Letter to the Philippians

Philippi_Daumet_Direkler

My friend Steve Boint called it “the dumb semite theory”: the view of some people that the ancient Hebrews were so simple minded that their holy text is a line-by-line collection of various sources, almost randomly edited together. Many scholars, such as Robert Alert and E. Theodore Mullen have written on how ancient Hebrew and Canaanite writing works.

Without repeating all of that, it is worth describing doublets in Hebrew literature, escalating parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and how St. Paul combines both in two lines of the Letter to the Philippians.

Ancient Hebrew Literature

One of the bad consequences of the “dumb semite theory” is one of the greatest works of ancient literature, the Book of Samuel, is read only by academics who believe that complexity is a result of random editing.

For instance, the phrase “Is Saul, too, among the prophets” occurs twice in the Book of Samuel. There are actual scholars who believe this is because the ancient Hebrews were so illiterate they actually included the same incident twice, and later on had to change the details to cover their tracks.

Fools.

Saul Before Samuel and the Prophets

The first time, Samuel says that Saul will be seized by a spirit, “prophecy” (act like a mad man), and this is a proof of his kingship:

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
1 Samuel 10:5-7

Sure enough, the spirit seizes Paul, he acts like a mad man, and he is the true king of Israel

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.
1 Samuel 10:10-13

But later, we learn the truth. This is brought home as David’s war against Saul begins and Saul seeks a meeting with Samuel to perhaps end it

But he can’t keep his composure. He acts like a mad-man, tearing off his clothes, embarrassing himself and showing Samuel — the man who anointed him — the horror of that anointing. The same phrase — Is Saul, too, among the prophets — is used again. The reader remembers happier times and the heart breaks

Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 19:22-24

Samuel misread the signs. Saul was crazy from the beginning. Samuel anointed a Mad King.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The poetry of the Hebrew Bible is based on parallelism, where the first incident of a concept is in some way magnified by what comes after

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05061

The form is used three times in perhaps the oldest poem in the entire bible, in inexplicable Song of Lamech – a story of killings further removed from Paul than Paul is from us

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Genesis 4:23-24

The is used in the Writings, such as Psalms

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10

Verse 9 uses two concepts of a mother’s body, womb and breasts, and escalates, from the physical location of the infant before birth (the womb) to the plcae the child is loved, all of its life (the breast, or heart).

Verse 10 does the reverse, taking an abstract concept “from birth” and emphasizing its concrete reality (“from my mother’s breast”).

… and Job, with a parallel between lips and tongue, going further inward to emphasize the inwardness of the sufferer

my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
Job 27:4

It is used in the Latter Prophets

Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 49:23

They “bow” — but then they “lick the dust.” The same concept of submission is paralleled, but its manner is escalated

as it was in the Former Prophets..

The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
2 Samuel 22:5-6

… from waves to torrents, from cords to snares.

Saul’s Reuse of Biblical Literature and Poetry

Saul — the other Saul, Saul of Tarsus — was a “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). That is, unlike the Sadducees, he believed the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and the Writings. Thus he was more exposed to the use of ancient Hebrew literature and poetry than Sadduccees, and would have been more influenced by that tradition than even many other educated Jews.

Saul uses the same literary technique of escalating parallelism, combined with the ‘twist ending’ used in the Book of Samuel, in the Letter to the Philippians. The letter is short, and mostly retreads themes of letters presented earlier in the Bible.

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, there’s this odd line:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;
Philippians 1:12-13

That word “praetorium” is tricky. It might be a reference to the imperial jailers or guards (fitting, as Paul is under a sort of house arrest while during a long appeals process in Rome), or palace guard, or even imperial palace.

Perhaps Paul has attracted sympathizers with his jailers.

Praetoriumreal_syria

But in the second to last verse of the letter, the meaning is clarified.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Philippians 4:22

Paul literally has sympathizers in the headquarters of the military. And in the household of the Emperor himself.

The twist ending – Paul has access, not just to his jailers, but to those close of the head of government.

And he showed this through two lines of Hebrew poetry, wrote in Greek, which bookend his letter to the Philippians

It has become known throughout the whole praetorium
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

The Good News

What has become known, the greeting of the saints, is the Gospel, the good news. As Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

The LORD has become Man!

The Creator has become a Creation!

He suffers with us, He dies with us, He lives with us.

