All posts by tdaxp

The Book of Isaiah

Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you
Isaiah 36:14

In the Old Religion of the Habiru — of the Hebrews before the conquest of Israel — God is a cosmic Emperor, judging the lesser gods and sending his messengers throughout the world. The Psalmist puts it this way:

God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
Psalms 82:1

His officer corps are the things of nightmares — the fusion reactors of the stars

Combining observations done with ESO's Very Large Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have uncovered the most powerful pair of jets ever seen from a stellar black hole. The black hole blows a huge bubble of hot gas, 1000 light-years across or twice as large and tens of times more powerful than the other such microquasars. The stellar black hole belongs to a binary system as pictured in this artist’s impression.

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And his attendants, nightmares themselves, the biological seraphim


In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
Isaiah 6:-4

The mechanical cherubim are not hardly less frightening:


O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.
Isaiah 37:16

This God — this deep, unhuman divinity is created the world, as described in Genesis and Job. He is the King of Kings. He judges the nations. And He will send a Savior, who will redeem Creation through His stripes.


The Book of Isaiah pointedly compares Hezekiah, King of Judah, and Cyrus, Emperor of Persia.

At first glance the comparison is ridiculous. Hezekiah is the king who finally smashed the high places, as the Books of Kings and Chronicles called for again and again. And Cyrus is not even Jewish, and blasphemes by calling himself “King of Kings.”

But, perhaps they are both judged. Certainly the destruction of the High Places may not have appeared, at least, to be especially virtuous to those who heard of it

Look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar’?”’
Isaiah 26:6-7

Likewise, after foolishly showing his treasures to the Babylonian and thus guaranteeing the destruction of his kingdom, Hezekiah’s reaction is rather shocking…

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”

So Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good!” For he said, “At least there will be peace and truth in my days.”
Isaiah 39:5-8


While in time, Cyrus the “king of kings” is the instrument of the true King of Kings

Thus says the LORD to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held

To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings,
To open before him the double doors,
So that the gates will not be shut:

‘I will go before you
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the gates of bronze
And cut the bars of iron.
Isaiah 45:1-2

Not only are Jewish kings compared to non-Jewish ones, even the nations are compared on equal terms. True, while the LORD is not happy with far off Ethiopia…

Woe to the land shadowed with buzzing wings,
Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,

Which sends ambassadors by sea,
Even in vessels of reed on the waters, saying,
“Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth of skin,
To a people terrible from their beginning onward,
A nation powerful and treading down,
Whose land the rivers divide.”
Isaiah 18:1-2

… Nor is he with the City of David, where He dwells within His tabernacle!

But the word of the LORD was to them,
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little,”
That they might go and fall backward, and be broken
And snared and caught.

Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scornful men,
Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem…”
Isaiah 28:13-14

Indeed, even the non-human is cursed with the human.

The earth mourns and fades away,
The world languishes and fades away;
The haughty people of the earth languish.
Isaiah 24:-4

And even the animals await their salvation

The beast of the field will honor Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My people, My chosen.
This people I have formed for Myself;
They shall declare My praise.
Isaiah 43:20-21

Indeed, for while God loves his trees, the product of human hands on trees is somehow despised

In that day a man will look to his Maker,
And his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.
He will not look to the altars,
The work of his hands;
He will not respect what his fingers have made,
Nor the wooden images nor the incense altars.
Isaiah 17:7-8

Trees may be for benefit of men, but their lives are too precious to teh chopped down to make idols, or to besiege a city

When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20

What could God be thinking?

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

But what of poor Israel? What of the City of David, King of Israel? What of David’s own sons, the descendants of his father Jesse?


But Let’s step back. Remember the LORD walked the earth. He ate steak and drank milk with his friend Abraham. He won’t forget that.

“But you, Israel, are My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
The descendants of Abraham My friend.

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions,
And said to you,
‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
Isaiah 41:8-9


God will never forget this friendship to Abraham. It is more solid than the earth, more vast than the ocean

For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
Isaiah 54:10

It is important to see a pattern here.

In all of Scripture, Abraham is the first man to be sick of God’s sh—- His seemingly empty promises

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “LORD God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

But a son was promised to Abraham, and Isaac was delivered.  And now God once again promises a Son, One who will Himself deliver:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6-7

Abaraham’s son Isaac would be the father of Israel.  This newly promised Son will be the father of an everlasting kingdom:

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

But this kingdom without end, in some odd way, will be enacted not just through the Son’s life, but through his passion and death


Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment,
hAnd who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

And they made His grave with the wicked
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 54:4-12

The unhuman God will send a human Son to the world, to save Israel, to adopt the Gentiles, to create a new heaven and a new earth.


Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the LORD out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the LORD, “as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.

And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites,” says the LORD.
Isaiah 66:20-21

The incomprehensible God will send a Son. This Son will be born, establish an eternal kingdom, and die. His passion and death will save the world. The Son’s eternal kingdom will last forever, the LORD Himself will reign.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
Isaiah 65:17-19


The Apologetics of C.S. Lewis

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

How can the incomprehensible be understood?

Through analogy.

To understand C.S.Lewis’ writings on Christianity, take seriously the Christian idea that you may live forever.

These thoughts coming after reading Lewis’ four best known Christian books. A Grief Observed is a selection of Lewis’s private journals on the death of his wife. The Screwtape Letters is a comedy about demons and their surprisingly bureaucratic method of corrupting human souls. The Great Divorce is a journey to the afterlife. Mere Christianity, reads both as a basic introduction to Christianity and its ultimately purpose.


In every work Lewis views as central the Christian belief that Christ will “come to judge the living and the dead,” that Christians “look for the resurrection of the dead, and live everlasting… the life of the world to come.” In other words, that we may live forever.

Lewis seems is the first writer I’ve encountered to truly consider this possibility seriously.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
Isaiah 11:6-8

C.S.Lewis fought in the First World War, and lived through the economic disruption of the 1920s. So by “to live forever” in keeping with the Christian creeds, Lewis did not understand flying-babies-with-harps. The literal implication of Christian doctrine is

  • A massive disruption in the market for security
  • A massive disruption in the market for commodities
  • A massive disruption in the market for time

The consequences to these to the government, military, agricultural, industrial, and luxury sectors of the economy — that is much of human life — is clear. The corruption of those who have confused market virtues with personal virtues perhaps less obvious, but no less destructive

If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disasterous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


The seemingly hyperbolic words of the scriptures…

They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat
Revelation 7:16

… may be less a description of eternal bliss, and more a description of the next environment in which bliss might be found through Christian belief and practice, for those willing to do so.

for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17

What Christianity does not promise is absence of other people. In fact, we are promised there will be others. This next land, where security, commodities, and time are all filled full, is already inhabited. In the midst of our happiness will be some of our enemies.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Psalms 23:5


But what equilibrium might be found in that situation? How does rational choice work when we aren’t choosing security, or commodities, or time?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34

Lewis’s answer (explicit in Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, implicit in A Grief Observed and Screwtape Letters) is that there are only two steady states: to be close to others, or to be infinitely far away from them. The life in this world, and even the connections we make in this world, are not ends in themselves. They are the context for an everlasting series of decisions in the life of the world to come, which will lead to the limit of alienation or the limit of Oneness.

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7

That is to say,

Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce


But to understand Lewis’s writings on Christianity, take seriously the Christian idea that on this world, we suffer.

But Lewis’ best work here is A Grief Observed, because instead of attempting to defend a theological position using logic, reason, and argument, he is reeling over the death of his wife. No Christianity, no concept of everlasting life, is more than a children’s story without more knowledge of the world than a child has. So as this post began with lofty and general concepts of Christianity, teaching, and the resurrection, I’ll close it with Lewis’s own words on his own grief.

If this world, with its scarcity markets in security, commodities, and time is just a context for the next, what sort of context is it?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

For what and Whom is that context necessary?


The Chronicles

The story, again.

milky way from the ocean

Not this version, not “In the beginning…”

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

But this one:

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim and Rodanim.
1 Chronicles 1:1-7

The first ten chapters of Genesis, reduced to ten lines. Those chapters were descriing one thing. Chronicles, another.

Not the poetry of the stars. A record of the facts.

And the story, again.


