Archive for the ‘Job 38-42’ Category

The Hollywood Happy Ending   7 comments

READING THE BOOK OF JOB

PART XIV

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Job 42:10-17

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I remember the first time I watched The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  The young Orson Welles had directed the movie, in which the characters’ circumstances were becoming worse.  Then, all the sudden, in the final minutes, came the happy reversal of misfortune.  It felt tacked-on and unsatisfactory.  Welles did not direct that part of the movie.

The last eight verses of the Book of Job remind me of the last few minutes of The Magnificent Ambersons.  Job gets a second family–with the original number of children–and twice as many livestock.  And the justice of God becomes evident.

Or does it?

I am allergic to pat answers to difficult questions.  I react to such answers whether they come from people I know, people of whom I know, Job’s alleged friends, or the epilogue to the Book of Job.  And I have no fear of saying so.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Job, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 5, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDERIA, FATHER OF CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

THE FEAST OF SAINT CYRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT NARCYZ PUTZ, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF NELSON MANDELA, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICETIUS OF TRIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP OF TRIER; AND SAINT AREDIUS OF LIMOGES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF PETER MORTIMER, ANGLO-GERMAN MORAVIAN EDUCATOR, MUSICIAN, AND SCHOLAR; AND GOTTFRIED THEODOR ERXLEBEN, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICOLOGIST

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Posted December 5, 2022 by neatnik2009 in Job 38-42

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God’s Speeches, Job’s Responses, and God’s Address to Eliphaz the Temanite   2 comments

READING THE BOOK OF JOB

PART XIII

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Job 38:1-42:9

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Careful reading of the text reveals many interesting details.  For example, God contradicts Eliphaz the Temanite in 38:26-27.  In Job 5:10, Eliphaz claims that God sends rain where people can use it:

He sends down rain to the earth,

pours down water on the fields.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Yet God, in chapter 38, asks Job:

Who carves a channel for the downpour,

and hacks a way for the rolling thunder,

so that rain may fall on lands where no one lives,

and the deserts void of human dwelling,

giving drink to the lonely wastes

and making grass spring where everything was dry?

–Job 38:28f, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The more I read God’s two speeches to Job, the more I dislike them.  They, taken together, constitute a non-answer.  They are not an apology.  Neither do they explain the cause of Job’s suffering.  Job deserves both an explanation and an apology.  He also deserves to hear directly from God what God tells Eliphaz the Temanite:

My wrath has flared against you and your two companions because you have not spoken rightly of Me as did My servant Job.

–Job 42:7, Robert Alter

Job may have spoken presumptuously, but he also spoke honestly, based on his observations of reality.  Job, unlike his alleged friends, had maintained his integrity.  So, Job became a priestly figure who interceded, formally, on behalf of his alleged friends.

Human reconciliation remained possible.

Bernhard Anderson argued that both Job and his alleged friends had committed the same error; they had presumed to know how God does or should work.  That analysis fits 38:2 (“speaking without knowledge”).  It does not fit 42:7-9, however.  Thus, we encounter an interpretive difficulty born of multiple authors.

I still stand with Job.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER HOTOVITZKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1937

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PARMA

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST; AND FRANZ GRUBER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHER, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARUTHAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MAYPHERKAT, AND MISSIONARY TO PERSIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF SALISBURY

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The Prologue of the Book of Job   2 comments

READING THE BOOK OF JOB

PART I

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Job 1 and 2

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PRELIMINARY STATEMENTS

The introduction to the Book of Job in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), describes this ancient text as a

complex and composite work.

That is an understatement.  For example, the flow of the story at the end of chapter 31 leads directly into chapter 38, but someone interjected chapters 32-37.  Furthermore, chapter 28 seems to belong to the Elihu material, also.  Even if chapter 28 does not belong to the Elihu cycle, it still comes out of left field relative to what surrounds it.

