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“The chronic mystic actually despises mystery.”

The chronic mystic actually despises mystery. He wants inner slogans to deal with his frights, fears and everyday narcissism. He refuses to acknowledge that the origins of the universe and the purposes of the universe are genuine mysteries. They are not only unknown, they are unknowable. They aren’t mysteries to be solved, as one solves a crossword puzzle, the mysterious theft of one’s ring, or the question of whether water exists in other galaxies. They are unsolvable mysteries; and this he can’t tolerate.

Occult, spiritual, religious and other mystical worldviews that claim to honor mystery actually fear and despise mystery, whereas a naturalistic worldview honors mystery. It lets mystery be mysterious, not transparent, simple, or obvious. It never says, “It’s all a great mystery but really it isn’t. Here’s the answer in a DVD.” It never anthropomorphizes the universe and says, “The universe wants this” or “The universe demands that.” When it calls a mystery unsolvable, it means it.

“Dignity, Mystery, and Natural Psychology: Is human dignity possible in an indifferent universe?” | Rethinking Psychology

Does a non-naturalistic religion or worldview really despise mystery? Or does it just treat mystery in a different way from what this author would prefer?

Very interesting to think about.

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Morton Smith, “II Isaiah and the Persians”

I recently read Morton Smith’s article “II Isaiah and the Persians,” which is quite enlightening for the study of Deutero-Isaiah. Smith argues that Deutero-Isaiah (specifically, Isaiah 40-48) is strongly influenced by Persian thought and, especially, Cyrus’ propaganda against Babylon.

Go check it out. You can find it in Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 415-421, and Shaye J. D. Cohen, ed., The Cult of Yahweh, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 73-83.

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Isaiah 40:3-8: MT, LXX, Gospels

Continuing in my text criticism/analysis of Deutero-Isaiah, here’s Isaiah 40:3-8. Like before, I’m using the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text as the bases for my criticism and analysis. English translations are my own.

LXX:
3 A voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Ready the Lord’s road,
Make straight our God’s paths.
4 Every valley will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low,
And everything crooked will be made straight,
And the rugged will be made into a plain.
5 And the Lord’s glory will be seen,
And all flesh will see God’s salvation,
Because the Lord has spoken.”

6 The voice of one speaking: “Shout!”
And I said, “What should I shout?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all a man’s glory is like a flower of grass.
7 The grass is dried up, and the flower falls,
8 But our God’s word remains forever.

MT:
3 A voice calling out in the wilderness:
“Clear out YHWH’s road,
Smooth out highways in the desert for our God.
4 Every valley will be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low,
And the crooked will be made into a level place,
And the rugged places will be made into a plain.
5 And YHWH’s glory will be uncovered,
And all flesh will see together
That YHWH’s mouth has spoken.

6 A voice saying, “Call out!”
And he says, “What should I call out?
All flesh is grass,
And all his faithfulness is like a flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because YHWH’s breath blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.”

Verse-by-Verse Analysis

Verse 3:
In the desert Because the LXX has the shorter reading of this verse, it is to be preferred over the MT’s reading. The MT’s “in the desert” is probably an addition to the text, to make it clear where YHWH’s highways are.

Verse 4:
Overall, this verse is promising that, when YHWH returns Judah to their land, he will make it suitable for agriculture. In filling in the valleys, leveling the hills, and removing the stones from the rugged places, he will remove the impediments to farming that plague the Judean countryside.

Will be brought low The LXX’s “will be brought low” (tapeinothesetai) means, literally, “will be humiliated.” It is strange to use the word in the sense of “level off” (which is the meaning it carries here, in parallel with “will be filled”); however, it corresponds exactly with the MT’s yishpalu, which carries the same force – it denotes being “brought low,” but it connotes being “humiliated.”

Will be made straight “Will be made,” in lines 3-4 of this verse, is a gloss. The LXX reads, literally:

And everything that is crooked will be into straightness,
And the rugged (fem. sg.) into a plain.

Likewise, the MT reads, literally:

And the crooked will be into a level place,
And the rugged places into a plain.

Verse 5:
See God’s salvation/See together 
The LXX’s reading is a harmonization with the content of 40:9-11, which describes how God will lead Judah back to their country, as a sort of second Exodus, which means that the MT’s text is more original.

