30 April 2010

Apr 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Jephthah. His story is pretty much the standard one. Israel's being oppressed. Someone rises up and defeats the enemy. That person becomes a ruler over Israel. However, there's a catch, and a rather terrible one. While I was reading, my eyes passed over this line,
[Jephthah] said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
As soon as I read that, I remembered that this was that story. The story that involves human sacrifice, human sacrifice that God does not prevent nor seem to condemn. What happens is this: Jephthah wins, of course, and when he comes home,
his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters.
Jephthah feels anguish, but keeps his word and sacrifices his daughter after letting her mourn the fact that she is dying a virgin.

Now, I am guessing (or, perhaps, hoping) that this story never happened. Jephthah's vow seems improbable at least; I would suspect that most people would expect the first thing to come out of their house would, with high likeliehood, be a person. I am guessing that this story exists only to provide a background explanation for this,
So it has become a custom in Israel for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.
But still! This is a terrible story. As far as the text lets us know, God accepts this sacrifice. At the very least, he does not prevent it. He does not send an angel to tell Jephthah to stop. He does not send a ram to sacrifice in his daughter's place. He does not make sure something non-human is the first thing to come out to meet him.  Terrible!

Also, a bunch of minor judges ruled over Israel.

New Testament

John is the final canonical gospel. The first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they obviously share sources. John mostly does not. So less repetition, yay! Reading the Wikipedia article, it sounds like John is going to contain much that is contrary to the synoptic gospels:
The teachings of Jesus in John are very different from those found in the synoptic gospels. Thus, since the 1800s scholars have generally believed that only one of the two traditions could be authentic. Today, prominent, mainstream historians largely tend to discount the historical value of John. Few scholars regard John to be at all comparable to the Synoptics in terms of historical value. ... The Gospel of John also differs from the synoptic gospels in respect of its narrative of Jesus' life and ministry; but here there is a lower degree of consensus that the synoptic tradition is to be preferred.
We read the following about authorship:
The Gospel is anonymous, but in Chapter 21 it is stated that it derives from the testimony of the 'Disciple whom Jesus loved', whom Early Church tradition identified with John the Apostle, one of Jesus' Twelve Apostles. It is closely related in style and content to the three surviving Epistles of John, such that most commentators routinely treat the four books together. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether these epistles are the work of the evangelist himself, or of his followers writing in his name.
On date of composition we read:
There is no consensus in current scholarship as to how far the material in John may derive from a historical 'Disciple whom Jesus loved', but it is broadly agreed that the authorship of the Gospel should be credited to the person who composed the finished text, rather than to the source of material in the text; and that this composition is to be dated around 85-90 AD, a decade or more later than the most likely dates for composition of the Synoptics.
The article has a lot more detail. In particular, it spends a fair bit of time comparing John to the synoptic gospels. It is worth a read for the curious.

On to today's content! 

Today's reading starts off with a poem that equates Jesus with the life giving word that existed from the beginning: 
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
... So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
 The rest of the reading focuses on John the Baptist, but let's focus on the parts above. Clearly, the Gospel of John is starting out with a different slant than the gospels we have read so far. Jesus is presented as clearly being God's son (this is ambiguous in the other gospels). Jesus is also presented as having always existed in his aspect as the Word.

The line "and nothing was created except through him" seems particularly interesting. If nothing was created except through the Word/Jesus, then evil and sin was created through him. But if Jesus was the source of sin, then the fact that Jesus' death was supposedly able to atone for all sin almost makes more sense (ignoring the whole, question how the death of the human aspect of a divine, eternal, and all powerful being accomplishes anything any way).

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

29 April 2010

Apr 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

Yesterday, Abimelech killed all his brothers and started ruling over the Israelites. He accomplished this with the help of the people of Shechem. Today, we read about how the people of Shechem eventually rebel against him and, in the process, they both end up destroying each other. First, Abimelech destroys the people of Shechem:

Abimelech and his group stormed the city gate to keep the men of Shechem from getting back in, while Abimelech’s other two groups cut them down in the fields. The battle went on all day before Abimelech finally captured the city. He killed the people, leveled the city, and scattered salt all over the ground.
Then the people of another town, Thebez, kill him:
But there was a strong tower inside the town, and all the men and women—the entire population—fled to it. They barricaded themselves in and climbed up to the roof of the tower. Abimelech followed them to attack the tower. But as he prepared to set fire to the entrance, a woman on the roof dropped a millstone that landed on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull.
We then read about a couple more minor judges, Tola and Jair. Jair is interesting mostly for this bit:
His thirty sons rode around on thirty donkeys, and they owned thirty towns in the land of Gilead, which are still called the Towns of Jair.
However, this seems inconsistent with earlier mentions of the "Towns of Jair". In particular, both Numbers and Deuteronomy imply that they were called that because they were conquered by a person or clan named Jair before the Israelites crossed the Jordan. From Numbers:
Then the descendants of Makir of the tribe of Manasseh went to Gilead and conquered it, and they drove out the Amorites living there. So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. The people of Jair, another clan of the tribe of Manasseh, captured many of the towns in Gilead and changed the name of that region to the Towns of Jair. Meanwhile, a man named Nobah captured the town of Kenath and its surrounding villages, and he renamed that area Nobah after himself.
It seems reasonable to suppose that Jair was a known legendary figure to the authors of all of these books, but it seems no one actually quite knew who he was.

Also, the Israelites fall into sin again, get oppressed again, and ask God for help again. After some hemming and hawing, he agrees to help them.

New Testament

Guess what! We finish Luke today. That means tomorrow, we move on to the Gospel of John. But before that, we get to read what happens after the resurrection. If you remember, Matthew and Mark only had a little to say after Jesus came back to life. Luke has a fair bit more.

