Thread: Kerygmania: 'Ethic' Cleansing: God's Love and the Genocide charge Board: Limbo / Ship of Fools.


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Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
This thread arises as a response to Lyda*Rose's request on the “This is in the Bible – but it stinks! IMHO...” thread. The issue is the relationship between God and the historical actions recorded in the bible that are could be labelled genocide. I know this has been looked at from a few angles elsewhere, but the particular issue has ramifications for reading other 'smelly' topics as well. I'm interested in testing out a particular response that might assist when it comes to reading the bible as a whole more generally.

The particular issue that prompted this thread is commonly expressed along these lines: 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. Behind this reaction is the belief that genocide has no ethical foundation (neither is it moral) and if God were to stoop to that level he would represent an unethical nature. Or in words expressed elegantly elsewhere, he would be a monster.

In essence, the position I would want to defend is that 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.

In terms more familiar to ancient near eastern concepts: The supreme god has established a committed relationship with all of creation. Elements within that creation have rebelled against God and have therefore committed treason. This leads to lack of peace and well-being, and therefore can not go uncorrected.

In terms more familiar to Christians: The God of Jesus will punish sin and the persistent sinner in order to ensure holiness in heaven and on earth.

Now I realised quite early on that this post would need to be a beast of a tome. So to avoid going to six pages before anyone gets a chance to reply, I've set up a basic web page to park the argument in more detail, though by no means in full detail. If anyone would like to access the arguments, feel free to link here and click on the sub-page for “Ethic Cleansing...” I would be happy to discuss any matter arising therefrom here.

I appreciate that the stark nature of the position outlined above will need explaining and possibly rewording to make things clearer, but at this point I think something stark helps focus the mind. Also, in case anyone is worried that I have an agenda hidden behind my back relating to rabid bloodletting as a form of cathartic redemption, let me confirm up front that I do sign up to the whole 'God is Love' scene and have no intention of excising 1 Corinthians 13 from the bible. What I want to do is rebalance the view of 'love' because I think we have ignored a vital element.

[ 19. November 2013, 02:09: Message edited by: Mamacita ]
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I have read the link which sets out the fuller position.

The more I read the more I rebelled.

Nigel says that the "herem" (total obliteration) is dependent on the "rebel being warned of his behaviour and of its possible consequences".

Joshua applied the principle at Ai. But he never warned them beforehand. Their only "sin" was that they did not belong to the Chosen People and fought to defend their homeland. Not that they were sinners. This was a blatant attempt to conquer the land and to enforce discipline on the conquering army. There was no moral component other than that "the land is ours by promise" and any means is justified to take it.

Such an argument would not wash in any Court of Law today.

I had expected more from Nigel but his defence of genocide smacks to me of "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari
Such an argument would not wash in any Court of Law today.

I think that Nigel's whole point is that modern Courts of Law do not operate on the same premises as the Bible.

Moo
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
True Moo.

Modern courts of law operate on the justice principle, not on any principle of favouritism.

I know which I prefer.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Referring to the OP in which Nigel says he wants to rebalance the idea of Love.

Great. Especially if he is contending with a view of Love which is wishy-washy and totally non-judgemental of actions as well as those who perpetrate them.

But Love as defined in the NT is a volitional thing motivated by putting the interests of others before our own.

Seems to me that Nigel is defending an OT concept of covenant which is questionable. And that the coming of Jesus made no difference at all.

Nigel insists that he is committed to the Love principle. So how does he reconcile the fact that Joshua imposed the "herem" at Ai in defiance of the interests of others and totally acting in terms of his own interests?
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Nigel insists that he is committed to the Love principle. So how does he reconcile the fact that Joshua imposed the "herem" at Ai in defiance of the interests of others and totally acting in terms of his own interests?

I am basically in agreement with Nigel and am also committed to the Love principle.

The tweak that I would apply to this is the idea that Old Testament actions condoned by God are not always actually good or defensible, but are instead symbolically "good" and "defensible".

For example, there is no way to justify Jacob's dishonest and manipulative behavior towards his brother Esau. But Jacob is the great patriarch and so whatever benefitted him is portrayed as justifiable in God's eyes.

The reason that this works is that Israel symbolizes God's people, the good people that God loves, and so whatever benefits them is something good - even if it is not actually good or moral.

The same principle is at work in virtually every fairy tale, as well as most novels and movies. Characters who are portrayed as "wicked" are routinely eliminated. In action films any character who stands in the way of the protagonist is likely to be injured or killed without even a nod to scruples.

The average reader or viewer is not the least troubled by these things because they intuitively grasp the symbolic justice involved. This is true even if they realize that what they are observing are crimes. In the viewers mind it is absolutely imperative that Jason Bourne or James Bond evade their pursuers, and if people's cars and lives are wrecked in the process this is excusable.

The modern reader may read Old Testament stories and be shocked that some elements could be portrayed as condoned by God. But if your mindset was of Israel as God's people, and any enemy as being evil incarnate, it is intuitively justifiable.

That doesn't mean that it is actually OK. God wasn't really on their side any more than anyone else's.
 
Posted by Hart (# 4991) on :
 
I know there are issues that seem larger here, but I'd like to quibble with your point:

quote:

The NT was written by authors who had the Jewish Scriptures in mind. It follows that the meaning of the word(s) translated by 'Love' in English should be located from within the meaning of a word or phrase in a Hebrew counterpart, rather than a historical Greek or English one.

Certainly, the vast majority of NT authors were steeped in what we call the Old Testament.* But how many of them were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures? ie. were they reading them in Hebrew or in Greek? I'd want to analyze this on an author-by-author basis, but I don't recall seeing any evidence that the author of Luke-Acts, say, knows any Hebrew, let alone is familiar with scripture in Hebrew. Even if he is, he is clearly an expert on the Septuagint.

Paul and some other epistlists are more than happy to use Stoic vice lists, although Paul also uses LXX virtue lists.

I certainly don't want to reduce the NT to Aristotle, but I don't think you can dismiss the Greco-Roman context so easily, or assume great familiarity with Hebrew.

--
* Although how about the author(s) of the Johannine epistles?
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Freddy

A benefit is something that is given to you

The so called "benefits" to God's people resulting from them exterminating their enemies are the result of what they did. Therefore not necessarily justifiable.

Methinks you want to have your cake and eat it. ( Theologically speaking).

I think that the scenario is quite clear.

Joshua and the invading Israelies lived 1200 years before Christ. You cannot expect them to abide by Christian principles.

They believed that God had promised them this land and therefore that God was on their side in whatever action they took to claim it as their own. In fact their actions commanded by God!!

And to spiritualise every morally dubious act when you admit it is wrong from a Christian point of view is not an exegetical principle I can not accept.

[ 20. August 2011, 17:49: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
And to spiritualise every morally dubious act when you admit it is wrong from a Christian point of view is not an exegetical principle I can not accept.

It is not spiritualizing it. It is simply doing what stories typically do - take the side of the protagonist.

What the Bible adds to this is the element of God's explicit approval, and even demand, for these sometimes reprehensible actions.

But really all this does is take what is typically done by storytellers, and even historians, and raise it a level. So that it is not just the history of a people but is the history of God's people and tells us about God Himself.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Posted by Freddy

"It is not spiritualizing it. It is simply doing what stories typically do - take the side of the protagonist.

What the Bible adds to this is the element of God's explicit approval, and even demand, for these sometimes reprehensible actions."

Which is exactly the problem.

Do we believe that the God who revealed Himself in Jesus (and was incarnate in Jesus) explicitly approved of these reprehensible actions?

I don't.

Unless God has a split personality, and changes character between OT and NT.

[ 20. August 2011, 21:04: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Hart:
Certainly, the vast majority of NT authors were steeped in what we call the Old Testament.* But how many of them were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures? ie. were they reading them in Hebrew or in Greek? I'd want to analyze this on an author-by-author basis, but I don't recall seeing any evidence that the author of Luke-Acts, say, knows any Hebrew, let alone is familiar with scripture in Hebrew. Even if he is, he is clearly an expert on the Septuagint.

Paul and some other epistlists are more than happy to use Stoic vice lists, although Paul also uses LXX virtue lists.

I certainly don't want to reduce the NT to Aristotle, but I don't think you can dismiss the Greco-Roman context so easily, or assume great familiarity with Hebrew.

--
* Although how about the author(s) of the Johannine epistles?

The New Testament is steeped in Old Testament ideas. The people who translated the OT into the Septuagint did not abandon the meaning of the Hebrew; they simply used the most-similar Greek words available. Jews who worshipped regularly and studied the scriptures would have known that when the Septuagint uses a word like agape it does not mean what the same word would mean in a text written by a Greek unfamiliar with Hebrew.

I think it is significant that complaints of genocide in the OT are quite recent. I suspect the idea did not cross the minds of those in the ancient world.

Moo
 
Posted by PaulBC (# 13712) on :
 
One has to consider what other nations would have done to the 12 tribes. They were seen as fleeing slaves by the Egyptians , by the people 's of Canaan they are invaders so it would be a take no prisioners attitude that the Israelites would run up against.
For the record I do have problems with the
kill them all attitude seemingly stated by God . But he would have seen attitudes they would have faced so maybe the commands are accepting the world as it is by God. maybe.
As to the only people who will enter heaven
will believers in Jesus concept. Well I believe that when one dies you and God will work out just what happens next. Afraid I don't see this in black and white, saved-dammed any more . Used to but it conflicts with how I see God as all loving. [Votive] [Angel]
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Thanks for the minor rebellion, shamwari!

The topic under discussion is a big one and I couldn't set out every detail either here on the Ship or in the associated web site, so what I have done is set up a series of key points (or theses) that can act as a springboard for further discussion here. This is the opportunity for me to start defending in more depth the position, including by use of biblical analysis. Hopefully what follows on the thread will provide the more detailed evidence for you to consider and come back on.

I set the Hebrew word Herem in its context of ancient near eastern covenant worldview, because that is where it is placed by history – whether written or by way of archaeological artefacts. Exactly because this was part of people's worldview at the time – and therefore part of their presuppositions – there would be no need for a biblical writer to spell out in full detail everything associated with herem each and every time it crops up. Much could be assumed. For this reason, it would not follow that because the record is silent on Joshua warning Ai of impending herem, that therefore they had no warning. This is a case of where the principle applies: Absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. We need to look further.

What was herem? From the biblical record we find the following:-
[1] Its distinction from the more general act of dedicating or consecrating things or people. Leviticus 27 provides examples of this, for example:
quote:
Lev. 27:14-15
If a man consecrates [Hebrew verb = qadash] his house as holy to the Lord, the priest will establish its conversion value, whether good or bad. Just as the priest establishes its conversion value, thus it will stand. If the one who consecrates it redeems his house, he must add to it one fifth of its conversion value in silver, and it will belong to him.

In other words, a consecrated or dedicated object could be bought back. On the other hand...
quote:
Lev. 27:28-29
Surely anything which a man permanently devotes [Hebrew verb = haram] to the Lord from all that belongs to him, whether from people, animals, or his landed property, must be neither sold nor redeemed; anything permanently devoted is most holy to the Lord. Any human being who is permanently devoted must not be ransomed; such a person must be put to death.

...herem is in a different and irredeemable category altogether.

[2] Its placing in a judicial / legal context. Actually Leviticus 27 also provides backing for this, but Deuteronomy 13:12-15 also sets out a process:
quote:
Should you hear it said in one of the cities the Lord your God is giving you to live in, that wicked people have come from you to entice the inhabitants of cities, saying, “Let’s go and serve other gods,” you must investigate thoroughly and inquire carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done among you, you must absolutely slaughter the inhabitants of that city with the sword; annihilate [= herem] with the sword everyone in it, as well as the livestock.
Herem was not arbitrary. It required due process.

[3] It had to be authorised by the head of the hierarchy – it was not open to others to take the initiative. I don't think there's any dispute about this because the whole issue is that it is associated with God as the leader. The extra-biblical evidence supports this as well (cue Moabite Stone and its reference to a deity).

The record in Joshua also indicates that knowledge of the authorisation of herem did indeed precede Joshua. Rahab makes it clear that she and her city knew what to expect (Joshua 2:10-11).

So much for the significance of herem. I hope there's enough here to show that we are talking about a serious, legally binding, non-arbitrary, and hierarchically authorised process. This was not normal war. It was a public event. From a purely non-biblical point of view it could be said to be designed to instil absolute fear in one's opponents, which is likely to be true, but if this was to work the whole point was mitigated if your enemies were not totally and painfully aware beforehand of what awaited them!

Your point about the Canaanite residents simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time might, again, be a view from outside of the bible. But I'm not concerned here about how the record might be viewed by non-Christians (at least not at this point – there will be a need to talk about the text in mission, but let's not cloud these initial investigations with application issues just yet!). I am concerned about the impact of these records on Christians who find them 'hard' or 'stinky.' The biblical record places a clear reason for God authorising herem. For example, the usual suspects:-
quote:
Genesis 15:16 [God to Abram]
“In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”

quote:
Lev. 18:24-25
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations which I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things. Therefore the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants.

quote:
Deut 9:4-5
Do not think to yourself after the Lord your God has driven them out before you, “Because of my own righteousness the Lord has brought me here to possess this land.” It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out ahead of you. It is not because of your righteousness, or even your inner uprightness, that you have come here to possess their land. Instead, because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out ahead of you in order to confirm the promise he made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The real question is not that there was an arbitrary, wolf-falling-on-the-sheep-without-warning, no excuse type of event (which is what, I fear, has been imported into these texts by use of the English word 'genocide'), but whether the evidential record attributing herem to God's nature is valid. This anticipates the record of Jesus and the NT, so I'll stop here for the moment. Always leave them wanting more, eh?

Those texts immediately above indicate that judicial processes allow for time. The implication here is that time was allowed before a final judgment by God was delivered. It's at this point that I anticipate a tension between what the record says and how we react to it. Either we go with the flow on it as it stands – part and whole – or we have to provide a justification for not doing so. A simple “I'm not going to accept it because I don't like it” will not do; I'm looking for a publicly valid and justifiable ground from which to define some texts apart from others. If one cannot be provided, then one must go with the flow and tackle the issue head on.

quote:
Originally posted by Hart:
I certainly don't want to reduce the NT to Aristotle, but I don't think you can dismiss the Greco-Roman context so easily, or assume great familiarity with Hebrew.

I don't think I would disagree with you too much here, Hart, as this is probably a matter of perspective.

Just to add to Moo's post, I think the NT was on the tipping point between two modes of thought and expression. We don't find the mode of Philo of Alexandria yet (nor that of other late Jewish-Egyptian Greek texts), so it would be wrong to read, say, Platonic themes automatically into John's logos. I don't think you would disagree about that, though?

I would agree with you that Jesus and his first followers were familiar with the presence of Greco-Roman culture. I expect that Jesus and his followers were multi-lingual. As to whether they were more familiar with the Hebrew or Greek versions (LXX versions), that's probably a debate for elsewhere, but I have noted that the LXX translators of the Jewish Scriptures betray formal subservience to Hebrew. For example, they follow semitic syntax rather than Greek in their translation process. It is also an interesting question to ask (and seek to answer): Why do the NT writers depart so often from any known LXX version when they quote directly from the OT? Sometimes it is only a case ending here, or a word there, but could it not also be that there are cases when the writer is making his own translation from the Hebrew text?

There's also the historical association of synagogues with Hebrew scrolls and the evidence that Palestinian Jewish leaders were less than enamoured with the Greek LXX project, leading to attempts to redraft the Greek versions to conform more to the Hebrew text (this in advance of any reaction to Christian appropriation of the LXX).

So I am suggesting that first port of call when interpreting the NT is to look for Jewish concepts / themes in the language, unless there is evidence to suggest doing otherwise. At the risk of deviating even further down a side track, wouldn't the Johannine letters be tapping into something alien to Greco-Roman concepts when they – although using Greek words, syntax and even 'feel' – refer to atonement, justification for sins, the final hour, day of judgement, avoidance of idols... These themes link quite easily into OT themes, but don't really square as easily elsewhere.

On Freddy's tweak. Although I have been concentrating on the more literal reading of the record, Freddy's more symbolic application would also stand or trip over the same criteria I will need to use: that of consistency. The test we both face - as do all readings of the OT - is whether we find validation of the results of our reading in Jesus and NT writers. Freddy's reading will be consistent with themes in the NT (e.g., good vs. evil). I've yet to climb this hill to the NT!
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Do we believe that the God who revealed Himself in Jesus (and was incarnate in Jesus) explicitly approved of these reprehensible actions?

I don't.

Neither do I. That's why it is symbolic approval that capitalizes on the reader's intuitive sympathy for the subject of the story.

The one who is actually God did not approve of any of these things. But for the purposes of the story the one who is actually God allowed the writers to perceive it that way.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
On Freddy's tweak. Although I have been concentrating on the more literal reading of the record, Freddy's more symbolic application would also stand or trip over the same criteria I will need to use: that of consistency. The test we both face - as do all readings of the OT - is whether we find validation of the results of our reading in Jesus and NT writers. Freddy's reading will be consistent with themes in the NT (e.g., good vs. evil). I've yet to climb this hill to the NT!

Yes, it will be consistent. Jesus uses this same formula in the made-up stories that He tells. In those stories "wicked" characters are "destroyed", even whole cities. No one bats an eye at this "genocide" because everyone knows that evil must be destroyed.
 
Posted by Seraphim (# 14676) on :
 
One of the things I've noticed about some of those incidents, is that on occasion there is an intercessor. When it was Sodom and Gomorah's time, Abraham tried to find minimum condition by which people there could be spared annihilation. And when because of Israel's great wickedness God offered to wipe them out and start of with Moses, Moses offered himself to be obliterated and them saved. When Jonah was sent to Nineveh, he was upset with God because he knew him to be merciful and if Nineveh repented He would not destroy them.

So, here's what I wonder when God said that the Caananites were to be wiped out…where was someone at least asking if there was any way that mercy for them might be found? We know that few did find mercy…Rahab, and some clever leaders from other cities seeing the force of the Israelite's conquest, making a deal for survival.

I don't doubt the places and peoples marked out for destruction had done very wickedly as a people for a long time…and had a harvest coming…but I wonder if when the time God was looking for intercessors like Abraham and Moses, but only found those who were only to eager to sharpen their swords because , "God said so"? Maybe judgement was coming anyway given the nature of those being displaced…but it is telling that looking for a means to show mercy never seemed to cross anyone's mind.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Having read Nigel's exposition of the Hebrew texts concerning "herem" I do not quibble with it.

But there is a much more disturbing question. What is the status of these texts? Are they simply what people perceived at the time (which Freddy alludes to) or do they carry Divine authorisation and status? Are they the word of God or what people at that time understood to be God's word?

And this. Nigel's argument justifying the "herem" at Ai could equally be used to justify Israel's treatment of the Palestinians today. At bottom both are attempts to secure the Promised Land.

Or does the promise of the land not hold good today? If so when did the change come?

And if "herem" is a component part of the covenant relationship ( or rather a rejection of that relationship) then how do we square that with the New Covenant Jesus embodied?

For me God is eternally the same in character, will and purpose.

Jesus is himself the Word of God to us.

Therefore the revelation of God in Jesus is definitive.

And I see no command or suggestion by Jesus that we should exterminate our enemies.

And Jesus himself furthered God's mission by a suffering love which did not retaliate but absorbed evil into himself and transmuted it. The Cross is a far cry from a Jihad.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Seraphim:
Maybe judgement was coming anyway given the nature of those being displaced…but it is telling that looking for a means to show mercy never seemed to cross anyone's mind.

