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Source: (consider it) Thread: Kerygmania: 'Ethic' Cleansing: God's Love and the Genocide charge
Freddy
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Nigel, I love your explanations of Revelation. It is a book that I especially enjoy.

I agree with what you are saying about it being in perfect harmony with the OT on the subject of the covenant, the associated consequences, and the possibility of anathema.

This is the consistent Biblical message. It doesn't mean, however, that we need to understand that God really is the author of the negative consequences.

Revelation, of all books, is one long metaphor. It is obviously symbolic. It's just a matter of interpretting it's meaning. Clearly it is about the ultimate victory of good over evil. Everything in it should be understand as part of that formula.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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Am I understanding part of the discussion to represent that some of you think that that God loved some people in the OT enough to kill them wholesale, including children too young to even reason?

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
Revelation, of all books, is one long metaphor. It is obviously symbolic. It's just a matter of interpretting it's meaning. Clearly it is about the ultimate victory of good over evil. Everything in it should be understand as part of that formula.

I do agree that the language in Revelation is very symbolic in places, and if language is always figurative in some form or other then huge chunks of the book are definitely at the more highly metaphorical end of the spectrum. Hence the fun down the centuries in interpreting what the symbols stand in for (Lamb, 666, Babylon, Armageddon...). I agree too that there is an overall schema of good versus evil. What I do notice, though, is that alongside the symbolic language use there are sets of statements that read more propositionally. I'm reminded of certain forms of prayer that run along the lines of “We worship you, O Mighty Lord, because you...” where the because signals a shift from more figurative to less figurative language – similar to the approach in many psalms (both within and without the formal collection of Psalms in the bible. In Revelation this type of language sue can be found in assorted songs, e.g., 11:17-18 (NET Version):
quote:
“We give you thanks, Lord God, the All-Powerful,
the one who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations were enraged,
but your wrath has come,
and the time has come for the dead to be judged,
and the time has come to give to your servants,
the prophets, their reward,
as well as to the saints
and to those who revere your name, both small and great,
and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

It's possible to lift out statements of more literal than metaphorical value there: that the God under discussion is the one who rules over every power, is motivated to intervene in the world because something is not right, that there is an expectation of a just ending to the current state of the world... etc.

It is certainly possible to take all of the language use in Revelation symbolically ('this stands in for that'). I assume this would mean seeing that every biblical author was getting their more literal understandings wrong and that what God really meant was something different, or that God permitted the limited understanding of an author to be expressed, and then over time worked to inspire a reading strategy that could surmount the off-line problems. However I'm still stuck with the option that God may indeed have truly inspired these writers to express in a variety of language uses the literal as well as the symbolic – that he may actually have intended the literal to be the real cake and the symbolic to be the icing on the cake (to use a metaphor!). There would have to be a criterion or criteria to use in deciding how one should approach the act of reading the bible.

I can bring no_prophet's query in here:
quote:
Am I understanding part of the discussion to represent that some of you think that that God loved some people in the OT enough to kill them wholesale, including children too young to even reason?
...to say “Yes, if that is what God intended his audience then and now to know.”

The reading strategy I've suggested on this thread takes seriously some key findings in recent scholarship both within and without biblical studies. In fact I think if anyone wishes to discuss the findings in respect to the concept of herem in the bible it might help to start not at the micro level – with the nitty-gritty of exegesis – but rather at the macro level – with concepts of worldview, presuppositions, semantic domain of words, role of metaphor, possible worlds, and so on. A Christian might also want to consider issues such as canon and transmission, original inspiration of authors and current inspiration of interpretation, the role of tradition.

Then – and possibly only really then – might it be evidentially better to discuss how best to apply the biblical findings to lives today. It's a long haul from the scratches on parchment to decisions on ethics and I admit that it's not really practical to await full judgement; one has to proceed in life on the basis of pre-judgements, interim rulings pending fuller information. Still, the pre-judgement should never ossify into a prejudice.

So, how does one read the bible? I've opted for an approach that seeks to take the language on its own terms, in the human context of the time. That approach has led to the conclusions outlined in my posts. I know others would prefer other approaches; Freddy has outlined an alternative that permits a symbolic reading. I'm still somewhat stuck on the principles underlying other readings on this thread. So far there has been a sense of “It couldn't possibly be that, therefore it wasn't...” This line is one I have heard many times over the past few decades, but no one has given me the grounding for this approach. I await, with interest!

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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It is not possible that God really didn't want babies and children killed? That the people who did these things believed something in their zeal and heat of battle? That the bible contains some bad examples of allegedly faithful behaviour that is actually humans misinterpreting their ideas for God's and also explaining their behaviour after the fact?

Do you also believe that God approved of Jephthah's killing of his daughter (Judges 11)?

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Kwesi
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No_Prophet
quote:
It is not possible that God really didn't want babies and children killed? That the people who did these things believed something in their zeal and heat of battle? That the bible contains some bad examples of allegedly faithful behaviour that is actually humans misinterpreting their ideas for God's and also explaining their behaviour after the fact?
No_Prophet, I think you're on to something!
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Boogie

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quote:
Originally posted by no_prophet:
It is not possible that God really didn't want babies and children killed? That the people who did these things believed something in their zeal and heat of battle? That the bible contains some bad examples of allegedly faithful behaviour that is actually humans misinterpreting their ideas for God's and also explaining their behaviour after the fact?

Yep, absolutely - it's not just possible, it's the only explanation for many OT passages, in my view.

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Nigel M
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Keep going with the thought that God's nature might not extend to herem - the evidence in support is...?

[ETA one rather vital word!]

[ 31. August 2011, 16:14: Message edited by: Nigel M ]

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Keep going with the thought that God's nature might not extend to herem - the evidence in support is...?

[ETA one rather vital word!]

That faith stands on scripture and reason and tradition. Always has. If you turn only to scripture and specific words, you have set up an idol. I certainly understand the historical roots of sola scriptura, but had thought that thinking people were well beyond such simplistic ideas.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Keep going with the thought that God's nature might not extend to herem - the evidence in support is...?

Here is a relevant set of verses:
quote:
Matthew 19:7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."

Extending the thoughts in this bit of evidence we could say that the killings apparently allowed, or even commanded, by Jehovah in the Old Testament were "because of the hardness of your hearts."

We might wonder, What difference does the hardness of their hearts make? The answer is that He accommodated to their worldview so that they would accept what He said.

To put it another way, God allowed a religion to develop that permitted many evil things, but which also restricted many other evil things. This was not perfect but was, overall, a positive step towards what He would teach at the Incarnation.

In any case, this is evidence supporting what No Prophet is saying.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by no_prophet:
That faith stands on scripture and reason and tradition. Always has. If you turn only to scripture and specific words, you have set up an idol. I certainly understand the historical roots of sola scriptura, but had thought that thinking people were well beyond such simplistic ideas.

This is getting more to an evidential base - but is still only making the referent, not producing the evidence. In this thread I have not resorted to sola scriptura at all (incidentally, this phrase seems to be used too often in terms not meant by Luther!), rather I have deliberately taken points of departure that historians would take - whether believers or not. The approach is 'secular' in the sense that it works from publicly available evidence and works with the text on its own terms, as set in its historical context. That approach takes care of the 'scripture' and 'reason' part of your paradigm. Now, if both those limbs produce an evidential line of argument that are mutually compatible, then are you saying that tradition trumps them both? What tradition are you referring to?
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...from the beginning it was not so.

Thanks Freddy. This text (and similar ones in Paul) certainly do go to the interpretive approach adopted by Jesus, that the foundational documents (Gen. 1-3) provide the basis from which to look for key ethics and morals. What I find, though, is that they would also then support the concept of covenant, of humans having authority in obedience to God, and sanctions in event of rebellion. Jesus, both by his use of this interpretive principle and other texts in his ministry, support that worldview.

If the covenant worldview is validated by Jesus, then so must also be the role of sanctions. The text I put up in support of this earlier (the parable of the tenants) seems to support this. This is where one of the cruxes of the argument lies: that if Jesus accurately represents God's nature (and therefore the basis for Christian ethics), and if he validates the concept of herem as the ultimate sanction for voluntary and persistent rebellion, then it follows that herem is part of God's nature.

That's the key element in the move from OT through the NT to the application question for today's Christians. A critique of this crux would probably have to focus on showing one or some of the following:-
* Jesus was not accurately reflecting God's nature
* Jesus was not accurately portrayed in what he said and did by the gospel writers
* Jesus was accommodating to the culture of his day, in the same way that God accommodated to that of Joshua's (et al), and that the real meaning lies in another sphere.

Any other options?

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by no_prophet:
That faith stands on scripture and reason and tradition. Always has. If you turn only to scripture and specific words, you have set up an idol. I certainly understand the historical roots of sola scriptura, but had thought that thinking people were well beyond such simplistic ideas.

This is getting more to an evidential base - but is still only making the referent, not producing the evidence. In this thread I have not resorted to sola scriptura at all (incidentally, this phrase seems to be used too often in terms not meant by Luther!), rather I have deliberately taken points of departure that historians would take - whether believers or not. The approach is 'secular' in the sense that it works from publicly available evidence and works with the text on its own terms, as set in its historical context.
That's not what I've read. I've read that you suggest God was into killing people wholesale. Doesn't sound 'secular' at all. It sounds like you wish to fit God into the historical context and argue that it is somehow consistent with what we know of God later in time.

quote:
Nigel wrote:
That approach takes care of the 'scripture' and 'reason' part of your paradigm. Now, if both those limbs produce an evidential line of argument that are mutually compatible, then are you saying that tradition trumps them both? What tradition are you referring to?

