Note, this is a Book Notes (a possible new feature), not a full review which may follow later. The goal of this feature is to give you a brief summary.
There is not a more important book to understanding Paul’s theology than Deuteronomy. Likewise, we may suspect that there is no important book to the Gospels’, especially John, understanding of Jesus than the final book of Moses. Finally, there seems to be no better book in understanding, if not the entire Jewish canon, than a sizable portion along with several literary strains of Second Temple Judaism, than the capstone to the Torah. Given Daniel I. Block’s work in Deuteronomy, it is not surprising then that his “colleagues, friends, and former students” would choose to honor him via this massive volume. I note with welcome the inclusion of a variety of voices found among his friends and contributors. The book is divided into 3 sections. The first examines the message of Deuteronomy, focused solely on the book itself while the second focuses on Deuteronomy’s reception both in the Jewish canon as well as the Christian canon. Pay attention the first part to Peter T. Vogt’s essay suggesting a pre-monarchy dating to the book while in the second, look especially to Grant R. Osborn’s “Testing God’s Son: Deuteronomy and Luke 4.1–13.” The third part is more practical, with the contributors giving essays on immigration (M. Daniel Carroll R.), human trafficking (Myrto Theocharous), and even a way to preach (Daniel L. Akin) — all based on Deuteronomy. While many of the essays are notable, there are outstanding ones, such as Douglas Moo’s essay on Paul’s use of Deuteronomy and Jason Gile’s essay on the theology of exile in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. This volume is made complete with Thomas H. McClendon Jr.’s essay on Block’s (Christian) theology of Deuteronomy. In total, this volume is much more than a contribute Block; it is a lauding of the current multi-discipline work on the book of Deuteronomy itself. To that end, the essays explore the work via critical appraisals of Deuteronomy’s importance in the ecumenical canons and how it can impact our discussions of justice and grace today.
War and Terrorism opened up a new world for me in terms of dealing with the issues at hand from a variety of angles. It is very fitting to read this book from time to time in order to deal with the issues which we are promised to face for the rest of this century.
Andy‘s book, well, as I was sinking deep into the despair of cynicism, it came at the right time. I actually thought that this book was going to justify my cynicism and tell me how to continue to be both a cynic and a saint. But you know, it didn’t. Instead, it woke me up to the direction in which I was heading. It is a powerful little book which I think everyone needs to read – the idealist and the cynic.
I will be posting insights and reflections, leading up to a review starting soon. I’ve had the pleasure of reading this book since Friday, off and on, and it is spectacular. ORDER IT FROM EISENBRAUNS.
The ancient Near Eastern mode of thought is not at all intuitive to us moderns, but our understanding of ancient perspectives can only approach accuracy when we begin to penetrate ancient texts on their own terms rather than imposing our own world view. In this task, we are aided by the ever-growing corpus of literature that is being recovered and analyzed.
After an introduction that presents some of the history of comparative studies and how it has been applied to the study of ancient texts in general and cosmology in particular, Walton focuses in the first half of this book on the ancient Near Eastern texts that inform our understanding about ancient ways of thinking about cosmology. Of primary interest are the texts that can help us discern the parameters of ancient perspectives on cosmic ontology—that is, how the writers perceived origins. Texts from across the ancient Near East are presented, including primarily Egyptian, Sumerian, and Akkadian texts, but occasionally also Ugaritic and Hittite, as appropriate. Walton’s intention, first of all, is to understand the texts but also to demonstrate that a functional ontology pervaded the cognitive environment of the ancient Near East. This functional ontology involves more than just the idea that ordering the cosmos was the focus of the cosmological texts. He posits that, in the ancient world, bringing about order and functionality was the very essence of creative activity. He also pays close attention to the ancient ideology of temples to show the close connection between temples and the functioning cosmos.
The second half of the book is devoted to a fresh analysis of Genesis 1:1–2:4. Walton offers studies of significant Hebrew terms and seeks to show that the Israelite texts evidence a functional ontology and a cosmology that is constructed with temple ideology in mind, as in the rest of the ancient Near East. He contends that Genesis 1 never was an account of material origins but that, as in the rest of the ancient world, the focus of “creation texts” was to order the cosmos by initiating functions for the components of the cosmos. He further contends that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is founded on the premise that the cosmos should be understood in temple terms. All of this is intended to demonstrate that, when we read Genesis 1 as the ancient document it is, rather than trying to read it in light of our own world view, the text comes to life in ways that help recover the energy it had in its original context. At the same time, it provides a new perspective on Genesis 1 in relation to what have long been controversial issues. Far from being a borrowed text, Genesis 1 offers a unique theology, even while it speaks from the platform of its contemporaneous cognitive environment.
