The Gospel of Mitthew, Chapter 25

by: Rashaverak

Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 10:26:38 AM EDT

Mosaic, The Division of the Sheep and the Goats, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.

Rashaverak :: The Gospel of Mitthew, Chapter 25
The Sheep and the Goats.

31.  When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32.  And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33.  And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34.  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35.  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36.  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38.  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39.  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40.  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41.  Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42.  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43.  I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44.  Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45.  Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46a.  But Lord, those on the left shall then protest... giving meat to the hungered, drink to the thirsty, lodging to the stranger, clothing to the naked, care to the sick and to the imprisoned... all of these things would have increased the Federal deficit, and that would have been immoral!
46b.  And then the King shall reply: Upon reflection, ye have a valid point.  Come, ye fiscally prudent, and Constitutionally observant, and enter into the mansions that I have prepared for ye in Heaven since the foundation of the world, and enjoy life eternal in the presence of my Father.  There, ye shall exult in your gardens, which are tended to unceasingly by more darkly complected undocumented angels, who toil for very low wages and for no benefits.

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Nice parody of Christian Republicanism (2.00 / 6)
Great to hear some King James English too.

How did the Bible, whose main tenet is 'love your neighbour' become an excuse for 'beggar thy neighbour'?

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

But that's the New Testament (1.86 / 7)
The Old Testament is chockful of nasty vengeful stuff.  Like, oh, wiping out your enemies, killing all their men, taking their women and flocks for your own, good stuff like that.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done subjunctively.

[ Parent ]
True.... (2.00 / 5)
...but actually the New Testament really restates the elevates the principle of 'Love thy neighbour' which is well established in the Old. I was at Hay on Wye last month when a philosopher talking about 'love' made that rather staggering observation. Surprised me too.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
I think this is a desperately selective view (2.00 / 10)
I intend no offense here Janicket, but you are unwittingly participating in the propagation of a set of assumptions that are rooted in an ideologically over-determined representation of these texts.  It's an enormous pet peeve of mine, given the respect I have for both traditions and the historical effects of this representation.

First off, the very term "Old Testament" is polemical, suggesting that it is either preliminary (and thus incomplete) or superseded by the "New Testament."  If the goal is ecumenical toleration and access to what both textual traditions have to offer, I recommend using the terms "Hebrew Scriptures" and "Christian Scriptures."  We can't refer to the first group of traditions as "Jewish," as doing so denies their centrality for Christians.  Although there are some passages in Daniel and Ezra in Aramaic, the vast majority of these texts were composed and redacted in Hebrew.  The linguistic designation positions them as neither Christian nor Jewish, but central to both trajectories.  Neither Judaism nor Christianity has been a biblical religion since late antiquity.  Both position the Hebrew Bible as foundation in a sense, but read it both through and alongside later texts:  Judaism through Talmudic and later Rabbinic traditions, Christianity through Christian Scriptures and Patristic writings.

Both traditions read their texts as presenting a loving and merciful God capable of extreme violence.  Hebrew scriptures are chock full of laws and ordinances that make compassion and justice, love and mercy, material phenomena.  The Rabbis parse the two most common terms for the Divinity, YHWH (The Lord in KJV) and Elohim (God in KJV), as pertaining to divine functions.  The former is the proper name of the deity and the latter indicates the manifestation of divine action in the world.  In a sense, one is cause and the other its affects.  In fact, the same term that connotes God, Elohim, is attested in contexts where it clearly refers to human rulers or judges.  While Christians have often argued that their God holds a monopoly on Love and Mercy while the "Jewish" God emphasizes strict Justice and vengeful retribution (see Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Act IV for a popular example), Rabbinic traditions never oppose Mercy to Justice.  They oppose Mercy (Rahamim) to Judgment (Din).  Both are necessary for true Justice (mishpat).  And though we often stress debate in Rabbinic literature, there is very broad consensus that ultimately Mercy always trumps Judgment as a central fact of God's Justice.  The Jewish idea of Satan is that he functions as God's DA, prosecuting humanity.  He becomes an anthropomorphic figure for Judgment (din) and appear monstrous only when detached from Mercy (rahamim).  The Divine as cause in its proper name YHWH is consistently associated with Mercy (rahamim), while God (Elohim), the manifestation of the effects of divine action in the world, is consistently associated with Judgment (din).  Mercy, the godhead in itself, always reigns above its effects.  One might read Christian theology as reversing this order.  God the Father, the supreme aspect of the godhead, is associated with Judgment, while God the Son, His incarnation in the world, is associated with Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness.

