Tuesday, July 31, 2007


The next chapter in Frymer-Kensky is on suffering. It raises a lot of questions on how to read e.g. the binding of Isaac and the suffering servant of Isaiah. It may be a while before I get to it - needs thought and time. In the meanwhile, if you haven't seen the post on Psalm 67 or the later ones on Psalm 119 on my psalms blog, please browse and comment there...

Friday, July 27, 2007

A sensitive approach

Rachel Barenblat has written beautifully about our human condition - friends, and differences. How difficult it is to learn, to teach, and to accept each other when we have so many differences. The power, I think, for accepting others comes from accepting who you are in yourself. Lest this be too self-absorbed or self-centered, you must of course find yourself acceptable in a social context.

Of necessity, our individual social context includes a plethora of accumulated concepts in ourself representing entities outside ourself: our place as a child, or a man, or a woman, our abilities as we and others perceive them in school and work, the ways in which we receive approbation or criticism, the mistakes we make and how we react to them, our families whether nuclear or extended, the churches, local organizations, and political parties of our land, and the relationship to the wider world. In Biblical terms, these are the thrones, dominations, and principalities, the angels of the entities we are known in.

What is acceptable and what is rejected? That word rejected hurt my sensibility recently. Not because I was rejected, but because someone implied that the Father rejected Christ. Peter Kirk has accurately mediated in the discussion. There are things that are absolutely not true - and this is one of them. The essence of the Gospel is that Christ Jesus is a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It is wholly acceptable and wholly accepted. Christ is Abel הָבֶל (vapour, breath, vanity - think James). More than empty (Eccl 1:2 הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים, havel havelim) he is the acceptable offering and the source of the true breath of God (רוּחַ ruach - so much punning in the imagery in Scripture - here is part of the source imagery of the creed concerning the Spirit, the Lord and giver of life - such breath as gives us substance - 'as makes his guest' George Herbert).

This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased (Hebrew ratson, used all over the place e.g. Psalm 85:1. Think also the year of Jubilee, the acceptable year of the Lord.) Such a statement is not rejection. God bears all things (check out Suzanne's lovely translation 1 Cor 13) in us through the work of Christ so that God who created heaven and earth may having created us, draw us, re-image us, and enjoying us fully, be all in all to us in the Beloved.

God in Christ has entered our social context and the principalities and powers have known that they have met their match as a source of identity for us. The struggle to find ourselves acceptable ends when we read that we are accepted in the Beloved. This absolute is something we can grow into fully and the consumation promised is one which Christ by the Spirit will confirm in us as we walk together.

Worship - Le Huitième Jour

This is chapter 8 of my reviews of Christianity in Jewish Terms by Tivka Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, and Michael A. Signer. Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7

Appropriate that 8 be the chapter on worship - But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

8 is one more than the number of perfection. Is it the number of worship?

This chapter has again 3 essays: Jewish and Christian Liturgy, by Lawrence Hoffman, Liturgy and Sensory Experience by Ruth Langer and Christian Worship: An Affair of Things as well as Words by Robert Louis Wilken

The whole book is worth the essay by Lawrence Hoffman. Most important is his explanation of the historical reality of wine as symbol of blood originating in normative Jewish liturgical practice.

To the extent that Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples was ... a chavurah meal, we can understand his references to himself as sacrificial victim as a rhetorical free play on a Jewish sacrificial theme.

Indeed the eucharistic linkage of bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ, the new paschal lamb for Christians, arises out of a symbolic similarity to Jewish practice at the time.

... Wine too was widely assumed to be symbolic of blood. The Bible itself calls wine dam anavim (blood of grapes). By rabbinic times, Jews identified two types of blood as especially apt to bring deliverance: the blood of the paschal lamb and the blood of circumcision... The symbolic use of wine appears liturgically, therefore, in both the Seder and the rite of circumcision.

Therefore he understands how believers in Christ "applied these symbols to the Crucified, seen as the new paschal lamb whose body and blood were offered up on the cross." He describes how Jewish and Christian liturgy diverged - the one continuing with 'saving blood' and the concept of sacrifice and the other away from it because of the destruction of the temple. He clearly understands the writer of Hebrews also. I cannot do justice to his accuracy and completeness of description in so few words.

From blood he turns to remembrance and again shows the depth of reality in the word anamnesis and the Hebrew zecher and zikaron - especially noting the identical dramatic liturgical action of 'making the past present' in Jewish practice with respect to the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt (zecher litsi'at mitsrayim).

Here in 'drawing God's attention to what matters', we have so much commonality and unity, we can see clearly what it is that distinguishes our respective faith. Faith in the same God, understanding of the need for deliverance, recognition of the cost of a life, the practise of making the past present. Later in his essay, he recognizes the same unmerited dependence on God's grace in both traditions and a commonality in the state of covenantal merit. It is God's doing - and what an act to follow!

The remaining two essays are not disappointing as they relate various aspects of sensory experience in worship and of sacrament, but they touch rather than entering the depths that Hoffman relates.

It can be so with words.

It is not up to me to open doors, just to point if possible with accuracy. The opening is God's doing, the approach and entry is ours by the mystery of the One who seeks us. Hoffman has pointed with accuracy - it is more than description.

Now instead of a fearful allusion to the cautionary refrains of the Song - Rabbi Akiva's Holy of Holies, let us hear the beginning.
יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ, כִּי-טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Theological Engineering

Yesterday (and today) - a hard day's work on some computer programs. I don't know how I dare continue to write when I have such an ability to err when coding! The source of error is complexity, tiredness, various levels of confusion over names, forms, and precisions, and human miscommunication to boot.

If it is scarcely feasible to be accurate in a computer language - or only after many tries (at least the feedback is quick), how will we be accurate in natural language? How much more difficult it must be then to express precision about God!

The essential components of Software Engineering are two: 1. a source library that keeps all your old versions, and 2. peer reviews. The source library shows you what you remember; the peer review shows you what you forgot.

Curious, isn't it, that in what seems a purely technical field, an essential component is a human to human process. It is hard to work alone.

There is a technique I am sure to theology too, but I am not engineering God, God is engineering me. The Lord has maybe three-score and ten or four-score years for my theological engineering. I hope my feedback (the joy and laments I produce) gives adequate information so that my library will eventually hold the image Elohim intended. All the interim results will be there too, the child, the prototype teen, the blind, the angry, the fearful, and the half-made who sees others as trees walking. Is there a peer review process in the heavens?

The withering fig is dealing with 1 John - very thoroughly one bit at a time. I always found 1 John tricky to understand - so many statements appear to be opposites and there is so little information on the occasion of his writing. Nonetheless I frequently recall phrases from that testimony of the beloved, few more precious than the authority of the anointing.

Stephen writes : It seems to me that it can’t mean what it sounds like, largely because it would contradict what we’ve already read.

What do we do with the contrast between 2.1 - if anyone sin, ... and the statement concerning sin as lawlessness (3.6) - when we know we so easily fall into error? What is the law that we might think ourselves lawless or never to have known him?

If law is teaching, then lawlessness must be ... failure to learn.
If law is commandment, then lawlessness ... inability to listen and enter in.
If law is convention, then lawlessness is ... unpredictability.
If law is an order, then lawlessness is ... disorder and infraction.
If law is rule, then lawlessness is ... breaking and ignoring the rule.

