Category Archives: Old Testament

Paul’s sense of Scripture and Adam’s fall

English: Allegory of Poles
English: Allegory of Poles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is going to be short, but one of the questions we should ask ourselves as interpreters of Paul is how did he read Scripture?

I believe Paul looked past Scripture and attempted to decipher it through the lens of Christ. Meaning, he wasn’t always the “historicist” (or literalist) we want to make him out to be. Let me give you two examples.

The first is rather small:

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same?  For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. (1 Co. 9.8–10)

The “biggest” use of Paul’s “other reading” is found in Galatians 4.24–26:

Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul sees something in this story that he is able to bring out in order to help his readers understand the Gospel. It may simply be Paul sees in the Genesis passage what he says he sees in the Deuteronomic passage — something written for us, for the new age under Christ.

So, then, why would we think Paul is intent on seeing the Genesis story as an historical event rather than a literary event (dare we say myth)? In Romans 5, the story of Adam’s great sin is used not so much as a way to tell us who evil and depraved we are (thanks, Jean) but to tell us how great the grace of Christ is. Jesus is not seen as the “Second Adam” but as one greater than Adam.

Now, to be sure, Paul uses this metaphor in 1 Cor 15.44–49 and in 2 Cor 3.13–18; however, there is a deeper exegesis required than that which is usually given.1

So, how do we understand Paul and his use of allegory? Does he see some of the Torah as allegory or does he use allegory to shape the Torah under the lens of Christ? Regardless, Paul does not necessarily require a historical event or historical meaning (hence the, “this was written for us!”) in order to understand the stories of his people as continuing and being made alive under the lens of his fellow Jew, Jesus.

 

  1. I haven’t read this, but wanted to keep it for later.

CTP Class – Genesis 2-3: Generations

There are a few things to note as we begin to read Genesis 2–3. 

First, let us note the first creation account ends where the second one begins… in Genesis 2.4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This phrase, “these are the generations” is significant, not only in giving the book its title, but so too in breaking Genesis into sections.  There are 10 such colophons:

  1. “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.” (Genesis 2:4a)
  2. “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Genesis 5:1)
  3. “These are the generations of Noah.” (Genesis 6:9)
  4. “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Genesis 10:1a)
  5. “These are the generations of Shem.” (Genesis 11:10a)
  6. “Now these are the generations of Terah.” (Genesis 11:27a)
  7. “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” (Genesis 25:19a)
  8. ‘This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael.” (Genesis 25:12a,)
  9. “This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom).” (Genesis 36:1)
  10. “These are the generations of Jacob.” (Genesis 37:2)

There are views of this, of course.  This is the “literalist” (young earth) view.  This is important because many see the creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–3 as the same.  But, they are not. Indeed, they are sometimes reversed (pdf). See here as well.

Here is a neat little picture to help with visualizing it:

creation stories

And…

Genesis_1_&_2_chart_sm

There are a few key points here that we can focus on in class.

Such as:

  • Why is God only speaking in the first and virtually unseen while in the second, God works, is quiet, and is very much present?
  • What is the difference in the creation of people between 1 and 2–3 and does it make a difference with us?

One thing you have to remember is to separate your Christian understanding of this story (what we call theology) from what it was originally meant to represent. For Christians, this is the “Fall,” but how do Jews see it? This is an academic view, but this is not while this one gets into interpretation. If you skip those, that is fine. But, read this one. Why?

Because Genesis 2 and 3 become important as an origin of evil story only in later Christian theology: “The story of the fall of man is never appealed to in the Old Testament either as a historical event or as supporting a theological construction of the nature and origin of sin…The fall of man, as a theological concept, begins to appear only in the late Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, probably under Essenic (if not Judæo-Christian) influences.”

Finally, ask yourself one question (well, one two-part question:)

  • Is there evil in this world and how would you explain it?

The Creation of Human-ity? (CTP Class)

This is a CTP post, explained here.

creation of man
creation of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, we are looking at the 6th day of Creation (beginning at Genesis 1.24).

The Ancient Near East (ANE) had several types of stories related to the creation of humankind. For instance, Marduk, the Babylonian god created humans to serve the gods. This idea, that humans were created to serve the gods, is rather ancient, pre-existing Babylon.

