Archive for the ‘Fundamentalism’ Tag

The Power of the Divine Word, With the Second Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 48:1-49:26

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Before I get to the meat of this post, I must clarify one point:  the meaning of “word of God,” in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26.  Pay attention to the difference between “word of God” and “Word of God” in writing, O reader.  I live in the Bible Belt of the United States of America.  Here, many fundamentalists (fun-damn-mentalists) and Evangelicals mistake the “Word of God” for being the Bible.  I, with my Barthian tendencies, affirm that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that the Bible is the “word of God,” in the broad sense.  Yet, in the narrow sense–in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26, for example–the “word of God” is whatever God says in a particular setting.  One of the highlights of Reformed (Christian) theology is the concept of the “book of nature,” by which God also speaks.

In Isaiah 48, Hebrew exiles (in general) were faithless people who swore insincerely and falsely in the name of YHWH.  Their word was not reliable and powerful.  The people were stubborn and prone to commit idolatry.  Yet God’s word was faithful and powerful.  And, as in the Book of Ezekiel, God was faithful not for the sake of the covenant people, but for God’s own sake (48:11):

For My sake, My own sake, I do act–

Lest [My name] be dishonored!

I will not give My glory to another.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

We also read the Babylonian Exile was punishment the population earned, and that God (for God’s own sake) balanced judgment–and mercy–did not destroy the rebellious Hebrews (48:9-11).  We read that the exile was a form of education in the ways of heeding divine commandments (48:17-19).  We read, too, that the Babylonian Exile was about to end (48:20-22).

What I wrote while blogging through the Book of Ezekiel holds.  I still find this self-centered God-concept repugnant.  I understand the cultural-historical context.  I know that Ezekiel and Second Isaiah asserted the sovereignty of God in the context of the widely-held assumption that Marduk and the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pantheon had conquered YHWH in 586 B.C.E.  Yet I am also a Christian.  As one, I affirm the Incarnation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who lived, who breathed, and who dined with people) was God with skin on.  I affirm that the real, flesh-and-blood person, Jesus, being God (however the mechanics of the Incarnation worked) revealed the character of God.  I recall reading in the four canonical Gospels about Jesus healing and feeding people out of compassion and pity, not concerns about burnishing his reputation.

Isaiah 49:1-6 is the Second Servant Song.  The servant speaks.  The servant’s mission predates the servant’s birth.  The servant’s mission is to announce the divine restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH, by YHWH, that the covenant people may be a light to the nations.  Salvation will, therefore, reach the ends of the earth via the covenant people.  As with the First Servant Song, the identity is not a matter of unanimous agreement.  Most likely, as in the case of the First Servant Song, the servant is the covenant people–the exiles, about to be free to go home.  The idea is that the end of the Babylonian Exile will lead to all the (known) world recognizing YHWH.

That prediction proved to overly optimistic.

The covenant people’s mission is to model a just society grounded in divine law.  The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and many culturally-specific examples of those principles.  Legalism results when people mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Context is also crucial, as it always is.  Many people neglect or misunderstand context when interpreting verses and passages.  They mean well, but miss the point(s).  Mutuality, in the context of the recognition of complete dependence on God, informs many of the culturally-specific examples in the Law of Moses.  We human beings are responsible to God, to each other, and for each other.  We have a divine mandate to treat one another accordingly.  Creating and maintaining a society built on that truth is a high and difficult calling.  It is possible via grace and free will.

The prediction of the Jewish homeland as paradise on Earth after the Babylonian Exile also proved overly optimistic.  Dealing with disappointment over that fact was one of the tasks of Third Isaiah (24-27, 56-66).

The people were faithless, but God was faithful.  Martin Luther, counseling practicing, baptized Christians concerned they would go to Hell for their sins, advised them to trust in the faithfulness of God.  he was correct about that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Divine Judgment Against the Nations (Especially Edom), With the Return of the Redeemed Exiles to Zion   3 comments

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 34-35

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The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  I recall, recently, reading Ezekiel 25-32, in which YHWH denounced various Gentile nations for opposing the Jewish people.  I read that same theme in Isaiah 34.  The chapter opens by addressing the nations and peoples of the (known) world.

