31 October 2010

Oct 31

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish Lamentations. Both of today's poems are rather despairing. The first describes the starvation and loss of health of those who remain in Jerusalem. The images, especially the ones about the starvation of children, are heartbreaking. The poet explores the reason this happens. It was, he believes, the Lord pouring out well deserved anger. As a result of this, the Lord has brought destruction and scattered his people. The poem ends on a vengefully hopeful note: Jerusalem's punishment will end, but Jerusalem's historical enemies will also be punished.

The second poem focuses on the reverse of fortunes of the people of Jerusalem. Slaves have become masters, plenty has been replaced with starvation, and the women and girls of Jerusalem, once praised for their virginity, are raped by their enemies. Jerusalem is a terrible place to be. The poem and the book end on a note of sadness and rejection.

To bring things back in context a bit here, this is set sometime after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, or so it is believed. Thus, when we read about things like widespread rape by the enemies, it seems most natural to suppose that these enemies are the very officials and soldiers of Babylon that Jeremiah was encouraging the people to submit to. No wonder there were guerrilla leaders who were trying to murder the representative of the king and reclaim power. What right minded person would submit to a conquering nation that was allowing its women to be raped and its children to starve?

New Testament

Today's reading contains a discussion of Jesus' relationship to God, his relationship to man, and his affect on man's relationship to God. Continuing yesterday's theme, the author contains more quotations from the psalms and treats them as if they were about or spoken by Jesus.

We also see the start of the comparison of Jesus to the ultimate High Priest.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverb is, essentially, don't judge a book by it's pretty cover, but with clay pots and glaze.

30 October 2010

Oct 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading starts by finishing the second poem from yesterday's reading. Before I mention the content, I want to say that it annoys me that the editors who chose the daily Bible divisions could not have kept the whole poem together; it would only have added three more verses to the previous reading. It's not as bad as that proverb which was divided in the middle of a sentence, but it smacks of a lack of intention when dividing up the books.

The poem from yesterday finishes with some rather disturbing imagery meant to convey the desperation of those in Jerusalem: mothers eating their own children, priests dying in the temple, the bodies of boys and girls killed by the sword lying in the street. This poem does not end on a note of hope. It seems to express the sorrow of one who feels completely betrayed by their protector.

The next poem, the middle one of the book, is much longer and much more hopeful. Like the first two poems, this poem expresses sorrow over the fallen fortunes of Judah. However, it is much more personal. The author talks mostly of his own hardship and sorrow rather than that of the people. The author's sorrow is tempered by hope that the Lord has not completely abandoned him. Because of the personal nature of the hardship described and the mix of sorrow and hope, the poem sounds a lot like many of the psalms attributed to David in his times of trouble.

New Testament

Yet another new book: Hebrews. Let's see what Harris has to say about it:
The work of an accomplished stylist who combines allegorical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible with elements of Greek philosophy, Hebrews argues that Jesus was both a kingly and priestly messiah. The final and complete revelation of God's purpose, Christ now serves in heaven as an eternal High Priest and mediator for humanity.
An old tradition that Paul wrote Hebrews, which was disputed even in the early church, is now generally discounted. ... most scholars now conclude that the work is anonymous.
... scholars are also unsure of its intended destination ... The date of composition is equally problematic, with estimates ranging from about 65 to 100 CE.
In short, we don't know when this was written, who it was written by, or who it was written to. However, from the content it can be inferred that
The Book of Hebrews was written by an anonymous Christian scholar who was equally well acquainted with Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible and with Greek philosophical concepts. ... the writer presents a dualistic view of the universe in which earthly events and human institutions are seen as reflections of invisible heavenly realities. Employing a popular form of Platonic thought, the writer assumes the existence of two parallel worlds: the eternal and perfect realm of the spirit above, and the inferior, constantly changing world below. 
In case you're not familiar with Platonic dualism, it's worth noting the dualism espoused by Plato was not simply that this world is imperfect and there is another perfect world. Rather, the idea is that everything in this world is an imperfect version of something in the eternal world of perfect forms. As Wikipedia puts it:
The objects that we see, according to Plato, are not real, but literally mimic the real Forms.
Thus, everything that is and happens in the here and now has, according to this view, a perfect counterpart in the realm of forms.

The bulk of today's reading quotes the Hebrew scriptures out of context to show that Jesus is better than the angels. It's really blatantly obvious in this instance of random use of scripture that the author is just combing the scriptures for statements that support his point and then assuming that they do, regardless of the original context.

Yes, I know this was a traditional way of working with the Hebrew scriptures, but I still find it annoying. If it is valid to use isolated quotations to build whatever case you want, then the Bible is as free of objective meaning as any other subjectivism.

Psalms and Proverbs

Proverbs against quarrels and gossip seem to be the current theme.

29 October 2010

Oct 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we start lamentations. Sounds like it's going to be a cheery one, doesn't it? Lamentations comes in a a mere five chapters, about an order of magnitude less than Jeremiah or Isaiah. Let's see what Harris has to say about it:
Ascribed to Jeremiah, Lamentations is a collection of five poetic dirges and laments about the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The lyrics explore the causes of evil and suffering and Yahweh's reasons for permitting the triumph of unbelieving nations.
... While the prophetic books record public pronouncements of doom against the Judean capital, Lamentations embodies the private anguish of individuals who witnessed the fulfillment of Yahweh's harsh judgment.
Although a relatively late tradition assigns Lamentations to the prophet Jeremiah, its authorship is unknown. The book itself does not mention the writer, and many scholars believe that it is the work of two or three different poets. 
The book is annually recited in Jewish tradition.

On to the actual reading. It is exactly what you would expect it to be given the above: two poems mourning Jerusalem. The first poem, chapter 1, contrasts Jerusalem's previous state to its defeated state. Before she was like a queen, now a slave; before the roads were filled with celebration, now they are filled with mourning. It then goes into the sinful nature of Jerusalem and its people. This admission of guilt leads to the poet pleading for the Lord to acknowledge Jerusalem's pain and punish those enemies who defeated Jerusalem.

The second poem focuses on God's anger and lack of mercy towards Jerusalem. This resulted in complete destruction which the second half of the poem mourns.

This section also contains the lines:
Her prophets receive
no more visions from the Lord.
I wonder if this is the basis of the belief that prophecy ceased at the time of the exile or after it ended or sometime not too long after the fall of Judah.

