Tuesday, October 28, 2008
At his blog "Glory to God for All Things", Father Stephen Freeman recently posted a fine piece on the biblical view of creation and order in creation. Here is an excerpt:
Orthodox Christianity does not attribute a “spirit” to the things of creation - but neither does it describe creation as mute or as a secularized, universal no-man’s land. The universe is decidedly on the side of God and resists those who do evil. This is not to say that creation behaves in a way in which we are always pleased. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. The righteous die of cancer as well as the wicked. There is a fallenness to the world in which we live, but it has not been stripped of its character or nature. The winds and the seas obeyed the voice of Christ, even as the universe itself came into being through His voice.
Neither does Orthodoxy see creation has having been brought into existence and simply left alone to its own laws and devices. Instead we confess that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” God is not a stranger to the universe at any point. He sustains us and everything around us.
All of this means that how we interact with creation is not properly that of the “masters of the universe” lording it over some inert lump of stuff. The passage in Leviticus points rather to a proper stewardship of everything around us. The earth does not belong to us: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).
In recent years the Patriarch of Constantinople added a new emphasis to the Orthodox feast of the New Year (marked on September 1). To the new year he added an emphasis on celebrating our relationship with the whole of the created order and our right treatment of all things. This was ratified by the other patriarchs of the Church within the past month.
The voice of creation is not always heard by all. But it is heard by some. St. Anthony of Egypt said (when asked why he had no books), “My book is the whole creation.” It apparently taught him into paradise.
Read it all here.
My question to Father Stephen was, “What does one say to the homosexual who argues that God created him or her that way?” Here is Fr. Freeman’s thoughtful response:
"God is everywhere present, and filling all things. Even in creation as fallen, He is at work. But none of us, regardless of orientation, genome, etc., can say, ‘God made me this way,’ in the sense that we would Biblically say of Adam, 'God made him that way.' In the Biblical story (you’re the Genesis expert!) it is said of Seth that he was born in 'Adam’s' image, recognizing that something has not been fulfilled in Seth that was promised in Adam.
We are all earthen vessels in which God does move and speak, and renew and recreate. The homosexual, like the alcoholic, can find a form of sobriety in Christ - which is not necessarily to say that he or she will find an end of disordered attractions. Neither does the alcoholic necessarily find that alcohol never comes to mind. But sobriety is a healing and has a fullness in it that is deeply of God.
The fullness, even within a Christian marriage, is rarely the fullness that it should be, I think because we do not treat it seriously enough and settle for too little.
But we should not attribute to God what God has not done. He has not made us sick or dysfunctional. Sin has distorted everything. Nothing is seen in completion until it is seen in Christ and the fullness of His resurrection."
Father Freeman's response will be helpful to those who wonder how to respond to the question of homosexuality or other conditions exhibiting fallenness. The wise never regard God as a stamp of approval on their center-of-the-universe illusions. The compassionate heart always sees the Christ-fulfilled divine promise in even the most broken life.
I'm reminded of something that Dorothy Sayers wrote:
If we refuse assent to reality: if we rebel against the nature of things and choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself, the first effect on us will be that the whole universe will seem to be filled with an inexplicable hostility. We shall begin to feel that everything has a down on us, and that, being so badly treated, we have a just grievance against things in general. That is the knowledge of good and evil and the fall into illusion. If we cherish and fondle that grievance, and would rather wallow in it and vent our irritation in spite and malice than humbly admit we are in the wrong and try to amend our behaviour so as to get back to reality, that is, while it lasts, the deliberate choice, and a foretaste of the experience of Hell. (Introductory Papers on Dante, p. 64)
The destructive ways we seek to regain Paradise only make us hostile to God and to those who speak to us of true hope through repentance and amendment of life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Genesis 12:5 tells us that, "Abram took his wife, Sarai, and Lot, his brother's son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they had made in Haran, and they left to go to the land of Canaan."
This departure was precipitated by the fact that Abraham's older brother, Nahor, had inherited the territory of their father, Terah. This was the ascendency pattern of the Horite ruler-priest caste to which Abraham belonged. The firstborn son of the sister-wife ascended to the throne of his biological father. So Isaac was Abraham's heir since Sarah was Abraham's half-sister. The firstborn son of the cousin/niece wife ascended to the throne of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. So Joktan, Abraham's firstborn by Ketu-rah, his cousin/niece wife, ascended to the throne of Joktan the Elder. This pattern of marriage and ascendency is unique to the ancient Horites and continued to New Testament times.