Not this version, not “the blind and the lame…”

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
2 Samuel 5:6-10

But this one:

And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is, Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land. The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You will not come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. David said, “Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.” And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief. And David lived in the stronghold; therefore it was called the city of David. And he built the city all around from the Millo in complete circuit, and Joab repaired the rest of the city. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.
1 Chronicles 11:4-9

This same pattern appears elsewhere in the Bible. If the Book of Samuel is the last of the Biblical “westerns,” then the Book of Ruth is a revisionist western: contemporary with Samuel’s beginning, but focusing on the outcast, the women, and the foreigners.

ruth and naomi by he qi

And again in the Gospels. The Gospels all concern the same place in the same time period. But focus on different things. Matthew brings the good news of the promised one of Israel. Mark on the Son of God. Luke on a Messiah of all, even for women and gentiles. And John’s Gospel, what it means to know of God.

But there the pondering is easier. Samuel is a tragedy, Ruth a comedy. The difference obvious. And the narrative nature of the Gospels make it easier to see the meaning of their differences, too. But why are the Chronicles different from all that has gone before? What is the point?

assyrian conquest of israel

The book of Kings provides a year-by-year summary of the life, and extinction, of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But even that is off. The Assyrian Destruction of Israel, the scattering of most of the tribes of Israel, is accorded an entire chapter in the Book of Kings

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods…
2 Kings 17:6-7

But this is referenced only after the fact and circumstantially in the Chronicles

They came to Hilkiah the high priest and delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the doorkeepers, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim, and from all the remnant of Israel, and from all Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 34:9

Even ages are off. 18 years old for a young king in Kings. 8 in Chronicles.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.
2 Kings 24:8-9

Or perhaps, it was eight. Everything is going wrong.

Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
2 Chronciles 36:9

The years in the Chronicles may not be the years of man. Even time is funny here.


The downplaying of the monarchs goes even further in the Chronicles. For instance, the Book of Kings records Hezekiah’s smashing of the idols of Asherah, Ba’al, and even (most strikingly!) the Staff of Moses:

He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan
2 Kings 18:3-4

Chronicles remembers the smashing of Ba’al and Asherah. But that great iconoclasm, the destruction of Moses’s rod, is left out:

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah, broke the pillars in pieces, cut down the Asherim and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, as well as in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all. Then all the sons of Israel returned to their cities, each to his possession.
2 Chronicles 31:1

Kings are put in their place. No one, not even a King, might sacrifice to God except for a Priest (for what King is good enough to also be a Priest?)

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God.” But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s house judging the people of the land.
2 Chronicles 26:16-21

But in Kings, that king (with a different spelling name!) has a reign of only two sentences

All the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah. He built Elath and restored it to Judah after the king slept with his fathers.
2 Kings 14:21-22

Instead, we learn the temple priests have become less conscientiousness than then the broader, priestly tribe of Levi

But now, at least, we are getting close to it

Jehoiada and the young king

The case of Priest Jehoiada makes things clear. In the Book of Kings he needs correction from the Monarch, for corrupt ways

Then King Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and for the other priests and said to them, “Why do you not repair the damages of the house? Now therefore take no more money from your acquaintances, but pay it for the damages of the house.”
2 Kings 12:7

While in Chronicles Jehoash (now called Joash) first ruled as a child king, and owes even his wives to Priest Jehoiada

Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zibiah from Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 3 Jehoiada took two wives for him, and he became the father of sons and daughters.
2 Chronicles 24:1-3

Jehoida, instead of being corrupt, is instead merely too lenient on the Levites, which itself had be caused by the previous wicked Queen Consort

So the king summoned Jehoiada the chief priest and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and from Jerusalem the levy fixed by Moses the servant of the Lord on the congregation of Israel for the tent of the testimony?” For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the Lord for the Baals.
2 Chronicles 24:6-7

Finally, God rewards his faithful servant, the Priest.

Now when Jehoiada reached a ripe old age he died; he was one hundred and thirty years old at his death. They buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done well in Israel and to God and His house.
2 Chronicles 24:15-16


I mentioned before that the Chronicles do not record the destruction of the Kingdom of Isreal — the nothern kingdom (that significantly, did not include the Temple in Jerusalem).

But it does mention something even more horrific – a delay of the religious holidays

But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brothers the Levites helped them until the work was completed and until the other priests had consecrated themselves. For the Levites were more conscientious to consecrate themselves than the priests.
2 Chroncicles 29:34


Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 30:1-3

Isreal’s grandfather was Abraham, and at an old age Isreal and his sons moved to Egypt to found a nation. The rest of the hexateuch concerns the three constitutional roles in Israel, originally found in one man: Moses. But after Moses the three roles would be split into he who speaks for God (the Seers and Prophets), he who leads the people of God (as Judge or King), and he who spekas to God (the Priests). For each of these offices the Bible records a dramatic change in the nature of the office: Nathan was the first Prophet never with any military authority, David was the first King of the everlast line, the sons of Jesse, and Zadok was the first priest to serve in the Temple.

The Book of Chronicles assures us that these offices still matter. The political nature of the Kingdom of Judah lead to a focus on Kings, and the Book of Kings assures us that even in exile a Son of Jesse still live

Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life; and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life.
2 Kings 25:29-30

but Chronicles was finished 70 years after the fall, with the clear implication that King-in-exile Jehoiachin is now dead. But the Temple will still stand. The sacrifices to God will not be forgotten

Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah—the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’”
2 Chronicles 36:20-23

blood of the covenant from above

The King. The Prophet. The Priest. These offices were once united in Moses

Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Exodus 24:6-8

They would be untied again.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins
Matthew 26:26-28

Impressions of “Saul, Doeg, Nabal, and the ‘Son of Jesse’: Readings in 1 Samuel 16-25” by Joseph Lozovyy

I recently finished Saul, Doeg, Nabal, and the ‘Son of Jesse’: Readings in 1 Samuel 16-25 by Joseph Lozovyy. It’s an academic book about an episode in the Book of Samuel. Lozovyy’s dissertation examines the relationships of the only characters in that book to use the phrase “Son of Jesse” as an insult: the Mad King, Nabal, and Doeg. The work also serves an an interesting foil to Dumbrell’s Covenant Theology, Mullen’s Canaanite Mythology, and Alter’s literary approach.

saul doeg nabal son of jessee

I’m writing this because I read all of Saul, Doeg, Nabal and I found it fascinating. I liked it. But much of this review is probably “unfair.” Thank goodness no one has reviewed my dissertation by these standards!

Doeg, Chief of the Mad King’s Shepherds

Doeg was “chief of King Saul’s sherpherds.” In the pastoral economy of ancient Israel, sheep were the major form of wealth. Ancient Israel did not have a professional police force: Doeg’s responsibility in maintaining the flocks made him like a ranhcer in the early west, or like a major drug dealer in American cities. Nonetheless Lozovyy records numerous academics who believe the text of the Book of Samuel is defective, because a shepherd would never be violent! When we first meet Doeg he is “detained before the LORD in the temple,” which may have meant he was forced to wait while the priests inspected the ritual purity of the animals. After reading Lozovyy’s explanation, I picture a powerful but nervous drug distributor waiting as a large customer inspects the merchandise.

While being “detained” Doeg notices David, the prince, enter and speak to the priest. David leaves with bread and a sword. At the time, Doeg did not know that David had fled from Saul and was about to become a fugitive.

ahimelech and davidBut later, Doeg knows without doubt. The Mad King is increasingly isolated, the only remaining Israelites around him from his own tribe of Benjamin, and who are humoring him. Lozovyy does not focus on the narrator’s steps, but they are important: Saul begins the paragraph looking like a king talking to servants, proceeds through paranoid, and ends as a hysterical and self-pitying wretch:

Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or [d]discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.”
1 Samuel 22:7-8

What happens next is the Book of Samuel at its literary best. Neither Chief Shepherd Doeg’s report, nor Priest Ahimelech’s reply, can be compared to an objective description of the events. Like King Saul, the reader does not know what really happened. Both the Chief Shepherd and the Priest have their own reasons to both fear and flatter the king. What is actually happening in this scene?

Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”…

Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.”
1 Samuel 22:9-10, 14-15

Doeg’s later actions — massacring an entire town — completely fits an amoral Western antihero, but wouldn’t fit the cartoon version of a shepherd. They also fit such leaders as (with his hardened heart) Pharaoh, and (in his later years) Moses, and the fictional Walter White.

doeg edomite

Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.
1 Samuel 22:18-19

Also interesting was Lozovyy’s discussion of a rabbinical reinterpretation of Doeg. In the second and third centuries A.D., Doeg was written about as if he were a rabbinical scholar, but one who twisted his learning for evil ends. This was probably an early, and hostile, reaction to Christianity, with Doeg presented as a forerunner to the early evangelists: a persuasive pharisee who turned his knowledge against the Temple, and seemed (in his own way) to prevail. In the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Hebrews are convincing “Jewish” arguments for the Messiah Jesus. Doeg is how such gentile Messianic Jews were seen by their enemies.

