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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gerhard von Rad - Anamnesis

Israel's poetry was "the one possible form for expressing special basic insights."  Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology Vol. 1 (New York, Harper & Row Trans. 1962), at page 109.  The poetry made Israel's history present: "It was not just there along with prose as something one might elect to use - a more elevated form of discourse as it were then - but poetry alone enabled a people to express experiences met with in the course of their history in such a way as to make the past become absolutely present." Von Rad at page 109.  This reminds me of the theological idea of "anamnesis" which was the subject of a previous post dealing with remembering - making present - which we see in the celebration of Jewish feasts and in the Eucharist.

There is a powerful lesson here.  Our modern minds have great difficulty making the past present because we live by what von Rad calls "the law of historical exclusiveness." Page 110.  "We have to further consider that in their presentation of religious material the peoples of antiquity were not aware of the law of historical exclusiveness, according to which a certain event or a certain experience can be attached only to a single definite point in history.  In particular, events bearing a saving character retained for all posterity, and in that posterity's eyes, a contemporaneousness which it is hard for us to appreciate."
Von Rad at 110.

The poetic stories of Israel address those "who credit Jahweh with great acts of history."  Von Rad at page 109.   The OT is not a systematically ordered "world of the faith."  Von Rad at 111.  The OT testimonies are not about the faith, but about Jahweh.  "Never, in these testimonies about history, did Israel point to her own faith, but to Jahweh."   Page. 111. And here you find the kind of  beautiful sentences which make von Rad even in translation from the German a joy to read:

Faith undoubtedly finds very clear expression in [the testimonies]; but as a subject it lies concealed, and can often only be grasped by means of a variety of inferences which are often psychological and on that account problematical.   In a word, the faith is not the subject of Israel's confessional utterances, but only its vehicle, its mouthpiece.
Von Rad at page 111.

For the believer this is serious business.  The believer makes the stories of Israel present.  God's call of Abraham, his deliverance of the people from Egypt, and  his revelation of the covenant on Mount Sinai are testimonies for today. The testimonies point not to God's people but to God himself.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snowstorm Thoughts on the Two Johns

Jack and Katy at  Glacier NP Montana  July, 2012,
Credit:  Tim Schuessler

The Pope's book on the infancy narratives of Jesus is out just in time for Christmas.   I look forward to reading it. But  I'm snowed in today in Wisconsin, and thanks to Jimmy Akin I'm coming back to my thoughts on  the first of the Pope's three books on Jesus, which I read last summer.  

For anyone who needs a "pep talk" on the historical value of the Gospel of John,  check out Pope Benedict XVI's discussion of that Gospel in his first Jesus book,  Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1 (Doubleday 2007)  In chapter 8 the Pope talks about the two Johns. 

At page 225 the Pope cites John 19:35 and  defends the Apostle John as the eyewitness who authored the Gospel, but he says "the complexity of the Gospel's redaction raises further questions."  P. 225.  How does the text get into its final form?   Citing other scholars who speak of references in Eusebius quoting Papias whose writings are lost, the Pope sees "Presbyter John" as the author of what was told to him by the Apostle John.  Both lived in Ephesus and were part of "the Johannine school" which traced its origins to the Apostle but in which "'Presbyter John' presided  as the ultimate authority."  P.  226.     Papias did not know the Apostle,  but he did know Presbyter John.  

Thanks to these traces of  Papias which we find in Eusebius we can see how through this mysterious Presbyter John the Gospel of John with its powerful  claim to be "eyewitness testimony"  may have come down to us after the synoptic Gospels were written.  Critics say that the Apostle would have been dead by the time his Gospel was written, and that means the writer is presenting stories and traditions that you can't tie to the words and deeds of Jesus.   But if the Presbyter and perhaps other younger associates who were part of the Johannine school, who were close to the eyewitness (the Apostle),  put the  teachings of the Apostle  into final form, that timing  problem is solved.  This argument based on the two Johns, which the Pope beautifully presents, is an excellent push back against those who would have us doubt the historicity of the Gospel of John.  

With this understanding of the two  Johns you can move on to a study of this fascinating question:  Who is the "beloved disciple" whom we see  in the Gospel of John?   Some say it was Lazarus, or some other disciple who was not an apostle.   The text does not say. See chapter 15  of  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses  (Eerdmans 2006) by Richard Bauckham.   I believe the beloved disciple was the Apostle John himself.     But that question will have to be the subject of another post. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dei Verbum Part II - Analogy of Faith

Last post I discussed the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum, which states that in studying the Bible the believer can seek guidance from sacred tradition, the teaching of the church.   In  these two posts I suggest that laypersons should read Dei Verbum itself, and not just the books and articles about it.    Here is my favorite section from  the document: 

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church,  whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

Dei Verbum, chapter II, section 10 (footnotes omitted).

I was jarred when I first read this section of Dei Verbum, and I actually plan on memorizing it because these passionate words from Vatican II  bring to life the adventure of Bible study.     We are not in this alone. The "teaching office of the Church" is there to help as believers approach the holy word of God.

How do I look to the teaching of the church to understand a biblical text, in the spirit of this quoted section from Dei Verbum?    The church rarely  provides guidance on particular texts.  And I can't find anything in Dei Verbum which speaks to this practical Bible study problem.     For practical advice on this subject of how to approach particular texts I strongly recommend the little 2005 book written by Fr. Daniel Harrington, S.J. titled,  How Do Catholics Read the Bible?  

