Pope Benedict, Creation, and Biblical Criticism

My paper “The Word in Creation: The Ratzingerian Critique of the Historical-Critical Method and Its Application to the Creation Accounts” is up at Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Two of my preoccupations during my master’s studies were Creation (particularly the Augustinian understanding of Genesis) and the theology of Pope Benedict. This paper was where the two converged thanks to Ratzinger’s little masterpiece In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, which allowed me to explore his approach to Biblical criticism in the context of unfolding Genesis 1.

Here’s a bit of it:

Creation was not a preoccupation of the Israelites until after the Babylonian captivity, when they began looking back at their origins and—drawing on ancient tradition—developed the passages into the form we now know. What they tell the Jews is simply this: God was never just the God of one piece of land or one place. If he was, then he could be overthrown by another, stronger “god.” After Israel lost everything, and began encountering God again in their misery, they came to understand that this was the God of all people, all lands, and indeed, of all the universe. He had this power, first in Israel, then in Babylon, because he created the world and all that was in it.

In captivity, they heard creation myths such as that of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which tells of Marduk splitting the body of a dragon in two to form the world, and fashioning humans out of dragon blood. All of this dark and primordial nonsense is banished by the image of an earth “without form and void.” No more dragons, no more gods, no more violence and blood: just the pure power of creation from nothing, by a God who made man, not to suffer and struggle and die, but to walk in paradise.

There was order to creation, not chaos. It emerged from Reason, not madness. And it was spoken into being by the Word of God. Indeed, Jews believed that the Torah existed before creation. Creation happened to make the Torah known.

Furthermore, the shape of the creation account itself was meant to echo the Torah and to sanctify time and the week. Time becomes sacred in this account, with man laboring for six days in imitation of God, and resting to worship God on the seventh, in imitation of the “rest” of God Himself. The creation accounts thus build towards, and culminate in, the Sabbath, “which is the sign of the covenant between God and humankind.”24 In a very real sense, then, the creation account can be seen as liturgical: “Creation exists for the sake of worship.” That final day is a day in which humanity itself participates in the freedom of the almighty, provided to us in the covenant. We “enter his rest” (in the words of Psalm 95 and Hebrews).

Read the rest.

Advertisements

Hip-Deep Heaps of Quail!

Today’s infographic comes courtesy of Translation Follies. It purports to illustrate Numbers 11:31, in which the Lord sends quail in abundance to the Israelites.

From Logos Bible Software

From Logos Bible Software

Some Bibles, including the NAB, do indeed translate the passage as “at a depth of two cubits upon the ground.” Even the fairly literal NASB adds an italicized deep in the passage.

The Hebrew, however, roughly works out to “about two cubits the surface the land,” without mentioning depth. (The Septuagint uses the Greek ἀπό, which means “away from” the land.)

The RSV gets it right with the key word “above” rather than “deep.” That is to say, the birds flew low–two cubits, or about 3 feet–over a large swath of land, making them easier to kill, not that Israelites were wading hip deep in a sea of quail swarming on the ground.

 

 

 

Verbum Bible Software Gets Into High-School Education

MapsandGraphsAnd they’re giving away $5 million in grants to get schools up and running on their new four-year high-school curriculum, called Lumen.

Verbum, the Catholic version of the bestselling Logos Bible Software, has created a program to provide $5 million in grant money to help high schools implement its new religious-education curriculum. The new program called “Lumen” is a four-year series built to connect the classroom textbooks directly to powerful Verbum software, which integrates the Bible, catechisms, original documents, writings of the Church Fathers and many other resources. As Alex Renn, Verbum’s marketing and operations team leader, pointed out, “Rather than trying to digitize a textbook, we are writing it with the expectation that students will have access to a collection of key texts, so vocabulary words are links, and reading assignments open books as well as study tools.”

Read the rest in the National Catholic Register.

Verbum Bible Software: Enter to Win an iPad Mini and Scholar Edition

Go here and scroll down.  The contest goes until January 6th. Since it’s Rafflecopter, you might be able to enter once a day.

Some good stuff is on sale as well, in case you have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket. I liked the Sacra Pagina series, Scott Hahn’s Letter & Spirit series, and, of course, the Ratzinger/Benedict collection. For the hardcore cases, The Fathers of The Church series is also on sale.

Verbum 6 is Here

Verbum Bible Software (the Catholic version of Logos Bible Software) is the backbone of my research and writing on religion. It allows me to drill into massive amounts of data with ease. Scripture, original language resources, church documents, history, papal writings, theology, philosophy, commentaries, and, most important of all, a huge amount of patristic material is all part of my Verbum library. I can highlight, annotated, clip, export, compare, and do almost anything I need to do with text. I can’t imagine doing some of the work requires for my masters without it. Most recently, the ghost series drew heavily on Verbum.

Version 6 was just rolled out, and it adds some very nice new features. This video provides an overview, but some of the things added are

The Psalm Browser was the new feature that really caught my eye. It allows you sort psalms by type, author, and more using visual tools.

Ancient Literature Tools gather all ancient resources that refer or relate to a passage.

Timeline and Atlas: These tool allows you situation Bible books and events in a historical context, and locate them geographically.

Cultural Concepts is a search result that gather references to ancient cultural ideas (such as anointing or hospitality) found in scripture.

Bible Book Guides provide various kinds of introduction and background material for each book of the Bible.

Word Sense does a good job at distinguishing among various meanings of the same word.

Factbook functions like a heavily linked encyclopedia within Verbum, pulling up information, links, references, and resources for topics and individuals, such as “carpenter” or “St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Media resources have been expanded with some powerful search features and some nifty new items, such as aerial views of locations as they look in Bibles times, and as they look now.

