Critical Scholarship

John Vervaeke on the Biblical God of an Open Future

From: Ep. 3 – Awakening from the Meaning Crisis – Continuous Cosmos and Modern World Grammar

ancient Israel’s significant psychotechnology is understanding time as a cosmic narrative of a story – the invention of using a story through time as a way of explaining the cycles of the cosmos – the infinite cycle is onerous, it is boring, you want to get free from the cycle! doing the cycle forever, is terrifying, you want nirvana, release from the cycle, because there is no purpose to the cycle! – the great disembedding combined with the invention of a time driven story (beginning, change, end) has the future open, your actions can change the future – you can now participate with god, in the ongoing creation of the future – stories operate on meaning and morality – the moral content of your action decides how things are going to go – this is why the god of ancient Israel is such a different god – before axial, gods were gods of places or functions, there is no significant moral arc – the god of the old testament, is a moral arc not bound to time and place – exodus, the Israelites are embedded within the everyday world, god comes and liberates them to the real world, a journey to a future to the promised land, a god that moves between time and space, a god to future, that is why god has no name at the start – when Moses asks god his name, finally, god responds with, which has been poorly translated since, “I am the god of the open future, and you can participate with me, in the story of the ongoing creation of the future, to resolution or off course” – we still take courses in universities – we go to the cinema, to see stories, of how the future could be made

Pettazzoni on Wisdom Literature Omniscience

We find that in the Wisdom literature the chief object of the divine omniscience is man, the human race in general and its deeds and thoughts, its actions and meditations. On the other hand, divine omniscience appears in the Wisdom literature as more complete than in the Psalms. In the latter, indeed, it does not reach the world of the dead, but stops, so to speak, at the threshold of the lower regions. Yahweh, more or less of choice, knows nothing of the dead:

Raffaele Pettazzoni, The All Knowing God, p 102

Pettazzoni on relative Omniscience

The omniscience of Yahweh, if we consider it, not theologically, as an abstract attribute of Deity, i.e., as absolute omniscience, but historically in its concrete, though imperfect formulation as relative omniscience, is so organically connected with the particular and well-defined ideological complex which makes up the figure of Yahweh himself that it is difficult to suppose it has a different origin. In the conscience and the history of Israel,Yahweh is the wakeful, avenging, ”jealous” God, the wrathful God who judges and punishes. Now a God who punishes is a God who knows. Yahweh’s omniscience has for its principal object the doings of mankind, and his punitive sanction is often exercised by means of weather-phenomena. Universal vision and knowledge and punitive sanction are complementary aspects of the figure of Yahweh, and another complementary aspect is his abode in the sky ( cf. the Tower of Babel, Gen. xi. 1 /qq., Jacob’s ladder, Gen. xxviii. I2 sqq., also I Kings xxii. xg, etc.). It is from the sky that he sees what men are doing, and from the sky that he sends his chastisement.

Raffaele Pettazzoni, The All Knowing God, p 108

Fretheim on the Meaning of Genesis 6

God’s regretful response assumes that humans have successfully resisted God’s will for the creation. For God to continue to interact with this creation in the wake of such defiance involves God’s decision to continue to live with such resisting creatures (not the response of your typical CEO). In addition, God’s regret assumes that God did not know for sure that this would happen (as elsewhere, see Gen 22:12; Deut 8:2).32 Moreover, the text provides no support for a position that claims God planned for the creation to take this course. What has happened to the creation is due to human activity, not divine. At the same time, God bears some responsibility for setting up the creation in such a way that it could go wrong and have such devastating effects.

While this story does recharacterize the divine relationship to the world, it also makes clear that God is not simply resigned to evil. God must find a new way of dealing with the problem of evil. Two complementary directions are taken:

(a) For God to promise not to do something again entails an eternal self-limitation regarding the exercise of divine freedom and power. God thereby limits the divine options in dealing with evil in the life of the world. And, given the fact that God will keep promises, divine selflimitation yields real limitation. The route of world annihilation has been set aside as a divine possibility. Divine judgment there will be, but it will be limited in scope. And hence no simple retributive system is put into place; sin and evil will be allowed to have their day, and God will work from within such a world to redeem it, not overpower the world from without. This divine direction with the world is developed further in 9:8-17.

