The Three-Body Problem was a landmark for me. It is the longest novel I’ve read in a half decade, since John Derbyshire’s historical fiction Fire from the Sun. I’ve been away from fiction for a long time. Three Body Problem is a great way to return.
By genre, Three-Body is hard sci-fi, with philosophy of science, history of science, and political history thrown in. It evokes both 5GW and the religion. Structurally it is a combination of mystery (the modern-day scenes, beginning in Beijing and concluding in the Chinese countryside) and drama (historical scenes, with the reverse progression). It has a third thread, a narration of experience in a computer game, that ends up being critical to understanding both main threads.
The author is an engineer who was born and lives in the People’s Republic of China — an officially atheist society. So the discussion of religion were especially intriguing. Buddhism seems to be disparaged, described (unlike Christianity) as not being person-centric, and with pilgrims who appear to be in a daze. By contrast St. Joseph’s Church is one of the landmarks of Beijing held out for special admiration. The definition of ‘God’ used by characters tends to be deistic (belief in an orderly universe created by a minimally involved God). The religious feeling and looked-for purification created by certain interactions in Three Body recalls the supernatural struggle the Book of Ezekiel and other second temple literature.
Three Body problem reminds me of primarily of other books: C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and John Derbyshire’s Fire from the Sun. There is also similarity to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, as well as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. That Hideous Strength is so similar to the mystery thread of Three Body Problem I wonder if it was intentional: the character known as the “the Commander” in Three Body is a composite of the Head and the Deputy Director in Strength. Like Fire from the Sun it is a beautiful and tragic look at the experience of Chinese youth who came of age during the Cultural Revolution. Rainbbow Six contributes an interesting ecological narrative, while Red Mars is a clear inspiration in hard (or technically plausible) science fiction.
It was quite the treat to discover this book, a great mix of history, science, and fiction that ties into so many of my interests. No wonder it won the 2015 Hugo Award.
The Dragons of Tiananmen was the most meaningful and emotional book in the last year. I can’t guarantee anyone else will have the experience. My visits to Beijing, including one where I attempted to visit all the Imperial Altars (not all are open to the public), and my recent attempt to understand the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel, play a role here.
In short, The Dragons of Tiananman describe the life of the now-dead Chinese Imperial Religion, how the Emperors created Beijing as a Sacred City, and how the Lord of Heaven and his creatures were worshiped there.
The organization of the book is straight forward. Meyer first describes Holy Cities (cities which are religiously important because of historical events that happened in them) and Sacred Cites (those which are religiously important because they are designed to reflect heaven). He then outlines the Chinese Imperial Religion, centered on the Most-High (??), the Lord of Heaven(??). The Chinese word for Emperor (?) itself derives from characters meaning “Pole,” which is fitting because God was associated with the Pole Star, around whom all other stars revolved. In later days some Christians would find this idolatrous — future Chinese President Sun Yat-Sen famously smashed an idol of the Pole Star in his youth. Other Christians theorized a partial discovery or revelation to the Chinese in ancient days, as attested by Matteo Ricci’s The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (AD 1603) and C.H. Kang’s The Discovery of Genesis (AD 1979).
As I read The Dragons of Tiananmen I thought back to the Chronicles, that sad record of the degeneration of the Temple in the Kingdom of Israel. There are parallels, both in how the capital (whether Jerusalem or Beijing) became a “sacred city,” in the nature and style of the sacrifices, and even in some ritualistic debates. But Temple Judaism was saved through the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the like) and their insistence that the law be written in the heart. The Imperial Religion was not written in the heart — at least, not in the end. Just as other gods than the LORD were worshiped in Jerusalem, other Gods than the Lord of Heaven were worshiped by Emperors. There were Buddhist Emperors and Taoist Emperors, and mayn more indifferent Emperors. When the Babylonians dragged the Jews into exile, the religion of the LORD survived in spite of the corruption of the temple in Jerusalem. When the revolutionaries dragged down the Great Qing, no one was left to mourn the end of the sacrifice.
