Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bibliography 2010-2011

Here's an abridged bibliography of most of the books I've read or cited since starting school (so from September 2010 through the end of June 2011). I'm leaving out all the myriad journal articles I've read, many small snippets of books, most language and reference works I've read or consulted, internet resources, ancient stuff (i.e., Scripture, apocrypha, pseudepigripha, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.), and so on. For most of this I've read at least half. I was going to write something short on each of these, but this list is so long, I've thought better of it! Instead, I've put *s next to those that are particularly entertaining, important, or outstanding. Here's some of it:

*Aland, K., and B. Aland. The Text of the New Testament, Rev. and Exp. Eerdmans

Anderson, H. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976.

Barrett, C. K. The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition. London: SCM Press, 1947.

*Blackwood, Algernon. The Willows.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Bӧcher, O. Christus Exorcista: Dӓmonismus und Taufe im Neuen Testament. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1972.

*Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Fortress

*Bovati, Pietro. Re-Establishing Justice: Legal Terms, Concepts and Procedures in the Hebrew Bible, translated by M. J. Smith. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994.

Brenner, A. and C. Fontaine (eds.). The Song of Songs: Feminist Companion to the Bible (Second Series). Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

*Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday

Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 1-39. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Bultmann, Rudolf. History of the Synoptic Tradition. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

*Calvin, John. Selections from Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Chambers, Robert. The King in Yellow.

Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

_____. Isaiah. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

*Collins, Adela Yarbro. Mark: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.

*Collins, John J. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

*_____. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature Eerdmans

*Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God

*Counter-Reformation documents.

Crenshaw, James. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, 3rd Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

*Davies, W. D. and D. C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Vol. 2: Matthew 8-18. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991.

*Davis, Ellen. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Donahue, J. R. and D.J. Harrington. The Gospel of Mark. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002.

Doorly, William J. Isaiah of Jerusalem: An Introduction. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist, 1992.

*Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of the Apostle Paul. Eerdmans

_____. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge

Eissfeldt, Otto. The Old Testament: An Introduction, translated by P. Ackroyd. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

English Reformation documents.

Ehrman, Bart. God’s Problem.

Emmerson, Ralph Waldo. Various writings.

Erman, Adolf. The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, translated by A. Blackman. London: Methnen, 1927.

Evans, Christopher. Saint Luke. Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1990.

*Exum, J. Cheryl. Song of Songs: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity.

Finlan, Stephen. The Apostle Paul and the Pauline Tradition.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV. Garden City: Doubleday, 1985.

Fox, Michael V. The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1985.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion.

Garrett, Duane. “Song of Songs.” Song of Songs/Lamentations. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Gnilka, J. Das Evangelium nach Markus, Volume 1. Zürich: Benzinger, 1978.

*Goldingay, John E. Daniel. Dallas: Word, 1989.

_____. Isaiah. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.

*Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2 vols. Harper

Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982.

*______. Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Harrington, D. J. The Gospel of Matthew. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991.

*Hasel, Gerhard F. The Remnant: The History and Theology of the Remnant Idea from Genesis to Isaiah. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press, 1972.

Hayes, J. H. and C. R. Holladay. Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook.

Horrell, David G. An Introduction to the Study of Paul. T&T Clark

*James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Juel, D. H. Mark. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991.

Kaiser, Otto. Isaiah 13-39: A Commentary, translated by R. A. Wilson. Philadelphia:Westminster Press, 1974.

_____. Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary, translated by J. Bowden. Second Edition. Philadelphia:Westminster Press, 1983.

Keel, Othmar. The Song of Songs. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1984.

Kingsbury, Jack D. The Christology of Mark’s Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

*Kümmel, W. G. Introduction to the New Testament, Rev. and Exp. Abingdon

Lane, William. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974.

Leclerc, Thomas. Yahweh is Exalted in Justice: Solidarity and Conflict in Isaiah. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.

*Longman, Tremper, III. Song of Songs. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.

*Lovecraft, H. P. Various stories.

*Lundbom, Jack. The Hebrew Prophets: An Introduction.

*Luther, Martin. On Christian Liberty, other writings.

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8-20: A Commentary, translated by J. E. Crouch. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.

Mack, B. L. and V. K. Robbins. Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels. Sonoma: Polebridge Press, 1989.

*Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978.

Matthews, Victor. Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods.

McKnight, Edgar. What is Form Criticism?

*Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume One: The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Menzies, Robert P. The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991.

Miscall, Peter D. Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

_____. Isaiah. Second Edition. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006.

Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Munro, Jill M. Spikenard and Saffron: A Study of the Poetic Language of the Song of Songs. Sheffield, UK:Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

*Murphy, Roland. The Song of Songs: a Commentary on the Book of the Canticles or The Song of Songs. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.

Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986.Pesch, R. Das Markus Evangelium, Volume 1. Freiburg: Herder, 1976.

Perkins, Pheme. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Eerdmans

Perrin, Norman. What is Redaction Criticism?

Pope, Marvin H. Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday, 1977.

*Powell, Mark Alan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey.

Premnath, D. N. Eighth Century Prophets: A Social Analysis. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2003.

*Radical Reformation documents.

Roetzel, Calvin. The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context, 5th edition.

Russell, D. S. The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic: 200 B.C. – A.D. 100. Louisville:Westminster John Knox, 1964.

*Sanders, E. P. and M. Davies. Studying the Synoptic Gospels. London: SCM Press, 1989.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Various writings.

