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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the Bible: Slavery (Part 1 of 2)

This is the first post in a series of the topics on my interpretation of the Bible. Here is a preliminary list of these topics that is based on a comment from a post I made previously: slavery, war, polygamy, government and women. I have recently heard comments from a number of people saying that the Bible condones slavery, so I feel it is appropriate to start with this.

When most Americans think of slavery, they think of the slave trading industry as implemented in pre-civil war America. Slaves were commonly treated as less than human; often they were treated worse than cattle. Slaves were common victims of rape under the guise of forced sexual labor. Families of slaves were often torn apart when one slave was sold away from his or her spouse and children without consideration of the desire of the slaves affected. Otherwise free people were stolen by slave traders and forced into slavery often based on their skin color, heritage, location or religion. And, when a slave did escape from a cruel master, many areas had laws that required he (or she) be returned to that master often to face punishments that amount to torture or death. So a slave under this institution generally had no justification for being a slave and no hope of becoming freed.

To make matters worse, a variety of clergy and politicians insisted that the Bible condoned slavery because there is no reference in the Bible inhibiting it and numerous prominent figures in the Bible themselves had slaves. They led many to believe that the Bible is okay with this despicable institution of human degradation.

But, as defines slavery as, “the condition of a slave,” I look to see that a slave is, “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another.” You can see that none of the things I have listed are in this definition. It does not include being treated as less than human nor does it insinuate that one necessarily is subjected cruelly. Even the dictionary doesn’t support the horrible institution described above by pure definition, so we have no reason to assume that when the Bible uses the word slave or slavery it is referring to that institution or it’s associated cruelty at all (unless otherwise stated, like in reference to the slavery experienced by the Hebrews under the Egyptians).

In fact, besides the pure definition of slavery by, the Bible is specifically against everything I have listed so far about it.

The Bible doesn’t promote slavery, but it does acknowledge its existence and impose limitations. Just as 1 Timothy 6:1-2 reminds slaves to respect their masters, Colossians 4:1 and Ephesians 6:9 specifically direct masters to be just and fair to their slaves and to not threaten them because the Master of us all is Jesus. No distinction of slave status is made for how to treat your fellow man in Matthew 7:12. No such distinction is made in rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Deuteronomy 22:25-28). Proverbs 3:31 reminds us that God does not want us to be violent at all.

Exodus 21:2-6 indicates to me that a man shouldn’t be separated from his wife even in servitude without his consent. Perhaps this indicates the bond of marriage should be stronger than the bond of slavery.

Stealing people and forcing them into slavery is specifically condemned in Exodus 21:16 (it doesn’t appear to matter what skin color, heritage, location or religion a person has). How then is one supposed to become a slave? I can’t seem to find a prescription for this activity in the Bible, but it is insinuated by context that a man can sell himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:39, Deuteronomy 15:12) (possibly this is something like bankruptcy provision in today’s society, noting Exodus 22:3) or a person can be born into slavery (Leviticus 22:11). Also, women and wartime hold special circumstances, but I’ll bring that up under those topics (I am finding they are very special topics). It appears that entry into slavery should somehow be voluntary or inherited. A lot of weight is attributed inheritance in the Bible, and maybe that could be another topic for future study. It also appears that there are conditions in which a slave can purchase his own freedom or have it purchased by his family (Leviticus 25:49).

As for escaped slaves, “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.” (Deuteronomy 23:15) I believe this law was written to protect slaves who are mistreated.

So the Bible acknowledges the existence of slavery. Does it condone it? Perhaps by not condemning slavery it could be inferred that it is not inherently evil or immoral in and of itself; there are certainly worse things to be than the property of a God fearing man. But do not allow people who claim the Bible condones slavery to mislead you into believing that the Bible condones the atrocities committed under the slave trading industry from our past because this is far from the truth. Be careful if you say the Bible condones slavery that the person to whom you say it is aware of the difference otherwise you may be leading them away from Jesus. (Note that there is a special warning in Matthew 18:6 for those who lead children away from Jesus and if anyone requires it, I can get a hold of a large millstone, some rope and a sea.)

All will be terrified at the wrath of the Almighty (Revelation 6:15-16) free man and slave alike because as Jesus said, we are all slaves to sin (John 8:34). But in the end, Jesus has redeemed us to God by his blood (Revelation 5:9); he paid our way, so we can all be saved from the consequences of sin and, through his power, live happily ever after (Romans 6:23). Praise be to Jesus Christ; He is Lord!


Mike L. said...

I see ample evidence in the Biblical library of texts to condemn slavery. One of the main themes found in these books is liberation and correction of injustice. I completely agree with you on the point that the Bible's stories largely condemn slavery. I will add that I suspect some (maybe even a majority) of its authors likely approved of or accepted slavery as a common aspect of life. This is what most people mean when they suggest the Bible supports slavery. They mean to say that some of its authors didn't appear to have a major beef with the practice.

What I've talked to you about in the past is that the Bible has BEEN USED to supported slavery. That's a fact that I'm sure we both agree on. This point is evidence that the Bible can be read out of context and used to suggest some horrible things. It can even be used to try and reject science when taken out of context. That isn't a problem with the Bible, it is a problem with the misguided reader.

The first key to biblical interpretation is Exegesis (understanding the meaning in context of it's author and intended audience). Any time someone takes a text out of context and tries to make it prove their own views, they create a problem. I think that is what happens when people try to use the Bible to support slavery, misogyny, bigotry against homosexuals, or acts of economic injustice. Its a result of reading the texts out of context and taking metaphorical language overtly literally when it was not meant to be read that way.

flobi said...

Your comment, "I completely agree with you on the point that the Bible's stories largely condemn slavery," indicates to me that you have totally missed a number of my points.

Probably my biggest point that you seem to miss is that when referring to the Bible and slavery together (or even slavery in general), one should be careful to make sure you are clear whether you are talking about the pure definition of slavery or the atrocities associated with it because of the slave industry, like peoplestealing and mistreatment. Even in your comments, you seem to switch back and forth without being clear when you do.

Another point was that the Bible doesn't condemn slavery by definition. When implemented properly, it can be a useful insitution, but it so often is not used properly that it is probably better that western society now avoids it. The one phrase, "the Bible's stories largely condemn slavery," is clear evidence that you either disagree or misunderstand both of these points.

Though I can agree that, "the Bible has BEEN USED to supported slavery." I would mention that as far as I can recollect, the only mention you have made to me about slavery is, "The Bible accepts slavery... yet we have no problem implementing more justice minded behaviors today (here)." That is exactly the type of comment that I am discouraging as it has a high potential of driving people away from God's Word and Him in general. Judging that statement in and of itself and it's context, it highly indicates or infers that slavery is injust, leading me to believe that you are referring to the atrocious institution of slavery which the Bible definitly does not claim is acceptable. Even if you meant that the Bible claims some injust form of slavery (which we'll leave undefined) is acceptable, this would be incorrect.

