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Archive for July, 2008

Histheology: Neither History-without-Theology nor Theology-without-History

Posted by NT Wrong on July 31, 2008

Let’s read the Bible as History-Theology, or Histheology, understood as the Bible’s own mixed category of assertions of factuality about the historical past written through the lens of its theology/ies.

It is widely recognised that the ‘fundamentalist’ method of interpreting the Bible is both a reaction to and a product of modernism. The fundamentalist, fact-centred approaches to the scriptures treat them less as texts to be read for their own sake than as instruments to support their own modern historical-factual agendas. So, as the parade example, Genesis 1-2 is interpreted as though it were a modern scientific textbook presentation of the creation of the universe. And so, the fundamentalist interpreter will advocate that Genesis 1-2 should be taught alongside Darwin as an equal (or, in fact, better) contributor to the field of science.

Those with a greater appreciation of the nature and genre of Genesis 1-2 will rightly object that Genesis 1-2 was never, and should never, be treated as a scientific textbook.

But it is less well recognised that the common alternative — the treating of the Hebrew narratives merely as stories making theological points rather than also as presenting scientific-historical facts — can be just as much a product of modernist conceptions.

Sometimes, the common alternative (which has its champion in Karl Barth) can be just as much a result of the modernist dichotomy between fact and tradition. But rather than reading the ancient science or historiography in light of modern science or historiography (as the fundamentalists do), the presence of ancient science or historiography is simply ignored or denied. I would say that the Barthian approach is as much entrenched within the confines of modernist thought — and as unlikely to provide an exegesis of the text — as the fundamentalist hermeneutic.

How so? The common alternative manages to respect modern scientific findings by removing the issue from the text — while refusing to entertain the possibility that the authors of Genesis 1-11 could also have been interested in doing their own (early) “science” or “history”. This is not a history or a science as ‘we’ would do it, but it dominates the texts nonetheless. It always pays to remember that Genesis 1-2 does, in its present form, begin a long history that culminates in the books of Kings. The Enneateuch (nine books of theology-history) is arguably as interested in the science(s)-history(ies) it presents as it is interested in the theological significances of the world(s) it creates. Politics of identity are every bit as important in the books as the economy of Yahweh – sometimes more so, sometimes less. And this requires the assertation of facts. The facts being asserted are wrong, as it turns out, but facts are still being asserted.

I strongly suspect that the (one-sided) interpretation of Genesis 1-2 as dealing with theological meaning, and not history/science, has to do with a very modern dichotomy, not an ancient one. The attempt to interpret Genesis 1-2 for its deeper, theological meaning — and kick away the form that presents it — will always result in another (modernist) misreading.

To my mind, the true sublation of these opposite (yet equally modernist) misreadings must eliminate the modernist dichotomy altogether. The ‘history versus theology dichotomy’ simply did not exist as such in the paradigmatic matrix that formed the backdrop to Genesis-Kings. The works are history-theology, or Histheology — a category which is reducible neither to ancient history nor ancient theology.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Histheology: Neither History-without-Theology nor Theology-without-History

The Bible is not History-without-Theology, and the Bible is not Theology-without-History

Posted by NT Wrong on July 31, 2008

The knowledge gained about the Old Testament and its ancient world(s) over the last two centuries, or so, is sometimes apologetically dealt with either by:

    1) reducing it all to literal ‘history’, or
    2) reducing it all to ‘theology’.

Both attempts misrepresent the content of the Old Testament. Sure, the Old Testament contains a lot of historical falsities. But this fact does not justify treating the Old Testament merely as theology — attempting to get around this problem by ignoring the historical claims that are interwoven with, ground, explain, and are integral to that theology. Conversely, the Old Testament contains a lot of abhorrent, evil theology. But it is impossible to read the Old Testament as something that is merely historical, in the past, without at the same time addressing the theologies or ideologies which provide the lens for its historiographies or presentations of history. This is so, even though these biblical theologies often differ greatly from or even contradict modern Jewish and Christian theologies. Biblical history and theology stand or fall together.

But Augustine said it first. Augustine comments on how we should interpret the story of Noah’s flood:

Non tamen quisquam putare debet aut frustra haec esse conscripta, aut tantummodo rerum gestarum ueritatem sine ullis allegoricis significationibus his esse quaerendam, aut e contrario haec omnino gesta non esse, sed salas esse uerborum figuras, aut quidquid illud est nequaquam ad prophetiam ecclesiae pertinere …
… sed magis credendum est et sapienter esse memoriae litteris mandata, et gesta esse, et significare aliquid, et ipsum aliquid ad praefigurandam ecclesiam pertinere.

