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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day Eighteen (Hebrew Law)

Today's reading included several chapters from Leviticus. I noticed a couple of things. First, in the list of dietary laws, there is no exception for necessity. It would seem that under the Hebrew law, at least as transmitted to the Levites, if faced with eating a camel, a lobster, or a pig OR die. You should die.

On the other hand, there are many exceptions for the poor. For example, Leviticus 14:19-22. Also, interesting, the scripture gives great detail about what to do if you have various afflictions: skin rashes, mildew, etc. But the instructions are not to heal the afflicted. Rather, they instructions are to become "clean" again.

By contrast, in Mark, Jesus is all about healing, as in removing the illness. The reason I find this curious, is that surely the Hebrews had ways to treat rashes. But that is not in the Scripture. (At least not yet.)

[February 21 through 23 in the One Year Bible]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day Seventeen (Regulations)

For February 18-20, the readings include more Leviticus. In chapters 6-10, the rules on sin offering and guilt offering are often referred to as regulations. They begin with relatively minor offenses that are to be made right with offerings of animal and grain (which, at least in part, are eaten by the priests). Consuming blood or the fat from animals found dead, requires banishment. Also, lots of detail about the priestly clothes worn by Aaron and his sons.

Then, from chapter 9-10, we have the story of Aaron's son messing up the ritual. They "offered unauthorized fire before YHWH, contrary to his commands." It is striking to me that the word unauthorized is used because it so matches the language to go with regulation. It suggests the presence of convention rather than universal value. God's response is: "So fire came out of the presence of YHWH and consumed them, they died before YHWH." Lev. 10:1-2.

From this story we have the harshness of violating any aspect of the law, even the rules about which fire to burn. We have also get a rule about not drinking wine before carrying out the rituals. "Then YHWH said to Aaron, 'You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean . . . .'" Lev. 10:8-10.

Interestingly, the Imam who spoke at my church last night mentioned that Mohamed had initially discouraged people from drinking, but when an Imam was to drunk to conduct prayers, he made in wrong to drink any time during the day, and then eventually, wrong to drink period.

The passages from Mark, needless not say, are not so excited about the law. From Mark, we have many stories of healing and casting out demons. We also have three parables about the Kingdom of God related to seeds. One emphasizing not everyone will be able to receive the truth, but the small number who accept it will grow something sufficiently beautiful; one emphasizing that it takes work to grow the Kingdom; and one emphasizing that from a small seed a great thing may grow. The Psalms are back to talking about enemies.

Rich Faith Poor Faith

Is Islam the faith of the poor and Christianity the faith of the wealthy? If so, is that ironic given the attitude of each of their founding figure's toward money?

From wealthiest to poorest: blue, green, purple, red.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day Sixteen (New Perspectives)

February 15 through 18 in the One Year Bible includes the first five chapters of Leviticus and the beginning of Mark. It also begins the straight sayings part of Proverbs.

Briefly about Mark, it is really remarkable how much less concerned Mark is with proving that Jesus is the Hebrew Messiah of which the prophets spoke. Mark gets right down to business. No nativity. Not much detail. Also, fyi, Mark was the first gospel, possibly written before the destruction of the temple. Mark was my father's favorite gospel. My father-in-law tells me it is written in very simplistic Greek, common Greek I think.

The laws in Leviticus struck me in a couple of ways. First off, there is a whole section about unintentional crimes, generally and then for a couple of specific classes. Also, the punishments are based on social standing, the higher the standing the harsher the punishment. It is very sophisticated. For example, leaders have harsher penalties for unintentional sins that people in general.

Also, it is striking that there is such accommodation for the poor. If you can't sacrifice a bull, then you sacrifice goat. If you can't do that, then pigeons. If you can't afford that, then grain. The details are obviously uninteresting to me as a modern person, but the structure is much more sophisticated than I expected.

11:43 PM local. Just made it. (Actually, I finished reading much earlier.)

What's a Strong Economy

Day Sixteen comments will be late today. (I drove to work and haven't had a chance to read yet today.) However, here are some interesting graphs related to economics and politics.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day Fifteen (New Shorter Remarks)

Comments on the readings for February 12-15 from the One Year Bible (NIV). I'm going to try to be shorter to encourage more responses.

Many of use remember that Moses shattered the first set of tablets on which the law was written (nothing suggests these tablets contained only the so-called ten commandemnts). In my reading for today, Moses brings down the new tablets, and for the first time the term "Ten Commandments" is used. It does not seem to refer to "Have no other god before me" through "Do not covert your neighbors ass." Rather, the Ten Commandments include not intermarrying, keeping festival days and Sabath, etc. See for yourself here.

Finishing Matthew, we have more scripture that touches me. "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me," is such a mournful cry, and one I recognize from the Psalms. That Jesus' commitment to preaching the Gospel of truth and spirit was so great, he would not back down even in the face of such suffering is important to me.

Also, finishing Matthew we have fresh challenges when he recounts that dead people rose from the grave upon Christ's death, and not once, but twice, denies the preposterous story that the disciples just took Jesus' body in the night. Otherwise, Matthew ends with a clean resurrection story: no confusion about who the resurrected Jesus is, everyone meets at the rally point in Galilee, "I will be with you until the end of the age." Nice.

Interesting perspective on masturbation.

