Saturday, August 22, 2009

John Locke on the Soul

Greetings to all:

I have been reading John Locke's (1632-1704) The
Reasonableness of Christianity
and found the foregoing comments interesting. The text that I own is edited by I.T. Ramsey. Concerning Gen 2:17, Locke reasons (on p. 26):

"I shall say nothing more here, how far, in the
apprehensions of men, this [the idea of eternal
torment] consists with the justice and goodness of
God, having mentioned it above; but it seems a strange
way of understanding a law [such as the one found in
Gen 2:17], which requires the plainest and directest
words, that by death should be meant eternal life in
misery. Could any one be supposed, by a law, that
says, 'For felony thou shalt die', not that he should
lose his life, but kept alive in perpetual exquisite
torments? And would any one think himself fairly dealt
with, that was so used?"

The obvious answer to both questions for Locke is
"no." He then defines what the word "death" as used in Gen
2:17 means to him:

"I must confess by death here, I can understand
nothing but a ceasing to be, the losing of all actions
of life and sense" (p. 27).

Warm regards,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Richard Kearney on Exodus 3:14

Richard Kearney's text The God Who May Be discusses the controversial passage found at Exodus 3:14. I believe that what he has to say about EHYEH ASHER EHYEH is pertinent for this blog. The following quote can also be found at

'The great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi
Solomon ben Isaac, 1040–1105) renders the burning-bush
encounter as follows: "And God said unto Moses, 'I
shall be what I shall be.' And he said, 'so shall you
say to the children of Israel, I shall be has sent me
to you.'" And lest there be any lingering doubt, God
adds the binding promise: "This is my name for ever
and this is my remembrance from generation to

Rashi interprets the "name" in terms of mandate and
mission. He offers this daring commentary on God’s
address to Moses on Mount Horeb: "the vision that you
have seen at the thornbush is the sign for you that I
have sent you—and that you will succeed in My mission,
and that I have the wherewithal to save you. Just as
you saw the thornbush performing My mission without
being consumed, so too, you will go on My mission and
you will not be harmed." And Rashi adds, tellingly,
that this mandate itself prefigures the fact that
three months later Moses and his followers would
receive the Torah upon the very same mountain. Going
on to render the key passage of Exodus 3:14, he
writes, in very much the same spirit of futural
promise: "I shall be what I shall be—I shall be with
them during this trouble what I shall be with them at
the time of their subjugation at the hands of other
kingdoms." In other words, Rashi tells us, the
transfiguring God of the burning bush is pledging to
remain with those who continue to suffer in future
historical moments, and not just in the present
moment. Rashi attributes a similar sense to the phase
"This is My Name forever, and My Remembrance from
generation to generation" (Exodus 3:15). The
transfiguring God is not a once-off deity but one who
remembers the promises of the past and remains
faithful to them into the eschatological future.'


Kearney's own translational preference for Exodus 3:14
is stated thus:

'My ultimate suggestion is that we might do better to
reinterpret the Transfiguring God of Exodus 3 neither
as "I who am" nor as "I who am not" but rather as "I
am who may be"—that is, as the possibility to be,
which obviates the extremes of being and non-being.
EHYEH ASHER EHYEH might thus be read as signature of
the God of the possible, a God who refuses to impose
on us or abandon us, traversing the present moment
while opening onto an ever-coming future.'


Yet, Kearney concedes that Rashi's "eschatological"
reading of Exodus 3:14 is "arguably more attuned to the
original biblical context of meaning."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lily Ross Taylor on PROSKUNHSIS

The following is taken from Lily Ross Taylor's _The Divinity of the Roman Emperor_, Philological Monographs, no. 1 (Middletown, Conn: American Philological Association, 1931).

This post deals with PROSKUNHSIS

"The Greek word PROSKUNHSIS denotes an act of devotion to a god that consisted either in kissing the hand toward the image or--less often--in kissing the ground before it. The Greeks used the word to describe the Persian custom of greeting the king by bowing down and kissing the earth. Alexander's conquest of the great Persian empire had brought him into close contact with Persian customs and manners, and in general he found it wise to adopt them" (pp. 18-19).