New Testament

We also start (and finish) a NT book today: Philemon. It's super short. According to Wikipedia, it was a mere 335 words in the original Greek. However, the letter covers a big topic: slavery. Sadly for us moderns, the letter does not say what we moderns would expect of the word of God meant to be relevant for all times. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Here's what Harris has to say about it:
In his only surviving (undisputed) personal letter, Paul urges Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Perhaps because he believes that the present world system is soon to end, Paul does not question the social institution of slavery , even among Christians. 
... Although Paul does not condemn the practice of buying and selling human beings -- probably because he believes that the Greco-Roman world order will soon end -- he does argue persuasively for a new relationship between master and slave. He asks the slave-owner, Philemon, to accept his runaway slave, Onesimus, "as a dear brother," thereby establishing a new bond of kinship between Christian owners and their human chattel.
Unfortunately for enslaved persons, the divine intervention into human history that Paul expected to occur in his down day did not happen. ... The historical consequences of Paul's brief missive to his friend Philemon give this personal note an extraordinary importance.
... Most readers today are deeply disappointed that Paul does not reject slavery outright as an intolerable evil. Instead, he advises slaves not to worry about their station, advising them to remain in whatever social "condition" they had when the first became Christians. [more details]... Following Torah regulations -- and the institutions of Greco-Roman society at large -- New Testament writers neither condemn slavery nor predict its abolition.
There's not really much more to say. Now that we have gotten to the point where we realize that slavery is evil, the message of this letter does not seem to have terribly much relevance. Like the readers Harris mentions, I am deeply disappointed that the Bible does not make a strong case against slavery, one of the clear evils of human history. It is just one of the many pieces that weigh against this being the revelation of any being that could be considered perfectly moral.

Oh, and I found this bit entertaining (emphasis mine):
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!
Paul's being a little passive aggressive here. The very sentence where he claims that he won't mention that Philemon owes Paul his very soul does, in fact, serve to remind Philemon of that fact.

Psalms and Proverbs

A good proverb.
Fire goes out without wood,
and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.

28 October 2010

Oct 28

Reference links:

Old Testament

A continuation of the prediction of Babylon's destruction. We then read a narrative bit which implies that these prophecies were made before the destruction of Judah, during the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign (for context, Zedekiah reigned about 11 years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem). Which just goes to show, I suppose, that Jeremiah did not really like anyone.

And after that, it is declared that we have reached the end of Jeremiah's messages. We finish the book with a historical postscript. It would have been much more useful to have this historical postscript earlier; maybe between the prophecies during Zedekiah's reign and the narrative bits about the people going to Egypt.

One interesting thing about this postscript is that it puts numbers on the people who were exiled to Babylon: about 4600. That's not many at all. I wonder if this is only counting the important people? Or maybe just the people from Jerusalem? If not, then Judah had dwindled terribly from any estimates we have ever seen of its population.

Also, as we have heard before, Jehoiachin was eventually treated pretty well by the Babylonians.

Tomorrow we start Lamentations.

New Testament

Submit to the government, do not slander, be gentle and humble. God through Jesus saved people from their terrible ways. Don't get into foolish discussions or fights about Jewish law. Ignore disruptive people after warning them a couple times.

And then it the letter is closed. Altogether, Titus was a wholly uninspiring letter. It was pretty much redundant with the other pastorals, and it was kind of boring.

We are done with the pastorals. Hurrah!

Psalms and Proverbs

People who lie to their friends cause lots of damage. True true.

27 October 2010

Oct 27

Reference links:
Old Testament

Continued predictions of suckage for Babylon, including imagery of Babylon as a golden cup which made the world drunk. Plus a bit about how God is more awesome than idols.

New Testament

A description of the way that old men, old women, young women, and young men should live. Plus, more encouraging slaves to submit to their masters.

Psalms and Proverbs

Interfering in someone else’s argument
is as foolish as yanking a dog’s ears.
Well, I can't say I have ever thought about the wisdom of yanking a dog's ears, but I can see how it would be a rather silly thing to do.

26 October 2010

Oct 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Jeremiah has more gloomy prophecies against various nations. The most noteworthy of these note are the prophecies that Jerusalem will be restored someday and Babylon will be destroyed. Jeremiah predicts that Babylon will become a desolate wasteland. It will be completely destroyed and no one will live their any more. This, not surprisingly, contradicts the actual history: the Persians, led by Cyrus, were, for a hostile takeover, relatively peaceful and benign. Certainly not the bringers of complete destruction predicted by Jeremiah.

New Testament

Today we start the last pastoral letter, Titus. As one of the pastorals, it is generally believed to have not been written by Paul. In addition to our background on the pastorals, Harris has this to add:
Although it is the shortest of the pastorals, Titus has the longest salutation, a fulsome recapitulation of Paul's credentials and the recipient's significance. This highly formal introduction would be inappropriate in a personal letter from Paul to his younger friend, but it is understandable as the pastor's way of officially transmitting Paul's authoritative instruction to a postapostolic successor.
... Like the "Timothy" of the other pastorals, however, "Titus" is a symbolic figure, representing a late postapostolic generation interested in preserving Pauline traditions. Hence, "Titus" functions as a mediator to a later age who can establish the requirements and some of the duties of church leaders who will adhere to Pauline orthodoxy. 
Harris also sums up the influence of the author of the pastoral letters:
... Although the pastor's style is generally weak and colorless compared to Paul's (except for some passages in 2 Timothy), he successfully promotes Paul's continuing authority in the church. His insistence that Paul's teaching (as he understood it) be followed and that church leaders actively employ apostolic ideas to refute false teachers helped ensure that the international Christian community would build its future on a (modified) Pauline foundation.
Although the pastor values continuity and tradition, he does not seem to show an equal regard for encouraging  the individual revelations and ecstatic experiences that characterized the Pauline churches. (Regarding the "laying on of hands" as the correct means of conferring authority, he would probably not welcome another like Paul who insisted that his private experience of Jesus -- not ordination by his predecessors -- validated his calling.) Using Scripture, inherited doctrines, and the institutional church as guarantors of orthodoxy, the pastor sees the Christian revelation as already complete, a static legacy from the past. He ignores Paul's injunction not to "stifle inspiration" or prophetic speech; his intense conservatism allows little room for future enlightenment. 
Today's reading includes the formal greeting mentioned above, a description of how how church elders should live their lives, and a rather rude ad hominem attack on the people of Crete.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs are all about lazy people.

