WEEK 13: My Study Plan

Prior to this course, I had never read the Bible.  Hebrew Bible is required for my degree program.  However, due to a scheduling conflict, I was not able to take it at my own school.  Because of my limited biblical knowledge and because I do not necessarily believe in God, I was apprehensive about taking this course at Garrett.  I’m pleased to report that, once I figured out HOW to manage the class and the assignments, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are several things I’d like to re-visit/re-study.  But first, I’d like to list the lessons I learned.  Some of them may seem overly-simplistic or incredible – but they are still my lessons learned.     

1.       Not everyone who believes in God reads the Bible as the “word of God.”  There are believers who view it as the very important piece of literature that it is. 

2.       Once you really understand the structure of it, the Hebrew Bible is an amazing piece of literature.  Yes, there are contradictions and passages that simply defy belief.  But overall it is a remarkable resource.  

With these lessons in mind, I’ve created the following plan for future study:

1.       Secure the syllabus for the Hebrew Bible class at my seminary (MLTS) and compare the texts, topics and focus of that course to what we covered in OOTLE16.  I took extensive notes on the readings and lectures in this OOTLE16 class.  If possible/practical, I’ll do the reading for the MLTS course and overlay my notes on my OOTL16 notes.  This will help me prepare for any Hebrew Bible questions during my UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee interview.

2.      I’d like to read the books of the Hebrew Bible in order. 

3.   The Bandstra text is very thorough but my personal learning style doesn’t allow me to absorb online texts as well as I’d like.  I plan to purchase a hard copy of the Bandstra text and read it in the order in which it was written (as opposed to the order in which we covered it).

4.       I liked the Stanley text but it was very hard to match the topic of the week to the text.  I will read the Stanley text in full.

5.       I would like to do further research on the types of law codes (casuistic, apodictic and capital).  As an attorney, I’m interested in the sources of law.  In law school, we basically only covered Ancient Rome and Greece but didn’t discuss biblical law and its impact on our modern legal system.

6.       I will take New Testament next year. I’m feeling the need to create a tool – maybe my own concordance – to keep track of the comparisons between the Judaism/Hebrew Bible, Christianity/New Testament and interpretations of my Unitarian and Universalist ancestors.  This last piece is not something that I can complete in a week or even a semester.  I suspect it will be a multi-year project.

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WEEK 13: My Study Plan

Week 12: Divine Promises

Which ancestral stories relate to the issue of trust in divine promises? List some specific episodes that stand out in your mind that have to do with issues of belief, trust, and faith. What developments can you trace in the growth and quality of the ancestors’ trust?

Abraham Cycle 

God promises Abram three things:  a homeland; offspring and blessings.  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Genesis 12:1-3.  God’s promise to Abram is in the form of a covenant, which Bandstra defines as an “oath bound relationship with defined expectations and obligations.” (Bandstra, p.84.)  The lecture for this week would consider this a “Divine Covenant,” one in which the more powerful party bestows gifts or blessings or property upon the less powerful party without stipulation.  It is a pure gift, for which no return is respected. Bandstra refers to this as a “Charter Covenant,” one which is “made to reward faithfulness or service.” (Bandstra, p. 84.)  The key component is that the promise is unilateral.  As Bandstra comments, “God binds himself” to “provide land to Abraham and his offspring in perpetuity.”  At first he doesn’t ask for anything in return but later God demands the circumcision of the males as a test of faithfulness.  How is that a unilateral promise? 

God reiterates his promise to Abram in the form of a marriage vow when he tells him “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  Genesis 15:1.   

Abram’s trust in this divine promise is evident in two episodes. First, Abram did indeed leave everything behind to travel as God showed him.  This was an act of great faith.  Second, Abram was willing to sacrifice the son for which he had waited his entire life.  God tested Abram by seeing whether Abram would actually go through with it, letting him get almost to the point of killing Isaac before sending an angel to stop him.   

