Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should Church Creeds and Confessions Change with Advances in Human Knowledge?

…while the reality of God and God’s acts for human salvation in Christ remain constant, human apprehension of their truth and significance changes and develops. Our access to the truths is through historically, culturally and socially conditioned interpretations.

Credal statements do not escape this and are therefore not immutable. That we live in different, and equally limited and partial, historical, cultural and social conditions entails…that, even when we repeat the same words as the writers of Scripture or the formulators of the creeds, their meaning for us is not guaranteed to be the same as it was for them.

The consequence is not that all doctrinal truth becomes relative but that the Church in succeeding generations, through it theologians and teachers, through its worship and practice, is inevitably involved in the hard work of interpretation of the truths that shape its life. It should not be surprising that advances in knowledge throw up problems that require rethinking the tradition. After all, one of the tasks of theologians is to explore and restate central doctrines in the light of developments in human knowledge.

The doctrine of creation is now rethought in the light of what is taken to be the case in respect to cosmology or evolution or genetics but nevertheless it is still a doctrine of creation when it affirms that the universe and its life as we know them depend for their existence on a divine Creator.

At Relevancy22 we have explored the question of "stasis and knowledge" frequently and often. By this is meant the idea of whether the church must remain in a state of doctrinal equilibrium - or spiritual imbalance - as caused by the equal and opposing forces we see occurring today demanding perceptive scientific, and philosophic, advancement to that of the church's lagging creeds of Christian dogma and understanding.

Relevancy22 was birthed on the heels of this reflection a short three years ago causing this author to necessarily reflect upon the present state of theology when confronted by the separate contemporary activities we do now see and hear propounded all around us.... From observed short-sighted statements to publically outlandish remarks made in print and media while all the while attempting to bring some idea of biblical centering to the many faith topics at hand.

To accomplish this task at once required identifying the theological barriers we have built around our Christian psyche (or is it psychosis?) that would disallow any kind of movement or questioning of a past orthodox system that had become outdated and outmoded. Having no previous examples or leadership in this area I began to undertake this task alone with the strength and passion laid upon my heart by the Holy Spirit. It became a body of work that slowly evolved requiring a newer epistemology that challenged past beliefs and religious training. But one that would utilize the best of the postmodern, post-evangelic church movement with all the resultant discoveries flowing forthwith in the burgeoning swells of delight and enlightenment.

Basically it required moving the goal posts if not the entire lines on the playing field in order to ask better questions while discovering more relevant data sets of  doctrinal reflection. My old set of "biblical" rules and logic could no longer keep pace with the many newer reflections and interpretations challenging the fundamental areas of systematic and biblical theology as I was observing it. All had to change. And change it did with a drive I had little expected.

The first order of business was to burn all spurious beliefs down to the ground and begin to rebuild again. This was my period of deconstruction and re-learning. It was a period in which I never had despair even though I did have a great heaviness of heart that Christian theology must be upgraded if it were to even pretend to meet the needs of our postmodern societies and faith. It was as if the Lord drove me to re-capture the very ideas He would have for His church if it should listen with a new heart, new mind, and new spirit. That the past church doctrines built upon Greek classicism and secular modernism could no longer effectively reach beyond today's newer thoughts and ideas about the Lord's Spirit and grace, work and rule. It required new words. New ideas. A new language. And most importantly, a new mindset seeking better questions - and not for solutions alone. A more liberal attitude that was less restrictive and restricting.

My task became one of not defending God but of discovering our Redeemer-Creator past the words of His people. Past the deeds of His serving church. And past the attitudes of fear and apologetics meted out by public pulpit and Christian rhetoric. At once these platitudes must be deconstructed, and when done, necessitated a holy fire of Spirit-reconstruction based upon the new theologies I next began to uncover beyond my older bible education, ingrained background, and formalized church training. It was as if my black-and-white glasses were replaced with a new kind of spectral vision lenses letting in all the colours of the rainbow and beyond. Colours that admitted the ultraviolet and infrared spectral frequencies of sight and sound. I felt overwhelmed and became burdened to share my journey on a day-by-day basis lest loss and become stillborn by working through my own questions and observations  by the medium of digital argument and dissertation.

