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TED STOLZE – PHILOSOPHY 204 Notes on The Philosophical Study of the Bible
What Use is the Bible? A Short Talk by Joel Baden, Professor Hebrew Bible at from Yale University: http://youtu.be/NIXfDyoYK8Q
A Key Distinction • Bible Studies = devotional or ritual use of the Bible from the standpoint of committed faith • Biblical Studies = study of the socio-historical background to, and the oral/literary formation of, the Bible from the standpoint of critical rational inquiry
Another Key Distinction In this course we’ll do our best to take the Bible seriously. However, this does not mean that we have to read the Bible literally. Instead, it does mean reading biblical texts by situating them within their comparative historical, religious, economic, political, cultural, literary, and archeological contexts.
Three Conceptions of Biblical Authority • Normative = a text’s ability to determine our behaviors • Literary = authors use of earlier texts as models for newer ones • Oracular = texts that are thought to deliver a message, usually about the future, from a transcendent or divine realm (Borrowed from Michael Satlow, How the Bible Became Holy [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014], pp. 4-5)
Christine Hayes on the “Israelite Idea” • As opposed to the surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures that believed in many deities that were immanent in the world of nature, in ancient Israel there gradually emerged belief in a single transcendent God.
The Four Goals of Hayes’s Book • Familiarize readers with the contents of the Hebrew Bible. • Introduce different methodological approaches to the modern scholarly study of the Hebrew Bible. • Provide insight into the history of biblical interpretation. • Explore the culture of ancient Israel against the backdrop of its historical and cultural setting in the ancient Near East.
Five Myths about the Bible • That the Bible is a single book. • That biblical narratives are pious parables about saints. • That the Bible is suitable for children. • That the Bible is a theological textbook. • That the Bible claims to have been written by a deity.
The Three Traditional Parts and Thirty-Nine Books of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) • Torah (Genesis, Exodus. Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) • Prophets (Former: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings; Latter: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; The Twelve: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) • Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, 1-2 Chronicles)
In the Beginning (Bereshit/Genesis) • “When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And it was evening and it was morning, first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)
Understanding Biblical Monotheism • Evolution from polytheism to monotheism • Monotheistic revolution against polytheism • Monotheistic civil war against reemergence of polytheism from within
The First Creation Story in Genesis • Defining the Controversy: Is the Biblical Account of Creation True? • Historical Truth: Modern vs. Ancient Approaches • The Narrative Structure of Genesis 1:1-2:4a • The Historical Context of Genesis 1:1-2:4a • Comparative similarities and differences with the Babylonian Creation Story, the Enuma Elish • Models of Human Dominion/Stewardship over Nature • The Meaning of Sabbath • The Truth Claims of Genesis 1:1-2:4a
The Narrative Structure of Genesis 1:1-2:4a Day One Day Four Light Bodies of Light Day Two Day Five Sea and Sky Creatures of the sea and sky Day Three Day Six Land (and plants) Creatures of the land (animals and humans) Day Seven Rest
Genesis 1:1-2:4a as an Israelite Critique of, and Alternative to, the Babylonian Enuma Elish “[T]he religion that first bound ‘Israel’ contained elements not far removed from Enuma Elish. But by the time of the Exile, people had wrestled with YHWH, one another, and their neighbors for centuries. For many, Enuma Elish’s version of ‘creation’ was blasphemous. However, it was and remains one thing to criticize someone else’s worldview, and quite another to have a clear and coherent vision of one’s own. For many in Babylonian Exile, the first chapters of Genesis offered the beginning of that systematic alternative. At the heart of its stories of origins of the earth and humanity is the question: If the Babylonian story is wrong, how did things come to be? Put another way: What stories should we teach our children to keep them from being influenced by the power of Enuma Elish and the opulence and might of Babylon that, for now at least, is our home? Read from this perspective, the majestic and stately account of God’s creation ‘in the beginning’ can be heard for what it is: a counter-narrative to the Babylonian worldview. Each carefully worded detail expresses with power and beauty the ways of the true Creator. For instance, consider the contrast between the means of creating earth’s creatures. In Enuma Elish, Tiamet’s body is ripped open by the violence of her son, bringing forth the species. But in Genesis, it is God’s ‘word’ that brings things into being. But the Hebrew (‘amar) and Greek (lego) verbs for ‘to speak’ imply not simply the physical act of pronouncing words but also the deeper sense of bringing an intention into being. God’s creative word is not in reaction to anything else, as Marduk’s violence is. Creation does not arise as a response, but simply because God wills it into being” (Wes Howard-Brook, “Come Out, My People!”: God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010], pp. 18-19).
Humans Created in the “Image” of God “Hebrew tselem generally refers to a statue or other physical representation, such as of a god or goddess. It seems likely that Genesis presents human beings serving a parallel function to Babylonian or other ‘idols.’ When you see a human being, you are seeing an ‘image’ of God.” (Wes Howard-Brook, “Come Out, My People!”: God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010], p. 21).
The Dominion/Stewardship Model of Creation • In her article “Common Ground: An Ecological Reading of Genesis 2-3” (Earth Story in Genesis, edited by Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst [Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2000] Carol Newsom reminds us that there is a wordplay on the name for humankind in Hebrew (adam) and the name for Earth (adamah): “we share common ground with the Earth because we are common ground…so to call the creature adam is to recognize its solidarity with Earth” (p. 63). • In his book The Bible and Ecology (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010) Richard Bauckham likewise argues that “the earthiness of humans signifies a kinship with the Earth itself and with other earthly creatures, plants and animals. Human life is embedded in the physical world with all that that implies of dependence on the natural systems of life” (p. 21).