The Book of Job, which most likely dates to after the Babylonian Exile, fits into the regional literary motif of the pious sufferer.  More than one ancient text reflecting this motif exists.  So, once more, the Bible contains literature similar to writings from neighboring cultures.  This should surprise nobody; cultures influence each other, especially when they are near other.

I have no interest in dissecting the Book of Job line by line; rather, I stand back and look at the big picture.  I choose to focus on the forest and to zoom in on some trees.  Besides, this project is not the first time I have blogged regarding the Book of Job.  One hundred-nineteen lectionary-based posts at this weblog contain tags that link them to the Book of Job.  This project is, however, the first time I am blogging my way through the Book of Job from the first verse to the last one.

My translations and guides for this journey through the Book of Job are:

  1. The Jerusalem Bible (1966).  This is my primary translation because J. R. R. Tolkien worked on the translation of this book in that version.
  2. TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999), as contained in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014).
  3. Robert Alter’s translation in The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019).
  4. Samuel Terrien and Paul Scherer, writing in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 3 (1954).
  5. Carol A. Newsom, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996).

Now, without further ado, I turn to the Prologue of the Book of Job.

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GOD, HASATAN, AND JOB

The Book of Job opens with a prose prologue, just as it closes with a prose epilogue.  The prologue establishes the setting in the Transjordan, during the age of the patriarchs.  Yet the Book of Job mimics an archaic literary style and indicates familiarity with Second and Third Isaiah.

This story, told as a folktale, is not historical.  It, theological, is mostly poetic.  The Book of Job is, in the highest meaning of the word, a myth.  The Book of Job is not literally true, but it contains truth.  Part of the interpretive complexity of the book comes from nauseating gas bags (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite) sounding like passages from the books of Psalms and Proverbs.  They are obnoxious pains in every part of human anatomy, but they do speak a truth on occasion despite themselves.

We read of the lavish lifestyle of Job and his family.  They are spectacularly wealthy.  Banquets that continue for day after day are commonplace.  The siblings live harmoniously with each other and their parents.  The story tells us that Job performs a priestly function on behalf of his offspring; he sacrifices in case any of them have sinned.  Job is a devout monotheist who cares deeply for his family.

We read also of the “sons of God”–in this case–angels, members of the heavenly court.  This is a rewritten vestige of pagan divine councils, commonplace in that part of the world in antiquity.  In this context we meet the Adversary, hasatan (the Satan), who had yet to transform into a rogue in Jewish theology and to become the archenemy of God in apocalyptic literature.

One may recall the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24.  The story about the talking donkey in 22:22-35 is intriguing, to say the least.  In that story, the donkey, sees the Adversary/the angel of YHWH standing in the road in 22:22-27.  Then Balaam sees the heavenly figure in 22:31. Balaam and the Adversary converse afterward.  Hasatan works for God in Numbers 22.

The Book of Job comes from a time in the history of theology when the Adversary/the Satan was a loyal servant of God.  The job of hasatan in Job 1 and 2 is to test the loyalty of the people of God, modeled here after a King of the Persian Empire, a man who employed loyalty testers throughout the realm.  The Book of Job comes from a transitional time in the doctrine of Satan; hasatan seems to derive too much satisfaction from his job.  Robert Alter points to the Satan’s

cynical mean-spiritedness.

Yet the Satan does nothing without divine permission.  He still works for God.

Hasatan continues to fulfill the role of accuser in Zechariah 3:1, also from the Persian period.  However, Zechariah 3 indicates a shift toward the Satan as rogue:

He showed me Joshua the high priest, standing before the angel of Yahweh, with Satan standing on his right to accuse him.  The angel of Yahweh said to Satan, “May Yahweh rebuke you, Satan, may Yahweh rebuke you, he who has made Jerusalem his very own.  Is not this man a brand snatched from the fire?”

–Zechariah 3:1-2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

During the Persian period, the Satan came to resemble Ahriman, the evil one in Zoroastrianism.  One culture influenced another one.

The history of the doctrine is objective, documented, and not subject to dispute.  The question of the truth behind the doctrine is theological.  Truth with a capital T does exist regarding this matter.  I think I know what that truth is.  Whether I agree with God is a matter for God to say.

