Less Knowledge, Please
Please do not renew my subscription. Your articles, and in particular the letters to the editor, make me see why Jesus said we “must become as little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Knowledge is a dangerous and powerful force—it can make you doubt what you accepted as fact when in a less learned state.
Cause for Celebration
The “Cancel My Subscription” letters have given me joy for years.
Saul as Sacrifice
How Benjamin Foreshadows Benjaminite Saul
The article by L. Daniel Hawk (“Saul as Sacrifice,” BR 12:06) was indeed most interesting. While Hawk perceptively points out that sacrifice is the leading theme in the narrative of Saul and may even explain the nature of his death (and possibly the fact that his body was burned after his self-inflicted death, in the manner of a burnt offering!), he does not note the connection between the Saul narrative and that of his ancestor Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son and Rachel’s second.
Jacob’s reluctance to allow Benjamin to go with his half brothers to Egypt to obtain grain from the ruler of Egypt, who unbeknownst to the brothers is Benjamin’s older brother Joseph, may be understood as reluctance on Jacob’s part to sacrifice another son. He himself had precipitated the loss of Joseph by sending him to see his brothers in Shechem (Genesis 37:14) and may have understood Joseph’s disappearance as a sacrifice that God required from him as a result of the inadvertent curse that he had put on Rachel when she stole the teraphim (personal household idols) from her father, Laban (Genesis 31:32).
If Rachel died prematurely in Ephrat because of this curse (Genesis 35:16–19), perhaps her sons Joseph and Benjamin were also destined to have a similar fate. Jacob certainly thought this was the case with Joseph when shown Joseph’s bloody coat, which suggested that wild animals had torn him apart. He said: “Ta’rof to’raf Yosef [Joseph is torn, torn to pieces]” (Genesis 37:33). The words ta’rof to’raf, resonate with the Hebrew word teraphim. At the moment that Joseph appeared to have been snatched from him, Jacob remembered the teraphim that Rachel had stolen and thought that he had inadvertently made a sacrifice of Joseph too.
In his reluctance to let Benjamin be sacrificed in the same way that he thought Joseph had been, Jacob asks his sons why they told the ruler of Egypt about the existence of Benjamin. Jacob’s sons answer him: “The man asked [sha’ol sha’al] about us and about our kindred, saying: ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we told him according to these words. Could we know that he would say: ‘Bring your brother down’?” (Genesis 43:7).
The brothers are making up an excuse: There has been no indication that Joseph asked the question “Do you have another brother?” They say they only provided information about Benjamin because the ruler asked for it. A person who is asked for is called sha’ul in Hebrew, and Joseph’s brothers are suggesting that, for the purposes of Joseph at least, Benjamin was asked for.
Saul (Sha’ul) was asked for by the people of Israel, who clamored around Samuel, pleading for a king (1 Samuel 8:4–22). They got Sha’ul, from the tribe of Benjamin!
The story of Saul is full of sacrifices that Saul makes, as Hawk explains with great insight. Saul is following the road that was first taken by his ancestor Benjamin, who nearly became a sacrifice 005because, like Saul, he was asked for.
The rabbis explain that the stories in the Bible follow a rule that the deeds of the fathers are signs for their sons. They mean to say that the events in the Bible in general and in the Torah in particular foreshadow events that occur at a later time, either in the Torah or in the Bible or even in a postbiblical era. The story of Benjamin was a sign for his descendant, foreshadowing the main theme of the life of Israel’s first king, Sha’ul.
Los Angeles, California
The Essence of Fundamentalism
In “The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism,” BR 12:06, columnist Bruce Chilton suggests that the defining belief of Fundamentalism is that the Bible is inerrant.
Actually, the defining belief of Fundamentalism has a subjective as well as an objective side. Objectively, the defining belief of Fundamentalism is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. Subjectively, the defining belief of Fundamentalism is that, through grace and Holy Spirit, one must be born again in order to know inerrantly and infallibly that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.