However, Abram does exhibit some doubt in God’s promise.  Despite being told that God will bless him with heirs, Abram and Sarai felt compelled to solicit Hagar as a surrogate, resulting in the birth of Ishmael. Also, when God reiterates his promise to Abram in chapter 15, Abram immediately challenges God by saying “You have given me no offspring.”  Genesis 15:3.    

Jacob Cycle 

As heir to Abram, Jacob carries the promise of God’s blessing.  In Jacob, I saw more doubt and scheming and duplicity than in either of the other two cycles.  Jacob was greedy, as evidenced by his buying Esau’s birthright and tricking Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing.  He was deceitful and self-serving, impatient and totally focused on receiving God’s blessings.  As Bandstra describes it, Jacob was “persistent, even relentless, in his pursuit for blessing [and] would stop at nothing to secure a personal advantage. He never could await his destiny; he always had to make it happen. Single mindedly and often deviously he pursued divine blessing.”  (Bandstra, p. 102.)  That’s a strong criticism, but true. To me, Jacob tried too hard, which suggests that he really didn’t have complete faith and trust in God’s promise.  

Joseph Cycle 

(As an aside, I must admit at this point feeling a little excited that we’ve finally reached a bible story I know – the story of Joseph and his brothers – even though that knowledge was gained by performing in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”)  

Back to this week’s question.  The Abraham and Jacob cycles appear as individual stories, united around the central character.   The Joseph cycle, by contrast, is a real narrative story, which Bandstra describes as “dramatically unified.”  Joseph’s story is about the continuing faith of Abraham’s decedents in God’s promise.  Despite being sold as a slave and imprisoned, Joseph remained faithful to God and ended up in a powerful position.  He then employed an elaborate scheme to get his brothers and father in Egypt with him, which he says was all God’s doing.  “Do not be agitated or angry with yourselves because you sold me here. Elohim sent me ahead of you to preserve life. The famine has been in the land for two years, and five more years of no plowing or harvest are coming. Elohim sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth for you and to keep survivors alive for you. It was not you who sent me here, but Elohim.” (45:5–8)  

To me, this story is quite a stretch as a demonstration of faithfulness and promise.  After all, while Abraham does indeed have many heirs, the story ends with Jacob and his family in Egypt – not in the promise land.  Is Joseph’s tale just a vehicle to get the Israelites to Egypt as Bandstra suggests?   

Conclusion 

God’s promise to Abram begins as a purely unilateral gift – the promise of a homeland, heirs and blessings.  Nothing is expected in return.  The major characters are not steadfast in their trust – we see that they can have doubts (Abram worrying whether he will have children) and can be a little “shady” in their zeal to secure the promised blessings (Jacob).  Yet, God doesn’t punish them.  They remain in his good graces as opposed to being punished, as is the consequence of disobedience after the Israelites reach the Promised Land.

 

 

 

 

Week 12: Divine Promises

Week 11: The Divine Council

In Genesis 1-11, God occasionally addresses the first-person plural (“we/us”). Bandstra describes as the likeliest explanation the institution of the “Divine Council” (biblical “benê elohim” or “divine beings”).

First, collect the passages in Genesis 1-11 where God does so.

The use of first-person plural occurs in three places in Genesis 1-11:  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” (1:26); “Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil…’” (3:22); and “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (11:7)

 

 

Then, read the following passages. Describe the features of the Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible. To what human institutions does it appear to correspond, and how? Who appear to be its members, and what are their job descriptions? 

1 Kings 22:19-22 (“Then Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him.  And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead?’  Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord saying, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘How?’ the Lord asked him.  He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then Lord said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’”)

 

Deut 32:8-9 (“When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the Lord’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.”)

 

Psalm 82 (“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”) 

Isaiah 6:8 (“Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.”)

 

Job 1:6 (“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.”

 

Job 2:1 (“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.”)

 

Psalm 29:1-2 (“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.”)

 

Job 38:7 (“…when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”)

 

Psalm 89:6-7 (“For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?  Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him?)