(b) Genesis 6:5-7 makes the bold claim that this kind of divine response means that God will take the route of suffering.33 For God to decide to endure a wicked world, while continuing to open up the divine heart to that world, means that God’s grief is ongoing. God thus determines to take suffering into God’s own self and bear it there for the sake of the future of the world. It is precisely this kind of God with whom ancient readers are involved, and it is primarily the divine commitment to promises made that they need most to hear.

Fretheim, Terence E.. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation . Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

Fretheim on Genesis 6

The focus of the present text is signaled by the repeated conviction about human sinfulness that brackets the account (6:5; 8:21) and the associated disclosures regarding divine sorrow, regret, disappointment, mercy, and promise. God appears not as an angry judge but as a grieving and pained parent, distressed at developments (6:6-7); yet, the judgment as initially announced is thorough and uncompromising (“I will blot out” in 6:7 allows for no exceptions). This inner-divine tension is resolved on the side of mercy when God freely chooses Noah (6:8). Noah, whose faithful walk with God is exemplified by his obedience (6:9, 22; 7:5, 9, 16; 8:18), including his stewarding of the animals (see 1:28), becomes a vehicle for God’s new possibilities for the creation (anticipated in the announcement of 5:29).

Fretheim, Terence E.. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation . Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

Brueggemann on Genesis 6

From Genesis: Interpretation:

c. If the beginning of the flood narrative claimed only that, the text would be
flat and one-dimensional. But there are two other matters here that enrich and
greatly complicate the beginnings. First, with amazing boldness the narrative
invites the listening community to penetrate into the heart of God (vv. 67).
What we find there is not an angry tyrant, but a troubled parent who grieves
over the alienation. He is growingly aware that the “imagination of the
thoughts” of the human heart are unrelievedly hostile (v. 5). The conjuring,
day dreams, and selfperceptions of the world are all tilted against God’s
purpose. God is aware that something is deeply amiss in creation, so that God’s
own dream has no prospect of fulfillment. With that perverted imagination,
God’s world has begun to conjure its own future quite apart from the future
willed by God (cf. 11:6).

As a result, verse 6 shows us the deep pathos of God. God is not angered but
grieved. He is not enraged but saddened. God does not stand over against but
with his creation. Tellingly, the pain he bequeathed to the woman in 3:16 is
now felt by God. Ironically, the word for “grieve” (‘asav) is not only the same as
the sentence on the woman (“pain” 3:16), but it is also used for the state of
toil from which Noah will deliver humanity (5:29). The evil heart of humankind
(v. 5) troubles the heart of God (v. 6). This is indeed ”heart to heart” between
humankind and God. How it is between humankind and God touches both
parties. As Ernst Würthwein suggests, it is God who must say, “I am undone”
(cf. Isa. 6:5; Wort und Existenz, 1970, pp. 313).

Baynes on the Book of Remembrance in Malachi 3

From The Heavenly Book Motif in Judeo-Christian Apocalypses by Leslie Baynes:

Malachi’s attribution of a book of remembrance to the Lord suggests an important theological question that may be directed to heavenly bookkeeping in general: what sort of god is it who requires written reminders?Nowhere does ancient Jewish literature even hint at asking such a question; evidently it is not something that attracts anyone’s attention. The background of the idea that God uses a reminder book, however, is not too hard to guess: most probably it is an anthropomorphism, an extension to God of a characteristic of rulers, or at least their officials, who use books and writing to keep administrative records (i.e., Ezra 6:1–5; Esther 2:23, 9:25,32). But while the Jews appear never to have looked askance at a God who uses written records, some Greeks did.

David Clines on Omniscience of Zophar

7 Can you uncover the mystery of God? Can you attain to the perfection of Shaddai’s knowledge? It is higher than heaven— what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol— what can you know? Longer than the earth is its measure, a and broader, than the sea.

7– 9 Job is of course not in the least interested in discovering the totality of God’s knowledge; and it comes as no surprise to him to learn that it is beyond human comprehension. “High as heaven is that wisdom, and thy reach so small; deep as hell itself, and thy thought so shallow” (Knox). The only relevance of this statement of God’s unfathomable wisdom is that God’s knowledge must be presumed to contain specific knowledge of Job’s guilt. Zophar does not himself lay claim to any superior acquaintance with God’s wisdom than Job has; he only argues that, since God’s knowledge is immense, there is room in it for knowledge of sins which Job himself does not remember or acknowledge. It would be going too far to insist that Zophar preaches a doctrine of God’s “omniscience.” God’s is a knowledge beyond human knowledge, one that cannot be probed to its fullest extent (cf. 5: 9, where God does “marvelous deeds, that cannot be fathomed”; there it was said that there was no possibility of fathoming it [], whereas here means the object of fathoming). Humans can “do” nothing to acquire full knowledge of God’s wisdom; they cannot “know” God’s wisdom in its entirety (though they can of course know it in part). But that does not mean that God’s knowledge is viewed primarily as an accumulation of data (though obviously it must include that); in the book generally “knowledge” is so often linked with “power” that we must suppose

