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Alan Lenzi

"Should it be retorted that no, authority always rests in the community that reads the Bible, not in the Bible itself, it must be pointed out: such an analysis is a misreading of the phenomenology of the interaction. The community does not even exist until it is constituted and elected by the text. This happened not just once upon a time. It happens over and over again, every Sabbath, every Sunday. "

John, I think you're only seeing one side of the reciprocal relationship between text and community. The community may be always being constituted by the text but it is also true that the text is always being perpetuated as an authority by the community. The two exist together in a kind of symbiotic relationship.

Alan Lenzi

Also, John, do you really think the Bible or biblical covenants are without the threat of violence? The idea of a covenant comes from the political sphere and the violence threatened in those documents is brought into the theological adaptation of covenants, even under the "New Covenant." What was the exile, in ancient Israelite perspective, or Hell, in the Christian perspective, if not the sanctions of covenant disobedience?

Bob MacDonald

Can we trust someone who "lived under the name of Sanders"?

John, you inspire me to write of aleph to taf. I figured out this morning as I walked to work under a rainbow that Dickens (not A.A. Milne) walked in order to write his stories. I ride to sing but I had left my bicycle at the office yesterday. So I walked to write. The birds were twittering in the trees but I was technology free.

Let me be constituted under the aleph-taf and let us hope that we do not do violence in order to be so constituted.

I think I will try and figure out why the alef-bet is comprised of 2 x 11 letters. Perhaps then I will begin to understand community too.



First of all, thanks for the conversation. You are the only one out there, apparently, who is not overwhelmed with correcting papers or writing one.

You're right: it is a symbiotic relationship. But it is a relationship in which a community cedes the initiative to a text an earlier iteration of itself created.

It is also true that covenants come with threats of violence. No wonder they are consummated over blood. But Hobbes wasn't interested in that, except insofar as the state backs up the threat. He thought that without state backing they were empty threats.

Of course, the idea that covenants are even possible without sanctions is nothing more than a pleasant myth.

I can't think of any constitution or institution, political, religious, social, or all three, that does not involve triggers by which agreed-upon sanctions are set in motion. Of course, the unlawful combatants or whatever the Obama administration is now calling them did not agree on the sanctions we impose on them, but that is beside the point. They are agreed upon and negotiated in a political and legal context of recognizable contours.


I'm sure that one of the reasons both of us were captured by the Christian message is that the Christ is precisely that one who took upon himself sanctions he himself did not merit. (See Isa 53.) Divine benevolence is thereby defined as a propensity for purpose-driven vicarious suffering of the kind that alleviates the suffering of others. Mothers who stay up all night with a flu-stricken child understand this on the fly. Others I'm not so sure.

In what circumstances it makes sense to respond to violence with violence and with what goals in mind is something about which there is little consensus at present. Personally, I sympathize with the Christian realism of Barack Obama as expressed in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded him.

Bob MacDonald

Thank-you John - always good to read your stimulating posts. I did have a bit of fun with the 11 letters that are grammatically significant and I think I may have uncovered Saadya's division of the Hebrew letters into two piles of 11 here. I liked your loaded word 'constitute' and took it as my starting point.

Alan Lenzi

I'm sort of busy. But I've got most of my grading done. Just a bit to go.

You said: "You're right: it is a symbiotic relationship." Right. If you had stopped there, all would be fine. But you didn't. Instead, you seem to have a need to make the text somehow prior to the community. (This is probably rooted in your theological assumptions.) As you say: "But it is a relationship in which a community cedes the initiative to a text an earlier iteration of itself created."

But this is simply not phenomenologically consistent with what happens in communities. Texts arise from community just as much as they shape community. It's a chicken and egg thing. Texts have people behind them, who are always already formed by a community (and other texts) and who act upon the shape of that community. Think of the way the Declaration of Independence formed the United States. In many ways, the text itself performatively created the USA. But from another perspective, the men who commissioned the document, selected its author, and signed the document created the USA. The community used the text to constitute the new community. One might be tempted to make the community the prime mover until one considers the fact that the "text" is really just one instantiation of a long stream of political tradition (other significant texts) that informed the community. And so the circle continues.


