29 June 2010

Jun 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

More kings, some with very short reigns. Each entry is nearly exactly the same. Boring! Even the assassinations are boring (For reference, here's the king chart again.)

We do learn that Menahem of Israel was a pretty terrible guy:
He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women.
Has he no standards? Really, he should have lived up to the standards of David and Joshua and stopped at killing the entire population.

Also, what's with the confusing names? In addition to more J and A names, we read that Pekahiah of Israel was assassinated by Pekah. That's practically the same name!

I bet that this is another point in the Bible where people give up when they are trying to read through the whole thing.

New Testament

Today we read a story about a group of Jews attempting to cast out demons in Jesus' name:
A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
This is an interesting contract to the story in Mark and Luke:
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
Even though I think the whole idea of demons and the casting out thereof is ridiculous, this contrast does bring up some interesting thoughts about the different attitudes towards "outsiders" at different points in the development of the New Testament canon.

It makes wonder about the early attitudes towards outsiders casting out demons in Jesus' name. Although the first story does not imply that the group in the first story always failed (indeed, it says that "on time when they tried it" they failed), it does have a different feel than the later story. The first story implies that only some have the power/right to use Jesus' name to cast out demons. The second implies anyone does.

The second story in today's reading tells about a riot in Ephesus. The craftsmen of Ephesus were upset because of the effect of Paul's preaching. According to the text, their grievance was thus,
Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!
In this passage, the author undermines his own credibility in two ways. First, he falls into the standard trap of implying that those who had worshiped with the aid of representations thought that the representations were divine. Rather, most religions contemporary with the development of Judaism and Christianity understood that their idols were merely symbols of the divine.

Second, the author seems to need to imply that the Ephesians were upset mainly for economic reasons. Maybe that was the case, but let's look at what was going on here. Their goddess was being threatened. I think that most people would be upset if they thought that someone was trying to eliminate belief in their god. Look at how upset people get at the imaginary "war" on Christmas.

By twice showing that he does not take the beliefs of the people of Ephesus seriously, the author of Acts does serious injury to his reputation, at least in my opinion. If he has to belittle the beliefs of others to prop up his own beliefs, it makes me think his own beliefs may not be worth as much as he wants us to think.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is another psalm of praise for God. It's also another point at which every single natural phenomenon is attributed to God's direct intervention. At least that's more forgivable in poetry.

The second of today's proverbs is awfully similar to Proverbs 17:15. Compare
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
both are detestable to the Lord.
It is not right to acquit the guilty
or deny justice to the innocent.