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Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 99 (High Priest Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 2-4 readings]

Let me begin with an interesting contrast between Ezekiel & Hebrews. In the middle of prophesies of doom, Ezekiel lays out some pretty clear guidance on the believer's duty to help both the unbeliever and the backslider. By constrast, in Hebrews, the author believes there is no hope for one who has been in the faith and left it. Ez. 3:16-21; Heb. 6:4-6.

Maybe it is because I just discussed the Dickens' book with my daughter last night, but chapter 8 of Ezekiel strikes me as A Christmas Carol meets Revelation.

The title of today's post comes from Hebrews. Chapter 5, versus 1-10 claims that Jesus is specifically, "a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek," quoting Psalm 110. Hebrews is thick with theology, and at this point, I cannot say whether this should be taken as a metaphor, like Good Shepherd, for example, or more literally.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


So, I've finished Paul's letters and my opinion of Paul has improved. What! A liberal something positive to say about Paul? Yeah, in fact, Paul gives us permission to be inspired and find the Gospel ourselves. Paul makes it clear that those who go no further than the law are as inslaved as those who succumb to sin. And, I agree with Paul, not only in advocating self-control, but in the areas of self-control. Sexual immorality can be a disaster for people. Drunkeness can ruin lives. Hell, gluttony is doing a pretty good number on America today.

Of course, Paul wasn't writing treatises on morality as much as advice to specific congregations. Hence, there is a fair bit of cultural bias in his writing. His letters reveal weakness of his own. But, I have no problem taking Paul's advice for what it is. Paul was a passionate church leader, who like me, never saw Jesus. His letters are thus valuable to me.

Day 98 (Misc.)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 29 - Nov. 1 readings]

I have finished the Pauline Epistles and the Book of Lamentations today. I also started Hebrews and Ezekiel. I will be with these two books for at least a few days, which will be nice since I've been passing through the shorter letters so quickly. After these two, its short letters and short prophets and, ug, Revelation.

I'm not sure why Philemon is included in the Canon. Not that it is offensive, its implicit acceptance of slavery notwithstanding, but I don't know what it adds.

Lamentations is generally completes the arch started by Jeremiah, which leads right up to exile. This work gives a window into the suffering of exile. Also, and this is probably way less significant than I'm making it, we have two more references to familial cannibalism:
Look, LORD, and consider:
Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?
* * *
With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.
2:20; 4:10. So, did this actually happen!?

Starting Hebrews and Ezekiel is also nice because it is a fresh voice. Ezekiel starts our Revelation style trippy. I remember watching a TV show that suggested that Ezekiel had actually seen a space craft land. Read for yourself (Ezekiel 1); its not a completely insane notion--although, obviously mostly silly.

Hebrews is also much tighter and less pragmatic than Paul's letters. I tried to quickly find the best theories on who wrote Hebrews and unfortunately, I once again learned who dominates the internet on biblical questions. Spoiler alert, it ain't theologians. Even fundamentalists sites actually acknowledge that some people think Hebrews wasn't written by Paul. Uh, reading it on the bus without a commentary makes it pretty clear it isn't Paul, particularly after reading one letter after another for several days. Anti-intellectuals are annoying.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Day 97 (Jeremiah Wrap Up)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 26-28 readings]

Today I finished Jeremiah. First point, compare the final paragraph of Second Kings and that of Jeremiah, here. Jeremiah spends a decent amount of time predicting the destruction of everyone under the sun. Like Isaiah, he goes through and specifically discusses what will happen to all of the people around Israel/Judah. It seems to me that Jeremiah spends more time focussing on the difference between the royality and the ordinary people.