Well, I agree that the church should have something to say about sex. I am so sure that I agree with Delaware Republican Senate Canidate O'Donnell on the topic. Link. Also, here's what I wrote a few days ago on the topic.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day Fourteen (Predestiny)

Is God a constant force for the good, always urging God's people to do what is best in any circumstance? Or does God have a master plan, to which God adheres, sometimes confusing God's people? Consider YHWH's reaction to the Israelites making golden calves to worship while Moses was up receiving the law.
"I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."

But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?"
Remember, this would not be the first time God started over. Abram's father was actually supposed to go to the promise land, but got distracted. And what happened to Joseph? It looked like he was going to be the one, for a while. Now God has shifted over to these Levites, Moses and Aaron. Most importantly, Moses convinced God not to destroy the people of Israel.

In Matthew, we have some of the most agonizing and poignant passages for me. Judas' betrayal of Jesus. The failure to keep watch with Jesus. Peter's denial. More that the violent crucifixion, I empathize with Christ's suffering in these instances. But if these things were "necessary" then why should we have any anomosity toward Judas, James, John and Peter? I think the reason that these scenes are so tragic is that they absolutely could have done something different. Peter could have been executed along side Jesus. Judas could have remained true. Dare I suggest that perhaps it would have been better if Jesus, like Buddha and Mohammed had lived until old age.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day Thirteen (Angry Jesus)

After laying out some basic laws about how to deal with slaves and bulls that gore people to death, the book of Exodus started describing the sanctuary for YHWH in detail along with the clothes that Aaron and all other priests are supposed to wear. Snooze fest.

Meanwhile, in Matthew, we have Jesus laying out some pretty angry and apocalyptic stuff. I won't paste it here, but I recommend following the link to this section at BibleGateway and then coming back. Link.

So, we have at least five layers to think about in order to digest this passage. I. What did Jesus say? II. What did Jesus mean? III. What did the author of Matthew write. IV. What did the author of Matthew mean then? V. What does this mean to us now?

I. What Did Jesus Say: We don't know. The Gospels were written sometime between 60 and 120 C.E. None of them were even remotely contemporaneous records of Jesus' words. And, they do not strictly agree in the sense that would suggest they are recording records of testimony. I can't take seriously the notion that we have a record of one word spoken by Jesus.

II. What Did Jesus Mean: This is a different story. I know something of the ministry of Martin Luther King. I can't say any of his speeches from memory, but I know what he was about. Others would know quite well what he stood for. I believe Paul's letters, and the later written Gospels capture Jesus' ministry.

III. What Matthew wrote: This is the problem, Matthew wasn't just dictating events like a court reporter; in fact, he wasn't even dictating events like a news reporter. He was providing important stories and comments from Jesus. And, I suspect he was slipping in some of his own thinking too.

IV. What did Matthew mean: So, in 70-100 C.E., when Matthew puts into the mouth of Jesus, speaking in 30 C.E. a phrases like, "I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation" (23:36), and "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened," (24:34), what does he intend for Jesus to be saying? Does the author of Matthew mean that the world is ending? Does it help to know that the temple was destroyed by the Romans sometime around 70 A.D.?

V. What does this mean to us: We have two ideas presented in these passages. One, a great tragedy. Destruction of "the world," whatever that means. Two, a great promise, the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. I take from this that the destruction of the old Jewish hierarchy removed a barrier for the new Jewish faith to grow. That the Kingdom of God, was in some sense aided by the painful, painful loss of everything precious to the adherents of the old ways.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day Twelve (The Law)

Today's readings: Exodus 17:8-23:13 (Moses gets the law); Matthew 22:34 - 24:28 (Jesus makes some grim predictions); Psalm 27-29; Proverbs 6:27 - 7:23.

I am not a trained theology, nor have I formally studied ancient mythology or cultures. Today, however, we have entered into an area for which I have some expertise--the law. When looking at a legal code, I wonder about process, hierarchy, and jurisdiction.

At first, Moses was administering the law all by himself. However, his father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit and said that was no good. Moses needed to train people to be judges and only bring the important stuff to Moses. More here. Also, generally speaking, when there was a dispute over possessions, the Israelites were to bring it to the judges to decide. There were some violations of the law with which YHWH would deal more dramatically. "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless." (I wonder if Glenn Beck read that bit.)

We discussed this in youth group today, about whether some sins are worse that others. Exodus suggests different punishments, ranging from death to paying for lost time--that one struck me as pretty modern. There are also very clear principles. Women are undeniably property, but are to be treated with more respect other property. Slaves are treated worse that non-slaves, although they have ways to leave their bondage. And, aliens are treated as well as Israelites. That comes up a couple of places. The scripture from Proverbs states explicitly that adultery is a bigger deal than stealing, especially if the thief is hungry. Finally, Jesus basically unloads on the Pharisees about their focus on trivial, literalistic interpretations of the law with a litany of curses that begin, "Woe to you, teacher of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" One example that jumps out at me is:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
(I mean, seriously, has Glenn Beck ever read this book?) Notably absent from the hierarchy is the very natural assumption that the Ten Commandments are superior to other laws. While the Fundamentalist Hebrews are attempting to quiz Jesus he does correctly respond that completely loving God is the greatest commandment, and that loving your neighbor like yourself is basically the same thing. But his point there seems to be that the other can be derived from those two, not that the others are less important.

This one isn't really in the Scriptures. I do notice, however, that these laws from Exodus seem to be given to the Israelites, not the world. Of course, since they are laws from God you would think they would be good for everyone, right? Well, not if they are laws particularly crafted for certain people--say people who owned slaves and sold their daughters and did stuff like that.