I know that we have previously had spans of time where we had multiple verses from proverbs each day, but this time, given that we're getting reasonably close to done, it's easy to get the impression that the editors were like "Oh no! It's the end of October. We need to finish this!"

25 October 2010

Oct 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Jeremiah predicts things about other countries: Things will not go well for Moab. The Ammonites will suffer and be restored. Edom will be destroyed.

This is one of those readings that make me wonder what the point of including it was. It was probably just included because Jeremiah was considered an awesome prophet, so all of his prophecies had to be saved. Even the tedious ones.

New Testament

We finish 2 Timothy today. After the author gives some advice to the recipient (nothing particularly new), the letter contains a number of personal touches. In particular,
Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.
On the one hand, personal touches make a letter sound more authentic. And it would make sense for Paul to make more personal requests of an individual than a whole church. But still, this passage has a "the lady doth protest too much" feel to it.

Psalms and Proverbs

Move proverb meta commentary. Employers should be careful about who they fire. Fools repeat their foolishness. But fools are still better off than those who think they are wise.

24 October 2010

Oct 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

We finish up yesterday's stories about the people who worshiped the Queen of Heaven. Jeremiah and God wash their hands of them, but disaster will come upon them as a result.

After that, we jump back in time to the time of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah deliver a message from God to Baruch, his scribe. Baruch should not strive for greatness since God will destroy Judah, but God will also save Baruch.

After that, we get some prophetic poems about Egypt and Philistia.

The background for the one about Egypt is that Egypt had just been defeated in a battle against Babylon. Jeremiah predicts that the Egyptian army will be defeated and conquered:
Pack up! Get ready to leave for exile,
you citizens of Egypt!
The city of Memphis will be destroyed,
without a single inhabitant.
They will cut down her people like trees,” says the Lord,
“for they are more numerous than locusts.
Egypt will be humiliated;
she will be handed over to people from the north.”
As far as I can tell based on skimming Wikipedia (articles on pharaohs Hophra and Ahmose II, King Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonian empire), this prophecy never came true. Unlike other prophecies that had a conditional nature, this one seems pretty unconditional. This is not the first time this has happened. So what makes Jeremiah a good prophet?

The prophecy about Philistia is equally dire.

New Testament

The author of 2 Timothy gives some good advice and then ruins it at the end:
Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.
It's great to say that people should be kind and teach gently. It's rank stupidity to claim that everyone who disagrees with you has been ensnared by the devil

After that, the author gives the the recipient some advice about what the last days will be like. Now, if this actually had been a personal letter from Paul to Timothy, this would be rather good support for the generally well supported hypothesis that Paul thought the end days were imminent. Why would Paul mention what the last days would be like if he did not think it would be relevant to Timothy in his own life? Now, since this letter was not written by Paul to Timothy, we cannot conclude anything from this allusion to the last days.

In this passage, the author mentions some folks I didn't remember:
These teachers oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres.
Jannes and Jambres, who are they? Well, it seems I was confused for a reason. They are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Apparently, other Jewish tradition identifies them as some of the magicians who were up against Moses and Aaron in the Pharaoh's court during the ten plagues in Egypt (NET Bible, Wikipedia).

He also makes some disparaging comments about women, but that's about what you'd expect from the author of the pastorals.

The author ends by once again asking Timothy to remain faithful to what he has been taught. This ends with the well known passage about all scripture being inspired by God. However, the more interesting bit comes just before that:
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.
Ummm, that's not how it works. The fact that you trust the person who teaches you and the fact that they believe what they are teaching to be true does not, in fact, have any bearing on the actual truth of what is taught. Being sure about something, unfortunately, has a very low correlation with actual real world truth.

To say otherwise is to imply that those who disagree with you, such as all of those people who sincerely believe the religions they were brought up in, were taught in bad faith and are teaching their own children in bad faith. Perhaps some people believe that, but I cannot see such a claim and anything short of ridiculous.

Psalms and Proverbs

Proverbs about fools. The second one goes meta:
A proverb in the mouth of a fool
is as useless as a paralyzed leg.

23 October 2010

Oct 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's warning starts with the people and the guerrilla leaders asking Jeremiah to ask God for instruction. Jeremiah responds that the Lord wants the people to stay in Jerusalem.
‘Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’
That does not seem quite consistent with the other things Jeremiah has said about staying in Jerusalem. When Nebuchadnezzar was attacking Jerusalem Jeremiah said:
Tell all the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: Take your choice of life or death! Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life! For I have decided to bring disaster and not good upon this city, says the Lord. It will be handed over to the king of Babylon, and he will reduce it to ashes.’
The same prediction is referenced is chapter 38 just before some officials decide to throw him in a cistern to die.

But now Jeremiah is singing a different tune. He is saying that the people who remain will prosper if they stay. Perhaps it is because Zedekiah surrendered to Babylon. Jeremiah made it clear early in Zedekiah's reign that surrender would be peace:
But the people of any nation that submits to the king of Babylon will be allowed to stay in their own country to farm the land as usual. I, the Lord, have spoken!
But the claim that the remaining people represent those who had peacefully surrendered just does not hold water. First, the description of the exile made it clear that the decision of who would and would not be left behind was class based:
Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, sent to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city as well as those who had defected to him. But Nebuzaradan left a few of the poorest people in Judah, and he assigned them vineyards and fields to care for.
Second, as yesterday and today's readings make clear, the people who remained were being led by guerrilla leaders, some of whom had killed the king of Babylon's appointed governor.

Thus, the only thing I can figure is that Jeremiah is blatantly contradicting himself. Either that, or he did not mean what he said about the people finding peace of they stay in Judah. As he himself says, he knows that the people will not believe him and will leave for Egypt anyway. Maybe Jeremiah lied to emphasize his warning against going to Egypt.

In any case, the people all go to Egypt. Jeremiah goes with them. A prophets job is to be with the people, I suppose. Jeremiah continues to spread his dire warnings. He tells the fleeing crown that Nebuchadnezzar will bring war and destruction to Egypt too.

