Monday, December 31, 2012

Song 8:5-14 - A Better Way


5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
   leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labour with you;
   there she who bore you was in labour.
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
   as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
   passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
   a raging flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
   neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
   all the wealth of one’s house,
   it would be utterly scorned.
8 We have a little sister,
   and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister,
   on the day when she is spoken for?
9 If she is a wall,
   we will build upon her a battlement of silver;
but if she is a door,
   we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
10 I was a wall,
   and my breasts were like towers;
then I was in his eyes
   as one who brings peace.
11 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
   he entrusted the vineyard to keepers;
   each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver.
12 My vineyard, my very own, is for myself;
   you, O Solomon, may have the thousand,
   and the keepers of the fruit two hundred!
13 O you who dwell in the gardens,
   my companions are listening for your voice;
   let me hear it.
14 Make haste, my beloved,
   and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
   upon the mountains of spices! (NRSV)
This is the last of our section by section posts on the Song of Songs. Stay tuned for a post discussing the didactic intention of the Song and for our usual commentary review post. Since we're making announcements, also look for a post coming soon giving a personal update and another announcing major changes at this blog.

The scene opens with the man and woman coming up from the wilderness. This is the second time this has happened. Weren't they just in a lush garden? Is this a signal to read against the grain? Against the expression of the two lovers?

Their love has grown strong. The girl  insists that nothing can tear them apart. They are not married and the
girl will not accept any other. Like death, love has consumed her.

Verses eight and nine are a tough nut to crack. With Exum, I find it highly unlikely that the brothers are the speakers of these verses. They are yet to speak in the entire poem. However, against Exum, I take the 'we' to imply a group speaking, that group being the daughters of Jerusalem. The Song is didactic and hence it's not shocking that it might want to make its point clear here at the climax. The daughters of Jerusalem have seen what has happened to the woman. How do they prevent it from happening to others? They must keep them pure once they are are betrothed. They must become truly inaccessible. Attractive but inaccessible - and not the pretense of inaccessibility that the girl of the Song exhibited. Attractive inaccessibility required the help of the community. The girl responds by saying that she was just like a beautiful inaccessible city - except that she wasn't inaccessible.

The next two verses are spoken by the man. He does not believe that there was a need for the girl to have been tended to by others. He could tend to his own woman just fine - except that she wasn't really his woman. We don't know if the girl was betrothed to another or not, but it does not seem likely that she was betrothed to him.

The Song closes as we might expect. The woman gives one more wistful cry for union, for love not satisfied, to indulge in the most sensuous of pleasures yet once more.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Books of the Year: 2012

I've been extraordinarily busy at work lately so I'm barely getting this out before Christmas.. Oh well. I still want to keep up the tradition and briefly mention the best five books that I read for the first time in 2012. This year was the year of the long books so my volume, again, was a little lower, but I believe I made up for it with quality. Anyways, here's the list!

5. History of Sexuality Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault


All three volumes are worth reading, but this one stuck out to me the most by showing that the way(s) we have thought about sex and sexuality over the past few hundred years is far from the only way. The heavy citation of primary source material also makes this book invaluable. Anyone studying sexual ethics needs to wrestle with this book.

4. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien


I read this on my flight to China and back. Even though I knew the whole story it was a very rich and enjoyable read. I love the way Tolkien creates a world full of meaning and wonder. I enjoyed that as much if not more than the story.

3. Song of Songs  by J. Cheryl Exum


There are several good commentaries on the Song of Songs, but I found Exum's to both be the best and the most fun to read. You can tell that she's spent a lifetime in the Song and has many creative solutions to difficult passages. Not only is there a lot of good information and sound reasoning, but also a lot of great prose. It may be the best written commentary I've ever read.

2. Church Dogmatics Vol I.2 by Karl Barth


What can one say except, it's Barth, so of course it's brilliant. I learned a lot pouring through these pages. Yes, Barth is dense and hard to grasp at times but the payoff is big. If nothing else, it's worth reading for this very very lengthy discussion on authority. It's a very rich section with profound practical implications. He articulates, for me, a strong reason why I could never become Catholic (or, for different reasons, Episcopalian under their current leadership).

1. Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul by Douglas Campbell


I believe Campbell's work is the most significant on Paul since Sanders. He provides a fresh rereading of Romans from the foundations up. One that I find, at many points, persuasive. It's an extremely long and difficult read - I think I spent about four months in it - but it is rewarding. I would rate it as one of the five best books I've ever read.


And as usual, here's my list of books that came out in 2012 that I didn't get to read and am most excited about.


5. Bible Made Impossible, The: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith


Perhaps the most controversial book of the year in Evangelical circles. I'd like, at some point to see what the hubbub was about for myself and I expect to find myself at least somewhat in agreement with him. My only question will be if he is too polemical to be constructive as these types of works sometimes are.

4. The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha by David deSilva


I've been trying to read a lot more of the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha over the past couple of years. The insights it has opened up for me into the New Testament have been significant. This book has gotten a lot of positive press and should be a sure guide.

3. Acts: Introduction and 1:1-2:47 by Craig Keener


Keener is one of my two or three favorite Evangelical commentators. I love his little commentary on Romans. This should  be his magnum opus. No other text of Scripture is as well suited for his skill set.

2. Four Views on the Apostle Paul ed. Michael Bird


I love Pauline studies and the contributors to this volume are very good. I'm particularly interested to see the reaction to Campbell's presentation. I love Luke Timothy Johnson as well and Mark Nanos' Jewish treatment of Paul intrigues me too,

1. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church by Markus Bockmuehl


Bockmuehl is becoming my favorite New Testament scholar. His emphasis on the importance of reception history for understanding meaning is a breath of fresh air. I'm looking forward, very much, to his treatment of the undervalued apostle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Balthasar on Faith

...Christian faith, being God's witness in us, can be understood only as the answer to this interior and intimate self-witnessing of the God who opens up the secrets of his Heart as he gives himself to humanity. This is a first and most formal affirmation, and one which must proceed all those particular modalities which are related to man's concrete condition: his sinful turning away from God, his blindness and obstinacy, and finally, those things which grace works in him - his conversion, his breaking, his humbling and his exultation. Faith is participation in the free self-disclosure of God's interior life and light, just as the spiritual nature of the creature means participation in the unveild-ness of all reality, which in one way or another must also include the divine reality. The created spirit does not "deduce" this reality (in which God is included in whatever way) from indications and logical premises; as spirit, it is from the very start set in the light of this reality, at the same time thinking from within it and directing its thought toward it - (Hans Urs von Balthasar The Glory of the Lord p. 157).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Doctor Who: A Murky Pond


The end of the 2012 portion of season 7 occurred two months ago. Ever since I've wanted to do a write-up on Amy Pond but I've been too busy with work to pull it off. Things aren't slowing down any, but I miss blogging to the degree that I'm going to write this post anyways. You'll get this post on Amy today, and at some point in the near future I'll write a comparison post or posts on Amy and Rory vs. Rose and Mickey.

