All posts by tdaxp

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.

Qur’an 12: Joseph

So many of the chapters of the Qur’an are interpretive mash-ups — of Mary and Miriam, of Abraham and Peter, Moses and Joshua — that I wonder if the mash-ups are the essence of the chapters, and not just a feature of them. Specifically, I wonder if the chapters of the Qur’an are literally homilies, which follow a two-readings, a psalm, and a gospel as in most liturgical churches. So for the twelfth chapter, Joseph, and perhaps others, I will begin by presenting a list of readings that implicit in the chapter, and then discuss the particular narrative of the chapter itself.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”

So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”

So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison
Genesis 39:7-20

A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:

“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; 31 and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”

Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Acts 26:13-23,23-32

A Song, from the Psalms:

Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your poor with justice.
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.
Psalms 72:1-4

A Reading, from the Gospel according St. Matthew:

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. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Mark 16:24-28

A Qur’anic Homily

The Qur’anic author believes there is a “Book” or Heavenly Scrolls with God, but the Qur’an itself is not this book. It is a collection of talks, elaborated stories, that highlight the best of the Torah and the Gospels:

We will recount to you the best narratives in what We have revealed to you of this Lectionary and prior to it you were indeed among those who were unaware of it.
Qur’an 12:3

This Qur’an was written to more clearly express the morals in Torah and the Gospels:

There is certainly a moral in their accounts for those who possess intellect. This is not a fabricated discourse; rather, it is a confirmation of what was before it, and an elaboration of all things, and guidance and mercy for people who have faith.
Qur’an 12:111

The twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, “Joseph,” explains how judgment works. Good judges and bad judges are described, both in public matters and private.

For instance, in the Bible and the Qur’an Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, and then frames him for rape.

They raced to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind, and they ran to her husband [Potiphar]. She said, ‘What is to be the requital of him who has evil intentions for your wife except imprisonment or a painful punishment? He said, ‘It was she who solicited me.’

A witness of her own household testified: “If his shirt is torn from the front, she tells the truth and he lies. But if his shirt is torn from behind, then she lies and he tells the truth.’

Joseph, let this matter alone, and you, woman, plead for forgiveness for your sin, for you have indeed been erring.
Qur’an 12:29

Yet the next we see Joseph, he is in prison. The judge has ‘compromised,’ like Pilate, leading to an unjust outcome.

Somewhat better is the king, who at least demands the truth, and gets it:

The king said, ‘What was your business, women, when you solicited Joseph?’ They said, “heaven be praised! We know of no evil in him.’

The prince’s [Potiphar’s] wife said, ‘Now the truth has come to light! It was I who solicited him, and he is indeed telling the truth. This, that he may know that I did not betray him in his absence, and God does not further the schemes of the treacherous. Yet I do not absolve my soul, for the soul indeed prompts to evil, except inasmuch as my Lord has mercy. My Lord is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful!’
Qur’an 12:51-53

A wise judge, such as Joseph during his evaluation of his brothers, seeks evidence and considers it wisely.

“When he had furnished them with their provisions, he put the drinking-cup into his brother’s saddlebag. Then a herald shouted: O caravan! You are indeed thieves!.. The said, ‘The requital for it shall be that he in whose saddlebag it is found shall give himself over as its requital. Thus do we requite the wrongdoers.’
Qur’an 12:70,75

Joseph also judges — or balances — in theological matters. For instance, he uses dreams of bread and grapes (the raw material of the transubstantiation) to emphasize the need for absolute Monotheism and a lack of intercessors:

There entered the prison two youths along with him. One of them said, ‘I dreamt that I am pressing grapes.’ The other said, ‘I dreamt that I am carrying brad on my head from which the birds are eating.’ ‘Inform us of its interpretation, for indeed we see you are a virtuous man.’

He said, ‘Before the meals you are served come to you I will inform you of its interpretation. That is among things my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I renounce the creed of the people who have no faith in God and who also disbelieve in the Hereafter. I follow the creed of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It is not for us to ascribe any partner to God. That is by virtue of God’s grace upon us and upon all mankind, but most people do not give thanks.