I do agree that taking metaphorical language as literal is a detriment to the Bible. But, language that is overtly literal being assigned metaphoric or symbolic meaning because it does not conform to ones internal belief structure or world view is a far more common problem. I would add that this is irrelevant to this topic because I haven't actually used any metaphorical language as literal or vice versa as far as I'm aware. I also haven't seen any issues where either of these problems have let to the misunderstandings concerning slavery.

By the way, though it would be a good addition, I am not adding "bigotry against homosexuals" to my list of topics because I've already covered that in a previous post last month. Misogyny (thank you for that word, I'd never heard it before) will be addressed in my women post.

flobi said...

Actually, I should have said about misogyny is that I've never seen it before (that I remember). I've heard it in passing, but never investigated what it actually meant.

Mike L. said...

Did you really mean to say of slavery...

"When implemented properly, it can be a useful insitution, but it so often is not used properly that it is probably better that western society now avoids it"

Please tell me you are not advocating slavery in ANY form. Either form as you describe it is a form of injustice. As Christians (even as humans) we should eliminate strive to eliminate them.

As for literalism...

When a story has a talking snake and fruit that gives you supernatural knowledge, that's a great sign that the story is NOT overtly literal. In fact, its a great sign that it is overtly metaphorical.

flobi said...

Yes, I am saying that slavery, as defined in the dictionary is not inherently unjust (as such, it could be implemented in such a way that it could be useful). I am also saying that the Bible does not condemn slavery (by pure definition), so it could be inferred that is also not inherently immoral. Your feelings that slavery by definition is unjust no doubt has roots in the stigma is has received due to the atrocities committed in relation to it. But no, I am not advocating slavery, I think that was pretty straight forward in my comment, "but it is so often not used properly that is it probably better that western society now avoids it."

In my reading, I never gathered that there was any special ability in the fruit. I've always believed that the fruit itself was likely as mundane as a grape or apple. It was their actions, their disobedience, which opened their eyes to evil and their awareness of evil which showed the difference and gave the knowledge of good and evil. I've always thought of the phrase "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" more as a name, like Death Valley. It's not a special ability of the valley to kill, just a location where death has an increased likeliness of happening. After all, how could they have a knowledge of evil unless they actually disobeyed God?

It seems you are saying you take the story of the fall as allegory not because of any literary tools (which ancient Hebrew is fully capable of employing) but because it claims things you think could not happen. I cannot follow that logically because then all the miracles and strange events in the Bible could be similarly discarded. Someone who didn't believe angels or demons existed could employ this mechanism to disregard all sections involving them. In fact by this logic, it would be doubtful that Jesus changed water into wine, that he was God or that he rose from the dead. If that's not true, what use is the Bible at all?

Mike L. said...

I'm not making these claims because of a disbelief in miracles. I'm claiming the stories of literary metaphor because they match closely with thousands of other stories in style, substance, and technique. It is the most probable answer. I'm completely open to miracles. If they happen they happen, but as of yet, there's no credible evidence. But that doesn't have to mean the end of my faith. In fact, the ability to reconcile this paradox has been the source of a more robust faith.

It is "doubtful" that Jesus literally changed water into wine or rose from the dead. In my opinion (and a large number of biblical scholars) those two scenes are also allegorical elements. Even if you assume they literally happened, you'd still have to admit they are "doubtful". That's the point of a miracle. It's unlikely, even impossible. If it was possible and likely, then it wouldn't be a miracle, right?

I think you are confusing "true" with "factual". Is the prodigal son parable "true"? Is it "factual"? The problem with modern fixation of measures and proof is that it equates truth with scientific proof. Many of the most profound truths in life are told through parables and metaphorical stories. Facts often fall short. We often find truth by looking on a deeper level than the surface of facts.

You've, by default, chosen to pick and choose when to read things literally. For example, the garden of evil story clearly states that it is the fruit which gives knowledge of good and evil. However, you (and me too) would realize this is a metaphor and it is the disobedience (not the fruit) that creates the problem. You've taken this story as non-literal on this one account. Why not see the snake in the same way? Why can't the garden represent Israel (the promised land)? Why can't the snake represent the surrounding cultures and religions that temp the Israelites? Why can't the fall from grace represent the exhile to Babylon and the loss of their promised land (garden)? Is it so hard to imagine that ancient poets in Israel would have captured their defining life changing events in symbolic language? Heck, we still do that in our art today. It's normal.

I completely accept your right to argue for a literal reading, but I think you have to admit that my reading is more probable given that this is exactly how many many cultures have captured their history. Almost all cultures capture ancient history through metaphorical stories. Yes, there IS truth and there IS history in the story, but the method used to convey the history is parabolic (narrative, a play, myth, poetry, etc).

flobi said...

I'm saying there's not wording to indicate the knowledge was gained through a special property of the fruit (perhaps knowledge by experience); you are saying there is indication that the knowledge was imparted by the fruit itself (a supernatural quality of the fruit). What is this indicator so that I may be enlightened? Of course, whether the fruit was infused with supernatural ability to impart knowledge or not is irrelevant and totally trivial really. (Not that any of our comments have anything to do with the post above anymore anyways.)

The prodigal son, a wonderful example of exactly what I was talking about in Luke 15:3: "And he spake unto them this simile, saying," I thought Young's Literal Translation was a good example of how the language supports such tools. My point was, is and remains that the language supports indicating which points are allegorical and it is illogical to assume that the parts which are not indicated such are intended such. In YLT, the word simile (and it's plural) is used 82 times. The book of proverbs says it's a book of proverbs, even whose proverbs they are. Conversely, Genesis uses the phrase, "This is the account of" (Gen 2:4), "This is the written account of" (Gen 5:1), "This is the account of" (Gen 6:9, Gen 10:1, Gen 11:10, Gen 11:27, etc). I believe the Bible is very clear what is intended to be taken as historic fact and what is supposed to be simile (parables, for instance) and what is poetry and what is proverbs. Even in the new testament, "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus," (Luke 1:3)

And about doing this today? Today, when something is written as history, it is not uncommon to use the phrase, "This is the account of," whereas poetry and allegory seldom use this. The only place I can think of that uses this besides history books is narrative fiction where it's pretending to be history.