The church's "teaching office" also has some practical advice.   If a particular  text remains unclear to the amateur Bible student, and  the  church has not dealt with that text in its teaching,  the Catechism of the Catholic Church at section 114 offers assistance to the layperson with the idea of "the analogy of faith"  described as follows:

114.   3.   Be attentive to the analogy of faith.  By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and with the whole plan of scripture.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 114.   If an interpretation of a particular text  is contrary to the "truths of faith" and "the whole plan of scripture" which we learn from church teaching, that interpretation is probably wrong.        

If a layperson gets stuck trying to figure out a particular text, realize that Bible study is not always easy.  That's why we have professionals, language study,  scholars and seminaries whose work is encouraged by Dei Verbum, as discussed in the last post.   And yes, Bible study should be done in fellowship with others, because the body of Christ is a community. I just took an Introduction to Scripture  online class, and that helped a lot.     Even after doing all the right things and following the principles of Catholic Bible study, a layperson's study of the Bible may generate more questions than answers, and there is nothing wrong with that.   The more I learn the more questions I have.   Life and faith is full of mystery, and the same goes for the Bible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dei Verbum

Last post I noted that the Vatican II document,  “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, ”known and cited as Dei Verbum has been a helpful guide to me as I continue to learn how to approach the Bible.  There is a lot of talk about Dei Verbum, and scholars write about what other commentators say about it, but why not read the document itself?   It's not difficult to read and understand.  The faith is based on scripture and sacred tradition:

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place." This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

Dei Verbum, chapter 2, section 7 (footnotes and citations omitted).

The document explains the connection between scripture and the sacred tradition (the teaching of the church):

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

Dei Verbum, Chapter 2 section 9.

In chapter 6, at section 23, the church teaches that scholarly study is  important:

The sacred synod encourages the sons of the Church and Biblical scholars to continue energetically, following the mind of the Church, with the work they have so well begun, with a constant renewal of vigor. 

Dei Verbum, chapter 2, section 9 (citing Pius XII, encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu,"  Pontifical Biblical Commission, Instruction on Promoting Biblical Studies, 1943).

 What does this 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu add to the discussion?  In that encyclical Pope Pius XII  set forth what later became known as the Magna Carta of Catholic biblical scholarship.
See John R. Donahue, S. J.,   "Biblical Scholarship 50 Years After Divino Afflante Spiritu," America Magazine, September 18, 1993 which states:

Divino Afflante Spiritu rejects those Catholic conser­vatives who “...pretend that nothing remains to be added by the Catholic exegete of our time to what Christianity has brought to light” (No. 32). Exegesis of the text was to be determined by the literal (or literary) sense, defined as “the literal meaning of the words, intended and expressed by the sacred writer” (No. 26). The letter also approved critical methods urging that exegetes “endeavor to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed” (No. 33). While exegetes were also exhorted “to disclose and expound the spiritual significance intended and ordained by God,” they should “scrupulously refrain from propos­ing as the genuine meaning of Scripture other figurative senses” (No. 27). This reflects Thomas Aquinas’s com­ment that “nothing necessary to faith is contained in the spiritual sense that Scripture does not put forward else­where in the literal sense” (Summa Theologica, 1.1.10). The encyclical exhorted exegetes to be inspired by an “ardent and active love of their subject and be sincerely devoted to Holy Mother Church” (No. 46), encouraged them to tackle unsolved problems and urged that their work be judged “not only with equity and justice, but with charity,” and that “all should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected” (No. 47).

The church here gives the scholar freedom "to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed. ”  Divino Afflante No. 33.    Reading Dei Verbum and Pius XII's encyclical, my guidance from the church here is that I come to the scripture with humility and reverance.  This is the word of God.   I also seek to learn from historical-critical methods which can help me to understand the historical context, the setting and literary form or forms of expression of the biblical text at issue.    After approaching a text with reverence, and after learning from Bible scholars who provide assistance as just described,  what if a particular text remains too difficult for the lay reader to grasp?   That question will be the subject of the next post.  

For me, the teaching of  Dei Verbum is a a spiritual lifeline.    Believers  don't have to be afraid of Bible scholars.  But believers must approach the Bible with reverence and humility, because this is the holy word of God.   That means I am approaching the text with presuppositions based on my faith.   I suppose that James  Kugel would say that's an offering up of your brain for the comfort of faith.  But people who approach the Bible with presuppositions against the faith or indifferent to  the faith need to realize those biases as well, as William Kolbrener says in a previous post in which I have quoted him rebutting Kugel.    From  reading the text of  Dei Verbum, and not from reading books about it, I encountered a subject which surprised me, and that is the idea of faith as a gift.    We take this gift of faith to the study of the Bible.    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

James Kugel - How to Read the Bible

I just finished reading James Kugel's 2007 book,   How to Read the Bible, which received the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award by by the Jewish Book Council.   He argues that modern scholars read the Bible one way, and traditional religionists ("the interpreters") another.   Anyone who is honest, he argues, would see that the modern scholars have the facts on their side.   After you get a handle on that, you can still find some religious meaning in the "interpreted" Bible.  See page 45: " ... I am a believer in the divine inspiration of Scripture and an inheritor of many of the traditions of ancient interpreters cited in this book ...."    

Kugel writes:  "What the modern biblical scholars say about the Bible is often not sublime or uplifting.  Indeed, if they are right and what the Bible is really about is different authors with their particular interests and programs, if it has to do only with contradictory details and hunter-gatherer societies and folkloristic motifs, then why bother with it at all?"  P. 57 (italics in original).  He proceeds with detailed discussions of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the great flood, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, the Psalms and the prophets, 773 pages in all, from this scholar, but written for the general reader.  In each case, Kugel shows the wisdom of the approach taken by the modern scholar, by pointing out the bible authors' true concerns and contradictory details,  and the defects of  the traditional approaches to each story taken by the "interpreters."  

