Qur’an 15: The Rock

Everything can rise or fall. Some things fall like a rock. Sometimes, the rock is thrown.

In the fifteenth book of the Qur’an, the author dwells on the imagery of falling or casting down. These words can be used for things expelled from heaven like demons or punishments. They can also be used for blessings given by heaven. Implicit in all of this are how the imagery of the Rock is used in the Bible: to describe God, Christ, Peter. Given the era of the extinction of the Arian sacraments that the Qur’an was written in, the Qur’anic author may be contemplating the blessing and curses given to the community of believers by Peter’s successors — the Popes. Or how the same God who could be the Rock of faith could be associated with a church that the Qur’an denies exists.

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Genesis

When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”

Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”

And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:15-26

A song, from the Psalms

The Lord lives!
Blessed be my Rock!
Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

It is God who avenges me,
And subdues the peoples under me;

He delivers me from my enemies.
You also lift me up above those who rise against me;
You have delivered me from the violent man.

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.
Psalms 18:46-49

A reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord;
he will not desist until the Most High visits him,
and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment.
Sirach 35:17

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew:

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 16:15-20

A Qur’anic Homily

Gates are defensive structures. The Gates of Hell cannot over a rock, when a heavy enough Rock is sent down on a mission.

Angels are sent down to do God’s will, but messengers like Peter were sent down with warnings:

They said, ‘O you, to whom the Reminder has been sent down, you are indeed crazy! Why do you not bring us the angels if you are truthful?!’

We do not send down the angels except with due reason, and then they will not be granted any respite.

Indeed, We have sent down the Reminder, and, indeed, We will preserve it.
Qur’an 15:6-9

Heaven has Gates too. But while the prayers of the faithful can penetrate them, the wicked cannot — and would not even believe if they saw:

That is how We let it pass through the hearts of the guilty: they do not believe in it, and the precedence of the ancients has already passed.

Were We to open for them A gate of the heaven so that they could go on ascending through it, they would surely say, ‘Indeed, a spell has been cast on our eyes; indeed, we are a bewitched lot.
Qur’an 15:12-14

Heaven also has Towers, towards that produce Fire. Many prophets have seen this fire and been welcomed in, but the demons fear and tremble:

Certainly We have appointed towers in the heaven and adorned them for the onlookers, and We have guarded them from every outcast Satan, except someone who may eavesdrop, whereat there peruses him a manifest flame.
Qur’an 15:16-17

Messengers like Peter are sent down like rain for the people, to give them the living water:

There is not a thing but that its source are with Us, and We do not send it down except in a known measure.

And We send the fertilizing wends and send down water from the sky providing it for you to drink and you are not maintainers of its resources.
Qur’an 19:21-22

But as Peter is a rock with a mission, to break down the gates of hell, the heaviness of the wicked instead consigns them away from paradise. They are like Lot’s wife, who will be left as a rock salt:

[Abraham] said, ‘O messengers, what is now your errand?’

They said, ‘We have been sent toward a guilty people, except the family of Lot. We will indeed deliver all of them, except his wife, We have ordained, will indeed be among those who remain behind.

So when the messengers came to Lot’s family, he said, ‘You are strangers,’

They said, ‘Indeed, we bring you what they used to doubt. We bring you the truth, and indeed we speak truly. Take your family in a watch of the night and follow in their rears, and none of you should turn around, and proceed as you are bidden.’ We apprised him of the matter that these will be rooted out by dawn.
Qur’an 15:57-66

For the wicked their greatest ‘triumphs will become their undoing, their elevations are instead their lowest points. The Fire for them is not redemptive but destructive.

The Qur’anic author teaches that these signs and symbols are given as a lesson. Both Peter and Lot’s wife were rocks, it was their relationship with God which determined what kind of rock they would be.

The rocks to the wicked will be their doom and torment

By your life, they were bewildered in their drunkenness. So the Cry seized them at sunrise, and We made its topmost part its nethermost, and rained on them stones of shale.

There are indeed signs in that for the percipient. Indeed, it is on a standing road, and there is indeed a sign in that for the faithful.
Qur’an 15:72-74

But for the righteous, the Rock will crash the gates of hell, and enter them into Paradise:

Indeed, the Godwary will be amid gardens and springs.

“Enter it in peace and safety!”