With us He is hung on a tree. With us He weeps.

david-absalom

With us – with Paul, with you, with me – He despairs

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Philippians 1:21-24

With us He is not understood

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27:46-47

With us — even with Nero, the Caesar of Casear’s household — He has a mother

Nerón_y_Agripina

With us He drinks milk!

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With us He drinks wine!

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With us, even when we don’t see Him!

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Letter to the Ephesians

The old man was a murderer.

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Of all the men and women in the Bible, only Paul begins as a villain and ends as a hero.

He is first seen, almost as an afterthought, in the murder of St. Stephen

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.
Acs 7:55-8:1

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But this Saul of Tarsus — this St. Paul — was still recognizably the same man after his conversion than before. It was before his conversion, before he understood how or why he was blinded, that his character was revealed

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul was and remained, a man searching for God

The Letter to the Ephesians, a public epistle meant to be read aloud, is also the most private of Saul’s letters. Nowhere else in the Bible is the written directions of a man to others so clearly a man’s reflection on himself

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32

Paul tells us — tells himself? — to imitate God

Yet the Man, God, himself instructed us to act in the actions of another

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.
John 8:37-39

Abram, who became Abraham, shares some traits with Saul, who became Paul. Both had transformations. Both were incomplete transformations.

Abraham’s character is introduced as a cautious man, a coward, who uses deceit to protect those he loves

And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Genesis 12:11-13

But it is later, against a far greater threat, Abraham instead uses logic and reason– even when the the subject of the conversation is the LORD Himself

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Genesis 18:22-26

In both cases Abraham is fearful of the consequences to his loved ones. In both cases he’s cautious. He improves, as Saul improves. But he is his own self, if not, entirely, his old self.

And not without the pain of his old self

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Genesis 18 may be the most important single chapter of the Bible. We see Abraham in his fullness, the new yet recognizably the same man once known as Abram. We see the LORD, eating steak and drinking milk with Abraham, the Man God, who so loved His creation that He Himself became a creature. And we see this becoming, not only from Abraham, but from the LORD

The four verses before Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom, and direct after the meal of steak and curds and milk are as follows

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:16-19

The Divine Internal Dialog. The LORD in His full humanity. The LORD, fully human and fully divine, that also imitated Abraham

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Mark 6:1-6

At the radical core of Christianity is the greatest miracle, the greatest act of love, the work of the greatest will imaginable. The Creator became a Ceature. God became man. Paul says to immigate God, the Lord says to imitate Abraham, and Abraham himself imigates God and Paul.

Abraham_Isaac

Few men ever see another, knowing that he would die for him, that he would be tortured in his place

As Paul wrote

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

I wonder what the LORD thought to himself, seeing Isaac?

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Genesis 22:6-7

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Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

But God loves us that much.

Christ could have taken Himself down fromt he Christ. He didn’t. He could have avoided death. He didn’t. He could have avoided hunger and pain and thirst. He didn’t. The One so loved us the One became one of us.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Mark 12:29-30

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

Letter to the Galatians

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”
Genesis 14:18-21

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After the nightmare of the Corinthians, who got drunk off communion wine and followed “super-apostles,” Paul can take a break. The Galatians want too many rules, and insist on following them too blindly. And even better, correcting the Galatians requires breaking out rabbinical theology and political theory.

Paul certainly was smiling at his pleasant task when he coined an expletive rather more vivid than the version commonly used today

I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
Galatians 5:12

The Letter to the Galatians concerns the Law of Moses, and the role it plays among Christians. Both the Torah and the Gospels themselves emphasize the importance of the Mosaic Code

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19

At the beginning of Galatians, Paul recounts his leadership among the pharisees who were persecuting the church, including the murder of St. Stephen

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You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Galatians 1:13-34

Paul was a radicalized student of Gamaliel, a far more patient pharisee than Paul. Gamiel appears twice in Acts of the Apostles, in an extended direct quote. In the logic of ancient Jewish writing, the first words, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do with these men” indicate that Gamaliel is a brother to Jews, a thinker, and cautious.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him.
Acts 5:33-39

and then referenced as a teacher of Paul

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today
Acts 22:3

Gamaliel s recorded is the Mishna, but one of the most striking parts of his life is that he is the grandson of Hillel the Elder, who famously accepted the challenge of a centurion to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel’s answer was

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”

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This of course is striking similarl to the Gospel according to Paul’s friend Luke

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

So if Christ did not come to change Moses’s Law, and Christ himself seemed to be agreeing with pharisees in loving your neighbor, how can Christians possibly not be under the Mosaic Code?