This is not to say that there aren't many hateful and violent passages in Hebrew Scriptures.  But they exist aplenty in Christian texts as well.  Remember, Christ comes "not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" (Matthew 10:34).  Look at Luke 19, where Christ weeps over Jerusalem and prophesies its destruction:

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,
44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

He may not be happy about it, but that does little to mitigate the brutality of the vision, its vengeful retributiveness.  So, no, Christian Scriptures do not have a monopoly on Love, Mercy, Compassion, or Forgiveness.  Keep two additional factors in mind.  Only the Christian God repudiates His elect.  In the Christian view, you damn well better be in good with God because look what he did to the Jews.  Only the Christian God has this precedent.  Some Christian theologies position the repudiation of Israel as temporary, stressing that the Jews will ultimately be called.  Some suggest only a select remnant will be saved and most Jews will be cast into Tim LaHaye's abyss. In Hebrew Scripture, the covenant remains ultimately unbreakable.  John Coolidge, a major scholar of Pauline theologies in the Renaissance, describes the operation of this covenant as "precarious immediacy" always balanced with "perpetual assurance."  Any individual, community, or generation risks failure and calamity, but ultimately all will come right.  

Finally, nowhere in Judaism, biblically or otherwise, is there a concept of eternal damnation and unending torment.  A minority of texts suggest that the worst of the worst will suffer for 12 months and then be extinguished.  But they won't suffer interminably.  The Jewish hell (gehenna) is more of a purgatory.  The reason Jews mourn ritually for parents for 11 months is that a medieval Rabbi, Moses Isserles, argued that to do so for the full 12 months would be casting aspersions on the dead, that no one should imply that their parent deserved the full sentence.  But the vast majority of sources suggest that even those who merit the full 12 months live in the "world to come" after that, often associated with a perfected world or with Eden.  With the Christian God, you get an infinity of painful punishment.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the illumination (2.00 / 5)
of my darkness, and I mean that sincerely.  As a teenager raised in the Congregationalist faith, I walked away from all religion over 40 years ago and haven't studied the subject since then.  So what I know comes from my childhood indoctrination (and I'm grateful it was in one of the milder, more humane sects of Christianity) and whatever flotsam in popular culture might happen across my path.

I would most assuredly agree that Christianity's Testament and worldview have some horrifically nasty bits too.  Certainly the vengeful God isn't anyone I'd care to worship.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done subjunctively.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for taking my objection (2.00 / 6)
in the spirit that it was intended, though its articulation may have fallen short.  These are obviously issues in which I am personally invested and such charged investments can often come off as condescending and condemnatory.  I credit you with being able to look past that and not take this as oriented toward your person.  

Given my own background and the history of my family and culture, I have had to work very hard to come to a nuanced understanding and admiration for Christian textual traditions.  It has been necessary for my work and intellectual engagements.  It has also been quite beneficial and nurturing.  

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
And I forgot to note the central mistake of this comment (2.00 / 7)
"Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself" (Leviticus 19:18).

Leviticus, baby.  Leviticus.  3rd Book of the Pentateuch.

Jesus tends to quote this one a lot, much to his credit.  See Mt. 19:19; Mt. 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27

Paul too. Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14.

Man oh man.  Google really encourages all of my pretensions to pedantry!

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Ah, yes (2.00 / 7)
these passages go so well with others from Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges.

Leviticus 19:18 "Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself"

Joshua 8:18-30 (Not much loving of neighbors here)

"18And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.

19And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.

20And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.

21And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.

22And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.

23And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.

24And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.

25And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.

26For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

27Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.

28And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.

29And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.

30Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,  

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
Really? You wanna play John? (2.00 / 7)
Run right to Joshua.  Cheap, fast, easy, and obvious.

How about Isaiah 58?

1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

3 Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.

Seems like the religious right in this country needs some "Old Testament" updates just about now.

Are you a card player?  I see your ethnic cleansing from Joshua and raise you some inclusiveness (that the religious right in Israel conveniently ignores) from Ezekiel 47:

21 So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel.

22 And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.

23 And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord GOD.

We could play all night.