I understand the idea of looking at each text with fresh eyes and listen to the evidence of the "plain sense" of the meaning of each text.  And it is helpful to point out things from that evidence, such as the fact that when we get to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 as a person in that culture  he likely believed there were many gods.  Kugel, at p.  91 (citing Josh. 24:2-3).  With that in mind, it's not credible to say, as some of the "interpreters" say, that Abraham was the founder of monotheism.  P. 103.  That's not a point that should shake any believer's faith, that Yahweh called Abraham in a culture where people worshiped other gods (Josh. 24:2-3) and that in doing so Abraham may have retained certain ideas from the old religions.  From a reading of the texts we can't be sure of what was in the mind of Abraham after he was called by Yahweh.  (Catholics may refer to the Lord as Yahweh, and I realize that such naming is an issue for Jewish believers, and I mean no disrespect here. The OT naming of God is a large subject.)   We do know that Abraham  called on the name of Yahweh,  and that he  lived among the Canaanites,  and I have posted on that.   But Kugel missed the issue in his discussion of the call of Abraham.  God is the central character in that narrative.    Our Lord God  is the central character of almost all of the books of the  OT.  

But I had a hard time finding the Lord in  How to Read the Bible. Only in the last chapter do we hear of  Kugel's support for his spiritual take on the message of the Bible, where he says, "...I really do not believe it is my business to try to second-guess the text's divine inspiration."  P. 689.    But the general reader gets the  impression that this kind of second-guessing is a main theme of the book.  Kugel would like us to grow up,  deal with the evidence and stop living in the  dream world of uncritical belief in the sublimity of biblical texts. 

Kugel's  view of scripture is too low for me. I found this review by William Kolbrener helpful:

Kugel’s hypothetical “unInterpreted Bible” is also a fantasy – the fantasy of modern biblical scholars. Not just from a post-modernist sensibility (which Kugel rightfully dismisses), but, from a perspective which ranges from Aristotle to Kuhn, from Milton to Wittgenstein, that understands that perceptions are never innocent of assumptions, and traditions of interpretation are always the vehicles for encountering texts. The mostly etiological (that is causal) interpretations of Kugel’s modern scholars may be elegant, clever and ordered, but such interpretations leave the Bible as simplistic, even simpleminded. Kugel claims that the ancient interpreters ignore the “plain sense” of Scripture and supply the “final and definitive interpretation,” but it’s really the explanations he advocates that provide final and definitive interpretations of the biblical text. In Kugel’s reading, it is predictably the heroic modern biblical scholar, from his (ostensibly) Archimedean vantage point, who provides the causal link that renders everything coherent and final.

Wiliam Kolbrener, "James Kugel and Me on How to Read the Bible," online blog post at . http://openmindedtorah.blogspot.com/2010/03/james-kugel-and-me-on-how-to-read-bible.html
March 13, 2010.

For me as an amateur the teaching of the Catholic church,  in Dei Verbum and other church documents, has been a helpful source for guidance on how to strike a balance, learning from modern scholarship, but doing so with the idea that the scripture is the word of God written by human authors.   Jesus quotes from Moses and Isaiah with boldness and confidence.   The words of Jesus and the teaching of  Dei Verbum  give me confidence that after learning what we can from modern scholarship,  the old interpretive study of the OT is a worthy endeavor.

In the next post, I will highlight a few things from Dei Verbum which have been helpful to me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prophetic Work of Jesus - Brueggemann Part 2

The question left from the last post:  What is the alternative theology and sociology of Jesus?

"The coming of Jesus meant the abrupt end of things as they were."  Walter Brueggemann,  The Prophetic Imagination, at 84   (2nd ed. Minneapolis  Fortress 2001).  In the Gospels Jesus announces the coming of the kingdom. "But surely implicit in the announcement is the counterpart that present kingdoms will end and be displaced."  P. 84.  
Grinnell Lake,  Glacier National National
 Park   Montana     Credit: Jack  Schuessler

Jesus' readiness to forgive sins and eat with sinners  and outcasts  (Mark 2: 15-17) displaced the power of the religious authorities who kept such outcasts  under condemnation.  P. 85.    As to the Sabbath, "those who managed the  Sabbath ... benefited from it."  P. 85  Jesus broke that particular  "social settlement" when he healed on the Sabbath.  P. 85.  Jesus crossed social boundaries by his healings and exorcisms, "fearlessly reaching out to those deemed unclean  by society ...." P. 86.   Jesus' association in public with women "was a scandalous breach of decorum and a challenge to the gender boundaries of the first century."  P. 86.   Jesus' criticism of the "righteousness of the law" challenged  those who used the law in his day "to effectively control  not only morality but the political-economic valuing that lay behind the morality."  P. 87.  Jesus  quoted the prophet Jeremiah as he spoke of the destruction of the temple.  In critiquing the temple in the tradition of Jeremiah, Jesus struck at the idea of election which "assumed a guaranteed historical existence for this special people gathered around this special shrine."  P. 87.

