Helping to See More Clearly
Whenever I receive the latest issue of Bible Review, no matter how busy I am, I sit down and read the letters in Readers Reply immediately. I often find this section entertaining in a perverse way.
Sometimes there are letters so cringingly silly that it scares me—doubly so. First, I find it frightening to think that there are people who might be so intolerant and condemning of a magazine I genuinely value. Second, I find it frightening to think of how intolerant and condemning I can be of these people who find BR so horrible. It keeps me about as thoughtful, intrigued, enlightened, annoyed and amused as your articles often do.
Please don’t change your editorial vision. Perhaps the rest of us will learn to see more clearly, one way or another, in spite of you or in spite of ourselves.
Biblical and Modern History
We very much enjoyed reading “Drama of the Exodus,” BR 07:01, by Peter Feinman.
One rarely encounters articles written in such a fresh and interesting style, yet filled with well researched and valuable information.
We particularly liked the comparisons and references to modern history and events in Eastern Europe.
New Rochelle, New York
If a Few Preachers Could Do the Same …
I want to applaud Peter Feinman’s article, “Drama of the Exodus,” BR 07:01! Ever since my seminary days, I’ve been railing against the “scholarly” assumption that the Jewish and Christian canon of Scripture is base propaganda, while “classical” (no bias there, right?) records from Egyptians, Romans or whoever tell us what really happened.
Thank you for an enjoyable, feisty article; and for a fine application of the Exodus to today’s headlines. Now, if a few preachers could do the same.…
Saint Nicholas’ Church
Injustice to Ramesses II
The article by Peter Feinman, “Drama of the Exodus,” BR 07:01, presents an interesting scenario for the story. I believe, however, that many of your readers would disagree with his basic premise that Ramesses II (1279–1212 B.C.E.) was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. After reading previous articles in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) regarding the problem of dating this event and the date of the destruction of Jericho (Bryant G. Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” BAR 16:02; Piotr Bienkowski, “Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, Not the Late Bronze Age,” BAR 16:05 and Bryant G. Wood, “Dating Jericho’s Destruction: Bienkowski Is Wrong on All Counts,” BAR 16:05), I believe there is good evidence for an earlier date—circa 1400 B.C.E. Amenhotep III (1417–1379 B.C.E.) would then be a likely candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The date of the destruction of Jericho by the Israelites seems to require a date about this time.
A final solution to the dating problem awaits further solid evidence. However, Ramesses II, whatever his faults, may have been unjustly portrayed as the villain of the Exodus event.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Shoddy Research and Unfounded Theory
I have just finished reading my first issue of Bible Review and while I generally enjoyed the articles, I feel it necessary to write and comment on one article in particular—one that I did not enjoy, except as a study in shoddy research and flights of unfounded fancy.
I am referring to Peter Feinman’s article “Drama of the Exodus,” BR 07:01, in which Mr. Feinman suggests (among other things) that Ramesses II was the Pharaoh of the biblical Exodus and that Seti I was the 007Pharaoh of the oppression. But, as Isaac Asimov demonstrates in his Guide to the Bible, it is Ramesses II who was the Pharaoh of the oppression and his son Merneptah who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Besides the quality of the information presented in his article, I further object to the style that Mr. Feinman uses in the article itself. When I pick up a magazine such as yours, I do not expect to find myself reading sophomoric dialogue such as was contained in Mr. Feinman’s article. I expect, on the contrary, to find intelligently researched and well-crafted articles that, while suited for reading by the general public and scholars alike, do not resort to such colloquialisms as are found throughout Mr. Feinman’s article. Indeed, Mr. Feinman seems to rely on precisely the emotional content, rather than the “facts” contained therein, to carry his argument.
Please do not make me regret my subscription to your magazine by making a habit of including this kind of “journalism.”
Namelessness and Powerlessness
“The Shunammite Woman,” BR 07:01, by Burke O. Long is a nice beginning to what should be a long-term plan to understand the women of the Bible. I hope you will publish more such insightful articles.
But there are a few aspects of the article that seem a bit cloudy.
