Priests Vs. Singers, the Degeneracy/God-Disappointing Circle, Kellie Martin on Christy

1.  I finally finished Othmar Keel’s Symbolism of the Biblical World!  Today, I want to comment on something I read on pages 324-325.  Keel mentions Sigmund Mowinkel, and, because I don’t know if I’ll get to reading him, I want to interact with his ideas a little bit.

Keel notes that sacrifices are rarely mentioned in the Psalms.  The exception would be votive thank offerings, and, even then, “the hymn that accompanies the offering is often given prominence as the decisive factor (Pss 40:6-10; 50:14, 23; 69:30, 31).  According to Mowinkel, this is because there was a rivalry between priests, who offered sacrifices, and the temple singers, who wrote most of the Psalms.  But Keel doesn’t seem to buy that, for anti-sacrifice passages (i.e., Psalm 46:6; cf. 50) “cannot be explained by such rivalries.”  Personally, I don’t understand Keel’s reasoning here, for, in my mind, such passages appear to support the existence of such a rivalry: the temple singers challenge the priesthood by saying that animal sacrifices don’t matter because of the superiority of prayer and praise.  But what do I know?  Keel’s solution is that animal sacrifices are impersonal, whereas a song of thanksgiving adds a personal dimension to thank offerings—presumably because the songs are directed towards God and have content about what God has done for the worshipper.  Thank offerings are primarily about God and the worshipper eating a meal, however, and there isn’t much content to that.

For me, singing songs can become empty, especially when it comes to Dwight Armstrong tunes and traditional hymns.  I know I should respect traditional hymns because they were written by great men of God who went through trials and growth experiences: there was Charles Wesley, and the guy who wrote “Amazing Grace,” who converted from being a slave trader.  But I tend to feel closer to God when I hear contemporary music.

Incidentally, Mowinkel’s proposal reminds me of Israel Knohl’s book, The Sanctuary of Silence.  In my post, Christmas: God Becomes Less Aloof, I refer to Knohl’s view that the priests supported silence before God, so their writings don’t have songs.  But, if they had the power, why didn’t they prevail?  Maybe it was because music was so popular, so the majority of Israelites didn’t want to ditch their praise songs.

2.  I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Book of Malachi.  The following passage caught my attention:

The oracles of Malachi reflect conditions associated with the period of pre-Ezran decline (ca. 515–458 b.c., i.e., from the completion of the Second Temple to the ministry of Ezra in Jerusalem, assuming the traditional date for Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem to be correct). While the Second Temple had been completed at the prompting of Haggai and Zechariah (Hag 1:1–6; Ezra 5:1–2; cf. Ezra 3:10–13; 6:13–15), the apathy and disillusionment within the restoration community, which permitted the temple precinct to lie in ruins for nearly twenty years, continued to permeate the group. The prophetic vision of a renewed Davidic state under Zerubbabel never materialized (Hag 2:20–23). The material prosperity predicted by Haggai (2:6–9) never came to pass, and the streaming migration of former Jewish captives foreseen by Zechariah (8:1–8) never occurred. Zerubbabel was likely deposed by order of Darius, who was attempting to control the upheaval in his newly acquired empire by ousting those in Persia and outlying provinces who were deemed political liabilities. The completion of the Second Temple ushered in no messianic age (Mal 3:6–12; cf. Zech 8:9–23). The ideal of Ezekiel’s temple state quickly faded amid the stark reality of Persian domination and the problems of mere survival in a city surrounded by hostile foreigners. Zechariah’s call to a deeper spiritual life went unheeded, and was even mocked by God’s apparent failure to restore covenantal blessings (8:4–13; cf. 10:1–2; Mal 3:13–15). If the records of Ezra and Nehemiah are any indication, then the messianic oracles of Second Zechariah and Malachi had little impact on postexilic morale (cf. Ezra 9:1–4; Neh 5:1–8; 11:1–3). Given the testimony of scanty written documents to the contrary, even the prophetic voice soon ceased to be a factor in the Jewish restoration community (cf. Mal 4:5). Jerusalem, probably under a Persian governor, remained part of a small, struggling, and insignificant satrapy in the vast Persian empire—a social and political backwater. The Persians themselves were engaged in a titanic contest for control of the west against the Greeks.