Clines, David J. A.. Job 1-20, Volume 17 (Word Biblical Commentary) (p. 263). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

Hayes on Evil in the Bible

From Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) by Christine Hayes:

Kaufmann argued that in the Hebrew Bible, evil has no independent existence. Yet evil and suffering are experienced as a condition of human existence, a reality of life. How can this state of affairs be explained? The Garden of Eden story seeks to answer that question, asserting ultimately that evil stems not from the activity of an independent demonic force but from the exercise of human free will in defiance of the creator. The created world is a good world; humans, however, in the exercise of their moral autonomy, have the power to corrupt the good. According to Kaufmann, the Garden of Eden story communicates this basic idea of the monotheistic worldview: Evil is not a metaphysical reality; it is a moral reality. Ultimately, this means that evil lacks inevitability. It lies within the realm of human responsibility and control.

Ehrman on Why Jesus was Executed

From Why Was Jesus Crucified? [gated link]

What is clear is that Jesus was killed on political charges, and nothing else. Many people seem to think that Jesus ran afoul of the authorities because he committed blasphemy or offended the religious sensitivities of the Jewish leaders of his day (Pharisees, e.g.; or the Sadducees of the Sanhedrin; etc.). But in fact, the Romans didn’t care TWIT about Jewish blasphemy or about internal Jewish disputes about doctrine and/or practice. Moreover, the record is crystal clear what the charges against Jesus were. They were political in nature. He had been calling himself the King of the Jews.

Heidl on Christian Platonism of Origen and Augustine

From The Influence of Origen on the Young Augustine:

Origen and Augustine are two giants – some would say the two giants – of the early Christian theological world. Each of them pondered fundamental questions of belief in a world marked by suffering and imperfection. For each the interplay of Divine justice, Providence, grace, human freedom and the love of the Creator for creatures was a problem that demanded a cosmic solution. Both addressed this problem with one eye on the Bible, the other on contemporaneous philosophical discussion. Addressing the most sophisticated critiques of Christianity, each contested the claim that later Platonism was most appropriately melded with traditional Greco-Roman religion rather than with Christianity.

Secular Scholar on Yahweh being known through act

From Friedman, Richard Elliott, Who Wrote the Bible:

The chief pagan god in the region that was to become Israel was El. El was male, patriarchal, a ruler. Unlike the other major god of the region, Haddu (the storm wind), El was not identified with any particular force in nature. He sat at the head of the council of the
gods and pronounced the council’s decisions.

The God of Israel was Yahweh. He, too, was male, patriarchal, a ruler, and not identified with any one force in nature. Rather than
describing him in terms of nature or myths, the people of Israel spoke of Yahweh in terms of his acts in history—as we shall see.

Brueggemann on God as a Person

From Walter Brueggemann’s An unsettling God – the heart of the Hebrew Bible:

But of course, “God” as rendered in the Bible—and most particularly in the Christian Old Testament—does not conform to either the temptation of vagueness or the temptation of settledness. In contrast to both of these interpretive alternatives, “God” as rendered in the Old Testament is a fully articulated personal agent, with all the particularities of personhood and with a full repertoire of traits and actions that belong to a fully formed and actualized person. Such a particular person cannot settle for vagueness because the particularity has a history and an identity that remain constant over time. Such a particular person cannot accept a fixity as reflected in some forms of classical tradition, because this particular person possesses all of the dimensions of freedom and possibility that rightly belong to a personal agent.

Omniscience and the Septuagint LXX

From Divine Omniscience and the Theology of the Septuagint, by Jan Joosten:

What our study establishes with some assurance is that the Greek translators believed God to be omniscient and let this belief influence their translation. The tendency to preserve or underline the notion of divine omniscience is found in the Pentateuch and in the other books, in literal as well as in free translation units.22 All this confirms the interest of the thematic approach.

