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Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Pentateuch

I have just finished reading, mostly rereading, the first five books of the Bible and wanted to give some general thoughts.

First, I want to point out that it is very hard for me to believe that one could think that every section of these five books were written by the same entity, let alone an omniscient entity. The evolution of the nature of God presented in the five books alone, strongly suggests multiple authors. Religious Tolerance provides a nice discussion of this, including citations to and explanations of conflicting points of view.

Second, I don't think anyone living in twenty-first century America can seriously assert that the laws set out for the ancient Hebrews are to be followed today. Forget about bans on men having sex with other men, there are very strict laws about most aspects of daily living that we reject. Including selling daughters into slavery, punishments for disobedient children, treatment of aliens, etc. Frankly, even if the Bible is inerrant, these laws are not described as applying to all people for all time, but to the Israelites and their obedience will be rewarded by receiving (returning to) the Promised Land.

Third, I do think these scriptures are valuable. Not to answer scientific questions. (See a fine, but not particularly inspired rebuttal of that here.) And not to set out a code of laws to be adhered to today. But to give us insight into how God can work for justice even in an unjust world. Note that much of the most heinous passages deal with making an evil practice less evil. Also, these give Christians insight into core values that were a part of Jesus' life and informed his teaching. Consider, for example, the frequent allowances for the poor and the notion that faith should be infused into all aspects of life.

The Old Testament readings that lie ahead are some stories about Joshua kicking ass and taking names in Canaan. Then some folks stories about tribal heroes such as Samson, Gideon and Deborah. It will be interesting to observe similarities and difference between these characters and the stories we tell about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth and Amelia Earheart.


Bill Jacobs said...

My comment on Pentateuch laws =

They were and are stepping stones to a deeper, more profound sense of personal responsibility for love of neighbor behavior. I call these new rules "new traditions", emerging out of the old ones.

Jesus gave Leviticus code the once-over and chose his favorite law: Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:16).

Why pick a "first commandment" out of Holiness Code when you find so many odd prohibitions on either side of it, so many bigoted putdowns?

Precisely to lift love of neighbor out as a keeper and leave the little fish in there to grow up - still there but not important.

As I have been working through Genesis with a midweek Bible Study group lately, I tried to give a spectrum of "history" from journalism (first draft of history) to myth (final draft of history). OT is mostly "myth".

Genesis is not a nonfiction documentary, its a God-story.

It is, as I put it, a story worth retelling, and our job is to find what was worth retelling in all its narrative particularity.

Recently in worship I went madly after Holiness Code of Lev 17 - 26 and contrasted it to sunburst of inclusiveness in Acts. Don't call "unclean" what I now call "clean". (Acts 10/11 re: Peter's vision of God commanding him to eat unclean foods ...)

I think Christians would do well to observe how many OT laws were abrogated in the course of developing the new traditions we adopted in formation of church:

Left Sabbath behind and took on Sunday. (This alone would have been punishable by death before JC. It was, after all, one of the "ten commandments" that some want to post in their classroom that Jesus de-sacralized to their dismay - Clearly, a law-breaker... kill him now!)

Jettisoned circumcision as sign of obedience, replaced by baptism, then overlooked dietary laws which form a great part of Torah and took up communion, then ignored most death penalty instructions (except for gay men, that is), then shot down most of the marriage laws and went for monogamy in a big way, leaving divorce option high and dry even though Moses allowed it. (Matt 19)

Long history of changing the rules, it seems. Why is that not good news? Maybe rules make us feel safer than "new traditions".

Paul found his safety in grace not law. We could stand more of that.

Bill Jacobs

JimII said...

Thanks, Bill. Reading the history of God's people as a story of a continuing effort to, as you say, "a deeper, more profound sense" of loving one's neighbor strike a chord with me.