I think the answer may be that herem was the final resort and that any mercy was always dependent on the person or group who had formally been placed under the herem. Otherwise we are face with the commandment given in Deuteronomy 7:2
quote:
Deuteronomy 7:1-4 [NET version]
When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you … and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate[1] them. Make no treaty[2] with them and show them no mercy! You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will erupt against you and he will quickly destroy you.

note [1] the phrase translated in this version as “utterly annihilate” is a Hebrew construction that adds special emphasis (repetition of a verb using the infinitive absolute in conjunction with a finite verbal form). A more literal reading would go something like “Hereming you shall herem...” The aim of such a construction is to enforce and focus the mind on the action – “You shall absolutely do...”
note [2] 'treaty.' The Hebrew phrase is 'to cut a covenant' (verb karat + noun berit). It's the common expression used in the OT for establishing formal covenant relationships.

Fortunately we have the examples you mentioned that provide the clue that if a 'righteous' person could be found, then mercy was an option. Rahab is quite a good example here; Joshua 1:12 records her saying to the Hebrew spies “Because I have shown allegiance to you, show allegiance to my family.” The word translated 'allegiance' here in the NET version is hesed, another difficult one to render consistently into English. It, too, is associated with covenant faithfulness – steadfast loyalty to the other partner in the covenant. Rahab does not say simply “I've been good to you,” she knows something much more committed is needed in face of herem. Nothing short of hesed would suffice.


Anyway, pulling back to the main theme again. I hope I may have done enough to demonstrate the context of what has been called 'genocide' in the OT. It is dark. What I have wanted to do before we can move on is to be honest with that darkness: it won't go away if we just ignore it. We are faced with evidence from the biblical record that there was a belief in a God of all creation who has a claim on all nations, tribes, clans, and families; that some of those groups have rebelled against the supreme God and that a process was put under way to deal with that rebellion. One of the ultimate sanctions against rebellion was this formal (legal and judicial?) procedure for completely exterminating those rebels who persistently refused to repent.

I've tried to place this procedure (the herem) in its context, because we should be honest about the evidence for good or ill. The English word 'genocide' does not capture that context, so I for one would suggest it should not be used. The trouble is that there is no easily available English word that does capture the context, so I've resorted to transliterating the Hebrew. I'm not suggesting, however, that we back away from the brutal aspect of this: no matter how accurately we dress up the context with its judicial, legal, publicly covenant-based background, when the final manoeuvre was played out with the sword, there was physical death. That's the implication of the biblical record. Even if, as the same record indicates, many people under herem actually got away (Israel was not successful in destroying every resident of Canaan), I think we need to honestly accept that the sword must have taken men, women, and children during the campaign. In a sense, 'genocide' is a subset of herem.

The really dark thing for our purposes here is that this procedure was reserved to the supreme God that Israel worshipped. The record doesn't give the impression that this was a case of Israel simply working to the human constraints of the time - “Oooh, please God, could we also do a bit of hereming today?” “O dear, well if you really must...” This isn't analogous to Israel's request to have a king, where God permitted it within limits. The record is that God takes the initiative.

It's at this point that shamwari's questions bite, particularly: Is this record still valid?

Obviously the answer is going to be crucial for any Christian, not simply because of one's sensibilities, but more importantly because we are driven [1] to know God and [2] to know how he wants us to act. In effect, I would guess that [1] informs [2]. Character (or nature) informs action. It would follow that the way I understand God's nature is somewhat crucial for deciding how I am to act in the world: the nature of God is one principle which governs individual or group behaviour, i.e., God's nature sets up an ethic.

I think the time has come to move on to the NT – but before I do I should allow more time in case anyone has other queries / concerns arising from the whole more Old testament-y findings thus far. I know, for example, that I haven't gone into the detail of other related topics - e.g., what support there is for saying that God is head of a divine assembly representing all nations and peoples.

I also realise that it might have helped if I had made available the range of instances where herem occurs in the OT so people can check them out. Rather than occupy space here, I have added the list to the dumping ground website – click here to access it.

So I'll pause for a bit here. Anyway, it will take more than herem to stop me getting my breakfast.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
But there is a much more disturbing question. What is the status of these texts? Are they simply what people perceived at the time (which Freddy alludes to) or do they carry Divine authorisation and status? Are they the word of God or what people at that time understood to be God's word?

I really think that this is the heart of the issue.

To me it is absolutely paramount that we understand that these texts are in fact the Word of God. They carry Divine authorization and status.

But does that mean that they must be literally accurate? The holiness is in the message, the heart and soul of the text, not in the literal facts. What is holy about slaughtering Canaanites?

Rather, God has taken the story of a people and caused it to be written in such a way that it delivers a spiritual message to all people for all time.

The fact that this story includes that nation's misperceptions of the nature of God does not prevent the message from getting through. What kind of god would be pleased by animal sacrifice? What kind of god would bargain with Abraham and Moses the way Genesis and Exodus report? God would not do that. The sincere religious reader nevertheless grasps holy truths within those stories - and those holy truths are directly from God.
 
Posted by leo (# 1458) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
The Cross is a far cry from a Jihad.

It's very similar - Jihad is a struggle against selfishness so it is about self-denial, what Christians call 'taking up your cross.'
 
Posted by Evensong (# 14696) on :
 
Arrrggghh....too long, too complicated. Going to bed. Will try again tomorrow.
 
Posted by Belle Ringer (# 13379) on :
 
Two vague thoughts to toss into the jumble.

Jonah, Nineveh, if Nineveh had not repented would God have spared it? We don't know if there was a Jonah sent to the Canaanites who was ignored or killed instead of listened to. Argument from silence proves nothing, but also the silence is on both sides, we don't know that God sent someone, we don't know that God didn't. We also don't know if God bothers to send someone if God has determined it won't do any good anyway.

Was Sodom warned? Lot was warned to leave, I don't see any Jonah sent to try to save the whole town. Nor did Jesus seem to repudiate what God did to Sodom, but rather used it as a warning.

For all the lovey dovey pushover we like God to be (and rely on God being), there's a serious side to God's personality. At some point God says "enough!" The implication I read in the OT is that the Canaanites had gone beyond that point.

Other times God uses Israel's enemies to defeat Israel in a push to get Israel to turn back to God. It's not all one sided "whatever God's people do is fine."
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Belle Ringer:
if Nineveh had not repented would God have spared it?

I don't actually think that it works that way.

God does not observe the behavior of individuals and nations, and at some point blow His stack and zap them.

These Old Testament descriptions anthropomorphise God in a way that makes sense at first glance, but not if you really think about it. God is not just a very powerful ruler trying to poke us into becoming good subjects, and letting us have it if we're not.

What really happens is that evil is self destructive, or connects us to hell, which is destructive. The "punishments" are simply the outcome of wickedness.

The point is that the Old Testament is written from a primitive point of view, but a point of view that is commonly understood by the devout reader in ways that get past these issues. Everyone gets the point that evil causes problems, and whether those problems are inherent in evil or visited by God on the evil-doer is a detail.

[ 22. August 2011, 00:11: Message edited by: Freddy ]
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I very much agree with Freddy when he says that evil caries within itself its own punishment. In other words we are punished BY our sins and not FOR our sins.

That is entirely in line with what Paul said in Romans 1.

And when it comes to the Canaanites I suspect Jesus would have said the same as he said when the Tower collapsed and killed 18 people -- "do you think these were worse sinners than yourselves?" (Luke 13)

Anyone who imagines that the invading Hebrews were any less murderous or sinful than the Canaanites living in the land is naive in the extreme.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
Thank you for your study Nigel M. I have read it all and found it very interesting indeed.

It highlights, for me, that the people in the OT who thought they had God on their side certainly didn't.

A God of love and life can't possibly sanction any killing, in my view.

For me, it confirmed just how revolutionary and different the things Jesus did and said were - they must have been incredibly shocking at the time. No wonder the authorities wanted rid of him. He didn't even advocate self defence, did He?
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I cannot get my head around one of Freddy's points; namely that God didnt actually order the extermination of the Canaanites but that He allowed the Israelites to perceive this was His command and they acted on it. Yet to still insist that it is the word of God.

I fail to see what deep spiritual truth about the nature of God can be extracted from this. Only perhaps that God allows us free will.

If I preached a sermon which was badly misinterpreted to the extent that people lost their lives as a result I would hasten to put them right at the first opportunity.

Far better, IMO, simply to acknowledge that people living 1000 years before the definitive revelation of God in Christ had a wrong view of what God wanted. And to cease pretending that this command to exterminate emanted from God in any way.

[ 22. August 2011, 11:03: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by Evensong (# 14696) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:

The real question is not that there was an arbitrary, wolf-falling-on-the-sheep-without-warning, no excuse type of event (which is what, I fear, has been imported into these texts by use of the English word 'genocide'), but whether the evidential record attributing herem to God's nature is valid. This anticipates the record of Jesus and the NT, so I'll stop here for the moment.

Are you asking if the total annihilation of another race/country is valid if they follow other gods?


quote:
We are faced with evidence from the biblical record that there was a belief in a God of all creation who has a claim on all nations, tribes, clans, and families; that some of those groups have rebelled against the supreme God and that a process was put under way to deal with that rebellion. One of the ultimate sanctions against rebellion was this formal (legal and judicial?) procedure for completely exterminating those rebels who persistently refused to repent.
I don't think there is any evidence for this.

YAHWEH chose the people of Israel. YAHWEH did not choose the canaanaites or the Egyptians to bestow his blessing upon. They were but casualties of war.

There is no biblical evidence that I can recall that YAHWEH directly intervenes to save foreigners by nation as he did to Israel.

Even then, Israel was always a pain in the ass, yet he stuck with them.

quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:

I've tried to place this procedure (the herem) in its context, because we should be honest about the evidence for good or ill. The English word 'genocide' does not capture that context, so I for one would suggest it should not be used.

On the contrary, I think the word fits very well. The definition is : "the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group"

In this case, it was anyone that didn't believe in YAHWEH.

quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:


It's at this point that shamwari's questions bite, particularly: Is this record still valid?

Obviously the answer is going to be crucial for any Christian, not simply because of one's sensibilities, but more importantly because we are driven [1] to know God and [2] to know how he wants us to act. In effect, I would guess that [1] informs [2]. Character (or nature) informs action. It would follow that the way I understand God's nature is somewhat crucial for deciding how I am to act in the world: the nature of God is one principle which governs individual or group behaviour, i.e., God's nature sets up an ethic.

Quite so. Which is why Hitler could have used the idea to justify his actions if he wanted to.

He could have said the people he killed were not of God so they should be killed.

Just insert "correct race" instead of God here and you've got the same thing happening.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
I cannot get my head around one of Freddy's points; namely that God didnt actually order the extermination of the Canaanites but that He allowed the Israelites to perceive this was His command and they acted on it. Yet to still insist that it is the word of God.

I can understand why that is hard to get a head around. Really, though, it is a perfect solution to all of these kinds of problems.

It's a matter of how you view the creation of the Bible.

As I see it, God caused the history of a people to be recorded in a certain way in order to establish a written communication to the human race. This communication would enable the willing to hear His voice. The history itself is like the history of any other people. But since the written record would have such world changing power this caused many special things to happen. The people symbolized those who love God, not just in the story itself but in real life.

So it didn't matter that these particular individuals were not actually better than others, or that they badly misunderstood God's nature and wishes. The story could nevertheless carry a genuine spiritual message. People would intuitively understand that their enemies stood for wickedness, and their destruction would therefore be a "good thing" - even if in real life it was nothing of the kind.

The point is that God took this garden variety story, similar to that of many peoples, and caused it to be recorded (always in accordance with the free choices of the individuals) in a way that was holy and pure and held God's Word itself within it.

If it isn't this way then how could the descriptions of bloody slaughters be something Divine? Why would a people be considered "holy" when their own accounts depict them otherwise? The answer is that their goodness is symbolic, and symbolic in a way that is easily understood.
 
Posted by Evensong (# 14696) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:

So it didn't matter that these particular individuals were not actually better than others, or that they badly misunderstood God's nature and wishes. The story could nevertheless carry a genuine spiritual message. People would intuitively understand that their enemies stood for wickedness, and their destruction would therefore be a "good thing" - even if in real life it was nothing of the kind.

Rubbish Freddy.

It's just a great excuse to kill in the name of God.

Self-righteousness killed Jesus too you know. They thought they were getting rid of evil by exterminating him.

quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:

If it isn't this way then how could the descriptions of bloody slaughters be something Divine?

They cant. Period.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
If it isn't this way then how could the descriptions of bloody slaughters be something Divine?

They cant. Period.
Then doesn't this blow the whole Christian concept of the Bible as the Word of God?
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Not if you believe the Bible contains the word of God (mixed up in the words of ignorant and sinful men).

And anyway Jesus is the Word of God. Not the Bible.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Not if you believe the Bible contains the word of God (mixed up in the words of ignorant and sinful men).

And anyway Jesus is the Word of God. Not the Bible.

Traditional Christianity has Jesus as the Word made flesh and the Bible as the written Word of God.

But if only some things in the Bible are the Word of God then this solves it as well.

In that case anything that offends our modern scruples, such as divinely ordered genocide, is nothing but the primitive ideas of whoever the author was. It is in no way reflective of God's actual nature.

Of course then you have a situation where anyone can cut out anything they disagree with, whether the vengeful God or the God who prohibits adultery.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
Rubbish Freddy.

No. Surely not! I'm sure Freddy is a thoroughly decent fellow. [Biased]
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Decent fellows are not automatically right because they are decent.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Freddy
quote:
Of course then you have a situation where anyone can cut out anything they disagree with
Yup! That's the reality we have to confront.

The incompatability of the God of much of the New Testament with monotheism and a merciful God was recognised even before Christ by the writer of Jonah, who rejected the traditional view that God has a special arrangement with the Jews that justified just about any harm done to their enemies. No wonder Jonah was angry!

The problems arise when a refusal to accept the limited understandings of God in the OT lead thoroughly decent people like Freddy to sacralise genocide, which in a non-biblical context would incur their unequivocal censure.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Sorry, I mean incompatability of the 'God of the Old Testament'. [Big Grin]
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Incidentally, I found the reference to "Ethic cleansing'" a more than appropriate Freudian slip!
 
Posted by Lyda*Rose (# 4544) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Not if you believe the Bible contains the word of God (mixed up in the words of ignorant and sinful men).

And anyway Jesus is the Word of God. Not the Bible.

Traditional Christianity has Jesus as the Word made flesh and the Bible as the written Word of God.

But if only some things in the Bible are the Word of God then this solves it as well.

In that case anything that offends our modern scruples, such as divinely ordered genocide, is nothing but the primitive ideas of whoever the author was. It is in no way reflective of God's actual nature.

Of course then you have a situation where anyone can cut out anything they disagree with, whether the vengeful God or the God who prohibits adultery.

Exactly the case in which we find ourselves when we believe that God let's the misconceptions of OT writers stand, so that they may be considered "symbolically" like the good guys and bad guys in popular literature. Trying to make the Bible consistent and coherent is ultimately an exercise in weaseling of various grades.

In this case love probably isn't love, genocide isn't genocide, a story in the Word of God is not the story by the Word of God, merely editorial approval of narrative necessity.

(Thanks for getting this going, Nigel. I can't wait to see your "climb up the NT". As you see, I'll likely still be dubious of conclusions, but it will still be interesting.)
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Lyda*Rose:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
Of course then you have a situation where anyone can cut out anything they disagree with, whether the vengeful God or the God who prohibits adultery.

Exactly the case in which we find ourselves when we believe that God let's the misconceptions of OT writers stand, so that they may be considered "symbolically" like the good guys and bad guys in popular literature. Trying to make the Bible consistent and coherent is ultimately an exercise in weaseling of various grades.
There is no way to get out of weaseling, unless you are so hard core that you are unconcerned about consistency and coherence.

I put consistency and coherence pretty high on my list of requirements, and am happy to weasel in order to preserve it.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Evensong's concern about the uniqueness of Israel brings us to the evidence for thesis [3] on the other site: Hierarchical relations extended cosmically. There are two main prongs to this:

(A) Via Israel's foundational document (Genesis 1-3). While this may not have been composed first in time, it does seem to have been the source of many conclusions the Israelites drew. They went back to this document when they needed to find ultimate principles. The prophets based the ideas for a new heaven and earth on it, as well as the satisfying concept that a permanent and peaceful existence in harmony with God an creation was possible. Even Jesus and Paul adopted the “It was not like that from the beginning...” principle. So we have a concept of an initial universal covenant between God and everything. Again, the prophets drew on this when they made the point that God had a right to act and intervene with other nations, and the book of Jonah makes that assumption, too, but also provides useful fodder for the belief that God would indeed forgive a repentant foreigner.

(B) A divine assembly. In context, Israel could not ignore the fact that there were gods-a-plenty around them. There are clues in the bible to suggest that the Israelites played along with the idea of a divine assembly, where the 'gods' met, and with the concept that these gods had a responsibility for specific nations. Fortunately someone has already done to grunt work for me on collating the evidence for this, so it is with a considerable sigh of relief that I point everyone to Michael Heiser's site. I suggest, if anyone is interested, starting with his Introduction. His other papers might look a bit daunting for anyone lacking knowledge of Hebrew, but his treatment of Psalm 82 is worth a read – and of course any of the other papers on that site. It looks as though Israel downplayed these 'gods' to the role of mere functionaries - messengers for the Host High God. And for Christians - Bingo! Angelology!

Pulling both strands together, I would argue that God never gave up his involvement with other nations. He certainly reserved the right to judge them for rebelling against his authority. Israel gets special mention because of their responsibility to be a model for everyone else – even when they got it wrong - and as Paul puts it, they had a role in keeping God's principles, his clean ethic, alive.

OK – we're still not yet at the NT. That's fine, because I can see that before we do move directly into the NT there is one further problem that needs illuminating here: the question of 'love' as it is used in the OT. I've mentioned before that the semantic content of the English word 'love' does not map neatly over onto that of the Hebrew word (= ahav). I've done another dump (I think that's the phrase I want) in the off-site site of the full list of uses of 'love' in Hebrew. Click here if you wish to see how it is used.

From the list one can see that there is overlap between Hebrew and English when it comes to the concept of affection. Hebrew, however, has a concept not found in modern English: that of covenant commitment (especially in Deuteronomy). English, on the other hand, has connotations we don't find in Hebrew. I struggle to imagine, for example, mapping “I love little girls!” onto “Love the Lord your God with all your heart...”

So, as with the connotations associated with the English word 'genocide' we also have to avoid reading into the OT connotations associated with 'love.'

Nuff said about that, I think.

Are we all OK with the conclusion that the OT seems to be quite adamant that God's nature (and therefore his 'clean' ethic) provides for extermination of persistent rebels against God?

The questions confronting anyone who is at this position will inevitably be, What am I to do with this? Why on earth are those passages there? What are the options?

The following approaches to the passages have cropped up across the Ship over time, just as they do in church, and hopefully I've captured everyone's concerns from this thread:

[1] Ignore them. It is possible to get through life on 1 Corinthians 13 alone. Ignoring them, though, doesn’t mean they go away. They remain in the tent like annoying midges at night.

[2] Spiritualise them. A venerable tradition exists for this – no need to spoil a beautiful text like Psalm 23 with its reference to 'enemies' if one can take that to mean spirits that oppose God's kingdom, or bad tendencies in my will. Personally I don't think there is anything wrong in this approach, so long as the resulting interpretation is consistent with reading across the canon, but it is a second-degree reading, not the initial meaning, and does not take seriously the fact that flesh-and-blood humans wrote these passages with flesh-and-blood intentions. For better or worse, I'm looking for a way of dealing with the genre of those passages in context.