The origins of humans are described in another early second-millennium Sumerian poem, “The Song of the Hoe.” In this myth, as in many other Sumerian stories, the god Enlil is described as the deity who separates heavens and earth and creates humankind. Humanity is formed to provide for the gods, a common theme in Mesopotamian literature.

According to the Sumerian story “Enki and Ninmah,” the lesser gods, burdened with the toil of creating the earth, complained to Namma, the primeval mother, about their hard work. She in turn roused her son Enki, the god of wisdom, and urged him to create a substitute to free the gods from their toil. Namma then kneaded some clay, placed it in her womb, and gave birth to the first humans.

“The Creation of Humankind” is a bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian story also referred to in scholarly literature as KAR 4. This account begins after heaven was separated from earth, and features of the earth such as the Tigris, Euphrates, and canals established. At that time, the god Enlil addressed the gods asking what should next be accomplished. The answer was to create humans by killing Alla-gods and creating humans from their blood. Their purpose will be to labor for the gods, maintaining the fields and irrigation works in order to create bountiful harvests, celebrate the gods’ rites, and attain wisdom through study.

Plato had an idea too (Symposium):

They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.

This Platonic view is something that we will come back to in Genesis 2, but it helps us here because several interpreters see an androgynous being in Genesis 1.26–27.

God created humanity, male-n-female he created them.

Early interpreters in the Christian tradition (such as the Gospel of Thomas) understood it this way, as did the author of 2nd Clement. We can discuss this further, later.

A few things to consider:

  • What does it mean for the gods to create humans to serve, but Elohim created humans to  rule/govern/work creation?
  • Babylonian gods saw earth as something like a wastefield, but the picture we see in Genesis 1 is that of a cosmic Temple where God is meant to be worshiped in Creation.
  • Does an androgynous being in Genesis 1.26–27 change our understanding of “Creation Order” and some of our conservations today?
  • Who do you think is speaking to in Genesis 1.26–27 when He says “let us make” ?
  • How does the creation of humankind look different than the creation of other aspects?

Ways of Reading Genesis 1 (CTP class)

The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them. – John Wesley, Notes on the Bible, Genesis 2.8

The Creation
The Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To my regular throng of readers, this post may not be for you so much as it is for the class I am leading. This CTP class (critical-theological-practical) focuses on Scripture and how to read it on different levels. We have just started, laying some groundwork first on how to read Scripture (for this class). This post, and maybe more like it, will help to facilitate discussion and provide background to the current chapter or passage under discussion.

The next up is the first creation story as found in Genesis 1–2.4a. At no point should you read this entire passage and be done discussing it within an hour. Why? Because not only do have to decide if this is poetry, myth, literature, history, or science (or a mixture of some or all these modern categories) but then you need to talk about how it sets within the Exilic context. Maybe the sun, moon, and stars are really just luminary bodies and not Babylonian gods. Then you have to talk about what it means when God said “it is good.” Then you get to the Genesis 1.26-27 and so on.

But, to start this we have to really look at the ways of reading the first creation story. I have four posts/articles to share from others. I don’t agree with some of the things in them, but that’s not the point of the class. The point of the class is to help people read Scripture contextually, theologically, and for themselves.

These posts don’t have to be read, but I post them here in case you want to read them:

Some other posts, from your’s truly:

If you are in Charleston, WV at 7am on Thursdays, look us up.

SBL 2014 Interviews

SBL 2014 was great and I had the opportunity to interview three scholars for MAP.

Dr. Yael Avrahami is the author of the award-winning book Senses of Scripture: Sensory Perception in the Hebrew Bible. In our discussion, she addresses why the 5 senses alone don’t hold up in the epistemologies of the Hebrew Bible. Yael is also one of the creators of Hendrickson’s new Reader’s Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Bob Bascom is a Hebrew Bible scholar and Bible translator. Bob is a friend who has taught me a lot about life and love. Literally. He’s a cognitive linguist who can tell you about love in the brain and what kind of love it is. And he does here in the interview.

Dr. Chip Hardy has recently completed his PhD at the University of Chicago on the diachronic development of biblical Hebrew prepositions. In our discussion, he lays out the basic principles of grammaticalization theory.

@dageshforte