Friday, February 26, 2010

Week 5.2 - Biblical type scenes

In Bible as Literature we have been discussing the construct of type-scenes as used in ancient and particularly biblical literature. English majors might enjoy this if I can articulate it well enough.

Basically, biblical literature often times fits into what are called type-scenes that have inherent expectations. A modern day comparison is Western movies. You have the sheriff of the town who is a great shot, the best. He comes into conflict with a criminal of some sort. They have a shoot-out, draw, whatever they call it. The sheriff wins due to his quick hand. We all know the tales! Furthermore, genres in general usually have their own type-scenes. Ever watched criminal sitcoms, or soap operas so often that you can tell what is going to happen? We know that she is going to fall in love with him before anyone else, we also know that he is not the killer because it's too early in the show and we know the real discover always happens at 7:52!!

Likewise, there are such conventions in Biblical literature, it seems, that would have been predictable to the audience reading it.

As discussed in class, there is the woman at the well type scene. What happens in these scenes is a journey into a foreign land, a meeting of a woman at a well, a drawing of water, a running of the woman, testimony of the woman to family, feast and betrothal of man to woman. Isaac met Rebekhah at a well, Jacob met Rachel, and Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Deviations are found in each, but deviations are put in place for a meaning, to make a point. When in a Western the sheriff is someone crippled, we know the story may follow the same conventions loosely but will be making a special point. Or if they find the murderer sooner, we know something else will be revealed later.

Taking type scenes to another stretch, we have this strange type scene in Genesis of lying. Abraham lies twice concerning Sarah being his sister to Pharoh, and then to Abimelech. We then see his son doing the same with his wife! (Genesis 12, 20, and 26) In each case, we have a further elaboration of the specifics. Why? To make a point.

I want to focus on Abraham and Sarah. Check out Genesis 12 and 20. Notice the basic framework: the telling of the lie/half truth, the "taking" of Sarah, the discovery (by different modes, compare with 26's discovery) of her married status, the plague upon the nation, the offerings for forgiveness/vindication.

Although the structure is fascinating, and there are many ethical issues here, there is a slight deviation and language issue that is even more interesting!!

12:15 "...was taken into Pharoh's house."

12:19 "... so that I took her as my wife"

Most of us have been taught to read this innocently. Sarah was taken into pharaoh's house, Pharaoh was shown that Sarah was actually Abraham's wife,, and Sarah was released. What we don't realize, is that we are imposing the facts found in 26 because we assume each account is the same, not stopping to read what is said.

It says she was "taken," which in Hebrew is a euphemism for a sexual taking.

Pharaoh explicitly says he took her as his wife.

Chapter 20 elaborates this story more, almost seeming to attempt to clarify the questions in the previous chapter (theologically) but literarily we can't help but notice the differences as meaning something!

Notice the repetitions in this account. We have a repeating of "take" in verse 2 and 3. Then we have the repetition of claims of innocence by Abimelech and we can't help but be reminded of our dear President Clinton "I did not have sex with that woman!" Why else would someone so emphatically claim his own innocence but by the fact that he is guilty? Even God in this passage says he has "done this" out of the cleanness of his hands, but done what?

Then notice Abimelech's address directly to Sarah, what man speaks directly to a woman in ancient times? We rarely see this in biblical accounts and here we have a king addressing her, saying that she is giving her husband money to vindicate her. Vindicate her for what?

And the clincher, immediately after this is chapter 21, the birth of Isaac.


It seems here what should follow is a state address by Abimelech "I did have sex with that woman..."! By Abraham's treatment of Sarah, I think it's fair to assume he didn't like her much. Maybe she wasn't barren herself, but Abraham had some failings in performance with her. Stretch? I think not if you read these two stories. Doesn't it seem odd that this affair with Abimelech is immediately followed by Isaac's birth?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Week 2.4 Biblical Rape

Judges 19

If you have not, read it.

We discussed this class in Bible as Literature class and it was a surprisingly quiet session. I could tell this was the first time some of the students have ever seen this passage in their Bible. No one ever preaches it, that is for sure! So who can blame them for their silence?