We will remove whatever rancor there is in their breasts; brothers on couches — facing one another — therein neither weariness shall touch them, nor will they be expelled from it.
Qur’an 15:45-48

The Speaker

Throughout my reading of the Qur’an I’ve there’s a mystery that doesn’t quite go away. Who is the speaker? The closest in narrative composition to the Qur’an is the Book of Jubilees, where the speaker is obviously a group of angels

And thereupon we saw His works , and praised Him, and lauded before Him on account of all His works; for seven great works did He create on the first day.
Jubilees 2:3

But it seems unusually clear in this chapter (or I’ve just begun noticing it), that Creation is split between the royal “We”…

Indeed, it is We who give life and bring death and We are the inheritors.

Certainly We know the predecessors among you and certainly We know the successors, and indeed it is your Lord who will resurrect them. He is all-wise, all-knowing.

Certainly We created man out of a dry clay from an aging mud, and We created the jinn earlier out of a piercing fire.
Qur’an 15:23-27

And God, as in this doublet where creation is ascribed to both “We” and “your Lord”:

We did not create the heavens and the earth and whatever is in between them except with consummate wisdom, and indeed the Hour is bound to come. So forbear with a graceful forbearance. Indeed, your Lord is the all-Creator, the all-Knowing.
Qur’an 15:85-86

If “We” are another creator, it is a creator who is not God, at least according to the Qur’anic author:

So proclaim what you have been commanded, and turn away from the polytheists. We will indeed suffice you against the deriders — those who set up another Deity besides God. Soon they will know! Certainly We know that you become upset because of what they say. So celebrate the praise of your Lord and be among those who prostrate, and worship your Lord until certainty comes to you.
Qur’an 15:94-99

But if the Royal We is not God, nor can it be Christ as commonly understood:

Certainly We gave Moses the Book and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group, and slave a group?
Qur’an 2:57-58

At this point my thought is that the Royal We are either a group of angels specifically tasked with Creation, or else Jesus Son-of-God, distinct from Jesus Son-of-Mary. Presumably that answer is to be found in whether the Royal We ever bow, but even that is not clear, as Christ himself came in the form of a servant…

When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I am going to create a human out of a dry clay from an aging mud. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down in prostration to him.

Thereat the angels prostrated, all of them, but not Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated.

He said, ‘O Iblis! What kept you from being among those who have prostrated?’

Said him, ‘I will not prostrate before a human whom You have created out of a dry clay form an aging mud,.

He said, ‘Begone hence, for you are indeed an outcast, and indeed the curse shall lie on you until the Day of Retribution.’
Qur’an 15:28-34

The last time I noted this question of the Royal We’s identity in the Qur’an is in the Qur’anic chapter that references a letter of St Peter, and this chapter is called “The Rock.” I don’t know what to make of this for now.

Conclusion

The Qur’anic author believed that some not-quite-Divine entity or entities co-created the universe with God, and in that universe they send down blessings and curses to man. These things sent down — from rain to apostles– are not ends in themselves, but signs that should point the heart toward God. Men are naturally impatient and want definite proof — but man’s ability to doubt means he can always talk himself out of every evidence, and by the time of the final judgment, too much will be revealed for the wayward man to take.

Qur’an 14: Abraham

The fourteenth chapter of the Qur’an, Abraham, contrasts two would-be intercessors: Abraham and Satan. They are contrasted twice in the Gospels, and have parallel, if opposite, roles in the Bible: Abraham’s faithful leadership of Sarah lead to the birth of Isaac: Satan’s faithless leadership of Eve lead to humanity being expelled from the Garden. Abraham’s obedience to God was tested during the sacrifice of Isaac, where it triumphed: Satan’s disobedience to God led him to being destroyed in the end. Abraham is our father in faith — Satan is the father of lies.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Genesis 3:1-6

A Song, from the Psalms:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalms 1:1-3

A Reading, from the First Letter of St. Peter:

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
1 Peter 3:1-6

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel according to John:

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
John 8:37-44

A Qur’anic Homily

Satan’s promises will fail, and the Qur’anic author believes at the end Satan himself will preach God’s glory:

