Hebrew Scriptures

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Book Review: “Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets” by David G. Firth

What does the Bible have to say about the “stranger” or the “foreigner”? It’s an expansive question, but one that should inform Christians as they explore modern issues of immigration or refugees. David G. Firth, in Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets, examines texts related to these questions as found in the Former Prophets–Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.

Firth’s brief introduction argues that we can use narrative texts for normative values. Reading the text as such requires being attentive to the ways the narrator speaks of the events being narrated, as well as being aware of the ANE context in which the texts were written that comes with different expectations about how to read a text. The reader must also be aware of the assumptions they are bringing to the text and work to see how their own preconceptions can shape the way they interpret the text (3).

The next four chapters go over each of the former prophets in turn, giving an orientation to the reader for the text and then diving into the major questions of foreigners in the text. Joshua is a fascinating place to start here, because most would expect the book’s view of the foreigner to be universally negative, given the conquest narratives therein. However, Firth points out the fact that even upon entering the land, the first kindness was shown by a stranger (Rahab). Going from there, other texts invite larger examination of the notion of the “foreigner” in Joshua, as, for example, a threefold view of foreigner/stranger is found in the text: strangers as neutral/threat/positive. This means, argues Firth, that “Ethnicity itself is not the issue. Rather, the concern is with the possible religious impact of these peoples…” (38). The setting up of cities of refuge helps reinforce this impression. 

Judges is one of this reader’s own favorite books of the Bible, and Firth highlighted some aspects of great interest. For example, Shamgar (Judges 3:31) appears to be little more than a sidenote in Judges, and is not, in fact, even listed as having judged! But Firth notes there is more to Shamgar’s story than a single verse may seem to convey. First is the fact that Shamgar’s name is not an Israelite name, being composed of four root letters rather than three. Second, it seems clear Shamgar was not a Yahwist, for the denotation as “Son of Anath” suggests Shamgar followed the Canaanite goddess of the same name. And this, then, could explain why Shamgar is not given the title of “judge,” for the book’s concern with enforcing Yahwist worship leads the author not to give that title to Shamgar. And, moreover, this highlights the significance of Shamgar’s inclusion, for it shows that God has “no problem in using a foreigner to deliver Israel… but he does not grant them positions of leadership” (72). Along with other examples, Shamgar highlights a theme in Judges that God uses foreigners for God’s will as well, and that the Israelites’ own divisions among themselves (Judges 17-21) raises questions of “how Israel can function as the people of God” (92). 

Samuel’s central theme related to foreigners, argues Firth, is seeing them as means for assessing Israel. For example, in Samuel, David’s legitimacy as ruler is mediated through an Amalekite rather than an Israelite (113-114). Time and again, foreigners are used as examples to highlight the actions of Israelites, often as a contrast–a foreigner being more true to God/word than an Israelite. The book also shows how encounters with foreigners can lead to integration rather than devastation. Kings deals more with foreigners beyond the borders of Israel, and shows once more that the central value was not about ethnicity or nation, but rather about worship of Yahweh (172). 

Firth’s closing words, in a summary and concluding chapter about including the stranger, are words that call readers to action. “In a world that builds walls between communities, or makes the environment hostile for foreigners, this was an example of what the people of God can be: a community that does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, because we serve a God who does not do so. This is an ethic that is easily talked down in political discourse, but therefore one that is more important for the church, as the people of God, to live out and show a different way of life” (185-186).

David G. Firth’s exploration of the place of the “stranger” or “foreigner” in Including the Stranger will provide readers with a wealth of resources for learning about the biblical view of those from elsewhere. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness” by John Lennox

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.

Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.

Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.

Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.

The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Sunday Quote!- Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

jd-earlEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

Douglas S. Earl’s The Joshua Delusion is an attempt to approach the Old Testament in such a way as to understand it as Christian Scripture. For Earl, what this means is reading Scripture in a way that reflects Christian teaching in the New Testament. Moreover, it may mean that we need not read the Bible the same way contemporaries read it. One of the criteria Earl suggests is the notion of “fittingness” in our reading of Scripture:

[F]or a Christian reader of a biblical text ‘fittingness’ is a criterion for interpretation that relates both to what the text was originally trying to achieve, and to how it is received and used in the canon of Scripture, and subsequently in the Christian tradition. (103, cited below)

Thus, the original intent is set alongside a canonical perspective of reading the Bible, and ultimately set against Christian reading of the Bible. This has wide-ranging implications for how Earl suggests we read the Old Testament, including, often, undermining the historicity of the text in favor of a more allegorical reading.

