The Weight of Glory (AD 1942) and Letters to Malcolm (AD 1964) are both Christian non-fiction works by CS Lewis, probably the best Christian writer of the 20th century. They are both written in his easy style — though more like one believer exchanging notes with another rather than tools for conversion — and both are relatively short. But more than a generation separate their publications, and in that time Lewis honed his craft. Yet they are the work of the same man. They are reflections — transpositions or projections — of the same mind.
The cover for Letters to Malcolm shown above contains part of the Flower of Life, one of the many shadows a hypercube onto a 2 dimensional surface. A hypercube, when unfolded onto 3 dimensions, makes the shape of a cross. Our human brains are not evolved to understand 4-Dimensional entities, so all the graphics in this post are different ways of translating what a cube of cubes means onto a computer page. In both of these books, C.S. Lewis tries to project man’s relationship with God, or at least the hyperdimensional nature of God’s presence, onto paper.
The Weight of Glory is a collection of nine lectures, but the central core is #4, “Transposition,” an accessible guide to an abstract theological issue. Letters to Malcolm may be the finest writing Lewis ever produced — it only appears to be straight-forward, but is as strong and subversive a defense of Christianity as St Augustine’s Confessions (AD 400).
The most striking line of St Augustine’s writings, to Christians who nowadays bother to read it, is probably this:
Therefore will I speak before Thee, O Lord, what is true, when ignorant men and infidels (for the initiating and gaining of whom the sacraments of initiation and great works of miracles are necessary, which we believe to be signified under the name of “fishes” and “whales”) undertake that Thy servants should be bodily refreshed, or should be otherwise succoured for this present life, although they may be ignorant wherefore this is to be done, and to what end; neither do the former feed the latter, nor the latter the former; for neither do the one perform these things through a holy and right intent, nor do the other rejoice in the gifts of those who behold not as yet the fruit
The context for the bolded section is the chief difficulty that St Augustine had in converting to Christianity: how could an educated, modern world accept the literal truth of the Bible, with its bizarre miracles (Jonah being swallowed by a whale; Christ feeding the multitude with a few fishes and loaves). Augustine’s solution was that these “names” in fact “signify” sacramental truths. While Augustine’s writing is latinate and complex, it appears he does not believe in the literal truth of either miracle.
Without getting into specific historical claims (the general pattern of Biblical literature implies to me the The Book of Jonah is written as a comedy, or at least a satire), Lewis introduces the concept of “transposition.” Lewis means by transposition what geometers mean by “projection” — the translation of an object from a higher dimension to a lower one. For instance, if you had a cube, you could project (or in Lewis’s term, “transpose”) is into a square — that is one correct way of viewing a cube on flat paper. Or you could use perspective, and show that cube as a sequence of angled rectangles. Lewis gives an example of projecting/transposing a beach onto paper by drawing it with pencils.
Thus, lines like “thrones and dominions,” or “on the right hand of the Father,” or (perhaps) “fishes” and “whales” are projects into a lower-dimensional space of higher-dimensional reality. Lewis elides the dimensionality at which this stops. For instance, is it the case that fishes and whales are 3D dimensional projections of higher-dimensionality reality, or (to follow Augustine) are the names fishes and whales themselves the lower-dimensional projection.
“Transposition” is the hermeneutic key of The Weight of Glory. But it’s also the key I think, to Letters to Malcolm, an extremely readable book on the importance of prayer. Transposition matters in thinking about the nature of time. And it matters in thinking about the nature of Scripture.
Christians are told to pray for their “daily bread.” While “thy will be done” might be translated as “… if it’s actually a good idea,” most of us have our own ideas that we are encouraged to pray for. Peace or victory, justice or forgiveness, a raise or a successful relationship. But in many cases a “successful” prayer would require not simply changing the future, but also the past. For instance, if you receive a letter from a lawyer, and you pray it is good news, the only way that pray could “work” is if the prayer succeeded in changing the the past event of composing that letter.
Atheists accuse Christians of thinking they have a a “friend in the sky.” But it is more accurate to say the sky is in Him. In the same way, urgent prayers do not hope for a friendly response in time — they hope for a response for He whom Time is within. Time is not absolute reality, God is.
Let’s put it another way. We are used to logical thinking, such that if something is a square it cannot be a triangle, or a point. But a pyramid is a square on its bottom, a triangle on its side, and a point on its top. These lower-dimensional shapes are projected (or Lewis would say, transposed) from the higher-dimensional object of a pyramid. The drawing of a pyramid on the dollar bill is just one of many projections of a pyramid, including just one of the possibly projections or transpositions of its shapes. Likewise, the hypercube when further unrolled (transposed) onto 3 dimensional space is a cross, and when projected (transposed) head-on, it appears to be composed of five squares. Or any of the other shapes in this blog post.
So when we pray for a miracle, in the past, present or future, we are praying for the projection of time that we see to be in conformance with our request. We are praying for time to be rotated in a specific way, in the way we might rotate a model pyramid to see the triangle, or the square, or the point. And (given the trickiness in rotating all of space-time to change the plane of reality), the phrase “Thy Will be Done” might be understood as “If that’s actually a good idea.”
Medieval Christianity is the story of the western Church between the years of Donatus (during the late Roman Empire) and Martin Luther (who was nine years old when the New World was discovered). This comprehensive history provides a discussion of both the recent research into this period, as well as the lives and organizations that shaped it. If there is a theme it is the recurrent trend of weakness, purifying reaction, and then counter-reaction. This process involved, in different ears, both the institutional Church, her would be saviors, and her enemies.
An implication of this cycle view is that the purifying reformers are as much of a danger as the weak ones they reacted to themselves. While one corrupted the church body through inaction and frailty of will, the other corrupted the church body through overreaction and the frailty of mercy.
Donatus (and the Donatist Hersey named after him) is a good example. During the Roman persecution many bishops gave into fear, handing over precious objects and performing rights to the Emperor. A number of these bishops were ex-communicated during the persecution for this. But after the persecution ended, the wayward bishops confessed they had been fearful, and requested their posts back. Many were reinstated.
To this Donatus objected. Bishops, he claimed, had to be morally upright. Not merely were they obliged to me: a weak or sinful man by definition could not be a bishop. St Augustine, whose Confessions explored the nature of ongoing sin during a search for God, disagreed. The church, like the believer, is made perfect in the next life: weakness and corruption is a (unfortunate) part of being alive.
Along with this was an ongoing debate in the church, on the roles of the sacrament and preaching.
While the Donatists were defeated, the same trends would occur multiple times. By the end of the Dark Ages, the priesthood had degenerated into a largely illiterate family affair, where local parish priests would inherit the office from their father. Pope St. Gregory VII attacked this, including urging Christians not to attend masses said by priests living corrupt lives. While Gregory’s teachings were considered positive reforms, and not heresies, the trend of rejceting priests would continue.
Another major reaction-counterreaction were the preaching friar movements, especially the future heresiarch Peter Waldo and the future Saint Francis of Assisi. The two men died within twenty years of each other, and shared many similarities. Both were Italians from wealthy merchant families. Both had conversions of the heart after hearing the story of Jesus and the rich young man. Both gave away their possessions, and emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel over the sacraments, both had followers who took this even farther, but both still emphasized the importance of sacraments.
That Waldo was declared a heretic, and Francis a saint, probably has more to do with the changing realization in the church that clerics and monks had been neglecting preaching (and perhaps to their personalities as well), as opposed to actual differences in their theology. For while followers of Waldo would deny purgatory and the efficacy of prayers for the dead, it was Francis’s followers who occasionally would adopt a more extreme theology of an Age of the Holy Spirit, and that the era of obey’s Christ command to “do this in remembrance of me” had ended.
The power of the papacy itself was the site of a cycle. A weak but nonetheless highly literate Papacy was a seat of learning among the shattered remnants of the Roman Empire. The Pope often acted as Supreme Court, as feuding nobles or kings could assume the Pope both understood ancient laws and was far enough away to be able to judge honestly. Pope Innocent III would build the power of the papacy, successfully ending wars, even bringing both the Holy Roman Emperor and Byzantine Emperor to heel. But this increase in power of the Papacy, and increased its attraction for corrupt men, a new reaction formed to limit the power of the Papacy. This reaction was “Concilliarism,” the move to make councils (such as the Council of Nicea) a once-every-five years affair, a de facto legislature of the Christian world that would reduce the Pope to a sort of Prime Minister who could be removed. (Ironically, this may be closer to the sense in which Peter was himself made a Royal Steward, though this history does not make this connection). But this Concilliar move for constitutional reform would fail, both because a Council would cause immense trouble by electing an Anti-Pope, and because the now threatened Papacy rose to the occasion by successfully (if temporarily) negotiation Reunion with the Orthodox Church).
Another cycle was provoked by the Black Death, and the large number of loved ones suddenly taken away from this world. The ancient doctrine of prayers for the dead was put into focus by the mass deaths, which lead to mass inflation. The King of Spain paid for thousands upon thousands of masses for his soul, hoping the prayers of priests would lead God to grant him mercy. This could not be right, thought reformers, and so developed a theology focusing on merit (trying one’s best to do help others and serve God) to build a habit of grace. In the moments of us trying our best, we could obtain a salvation we did not deserve but which God promised us, and by repeating these we developed habits in which such service would (slowly, and almost) become second nature. Thus, salvation could be earned by faith through good works.
To which an Augustinian monk, named Martin Luther, would respond.
