The Good Colonel; A Strong Character; Cursing God; The Priest’s Hire; Apostate Grumblings; No Blank Slate; Post-Roe

1. Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes, 1810-1899, pages 121-122:

In addition to the raids from Baton Rouge and assaults on the now-inconsequential base at Ponchatoula, the scattered Confederate forces in the region were thrown into confusion by an unexpected raid originating in Tennessee.  On April 17, 1863, Colonel B.H. Grierson’s Sixth and Seventh Illinois Cavalry departed La Grange, Tennessee, with instructions to destroy the length of the New Orleans-Jackson Railroad and to disrupt enemy supply lines while in route to New Orleans.  Grierson proceeded through the state of Mississippi, destroying the railroad and supply depots but generally avoiding the destruction of private property.  He noted in his report that at several towns along the way, groups of armed citizens had contested his advance, inflicting a few casualties on his troops.  Yet rather than burning their towns or arresting those who resisted, Grierson instead disarmed the citizens, reassured them of the honorable nature of his troops and mission, and ordered that private property be respected.  His action had a dramatic impact on the citizens.  Grierson cited numerous incidents in which local residents asserted that they “had been grossly deceived as to our real character.”  He continued, “I mention this as a sample of the feeling which exists, and the good effect which our presence produced among the people in the country through which we passed.”  Unlike the troops wantonly destroying people and property in the Florida parishes, Grierson applied the stick to government property and offered the carrot to the citizens.  This policy, in his view, did far more to encourage respect for the United States government among the citizens than did burning the roofs above their heads.  Unlike regions of central and eastern Mississippi, where support for the secession effort dwindled into disaffection, resistance to the invader continued in Louisiana to the end, proving Grierson’s point.  The contrast between Union activities in eastern Louisiana and those in parts of southwestern Mississippi constitutes an important element in the focal point of this study.  Regions where federal policy had been mild during the war, Grierson’s raid being a case in point, experienced much less violence and instability in the postwar period. 

Good man!  This Union Colonel showed mercy and compassion to the regular people of the Confederacy, rather than trying to prove to them how strong the U.S. Government was by torching their property.  As a result, he won their goodwill, and the region was stabilized after the war.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 62:

“That’s one of [Jubal Harshaw’s] advantages; everybody knows who he is.  It makes him hard to shove around.  Being both a doctor of medicine and a lawyer he is three times as hard to shove around.  But most important he is so rugged an individualist that he would fight the whole Federation Department of Security with just a potato knife if it suited his fancy—and that makes him eight times as hard to shove around.  But the point is that I got well acquainted with him during the disaffection trials, he is a friend I can count on in a pinch.  If I can get Smith out of Bethesda, I’ll take him to Harshaw’s palace over in the Pocono’s—and then just let those jerks try to hide him under a rug again!  Between my column and Harshaw’s love for a fight we’ll give ’em a bad time.”

I like this strong type of character.  He’s a rugged individualist who challenges authority.  Yet he’s well-known and popular enough that sinister authorities can’t walk all over him.  And he’s integrated enough into society that he can be involved in a public function, such as disaffection trials, stirring the pot in the process.  The authorities hate him, but they can’t do much about him.  But he sure can challenge them!  And he won’t back down.  He can’t be bought or cajoled. 

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 166:

It seems, then, that the prayer is not referring to interhuman gossip or cursing, dangerous as that may be[,] but to apostasy from Yahweh, as in Job 2:10 and Ps 78:36.  The commitment thus stresses the supplicant’s full loyalty to God, even in the face of evildoers…and suffering.

Cursing God.  I often thought that doing so would be the end.  When I read that Job went through all of his suffering, without cursing God, I wondered how I would do in a similar situation.  That was my personal test of my spirituality, even though it’s purely hypothetical, since I’ve not experienced Jonean afflictions.  But then I one day read a Guideposts article by Kathie Lee Gifford, a Christian, and she confessed that she cursed God in a time of trial.  Was that the end for her?  Did she die, as Job’s wife predicted Job would do if he cursed God?  No.  God still loved her and brought healing to her brokenness.  And her relationship with God was restored.  She cursed God, but she wasn’t an apostate.

I wonder what cursing God is.  Is it apostasy?  Is it formally pronouncing a curse?  I don’t know.  I doubt that it’s merely criticizing God, for the Psalmist did that, as did Jeremiah, and Job.  God may have rebuked some of these people, but he didn’t kill them.  He gave them a different way of looking at their situation.  God told Job about God’s greatness, and Jeremiah about God’s presence with him.  Is cursing God closing the door on any relationship with him?  The Psalmist, Job, Jeremiah, and Kathie Lee didn’t do that, for they stayed in communication with God.   

4. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 186:

A priest receives priestly dues in return for his service in the Temple (Num. 18:31; cf. T. 2:6-7…), and not as a wage for agricultural work which he may perform for someone else.  It would obviously be to the employer’s advantage to pay the priest’s wage in priestly dues, since he must in any case give these away.  But this procedure is forbidden, since it deprives the priest of his regular wage and makes him appear to be purchasing, in return for his labor, the dues which are rightfully his…An employer may give priestly dues to a priest who works for him if he also pays him his regular wage.

This was interesting.  A laborer is worthy of his hire.  A priest received the tithe as payment for his work in the temple.  But, if he does work outside of the temple—say, in agricultural work—then he should get paid for that.  The tithe doesn’t pay for his agricultural work.  He needs to receive separate payment for that. 

5. Baruch Levine, Numbers 1-20, pages 75-76:

Despite all the historiographic detail presented, there was still space in Numbers 21 to relate an episode that dramatized God’s providence over Israel, even in moments of wrath.  Although God punished the people with pernicious snakebites in an angry reaction to their grumblings, he nevertheless provided Moses an effective method for their cure. 

This goes back to (3).  God punished Israel for her grumblings by sending poisonous snakes against her.  Why did God take this reaction against Israel’s grumblings, while he didn’t do this towards Jeremiah, or Job, or the Psalmist?  I think part of the answer comes back to apostasy.  The Israelites often threatened to return to Egypt when they grumbled.  They preferred not to be God’s people, which is what God made them through the Exodus. 

I also like the concept that God is loving even when he punishes.  This is a common Sunday School lesson, but it’s always good to hear! 

6.  I read the Encyclopedia Judaica article on “Hermeneutics”.  Gezerah Shavah is the rabbinic hermeneutic principle that states that, if the same word appears in two passages of Scripture, then the two passages are conveying a similar idea.  But such a principle had the potential to create chaos, as passages could be inter-related, that some rabbis didn’t think should be inter-related.  For some rabbis, two passages could be saying something completely different, even though they both use a common word. 

This was especially a thorny issue in the area of law.  When it came to legends and homiletics, my guess is that the rabbis allowed a degree of freedom in the inter-relation of passages.  Law, however, was a different ball-game: it wasn’t simply a free-flowing discussion of theology and Bible stories, but it related to Jewish practice.  So there was greater pressure to get things right—to clearly delineate what was legal, and what was illegal (though, of course, the rabbis disagreed on that).   

In the area of law, rabbis developed rules on the use of Gezerah Shavah.  First, a Jew couldn’t simply connect passages on the basis of a common word all by himself; rather, he needed to get a Gezerah Shavah interpretation from a teacher.  Community would keep out the bizarre interpretations.  Second, the passages to be inter-related must both be from the Pentateuch.  The Pentateuchal law wouldn’t be clarified by an obscure passage in Psalms, in short.  And, third, the word in a passage should be superfluous to that passage: that would show that it exists specifically for the purpose of Gezerah Shavah, to be connected with that other passage. 

7.  I read an article in Newsweek at the therapist’s office: Why Young Voters Are Lukewarm on Abortion Rights –  It’s point is that Roe vs. Wade may become a thing of the past.  While polls indicate that most Americans are pro-choice, many have deep misgivings about abortion, and pro-choicers aren’t as zealous as pro-lifers these days.  I especially appreciated the following:

Certainly, the anti-abortion movement helped fuel this shift in the attitudes of the young by reframing the abortion debate around the fetus rather than the pregnant woman. Millennials also came of age as ultrasounds provided increasingly clear pictures of fetal development. “The technology has clearly helped to define how people think about a fetus as a full, breathing human being,” admits former NARAL president Kate Michelman. “The other side has been able to use the technology to its own end.” Thirty-eight states now consider it a separate crime to kill a fetus in an act of aggression against a pregnant woman, and just last week Nebraska banned abortions after 20 weeks because of the possibility that the fetus could feel pain.

I read yesterday that the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, has been criticized by pro-life groups for her support of federal funding for abortions.  Yet, she encouraged Bill Clinton to support a ban on partial-birth abortions, with an exception for the physical health of the mother.  This is one reason among others that pundits have speculated that Kagan could push the Supreme Court to the right, as she replaces liberal John Paul Stevens.  That sounds to me like a positive development, along with the shifting attitudes in America on abortion.

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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