In the computer programming world, there are several classes of rule: syntax, matching data types, making and keeping your own application rules so that the presented data conforms to expectation, and so on. Lawlessness presents itself as bugs and error messages - unexpected behaviour.

In writing, law is style and trust and reaching out, consistency and surprise. The 'laws' of art, composition, structure, form, and reason express an idea which is taken in by another perhaps or perhaps not as intended. Lawlessness may present itself as artistic, unusual, even creative.

In life, laws of our social structure are for living together without certain kinds of surprise. Family conventions, social mores, traffic agreements, picket lines, and of course the obvious things that are derived from centuries of experience in hospitality, caring, and keeping life in order. Here though we are getting closer to those laws that may give us trouble if followed(!) or not(!) - like not wearing a hat at the right time, or a suit, or carrying contraband without a license.

Then there's the Law of God - how can this complex be approached? There's the moral law, the cultic laws, laws of clothing and food, laws of love, and in some societies, rules upon rules. So Eve said - we mustn't even touch it. She showed herself to be a lawmaker. (And it didn't actually help her avoid the lawlessness of eating whatever it was that was forbidden.) Torah also means teaching or instruction - should we always assume it is a set of rules?

What was John talking about when he used that word lawlessness?

If I go back to my analogy of programming - the two critical items are 1. the source library - this means facing our current version and admitting it has limitations (1.9 if we confess our sins ...) and 2. the peer review from heaven in which we learn to see what we forgot. The eternal Programmer who created us has drawn us to himself in order to make us fully sensible like (1.1) that which we have heard with our ears, ... and approve the next check-in to the library - well done good and faithful servant. Even if not approved for check-in, we will see where the work is needed (3.3 whoever has this hope purifies himself as he is pure... ) and we will have been provided with the material for it. Such provision is the work of the same Programmer who in engagement with us, redraws us in his image. This God does not mind error as long as we enter in to the attention commanded. In effect we do know him and are living in him.

If I had to come to a single statement, and not pairs of opposites as John does to express the love he has known, I would say the only sin is failure to engage. So love God and do what you will - as a greater theologian than I commented. My life in him has many questions. But even if I stumble, and I do, my hope does not fail me for it not just my will that is operative.

And I am glad to say on the purely business front that my programs are happier tonight than they were yesterday morning. They were reviewed and approved for the next stages of their life (but let them not say that they purified themselves).


It may be difficult to enter another tradition, but Lawrence Hoffman enters. I am indebted to him for his book Covenant of Blood which informed two of my earlier stories related to circumcision. I have not shared the one I wrote based on his reconstructed rite, but it is alluded to in chapter 46 of Prima and Secundus' first book.

Hoffman has read and understood Schmemann and he understands the dispute over priesthood in Christianity. I am only half-way through his essay in chapter 8 of Frymer-Kensky and I am already alive with fire over his depth of perception. More anon...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I will not let you go until you bless me.

The next chapter of Frymer-Kensky is on Israel. In all three essays, no one mentioned wrestling. The writers are Irving Greenberg, Judaism and Christianity, Covenants of Redemption, David Fox Sandmel, Israel, Judaism, and Christianity, and R. Kendall Soulen, Israel and the Church, a Christian Reponse to Irving Greenberg's Covenantal Pluralism. (Soulen's link is not a solo link but he is teaching with Mary Jill Levine and a few other important sounding names (Hays, Wright, Witherington)- so in good company.)

So what did they say? Greenberg is very philosophical, attempting to reason towards the call to 'fix the world' (tikkun olam) in a long essay that has a few points that are agreeable, but on the whole, it is a difficult subject to approach from first principles and I do not find his assessment convincing. For example:

The concept of partnership [humans with God] implies joint and parallel efforts and mutual obligations. This is one of the revolutionary insights of the Israelite religion. The covenant mechanism is intended by its Initiator to give over a sense of stability and dignity to humans and to make them feel that God is deeply and equally involved with them.
Well, I don't want to be too severe, since I did take this out of a long and stretching bit of reasoning. But if Maskil is an insight, it is not about 'partnership', it's about love, and it's about lament, and it's about trouble, and it recognizes that it is a struggle with God - and that God takes our part also in the struggle (this is all in the Psalms). Greenberg has the traditional attitude about special creation for humans. "All other living forms are genetically programmed to maximize creation of life and to live in the natural order." Not in my book they aren't. This is not a sentimental thought - even Baalam's ass and Ninevite cattle get a better press from God. Behemoth and leviathan too, God's puppies, not to mention the animals at the crib (Job 39-41). Redemption goes beyond our tranditional anthropology.

Later he writes: "the link bewteen circumcision and covenant was directly challenged by the Apostle Paul and by Christian hermeneutics during and after the break between the two religions." I take this as a serious oversimiplification. Particularly I think it is in error with respect to Paul. Even if Paul did not write Ephesians and Colossians, the impact of his ministry is illustrated in these epistles as faithful within his Jewish roots including circumcision - but not required for Gentiles because of the cross of Christ.

I think it is very difficult for us to imagine both the strangeness and the conflict in a single assembly in which some are God-fearers, some Gentile believers in Christ, some Jewish believers in Christ and some not believers in Christ. Think of all these in one assembly, without Bishops, Priests and Deacons, with whatever liturgy was common to the Diaspora, with competing demands for your submission to the local cult of the Emperor if you were not a Jew. Not the kind of 'religion' we are used to. I think the best reconstruction comes from a careful reading of Romans with imaginative attention to the people mentioned in chapter 16. It should also be noted that circumcision of the heart is not solely a New Testament metaphor. And covenant will need a better analogue than mechanism!

Skipping several other areas that I would seriously dispute, I come to the attempted distinction of Jesus as 'failed' rather than 'false' Messiah. Unfortunately, there is a typographical error on page 157 where I am sure he intended to say 'failed', but wrote 'false'. The distinction could not be maintained but how can "false Messiah... be a tribute to Jesus' extraordinary accomplishments"? Still for all his difficulties that I see in this essay he ends with an allusion to the Song of Solomon: "I adjure you who love Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field, let me not wake that love or rouse that enmity until the time please!"

I give him credit for trying, though I think the time has come for more. Rendall Soulen is gentler with his essay than I am.

Sandmel's essay is much shorter. In dealing with Paul's conception of Israel, he focuses on Romans 9-11. This is a structural error. Certainly, it is part of the pattern, but only one end of it. The other end is chapters 1-3 - to the Jew first and also the Greek. It is important to ask the right questions and dismantle the wrong ones.

One theme that emerged in the first two essays is the threefold aspect of Israel as people, covenant, and land. I see the NT dealing with people and covenant. The promised land is not on the table in an economic sense. But the danger to see it as extra-terrestrial (I want to avoid using some terms, because they are so misleading) - i.e. the danger of linear time models and dualism is severe. I think the economics of jubilee are important, and personally, with an Aboriginal child and another child of African descent, and myself European, I wonder what land and belonging to the land means to me. It seems to me that the Levites got the best deal, the inheritance of the LORD himself. I'll take that any day!