To do this, I knew I must reflect on all the doctrines of the church including its "many spirits of beliefs and darkened knowledge" if ever I was to break past its withholding traditions and intolerant religious ideologies that went under the several disguises of a Christian faith. That I must resurrect its classic orthodoxies onto a more contemporary plane of grace-filled orthodoxies that were more flexible and self-reflective. More humble and less judgmental (unless it were to a judgment upon the church itself). That I must write of a new orthodoxy that was every bit as classic as its past 2000 years but one that moved those doctrines and dogmas forward into - and beyond - today's postmodern era of thought and inquiry.

That might reset the Reformational-Evangelical barriers of the church to be more centered around a post-Reformational, post-Evangelical Jesus, and not around its own enculturated doctrinal preferences, syllogisms, and traditions. One that might act with more introspection than I was presently observing. That learned to behave itself around scientific discovery rather than beat against it. To see our Creator-God on a larger plane of knowledge than the one we had fitted for Him to remain stoutly framed within. To question our need for those beliefs rather than to allow the Christian faith to become obscured or irrelevant should we entertain broader religious overtones to our Christian faith.

And to this end I strove to re-envision how church doctrine might become less evangelical and more post-evangelical. Less static and irrelevant, and more integrated with the larger discoveries of science and philosophic thought. A church whose orthodoxies were updated to the trends of human renewal. Whose dogmas and folklores could be delineated for what they were... dogmas and folklores. But the dilemma was how to do this without losing the centering foundations of the Bible and of the Christ within its holy pages.

Anyone can go about writing their own Bible. But the trick is to not do this when renewing its faithful pages. If not, we have only created a new gnosticism. Or a new set of cultic doctrines that have broken from its proper continuity to past church history and theology however imperfect and imperfectly conceived. But if done well, then we'll see a more enhanced view of an orthodoxy that is enriched, postmodern, and relevant, to societal needs and perceptions. Names like NT Wright, Peter Enns, Scott McKnight, Roger Olson, or John Caputo (all whom we follow here) have shown a willingness to update church doctrine while discussing along the way their reasons for doing so. Even as I and other fellow bloggers would do apart from the plausible restrictive confines of school or college, church synod or fellowship.

Hence, this newer vision of God and His Word comes at the expense of re-adjusting our minds and hearts to better bear the Spirit's message of new wine. But if we remain within the older cocoons of our old doctrinal wineskins and traditional outlooks than like the worn-out skins of our past we may expect all to break and spill upon the ground. It can be a nasty business causing personal loss of faith and even great disillusionment. However, in constructing a newer wineskin of epistemology and belief structure the new wine of the Gospel of our Lord should serve well all who would pour its gospel message of good news out onto the contemporary forums and public thoroughfares. One that can meet the needs  of the lost while binding up the wounds of the broken.

And so, it is the task of the theologian to lead church pastors and congregants towards this newer wineskin. How to properly let go of the old to rightly receive the vision of the new without loss of faith or pretention to "biblically unsupportive doctrines." It is by asking better questions that are less demanding of answers and specific-outcome solutions. By receiving a gospel more open-ended than its more recent forebearers squawking heresy and judgment. It is realizing that God is far larger than we had first imagined or been taught. And that His Word is fundamentally relevant for today despite the fact that it would seem irrelevant by our current attitudes towards its biblical structures and narratives as we now presently preach it through outdated apologetics of fear and uncertainty.

As with every new era, we must be patient in discussion by allowing all things to work out. As example - and in response to Andrew T. Lincoln's idea of the Virgin Birth of Christ quoted aboveI do continue to understand this event as miraculous and do not wish to explain it away as an un-miraculous event. Even so have I written of it once or twice on this blog against other ideas dismissing its validity from the pens of more eminent theologians and scientists. Today's quote above would be from yet another pen seeking its dismissal (or "newer" understanding). Though I favor his remarks on the church necessarily updating it creedal confessions - even as we have been working through here - I find his Webb-like "cultural interpretation" of Jesus' birth  unuseful as a proper anthropologic hermeneutic. Hence the tightrope we walk when updating church orthodoxy. It must be done. But it must be done properly.

However, I will be patient in the discussion and more discriminating about its spirit of conjecture without closing off its debates. For myself, it does indeed butt up against the other biblical doctrines of miracle, prophesy, and the nature of the incarnation of Christ. But these types of discussions do not dissuade me though they do tell me why it is all the more important to reset our conventional thinking within a larger epistemological framework of inquiry and investigation.