Medieval Christianity: A New History ends abruptly. The reformation is put in context, but the specific reasons why Luther’s attempted reforms ended in disaster, while all others kept a shared communion, are not discussed. Additionally, while the author teaches at Harvard Divinity School, his knowledge of Catholicism in particular seems lacking. He correctly tries to build empathy in the reader for the use of prayers to the saints, miracle medals, and the like, while either believing these are no longer practiced, or that no one who uses either would be reading his book. Likewise, the medieval time period is told almost entirely for western late medieval Christianity — the Dark Ages are mostly elided, and the Orthodox and Eastern churches are all but forgotten
In the past two years, two scholars have changed the way I think about the Bible. Robert Alter introduced me to the idea of the Bible as literature, specifically a mosaic of literary traditions including the Epic, Dramatic, and even Comedic. And Michael Heiser’s lead me to read more of the intellectual context of the Bible, including the Old Religion of the Canaanites and Pseudoepigraphic work.
And now I dived right in to Heiser’s massive — and massively rewarding — Unseen Realm. It is an intimidating combination of great writing and academic weight. This same combination intimidated me from even bothering to post impressions of most of Alter’s translations (with the exception of the Book of Psalms). But it does no good to leave a mental record of regrettable works without recording those which changed my thinking in a good way.
Most of what follows is my summary of the world painted in The Unseen Realm. But before I do that, I want to compare it against the two works it is closest to: William Dumbrell’s Covenant and Creation, and The End of the Beginning. Heiser and Dumbrell have spent a considerable part of their life developing an expressing a novel interpretation of the Bible by carefully looking for threats in the Bible. Neither use literalism or obviously favor one set of books over the other. Both can serve to open up the Scriptures, by helping the reader see how the reader’s favorite sections understand to other which are harder to understand.
But Heiser is certainly the better scholar. For one, I never feared that Heiser was lying to me, while that is a constant worry reading Dumbrell. From inexplicable and unexplained translation choices, to the silent redefinition of well known terms, to a remarkable blindspot of the meaning of the critical term “Covenant,” Dumbrell’s work is “prophetic” at best, academic malpractice at worst. Dumbrell’s books may well be important in the history of Christian thought — he is the only Christian writer I know who looks forward to not having to follow Jesus and for the Son’s kingship to end — but his logic is so obscured that it’s impossible to tell.
Heiser is superior on every level. He is careful with translations, citing rival translations where possible, and discussing how this or that understanding of the ancient text would impact his writing. He is careful with the social context of the work, paying attention to Canaanite, Babylonian, Second Temple, and (elsewhere) Greco-Roman sources of ideas. While Heiser’s work adds a new layer to the narrative of the Scriptures, unlike Dumbrell he does not present a heretical doctrine. Dumbrell’s poor reader has no idea where any of these ideas come from. Heiser is generous in encouraging the reader to follow-up and dig deeper into the sources.
With that, I will try my best. What follows is a rough sketch of Heiser’s translation, methods and the broad strokes of his conclusions.
If the Bible would be re-written as a modern drama, where should it start? Heiser’s interpretation implies at at the foundation of the church, with Christ speaking the the words to Peter.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter,
and on this rock
I will build My church,
and the gates of Hades
shall not prevail against it.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20
Catholics read “this rock” as meaning Peter, that to Peter and his successors would be the charge of a church that would last to the end of the world. Protestants have tried to argue that “this rock” perhaps means pebble, implying that Peter’s leadership would die with him.
Only Heiser, as far as I know, argues in the logic of biblical parallelism. If this verse has parallelism, “this rock” is magnified into “the gates of hell” — which must be referencing Mount Ararat, on whose slopes was the city of Caesari Philipii. Heiser also gives the first reason for the silence I’ve heard: so that those things that live on Ararat do not know either.
This is not simply the foundation of a church in Peter, or in Peter’s apostolic successors — it is a declaration of war.
In our re-written epic, the story would then flash back to the first man. Adam was intended to be King,
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Genesis 1:17,26-31
But unlike the Only Begotten Son, the First Created Man failed in his Kingship. He listened to his wife and not to God. Corruption entered the world.
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life…
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life Genesis 3:9,22-24
The cycle repeats once more with another First Born Son, the nation of Israel. Israel the man was not first born of course — he was the younger twin of his brother Esau — but the nation of Israel is adopted by God as first born. Yet when this is announced the cycle is intensified. The declaration of Israel’s first born status is immediately followed by blood. Not just the fruit of the vine, but the fruit of veins:
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”’”
And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a husband of blood to me!” So He let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!”—because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:22-26
But like the man Adam, the nation Israel fails. It is corrupted. The line did not end with Adam of course — Seth continued after him — and God offered Moses a similar status as sub-father of all:
And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Exodus 32:9-11
And even Moses is fallen at last.
And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately Numbers 31:15-17
The wicked ones win again.
Now that the good guys have lost twice in a row, who are the bad guys? What is the opposition that keeps corrupting the pattern that God wants, his first-born son ruling as king of the Earth?
Here Heiser, like Dumbrell, is on weaker ground. He seeks a novel reading with limited Scriptural support. here the victory goes to Heiser. While Dumbrell continues on and makes claims without support or explanation, Heiser is open about his approach.
He emphasizes two New Testament verses, which describe the rebellion of the angels, and which reference the apocryphal Book of Enoch:
And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; Jude 1:6
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 2 Peter 3:4
Both passages appear to reference the pseudo-Enoch’s elaboration
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended ?in the days? of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. Enoch 6:1-6
This and other adventures (later, in the Book of Enoch, the angels are indeed in prison, and beg Enoch for intercession to the Almighty) appear to be elaborations of the following passage in Genesis:
Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.
And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown Genesis 6:1-4
These same Sons of God appear to have a role similar to a consultative legislator:
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. Job 2:1
Yet it is a faulty assembly:
God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.
They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.” Psalms 82:1-7
Do these and other such passages support Heiser’s argument? You should read the book and judge for yourself. What I will say though is that, unlike Dumbrell, Heiser cites his sources and provides accurate translations, allowing you to judge him on his merits, and not through his deceptions.
Now, back to our story…
It is Diablos, either the leader or a representative of these Sons of God, who offers this control to Jesus. The Devil tempts Jesus in three geographical locations: the wilderness, Mount Zion, and a an exceedingly high mountain — even today Mt Herman is so high it is called the “eyes of the nation”
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. Matthew 4:1-11
But Herman is not just an exceedingly tall mountain. It is home to Ba’al
namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. Judges 3:3-4
Thus: : A Declaration of War on the slopes of Mt Herman. The promised, and foiled, rule of the first man, Adam. The promised, and foiled, rule of the firstborn Israel. And now things happen quickly. Christ promises it will happen again! This is going to be a suicide mission!
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 26:21-24
Immediately following this, the mission is ratified — again on a “high mountain.” Peter’s line that is it “ood” they are there is striking for the location, and in its optimism. There is but one God. And He is transfigured on top of the gateway to Hell, that rock, Hermon. They saw no evil spirits, no Ba’al, but they heard the voice of God, and beheld Jesus only:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Matthew 17:1-8
Michael Heiser integrates both Testaments (except the Deuterocanon), Second Temple Literature, and Canaanite and Babylonian stories to present a plausible reading of the Scriptures as they would have been understood by literate Jews of the 1st century. The establishment of the Church is a declaration of war. The Transfiguration is its endorsement. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem appears to be a retreat, the Crucifixion the decisive battle — where Christ defeated Death – or rather the rebellious Sons of God — in a stunning entrapment.
The reconcilliation and peace of the Crucifixion is not the peace between equals — it is the peace after a stunning victory over a defeated kingdom:
For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight Colossians 1:19-22
Important Note: What follows is a very negative review. I disagree with how the author presents interpretations of individual words, his summary of short phrases, his paraphrasing of brief episodes, his description of relationships between the people of the Bible, his descriptions of Israel and Christ, and (implicitly) his view of the Trinity. After my negative review of the author’s previous work, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology, I have broadened my reading to better understand his arguments. The result is I disagree with them more thoroughly and more completely.
That said, the author of this book, William Dumbrell, deserves tremendous credit for the scale of his undertaking. In both his previous work and this one, The End of the Beginning, he systematically searches the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels, and the Epistles to find a deeper harmony and a consistent message. In his methodology and results, I believe he fails. Nevertheless, the basic assumption of the author: that the Bible is a kaleidoscopic whole, a story of God and His relationship with man – through all the sacrifices and ceremonies, kings and prophets, judges and writers –is correct.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”…
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west…
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Revelation 21:1-4, 9-13,22-27
A close reader will notice the presence of three “new” things: the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem, and the absence of a “New Israel.” There is (at least on the face of it) no “New Temple” or “New Israel,” but perhaps the phrase is elliptic. Dumbrell’s search for the origin and promises related to these themes in the Hebrew Bible.
Here’s where the excitement begins: Dumbrell doesn’t focus on those present “news.” The book is instead centered on four themes: New Jerusalem, New Temple, New Covenant and New Israel. The New Heaven and Earth are simply ignored as first-level themes, while “New Covenant” arrives out of nowhere (The word is not mentioned in the last two chapters of Revelation.). Whether this choice indicates a brilliant or reckless interpretative strategy is largely the focus of this review.