In all these theological essays, many dealing with traditional uncritical 'beliefs' going back many years, it is difficult for the outsider to enter into the reality of the other. Soulen ends on an interesting note:
Christians and Jews will continue to disagree about whether God's promises have been 'filled up' in Jesus of Nazareth, ... but from the Christian point of view at least, the dispute will no longer be about whether the other community enjoys a rightful and indispensable place in God's economy, but about how this is so. On these terms, I do believe that even the remaining element of rivalry between Jews and Christians can serve the faithfulness of both communities and the glory of God.
I am reminded of my daughter's mother-in-law at the picnic asking: are we having fun yet?

other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6


Suspended between heaven and earth,

the creator of images of the maker of all things

created me, enfleshed, beloved of the Bridegroom,

created for himself. His consolation in time, dimly

mirrored in my earthen vessel, transparence increasing,

an anointed living stone of heaven on earth's anointed

cornerstone, encumbered me lightly with his suspension.

Monday, July 23, 2007

On the temple

Rachel Barenblat and Iyov remind us that today is the anniversary of the destructions of the temple. Both the first and second temples are considered to have fallen on the same day. Many times I have sung the Lamentations - Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae; the Aleph, Beth, Gimel set to complex polyphony by Byrd or Tallis and probably several others, though it is the Tallis that is most famous. True that they transferred their grief to the destruction of the human sanctuary of Jesus body, but nonetheless, the memory is real and the solemnity shared.

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! How the city sits solitary, that was full of people.

Non est qui consoletur eam ex omnibus caris eius: omnes amici eius spreverunt eam et facti sunt ei inimici.

There is none to console her among all them that were dear to her; all her friends have despised her and have become her enemies.

Omnes persecutores eius apprehenderunt eam inter angustias. All her persecutors have taken her in the midst of her troubles.

Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum. Each of the Tallis sections ends with a powerful refrain that basses love with its low E. The refrain is from Hosea 14.1

Jerusalem is an icon of suffering. Can there ever be adequate consolation?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One is a Big Number

I read before Church the next chapter in Frymer-Kensky on Commandment. The first essay is Mitsvah by David Novak, the second Another Jewish View of Ethics, Christian and Jewish, by Elliot N. Dorff, and the third is Stanley Hauerwas, Christian Ethics in Jewish Terms: A Response to David Novak. It is getting to be a pattern, that whoever writes the middle essay gets ignored in the response.

Before I get started, I went to the Anglican Cathedral here in Ottawa today. The organ music was outstanding. Every little and large move was of the highest possible quality, beautiful extemporization on the Psalm accompaniment, marvellous work on the trumpets on the back wall, a full extemporization on Monkland (Let us with a gladsome mind) for the final procession and a brilliant segue into the postlude Fantaisie "Lauda Sion" by Jean-Jacques Grünenwald. When Matthew Larkin plays the instrument, even the LORD holds on to His hat. (I and my family have known Matthew since the late '80s.)

And I saw and heard this morning why the NT is a serious problem for Jews if they look at it from the point of view of Christendom. The readings (here) included Colossians 1, Psalm 52 which I just translated a week or so ago, Amos 8, and Luke 10:38 (Mary/Martha - part of Dr Loukas' special material.)

I was struck by the uniqueness in which my Lord is portrayed: the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

First place in all things. But this is not the confession of 300 years later. It is a confession prior to the destruction of the temple. God in Christ plays us from the foundation of the world with more variety of stops than we can imagine. This same Lord, my Lord, is servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8)

Christendom may be impossible for Judaism, and vice versa, but what do we say of Christ, the human Jesus, a child of the earth, paternity doubtful, born into the crucible of Israel? How is it that Incarnation and Trinity came out of this experience - and that statements like that Colossians passage arose within 30 years of his death? The answer is not obvious and Christianity has encompassed its own answer with 1900 years of words. Is there an alternate reading (the authors referred to the bivocal aspects of Scripture) concerning Jesus that Jews will be able to respond to without the negative baggage of the common era? It will still be a serious matter (dbr gdl) but less of a problem than Christianity poses - and may it bring Christianity back to the recognition of their place as worshippers of the God of Israel (not a political purpose). To be fair, both Christians and Jews are trying to do this (more later - the next chapter is entitled Israel. I have other books in my library at home that seem to get closer to this. I am thinking particularly of Dunn, James D. G., Christology In The Making.)

Now to Mitsvah and Torah. Trouble ... a good kind of trouble, one that requires considerable critical naivety. Come down from all those big words.

Somehow Mitsvah went to the Noachide laws and the subject of natural law and ethics and so on. I know people who love Torah - and so it should be. Torah is much more than Mitsvot - it is story, example, poetry, even politics. It is cult and short story, redemption and hope, the reality of the wilderness. Hard to get into, but once there, a source of food for good. And we agree that it is in the doing that there is understanding, but it is not in the doing that one wins points. It is in the doing that one lives, but the living is not far away that it is so difficult. It is neither legalism, the caricature of the Jewish position, nor antinomianism, the caricature of the Christian position.

It does take me back to some unanswered questions on whether we pick and choose about what is to be observed in love. Novak has a section heading: the Partial Torah and the Impossibility of a Jewish-Christian Polity.

Could we use this as the title of a children's story? Of course and here's the story: I'm in charge. You're not. There's polity for you. (Who was it said - it shall not be so among you!)

Do those who believe in Jesus observe only a partial Torah? This is, as I said, trouble - but I hope not too much. The one who died for me is noted as my Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). In him, all the Gentiles are said to have been circumcised (Colossians 2:11 for the Christians who don't believe me). The full scope of the cult pointed to him (Hebrews & the Gospel of John which sums up the keeping of every feast in him - see Mary Coloe God Dwells with Us). Matthew 5:18 - supposedly an anti-Pauline statement (not so) not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

But what if by faith, the law is established (Romans 3:31)? Because in the death of Jesus, the work that he came to do (John 5) all has been accomplished (John 19). So we in Christ are observing and loving Torah after all. This aspect of the work of Jesus is too little explored. Am I just off my rocker? Or do the Christians not get this either? Maybe we should read more Amos (like chapter 8) and more of Nahum and take it to heart - for if we do not heed this word of salvation, what can we expect?

Hauerwas ends with these words addressing Jew and Christian alike:

We share God's election. Supported by that fact we should pray that God will make us capable of sustaining the slow and hard work of friendship through which we might discover that we are in fact commanded by the same God. For I believe that through the law, God intends nothing less than to make us His friends and, therefore, friends with one another.

As I reread this and reflect on the morning service, I realize that he has not gone far enough but perhaps law, ethics, natural law, Noachide separation of nation and nation are a starting point. So One needs to be a big number.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Story Outline

I wonder if any of you have surmised the outline of the story being narrated by Secundus. We are just a few pericopes in. Tim critiqued with accuracy of the ear my naming of the gospel. I have found in my unlinked archives my first attempt to get Secundus to name these books:

I have been given four differing copies of - what shall I call these books - the reminiscences of the apostles of Jesus. And I have more than one copy of some parts, sometimes with variations such that I cannot tell what the first writer might have written. It is a stretch to find a name for these writings which point clearly to the pre-eminence of Jesus ...

For some reason I purged much of my early writing - many layers of compost.

Secundus was not deaf in this early version! I think depriving him of the obedience sense will cause us to hear better. His image-ination of conversation is of course, imaginative!

So where are we: we began with Praefatio, where there is one pericope, the prologue. The gospel portion is here: Prologus. We have just begun the Exordium which begins with the gospel portion: Annuntiatio nativitatis Ioannis.

We jumped ahead (or behind) if you like with Matthew and Luke's Genealogia. This is part of the Exordium.