Besides, the entire basis for your logic is faulty. You seem to be saying (correct me if I'm wrong) that the Bible must be or at least seems that it could be allegory or mixture of allegory and non-allegory because there's thousands of similar stories all over the world. But, I see that if the Bible is historically accurate in the parts demonstratively (note above) intended to be historical, like Genesis, that would be exactly what I would expect as everyone on the planet today is descended from the same person (Noah) and would be privy to at least that much of the story since it's their own heritage, and even up to the dispersion of Babel, since till then most everyone lived in close proximity. The fault is in that you claim your decision is made because of the evidence, whereas that evidence could support either viewpoint (and I know that because I held that viewpoint for a very long time and justified myself similarly, it's also the view portrayed by the History channel).

I propose it is actually you who chooses to pick and choose when to read things literally (as I did when I held that viewpoint) or perhaps you let others choose it for you. I, by context, allow the Bible to tell me when to read things literally. I do not have pick them, because as demonstrated above, the Bible is written clearly enough that they are easily distinguishable. It is good that I read the Bible this way so that my preconceived notions about what could or couldn't happen don't cloud my interpretation and I trust it above all other words as the Word of God instead of trusting my fallible and selfish self (and I am selfish (and I am working on that)) or someone else's fallible and selfish self. "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" (John 3:12)

(I think your focus on the distinction between "true" and "factual" is absurd. I believe we are both being very clear; we both know what both of us mean and I have no intention on playing trivial word games again. I'm going to assume "garden of evil" was a typo.)

Mike L. said...

Garden of Evil... LOL! That was rich.

I've seen many movies based on history. I've seen and read many biographical narratives. I've yet to see or read one that didn't use creative allegorical techniques to bring the story to life. The crafting of scenes to give us the author's perspective of the main character, the juxtaposition of an object in the frame to foreshadow a central theme. These are common literary techniques. It would be an oddity if a biblical stories didn't have these elements. It is clearly more probably that these stories DID contain these elements. I'm not sure we could find a well known successful story that didn't use these techniques.

flobi said...

Don't those books give indicators as to what's allegory and what's supposed to be taken literally? I would say that if not, then they are poorly written.

Mike L. said...

No Josh, books don't usually give those kinds of indicators. I've never seen a book that stopped in the middle and explained what events "really happened" and what events are there for creative effect or symbolism. It would kill the flow of the story.

For example... Is there anywhere in George Orwell's animal farm where it stops and tells you what all the metaphors mean? Or is it left to the reader to figure out which animals represent Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky? Are you saying that George Orwell was a "poor" writer? How about William Shakespeare's play about Julius Caesar? I guess Shakespeare is a poor writer since he didn't stop and explain how and where he was using creative license in his portrayal of Caesar. How about Homer's Illiad? Is that history or fiction? Is there really a place called Greece? Since there is a place called Greece and that is a real historical reference, does that automatically mean the rest of the story is factual? Again, there's no stoppage of the story to explain the authors intentions.

I even watched movies about Ray Charles and Jonny Cash recently. I don't remember the movies stopping and explaining that some of the scenes had actual dialog from their lives and which dialog was added for dramatic effect. As with any story, I wouldn't try to imagine any of the events "literally happened". I'd assume (as any reader of any story) that what I'm seeing is the artistic impression of the writers and actors. I'm sure there are historical references and some characters may be tied to real people, but I'd never try and leap to an assumption that the point of the story is to accurately tell history.

I think you are asking the Bible to do something crazy. You are asking it always be a history book when it has a wide variety of literary categories. Letters, poems, narratives, etc. It even has instructions for cooking, but nobody claims it is a cook book.

Sorry for the sloppy writing on my part. As the conversation moves further down the rabbit trail I've lost some focus on details.

flobi said...

Lost focus, you can say that again. You compared the Bible to a satire and three tragic comedies? Come on. And I don't know if you noticed, it was either the beginning of end of both those movies had some sort of disclaimer about it's historic accuracy.

The only real comparison you made was the Iliad, but even it begins with a calling to the Muses, which were Goddesses of artistic inspiration, nothing to indicate a desire to accurately portray history as the Bible does.

I'm not asking the Bible to "always" be a history book. The Bible indicates that many parts of it are intended to be a history book and I accept that indication. You make it sound like I'm trying to put something in the Bible that isn't in there. To me it sounds like you're trying to ignore stuff that is in there to get some sort of alternate meaning out of it.

Mike L. said...

That isn't where I lost focus. The Bible does contains elements of satire and tragic comedy.

First, you are smart enough to know that using 2 items in a comparison does not in any way make them equal in value. You can't pretend to be that dumb. Every comparison is a "real comparison". I could compare an apple and my wife if I wanted to. It would be a valid comparison. I could compare their smell or even their taste (i'd get in trouble if I said shape). It wouldn't in any way mean an ordinary apple is as valuable to me as my wife. It is valid for me to make a comparison to those stories and something like Orwel's Animal Farm or the Iliad. You act as if I've done something odd or wrong to compare those works.

What is "unreal" about my comparisons?

Again, you've ignored that I've said the Bible DOES contain history. What I've said is that it is history told through metaphorical stories from the point of view of its artistic authors.

Any disclaimer added AFTER or BEFORE the movie is not part of the movie and is not likely written by the author or intended as part of the story. In fact, some stories have fictional disclaimers that are part of the actual story. Think about the scrolling intro to star wars. Should we take that to mean that George Lucas intends for us to assume this is history, since it clearly says right in the disclaimer "A long time ago in a galaxy far away".

You're simply ignoring the obvious and more concerned with being argumentative rather than understanding. Many stories tell history through metaphorical stories. It is the most common way to tell history. Those stories can be profoundly true even if they never happened that way. Jesus was well aware of this technique. He used it frequently (at least his authors had him tell those stories that way when they recounted his story). Paul Revere's ride, Washington's cherry tree myth, and many other parables emerge about real historical people. It doesn't mean that the people were not real, and just because they are real people it doesn't make the myths about them factual.

flobi said...

Still, they are bad comparisons. Anyways, your points don't provide anything useful. Just because some books (let's say that they do) tell actual history by the use of allegory, doesn't mean all do. Just because some books seem to indicate they convey actual history, but are really fiction (or allegory), doesn't mean all books seeming to indicate they convey actually are actually fiction (or allegory). Even if those some are most, it still doesn't mean all.

And I haven't ignored that you say there is actual history in the Bible, but that is irrelevant, so I don't focus on it. What I focus on is that you claim parts of the Bible which internally indicate that they are supposed to be conveying actual history do not, and I haven't seen a valid argument why not.

Mike L. said...

I was simply responding to this comment.....

"Don't those books give indicators as to what's allegory and what's supposed to be taken literally? I would say that if not, then they are poorly written."