Nevertheless, the LXX’s alteration, along with the scribal error in verses 7-8 (see below), changes the tone of the passage distinctly, making it more hopeful than the MT. In both the LXX and MT, YHWH’s glory is associated with radical changes to the landscape and with the fleeting nature of humanity; however, the MT goes further and describes YHWH’s breath as devastating, while the LXX goes in a completely different direction and relates how God’s glory will being salvation to the whole world. (It is, of course, not difficult to see why Luke — uniquely among the Gospel writers — includes the LXX version of this verse in his description of John the Baptist, whom he saw as Jesus’ forerunner.)

Because the Lord has spoken (LXX) It is possible to read the LXX’s “because the Lord has spoken” as “the Lord has said,” with verses 3b-5b as a quotation from YHWH (who would then be identified with the Wilderness Voice). This latter reading makes good sense in context, as v. 6a shows the “voice of one speaking” as issuing Isaiah’s call to prophesy. However, from a purely grammatical point of view, this reading is unnatural, so I have not followed it.

(N.B. Though I do not make an explicit connection in my translation that YHWH = the Wilderness Voice, I think a strong case for this identity may be made exegetically, based on verse 6a. Generally speaking, I think it is poor translational practice to make explicit what the text before you leaves implicit, so I have done exactly that.)

It is worth noting that, if the voice of 3a and 6a are the same person – namely, YHWH – then the Gospel writers have misinterpreted this passage. Each of them (Mk 1:2; Mt 3:3; Lk 3:4; Jn 1:23) have the Wilderness Voice as John the Baptist (John’s Gospel actually has the Baptist explicitly identifying himself with the Wilderness Voice). What seems likely to me is that, because John the Baptist was a prophetic figure who stationed himself in the wilderness, and because he was, in the Christians’ estimation, Jesus’ precursor/predecessor, the Gospel writers used this passage as a proof text to validate John’s authority and, thus, to equate Jesus with YHWH.

Verse 6:
And I/he
said The LXX has “And I said” while the MT has “And he said.” In the case of the LXX, verse 6 is a dialogue, which may be expressed as follows:

Voice: Shout!
Narrator: What should I shout?
Voice: All flesh is grass,
And all a man’s glory is like a flower of grass. . . .

The MT, however, presents verse 6 in the mouth of only one speaker, as here:

Voice: Call out!
What should I call out?
All flesh is grass,
And all his faithfulness is like a flower of the field. . . .

Line 2 in the MT is thus a rhetorical question in the Wilderness Voice’s proclamation, while the LXX presents it as a second speaker in a dialogue. The MT’s reading is so awkward that I can’t help but think it is corrupt, and I thus prefer the reading of the LXX, as do the NLT, ESV, NRSV, and NIV. The KJV follows the Hebrew text woodenly.

The NET translates this verse as follows, taking some explanatory liberties in the translation:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
And all their promises are like the flowers in the field. . . .”

The NET’s notes remark that “[a]pparently a second ‘voice’ responds to the command of the first ‘voice.’ While this interpretation, i’ll admit, does more justice to the MT as it stands, it makes the most sense to follow the LXX’s wording.

All a man’s glory/All his faithfulness The MT’s “faithfulness” is more difficult than the LXX’s “glory,” so the MT is to be considered more original here. However, both readings do make sense in context, so neither should be deprecated; instead, we should see them as two separate traditions of the text.

The LXX contrasts human fame, which is fleeting and impermanent, with God’s declarations, which are fixed and eternal; the LXX’s version is thus a meditation on humanity’s ultimate insignificance. The MT, on the other hand, contrasts human fickleness and flakiness with God’s ultimate reliability.

Verses 7-8:
Compare the reading of the LXX here:

7 The grass is dried up, and the flower falls,
8 But our God’s word remains forever.

with that of the MT:

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because YHWH’s breath blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But our God’s word will stand forever.

The most likely explanation for the difference between these two texts is scribal error. That is, at some point in the production and/or transmission of the LXX – whether in the transmission of the LXX’s Hebrew source, in the act of translation itself, or in the transmission of the Greek text of the LXX – a scribe/the translator unintentionally skipped from the first line of v. 7 to the last line of v. 8. (The proper term for this error is homeoteleuton.)

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More on the Hebrew and Greek Texts of Ezekiel 2

I did some more digging after I posted about Ezekiel 2 in the Septuagint a couple of weeks ago. I found a couple articles dealing with the problem of the differences between the Hebrew text (the Masoretic text; hereafter, MT) of Ezekiel 2 and the same text in the Septuagint (hereafter, LXX):

E. Tov, “Recensional Differences between the MT and LXX of Ezekiel,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 62 (1986): 89-101.