I intend that the story will follow the order of the Synopsis of the Four Gospels, Greek-English Edition of the Synopsis Quattuor Evangelium, Edited by Kurt Aland (6th edition). It is like imagining being in the mind of a 2nd century person who wanted to write a harmony of the Gospels. I have enough smattering of modern music to know how to sing in semitones - so harmony is not my intention, but a cluster of ideas and a stimulus to thought - or so I hope.

It is possible that some flashbacks, excursus, and flash forwards may provide interest - and not force me to deal necessarily in sequence always. So we have had one already on Jerusalem - and one on Gospel. Jerusalem was written several years ago at 4 am in the morning, one of those given hours where getting up early is OK. (To see all the bits of the story bottom up, click on the 'story' tag on the left panel. To see the whole outline and all the gospel portions one at a time in glorious colour, go here.)

Secundus was born in 62. So he is about 55 years old in 117, the last year of Trajan. Prima was 3 years his senior, and as we read, she died in 113 at age 54. I try to keep myself straight from this timeline. Bits and pieces of his first book are also linked there in chronological sequence. I will reference them if they seem relevant - and I may not, for there are lots of other books to read.

Warning - easy to get lost for a while in the old pages. Others have done this, but I haven't seen a story emerge from their critiques yet.


Chapter 5 of Frymer-Kensky is on Scripture. Again three essays: Michael A. Signer, Searching the Scriptures: Jesus, Christians, and the Book; Hindy Najman, The Writings and Reception of Philo of Alexandria; and George Lindbeck, Postmodern Hermeneutics and Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Case Study.

Again the middle essay is not addressed in the response. Philo as proto-Christian and rediscovered Jew is the thesis. She describes Philo as inaugurating a weaving of the universality of the Greek philosophers and the particularity of the choice of Israel. One quotation:

[in] Stromateis, Clement cited Philo's allegorical interpretation of Abraham's relationship with his wife's Egyptian maid as proof that Scripture supported his idea: lady wisdom (Sarah) permitted faith (Abraham) to have a fruitful encounter with secular philosophy (Hagar), because such an encounter was preparation for a productive relationship with wisdom herself.

If you can sort out the pronouns here, the idea does open an allegorical interpretation that rivals Galatians and even supports it.

In the first and last essays, four modes of interpretation are noted: the literal, the moral, the allegorical, and the mystical. Signer says that the first two can be shared by Christian and Jew, but the second two cannot. Lindbeck summarizes his position as follows:

Signer's account of the two traditions is as acceptable to Christians as I assume it is to Jews...[snip] First, in reference to the letter of the text, Jews and Christians can agree on "the historical meaning of the biblical passage in its biblical context." Second, in regard to the spirit of the text, their accord can extend to "the moral [or tropological] sense that presents models of ethical behavior." Regarding the two other spiritual senses however - the allegorical (now more often called the typological) and the mystical (cf. devotional) - Signer concludes the Jews and Christians will not arrive at agreement; indeed in the case of the mystical (or devotional) sense in particular, the "intimate symbolism of each tradition excludes the possibility of the other ... and thus precludes agreement."

Whew! There is mouthful of possiblities here: two opinions, 4 hermeneutics - including heavy duty synonyms like tropological, typological, and devotional. Let's take these 7 divisions and ask a question about each to each tradition. You could I am sure come up with more questions also. I doubt that I agree with many Christians on all of these areas of interpretation.


literal - can we read literally? The last two hundred years has shown serious problems with determining what is meant by a plain or literal sense.

moral: are all commandments equal?

(tropological) See here for a definition given as relating to the soul: what is this thingy called soul? I almost never translate nephesh as soul but as my life. And yes - those moral problems are life related - but are they absolutes known in advance as if we could know them without God?

allegorical: are some things, all things allegorical (analogical, metaphorical)?

(typological): are we in Egypt, in the desert, or in the promised land?

mystical: when does the mystical meet the real?

(devotional): could we not agree that worship is the only reality?


literal: why do those who call themselves Christian immediately think they have a monopoly on literal interpretation?

moral: why do those who know law and grace explicitly insist on other people keeping their favorite bits of the law?

(tropological): how indeed will the Christian, babe in the woods, find more than sap to feed on?

allegorical: when will Christian come to appreciate the grand metaphor of the Pilgrim's Progress?

(typological): when will Christian allow that not all types are equal or appropriate?

mystical: when does the real meet the mystical?

(devotional): could we not agree that we should follow the invitation of the Father who seeks us to worship in Spirit and in Truth?

I think you can see that I disagree with this division into 4 over what we could agree and disagree on. In particular, we must and we do agree on many aspects of worship.

There is even in depth agreement on Blood [Hoffman, Covenant of Blood, Leviticus 16], on Torah [Sermon on the Mount, Deuteronomy 6], on Danger [Acts 15, Psalm 135], and on Love [Summary of the Law]. I am just pulling these hats from this rabbit. More anon...

Meaning and Structure

I don't want to enter this debate but I already am in it.

My first post references a (long pdf) from the Diocesan Post (April 2007) which is awkward to reach. You may have to go here first. Or read the rambling original.

I have been in it for years out of fear and love - and not without the error of holding others in my thought as condemned, or the sin of angry response. In this I have known God's wrath and rebuke. Why else would the Psalmist pray psalm 6? (When the poet asks for his enemies to turn and be ashamed suddenly - is he asking for their salvation and does he know the cost? To know God's rebuke is to know that inscrutable covenant love and loyalty that is ours.)

Two points only: the rhetorical structure of Romans should prevent a reader from reading chapter 1 as moral condemnation of homosexuality. In other words, if you read Romans 1 as a moral statement, you are reading it wrong. It is a moral trap for those who judge others.

Is it possible to be wrong?

Second - this paragraph:

If indeed I have known God, whom to know is eternal life; if indeed I am in him who was crucified for me and he in me who lives for him, then I will know that my limited judgment of my own body is not the basis on which I could have judged myself let alone the consecration of brothers and sisters who do not conform to my purity scruples. If God has shown me the fire by which he accepts even a water-logged offering, I will know that no one who thinks differently from me about sexuality in Christ will have taken this stand out of lasciviousness.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Like Uncle Mark, I want to skip the introduction and get right to the point. But I would be unfair to Dr. Luke and Matthew Levi if I did. They spend particular paragraphs painting pictures of pageantry in the days of Herod.

– Look, brother. Peer between the legs of the crowd.
– The priest is serving the altar of incense. He is right next to the menorah. No one is allowed to make that incense you know. It is a special formula. Like you, my dear brother, my brother who can only see. So it is with the oil for the lamps. I point for you. Come in front of me while I point your head to see. Ears, hold my hands. Be warm.
– Tertius, where have those children gone?
– To see where Zechariah stood.
– Woe, woe to the city.
– No vision for us today, my dear. No angel, just the blessed Ananus with his message, so nearly the same as your gospel.
– There they are, my love. Squeezed against the pillar, watching the incense rising.

Luke alone writes of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Notice that vision coupled with doubt of God's ability around the creation of a child by normal means results in a certain inability to speak. Have you considered what God can do with your body? Moses himself by his own account was in full health till age 120. Why would Zechariah doubt the vision? Maybe Zechariah was not able and after the vision, he was made able. Have you considered this? The text says that Elizabeth was barren, but so is any woman who has not the homunculus of a man in her. I remember that Eutychus surmised that the woman was more important than the homunculus implies, but I let this stand for your understanding.