Hopefully this is being done well here at Relevancy22 while at the same time providing the balanced ingredients of Christian hope and devotion from other pens and tongues than mine own. As such, I have created this blogsite as a reference site that both teaches and inspires and not simply as my own personal blog. As a place one may go to ask meaningful questions and perhaps find helpful direction. That might point us towards newer theologies and contemporary thinking we once never thought to ask, study, or contemplate.

But it may also require the painful passage of disorientation. Of de-centering one's "biblical" beliefs with the harsher realities I had experienced before the Lord as He spiritedly began the renewing task of re-constructing the new wines of His Gospel about my spinning mind, heart, and spirit. The Christian faith is not an easy thing to comprehend. Even less when constructed about religious pride and misleading teachings. It can be as full of darkness and death as it can be of life and light. I pray that with me, your journey becomes one of proper sorrow and of a greater joy at its renewal and resurrection. Even so, may the God of grace bring His great love and peace to you this and every Lord's day.

R.E. Slater
March 26, 2014

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In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

by Sarah Bessey
March 29, 2014

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

A Jewish Perspective by Elie Wiesel - The Story of Jethro

Bodelian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 2708, Folio 39V

A good man? Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, is a devoted family man, well respected for his advice on governing and his benevolent leadership of the tribes of Midian. This early 13th-century illustration from the Bible moralisée depicts Jethro (seated under the arch on the right) rewarding Moses (left) for rescuing his daughters (six of whom are pictured in the center) and their flocks from rival shepherds. Grateful, Jethro invited Moses to stay and break bread with him: “Moses consented to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah as wife” (Exodus 2:21).

Later, when Moses returns from freeing the Israelites from Egypt, Jethro proclaims the Israelite God’s glory, saying, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11). But, asks the midrash, was Jethro motivated by love of God or by fear of a divine force so powerful as to rescue the Israelites from their enemies?

Jethro in the Bible
Bible Review's Supporting Roles by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel   •  03/19/2014

On first reading the biblical text, Jethro seems a simple person, almost monolithic, someone who impresses us most as a family man. When he meets a young refugee, Moses, whom he believes to be Egyptian, he thinks immediately of his daughter Zipporah, who is not yet married (Exodus 2:20–21). Later, when Moses, who is now Jethro’s son-in-law, returns from Egypt at the head of his freed people, Jethro brings to him his wife, Zipporah, and their two children (Exodus 18:5).

Moses has in the meantime become powerful and famous, and Jethro gives him useful advice on how to govern (Exodus 18:17ff). Invited by Moses to join the newly created nation, Jethro gracefully declines by invoking his obligations to his own family and tribe in the land of Midian (Numbers 10:29–30).

One can see Jethro clearly: His demeanor is surely elegant, sincere, irreproachable. He is present only when needed. He speaks only when asked. Everything he does, he does without guile. He never thinks of taking advantage of his position as first counselor to the great leader Moses. No one would ever accuse him of nepotism.

In the midrashic literature (a), as always, the character, or rather the attitude toward the character, seems more complex. To be sure, Jethro is shown in a positive light. After all, if Moses treats him with such deference, such respect, as to kneel before him, Jethro must deserve it. The sages go so far as to exaggerate his virtues. For most, he is considered to have converted to the Jewish faith. They call him Ger shel emet—a genuine convert or a convert to the truth. He is placed “within the shelter or on the wings of the shekhina,” God’s holy presence or glory. They put these words in Jethro’s mouth: “I have served many idols; there is no god I have not served; but none can compare to the God of Israel.” To emphasize his worth, he is compared to Esau. Even though Esau was a kinsman of Jacob, he was less favored than the alien Jethro.

 This article was originally published in Bible Review. Bible Review: The Archive (1985-2005) CD contains every issue of Bible Review, a nondenominational magazine of Biblical insights and exquisite art. It includes more than 800 articles, 2,500 photos and all editorial content. 

Better yet, on at least two occasions in the midrash, Jethro is considered more admirable than Moses himself. In the first, when Jethro offers his daughter Zipporah to Moses, Jethro tells Moses: She will be your wife, but on one condition—your first son will be consecrated to idolatry. The stupefying thing is that Moses accepted! In other words, in this account Jethro appears more loyal to his faith than Moses does to his.