For the record, I think that Jewish theology, under Zoroastrian influence, finally got the doctrine right.

The Book of Job tells us that YHWH allows Job to suffer and innocents to die.  The Book of Job tells us that YHWH permits all this to happen as part of a wager with hasatan, the overzealous, cynical loyalty tester.  Job 1 and 2 portray YHWH negatively.  This is anthropomorphic understanding of YHWH.

Anthropomorphizing God is unavoidable; we mere mortals have our cultural perspectives and carry assumptions.  Yet me must, if we are spiritually honest, acknowledge that God is far greater and far more than we can imagine.

The Prologue to the Book of Job raises a question germane to each of us:  Why do we revere God, if we do?  Do we practice a quid pro quo faith life?

“Yes,” Satan said, “but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he?”

–Job 1:9, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The omniscient narrative voice in the Book of Job does not ask why the righteous suffer.  No, it tells us why Job suffers.  The alleged friends think they know why Job suffers.  The titular character rejects their theory and knows who is ultimately responsible for his suffering–God.  The Book of Job does ask each of us why we are devout, assuming that one is pious, of course.  Is this faith relationship that one that mistakes God for a vending machine or a sugar daddy?  Or is this faith relationship one that survives crises and other hardships.

The ending of the prologue introduces us to three friends–Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  One of my favorite puns tells me that Bildad the Shuhite was the shortest man in the Bible.  (I did not make up that joke.  I do groan at it, though.)  Seriously, though, the subsequent poetic chapters reveal that a famous question applies to the Book of Job.  That query is,

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I invite you, O reader, to remain beside me on this journey through the Book of Job.  We will hear from Job–the man himself–in the next installment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEAGRAVE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANNA KOLESÁROVÁ, SLOVAK ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1944

THE FEAST OF DITLEF GEORGSON RISTAD, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, LITURGIST, AND EDUCATOR

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Divine Judgment Against Egypt, Part II   2 comments

Above:  Ezekiel, the Biblical Prophet, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XIV

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Ezekiel 29:1-32:32

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I have read and written about the oracles against Egypt in Isaiah 18:1-20:6 and Jeremiah 46:2-28.

We read seven oracles against Egypt.  The arrangement is not chronological.

The first oracle (29:1-16) dates to 588-587 B.C.E.  The context is Pharoah Hophra’s failed attempt to rescue Jerusalem from the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian siege before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.)  Hophra’s sin, we read, is arrogance–specifically, boasting that he had created the Nile River, therefore, the world.  The prophecy of the fall of Egypt holds up if one interprets the Persian conquest (525 B.C.E.).  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt, historical records tell us.  We also read that, in time, God will restore Egypt, but as a minor kingdom, not a major empire.

The second oracle (29:17-21) dates to 571-570 B.C.E.).  It accurately predicts the fall of Egypt to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Other inaccurate prophecies of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt occur in Jeremiah 43:8-13 and 46:2-28.

The third oracle (30:1-19), undated, uses the imagery of the Day of the LORD in a lament for conquered Egypt.

The fourth oracle (30:20-26) dates to 587-586 B.C.E.–specifically, about four months before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  Pharoah Hophra’s broken arm refers to the failed Egyptian effort to lift the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

The fifth oracle (31:1-18) dates to 587-586 B.C.E.–specifically, about two months before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This oracle predicts the the downfall of Egypt.  Egypt is, metaphorically, a fallen cedar of Lebanon.

The sixth oracle (32:1-16) dates to 585 B.C.E., one year or so after the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.E.).  This oracle cites mythology–specifically, the divine defeat of the sea dragon Leviathan at creation (Exodus 15; Isaiah 11-15; Psalm 74:12-17; Psalm 104:7-9; Job 38:8-11).  The oozing blood in verse 6 recalls the plague of blood (Exodus 7:19-24).  The theme of darkness recalls the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-29) and the Day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-2; Joel 3:15; Zephaniah 1:15).  God really does not like Pharoah Hophra (r. 589-570 B.C.E.), we read:

I will drench the earth 

With your oozing blood upon the hills

And the watercourses shall be filled with your [gore].