We end today's reading with Jeremiah chastising the people, especially the women, for worshiping a goddess, the Queen of Heaven. This, says Jeremiah, will bring them doom (wait, I thought going to Egypt would bring them their doom). Jeremiah is pretty adamant in his view of the consequences of worshiping this goddess, but the women make a couple of good points.
We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles! But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.
First, they point out that this worship was traditional. Despite the monotheism of the religious and political elite, this passage implies that monotheism was never really the norm amongst all of the people of Israel, especially the lower classes. They would worship the god who fit their needs at the time. And, as we saw way back in the earlier histories, Yahweh, the Lord of Heaven's Armies, always suffered from competition in times of peace. Clearly, there was something about Yahweh and his worship which did not strike a cord for many people.

The second good point that they make is that, despite the warnings of people like Jeremiah, it is unclear how the worship of various gods and goddesses (including Yahweh) corresponds to prosperity and tragedy. Jeremiah himself spreads the words of a god who causes ruin. These women point out that their traditional worship of the Queen of Heaven has been associated with prosperity. Now, there is probably some selective memory going on, but the point still stands that the case for Jeremiah's monotheism is not as clear cut as it would seem.

New Testament

Timothy should be faithful in his role like a soldier, athlete, or farmer. Fighting over words is useless. Work hard. Be pure and God will use him as a special tool for good use.

Psalms and Proverbs

I proverb which advocates beating people. Two more which give contrary messages. One gives a reason not to answer foolish arguments. The other gives a reason to be sure to answer foolish arguments. As someone who has occasionally gotten into foolish arguments with people on the internet, I can see the point of both.

22 October 2010

Oct 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Oh no! Jerusalem falls to Babylon in today's reading. Nebuchadnezzar attacks the city and destroys it. He kills the nobles of Jerusalem and the sons of the king and then gouges out King Zedekiah's eyes. This should seem familiar because we read it in the earlier histories.

After that, we get some content that is, if I remember correctly, new to Jeremiah. The other histories end when the exile begins and then pick up again as it is ending. Jeremiah talks a bit about what happened in Judah following its fall.

Jeremiah gets off pretty well. Apparently the Babylonians know of him, so they treat him well. He is given the option to stay in Judah or go to Babylon, and he is provided with food and water. It makes one wonder whether they heard about Jeremiah after conquering Jerusalem or if there was more to the claim that Jeremiah was defecting than the author of this book wants us to believe.

Other folks are not doing so well. As you would expect of a country that has just been destroyed, had its leadership killed and taken away, and was left with a government put in place by the conquering king, the situation in Judah is chaotic. Leaders of a guerrilla movement come to Jerusalem to see Gedaliah, the governor appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Some of the guerrilla leaders seem to be on his side. Others plot to murder Gedaliah. They eventually succeed.

This causes the leaders to split. Johanan's group, the ones that were loyal to the governor, chase after the group led by the murderer, Ishmael. They free the captives and Ishmael and his companions flee.

What is interesting about this story is that if Ishmael had succeeded in his rebellion, he would now be considered a hero, possibly of stature of King David. Like David, he was engaging in guerrilla warfare against the leadership. He opponent, Johanan, is cooperating with the leader installed by the invading king. However, since Ishmael is being presented as a murderer and a rebel, I am guessing he fails.

New Testament

New letter! 2 Timothy. Most of the background for 1 Timothy also apply to this letter. The additional information that Harris gives is that of the three pastoral letters, 2 Timothy has a tone that is closest to the rest of Paul's letters. However, scholars still think that it was probably written by the author of the other pastorals rather than Paul.

Today's reading is noteworthy mainly for the number of personal details it contains. It mentions Timothy's mother and grandmother, the fact that Phygelus and Hermongenes have abandoned Paul, and praise for Onesiphorus. A large part of the content is centered around Paul's imprisonment.

One bit that seems somewhat unlike Paul is this:
Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did.
The bit about "just as my ancestors did" seems at odds with the break Paul usually made between his new self and his Jewish heritage.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note except for the implication that curses are real.

21 October 2010

Oct 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

Narrative day!

Jeremiah makes unwelcome predictions and is thrown in prison when he is suspected to be defecting to the Babylonians. Jeremiah claimed he was not defecting, but given that his policy is "surrender to Babylon", I am not so sure he is telling the truth.

After that he has a secret meeting with Zedekiah and gets moved to a nicer prison. Then weak willed Zedekiah agrees to let some other people try to kill Jeremiah and, when someone else protests, lets Jeremiah be rescued again. Zedekiah was obviously not a very strong or decisive king, which is probably why the Babylonians put him on the throne. I do have some sympathy for him. He seems to be a very confused man in want of some guidance.

Perhaps that is why he arranges yet another secret meeting with Jeremiah. Jeremiah predicts that only in surrender will Zedekiah find safety for himself and his family. Zedekiah does not want his officials to hear about this and so he asks Jeremiah to lie and say that he was just begging the king for his life. Jeremiah agrees.

New Testament

We finish 1 Timothy today. There are some final instructions, including those warning against too much desire for wealth. The most interesting part of the reading is this:
Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth.
Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.
Why is it that the author of 1 Timothy feels the need to imply that questioning is the way to doom?  I think this attitude against inquiry is quite possibly the most harmful effect of Christianity. In my experience, I have found that those who do not question their beliefs, whatever they may be, hold those beliefs in a weak and shallow way (and almost always fail to realize it). Those who question their beliefs, again whatever they may be, come to be stronger in their understanding. They may change their beliefs or they may not, but they understand why they believe what they believe and, more importantly, they understand what it would take to change their beliefs.

But it is, I suppose, easier to keep the bulk of believers in that shallow place of immature belief because, as many a former Christian atheist knows, for many people, Christianity fails upon examination.

Psalms and Proverbs

Self control is good!

20 October 2010

Oct 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

I just noticed that Jeremiah never seems to do any miracles. He does little performances, makes predictions, and gives speeches, but he does not perform miracles. Did Isaiah perform miracles? It seems thus far that Old Testament prophets who seem likely to have had their words set down by contemporaries or near contemporaries are not thought to have performed miracles. This, in turn, reinforces the idea that the miracles reported in the Bible are not historical. Rather, they some combination of legends, tradition, and fabrication.

On to today's actual content. We have gone back in time to the reign of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah uses the Recabites to teach yet another lesson. The Recabites appear to be a nomadic people driven to Jerusalem by the Babylonians. They live the life they do, abstaining in alcohol and living in tents, because an ancestor of theirs commanded it. Similarly, God has given Judah commands, but they have not obeyed. Thus, they will fall into disaster and the Recabites will always serve God.