As you can probably tell, I love Doctor Who. I'm a fan. I like almost everything I've seen. That doesn't mean that I'm not critical at the same time. I MUCH prefer the writing of Russel T. Davies over that of Steven Moffat. There are several reasons for that and I want to focus on one of them in this post. While writing strong episodes, Moffat struggles to develop his characters. In fact, I would say that Amy is neither believable nor, honestly, very interesting, or perhaps, better put, important.

At the start of season five I had high hopes. David Tennant and Russel T. Davies were gone, but the new Doctor seemed ok, and he had a gorgeous and flirty companion,[1] Amy Pond. Much like Rose Tyler, she was just a regular girl. And much like Rose she was conflicted over which of her boys she wanted.

Amy also brought two other things to the table. Unlike Rose and Martha Jones, travelling with the Doctor did not harden her. She upheld the value of life from her second episode (The Beast Below)[2] all the way through her end on the show (A Town Called Mercy).[3] The second thing that she brought was an unshakable faith in the Doctor. She adored him and knew he could always turn the worst situations around. And this is where things began to fall apart.

By far the worst episode in the history of the modern Doctor Who is The God Complex.[4] It's the clearest example of Moffat's biggest weakness as a writer. He loves brilliant ideas for episodes and he's going to implement them regardless of the violence they do to the character. In this episode, the Doctor and the Ponds end up in an unusual hotel. It's a hotel that seeks to create fear in its 'guests.' The beast who runs the hotel feeds on the faith of those trapped in it. Presumably, the invocation of fear will lead to clinging onto whatever one has faith in. For Amy, this is the Doctor. Even more than Rose did, Amy believes in the Doctor. Her steadfast belief in the raggedy man is brought up repeatedly throughout season five.[5] It forms the resolution to season five when her steadfast faith saves the Doctor when she brings him back to reality on her wedding day.[6] Nothing, not witnessing the future death of the Doctor nor the failure to rescue her child from the Silence (more on that shortly) can shake her faith in him. So, of course, the beast desires to feast on her faith in the Doctor, perhaps the greatest feast it will ever have.

So how does the Doctor save her from the Beast? He breaks her faith. Very easily, actually. The Doctor utters a monologue about how he really only brought Amy along to feed his vanity, because he wanted to be adored and that he led her to her death, more or less knowingly, because it's what always happens. Voila, Amy’s faith disappears and the threat is over. The Beast dies. Granted, there is some truth to those claims by the Doctor, particularly about him feeding his vanity, but I doubt that they would have the effect of shattering Amy's faith. Was she disillusioned slightly? Sure, but after this episode you see the continuation of faith in the Doctor, especially in the Pond Life shorts. Only one person can save Amy and Rory's marriage, the Doctor, which he in fact does, vindicating her faith. While waiting on the Doctor was a common theme in Amy's life, she never seemed to lose faith in her Doctor. Thus, while an interesting concept, this episode violates Amy's character. Amy wouldn't have lost her faith that easily, in less than a minute, just because of what the Doctor said. Her faith was too rich and too strong. She would have realized that he was only saying those things (however true they were) to save her once again. Moffat was using her and her faith as a device to advance a plot for a single episode while utterly disrespecting her character. This wasn't the only time that happened.

Season six centered on the Silence and their plan to kill the Doctor. In many respects it was a brilliant season, but there is (at least) one major problem that is never adequately resolved. The secondary focal point of season six is the search for Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s child conceived in the Tardis, while the Tardis was in the Time Vortex. This post is running long, so I’ll cut the discussion somewhat short. In essence, outside of a single episode, A Good Man Goes to War, there is never more than a pretense of a search for the missing baby. And by the time the season ends the whole issue is dropped. Now there are two explanations for this, but I don’t find them ultimately satisfying. One could argue that Amy had virtually no conscious interaction with her child, therefore her bond is weak and finding her lost child doesn’t matter to her as much as it should. I find it hard to believe that this argument would hold even for the shallowest of characters. The second, and more interesting option, is that while Amy and Rory didn’t get to raise Melody, they did grow up with her.[7] Perhaps for a different couple this might be a satisfactory answer, but definitely not for this couple, whose marriage falls apart because of the inability to have children. The real explanation is that finding the child would have destroyed Moffat’s idea. He needed Melody Pond to turn out the way she did. It didn’t matter that he never tried (perhaps because he couldn’t) to even resolve the search for the missing child. While that would have concerned a real person, it didn’t matter to characters whose primary purpose was to advance a plot.

In the end, this is the strongest argument I have for why Moffat should not be the lead writer on Doctor Who. He has brilliant ideas, but his ideas run roughshod over his characters, and at times, major plot elements are left largely unresolved and are forgotten. Things that, in real life, would never be forgotten. That’s a problem because the whole point of Amy and Rory was that they were supposed to be real people, much like the companions under the writing of Russel T Davies. That’s not hyperbole. Davies was brilliant, fantastic.[8] I’m not expecting Moffat to rise to the levels of his genius. No matter how entertaining Moffat makes the show, I find his shortcomings unacceptable. I would like to see the show look in another direction.

---------------------
[1] I was originally going to include a discussion of Moffat’s portrayal of women but this post ended up being too long and that probably deserves its own post anyways.

[2] In The Beast Below, Amy stops the Doctor from an act of genocide by euthanasia. The Doctor was going to kill the last of the star whales to liberate it from the horrible life that the people of Great Britain had given it.

[3] In A Town Called Mercy, the Doctor was acting quite unmercifully in the name of mercy, ready to send the villain, the other alien doctor to his death. The Doctor did not want the innocent to die because of the mercy he showed to the guilty. Amy upbraided him for his hardness and inconsistency.

[4] I realize Moffat didn't write this episode but as the lead writer he did ok it. For the record, the worst under Davies was Love & Monsters, but that's just because it wasn't interesting.

[5] The one interesting part of this episode is how it juxtaposes Amy’s faith with religious faith. Moffat throughout is perhaps more explicit than Davies on the quasi-deity of the Doctor.

[6] A fascinating instance of believing something to be true making it true.

[7] I’m not even going to try to deal with the logical problems created here.