 

As I read some of these passages, mental images immediately came to mind.  The verses from Kings reminded me of the Avatars from the television series “Charmed” who stood together watching all of mankind on a giant hologram.  There was clearly a “head” Avatar giving orders to the rest of the group, deciding who should live, who should die, etc.  He kept watch like a general overseeing a battlefield.  Lesser powerful Avatars could offer suggestions but there was only one clearly in charge. God is acting in that role in this passage – like a general in command.

 

I also got the impression of God as a judge or arbiter.  Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 speak of judgment and apportionment.  Like the passage from Kings, God is clearly in charge but in the Kings passage he isn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion.  If he wants to take the largest chunk or a particular people for himself, he can do it.  He is in control, in command and making the decisions.  Period.  End of story.

 

God also appears as someone kind, to whom one can turn for aid.  In Isaiah 6:8, God appears as a comforter.  The message is “everyone else go away – my father has heard me crying and I will go to him and he will help me.”

 

And then he appears as the leader of the council, the most wise, most glorious leader whom all adore.  He is the wise King who is worshipped by all his followers.  I see this in Psalm 29:1-2 and 89:6-7 and Job 38:7.

 

 

Finally, revisit the “we/us” passages from Genesis 1-11, imagining this Divine Council present and directly addressed by God. Does anything change for you when you imagine God addressing this council? How or how not?

 

Bandstra says the Divine Council “was thought to be the governing assembly of angelic beings that managed the world with God. The angels, called ‘sons of God’ in other texts, were the administrative council of heaven.”  (Bandstra, p. 43)

 

Second, we know that there are two creation stories in Genesis 1.  There’s the priestly Elohim story of Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, in which God “created” the heavens and the earth out of “a formless void” that had water and was affected by wind.  (Genesis 1:2)   Written during the 800s or early 700s BCE by a priest living in the norther n kingdom, the priestly documents reflected efforts to sustain the faith of the refugees and rebuild their identity.  The writer, probably a Levite priest, was all about order and the progression of history.  (Bandstra p. 26)He refers to God as “Elohim,” a generic term for God.

 

By contrast, the second creation story, in which the second of the three “us/we” statements appears, refers to Yhwh Elohim specifically – the Lord God.   Originating in the southern kingdom in the ninth century, this story, provides a “supportive history and theological foundation” for the kingdom of David.  (Lecture B, Documentary Hypothesis; Bandstra 23)  The Yahwist identified sin as a human impulse, focusing on divine promises and the curses that will befall those who are disobedient.  (Bandstra 23)

 

Was there only one creator – as the Yahwist writes, one Lord God, who was the leader of a larger Divine Council of administrators? Or was this a collection of several gods that came together as a council of relative equals?  Bandstra gives us two examples of other creation stories that include multiple creators.  What about the Atrahsis Epic from Mesopotamia with its gods of heaven (Anu), earth (Enlil), water (Enki) and the underworld (We).  Or the Babylonian creation story of Apsu and Tiamat, the god and goddess of saltwater and freshwater?  Maybe the Elohist had this kind of Divine Council in mind when he used “us/we” language in Genesis 3:22.

 

Which brings me back to the question of the week.  Does anything change for me?  Not really.  The Hebrew Bible is a collection of stories, flavored by the personality of their authors and rooted in the context of the time in which they were written.  Or, as stated in our Enduring Understandings for this module, it’s a “Library of composite texts that are substantively diverse in their understandings of God and of the world.”   The authors of the cited passages saw God and the Divine Council as they needed to, based on the circumstances of their time.  That’s what the Elohist and Yahwist were doing in their two different creation narratives.  The fact that the two stories conflict, doesn’t matter.  They accomplish the authors’ purpose.  In that respect, they are considered “true” and reliable sources of theological authority for believers.