When this matter is all over, Satan will say, ‘Indeed, God made you a promise that was true and I made you a promise, but I failed you, I have no authority over you, except that I called you and you responded to me. So do not blame me but blame yourselves. I cannot respond to your distress calls, neither can you respond to my distress calls. I indeed disavow your taking me for partner aforetime. There is indeed a painful punishment for the wrongdoers.’
Qur’an 14:22

Satan’s declaration here should be read carefully. Satan’s promises and intercessions only appeared to be a result of his power: their only actual result (according to the Qur’anic author) was to encourage a change in intention in a sinner. Abraham likewise made intercessions, and (in the Qur’anic view) the effects of these should be seen to be pious and devotional:

All praise belongs to God, who gave me Ishmael and Isaac despite old age. My Lord indeed hears all supplications. My Lord! Make me a maintainer of prayer, and my descendants, Our Lord, accept my supplications. Our Lord! Forgive me, my parents, and all the faithful, on the day when the reckoning is held.
Qur’an 14:39-41

We can think of Abraham and Satan as the two trees in the garden of Eden, the two men crucified with Christ, or the hero and the shadow archetypes — Abraham is a good tree, Satan a wicked one:

Have you not regarded how God has drawn a parable? A good word is like a good tree, its roots are steady and its branches are on high. It gives its fruit every season by the leave of its Lord. God draws these parables for mankind so that they may take admonition.

And the parable of a bad word is that of a bad tree: uprooted from the ground, it has no stability.
Qur’an 14:24-25

Or in the Biblical verse the Qur’an is paraphrasing here:

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.

For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8

Satan, the father of lies, is the wicked reflection of Abraham, our father in faith. Both sought to organize parts of the created order into a power hierarchy with themselves at the top. But see how this goes. Consider the long blessing of Hebron, which began with Abraham negotiating it from Lot:

So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.

And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.
Genesis 13:8-18

continued with Abraham purchasing land from the Canaanites:

And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.
Genesis 23:14-20

The Qur’an incorporates this “city” — Hebron — and Abraham’s prayers for it. . Abraham prayed to God, both to bring his followers to God, and to ask that Hebron itself be transfigured:

When Abraham said, ‘My Lord! Make this city a sanctuary, and save me and my children from worshiping idols. My Lord! They have indeed misled many people. So whoever follows me indeed belongs with me, and as for those who disobey me, well, You are indeed all-forgiving, all merciful!
Qur’an 14:35-36

But Satan does not have the faith that can move mountains, and his schemes will come to not:

They certainly devised their plots, but their plots are known to God, and their plots are not such as to dislodge the mountains.
Qur’an 14:46

The point is obvious. While Satan grows his own power:

Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

For some have already turned aside after Satan.

If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
1 Timothy 5:14-16

We know that God is righteous, God is faithful to us, He will remember the promises the made to Abraham, while the promises of Satan are meaningless:

So do not supposed that God will break His promise to His apostles. Indeed, God is all-mighty, avenger. The way when the earth is turned into another earth and the heavens, and they are presented before God, the One, the All-paramount — on that day you will see the guilty bound together in chains, their garments made of pitch, and the Fire covering their faces, so that God may regard every soul for what is has earned. God is indeed swift at reckoning.
Qur’an 14:47-51

Consider this good news a warning. The LORD God, He is one God! Let he who has eyes see, and has ears, hear!

This is a proclamation for mankind, so that they may be warned thereby and know that He is indeed the One God, and those who possess intellect may take admonition.
Qur’an 14:52

Impressions of “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,” by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Generally there’s a gap between people great at explaining what the words of the Bible mean (its cultural, linguistic, and genre contexts), and what the Bible means (the transcendent, spiritual worth of the text). Thus Michael Heiser, N.T. Wright have excellent works explaining the original plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments, while C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton are great at explaining what the Bible means and what Christianity is.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, is a rare man who can do both.

This short volume primarily focuses on the Gospel’s Christmas accounts, as well as Luke’s retelling of Jesus being found in the temple. In this book Benedict uses the text to show not just how Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled, but the meaning of the magi, the reaction of Jerusalem, the apocalyptic nature of the event, and so on.