That the Bible is inerrant is a secondary, and perhaps somewhat questionable, belief of Fundamentalism.
Bruce Chilton takes upon himself the task of defining Fundamentalism for all of us. In imposing his definition, he makes numerous logical errors (see “The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism,” BR 12:06).
First, his model of a liberal academy is oversimplistic. There is a great variety of religious orientation in academia, and Bible scholarship is no exception. How can Chilton ignore scholars such as Eta Linnemann, N.T. Wright and Luke T. Johnson? I think the latter two in particular would hardly consider themselves Fundamentalists, although they apparently accept some of what Chilton identifies as the “five main tenets” of Fundamentalism. How can Chilton miss this unless he is excluding them out of disrespect for their scholarly credentials and opinions? As a liberal Protestant, I personally do not accept biblical inerrancy or papal infallibility, but I think the Bible may well be accurate about some things.
This leads me to suspect that Chilton’s definition implies that anyone who so much as accepts the possibility of supernatural events (e.g., virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, etc.) is a Fundamentalist. We should all suspend hasty judgments regarding such events and approach the miraculous in the spirit of humble, open-minded inquiry.
Third, if Christianity is based on nothing more than literary symbolism, thenwhy do some liberal scholars even bother to call themselves Christians? If God himself is only a symbol, as Chilton’s logic strongly suggests, then why bother with religion at all? Scientism and humanistic ethics must represent a more desirable belief system if religion is nothing more than a mind game.
Lastly, I must take issue with Chilton’s perspective on “Catholic” Europe. France 006is not an international leader in the development of birth control because it abandoned Fundamentalist Catholicism but because it abandoned Christianity altogether. Polls continually show that only about 50 percent of French citizens say they believe in God, and only a fraction of these consider themselves devout Catholics. This is the general trend throughout western Europe. The point is that if no objective sacred principles exist, then, as Dostoevsky said, “All is permitted.”
Bruce Chilton responds:
It is fun being someone’s “Contra,” but I am less a representative of the dreaded “scientism” than Kevin Ice maintains. The definition of Fundamentalism I gave was not my own but came from the movement itself. Within academic discussion, the assumption of inerrancy cannot be maintained, however much individuals might be swayed by particular assertions by Fundamentalists. Finally, I certainly do not equate a belief in “supernatural events” with Fundamentalism. I worship in the tradition of historical, creedal Christianity, and I have been active as a priest for more than 20 years. Just for the record: Whenever I am in France, I find a vibrant Christian life, and a warm welcome in the many churches I visit there. French Christians would be dismayed to learn they had “abandoned Christianity altogether” just because someone outside their culture came to the conclusion that they maintained “no objective sacred principles.”
Wrenching Paul Out of Context?
The interesting and informative column on Fundamentalism was somewhat marred by Bruce Chilton’s incorrect application of Scripture (see “The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism,” BR 12:06). Quoting “the letter kills, while the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6) to support the statement “Christian theology in its origin rejected literalism” is to take a clear teaching of St. Paul out of context. In this passage St. Paul is comparing the letter of the Law under the old covenant with the role of the Spirit in the new covenant.
Acknowledgment that Christ vicariously fulfilled the letter of the Law for mankind by becoming th“Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17), that is, “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6), lends no support to Chilton’s explanation of the “persistence of progressive theology.”
In addition, it is refreshing to know (according to Professor Chilton) that academic theology over the past 200 years has had little impact on popular awareness and that the “take” on Christianity in America is along Fundamentalist lines.
Bruce Chilton responds:
Actually, attention to context only makes my point clearer. After Paul states in
2 Corinthians 3:17 that the Lord is Spirit, he goes on to explain, “but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as by the spirit of the Lord”
(2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, from 3:6 on Paul sets out how he believes we progress on the basis of spiritual transformation rather than literalism. That is part of the progressive theology of the apostolic tradition. For further discussion, see the study I wrote with Jacob Neusner, Revelation: The Torah and the Bible (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1995).
