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G-ETS Intro to OT: thinking, rambling, reflecting, musing, etc.

Month

February 2016

4.

[Read Daniel 7:1-28; 10:1-14; 11:1-12:13. Using our course materials as a resource and citing these where appropriate, make a list of all of the elements of apocalyptic literature that you find in these passages, noting (chapter and verses) where you find each element. Use the lecture and your textbook of choice to learn what “elements of apocalyptic literature” to look for.]

Dr. Brooke Lester defines the content of the apocalyptic writings as that which communicates a “reality that is transcendent both spatially and temporally.” The idea of transcendence is that these writings communicate a future reality, distinctly “other” than the current reality, that gives hope to a community in crisis. Here are the elements of apocalyptic literature, summarized from Christopher Stanley’s discussion in The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach: visionary experiences (revelation often given in a complex and elaborate vision), narrative framework (often considered literary fictions), detailed descriptions of the heavenly realms, pessimistic view of human nature and the present universe, cosmic dualism (God vs. personified forces of evil), eschatological orientation (the anticipation of God’s work to intervene and make all things radically new), assurance that the day of judgment will come soon, descriptions of the fates of the righteous and the wicked after death, moral strictness (instruction to live strictly by God’s laws), and symbolic language (language that appeals to the imagination in an attempt to describe something completely new using the old language available).

Daniel 7:1-28
The narrative framework occurs in 7:1, where the character of Daniel is fixed in time and setting (first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon) and is described as having a visionary experience in a dream. In verses 2-8, there are many uses of symbolic language (for example, a little horn with eyes like human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly [7:8]). The reference to the sea in verse 3 represents cosmic dualism, as the sea is often associated with mythological forces of chaos. The overarching interpretation of this passage (7:2-8) sees this symbolic language as representing four kingdoms with a pessimistic view of the present universe.

Verses 9-14 describe a vision of a day of judgment where God (described in symbolic language as having clothing white as snow, hair like pure wool, a throne in fiery flames, etc.) destroys the “arrogant horn” (7:11) and takes away dominion from the other three “beasts” (7:12) to prepare the way for the everlasting dominion of glory (7:13-14). This passage has an eschatological orientation and contains descriptions of the heavenly realms.

Verses 15-28 contain an interpretation of Daniel’s visions. This continues the narrative framework in verse 15-16, where Daniel professes his fear of the visions and finds an attendant to help him interpret his dream. Eschatological hope is portrayed in verse 18, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever.” Using symbolic language (particularly in verses 19-22 “teeth of iron and claws of bronze,” etc.), the author writes about the “arrogant horn” as an evil force against the “holy ones,” another example of cosmic dualism (the overarching theme of 7:21-25). The day of judgment is mentioned again in verse 26, and eschatological hope is offered in verse 27. The final verse of the chapter (7:28) ends the narrative framework.

Daniel 10:1-14
Here we have another narrative framework revealing time and setting (third year of King Cyrus of Persia; later, in verse 4, the bank of the Tigris river is mentioned), and the mode of revelation described as a visionary experience (10:1). Daniel asserts his moral strictness that in his three-week mourning he had “eaten no rich food, no meat or wine” and “had not anointed [himself] at all” (10:2-3). Symbolic language is used, especially, in verse 6 when Daniel describes the man he saw: “His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.” The nature of Daniel’s unique visionary experience is magnified in his being the only one to see the vision (10:7-8), losing strength when seeing the vision (10:8), and falling into a trance (7:9).

Another call to moral strictness occurs in the description of Daniel: “For from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard” (10:12). The implication is that Daniel is rewarded for his adherence to God’s laws. There is an indication that the visionary experience has an eschatological orientation in verse 14, with the declaration that the vision is to help Daniel “understand what is to happen to [his] people at the end of days.” There is also a sense of cosmic dualism in this passage, in that the one communicating with Daniel (most likely an angel) is opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia, keeping him from coming to Daniel earlier (10:14).

Daniel 11:1-12:13
There is, once again, a mention of an earthly ruler, Darius the Mede, to further orient the narrative framework (11:1) in a specific time and setting. The bulk of chapter 11 (verses 2-39) portrays a pessimistic view of human nature and the present universe. The kings are described as “doing as they please” (11:3, 11:16, 11:28, 11:36), indicating that they are not following the will of God, but are rather acting as human agents of evil in the cosmic dualism that is portrayed. There is explicit mention in this section of moral strictness, claiming that the king will “seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant” (11:32) and that the people of God should act by standing firm (11:32) and seeking wisdom (11:33), indicating the need to be “refined, purified, and cleansed” (11:35). There is also a sense of moral strictness in the admonishments toward the king who “considers himself greater than all” (11:37). There is also, in this passage, reminder of eschatological hope, that although the present time contains hardship “it shall not succeed, for there remains an end at the time appointed” (11:27).