Obviously, that was in error. Use of literary allegory does not make a book "poorly written". The authors would not have know that centuries later, people would try to read their liturgical poems and allegorical narratives as literal history. The burden of proof would fall on those people (like yourself) who chose to read these texts under a different light than you'd read all other similarly written texts throughout history.

If someone tried to read Homer's Iliad or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as literal history then I imagine you would call that a poor evaluation of those stories. Right?

Is God literally a rock? Is Jesus literally a lamb?

flobi said...

Certainly, use of allegory does not make a book poorly written, but I was specifically talking about biographical narratives (which you had just mentioned and haven't since as far as I can tell) in the context of using allegory without adequate indication.

I've never studied Shakespeare to any depth, but I understand he has not infrequently used historical settings and characters in his plays. His habit is not of maintaining historic accuracy, but creating entertainment. I don't believe any of his works have honestly been billed as a historic account though a number are historically set. Reading Iliad as history would be a little more justified since we cannot know the true intent of the author except by his works (since little remains by which to know him), but the work does not internally identify itself as being a historic text (as the sections of the Bible in question do) so much as it does being an artistic work.

Jesus is called a lamb by a person in a statement relayed by the Bible, I would say accurately. This is the same person who called the Pharisees vipers. God is called a rock mostly in song and poetry, but also in the accounts of people's speech. That is not to say that everything everyone in the Bible says is correct or literal, but that it is correctly relayed (at least in the originals).

Mike L. said...

"His [Shakespeare's] habit is not of maintaining historic accuracy, but creating entertainment"

Does Shakespeare say that in his works? Does he add a disclaimer inside the story as you mentioned a "good" writer would do?

If later, people tried to take Shakespeare's work, repackage it in a text that was now labeled "sacred" and claim it as historically accurate, would that in any way change the author's intent? This is exactly what we have in the case of something like the Genesis poems (or even the gospels for that matter). It is the reason there are competing creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 seems to be an older myth handed down and preserved (from the "J" source) while Genesis 1 is a poetic allegorical reference to the older myth set to poetic and maybe even liturgical prose(from the "P" source). Hence the call and response liturgical format found in the 7 day account of chapter 1). We find this all throughout the Torah.

If you are unfamiliar with the documentary hypothesis of the Torah, you can read more (this is the P, J, E, D method of identifying the different source texts within the Torah):

As for the "originals" being correctly relayed, where are the "originals"? They don't exist. Even for the New Testament, we have no "originals".

How can you claim that we don't know the intent of Homer when he wrote the Iliad, yet you claim to know the intent of Biblical authors when we don't even know the author's identity for most of the books?

"Jesus is called a lamb by a person in a statement relayed by the Bible, I would say accurately"

When you say "accurately", do you mean "literally"? Was Jesus literally a lamb? Did he have wool? Can this story that has someone call Jesus a lamb be "true" if it is not literally factual in every nuance? I'd say "yes", but I guess you've implied "no". Truthful and factual are not the same things. The more you try to make it historical, the less true it becomes because you've placed its truthfulness on its historicity. By doing that, you've set the bible up for failure. By understanding how allegory and metaphor work, we can set the bible up for long standing success as the defining texts for Christianity in the future. The bible is more that factual. It's profoundly true on many levels.

By taking the texts as overly factual, it opens up many problems.
Who first saw the empty tomb? Was there an angel inside, or 2, or none. When Peter and John (the beloved disciple) showed up, Did John out run Peter or did Peter get there first? Which gospel account is "correctly relayed"? Read the accounts and compare them.

In my view (and many modern scholars) these stories are not meant to convey actual history, but meant to point to the collective views of different communities writing several decades after the events. I agree that they are symbolically true. Jesus' protest and death released Christians from the ritualistic laws of sacrifice in the temple and freed them (us) from the law as they moved from a Jewish sub-group to uniquely Christian, but he was not literally a "lamb". The followers of John have John out run Peter to the tomb because their community's main goal in writing that gospel was to show how important their leader (John) had become to them as opposed to others who followed Peter. FYI.... this is also likely why their gospel (John) is the only one with an account of Peter's denial of Jesus. These communities were competing. Paul references that infighting and growing iconic status of the apostles long before any of the Gospels or the narratives about them were even written. Also John has texts to discredit those following Thomas, hence the inclusion of a "doubting thomas" story that is not found any where else.

By comparing the texts, we learn more about the communities that produced each text than we do about actual history. Much like with the old testament myths, they are a window into the communities that produced them.

I guess I'm working late tonight now to catch up at work. I might not get back to you real quick because I'm pretty slammed at work. Thanks as always for the lively conversation!

flobi said...

Wow, that was a lot to go through. I'm dropping the Shakespeare comparison because you've twisting it beyond any relevance and besides, it was an absurd comparison in the first place. I'm dropping the supposed contradictions because they have been addressed over and over by people more competent in this field than you or I and many respected people have come to conclusions on both sides. It seems that it contradicts only if you want it to (do you want it to?). I'm dropping your berating of the Apostles and early Christian communities because it presumes unwarranted attributes on them, and the analysis is baseless without that presumption (which I'm not going to presume).

About the documentary hypothesis, I think this is irrelevant. I was not aware of the amount of study in this area, but I was aware that the books normally attributed to Moses were probably written down originally by a collection of individuals in a number of different perspectives. But assigning them myth status is far different from determining that they were originally written down by different individuals. And you've yet to give a good reason to assign them myth status.

What I said is that the Bible is accurate when it says Jesus was called a lamb. The Bible accurately relays the event during which John the Baptist literally called Jesus "The Lamb of God." He also said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" He literally said those words, notwithstanding any minor differences from transcription and translation. Yes, it's a shame we do not have the original manuscripts, but it is common for those who study the oldest copies to note how remarkable it is that they have changed so little even in 2,000 years, so it is likely that those oldest copies are very similar to the originals.

About Homer's books: I said that we can only know Homer's intent by his books. Similarly, we can only know the intent of the Bible through itself. And the Bible is clear in its intent. You have been twisting my words (which I place very carefully), but I won't presume it's intentional.

Mike L. said...

There's a great idea, just drop things that you'd like to ignore! What is so wrong with the Shakespeare comparison (or the others)?

You implied that I was "berating of the Apostles"

I've never (and would never) berate the apostles. I've only mentioned the authors who write in their names after their deaths (the gospels) with specific intentions around the promotion of their communities. I don't even berate the authors. The apostle Paul did this long before I did. He had to reprimand people who had already as early as his lifetime (before the gospels were written) begun placing value and competition around each community following each apostle. He had to tell them to stop doing that and focus on Jesus.

"And you've yet to give a good reason to assign them myth status."