Even the first Pope Peter (called Cephas) was confused

When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Galatians 2:11-14

The core of the dispute seemed to be that all involved agreed that God had given the Law to Moses, that the core of the Law was love, and that Moses was intercessor between man and God, and that Moses’s intercession itself recalls God’s promise to Abraham:

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Exodus 32:9-14

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Indeed, at this time Jews and Christians both seemed to believe (as Catholics and Orthodox still do believe) that the dead could pray for souls, and that Abraham himself could speak to those in hades

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Luke 16:22-25

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It is on this backdrop — that Moses was an interlocutor between God and Israel, but Abraham is the grandfather of Israel, and the blessings of God were a free gift from God. Moses negotiated a suzerainty treaty with God, but as Paul says

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
Galatians 3:19

Moses executed a what would nowadays be termed as a instrument of surrender. If the Law is peace it is the peace of Submission. But just as Jesus the Lord would not change a single word of the Law, the Law itself cannot change a single word of God’s promise to Abraham

As Paul writes

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring;it does not say, “And to offsprings,”as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Galatians 3:15-18

The works of the Law were a test, like an X-Ray, of everything wrong. Christians are freed of the law — God does not impose the surrender terms on us — but requires something else. Faith through love.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Galatians 5:6

“Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 , Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6), but it was not a dead faith. The love of his wife, his son, his kinsman, and stranges shine through in his life and struggle. Father Abraham received the prayers of many generations, and was granted as a free gift the inheritance for his seed.

His seed is Christ Himself, and in that inheritance we are free.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-29

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

If only it was an easy rule to follow.

Impressions of “Did Jesus Die for Dogs?” by Rev. Steve Boint

Steve Boint is a friend of mine. He’s also a mentor and a teacher. My philosophy of science and views of the Bible are certainly radicalized versions of his teachings. It is from Steve that I seriously considered the nature of non-paradigmatic science (and thus of normal academic science), and from Steve I turned away from naive versions of the Documentary Hypothesis.

And I’m also specifically credited in the acknowledgements. So there’s no way this can be an objective review. So just buy it. And after you do that, finish reading this post to see what it’s about.

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Did Jesus Die for Dogs is a very readable work of popular theology. It compress more than a decade of theological research into 40 pages that can be given to an average parishioner without confusion.

Did Jesus Die for Dogs draws on Calvinist Covenant Theology, and looks at promises and requirements that God gave to Adam, Noah, Moses, and the world as described in the letters of Paul. Boint convincingly argues that Adam and Eve’s sins lead to the fall of all of creation, and that the sacrifice of Jesus redeemed all of creation.

After the first sin, God cursed the ground

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
Genesis 3:17

The Flood is aimed at animals as well — the LORD regretted creating dogs just as he regretted creating men

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them
Genesis 6:7

God calls the animals directly — Noah does not gather them, the Spirit moves them

Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.
Genesis 6:20

Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
Genesis 7:8

God remembered the animals, as well as the humans

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

Likewise, the Law itself grants the Land rest

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
Leviticus 25:1-5

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you
Deuteronomy 20:19

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While I think parts of Did Jesus Die for Dogs? overstates its point, the point itself is well attested.  Boint’s writing is convincing, even (or especially) for a curious but non-theological evidence.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Palms 96:11-13

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

The creations in Nature themselves form part of the heavenly host. As we remember:

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

And as even the Canaanites, who sometimes confused idol Ba’al with the LORD but worshiped God as the only true Creator, attested

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
The Ba’al Cycle

Steve Boint’s work is timely given the recent Papal Encyclical, Laudito Si, which I earlier discussed.

mary-queen-of-heaven-timothy-jones

The word “Creation” occurs more than 60 times in Laudito Si, but one of the most moving passages reminds the faithful that Mary is Queen of all Creation. The Creator not only became a creation (when God became Man), but creation itself is the dominion of a sinless creature who gave birth to and loves her creator

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom.
Laudito Si 241

As the Rev. Boint reminds readers multiple times in Did Jesus Die for Dogs?, the greatest existential distinction is the distinction between Creator and Creation. And by His birth, death, and resurrection — by His grace — the LORD, Christ our Lord, has abolished that distinction.

