Putting God in a Small Box
I subscribed hoping that BR would provide a scholarly review of biblical truths and evidences. After reviewing the
It is one thing to provide scholarly criticisms of documents and other evidences concerning the Bible, but liberal reinterpretations that would limit the God of the universe to a story of men cannot be accepted nor subscribed to by me.
Lies of the Devil
Marcus J. Borg’s column (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) was more than I could stand. I refuse to allow these “lies of the Devil to keep coming into my home. Please refund my subscription as I do not want my money used to promote the heresies contained in your magazine.
The Enemy Infiltrates
Why do unbelievers want to call themselves Christians (Marcus Borg’s column, “The First Christmas,” BR 08:06)? I think one reason is that some followers of the Enemy feel it is their mission to influence as many as possible away from “the light” into “darkness.”
Another reason is that since Jesus told His followers to love their enemies, these enemies find it easy to insinuate themselves in to places of influence among Christians in order to fleece them.
Borg Is a Pagan
I am sorry Marcus J. Borg calls himself a Christian (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06). Sounds more like pagan to me. Makes you feel sorry for his students, doesn’t it? Teachers like Mr. Borg have put the church in turmoil.
Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I enjoy your BR.
Caution: Windmills Ahead
After reading Marcus Borg (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) and the letters to the editor (Readers Reply, BR 08:06), I am convinced that your main purpose is to discredit and belittle the Christian faith. Mr. Borg’s defense of his stance on not believing what is written in the Bible is beyond silly. If you do not believe what is written is from God, how in the world can you call yourself a follower of Christ and why would you want to spend your time writing about things that you do not believe? It would seem to me, one would want to do something useful with one’s life, besides being the Don Quixote of BR.
May God Forgive
I pray Mr. Borg will repent of his false teaching and ask Jesus Christ to forgive his slander.
Borg’s Honesty and Courage
Marcus Borg’s public confession (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) of his disbelief of the holy Scripture’s revelation concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ proves his honesty and courage, if not his correctness. I can almost feel the resentful reaction coming from the fundamentalist and orthodox segment of Christendom.
Borg’s Father is the Devil
To Marcus J. Borg (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06): you are a false teacher, your father is the Devil and you will pay the price in hellfire. With Satan you are accursed. I will pray for you that you truly find Christ.
Borg Snags a Subscriber
Please send me BR. I just read in the Concordia Alumni News (Moorhead, Minnesota) that Marcus Borg is a regular columnist for you. Dr. Borg was my religion professor for four years. He made a big impact on my life, and I would love an opportunity to read more of his writings.
I love BR, Biblical Archaeology Review and your related offerings. I was delighted to see you add the columnists in BR. I’m a mainline Protestant and these guys speak to me. Clearly, I am going to enjoy Marcus Borg.
Readers Reply, BR 08:06, prompted me to go back and re-read Borg’s August column (“Different Ways of Looking at the Bible,” BR 08:04). I, too, live in two quite different worlds, and I too have had my difficulties reconciling them. My own resolution has been rather more secular than Borg’s; but I have managed to find a place in my church in the end.
It seems to me that Judaism, which has suffered so much over the millennia, has at least been fortunate in its emphasis on practice, rather than belief. We Christians are stuck with belief, and it is not the focus one would choose for a post-Enlightenment faith. But, with the kind, sincere and dedicated faith of men and women like Borg, Christianity will surely survive the Enlightenment and bless a third millennia of lives.
Taking Off the Blinders of Literalism
I can well imagine that Marcus Borg’s column in the December 1992 issue of BR (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) will stir up quite a hornet’s nest. I would like to contribute my two cents’ worth, since I agree with him.
Borg says that it is the truth and power of the Christmas themes that are important, not their literal factuality. He also gives us a hint of the rich tapestry that has gone into the making of our modern Christmas. It is that rich tapestry, that power, that feast that is important. The actual words of the infancy narratives are only a means to an end. Let us not put our blinders on when we read the Scriptures. Their “literal sense” is only one of a number of meanings that can be found in any given biblical passage. Many schools and traditions, in fact, see the literal sense as only the beginning of understanding. Origen of Alexandria, considered by many to be the father of biblical scholarship, said quite frankly that to stop at the literal sense was tantamount to spiritual death.