No wine, says the angel. Oh disaster, wine in the belly of the woman with child. We have known this from the time of Manoah. Tertius and Ruth had a son prior to me who was stillborn. I learned of this so much later. They doubted their faith because of my disability. No need. I am known well and I can know, whether my ears vibrate or not. My father’s heart was tuned to me and I to him in spite of my lack of hearing. It is neither hearing nor seeing that is of real value, but the knowledge that comes through faith.

Zechariah did not believe. Elizabeth did and hid herself.

The body feels. Let the word live in you richly as a seed, just as John was planted in Elizabeth, taking away her reproach. Be as she, a willing receiver of the vision; a nurturing ground of the seed that is the word. You reproach me for the planting image. Why? As the egg is from the hen for the cock to bring about chickens, I am sure that Elizabeth's spirit plays a greater part than Zechariah's reluctant seed. And your uniqueness is as much as an egg's, is it not? No wonder he is dumb. Why isn't a man more like a woman!

Romans and Matthew

The claim - quoted on syneidon (q.v) - that there is an anti-Pauline perspective in Matthew's writing - is preposterous!

Secundus will answer him as soon as he gets to the beauty of the sermon - and will show how to read it anon.

I regret I have been too busy to write more of the story - click on the label story for the series. It will be if I finish, about 365 parts. One for every day + maybe a few more. There is a plan.

Romans at BBB

David Lang posted answering a question with a question at Better Bibles Blog. The questions from 8:31-34 begin the 8th of an 11 part structure beginning in chapter 3 and ending in chapter 11 and each section beginning with variations on 'what then'. I once mapped Romans' sequence of 55 questions in 10 sections; as if they could be framed by the phrase 'by no means!' or 'God forbid' as the KJV has it. These exclamations are also confined to chapters 3-11. But they are not as balanced a set of dividers as the phrase 'what then' in the sequence of the argument which focuses several major questions - perhaps revealing the agony in Paul over divisions between Jew and Gentile. I have mapped these with thick red borders and white background so they stand out in this thumbnail image. You can see that they map successfully to the larger chunks of the argument that I outlined some time ago here and briefly imaged here.

8:31-35 are part of the question I numbered 16: If God is for us, who is against us? the next 6 questions, 16a-f, are all variations on this one. One question in 7 parts with an answer of course in that great proclamation of security that follows. The inclusivity that Paul demonstrates in this letter - in the study of pronouns alone - is very beautiful. For a quick summary of the other 'pronoun' sections, see here. If you just scan the boldface - it is really quite remarkable how he peppers every section with single grammatical forms! They show up well even in translation: They/them, you, all, sin, we, I spirit, etc - as in this little section under study of first person plurals which begins in 8:2.

31: What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us?[16]
32: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?[16a]
33: Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?[16b]
It is God who justifies; 34: who is to condemn?[16c]
Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead,
who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?[16d]
35: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?[16e]
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?[16f]
36: As it is written,
"For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38: For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39: nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But even though we have an answer, his argument does not stop here. The unity implied with Paul's own siblings of the flesh is then dealt with - it is the most critical aspect for him of his argument. Nanos (Mystery of Romans) maintains that Paul's purpose was to promote and maintain unity among all God's beloved in Rome - Christ believer or not.

Here is another summary. And here are the 11 questions of the what then sequence:
- Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
- What then? Do we excel? [a one word sentence but one of the major questions - related ultimately to the last questions on the justice of God towards Israel.]
- Then what becomes of our claim to honour?
- What then shall we say? Have we found Abraham our forefather according to the flesh?
- What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
- What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?
- What then shall we say? That the law is sin?
- What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us?
- What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part?
- What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why?
- I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! and seven verses later the 'What Then'

The sequence is - the special advantage of the Jew (3 steps),
Abraham and the mark in the flesh,
sin & grace,
grace & law,
law & sin,
injustice in God,
paradox of acceptance (2 steps).

What was his hope?

Monday, July 16, 2007

God and other preliminaries

If I don't start writing, I will never do it. This is not a book review - but a stretch of pondering.

I have now reread the first four chapters, pages 1-84 of Frymer-Kensky. Chapter 4 title is a set of three essays: The God of Jews and Christians, by Peter Ochs, then A Jewish View of the Christian God, Some Cautionary and Hopeful Remarks, by David Ellenson, then by David Tracy, God as Trinitarian, a Christian response to Peter Ochs. (The links to these theologians are from a Google search - I do not know any of these writers personally or as correspondents).

To start with the Christian Response. I have come to know the worship of the God of Israel through the life, death, and impact of the Jew, Jesus Christ, on me personally. When I am pressed for a name, or as I did on Friday when meeting the cantor, to ensure that I was not deceptive in seeming to withhold identity, I call myself a Christian. Why then do I have such trouble with adjectives? One could hardly expect a Roman Catholic theologian to not give a 'Christian' response in the context of this book. But what I found on second reading is that I am more uncomfortable with that essay than with the essays by Jewish theologians that seem to me to paint a better understanding of my faith than the Christian theologian. I read it again, and now I see three things that disturbed me:

1. the origin and history of radical monotheism.
2. the replacement of old and new with first and _ (unspecified)
3. the discourse on economic and immanent trinitarianism

I think I did not understand some of these on second reading. Now I get them better. I think also that I am reading in the text a tone of both theological power and liturgical establishment that makes me uncomfortable.

3. I must try this sometime and see if the one I call Abba will teach me the difference between economy and immanence!
2. We have discussed this before. Old wine is good!
1. I am grateful for his quick review of the history of monotheism. But I find that once one has grasped this enlightenment view of the evolution of God (a concept I was fed as a child), it is singularly unsatisfying. You want to define God for me - who cares! God is not a definition. What can I say?

Example: "Christianity provides realistic knowledge of God in three principal ways: through its Gospel narratives, its doctrines, and its liturgy. These three principal institutions of Christian realism require that Christians maintain a Trinitarian understanding of God: whether that is disclosed in everyday terms of through the development of more conceptual namings of the Trinitarian God."

Good grief! Is one supposed to worship because of this? What am I to make of the adjectives: realistic, Christian, and conceptual? Sorry - but though this book is a very good read, this particular essay doesn't score high for poetics. (Though if you look carefully, there is some repetition for effect - in case you didn't get it first time, and some chiasm too!)

Let God be named as Abba, as Beloved, and the host of adorations that escape the throat in love. John 14-16 provides adequate unity of my names whether they are traditionally devotional or slightly impish [Ratgeb, The Last Supper, BD asleep 1519]. And finally, though one must use and support the institution, can one fathom without special pleading its governance or the nature of its orders? As we have seen from the Papal thingy, 'Christians' don't even seem to accept each other! Recent discussions around training of pastors and clergy need to consider how the laity can be given informed and articulate tongues of fire. I know it is dangerous.

To move back to the first two essays in the chapter, it is good to read what Jewish tradition has said about Christian doctrine concerning the Trinity (I will put a big letter on it this time) and Incarnation. To be blunt, I love reading reports of the Talmud - they never cease to draw me in. A sample from Rabbi Isaac, a medieval authority:

"Although they [Christians] mention the name of Heaven, meaning thereby Jesus of Nazareth, they do not at all events mention a strange deity, and moreover, they mean thereby the Maker of Heaven and Earth too; and despite the fact that they associate the name of Heaven with an alien deity, we do not find that it is forbidden to cause Gentiles to make such an association, ... since such an association (shituf) is not forbidden to the sons of Noah."