There are a number of stories about Jesus' disciples meeting with him. These stories emphasize the fact that he had a physical body. The stories show him eating and asking the disciples to touch him to remove their doubt.
“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.
Although I cannot find a reference at the moment, I believe I read once (not on Wikipedia) that the author of Luke added these passages to emphasize that Jesus' resurrection was a bodily one, not just a spiritual one, in response to people who were claiming that it was a spiritual resurrection.

Jesus then explained the scriptures to them and ascended into heaven. The End.

Psalms and Proverbs

Psalm 100! It is a psalm of praise to the Lord. One of the relatively few that could appear in a modern church service without editing.

28 April 2010

Apr 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

There's so much in this little story!
Then Gideon asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “The men you killed at Tabor—what were they like?”
“Like you,” they replied. “They all had the look of a king’s son.”
“They were my brothers, the sons of my own mother!” Gideon exclaimed. “As surely as the Lord lives, I wouldn’t kill you if you hadn’t killed them.”
First, Zebah and Zalmunna are clearly sucking up to Gideon. He's from the least important clan in his tribe. I doubt he and his family actually had the look of a king's sons. Second, Gideon claims that he would not have killed the enemy leaders if they had not killed his family. Are we really supposed to believe that Mr. I'll-kill-all-the-men-in-your-town-since-you-didn't-give-me-food would have spared these two if they had not killed his family members? Instead, I am guessing that the killing of Gideon's brothers provides something of a casting of legitimacy on his leadership, since he was the youngest (and, perhaps, it is foreshadowing what comes up next).

After this incident, Gideon lives a long and prosperous life.
Throughout the rest of Gideon’s lifetime—about forty years—there was peace in the land.
Then Gideon son of Joash returned home. He had seventy sons born to him, for he had many wives. He also had a concubine in Shechem, who gave birth to a son, whom he named Abimelech.
After Gideon's death, the Israelites start worshiping foreign gods again (of course). Gideon's son by a concubine decided he wanted to be king so killed most of his brothers. Side note: anyone know of good references for the roles of women in this time period and the significance of being concubine verses being one of many wives? We can infer from the context of the story that the former is of lower status, but it is hard to tell what else was being implied. But back to Abimelech, he killed his brothers, all 70 of them,
He went to his father’s home at Ophrah, and there, on one stone, they killed all seventy of his half brothers, the sons of Gideon. But the youngest brother, Jotham, escaped and hid.
Jothan goes on to rant against Abimelech. I am sure that tomorrow we will be reading about what a terrible ruler Abimelech turned out to be.

New Testament

Jesus dies. Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in his personal tomb. A bunch of women ("Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women") find the empty tomb and tell the disciples about it (note that it was two women in Matthew and three in Mark). The disciples do not believe them except for Peter, who goes to look at the tomb and finds that it is empty.

Psalms and Proverbs

One of today's psalms actually contains some wisdom!
Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can fully share its joy.
No one can ever really fully comprehend the feelings of others. Perhaps this is part of the reason ideas like Jesus and God appeal to some people. People want to be understood. The idea of being understood perfectly might be appealing.

27 April 2010

Apr 27

Reference links:
Old Testament

God wanted to make sure that the Israelites did not take credit for the victory that God was going to give Gideon. Therefore, he had Gideon reduce his force of 32,000 men by two orders of magnitude to a force of 300. 22,000 of the men left when they were told they could,
Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.
To get rid of the last 9700, God had Gideon divide the troops based on how they drank water from a stream,
When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.” Only 300 of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.
I suppose that is as good an arbitrary division of people as any.

Before Gideon attacked, he surveyed the enemy camp and learned that some Midianite had a dream that the Israelites would defeat them (well, it was actually about bread and tents, but that's what it meant). From this, Gideon concluded that his victory must be certain and attacked.

Of course the Israelites defeated the enemies at their camp. Once the enemies were fleeing, Gideon called for help, and they chased down and defeated all the enemy. But not without a little drama. The officials of the towns of Succoth and Peniel refused to give Gideon and his men food, so Gideon said he would get his revenge on them after he was victorious. I think that is a bit unfair of him. Gideon is attacking the powerful army that has been subjecting the area. Of course the people in that area do not want to be perceived as helping him until they are certain it won't cost them their town.

Of course, those townspeople did not account for the fact that the Israelites, or Gideon at least, could also be pretty cruel. After he won,
Gideon then returned to Succoth and said to the leaders, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. When we were here before, you taunted me, saying, ‘Catch Zebah and Zalmunna first, and then we will feed your exhausted army.’” Then Gideon took the elders of the town and taught them a lesson, punishing them with thorns and briers from the wilderness. He also tore down the tower of Peniel and killed all the men in the town.
At least he only killed all the men in the town instead of killing everyone and their livestock before burning the town to the ground.

New Testament

Pilate tries to set Jesus free. The crowd claims they want him crucified. As I pointed out one of the other times we read about Jesus' trial, it seems awfully odd that the religious leaders were so afraid of the people yet all we hear from the people at Jesus' trial is "Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The soldiers crucify Jesus. People mock him. Then we read about the people crucified with Jesus. In Matthew and Mark we read that Jesus was crucified with two criminals who both ridiculed and insulted him. In Luke's version of the story, one criminal ridicules Jesus, the other acknowledges him as Lord.

Psalms and Proverbs

Exciting imagery in the first of today's two psalms!
Dark clouds surround him.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire spreads ahead of him
and burns up all his foes.
His lightning flashes out across the world.
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

26 April 2010

Apr 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Fourth grade book report style!

So the Midianites, they were mean. Very mean. And because the Israelites did bad things, the Israelites had to deal with being bossed by the Midianites. For seven years! No fun at all. So the Israelites call out to God, and he totally sends an angel to talk to this guy, Gideon.

Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press. He was at this place called Ophrah. That's kind of like Oprah, but not because it has an 'h'. Anywho, so the angel told Gideon that he was a mighty hero when he said, "Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!"

He said that even though he (that's Gideon) was just threshing wheat. That does not seem very heroic.