[3] Re-classify them. We could adopt the philosophical principle that we, as humans, have been progressing in knowledge and getting better over time. Those passages in the bible that do not conform to our current understanding of God must therefore reflect an earlier (and less informed) understanding. We can safely conclude that they are overridden by later and more informed principles. An allied principle in this category is that all passages in the Old Testament (and New?) must be filtered through a “What would Jesus do?” sieve. If Jesus said 'love,' then 'hate' is ruled out.

[4] Excise them. Cut them out of the bible. There have been a few Christians down the years who took this option. Drop this or that text, this or that book, or even get rid of the whole Old Testament. For better or worse, however, we are where we are. Our venerable forefathers in the faith passed them down. Tradition has its say. I could add here that God provided for this as well. Adopting the approach that the events never really happened doesn't help either. Even if one (as a Christian) were to say that these events recorded in the bible were really only back-projections from a later generation and that there was no invasion of the promised land, no genocide among the indigenous population, nevertheless one would still have to deal with the fact this record – attributing such acts to God's nature – was accepted and authorised by generations that followed. We are still stuck with having to deal with the implications of associating God with extreme violence.

Any other options?
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel posted

Are we all OK with the conclusion that the OT seems to be quite adamant that God's nature (and therefore his 'clean' ethic) provides for extermination of persistent rebels against God?

My answwer is No I am not Ok wih that
 
Posted by Lyda*Rose (# 4544) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyda*Rose:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
Of course then you have a situation where anyone can cut out anything they disagree with, whether the vengeful God or the God who prohibits adultery.

Exactly the case in which we find ourselves when we believe that God let's the misconceptions of OT writers stand, so that they may be considered "symbolically" like the good guys and bad guys in popular literature. Trying to make the Bible consistent and coherent is ultimately an exercise in weaseling of various grades.
There is no way to get out of weaseling, unless you are so hard core that you are unconcerned about consistency and coherence.

I put consistency and coherence pretty high on my list of requirements, and am happy to weasel in order to preserve it.

Yay! (seriously) Someone who nails his colours to the mast, and calls a weasel a weasel. You go, Freddie! [Cool]

So many call a weasel, a sphinx: a magical being of contradictory parts, who kills anyone who gets the riddle wrong.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Nigel posted

Are we all OK with the conclusion that the OT seems to be quite adamant that God's nature (and therefore his 'clean' ethic) provides for extermination of persistent rebels against God?

My answwer is No I am not Ok wih that

Sorry, I should have made it clearer: The OT writers are adamant - not that anyone else reading their output may necessarily be OK with saying that God'a nature provides for...

Does that help? I'm just checking to see if we've got their point at the moment, not whether we are happy with that point.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
No

We all know what the OT writers said.

You seem to be saying that their position is Ok

And you have thus far ignored the NT position.

Seems to me that your basic stance is that the OT is as much a Divine revelation as the NT and you are offering a very sophisticated fundamentalism without mentioning it.

A specious argument IMO
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
No

We all know what the OT writers said.

You seem to be saying that their position is Ok

And you have thus far ignored the NT position.

Seems to me that your basic stance is that the OT is as much a Divine revelation as the NT and you are offering a very sophisticated fundamentalism without mentioning it.

A specious argument IMO

Nigel has expressed no opinion about whether the OT sayings are OK. He is putting them in context. He is giving a step-by-step analysis of the OT mindset.

I find it very enlightening.

Moo
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Are we all OK with the conclusion that the OT seems to be quite adamant that God's nature (and therefore his 'clean' ethic) provides for extermination of persistent rebels against God?

Yes. That is exactly what the OT does.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The questions confronting anyone who is at this position will inevitably be, What am I to do with this? Why on earth are those passages there? What are the options?

Yes, that's the question.

Thanks Nigel!
 
Posted by Hedgehog (# 14125) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
We all know what the OT writers said.

Ummm, cough, cough. I wouldn't be so certain of that. I, for one, have been learning a lot.

quote:
You seem to be saying that their position is Ok
We are obviously reading different posts. As Moo pointed out, Nigel has come nowhere near saying that.

quote:
And you have thus far ignored the NT position.
He has not yet reached the NT, as he has written several times. I think it is rather unfair to classify that as ignoring it. Nigel is attempting something very complicated and rushing it would be [A] a mistake and [B] impossible, unless you want a facile result. I, for one, don't.

quote:
Seems to me that your basic stance is that the OT is as much a Divine revelation as the NT and you are offering a very sophisticated fundamentalism without mentioning it.
Are you implying that the OT was not a Divine revelation? Because, if it is not, then we can throw away the Ten Commandments without guilt...
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
Nigel has expressed no opinion about whether the OT sayings are OK. He is putting them in context. He is giving a step-by-step analysis of the OT mindset.

I find it very enlightening.


Yes - so do I. But Nigel M does seem to be working towards justifying OT reporting of ethnic cleansing as 'God given' even if it's in a round about way.

I would rather he did give an opinion so that I can see what he's getting at. I'm very much a 'bigger picture' sort of person. All this detail is interesting, but pointless if it's working towards the conclusion that (in some circumstances) God would approve of ethnic cleansing of any sort (Or favouritism for one race over another).

The NT message can't be ignored - even at this stage imo.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Hedgehog:
Are you implying that the OT was not a Divine revelation? Because, if it is not, then we can throw away the Ten Commandments without guilt...

The Ten Commandments are good because they work - not because they are in the OT. We ignore the rest of the commands in Exodus, after all.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
Actually, if you look at them closely, you might wonder who they are aimed at, and if they do actually work. (I did this when required to look at them in the Kent SACRE's scheme on Rules and Laws. They did not seem particularly relevant to a Y4 (8 & 9 year old class.

Starting at the bottom, they are not aimed at women. You can extrapolate to include not coveting neighbour's husband, but it isn't there, and clearly includes wives among chattel.

Bearing false witness and stealing are fine to forbid, aimed at everyone, but they don't work, because people do them.

Forbidding adultery - again, fine as a rule, but I gather it has been weaselly defined according to which party is or is not married. Again, can we believe that there are people who do not cheat on their partners because of this?

And does forbidding murder stop it? And this is another one weaseled round, so that it isn't murder if one's government does it, or orders one to do it.

Honour thy father and mother - on the face of it a good one, but what if they are not deserving of honour? Should one be considered a sinner if you do not honour a parent who sells you into slavery? (Forced marriage, prostitution.)

Observe the sabbath? Not if business demands shopping on it. The very UK party most prone to going on about the 10 ended observation of this one, and made it hard for those who want to observe it.

The rest are about protecting God. Does he need it? If you are part of the community that thinks these things important, you would be obeying these, anyway.

The 10 work for the people who don't need them, but have no effect on those who do, in my view.

I'd stick to the summary. (Though while I was teaching that module, I did find a really good one in the rest of the Jewish code - about having a balustrade around a flat roof. I wonder how that one got in. God interested in Health and Safety.)

Penny
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I find it very enlightening.

Yes - so do I. But Nigel M does seem to be working towards justifying OT reporting of ethnic cleansing as 'God given' even if it's in a round about way.
I'm wondering the same thing. Is this true Nigel?

In my own interpretation it is "God given" but at a higher level. That is, God commands that evils be extinguished, but not that the Amalekites (which represent evil in the text) be extinguished.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:


And does forbidding murder stop it? And this is another one weaseled round, so that it isn't murder if one's government does it, or orders one to do it.

Or if God asked Israel to wipe out all its enemies?
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
ISTM that a major problem with this discussion is a failure to ask whether the meaning of "revelation" is the same when applied to the Old and New Testaments.

In the New Testament the "revelation" of God has a clear objective meaning: that Jesus is the manifestation of God. John's gospel is explicitly predicated on that proposition.

It is, however, misleading to use "revelation" in the same sense when referring to the phenomenon in the OT, where it is better rendered as "understanding" about the nature of God, and has a progressive and highly human subjective element. God as understood by Joshua is clearly very different from the God understood by the writer of Jonah. From a Christian perspective it was the defective understandings of God in the OT which, inter alia, made the manifestation of the the NT revelation necesssary.

It is a failure to recognise this kind of distinction which had led to some of the convoluted contributions to this post designed to deny that Joshua's conception of God was any different from that of the incarnation.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel's contribution thus far lacks context and I appeal to him to provide such. In other words where is he coming from and, more importantly, where is he heading for?

The Israelites spent a lot of time exterminating the local populace and reportedly at God's command.

To most people this spells genocide.

Nigel disputes this claiming it is not really genocide but something else. The detailed analysis of the word "herem" as used in the OT is step 1 in his re-evaluation of genocide.

As explanation Nigel's posting is helpful. But the whole tenor of his argument thus far suggests more than explanation. It sounds like he is laying the groundwork for justifying it.

But we are left to guess.

So it would be helpful if he were to use the traditional method of advancing a Thesis ( or Theses) at the outset so that we may all know what his conclusion is. How he gets there would then be even more illuminating and his OT exposition would be even more valuable.

I for one am left wondering whether what drives his argument is not the relative use of the word "herem" but an attempt to prove that the Bible is in fact God;s word from beginning to end.

To Freddy's credit he is entirely up-front on this.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
ISTM that a major problem with this discussion is a failure to ask whether the meaning of "revelation" is the same when applied to the Old and New Testaments.
......
It is a failure to recognise this kind of distinction which had led to some of the convoluted contributions to this post designed to deny that Joshua's conception of God was any different from that of the incarnation.

I'm not quite sure what you are driving at.

As I understand it both the Old Testament and the New Testament were written by authors who thought they were writing their best understanding of the events and teachings they were given. Much of the Old Testament, however, proports to be directly dictated by God and written down or repeated by the prophet.

My take on it is that however it happened it was guided by God in such a way that it accurately captured what was necessary to convey His truth to all peoples.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
I for one am left wondering whether what drives his argument is not the relative use of the word "herem" but an attempt to prove that the Bible is in fact God;s word from beginning to end.

To Freddy's credit he is entirely up-front on this.

Thank you. Yes, this is what drives the argument for me. Or rather, I am interested in refuting the two obvious positions that either:
I say that it was neither. God did not order any of these terrible things. Rather, He caused the history of a people to be written in such a way that, misconceptions and all, it could carry a holy message that would be understood by sincere people worldwide.

It is hard to deny that it has worked pretty well.

The effort has been astonishingly successful! The Bible is far and away the best seller of all time, and very few people who read it struggle with these issues. They root for Israel and aren't the least disturbed that God bashes its enemies.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Thanks for all the thoughts thus far. I will be adding the next stage on this journey a bit later tonight, but just to respond quickly to issues raised, with apologies if it appears terse – time is not my favourite friend at the moment!

PaulBC – if I understand correctly, the possible option is that God accommodated to the cultural set up of the time. There is certainly support for something along these lines elsewhere, e.g., permitting kings for Israel even when that institution was not necessarily a good thing. Possibly even the entire sacrificial system was an accommodation. I'm not sure, though, that God would tolerate destruction along the lines we thinking of unless it was part of his nature. the nub of this argument, of course, is being played out on this thread.

Seraphim – a further thought on your good point about an intercessor. It must surely be one of the responsibilities placed on a Christian's shoulders to be such when the opportunity arises. That, I would think, is the heart of mission – to represent God to people and people to God. At the moment on this thread, though, I'm leaving open the option that a reading of the OT in context gives us: that at some point God has to intervene in the face of persistent rebellion, especially when intercession has been rebuffed by the rebels. Shades of “any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them” perhaps?

Boogie first post – would the criterion you use in respect of the OT be that we should ignore those parts that do not have Jesus' validation, or accord with what Jesus said and did? One thing I am testing out here is that if we do come across validation by Jesus of herem, would that alter your view on the OT texts? It might turn out that the NT texts were not so revolutionary as assumed. Even the connotations of the word 'love,' when tested, might cause us to reconsider the approach to the OT. On your point about self-defence, I think I'll have to leave for another day as I'm not sure it falls immediately into the same category as herem principles. The only thing that springs to mind is whether Jesus – while being clear on one-on-one violence against the self – may not have validated a different approach when it comes to third party violence (where the Christian comes across an assault by one person on a weaker person. Does the Christian intervene, and if so, how?).

Boogie second post – the NT is on the way; I'll be working to it next. I take it you are one who checks the final chapter before buying a book! What I'm doing here is testing an approach. I've had the ideas around a contextual reading for some time, but this theme is as good as any to see where just such a reading would lead. My initial position for testing (OP = 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) is where I think we will end up, but the approach is informed by various historical, linguistic, hermeneutical and philosophical disciplines and may result in amending that thesis. This is just as well, because often giving an opinion doesn't really get us anywhere – opinions can fly around too easily with no backing.

I'm going to have to leave the 10 commandments discussion alone here – my apologies (though don't let that keep you from carrying on with it!). Time again, I'm afraid. I would just suggest trying to approach those passages using the same principles – get into the mindset of the authors/hearers.

Freddy – the question of attribution is probably not an issue for you, I know. What I need to do here, I think though, is suggest a reading strategy for those for whom it is a problem either (a) that God's nature / ethic contains the capacity to authorise this herem thing, or (b) that the canon we have received and that has a claim on our lives one way or another contains evidence that the writers attribute herem to God and that therefore it must be part of his nature / ethic. What would your church's position be on the physical existence of evil today – i.e., not our internal struggle against it, but when faced with violence against those who cannot protect themselves? Oh dear... I fear I've derailed the thread!!!

Kwesi – welcome to the discussion! If the revelation of God in Jesus Christ validated herem, what would you do?

shamwari – thanks for your patience. As I said in response to Boogie above, it's the approach that is being tested here as outlined in the assumptions and theses on the other site. If the approach is justifiable, then we are where we are and have to react accordingly. But just to offer a heads-up – I will want to test not just this approach, but also the assumptions underlying the alternatives, as in years of reading and listening I haven't found a sufficient publicly-testable justification for many of the conclusions brought against texts of the bible.

Back later.

Cheers all.
 
Posted by Mockingale (# 16599) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:

And does forbidding murder stop it? And this is another one weaseled round, so that it isn't murder if one's government does it, or orders one to do it.

Penny

You have some good points, but I bristle at the implication that any interpretation of the commandment against murder which points out that not all killings are murder is "weaseling around" it. In the same Torah where God commands a proscription against "murder" (lo tirtsach), God commands the Israelites to kill various tribes and to put to death certain sinners in their midst.

An interpretation that the Sixth Commandment is a general prohibition of violence is completely belied by an Old Testament filled with divinely sanctioned bloodshed and a divinely promulgated legal code which specifically called for executions. Killing *wasn't* murder when done for permitted reasons, just as homicide in modern Anglo-American law isn't murder (and thus a crime) if it's done for self-defense or under some other legal justification.

You may argue that Christ revealed all killing to be anathema, but to claim that the commandment in the context of the Old Testament was about all killing and not just certain killing is just false.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel

I think you have already indicated the "end game" for you

Quote:

" in years of reading and listening I haven't found a sufficient publicly-testable justification for many of the conclusions brought against texts of the bible.
"
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Nigel:
quote:


 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Nigel
quote:
Kwesi – welcome to the discussion! If the revelation of God in Jesus Christ validated herem, what would you do?
I'd have to become an active athiest to oppose the genocidal leanings of Christianity.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Freddy
quote:
My take on it [Old Testament revelation} is that however it happened it was guided by God in such a way that it accurately captured what was necessary to convey His truth to all peoples.
But in many instances the OT prophets demonstrably failed to accurately capture what was necessary to convey His truth to all peoples. The treatment of Ai is not compatible with the God who entreats his hearers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. To me, the "truth to all people" is that God treats each individual and ethnic group with equal regard, which is not in conformity the more primitive beliefs of early Judaism.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
If the revelation of God in Jesus Christ validated herem, what would you do?

I'd say 'Welcome to South Africa, circa 1960'
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
If the revelation of God in Jesus Christ validated herem, what would you do?

I'd say 'Welcome to South Africa, circa 1960'
But was South Africa circa 1960 a 'Herem'?
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Freddy
quote:
My take on it [Old Testament revelation} is that however it happened it was guided by God in such a way that it accurately captured what was necessary to convey His truth to all peoples.
But in many instances the OT prophets demonstrably failed to accurately capture what was necessary to convey His truth to all peoples. The treatment of Ai is not compatible with the God who entreats his hearers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. To me, the "truth to all people" is that God treats each individual and ethnic group with equal regard, which is not in conformity the more primitive beliefs of early Judaism.
Absolutely. I agree that this is the right conclusion if you analyze it.

But billions of Christians over the centuries have never done that.

The average Christian has always considered it normal for the bad guys to be destroyed.
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
I'm coming into this late, but I am struck that people seem to consider to fit the OT stories into their conceptions of God, that God necessarily inspired all of them, that there is necessarily a good that comes from some of the apparently great evils such as genocide. I say it is false and wrong.

Argument:

Is it not just simply that people told stories that they eventually wrote down, that some of their behaviour was awful, that they wanted to see God's hand at work, so they suggested that God actively directed some the obviously non-godly activities.

The bible is a collection of stories of a people, some of which we can see a probable hand of God, and others, that probably do not involve God such as exterminations of cities and peoples, but where the people simply explained things that way after the fact. The additional piece is that God has the power to redeem even pretty awful human material and behaviour. God can also take improbable people and make something of them for a divine purpose, like Amos or Saul/Paul.

So, no, God did not direct genocide, did not tell Joshua or anyone else that genocide was the plan. And the story that God did direct it was probably told on the eve of a subsequent battle to justify subsequent slaughters and make a brutal example seem positive so as to overcome inhibitions about killing. Doesn't make it of God, directed by God, and approvable by God.

Finally, is it not so that countries today think they are on missions where God inspires them, pray for victory, and decide God guided them to win battles and is testing them within setbacks? To the point that biblical verses are inscribed on weapons? Does anyone seriously consider God is directly involved? Really?
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
But was South Africa circa 1960 a 'Herem'?

No - it was just one example of a regime claiming that their racism was God given.

Not the same, but similar.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Thanks, no_prophet, for your thoughts. I understand the argument and have come across it in various guises before. I problem I have with it is this: where is the evidence across the ancient near eastern context that nations post-dated the credit of events to their gods? We have evidence of people seeking god's will prior to taking action and this seems to fit the culture quite well; there were mediums, oracles, votive offerings, priests to consult before going to war... the whole feel is that these nations made sure they got their gods onside before doing anything dramatic. Actually, even farmers needed to get the gods onside before planting. Doesn't this seem a more likely scenario for Israel, stuck in the middle of that scene? After all, we have a number of passages where God complains that his people were not listening to him, but rather seeking the guidance of alternatives. I just feel that the context, taken honestly, drives us back to exactly what the writers say: that they attributed the herem to God. Whether they were right to do so or not is another question, of course, and I'm sure we'll come up against it when we do the NT.


In fact, I think it's time to start trekking towards the NT and particularly the record pertaining to Jesus. The natives are restless! Just in case this may not be clear (it probably is, but...), the reason for paying attention to what Jesus is recorded as having said and did is that as Christians we believe that Jesus was, if you like, the face of God on earth. He reflected the true nature of God and God's holy ethic. We've got statements to this effect in the NT, e.g., John 1:18 (“No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known”), John 14:9 (“The one who has seen me has seen the Father”), Philippians 2:5-11, and Colossians 1:15-17. If we want a cleansed ethic, in other words, we get to the ultimate cleanser (God) via Jesus.

A couple of further things need clarifying as we don the mountaineering crampons.

[1] I don't think it matters if you are unsure about the historical accuracy of the gospel narratives. Even if everything we read was the product of the early church, we are nevertheless in the same position as those who are unsure about the historicity of events narrated in the OT. The record has acquired authority among the community of faith and has been disseminated down the centuries. It has a claim over Christians. And, of course, the position becomes even more acute if one adds in God's inspiration and superintendence of that transmission. So if I (as I probably will) write “Jesus said...” or “Jesus did...” then feel free to substitute something like “That particular early church community recorded Jesus as saying...” etc.