"Of course the PROSKUNHSIS did not always imply 'worship' in our sense of the word. It was a form of greeting extended among the Persians by inferiors to those far above them (Hdt. 1.134). For an analysis of the material on the PROSKUNHSIS, see Schnabel, Klio, XIX, 118ff."

The full reference for the article to which Taylor refers is
Paul Schnabel, "Die Begründung des hellenistischen Königskultes durch Alexander," Klio 19 (1925) 113-27.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Frederick Danker on the Greek word BLASFHMEW

"Distortion of the source text can also occur when a translator uses an expression that loads the source text with a negative intensity derived from a receptor's term that has acquired a specialized sense. For example, the Greek verb BLASFHMEW means 'to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns.' The word is thus used in Greek about humans or transcendent beings, whereas in English the transliteration 'blaspheme' has acquired an exclusive association with sacral aspects, and when used in translations of the Bible obscures the cultural breadth of the Greek term" (Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), page 26.

Danker also proffers remarks on how one should understand the Greek verb rendered "blaspheme" in Acts 19:26-27. See the aforementioned publication.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The 24 Elders and Golden Crowns

Why do the 24 elders (older persons) depicted in Revelation 4:4 have golden crowns on their heads? I am not sure, but certain suggestions have been set forth. They are:

"Emblematic of the fact that they sustained a kingly office. There was blended in the representation the idea that they were both 'kings and priests'" (Barnes NT Notes).

"An emblem of their dignity. The Jewish writers represent human souls as being created first; and before they enter the body, each is taken by an angel into paradise, where it sees the righteous sitting in glory with crowns upon their heads. Rab. Tanchum, fol. 39, 4" (Adam Clarke's Commentary).

"they had on their heads crowns of gold, signifying the honour and authority given them of God, and the glory they have with him. All these may in a lower sense be applied to the gospel church on earth, in its worshipping assemblies; and, in the higher sense, to the church triumphant in heaven" (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible).

"Four and twenty elders sitting. These ancients were (1) twenty-four in number; (2) they were clothed in white, the color of victory and purity; (3) on their heads were golden crowns, not the diadem which means a kingly crown, but the golden crown of honor (Stephanos). Critics are not agreed as to the signification of these elders, but most of them think that they symbolize the glorified church of God gathered round the throne. They disagree as to the significance of the number twenty-four. There were twenty-four courses of priests. There were twelve tribes, and twelve apostles" (People's NT).

Any other suggestions? I am particularly interested in why the crowns of the 24 elders are "golden."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Genesis 22:1-18: Abraham and Isaac

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the narrative found in Genesis 22:1-18. Skeptics and critics have wondered how a loving God could ask a parent to sacrifice his or her child up to a divine being. Some even accuse God of playing a "trick" on Abraham. Others, while considering themselves believers in God, have also spent countless pages trying to analyze and somewhat explain how God (YHWH) could make such a request from his beloved servant. I have also spent hours teaching this account, trying to understand it and mulling it over. There are numerous ways that one could understand the account of Abraham and Isaac, but two things seem clear to me. First, Genesis 22:1 says that God was testing Abraham, not tricking him. As Jamieson, Fausset and Brown state:

"God did tempt Abraham--not incite to sin ( Jam 1:13 ), but try, prove--give occasion for the development of his faith ( 1Pe 1:7 )."

The writer of Genesis (traditionally viewed as Moses) states from the outset that what is about to be read in the narrative is a "test": God is trying to see what is in Abraham's heart. That is why YHWH later utters the words "now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only [son] from me" (Genesis 22:12 KJV).

Open theist Gregory Boyd writes concerning this passage:

"if the classical understanding of foreknowledge is true, God's statement 'now I know' seems disingenuous. The meaning of God's explanation for this knowledge — 'since you have…' — is also obscured. Indeed, if the future is exhaustively settled there would be no point in his test of Abraham, because God would never have to find out anything."

So, Genesis 22:1 seems to offer firm evidence that God did not trick Abraham but tested his faith. The account must be read with Genesis 22:1 in mind. Secondly, the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures (the Old Testament or Tanach) make it abundantly clear that God does not want nor did he ever want or desire child sacrifices. Read Micah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 7:31. The account of Abraham and Isaac (also known as the Akedah or Aqedah) is understood more easily when read in context.