Believers Believe—A Shame!
Bruce Chilton’s brief analysis of Fundamentalism strikes me as quite fair-minded and genuinely perceptive (see “The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism,” BR 12:06). Yes, strange as it may seem, a majority of those who read the Bible find it easier to believe what the Bible itself says than to accept what various modernist academics with their scholarly insights declare it should be understood as saying. Rather than plain-sense interpretation, current literary theory calls for the allegorizing of any historical event that transcends a natural explanation—but most common folk don’t “buy” this. A shame!
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
Double Click on God
Other readers of BR who enjoyed A. Dean McKenzie’s article “Michelangelo’s Masterpiece Reclaimed,” BR 12:06, might like to see the Sistine Chapel art in its full glory on their computer screens. The URL is http://www.christusrex.org/www1/Sistine/0-Sistine.html. With so many large image files, it is very slow downloading but well worth the wait.
The Need for Two Types of Translations
The October 1996 issue carries a debate between Joseph Blenkinsopp and Barclay Newman over the aim and task of Bible translations (“Point/Counterpoint: Pros and Cons of the Contemporary English Translation,” BR 12:05). Both are exceptionally fine colleagues, and I do not want to choose between them; they both make important points.
It should be recognized, however, that there are different kinds of translations, and each should be granted its limitations. I have argued for years for a pluriform Bible, one that would include both a formal equivalence translation, for purposes of textual and intertextual study by serious students of the text, and a dynamic equivalence translation, which would address the needs of the larger community for whom the translation is intended. (In the case of the Old Testament, the formal equivalent translation should include parallel translations of both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, since the latter was the Scripture of the early churches.)
Translations that are purely formal equivalence in nature can be misleading to the laity and must be accompanied, as Blenkinsopp recognizes, by a hermeneutical commentary that would explain, in the case of the Gospels and Acts, that the text was composed decades after the events recounted, when the needs of the Christian communities were entirely different from those Jesus addressed with his fellow Jews in the early part of the first century. I have often contended that if we were to achieve the goal of the ipssissima verba [the very words] of Jesus, which were spoken in the first third of the century, then those very same words would have the opposite 008meaning in the last third of the century, when the Gospels were composed. That is, prophetic critique spoken by a Jew among Jews in the early part of the century would sound anti-Jewish when heard by beleaguered “Christians” in the last decades thereof.
So the very words of the Gospels and Acts, composed in the late first century, have been heard ever since as anti-Jewish diatribe by Jesus and the apostles—a phenomenon of “history” that never took place, and which a formal equivalence translation alone nonetheless sponsors. And that is the moral burden the church has borne for two millennia. A pluriform Bible that includes both a formal equivalence and a dynamic equivalence translation would reflect both the later and the earlier historical situations more faithfully than a formal equivalence one alone. But a formal equivalence translation that does not include in banner headlines (that is, not buried in a “commentary”) the truth about the late date of composition of the Gospels and Acts is falsehood itself.
Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center
Blenkinsopp Should Affirm CEV’s Contribution
I write to support the general arguments of Barclay Newman in his response to Joseph Blenkinsopp’s review of the Contemporary English Version (CEV) of the Bible (see “CEV’s Chief Translator: We Were Faithful to the Intention of the Text,” BR 12:05). There are different kinds of translations of the Bible, and there should be. The American Bible Society, in collaboration with other Bible societies the world over, has served the Bible-reading public very well with its translations, which attempt to make the contents of the Bible comprehensible to more and more readers. The CEV accomplishes that purpose well.
When readers of the Bible do comprehend its meaning, they may better recognize some assertions and teachings that they wish were not in the Bible. Translators have the obligation to include the sordid, narrowly moralistic, prejudiced and immoral teachings as well as the sound, authentic and sublime utterances and doctrines that substantively make the Bible the glorious human treasure we know it to be.