Lot's relationship to Abraham is explained earlier in Genesis 11:27 where we are told that he is the son of Haran, Sarah's brother who died in Ur. Sarah was Lot's closest blood relative, other than his sister, Milcah who married Abraham's brother, Nahor. The Horite ruler-priest lines intermarried exclusively because they believed that the promise made to their ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15) would be fulfilled through their people.
Lots's Father and Great Ancestor
Lot's father was the first-born son of Terah's cousin bride, a daughter of Haran. Haran is also a place name designating a boundary of Haran's holdings. Haran the Elder was a contemporary of Terah's father, Nahor. The kinship pattern found here is exactly like that found in Genesis 4 and 5, with Kushite rulers marrying two wives. One was a half-sister and the other a patrilineal cousin or niece. The cousin/niece brides named their firstborn sons after their fathers. This trait enables us to trace Jesus' ancestry back to Eden.
Lot's father was somewhat younger than Nahor, Terah's first-born son by his half-sister. This is discernable because cousin wives appear to have been second wives, taken shortly before the heir ascended to his father's office as chief. This suggests that Nahor married Milcah near to the time of Terah's death in Haran. Similarly, Genesis speaks of the urgency to acquire a cousin bride for Isaac before Abraham's death. Given the kinship pattern of Abraham's people, this means that Isaac already had a half-sister bride in Beersheba. She is the mother of Issac's firstborn Yishbak.
After his father died, Lot traveled with his aunt Sarah and his grandfather Terah back to Haran, where Sarah and Haran, Lots' deceased father had family. There Terah died, leaving his throne to his oldest son, Nahor. It is at this point that Abraham receives his call to go to the land of Canaan where that God would esthablish him as a ruler. (Gen. 12:1) This is a turning point in Biblical history. The calling of Abraham to Canaan would change Mankind's destiny and Lot's story is an important sub-text in understanding that destiny.
Lot's name means veil, hidden or covering. It is the same as the name Lotan, a son of Seir the Horite (Gen. 36) and it is originally a Kushite name. One of Lot's royal kin was the Kushite ruler Nim-Lot. Min-Lot means the "waters of Lot." This refers to a 3-clan confederation of Ar, Arvd and Arkt. The last two clans are named in Genesis 10:15-17 and the clan of Ar is linked to
Analysis of the relationship between Abraham, Nahor and Lot indicates a pattern of marriage between patrilineal parallel cousins such as that found in Genesis 4 and 5. According to Genesis 22:20, Lot's sister married Nahor and gave birth to eight sons. The most notable of Milcah's sons was Kemuel the father of Aram. ("Ar-am" means the people of Ar.)
Lot's regional identity was Aramean but he was ethnically Kushite. He and Abraham belonged to the Horite caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus who was called "son of God." One of Lot's daughters apparently married Seir the Horite (Gen. 36) and named their first-born Lotan after her father.
Lot in Canaan
There was little opportunity for Lot in Padan-Aram, Nahor's territory. Like Abraham, he would seek his fortune to the west, in Canaan. It is likely that Lot's wife traveled with them, though she is not mentioned until we come to the story of the pillar of salt (Gen. 18). There she disappears and is replaced by 2 women, much more typical of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people.
In Canaan, both Abraham and Lot and their flocks prospered to the point that they found it necessary to separate (Gen. 13). Lot looked upon the whole plain of the Jordan which appeared "like the garden of the Lord" (Gen. 13:10) and chose to move eastward toward the cities of the Plain.
Lot's status in Canaan was that of a wealthy stranger, like Abraham. He had herds and men to tend the herds, but he lived in a fine house in Sodom. The Sodomites refer to Lot as a sojourner among them who plays the role of judge (Gen. 18:9). He spent time at the town gate, where the elders of the city deliberated on important matters and settled disputes. But, it is evident that Lot did not consider it wise to be out after dark because he urges the angelic visitors to stay with him and to come quickly into his house.
According to Genesis 19:24-25, Sodom (Hebrew: סְדוֹם) was destroyed by fire and brimstone which rained down from heaven. This event is said to have coincided with Lot’s hospitality to angels. Sodom was one of several towns destroyed, but it is Sodom from which we receive the term ‘sodomy’.