Our nails were driven into His flesh. His sacrifice purchases our eternal life.

pluto-in-false-color-new-horizons

Did Jesus Die for Dogs is far more readable — its written at a much simpler level — than Laudito Si. But given the thousands of years of Divine Tradition — from the LORD eating steak and cakes with Abraham and Sarah, to the Lord drinking wine at a wedding with his mother, to the Mother of God herself being clothed in the sun, I’ll leave with a hymn by St. Francis of Asisi, quoted in Pope Francis’s Laudito Si:

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong
Canticle of the Creatures, Laudito Si 87

To combine the concluding words of Pope Francis and Rev. Boint,

Forever: humans, animals, plants, all other living things and God will be friends.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

Merry Christmas

It is birthday of our Lord. In English that’s “Christmas,” but a lot of languages emphasize birthday or nativity, and I like that.

If you are fortunate enough to be with friends or family, and get to eat with others, you get to follow in the path of our Lord.

abraham3visitors

Remember the LORD’s meal with Abraham: cakes, curds, steak, and milk

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.

They said, “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
Genesis 18:1-8

wedding-at-cana

And remember the wedding at Cana, where the Lord provided the wine

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
John 2:1-10

May your Christmas be filled with loved ones. And may remember, whether you eat steak and wine with friends or a simple meal alone, the LORD, Christ our Lord, came to be with us, and weekly invites us to be present at a meal with Him.

Second Letter to the Corinthians

Acts of the Apostles is an adventure, of the first Pope, the greatest apostle, and the Holy Spirit.

The Letter to the Romans is a brilliant summary of Christian theology.

But by the time we get to the second letter of the Corinthians…

Paul’s goal is to create a worldwide church, which would replace the now-meaningless sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-presentation of the one sacrifice, of the LORD on the cross.   Paul’s goal was to redefine civilization in Christian terms, opposing the most perfect Empire and most perfect Monotheism yet created to do so.

But to get there, he needed to work with people like the Corinthians.

And others, perhaps even including the original apostles, willing to give up and hide from the world.

Well let’s talk about despair.
2 corinthians text art

The Hebrew Bible has two great writings of despair: the Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the Gospels has one great work of epistemological doubt: the Gospel of John. Here, in this letter, Paul brings both themes together, and it all revolves around the Corinthians, those dunderheads who got drunk off communion wine.

Ecclesiastes threw the Pharisaical enterprise into doubt. Paul’s great defense was hope…

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6

But is that just a hope? What can we say about the Law or about life everlasting, when the Law informs us of our weakness and about life everlasting we know… little

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

Paul echoes both of these. The Law of Moses brings death, it brings dullness, is tells us of our weakness but not our freedom

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.
2 Corinthians 13-15

But Paul echoes the other part of Ecclesiastes’ writing too: what do we know, and how can we brag? If we receive a revelation or a prophecy, what would that even mean? How would others know? How could we truly tell?

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4

It’s vanity to mention it, but only God knows if that soul rose, or fell, or was in a temporary earthly slumber.

Likewise, in the Book of Job, the grief comes from earthly tragedy, but the cosmos horror that the Redeemer would intervene to sav Isaac, to save Miriam, but not the ones you love.

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:23-25

Paul’s tone is different from Job’s, but the theology is the same: The persecution is inexplicable.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthian 4:7-9

Though even in that there is hope

And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

And Paul touches on the epistomological doubt on theology – not just on resurrection but in the nature of the Divine itself — he makes a fool of himself by mentioning signs, wonders, and miracles

If I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
2 Corintians 12:11-13

And this is a foolish claim because Christ hismelf refuted it

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

And it is that tension — a foolish claim — a foolish claim that works — the promise of greater things to come — is what Paul is wrestling with, in the context of the dunderheads of Corinth.

