Daily Archives: 21 Aug 2019

A Calvin Autograph Returns to Geneva

An original document signed by Protestant reformer John Calvin and dating from 1552 has been returned to the canton of Geneva. The document, signed January 15, 1552, is no revolutionary religious treatise but rather a snapshot of a great reformer’s daily grind: a pay-slip, confirming receipt of quarterly wages.

Calvin, of course, worked as a religious minister, and according to the pay-slip would have received a total salary of some 125 florins in the year 1552. The document, which used to be housed in Geneva’s state archives, was stolen at some point in the 19th century and somehow ended up in the possession of a brotherhood in France, who put it up for sale online for a price between €3,500 and €5,000. Once discovered, the brotherhood agreed to send the document back to its rightful Swiss home without remuneration.

Etc.   How interesting!

Luther Was Horrible at Exegesis… Just Wretched

Take, for instance, his silly and speculative exposition of Genesis 9, where Luther describes what Noah did with his time after the flood… in part-

In the first place, Noah filled the office of bishop; and because he had been plagued by various temptations, it was his foremost concern to oppose the devil and comfort the tempted, to restore the erring, to give confidence to the wavering, to encourage the despairing, to shut out the impenitent from his church, and to receive back the penitent with fatherly joy. These are almost the same duties that must be performed by a bishop through the ministry of the Word.  In the second place, Noah had his civil tasks, because he established the state and formulated laws, without which human lust cannot be kept under control. In addition to this, there was the management of his own home or care for the household. Although reason tells us that after the Deluge Noah was occupied with so many varied tasks, Moses makes mention of none of these.

Nope.  Just nope.  None of this is true.  None of it is even mildly accurate.  It is all rubbish (except the last phrase).   Luther was pretty good at theology but when he left Paul and talked about any other part of Scripture, he stank to high heaven.  I suppose, to be honest, that’s why Luther’s fans only talk about his interpretations of Romans and Galatians.

More Yale Depravity

A Yale Medical School professor sexually assaulted five students at a research facility he operated on the island of St. Kitts, beginning in 1994, and Yale University’s policies and procedures failed to stop the abuse, according to an investigation commissioned by the university.

Dr. D. Eugene Redmond Jr., who retired in 2018 when he learned that he was being investigated, had been a member of Yale’s faculty since 1974. He claimed that he had shut down an internship program on the Caribbean island after three students complained of sexual misconduct and harassment in 1994, but again recruited students between 2001 and 2017, according to the report of the investigation, which was released Tuesday.

Etc. Total depravity knows no elitist institution boundaries.

‘Rebar Bender’…

That has to be the best term to describe the self appointed untrained ‘experts’ that inhabit the internet that I have ever seen.  I expect to be using it rather a lot, interchangeably with dilettante.   Thank you, The Onion.

Judges 19, A Guest Post by Peter J. Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge

The following originally appeared as a series of tweets that Peter posted and I was so taken by his presentation that I asked him to post it here as a guest post. He has generously agreed. Enjoy!

The Bible’s most gory story

Judges 19 contains the disturbing account of the rape and dissection of the Levite’s concubine. The whole episode covers Judges 19–21 and teaches us a lot about male violence against women.

The story is set during the time of the judges, when there’s little government. The first and last verses of the episode remind us that there was no king (Judges 19:1; 21:25), which has already become a motif in the book (17:6; 18:1).

Judges is arguably the Bible’s goriest book. Yes, other Bible books relate more deaths, but Judges, with Adoni-bezek’s thumbs and big toes cut off, Eglon’s belly stabbed, Sisera’s temple pierced, Abimelech’s skull crushed, Samson’s eyes gouged out, and the concubine dissected depicts more explicit body damage than the whole rest of the narrative sections of the Bible put together. This section is thus the final bloody climax of the Bible’s goriest book.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Bible, which relentlessly depicts human wrong, records both small government (judges) and big government (kings) as unravelling in tragedies of male sexual violence followed by civil war. Thus neither decentralised nor centralised government, nor even a great (God-given!) constitution, can restrain human evil. The Bible portrays the failure of these things so that we know that God has to come into the world personally to sort things out.

