Tag Archives: theology

Online Aramaic and Coptic Flashcards

I’ve been searching for electronic flashcards for John’s Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic and Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons all semester. (I cut my teeth with FlashWorks, the vocabulary software that comes with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, so paper flashcards don’t really do it for me.)

Thankfully, a kind soul has made free, online flashcards sets for all 20 chapters of Johns, which I’m very excited about. They can be found here. The same site has some flashcards for Layton (chapters 2-13), but I haven’t yet found anywhere that has flashcards for all 20 chapters.

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Primitive Science, Ancient Faith

I came across this quote while doing some research yesterday. It’s a little anachronistic — it was written about 100 years ago — but it’s a nice sentiment nonetheless:

The Judean writer of the ninth century B.C. stated his creed in terms of the primitive science of the Arabian desert. The priestly writer of the sixth century B.C. stated his creed in terms of the better science of the Babylonian priests. We of today state our creed in terms of modern astronomy, geology, and biology. Our descendants will state their creed in terms of a still more accurate science and philosophy; but through all the changes of scientific thought it will still be the same creed trying to express itself, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The primitive Semitic science of Gen., chap. 2, and the Babylonian science of Gen., chap. 1, have given place to a better science, but their religious belief in one creator, God, is still the faith of the church.

Lewis Bayles Paton, “Archaeology and the Book of Genesis,” The Biblical World 45 (1915): 13 [10-17].

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YHWH: An Imported Deity?

A lot of people may not be aware of the evidence that exists that Yhwh was originally a deity from the southwestern territory of Edom, on the west of the Arabah, a large valley running south from the Dead Sea down to the gulf of Aqabah. The evidence begins in the Hebrew Bible with a small number of early biblical texts that suggest Yhwh originated in that area …

This may all help explain why no other culture of Canaan worshipped Yhwh. Baal, El, and Asherah seem to be deities acknowledged and revered by multiple ethnicities in Canaan, but Yhwh is Israel’s alone. They were indigenous, he was imported. The conflict that is constantly highlighted in the Bible between Yhwh and Baal is intriguing in light of the complete absence of any such conflict between Yhwh and the Canaanite patriarchal deity El. Judg 5:4–5 gives us clues. Yhwh’s power is described with imagery associated with the storm deity motif. The same can be said of numerous other texts. Psalm 29, for instance, refers repeatedly to thunder and lightning as expressions of Yhwh’s glory. Baal was also a storm deity, and while deities performing the same function within the pantheon could be tolerated across national borders (see chapter 1 here), in the same region, there would be room enough only for one. Baal and Yhwh were thus in constant competition for devotees of the local storm deity. Yhwh did not bring imagery associated with the patriarchal deity to Canaan, but rather he appropriated that imagery, along with the station, from the local Canaanite patriarchal deity. There was no need to combat his influence.

Thus, an Edomite deity from around the Arabah was brought north to the central highlands around the end of the thirteenth century. At some point a federation or coalition of tribes dedicated to this deity coalesced, perhaps as described in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, and developed into a state.

Yhwh, God of Edom | Daniel O. McClellan

This is quite interesting. Go and see the evidence Daniel marshals in support of this point.

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Religion and Madness

From a discussion at Religion Bulletin regarding the impending execution of John Errol Ferguson, a schizophrenic man with delusions of being “the anointed Prince of God,” who killed somewhere between 8 and 12 people in 1977 and 1978. These posts bring up some really good questions, ones that are worth thinking about: What is religion? What is madness? Where is the line between a religious belief and a paranoid delusion?

The question of whether Ferguson is mentally competent to execute appears to be hopelessly entangled with the theological claims of his delusion. If he believes he will ascend to sit at the right hand of God before the state can execute him, then he does not meet the standard outlined in Provenzano v. State. On the other hand, if he believes that, like Jesus, he will be executed, resurrected, and then ascend into heaven, he may be competent to execute under Florida law. In the later scenario, Ferguson does understand that he will be physically dead, if only temporarily. In contemplating this problem, it should be noted that Ferguson’s delusion does not have the consistency of a religious creed but rather shifts over time. …

All of this discourse assumes an “either/or logic” in which a religious worldview cannot be insanity and visa-versa. Dr. Tonia Werner, one of the psychiatrists who examined Ferguson, explained that he had a “hyper-religious” belief. The prefix “hyper” appears to be an attempt to make a categorical distinction between Ferguson’s delusions and mainstream religious views. Of course, religion scholars have long argued that “religion” is a second-order category that is always imposed on the beliefs of others from the outside. For this reason, the distinction between religious truth claims and mental delusions cannot be taken for granted. Furthermore, the sociology of knowledge teaches us that the distinction between madness and religion is often socially constructed. …