Schnelle, Udo. Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology. Baker

Schwab, George M. The Song of Songs’ Cautionary Message Concerning Human Love. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2002.

Scott, Bernard Brandon. Re-Imagining the World. Polebridge

Soggin, J. Alberto. Introduction to the Old Testament, 3rd edition. Westminster John Knox

*Stendahl, Krister. Paul Among Jews and Gentiles. Fortress

Stivers, R. L., et al. Christian Ethics: A Case Method Approach.

*Sweeney, Marvin A. Isaiah 1-39, With an Introduction to Prophetic Literature. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Telford, W. R. The Theology of the Gospel of Mark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Tripolitis, Antonia. Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age.

Tuckett, Christopher (ed.). The Messianic Secret. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Twelftree, G. H. Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1993.

*Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Zondervan

*Wildberger, Hans. Isaiah 1-12, translated by T. H. Trapp. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

*_____. Isaiah 13-27, translated by T. H. Trapp. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Wogaman, J. P. and D. M. Strong (eds.) Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook.

*Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.

*_____. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. Westminster John Knox

*_____. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Fortress

*_____. Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision. IVP

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mormonism: A Short Historical Write-Up

Mormonism is an American-born religious movement that arose out of the general religious ferment of the American 1800s, which involved much creativity and bucking of religious traditions and a turn to creative, new, yet non-standard interpretations of the Bible and Christian doctrine and a distinct emphasis on prophecy. Out of this general milieu arose groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and, initially as an import, the theological system of Dispensationalism. Out of all the many groups that coalesced during this time, the Mormons have definitely been one of the best organized, fastest-growing, and most influential, both religiously and politically (and increasingly marketing themselves as more and more mainstream, whatever their theological idiosyncrasies, in order to gain broader acceptance and to shake off feelings of discomfort that have been associated with them and their particularities).
One can see Mormonism as, in effect, a combined unity of two religious systems. One system, which is more embodied in the teachings of the Book of Mormon and most closely resembles traditional Christian teachings, is very similar to that of a standard Protestant church and is the form Mormonism took in its earliest days before it took on further developments under Joseph Smith and then under future prophetic leaders. This system is that of the local church, or stake, and involves going to church on Sundays for worship and moral instruction as well as the administration of the rites of baptism and communion, which are involved in granting salvation, which requires repentance in baptism and also faith.
The local church, then, represents a Protestant-like religious system focusing on the earthly life and on the procurement of salvation. Particularly Mormon teachings are not as common as general ethical exhortation and teaching from the Bible and hence this religious system is not, and may not seem to many Mormons who have not gone beyond it, to be really all that different from what other Christians do or believe. Mormon missionaries, in particular, tend to stress this system when evangelizing others, trying to avoid most of the particularities associated with the temple system which I will turn to next, and instead trying to present Mormonism as really just another church but one that has now got some things going for it that others do not (a living prophet, for instance). Focusing on this system, they say things such as that they “believe the same things” or “believe the same gospel” that other Christians do and focus, out of all their writings, on the Book of Mormon which well-represents the Mormon version of this sort of religious system.
As time went on, however, another sort of system was laid on top of the Protestant-like system by Joseph Smith and his successors. The salvation-oriented system of the local stake was but the beginning foundation for a much more glorious system oriented towards the exaltation of Mormons – that is, towards their being made into gods in their right just like the Father himself. Salvation, in this system, is merely one of the prerequisites to gain the chance to get one’s foot in the door. Exaltation is the real goal for the whole Mormon religious structure and the exaltation-oriented structure focused on and in the temple as opposed to the stake is the means for achieving it.
This temple system represents a kind of mystery religion, complete with esoteric knowledge and secret rituals designed to secure through the ritual power unleashed thereby the exaltation of the individuals so involved. Mormons who hope to participate in all of this have to meet certain stringent requirements and perform a number of different rituals at various discrete times in the temple before they can be guaranteed godhood. Mormons who have not been or cannot yet be involved in the temple and its uses of religious power may know little to nothing about it or the theological ideas associated with it, particularly given the secrecy and sacredness associated with the whole system.
To be exalted, Mormons must get married in an eternal marriage in the temple, which means that husband and wife will be able join together as gods and start the whole process of creation-fall-redemption-exaltation again with their own spirit children just as God the Father and his heavenly spouse have done with their own spirit children – a process God the Father himself has undergone in a process of embodiment-exaltation, having himself achieved godhood from a lower state. Creation, fall, and redemption are just part of a continuing process developing spirits from their initial states and into full godhood. This process required embodiment, which inevitably brings sin, which requires redemption, and which thereby provides an initial foundation on which to build and acquire final exaltation. Sin and the Fall, then, in this system were parts of the plan in order to turn spirit-children into gods. Christ was simply one of the spirit-children who volunteered and was chosen to carry out that redemption prior to the plan’s implementation, a very different Christ than the traditional Christian one and ultimately a very different system of religion as well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Schleiermacher: A Short Historical Write-Up