Yet no one ought to suppose either that these things were written for no purpose, or that we should study only the historical truth, apart from any allegorical meanings; or, on the contrary, that they are only allegories, and that there were no such facts at all, or that, whether it be so or no, there is here no prophecy of the church …
… we must rather believe that there was a wise purpose in their being committed to memory and to writing, and that they did happen, and have a significance, and that this significance has a prophetic reference to the church.

City of God 15.27 [2.495; 497]

The modernist separation of history from theology imposes foreign categories on the biblical text.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Historiography | 2 Comments »

Secularism and Biblical Studies – Ed. Roland Boer, July 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on July 29, 2008

D.A. Carson Organises Protest at Boer's New Book

D. A. Carson Organises Protest at Boer's Forthcoming Book

A new book edited by Roland Boer with the title Secularism and Biblical Studies is due out about now. Actually it’s a little overdue from Equinox, but not “a little overdue” in the sense of Philip-Davies-Festschrift overdueness. In any case, it looks like it will be well worth the wait when it does appear. It boasts all the crowd favourites — Berlinerblau, Avalos, Lemche, Davies — and more besides.

Publisher’s Blurb:

“What is secular biblical criticism? Each of the essays gathered in this collection seeks to answer this disarmingly simple question. Coming out of current debates that have been flaring within biblical studies over the issue of secularism, the essays crystallize the various positions that have been taken. Provocative, engaging and challenging, Secularism and Biblical Studies will also fuel more lively discussion and debate.”

The book begins with two articles which appeared on the SBL Forum in 2006, one by Michael V. Fox and a response by Jacques Berlinerblau. The two articles provoked a lot of discussion at the time.

Here’s the full contents of the book:

    Roland Boer: Introduction: Secularism and the Bible

    1. Michael V. Fox: Scholarship and Faith in Bible Study
    2. Jacques Berlinerblau: The Unspeakable in Biblical Scholarship

    3. Roland Boer: A Manifesto for Biblical Studies
    4. Hanna Stenström: Boer’s Manifesto: Part of the Solution or Part of
    the Problem? Some Reflections from a Swedish Perspective
    5. Niels Peter Lemche: Guns do not kill, people do!
    6. Mark G. Brett: Theological Secularity: A Response to Roland Boer
    7. Todd Penner: Is Boer Among the Prophets? Transforming the Legacy of
    Marxian Critique

    8. Hector Avalos: The End of Biblical Studies as a Moral Obligation
    9. Joseph A. Marchal: Responsibilities to the Publics of Biblical
    Studies and Critical Rhetorical Engagements for a Safer World
    10. Heike Omerzu: A German Landscape: Currents and Credits of New
    Testament Studies in Germany During the Past Decades
    11. Philip Chia: Private or Public? The Challenge of Public Theology
    to Biblical Studies

    12. Ward Blanton: Neither Religious nor Secular: On Saving the Critic
    in Biblical-Criticism
    13. Edgar W. Conrad: From Jefferson’s Bible to Judge Moore’s Ten
    Commandments Monument: Secularizing the Bible in the USA
    14. Athalya Brenner: From Ruth to Foreign Workers in Contemporary
    Israel: A Case Study in the Interaction of Religion, Politics and the
    15. Yairah Amit: The Samaritans – Biblical Considerations in the Solution of a Political Problem
    16. Philip Davies: The Biblical Roots of Secularism

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism | Comments Off on Secularism and Biblical Studies – Ed. Roland Boer, July 2008

Evidence of Homophobia at Ugarit? Possible Discrimination Against Gods Who Moisturize

Posted by NT Wrong on July 29, 2008

Ugaritic God in Early Morning Ritual

Ugaritic God in Early Morning Ritual

In the sixth tablet of the Ugaritic Baal Myth, Athirat and El discuss Baal’s replacement — because they think that Baal has died. Athirat suggests that Baal’s replacement should be ydˁ ylḥn (KTU 1.6 i 48). Ugaritic scholar Baruch Margalit translates the phrase ydˁ ylḥn as a divine name or divine epithet.

Margalit’s translation of Ydˁ Ylḥn amused me:


I am quite sure I have got entirely the wrong image in my head.

According to Margalit’s interpretation, El didn’t think this moisturizing god was up to the job, so dismissed Athirat’s suggestion out of hand. Could this be evidence of homophobia in the Ugaritic pantheon? It sounds like a clear case of divine discrimination to me.

And it’s notable that “He-Who-Knows-How-To-Accessorize” didn’t even get nominated!