Our account begins in 19:1 with a Levite taking a concubine. This is strange, because a concubine is a second tier wife, but this man doesn’t seem to have a first tier wife. In other words, he’s in an abusive relationship towards her from the start.

Note also that she’s from Bethlehem, just like David, and like Jesus. In this story it’s no coincidence that the main victim comes from Bethlehem, the town of king David and that the main bad guys come from Gibeah, the town of king Saul. In fact, both the final stories in the Book of Judges (chapters 17–18 and 19–21) contain a Levite, Ephraim, and the town Bethlehem. If, as in some orderings of the Bible (e.g. typical Greek, Latin, and English), you put Ruth after Judges you have three stories about Bethlehem in a row.

Next, the concubine is unfaithful to her man (19:2), but this doesn’t seem to consist in her going off with someone else so much as her going home to Bethlehem. She’s there for four months during which the Levite seems to do nothing about her (cf. another four month wait in 20:47). Eventually the Levite goes to Bethlehem to find her.

What’s so striking to me is how warmly the Levite’s father-in-law receives him (19:3). They eat and drink together and her father repeatedly delays his departure: the men have a camaraderie which the Levite doesn’t share with his concubine. Later on we see a bond between the Levite and another male host which overrides their concern for the women.

After days of delay and more merriment with his father-in-law the Levite sets off with his concubine and male servant, but too late in the day for safe travel.

As it gets dark, the servant advises that they go to a Canaanite city (19:11), which resonates with when later Saul’s servant advises him to go to Ramah (1 Samuel 9:6). The Levite here wants to press on to an Israelite city like Gibeah or Ramah. So they get to Gibeah (belonging to the tribe of Benjamin) after dark, but no one welcomes them in.

Just then, an old man from out of town, from the tribe of Ephraim, arrives back from the field and welcomes them in. We like him. He seems an ideal host, and offers all the food and supplies they could want. They’re having a great time together (19:22).

But then suddenly the men of the city start banging on the door. Though the Hebrew for ‘men’ could grammatically be generic for ‘people’, I think it’s right here to take it as exclusively male. Careful readers will have already noticed many echoes of the Sodom narrative of Genesis 19 in Judges 19. In both, the locals don’t offer hospitality; there’s mention of the city square (Genesis 19:2; Judges 19:15); someone from out of town hosts. Even the phrase ‘he pressed (פצר) upon him’ (Judges 19:8) is rare enough to remind us of how the men of Sodom pressed (פצר) Lot (Genesis 19:9).

But now the echoes become unmistakable as the men of this city demand that the Levite be brought out that they might ‘know’ him. One might be tempted to read ‘know’ (19:22) innocently: they want to get to know the stranger in their midst. But the context and subsequent horror don’t allow us to dwell on this possibility for long. The men of this Israelite city are wanting the man to be brought out for sex with them just as the men of the most proverbially wicked non-Israelite city (Sodom) had wanted sex with Lot’s guests.

But parallels run deeper. The host in both goes out to say, ‘My brothers, please do not do [this] bad’ (Genesis 19:7; Judges 19:23). Lot offers his virgin daughters to protect his male guests (by the way, we know that Genesis thinks that’s a bad idea because after he’d offered them for non-consensual sex, later in the passage as his comeuppance Lot himself ends up having non-consensual sex with these same daughters.). Here the old man (whom we were just beginning to like) verbally offers his virgin daughter and the concubine up to the mob. Worse than Lot, he invites them to humble (=rape) them and ‘do what is good in your eyes’ (19:24)—a phrase which echoes the motif of this part of Judges: people doing what’s right in their own eyes.

Extraordinarily we hear him say ‘but to this man do not do this foolish thing’. So things have come to a point where a father thinks his solidarity to his male guest trumps his parental care for his daughter.  The Levite grabs hold of his concubine and thrusts her out.

Sparing us details, the narrator tells us ‘they knew her and abused her all night until morning. And when the day began to break they let her go’ (19:25). What horrors she must have undergone!

Another reason her torments are not recorded is that they are not known. Other than the perpetrators, most or all of whom are dead by the end of the episode, the victim was the only witness. She bore the pain utterly alone.

It goes on. ‘Then the woman came as the day was dawning and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light’ (19:26). She collapses while her ‘master’ (doesn’t that title say a lot about the asymmetry of the relationship?) is safe inside.