The passage, as you can speaks of rape, murder, and gender differentiation.

I am in the process of asking Christians, through forum discussion and 1 on 1 to discuss this passage and its implications in the Bible for me. So I will update on the study if it bears fruit.

As a non-believer, I ask myself why is this passage in a holy and sacred book? The first, obvious answer is that the author is describing a historical event. This did in fact happen and the Levite did in fact cut up his concubine (alive?) and mail her pieces to the 12 tribes, and the 12 tribes did in fact go to war because of this display and event.

However. The event and actions of the Levite speak so much more, ojectively and textually than just a historical fact. It speaks of cultural traditions. For one, we know that in middle eastern societies, even to this day, people have the social demand that if a stranger comes to your town, you must offer him your hospitality for 3 days. So we know that the person who invited in the Levite was exhibiting a social duty. We also know that he of course would protect him against any attackers coming to his door.

But is not the Levite's concubine also a guest? Is not she also protected?

Apparently not. Which is where the problem begins. Why is the woman tossed out, a guest, and the guest's concubine? The host knew what these men were going to do, rape her. He also knew they had evil intents and would probably cause her deadly harm, besides the initial trauma of being gang raped. Yet he threw her out to them to be their toy all night. What does this say?

A lot. Now what does this say to someone who believes that the Bible is the guidebook for humanity? How does someone rationalize God's silence in a book that is supposedly the Word of God?

Reactions I gleaned from the class discussion? My professor said the first time she read it was when a friend of hers, who had been raped, read this passage for the first time and called her weeping and asking her "why is this in the Bible???" My professor said, shocked, she opened her bible and read it for her first time. She also wept. She didn't have an answer then, and doesn't have an answer now.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Belief and Spiritual Atheism

Wittgenstein taught that the term "I believe" did not convey anything and was in itself meaningless. What does belief add?

His example: When you say "I believe it will rain" is it not the same as saying "it will rain"? For you state to state it, it must follow that you believed what you just stated to be true.

This seems to make tremendous philosophical sense. Practically, why do we use "belief" terminology? Perhaps because of religious texts that push "faith," believing in what can not be substantiated/seen. So the article of faith demands a person use the precursor "I believe." For if you believe in something that can not be found to be true, for example, again, "It will rain today" you are making a statement that can be validated. (I added "today" simply because if you do not put a timeframe on the statement, it elongates my argument's point.) Either it will rain today, or it will not. Thus, you are either making a true or false statement. Belief is neither true, nor false. Although certainly we can say belief can be grounded, or absurd!

However, when it comes to God, we also encounter the issue of existence. Which... well I would suppose will have to be left to another post because it's another deal all together. But basically, if someone can give a definition of that thing which exists, we can then seek to find that thing! But people make God such an incomprehensible concept, that the discussion is meaningless. I can not substantiate whether X is true if you don't tell me what X is! Especially if there are other incomprehensible variables in the equation. You can have one X in an equation, and most of the times solve it, but only if you can provide an equation that can be solved.

Which leads to my personal application of this information and the issue of spiritual atheism. Is it feasible? The latest book I read, "Atheism: The Case Against God" by George H. Smith boiled down Atheism to its core: lack of theistic belief. Since then, I have born the label. But I wonder, is this misleading? Certainly, many bear many titles and do not fit the supposed mold! But is it acceptibile? Can one be open, and be an atheist? Can one be open, and be a Christian? I frown upon the label of agnosticism for many reasons, so I will not address that supposed "middle-ground" here, but can the title of Atheism fit someone as I who is open to God existing, just makes the decision not to believe in it?

Going back to the issue of belief, why state belief in something that can not be validated? Thus, a*theism for me.

But I wonder, can the concept of God be discussed philosophically in his existence's favor? I pondered this in class, as our professor offered himself as an example of one venturing into the philosophical world as someone who can "bring something new to the table as a Christian." I couldn't help but wonder, just how he goes about philosophically supporting this God's existence without completely stripping it of all understandable definitions and thus, return back to the prior point.


Belief is a decision? Hence our created, emotionally-wired word "faith." If faith a choice? Is faith a logical choice? Or is it absurd?