The angel told Gideon he was going to save the Israelites, but Gideon was all like, "but I'm the least important person the the weakest clan in my tribe." But God's all like, "That's okay dude! I'll help you."

Gideon was kind of a doubting Thomas sort of guy, so he made God give him a sign. He cooked some goat and bread for the angel, and the angel set it on fire and then disappeared. I don't know what he (the angel) disappeared for.

Gideon built an altar and destroyed the old one (that was an altar to Baal, who God did not like), but that made everyone really mad. God said those altars were bad, but the people liked them. But that was because the people were bad. When the people got mad at Gideon, he totally told them that Baal could defend himself. But I see people say that about God (like, God God, not Baal or anything), but he never strikes them down or anything, so maybe gods just don't do that? But the people seemed to think that it showed that Gideon was right, so they did not kill them.

Gideon got together an army, but then he wanted God to do more miracles to prove that he was with him (Gideon, that is). He asked for something kind of weird. He told God to make a fleece (that's like a cloth) wet when the ground was dry, and then he asked God to do the opposite the other night. God did both. But aren't we supposed to just have faith in God? Why didn't God get mad at Gideon for asking for a miracle? And why didn't Gideon ask for something cool, like lasers to shoot at the enemy? That would have been awesome!

And that's all. I bet tomorrow we're going to read about how Gideon beats the Midianites. That will be cool, because there will be killing.

New Testament

Peter denies Jesus. Jesus is accused by the elders. Jesus stands before Pilate. Jesus stands before Herod Antipas. Wait a second... I don't remember that part from Matthew or Mark. That's because neither of them mention it. In both those gospels, Jesus goes from the elders to Pilate to death. Luke just adds this bit in here! Now, the other gospels do not say this did not happen, but if it were true, it's a pretty huge detail for them to just leave out. Fortunately, we know that Luke is, at best, more like a writer of historical fiction than a historian.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

25 April 2010

Apr 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Unlike Shamgar, the judge got a measly two sentences at the end of yesterday's reading, today's judge, Deborah, gets a whole day's worth of reading to herself. An early passage sums up the story,
Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment. One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”
What I find most interesting about Deborah's story is that there appears to be no fuss over the fact that a woman was a prophetess and one of the great judges of Israel. This is especially interesting when you consider that the text later does point out the oddity of a woman going into battle.
Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”
“Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
Of course, Deborah and Barak were victorious. However, they are not the only ones who win praise that day. Sisera, the leader of the enemy, had fled to the home of Jael. She pretended to hide him and then,
when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.
Gruesome, but effective I suppose.

New Testament

Today we read again about how Jesus prayed before his arrest. This version of the story differs from Matthew and Mark's versions in interesting ways. Unlike the earlier versions, this version does not name the disciples that Jesus brings with him (Peter, James, and John, in the earlier narratives). Was Luke intentionally deemphasizing the role of those disciples during the prayer? Perhaps he just wanted to maintain continuity between the events that come before and after the prayers (the last supper and Jesus' arrest) by keeping all of the disciples around for all three events.

This version of the story has an angel appearing to strengthen Jesus. In the earlier versions, we just have Jesus directly appealing to God. According to the footnote, the two verses that describe the angel do not appear in early manuscripts of Luke. A third interesting difference is that in Luke's version of the story, Jesus only goes back to find the disciples asleep one time, not three.

(One uninteresting difference between Luke's version and the earlier versions is that the earlier versions are set in an olive grove in Gethsemane while this version is set on the Mount of Olives.)

Psalms and Proverbs

The second of today's proverbs entertains me:
Without oxen a stable stays clean,
but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.

24 April 2010

Apr 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Exciting stories today! To start, the Israelites are yet again failing to follow God's instructions to them.
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.
The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. 
The Israelites suffer at the hands of their enemies, but eventually God sends them help. The text sets up a pattern for the behavior of the Israelites. God raises "judges" over Israel. While a judge is alive, Israel prospers. Once the judge died, there was corruption again. In so far as this is based on any real shared cultural memory, it seems to me that Israel prospered when they had strong military leaders and had problems with their enemies when they were not. This is not unexpected historical behavior, and it does not seem necessary to bring God into it.

Today we read the stories of three judges (although the third can hardly be called a story). The first judge is Othniel (the same one who married Acsah). The Israelites do evil. God hands them over to their enemies. Othniel defeats the enemy. There is peace until his death. The most interesting part of this story is the enemy king's name: King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim.

The second judge has the most exciting of today's stories. After Othniel's death, the Israelites sinned again, so God gave them over to King Eglon of Moab. Ehud defeats the king, but not in any conventional way. Instead,
Ehud walked over to Eglon, who was sitting alone in a cool upstairs room. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you!” As King Eglon rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, pulled out the dagger strapped to his right thigh, and plunged it into the king’s belly. The dagger went so deep that the handle disappeared beneath the king’s fat. So Ehud did not pull out the dagger, and the king’s bowels emptied [Or "and it came out behind"]. Then Ehud closed and locked the doors of the room and escaped down the latrine [Or "and went out through the porch"].
Kind of icky, but super entertaining!

The third judge is hardly worth mentioning. His whole story is this,
After Ehud, Shamgar son of Anath rescued Israel. He once killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad.
New Testament

Continuing the last supper. Jesus predicts that one of his disciples will betray them. The disciples argue over who it would be. Then they argue about which one of them is the greatest. Jesus says that,
Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.
Jesus then predicts that Peter will deny knowing Jesus three times before the next morning.

Psalms and Proverbs

Two psalms again! Both are psalms of joyful praise.

Today's proverbs:
A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.
Perhaps it's because I'm fortunately unfamiliar with Biblical arguments for a woman's place being in the home, but I'm kind of surprised that I have never heard this proverb in support of that.

Those who follow the right path fear the Lord;
those who take the wrong path despise him.
What about those of us who are just indifferent to the Lord? (Because it's hard to fear or hate something that one does not believe exists.)