[8] I currently am watching classic season 16 and was thrilled to find the source of Eccleston’s and Tennant’s signature word in a single sentence in the closing scene of ‘The Pirate Planet.’ In the span of a year (I’m about 8-9 months into my Doctor Who fandom) I should be able to watch every episode that is available on Amazon. It’s a rewarding experience because I am able to connect classic and modern episodes more easily because it’s all so fresh. In January, assuming my work schedule frees up some to take some time off, I will do some comparative work on a classic episode that got a complete rewrite by Davies. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Song of Songs 6:4-8:4: Unveiled


4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love,
   comely as Jerusalem,
   terrible as an army with banners.
5 Turn away your eyes from me,
   for they overwhelm me!
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
   moving down the slopes of Gilead.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes,
   that have come up from the washing;
all of them bear twins,
   and not one among them is bereaved.
7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
   behind your veil.
8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines,
   and maidens without number.
9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one,
   the darling of her mother,
   flawless to her that bore her.
The maidens saw her and called her happy;
   the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.
10 ‘Who is this that looks forth like the dawn,
   fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
   terrible as an army with banners?’
11 I went down to the nut orchard,
   to look at the blossoms of the valley,
to see whether the vines had budded,
   whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
12 Before I was aware, my fancy set me
   in a chariot beside my prince.
13 Return, return, O Shulammite!
   Return, return, that we may look upon you.
Why should you look upon the Shulammite,
   as upon a dance before two armies?
How graceful are your feet in sandals,
   O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
   the work of a master hand.
2 Your navel is a rounded bowl
   that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
   encircled with lilies.
3 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,
   by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon,
   overlooking Damascus.
5 Your head crowns you like Carmel,
   and your flowing locks are like purple;
   a king is held captive in the tresses.
6 How fair and pleasant you are,
   O loved one, delectable maiden!
7 You are stately as a palm tree,
   and your breasts are like its clusters.
8 I say I will climb the palm tree
   and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
   and the scent of your breath like apples,
9 and your kisses like the best wine
   that goes down smoothly,
   gliding over lips and teeth.
10 I am my beloved’s,
   and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved,
   let us go forth into the fields,
   and lodge in the villages;
12 let us go out early to the vineyards,
   and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
   and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.
13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
   and over our doors are all choice fruits,
new as well as old,
   which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
O that you were like a brother to me,
   who nursed at my mother’s breast!
If I met you outside, I would kiss you,
   and no one would despise me.
2 I would lead you and bring you
   into the house of my mother,
   and into the chamber of the one who bore me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
   the juice of my pomegranates.
3 O that his left hand were under my head,
   and that his right hand embraced me!
4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
   do not stir up or awaken love
   until it is ready! 

This is the second to last section in the Song (I think we will hit our target of finishing the Song before the New Year - barely!). Here we have a poem that is largely by the young man, though the woman does have a small part and it is impossible to say with certainty who the speaker of 6:13 is.

The opening portion of the section is a poem of praise by the man to the woman. Some of the material is drawn from the earlier poem of 4:1-5:1 (see comments on that section here). I won't rehash what I said there. In essence the young man begins describing the woman with a series of metaphors that compliment her. The focus here isn't just on her appearance, but also on the effect she has on him and, he presumes, on others. This comes across strongest in his claim that she is 'terrible,' goddess-like. Perhaps the best image for what he means by terrible is drawn from the scene in the movie Lord of the Rings where Frodo offers Galadriel the ring. Galadriel was beautiful and powerful. Possession of the ring would enhance that power and make her 'terrible.' As his goddess, she is without parallel, even among an oversized collection of the queens and concubines of the king. Even they, the experts, recognize her beauty.[1] His beloved is beyond comparison.

The last three verses of chapter 6 are difficult, but I believe that the woman is speaking initially. Here she is describing the man as a garden much as she has been described as one throughout the Song. Specifically, it's a nut garden. I don't think it takes much imagination to know what that is. Both in this section and the next, the Song is getting a little explicit. Suddenly, in the middle of her imagining, she is suddenly whisked away and next to her (equally) royal lover in his chariot. She conjures him up, or perhaps better, transports herself through her imagination yet again. [2] Now that she is with him, she is gone. Those listening to the man describe the woman (possibly the audience?), miss her. We were enjoying it. Someone defends her. What right have we to access her? She is not a spectacle for us to behold. [3] Perhaps this is her thus far absent father or other leading males in the community. The text does not tell us. All we can do is guess. Perhaps we should be inserting ourselves here and coming to her defense?

After this interruption the man continues, and now he gets much more explicit and graphic. Now he catalogs her body once more with rich metaphors. He opaquely details her feet, butt, navel [4], neck, eyes, nose, and especially her developing breasts. He is enamored by them and in 7:8 even utters a blessing over them! He loves her body and enjoys it with all of his senses. His intention is to 'climb it' or enjoy it to its fullest, especially her breasts. It is a poem of indulgence.

We pick up the woman's reply in 7:10. She puts to words what is obvious to everyone by now, that desire is mutual. She invites him out into the vineyard to see how the fruit is developing. Of course this is double entendre. She is the vineyard, and she is in her spring, the time when she is developing getting ready to fall in love, when she is young and full of life but not yet fully ripened, not ready for eating. She wants him to join her there so that they can explore their love.

While we can't be certain,[5] in all likelihood the opening to chapter 8 implies that they are not yet married. The woman longs to be with the man, she longs to have their relationship legitimized so that they could indulge themselves even more. Not only has her body been somewhat unveiled, but desire has been made plain as well.

Once more we close with the refrain warning the daughters of Jerusalem to not seek out love before the time has come. The further we get into the Song the more convinced I become that we are to take this warning seriously as being the didactic intention of the Song. This is what engagement with men outside of proscribed channels looks like. According to the author, young female sexuality needs to be controlled.

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[1] A point well made by Garrett.

[2] Exum is very strong on this dynamic in the Song.

[3] Though I don't follow her lead, Exum has by far the most nuanced discussion of the question of eroticism and voyerism related to this and other verses among the major commentaries.

[4] Some commentators, e.g., Pope think he's euphemistically describing her vagina, but there's no overwhelming reason to see euphemism here. Some men love belly buttons!

[5] Garrett is correct, we do need to be careful in that we don't know enough about Israelite culture to know if public affection between spouses was permissible. However, the overall tone of the four verses along with many other clues throughout the Song make me think they are not married.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Song of Songs 5:2-6:3: Crazed Desire


2I slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! my beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” 3I had put off my garment; how could I put it on again? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? 4My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him. 5I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt. 6I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer. 7Making their rounds in the city the sentinels found me; they beat me, they wounded me, they took away my mantle, those sentinels of the walls. 8I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.
9What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us? 10My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. 11His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. 12His eyes are like doves beside springs of water, bathed in milk, fitly set. 13His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh. 14His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires. 15His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. 16His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women? Which way has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you? 2My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies. 3I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies. (NRSV)

This section of the Song has long challenged interpreters. How much double entendre is there? What is the function of the beating at the hands of the guards? I believe, the first is the harder of the two questions. As my interpretation will show, I come down somewhere in the middle. Like the rest of the Song, it is erotic, but not explicit.[1]

The woman begins in a dreamlike state, yearning for he beloved. And in her dream he comes, knocking at the door. She's laying in bed naked, fantasizing, trying to conjure up his presence. She must continue, it feels so good, so real. He must be here! She jumps out of bed to seek him but he is not there. She hastily throws on a little clothing and goes out in search of him.

At this point we should pause the narrative to make a couple of points. There are a couple of interesting parallels to other Old Testament passages. First, the mention of myrrh lies in common with the immoral woman of Proverbs 7 (a passage paralleled elsewhere by the Song). Second, the mantle mentioned in verse 7 is mentioned only one other time, in a very negative description of the flirty women in Jerusalem in Isaiah 3. Could these be subtle clues that the woman is a negative example to avoid?

