Tag Archives: Israel

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible

I no longer find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Pasadena, rather I find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Jerusalem. So why am I here? To engage with a similar sort of project that the AT project is engaged with at Fuller Seminary; I am here to think through the relationship between Scripture, analytic philosophy, and the life of faith.

Jerusalem

On June 12th-23rd a group of Christian and Jewish scholars whose expertise range from biblical studies, to political philosophy, to analytic theology gathered to discuss Yoram Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.

In this book Hazony contends that western culture has made a major mistake in not seeing the Hebrew Bible as a significant philosophical work. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Plotinus’s Enneads are all part of the Western philosophical cannon, but why isn’t the Hebrew bible? Hazony argues the reason this is so is because the Hebrew Bible has been deemed a “work of revelation” as opposed to a “work of reason.”

 

YSSAccording to Hazony the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures are “in fact closer to being works of reason than anything else.” (Hazony, 3) He laments the fact that Western culture, due to Christian influence, has read the reason-revelation-dichotomy into the Hebrew scriptures. This dichotomy, in turn, has affected the standing of Hebrew Scriptures within public spheres. By turning back to conceiving the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of reason, Hazony hopes to restore its standing in public dialogue. Not only does Hazony argue that the Hebrew Scriptures are works of reason, rather he argues that “Hebrew Scriptures can (and should) be read as works of philosophy, with an aim to discovering what they have to say to the broader discourse concerning the nature of the world and the just life for man.” (4)

Hazony’s attempt at constructing a philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures has two major parts, which respectively, make up the structure of his work as an introduction to the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. First, Hazony provides a methodological framework by which we can begin to read the Hebrew Scriptures as works of philosophy. He then proceeds to provide some examples of how the authors of scripture were engaging philosophical discourse. This latter part addresses topics like metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. In addressing such topics, he provides plenty of fodder for further reflection by philosophers and analytic theologians.

Dome of the Rock

Over the next few days I hope to write a bit more about the sort of project Hazony is engaged in, so you can expect a few blogs either on the ideas in the book, or ideas that have come out of this workshop and the conference following the workshop.

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The Herzl Institute – Young Scholars Workshop

Today I got word that I was accepted to be a participant at the Herzel Institute (Jerusalem) Young Scholar’s Workshop and Conference on Revelation at Mt. Sinai:

It is with great pleasure that I am writing to inform you that we are able to offer you a place at our Young Scholars Workshop which will take place in Jerusalem on June 12-22, 2017. The workshop will involve a week of classroom seminars and discussions, visits to key sites in Jerusalem, as well as an international conference at which leading scholars in Jewish Philosophical Theology from around the world will present. Our program includes lunches and informal meetings, and plenty of time to engage others in conversation.

During the workshop, participants will present a 15-20 minute symposium paper in response to reading materials that will be sent out prior to the workshop. The paper will be presented in a classroom seminar for discussion by workshop participants and scholars.

We will be discussing topics such as: “The Bible as Philosophy?” “The Metaphysics of Hebrew Scripture”; “Is the Biblical God Perfect Being?”; “What Does It Mean for God to Speak?”; “Bible as a Tradition of Inquiry”; “Approaching God Through Metaphor”; “God’s Plans, Failures and Alliances”; “Should God Be Our King?”; “Discovering a Name of God”; “Who Makes Things Happen in the Bible?”

I would never have imagined I would be going to Israel for a theological conference, let alone have the expenses covered by a scholarship. This is such an amazing opportunity. If you are wondering what the Herzl Institute is, here is some info:

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The Herzl Institute will serve as a hub of collaboration, research and joint learning for Jewish scholars, clergy, lay leadership and students who seek better answers to the challenges ahead through a more rigorous engagement with the riches of Hebrew Scripture and rabbinic sources.

The Herzl Institute welcomes the participation of Christian and other non-Jewish scholars and students who see the sources of Judaism as offering an opportunity for foundational renewal within the context of their own nations and faith traditions. The Herzl Institute will conduct an array of intensive outreach activities, including public events, publications, and new media platforms aimed at bringing the fruits of its work to a broad public in Israel and abroad.

Does Karl Barth Hold to a Version of Penal Substitution?

It’s a sort of tricky question. How does Barth understand Penal Substitution? I was once told that Barth definitely saw PSA in Isaiah, but that he believed that it is not taught in the New Testament. The debate sort of rages on – does Barth have some version of Penal Substitution? And if he does how does it differ from typical evangelical versions of PSA? And if he doesn’t – can Barth be a resource for formulating a version of PSA? These are all important questions.