This book is short, easy to read, and great. Ratziner displays a mastery of textual analyses on par with Heiser and Wright. That he wrote this being the public face of the largest religion in the world is astonishing,

The Apocalypse

When I wrote my impressions of the Gospel According to Matthew, I noted it began with an ending — with a genealogy that normally serves to close a section of the Torah. I did not catch how Luke did the same thing. Near the beginning of Luke’s gospel is reference to the Book of Enoch — the gospel opens with a genealogy containing 77 generations (70 from Enoch on):

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Luke 3:23-38

This mapping of 77 generations to forever is derived from Enoch:

To Michael likewise the Lord said, Go and announce his crime to Samyaza, and to the others

who are with him, who have been associated with women, that they might be polluted with all their impurity. And when all their sons shall be slain, when they shall see the perdition of their beloved, bind them for seventy generations underneath the earth, even to the day of judgment, and of consummation, until the judgment, the effect of which will last for ever, be completed.

Then shall they be taken away into the lowest depths of the fire in torments; and in confinement shall they be shut up for ever.
1 Enoch 10:15-16

The implication of is even greater than I had imagined. The message is not simply, the previous chapter is over. Rather, the previous world is over. All things are made new in Jesus, for He is the beginning and the end.

The Adoration of the Magi

Another reference I missed is how Luke comments on Matthew’s magi. Luke’s later magi, a wicked man, is named bar Jesus, as if to drive the point home. Compare Matthew’s account of Christmas:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoo from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 2:1-2

To Luke’s of the early church age:

Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the Magus (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Acts 13:6-8

Benedict explicitly notes that magi had a range of meanings in the time, from expert scientist to devious fraudster. But the double use, plus the name reported of the wicked magi, is interpretted by Benedict as making the point that religion can open or close one to God, depending on the nature of the religion and how one receives it.

Gentiles and the Bible

Benedict seems aware of the stories from ancient Canaan. He identifies the Star of Bethlehem with a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred around 6 BC. Throughout the Mediterranean and near-east Saturn a longer was associated with the Creator God Cronos or El, and Jupiter with the presiding god of a younger generation, Zeus or Ba’al or Marduk. Thus a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter could be read as the Ba’al-of-El or the Zeus-of-Cronos. At the time of the first Christmas many peoples recognized the existence of the Creator God, but the Jews were conspicuous in worshiping him.

Benedict argues the Magi went to Jerusalem as the recognized Temple of the Creator God, familiarized themselves with ‘local’ relevant prophecies (such as of the King of Israel to be born in Bethlehem), and proceeded accordingly. I find this treatment brilliant, as it both incorporates Christianity as the completion of astrology, while also deeply humanizing the motives of the magi themselves.

The Scholastics of the Time

A major development in the 20th century was a move away from Scholasticism (which viewed Christianity primarily as a set of truth-propositions to be accepted) to the current period of re-utilizing the Bible and the Church Fathers as sources, which sees Christianity primarily as a relationship between the believer and God. Benedict was a major champion of the re-utilization or resourcement, as an academic, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, and as Pope. The current, Benedictine, era thus can see critical references to “experts of the law” as applicable to the now-defeated Scholastics.

Benedict discovers an additional dig, as the magi are leaving Jerusalem

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
Matthew 2:3-5

apparently none of the “Chief Priests and scribes” bothered to apply their intellectual knowledge of the signs and of Herod’s nature, to preventing the massacre in the Bethlehem. Perhaps they simply couldn’t. As my friend Michael Lotus noted, it was Christ’s acts which took a cynical statement of politics:

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”
John 11:49-50

and turned it into a religion of salvation.

The Tradition and the Bible

I have Protestant friends who struggle with the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the Bible and Sacred Tradition. Instead of defensively arguing for Tradition from the Church’s authority, Benedict does so on a textual basis. It is clear, he states, that the story of Christmas derives from a family Tradition — of Mary’s recollections.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

Benedict does not push this point, but I think it is meaningful. The Bible itself is derived from the knowledge of people who knew Jesus for years or decades. That the Bible was the total, complete, and only method of transmission of this memory is not a natural claim.

But this introduces an unresolved question. Benedict says Mary’s reply to the angel is not explicable in the text, and is a “riddle” (or “mystery”). The text itself states that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, and the regular mechanism of conceiving a child in the near term seems pretty obvious. What is going on?

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. …

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Luke 1:26-27,31-34

According to Benedict, we don’t know.