And with that, I will begin my review. I will hit the following high-level topics: the author is not a reliable reporter of facts. This leads him to distort sidesteps in the Scriptures. He appears not to know what a Covenant is, or how the Biblical writers would have that of that concept. This leads him to implicitly endorse a strange concept of the Trinity, which explains otherwise shocking claims: that Israel is rejected, and we wait for Christ only to shrug him off. Through the author’s exposition he misses the literary qualities of the Biblical text, which causes him confusion where he should find joy. I conclude by summarizing Dumbrell’s limited conception of the Divine with a traditional Jewish or Christian one.
The Rejection of Facts
When reading The End of the Beginning, it is important not to trust the author. Basic claims are wrong. For instance
[Jeremiah’s] call is unique among the vocational calls of the OT prophets, for the others are all sent soley to Israel / Judah. p. 83
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
In other cases Dumbrell simply misrepresents basic claims. For instance, “sin sacrifices” in the Hebrew Bible could only be made from female or castrated animals. When Dumbrell writes
The ancient believer was fully aware, if spiritually perceptive, that it was not the blood of bulls and goats which forgave sins. p. 93
he is surely correct. Of course, a literalist reader would reach the same conclusion. It is for this reason that since Paul Christian writers have emphasized Christ’s role as a passover lamb, a form of sacrifice that saves but also allows for an intact male victim:
Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:7b-8
There’s also claims whose odd phrasing make it difficult to determine if Dumbrell is making a positive claim, or simply a rhetorical flourish. For instance, Judgeship (unlike Kingship) was “episodic, limited, and inspired”
Judgeship (For which Israel also asks, cf. “to govern us” Heb. sapat) as exercised by Samuel, the last and greatest of the figures of the period, is episodic, limited, and inspired. p. 138
Yet while Kings performed ghastly deads, such as the murder of priests, human sacrifices was introduced by a Judge. “Inspired” perhaps, although the spiritually perceptive reader might ask by who, or what?
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”….
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”
So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”
So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Judges 11:34-40
Dumbrell will use questionable translations of the Bible, though he never gives his own translation of full verses, or cites one he is using. An example is his description of the Tower of Babel
Others, with reference (v4) to the “watch-tower” (Heb. migdal) see an attempt to keep God under surveillance and thus in effect to build God out of his own world. p. 182
This was an interesting claim to me, given the explicitly military role of the Stars and their wars against kings. Is a cosmic drama being implied?
“The kings came and fought,
Then the kings of Canaan fought
In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no spoils of silver.
They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses fought against Sise Judges 5:19-20
I was excited. The Deuterocanon describes an angel fighting a demon in the Book of Tobit, the the Pseudoepigraphia goes into the celestial community in the Book of Enoch. So I wanted to know more.
When I looked up parallel translation of the verse containing this word, I found none of them translated it as “watch-tower.” When I look up migdal in Hebrew-English dictionaries, I’ve found no translation that refers to “migdal” as meaning “watch-tower.” Dumbrell never defends his translation of “watch tower,” or even asserts it is his own translation.
Saying “watch-tower” must have just sounded good.
It is impossible to trust what he says.
And we haven’t even gotten to the distortions that fit what appear to be Dumbrell’s agenda yet.
Distorting the Scriptures
There are also cases where it’s unclear if Dumbrell is incorrectly reporting facts, or simply making illogical conclusions. For instance, he uses — where the elders of Israel mediate the relationship between the LORD and Israel, as an example of an unmediated relationship between the LORD and Israel!
However, the fact that at the ratification of the covenant in verses 1-11 seventy elders along with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, accompany Moses onto the mountain and eat in the divine presence implies all Israel is still considered capable of being addressed without a mediator, and on the most intimate level. p. 127
The verse is even the more problematic in context. Dumbrell’s criticism of a “mediated” relationship of course refers to the Catholic belief in the role of the sacrificial priest. But the full episdoe shows Moses as a priest in a type of eucharistic celebration, bringing God’s grace to the people, and preparing to bring his word as well. Indeed, it is the mirror image of a Catholic mass, which begins with the Liturgy of the Word and concludes with the sacrifice
And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”
Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.” Exodus 24:8-12
The point here is not to insist on a Catholic reading of Exodus, but demonstrate that Dumbrell’s summary is incomplete and his conclusion bizarre. The passage describes Moses mediating a blood sacrifice, and then mediating the divine word, to elders who themselves mediate for their people!
A more egregious misrepresentation concerns the inexplicable conclusion of Jacob as an early Patriarch. In Genesis, Jacob was the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, and the man who was also called “Israel.” A theme through Dumbrell’s writing is a hostility of Israel. I don’t know if that is his motive for distorting the identity of the Three Patriarchs, but I do know that Dumbrell distorts their identities
Thus the book of Genesis ends with Israel preserved and populous. Curiously, blessing, or the promise of it, comes to each of the three patriarchs (Abraham Jacob, Joseph) outside of the promised land, but with reference to the land. p. 133
The Three Patriarchs are nowhere identified as Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph. The list of Three Patriarchs always include Jacob-called-Israel. Joseph, unlike his grandfather and great-grandfather, was a government official, not a tribal leader. Further, every identification of the Three Patriarchs describe the three generations prior to Joseph, either
“Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”
(as in Exodus 6:8, Exodus 33:1, Numbers 32:11, Deuteronomy 1:8, Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 9:5, Deuteronony 9:27, Deuteronomy 29:13, Deuteronomy 30:20, Deuteronomy 34:4, 2 Kings 13:23, Jeremiah 33:26, Matthew 8:11, and Acts 33:13)
“Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”
(as in Exodus 32:13, 1 Kings 18:36, 1 Chronicles 29:18, and 2 Chronicles 30:6)
Sometimes the author’s distortion leads to completely bizarre conclusions. Dumbrell seems alone in all of Christian history in believing that Caiaphas had converted to Christianity!
The healing miracle at Capernaum forces the Jewish leaders to acknowledge that the Son of Man “has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). p. 153
Not surprisingly, the passage does not indicate that the Jewish High Priest was a secret follower.
But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:8-12
So far we’ve surveyed basic incorrect claims, incorrect summaries, and scriptural distortions that erased Israel and accused High Priest of Israel of knowing Jesus was the Son of Man during His trial.
Dumbrell also does not understand ancient international relations, which (surprisingly) leads to even greater errors.
It is in this context — the context of Dumbrell’s inaccurate and distorting reporting — that the most serious claims of the book should be addressed. Primarily, God’s relationship to Israel and, ultimately, God’s relationship to his Son, Jesus Christ. It is a difficult accomplishment to create a novel heresy objectionable to both Jews and Christians for separate reasons. Dumbrell accomplishes that.
Dumbrell makes much of “Covenant,” an ancient form of communication analogous to the Instrument of Surrender. The only legal difference is that while a Covenant was voiced from the Conquerer’s side (promising not to destroy property, and proclaiming the obedience of the conquered people), the Instrument of Surrender is voiced from the conquered’s side (promising not to destroy property, and proclaiming their own obedience to the Conqueror). This is because in the ancient world a necessary feature of a government or military was to be able to enforce a local monopoly of violence, thus the conquer’s pledge was required to make it legally binding. In our own day, countries and military orders may legally exist without any actual capacity to legitimately use force whatsoever. Thus, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta continues in our day to join international agreements in spite of having no territory, a concept that in the ancient world would have been ridiculous.
Not surprisingly, “covenants” are much used by those with the greatest first hand experience of that – the Exile and post-Exile prophets when Israel was under covenant to Babylon or Persia, and rarely used by writers in which covenant was as specialized a term as it is in ours. For instance, the Roman world-system of government (like the American one) used a combination of annexations, Status of Force agreements, and alliances to maintain what we call their “Empire.” Thus, Roman writers did not resort to “Covenant” as a method of explaining God’s relationship to them. Dumbrell is puzzled by this:
Although Paul constantly takes up the question of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises and thus the One who continues the covenant traditions (cf. Rom 1:1, 16-17 and especially Gal 3), a full covenant exposition is rarely offered by him. p. 107
Dumbrell even rejects the actual texts of the Gospels because they do not include such a formula:
There are difficulties, however, with too precise an attempt to locate this section [“covenant renewal formulas”] formally, and we agree with the suggestion that the Matthean redaction in this closing junction of the Gospel makes it fruitless to seek for exact formal parallels. p. 105
Likewise, when the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were fully sovereign they had not issued Instruments of Surrender to anyone, thus the idea is not used by those authors either. Not surprisingly, Dumbrell is puzzled by this:
In regard to the latter it is understandable, though initially puzzling, that the pre-exilic prophets made such little direct use of the covenant concepts. p. 80
Apparently not knowing this context, Dumbrell is also surprised by two another implications of a Covenant: that Covenants imply future General Orders without identifying them, and that Covenants are described before they are enacted. For instance, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender (signed September 2, 1945) begins below. Note the parties are identified, both personally and others of the same legal bodies, promise is made to cease destroying property, and obedience is pledged:
We, acting by command of and in behalf of the Emperor of Japan, the Japanese Government and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, hereby accept the provisions set forth in the declaration issued by the heads of the Governments of the United States, China, and Great Britain on 26 July 1945 at Potsdam, and subsequently adhered to by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which four powers are hereafter referred to as the Allied Powers.
We hereby proclaim the unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and of all Japanese armed forces and all armed forces under the Japanese control wherever situated.
We hereby command all Japanese forces wherever situated and the Japanese people to cease hostilities forthwith, to preserve and save from damage all ships, aircraft, and military and civil property and to comply with all requirements which may be imposed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or by agencies of the Japanese Government at his direction.