Week 11: The Divine Council

Week 10: I Smell Anti-Northern Bias Here

“Read the following passages that describe the events that the Hebrew Bible says led to the founding of the Jerusalem temple and the northern shrines. What reasons are given for the founding of these shrines? How credible do these reasons seem to you? Why does the narrator express such different opinions [concerning] the northern and southern shrines?”

  • 2 Samuel 7:1-17
  • 1 Kings 12:1-33
  • 1 Kings 16:29-33
  • 2 Chronicles 3:1-5:14

 

2 Samuel 7:1-17

This selection lays out the details of the royal theology.  Worshippers of Yahweh had been mobile before, worshipping in tents, but now a temple was in order.   (7:7-11). And, God anointed a king – not just a single king, but a dynasty to rule for eternity.  “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”  (7:13-14). This monarchy would remain in place, even if it misbehaves.  God will just “punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings” but won’t withhold his love and favor from him.  (7:14-15)

1 Kings 12:1-33

Next, we move into the discussion of Rehoboam and the secession of the northern tribes.  Rehoboam sought the approval of the northern tribes to make him king of all Israel.  The tribal leaders assembled and discussed his prospects. He would be king, but there was disagreement as to his methods.  The younger, newer leaders, pressed Rehoboam to continue with his oppressive leadership and programs – to continue in the path of Solomon.  The elders, who had been supporters of Solomon, advised him to ease up, but he didn’t.  (1 Kings 12:1 – 23)  There was already friction between the northern and southern regions.  The prophet Shemaiah advised the Judeans that the Lord did not want them to fight against Israel (12:24), thus averting all out civil war.

To keep people in the north from traveling to Jerusalem and being “influenced” by those in the south, Jeroboam built temples at Dan and Bethel. He told worshippers, “you have gone up to Jerusalem long enough.  Here are your gods” (12:25-33) and created his own holiday on his own calendar month for their worship.

1 Kings 16:29-33

This selection is about Ahab who “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.”  (16:30). First, he took Jezebel, supporter of Baal as a wife.  Then, he “went and served Baal, and worshipped him” himself. “He erected an alter for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria.”  (16:32). He also “made a sacred pole” and “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the god of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  (16:33).

2 Chronicles 3:1 – 5:4

Chapters 3 and 4 describe in great detail the construction and furnishing of the temple in Jerusalem – the architecture, measurements and purposes of the rooms, along with details of how each room was decorated and appointed.  With great fanfare, in 5:1-4, there is an assembly of all the elders, heads of tribes and leaders of the ancestral houses as the Ark of the Covenant is brought to the temple.

 

There is much to be learned from these passages about north/south favoritism.  As I read these books, I noticed a clear bias against Israel and a preference for the southern kingdom.  This course is the first time I ever read the bible so I doubted my interpretation.  The Stanley text assured me that I wasn’t crazy.  In his opinion, the deuteronomic writer clearly favors Jerusalem.  There’s a lot going on here. As we heard in the lectures on Emergence and Royal Theology, Yahweh’s followers had reached the Promised Land and were coming out of a time when they were advised by charismatic judges.  They did as they wanted.  “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”  Judges 17:6; 21:25.  The system finally broke down and the elders of Israel assembled and requested of Samuel to “appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 1 Samuel 8:5.  The Lord advised him to tell the people the pitfalls of having a king but they persisted and the Lord finally relented.  1 Samuel 8:16-22.

Not all kings – or shrines – are treated alike. Note the loving detail with which the temple in Jerusalem is described.  We’re told every detail about its magnificence yet there is no such description of Dan or Bethel.  The deuteronomic writers clearly favor the stories of the kings that will help justify the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians.  They “selected and shaped their materials to create a story line that would explain how their people ended up in Babylonia.” Stanley 270.  Thus, accounts of Jeroboam’s shrines at Dan and Bethel are highlighted as evidence of anti-Yahweh behavior.  The selections describe worshiping Baal and the golden calves and deliberately not going to Jerusalem, the appointed city, for worship.  According to Stanley, however, this might not be an accurate portrayal of what was going on at Dan.  Citing Judges 17:1-5, 18:27-31; 20:1.8-28 and 21:19, Stanley shows us that the golden calves had been worshipped as symbols of the thrown of Yahweh and that Yahweh had been worshipped previously at Dan and Bethel.  Greer suggests that it might have been a ploy to malign Jeroboam and cast aspersions on the north.  While Greer and Stanley both discuss the archeological discovery of temple remains at Dan, neither documented such findings at Bethel.