Jesus also challenged the dominant callousness of the culture by treating people with care and compassion.   P. 88.  But that will have to be the subject of a future post. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prophetic Ministry - Walter Brueggemann

I have discussed the OT writings of Walter Brueggemann in  previous postsThis is his central message:

"The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”   

Walter Brueggemann,  The Prophetic Imagination, at 3  (2nd ed. Minneapolis  Fortress 2001) (italics in original). 
Snake River     Grand Tetons National Park
 Wyoming  June 2012   Credit:  Jack Schuessler

Our understanding of prophecy comes out of the tradition of Moses and the Exodus where we see  a "radical break with the social reality of Pharaoh's Egypt."  Page 5.  How does this prophetic ministry get done?  Prophetic work is the nurturing of the  alternative consciousness. The alternative consciousness "serves to criticize, in dismantling the dominant consciousness" by engaging "in a rejection and delegitimatizing of the present ordering of things."  Page 3.   Second, the alternative consciousness "serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move."  Page 3.

Moses "dismantles the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with a politics of justice and compassion."  Page 6-7.  Prophetic faith breaks imperial religion by declaring the the gods "no-gods,"  and breaks imperial politics by showing the people that "the oppressiveness of the brickyard" was ineffective and not necessary to the human community.  Page 7.   Moses provided a "vision of God's freedom," a new social reality.  The old imperial order of Egypt serves and benefits the people in charge.  The new order benefits the  whole community.   The program of Moses is more than an event in which a band of slaves escaped from the empire; it  "is nothing less than an assault on the consciousness of the empire, aimed at nothing less than the dismantling of the empire both in its social practices and in its mythic pretensions."  Page 9.

A modern day example of this work of Moses is the leadership of Martin Luther King in integrating a lunch counter or a local bus line.  Page 9.    But for Brueggemann "politics" means much more than elections and leaders with slogans of change, and for him prophetic ministry is not a matter of strong leaders who do social action.      No, the prophetic ministry is the work of Yahweh: "Yahweh makes possible an alternative theology and an alternative sociology."  Page 9.

In the next post I will discuss Brueggemann's  explanation of Jesus' prophetic ministry, and his alternative theology and sociology. 

All quotes in this post are from The Prophetic Imagination, and all quotes in italics are in the original. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Study the Bible - Heschel Part 2

Mesa Falls Idaho  July 2012  Credit:  Jack Schuessler
Why study the Bible?  This post deals with that subject from a Jewish perspective, which all of us can learn from.

I freely admit that I am not qualified to engage in a scholarly Jewish-Christian interfaith conversation.   I agree with Rabbi Heschel on this subject:  "It  is not an enterprise for those who are half-learned or spiritually immature. If it is not to lead to the confusion of the many, it must remain a prerogative of the few."    Abraham Joshua Heschel, "No Religion Is an Island," in No Religion Is an Island:  Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interreligious Dialogue, ed. Harold Kasimow and Byron L. Sherwin (Maryknoll, N.Y.:  Orbis, 1991) at 10-11 (quoted in  Feldman,  Egal,  Catholics and Jews in the Twentieth Century. Urbana, University of Illinois Press,  2001, at 142) (hereafter "Heschel"). By "the few" Heschel  has in mind Bible teachers who have the temperament and scholarly knowledge to be fair and respectful to the two faith traditions.  I have the respect (I hope!), but I lack the training.

While we amateurs may not know enough to participate in interfaith theological exchanges, that does not mean that we  need to shy away from the writings of Rabbi Heschel. One question that Heschel has helped to  answer for me is, "Why study the Bible?"  Here are some insights from him: 
I speak as a member of a congregation whose founder was Abraham, and the name of my rabbi is Moses.  Heschel at 3.  ...   
I speak as a person who is convinced that the fate of the Jewish people and the fate of the Hebrew Bible are intertwined. The recognition of our status as Jews, the legitimacy of our survival, is only possible in a world in which the God of Abraham is revered.   Nazism in its very roots was a rebellion against the Bible, against the God of Abraham. Realizing that it was Christianity that implanted attachment to the God of Abraham and involvement with the Hebrew Bible in the hearts of Western man, Nazism resolved that it must both exterminate the Jews and eliminate Christianity, and bring about instead a revival of Teutonic paganism.  Nazism has suffered a defeat, but the process of eliminating the Bible from the consciousness of the Western world goes on. It is on the issue of saving the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man that Jews and Christians are called upon to work together. None of us can do it alone. Both of us must realize that in our age anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity and that anti-Christianity is anti-Semitism.  Heschel at 4-5.   ... 

Is Judaism, is Christianity, ready to face the challenge? When I speak about the radiance of the Bible in the minds of man, I do not mean its being a theme for "Information, please" but rather an openness to God's presence in the Bible, the continuous ongoing effort for a breakthrough in the soul of man, the guarding of the precarious position of being human, even a little higher than human, despite defiance and in face of despair.  Heschel at 5.  ... 
Above all, while dogmas and forms of worship are divergent, God is the same. What unites us? A commitment to the Hebrew Bible as Holy Scripture. Faith in the Creator, the God of Abraham, commitment to many of His commandments, to justice and mercy, a sense of contrition, sensitivity to the sanctity of life and to the involvement of God in history, the conviction that without the holy the good will be defeated, prayer that history may not end before the end of days, and so much more.  Heschel at 9. Is it not our duty to help one another in trying to overcome hardness of heart, in cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery, in unlocking doors to holiness in time, in opening minds to the challenge of the Hebrew Bible, in seeking to respond to the voice of the prophets?  Heschel at 12. 

When I was age 18 I first  heard of the idea  that religion is man trying to find God, while the biblical faith is  God coming down to man, or as Heschel says,  the "radiance of the Bible in the minds of men" becomes "an effort for a breakthrough in the soul of man ...."   See also God in Search of Man, by Rabbi Heschel (New York 1955).   