Geologist Frederick Clapp visited the area of the “cities of the plain” in 1929 and again in 1939. He believed that a seismic disturbance may have forced bitumen deposits out of the earth through fault lines along the east and west sides of the Dead Sea. Clapp's research revealed asphalt and petroleum accompanied by natural gas in this region. The bitumen would easily have been ignited, producing the effect of fire and brimstone falling from the sky.
The city of Sodom was located on a fault line along the eastern side of a plain south of the Dead Sea, so Clapp's theory is plausible. The Biblical account of the destruction comes from Abraham’s vantage point west of the Dead Sea. Genesis 19:28, tells us that Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace”. Dense smoke suggests a petroleum-based fire. Smoke rising as from a furnace indicates a forced draft, such as would be expected from fault lines where underground oil and gas deposits were under pressure. Clearly there was an explosion which carried brimstone into the air above the cities. This is supported by discoveries of fires starting on the roofs. Zoar was not destroyed.
As Lot flees with his family from Sodom, his wife is turned to a pillar of salt because she looked back. One need not take this literally. Jesus refers to this, not as an historical event, but to teach a lesson about discipleship (Luke 17:28-32). If this woman was Abraham's niece, we understand something of the urgency of Abraham's intercession for Lot and his family.
Outside of Sodom, a very different and credible picture of Lot emerges. Lot has 2 first-born sons: Moab and Ben-Ammi, making him a chief, like his grandfather Terah. The mothers of these sons were probably wives, not daughters, and they are more real than Lot's wife. The casting of the Moabites and the Ammonites as the fruit of incest is a tribal tale told to scorn other peoples. This story is the work of the same writer who told us about Noah becoming drunk and exposing himself to his sons (Gen. 9:21-27). These stories of drunken fathers are used to bolster claims of one people over another by denigrating the ancestors. Whenever this happens, God overrules. According to Deuteronomy 23:3, no descendent of Moab was allowed in the assembly of Israel, yet David appeared in the assembly and he is a descendent of Moab by Ruth.
Lot is an interesting character, both the brunt of tribal scorn and the founder of great nations. Like Abraham, he was a wealthy sojourner in Canaan who God helped in the day of trouble. As with Abraham, God gave territory to Lot and intended that Lot's territory remain with his descendents. In Deuteronomy 2:9, we read "And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession." Again in Deuteronomy 2:19, we read: "And when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession."
Also like Abraham, Lot's house would be blessed through his descendants, one of whom was to be David, Israel's greatest king. David was the descendant of the Moabite Ruth.
Related reading: Lot's Daughters; Two Passovers and Two Drunken Fathers
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Following the custom of his Horite forefathers, Abraham had two wives. Sarah was his half-sister wife and Keturah was his patrilineal cousin wife. Isaac ascended to the throne of Abraham as the firstborn of the sister wife and Joktan ruled in the territory of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. Though Isaac ruled after Abraham, he was not the first son born to Abraham.
Alice C. Linsley
Jews insist that Isaac was Abraham's firstborn son while Muslims insist that Ishmael was Abraham's firstborn son. Risking the anger of both Jews and Muslims, my guess, based on the evidence of Scripture, is that Joktan was the first in the birth order of Abraham's nine sons. This means that he was likely born before Sarah conceived Isaac and before Sarah attempted to gain a son by using Hagar as a surrogate.
|The Joktanite Tribes of Southern Arabia|
Joktan (also spelled Yaqtan) is the founder or titular head of the Joktanite Tribes of Arabia. The Jews say that his name means "little" but his name is a version of the name Jonathan, meaning "God gives." Joktan lived about 1987-1912 B.C. That he was a ruler is evident by the solar symbol Y at the beginning of this name. This symbol designates chiefs and rulers.
The earliest scripts, such as Thamudic, involved symbols representing not simply general names, but complex related experiences including names, attributes and worldview. A solar symbol such as Y or T or O represented a deified or divinely appointed ruler, his territory, his people, and his resources such as water and gold. This is why the Horite ruler-priests names begin with the solar symbol: Yaqtan, Yishmael, Yitzak, Yisbak, Yacob, Yosef, Yeshua, etc.
We explored the biblical theme of 2 sons, and now we must consider the equally important theme of 3 sons. Seeing the bigger picture of Abraham's people requires looking at all 3 sons.