Conclusion

It’s interesting comparing The Infancy Narratives to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si or On Heaven and Earth . Francis is thought provoking and moves the reader to action. But Benedict can explain complex issues in more detail in a clear and thoughtful way.

I am very glad I read this book. I indirectly owe it to Fr. Harrison Ayre and Fr. Anthony Sciarappa whose Clerically Speaking podcast often discusses Ratzinger’s writings in very approachable terms. Even with that recommendation, though, I didn’t expect the clarity of writing or the masterful handling of the biblical text. This book is excellent reading for anyone wanting to learn more about what the Bible says about the first Christmas.

Qur’an 13: Thunder

The thirteenth chapter, “Thunder,” introduces the Qur’an’s gendered ecology. The focus on God’s creation of the natural world recalls Pope Francis’s Laudato Si or Steve Boint’s Did Jesus Die for Dogs. But the use of mythical or archetypal gender in describing the source of this natural world recalls Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning of this lectionary. The Qur’anic author takes the listener through this gendered ecology by focusing on the opening, the fire and flow, and the destination of all creation.

As before, this chapter appears to be a homily, so I will first present biblical readings that the chapter reflects.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver. Therefore thus says the LORD God: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have poured out My fury on you.’”
Ezekiel 22:17-22

A Song, from the Psalms:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD.

For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
Psalms 96:11-13

A Reading, from the Book of Proverbs:

Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice?

“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.
Proverbs 8:1,22-23paul thomas anderson

A Reading, from the Gospel according to Matthew:

Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.

And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Matthew 21:18-22

A Qur’anic Homily

I have a suspicion that this chapter acts as a key for what I have read so far. “The Opening” is literally the title of the first Qur’anic chapter. The second chapter is named after a young female creature. And while we have had chapters with titles that tease a final destination — the Elevations, the Spoils, and so on — that so far is out of reach.

In any case, let’s begins at the beginning:

The Opening

Chaos is the feminine complement to order. Wisdom is chaos within the Logos — in Qur’anic terms, within the Book.

In the Name of God, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

Alif, Lam, Ra. These are the signs of the Wise Book.
Qur’an 13:1

The material aspect of the Book may be problematic considering the Qur’anic author’s attack on Christians for stating that women are mates with the Lord, but I feel this is unfair. The Qur’anic author is not stating that God is married to the Book like the Christians believe the Son is married to the Church, or the Holy Spirit is the spouse of Mary.

And now Our mind and heart turn back to those hopes with which We began, and for the accomplishment of which We earnestly pray, and will continue to pray, to the Holy Ghost. Unite, then, Venerable Brethren, your prayers with Ours, and at your exhortation let all Christian peoples add their prayers also, invoking the powerful and ever-acceptable intercession of the Blessed Virgin. You know well the intimate and wonderful relations existing between her and the Holy Ghost, so that she is justly called His Spouse. The intercession of the Blessed Virgin was of great avail both in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. May she continue to strengthen our prayers with her suffrages, that, in the midst of all the stress and trouble of the nations,t hose divine prodigies may be happily revived by the Holy Ghost, which were foretold in the words of David: “Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Ps. ciii., 30).
Pope Leo XIII, Divinum illud Munus, AD 1897

The Qur’anic author rejects feminine partners to God, but views the Book — chaos and wisdom within the Logos — as feminine:

Thus We have sent it down as a dispensation in Arabic; and should you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have neither any friend nor defender against God.

Certainly We have sent apostles before you, and We appointed wives and descendants for them; and an apostle may not bring a sign except by God’s leave.

There is a written for every time:

God effaces and confirms whatever he wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.
Qur’an 13:37-39

Rather, the relationship is if anything closer to the Father and Wisdom, of the Creator and a feminine creature. Indeed, the Qur’an is neither able to intercede for the faithful (as Christians believe the Church and Mary are)…

If only it were a Qur’an whereby the mountains could be moved, or the earth could be toured, or the dead could be spoken to… Indeed, all dispensation belongs to God.
Qur’an 13:31

… nor is it as useful as a personal attribute, such as faith. Wisdom is the process of correct creativity. Within the home of our mothers, Wisdom allows the increase and the reduction of new life.

