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Showing posts with the label #Background

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

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An odd little story in Genesis , and the myths which sprang from it. NAFAL nɔ'fɔl verb (Hebrew ‏נָפַל , Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed. [Nefil nɛ'fil noun , nefilim nɛ.fil'im n.pl. ] Every once in a while I get asked about the Nefilim ( NIV “Nephilim,” KJV “giants”). And folks, it’s not “a Nefilim,” ’cause it’s a plural noun. One Nefil, many Nefilim. Understandable mistake though; most English speakers can’t get our own plurals right, much less Hebrew nouns. I don’t pry into why people wanna know about Nefilim, although when they explain, it nearly always has to do with some mythological garbage about half-human half-angel beings. They hear about that, then hear, “And it’s in the bible!” so they check out their bible and find this weird little story. It comes right before the flood story in Genesis 6, so you’d think they’d have read it, but you know people don’t read their bibles. But even when people a

Scribes: Ancient Israel’s scholars.

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It wasn’t just that they knew how to write. SCRIBE /skraɪb/ n. One who writes [for a living]. 2. In ancient Israel, a bible scholar; one with expertise in the Law and theology. In our culture, we strive for universal literacy: We want everybody to be able to read. ’Cause in a democracy, if the people are gonna run the country, they need to be educated to that level. (Of course, if nobody but private-school kids get such an education, only the wealthy will really run the country… which is a whole other rant, and one I don’t care to go into today.) But just as democracy has only recently been widespread in human history, universal literacy is also a relatively new idea. Bounce back in time to the Roman Empire, and maybe 15 to 25 percent of the people could read. The rest could not. Not because they were dumb. Humans are just as smart now as they were then. It’s because they didn’t have access to an education. Only those who could afford literate slaves who’d teach their k

Slavery: How God mitigated and abolished it.

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Being in the bible is not the same as endorsement, y’know. Back in bible times, people had slaves. Slavery was legal. This is a weird and troubling idea for a lot of Christians. In the United States, slavery is illegal, and we consider it immoral. So it’s troubling to read about slavery in the bible as if it’s normal or okay. Especially considering our history with slavery. We fought a whole war over it, y’know. Many southerners are in denial about that, and claim the War Between the States was really about states’ rights and local sovereignty… but history doesn’t bear ’em out at all. Confederate politicians and generals proudly declared they were fighting to retain their peculiar institution of slavery—because unlike southerners today, they didn’t consider slavery to be immoral. Hey, it’s in the bible! Thing is, American slavery wasn’t at all like biblical slavery. What Americans practiced was chattel slavery , in which slaves were considered cattle—a word which evolved fro

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

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SADDUCEE 'sæd.ʒə.si noun. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife. [Sadducean .sæd.ʒə'si.ən adjective. ] Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in. John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134 BC to 104 BC . He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167 BC . His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41 BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater . John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós /“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know

Adultery, concubines, and marriage, in the Old Testament.

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Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament. Years ago one of my eighth-grade students asked me what a concubine was. ’Cause he wasn’t familiar with the word, and it was in his bible. It’s in everybody’s bibles: Pylegéš /“concubine,” which Strong’s dictionary defines as “concubine; paramour.” I just went with the 21st-century term for paramour: “It’s a girlfriend,” I told him. Later that day his mother called me to complain. She heard the story, spoke with her pastor, and he assured her a concubine is a wife . Not a girlfriend. What sort of morality was I attempting to teach her son? Um… it wasn’t a morality lesson. It’s a definition. The morality lesson comes from whether you think the bible’s references to concubines is prescriptive or descriptive : Whether because the patriarchs did it, we can; or whether the patriarchs simply did it, but Jesus calls us to be better than they. (I’ll save you the guessing game: It’s nearly always the second one.) The pat

Baalism: The icky religions we find in ancient Israel.

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Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky. Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods. 2. Lord, master, sir, husband. [Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑl.im/ n.pl. , Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n. ] The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the L ORD were various middle eastern gods which tended to be called by their word for “master.” In Hebrew and Aramaic that’d be bahál ; in Arabic and Ugaritic bahl , Amharic bal , Akkadian Belu , and in English it takes the form “Baal.” Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím /“Baals” ( KJV “Baalim”). Jg 2.11, 1Sa 7.4, 1Ki 18.18, 2Ch 17.3, Jr 2.23, Ho 2.13 Rather than refer to these gods by their proper names, middle easterners respectfully called them “lord,” much as

The 13 tribes of Israel. (Yes, 13. I didn’t miscount.)

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Hope you’re not triskaidekaphobic. In case you are, the bible usually says 12. The Hebrews whom the L ORD rescued from Egypt during the Exodus, consisted of the descendants of Jacob ben Isaac—whom a man, probably an angel, renamed Israel after their wrestling match. Ge 32.28 Hence they’re regularly called benéi Yišraél /“children of Israel.” Ex 1.1 Since Israel had 12 sons (through four different women), and all the “children of Israel” are descended from the sons, they’re also known as “the 12 tribes of Israel,” each tribe named for each son. In English, the sons are Sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23 Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24 Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25 Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26 They’re listed in various orders, but Reuben tends to come first, ’cause he was firstborn. However, Israel reassigned the birthright , the patriarchal obligations of the eldest son, to his favorite son, Joseph. Hence

Remember the Sabbath day.