With the advent of Enlightenment ways of thinking, many people in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s day were eager to abandon religion as so much superstition. The new ways were better – science and reason, unencumbered by the supernatural, religious tradition, or ritual, were to reign supreme as the only paths to truth in regards to the world and how we ought to live in it. Religion was no longer seen as a viable authority regarding either of these areas. Secular science, ethics, philosophy, and other pursuits of empirical study and reason unaided by special revelation were the authorities now. Against this climate, Schleiermacher insists on the indispensability of religion and himself affirms the Christian religion in particular as having a proper place alongside science and other such pursuits.
Schleiermacher, however, is not unaffected by the intellectual climate he is taking on. Rather than undermining all the crucial presuppositions of such an atmosphere, he instead makes just enough room to fit Christianity inside it in some form or other, letting what does not, at the end of this process, fit inside, fall out or get reinterpreted. Religion, in order to fit it into the schema of various intellectual pursuits, each with differing and seemingly discrete domains of authority, is a pursuit whose subject is reduced to a mere feeling or consciousness of a kind of dependence on the divine. All doctrine, to be legitimate (or perhaps even meaningful?), requires a foundation in this very consciousness. So distinct is this expression of the consciousness of dependence on God that, were it in a body of doctrine to be rendered exact, the statements making up this body would not or could not overlap in meaning with those appearing in philosophy or some other subject. It is simply a mistake to think that, once religious language is cleaned up and logically ordered, that it will be able to affirm or deny any proposition expressed in the language of one of the other subjects. True Christian doctrine, then, rightly understood, has no quarrel with the science or philosophy of those who would despise it.
In this particular line of thought, Schleiermacher’s views of religion and religious language are in the same general stream as those of the later logical positivists and other similar sorts of later empiricists who questioned whether religious language had any meaning at all, some indeed affirming that it did have meaning but only in virtue or its connections with religious feelings or attitudes rather than through any sort of correspondence with some kind of a supernatural or metaphysical external reality. That such views were able to hold sway in many philosophy departments (and among some theologians) is undoubtedly due in part to the influence of Schleiermacher and others coming from his general intellectual climate. Only with the dramatic Anglo-American resurgence of metaphysics in the third quarter of the twentieth century and the simultaneous collapse of logical positivism and extreme empiricism with it, did such views of religion and religious language in philosophical circles cease to be any kind of dominant or even major view.
One at times sees vestiges of such views, however, expressed by some (definitely not all) more progressive religious people, in part often also channeling seemingly the old religious Liberalism of which Schleiermacher is one of the primogenitors. When one thinks about the implications of such a view of religion or religious language fully applied, however, it is hard to see how it could possibly do justice to the various religious traditions which populate our world. It is not easy to see how every religion can be reduced to at bottom a kind of feeling of dependence or seeing the finite in its relation to the infinite without either excising or at least doing violence to the beliefs or practices of some religions or introducing foreign elements into it which were not already there to be found. Religious language and all the doctrines and dogmas of the various religions ultimately turn into a mere expression or discussion of our own feelings. Rather than focused, say, on God, our God-talk is, despite appearances, focused on ourselves. We do not worship God – rather, we express our feelings and call it “worship of God”. Taken to its logical conclusion, such a view ultimately pushes God, the supernatural, and religious claims to factual truth aside and leaves us instead with a kind of consciousness without any correspondence to any sort of external divinity or divine reality, only us, our consciousness and the empirical world all around. The factual content of Christianity has been gutted, and Christianity along with it, leaving only an empty form of words to be refilled with what we may like from our own experiences.
From the readings, however, it does not seem like Schleiermacher was completely consistent nor did he realize the full implications of the path on which he was taking Christian theology. At times he does seem to think that God really is a separate entity external to us, existing over and above our experiences and that we can really say factually true things about this God – things that correspond to the way the world is outside of us – not merely express our feelings. He seems to think, for instance, that there is some sort of real survival beyond death watched over by a real God who has real effects on real people – and that this is a basis for a real hope or comfort over those who have died. Others have followed Schleiermacher in this inconsistent mixture of an apparently emotive view of religious language and yet at times being committed to its opposite. When seen consistently for what it is, however, without the admixture of what is inconsistent with it, it is hard to see the plausibility in such a view (and hence why it has fallen on better days in philosophical circles).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reformation for Women: A Short Historical Write-Up