When you consider what happens to her at the hands of the guard, I might suggest, 'yes.' Her unchecked passion for her beloved leads her to receive punishment and embarrassment at the hands of the guards, the precise nature of which is left to the imagination of the audience.

Verse 9 poses a translation problem. Most render it as the NRSV, but Fox argues that she's actually adjuring the daughters of Jerusalem to not tell her beloved of her shameful behavior. If this is the case, it further strengthens my argument, though it is not strictly necessary.

The second section is another attempt at conjuring up the man. She describes him part by part just as he did to her. She enjoys every inch of him. Most of the imagery focuses on his strength and sensuality. His body is something that she takes pleasure in with all of her senses. And this time she does successfully bring him to her. The daughters of Jerusalem (perhaps sarcastically) are ready to go seek for him, but there is no need. He's pasturing his sheep and they are enjoying the pleasure that they find in one another.

This passage is fascinating as we see a woman who is every bit as lustful as men are typically portrayed. That may offend those of us with Victorian sensibilities, but it strikes me as a very realistic and possible picture of one teenage girl. The big question is why does the Bible portray this girl negatively (at least by my interpretation)? I'm going to leave that question hanging out there for further thought until I finish the Song (hopefully before the new year). I'll tackle it in a wrap up post when we can look at the Song as a whole.

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[1] While I think Fox underestimates the erotic nature of the poem, Garrett and Pope definitely go too far.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Song of Songs 4:1-5:1: Seductive Compliment

How beautiful you are, my love,
   how very beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
   behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
   moving down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
   that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
   and not one among them is bereaved.
3 Your lips are like a crimson thread,
   and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
   behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
   built in courses;
on it hang a thousand bucklers,
   all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle,
   that feed among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes
   and the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
   and the hill of frankincense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love;
   there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
   come with me from Lebanon.
Depart from the peak of Amana,
   from the peak of Senir and Hermon,
from the dens of lions,
   from the mountains of leopards.
9 You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
   you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes,
   with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
   how much better is your love than wine,
   and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your lips distil nectar, my bride;
   honey and milk are under your tongue;
   the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon.
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
   a garden locked, a fountain sealed.
13 Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates
   with all choicest fruits,
   henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
   with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
   with all chief spices—
15 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
   and flowing streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind,
   and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden
   that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
   and eat its choicest fruits.
1I come to my garden, my sister, my bride;
   I gather my myrrh with my spice,
   I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
   I drink my wine with my milk.
Eat, friends, drink,
   and be drunk with love. (NRSV)

This is the first long section spoken largely from the voice of the man. The key is to remember to whom this poem is uttered. It is to the woman, not to the audience. It's a poem of praise to her, not a description of what she looks like.[1] While sexually charged it is also not pornographic. Its goal is to seduce.

The man praises her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, neck, cheek, and breasts. She is a goddess in his eyes, but rather than say that, he describes her in goddess-esque terms. One could just use an adjective to describe each part. Her hair is thick and wild, her eyes pure, her teeth white, her lips red, her neck well ornamented, her cheeks vibrant and seductive, and her breasts young and lively. Wasn't that boring? Instead the man engages in the hard work of making metaphors. Rather than capturing all of these desirable traits descriptively, he unleashes the beauty of the woman more profoundly than if he had described her.

The second half of the poem mirrors the first, turning his attention to the joy of indulging in all she has to offer. It's a sensual treat, as always in the Song, engaging sight, smell, touch, and taste. A strong sense of longing emerges. The second half of the poem reveals his desire. His desire is to see, smell, touch, and taste again. Yet the woman is removed from him. She has removed herself.[1] Yet she proves willing to let him in. His poem has done the trick. He has obtained what he desires. His words have put her at his mercy. They will consume until intoxicated.

There is a sense of beauty in the way that the relationship between the man and the woman is portrayed. The man isn't demanding his woman do what he wants. He's trying to get her to volunteer. There is no manipulation and while erotic, his compliments are tasteful. We know that the woman desires the man, too. So she gives in pretty easily. At the level of the relationship between the man and woman, this poem exemplifies one form that a healthy relationship can take.

As I've mentioned in several posts, I'm not convinced that this is all there is to the poem. I must wonder if the woman isn't intended as a negative example to other young, unmarried girls. She gives in easily to her love's compliments and requests. It may represent the parental desire to control their daughters' sexuality. 'No matter what they say, don't be like this woman and give in.' Stay in control of yourself. Don't be intoxicated. As Longman points out (though he doesn't really do anything with it), two pieces of the description of the woman are paralleled in Proverbs as descriptions of the immoral woman (oil + honey mouth, plus the reference to cinnamon). This could be a case of intertextuality supporting the case for an ironic reading of the Song.

-----------------------
[1] Exum makes this point forcefully.

[2] While not persuaded by Garrett's overall thesis, I do believe he does justice to the overall tone of the poem and rightly sees it as the man's attempt to get the woman to give up that which she is at the moment withholding.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Song of Songs 3:6-11: Hope or Delusion?

6 What is that coming up from the wilderness,   like a column of smoke,perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,   with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? 7 Look, it is the litter of Solomon!Around it are sixty mighty men   of the mighty men of Israel, 8 all equipped with swords   and expert in war,each with his sword at his thigh   because of alarms by night. 9 King Solomon made himself a palanquin   from the wood of Lebanon. 10 He made its posts of silver,   its back of gold, its seat of purple;its interior was inlaid with love.   Daughters of Jerusalem, 11   come out.Look, O daughters of Zion,   at King Solomon,at the crown with which his mother crowned him   on the day of his wedding,   on the day of the gladness of his heart. (NRSV)

This is one of the tougher passages to fit into the overall flow of the Song. It's much too early in the Song to be the wedding of the couple.[1] Additionally, it's quite difficult to determine the reference of verse 6. Part of the reason for the difficulty is the presence of a strong shift in the Song. The reference to the wilderness forms a hard break from the prior fecund settings. It also signifies anticipation and hope. The wilderness is where the people of Israel wandered waiting for the day that God would give them the land they had yearned for. His presence led them as a pillar of cloud. The woman is overcome with desire to be married to the man.[2] So she dreams.

The man is just a poor shepherd but in the eyes of the woman he is beyond comparison. He travels in a litter guarded by 60 men, double the number of men David had. He is unsurpassed in power, especially in power over her. The guard is to serve as their protection, ensuring their ability to overcome all obstacles to get married.[3] The palanquin races up on them like a Bentley. No expense was spared in its construction and only the greatest could ever possess it. And it has come for her. The woman is overjoyed at its site and begs her friends to come see the spectacle and partaker in her happiness. She is so in love that she is in another world. 

There are two ways one could understand the poem depending on how one understands the song as a whole. It could be a song of hope. The woman badly desires to marry the man and its an expression of her hope and fancy. It could be the superlative of a lover.