Long says, “Elisha never grants the Shunammite a name.” Never mind whether it is Elisha’s business to grant names, there’s a fascinating subject here: Anonymous Women. How many are there in the Bible? Are female characters more likely to be unnamed? Why? It may be that Near Eastern culture traditionally conceals women, for example, veils and confinement (staying at home). Yet we do the same—how many are known only as “Mrs. Bob … ”?
Does nameless really mean powerless? God himself is rather sparing in telling his name. See Exodus 3, 33 and 34 where the speaking of God’s name comes in the context of a very special, almost ceremonial experience. The Messiah of Revelation 19:12 “had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.”
Long also suggests that “Namelessness, of course, suggests powerlessness.” Is this woman “powerless” when she tells her husband what to do, has a prophet doing miracles for her and telling her to escape the famine, takes her family on a seven-year exile and then goes directly to the nation’s chief executive?
Did a Gospel Parallel Affect Interpretation of the Shunammite Women?
I have for some time now enjoyed the many well-written articles in Bible Review that allow me to reflect on issues that contribute to an understanding of the process of biblical interpretation. Among these was the article by Burke O. Long, “The Shunammite Woman,” BR 07:01. Dr. Long explored an interesting argument why traditional interpretation of the Elisha/Shunammite episode may have been shaped as it was, and therefore relegated the Shunammite woman to a more insignificant position than her actions or faith would otherwise warrant.
I wonder whether Dr. Long has considered the somewhat parallel story from the Gospels, Luke 7:1–10 (paralleled in Matthew 8:5–13), in which Jesus heals the centurion’s slave. Here Jesus does not personally attend (as Elisha at first was going to assist himself at the request of the centurion, who believes Jesus can cure the slave simply by “the Word.” Jesus cures the slave and then praises the centurion’s faith. Is it possible that this parallel to the second half of the Elisha/Shunammite story contributed to the “multiple strategies that diminish her place in the tale”? It may not be entirely a case of gender bias, and might involve a judgment on the response of faith.
I agree with Dr. Long; there is more to the Elisha/Shunammite story, or any Bible story, than a single meaning. And, ultimately, none of the stories are really only about the characters involved.
Rocky Mount United Methodist Church
Rocky Mount, Virginia
Burke Long responds:
The short answer to Dr. Savage’s wondering is, “No, I did not consider the story of the centurion in Luke 7:1–10 (paralleled in Matthew 8:5–13).” I am glad he provides me with the opportunity.
Dr. Savage suggests that a paradigm of unshakeable conviction in Jesus’ healing power, which is praised in the Lukan story, might have been applied by various readers to the Shunammite, and, by this “response of faith” measure, she was perhaps found wanting.
I wonder how this might have worked. Was the Shunammite not convinced that Elisha had the power to work miracles? If she was, then her belief is comparable to the centurion’s. In my reading, the problem was that Elisha had to be convinced of a moral responsibility and thus moved to use his power.
Of course, it is possible that some readers may have thought the woman a little too assertive, and hence less admirable than the centurion, who embodies total servility to Jesus’ authority (see Luke 7:6–7). This is the crux of the inner relationship between gender bias and notions about faith-response. Dr. Savage seems to feel that the two might be somehow disentangled. But, in practice, this image of obeisant faith, despite its association in Luke and Matthew with the presumably male centurion, has more often been held forth as approved social behavior for women, not men. Something like this social convention may lie behind Würthwein’s explicit analogy (see “The Shunammite Woman,” BR 07:01 and note 12) between the Shunammite and the unnamed woman of the Gospels, whose humble faith made her well (Mark 5:24–31; compare Mark 7:24–30).
Thank You for Ruining My Day
As a Bible scholar, I am appalled at the laxness with which so-called scholars graze through the texts of Scripture like so many malnourished sheep mad from starvation, moving quickly, awkwardly and destructively. My particular concern is with Professor Burke O. Long’s rape of the Shunammite woman text (“The Shunammite Woman,” BR 07:01). His molestation leaves it a vast wasteland for anyone who would want to follow. But who would want to?
Of what devastation do I speak?