God knows what every female carries, and what the wombs reduce and what they increase, and everything is by measure with Him, the Knower of the sensible and the Unseen, the All-great, the All-sublime.
Qur’an 13:8

In the home of our world, this regulation of creation includes both secular features of creation, such as astral bodies:

It is God who raised the heavens without any pillars that you see, and then presided over the Throne. He disposed the sun and the moon, each moving for a specified term. he directs the command, and elaborates the signs that you may be certain of encountering your Lord.

It is He who has spread out the earth and set in it firm mountains and streams, and of every fruit He has made it in two kinds, He draws the night’s cover over the day. There are indeed signs in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 13:2-3

As well the cyclical nature of lightning, fear, hope, and clouds:

It is He who shows you the lightning, inspiring fear and hope, and He produces the clouds heavy. The Thunder celebrates His praise, and the angels, in awe of Him, and He releases the thunderbolts and strikes with them whomever He wishes. Yet they dispute concerning God, though He is great in might.

To Him belongs the true invocation; and those whom they invoke besides Him do not answer them in any wise — like someone who stretches his hands toward water that is should reach his mouth, but it does not reach it — and the invocation of the faithless only go awry.
Qur’an 13:12-14

These openings of the world were created by God, both for every human life, and for all of creation.

The Fire and the Flow

The feminine, fluidic part of creation is the complement to order. Viewed from a masculine perspective, the Logos leads to the destruction by fire, an analogy in Both the Bible (“dross”) and Qur’an (“scum”):

He sends down water from the sky, whereat the valleys are flooded to their capacity, and the flood carries along a swelling scum. A similar scum arises from what they smelt in the fire for the purpose of ornaments or wares. That is how God compares truth and falsehood. As for the scum, it leaves as dross, and that which profits the people stays in the earth .That is how God draws comparisons.
Qur’an 13:17

These themes tie together as it is not only the unborn that the womb either produces or reduces, it is nations as well. They come and go

Thus have We sent you to a nation before which many nations have passed way, so that you may recite to them what We have revealed to you. Yet they defy the All-beneficent. Say, ‘he is my Lord, there is no God except Him; in Him alone I have put my trust, and to Him alone will be my return.’
Qur’an 13:30

as do apostles:

Apostles were certainly derided before you. But then I have respite to those who were faithless, then I seized them; so how was My retribution?
Qur’an 13:32

The Qur’anic author is giving chaos its positive meaning, and beyond just wisdom: Chaos includes the destruction of old orders that should be destroyed. To the Qur’anic author, God — who creates as He wishes and destroys as He wishes — uses chaos and order for His will.

The Destination

In the Bible God created man outside the Garden of Eden, and then placed him into it. Eden is not our true starting point…

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being… Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
Genesis 2:7,15

… but a picture of our destination:

A description of the paradise promised to the Godwary: streams run in it, its fruits and shade are everlasting. Such is the requital of those who are godwary, and the requital of the faithless is the Fire.
Qur’an 13:35

Just as hell contains humans and non-humans, so does the Garden:

It someone who knows the truth what what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the truth, like someone who is blind? Only those who possess intellect take admonition — those who fulfill God’s covenant and do not break the pledge solemnly made, and those who join what God has commanded to be joined, fear their Lord, and are afraid of an adverse reckoning — those who are patient for the sake of their Lord’s leisure, maintain the prayer, and spend secretly and openly out of what We have provided them, and repel evil with good.

For such will be the reward of the abode: the Gardens of Eden, which they will enter along with whoever is righteous from among their forebears, spouses, and descendants, and the angels will call on them from every door.
Qur’an 13:19-23

Through faith and thru works man will be saved:

Those who have faith and do righteous deeds — happy are they and good is their destination.
Qur’an 13:29

God has knowledge of the mother Book, and witness to you:

The faithless say, ‘You have not been sent.’ Say, ‘God suffices as a witness between me and you, and he who possess the knowledge of the Book.’
Qur’an 13:43

In Christianity the eschaton is a wedding feast, an image taken Jeremiah’s romantic comedy view of salvation history and, before that, the stories of God’s drinking party.  The view of love as central to God’s creation extends to the present day in Hans urs von Balthasar‘s focus on both eros and agape as forms of Christian love.  To the Qur’anic author, God knows Wisdom, in keeping with this analogy.