There are more robust search and language tools, enhanced introductions to Greek and Hebrew, and much more in the update. I’m loving it so far, and plan to write about a couple of features in more depth.

You can buy or upgrade Verbum here, and see the full line of Logos/Verbum 6 tutorials here.

Remarkable Digital Reconstruction of the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art created this video flythrough of the spectacular Northwest Palace of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned: 883 to 859 BC) in the city alternately known as Numrud, Kalhu, and, in the Bible, Calah. The ruins are about 20 miles south of Mosul, Iraq. The palace walls were covered n reliefs (many of them now scattered throughout the world in various museums) depicting his reign and conquests.

Genesis 10: 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naph-tuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (whence came the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Ghosts in the Bible: The Old Testament

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Ghosts posed a problem for the early Church because they seemed to reflect a holdover of pagan belief and superstition. Yet reliable witnesses continued to report encounters with what to appeared to be spirits, and witnesses were not so easily dismissed as they are now. As we head into Halloween, I hope to do a few posts examining the place of ghosts in Catholicism: how have people reacted to accounts of ghosts, and how has the reaction changed over time?

The first place to start is with the Bible, where ghosts are scarce but not absent. The rules governing contact with the dead set the Jews apart from other religions in the ancient world, where ancestor veneration and lavish funeral rites were the norm. Pagans practiced “incubation”: sleeping on a grave in the hopes of receiving an oneiric (dream-state) apparition of the departed with a message or prophesy. Such a practice would run afoul of Jewish purity laws.

Deuteronomy 18-9-13 is pretty emphatic on the matter of necromancy and sorcery:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”

The reason for this was very simple: it suggested man could have control over powers reserved to God alone.

Yet ghosts and references to ghosts are found in scripture and must be dealt with if we are to understand the way early Christians treated the phenomena. The most famous instance, of course, is the summoning of the spirit of Samuel by the Witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28. (Also mentioned in 1 Chron 10:13-14 and Sirach 46:23.)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

The striking thing about the Witch of Endor passage is how really diabolical it is: this is nothing less than necromancy, which is condemned by both Jews and Christians. Saul himself had prohibited the practice, which is why he meets in secret with the medium.

Saul knows he has done wrong and lost favor with God, but desires to know his fate in an upcoming battle with the Philistines. “The LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets,” (1 Sam 28:6) we are told.

He disguises himself and asks the medium, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” (1 Sam 28:8-9) The word used for “medium” is “ob,” which may refer either to the necromancer herself, or the object she uses to communicate with the dead, such as a skull. The text leaves out her rituals, suggesting to some that Samuel appears unbidden, thus proving to later readers that mediums have no real power. This interpretation does not appear to be supported by the text, since Samuel is annoyed at being “disturbed.”

The scene is as strange for its language as for its necromancy:

“I see a god coming up out of the earth.” [Saul] said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. (1 Sam 28:13–14)

The Christological interpretation would only become clear in the fullness of time, but quite obviously Samuel isn’t even a lower-case-”g” god, which is how the RSV renders “elohim.” The use of “elohim” is provocative here, but the word could also suggest a “spirit” or “divine being” as well as gods and, specifically, Yahweh.

Samuel is annoyed at being summoned from “below” (Hades), but proceeds to tell Saul that he will fall to the Philistines and that “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me.” (1 Sam 28:19)

The appearance of Samuel challenged exegetes from ancient to medieval times. They offered a wide array of interpretations: it was the devil or a demon taking on the guise of Samuel, it was his reanimated corpse infused with spirit but not his soul (a distinction I won’t dwell on here), it was a phantasm, it was an illusion, it was actually Samuel given permission by God to appear and clothed in flesh that looked like his own, it was Samuel, who had been in Hades awaiting Christ.

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

This last is suggested by Origen, who examines it at length in his Homily on 1 Kings 28. [1 Samuel is 1 Kings in some numberings.] I do not believe this 5000-word text is online, but it’s found in Homilies on Jeremiah and I Kings 28 (translated by John Clark Smith for Vol. 97 of The Father of the Church series).

Origen’s reading would, in time, be rejected in favor of a diabolical answer. The presence of a fairly extensive medieval art tradition for the scene shows its grip on the imagination, as medieval man came to wrestle more actively with the issue of visions, spirits, and dreams. I plan to address this shift in future posts, first discussing Augustine, the Church Father who developed a kind of “theology of ghosts,” and then the medievals.

“I shall be called John Paul”

On this day in 1978, the newly elected John Paul I explained his choice of name:

Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: “Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.” The other colleague said: “Don’t be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new Pope.” When the moment of decision came, I accepted.John Paul I

Then there was the question of the name, for they also ask what name you wish to take, and I had thought little about it. My thoughts ran along these lines: Pope John had decided to consecrate me himself in St Peter’s Basilica, then, however unworthy, I succeeded him in Venice on the Chair of St Mark, in that Venice which is still full of Pope John. He is remembered by the gondoliers, the Sisters, everyone.

Then Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St Mark’s Square, he made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!

Furthermore, during his fifteen years of pontificate this Pope has shown, not only to me but to the whole world, how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ.

For that reason I said: “I shall be called John Paul.” I have neither the “wisdom of the heart” of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers.

All of John Paul I’s papal messages, radio talks, and more are available in The Homilies, Audiences, and Other Writings of Pope John Paul I (6 volumes, Latin and English) from Verbum for $25. 

Free Bonhoeffer Book From Logos

The free book of the month from Logos is worth a download: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 3: Creation and Fall:

Creation and Fall originated in lectures given by Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the University of Berlin in the winter semester of 1932–1933 during the demise of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. In the course of these events, Bonhoeffer called his students to focus their attention on the word of God—the word of truth in a time of turmoil.

It’s a commentary on Genesis 1-3.  Grab it while you can.