Reconciliation’s Cost; The Government; Original Sin?; Privacy; Israelite Balaam Inscription?; Not Overnight; Charity and Forgiveness

1. Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes, 1810-1899, page 260:

…in October, 1913, one of the Gill boys who had found religion attempted at a bank in McComb, Mississippi, to apologize to C.F. Hyde for his role in Sam Hyde’s murder.  The man escaped with his life by crawling out the back window of the bank.

If other people are like me in terms of their conversion stories, then they wanted to do good and to make things right after they became Christians.  That’s what makes Christianity real, something you put into action, as opposed to being an empty intellectual assent to a set of propositions, or a good feeling that comes and goes.

But the requirements of Christianity are easier said than done.  What if you’re afraid to reconcile with such-and-such a person, out of shyness, or a realization that the person is just plain mean?

I think of two shows.  One is Christy.  Christy was part of a mission to the Great Smokies, which had a lot of feuds that went back for years.  All of the residents there profess to be Christians—only it’s a Christianity that’s intermingled with other legends and folklore.  And yet, their feuds go on.  It appears odd when Christian outsiders come in and try to persuade the mountain people to love one another.  And then it becomes difficult for the pastor, David, when he’s picked on by one of the mountain-men.  Even he scoffs at the Sermon on the Mount at that point!

Then there’s an episode of Touched by an Angel.  A rapist is released from jail, after he has found God!  He led worship services in the jail, and now he wants to turn his life around.  Part of the episode is about how he expects life to be all hunky-dory when he re-enters society, and that’s not what happens—far from it!  As Andrew tells him, God will be with him in the fire, but there will still be fire!  But the episode is also about how this rapist tries to reconcile with the woman he raped and her husband, even though they hate him and want nothing to do with him, and the law requires him to stay away from his victim.

Maybe there’s a time and a place to attempt reconciliation.  Sometimes, one must count the cost. As a friend of mine once said, there are people who have made amends who are now in jail because of those amends.  But they figured it was worth it so they could feel better and make things right.  But is there another way to start anew?

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 133:

“…But not ‘the government’—that’s too sweeping a term.  ‘The government’ is several million people, nearly a million in Washington alone.  We have to ask ourselves: Whose toes were stepped on?  What person or persons?  Not ‘the government’—but what individuals?”

I tend to generalize about “the authorities”, when there are actually different individuals in “the authorities”.  I know someone who’s a conspiracy theorist, and he thinks that the various factions of the government all have the same sinister goal: a new world order.  They may jockey for position amongst themselves, but they’re still united in their goal.  And what about their public disagreements?  This person likens that to professional wrestling: it’s all theater!

Actually, I saw a show about that recently, but I can’t recall what it was.  A character was pretending to be mad when she wasn’t, all to convince someone else that something was the case, when it wasn’t.

I wouldn’t say that all of the authorities are united on a goal.  There are corrupt higher-ups.  And there are underlings, who aren’t privy to political plots and machinations.  As Bill Clinton once said, we can’t stigmatize everyone who works in the government, for we know some of these people—from little league and school functions and other events.  They’re our neighbors, in short.  A total anti-government mindset, which failed to distinguish among individuals, is what led Timothy McVeigh to conduct the Oklahoma City Bombing.

But are there tendencies that the government has?   Interestingly, Ronald Reagan didn’t develop his anti-government mindset by observing the welfare state: he got his bad impression of government by looking at how badly the military was treating American citizens during World War II.  (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the source for this.  I think it was one of Lou Cannon’s books, but I’m not sure which one.) He didn’t find the government in that case to be all that compassionate!

When I look at American intelligence and see how cold it is in its treatment of human life, should I assume that such an attitude exists only in the national security sector of America’s government?  Why not in the domestic sphere as well?  Is there a thirst for power, or an incompetence, or a coldness that pervades many sectors of government?  Many of us have heard of cold bureaucracies.

And I can’t really limit my criticism towards the government, for all sorts of big institutions are the same way: big business, for example.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 214:

The climax of confession [in Psalm 51] is v. 7, which admits that guilt on the human side is all-pervasive, a liturgical, i.e., exaggerated, and not a dogmatic assertion…Even more disastrous has been the misunderstanding of v. 7b.  There is absolutely nothing here against sexuality or anything in support of original sin in the biological sense…Reference to birth and conception only stress the gravity and totality of wrongness at a given moment of penitential prayer (see Pss 22:11 [RSV 10]; 58:4 (RSV 3]; 88:16 [RSV 15]).