I didn't argue that the 3 legs of the stool are necessarily compatible, nor does the via media of the Anglican tradition. We don't see it is necessary to resolve all conflicts and tensions between the 3, but we think that we should not allow one perspective to dominate.

You appear to be attempting to argue for a perspective in almost an academic thesis type of way, and to fit things into a particular argument and theory. Just a little too much. An interesting idea, but it doesn't fit with what our tradition and reason tell us about God's nature. That God does not act capriciously like you want to suggest, and that the bible is a very human collection of documents, and gets it wrong in some places, like the killing of Jephthah's daughter, and in the indiscriminate killing in Joshua. It does tell us that God does take some questionable characters and uses them nonetheless, but does not suggest that all of their behaviour is godly, good, or approved.

[ 01. September 2011, 02:00: Message edited by: no_prophet ]

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W Hyatt
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...from the beginning it was not so.

Thanks Freddy. This text (and similar ones in Paul) certainly do go to the interpretive approach adopted by Jesus, that the foundational documents (Gen. 1-3) provide the basis from which to look for key ethics and morals.

... if Jesus accurately represents God's nature (and therefore the basis for Christian ethics), and if he validates the concept of herem as the ultimate sanction for voluntary and persistent rebellion, then it follows that herem is part of God's nature.

I can certainly agree that Genesis 1-3 comprises the foundational documents, and that it supports the concepts of covenant and sanctions, but concluding that it therefore follows that herem is part of God's nature seems to me to be too big a leap.

In support of my objection, I offer two points:

a) As soon as human choice started being less than ideal, God would have started accommodating himself to humanity (assuming he does accommodate himself at all) so that anything God revealed after that point would not necessarily completely and accurately reflect the true nature of God. I would go so far as to suggest that Genesis 1-3 itself is part of this accommodation because prior to the Fall no such revelation would have been necessary: Adam and Eve were able to hear God speaking directly to them. Genesis 1-3 itself must have come later.

b) If one assumes, as I do, that God is, as to his essence, perfect and infinite love, then it would follow that no human language would be capable of completely and accurately describing that essence. Any form of revelation, then, would present the reader with an incomplete or inaccurate description of God's true essence, at least as to its literal interpretation. The reason your third option (that the real meaning lies in another sphere) appeals to me is that it allows for the literal meaning to be adapted by God to a particular human audience at a particular time with all the attendant accommodations while the real meaning (somehow contained within the literal meaning) presents a far more complete and accurate description of God. It is one of Swedenborg's major theses that this "internal" meaning (as he calls it) is not so much addressed to a human audience as to an angelic audience which is capable of seeing and understanding that internal meaning to a degree far beyond what we can ever be capable of.

So while I can understand your argument about herem being part of God's nature, I think it only stands as a valid conclusion if you simultaneously make a lot of other assumptions which are highly debatable.

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A new church and a new earth, with Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.

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Nigel M
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I promised I would provide a wrap-up post, reviewing the approach taken. It's necessary, I think, partly because it makes it easier to understand the overall findings in one hit, partly to reassess the original hypothesis in light of the study, and also because I guess it's easier to know what to critique when one knows the full picture (and I think we are now beginning to get to that point, judging from the posts arising as the thread as gone on - I will post later in response to the points raised recently).

So, review time.

I wanted to suggest an approach to reading the bible that would assist in coping with the hard bits just as much as the nice, soft, cuddly bits. The approach (set out below) used the very hard bit about Israel’s' actions in Canaan as the launching point – actions often labelled 'genocide.' The idea was that if the particular approach to reading could work with that subject, it would work elsewhere, too. I took one quite common line taken in response to those relevant biblical passages as a counterfoil:
quote:

Genocide is recorded in the bible as being validated by God. It is impossible to accept this at face value, because God's nature as revealed in Jesus Christ is not compatible with genocide, which is clearly evil.

In opposition to that line, I suggested another, which could be tested by the reading approach:-
quote:
God's nature, as presented consistently throughout both Testaments of the bible and validated by Jesus, sets up principles (i.e., provides an ethic) for action against any persistent flouting of a committed relationship between God and his creation.
Before looking to see if this line is valid or needs changing in any way, I will set out the basis for the approach taken. It is eclectic – it draws on a range of disciplines that have proved fruitful in other areas. I think it might help if I set this out in a 'tick box' fashion, so that it's possible to work through them one at a time, ticking them 'Yes' or stopping to seek clarification. I know that the literature in support of some of these is enormous and sometimes dense. Where possible I have found and added links to online material.

First off, the following concepts work at a high level in support of the reading approach. The question to ask in respect of each is whether one agrees that they do indeed play a role in how one reads the bible.

[1] Conceptual tick box

Worldview. Idea drawn mainly from German philosophers (Weltanschauung). A consistent and integrated outlook or perception that drives how one thinks and behaves in life. It acts as a model, or filter, through which one makes sense of the world around and provides answers deemed sufficiently effective to key questions of reason and purpose for existence. Cues to discerning another's worldview can be found in the 'stories' told, the symbols used, lives lived, and pretty much anything archaeology throws up. An example of an approach to the New Testament taking this into account is that of the so-called New Perspective (e.g., Sanders, J. Dunn, and N.T. Wright). One example of how this concept has been analysed in practice can be found here.

Presuppositions. Implicit assumptions about the world or background belief, informed in part by one's worldview and also informing that worldview. Often held unconsciously, these can be foregrounded in a person's conscious mind when confronted with different and especially mutually incompatible views held by others. Such a challenge presents one with the to decide between different options: ignore the other and hope it goes away; reject the other out of hand; seek to justify one's assumptions on the basis of evidence to warrant continuing to hold them; reject one's assumptions in favour of the more valid other. In communication theory, presuppositions are assumptions held in common between author and audience and that therefore do not expressing overtly in a communication.

Possible worlds. A set of conditions produced by the imagination, prompted by external stimuli. In literary theory this is usually explained as the output of a fictional discourse, creating a world of its own. Reading a novel, for example, is more than simply absorbing the words and their meanings, it is also about producing (often involuntarily) a context within one's mind that is not overtly mentioned in the text itself. A text can trigger a set of ideas and pictures in the mind that the reader inhabits virtually. On this thread, I have suggested that a direct quotation from another part of the bible could act in this way – the hearer does not focus simply on the overt text itself, but also conjures up in the mind the world that the text evokes. In Paul Ricoeur's words, “The references open up the world.” One place to start on this would be Ricoeur's Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences.

Covenant. At one level, this is a legally binding treaty between two partners, one superior in rank to the other. Loyalty is expected on both sides, with rewards and punishments overtly prescribed. In the ancient near east alliances were forged to create a zone of peace within and empire, with the senior partner ('Father') promising peace for all who dwell under the covenant, and the junior partner ('Son') promising provision, e.g., taxes, military men, food. At another level, covenant worldview is one that models cosmology on the basis of the hierarchical relationships between senior and junior partners from within family, clan, tribe, nation, and upwards to divine relationships. A useful article on this was published by Moshe Weinfeld of the Hebrew University in 1973, unfortunately the only copy I could find online requires a purchase, but I did come across a useful overview of historical material with footnotes for further chasing in two papers: Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.


In addition to those conceptual themes, I believe one should also bear in mind when reading the bible that the following approaches to language are important for consideration.

[2] Linguistics tick box

Discourse analysis. Quite a broad spectrum of approaches to language and communications. I've isolated a few in the following paragraphs as samples. Key for interpretation of the bible is the need to focus on what a text was intended to do, rather than the older historical-critical approaches, which focussed too restrictively on what a text was.

Word studies. Not what is often thought of when that phrase is used. The concepts above and the following discourse findings drive home the point that words are used in co-texts and contexts. This is a useful finding of the structuralist approach to language (vague introduction here). Words have to be studied, but not for their isolated etymological history so much as for their use in real-life contexts, hence the need to discern accurately how words were used by authors at the point of use. Failure to do this analysis risks reading into texts meanings imported from alien presuppositions and world views. I have sought to show how this works in practice with words like 'genocide,' herem, and 'love.'

Rhetorical analysis. How an author uses language to establish a relationship with his or her audience to affect them in a desired way. This venerable approach has had a long tradition in classical training and was introduced to biblical studies by James Muilenburg in 1968 and has come of age in that field since. The discipline is used to analyse biblical texts to see not simply how they are constructed, but also why they were constructed in such a manner; why particular discourse devices were used to affect an audience in such a way that the audience is encouraged to act and solve a particular problem. Difficult to find founding or review papers for free online, but I did come across this as a useful overview.

Speech-Act theory. Linked to rhetorical analysis in that it looks to take seriously the functional aspect of communication – how a discourse can 'make things happen' by simple virtue of its use in real life situations. On this view, a passage of biblical narrative is not a static device to record a historical event per se, it is a device to persuade a particular audience to make a change. The Good News is such a device – a message with a warning: “Last chance - Change! Or God's administration will come down heavily on you!” (Repent; the kingdom of God is at hand). This is what the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called ‘ordinary language philosophy.' A rather technical overview can be found here. Slightly less daunting is this piece.