O my prison mates! Are different masters better, or the God, the One, the All-paramount?
Qur’an 12:36-38

And likewise Joseph prays for his brothers, not of his own initiative (Which would have been arrogant in the Qur’anic author’s eyes) but as a response to a request (which was to help those of weak faith)

They said, ‘Father! Plead for forgiveness of our sins! We have indeed been erring!.’

He said, ‘I shall plead with my Lord to forgive you; indeed He is the All-forgiving, All-merciful.’
Qur’an 12:97-98

Joseph is a type of Christ, calling others to follow him:

They said, ‘Father! Plead for forgiveness of our sins! We have indeed been erring!.’

He said, ‘I shall plead with my Lord to forgive you; indeed He is the All-forgiving, All-merciful.’
Qur’an 12:97-98

And even using his clothes to mediate his presence to others:

Take this shirt of mine and cast it upon my father’s face, he will regain his sight, and bring me all your folks.’

As the caravan set off, their father said, ‘I sense the scent of Joseph, if you will not consider me a dotard.’
Qur’an 12:93-94

Joseph is an icon of what a judge, a balances, a man should be. “Are you really Joseph?” in the reunion between Joseph and Benjamin could be replaced with, “Are you really what I should be?”

They said, ‘Are your really Joseph?”‘

He said, ‘I m Joseph, and this is my brother. Certainly God has shown us favor. Indeed, if one is Godwary and patient, God does not waste the reward of the virtuous.’

They said, ‘By God, God has certainly preferred you over us, and we have indeed been erring.’

He said, ‘There shall be no reproach on you today. God will forgive you and He is the most merciful of the merciful.
Qur’an 12:90-92

The cause of these though is the Lord, and it is the Lord’s power without intercession which allows any of this to work.

And as with Christ, Joseph leave us with a prayer, a variation of the Our Father.

My Lord! You have granted me a share in the kingdom, and taught me the interpretation of drams. Originator of the heaven and earth! You are my guardian in this world and the Hereafter! Let my death be in submission, and unite me with the Righteous.
Qur’an 12:101

Unites his father with his brothers:

And he seated his parents high upon the throne, and they fell down prostrate before him. He said, ‘Father! This is the fulfillment of my dream of long ago, which my Lord has made come true. He was certainly gracious to me when He brought me out of the prison and brought you over from the desert after that Satan had incited ill feeling between me and my brothers. My Lord is indeed all-attentive in bringing about what He wishes. Indeed, He is the All-knowing, the All-wise.’
Qur’an 12:100

And as with Genesis, in all of this, there is a shock.

The first book book with a Bible ends with the last of the Patriarchs, entombed, a mummy:

So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Genesis 50:26

To any who know typology, and what Egypt represents, the penultimate lines of Joshua are no less shocking:

When they entered into the presence of Joseph, he set his parents close to himself, and said, ‘Welcome to Egypt, in safety, God willing!’
Qur’an 12:99

The only thing more shocking in the Bible, perhaps, is the next Joseph who enters Egypt:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Matthew 2:13-15

Qur’an 11: Hud

Hud is similar to Jonah, with prophetic stories of call, warning, and salvation is repeated. Instead of the focus on the Prophet Jonah, though, multiple prophets inside and outside the Bible are described in basically the same way. This structure is used to comment on the Second Letter of St. Peter.

The Qur’anic author seems to provide a point-by-point contextualization of Pope Peter’s letter, focusing especially on themes form the first three chapters.

Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you…

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

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; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked…

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 1,1:1-2,2:1-11,3:8-9

The rest of this post will go thru the Qur’anic interpretation of the bolded portions, and conclude with some thoughts on the first eleven chapters of the Qur’an as a whole.

Proclaiming the Lord

By the Righteousness of Our God[,] and [the] Savior Jesus Christ…

A lot depends on if “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” is support to be a list or not. I don’t know whether either the Greek original or subsequent Syriac translations of Peter’s epistle are explicit in whether or not a comma can be placed between “Our God” and “and Savior Jesus Christ”, but it appears the Qur’anic author wishes there was one, at least.