23 April 2010

Apr 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we start the the Book of Judges. According to Wikipedia:
it contains the history of Biblical judges(not to be confused with modern judges), who helped rule and guide the ancientIsraelites, and of their times.
As for authorship we read,
The majority of modern scholars believe that Judges was originally part of a continuous work known as theDeuteronomic History stretching from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings, which was later broken up when the Torah was constructed by its redactor from the early parts of the Deuteronomic History and other writings such as JE and thePriestly source
The summary makes it sound like the content is going to be fairly entertaining.

Most of today's reading is generally not thought to have originally been part of the text,
The majority of modern scholars believe that that first part of the introduction (1:1-2:5) was a late addition to the text, added after the Deuteronomist version of Judges was constructed.
Hopefully that means that the rest of the book will not be as confusing as today's reading. The reading starts with,
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Which tribe should go first to attack the Canaanites?”
Okay, so that sets the scene. Joshua is dead. The Israelites are looking to fight more.  We then read that the Israelites attacked the Canaanites and Perizzites. They then attacked Jerusalem and Negev and Hebron. And then
From there they went to fight against the people living in the town of Debir (formerly called Kiriath-sepher). Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the one who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz, was the one who conquered it, so Acsah became Othniel’s wife.
Wait just one moment! This is supposed to happen after Joshua's death. But we read nearly the same story in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 15:13-19)! It would not contradict the text in Joshua to claim that that passage was actually relating something that happened after Joshua's death (i.e., the land was given to Caleb by Joshua but conquered after Joshua's death), but there is nothing, nothing in the text to indicate this.

But back to those conquerings. We have some more terrible cruelties.
While at Bezek they encountered King Adoni-bezek and fought against him, and the Canaanites and Perizzites were defeated. Adoni-bezek escaped, but the Israelites soon captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.
That is what I would call torture, even though Adoni-bezek did the same things to others. We also read,
The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem and captured it, killing all its people and setting the city on fire.
Oh, and the Bible is supposedly a moral book? What then, to make of stories like this, told without any hint of condemnation:
The descendants of Joseph attacked the town of Bethel, and the Lord was with them. They sent men to scout out Bethel (formerly known as Luz). They confronted a man coming out of the town and said to him, “Show us a way into the town, and we will have mercy on you.” So he showed them a way in, and they killed everyone in the town except that man and his family.
I cannot blame the man for saving his own skin, especially given the reputation the Israelites must have had. However, betrayal is hardly a "family value".

After a few more descriptions of which areas the Israelites did and did not fully conquer and a scolding of the Israelites by an angel, we get what scholars consider to be the original beginning of Judges:
After Joshua sent the people away, each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them. And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
I can see why scholars think the rest of today's reading is a later interpolation. Otherwise, it seems bizarre to describe Joshua's death like that again right after describing things that happened after his death.

New Testament

More talk of fig trees! I never had a chance to try figs while I was in Israel. It is too bad really because I have heard that you cannot really say that you do not like figs until you have tried really fresh ones, which we certainly do not have in Seattle. In any case, Jesus is talking about fig trees to indicate that just as leaves on trees indicate that summer is coming so those signs that Jesus was talking about indicate that the Kingdom of God is near. I guess that answers my question from yesterday: the text itself introduces the ambiguity of whether Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God (supposedly in the future) or the destruction of the temple (in the past).

Also, Judas agrees to betray Jesus and we get the setup for the Last Supper. Like with Moses, I cannot say I am glad that we are getting close to Jesus' death (yet again), but I can say that I welcome anything that signals an end to this third repetition of largely the same material.

Psalms and Proverbs

2 psalms today! Weird. We also read a rather well known proverb today,
Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children.
Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.
I suppose that these days many people assume that this is a metaphorical rod of discipline.

22 April 2010

Apr 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish Joshua! Joshua gives a summarized overview of the history of the Israelites. I appreciate that Joshua gives a more concise history lesson than Moses did. Joshua ends by reminding the Israelites that God helped them to murder all of the people in this land they now live in. Therefore, they should honor and worship only their God and no other. But he does not think they will be very good at it. The people agree to worship only their God.
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord. Joshua recorded these things in the Book of God’s Instructions. As a reminder of their agreement, he took a huge stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the Lord.
Joshua said to all the people, “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God.”
 I suppose we are supposed to take the rock's hearing the covenant to be symbolic, although it does not seem any more symbolic than many of the things people take literally. Also, terebinth trees seem to be pretty!

After that Joshua dies and is buried (at the age of 110). Eleazar also dies. The people of Israel finally bury Joseph's bones, which they have been carrying with them since they left Egypt.
The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought along with them when they left Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the parcel of ground Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor for 100 pieces of silver. This land was located in the territory allotted to the descendants of Joseph.
Tomorrow we start Judges!

New Testament

A widow is praised for donating all she has. On the one hand, I agree with the sentiment that sometimes a smaller gift can be more generous depending on the means of the donor. On the other hand, it makes me think about how much of the money given to churches is not used for the good they do but is only used to propagate their own message.

Jesus talks about... the end times? the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem? It is unclear. We read,
Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”
Now, this "prediction" is referring to the destruction of the Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I put "prediction" in quotes because the gospels are generally believed by critical scholars to have been written after the Siege. But in any case, the disciples are clearly asking when the temple will be destroyed.

Jesus then goes on to describe a bunch of weird and terrible things. However, they are effects that I have at least on occasion seed associated with the end times and with Jesus' second coming. Clearly, one of these things has happened and the other, in most people's view, has not (and in my view, never will). I suppose this prediction could have a dual meaning like is attributed to all of the so called prophecies that Jesus fulfills.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today we get the third and final part of the psalm we started two days ago. You may remember that the first parts of the psalm talk about how God is wonderful and David his chosen king. Today we get the dramatic plot twist!
But now you have rejected him and cast him off.
You are angry with your anointed king.
You have renounced your covenant with him;
you have thrown his crown in the dust.
You have broken down the walls protecting him
and ruined every fort defending him.
Everyone who comes along has robbed him,
and he has become a joke to his neighbors.
 The psalm ends with the psalmist praising God after a request that God stop hiding. Cheery.