The best reason is that there are thousands of these stories written almost exactly the same way. Many times with the same exact elements (a mammoth flood, a miraculous birth, a resurrection, an ascension to heaven, etc). You'd need to explain why Jesus' birth announcement is almost an exact copy of the birth announcement of Augusta Caesar (written long before Jesus). The burden of proof would fall on anyone that wants to claim somehow this one set of stories is to be read differently than all others (especially since those other stories are written first). I'll be the first to stand in support of these stories as the most valuable to me, but their value to us Christians cannot be used as prove of their factuality. In the same way other religious texts cannot be proven "factual" based solely on the notion that a particular groups values them higher than all others. If your logic is "well the texts say they are true so they must be true" then you've just proven that the Qur'an is factually true and just about every other sacred text. That line of ration will not work for serious discussions.

One thing I hope you recognize is that myth is not a status in this type of discussion. It's used here as a genre of literature. The label myth does not indicate factuality or falseness. It indicates a type of literature that teaches truth through symbolism. There are truthful myths and not so truthful myths (maybe even false myths). Ancient people wouldn't have the kind of aversion to the word "myth" that you have. It would be the normative way to communicate truths between generations.

I suggest you spend some time with the documentary hypothesis as well as the wealth of scholarship regarding the sources of the Biblical text. I've included a few links that might help you understand the actual number of differences we have all the "copies of copies". The texts are far for what you suggest as "having changed so little". In fact, they are very different. Entire sections are missing or added from copy to copy.

biblical literalism explained

details about examining the copies and errors

I just find it hard to imagine how you can be so emphatic about this when it seems there are volumes of scholarship on the subject that you've not even seen or heard about. I can understand if you come to different conclusions, but I would expect more humility in places where you recognize your not well informed. Again, this is why I'm more reluctant to make such strong claims of certainty. It is not that I don't trust the texts. It is that I don't trust my limited knowledge (and I've studied this stuff for years).

you said "What I said is that the Bible is accurate when it says Jesus was called a lamb"

Accurate in what way? I agree it is accurate, but I think we both agree it is also not factual. Jesus did not have wool. It is a metaphor. I'm sure we both agree on that point. I think you are misreading my intentions. I have no intent to discredit the bible. It's the foundational document of my life. I feel it is those who try and twist the texts and read them literally that discredit the truthful nature of the bible and often miss its important symbolism.

flobi said...

First of all, I want to say that I am enjoying this conversation. I have at home, a partial response to this most recent comment (including a number of clarifications and even an apology) that I stopped writing because of how late it was, but there was something I wanted to say that I thought was more important than the rest even to the extent of warranting separate posts (as I normally like to comment one to one).

In this conversation on the factual accuracy of certain sections of the Bible where the meanings of words such as accuracy and factual themselves are practically under debate and the word truth has practically lost its meaning and usefulness, using the word myth as a term for a genre of literature is incorrect and bad grammar. It is such because the word myth carries with it a majority of definitions indicating falseness and historic inaccuracy and in the context of this conversation about truth and historical accuracy warrants application of those definitions more so than the unnecessary use as genre of literature. It is an unnecessary use as that because a number of other words which do not have the contextual indication of falseness which could have been used. Stories, passages, verses, chapters or sections would all be acceptable contextually for a factually indifferent reference to those parts of the Bible.

In fact, in your defense of using the word myth, you have switched from one of these contextually appropriate definitions (related to factuality) to a contextually inappropriate definition (genre of literature). It is a particularly despicable form of intellectual dishonesty that I will not tolerate due to the susceptibility of the naive and ignorant. Before participating in such dishonesty in any way which could be construed to remotely insinuate any acceptability, I would not only strike this entire conversation, I would even strike my blog in its entirety.

Mike L. said...

That last comment is a perfect illustration of my point. This shows the way in which communications between different cultures and across centuries is problematic. You've shown a perfect illustration of the modernist predisposition to systematic certainty and a distaste for mythical language (the genre of myth, the art of story, the craft of poetry, etc.).

Here is the problem... Ancient people (those crafting our sacred texts) would not have had this distaste for mythic language. In fact, it would have been common place for them.

This brings us back to the basic definition of modernism. It is a world view that has difficulty with ambiguity and nuance (because of our obsession with science and logic). It is like a computer program that hits a divide by zero error or a variable type error every time art, poety, myth, story is used instead of factual measurements and systematic theology. When you hear the word "myth" it is very much like trying to put an alphabetic character into an integer variable. You've thrown an "invalid type" error. Yet, ancient people did not have these kinds of variable (language) definitions. There was no "science language" and "religious language". Everything was wrapped in religion and myth. They didn't break the two apart since science really didn't really exist. Even in New Testament times Roman Imperial theology wrapped the Roman Empire in mythical stories. Augustus Caesar was the "son of a god" and ascended to heaven long before the story of Jesus was written. This was the normal way to think and communicate. Our modern minds have been conditioned to think in terms of sharp variable (story) types. Their minds were not. Modern people simply have problems dealing with truths told through stories so they often try to twist the stories into something that resembles factual scientific language or dry historical perspectives. Unfortunately, that doesn't do the original texts justice. The Bible is simply not a collection of dry history. It is often (in places) history told through myth and crafted for the act of liturgy and artistic expression. The original authors were perfectly happy with paradox, ambiguity and speaking truth through metaphorical (mythological) narratives (like depicting God as a burning bush or with a name that has no vowels so it cannot ever be spoken out loud). Just because, you've "thrown a divide by zero error" in your logic, it doesn't mean everyone is incapable of taking about the nuance of language. In fact, as we move past modernism, people will likely move more and more toward an ability to reconcile this problem and be comfortable with truths told through myths (parables) once again.

You've correctly located the disconnect with modern and post-modern discourse in the arena of language. Deconstructive philosophy (the hallmark of postmodernism) is very much about unpacking the nuance and complexity of language. That may be outside the limits of your desire (or ability) to have conversation, however, others are more than willing to have that conversation. In truth, unpacking the language of ancient texts is not really even a phenomenon of post-modern though. It has been going on even before the modern era.

I'm not in any way trying to attack the Bible or Christianity or manipulate language. I'm being honest about the complexity of the language and the difficulty communicating across centuries and between languages. I am a dedicated Christian and I love the Bible more than any other library of texts. I've given my life to Christ and I find great joy and challenge in the study of these texts. I'm simply following in the traditions of biblical authors and the long line of Christian philosophers through the centuries who have wrestled with these life changing stories and sought to discover their meanings and apply them to their particular time and place.

I'm glad you are enjoying the conversation. I am too.

flobi said...

