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
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

Monday, August 31, 2020

How to Read the Bible - A New Hermeneutic, Part 7




How To Read The Bible - A New Hermeneutic
Part 7

What Works For Me
When Reading the Bible

by R.E. Slater
August 31, 2020

The Many Worlds of Hermeneutics

I originally wrote this piece as a single composition as I did not wish to have any of it read alone in its parts as each part is necessary for the other part. However, it is a long piece and so, with reservations, I have divided it up for the convenience of the reader. But for those who wish to read it as a whole I have left the original intact and titled parts 1-6. Thank you. - res

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The Transmission of the Bible

When reading ancient literature we discover the bible to be composed from many oral traditions reciting past narratives and experiences. In those oral stories come recited tales of tragedy, wisdom, sexual joy, laments, brokenness, thanksgiving, and a plethora of other emotions from which the human breast may burst into song, poetry, story, proverb,  humor, prophecy, and so forth.

As generations came and went, Jewish stories sharing their experience with God grew and grew even as they were told and retold from memory many times in word, poem, or song, all the while improvising along the way. But they could not be written down, recorded, taped, or digitized, as none of these memory saving tools were available. Basic alphabets, grammars, and literary rules in the early bible were in rough rudimentary stages of development. And even when an extant written language was operative still the history of both Israel and the church were dependent on reshaping oral narratives as they perceived them. Which means there was redaction going on between individuals, scribes, priests, rabbis, Christian disciples, and the early Church Fathers.

Consequently, the retelling of the ancient bible stories were never perfect. They held a few inconsistencies. Their details varied by the storyteller or by the listeners hearing them in the way they needed to hear them or wanted to hear them. And certainly without perfect recall. The story's themes, plot lines, central points, etc, all could easy mix in-an-out with other themes, plot lines, central points, etc.

And one would also expect the emphasis of a story to change via an injected or indescript nuanance, a detail or two, a tonal pitch, or an unintended vocal inflection here or there. The miracle of any ancient document, including the bible, is it came to be what it came to be. We have hoary traditions to thank for that however imperfect they may have been.

The upside to all this is that rather than concentrating on whether the bible is correct or not a simple believer, pastor, theolog or scholar, might approach the bible as a living, dynamic document open to interpretation about how, what, and why our Creator Redeemer is speaking to current generations of humanity. That doesn't mean playing fast-and-loose with the bible but becoming more perceptive about the who, what, why, and where God is taking us. As example, where once Arminianism spoke of agency, now it has bloomed into a larger, expanded version of God's open and relational experience of the world.

Let me suggest an additional aide to this discussion... the clever painter Norman Rockwell drew out many social deportments visualizing how people communicated with one another and what it might mean in the hearing and the telling. Take a look at these several pictures below and try to think through how a conversation is being heard by the group, by individuals within the group; how it might be perceived by personal or societal experiences and knowledge; and how communication changes with the circumstances involved.


  



 






Based upon the paintings above, and without the need to get Pentecostal or Charismatic, in many ways God is communicating with us in similar fashion through our daily lives. How? Can we just say infinitely? Many might say by the Spirit, by His Word, through His Son, through Himself, through the world, or very creation itself. But God's Word goes from God's mouth and runs through creation moment by moment. That very Word is Jesus. And it is through Jesus who reiterates God's message of love, hope, redemption, and resurrection.

Now imagine for a moment what telling a story might do. How it can create intrigue, mystery, share comedic events, teach morals/ethics, provide common sense lessons when working together, etc. For instance, the boy in Scripture was noted in a passage noticing if anyone stood behind him before flailing his axehead behind him when winding up to cut a log. Why? A well used axehead is notorious for coming off its handle. If they did it could hurt someone standing behind when flying through the air. Another biblical detail was when harvesting hard won crops. The community suggestion was made to have some care for the poor and for the beasts of the land. Hence, Ruth and her mother-in-law sustained themselves from the unharvested corners of the fields.

Imagine How We Tell Stories Today

As to modernday examples of oral transmission pick your favorite story you tell to friends. One you know well and have told and retold too many times. It's the kind of story which is well ingrained into your brain. Have you ever told that story in the same way every time without changing it? And when you do, do you make any changes that may make your story more-or-less true by improving it in some way? And finally, "do those changes reflect upon you, or your listening audience, as you tell it in the way you wish to tell it for the reasons you tell it in the way it is told?" (Forgive me, Yankee's legend Yogi Berra and I are sometimes linguist twins! ha ha).