When you are snuffed out,

I will cover the sky

And darken its stars;

I will cover the sun with clouds

And the moon shall not give its light.

All the lights that shine in the sky

I will darken above you;

And I will bring darkness upon your land

–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 32:6-78, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ezekiel 32:11 repeats the inaccurate prophecy of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt.

The seventh oracle (32:17-32) dates to 585 B.C.E.  This oracle depicts Egypt and the other enemies of Judah as being in Sheol, the underworld.  Once-great nations, having fallen, are in the dustbin of history in the slimy, mucky, shadowy Pit.  The use of Sheol, a pre-Persian period Jewish concept of the afterlife, in this way intrigues me.  My reading tells me that Sheol was an afterlife without reward or punishment.  Yet the text in Ezekiel 32:17-32 brims over with divine judgment.

Nations, nation-states, kingdoms, and empires rise and fall.  Many last for a long time.  Yet God is forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WASHINGTON GLADDEN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR HENRY MESSITER, EPISCOPAL MUSICIAN AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF FERDINAND QUINCY BLANCHARD, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY MONTAGU BUTLER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JACQUES FERMIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

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The Punishment of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART V

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Lamentation 4:1-22

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The main bright ray of hope in the Book of Lamentations is in Chapter 3.  Theological whiplash continues as the readings revert to…lamentations.  Chapter 4 describes the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.. as well as the suffering and degradation of the city’s residents at the time.

Some points require explanation:

  1. In verse 1, gems and gold represent people.  They are precious yet discarded.
  2. Jackals (verse 3) had a reputation as despicable scavengers.
  3. Ostriches (verse 3) were supposedly cruel and neglectful parents (Job 39:13-18).
  4. Starving children were too weak to cry in verse 4.  (Ezekiel 3:16; Psalm 137:6; Job 29:10)
  5. The inhabitants of Sodom died quickly (Genesis 19:24-25), but the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered a long agony.
  6. Coral and sapphire were colors associated with vigor in verses 7-8.  Those colors have disappeared.
  7. Fire represented divine wrath (Lamentations 2:3 and 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 10:17; Jeremiah 17:27).  There was also the literal fire that destroyed Jerusalem, of course.
  8. Contrary to popular belief (Psalms 46 and 48), Mount Zion was not inviolable.  The belief that God would not let Mount Zion fall came from foreigners (Lamentations 4:12).
  9. Shedding blood (verses 13 and 14), in this case, referred to committing idolatry (Ezekiel 22:1-5; Psalm 106:37-40).  The people most closely associated with purity were the most impure.  Those once among the most respected in society had become as impure as lepers (verse 15).
  10. The Poet spoke in verses 1-16 and 21-22.  The Community spoke in verses 17-20.
  11. The tone in verse 21 is ironic.  Edom comes in for condemnation here and in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Obadiah; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.
  12. Verse 22 offers a glimmer of hope.  The Babylonian Exile will end, we read.  Justice will prevail because punishes sins, we read.

I ponder the idea of a world in which justice prevails because God punishes sins.  I think about the world as it is and perceive that it bears little resemblance to God’s ideal world.  The disparity between reality and the ideal is discouraging.  Were I more poetic, and if I had the desire to compose a set of lamentations for the world and United States of America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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A Collage of Laments   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations 3:10

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART IV

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Lamentation 3:1-66

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Different voices fill Lamentations 3.  A new voice–that of Israel personified as the Man–speaks in verses 1-24, and perhaps through verse 39, as well.  An alternative view holds that the Poet speaks in verses 25-39.  Another new voice–that of the Community–speaks in verses 48-51.  Either Fair Zion or the Man speaks in verses 52-66.

Verses 1-20 depict deportation into exile.  They also depict God as a bad shepherd, in contrast to Psalm 23, Psalm 78, and Ezekiel 34.  Yet, starting with verse 25, we read an expression of hope in God.  Divine loyalty has not ended and divine mercies are not spent, we read.