Authorial Intention. The theory that the only valid source for the understanding of a text is the meaning originally intended by the author. This stance came under considerable scrutiny in the last century, but has regained currency in a modified form in reaction to the extremes of pluralism in some forms of post-modernism. Two themes are relevant for us: that an author has a moral right to be associated with his or her text and for his or her words not to be taken out of context, and that multiple reader-response interpretations do not provide a publicly justifiable support for community ethics, especially if there are mutually incompatible 'readings.' This issue becomes acute if the discourse in question has a claim over our lives. On this thread, I take authorial intention in its more modern sense: not as something to do with an author's state of mind, but as having purpose: the literal sense of a discourse is the sense revealed by seeing the words he or she used in the way he or she used them, to affect an audience for a particular end. A paper by an advocate of an approach along these lines can be found here.

One thing that falls out from all of the above thus far is that a 'plain reading' of a text is well nigh impossible. One cannot refrain from reading into a text what one wants to see, unless one is conscious of one's presuppositions. Apart from the above examples of conceptual and linguistic approaches, all of which could be undertaken by with historians of discourse of no particular faith, the reading approach I am suggesting has also to take into account the fact that these texts have a claim on lives. They are a source for information on ethical principles. Consequently we have need to take account of some other criteria.

[3] Theological tick box.

Accommodation. That God communicated to his creation using human language (there are other modes of his communication, but I'm focussing here on that particular mode). In effect, humans were motivated to express their beliefs about their God in terms and genres they were familiar with. A reading of the bible must, therefore at some point take seriously the need to understand the meaning of passages as expressed by these human authors. This approach takes seriously the point that the bible is God's word (or message) in human words.

Jesus reflected God's true nature. If Jesus was the fully correct (true, in the sense of accurately according to an object) image of God (and indeed if especially part of the Godhead) then what he said and did was an accurate reflection of God's nature or character, revealing ethical principles that provide backing for ways of living and action in the world. What this particular point doesn't deal with is whether the record we have received of Jesus in the bible is an accurate portrayal of the actual portrayal himself. That is a separate argument, but cannot just be assumed.


Pulling all these principles together, I have sought to provide a practical demonstration of how insights from many fields can be used to provide an evidential base for findings. Evidence is important; Christians are essentially a missional people and are obliged to communicate a message. Private faith is not an option. In that environment – and particularly in an environment evoked by modernist and post-modernist worldviews – a public faith demands publicly defendable arguments with an evidential base. It's no longer enough to rely on 'self-evident truths' unless one can demonstrate clearly that said truths are indeed 'properly basic.' Neither does it suffice to appeal to vague and ill-defined concepts like 'love.' Even humanists can do that. So there's the challenge.

Adopting this reading strategy resulted in my proposing 12 theses (plonked on the other site). Having done the analysis of the relevant passages, I don't think I need to change those. I do, however, think I need to update the proposed line from the first post (“God's nature, as presented consistently throughout both Testaments of the bible and validated by Jesus, sets up principles (i.e., provides an ethic) for action against any persistent flouting of a committed relationship between God and his creation”). The reason is this: although I did find some passages that suggested Christians have a active herem-type role to play in judging and possibly even in war against other humans (as opposed to more general on-going war against evil spiritual forces), these passages referred to the event the authors understood to be the final day of judgement, when God (through Jesus) again takes the initiative directly. I could find no authority in any passage for current day herem-type activity by Christians. I did check the three famous passages representing Christians' stance in the face of the State: Romans 13 (the 'good' state), Mark 13 (the 'bad' state), and Revelation 13 (the 'ugly' state). In all three the ethical principle to be applied is one of trying to live peacefully. The most that can be found in respect of non-peaceful action is Jesus' direction to his disciples to to shake the dust off their feet in the event of resistance to their message (interpret the highly insulting connotation of that act rhetorically, if you like!). I should stress here that herem is a different thing to war generally, so ethical principles affecting a Christian's stance for or against war, participation in the military, or how to behave when we see someone else being assaulted, will need to come from other themes in the bible.

Consequently I think the top line should now read:
quote:
God's nature, as presented consistently throughout both Testaments of the bible and validated by Jesus, includes an ethic for action against any persistent flouting of a committed relationship between God and his creation. This action has been reserved to God alone and does not mandate action by Christians, save for the possibility of involvement during the final transition to God's kingdom here on earth.
And that, I would argue, is what the bible says.
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shamwari
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Phew.

You have come a long way from your original post.

And you would have saved much time and useless argument had you stated this position at the outset.

The position as you have outlined is not controversial. It reserves "judgement" ( and therefore "punishment") to God alone. And, as you say, not mandated to humans.

The upset caused was because you seemed all along to endorse the "mandated" action taken by Joshua et al. You have now introduced a qualifying clause (transition period) which gives you an escape route to uphold your original ( and IMO totally unacceptable) position. .When does / did the transitional period start?

There is another dimension which you seem to not accept or take account of. You ended up by identifying "herem" with punishment. But if you take Romans 1 and other passages seriously the only way God punishes is "indirectly". He simply allows the consequences of our sin to work themselves out. I.E. God does not personally and directly inflict punishment and we are punished BY our sins and not FOR our sins.

The route taken in this thread has been interesting. But ultimately irrelevant in that you seem to have come to a conclusion which others might disagree with but no one can object to.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by no_prophet:
That's not what I've read. I've read that you suggest God was into killing people wholesale. Doesn't sound 'secular' at all. It sounds like you wish to fit God into the historical context and argue that it is somehow consistent with what we know of God later in time.

Hopefully the wrap-up post above demonstrates that the resources I have pulled on are secular, particularly the conceptual and linguistic tools. These can be (and are) applied to topics from outside of biblical research. The process runs like this: first establish the context (that includes the historical setting generally, not just the texts). When we have a good idea what those texts are saying in that context, then look to see how later texts in their context update or otherwise impact on the earlier ones. What I have done is see what those texts say about God, not what I want them to say about God. If what they say is in opposition to what I would prefer them to say, then I have to consider the options: run and hide, look for evidence that outweighs the reading, or change my position and accept the new reading.

If by 'later in time' you mean what the NT has to say, then I suggest the research shows a consistency between the Old and the New in respect of the topic we've been discussing. If, on the other hand, 'later in time' means something beyond the bible, from the other side as it were, then it would be useful to know what criteria is being used. Although in similar discussions elsewhere I have found it very hard to get people to pin their foundations down, I suspect many views of God and his ethics are based less on the biblical record in its context and more on something akin to natural law, or Kantian Reason (capital 'R'), or untested but claimed self-evident truths. This is why I am keen to prod and poke until evidence is produced.
quote:
Originally posted by no_prophet:
...That God does not act capriciously like you want to suggest, and that the bible is a very human collection of documents, and gets it wrong in some places, like the killing of Jephthah's daughter, and in the indiscriminate killing in Joshua. It does tell us that God does take some questionable characters and uses them nonetheless, but does not suggest that all of their behaviour is godly, good, or approved.

I agree that God does not act capriciously. Herem is not capricious, it is deliberate. I used to think of expressing the biblical concept of love (affection but also commitment) as two sides of the same coin, but that metaphor does imply God flipping between two very different sets of emotions – one cannot see both sides at the same time. I think the semantic domain of the Hebrew word for 'love' is better explained as facets of the same aspect.

Agreed, too, that the bible is human words. No problem with that. In fact, this works to everyone’s advantage exactly because we can use tools developed to analyse non-biblical texts quite productively on the bible. I would have to use different tools if it was believed that the message was not human. As to it being wrong in some places, this is where the criterion of Jesus' validation was important. Strictly speaking I needed only to show one instance of Jesus validating the concept of herem to make my point. That I did. This is where the theological tick box comes in: Jesus represents the nature of God; Jesus validates herem as being authorised by God; therefore the concept of herem remains consistent across the testaments. The follow up to this is that must therefore make an ethical claim on the live of Christians.

Now, it is perfectly reasonable to say, “I don't hold that Jesus was a representation of God. If he really existed, then he was at best a good man, prone to mistakes like any other and therefore on a par with all the OT writers.” If one holds that stance, then I agree that this theological criterion could not apply. Another approach would have to be made. However, this does not invalidate one fact: the biblical writers including the gospel writers attributed practices associated with herem to God. Thus far an historical conclusion. What we make of it is another question.

I didn't respond before to your example of Jephthah, but I don't think this helps us here: the passage doesn't mention herem, it doesn't mention any of the attributes of herem (e.g., authorisation by God), and it doesn't say whether God approved or not. Whatever we make of it, this passage falls into a different category.

I need to pick you up on the logic of your statement, “...it does tell us that God does take some questionable characters and uses them nonetheless, but does not suggest that all of their behaviour is godly, good, or approved.” Happy to agree that the biblical texts show characters that are flawed being used by God. The issue on this thread has been how we judge which of their actions are good, bad, or ugly. I have suggested that the 'Jesus' criterion is one we can use here. If Jesus accepted that God authorised the activity known as herem in Israel then does that not approve the concept? And if Jesus approved the idea that herem was not complete, but had a present and future aspect, then does that not approve the conclusion that the OT writers came to regarding the origin of herem?

As mentioned earlier, if we do not apply that Jesus criterion, then we are on a different ground.