Rabbi Isaac has opened up a detente, and if we began to agree that the Psalms underlie a common experience for him, for Jesus as Jew, and for me, we might find much more common ground than expected. If we could consider the relations implied in Romans 15:14 (I am not giving up my New Testament!) about the offering of the Gentiles being acceptable, would we find resistance at the equality of inclusion sought by Gentiles in the worship of the God of Israel? And while we might disagree for a while that such a One was earthbound like us for a time, would we find that each of us was in receipt of a certain covenant loyalty? Who would refuse a further opening of such possibilities?

Ellenson restates the principle of the editors of the book: "Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews." I have to ask: Is shared worship impossible then? I know it is not - so there must be something faulty about adjectives again. I, by the way, as an Anglican, cannot worship in full with Roman Catholics. If anything, this points to an error of Christianity. God forbid that the Jews should become Roman Catholics! But I must agree with many of the principles the editors have enforced in the book because the principles deal in adjectives and dogma. It is important to state them lest either side consider the other without the possibility of wholeness.

The nice thing about the essay by Peter Ochs is that I found myself saying - yes, he's more or less got that right. I recognize what he is saying about what people would call my religion. (Funny I did not recognize that with the Christian author.) Ochs' essay deserves much more detail - so backing off the God chapter, I will later return to its lead essay - and perhaps will write my own response.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Critical honesty

There has been a light dialogue between Iyov and John over 'critical honesty'. One of my employees used to say to me - "To be honest, ..." but I am not in the way of doubting his honesty - so why put this preliminary in the conversation. (He, the writer of the diagram software, doesn't do it with me any more - out of shared joy more than fear I hope!)

Well, I just happened to be doing the Doeg Psalm 52 (yes it's that other bloke who does psalms, I know) - and here is what dear David says about the sneaky sensationalist or politically careless Doeg - someone please explain that story to me other than as a preliminary to all the diatribe about tongues in the Bible.

ז גַּם אֵל יִתָּצְךָ לָנֶצַח But God will overcome you with permenance [qal imperfect]
יַחְתְּךָ וְיִסָּחֲךָ מֵאֹהֶל he will take hold of you and pluck you from your tent [qal imperfect ignoring the vav as reversing if indeed it is]
וְשֵׁרֶשְׁךָ מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים and will have rooted you out of the land of the living [piel imperfect read as future perfect - accomplished - balancing the adverb]
סֶלָה so there!

There are some strangely placed Selah's in this psalm. This being one little tri-colon - maybe some-one will show me a real understanding of the significance of the piel imperfect of the last colon. I have interpreted its aspect as from before the foundation of the world. The simplification of aspect into tense as if time were linear, is a loss to our understanding.

We need to be honest - qualifications to some things are in my opinion dodgy. But poor old Doeg - he probably was caught between being honest to one or the other. Maybe it was that he needed to absorb the cost instead of shoving it off onto someone else. The carelessness of his words were carried to us over a tri-millennium by a full tradition. (How can we be careful for nothing! - piano, piano) I could go read the story but right now I will leave my guess to stand and be opened (let it be from before the foundation of the world) to correction.

A prayer - following from 'softness'; encircle me, my Love, but not for my protection without the salvation of others, whether I am attacked, or am unable to express what you have called me to say and so offend. So when the costs are known, and the differences delighted, we will all worship One as One. For so you have said to me - do not correct, just worship.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


The Tikva Frymer-Kensky essays on Judaism and Christianity are generating lots of notes in my head and on paper. None yet shareable. But one question has arisen for me which I will drop here to see if there is any response.

What is the significance of Galatians 2:15-16 'we who are Jews by nature ... even we have believed in Jesus Christ' ?

And there is somewhere else too that makes a similar distinction - yes there it is: Romans 3:30:

If indeed, God; who will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith, is one, he will also justify the uncircumcised through that same faith.

Prior to the Galatians incidental statement of Paul's and Peter's belief as Jews, Paul describes a successful Petrine ministry to the circumcision.

Double Torah portion today - the last several chapters of Numbers with Haftorah from Jeremiah.

The Daresh was on an excellent question: why did Moses get angry when Reuben, Gad, and Menasseh asked for an inheritance 'not over Jordan'?

My teacher of Hebrew whom I had lost touch with was also there. It was a warm and joyful reunion, gladdening my heart after the rather impenetrable variety of cantilations - I have never heard F major with that wonderful Db sung in so many octaves at once! The primary chazzan is a super tenor - like me :) but I could not possibly sing the English that fast. Faster than a private mass.

I wrote yesterday about steps across hurdles. Today I wonder if the image is the wrong one. Ephesians speaks about the barriers being broken down - making one where there were two. (But never one as if measured by uniformity of proposition or religious practice!)

Tomorrow I intend to attend a local Anglican Church where a table is prepared for me. The only enemy at that table is my Love who has sealed me with himself. There, also reconciled, I will eat.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The one needful thing

At last a reflection of that elusive word rendered thing or word (dbr). This was, fleetingly, Bob's second thought (and could have been his first and only) that we must remember: to sit at the Master's feet, Mary's part that will not be taken away from her. He thinks (and I agree since we are one) that this knowledge of God in the presence of Christ is the same as the Psalmists' covenant knowledge. Mary is whole even in the presence of sibling rivalry! Of course her 'enemy' has a good point - so let us know that presence of wholeness while also not neglecting the necessary tasks of our lives. (It gives me pleasure as a man to identify with both Mary and Martha. - But they have names so let me tell you, I would wash his feet with my tears and dry them with my hair also, if it were long enough - OK I will use my beard.)

How can the experience be the same? The 'religious' framework is so different. This I hope to address as I read Christianity in Jewish Terms. The introduction sets out completely and graphically (both the positive and the negative) the state of Christian-Jewish interaction from one destruction (70) to another (1940s). The heart hurdles to overcome such high barriers. I hope to set out steps in a pattern that those on all sides of the barriers might be able to see.

The patterns are already implicit. Some bindings must be let go. Can you hear Bach? Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht! - Loose him, let him go. - reminds me of Lazarus also - an ironic twist. But what does Paul say - nothing less than life from the dead. (Romans 11:15 to be read without assumption!) Please note this is not a reference to 'conversion' except that such a word means the same turning and returning that is noted as required for all to the Living God (see Psalm 91 and sing the Shaker song). I note that Paul has a nice metaphor on bread too - holy lump!

Frymer-Kensky and co. note that the greatest temptation for a Jew is Christianity and the greatest for a Christian is Judaism. If the same life is known, then the temptations and the tasks to be done will be different from those contained in our traditional assumptions about religious framework and history.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rise, Peter, kill, and eat

I have been quiet - thinking on all the blogging and also having visitors and working hard. For over a year I have been thinking of this instruction to Peter Rise, Peter, kill, and eat- O how nice it is to have a law to break - and to be invited to break it. I am going to write on it - but still thinking and rereading Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, Michael A. Signer, Christianity in Jewish Terms. I started with Hoffman and Blumenthal's essays - favorite authors - but the whole set seems quite good on reread - so I hope to write some notes on that too - its all related.

I have been mulling over the blog world - those self-referential posts that Tim began. I think Blogging requires both trust and bravery - many levels of trust on the part of both reader and writer. Some recent items I have read are more traditional in their assumptions than I like. I don't know that I am able to critique the assumptions at this time. One thing I would highlight for me - all writing is a learning process. I often don't know what I think till I see what I said.