After that, we read about a time when Jeremiah dictated all of the messages he had received thus far to Baruch. Baruch read the message in the Temple, and the priests took him rather seriously. The surprise which the priests showed upon hearing the message surprised me. Jeremiah has been preaching for years and is currently under arrest, presumably for his prophecies, but the priests act as if they have never heard the message before. Was Jeremiah not sharing everything with them in the past? If so, he should have because it seems like it was pretty convincing. Was he making stuff up for Baruch? Did they just forget?

I lean toward the "Jeremiah was making it up theory." The original scroll was read to Jehoiakim, and he burned it. After that Jeremiah dictated a new scroll with even more content. But the first scroll was written under this command:
Get a scroll, and write down all my messages against Israel, Judah, and the other nations. Begin with the first message back in the days of Josiah, and write down every message, right up to the present time.
So the first scroll contained "every message, right up to the present time", but for the second scroll,
He wrote everything that had been on the scroll King Jehoiakim had burned in the fire. Only this time he added much more!
How could everything have been on the first scroll if there was "much more" to add to the second? Seems to me like Jeremiah was making it up as he went along rather than just recording messages he had received in the past.

New Testament

After some instructions about respect, we get a rather long passage on the proper treatment of widows and what a widow must do to qualify to be on some list (presumably the list that is used to determine who gets aid from the church). We have heard nothing of these qualifications before. This, to me, speaks of a church that has been supporting widows for a long time and has decided that it's rather expensive. Rather than continuing to support the less fortunate church members, the author of 1 Timothy is looking for ways to add bureaucracy to decrease the number of people they are obliged to help.

In contrast to those widows who should not get money if it can be helped, the elders of the church should be paid well. I will resist the urge to talk about how much these statements well paid pastors and a neglect of the poor resembles certain contemporary megachurches.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

19 October 2010

Oct 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading starts out with nothing new: Jerusalem will be punished and restored. However, this passage does contain an interesting bit. Jeremiah declares that a descendant of King David will always sit on the throne of Israel. Generally, Christians take this descendant to be Jesus. However, if the statement about David's descendants is to be taken at face value, it seems the same should be done for the parallel statements in the same passage:
For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever. And there will always be Levitical priests to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings and sacrifices to me.
Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “This is what the Lord says: If you can break my covenant with the day and the night so that one does not follow the other, only then will my covenant with my servant David be broken. Only then will he no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. The same is true for my covenant with the Levitical priests who minister before me. And as the stars of the sky cannot be counted and the sand on the seashore cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of my servant David and the Levites who minister before me.”
The Levitical priests and their offerings are promised the same longevity as descendants of David. Yet I have never heard anyone bring that up when discussing Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy.

After that we read a warning for Zedekiah followed by a tale of broken promises. The people of Judah, at the urging of king Zedekiah, freed all of their Hebrew slaves. However, some people later changed their minds and made the slaves come back. This upset God who decided that further punishment must be heaped upon Judah. I thought Judah's fate of destruction had already been sealed.

New Testament

False teachers are bad. They will teach things contrary to what the author of this letter teacher. The recipient of the letter should teach his fellow believers and develop his spiritual gifts.

Psalms and Proverbs

Gossip is bad as is listening with quarrelsome folks.

18 October 2010

Oct 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Wow. Another day of relatively cheery text. Israel will be restored. Jerusalem will be rebuilt. People will be punished for only their own sins, not the sins of their parents. God will enter a new covenant with his people:
I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already
Unless one is willing to make a whole lot of assumption, I feel like this passage should be problematic for those who give weight to the standard lines of modern apologetics. But I try not to talk about modern beliefs too much on this blog. =)

While imprisoned by King Zedekiah, Jeremiah buys some land to show his confidence in the future of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was imprisoned because he was declaring that resistance to Babylon was futile. The Babylonians will triumph, but Jeremiah predicts that Jerusalem will be restored someday.

New Testament

Today's discussion is largely a discussion of how various leaders in the church should behave. After that there is a poetic affirmation of the "great mystery of [Christian] faith".

Psalms and Proverbs

Don't be too cheerful around those who are sad. Be kind to your enemies because that will make them feel even worse.

17 October 2010

Oct 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

We are back to prophetic verse, but at least it's moderately cheerful compared to normal.

Today's reading is framed by a couple interesting incidents. At the beginning of the reading, Jeremiah reports that God has asked him to write down the prophecies he received. This brings up the question of how accurate the writings are. Did Jeremiah have a super excellent memory? Start writing things down as he went along at some point? Reconstruct his memories? Have new visions? I believe we'll be getting more info on the actual origins of this book as a written work, but I don't know that these questions will be answered.

The bulk of today's reading is verse which conveys the idea that Israel will have to deal with being punished because they have been terrible and deserve it. However, someday they will be restored and things will be better than ever. Of note to those types who like to think about poetic imagery: this verse contains many images which are the opposite of the negative images given earlier. E.g., references to virgin Israel in contrast to earlier references to Israel as a prostitute.

The readings end with:
At this, I woke up and looked around. My sleep had been very sweet.
So now we know that at least some of Jeremiah's messages from God came as dreams in his sleep. Was this how most of them came? What about for other prophets? If dreams were the usual means of receiving messages from God, it explains why some of Isaiah's were so bizarre. It also makes them that much more unreliable.

New Testament

The recipient of the letter should pray for everyone. After that, there's a bit of exposition on the role of Jesus. As part of this discussion, the author uses what seems to me to be a rather odd phrase: "God our Savior". As far as I know, there's nothing technically wrong with this according to Christian belief. It's just that one would expect "Jesus our Savior".

Then some annoying bits about the role of women which, as usual, I'm glad I don't have to care about because I would be unlikely to stay civil.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's first proverb is straightforward: telling lies about someone is as bad as doing physical violence against them. I don't think that's quite literally true, but I agree with the gist of it, and it's a lesson we could all take more to heart (especially people in the world of politics).

The second is more ambiguous:
Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble
is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.
Obviously, none of these things are good, but I don't think the point of the proverb is to say "putting confidence in an unreliable person is bad". Both chewing with a broken tooth and walking on a lame foot are sometimes necessary. So perhaps the message of the proverbs is "putting confidence in an unreliable person is sometimes necessary, but it should be done as little as possible to avoid making things worse than they are."