Both Jerusalem and Beijing were “sacred cities,” in the sense the were intended to be house of a Temple and the site of an Altar. The primary worship site in Jerusalem was the Temple built by Solomon. The primary worship site was the Altar of Heaven, built by the Yongle Emperor. Both religions held that God was surrounded and assisted by a heavenly communion, comprised of both a military Host of Heaven as well as a civilian counterpart. While Judaism in general rejected worship of the Host of Heaven, the repeated condemnations of this practice in the Scriptures imply the Host was still often worshiped. The Chinese Imperial religion, by contrast, formalized the worship of lessor spirits, through such subsidiary alters as the Alter of the Moon and the Alter of the Goddess of Silkworms.
Both Temple Judaism and Chinese Imperial religion faced the same dilemma: should God be worshipped in doors? God himself presents both sides of the argument in the Hebrew bible, rejecting the House built of cedar
Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies all around, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.”
Then Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”
But it happened that night that the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Would you build a house for Me to dwell in? 6 For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle. 2 Samuel 7:1-6
but later, walls of cedar were not so bad:
Then the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying: “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.”
So Solomon built the temple and finished it. And he built the inside walls of the temple with cedar boards; from the floor of the temple to the ceiling he paneled the inside with wood; and he covered the floor of the temple with planks of cypress. 1 Kings 6:11-15
; likewise the Chinese held both that “when one sacrifices on an open altar, it is considered the worship of heaven, while sacrifice under a roof is considered the worship of imperial ancestors,” while later holding than an “outdoor” Altar could nonetheless be surrounded by building. To this day the Altar of Prayers for Good Harvest is made of Oregon fir. The Christian religion also finds a middle ground here, for while the Sacrifice on Cavalry was of course out-side, its re-presentation (and even pre-presentation) in Lord’s Supper is of course indoors
But being celestial and purely “priestly,” the Chinese Imperial Religion did not have a moral core. The sons of the current dynasty may be elected, as surely as Saul or David or Cyrus were, but there were no Imperial prophets who called for the law to be written on the hearts, or warned that Heaven would scourge Chinese with foreigners in the way Israel was punished. Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor, may have been on worse than King Jeconiah. But the Book of Kings hopefully notes a King of Israel still lives, even if far away. Who looked to the Manchus to return?
The Chinese Imperial Religion, like Judaism, had Kings and Priests. But no prophets.
This strikes me as really important. The Gospel of Matthew is the story of what the Imperial Religion would call the “Mandate of Heaven” passing to Jesus. The relationship of the Son of Heaven and Most High is likewise a feature of the Imperial Religion. But Christianity provided other dimensions to that story, the salvation of souls and bodies, concern for the weak, and spiritual introspection. While Imperial China had similar writings, the Imperial Religion did not. And that four-fold gospel itself depended on the four-fold destruction of the Temple in books like Lamentations and Ezekiel — in the Imperial Religion the overthrow of a dynasty was always the cause of the end of the dynasty, not the stern but love care of God.
Chesterton is a Catholic author, but his argument here is effectively secular: before Christianity there were mythologies in the sense of epic stories about the gods, and there were philosophies that provided an outline of the universe and a moral framework, but no mythic philosophy. Plato may have talked about Forms, in other words, while the priests sacrificed to Zeus, but no serious attempt was to combine these concepts. Thus, the New Testament is truly new, the “good news” really is news, because while dictatorship, democracy, art, puns, cosmology, and all the rest reach beyond history, the combinations of the roles of the Priest and the Philosopher have a definite beginning, in first century Palestine
While Judaism approaches this with The Wisdom Books and early rabinnical commentaries, it was not a religion with any Holy Cities, but only Sacred Cities. Meyer makes a distinction between a “Sacred City” intended to house an Altar for sacrifice, and a “Holy City” upon which divine figures trod. Beijing was only a Sacred City, but in Christianity it became a Holy City. Indeed, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ occurred in and around Jerusalem, just as the Imperial Religion sacrifices were made in and around Beijing. But there is even more to it than that.