But the Corinthians are not done with Paul yet. Paul is organizing a church that will be world wide. He is using the energy of one community to help convert another. He needs money. And he will flatter — flatter with a hint of sarcasm — to get it

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul must have thought of Ecclesiastes as crafting this message

Words spoken by the wise bring them favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
Ecclesiastes 10:12

The habit of the Corinthians to get drunk on communion wine, to feast on Communion bread, and now the need for money from them, must have made Paul think of another line in Ecclesiates, too…

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.
Ecclesiastes 10:19

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_01

Under the surface of the Second Letter to the Corinthians is the Didache. The Didache, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or the “Judgement of Peter,” is a two-thousand year old, Messianic Jewish text about Christian belief and Christian life. An example passage, showing both its resolute Christian character and its different tone than Paul’s churches, is as follows:

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
Didache 9, The Eucharist

Whether or not the Didache really came from Peter, or Andrew, or another apostles, it also contained lines that Paul found himself battling with

But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.
Didache 11, Concerning Teachers, Prophets, and Apostles

The Didache instructed communities to be cautious of outsiders. But Paul’s objective was building a Church Militant, of replacing the Temple in Jerusalem with a new global religious life centered around the LORD, Jesus Christ.

And for that, he needs money

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12

Aaron needed priests. Joshua needed men at arms. Paul needs money.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:12-14

In order to defend against those who might cite the Didache, as a “false prophet” who seeks money and does not work locally in a community, Paul himself needs to accuse others of being false apostles

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15

At the end, Paul rises from the muck of this world, encouraging the early church and thinking beyond money for a moment

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14

A worthy success to Aaron and Joshua, Paul leads a generation after the great covenant between God and Israel. But it is someone else who performed the miracles, presented the covenant, and climbed the mountain. Instead, Paul needs to keep Israel together.

The Bull El, the Lamb Jesus, has been given up.

The sacrifice has been made.

Now only to distribute the blood.

priest-covered-in-blood

God so loved the world that He sent His Son into it. And as Paul discovered, even His followers must live in it, too.

First Letter to the Corinthians

Reading Paul’s words about Jesus, I kept thinking of Joshua and Moses.

consecration of joshua

First Corinthians is a book written after the excitement. While Paul was fashioning a Christianity that could rebuild Roman civilization, and the exponential growth of Christianity would continue for centuries, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were now in the past. The LORD, who had made men out of clay like a potter makes pots and ate steak and milk with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) had ascended into heaven.

And now things were going wrong.

But this was not the first time. Both Joshua and Paul think back to the Exodus, when the glory of God was followed by immediate apostasy and decades in the wilderness

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.
Joshua 24:5-7

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Joshua — who had seen the how mighty governments can fail when God and “human cohesion” are against them — resorted to sarcasm in addressing the nation of Moses

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15

Worship Ba’al? Worship Enki? Whatever. Just have the decency to chose one pantheon.

St.-Pauls-Vision-by-George-Kordis.

Paul’s letter is equally sharp as Joshua’s speech.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!
1 Corinthians 4:8

Joshua and Paul are not just leaders, but teachers, concerned about day to day affairs, and at the end of their ropes. Both had been miraculously visited. Now both had handle these people.

joshua meets the commander of the lords armies

Both upbrade their followers.  Paul, with simple (and funny) exasperation

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Joshua, with stark divine threats, but the people’s response (worthy of a four year old) provokes its own laughter from the reader

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!”
Joshua 24:19-21

The moral of Joshua’s farewell address, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the same: the criticism of idolatory. In ancient times Canaanites worshiped a god they knew didn’t create them, Ba’al, because he was powerful. Operand conditioning as theology. But this is hardly new, or old. Money is the answer to all things, although money did not create us. Weather Paul’s followers worshiped Zeus or money, or Joshua’s followers worshiped Ba’al or silver, there is no difference: the use of a tool and the love for a tool have profoundly different consequences

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Joshua 24:14

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Fittingly, Joshua ends his talk and seals a covenant between God and Israel with a tree and a stone

joshua-renews-covenant

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Joshua 24:26-28

Paul also knew of a covenant, a tree, and a stone. And what happened next. The branch of Jesse’s tree.