16 October 2010

Oct 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

The saga of the yoke continues with a duel of the prophets. Hananiah prophecies peace and restoration of Jerusalem. Jeremiah points out that prophets generally prophecy bad things, so a prophet of peace should be doubted until his prophecies come true. I rather disagree with this assessment in so far as it implies that prophets of doom do not bear that burden. I think all prophets need to offer better assurance than their word.

Continuing on... Hananiah decides to take Jeremiah's approach of using objects to emphasize his point. He takes Jeremiah's wooden yoke and breaks it to indicate that the yoke of Babylon will be broken. Jeremiah declares that the yoke has just been broken with a yoke of iron and Hananiah will die soon. Two months later, he does. That bit would almost be impressive if we had any assurance that the prediction and its fulfillment were historical. (Much more impressive than predicting continued oppression by the Babylonians. Someone was bound to be predicting that.)

Next Jeremiah raises more ire by writing letters to various folks. These letters declare that the exile will be long and the people should settle down in the lands they have been taken to. This letter ends with a warning against listening to two particular false prophets.

Jeremiah then receives more threats (it is unclear to me whether or not this passage is related to the letter described above; it doesn't really matter since Jeremiah seems to have never been particularly loved). Shemaiah falsely declares in the name of the Lord that Jeremiah should be put in the stocks. Jeremiah responds that Shemaiah lies.

New Testament

The pastoral letters. Even when I was taking a class on Paul's letters in college, it seemed obvious to me that the pastoral letters were not genuinely Pauline. Since the evidence against the three pastoral letters is the same, I will let today's summary stand for 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

From Understanding The Bible:
The Pauline authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, however, has been under critical attack since the eighteenth century. Besides the fact that they do not appear in early lists of Paul's letters, the pastoral epistles (or pastorals) seem to reflect conditions that prevailed long after Paul's day. Their views of ecclesiastical offices, "bishops," "elders," and "deacons," mirror the more tightly organized church of the second century CE, in which such offices had for more specialized functions than in Paul's time.
Lacking Paul's characteristic ideas about faith and the Spirit, the pastorals are also un-Pauline in their flat style and different vocabulary (containing 306 words not found in Paul's undisputed letters). Scholars belief that a single Pauline disciple -- who possessed little of his mentor's fire or originality -- wrote all three, between about 100 and 140 CE.
Earlier, Harris writes:
Following the Hellenistic-Jewish practice of pseudonymity (writing in the name of an honored religious authority of the past, such as Moses or one of the apostles), some Christian authors composed letters in Paul's name, using their understanding of the Pauline heritage to address problems of their own day. Whereas Paul's genuine letters invariably deal with specific problems besetting individual congregations (and presume a relatively informal church structure), pseudonymous letters such as 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (the pastoral epistles) typically deal with such issues as maintaining the doctrinal purity of apostolic traditions and presume a much more structured church administration. 
On to today's content! After the greeting, 1 Timothy contains warnings against getting caught up in pointless discussions. This is good advice regardless of who wrote the letter. The particular topic of these pointless discussions was the law. Here the author of the pastorals takes a distinctly un-Pauline tone when discussing the law.
We know that the law is good when used correctly.
This is way too calm and friendly to be any discussion of Paul about the law. The author's discussion of his conversion also lacks Paul's characteristic passion and assertion of the validity of his authority.

Given the generality of some of the statements the author makes to the recipient, it seems to me that Paul and Timothy are each supposed to represent a everyman. Any believer could repeat the author's words about being the worst of sinners and feel grateful about being saved. Any believer could take to heart the author's words that the recipient cling to his faith and keep his conscience clear. (This, perhaps, may contribute to the tenacity with which believers cling to the traditional authorship attributions and the authority that implies.)

Psalms and Proverbs

These days, a better proverb than this might be one exhorting us to visit our neighbors more.
Don’t visit your neighbors too often,
or you will wear out your welcome.

15 October 2010

Oct 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

I'll admit it here and now. I'm a wimp who prefers narrative to prophetic poetry. Today we get some lovely narrative. Not content wise; that's all gloom and doom as usual. But there are good stories to be had.

Jeremiah pronounces the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple if the people do not change their ways and he is threatened with death! The palace officials rush over for a sudden trial. After a passionate presenting of accusations against Jeremiah and an equally passionate defense of his innocence, the officials declare Jeremiah's words to not be worthy of death. Then some wise old men rise up, speak of prophets of old, and indicate that Jeremiah should be listened to. Later we learn that this required persuasion from Ahikam son of Shaphan.

To show how amazing Jeremiah's rescue is, we are then presented with the story of Uriah, another prophet who predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The king threatened to kill Uriah. When Uriah fled to Egypt, men were sent after to drag him back. Then he was killed. The political environment was not friendly to prophets.

And that's an illustration of why I am glad I live in a country that supports free speech. Even though I think religious folks often despair at the way that we evil atheists use our free speech, without giving everyone protection, the potential Jeremiah's would also be unable to express their unpopular views.

The other story in today's reading involves a bit of performance art. Jeremiah wears around a yoke to show how Judah and the surrounding nations should submit to the yoke of Babylon. The false prophets may spread good news, but Jeremiah is convinced that Babylon will take away what little independence they left Judah with after the first deportation.

The existence of these other prophets makes me skeptical of the idea of Biblical prophets. Jeremiah's prophecies were, one would assume, included because he was determined to be a true prophet. This was, I against would assume, at least partially because the people who chose the canon realized that Jeremiah was right. But it sounds like you could find prophets to predict any outcome. Thus it seems that whatever the outcome of the conflict with Babylon, there would have been some prophet to canonize, some prophet whose words were correct. This makes the correctness of the general gist of Jeremiah's prophecies much less impressive.

New Testament

We finish 2 Thessalonians. Paul requests prayers and asks the people to live proper lives. This includes working for a living. The author of the letter also show what a diversity of early Christianities there were by preaching avoidance of those who do not obey what is in this letter. Like with Jeremiah and the people who could have taken his place, I wonder who would have taken Paul's place if some other variant of Christianity had won out.

Psalms and Proverbs
Do you like honey?
Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!
Honey is tasty!

14 October 2010

Oct 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

What's of interest today? Let's see if we can find anything.

False prophets are evil and whatnot: Nope

Visions of good and bad figs which represent, respectively, the people taken into exile and those left behind in Jerusalem: Kind of interesting.

