Saturday, September 18, 2010

Do we really need a C.S. Lewis Bible?

I enjoy reading the works of C.S. Lewis. Actually, I more enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia. His other classics like "The Great Divorce" and Screw Tape Letters" are also worth a read.

But do we need a C.S. Lewis Bible???? Lewis was neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar, but he was a good thinker. Nonetheless, I doubt he would be very pleased to know that a publisher is pairing his "spiritual writings" with passages in the Bible to give fresh insights into Lewis's works, his own spiritual journey, and the scriptures themselves.

I smell money here.

Here ends my Saturday morning rant.

Yom Kippur 2010: Part Three

Today’s post does not examine the rituals of the modern celebration of Yom Kippur, but the personal convictions of those who live in modern Israel. While many aspects of the feast have survived over the centuries, the concept varies with each individual. To accomplish this we will hear from two modern Israelis. In 1997 interviewed two Israelis about their view of Yom Kippur. Although from 13 years ago, I think they provide some insight to the variety of beliefs in modern Judaism.

Moshe is an Orthodox Jew who lives in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Moshe has just finished a seven year study of the Talmud and is intimately familiar with the tractates concerning Yom Kippur. However, Moshe prefers to call the day not the Day of Atonement, but the Day of Purification. Moshe uses terms like attempting and striving to describe the desired end of his prayer and fasting. He does not consider the day to be one concerned with sin, but with gaining a relationship with God. He is convinced that he can do nothing about his sinfulness, and is better off working on his relationship with God. He likens himself and others to small helpless plants in the hand of the Maker who need to be watered and nurtured.

On Yom Kippur he will recite four major prayers in which are the thread of confession. He does not see any particular power in the words of the prayers, but in their ability to make him look inward. Though he repeats the prayers every year, each year he considers something new.

At the end of the day he will participate in the closing hymns, dancing, and the statement "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem". Moshe believes in the fulfillment of prophecy and is living in the rebuilt Jerusalem waiting for the third temple to be built. He believes that sacrifice will be re-instituted, but it will not affect the way he approaches the holy day.

Jonathan lives in West Jerusalem and classifies himself as a "concerned secular" Jew. Jonathan will not celebrate Yom Kippur in the traditional manner. When he was a boy growing up in Canada Yom Kippur was a day that he celebrated because of the connection it gave those in the Diaspora to Israel. Upon coming to Israel in the early 1970's he began to find that for him the holidays were more a symbol of nationalism than religion. This is especially true to Jonathan and many others his age who remember the terror of the Yom Kippur War and the bitter days that followed. For him it is not a day of repentance, but remembrance.

Jonathan also has personal convictions that prevent him from participating in the holy day. He is unsure of institutionalized repentance. Many times he observes people at the wall praying, but the next day are living as if they have a new lease to sin. Jonathan approaches repentance as a daily act on a personal level. He would rather be constantly in reflection instead of only once a year. This year he enjoyed Yom Kippur as a quiet day at home watching videos with his family and eating a good dinner. In the evening he may go to the synagogue to expose his children to the heritage of the day, but he will not force them to participate in Yom Kippur.

In 1997 Lori and lived in the center of Jerusalem. We lived on a very busy street across from the Prime Minister’s office. The din from the traffic was constant! But on that day in September when all of Israel paused for Yom Kippur everything in Jerusalem came to as stop. Few if any cars were driven. Families went out for walks and children could roller skate in what was a very busy street 364 days of the year. We did not attend any services at the synagogue nor did we go anywhere since everything was closed. But I remember being impressed how an entire nation took time to pause and personally reflect on their lives individually and together.

Yom Kippur has gone through many developments from its invention till present. While as an institution it has survived the centuries, it has also developed to meet the needs of its era. Yom Kippur is a day for repentance. Regardless of how the act is carried out it is a time when all people can reflect upon their life, and that of their families. It is a time to ask God and others for forgiveness and a closer relationship with one another. It is a day intended to remind us of what we should do every other day of the year.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bart Simpson on the Life of Grad Students

Everyone who has been through the gauntlet called a PhD program will be able to identify with Bart Simpsons take on Grad Students. Enjoy the Weekend!

Yom Kippur 2010: Part Two

Yesterday we looked the development and celebration of Yom Kippur in Ancient Israel. Today we look at the way the day was celebrated in the period following the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

With the culminating events of 70 A.D. Judaism was challenged to continue as a religion without the center of its cultic practices. In response to this crisis the Sages declared that: Prayer, repentance, and charity avert the evil decree (Ta'an 2:1, 65b). Thus, while Judaism ceased animal sacrifice, atonement was able to be acquired through the sacrifices of prayer, repentance, and good works.