In The Principals of Psychology, William James argued that the supernatural claims of religion and the claims of “sheer madness” both represented alternative worlds separate from our shared world of “practical realities.” However, our legal system requires that these subjective worldviews––however we classify them––do have consequences in our everyday word of practical reality. The case of John Errol Ferguson demonstrates the need to think more critically about categories such as religion and madness. These categories are not given but socially constructed. They are so fluid precisely because they deal with beliefs and experiences that exist outside of our shared reality. When those in authority apply inconsistent or self-serving criteria to define these categories it becomes a particularly insidious form of hegemony.

The Curious Case of John Errol Ferguson: Part 1
The Curious Case of John Errol Ferguson, Part 2

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The Three Jesuses

I know I’m nearly two weeks behind, but I’d like to point out Andrew Perriman’s post, in response to a post by Scot McKnight, about the differences between three understandings of Jesus: the historical-critical Jesus, the historical-canonical Jesus, and the creedal-theological Jesus. Here’s a bit from Andrew’s post:

On the whole, it seems to me that there is an account of the “real” Jesus emerging from historical Jesus studies that is not so far from the historical-canonical Jesus, if we read the canonical texts without the later creedal and theological overlay. I think that the Jewish apocalyptic Jesus who proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God in the near future is the historical-canonical Jesus. Critical scholars and historical-canonical interpreters may not see eye to eye over the question of whether the miracles and the resurrection actually happened, but there is no reason in principle why we should not agree about their significance within the narrative. …

The problem for the church, however, is that the convergence between the historical-critical Jesus and the historical-canonical Jesus has caused a corresponding divergence between the historical-canonical Jesus and the creedal or theological, exacerbated by conservative, Reformed reactions against history. This is where I see the more fundamental incompatibility. It will take some time for the church to wean itself off its dependency on abstracted theology and learn to trust the story again.

“Scot McKnight on the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the church” | p.ost

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“It would seem that the Lord God is gently nudging man toward taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.” (Gen 3)

One of the textbooks for my “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” class has this quote on the moral of the Garden story in Genesis 3. It’s long, but it’s good, and I thought it was worth sharing.

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Who or what is responsible for man’s expulsion from Eden? In order for man and woman to be responsible for their behavior they would have to be free both to abstain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and to understand the consequences of eating from it. Man surely was not without all knowledge before he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge. He knew enough, for instance, to name the beasts which the Lord God paraded before him. He certainly knew that the woman was “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” But did the man (and woman) understand what was entailed in taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? The logic of the story dictates that man and woman both had a choice and understood the consequences of their choice. The Lord God holds them responsible and presumably He was in a position to know whether and to what extent the first human couple was responsible. And Adam and Eve do not deny responsibility so much as they indicate that the Lord God Himself wanted them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

If one looks at some of the details provided by the narrator it seems that man and woman make a valid point. Consider the following:

  • The Lord God placed the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the garden and within man’s reach;
  • the Tree of Knowledge “. . . was good for eating and a delight to the eyes . . . and the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom.”;
  • moreover, it is the Lord God who decides that it is not good for man to be alone, and who extracts the woman from the man. It is, of course, the woman whom the snake approaches. And the snake’s shrewdness is traced by the narrator to God. [Gen 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”]

It would seem that the Lord God is gently nudging man toward taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. However that may be, one should not refer simply to what happens to man and woman as a result of their acquisition of the Tree of Knowledge as a “fall.” For according to the Lord God (Who, be it noted, thereby corroborates part of what the serpent had told Eve), man has become in some sense divine by virtue of having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This godlike capacity, as we have seen, will enable man to create his destiny outside of Eden.

We can conclude that the first man and first woman, with a little help from God, found the lack of meaningful choices in Eden unendurable. Adam and Eve willingly chose the dynamism of life outside of Eden even though that choice carried with it not only the ability to create but also pain, suffering, and death.

[Jay A Holstein, The Jewish Experience (4th ed.; Boston: Pearson Custom, 2002),  88-90.]

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A Definition of Progressive Christianity

James McGrath posted an image from progressivechristianity.org the other day that gives a definition of what it means to be a Progressive Christian.

Now, it’s not everyone’s definition of “progressive Christianity,” as the comments on Dr. McGrath’s post show. But, I think it’s a good starting place. Progressive Christianity is about following Jesus’ ethical teachings and trying to live justly and generously with everyone else.

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