Is it that you don't see your own dishonesty or that you choose to ignore it? Dishonesty is something I detest and cannot tolerate. If your reply is somehow trying to justify your dishonesty, it fails. Ambiguity, though a hindrance in communication, can be tolerated when communication is not necessary or desired. But nothing justifies dishonesty.

Mike L. said...

No dishonesty here at all. I join with you in detest against dishonesty. Let's keep this from getting nasty.

What is it you think is "dishonest". Let's narrow this down so we aren't conversing in shotgun style. Better yet, before this turns ugly, can we discuss this in person and dispel what might be some major misunderstandings about intentions before anyone says something they will regret (like making accusations of dishonesty)? How about over a cold brew after work? I'm buying.

flobi said...

I'm afraid I don't have time. I still have a lot of stuff needing to be done for my move. I appreciate the offer. Besides, I clearly stated where your dishonesty was. It was the entire focus of the last paragraph of my 10:29 post.

Mike L. said...

Josh, If I'm asking for clarification, it is generally not a good communication technique to simply point back to the previous comment. If I understood you I wouldn't have asked for clarification. You've been very dismissive in the conversation and your aversion to face to face conversations has not helped. Can we go to lunch tomorrow? How about after work another day? I'll buy you lunch or dinner if that helps get us together and avoid any kind of miscommunication that might disrupt our otherwise healthy and enjoyable relationship.

I clearly don't understand how you arrive at "dishonesty". I'm asking you to explain it. It isn't enough to just type something (or say something). If the person you are speaking to doesn't understand, you owe them the decency of explaining further. I see no connection between anything I've said and dishonesty. It hurts me to imagine that you've somehow questioned my motives. I disagree with your conclusions but I don't question your motives. I see no reason to question mine. Maybe you had some "dark night of the soul" experience a couple of years ago and now you've made it out the other side of the valley. I'm really happy for you. But I don't think its fair to write off everyone that doesn't have exactly the same stance on doctrine or philosophy as you do. If you did that, you'd write of 95% of all the Christian theologians in the last 2000 years (I'd suggest a couple of biblical authors as well). There should be a way for cross denominational dialog that doesn't dissolve to accusations, slander, or mistrust.

Are you referring to my reference that "myth" is a genre of literature? That seemed to be the gist of your 10:29 comment. Please expand that.

flobi said...

When justifying referring to some passages as myth, you explained how because of similar texts being interpreted as factually inaccurate it is reasonable to apply the same to the Bible, then, you switched definitions so that you were instead defending literary genre. This is similar to an evolutionist explaining the grand scope of evolution (what we called macroevolution in the other topic) but actually defending the miniscual scope (what we called microevolution in the other topic) in the same word. By defending a mutually agreeable thing with the same name as a disputed thing and claiming your defense is valid is dishonesty. There's a term for it, but I can't think of it off the top of my head.

In all honesty, Mike, I think there's so much confusion in this topic now that there's not really a desire for me to continue in it, on the site or out loud. It's nowhere near the original topic and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

I hope I can start a conclusion on this by saying: What it really comes down to is that I'm so ingrained in that the Bible is full of historical accuracies (notwithstanding the mutually agreed upon existence of alterations which consists of in my view a small amount though in yours, possibly a large) that I cannot be swayed and you are so ingrained in that the Bible is full of allegorical truths (though not necessarily historical accuracies in many parts I would disagree) that you cannot be swayed. Our viewpoints seem practically foundational in that all we see in and about the Bible is adjusted by those very ideas.

As for my accusations of dishonesty, I am considering by your responses that you did not see it and that it was unintentional. I apologize for my curtness and hope you can understand that it stems from a severe hatred of dishonesty in any form, with which you can concur, as well as a mild tension perhaps from the liveliness of the discussion and the move.

flobi said...

Not to say that I don't want to do lunch or get a beer, I just don't think that I want to have in depth discussions about controversial topics at the moment. Actually, after a hard day's work and a hard night's work on my house, a cold beer sounds pretty freaking good right now.

Mike L. said...

"As for my accusations of dishonesty, I am considering by your responses that you did not see it and that it was unintentional."

I intended to say what I said. It was not dishonest. You assumed it was dishonest because you have not yet understood what I mean to say (probably due to my lack of communication skills). I'm not interested in swaying your opinion. I'm interesting in understanding your view and having you understand mine. By suggesting I'm being dishonest, it reveals to me that you don't understand my view. I'd really be disappointed if you left the conversation with the assumption I'm either dishonest or somehow not devoted to Christ. As of now, I get that impression from you.

flobi said...

By unintentional, I mean that you had no intention of being dishonest. Mike, I don't think you are a dishonest person and though it stretches me to understand your beliefs, I believe that you feel a sincere devotion to Christ though those beliefs. Don't think otherwise.

The statement may only convey dishonestly through what you call "modern" thought. But, if you're going to communicate properly, you have to understand that the vast majority of my readers are not postmodern and are quite content in their current mindset.

Mike L. said...

That sounds like you meant to say that you think I'm "wrong". "Dishonest" implies some intention to mislead. Thanks for the clarification and recognition of my faith.

As for my "beliefs" that you referenced. I do my best to not hold any. I am a person of faith not belief. You've rejected the idea of unpacking those terms and deconstructing their typical uses to find a more accurate description of their meanings. But I think the differences in those terms is important.

By "faith", I mean that there are certain goals I've accepted for my own personal transformation as well as the transformation of society. I've chosen to take particular actions to see those changes take place. For me, faith is the act of participating in that process of change. Faith is very important to me. It's my passion.

By "belief", I mean an artificially imposed intellectual certainty about things that have no proof or factual justification for that certainty. Superstitions might be another word, but that has very negative connotations (kind of like the word myth) which I don't intend to convey in fear that it would be assumed to be a derogatory comment.

flobi said...

I guess what I don't understand is why you, who (I presume) grew up using English, want to use new alternate meanings for words which are already defined in our language as though those words don't already have enough definitions. If your "faith" is more like a progression of change, why not call it that? If it's more like personal transformation goals, why not use those words?

I don't want you to take this as being about your commitment, just about your choice of words. I think that it degrades a word for it to be assigned new meanings and it confuses the language. It would be awesome if every definition had a unique word; instead of having to point out love definition 1 from, I could just say eros, for instance.

I understand that most people who heavily subscribe to naturalism consider most (or all) supernatural ideas superstitions. Superstition would be an accurate word if you want to insert "irrational" into the meaning of the word belief. I can see how people would consider that negative. And I can definitely see how someone could view my position as irrational. Maybe they haven't seen angels and demons with their own eyes. Maybe they haven't personally witnessed miracles. In fact, most of the miracles I've seen would be passed off by a naturalist as pure (though maybe amazing) coincidence. It's also possible I'm insane, but if I am, there's a whole group of awesomely wonderful insane people I get to share as my family, and I'm okay with that.