Until the destruction of the temple, the scapegoat was seen as the atonement for sin. After 70 A.D., however, the Day of Atonement itself was seen as the mode of atonement (Milgrom, "The Day of Atonement” Encyclopedia of Judaica, 5:1378). Celebrating the feast was not enough, however, if it was not accompanied by acts of confession and repentance (m. Yoma 8.8-9).

Repentance could affect atonement for smaller transgressions against positive and negative commands. Graver transgressions, on the other hand, were suspended by repentance until the Day of Atonement could affect atonement (m. Yoma 8.8). Furthermore, the Day of Atonement may cover sins between God and man, but between two men restitution must take place before atonement is affected (m. Yoma 8.9). Consequently, the day evolved from being steeped in ceremonial requirements into a day of self consideration. The actual day existed more as a reminder of atonement than as an effecter of atonement.

The requirements that were laid upon the people also were further defined. According to the Sages denying oneself occurred in five ways by prohibitions against: eating and drinking, washing oneself (for pleasure), anointing the body, wearing shoes (of leather), and sexual intercourse (m. Yoma 8.1). Children were exempt from all prohibitions except for the wearing of leather shoes. Milgrom notes, however, that many in the second temple period through the Middle Ages insisted that children observe the laws of affliction (Milgrom, 1378).

With the absence of the temple prayer, confession, and reading of the Torah replaced the sacrificial ceremony. There is no definite knowledge about the prayers recited on the Day of Atonement. It was, however, the only day of the year that had five prayers. One specific prayer recited was the prayer of confession. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, confession was made prior to the last meal eaten and again after it. This is in addition to all of the prayers recited the next day.

During the morning service six people are chosen to read from the Torah the sections on the Day of Atonement and various prohibitions listed in the scriptures. In the afternoon the book of Jonah and Micah 7:18-20 will be read because their subject is ideal for repentance, its effect, and God's forgiving mercy.

The sages of the rabbinical period were not seeking to create a new aspect of Judaism, but were trying to fulfill the aspects of the Day of Atonement that is required for a right relationship with God. Without a temple or sacrifices the holiday and a life style of repentance had to be satisfactory for atonement.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yom Kippur 2010:

This Saturday, September 18th, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The holiday begins at sundown Friday and ends Saturday evening.

Yom Kippur is commonly recognized as the most important religious holiday in Judaism. It is a time for personal reflection on sin and the realization of forgiveness for that sin.

Since Christianity developed in and from Judaism I thought it might be good to do a short series on this holiday. We begin today with examining how the holiday was observed during the period of ancient Israel. On Friday we will look at how it developed in the Post-Biblical period after the temple was destroyed and sacrifice ended. On Saturday we will look at how the holiday is observed today. This last part of the series will include interviews with two Israeli Jews, one orthodox the other secular. I will also include some of my memories of Yom Kippur 1997 when my wife and I lived in Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur in Ancient Israel

The ordinances of the Day of Atonement are found in Leviticus 16, with supplementary material found in Leviticus 23:26-31 and Numbers 29:7-11. Many scholars, however, do not see the feast in chapter 16 as the earliest development, but as a progressive outgrowth of temple cleansing ceremonies. One reason for this conclusion is the introductory statement to the ordinances concerning the death of Aaron's sons and the forbiddance of Aaron to enter the holy place. The text seems to indicate that the sin of Nadab and Abihu warranted a special day that would stress both the holiness of God and personal cleansing.

Chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel are often viewed as the climate in which the Day of Atonement of Leviticus 16 could develop. The discussion of architectural plans and guilt offerings creates an atmosphere that honors the holiness of God who dwells in Israel's midst. Ezekiel 45:19-20 indicates two days a year in which the temple was to be cleansed, on the first day of the first and seventh months. These cleansing ordinances correspond closely with the rites of the high priest in Leviticus 16. Apparently the early form of an atonement day and the need for temple purification were combined to create a single holy day which honored the holiness of the God of Israel. Eventually this was celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri.

Thus the day of Atonement, as found in Leviticus 16, does not seem to have existed in the form it is presented to the reader. It evidently began as a response to the tragedy of Aaron's sons and was later fully developed in the priestly documents concerning temple cleansing.

Aside from the historical development of the day, it is the ritual described in Leviticus 16 that became the basis for celebration. There are two aspects of the day that are important: the requirements of the people and the rituals performed by the priest.

There are three requirements explained in 16:29-34. First, the day is to be celebrated annually making a yearly atonement for the people. Second, the day is to be a Sabbath, ceasing all work done by both Israelites and the foreigners who live among them. Third, it is a day in which they must deny themselves. The idea of denying one's self is often interpreted as a day of fasting. While the Leviticus text does not specify a fast, other passages in the scripture speak explicitly of denying or afflicting the soul as fasting (Ps 35:13; Isa 58:3, 5, 10).