On the second occasion, Jethro, having heard all that the people of Israel have suffered in Egypt, and how God has saved them on their flight from the land ing saved you.” According to the commentary of one sage (Reb Papos), this passage may be intended as a criticism of Moses and the 600,000 men and women who were with him. It is meant as a reproach for their ingratitude: “Despite all the miracles that were performed for you, you have not believed enough to praise the Lord until Jethro did.”

Having said all this, even though Jethro has no detractors, he does inspire a certain skepticism in some. Is this a way of balancing our understanding of the man? Perhaps. In the Bible, no one is perfect—neither perfectly good nor absolutely evil.

Thus some of the sages ask what are the real motives behind Jethro’s close feelings for Israel. Was it because of the Torah that God gave to His people? Or was it because of the defeat the Israelites inflicted on their enemies, the Amalekites? In other words, was Jethro motivated by love or by fear of this powerful God who makes other nations tremble? “Vayihad Yithro” the Bible says (Exodus 18:9). “Jethro rejoiced” at all the goodness that the Lord had shown to Israel. But vayihad Yithro could easily mean “his flesh crawled [with fear], he had goose bumps (b).”

Nonetheless, the general impression of the man is that he is better than good; he is glorious. Even when he refuses Moses’ invitation to stay with him, he has the perfect excuse, says the midrash: “I will return to my own people and convert them all to the study of the Torah.”

The practical and very timely lesson that our sages draw from this story: When a man comes and asks to be converted, we should not send him away.

Translated from French by Anne Renner.


a. Midrash is a genre of rabbinic literature that includes nonliteral elaborations of biblical texts.

b. The word vayihad is related to the Aramaic chiddudim, “prickles.” One Jewish Bible commentary explains that Jethro was so overcome with joy that he felt goose bumps. The great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, however, says that despite Jethro’s happiness for the Israelites, he felt prickles of unease over the fate of the Egyptians.

Elie Wiesel
The author of more than 30 novels, plays and profiles of biblical figures, Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. This online publication is adapted from Wiesel’s article “Supporting Roles: Joshua,” which was published in Bible Review in December 1998. At the inception of Wiesel’s Supporting Roles series in Bible Review, BAS editors wrote:

"We are pleased—and honored—to present our readers with the first of a series of insightful essays by Elie Wiesel, the world-renowned author and human rights advocate. Wiesel is best known for his numerous books on the Holocaust and for his profiles of biblical figures and Hasidic masters. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His occasional series for BR will focus on characters in the Bible that do not occupy center stage—those who play supporting roles."

Jewish Teachings in the Bible Series
continue to -

A Jewish Perspective by Elie Wiesel - The Story of Seth

An obedient son, Seth, listens to his dying father's last wish, then sets out the door to fulfill
Adam's request. A 15-th century illumination from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.
Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource, NY 

An obedient son, Seth (shown twice) listens to his dying father’s last wish, dons his cap and sets out the door to fulfill Adam’s request, in this 15th-century illumination from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves. According to extrabiblical legend, the dying man sent his youngest son back to paradise to obtain anointing oil from the Tree of Knowledge. Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource, NY

Seth in the Bible
Bible Review's Supporting Roles by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel   •  09/12/2013

In the story of the first man and the first woman, we are intrigued by a character about whom we are told very little.

Adam and Eve, we know. After all, they are our ancestors. Each one of us is their direct descendant. Scripture says so, and we are bound to believe it, if only to impose upon ourselves an essential lesson: that of equality. Descended from the same line, no one is superior to another. Nor inferior.

The text provides us with numerous elements about Adam and Eve’s origin, their life as first couple and first parents, their sojourn in paradise and, later, in exile.

That is equally true of their two sons, Cain and Abel. We know their tragic story. The elder and his rejected offerings, the younger and his accepted ones. The dialogue of Cain with God. The first murder and the first death in human history. Abel died unmarried; Cain had children and grandchildren.

After the murder of the younger brother and the flight of his assassin, the text tells us little else about Adam and Eve. They are missing but not dead. For they reappear on the scene. When? A hundred and thirty years, or seven generations, after their first family tragedy and shortly after the death of Cain himself, who is killed by his great-great-grandson Lemech. Suddenly, without minding the non sequitur, the text informs us that Adam returned to his wife, knew her, and she gave birth to a son whom she named Seth: “because God has granted me a new future in place of Abel, killed by Cain” (Genesis 4:25). Then, in the next verse, the text tells us, “To Seth also, a son is born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to evoke the name of the Lord.” There it is, almost everything that we know of Seth: Contrary to biblical custom, it is he and not his spouse who gives the name Enosh to their son. For Maimonides, this verse indicates the beginning of idolatry in the world. Enosh and a few chosen ones, such as Noah, Shem and Eber, were the only ones to remain bound to the Lord (a).