Perhaps like Secundus I have a hearing problem... more story later - I will share the intent and outline and I will be very sparing with the things I have already written. The story is intended to be new material.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


These are my generations. Secundus is the son of Tertius in Jerusalem. Tertius was the son of Pistis of Corinth; Pistis was the son of Callistos. Callistos was the son of Alexander in Cyrene. I reach back to Ammon-Zeus. As Matthew also points out, none of these could be born without the woman’s labour, even if the man takes advantage.

These are the generations of my sister, Prima, the daughter of Ruth who married Tertius in Jerusalem. Ruth was the daughter of Anna of Cyprus, wife of Mnason; Anna was the daughter of Elisabeth in Jerusalem. Elisabeth was the daughter of Maria of the house of Mattan in Bethlehem. Her generations reach back to Miriam, sister of Moses. None of these could carry without the man’s homunculus.

Friday, July 6, 2007


As a programmer, I know that not all technology is nice or bug free. Sorry to have inflicted on you the snappy clicks of that preview thing. I have removed it since they started to advertise links not to my liking.

I never liked the noise - the computer room should be a place of inner quiet - right? :)

Grammar, structure, and form

I guess it should come as no surprise that our comprehension is improved if we perceive the grammatical, syntactic and various parallel structures of text. My marketing staff came across this research into online reading. In the absense of effective oral performance, or as an adjunct to it, the visual perception of structure can help our entry into ancient texts even though they were designed for hearing rather than seeing.

Here's some more about process in my Psalms project.

The application lives on a couple of servers. The properties of the diagram are in an Oracle database and are fully rendered on the web. To my knowledge this combination of diagram + web + database is unique in the world today. The tool supports the thought process as the user determines the presentation of material. Users can work with complexity that goes to the level of fully integrated systems – supporting projects that may occupy multiple authors and users over many years.

My first tests of mapping structure were with the Epistle to the Hebrews . I did this based on the work of Albert Vanhoye (La structure littéraire de l'épitre aux Hébreux). You can ‘see’ the concentric structures and the ‘logic’ of the epistle. Click on the 1:1-4 link on that diagram, there are three items of note:

1. the beautiful structure of the first 4 verses
2. the sentence in 2:1-3 - an eccentric set of circles highlighting the word 'salvation'
3. the shaded quotations from the Psalter.

The conversation recorded in the epistle between the Father and the Son is taken from the Psalms. So I decided to translate the Psalms. I had, after all, a reading of this poetry from the first century and the reading I grew up with from the 16th century, how could I discover the earlier reading without entering the world of translation? As a result, I have created 154 diagrams + a few more that are essentially a production environment for testing the product.

The translation of the Psalms is a long term project like a performance measurement project. It uses queries, charts, indicators and alerts just like a performance project would - only my queries and charts are to data that is ‘in the diagram’ rather than in a document or spreadsheet somewhere. (For example, the data displayed in indicators, alerts, and queries on the table of contents.) I can even get a node to alert me when a word is used twice in the same Psalm - showing me possible keywords in the Psalmist's intention for the poem.

One thing I lack at the moment is automation of Hebrew parsing - but I am experimenting with ways of doing it. The combination of Hebrew + English could help with recognition of the various aspects of the Hebrew affixes. I would love to hear from others who are approaching this problem in similar or other ways.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Covenant Dialogue

Iyov has a terrific post citing William James on living religion defined solely through the reality of prayer. "The genuineness of religion is thus indissolubly bound up with the question whether the prayerful consciousness be or be not deceitful."

In my work on the Psalms, I rediscover the reality that these poets so clearly exhibit and that I have known in part, and recently labelled as 'engagement' or 'covenant dialogue'. I would not know or attempt to write about such reality if I had not been entered into it and had not accepted the implied and demonstrated invitation.

It was for me the Epistle to the Hebrews which encourages approach and entry into the Holy of Holies that I have attempted to catch in that word 'engagement'. Hebrews so clearly points to the Psalter as a further entry into the mind of the Maker - not for abstract knowledge but for the experience of the good. And I would not have known good but for my own error for which even after engagement I have suffered with joy the rebuke of steadfast covenant love. It is for this reason that I rendered Psalm 23 as I did in my earlier days of learning Hebrew. BDB suggests the rare translation of loving kindness as rebuke. Think about what it means to have a table before you arrayed with everything that distresses you. Or if you prefer the traditional translation, just what is on the table 'in the presence of your enemies'? (See also this recent blog entry on HSD as kindness).

It is the full scope of relationship that I see in the phrase 'covenant dialogue'. It is not five times a day but continuous and in all situations. When you are doing 'theology', or talking 'about God', is it like speaking of a friend in the room but not addressing her? The Scriptures do not seem to work as if with intellectual truths. Out of deference to the otherwise engaged - for we never see inside another, we do not, though we may at times, address God as if present. We grow, as it were, 'accustomed to his face' - even as we may take for granted our own flesh and blood. And our 'at times' becomes what we call religion. But this is not the only aspect of religion's reality.

The Apostle's confidence that commands 'prayer without ceasing' is not foreign to the Psalms which reflect the reality of lives so engaged - in good times or bad, as friend of God or enemy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


You will pardon me, Beloved, if I pull a section from our earlier book. Other authors do this and even some composers. I think it will help you to understand where I have been. At a later time, I will tell you more of where we are going in this - such a long journey.
The time in Jerusalem was not as easy as it should have been for a young couple filled with love and its responsibilities. Our dear father was, after all, a provincial, and our mother felt confined at her father’s house with us two small children in an all but winterless climate. After Paul was arrested, and sent to Rome, Tertius was consumed by the work the Spirit had called him to, preoccupied with the formation of the written word, immersed in its Torah-like structure. They were good to each other, but the time came when the sectarian violence moved Ruth to ask her husband to take the manuscript somewhere else, as if moving the book would move us all to a safer place.

There was more than one book, more than one source of information. Levi, John Mark, his uncle Barnabas were all part of the mix of copying, creation, and recitation. Their collaboration contrasted with the ferocity of division round about.

For a thousand years from the time of David, Jerusalem had been the centre of the world for Judah, the place where God had set his name, the city of the great King. After the fall of the Northern Kingdom, even Korah had to be content with the southern location. There was rivalry, a Samaritan temple near Mount Gerizim, and there had been another Jewish temple in Egypt at Leontopolis. But these served only to emphasize the uniqueness of Jerusalem.

When the Babylonians destroyed the first temple, the resulting Diaspora marked the centre of that world again. When the temple was rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah, and extended by Herod, its empty Holy of Holies defined an attitude towards God that is without parallel in the world. So their writers expressed it. Philo: But he (Moses) provided that there should not be temples built either in many places or many in the same place, for he judged that since God is one, there should be also only one temple. And the Galilean general, Josephus: Let there be one holy city, a city that God shall choose for Himself by prophetic oracle. And let there be one temple therein, and one altar of stones. In no other city let there be either altar or temple; for God is one and the Hebrew race is one.

But that unity is broken. Jerusalem is not at peace. Her friends have all betrayed her and become her enemies.

News came from Rome that Paul and Cephas had been executed. The news, already years old, for few in Jerusalem wanted to remember Paul, helped convince Tertius that North Africa, not visited by his family in over one hundred years, would be more hospitable to young children than Corinth. Jerusalem was no longer the centre.