The Dragons of Tiananmen helped framing my thinking about Beijing. Being both a sacred and planned city it had an architecture unity which was damaged over time. The Temple of the Moon is marked “NOW GONE” in a mark from before the Communist Revolution, and part of the old City Wall was knocked down for a railway line during the last days of the Emperor. In more recent days the widening of Changan Boulevard re-oriented the city along a definite east-west axis, while only recently have the old temples been respected at all. The Beijing that I first fell in love with was itself a Beijing in transition. Most of the hutongs I suspect are now gone. Jerusalem survived the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs. Will the city of the Alter of Heaven and quiet neighborhoods survive this long?
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
The story is this: Moses Shapira was a 19th century Jewish Anglican born in the Russian Empire and mostly active around Ottoman Jerusalem. He bought, stole, and sold legitimate antiquities, and apparently helped in forging an ancient version of the Book of Deuteronomy. Specifically, he forged a version exactly what a proponent of the “Documentary Hypothesis” would suggest with the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God, absent except for the first and last verses — it was, in other words, nearly exactly the “D+” suggested in this chart.
Can one make a tale this exciting dull? Well, Tigay tries his best. A “follow the clues” narrative is created to attract Dan Brown crowd. Almost nothing about the ‘found’ version of Documentary, its differences, or the cultural context of its supposed composition are discussed. The author, an atheist, not only has a tenuous understanding of Judaism and Christianity, he does not bother to understand the places he visits, either. Weirdly, while he traveled to some locations (including Australia!) in the narrative, the most interesting locations in the middle east are entirely untouched.
Improbably, there’s one detail that I independently have knowledge of, and I was disappointed (but by that point, not surprised) to see Tigay flub it. Tigay’s travels take him to see a former librarian at Moore Theological College, the home base of William Dumbrell (whose books The End of the Beginning and Covenant and Creation I recently reviewed). Tigay is surprised that the former librarian at this Anglican school attended a Presbyterian church. What are the odds? he asked. Well, Moore has often been a hot-spot for Reformed (which more-or-less means Presbyterian) Anglicanism. So, pretty darn high.
Tigay’s task is made more difficult by his attempts to make Shapira, a deeply flawed man, heroic or even sympathetic. He stole from ancient Jewish communities, stole from his customers, stole from museums, destroyed ancient documents, and was generally a terrible person. That he destroyed his wife’s and his daughter’s lives make him more, not less, despicable. Shapira’s end — dead by his own hand after being exposed — is tragic. May God have mercy on his soul.
A last word: Chanan Tigay’s The Lost Book of Moses is as disappointing and dull as another book I read this year: Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario. Chanan Tigay lives in San Francisco. Jeff Ryan is a “games journalist.” I’ve previously written of the high cost of low wages and how its harmed popular writing. The problem may be even worse than I suspected.
I previously read The Assembly of the Gods which provided an overview of Canaanite religion. Their religious texts provide the context for much of the Holy Bible. But unlike the Hebrews, the Canaanites did not have a Canon of specific texts which were included or excluded. Instead, their tales were like episodic superhero movies, that are mostly coherent and feature overlapping characters. You can read these for yourselves in Stories from Ancient Canaan.
Everyone knows the main characters of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe:” Ironman, Thor, and the other Avengers. In the “Canaanite Mythological Universe” the main characters are
El (the Creator, the Father of Time, the Most High). The Hebrews and the Canaanites, unlike the Greeks or Romans, believed in one supreme creator God who created the universe out of nothing and is constantly active in it. His animal form is a Bull. The name Isra-El means “El strives” or “Strived with El.”
Asherah – the Queen of Heaven, El’s consort. Women would bake cares to her (Jeremiah 7:18), and King Manasseh set up a Asherah Pole to venerate her in the Temple (2 Kings 21).
Ba’al — Part of El’s extended family, whose quest for a house occupies the greatest single work. The Greeks and Romans thought he was the same being as Zeus or Jupiter. The difference is that while Zeus/Jupiter is often sown as the “father of the gods,” Ba’al is clearly the ambitious, capable son of of El. Like El, Ba’al’s animal form is a Bull. Gideon adopts the ironic name Jeru-Ba’al, meaning “Ba’al contends” or “Contended with Ba’al” and ironically translated as “Let Ba’al Plead,” after smashing an idol to Ba’al (Judges 6:32).