Here and now, the text is prior to the community. That's my first point. Historically, yes, there was a time in which a community was prior to the text. But on a fair analysis of compositions like Deuteronomy and Isaiah, the text as it stands was intended from the start to supersede those who wrote it down and be treated as *prior* (which in fact it was and is) by subsequent generations.

I think you are playing down the multiple dimensions of priority the text has over against the living community the text calls into existence. Perhaps you have ideological reasons for doing so. Touche'.

Just having fun, Alan. We agree on the essentials.

Bob MacDonald

John - I love the texts. I do not know why I am given the choice to disagree with them and as such constitute a community whose mind differs from the mind that first formed and collected those same texts. Here's an interesting example in my tradition coming from a conservative community - but reading the texts as I do in my liberality - though neither of us I trust lacking in discipline, discipleship, or necessary rebuke.

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Pulp Fiction 1

I feel as if the community and text go hand in hand as well. It seems as if your trying to separate them and take them out of context, but at the same time compare them to seem ideal. I'm still deciding what to find is the right answer here, but it's hard to say that when none of us know but the Lord himself.

Based on my perspective alone I would have to say this...

Sanders summarizes: for Hobbes “texts ... need violence to enforce them” (2009:21).

No violence is ever needed because of the sacrifice the lord who has brought upon enough violence of his own. He should be the one who enforces, not any of us through texts. Everything happens for a reason and it is part of his plan to enforce the texts if he feels is needed... You may think that your enforcing them with violence is so called right, but who are you to say the Lord hasn't already enforced them


Hi Pulp Fiction 1,

You make a number of excellent points; in particular, your stance of listening before deciding is a great model for us all.

I see how your perspective makes sense from a Christian point of view; it reminds me of a song I learned in Madison, growing up in the Jesus movement, which went like this (Jesus is speaking): "I never taught you how to kill with love."

But it is hard to rebut the arguments of early Christians like Ambrose, who wrote the following:

fortitude which in war preserves the country from the barbarians, or helps the infirm at home, or defends one's neighbor's from robbers, is full of justice. . . . He who does not repel an injury done to his fellow, if he is able to do so, is as much at fault as he who commits the injury.

De officis, 1.27.129; 1.36.179.

Finally, there are reasons from within which tilt the great world religions into the position of being state religions: Judaism is the state religion of Israel; Islam, of many countries; Buddhism, of Thailand; the party in power in India wants Hinduism to have the same force in India. In the US, most or many believers think that a great deal of what they believe is true, not just for themselves - for example, that adultery is wrong - but for everyone, and want the laws of the land to reflect that.

As far as I can see, that will never change. Nor is it clear why it should.

Chariots of Fire 1

The statement, “texts…need violence to enforce them” is so not true. And it’s a destructive way to think. It’s dangerous for people to think that violence solves things or gets you what you want or makes teachings or laws accepted. You need to take action, but you don’t need to be violent. Too many battles start that way. Too many people are killed because of it. Words are better to use. Words are so powerful. Words can have a huge effect on situations and people. Words can build up or tear down. That’s why you also need to be careful with words as well. You need to be able to control your words and use them for good and in the right way.

True Grit 5

I think violence to an extent could make the word, authority stand out more. I think driving fear into authority will make the word more powerful. As read through stories in the bible, God drove fear into people if they disobeyed Him. Look at the story of Noah, people were living in sin and not obeying God anymore and he destroyed everyone except Noah and his family plus 2 of every kind of animal. Showing that if His law and word was broken, consequences happened which meant death. As to obeying is law full out and respecting the Lords Sabbath, God sent Jesus to this earth and sent him to not condemn , but save the world of sin and he worked all the time on the holy Sabbath.

breaker Moran 4

I agree with True Grit 5 it would be hard to have authority if there was not violence in Deuteronomy 5:1 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your god am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me. If statements like this where not made in the bible people would not have followed it as closely as they did for so long.

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