The narrator shocks us with the callousness and pathos of the next verse: ‘When her master arose in the morning [presumably after a good night’s sleep], and opened the doors of the house [which she’d been shut out from] and went out to go on his way [business as usual]… there was his concubine, fallen at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold’ (19:27).

The position of her hands—so close and yet so far—shows exactly where the narrator’s sympathies lie, in the personal tragedy of this poor woman.

But the juxtaposed callousness of the Levite shocks further: ‘And he said to her “Get up, and let’s go”, but there was no answer.’ And he put her on the donkey and the man arose and went to his place. And he came to his house and took a knife and took hold of his concubine and cut her up into twelve pieces and send her [sic] into all the territory of Israel’ (19:28-29).

People are shocked and respond to a call to arms.

But we have to observe the heartlessness of this Levite who thrust out his concubine to predators, expected her simply to resume travel in the morning, and then finally dismembered her body. We also notice that death through misnamed ‘rough sex’ is not new.

It is unusual (relative to biblical narrative generally) that the story never relates the concubine’s death. We don’t know when she died because the heartless Levite never checked. I hope it was before he cut her up.  Was she put on the donkey half-dead like the man in Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan—a better host than the Ephraimite host in this story? There’s also a Levite in that parable, but he doesn’t act well either.

The Levite tells her to ‘arise’ qumi (קוּמִי) linguistically like talitha qum (variant qumi) said by Jesus in Mark 5:41, but quite unlike Jesus’s saying in almost every other way.

Moving through the rest of the story rather more quickly: in chapter 20 civil war breaks out. 11 tribes fight against the one tribe of Benjamin, the tribe from which the aggressors of Gibeah came. But even if we consider the 11 tribes to be the ‘good’ side, they’re not really good because they’re following the Levite’s false report of what happened (20:5), which focusses on the mortal threat of the locals against the Levite, though it’s not clear he was ever in such danger. His report also conveniently omits his role in putting the concubine outside for the rabble. So one tenth of Israel’s 400,000 strong force is lost and almost all the tribe of Benjamin. The whole narrative is deeply reminiscent of Israel’s attack on Ai. In other words, an Israelite city has become as bad as a Canaanite one.

In the end, all of Benjamin are killed except for 600 men. Note thus that the Benjaminite men were the problem, but more women were wiped out!

Now the Israelites have another problem. They’ve made a foolish vow (as Benjaminite Saul does later). This vow was not to allow their daughters to marry men from Benjamin. The solution they now find to this problem is to destroy all of Jabesh Gilead, except 400 virgins because Jabesh Gilead hadn’t responded to the call for war. This creates a strong bond between the small tribe of Benjamin and Jabesh Gilead so that Saul is quick to come to their aid in 1 Samuel 11, after Saul cuts up oxen and sends the pieces by envoy (1 Samuel 11:7). The parallels and contrasts with the concubine’s fate are hard to miss.

Still 200 wives short, the Israelites decide that if Benjaminites ambush and abduct 200 dancing girls in Shiloh that’s alright.

That’s how the book ends. People seem to think that the solution to the problem of male violence was to abduct more women. It looks like they’ve learned nothing. The last line of the book runs like this:  ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ (21:25)   When we reflect on the story as a whole, we see that it’s a story without heroes, but with a clear victim. No character is named. This can actually aid us in connecting with the characters, which could be any one of us.

The Bible is not tone deaf to the problem of male violence against women. It’s actually a theme to which it repeatedly returns. The picture of the woman’s hands on the threshold is meant to haunt us.

The woman from Bethlehem was the involuntary victim, a substitute for others. Later the Bible tells of someone from Bethlehem who willingly gave up his life as a substitute to protect others from death. This story resonates with the big Bible theme that human evil runs deep and that’s exactly why we need someone willing to die for us.

Peter J. Williams, August 2019

1619 As the Beginning of Slavery in America? Not So Fast…

This essay is extremely interesting:

The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History

The overstated significance of 1619—still a common fixture in American history curriculum—begins with the questions most of us reflexively ask when we consider the first documented arrival of a handful of people from Africa in a place that would one day become the United States of America. First, what was the status of the newly arrived African men and women? Were they slaves? Servants? Something else? And, second, as Winthrop Jordan wondered in the preface to his 1968 classic, White Over Black, what did the white inhabitants of Virginia think when these dark-skinned people were rowed ashore and traded for provisions? Were they shocked? Were they frightened? Did they notice these people were black? If so, did they care?