I'm no apologist.  My point, as quite clearly stated above, is that you can find ethical and compassionate statements in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, as well as violent and vengeful statements in both.  Indeed, some seem to ignore that Jesus quotes his obligation to love your neighbor directly from Hebrew Scripture.  It's the residue of a long tradition whereby Christians imputed hatred and violence to Jews to justify hating and violating Jews.  I would like to think we've moved beyond these ugly over-simplifications.

If you're looking for purity, then you've got to repudiate the American political tradition as well, for it also displays a record of beautiful ideals and accomplishments as well as a heritage of violence and degradation.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Oh.... (2.00 / 6)
"We could play all night," please do.  I have to admit as a non-theologian but an avid reader, in the past, of both testaments that my initial sympathies were with Janicket's original comment.  Not saying you can't pick the seeds of Christianity, or Islam for that matter, out of the earlier text but the general tone is quite severe; which is perfectly understandable in historical context.

I'm the guy who's argued that "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was a progressive reform in its day in spite of our modernist attitudes to the contrary, but still...

Let's talk about the traces of human sacrifice in both volumes.  They are surely there but in vastly juxtaposed contemporary frames.  My thesis is that the synoptic gospels owe as much to Socrates (and his amanuensis, Plato) as Moses and the patriarchs, at least in form and arguably content.  And thanks for the commentary I love this exegesis stuff on this forum and welcome whatever you have to say.

[ Parent ]
Janicket's comment (2.00 / 6)
attributes "Love thy neighbor" to the "New Testament" and homogenizes the "Old Testament" around an anti-Jewish canard with a dark past, when the quote in question is pentateuchal.  So I don't understand how or why it could elicit the "sympathies" of someone who has been an "avid reader."  Like you, I am no theologian.  My interests in these texts is literary, historical, and cultural.  As such, it's pretty clear to me that the textual traditions of the Hebrew Bible are too diverse to have a "general tone."  Indeed, there is a very bad historical context to parsing the two canons according to a violence/love or punishment/forgiveness dichotomy.

I'd like to hear more about your thesis regarding the synoptics.  Seems like Plato's Socrates largely avoids positive statements.  (And given the differences betweeen Xenophon's Socrates and Plato's, I don't the the latter can be reduced to an amanuensis.)  Jesus seems pretty involved in authoritative assertions.  He and Socrates both critique a power structure and embrace a single, unified highest universal power, but go about these positions quite differently.  There's a long tradition that reads Socrates within a syncretism of classical and biblical traditions so that he becomes a type of Christ almost like Adam and Abel and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David (shall I go on?).  This is done with Odysseus and Aeneas as well.  But this is an interpretive maneuver, not a critical determination of influence.  

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Ha (2.00 / 5)
I knew this would be fun.  Plato's hardly my favourite ancient thinker yet the dialogues have a life of their own for which I credit Socrates' style and personality.  And it is that well-established Hellenic influence that I was referring to in the synoptic gospels; a dialogue between two well-informed interlocutors seeking truth.  For example, from Mark 12:13-17:

Mark 12:13 Next they sent forth to him some of the Pharisees and of the party of followers of Herod to catch him in his speech.

Mark 12:14 On arrival these said to him, "Teacher, we know you are truthful and you do not care for anybody, for you do not look upon men's outward appearance, but you teach the way of God in line with truth.  Is it lawful to pay head tax to Caesar or not?"

Mark 12:15 "Shall we pay or not pay?" Detecting their hypocrisy he said to them, "Why do you put me to the test? Bring me a denarius to look at."

Mark 12:16 They brought one. And he said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said, "Caeser's."

Mark 12:17 Jesus then said, "Pay back Caeser's things to Caesar but God's things to God." And they began to marvel at him.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 1984.

If that isn't as clearly Hellenic as sketching triangles in the dust of the Agora for a slave's understanding then I'm a cat's tango.  I certainly don't subscribe to the "anti-Jewish canards" which might condemn the prior text.  I just see the more recent volume a post-Alexandrian work from a different millennia.  And as for Plato, considering Laws and The Republic, I have him as a disgruntled, failed tragedian, Spartan sympathiser and precursor to Fascism whose motives for writing volumes devoted to a complex, engaging and sympathetic portrayal of Socrates defies my modern understanding.  More please.