The point is, if your telling your story in hot Phoenix, Arizona, or beautiful Los Angeles, California, or the urban streets New York City, or placid Miami, Florida, your story probably will change with location and audience. It's the same if you tell your story to the locals visiting the Dells of Wisconsin, or living in woodsy UP in Marquette, Michigan, or country music capital Nashville, Tennessee, or the harbortown environs of Baltimore, Maryland. It's the same old story but changed up for those who are listening. Why? Because your audience is oriented geographically and culturally to their locality. Not to yours. Thus you need to find common ground when sharing an incident.

Are the details any less true? Or are your improvisations lending more clarity to the time and circumstances you find yourself telling the revised story? Has the audience become more engaged when creating these minor (or major) additions to the story? Have the added embellishments make the story any less true for the locality your speaking to even as they may be less interesting or less true for another region you tell that same story in? These kind of literary additions are considered rhetorical devices. They usually increase the interest of a story being told by connecting familiar details of the locality you are presently visiting and reciting your story to. Ask any traveling preacher or evangelist, missionary or well-written author. Jesus did this all the time. So did the Apostles and disciples of the New Testament and the narratists and prophets of the Old Testament.

Telling Stories in the Past

Not long ago, as I read through Homer's Odyssey, I came across these two paragraphs which I thought might help in correlating the bible to other extant ways of telling a story at the time. Here they are:



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In this reprise of describing the legendary Homer and his "authorship" of the Illiad and Odyssey, the reader notices that Homer is doing what all storytellers had done in the past and were doing during his time (800-600 BCE). They were telling a familiar story in an interesting way so as to capture the imaginations of their audience.

(As an aside, I should state that Homer is not the original author of his tomes but a symbolic figure many associated with the ancient narratives perhaps because he was so good in their telling or had begun making a collection of all the stories surrounding the great warrior Achilles and trickster Odysseus who was both loved and hated by the gods. However it was, Homer cannot be found as an actual historical figure.)

During the early era of writing (about 1050 BCE or after re Attic Greek), the Greek city states of Sparta, Athens, and several others were collecting their national legends mixing them with perhaps older cultures such as the Mycenaeans  (1600-1100 BCE). These nationalized histories gave to a civilization their pride, cultural distinctives, social identity, and so forth. So too was Israel doing the same as far back as Abraham. The stories it told itself were stories which brought social and religious identity. From these stories nations rose and fell even as Israel did.

The following abbreviated articles from Wikipedia will help the modernday bible reader to appreciate the early culture of oral story telling and the nature of composition. Pretend Mycenae paralleled Israel's early development and Homer any of the early bible heroes and legends.... From these readings you'll be provided a better understanding of oral traditions and their collection.


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Mycenaean Greece

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Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean World en.png
Alternative namesMycenaean civilization
PeriodBronze Age
Datesc. 1600 – c. 1100 BC
Type siteMycenae
Major sitesPylosTirynsMideaOrchomenosIolcos
Characteristics
Preceded byMinoan civilization
Followed byGreek Dark Ages
Part of a series on the
History of Greece
Map of Greece, drawn in 1791 by William Faden, at the scale of 1,350,000
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Mycenaean Greece (or the Mycenaean civilization) was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1600–1100 BC. It represents the first advanced and distinctively Greek civilization in mainland Greece with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art, and writing system.[1][2] The most prominent site was Mycenae, in the Argolid, after which the culture of this era is named. Other centers of power that emerged included PylosTirynsMidea in the PeloponneseOrchomenosThebesAthens in Central Greece and Iolcos in Thessaly. Mycenaean and Mycenaean-influenced settlements also appeared in Epirus,[3][4] Macedonia,[5][6] on islands in the Aegean Sea, on the coast of Asia Minor, the Levant,[7] Cyprus[8] and Italy.[9]
The Mycenaean Greeks introduced several innovations in the fields of engineering, architecture and military infrastructure, while trade over vast areas of the Mediterranean was essential for the Mycenaean economy. Their syllabic script, the Linear B, offers the first written records of the Indo-European Greek language, and their religion already included several deities that can also be found in the Olympic Pantheon. Mycenaean Greece was dominated by a warrior elite society and consisted of a network of palace-centered states that developed rigid hierarchical, political, social and economic systems. At the head of this society was the king, known as wanax.
Mycenaean Greece perished with the collapse of Bronze Age culture in the eastern Mediterranean, to be followed by the so-called Greek Dark Ages, a recordless transitional period leading to Archaic Greece where significant shifts occurred from palace-centralized to de-centralized forms of socio-economic organization (including the extensive use of iron).[10] Various theories have been proposed for the end of this civilization, among them the Dorian invasion or activities connected to the "Sea Peoples". Additional theories such as natural disasters and climatic changes have been also suggested. The Mycenaean period became the historical setting of much ancient Greek literature and mythology, including the Trojan Epic Cycle.[11]