Anat – El’s daughter. “Women leave their fathers to cleave to their husbands” and “Women must submit to their husbands” in semetic culture, but Anat is not married. Her father, El, is indulgent to her, and she even complains about El to his face and gets up to all sorts of mischievous. The Greeks and Romans thought she was the same goddess as Athena or Minerva. The mysterious judge Shamgar, of whom we only know one sentence, is called “Son of Anat” (Judges 3:31).
Kothar-wa-Hasis – the Lord of Egypt, a craftsman who makes especially valuable objects or devices. A bow Kothar-wa-Hasis makes for a lad will become an object of envy for Anat. Likewise, when Ba’al finally is able to build his house, Kothar-wa-Hasis is his general contractor. Kothar-wa-Hasis, literally “Skillful and Wise,” does not appear to be mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
Death, Yam, Judge River, Leviathan, Dawn, Dusk, and so forth — the central tension of Canaanite myth is El’s love for all of his creatures. Death and Judge River (also called the “Sea”) are two chaotic forces which were created by El, and which his son Ba’al must fight. These forces are kept around by God as a sort of sport or game, like powerful man may have a pet lion (Job 41:1-7),
For Bible readers, the Canaanite tales are also interesting because they were written down before the Bible. The stories presented here seem to have been set to tablets around 1200 BC, in other words halfway between the Conquest of Joshua and the Kingship of Saul. The description of Biblical events, even those that occurred before the writing down of these Canaanite stories, often assumes the listener had heard the Canaanite stories first.
The primary story from ancient Canaan is Ba’al, which in this book is ordered differently than in Assembly of the Gods. The reason is that we have multiple nearly complete copies of Ba’al, and while the main events in the tale are pretty consistent, the specific ordering changes.
There does not appear to be an overarching theology to these tales. I will take them one at a time, beginning with Ba’al, typically placing a Canaanite verse next to a Biblical verse that appears to play on it.
The motivation Ba’al’s adventures is to have his own house. As he complains
But Baal has no house like the other gods,
no court like Asherah’s sons: El’s home is his son’s shelter,
Ladery Asherah of the Sea’s home
While the Bible repeatedly condemns worship of Ba’al, neither Ba’al’s existence nor his question to have his own house are denied anywhere in the text. Instead, Ba’al supernatural attempt to achieve his ends is contrasted with the path available to the believer
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:1-4
In the Hebrew Bible, God’s home at Eden was finished in six days of work, and a seventh of rest
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. Genesis 2:1-3
The construction of Ba’al’s home takes a similar amount of time
Then on the seventh day,
the fire went out in the house,
the flames in the palace:
The silver had turned into blocks,
the gold had become bricks.
Baal the Conqueror was glad:
‘I have built my house of silver,
my palace of gold!'”
Though there is a humorous wrinkle — a dispute with the general contractor! Should the house have windows, or is that an unncessary complication?
“And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:
‘Listen Baal the Conqueror,
pay attention, Rider on the Clouds:
I should put an opening in the house,
a window in the palace.’
But Baal the Conqueror replied:
‘Don’t put an opening in the house,
a window in the palace!'”
Eventually, after the day of rest, Ba’al relents and asks for the window to be reinstalled.
And Baal the Conqueror said:
‘I will put it in, Kothar, son of Sea,
Kothar, son of the Confluence:
let a window be opened in teh house,
an opening in the palace;
so let a break be opened in the clouds,
as Kothar-wa-Hasis said.’
he raised his voice and declared:
“Baal the Conqueror, didn’t I tell you?
You’ll recall my words, Baal?
He opened a window in the house,
an opening in the palace.'”
The God of the Hebrews, however, is a more careful builder. After each day he evaluated the work, notes “it is good” (Genesis 1:3,10,12,18,21,25,31) and has no need to resume construction afterwards.
In the version of Ba’al presented here, Ba’al attempts to fight the Sea with a magical club
The club swooped from Baal’s hands,
like a vulture from his fingers. It struck Prince Sea on the skull Judge River between the eyes.
he fell to the ground;
his joints shook
his frame collapsed.
