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.

[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.

[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.

[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. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Doctor Who: Martha Jones - The Doctor's Soldier

Over the past three months or so, I've become obsessed with Dr. Who, watching the first four seasons of the modern version (2005-2008) plus the 2009 specials, bringing me through the end of the David Tennant era. I find it fascinating on a lot of levels, and you'll probably see several Dr. Who related posts in the upcoming months. The show deals with some of the major questions that the West is struggling through, particularly ethical questions related to justice. Today I thought I'd start by asking and attempting an answer that the show asks repeatedly. More than one villain  asks what happens to his companion(s) that she/they become soldiers.[1] This does not happen to all of the Doctor's female companions. Donna Noble certainly wasn't a soldier after her time with the Doctor, and even had the end of her time with the Doctor not resulted in her losing all memory of contact with him, there were no signs that she was on the way to becoming one.[2]

Both Martha Jones and Rose Tyler become soldiers after the end of their time with the Doctor, and in the case of Martha, at least, he somewhat disapproves.[3] We find out midway through season four that Martha joined UNIT as a doctor. UNIT (at least in the modern series) is a heavily militaristic institution that helps protect Earth from Aliens. Martha and the Doctor have a dialogue about whether or not the Doctor is responsible for her fate. The Doctor disavows responsibility, but is he correct?

Analysis here is rather difficult, but I believe we can outline some observations that allow us to explore the question and will provide some framework for examining Rose's transformation in a later post. First, is that during her season, Martha is involved in significantly less fighting than either Rose or Donna. In the Sontaran Stratagem she blames her outcome based on her experiences with the Doctor. There's a sense in which she's right, and a sense in which she's wrong.

Martha does become keenly aware of how bad things can get. Her experience with the Daleks and in the three part conclusion of the season involving the Master she sees just how fragile the human situation is. In particular her battle against the Master is far more difficult than anything Rose or Donna ever faced because it dragged on for years. Martha had to give a completely defeated humanity hope.

Her experiences put fear in Martha. What if the Doctor is ever unable to help? One common theme in Dr. Who is the human will to survive at any cost. That desire is strong in Martha, and perhaps the Doctor shouldn't have traveled with her for that reason. During the David Tennant era, travelling with Martha is one of the three biggest mistakes he makes, even though she was clearly the most capable assistant of the three (we'll examine the other two at a later date). There's nothing else that experience could have produced in her.  So in a sense, the Doctor is to blame, he should have known better.

At the same time, she fails to learn a critical lesson, the lesson of non-violent resistance. Seven out of nine episodes have a non-violent resolution.[4] Even in one of the two that do, The Family of Blood, the Doctor attempted a non-violent solution (hiding). In particular, the experience that hardened her most, her defeat of the Master, should have shown her how much can be accomplished without taking arms. She did not learn that lesson. Perhaps that evolutionary urge to survive was too strong to overcome.

One wonders too, if she would have turned out differently had she not been slighted repeatedly throughout the season. The Doctor, Captain Jack, and even some of the villains compare her to Rose and find her wanting. One must wonder if the Doctor had been more supportive would she have felt so on her own when returning to life on earth. Would she have had more trust in the Doctor and turned out more like Sarah Jane Smith?

[1] Donna Noble also asks the same thing when she meets Martha Jones in the Sontaran Stratagem.

[2] We should note, though, that there really wasn't any sign of Rose Tyler becoming a soldier until the very end of season one, and there the signs are faint. Donna, though, was more strongly opposed than Rose was to the use of violence, and was more consistently compassionate than season one Rose. Though we'll never know, it's hard to imagine her becoming a soldier.

[3] The Doctor is visibly uncomfortable when Donna charges him with turning Martha into a soldier. He's also a little testy initially in his dialogue with Martha about her role in UNIT. You can tell that he's not totally on board with her decision to work for them.

[4] Granted it's impossible to see how Gridlock could have had a violent solution.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is the Song of Songs Ironic?