During the time of the Reformation, there was a definite strain within the religious climate which seemed to have definitely negative views towards sex, even within the confines of marriage, and the body in general. This was particularly troublesome for women, as they tended to be associated with the bodily side of the dichotomy between body and mind or spirit and hence also with sex and sin as well. In part, this may have been a holdover from certain Gnostic influences which crept into the church, viewing the body and bodily matters as bad. But it also may be in part a result of the Stoic influence on the church (which is readily visible in, for instance, Boethius, whose work became very influential in the Middle Ages), emphasizing escape from the sufferings of the world through detachment from desires and happiness being found in what was internal and inviolable alone.
Add to these influences the monastic, ascetic strain in Christianity which, when Christianity became popular and filled with nominal believers, sought to display a greater devotion and higher degree of being set apart through extreme asceticism and self-denial. Reactions against pagan sexual excess probably had their fair share of influence as well. Given all of these influences, it is not surprising that many church leaders, who followed in the footsteps of these very influences and in principle followed a highly ascetic ideal, should at times display highly negative attitudes towards the body, sex, and, by extension, women.
All of this, of course, was in tension with the anti-Gnostic position of the church on the goodness of the material creation, the goodness of the body and sex, and the view that body and mind alike displayed sin (one finds such attitudes in Augustine, for instance, who argued that sex was part of God’s good, pre-Fall creation intent for humankind). One can see some of the Reformers such as Luther making a return to re-emphasize these historic views over and against the overly ascetic, monastic strain dominating the religious hierarchical scene. Sex, body, and marriage are all seen as good things created by God, part of his very good created order.
Things were obviously still not all roses, however. Female sexuality could still often be seen as especially dangerous in comparison to male, the idea being that females, often even unwittingly, lead otherwise pious men astray into sexual sin. The problem here seems to be a combination of a double standard coupled with male abdication of responsibility in their own sexual lives (passing the buck, as it were, onto the women much as Adam did with Eve). The men were not so bad since, after all, it was the women’s fault!
There was an even greater double standard in relation to sexual relationships outside of marriage. Males were not, in society, frowned on as much as women were they to engage in such relations. Women, meanwhile, could be considered “damaged goods” and exceedingly wicked. A number of factors probably contribute to this, including the desire to ensure the legitimacy of male heirs which attaches directly to female but not to male sexual expression as well as the fact that the males were in charge and hence were more likely to give themselves or other men a free pass in this arena than to do the same outside of their own gender group.
If we filter out the double standards and scapegoating, however, it seems like overall that folks like Luther actually achieved, in theory at least, a rather nice balance between the goodness of sex and the body, on the one hand, and, on the other, the realization that, like all human desires, sexual ones can be corrupted by sin and ought to be pursued within their proper, God-given bounds. In the past fifty years, we have seen a much greater emphasis on the former but also, with the sexual revolution, a loss in many areas of the church of the latter. In the rush to be rid of sexism, patriarchy, double standards, and so on, it seems that many church leaders and laity have thrown out the sexual discipline baby with the patriarchal, overly ascetic bathwater.
The balance has been lost (if we ever fully had it), some in response overreacting in the opposite direction, making sex again a taboo, others embracing sex yet casting off restraint, with sex and sexuality becoming almost an idol, thus contributing to the increase in our society of things like pornography and radical sexual expression, sexual peer pressure, the sexualization of younger and younger girls, the breakdown of family relations and the rise in the number of broken homes and “deadbeat dads”, the increase in the incidence of STDs along with teenage pregnancies and abortions, and so on.
The historic balance the church has always struggled with and yet has in one form or another always been committed to, seems to be the goodness of sex and body (and women!) but with the ethical view that sexual relations have a proper place within certain confines. Either one without the other, it could be argued (though obviously many will disagree) is not a happy thing. Though we may argue about which by itself is worse (some more Fundamentalist groups might argue that it is better to have the latter by itself than the former), it would be better to retain that balance between the goodness of a thing along with a recognition of moral constraints on it which is so essential to ethical thinking in general, let alone religious.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Radical Reformation: A Short Historical Write-Up

The Reformation seems to have been, at least in part, about authority. Whereas Rome insisted on a kind of spiritual authoritarianism, with priests over laypeople and so on up the hierarchy, with authority residing in the offices and institutional structure itself, the Reformers saw spiritual authority as resting to some extent more with the individual directly under God (every believer is a priest, even if not called to administer the Word and sacrament). And rather than tradition working with and interpreting Scripture, the Reformers tended to see Scripture alone as the authority, with each individual having the potential requisite authority to interpret it for themselves.
The Radical Reformation, in a way, takes this emergent subversion of traditional authority and hierarchies and runs with it. The Spiritualists, for instance, completely unshackle authority from the confines of institution and tradition and put it squarely in the active work of the Spirit. Authority, here, comes not from some office or church structure but rather belongs to the Spirit and is communicated through visions, prophecies, spiritual experiences, and other charismatic gifts and signs. Spontaneity and the leading of the present Spirit and the internal word communicated through that selfsame Spirit take preeminence alongside or even in place of structure and the external word or church doctrine. The teaching of one like Luther who lacks the dramatic signs and gifts of the Holy Spirit is inherently suspect since it is hard to say therefore that it is the derived from the Spirit, from which authority flows.
Such a movement provides a kind of precursor for the at-times anti-intellectual, anti-preparation or structure (and sometimes even anti-theology) charismatic movements of the past century. But it also provides the precursor for some of the many various cults which have and still do crop up in the twentieth and twentieth-first century today, which are given to unquestioning following a charismatic leadership who appear to the followers to be possessed of an intense kind of spiritual communion and experience with God or the Holy Spirit. Given that the leaders speak the very internal words given by God and that such words are delivered supposedly as a result of a charismatic, miraculous gifting rather than merely through some kind of rigorous academic sifting and training, the followers are encouraged to listen to what the Spirit or God now says through the leaders rather than spending time sifting or thinking for themselves. Words of authority are derived through the Spirit, not through critical thinking or searching of the Scriptures unaided by dramatic spiritual intervention.
The foregoing describes many sorts of cults, but it also describes what in fact happened with some Spiritualist groups during the Reformation period. When leaders’ prophecies did not come true, it did not necessarily at first faze anyone or make anyone doubt the giftings or callings of the leadership, who seemed to be speaking the very words of God given to them through the activity of the Holy Spirit at work in their persons. This led to some violent groups, led by their leaders and seemingly hence by God, attempting to establish the kingdom of God on earth by the sword – groups who were quickly crushed and many of whose remaining followers became quickly disillusioned and left to join more pacifistic groups belonging to the Radical Reformation.
This shows us something about the dangers and opportunities facing our churches even today. If the opposite of a Spiritualist view of authority can be deadening, lifeless, or soul-destroying – devoted to doctrine or external things over real spiritual experience or any sort of dynamic relationship with God, too rigid, resistant to change, spontaneity, the Spirit, or official recognition of the giftings of individuals for the body of Christ – then Spiritualism itself has its own opposite dangers – devoted to experience searching for the next high over any real honoring of God with the mind, too chaotic, resistant to order or the wisdom of planning ahead, and so on. Ironically, in its rejection of a traditional authoritarianism, some of these Spiritualists swung all the way back around to the same place again and put themselves under a different kind of authoritarian leadership but still an authoritarian leadership nonetheless. Putting things back into an emphasis on the individual directly in communion with or under God rather than being under the authority of the institutional church and those higher up in the hierarchy ironically led for some to once again be under the authority of a different sort of hierarchy, one founded on charisma rather than something else.
For churches today, the lesson is to try to avoid the dangers associated with the extremes. The more a church leans towards the institutionalized, traditional sort of setup, the more it needs to be careful lest it stifle or straight-jacket the spiritual process going on in the community or in its members. And the more a church leans towards the “Spirit-led”, contemporary sort of setup, the more it needs to be careful lest it stifle or straight-jacket clear thinking or wise planning. And both need to avoid the dangers of abuse of authority inherent along this entire continuum of ways of doing church. Though views and models of authority differ, the same danger attends each one, though perhaps in different guises.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Luther: A Short Historical Write-Up

