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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).

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.