[ Parent ]
You'll note (2.00 / 6)
that the initiator of questions is not the teacher here, but the student.  This seems the inverse form of the dialogues, where Socrates generally initiates the questions and leads frequently to aporia as opposed to doctrinal statement.  I'm still confused regarding your method of distinguishing between Socrates and Plato in the dialogues.  

The intellectual culture from which Jesus emerges was indeed indebted to Hellenistic traditions.  But most scholars I have read concur that the influence of Antioch, with its emphasis on jurisprudence, was greater than that of Alexandria, which was a center for literary and hermeneutic inquiry in this period (though math and astronomy as well).

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Not So Sure... (2.00 / 6)
On either count, frankly.  It seems to me the dialogue is the medium irrespective of initiator.  It's a process thing.

And sorting out Socrates vs Plato has always been a puzzle, hasn't it?  Must admit Plato got me with the triangles, though.  Also the scholastic fascination with Antioch, while compelling in its own way, misses the point I was trying to make about the context of the later text in a Hellenised Mediterranean.  I was referring to the era of the man not the city (is Alexandrine more correct?)  And it seems to me that much of the Christian Testament is strongly informed by Hellenistic convention, if attempting to elevate the theology.  I find the whole thing fascinating and only read the Bible after having explored the earlier mythologies which seemed to me a sensible project and led to many déjà vu moments throughout.

Have you ever chanced, incidentally, on Freud's Moses and Monotheism?  Or Normon Golb's Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

[ Parent ]
Well (2.00 / 6)
if any text that stages an inquisitive dialogue can be associated with the influence of Socrates, then sure.  But I think you need a bit more to go on than that.  I'll reiterate that Jesus seems committed to positive doctrine, which Socrates strives to avoid, if occasionally in a disingenuous manner.  Furthermore, I'd caution against attributing what you like to Socrates and what you don't to Plato.  I think it's all Plato.  Even if he includes direct quotes and/or actual engagements regarding Socrates, his selection and rendering makes his mediation primary.  There's nothing there that isn't Plato, in my view.

My point about Antioch vs. Alexandria is that the "Hellenized Mediterranean" comprised different centers with different emphases.  Judea/Palestine was more influenced by Antioch.  This isn't to say that Alexandria (not Alexandrine, which is a term connoting a line of iambic hexameter) exerted no influence.  Origen is a clear example, though he comes later.  But given that Jesus was from the Galilee, he was less likely to be informed by elite literary influences that indeed reached Jerusalem and Caesarea.  One can see it in Paul, but Paul's biography situates him as much more likely.  He was an insider.  I think the Antioch influence was more pervasive, especially in the north.  And I reject the idea that Christian theology is more "elevated" than that of Hebrew Scriptures or Rabbinic traditions.  

I think deja vu moments when reading texts require critical examination.  Often we impute a similarity.  Sometimes similarities represent influence.  Sometimes they represent a harmony that is merely a product of adjacency.  Arguments for influence must meet a much more precise burden of proof.

As for Freud's M & M, it's provocative speculation masquerading as argument.  Definitely one of his weaker texts.  Gold's hypothesis is a minority one that I cannot judge, given my lack of concentrated engagement with Scrolls scholarship.  But the Hebrew Bible bears its own relationships to Hellenic thought, though more so the Rabbinic traditions.  Does Ecclesiastes derive from Stoicism, echo it, or simply resemble it?  Does Song of Songs derive from the Osirian texts that Theocritus and others composed in Alexandria?  These are all possibilities.  But again, arguments for influence demand technical precision.  They also run the risk of reductiveness that can obscure larger and more important questions.  Witness Stephen Daedelus' interpretation of Hamlet in Joyce's Ulysses, where he takes the whole play and reduces it to an allegory of Shakespeare's psycho-biography, particularly his cuckolding by Anne Hathaway.  If that's all Hamlet does, then who really cares?

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Thanks (2.00 / 3)
Points one by one:

If any text that stages an inquisitive dialogue can be associated with the influence of Socrates, then sure.

Well, yeah.  I haven't gone back to my Penguins but I seem to remember that Socrates was challenged as often as not.  As for positive doctrine, sure, that's Jesus' metier but it was couched in the context of the times; post Macabean (the discredited fundamentalist of the day.)  Wise move.