I'll just add tuppence on reason and tradition. Both concepts have small initial letters and capitals, of course. Reason with a capital 'R' can be used as an authority to block out all transcendental considerations – including the theological criteria in my last post. I can comment on that aspect, but for now want to say that I'm focussing on reason with a small 'r': the type of thing criminal juries are encouraged to employ. I think we need to be able to express 'reasonable doubts' in the sense that we can demonstrate logically and in publicly defendable ways what we doubt, not in the sense of gut feelings (“I can't explain it, but I just know he's not guilty...”). If, on the other hand, you are talking about Reason, then let me know. Same with tradition: I've not covered off Tradition in the sense of the spiritual authority of the church, the deposit of faith, beginning with the bible; rather I have focussed on tradition (small 't') in the sense used by Gadamer, as the vital human link that brings our current horizons (with our worldviews) into contact with the horizon of the biblical writers (with their worldviews). Again, if you are talking about capital 'T' let me know.

Back later to respond to other posts...

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Nigel M
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...it's later.


W Hyatt – The link between act and nature is, I admit, predicated on the criterion of Jesus, acting as the perfect image of God. If Jesus by what he said and did confirmed that the activities associated with herem were indeed authorised and implemented by God, then the argument runs that it would be hard to disassociate that authorisation from the nature. In a way, it is analogous to asserting that God is just and will actively judge those who perpetrate evil. It is hard to imagine a truly just God not acting justly.

There is an assumption lying here: that Jesus (or at least the record we have of him in the bible) was indeed taking the language of the Jewish scriptures literally, dealing with passages expressed by authors who used words in a particular way to affect an audience. I think that for the Swedenborgian analysis to work here, it would have to be assumed that Jesus used the OT text symbolically and that whatever he said was also symbolic, and not to be taken at face value literally. Every statement would have to be filtered through the prism of symbol (or internal meaning) to test it for accuracy. The inevitable question that arises in respect of this would be, What is the origin of that criterion? Does it take a pre-figured concept of God and then bring that to the bible? What test is there to assess whether that concept is drawn accurately from a biblical view of God without running the risk of circularity (e.g., the concept can only understood from the bible properly if the same concept is applied during the assessment)?

For example if we take the statements about God, that he is perfect and infinite love, to use as the criterion upon which to base interpretation of the bible, we are dependent on how we define 'perfect' and 'infinite love.' Even agreeing that we may never be able to get a decent match for a perfect understanding of those terms in relation to God, we do start from somewhere. The question is, Where? Are the definitions we work with drawn from an understanding of the way they are used in context (literally) as the authors used them, or are we drawing on definitions from elsewhere? How would we validate the authority of a definition from elsewhere?

Questions, questions, questions!


shamwari – I couldn't state the final position until I had done the analysis myself and although I had an idea where it might lead (from general reading in the past) I needed to test out the approach. Hence the need to take this a step at a time. However, I fear we are not out of the woods yet, because the conclusion is that the activities associated with herem are God-ly, in the sense that he authorised and authorises them. The buck still stops with him and consequently affects our view of God's ethical nature. Also still standing is the fact that the OT writers attributed Joshua's actions to that same Godly authorisation (and also similar actions against Sodom and Gomorrah, among others). That view was validated by Jesus, so we are left with that to contend with.

Where the transitional period starts is a good question. I haven’t really presented much on the prophets on this thread, jumping pretty much from the likes of Joshua to Jesus to save time, but I think they (the prophets) had a take on this, also validated by Jesus, to the effect that herem passed from a human activity (including God authorising other nations to conduct it – Jer. 25:9, 50:21), to one where God alone would conduct this form of judgement, retaining vengeance to himself, on behalf of his much weaker remnant of loyal followers. The human activity was limited to issuing the warning messages.

RE: the Romans angle on things, I think the 'wrath of God' theme in Romans 1:18 is not referring to the bounce-back consequences in verses 24-32, but rather is picked up again in 2:5ff, where the direct judgement of God is referred to as a future event, still to come. So Paul is setting out a track that follows the following line: people rebel, God gets angry about that, he lets them work out the consequences of their ethic and actions ('gives them over to...'), they refuse to repent, God will actively impose judgement and sentence. If you like, Paul works in both strands – people are punished by and also for their sins.

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
I didn't respond before to your example of Jephthah, but I don't think this helps us here: the passage doesn't mention herem, it doesn't mention any of the attributes of herem (e.g., authorisation by God), and it doesn't say whether God approved or not. Whatever we make of it, this passage falls into a different category.

But this is exactly the point about the bible being a human]/i] document, written by people, after the fact such that when it is written that God [i]approved when the very idea is contrary to God's own nature, that it is post-hoc justification by those human story tellers. Which is what reason tells us. The mention of "herem" being an epiphenomenon.

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Nigel M
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That still makes a leap of logic that needs evidence in support, no-prophet. Obviously one cannot make the leap of logic from the fallible nature of a discourse directly to that discourse being wrong. What you seem to be doing is arguing that such a jump is valid on the basis of the criterion of 'reason.' You have used the word 'reason' a few times now and I am keen for you to define it and explain what you understand that word to mean. I suspect you are drawing on something more akin to natural law to justify your thesis, but it would be helpful to be sure, so that we are able to discuss the relative merits of that approach.

I would argue that the most helpful route to defining God's nature is via the record of that nature contained in the biblical writings. Any other source has to measured in the light of that record, not the other way round. On this basis, use of historical and linguistic tools brings out the exact opposite to your thesis. According to reason (i.e., based on publicly available evidence), the biblical discourse is consistent in its references to a set of activities practiced in the ancient near east and known to the Hebrews by the name herem.

It is exactly not reason that makes a jump from “It was written later” to “It is therefore wrong” by use of an extra-biblical criterion of “It is contrary to reason.” Without defining that word 'reason' it simply looks as though you are merely assuming that the post-hoc justification was wrong. I have to question your assumptions because the evidence points to it being right.

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Kwesi
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Nigel M
quote:
I would argue that the most helpful route to defining God's nature is via the record of that nature contained in the biblical writings.
This is something of an over-simplification, at least from a Christian point of view. The Christian view is that God is revealed in Christ, most explicity stated in John's Gospel. Christ is seen as the measure of all things, and that includes scripture. Jesus is the Word and not the words of scripture.

Given the centrality of Jesus it seems not unreasonable to argue that for Christians scripture relating to Jesus is more important than scripture which doesn't, and particularly critical are those words which relate to the life of Christ, the gospels. From a faith perspective then the OT is read and evaluated through the theological lense of our understanding of the God revealed in Jesus, not simply in an academic way. For example, a Christian reading of Isaiah is different from a scholarly interpretation of the contemporary text: it takes a leap of faith to equate Jesus with the suffering servant. Indeed, one could put up a scriptural case for arguing that Jesus was not the Messiah foreseen by the prophets. The gospel writers and others, in the light of the resurrection, chose OT passages which supported their case, implicitly rejecting or demoting the significance of others, and interpreted them in a particular manner.

ISTM that the process is being repeated here. Nigel has fastened upon a feature of the God revealed in the OT, which most of us can agree is largely accurate. We are then faced with the question: So What? Is herem to be regarded by Christians as a footnote to a rather primitive religion or one of those concepts that has to be incorporated within Christianity? For me, Nigel's insights largely confirm my view that Jesus represents a sharp break with much of the OT. For others, who think that OT theology can be seamlessly incorporated into Christianity it is a problem, which necessitates either the rejection of such a religion or a monumental feat of apologetics. I'm not sure where Nigel himself rests.

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Evensong
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:

I would argue that the most helpful route to defining God's nature is via the record of that nature contained in the biblical writings.

Me too.

Which means God is often beyond human comprehension.

Attempting to force it all into a neat little box of perceived justification does no one any good. Least of all God.

Which, in my opinion, is what an attempt at justification of genocide is doing.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
From a faith perspective then the OT is read and evaluated through the theological lense of our understanding of the God revealed in Jesus, not simply in an academic way.

I don't think I disagree with your fuller explanation of the role of Scripture and Jesus, Kwesi, in fact I've used Jesus as a key criterion for judging the validity of the OT texts. I don't quite understand, though, your distinction between a 'faith' reading and an 'academic' one. It seems to me that we all read 'academically' when we try to understand what God is saying in the bible. It's perfectly possible see Jesus in Isaiah academically, too, not just by faith. In fact, much of the reading I have suggested leads to the conclusion that Jesus did not form a sharp break with the OT, but rather fulfilled it - taking it as it was supposed to have been taken, and confronting incorrect interpretations of it. Such a reading does not accept a seamless incorporation of the OT into Jesus, rather it demands some hard work to define Jesus' stance towards specific passages and their contents. However, once that work is done, I suggest that the only honest thing to do is accept whatever finding arises and not seek to impose principles from elsewhere as a counter.
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
Attempting to force it all into a neat little box of perceived justification does no one any good. Least of all God.

Which, in my opinion, is what an attempt at justification of genocide is doing.

I know what you mean, Evensong, but a quick response would be to agree that an honest reading of the biblical record provides no justification for genocide, because at no point is 'genocide' (English word connotations) justified by any biblical writer! The trouble here is that the statement about perceived justification can easily be turned on its head: Attempts to force foreign concepts into the bible in order to match one's preconceived presuppositions does no one any good. Forcing connotations of the word 'genocide' and its ramifications against the grain of the biblical language does God no good either.