First, I speak of the sacred degradation. Like most higher-critical scholars, Professor Long did not give God His due. In fact, he barely even gives God a say, though the text is God’s own Word and not Professor Long’s. Every text in Holy Scripture is there for a reason, and that reason is to glorify neither woman nor prophet nor great fish. The purpose is to glorify God. The Shunammite woman glorified God by assailing His throne of grace on behalf of her son. Elisha glorified God by helping his gracious hostess. Professor Long was clearly, from the outset, out to glorify man, that is, wo-man.
Second, Long’s ethical crime: Long-winded about how he is a defender of truth against the tunnel vision and self-fulfilling agenda of historical-criticism, yet it is all a ruse. In pretending to defend truth, Long succinctly cut the method that 008really defends Truth, the historical-grammatical method, off at the knees. Historical-grammaticism is not fundamentalism. It takes the Bible literally only where the Bible wants to be taken literally. In contrast, the literalistic method takes the Bible literally, even when it doesn’t want to be so taken, much like a child does, to the aggravation of its parents. Conversely, historical-criticism never takes God’s Word literally on any point, no matter the Scripture’s stern warning to take it seriously.
I would like to be in the courtroom when the Judge of All sits the historical critics down and makes them listen to Him. Probably only then will they take Him seriously, and then it will be too late. So Long.
Long’s third contemptible act of defilement is the most cutting of all, the personal faith attack. Once again, a self-styled scholar, an expert, accountable to God for the people who trust in him and what he says, has served up more bad food for the soul, snatching up and consuming weeds as if he no longer knew what good food was. Of course, being impoverished and famished himself, he no longer knows good food from poison. Such poison, no matter by what ignorance distributed, kills, subtly but surely. It destroys faith. It destroys hope. It destroys, period.
That’s the Long and short of it. Thank you for ruining my day. You ought to put a warning sign on the food. Thank God I didn’t eat it. You didn’t either, did you?
Zion Lutheran Church
Kramer, North Dakota
Bring Christ Down to Our Level
Questions and answers on the Bible: In your review of Raymond Brown’s book, Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible (Bible Books, BR 07:01), you quote passages in which Brown presents Christ as a Galilean Jew with a Galilean Jew’s outlook on life. According to the Gospels, however, Christ’s outlook on all things was set according to his heavenly Father’s teaching. It was this outlook that enabled Him to see truth and overcome the world. It seems so many scholars of the Gospel try to bring Christ down to our level. I really don’t understand why.
APO New York
Exploring Our Premises
If we start with naturalism as a premise, we will never arrive at a conclusion supporting supernatural revelation. Supernatural revelation will be ruled out as a possibility before the study begins. Much of biblical scholarship is shaped by this bias.
We each have a bias, depending on the premise we have individually chosen. Jim Roth’s letter (Readers Reply, BR 06:06) is very much to the point on this stupendously important issue. I second his motion for a discussion of the impact of this premise and its assumptions on the presuppositions of a scholar and his work. This issue needs to come out of the closet.
Don’t Cast Disparaging Remarks
Stephen J. Patterson’s My View (“Bridging the Gulf Between Bible Scholarship and Religious Faith,” BR 06:06) struck a responsive chord in lamenting the schism between scholars and laity and between scholars and theologians. But there is another side to the story that Dr. Patterson does not mention. That is the possibility that the scholars may be wrong.
A scholar will typically amass a collection of data which is analyzed until, some pattern seems to emerge. Then assumptions are made about how the data came to be and predictions are made about how more data will turn out. If further experiments turn out as predicted, then confidence is gained in the accuracy of the original assumptions. This is all well and good. Much has been learned about ourselves and our environment in this manner. But all too often scholars go beyond this scenario and assume that their assumptions (theories) are immutable laws of nature. Then when, in a few years, it is shown that those concepts are faulty, it is easy for the rest of us to be skeptical the next time a scholar proclaims a new law of nature.
What scholars seem to miss is that the ultimate source of the Scriptures is not human. They try to analyze the text as if it were man’s work rather than God’s. There are, of course, many works of men in the Bible, and it is perfectly fair to analyze them as such. But there are also supernatural events portrayed in Scripture. To attempt to analyze these as a product of man is folly.