...his selection and rendering makes his mediation primary.  There's nothing there that isn't Plato, in my view.

Granted.  But it remains a puzzle to me.  What's the chances there were two Platos?  I would be delighted to discuss this further but the dialogues circumscribe vastly different terrain than Plato's later works which, to my knowledge, show little influence from, and virtually no reference to, the earlier works.  Would be delighted to discuss this further as it seems worthy.  I remain confounded on this point.

...Judea/Palestine was more influenced by Antioch.

No doubt.  And the litigious texts of Paul (Saul,) as you pointed out, in the post-synoptic testament substantiate your point.  And that's where the rot sets in (actually in John but that's another discussion,) if you ask me.  But I have Jesus as a bit of an outsider, at first, while firmly within the Judaic tradition.  An interloper willing to use "new media" to reach a new and more progressive constituency.  My references for the "heterogeneity" of his contemporary ancient world extend well beyond geographic proximity.

Let's not confuse "critical examination" with "ossified scholarship."  Academia offers many revelations but also many blind alleys which have more to do with tenure and reputation than genuine scholarship.  And I was not suggesting that Christian texts were more "elevated" than Judaic ones, but than the aspirations of the Greek dialogues.  I take your point on that.  Although I must admit I have internalised as much of Socrates' theology as I have the more cryptic, individualised and less epistemologically declarative version of Christ's.

But on the déjà vu moments, that raises Jungian questions still debated and unresolved.  At this point I consider myself an unaligned observer, not a scholar, but with a definite vested interest in the question.  I can't say but the parallels are hard to overlook.

I agree that Moses and Monotheism was provocative and speculative but I harbour a belief, especially coming from that source, that that was exactly the intention and wonder if most readers have pondered that aspect without dismissing it out of hand.  It is not a work of historical scholarship but neither, famously, is Jung's Mysterium Coniunctionis.  These are the works of great and mystical minds at the end of their careers.  Worth considering on more than logical positivist grounds, they are, like your Joyce, works of some mental art if not equally literary.

As for Golb, it is well worth a read, "minority opinion" or not.  His thesis, that the scrolls are the contents of the evacuated library of Jerusalem, among others, not the scribbling of the Essenes, fits more neatly with the history of Josephus and the evidence of the copper scroll.  I am tempted to concede that the academics of three major religions have more to fear the textual variations of that catalogue than to celebrate it, as they probably should.

Does Ecclesiastes derive from Stoicism, echo it, or simply resemble it?

Derive from and echo.

Does Song of Songs derive from the Osirian texts that Theocritus and others composed in Alexandria?

No but it derives from the oral tradition of same known until Coptic times.

But again, arguments for influence demand technical precision.

Perhaps but unavailable to us in the terms proposed by those who presume to offer them at this time.

They also run the risk of reductiveness that can obscure larger and more important questions.

Tell me more.  And I will gladly leave post-ancient literary interpretation to you with thanks.  Modern fiction is not my area.

[ Parent ]
Shaun (2.00 / 3)
I wish I had more time at present to answer your very well formulated points one by one.  But here's a few preliminary thoughts.

I am leery of generalized critiques of academic scholarship.  They seem so much a part of the general anti-intellectual currents.  In my field (early modern/renaissance lit.), at least, I see great openness to debate and welcoming of new findings and perspectives on a range of issues.  But, for example, no major Shakespeare scholars find the authorship controversy compelling.  Those who support the [conspiracy] theory attributing the works to the Earl of Oxford often seek to bolster their case by taking swipes at the "ossified" orthodoxies of the academy.  So the academic consensus that there are no compelling reasons to question Shaekspeare's authorship becomes evidence that they are protecting professional terrain from non-professionals and this is an institutional defensiveness.  It's a CLASSIC conspiracy theory move.  If you actually enter into contemporary Shakespeare scholarship, you'll find all kinds of disagreement and diversity.  So, unless you have a particular issue you think has been excluded because of institutional bias, I think it harms the pursuit of knowledge to lob general aspersions at academic scholarship as such.

I'd have fewer issues with Freud's M & M if he didn't position it as an historical argument.  If it's comp. lit., then there is a great deal to be learned by reading the Exodus myth alongside the Oedipus cycle and even ancient historical phenomena.  I find Jung, in general, less compelling because of truth claims that seem too often rooted in mystical processes rather than investigation of phenomona.  But this is a pretty superficial, or at least preliminary perspective.  I haven't studied Jung with much depth and have other priorities at present.