[2] I want to draw on a concept that has been floating around in literary theory for a while, but which has been made famous by Paul Ricoeur: possible worlds. He developed this as an explanation of what a text does to a reader, how the author sets up expectations that trigger, in those who engage with the text, a sense that they are in another world. Authors who use language most effectively can draw their audience into using their imagination – which really means utilising the worldview mindset they have and combining it will themes they have imbibed. Anyone who enjoys a good read will no doubt have experienced this.

The possible world that a reader of a text experiences may not necessarily overlap completely with that of another reader, it all depends on the worldview, presuppositions, themes imbibed, etc. If a young girl reading a story asks her father to explain what a unicorn is and the father (who must have had a deprived youth) comes out with “Er... well... it's a sort of pink elephant with one eye in the middle of its head,” then the girl might be brought up with a shock when she sees the Harry Potter films. Anyway, the point is that I think it helps to read the gospels as narratives opening up a possible world. We should let our imagination go with the flow. However – and it is a big however – we are not likely to get at the author's intended meaning if we are coming at things from a different worldview. Witness the countless home groups of Christians trying to understand a passage in the bible and who each come out in turn with “Well, to me this means...” and when you've been round the circle you're not really any better off than before. Which 'meaning' has more claim on that group of Christians? A unicorn by any other name be just be a pink elephant. I fear we have to do the hard work with the gospels just as much as with the OT – we need to get into the worldview of the authors. Only in this way can we appreciate properly the possible world that they want us, as readers, to inhabit, to learn from, and to adopt in our lifestyles.

The good news (not the same thing as The Good News™) is that there is a way into the gospels and NT more generally. It's through the OT. The worldview coming to light there can illuminate the NT.

This approach is premised upon one of the assumptions set out on the dumping ground website, to wit: The NT writers were operating within an environment whose presupposition were informed by Hebrew/Aramaic writings (the Jewish scriptures). I'm working on the basis that we will not really be able to understand what the NT writers meant by what they said (and in the way they said it) without having done the grunt work of understanding what the OT writers said (in the way they said it).

I know this causes concern to some. Hart touched on this issue earlier, but I know that others will have additional concerns, e.g., that we should come at the NT from the other side – seeking to understand the NT on the basis of how it was interpreted by, say, the Church Fathers, or spiritual giants, or Reformation theologians... This is such a huge question – which prism one takes to hand, and why, to act as a filter for interpretation, that I have to beg the indulgence of Shippies who haul on a different mast at this point. The issue may become relevant later. We'll see.

What I can do, though, at this stage is provide a couple of examples of how this may work in practice.

Example 1: The Col. 1:15-17 passage mentioned earlier taps directly into Gen. 1:26-27 (“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them”). This in turn taps into the purposes of images in the ancient near east; senior kings would have their image erected in controlled territories to remind everyone who was the boss, but they would also label their subordinate kings 'image' to drive home their responsibility to rule the territory just as if it was the senior king there in person, ruling directly. The implication of Gen.1 is that humans were appointed by God to be his deputies (or stewards) here on earth. Jesus was appointed to be the fulfilment of that (demonstrating it was possible) so that all humans could follow his example. Our ethic would be cleansed so that we would act appropriately as stewards over creation. Anyone wishing to trace the development of this idea might be interested in reading David Cline's 1968 article "The Image of God in Man", particularly from section IV (p. 80) onwards, and a follow up 1991 review of scholarship since then by Gerald Bray "The Significance of God's Image in Man".

So when Paul wanted to demonstrate how the Christians should bear fruit and grow, he pulled the curtains back on the creation scene and on ancient near eastern empire practices. His affective language use (rhetoric) would have enabled his readers' minds to draw on existing imagery and 'create' a possible world in their imagination and thus feel interpretation in them. What they wouldn't have done, I suggest, is come at this text wondering about God's essence, or whether he must have an upright posture.

Example 2: Mark 1:2-3 “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one shouting in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’” This opening gambit in Mark's gospel draws directly on a couple of OT passages: Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. I'd like to suggest that Mark is not proof-texting in the manner anathematised by seminaries and theological colleges. He is opening up a world for his readers right at the start, so that they are in the right gear and on the right road for what follows. He only needs to take up a little space with these direct quotes, but I think his aim is to do just enough to trigger the wider picture that Malachi and Isaiah themselves drew.

Mark's intended possible world would then run something like this: from Exodus 23:20-23 we have the concept of a messenger:*
quote:
Watch me send a messenger before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared. Pay attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not tolerate your transgressions: my name is in him. If you do absolutely obey him and do all that I have said, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries.
Malachi also refers to a messenger (same word as in used Exodus in both the Hebrew and Greek LXX = mal'ak / angelos, not that that is necessarily proof of anything) who will prepare the way for God's coming like a refiner’s fire and a launderer's soap (3:2). Malachi goes on to identify this messenger with Elijah (4:5, 3:23 in LXX and MT), who will be sent by God just in advance of God's day that will burn like a furnace, to provide a final opportunity for retuning to God. Failure to comply will result in God executing sentence. The term herem is not used in this passage, but the components are in place: a final warning given after a period of rebellion; those in the rebel camp cannot have any excuse that they were unaware of what awaited them if they continued with their rebellion. Mark then enriches the context with the Isa. 40 quote – day of judgement seen from the other side, that of the faithful, but still with the concept of God coming as a judge. It's from there that Mark takes off with John the Baptist urging repentance and so on.

I know I said I would provide just a couple of examples, but I found this one a bit of a tease: John 3:16, beloved text of many a Christian (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...”). What connotation of the word 'love' springs to mind when you hear that verse? God had such a deep affection for the world? Or is it possible that the world in the mind of John's readers encompassed the coming of God's kingdom as proof that he was so committed to his side of the covenant bargain, and that the sending of a Son included the concept of judgement? Does this not fit better with “...that whoever believes in him shall not perish** but have eternal life”?

We're not yet really into the nitty of the gospels, just mapping the path to them. I've tried to provide backing for some of the assumptions listed on the other site:-
- The processes of translation and interpretation require an adequate understanding of ... worldviews/presuppositions
- The biblical texts need to be taken on their individual contextual merits, but need also to be seen as contextually placed within a wider collection (canon)
- The NT writers were operating within an environment whose presupposition were informed by Hebrew/Aramaic writings (the Jewish scriptures).

I'll pause again in case there are queries on the approach thus far.


- - -

* Most English versions opt to translate the Hebrew with 'angel,' but I think that risks skewing the reading in the same way that 'genocide' or 'love' or 'soul' does – it opens the door to modern inherited concepts being imported. Discussion for another thread, perhaps – unless the idea causes issues here.

** The verb used here is apollumi, a strong sense of being utterly destroyed, not simply 'killed,' or 'die.' It's the verb the Greek translators chose to use when describing the extinction of rebels in covenant contexts, e.g., Deut. 28:20.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
But was South Africa circa 1960 a 'Herem'?

No - it was just one example of a regime claiming that their racism was God given.

Not the same, but similar.

Isn't that one of the points that Nigel was trying to make? That Herem is not the same as war and people can claim all sorts of things in the name of God, but actually there seem to be very strict criteria and contexts that those Biblical OT writers were presenting? Whether we like what it says or not, I think it is the failure of this understanding that has caused so many people to misuse the scriptures and cause much damage to people's faith and lives. No, I think for Christians, similar doesn't do it.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Freddy – the question of attribution is probably not an issue for you, I know. What I need to do here, I think though, is suggest a reading strategy for those for whom it is a problem either (a) that God's nature / ethic contains the capacity to authorise this herem thing, or (b) that the canon we have received and that has a claim on our lives one way or another contains evidence that the writers attribute herem to God and that therefore it must be part of his nature / ethic.

Yes, I think that describes the project.

I of course don't think that God's nature contains the capacity to authorise this herem thing. Nor do I think that the OT writers' attribution of herem to God means that it must be part of His nature / ethic.

Rather, these descriptions represent on some level what actually happens and therefore the way that God created it to happen. That is, it is a law of creation that evil rebounds on its author. And since it is also a law of creation that God rules all things, it is only natural that herem would be attributed to God. But this is due purely to the primitive idea of God that can conceive of "ruling" only as direct causation without any concept of complexity of cause and purpose.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
What would your church's position be on the physical existence of evil today – i.e., not our internal struggle against it, but when faced with violence against those who cannot protect themselves? Oh dear... I fear I've derailed the thread!!!

I don't think this derails anything. My church works on the principle of useful service. The question is always what the most useful alternative is, or which alternative provides the best outcome for the greatest number of people.

Self-defense is consistent with this principle because if an aggressor's injury or death prevents many other injuries or deaths then this is the better alternative.

On the other hand, non-violence may be a better alternative, even if it permits aggressors to cause more destruction in the short term, if it is believed that this will lead to a long term prevention of aggression.

I would call that hopelessly naive. But the point is that the determining factor should be the rational assessment of long-term benefits.
 
Posted by Evensong (# 14696) on :
 
I wish I could keep up with this thread but I can't because I'm not online much atm. Try for a few small things.

quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
If it isn't this way then how could the descriptions of bloody slaughters be something Divine?

They cant. Period.
Then doesn't this blow the whole Christian concept of the Bible as the Word of God?
As someone said above, Jesus is the eternal Word of God.

The bible is the word of God but it is not eternal because it is subject to human finitude.

So it is subject to time/space/culture.

God is not subject to such things.

If God wishes to speak to us through prophets/evangelists/kings/normal people, God must do so using human limitation.

Otherwise, it would be incomprehensible.

quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Nigel
quote:
Kwesi – welcome to the discussion! If the revelation of God in Jesus Christ validated herem, what would you do?
I'd have to become an active athiest to oppose the genocidal leanings of Christianity.
A fuckin men.

I had to do a write up of a church I recently attended (mystery worshiper style) that believed in penal substitution.

My last point on the experience was I would rather be an atheist than succumb to such an abhorrent theology.

quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
I for one am left wondering whether what drives his argument is not the relative use of the word "herem" but an attempt to prove that the Bible is in fact God;s word from beginning to end.

To Freddy's credit he is entirely up-front on this.

Thank you. Yes, this is what drives the argument for me. Or rather, I am interested in refuting the two obvious positions that either:

I say that it was neither. God did not order any of these terrible things. Rather, He caused the history of a people to be written in such a way that, misconceptions and all, it could carry a holy message that would be understood by sincere people worldwide.

It is hard to deny that it has worked pretty well.

The effort has been astonishingly successful! The Bible is far and away the best seller of all time, and very few people who read it struggle with these issues. They root for Israel and aren't the least disturbed that God bashes its enemies.

Not so.

Lots of Christians in history have been quite happy to wipe out their enemies; contrary to Jesus' injunction to love them.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
As someone said above, Jesus is the eternal Word of God.

The bible is the word of God but it is not eternal because it is subject to human finitude.

So it is subject to time/space/culture.

God is not subject to such things.

If God wishes to speak to us through prophets/evangelists/kings/normal people, God must do so using human limitation.

Otherwise, it would be incomprehensible.

I've never heard it said that the Bible is the non-eternal word of God.

I agree, though, that if the Bible had been given directly from God without human media it would be incomprehensible.

That's why I think that metaphor is such a brilliant solution to the question of how it can be from God and yet written and understood by humans.
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
The effort has been astonishingly successful! The Bible is far and away the best seller of all time, and very few people who read it struggle with these issues. They root for Israel and aren't the least disturbed that God bashes its enemies.

Not so.

Lots of Christians in history have been quite happy to wipe out their enemies; contrary to Jesus' injunction to love them.

Yes, Christians have historically been willing to wipe out their enemies. Often they think they are doing God's will. But I think that everyone knows that this was wrong.

What I'm saying is that there are lots of sincere Christians who have it right, who love their neighbor, who are not prone to wiping out their enemies, and who yet root for Joshua as he conquers Canaan. I would even say that this way of thinking is the norm. There are literally billions of people like this.

By contrast the number of people who wonder if there is a God because He ordered genocide in the Bible, or think that the Bible must be untrue for this reason, is comparatively small.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
How do you know that number is small? There are lots of people who don't go to church, all over the world, even though they live where exposure to the Bible has been available. How do you know that is not why they aren't there?
Those passages are certainly among the reasons why those I know have problems with Christianity. Those, and the adherents who don't see them as a problem. I don't know many, it's true, and I tend not to discuss the matter with the born again types I know (or any religious matter).
Penny
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
How do you know that number is small?

I might be exaggerating when I claim that "billions" of Christians have no problem with the idea that Joshua conquered Canaan. There are only 2.1 billion Christians in the world, leaving only 10 million to be troubled by Joshua's aggression, if my math is right.

My opinion is based on my understanding of the prevailing mindsets in African, Asian and South American culture, which is where most Christians are. Also on my understanding of the way your typical American and European Christian sees it.

I could, of course, be way off. [Biased]

Maybe someone is aware of a poll that would measure this.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
But was South Africa circa 1960 a 'Herem'?

No - it was just one example of a regime claiming that their racism was God given.

Not the same, but similar.

Isn't that one of the points that Nigel was trying to make? That Herem is not the same as war and people can claim all sorts of things in the name of God, but actually there seem to be very strict criteria and contexts that those Biblical OT writers were presenting? Whether we like what it says or not, I think it is the failure of this understanding that has caused so many people to misuse the scriptures and cause much damage to people's faith and lives. No, I think for Christians, similar doesn't do it.
Of course 'similar' covers it. When we are talking about excluding people, marginalising them and treating them as 'other'. Herem is simply worse and therefore it's even more impossible that a God of love and life would sanction it.

What is this 'damage' you speak of?

<typo>

[ 24. August 2011, 15:30: Message edited by: Boogie ]
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Quick responses to thoughts – will post later on NT. Probably lengthy!


Evensong and Kwesi – Wahay! Two closet atheists on the Ship!

Penny S – One of the drivers that has motivated me to try to find publicly justifiable positions to take on the bible is the knowledge that some non-Christians will struggle with passages therein. More importantly, I think, is also the missional need to be able to argue one's case in the face of disbelief, because there are plenty of apologists for anti-Christianity who find it easy to throw mud, based on the likes of Joshua 6. Websites a-plenty!

Freddy – Not strictly about herem I know, but if I were to stumble across someone assaulting another person (e.g., a domestic dispute that got out of hand in the street), what would the longer-term benefit be that should inform my decision on what to do? I appreciate that this is a hypothetical and probably not fair, but if I were to scale it up, what would God's ethical instruction be to his people if they came across a group of people persistently killing children? I'm thinking of similarities with Israel coming up against groups who sacrificed kids in the manner of Molek.

Boogie – Re: your discussion with Pooks: herem as presented in the OT is more of a judicial act, an authorised action on behalf of a divine ruler. This is why I think we have to veer away from terms like 'genocide' because as this is understood in English is does not do justice to what happened in Canaan. The (then) policy makers in South Africa were not invoking herem in support of their behaviour any more than they invoked genocide as a justifiable act. Their justification, in so far as theology was concerned I think, went more to the question of territorial allocation a la Genesis 10.

On your 'love' point, I would define 'love' on the terms given in the bible in the light of the writers' worldview context; I would say (from what I've read in the bible) that it's impossible that a God of love and life would not sanction herem. That's not the same as saying that God sanctions war or violence generally, or sanctions apartheid, or anything else. Herem is in a totally different category. Or so the bible would seem to say.


More later...
 
Posted by Full Circle (# 15398) on :
 
I'm utterly out of my depth here (and have not read everything in detail) but many of these verses/concepts really do make me question my faith & I too hope I would become a converted atheist if God asked me to commit genocide. (I also hope I would leave any church where it was encouraged to actively hate another group, however impure). Love the sinner, hate the sin (As the bible does not directly say)

It is not the dying that gets to me - we all die & the wages of sin are death for us all: it is the active command to kill another group indiscriminately (so yes, I am a product of my time). Also we all have sinned and fall short - if this held the surprise is that Christ came to save not kill the dirt. Surely Christ's saving Grace (whatever the atonement theory) repudiates the old understanding?

I do think the understanding of God changed with time - just like the understanding of the afterlife and that this needs to be taken into account.

Also there does seem to be one thing missing in the discussion: what happens to the slaughtered in eternity? Is there any concept of eternity in these passages? - Do the slaughtered go to be with God, are they sent to hell or do they just die? Somehow it would make a difference to me if they went to live with Christ!?!!

Sorry but I could not just lurk & not protest even if I have totally misunderstood the arguement
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I hold my hand up

A 3rd closet atheist on the Ship. Actually I am the appointed treasurer of Kwesi's Active Atheists Against Genocide.

What's more the Methodist Church endorses this one.

[ 24. August 2011, 17:45: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
Freddy – Not strictly about herem I know, but if I were to stumble across someone assaulting another person (e.g., a domestic dispute that got out of hand in the street), what would the longer-term benefit be that should inform my decision on what to do? I appreciate that this is a hypothetical and probably not fair, but if I were to scale it up, what would God's ethical instruction be to his people if they came across a group of people persistently killing children? I'm thinking of similarities with Israel coming up against groups who sacrificed kids in the manner of Molek.

The answer is easy and obvious. Almost anyone would know how to handle this.

You do the thing that will have the best results, based on your understanding and opinion.

When people are caught in the act of assault we call the police. If that is not possible we attempt to intervene.

A group that is persistently killing children will be reported to the national authorities. If there are no national authorities - maybe we are talking pre-government here - you would do what you could to make it stop. It might include rescuing the children clandestinely. It might include armed confrontations with the perpetrators. It could easily escalate into outright battles, with many casualties.

I'm happy to allow that some of Israel's enemies really were immersed in evils that needed to be stopped at any cost. And for the most part, as it is recounted in Joshua and Judges, Israel was defending itself from attack, not attacking others. But there are not really any evils that justify the mass slaughter of an entire population.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Full Circle:
...many of these verses/concepts really do make me question my faith & I too hope I would become a converted atheist if God asked me to commit genocide.

I think there are lurkers a-plenty here, and discussion partners outside, who are in the same position FC, so I doff my cap to you for posting vicariously.

If I may assist here. While I do believe it is absolutely necessary to tackle the hard subjects head-on and not just hope for the best, I understand the pastoral risks here. So...

For anyone worried that this approach will force one to adopt a role or responsibility here on earth that conflicts with the concept of God's peace as expressed in both Testaments, then let it be known that I've seen the end and it ain't necessarily so!

I will have some questions - like the one raised earlier - on appropriate Christian responses to third-party violence (i.e. not violence against oneself), but hopefully the concept of herem for Christians today will be shown to be not what people fear it is. So take comfort.

Unless, of course I come across a passage stating otherwise.

Dang. Was that the right pastoral thing to say?
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Full Circle:
Also there does seem to be one thing missing in the discussion: what happens to the slaughtered in eternity?

I know the answer to that one.

The good ones go to heaven. The bad ones go to hell. [Two face]
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
When people are caught in the act of assault we call the police. If that is not possible we attempt to intervene.

I've come across the tentative nature of this before, e.g., as in "I would try to reason with him..." But doesn't the word 'try,' like 'attempt' already acknowledge a risk that my intervention may not be successful? If my attempted intervention is non-violent, and the assaulter takes violent offence at my intervention, then I may feel morally vindicated as I pass out on the pavement, but my intervention only temporarily postpones the dusting of the other victim over the rest of the pavement.

I don't have an answer for this myself yet. It's a challenge for me, too. And I should say I'm not sure that it is on all fours with the concept of herem, so I may be talking about another completely different facet of God's ethical nature.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
When people are caught in the act of assault we call the police. If that is not possible we attempt to intervene.