For my History of Christianity II class I took this past semester, we had to write a series of short write-ups on various subjects. I thought I might share some of these (which, as you might be able to tell, I did not in fact proofread). The first I did was on Luther:

The connection between Luther’s soteriology and his religious experience seems, unsurprisingly, to be reminiscent of Augustine’s, at least in certain respects. Both had profound experiences of the depths of their own sin and unworthiness before God – their own inability to come to God on their own power – and developed a soteriology correspondingly focused on the grace of God as sole initiator of salvation. Luther’s slightly different context, though, resulted in some different emphases. In a system of religious thought where the view was that one, in addition to God’s grace, had to perform meritorious works in cooperation with that grace in maintaining and earning a place in heaven, Luther correspondingly focused on faith alone as what sustains, all merit or requirements having been taken care of on our behalf by Christ (Luther seems to have a view similar to what I have seen among many Reformed thinkers, that of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, whereby Christ’s meritorious work is imputed to us on conversion). Christ has done all the work for us and has died on our behalf to take care of our sins and all that is left for us to cling to on our own side is faith in Christ and trusting in this great work whereby we are counted righteousness and he is counted sinful on the cross.
As Luther works out these ideas, it basically explodes the Medieval system of Western Christian soteriological thought and piety. It had been thought that grace was dispensed through the institutions of the church in the form of seven sacraments, the giving of which was under the complete discretion of the institutional leaders (and hence the receiving of grace could be subject to the whims of one’s religious superiors). It had also been thought that the saints had in their persons exceeded the amount of merit required for their own immediate entrances into heaven, the excess being laid up in a treasury of merit which, again, the institutional church was in control of and which could be dispensed at the discretion of the church leaders in order to lessen the time someone had in purgatory, the place after death where one made up the deficit in one’s merits to get into heaven through additional meritorious suffering. The church leaders could then sell parcels of this merit in the form of indulgences which one could buy for oneself or for a loved one (or someone else as, say, an act of charity to the dead). Maintenance of grace in life through the sacraments and progress to heaven in death through indulgences provided a religious structure to the daily life of the community and illustrate the monopoly and strict control on issues of salvation and the hereafter possessed by the church hierarchy and which, inevitably, was the subject of much abuse by those in religious power over others.
For Luther, however, our depravity as human beings negates our ability to merit anything at all – if we as Christians do good at all, the place of honor is to God’s grace, not to us, who would do evil if left to ourselves. And the work of Christ negates our need to merit anything at all – Christ through his life has already merited heaven for us in his life and paid the price for our sins in his death. There is no room for merit in the system of grace. Faith is the saving appropriation of the word of God, through grace, and hence neither the sacramental system nor any kind of pious deeds are to be thought required to maintain the grace of God or salvation in one’s life. These, Luther insists, are still good things in that pious deeds can help us to drive out the “outer man” and hence to make our external selves conform to what, as those who now have faith in Christ and thus want what Christ wants, our internal selves truly want. They also help us to do good to our neighbor (which, again, in virtue of the faith within us, we truly want to do anyway), but apart from these there is no other real reason to do such things.
Luther’s logic, then, quickly leads to a rejection of purgatory, the sacramental system as it had been practiced, indulgences, and the whole economy (spiritual and material) of merit which the church had built up. For those who, like Luther, may have felt such systems spiritually abusive or subject to the abuse of capricious or corrupt religious leaders, such teachings must have been freeing indeed. Not everyone would be happy to leave the comforts of a system that may have indeed worked for them in giving meaning, purpose, and organization to their individual and communal lives, but it seems that enough people would likely have felt similar enough to Luther to rally behind him. And because the church hierarchy pushed back and Luther refused to back down, gaining political support from some German princes, a decisive division within the Western church was the almost inevitable result – a division which has never been healed and in some ways only gotten wider (though certain points of contact have, of course, been made through the various ecumenical movements).
Those of us who are Protestants and theological heirs of the likes of Luther and the other Reformers can certainly be thankful for Luther, whether Lutherans or not, as Luther seems to have been the successful trailblazer who opened up the religious scene for a variety of Protestant religious options, whether Lutheran or not (and whether Luther himself or others liked it or not).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Random Song of Song Notes