There seems to be somewhat of an immediacy to the nature of this eschatological orientation, that the day of judgment will come soon. This is seen in the narrative framework of the current setting (time and place) of the destruction of the current kingdom (11:40-45). That said, the final words of the book (chapter 12, verses 6-13) give a rather unclear sense of precisely when these event will take place. So there is not a clear timeline for the day of judgment.

The book of Daniel ends with a description of the resurrection of the dead, with descriptions of the fates of the righteous and the wicked after death (12:1-3). There is a pessimistic view of the present universe, with warnings that “evil will increase” (12:4). There is also another call to be “purified, cleansed, and refined” (12:10) and to “persevere” (12:12) in the sense of moral strictness. There is some reference to eschatological orientation in the symbolic language of those who will “shine like the brightness of the sky…like the stars forever and ever” (12:3).

Closing Thoughts
This exercise has been informative in helping to frame these passages in Daniel in the apocalyptic genre. It is interesting to look deeply at the themes that run throughout the text and to see how many of the elements of apocalyptic literature are present. The typical message of apocalyptic writings, that of hope for those who are being threatened by present circumstances, becomes more clear as these apocalyptic elements are brought to light. When reading Daniel with this framework, one can appreciate the author’s intent to bring hope to the people of Israel during the political changes and upheaval of the postexilic period.

3.

Ok, so here’s my task:

[Go to the Professional Left Podcast, and select Episode 270. Listen to their converstation about faith, blasphemy, and the Book of Job, beginning at time 22:15 and ending at time 32:00 (Note: Explicit Language.) Writing as a biblical scholar, fact-check their discussion regarding the Book of Job:

  • What do they get right? Demonstrate their accuracy, citing (where appropriate) the book of Job, your textbook, our lecture, and any other high-quality academic resources.
  • What, if anything, do they get wrong? Demonstrate these inaccuracies, citing (where appropriate) the book of Job, your textbook, our lecture, and any other high-quality academic resources.
  • How might you say the discussion is incomplete? What information can you offer about the book of Job–its details, the historical context of its writing (not its narrative setting!), its genre(s), and other relevant scholarly information about the book–that may inform the conversation that Blue Gal and Driftglass are having?]

 

What do they get right?
In terms of the narrative, there are a number of correct citations in the podcast. They accurately describe Job’s righteousness (Job 1:8) and his adherence to the Law, even citing the fact that he made sacrifices for his children’s righteousness (Job 1:5). Driftglass accurately explains the bet between God and the Satan, summarizing it as, “If you take away a human’s good stuff the human will turn on you.” This summary is accurate according to the narrative in Job 1:9-12.

Both Driftglass and Blue Gal are honest about the fact that God comes across as a jerk in this book. Driftglass, in fact, claims that Job is the most honest book in the Bible, an assertion that could be supported by the book itself and by the fact that dissenting wisdom seems to leave more honest space for typical human experiences with pain and suffering. Likewise, Blue Gal talks about blasphemy as being able to express authentic complaints to God, and sees that as a desirable/honest space for conversation about experience. They both claim that in the book of Job the “hero is a villain,” a claim that could be supported by the fact that God asserts God’s power without addressing questions of injustice.

Driftglass admits that his interpretations are reading modern sensibilities into a Bronze-age fable, which is a correct way of understanding that the historical context of the book of Job (in terms of the original audience and intent) needs to be taken into consideration before trying to make theological sense of the content. Most scholars, according to Christopher Stanley in The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach, would agree with Driftglass that the book of Job is a legend or fable rather than an actual historical event.

What do they get wrong?
One detail that they get wrong is their assumption that Job’s wife is killed by God. The text does not support that claim, as the last mention of Job’s wife is when his wife (very much alive) tells him to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Blue Gal even goes as far as to suggest that her death would be validated by the culture in which the story takes place because she’s “just a woman” in that culture.

They also assume that God is testing Job for fun because God is bored, and claim that God is trying to “screw with Job until he complains about it” as a divine amusement. This is not supported by the text, but rather it seems that the text is trying to explore deeper questions about human experience with suffering and conventional wisdom. Dr. Lester has good things to say about this in his podcast, particularly regarding conventional vs. dissenting wisdom and the wide array of human experience as understood to be the source of wisdom literature.

Driftglass claims that the main message from God to Job is, “I created you, I can do whatever I want with you.” This does not capture the complexity of the message of Job. While God asserts God’s power in creating and maintaining creation, the message Job appears take away from the situation is that he was “uttering what he did not understand” and that God’s power and knowledge surpasses human knowledge (Job 42:1-6). There seems to be a more complex mystery at stake, and I would say that it would be difficult (irresponsible?) to even claim to know the “main message” of Job.