We note the persistence of the theme of 3 sons here:
Gen. 4 - Cain, Abel, Seth
Gen. 4 - Jubal, Jabal, Tubal
Gen. 7 - Ham, Shem, Japheth
Gen. 11 - Haran, Nahor, Abraham
To this we add the first-born sons of Abraham: Ishmael (by the concubine Hagar), Isaac (by his sister-wife Sarah) and Joktan (by his cousin wife Keturah). The birth order is not clear, which is strange given the importance of primogeniture among Abraham’s people. We are told that Ishmael was born first, but rejected as the heir upon Sarah's insistence, though she had arranged the situation. It is not clear that Ishmael would have been heir to Abraham's office as chief, even if Sarah's scheme had gone forward, especially if Keturah's son Joktan was born first.
We are told that Sarah couldn't conceive, but finally bore Isaac in her old age. Meanwhile, the order of the narrative implies that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died, which can't be the case, since it was the pattern among Abraham's people for chiefs to maintain 2 wives in separate households at the northern and southern boundaries of their territories. Sarah was in Hebron and Keturah was in Beersheba to the south. That Abraham was recognized as a chief among the people is evident in Genesis 23:5 where the Hittites speak of Abraham as "a prince of God" among them.
So who was Abraham's first-born son? My guess is Joktan, the first-born of Keturah, and that Abraham acquired Keturah as a wife when he went to the Negev (Gen. 12:9) after consulting the Seer at Shechem (Gen. 12:6).
The number 3 taunts us and compels us to seek the hidden, just as Abraham sought guidance about his unknown future at the Diviner’s Oak near Hebron (Gen.13:18). At this very place he later looked up and saw 3 “men” coming to him and ordered 3 measures of flour to make cakes and brought to these visitors 3 gifts: curds, milk and a calf. And Abraham interceded for Sodom 3 times (Gen. 18).
Consider the mystery surrounding Isaac. On the surface there appears to be so little information about Isaac (compared to Abraham and Jacob). This led some biblical scholars to speculate that Isaac may be a fictional character, created to bridge the generations. We may dismiss this theory since Genesis provides more information about Isaac than is generally recognized and what we are given could not have been invented, nor could it be the product of an editor. The key to discovery is the seeking of the hidden third son.
The text presents us with this picture of Isaac: He had two wives, as did his father and his father’s father. Rebecca was his cousin wife, to whom he was married shortly before Abraham died. She was Isaac's second wife. Isaac's first wife was a half-sister (again following his father and grandfather). She lived in the area of Beersheba where Abraham had married Keturah and where he settled after his experience at Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:19).
Isaac’s rule in Beersheba is evident in Gen. 26 where we are told that he reopened the wells dug by his father between Beersheba and Gerar. This explains why Abraham’s servant brought Rebecca to Beersheba rather than to Hebron, Sarah's settlement. According to tradition, Isaac's first wife was called Judith (feminine equivalent of Judah).
Just as Abraham needed 2 wives to establish himself in the land, so Isaac needed 2 wives to maintain his father's territory. This explains the urgency of getting Isaac a wife before Abraham's death.
The picture becomes clearer when we imagine Judith in Beersheba and Rebecca in the area of Hebron. We are now able to speculate that Isaac had 3 sons: Jacob and Esau by Rebecca, and by Judith a son who is not named in the text. However, since the kinship of Abraham’s people traces lineage through the father and the mother, this pushes the line of Judah back several generations. It also establishes a connection between the Aramaen house of Terah and the royal house of Sheba.
Revisiting Gen. 10 and Gen. 11:10-26, we find confirmation of this connection. Terah (Abraham's father) and Sheba are descendents of Eber’s two sons Peleg and Joktan. Terah descends from Peleg and Sheba from Joktan. Keturah's father was Joktan and she named her firstborn son Joktan, after her father, as was the custom. Joktan is one of the three firstborn sons of Abraham. He is a hidden third son, and probably Abraham's firstborn.
Related reading: Abraham's Complaint; Evidence that Yaqtan was Abraham's Firstborn Son; Abraham's Sons; Abraham's Two Concubines
Monday, October 20, 2008
Romanized Hebrew: pagšu ṣiyyim et-ʾiyyim w-saʿir ʿal-rēʿhu yiqra ʾakšam hirgiʿah lilit u-maṣʾah lah manoḫ ("yelpers meet-[perfect] howlers; hairy-ones cry-[imperfect] to fellow. liyliyth reposes-[perfect], acquires-[perfect] resting-place." )
King James: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest."