This was interesting because I’ve heard people say that the Psalmist’s statement that he was conceived in sin is hyperbole, not an affirmation of the original sin doctrine.  My response is often “Says who?”  It’s not that I want to project Christian ideas onto the Hebrew Bible, but I prefer to go with what the text says rather than blowing it off as “hyperbole” without a solid reason for doing so. But, here, Gerstenberger makes a fairly decent case for his position— through his references.  Psalm 58:3 says that the wicked started to lie right after their birth.  In Psalm 88:15, the Psalmist states in his distress that he was afflicted and ready to die from his youth up.  I’m not sure how literally we can take these passages.  They’re probably expressions of the current state, whose horror is amplified when the Psalmist projects it onto the early days: birth and youth.

4. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 239:

If each man receives the produce which his own money has bought and which has been kept separate from that of all the others, he has to tithe only his own share.  But if each man’s produce was purchased separately and then all of the produce became mixed together, each man must separate tithes from the whole, since he did not know which items belong to him.

I guess this law is saying that people are responsible for themselves, whenever they can be.  But there are times when, to be on the safe side in terms of one’s own personal obligation to God, one needs to be concerned about what the broader community is doing.

This reminds me of a presentation a rabbinic student gave on purity.  He pointed out that ancient Israel had a system in which each Israelite was responsible for his or her own purity.  There’s a passage in rabbinic literature that actually highlights the privacy that each Israelite had in terms of this system: the Israelites shouldn’t police one another or snoop to see if neighbors were following the purity laws, for there was a personal honor system, with each Israelite family in its own dwelling.  And yet, following the purity system was very important, for God couldn’t dwell in an impure camp. God would either consume the impure community, or withdraw, leading to agricultural dearth and the absence of God’s protection.

The stakes were high, and yet the privacy of Israelites was to be respected.  Each individual was responsible for remaining pure, or tithing.  He was responsible for himself, not somebody else.

The rabbinic student applied this to the war on terror, in which the stakes are high, and the government views those stakes as a good reason to violate people’s privacy—through the Patriot Act, or domestic wiretapping. This would be a good topic of conversation and debate.

5. Baruch Levine, Numbers 21-36, pages 42-43:

The Deir ‘Alla inscriptions can be dated to the early eighth century B.C.E., before the Assyrian campaigns of 734-721 B.C.E. that ravaged both Transjordan and the northern kingdom of Israel, and resulted in mass deportations from these regions.  In the early-mid-eighth century B.C.E., the population of Gilead was largely Israelite, making it realistic to attribute the Balaam inscriptions from Deir ‘Alla to Israelite authors.  It would be reasonable to date the Balaam poems to the same period, and to suggest that we have represented in them a particular phase in the development of Israelite religion.  The synthesis of El with YHWH, so prevalent in certain biblical traditions, and the triumph of exclusive Yahwism were yet to be actualized…The Balaam poems state that the regional pantheon headed by El, in which YHWH is a member deity, granted the Israelites victory over the Transjordanian nations, whereas the prose narratives of the Balaam pericope attribute all of this to YHWH exclusively.

This is interesting for two reasons.  First, it places a context on the T (Transjordan) source that Levine discusses in his first volume on the Book of Numbers.  For Levine, T apparently originated in the eighth century B.C.E., when there were many Israelites in the Transjordanian area.

Second, Levine’s contention that the Deir ‘Alla inscription was Israelite added another viewpoint to those that I’ve already read.  See my posts,  The Ammonite Balaam Story and J. Edgar Hoover, The Story Behind Balaam, Tekoan Blackmail, More than Politics, The Dyad and the World Soul.  Jacob Milgrom contends that the inscription was Ammonite, not Israelite, but he views its contents as the basis for the stories in Numbers about Balaam encouraging the Israelites to practice idolatry.  The inscription mentions a pagan cult that Balaam founded.  Would that have been a temptation to the Israelites in the Transjordan?

Jo Ann Hackett maintains that P is critical of Balaam because P doesn’t view the Transjordan as truly a part of Israel.  So, if I’m correct, she seems to maintain that the inscription is Israelite, but not in the eyes of P.

Is there a way to determine if the inscription was Ammonite or Israelite?  Where was Ammon during this time?  Where were the Transjordanian tribes?  And where was the inscription found?  It’s in a temple, but where is that temple?

Well, Deir ‘Alla, but where’s that?