Jake Stromberg, “Observations on Inner-Scriptural Scribal Expansion in MT Ezekiel,” Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008): 68-86.

Tov argues (as does Stromberg after him) that the LXX text of Ezekiel is older than that of the MT. Tov sees two reasons for this argument. First, the text of LXX Ezekiel is roughly 4-5% shorter than that of MT Ezekiel. This means that either the translator was loose with his translation and felt free to leave things out as he saw fit, or, if he was strict in his translation, his Hebrew text must have been shorter than what is recorded in the MT (Tov 91-92).

Tov’s second reason, however, narrows the options down to a quite comfortable and manageable level. Analyses of the vocabulary of LXX Ezekiel (see Tov 92, n. 11) have shown that the LXX translator was strict and consistent in his translation, which can only mean that his Hebrew text was shorter than that of the MT. Thus, this means that the MT is an expanded version of original Ezekiel, rather than the LXX being a shortened version thereof.

So, revisiting the two texts:

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’” (ESV, from Hebrew)

1 This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord, and I looked and fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And he said to me: Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you. 2 And a spirit came upon me and took me up and raised me and set me upon my feet, and I heard him speaking to me, 3 and he said to me, Son of Man, I am sending you out to the house of Israel, those who are embittering me — who embittered me, they and their fathers, to this very day, 4 and you shall say to them, “This is what the Lord says.” (NETS, from LXX)

Verse 1: Same as my last post; nothing big here, except that the two texts divide the chapters differently.

Verse 2: It’s not that the LXX turns the story into an otherworld journey, as I previously thought, but that the MT removes the signals that Ezekiel is on an otherworld journey. Both the LXX and MT mention Ezekiel being:

  • possessed by a spirit/the Spirit
  • lifted to his feet (he had fallen to the ground in his trance, 1:1-3, 28)
  • spoken to by God.

However, the MT leaves out Ezekiel being:

  • taken up (ἀνέλαβέν; i.e. into heaven)
  • raised (ἐξῆρέν; more at “taken away,” but again, into heaven)

So, while the MT has Ezekiel’s commission from God takes place while Ezekiel’s still standing by the Chebar canal (1:1-3), the LXX implies quite strongly that Ezekiel’s commission takes place in heaven.

Therefore, I still say that the LXX provides relatively early evidence of a mystical tradition surrounding Ezekiel’s merkabah vision, but I change my opinion at two points: 1) it is likely that original Ezekiel represented this mystical tradition, including a (shamanic) trance, spirit-possession, and journey to heaven; 2) at some point and for whatever reason, the text represented in the MT was edited down to remove Ezekiel’s journey to heaven, leaving him with his feet planted firmly on earth during his commission.

Verse 3: The LXX doesn’t skip goyim (“peoples,” sometimes derogatory, in the sense of “Gentiles”) here; the MT adds it. Tov (93) thinks that the MT includes goyim in order to soften the blow of  the next word, hammordim (“rebellious”), but I’m not sure; this phrase, goyim hammordim, is found mostly in rabbinic Hebrew (Tov 93, n. 16), so I think it likely that this addition was made by a later scribe or rabbi who added this more-or-less stock phrase into the text, whether thoughtlessly or intentionally, without intending to change the meaning.

I’m not so sure now, though, whether goyim carries its own pejorative force here, or whether the pejorative sense rests more on hammordim. I’d need to read more about the sense of goyim hammordim in rabbinic literature, to see what the range of meaning — and range of insult — the phrase carries there. Suffice it to say, for now, that both the LXX and MT here cast Israel in a negative light.

Verse 4: The addition to the MT here (“The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them”) is, as Tov points out, totally redundant, and derives its content not only from the surrounding context, but also 3:&, 33:3-5; 34:9; and Deut 9:6-13 (Tov 93). These sort of expansions — that is, expansions based not only on the immediate context, but also on other biblical texts — are pretty prevalent in MT Ezekiel (Stromberg 70-83; cf. Tov 93-99).

Conclusion:
In sum, between the time the LXX was translated (2nd-1st centuries BCE, give or take) and the time the MT was canonized, a scribe changed the text of Ezekiel. In some cases, he added to and expanded the text, such as in 2:3 and 2:4, in order to make the text easier to understand or to fit the idioms of his day. In other cases, he deleted things from the text, as in 2:2, where he sanitized the text and removed Ezekiel’s otherworld journey.