God’s covenant with Noah, for example, is parallel to this. Note that the parties are identified, both personally and others of the same legal bodies, promise is made to cease destroying properties, and obedience is pledged (or rather, predicted, as it is the conqueror spekaing)
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11
Following a Covenant (or Instrument of Surrender), Laws (or General Orders) are promulgated. The first General Orders (or Laws) are the most expansive and set the tone for all future directives. For instance, MacArthur’s General Order #1 is as follows. Note the conquered people is identified, reminded of their surrender, and informed exactly who their superiors now are. Thus prevents a local rebellion under the guise of “accidentally” obeying the wrong superior:
The Imperial General Headquarters by direction of the Emperor, and pursuant to the surrender to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers of all Japanese armed forces by the Emperor, hereby orders all of its commanders in Japan and abroad to cause the Japanese armed forces and Japanese-controlled forces under their command to cease hostilities at once, to lay down their arms, to remain in their present locations and to surrender unconditionally to commanders acting on behalf of the United States, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom and the British Empire, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as indicated hereafter or as may be further directed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Immediate contact will be made with the indicated commanders, or their designated representatives, subject to any changes in detail prescribed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and their instructions will be completely and immediately carried out.
Similarly, General Order #1 (or rather, Law #1) provided to Moses is as follows
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6
Hundreds of laws were provided by MacArthur to the remnant of Japan, both in expansive general orders, specific directives, and judgments for which the Japanese government was leaned on to execute.
Of course, the existence of a General Order #2, #11, or even #614 would not imply that a “new” Instrument of Surrender must be executed!
The new commandment of love Jesus gives his disciples (John 13:34) presupposes the introduction of a New Covenant (John 13:34). p. 114
Of course, the negotiations preceding the signing of Japan’s instrument of surrender would have lead to conclusion about what such an Instrument of Surrender was going to entail, at least on a high level. For instance, more than two weeks passed between Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Rescript of Surrender (publicly signalling the coming Allied covenant over Imperial forces) and the actual Instrument of Surrender.
But one must be wary here as to what is in mind by the introduction of “my covenant.” Which covenant is in view? Nothing explicitly covenantal has so far been advanced in this book.” p. 123
The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.
Having been able to safeguard and maintain the Kokutai, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.
Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.
Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.
Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.
Hirohito, in The Jewel Voice Broadcast
Moses, as transcribed later by the Hebrews, spoke much the same words, because men have much the same hearts:
Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, …
“When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.
Moses, in Deuteronomy 4:9,25-31
The Eternal Submission of the Son
It helps us understand the context of the Exilic writings — from the final composition of the Torah to the literary Prophets — to know what they meant by “covenant.” It is not surprising that historical eras where Covenants were not an important legal document, such as the Kingdom or the Empire, did not prominent feature them in theological writings. What is surprising is that centuries later, a bizarre application of the covenant to the Trinity would appear: the Eternal Submission of the Son.
I’ll let a proponent — the Reformed (Calvinist) theologian Robert Letham — explain the history of this idea
Since Reformed theologian Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669) propounded the idea of the covenant of redemption, much Reformed theology has argued that Christ’s incarnate obedience reflects eternal relations. This idea holds that salvation rests on an intra-Trinitarian covenant, the Father stipulating that the Son should take human nature, make atonement for sin, and promising rewards for the faithful discharge of these duties, and the Son accepting the covenantal terms. Of this covenant, both Owen and Francis Turretin (1623–1687), for example, were notable exponents.
For there to be a Covenant of Submission — that is an Instrument of Surrender — between the Father and the Son, there must have been a previous state of war or anarchy between them! Or these Reformed theologians are using terms without concern for their original context, and are imputing meaning to the texts that was not there when they were written. My suspicion is the second, as evidence by Dumbrell’s garbled discussion of the relationship between a Covenant and a Law:
The references to “law” in Jer 3:33 causes us to reflect upon the relationship of covenant and law in the OT. Both terms were interdependent: covenant indicating prior relationship; law implying response. p. 90
(No one would describe the relationship of an Instrument of Surrender and a General Order this way, unless one wanted to be intentionally unclear.).
Nevertheless, by adopting the framework of war between the Father and the Son (even if unknowingly), such theologians are lead down dangerous roads. Specifically, they lead Dumbrell to rejecting or perverting much of the Christian message
1. Christ’s kingdom was extinguished
2. The message of the Gospel is one of rejection of Israel
3. Our relationship with Christ ends during the Eschaton
These tragic messages are addressed one at a time.
The Rejection of Christ the King
Dumbrell decomposes the titles of Christ and leads him in a direction that would often be considered idolatry. Read this line carefully
The Servant emobdies the covenant and ensures the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise and transferral of the Davidic promises to the entire people. Ultimately, of course, this Servant is the exalted Son of Man. p. 78
The “covenant” is a creation of God. Jesus, for Christians, is God. Dumbrell identifies the Servant not with God, but with a ceature. This creature the “Son of Man,” also identifying the “Son of Man” as a creature.
Dumbrell, while arguably a non-Christian writer, is at least internally coherent. He agrees with Jews and Muslims that power and glory belongs to God, and not the creaturely Messiah:
The temple in Israel expresses the political rule of the LORD over his people, necessarily subordinating the messianic king. p. 50
Dumbrell is explicit that Christ does not inherit David’s kingdom, is not King of Israel, and men owe no earthly loyalty to him. Indeed, Christians should follow not Christ, but each other!
Thus the Davidic promises, now devoid of any political significance, are transferred to the total people of God. p. 100
To emphasize the point:
Ezek 40-48 makes no provision for Davidic kingship and indeed the term Heb. melek ‘king’ is not used for the political ruler in the future age; Heb. nasi’ “prince” is the preferred term (cf. 44:3, 45:7-8,16-17; 46:2; 48:21-22. This is consistent with the diminished role assigned by David and to kingship generally in the book. p. 59
Christians who await the Second Coming of Christ every week during church services…
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 1 Corinthians 1:26
… are probably surprised that this is because once he shows up we don’t need to worry about him now. A focus on Christ, in Dumbrell’s theology, is a burdensome part of the workaday world, not something we’ll need to pay attention to in the world to come:
Earlier we mentioned not only he comprehensiveness of the Son of Man’s ministry, but a limitation. This is underscored by the closing phrase of the Gospel. His ministry through the disciples will only remain to the end of the age. p. 106
This thoroughly minimized role of Jesus allows Dumbrell to cut-off Israel entirely. Indeed, the great news of the Gospel is that Israel is damned — or at least rejected
Jesus rejects the nation of Israel and creates a New Community. p. 120
The Gospels, by and large, concentrate on the rejection of Israel. p. 151
Thus, messianic rule is to be re-established, but not linked to the historical line of David. (p. 143)
Dumbrell is willing to go as far to implying that seat of Divine Governance has been transfered from Jersualem to Rome — an idea popular with some Catholic theologians — but a rare one among Protestants
By his journey to Rome Paul parallels the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, which ended in his arrest and death (Luke 9:51-18:17). In both journeys the rejection of Israel and Jerusalem had been pronounced. p. 29
The Gospel of Israel’s Rejection
While I’m sure an internal coherent (at least) idea of a Covenant within the Trinity might be established, Dumbrell’s own theology is not internally coherent. For instance, can God revoke a judgement He has pronounced? Dumbrell at first seems to agree with nearly all Christians in saying yes, of course, and this is what is meant by “redemption,” “salvation,” and the “forgiveness of sins”
Man is created to be king of his domain and, in view of his role in the garden in chapter 2, to be priest as well. If the fall robs him of this potential we will expect redemption to restore it and we will look for such features to be added in the NT. p. 176
But Dumbrell must deny this in order to maintain his theology of the defeated Son. To see this, observe the problem: God uses judgement to encourage better behavior. Even the most severe judgement can be overturned. The most striking example is the judgement against the House of David. God explicitly rejects any descendant of King Jehoiakim (a quisling for the Babylonians) from inheriting the throne of Israel. :
“As I live,” says the Lord, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off…
Thus says the LORD:
‘Write this man down as childless,
A man who shall not prosper in his days;
For none of his descendants shall prosper,
Sitting on the throne of David,
And ruling anymore in Judah.’” Jeremiah 22:24,30
But Jehoiakim’s grandson Sheatiel is explicitly listed as an ancestor of Jesus (1 Chronicles 3:15-17; Matthew 1:11-12; Luke 3:27). Anti-Christian writers like Stuart Federow use this as an argument against Jesus’s kingship.
If judgments cannot be revoked (on the arguments that judgement s are a horrific kind of promise, and not a method of encouraging us), then Christ is not the King of the Jews. But this prevents the redemptive power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that Christians believe in. No explanation for this contradiction exists in Dumbrell’s writings. Although he goes out of his way to deny a potential resolution for it.
Dumbrell acknowledges God makes everlasting promises to Israel
God’s presence among men is the also the hallmark of the New Covenant theology in the OT. Thus the everlasting covenant of peace concluded with Israel at the close of Ezekiel 37 entails the presence of God’s tabernacle with them (“I will be their God and they will be my people” vv 26-27). p. 79
But in Dumbrell’s theology, rejection counts for more than election. Dumbrell argues that God has rejeted forever Isreal, David, and even His own Son, as his Son is a direct biological descendant of King Jehiakim. Indeed, in Dumbrell’s theology the the Son of Man neither a Divine Ruler nor the LORD, and there is no room for Christ in the new world. Christ not only came in the guise of the servant, he ends in one, too.