Nabal, whose business was in Carmel

Another mysterious character is Nabal, a man with “business” in Carmel. The epsiode between David and Carmel is odd, because it appears that David is simply shaking down a local landlord for money.

So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name; and thus you shall say, ‘Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. Now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
1 Samuel 25:5-8

Lozovyy argues that the count of sheep and goats ascribed to Nabal would make it clear this is not simply a landlord, but one of the very richest in Judah. Again, considering the overlap between security of sheep and military power, it’s perhaps fair to see Nabal as something between a governor and warlord. He, Saul, and Doeg are the only characters in the Book of Samuel to use “Son of Jesse” as an insult, providing a further of his connection with Saul’s legalized underworld.The story of David and Nabal was thus not (or not simply) an instance of banditry or a protection shakedown.
Rather a critical episode in David’s consolidation of the south, in which he attemptd to turn a warlord through a combination of flattery and threat.

And it is the Nabal’s, Abigail, who is the other character I learned about from “Saul, Doeg, Nabal.” Abigail’s speech is the longest of any woman’s int eh Hebrew Bible


She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is [which means Fool], so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent.

“Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, since the Lord has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. Now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil will not be found in you all your days. Should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the LORD does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the LORD deals well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”
1 Samuel 25:24-31

Unfortunately, it is in the discussion of this episode that the same dehumanizing view of the text in Covenant and Creation emerged. Lozovyy repeatedly claims is an intercessrix, as her prayers cause the LORD to save David’s life. But within the text, how we do know this? Only because David says it, and David (until the death of his first son) consistently says whatever is either in his own interest, or in his interest that the hearer believe. Abigail may have been an intercessrix, but the Book of Samuel (which like the Gospel of John dwells on the hidden nature of divine works) but by taking all of David’s words at face value, the reality that David was a human is lost.

Also, like Dumbrell, Lozovyy seems to reject Dual Causation, the Biblical pattern of identying an important act as the work of God mediated through or occurring alongside human hands. The fall of Jericho, for instance, involved a worship service with trumpets, but also spies. And as to the resolution of Nabal’s story…

About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal and has kept back His servant from evil. The LORD has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife.
1 Samuel 25:38-29

… any human causation is elided over by the narrator. Which, to Lozovyy, indicates no human cause at all.

Too bad. The core message of Christianity is that the Creator so loved His creation He became a creature. Thus,the dual causation in the Book of Samuel should not be a cause for an embarrassment, but a reminder of God’s presence in human affairs.

Academics, in the Ivory Tower
I liked Saul, Nabal, Doeg, but it obvious it was a dissertation. The writing style, and even the author’s perspective, changes dramatically from chapter to chapter. I assume the dissertation had originally been written chapter-by-chapter in different seminars, and then edited together before a full academic committee. Because every professor is allowed to be a pimp in his own classroom, and each professor on a dissertation committee effectively has a veto over the student graduating, each chapter is probably a reflection of the different professor’s biases.

In the previous book I read, Covenant and Creation by William Dumbrell, I was introduced to the idea of “covenant theology.” Without explanation or warning, a “covenant theology” is introduced by Lozovyy’s midway in the work. But there are important differences between Dumbrell’s and Lozovyy’s views. The list of covenants is different — Lozovyy specifically mention’s the LORD’s covenant with Calab, which appeared nowhere in Covenant and Creation. Likewise none of the implications pushed by Dumbrell are referenced by Lozovyy’s. Neither uses covenant in the sense of an instrument of surrender, and both Dumbrell and Lozovyy adopt a strident and ideological view when describing their own views of “covenants.”

Because Saul, Doeg, Nabal was written by an academic for academics, it reminded me a lot of The Assembly of the Gods by Theodore Mullen. But the striking difference between these books seems to reflect the differences between biblical criticism and ancient semitic literature. To the extent possible, Assembly of the Gods treats the Canaanite texts as works of art. While the pieces of the stories are clearly missing, all the characters are treated as coherent individuals whose actions and motivations are described in the text. On the other hand, the Book of Samuel is seen as a composite of many authors. The “Dumb Semite Theory” — that the Hebrews were semiliterate and were unaware when additions to their scriptures were beign made — always seems to stalk Saul, Doeg, Nabal. Speculation that this line, or that story, was added in such-and-such a century, or was redacted in such-and-such place, is rife. Almost every option is explored , except that The Book of Samuel actually is a coherent ancient text from the early Kingdom.

That said, a fair comparison might be made to Biblical Games by Steven Brams. Neither properly view their texts as a work written by an author (or Author). But both focus on specific episodes in ways that provide more depth. Brams game theory is occasionally interesting, such as his discussion of what Abraham expected God to do (as the LORD had already given him a son in extreme old age, physically eaten dinner with him, and had proven himself open to intercessions). And likewise Lozovyy hints at the internal states of characters, and why actions that appear to be random or arbitrary contained clues that would have been obvious to the original audience.

I enjoyed Saul, Doeg, and Nabal, but it hard to recommend. The composite nature of the work, each chapter seemingly written for a different professor and written to flatter their views, is a negative. As are the oscillations between dumb semite theory and dehumanizing covenant theology. Alter’s “literary method” (assuming the text was written by someone who understood writing) is referenced in passing, but as Alter greatly influenced my understanding both the Old and New Testaments, it was not engaged with enough to my liking. And then there’s the price.

As an academic dissertation, and either costs $150 on Amazon, or for free as a PDF from the Edinburgh Research Archive. So I split the difference and read the PDF on my Amazon Kindle.

Review of “Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology,” by William Dumbrell

Before I begin, I should state that I read Covenant and Creation because of a very strong recommendation by Rev. Steven J. Boint. Reverend Boint has had a profound effect on me. It was Boint who introduced me to Einstein and Kuhn — my philosophy of science and understanding of epistemology are largely the product of his instruction. Additionally, Reverend Boint is the author of Did Jesus Die for Dogs?, a popular book on a Christian theology of our common home. There’s strong parallels to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si, and I’d advice anyone interested interested in one to also read the other.

My take on William J. Dumbrell’s Covenant and Creation is in several parts. Dumbrell rejects the central core of Christianity. He introduces “covenant theology,” without explanation and without consistency towards what covenants were. His translation style is unusual, and his view towards others who fear the LORD is hostile. The scriptures are sanitized. And the Son of David is rejected.

The Creator, A Creature


Dumbrell appears to reject the central reality of Christianity: that the Creator became a creature. Christianity transcends the fundamental categorical distinction between the contingent and the unconditional, because the baby born of Mary is Himself the LORD.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6-7

But while this view is clearest in Christianity, it is immanent within the Hebrew bible itself.

For instance, the climax of Exodus is the Creator transcending the same divide: the transcendental Being beyond the universe dwells in a tent, and speaks of Moses face-to-face, like a friend. He will always, really and truly, be with the Israel

When the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
Exodus 40:34-38

But even though the LORD’s cloud was with them, in all of their journeys, Dumbrell rejects this:

“The temple in the Old Testament is designed to remedy for Israel a lack of the divine presence” (p.38)


“And a result of Israel’s sin, God is now only to be indirectly present through the leadership of an angel as Israel’s guide to the Promised Land.” (p. 140)

This is because God is to great to b enshrined, to noble to dwell on the earthly plane:

The transcendent character of God is certainly referred to, and no doubt, in the question of v.5 in the impossibility of enshrining him. The notion could not be entertained that [the LORD] should ‘dwell’ (i.e. sit enthroned) in a temple! (p. 221)

Though, of course, such a notion was entertained by others…

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”
John 2:13-17

Imagine Dumbrell’s response to the claim that God Himself took the form of a servant…

The Covenant, A Surrender


In the ancient near east, a “covenant” was an Instrument of Surrender between a weaker polity and a stronger one. Covenants included the identity of principals involved, lists of witnesses from each party, the specific obligation fo the conquering power to protect the surrendering power, the specific obligations (including various forms of tribute) from the weaker party to the stronger party, and consequences in the event of covenant breach. The combined text of Japanese Instrument of Surrender and General Order No. 1 together would furnish a covenant by the ancient understanding. Likewise, the LORD’s Covenant with Moses

Covenants are one of multiple ways that Trinity communicates with man in the Hebrew Bible. There are internal monologues, blessings, oaths, curses, marks, visions, and so on. For a reason not explained, “covenant theology” elevates Covenants over these other Divine Communiques as governing documents. Such a view of the modern would would, say, require understanding of US-Japan relations to focus on the Instrument of Surrender and General Order No. 1, but not the Treaty of San Francisco or the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. In relations between man and man, relying exclusively on Instruments of Surrender would be incomprehensible. No justification is given for applying it in relations between men born of women and the God born of woman.