"Deleted Scenes" (for various reasons) from a 45+ page paper I wrote for my Wisdom/Writings class during the Fall semester at the GTU (hopefully, without the wider context, they still make sense - note that the footnote links don't quite work very well at the moment):

The strongest and most pervasive intertextual allusion modern commentators have seen appears to be with the story of Creation and Fall in Genesis 2-3 (some even going so far as saying the Song is a kind of commentary on it), the Song of Songs representing for man and woman a kind of Return to the Garden where, for instance, the Curse does not show itself and the broken, now power-oriented relationship between male and female in Genesis 3:16 is at least in abeyance and the man and woman relate at least with each other, within their relationship if not in society, as equals – the survival of Paradise through love.[1] Indeed, the garden in the Song (here including nature in general) represents a kind of place of uninterrupted, unblemished intimacy and joy for the lovers (See Song of Songs 1:15-17; 2:1-7, 8-17; 4:10-5:1; 6:1-3, 11-12; and 7:6-13).


With regard to sexual norms, it seems that in the biblical tradition the norms are very strict on what is sexually appropriate and this is seen by many as reflective of the strict norms in wider Israelite society – at least in regards to the sexual behavior of women (men in the ancient world, as now, were often given considerably more social leeway when it comes to sexual behavior). Importantly, in a patriarchal society, strict sexual norms confining sex to marriage (at the very least, for women) help to instill confidence in the legitimacy of any offspring, particularly male heirs. In addition, though we cannot be sure, of course, how people always behaved in ancient Israelite society,[2] it does seem that human love was often seen as divinely ordained, part of the created order[3] and to be pursued within the proper confines of that order, the wisdom and broader biblical traditions seeing these proper confines within the context of marriage.[4]

With regards to marriage itself, there is some speculation about possible cultural practices based on the evidence we have. The mother’s house and bedroom are related to marriage and perhaps the bringing of the groom there as well (as in 3:4), and there is some evidence it may have been a common practice for the bride to get ready with the groom waiting outside, a scene which we saw earlier in Section II.[5] In addition, we have good reason to believe that, given the patriarchal nature of ancient Near Eastern society, women in a marriage were in social status not wholly unlike the property of their husbands. Marriage in this sort of society was generally, whatever else it may have been, a socioeconomic institution with the husband at its head and the family and its possessions and earnings under his direct control, with one of the primary duties of the wife being the bearing of children which would in turn enhance the family (and hence the husband), maintaining the family property. It ought not to be surprising, then, if, in a work focusing on mutual, “egalitarian” love for its own sake (as we will see, some argue the Song is just such a work), marriage is not always directly mentioned since this could very well drag with it socioeconomic connotations that might distract from the examination of love itself.


Given everything we have seen this far, we can see the Song as at times presenting a kind of reversal of the Curse of Genesis 3, the original exile, and the concomitant shattering of the relationships between man and woman, human and nature, and human and God – Creation is whole again. In ideal human love, intimacy between man and woman is at least partially healed, power plays are gone, and a kind of equality pervades the relationship. Gone is the struggle for power that is foretold in Genesis 3:16. As Murphy says, desire “can only nourish a love that is freely given and returned, a partnership that acknowledges the joy of being possessed by the beloved as well as the need to possess.”[6] The fracture between man and woman is at last, if only fleetingly, undone.[7]

The mutual enmity between human beings and the land or nature which one finds in Genesis 3:15, 17-19 is also undone as the woman becomes the land and the lovers find themselves and nature in their enjoyments as a harmonious unity. Love between man and woman is restored, as is love between human and land or nature (particularly, the land of Israel).[8] Human beings are no longer treating nature as something to exploit and nature no longer raises itself against the man and woman, but rather together they celebrate love’s return to Eden. Amid the longing and praise of the two lovers and the play of presence and absence, 2:8-17 illustrates both man-woman and human-nature restoration. Little that is negative slips into this realm of delight where, as mentioned briefly before, the line between man and woman on the one hand and human and nature on the other is hard to pin down (hence illustrating once again the shifts and indeterminacies characteristic of the Song as lyric love poetry).[9]

The relationship with God that was broken in the Fall, however, also receives a partial restoration in the Song. The woman as land and the echoes from the Bible of God’s longing for Israel (including the slippage between Israel and its land in the Bible already mentioned) point, for Davis, to the thesis that “[t]he Song is a lyrical evocation of the unbreakable three-way relationship among the people of Israel, the land of Israel, and the God of Israel, the unbreakable connection which Torah establishes, and over which the Prophets agonize.”[10] Here, unlike elsewhere in the Bible, God’s people return his love and longing in an equal way at last – in contrast to previous times, the vineyard of God’s people is now for God and God alone.[11] The one-sided relationship of God loving humankind has, in the garden, become a mutual enjoyment of seeking and finding.

The naturalness of this interpretation arises from, among other things, the slipperiness of the text and the symbolic complexity of the garden and other images in the Song, with its multiple layers of meaning, echoes of the Bible as well as Near Eastern mythic and sacred language, the status of the lovers as types and hence of standing in for any male-female lovers whatsoever, and the ancient view of humankind as female in comparison to God as male. All of these conspire to draw God into the warp and woof of the text, nearly silent and at first hidden behind the scenes, both present and absent as the man himself so often is, possessed of a freedom in love and movement not possessed by the woman[12] but giving himself in all his allusiveness to her nonetheless.