How do you save "the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man"?   There is no quick answer to that question.  Jews and Christians must work together to answer it.   Cultivate "a sense of wonder and mystery," and "respond to the voice of the prophets."  That would be a good start. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Journey - Abraham Joshua Heschel

Life as a  "journey" is an important Gospel theme, which has been the subject of a previous post.
Tim at Glacier National Park Montana July 2012
Credit:  Jack Schuessler
Here is a beautiful comment on the journey, from a Jewish perspective:

Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but rather an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way.  We have no answers to all problems.   Even some of our sacred answers are both emphatic and qualified, final and tentative, final in our own position in history, tentative because we only speak in the tentative language of man.  

Abraham Joshua Heschel, "No Religion Is an Island," in No Religion Is an Island:  Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interreligious Dialogue, ed. Harold Kasimow and Byron L. Sherwin (Maryknoll, N.Y.:  Orbis, 1991) at 16 (quoted in  Feldman,  Egal,  Catholics and Jews in the Twentieth Century. Urbana, University of Illinois Press,  2001, at 142).  The fact that  human speech is tentative does not mean that we are left groping on the journey with no help from above.  Rabbi Heschel speaks to God's mysterious role in the journey, as creator, as friend of Abraham, and as one who is alive in the world today,  but that will be the subject of another post.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Evidence from Archaeology

If you study the OT you will run into critics of the Bible who question the historicity of, among other things, the era of David and Solomon.    What does archaeology have to say on this subject?   I have enjoyed  this article from the Associates for Biblical Research,  which states in part as follows:    

To keep the discussion on an appropriate course, as an archaeologist dealing with archaeological  material, the issue is not whether David or Solomon are associated with the archaeological evidence. At issue is whether there is evidence of an Israelite kingdom and important city at Jerusalem in the tenth century BC. If archaeology demonstrates evidence of centralization and authority in the region at that time, then it is reasonable to accept it might be evidence of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon.
Just for the record, the existence of David as a person, king and head of a dynasty was mentioned in an inscription from Tel Dan (Shanks 1994), written about 100 years after his death. King David was probably mentioned again in the Mesha Stela (the Moabite Stone; Lemaire 1994) and possibly in Shishak’s relief at Karnak (Shanks 1999).
Grand Tetons Wyoming  June 2012   Credit:  Jack Schuessler
According to the excavators of Hazor (Amnon Ben-Tor 1999) and Gezer (William Dever; Shanks 1997), there is solid evidence from the days of Solomon's kingdom. And most archaeologists still believe there is evidence from the same period at Megiddo, in spite of what Megiddo excavator Finkelstein believes (Harrison 2003; Mazar 2003). According to Jane Cahill (2004), the archaeologist finishing the 1980's City of David dig report, tenth century Jerusalem was fortified, served by two complex water-supply systems and was populated by a socially stratified society that constructed at least two new residential quarters – one inside and one outside the city walls.
Was there an important city at Jerusalem in the tenth century BC and was there evidence of an Israelite kingdom in the region at that time? Archaeology says "yes"! Was there a David who led a kingdom and founded a dynasty? Again archaeology says "yes"! Evidence will continue to pour in from new excavations and scholars will continue to debate the subject. And the historical reliability of the Biblical account will continue to stand up to any and all new facts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Colors - Isaiah Chapter 12

Swan Park Beaver Dam, WI October 15, 2012
Here is  Swan Park, Beaver Dam, with the morning son pouring in from the east, lighting up the trees and creating shadows.

This was taken last week when we were just past peak color here in Wisconsin, and you see  that lots of leaves are already off the trees.  And now a week later  with  cold weather and the recent rains, the colors are almost done, and most of the trees are bare.  I  put up this photo  to create a memory  of  the fleeting  fall color  season.   See the beauty of creation and give praise to God.

In the Lectionary "response" for today we hear Isaiah chapter 12, from this tremendous praise section:

[2] "Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
[3] With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
[4] And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD,
call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the nations,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
[5] "Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
[6] Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."

Isaiah 12:2-6 (RSV).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Death of Moses

Today I am thinking about the death of Moses, the friend of God, as described in Deuteronomy chapter  34.  There the Lord speaks to Moses, shows him the promised land from the mountain and then Moses dies.  The Bible says, “... and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab … but no man knows the place of his burial to this day.” Deut. 34:6 (RSV). No one knows the burial place because God did not want the people to turn that into a shrine where people might be tempted to worship Moses. Jewish Study Bible (note to Deut. 34:6).  

Deut. 34:6 says that God himself buried Moses!   I cannot compare myself to Moses, one of the great saints of all time.   But for people who doubt whether a person can get close to  God, this is a striking example showing the love of God, and that he does seek that personal relationship with us.  

The word of God in the Old Testament is able to stand on its own.    There is no need to look for NT hooks on which to hang every OT story.  But as someone who reveres Moses, I am pleased to see that Jesus often mentions  him. See, for example,  Matthew 19:7-8, Matthew 22:24 , Mark 7:10, Mark 12:24,  Luke 24:44 and John 5:46. And one of the great mysteries of our faith is Jesus' appearance with Moses (and Elijah) in glory on the mountain. Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, and see also 2 Peter 1:16-18.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Historicity of the Midrashim

Consider this from myjewishlearning.com:  

Midrash is a tool of interpretation which assumes that every word, letter, and even stroke of the pen in the Torah has meaning. Midrash Aggadah focuses on biblical narratives, Midrash Halakhah interprets legal passages. In modern times, midrash can include any retellings, additions, or twists on Torah stories.