Apart from general requirements for the people, the majority of the passage is concerned with the performance of ritual by the high priest. There were three separate procedures which made up the day: 1) The sacrifice for the priest; 2) The sacrifice for the people; and 3) The ceremony of the scapegoat.

The requirement for the priest and his household was a young bull (Lev 16:6). The animal was placed in the courtyard where slaughter usually took place. The priest would lay his hands upon the head of the animal and confess his sins and that of his household. At the end of this confession was a pronunciation containing the sacred name. Taking the blood from the slain bull and an incense censor the priest would enter the sanctuary to sprinkle the mercy seat seven times in order to cover the sins of the priests. He would then retreat to the courtyard to prepare the offering for the people.

The requirement for the people was one of two goats chosen by lot (Lev 16:8-10). The chosen goat was slaughtered and its blood carried into the sanctuary by the priest to sprinkle the ark seven times. He would then return and exchange the goat's blood for the bull's and sprinkle the veil of the holy place seven times, then again with the goat's blood. Finally, he would combine both animals’ blood and anoint the horns of the altar of incense. He would then pour the rest out at the base of the altar of burnt offering. At the end of this ritual the sanctuary and its implements were atoned from man's sinfulness.

The third phase was the ritual of the scapegoat. This was intended to symbolize the removal of the sin of Israel from the camp. After confessing the sins of the people upon the animal's head, the priest turned the animal over to a man who was responsible for leading it into the wilderness (Lev 16:20-22). In later periods stations were set up to watch the progress of the goat and to report when it had reached the wilderness. Those who had gathered also participated by yelling at the goat and pulling at its wool to help drive it away. At the end of the route there was a cliff. According to legend, the attendant would tie a scarlet thread around the animal’s neck and push it over the cliff. The legend further states that, a scarlet thread hanging in the sanctuary would turn white at the moment the goat perished. A sign that the people were cleansed from their sins (M. Yoma 6.8; cf. Isa 1:18).

The day was completed by the priest taking a change of gold clothing in place of his white linen. He would then officiate over a final burnt offering in which the fat from the bull and goat sacrifice was used. The remaining carcass of the animals were taken outside the camp to be burned (Lev 16:23-28).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Book on Paul and Women!

A few weeks back I did a series on Women in the Life of the Apostle Paul. Since that series received a warm response I thought I would pass on the following book announcement from Anselm Academic.

Women in Ministry and the Writings of Paul

In a world in which women continue to struggle for equality, Women in Ministry and the Writings of Paul presents a fascinating overview of women who played a vital role in the life of early Christian communities, a role that continues in modern times. Through her thoughtful analysis of Paul’s writings, the person of Paul, and other scriptural and historical evidence, author Karen M. Elliott corrects common misperceptions about the role of women in the Church and establishes women as coworkers and fellow missionaries essential in the development of Christianity. Appealing to students regardless of religious background or belief, Elliott affirms Paul’s central tenet that the call to Christian discipleship, rooted in baptism, is given to all, regardless of gender. The author provides thought-provoking questions for discussion and reflection at the end of each chapter so that students have the opportunity to further explore the ministry of women as well as the person of Paul, his theology of baptism, and his views on women. A glossary and extensive bibliography provide resources for students and instructors to explore the content in greater depth.

Karen M. Elliott C.PP.S., DMin, is associate professor and chair of the religious studies department at Mercy College of Northwest Ohio, Toledo. She holds a doctor of ministry degree in Scripture from Barry University, Miami Shores, FL, and an MA in theology from St. Michael’s College, Colchester, VT. Elliott also serves as faculty presenter for the lay ministry formation program in the Catholic diocese of Toledo.

I look forward to reading what Elliott has to say and plan to post a review of her book in the coming weeks.

Jesus on Toast?

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened. From time to time a story hits the news about a food-related religious sighting. In 1994 there was the famous Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese which eventually sold on eBay for $28,000. In 2005 it was the Jesus Pierogi and before that the Jesus Tortilla in 1977. I guess if this kind of thing is important to you its possible we would find you carefully scanning your food for yet another theophany.

Well Galen Dively has come up with a product that will reduce your wait time to about 2 minutes. That's right folks. Dively has invented a Jesus Toaster that burns an image of Jesus on your toast. It uses infrared lights steel plates to burn the image on the toast.

Dively says that he is not trying to be sacrilegious. He notes that his grandfather was a reverend and that his children went to Catholic school.

I won't say much more about this other than I am surprised it took so long for someone to do something like this.

A Supper of Biblical Portions

It seems that art does imitate life. Brian and Craig Wansink published a study in the International Journal of Obesity in April of this year in which they document how the food portions in Last Supper paintings have grown by some 69%. The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has also picked up on the story and since I was not blogging back in March/April when the story first broke I decided to post an entry.