6.  In my ATLA book review reading today, I saw changes in the thought of minimalist Niels Peter Lemche.  In his books during the 1980’s, he accepted the existence of an ancient Israelite monarchy, which was when he dated many of the biblical traditions.  He directed his arguments primarily against Gottwald’s thesis that the Israelites were disaffected Canaanites who had launched a revolt, contending instead that, in Israel’s pre-monarchical period, travelling Hapiru filled the void in Palestine left by Western Asiatic peoples.  Lemche doesn’t care for the term “Canaanite” because of the post-exilic Israelites’ use of it in a polemical sense.

But, interestingly, although Lemche was skeptical back then about the Bible’s historical reliability concerning Israel’s pre-monarchic period, he appeared to agree with the biblical claim that the Israelites came from outside of Canaan.

In the 1990’s, Lemche became more of a minimalist.  He claimed that most of the Hebrew Bible was composed in the Persian-Hellenistic Period, and he disputed that the Tel Dan stele concerned the House of David.

A quote that stood out to me was by Jeffrey Zorn:

Lemche pays little attention to this theoretical discussion and adopts a very simple system (borrowed from the ancient Greeks) for establishing ethnicity: common blood, language, and religion. Based on these criteria he asserts that it is impossible to identify an Israelite ethnic group in the Iron Age. However, by these same criteria it would also be impossible to establish the existence of the Iron Age II Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites. In fact, it would be interesting to learn which “ethnic groups” mentioned in our sources could survive Lemche’s analysis. In any event, the search for ethnicity will always remain something of a chimera. If, for the moment, one assumes a Davidic/Solomonic kingdom embracing most of modern Israel in the tenth century and also assumes that Megiddo came under Israelite control at that time, how many generations would it take for the majority of the city’s population to identify themselves as “Israelites”? If one could ask a Bethlehemite of the seventh century who he was, would he simply identify himself as PN son of PN? Would he conceive of himself as having an identity beyond the level of his family or clan? Would he see himself as a “Judean,” or simply as someone ruled over by the king of Judah?

That leads me to wonder how exactly scholars do identify ancient people-groups.  Is it by common pottery, or similar buildings, or inscriptions that say they were in a particular area, or what?

But this quote is also interesting because it hits on national identity.  One can get the impression from the Bible that all of the Israelites saw themselves as Israelites, with a common history.  But did this happen overnight?  What about the people Solomon conquered?  They were non-Israelites, and then, BOOM, they were part of another nation, Israel.  How long did they take to adjust to their new identity?  Is Zorn going with Lemche’s earlier thesis: that the biblical writings were composed in Israel’s monarchical period to give identity and unity to people in Palestine?  (Well, I’m not sure if Lemche says exactly that, but there are people who do say it.)

7.  At church this morning, we had political priest, but he didn’t speak about politics.  Rather, he talked about I Peter 4:8, which affirms that charity covers a multitude of sins.

What surprised me was that he handled the verse as many Protestants would.  In reading this verse, it’s easy to interpret it to mean that we should be nice to one another, and God will forgive us on account of that.  I can picture such a view finding a home in Catholicism, which has posited various means of receiving forgiveness: confession to a priest, death (according to Origen), forgiving others.  But Protestants recoil from such an interpretation, for they maintain that forgiveness from God comes only through receiving God’s free gift of grace, not through doing good works (charity).

Consequently, Protestants try to interpret I Peter 4:8 in another manner.  Many Protestants say it means that, when we show charity to others, that will lead those people to forgive us of our sins, meaning that it has nothing to do with God’s forgiveness of us.  Strangely, that was one of the interpretations that the priest offered this morning.

But the priest also presented another view: when we love God, God will forgive us.  He referred to the story in Luke 7:37-50, in which the woman who loves Jesus more receives forgiveness.  But, unfortunately, the priest got the story backwards and made it legalistic.  The story does not say that the woman loved Jesus more and so God forgave her.  Rather, its whole point is that God forgave her, and so she loved Jesus more—for she had a lot of sins, and thus she really appreciated a clean slate.  And so, in this case, the priest went the legalistic route rather than embracing the Protestant approach.

The priest asked us to consider: how much are we willing to bear from others out of love?  Personally, this question doesn’t help me out that much.  I have a hard time bearing anything out of love!  But maybe I should think of this: there are people I do love, and should love: shouldn’t I be willing to bear the things about them that annoy me, out of love for them?

Sure, but I feel that such a point emphasizes my own strength, which isn’t always present.  I need a power greater than myself to have the patience that I so often lack.

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.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, History, Life, Politics, Rabbinics, Religion, Ronald Reagan, School, Television. Bookmark the permalink.