In truth, these questions fail to approach the subject of Africans in America in a historically responsible way. None of these queries conceive of the newly-arrived Africans as actors in their own right. These questions also assume that the arrival of these people was an exceptional historical moment, and they reflect the worries and concerns of the world we inhabit rather than shedding useful light on the unique challenges of life in the early seventeenth century.

Read the whole. History matters.

It’s a Sickness Unique to America: The Gun Store Running a Half off ‘Back to School Sale’

I’m sure that it hasn’t even occurred to the gun nuts how really awful this all is.

It’s only been a little more than a week since the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which together killed 32 people and injured 51 more. But for some, apparently, those tragedies are already an afterthought.

Earlier this week, Texas outlet KTRK broke some disturbing news: an eastern Texas gun store advertised a back-to-school gun sale.

“BACK TO SCHOOL SALE AUGUST 13TH-18TH UP TO 50% OFF FIREARMS” read the Boyert Shooting Center’s sign in bold black letters. The half-off discount was emphasized in red….

One of the firearms Boyert sells is the Barrett M82-A1 semi-automatic 0.50 caliber rifle. According to the manufacturer’s website, this assault rifle — which the company calls an “American icon” — “has been proven in combat in every environment.” Next to the gun’s description is a series of photos of American soldiers.

Boyert is offering customers a killer deal on this rifle in particular: $999.99 off the list price so that everyday Texans can get their hands on this piece of war machinery.

And there’s more.  America is sick.  And it is a sickness whose only cure will be the death of the country.

If Someone Compares You to God, Your Duty is to Denounce It, Not Praise It

This morning Trump tweeted

“Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words.

“President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him….

….like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for…..

…..all Jews, Blacks, Gays, everyone. And importantly, he’s good for everyone in America who wants a job.” Wow!

Wow isn’t the proper response to such nonsense.  Denunciation is. If someone compares you to God, your duty is to denounce it, not praise it.  And a Christian would do precisely that.

But Trump exhibits a pattern of thought which demonstrates that he is not a Christian.  His ‘Evangelical’ supporters aren’t either.

Le livre d’Esther: Une exégèse en images

Via the author, who graciously provided a review copy of his new book-

Ouvrage d’histoire de la Perse achéménide, d’exégèse biblique et d’histoire de l’art religieux permettant de mieux comprendre les sens profane, politique et religieux du Livre d’Esther.

Reception history is the cutting edge of biblical scholarship.  And this volume sits on the very edge of that cutting edge.

English readers shouldn’t be fearful of the French title of the volume.  There is a helpful English summary for such persons.  And since the bulk of the book’s 700 pages is images depicting scenes from the book of Esther, any absence of skill in reading French is negligible.

In other words, English readers can benefit from the book almost as much as readers of French.  The author writes

This book is a journey in Jewish, Christian and Islamic works of art illustrating the Bible story. The two versions, the Masoretic, the Hebrew version retained by the Judaic and Reformed canon, as well as the Greek one admitted by the Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Christian churches are quoted . Christian exegesis and the flourishing two millenia old rabbinic comments and Jewish legends illuminate the meanings of so many representations of the Book of Esther.

The author’s English is a bit shaky in places (but it’s better than any sentence I might hazard writing in French, so I am not criticizing his efforts in any respect).  For instance

Exegesis chapter discuss the origins of the text, its various versions, its reception by the monotheist religions. Old Mesopotamia and Persia history research demonstrate that, if the biblical scripture is a fiction by a Jew of the diaspora living in Persia some time later after the Hebrew people were liberated by Cyrus. The story is not the history but is full of historic references to historic events and persons. In this book we reveal who was the historic personage who inspired Haman. We explain why Mordekaï is named from Mardouk and Esther from Ishtar.

Etc.  It becomes immediately apparent that the author could have benefited from having a native English speaker go through the English summary.  Indeed

More than 700 art works are eBook hypertext (url) linkedto let reader wathch them full page as well as all consult references.

has much in it that needs to be cleaned up.  Nevertheless, English readers will get the gist.  And the purpose of the volume is illustration rather than discourse though, naturally, an ability to read French will make the work more useful than simply following the links to the images.