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Our weekly holiday… and a command we regularly violate. Believe it or not, we Christians actually have a holiday every single week. You likely forgot about it because it’s so regular. It’s Sabbath. It’s the day God mandated (in the Ten Commandments, you know) that people take off. We’re not to work on it. We have the other six days of the week for that. Exodus 20.8-11 KWL 8 “Remember to separate the day of Sabbath. 9 Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath. It’s for me , your L ORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you, your sons, daughters, male slaves, female slaves, animals, or visitors at your gates. 11 For six days, I the L ORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it. The seventh day, I stopped, so I the L ORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.” And once again, in Deuteronomy . Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL 12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your L ORD God commanded you. 13 Work

Ritually clean and unclean: Ready for worship!

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It’s not literal cleanliness. It just happens to look like it. From time to time the scriptures talk about tahór /“clean” and tamé /“unclean.” Sometimes it’s meant literally, like when the bible refers to pure gold or silver, or refer to a dirty person or animal. But most of the time the scriptures use these terms not literally, but ritually —what the L ORD defined as “clean” or “unclean” for the purposes of worship. “Clean” things could be used for worship; “clean” people were free to worship. “Unclean” things and people couldn’t. If you were clean, you could go to temple—and the Pharisees would let you go to synagogue. If not, not. And if unclean things were used for worship anyway, or unclean people worshiped without first purifying themselves, there were dire consequences. Leviticus 10.1-11 KWL 1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it, and brought it into the L ORD ’s presence— weird fire, which God didn’t perm

Samaritans, and Jesus’s living water.

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A bit about the woman Jesus met at the well, and her people. John 4.1-15. To give you a better sense of how the ancient Judeans felt about Samaritans, you gotta think about how the average Evangelical in the United States feels… about Muslims. Yeah, there y’go. Distrust. Uncertainty. Fear. The assumption that because some terrorists claim to be Muslim, all Muslims are terrorist. The assumption that because Muslims in various countries live under strict interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, they wanna implement those customs in this country, and inflict their commands upon us. (Never mind the fact a number of Christians wouldn’t mind inflicting our strict interpretations of the Old Testament upon everyone as well.) Samaritans had a similar reputation in ancient Judea. The Judeans figured they were right, and Samaritans wrong. Really wrong. Dangerously wrong. They considered them pagans and foreigners, and had nothing to do with them. And Samaritans believe (yeah, t

Covenant: How God makes our relationship official.

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Despite what you may have heard, it’s not just an extra-special contract. Covenant /'kəv.ən.ənt/ n. Committed, intentional relationship. The parties who enter such relationships spell out the duties of one to the other, made with firm, binding promises. 2. v. To enter such a relationship. [Covenantal /kəv.ən'ənt.əl/ adj. ] Our culture, including popular Christian culture, seldom understands the significant difference between “covenant” and “contract.” Usually because of marriage. Seriously. Y’see, back when there was no such thing as separation of church and state, the government formally recognized various religious covenants: Baptisms, christenings, marriages, religious vows, and so forth. After the United States decided it was in our best interest (particularly the church’s best interest) for government to remain neutral, our governments nevertheless still kept marriage on the books. Because it comes in handy to know who is married to whom—for the purposes of in

The cycle: The good old days, and the dark times.

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Why history repeats itself. Cycle. /'saɪ.kəl/ n. Series of events, regularly repeated in the same order. 2. [ biblical ] The repeating history of apostasy, oppression, revival, and salvation. [Cyclical /'sɪ.klə.kəl/ adj .] History repeats itself. Most people figure it’s for the reason philosopher George Santayana famously stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More accurately it’s that people didn’t learn from the past. They remember it just fine. But they think this time, they’ll get it right. The disasters of the past? People were naïve back then. We’re more intelligent, more evolved now. They failed, but we’ll succeed. Then we don’t. ’Cause history repeats itself. The usual form of this repetition is an up-and-down cycle. Historians call it all sorts of different things. An economic boom, followed by a period of downturn. An era of good feelings, followed by serious partisanship. A gilded age, followed by a panic. Good times

Patriarchy: When fathers ruled the earth.

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The system of government we find in Genesis —which some try inflicting on their own families. Patriarchy. /'peɪ.tri.ɑrk.i/ n. System of government where the father, or eldest male, is ruler. 2. System wherein women are largely excluded from positions of authority. [Patriarchal /'peɪ.tri.ɑr.kəl/ adj .] When people talk about patriarchy nowadays, they tend to mean the second definition above: Women can’t seem to find their way into any official or significant positions of leadership. They can have unofficial power, like a First Lady; they can have insignificant power, like being in charge of cleaning the break room. (Gee, what an honor.) But never any serious authority; the “old boys’ network” keeps shutting them out. Because the “old boys” don’t wanna work with women. Especially don’t wanna work for women. Doesn’t matter the reasons; they’re all different forms of sexism. It’s a way-too-common problem in the present day. But actually sexism isn’t what this article

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

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Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.” Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law. 2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.] [Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj. , Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n. ] People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this: “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towar