In his recent book Faith, Freedom, and the Sprit, Paul Molnar addresses a passage which I believe hints at some sort of version of PSA in Barth. But I will let you decide for yourself:

Barth always stresses that Jesus acts both divinely and humanly so that we never have simply a human or divine being in Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us “is of course, a human action –but in and with the human action it is also a divine action, in which… the true and effective sacrifice is made” (IV/1, p.280)

Up until this point there is nothing that would hint at PSA. All that is being explicated is that atonement happens in both directions – it comes from God and Man. Molnar goes on to say:

In Jesus we see the true meaning of suffering and death. While there was suffering and death in Israel, in Jesus these become “the work of God himself” (IV, p.175)

At this point there is nothing surprising here. Atonement is being explained as the death of death. Sin and guilt and death themselves are put to death on the cross. Nothing (yet) about Jesus being punished. All that we know at this point is that the Son exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel in its suffering.

Now here stuff gets tricky:

“The Son of God in his unity with man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God” (IV/1, p.175)

Molnar says that “As such he suffers Israel’s suffering as “children chastised by their Father”; in him God entered the vicious circle of human suffering allowing the divine sentence to fall on himself… “He, the electing eternal God, willed himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man” (IV/1, p.177).

Molnar seems to think that the suffering of Christ is in solidarity (some form of substitution) with humanity under the hand of God. This constitutes the act of sacrifice. If Molnar is right (which I think he might be), then we have an interesting take on Barth’s PSA.

Who is Paul Talking About in Romans 7?

This past week in my class on Romans and Galatians my students answered the following prompt:

Who do you believe Paul is talking about in the famous passage in Romans 7:7-25? Provide reasons and evidence for your answer (see Kruse commentary, 314-21).

This weekend, Preston Sprinkle (Professor & Vice-President of Eternity Boise) addressed this same issue on his blog. Its an insightful blog post, and I would highly recommend reading it. Here is a short excerpt of his post (see the link to the whole blog below…)

John Piper just gave a presentation at the Desiring God conference, where he argued (in part of his talk) that Romans 7 (specifically vv. 14-25) describes a believer rather than an unbeliever. And as much as I love John Piper and side with him on most theological points, I think his interpretation here is wrong. [See now this blog by Adrian Warnock, who also attended the session.] Let me first address some of his arguments and then lay out why I believe the text makes the “believer” interpretation very difficult.

First, Piper points out that the person in question “delight[s] in the Law of God, in my inner being” (7:22) and he argues that an unbeliever does not delight in the Law of God. But actually, a first-century Jew would most absolutely delight in the “Law of God” (= the Law of Moses). Circumcision, food laws, observing the Sabbath—what first century Jew would not delight in these things? (Remember, Paul is addressing those who “know the Law;” cf. 7:1). The phrase “Law of God” is not talking about just general obedience to God, but specifically the Law of Moses. The problem Paul addresses here is not lack of allegiance to Moses’ Law, but the lack of deliverance provided by the old covenant Law.

Read the rest of Preston’s blog post here.

The Eclipse of the Old Testament

This week in my Hebrews class we were studying chapter 7, focusing on how the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament (specifically the story of Melchizedek) to make Christological point. I asked the students the following question:

How do we understand the importance of the Old Testament even though in one sense it has been eclipsed by the full revelation of God found in Christ?

Let me share a quote with you from systematic theologian, T.F. Torrance, that I has shaped my own answer to that question.

There are structures of Biblical thought and speech found in the Old Testament which have permanent value both for the New Testament and the Christian Church…they provide the New Testament revelation with the basic structures which is used in the articulation of the Gospel, although the structures it derived from Israel were taken up and transformed by Christ.

Among these permanent structures let me refer to the Word and Name of God, to revelation, mercy, truth, holiness, to messiah, saviour, to prophet, priest and king, father, son , servant, to covenant, sacrifice, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, atonement, and those basic patterns of worship which we find set out in the ancient liturgy or in the Psalms. It was indeed in the course of the Old Testament revelation that nearly all the basic concepts we Christians use were hammered out by the Word of God on the anvil of Israel. They constitute the essential furniture of our knowledge of God even in and through Jesus.

All that to say that it is only through the Old Testament that we come to understand the full significance of who Jesus Christ is and what his life, death, and Resurrection mean for us. Without the Old Testament we would have to try to understand Christ through the patterns of our own cultures. The result would be a Jesus who who is not tied to any permanent and authoritative pattern of understanding. It would be a Jesus who isn’t grounded in history.

Book Review – Warfare in the Old Testament by Boyd Seevers

For most people reading history books is something you have to do, not something you want to do. I am not one of those people. I love history – I especially love historical theology; nevertheless I have always had a hard time with Ancient Near Eastern History. I love ANE literature, mythology, etc. but I have a lot of trouble with ANE history. If I am ever asked to speak about ANE backgrounds I always go straight to stories and myths. This book, Warfare in the Old Testament, contains no such thing. It is pure history yet its history presented in a unique way.