Lilith (Hebrew לילית) is a Mesopotamian mythological figure. It is not likely that she was known to Abraham's African ancestors from whom we receive the story of the first Father and Mother in the Garden. Lilith belongs to the pantheon that Daniel and his Judahites companions refused to worship in Babylon. She was associated with wind and storms and was thought to bring disease and death, especially to women and infants. The figure of Lilith first appeared in a class of Sumerian storm spirits as Lilitu around 4000 BC.
According to the myth of Lilith, she left Adam because he insisted that she submit to him. She spoke the Divine Name and gained such power that she became an angel, but when God told her to return to Adam, she refused and became a demon. She is cast as the epitome of the evil seductress who works in league with Satan to torment and destroy Adam's offspring.
Here is the passage from The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, a 6th century A.D. midrash:
"Said the Holy One to Adam, 'If she agrees to come back, what is made is good. If not, she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.' The angels left God and pursued Lilith, whom they overtook in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown. They told her God's word, but she did not wish to return. The angels said, 'We shall drown you in the sea.'
"'Leave me!' she said. 'I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.'
"When the angels heard Lilith's words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: 'Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.' She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers."
Lilith's existence as an historical person depends on a reading of Genesis 1 apart from Genesis 2. The woman created as Adam's equal in Genesis 1 is said to be Lilith and the woman created subservient (from Adam's rib) in Genesis 2 is said to be Eve. There are two immediately obvious problems with this interpretation. First, Lilith can hardly be an historical woman if Adam is not an historical person. Both Adam and Lilith belong to the realm of myth and in telling the Gospel, mythical Adam is as necessary as his historical counterpart Enoch (or Nok). Adam must be mythical or platonically interpreted as the Form of Man in order to speak theologically of him as the federal head of all humanity. Enoch is the historical father of the lines that descend from Cain and Seth, as my analysis of the kinship pattern of Genesis 4 and 5 shows.
Second, Ben Sura and other rabbis were aware that the great chiefs listed in Genesis had two wives. They are constructing the Lilith myth on this culture trait, but culture traits only apply to historical persons living in real time. Lilith is not mentioned in Genesis because insinuating her presence overthrows the biblical picture of Adam and Eve living close to the Creator in Paradise. This paradise was lost due to disobedience of God's command given to them 'not to eat', not because Lilith refused to take the missionary position with Adam.
The Lilith myth reveals more about the 6th-century rabbis' attitude toward women than it does about God and creation.
(This article has been reproduced in Yareah Magazine.)
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Hearken to me, ye mothers of my tent:
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech:
Adah, let Jubal hither lead his goats:
And Tubal Cain, O Zillah, hush the forge;
Naamah her wheel shall ply beside, and thou,
My Jubal, touch, before I speak, the string.
Yea, Jubal, touch, before I speak, the string.
Hear ye my voice, beloved of my tent,
Dear ones of Lamech, listen to my speech.
For Eve made answer, Cain, my son, my own,
O, if I cursed thee, O my child, I sinned,
And He that heard me, heard, and said me nay:
My first, my only, one, thou shalt not go;
And Adam answered also, Cain, my son,
He that is gone forgiveth, we forgive:
Rob not thy mother of two sons at once;
My child, abide with us and comfort us.
Hear ye my voice; Adah and Zillah, hear;
Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech.
For Cain replied not. But, an hour more, sat
Where the night through he sat; his knit brows seen,
Scarce seen, amid the foldings of his limbs.
But when the sun was bright upon the field,
To Adam still, and Eve still waiting by,
And weeping, lift he up his voice and spake.
Cain said, The sun is risen upon the earth;
The day demands my going, and I go.
As you from Paradise, so I from you:
As you to exile, into exile I:
My father and my mother, I depart.
As betwixt you and Paradise of old,
So betwixt me, my parents, now, and you,
Cherubim I discern, and in their hand
A flaming sword that turneth every way,
To keep the way of my one tree of life,
The way my spirit yearns to, of my love.
Yet not, O Adam and O Eve, fear not.
For He that asked me, Where is Abel? He
Who called me cursed from the earth, and said
A fugitive and vagabond thou art,
He also said, when fear had slain my soul,
There shall not touch thee man nor beast. Fear not.
Lo, I have spoke with God, and He hath said.
Fear not; and let me go as He hath said.
Cain also said (O Jubal, touch thy string),
Moreover, in the darkness of my mind,
When the night’s night of misery was most black,
A little star came twinkling up within,
And in myself I had a guide that led,
And in myself had knowledge of a soul
Fear not, O Adam and O Eve: I go.