My point about adjacency vs. influence is that the latter depends upon isolation of cause and its demonstration.  I don't think there are conclusive arguments for Ecclesiastes drawing directly upon Stoicism, or Jesus employing a Socratic method to meld the Semitic personal deity with a platonic or aristotlean prime mover.  That's a move that belongs to the early medieval period.  You need al-Farabi, ibn Bajja, ibd Rushd (Averroes) and ibn Sinna (Avicenna) for that, along with Maimonides and Aquinas.  Resemblance and proximities do not prove direct influence.  For instance, they might draw on overlapping conditions of emergence, but these are more diffuse.  My larger point, is that arguments for influence often get in the way of engaging more interesting and significant questions when reading texts in context.  One can indeed parse Shakespearean plot points as similar to Oxford's biography.  But then the literary works appear simply as biographical allegories.  Such arguments for cause focus too much on Author to the detriment of other contributing contexts.

I like your answer about Song of Songs much better, though the context cannot be restricted to that which is "oral."  Song of Songs draws on a vocabulary of sacred sexuality that we see in Theocritus, in Sumerrian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic texts.  This "cultic" theory of S of S has been largely abandoned in recent years, but I think the linguistic and cultural evidence is pretty compelling.  It's not that it adapts Osirian litanies.  Rather it draws upon the same tropes of sexual-religious culture that circulated around the Mediterranean basin.  Recognizing this enables and encourages comparative readings that also help elucidate meaningful heterogeneities.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Additionally (2.00 / 6)
While I don't think for a minute you subscribe to anti-Jewish canards.  My agenda here (and I admit to a conscious agenda) is to confront and expose the degree to which these texts are still read through an ideological ethos devoted to such canards.  Context always influences reception, even when the history of that context remains opaque.  It's this ethos and context that leads to misattributions and oversimplifications like those in the initial comment that elicited my participation in this thread.

Also, it's a bit difficult to distinguish between the historical periods of each canon, as the Hebrew Scriptures do not belong to one historical period.  The ancient world was as complex and heterogeneous as modernity.  The world of the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15) and the Song of Deborah from Judges, among the oldest texts in Hebrew Scriptures, was quite different from that of Deuteronomy, or Esther, or Daniel.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Agreed (2.00 / 7)
That's what makes it such fun.  If I mentioned some of my openness to ancient heterogeneity you would be shooting me down all night.  Who, for example, were the Sea Peoples?  And why do they always remind me so much of Homer's Mycenaeans?  I tend to credit Herodotus' account of the Phoenician's circumnavigation of Africa and wonder if the ancient Irish legends of spear and shield armed "Danaans" arriving in antiquity doesn't tell us something about the range of an adventurously captained bireme.

It's all excellent stuff and a marvellous excuse to curl up with a very, very old book.

[ Parent ]
The Philistines (2.00 / 6)
were Sea peoples.  We know this from attestations of their Indo-European lexicon in the Bible.  For instance, when they capture the Ark of the Covenant, the place it in a box called an argaz.  This is not a semitic word.  Indeed, it seems quite close to the Latin arca from which arc derives.  Also, the encounter between David and Goliath, with its situation in a river bed and preliminary taunts is quite unique in biblical lit. and resembles Celtic warrior culture.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Look... (2.00 / 4)
I'm just an amateur here and don't get paid for this knowledge but still:

[Michael Wood's] major hypothesis, however, is that the Trojan War was fought against Troy VI and that Troy VIIa, the candidate of Carl Blegen, was sacked by essentially Greek Sea Peoples. He suggests that Odysseus' assumed identity of a wandering Cretan coming home from the Trojan War who fights in Egypt and serves there after being captured "remembers" the campaign of Year 8 of Ramses III, described above. He points out also that places destroyed on Cyprus at the time (such as Kition) were rebuilt by a new Greek-speaking population.

Sea Peoples - Greek migrational hypothesis Wikipedia

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.  The academic conclusions for this period are a long way from a certain bet.

[ Parent ]
Yes, a great point (2.00 / 6)
From a Church of England background, we were taught as children that the New Testament was the revelation of Love, replacing the Laws of the Old Testament.