– When we have another copy, my dear, The final copies are nearly completed. Barnabas is to take one to Cyprus. Levi will go to Antioch. And John Mark and I shall have two, one for Alexandria and one for Cyrenaica where we will go. Rufus and Phoebe will be there so we will not be strangers to everyone in our own land.

According to our mother, the work never seemed to end. Alexander was a comfort to her. He had been in Rome when Phoebe arrived with the letter from Corinth a decade earlier. Then he too, wondering what new thing might happen in Jerusalem where his father had come to Passover that year a lifetime ago, had returned to the heat of this fractious place. Rufus stayed away. He knew Jerusalem was not where the future work lay.

And there was no future work there for Alexander, but rest eternal. They buried him beside Mnason’s grave before they left. They marked his grave in Hebrew, Alexander of Cyrene, for his friends in Judea, and in Greek, Alexander, Son of Simon, for the memory of his father. He had died in a clash over the Gospel the night the comets appeared in the constellation Ox-Herd.

– Go, now, before the winter comes.
– But there is no winter here, at least not to speak of.
– Pray that your flight will not be in the winter.
– The stars do not sing for joy as they did at Creation. Come, husband, we must away. Hear what the stars are saying.
– Go, before the violent stones of the temple are wrenched from their walls and scattered from their places.
– Not one stone will be left upon another.

Once there were sacrifices here. Once this was the place where the Name dwelt. No longer.

That week, the daily sacrifice ceased for the emperor. For five hundred cycles of the seasons, since the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra the scribe, the people had made sacrifice for the reigning king. Now no longer. The inner life of the temple was already gone. The shell was soon to be destroyed.

– Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those that are sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused! So be it. Your house will be left to you desolate.
– You can’t write that ...
– Tertius has written in Greek what the Master spoke. We cannot erase it. But the reality is coming upon us. Even my non-prophetic soul has no trouble seeing our conflict. We have broken the peace of Jerusalem.
– John Mark, the winter will pass, the fig tree will put forth its shoots, and the time of the singing of birds will come. Let love prevail. It is as strong as the death that is coming.

Living stones heard the falling stars and left. Four fires in three directions, they did not wait for additional instructions. One fled to the East to Antioch, one North to Cyprus, and two to the West, John Mark staying in Egypt, Tertius to his ancestral homeland. The Law had gone forth from Jerusalem, a new Law for all the nations carried by new scribes. A new temple, made of flesh, was already established as the dwelling place for the Name.

Before long, Herod’s gold plate, the donations of widows and orphans, among the spoils of the victor, would finance the building of theatres and even the great coliseum, another place for the sacrifice of animals and exploitation of the people. Within a few years, the Cherubim would find themselves in Antioch, overlooking a new seat of mercy, though only a remnant understood. Sooner than that, the seven-branched lamp would be carried by pagans in triumph to Rome, gloated over by the emperor to whom sacrifice was due but no longer made.

Also from this mix of booty, Roman patricians peruse the written scrolls of Torah, pondering that the law has been given by the conquered to the victors, a blessing but not yet perceived.

In the meanwhile, the true light, burning the oil of the Spirit, overflowing in the oil of gladness, was gathering its hosts. In due course, these are destined to conquer even the foreign king. Part of this gathering was in Cyrenaica, a peaceful place compared with Jerusalem, though Sicarii were known even there. For seven years, our family and the family of Phoebe and Rufus grew and taught in Libya and surrounding areas.

A letter from Barnabas brought us to Cyprus where grandmother still taught the ancient tales of the Law and the Prophets. We found the apostle in his last days secure in his hope. From his hands, Tertius received his own writing again and made another copy of Levi’s text to take with him. He then returned the original manuscript to Barnabas. The pull of Corinth exerted itself and we came here taking up residence at the estate of Gaius, sixteen years after our father had left with Paul to bring the collection for Jerusalem.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Story Excursus - the Gospel

Just what, then, would be good tidings? Take for example the Roman triumph after the conquest of a new part of the empire or the putting down of a rebellion. Is this good news? Titus thought so. But it is not the gospel for all. Those who conquer by force define good only from their own point of view. Such satisfaction is short lived. It was 47 years ago when the subjugation of rebellion in Judea was given as good news in Rome, good tidings from the emperor, God’s son. What God? What is the character of the sons who take power by power and relinquish nothing.

– You have added Filius Dei in the margin of my folio for Mark! Don’t write in my books.
– Why not? Let it be misleading. His love is better than Caesar’s.
– How do you pick up these ideas? I never taught you about Caesar as Son of God. Oh little brother, you are better than wine even if you do write in my copy. I feel this child hand of yours on my heart. Your heart living also, your mouth can form the word that your pen says so quickly.


The menorah was light in the temple in front of the altar of the invisible. Titus brought the seven branched golden candlestick to Rome to celebrate his triumph. Perhaps our bodies, weak though they are, can bear the light better than the image on that barren arch of Titus. Could a triumph be good news for all sides of a battle?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Life without God

In yesterday's Globe and Mail, in the book section, is a little thought by Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University. Citing Russell (Why I am not a Christian) and Hume (Dialogues concerning Natural Religion) and Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature), he argues that our scepticism justified, we can move forward without religion.

I have not read Hume or Wilson, but I found my old copy of Russell who I loved when I first read him, and I love still as I reread some of it, for Russell was right in many things about sexual repression and lies, particularly the immorality of telling people things you know are not true about your own desire or history. In this sense, the Church is often the place of the lie. This is as true today as it was when Russell wrote. It is very clear in Romans 2:1: Therefore you [singular] have no excuse, O human, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. Bibliobloggers - take note.

Russell has two criticisms of Jesus and Paul that are unmediated for him except through the Church's teaching. If the Church has already been found to be prone to error, perhaps a better mediator is required for the traditional interpretations of the 'failure of Christ's second coming' (Mark 13 and others) and the 'better to marry than burn' in Paul (1 Corinthians 7). Russell is likewise condemning of the Church's claim that it has bettered the lot of slaves or of women. Again, the Church may claim more for herself than is righteous, but that's the point of John 5, isn't it: that the witness to your truth is the act that God gave you to do.

The issue - and perhaps Russell and other philosophers get there (but not by philosophy), is that power is abused. Where is it not abused? By anyone who refuses to use it by whatever power that one can invoke to effect the refusal. I know of one such person who demonstrated that power in himself and by that very means shares such power with as many as receive him. (This answers both
1. realization - the question to me from Mark Nanos: why is the Messianic age not evident?
2. failure - why did he not come with power and glory in that generation?
but it does not justify for a moment acts of political self-protection.)

I read Russell and marvel at his accuracy but eventually, he is not satisfying alone. Such satisfaction, the completion of the work, and the word of salvation, do not come from human reason, marvellous and necessary gift though it is. I intend to find a way to mediate some of these understandings, for there is a right understanding, but it does not and cannot come from within human reason alone. It is there in the non-rational: poetry, music, dance, story, and the singers and the profane (three cheers for the choir וְשָׁרִים כְּחֹלְלִים Psalm 87:7) and other unspeakable gifts. [Hebraists - what do you make of the profane in Psalm 87?]

The story's the thing in which we'll draw the salvation of the king.

כִּי רוֹצֶה יְהוָה בְּעַמּוֹ יְפָאֵר עֲנָוִים בִּישׁוּעָה For the LORD takes pleasure in his people, he will beautify the poor with salvation. (Psalm 149:4) .