I've come across the tentative nature of this before, e.g., as in "I would try to reason with him..." But doesn't the word 'try,' like 'attempt' already acknowledge a risk that my intervention may not be successful? If my attempted intervention is non-violent, and the assaulter takes violent offence at my intervention, then I may feel morally vindicated as I pass out on the pavement, but my intervention only temporarily postpones the dusting of the other victim over the rest of the pavement.
I think that we all understand that any human effort may fail.

Divine effort, by contrast, will always succeed. That's the hard thing to get our minds around.

This means that what is called "divine retribution" is inescapable. Evil will always rebound on the one who wills it. This doesn't mean that God is vengeful or even that He punishes. Only that the laws that govern this process are as constant as the laws of physics.
 
Posted by Full Circle (# 15398) on :
 
Thanks for the response Nigel M (& Freddy)
I'm off back to my lurker's lair
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
Ok. Boogie, I misspoke. Clearly for plenty of Christians, 'similar' does it for them. I do envy you for being able to hold that position. I guess the reason that I reacted strongly was because I was reminded of my encounter with a Chinese lady a number of years ago. She was not a Christian at that time but was given a Bible to read. So she started from the very beginning. When we met, she said to me, 'Oh, it's great. Just like reading Chinese history.. lots of wars.' I remember my consternation at the time because she seemed to have completely missed the (theological) point of why those books were included in the canonised Bible. At the time I really didn't know what to say. Why were those wars included in the Bible? It's just nasty. I wanted her to be a Christian and really didn't want to talk about the nasty bit (which I myself avoided like a plague). I really would have preferred it if it wasn't included in the Bible, especially when that Bible has a big 'HOLY' in front of it. But... *shrugs*.

I think Nigel's exercise is helpful because it helps me to at least understand what was going on at the time and why they presented it the way they did. To seek to understand what happened during the OT time is not the same as saying OK, therefore we must go out and do the same. It is so that we can explain how it came about, why it is there and what theological understanding we can glean from it. The failure to do so (to the whole Bible) at best leaves lots of holes in the our understanding of the word. At worst, a lack of understanding of the context can leave us open to the 'name it and claim it' in the name of God by all kinds of leaders. I have known people who followed a preacher without question, only to be hurt later because they didn't know any better. That's what I meant when I say damage.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
OK. Into the NT we go.

Quite a bit of work has already been done on the worldview and presuppositions informing the NT writers and audience. More information from that time is available these days then was the case before the the middle of the 20th century. It has led to debates between those who follow this more historical approach (sometimes tagged “The New Perspective” or “third quest”) and those whose approach has been informed by more traditional theological debate. You may be aware of the debate in recent years between on the semantic content of the word 'justification' and its cognates, between N.T. Wright and opponents in more Lutheran and Reformed camps. Wright is preparing a volume on Paul's theology as part of a larger project on Christian origins and has based is approach on the need to get a grip on the worldviews that were operational during the second temple period.

One of the criticisms of the approach to reading the OT that I've been floating here might be the same as that made against the similar approach to the NT above: that it ignores centuries of Christian opinion, doctrine, and settled arguments. I understand that criticism, but I would argue that if new information comes to light – as it has – then in order to treat the biblical record honestly as God's communication to humans using human words, we need to take the new information seriously and investigate it. If necessary we must be prepared to ditch cherished beliefs or assumptions if they can no longer be substantiated. Little paradigm shifts may need to take place.

In a sense this is about continuous development in understanding the bible. That's not the same thing as developing our own subjective readings in whatever way suits us; it's anchoring the readings ever more firmly in the intention the author had – using the words he used in the way he used them (which, somewhat crudely, is what 'text meaning' should really be).

Assuming, therefore, that the gospel writers had an intention to impact and affect their audiences in a particular way, there are two aspects to getting at this: the language used and the worldview informing that language use.

I'll focus first on the narrative around Matthew 10.

In the run up to this passage (in chapter 9) Jesus has been healing many and associating with those labelled 'sinners.' Jesus makes the point when challenged about this that his job was to bring a message to those 'sinners.' In the process of defending his actions, he quotes from part of Hosea 6:6 and tells his challengers to go and learn what that meant. That seems like a useful steer, so I've sought to go figure, as requested. The quote appears in Matt. 9:6 in Greek (though Jesus may well have spoken at that point in either Hebrew or Aramaic) and runs: eleos thelo kai ou thusian (= ἐλεος θεω και οὐ θυσιαν), which in English versions runs along the lines of “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The first word (eleos) is the one translated in English versions often by 'mercy,' or 'compassion,' or 'kindness,' or such like. I suggest that this is not a helpful translation. It misses the connotation badly and sets up English readers to mis-interpret what Jesus was saying.

Here's the reason why I think this. The word eleos and its derivatives as used in the Greek LXX version normally translates the Hebrew word hesed (= חֶסֶד), which is another of those words not having a simple equivalent in English. It refers to covenant faithfulness – commitment to the covenant arrangements and responsibilities. This is the word used in Hosea 6:6 and translated there with eleos in the LXX. My argument is that Jesus and his audience would have had the covenant faithfulness connotation (indeed, even denotation) in mind when he quoted Hosea. Similarly, Matthew intended to open up that world among his readers/hearers when he recorded this episode. What Jesus was saying – because that was what Hosea was saying – is “My message and ministry is to those who are not currently within the covenant relationship, even though they should be.” He backs this view up when he says next, “I came to call sinners (i.e., rebels), not the righteous (the loyal). The world set up by the quote is explained more fully in Hosea 6, especially the bit straight after v.6: “With Adam they broke the covenant; Oh how treacherous they were to me!”

This is why I think some English version have been too quick with their translation. 'Mercy' might well be a good translation for the Greek eleos elsewhere in literature, but it does not cover the semantic field in use here, based on worldview expectations and language use. The tenor of Jesus' message to the rebels was good news, yes, but it was also a warning: time is running out, God is coming to judge and if you are a rebel, this is your opportunity to be reconciled before it is too late.

How does this relate to chapter 10? Well, Jesus authorises his disciples to copy his mission and instructs them to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The word 'lost' in there is apollumi (= ἀπολλυμι), which carries a strong sense of loss – destruction, irrevocable loss, death. The sense of what Jesus says here is that the priority for the mission should match his – go to those who are under sentence of destruction, before it is too late. This is supported by the way apollumi is used in the LXX versions. It is used in passages connected with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), and with cutting people off from the people when they are severely disobedient (e.g., Lev. 7:20-27, 20:3-6; Num. 16:33). Crucially, though, it is also used in connection with the practice of herem, e.g., Num 33:50-55
quote:
The Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. He said: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you must destroy [= apollumi] all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy [= apollumi] all their carved images, all their molten images, and demolish their high places. You must destroy [= apollumi] the inhabitants of the land and live in it, for I have given you the land to possess it. ... But if you do not destroy [= apollumi] the inhabitants of the land before you, then those whom you allow to remain will be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your side, and will cause you trouble in the land where you will be living. And what I intended to do to them I will do to you.'”
Similar references appear throughout Deuteronomy, again in connection with covenant faithfulness and herem against the Canaanites.

The point is that Jesus' mission (and that of his disciples) invoked the world of covenant, the fact of rebellion, the warning of judgement and the last call for repentance from rebels (sinners). It did this just as much as it revealed what they had been missing – God's peace in his kingdom, which including healing and well-being. That there was a warning element in Jesus' message is exemplified in the instruction to his disciples to shake the dust off their feet in the event of resistance to their message, a sign that no further chance would be given and sentence would fall in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah (10:14-15). In this way, Jesus has confirmed that destruction is a final judgement and sentence that will be authorised by God. He has validated the principle of herem as just that, and has also confirmed it is part of God's nature because Jesus reflects that nature.

Important at this point not to leap to conclusions from this. Nothing in this passage suggests that humans are authorised to conduct herem on God's behalf. Matthew 10 only goes to an aspect of mission as warning.


OK – I've tried to follow a procedure based on some of the assumptions:-

* The processes of translation and interpretation require an adequate understanding of worldviews/presuppositions
* The biblical texts need to be taken on their individual contextual merits, but need also to be seen as contextually placed within a wider collection (canon)
* The NT writers were operating within an environment whose presupposition were informed by Hebrew/Aramaic writings (the Jewish scriptures).

I've also tried to show how a passage like Matthew 10 supports the theses on the other site, particularly:-

* Rebellion in a covenant is punishable; the senior partner has the right to restore order and peace by force, if necessary.
* The ultimate process for restoring peace and well-being in the face of continued rebellion is that of Herem.
* The process of Herem was always a final resort in the face of unrepentant rebellion.

We've also made a start on:
* The concept of Herem continues into the present and future.

The key question at this point is, If Jesus here validates the OT concept of herem as being part of God's loving nature (terms as defined in biblical use), what should be the appropriate position for Christians as his followers to adopt?
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I am constrained to write in response to Pooks above.

Nigel's exegesis is not the only available. The more especially since he argues that Genesis 1 - 3 is the foundation document on which all else is built.

The fact of the matter is that Genesis 1 - 3 is a composite document.

Genesis 1 is a "Priestly" account written during the Exile in Babylon and therefore far too late for inclusion as a foundation document for the Joshua-Judges story.

Genesis 2-3 is basically an account written up during the time of King David ( 1000 BC).

"Herem" is also translated in English as "ban". It signifies the compelete "devotion" to God of things mentioned. Such devotiona includes the aspects of total annihalation/destruction of the thing "banned".

So Joshua "banned / heremed everything in Ai.

He did it not only out of an ill-imformed perception of what God wanted. Above all it was an attempt to enforce discipline on an army which had resorted to looting and complete indiscipline. Read the account in Joshua.

Attributing it to God is no more than the usual human attempt to claim Divine sanction for what are purely human reactions. The words "God said" are introduced to justify human judgements throughout the OT.

The OT writers are always retrospectively attributing to God what were the consequences of what happened. So Pharaoh sees his slave labour force retreating into the far distance and goes after them. The Bible says "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" as explanation of his U Turn.

Fact of the matter is that for Pharaoh it was a question of economics. Naught else.


I could advance many other examples of this. The OT writers failed altogether to distinguish betwwen Purpose and Consequence. When / whatever happened as consequence they attributed to the purpose of God.

In this sense they were no different from the Islamic mind-set which says of everything "It is as Allah wills".

Something Nigel will no doubt repudiate vigorously.

But is is a fact nevertheless.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The key question at this point is, If Jesus here validates the OT concept of herem as being part of God's loving nature (terms as defined in biblical use), what should be the appropriate position for Christians as his followers to adopt?

The answer would be the same position Jesus takes.

Jesus makes numerous references to the idea that the wicked will be punished. This acknowledgment is fully in line with God's loving nature.

A loving judge will pass sentence on a guilty criminal.
A loving employer will criticize or release a poor worker.
A loving teacher will give poor grades to poor students.

The thing is that God is not like a judge, an employer or a teacher. He does not mete out worldly punishments. He is the source only of goodness, not evil. But when people pull away from Him they expose themselves to the forces that cause harm, just as blocking the light results in darkness.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
Shamwari, thank you for your response. Yes I am aware that Nigel's exegesis is not the only one available. I am also familiar with the JEDP hypothesis and the view that comes with it. Nevertheless, The OT we have today is presented in its present form to us along with the NT as the 'Holy Bible', so I feel I need to understand why the scholars who got together to consider which books to include in the Canonised version of our Bible would choose to include some of the more distasteful episodes if they didn't think the content of the text had some other merit . I doubt the reason was because those scholars approved of war and killing, they may well have thought such acts were horrible just like we do today, so my thought is that they must have other reasons to include these texts into the Canon, therefore I should do my best to find out what these OT texts are about.

Yes I can understand why people would say it's just Israelites using the name of God to justify their killing, because we see people do that even today, whether it's killing or something less drastic like claiming God's revelation by quoting a verse here and there for personal gain. But I think to therefore reduce our understanding of the OT to just a human element and leave it at that is not satisfying either. Because those Biblical writers could just as easily omit everything that is 'not nice or is ugly' and just have a write up about the nice things that God did and achieve the same thing. I am afraid I don't subscribe to the view that because they were ancients, therefore they don't feel the pain or understand the horrors of war and killing. So this is why I am open to different ways of looking at it.

Finally I would like to reply to your point - 'The OT writers failed altogether to distinguish between Purpose and Consequence. When / whatever happened as consequence they attributed to the purpose of God.' I can't say if you are right about this or not. But either way, doesn't that actually prove Nigel's point that they have a different way of looking at things and therefore a different mindset? Because of these differences, I think it is all the more desirable to try and put ourselves in their shoes and walk around a mile before we judge them as dishonest, or a failure. Because if we are not careful, we can equally apply your judgement of the OT writers to Jesus for doing the same thing.
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
It occurs to me that God almost having Abraham kill his son is parallel on the personal level. With the NT story of God not staying his hand from the slaughter of Jesus, what do we have then? A killer-god? Who likes people frightened near to death (post traumatic stress one would think). Who enjoys the killing of babies and even the family goat?

Can't be. or God is a god is not worthy of our attention. To use Evelyn Waugh's phrase: are there flies on the lamb of god? It has to be rejected if there appear to be.
 
Posted by Lamb Chopped (# 5528) on :
 
I think part of the point of the Isaac story was precisely to teach us that God is not that kind of God (the human sacrifice demanding type, I mean); if anyone's going to have to suffer that way, he'll take it on himself (which is what the incarnation of Christ means--that God "did it to himself" rather than to some unrelated innocent victim).

Before the Isaac incident, Abraham had no assurance God WASN'T that kind of god--after all, most or all of the deities he grew up with were precisely the kind of gods that would go for human sacrifice. After that incident, though, both Abraham and the rest of us are forever clear on the fact that God sees this as a horror and great evil, just as we do too, now. Thank God.
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
I feel I need to understand why the scholars who got together to consider which books to include in the Canonised version of our Bible would choose to include some of the more distasteful episodes if they didn't think the content of the text had some other merit . I doubt the reason was because those scholars approved of war and killing, they may well have thought such acts were horrible just like we do today, so my thought is that they must have other reasons to include these texts into the Canon, therefore I should do my best to find out what these OT texts are about.


Of course they did. The OT texts are a backdrop, a scene setting. And, to some degree, a history - which lays the ground for the gospels.

But none of this is a good reason to believe that when it says in the OT "and God said .... " that God actually did!

I believe, wholeheartedly, that S/he didn't.

Especially in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Making someone, whatever age, truly believe that their Father is about to kill them is no act of a loving God.

No whitewash - no fluffybunnyism - a loving God is as a loving God does. No intimidation, no force, no cruelty, no 'Herem'.

God is a God of forgiveness, truth and light. And this fact can be relied on in the darkest and worst of circumstances. That's the message of Jesus and the NT - which could not have come about without Jesus and He was a man who lived at a particular time in history - thus the need for the OT backdrop to help us understand where He came from and he was up against.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Re the Abraham and Isaace story: Judaism having figured out early that their God did not desire human sacrifice, the Penal Substitutionists have sought to establish his blood-lust in the Christian era!
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
The fact of the matter is that Genesis 1 - 3 is a composite document. ...

"Herem" is also translated in English as "ban". It signifies the compelete "devotion" to God of things mentioned.

Are you tempting me to go after the documentary hypotheses (and they are plural)???!!!!

I'm not sure how the English concept of 'ban' helps us either – that arose at a late date, possibly in connection with the post-second temple Jewish idea of excommunicating someone from an assembly.

The source critical hypotheses are a side show here, shamwari, because as I said earlier it matters not when the documents attained their final form,* what matters here is how Jesus as the reflector of God's nature approached them. Jesus accepted the historical and chronological nature of the narratives (as did the prophets before him) and made the point that Gen 1-3 formed a basis from which to argue foundational principles (e.g., his teaching on divorce “It was not like that from the beginning...” Mark 10:1-12 and parallels). If that approach for drawing ethical pricniples was good enough for Jesus, isn't it good enough for us?

I say that last sentence because the stance often taken on the subject of genocide in the bible leans on the premiss that Jesus reflects God's nature and therefore we filter out elements from the OT on the basis of the life and work of Jesus. Has that stance now shifted? Are you asking me to address a different criterion for assessing ethics?

Personally I have no problem with taking Jesus' life and work as the filter. Fully signed up on that. But crucially I think it essential that we take Jesus' filter, not one we have imposed on him from a different direction. Which is why I have tried to take the context of the times seriously to better understand how Jesus himself understood the scriptures he had recevied.

And this is why I need to ask now, both shamwari and Boogie (only because you have both been good enough to enter the discussion on this point), to please define 'love' as you understand the concept in the bible, especially as expressed by Jesus.

I've set out what I think applies to Jesus, which is that he understood 'love' as a concept containing facets not all of which are applicable to the English word. What particular aspects of the evidence do you wish to challenge?

- - -

* the phrase 'final form' is a better one to use, rather than assuming documents arose instantaneously at a late date. There's a need to take seriously some of the valid criticisms of source criticism raised by, e.g., form critics (failure of the JEDP hypotheses to consider oral tradition), literary critics (how traditions/stories were transmitted in a developmental stage), and text critics (how the variety of evidence we have pertains to the authorising of a form of a text which received something of an imprimatur).
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
But none of this is a good reason to believe that when it says in the OT "and God said .... " that God actually did!

I believe, wholeheartedly, that S/he didn't.

So do I. My take on it, though, is that this was really in the story from the beginning, that the ones who wrote it down really believed it, and that Abraham, Moses, etc. really did have these conversations.

The reason I say that it that my church teaches that before the Advent the Lord spoke to people through angels and spirits, and not directly. This is why the one speaking is often called the "Angel of the Lord". This angel or spirit, then believed that He was Jehovah and spoke from that belief. This kind of communication with spirits was common in ancient times, as voluminous ancient literature attests. Not that we believe it.

The problem was that this communication was limited by the nature of the angels and spirits themselves. Evil spirits called themselves "God" and communicated evil things. Pagan "gods" and "goddesses" were often nothing else. Modern people don't even believe that this kind of thing is possible, but it was universally believed in ancient times.

The point is that the one who spoke to Abraham and told him to sacrifice his son was not really God Himself, but was posing as God. The real God allowed this to happen, as He allows all kinds of things to happen, for the sake of the narrative that was to be written.

So it wasn't just a mistake, or an editor's addition. These things really happened, but the subjects of the story, or the authors, did not know the real nature of what was going on.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Origially posted by Boogie:
But none of this is a good reason to believe that when it says in the OT "and God said .... " that God actually did!


Ok. Assuming I accept your position on this. The problem then is the logic above can equally apply to say that there is no good reason either to believe any good they claimed that God did, i.e. God didn't actually do good either. So that gets me nowhere. I would also get a slightly absurd feeling that if I were then to adopt the position that God is love, I would be saying to myself: 'I believe God is good because these liars told me so.'

[ 25. August 2011, 12:05: Message edited by: Pooks ]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
The problem then is the logic above can equally apply to say that there is no good reason either to believe any good they claimed that God did, i.e. God didn't actually do good either.

This isn't really a problem.

If we believe in what Jesus says, then this is the measure. People have done this intuitively from the beginning.

No one seriously believes the kind of mass extermination practiced in the Bible is a good thing.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
The problem then is the logic above can equally apply to say that there is no good reason either to believe any good they claimed that God did, i.e. God didn't actually do good either.

This isn't really a problem.

If we believe in what Jesus says, then this is the measure. People have done this intuitively from the beginning.