In keeping with his theology, the Qur’anic author focuses on the Lord, the person of God the Father…

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

Alife Lam Ra. A Book, whose signs have been made definitive and then elaborated, from One all-wise, all-aware, declaring: “Worship no one but God. I am indeed a warner to you from Him and a bearer of good news.”
Qur’an 11:1-2

This are words that would be familiar with any Jew with a belief in a One-personed God:

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

Whoever the “I” in the Qur’anic quote is, the Qur’an does talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but in the same way it speaks of Moses and Mary — not in the way it speaks of God:

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

Bring on Themselves Destruction

But there were also false prophets among the people … who .. bring on themselves swift destruction

The Qur’an denies the ability of humans to control most actions, but agrees with the Catholic faith in an important way: it is possible to choose sinfulness, or a path away from God. The Fire is a tryst, an erotic appointment for the sinner, that he chooses instead of God:

Is he who stands on a clear proof from his Lord and whom a witness of his own follows? And before him there was the Book of Moses, a guide and mercy. It is they who have faith in it, and whoever denies him from among the factions, the Fire is their tryst. So do not be in doubt about it; it is the truth from your Lord, but most people do not have faith.
Qur’an 11:17

This idea, that God gave to humans of the ability to choose, is found in the church fathers. Writing in Syriac (the language the Qur’an may be written in) shortly before the Qur’an, this reality was described in analogical terms by adding a scene to the Bible to make this point:

And the children of Seth, who had besmirched themselves in the mire of fornication, ran to the door of the Ark, and entreated Noah to open to them the door of the Ark. And when they saw the water floods which were swirling about them and engulfing them on all sides, they were in great tribulation, and they tried to climb up the mountains of Paradise, but were unable to do so. Now the Ark was closed and sealed, and the Angel of the Lord stood over one side of it that he might act as the pilot thereof. And when the floods of waters mastered the children of Seth, and they began to drown in their great and mighty waves–then was fulfilled that which David spake concerning them, saying, “I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High. (Ps. lxxxii. 6.) But since ye have done this, and ye have loved the fornication of the daughters of Cain, like them ye shall perish, and even as they did so shall ye die.”
The Cave of Treasures, “The Third Thousand Years

The Qur’anic author generalizes this, emphasizing the Bible is not the limit of God’s action in the world, but a witness to its continuous operation:

These are from the accounts of the townships which We recount to you. Of them there are some that still stand, and some that have been mown down. We did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves. When your Lord’s edict came, their gods whom they would invoke besides God were of no avail to them in any wise, and they did not increase them in anything but ruin.
Qur’an 11:100

Here the Qur’an expands on the limitation of the written text to describe the transcendent reality found in the gospel. No text can fully describe the glory of God:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

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 16:12-13,21:25

God’s justice, in the Qur’anic view, extends to providing people what they have worked for, their revealed preferences. In a passage terrifying to any recurrent sinner, God promises to pay each according to his works:

As for those who desire the life of this world and its glitter, We will recompense them fully for their works therein, and they will not be underpaid in it. They are those for whom there will be nothing in the Hereafter except Fire: what they have accomplished in the world has failed, and their works have come to naught.
Qur’an 11:15-16

Here the Qur’anic author is not just following Qur’an 8:60 — he’s following Christ, who notes the payment from God is for work not paid on this earth. This is true for good works:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
Matthew 6:1-2

as well as the bad:

Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.
1 Maccabees 2:66-68

Angels and Humans

God did not spare the angels who sinned

The Bible states that judgment is not limited to humans, but extends to supernatural creatures too. Indeed, a cause of the flood (and seemingly the one that Peter and the Qur’anic author both references) was the angels having sex with women:

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.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil [e]continually.
Genesis 6:1-5

An angelic rebellion described at length in the apocrypha:

He [The fourth Fallen Angel] taught men the art of writing with ink and paper, and through this many have gone astray, from eternity to eternity, and to this day.

For men were not created for this, that the should confirm their faith like this, with pen and ink!
I Enoch 69:9-10

And resulting in eternal darkness for the rebellious angels:

But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 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; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Jude 1:5-7

Thus, do demons too shudder at the coming justice…

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
James 2:17-19

The Qur’anic author is even clearer: hell will be filled with humans and supernatural creatures “all together”!

