Middle Babylonian Imprecations, Rend Your Heart, Family

1.  I’m continuing to make my way through Omar Keel’s Symbolism of the Biblical World.  Something I’ve wondered as I’ve gone through the book is this: How do the Psalms of other cultures address social injustice?  In the Book of Psalms, the Psalmist often complains about evil people seeking to take his life.  I’ve wondered how this fit into ancient Israelite worship.  I mean, when I go to church, I don’t exactly worry about people trying to take my life!  But that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t pressing for a lot of people, in America and the rest of the world.

Keel equates the imprecatory Psalms—in which the Psalmist calls down curses on his persecutors and their families—with similar curses on Middle Babylonian boundary stones (page 97). The Middle Babylonian Period is in the second millennium B.C.E., whereas the biblical Book of Psalms was composed in the first millennium B.C.E.  The boundary stones of Middle Babylon curse those who attempt to take somebody else’s property through disregard of the boundary stones, asking the gods to destroy their offspring and to strike them with diseases.

At first sight, this doesn’t exactly look like a social justice issue.  Moreover, the oppressor isn’t trying to kill someone, which is an issue that looms large in the Book of Psalms.  But, as Job 24 indicates, an oppressor’s removal of a person’s landmark can lead the victim to homlessness and hunger. After all, if boundaries are not respected, then people don’t have the assurance that they can keep their own land, which they depend on for their very survival.  Their rights are imaginary!  And so landmarks or boundary stones are a matter of social justice, and a person may feel compelled to call out to God or gods for justice if somebody disrespects them.

2.  I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Book of Joel.  What stood out to me was the following:

The culmination of Joel’s appeals to society is found in a call to repentance (2:12–17). The call reflects both prophetic and priestly perspectives. In the prophetic tradition, this call emphasizes that true repentance is an inner reorientation and commitment: “Rend your hearts, not your garments”(2:13). At the same time, Joel insists that regular cultic rituals be observed, and he calls the priests to gather the entire community for a public ceremony in order to grieve for its sins and appeal for God’s compassion and assistance.

A lady who witnesses to me every now and then once invited me to her Reformed Baptist Church.  When I told her that I attend a Latin mass, she responded that she used to do so as well, but she prefers her Baptist church to Catholic ritualism.  She said that the Bible tells us to come to God with our hearts, and she didn’t think that the Catholic church emphasized this all that much.  Rather, its focus was on rituals.

I’ve often carried around this Protestant bias myself.  When I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, I was questioning “empty ritualism” in a class.  My professor replied that rituals are actually beneficial, for they can carry a person when the going gets rough.  He referred specifically to Jewish ceremonies surrounding death.

I personally don’t mind emotionalism before God.  One reason I dislike my Armstrongite heritage is that it tended to ridicule emotionalism as sappy.  Right now, though, I don’t find emotionalism playing that big of a role in my personal spirituality.  I’m somewhat drawn to what the average Catholic appears to do: he comes to church and pays his dues to God through ritual, without feeling compelled to tear himself up with heart-wrenching repentance.  And, as long as he goes out and lives a moral life, what’s the problem with that?

3.  At Latin mass this morning, philosopher priest was speaking about the family.  He said that the purpose of sex is procreation, and that many people nowadays don’t want to have children because they’re selfish.  He also recalled the good old days (according to him) when divorce was against the law.

In my opinion, I find it slightly disingenuous for a priest to decry not having children as selfish, when he himself has pledged to remain celibate for the rest of his life.  Also, while I recognize that raising children is definitely a way for me to get my mind off of myself, I don’t think I’d be a fit parent right now!  Maybe people who choose not to have kids aren’t ready for the task, so they’re actually thinking about others in their decision-making process!

I do think, though, that our society is becoming increasingly selfish.  I don’t look down on people who are divorced, since I have no idea how I’d do in a marriage.  I have a hard enough time maintaining my friendships!  But I think it’s problematic when marriage becomes similar to dating or going steady: you stay with a person, then you part ways when the going gets tough.

Today, I watched Timechanger, a Christian movie about a nineteenth century Bible professor who travels in time to the year 2000.  I was looking up some of the actors on Wikipedia, and, interestingly, I found that a few of them are actually committed Christians.  One of the actors is Gavin MacLeod, who starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat.  Wikipedia says the following about him:

During the mid-’80s, MacLeod and his then ex-wife Patti became Evangelical Christians and remarried.  During his time as the Captain on The Love Boat MacLeod “very selfishly” (his words) divorced his wife Patti. She then spent the next 3 years seeking help with psychiatrists on both the west and the east coasts. Then one day, his wife received a telephone call from Patti Palmer, first wife of Jerry Lewis. Patti Palmer then invited her to a Christian prayer group with a number of famous actresses in it. Gavin said, “From that day, I started to think about her. Something told me to call Patti. I called Patti. I went back to see her the following Monday and things haven’t been the same since.” MacLeod asked her what had happened. She then explained everything to him including that she had given her life to Christ. Following his conversion and remarriage, he and his wife wrote about struggles with divorce and alcoholism in Back On Course: The Remarkable Story of a Divorce That Ended in Remarriage. The MacLeods have been hosts on the Trinity Broadcasting Network for 14 years, primarily hosting a show about marriage called Back on Course. Gavin MacLeod appeared in Rich Christiano‘s Time Changer, a movie about time travel and how the morals of society have moved away from the Bible.

Another actor on the movie is Jennifer O’Neill.  Wikipedia states:

In 2004, O’Neill wrote and published From Fallen To Forgiven, a book of biographical notes and philosophical thoughts about life and existence. The actress, who had an abortion at the age of nineteen, became a pro-life activist and born-again Christian, counseling abstinence to teens. Concerning her abortion: I was told a lie from the pit of hell: that my baby was just a blob of tissue. The aftermath of abortion can be equally deadly for both mother and unborn child. A woman who has an abortion is sentenced to bear that for the rest of her life.

I remember reading in Kirk Cameron’s book that most cast and crew even on Christian movies are not actual Christians (see Christian Actors), but I find it refreshing that at least two of the actors on Timechanger believe in Jesus Christ. And their faith has resulted in positive changes in their lives, as they become less selfish and more caring of the people around them.  There are cases in which divorce may be good for the family, but I admire those who decide to stick with their spouse through thick-and-thin, in a Hollywood culture where so many people do the exact opposite—several times.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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