There is another way to look at it. Ibn Ezra took the comparison to Solomon to be mocking the splendor of Solomon and contrasting it with the beautiful simplicity earlier described in the Song. I think he's partially on the right path here. There is a clear contrast with the beautiful pastoral scenes from the beginning of the Song, but it's might be intended to show the woman in a bad light. The charm of the earlier poems is lost here. Rather than being an expression of hope it may represent the dreams of a woman a little out of touch with reality. Just as in the last section, it could be the tale of her excesses. Then are the daughters of Jerusalem called upon again to witness just how far she is from having a firm grasp on reality?

---------------------
[1] Chapter 5 becomes impossible to integrate if the Song is telling some sort of sequential story.

[2] As Garrett notes, the speaker must be the same throughout the entire section, however, it's obvious in verses 7-11 that the woman is the speaker, so she must be speaking in verse 6. I find his insistence on the chorus being the speaker curious.

[3] I think this may be be related to the story of Tobias' marriage and protection by the angel Raphael in Tobit. It may be stressing God's favorable view of the man. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Doctor Who: Thoughts on the Season 7 Trailer

I know the trailer has been out for a week now, but now that I've just gotten fully caught up I finally feel like I can comment on it. The main thing that jumped out at me is that we're seeing a shift back in genre. Under the writing of Russell T Davies, Doctor Who was primarily Sci-fi adventure with a few Sci-fi thrillers mixed in. Under Steven Moffat it switched and the show was primarily Sci-fi thriller, and I think there was a good plot reason for this. The big story under Davies was the transformation of the Doctor - his becoming less violent. It's hard to have adventure stories where the Doctor doesn't kill. Under Moffat we've seen a largely non-violent Doctor who is trying to distance himself from his past of killing. I was surprised to see so many seeming adventure stories in the trailer (especially the Dalek epic). It will be interesting to see if we have a relapsing Doctor or not (the trailer leads me to think that we will) and if so how (or even if) they justify his behavior.[1]

I will say that I like the sci-fi adventure stories better, so I'm excited about the switch back. The individual stories look great too. I love the Daleks and I've been waiting for an episode with dinosaurs for a long time. That's long been overdue. Let's hurry up and get the first episode here already!


--------------------
[1] Strictly speaking, justification isn't necessary. The Doctor did lots of killing that didn't get directly evaluated in the Davies' era (e.g., the horrific killing of the Cybermen on the parallel earth). However, given the progression of the show one would expect at least some indirect comment on any killing that the Doctor does.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Galatians

Martinus de Boer's commentary on Galatians came out too late for me to utilize it when I blogged through Galatians previously. Now that it's out, I figured I'd give reviewing it a whirl. As usual, for general comments on format, see the discussion of the NTL series in my commentary series overview post. This particular volume in the New Testament Library is one of the more detailed in the series. It checks in at a little over 400 pages, making it among the most detailed work since Martyn's commentary in 1997 (the other candidate being Schreiner), and like Martyn's is also written from an apocalyptic perspective.

de Boer begins with a brief introduction (especially considering the overall size of the commentary) canvassing all of the typical introductory matters. For those interested, he opts for a fairly early date and a northern Galatian hypothesis.

The commentary proper is very detailed. de Boer assesses how each sentence fits into the larger Pauline argument and also drills in on each phrase addressing lexical and syntactical issues. Sprinkled throughout the commentary are several excurses on topics like 'Works of the Law' or 'Allegorical Interpretation.' These were several pages long and dealt with the issues at hand in a more comprehensive matter than one would typically get in the commentary proper, integrating Galatians as a whole into his argument and situating the argument in Galatians in Paul's own broader context (including both other Pauline writings and other second temple Jewish writings).

As I mentioned previously, de Beor writes from an apocalyptic perspective. He understands every noun form of pistis to refer to Jesus own faith(fulness) and stresses the Law/faith antinomy in a manner very similar to Martyn. Salvation is liberation from slavery, and concepts like 'sin' and 'the flesh' are personified. At this point, one probably wonders how de Boer differs from Martyn, because everything I've described is very similar to Martyn's commentary. Additionally, would someone who already owns Martyn's work want to buy de Boers?

I personally prefer de Boer's commentary and here's why. First, while both are excellent at attempting to flesh out the background of the text and providing a robust portrait of the teachers, I found Martyn to be a bit overboard at times. de Boer is a bit more chastened. Second, I found Martyn's commentary to be a bit overkill. While there is a ton of good information in it, it did drag at times. de Boer's commentary is plenty thorough without belaboring points. Third, de Boer's apocalyptic theology isn't identical to Martyn's (or Douglas Campbell's or Michael Gorman's or ...). That too makes it worth checking out. For example, I gained fresh eyes for Galatians 2:15-16 by reading de Boer's innovative suggestion that the the works of the law and faith antithesis did not originate with Paul, but that it's quoted material (I'm ultimately not convinced but it is defensible exegetically). Finally, from an interpretive standpoint, de Boer is the first commentator I've come across, besides Fee, (granted I haven't spent much time with Witherington's or Matera's commentaries) that seems to fully grasp the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Paul's argument. That's a correction in studies of Galatians that is badly needed.

Overall I think that de Boer's commentary is excellent and is the best detailed work in recent years. It would pair particularly well with Dunn's commentary providing well argued and interesting counter proposals to his version of the NPP. 5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deliverance of God: Final Thoughts


I've been debating whether or not to blog through the rest of his work on Romans. The problem is that it's very difficult to blog through it at the 20,000 foot level and blogging through in detail will take me forever on my limited schedule. Perhaps at some future date I will decide to blog through Romans, at which point I'll wrestle with the book more. I do want to spend more time working through his way of reading Paul, so something will appear at some point.

I'll leave you with this major thought from the rest of the book. According to Campbell, what's at stake is the issue of agency in salvation. He's thoroughly Christological. Much of his time is spent arguing that the faith vs. works antithesis is not an antithesis of opposites. It's not opposing human faith vs. human works (as in no effort vs. effort), but Christ's faith vs. human works. If you were to ask Campbell how one is saved, he would say, 'by Jesus.' Only Jesus can liberate. Thus the justification debates appear to be, to me, largely about present and future ethical transformation. The Law cannot provide freedom from the realm of sin and death. Only Jesus can. Ethics and soteriology are integrated. That's the big payoff, and it's a payoff I've been searching for. I'm not sure that I'm fully on board with him at every point in his exegesis. Romans 9-11 is particularly tricky (if Wright's charge of de-Judaization could hold up anywhere it's here but I'm not certain). However, Campbell (and others like Michael Gorman) has given us an understanding of salvation that is strong everywhere that Justification theory was weak.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Deliverance of God: How Does Romans 2 Fit with the Rest of Romans?

