Suffering of Your Enemy

After Achilles has killed Hector, Homer takes us to Hector’s widow in the walls of Troy.

Hector’s wife had as yet heard nothing, for no one had come to tell her that her husband had remained without the gates. She was at her loom in an inner part of the house, weaving a double purple web, and embroidering it with many flowers. She told her maids to set a large tripod on the fire, so as to have a warm bath ready for Hector when he came out of battle; poor woman, she knew not that he was now beyond the reach of baths, and that Minerva had laid him low by the hands of Achilles.

To twist the knife a bit, Homer turns to Hector’s now fatherless son.

The day that robs a child of his parents severs him from his own kind; his head is bowed, his cheeks are wet with tears, and he will go about destitute among the friends of his father, plucking one by the cloak and another by the shirt. Some one or other of these may so far pity him as to hold the cup for a moment towards him and let him moisten his lips, but he must not drink enough to wet the roof of his mouth; then one whose parents are alive will drive him from the table with blows and angry words. ‘Out with you,’ he will say, ‘you have no father here,’ and the child will go crying back to his widowed mother.’

[Aside: The anger directed toward a weeping child reminded me of the pain of leaving for deployment. A socially awkward, emotionally stunted department head’s son came crying after him on the day of leaving for deployment. The man shouted to his son, “Get back in the house or I will beat your butt.”]

The closing line of Book 22 refers again to the widow, “In such wise did she cry aloud amid her tears, and the women joined in her lament.” This whole passage reminds me of the Biblical story of Deborah. Deborah’s general Barak, no relation, crushes the enemy army led by Sisera. Sisera runs away and seeks shelter to Jael. Jael, in another exercise of girl power, kills Sisera while he sleeps by driving a tent stake through his temple. The song of Deborah closes with this passage:

28 “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

Judges 5:28-30. I have often wondered what to make of this passage from the song of Deborah, which is one of the oldest passages in the Hebrew Bible. Are the Hebrews invoking sympathy for their enemies? Is Homer? The fact is, Homer treats Hector with much more respect than the Hebrews treated any Hebrew enemy. It makes me feel sympathy for the enemy, but is that the purpose? Or is the purpose to say to the People not only did we kill the enemy, we humiliated him and we made his women and children back home weep for him? Is this the beginnings of moving beyond tribalism, or is this dancing on the grave of the vanquished?


Project Complete – Final Thoughts

Just some random musings before I leave this.

I think the One Year Bible is a good tool. NIV is a conservative translation, and I did have issues with choices the editors made, which means I probably would have had issues with other choices if I had noticed them. But most editorial choices are not ideologically driven, and it is readable. The format is the big advantage. It is good to be able to keep track of your progress. More importantly, there is variety particularly when you are slogging through tedious portions.

Four months was too fast. It is not that the volume of reading was so bad. The problem is that there would often been four or five things I wanted to think about more deeply but didn’t have time to do that in one day. Also, it would have been good to explore context a bit more.

Taking time to reflect on what I had just read was invaluable. I am really glad I decided to blog about it. I would recommend others to either do the same, or to keep a personal journal or whatever.

Okay, so I am 40 years old. I completed my little mini-reading program. I am ready to tackle the ten year reading program for the Great Books and hopefully take some serious steps this to get healthier. It is like a new decade’s resolution.


Project Complete – Why It Matters

It helps no one, including oneself, to ignore inconvenient facts. That’s true whether one is analyzing a client’s case or evaluating a New Year’s resolution’s chance of success. Accordingly, I started with the last two posts. Despite these concerns, the Bible remains important, even precious to me.

It is a great work of Western Civilization. In January, I’m going to start reading the Great Books of Western Civilization. There are reasons to read these books, even if modern works or non-western works are “better,” and those reasons apply to the Bible. They provide reference points for other works. Themes developed there have found their way into the fabric of our culture. See, e.g., I’m not my brothers keeper, I wash my hands of it, the writing is on the wall.

It is a source of authority to for roughly two billion people. A part of what I want to do as a Christian is to motivate others and to advocate for justice. The Bible provides a common language that might otherwise be unavailable to me. It also provides certain starting points. For example, even Bill O’Reilly recently conceded that no reasonable person could deny the need to help those who can’t help themselves.

It provides a connection to my spiritual predecessors. To be sure, the religion I practice is distinct from that practiced by the semitic people inhabiting a region just north of Egypt on the Mediterranean 3000 years ago. Nonetheless, my faith has evolved from theirs. And, while reading a scholarly work can provide intellectual context, the Bible provides a more human context. It is one thing to know that spiritual purity was important to the Hebrews, it is another to read hundreds of rules dealing with the topic. It is the difference between reading someone’s obituary and reading someone’s journal.