Children of Lamech, listen to my speech.
For when the years were multiplied, and Cain
Eastward of Eden, in this land of Nod,
Had sons, and sons of sons, and sons of them,
Enoch and Irad and Mehujael
(My father, and my children’s grandsire he),
It came to pass, that Cain, who dwelt alone,
Met Adam, at the nightfall, in the field:
Who fell upon his neck, and wept, and said,
My son, has God not spoken to thee, Cain?
And Cain replied, when weeping loosed his voice,
My dreams are double, O my father, good
And evil. Terror to my soul by night,
And agony by day, when Abel stands
A dead, black shade, and speaks not, neither looks,
Nor makes me any answer when I cry
Curse me, but let me know thou art alive.
But comfort also, like a whisper, comes,
In visions of a deeper sleep, when he,
Abel, as him we knew, yours once and mine,
Comes with a free forgiveness in his face,
Seeming to speak, solicitous for words,
And wearing ere he go the old, first look
Of unsuspecting, unforeboding love.
Three nights are gone I saw him thus, my Sire.
Dear ones of Lamech, listen to my speech.
For Adam said, Three nights ago to me
Came Abel, in my sleep, as thou hast said,
And spake, and bade, Arise, my father, go
Where in the land of exile dwells thy son;
Say to my brother, Abel bids thee come,
Abel would have thee; and lay thou thy hand,
My father, on his head, that he may come;
Am I not weary, father, for this hour?
Hear ye my voice, Adah and Zillah, hear;
Children of Lamech, listen to my speech:
And, son of Zillah, sound thy solemn string.
For Adam laid upon the head of Cain
His hand, and Cain bowed down, and slept, and died.
And a deep sleep on Adam also fell,
And, in his slumber’s deepest, he beheld,
Standing before the gate of Paradise,
With Abel, hand in hand, our father Cain.
Hear ye my voice, Adah and Zillah, hear;
Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech.
Though to his wounding he did slay a man,
Yea, and a young man to his hurt he slew,
Fear not, ye wives, nor sons of Lamech fear:
If unto Cain was safety given and rest,
Shall Lamech surely and his people die?
Friday, October 10, 2008
Scientists employ Darwin's theory of evolution as the best framework for understanding the complexity of creation and its ongoing development. It seems to be objectionable in some religious circles because of its fundamental assumptions that the Earth is ancient, has changed radically over geologically lengthy eras, and that one form of life has led to another, in processes that in some cases have been gradual and in others very rapid.
The vast preponderance of scientific evidence, including geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics and natural history, indicates that Darwin was in large part correct in his original hypothesis.
I simply find it a rejection of the goodness of God's gifts to say that all of this evidence is to be refused because it does not seem to accord with a literal reading of one of the stories in Genesis. Making any kind of faith decision is based on accumulating the best evidence one can find — what one's senses and reason indicate, what the rest of the community has believed over time, and what the community judges most accurate today.
Based on the 'evidence' Schori has apparently concluded that:
- homosexuality is normal since it is observed in nature
- linguistics and anthropology have no evidence to offer since they present many facts that don't fit into the macro-evolutionary scheme
- those who don't agree with her views are Bible literalists
- scientific accuracy is determined by what her "community judges most accurate"
And she calls herself a 'scientist'?
It may be that K. J. Schori is so busy shredding canon law in The Episcopal Church, suing departing congregations, and granting interviews with national media that she hasn't had time to read what scientific thinkers have been writing on these questions.
For more on this, go here.
BAR has reprinted an excerpt from Edgar James Banks Bismya: The Lost City of Adab (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1912). This is a traveler's diary in which Banks recounts his search for the Garden of Eden (which he failed to find).
Edgar James Banks (1866–1945) served as an American consul to the Ottoman empire and explored throughout the Middle East as an archaeologist and collector of antiquities. Banks became the first American to climb Mt. Ararat, searching for Noah's ark (which he failed to find).
BAR writes about Banks: "As an antiquities dealer, he imported between 11,000 and 175,000 artifacts to the United States, including hundreds of cuneiform tablets. After returning to the U.S., he became a consultant for the legendary film maker Cecil B. DeMille. Banks is considered to be one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones."
Read the Banks' excerpt here.