At SBL in 2009 there was a session on the Deliverance of God. Michael Gorman objected to Campbell's construal of Romans 1-3, arguing that Keener, in his 2009 commentary on Romans, had shown decisively that Romans 2 is integral to the rest of Paul's argument in Romans and hence should not be assigned as a reductio of the Teacher's position.[1] This is a significant claim, and if correct, it severely weakens Campbell's case. It would give him exegetical problems on par with those he exposed in justification theory. In this post we'll assess the case.

Keener has two charts, one on page 45 and one on 47 which list the themes of Romans 2 that get developed elsewhere in Romans. I'm not going to go through them all, and I do believe some of them are not really relevant. Before we start looking at a couple of representative cases, I want to bring up one point. One should expect, even if Romans 2 is a reductio, to have some ties between Romans 2 and the rest of Romans. After all, both Paul and the Teacher claim to be Christian so one would expect some overlap in thought. One also might expect that Paul might revisit some of the problems he reveals from the Teachers thought, showing how his gospel is superior.

I would argue that of the relevant parallels, all of them should be classified as either of the two types above. First, we'll bring up an example of the first type. In Romans 2:17-18a Paul says, 'But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will...' In Romans 12:2 Paul says, 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God: what is good and acceptable and perfect.' Both the Teacher and Paul make a statement about knowing the will of God. Is this surprising? Clearly access to the will of God would be important in any Christian ethical system. I don't see why this shared theme hurts Campbell's case at all. It's simply a parallel (and obvious) concern in both systems. Now to a type two example.

Romans 2:7 states, 'to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life,' holding out the offer of salvation for those who do good works. Romans 3:28 states that, 'For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.' It's obvious that Paul is stating something in tension with Romans 2:7. Deeds don't result in salvation. Yes, Paul is picking up his point from 2:7 here in 3:28, but he's contradicting it. This connection is actually easier to explain under Campbell's interpretation. Paul is offering his alternative to the exegesis of the Teacher. Now we don't have to struggle to integrate these two distinct perspectives into one.

Overall, I do think that Campbell's exegesis of Romans 1:1-3-20 does hold up under scrutiny.

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[1] To be perfectly clear, this post isn't an assessment of Keener's claims per say, it's more an assessment of Gorman's argument building on Keener's observations.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Doctor Who: Rose Tyler - Traitor?

The end of season four was very, very controversial. When I first saw it, I felt cheated. I was angry. The more I think about it, the more I think I see what Russell Davies was doing. He is too good of a writer and the show is too carefully crafted for him to screw up Rose's character and the end of a four season storyline. So while the ending isn't strictly part of our series, it is tangentially related, and I've agonized over that scene in Bad Wolf Bay so much that I have to write about it. :)

To briefly set things up, near the end of the final episode of season four, there is a meta-crisis, that results in a part human. part Time Lord Doctor being generated. He has all of the Doctor's memories, and thinks and acts like the Doctor. However, importantly, he only has one heart and cannot regenerate. He only has one life to live. The meta-crisis Doctor brought full resolution to the battle fought against the Daleks, and in the process, wiped them out. Thus, the real Doctor takes him to Bad Wolf Bay in the parallel universe to exile him. He's guilty of genocide. By staying in the parallel universe, the meta-crisis Doctor will not have access to a TARDIS and hence won't be so dangerous.[1]

There's more to the Doctor's decision, then that, though. Even a TARDIS-less Doctor would still be capable of holding incredible power, and a Doctor born in battle and who had just committed genocide would be very dangerous. The Doctor himself was quite violent, and in large part, the larger story of the first four seasons of Doctor Who is the taming of the Doctor, the taming by Rose and Donna.[2] What better motivation for reform could the meta-crisis Doctor have but a lifetime with Rose?[3]

This is a gift for Rose, too, though I'm sure she doesn't realize it. The Doctor makes explicit his desire for her to reform the meta-crisis Doctor. This will act as a check on her, and will prevent her from sliding further into a militaristic lifestyle. On the other hand, there is a sense, too, in which it's an exile for Rose. It's overlooked that she too committed genocide (in season one).

By forcing them to stay in the parallel universe, it also causes the union between Rose and the meta-crisis Doctor to be permanent. There's no point at which she could re-think her decision and try to abandon him for the real Doctor. I think we need to ask, though, why she was willing to stay with the meta-crisis Doctor. It's very clear that she doesn't believe he's the real deal. While I want to avoid doing too much psychologizing I thought I might throw out some suggestions.

The meta-crisis Doctor offers less risk, stability, and the opportunity to be the only one ever. Travelling with the Doctor is dangerous and Rose had already been separated from him once. Who knows, if she goes back to travelling with the real Doctor, she very well could lose him again. The bigger piece, though, is that she gets exclusive rights over the meta-crisis Doctor. As Donna points out, he's part human, they'll grow old and die together. There will never be another one after Rose.[4] I believe it's these factors plus the firmness of the real Doctor's decision and the short amount of time she had to work with that make her decision to stay with the meta-crisis Doctor.

This, lastly brings us to a concluding question about the Doctor. One still has to ask why he made that decision. He was willing to bring the Master along as his prisoner, why couldn't he come up with an arrangement for the meta-crisis Doctor? That would enable him to bring Rose with him too.[5] Perhaps it would have been too hard on the meta-crisis Doctor to see Rose and the real Doctor together. Perhaps he still would be too dangerous in his home universe. It's a sad day for the Doctor and I think a day that revealed weakness on the part of Rose, but as an ending I think it works, even though it broke my heart in a much worse way than did the first scene of separation at Bad Wolf Bay, the place of Rose's and then the Doctor's worst days.

----------------------------
[1] Exclusion from the TARDIS is never said to be why the parallel universe is a less dangerous place for the meta-crisis Doctor, but I can't think of any other explanation. However, supposedly, in a scene that was cut, Rose and the meta-crisis Doctor were given a piece of the TARDIS, so that they could grow their own. if that's true, though, then I don't see what the point in exiling him to another universe is. It's better to consider it a wise omission on the part of Davies.

[2] The omission of Martha is deliberate. See my earlier post on Martha for reasons why.

[3] Rose also was the only option because of the effects that the meta-crisis had on Donna.

[4] This is a major issue in at least two episodes, School Reunion in season two and the Family of Blood in season three. The Doctor won't settle down with any human because he'll outlive them.

[5] The decision to force Rose to stay with the meta-crisis Doctor was intensely painful for the Doctor. And I think it likely that she could have prevailed on him if she had tried. I will explore this more with the help of some additional material from the specials between seasons four and five at some future date.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dr. Who: Rose Tyler - The Turning Points

In my last post, I opened with a photo of Rose from the season one episode Dalek. There we see Rose at the height of her compassion, demanding that the Doctor spare the Dalek. This screen capture comes from the end of season two, when she's laughing in the eyestalk of the Dalek about how she killed the Emporer of the Daleks. It seems like a different Rose.[1] I can't imagine that early season one Rose would have laughed about killing any being. How does Rose get from point A to point B?