While it may be going too far to say that the Song on its own possesses an allegorical meaning (we, as part of reader-centered interpretation, may yet assign such) where the man always represents God (or humans) and the woman always represents Israel or humanity (or the land), the Song certainly seems, given the evidence, to invoke such relationships and speak allusively of male-female love in terms of divine-human love or love of the land. The ideal male-female love relationship is presented as a lot like ideal divine-human love, not a strange thought given what we saw in the work of Carr in Section III. There is a kind of mutual possession and inviolate commitment in ideal human love that parallels the divine (one can see this, for instance, in 2:16a, “My lover is mine and I am his”, which sounds a lot like “You will be my people and I will be your God”).[13] And like divine love, ideal love between a man and a woman is self-giving and gracious, as one can see in 3:1-5 and 5:2-8, where the woman takes risks and confidently enters the dangers of the city for the sake of her beloved. As Davis puts it, “Like the love of God, profound love another person entails devotion of the whole self and steady practice of repentance and forgiveness; it inevitably requires of us repentance and sacrifice.”[14] And in 8:6, we find human love having or resembling “the flame of divine love; both can be compared in intensity”.[15] And love, in the same passage, in another connection with Genesis, appears as a rival power over and against the primordial forces of chaos which are the enemies of God’s creative or restorative act.


Given what we have seen so far, the contention of some modern commentators that the Song is a celebration of sexual pleasure begins to feel rather shallow. Instead, what I would contend, based on the interpretive work so far, is that the Song of Songs focuses on persons, not simply sexual or sensual gratification or even love by themselves and that it is by doing this that the Song teaches us about love. We see this in the expressions of mutuality, equality, exclusivity, self-sacrifice and commitment that have been mentioned from time to time throughout this paper (which can be seen in verses such as 2:16) and in the Song’s unique status of containing true dialogue, which highlights the mutual commitment and focused relationality between the two lovers.

At least some commentators seem, however, to be thinking of the woman in the Song as a child of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, styled as a countercultural and sexually “liberated” person subverting the stuffy, repressive sexual mores which oppressively restrict the proper domain of sex to the confines of marriage. What we have instead is personal sexual gratification, unfettered by society and its rules. The focus on sex itself thus has a tendency to go hand-in-hand with a view of sex in the Song as unrestricted by standard sexual norms. Imagery of virginity or marriage, when noticed at all, are seen as symbolic, ironic, or used in a sexually subversive manner. So Exum, who says, “There is no indication that the man and woman are married”[16], and, “Although the Song may occasionally allude to marriage […] the lovers are not a bride and groom, nor do they behave like a betrothed couple.”[17]

Sometimes this sort of subversive reading might be plausible with regard to, say, aspects of ancient gender roles (as can be seen in discussions above relating to Genesis), but this may be a stretch with regards to sexual restrictions throughout the Song. In my readings, not much direct evidence was given by these commentators that the couple in the Song is engaging in extramarital sexual relations – this is generally taken for granted as obvious. One can discern a few, generally undeveloped lines of support that are offered, however:

1. The Song does not say or insinuate that the lovers are married.[18]

2. If the lovers are unmarried in one part of the Song, they must be unmarried later too.[19]

3. The woman is treated badly (by her brothers and the watchmen, in particular) in the Song since she is sexually active outside of marriage.[20]

4. There is an element of secrecy or furtiveness to the relationship sometimes.[21]

5. For women, to be equal requires being unmarried and to be married is to be nothing more than property and “essentially breeders” – by contrast there is no submission in the Song.[22]

I will deal with each of these in order.

Regarding Statement 1, to think that just because it does not say or hint that the man and woman are married that they therefore are unmarried is to forget the genre of the Song. Even if they are determinately unmarried in one piece of a passage, it does not necessarily follow that they are in the next piece, even if the passage does not go out and say that they are now married. To defend this, one would have to rely on Statement 2. In order to use Statement 2, though, one must first establish that there is a point at which the couple is in fact unmarried in the Song. Even given this, however, it is not clear that one can make this sort of argument, given the lack of strict narrative logic in the Song. Just because something occurs later in the text of the Song does not mean it occurs later in time (indeed, the Song does not seem to have any determinate, global earlier-later temporal relations between what is portrayed in all of its sections).

Where the Song does not directly address whether the man are woman are married or not, it is as wrong to ask “Are they married?” as it is to ask “How tall are they?” or “What color hair does he have?” If the Song has not made that determination one way or the other in some section, it is indeterminate and, given the status of the two lovers as types meant to apply to any and all lovers, it is up to the reader to apply these types to real life, determinate people or situations. Not only that, but given the shifting roles and blurring between day dream, fantasy, and reality, as well as the highly symbolic nature of the Song and lack of strict temporal and narrative progression, saying that the two are determinately engaging in extramarital sexual relations (even in contexts where they elsewhere do not seem to be portrayed as behaving as one would expect a married or betrothed couple in that society to act) seems, barring the success of the other arguments to be examined, to be reaching beyond the text.