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Homer

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Roman bust of Homer from the second century AD, portrayed with traditional iconography, based on a Greek original dating to the Hellenistic period[1]
Homer (/ˈhmər/Ancient GreekὍμηρος Greek pronunciation: [hómɛːros]Hómēros) is the presumed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek kingdoms. It focuses on a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles lasting a few weeks during the last year of the war. The Odyssey focuses on the ten-year journey home of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy. Many accounts of Homer's life circulated in classical antiquity, the most widespread being that he was a blind bard from Ionia, a region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey. Modern scholars consider these accounts legendary.[2][3][4]
The Homeric Question – concerning by whom, when, where and under what circumstances the Iliad and Odyssey were composed – continues to be debated. Broadly speaking, modern scholarly opinion falls into two groups. One holds that most of the Iliad and (according to some) the Odyssey are the works of a single poet of genius. The other considers the Homeric poems to be the result of a process of working and reworking by many contributors, and that "Homer" is best seen as a label for an entire tradition.[4] It is generally accepted that the poems were composed at some point around the late eighth or early seventh century BC.[5]
The poems are in Homeric Greek, also known as Epic Greek, a literary language which shows a mixture of features of the Ionic and Aeolic dialects from different centuries; the predominant influence is Eastern Ionic.[6][7] Most researchers believe that the poems were originally transmitted orally.[8] From antiquity until the present day, the influence of Homeric epic on Western civilization has been great, inspiring many of its most famous works of literature, music, art and film.[9] The Homeric epics were the greatest influence on ancient Greek culture and education; to Plato, Homer was simply the one who "has taught Greece" – ten Hellada pepaideuken.[10][11]
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Contemporary

Most contemporary scholars, although they disagree on other questions about the genesis of the poems, agree that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not produced by the same author, based on "the many differences of narrative manner, theology, ethics, vocabulary, and geographical perspective, and by the apparently imitative character of certain passages of the Odyssey in relation to the Iliad."[33][34][35][21] Nearly all scholars agree that the Iliad and the Odyssey are unified poems, in that each poem shows a clear overall design, and that they are not merely strung together from unrelated songs.[21] It is also generally agreed that each poem was composed mostly by a single author, who probably relied heavily on older oral traditions.[21] Nearly all scholars agree that the Doloneia in Book X of the Iliad is not part of the original poem, but rather a later insertion by a different poet.[21]

Some ancient scholars believed Homer to have been an eyewitness to the Trojan War; others thought he had lived up to 500 years afterwards.[36] Contemporary scholars continue to debate the date of the poems.[37][38][21] A long history of oral transmission lies behind the composition of the poems, complicating the search for a precise date.[39] At one extreme, Richard Janko has proposed a date for both poems to the eighth century BC based on linguistic analysis and statistics.[37][38] Barry B. Powell dates the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey to sometime between 800 and 750 BC, based on the statement from Herodotus, who lived in the late fifth century BC, that Homer lived four hundred years before his own time "and not more" (καὶ οὐ πλέοσι), and on the fact that the poems do not mention hoplite battle tactics, inhumation, or literacy.[40] Martin Litchfield West has argued that the Iliad echoes the poetry of Hesiod, and that it must have been composed around 660–650 BC at the earliest, with the Odyssey up to a generation later.[41][42][21] He also interprets passages in the Iliad as showing knowledge of historical events that occurred in the ancient Near East during the middle of the seventh century BC, including the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689 BC and the Sack of Thebes by Ashurbanipal in 663/4 BC.[21] At the other extreme, a few American scholars such as Gregory Nagy see "Homer" as a continually evolving tradition, which grew much more stable as the tradition progressed, but which did not fully cease to continue changing and evolving until as late as the middle of the second century BC.[37][38][21]

"'Homer" is a name of unknown etymological origin, around which many theories were erected in antiquity. One such linkage was to the Greek ὅμηρος (hómēros), "hostage" (or "surety"). The explanations suggested by modern scholars tend to mirror their position on the overall Homeric question. Nagy interprets it as "he who fits (the song) together". West has advanced both possible Greek and Phoenician etymologies.[43][44]


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How Not To Read The Bible

When coming to the bible and reading its many stories and narratives it would be wrong to read each page like the last. Certainly the Westernized print of the bible in verse and by chapter; by book and literary section, contributes to reading the bible all in one way like we do with newpapers, magazines, journals, and books.