[Boring Serious Note: The “moisturizing” was in fact a description of Ydˁ Ylḥn’s seasonal moisturizing of the land, in Margalit’s description. That is, the god wasn’t really known for pampering his skin, but for causing rain to come down on the land. Moreover, most other scholars have interpreted ydˁ ylḥn as a generic dual description of a god’s qualities, and they have understood this description to refer to Baal’s eventual replacement, Athtar (so that there is only one god suggested by Athirat in the Baal Myth — who is Athtar — not two). On the more widely accepted view, the generic dual description is usually interpreted along the lines of “knowing and shrewd/cunning”.]

Posted in Humour, Ugaritic | 1 Comment »

Support our Tropes! Santi Tafarella on the Sensus Divinitatus and God the Dung Beetle

Posted by NT Wrong on July 28, 2008

Santi Tafarella asks, at Prometheus Unbound:

“Has Notre Dame philosopher and theologian, Alvin Plantinga, the author of Warranted Christian Belief (2000 Oxford), mistaken metaphor for what he calls direct knowledge of God? I ask this question because early on in his book, Plantinga made an admission that i think might be telling … “

Platinga’s admission is that he doesn’t ‘get’ poetry. And, via a discussion of God the Dung Beetle pushing the dung-moon across the sky, Tafarella asks whether Plantinga might be guilty of an old mistake — that is, mistaking one’s culturally formed perceptions for the thing-in-itself.

Have a read. In fact, have a browse through Tafarella’s whole blog, which began in June 2008. It’s startlingly good. And speaking of supporting our tropes …

Cor … those girls look like real tropers.

Posted in Biblioblogs, Epistemology, God, Interpretation, Literature, Metaphor | 1 Comment »

The Great Angel – Israel’s Second God

Posted by NT Wrong on July 27, 2008

Neil Godfrey at Vridar has commenced an in-depth summary of Margaret Barker’s book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (1992). Margaret Barker is always good to think with, innovative, iconoclastic, challenging of presuppositions, and utterly debatable — as good scholarship should be.

Posted in Books, Jesus & Christ, Yahweh | Comments Off on The Great Angel – Israel’s Second God

Westminster Theological Seminary Sells Academia Out to Ignorant Bureaucrats

Posted by NT Wrong on July 25, 2008

The faculty of the Westminster Theological Seminary voted in favour of Enns’ orthodoxy in terms of the Westminster Confession. According to the faculty, Enns was always operating within the confessional boundaries of the Westminster Theological Seminary. But the academically ignorant board of the Westminster Theological Seminary tried to second-guess the academic staff on an academic matter. This is where academic integrity came to an end at WTS.

Jim Getz comments on the Peter Enns dismissal:

“It’s not that I have a problem with WTS firing Enns for denominational or confessional reasons. Div schools and seminaries have every right to terminate the contracts of those who disagree with the school’s charter. The issue isn’t simply one of academic freedom. If you want to be a “free thinker” without any boundaries, perhaps a confessional school that has you sign a confession of faith when you enter isn’t the place for you.

What bothers me about the WTS-Enns affair is that this split was pushed through by the trustees, not the faculty. After the faculty declared Enns’ positions fine, the president and trustees moved in and suspended Enns. The faculty at a theological seminary was not considered theologically savvy enough to make the decision of what constituted the theological boundaries of the institution for which they teach, of the discipline in which they are experts.”

If you were considering studying at the Westminster Theological Seminary, you may wish to reconsider. Let’s face it – academic integrity at WTS was never very high in the first place, considering it meant subscribing to the archaic ideas contained in the Westminster Confesson. But if you knew that from the beginning, that would have been fine. However, after the Peter Enns dismissal, academic integrity at WTS has sunk to a level where it comes second to the uninformed opinions of reactionary bureaucrats. This lack of academic integrity is by no means something that the Westminster Theological Seminary has a monopoly on, but that doesn’t excuse the poor decision.