Did the Rabbis believe their own midrashim?   At  this excellent blog post,  the skilled blogger,  Benjamin of Tudela,   presents a  fascinating short  discussion of this question, and concludes: 

It is evident to me, that there will not be a simple Yes/No answer to all midrashim, Rabbanim or periods of time. However, I believe that trying to find a broad answer is still informative, even if it must be followed by a qualitative  "Lets check the individual case".

The question for each case is whether the writer presenting  the midrashim thought he was uncovering history, or whether he  believed  the midrashim  to be spiritual if not historical truths.   Further discussion of the midrashim will have to be the subject of future posts.  But we believers in Jesus  have to give credit to the Rabbis.  Their work product (the midrashim) as they ruminated over every word and letter of the Torah  is evidence of their tremendous love for the word of God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Harvest is Done

Photo of the farm field to the west, from my backyard, Mayville,WI
I have my post on the amazing  beauty of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 in my head,    but this week not much time to get it  written.  I took this picture of the farm field  from  my backyard,  my favorite place in the world.   They had planted soybeans, and now you see that the field is bare.  They  harvested last week with the giant Star Wars harvesters.     And we had  a wonderful rain on Sunday, I know, way too late for the crops, but I'm still grateful for it.   Before Sunday's rain everything was so bone dry that I felt like I was living in Oklahoma.  August 8 had been our last significant rain.   We had over an inch of rain on Sunday  and then yesterday it rained again, and now although it's getting late in the year   it is good to see that our browned out  grass is turning green.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall in America

Auburn Jordan-Hare Stadium Panorama
Auburn's  Jordan-Hare Stadium shown here with the kind permission of Scott Fillmer.   You will find this beautiful  pic in full view with Scott's story here at Scott's excellent blog
I am working on a post on Genesis, but in the mean time ...

You can find the good, the true and beautiful in many places.   Here is a striking  2012  pano photo shot of Auburn Jordan-Hare Stadium by talented photographer,  Scott Fillmer, which Scott has kindly given me permission to share here. Beautiful, colorful, exciting.    How can anyone not love college football in the fall?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bible Read Aloud

In the previous  post I commented that the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:20-40) needs to be read aloud. I say this because the defeat of the prophets of Baal is high drama, and dramatic literature  must come to the hearer out loud, not just in an isolated meditative and silent reading.  And if the drama is also the inspired word of God, the oral presentation becomes compelling, if presented with rhetorical skill.

The  texts were written in and for oral cultures.  The texts were read in the public assembly. The Bible itself describes scripture read aloud for the benefit of of the gathered listeners.  See Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Joshua 8:34-35; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 8, 18; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 15:21; Colossians 4:16 cited in this article by Jason Jackson.

The late Donald Juel argued that the oral/aural power of the Bible has been  neglected within the worship life of the church as well as in biblical scholarship.  To recover the Bible's power to capture the the imagination of readers and interpreters, we must once again attend to the public reading, or performance, of the Bible. Donald Juel, "The Strange Silence of the Bible," in  Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning, and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Shane Berg and Matthew L. Skinner (Waco, TX:  Baylor University Press, 2011 at 33-48) (essay originally published in Interpretation 51:1 (1997))In this essay Juel describes his experience of seeing and hearing the Gospel of Mark "performed" in public. Juel at page 37-38.   Juel concludes that biblical interpretation is "deficient" without the experience of reading and hearing: "Being present for a performance of Mark's Gospel and dealing with the reactions of the audience have convinced me that without the actual experience of reading and hearing, biblical interpretation is deficient.  An interpretation that fails to take into account what happens when written words are spoken seems adequate neither to the original setting in which they were spoken  nor to the contemporary settings in which they continue to function."  Juel at 38.

A related point which Juel makes is that if the texts call for  oral proclamation, that gives the reader "considerable power" and that is risky:  "The reader has considerable power, including, as it turns out, the power to make the Bible so uninteresting that people do not bother to read it."   Juel at 37.    But this need for the reader  to make the oral proclamation skillfully will have to be the subject of another post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Elijah on Mount Carmel

The "Elijah cycle of stories" has five major scenes as described in 1 Kings 17, 18, 19 and 21.   Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, page 260 (Paulist Press revised and updated by R. Clifford and D. Harrington 2012).  As Boadt says, "[t]he second scene is the most dramatic" (Boadt at 260):  

[20] So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel.
[21] And Eli'jah came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba'al, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word.
[22] Then Eli'jah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Ba'al's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
[23] Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. 
[24] And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, he is God." And all the people answered, "It is well spoken."
[25] Then Eli'jah said to the prophets of Ba'al, "Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it."
[26] And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Ba'al from morning until noon, saying, "O Ba'al, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made.
[27] And at noon Eli'jah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened."
[28] And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.
[29] And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded.
[30] Then Eli'jah said to all the people, "Come near to me"; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down;
[31] Eli'jah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, "Israel shall be your name";
[32] and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
[33] And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, "Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood."
[34] And he said, "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time. And he said, "Do it a third time"; and they did it a third time.
[35] And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
[36] And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Eli'jah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
[37] Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O LORD, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back."
[38] Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
[39] And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God."
[40] And Eli'jah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Ba'al; let not one of them escape." And they seized them; and Eli'jah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there. 

I Ki 18: 20-40 (RSV). 

This shocking account of the victory of God is meant to be read out loud.   Next post I will explain why.

Monday, October 1, 2012

God's Defeat of Baal

The Lord's defeat of the prophets of Baal
From riverflowsdown.wordpress.com
Who was to be the God of Israel?  Jahweh or Baal?  Elijah viewed this as an "either-or."  But "[a]t that time no one else saw as he did that there was no possibility of accommodation between the worship of Baal  and Israel's ancient Jahwistic tradtions."  Gerhard von Rad,  Old Testament Theology, Volume II at 17. 