Dear Freddy, the trouble is, Jesus and the NT writers kept quoting those damn OT scriptures. My trouble with the intuitive approach is knowing where the wishful thinking begins and where it ends, if our understanding of God is not anchored in the world view of the texts themselves. That is not to say that I think we should adopt the practices associated with that world view, but I think there are important messages about God that the OT world view can inform us about. To dismiss bits and pieces because I have no stomach for it today, I think is doing a disservice to the texts and to myself.

quote:
No one seriously believes the kind of mass extermination practiced in the Bible is a good thing.
Exactly. So why were they put in the OT and transmitted to us as part of an authoritative text about God in the first place? Wouldn't it make better sense if they were not there, if no purpose is served about God's nature by them?
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
No one seriously believes the kind of mass extermination practiced in the Bible is a good thing.

Exactly. So why were they put in the OT and transmitted to us as part of an authoritative text about God in the first place? Wouldn't it make better sense if they were not there, if no purpose is served about God's nature by them?
A perfectly good purpose is served by them.

Sunday schools worldwide teach these stories to children, impressing on them the Lord's power and His punishment of the evil.

No one tells children that the walls of Jericho fell down but this is a great evil and God would never do such a thing.

There is one message: Evil is a bad thing and God will overcome it. This is a good message for children.

Adults, on the other hand, will ask the kind of questions we are asking here. I'm saying that there are perfectly good answers, but they require a higher level of understanding than most people have.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel asked for my definition of "love" as expressed by Jesus.

My answer would be that Jesus stresses love as volitional rather than emotional. That straightaway puts right the many misconceptions inherent in the English word.

Further I would say that love of God shows itself in limitless trust ( cf Matt 7; 7-11); childlike reverence ( cf Mark 10: 14-15) and unconditional obedience (cf Matt 7: 21)

The love of neighbour which Jesus twinned with love of God is best expressed by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan and later defined by Paul as putting the interests of other above self-interest.


I would also point out that what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments are drawn from the OT ( Deut and Leviticus). But, importantly Jesus was selective in his OT quotes. He selected these two from a multitude of other commandments and from two different books. I dont believe you can argue from this that because Jesus quoted the OT he accepted the whole of the OT as authoritative.

Fact is that Jesus was selective and discriminatory. And time and again Jesus went beyond what Moses said (and the people accepted as God-inspired)and offered an alternative insight.

This "all or nothing" argument bedevils much of what has been implied on this thread. It underlies Pooks' concerns for one. I think it is a red herring

It is tangenital and I wont pursue it further. But for Nigel to say that the JEPD hypothesis ignores the oral tradition and what is known as redaction influence is quite wrong. To say otherwise is misleading. No more on that or else another thread.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
Shamwari, I am very sorry that you think my concerns about the integrity of our approach to the texts, as well as the integrity of the texts themselves, is a red herring. But there we have it.

Best wishes.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Nigel asked for my definition of "love" as expressed by Jesus...

I have no issue with the examples of love given, though they are not, strictly speaking, definitions. The thing of it is that it appears from the evidence there is a facet to God's love being ignored in discussions of this kind. It is there in the gospels and runs like a thread through the whole bible. It is consonant with a covenantal worldview, grounded in concepts related to justice and particularly judgement and sentence. It hangs over every reference to the good news. The love of God is unconditional only in so far as it bounded by repentance. Rebels are not allowed back into the fold without first seeking forgiveness for their rebellion. Love (relationship with God) is unconditional in that it is an offer open to all without fear or favour, but conditional upon repentance. This is covenant worldview – the same as that expressed in the OT passages I looked at. There are some obvious passages in the gospels on this – e.g.

* Mark 1:15 and parallels – the very content of God's good news: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”
* Mark 6:12 and parallels – same message authorised for the disciples to use: “So they went out and preached that all should repent

Which begs the obvious question – what happens to those who do not repent?

You see I think from the passages you quote that you are talking about how people should live their life once they are Christians (love your neighbour...etc.), which is an ethic drawn from the Law and the Prophets, as Jesus said. I've drawn attention to the wider, more universal, aspect to God's love: how it applies to all creation, not just the sub-set we call Christian. The logic must surely be that if God's love is conditional on something, then there must be a sanction in the event of the condition not being met. The ultimate sanction expressed in the OT is herem. I've offered one example (Matthew 10) where the covenant concepts associated with herem are taken over into the gospels. There are plenty more – and I ought to complete this project by looking at, say, Paul and Revelation, to see how things are rounded off, paying attention to context.

The point of the exercise on this thread has been to suggest a reading strategy that would handle in a consistent manner themes across the bible. It so happens I've latched on to this herem thing as is a difficult subject and if the reading strategy works here it should work as an approach to any theme.
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
...Jesus was selective in his OT quotes. ... I dont believe you can argue from this that because Jesus quoted the OT he accepted the whole of the OT as authoritative.

I agree that one can't make a logical leap from specific texts quoted to universal acceptance. However neither can one argue that because Jesus quoted only certain texts that he therefore abrogated the rest. Both arguments are fallacious. What I can argue though (and have attempted to do so), is that Jesus (or the gospel writers if one prefers) takes up themes from the OT and validates them. One of the themes he takes up, by way of invoking the world of covenant, is herem. Other themes he overrides by drawing on more foundational writings. Some themes do not seem to appear at all (e.g., where the issue of a promised land for God's people went). The fact that Jesus left some themes out, though, cannot of itself be taken as an argument that the missing themes were un-authoritative. Another argument would be needed for that.

So it's not necessarily an “all or nothing” argument. It's an argument that at least one theme, herem in this case, appears consistently across the bible. Others don't.

I think I have to push things a bit here: Do you accept, on the basis of the evidence, that the aspect of God's love as it presented contextually in the bible includes judgemental facets?

If not, where is the gap in the evidence I've offered? Don't let your fear of a slippery slope influence your reply here – I sense you are concerned that if anyone gives a bit on this ground then Nigel will pull a rabbit with a hatchet (whoops! That's not a reference to Kelly Alves!) out of the hat and say that Christians must therefore slay all pagans. Let's take this one step at a time!
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel: I hear what you are saying (even if I end up disagreeing wholeheartedly)

But I am not happy with the line of argument you are pursuing


It is sylogistic. Along the lines of

Ostriches have two legs

Nigel has two legs.

Therefore Nigel is an ostrich.

Simply not true ( although logical).

[ 25. August 2011, 17:03: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Nigel: You ask "What happens to those who dont repent?"

And your answer is (ITSTM) that, in terms of covental theology "herem" applies to them.

But consider Jesus' parable of Wheat and Tares in which he concludes "Let both grow together until the harvest". At which point God does the separating and judging.

You seem to me to be wanting to jump the gun and assume God's judgement includes "herem". (But I am still waiting for a validation of "herem" in Jesus' teaching.)

Yes Jesus called for repentance.

But what happens to those who do not repent is not clearly stated. And to imply that the consequence is "herem" ( which is where you seem to be going) is not obvious.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I think it better for my blood pressure to opt out of this discussion henceforth.

Nigel seems to me to be playing with words, notably the word "herem". And to extend it into a "covenantal theology" which is relevant to the NT escapes me.

In the OT it has a plain meaning.

Nigel transposes it into the NT concepts of Judgement and Punishment consequent on a refusal to repent and I find that a transition which is a step too far and an exegetical exaggeration.

So better if I opt out at this point altogether.

Herem, in the OT meant the total destruction of man, women, beast as a "devotion" to God of all that is opposed to him. (Joshua and also 1 Samuel 15)

I regard that as immoral in terms of Jesus' revelation of God.

No amount of verbalising and weaseling and re-interpretation will convince me otherwise.

I do not doubt that Nigel is sincere in what he is arguing.

But my blood pressure is such that what I regard as "special pleading" elevates it to danger point.

I have had my say and expressed my conviction. Time now to say thanks for the debate but I cant see it going anywhere near the exegesis and outcome which makes much sense to me.

[ 25. August 2011, 19:32: Message edited by: shamwari ]
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Can you pinpoint the missing link in the posts so far, shamwari? Are you saying that there is an excluded middle in there somewhere? Is there an alternative to saying that either God's nature includes the concept of herem or it excludes it?

I think the argument run thus far is:-

[1] The OT writers attribute herem to God's authority (and herem is defined)
[2] If valid, this attribution would impact on the concept of God's nature.

Then there is a second leg:-

(A) God's nature informs the ethical principles required for right living
(B) Jesus accurately reflected God's nature in what said and did
Therefore
(C) Understanding what Jesus said and did reveals the ethical principles needed for right living.

If [1] and [2] above are brought together with (A) to (C), we could get:-

If Jesus validates the OT concept of herem
And Jesus accurately reflects God's nature
Then herem forms part of a valid ethic that accurately reflects God's nature and that provides principles for living.

Then there's a whole lot of activity around trying to get a good hold on correctly understanding what Jesus said and did, based on the arguments summed up by the theses and assumptions on the other site.

This is not the whole story because I think we cannot stop with the gospels, we have to get the full NT picture to flesh out the concept. Not all of the processes we find associated with covenant herem are dealt with in the gospels; some float up elsewhere. However, to date – based on what as been said thus far – what arguments are there against the above?


Pulling back to the bigger picture...

I was hoping that I would have the time to extend the process I've been following in detail by analysing a passage or two in Paul and then looking at Revelation, but I'm going to called back on duty with a new project in just over a week and I can see that I will probably be unable to access the Ship for a while again. So, to cut to the chase – having looked at a number of passages in the NT, my tentative opinion on where this herem story ends up is that God does indeed reserve it to himself for a final judgement; no warrant is given for Christians in this life to pursue it until then, but interestingly enough there are hints that believers will act as ultimate images of God's responsibility at the judgement, in the role of judges themselves. After that, herem ceases (Rev. 22:3 – cognate of anathema for 'curse' in that verse, the same word base that is used in LXX to translate more often than not herem.

I know there may not be anything really new here – after all, last judgement, we all know about that. But what would have been good to do for consistency's sake would have been to set out the theme in its covenantal context to show how the same worldview can be traced from OT Israel to first century church. Two key words are used in NT and LXX as part of this: agape as a translation of Hebrew ahav = 'love', and anathema as a translation of Hebrew herem). Word studies on their own so not a context make, of course, which is why I would have wanted to show the outworking of covenant procedures in the relevant activities referred to in Paul's works and Revelation.

However, it looks as though I am going to stand on the hill with a flag planted solely in Matthew 10! Never mind, the view from here is magnificent.

If there is time and anyone really wants me to do more to test this out, I certainly will try oveer the next week.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Whoops - I started that last reply in answer to shamwari's first post of three. Just seen the other two.

Ignore my last requests, shamwari. I may have climbed a mountain, but don't want to be on a volcano!!!
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
And double whoops, I apologise to shamwari for causing pressure to rise; I appreciate the discussion, which is of help to me, but the subject matter is tough and emotive, and needs time to be considered. I've had the advantage of pondering this material for eons, just not had an opportunity to try it out on a meaty topic like genocide, so this thread was a train already under steam, whereas responders have had to reply on the fly.

All the best,
Nigel
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M at this site
The English words 'genocide' and 'love' are inadequate to explain the meaning of the related terms in the bible.

quote:
originally posted by Kwesi
I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument.

Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.

When you are dealing with something originally written in a foreign language, you need to figure out the exact meaning of the original words before you can understand the text.

Moo
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Moo
quote:
Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.
I'm sure that would bring comfort to Ai and the Amalekites!
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!

Excuse me? Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?

Host hat on

Kwesi did not make a personal insult. He was criticizing Nigel's ideas; this is entirely acceptable behavior.

Host hat off
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Moo
quote:
Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.
I'm sure that would bring comfort to Ai and the Amalekites!
What is your solution?
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?

Host hat on

Kwesi did not make a personal insult. He was criticizing Nigel's ideas; this is entirely acceptable behavior.

Host hat off

yes you are absolutely right. It is not insult, it's innuendos and words like 'you are of all men most miserable'. I just fail to see how that is advancing our understanding of what Herem is. But you are the host, you gave a ruling, so I will shut up and take myself out.

Best Wishes.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
I sincerely apologise to those who thought I was getting personal in my remarks re Nigel's posts. They were not intended in that way at all. In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

I have not the scholarship to challenge Nigel's research on the link between OT views on the link between herem and love. Indeed, I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of neccessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty. On the other hand, I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Exactly - and Jesus spoke strongly against much of Jewish tradition and was crucified for preaching his views so well.

Like Kwesi said 'Love your enemies' couldn't be much clearer. Hard, hard teaching but very clear.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Like Kwesi said 'Love your enemies' couldn't be much clearer. Hard, hard teaching but very clear.
Of course Jesus also said that anyone who opposed Him would be destroyed or cast out:
quote:
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

Matthew 21:40 Jesus said, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘ The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

Mark 12:9 “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.

Luke 20:16 He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!”

Matthew 22:6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.

Matthew 8:12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 13:41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 22:13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Is this loving? Is it "herem"?
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

Nigel has not reached any conclusions. He is looking at evidence.

Moo
 
Posted by Pre-cambrian (# 2055) on :
 
Well I wish he'd get on with it. As an ex-christian atheist I need to know whether my rejection of god is herem and whether I need to barricade my doors against Christians using the Bible to excuse massacres of people like me.

Said only partly in jest.
 
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I sincerely apologise to those who thought I was getting personal in my remarks re Nigel's posts. They were not intended in that way at all. In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

I have not the scholarship to challenge Nigel's research on the link between OT views on the link between herem and love. Indeed, I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of neccessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty. On the other hand, I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Dear Kwesi, Thank you for your most gracious apology. I don't have the scholarship either, but the way I understand it, all Nigel was doing was presenting how the word 'herem' as a concept was used in the OT scripture and how it's 'nature' is very different from what we in the west would call 'genocide', although the appearance and outcome may look the same. He has done this in the manner much like someone would do in court; he presents the evidence for a jury to consider. I have had the privilege of jury service in the past, all we were called to do was to judge the evidence, then decide which side we believe. We do not judge the person presenting the evidence even though the evidence was gruesome and sickening. I have no idea if the Word of the Lord has commanded Nigel to do anything, but it seems to me that the search for truth and understanding is not something we need to fear if we trust the Spirit of the Lord to lead us and guide us as well as protect us from all harm as the result of this thread.

May I assure you that regardless of the degree of scholarship, I am happy to read your posts as much as I do Nigel's or Freddy's in order to understand your view and where you come from even though I may not necessarily agree with you or you with me for that matter. Indeed, I expect to read different views and understandings as a matter of course provided the reasons and arguments are explained clearly for me to consider. I reacted badly to personal comments because they do nothing to help me understand an already tough going topic. Perhaps I have over reacted, but my hope is that we can continue our discussions in the spirit of peaceful respect and care toward one another, regardless of the different positions we may hold.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
...if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!

Sounds a bit like Paul before Festus!
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
...my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil.

This is indeed one of the questions that needs facing up to. It's to do with presuppositions, I believe. If one find oneself recoiling from something that appears to be authorised by God, then perhaps there's a need to test both oneself (Why do I react negatively? Is there a risk that I have been restricted in my view of God as a result of the particular Christian environment I have been brought up in?) and also test the interpretation of the message that caused one to recoil.

I should also acknowledge here something not mentioned in this rather cerebral thread: the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation. I'm risking another huge topic here, but just in case anyone reading this thread has been muttering about this under their breath (or yelling at the wall), I'd better say I agree that one key factor in testing a concept will be something around how God's spirit in the Christian will prompt interpretation and reactions to what we read and hear. If I come across a claim that God is calling me to commit an act of violence against others because they are anti-God (that's not the same thing as atheist), I might expect a reaction I could attribute to God's spirit. However, I am still faced with a potential dilemma here: it appears God has made a claim on my behaviour – and yet God has prompted a negative reaction against it. What do I do? I think the only thing I can do (apart from ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away, or dropping out of Christianity) is to test things out. It's hard work, but necessary.

Side issue falls out from this. For Christians who find themselves in a strong community of believers there is a powerful urge not to rock the boat, but to follow the herd. If the leader of that community comes to believe that God is calling the group to take violent action against others (instances in recent history come to mind), it might place an individual in a nasty position. On the one hand there is a cogent argument that God is telling him or her to go along with the action. On the other there is reaction inside to say something is not right with this. There is a need, I think, for Christians to be have the tools to test out calls on a publicly evidential basis – i.e., able to produce evidence that others can observe and take into account, to check against the available evidence we have (focus on the record of Jesus and try to understand his life and work on the terms he set out). Otherwise we might just follow the herd somewhere ugly.

As Moo said, focussing on the evidence is what I have tried to do on this thread. My presuppositions may be wrong, my exegesis may be wrong, the tools I have pulled in from outside of biblical scholarship may be the wrong ones to use, but I guess I won't know for sure until I've tried them out.

So, back to the evidence...
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of necessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty.

It probably goes without saying now, but I don't agree that the Israelites simply thought that God was in favour of their interests. I think the traditions better reflect a context where Israel believed it was in the service of the supreme God, El. This was the same God that the other ancient near eastern nations accepted as being top dog (well, not in that exact term of course) over all specific gods of the nations. Israel therefore saw itself as, in some sense, authorised to act with a responsibility for all of creation. This isn't a post-exilic invention, it's there in texts which are accepted as being composed earlier.
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view.

Yes, that's a valid criticism of the approach offered here. It has evidence to support it, e.g., Jesus wrestled with the biblical experts of the day over interpretation of the OT. And, of course, if Jesus was God then he could do what he liked (sort of...). My stance on this is that we need to understand how Jesus reacted to the Jewish tradition on the basis of the way he used the biblical texts. There's a sense that Jesus on a number of occasions was combating certain traditions that were not in the bible; they were either extrapolations that actually contradicted what God had meant (e.g., the 'love your neighbour but hate your enemy' line), or they were wrong interpretations (e.g., divorce on the basis of Mosaic law alone). Then there's a sense in which Jesus uses some OT passages to open up a world of thought – a mindset, if you like. This is the concept of 'possible worlds' that I referred to earlier when I suggested Matthew 10 as an example. So I accept your point that Jesus did not of necessity endorse Jewish tradition, but I would want to suggest that he did endorse sets of more holistic views than is sometimes recognised.

This is the sort of issue that impacts on all the direct quotes that Jesus uses. When he quotes a short passage from an OT unit, is he endorsing an interpretation of just that limited section of the OT, or also the surrounding context? For example, in the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12 and parallels), Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23...
quote:
The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s work. We consider it amazing!
I'm happy to grant that he is making a reference to himself here, but it is also possible that he is evoking a 'world' in his hearers' minds that comes with Psalm 118, including the somewhat triumphalist sounding “Yahweh's covenant commitment (hesed) is eternal ... I look in triumph on those who hate me … in the name of Yahweh I cut them off!” If this 'world' is indeed being evoked, then the conclusion of the parable makes sense – that God (as owner of the vineyard) will come to destroy the tenants who had so violently opposed him.

It's the building up of examples like this that cause me look carefully at the likes of Love your enemies to ask, How can this text sit alongside all those others (including the more obvious “unless you repent you will all perish” types that Freddy quoted above) in the gospels as being validated by Jesus? Something has to give. Hence my question: How are we defining 'love' in this discussion?