Mike L. said...

"I guess what I don't understand is why you, who (I presume) grew up using English, want to use new alternate meanings for words which are already defined in our language as though those words don't already have enough definitions"

I'm not suggesting any "new" meanings. Those meanings exist and are regularly used. For example, I commonly say that I believe in my wife and I have faith in her. Neither of those comments indicate my intellectual certainty about her existence or facts about her life. They do however mean that I have allegiance to her agenda and that I've made many of her goals my own goals. It also means I have a tremendous amount of fidelity to her. But I rarely say that. I just say I have faith in her and those other concepts are implied. The same is true with belief in Jesus. Unfortunately, many modern Christians have fixated on only one facet of the broad and wonderful notion of faith. They've decided faith is simply intellectual certainty in particular facts.

The reason I'm unpacking these works is because I'm looking for what they meant to the authors who DIDN'T speak English. Meanings often get lost in translation and without the process of understanding the cultural, political, and geographical surroundings of these communities, we are bound to end up misinterpreting them.

"If your "faith" is more like a progression of change, why not call it that? If it's more like personal transformation goals, why not use those words?"

Here's the deal, the bible didn't do that in many cases. So if you have a beef, your beef is with the bible. In many cases the English versions of the bible that we use today simply have words like believe and faith. They don't always unpack them for us. So the task of the dedicated biblical scholar is to unpack them by looking at the context in which they are used to see what the author intended. The problem becomes even worse when people lift verses out of context. Often the author unpacks those words in the next verse or chapter, but without the full context, a verse can be misleading.

As for the word superstition, the word has developed some connotations that are not helpful here. Typically, people use that word to be things "other people" believe. So what seems like reasonable beliefs to one person is superstition to another. You'd probably assume fear of black cats is superstitious, but angels and demons are not.

flobi said...

Wow, I can't think of anything to say. So I'll summarize where I think the conversation is. We agree on the word superstition, I think. Your view of the Bible is different than mine, so you can logically say that in your view the words are translated into words they don't really mean (at least by the dictionary definitions), whereas, by my view, I trust that the translators have done their best to translate the original ideas as closely in English as they can. You indicate that since the Bible is translated into words it doesn't really mean (as far as the dictionary is concerned) that you can use the words like they don't really mean (per the dictionary) too. I can't communicate unless I can rely on words meaning what the dictionary says they mean, so it appears we are at an impasse. Perhaps to help me understand, you could point me to where in the Bible the word faith is used like you are explaining it.

Mike L. said...

You still seem intent on trying to make my viewpoint into something that is disingeniousness or dishonest.

"so you can logically say that in your view the words are translated into words they don't really mean"

Again, I didn't say that and don't ever mean to imply that. You continue to speak about your interpretation of the text as if that interpretation is "the meaning". I'm distinguishing between the texts themselves and the act of interpretation that occurs every time anyone reads anything. I find it very interesting that you have the same stumbling block in a conversation with me that I feel you do with the bible. You have some kind of mental block when it comes to unpacking language and looking for the authors intention. When you read my words, you seem more interested in what the words mean to you rather than looking for what I might mean by the words. This is exactly my point. It's helpful at times to draw your own meaning from any text (even my comments here), but that really doesn't get you any closer to understanding what the author (even me) might mean. It is almost like you just don't care what I mean (or what the authors of scripture might have meant). It appears more important to you that your point is made. I think this is exactly what you've done (and many literalists have done) with the bible.

Human words are not the cold dry artifacts of non-emotional origins that you make them out to be. Words are the products of living, emotional, and cultural people. There is more under the surface of the words than you seem willing to find. It isn't enough to read the words, we need to unpack the spirit that lives in them and breaths life into those who care to make that effort.

The choice is clear. When you read my words or the bible's words (or anyone else) do you want to know what we mean?

Do you apply your same logic to your priest or other teachers in your church? When they unpack a texts in scripture, do you stop them and ask them to simply read the words as written without unpacking the meaning? Do they never reference the Greek words and definitions in their analysis? Do you reject all analysis of the texts or only when the analysis doesn't line up with your own interpretation?

flobi said...

I never intended to make your viewpoint disingenuous or dishonest in my summary, I was just pointing the fundamental differences out. You seem to be saying that the Bible is unclear and should be studied through (or with) the teachings of the Pharisees to find the true meaning the author intended, whereas to me the Bible message clearly jumps off the page in words I have no reason to question because they make perfect sense at face value. It's clearly two quite different viewpoints.

Perhaps unrealistically in this you feel justified using the meanings you've interpreted from the Bible as the meanings of words clearly defined in standard English dictionaries while communicating with those who have not understood the way you do and have no reason to expect the words to mean such. I do want to know what you mean, but as I said, communication is unreliable unless an agreeable method is defined. If the receiver doesn't know protocol (including the meaning of the words, in this case), communication fails, period. That's in like the first week of Communications 101. But, I can't agree to use anything but standard American English because there are people who read my blog who might miss that agreement.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." That's from Hebrews 11, seems to have a clear meaning, and meshes well with the dictionary. According to Hebrews 11, this is a description of the faith that Abel had as well as all the prophets like Enoch, who was taken directly by God without dying, and the same as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.

I believe the clergy at my church read the Bible in the straight forward manner that I do, trusting that the translators have done well in their job translated the meaning. Perhaps to help me understand, you could point me to where in the Bible the word faith is used like you are explaining it.

Mike L. said...

There is nothing I've said that is not standard American English. I have no clue what you mean by that.

"You seem to be saying that the Bible is unclear and should be studied through (or with) the teachings of the Pharisees to find the true meaning the author intended"

What do you mean by Pharisees? Pharises was a particular sect within Judaism during Jesus' time. Paul was a Pharisee. If you are reading Paul, you are reading a Pharisee.

I'll simply use the verse you quoted...

"now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

That is exactly what I mean by faith. To me this passage (reading the entire chapter and book) is talking about a specific connotation of the word faith that I referenced earlier. They are talking about a kind of hope for something better to come, and allegiance to a mission and vision for the future of these people that is not yet seen. They are talking about the tangible acts of following through with the vision of Jesus for establishing a new type of society (The Kingdom of God). For the author of this text, it seems clear that faith is not a mental assertion. It is a physical action.