An obvious objection to this “covenant theology” — a history of God’s relationship to man based on Instruments of Surrender — is that it excludes much. This would as that would be like viewing all of American history as,say, the story of the Surrender at Yorktown. Seemingly anticipating objections, Dumbrell merely states that it is restrictive to insist the meaning of covenant be treated as analogous to any other use of the covenant concept in any other context. In other words, the idea is de novo.

To this, Dumbrell adds the belief that a “covenant” does not necessarily include witnesses, polities, and so forth. The reason is that Dumbrell seeks to collapse all covenants into one, and assert that all of creation history is the story of the covenant of God with Adam, with other covenants being either special cases or instantiations of methods designed to bring this about.

“What this means in real terms is that there is only one biblical covenant, with the end to be reached from the beginning always in view,” (p. 8).

At this point the term “covenant” loses all meaning except for what it Dumbrell wants it to mean.

The Text, A Muddle

Josiah's Reform

The slippery definition of “covenant” in the book is compounded by the quixotic method of translation used. There is a difference between translating and explaining a text. A good example is , in which a vivid sexual metaphor is used to emphasize God’s promise to Abraham. The imagery and the meaning are both clear to adults, but confusing to children. The advantage of separating these two functions – translates and explanations – is that pre-printing-press writing was often fraught with multiple meanings as a method of increasing information density. In this context, an attempt to “explain” instead of translate Genesis 22:17 would lose either the vividness of the imagery (which itself emphasizes the pain of childlessnesss), and bowdlerize the passage out of the pains of adulthood into something as generic and meaningless as a child’s understanding of the problem.

In other words, conflating “translation” and “explaining” collapses a passage fraught in a superstate of multiple dimensions of meaning into only one meaning. Most of the potential and information is lost by Dumbrell’s style of translation.

A specific example of his translations is the Hebrew word “qum,” literally meaning “stand-up.” A context often used would be to “stand-up a covenant.” The literal expression “stand-up” is commonly used in information technology, where it means to create something new. In both English-language communities (technical and military/governmental) were the phrase “stand-up” is used as a verb, it means to create something new. It is in this context that to stand-up a covenant is used multiple times in the Bible, for instance Genesis 6:18, Exodus 6, 2 Kings 23, and so on.

Dumbrell emphasizes covenants with Abraham, Moses, and Josiah. Much of Dumbrell’s argument relies on asserting that these were not new covenants, but merely continuations of an older one.  This is not the sense any trustworthy translation I could find.

Genesis 6:18
New American Standard Bible
“But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark– you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

King James Bible
But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.

Young’s Literal Translation
‘And I have established My covenant with thee, and thou hast come in unto the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy son’s wives with thee;

Robert Alter
And I will set up my covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, you and your sons and your wife and the wives of your sons, with you.

In all formal equivalent translations the tense of the verbs are either both in the future tense (as the covenant with Noah and entering the ark are in the future), or both in the past (as the LORD relates the near future to Noah). Dumbrell arbitrarily selects different tenses for the verbs, and declares it to be a great mystery when a previous covenant with Noah was established (though he is silent on Noah’s family having supposedly already entered the ark!)

Since divine covenants are reassurances to humanity of divine intention, why then, at Genesis 6:18, the mention of a previously unexpressed divine commitment without human involvement? (p. 17)

Yet subsequent uses of the same Hebrew verb, across these four translations, also interpret it as establishing a covenant, as opposed to renewing one:

Exodus 6:4
New American Standard Bible
“I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned.

King James Bible
And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.

Young’s Literal Translation
and also I have established My covenant with them, to give to them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they have sojourned;

Robert Alter
And I also established My Covenant with them to give them the land of Caanan, the land of their sojournings in which they sojourned.

… and …

2 Kings 23:3
King James Version:
The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant.

New American Standard Bible
And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.

Young’s Literal Translation:
And the king standeth by the pillar, and maketh the covenant before Jehovah, to walk after Jehovah, and to keep His commands, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all the heart, and with all the soul, to establish the words of this covenant that are written on this book, and all the people stand in the covenant.

Robert Alter
And the king stood on a platform and sealed a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD and to keep His commands and His precepts and His statutes with a whole heart and with all their being, to fulfill the words of this covenant written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant

The four translations above came out in the 15th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, respectively. And none of them agree with Dumbrell.

Dumbrell’s “translations” are thus as useful as Anthony Cekada’s Introduction to the Mass of Paul VI. Both are thought provoking and intelligent, but with an unpredictable pattern of conflating their personal opinions with objective descriptions.

The Faithful, A Remnant

jerusalem messianic seal

Dumbrell makes special notice of the idea of a “remnant,” that while many believers have fallen away a core, real group of religionists will still be saved. Dumbrell does not explain or defend this concept, but its influence can be seen in his antagonism toward Catholicism and Judaism.

Not only doe s Dumbrell believe that God abandoned Israel at the end of Exodus, he believes that (after, temporarily, taking her back), God finished the divorce in the Gospels:

Finally Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, in John 19:15 by “We have no king but Caesar,” will mean the end of the national relationship with [the LORD].” (p. 144)


However, when Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews with ‘Behold your King,’ the chief priests answered for Israel, ‘We have no king but Caesar (John 19:14,15). This was the final and tragic covenant breach, making national Israel merely a nation without a cause. (p. 192)

But even Dumbrell’s legalistic view, how could this sever the covenant, because the High Priest was not in the crowd — the High Priest was Christ Himself!

There are three obvious criticisms of this.  First, from a Catholic perspective, this is simply incorrect:

We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, pp 247

Second, from a Sola Scriptura perspective, the people literally ask for the blood of the savior — the perfect moral detergent — in the same episode:

And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!”
Matthew 27:25

Third, for the experts in the law, the Letter to the Hebrews explicitly addresses the relationship of the people to God in light of the Sacrifice:

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”
He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Hebrews 10:11-18

Christ, as High Priest, ensured the blood of the sacrifice would be on the people. Moses did no less.

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Exodus 24:5-8

But Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, once and for all. The death of the High Priest did not create an eternal divide between the LORD and His People, but an eternal closeness.

The God described by Dumbrell though is constantly pulling out the rug. “Now Israel is to be the replacement for Adam” — Israel stole God from Adam, but lost Him to the “New Israel”…  the new wife.

Throughout the text Dumbrell spells out phonetically the Divine Name, instead of using common substitutes such as the LORD, the intentionally mispronounced pseudonym “Jehovah,” or by making reference to the Tetragrammaton. This is odd, considering Covenant and Creation’s position itself as an explicitly theological book, written in a theological institute. The use of such terminology seems specifically designed to alienate Catholic or Jewish readers, and is further ironic considering this paragraph by Dumbrell.

The third commandment declaims against the divine name taken in vain, for the name is an expression of all that can be known of God. All possible misuse of the divine name in perjury, sorcery, curse, blasphemy, false prophecy, empty vows, or anything that leads to any kind of falsehood, deception or harm is warned against. The breach of this commandment is to be punished by the severing of the covenant relationship and therefore by the forfeiture of the freedom which depends on that relationship. (p. 167)

Good thing that Dumbrell is infallible, and his writing cannot possibly lead “to any kind of falsehood”!

The Prophets, Rejected


The story is Israel birth as a nation is odd.  It has an interesting structure, including Moses’s Walter White-like descent into darkness.  The Prophet, who was saved as a bay from a murderous tyrant, becomes that tyrant before he is deposed, before the military takes over, before He dies alone

And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately.
Numbers 31:15-17

But then, after this, comes a retelling, a story that never was. In Deuteronomy, over and over again, Moses is aggrandized and others forgotten.  The reorganization of the tribes was his idea, not his father-in-law’s.  The ark’s construction was his alone, not the craftsmen mentioned in Exodus.

