Tag Archives: postcolonial interpretation

A Covenant of Peace: Ezekiel's Use Of Numbers

Tetragrammaton

Tetragrammaton (Photo credit: nathanleveck)

Zeal, the Knowledge of YHWH and Radicalism

“YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. Therefore say, “I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.”- Numbers 25: 10-13 NRSV

And

” I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. […] They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them splendid vegetation, so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations.”- Ezekiel 34:25-26, 28-29

When I was in seminary and taking a class on Ezekiel, one of the questions that haunted the class at the end of the semester is what happened to the language of God’s “Covenant of Peace”? Where did it come from? One of the problems I believes starts with the commentary we depended on, by Katherine Pfisterer Darr, who is rightfully hesitant to explain Ezekiel as a prophet who used the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy (unlike Jeremiah, Paul, and Christ Jesus, for example). I think there was an opportunity missed to talk about Israel’s role in the Ancient Near East, as well as Ezekiel’s role as PRIEST and prophet. The notion of a covenant of peace, as Darr points out, is part of the ANE tradition whereby the gods end their hostilities towards humanity and creation at large. The god’s pledge to be peaceable was signed and sealed with a visible sign. Darr rejects the idea that Ezekiel borrows this idea from any of the Torah writers since he has a theology that deals more with the ritual and ceremonial laws of Israel (a priestly theology if you will). Ezekiel cannot simply be put in a box, I tried that once, and utterly failed.

Ezekiel is more of a hybrid thinker, using the language of the Law and the priesthood. Ezekiel and his disciples were zealous for YHWH, much like Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (the head of the Priesthood). Phinehas was given a covenant of peace with YHWH because he saw one of his fellow Israelites sinning right in front of the Moses and the congregation, and in the First covenant manner, since blood had to be shed, Phinehas used a spear to sacrifice the man and his lover. Once YHWH saw that one of the priests was concerned, the plague that Israel was suffering ended, but not before thousands had died of the sickness. This plays out as an example of the scapegoat mechanism. A few persons must die for the rest of society to be “saved.” If the spearing and priesthood are the visible sign for Aaron’s family and the covenant of peace, then the destruction of the first Temple (along with the people in it Ezekiel 9 & 10) as well as the raising of Ezekiel’s 2nd temple Ezekiel 39:21 through chapter 48) is the sign of YHWH’s latest covenant of peace with Israel.

When we get to the New Testament, the death of the Son of YHWH, Christ Jesus, is the visible sign of the covenant of peace, that God makes with humanity, creation, and between Jew and Gentile, who are engrafted into the covenant life. The finality of Jesus’ sacrifice is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices, making all other sacrifices and scapegoating unnecessary.

This makes the old traditional hymn from Black churches, “Showers of Blessing” (inspired by Ezekiel 34) all that more interesting. “There shall be seasons of refeshing, Sent from the Savior above.” Written in the first decade of the 20th century, the peak period when thousands of Negro women and men were victims of lynching, “Showers of Blessing” is a theological interpretation of Ezekiel 34 that protests Jim & Jane Crow Law, and the lynching parties that were its scapegoating mechanism.

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So You Wanna Read The Bible With Suspicion?

Meaning, Suspicion, Tradition, and Hope

Retrato del filósofo francés Michel Foucault

 

Usually, I travel around blogs on biblical studies from different perspectives, and when I do, I like to read (and hear, in my head) different voices. Yes, that’s right, when I read, I hear voices in my head, okay? I have come across quite frequently Bible scholars and Christian thinkers who just randomly go off on tangents about how wrong reading the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion is.

For many persons, the Scriptures themselves are the problem, and that’s fine, they can have their own opinions. For me, IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion), the problems is our interpretations, our readings of its meaning that cause the most problems (for example, the Parable of the Talents is just one of those passages that is just, ugh never mind). For some strange reason or another, Christians who use this “hermeneutic of suspicion” are condemned. I think it has to do with people not liking their embedded theologies challenged, what they have been taught, the Sunday School answers. More specifically, those who retain this hermeneutic of suspicion, as cast as people without hope, people who are generally distrustful of others (and rightly so in my individual case), and too egg-headed for their own good. So the alternatives that are proposed are things like “a hermeneutic of trust” or love or whatever all while affirming critical engagement with the text over and against what they see as ideologically driven cynicism.

In other words, those with a hermeneutic of suspicion have nothing constructive to offer (this is my reading of these general criticisms). I take issue with this. First, and foremost, I continue to apply this suspicion, not out of my distrust for people or tradition (some traditions are good), but because of the Christian doctrine of human fallenness. One of the Niebuhr brothers rightly said the one doctrine Christians can prove is humanity’s sinfulness. Just take a look at history. Secondly, and most importantly, persons who are “driven” by suspicion/distrust of the text are inspired by hope. In Jonathan Tran’s Foucault And Theology, he quotes Michel Foucault on hope and suspicion:

“Despair and hopelessness are one thing, suspicion is another. And if you are suspicious, it is because, of course, you have a certain hope.”

