All posts by tdaxp

Review of “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry,” by Jaquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

To paraphrase a wise man ,Failure is a GPS: it tells you the distance between where you are and where you want to be. Previous failure I’ve read about — Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent — have been reborn in the form of Nokia. And success makes one fat and lazy. General Motors, the Google of its day, is a warning to anyone facing a lifetime of victories.

It is with this context that I read Losing the Signal: The Untold Story of the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry. Formerly named “Research in Motion,” the company made a portable paging and email device that created text-based communication on the go. It dominated the era of before phones and PDAs converged, dominating relatively niche players like US Robotics‘ “Palm” product and Microsoft’s PocketPC.

The end came quick — so quickly the story almost seems out of order. The world of battery-saving, highly secure, data-efficient devices was nuked from space by the Apple iPhone launch. Unlike Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who famously laughed the device off, co-CEO Mike Lazarids had personally disassembled an early iPhone and understood the qualitative difference between it and any other machine on the market.

The reason is that until the bitter end — until Blackberry abandoned what it once was and hopped first to QNX and then Android — it was a better phone. At least for the core scenarios that once dominated the market: long lasting battery, low data usage, high security. For developing countries with poor infrastructure these were required. Thus, the collapse of Research in Motion / Blackberry as a global enterprise was masked for a while by phenomenal success in large, developing countries.

Authors McNish and Silcoff weave this corporate history in with tales of the co-CEOs who once lead Research in Motion: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. The “sales guy” and “engineering guy” respectively, the team behind the company’s explosive growth. For a book that seems to have had tremendous access to these two men, the portraits of them are not flattering. Balsillie seems like a bully and near-con, whose creaed hostile relationships with both suppliers and carriers that contributed to the company’s swift collapse. Lazaridis, by all accounts an excellent hardware engineer, had limited understand of software even years after overseeing the development of Blackberry’s OS, and bizarrely attempted to rewrite the entire software stack on QNX that had never worked in mobile before.

A last point, but an important one: the story of Blackberry intersects at several moments with the University of Waterloo, a large research university located nearby. During the Second World War, the university instituted an a repeating cycle of classes and outside work for students, initially to help with the war effort but rapidly used to bootstrap an educated engineering work force. It’s a great educational model, and one I wish Blackberry could have helped spread to the United States.

I listened to Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry on unabridged audible.

Lamentations

I broke from my tradition and read the Wikipedia article for Lamentations (Hebrew: “How”) before writing down my thoughts. The reason is that I recall somewhere the phrase “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” and I wondered if that meant lamentations shared the same author as Jeremiah. The scholarly consensus seems to be “no,” and I (with no knowledge in Hebrew, and paying attention in an amateurish way to the genre and writing style) agree.

It’s clear that either the author of Lamentations read The Book of Jeremiah, or knew of him, or (alternatively) the author of Jeremiah read Lamentations. They use much of the same symbolism. They also have the same focal point: the sack of Jerusalem and desecration of the Temple by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. But the tone is completely different. Jeremiah begins as a legal satire, anyone who has seen Intolerable Cruelty (starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones) or other parodies of divorce immediately gets that what follows in Jeremiah is a romantic comedy. And the feuds, betrayals, and anger of that comedy does not detract from it, but gives meaning to it.

Lamentations is not a rom-com. It’s a rape.

The adversary has spread his hand
Over all her pleasant things
For she has seen the nations
enter her sanctuary
Those whom You commanded
Not to enter Your assembly
Lamentations 1:10

The prayer is not to silence. The prayer is to a LORD who has switched sides

He has done violence to His tabernacle
As if it were a garden
He has destroyed His place of assembly
The LORD has caused
The appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion
In His burning indignation He
has spurned the king and the priest.
Lamentations 2:6

There’s no reunion here. The LORD’s attack is not just general, but specific. Not just to the nation, not just to others, but the author himself

He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones…
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago
Lamentations 3:4,6

There is no happy ending. There is no reminder a king still lives, or a priest is far off. Just destruction. Silence

Why do You forget us forever,
And forsake us for so long a time?