Information to inform their conversation.
I would suggest a few important components to help augment this conversation. The first is the dichotomy between conventional and dissenting wisdom. The contrast between the narrative portions of the book, which support traditional, conventional wisdom, and the poetic dialogue of the book, which supports a dissenting wisdom, are important in conveying the complexity of the book of Job. This framework allows for deeper discussion regarding the character of God and the nature of suffering.

Likewise, it would be helpful to understand, as Dr. Lester discusses in his podcast for the week, that the wisdom literature involves human experience rather than dogmatic/doctrinal truth. This framework of experience allows the ways of God to be ultimately beyond human understanding, but gives space for the wide spectrum of human experience with God.

Another part of the text that was left out of the podcast discussion completely was the role of the friends in the dialogue. The friends conventional truisms provide contrast to Job’s honest experience with God. God’s assertion that Job, not the friends, has spoken what is right about God gives plenty of proverbial “food for thought” in terms of what it means to have a relationship with God, what it means to suffer, and what human response to suffering ought to be. The response of Job is more like what Blue Gal wishes people would say (blasphemy/honesty about God) than the response of the friends in the dialogue with Job. It would be interesting to hear their discussion augmented in this way.

One last piece of information I would suggest would be that the book of Job is not attempting to answer questions, but rather it provides space to explore difficult questions about the human experience. The fact that this is a legend ought to make one shy away from assuming hard-and-fast rules from the text. The attempt to find main points or to glean theological truths from Job may, in fact, go against the reason to tell this story in the first place.

So there you have it. My take on a complex, difficult story. I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Peace.

2.

 

Edward Hirsch’s “How To Read a Poem” offers a series of questions to help explore and understand poetry. We have been asked to bring each of these questions to Psalm 44

  • Who is the speaker?

There is not a clear consensus on the authorship of the psalms. While many contain headings “of…so and so,” scholarship suggests that this could indicate either authorship (less lkely) or honor (more likely) to the one(s) mentioned in the heading. The heading for Psalm 44 is “Of the Korahites” – a reference to those mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:19 in association with their position as temple singers. The speaker is a follower of Yahweh, as is the case with all of the psalmists. And the speaker is one who is leading a communal lament/complaint in conversation with God.

  • What circumstances gave rise to the poem?

God had come to the aid of the community’s ancestors (v. 1-3), but has not yet shown up in the same way for the community in their current crisis. The speaker is representing the community in a complaint to God for not showing up and a plea for God to come to their aid as God did for their ancestors.

  • What situation is presented?

The specific situation is that the community has been defeated by enemies (v. 10-11). They continue to be slaughtered (v. 22) and experience severe disgrace among other nations (v. 14-16).

  • Who or what is the audience?

The audience is God. We see this in the second person point of view throughout the psalm.

  • What is the tone?

The tone is desperate: “We sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.” (25)

It is, at times, begging/pleading: “Rouse yourself! Awake, do not cast us off forever!” (23)

It seems to expresses anger or accusatory language toward God: “You have made us…a laughingstock among the peoples.” (14) “You have covered us with deep darkness.” (19) “Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (23)

  • What form, if any, does the poem take?

Complaint/lament psalms contain the following elements: address, complaint, statement of trust, petition, vow of thanksgiving. The form of this psalm, as related to those elements, is:

Verse 1 contains the initial address (“We have heard with our ears, O God….” The element of address seems to go all the way through verse 3, as the opening section of the psalm sets God up as the One who has helped their ancestors.

Verses 4-7 are a statement of trust and verse 8 is a vow of thanksgiving.

Verses 9-16 are complaints.

Verses 17-18 seem to be statements of trust.

Verses 19-22 are further complaints and verses 23-26 are petitions.

  • How is form related to content?

The form is unusual for a communal complaint psalm because it contains a vow of thanksgiving (typically found only in individual complaint psalms). It also is unusual because the speaker switches from plural to singular in verses 4 and 15 “All daylong my disgrace is before me….”

The form emphasizes the complaint narrative, but the interspersed statements of trust emphasize the speaker’s assurance that the pleas of the community will not go unheard.

  • Is sound an important, active element of the poem?

Sound does not seem to be important or active, although reading an English translation of the original Hebrew makes it difficult to ascertain this. There are some repeated elements that would indicate that sound is active in the text, particularly the “You…” statements in verses 9-14.

  • Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?

Most likely the poem is referring to the Exile and a specific moment of defeat by enemies. Though the historical moment is identifiable, the language is general enough to be meaningful in a number of situations.

  • Does the poem speak from a specific culture?

Ancient Israel. The line “victories for Jacob” in verse 4 confirms this cultural context.

  • Does the poem have its own vernacular?

Again, it is difficult to tell, since I am not able to read it in Hebrew. I would assume that it does, but I can’t say for certain.

  • Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?