Stalemate. We need another way out. My point has been to accept that we all have presuppositions, that challenges to these come from time to time and that these challenges can be turned to our advantage by meeting them head on. I argue that the only way to provide an adequate basis to assess which sets of presuppositions are more valid – my own or those that challenge me – is to seek to understand the basis of the challenge as fully as possible. That means, for our current topic, a getting to grips with the context within which the biblical writings were formed, and taking the consequences whether I like them or not.

Let me set out an alternative. Natural Law – the type that brackets out God as a governing factor. Let's assume I hold the view that my morals (the way I live) are determined ultimately by the consensus of the community within which I live, on the basis of reasoned negotiation. I am, therefore, drawing on an ethic determined by my peers. Now there may not be anything inherently wrong about that, but there is nothing distinctively Christian about it. I am taking a law (or ethical principle) derived from negotiation and applying it to my life. Humanists claim to be able to do the same without any recourse to alternative governing factors. However, I now come across another community which has a different and mutually incompatible consensus. What criteria do I have to apply to judge between the two? Do we two communities part ways and keep our distance from each other? Or do we apply force in the place of argument to overcome the other community???

Here is the case in point. We have come across passages in the bible that attribute to God's authorisation an activity we cannot square with the consensus of our peers. Upon what basis do we, then, seek to judge which is correct?

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Kwesi
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Nigel M
quote:
We have come across passages in the bible that attribute to God's authorisation an activity we cannot square with the consensus of our peers. Upon what basis do we, then, seek to judge which is correct?
In this particular case the consensus of our secular peers fortunately, in my opinion, agrees with the general consensus of our Christian peers that genocide and its variants are morally wrong.

It should not surprise you that such is the case as you invoke the concept of Natural Law, which Aquinas, I understand, argued believers and heathen could discover by the application of their God-given capacity to exercise right reason. Genocide, I would contend, falls within that category.

Of course, not all secularists would agree that herem-type behaviour is wrong, but they do tend to be at the extremes. Hitler, for example, believed that Jews were "bacilli" that had to be eradicated like an epidemic to preserve the purity of the arian race; and Pol Pot believed that he could only build a perfect Marxist society by removing all the educated because their knowledge of the past would contaminate the building of the earthly paradise. Stalin had a similar view of the kulaks and Maotse Tung of the intelligentsia during the cultural revolution. They would have well understood the fate of the cities of the plain, Ai, and the Amalekites.

As I keep trying to argue, Nigel, you have identified a feature of Judaism that most Jews have long rejected, though there are aspects of secular Zionism that resonate with that religious past, and see it as an ethical challenge to modern-day Christianity, whereas, in fact, it is recognised by most Christians as old wine that has turned to vinegar. Your argement is not with the secular ethical consensus but with that of your Christian peers and betters.

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W Hyatt
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The link between act and nature is, I admit, predicated on the criterion of Jesus, acting as the perfect image of God. If Jesus by what he said and did confirmed that the activities associated with herem were indeed authorised and implemented by God, then the argument runs that it would be hard to disassociate that authorisation from the nature.

Your "then" does indeed follow from your "if", but my contention is that your "if" takes things just a step too far. Jesus did implicitly confirm the authority of the Old Testament by explicitly citing it, but that's not quite the same as him saying that it presents an accurate depiction of God's true nature. Freddy's "from the beginning it was not so" quote seems to me to be simultaneously a confirmation of the authority of the law about divorce and a disclaimer that the law was only a concession to human limitations and therefore reflected something less than the ideal. I would think the same could well apply to Jesus' confirmation of the activities associated with herem so that even though he was confirming the authority behind the Old Testament descriptions, he wasn't necessarily confirming them as accurate portrayals of God's true nature.

quote:
I think that for the Swedenborgian analysis to work here, it would have to be assumed that Jesus used the OT text symbolically and that whatever he said was also symbolic, and not to be taken at face value literally.
I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. Why couldn't Jesus use the text both symbolically and literally, and also speak both symbolically and literally at the same time? The Swedenborgian concept of a symbolic meaning is that it infills the literal meaning rather than replacing it. To us, the Bible contains multiple layers of meaning rather than having only a symbolic meaning.

quote:
Every statement would have to be filtered through the prism of symbol (or internal meaning) to test it for accuracy. The inevitable question that arises in respect of this would be, What is the origin of that criterion? Does it take a pre-figured concept of God and then bring that to the bible? What test is there to assess whether that concept is drawn accurately from a biblical view of God without running the risk of circularity (e.g., the concept can only understood from the bible properly if the same concept is applied during the assessment)?
For example if we take the statements about God, that he is perfect and infinite love, to use as the criterion upon which to base interpretation of the bible, we are dependent on how we define 'perfect' and 'infinite love.' Even agreeing that we may never be able to get a decent match for a perfect understanding of those terms in relation to God, we do start from somewhere. The question is, Where? Are the definitions we work with drawn from an understanding of the way they are used in context (literally) as the authors used them, or are we drawing on definitions from elsewhere? How would we validate the authority of a definition from elsewhere?

Questions, questions, questions!

Yes, these are good questions. Swedenborg was quick to point out that it's easy to find support in the Bible for just about any doctrine one wants to demonstrate, so an understanding of genuinely true doctrine is the starting point as much as it is the result. Also, the important starting points can be derived from a literal reading of the Bible as a whole.

His approach to finding the symbolic meaning of a particular passage was to carefully compare it to similar passages from elsewhere in the Bible to see what clues the other texts provide either directly or indirectly through context. His claim was that the symbolic meaning of particular words and images is consistent throughout the Bible, subject to some general guidelines.

Lastly, it's important to keep in mind that he describes the symbolic meaning as something that is much more than what can be determined through a purely intellectual study and then recorded in words. You can talk a lot about it and usefully discuss different aspects of it, but since it is, as to its essence, divine revelation of absolute Truth (capital "T"), in the end you can't say exactly what it is or claim to understand it completely.

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi
As I keep trying to argue, Nigel, you have identified a feature of Judaism that most Jews have long rejected, though there are aspects of secular Zionism that resonate with that religious past, and see it as an ethical challenge to modern-day Christianity, whereas, in fact, it is recognised by most Christians as old wine that has turned to vinegar. Your argement is not with the secular ethical consensus but with that of your Christian peers and betters.

I don't think Nigel has mentioned an ethical challenge to modern Christianity. He is trying to understand what herem meant in OT times, and to what extent this meaning carried over into the NT.

Moo

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shamwari
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Moo

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Thanks for that, Shamwari, come and join me inside the whale!
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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by W Hyatt:
Your "then" does indeed follow from your "if", but my contention is that your "if" takes things just a step too far. Jesus did implicitly confirm the authority of the Old Testament by explicitly citing it, but that's not quite the same as him saying that it presents an accurate depiction of God's true nature. Freddy's "from the beginning it was not so" quote seems to me to be simultaneously a confirmation of the authority of the law about divorce and a disclaimer that the law was only a concession to human limitations and therefore reflected something less than the ideal. I would think the same could well apply to Jesus' confirmation of the activities associated with herem so that even though he was confirming the authority behind the Old Testament descriptions, he wasn't necessarily confirming them as accurate portrayals of God's true nature.

I'm finding it difficult to divorce the idea of authority from what I've been calling nature! If God authorises an action (or even acts directly), then the link is usually made to this act being consistent with God's nature. It is very difficult to imagine God authorising something that was not consistent with his nature. In practice, though, I suppose we could dispense with the idea of 'nature' in the argument and simply say there is a link between what God does in action (or authorises) and the ethical claim that makes on ways of living in the world.

With the whole issue of judgement, for example, when Jesus makes reference to a judgement that will fall on those who fail to respond appropriately to the warning message, he draws on imagery from the OT where God is the active judge against evil people (e.g., Mark 13:23-26, drawing on passages from Isaiah 13 and Isaiah 34, among others). So he does, as you say, validate the authority of those OT passages, but surely he does more than just that. Doesn't he also agree with the OT authors at this point that God is actively going to bring his judgement? If so, then this also feels like an authorisation of what those passages say about God and his ethical expectations for his people.

However, even if I were to assume that the act of judgement has no logical link to God's nature – or even might be against God's better nature – the argument still seems to stand that God acts in accordance with herem principles. I guess the key issue here is still about Jesus and whether the record of what he said and did is in itself accurate enough to take as 'gospel', so to speak. If we do have a text upon which we can draw principles, and if what Jesus said has a literal value, then I am still stuck with how a symbolic interpretation can be in accord if it runs counter to the validation of God's activity. It sounds as though Jesus would have to be saying: “I am referring to OT texts of judgement that said God will be executing sentence on his enemies, but although I accept an authority for those texts, I ask you to look with me at a different meaning, one that does not accept what they say literally.”


Kwesi – I bracketed Aquinas out deliberately when referring to natural law because the various versions I come across these days do so too, preferring a human consensus of some form (often based on concepts like 'reason,' 'experience,' 'shared values'...). My concern is that many strands of Christianity may have bought into these principles and then assumed a Christian veneer over them, when there has been no adequate analysis of their foundations, or even of Christian foundations. For example, when you say that most Christians recognise genocide as old wine, now vinegar, I have two issues: firstly the point made already that herem is not the same thing as 'genocide'; and secondly, if the biblical evidence shows that herem is accepted as being an act authorised by God, then we have to justify clearly the source of our rejection of that record. In effect, we are saying that something alien to Christian foundations is being brought in to judge the issue, even if it goes against the message of Jesus. Hence my interest in probing to find out what that source is. Is it the secular form of natural law that is driving presuppositions here? Or perhaps strict Kantian Reason? Or something else?