4 proverbs today! Why is it that we get 1 some days and 4 other days. Maybe they are grouped thematically, but not significantly so. I would personally have a more even distribution.

21 April 2010

Apr 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

So the people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were not trying to rebel against God. They were just trying to build a reminder to the people to the west of the Jordan that they too have the right to worship God at the Tabernacle. This was considered a sufficient answer:
Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the other leaders left the tribes of Reuben and Gad in Gilead and returned to the land of Canaan to tell the Israelites what had happened. And all the Israelites were satisfied and praised God and spoke no more of war against Reuben and Gad
Also, I noticed something tricky today. So, Eleazar is the priest and is, therefore, still alive. Furthermore, he has been around for awhile, since he was already a priest when his brothers were burned to death. But didn't everyone over 20 at the time of the people's rebellion die (except for Joshua and Caleb). Ah! But wait. The passage from Numbers says:
Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die.
If we look at the registration we see,
But as the Lord had commanded, the Levites were not included in this registration.
So it is okay that Eleazar is still alive.

Also, Joshua's dying. He warns the Israelites to keep themselves separate from those around them or else God will get angry.

New Testament

More repetitive exchanges between Jesus and the religious teachers.

Psalms and Proverbs

A continuation of yesterday's psalm: "Yay, yay! God is wonderful, and so is David his chosen king."

20 April 2010

Apr 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

Half of today's reading is a listing of cities given to the Levites.

The rest looks like it might get interesting. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh return home. On the way, they build an altar in the land of Canaan. The rest of the tribes of Israel do not like this.
So the whole community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against them. First, however, they sent a delegation led by Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to talk with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
The delegation tells those who had built the altar what terrible people they are. The delegation tells them how angry God is going to be with all of them. What happens next? We'll have to wait and see.

New Testament

More repeats: the Pharisees ask Jesus where his authority comes from, and he refuses to tell them because they will not answer a question about John the Baptist. Jesus tells a parable about some tenant farmers that was clearly a criticism of the religious teachers. Jesus evades a trap set by those folks when he says that taxes should be paid because Caesar's face in on the coin.

Psalms and Proverbs

Another "God is awesome" psalm. Another couple "wise people are awesome, fools are not" proverbs.

19 April 2010

Apr 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

More geography plus designation of the cities of refuge. Of vague interest, relative to the rest,
This was the homeland allocated to the clans of the tribe of Simeon. Their allocation of land came from part of what had been given to Judah because Judah’s territory was too large for them. So the tribe of Simeon received an allocation within the territory of Judah.
New Testament

Jesus steals/borrows a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. His followers praise him. The Pharisees do not like that. He claims that if they did not rejoice, the rocks would. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Jesus clears people out of the Temple and starts teaching there.

I think the bit about the fall of Jerusalem is often considered some sort of prophecy, but the effect is rather dulled when you consider that Luke was almost certainly written after the destruction of the Temple.

Psalms and Proverbs

Cheery psalm today. Here's a representative excerpt:
I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
Your terrors have paralyzed me.
They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
They have engulfed me completely.
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.
I do like the first of today's psalms:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

18 April 2010

Apr 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

More land allocation descriptions. The most exciting part of today's reading is this:
Joshua replied, “If there are so many of you, and if the hill country of Ephraim is not large enough for you, clear out land for yourselves in the forest where the Perizzites and Rephaites live.”
It is strange that Joshua is giving the people of Ephraim the land where the Rephaites live given we have read several times that King Og of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites.

New Testament

Today's reading contains a story about a short tax collector climbing a tree. I am amused.
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name.“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
This story also provides an interesting contrast to the story of the rich man who wants to know how to get into heaven (in Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, and Luke 18:19-30). To quote Luke's version of that story,
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
In today's story, the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, we read,
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
Why is it sufficient for Zacchaeus to give away half of his wealth? Is it because he volunteered it while the rich man had to be told to give up his wealth? Is it because Zacchaeus was sinful while the rich man kept the law, and so Zacchaeus's sacrifice represented a larger change in himself? It's a mystery!

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is kind of odd, but in a nice way, no wishing suffering upon anyone.
On the holy mountain
stands the city founded by the Lord.
He loves the city of Jerusalem
more than any other city in Israel.
O city of God,
what glorious things are said of you!

I will count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me—
also Philistia and Tyre, and even distant Ethiopia.
They have all become citizens of Jerusalem!
Regarding Jerusalem it will be said,
“Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.”
And the Most High will personally bless this city.
When the Lord registers the nations, he will say,
“They have all become citizens of Jerusalem.”

The people will play flutes and sing,
“The source of my life springs from Jerusalem!”
I suspect that today's proverb had a little modernization in the exact choice of phrasing,
Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.
That said, I am amused to see that the concept of get rich quick schemes have been around for a long long time.

17 April 2010

Apr 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

More geographic description including, oh joy! lists of city names. I have never been into textual descriptions of geography. For me, this may be the dullest days of reading so far.

The only thing that approaches remotely interesting is this,
Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the one who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” Othniel, the son of Caleb’s brother Kenaz, was the one who conquered it, so Acsah became Othniel’s wife.
When Acsah married Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. As she got down off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What’s the matter?”
She said, “Give me another gift. You have already given me land in the Negev; now please give me springs of water, too.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
Yes, the most exciting thing in today's reading is that a guy's daughter gets married, asks for something from her father, and gets it.

New Testament

Today we read a couple more stories, and we learn that the disciples were pretty dense.

The first story is the story of the rich man and Jesus. A rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to get eternal life. Jesus tells him that he must be good and, if he already does that, he must give up all his possessions and follow Jesus. This makes the man sad. Jesus comments that it's hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God, but fortunately, God helps them.