This all makes sense from a deuteronomistic perspective.  In speaking of the book of Kings, Stanley says that it “does not pretend to offer a balanced, objective account of events in ancient Israel and Judah.”  Stanley, p. 270.  Instead, it’s all about the storytelling, choosing bits and pieces of facts here and there, embellishing some while discounting others, to create the desired picture of history.  In the end, that’s what all historical writing is anyway.

Week 10: I Smell Anti-Northern Bias Here

Week 8: A Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt

In my lifetime, I have seen many things.  As First Lady and in the years since, I have had the good fortune to travel to all corners of this country, to see it grow and expand, develop mighty industries and a bustling economy.  But I have also seen it commit injustices of a magnitude I never thought possible.  I have seen man commit horrific crimes against his fellow man, crimes for which we shall all be punished as a nation.  Crimes so heinous that their impact will be felt for decades to come.  The effect of the evil perpetrated by man against man will cascade over the generations, like water over a fall.  This water shall be contaminated by our sins against one other.  It will flow through the land, its toxins continually replenished by our continued acts of inhumanity.  It has poisoned us and will continue to poison us and future generations until we atone for our great sin and bring ourselves back into covenant with our maker and with one another.

What, you might ask, is this great sin for which we have been punished so long?  I tell you, it is not a single act, a single transaction, identifiable at a specific period in time.  Rather, it is an attitude with which our ancestors arrived in this country.  An attitude that was cultivated and nurtured and honored for years until we reach this despicable situation in which we find ourselves today.  Our original sin was our greed and its manifestation in the way we treated the indigenous people of this land.  As much as we of European descent might like to believe we “discovered” America, we did not.  Indigenous people – true Native Americans – were living here for years before we ever got here.  By Royal Proclamation in 1763, British settlers were granted by authority of the crown, the ability to settle a wide swath of land along the Atlantic coast that reached inland as far as the Appalachians.  This proclamation preserved all land west of the Appalachians as Native American sacred hunting grounds.  But we ignored those boundaries.  We settled there anyway and then dared the native people to force us out.

The emergence of this attitude marked the beginning of our decades of disobedience.  It created in us the original arrogance that compelled us to abuse our fellow man and this country.  We abused the native people, stripping them of their lands and their dignity.  We enslaved people of African descent, tearing apart their families and forcing them to labor in our homes and fields.  We exploited this country’s natural resources, felling mighty forests and clearing fields.  We killed animals for our own sport, decimating whole species without remorse.

Our creator blessed our ancestors with this land – a place where they could come to escape the economic and religious persecution they faced in England.  They came to this land of opportunity full of hope for a bright future.  Yet they were not faithful and were not grateful to God for the blessing he bestowed.  Instead, they allowed their greed and arrogance to overcome them and infect their seed so that their future generations would be affected as well.

The punishment for this arrogance will be swift and harsh.  You will be plagued by great droughts in the west that will leave your fields barren.  The seasons will be in chaos.  Your water will be contaminated by the chemicals your powerful corporations have spilled into rivers and streams.  You will see revolt among the African Americans whom you have oppressed.  To your dismay, this land you claimed as your own will be the target destination of immigrants from all over the world.   Your people will not live in peace.  They will abuse drugs and alcohol.  Your greed and avarice will escalate to such a level that your people will not be able to afford food and shelter, the basic necessities of life.  There will be death in the streets as they kill one another in senseless acts of violence.

