal for example, and/or a consort goddess.

What the wording of Exod 20 might reflect is a time in which Yhwh would have been equated with El and understood as the head of the pantheon. In that context, it would make no sense to give any particular allegiance to Baal unless of course one was opting out of the collective project Yhwh (not Dagan or Baal) was understood to have initiated.

The temptation would have been high to opt into a more cosmopolitan understanding of deity such as a Baal-headed pantheon offered at various times and places. The unity of Israel was thereby mortally threatened. To this the book of Judges appears to be a witness. I hope that clarifies.

Benjamin Smith

Yes, that's helpful. I'm going to do a post on Deut. 32:8,9 at some point. I could let you know when it's done if you're interested.

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  • Abnormal Interests
    Intrepid forays into realia and texts of the Ancient Near East, by Duane Smith
  • After Existentialism, Light
    A thoughtful theology blog by Kevin Davis, an M. Div. student at University of North Carolina-Charlotte
  • AKMA's Random Thoughts
    by A. K. M. Adam, Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Glasgow
  • alternate readings
    C. Stirling Bartholomew's place
  • Ancient Hebrew Grammar
    informed comment by Robert Holmstedt, Associate Professor, Ancient Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Languages, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, and John Cook, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore KY)
  • Antiquitopia
    one of the best blogs out there, by Jared Calaway, assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Illinois Wesleyan University.
  • Anumma - Hebrew Bible and Higher Education
    by G. Brooke Lester, Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible, and Director for Emerging Pedagogies, at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston IL)
  • Awilum
    Insightful commentary on the Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Charles Halton
  • AWOL - The Ancient World Online
    notice and comment on open access material relating to the ancient world, by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
  • Balshanut
    top-notch Biblical Hebrew and Semitics blog by Peter Bekins, Ph. D. student, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati OH, faculty member, Wright State University (archive)
  • Believing is Knowing
    Comments on things like prophecy, predestination, and reward and punishment from an orthodox Jewish perspective, by David Guttmann
  • Ben Byerly's Blog
    thoughts on the Bible, Africa, Kenya, aid, and social justice, by Ben Byerly, a PhD candidate at Africa International University (AIU), in Nairobi, Kenya working on “The Hopes of Israel and the Ends of Acts” (Luke’s narrative defense of Paul to Diaspora Judeans in Acts 16-20)
  • Berit Olam
    by a thoughtful Matt Morgan, Berkeley CA resident, grad student in Old Testament at Regent University, Vancouver BC (archive)
  • Better Bibles Blog
    Discussion of translation problems and review of English Bible translations by Wayne Leman, Iver Larsen, Mike Sangrey, and others
  • Bibbia Blog
    A Bible blog in Italian and English by former students of the PIB and PUG
  • Bible Background research and commentary
    by Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Bible Design & Binding
    J. Mark Bertrand's place
  • BiblePlaces Blog
    a spotlight on the historical geography of the Holy Land, by Todd Bolen, formerly, Assistant Professor at the Israel Bible Extension campus of The Master's College, Santa Clarita CA
  • Biblicalia
    The riches of orthodoxy brought online by Kevin Edgecomb, a seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline MA)
  • Biblische Ausbildung
    by Stephen L. Cook, professor of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible at Virginia Theological Seminary
  • C. Orthodoxy
    Christian, Contemporary, Conscientious… or Just Confused, by Ken Brown, a very thoughtful blog (archive). Ken is currently a Dr. Theol. student at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, part of The Sofja-Kovalevskaja Research Group studying early Jewish Monotheism. His dissertation will focus on the presentation of God in Job.
  • Catholic Bibles
    a thoughtful blog about Bible translations by Timothy, who has a degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum) and teaches theology in a Catholic high school in Michigan
  • Chrisendom
    irreverent blog with a focus on the New Testament, by Chris Tilling, New Testament Tutor for St Mellitus College and St Paul's Theological Centre, London
  • Claude Mariottini
    a perspective on the Old Testament and current events by a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicagoland, Illinois
  • Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot
    by Tyler Williams, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and cognate literature, now Assistant Professor of Theology at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta (archive)
  • Colours of Scripture
    reflections on theology, philosophy, and literature, by Benjamin Smith, afflicted with scriptural synaesthesia, and located in London, England
  • Complegalitarian
    A team blog that discusses right ways and wrong ways Scripture might help in the social construction of gender (old archive only; more recent archive, unfortunately, no longer publicly available)
  • Connected Christianity
    a place to explore what it might be like if Christians finally got the head, heart, and hands of their faith re-connected (archive)
  • Conversational Theology
    Smart and delightful comment by Ros Clarke, a Ph.D. student at the University of the Highlands and Islands, at the (virtual) Highland Theological College (archive)
  • Daily Hebrew
    For students of biblical Hebrew and the ancient Near East, by Chip Hardy, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago
  • Daniel O. McClellan
    a fine blog by the same, who is pursuing a master of arts degree in biblical studies at Trinity Western University just outside of Vancouver, BC.
  • Davar Akher
    Looking for alternative explanations: comments on things Jewish and beyond, by Simon Holloway, a PhD student in Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies at The University of Sydney, Australia
  • Deinde
    News and Discussion by Danny Zacharias