The other story involves a blind man who persistently called out for Jesus to heal him. Jesus eventually did, and everyone praised God. I suppose you could read this as supporting the theme from one of yesterday's story that persistence gets results in matters of petition.

Between these two stories, we get the following episode,
Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.”
But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about.
Now, Jesus is not being that mysterious this time, at least with respect to the facts of the situation. Thus it seems that either the disciples are dense not to understand any of this, "understand" is meant to imply "understand the significance of", or they were so use to not being able to take Jesus at his word that even something as straightforward as this is perplexing.

Psalms and Proverbs

Wow! A whole psalm that could be used as a modern prayer without having to cut out any awkward bits!

16 April 2010

Apr 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

Land is divided. Lots of place names. Balaam's death is brought up again.

New Testament

Today we read a parable that seems to have a similar lesson to Luke 11:5-8, don't give up when you pray. If you keep asking, God will eventually get annoyed and give you what you want. A widow bugs a judge who will not give her justice until he does. Since it had to do with a judge, Jesus could say,

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly!
The problem with this is that the judge did not give justice to get the widow to stop bothering him, he gave her whatever she wanted to get her to stop bugging him. If, indeed, it was the other person who deserved justice, there is nothing in this story to indicate that the judge would not have given the widow her way anyway to get her off his back. In fact, there is everything to imply that he would have given her her way anyway.

Like yesterday, we get another story that could be summed up with its punchline:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Also, Jesus blesses some children. Awww.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm: God, you did wonderful things in the past. Do them again, please! He totally will, I know it.

15 April 2010

Apr 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

I forgot to mention yesterday that one of the kings defeated in yesterday's reading was from Gezer. This is funny because Gezer means carrot in modern Hebrew. No relation as far as I know, but still entertaining. Other than that, we just read about more death and slaughter. Included in this was the following,
The Israelites chased them as far as Greater Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward into the valley of Mizpah, until not one enemy warrior was left alive. Then Joshua crippled the horses and burned all the chariots, as the Lord had instructed.
So after killing all the enemy warriors, the Israelites crippled the horses because God said so? God sucks.

New Testament

Today we read another story that appears only in Luke. In this story, Jesus heals 10 lepers in a village. He does, and only one, the Samaritan, comes back to thank him.

Jesus also talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. In summary, it will be surprising.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing noteworthy.

Hmm, that ended up short. Today just was not that novel.

14 April 2010

Apr 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

I am not very good with violence. I close my eyes even at the moderately violent parts of movies. Thus, these readings about Israel's conquering of the promised land have been difficult for me to read. Despite the fact that I know there is no reason to believe they actually occurred, I get a knot in my stomach every time I read about how the Israelites completely destroyed another city. Today's reading was particularly difficult.

It starts with a story about how the Gibeonites saved their lives by fooling the Israelites into effectively making them their slaves instead. They pretended to be from a distant land and asked the Israelites for a peace treaty.
They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy.
The Israelites were easily fooled, supposedly because they did not consult with God. When the Israelites learned that the Gibeonites lived nearby, they regretted their oath. However, they were bound to uphold it for it had been made in the name of their God. This regrets prompts Joshua to ask a very stupid question,
Joshua called together the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you lie to us? Why did you say that you live in a distant land when you live right here among us? May you be cursed! From now on you will always be servants who cut wood and carry water for the house of my God.”
The Gibeonites give the obvious answer: the choice was to fool you or to be completely and utterly destroyed.
They replied, “We did it because we—your servants—were clearly told that the Lord your God commanded his servant Moses to give you this entire land and to destroy all the people living in it. So we feared greatly for our lives because of you. That is why we have done this. Now we are at your mercy—do to us whatever you think is right.”
The next story is kind of weird. Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, decided to get a bunch of the local kings together to attack the Gibeonites for making a peace treaty with the Israelites. This seems kind of stupid. If they are going to go to the effort of banding together, they should attack the real enemy, the Israelites. In the end, the Gibeonites call for help, so they end up fighting the Israelites anyway.

The Israelites win, of course. This is the battle that gives rise to the reasonably well known story of Joshua causing the sun and the moon to stand still in the sky.
Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!
The Book of Jasher is, according to Wikipedia, a lost book of the Old Testament. I bring this up because some people think that if the Bible is God's word, then God can be depended on to shepherd it through the ages. The existence of lost books does not discredit that belief, however, it does bring up something that those who hold to the belief have to explain.

Oh yeah, then the Israelites kill a whole bunch more people. =(

New Testament

Today's reading starts with a story whose whole point, I feel, is to provide build up for the punchline,
But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.
Really, I feel like we would have gotten the same amount of value with a slight expansion of that single statement.

Today's reading also contains a passage that illuminates the idea of forgiveness. I feel that people often assume that being forgiving means to be a pushover. However, today's passage provides insight into the process of forgiveness,
If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.
To be forgiving does not mean to accept wrongs. Wrongs can and should be rebuked. However, if a person is receptive to that correction, then they should be forgiven even though they may stray again. This does not address the issue of what forms the rebuke should take or how to know if a person is sincerely asking for repentance, but knowing that is not necessary for extracting wisdom from this.

Psalms and Proverbs

God's ignoring the Israelites again; they want him to wake up and kick ass:
O God, do not be silent!
Do not be deaf.
Do not be quiet, O God.
As a fire burns a forest
and as a flame sets mountains ablaze,
chase them with your fierce storm;
terrify them with your tempest. 

13 April 2010

Apr 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

A story:

The wife of a soldier of Ai had just given birth to a son when news of Jericho's destruction arrived. Reports of the devastation varied. Some said that the invaders had spent seven days breaking down the city walls. Others said the walls had fallen miraculously. Others said a prostitute had let them into the city, and the invaders had destroyed it from the inside.