Posted in Academia | Comments Off on Westminster Theological Seminary Sells Academia Out to Ignorant Bureaucrats

Marcus Borg on Religious Pluralism

Posted by NT Wrong on July 25, 2008

Apparently, there are some people out there who have Non-Christian religious beliefs. Shocking. Marcus Borg explains all in this UCTV lecture put on YouTube this year, but recorded in 2002:

Posted in Inter-religious activities, Non- Judeo-Christian 'Others' | 1 Comment »

D. A. Carson reviews Roland Boer – But what concord hath Christ with Belial?

Posted by NT Wrong on July 24, 2008

I had to smirk when I saw that D. A. “The Don” Carson had volunteered(?) to been assigned the review of Roland Boer’s recent book, Rescuing the Bible, in the latest offering from the Review of Biblical Literature. There’s something amusing about reading somebody’s apoplectic criticisms when you know they come from a completely different planet. The one thing that puzzled me is why The Don would be bothered considered qualified to write a review of Roland Boer’s book … Anyway, let’s have a read through D. A. Carson’s final paragraph, where he provides the bulk of his own criticisms, and I’ll interweave a few comments of my own:

“This book, a fascinating mix of dogmatic left-wing self-righteousness combined with rich and scathing condescension toward all who are even a tad less left than the author, is rich in unintended irony. Boer cannot see how implausible his arguments become. While nominally allowing “religious” people to believe in the supernatural so long as they support his left-wing agenda and join forces with him in a “worldly” secularism, what he says about the Bible and about biblical scholarship is so blatantly committed to philosophical naturalism and historical minimalism that even the most mild supernaturalism is ridiculed: no allowance can be made for divine revelation, anyone who thinks Moses really existed is not really a scholar, biblical studies can be called “scientific” only if the scholars themselves do not preach, and so forth.”

Roland Boer explicitly describes Rescuing the Bible as a “manifesto”. Given such a genre, the book should be “dogmatic” — every bit as dogmatic as the latest edition of Moody’s Dogmatic Theology, if it could manage that degree of dogmatism. But Carson appears to have missed this fact. The manifesto genre does not make the work “self-righteous”, and it is disingenuous to make the equation. Moreover, the focus of Boer’s book is very much on positive left-wing uses of the Bible, not on negatively denegrating right-wing (ab)use. This is reflected in the pages Boer has devoted to positive examples such as Wilberforce (concerning whom Boer was perhaps a bit too positive), Müntzer, Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers, and Camilo Torres. Carson’s criticism of the manifesto for being a manifesto is an elementary mistake concerning categories of genre. But the impression he gives of the book’s negative content is unfair and misleading.

Boer’s manifesto is clear that it is providing a way to use the Bible as an instrument for left-wing ends. So Boer has provided examples of how the Bible can be — in the future — and has been — in the past — used to further such goals. This is a welcome antedote to the dominant presentations of the biblical material these days, in which it is either used or abused by right-wing political interests to further their own goals. As this is Boer’s stated approach, it is simply not relevant whether a person would also use the Bible for religious purposes. So Carson has missed the point in his criticism that Boer “nominally” allows “religious people to believe in the supernatural so long as they support his left-wing agenda”. Boer is just not primarily concerned with belief or disbelief in this book — his primary concern is the political use of the Bible. To describe this as “nominally” allowing religious belief is a severe misrepresentation of Boer’s concerns in the book.

If Carson had understood this, he might not have made his erroneous charges of “unintended irony” and “implausible” arguments — charges which are fallacious and inapplicable once it is understood that Boer is primarily concerned here with the Bible as instrument for left-wing ends rather than the Bible itself. And whether Carson likes it or not, any “scholar” who presupposes the object of his study is “revelation” from God or that a “Moses” existed is doing theology, not biblical scholarship. Carson might also have taken Boer’s advice not to mix preaching with scholarship when he lapsed into the worst type of preaching at the end of his paragraph.

“Boer consistently damns everyone on the right by ridiculing the obvious targets, but probably he would not appreciate it if a counterpart on the right ridiculed those on the left by skewering Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.”

As noted, Boer’s manifesto is much more concerned with providing a positive plan for the use of the Bible for left-wing ends than with negative assessments of right-wing (ab)use.

“It turns out that Boer wants to “rescue” the Bible not only from what people on the right say that it means, but from what the Bible itself says, for whenever the Bible, in all its multivalence, disagrees with Boer’s vision of the summum bonum, it is to be undermined, set aside, and mocked — not even wrestled with. Readers are repeatedly told that those nasty right-wingers have “stolen” the Bible. Boer never considers the possibility that quite a few left-wingers have simply abandoned the Bible, leaving the terrain open for those who at least take it seriously.”

Carson slips up here, and reveals the real basis for his criticism. See how easily the right-wing use of the Bible is equated with “what the Bible itself says”. Carson’s basic presupposition is exposed for all to see. For Carson the Bible is a right-wing Bible. And his slip-up is justification enough for Boer’s whole project. Carson’s equation of right-wing users of the Bible with those who “take it seriously” is also revealing of his stand. Can’t your left-leaning reader of the Bible also take it seriously? Apparently not in Don’s world.