Jeremiah scolds the people for not listening to him and idols are bad: Nope

A prediction that "Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years": Interesting because it's wrong. According to the internets, the first deportation of Israelites was in 597 BCE and the next (the one which ended the kingship) was 587 BCE. By 538 BCE the forced exile was ended because Darius of Perisa had conquered the Babylonian empire and it was his policy to let people return to their homelands. Thus, the gap between the start of the exile and the end of Israel and the neighboring lands serving the king of Babylon was, depending on how you count, 49 or 59 years. Not 70.

Nations being forced to drink the cup the Lord's anger: Interesting because there is nothing in the text itself (at least in English) to indicate that this is any more symbolic than many passages literalists insist on taking literally. Do they insist on taking this one literally?

God's going to cause misery and destruction: Nothing new.

New Testament

What will happen before Jesus comes? The author of 2 Thessalonians lets us know. A "man of lawlessness" must arise.
He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.
He'll be evil, of course.

This makes me suspect the Pauline origins of this letter. Paul's pretty good at repeating the things he considers important (again and again) . If this were a genuinely Pauline idea, I would expect it to be repeated elsewhere. Either that or Paul considers this a minor idea.

I also discovered when searching for 'Paul antichrist'. That there are apparently a non-trivial number of websites declaring Paul to be the antichrist. I had never encountered that particular train of thought before.

Psalms and Proverbs

Patience and soft speech are good.

13 October 2010

Oct 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

I have not been tracking the chronological ordering (or rather, lack thereof) in Jeremiah, but today we have a what seems like a jump back in time. We have gone from the imminent doom of Jerusalem to Jeremiah giving what are, for him, reasonably friendly warnings to the king.
This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. The king will ride through the palace gates in chariots and on horses, with his parade of attendants and subjects. But if you refuse to pay attention to this warning, I swear by my own name, says the Lord, that this palace will become a pile of rubble.
Then we seem to jump forward again with messages about Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. Quick review. Jerhoahaz was the king taken to Egypt and replaced with essentially a puppet king, his brother Jehoiakim. Although Judah had not been completely destroyed at this point, its kings were pretty much powerless. This makes it seems like Jeremiah's warning above to an earlier king or, at latest, Jehoahaz before he was deposed. On the other hand, the repeated references to the palace do thematically link the opening warning and the message to Jehoiakim.

In any case, the picture is pretty grim for Jehoiakim. Jeremiah most emphatically does not think he will come to any good. After that, the Lord sends message to Jehoiakim that he will an unmourned death. We then read prophecies again Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin. He does not fare much better in the eyes of the Lord. He'll die in exile.

Jeremiah then prophecies eventual restoration and lasting safety of his people. Those are most certainly unfulfilled prophecies. Even for those who consider Jesus to be the "Righteous Descendant", there is certainly some delay in the implementation of this plan:
But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing.
Also, Jeremiah doesn't like false prophets because they encourage evil. People should not listen to them.

New Testament

New book! I must admit that just from today's reading, I could go either way on Pauline authorship. That said, the bit in the middle gave me pause:
He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe.
Mighty angels and flaming fire do note seem like standard Paul, and generally thus far Paul has talked about praise given to God, not Jesus (or human praise, but that is generally in a negative context).

Other than that, greetings, thankfulness for the growing faith of the church, and prayers to them all seem typically Pauline.

So now let's see what Understanding The Bible has to say:
Although repeating themes from 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians  reinterprets Paul's original eschatology, asserting that a number of traditional apocalyptic "signs" much precede the eschaton. 
Many scholars question Paul's authorship  of 2 Thessalonians. If Paul composed it, why does he repeat -- almost verbatim -- so much of what he had just written to the same recipients? More seriously, why does the author present an eschatology so different from that given in the first letter? In 1 Thessalonians, the Parousia will occur stealthily, "like a thief in the night." In 2 Thessalonians, a number of apocalyptic "signs" will first advertise its arrival. The interposing of these mysterious events between the writer's time and that of the Parousia has the effect of projecting the eschaton further into the future -- a contrast to 1 Thessalonians, in which the end is extremely close. 
Scholars defending Pauline authorship advance several theories to explain the writer's apparent change of attitude toward the Parousia. In the first letter, Paul emphasizes the tension between the shortness of time the world has left and the necessity of believers' vigilance and ethical purity as they await Christ's return. In the second missive, Paul writes to correct the Thessalonians' misconceptions of his earlier emphasis on the nearness of end time.
... Paul rarely predicts specific events in the course of future history, particularly in the vague and cryptic style of 2 Thessalonians.
2 Thessalonians contains a warning that forged letters were already circulating in Paul's name and ends by insisting that Paul verified his genuine letters with his own signature. Scholars doubting Pauline authorship view the pseudonymous writer as protesting overmuch, but the apostle appends similar comments to undisputed letters. 
The Wikipedia article has more details.

So it sounds like we're in for vague, not typically apocalyptic warnings in a letter that may or may not be genuinely Pauline.

Psalms and Proverbs

All of today's proverbs are rather poetic:
Timely advice is lovely,
like golden apples in a silver basket.

To one who listens, valid criticism
is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.

Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer.
They revive the spirit of their employer.

A person who promises a gift but doesn’t give it
is like clouds and wind that bring no rain.

12 October 2010

Oct 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

Jeremiah pulls another stunt, this time with a clay jar which he breaks to signify Jerusalem's impending doom. More interesting is the setting of this event. Jeremiah makes his point in the valley of Ben-Hinnom. There he conveys these words from the Lord,
For Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness. The people burn incense to foreign gods—idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah. And they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children. They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!
First off, just to get it out of the way: child sacrifice is terrible. I am glad that Jeremiah and his vision of God are against it. But that's not why this passage interests me.

I am much more interested in the question of why Judah is turning to these idols (a subject that, sadly, the Biblical authors do not seem to actually address). Although people are far from rational about religion (especially when evaluating its likely truth), they do tend to be rational in so far as their choice to pursue some particular religion or religious act corresponds to some real need.

Throughout the Bible, we have seen God's chosen people turning to idols. This, to me, indicates that Yahweh was not adequate to fulfill the needs of the people. So why was it that, again and again, the cult of Yahweh was unable to meet the needs of the people ('cult' in the technical sense)?

I don't know, but what I do know is that after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, Jewish faith changed dramatically. Perhaps when they were separated from their traditional shrines for Yahweh and for other gods and goddesses, the Jewish people were able to synthesize the disparate ideas into one coherent God (and then bring themselves to think that Yahweh fulfilled all these needs the full time). Without the constraints of physical places of worship, the ideas associated with different shrines were able to flow into each other.