All the stories agreed that once the invaders breached the walls, the destruction had been swift and complete. Every person and animal had been killed. The city was burned to the ground. Where once the city of Jericho stood, nothing remained but rubble and ashes.

When the people of Ai heard that the invaders were approaching their city, they trembled in fear. The army that had invaded Jericho had been at least twice the size of the whole population of Ai. Still, the soldiers of Ai prepared for battle. They knew the cost of losing.

When the invading army arrived, it was hardly larger than the army of Ai. The overconfidence of the invaders fell before the determination of the men of Ai, and the foreign soldiers fled.

Not long after, the people of Ai heard that the invaders were returning, this time in full force. The people knew that defeat was nearly certain. The soldiers gathered together again, joined by volunteers: boys hardly old enough to lift a spear; men who had long ago left the field of battle behind. They joined  together to defend their homes and families.

The people of Ai saw how the invaders covered the valley that sloped away from the city. Their camp covered more ground than was marked off by the walls of Ai.

Early the next morning, before the first light, the men of Ai attacked the invaders. They knew their only strength was surprise. Amazingly, the giant army fled before them. Made bolder by their success, the men of Ai pushed them harder.

Before they could smell the smoke, they heard the screams. Almost as a single body, the men of Ai turned to look at their home. Dense black smoke rose from the city. Invaders surrounded it, killing anyone who tried to escape.

The men of Ai had hardly registered that gruesome vision when the retreating invaders started to attack. Some men immediately gave up in despair. Others fought desperately through their tears. All were killed.

12,000 died that day, men, women, and children. A city was reduced to rubble. At this, the Israelites rejoiced.

New Testament

Weird story today! A rich man fired his manager because the manager was not very good. The manager decided to use his last hours on the job to get into the favor of as many people as he could. He did this by modifying the records to showed that they owed less to the rich man than they actually owed. We then read,
The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.
So what the manager did was good, but indicated that he was a man of the world? This paragraph is followed by a couple proverbial statements dealing with faithfulness and responsibility and wealth. If those statements applied to the story, they make it sound like we should be interpreting the manager's actions in a negative light. Very confusing.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy.

12 April 2010

Apr 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

Monday means quickies!
When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.
Who told them about it? Was there a crowd watching the Israelites? Did they have the internet?
At that time the Lord told Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise this second generation of Israelites.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the entire male population of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.
As the footnote says, "Gibeath-haaraloth means 'hill of foreskins.'" Eww!
You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town. ... [it happens] ... The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her.
Given that Rahab's home was built into the town wall (Joshua 2:15) I highly doubt she and her family survived the collapsing of the town walls.
Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings.
Hardly into the holy land and the covenant is already being broken. I suspect this is the start of the pattern.

New Testament
In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
I sometimes wonder if it is passages like this that make some Christians want to see themselves as terrible sinners and see small deviations as terrible transgressions. They want heaven to rejoice over them.

Two more parables convey the same lesson.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm: God is so awesome, and if the Israelites had only listened to him then everything would have gone perfectly for them.

11 April 2010

Book review: "And God Said" by Joel M. Hoffman

I recently finished And God Said by Joel M. Hoffman. In this book, Hoffman explores some of the terrible translation errors that have worked their way into translations of Biblical Hebrew. Some of these mistranslations have theological significance. Others make the text harder to comprehend. Others give up the beauty of the original for translations that are textually reasonably but poetically junk.

Despite the fascinating premise, I noticed some serious flaws right off the bat. As a friend of mine put it,
So, yeah Hoffman, tends to be a bit... uneven. It's like he knows what he's talking about and yet is simultaneously full of shit. It's kind of strange. I think he's probably the sort of person who just never questions himself.
I think that assessment is right on.

What Hoffman does well is explore the meaning of a word or phrase. For each word or phrase that he chooses to examine, he looks at it in all the different contexts it appears. Based on those contexts, he explains why the common translation conveys the wrong meaning. He then tries to find a better translation; these discussions tend to flop. He acknowledges that there is no perfect translation for many of these phrases, so he sets out a number of alternatives and chooses between them. The problem is that this choice often displays his own bias as to what aspect of the original is most important.

I will discuss one of the phrases in detail to give you a taste for what the discussions are like. The first topic Hoffman explores is the phrase commonly translated as "heart and soul". He has this to say about it:
The combination "heart and soul" or some variation of it, appears nearly forty times in the Bible, further emphasizing how important these two ideas were in antiquity. But here's the problem. The Hebrew words for "heart" and "soul," the words in Deuteronomy 6:5 that Jesus quotes, are levav and nefesh, respectively. And they are severly mistranslated. In fact, the translations miss the point entirely.
Looking at these words in the contexts they are used, both individually and together, Hoffman concludes that levav seems to represent the seat of both emotions and reasons in people. "Heart" is a bad translation because it excludes the rational element. "Brain" or "mind" fail because they tend to emphasize the rational over the emotional.

In a similar treatment, nefesh fares even worse. It is often translated as "soul". However, looking at the word in context shows that while nefesh is related to the essence of that which gives life, it is generally connected with the physical essence such as blood, breath, and flesh. Looking at levav and nefesh together, Hoffman concludes,
While nefesh was everything about life that could be touched, levav was its counterpart, representing everything about life that could not be touched.
Given this meaning, it is clear that "heart and soul" completely fails to convey the essence of those two terms.

As I said, the book tends to flop in its attempts to provide a better translation. What he comes up with in this case is "mind-body," as in "the mind-body connection". This translation is certainly better than "heart and soul", but it has connotations of its own that Hoffman does not really explore.

Hoffman follows this same pattern with other terms and phrases: look at it in context, determine what ideas the word conveys, compare it against the standard English translation and find it lacking, and try to find a better translation.