Had your Lord wished, he would have made mankind one community; but they continued to differ, except those on whom your Lord has mercy — and that is why He created them — and the word of your Lord has been fulfilled: ‘I will surely fill hell with jinn and humans, all together!’
Qur’an 11:118-119

The judgment is not limited to humans, nor only to biblical characters. Just as Ezekiel included “Gog and Magog” to shock the reader out of seeing just familiar lists, the Qur’anic author includes other locations, other judgments, and other prophets, as well. One such is Hud, for whom the chapter is named. Others are included as well, as wonderful in their faith as Gog and Magog are in their terror.

When Our edict came, We delivered Shu’ayb and the faithful who were with him by mercy from Us. And the Cry seized those who were wrongdoers, whereat they lay lifeless prostrate in their homes, as if they had never lived there. Now, away with the Midian! — just as Thamud was done away with!
Qur’an 11:94-95

Noah the Preacher of righteousness

God… saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness

There is no record in Genesis of Noah preaching. But the first Pope proclaimed that he did, and early church fathers expanded on this using the Talmudic method of adding scenes or details to the Bible.

Although Noah was an example to that generation by his righteous and had, in his uprightness, announced to them the flood during the one hundred years, they still did not repent. So Noah said to them, “Some of all the flesh will come to be saved with me in the ark.” But they mocked him, Now will all the beasts and birds that are scattered throughout every corner of the earth come from all those regions.”
St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 6:9

The Qur’anic author does the same, for the same goal: to create from Noah a type of prophet who proclaimed salvation to a doubting people. But just as St Peter added to Genesis, and St. Ephrem added to St. Peter, the Qur’anic author adds to St Peter: a consolation for Noah for the lack of his preaching. In the Qur’an faith precedes belief.

It was revealed to Noah: ‘None of your people will believe except those who already have faith; so do not sorrow for what they used to do. Build the ark before Our eyes and by Our revelation, and do not plead with me for those who are wrongdoers: they shall indeed be drowned.

As he was building the ark, whenever the elders of his people passed by him, they would ridicule him. He said, ‘If you ridicule us, we will ridicule you just as you ridicule us.
Qur’an 11:36-38

Faith before belief might be rephrased as doxology before pistis. A preacher who has not first led people into praise cannot successfully pray for their salvation:

But Noah had previously taught his family to glorify God, so they could become obedient to him:

Why were there not among the generations before you a remnant who might forbid corruption in the land, except a few of those whom We delivered from among them? Those who were wrongdoers pursued in the means of affluence they had been granted, and they were a guilty lot.
Qur’an 11:116

Referring to the story above, of some of Noah’s family drowned through unbelief, the Qur’anic author emphasizes this point. Even the family cannot be saved, cannot even be prayed for, before they have faith. Unless the faithful praise God, there is no hope for them.

Noah called out to his Lord, and said ‘My Lord! My son is indeed from my family, and Your promise is indeed true, and You are the fairest of all judges.’

Said He, ‘O Noah! He is indeed not of your family. He is indeed ‘Unrighteous Conduct.’ So do not ask Me of which you have no knowledge. I advise you lest you should be among the ignorant.’
Qur’an 11:45-46

While Nicene Christians disagree starkly about the procession of salvation outlined here, they agree with the Qur’anic author is the primacy of the relationship to God to even the most sentimental familial relationships:

For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Luke 12:52-53

Deliver Righteous Lot

…turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot…

The Qur’an and Genesis agree that Abraham interceded for his nephew Lot on hearing of God’s planned destruction for Sodom:

And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
Genesis 16:20-22

What happens next is a sort of game, where Abraham asks hypothetical questions and God plays along.

And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
Genesis 18:23-26

In the Qur’anic interpretation, this was a pointless exercise:

So when the awe had left Abraham and the good news had reached him, he pleaded with us concerning the people of Lot. Abraham was indeed most forbearing, plaintive and penitent.

O Abraham, let this matter alone! Your Lord’s edict has already come, and an irrevocable punishment shall overtake them.
Qur’an 11:74-76

Here the Qur’an agrees with the implication of the pre-Christian Book of Jubilees, where Abraham’s intercession is elided:

And on the new moon of the fourth month we appeared unto Abraham, at the oak of Mamre, and we talked with him, and we announced to him that a son would be given to him by Sarah his wife.