Turn us back to You, or LORD, and we will be restored;
Renew our days as of old

Unless You have utterly rejected us
And are very angry with us!
Lamentations 5:20-22

In another post, The Good Bull, I wrote that the central dilemma of Christianity was whether God the Father was inhuman, or merely unhuman. We can rationalize history as a comedy, or a love story.  But what of those who die who are tortured, who lose hope?

We see echos, themes, that may one day pay off.

Centuries too late the author of Lamentations.

Echoes such as this

Let him give his check to the one who strikes him
And be full of reproach
For the Lord will not cast off forever
Though He causes grief
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitudes of His mercies
Lamentations 3:30-31

to that.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Matthew 5:38-42

This.

The precious sons of Zion
Valuable as fine gold
How they are regarded as clay pots
The work of the hands of the potter!
Lamentations 4:2

To that.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Romans 9:19-21

This.

Because of the sins of her prophets
And the iniquities of her priests
Who shed in her midst
The blood of the just
Lamentations 4:12

To that.

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
Matthew 27:22-23

This.

See, OR LORD, and consider!
To Whom have You done this?
Should the women eat their offspring,
the children they have cuddled?
Should the priest and the prophet be slain
In the sanctuary of the Lord?
Lamentations 2:20

To that.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Matthew 26:26-29


In Lamentations we see the work of God the Father, the Unseen God, the unspeakable furnace that created the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the foolish kings, the false prophets, and the lying priests.

Review of “The Abolition of Man,” by C.S. Lewis

I recently read The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. Thematically it is a cross between That Hideous Strength (1945), which I read more than a decade ago, and Mere Christianity (1952), which I read earlier this year. It’s also the closest C.S. Lewis comes to a “natural” philosophy, and at times intentionally recycles language of the non-theist Chinese philosophies.

cs-lewis-the-abolition-of-man

The Abolition of Man begins with a review of an book on English grammar and literature. At first I groaned, and worried I stumbled across some British English “inside baseball” professional dispute from half a century ago. But quickly Lewis begins an attack that Robert Pirsig would continue decades later in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974): objects have Qualities that give them Arete/Rta/virtue/righteousness (note the Indo-European element “Rt” in all four words).

zenmotorcycle

We all believe this of at least some objects, though to one person the object in question may be material (this holy relic), while to another an object may be disembodied (the value of equality). Words such as “just” (it’s just a piece of wood), or “only” (it’s only the skew of income in a society) are pejoratives without substance. When those pejoratives are used the speaker is making a value judgement on which ideas are Right and which are not.

Lewis argues that behind such judgments are one of two philosophies: the “Tao” (called in Mere Christianity, natural law) or the Conquest of Nature. The natural law comer from evaluation the moral sense as exactly that, a sense, of a physical property of the world just as real as sight, or sound, or smell. In the same way that light is not “just” electromagnetic radiation, but rather is made of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation on our cortical nerves, the moral sense is not “only” our conscience, but is detected through our conscience. (This is similar to the description of the Objective Room in That Hideous Strength.)

Against this natural sense — truly against it, in the manner that tectonic plates are against each other — is the Conquest of Nature. Such an alternative foundation of morality seeks to liberate “Man” from nature, by controlling and constraining the moral sense. Lewis explicitly cites Nietzche as an example of such a philosophy, but an even better example would be B.F. Skinners’ Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), which (with its focus on education and motivation) must have seen like a satantic prophecy come true.

skinner-beyond-freedom-and-dignity

Lewis refers to those able to control the deconstruct and reconstruct the moral sense in this way as Motivators. Such Motivators may appear to be highly skilled technician, the originators of the Hygiene movement in Mere Christianity (1952). But the end result is the same: a generation free from the past generations and their natural law, but ruling the future with its ability to create its own law.

cs-lewis-that-hideous-strength

It is this breakthrough — this ability to arbitrarily control the moral sense — that Lewis refers to as the “Abolition of Man.” Whatever the earliest abolitionists may believe, and whatever their motives, those that come after them are not “men” at all for they have no access to the Natural Law that all earlier humans shared. The Motivators, the abolitionists, would have freed men from the Natural Law in that future “men” would never know it. But, because it is by natural forces any such new arbitrary moral sense is installed, such an Abolition would also reduce homo sapiens to slaves of nature.