You are punished for your sins against the native people of this land.  You are punished for your treatment of African Americans.  You are punished for your rapacious devouring of this land and its resources.  It can be made right again.  You can repent for your past misdeeds by offering sincere apology to those whom you have exploited, by ceasing your greedy ways   and by coming back into covenant with one another and with God.  Only then will you be delivered from the perilous situation in which you will find yourselves.  Only then will the blessings of this land be bestowed upon you again.  I urge you to heed this warning.  If you do not, America will find itself in great peril.  God who gave us this great land will take it back and reclaim it just as he did during the Ice Age millions of years ago, so that it may be replenished and restored and repopulated by God with a people that might appreciate it.

Regards,

Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was a political activist, writer, diplomat and First Lady of the United States.  Wife of four-term president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and grandniece of Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt worked tirelessly for those who were marginalized by society – especially women and minorities. 

Deuteronomic theology promises that those who are faithful will get rewards.  If the people are disobedient, they will be punished.  (Stanley, p. 256-57.)  To paraphrase Bandstra, if you sin, God sends punishment.  If you repent, God sends deliverance.  Thus, it is a cycle of sin, punishment, repentance and deliverance.  I propose that America’s original sin was its greed – that arrogance that allowed our American ancestors to believe that this land and its resources were theirs to take. We see the impact of that arrogance today in our overcrowded, polluted, violence-plagued cities and towns.

In my telling, Mrs. Roosevelt employs the full array of styles observed by Bandstra:  pleading, urgent calls to faithfulness, direct addresses and appeals to our hearts and minds.  In true historiographic fashion, her letter has a purpose (explaining why our society is now being punished), is selective in the materials it uses (citing specific actions such as our treatment of Native Americans, African Americans and exploitation of the land) and has a clear message (the effect of breaking covenant).  She tells the story of the country’s history and how it came to be in its current situation, its impact and what will happen if we don’t change our ways.

Week 8: A Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt

Week 7: Dear Olivia

Dear Olivia,

How’s my favorite great-niece?  I hope school is going well.  My school is ok.  I’m learning cool stuff.  Remember when we went to see the Messiah this year?  I’ve seen or performed the Messiah every year for more than 40 years.  I always thought it was about the birth and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what I was told as a kid and what I told you. But I’m taking a Hebrew Bible class this semester and learning that the real Messiah in some of the biblical passages on which Handel’s oratorio is based might have been Persian emperor Cyrus the Great.  I know!  Not what I expected either!

Here’s the deal.  A long time ago, the Babylonians took over the city of Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah.  In the process, they deported the native people to Babylonia.  In the first wave, thy sent 10,000 government officials, artisans, priests and elites.  (Bandstra p. 340.  I’m giving you citations in case you want to go look up any of this stuff in your spare time.)   Then they deported a second wave of people.   By 586 BCE Jerusalem was completely crushed and its temple destroyed. 

So, the Judeans are hanging out in Babylonia, feeling completely forsaken by God but they had prophets in Babylonia who could give them some wisdom.  There was Ezekiel (yes, the dry bones song guy), who told the people that, even though  they’d brought this on themselves, there was hope and, if they could change, their temple would be rebuilt.  Their hearts would be cleansed and those who follow Yahweh would receive a new heart and a new spirit.  (Ezekiel 26:26-27; 37:14; 39:29.)  Another prophet, “second Isaiah” (he’s just named that because he wrote the “second” section of the book of Isaiah), gives them a similar message – stay encouraged.   The evil people will be punished.  The faithful should wait until after Yahweh curses and purges the sinners from their midst.  Then the faithful will be rewarded.  He says God is going to send an “anointed” one to help them.  Jerusalem will be restored to glory.  (Isaiah 44:23 – 45:8.) 

