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Showing posts with the label #Background

Who wrote the bible?

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A lot of times, we don’t know. And that’s okay.No, the answer’s not “God.”The bible was written by prophets, people who heard from God and shared what they heard. Out of humility, some of ’em didn’t necessarily describe themselves as prophets, but all the same, that’s what they are: Their God-experiences inspired them to write about him, and thus we have the books and letters which make up our bible.“God wrote it” is the short answer people give when we’ve no clue how God works. We assume God did with his prophets the same as he did with Moses: He stated a bunch of things, and the prophets took dictation like a secretary. Or they assume how the Holy Spirit “inspired” the authors was to work the prophets’ hands like a puppeteer with a marionette, and made them write the bible.Generally they’ve got micromanagerial ideas about how God works, and figure had to take absolute physical control of the circumstances to guarantee we have the bible he wanted… ’cause he didn’t trust his followers…

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

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In my early 20s I went to a conference presented by youth pastor turned lifestyle guru Bill Gothard. (He didn’t present ’em in person; we watched videos.)
Bill Gothard. Wikipedia His organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, formerly Campus Teams) goes round the United States to teach young people “basic biblical principles” which would keep them on the straight and narrow. Gothard ran it till 2014, when he stepped down ’cause of molestation accusations. Since the statute of limitations means he’s not getting prosecuted, it looks like he’s quietly slipping back into ministry as the scandal fades from everyone’s memory.Gothard is hugely popular among Fundamentalists, who promoted him ’cause his teachings are right in line with conservative Christian culture. He doesn’t just teach people to memorize bible verses, pray, and go to church. He claims the bible says we should obey our parents no matter what, women should obey their h…

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

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An odd little story in Genesis, and the myths which sprang from it. NAFALnɔ'fɔlverb (Hebrew ‏נָפַל, Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed.[Nefil nɛ'filnoun, nefilim nɛ.fil'imn.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 aren’t checking up on weird myt…

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 kids, or those who c…

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 from chattel. Wha…

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

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SADDUCEE'sæd.ʒə.sinoun. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife.[Sadducean .sæd.ʒə'si.ənadjective.]Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in.John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134BC to 104BC. 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 167BC. 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 41BC 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 why he was called that. He’s kno…

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 patriarchs had concu…

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 LORD 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 we do with YHWH. They used …

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 LORD 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 1.1Since 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 areSons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26They’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 Joseph received twice the i…

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 KWL8“Remember to separate the day of Sabbath.9Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath.It’s for me, your LORD 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.11For six days, I the LORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it.The seventh day, I stopped, so I the LORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.”And once again, in Deuteronomy.Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your LORD God commanded you.13 Work six days, and do all your work. 14 The seventh day is Sab…

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 LORD 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 KWL1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it,and brought it into the LORD’s presence—weird fire, which God didn’t permit them.2 So fire came out of …

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, they still exist) precis…

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 inheritance, next of …

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, bad times, you know we’v…

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 is about. (Not prima…

“Silent years”: Did God once turn off his miracles?

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What proof do Christians have of an absentee God? Only the lack of books between testaments. Which is hardly enough.It’s usually round Christmas that preachers start talking about “the silent years,” or “the 400 silent years,” and how the annunciations of John the Baptist and Christ Jesus mark the end of them.As it’s taught, for roughly four centuries between the writing of Malachi, “the closing of the Old Testament canon,” and Gabriel’s appearance to John’s dad, God was silent. He had no prophets—’cause if he did, the prophet would’ve written a book, but no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets. And he did no miracles—’cause if he had, someone would’ve written a book about it, but nobody wrote one, so nothing happened. If those 400 years weren’t silent, we’d have more books of the bible.(Um… what about the books of prophets, and of divine doings, among the apocrypha, which were written during that 400-year period? Oh, insist these preachers, they’re mythology. They don’t count.)Oka…

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 towards fake behavior.“They w…