The other topics he covers are
  • The words used for various rulers and leaders, including those commonly translated as "king" and "shepherd". "Shepherds" in antiquity were way more awesome than the modern conception of shepherds.
  • The words that give rise to the disturbing translation "My sister, my bride" in Song of Solomon: The word translated as sister was probably meant as an indicator of equality.
  • The word that is commonly translated as "covet" in the 10 commandments: It certainly meant more than just covet. It probably meant a particular type of taking.
  • Words used to refer to women: The word translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 most certainly did not mean "a woman who has never had sex".
What lessons can someone reading the Bible take from this? First, that even the best modern translations have lots of errors. Some of these are minor, some major. Some are cruft left over from the King James Version, some are due to the inherently difficult nature of translation.

Second, we should not take small fragments such as words or phrases too literally without taking the time to look into the text in the original language. Since most of us do not have the background or time to do this, we should, instead, just be very careful when we analyze particular words. For example, when I was analyzing the word "hate" in Luke 14:26 in today's reading, I was very careful to say
I think that Jesus really does mean to convey some of the negative connotations of the word hate
Rather than saying that Jesus really meant for his followers to literally hate their friends and family, I wanted to convey that there was likely a negative aspect to the feeling he wanted his followers to hold even though I do not know that the original Greek had any negative connotation at all (well, actually I do, but I looked that up after the fact).

Finally, we should realize that translations never capture all levels of the text. No translation can capture all of the levels of meaning (word, phrase, passage, aesthetic, poetic, idiomatic). Thus, we are always missing out on something when we read the translation.

Apr 11

Reference links:
Old Testament

The Israelites cross the Jordan. To make their crossing easier and to demonstrate his power, God stopped the flow of the Jordan.
So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
Everyone passes safely over, they take some rocks to build a memorial and build another memorial in the river itself, and no chasing armies are drowned as the river goes back to normal.

New Testament

Upon seeing many people vie for a seat of honor near him at a dinner, Jesus teaches that instead they should sit in the lowest seat.
Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
The section title labels this a teaching about humility, but I do not think that it quite right. It does not seem humble to sit at a lower place to ensure that you are honored if asked to move up and not embarrassed if asked to move down.

Today's reading also contains a discussion of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
The generous way of interpreting this, I think, is that Jesus is claiming that you should love him and being his disciple much more than everyone and everything else. However, the problem with that interpretation is that "hate" has a negative connotation that is not captured by "love much less".

Based on other passages in the gospels, I think that Jesus really does mean to convey some of the negative connotations of the word hate. Earlier in Luke, as well as in the other gospels, we read about Jesus' expectations of those who follow him:
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
If we use these passages to interpret the passage from today's reading, it really does sound like Jesus wants his disciples to neglect and ignore their families and friends. He really does expect them to treat them with characteristics more associated with hatred than lesser love.

Psalms and Proverbs

Good proverb!
Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch,
but the diligent make use of everything they find.
It is good to make good use out of all the resources you have.

10 April 2010

Apr 10

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish Deuteronomy! God shows Moses all of the land that the Israelites are to possess from the top of Mount Nebo. I wonder if there is a mountain you really can see all of ancient Israel from. On the one hand it was relatively small, on the other hand, it was, I believe, larger than modern Israel, and I cannot imagine you see all of that from any mountain.

This passage reminds me of Satan showing Jesus all of the world's kingdoms during Jesus' days in the desert. I wonder if the contrasts in the New Testament story were intentional on the part of the author. When we compare the stories we see lots of opposites: God / Satan; All kingdoms / One kingdom; You can never go there / You can rule over this all.

After Moses sees the promised land, he dies and Joshua takes over leadership of the Israelites. Which brings us to... The Book of Joshua! The Wikipedia article for this book is not as high quality as for the Torah or the gospels we have read so far. However, we do learn the following:
The Book of Joshua has been traditionally ascribed to Joshua himself by early Jewish writers and by the Early Church Fathers. Modern scholars believe that Joshua is the work of writers from the 8th and 7th centuries BC, with retouchings from the exilic period.
Joshua is the first book of the Former (or First) Prophets. Topically, it covers the history of the conquest of the land, the allotment of land to the tribes, and Joshua's farewell address and death. According to Wikipedia, there is no archaeological evidence for a major and abrupt invasion of Canaan by the Israelites.

It sounds like this book will contain a lot of killings and a lot of genocide. I know that some Christians think that genocide is morally acceptable when commanded by God. For the record, I think genocide is reprehensible, and if God is supposedly commanding it, that just reflects badly on his supposedly perfect nature (I suspect I will be making that statement again).

The Book of Joshua starts out with God encouraging Joshua to be a strong and courageous leader. God promises Joshua that,
No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.

Pickersgill: Rahab Receiveth and Concealeth the Spies

Joshua tells the Israelites to prepare to conquer the promised land. He sends out spies to survey the first city they will attack: Jericho.

Spies provide fodder for a good story in this case. The spies explore the land, but the king of the land hears about them. The spies stay the night at the home of Rahab, a prostitute. Rahab hides the spies and misdirects the men who had come to capture them. In exchange, Rahab asks the spies,
Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.
 They agree, and she helps them to escape by letting them outside of the city walls with a rope. Exciting!

New Testament

Today Jesus teaches that most people will not get into heaven:
Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’

Slimmer's door, Ringwood Church.

Is it really just for God to build a system where success is so difficult and failure entails eternal torture?

After this we get an interesting statement, seemingly out of no where:
At that time some Pharisees said to him, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!”
I thought the Pharisees wanted to make Jesus trip up? Why are they now warning him about Herod Antipas? Are these different Pharisees? If so, the Pharisees obviously have at least somewhat divided opinions towards Jesus, so why are they so often treated as a single unit elsewhere? Very confusing.

And Jesus healed on the Sabbath more. That's nice of him. (Although I still think that "you would save someone/something from immediate harm on the Sabbath so therefore it is okay to heal chronic diseases on the Sabbath" is an invalid logic, even if I do agree with the conclusion.)

Psalms and Proverbs

Same old, same old.