This same antiseptic view of the Scripture appears in Dumbrell. Bizarre claims, almost proudly out of step with reality or what has been written, are made again and again.  Here’s just one, defending King Saul:

In fact we see nothing in the reign of Saul quite like the extraordinary failure sand personal excesses which characterized the court and person of David” (p. 213)

Of course, to position David as the villain, and Saul as the innocent hero, one must forget of other events in the same book…

Then the king [Saul] said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.
1 Samuel 22:18-19

This disinfected view of Scripture extends to how it may have been written. For instance, consider the two books of laws, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. the different writing styles, different technologies described, different views of Moses, and different civil systems implied by Leviticus and Deuteronomy implies that either Deuteronomy was largely written hundreds of years after most of the material in Leviticus, or alternatively that Leviticus was intentionally constructed to appear to be much older than Deuteronomy. Neither alternative rejects the Holy Spirit’s role in authoring those books, but either alternative would provide context for how the words should be read. Dumbbell appears to completely reject such an approach, taking passages at “face value” regardless of context.

Bizarrely, Dumbrell seems to acknowledge this. In Deuteronomy, but not Leviticus, the “Levite” is described as a marginalized class. In Leviticus the butchering of animals was to be done by Levites, but in Deuteronomy this monopoly no longer existed.

“The mention in Deuteronomy 26:11 of the Levite and the sojourner, who are also, though underprivileged in the society of the time…”

but Dumbrell never closes the loop. The interpretation of Deuteronomy and Leviticus as being originally composed in the same historical time period makes no sense, even to Dumbrell, but Dumrell insists on reading them as being of roughly equal antiquity.

My suspicion of what Dumbrell is doing — and what the Deuteronomist intentionally did — is sermonizing. The Holy Spirit uses a variety of literary techniques and tropes to open the door to all.  Some books are war stories (Joshua, Judges).  Some let us see one individual life as it deforms and twists, others are comedies, or philosophy, or even erotic (the Song of Songs). And then there are sermons, a technique like all others which is dull to some and fascinating to others.

A sermon (which in the Christian tradition typically incorporates short passages from the Old Testament, the Letters, and the Gospel) takes specific passages, puts them in a coherent light, and passes by other meanings which may exist as well.  For instance, consider the Fall

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate
Genesis 3:6

Dumbrell’s description:

“‘And he ate’ (v. 6) — no words — the woman is not a temptress.”

Now, this doesn’t follow — or at best is partially true — because the purpose of quoted dialog would be to show what someone essentially is, regardless of what they did in that circumstance. Elsewhere in Genesis there are plenty of passages, where the reader’s perspective must be “Surely, she must have said more than that!”

It came about after these events that his master’s wife [i]looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”
Genesis 39:7

But Dumbrell is not trying to objective describe either events in the text or what is happening the text.  His work is academic in style but not in intended function. It is a sermon — a sermon for those who love reading — that focuses on its message and uses the Bible as a prop to do so.

The Son of David, a King


Dumbrell continues his discussion into the latter prophets, who I have not yet read. So instead I will end this review on the last paragraph of the Book of Kings. Mentioned in this paragraph is the last King of Judah before the exile, Jehoiachin called Jeconiah:

Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison; and he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon. Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life; and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life.
2 Kings 25:27-29

My take, from almost two years ago, before reading the New Testament, was

The ending of the Book of Kings is odd, ambiguous. The House of David is in captivity, in exile, but exalted above other captive monarchs. The branch of Jesse lives. Perhaps, one day, a King will return…

Dumbrell disagrees. Using the “royal we” he writes

“We doubt, however, whether the concluding verses of 2 Kings are to be constructed in this way… Davidic kingship was not in fact restored after the exile, nor was such a restoration ever seriously contemplated.” (p. 239-240)

If only there was a way to know, if the Son of David would ever return

The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham… Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. …. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Matthew 1:1, 11-12, 16-17

The First Book of Enoch

So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”
Acts 8:27-31

And there, my eyes saw all those who do not sleep; standing in front of Him, and blessing, and saying: “Blessed are you, and blessed is the Name of the Lord, for ever and ever!”
Enoch 39:13

This week I read The First Book of Enoch. I Enoch is accepted as part of the Bible only by two apostolic churches, the Ethiopian Oriental Orthodox Miaphysite Church and the Eritrean Oriental Orthodox Miaphysite Church. Additionally, a very similar text (with slightly different verse ordering and some additional material) was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, placing the text to the last few centuries Before Christ.

Three aspects are most notable. First, the window I Enoch opens to the culture that created it. Second, the Messianic Jewish aspects of I Enoch. Third, my own thoughts on what the this First Book of Enoch is.

ethopian oriental orthodox church

Enoch seems obviously written in Africa. The geographic descriptions match an Ethiopian composition, including the Afrocentric geography (the eastern Red Sea 33:3. paradise in the cool North Pole, 77:3). Angels, always seen as terrifying and strange, here likewise appear as “white men” (87:2) — implying that is not the normal color of men.

The Book of Enoch appears to be the product of a civilization at the very beginning of literacy. Of all verse fraught with background in all compilations of the Bible, this must be the most notable

He [The fourth Fallen Angel] taught men the art of writing with ink and paper, and through this many have gone astray, from eternity to eternity, and to this day.

For men were not created for this, that the should confirm their faith like this, with pen and ink!
I Enoch 69:9-10

The First Book of Enoch must have been spoken against writing down the words of Scripture… and now only its written form survives!

Like God-fearing writers from the Deuteronomist to Pope Francis, the author of Enoch is concerned about the natural world

And they began to sin again birds, and again animals, and against reptiles, and against fish, and they devoured one another’s flesh, and drank the blood from it
I Enoch 7:5

The most touching is an extended “prophecy,” written in the form of a children’s story, of the Bible. The action begins at creation, and includes the murder of Abel by Cain

Behold, a bull came out of the earth, and that bull was white. And after it, a heifer came out, and with the heifer came two bullocks, and one of them was black and the other red.

And that black bullock struck the red one, and perused it over the earth, and from then one I could not see the red bullock
Enoch 85:3b-4

Moses is also mentioned. Not as a Law-Giver, given Enoch’s anti-literate bias, but as a sheep leading other sheep who wish to return to their wolf-guarded pen:

And that sheep, which led them, again went up the summit of that rock; and the other sheep began to be blinded, and go astray from the path which had been shown to them, but that sheep did not know.

And the Lord of the Sheep was extremely angry with them, and that sheep knew, and went down from the summit of the rock, and came to the sheep, and found the majority of them, with their eyes blinded, and going astray from his path.

And when they saw it they were afraid and trembled before it and wished that they could return to their enclosure.
Enoch 39:32-34a

all the way through the Kingdom and the Exile, to the end of the world (including, strikingly, the a description of purgatory as a cleansing fire, and the conversion of the gentiles, as well as the New Earth)

And I saw at that time, how a similar abyss was opened in the middle of the Earth which was full of fire, and they brought those blind sheep and they were all judged, and found guilty, and thrown into that abyss of fire and they burned. And that abyss was on the south of that house…

And I looked until the Lord of the Sheep brought a new house, larger and higher than the first one, and He set it up on the site of the first one that had been folded up. And its pillars were all new, and its ornaments were new and larger than those of the first one — the old one that had been removed. And the Lord of the Sheep was in the middle of it.

And I saw all the sheep that were left, and all the animals of the earth, and all the birds of the sky, falling down and worshiping those sheep, and entreating them and obeying them in every command…

And all those which had been destroyed and scattered, and all the wild animals, and all the birds of the sky, gathered together in that house, and the Lord of the Sheep rejoiced very much because they were good and had returned to His House

I Enoch 90:26, 29-30, 33

Until, finally, all are resurrected in the perfect bodies, imitations of the Incarnate Christ:

And I saw that the house was large, broad, and exceptionally full.

And I saw how a white bull was born, and its horns were big, and all the wild animals, and all the birds of the sky, were afraid of it, and entreated it continually.

And I looked until all their species were transformed and they all became white bulls.
I Enoch 90:36-38a

The New Heaven is repeated, in a form intelligeible to adults, after the main narrative resumes

And the First Heaven will vanish and pass way and a New Heaven will appear, and all the Powers of Heaven will shine forever, with a sevenfold light.

And after this, there will be many weeks without number, forever, in goodness and in righteousness, . And from then on sin will never again be mentioned.
I Enoch 91:16-17

This is one of many introductions to the Messiah given in Enoch. In the Hebrew Bible, the relation of the Hebrew Bible is most clear in parts of the Torah, where the Father is known as El(ohim) and the Son as the LORD. In the Book of Daniel, the terms are “Ancient of Days” and “Son of Man.” Enoch prefers “Lord of Spirits” or “Head of Days” for the disincarnate eternal Father, and “Son of Man” or “His Son” for the Son.

And in those days, says the Lord, they shall call and testify to the sons of Earth about the wisdom in them. Show it to them for you are their leaders and the rewards will be all over the earth.