A symbol, not the substance, a creature and not a creator:
Whatever else may be involved in the symbolism here, the “one like a Son of Man” seems plainly a symbol of divine rule. p. 187
The role of the Son of Man is reduced to that of a temple, a footstool, a position no higher than any other saved soul
The account closes with the martyr Stephen directing his worship to just such a site — the heavenly Son of Man, the New Temple (v. 56). p. 68
The Literature of the Bible
It’s not just that Dumbrell deceptively cites the Bible and promotes a heresy. He also has bad taste.
By this I mean that the Bible is not just the words of the LORD as written by prophets and scribe: its exciting! The writing is really good, and includes comedies, tragedies, romances, military adventures, family dramas, and even some horror.
A good example of a comedy is the Book of Jeremiah. It is written as a legal satire, where God sues Judah for divorce (after previously divorcing her sister, Israel). Early in the deposition God asks Judah where hasn’t she hasn’t broken her marriage vows — the list of locations where she has being so exhaustive a few denials would simply save time
“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
A more disturbing work is the Book of Ezekiel. Indeed, I called it “the most disturbing book of the Bible I read so far,” and it may be the most disturbing book I read, ever. It subverts much of what the believer thinks. Even how the reader thinks of narrative, because Ezekiel is Brechtian work, like the Gospel According to John, in which the “suspension of disbelief” (or rather, the suspension of knowing you are reading) is intentionally subverted. You are supposed to end reading the books knowing you are reading a book.
For instance of the four Gospels, only John concludes with the narrator explicitly telling the reader he is reading a book, or where the narrator reveals he is not omniscient.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. Mark 16:19-20
And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen. Luke 24:50-53
And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. John 21:25
This is called the “distancing effect.” It’s on display not only when the narrator comes directly onto “camera” (as in the end of John’s gospel), but when “you” the reader are directly addressed. (Somewhere, in this long monologue, you realize that He is speaking to you.)
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…
And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. John 5:24-25,37-39
or Ezekiel, where the logical flow of a scene (God addressing Israel and Judah) is mischievously interrupted by an additional “you”
Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the LORD God.’” Ezekiel 16:60-63
Dumbrell is mystified by all of this
Somewhat puzzlingly, verse 61 remarks that the reception of the two erstwhile erring daughters, Jerusalem and Samaria (surrogates for north and south), will not be on account of the covenant with you.” Perhaps this must be interpreted to mean that there will be no easy mechanical transition to the new age. p. 96
This distancing effect can also be created by breaking other the terms under which a book is read. For instance, if a book which includes formulaic condemnations of real countries suddenly include condemnations of imaginary lands, the reader will see this breaking of genre boundarie and remember they are reading. (Unless the reader does not pick up on this!)
After the interlude of Gog from Magog in chapters 38-39, the unfolding of the nature of the divine indwelling in the final age proceeds in the new temple prophecies of 40-48. p. 96
Or if land boundaries, which for obvious reasons are carefully marked, suddenly become hallucinatory. —
“Now these are the names of the tribes: From the northern border along the road to Hethlon at the entrance of Hamath, to Hazar Enan, the border of Damascus northward, in the direction of Hamath, there shall be one section for Dan from its east to its west side; by the border of Dan, from the east side to the west, one section for Asher; by the border of Asher, from the east side to the west, one section for Naphtali Ezekial 48:1-3
Somehow the idea of twelve equal stripes leads Dumbrell to call such an arraingemnt “traditional,” when it is so rational as to become dream-like
The division of the land is undertaken with regard to teh ideal borders expressed in the older traditions (cf. Num 34:1-12). p. 58
There is so much odd or objectionable in Dumbrell’s theology it is difficul to know where to begin, or end. But perhaps a single comparison will serve to demonstrate, for the purposes of memory, the difference between Dumbrell’s extended attack on the Hebrew nation and the faith of all other Christians. For Dumbrell sees the Kingdom as a disaster, because God owrks by giving charisms to certain men, and is powerless to select who is born
In the area of the Judges, God spontaneously raised up men of his choice to meet the crisis of the time. No longer could such an element of charisma perdominate in the contemplated kingship for which Israel asks. p. 13
The Christian religion does not deny the power of charism. But rather, sees all men with all their charisms saved by the Divine choice, when a creature gave birth to a royal Creator:
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.
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
The Lost World of Genesis One is a short work that makes a claim I never heard before: the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible contains a literal, day-by-day account of the functional creation of the world. If true, this resolves multiple disputes that have been active in Christian circles for nearly two-thousand years. I’m still not sure what to make of it.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. Genesis 1:1-5
In the above passage, three things to pay attention to:
the word “created”
the phrase “without form, and void”
the existence of “the face of the deep”
The word translated as “Created” is “Bara” (??????), which in the Hebrew Bible is only used with God as the subject. Walton asks a question I never heard before: what is the ontology of “create” in that sentence? Would it have been understood as the creation of physical substance or of functional relations? To use the analogy of a restaurant, is this a story of the construction of a building, or the hiring of a waitstaff, kitchen crew, and ailing of the proper paperwork?
There’s perhaps even a clearer analogy: the creation of the Temple. The building in the Temple, like most actions in the Old Testament, has a form of dual causation: human agency and divine agency. Solomon spent seven years building the physical temple, such as engraving the images of garden scenes and palm trees
Then [Solomon] carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers on them, and overlaid them with gold applied evenly on the carved work.
And he built the inner court with three rows of hewn stone and a row of cedar beams.
In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid, in the month of Ziv. And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its details and according to all its plans. So he was seven years in building it. 1 Kings 6:35-38
But the dedication of the alter took place in 7 days. That is, the temple was legally constituted in 7 literal, 24-hour days thought he physical material was there beforehand
At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel. 2 Chronicles 7:8-10
Following the seven-day legal incorporation of the alter, there was nothing to do but eat, drink, and be merry. To have a true meal and enjoy the true presence, which is to say be joyful in the Lord. Such was life in Jerusalem. Such, John Walter claims, was life in Eden.
Without Form, and Void
The comma in the New Kings James Version is unfortunate, because “without form, and void” is the fossilized phrase “tohu wa bohu” (??????? ????????). Tohu means something like waste, formlessness, or confusion, but bohu only appears in the conjunction with tohu. Whatever bohu once meant, the word had become a fossil within the phrase “tohu wa bohu” by the time the Book of Genesis was written.
Walton argues that the formlessness refers to a lack of functional or legal form. To create a business as a legal person you need to file articles of incorporation which have a proper form, and need to be properly signed and filed if they are not legally void.
Walton again draws an analogy to the temple here, but as a Catholic another analogy would be to the Eucharist, the bread and wine which really and truly becomes the body and blood of Christ. There is a ritual form to the sacrament that must be enacted it order for the sacrament to properly exist. A heretical priest might illicitly celebrate communion, but a Presbyterian minister explicitly stating “this is only a way for us to remember the Lord” would not have the proper form of celebration to even celebrate the Sacrifice, and the sacrament of course would be void — it never would have functionally or legally occurred, even though undeniably people in a Presbyterian service eat bread and drink wine.
The Face of the Deep
The funniest passage in St Augustine’s Confessions is a joke about what happened before creation:
Behold, I answer to him who asks, “What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” I answer not, as a certain person is reported to have done facetiously (avoiding the pressure of the question), “He was preparing hell,” saith he, “for those who pry into mysteries.”
The context was that Biblical literalists of Augustine’s day noted that darkness was on the face of the deep before the first day, and therefore argued that God did not create the deep. Pseudo-Christian Gnostics use similar logic to argue that the God of Genesis is neither the “Word” nor the “God” of the new testament, as the implication of the Gospel According to John is the deep itself was created:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5
Of course, if Genesis 1 is the recounting of the legal incorporation (as opposed to physical instantiation) of the Earth, the controversy dissolves. What was around before a lawyer joins the bar, or a priest celebrates Holy Orders? A physical human, a physical courthouse or church, physical clothing, and so on. But a legal brief filed on behalf of a client by a lawyer who had not joined the bar would be formless and void, as would be a mass celebrated by a priest who had not enjoyed holy orders.
Such a legal interpretation of Genesis 1 also explains other things which may have been around before the creation of the Earth, including the “morning stars” and the “Sons of God,” who God mentions in a rather sarcastic address:
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:3-7
Or Wisdom, who explicitly brags that her relationship with the Divine precedes the existence of the Deep
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water. Proverbs 8:22-24
Walton uses this as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of Wisdom literature as understanding the functional ordering of the universe. He does not, but could have, noted that in the Old Religion of the Canaanites, the Stars were God’s officer corps from before the creation of the world. And these this celestial army of the sky fights for the Earth:
They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses fought against Sisera. Judges 5:20
The Host of Heaven, the Starry Military, is an idea that somehow seems as always in our mind
Some Brief Criticisms
Walton focuses considerable attention on “create,” but not “make,” which also appears in Genesis 1. Walton’s focus on the philosophy of ontology in the opening chapters will make the book more interesting to philosophers of science, but may turn off general readers. Additionally, it may not be entirely relevant, as the distinction it’s never shown that the Hebrews, Canaanites, used the ontological categories of “physical” or “functional” in the way that Walton does. Indeed, Walton himself does not use these terms in a scientific sense!
For instance, describing the Second Day, Walton argues that we scientifically know there was no physical creation activity on that day, as the firmament is not solid
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. Genesis 1:6-8
But not all physical materials are solid. Water is solid when its ice, but it is no less material if it melts (and becomes water), or sublimates (and becomes vapor in the atmosphere). Fiery plasma is a phase of matter as well. And matter itself converts into energy (which is how the sun is powered). Few would argues from this that the Stars are non-material entities!