At the same time, translators have the obligation to work strenuously to avoid translations that unnecessarily give offense to individuals or groups. Often our translations have been more sexist than the original Hebrew or Greek. Inclusive language can help to avoid such offense; often, its use results in a more accurate as well as a clearer translation. (See, for example, the translation of Joshua 20 in the New Revised Standard Version and in the CEV.)
As Barclay Newman points out, the CEV seeks to avoid giving offense in its treatment of material referring to the Jews in several New Testament texts, notably in the Gospel of John. All translators agree that so long as the translation is justifiable on linguistic grounds, such an effort is to be commended, not condemned. The question is, just how broadly may we interpret the term “linguistic”? For my part, I believe that we should seek in every way possible to set the text into its social, cultural, economic, political and religious contexts, the claimed context (in the Gospel of John, the time of Jesus), the 048historically probable context (for John, the end of the first century C.E. or a bit later) and also the context within which we and other contemporary readers read the text. None of these contexts is to be ignored, and none of them is to have such priority as to allow us to ignore the others.
Such a view does not give us license to ignore or obscure plain meanings of the text in its own day simply because we know that the text gives, or may give, offense. Sometimes the offense given by the text is our problem, not that of the Bible (prophetic judgments on the cruel and the faithless should give offense to the faithless and the cruel).
The fact remains, and here Barclay Newman is entirely right, that the CEV has rightly and skillfully removed or eased some of the texts of the New Testament that have been the occasion, if not the cause, of Christian misunderstandings of Judaism and of Christian mistreatment of the Jewish people. The texts need not have been understood to apply to all Jews, past and present, but they have been understood in that way and no doubt continue to be understood in that way. It is right and proper for the CEV to find translations of such texts that mitigate the misunderstanding and remove support for prejudiced readings and uses of the texts.
It is unfortunate that Professor Blenkinsopp does not affirm that accomplishment, for it is a real and highly valuable one.
Professor Emeritus, Vanderbilt University
Adjunct Professor, Divinity School
Wake Forest University
Southport, North Carolina
Help the “Stranger,” Not the Illegal Immigrant
I have been an avid reader of BR for several years, and I have recently started a subscription so I won’t miss a single issue while I am stationed overseas. (BR is not available on base or anywhere else in Iceland.) However, I must take exception to the remarks of Helmut Koester in his commentary “The Second Coming Demythologized,” BR 12:05.
“Did you cast your vote in favor of illegal immigrants?” he asks, a move that he later ties to the obligation of Christians to “welcome the stranger.”
No, I did not cast my vote in favor of illegal immigrants, nor would I ever do anything so irresponsible. His attempt to link welcoming illegal immigrants with welcoming the stranger is sophistry at its most disingenuous worst.
Fact: A nation that does not secure its borders does not survive.
Fact: A nation that does not enforce its laws and that tolerates the active suborning of its laws does not survive.
I have no problem with people who want to immigrate to the United States so long as they do it in accordance with the law. Those who break the law to get in I have no reason to tolerate at all. Nobody does. Further, anyone who breaks the law to get into the country, and gets away with it, is not likely to respect other laws, and entirely too many don’t.
No Jesus Without Eschatology
I really enjoyed reading Dale Allison’s “The Eschatological Jesus,” BR 12:05, and find it very hard to believe that some biblical scholars seriously describe Jesus as noneschatological.
Can anyone explain to me why the early church would create such problematic and potentially embarrassing statements as those found in Mark 9:1 (“Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”) or 13:30 (“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place”)? Jesus’ proclamation of the imminence of God’s coming kingdom is obvious in the Gospels despite the exegetical gymnastics indulged in by both Fundamentalists and skeptical theorists. Too many decades of work have been spent in fleshing out the historical Jesus; the current separation of him from the attested surroundings of eschatology is wrongheaded and foolish.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Less Knowledge, Please