Parts of it are intellectually stimulating. I have had marvelous discussions focused on good and evil as presented in the story of Deborah. My dad has several books devoted to issues raised in Job. And there is plenty of other grist for the mental mill.

Parts of it are moving. This is where I get back some of the stuff that I have had to admit is not squarely located within the text. Reading of Jesus’ treatment of the outcast speaks to me in a way that motivates me to strive for equality. It inspires me to fight for justice for those society condemns. Another reader will find within the Scripture a celebration of life as the ultimate gift from God and be moved to fight for maintaining it always and particularly at the extremes. And that’s okay with me. It is okay that the Bible inspires us both, but differently. It is still a source of inspiration for me.


Project Complete – What’s There I Wish Wasn’t

The title of this post is a problem for many, and I recognize that. For good or ill, it is how I feel. There are some things in the Bible that I wish were not. Elsewhere I have discussed ways to handle these difficult passages. But here, I just want to come clean about some troubling themes.

Do not tolerate other religions. With the major exception of the ministry of Jesus, the Bible is full of hatred for other religions. Embracing other religions is the reason for the exile. True Christians are not only to reject other religions, but other version of the faith. And, violence is authorized. To be fair, it is usually violence that comes from YHWH.

Women and men are not equal. There are more exceptions here. Not just the ministry of Jesus, e.g., Deborah, Priscilla & Aquilla. Nonetheless, women are treated very poorly by the Bible. Mistreatment of women may be the single greatest injustice our world faces today and it sucks the Bible has so much that supports it.

Support cultural norms. The writers of the Bible, naturally enough I suppose, have trouble distinguishing what is their response to God in their lives from what is just a cultural norm. The result is that loving your neighbor, obeying your master, and not wearing clothes with mixed fibers are all in there. This is troubling because some of the norms that come in, but also because it makes it difficult to avoid just throwing out everything you don’t like.


Project Complete – What’s Not There

Many people use the Bible to support rather than to shape their views. As a litigator and sometimes appellate attorney, using authority to support my view, or more precisely my client’s view, is my occupation. But just as an overzealous attorney can stretch the meaning of a Supreme Court case to the breaking point, so can Christians stretch claims based on the Bible. Here are my thoughts, starting at home.

The message of the prophets was that Israel was falling into ruin because it failed to take care of the poor. Exaggeration. The prophets did say things like this, but those verses were buried under a pile of verses about worshipping idols or more often, generic accusations of taking on the ways of foreign nations.

The kingdom of God/Heaven is a way of life not a far away place. More debatable than I thought. I have not run a tally, but I believe a solid majority of the references attributed to Jesus support this view. Nonetheless, I came across many that support the castle in the sky version. And from reading Paul, it seems that there was a pretty hot debate over exactly what it meant.

The Bible forbids gay marriage. Extreme exaggeration. While the references to justice for the poor are dwarfed by other material that no longer seems relevant, references to gay sex are dwarfed by references to justice for the poor. Not only are there relatively few references to gay sex, those references typically fall in lists of cultural behaviors that Christians have long since abandoned. And of course, gay sex is not the same thing as gay marriage. To beef up the profile of gay sex prohibitions, some Christians try to include stories about a crowd of men raping a couple of angels and prohibitions on sexual immorality into the list. Rape is obviously wrong for its own reasons, and claiming sex with a committed partner is an example of sexual immorality is classic circular reasoning. Gay marriage wasn’t an issue 2000 years ago, and, not surprisingly, the Bible has nothing directly to say about it.

The Bible forbids abortion. Untrue. I have heard this claim made before, and I had it in my mind as I was reading. Are there verses that suggest life begins before birth? Yes, but there are also verses that say that life begins with taking breath. Passages that attribute extraordinary power to God, for example, sufficient to know someone in the womb, hardly establish the idea that life begins at conception. (Is it beyond God’s power to know someone before he or she is conceived?) Furthermore, there are laws that explicitly treat causing a miscarriage differently from murder. Finally, there is nothing about intentionally terminating a pregnancy. Unlike gay marriage, I find this perplexing. Surely the women of ancient Israel knew how to terminate pregnancies. But for whatever the reason, the Bible says nothing directly and very little indirectly about it.

The Bible supports separation of Church and State. Untrue. Let’s end at home. Jesus’ trickery with “give to Caesar” was dodging his detractor’s question and replacing it with what he wanted to talk about. The Old Testament is all about how to have a Godly kingdom. The New Testament is about how to run a society, sometimes in secret, within an oppressive empire, but nonetheless in compliance with God’s law. I did not see any foundation of the First Amendment in the Bible.


Project Complete – Overall Reflection

I finished my four-month read through of the Bible on Christmas Day. As a program note for the blog, it resulted in more material being published than I have published in any other four month period, and I suspect that casually interested readers of the blog had more JimII than they could use on a daily basis. Accordingly, I encourage those who are interested to read some of the old posts and share your thoughts. I am pretty good about responding, giving us at least three exchanges toward a conversation.