For my Son and I will join Ourselves with them, forever, in the paths of uprightness during their lives.

And you will have peace. Rejoice — you sons of uprightness!

Enoch 105:1-2


And I saw one who had a Head a Days and his head was white like wool. And with him there was another whose face had the appearance of a man and his face was ful of grace like one of the Holy Angels.

And I asked one of the Holy Angels who went with me and showed me all the secrets, about that Son of Man, who he was, and from where he was, and why he went with the Head of Days

And he answered me, and said to me: “This is the Son of Man who has righteousness and with whom righteousness dwells. He will reveal all the treasures of that which is secret, for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him, and through uprightness his lot has surpassed all others, in front of the Lord of Spirits, forever.
Enoch 46:1-3


ethiopian lastsupper

And the Lord of Spirits will remain over them, and with that Son of Man they will dwell, and eat, and lie down, and rise up, for ever and ever
Enoch 62:14


And at that hour that Son of Man was named, in the presence of the Lord of Spirits, and his name brought to the Head of Days.

Even before the Sun and the constellations were created, before the Stars of Heaven were made, His Name was named in front of the Lord of Spirits.

Enoch 48:2-3


But the wisdom of the Lord of Spirits has revealed Him to the holy and the righteous, and He has kept safe the lot of the righteous, for they have hated and rejected this world of inequity. And all its work and its ways they have hated in the name of the Lord of Spirits. For in His Name they are saved, and He is the One who will require their lives…

And on the day of their trouble there will be rest on the earth and they will fall down in front of Him and will not rise. And there will be no one who will take them with his hands and raise them for they denied the Lord of Spirits and His Messiah. May the Name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed!
Enoch 48:7,10



So, what is the First Book of Enoch? Like the Book of Daniel and the Revelation to John it is an apocalyptic book, but certain aspects (including an incredibly long astronomical section, and verses such as

And barrenness has not been given to a woman but because of the deeds of her hand she dies without children.
I Enoch 98:65

probably means it was rightly left out of the Bible compiled at the Synod of Hippo. At the same time, nothing in the text implies the author saw himself as outside of gentile Messianic Judaism in the decades or centuries leading to Christ.

Thus, the Book of Enoch is probably an ancient, African, equivalent to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, a novel about death, the resurrection, and the end of the world. Both can help explain or elucidate the Christian and Jewish Scriptures. But neither, except for the Ethiopian and Eritrean Miaphysite Churches in the case of Enoch, are scripture themselves.

(Chapter and verse numbering comes form the New American Translation, Kindle Edition.)

The Revelation to John

He who writes these things, is hard to understand.

I’ve tried three times to write up my thoughts on Revelation, similar to the other books of the New Testament. I can’t. I thought the Gospel of John was hard to express in words. John’s final book, the Revelation made to him, is nearly impossible.

At least four ancient narratives are picked up, each of which involves a great deal of background. But as Genesis was “fraught with background” that was unsaid, the background of the Revelation is both said and unsaid.


The Words

Four times John is in, or goes deeper, into the spirit. And each time is preceding by a revelation

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.

Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.

Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.
Revelation 1:8, 4:1b, 17:1b. 21:9b


The Living Creatures

Four living creatures, each reflecting an aspect of God — An Eagle, a Lion, an Ox, a Man, — surround the throne of God


You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.
Exodus 19:4


For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear them and go away;
I will take them away, and no one shall rescue
Hosea 5:14


God who brings him out of Egypt,
is like the horns of a wild ox for him;
he shall devour the nations that are his foes
and break their bones.
He shall strike with his arrows.
Numbers 24:8


When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”John 19:26

And beyond these symbols — these Spirits and states and manifestations — are the narratives.

In Revelations one of these ends


The Stories, Until Then

There is the pre-story of the Bible… Ba’al and his quest for a mansion. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly emphasizes that Ba’al should not be worshiped before God, and does not hear the prayers of Israel… but if anything the narrative assumes he exists. Indeed, the the Ba’al-worshipper Danel is included along with Job and Noah as a rigtheous gentile.

And we see in Revelation Ba’al — still there, still huge, still astride the clouds and still with his rainbow. And we see Ba’al’s words unrecorded. God’s plan for him continues, unmolested by man’s fall and salvation, as presumably God’s plans for the Andromeda galaxy continue regardless. And Ba’al’s oldest enemies are there too– the Sea Monster and Death — though of course God ends them more completely than Ba’al could on his own. The Canaanite. story of Ba’al ends with a feast, with God Himself drinking wine. And in Revelation before the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, we see old Ba’al, a fellow creature, not speaking to us, or for us, by also created by the Father, our brother in existence

I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. He had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.”
Revelation 10:1-4

There’s the story of the Bible – the woman and her children, who sail the seas and live in the cities. The woman’s care for the newborn child is the beginning of the family, and of society. But while Eve was anxious, inaccurately reporting the word of God to the serpent, and falling prey to his lies, in Revelation that dragon does not prevail. Instead the woman — not the Eve of creation but her daughter Mary — is crowned with the stars, God’s celestial army as her adornment. The story of Mary ends with her coronation, clothed with the sun, with the stars her crown.


And there’s that last story, the story the Bible is arguably about. Not Ba’al and his friends, whose adventures are the backdrop of much of biblical literature. Not the woman and her children, whose adventures must continue after the end of the Bible. But the Serpant, the Dragon, that murderer from the first.

For him no feast, and no crown.

For the Bible is the story of the defeat Serpent, the death of the Dragon.

He was once part of society — in the garden, a four-way conversation between the LORD, the Man, the Woman, and God.

Later he’s reduced to spying on Job, in a two way conversation between him and God.

And then in the Gospels, simply him and the Lord alone.

And finally, silence.

He stood on the shore of the sea.
Revelation 13:1a

man on the shore of the sea

At the end of the Serpent’s life…

The woman, who was once deceived is protected by the Earth

But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
Revelation 12:16

And the Sea Monster and Death, who wwere imperfectly defeated by Ba’al, is now perfectly defeated as the Dragon himself is tossed into the second death

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown…

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death
Revelation 20:10,14

After And Before, That Murderer from the First

And that serpent, who we once spoke to us to face-to-face, like a friend, is no more.

And he said to the woman, “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree in the Garden…” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the garden’s trees we…”
Genesis 3:1b-3

Someone she once thought was a friend is lost. But, perhaps to the woman, a greater prize is won. That murder, from the first, might be undone

And the LORD said to Cain

Why are you incensed,
and why is your face fallen?

For whether you offer well
or whether you do not,
at the tent flap sin crouches
and for you it is longing
but you will rule over it
Genesis 4:6-7

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.


Impressions of “Biblical Games: Game Theory and the Hebrew Bible” by Steven J. Brams

biblical games steven j brams

Biblical Games is a fun book. Brams has written a basic introduction to game theory, designed to be a text used in a 400/500 level college class on the subject. But it’s also a fun introduction to the literature of the Hebrew Bible, and could be used as such in a theology class at a similar level. Plenty is missing and left out of both, but where else can you get such an unusual double-introduction?

Game theory is a way of mathematically modeling human interactions based on preferences. Game theory breaks down human behavior into a small number of games, such as the Battle of the Sexes game (trigger warning: assumes basic familiarity with human sexes).

Because the Hebrew Bible concerns human struggling in an incomprehensible world, there are plenty examples of these “games.” For example, in discussions the Battle of the Sexes game, Brams describes Samson and Delilah, David and Abigail, and Esther and Ahasuerus. While much is left out (the romantic comedy innuendo of the “golden scepter,” and the sadomasochistic subtext of Samson and Delilah, for instance), Brams treats his subjects seriously, which is far more than is done in most sermons and even much pop biblical criticism. No “dumb semite” theory here.


Biblical Games twice examines the Binding of Isaac, once presenting a preference schedule that might explains what happened in the Hebrew Bible (that Abraham did not believe his son would truly die), and another that explains an alternative set of actions (if Abraham had refused to bind Isaac).  But that each is equally convincing seems to be a problem.  If human interaction can be “formalized” — put into mathematical terms — so easily, in such contradictory ways, is not the “formalization” simply an obscurantic tautology?

Other biblical themes — such as the “fraught with background” nature of the Hebrew Bible (where much more is hinted at or assumed than is spoken) are hinted at, which makes Biblical Games a good teaser to the Old Testament. Likewise, Brams briefly describes how God almost seems to be a composite character, in some ways fully divine, in some ways a human being, in some ways proceeding from a different source…

My greatest disappointment in Biblical Games is that in discussing God, both the author’s mathematics and theology fail. In the final chapter, where Brams discusses the “theory of moves” (pdf description), he for the first time hints at the terrifying implications of “stopping power.” But otherwise God is presented as just another player, traveling in time at 60 minutes/hour with all the rest.