For the Lord does not

Reject forever,

But first afflicts, then pardons

In His abundant kindness.

–Lamentations 3:31-32, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Comparing translations reveals shades of meaning in the original Hebrew text.  The Revised English Bible (1989) reads:

For rejection by the Lord

does not last forever.

He may punish, yet he will have compassion

in the fullness of his unfailing love….

When we turn to The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), we read:

For the Lord does not reject forever;

Though he brings grief, he takes pity,

according to the abundance of his mercy….

Much of the material in verses 25-39 sounds like speeches by Job’s alleged friends (Job 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 32-37):  Suffering is divine punishment for sin, and people should accept this punishment.  In the context of the Book of Job, this is a misplaced theology, not applicable to the titular character’s situation (Job 1:1-2:10; 42:7-9).  Also, the speeches of Job’s alleged friends read like the useless yet conventionally pious babblings they are, in narrative context.

The rest of the Book of Lamentations confesses sins, repents of those sins, begs for divine deliverance, expresses hope in God, and prays for divine judgment on the wicked nations.

I get theological whiplash from Lamentations 3.  The contrast between Lamentations 3 and the rage against God in Lamentations 2 is stark.  And who says that God does not willingly bring grief or affliction?  I recall many passages from Hebrew prophetic books in which God speaks and claims credit for causing grief and affliction.  I do not recall anyone forcing God to do that.  In some passages, however, God speaks of these divine actions as the consequences of human sins.

I approach theodicy cautiously.  I am also an intellectually honest monotheist.  I have no evil god to blame for anything, thereby letting the good god off the hook.  There is simply and solely God, who is ever in the dock, so to speak.   The major problem with human theodicy is that it easily degenerates into idiocy at best and heresy at worst.

Whenever someone professes not to believe in God, one way to handle the situation is to ask that individual to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  One may also want to ask how the other person defines belief in God.  In the creedal sense, to believe in God is to trust in God.  Yet many–or most–people probably understand belief in God to mean affirmation of the existence of God.

Idiotic theodicy produces a range of God-concepts abhorrent to me.  I suspect that many–or most–of those professed agnostics and atheists reject at least one of these God-concepts, too.  Many professed agnostics and atheists–a host of them refugees from conventional piety and abusive faith–may be closer to a healthy relationship with the God of the Universe than many conventionally devout Jews and Christians.  This matter lies far outside my purview; it resides in the purview of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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Judith’s Hymn of Deliverance, with Her Renown and Death   Leave a comment

Above:  Blanche Sweet as Judith in Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VIII

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Judith 16:1-25

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O Lord, thou are great and glorious,

wondrous in strength, invincible.

Let thy creatures serve thee,

for thou didst speak, and they were made,

thou didst sent thy Spirit, and it formed them;

there is none that can resist thy voice.

For the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters;

at thy presence the rocks shall melt like wax.

But to those who fear thee, thou wilt continue to show mercy.

For every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing,

and all fat for burnt offerings to thee is a very little thing,

but he who fears the Lord shall be great forever.

–Judith 16:13b-16, a.k.a. Canticle 69 in The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) and Canticle 622 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966)

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But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman.

For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men;

nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down,

nor did tall giants set upon him;

but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him.

–Judith 16:5-6, The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1989)

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The hymn of Judith acknowledges what Achior, soon to convert to Judaism (14:6-10), said in Chapter 5:  God is the strength of the Israelites.  The hymn of Judith places her accomplishment in proper context.  That context is God.

The rest of the story:

  1. Judith refused all offers of marriage.
  2. She freed her maid/servant.
  3. She lived to a ripe old age (Job 42:16; Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29).
  4. People held her in high esteem.
  5. Her grave was next to that of her late husband.

The end of Chapter 16 likens her to various heroes in the Book of Judges.  Judith 16:25 tells us that nobody spread terror among the Israelites for a long time after her death.  For a similar motif, read Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28.