Yahweh’s going to send a “messiah” – a new Davidic king “who will rule with justice and equity.”  (Stanley, p. 186.)    Everything would be ok.  This new guy, the “messiah,” would fix everything.  I know you’re wondering – isn’t Jesus the “messiah?”  Well, “messiah” comes from the Hebrew world “mesiach” which means “anointed.”  In your family’s church, anointing someone involves marking their forehead with sacred oil.  Back in the day, the kings of Judah were anointed by having oil poured over their head.  Being “’Yahweh’s anointed’ was more than a title.  It connotes a theology.  ‘Yahweh’s anointed’ is the legitimate king appointed and protected by God.”  (Fried.)  The bible says God declared Cyrus the Great of Persia as his anointed one.  (Isaiah 45:1.)  “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out my purpose.”  (Isaiah 44:28.) 

Why on earth would God pick Cyrus – a foreigner – to be the messiah?  Here’s where the bible gets hard for me.  I have to remember that the bible is a book written by people dealing with real world issues.  Cyrus was a busy guy.  By 546 BCE, he had conquered all of Asia Minor then turned toward Central Asia. By 539, he included Babylonia in his conquest and built an empire that stretched from the Aegean Sea to Central Asia.  The locals weren’t stupid – Isaiah and the crew knew what was going on.  As Fried explains, now that Cyrus had liberated them from Babylonian rule, they needed to get and stay on Cyrus’ good side if they wanted to get their temple back.  And Cyrus was totally tolerant religiously.  They really believed that God had “brought Cyrus to conquer Babylon and return Judeans to their homeland.”  (Fried.)  His role is so “crucial” to God’s plan that the prophets had no problem labeling Cyrus anointed.  (Stanley, p. 462.) 

Not everyone believed Cyrus was ­the messiah. The prophet Haggai said Zerubbabel, grandson of former Judean king Jehoiachin and the guy chosen by the Persians to be governor, was the anointed one.  (Haggai 2:34).  Zechariah said Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua are “the two anointed ones.”  (Zechariah 4:14.)  So when the soprano sings “Behold the king cometh unto thee; he is the righteous savior and he shall speak peace unto the heathen” (Handel’s Messiah, part I, no. 18), the text isn’t talking about Jesus.  That pieces comes from Zechariah 9:9-10 and probably meant Zerubbabel. 

Buy Cyrus was clearly the man.  The Lord said, “I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness, and I will make all his paths straight; he shall rebuild my city and set my exiles free.”  (Isaiah 45:13.)  And that’s exactly what he did.  He allowed the Judeans to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple.  He even paid for it.  His assumption of power ushered in a new era of peace that would last for many years.

The bottom line here is that “messiah” doesn’t always refer to Jesus.  That might be the message of the New Testament and Christian theology, but not the Hebrew Bible.  The lesson is twofold.  First, things can have more than one meaning – even in the Bible. Second, always remember that sometimes you have to look beneath the surface and consider the historical context of what you read if you really want to understand it.

I hope this was helpful.  See you at the end of the semester.

Love,

Aunt Connie

Week 7: Dear Olivia

Week 6 – Deception, Enticement and Rape?

Upon reading this question, I was at first perplexed by the question regarding “Jeremiah’s ‘deceiving’ God.”  We begin with the statement that “Jeremiah complains God has ‘deceived’ or ‘enticed’ him.  We are asked to compare the use of this language with other passages.  This notion of enticement as comparable to rape was very intriguing to me.  After reading the referenced passages, however, I had a slightly different perspective.  (Please bear with me as I lay out my thoughts.  And definitely please share your comments.)

The opening line of the target passage, Jer. 20:7, uses only the word “entice.”  Bandstra raises the connection to the notion of rape when he says ‘Jeremiah goes so far as to say that God ‘seduced’ him, in effect raped him.”  Bandstra p. 335.  The connection to the notion of rape is understandable.  Jeremiah felt overpowered by his call.  God won – “prevailed” over Jeremiah.  Jer. 20:7.  The implication is that he fought against being a prophet, but God took him anyway.