The Lost World of Genesis One is going to stick with me. Walton’s argument appears to unify multiple strands of biblical research and commentary into an elegant, unified whole. I am keeping it in mind as I read on…
Heiser, Michael. (2006) “Are [the LORD] and El Distinct Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?. ” Faculty Publications and Presentations. [PDF]
Heiser, Michael. (2007) “Anthropomorphism in P.” Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Social of Biblical Literature. [PDF]
Heiser, Michael. (2009) “The Old Testament Respond to Ancient Near-East Pagan Divination.” Of Global Wizardry: Techniques of Pagan Spirituality and a Christian Response. [PDF]
Heiser, Michael. (2017) “The Divine Council in the Pentateuch.” Evangelical Theological Society 2017, San Antonio. [PDF]
Dr. Michael Heiser is one of my most influential Hebrew Bible scholars. Along with Rev. Steven Boint and Dr. Robert Alter, Dr. Heiser focuses on what the Hebrew writings meant to the people who wrote them. These translators come from different religious and academic traditions — Alter is a Jewish professor, Boint is a Reformed minister, and Heiser ministers in the Evangelical tradition.
Both Alter and Heiser argue that the literary background of the Hebrew Bible was the Canaanite religion, which I’ve referred to as the Old Religion of the Habiru. Because of this I read the Ba’al Cycle and paid attention to how the Canaanite gods were referenced in the Scriptures. Heiser also argues that Second Temple Literature, such as the adventures of the deuterocanon and the First Book of Enoch, are part of the literary background to the New Testament.
The four articles above, which are linked to as PDFs but which are also available as Kindle singles, concern the murky period when the Canaanite religion was becoming what we would recognize as Judaism. An aspect of the Old Religion were the Divine Councils (plural). Perhaps a Catholic reader might call these Communions, in the sense of the Council of the Dead… the Communion of Saints?
Scholars whose divine council research focuses on Canaan and Israel see either three of four tiers within the council, with members of all tiers engaged somewhere in the council’s activities… Even ancestral spirits of the human dead are called as council (“sod”) at Ugarit….
So what’s the point of the divine council? God certainly doesn’t need one, but he chooses to allow his intelligent creations participate with him in how he wants things done — sort of like the Church. God doesn’t need us, either, but he has chosen to propel his will on earth through his believing household.”
From these short papers I was able to see a particular passage in a new way. I had already learned from Alter that when the text states that a superior says X, and then immediately the superior says Y, with no response from the inferior, it indicates a meaningful silence. The inferior party might disagree, or be shocked, or distrustful, but out of deference is not interrupting the inferior.
So take this passage in Genesis, as translated by Alter. The scene is Jacob and his smart, greedy uncle Laban. Laban has deceived Jacob into accidentally marrying a daughter he did not want, leading to the grief of both. But Laban has done well.
I’ve highlighted a specific verse for reference.
And it happened, when Rachel bore Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban,” Send me off, that I may go to my place and to my land. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have done for you.”
And Laban said to him, If, pray, I have found favor in your eyes, I have prospered and the LORD has blessed me because of you.”
And he said, “Name me your waves that I may give them.”
And he said, “You know how I have served…”
The New King James Version translates the highlighted portion differently:
And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.”
And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.” Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.” Genesis 30:25-28 (NKJV)
Heiser’s translation of that verse, and his exegesis, reads
But Laban said to him, ‘if I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that [the LORD] has blessed me because of you.
The root of the word ‘divination’ here is these same as that practice condemned in Deut. 18:9-14. ”
The Old Testament Response to Pagan Divination
Indeed, Alter in his footnotes acknowledges this!
I have prospered. Everywhere else in the Bible, the verb niesh means “to divine,” but that makes little sense here, and so there is plausibility in the proposal of comparative semiticists that this particular usage reflects an Akkadian cognate meaning “to prosper.”
Laban, the greedy the smart man, who sacrificed his daughter to ensnare Israel, divined the cause of his blessings: Jacob was in his house. He persued knowledge without love.
Heiser looks not only for the cultural and linguistic context of the Scripture, but into its grammar too. For instance, its widely expected that the the earliest part of the Bible we have is the result of editing work conducted in Babylon after the First Temple was destroyed. One source for this, one of the ancient written or oral traditions combined into the Torah, may have been a “priestly” source that particularly focused on sacrifices. Some have argued that these “priestly” sources did not understand God to be as anthropomorphic as others. Heiser quotes another academic as writing
Blatant anthromorophisms such as God’s walking in the gardens of Eden, making Adam’s and Eve’s clothes, closing Noah’s ark, smelling Noah’s sacrifice, wrestling with Jacob, standing ont he rock at Meribah, and being seen by Moses at Sinai/Horeb are absent in [the priestly source].
(The view of God as anthropomorphic, of having human attributes, was widespread in the ancient and classical near east, from God hosting a heavenly feast with wine in the canaanite religion, to the Son of God hosting a last supper with wine in Christianity.)
The comparative totals are quite interesting and defy expectations. Rather than [other sources, called “J” and “E”] containing more instances of clear anthropomorphisms, it is [the Priestly source, “P”] that outnumbers J and E. There were sixteen instance for P compared to a total of nine for J and nine for E. P, therefore, has almost as many anthromorphisms as J and E combined with respect to these searches.
Yet Heiser is also willing to address controversies that are foolish. The 82nd Psalm includes the striking opening
God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah…
All the foundations of the earth are unstable. I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High. Psalm 82:1-2,6
Which Christ on earth referenced:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? John 10:34-36
In a triumph of pedantic scholarship, some read this and conclude
1. God is judging the Gods
2. But God is standing
3. That means God is acting as both prosecutor and judge
4. But prosecutors re lower than Judge
5. Therefore the psalmist means to write “The LORD stands in the congregation of the might; God judges among the gods.”
6. This is not biblical parallelism, but a statement that the LORD is separate, distinct, and inferior to God
Heiser argues against this not only on literary but contextual and historic grounds. A bad argument easily dispatched.
Ironically, there may be a different way to see the One True God as both seated and standing in the Psalm, but neither academic mentions that.
So what is the point? Heiser, directly, does not tell us. These articles appear to stand alone.
But behind them appears to be an internally consistent cosmology. Both The LORD and God are presented with human attributes in Genesis. The LORD and God are not distinct entities, but the same One God. He, the One God, creates and guides creation, with both natural and supernatural creatures assisting in this work. But as there as bad natural deeds so can there be bad unnatural deeds. Discerning this is important for what is to come.
Heretics is not, as I expected, an overview of the great Heresies of the past. It is instead effectively a series of magazine articles G.K. Chesterton wrote against contemporary writers a century ago. As such it’s slightly less organized than Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, meaning it is the least enjoyable book by him I have ever read.
The meaning of “Heretics” is hidden until the end, where Chesterton notes that Britain contains blasphemy (hate speech) laws that are used against the poor, but not anti-heresy laws that could be used against the rich.
Everything in our age has, when carefully examined, this fundamentally undemocratic quality. … But the modern laws are almost always laws made to affect the governed class, but not the governing. We have public-house licensing laws, but not sumptuary laws. That is to say, we have laws against the festivity and hospitality of the poor, but no laws against the festivity and hospitality of the rich. We have laws against blasphemy—that is, against a kind of coarse and offensive speaking in which nobody but a rough and obscure man would be likely to indulge. But we have no laws against heresy—that is, against the intellectual poisoning of the whole people, in which only a prosperous and prominent man would be likely to be successful.
Thus the book is not against blasphemy, or hate speech, but against poisonous intellectuals. It makes some good points, but there are… issues with the writing quality.
An example is useful here. The entirety of Heretics is captured by this passage, which is the opening fourth of a longer paragraph
The idea that there is something English in the repression of one’s feelings is one of those ideas which no Englishman ever heard of until England began to be governed exclusively by Scotchmen, Americans, and Jews. At the best, the idea is a generalization from the Duke of Wellington—who was an Irishman. At the worst, it is a part of that silly Teutonism which knows as little about England as it does about anthropology, but which is always talking about Vikings. As a matter of fact, the Vikings did not repress their feelings in the least. They cried like babies and kissed each other like girls; in short, they acted in that respect like Achilles and all strong heroes the children of the gods. And though the English nationality has probably not much more to do with the Vikings than the French nationality or the Irish nationality, the English have certainly been the children of the Vikings in the matter of tears and kisses. It is not merely true that all the most typically English men of letters, like Shakespeare and Dickens, Richardson and Thackeray, were sentimentalists. It is also true that all the most typically English men of action were sentimentalists, if possible, more sentimental. In the great Elizabethan age, when the English nation was finally hammered out, in the great eighteenth century when the British Empire was being built up everywhere, where in all these times, where was this symbolic stoical Englishman who dresses in drab and black and represses his feelings?…
You can see all fo the book, good and bad in this passage
1. Original ideas, such as that the British stiff upper life is foreign to Britain
“The idea that there is something English in the repression of one’s feelings is one of those ideas which no Englishman ever heard of”
2. An opposition to imperialism and globalism
Until England began to be governed exclusively by Scotchmen, Americans, and Jews
3. A delight in the surprise negation — which, because Chesterton uses it all the time, gradually becomes less surprising
At the best, the idea is a generalization from the Duke of Wellington—who was an Irishman.