It is against this background that Malachi prophesies in Jerusalem. The ongoing petty hostilities with the Samaritans and burdensome vassal status to Persia notwithstanding, the prophet’s message focused on the quality of religious and social life with the restoration community. Skepticism and doubt characterized popular response to Yahweh as God (1:2). The priesthood was bored with formal religions (1:13) and showed only contempt and indifference to ceremonial and moral purity (1:6–12). The general populace had followed the lead of the priests (2:8–9). The people were cheating God out of his tithe (3:6–12) and the proper sacrifices sanctioned by covenant law (1:14). Even obedience to the stipulations of divine covenant was deemed useless because God was not acting in accordance with his nature (2:17; 3:13–15). This breakdown of functional Yahwism precipitated intermarriage with foreign women (2:10–12), attendant idolatry (2:11), scandalous divorce (2:13–16), as well as sorcery, adultery, perjury, and social injustice (3:5). The very elements of nature had compounded the misery and bleakness of the community with drought, blighted crops, and locust plagues (3:10–11). In the final analysis, it was a most dismal and sordid scenario to which Malachi came as God’s spokesman.

Did Israel become morally and spiritually degenerate because God was a disappointment, or was God not acting as they wished because of their moral and spiritual degeneracy?  The prophets usually opt for the latter, and there may be truth to that.  But Malachi goes out of his way to encourage Israel that God loves her and will intervene on behalf of righteousness, so there may be a sense in which her lack of faith was making her spiritually sicker.

3.  I said a few days ago that I’m revisiting the 1994 show, Christy (see Revisiting Christy).  I enjoyed this 2001 interview with Kellie Martin, the star of the program: Kellie Martin–Exclusive Interview about Christy.  Here are some passages I enjoyed:

As fans of the show and the book know, Christy was romantically drawn to two characters: David Grantland, the preacher, and Neil MacNeill (what a name!), the agnostic doctor.  The big question was which person Christy would end up with, and—in both the book and the TV show—it was the doctor.  Here’s a passage about that:

Q: You may be aware by now (or you may not) but the majority of the Christy fans have always preferred MacNeill for Christy over Grantland. Of course, that reflects the flow of the book, but it definitely is also true of the majority of the fans of the series. When we did a survey recently (before the mini series) we found out that 90% of the fans were supporters of Christy with MacNeill. Were you aware of the fans preference, and comment on why you think this is so or why this information surprises you?

KM: I think people want Christy to end up with MacNeill because he challenges her and makes her a more interesting character. I am not surprised to find that most of the fans prefer that outcome.

As I watch the show, I think that Christy looks more natural with Pastor Grantland, since he brings out her nurturing qualities (because, well, he’s a brooder who needs support!).  But the doctor seems to care more for Christy, and he does challenge her.  I remember when I watched the pilot for the very first time (in 1994), and Dr. MacNeill asked Christy why Christianity was so important to her.  Christy proceeded to spit back platitudes about evil being real, and MacNeill replied, “Is that all you’ve got—platitudes?  Don’t you have a thought of your own?”  I found that to be a turn-off because people have put me on the spot like that, without being satisfied with my answers.  MacNeill challenging Christy certainly makes for an interesting relationship!  But I’m not sure if I’d want a wife who puts me on the spot all of the time.  I’d prefer a woman who comforts me when I’m brooding!  Maybe that’s a desire I should change.

Here’s another part, which concerns the more recent Christy movies.  Kellie Martin chose not to star in them, so somebody else played Christy:

Q: Was it difficult for you watching someone else play Christy? How did it feel to watch and see Christy finally get married?

KM: I thought it would be difficult to watch someone else play Christy, but, surprisingly, it wasn’t. Rather than compare our performances, I just enjoyed watching the continuation of a story. I am so happy that the new movies tied up the loose ends left by the series. The marriage issue pervaded so much of the book and the series that it was nice to have the question finally answered (MacNeill or David) and have Christy with a ring on her finger.

I admire her honesty, and also how she lost her ego in the story, which turned out to be easier than she thought.

I also thought it was awesome that Kellie Martin gave this interview on December 18, as she was busily preparing for Christmas.

That’s all for today.  See you tomorrow (or tonight, if I get insomnia)!

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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