The conquest of Nature would, itself, be the surrender to Nature.

I listened to The Abolition of Man on unabridged audible.

The Book of Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah has the best writing in the Hebrew Bible. Job, Ruth, Genesis, and Psalms are all stylistically referenced, and the arc of history extends from the Patriarchs to the Exodus to the earthly kingdom.

And it’s funny.

In the Hebrew Bible, comedy works by establishing a pattern and unexpectedly reversing it. When Jacob’s sons are worried about their fate under Pharaoh’s vizier (actually their brother, Joshua), the hapless brothers relates the increasingly cruel tricks the Egyptians may have planned:

Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to

attack us and
overpower us and
seize us as slaves and
take our donkeys.”
Genesis 43:18

joseph-brothers-donkeys

This formula works in longer narratives too. The story of dull-headed Judah and Tamar has all the makings of a Shakespearean comedy: Tamar has been working as a prostitute, and had her unknowing father-in-law, Judah, as a client. Now she’s pregnant, and Judah ordered her execution:

And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.”

So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!”
Genesis 38:24

But Tamar had wisely taken Judah’s seal and staff as security… and had hidden herself before Judah could present payment, meaning she still had the security though the debt was unpaid. So she is able to prove the identity of the other guilty party, the man who ordered her incineration!

When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.”
Genesis 38:25

In Shakespeare’s tragedy the king would now kill himself, and everyone would die. But Judah comically realizes the truth: Tamar is guilty, but Judah is not only guilty but — because had not paid Tamar, and had not arranged a replacement marriage —  Judah is also in debt to her!

So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again.
Genesis 38:26

judah_and_tamar

The Book of Jeremiah is comedy, but a dark and subversive one. Jeremiah Biblical genre on its head in striking and unexpected ways. And as all comedies end happily ever after, with a marriage and shouts, so this comedy does this book. These comic surprises in Jeremiah occur on multiple levels — even to the type of story that it tells.

The author of Jeremiah enjoys zingers, the same set-up leading to an unexpected outcome, from the downright funny

“Therefore you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:

“Drink,
be drunk, and
vomit!

Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.
Jeremiah 25:27

… to the Lovecraftian

Do you not see what they do in

the cities of Judah and
in the streets of Jerusalem?

The children gather wood,
the fathers kindle the fire, and
the women knead dough, to make cakes for

the Queen of Heaven; and
they pour out drink offerings
to other gods, that they may
provoke Me to anger.
Jeremiah 7:17-18

queen-of-heaven

Even the narrative portions of Jeremiah use this formula, with a cozy scene turned into high blasphemy by a Son of David himself:

So the king sent Jehudi to bring the scroll, and he took it from Elishama the scribe’s chamber. And Jehudi read it in the hearing of the king and in the hearing of all the princes who stood beside the king. Now

the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month,
with a fire burning
on the hearth before him.

And it happened, when
Jehudi had read three or four columns, that
the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and
cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until
all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.
Jeremiah 36:21-23

17_Weigel Engraving _scrolls burnt 36 Emory Pitts Theology archivs Book Title: Biblia ectypa : Bildnussen auss Heiliger Schrifft Alt und Neuen Testaments Author: Weigel, Christoph. Image Title: Jehoiakim Burns the Scroll Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 36 Description: Jehoiakim burns the Jeremiah scroll.