Baal captured and pierced the Sea;
he finished off Judge River
But Moses needed neither a sword nor a club, nor even his own power, but only his hand
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. Exodus 14:21
As did Joshua (thus did the LORD part the Sea and the River)
So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan. Joshua 3:14-17
Two character interactions are worth noting. Anat, El’s daughter, seems to be a high maintenance woman and has memorable scenes with both Death and El.
It’s striking how similar Death’s response to being accosted by the goddess Anat. (As she was a single woman she was answerable only to her father — and El is remarkably tolerant of Anat…)
“What do you want, Maiden Anat? I was taking a walk and wandering on every mountain in the heart of the earth,
on every hill in the heart of the fields.
.. is to Satan’s description of his activities before God
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?”
So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Job 1:6-7
When Death takes her brother, Anat hysterically threatens El
“Maiden Anat replied:
“My father, El, the Bull, will answer me
he’ll answer me… or else,
I’ll push him to the ground
like a lamb
I’ll make his gray hair run with blood,
his gray beard with gore”
These threats were made in spite of a statement acknowledging that God is the supreme creator
She arrived at El’s encampment,
the tent of the King, the father of Time
One wonders if she made good on her promise
So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands. John 19:1-3
or if it was really just us
And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Mark 27:25-26
And if she, liked us, benefited from the salvation of the cosmos. El was patient with Anat, may He be patient with human sinners also!
El replied from the seven rooms,
from the eight enclosures
“I know you, daughter, how furious you are,
that among goddesses there is no restraining you:
What do you want, Maidan Anat?”
And Maiden Anat replied
“Your decree is wise, El, your wisdom is eternal
a lucky life is your decree.”
El the Father treats the other gods hospitably
“Eat, please drink: eat some food from the table, drink some wine from the goblet
blood of the vine from the golden cup”:
as His Son treats us
When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve[a] apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
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 22:14-19
Aqhat’s father Danel is specifically referenced along with Noah and Job as righteous gentiles in the Bible
“Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out My fury on it in blood, and cut off from it man and beast, even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live,” says the Lord God, “they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” Ezekiel 14:19-20
The story of Aqath is of a Goddess’s greedy wrath against Danel’s son, Aqath. Aqath is struck down, and Danel — a righteous man who judges the orphans and the widows — prays to the God’s for his return.
Danel, the man of Rapau
the Hero, the man of the Marnamite
got up and set down at the entrance of the gate
amon the leaders on the threshing floor
He judged the cases of widows
presided over orphans’ hearings
This matches Job’s descriptions of his own work
“When I went out to the gate by the city,
When I took my seat in the open square,
The young men saw me and hid,
And the aged arose and stood;
The princes refrained from talking,
And put their hand on their mouth;
The voice of nobles was hushed,
And their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
When the ear heard, then it blessed me,
And when the eye saw, then it approved me;
Because I delivered the poor who cried out,
The fatherless and the one who had no helper.
The blessing of a perishing man came upon me,
And I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
My justice was like a robe and a turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
And I was feet to the lame.
I was a father to the poor,
And I searched out the case that I did not know.
I broke the fangs of the wicked,
And plucked the victim from his teeth. Job 29:7-17
Interestingly, the same story includes the Canaanite identification of the deities controlling Egypt
This provides a clue as to the importance of the LORD’s humiliation of them in Exodus
Listen, Lady Danataya
Prepare a lamb from the flock
for Kothar-wa-Hasis’s appetite,
for the desire of the Skilled Craftsman
Give food and drink to the god
serve and honor him,
the lord of Egypt, the god of it all
Both Aqhat and Job deal with the fall-out from tragedy. Job has his famous arguments with the friends who visit him, though in literary merit Job is superior. The context for Aqhat’s actions appear to be the end of mourning, as paid mourners are dismissed from their paid positions
Then, in the seventh year,
Danel, the man of Rapau, spoke:
the Hero, the man of the Harnamite,
raised his voice and declared:
“Leave my house, weepers,
leave my palace, mourners,
leave my court, you who gash your skin.”