Taking a step back from the project, I see my faith as having three distinct sources. One of them is the Bible. This project obviously most helped me focus on that aspect. Another is the Church, which includes tradition and fellow Christians. As a free church Protestant, the role of tradition is probably less than it would be in a more liturgical denomination, or one that pre-dates the formation of the Bible. But, my faith has nonetheless been shaped by what the Church teaches, dramatically so if you include lessons from fellow Christians. The final influence is personal revelation. For me, that is overwhelmingly the result of rational analysis, although I have experienced moments that I seem profoundly different from intellectual excercise. Are these moments best described as emotional, spiritual, hormone induced? I don’t know. But they shape my faith as well. I bring that up at this point because no matter what I say or think about the Bible, it is probably the least significant influence on my faith. And, I think that is true of most Christians, even though many will not admit it.

Which leads me where I want to begin in my specific global response to the project. I want to write one post on what I think people seem to get wrong about the Bible. In other words, what do people with an agenda say is in the Bible that really is not, or is in the Bible, but not very prominently. I also want to write a post about things in the Bible that are harmful, and ways that I believe it has been and can be used as a tool of evil. Finally, I want to write a post about what I get out of the Bible, and why I think it is a worthwhile source of faith.

That should keep me occupied this week.


Last Day (“The” Wedding)

[reaction to OYB’s Dec. 28-31 readings]

A fairly common metaphor throughout the prophets, including Revelation, is that of the people being the bride of Christ or YHWH. From today’s readings, Malachi offers, this in noting Israel’s failing, “Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.” And of course, the glorious conclusion to John’s Revelation prominently features the church as the bride of Christ.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

There is much wrapped up in this idea. Committment, fidelity, mutual support, consideration. Of course, that is just my modern idea of marriage, right? Well, not so fast. Proverbs ends with a list of characteristics of a good wife. It begins, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” And, she is not just kept in the kitchen: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” It closes with, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Entire poem here.

This is a good place to end my reading. The end of Revelation completes the notion that the early Christians had. Yes, their world was full of torment, but they had faith in what Jesus taught them that it would be better some day. Likewise, the ending of Proverbs reminds me us of the role Judaism was to play in everyday life, no just theological and abstract questions.


Day 112 (Connections)

[reaction to OYB’s Dec. 25-27 readings]

I’ve been paying attention to the Old Testament references found in Revelation that connect it to the old prophets. However, in chpater 16 we have some verses that are reminds us of phrases that would later be included in the Gospels.

They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.” And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!”

Interestingly, one of the final Psalms also includes some end of the world stuff. Psalm 144

5 Open the heavens, Lord, and come down.
Touch the mountains so they billow smoke.
6 Hurl your lightning bolts and scatter your enemies!
Shoot your arrows and confuse them!
7 Reach down from heaven and rescue me;
rescue me from deep waters,
from the power of my enemies.
8 Their mouths are full of lies;
they swear to tell the truth, but they lie instead.

Also, we get some more cities are whores metaphors that we’ve all come to know and love. The prostitute metaphor in Revelation is actually pretty tame by comparison to that in Isaiah and Ezekiel. Of course, here the whore is Rome not Jerusalem. And, we learn in chapter 18 that not only Rome, but all the leaders that worked with Rome will be destroyed before it is all over.


Day 111 (Dueling Revelations)

[reaction to OYB’s Dec. 21-24 readings]

The prophet Zechariah is writing during the time of Darius of Persia, which is after the Hebrew exiles have returned and are rebuilding the temple. John the Revelator is writing during the time of Nero of Rome, which is after that temple has been destroyed and lots of people are being killed for being Christian. Their revelations, thus have a different tone. Here are two examples. They both talk about four colored horses. In Zechariah the horses are pulling chariots and bringing the Spirit of God to the four directions of the compass, while in Revelation the four horses are carrying riders who bring misery to the earth. (And then they end up in Notre Dame’s backfield which seems weird.)

They also both predict the coming of the God to live with us, or God’s son to live with us. Here is what Zechariah has to say in chapter 2.

10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

Revelation 12 has a slightly darker take on things.

In which world do modern Christians live? Is it the world that is filled with hope and possibility, or one with hope tempered by the reality of trial and tribulation directly before us?


Maps and Timelines

I think Matt Dick provided this link to me first. It is interesting to review having just read about Israel’s various exiles, but it is also important to consider when we talk about how the fighting in the Middle East has been going on forever. It seems the biggest reason for that is that it is in, you know, the middle. Click and below and come back to comment on how crazy this illustration is.

Maps of War.

And here is a timeline of the Books of the Bible that is pretty cool.