This represents another failed attempt to locate Eden and Noah's ark. If we pay attention to what Genesis actually tells us, we should search for Eden and Noah's ark in Africa, not Mesopotamia. The African word for garden or virgin forest is "egan" which is the etiology of the Hebrew 'Eden'. According to Genesis, the garden would have been west of Lake Chad, the homeland of Noah. It may be Eredo on the coast of Nigeria, and Noah's ark would have landed on Mount Meni in modern day Niger.
Related reading: Finding Noah's Ark; Where Did Noah's Ark Land?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
When studying the Scriptures it is wise to use different versions. I place three versions side by side and pay attention to the differences as they are often very instructive. Such is the case with the rendering of Genesis 1:1, which tells us: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Three versions speak of God creating "heaven and the earth" (Jewish Study Bible, The Orthodox Study Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible). Three other versions speak of God creating the "heavens and the earth" (The Schocken Bible, The New International Version, and La Version Reina-Valera). It is interesting that none of these six versions includes a footnote allowing for the alternative form. The difference doesn't seem to matter to the editors of these versions, and yet it does matter!
The plural form 'heavens' suggests a different cosmology from the singular form. Surely the distinction between heaven and heavens is important since Genesis 1 is about the creation of the cosmos.
'Heavens' is the more accurate rendering as attested by the Hebrew word 'shamayim' which is a plural form. The plural suggests the concept of a multi-layered or tiered cosmos. When the Apostle Paul speaks of being mystically transported to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), he is interpreting his experience in the context of a specific worldview. His account is "emic", that is, meaningful in the context of his specific Afro-Asiatic cosmology.
Using comparative linguistics we are able to reconstruct a connection between the Afro-Asiatic languages. The Sanscrit word for sky or heaven is 'svah', which corresponds to the Semitic 'svam' or 'sham-yim'. The Semitic resembles the Proto-Dravidian (7000 - 6000 B.C.) 'van', meaning heaven. The word for attic or upper room in Spanish is 'desvan' which is related to the verb desvanecer, which means to vanish as smoke rising into the sky. This appears to be borrowed from the Arabic. (Readers will recall that the Arabic-speaking Moors dominated much of the Iberian Peninsula for over 700 years. Their linguistic contribution to Spanish is considerable.)
Genesis 1:1 too often receives interpretation from the perspective of an observer who stands outside the Afro-Asiatic context (an etic account). Ignoring the specific Afro-Asiatic context often causes readers to miss some of the significance of the first and second creation stories.
Chapter one speaks of the creation as it is experienced on the seventh day, the day awaiting a new eighth day. Chapter two speaks of creation as paradise, an existence in which God walks with humans in "the cool of the day". In paradise there is no distance between God and Man, but in the first creation story God is on high, above the seventh heaven, where no mortal can enter.
This concept of seven heavens is found in the Qur'an also. "It is He Who created everything on the earth for you and then directed His attention up to heaven and arranged it into seven regular heavens. He has knowledge of all things." (Qur'an, 2:29)
"Then He turned to heaven when it was smoke. In two days He determined them as seven heavens and revealed, in every heaven, its own mandate." (Qur'an, 41:12)
It is well docmented that the Babylonians, another Afro-Asiatic people, believed in a seven-layered heavens. In the Prophet Daniel we read how Darius, having taken over the Babylonian kingdom, issued a decree that the people should reverence the God of Daniel who "performs signs and wonders in the heavens" (Dan. 6:27). The Babylonians conceived of the universe has having seven heavens and seven hells. Above the seventh heaven was the "highest heaven", divided into upper and a lower portions. (See figure to the right.)
The multi-tiered heavens signifies distance between God and Man. This conception presents God as transcendent, unknowable and unreachable. On the other hand, the paradise story (Gen. 2) speaks of God as being intimately close and able to enjoy the pleasures of earth.
Do we have contradictory worldviews or do these different conceptions together speak of a metaphysical reality? The ancient Hebrews believed that when God was offended by human acts, God turned His face away from Man. Turning away one's face signals loss of intimacy or a distancing from the other. Paradise is lost when God turns His countenance from us (Gen. 3).
If we look to Africa, we find many stories that explain how the distance between God and Man came to be. These involve the withdrawing of God from earth. Consider the following story related to anthropologist Charles Kraft while he was studying tribal peoples in northern Nigeria.