I've offered my suggestion of how 'love' in the bible needs to be understood. Tackling the 'love your enemies' statement in that light would lead, I think, to an understanding along these lines:

[1] God's 'love' is unconditional in the sense of an offer to all without fear or favour, but conditional upon voluntary acceptance (repentance from rebellion).
[2] Jesus is combating a misinterpretation of Leviticus 19:18 (“You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against one of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself”). Presumably it had been read in the context of Leviticus 19 to be restricted solely to God's people: God said we should love fellow-citizens only, therefore by default we must not love those outside of our community. Jesus' response to this is that although Lev. 19 might indeed have been directly concerned with the Israelites at that point, the only correct extrapolation to take from there was to the universal claim God had on all creation as the senior member of a universal covenant.
[3] Therefore show that covenant love in justice to everyone, but be prepared to accept that at some stage some will utterly reject you and what you stand for. The ultimate test of everything is holiness – which implies perfect commitment to God's eternal covenant (Lev. 19:2 = be holy... Matt. 5:48 = be perfect...).
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
While I acknowledge that the passages of the OT in question are difficult to stomach - for obvious reasons - I don't think that there is any contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations.

I notice that there seems be a concern that these passages somehow condone "genocide", and that the tyrants of this world could use such accounts to justify their actions. This implies a particular approach to the Bible, in which it is viewed as merely a repository of ethical principles handed down to us, which we must now apply. If that is what biblical theism and / or Christianity is reduced to, then God help us. Judeo-Christianity is not merely an ethical system developed by a super Exemplar who intervened in human history through the implementation of certain universally applicable moral principles. I detect that some Christians seem to treat the Bible in this way, hence the "Life Application Bible" approach. This kind of religious pragmatism baffles me, as it seems to obviate the need for a living relationship and walk with God (why bother with God when you can just go through life applying the right moral principles?)

God is not a glorified man, but holds a unique position as One who can perform certain acts that cannot necessarily serve as moral examples to man (even if certain acts can be implemented by human agency under God's command). So God, being the judge of all the earth, may pass sentence on a city or nation, but that is his prerogative (not morally arbitrary prerogative, by the way), which has to be understood in context. How therefore can such an act serve as a moral precedent which man feels at liberty to apply to any other context?

There are many events in the Bible commanded by God, which cannot possibly be applicable in any other context. They are "on-off" events. The command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is one such event. Even God's calling of Ezekiel (Ezek. 3) cannot be applied as a general principle, as there is a specific spiritual context behind the command to be a "watchman" (a principle often used to "guilt trip" Christians into aggressive evangelism), and the leading of the Holy Spirit meant that there were times when Ezekiel was commanded to remain silent (v. 26). Another example is tithing. This is not a straightforward principle in the Bible that can just be applied "across the board" as is the case in many churches. I could go on...

So I find it rather strange that particular events occurring within specific contexts commanded by God under his unique prerogative, should be viewed as moral precedents, that could justify the holocaust, Rwanda etc.

In fact, here's another example. Let's suppose that someone should say that "because the legal system imprisons people, therefore I am justified in abducting someone and imprisoning him in my basement". I think 99.9999% of people would think such reasoning absurd. It is clear that the punishment handed down by a judge does not become a morally acceptable action in any context and for any reason.

As has been mentioned, the nations that were judged were destroyed on account of their great wickedness. We live in a moral universe, which is ruled by a moral judge, namely, God. There is also a corporate aspect to morality, since we live in a corporate world, in which human identity is largely dependent on culture and society. If morally responsible adults within a nation commit evil to the point where their nation is doomed to destruction (and we are talking about serious idolatry producing satanic actions), then the Righteous Judge has no choice but to take action. This action may be of a corporate nature, which tragically may mean that certain innocent individuals within that evil nation have to be punished with their parents. Does that mean that God is unjust in destroying the children? Or does it not mean that the parents have a moral responsibility to their children, and if they act in such a way as to provoke the judgment of God, that judgment may have to go ahead, but the blood of the children is on the head of the adult wrongdoers. (One may ask why the children couldn't be spared, but perhaps the answer to that lies in asking what would have happened if Israel had had to take responsibility for a large number of bitter and resentful children, who would grow up with one rather obvious agenda!)

I find this all extremely unpleasant (and, dare I say, so, I believe, does God), but God cannot be blamed for the tragic necessity of having to judge those who are deeply and wilfully committed to evil.

A crude (and admittedly less than perfect) example would be an aggressor trying to defend himself with a human shield. If it was necessary to attack that aggressor (who was perhaps firing missiles from behind the human shield), then his enemy (righteously defending their territory) may have to take that action, even if it meant endangering the lives of the innocent members of the human shield. Would those who actually physically killed the innocent be responsible for their deaths? Of course not! The person responsible is the one who deliberately put those innocent people in the place of danger.

Therefore I think we need to look very closely at the context of these events in the Old Testament, and also take seriously the spiritual dangers that these satanic cultures posed to the people of God (remember how pagan nations exerted a powerful influence on Israel throughout its history to draw people away from the true God). Those who do not believe in the reality and importance of the spiritual world will, of course, dismiss this point. But I am not in the business of capitulating to those who attempt to construct moral arguments from an inherently amoral worldview.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Just read EtymologicalEvangelical's point about the spiritual world, something I haven't mentioned. That too is a strong thread in the bible. It may have been a topic that became more focussed in later Jewish thought before Jesus' time, but certainly Jesus and the first Christians took seriously the idea that there were powers behind the thrones. This might also have connections to covenant and God as head of a divine assembly.

Given Pre-cambrian's concern about investing in shares connected to the timber and nail trade, I think a two-pronged approach is required now: one to allow time to deal with issues arising from the gospel material (which is necessary, given that this relates to Jesus' stance and from there to God's nature), and second to move on to Paul.

So, Paul. As with the gospels, there won't be time to look at every possibly relevant text, but if it turns out that there is only one that opens the door for consideration of herem, then that's enough. Once through, there's no point trying to bolt the door afterwards.

We've certainly got those universal statements of acceptance - “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...” etc. But Paul holds these alongside similar universal statements relating to condemnation – all have sinned... Paul asserts that reconciliation with God through Jesus is available to all, but is predicated on belief (Rom. 3:22-24). This at least appears to agree with Jesus' statements. More than this, though, in Romans Paul covers a wide sweep of Israelite history (as presented chronologically in the OT). He starts from the foundation, Gen. 1-3, in Romans 1 with the creator God, the rebellion against him, and takes it from there. He stresses the point that God has a universal covenantal relationship with all, because he is the creator. God is, therefore, perfectly entitled to be angry with this persistent rebellion and will, indeed, judge and condemn it. Interestingly, Paul also makes the point that warnings have been given (1:32), so what we are talking about here are rebels who knowingly continue to practice an unclean ethic persistently, in the face of warning. I suggest this all sounds very familiar to the conditions that lead up to herem. The question is, Does Paul relegate this to old history in view of the fact that Jesus has now come?

There are major chunks of Romans that might suggest that he does. Take the block running from 12:9 – 15:13. So much that is consonant with so much in the gospels: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love ... Bless those who persecute you ... Do not repay anyone evil for evil ... Do not take revenge ... love is the fulfilment of the law ... etc. It all sounds like it had been lifted from the gospel material.

However, I find myself coming across a thin but persistent thread again. Paul has not abandoned the idea that God will take action against those who have rebelled. Even in the middle of that long section in chapters 12 -15 addressed to Christians, and even when telling them not seek revenge (12:19), he justifies this not on the basis of 'love your enemies,' but by “leave room for God's wrath” and referring to a passage in Deuteronomy 32 - “vengeance is mine; I will repay.”

Is that shorthand for saying “Let God take all those negative emotions off your shoulders; he will absorb them and they will disappear” - in other words, there will be no actual violence? It would surely have been easy for Paul to say something like “Jesus has taken away all need for vengeance.” But he doesn't. He takes a passage about God's anger, as a read through Deuteronomy 32 reveals. Even taking into account that this is poetry, with rhetoric galore, the references in order are telling: Heaven and earth are invoked, and the supreme God (called Most High in 32:8) sorted out the bureaucracy around all the nations (universal setting), there is a rebellion, there is anger from God in response, warnings of the consequences of rebellion are announced in terms of the sentence that will be executed, Sodom and Gomorrah are referred to, and then God promises that he will pay the rebels back (“vengeance is mine; I will repay...”). The song ends up confirming again that God will take revenge and this, as in herem, means that the activity is reserved to God's authority.

I suggest that Paul has evoked another of those possible worlds, deliberately, by taking up the short quote. He has pretty much assumed that the processes associated with herem have not been annulled. They stand.

Does this mean that herem (for Paul) is totally reserved to God and human involvement is removed? On the one had, Yes: all who ignore the warnings and persist in rebellion (with their unclean ethics) will perish “on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts” and this concept is part of Jesus' good news, says Paul (Romans 2:16).

On the other hand... there's that enigmatic section in 1 Corinthians 6 in the context of Christian lawsuits: “...the saints will judge the world...we will judge angels.” If Paul was buying into the covenant worldview, then here we have a reference to our responsibilities as authorised images of the supreme God, as stewards over creation – judging nations and their (semi-)divine heads.

It's a thought.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
While I acknowledge that the passages of the OT in question are difficult to stomach - for obvious reasons - I don't think that there is any contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations.

I understand the point that we are not God and that this makes a huge difference, and so He can judge what we cannot. I do think that this is what we are supposed to assume, and it has worked for a long time. Few Christians over the ages have been upset over these things.

But I think that the fact is that there is a contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. God may permit destruction to happen for the sake of a higher long term purpose, which is that such destruction should never happen and that people live happily and at peace. But God Himself would never be the author of destruction.

I'm not sure that we can get past this central point.

As you know, my solution is that these biblical acts of destruction simply symbolize the way that evil destroys itself. None of these things were actually commanded by God, but were not untypical of the way nations of the time behaved. God then allowed them to be described the way that they were for a spiritual purpose. I know that doesn't work for everyone.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

Moo

[ 26. August 2011, 21:32: Message edited by: Moo ]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

I think that European colonials have often behaved that way. [Paranoid]

In any case, this makes herem a particularly odious concept. Certainly not something we would want to attribute to God.

Here is a quote from New Church teaching explaining why concepts such as herem play such an important role in the Bible. It begins with an explanation of why the serpent in Eden was cursed:
quote:
The inner sense of the Word establishes fairly clearly the symbolism of what Jehovah said to the snake: "A curse on you, above every beast and above every wild animal of the field!" The meaning is that the sensory level of their mind turned away from what was heavenly toward what was bodily, damning itself, or bringing a curse on itself.

Jehovah God--the Lord--never curses anyone, is never angry at anyone, never leads anyone into crisis. He does not even punish us, let alone curse us. It is the Devil's crew that does such things. Nothing of the sort could ever come from the fountain of mercy, peace, and goodness.

This passage and many others in the Word describe Jehovah God as not only turning his face away, being angry, punishing, and testing, but even killing--and, yes, cursing. This was in order to foster the belief that the Lord controls and arranges every last detail in the universe, including evil itself, punishments, and times of trial. After accepting this very general idea, people would learn just how he controls and arranges things. They would see that he transforms the evil involved in punishment and in our ordeals into good.

All scriptural teaching and learning begins with the most general things; for this reason the literal meaning abounds in broad ideas.
Swedenborg "Secrets of Heaven" 245

The point is that these things are said in the Bible for a good reason. Most people think this way, and few have historically struggled with them. They make sense at a very superficial level.

But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

I think that European colonials have often behaved that way. [Paranoid]
Even when the property is useful or desirable? I'm skeptical.

quote:
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.
I agree, but I think we should extract as much meaning from the text itself as we possibly can. The concept of herem was important to the Jews, and I want to know why.

Moo
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
Even when the property is useful or desirable? I'm skeptical.

Here is a table describing about one hundred Indian massacres in the Americas. In quite a number of them the colonists slaughtered hundreds of native Americans, including women and children, and completely destroyed their villages.

Native Americans also perpetrated massacres on the colonists, but I don't know if they tended to wreck their houses. Probably not. Of course I may be biased, being of Creek ancestry...
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I think we should extract as much meaning from the text itself as we possibly can. The concept of herem was important to the Jews, and I want to know why.

Yes, that's a great point. I agree completely. When it comes to the Bible, the better we understand the context, setting, culture, idioms, etc., the better.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Here is a table describing about one hundred Indian massacres in the Americas. In quite a number of them the colonists slaughtered hundreds of native Americans, including women and children, and completely destroyed their villages.

But they didn't have any use for the villages. My point is that under herem everything should be destroyed even if it was very useful or valuable. I don't know of any other situation where that happened.

Moo
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?

What would have happened if God had NOT judged the people of Jericho and others?

Bringing this issue more up-to-date: was the 'love of God' operative in the allies' resistance to Hitler? Was 'the love of God' working through the Normandy Landings, for example? Or does 'love' simply allow evil to flourish and trample underfoot all that is good?
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?
You cannot fit killing by people into a concept of Love and God, and if the OT suggests same, it is one of the bad examples where people decided what they wanted to do was divinely inspired. No bit of hell can fit into heaven. What happens is that sometimes evil ones run things for a while, and then there is a change. The seeing of human affairs as involving the hand of God is pretty ridiculous.

quote:
What would have happened if God had NOT judged the people of Jericho and others?
You really believe this? That God would arrange for the killing of you, your family, your mother, your father, your baby, your pets, your livestock? That is not God. That is an explanation cooked up after the fact, written down later.

quote:
Bringing this issue more up-to-date: was the 'love of God' operative in the allies' resistance to Hitler? Was 'the love of God' working through the Normandy Landings, for example? Or does 'love' simply allow evil to flourish and trample underfoot all that is good?
No. When the bomb dropped on the house in the Rhineland that contained 2 families of my cousins, God did not guide that. It was an American bombardier. When another cousin was killed in a POW camp in Michigan at age 19, it was not the hand of God. When another was killed in Italy, and another on the Russian front, it was also not the hand of God. It was not the hand of God that led soldiers on the other side of my family to shoot Germans in Holland in 1944. It was not the hand of God that led Japan to bomb Pearl Harbour such that the USA would enter the European war after it had been raging for 2 years. Nor was the hand of God involved in the American conquest of the Philippines, restriction of steel and oil imports to Japan and all the underlying other reasons that Japan held out as reasons for war against the Americans.

On another example, it is doubtful that the hand of God was involved in the USA overthrown of the democratically elected gov't of Guatemala in the 1950s on behalf of the United Fruit Company and subsequent sponsorship of brutal dictatorships that killed thousands over the next 30 years.

Yet another, it is doubtful that God wanted atom bombs to kill 100s of thousands of people in Japan. A god who would do such is actually a devil.

The sort of ideas that underlies the assumption that God empowers armies and gets on the side of anyone or any country makes me very sad and mad. God was a tribal god image at most in some of the OT passages at debate. And still is in the ideas that any country or people is chosen by God.

[ 27. August 2011, 23:27: Message edited by: no_prophet ]
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
So therefore God does nothing about evil?

Not a God I wish to believe in.

Certainly this is not the God of the Bible, and therefore nothing to do with Jesus Christ, who affirmed the truth of the Bible (i.e. at least what we call the Old Testament).

[ 27. August 2011, 23:41: Message edited by: EtymologicalEvangelical ]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?
They are judged. They are choosing the path to hell and not to heaven.

The point is that it is their own choices and actions that are taking them away from the light, away from love and happiness. This is what is called God's "judgment."

The system is organic. Hell is caused by evil, it is not a place that God sends the evil-doer.

Just as a parent is seen by the child as the cause of both benefits and punishments, the Bible presents God as the author of both. People need to understand that evil will not succeed. The self-destructive nature of evil is not immediately apparent to people.

The bottom line is that bad choices and impure desires bring on judgment, whether from the civil authorities, the social responses of society, or the spiritual darkness left when God is blocked out.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
I'm intrigued to see that there are still plenty of assertions on the thread based on the “God is Love, therefore he wouldn't possibly do...” theme.

I'm going to have to push again for a clear definition of that English word 'love.' We can't make the logical move to what God would or would not do simply by syntactical assertion. I see from the biblical evidence (linguistic and contextual – including extra-biblical) that the biblical writers understood the word 'love' in covenantal terms. The covenant worldview drove the semantics. 'Love' to the biblical writers – both OT and as validated by Jesus – meant and denoted a semantic field that included affection, which overlaps with the English use, but also included loyalty, obedience, and commitment. Contained within that covenant field is the expectation that non-love, in the sense of voluntary rebellion against the senior covenant partner, would trigger an expectation of punishment.

The argument is that the love of God includes judgement and is allied to concepts of punishment. Jesus validates this wider view, so does Paul.

What's needed, I think, is an analysis of that argument because if it is correct then the obvious question must be: Where, then, are we getting alternative concepts of love from? Upon what philosophical basis are we saying it is logical to conclude that God would never do such and such?

It would probably also follow that if the basis for reaching a conclusion about God's character / nature (and resulting ethical principles) is derived from somewhere outside of the biblical writings, then the question arises: Is it properly Christian?

That outcome might focus the minds!
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The argument is that the love of God includes judgement and is allied to concepts of punishment. Jesus validates this wider view, so does Paul.

Yes, in human terms love includes punishment and judgment. A loving parent must discipline their child. A loving judge must pass sentence on criminals. A loving soldier must kill the attacking enemy.

The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor. The parent does not become enraged at the child.

But Jesus describes God's view this way:
quote:
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
"Perfect" is here defined as making "His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send(ing) rain on the just and on the unjust." In other words, He loves us whether we love Him or not.

The key, I think, is that punishment happens, judgment happens, but God is not the agent of that judgment and punishment. Instead, existence is arranged in such a way that judgment and punishment are inherent in evil, but not in good. I don't think that this makes God the agent of these things, but God is the agent of justice.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor.

Inevitably I am coming at the passages from outside the Swedenborgian paradigm, so my approach to them is different. I think, for example, that one could take up a symbolic view of the herem passages without necessarily having to conclude that they were inspired by the Devil or the Devil's servants. It would be possible to say either that (a) the human writers were just genuinely wrong in their assumption that God would act in accordance with the then contemporary worldview, or (b) that God accommodated to that worldview in the sense that he directed action relevant to the level of understanding at the time. From the NT side of things one could then interpret things symbolically in order to apply the passages to our lives.

I also think it is possible to say that there is actually no contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. Again, this is predicated upon understanding the term 'love' in its context. There may indeed be no anger involved in judgement – it might be passed quite dispassionately – but I'm still stuck with the fact there is a record that combines the affection side of love with the discipline side of love in such a way that there exists room for an ultimate sanction in the face of ultimate rebellion. So even if we discount biblical references to anger in connection with God as being rhetorical (or even unnecessarily anthropomorphic), we still have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. And again, God is recorded as being the authorising agent by the biblical writers.

It would seem to me that there must be a further principle at work in trying to distance God from this particular activity of herem, as opposed to the much more frequent aspect of war generally. General war could be attributed to human activity in the bible, but herem is parked quite consciously in God's ball park. The question is what that principle might be and is it capable of justification from a biblical view?

The two ways out of this seem to boil down to either [1] redefining love in such a way that it completely discounts the possibility that God's nature could ever encompass such an activity as herem, or [2] taking the denotations and connotations of love as expressed in the bible and redefining God's nature accordingly.

On the 'love your enemies' passage, I agree this highlights that God loves all indiscriminatingly. When placed alongside other sayings by Jesus, though, it raises that question about contradictions. One way out is symbolic, based on accepting that Jesus when talking about divine punishment was referring to the form of natural bounce-back caused on those who perpetrate rebellion. The other way is to reconsider what was meant by the word 'love' at the time to see if there really was a contradiction. I've gone down this latter route and show how there is no contradiction in the first place. Such a conclusion, of course, can cause consternation!

Either way this goes, the conclusions will destabilise some. Those brought up with a view of a God who offers unconditional reconciliation will be concerned to find that he might also impose destruction. Those brought up with a view of a God who will actively provide justice in the face of human injustice will be concerned to find that he might actually impose universal reconciliation.

We're dealing here with two state of emotion that we as humans appear to have been born with: the desire that everything would be at peace, but also the sense of injustice that rises when someone jumps the queue and gets away with it!
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
So therefore God does nothing about evil?

