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.