The Donkey in the Temple; I Wasn’t Crazy!; Andrew Marin’s Apology

1.  In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read Benjamin Ravid’s “Biblical Exegesis a la Mercantilism and Raison d’etat in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Discorso of Simone Luzzatto”.

Simone Luzzatto in the seventeenth century responded to Tacitus’ anti-Jewish comments, for they were used in Christian anti-Jewish writings of his day, plus Luzzatto preferred to take on Tacitus, a dead historian from the first-second centuries C.E., rather than “directly countering Christian authors of his time”.  Luzzatto didn’t want to “run afoul of the Venetian censorship”.

What interested me was Ravid’s discussion of the anti-Jewish legend that there was the head of an ass in the Jewish temple.  According to Tacitus, when the Jews were wandering around thirsty in the wilderness, they encountered a group of wild asses, and so Moses concluded that water was nearby.  Moses then followed the asses and found a spring.  To commemorate this event, “Moses consecrated the skull of an ass, which was preserved for a long time in the innermost chamber of the temple”. 

Many church fathers, including Tertullian, thought this was a lie.  But Luzzatto believed that Tacitus’ lie had some basis in truth.  Luzzatto says that the ass in the temple was the jawbone of an ass that Samson used to kill Philistines, and that Samson in Judges 19 prayed that God might bring water from that jawbone.

2.  I’m reading Benjamin Sommer’s A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66.  On page 9, Sommer states:

“But an intertextual critic would not need to ask whether the author of, say, Isaiah 49 borrowed from Isaiah 11, or vice versa.”

Sommer is talking about influence and intertextuality.  Influence is when a writing influences an author, who alludes to it.  Intertextuality is, well, different.  It holds (among other things) that readers can juxtapose texts together and see what they get out of that juxtaposition.  Influence focuses on the author, whereas intertextuality concentrates on the reader.  I could say more, but this really isn’t my favorite topic.

The problem with an “influence” model is that we don’t always know what is influencing what.  As Sommer states, we don’t really know if Isaiah 49 borrowed from Isaiah 11, or vice versa.  Just because Isaiah 11 is in First Isaiah, and Isaiah 49 is in Second Isaiah, and First Isaiah was supposedly written earlier than Second Isaiah, that doesn’t really matter.  First Isaiah could contain later material, from the hands of later authors.  Old texts can be updated, and so Isaiah 11 could be based on Isaiah 49.

I was interested in the relationship between Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 49 because, in my Harvard Divinity School thesis, I posited that a Servant Song of Second Isaiah (I forget which one) relied on Isaiah 11.  My argument was that the Servant of Second Isaiah was a Messianic figure, meaning that Second Isaiah talks about a Messiah who would die and rise from the dead, which is consistent with Christianity.  My thesis aimed to convince non-Christian Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, by demonstrating that the Hebrew Bible itself has Messianic expectations that are consistent with what Christians say about the Messiah and Jesus.  God planned to send a Messiah like Jesus, so why not believe that Jesus was that Messiah?

In Isaiah 11, we see a Davidic king ruling over a time of peace and justice.  If Isaiah 49 connects the Servant with the figure of Isaiah 11, is it suggesting that the Suffering Servant was a Davidic king who would rule over a time of peace?  Does the Book of Isaiah indeed present a Messiah who would come twice: the first time, to die for people’s sins, and the second time, to rule?  Does Christianity have it right when it comes to the Hebrew Bible’s depiction of the Messiah?

I guess my view now is that there are many ways to see the data.  Even if the Servant Songs draw on royal themes, does that mean they are saying that the Servant would be a king?  Maybe they’re suggesting that the Servant would liberate Israel (a kingly act) in a non-kingly way. 

But I’m still glad to learn that others see the text as I did.  I wasn’t crazy!

3.  Alise has a good post, Faith like an atheist (and a child).  Alise shares two items, both of which are good.  We see the atheist Hemant Mehta exhorting a student secular group to listen to the stories of Christian conservatives and regard them as people.  Then we hear from Andrew Marin, who is apologizing to the gay community for how Christians have treated them.  He makes some profound points.

What sticks in my head, though, is a caller who resents Marin apologizing on behalf of the Christian community.  She wonders who appointed Andrew Marin the spokesperson for Christianity.  Plus, she makes clear that Andrew Marin does not speak for her.

I thought that she made a valid point.  But, at the same time, I’m hesitant to toss out of the window my sympathy for what Andrew is doing.  No, Andrew doesn’t speak for all of Christianity.  But he is a Christian, and that may make him feel responsible for how Christians have treated homosexuals.

Can Andrew apologize for himself, and himself alone?  Or is there a sense in which he can legitimately apologize for something broader than himself, a movement of which he is a part, even if he can’t speak for everybody in that movement?

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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