Growth can be hard. But we cannot be afraid of learning and wisdom, not when we have come so far in understanding our Judeo-Christian heritage.
West St. Paul, Minnesota
Borg Guts Christianity
Marcus J. Borg’s writing epitomizes the theological conundrum that has beset the church since the Enlightenment. Modernity, thank God, has not triumphed in the hearts of laity, but has blossomed and poisoned our seminaries and universities.
It is ironic that Borg begins his column (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) stating: “We do not know much about the first Christmas.” Then he proceeds to say what he believes, “I am one of those Christians who does not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the star of Bethlehem, nor in the Journey of wisemen.” The only events pertaining to the Christmas stories that are known and reliable are those historical events described in the Bible. It is the only authentic source we have for much of Israel’s story and the Christian story. The sad irony rests in Borg’s analysis of the facts, and then his choosing not to believe them. (Even if the apostle Paul did mention the virgin birth, I doubt that Borg and the world of academia would believe).
After reading only two of Borg’s columns it would be unfair for me to speculate about his beliefs of the miraculous, and especially, the crux of our faith: the resurrection. However, he has demonstrated his willingness to bend his knee to the relatively small circle of academic elitists who feel their own deductions, insights and conclusions are true even though they contradict and seek to destroy literal beliefs that have stood the test of time, including the star of Bethlehem and especially the virgin birth.
For Borg, a wise person may begin a story about a time long ago, in a place far away, with the disclaimer: “I don’t know if this actually happened, but there’s truth nestled in these apocryphal nuggets.” That’s fine and dandy for him; truth need not be bound in fact or history. Indeed, there are thousands of myths, fables and fictions that do contain undeniable truth. However, when we talk about scripture, we are not talking about the “Tortoise and the Hare.” The existential theology that Borg promotes has inadvertently gutted the core of Christianity.
The Infancy Narratives—Propaganda or Truth?
Marcus Borg’s festive Christmas column (“The First Christmas,” BR 08:06) provides a wider perspective for appreciating the infancy narratives. However, I am uneasy about relying on literary or symbolic interpretations at the expense of their historical basis.
The infancy narratives were written either as propaganda for an unbelieving public or are historically truthful. If they were written as propaganda, then one might ask the following rhetorical questions.
If you were writing these infancy narratives for a Jewish or gentile reader, would you:
1 Make the birth of the Messiah a cause for mass infanticide?
2. Indicate that Mary was not married when she became pregnant— an offence under Jewish laws with both extreme stigma and punishment?
3. Show that social outcasts (such as shepherds) were the first people to hear the news and the first to testify to it?
4. Base the story on what must be the personal testimony of Mary (Luke 2:19, 51) in a society/culture where a woman’s testimony in a law-court counted for next to nothing?
Even with just these four examples, the infancy narratives read as very weak propaganda. Therefore we might reasonably consider the alternative 008possibility: that the diligently researched narratives (see Luke 1:1–4) are historically true.
Marcus Borg replies:
I appreciate Mr. Todd’s thoughtful argument. However, he presents a too limited either-or: either propaganda or historical. I see the birth stories as neither, but rather as symbolic narratives. His assumption that the gospels were written to “outsiders” is also doubtful. Though Luke may have been written with people outside the Christian movement in mind the other gospels (including Matthew) were all written for “insiders.”
I’ve enjoyed BR and its sister publication, Biblical Archaeology Review, very much. I wouldn’t worry too much about those who cancel their subscriptions over some controversy or other. That’s just their way of controlling the game, so to speak, figuring that if enough people cancel, you’ll rethink your format and toe the line. Don’t. Controversy, like confession, is good for the soul, both of the individual and the society. Without it we become stagnant and autocratically complacent. The mission of magazines such as yours is to keep the rest of us honest, and as everyone knows, honesty of self is the scariest form of revelation there is, which is why many people skirt the issue by becoming dogmatic—being always in the right precludes being honest with oneself. So keep up the good work. I may not always agree with or like what I read in your magazine, but that won’t stop me from reading it.