This passage is not asking people to believe (have intellectual certainty in particular things). They are not asking people to accept biblical stories as literal facts. They are asking the people to accept and pledge allegiance to God. They are asking people to relive the kind of faithful ACTS that are found in the old Hebrew myths. Notice how the author makes an appeal for people to respond to the actions of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Issac, Jacob, Moses, etc. Here, it clearly implies that faith is not simple intellectual certainty about data, but instead faith is a faithful active response to a call. Each of the people mentioned here exhibited a slightly different manifestation of faith. For Abraham, it was faith as trust. For Moses, it was faith by stepping out and following without certainty of God's next move. For Issac and Jacob, it was faith as allegiance.

This also brings up another point I made earlier about digging under the surface of these texts and understanding what the author is doing. Let's look at the context. The author is writing to people in tremendous persecution by the Romans, and betrayal by their fellow Hebrews who have outcast them for their decision to follow Christ. But, God doesn't seem to have been following through with his promises (at the moment). They must have been in deep despair. Jesus has been crucified and many many of their friends and families are persecuted, tortured, and even crucified as well. Thousands and thousands of Jews and Christians (how were really still a sect of Judaism at this time) were crucified by the Empire. So the author it clearly attempting to keep their hope alive. He makes a defining statement in verses 39-40 of chapter 11 at the end of listing all the great characters of Hebrew mythology who had faithfully held allegiance to God in tough times:

"39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

The author seems to be using the commonly known stories of Israel to inspire the hope of the audience and lead them to similar grand actions of faith. This is exactly how I've used the word faith throughout our dialog. The author never says that the point of following Jesus is to sit back and merely claim intellectual certainty that these myths were factual. He evokes the imagery of the stories to inspire hope and respond with action (i.e. faithfulness).

Similar use of inspirational story telling is found in every culture (including ours). This passage is a perfect example of using myth to inspire rather than trying to simply command belief that the myths were actually factual.

Mike L. said...

This video might help explain why we have such a hard time getting on the same page from a linguistic perspective. It also ties into the problems with modernism and it's "enlightenment fallacy".

flobi said...

By Pharisees, I am referring to a faction of the Tannaim, whose teachings are what mostly make up or are derived from to get Midrash. I'm just using words I think people who may read this later would understand as I hadn't heard of Midrash before you said it and neither has anyone else I've asked about it. And yes, Paul was a Pharisee, and though his beliefs were similar to other Pharisees (including belief in resurrection), after his conversion, his teachings were not. His actions changed quite considerably after his conversion also.

I find it interesting that besides the sentence, "That is exactly what I mean by faith," there is nothing in what you just said that is in agreement with, "now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." To me, your next sentence is indicative of the rest about it, "To me this passage (reading the entire chapter and book) is talking about a specific connotation of the word faith that I referenced earlier."

It seems like, ... I'll give you a parable (you seem to work good with allegory, right?): You hold up a banana with one hand and say to someone, "Let me tell you about this banana." Then, you put the apple in your other hand on the table and start describing the apple instead of the banana, showing them all the different parts, cutting it open showing them the inside, all the while calling it a banana. When the person holds up a banana and says, "No, this is a banana; it has 'Chiquita banana' written on the side," you hold up your banana from your first hand and say, "Yes, that's what I'm talking about, mine has 'Chiquita banana' too," then look back down at the apple and resume talking about it, referring to it as a banana again. Then, you point over at the bunch of bananas hanging from the banana rack and say, "Those are bananas too." And then point at the basket of apples next to them, "And those are also bananas, just like the one I cut open for you and showed you." That's what your post meant to me. I think that's the real reason why we're having trouble communicating, though the video was a little interesting.

It's getting to the point where I am close to concluding that you're just screwing with me. Actually, it's well past that point. From what I hear, that wouldn't be out of character for you. As it is, I can only conclude that your screwing with me, because the only other option that I see is that you've got something seriously wrong up there. You're the only one who can say for sure that you're not screwing with me.

Just out of curiosity, back on the teachings of the Pharisees, considering that most if not all of the New Testament is generally credited with being written in the first century and their teachings weren't written till the second, had you considered the possibility that their writings may have been spawned at least partially in response and opposition to the Christianity? Just a thought I had while writing this.

Mike L. said...

Thanks for the clarification. I now see how you were using the Pharisees to connect to earlier comments about Midrash. It didn't make any sense to me the first time you said it. I thought you were using that word the way many modern people mistakenly use it to mean "false teacher" which is not at all what it means (as you correctly pointed out).

I'm certainly not "screwing with you". I think the medium we've chosen it not working well. Again, I'm sad we can't have a face to face, but at least this way the masses of readers can listen in on the conversation.

Let me respond with a parable that may explain my use of the words...

You sound like a man having a conversation about the Sun. Another man enters the conversation and adds to it by providing detailed knowledge of the formation of stars. The first man objects "I'm talking about the Sun not a simple star!". Even after explaining at great depth that the Sun is actually a star (a rather small on at that) the first man simply can't continue the conversation unless the 2nd man stops using the word "star" and promises to use the popular common name "Sun". Even though they are saying the same thing and star is simply a category where Sun is a proper name for one particular star, the use of certain words in certain ways can be so powerful and normative that it is hard for people to converse without the comfort of their particular normative language. For many centuries people couldn't imagine that the Sun was actually a star. That didn't fit their world view.

I'm sorry you're not interested in talking about the deeper meanings of these words. I'm sorry it feels like by addressing those deeper definitions it feels like an attack on the way you've used them in the past. For many people, faith is not simple intellectual certainty. Faith is a deep and complex word that also invokes ideas like trust, fidelity, hope, and allegiance. I don't see how that is in any way a "bait and switch" or deception.

Mike L. said...

On your idea about midrash...

1) I'm not sure how midrash is not in any way a rebuttle of Jesus because they agree. There is nothing in them that disagrees with Christianity. They are supportive texts. I'm not sure what would make you think they are in conflict.

2) The writings traditions you are referencing are not a 1st or 2nd century products. They go back much further. For example. We have writings that go back to rabbi Hillel whose grandson probably taught the apostle Paul as a child(he likely went to the same pharisee school, but we can't be 100% sure).

The literary techniques I'm referencing (as an example in Midrash) are used even in the Old Testament. The most common is retelling a new story by drawing in elements of older stories. For example the way the story of Joshua has him cross the Jordan in order to tie this story to the story of Moses. We see this all through scripture including the new testament. Jesus walking on water and calming the storm is a Joshua/Moses allegory to present Jesus as the new Moses and new Joshua. The name Jesus actually is an English translation of the same Hebrew name "Yehosuah" which is the same name "Joshua". Both Jesus and Joshua are different translations of the same name which really means "savior". Both figures were given those names to invoke the authors intention of each story. In each story, they were/are the savior of their people. You can also see this in the way later gospels add a story of Jesus escaping genocide at birth to tie Jesus to the Moses myth and paint him as the new "savior" or new Moses leading the people out of oppression.