A time-bound God is problematic because a basic conception of God (explicitly rejected by Brams) is that He is hyper-dimensional, at least present at all possible points in time at once (which would at the very least make Him a four-dimensional being, as opposed to three-dimensional beings traveling along the axis of a fourth dimension). This would have been a neat way to introduce hyperspatial geometry, the idea that a higher-dimensional object can be “unfolded” or “shadowed” into lower-dimensional space. The shadow of the tesseract, or four-dimensional cube, can be drawn in this manner…


While the shadow of an unfolded tessaract on two-dimensional space looks like


One imagines a fuller description of God would have lead to an additional, interesting chapter, but such was more forthcoming. For “cursed is he who is hung on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23), as was the Son of David (2 Samuel 18:9). But such a chapter must be kept to our imagination.

Biblical Games is a fun book. It’s not the final or most convening word on either game theory or the Hebrew Bible, but its a very readable introduction to both.

Letters from James, John, Peter, and Jude

Then the LORD appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent.

And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering.

They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.

Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.
Deuteronomy 31:15-18

It can’t end like this. The anointed leader and his mother. The corruption of the Church.

The Anti-Christ, the Anti-Madonna
The Anti-Christ, the Anti-Madonna

When the Holy Spirit begins speaking in code, you know things are getting bad…

The Elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth — and not only I but also all those who know the truth.
2 John 1:1

Once, Paul could use courtroom cleverness

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.)
Acts 23:6-8

Now, the system isn’t so patient.

For the Lord’s sake be subject to every human institution, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors sent by the Emperor to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what’s right, for it’s God’s will that by doing good you’ll silence the ignorance of foolish people.
1 Peter 2:13-15

So many people have been lost, the old words themselves are hard to understand. Without the ability to as questions, what was he getting at, anyway…

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:15-16

Paul’s words, unclear… or we don’t want them clear…

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:27-28

They echo… but what they echo…

The LORD will vindicate his people
and relent concerning his servants
when he sees their strength is gone
and no one is left, slave or free.
Deuteronomy 32:36

During the persecution there’s even confusion of the old bible, the Hebrew Bible. Is it this hard to find scripture anymore?

What happened when Moses died?

Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is
Deuteronomy 34:4-6

Or was it something else?

Michael the Archangel, on the other hand, when we was disputing with the Devil over the body of Moses, didn’t take it upon himself to pronounce judgment on the Devil because of his blasphemies. Instead he said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”
Jude 1: 9

What do we know about Enoch?

When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch. After he became the father of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died.

When Enoch had lived years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:18-24

Or perhaps, there was something else…

It was about them that Enoch prophesied in the seventh generation after Adam when he said, “Behold, the Lord came with His myriads of angels to execute judgment upon all, to rebuke all the impious for all the ungodly acts they committed and for all the harsh words that unholy sinners have spoken against him.
Jude 1:14-15

And, if you can’t quite remember, whose words are these?

Or do you suppose that Scripture is nothing but empty words when it says, “The spirit dwelling with us is given to jealous desires”?
James 4:5

The persecution is cutting down the faith. Once Christ promised he would recognize the sheep and the goats.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world

Matthew 25:31-34

But His own flock is suffering more

But if you suffer for being a Christian, don’t be ashamed! Rather, glorify God in that name. For it’s time now for the judgment, starting with God’s own household, and if it beigns with us, what will be the fate of those who refuse to believe God’s good news?
1 Peter 4:16-17

The Roman system, of humilitaing cults by revealing them to be venal and corrupt, is working. Much of the leadership went along with the persecution for their own benefit.

My children, it’s the last hour. You’ve heard that Antichrist is coming and now many Antichrists have come, which is how we know that it’s the last hour. The came form us but they weren’t of us, for if they had been of us they would have remained with us.
1 John 2:18-19

The Church no longer even speaks well of itself

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to assert his authority, doesn’t acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come I’ll bring up what he’s doing — making unjustified accusations against us!And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brethren and stops those who wish to welcome them and expels them from the church.
3 John 1:9-10

Worse, the movement that would mestastisize into Islam is already active, emphasizing the Father alone

Who is the liar, if not whoever denies that Jesus is the Messiah? This is the Antichrist — whoever denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father, but however acknowledges the Son has the Father as well.
1 John 2:22-23

For certain persons who were long ago marked down for condemnation have snuck in under false pretenses. These impious men distort and change the love of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Lord and master, Jesus Christ.
Jude 1:4

What’s needed is action. The survival of the faith depends on people doing what is is right, not just hearing, or reading, or speaking

This means a faith deeper than mere knowledge which can be forgotten.

Be doers of the word and not just hearers, who deceive themselves. For anyone who is a hearer of the word and not a doer is like a man observing his own face in a mirror, for he looks at himself, then turns away and at once forgets what he looked like. But the person who looks into the perfect law — the law of freedom – and sticks with it, who is not a forgetful hearer but a doer, he shall be blessed in his actions
James 1:22-25

These are dark times.


Prepare for the Fire of Heaven

This is the message we heard from him and which we announce to you — God is light and there is no darkness in him. You rejoice in this, although for a short time you may have to suffer various trials so that your faith, more precious even than perishable gold which is tested with fire, may be tested and shown worthy of praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:5-7

The End of Everything is at Hand

Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
he will take vengeance on his enemies
and make atonement for his land and people.
Deuteronomy 31:43

Impressions of “The Many Faces of Christ,” by Phillip Jenkins, and “The Emergence of Islam,” by Gabriel Said Reynolds

I recently read two books, both of which revolve around the diversity of the Christian church in the middle ages. One of the currents in Christianity, which had proponents in Archbishop Nestorius and the middle east, was that God would never sully himself by actually inhabiting human flesh, having a mother, or a son. Perhaps the best remembered proponent of that belief was the Arab, Muhammad ibn Abudllah.


Early Islamic coin, prominently featuring the “Chi-Rho” sign still found in Christian churches

Our knowledge of early Islam is weak.  The Qu’ran itself is vague — one might say nearly timeless — and most of “early Islamic history” comes from hadiths written centuries after.

Here is a rare, contemporary account of the rise of Islam:

In that period a certain one of them, a man of the sons of Ishmael named Mahmed, became prominent. A sermon about the Way of Truth, supposedly at God’s command, was revealed to them, and Mahmed taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially since he was informed and knowledgeable about Mosaic history. Because the command had come from on High, he ordered them all to assemble together and to unite in faith. Abandoning the reverence of vain things, they turned toward the living God, who had appeared to their father–Abraham. Mahmed legislated that they were not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsehoods, and not to commit adultery. He said: “God promised that country to Abraham and to his son after him, for eternity. And what had been promised was fulfilled during that time when God loved Israel. Now, however, you are the sons of Abraham, and God shall fulfill the promise made to Abraham and his son on you. Only love the God of Abraham, and go and take the country which God gave to your father Abraham. No one can successfully resist you in war, since God is with you.”
Bishop Sebeos The Armenian History

Chi-Rho, the first two letters of christ, surrounded by Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet
Chi-Rho, the first two letters of christ, surrounded by Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet

A large fraction of the world’s population believe a book is all you need. Muslims believe that the Qu’ran is eternal, the first born of all creation, existing with God in heaven before the beginning of time. Many Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura, “the book alone,” that the traditions and councils and history of the church are at best irrelevant and at worst harmful, because the Bible has all the answers.

There are two problems with “the book itself.” First, few Christians understand the definition or construction of their book. Second,few Muslims rely on their book alone, because of the incorporation of the hadiths into Islamic jurisprudence.

many faces of christ philip jenkins

The Many Faces of Christ, by Phillip Jenkins, is a story of the writing and editing of the New Testament. Because the New Testament we are familiar with is fixed — Four Gospels, one Acts, several letters to specific churches, and so on — there’s a sense of that’s how naturally it should be. And indeed, virtually every Christian group uses the same four gospels — those according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as their base. But there differences begin. Is Acts of the Apostles properly part of the Bible itself (almost all groups: yes), or is it a work of hagiography (writing about holy lives), or is it simply false? What about the Protoevangelium of James, which focuses on the childhood of Mary? Martin Luther tried to remove the Letter to the Hebrews from the Bible… but perhaps the problem is Paul’s letters (like the Gnostics and the Muslims believe).