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With Adam’s death, Seth became the patriarch of the first family. With the death of his brothers Cain and Abel and of Cain’s descendants, Seth became progenitor of the rest of the human race, as shown in this greatly abbreviated family tree.

But why are we told so little about Seth? How did he sustain himself? Was he a musician, like Yuval? Did he like the country life or that of the city? How did he live with his aged parents? Did he benefit, or did he suffer, from an excess of love on their part? The reader doesn’t know whether to pity him or to envy him.

A curious thing: In midrashic literature, which is usually so expansive, rather little is said about this character to whom, we shall soon see, we owe so much.b The Midrash is more forthcoming regarding Seth’s family.

A moving midrashic legend recounts that after the death of Abel, the mourning Adam and Eve fall into a profound, melancholy solitude. Far from Paradise, they are no longer in harmony with their environment or with one another. We imagine them silent, lethargic. They no longer desire anything, least of all another child. Undoubtedly, Abel and his cruel fate are too prevalent in their thoughts for them to wish to give him a brother. Years, centuries slip away, and for them, the world is a wasteland. But do they remember the first commandment, to be fruitful and multiply? And if they have forgotten, why doesn’t God remind them of it?

In the Midrash, it is one of their descendants who reminds them—Lemech. A curious character. He is blind. At a certain time, he takes two women: Ada and Tzila (Genesis 4:19). Why two? One to give him children and the other to give him pleasure. It is to them that he will confess: “Ada and Tzila, listen to my voice! Wives of Lemech, give ear to my word! I have killed a man” (Genesis 4:23). Yes, he had just killed Cain. It was an accident, but it was nevertheless a murder. He is sure that this act will weigh upon not seven generations, as in Cain’s case, but upon seventy-seven. The next verse speaks of the reunion of Adam and his wife. What is the connection?

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The Midrash furnishes it for us: Lemech’s two wives separated themselves from him after the birth of their children, saying: What good is it to have children, since God has decreed that the seventh generation after Cain (which is theirs) would be punished? What good is it to give life to children who will die?

Lemech, not too intelligent, asks the advice of Adam, who then reprimands the two wives: Who are you to preoccupy yourselves with the ways of the Lord? He does what He must do, and as for you, do your duty as wives!

Thereupon, says the Midrash, they respond: And who then are you to lecture us? Since the death of your son, it has been 130 years that you have separated yourself from your wife so as no longer to have children—and you tell us to have them? Faced with the logic of Lemech’s two wives, Adam immediately returned to Eve, “and he had a son in his image and according to his form” (Genesis 5:3), whom Eve named Seth. Why Eve and not Adam? Because in the Bible, it is always the woman who names the children. But if so, why did Seth name his son? Was this perhaps to mark the singularity of Enosh, who is so closely linked to Adam and to God? Like Adam, Enosh means “man.” Moreover, the next verse says, “ze sefer toldot adam,” “this is the book of the generations of Adam.” In other words, we are present not at the beginning but at the second beginning of Creation.

Adam’s last son, Seth, resembles his father. We are all his descendants, states the Midrash. It strains to reassure us. In case we were afraid to be Cain’s descendants and inheritors of his original sin, the Midrash tells us, all the descendants of Cain will perish in the Flood, but not those of Seth.

The proof: We are here to tell his story.

Translated from French by Martha Liptzin Hauptman.

Elie Wiesel
The author of more than 30 novels, plays and profiles of biblical figures, Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. This online publication is adapted from Wiesel’s article “Supporting Roles: Joshua,” which was published in Bible Review in December 1998. At the inception of Wiesel’s Supporting Roles series in Bible Review, BAS editors wrote:

"We are pleased—and honored—to present our readers with the first of a series of insightful essays by Elie Wiesel, the world-renowned author and human rights advocate. Wiesel is best known for his numerous books on the Holocaust and for his profiles of biblical figures and Hasidic masters. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His occasional series for BR will focus on characters in the Bible that do not occupy center stage—those who play supporting roles."

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