Readers of I Kings 18 may easily overlook a fascinating detail,  that the Baal worshipers   had destroyed  the altar dedicated to Jahweh (vs 30): "Then Eli'jah said to all the people, "Come near to me"; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down ...."  I Ki. 18:30 (RSV).  They had destroyed the Lord's altar because it was put up on a spot on a mountain dedicated to the cult of Baal.  Von Rad says:

Carmel must must have been an advance post in Canaanite territory, for from time immemorial the mountain had been the domain of the cult of  Baal of Carmel.  How and when the advance [of Jahwism]  was made is not known.  Jahwism may at first simply have ousted the worship of Baal, but later the old indigenous cult revived; and of course Israel was often to experience what now resulted - once the two altars were established side by side, Jahweh's was inevitably deserted in favour of Baal's.   This was the situation with which Elijah found himself faced on Carmel.  As has just been said ...  the coalescence, of the two forms of worship, in which the rest of the people were perfectly at home, was intolerable.

Von Rad at 17. 

God himself answered the question of who was to be the God of Israel.   Von Rad says that "the narrator of the story wanted to make clear ... that this was the only possible way by which Israel could have  been saved, and that she could never of herself have been delivered from her neglect of her faith and worship, unless Jahweh himself had once again  borne great and glorious witness to himself."  Von Rad  at page 17-18

In the next post I will discuss the action taken by God to defeat and destroy the prophets of Baal.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Elijah and the Gates of Hell

Russian Icon. The Prophet Elijah and the Fiery Chariot.
Russian Icon, The Prophet Elijah and
the Fiery Chariot, 14th Century, The History
Museum, Moscow

In previous posts I have reflected on the transfiguration of Jesus.   Jesus appeared in glory on the mountain with Elijah and Moses.   Moses is a giant of the faith.  But my concern in this post is with Elijah.  How is it that  Christians can  read  the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus, which speak of  Elijah, and pay no attention to the OT descriptions of Elijah?  Study of the NT should send the reader back to the OT, but I'm sorry to say that  most of the time we don't bother.

For the great scholar, Gerhard Von Rad, the amazing stories  of Elijah in I Kings chapters 17-19  "bear the stamp of history and individuality." Old Testament Theology, Volume II at 14. Elijah is "unapproachable, unpredictable, feared, and even hated, but always someone to be reckoned with."   Von Rad at 14.

Elijah "is a man of enormous powers.  Such a figure cannot simply have been invented, and can only be explained by saying that the stories [in I Kings] reflect a historical figure of well-nigh superhuman stature."    Von Rad at 14.

 Elijah came from Gilead, territory east of Jordan colonized by Israel  which had not been part of the earlier Canaanite civilization.   Jahwism was stronger east of the river.  West of the river Jahwism  "had grown  more and more ready to open its doors to the cult of Baal."  Von Rad at 15.

Baal worship was widespread in the northern kingdom of  Israel in the days of Elijah.   The gates of hell were bearing down on Jahwism, the worship of one God, the faith of Israel:  "Just at this time, when the peril confronting Jahwism was serious indeed, there came Elijah."   Von Rad at 16.   That takes us to the great assembly at Mount Carmel described in I Kings 18, where we see the battle between the priests of Baal and Israel's God, as represented by  Elijah.   This will be the subject of the next post.

How to Live with the Canaanites - Genesis 12:6

In recent weeks I have posted on the call and journey of Abraham as described in Genesis 12:1-9. Previous posts have dealt with God's call, Abraham's response, what it means to "call upon the name of the Lord," and the life of faith described as "the journey."  Here my concern is with Genesis 12:5-6, and my question is, what does it mean to live with the Canaanites?

[5] And Abram took Sar'ai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 
[6] Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Genesis 12:5-6  (RSV).  

Walter Brueggemann quoting Gerhard Von Rad's Old Testament Theology: Volume 1, says this:

Here [in Genesis 12]  it is better to recognize that the presence of Canaanites points to two religious realities.  First, the promise of God is never easy to believe and practice.  It must always be believed and practiced in the midst of those who practice more effective and attractive ways.  Abraham is called always to be a minority report among those who live and manage society against the promise.  Second, Abraham is called to a relation with the Canaanites.  Whereas some older commentators see the Canaanites simply as embodiments of paganism to be resisted, Von Rad rightly sees that Abraham is brought by God "into a completely unexplained relationship" with the Canaanites.  On the one hand, there is no evidence in the Abraham tradition of conflict with the Canaanites.  ... The Canaanites are, perhaps, a temptation to Abraham, for their ways were surely attractive in contrast to the slow-paced way of Yahweh's promise.  On the other hand, there is also no evidence that Abraham seeks to convert them.  Abraham's work is not to convert and build a church.  Rather, he is to live among them, to practice and believe the promise.  His task is not to impress or even to bear witness to God, but simply to permit the reality of blessing to be at work.  The statement of verse 6 suggests  a delicate living of a promissory presence which is neither to destroy nor convert but to mobilize the power of life in behalf of others. 
W. Brueggemann, Commentary on Genesis, 123-124 (John Knox Press 1982).