A more difficult question is how to interpret these data in the framework of the debate on the theology of the Septuagint. A first possible explanation would be to describe the tendency identified in this paper in terms of Hellenization. Since Greek thought is supposedly more abstract, more conceptual, and more systematic than Hebrew thought, the belief in divine omniscience might be viewed as a typical Hellenistic theologoumenon, held to by the translators and consequently expressed in their Greek text. Such a theory would capture the truth only to a limited extent. A major obstacle in the way of this theory is the fact that the Hebrew Bible too clearly expresses the notion of divine omniscience. “The LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed”, says 1 Sam 2:3, in the Hebrew text.23 The God of Israel knows what is hidden, he knows what is in the hearts and minds of human beings, and he knows what will happen in the future – every one of these doctrines is explicitly stated in a variety of places.24 Divine omniscience is not a new idea born from Hellenistic reflexion on Israel’s theological heritage.

Urbach on Omniscience

Ephraim Urbach on the Jewish understanding of God knowing everything:

However, several of the earliest commentators of the Mishna already did not understand the phrase ha-kol safûy in the sense of ‘Everything is revealed and known from the outset’, but in the connotation ‘All that a man does in the innermost chambers, the Holy One, blessed be He, watches and observes’,11 and as Rabbi said, ‘Know what is above you—a seeing eye’ (M. ’Avot ii, 1); this explanation accords with the use of the stem safa in the idiom of the Tannaim. This verb does not signify knowledge of the future, but seeing that which exists and is present, like the Biblical usage ‘The eyes of the Lord keep watch [ sofôt] upon the evil and the good’ (Proverbs xv 3).

Urbach, Ephraim E.. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Kindle Locations 5776-5783). . Kindle Edition.

Peter Enns on Romans 5:12

From Was There a “Fall” or Did Augustine Really Screw Everything Up?

1. Romans 5:12, translated properly (as in the NRSV and other translations), says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—“

the-fall-raphael-lThe “one man” is, of course, Adam. And Paul seems to be saying, quite clearly in fact, that death spread because all have sinned. Now what that means exactly needs some clarification, but that isn’t the issue here. The issue is that Augustine, working from a poor Latin translation of Romans 5:12, has “in him” where the Greek has “because.”

You can see the problem. Augustine’s reading is that death spread to all because all sinned in him [in Adam]. In other words, death spread to humanity because all humanity was somehow “present” in Adam’s act of disobedience.

This bad reading of Romans 5:12, rooted in a bad Latin translation of the Greek, has led to the notion that all humans are culpable (guilty) with Adam for what Adam did—all humanity sinned in him.

Augustine’s reading is what many Christians believe Paul actually said, and which is why Augustine’s notion of “original sin” is defended with such uncompromising vehemence as the “biblical” teaching. But neither Romans nor Genesis or the Old Testament supports the idea.

Jewish Scholar Laments Bad Scholarship on Ancient Israelite Theology

Dov Weiss writes on Jewish scholarly containment of ancient embarrassing depictions of God:

The scholarly neglect of the protest material in the rabbinic period is due in part to the unsystematic and fragmentary nature of its earliest expressions in the foundational texts of Judaism—the works of Midrash and Talmud—which were produced by rabbis in Hebrew and Aramaic more than fifteen hundred years ago. More importantly, this lacuna should also be attributed to the field’s biases. While there are an abundance of scholarly works treating non-theological rabbinic sub-fields– such as history, law, literature and biblical interpretation — rabbinic theology has been a neglected area. In fact, the last scholarly original English book on the rabbinic conception of God appeared in 1988 (Jacob Neusner’s Incarnation of God). This reality, of course, begs the question: why have scholars of the Talmud and Midrash shied away from investigating theological matters? Part of the answer relates to an old problem – the “embarrassing” depictions of God found in these sacred texts. The divine in the rabbinic documents is not presented as a transcendent, omnipotent or omniscient being, but a complicated, embodied, and fallible deity who evinces greater continuities with the capricious gods of Greco-Roman mythology than the incorporeal, unchanging Christian God of Augustine, Maimonides or Aquinas.

Rather than defend these odd and “embarrassing” anthropomorphic depictions of God as genuine expressions of the rabbinic imagination, the standard traditional Jewish response — from Moses Maimonides and on — was to neutralize the problem by adopting various strategies of containment. These apologetic maneuvers included de-canonizing or devaluing the non-legal sections of the Talmud and Midrash; seeing these strange divine images as mere “poetic conceits” for the uneducated masses; or embarking on various forms of allegorical reinterpretation that expose the deeper “spiritual kernel” of the rabbinic depiction.