Interestingly, the Hasmonean period (168-63 B.C.E.) lasted 105 years, the lifespan of Judith.  Given the composition of the Book of Judith circa 100 B.C.E., we have a coincidence.

Judith placed God at the center of her life.  She revered God and acted to protect her community.  She was a fictional military heroine long before a historical military heroine, St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The Book of Judith also contains a warning to fatuous gas bag, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers.

[Holofernes’s] bloated self-image clouds his judgment, so that he not only sees in himself what he wants to see, but also sees in Judith what he chooses.  If Holofernes had been clever enough to catch Judith’s irony, he would have been clever enough to avoid her trap, even get the best of her.  But he was not.

–Lawrence M. Wills, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999), 1089

The warning is that they leave themselves open to their own undoing.  Their fate is in themselves, not in their stars, to paraphrase William Shakespeare.

At the end of the Book of Judith, Nebuchadnezzar II, not a major character since Chapter 2, is still on the throne.  I suppose the fictional version of that monarch in this book gave up his plan to take revenge on disloyal servants.  After all, he is not the king of all the Earth.  No, God is.

So, fatuous gas bags, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers, beware.  God is the king.  God is sovereign.  Even fatuous gas bags, authoritarian rulers, and their enablers are subject to the judgment of God.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Judith, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Mutuality in God IV   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Augustine of Hippo, by Ambito Lombardo

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of thy only begotten Son,

hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers,

and who, in the voice that came from the bright cloud,

didst in a wonderful manner vouchsafe to make us co-heirs with the King of his glory,

and bring us to the enjoyment of the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 134

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Job 28:1-28

Psalm 119:49-64

1 Corinthians 10:1-14

Matthew 15:14-29

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How should one interpret Job 28?  It does not flow from Chapter 27.  “He” (God) in 28:3 has no antecedent in Job 27.  And the identity of the speaker is uncertain.  Chapter 28 sits between Job 27 and Job 29, of the titular character.  Is the speaker Job, one of his alleged friends, or someone else?

The identity of the speaker is crucial.  To know who speaks in a particular passage of the Book of Job is to know how to read or hear that passage.  Job’s alleged friends are objectively wrong on many points within the Book of Job and within the full canon of Jewish scripture.  Yet they are right sometimes, too.  To quote a cliché, 

A broken clock is right twice a day.

A note in The Jewish Study Bible hypothesizes that the speaker is Elihu, a character shoe-horned into the Book of Job between Job’s concluding argument to God (at the end of Chapter 31) and the beginning of God’s reply to job in Chapter 38.  The epilogue to the Book of Job names Eliphz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite (42:9) yet never Elihu.

[God] said to man,

“See!  Fear of the Lord is wisdom;

To shun evil is understanding.

–Job 28:28, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That verse is consistent with Psalm 119.

The trials you have had to bear are no more than people normally have.  You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength, and with any trial he will give you a way out of it and the strength to bear it.

–1 Corinthians 10:13, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I have heard a consistent misinterpretation of that verse for many years.  

To read “you” as singular is wrong.  1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not an individual.  Individualistic assumptions of my Western culture may lead one to misread and mishear “you” as singular.  Reading the passage in a romance language helps to clear up the matter, too.

Aucune tentation ne vous est survenue qui n’ait été humaine; Dieu est est fidèle et ne permettra pas que vous soyez téntes au-delà de vos forces….

–1 Corinthiens 10:13a, Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978)

Vous is plural, not formal singular, in this case.

Within the context of faith community, all the necessary spiritual resources exist.  The variety of spiritual gifts and the presence of God can fulfill each person’s spiritual needs.  Mutuality remains a theme.

Regarding Matthew 15:21-28, I refer you, O reader, to the category for Matthew 15.  Follow it to find my analysis of that story.