And Aqhat himself kicks out the mourners. And unlike Job, which structurally is missing at least two chapters (we are left without a resolution on earth or heaven), Aqhat promises a sequel. The dead boy’s brother, Danel’s daughter, vows revenge
Now bless me, that I may go with your blessing;
favor me, that I may go with your favor.
I will kill my brother’s killer,
put an end to whoever put an end to my mother’s son.
It ends on a cliffhanger! Aqhat’s sister is in the enemy’s tent, having seduced her brother’s murderer…
Twice she gave him wine to drink, she gave him wine to drink
The Book of Judith, included in the Catholic Deuterocanon, is the only similar Bible story i can think of
And if you follow out the words of your maidservant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes…. “Therefore, when I, your servant, learned all this, I fled from them; and God has sent me to accomplish with you things that will astonish the whole world, as many as shall hear about them. Judith 11:6,16
In the Hebrew Bible, the Rephaim are described as “giants,” regularly more than six foot tall and (in the case of King Og) having a bed as wide as a modern queen-size.
“For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the rephaim. Indeed his bedstead was an iron bedstead. (Is it not in Rabbah of the people of Ammon?) Nine cubits is its length and four cubits its width, according to the standard cubit. Deuteronomy 3:11
But in this story Danel — the father of Aqath from the previous story — invites them to his houes. These are divine ones, supernatural creatures
To his place the Rephaim went
to his place the divine ones went
the warriors of Baal and the warriors of Anat
“Go to my house, Rephaim
to my house I call you,
I call you to the midst of my palace.”
To his palace the Rephaim went,
to his place the divine ones went.
Whatever these things were both the Scriptures and the Canaanite stories agreed they were physically manifest in the land.
Kirta is an anti-Abraham, which is to say Abraham is an anti-Kirta. Kirta longs for a male her, and his focus on his future family and not worldly rewards reminds us of our father in faith.
Why should I want silver or gleaming gold,
along with its land,
or perpetual slaves,
chariots in a courtyard,
a slave woman’s sons? Give me sons that I may want be established, give me a clan that I may be magnified!”
God instructs him to take a lamb up a mountain and sacrifice it
And the Bull, his father El, replied:
“Enough of your weeping, Kirta,
of shedding tears, Graceful Lad of El.
Wash yourself and put on rouge,
wash your forearms to the elbow,
from your fingers to your shoulder
Enter the shane of your tent; take a lamb in your right hand,
a young animal in both your hands
the measure of your food that can be poured out.
Take the proper sacrificial bird,
pour wine into a silver goblet,
honey into a golden bowl, and go up to the top of the tower,
climb to the height of the wall; raise your hands to heaven, sacrifice to the Bull, your father El
serve Baal with your sacrifice,
the son of Dagon with your game
The story of Abraham reverse is beginning, with God initially demanding a human sacrifice.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Genesis 22:1-2
Other aspects are reversed as well.
But while the seed of Abraham does not become a mighty army until half a millennium later, under Joshua, the Kirta does not have to wait
Your army will be powerful indeed three million strong,
soldiers beyond counting,
archers beyond reckoning. They will go in thousands, like a downpour, and in ten thousands, like the early rain;
they will go two by two
three by three, all together.
Indeed, even after the Kingdom of Israel is established, it is the second king David, and not the first King Saul, who is known for those “tens thousands”
So the women sang as they danced, and said:
“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day forward. 1 Samuel 18:7-9
though Abraham’s daughter-in-law is said to be the future mothers of tens of ten thousands during her engagement
So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
And she said, “I will go.”
So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her:
“Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands;
And may your descendants possess
The gates of those who hate them.” Genesis 24:57-60
Kirta then is instructed to go to war against a neighboring kingdom. This contrasts with Abraham being able to conceive a son with his old wife
And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7
Unfortunately, Kirta vows a sacrifice to another god, which leads his own to abandon him (though in both stories, the alternative is to a “slavewoman’s son” — either theoretical as with Kirta, or already born as with Ishmael)
Give me Lady Hurriya,
the loveliest of your firstborn offspring:
her loveliness is like Anat’s
her beauty is like Astarte’s
her pupils are lapis lazuli
her eyes are gleaming alabaster
Both Abraham and Kirta are accosted for deception, for Abraham it was to protect the well-being of his sister Sarah…
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”
And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” Genesis 20:8-13
…for Kirta it was hiding his own health from his own sister:
“She approached her brother and declared, “Why did you deceive me? How many months has he been ill?