After her first encounter with the Dalek, one has to assume that the Doctor fills her in on the Time War in more detail, especially detailing the evil of the Daleks. Rose experiences it firsthand when she gets caught by the transmat beam and placed into the game show in Bad Wolf.[2] Thus when she comes face to face with the Daleks she certainly will believe everything the Doctor told her about them and one believes she'll do anything to save humanity from them. Additionally, in the second part of this two part episode, it becomes fully clear that Rose is in love with the Doctor.[3] She's willing to do anything to save him, just as he is for her. There is a sense in which she is to be lauded. She probably did end the situation with the least amount of violence possible and saved humanity. Additionally, she brought Captain Jack back to life. Her ingenuity and dedication to the one she loved were exemplary.[4] It still was a decisive act that changed her forever and made her like the Doctor. Rose became, in some sense, a killer.

As things move along in season two, we start to see Rose becoming more and more like the Doctor in some respects. Tooth & Claw is a particularly fascinating episode. What you can't help but notice is the similarity of attitude between Rose and the Doctor. The Doctor's great weakness is arrogance. With him at her side Rose clearly feels invincible and finds all of the danger quite a bit of fun. This leads to their downfall.[5] Their attitude, particularly Rose's, leads the Queen to open the Torchwood Institute,[6] the organization that would eventually tear them apart.

At the end of season two, the Doctor and Rose are separated for good, so it seems. Rose is trapped in a parallel world. She gets stuck there because of the aforementioned Torchwood. Torchwood was created by the Queen in response to the alien menace, the Doctor included, and was very militaristic. When the Doctor and Rose arrive at the end of season two they're harvesting energy from a hole that had formed in reality. While in the process of closing that hole, and sucking the Cybermen and Daleks into it, Rose and the Doctor get separated for good. Here's where things take a surprising turn. What does Rose do with her life while in the parallel universe? She works for parallel Torchwood, because she knows so much about aliens. 

When you put all of the pieces together you can see how Rose becomes a soldier in season 4. While travelling together she has made the Doctor more compassionate, but her experience with him has hardened her.[7] Additionally, perhaps because she is so in love with him, she never questions him. She laughs in the face of the Dalek, displaying the same vitriol as the Doctor towards his arch enemy. In essence, she has become just like the Doctor, and while he never carries a gun, that's about all that separates him during the first two seasons from being a soldier. Working for Torchwood simply finishes off her transformation into becoming a soldier. It's not that big of a surprise when you stop and think about it. 


So is the Doctor responsible for Rose's transformation? Again, I would say yes and no. He's the more violent one at the beginning of their travels. He's rather merciless. That clearly impacted Rose. His arrogance also rubbed off on her and they both were culpable for the creation of Torchwood, though Rose more-so than the Doctor. 


It's their separation, that I believe ultimately pushes her over the edge. She has a frantic desire to reunite with the Doctor at any cost. Additionally, she's away from his influence. Even though the Doctor is violent, he is far more judicious and more merciful than UNIT or Torchwood. He's not there to provide moral compass and Rose is simply in over her head, as is the rest of humanity.

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[1] I must say, though, that I did enjoy her exchange with the Dalek in this scene. :)

[2] If you haven't seen the episode, the Daleks control humanity through a series of game shows like Big Brother and Weakest Link with a twist. The twist being death if you lose.

[3] The Doctor's interest in her was first made explicit, surprisingly, by the Dalek in the episode Dalek. That the Dalek's claim was correct is made crystal clear in Father's Day.

[4] In the final three part episode of season three there is a lengthy discussion between Captain Jack and the Doctor of this incident. The Doctor still remembers it with admiration, calling it 'so human' and meaning that it exemplified what makes humans great and why he loves them. His solution would have been catastrophic. Rose saved his life and the lives of many. I think this episode may be a good test case for just war theory. If ever violence was permissible, it was here. Additionally, that statement makes me wonder if we are supposed to understand Rose as the paradigmatic human in some sense, and her relationship with the Doctor as paradigmatic of the Doctor's relationship with humanity. Perhaps I will explore that some other time.

[5] His arrogance bites him again in a big way in the post season four special, The Water of Mars. In the future I may explore this group of specials. They explore the Doctor in a more probing manner than anywhere else under the writing of Russell T Davies.

[6] In that episode I alternate between finding her impertinence hilarious and irritating, and I'm a fan.

[7] This isn't blame on the Doctor, it's noting the causality of her experiences with evil and danger. As we see with humanity as a whole on several occasions, threat of death often brings out bad things.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Doctor Who: Rose Tyler - Becoming Indispensable

Rose Tyler is by far my favorite character over the first four seasons. She's the one (not the Doctor) who got me hooked on the show. Perhaps the most startling element in the entire story arc of the first four seasons is Rose's appearance with a rather large gun at the end of season 4. I've never agonized over a fictional character the way I did with Rose. How did sweet and fun Rose become this? The answer is not short and will span three posts this week. We will begin today with a discussion of her development over the first two seasons. On Wednesday we will zero in on a few key events that largely shaped who she became and showed her evolution. On Friday we will delve into the controversial end of the fourth season, looking at why both the Doctor and Rose make the fateful decisions they make.


Rose undergoes a significant transformation during her time with the Doctor. Initially, she comes across as a very ordinary girl. There isn't much to set her apart from anyone else. She meets the Doctor because she was in the wrong (or right) place at the wrong time. However, the Doctor sees something in her, so he brings her with him on his travels. The first season gives us an opportunity to see what the Doctor saw. She's sweet, fun, and adventurous. Most importantly, in the episode Dalek, we see the depth of Rose's compassion. 


In Dalek, the Doctor and Rose meet the last of the Daleks. This Dalek is broken from years of torture. Rose touches the Dalek, unwittingly allowing it to regenerate (but also transferring DNA). The Dalek tries to murder its way out, and nearly succeeds. Rose however, is spared by the Dalek. The Doctor then shows up ready to kill the Dalek, but Rose prevents him. She sees the transformation in the Dalek and pities him. Even though she's seen the Dalek kill hundreds there's no hatred or desire for violence towards the Dalek. If there's an alternative to violence she's all for it.[1] 


The end of season one and the Christmas special at the start of season two proves to be a turning point for Rose. For the first time things depended fully on Rose. Only Rose could save the Doctor at the end of season one. And in the Christmas special, only Rose could save humanity, or so it seemed. Rose ends the Time War by pouring the Time Vortex into the head of the Daleks and killing them, saving the Doctor and all of Earth.[2] In the Christmas special, Rose was asked to speak on Earth's behalf. In her own words, she had to be the Doctor.[3] Rose is now a major actor.


As season two progresses Rose becomes more like a partner to the Doctor, and less of a subordinate. She takes matters into her own hands repeatedly. Her compassion also continues to fade. In particular, it's shocking that neither she, nor anyone else are bothered by the horrific death that the Doctor serves up to the Cybermen.[4] Perhaps, though, she's simply caught up in the moment too strongly. However, one would expect some reflection at some point on the tragedy that she has just witnessed. Her compassion is being suppressed, or at least is directed now only towards the helpless. It could be too, that her love for the Doctor has made her willingly blind. She's loyal to the Doctor and her family, almost to a fault.