Kraft asked, "What did your people believe about God before the missionaries came?" In response, an old chief told this story:
Once God and his son lived close to us. They walked, talked, ate, and slept among us. All was well then. There was no thievery or fighting or running off with another man's wife like there is now. But one day God's son ate in the home of a careless woman. She had not cleaned her dishes properly. God's son ate from a dirty dish, got sick, and died. This, of course, made God very angry. He left in a huff and hasn't been heard from since. (Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture. Orbis Books, 1990, p. 153)
Some African creation stories speak of a time at the beginning when the sky was low. It was necessary for people to be careful while cultivating or pounding grain to avoid striking God's resting place with their hoes or pestles. The Akan of Ghana tell the story of how God once lived on earth, but an old woman kept striking Him with her pestle. Then one day, God withdrew to the sky. The vertical pestle symbolizes the north-south axis and the heavens-earth-under the earth axis.
Another African story tells how "in the beginning death had not yet entered the world. There was plenty to eat, but a women became greedy and tried to pound more grain that she was allotted. This required using a longer pestle. When she raised it to pound the grain, it struck the sky and God became angry and withdrew far into the heavens. Since then, people must toil the earth, death and disease troubles the people and it is no longer easy to reach God." (Richard Bush, ed. The Religious World. MacMillan Publishers,1982., p. 38).
When we seek to understand Genesis 1 from the context of the Afro-Asiatic peoples, we discover a subtle relationship between the two creation stories and the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. They speak of God as transcendent yet among us, as distant yet intimate. The assertion that the heavens are layered is an essential part of the picture that Genesis presents.
Related reading: The Genesis Creation Stories; The Sacred Center in Biblical Theology; The African Context of Biblical Material; The Cosmology of Abraham's People
Saturday, October 4, 2008
There is an interesting discussion going on here about women apostles in the early church. While Church tradition regards some women as "equal to the Apostles", it does not provide precedent for women to be priests. Still, I question the argument that "References to some women as 'apostles' by early Church writers are obviously not referring to the apostolic office, such as those who called Mary Magdalene 'apostle to the apostles,' because she was the first to tell them of Christ's resurrection. That was a poetic usage."
When Orthodoxy speaks of Photini, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, as "equal to the Apostles" this is not poetic usage. Orthodoxy is not saying that Photini was one of the original Apostles. Orthodox tradition recognizes another category: women who are equals in apostolic (but not priestly) ministry. Orthodoxy recognizes other categories as well: confessors, martyrs, holy women, prophets, etc.
I want to make the point that the ordinance of the Priesthood is not derived from the Apostles, though apostolic succession through the laying on of hands is part of the proper ordination of priests. The priesthood, according to St. John Chrysostom, "is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Paraclete himself ordained this succession..." (On the Priesthood, 1977, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 70).
That St. Paul does not list the sacerdotal priest among the orders of the Church should not surprise us. If Hebrews represents the Apostle's thought, the priesthood of the Old Testament was once and for all fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God's chosen High Priest, who was also God's spotless Lamb. The priest in the Church is the continuous link to the priesthood established by God in the order of Melchizedek. It represents something much older than the Apostolic ministry and should be guarded. Guarding it requires not confusing this extraordinary and particular office with the office of elder (presbyteros) which is not specific to blood sacrifice and to the work of the altar.
The distinction has to do with blood. All the things of God are realized in Jesus' Blood. All suffering, which many religions attempt to explain apart from Christ, or to avoid through asceticism or philosophy, are made meaningful by His Blood. All worldly striving is shown to be futile by His Blood. The Apostle Paul refers to the Blood of Jesus no less than twelve times in his writings because God makes peace with us through the Blood of the Cross. It is to HIS atoning sacrifice that the priesthood points as a sign. If it is made to point to anything else, it becomes a broken sign.
If the priesthood is indelible as an ontological reality, what is the eternal verity reflected in this Form? It can’t be the Apostles or apostolic ministry. It can only be the eternal Christ, who is one with the Father and the Spirit. Christ is the eternal Form of priest and the eternal truth signified.
We can appreciate why the New Testament writers would use the word 'presbyteros' instead of 'hieros' with its pagan associations. However, the writer of Hebrews does not regard 'presbyteros' to be the correct term when speaking of Christ as God’s High Priest. Instead he uses the term 'hieros' (Hebrews 7.26). The Greeks didn't invent the priest, afterall, they encountered it among the Egyptians in its more original Afro-Asiatic context.
Why should this matter to Christians? It matters because from the beginning the priesthood points to the saving work of Jesus Christ and is Christological in nature. It is therefore extremely important that the male priesthood be preserved and that its origins be better understood by Traditionalists.
Related reading: The Priesthood and Genesis