The mass destruction of these “alternative” books began, not during the reign of Constantine, but during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church’s prohibition against vernacular copies of the bible — but rarely those of “alternative” books (which were not holy and, therefore, simply works of fiction)such as the Cave of Treasures or the Gospel of James — meant those were widespread before the emergence of common-language Bibles. But “Sola Scriptura” meant that such sayings and legends no longer had a place in Protestant Christendom.

The process of creating the Protestant Bible — of perfecting Luther’s “Sola Scriptura” — finished some time after Martin Luther, around 1800. After that year the Old Testament books Luther opposed rarely were included in Protestant Bibles, but the New Testament books Luther opposed were always included in Protestant Bibles.

An example of such extra-Biblical works was the Protevangelium, best seen as Joseph/Mary fan fiction. In this passage, Mary is being raised by the Temple in Jerusalem, and is of marriageable age (12), so the Temple holds a lottery to marry her off:

And when she was twelve years of age, the priests met in a council, and said, Behold, Mary is twelve years of age, what shall we do with her, for fear lest the holy place of the Lord our God should be defiled?

Then replied the priests to Zacharias the high-priest, Do you stand at the altar of the Lord, and enter into the holy place, and make petitions concerning her, and whatsoever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that do.

Then the high-priest entered into the Holy of Holies, and taking away with him the breast-plate of judgment made prayers concerning her;

And behold the angel of the Lord came to him, and said, Zacharias, Zacharias, Go forth and call together all the widowers among the people, and let every one of them bring his rod, and he by whom the Lord shall shew a sign shall be the husband of Mary.

And the criers went out through all Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all the people ran and met together.

Joseph also throwing away his hatchet, went out to meet them; and when they were met, they went to the high-priest; taking every man his rod.

After the high-priest had received their rods, he went into the temple to pray;

And when he had finished his prayer, he took the rods, and went forth and distributed them, and there was no miracle attended them.

The last rod was taken by Joseph, said behold a dove proceeded out of the rod, and flew upon the head of Joseph.

And the high-priest said, Joseph, Thou art the person chosen to take the Virgin of the Lord, to keep her for him:

But Joseph refused, saying, I am an old man, and have children, but she is young, and I fear lest I should appear ridiculous in Israel.

Then the high-priest replied, Joseph, Fear the Lord thy God, and remember how God dealt with Dathan, Korah, and Abiram, how the earth opened and swallowed them up, because of their contradiction.

Now therefore, Joseph, fear God lest the like things should happen in your family.

Joseph then being afraid, took her unto his house, and Joseph said unto Mary, Behold, I have taken thee from the temple of the Lord, and now I will leave thee in my house; I must go to mind my trade of building. The Lord be with thee.
The Protovangelium of James 8:9-16

The same nonsensical story, of the Temple lottery to determine who would mary Mary, occurs in the Qu’ran

Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah. for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.”

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!

While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: “Doth give thee glad tidings of John, witnessing the truth of a Word from God, and  noble, chaste, and a prophet,- of the company of the righteous.”

He said: “O my lord! How shall I have a son seeing I am very old and my wife is barren?” “Thus” was the answer “doth God accomplish whatt He willeth.”

He said: “O my Lord! Give me a Sign!” “Thy Sign,” was the answer, “Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three days but with signals. Then celebrate the praises of thy Lord again and again, and glorify Him in the evening and in the morning.”

Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations.

“O Mary! worship Thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.”

This is part of the tidings of the things unseen, which We reveal unto thee by inspiration: Thou wast not with them when they cast lots with arrows, as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary: Nor wast thou with them when they disputed.

Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of those nearest to God.

“He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be of the righteous.”
Qu’ran 3:37-46

emergence of islam gabriel said reynolds

If The Many Faces of Christ is the process of hacking off “unworthy” texts from the Bible, The Emergence of Islam by Gabriel Said Reynolds is about the opposite process that occurred in the Muslim worlds: how the Qu’ran has been drowned out by the Hadiths in Muslim religious literature.

Hadiths are sayings of the prophet Muhammad.  A biblical analogy might be to King David.  David’s story was written down very quickly — the Book of Samuel seems to have been written during the time of King Solomon, and may have known King David.  But the “sayings of David,” the Psalms, were probably written hundreds of years later.

Interesting features of the Qu’ran include that iti never calls itself the Qu’ran (“Recitation”), though it repeatedly calls itself “The Book,” “The Book Manifest,” or “Th Reminder,” that the word Qu’ran itself appears to be Syrio-Aramiac and not Arabic, that the Qu’ran repeatedly emphasizes that it was written in Arabic, that the Qu’ran appears to use the Ethiopian version the Torah as a source, and that the Qu’ran, though it references many prophets, saints, the Virgin, and the Messiah, never names a known pagan idol or deity.

Why it has these features is unknown, or at least not described in Reynolds book. Rather, Reynolds spends most of it attacking the historicity of the Hadiths, which he argues were written to explain the Qu’ran to a later, and much different, imperial community.

An example of this can be found in the tale of Jonah, which is described in familiar terms in the Qu’ran

And Jonah was surely of those sent.
When he fled to the laden ship,
So he shared with others but was of those cast away.
So the fish took him into its mouth while he was blamable.
But had he not been of those who glorify (Us),
He would have tarried in its belly till the day when they are raised.
Then We cast him on the naked shore, while he was sick.
And We caused a gourd to grow up for him.
And We sent him to a hundred thousand or more.
And they believed, so We gave them provision till a time.
Qu’ran 27:139-148

This is a clear description of the biblical Book of Jonah, and even matches step by step of the veggie tales movie version of it. But later Islamic scholars, writing around the time of the composition of the hadiths, were confused where and when Jonah “fled.” The answer is explicit, indeed ridiculously so, in the opening of the Biblical book – no less than three city names occur in the first three verses

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Jonah 1:1-3

The Qu’ran was written in a plce and time where everyone knew much of the Bible and quasi-biblical literature (the Cave of Wonders, the Torah, the Book of Samuel, the Psalms, the Protoevangelium, the Gospels, and the Letters of Paul all seem to be familiar to the author of the Qu’ran), but by the time the Hadiths were written this knowledge had been lost, and the cultural difference between Muslims, Jews, and Christians had become to vast that using the Book of Jonah as a reference was now out of the question.

A consequence of this view — that the Qu’ran is an ancient text but that the hadiths were written long after to explain to the Qu’ran — is that we now very little of the emergence of Islam. Almost Muhammad’s entire biography may be incorrect, as it is based on hadiths written hundreds of years after his life.

It also means that some odd aspects of the Qu’ran, such as using pronouns without previously identifying the noun, become even more vexing

For instance, in this passage (which begins the book, “The Israelites,” in this passage), who is “His servant,: and what are the “Mosques”

In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Glory to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Mosque, whose precincts We blessed, that We might show him of Our signs! Surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

And We gave Moses the Book and made it a guidance to the Children of Israel (saying): Take no guardian beside Me —

The offspring of those whom We bore with Noah. Surely he was a grateful servant.
Qu’ran 17:1-3

In the hadiths, the answer is clear: the references are to Muhammad, Mecca, and Jerusalem.

But Said suggests, the answer can just as plausibly be Elijah, Jerusalem, and Mt. Sinai.

Another example is the “Satanic verses,” where Muhammad approves prayers to three….   somethings…

Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzzá
and Manat, the third, the other?
These are the exalted “Gharaniq” whose intercession is hoped for.

The names Al-lat, Al-Uzza, Manat, and the word, “Gharaniq” are words unknown before hte publication of the qu’ran. What is interceding?
Most texts will say these are goddesses, but no other pagan gods or goddesses are mentioned in the Qu’ran.  Numerous prophets, angels, and saints, though, are mentioned.  Perhaps Al-lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat are the names of prophets, angels, or saints?

Perhaps they as silent to history as St. Kilda.

Perhaps they are guardian angels?

We don’t know. There is so much we don’t know.

mary mother of jesus in quran

I’m glad I read The Many Faces of Christ before The Emergence of Islam, because the Qu’ran’s scattershot approach to the Bible makes more sense in light of how the Bible was assembled. When the Patriarch of Constantinople denied God had a mother, though venerated the Virgin, the Qu’rans denial and veneration of the same is less surprising. Likewise, the Quran’s inclusion of apocryphal works (such as the Cave of Wonders or the Protoevangelium) but apparent ignorance of the Wisdom Books, also makes sense when one considers the state of the flux the biblical cannon was then in.