But Jesus says nothing that actually refutes the essential commands of the Old Testament (the Ten Commandments and Love They Neighbour as Thyself). Though the different gospels are contradictory on some points, generally he says he comes to 'Fulfil' rather than break the Law.

So in essential moral theological terms, what I was taught about Christianity and the New Testament is wrong. Historically, of course, the acceptance or non acceptance that Jesus was the much anticipated Messiah was one of the most tremendous ruptures in world history. But Strummerson is surely right to unpick the theological assumptions a Christian culture often promulgates on this.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Here's Spenser's Pauline view (2.00 / 6)
of the "Old Testament":

That done, he leads him to the highest Mount;
 Such one, as that same mighty man of God,
 That bloud-red billowes like a walled front
 On either side disparted with his rod,
 Till that his army dry-foot through them yod,
 Dwelt fortie dayes vpon; where writ in stone
 With bloudy letters by the hand of God,
 The bitter doome of death and balefull mone
He did receiue, whiles flashing fire about him shone. (FQ I.x)

The "bloudie letters" of Hebrew Scripture contain the "bitter doome of death" and a "balefull mone."  It's a great poetic moment, but the anti-Judaism misrepresents its foundational text.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Yes, more anti Judaism than anti Semitism (2.00 / 5)
Because let's not forget that the historical Yeshua was just one of dozens of Jewish heretics responding to the Roman Occupation and the compliance of their religious leaders.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
2 cautions (2.00 / 5)
First, "Yeshua" is a name employed primarily by messianic Jews and Christians.  Jews for Jesus and their allies.  We don't actually know what Jesus' name was.  It may have been Yehoshua (Joshua) or Yeshaya/Yeshayahu (Isaiah).  In rabbinic lit. he's most often referred to as "Balaam," the name of Balak's talking ass from Numbers.  There are several references to a Yeshu in rabbinic lit., but may refer to a different late first century sectary.  Sometimes, they use "oto ha-ish," which translates to "that man."

Second, it's not clear to what degree Jesus was really trying to oppose the Roman Occupation, like Zealots and Sicarii such as Barabbas.  He definitely opposed the Sadducees for both political and doctrinal reasons.  Much of his theology fits into the tumultuous continuum between the Pharisees and Essenes.  Negative portrayals of Pharisees may be anachronistic, as they were the forerunners of the Rabbinic movement that rejected and sought to exclude late first century Jews who accepted Jesus as the messiah.  For instance, they inserted a benediction into the liturgy that would expose any follower of the Jesus movement, for he neither could say it out loud as a prayer leader nor answer "amen."  But Jesus' response to Roman occupation was essentially eschatological, like that of the Pharisees who by and large militated against open rebellion but were also less complicit with the Roman authorities than the Sadducees.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Joshua is 'Cheap, fast, easy, and obvious. ' (2.00 / 5)
It is filled with genocidal acts. I didn't bring it up to support Janicket's point. For, of course, you are right. "Love thy neighbor" is from the original Jewish teachings and predates Christianity. IMO, neither religion is particularly "loving."

The patriarchal god of the Jews is a schizophrenic monster. Claims of being a loving god seem rather laughable when one takes into account the acts of willful slaughter and cruelty and the capricious nature of that god. Christianity isn't much better. The entire religion is based on an act of human sacrifice and deicide. In fact, the Christians go a step further by claiming that a god of love could condemn the majority of his creation to an eternity of torment and suffering.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
I relate (2.00 / 7)
to both theologies as diverse textual traditions.  My approach is literary, sociological, and cultural/historical.  I know theists with similar perspectives.  It's much more productive, avoiding both a "take what you like and dismiss the rest" easy way out and reductions like "schizophrenic monster."  Human traditions are never categorizable as either loving or violent.  We're much messier than that.  I love it when hippies and others hold up Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism as a "positive" counter-weight to "western religions."  Sure, some like the Tibetans emphasize compassion.  But ultimately they hold the world in pretty low regard, and they organize themselves around patriarchal male autocrats.  Not so "loving" in my view either.  Fascinating traditions, but not unimpeachably superior from an ethical standpoint.  