This same pattern — an expected pattern twisted in an unexpected way – survives in even broader constructions. In the wilderness, the LORD spoke to Moses “face to face, like a friend” (Exodus 33:11). The tragic King of Judah, Zedekiah, is likewise promised such a meeting with a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house. For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape from the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face, and see him eye to eye; then he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall be until I visit him,” says the LORD; “though you fight with the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed”’?”
Jeremiah 32:1-5

The meeting, “face to face” and “eye to eye” is again promised, but with an additional prophesy: Zedekiah will not die by violence

And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon.’”’ Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you: ‘You shall not die by the sword.’
Jeremiah 34:3-4

Instead, Zedekiah’s fate is unspeakably worse:

But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he pronounced judgment on him. Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. And he killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He also put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in bronze fetters, took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.
Jeremiah 52:8-11

zedekiah-and-nebuchadnezzar

But in the end, Jeremiah is a comedy in the broadest sense. The Book begins with a lawsuit, God petitioning a cosmic court for divorce from Judah, including a request to be freed from any child support

“Therefore I will yet bring charges against you,” says the Lord,
“And against your children’s children I will bring charges.
Jeremiah 2:9

The nation of Jacob has been not just idolatrous, but foolish, worshiping the work of human hands

I will utter My judgments
Against them concerning all their wickedness,
Because they have forsaken Me,
Burned incense to other gods,
And worshiped the works of their own hands.
Jeremiah 1:16

All of Israel – the holy offices of Priest, Prophet, and King — is corrupted. The corruption of the people themselves is emphasized twice, twofold each time, at the beginning and the end of the litany

Because of

all the evil of the children of Israel and
the children of Judah,

which

they have done to provoke Me to anger—
they,
their kings,
their princes,
their priests,
their prophets,

the men of Judah, and
the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 32:32

Even foreigners can see the destruction of Jerusalem was a result of God’s judgment

And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him: “The LORD your God has pronounced this doom on this place. Now the LORD has brought it, and has done just as He said. Because you people have sinned against the LORD, and not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing has come upon you.
Jeremiah 40:2-3

Jerusalem is itself destroyed, but the LORD’s presence in the temple is worse than lost — God Himself has ordained the destruction! Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of the Temple, blinder of the king, is himself God’s servant!

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and

Nebuchadnezzar
the king of Babylon,
My servant,

and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations.
Jeremiah 25:8-9

x1952-367, The Chaldees Destroy the Brazen Sea, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York

But even in this is comedy. The hyperbolic lawsuit hints it is a legal satire

“Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see:
Where have you not lain with men?
By the road you have sat for them
Like an Arabian in the wilderness;
And you have polluted the land
With your harlotries and your wickedness.
Jeremiah 3:2

But God still loves Israel

“Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“I remember you,
The kindness of your youth,
The love of your betrothal,
When you went after Me in the wilderness,
In a land not sown.
Jeremiah 2:2

Indeed, God remembers even the smallest child

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5

And remembers the House of David. A future King will come.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Jeremiah 23:5-6

For the tree of Jesse is not dead, but rather a shoot still grows, a Jew among the gentiles.

Now it came to pass in the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin changed from his prison garments, and he ate bread regularly before the king all the days of his life. And as for his provisions, there was a regular ration given him by the king of Babylon, a portion for each day until the day of his death, all the days of his life
Jeremiah 52:31-34

jehoiachin-in-babylon

And then we see. The Book of Jeremiah is a comedy, a romantic comedy, and like any romcom it needs a reunion and gifts and renewed vows

“Return, O backsliding children,” says the LORD; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Jeremiah 3:14

As in that other romantic comedy, the Book of Ruth, the story of David’s great-grandmother:

“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Ruth 1:16

1_6-1_ruth_ruth_and_naomi_gleaning_in_the_fields

So in the Book of Jeremiah:

‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’
Jeremiah 30:22

The Book of Jeremiah is the romantic comedy, the love story, of God and nation of Israel. Their quarrels and jealous do not erase that love. They are part of the passion that can only come from that love.