EmptyTombRelief

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
Isaiah 11:1-2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And of course the stone, the empty tomb

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8

For as Joshua stated, obey all the commandments

Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left,
Joshua 23:6

But one thing is at the heart of all things:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Or, as Paul put it:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13

emptycrosstomb

Review of “The Hammer of God,” by Bo Giertz

While I was reading The Hammer of God I kept thinking of A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller. Like Canticle, Hammer is set in the same location over a long period of time (merely a century in Hammer, more than a millennium in Canticle). Also like Canticle, Hammer is heavily inspired by the faith of the author — Lutheranism in Hammer, Catholicism in Canticle. The only difference seems to be how the past is handled — as a true past in Hammer (which spans roughly 1840 to 1940), or the past projected in the future (from a Dark Ages following a nuclear war in Canticle, to the establishment of human space flight).

the hammer of god

Giertz, the former atheist and Swedish Lutheran Bishop who wrote hammer, is clearly a master at understanding Protestant theology and also people. Religious trends are personalized through the introductions of ministers, church officials, and laity, in a way that allows individuals to truly represent their philosophical perspectives, but also have depth and humanity. Indeed, the only other work I can think of that so empathetic ally switches between intelligent and thought characters who disagree this profoundly is Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, and other books in the series. (Interestingly, Ender’s Game is embued with the author’s Mormonism).

DCIM100GOPRO

If I had a criticism of Hammer, it is that while the author is profoundly understanding of protestant trends, his treatment of ideas outside of Protestantism is shallow and two-dimensional. The world of discourse treats the protestant concepts of “salvation by faith alone” and “Jesus only” as either completely non-controversial or else opposed only by the intellectually lazy and sentimental. Likewise, the author has a throw away line critical of the Oxford Movement, but appears himself to be a very High Church Lutheran.

ImmanuelLuthChan1

Indeed, it is from Hammer that I realized for the first time how German-inspired theologians use the term “faith” is very similar to how 19th century German philosophers use the idea of “will.” If anything, Hammer of God proposes a Will to salvation which seems more Nietzchean than Christian. This is not an impression I have received from reading Luther’s small catechism, but Gietz treats faith as more of a primal urge (possessed even by screaming infants) than an understanding or an idea.

The edition of Hammer of God I read contains a 9th chapter, without which the book is unbalanced. (It is written as three novellas, each of three chapters, and the payoff for the first chapter in each novella is of course in the last chapter). But I was also told that the last chapter was “weird.” The reason the last chapter was left out, and the oddness of the last chapter, have the same source: Giertz appears to be arguing for an alliance of Sweden with Finland, which in the context of the 1940s would have meant a friendsip with Nazi Germany. A major character become sa Swedish volunteer in the Winter War. The reasons for this are clear and defensible, but many reads will be unfamiliar with Soviet ethnic cleansing of Finns and the reaction this had in Sweden.

I recommend The Hammer of God for anyone interested in understanding Lutheranism, fascinating by the narrative structure of A Canticle for Liebowitz, or wanting good historical fiction set in Sweden.

Impressions of “The Assembly of the Gods” by E. Theodore Mullen Jr.

tdaxp’s note. Over the weekend I read “The Assembly of Gods,” #24 in the Harvard Semitic Monographs series, by E. Theodore Mullen Jr. The book is brief scholarly, but for me provided a tremendous amount of context both in understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Robert Alter’s translations of it (The Former Prophets, The Wisdom Books, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, and others). This is not a review of that book, which you should read, but a thinking thru of the implications of it.

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

For years I’ve heard, and have said, that the moral of Genesis 1-2 is that God created everything — that the lesson is that the moon, the sun, and the stars of the sky are simply creatures and not a special creation.

Well, even Ba’al agreed with that

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
CTA 10.III.6-7

I’ve long been interested in what the earliest patriarchs actually believed. While Ba’al seemed like a generic demon worshiped by foreigners.

He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.
1 Kings 18:18

The question of what is belief in God without a scripture puzzled me. It’s well enough to say that Enoch’s faith let him walk in good, and implied in the text that he was assumed into heaven like Mary, but why, and for what role?

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:21-23

The Hebrew Bible is clear that there are at least two aspects (persons? hypostases?) of the One: God and The LORD. “God” is often the translation of “El” (which literally means “God”) or “Elohim” (literally gods, but meaning the Council of Gods). The relationship of the terms religious “El” and “Elohim” are like the relationship of the political terms “President of the United States” and “White House,” in America, or the terms “Chairman” and “Party Center” in communist countries. While one refers to an individual as such, and the other refers to a political organization run under the lawful dictatorship of that person, in practical terms it is a distinction without a difference.