In fact, the status of the Song as wisdom, its intertextual relations with other biblical works, and its general cultural setting all seem to argue against seeing the couple as definitely unmarried. And contrary to the assertion in 1, the Song does give plenty of hints and nods to marriage. The motif of the groom calling outside to his bride who is inside which we find in 2:8-17 (and perhaps in chapter 5), the wedding procession in 3:6-11 immediately followed here in 4:1-5:1 by the man calling the woman his bride, the mother’s house as related to marriage which we find in 3:4 and 8:2, and – apart from these – multiple cases of images of virginity or chastity seemingly affirmed[23] all seem to speak against scholars such as Exum who must, oddly enough, maintain that all of this is mere imagery while at the same time taking anything that can be interpreted to support extramarital sex literally. This is not to say that the couple is always in the Song definitely married when they achieve sexual union (which itself is subject to shifting, given the multiple layers of meaning and dream-reality slipperiness), just that they are not definitely unmarried.

Statement 3 is perhaps the most interesting one, but here again we must remember not to take the Song too literally – why take it as almost woodenly literal, again, mainly in those bizarre episodes such as the beating by the watchmen in 5:7, but not in those places where marriage is mentioned or alluded to? The nature of the Song (and the abrupt shift in 5:8 as if nothing really happened – hardly evidence that 5:7 is meant to be taken as a literal report of a real encounter) seems to go against this.[24] The role of the watchmen, instead, seems to be a facet of the role of the city as the “real world” of opposition, sacrifice, and fallenness.

Statement 4 does not give any real evidence at all, since it is unclear where, apart from symbolic role playing, we see any language of secrecy. Even if there was, that would not imply that the couple was unmarried since real, married couples can and do make use of the same playful language and we have not been given any evidence to think that married couples in ancient times would not have done so as well. There may also be a connection to the City/Garden contrast explored earlier, but that would need further development which I will not explore here.

For Statement 5, even leaving aside the question of whether it is really being fair to the marriage institution, we have been given no decisive reason to think that the author of Song of Songs saw things that way in any case. The Song may undermine the extreme patriarchy of ancient society, but that does not mean that it – like many today – intends to throw the marriage commitment baby out with the ancient patriarchal bathwater. In any case, it is certainly false that there is no submission in the Song – on the contrary, what we find is mutual submission and mutual possession of one to and by the other. Statement 5, though, is still somewhat useful in that it does anticipate some of the reasons given in Section III as to why the Song of Songs might avoid always using explicit marriage language all throughout.

[1] Exum, Song of Songs, 25.

[2] Exum, Song of Songs, 79.

[3] Exum, Song of Songs, 25; Carr, “Gender,” 241; Munro, Spikenard, 14.

[4] Exum makes this argument in a few places in her Song of Songs.

[5] Exum, “Ten Things,” 30-32; Pope, Song of Songs, 326.

[6] Munro, Spikenard, 14.

[7] Ostriker, “Holy of Holies,” 44, 49-50.

[8] For some examples and discussion of some of these images, see Garrett, Song of Songs, 261; Longman, Song of Songs, 155, 218; Pope, Song of Songs, 683;

[9] Dealing with the theme of the brothers would go beyond the focus texts of this paper, but their symbolic value, which is perhaps related to sexual or social control, need not be taken as implying any impropriety on the part of the woman. The texts in the previous note have some relevance to this question – as does, ironically, Exum, Song of Songs, 106!

[10] Murphy, Song of Songs, 102.

[11] Longman, Song of Songs, 65-66; Murphy, Song of Songs, 102-103; Ostriker, “Holy of Holies,” 45.

[12] Davis, Proverbs, 235-236. See also the extended discussions in Davis, “Romance.”

[13] With Exum, Song of Songs, 128-130; Fox, Egyptian Love Songs; Garrett, “Song of Songs,” 160-161; and Murphy, Song of Songs, 141, I see 2:15 as a kind of tease and not really the introduction of any opposition or evil at this point. In other places in the Song, though, there may be hints of reality that break through from time to time in the midst of the garden imagery (this may not be clear to every interpreter) – 2:5 with its mention of faintness caused by love, for instance, may have a hint of this about it.

[14] Davis, “Romance,” 540.

[15] Davis, “Romance,” 542; Davis, Proverbs, 234, 245;

[16] On the social freedom of the man in ancient society as reflected in the Song and in comparison with the corresponding relative lack of freedom for women, see Exum, J. Cheryl, “Ten Things Every Feminist Should Know about the Song of Songs,” in The Song of Songs: Feminist Companion to the Bible (Second Series), ed. A. Brenner and C. Fontaine (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 30; Exum Song of Songs, 25.

[17] Longman, Song of Songs, 125.

[18] Davis, Proverbs, 233.

[19] Murphy, Song of Songs, 197.

[20] See Fox, “Egyptian Love Songs,” 313-315.

[21] For this in the wisdom literature, see Keel, Song of Songs, 31.

[22] Garrett, “Song of Songs,” 103, 154-155; Longman, Song of Songs, 60; Murphy, Song of Songs, 97-101.

[23] Longman, Song of Songs, 131; Pope, Song of Songs, 392.

[24] Trible, Phyllis, “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (1973): 30-48; Landy, Francis, “The Song of Songs and the Garden of Eden,” Journal of Biblical Literature 98 (1979): 513-528; Longman, Song of Songs, 65-66; Munro, Spikenard, 105. Contra Garrett, “Song of Songs,” 99.