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
America's Best Christian (2.00 / 4)
Betty Bowers

Dear Mrs. Bowers:
One of the best things about Jesus is how He tells us to look after the poor. It is this kindness of heart that drew me to him. But I am becoming disillusioned by how few Christians really practice what Jesus preached. How can we do more to help the poor?

Caring in Chicago

Betty's Answer:

[ Parent ]
I needed to read this and other (2.00 / 7)
progressive stuff to decompress.  Just got back from CURVES and surprised I did not stroke out as two women, one a retired teacher like myself, and one who works in the clerical division of the district were going on and on about how "those horrid poor people are causing all the problems for the middle class because they get everything.....and the middle class suffers because of the Feds giving stuff to the poor."  I tried everything to explain to them how it was not the poor but the top 1% demanding more money, less taxes, less for everyone except them.
But they would not hear of it.  The rich worked for their money don't you know.

Typical middle class, white women from this oh so conservative area.  Nothing would dissuade the.
I finished my workout and left and walked home so saddened that ignorance dominates.  I suspect these women would defend the tea party and even be a part of it.  

I had to let it go because I realized all the reason in the world does not work on people bound and determined to blame all those poor people on the troubles in the country.

I have used Matthew 25 before but come to the realization people like this IGNORE whatever goes against their greed and blaming of the poor and go to church to be affirmed by the evangelical ministers of greed and hate.

"You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both."
- Louis Brandeis

This diary is why I am a progressive (2.00 / 7)
And why we must never cede the Christian or religious block to Republicans. No matter the argument the religious and ridiculously wealthy Right puts up, in a government made up OF THE PEOPLE, reflecting the best judgments and ideals OF THE PEOPLE,a solid foundation in "love thy neighbor" and Matthew 25 are essential (not merely a disclaimer on Sundays to repent for as millions upon millions starve, go hungry, or lose their homes).

Getting this message across--and finding a way to do it that will cause it to sink in, reverberate and really shake the core of citizens--is the key to winging back states in the Midwest and South (Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana & Colorado all in play).

Please join The Journeying Progressive for long runs, legendary musings and an insatiable quest for knowledge.

Abraham Lincoln on when he would join a Church, and which one... (2.00 / 8)
Congressman Deming also recalled that he had once asked President Lincoln why he had not joined a church. President Lincoln responded that 'he had never united himself to any church, because he found difficulty in giving his assent, without mental reservation, to the long complicated statements of Christian doctrine, which characterize their Articles of belief and Confessions of Faith. 'When any church,' he continued, 'will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership the Saviour's condensed statement of the substance of both law and Gospel, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,' that church will I join with all my heart and all my soul.'


[ Parent ]
Love the discussion. (2.00 / 6)
Unfortunately my contribution is limited to mentioning the fabulous weather we are having this week.

"When Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in teh stupid and waving a gun" ~ Esteev on Wonkette

I love these theogeeks. (2.00 / 1)

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
Om nom nom nom. /cookiemonster (2.00 / 2)

Just because they are posting on a progressive site doesn't make them progressives. - John Allen

[ Parent ]
I'm supposed to be an evangelical christian (is that lower or upper caps?) and I have... (2.00 / 3)
... no idea what half of you peeps upthread are talking about. Good stuff. lol!

I go to church when I want to sing and share a cool few hours with a few very (very) - can't emphasis it enough- very happy people in those few hours. It's always electric in a good baptist church. I do feel better when I leave and more at peace. I've mentioned before it could be a placebo effect and I don't mind one bit.

I'd rather go with the "complete and utter blind faith" on this one.

The less I know the better.

Am I a coward because I'd rather think some ghost in a spaceship is always there with me? Do I give a shit if anybody thinks I am? lol! (no, I don't)

I do have a problem with atheists who bash religion and Christianity specifically for the kicks of it. Live and let live, you know? It's why I love to hang out with all these sinners on the Moose who are respectful towards me and my belief in my space ghost (my bff Jesus Christ).

I love you too motherfuckers. See ya in hell!

Just because they are posting on a progressive site doesn't make them progressives. - John Allen

Religion can't be reduced to theology. (2.00 / 3)
If participation in worship enriches one's experience, given them solace, strength, and joy, and helps one to be compassionate and generous to others, it shouldn't be interrupted or invalidated by theological quibbles and confessions.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed.  It is the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of an unspiritual situation." -- Karl Marx

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]

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