In a career spanning almost five decades, Baruch Levine’s numerous publications reflect his wide-ranging interests and areas of expertise in the study of the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Near East, and early Judaism. In Search of Meaning brings together fifty-one of the most important articles that Professor Levine produced during his years at Brandeis University (1962–69) and New York University (1969–2000, emeritus 2000–). The first volume, containing twenty-seven articles, focuses on the study of religion in the biblical and ancient Near Eastern worlds from a number of perspectives, ranging from close philological analysis of written sources to anthropological studies of ancient cultic practices. In the twenty-four articles of the second volume, Levine engages broader aspects of ancient Near Eastern society, from legal institutions of various types to larger societal forms of organization. This latter volume also contains some of his more incisive lexicographical and philological contributions to the study of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages.
The flavor of Prof. Levine’s work is captured in this paragraph from his introduction to these two volumes:
“Looking back, and reviewing my writings, I realize what it is that I have been seeking all along. I have been in pursuit of meaning, employing scholarly methods, primarily philology and semantics, to the exegesis of ancient Near Eastern texts, preserved in several languages, principally the Hebrew Bible. I regard language as the key to meaning. This conclusion would appear to be self-evident, and yet, philology is often sidelined in favor of engaging larger frameworks. Most of all, I challenge the notion that we already know the meaning of the words and clauses central to the texts under investigation, and may proceed directly to other considerations without first re-examining the smaller units. Again and again, that policy has resulted in flawed interpretation, and in missed opportunities for learning. This is not to say that scholars should stop at the smaller units, and, indeed, the tendency to do so has been largely responsible for the reaction against Semitic philology so noticeable since the latter part of the 20th century. It is our challenge to move outward from focal points to the circumference, from text to context, from content to structure.”
During our time, we are watching threats arise in North Korea and Iran as well threats emerging again in Iraq and other portions of the Middle East. Not only that, but the wars which prompted these essays have yet to subside and with each promise of withdrawal comes the passive acknowledgment that our children may not in fact see the end of these wars. This book doesn’t promise answers, and what answers it gives don’t always sit well with those of us to the political left who fight tooth and nail for the ‘pure’ doctrine of Just War. Of course, the political right will not find much comfort either in the idea of absorbing peace or the method of handling non-combatants.
This book, published by Eisenbrauns (here), is part of the Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement series edited by Richard S. Hess and Craig L. Blomberg. This particular volume is edited by Hess and Elmer A. Martens and includes distinguished writers, such as Daniel Heimback and Ian G.C. Durie. It is a collect of essays inspired by Denver Seminary’s annual Biblical Studies conference, help in 2004, which attempted to ‘address… the question of the teachings of biblical ethics regarding modern war.’ (viii) Often times, especially in the latest round of discussion concerning war, terrorism and the appropriate response to attacks, the Hebrew bible is mined extensively (well, not too extensively, I suspect) to support a violent and oftentimes, religious response in the form of a crusade. I remember the days after 9/11 when our rhetoric was a ‘our God vs their god’ type mentality, with phrases such as ‘we should go Old Testament on their….’ brought up repeatedly. Richard Hess, an editor of this series, shapes a response to those who do violence to the Old Testament by using it to justify a swift and brutal reaction. His purpose is twofold: to consider the issue of war in a then/now spectrum as well as to allow the modern Westerner to regard him or herself in this light allowing them to see how much the views have changed by examining recent contributions to the ethics of war.
Elmer A. Martens, a co-editor of this volume and a Professor Emeritus at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, brings us the second essay which attempts to answer, somewhat, Regina Schwartz‘s book which called for the end of Monotheism. In this essay, Martens attempts to answer the charges against the Cross as a symbol of a violent and uncaring God, but doesn’t exclude the fact that their is violence in Holy Writ, and that God does at times cause it. What is interesting is first his notion of shalom, which while we tend to think that it fits neatly as ‘peace’, really doesn’t, and second, his view of the absorption of violence by the believers, but most notably, by the Cross. It is looking to be a timely discussion with tensions rising again around the Korean Peninsula, Rodas examines Isaianic impulses toward peace in a country at war. He first tells his story of how he came to his conclusions on biblical theology of war and the impetus of this search, followed by a thorough review of Isaiah’s prophecies dealing with Hezekiah, a king who in the midst of a war turned to human innovations instead of relying upon YHWH. It is not about what we can do, but about who we are that confirms what we should do.
Daniel R. Heimbach writes the fifth essay in this book, an essay which is immediately challenging to my political notions which developed over the past eleven years. He takes on the notion, developed during the lead up to the Iraqi War, that a Just War is in effect the same as a Crusade, making such a Crusade a morally righteous act. He tackles Plato, Aristotle and Augustine in (re)dividing Crusade from Just War, admirably. The final several move from a proper method of protecting civilians in a time of war to a just war theory in use against terrorism and ending with final essay in this momentous book by Christian ethicist Glenn H. Stassen. It pertains not to pacificism or the Just War Theory but to something different – to the Just Peacemaking Theory. Immediately, with that phrase, I think about the end of the Great War, and what might have happened at the peacemaking with Germany being in line with Christian precepts, but I digress.