Liverpool New York
Deserves a Bonus
Your feminist-perspectives section (“Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05) is the most exciting addition to any professional journal I have subscribed to in 32 years!
Whoever thought that one up deserves a promotion and a raise!
Sisters of Saint Joseph
Jamaica, New York
Made Her Ill
I detest your whole magazine. I guess I’ll just study the Bible as I do and let the Holy Spirit teach me what He wants me to know. Reading “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05, by Jane Schaberg, made me ill to my stomach. Do not send me another issue or in the garbage it goes, where it surely belongs!!
Norfolk, North Carolina
BR’s Hateful Writers
I regard the Bible as a holy, inspired book to be approached with reverence.
Your hateful women writers (Jane Schaberg, “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05 and Pamela J. Milne, “Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05) are trying to rewrite the Bible. And your magazine is giving them a forum. I condemn you as well as them. They are using their degrees and scholarship as authority to damage what is holy.
Oak Lawn, Illinois
Heaven Help Us!
I have just completed reading the
I find it incredible that people would pay to read strings of meaningless academese written by pseudo-scholars. Is this the only place these writers can get published so that they can gain tenure? What does this say about the spiritual soundness of the institutions where these writers teach? If this is the “best” academic work being done on the Bible today, only our heavenly Father can help us!
The Evidence Is Real
Your magazine is very interesting and occasionally uplifting. But why should I subscribe to a Bible magazine that doesn’t believe that the Bible is true? Your allegiance to modern higher criticism (i.e., it’s all myth, legend and humanistic projections) is repugnant to me. I’m sad for you and your staff. I am a respected and respectful husband, father, friend and professional. I’m not racist, sexist, closed-minded or ignorant. And you know what? The overwhelming evidence 009suggests that the Bible is real and factual, and I believe in it and in Christ.
Schaberg Reflects Feminist Bias
Over the holidays I finally had a chance to read the feminist issue (
First, how does it happen that the Gospels record the Magdalene’s presence in Christ’s ministry, at his crucifixion and at his resurrection (the first witness!) at all? By rights, the male evangelists should have suppressed it. Schaberg writes that at the time the Gospels were written, the Magdalene’s role was “gradually diminished and distorted. In the Pauline corpus, she is not mentioned at all ….” But here’s a problem: The Pauline corpus is earlier than the Gospels, so we have an assertion of the Magdalene’s importance not in the earlier record, but in the later. Similarly, Schaberg points out that the Magdalene is revered as a visionary in Gnostic tradition at the same time that her role was being questioned in what would become the orthodox tradition. Were the Gnostics not men? If some of them were, then we have something more complex than male dominance, patriarchal society, etc., at work here. Finally, the author describes the popular image of the Magdalene, the conflation of the Gospel accounts with the legend of the repentant prostitute, Mary of Egypt. This occurred in medieval times, in various countries, and would seem to confirm the distortion of this image from sacred witness into whore. What the author fails to note is that the image is positive. Who can look at the statue by Donatello without awe and sympathy? Perhaps artistic motives played a role in the conflation, not male sexual bias. The image in the modern films and novels mentioned by Schaberg at the start of her article is also positive.
Schaberg commits a horrendous violation of historical method when she mixes religious and secular approaches. For example, she writes that Jesus chose to appear first to Mary Magdalene, so this is proof of her special place in Christianity. This is interpretation from inside the Bible, as a believer. But at the same time, she writes that Luke downplays the role of the Magdalene in his Gospel and in Acts in order to emphasize the subordinate status of women. This is interpretation from the outside, as a secular historian. The author picks and chooses to prove the feminist premise, but succeeds only in proving her bias.
Grand Terrace, California
Jane Schaberg replies:
It would be a good thing if Mr. Kern would articulate his own bias (angle of a vision), and explain how from this angle (1) the transformation of the image of Mary Magdelene would be explained, and (2) how the repentant whore can be regarded as a “positive” image. We certainly do not look at Donatello’s statue in the same way. I find it sickening.