4. A witty conversationsism, hints of the brilliant apologetics that C.S. Lewis would write a few decades later
At the worst, it is a part of that silly Teutonism which knows as little about England as it does about anthropology, but which is always talking about Vikings.
5. Did I mention Chesterton liked the surprise negation?
They cried like babies and kissed each other like girls; in short, they acted in that respect like Achilles and all strong heroes the children of the gods.
6. A repetition that reminds me of St. Augustine’s Confessions, and which is not entirely out of fashion.
And though the English nationality has probably not much more to do with the Vikings than the French nationality or the Irish nationality, the English have certainly been the children of the Vikings in the matter of tears and kisses.
7. Repetition, again, even of the original ideas
In the great Elizabethan age, when the English nation was finally hammered out, in the great eighteenth century when the British Empire was being built up everywhere, where in all these times, where was this symbolic stoical Englishman who dresses in drab and black and represses his feelings?
(And the paragraph is only one-fourth finished!)
So Heretics makes some excellent points. But they are buried in repetition, interlaced with comments on contemporary political events, and marred by verbal tics.
Judaism and Christianity: A Contrast the inverse of The Crucified Rabbi. Instead of being an explanation of the Gospels as fundamentally Jewish documents, A Comparison asserts that the Gospels are fundamentally pagan documents that co-opted Jewish words. Rabbi Federow presents Christianity as foreign to Judaism as any replacement theologian does.
Roughly, there are five classes of arguments in Judaism and Christianity.
First, arguments against heretical or non-Catholic Christianity
Second, arguments against literary Judaism
Second, arguments that mirror Christian apologetic
Fourth, arguments that Christian writers have failed to address
Five, arguments that may persuasively argue against Christianity from a Jewish perspective
In the interest of space, I will provide one example of each of the arguments
Against the Heretics
Rabbi Federow criticizes Nestorianism, the idea there are two Christs (the part of Jesus that is man, and the part that is God), and only one of these died on the cross.
Although this should be obvious, Jesus was a human being, and not a lamb. Christians may believe that Jesus was also God: however for their to have been a death on the cross, it had to be Jesus-the-human that died and not Jesus-the-God who died, since the One True God cannot die.
All existing Christians agree! The Nestorians were declared as heretical, and the last known Nestorian Church was a pagoda in China!
Christ’s prophesy that he would lay in the ground for “three days and three nights” is criticized, as this appears to contradict the Biblical account. As Federow reckons:
However, if one simply remembers the story of Jesus as portrayed in the Christians’ New Testament and the way in which it is celebrated all over the world, Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday (called Good Friday) and was resurrected on a Sunday (called Easter Sunday)
Friday – the first day
Friday Night – the first night
Saturday – the second day
Saturdy night – the second night
Sunday morning – Jesus was resurrected
But if on sunday, as some point during the day, he was supposedly resurrected, where is the third night?
Yet the Book of Esther, recognized by all Christiand and Jews as scriptural, counts days in the same manner:
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him…
Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house. So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.
And the king said to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you—up to half the kingdom!”
So Esther answered, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.”
Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.
Contemporary American English speakers note that phrases such as “next weekend” are ambiguous in their tongue. We shoudl not be surprised that other languages have ambiguities too.
With the Christians
In the context of a longer argument against the Messiahship of Jesus, Federow brings up the following analogy: what if one calls in an electrician, but the repairmen is a plumber instead?
As soon as the “electircian” left, all of Jack’s neighbors came over to his house. They said to Jack, “Wasn’t Bill a great electrician?”
Jack responded, “He wasn’t an electrician. Electricians do not fix the plumbing.”
That is strikingly close to C.S. Lewis’s analogy in Mere Christianity that Christ is like a carpenter that the believer hires for some specific work (to repair the cabinets say, or a marriage) and then is surprised that the work performed can be quite different (it appears a mansion is being built — completely beyond spec!)
Beyond the Christians
The Hebrew Bible distinguishes three kind of blood sacrifices: the Sin Offering, the Trespass Offering, and the Peace Offering. Alred Edersheim has an excellent description of them. They were sacrificed in a particular order
the Sin Offering (such as a castrated steer or a female lamb), for the forgiveness of intentional sins
the Trespass Offering (sometimes a male lamb), for the forgiveness of unintentional sins
the Peace Offering (sometimes a male lamb, calf, or bull) , the jofyl sacrificial meal
The gem of the book was the following line:
Christians believe that Jesus, who was male, was their sin sacrifice of a lamb. However, we cannot find a passage in the Torah where God demands a male lamb to be sacrificed for sins.
If one wanted to offer a lamb for a sin sacrifice, it have to be female.
“Leviticus 4:32: And if we brings a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.”
Jesus was not a female, much less a female lamb. So Jesus could not be a sin offering.”
I had not encountered this before. There are sacrifices of male lambs in the Bible outside of the three-fold sacrifice, including how Abraham describes Isaac:
And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb of a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.” Genesis 22:8
And the sacrificial male lamb is used in the Passover offering too
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it Exodus 12:5-8
Additionally, the specific phrase Lamb of God appears only twice in the Bible
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” John 1:29-36
Something is missing from how Christians understand these events. Rabbi Federow should be blessed for pointing out this gap in our understanding.
As the Bible says:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’” Zechariah 8:23
I am grateful for Rabbi Federow’s work, as God is with him, and he is showing us some things that were too hard for us gentiles to find on our own.
Before the Christians
By far the most convincing of Federow’s arguments is the obvious one: much of the Messiah’s work is unfinished. The Jews were given a specific description of what the Son of David would accomplish, so that they could recognize him.
The real Messiah will make changes in the real world, changes that one can see, perceive, and prove. It is for this task that the real Messiah has been anointed in the first place, hence the term messiah — one who is annointed. These changes that one will be able to see and perceive in the real world include the following: … There is peace between all nations… All weapons of war are destroyed… There is an end to all forms of idolatry… Famines cease to exist… Death ceases to exist [etc].”
Christians would respond these things will be accomplished by the Messiah but not just yet. Rabbi Federow responds then perhaps Jews should just wait to be sure they don’t follow a false Messiah.
It’s hard to argue against that.
An interesting analogy arises to the Parable of the Sleeping Guards
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Matthew 24:32-37
If the guards were hired after the time the man went away, the new guards would know him only through the written and verbal descriptions of those who had seen him, or knew what he would look like. If the traveling man came back with a deep tan, or unexpectedly dirty or fine clothes, or missing a limb or with a new wife, these would be surprising. The travelling man could not be too cross at his servants who were trying to prevent a trickster from hoodwinking them. Rabbinical cautiousness of the crucified Rabbi is thus seen, by Christians, as faithfulness to the Messiah who came for them.
2,000 years ago a Jew from Galilean regularly visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover there. At home he would preach in a synagogue. His followers called him “rabbi.” He was executed on the authority of the Roman governor. After his death a convert to his cause spoke, saying “I am a pharisee.”
The man of course was Jesus. But the implications of this, that the one who Christians call the Son of God was himself Jewish, is often elided. It does not imply only that Jews are the elder broths in faith of the Christians. It means that to understand the words of Jesus as they would have been understood by those he spoke to, a Jewish interpretation of those words is needed. This is what Taylor Marshall gives to us in his short work, The Crucified Rabbi.
Marshall was formerly protestant minister (well, an Episcopal priest, which may be close enough). His extensive Biblical knowledge, and his late introduction to Catholicism, allows him to make connections that others would not see. (For what it’s worth, a Reform minister who read my reactions to Covenant and Creation and The Book of Kings made a mirror comment about me — I knew little enough about Reform thought to be surprising.) At his best, He defends both the Papacy and the Blessed Virgin in terms I’ve never encountered anywhere, and which have stayed with me. His discussion of baptism is interesting, though tends to a Protestant understanding of the sacraments. And when it comes to the matter of the Old Testament, Marhall is a dispensationalist, and attempts to bring this disreputable protestant theory into the Catholic mainstream.
The Royal Household
The most fascinating section is Marshall’s discussion of two offices of the Kingdom of Israel: the Royal Steward and the Queen Mother. A description of the first argument can be found in a post by Caritas et Veritas. The Royal Steward was Father to Jerusalem, and acted in the Name of the King when the King was physically not present among the people or otherwise indisposed. The Royal Steward was even capable of negotiating on behalf of the king
Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshake from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And when they had called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to them. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust? 2 Kings 18:17-19
The Royal Stewardship itself became an Office of Prophecy, as Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would re-establish that office as well. The Royal Steward will be clothed in the robes of the Messiah himself:
‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.
The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house. Isaiah 22:20-23
The Crucified Rabbi of the tittle appears to explicitly reference this:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:17-19
The implications are not necessarily obvious to non-Catholics: what is the Office of the Royal Steward, and what relevance would it have in Christianity are less discovered than the Bishop of Rome. But the answer may, perhaps by the same
A similar argument can of course made be for the Queen Mother, a position given both by biology and ceremony, both from thrones
Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established…
Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, “I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me.”
And the king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” 1 Kings 2:19-20
and the cross
Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.”
Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”…
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. John 19:4-5,26-27
Old and New Baptism
Marshall seeks Old Testament fore-runners of baptism, but I disagree with his conclusions here. Indeed, the fore-runner to the sacrament of baptism is found in the New Testament… the baptism of John!
According to the Catholic Church, the baptism of John the Baptist was not the sacrament of baptism, but a Jewish tevilah preparing the Jewish people for the advent of the Messiah. John the Baptist did not administer the Christian sacrament of baptism because he did not baptize in the Trinitarian name. Moreover, the Apostles received those who had received “only the baptism of John” (c.f. Acts 19:1-4). Saint Augustine wrote, “Those who were baptized with John’s baptism needed to be baptized with the baptism of the Lord.”