Review of “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made,” by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas

The Wise Men is the massive professional biography of Jack McCloy, Chuck Bohlen, Dean Acheson, Bob Lovett, George Kennan, and Averell Harriman. Written largely as a series of episodes revolving around the Groton School, Yale University, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the book tells the story of the old American foreign police elite, and has relevant for current trends.

the-wise-men-isaacson-thomas

The history presented is detailed, ponderous, and heavily implies access to the personal journals of either these men, or of those around them. In the same way that Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs appeared to rely on personal access while not simply repeated what was said before, The Wise Men provided much more depth for the American foreign policy elite than I had before. I’ve read much more on the Chinese polite elite — Jie Chauzhu, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-shek, and so on, and The Wise Men gives me a frame to drape knowledge of elite events on the eastern side of the Pacific in that period.

Chiang_Kai_Shek_and_wife_with_Lieutenant_General_Stilwell

Which would bring me to a first criticism. Both the characters and the authors go out of their way to dismiss the Asian theater, both in the Second World War and the Cold War. China is viewed as a distracting, “land war in Asia” is an insult never given context, and it’s clear the wars in Asia are most regrettable because they placed US foreign policy on a backwards and irrelevant continent. “Republicans” and “isolationists” (always so called) who wanted to focus US foreign policy on protecting Asia from communism are the most two-dimensional characters in the book. At times this Eurocentric focus is plainly stated, but its never explained or contextualized beyond the superficial level.

It’s hard for me to understand these “Wise Men,” because their faults do not fit into neat categories. In many ways they are White Protestant nationalists, they look down on Jews and Catholics and Asians in equal order. McCloy in particular has a horrific involvement with the survival of the death camps in Germany and the construction of the internment camps in the U.S., and Harriman and the rest do not lose sleep over the crushing of central Europe or Asia. But this ethnocentrism does not seem to extend to any policy recommendations for the suppression of non White Protestant populations within the United States. Perhaps a comparison might be made of the Roman Senatorial elite, a small Italian nobility that magnanimously ruled over subject populations from the Iberians to the Jews. I don’t know, and this likewise is not explored.

slavery-in-ancient-rome

The final chapter of the book, “The Last Supper of the Wise Men,” tries to shoehorn an elegy for the old foreign policy elite. It falls flat (not the least because the combined efforts of the disdained Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administration would win the cold war months after the book was published!). But there’s something to this. Isaacson and Thomas note that even the “poorest” of the wise men had second homes and personal servants. Some of this is a function of the economic development of the time. But as well, The Wise Men is the story of an elite being swept away, as an elite is being swept away in our times.

churchill-harriman-and-stalin

I write this in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election. The last three years have seen three elite failures in the west: the gamergate revolt in hobbyist journalism, the Brexit polling debacle, the Republican primary prediction debacle, and the general election polling debacle. These are the results of the economic collapse of the old media elite, which had lead to hiring and publication decisions which encourage low-skill analysts and click-bait headlines.

The Wise Men describes a different elite — foreign policy instead of journalism — but at the dawn of the professional class. Men like Harriman had no need for income from their work. Instead, power was a hobby, for those rich enough to afford it. We are entering that world again — the Washington Post is a hobby of Amazon-founded Jeff Bezos, and for a time The New Republic was the toy of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. If these men allow their children to inherit vast wealth, the world of that generation will be the world of Averell Harriman.

It’s hard to recommend The Wise Men because it is a very slow read — It took me 14 months to muscle through it on unabridged Audible. But it’s a fascinating look at a world that once was, and may be again.

Impressions of “Reflections on the Psalms,” by C.S. Lewis

I recently had the opportunity to listen to C.S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms, on unabridged Audible. Unlike his more famous works it is not a apolgetic — Lewis is writing to the interested layman, Christian or not, about the Hebrew psalms and how they relate to Christianity.

reflections-on-the-psalms

Lewis’s preferred rendering closely mirrors Robert Alter’s translation, The Book fof Psalms, and disagree with the style followed by Dumbrell and Lozovyy. When it comes to the Psalms, the “literal” translation is preferred among the academically minded, and a loose translation is preferred by would-be theocrats. It’s easy to see why. The Psalms are written in a down-to-earth style: the Hebrew word ruach sometimes translated as “spirit” means life-breath (the in-flow to the lungs), and words used to describe redemption clearly refer to civil suits. While what Lewis calls “double meanings” (and what Alter would call “Christian hermeneutics“) can be easily applied to some verses, there seems to be no serious academic dispute as to the original, intended meanings of many of the Psalms.