Like many of the writings in the Tanak, there is imagery throughout the poem. Particular phrases, such as “sheep for slaughter” (v. 11), and “broken us in the haunt of jackals” (v. 19), help the reader/hearer understand the dire situation of the community. The phrase “We sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground” (v. 25) is particularly powerful in communicating the depth of despair, grief, and desperation the community is experiencing.

  • What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?

The poem uses figurative language in relationship to God’s active rescuing of their ancestors. The language describes God as driving out nations with God’s own hand and planting the ancestors in their own land (v. 2).

  • If the poem is a question, what is the answer?

I would suggest that the poem is a question, “Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (v. 23) The psalmist is questioning why God would abandon the people to exile and not step in to save them. The answer that the psalmist wants is for the Lord to awake and help. The psalmist does not provide an answer in this particular poem. I can look back on this time from my 21st century cultural context and say that throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, God does answer with salvific acts. (This is certainly not the standpoint of the particular psalm, though, so it is a bit risky to insert my own context here).

  • If the poem is an answer, what is the question?

I do not read this poem as an answer. It poses more questions than answers.

  • What does the title suggest?

There is no title. The editors/translators call it “National Lament and Prayer for Help.” That title suggests that there is a communal need for God to help with the situation.

  • Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?

I do not read any unusual words in this psalm, but there is the Hebrew vs. English translation issue at stake here. I would have to understand the text in its original language to answer this question from a more informed place.

 

Further thoughts

At the end of his second lecture, Dr. Lester asks us to consider the following question for the texts we read: Are Biblical texts asking us to come to final resolution between two or more experiences of God OR are they inviting us to scrutiny? I find that Psalm 44 paints a difficult picture of God: a God who has the power to save a people, but does not listen to their cries or wake up to their needs. This understanding of God conflicts with the faith and hope provided by God’s salvific acts – both in the Old Testament and New Testament. A more cohesive understanding of the psalm would be that it is not intended to be a theological statement, but rather indicative of the honesty the psalmist asserts in conversation with God. This can then be used pastorally as a testament to the usefulness and appropriateness of lament/complaint in the context of corporate worship and pastoral care.

The call is to approach God in honest relationship, not withholding emotion or complaint from the conversation. God, then, is One who desires to be in community with people and to be present – even in difficult situations that seem to evade God’s tangible presence. The circumstance then becomes one of faith and hope, as God’s promised presence assures the struggling community of God’s eventual salvation.

Walter Brueggemann speaks to the importance of lament in the whole of church and society – space for lament/complaint must be present in corporate worship in order to show people that lament/complaint is also appropriate in personal worship and in societal justice-seeking.

1.

[On your blog, respond in some way to this week’s resources: What surprises did they hold for you? What, if anything, bothers you? What excites you? What further questions do you have now about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that you did not have before engaging this week’s resources?]

The other day I had my class read sections of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason as a starting point for discussing some stuff happening in and to the church in the 18th century. I appreciated the depth with which most students were engaging the material, and we seemed to be having a delightful discussion…until one student forgot to think historically.

The student took advantage of captive classmates and used Paine’s quote to support a political platform regarding some fairly heated modern social issues. (I’ll spare you the details, but if you were to look on the page of the Facebook friend whose politics most annoy you, you’d get the gist of the comments). The student had not considered Paine’s 18th century context/audience/rhetoric at all, but was instead looking at history only through a 21st century lens. And it was ridiculous.

When I consider my own understanding of the context in which the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament was written, I’m certain that I, like my student, have probably read and discussed the text using my own context as a primary lens. And I’ve probably sounded ridiculous. What most excites me about the lectures/readings is this chance to suspend my embedded 21st century Christian lens and really try to understand the text, as much as I am able, from a historical context in light of the original audience(s). I’m excited to see how that will enlighten my reading in an interesting/challenging/cool way.

Now, to answer these questions more specifically…

Surprises: I was surprised that the Hebrew Bible (that which is used in a Jewish context) is in a different order than the Old Testament (that which is used in a Christian context). I always assumed they just sorta glued the New Testament to the Jewish scriptures that already existed. I was also surprised by how many genres there are in the Old Testament.

Bothers: I didn’t find myself bothered by anything.

Excites: The aforementioned historical stuff, and the genre analysis. And I want to know which books use the genre of “riddle.” And I want to know the answer to the riddle, of course.

Questions: Are there parts of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that Christians traditionally interpret as anticipatory (of Christ) that, when understood in their historical context, may not actually be speaking to that? How do we discern that type of thing? I want to know more about the relationship between the OT/NT. How will this work shed light on my interpretation of the NT? Will understanding historical context clarify some of the relationships between God/Israelites and violence (which has always seemed, to me, to paint a difficult picture of God for a lot of folks).

Thanks for reading. Grace and peace.

 

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