For the LORD is angry at all the nations,

Furious at all their host;….

–Isaiah 34:2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the fifth verse, however, the focus narrows to Edom, that frequently hostile cousin people of the Hebrews.

I have already read the oracles of divine judgment against Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.

The oracles against Edom in the Book of Obadiah awaits me, after I complete my blogging through Second Isaiah.

For it is the LORD’s day of retribution,

The year of vindication for Zion’s cause.

–Isaiah 34:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Isaiah 34 and 35 contrast the fates of Edom and the Hebrew exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  We read of the destruction of Edom (which happened).  We also read of the renewal and return of Hebrew exiles.  We read of the impending end of the Babylonian Exile.  We read of a reverse exodus, an exodus from Babylon:

And a highway shall appear there,

which shall be called the Sacred Way.

No one unclean shall pass along it,

But it shall be for them.

No traveler, not ever fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,

No ferocious beast shall set foot on it–

These shall not be found there.

But the redeemed shall walk it.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,

And come with shouting to Zion,

Crowned with joy everlasting.

They shall attain joy and gladness,

While sorrow and sighing flee.

–Isaiah 35:8-10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Second Isaiah introduces the themes of the end the Babylonian Exile, the return to the homeland, and the restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH.  These themes, not unique to Second Isaiah, permeate other portions of Hebrew prophetic literature, too.  And they are on the forefront of Second Isaiah.

I also notice the presence of the themes of exile and exodus.  Walter Brueggemann writes that exile and exodus are the two major themes in the Hebrew Bible.

Just as the Hebrew prophetic literature is repetitive, so must I be.  I come to this point by a reading project that has taken me through, in order:

  1. Hosea,
  2. Amos,
  3. Micah,
  4. First Isaiah (1-23, 28-33),
  5. Zephaniah,
  6. Nahum,
  7. Habakkuk,
  8. Jeremiah,
  9. Lamentations, and
  10. Ezekiel.

I am not parachuting into Isaiah 34 and 35.  I do not pretend to know what that balance is or where it should be.  I will not get too big for my theological britches, at least not in that matter.

Neither am I a fundamentalist.  I acknowledge that Second Isaiah and other prophets projected their attitudes onto God some of the time.  As Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, prophets were people, not microphones.  I admit that I project my attitudes onto God.  I confess that I need to know that I do this, and to stop doing that, as much as possible.

I also acknowledge that divine mercy upon and deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors and their allies.  One may describe this in several ways, including divine judgment and karma.  As the Bible teaches, people will reap what they have sown.

Nevertheless, I take no pleasure in the fate of Edom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RALPH MILNER, ROGER DICKINSON, AND LAWRENCE HUMPHREY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1591

THE FEAST OF FRANCES FLORENTINE HAGEN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HEDDA OF WESSEX, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF LEO SOWERBY, EPISCOPAL COMPOSER AND “DEAN OF CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF THOMAS HELMORE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND ARRANGER AND COMPOSER OF HYMN TUNES

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Prophecies During the Syro-Ephraimite War   1 comment

Above:  King Ahaz of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 7:2-9:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 7:1-8:23 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.) constitutes the background of Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Read 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; and 2 Chronicles 28:1-26.  A brief summary of that war follows.

Aram was the chief rival to the Assyrian Empire.  King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.) and King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join this alliance.  Israelite and Aramean forces waged war on Judah and besieged Jerusalem.  They wanted to depose him and replace him with a monarch who would join their alliance.  Ahaz turned to the Assyrian Empire, not God.  The Assyrian Empire conquered parts of Aram and Israel in 732, and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.  Then, in 722 and 720 B.C.E., respectively, the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and Aram.

Isaiah 7:16, often reduced to a prophecy of the birth of Jesus and removed from historical context, is most likely a prediction of the birth of the future king Hezekiah, in historical context.  The young woman (an almah) of 7:14 was of marriageable age.  Almah (not “virgin” in Hebrew) became parthenos (“virgin”) in the (Greek) Septuagint.  New Testament writers who quoted the Hebrew Bible quoted it in Greek, not Hebrew.