Rape suggests to me a brutal sexual taking for pleasure. I do believe there was an extremely physical component to God’s “taking” of Jeremiah.  However, it was not for the purpose of pleasure.  Rather, it was for the sake of delivering God’s message to the people of Judah.  The message to be delivered was an extremely negative one which, as Stanley points out, caused Jeremiah great pain and anguish.  Stanley p. 446-47.  The prophesies, while unpleasant to Jeremiah, were necessarily harsh.  Despite repeated warnings and opportunities to change its ways and repair its covenant with Yahweh, Judah refused to listen and thus must face the “coming devastation at the hands of the Babylonians.”  Stanley p. 446.  God’s use of Jeremiah had a purpose.

God’s use of Jeremiah is, to me, more akin to the condemnation of property by eminent domain than rape.  It reminds me of a city or state deciding to “take” someone’s home because it wants to put a highway there.  It’s taking something for a purpose, not just for pleasure or for the sake of taking it. There was a specific political reason for delivering these messages to Judah.

We are asked to compare Exodus 22:16, regarding the seduction of an unengaged virgin.  Maybe I’m reading this too literally, but I don’t understand this comparison.  It just refers to having sex with the woman, not necessarily raping her. It does not mention that the sex is without the woman’s consent or against her will.  Also, this section speaks to the actions of a man, not to God.  Similarly, Judges 14:15 refers to acts of man, not God.  Men want Samson’s wife to use her wiles to get information from Samson.  If she fails, they will “burn [her] and [her] father’s house.”  Judges 14:15.

Ezekiel 14:9 and 1 Kings 22:20-22 are different. The Ezekiel passage seems to refer to the “aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts…and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him.” Ezekiel 14:7.  It seems that verse 14:9 refers to the deception of the prophet in 14:7.  God has not lied to him directly.  He has deceived him by allowing him to think that his prophesies based on false idols are legitimate.  He will be struck down by God.  14:9.   The passage in 1 Kings, cites deception or lying merely simply for the purpose of lying.  I must admit I do not understand the purpose of lying for no reason.

The political turmoil of the times is evident in the book of Jeremiah.  The Assyrians were losing power and the Babylonians were still ramping up, giving Judea a bit of a respite from all the threats it had faced over the previous years.  King Josiah took advantage of this lull to clean up the mess that Amon had made of the government, to rid the kingdom of the cultic idols the Assyrians had brought into Judea and to return to traditional religion.  Inspired by the discovery of the book of the Torah, Josiah was dedicated to the removal of the shrines to Baal, Ashera and the astral deities.  Bandstra, p. 313. Unfortunately, Josiah died in battle at a young age.  Things went downhill from there for Judea as the Babylonians grew in power and made their move on Judea.  By 598 BCE, the upper class and notable citizens of Jerusalem left the city in the first wave.  By 586, the Babylonian takeover of Judea was complete.  Jerusalem fell after an 18 month siege and the deaths of thousands.  Residents didn’t believe the prophets who warned of the impending fall of Judea.  They ignored it, turning away from God and continuing their idol worship.

The modern day situation that comes to mind is global warming.  We have been told over and over again that we are harming the planet yet we won’t change our ways.  Climate control advocates write, speak and lobby tirelessly on the subject yet we still don’t change our ways and the planet is suffering as a result.  Why He was assassinate is it so hard for us to believe?  Is it because of our own pride – do we really believe that the planet’s resources are ours to exhaust without regard to the needs of the generations who will come after us?

As a non-believer, I don’t know how a modern day believer would cope with a lying and deceiving God.  I can’t wrap my head around how one could believe in a lying and deceiving God.   Perhaps that is why we see an increase in “nones” and people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”   This gives people the opportunity to build their own theology.  It definitely also speaks to the underlying theology of Universalism.

What I take from Jeremiah is pain.  I feel the pain of a man who is compelled to deliver a bad message that no one wants to hear.  His call is a heavy burden that has made him a “laughingstock” and an “outcast.”  I feel his weariness and understand his wish that those who mock, criticize and torture him could be silenced or maybe even taste a little bit of the pain they inflicted upon him.

Week 6 – Deception, Enticement and Rape?