We once again meet our refrain warning the daughters of Jerusalem. If you've read my comments closely you should be able to determine two opinions that I have. One is that the couple is not married in any of the scenes discussed so far. The second is that I believe they have been sexually active in some way shape or form.[1] While we should not assume that Israelite culture was anywhere near as "conservative" as the legal portions of the Torah might suggest, it would be surprising to find a work in the Old Testament unabashedly extolling sexual love between two unmarried people. And allegorical interpretation wouldn't solve that problem. Even if it did, most scholars hold that allegorical interpretation arose because of the Song was in the canon, not the other way around. How did it get there?

Perhaps the Song is ironic. Perhaps the Song is a warning against what it seems to be celebrating. Specifically, it could be a well crafted warning to women to be careful not to fall in love before the appropriate time. Several factors lead me to this possible identification. First, the Song was associated with Solomon, which means that it was associated with the ancient Israelite wisdom tradition. This implies a clear didactic concern. When we scan the song for signals as to this concern, we run across one sentence that repeats. 'I adjure you daughters of not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!' This is the overt moral message of the song. Each occurrence of this refrain follows a section describing intimate activity or that has strong sexual overtones. Second the woman's behavior in the song is sometimes outrageous. For example, her wandering out at night in search of her beloved is extreme behavior. By portraying her as being wild and throwing caution and social mores to the wind it warns others to guard themselves or they may be transformed into a wild woman (and perhaps this explains the bizarre scene in chapter 5 where she gets beaten by the guards). This also, in my opinion, explains the female-centric voice of the poem.

Who would have interest[2] in this type of text? Older, elite, male, religious leaders would certainly be one group. They would have a strong interest in seeing their daughters remain chaste. It also would cause the text to cohere with portions of the legal code about premarital sex, even in terms of their strong focus on the activity of the woman.[3]

I certainly don't think it's an open and shut case, but I would want to submit it for further thought. I know I'm swimming against the tide with this suggestion, but I just don't see how the Song could get canonized otherwise, if it is a poem about premarital sexual love.  

[1] A point held by most commentators, including at least one conservative scholar - Tremper Longman.
[2] Interest is not being used as a loaded term here. Some of those interests that drove the canonization of the Song were probably positive, and some probably negative.
[2] Premarital sex isn't a major topic in either the Old or New Testament, so I don't want this sentence to be understood as suggesting that the Bible focuses on the topic a lot. It doesn't. It's not even in the discussion with issues like generosity and the just treatment of the socially disadvantaged. In fact, outside of a couple of texts in the law it'd be hard to find texts that give clear condemnation. The case must be inferred.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Faith According to Douglas Campbell

Soon you will have more posts from me on the Deliverance of God. I'm just about done reading the section on Romans and thus will soon be ready to work my way through it in detail. In the meantime, I thought I'd leave you with a key summary of Campbell's understanding of faith.

The notion of "faith" emerging from my reading of Romans 1-4 is essentially participatory. That is, "Christian faith"  which seems to embrace several related aspects from right beliefs about God, through trust, to steadfast fidelity over time, is isomorphic with Christ's own "faith." Moreover, Christ's "faith" is a metonymic motif that evokes the broader phenomenon of his passion, and in particular the downward trajectory of his martyrdom - that he was "obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8b). So the motif of faith is best located in a set of key narratives; Christian faith, like Christ's faith, functions within a story (a story, it should be recalled, attempting to narrate a reality that grips both Christ and the Christian)...a participatory relationship, the Christian being caught up into Christ's story in the deeper sense of being caught up into Christ himself, presumably by the work of the Spirit, thereby being drawn into the new creation and the age to come (Deliverance of God p. 756).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thiselton on Luther on the Clarity of Scripture

"By arguing for the clarity of Scripture, Luther did not imply that commentaries were unnecessary, as we can see from his work. He was replying, in effect, to the claims of Erasmus that Scripture was so complex, and its arguments so many-sided, that we could never be committed to much more than exploration. Luther regarded this as amounting to a form of skepticism. The Bible, he insisted, is clear enough for action (Hermeneutics: An Introduction p. 129 - emphasis original).