Bara, the Golden Rule

I’m continuing my way through Understanding Poets and Prophets: Essays in Honour of George Wishart Anderson.  I read two essays:

1.  One essay that I read was S. Lee’s “Power Not Novelty: The Connotations of [Bara] in the Hebrew Bible.”  Lee’s argument is that the Hebrew word “bara”—which is often translated as “create”—relates to God’s sovereignty or control more than the creation of something new.  At times, “bara” does not refer to the creation of something new, but rather to renewal or refurbishing.  And, in the case of Exodus 34:10, “bara” is used to refer to the Conquest, which, for Lee, pertains to God’s power and sovereignty.  When “bara” does appear to highlight God as creator, as in Second Isaiah, the context is usually a discussion of God’s sovereignty.  You can see all of the appearances of “bara” in the Hebrew Bible here.  Personally, I don’t see the problem with translating “bara” as “create”—although it’s not necessarily creation ex-nihilo, but can entail making something out of already existing material, or situations.  And God’s status as creator relates to his power and sovereignty.

2.  I also read J.I.H. McDonald’s “The Great Commandment and the Golden Rule”.  McDonald talks about the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule, which, within the New Testament and rabbinic literature, are viewed as a summary of the entire Torah.  Or, in the Gospel of Mark, love of neighbor as oneself is contrasted with ritual.  McDonald criticizes a tendency—within Greek and Latin literature, and also in scholarly commentaries on the New Testament—to treat the Golden Rule as a matter of reciprocity: If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  That is why McDonald believes that another factor is important, a factor that is highlighted in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God’s grace to people, which is undeserved.

I do not really understand how the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule relate to reciprocity—though I do suppose that there is a degree of egoism in them, since how I want to be treated is an essential aspect of them.  Also, McDonald does well to highlight how Greek and Latin authors had a Golden Rule, and yet they also had a notion of fairness—that their enemies should be punished.  But I don’t think that the Golden Rule necessarily implies reciprocity.  As my Mom told me repeatedly when I was growing up, “The rule is not ‘Do unto others as they do unto you’, but ‘Do unto others as you want others to do unto you’.”

I appreciated a point that McDonald makes about Jewish and Christian dialogue.  He said that, often, it has degenerated into a clash over which side came up with the Golden Rule first—the Jews or the Christians?  But what we should do is learn from one another.

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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