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Simon Holloway

A provocative comparison! But Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificed his life in order that Luke might defeat Vader. What if Luke had sacrificed his life in order that future generations, after reading about it, might become Jedi? :-)

Not quite as punchy, methinks - but your comparison with Samson is great!

JohnFH

A long time ago, while hitchhiking in New York State, I was picked up by one of Lucas's screenwriters. That was a blast. He knew the history of the region inside and out, and noted how he had integrated into the Star Wars series the great myths of American history (the Frontier, for example, as the place of renewal).

Of course, Lucas integrated his understanding of the dynamics of salvation into the series as well.

Doug Chaplin

John, I'm sure that if I understood this there's a good chance I would think it was very profound. Keep it up!

JohnFH

Doug,

So far as I know, I'm not being innovative at all. The violence of God is glorified in Scripture whenever it serves to end violence, whenever it puts the wicked out of commission. How could it be otherwise?

I would say that in this day and age, not just religions as a whole, but even and especially Judaism and Christianity, have become Manichean in outlook, with "half" of life (the violent parts) dissociated from a benevolent God. The result: "half" of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) has become unintelligible. Really, all of it is made null and void.

In the Bible, the prayer is, "in wrath, remember mercy." But if your God is not wrathful in the first place, the prayer makes no sense.

If your God doesn't punish and hand out deserts (not desserts, God's revised job description according to many Christians today), if he is not responsible for some of the violence in the world, and responsible for putting an end to violence in the world, in a horizon of promise in which all violence is done away with - why on earth would anyone pay attention to such a God, though such a God may be interesting from an aesthetic point of view.

If history occurs without oversight and intervention from God's side, very forceful intervention of the kind Scripture takes for granted, God becomes rather small and superfluous.

Simon Holloway

I agree with you, John, but you and I are certainly reading the New Testament through very different eyes!

If I were unlucky enough to have to choose, I would personally prefer a bloody death for having gathered firewood on Shabbat than an eternity of agony for having looked at my neighbour's wife. The god of the Hebrew Bible does not promise damnation for any crime, no matter how great, and so I think that a case can even be made for his increased cruelty in the New Testament.

JohnFH

Simon,

I think you have a valid point. Jesus ups the ante on many things (not the same ones that the Pharisees did). Upping the ante comports risks of its own. Your example, furthermore, is well-chosen.

Tidbitsof Torah

regarding the death of J. Did his death atone for our sins? The answer is no.

Ezekiel 18:19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.

20The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son(G-d will not die for our sins): the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

21But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

22All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.

23Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

24But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

So we see clearly from the above that if we sin, it is on ourselves to repent. No man can save us from our sins. We are responsible for our own sins.

Woofin

John,

First time (and maybe last time...) poster. Along these same lines, a few years ago I ran across a Unitarian tract about the wealth of inspiration to be found in the Bible, provided we "mine" it properly and get rid of the nasty bits. One example was Paul quoting Proverbs in Romans 12:20: 'Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.' Almost needless to say, the UU writer preferred to omit the coals of fire. This expression of a namby-pamby, emasculating, subliterary instinct made me quite angry at the time. It deprives Paul of the salty acerbity of his personality (I sometimes picture him writing with an asymmetric grin/frown on his face rather like the late King Faisal). But based on this discussion of yours, I think I could have gone a little deeper in my response. In a sense, if these acts of kindness didn't heap coals of fire on your enemy's head, why would you do them? He's your enemy!

Anyway, I've found your blog most challenging and interesting. I stumbled across the whole world a biblioblogs about a year and a half ago, and I'm fascinated. I'd had no idea all this was out there.

JohnFH

Hi tidbitsof,

What a cool blog you have!

If I understand you correctly, you are arguing, from Ezekiel, that we "kipper" for our own sins.

There is another way to approach the subject matter: from the Torah and from Isa 53. In those cases, you have people appointed by G-d who "kipper" on behalf of someone else: priests, the high priest, G-d's servant.

If I understand my own religion correctly, with respect to "kipper," Jesus is understood as G-d's servant, the high priest, and, metaphorically (as is the servant in Isa 53), the slaughtered lamb of sacrifice.

As far as all of this being G-d's initiative, not ours, my religion appeals to Ezekiel in that case, just to other parts, Ezek 36:22-27.

For the rest, I will point out that I did not even understand the concept of vicarious suffering until I read Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev" as a teenager.

It's a bit embarrassing for a Christian to have to admit that he learned what the meaning of the Cross is from a Jew, but that's the truth of it.

JohnFH

Once more tidbitsof,

I might also point out, for completeness' sake, that Jewish tradition has an analogy to the mystical doctrine of the Trinity. I say "mystical" because now we are plumbing a level of divine reality that, according to Rambam, is best left alone.

It's the level explored by the Zohar. In the Zohar, the yichud "unity" of God, Israel, and Torah is affirmed. They are, beyond all appearances, a single essence.

There are glimmerings of this in Midrash, which sees Israel, Torah, Messiah, the Garden of Eden, etc. as co-eternal with God, existing prior to creation.

In Christianity, God = Father, Israel = Son, Torah = Holy Spirit (the one who leads us into all truth), a single yichud. The concept is logical, no less, no more, than that of the Zohar.

I've always thought that the doctrine of the Trinity needs to be recast a bit in light of this analogy, since the Zohar's yichud has profound roots in Torah as found in the Bible.

JohnFH

Woofin,

I hear ya'. Excellent observations. The question with the Proverbs text and with Paul is the goal orientation of the heaping. I would say that is provocation to either repentance or a further hardening of the heart.

"Heaping" is a dangerous operation. Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus, a much-loved book of the Apocrypha which was and still is considered to be profitable for godliness by many Christians) was more conservative, and suggested that it is wiser to leave one's enemies to their own devices. To be sure, that is often good advice.

Woofin

John,

Do I detect a note of pastoral concern? :-) Thanks, but "don't try this at home" is my motto!

I'd say that heaping coals is something you can only do from a position of relative power, with a certain flair and courage and good timing. Since the Proverbs quotation comes at the end of a mini-essay on conduct, perhaps Paul is exhorting his Roman audience, somewhat hyperbolically, to try a little of that courage. That fits with his conclusion about conquering evil with good (NLT). But I agree, 99.9% of the time, Ben Sira is the one to follow here.

About Revelation, the more times I read it, the less absurd and the more powerful I find it. It is clearly written from the experience of a great and deep bitterness and anger. But here's the thing, the rage is sublimated in a vision of justice, of setting things right for good. And it's God doing it... not "someday we'll have our own army," and certainly not "go kill a Roman merchant today."

Strictly a rank amateur and a happy reader. Don't mind me.

JohnFH

Woofin,

You're always welcome around here.

Rob Kashow

I think the question posed is a false disjunction. And I think you attempt to resolve this, John. Though Christ's passiveness and lens of love is, I think, how one should read the violent passages, only with an understanding of redemption and divine initiative as an act of love. It's late, so maybe I'm not coherent, but that's my two cents.

JohnFH

Hi Rob,

It's early, and I haven't had my coffee yet, so I might not make much sense yet. I don't think a disjunction is the answer. The important thing is to read the Cross as a continuation of God's acts of salvation and judgment which preceded it, and are predicted to follow it, rather than as a rejection of them.

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