“Emmanuel” means “God with us.”  God is with us even when we are not with God.  God is with us even when we pretend to be pious, and thereby weary God (7:10-16).

Recognizing subsequent layers of editing in 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification) ought not to obstruct understanding of messages for today in these verses.  King Ahaz, who had allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, became a vassal of the Assyrian monarch, King Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.).  King Ahaz, despite himself, should have trusted in God.  King Ahaz had gravely erred, and he and his subjects suffered because of his faulty judgment.  (The imagery of shaving “the hair of the feet” in 7:20 refers to pubic hair, by the way; “feet” is frequently a euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible.)  The disgrace of the people in the latter verses of Chapter 7 and throughout Chapter 8 will be great.  Yet a remnant would survive and return from the Babylonian Exile.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Divine fidelity to divine promises does not prevent punishment of populations for violations of the covenant.  That divine fidelity does, however, prevent complete destruction of the Hebrew people for violations of the covenant.

I am a Gentile and a Christian.  I know some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who doubt my Christian bona fides, but I am a Christian.  The covenant with the Jews remains in effect, I contend.  I, as a Gentile, come under a separate covenant, one defined by Jesus.  These Old Testament principles about covenant-related responsibilities apply to Christians, also, via Jesus.  We Christians are a branch grafted onto the tree of faith, and the Jews are, as Pope John Paul II called them, our elder siblings in faith.

These chapters also recognize that people benefit from the good decisions of their rulers and suffer from the bad decisions of their rulers.  The emphasis is on the latter, of course.  Leadership matters.  May those who can choose their leaders, do so wisely, in all places and at all times.  And may all leaders decide wisely, whenever and wherever they are.

God is with us.  We can never escape from the presence of God.  Yet are we with God?  We all benefit from grace.  We all depend upon grace.  How many of us also accept the moral responsibilities that accompany grace?  Grace is free yet not cheap.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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The Superscription of the Book of Hosea   3 comments

Above:  A Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING HOSEA, PART I

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Hosea 1:1

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This post begins an ambitious program of Bible study and blogging.  I, having recently blogged my way through Daniel, Jonah, and Baruch at this weblog, turn to the other books of the Old Testament classified as prophetic.  In the first stage, I am reading and blogging about Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah, all of them contemporaries prior to the Babylonian Exile.

The prophet Hosea (“rescue”) ben Beeri lived and prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  According to Hosea 1:1, Hosea prophesied during the reigns of the following monarchs:

  1. Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26;
  2. Jotham of Judah (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38 and 2 Chronicles 27:1-9;
  3. Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727-715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20, 2 Chronicles 28:1-27, and Isaiah 7:1-8:15;
  4. Hezekiah of Judah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21, 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33, Isaiah 38:1-39:8, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:14; and
  5. Jeroboam II of Israel (r. 788-747 B.C.E.), see 2 Kings 14:23-29.

The list of kings (with dates taken from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition, 2014) does not include any Israelite monarchs who succeeded Jeroboam II through the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.) and were contemporary with King Ahaz of Judah and perhaps King Hezekiah of Judah.  Also, this list prioritizes the Kings of Judah.  If one is intellectually honest (as I try to be), the chronological problem is obvious: Ahaz and Hezekiah do not belong on the list of kings in Hosea 1:1. The Book of Hosea contains layers of composition and editing.  Alteration of the original text seems to have begun perhaps as early as prior to the Babylonian Exile, in the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, and continued (probably) as late as the post-Exilic period.  The chronological discrepancy in Hosea 1:1 is a minor matter.  If I were a fundamentalist, it would trouble me, and I would attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Karen Armstrong tells us:

…fundamentalism is antihistorical….

A History of God:  The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (1993), xx

The NIV Study Bible (1985) pretends that there is no chronological discrepancy in Hosea 1:1.  But I do not affirm either Biblical literalism or inerrancy, so I acknowledge and ponder the evidence of alteration of the original text of the Book of Hosea.  Besides, salvation does not require willful ignorance or a frontal lobotomy.  Besides, giving short shrift to one’s intellect in the name of piety dishonors the image of God in oneself.

The germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) argues for the editing of the original text of the Book of Hosea during the final, declining period of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah:

From the Israelite perspective, the book is anchored in the last period of strength of the Northern Kingdom; from the Judahite perspective, it is anchored in a period in which Israel moves from a political position of strength to the beginning of its demise in the days of Hezekiah.  This double perspective is no mistake, but a rhetorical clue for the reading of the book.

–1132

Gale A. Yee wrote:

The priority of Judean kings suggests a Judean editing.  The phraseology and structure that this verse shares with other prophetic superscriptions indicates that it was part of a joint redaction of the prophetic books.  This editing probably occurred during or after the Babylonian exile, when the latter prophets can be dated.  Moreover, the phraseology is similar to the editing of 1 and 2 Kings, suggesting a deuteronomistic redaction.  The superscription emphasizes that while the revelation was addressed to a particular prophet at a particular historical time, the book in its later, edited state articulates the revealed message of God.  As God’s word through Hosea spoke to its original audience and to its later Judean audience, it continues to address us today.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (1996), 217

The (united) Kingdom of Israel had divided in 928 B.C.E., early in the reign of King Rehoboam, son of King Solomon.  The Davidic Dynasty, which had ruled the (united) Kingdom of Judah since 1005 B.C.E., governed the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, including the tribes of Judah and Simeon, until the Fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.E.).  In contrast, dynasties rose and fell in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  King Jeroboam II (reigned 788-747) belonged to the House of Jehu, which had come to power in a bloody revolution in 842 B.C.E.  Jeroboam II presided over a prosperous and militarily strong realm (2 Kings 14:23-29). Yet, just a quarter-century after his death, the former (northern) Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire.  Those twenty-five years were politically tumultuous.

  • King Zechariah succeeded his father, Jeroboam II, in 747 B.C.E., and reigned for about six months (2 Kings 15:8-12)
  • King Shallum ended the House of Jehu, as well as the life and reign of King Zechariah via assassination in 747 B.C.E.  Shallum reigned for about a month (2 Kings 15:13-16).
  • King Menahem (r. 747-737 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Shallum assassinated (2 Kings 15:17-22).
  • King Pekahiah (r. 737-735 B.C.E.), succeeded his father, King Menahem (2 Kings 15:23-26).
  • King Pekah (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Pekahiah assassinated (2 Kings 15:27-31).
  • King Hoshea (r. 732-722 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Pekah assassinated.  Assyrian King Sargon II (r. 722-705) finished what Shalmaneser V (r. 727-722) had started; Sargon II terminated Hoshea’s reign and the existence of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23).

A note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) suggests:

Because Hosea condemned the house of Jehu, it may be that he fled Israel prior to the revolt [of 747 B.C.E.], continuing to speak from Judah.

That is possible.

God, speaking through Hosea, repeatedly warned the people of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel of the terrors they were about to experience and urged them to restore their covenant relationship with God.  They did not renew that covenant relationship, to their detriment.  Perhaps subsequent editors of the original text of the Book of Hosea amplified these themes, with the benefit of hindsight.  But these editors did not invent them.

Repurposing and revising texts was sufficiently commonplace in Biblical times that finding evidence of it had ceased to surprise me.  For example, some of the Psalms originated at one place and in one period yet went through stages of revision, to fit different contexts.

Dr. Yee’s final point provides my jumping-off point for my conclusion for this post:

…[God’s word] continues to address us today.

Here, “God’s word” refers to what God has said and says.  God’s word is as current today as it was last year, a decade ago, a century ago, a thousand years ago, and in antiquity.  God’s word, although ancient, remains fresh.  Are we paying attention?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GERMANUS I CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND DEFENDER OF ICONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF OSTIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT, CARDINAL, AND LEGATE; AND SAINT DOMINIC OF THE CAUSEWAY, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF PAUL MAZAKUTE, FIRST SIOUX EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROGER SCHÜTZ, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZÉ COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF SYLVESTER II, BISHOP OF ROME

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To Glorify and Enjoy God III   Leave a comment

Above:  Some of My Great-Grandfather’s Sermon Notes, Dated 1905

“Reared in a Christian home.”  Really?