Pettazzoni on Assumptions Imported on Omniscience

There is a divergence, a difference of less and more, between what is postulated and what the data furnish, and all the efforts of the anthropological arguments to explain this difference as the result of a secondary degeneration or obscuration of the ideal presuppose the existence from the beginning of what does not take shape till later times and under particular historical circumstances. The whole theory springs from a compromise between historical investigation and theology. (Pettazzoni, The All Knowing God, p. 3)

Jewish Scholar calls out the Christian Use of Anthropomorphism

From Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking by Michael Fishbane

Equally tendentious is the presumptive dismissal of certain apparently mythic features of biblical language (its unabashed and pervasive depictions of God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms) that blatantly occur in the monotheistic canon of Scripture—as if these were merely due to ‘the inadequacy of human language’ and ‘limitation of human thought’, or to some sort of necessarily ‘indirect grasp’ of ‘spiritual concepts’ by ‘images … that emphasize the sensual’.25 But on what grounds are such assertions made? Surely there is nothing in Scripture itself that would point in this direction, or suggest that the representations of divine form and feeling in human terms are anything other than the preferred and characteristic mode of depiction.26 Moreover, on what basis should one assume that the plain sense of Scripture is some (quasi-allegorical) approximation of a more spiritual or purely metaphorical content? And what would that content be, we may well ask, and is it even possible to get past the thick immediacy of biblical language and its concrete and sensible accounts of God?27 One can only conclude that the evasions of the direct sense of Scripture that such attitudes represent are attempts to save Scripture from itself—for oneself, and must thus be considered a species of modern apologetics.

Brueggemann on being Concieved in Sin

Psa 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Walter Brueggemann writes:

c) The statement of verse 5 can be readily misunderstood . It does not mean that sex is sinful, nor that this speaker has a perverted beginning, or that the mother is morally implicated . Rather the speaker asserts that he is utterly guilty, in principle, from the beginning. There never was a time when this speaker was not so burdened . I take this to be not a clinical statement, but an expression of theological candor as the speaker exposes himself to God’s righteousness. One may say that it is a piece of liturgical hyperbole, as is much of the Psalms. We do not need to take the statement ontologically as a ” doctrine of man . ” What is important is that in this moment of drastic confrontation, the speaker has no claim . There is indeed ” no health in him . “

Hayes on Canonical Criticism

From Christine Hayes’ Yale course Introduction to the Old Testament:

Most scholars would concur that many of these books contain older material, but that the books reached their final form, their final written form, only later, in the post-exilic period. Now, if these books contain material that predates the exile, is it legitimate for us to speak of them and study them as a response to the national calamities, particularly the destruction and defeat and exile, 587/586.

In answer to this question, we’ll consider a relatively recent approach to the study of the Bible. It’s an approach known as canonical criticism. Canonical criticism grew out of a dissatisfaction with the scholarly focus on original historical meanings to the exclusion of a consideration of the function or meaning of biblical texts for believing communities in various times and places — a dissatisfaction with the focus on original context and original meaning to the exclusion of any interest in how the text would have served a given community at a later time, a community for which it was canonical. At what point did these stories and sources suddenly become canonical and have authority for communities? And when they did, how were they read and understood and interpreted?

So the historical, critical method was always primarily interested in what was really said and done by the original, biblical contributors. Canonical criticism assumes that biblical texts were generated, transmitted, reworked, and preserved in communities for whom they were authoritative, and that biblical criticism should include study of how these texts functioned in the believing communities that received and cherished them.

So emphasis is on the final received form of the text. [There’s] much less interest in how it got to be what it is; more interest in what it is now rather than the stages in its development. There’s a greater interest and emphasis in canonical criticism on the function of that final form of the text in the first communities to receive it and on the processes of adaptation by which that community and later communities would re-signify earlier tradition to function authoritatively in a new situation.

So a canonical critic might ask, for example: what meaning, authority, or value did a biblical writer seek in a tradition or story when he employed it in the final form of his text? What meaning, authority, or value would a community, would his community have found in it, and what meanings and values would later communities find in it when that text became canonical for them? How did they re-signify it to be meaningful for them? Why did religious communities accept what they did as canonical rather than setting certain things aside? Why was something chosen as canonical and meaningful for them when it came from an earlier time?