The two oldest versions of the Old Testament we have are the Masoretic Hebrew edition, and the Septuagint Greek edition. While Jewish now use the Masoretic text, and Christians historically preferred the Greek, both are incomplete: the Greek text seems to have been translated from an earlier edition than the Hebrew. Marshall’s focus on the Hebrew seems to have been intended for use in dialog between Catholics and Rabbinical Jews. Thus, some discussion of baptism that would be illuminating have been left out.
For instance, in all his discussions of the Hebrew roots of baptism, he does not include this passage, with the evocative term used in the Greek translation:
Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped [baptizein] seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 2 Kings 5:9-14
Christ explicitly references this, in the context of a wondrous baptism being given to a gentile but not the Jews:
And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrat Luke 4:27-28
Instead, Marshall introduces concepts from rabbinical thought but with no obvious analogue in the New Testament, such as the Great Flood turning the world into a giant Jewish washing pool.
Easily the weakest theme of the book is Marshall’s attempt to shoehorn “Dispensationalism” into Catholicism. Dispensationalism is an anti-Judaic (and, on suspects, anti-Catholic) doctrine that the Bible is the record of God repeatedly changing his mind and revoking previous promises. At an extreme, Dispensationlists encourage us to ignore the words of Jesus, as they were a last-attempt to speak to the fallen Jewish people, and a new dispensation began with the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. As with the equally dubious covenant theology, the trick becomes identifying a unit of analysis (dispensation or covenant) within a text, even though neither has historic validity, and then using it to erase everything except the most recent dispensation or covenant.
Marshall does not hide this. The current dispensation began on Pentecost. Everything before this event is a dead letter if not ratified after it:
While the Old Covenant was consummated and perfectly fulfilled at the death and resurrection of Christ, the New Law of the gospel was not promulgated until Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that the New Testament and the need for baptism became absolutely binding and necessary. Pre-Pentecostal Judaism in expectation of the Messiah was the true religion instituted by God through Abraham. Post-Pentecostal Judaism is a dead letter — a religion unknown to the pges of Sciripture.
In summary, Jewish ethnicity in itself does not save. The Old Covenant is no longer salvific.
A Protestant summary of Dispensationalism which makes this more explicit is below. Note that shared focus on revoked dispensations, and that one of the dispensations revoked are the teachings of Christ:
Two problems here. The first is if the Pentecost began a new “dispensation,” and it is for that reason the old dispensations are no longer in effect, this new “church age” would include the sacrament of communion (which for protestant dispensationlists, is indeed the case), as these words were stated before Pentecost:
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19
As were the words of the first Maundy Thursday:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34
The second problem concerns Marhsall’s use of the phrase “no longer.” The Apostle Paul wrote that the Law always lead to death, in a way similar to Christian baptism:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:19-21
This is important: The Old Covenant was never salvific. That is why Christ died for us. Even the great patriarchs descended into the most pleasant parts of Hell. As Marshall writes:
Traditional Catholic teaching holds that Christ descended to “Abraham’s bosom” or Limbus Patrum — the pleasant abode of the netherworld where the Old Testament faithful waited for the coming of the Messiah. They could not yet ascend to the heavens, because Christ had not yet died on the cross.
From a legal perspective, Marshall’s dispensationalism can be rejected by looking at the history of the blood sacrifice. Elsewhere, Marshall writes “The Temple was the only place of sacrifice in the Old Covenant” — a period (or dispensation) presumably beginning shortly after the death of the first King of Israel, David, and ending on the occasion of the death of the last. Numerous blood rituals though are held outside the grounds of the Temple in Jerusalem:
Including gentile sacrifices, such as those by Job:
And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did. Job 1:5
Including Jewish sacrifices, such as those by Moses:
And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:8
And the perfect sacrifice, the only one that could ever lead to eternal life and the resurrection of the dead
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new[c] covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matthew 26:27-28
Catholicism teaches God does not revoke His promises. The Old Covenant is still in effect. But it was given to the Jews at Sinai. Some things were given to our older brothers but not to us.
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 I, Evangelli Gaudium
I disagree with Marshall’s theory of revoked covenants as strongly as I thank him for introducing me to knowledge of the Royal Household. But both ideas are indicative of Marshall as a syncretic teacher, who has taken his protestant method of Biblical Analysis and tried to apply it in a Catholic frame. This is too his credit. Taylor Marshall writes an exhaustive blog on theological issues, if you’d like to have more familiarity with his methods and ideas.
I strongly recommend The Crucified Rabbi by Taylor Marshall. In Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote that reading of the Old Testament without understanding Judaism may do more harm than good, and The Crucified Rabbi is a good cure for this. It is a better explanation of the Old Testament than than Covenant and Creation, and more accessible to a lay reader than The Assembly of the Gods.
I previously read The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) and The Everlasting Man (1925) by G.K. Chesterton, so I was interested in Orthodoxy (1908), his description of Christianity. Chesterton falls short of the St. Augustine’s Confessions (400) and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952). Additionally, and oddly, his description of Buddhism is odd, and as this was repeated two decaldes later in Everlasting, I wonder if he relied on some treasured, if incorrect, source. Yet the book is thought provoking, and was not a waste of time.
Confessions is the psychological autobiography of a rich kid finding himself, and finding God. Mere Christianity is an easy to read introduction to very common Christian ideas. Orthodoxy is neither of these. Very little about Chesterton or his life is discussed, but the tone of elevated and somewhat archaic. It feels like a document from another civilization, with rhetorical techniques that seem both clever and artificial.
The best parts of the work are those that tease Chesterton’s later work, The Everlasting Man. There’s some really funny lines about the press, showing that fake news and the quality of news media as the hobbies of the rich were also true a century ago.
This is the tone of fairy tales, and it is certainly not lawlessness or even liberty, though men under a mean modern tyranny may think it liberty by comparison. People out of Portland Gaol might think Fleet Street free; but closer study will prove that both fairies and journalists are the slaves of duty.
Unexpectedly, Chesterton also includes what appears to be an extended defense of the existence of ghosts, noting that the “scientific” conditions demanded by skeptics would fail to include many aspects of human society
The question of whether miracles ever occur is a question of common sense and of ordinary historical imagination: not of any final physical experiment. One may here surely dismiss that quite brainless piece of pedantry which talks about the need for “scientific conditions” in connection with alleged spiritual phenomena. If we are asking whether a dead soul can communicate with a living it is ludicrous to insist that it shall be under conditions in which no two living souls in their senses would seriously communicate with each other. The fact that ghosts prefer darkness no more disproves the existence of ghosts than the fact that lovers prefer darkness disproves the existence of love. If you choose to say, “I will believe that Miss Brown called her fiance a periwinkle or, any other endearing term, if she will repeat the word before seventeen psychologists,” then I shall reply, “Very well, if those are your conditions, you will never get the truth, for she certainly will not say it.” It is just as unscientific as it is unphilosophical to be surprised that in an unsympathetic atmosphere certain extraordinary sympathies do not arise. It is as if I said that I could not tell if there was a fog because the air was not clear enough; or as if I insisted on perfect sunlight in order to see a solar eclipse.
Near the end of the book there is a comparison of Buddhist and Christian art. Or there would be one if it was accurate. Chesterton argues that Christian saints are always shown with their eyes open, and that in “Chinese temples,” the saints are always shown with their eyes closed
Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike, there was one thing about them that always perplexed me; I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art. I do not mean in its technical style of representation, but in the things that it was manifestly meant to represent. No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint’s body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. If we follow that clue steadily we shall find some interesting things.
I’ve been in Chinese Buddhist temples, and this is simply incorrect. Buddhist and Catholic sculpture, in particular, often use the same trick of having the statue looking forward and down, so the viewer must kneel and look up to see the statue’s eyes. For example, consider Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy, an amalgamation of a traditional figure in Chinese religion with a historical disciple of the Buddha. The emotional impact to a Chinese Buddhist of looking up at Guanyin’s (the Goddess of Mercy’s) compassionate eyes must be similar to kneeling and looking up at the eyes of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Worse for Chesterton’s argument, just as Mary is often the character of dramatic performances (from nativity plays to more involved medieval passion plays), so is Guanyin. The extension of her many arms, to help every creature, is performed yearly in front of an audience of hundreds of millions on Chinese television (with her eyes open, of course).
Chesterton, attempting to show a difference between Christianity, raises a deeper question: why are non-Christian traditions so like shadows of Christian ideas? One answer is that it is the devil mocking Christ. Another it is the King of the Universe making straight the way of the LORD. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that such non-Christian depictions of Christian themes are simplified hagiophanies, appearances of the holy, “good dreams” whispered by the Holy Spirit.
Yet that comment about “tradition” brings up another point, and one Chesterton does not spend enough time on. Tradition is the democracy of the living and the dead. In the same way a federal government with checks and powers aggregates different factions to promote the general welfare, preventing any one from being a tyranny, tradition is a block on the tyranny of the age.
But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the
tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with
the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.
So, Orthodoxy is an odd book. In some ways its as inaccessible as Confessions and as impersonal as Mere Christianity. But it is thought provoking. I didn’t expect my review to tough on both UFOs and political philosophy, though here we are. It’d recommend Chesterton’s other books first, and C.S. Lewis before them, but Orthodoxy should be preserved, lest it is forgotten.