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The Apocalyptic Messiah and the Philosophical Trinity

Andrew Perriman has a great post on the difference between the biblical narrative of Jesus and the later doctrines of the Trinity. Here’s an excerpt:

Such an understanding of the Trinity binds our God into the narrative of history, not in modalist or process terms, but perhaps eschatologically: it is our way of saying that we relate to God only on the grounds of the messianic intervention in the story of Israel and of the hope of a final new creation to which that intervention gave rise. Significantly, Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that at the end the “kingdom”—this authority to rule—will be given back to God the Father, with even the Son subjecting himself to him. That would make the “Trinitarian” arrangement contingent, not absolute, confined to the circumstances of human history and the contextualized witness of the covenant people. . . .

The doctrine of the Trinity may not come into quite the same category of redundant intellectual furniture as theories of the atonement, but if we are going to retain the construct, I would argue that it has to be done in a way that is much more transparent to the dominant lines of biblical thought. Clearly we still need to be able to speak coherently about Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but I seriously wonder whether the Western ontological-relational paradigm still serves a useful purpose. As with the atonement, I suspect that the narrative-historical approach has a lot to teach us.

Go check it out.

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Creeds, Doctrine, and Prophetic Images

Speaking of Walter Brueggemann (see my last post), I though I’d share an excerpt from an interview he gave a few years ago. It’s been stuck in my mind since I listened to it several months ago, and the more I think about it, the more I agree with it.

Ms. Tippett: I’d love to talk about your image of God, and I want you to talk about that more personally. But I thought I might start, you know, for example, in one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry, Isaiah, and you talk about that it offers five images for God. This is just one — (laughter) one passage in Isaiah: “A demolition squad, a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place, the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of, the powerful sea monster he will swallow up death forever, a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces.” How are normal people, not biblical scholars, how are they to make sense of a text like that? Of a God — who God is?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, they’re going to make sense of it if they have good preachers and teachers to help them pause long enough to take in the imagery. But you see, what the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation and then it’s deathly. So we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that is healthier than that, you’re going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame.

Otherwise, you’re just going to be left with these dead formulation, which, again, is why the poetry is so important because the poetry just keeps opening and opening and opening so more metaphors gives more access to God and one can work one metaphor awhile, but you can’t treat that as though that’s the last word. You got to move and have another and another. That’s what I think. It’s just amazing. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, there are just endless metaphors.

Ms. Tippett: It is — dwelling with the images, again, is very different from memorizing Bible verses. And it’s even different from reading the Bible.

Mr. Brueggemann: That’s right, that’s right. I happen to think memorizing Bible verses is a good thing because then you have the text available that can yield this stuff. Because what a metaphor or image does is to invite you to keep walking around it and looking at it another way and noticing something else. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. . . .

Ms. Tippett: So if I asked you this way in terms of your image of God, you know, are there metaphors that have spoken to you across time or that speak to you now that didn’t before? Are there metaphors that have come to you in your life as a human being and in your study as a scholar and your work as a preacher to be more and more meaningful?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, I think they basically arise out of my continuing to look at the text and it depends on what text I’m looking at. Obviously, that is then related to what’s going on in my life that day. For example, if I take the phrase — and I can’t even remember where it is — “Let me be the apple of your eye.” That’s a very strange phrase, but what that pictures is a God who’s a big eye that looks at you caringly and treasuring you. So what I imagine from that, it’s like being a little kid that’s lost in a department store and you finally go around the corner and there’s your mother looking at you and you’re safe again. So I want to have God look at me that way.

Now I don’t want to construct the whole theology out of that phrase, but that’s enough for that day and I’ll find — I’ll be given another phrase another day like that. So that’s kind of how my mind works. It doesn’t yield a doctrinal package; it just yields a bunch of fragments that are not easily fit together. But the reason that works for me is that I am aware that I as a person without entity, I am essentially a collection of fragments that do not fit very well together, so that’s OK.

If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to the whole interview (it’s about an hour long). He talks about a lot more than just this topic, and all of it is good.

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Walter Brueggemann: Empire and Neighborhood

Check out this short (4:34) interview with Walter Brueggemann over at the Alter Video Magazine. Brueggemann talks about the difference between “empire,” which he describes as “therapeutic technological consumer militarism” and “a coercive apparatus to cause all resources to flow to the narrow top that depends on cheap labor at the bottom,” and “neighborhood,” which he says “imagines organizing social power in an egalitarian way from below.” He also talks about the influence different oppressive empires had on the Old Testament, and compares that to the crisis of the Church in the middle of the American empire.

Very good stuff.

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