But it would be a mistake to read the bible in this way. The bible is a collection of ancient oral transmissions. Each pericope (word, phrase, half sentence, sentence, paragraph, etc) of the bible comes from a place and time we no longer can know. What was spoken in a sheep pasture out in the desert, or beside a water hole in a village are now gone. We can no longer know its source or original insight. As such, the bible has no one author but many authors. No one voice but many voices. This is as true in the OT as it is in the NT. The comfort is that each voice lends both difference and unity to the greater composition of biblical lore. Its what gives to the bible its distinctive historicity as versus a cultic tract or nascent sect.

As such, the bible is to be read as written by a host of authors, story tellers, narratists, singers, psalmists, poets, collected cultural wisdoms, communal laws, tribal moralities, and on and on. This also means that when reading the bible literally it is a big no-no. To read the bible literally is "literally" doing a great injustice to the biblical text. As modern (perhaps, Westernized) readers we assume too much, infer too little, catechize about God from our own thoughts, time and place, and read too much into the Word of God from those who are many times no better than we are in our education, training, and knowledge.

Similarly, we cannot force interpretive tools upon the bible. The Reformed tradition attests to the "literal-grammatical-historical-contextual" interpretive form of bible exegesis. However, it has limited itself to using this religiously-preferred tool across a breadth - or a complex - of ancient biblical cultures, thinking, superstitions, assumptions, ways of doing things, knowledge or lack of knowledge on subjects, family legends and generational lore.

Such tools may be helpful in keeping to the preferred religious teachings of God - who God is, and what God is doing in the world - but they are but a beginning point to interpreting the bible. The point to all this? Creeds and doctrines, dogmas and pulpiteering, are only as good as the information they have, or purport to hold. But when unloving actions and injustice come from the itinerant pulpits and ivory towers of the church then those who follow God know its time to move along.

As example, teaching the justification of "holy wars" probably isn't what God had in mind when reading of the violent sections of the bible. One might argue for "just wars" but it depends on whether the "warring" nation provoked such wars by raping its neighboring nation of its people and resources. When reading of a God of love it would seem we should better seek peace and wellbeing with one another. Which is not to say we are so trusting as to not be wise or beguiled by another, perhaps insidious, nation. Simply, we work through communication (diplomacy, if necessary), common earth projects together, resource sharing with one another, and all the while work at building up respect and comportment with fellow nations. Wars are a crude tool which must be abolished. They should never be pursued.

Conclusion

Lastly, reading the bible literally is literally not the way to do it. Or choosing a Catholic, Reformed, or Eastern Orthodox hermeneutic to "critique" the bible may be too limiting when interpreting to the bible. Then how does one read the bible??

Let me suggest reading the bible NOT through the lens of an interpretive tool but through the Author Himself. It sounds trite but its probably the least invasive, most common-sense way to practice one's religion. In this case, that of Christianity.

To read the bible through the lens of Jesus or the Love of God. When done, so much of what we teach or assume in the bible just isn't there. Knowing and teaching that God loves at all times pretty much destroys all the "biblical" stories of God judging mankind, putting families to death in violent sections of the bible, bringing pandemics, holocausts, tragedy upon sinners, and etc.

Reading the bible through the lens of "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD) changes our perspective and approach to the good news of the gospel. Even using the lens of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 25) given by Jesus teaches again and again that the Author of the bible is a God who loves and desires to bring goodness and wellbeing into all of His creation. This includes not only humanity but the earth as well.

The beauty of this hermeneutical proposition is that God has, through His own Being, as Messiah Jesus, shown to us what He wants. The God of Love has shared with us the commandment "To Love One Another". Nowhere did Jesus desire to lead an army or kill the ungodly. When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus who He was Jesus kept silent. Many of Jesus' followers wanted an insurrectionist who could lead them against Rome. But to the throne of Rome, aka Pilate, Jesus said not a word. He did not wish to lead a war against Rome. He did not come to kill but to love. And in hindsight, to die for our sins in loving atoning sacrifice.

The world we have at present is a world which can be changed in its societies and in its heart. But it begins through the regenerative or renewing process of loving one another and loving the creation God has set all around us. We have been given freewill agency in order to accomplish this difficult task. In Christ, our Savior and Lord, we are not minions to a fallen world or to sin and evil.

We are to drink from fresh wineskins and cast off the old wineskins. We bear the new wine of Christ and not the old wine of the world. We are to live life bespeaking regenerative words and actions. We are to be wellsprings of living water. We are to speak life and not death. Raising up the living and tearing down the dying. We are to learn to love and in love learn to pass God's love along to a broken world seeking love in the most unloving ways and places.

Peace, my brothers and sisters,

Be loved. Share Love.

R.E. Slater



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