  • Discipulus scripturae
    Nathan Stitt's place
  • Dr. Claude Mariottini
    balanced comment by a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, Lombard IL
  • Dr. Platypus
    insightful comment by Darrell Pursiful, editor at Smyth & Helwys Publishing, on the New Testament faculty of Mercer University
  • Dust
    A diary of Bob MacDonald's journey through the Psalms and other holy places in the Hebrew Bible
  • Eclexia
    The heart and mind of this Bible and theology blogger sing in unison
  • Eat, Drink, and be Merry
    The journey of a grad student with a love for ancient languages at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (archive)
  • Elizaphanian
    Rev Sam tussles with God, and limps away
  • Emerging from Babel
    Stephen investigates the potential of narrative and rhetorical criticism as a tool for expounding scripture
  • Evangelical Textual Criticism
    A group blog on NT and OT text-critical matters
  • Evedyahu
    excellent comment by Cristian Rata, Lecturer in Old Testament of Torch Trinity Graduate School of Theology, Seoul, Korea
  • Exegetica Digita
    discussion of Logos high-end syntax and discourse tools – running searches, providing the downloads (search files) and talking about what can be done and why it might matter for exegesis, by Mike Heiser
  • Exegetisk Teologi
    careful exegetical comment by Stefan Green (in Swedish)
  • Exploring Our Matrix
    Insightful reflections by James McGrath, ass't. professor of religion, Butler University
  • Faith Matters
    Mark Alter's place
  • Ferrell's Travel Blog
    comments of biblical studies, archaeology, history, and photography by a tour guide of Bible lands and professor emeritus of the Biblical Studies department at Florida College, Temple Terrace (FL)
  • Fors Clavigera
    James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, thinks out loud.
  • Friar's Fires
    an insightful blog by a pastor with a background in journalism, one of three he pens
  • Gentle Wisdom
    A fearless take on issues roiling Christendom today, by Peter Kirk, a Bible translator
  • Giluy Milta B‘alma
    by Ezra Chwat and Avraham David of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jewish National and Hebrew University Library, Jerusalem
  • He is Sufficient
    insightful comment on Bible translations, eschatology, and more, by Elshaddai Edwards
  • Higgaion
    by Chris Heard, Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University
  • Idle Musings of a Bookseller
    by James Spinti of Eisenbrauns
  • if i were a bell, i'd ring
    Tim Ricchiuiti’s place
  • Imaginary Grace
    Smooth, witty commentary by Angela Erisman (archive). Angela Erisman is a member of the theology faculty at Xavier University
  • James' Thoughts and Musings
    by James Pate, a doctoral student at HUC-JIR Cincinnati
  • Jewish Philosophy Place
    by Zachary (Zak) Braiterman, who teaches modern Jewish thought and philosophy in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University
  • kata ta biblia
    by Patrick George McCollough, M. Div. student, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA
  • Ketuvim
    Learned reflection from the keyboard of Jim Getz
  • Kilbabo
    Ben Johnson’s insightful blog
  • Kruse Kronicle - contemplating the intersection of work, the global economy, and Christian mission
    top quality content brought to readers by Michael W. Kruse
  • Larry Hurtado's blog
    emeritus professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, University of Edinburgh
  • Law, Prophets, and Writings
    thoughtful blogging by William R. (Rusty) Osborne, Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies as College of the Ozarks and managing editor for Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament
  • Lingamish
    delightful fare by David Ker, Bible translator, who also lingalilngas.
  • Looney Fundamentalist
    a scientist who loves off-putting labels
  • Menachem Mendel
    A feisty blog on rabbinic literature and other Judaica by Michael Pitkowsky, Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator at the Academy for Jewish Religion and adjunct instructor at Jewish Theological Seminary (New York)
  • mu-pàd-da
    scholarly blog by C. Jay Crisostomo, grad student in ANE studies at ?
  • Narrative and Ontology
    Astoundingly thoughtful comment from Phil Sumpter, a Ph.D. student in Bible, resident in Bonn, Germany
  • New Epistles
    by Kevin Sam, M. Div. student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon SK
  • NT Weblog
    Mark Goodacre's blog, professor of New Testament, Duke University
  • Observatório Bíblico
    wide-ranging blog by Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica/Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, Brasile (in Portuguese)
  • Observatório Bíblico
    Blog sobre estudos acadêmicos da Bíblia, para Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica / Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, SP.
  • Occasional Publications
    excellent blogging by Daniel Driver, Brevard Childs' scholar extraordinaire
  • old testament passion
    Great stuff from Anthony Loke, a Methodist pastor and Old Testament lecturer in the Seminari Theoloji, Malaysia
  • Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Blog
    A weblog created for a course on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, by James Davila (archive)
  • On the Main Line
    Mississippi Fred MacDowell's musings on Hebraica and Judaica. With a name like that you can't go wrong.
  • p.ost an evangelical theology for the age to come
    seeking to retell the biblical story in the difficult transition from the centre to the margins following the collapse of Western Christendom, by Andrew Perriman, independent New Testament scholar, currently located in Dubai
  • PaleoJudaica
    by James Davila, professor of Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland. Judaism and the Bible in the news; tidbits about ancient Judaism and its context
  • Pastoral Epistles
    by Rick Brannan and friends, a conceptually unique Bible blog
  • Pen and Parchment
    Michael Patton and company don't just think outside the box. They are tearing down its walls.
  • Pisteuomen
    by Michael Halcomb, pastor-scholar from the Bluegrass State
  • Pseudo-Polymath
    by Mark Olson, an Orthodox view on things
  • Purging my soul . . . one blog at a time
    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.