And Sarah laughed, for she heard that we had spoken these words with Abraham, and we admonished her, and she became afraid, and denied that she had laughed on account of the words.

And we told her the name of her son, as his name is ordained and written in the heavenly tablets (i.e.) Isaac,

And (that) when we returned to her at a set time, she would have conceived a son.

And in this month the Lord executed his judgments on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the region of the Jordan, and He burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh, and work uncleanness on the earth.

And, in like manner, God will execute judgment on the places where they have done according to the uncleanness of the Sodomites, like unto the judgment of Sodom.

But Lot we saved; for God remembered Abraham, and sent him out from the midst of the overthrow.
Jubilees 16:1-7

The Qur’an does not elide the intercession, but presents it as parallel as another wasted gesture, Sarah laughing at the announcement that she will give birth in her old age.

Certainly Our messengers came to Abraham with the good news, and said, ‘Peace!’ ‘Peace!’ He replied. Presently, he brought a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands not reaching out for it, he took them amiss and felt a fear of them. They said, ‘Do not be afraid. We have be sent to the people of Lot.’

His wife, standing by, laughed as We gave her the good news of Isaac, and of Jacob after Isaac. She said, ‘Oh my! Shall I, an old woman, bear, and this husband of mine is an old man?! That is indeed an odd thing!’
Qur’an 11:69-72

Sarah’s story ends with grace on her, and amusement but not anger at her doubt. Because as with Abraham, it is doubt from one who has faith, and not from the godless:

They said, ‘Are you amazed at God’s dispensation? God’s mercy and His blessings upon you, members of the household. He is indeed all-laudable, all-glorious.’
Qur’an 11:73

The Promise of the Future

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance

Writing through the voice of angels, the Qur’anic author consoles the sinner with unseen support. As men and the supernatural can fall into the Fire, men and the supernatural wait and praise and hope for God’s grace together:

Say to those who do not have faith, ‘Act according to your ability; we too are acting. And wait! We too are waiting!’

To God belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth, and to Him all matters are returned. So worship Him and trust in Him. Your Lord is not oblivious of what you do.
Qur’an 11:121-123

Indeed, the elaboration of the heavenly book that is this Qur’an — as well as the Torah and the Gospels — are give to men for their hope:

Whatever that We relate to you of the accounts of the apostles are those by which We strengthen your heart, and there has come to you in this the truth and an advice and admonition for the faithful.
Qur’an 11:120

People who turn away from prophets have as their weakness this lack of hope. Prophets in ancient days were rejected because the good news was received doubtfully. They do not hope in God, and so see giving up their fathers’ unbelief for a new belief as a bad deal:

They said, “O Salih! Before this, you were a source of hope to us. Do you forbid us to worship what our fathers have been worshiping? We have indeed grave doubts concerning that to which you invite us.”
Qur’an 11:62

This is an old story.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 1:20-24

Conclusion

The Qur’an itself is literally incomprehensible. Imagine the books of Exodus, Chronicles, and Hebrews together, but with the chapters in a random order. There’s obviously some context, some additional text, whose knowledge is assumed. Throughout this reading of the Qur’an I have read it with the context that makes the most sense of a Christian and Jewish, near eastern people: the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Apocrypha, and the Talmud.

The traditional answer is that the co-text should be the hadiths (sayings), a corpus that’s about 10x the length of the Qur’an, states what was happening when each verse was revealed, and often with a commentary by Muhammad.

Revisionists such as Christoph Luxenberg and Gabriel Said Reynolds instead argue for the method I present here.

A strength of the revisionist view is that they historical case is stronger than either Luxembourg or Reynolds seem to realize. They accept the typical dating of the Qur’an to around ~620 or so. This matches up to the end of Apostolic succession for the Arians in Justinian’s persecution campaign. The Arians not only insisted they were Catholic, and at one point had a majority of bishops, but also Apostolic succession and the seven sacraments. Without bishops all but two (baptism and marriage) would soon become impossible to actually receive. And the Arian bishoprics were destroyed around the time the Qur’an was written.