These essays aren’t about mundane, rational logic or philosophy, but approaches the issue from the Christian Tradition with each author tying their essay in some way back to Christ and Scripture. There are thoughts aplenty in this book with questions being raised, some answered, but more importantly, it is a call to conversation about how to handle acts of illegal terrorism as a Christian nation, if that is indeed what we are or at the very least, what we desire to become.
Major General Durie was a strong advocate of the Just War theory, and his essay is not less adamant that Just War can be maintained in the fight against modern terrorism. He notes, rightly, that terrorism is generally what the other person doesn’t like. During the period immediately following 9/11, Reuters, if memory serves, published a story stating that one’s man terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This was not received well by the American public who was still in the midst of subjective response. But, the statement is accurate. Durie writes,
…popular usage demands that we treat terrorism typically as an instrument of a resistance struggle. Whether or not it is unlawful depends on how it is used. (p115)
We should note that the same flip of meaning goes along with the words treason, traitor and the like. It depends, in the end, on who wins. Had the Founder Fathers lost, they would have been known as traitors. It is in this light that Durie tackles terrorism, asking for if terrorism is ever legitimate. It may surprise the answer, especially if we subjectively name it something else (p117). And while some terrorism may have been justified, rarely (Durie cites one instance where it was used solely against the military p116) did it not touch the noncombatants. Further, he notes, that it is justified, it will not work if the rules are completely followed (p117).
Durie is ‘big’ on the rules, especially in use of terrorism and response to terrorism. He writes,
The absolute necessity for governments to behave legitimately and accountable must be constantly reinforced and checked. If a legitimate government behaves illegally, wrongly, unethically, or immorally, it undermines its own authority and legitimacy and provides a precedent for its opposition to do the same. (p118)
If only, I think, that our Government officials consistently felt the same way, but you and I both know that they do not, not even ours. Durie’s essay is concerned with legitimacy, but I have wonder, that if as he even notes, legitimacy rarely wins, then what are we left with? How must ‘illegitimacy’ are we going to endure in order to ‘win’ any conflict, local, national, or international. In the War Between the States, Lincoln shredded the Constitution and treated fellow Americans as war-criminals, allowing a holocaust of sorts for Southern prisoners. Or, of Sherman’s scorched earth policy? If we follow Durie’s line, then we must re-examine Lincoln’s actions as well as our present course in understanding our guilt, first, and how our government as be effected by these things. One of his final sections is about holding national governments accountable. How do we do this if in doing this, we reveal the ugly actions we’ve undertaken to ‘preserve our way of life’?
But, it is in this accountability and indeed, in following the Just Peace and Just Rulemaking dictum’s of Christian theology that not only holds governments accountable, but neutralizes terrorism in many ways. Interesting enough is Durie’s appendix on Criteria on Justified Response.
Another one? Another essay which takes a different slant than I want on war and terrorism during our time?
Written by Lt. Col. Tony Pfaff, a former philosopher teacher at West Point, this essay tackles the issue of noncombatant immunity in our pursuit of terrorists. What I didn’t know was, was the distinction between Police Action and War, and how civilians factored into the decision of force.
This distinction is easily summarized when Pfaff writes,
By enforcing laws, police maintain peace; by fighting wars, soldiers establish it. (p98)
Pfaff then goes on to structure his argument of when police is need versus the use of soldiers around the idea which we might associate with Ex parte Milligan. The point that he makes (97-100) is essential in understanding his essay and his view on the biblical response to terrorism. He goes on to differentiate between Criminals, Enemies and Terrorists, and does so within the tradition of ‘Nation of Laws’ approach we often hear about. This is a vital element missing in our national discourse on the pursuit of terrorists, and one which must be approached by our leaders. I had never really thought about the legal nuances, which is generally portrayed as a means of circumventing the Law, of terrorism. Instead, these little differences amount to the culmination of much speculation not only of international law but so too the Christian Just War Theory. The differences also amount to the immunity or damage afforded to noncombatants.
“It is important”, he writes near the end of the essay, “to remember that noncombatants are not subject to unintentional harm because they somehow deserve it. Instead, they are subject to unintentional harm because they are citizens of a state against who act of aggression the government must move in defense. (p106)” It is difficult at best for a rational population who professes the Christian attitudes of peace and compassion to all to watch as seemingly innocent populations undergo such military strategies as ‘Shock and Awe‘, but it would behoove us, according to Pfaff, to know our goal, the reasons of that goal, and how such actions are determined by law. The reaction to terrorism is dependent upon many things; it is important to understand the reason for the reaction, and that not all terrorists are the same. I believe that a reconsideration and a reminder of the War on Terror may help to solidify our current strategy, if one buys into what Pfaff is arguing. And if the buy in is made, the stance against total war is equally assured by the consumer.