Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ancient Things Must Be Wrong?

My argument here is that God offers humanity a timeless and universal opportunity to encounter the divine in such a way as to clarify the human condition and to free the individual from the bonds of his/her own darker nature; and through this to offer us a meaning and understanding of our own lives that make life beautiful and worthwhile, regardless of our circumstances. I argue that this promise is embodied in the promised coming of redeemer, which is echoed in all mythologies around the world. In the Bible we see the promise at first veg. "I will put emnity between the woman's seed and the serpent," the serpent will bruise the heal and the heal will crush the serpent's head. Whatever that means. Then it becomes the personal quest of Abraham to carry on his seed, which is of course is the metaphor for the ideal of the nation to explain its Nobel origins and to carry on its seed. Then it becomes the nationalistic desire for a place in he earth, a country of their own. Then it comes the quest to keep the law, once they live in the promised land, and their journey becomes eschatological; a journey through time rather than through the space of a wilderness. It becomes a quest for a return from exile and it becomes a quest for political liberation of the homeland from foreign oppression. In all of these changes and variations the one stable element is the idea of the coming redeemer how somehow he's going to put things right. In all of this we see the ability of the divine to step into our cultural constructs and fill them with meaning and make them gateways to the hopes of promise for future generations. It is the timeless and eternal in the temporal and the cultural.

I advanced the old apologetical argument of fulfilled prophesy on AARM and Scavenger and Hyperbolae jumped all over me. Well, you know Hyperbolae is always exaggerating, and Scav is always picking over what's left of an argument. (yuck).

They thought that fulfillment of prophesy is too old fashioned a concept to take seriously. It's something the ancient Greeks believed in, after all, and look where it got them. Well, actually that's such a lame argument because after 2000 years the Greek pagan religion is on its way back!

But the idea that something must be wrong because ancient people thought of it is silly. I will admit that prophesy is a social construct. It's only because we have our ties to the ancient world that we can still make such an argument. In fact we have dressed the argument up in modern terms. Accent people did not understand prophesy as mathematical probability. They did not lay odds as to the fulfillment. That's all a very modern idea.

The Ancients understood fulfillment of prophetic utterance as merely a sign form the gods, but they did not measure it in mathematical terms, they had no concept of probability. Before mathematical probability there was authority, sicentia. That was the name of the concept that preceded mathatmeical probability (discovered by Blasé Pascal the Christian philosopher). The idea of Scientia is that of relying upon the authority of an expert to offer some margin of truth. The Ancients saw fulfillment's as omen's but they didn't compare the likelihood of an outcome.


I think there is an eve more "up to date" way to understand this philosophical approach to fulfillment of prophesy. In fact I was making the arguments so that I could show another Christian apologist a better way to present the argument than the way he was doing it (attaching mathematical probiablies), not because I actually want to prove to the atheists on AARM that I was right. I don't often argue that sort of thing, because it is kind of old hat. Not that Jesus didn't fulfill the prophesies, but I think there are more sophisticated approaches than saying "Isaiah says messiah would be born in Galilee and Jesus was born in Galilee, amazing!"

(1) Tie it in with the nature of human religiosity and realize that the coming redeemer idea is as old as the notion of redemption itself.

(2) The concept of Messianic fulfillment, which stems from the exile and the desire to return to the land of the ancestors, the Messiah was a political redeemer who would lead the people home and rebuild the temple; that idea is both the social construct of those in that time and place who thought of it, and God stepping into their world and fulfilling their understanding of divine promise, at one and the same time.

(3) The promise of redemption in the Garden (Gen. 3:16) is sufficiently veg that it can be understood as atonement on the Cross, or as coming of Messiah, or both. The early church looked at the scriptures to understand how Jesus' life fulfilled the promise and they saw this fit.

(4) You can see the development chainging in the concept of Messiah between 1st Isaiah and 2 Isaiah. The change is terms of Messiah as a redeeming figure who is a light to the gentiles and savior of all the world, suffering Messiah who atones for the sins of the people (Is. 53) vs. the elementary figure of chapters 7-9 who is merely going to free the people from oppression, and the root of Jessey and David in chapter 11 who is the tirbel answer to Israel's leadership problem. The difference in those two sections is a couple of hundred years. The Assyrians are the enemy at the beginning of the Book, the Babylonians at the end.

What all of this comes to is that even though Messianic fulfillment's are largely a matter of social construction and are rooted in the immediate needs of the people in their time and place, they are also a giant web of all their symbolic universe and all their understanding of the divine, which includes the age old concept of promised redemption and coming redeemer. That's what redeemers do, they came and redeem, they come from some other place, they return, or they come down from the realm above, and redeem.

We can tap into that web. We can add the political redeemer of the exile and the liberationist of Jesus' day, the Zealot's fighting the Romans, to the pool of redeemer myths and for us it makes a context in which Christ's mission makes sense. The inception between "I will put enmity between the woman's seed and the serpent" and the fact of Jesus dying on the Cross as a statement of solidarity between God and all humanity are linked and become a framework in which we can understand the idea of God stepping into a cultural pattern, a cultural temporally bound framework to offer meaning and hope to the ancient world, and to the world, and even to the postmodern world. So we can postmodernize the concept of the messiah and make it into a meaningful framework in which to understand divine/human encounter.

5 comments:

Jessica said...

Interesting post.

J.L. Hinman said...

Thank you Jessika.

isabella said...

I was wondering: what topic is your PhD thesis on?

tinythinker said...

He posted about that on this blog here. Of course, there is no summary statement or anything, so the exact topic isn't really clear.

J.L. Hinman said...

How right you are Tiny, the exact topic isn't clear. I'm a victim of being in the program too long. What began as a high and mighty attempt to break new ground and start a big serious career is not just profunctory exercize to get the paper and get out.