I prefer to focus on another aspect of the Gospel reading.  The dark side of human nature defiles one–makes one unclean–makes one “common,” as J. B. Phillips translated the Greek word.  The list in Matthew 19 is representative, not comprehensive.  One may ask what fornication, theft, perjury, and slander have in common.  They are ways to harm others–emotionally, legally, socially, economically, and physically.  They work against the model of mutuality in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

To tie up the readings with a figurative bow, mutuality fits with Job 28:28 and Psalm 119.  We should shun evil, individually and collectively.  And standing in awe of God (a better translation than “fearing God”) is wisdom.

As St. Augustine of Hippo wrote at length and more eloquently than I write, those who love God as they should can do whatever they want and still please God.  They want to live in faith community defined by mutuality.  These spiritual giants want to help, not harm.  They are in tune with God.

I make no pretense of being one of these spiritual giants.  I do, however, know in visceral, practical terms how mutuality works in a congregation.  I know how to give and receive.  Both are blessings from God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYR, 1610

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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More Love to Thee   Leave a comment

Above:  The Feeding of the Multitude

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O Lord, we beseech Thee to keep Thy Church and Household continually in Thy true religion;

that they who do lean only upon the hope of Thy heavenly grace

may evermore be defended by Thy mighty power

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 132

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Job 38:22-41

Psalm 119:33-48

Romans 8:1-11

John 6:26-35

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More love to thee, O Christ,

More love to thee!

Hear thou the prayer I make

On bended knee;

This is my earnest plea:

More love, O Christ, to thee,

More love to thee,

More love to thee.

–Elizabeth Payson Prentiss (1818-1878), published in 1869

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The readings for this Sunday fit thematically with those for the previous post in this series.  I could repeat myself excessively and justify that decision, therefore.  However, I do choose not to do so.  No, I opt to refer you, O reader, to that post and to focus on the Gospel lection in this post.

John 6:26-35 has much in common with Luke 14:25-35.  Both teach us to love Christ most of all.  Luke 14:25-35 tells us to love Jesus more than ourselves, our friends, our relatives, and our possessions.  John 6:26-35, set on the day following the Feeding of the Five Thousand, identifies Jesus as the Bread of Life.  Yesterday’s bread ceases to satisfy after a little while; one becomes hungry again.  Daily food is vital for one set of needs.  Only Jesus can satisfy other, greater needs.  We should love him more than mere food and drink.

One of the consistent themes in the New Testament is the precedence of Jesus.  There is x, then there is Jesus.  This theme recurs in the Gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the Letter to the Hebrews, for example.  X may be good and necessary.  It is less important than Jesus, though.  He deserves more love than they do.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT LIBORIUS WAGNER, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1631

THE FEAST OF GEORGE JOB ELVEY, ANGLICAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN HOWARD BERTRAM MASTERMAN, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, HYMN WRITER, PRIEST, AND BISHOP OF PLYMOUTH

THE FEAST OF OLIVIER MESSIAEN, CLAIRE DELBOS, AND YVONNE LORIOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER FOURIER, “THE GOOD PRIEST OF MATTAINCOURT;” AND ALIX LE CLERC, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF NOTRE DAME OF CANONESSES REGULAR OF SAINT AUGUSTINE

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Salvation and Damnation, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers,

that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright,

grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers,

and carry us through all temptations;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 131

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Job 38:1-21

Psalm 119:1-16

Romans 4:16-25

Luke 14:25-35

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Contrary to a widespread misconception, Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic religion with works-based salvation.  No, it was a religion that taught covenantal nomism–salvation by grace (birth into the covenant) and self-exclusion from that covenant by habitually defying the ethical obligations of God’s law.  E. P. Sanders cited Second Temple Jewish writings to make that case in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977).

Read Psalm 119:1-16 again, O reader.  Read it as saying what it does, not what theology with a Protestant Reformation hangover thinks the text says.  Nothing in Psalm 119 contradicts Christianity.

St. Paul’s critique of Second Temple Judaism was that it lacked Jesus, not that it was legalistic, with works-based righteousness.

God, who has been creating the natural world, has also created salvation and free will.  Salvation is of divine origin.  Damnation is of human origin.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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