I think this quote speaks volumes for persons of religious backgrounds and those who claim no religious affiliation, that critical readings of religious texts are drawn out of hopes. For some, a hope for a better world in the here and now, for others, the hope for conserving that which was from the past, and yet still others, a hope for the future. As Foucault would say, “power as relationship” is everywhere, and it is found in resistance. My hope is in the Risen Christ, who liberates all of humanity from the forces sin, death, and satan; therefore, as part of that hope, I know that there is a world beyond what John Calvin,Jacob Arminius, Adam Smith (the economist), and Karl Marx tell me. My particular hermeneutic of suspicion arises from not only my education, but first from being raised in the traditions of black churches: “The hermeneutics of suspicion and hope rises from the smoldering embers of the church of resistance. The black church uses a hermeneutics of suspicion because of the way Scripture has been used against African Americans in order to support racist policies.”

For more, read Stephen Breck Reid’s Endangered Reading: The African American Scholar Between Text and People (linked here, was working as of 8/6/2012)

What have you learned or heard about people who have a hermeneutic suspicion? Positive? Negative?

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The Africana Bible: The Torah

Words have a power all their own

PHAROAH AND MOSES DON’T KNOW NOTHIN’ ‘BOUT BIRTHIN’ BABIES!

Previous posts on The Africana Bible:Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa And The African Diaspora

Intro: Not a Commentary but Folklore;

The Africana Bible: Women, Art, Responsibility;

The Africana Bible: Judges and Dethroning Bishop Eddie Long.

How would Christianity be different if Christians read the Torah/The First Five Books of the Bible, as Diasporic Bric-A-Brac? The the Avengers’ Assembled! in the House of Israel, the collection of writings that make up the TORAH come from a variety of literary genres. The Torah, therefore, should not be read as purely “The Law” for there is poetry in it, and historical accounts cannot neatly fit into what narrative interpreters call “metaphor” or “story” (page 65). Speaking of story, just exactly whose story is it? Does the Torah belong to any one exclusive community? Am I asking that question from a privileged position as a 21st Century Gentile Christian with access to as many Bibles as I want? As disparate as the voices are in the First Testament, dare we re-claim Israel’s Scripture as the Word(s) of God, as a gift for Israel to share with the Nations? Possession is a tricky tricky thing: if it’s Israel’s or Africana’s Word, will we take responsibility for the war, rape, and incest in the text? If these scrolls do indeed belong to God, are we willing to accept a Malevolent Creator? Or do we re-define what it means for a sacred possession (the Good Book) to be in the hands of dispossessed people groups all together?

Genesis 9 & 10 as a possession of European colonizers was a “Table of the Nations,” more like a racist theodicy of sorts telling us why Black people were on the bottom rung of society, why whites were at the top, and how God divided the human races into three identifiable racial groupings. All of which was a social construct to begin with, but hey, the imperialists had to start somewhere, am I right? No where in Scripture did the terms Hamites, Shemites, or Japethites ever show up curiously. I have posted on The Curse of Ham in Genesis before [linked here] in the past, and this point further advances my argument that the Curse of Ham/Cain hermeneutic is inherently racist and beyond any redemptive use. Rodney Sadler goes on to contend that the Joseph Novella in Genesis 37-50 is a potential source of hope for those in the African Diaspora (76-78). I beg to differ; if Joseph/Israel is God’s favorite son, and he gets sold into slavery and had his integrity questioned which lead to his imprisonment, how does that speak liberation to young men and women of color in prison due in some part to racist public policies? Blacks are God’s favorite, therefore, whites can call Three Strikes and You’re Out, and throw away the key? It doesn’t make any sense from a theodicy or Christology stand-point IMHO, Christ is God’s favorite, is the only innocent victim, and his suffering love is sufficient enough where no BODY else has to die to break a curse or ransom her people.

Is Exodus a Re-Mix, another version of a song re-told by a group of people? Does the re-mix culminate into a Tabernacle-House Party, a God on the move for a people on the move (87)? Leviticus may be a book whose center is love and justice, but where is the love for persons who break the law and are given the death penalty? Where is the love, as the Black Eyed Peas once sang? Love wasn’t there when the Five Daughters got their father’s land, and then it was taken away from them in Numbers (in chapters 27 & 36). If Deuteronomy is right, orphans, widows, and aliens are always gonna be the recipients of charity (104).

Perhaps these questions wouldn’t be so problematic if we started back at the beginning, with Genesis 1:26, how God made earthlings, both male and female, in God’s image. It’s hard for us to imagine why Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses for marrying a Black woman. Could it be that blackness was the standard for beauty in the Ancient Near East? Hard to imagine, isn’t?

Not if you truly believe everyone is made in the Imago Dei……..

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