In their study the Wansink brothers examined 52 of the most famous Last Supper paintings dating from as early as the year 10,000 till 2000. They analyzed the size of the food on the table and the size of the heads in the painting. What they discovered was that the size of the entrees increased by as much as 69% while the bread increased by 66%. They concluded that as food became more plentiful in society it was reflected in the paintings of the Last Supper.

The study yielded other interesting observations. Not only did the amount of food increase, so did the variety. In one painting there is a plate of eels and basket of fluffy bread. The problem, of course, is that neither are the kind of food you would expect at a kosher celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

This study serves as a good example of how our interpretation of the Bible is often influenced by the time and culture we live in. The artists assumptions about the amount and type of food that was present at the Last Supper were influenced by the availability of food to him. All of our efforts at interpretation are conditioned by the external forces around us. It is not that these forces are bad in and of themselves. But we need to be aware of them when we read the Bible and try not to let them influence how we read the text.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Inerrancy or Inherency?

One topic that invariably arises in almost every class I teach is whether or not I think the Bible is inerrant. Students who hear me lecture sooner or later figure out that I do not hold to inerrancy. For those of you not familiar with this term it is used by many Evangelicals to claim that the Bible is free from error. When I tell them "No, I don't hold to a belief in inerrancy" the next question is usually "So are you saying there are mistakes in the Bible?"

I think this is the wrong question. The problem with this approach is that it often wants the Bible to lineup with 21st century expectations. It fails to take into account the fact that the Bible was not written with us in mind and that authors were writing and working within their own historical and cultural context. This means that sometimes they did some very creative things with history that would simply not wash in our time. I will not start listing examples or reasons why I don't hold to inerrancy since this is a well worn argument. The more one studies the Bible the more you realize just how unsupportable of a claim it is. When we hold to inerrancy we end up making the Bible fit into our perceptions of what we think the Bible should be rather than standing back and discovering what it really is.

One thing that I always find bemusing is the qualification that almost everyone uses when talking about inerrancy. They state that their adherence to inerrancy is valid only in relation to the autographs. The problem with this, of course, is that we do not have any of the original documents of the Bible. Not even one! So if inerrancy only applies to them, why are we talking about something we don't have?

Defenders of inerrancy will accuse me of oversimplifying the subject, and they are right. But my purpose is not to enter in a prolonged argument.

Recently I ran across an article by Walter Brueggeman in which he discusses Biblical Authority. Rather than inerrancy, Brueggeman discusses inherency. Here is what he says.

The Bible is inherently the live word of God, revealing the character and will of God and empowering us for an alternative life in the world. While I believe in the indeterminacy of the text to some large extent, I know that finally the Bible is forceful and consistent in its main theological claim. It expresses the conviction that the God who created the world in love redeems the world in suffering and will consummate the world in joyous well being.

I like this. I think it allows us to recognize the Bible for what it is while still acknowledging that, for some of us, it is the word of God.

As I have said earlier, the Bible is complex and does not always fit our view of what it should be. But at the same time I have acknowledged time and again that what I find in the pages of the scripture are the words of life. The Bible is a mystery to me. It puzzles me, angers me, encourages me and guides me. The more I study it the more I realize how little of it I understand. And while at times I may find parts of it to be unhistorical or even contradictory, I also believe that it is inherently the Word of God. I don't mean that God spoke the words. But I do mean that God speaks to me though the Bible, sometimes in spite of it. That is the mystery and wonder of the Bible. That God somehow speaks to us through what is often a very human book. In spite of everything I know about the Bible it is also inherently the Word of God.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tony Blair on Why Faith Matters

I have posted a couple of things on here about faith lately. Lori pointed out an article to me by Tony Blair, the former Prime minister of the UK. In the article, "Why Faith Matters," Blair describes how he came to faith even though he was raised in an atheist home. It is short and worth a read. Sometimes we don't realize that very public figures have had private faith journeys. I am glad that Blair has decided to share his with us.

Stonybrook United Methodist Church Small Group Retreat 2010

I had a great two days with 20 lay leaders from Stonybrook UMC in Gahanna, Oho. Ryan Gear, the Associate Pastor asked me to come and talk to the group about studying the Bible.

We gathered at a Catholic retreat center in Maria Stein, Ohio for three two hour sessions. We touched on a number of topics as wide-ranging as the nature of scripture, textual criticism, translation, exegesis, the problems cultural relativity and resources for studying.

This was a serious, engaging group of people who are clearly dedicated to providing those they teach with good information and the skills to do Bible study on their own. I believe they will be doing great things with the people they lead.

Thanks to everyone for the invitation and the opportunity to share with you. I enjoyed meeting you all.