The Canaanites offer a way of life different from that of the believer. They bring temptation.  The believer must be a "minority report" among the Canaanites.  But we have to live with the Canaanites, and in doing so we must "practice and believe the promise."   (I'm not going to waste energy identifying  who among my friends and associates  might be a Canaanite, but it's safe to say that we live in a secular culture in which "the promise" is not relevant.)  God's "promissory presence" is at work in the life of the believer who is to "mobilize the power of life in behalf of others."  Often the believer sees no difference between his promissory life and the life of others who have no interest in the promise.   How does the believer respond to those kinds of discouraging feelings?  Serve others, worship God in the Eucharistic assembly, reflect on his word,  pray, and most important of all, believe that the promise is at work.  This is the life of faith, believing in things unseen.   As Brueggemann says, it is never easy to believe and practice the promise.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mark 9:15 - When They Saw Jesus They Were Greatly Amazed

I am coming back to the transfiguration of Jesus  which was the subject of a previous post. The question is here is, why was the crowd "greatly amazed" when they saw Jesus after the transfiguration?   Here  is the account from  Gospel of Mark:

1] And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
[2] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them,
[3] and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
[4] And there appeared to them Eli'jah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.
[5] And Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah."
[6] For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.
[7] And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
[8] And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.
[9] And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead.
[10] So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.
[11] And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Eli'jah must come?"
[12] And he said to them, "Eli'jah does come first to restore all things; and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
[13] But I tell you that Eli'jah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him."
[14] And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them.
[15] And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him.
Mark 9:1-15 (RSV)

What is meant by verse 15 just quoted where it says, "when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him?"    Here is the explanation of Morna Hooker which you see quoted in Ardel B. Caneday's excellent blog.

[Mark] must mean that there was something about Jesus' appearance which gave them good reason to be astonished. The only possible explanation seems to be that Mark means us to understand that Jesus' appearance is still in some way affected by the transfiguration. If Moses, coming down the mountain after speaking with God, reflected the glory of God from his face without knowing it, and so caused all the people to be afraid (Exod. 34:29f.), it is not surprising if Jesus also, coming down the mountain from a similar experience, caused astonishment among the crowd. 
Morna Hooker, The Gospel According to Mark , 222-224  (as quoted by  Ardel B. Caneday  at ntexegesis.blogspot.com).

Caneday in his blog post just cited points out that "amazement" is the Greek word ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω), and he states further: 

In [Mark] 16:5 and 16:6, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) is used first of the women who came to the tomb and found it empty and were amazed, and then of the young man who had been seated at the right side of the tomb who cautions, "Do not be amazed!" The verb speaks of deep movement of emotions, particularly of trembling astonishment. Thus, in Mark 9:14, the verb ekthambeō(ἐκθαμβέω) bursts upon the reader with unexpectedness. Given the fact that Mark's other uses of the verb ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) denote intense emotion, we would be amiss to devalue the verb's intensity in 9:14.

Interpreters like Hooker and others cited by Caneday are truly on the right track pointing out that Jesus' appearance "amazed" the crowd because his appearance was showing the effects of the transfiguration.  To catch that, the interpreter shows an openness and wonder that is one of the keys to our theological reading of the Bible.  Yes, we must do the literary and historical study of the texts, but here is a great example of the importance of coming to the text humbly hoping to see God.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moving into a Strange Country - Brueggemann Part 3

This post continues the reflection on Genesis chapter 12:1-9 and Walter Brueggemann's commentary on Genesis.  I quoted and discussed  the text of Genesis 12:1-8  in a  previous post  and won't repeat that here.   In response to God's call Abraham  has  moved out from his home country without knowing where he was going.  This is all about the biblical theme of the journey:  "And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb."  Gen 12:9 (RSV).

Commenting on Genesis 12 and the idea of the journey Brueggemann writes:

The metaphor of journey or sojourn is a radical one.  It is a challenge to the dominant ideologies of our time which yearn for settlement, security, and placement.  The life of this family [of Abraham and Sarah] is matched by the way of Yahweh himself.  Thus Yahweh is understood not as a God who settles and dwells, but as a God who sojourns and moves about (II Sam. 7:4-6).  In the David tradition which protests against royal absolutism, Yahweh is presented as a God who is known especially in his lordly freedom. This family is called to the same kind of freedom marked by precariousness and danger, the same risk Yahweh himself takes by sojourning with Israel. ...

The metaphor of journey as a way of speaking about faith is utilized by the New Testament in important ways.  Christian discipleship is understood as a following of "the way" (Matt. 8:22; 9:9; 10:38).  The "way" as a metaphor is not precisely characterized, but it is variously the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way to Jerusalem.  The term marks Christians as those who live in a way contrasted to every fixed and settled form of life.   ...  "The way" clearly brought the early church into conflict with all the false ways of self-securing. ...   
In the great recital of pilgrimage in Heb. 11, Abraham and Sarah are presented as people who claimed no home.  They only pursued a risky promise. 
Brueggemann at 122.
Last night from my backyard  in Mayville
setting sun pouring through the high level  clouds

In Hebrews the NT writer cites Abraham  to encourage new believers in Jesus: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go."  Heb. 11:8 (RSV).  And when Abraham arrived in this place, it was not like home.  He was there as a sojourner, living in tents:  "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise."  Heb. 11:9 (RSV).    Hebrews is a message to a young church of Jewish people who believed in Jesus and were suffering persecution.   They were a people called to faith with Jesus as their Messiah.  Like Abraham and Sarah these new believers were sent out on a journey - in their case a spiritual journey -  based on the promise of God.  These Jewish believers, now suffering for their Christian faith,  felt like strangers in a foreign country, like Abraham in Canaan.

Next post I will discuss more of what the believer can expect from this life of the journey, with an illustration from the experience of St. Paul.