How long has he been sick?
And the Hero Ilihu replied:
“For three months he has been ill,
for four Kirta has been sick.
Certainly, Kirta is reaching the end…”
The story concludes with God alarmed by Kirta’s sickness. The assembly of the gods have failed on their own to prevent this injustice
And El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied:
“Who among the gods can expel the sickness, drive out the disease?
But none of the gods answered him.
He spoke a second, then a third time: “Who among the gods can expel the sickness, drive out the disease?”
But none of the gods answered him….
Indeed, the Heavenly Father often upbraids the divine ones, but being in heaven is not the same thing as matching the power or wisdom of the Creator
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. Psalms 82:1-4
THE LOVELY GODS
The Lovely Gods is the story of the birth of Dusk and Dawn, most notable for the parallels to presentation of Israel and Judah as lovely supernatural women in the Book of Jeremiah. Both stories are presented ironically. Duck and Dawn are “lovely gods,” but endlessly hungry, and the overall effect is like something out of Thomas Ligotti.
Twin lovely gods,
day-old devours, one-day-old boys,
who suck the nipple of the breast.
They sit a lip to earth,
a lip to the heavens.
Then entered their mouths
the birds of the heavens,
and the fish of the sea.
As they move, bite upon bite
they stuffed on both their right and left
into their mouths, but they were not satisfied.
El takes for his own two women, and from these the lovely gods are born
So the two women became wives of El,
wives of El, his forever
He bent down, kissed their lips, their lips were so sweet
sweet as pomegranates
As he kissed, there was conception,
as he embraced, their was passion
The Book of Jeremiah presents a dramatization of Hebrew history, substituting Israel and Judah for the women, and the fullness of Israel as the lovely gods:
The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. Jeremiah 3:6-8
The Lovely Gods is also disturbing as Death the Ruler
Death the Ruler sits:
in his hand a staff of bereavment,
in his hands a staff of widowhood.
The pruner prunes him like a vine;
the binder binds him like a vine;
he is felled to the terrace like a vine.”
appears to be a type of God:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. John 15:1-8
EL’S DRINKING PARTY
The Incarnate God of the Bible is often presented as a good guest to have at a party
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Matthew 11:18-19
In one of His parables, He castigates sleeing guards, who are not on watchful enough
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!” Mark 13:33-37
El’s Drinking Party may be a literary background of this. The short plot is almost the reverse, with a drunken Moon-God stuck in his animal form. The goddesses try to feed him steak, but are shooed away by the guards.
Astarte and Anat he approached;
Astarte had a steak prepared for him
And Anat a shoulder cut. The gatekeep of El’s house rebuked them, not to prepare steak for a dog,
not prepare a shoulder cut for a houand.
Jesus’s reversal of the fault of the guards — instead of being too cautious, bad guards are those who are not cautious enough!
Less seriously, El’s Drinking Party ends with a cure for a hangover — including “hair of the dog”!
What one should apply on his forehead: dog hair;
and the top of pqq and
one should apply them together with fresh olive oil
The Holy Spirit provides numerous empirical methods of identifying the Messiah. The most eloquent Jewish critics of Christianity, like Rabbi Federow, emphasis this in guarding against an identification of Jesus as the promised Son of David.
These Stories from Ancient Canaanite are fascinating. The Bible not only parallels them in many places, but reverses certain elements or themes. These reversal may well be important to fully understanding what the Bible says.
That said, the commentary is not great. The editor assumes the author already understands that the reader knows the pattern of ancient near-East narrative and poetry. The commentary includes unsupported patter about the LORD dethroning El that is found nowhere in the Bible. It is less of an intellectual overview as The Assembly of the Gods, less of a literary introduction than anything by Robert Alter, and less of a rigorous understanding of biblical Context than the works of Michael Heiser. I’m very glad I read it — it is short and thought provoking — but is recommended only for those who have already read other works on the Canaanite background of the Hebrew Bible.
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.