A few years ago, the kingdom of the Hittites was described a myth. Other Bible stories were scorned in a similar manner. Since then, archaeologists have dug up evidence that many of these stories are based on fact.
So until the scholars can get their own act together, it ill behooves them to cast disparaging remarks at either the theologians or the rest of us.
Altamonte Springs, Florida
Judaism and Christianity Cannot Both Be Right
Professor Vermes and I differ because I keep learning new things and he does not (see letter of Geza Vermes, Readers Reply, BR 07:02). Based on what I then knew, in 1974, I praised his book [Jesus the Jew]. Based on what I have learned in the intervening 17 years, in 1990 I saw deep flaws in his book. That accounts for why I dismiss the book nearly two decades after praising it. If Vermes for his part would learn to listen to his critics and keep up with scholarship, he would understand how, in light of recent findings, it is quite accurate to characterize his work on Jesus as “unfortunate.”
As early as 1977, Professor William Scott Green, in his fundamental methodological paper, “What’s in a Name? The Problematic of Rabbinic Biography” (Approaches to Ancient Judaism: Theory and Practice [Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977], pp. 77–96), called into question the notion that we can write biography out of rabbinic sources; work on Honi and Hanina [two wonder workers referred to in the Talmud] has not given us anything remotely comparable to the lives of Jesus provided by the Gospels; the entire comparison is simply null and void. And Green’s still more recent work has demonstrated that Vermes’ “charismatic Judaism” is a total fabrication. It rests on little more than Vermes’ wish to find a charismatic Judaism. But of all this Vermes knows nothing. That is not to suggest that Vermes leaves no lasting contribution to learning; some of his earlier scholarship—his popularization of the ideas of Renée Bloch in his papers on comparative midrash, for instance—certainly endures. But instead of writing captious nonsense, Vermes would do better to stop repeating himself and begin to read other people’s work.
The other letters in the April BR Readers Reply, BR 07:02, make a variety of interesting points of a more academic character. As to Ms. Julie C. Markham: The exegesis of the example, the driving of the money changers out of the Temple, is based on how, in the second-century sources of Judaism, the Temple tax was collected. It is clear that the story is incomprehensible in that context, and that is the point that I made. As to the matter of the Virgin Mary, I am well aware of the differences between 009Protestant and Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.
As to Rabbi H. D. Uriel Smith, he introduces a fair amount of irrelevant evidence, and I do not follow his exegesis. But I should be glad to know on what basis he confidently informs us of the opinion of “Pharisaic leadership” about Jewish Christians, and a variety of other facts. The Pharisaic sources that convey those facts are like the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, I suppose; I never saw them. If he means Gamaliel in Acts, let him say so and let us look at that.
To Rev. Philip S. Meckley, I point out that Christianity in the name of Jesus Christ abolished the bulk of the laws of the Torah; whether or not that represented the position of the man is not important in a discussion of the relationship between the religions, Judaism and Christianity.
Since Christianity was born on the first Easter, Mr. Charles R. Gordon’s observations, if interesting, are irrelevant to the question.
I do not see the connection between Isaiah 56:7 and kicking the money changers out of the Temple: “the business operation of the Temple was set up in the court of the gentiles, effectively canceling out its use as a place of prayer for non-Jews” (see letter of Pastor William H. Scarle, Readers Reply, BR 07:02). The Temple was a place in which God was served through animal offerings; gentiles’ offerings were presented in accord with the law of the Torah; so I do not know what is troubling Pastor Scarle. What makes a Christian Christian is that he or she believes Jesus is Christ, unique, God, son of God, risen from the dead. To those profound, Christian beliefs the issue of whether or not Jesus taught this or that which Judaism also taught is simply, monumentally irrelevant.
Dr. Walter Ziffer and I disagree about the same matter. He maintains that whether or not Jesus “really” said this but not that matters a whole lot. The Gospels, critically read, convey to him both truths and untruths. Most Christians believe there are no lies in the Gospels. And, as a matter of fact, speaking as I understand the theology of Christianity in its first five centuries or so, I have to counter: The Gospels, like the entirety of the Bible (“Old Testament,” “New Testament”) are the gift of the Church; the Church flourished for hundreds of years before the Bible was fully realized, and whatever Christians know about the beginnings of their faith they know because the Church has told them. If that is Catholic, not a Protestant, Christianity, so be it. It was all there was to Christianity before the Reformation, and it seems a bit late in history—and a bit ungracious too—to pick and choose among the gifts that the Church gave to Christians.
