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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, 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.