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, 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, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee;

mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 218

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2 Kings 18:1-18

Psalm 114

Acts 20:17-38

Matthew 22:34-36

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Jesus stood within Judaism, not outside of it.  Much of Christian tradition missed that point for a very long time–well into the twentieth century.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, my great-grandfather, the Reverend George Washington Barrett, of the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, preached that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  (I have the notes for that sermon.)  Despite advances in New Testament scholarship along the lines of Jesus being a devout Jew, much Gentile discomfort with “Jesus the Jew,” as Geza Vermes referred to our Lord and Savior in book titles, has persisted.

Jesus seems to have belonged to the school of Rabbi Hillel, based on Matthew 22:34-40.  Our Lord and Savior, quoted the great rabbi, stopping prior to

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Jesus knew the Law of Moses well.

The readings from 2 Kings 18 and Psalm 114 speak of God acting on behalf of the people of Israel.  2 Kings 18 (in its entirety) describes God defending Judah against Assyrian invaders.  Psalm 114 recalls the Exodus from Egypt.

Above:  The Ancient City of Miletus

Image Source = Google Earth

The reading from Acts 20 closes St. Paul the Apostle’s sojourn in Miletus.  He had functioned as an agent of grace to the Christian congregation there for three years.  To spend three years in the company of St. Paul must have been quite an experience.

St. Paul’s parting device at Miletus, combined with the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40, constitute sound advice for any faith community.  That counsel is to love God fully, love neighbors (all people) as one loves oneself, and preserve the truth (in love).  Christianity is a faith in which doctrines matter.  Loving orthodoxy is good; orthodoxy minus love is no virtue.  I am not doctrinaire.  In fact, I fail most doctrinal purity tests spectacularly.  Nevertheless, I insist on at least a few doctrines as being essential.  These include:

  1. The existence of God,
  2. The Holy Trinity,
  3. The jealousy of God,
  4. The sovereignty of God,
  5. The Incarnation,
  6. The crucifixion of Jesus, and
  7. The Resurrection of Jesus.

Keep the faith, in other words, but be sure to do so lovingly.  Doctrine matters, but keeping orthodoxy does not constitute a saving work.

We Christians will do well to remember another fact:  each of us is a heretic, according to many other Christians.  Even fundamentalists of one stripe are heretics, according to fundamentalists of other stripes.  Can we Christians bring ourselves to admit that what we do not know outweighs what we do know?

Besides, we are all heretics, in the light of God.  Much of theology–even classical Christian theology–consists of best guesses.  Ultimate, divine reality exceeds the human capacity for comprehension.

May we mere mortals enjoy and glorify God forever, by grace.  May relatively unimportant doctrinal disputes and differences fall away.  And may we affirm what is essential.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OI, FIRST FEMALE PRIEST IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF GEORGE A. BUTTRICK, ANGLO-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, DAVID G. BUTTRICK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEN UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE POUSSEPIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE DOMINICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE VIRGIN

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF PODLASIE, 1874

THE FEAST OF SAINT SURANUS OF SORA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MARTYR, 580

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Tobit’s Thanksgiving to God   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART X

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Tobit 13:1-14a

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There is much going on in this reading.  Quickly, the Theory of Retribution, prominent in the Book of Tobit, recurs.  So does the Biblical theme of divine judgment and mercy being in balance.  Also, Tobit has two final testaments (Tobit 4:3-21 and 14:3-11), reminiscent of Moses in Deuteronomy 31-32 and 33.  Community and repentance are other evergreen themes.

I am most interested, however, in another aspect of this reading.  Jerusalem (Tobit 1:3-9) returns to the story.  I read the verses about Jerusalem in the Book of Tobit in the context of the Hasmonean rebellion (contemporary or nearly so to the composition of the Book of Tobit), not in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  I detect echoes of Hebrew prophecy and ponder how pious Jews living in the Hellenistic world related prophecy from prior centuries to their present day.  I also wonder if the anonymous author of the Book of Tobit expected the restoration of Jerusalem or wrote after the rededication of the Temple.

