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.