An Alternative Model of Human Dominion “Does God’s mandate to humans at creation encourage us to become controllers and managers of the whole of creation on this planet? No. It ascribes to God’s gift the unique degree of power within creation that realistically our species has, and we should neither underestimate nor exaggerate that if we are to exercise it responsibly, as the mandate requires. Granted our limited place within the God-given order of creation, the power we do have is to be exercised with loving care for the rest of creation. Our right to use the Earth’s resources for human life and flourishing is strictly limited by the responsibility to conserve and by the rights of the other living creatures who share the Earth with us. A role of caring responsibility for other living creatures, our ‘dominion’, is not a role that sets us above creation but a specific role that humans have within creation. It is rightly practised only when we recognize it to be dominion over fellow-creatures” (Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology, pp. 33-4).
The Meaning of Sabbath The biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has argued that God’s establishment of a day of rest or sabbath at the end of the six days of creation is an assertion that “life does not depend on our feverish activity of self-securing, but that there can be a pause in which life is given to us simply as a gift.” Brueggemann argues that the sabbath has four key aspects: • The sabbath discloses that “in contrast to the gods of Babylon, this God is not anxious about his creation but is at ease with the well-being of his rule.” • The sabbath announces that “the world is safely in God’s hands. The world will not disintegrate if we stop our efforts.” • The sabbath is “a sociological expression of a new humanity willed by God. Sabbath is the end of grasping and therefore the end of exploitation. Sabbath is a day of revolutionary equality in society. On that day all rest equally, regardless of wealth or power or need….Of course, the world is not now ordered according to the well-being and equality of sabbath rest. But the keeping of sabbath, in heaven and on earth, is a foretaste and anticipation of how the creation will be when God’s way is fully established.” • The sabbath is not just about the rest of God, but “because humankind is in the image of God, the rest of God is a promised rest for humankind. The rest is not a sleep which escapes history. It is the freedom and well-being of a new kind of history.” (From Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching [Philadelphia: John Knox Press, 1982], pp. 35-6.)
The Truth Claims of Genesis 1:1-2:4a A Key Philosophical Question: Creation out of Chaos? or Creation out of Nothingness?
The Second Creation Story • Comparative Discrepancies between the Two Creation Stories • Truth in Contradiction?
Comparisons/Contrasts between Genesis 1 and 2 Gen 1:1-2:4b Gen 2:4b-25 Source Priestly (P) Yahwist (J) Divine name Elohim YHWH Elohim Order 1. Light 1. The Human 2. Waters, sky 2. Plants 3. Land, plants 3. Animals 4. Bodies of light 4. Woman (with the man remaining) 5. Water, sky creatures 6. Land creatures 7. Sabbath rest Creative act Spoken into being Formed out of clay Truth claims a) Emphasizes God’s nature as a) Emphasizes God’s nature as 1. Transcendent 1. Intimate 2. Omnipotent 2. Personal b) Humans as the culmination of creation b) Humans as the reason for creation c) Stresses the relationship between c) Stresses the relationship between 1. Humanity and God 1. Humanity and the earth 2. Woman and man
Chapter 3: The Great Flood • Historical Considerations • Internal Contradictions • Ethical/Theological Concerns • The Literary Background: Ancient Near Eastern Flood Narratives • The Flood Story as Satire
Historical Considerations: David Montgomery on the Great Flood and Modern Geology http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chHU5HPkxmM http://discovermagazine.com/2012/jul-aug/06-biblical-type-floods-real-absolutely-enormous/article_view?b_start:int=1&-C=
Internal Contradictions • An interweaving of two literary sources: J (Yahwist) and P (Priestly)
Ethical/Theological Concerns • Why would God obliterate his own handiwork? • Did all humans except Noah and his family deserve to die? • Did all individual members of species except the representatives saved deserve to die?
The Literary Background: Ancient Near Eastern Flood Narratives • “The great flood…was a fact of life for the OT authors. So how could they account for it? In the Mesopotamian accounts, the roles of creator god, destroyer god, and sympathetic god are each played by different deities. Given their monotheistic belief system, the Yahwist and Priestly authors had little choice but to subsume them all into one. Paradoxical as it might seem, then, the God who created humans would now also be bent on destroying them” (p. 49) • The Gilgamesh Epic • The Story of Atrahasis
The Flood Story as a Satire “The story is in many ways a satire of the Sumerian Gilgamesh Epic. In that narrative, a future king went off to seek the secret of immortality. After many harrowing experiences—including power acquired by defeating the embodied forces of the natural world and a great flood—he found that he must accept life ‘as it is.’ In other words, one can’t change the world but must adapt to it. In the Genesis Flood, not only is the hero no king, but the world is utterly transformed as a result of his collaboration with the divine will and power. God makes a ‘covenant’ with Noah and ‘all flesh’ never again to cause widespread destruction by flood (9:9-17). Noah’s reaction to this new development is not narrated, but once he is on dry land, Noah plants a vineyard. What a long time he must wait for that celebratory drink of wine! He, like Cain, is described as a “man of the soil” [’adamah] (9:20). He, too, is a child of agriculture. There was indeed no going back to Eden for Noah and his descendants. From his three sons, Genesis states, ‘the whole earth was peopled’ (9:19). This contrasts starkly with ‘empire religion,’ in which peoples are pitted against one another in the ongoing battle for honor and control of resources. But in the religion of creation, all humanity is one family, creatures of one God, even outside the Garden.” (Wes Howard-Brook, “Come Out, My People!”: God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010], pp. 44-5).