Conclusion

“Thunder” emphasizes creation and its gendered origin. The Qur’an is revealed as female, and a component to the Proverbial “Wisdom” as a female creature through which creation was instituted. This is also the most explicit connection between the Book and the Logos, the ordering agency at the center of late classical Greek, Hebrew, and Christian thought.

And it is in this history of Christian thought, I believe, the Qur’anic author resolves Paul’s message.

For Jews request a sign,
and Greeks seek after wisdom;
but we preach Christ crucified,

to the Jews a stumbling block
and to the Greeks foolishness,
but to those who are called,

both Jews
and Greeks,
Christ
the power of God
and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24

The Qur’anic author does not see himself contradicting Paul, but in keeping with him. For to the Jews and Greeks, he seems to write, was given Christ, and the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Impressions of “Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit,” by Craig Oliver

Recently I read Unleashing Demons by Craig Oliver, an adviser to former UK Prime Minister David Cameron who also worked with the anti-Brexit campaign, “Stronger In.” Unleashing Demons presents an inside view of the failed attempt to convince the British people they should stay in the European Union. Oliver does a good job presenting a detailed history of events and lays blame at numerous people, but not himself nor his former employer. He makes a few claims that are questionable. The book itself is clearly intended for a British audience, but there’s some overlap with US politics too.

Unleashing Demons appears to be a re-purposed diary. It’s very detailed, and does not have a real sense of pacing. It seems likely that most of the book is literally composed of what Oliver recorded happening that day, narrowed down to the EU referendum.

The book begins shortly before the campaign. Oliver’s faction, “Britain Stronger in Europe”) or “Stronger In” for short),” was composed of the leadership of the Conservative, Labor, Liberal-Democrat, Green, and Scottish National Parties. The opposing faction, “Leave.eu” was primarily composed of unhappy Conservative Party members, including cabinet ministers. One consequence of this is that the “Stronger In” campaign was strongly associated with the establishment. Oliver realizes this, but fails to appreciate how profoundly this blinded him. At several points Oliver (who narrates the audible edition) seems truly angry and bewildered by “experts” in “post-war institutions” were so widely distrusted. He lives in an establishment world where the financial crisis and the Iraq occupation have not destroyed the credibility of the elite. Another consequence is that the Brexit referendum was seen as a Conservative Party civil war by the other parties. Oliver suspects the incompetent assistance by other parties may have been given on purpose, in order to weaken the Conservative Party.

Oliver briefly describes the pro-Brexit campaign. The official pro-Brexit campaign was Leave.eu, actually led by Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove. At the same time the U.K Independent Part of Nigel Farage ran a more enthusiastic wildcat campaign. While tensions between these campaigns are mentioned, but pro-Brexit side appeared more united than the anti-Brexit side.

An irony of the book is that beliefs now associated with Brexiteers (such as that a vote is irrevocable, that “out means out,” and so on) were largely pushed by the Leave campaign and the Cameron administration. This is part of what was called disparagingly “Project Fear,” justified by Oliver as a method of emphasizing the negative aspects of Brexit as a risk to the self-interest of marginal British voters. Within the narrative previous Labor Prime Ministers argued against this approach, emphasizing that while the Brexit side has both a positive message (regain sovereignty) and a negative one (risk from immigration), the pro-Brexit side has only a negative message (risk to the economy) without a positive message (either Brown’s “lead not leave” British power within the EU, or a focus on an “open” world). In the text Oliver is dismissive of this view.

Oliver lists a number of villains who are responsible for Brexit being passed. These include German Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policy, the Labour party for sabotaging the referendum, disloyal Conservative ministers, people “who don’t like brown people”, a lack of a pro-EU story, and the BBC for not silencing news he disliked. In the book and outside it he has called for the BBC to censor political views he dislikes. These include differences from whether or not Turkey can ever join the EU, to whether there might be a EU army.

Unleashing Demons touches on American politics in a few points. The chief pollster for the anti-Brexit campaign was Jim Messini, whohttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Fear also worked for Obama’s successful reelection campaign. Earlier in the book the narrative feels like it’s broken to insist Obama’s line, that Britain would go “in the back of the queue,” was written without British assistance, even though that is not an American expression. As the book neared its conclusion it began to feel more like Donna Brazille’s Hacks, as it became increasingly bitter to members of the author’s own party.

I read Unleashing Demonshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Fear: The Inside Story of Brexit in the Audible edition.