Also, Jeremiah hates his life and Jerusalem is totally going to be destroyed.

New Testament

We end 1 Thessalonians today. A little bit of advice. A little bit of encouragement. Nothing we haven't seen in the other Pauline letters.

Psalms and Proverbs

Avoid rushing to court. Don't share secrets even in anger.

11 October 2010

Oct 11

Reference links:
Old Testament

The Lord's declarations of punishment alternate with Jeremiah's declarations of his confidence and trust in the Lord. Jeremiah insists that the people of Jerusalem observe the sabbath. The Lord instructs Jeremiah to use a potter an example of God's ability to destroy. This includes a declaration that all God's promises are conditional.
If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.
The reading ends after Jeremiah hears he is being plotted against and turns vengefully upon the people he had been trying to get God to save. Somehow, it is not surprising that both Jeremiah and the words he attributes to God share a desire for vengeance and violence.

New Testament

Stay away from sexual sin. Love each other even more than you do already. Live a quiet life and mind your own business (I wish more attention was paid to that one).

After that, we get a brief aside about whether or not dead believers will be resurrected when Jesus returns. Paul says they will. Paul also says something that some take to be further support for the view that he believed Jesus would return in his lifetime:
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.
This verse by itself is pretty ambiguous, but it does lend support to other verses which imply that Paul believed Jesus would return soon.

Psalms and Proverbs

Come on One Year Bible! You've been pretty good so far with the divisions. Yeah, sometimes you divide in the middle of a topic, but usually the divisions are pretty reasonable. Which brings us to today's reading from Proverbs:
Don’t demand an audience with the king
or push for a place among the great.
It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table
than to be sent away in public disgrace.

Just because you’ve seen something,
Dividing a reading in the middle of a sentence? Come on! I mean, I know you weren't the ones to divide the verse in the middle of a sentence, but you could have at least grouped the two verses together.

10 October 2010

Oct 10

Reference links:
Old Testament

We'll keep this quick since I have caught my husband's cold.

The dialog Jeremiah sets up between himself and God is an interesting one. In this conversation, Jeremiah is the merciful one; he wants to pray for the people to be spared, but God will not let him. God, on the other hand, is bent on punishing the people.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons for this. The obvious and boring one is that Jeremiah wants to defend himself against his attackers. He wants to be able to say something like, "I did all I can; I want to save you all, but God won't listen." The more interesting reason I have thought of is that this is a literary device. Each time Jeremiah asks for God to spare the Judah, God can emphasize the degree to which Judah has failed him. Essentially, the dialog between Jeremiah and God acts as a frame for the explanation of Judah's sins.

In any case, after some more back and forth about the coming doom and gloom (including a pronouncement that Jeremiah should not get married or have children since they will just suffer), there is a bit of hope. The exiled, punished people will someday be brought home again.

New Testament

1 Thessalonians continues to be very personal. Paul talks about the persecution of the believers and his inability to visit them.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today we get some insight about the likely authenticity of these so called proverbs of Solomon:
These are more proverbs of Solomon, collected by the advisers of King Hezekiah of Judah.
Remember that, if we take the Biblical record of kings somewhat seriously, there was something like a couple hundred years (or more?) between Solomon and Hezekiah. Given that period of time, it seems unlikely that all, or even most, of these proverbs are authentic. Instead, it seems more likely that statements of wisdom were attributed to Solomon over the years because he had a reputation for wisdom.

Also, amusingly, all of the proverbs today are about the awesomeness of the king. If this actually was the kind of wisdom Solomon was sharing, it was rather self serving.

09 October 2010

Oct 9

Reference links:
Old Testament

Just one minute! I thought we were reading Jeremiah, not Job. Jeremiah brings his case before God to ask why the wicked prosper. However, God's answer is quite different than in Job. In Job, the answer to this question was "I am totally awesome and powerful, and you just don't get it." In Jeremiah, God's answer to the question is that he has abandoned his people.

The result of all this is that Judah and its neighbors will all be destroyed, but they will be restored if they turn to the Lord.

After that God takes Jeremiah through a rather exercise. God tells Jeremiah to buy a loin cloth, wear it, and bury it. Later, God tells Jeremiah to dig the loin cloth up. To no one's surprise, it is decaying and useless. The point of this exercise is to show how God will rot away the pride of Judah. In that discussion, we get this... interesting bit of imagery:
As a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me, says the Lord.
After that we read more fairly standard ranting.

New Testament

New letter! Let's see what Understanding The Bible has to say about it:
1 Thessalonians is Paul's earliest surviving letter and thus the oldest Christian document in existence. Written from Corinth about 50 CE to a church that Paul, with his companions Timothy and Silas (Silvanus), had recently founded, it is remarkable chiefly for its eschatology, particularly the urgent expectation of Christ's Parousia and the resurrection of the dead.
... 1 Thessalonians is remarkable in showing how quickly essential Christian ideas had developed and how thoroughly apocalyptic Paul's message was. Referring to the Parousia in now fewer than six different passages, at least once in each of the letter's five brief chapters, Paul makes the imminence of Jesus' return his central message. 
Harris comments that this letter also contains a good dose of Paul's standard self-justification of his authority even though he seems to have a friendly relationship with the Thessalonian church.

The Wikipedia article notes that some people consider some passages in the letter to be interpolations by later authors.

On to today's content! Greetings are followed by praise for the believers in Thessalonia. Their faith in the face of hardship has earned them quite the reputation amongst believers in the region. Paul then recalls his visit and the way he and his companions lived while there. Amongst other things, we learn that they had not been treated well at Philippi and they worked to earn their keep while in Thessalonia.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs talk about the evils of laziness. The message culminates in the lines,
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.
These lines show the difference between an agrarian economy and a modern economy. While it is certainly true that laziness can bring ruin in a modern economy, we have come into a world where it is much easier to overwork. As a farmer, the amount you could work was limited by the seasons and by the available light. Yes, you might have to work as hard as you possibly could during the times you could work, but there were times when you could not work at all.

Applying this advice to a modern worker, however, could be disastrous. These days, it is possible to work to the point where you destroy your health, well being, and relationships with others. Both the nature of the work and modern conveniences such as electricity make this possible. In that setting, taking this advice too much to heart would be damaging and unhealthy.