The Book of Tobit teaches the importance of faithful community.  Christian fundamentalism tends to be hyper-individualistic.  It teaches Jesus-and-Meism.  The Bible is not hyper-individualistic, though.  No, it teaches mutuality.  I cannot become my best self unless you, O reader, can become your best self, and vise versa.

The purpose of the book[of Tobit] is to move its readers from despair to prayer.

The Catholic Study Bible (1990), RG210

Sinking into despair is easy.  Hoping for better times can seem like setting oneself up for disappointment.  Trusting God can seem like a fool’s errand.  In other words,

Blessed are those who expect nothing;

they will not be disappointed.

Yet the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26), on which that quote riffs, teach lived prayer, not despair.  They teach hope.  They teach trust in God.

So does the Book of Tobit.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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King Nebuchadnezzar II’s Dream of the Composite Statue   Leave a comment

Above:  The Composite Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART II

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Daniel 2:1-49

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The internal chronology of the Book of Daniel goes awry again in 2:1.  One may recall the passage of three years in Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 occurs after the events of Chapter 1.  So, how could the events of Chapter 2 have occurred in the second year of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II?  If I were a fundamentalist, I would try to rationalize that contradiction.  Yet I am not, so I do not.  Instead, I ask myself,

What is really going on here?

This is a story about the sovereignty and power of God.  The courtiers (“Chaldeans”) could not interpret the king’s dream vision.  So, he nearly killed them all, including Daniel and his Judahite friends.  Daniel, by the power of God, provided the correct interpretation.  People continued to live.  Daniel became the governor of the province of Babylonia.  His friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (introduced in Chapter 1 and prominent in Chapter 3) administered the province under Daniel’s guidance.

I have found two proposed lists of the four empires in the dream vision.  They repeat in Chapter 7, the vision of the four beasts.  The first list, in order, is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Median Empire of “Darius the Mede,” a fictional character (Daniel 6, 9, and 11);
  3. the Persian Empire; and
  4. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great.”

The minority, alternative list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Persian Empire;
  3. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great;” and
  4. the Roman Empire.

According to Daniel 6, 9, and 11, “Darius the Mede” conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and preceded King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (reigned 559-530 B.C.E.).  In reality, however, Cyrus II conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.

Anyhow, the bottom line in the dream vision is that, after a sequence of increasingly inferior empires, God would finally inaugurate the fully-realized Kingdom of God on Earth.  This has yet to happen.

Civilizations, nation-states, kingdoms, and empires have risen.  Many have also fallen.

Nothing human lasts forever.  To go full Augustinian on you, O reader, much of that which is temporary (even if long-term) is worthy of love.  But we have an obligation to love God the most.  To love something or someone more than we ought is to take love away from God.  It is to commit idolatry.  We may love our countries, but we should never deify them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL SEABURY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF CONNECTICUT AND PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINTS NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1391

THE FEAST OF PETER WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER; THEODORE FRANCIS WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND JOHN FREDEREICK “J. FRED” WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND CHOIR DIRECTOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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The Food Test   Leave a comment

Above:  Daniel and His Three Friends Refusing the King’s Food

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART I

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Daniel 1:1-21

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The Book of Daniel is an intriguing portion of the Bible.  

  1. Depending on how one defines the canon of scripture, it has either 12 or 14 chapters.  (For the purpose of this series, I have read the long version.)
  2. Most of the book hails from the time of the Hasmonean rebellion, in the second century B.C.E.  Theological developments, historical references, and linguistic clues confirm this conclusion.  Chapters 1-12, except for the Greek additions in Chapter 3, come from the time of the Hasmonean rebellion.  Chapters 13 and 14 are more recent, from either the second or first centuries B.C.E.
  3. The nonsensical internal chronology of the Book of Daniel contradicts ancient historical records and the rest of the Hebrew Bible.  The Book of Daniel is what it is.  It is not history.

