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.