As Moo said, the reading strategy applied here would suggest that we have NT warrant for believing that God 'owns' herem (and that this is therefore part of his nature – though see my comments on nature above in response to W Hyatt). What we do about that is the next question: how it applies to our lives today, but I suspect that will move into Purg territory rather than Kerygmania. Of interest to me are alternative readings of the same biblical record that can be offered and the basis upon which they stand.

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shamwari
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Nigel

However much you may protest otherwise "herem" is the same as genocide +++ ( for it includes the destruction of property as well as human life. ( Joshua at Ai)

Kwesi got it right. God revealed himself perfectly and definitively in Jesus and Jesus' said we should "love our enemies". You cannot twist that in any way which includes the extermination of our enemies and their property.

I am at a loss to understand where you are coming from, and even more importantly what you are aiming at.

Unless it be that you are trying to assert the Biblical record as "authoritative" from begining to end. With no gradations in between.

Let me be clear. I believe Jesus to be God incarnate. Therefore His pronouncements re the OT record are decisive. The eternal requirement is that we should "love them". Which means seeking their best interests. Extermination is not in their best interests.

I spite of all Moo's defensive protestations on your behalf it seems to me that that you really do believe that "herem" is compatible with God's nature and will. Except that you interpret "herem" variously and in such a way as to make it compatible both in OT and NT.

Why on earth can you not accept a progressive revelation doctrine which allows for a development culminating in a definitive revelation in Jesus? And which thereby accepts an earlier "revelation" as deficient?

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I don't think Nigel has mentioned an ethical challenge to modern Christianity. He is trying to understand what herem meant in OT times, and to what extent this meaning carried over into the NT.

quote:
Originally posted by Shamwari
Moo

If only

Can you point to a passage or passages in any of Nigel's posts where he says anything about the effects of OT herem teaching on modern Christianity?

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Kwesi
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I don't think Nigel has mentioned an ethical challenge to modern Christianity. He is trying to understand what herem meant in OT times, and to what extent this meaning carried over into the NT.

It would seem there is a rather nice point I'm failing to grasp: does not the extent to which this meaning is carried into the NT have implications for Christian ethics ancient and modern?

On the substantive point you make Nigel seems to imply that Christian ethical teaching has been contaminated by other ethical systems in relation to herem:

Nigel
quote:
If the biblical evidence shows that herem is accepted as being an act authorised by God, then we have to justify clearly the source of our rejection of that record. In effect, we are saying that something alien to Christian foundations is being brought in to judge the issue, even if it goes against the message of Jesus. Hence my interest in probing to find out what that source is. Is it the secular form of natural law that is driving presuppositions here? Or perhaps strict Kantian Reason? Or something else?
One thinks it not unreasonable to conclude that in Nigel's opinion the modern Church's rejection of herem lies not in the life and teaching of Jesus but in secular liberalism, and is, therefore, not faithful to the gospel. I consider that to be a challenge to modern (at least) Christian ethics.
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W Hyatt
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
I guess the key issue here is still about Jesus and whether the record of what he said and did is in itself accurate enough to take as 'gospel', so to speak.

Actually, I disagree about that this is the key issue because I accept almost all your assumptions: that the Gospels present a completely accurate record of Jesus' teachings, that those teachings have a literal value, that the Old Testament presents God as authorising the activities of herem, and that Jesus confirmed this explicitly. I also somewhat accept your characterization of the meta text that a symbolic interpretation would require Jesus to be using (although my purpose in raising that issue was to provide a reason for why I can believe that the Bible contains divine revelation without believing all of its literal messages). I even accept half way your proposition that what God authorises bears some relation to God's true nature.

Where we differ is that I don't accept that it bears a direct relation to that nature - I think it bears only an indirect relationship. Instead of concluding that the Old Testament descriptions of herem accurately and directly reflect God's nature, I conclude that they only reflect his willingness to accommodate himself to the mental attitudes and beliefs of the people he was trying to lead.

While I think your approach to understanding the Bible is very practical and useful, I don't think it's possible to apply it to the whole of the Bible, or even to the whole of the Old Testament, and come up with a consistent message about the nature of God. Your approach will naturally lead to a lot of conclusions that can be validly drawn from the texts, but it is inevitable that many will conflict with each other. As long as you treat all the texts as equally valid, you will need an outside authority to resolve the disparities (as you point out yourself), or you can leave them as contradictions and live with the tension.

However, I think it's also possible to start with the idea that God is the very essence of everything good (i.e. pure and infinite love) and employ a bit of reason (small "r") to see another way to understand the apparent conflicts found in the texts. Given this starting point, it makes sense that God has to (and wants to) accommodate himself to us in order to be able to have a relationship with us. It is only a matter of degree as to whether he needs to make more or less of an accommodation depending on how much of the truth we are ready to understand. But being love itself (can I get away without providing a definition of "love"?) he will always accommodate himself to whatever degree is necessary to reach us, now matter how flawed or antagonistic to him we are, so that he can lead us to be as close to him as we will allow.

If we refuse to cooperate, he is willing to lead us from flawed states of mind to less flawed states. If we cooperate, he will lead us from mistaken or limited ideas to less mistaken or less limited ideas. If we are inclined to want disproportionate revenge, he will give us rules to limit us (eye for an eye). If we approach our marriage without mutual respect and commitment, he will give us rules to prevent our worst abuses. If we are attracted to idol worship and human sacrifice, he will give us laws calling for animal sacrifice and ritual purity to discourage us. But it would be a mistake to think that these accommodations directly reflect his true nature and I think there are some Bible passages that provide clues that they do not.

I have in mind passages like the one Freddy quoted about divorce ("from the beginning it was not so"), Matthew 5:38-39 (You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' but I say to you ...), Micah 6:7-8 (Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?), 1 Sam 15:29 (He is not a man that He should change His mind), and Num 23:19 (God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent). I think these passages indicate that at least parts of the Bible are to be understood as not accurately reflecting God's true nature.

With regard to herem, I believe that God allowed it to be presented in the Old Testament as being something he authorised because it was more important for people then to realize that bad choices came with bad consequences, then it was to try to persuade them that those consequences were inherent in the bad choices rather than being a punishment from God. I find it very easy to believe that people at that time were not ready to accept the truth and would only respect God if they believed him to be capable of harsh punishment for any disloyalty. It was a case of God leading them from very flawed attitudes and beliefs to slightly less flawed attitudes and beliefs using principles which were inherently flawed themselves, but which could at least be accepted and believed by people he wanted to lead. As for Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, I think he was simply continuing along the same lines, presenting the best approximation of truth that his audience was ready to understand and accept. So rather than herem directly reflecting God's true nature, I think it is instead an example of God's willingness to accommodate himself to us and to work with our false ideas.

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Kwesi
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H Wyatt
quote:
With regard to herem, I believe that God allowed it to be presented in the Old Testament as being something he authorised because it was more important for people then to realize that bad choices came with bad consequences, then it was to try to persuade them that those consequences were inherent in the bad choices rather than being a punishment from God.
H Wyatt, Is there not a problem here? Do you believed God signed off the executive order to reduce Ai, eliminate the Amalekites etc. etc.? To my mind that would have been inconsistent with his nature as you yourself describe.

Furthermore, the recipients of Herem were not around post facto to be "persuaded that those consequences were inherent in bad choices." Surely, the "bad choice" lay in the act of herem itself from which the perpetrators benefitted.

W Hyatt
quote:
As for Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, I think he was simply continuing along the same lines, presenting the best approximation of truth that his audience was ready to understand and accept. So rather than herem directly reflecting God's true nature, I think it is instead an example of God's willingness to accommodate himself to us and to work with our false ideas.
This conclusion, too, is problematic. If you believe that Jesus operated within the constraints of what people could "understand and accept" you are implying that he is less than the revelation of God's glory as asserted in John's gospel and that we can expect more improved versions as "time makes ancient good uncouth". Furthermore, the gospels suggest that Jesus' hearers had great difficulty understanding and accepting him and his teaching (see the gospel record). Jesus did not "accommodate" with his time and paid for it with his life. Lastly, the notion that God went along with herem despite its offence to his true nature is surely perverse and unconvincing. I think it best, W Hyatt, if you place herem in that category you describe as those "passages [which] indicate that at least parts of the Bible are to be understood as not accurately reflecting God's true nature". I'm puzzled as to why you haven't done so already.
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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
One thinks it not unreasonable to conclude that in Nigel's opinion the modern Church's rejection of herem lies not in the life and teaching of Jesus but in secular liberalism, and is, therefore, not faithful to the gospel. I consider that to be a challenge to modern (at least) Christian ethics.

More of challenge I suggest in the first instance to the presuppositions that inform one's reading; only secondarily to one's ethic.
quote:
Originally posted by W Hyatt:
Where we differ is that I don't accept that it bears a direct relation to that nature - I think it bears only an indirect relationship. Instead of concluding that the Old Testament descriptions of herem accurately and directly reflect God's nature, I conclude that they only reflect his willingness to accommodate himself to the mental attitudes and beliefs of the people he was trying to lead.