The Qur’anic author is wrestling with this traumatic dislocation. He is presented a post-Catholic version of Arianism, an Arianism that can survive without the sacraments. Except for three aspects which would strike most as esoteric (whether the church does exists as an entity, whether sacraments once could be obtained, and whether Christ is inferior to God inferiority of Christ to the Father), the Qur’anic author would have for into the Reformation worldview.

This is the context for Hud, the eleventh chapter of the Qur’an. Like a good Reformation writer, the Qur’anic author emphasizes the universality of God’s decision. The familiar and the foreign alike will face salvation or judgment, Biblical characters and people nowadays both need to have faith in God.

The Path Past the End of the Road

When I first read the below I thought it was from a bizarre, parallel timeline of this world. Considering the state of our current politics, it may be from a saner world.

The Path Past the End of the Road

The New Republic

“We’ve all made mistakes in our lives,” Paul Wolfowitz says to the county fair crowd one early September twilight evening, “like a few poorly written op-eds.”

“Or the Iraq War!” cheerfully chimes in Maureen Dowd.

With this the crowd of a few dozen laughs. No matter where, the crowd always laughs at this line. Wolfowitz does a scripted “aww shucks” look and continues.

“Thanks for reminding me, Maureen.” A pause allows for a few more chuckles. “But in all seriousness folks, we’re here to make sure America never forgets the most important lesson.”

Dowd steps up to the edge of the stage with a motherly face meant to give instruction, “That George Bush should never be trusted with presidential powers again.” A silence falls over the crowd. People let it set in. They remember. Oh how they remember. Dowd continues, “Now I know everybody knows we raised millions to fund this trip. But Paul and I have decided that we cannot let our message be influenced special interests which once backed Georgie.”

“So we’re relying on the generosity of strangers for day-to-day supplies and gas. But you didn’t come here to hear that, you came here for our show!” Paul finishes as the local band starts playing. The DowdWolf Variety Hour begins to cheers and laughter. A dirt path continues where many thought America’s road had ended.

End of the Road?

Do you remember where you were when America “died”? Some people claim it died when George Will, in his infamous sore winners speech meant to introduce John McCain as the 2008 GOP nominee for President, instead played a video of Japanese-special education children reading “THE DARDENELLES OF THE BELTWAY.” Thompson became livid because the video was on repeat and he stormed the stage where the glowering Will stood. The chaos of the day spread and effectively ended the establishment’s control of both the GOP and Democratic parties.

Others claim America died when the constitutional (detractors call it the mob while supporters call it the shadow) presidential elections in 2008 and 2012 were voided by the Supreme Court who instead indefinitely extended the judicial (detractors call it the court-imposed fraud while supporters call it the people’s will) presidential election between John McCain and Jimmy Carter.

Still others claim America past away when the various peoples’ rallies on the National Mall against the crimes of Tina Leans became the main voice of America’s frustrations.

But a Path Continues…

But are things really that bad? The answer is, of course, no. Even in the darkest days we had Jimmy Carter reminding us that “it is okay to believe again.” While some feared his persuading the Supreme Court to basically dissolve the presidency was extreme, the eternal campaign has made both McCain and Carter voices of America. They are true heads of states. When one of the 2016 mob election candidates says something extreme, McCain and Carter remind us in their debates how Americans truly should act. The mob rabble is further tempered by Dowd and Wolfowitz shadowing their illegitimate debates with their variety show.

And the downfall of the two big parties has allowed for an American Spring in the legislatures. Now various groups have voices in the House and Senate. Rational, extremist, and even funny parties are born and die every month. Truly we have a people’s house as diverse as the people.

A Dirt Path Not Yet Paved

Now, thing aren’t perfect. Supreme Court Justice Afghanistan is back on the bench after his Supreme Court pardon, Russell Means passed away of old age while Bobby Means was reportedly gunned down by cops at a traffic stop, we have all heard stories of those who try to travel on the interstates at night, Tina Leans still lives somewhere in Europe trying to rally people against Pope-King Kow I, and the Kurdlifate is causing the large Arab refugee crisis which threatens to overrun the Old World.