The Joshua Delusion is a challenging read in many ways. Ultimately, I think Earl takes his position too far–to the point that it becomes difficult to see exactly how interpretation ought to be done. Moreover, his thesis allows Christians to effectively dismiss the original intent and meaning of the text. Is that a truly plausible way to read the Bible? It seems to me that if a view entails the rejection of how a text may have originally been intended, that means that we have lost a deeply important aspect of interpretation. Of course, Earl anticipates this objection and responds to it, thus leading to an engaging book. Interested readers ought to check the book out.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

Source

Douglas S. Earl,  The Joshua Delusion (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Modern Warfare and the Power of God

hwb-tec

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Modern Warfare and the Power of God

I’ve been reading through Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem, a collection of essays about the problem of war in the Bible. One of the essays was by Stephen Chapman and had a number of powerful quotes and ideas sprinkled throughout. I particularly enjoyed one part about modern warfare:

Modernity is arguably no less brutal than the ancient world for conducting a secularized, technologized, indiscriminate form of war that excludes God from the kill zone on principle, thereby seducing the strong into believing that they are masters of their own destiny. Indeed, the biblical witness unblinkingly confronts modernity most sharply right at this point: “Assyria will not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands'” (Hosea 14:3) (66, cited below)

The so-called secularization of war has not somehow cleansed it of evil, but rather made the work of our hands the sole credit and often reason for war. Salvation comes not from others, but we turn to the work of our hands–cruise missiles, drone strikes, and the like–to wage war for resources, land, money, and the like. Has war become more or less justified? Is it somehow sanctified through “secularization”? I think this quote speaks powerfully to these notions. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the book now and I really have enjoyed it. It hasn’t quite been about the topics I expected, but it’s been more challenging and expanding in its vision for that reason.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Stephen Chapman, “Martial Memory, Peaceable Vision: Divine War in the OT” in Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

SDG.

What a Surprise! Christianity defamed, Islam respected. And, guess what, the Bible likely older than the “experts” thought

Alright, school has started again. I managed to crank out at least a few things over break, and I have a number of 1/4-1/2 completed articles that I’ll hopefully finish some time, but for now back to easy posts, like random news stories.

Before we get into that though, go to Google (or your Google search bar) and [note: some curse words and offensive language will show if you follow these instructions, if you would not like to be subjected to that, simply read my article as I’ll describe it] type in “Christianity is…” and check out the suggested searches. Wow, those are some strong terms! “Christianity is b*******” is the first suggestion. Others include “Christianity is not a religion” [what?] and “Christianity is a lie.” That’s some strong stuff. Not very respectful of Christianity, obviously. But now try that same thing for “Islam is” and look at the suggestions. Oh wait, there are none. It’s perfectly fine to defame, attack, insult, and otherwise attack Christianity, but try to talk about Islam and you’ll come up empty. We should certainly not insult Islam. We wouldn’t dare to insult the religion of “peace.”

Google, of course, says it’s a database problem. How convenient. Check out this news story for more annoying facts (and a proof pic, if they ever “fix” the “database problem”).

So, as usual, insulting and attacking Christianity is accepted, but we dare not attack or insult Islam. Why is that?

But I digress. Another news story I found interesting was the discovery of some shards of pottery that suggest the Bible was perhaps written earlier than the “experts” thought! What a surprise! Current “scholarship” attempts to suggest the Hebrew Scriptures were not as old as tradition holds (usually dating them around 6th or 7th century B.C. (that’s Before Christ, by the way), but this evidence shows that, shock of all shocks, Hebrew writing existed longer before than was thought possible (this is, of course, not to mention that it is likely the Hebrew Scriptures were written in an even more ancient form of Hebrew script, but the “experts” are so “spot on” at all times it’s hard not to trust them [massive sarcasm]). The archaeological, historical, philosophical, experiential, and other evidences for theism and Christianity continue to increase in number and veracity. Not that this is surprising to anyone but the so-called experts (note that I’m not trying to insult genuine Biblical scholarship, only the radical, relativistic, super-critical scholarship that the media and anti-theists tend to try to cling to).

Well, back to school work.

Edit 1/17- Another news story on the Bible being older (same thing).

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