Many thanks for taking the time on this, W Hyatt. The reason why I think the record of Jesus can be a useful criterion to apply is to get over this issue. If God is accommodating himself to our fallible condition (I agree he does), the question lies open as to whether the accommodation results in a truthful reflection in the text of what God intended to communicate, or a mistake. We then need a criterion to use in judging between the two options, particularly because this herem business in the OT makes an attribution to God for authority. Unlike the examples of kingship or sacrifice, where God provided rules to offset un-Godly acts, with herem it's all authorised by God – no offsetting.

We could opt for the line you suggest – take a view on what God would mostly likely be like and use that as the guide. However we are inevitably thrown back a stage in the validation process to ask how we publicly (using reason based on publicly available evidence) check the validity of that criterion. There's the danger that we read into the biblical record what we want to read out. What the 'criterion of Jesus' does here is to provide God's take on the authenticity of the herem texts. This could be the opportunity for God, through Jesus, to correct the record in the event that his accommodation a few hundred years earlier had resulted in a mistaken view. What I find, when looking at the record concerning Jesus' mission, is that not only did he not qualify what his predecessors had said about God, and neither did he simply stay quiet on the issue, but he overtly maintained the same line. I could conclude that perhaps God was (through Jesus) still accommodating to his audience, awaiting another day to wean them off the mistaken beliefs, but that seems to me to result in bracketing out the biblical record from Christian belief and life. In the process of doing that, I would inevitably have to bracket out huge chunks of Christian tradition as well – the deposit of faith being so dependent on being based on the bible.

I think your points about treating the texts as one-dimensional, 'flat', or plain, are good. I do agree that there are peaks and troughs in the 3-D landscape of bible reading. In fact, it was the very shallowness of what has been called 'plain readings' (“I know what the bible says - it's there in black and white and that's good enough for me!”) and that fact they really didn't add value to one's understanding of God, that led me to take seriously the phrase that the bible is 'God's Word in human words' (and before that produces the inevitable reaction by anyone that Jesus is God's Word not the bible – feel free to substitute the word 'message' or 'communication' for 'Word' in there!) and to pull together as many tools that are available to get a grip on human communication. After all, if God saw fit to accommodate his message/communication to humans, then it seems only right that we should try to understand human communication in order to get a better feel for what was really being said.

I, too, like the “From the beginning it was not so” saying by Jesus, because it provides backing for the idea that we can draw 'peak' principles from the Jewish founding document, Gen. 1-3, that guide us over the biblical terrain. Obviously Jesus did not deal with every ethical situation in life, but his referral to that document indicates that there is prominence in it. Paul, too, makes use of the 'earlier-is-better' hermeneutical principle when he places Gen. 15 over Gen. 17 in Romans. What this suggests to me is that we can indeed work with the whole text on a basis of interpretation that is inherent to the text itself. I can even see scope for arguing on the basis of Jesus' use of Gen. 1-3 what he would have said about plenty of things, if asked.


I think I need to address again the “Love your enemies” saying by Jesus, as it has cropped up a few times in support of the objection against attributing herem to God. The fact that Jesus makes no explicit command to exterminate our enemies needs putting into context. He can (and I believe did, from the NT evidence) confirm that there would be an extermination of God's enemies – that's the crucial difference. We are not looking in the NT for a justification or otherwise of genocide (human authorised), but for Jesus' attitude to the specific activity defined in ancient near eastern contexts as a God act; something originating in God's court, authorised by him and in some cases carried out by him. This activity with the relevant attributes was known to the Hebrews as herem. I put forward some texts from the gospels earlier in the thread in support of this.

We are then faced with some options:

[1] The record of Jesus is contradictory. In many places he urges peace, love, and concern for the poor. In others, he is recorded as warning, judging, and affirming a destruction of peoples. We accept this contradiction.

[2] Our understanding of what Jesus said about these warnings, judgments, and destruction is wrong. There is no contradiction; the words just need redefining or are otherwise controlled.

[3] Our understanding of what Jesus said about peace, love and concern for the poor is wrong. There is no contradiction; the words just need redefining or are otherwise controlled.

I can't really speak to [1] above; it's an option, but my preference is to poke away until I'm absolutely sure no other option applies.

As to [2] and [3], I showed earlier on the thread how I approached this. The word 'love' needs to be understood as the original writers and audience understood it, even if that means a change in the way we have understood the term. There is linguistic evidence to show that the semantic domain of 'love' in Hebrew, carried over into NT usage, does not match exactly that of the English word 'love.' I can make the same point with 'peace.' Understanding those words in their contexts makes sense when placed alongside other findings, such as a covenant worldview.

It's with this background, and not by imposing any current understanding of words, that the biblical texts should be approached. What I really would like to see is someone do for the OT what scholars like Dunn and Wright have been doing for the NT: trawling through the evidence to find out how the words we have in the bible would have been understood in their times, and make that the basis for interpretation. It's not weaselling out, in fact I would say that it's much more honest than letting our presuppositions rule us. The message does seem to be getting out there, though; the recent NET Bible version has been taking on board much of this in its translation process; including in the background notes. Plenty of mention of 'covenant' as a driving impetus, how to understand 'love' in context... etc.

This approach shows that a there is a consistency between the distinctive understanding of 'love your enemies' as demonstrating God's overall claim on creation, and thus being sons (i.e., authorised representatives) of the Most High (i.e., not any local, national god) as in Luke 6:27-36, and also with demonstrating the ethical principle associated with that status (being 'perfect' as a reflection of being 'holy') as in Matthew 5:43-48; and there still being a role for God to impose judgment on those who reject his Son and sons – it being better for Sodom, etc. Both are consistent with a universal covenant worldview.

It's probably helpful here to remind everyone of the main steps in the approach:

[1] The OT writers attributed herem to God's authority. I don't think an objection has been raised to this finding.

[2a] Jesus reflects God's nature* by what he said and did.

[2b] The NT writings provide an accurate enough reflection of what Jesus said and did (and therefore an accurate enough reflection of God's nature).

[3] Jesus validated the OT writers' view of herem and that by doing so he accepted that herem forms part of God's nature.

Practically speaking there's probably no need to carry this on into Paul and the rest of the NT, given that Jesus will be the crux. I did, however, produce evidence from other NT passages to show that there was a consistent theme throughout the bible.

That really is all that this approach has done. The questions of how this impacts on Christian behaviour inevitably follow a topic like this, as do the bases for alternative reading strategies, though I accept that these may not be for Kerygmania and I fear I would be hard pressed to take on such large subjects on other boards while trying to keep up to date here. My challenge would be, though, to assess whether other approaches are valid, distinctive (Christianly), or capable of substantiating with evidence.


* Not having really defined this term, following W Hyatt's point, I've been focussing on this thread more on how God acts. More of a praxis than an ontology. Obviously, one's view of God in action will affect how one views his nature more generally.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
We are then faced with some options:

[1] The record of Jesus is contradictory. In many places he urges peace, love, and concern for the poor. In others, he is recorded as warning, judging, and affirming a destruction of peoples. We accept this contradiction.

Christianity has always accepted these contradicitons, just as Judaism used to accept the contraditions in the Old Testament. Until the 18th century few writers even commented on them.

For the modern Christian this kind of contradiction is not tolerable. God must be consistent.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
[2] Our understanding of what Jesus said about these warnings, judgments, and destruction is wrong. There is no contradiction; the words just need redefining or are otherwise controlled.

Sort of. It's not that the words need redefining but that it needs to be understood that Jesus speaks in metaphors and hyperbole, and describes things according to the understanding of the average member of His audience. The universal expectation is that God is like a very powerful king who benefits those who are with Him and punishes those who oppose Him.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
[3] Our understanding of what Jesus said about peace, love and concern for the poor is wrong. There is no contradiction; the words just need redefining or are otherwise controlled.

Again, sort of. Jesus uses hyperbole in describing how mercy, forgiveness and generosity operate - speaking as if they are to be uncritically given to everyone. The point is that you are to will well to everyone, not that every criminal should be set free, every debt forgiven, or every piece of property given away.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
It's probably helpful here to remind everyone of the main steps in the approach:

[1] The OT writers attributed herem to God's authority. I don't think an objection has been raised to this finding.

That's right. That is how the Old Testament operates.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
[2a] Jesus reflects God's nature* by what he said and did.

Yes. Jesus is God Himself.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
[2b] The NT writings provide an accurate enough reflection of what Jesus said and did (and therefore an accurate enough reflection of God's nature).

Yes, the NT is God's Word.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
[3] Jesus validated the OT writers' view of herem and that by doing so he accepted that herem forms part of God's nature.

No. Jesus sometimes validated this, but in doing so He is speaking metaphorically or according to people's common expectation that God or a king will punish offenders. It would not have made sense to anyone that evil carries its own punishment within it, or that hell is something chosen by those who love wickedness.

Herem is not really a part of God's nature. Rather, the self-punishing nature of wickedness makes it appear that this is the case. The alternative is that God's nature really is contradictory and that He really does bless the good and punish the evil. While this is the expected behavior of people of authority in the world, it is not acceptable in God - especially the way that the Bible describes it.

No one is disputing Jesus' use of metaphors. Why isn't it obvious that His descriptions of gruesome punishments are among them?

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W Hyatt
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Do you believed God signed off the executive order to reduce Ai, eliminate the Amalekites etc. etc.?