But as I see Wolfowitz trying to fix his invisible kazoo, I am reminded of Jimmy Carters campaign slogan: it is okay to believe again. America continues not as it was, but as it is.

Impressions of “Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity,” by Kevin Mongrain

Hans Urs von Balthasar is a short summary. I don’t have a firm grasp of the man Balthasar. But at a high level, it appears that Balthasar is similar to GK Chesterton in his focus on the codependency of mysticism and theology. That is, Balthasar sees Thomas Aquinas’s system view of God to be as true and valid as Francis of Assisi’s mystical vision. He also sees the Church Fathers as a “source” of the faith which has been neglected in favor of Aquinas’s “summary” of theology. Balthasar focuses on Glory as a goal of worship. The book does not spend enough time on Balthasar’s seemingly odd ideas about the Son, or his role in Catholic intellectual history.

I’ve become more aware of Balthasar over the last year, primarily from social and new media. Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, greatly dislikes Balthasar. On his show he dedicated an episode to criticizing Balthasar and his ideas:

Meanwhile, Robert Barron, author of To Light a Fire, admires Balthasar greatly. He’s also put out his own videos — shorter but punchier, praising the man. A similar view has appeared on Catholic podcasts like Clerically Speaking* and Credal Catholic

Balthasar focuses on the “Glory” of God. Doxa, or “Glory,” is a form of belief that contrasts with (and complements) episteme. Thus the relationship between Glory and Theology is more obvious in Greek than it is in translation in Latin and in the West. Indeed, the demand that Aquinas’s theology have a mystical pairing is close to the Orthodox criticism of Catholicism.

The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for “glory” (????, kavod) as doxa. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as “glory” is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church, where the glorification of God in true worship is also seen as true belief. In that context, doxa reflects behavior or practice in worship, and the belief of the whole church rather than personal opinion.
Doxa,” Wikipedia

But more often than “Glory,” Balthasar uses the word “Beauty.” I don’t understand what Balthasar means by using “Beauty” as a strict synonym, or his purpose in seeming to adopt the German romantic tradition into Catholicism. I am unsure if this is a culture touchstone that Balthasar uses to demonstrate his point, or indicates goals beyond the recovery of Glory into Christianity.

According to the book, Balthasar also shared ideas that fit less well with the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. He seems to see the Son as inferior to the Father, and insists that it was the Father who raised the Son, and not the Son who raised Himself. This changes the view of Good Saturday away from the Harrowing of Hell and towards the suffering of Christ in hell. Yet Balthasar’s insistence that the Christian re-presents the procession of the Trinity may fit with the Shepherd of Hermas.

I would have enjoyed a greater discussion about Balthasar’s role in Catholic intellectual history. Balthasar gives an important focus to Mary and prayer, in a way that’s presented as a change from neoscholasticism. This fits with what I have heard before, that it was Balthasar influence (and those with similar views) influence on the Second Vatican Council that helped center these in the Church’s teachings, and pivot away from the specific scholastic process that had been common before. Yet how his thoughts related to others in that council, what was the cause and what was the effect, is left unanswered in this short volume.

I read Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity in the Audible edition.

In Memory: Jeff Carlson

Some news is so surprising and hits so hard it paralyzes you.

Almost two years ago I received this email:

Some of you have already heard, but for those who have not, I am so sorry that I need to share unbelievably sad news with you all. Our beloved Jeff passed away on Monday, July 17 of a very aggressive lung cancer. We are in utter shock and disbelief.

Thank you to all of you who have known Jeff during his life, whether through his writing career or personal life, for your friendship and support to him throughout.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and if choose to, please direct any communications back to my email address, noted above.

I knew Jeff the blogosphere. I had read his short story “The Frozen Sky.” The story was about an astronaut trapped under the ice of Europa. He was kind enough to discuss it with me. I then read the book version he wrote, and we spoke again. Having these brief interactions just made me happy, I was so excited to see where Jeff’s career was going.

And then I got the sad news. And it was just something that was there, in my inbox, and I didn’t want to do anything with it, because it felt so sad to know that I wouldn’t get to read the next part of the story in this life.

I am so grateful that I got to know Jeff, even if in an online way. We have the ability to have such effects on each other,

Jeff’s obituary is available online.