Her movement towards partner is in a sense completed in the two part episode The Impossible Planet and the Satan Pit. The Satan is trying to escape from prison. Both the Doctor and Rose play equal parts in preventing his escape - Rose by killing the bodily manifestation of Satan. The rest of season two is a telling of their love and a resolution of their partnership, a partnership, as we will see, of the like-minded.

On Wednesday we will develop some of the themes we sketched in this post as well as conjecturing at what happened to Rose while she was away from the Doctor, by looking more in depth at three episodes, The Parting of Ways, Tooth & Claw, and Doomsday.


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[1] We don't see the same compassion towards the Slitheens in the earlier two part episode. However, there was no other option for the Doctor, and it was their death or the death of the entire planet. Perhaps it's better to say that she's vigorously opposed to needless violence.


[2] More on this scene in Wednesday's post.


[3] I find that speech in the Christmas special to be the most difficult scene to watch in all of Dr. Who. I feel so bad for the spot she was in, she was so unprepared. 


[4] The Doctor clearly is bothered but doesn't see any alternative.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Deliverance of God: Romans 1:-18-3:20


It's finally time to return to the Deliverance of God now that I've finished reading through the many many chapters laying out his understanding of Romans. In this post I will give an extremely brief overview of Campbell's approach to 1:18-3:20. In my next post on this book (probably not for about two weeks), I will take up the suggestion of Michael Gorman from SBL in 2009 and contrast Campbell's work on Romans 2 with that of Craig Keener's recent commentary.

According to Campbell, 1:18-32 functions as a case of speech-in-character, meaning Paul here writes in another's voice. Rather than being the authentic voice of Paul, it's the voice of the Teacher. Here Paul has worked up a speech conversant of Wisdom of Solomon that presents part of the Teacher's opening salvo. Paul does this, so that he can pick it apart, and show its inconsistency with other portions of the Teacher's teaching.

Starting in 2:1 Paul begins the attack. In fact, 2:1 overtly signals a shift in voice. It requires 1:18-32 to have been the voice of another. Paul proceeds through chapter two, condemning the Teacher for being judgmental, and then showing his inconsistency. If the Teacher really believes in a judgment on the basis of dessert, then Jewish privilege is abolished and following the Torah becomes unnecessary. Pagans with more ethical righteousness would 'get in' ahead of Jews with less. If that's the logical outcome of the Teacher's argument in 1:18-32 then he's in trouble, because we know from Galatians that the Teacher tried to enforce law observance on Gentile converts. His grounds have been cut out from underneath him. Following the Law has no advantage. 


Paul continues to push in chapter 3. He asks the Teacher a series of rhetorical questions aimed at producing the same contradiction, and in fact he does. The Teacher has so thoroughly committed himself to a God of retributive justice that he undercuts any notion of Jewish privilege. Paul closes the argument by listing off a litany of verses reinforcing that. If God judges retributively then we're all screwed because everyone is sinful to their core.

Paul doesn't go through this just to undercut a rival teacher, but because he sees deficiencies in the Teacher's theology. First, is the lack of Christological focus. Paul emphasizes that salvation is by Jesus, contrasted with the Teacher's emphasis on works of the Law. Second, Paul has a very different view of God. God is fundamentally benevolent in Paul's theology, where as the Teacher paints God as a strict authoritarian figure.

This is a unique way of reading Romans 1-3. Very little of the content is directly fleshing out Paul's theology. It certainly is possible and has a very high degree of coherence, but is it correct? We'll look at some potentially countervailing evidence from Keener in our next post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: Hermeneutics: An Introduction

Anthony Thiselton is the leading conservative voice in the field of hermeneutics, having written several major books and countess articles on the topic. Additionally, he has written a major commentary on 1 CorinthiansHermeneutics: An Introduction comes to us as his attempt to write an introductory text for the student and general reader.

The book begins in the first two chapters by laying a brief theoretical foundation for further discussion. Hermeneutics, according to Thiselton, is focused on the entire event of communication, encompassing author, text, and reader. Thiselton advocates a philosophical hermeneutics built off of Speech Act Theory and this is clear from the beginning. He also presses home Grant Osborne's notion of a hermeneutical spiral, the need for us to be aware of what we bring to the text both in terms of perspective and pre-understanding.

The third chapter covers Jesus' parables. Thiselton placed it in the book as a case study to try to give readers an idea of how to put hermeneutics into practice. Thiselton marches through the variety of interpretive methods applied to the parables and weighs in on what he sees as strengths and weaknesses. This is done as he examines many of the key interpreters of the 20th century. Thiselton seems to favor a variegated and flexible hermeneutic that cobbles together the best parts of a variety of approaches.

The remainder of the book functions as a history of hermeneutical theory, beginning with Second Temple Judaism all the way to the present. As he did in the chapter on parables, Thiselton works through major figure after major figure (or major document like the LXX). Some figures get very brief treatment (the patristic and medieval period get one combinded chapter). Others, like Gadamer and Riceour get whole chapters to themselves. He begins by providing brief biographical material and then detailing their hermeneutical methods. He concludes by assessing their work. These assessments cover both hermeneutical and theological matters as Thiselton is concerned with the impact hermeneutics has on theology and is concerned to uphold historic orthodoxy.


Thiselton concludes by examining matters that he could not fit into the book in other places (like a brief discussion of inspiration) as well as a look forward at 'politeness theory,'  which he views as a potentially positive development in linguistics.


There is a lot to like and a lot to dislike about this book. It's jammed with great material. It's amazing that Thiselton could boil down so much material into such a short space (relatively speaking) without oversimplifying matters. Additionally, I appreciate his emphasis on historical context, not just of the biblical text, but of the people he writes about. The way Thiselton writes helps convince you of his method.


However, as was my concern with his introduction to Paul, he hasn't completely hit his audience. There is absolutely no way that the general reader could work through this book. One of the ways Thiselton saves space is by frequently not defining terms and concepts, or by only making passing references to sources of influence, like 'Via advances the actants of Propp and Greimas' (199 - emphasis original). After that sentence a new paragraph starts. Prior to that the word actant had appeared once, and was undefined. How many general readers would understand his point? Even how many masters students would?


I also wish that the book was about twenty or so pages longer with more summary, especially when dealing with the earlier history of hermeneutics. I would have rather read an overview and assessment of main trends within patristic hermeneutics than read a collection of brief overviews of different people, overviews that I probably could have gotten out of a good dictionary.


As you can tell, this book is an introduction to hermeneutical theory. It is not the practical book that Osborne's hermeneutical spiral is. So know that before you pick it up. However, if you have some background, this could be a good introduction to philosophical hermeneutics. Additionally, as it does cover a who's who of hermeneutics and key biblical interpreters, it's an invaluable bibliographic resource. For that reason I could see using it as text in an advanced class on hermeneutics in a seminary very profitably.