Archive for December, 2005

another view on Christmas

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

As I drove to work today, I was listening to “Fresh Air” on Public Radio. Today, Terry was interviewing a man named Bart Ehrman who has written a book called Misquoting Jesus. Bart used to be an evangelical Christian, but gradually became an agnostic as he discovered contradictions within the Biblical text and alterations in the text over the centuries.
Terry asked him how he felt, as an agnostic, about Christmas. I found his reply interesting. He said that unlike some other people he knew, he didn’t dread the Christmas season, he liked Christmas. He liked Christmas trees and giving gifts. Then he said something I didn’t follow about “demythologising” and then, to my surprise, related the gospel message:
The story of Christmas is the story of God’s son who was given to us as a gift, and later gave his own life for us.
The story is one of giving, he said, and the moral is that we should be more giving. It probably comes as a surprise to no one that this moral didn’t send me very far. God becoming man, ministering face-to-face to all Judah from the humble to the mighty, dying an excruciating death on the cross to reconcile sinful humanity to God, then coming back to life and ascending to heaven to rule with the Father seems awfully, well, forceful to get across such a simple message that we probably all could have agreed on anyway.
This man doesn’t seem to be anti-Bible at all, and he said in the interview that the Bible is at the heart of our civilization and culture. It just has the unfortunate flaw, he believes, of not being true.
As Hercule Poirot would say, it gives one furiously to think.

wordy and poorly-edited thoughts from me

Monday, December 12th, 2005

Disclaimer on these Thoughts from Me: they’re poorly edited to say the least and I’m not sure my claims about the Bible or Ancient Near East are actually true.
Christians and culture: Professors of Biblical studies or Ancient Near Eastern studies seem fond of pointing out parallels between the Bible and other ancient texts. In the Psalms scholars read allusions to the Mesopotamian creation myth and to the Canaanite pantheon. In the story of the birth and upbringing of Moses, they see another example of the common Ancient Near Eastern “hero exposed at birth” motif. The ANE concept of the king as “good shepherd” and the role of the king as defender of the powerless foreshadows Biblical ideas about God and the imperative to care for “widows and orphans.” And the law codes contain clear parallels to other ancient Near Eastern codes: for example, Exodus 21:29 contains a law concerning the “habitually goring ox,” a very similar law appears in the Code of Hammurabi (and possibly other law codes), written several hundred years before the law of Moses. Such professors often take this evidence to indicate that the Bible is of a piece with Ancient Near Eastern literature in general–nothing special or especially divine about it.
It disturbs me that the faith of many students is shaken or modified by such assertions. And it surprises me that it should come as a surprise to anyone that the Bible is in keeping with its cultural context. How could the ancient Israelites have understood God’s message in any way but through their own cultural lens? God transcends any particular human culture and is beyond human understanding; but he graciously presents Himself in ways that we as humans can understand, and the way we can understand is shaped (though not completely determined) by our cultural environment. I believe, then, that in the Bible He reveals Himself (1) in a way that was culturally relevant to the Israelites, so that they could understand; and (2) in a way that is relevant to all of us through the ages, regardless of our particular culture.
God’s covenant with the Israelites uses the concept and form of covenant that was current in the Ancient Near East, givng the Israelites a way to understand the nature of their relationship with God. The form and often the content of the Mosaic law would have been familiar to the Israelites–would it have made any sense for God to have given the law to the Israelites in 21st century U.S. legalese? They wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Or should He have given them the ultimate, transcendant mind of God in its entirety? The limited and fallen human mind couldn’t comprehend or handle it.
Insofar as the Bible was written by humans, those humans used the terminology for the divine that they knew. Insofar as it was written by God, He used terms and forms that the Israelites could understand. This cultural relevance allowed the Israelites to establish a base understanding of God by relating His revelations of Himself to their cultural context; and in doing so created a basis for comparison by which God could show how He is different from what the Israelites might expect based on their cultural presumptions.


overused words and phrases

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

in academia:
subversive (a rhyme!)
longue duree (history only)
Sitz im Leben
world system
underused words in academia (AS WELL AS IN LIFE):

it’s beginning to look a lot like something

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

I had to chip/melt a solid sheet of ice off the car yesterday before I could go to work. Winter seems to have started early this year, and is loathe to go anywhere anytime soon.
Other people post on their blogs what books they are reading, or have book blogs, or discuss other interesting book-related topics. But not me. Now, I supposedly love to read, and spent the vast majority of my childhood either reading or wishing I were reading.
Unfortunately, in my latter years, I seem to have a hard time finishing books. If a book is more than 350 pages long or so, there is very little chance I’ll ever finish it. Usually by the middle of a long book, I’ve forgotten what happened at the beginning and who half the characters are, and am completely at sea as to what it’s all about. I could start over again, but it’s too familiar to be entertaining, and feels like a chore and a waste of time, so I just give up.
I think my years in graduate school have contributed to my inability to finish books. In graduate school one never reads a book, there just isn’t time. An article, maybe, if it’s short and seems to contain enough information to make it worth your while. Also, most of them are far too boring to actually read. Instead, one frantically skims through the assigned readings at top speed, attempting to extract all significant nouns and concepts, scribbling brief notes which you then memorize for the exam and forget immediately afterwards.
This leads to a habit of reading quickly and shallow-ly, and forgetting immediately anything that you will not later be tested on. Reading like this takes a lot of the fun out of books read for enjoyment, and perhaps accounts for much of my literary amnesia.
Anyway, here are some of the books I’ve half-read recently:
The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien. The first half was very good, even better than the movie. Though the dark cloud which blotted out the day in the book gives a rather sinister cast to the dim miasma we’ve had as weather around here recently. Someday I’ll finish this one–I’ve got to find out: is the Ring destroyed? Or does Sauron win in the end? I mean, I know what happens in the movie, but maybe the story was just happy-ed up for Hollywood like the cartoon Hunchback of Notre Dame and that one about the Romanovs.
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray. Everybody loves Becky Sharp, it seems, but I don’t yet. Of course, I’m less than a quarter of the way through. The Victorians had plenty of time to read, apparently. Maybe I’ll just Netflix it. The title brings to mind another book I’ve never finished, The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan. I’ve read the Christian half a couple of times, but don’t think I’ve ever made it through Christiana, despite it having been intended as more accessible to weaker vessels such as myself.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling. This one doesn’t really count since I’d read it before, and started it again right after seeing the movie so I could compare. I abandoned it for Vanity Fair, which I still have not given up on by the way.
There are more, but that’s enough for now. I’ll see you…(soon? on the flip side? later, alligator?) And have a nice (day? Christmas? trip, see you next fall?)
The world may never know…