Canaanite_God_El

El is God the Father, the “Father of Man” (CTA 14.I.35-43) to the Canaanites. In the Council of the Gods, God judges both men and gods (Psalms 82). The Heavenly Host serves and adores God. The stars themselves are his armies

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

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
CML 114-116

Not only is God the Creator, the ageless creator of the cosmos, and judge of all things, he is also kind. He hears prayers. He is compassionate. Threats and condemnations mean nothing because he cannot be threatened or condemned. Indeed, God, the Kindly One, listens to even bitterness as a father listens to his children

If you does not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will smash the doors of the netherworld,
I will place those above below,
I will raise up the dead eating and alive
So that the dead shall outnumber the living
VI 96-100

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
    let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job 7:17-19

But God, who inexplicably allowed the death of his children, in both cases had mercy. Ba’al was raised from the dead. And Job received a new family. Death cannot be erased. But life moves on.

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. There was One True God who was a Creator. Aside from him where merely creatures, weak and powerful, who may or may not be rightly placed or worthwhile. Before recorded time God the Father of Men had revealed himself to the people of Canaan. We at best have some memory of his early servants. But beyond that, nothing. Who were these men?

In their worship of God the Father of Men, their knowledge of his eternal rule and judgeship over the cosmos, his sometimes inexplicable actions and his endearing love for his children, the earliest patriarchs must have spread the true religion throughout ancient Canaan. Because this must have happened in a pre-literate society we have only the names of who we assume were the heroes of this great evangelization. But like St. Kilda, we have only their names.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared. After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.
Genesi 5:9-17

Ba’al Contends

gideon destroys the altar of baal

The Canaanites believed worship in Ba’al worked.  Dan’il, similar to Job, was struck by misfortunate. But instead of cursing God, Dan’il continued his worship, and successfully Ba’al pleaded with God on his behalf.

Then on the seventh day
Ba’al drew near with his supplication
“In need is Dan’il, man of Rapi,
Moanins it eh Hero, the Harnamite,
Who has no son in his house like his brothers,
Nor scion like his kindred,.
He has no son like his brothers,
Nor scion, like his kindred
He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Strikingly, Dan’el is specifically mentioned as a righteous gentile by the Prophet Ezekial, with Job himself and with Noah

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Dan’il and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

Like the Canaanites, the ancient Hebrews knew they had an advocate, a witness, and a redeemer in Heaven

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25a

But in spite of this, the Lord Ba’al is not the same person as the LORD. For continuing the above verse, Job knows he will see him in the flesh.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

Job asserts that God and the Redeemer are the same being, that he is both El and a man.  This is the LORD, this is Christ, but this is not Ba’al.

Ba’al was a created being. But he was a fighter. And it is from this strength, his independent ability to intervene in human affairs (granted to him by El), that the Canaanites thought he was a “god.” Gideon’s mockery of Ba’al makes sense because Ba’al does not move ineffably, does not have an inexplicable plan: the only reason to worship Ba’al is that he offers earthly protection

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[ that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Judges 6:31-32

Like Ba’al, Gideon was an earthly judge. Neither Ba’al nor Gideon created the world. Both theoretically received whatever wisdom they had from God. But in the here and now, Gideon destroyed Ba’al temple. So there’s no reason to worship Ba’al.

islamic state destroys temple of baal

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

wedding at cana

The Canaantes, like the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, knew God in His compassion had human attributes. In a real and literal sense God is also man.

El sits enthroned in his shrine
El sits enthroned at his banquet
El drinks wine until satiated
New wine until inebriated
11.14-16

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Genesis 18:10-2, 7-8

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Luke 7:34

But what Canaanite religion lacked — the fatal flaw that lead to Ba’al worship instead of the LORD — was any willingness or desire on the part of El, Ba’al, or anyone to become man. El ate and drank, Ba’al interceded and advocated, but Ba’al is primarily concerned about building a better house than God

There’s another – perhaps more troubling difference – between Ba’al and the LORD. Ba’al destroyed Chaos, the great sea monster Yamm.

Sea collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!

