19 January 2010

Jan 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

In yesterday's reading, slave traders sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of the guard for Pharaoh. Because God is with Joseph, Joseph prospers in all that he does. Potiphar eventually gives him administrative control of the household. But the good life does not last. Joseph, "a very handsome and well-built young man," attracted the interest of Potiphar's wife . She tried to get him to sleep with her. He refused, so eventually she told her husband that Joseph had slept with her so that Joseph would be thrown in prison. Soap opera! (As a side note, it was impossible to find a "licensed for reuse" image where Joseph was actually handsome.  Pity.)

Even in prison, Joseph prospers. The warden soon puts him in charge of the other prisoners and the day-to-day activities of the prison. Now, God may or may not have been with Joseph, but I think we can conclude that he was certainly a good manager and probably rather charismatic.

Eventually Joseph meets two of Pharaoh's servants. These servants were put in the palace of the captain guard (remember, that's Potiphar). According to the text,
They remained in prison for quite some time, and the captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, who looked after them.
This makes it sound like it was Potiphar who was giving Joseph responsibility. This seems weird given that he was the one who threw Joseph in prison. Maybe he really did like Joseph but did not want to anger his wife by freeing him from prison. Or maybe the text is just confused. This does not seem unlikely since in this part of the text the captain of the guard is always referred to by title and not by name.

In any case, Joseph correctly interprets dreams for the two prisoners. Pharaoh executes one prisoner and returns the other to his job as cup-bearer. Two years later, Pharaoh starts having weird dreams. None of his magicians or wise men can tell him what they mean. Now, I am no expert in ancient Egyptian magicians and wise men, but I do know that in modern America, plenty of people would be willing to make up interpretations for dreams and one of them would make a guess good enough to convince Pharaoh. This is especially true when you consider that Pharaoh's dreams were not that opaque: 7 healthy cows were eaten by 7 sickly cows and 7 full grain stalks were eaten by 7 scrawny ones (click through to the full sized pictures; it has cows eating each other).

In any case, the cup-bearer remembers Joseph, and Pharaoh calls Joseph into his presence. Will Joseph interpret Pharaoh's dreams? We will have to wait until tomorrow to see.

New Testament

Today Jesus took advantage of a visit from his mother and brothers to claim that his true mothers and brothers are those who follow the will of his Father in heaven. It is not reported whether or not Jesus subsequently went out to speak with his biological mother and brothers. If you assumed he did not, then there are some good opportunities for fan fic. Had he had a falling out with them? Was he accusing them of not following God or his religion? Did they think he was crazy? Were they trying to get him to come home again? Such possibilities!

Today we hear the parable of the farmer and the seeds. A farmer throws out some seed.. Some landed on the footpath and were eaten by birds. Some sprouted in shallow soil and wilted quickly. Some fell among thorns and were crowded out. Some fell and fertile soil and were productive. These stand for, respectively, those who heard Jesus and did not understand, those who listen but soon fall away, those who listen but whose beliefs are crowded out by life, and, finally, those who "truly hear and understand God's word". A parable should not be interpreted too literally, but I do think that this parable can yield an interesting interpretation.

In particular, the location that received the seed had no choice in its nature and no ability to change. Dirt cannot make itself fertile. A foot path cannot choose to become a field. A weedy area cannot will the weeds away. If we take this to be part of the lesson Jesus is trying to teach, this supports a predestination style interpretation of salvations. That is to say, those who are saved have no choice in that matter. The ability to believe and persist in belief is part of one's nature as shaped by God.

Today we read another passage in the arsenal of those who argue that non-believers are unqualified to read and understand the Bible.
To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don't really see.
They hear, but they don't really listen or understand.
This passage is often interpreted to mean that faith must proceed understanding. But God would be silly to make revelation of his existence and of his son's divinity work this way. Presumably, a God who created humanity would understand human psychology. A God who understood human psychology would realize that humans are subject to confirmation bias: they interpret their experiences to support their existing beliefs. Therefore, any belief system that requires belief before it can be understood will inevitably keep company with the countless false belief systems that have persisted despite their obvious incorrectness.

More supposed fulfilled prophecies. Jesus claims that the bit above about looking and not really seeing fulfilles a prophecy from Isaiah 6:9-10. First, let's look at the quoted passage.
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.

The author of Matthew is quoting from the Greek version. Not unreasonable perhaps, but interesting given that the passage reads rather differently in a translation from the Hebrew, quoted below with verse 8 added for context
Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people,

‘Listen carefully, but do not understand.
Watch closely, but learn nothing.’
Harden the hearts of these people.
Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
and turn to me for healing.”
Two things to notice: First, as I mentioned above, the translation from Hebrew reads very differently from the translation from Greek. Now, I would not be surprised if a regular human authoring a book made this sort of mistake. However, I am rather surprised to see such a mistake in a work that is supposed to be divinely inspired. You would think divine inspiration would include being able to see where existing translations were inaccurate. Second, this passage is about the prophet Isaiah and what he has been instructed to do. It is not a prophecy about some future messiah. To apply it to Jesus stretches my credulity.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note today.