The use of “wrestled with” reveals another common evangelical presupposition. For some evangelicals, only those who seek the most tendentious explanations for the “abusive” parts of the Bible have interpreted it properly. Underlying this is a strange presupposition concerning the Bible’s perfection, a perfection which justifies what would otherwise be the most tortuous explanations, and which condemns those who conclude that the Bible is less than perfect by accusing them of not having “wrestled” adequately with the text. The approach pretends to deal with the evidence, but in fact rests on an a priori position that the Bible is perfect.

“What will satisfy Boer, it seems, is not the liberation of the Bible, but the liberation of the Bible from any agenda he considers right-wing, so that it can be locked in servitude to a left-wing agenda.”

Carson basically got Boer’s project right here. But I think this was unintended, as he was only aiming to be sarcastic.

“Boer’s dismissive arguments to prove the Bible is hopelessly multivalent — a commonplace among many modern and postmodern readers today — is spectacularly unconvincing because he does not interact with any serious literature (and there is two thousand years’ worth of such literature) that argues, with various [sic] degrees of success, how the Bible does hang together.”

Hmmmmm… there’s two thousand years’ worth of “serious” literature showing that the Bible is a unity, huh? Does Don know that for most of those two thousand years, the “serious” literature employed a seriously convoluted set of interpretational devices to impose unity on the Bible — such as allegory, typology, anagogy, etc? While it might have been considered “serious” at the time, it sure isn’t now. In any case, I’m not so sure that Boer’s only trick is to show that the Bible is “hopelessly multivalent” and open to different readings. From my memory of reading his book, Boer appeals both to the right-wing “abuses” of the Bible as well as its uses. Although the line between use and interpretation is a fuzzy one, and maybe a “continuum” is a better model for it, Boer at least pragmatically operates as though there is some distinction. So, sometimes a surface reading of the Bible is all that is required, sometimes it requires a reading against the grain. I don’t know that I’d side either with Boer or Carson when it comes to their hermeneutics, but I am sure that Carson has again oversimplified or misrepresented his description of Boer’s approach.

“But perhaps this is not too surprising from an author who cherishes chaos precisely because chaos undermines God’s authority — and all authority save Boer’s must be overthrown. I think that many biblical writers would call that choice idolatry. At the end of the day, Boer is trying to rescue the Bible from God.”

The final three sentences of Carson’s review simply shouldn’t have been included in any scholarly review. Carson has accused Boer not of any critical fault, but of opposing God himself. Has the RBL started to publish Sunday sermons? Earlier, Carson tried to equate a right-wing reading of the Bible with the Bible itself, and here he equates a left-wing reading with opposition to God. Carson’s criticism is revealed to be based less on any scholarly critical grounds than on religious presuppositions. That’s fine for a Sunday sermon, but it should have no place in a purportedly scholarly review.

Moreover, in accusing Boer of opposing God and practising idolatry, he seems to consider a right-wing interpretation of the Bible to be immune from the same charge. It’s as though the Bible has become so tied up with right-wing and conservative politics and religion that he has become blind to its left-wing passages and possibilities for use. And that’s precisely the reason why a manifesto such as Boer’s was needed in the first place.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Books, The Bible | 20 Comments »

Rabbi Solves Mystery of The Divine Name – YHWH Goes Both Ways!

Posted by NT Wrong on July 24, 2008

The pronunciation and meaning of The Name of YHWH has been a mystery for 2000 years. But, Rabbi Mark Sameth of Westchester now claims to have cracked it! And it turns out that God is a hermaphrodite …

“Rabbi Mark Sameth contends in a soon-to-be-published article that the four-letter Hebrew name for God – held by Jewish tradition to be unpronounceable since the year 70 – should actually be read in reverse.

When the four letters are flipped, he says, the new name makes the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.”

God thus becomes a dual-gendered deity, bringing together all the male and female energy in the universe, the yin and the yang that have divided the sexes from Adam and Eve to Homer and Marge.

“This is the kind of God I believe in, the kind of God that makes sense to me, in a language that speaks very, very deeply to human aspirations and striving,” Sameth said. “How could God be male and not female?”

Sameth, 54, the spiritual leader of Pleasantville Community Synagogue in Pleasantville, first hit on his theory more than a decade ago when he was a rabbinical student.

Since then, he has pieced together clues and supporting evidence from the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament to Christians, and the vast body of rabbinic literature.”

Solving a biblical mystery

Now that’s been solved, what will Madonna and the other kabbalists do? And where did the alephs go?

Rabbi Mark Sameth’s article will appear in CCAR Journal, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Posted in Hebrew & Semitics, Yahweh | 6 Comments »