Category Archives: Scholarship

Book Notice: @candidamoss’s Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness

The previews look great.

In the Book of Genesis, the first words God speaks to humanity are “Be fruitful and multiply.” From ancient times to today, these words have been understood as a divine command to procreate. Fertility is viewed as a sign of blessedness and moral uprightness, while infertility is associated with sin and moral failing. Reconceiving Infertility explores traditional interpretations such as these, providing a more complete picture of how procreation and childlessness are depicted in the Bible.

Closely examining texts and themes from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, Candida Moss and Joel Baden offer vital new perspectives on infertility and the social experiences of the infertile in the biblical tradition. They begin with perhaps the most famous stories of infertility in the Bible—those of the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel—and show how the divine injunction in Genesis is both a blessing and a curse. Moss and Baden go on to discuss the metaphorical treatments of Israel as a “barren mother,” the conception of Jesus, Paul’s writings on family and reproduction, and more. They reveal how biblical views on procreation and infertility, and the ancient contexts from which they emerged, were more diverse than we think.

Reconceiving Infertility demonstrates that the Bible speaks in many voices about infertility, and lays a biblical foundation for a more supportive religious environment for those suffering from infertility today.

Breasts and the end of the penis

"Isaac’s Circumcision"
“Isaac’s Circumcision” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my Thursday morning bible study class we are going through Genesis, albeit slowly. Why? Because you miss a lot when you read it fast. You miss the nuance. You miss the way the translations move things around and hide things. You miss the euphemisms. You miss solid discussion about what Scripture meant, what it means, and what it can mean. And you miss ways to read it that may make it more interesting.

For instance, we were previewing Genesis 17 for next week. It is here we are introduced to El Shaddai, often translated as God Almighty (because of the Greek, not the Hebrew). Better, it is God All-Sufficient. I say better because there are different understandings of the Shaddai bit. My Jewish Study Bible says “God from the Mountain” (in the notes). The translation really depends upon where you think the Hebrew loan word came from.

Some suppose it is to be translated as “breasted one.” Only if we demand a gender for God do we start to wonder if God is a male or female. I do not. I think we have ways of describing God that includes mother, breasts, etc… We see this really developed with Sophia and Logos. But, I digress. This is supposed to be a funny post.

We are introduced to El Shaddai in Genesis 17, just a few verses before the covenant of circumcision was given. I don’t mean to cut you short here, but that’s dang near funny. Especially if you read it from the point of a Breasted God giving Abraham the command to take a knife to his 86 year old penis. As some in the class pointed out, I mean.

I would never laugh at such a prospect.

“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it” – GK Chesterton.

Laughter is an invitation. 

In the Mail: “From Crisis to Christ: A Contextual Introduction to the New Testament” @AbingdonPress

Thanks to Dr. Anderson and Abingdon for this review copy:

New, valuable understandings of the historical and religious contexts of New Testament writings continue to emerge. This accessibly written introduction examines over two dozen such crises and how the biblical text addresses, reflects, and embodies them. From the ministry of Jesus, to the rise and propagation of the Christian movement, to the epistles of Paul and other leaders, to a vision of God’s final cosmic victory, the New Testament books are succinctly introduced in literary, historical, and theological perspective.

Designed for optimal classroom use, each chapter offers four primary features: (a) definition and exploration of relevant contextual crises; (b) connections with the biblical writings; (c) primary features of the biblical narrative; and (d) an application section that engages the student directly and invites thoughtful response.

Book Announcement: de Lubac’s “Vatican Council Notebooks” @ignatiuspress

Even for Protestants, Vatican II is important. Indeed, I’d say it is one of the most important things in the West in the last 100 years (ecumenically speaking, of course).

“Surprising news!” With these words, Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J., whose orthodoxy had been so vigorously attacked, responded to the announcement of his selection to participate in the Second Vatican Council. His participation as a theologian and expert would make a lasting impact on the Council, and his insights and comments are recorded in this long-awaited volume, Vatican Council Notebooks: Volume One.

These Notebooks trace the two years of preparation, the four conciliar sessions, and the three periods between sessions. They give us the opportunity to assist at the discussion of the schemas (initial drafts of conciliar texts), but also, during the meetings of the theological commission and the sub-commissions, at the elaboration and correction of the texts submitted to the Council fathers. The eminent theologian de Lubac is a sure guide for the reader, introducing us to the theological ferment of the Council and helping us to grasp what was at stake in the often animated debates.

De Lubac does not hesitate to express clearly what he thinks of the theologians around him, of the new concepts appearing because of the Council, or of the problems he judges to be most serious for the Christian faith. These Notebooks invite us to a greater historical and theological understanding of the Council.

Besides information about the numerous aspects of the conciliar assembly, what makes the testimony of these notebooks so captivating is the strongly rendered presence of men and their psychology. De Lubac excels in sketching the portrait of the participants with only a few words. Among the many interesting encounters, he tells of deepening his acquaintance with Josef Ratzinger, whom he describes as a “theologian as peaceable and kindly as he is competent”. In the same way, during the long discussion over the drafting of the constitution Gaudium et Spes, he observed the assertiveness of Karol Wojtyła, whose interventions struck him because of the seriousness, the rigor, and the solidity of his faith, which created in him a lively sense of spiritual friendship, which was reciprocated.

In the preface to the Vatican Council Notebooks, Jacques Prevotat, Professor of Modern History at the University of Lille-III, writes, “These Notebooks bear witness to the difficulties Fr. de Lubac experienced in the years following the publication of Surnaturel (Supernatural, 1946), very much in evidence within the Theological Commission, in the preparatory period during which the theologian, just recently named to the commission by John XXIII, was confronted with future conciliar schemas prepared by his adversaries. Nevertheless, it was his theology that prevailed in Lumen Gentium and also in Dei Verbum.”

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Editor of Ignatius Press, says, “Fr. de Lubac has a historian’s keen eye as well as a theologian’s familiarity with the issues. As a participant at the Council, he described what really happened in the corridors and trattorie at Vatican II.”

About the Author:
Henri Cardinal de Lubac was a French Jesuit priest, theologian and expert at Vatican II. He wrote numerous theological and spiritual works including Splendor of the Church, Catholicism, Motherhood of the Church, and The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

what if Jesus died for God’s honor?

I realize this thesis has never been proposed before so bear with me…

In reading through what Jarvis Williams calls “martyrdom theology” I come across Eleazar of 2 Maccabees:

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. 19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, 20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.

21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. 22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. 23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!”

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-fi...
Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. 25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. 26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, 28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”

He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. 30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” 31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

Note specifically v.26-28. There is a connection between honor and blasphemy. If Jesus died as martyr, or with the theology of martyrdom on his side, then he died in response to the honor of God.

I don’t necessarily believe that is the case, as you should know by now; however, the story does give us a sense that there exists a connection, just as in suicide, for a chosen death and a sense of honor. Eleazar dies devoted to God — as a devotion to God — to avoid dishonoring God.