In my review of Alter’s work, I noted many have the style of hip-hop: self-congratulatory poems praising one’s own virtues and cursing adversaries. I don’t think there’s a way to resolve this without admitting that the words of the Scripture itself reflect the human biases and faults of the human author. To this Lewis and I would add that the Holy Author has a clear intention in doing this. An analogy might be found int he list of Popes. Christ chose as the first Pope a man who cut off an ear in the Garden and denied him three times during his trial. God uses human instruments to reveal Himself to us. Perhaps because we could not withstand a clearer revelation.

the-book-of-psalms

Lewis also makes some worthwhile observations about prophecy. Lewis gives the example of a scientist of the oceans, describing in a lecture what an alien fish on a planet with such-and-such conditions may look like. If later a space probe is sent to a world similar to one described, and takes photos of alien fish similar to that described by the scientist, is the scientist is a prophet? In a literary sense, yes: he accurately understood the mechanics of what was happening, and made a prediction in line with that. Other ‘prophecies’ by the same scientist should be taken more seriously as a result.

This point is important. For while there are prophecies that are filled-full by events, and those which are clearly written after events, the Scriptures even record prophets who hide their thoughts, or are scared of political power, or who disagree with other prophets

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go against Ramoth Gilead to fight, or shall I refrain?”

So they said, “Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.”…

Then he came to the king; and the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall we refrain?”

And he answered him, “Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!”

So the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”

Then he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’”
1 Kings 22:6,15-17

Thus, prophecies are part of the internal dialog of the Scripture. Another aspect of this internal dialog are where different human writers seem to disagree with each other. An interesting chain, albeit partially out of order, concerns the books Ecclesiastes, Chronicles, and Isaiah.

Ecclesiastes, if it is to be literally believed, was written by Solomon

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

Solomon, though, allowed worship in the “high places”

And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places.
1 Kings 3:3

Which were destroyed by Hezekiah

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.

He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.
2 Kings 18:1-4

Which may not have been such a good thing after all

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

Knowledge of these internal dialogues become necessary to sustaining the faith when one reads the Psalms. Lewis begins his reflections on the Psalms near where I end it, with the terrible ones.

Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.

Let his children be fatherless,
And his wife a widow.

Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg;
Let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.

Let the creditor seize all that he has,
And let strangers plunder his labor.

Let there be none to extend mercy to him,
Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
Psalms 109:8-12

chinese-begger-kids

These terrible Psalms too are part of the Scripture’s internal dialog. And this internal dialog reaches its climax in the hallucinatory four-way testimony of the Gospels — of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — in which the human ability to understand the Divine only by stripes is most apparent.

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Luke 14:25-26

and

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.
Matthew 19:13-15

I’m glad I read Reflections on the Psalms. It’s a brief book more accessible to general readers than Alter’s Book of Psalms. It is a much more human in understanding the flesh and blood writers than most “religious readers.” It has some fascinating thoughts on prophecy and the dialog of the Bible.

And it’s short! Only three and a half hours. Highly recommended!

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

seraphim-dan-hillier

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

And the mechanical cherubim:

cherubim_wheels_of_fire

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.

isaiah-36

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

cyrusthegreat

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?

babylonian-captivity

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-abraham-angels

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

christ-silent-before-his-accusers

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,
And 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.

pray-western-wall-temple-mount-kotel

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

adoration-of-the-lamb

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.

cs-lewis-mere-christianity

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

cs-lewis-the-great-divorce

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

cs-lewis-the-screwtape-letters

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

cs-lewis-a-grief-observed

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?


abraham-and-isaac-on-mount-moriah1

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.

521px-David_King_Over_All_Israel

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.

astarte_31

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

Hezekiahs-stamp

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

and

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

abigail_and_david

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.