According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Jewish Perspective of the Bible

My Bible – A Jew’s Perspective (RJS)
by RJS
November 29, 2012
The first essay in the new book by Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University), Peter Enns (Eastern University) and Daniel J. Harrington (Boston College), The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically & Religiously, is by Brettler. In this essay he reflects on the development and diversity of Jewish engagement with the Scripture and what this means for the believing Jewish scholar.
The picture to the right is of a fourth or fifth century synagogue at Bar’am National Park in Israel. It was long thought to date a couple hundred years earlier, but new investigations have demonstrated that it was built later using the remains of an earlier second or third century (probably pagan Roman) structure.
I found Brettler’s essay fascinating for several reasons: the sketch of the history of Jewish thought, the similarities and differences in the approach to scripture, and the insight it provides into modern Jewish thinking. Many, perhaps 20%-25%, of my colleagues are Jewish ranging from orthodox through the variations to thoroughly secular. About the only group not represented to the best of my knowledge are the ultra-orthodox.
Rather than try to summarize the whole of Brettler’s essay, I will instead point to two of the themes he develops. The first relates to torah or Torah, and the second to the Bible as history and science (a topic of concern in many of my posts).
[The Bible as] Torah
In looking to the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures Brettler chooses to focus on the Torah or Law because this is the central document for the Jewish faith. Brettler builds a case that there was a development through the biblical texts from torah as teachings and laws, lower case, plural (torot), including parts of the Pentateuch, to the view of single divine Torah. The view of a single divine Torah was accepted in the late books of the Old Testament, especially Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.
The absence of this term [the torah of Moses] in earlier prophetic material bolsters the idea that the notion of a Mosaic Torah, identical with the Pentateuch, only developed in the Second Temple period.
Once this idea of a Mosaic Torah arose, it stuck. Thus, over a dozen times the Dead Sea Scrolls (second century BCE-first CE) refer to “the Torah of Moses,” alongside less frequent references to “the Torah of God/the LORD.” … The New Testament, written in the same period, also likely assumes in places that the Torah is Mosaic (see, for example, Matt 19:8; Mark 12:26) (p. 30-31)
The notion that parts of the Pentateuch are divine revelations to Moses dates from the earliest documents – the idea of the Torah as a single document of divine revelation developed later.
The knowledge that the Torah was composite in its origin was likely lost shortly after its redaction or compilation into a single document, and, thereafter, there was no prevarication involved in speaking of the Torah, or God’s [Torah], or Moses’ Torah, as a unified document. This belief, developed in the Second Temple period, reached the classical rabbis and through them Maimonides and other theologians. Yet I will suggest that it is constructive to return to this “lost” knowledge about the Torah’s complex composition. (p. 31)
Maimonides (1135-1205) took this general belief in a single unified Mosaic Torah and enshrined it for years to come. His shortened eighth and ninth principles read (p. 25):
I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah we now possess is the one given to Moses our teacher – may he rest in peace.
I believe in perfect faith that this Torah will never be changed …
The long forms are even clearer stating that the whole Torah was given from God “through Moses who acted like a secretary taking dictation” and “this Torah was precisely transcribed from God.” (p. 34)
Brettler suggests however, that tradition aside, a more complex view of the origin of the Torah is warranted both by the internal evidence of the text itself and the external evidence in the earlier rabbis and teachers. This is not to deny either revelation or inspiration. A revelation through a variety of sources complied into a unified document is still a revelation from God. The Torah can be better appreciated, even by the faithful, when it is viewed through the lens of critical study. An alternative view is that “the sanctity of the text derives from the redactor, or from the community as a whole. (p. 39)
That the inspiration of scripture derives, at least in part, from the work of the Spirit in the redaction of the text we have received is one that should resonate with Christians. Although the Jewish believer, of course, does not attach the Spirit to the process the way the Christian does.
Brettler also notes a bit later when considering the authorship of books in the Hebrew Bible that “canonicity involves authority, not inspiration.” (p. 56) [Consequently,] the Christian view of inspiration, while having roots and parallels in Jewish thought, should not be imposed on the Jewish view of scripture.
[The Problem of ] Literalism: The Bible as History and as Science.
Jewish tradition is much less concerned with the literal truth and the historical accuracy of the biblical text than is the Protestant tradition. This is true with respect to what would typically be categorized as history and as science. (p. 52)
History proves a somewhat malleable form of truth telling. Chronicles is “a creative revision of Genesis-Kings” and the plague narratives of Exodus are recounted differently in later books. The differences do not discount the work of God in history, but display an attitude that doesn’t assign significance to the precise details.
This is because in ancient Israel, as in other premodern societies, the facts themselves or the historical events were not primary – [but] what could be learned from the stories was primary. (p. 52)
Debates continue about what should and should not be read literally – inside and outside the Torah. But in Jewish thought there is “broad consensus … that the Bible should not always or primarily be read literally.” (p. 53) The book of Genesis was not viewed as “natural history” but as “about morality and our relationship to God.” The primary meaning is not the surface meaning. Within Judaism therefore, even among devout Jews, scientific views of evolution and the age of the earth cause relatively little trouble. The inferences drawn by some (especially those intent on promoting ontological natural or scientific materialism) are at odds with Jewish belief – but the scientific theories themselves are not.
Does the history sketched by Brettler surprise you?
What authority should we attach to the Second Temple view of the Torah as a unified Mosaic document?
Do the references in the New Testament to the books of Moses carry separate authority or could they reflect an (inaccurate) common view of the time?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]
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