Does not appear to do anything on an individual basis, in terms of intervening in day to day life. Appears to let free will of good and evil intent to play out fully, whether in the stranger attack against a family member of mine, in the various other crimes against innocents that will happen to day, within the gas chambers as people screamed and pleaded for God's intervention, within the ships that slowly filled with water after 07 Dec 1941 in Pearl Harbour, with the wanton slaughter in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, etc. The list is endless. God does not appear to intervene in human affairs directly. Perhaps (s)he did in biblical times, but I sincerely doubt it, even if others interpreted it this way. For whatever unfathomable reason, he let Jesus die too, allowing full suffering to occur, and didn't remove the cup of death from him. The worst of that story is the forsaken bit - where Jesus feels fully the absence of God, a piece of hell I think - which we are not required to do in our suffering, because we have a companion who won't do that to us. (I'll add a dammit to that, because I do want what you want - an active intervening against evil God.)

quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:Not a God I wish to believe in.
If you experience a few random evils, pray about them, and get no answer, regardless of your commitment to live the Christian life, your full intent to follow a specific or general commitment to Jesus, you may, like me, be working with the understanding that God seems to be willing to support you through nasty things, but does not intervene directly. Hence, the goodness of people after our experience of a recent major crime, the excellence of care, support of everyone, even people we're not well acquainted with, kindness and willingness to do whatever to help us navigate through it. I intellectually understood what I am posting before our recent episode, and now am getting it spiritually and experientially. (another dammit here!)

quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Certainly this is not the God of the Bible, and therefore nothing to do with Jesus Christ, who affirmed the truth of the Bible (i.e. at least what we call the Old Testament).

The God of the bible is the the god that people thought he was, just as some televangelists can interpret hurricanes as God's wrath. The bible is people's interaction with God filtred through their very human perceptions. If we are careful we can see God amidst their various interpretations, but we should be very cautious to accept generally as other than a story of faith and belief, and a growing consciousness re who they are in relation to God.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor.

Inevitably I am coming at the passages from outside the Swedenborgian paradigm, so my approach to them is different. I think, for example, that one could take up a symbolic view of the herem passages without necessarily having to conclude that they were inspired by the Devil or the Devil's servants. It would be possible to say either that (a) the human writers were just genuinely wrong in their assumption that God would act in accordance with the then contemporary worldview, or (b) that God accommodated to that worldview in the sense that he directed action relevant to the level of understanding at the time.
Both (a) and (b) are likelihoods.

The people and the human writers were genuinely wrong in many of their assumptions, and God worked with that.

So God did accommodate to their worldview. But He Himself did not direct actions that harmed people.

Rather, He allowed these things to take place, as He does with all evil that happens. Evil actions can only take place by God's permission, which does not mean that He wills them, only that they must be permitted for the sake of a higher end, or that preventing them would involve taking away human freedom.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
I also think it is possible to say that there is actually no contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. Again, this is predicated upon understanding the term 'love' in its context.

I would say that there is no contradiction between a God of love and one who permits the destruction of cities and nations for a higher purpose. Obviously these things were permitted or they wouldn't have happened, unless God was powerless to prevent them.

But this doesn't make them good, and it would be wrong to seriously think that God Himself did these things.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
So even if we discount biblical references to anger in connection with God as being rhetorical (or even unnecessarily anthropomorphic), we still have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. And again, God is recorded as being the authorising agent by the biblical writers.

I'm not sure that we have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. Wickedness longs to execute. All it needs is an excuse. God is recorded as the authorizing agent for the reason I gave before, which is so that people would understand that God is in control of everything.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
General war could be attributed to human activity in the bible, but herem is parked quite consciously in God's ball park. The question is what that principle might be and is it capable of justification from a biblical view?

The principle is that God rules everything.

Part 2 of that principle is that there is a mutual covenant between God and the human race. This means that everything has consequences.

Part 3 of that principle is the Lex Taliones, the Law of Retaliation. Everything rebounds on its source. Every infraction must be paid for.

These add up to the precision of herem, because these factors are minutely governed.

Still, this doesn't mean that God is the author of anything evil or harmful. Instead He is the author of a stable universe which necessarily involves consistent consequences.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The two ways out of this seem to boil down to either [1] redefining love in such a way that it completely discounts the possibility that God's nature could ever encompass such an activity as herem, or [2] taking the denotations and connotations of love as expressed in the bible and redefining God's nature accordingly.

In a broad sense God's love does account for and permit herem. But this does not mean that He wills it, or that its destructive force originates in Him. Instead the arrangement is simply that if something manages to shield itself from the light it is then in darkness. If humans turn way from God then they are left with evil - and this accounts for what is perceived as God's retribution.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
On the 'love your enemies' passage, I agree this highlights that God loves all indiscriminatingly. When placed alongside other sayings by Jesus, though, it raises that question about contradictions. One way out is symbolic, based on accepting that Jesus when talking about divine punishment was referring to the form of natural bounce-back caused on those who perpetrate rebellion. The other way is to reconsider what was meant by the word 'love' at the time to see if there really was a contradiction. I've gone down this latter route and show how there is no contradiction in the first place.

I take the former route. It seems obvious to me that Jesus employed these kinds of metaphors. I can't think of a way of redefining love to include genocide. It is hard enough to accept that God even allowed such things to happen,
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved.

I seriously disagree with you here.

To suggest that God - the God of absolute love - does not show anger, is to completely depersonalise Him. This smacks more of Greek philosophical thinking - Stoicism - than the revelation of God given through Scripture.

I suppose some interpreters would regard the multitudinous passages about God's anger as "mere anthropomorphisms". The problem with that is that these "anthropomorphisms" are all we have to play with. On what basis would anyone judge that these descriptions do not express the reality of God? After all, if this is the way God has chosen to communicate with man, then it follows logically that if (very big IF) God is essentially unlike anything we can understand, then clearly no one has the right to make assumptions about what has to be accepted is a complete mystery.

We can't have it both ways! Where is the revelation that God does not become angry at evil, when the only revelation we do have tells us the precise opposite?

Anger does not imply injustice. It is morally right to feel angry at the phenomenon of evil. "Be angry and do not sin" as Psalm 4:4 tells us (confirmed in the NT by Ephesians 4:26).

God is a real person, not a theological principle (or mere artificial personalisation of a moral philosophy), and surely that is more in keeping with the idea of 'love'! Therefore He has the feelings of a person, as Jesus displayed many times during His ministry (for example, Mark 3:5). The revelation of God through Jesus was not deceptive, and surely Jesus did not display attitudes contrary to those of God.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved.

I seriously disagree with you here.

To suggest that God - the God of absolute love - does not show anger, is to completely depersonalise Him.

Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Clearly the Bible presents God as one who is capable of anger and wrath. He sometimes flies into rages and threatens to destroy people. Other times He speaks tenderly and confidentially to biblical characters.

In order to see God as real and human I think that we need to attribute qualities like this to Him. Similarly we need to give Him a gender, a face and hands, or think of Him as sitting on a throne in heaven, or by our side holding us.

But to actually get at the nature and quality of God I think that we need to think in spiritual terms, that is, in terms of His love and wisdom. We shouldn't eliminate the imagery that is so necessary to our relationship with Him, but we should realize that these qualities are the requirement of our frail human understanding.
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Are you suggesting then that God cannot suffer?!

Are you saying that God is completely impervious to any feeling or any heartfelt concern for anything?

What sort of 'God' is that? Is that kind of 'God' even a person? This sounds more like a blind and impersonal force, no different from the forces of nature.

quote:
We shouldn't eliminate the imagery that is so necessary to our relationship with Him, but we should realize that these qualities are the requirement of our frail human understanding.
Yes, but where is the evidence that these images are merely a concession to our "frail understanding"? This is a point I have already refuted in my last post!

If human understanding is "frail", then on what basis can we then say that God is "impassible"?? That seems to imply that those who are making this claim do not possess a "frail understanding"! How so?

We cannot have it both ways!

And... as I made clear in my last post ... are you suggesting that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ was deliberately deceptive? [Confused]
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Are you suggesting then that God cannot suffer?!
As I mentioned, this is a long-standing debate.

It makes sense to me that God is impassible because to me it is essential that He be unchanging. It is hard for us to conceive of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who is infinite love. It is hard for us to conceive of a being who can be intimately involved in the lives of trillions of people simultaneously throughout the universe.

It doesn't make sense to me that this kind of God would be irked that a few ignorant Israelites danced around a gold calf. Like He didn't know they were going to do it!
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
And... as I made clear in my last post ... are you suggesting that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ was deliberately deceptive? [Confused]

The revelation of God through Jesus Christ was not deliberately deceptive. The message, however, was accommodated to those who received it. God's message, as it is in itself, is infinitely complex and far beyond our ability to receive it.

[ 29. August 2011, 18:18: Message edited by: Freddy ]
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
It makes sense to me that God is impassible because to me it is essential that He be unchanging. It is hard for us to conceive of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who is infinite love. It is hard for us to conceive of a being who can be intimately involved in the lives of trillions of people simultaneously throughout the universe.

It doesn't make sense to me that this kind of God would be irked that a few ignorant Israelites danced around a gold calf. Like He didn't know they were going to do it!

I find your viewpoint completely contradictory.

If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, as well as being infinite love, then it follows that He is intimately involved with every situation, and with every human life. Therefore it follows logically that because God is infinite love He most certainly would be more than "irked" by the rebellion of any number of His people in any situation. The fact that He foreknew it, is completely irrelevant. We are not talking about the concept of surprise, but God's grief at the reality of evil. It is possible to be angry and grieved about something while at the same time knowing that it is going to happen.

This is true even of human beings. If we see a missile being directed towards a certain country and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it, we can feel anger at what we know is going to happen when that missile hits its target before it does so. And this can be true of God who cannot prevent certain things from happening without violating human free will. (BTW, there is a clear conceptual difference between foreknowledge and predestination.)

Your view of God sounds more like a glorified man sitting at the top of a hierarchy (who can't be bothered with the "trivial" upsets at the bottom), than of an omnipresent God.

quote:
The revelation of God through Jesus Christ was not deliberately deceptive. The message, however, was accommodated to those who received it. God's message, as it is in itself, is infinitely complex and far beyond our ability to receive it.
If you are saying that we cannot understand God - as He "really is" - and we can only understand Him through the language of accommodation, then please kindly explain how we can know that this language is merely accommodation, since we cannot understand the hypothesised "non-accommodation" ideas behind it? In other words, how is it that you can claim to have an understanding of the "true" nature of God (i.e. the nature that does not include emotions such as anger), while at the same time telling us that it is too complex and beyond our understanding?

You're trying to have your cake and eat it! Are you so superior to everyone else that you can see beyond the so-called "language of accommodation"? How???
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, as well as being infinite love, then it follows that He is intimately involved with every situation, and with every human life. Therefore it follows logically that because God is infinite love He most certainly would be more than "irked" by the rebellion of any number of His people in any situation. The fact that He foreknew it, is completely irrelevant. We are not talking about the concept of surprise, but God's grief at the reality of evil.

Great answer!

Yes, He can be intimately involved with everyone because He is, after all, infinite. So, yes, it would be possible for Him to watch closely and be irked about situations such as that of the Israelites' bad behavior in the wilderness.

And yes, His foreknowledge is irrelevant in that sense. He can grieve things that He knew were going to happen.

But God's foreknowledge is relevant in another sense. That is that He knows how it will all turn out. He knows that His prophecies will come true. He knows that the New Jerusalem will descend.

God's omniscience puts everything done by the Israelites, or anyone else, in context. He is impassible because His will cannot be frustrated. He does everything perfectly. The evils that He allows are only the ones absolutely necessary to achieve the goals of perfect love.

Still, I struggle to conceive of this. So it is necessary for me to believe that God suffers when people suffer. As far as I am concerned this is the kind of thing that love is about. If I suffer and believe that God does not care it isn't possible for me to think of Him as infinite love. This is why it is so important for us to believe that Jesus Christ is God because He did suffer and He did grieve over our imperfect state.
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
If you are saying that we cannot understand God - as He "really is" - and we can only understand Him through the language of accommodation, then please kindly explain how we can know that this language is merely accommodation, since we cannot understand the hypothesised "non-accommodation" ideas behind it?

Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 and John 16:
quote:
Matthew 13:13 "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father."

He was clearly accommodating to the state of His listeners.

Also, we know that human civilization has progressed over time in its ability to describe ideas in accessible terms without relying on metaphor. From that perspective we can surmise that our own capactiy to understand must be similarly limited in relation to future generations, and in relation to God.
 
Posted by EtymologicalEvangelical (# 15091) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 and John 16:

quote:
Matthew 13:13 "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father."

He was clearly accommodating to the state of His listeners.
Yes, that is true of the parables, but what about this statement from Mark 3:5, which I referred to earlier? Here is the context:

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

Are you really suggesting that Jesus' anger in this situation was merely 'figurative', and we are to understand this as merely a parable?? This is clearly not a parable but an accurate description of how Jesus felt and reacted in the situation.

I can't see how the human race has progressed to the point where we feel justified in interpreting this to mean that Jesus was NOT in fact angry, and that that anger does NOT reflect the character of God!

Furthermore, how is it more progressive to believe that God cannot be angry at evil rather than be angry? I can't see what is so progressive about that conclusion. (And, of course, it depends how we define the word 'progressive' anyway!)
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Are you really suggesting that Jesus' anger in this situation was merely 'figurative', and we are to understand this as merely a parable?? This is clearly not a parable but an accurate description of how Jesus felt and reacted in the situation.

I agree. It's not a parable. Jesus really was angry.

This is why he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father, as He says in John. He is who we should love and worship because He is God as we can comprehend Him.
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Furthermore, how is it more progressive to believe that God cannot be angry at evil rather than be angry? I can't see what is so progressive about that conclusion. (And, of course, it depends how we define the word 'progressive' anyway!)

I agree that being apathetic about evil is not "progressive." It's not that God doesn't care about evil. Rather His omniscience gives Him a perspective that we lack.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Not wanting to disrupt other conversations (please do continue!), but I did promise that I would keep the second track going too: tracking herem as expressed in the NT.

On the way to Revelation I should mention 2 Peter 3, because that passage demonstrates that the concept of herem was not limited to Paul among the epistle writers.

I guess that everyone is familiar with the Final Day of Judgement scene as played out in the book of Revelation (chapter 20:11-15). It picks up themes from elsewhere in the bible – both OT and NT. The prelude to the “Thanks Goodness! At last!” vision of a combined rejuvenated cosmos with God over all and every created thing living in perfected peace is quite familiar. I appreciate that the book of Revelation contains quite picturesque language; plenty of poetic imagery and rhetoric. Nevertheless the world thrown up by this type of language does not have to be totally 'other.' There are overlaps with our way of seeing things, e.g., we understand a chronological time line when we see it, and we understand that themes are being expressed. We can also recognised propositions when they are expressed, even in the poetic passages. Consequentially I think it is valid to look to see what themes are referred to in the book to see if any of them relate to herem. Now it would be easy to make a facile connection between that final judgement in chapter 20 and herem, but its shortness does not permit enough of an evidential link. I do, however, find links galore in the book leading up to that point (NET version used in quotes below).

The assertion that God has a universal claim over all creation is made. For example, through Jesus (from the author's introduction): “Grace and peace to you from he who is, and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:4-5), or “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (4:11).

Humans will receive authority to judge and rule generally. E.g., “He [Jesus] has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (1:6) and “...you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9-10). These two aspects – universality and human involvement – are consistent with the idea of humans made in the image of God, authorised to rule in God's name as stewards (which is not inconsistent with the idea of ruling as junior kings in a covenant partnership). The author of Revelation incorporates Jesus into this scheme as foundational ruler and then all faithful people on the back of that. Kings were the final court of appeal in the ancient near east, but where does the priestly function apply in respect of judging? It may of been found in a number of ways, but they do seem to have had a lead role in the warning delivered to Jericho (and thus to the whole land) by leading the announcement of punishment and final warning during those last seven days parading around the city. This idea of human authority is linked to...

Humans involved in the punishment exercise. In addition to the passage in the last paragraph, we also have 17:13-14, where Jesus is in war with rebels and fighting with him are his followers: “These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.”

The authority to exercise this judgement is reserved to God alone. This is similar to Paul's 'leave room for God's vengeance' theme: the saints are recorded as crying out, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” The author evokes the concept of destruction in his use of the verb apollumi and the related noun apoleia in the book. In fact, 'destruction' makes a personalised appearance as Apollyon in 9:1, with a link to the Hebrew word for destruction, just in case anyone thought that this Apollyon was a Greek god rather than a very Hebrew activity authorised by God. The activity connected to this destruction is herem.

The coming judgement and punishment was not unexpected by the rebels. E.g., “Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?'” (6:15-17). Included in this passage is the idea that judgement would be led by Jesus, representing God, and also by his followers - 'their' day of wrath. The nearest referent to this 'their' is the set of murdered faithful ones in 6:9-11.

Herem could be avoided only by repentance. “The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing” (9:20-21). Rebellion is here linked with an ethic that did not accord with God's ethic. The link is confirmed in 16:11 - “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.”

Warning is given in advance of the punishment. The image of two witnesses is used to represent this in 11:3-5 (“And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. ... If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way”) and also via heavenly messengers in 14:6-7: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”


All of those points above, cumulatively, are consistent with the worldview of covenant and herem expressed through the rest of the bible. All that has changed is the language use. In fact, although it is usual to say that apocalyptic language arose from an earlier prophetic style of language and related themes, I wonder if, stripped of the flowery, picturesque language, whether apocalypticism does not rather have its roots buried in much earlier themes – that of covenant and associated activities (including herem).

To round things off, Revelation makes a point fitting to its place at the end of the chronological biblical story line: at the conclusion of the final destruction of rebels...
quote:
...there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him.
Another little linguistic snapshot. 'Curse' in that passage is katathema, a prepositional cognate of anathema. Although there is no one Greek word used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the rather technical term herem, they do use the word anathema more often than not. There are only six occurrences of anathema in the NT, all in pretty extreme conditions, not surprising, given the severe nature of herem. These instances are:-

Acts 23:14 - They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul.

Romans 9:3 - For I could wish that I myself were accursed – cut off from Christ – for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen

1 Corinthians 12:3 - So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 16:22 - Let anyone who has no love for the Lord be accursed. Our Lord, come!

Galatians 1:8 - But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell!

Galatians 1:9 - As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!


I think this is a good place to stop the analyses of biblical references in general while leaving open the option of discussing any other particular passage that might be raised. I'll come back with a wrap up in the next couple of days and see where the discussion might lead. From the evidence, though, it really does look as though the activity described as herem in the OT is part of God's nature, as validated by Jesus, and has not just a past but also a present and future aspect. It was seen by the biblical writers to be a consistent theme, part of the aspect of God's nature called 'God's Love' in the bible, that also drove a clean (indeed holy) ethic, which in turn informs ways of behaviour in the world.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
I said that I was orf.

And so I am.

But I have lurked.

And my blood pressure has increased X 1000 at the exegesis of passages all supposedly linked to "herem" and all increasingly "way out" (IMO) to the extent that I will not even bother to lurk henceforth.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
Welcome back to the dark side, shamwari!

Happy to discuss said exegesis as and when. Although the 'when' may becoming restricted timewise, alas.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
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)?
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Boogie (# 13538) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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...
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
...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.
 
Posted by no_prophet (# 15560) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Evensong (# 14696) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
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
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
Moo

If only
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
Thanks for that, Shamwari, come and join me inside the whale!
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by shamwari (# 15556) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Kwesi (# 10274) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Freddy (# 365) on :
 
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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