So, what is the Book of Daniel? 

  1. It is partially a collection of folklore. 
  2. It is partially a collection of apocalyptic visions. 
  3. It is a book that teaches how to remain faithful to God in the Jewish diaspora during the second and first centuries B.C.E. 
  4. It is a book that affirms many Gentiles. 
  5. In other words, the Book of Daniel is true without being historically accurate.  Truth and accuracy are different concepts.

Daniel 1:1 provides a fixed point within the narrative of the Book of Daniel.  That fixed point is 605 B.C.E., the third year of the reign (608-598 B.C.E.) of King Jehoiakim/Eliakim of Judah.  (For more about King Jehoiakim, read 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; and 1 Esdras 1:39-42.)  Daniel 1:1 also provides the name of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian king, Nebuchadrezzar/Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 B.C.E.).  The chronological problem is that Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E.  If I were a fundamentalist, this would disturb me.  I am not, and it does not.

To quote a spiritual and theological mentor of mine in the 1990s, 

What is really going on here?

What is really going on in Daniel 1?

  1. Daniel and his fellow Judahite servants refused the food King Nebuchadnezzar II offered.  They obeyed the dietary food laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  The young men also thrived on a diet of vegetables and water.
  2. God also granted Daniel and his fellow Judahite servants more intelligence and wisdom than they had already.  The ability to interpret dreams proved crucial in subsequent chapters.
  3. Daniel and his fellow Judahite servants received new names–identities–yet retained their Hebrew identities.

People base their identities on different standards.  This is a choice one needs to make wisely.  Psychologists and experiences tell us that many people cling to ideas that are objectively false and proven to be so.  These people cling to these falsehoods and ignore evidence because admitting error and changing their minds would threaten their egos.  This is a serious problem.  Whatever one does or does not do affects other people.  If, for example, one votes for Candidate A over Candidate B because one clings to ego defenses and ignores objective reality, one may hinder the common good.  Or, if one, acting out of ego defenses, ignores objective reality and refuses to behave responsibly by having one’s children vaccinated, one can cause other people’s children to become ill.  As I type these words during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people believe misinformation, cling to conspiracy theories, and refuse to wear masks in public places.  They endanger themselves and others.  Facts should matter.

I seek to acknowledge objective reality and to act accordingly.  I also seek to follow my own advice regarding the proper basis of human identity.  The sole proper basis of human identity is the image of God; every human being bears it.  For we Christians, the particular shading is that Jesus, whom we profess to follow.  Despite my advice, I continue to found my ego mainly on my education and intellect.  Education and intellect are wonderful.  They are blessings.  I, like St. Paul the Apostle, know what I ought to do and frequently do something else.

Psychological identity is a complicated, frequently treacherous matter.  If we are spiritually wise, we will have a healthy ego, which we will maintain without excluding anyone God includes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

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The Reign of King Hoshea of Israel and the Fall of Samaria   5 comments

Above:  King Hoshea of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XCIX

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2 Kings 17:1-41

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“The end has come upon my people Israel;

I will never again pass by them.

The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”

says the LORD God;

“the dead bodies shall be many;

in every place they shall be cast out in silence.”

–Amos 8:2b-3, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Ahaz of Judah (Reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.)

King Pekah of Israel (Reigned 735-732 B.C.E.)

King Hoshea of Israel (Reigned 732-722 B.C.E.)

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Hoshea son of Elah deposed and killed King Pekah of Israel in 732 B.C.E.  Hoshea went on to become a vassal of King Shalmaneser V (reigned 727-722 B.C.E.) of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.  King Sargon II (reigned 722-705 B.C.E.) added Israel to the empire in 722 B.C.E.  Hoshea died in an Assyrian prison.

Historians and Biblical scholars have long tried to discern who “King So of Egypt” (verse 4) was.  Egyptian records include no such Pharaoh.  We could, of course, be reading a Hebrew version of an Egyptian name.  Furthermore, the relative dating (“in the ____ year of King ____ of ____) complicates the translation of ancient dates to our Gregorian calendar and the B.C.E./C.E. scale.  To make matters more confusing, even within 2 Kings and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, relative dating yields mutually exclusive dates, sometimes within a few verses of each other.  This would bother me if I were a Biblical literalist.  No, I know too much to be a fundamentalist.