In this book Boyd Seevers, professor of Old Testament at University of Northwestern St. Paul, seeks to describe the military practices of “David, Joshua, other Israelites as well as those of the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, and others known from the Old Testament.” He uses textual and physical evidence from ANE cultures to describe their military practices.

The book is broken up in a pretty straightforward manner – treating various cultures:

  •   Chapters 1-2: Israel
  •   Chapters 3-4: Egypt
  •   Chapter 5: Philista
  •   Chapter 6-7: Assyria
  •   Chapter 8: Babylon
  •   Chapter 9: Persia

The treatment of each of these nations begins with a piece of historical fiction describing what it might look like for a soldier to participate in a historical battle. These sections are probably the most memorable sections (if students read this book this will likely be their favorite parts). The fact that he tells history in narrative form isn’t necessarily unique (you can think of various other NT scholars who have tried to teach NT Backgrounds through historical fiction), but it sure is effective.  Having a vivid picture of what each culture’s military practices looks like will help students learn more than if they were just told what their military practices were.

I was always told when it comes to writing – Show don’t tell! Seevers doesn’t simply tell us about ANE battle practices, he shows us their battle practices.

After the historical fiction, Seevers describes the historical background for the nation, then its military organization, weaponry, and tactics. The book is filled with illustrations (often taken from ancient documents, pottery, engravings, etc. ). Again this helps the reader to “see” what warfare was like in the ANE instead of simply hearing what its like.

So you might be wondering, do I recommend this book and to whom do I recommend it?

The answer to that first question is, absolutely yes! Interesting books on basic ANE backgrounds and culture are hard to find. Now if you look for books on ANE warfare you will be even more hardpressed to find interesting options. Most of those books will probably be academic monographs or published dissertations that focus on some obscure battle, nation, or period. Yet this book’s scope is wide – it provides basic information for many of the major players in the ANE during biblical times. But just because it is basic that doesn’t mean that its shallow. For instance, Seevers devotes an entire section to Israelite helmets and another section to battle tactics against cities and that is just his treatment of Israel. Assyria also receives a good amount of attention. His treatment of Assyrian short-range weapons is extensive and filled with plenty of diagrams showing what these weapons might have looked like. All this to say – as a history book I recommend it. So who is it for? It certainly is not for anybody well versed in Warfare in the Old Testament – there isn’t much original research in this book; but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would recommend this book to two people: 1) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible teachers and 2) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible students. This would make a fantastic text book, it would also be great for students doing research on ANE culture.  So if you are looking for a textbook for an Ancient Near Eastern Culture or Old Testament Backgrounds class this is the book for you!

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Kregel and was under no obligation to give it a positive review.)

Atonement (Part 5): A Wright Account of the Atonement

Today we wrap up our series on the Atonement as well as our mini-series on a Wrightian account of Penal Substitutionary Atonement….

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Atonement and Substitution

According to the Old Testament, exile is the punishment for sin. Thus a return from exile must mean that sin has been forgiven. If death at the hands of the powers and principalities is the exile that Israel, represented by Jesus, has gone through then resurrection means that Israel has been vindicated and has come out of exile. The resurrection of Jesus means that Israel’s sins have been atoned for.

What does this mean for us today? It means that those who are united with Christ, have vicariously gone through the exile with Jesus himself.  First, those who are united with Christ no longer have to face the consequences for sin. Secondly, in Christ the powers and principalities have been defeated thus they do not have victory over those who are in Christ. Third, it also means that those who are in Christ have vicariously experienced death (this is displayed in baptism).

What does it mean to be united to Christ? We might explain this metaphysically as it has often been done in the Reformed tradition (think Jonathan Edwards), or we might explain it in terms of being “legally” grafted into Israel. However, in explaining it in terms of being a part of Israel, we must be careful to avoid politicized understandings of Israel. We should understand Israel as God’s people, those who are descendants of Abraham, those who have the faith of Abraham.  Thus in virtue of being God’s people, through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, our sins are atoned for.

Conclusion

I would like to end with what I believe are some important strengths of this theory. First, it is rooted in the Reformed tradition of penal substitutionary atonement: Jesus is our substitute taking on the penalty for our sins. Second, it takes seriously the narrative of scripture, especially the covenantal relationship between God and his people and the importance of themes exile and deliverance within the scriptures. Third, it takes seriously the fact that Israel, as called through Abraham, was God’s plan for rescuing creation after the fall. This theory encourages us keep Israel central in redemptive history. Finally, it takes seriously the doctrine of union with Christ.

These four strengths, its keeping with the commitments of a Reformed evangelical atonement theory, and the fact that we can avoid a distorted picture of God makes it seem as though Wright’s Christology and understanding of Scripture provide fruitful ground for thinking about the atonement. Hopefully through this theory, in addition to the other ones within the “kaleidoscope” will provide helpful ways for articulating God’s redeeming and rescuing love for humanity.