Although the New Testament Gospels in final form are later than the Pauline writings, scholars agree that the Gospels make use of older materials. The Gnostic portrayals of the Magdelene and the Gnostic systems were not beyond patriarchy, which was and is a complex phenomenon. Finally, the statement that “Jesus chose to appear first to Mary Magdelene” appeared in the caption for the Fra Angelico Noli Me Tangere fresco, which I did not write.
Cheers for Cross
As a relatively new subscriber to BR, I feel compelled to write and express my enjoyment of the three issues that I have so far received. The interviews with Professor Frank M. Cross (“Frank Moore Cross—An Interview,” BR 08:04, “Frank Moore Cross—An Interview,” BR 08:05 and “Frank Moore Cross—An Interview,” BR 08:06) have been especially interesting.
Cross Is Demon Possessed
Cancel my subscription immediately to your pathetic BR magazine. You are fools and pawns of Satan, and Frank Moore Cross surely is demon possessed. His ignorance of Hebrew history and language is astounding. One day soon he and all of you fools will pay for your blasphemy. Your magazine is an advertisement for Hell.
Summerville, South Carolina
The Prophet of the “Still, Small Voice”?
In his second and exceedingly instructive interview (“The Development of Israelite Religion,” BR 08:05), Frank Moore Cross suggests that Psalm 29 is a revised Baal hymn in which Yahweh is celebrated as a storm God whose voice is the thunder and whose bolts shatter the cedars of Lebanon. However, when Elijah arrives on pilgrimage on Mt. Horeb, it is pointed out to him that Yahweh is not in the storm, is not in the earthquake, is not in the fire. He is in the still, small voice. Surprisingly, neither Professor Cross, nor your own extensive citation from 1 Kings 19, refers to the nature of the mission entrusted to Elijah. As this had far—reaching effects upon the future course of biblical history, it should be placed on record. The God of the “still, small voice” ordered Elijah to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael king of Aram (Syria); anoint Jehu king of Israel; and anoint Elisha as his own successor. Then, those that will escape the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; those that will escape the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. In the end there will survive a remnant of 7,000 that did not kiss Baal (1 Kings 19:15–18).
This mission to liquidate Israel differs greatly from the ideology of Baal as recorded in the Ugaritic epic of Anath (about 600 years before Isaiah). Baal commissions Anath to abolish wars, banish strife and promote peace. Anath responds that she would abolish wars, banish strife and promote peace and good will (see James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament [Princeton Univ. Press: 1969], pp. 136–137).
As to Yahweh the God of Moses, the narrative in Exodus 19 records that there was thunder and lightning, heavy clouds, the loud sound of a shofar and the whole mountain was shaking when Yahweh proclaimed the Ten Commandments.
Unfortunately Elijah’s mission to liquidate Israel had taken place at a time when unique historic circumstances gave 048rise to a promising alliance between Judah and Israel (1 Kings 22:2–4). In Samaria there reigned the enterprising House of Omri. King Ahab had married the daughter of the king of Phoenicia. His daughter married the son of the king of Judah, culminating in a military alliance between Judah and Israel. Conditions were thus favorable for the reunification of the two kingdoms, which might have saved them from destruction. This, alas, was not to be. Elijah’s successor, Elisha, overthrew the House of Omri and brought to an end the short-lived alliance between the two kingdoms. He then went to Damascus and anointed Hazael king of Syria, foretelling him that he would inflict heavy blows upon Israel. In Israel, Jehu assassinated the kings of both kingdoms and then resorted to an orgy of mass killings, which was condemned by the prophet Hosea. Thus did the prophets of the still, small voice sow the seeds that led to eventual destruction and exile.
Dispelling the Myth of a Misogynistic Paul
The article on “Prisca and Aquila,” BR 08:06, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, was outstanding!
This piece was superb in two ways. First, the article gave tremendous insight into the life and work of this New Testament couple. Second, the article helped to dispel the myth of the “misogynistic Paul” and illustrated the egalitarian spirit toward women in the early gentile church—an aspect of church life we would do well to recover in our day.
Keep those great New Testament background studies coming!
Putting God in a Small Box