2 Kings 17 drives home that the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel resulted mainly from persistent, collective sin.  The chapter also concludes that the fatal sins were baked into the schismatic kingdom from its founding, and that a series of bad kings made matters worse.  All of these arguments were major points of the Deuteronomic History.

We also read the origin of the Samaritan religion.  This information is essential to understanding much subsequent material in the Old Testament and the Gospels.

At the end of 2 Kings 17, Judah remained.  So did hope.  Hezekiah was the King of Judah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GREGOR, FATHER OF MORAVIAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI GABRIELI AND HANS LEO HASSLER, COMPOSERS AND ORGANISTS; AND CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI AND HEINRICH SCHÜTZ, COMPOSERS AND MUSICIANS

THE FEAST OF HALFORD E. LUCCOCK, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDELEINE OF JESUS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF JESUS

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Posted November 6, 2020 by neatnik2009 in 2 Kings 17, Amos 8

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Against a Siege Mentality in Faith and Religion   3 comments

If one has a siege mentality, one should seek to rid oneself of it.

I recall hearing a true story years ago, at either Georgia Southern University or The University of Georgia.  A professor of Latin American history had, in one lesson, referred to abuses in which the Roman Catholic Church was complicit.  A few days later, the department head received an angry telephone call from the mother of one of the students.  The professor had allegedly insulted Roman Catholicism.  His (the professor’s) source had been the Roman Catholic Church, which had acknowledged those sins.  Pope John Paul II had publicly apologized for them.  The Roman Catholic student in question and his mother seemed unaware of this.   The department head understood that the student and his mother had reacted out of a siege mentality.  Being a Roman Catholic in the Bible Belt is not like being a Roman Catholic in many other regions.

I have a way of speaking objectively and dispassionately.  One of the criticisms I have heard of myself over the years is that I am too matter-of-fact.  The criticism seems odd to me.  How are remaining grounded in objective reality and staying calm negative?  I have a long track record of speaking objectively and calmly in classrooms, especially about religious history, and of offending students.  The fault has been with the students and their siege mentalities, not with me.  Some of them, I know, have thought of me as an antitheist.  And I have known myself to be a devout Episcopalian!

In the 1990s, when I was undergraduate at Valdosta State University, I explained a piece of church history to a fellow resident of my dormitory.  I, citing verified historical dates, explained that the Church determined the table of contents of the New Testament.  I was objectively correct.  The other resident took my word for it.  He also took offense.  He asked, “How dare they?”  His Christian fundamentalism had led him to assume that the New Testament had descended from on high, fully formed.  Church history and his religion were incompatible.  As Karen Armstrong has written, fundamentalism is ahistorical.

For the record, the Church did an excellent job of determining the table of contents of the New Testament.  They got it right.  That is my opinion and statement of faith on the subject.

I have also triggered a fundamentalist by pointing out St. Paul’s use of allegorical interpretations of scripture, as well as the presence of Greek philosophy in the New Testament.  I was not being critical of St. Paul or of the Letter to the Hebrews.  Rather, I merely stated objective reality regarding them.

A siege mentality in faith and religion stands in the way between one and the calm recognition of objective reality.  Facts are facts.  Objective reality is what it is.  We can know much of objective reality, given sufficient information.  (Call me an Enlightenment-style modernist if you like; I will accept the compliment.)  And more of us need to reserve outrage for offenses (such as racism, police brutality, etc.) that should make us livid.

Here ends the lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KOSTKA STAROWIEYSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1941

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS CARACCIOLO, COFOUNDER OF THE MINOR CLERKS REGULAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PEORIA THEN TITULAR BISHOP OF SEYTHOLPOLIS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETROC, WELSH PRINCE, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS RAYMOND KELLY, U.S. QUAKER MYSTIC AND PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY

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