Today I also finished (and started) Paul's letter to Titus. This letter just really focusses on being polite and self-controlled. It is actually pretty hard to justify even that rather tame advice with the ministry of Jesus reported in the Gospels. It also includes this advice:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:9-11. I might have to quarrel with this law.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Day 96 (Dangerous Conclusions)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 22-25 readings]

Today's readings include Jeremiah speaking to the remnant of Judah left behind after the exile. It sounds like the twist will be the promise land is left for the regular people. "But Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, wo owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields." (39:10) "When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard . . . they all came back to the land of Judah." (40:11-12) But then, it appears the remnant decides to head to Egypt following the murder of their leader, and God is not happy. (42:19-20) Once in Egypt they succumb to the ways of the foreign land, and thus, Jermiah treats us to long passages about how God will destroy the Egyptians, the Moabites (no love for Ruth, I guess), the Ammonites (at first but then they come back) and the Edomites. Quite specifically, Jeremiah 46:25 says, "The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh." I point this out for my friend Matt who has directed me from time to time to authors speculating that the ties between Israel & Egypt are stronger than we might think, including some cultural borrowing. Amon--per Wikipedia--was the king of Egyptian gods whose dominance border on monotheism wherein other gods were seen as manifestations of Amon-Ra. Interesting.

In Second Timothy, Paul suggests dealing with competiting theologies more gently. "Those who oppose [God's servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2:25-26) But, most strange is the reason Paul believes folks like Hymeneaus and Philetus have "wandered away from the truth." "They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." (1:18)(emphasis added). Was Paul's talk of the Second Coming in the Epistle transformed into the resurrection stories in the Gospels? Probably not. Amon-Ra is also probably not the origin of YHWH. Seriously, these ideas are both probably wrong, and may illustrate the danger of reading the Bible without the aid of commentary.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Day 95 (Paul's no Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 18-21 readings]

Today's readings in Timothy remind me of something important, Paul was doing something different from Jesus. I don't mean adverse to, I just mean different from. In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, we learn about how "overseers," bishops maybe, and deacons are supposed to behave and who is qualified to hold such offices. Similarly, in chapter 5, verses 17-20, we learn about how to treat church elders. Link. Jesus doesn't talk about church structure at all. He had no interest in it.

Another difference is that today's scripture has Paul's famous suggestion that Timothy "[s]top drinking only water, and use a little wine because of [his] stomach and [his] frequent illnesses." 1 Tim. 5:23. What is interesting about this to me is that Paul railed against drunkenness all the time. Self-control is a MAJOR component to Paul's gospel. But unlike Jesus--who was always saying stuff like, it's not enough to not commit adultry, don't even look at another man's wife; it's not enough to love your neighbor, love your enemy; let the dead bury the dead; and what not--Paul is clearly pragmatic in his approach.

More on wine, is this interesting tale from Jeremiah about a group of people who were rewarded for being faithful not to God, but to their forefathers in abstaining from drink.

Day 94 (Jeremiah's no Jesus)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 15-17 readings]

While reading stories about Moses and Elijah, for example, one is often struck by how much the Gospels represent Jesus as a new incarnation of these heroes. In today's readings, it struck me how un-Christlike Jeremiah's stories are at time. First, he says this about people who would have him killed:
But you, LORD, know
all their plots to kill me.
Do not forgive their crimes
or blot out their sins from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
deal with them in the time of your anger.
Um, not exactly "forgive them for they know not what they do." Then there is the story of Jeremiah trying to pull this stunt where he walks around town with a yoke to get everyone to get back in line, only to lose his debate--something that never happened to Jesus--against an opposing prophet and then God killed the guy for him.

Jeremiah selection here.

More evidence of conflicting views of Jesus' ministry is found in the first chapter of First Timothy.

Finally, 1 Timothy 2:9-13 contains more Pauline misogyny, including this dandy, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet." I know of churches that take this requirement from Paul quite literally while almost completely ignoring the mountains of scripture requiring justice for the poor. That is almost as curious as Paul's woman hating. (By the way, I wonder if Priscilla and Aquilla would be okay with this passage.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Day 93 (False Prophets)

[reaction to OYB's Oct. 12-14]

The Epistle are going to start flying by now. It appears that the Thessalonians were pretty good kids. Paul was concerned about them being deceived by false prophets. 2 Thes. 2. Curiously similar, Jeremiah is warning the people of Judah not to allow false prophets give them false hope. Jer. 23:16-32. It appears some folks were saying that Christ had already returned, and others were saying that Judah had survived.

Some gruesome cannibalism references shared between Kings and Jeremiah here.