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Monday, March 24, 2008

Epicycles & Electrons Part II

I think it is uncontroversial that the way God is characterized in the Bible is different in different places. The model of God, if you will, is different. Is it evolving?

I've written about the differences in the creation stories, but consider these two passages:
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
Genesis 2-5

I don't know if the creation myths are contemporaneous or not, but the God who calls things into being is clearly different then a God from whom you can hide from in a tree. God from the story of Jonah seems more like the God of the first creation myth. All powerful, all knowing. Although, capable of changing his mind.

Bargaining with God happens frequently in the Bible. Read how the author of Genesis characterizes Abraham's relationship with God Almighty in the days before the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah:
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Genesis 18. Abraham does a good job and gets God all the way down to 10 righteous men. Compare to Mohammad getting the daily prayer requirement down to 5. Similarly, we learn of God bargaining with Satan in the story of Job. I think these stories are much more like the image of God in the second creation myth.

God also starts out as the best god among the gods:
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
Exodus 12 And, here
Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, "Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly." Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God.
Exodus 18.
When Paul writes about God, you start to see the that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-conceived idea of God from the middle ages.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 20.

So, any argument that the God model is different in different parts of the Bible? Do you see an evolution or a confluence of different traditions? Could this mean that God changes? The idea of a changing God is championed by process theologians. There is a link on the right. (WARNING:Site contains academia not suitable for persons without a doctorate, and not some silly trade school doctorate like a Juris Doctorate or Medical Doctorate. A real PhD doctorate.)

10 comments:

Matt Dick said...

No argument. God has evolved as people have altered their perception of other cultures.

One God is new to Christianity.

Matt Dick said...

And a clarification, One God is new to Christianity, and it's not even really true. The trinity is clearly a holdover from older polytheistic beliefs, the evolution is very clear.

JimII said...

I imagine it is Judiasm we have to thank for insisting that not only should you worship only one god, but there is only one god.

I am also not sure that the trinity is a hold over from polytheism. It was developed at a time when Helenistic culture was very strong, and I think the virgin birth stories show evidence of that.

But I think the trinity came about as a way to handle efforts to make Mary divine. Of course, you have this human being Jesus, who people have started talking about as a God, just like the Romans talked about their Emperor as a God. But you are a people who only believes in one god.

I realize I ought to read a book on it before I contemplate much more. Are your comments the result of reading something good?

Matt Dick said...

I did read a fair amount on the historicity of Jesus. The parallels with Moses, Osiris, Egyptian and Greek gods. It went into the trinity a bit, and I'll try to follow up on finding you a reference.

Might have been a Robert Price book, come to think of it.

Matt Dick said...

Price actually has a great treatment of all the messianic figures from Judaism being repeats of each other.

He goes into "prophesy" and how the definition of the very word would mean something very different to first century Jews than to anyone today. They used the details of life and the fulfillment of prophesy to signal the messianic qualities of the subject, more than to actually convince anyone that they were literal truths.

In fact, the whole birth story being so close to Moses' was part of the reason Price questioned whether Jesus was a real person.

JimII said...

That's weird. I've read lots of stuff about how prophesy was social commentary. So, when Isaiah said God will punish us, he wasn't so much trying to tell the future as urging the government and the people to comply with God's teachings.

As for Jesus' birth story being close to Moses', that's only true in one of the Gospels (Matthew). It offers really strong evidence that the birth stories are metaphorical, not literal. I haven't believed the stories were literally true since I was like 16 years old. On the other hand, I don't see how that even suggests that the adult person never lived.

And I meant weird not wrong or irrelevant. It is weird because it makes me realize that (1) there is this whole body of scholarly work that I take for granted and (2) there are other bodies of scholarly work I'm entirely unfamiliar with and, and this is the biggest deal, (3) they don't necessarily know about each other.

Pat has been reading a lot of Crossan & Borg lately too, and we've been talking about exactly this weirdness.

Matt Dick said...

Michael Rea, a professor at Notre Dame makes a case that "It is argued that if the Social Trinitarian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, then Christianity is not interestingly different from the polytheistic Amun-Re theology of Egypt's New Kingdom period."

This is from "Polytheism and Christian Belief" from Oxford University Press.

I think, and I read this some time ago now, that he states that Judaism is a true monotheism, but that a move toward polytheism in the form of the trinity represents a migration *back* to its Egyptian roots rather as a progression from true, original monotheism.

This vectors from a "Jesus as Horus" argument as well. I think the case that Jesus is a warmed-over Horus is enormously compelling. I can provide those details pretty readily if you're interested in some of the original Horus myths (miracle birth, "way, truth, life", shepherd, 12 disciples, etc) I'll go over them. It's pretty good stuff.

Matt Dick said...

I wrote Osiris in an earlier comment and I was thinking of Horus. In fact I think I've made that mistake in conversations with you before. If you searched for those works based on that, I apologize as I'm sure I've led you astray.

james said...

Just sticking with the Genesis excerpts, and having never read anything Bible-y much in my life, I am going to ask if the versions of God in those two passages are really so inconsistent. This could be very very ignorant... :-)

When the Lord calls all the creatures into being "according to their kind," does that mean that their "kinds" are somehow pre-existing, determined and defined before God creates them? It kind of sounds like God is saying, "all right, everyone, we all know that there's gotta be livestock, cows, goats, and stuff, and wild animals like lions and stuff, so everybody get into your categories as I call roll," rather than "hmmm... now I've got to see how many variations of four legs, fangs, and a tail there are going to be..." And when he creates man in his image, that's sort of the same thing. Just the fact that He has an "image" to copy puts some pre-existing conditions on what God's going to come up with.

That's a (sunday school) pre-amble to thinking that just because God sometimes talks to his creations as if he doesn't know what they're up to, doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't know what they're up to. Asking Adam and Eve where they're hiding when he can see for himself that they've been in the cookie jar and left crumbs all the way up the stairs and under the bed sounds like pretty basic parenting b.s. to me.

So, I guess I don't see the all-everything God as being completely unbounded, and I don't see the personal God as being quite so limited that they're necessarily two different conceptions.

I see the God with whom Abraham bargains as being a blend, too. The Lord knows exactly how that conversation is going to go. Abraham has to act out the play, so to speak, because Abraham is a righteous fella whose nation will be a "blessing on the earth." God knows who he's talking to, knows what's on Abraham's mind and what he's gonna want, and he lets Abraham "convince" him of what he was gonna do anyway.

As for whether any of this implies anything about the historical counterpoints to Horus, the Trinity, et al., I haven't anything to contribute.

JimII said...

James,

I see the God with whom Abraham bargains as being a blend, too. The Lord knows exactly how that conversation is going to go.

Right, you can say that. But that is not what the story says. That is the thing with this kind of reading. You can certainly start with the idea that God is all-knowing and then everytime God in the story isn't all-knowing just say that he really knew what was happening but was pretending to not know.

Now, compare with the fable of Job. In that context, there does seem to be a notion that God may be playing with Job, and does in fact know what will happen eventually. But not with Abraham. Also, there is nothing in the Bible about God taking the shape of a person to walk in the Garden and nothing to suggest God was just playing.

It is a consistent view, but it is not the view presented in the scriptures. That's all I'm saying.

BTW, I think if you read these passages as you would a fresh story, you will see what I'm talking about. The only way God stays the same in these is because we make that a fact going in.