No, I do not. Like you, I believe that it would have been completely counter to his nature and therefore impossible that he actually did so.

quote:
Furthermore, the recipients of Herem were not around post facto to be "persuaded that those consequences were inherent in bad choices." Surely, the "bad choice" lay in the act of herem itself from which the perpetrators benefitted.
I am only addressing the content of the Biblical texts and the audience reading them. What might have actually happened and what God thought about it is an entirely different matter. I do not believe there is any way God desired or commanded that anyone be killed or punished. But because of the way I approach the texts, I am not concerned one way or the other about what might have actually happened - I am only concerned with how they relate to my own spiritual growth and my relationship with God.

quote:
If you believe that Jesus operated within the constraints of what people could "understand and accept" you are implying that he is less than the revelation of God's glory as asserted in John's gospel and that we can expect more improved versions as "time makes ancient good uncouth". Furthermore, the gospels suggest that Jesus' hearers had great difficulty understanding and accepting him and his teaching (see the gospel record). Jesus did not "accommodate" with his time and paid for it with his life.
I believe that Jesus is God himself, so I definitely believe that he is the revelation of God's glory, but I think it is inescapable that he accommodated himself to us. I think everything about the Incarnation was an accommodation. For one thing, his words were in human language and any revelation of God given in human language is necessarily accommodated. God's glory as it is in itself must infinitely surpass any description of it, no matter who provides that description. For another thing, he said himself that he had many things to tell his disciples, but that they were not yet ready to bear them - that seems to me to be an explicit statement that he was accommodating his teachings to what they were ready to understand and accept.

To say that he taught what they were ready to understand and accept does not imply that doing so was at all easy for them - clearly he accommodated himself to them only to the minimum degree necessary. He did pay for it with his life, but his teachings were also subsequently accepted and became the basis for Christianity. That to me is proof that he did a perfect job of accommodating himself precisely to the degree necessary.

quote:
Lastly, the notion that God went along with herem despite its offence to his true nature is surely perverse and unconvincing. I think it best, W Hyatt, if you place herem in that category you describe as those "passages [which] indicate that at least parts of the Bible are to be understood as not accurately reflecting God's true nature". I'm puzzled as to why you haven't done so already.
I do not think God ever "went along with" herem, only that he "went along with" allowing the texts to say that he did. I definitely include those parts as some of those not accurately reflecting God's true nature. In the New Church, we believe God cannot even look at us with a stern face, let alone do anything to initiate violence against anyone. Out of love for all of us and a desire to save every single one of us, he is willing to let us believe things about him that are untrue, or even completely opposite to what is true. Of course he would much prefer we believed things that are true, but we are often not ready to do so and he finds other ways to save us.

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W Hyatt
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Letting Freddy's post speak for my own position as well:

quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
I could conclude that perhaps God was (through Jesus) still accommodating to his audience, awaiting another day to wean them off the mistaken beliefs, but that seems to me to result in bracketing out the biblical record from Christian belief and life.

Isn't that what the Second Coming is to be about - completing the picture, so to speak?

quote:
I, too, like the “From the beginning it was not so” saying by Jesus, because it provides backing for the idea that we can draw 'peak' principles from the Jewish founding document, Gen. 1-3, that guide us over the biblical terrain.
There is also the possibility that Gen. 1-3 actually came after "the beginning" in which case it might present an accommodated depiction of God (although it would still be the guiding document for all that followed).

quote:
There is linguistic evidence to show that the semantic domain of 'love' in Hebrew, carried over into NT usage, does not match exactly that of the English word 'love.' I can make the same point with 'peace.' Understanding those words in their contexts makes sense when placed alongside other findings, such as a covenant worldview.

It's with this background, and not by imposing any current understanding of words, that the biblical texts should be approached.

For the record, I take that as a given.

quote:
What I really would like to see is someone do for the OT what scholars like Dunn and Wright have been doing for the NT: trawling through the evidence to find out how the words we have in the bible would have been understood in their times, and make that the basis for interpretation. It's not weaselling out, in fact I would say that it's much more honest than letting our presuppositions rule us.
Agreed, although I reserve the right to consciously choose presuppositions that I am going to apply - I just can't expect anyone else to adopt the same presuppositions.

quote:
My challenge would be, though, to assess whether other approaches are valid, distinctive (Christianly), or capable of substantiating with evidence.
I respect and accept the appropriateness of your challenge. My response to the way you're applying your whole approach is to try to point out that there are other valid conclusions (or at least one other) besides the conclusion that herem is part of God's nature. These discussions are good at bringing to the surface the presuppositions that underpin various conclusions and I hope I've demonstrated that different presuppositions can lead to very different conclusions, even after we've agreed about what the texts say and mean from a literal point of view.

With that caveat, I can easily endorse the approach you advocate. It's good news to hear that it's a trend in translation work.

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A new church and a new earth, with Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.

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Nigel M
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# 11256

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Picking up on some of the points raised this week, starting with Freddy and W Hyatt's posts:

On presuppositions: I do agree that once one has consciously adopted a particular model (or paradigm) to use as a framework for interpreting what the biblical authors wrote, then one has a good starting point from which to launch. One can clearly follow that model to see where it goes and then deduce ethical principles for ways of living. Your approach will be consistent because the model has been consciously thought through. Such an approach has its risks, of course, in that the framework may not support every piece of datum and those data that don't fit have to be accommodated in some way. In some paradigms they are simply dropped in to the ubiquitous 'Miscellaneous' section! At least with your paradigm they are dealt with in a literal fashion, and accommodated within a higher-level symbolic (or internal) reading. I have more concern about other readings – not just here on the Ship – that approach the biblical texts with unconscious presuppositions, whether from the right or left, spirit or letter, top or bottom. I've been keen to poke away at these!

On contradictions: I don't think it's a case that we need to hold contradictions in tension so much, as that the biblical writers saw the issues around love and herem as working within a mutually compatible framework – that of covenant. They would not have seen it has anything other than different facets of the same wider aspect. My suggestion has been to try and see things from that same angle, otherwise we may be doomed to seeing a contradiction.

On figurative language: Jesus certainly makes use of figures such as metaphors and hyperbole (in common with his biblical predecessors). I don't think we can jump, though, from accepting his use of such language to accepting that he downplayed the reality that was the subject of the figure. A description of gruesome punishment may indeed be a use of figurative language, but it is a figure based on a ground of punishment. Hyperbole may enhance a point, but it isn't intended to deny the point; “I've told you a million times...” might be figurative with regard to a million, but factual with regard to I've told you.... In the same way, the language Jesus used could have been very figurative, but it would have denied the factual point being referred to. The figure helps define – brings out more clearly – something not otherwise foregrounded in a person's perception. Parable is a good example here of the use of figurative language to set up a possible world in the audience's imagination to foreground an aspect of life or divine nature that was otherwise backgrounded or even hidden.

The parable of the tenants, for example, that I referred to earlier. There Jesus used an extended metaphor that raised expectations; a sequence of events that forced the audience to a certain conclusion – God would take just action against those who had rejected him and his authorised messengers. This would have been an ideal point for Jesus to twist the expectation if he wanted to by saying something like: “But instead of storming into his vineyard and and killing the wicked tenants, the owner forgave them and let them keep the harvest.” Or even, “Instead of the owner coming to set the world to rights, the wine was most unexpectedly infected with parasites that caused the wicked owners to perish most embarrassingly, thus showing that evil bounces back on the perpetrator.” This last point was not unknown in the then world – Paul makes reference to it as a passing punishment in Romans 1, before he moves on to confirm the fuller divine punishment. Yet Jesus did not go down that route in this parable, and it's not as though Jesus didn't make use of unexpected endings in other parables to correct perceptions. He could have done so here, but he didn't. He reinforced the expected ending with a reference to Psalm 118 and the world of expectations that context awoke. He did this because the point he wished to foreground was that some of his hearers were being deliberately equated with the wicked tenants. They would lose the kingdom because they had rejected God ownership.

When God accommodated humans in respect of general war, he hedged the activity about with rules, similarly with the function of kingship and sacrifice, but there is no such hedging with the activity of herem. This seems to indicate that the language is not being used figuratively when it refers to the background (judicial sentence authorised by God) even if there is figurative language in the emphasis (destroy all – even though it's likely that some escaped).

I don't actually think there is any difference in the way we read the biblical passages; I understand the point about being aware of our presuppositions when we do so. Where we differ is in the Russian dolls we uncover in respect of the theme of herem: I open one doll up to find a reflection that mirrors the cover, the other reading finds a different visage underneath.


shamwari made a point earlier about progressive revelation and, yes, I go along with the general points that (a) Jesus re-introduced a proper reading of the Jewish scriptures in contrast to leading interpretations of the day; (b) Jesus relativised certain principles in those scriptures in the light of foundational principles (although the OT prophets were good at this, too); and (c) Jesus clarified aspects of God's nature that had been 'read out' by his contemporaries.

The more I have read the bible the more I realise how ingenious Jesus, and consequently his disciples, were in picking up themes from the Jewish writings and validating or valorising them.

If we are talking about progression beyond biblical history then I would be happy to include the idea that we gain fuller and better particulars of the biblical context in time, as more and more information is brought to light and better tools are brought to bear in the search for meaning. The reading approach I have offered here is based on a pulling-together of many such tools.

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Freddy
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# 365

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Maybe this thread has run its course, but I want to thank Nigel for the topic and the way that you have approached it.

I love the fact that there is a real effort here to be precise with the biblical teachings, to respect them as valid, and to grapple with their meaning and implication.

Thank you for noticing and responding to all the alternative suggestions that we came up with and not dismissing the different points of view! [Overused]

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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