From my perspective, as a faithful and practicing Jew, by contrast, all of this is merely interesting. The vigorous debate my article precipitated in this magazine once again demonstrates a simple fact. The theological foundations—not historical, not political, not sociological, but theological—for a dialogue between Judaism and Christianity have not yet been set down. That does not mean we cannot be friends, work together, respect and admire and even love one another. It does mean that we have a major theological problem to address, since both of us—Judaism, Christianity—cannot be right, and if (as I believe) we are right, then Christians are wrong, and if (as most Christians believe) Christianity is right about Jesus Christ, then we Jews are wrong. The dimensions of the debate are formidable. Characterizing Jesus as a Galilean charismatic is not merely childish and trivial, it is irrelevant to the life of the lived faiths, Christianity and Judaism; and characterizing Jesus as some sort of rabbi, or as a Jew among Jews (as though nothing happened on or after the first Easter) is simply an evasion and an irrelevance. All of this is facile and self-indulgent: attitude and fantasy replacing serious, rigorous thought.
Does this mean I despair of theological intercourse between Judaism and Christianity? Not at all, I admire the first-class intellectuals, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Judaic alike, who attempt it. I point to the numerous writings of Dr. Eugene Fisher of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, for one example, and Rabbi Eugene Borowski’s book on a Judaic Christology, for another, as serious and appropriate initiatives, to be honored and studied. I mean only to caution, it is much more difficult than people have yet understood, and engaging in theological discourse between theological systems is not to be undertaken lightly.
Graduate Research Professor of Religious Studies
University of South Florida
Closing Doors and Opening Windows
As one long involved in the dialogue between Jews and Christians which it has been the great privilege of this generation out of all generations of our respective communities to initiate, I am grateful to Bible Review for publishing the insightful exchange between Professor Jacob Neusner and Father Andrew Greeley (Jacob Neusner, “How Judaism and Christianity Can Talk to Each Other,” BR 06:06 and the sidebar entitled “The Jewish God Is Also the Christian God,” by Andrew Greeley.
I found it both interesting and challenging that the structure of Professor Neusner’s article begins, so to speak, by appearing to close the door to meaningful dialogue between our two communities only (to paraphrase Pope John XXIII of blessed memory) to open a window at the end. Beyond admiration for the classical proportions of the article’s architectural structure, I appreciate Professor Neusner’s attempt to bring to the dialogue a clear sense of what we are about and why. Facing such issues can only assist in clarifying our respective motivations and hopes for the dialogue itself.
I do, however, find myself disagreeing, at least from the Catholic side, with Professor Neusner’s description of what he considers to be “the prevailing theory of the dialogue.” Indeed, the “dialogue,” as Professor Neusner has argued elsewhere, is not and cannot be understood as a conversation between “Judaism and Christianity,” since each is unique, integral and autonomous. But this has never been the self-perception of those of us engaged in the dialogue. Rather, we see it as a dialogue between believing Christians and Jews, another matter altogether as Professor Neusner’s own Rachel/Mary discussion in Bible Review vividly illustrates. Or, to put it more technically in the language used on the Catholic side, the dialogue is properly understood as one between the Church and the Jewish People, which again has far different theoretical implications and practical realities than those against which Professor Neusner quite logically argues. So while I would agree with him concerning the essential “incomprehensibility” of our respective religious “isms,” I would argue in turn that Father Greeley, who presumes a different “theory” of the dialogue than that debunked by Professor Neusner, is no less correct in affirming the theoretical possibility and actual reality of the dialogue that is manifestly taking place all around us even as we debate the point.
Director for Catholic-Jewish Relations
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Helping to See More Clearly
Whenever I receive the latest issue of Bible Review, no matter how busy I am, I sit down and read the letters in Readers Reply immediately. I often find this section entertaining in a perverse way.