What follows is a description of the methodology utilized in the work and this is followed by a discussion of the book of Esther by means of exegetical snippets and hyperlinks to works of art illustrating the passage under consideration.

Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as an art exhibition catalog.  As readers ‘walk through’ the book of Esther a guide explains to them the artistic representations of Esther’s various scenes.

As such, it really is quite an interesting work.  It has weaknesses; i.e., the exposition isn’t always ‘critical’ (in the historical-critical sense) but the fact that the author has gone through the laborious process of assembling art connected to text is praiseworthy.

This is a volume worth using.


A New Essay by Konrad Schmid

Religiöse, “heilige” Texte waren in der Antike weit verbreitet. Aber warum lesen wir bis heute die Bibel? Konrad Schmid und Jens Schröter erklären, wie aus alten Erzählungen, Liedern, Weisheitssprüchen und Gesetzen, aus Briefen an frühchristliche Gemeinden und den Erzählungen über Jesus in einem langen Prozess heilige Schriften von Juden und Christen hervorgingen, die heute überall auf der Welt verbreitet sind. Mit diesem Buch liegt nach Jahrzehnten erstmals wieder ein Überblick über die Entstehung der Bibel auf dem neuesten Forschungsstand vor. Die Forschung der letzten Jahrzehnte hat viele gängige Annahmen über die Geschichte Israels und die Entstehung der Bibel revidiert. Ereignisse wie der Auszug aus Ägypten oder der Tempelbau unter König Salomo gelten nicht länger als historisch. Damit verschärft sich die Frage, wie die großen Geschichten des Alten Testaments entstanden sind und wann sie Teil “heiliger Schriften” wurden. Auch gängige Annahmen über die Sammlung der Evangelien oder frühe Apostelbriefe stehen neu auf dem Prüfstand. Das vorliegende Buch beschreibt auf dem aktuellen Forschungsstand den langen Weg von frühen Erzählungen des alten Israel über Schlüsseltexte des jüdischen Monotheismus und des frühen Christentums bis hin zu heiligen Büchern der Weltreligionen Judentum und Christentum. Wer wissen will, wie es zu einem solchen überlieferungsgeschichtlichen Wunder kommen konnte, sollte diese Biographie des berühmtesten Buches der Welt lesen.

Download the whole.

Today With Calvin: Troubles with the Libertines

calv_luther_zwiCalvin and the libertines were frequently at odds.  Indeed,

The two parties became more and more enraged against each other. Calvin’s eloquence gave him a decided superiority in the little republic. On the 24th of July 1547 he wrote to Viret:

—“I continue to employ my usual severity while laboring to correct the prevailing vices, and especially those of the young. The right-thinking tell me of the dangers by which I am surrounded, but I take no heed of this, lest I should seem too careful for my personal safety. The Lord will provide such means of escape for me as He sees good.”

The families which belonged to the libertine party took a very formidable position; but Calvin remained master of the field, and never ceased to avail himself of his office as a preacher to attack his opponents. Somewhat later, that is August 21, 1547, he states in a letter to Farel that

–“letters were daily brought him from Lyons, from which he learned that he had been killed ten times over.” “Amadeus is in France; his wife is with her father, where she plays the Bacchanal according to her usual fashion. We besought the council that, if she showed true repentance, all the past might be forgotten. But this has not occurred, and she is so far gone as to have cut off all hopes of pardon. I will seek Penthesilea, when the season for administering the Lord’s Supper arrives.”*

Sadly Calvin eventually lost the war against the Libertines and so did Luther and Zwingli.  There are more of them than there are the faithful to this very day.

*The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer (Vol. 2, p. 61).

Calvin Wasn’t Bendy

“I continue to employ my usual severity while laboring to correct the prevailing vices, and especially those of the young. The right-thinking tell me of the dangers by which I am surrounded, but I take no heed of this, lest I should seem too careful for my personal safety. The Lord will provide such means of escape for me as He sees good.”  — Calvin to Viret, 1547.

Calvin would never be invited to speak at a PCUSA church nowadays.  Never.