Final Gems from Sommer; A Surprising Choice?; Filling in the Gap

1.  I finished Benjamin Sommer’s A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66.  There was a lot of interesting stuff in today’s reading, which was in the Endnotes.  Here are two of the topics:

a.  There was a belief in Second Temple Judaism that prophecy had ended.  Sommer speculates that not many prophets popped up after the exile because so many prophecies about the restoration of the Davidic dynasty had gone unfulfilled, and so Jews became less than enthusiastic about prophecy.  Books still popped up in the Second Temple Period, claiming to be divine revelation.  But they went under the names of revered figures in Israel’s history—Adam, Enoch, etc.  Prophecies in the name of the prophets proclaiming them were rare in the Second Temple Period, Sommer states.  And yet, we encounter in Second Temple and rabbinic literature the expectation that prophecy would make a comeback in the last days.

b.  In both Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah, there is a hope that, one day, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the blind will see.  Jesus appealed to his healings as a fulfillment of these prophecies in Matthew 11:5.  But Sommer takes these prophecies in a figurative sense.  In First Isaiah, he says, they refer to insightful, just rulers replacing unjust leadership in Israel.  In Deutero-Isaiah, they’re talking about the liberation of the Jews from captivity in Babylon.

Sommer takes some things literally, however.  He believes that Deutero-Isaiah really expected God to lead Israel through the desert, providing them with water along the way.  Ordinarily, people wouldn’t go the direct route from Mesopotamia to Canaan, but “one would move north and west along the Euphrates, then south parallel to the Lebanon mountains” (284).  But Deutero-Isaiah predicted that Israel would go the direct route, for “water and a safe roadway will suddenly materialize there”.

But things didn’t occur as Deutero-Isaiah predicted, at least not totally.  That’s why many scholars believe there was a Third Isaiah, who came along to explain the failure of Deutero-Isaiah’s prophecies to materialize fully.  For Sommer, however, Deutero-Isaiah himself is explaining why some of his own prophecies failed to materialize, so there is no Third Isaiah, just one disappointed Second Isaiah!

2.  In my reading today of The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, Randall Short challenges the claim that the History of David’s Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 is parallel to the Hittite Apology of Hattusili, and is thus an apology for David’s ascent to the throne of Israel.  Hattusili affirms in the first person that he is of royal blood, and his story contains examples of the goddess Ishtar’s support for him.  On page 61, however, Randall contends that the History of David’s Rise does not talk about David’s qualifications for the throne, and thus differs from the Apology of Hattusili.  Randall states that “YHWH’s election of, and presence with, David remains unexpected, inexplicable, and utterly mysterious.”  That may be why Randall gave his book the title that he did: The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David.

In evangelical Bible studies that I’ve attended, there’s an emphasis on God’s free grace, and the notion that God often uses the least in accomplishing his purposes.  I’ve seen Christians make fun of the faithlessness, stupidity, and sinfulness of prominent biblical characters, such as Abraham, Jacob, Simon Peter, and others.  “The Bible is hard on its heroes”, Christians have said.  That served to emphasize God’s grace: God didn’t pick people because they deserved it, but because of his rich mercy.  The evangelicals I knew would also note that God uses those who are the least, since that’s what gives God the glory.  Otherwise, we’d give the characters the glory, as we assume that they accomplished their great feats through their own strength.  (Ironically, though, the less-than-glamorous aren’t always as popular in evangelical settings!)

Is Randall going this route in his book?  He wouldn’t be the only one to do so.  I remember hearing Gary Anderson at Harvard note that God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12 comes out-of-the-blue, as if it’s an act of grace.  Jewish exegetes throughout history took note of this, so they told stories of Abraham’s merit—Abraham destroyed his father’s idols, or Abraham stood up to Nimrod.  The Jewish interpreters could not envision God calling Abraham without Abraham having done something to merit God’s call.  (And one could argue that such a view occurs even in the biblical Abraham story, which is why we see God testing Abraham with the command to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  There could be a yearning here to see Abraham prove that he actually deserves to be God’s chosen one!)

Is God’s call of David in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 inexplicable?  I know that I Samuel 13:14 is not part of that unit, but is it relevant?  God says he will pick a man after his own heart.  Does that imply that God’s choice of David was not arbitrary, but that there was something about David that impressed God?  In I Samuel 16:7, God tells Samuel that God looks at the heart, not at countenance or height of stature.  Randall sees this as part of the History of David’s Rise, whereas some do not.  Is God saying here that he’s impressed with David’s heart?  And, as we look at David’s conduct throughout the History of David’s Rise, aren’t we drawn to the conclusion that David is more qualified in temperament to be king than the psychotic, disobedient, unstable Saul, whatever flaws David may have? 

I definitely think there is something to the claim that the Bible says God uses the least.  It’s all over the place, in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  And that contrasts with what I’ve seen so far in the Apology of Hattusili, which emphasizes Hattusili’s royal qualifications.  But I’m reluctant right now to say that the elevation of the least occurs nowhere outside of the Bible.  (I’m not saying Randall argues this, because I don’t know.  But there have been plenty of times when I’ve seen evangelicals try to present the Bible as unique, contending that other ancient Near Eastern texts glorify the king, whereas the Bible is hard on its heroes and supports humility).  I have no specific texts in mind right now, but I’ve heard enough “rags to riches” stories, that I think such a motif may be in a variety of cultures.  See my post from a while back, Is David a Copycat?, as well as Jake’s comment.

Also, maybe McCarter is right about why so much of the Hebrew Bible emphasizes the “least”: because Israel was a vulnerable nation.  This was the case when she was among or (in the case of the exile) inside of hostile powers, and so the authors of the Hebrew Bible may have been trying to give the Israelites assurance. 

Here’s a thought, which kind of contradicts what I just said: could the History of David’s Rise be an apology for King David, notwithstanding its differences with the Apology of Hattusili?  Maybe the History of David’s Rise doesn’t mention David’s royal blood because most of its audience knew that David didn’t have any!  The author of the History of David’s Rise knew where he could make an effective apology, and where he could not. 

These are just my thoughts so far, and they may change as I proceed through the book. 

3.  In my reading today of Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt argues that the government shouldn’t be trying to prop up or bail out industries.  He uses his typical supply-side (or whatever you want to call it) argument: when the government takes our money in taxes to save an industry, that means we have less money to buy stuff, which results in a loss of jobs.  Hazlitt also makes a point that I discussed a while back in my post, Propping Up a Failed System: that businesses that need government “support” probably deserve to fail because they’re inefficient. 

Hazlitt doesn’t like the idea of the government using our tax dollars to improve the economy, because, well, he doesn’t think that this measure does improve the economy!  He holds that the private sector creates jobs, in response to consumers spending their money.  And he’s right on that.  But what happens when consumers are not spending their money?  That’s one rationale for Obama’s stimulus: that somebody needs to spend for the economy to get better, and consumers aren’t spending, so the government should step forward and do so. 

But some have argued that people aren’t investing in part because of the government’s policies, or proposals they hear from Democrats.  Regulation and proposals of tax increases give some people a feeling of timidity and insecurity about investing their money.  Or so the argument runs.

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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