To “gods” like Ba’al the sea monsters may be formidable. El keeps them around for fishing

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Job 41:1-2

destruction_of_leviathan1

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The ancient Hebrew religion, unlike the Canaanite religion, understand the LORD was God in human flesh. The early Christians, unlike the Canaanites, knew that the Intercessor and Redeemer was himself true God, and not simply a powerful extradimensional creature. But the Hebrews and Christians shared another belief, foreign to the Canaanites.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

As Mullen writes on page 283:

One of the most unique aspects of Hebrew religion is the unparalleled phenomenon of the classical prophets. These men, called by the LORD, served as couriers of the decree of the assembly/the LORD. They pronounced thee judgment of the LORD with the formula “koh amar YHWH,” thus asserting that their message of authority was equal in power to that of the council itself. The usage of this formula, which we have been unable to treat fully in the present work, deserves a detailed investigation in light of the council background and messenger formula used in both Ugarit and in Israel. While the members of the Canaanite and Phoenician councils remained colorless minor deities, the hypostasis of the decree of the high god, in Israel the prophet was introduced as a participant in the heavenly assembly who then served as the courier of the judgment of the LORD. This development constitutes a radical break with all other council traditions in the ancient near East.

But later Mullen notes a qualification. The prophets often did not speak with the LORD himself, but with His Spirit.

In ancient Israel, unlike in their Canaanite neighbors the Spirit of God — who somehow proceeds from both El and the LORD — spoke thru the Prophets.

We believe in one God

Jesus-pilate44

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. But pragmatically they were polytheists.  Worship was a technology and a machine to make life better. Ba’al was worshiped because he was effective. Many today worship power or money for the same reasons.

We worship God because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, not because he is a magician with a magic wand.

Princes may censor our words (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Money may be the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). But it is not to be loved (1 Timothy 6).

Only God and Man — El and the LORD — Mary and Pontius Pilate — all the saints, and those most in need of salvation — should be loved.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Letter to the Romans

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a wisdom book, similar to Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Like those books it does not introduce new doctrine, new stories, or even deep grounding in an environment. Rather, it is a guide for how to think about what has already been written.

cole_st_paul, Wed Mar 26, 2008,  5:11:42 PM,  8C, 5378x6746,  (380+569), 100%, bent 6 stops,  1/60 s, R86.6, G51.8, B74.4

We know about Paul from his friend Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke (the story of Jesus and Peter) and Acts of the Apostles (the story of Peter and Paul). We know from Luke that Paul was a Pharisee — at trial he famously said “.” We know from Luke that Paul began as a villain (assisting in — if not leading — the martyrdom of Stephen) and that Paul’s basic character is a man searching for God — his first recorded words are “Who are you, Lord?”

  • It is in this context that we read “Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. The same Lord is Lord of all and he bestows riches upon everyone who calls upon him, for whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13)
  • It is in this context that we read, “For your sake we’re being put to death all day long and we’re regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” (Psalms 44:22, quoted in Romans 8:36)
  • It is in this context that we read “It is hardly likely that someone would die even for a righteous man, although someone might have the courage to die for a good man” (Romans 5:7)

How many men in the Bible would know this first hand? That cowardice would keep them from dying for the righteous, but a few might die for the good?

the-martyrdom-of-st-stephen

The general focus of The Letter to the Romans is to explain the revolution in the Torah brought by Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew, written as a capstone to the Hebrew Bible, presented the LORD as simultaneously Legislator, Prophet, and King. But the implications of this are more apparently in the Gospel of Luke, and now in Paul’s own letter: it is the LORD that is the proper focus, and not his offices of Legislator, King, Prophet. Non-Jews, who were not under the Torah, not ruled by David’s House, and not spoken to by the prophets, are saved by Jesus as much as Jews are. Indeed, of God of Israel is fundamentally a human God of a human man, not only (but no less) a Jewish God for Jewish men.

abraham_and_lazarus

Paul’s argument elevates Genesis, not just a prologue for Moses, but fundamentally preceding the Hebrew Law. And Father Abraham, not just a prefiguring of Moses, but fundamentally preceding Moses

We say, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, but when was it credited to him? Before he was circumcised, or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised, not after…

For the promise to Abraham and his descendants that they would inherit the world was not based on Abraham’s observance of the Torah but on the fact that he had been restored to fellowship with God through faith.
Romans 4:9-10

Israel was a man before his children became a nation.

Aside from Love, the law is an x-ray machine. It can identify weakness. But the Law was just method of doing so.  Even in Psalms did learn

No one is righteous, not even one,
no one understands, not one seeks God.
Psalms 14, quoted in Romans 3

The Letter to the Romans is essential to Christianity. The purpose and function of religious teaching is explained, prioritization is made, and an ocean of words and experiences made sensible.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:5

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

For you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not covet and any other commandment can be summed up in one sentence — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 13:9

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