Friday, February 08, 2008

What is the Deal with the Old Testament?


Atheists are always trying to invalidate Christianity by the OT. Nothing could be more useless. I agree that there are some good arguments to be made against the fundamentalist doctirne of inerrency (verbal plenary inspiration) but this does not mean that problems of the OT in any way diminish the truth of Christianity.

Atheists are always arguing the OT shows that God as a character of mean oppression, and that means the roots of oppressive thinking are going to rub off on Christianity (and have done so all along). But this is poppy **** and is empirically disproved. All we need to do is examine the motivations of all the socially progressive Christian movements that fought for Justice, such as the peasant revolts, abolition movement, civil rights movement to see that the Christian faith has always motivated people to fight for justice. Scoundrels have taken refuge in it to justify their self interest, but that in no ways proves that they became scoundrels because of it.
see my critique of Hector Avalos (scroll half way down, paragraph beginning with "we know that the Civil rights movement).

but I want to set that aside because that's not really my point. My real point is to deal with the issue of "what is one to make of the OT given it's ancient world nature?"

The Evangelicals would have us believe that Jesus sanctioned the entire OT every single words. But he did not. First of all, there was not a closed canon in Christ's time; even though the Jews did reverence the Torah, they did not have a closed canon at that time. Jesus never mentions never mentions anything called an "Old Testament." The Evangelicals assume that his speaking of the "law and the prophets" means that he's saying the entire OT as we know it today is inspired. But that is a conjecture. yes he clearly mean Torah and probably major prophetic books like Isaiah, he red from Isaiah so we know he valued Isaiah. Moreover, he did not say everything is to be taken literally or all the verbs are inspired or anything like that.

Essentially I see the OT as providing the cultural context in which Jesus mission as Messiah becomes meaningful. Nothing more. It is not a message for us to live by today except in so far as it point points tot he coming mission of Messiah.

that is not that different from Orthodox views which quote Paul in saying "the old law was nailed to the cross." Paul also says the Mosaic law was "a school master to bring us to Christ." He say it was a barometer to show us how bad bad was, but not the major cure. see Romans 4-6.

The Hebraic author says that in former times God spoke through the prophets but now he has spoken through his son. The implication being that the more perfect revelation is Jesus not the OT.Hebrews 1:1-2

I've said time and time again that we experince God beyond words and we filter that through our cultural constructs. So the ancient Hebrews were violent people living in a dangerous world. Everyone around them was wiping out their enemies and so on. They experienced God, so they assumed God was for them because they experienced him, thus he must be against their enemies.

so they piped into idealized history a bunch of nationalistic propaganda. They have God leading them to wipe out the "bad guys" because after all, they experienced God so God is for them he must against those who would destroy them. For example the command to wipe out even Amalekite babies might be seen as redaction. The text of 1 Samuel is one of the most heavily redacted in the Bible. As we will see, it's very presence in the canon has been brought into question, but the version we have is probably a corrupted second rate copy, and the LXX is closer, and Q4Sama at Qumran closer still, to the actual original.

Institute Biblical Scientific Studies:

Biblical Archeology, Dead Sea Scrolls and OT

"1&2 Samuel"

"For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8).

"In 1952 Roland De Vaux and Lankester Harding found manuscripts of Samuel under three feet of debris in Qumran Cave 4. 4QSama shows that the Old Greek Bible (LXX) was based on a Vorlage similar to 4QSama. Josephus agrees with 4QSama in 6 places against the MT and LXX. Josephus, 4QSama, and LXX share about three dozen readings against the MT" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.229).

"Where the book of Chronicles parallels 1 Samuel, the readings of Chronicles follow 4QSama rather than the MT 42 times. Only one time does Chronicles agree with the MT. Over 100 times 4QSama does not agree with any ancient reading" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.230-31).

The Book of Samuel varies widely and frequently from the Masoretic Text. 4QSama preserves a number of superior readings that help correct errors in the Masoretic Text (DSS Bible, 213). Let's look at some of these.

One dramatic example is in I Samuel 11 where the MT and KJV left out the first paragraph. The Longer reading in the DSS explains what happens in this chapter. It says:

"Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and the Reubenites viciously. He put out the right eye of all of them and brought fear and trembling on Israel. Not one of the Israelites in the region beyond the Jordan remained whose right eye Nahash king of the Ammonites did not put out, except seven thousand men who escaped from the Ammonites and went to Jabesh-gilead" (The Dead Sea Scroll Bible translated by Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich page 225). Then verse one of I Samuel 11 starts.

1 Samuel 14:30
There is a mis-division of words here in the MT. The 4QSama divides it differently which makes better sense. The MT has hkm htbr rather than hkmh hbr in the 4QSama.

1 Samuel 14:47
There is a singular instead of a plural noun in 4QSama. 4QSama is the better reading.

1 Samuel 15:27
There is an omission of the subject in the MT. According to 4QSama Saul is the subject who grabbed the garment, not Samuel.

The Place of 1st Sam in Canon

Revisited Albert C. Sundberg, Jr
Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts
"The Old Testament of the Early Church"
published by Monmouth College
in Monmouth, Illinois in 1997.

The Prophets collection was canonized about two centuries after the Law, i.e., about 200 B.C.E. This collection is divided into two sections, the Former Prophets (the historical books): Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, which were in circulation about 550 and reached their final form before the Latter Prophets. Except for minor editorial changes made later, the Chronicler utilized the Former Prophets in their final form. However, apparently he did not regard them as canonical because he took great liberties with them, especially with Samuel and Kings, in his rewriting of the national history.

The Latter Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and the Twelve12) contain sections undoubtedly from the third century (cf. Isa. 24-27; Pfeiffer 1941:61, 441-443). This places the terminus a quo after the Chronicler. On the other hand, the absence of the Book of Daniel (dating 164 B.C.E.) from the collection indicates that the collection was already closed at its writing, otherwise it would have been included. Thus, the Prophets collection must have been canonized about 200 B.C.E. Sirach13 44-49, a list of famous men in Jewish history, is a summary of the Law (ch. 44-45) and Prophets (the Former, 46-48.18; 49.1-50; the Latter, 48.20-25; 49.6-10, even naming the Twelve). H. J. Cadbury found that Septuagintal language has influenced the Greek of Sirach. He says, "That the translator knew the prior Greek translations of some of the canonical books is not only implied in the preface. . .

but is sufficiently proved by his use of identical Greek with the Septuagint in the same context" (Cadbury 1955:219-225). This is shown in verbal coincidences that are most striking in the catalogue of famous men and their respective parallels in the Old Testament and in detailed descriptions of the accouterments and service of the High Priest. In some cases these coincidences are striking because of the unusualness of the words, or the transfer of a word in the same context where Sirach and the Septuagint agree against the Masoretic text (1 Sam. 13.3), or where the translator shows a knowledge of Greek Chronicles. This evidence that the translator of Sirach knew a standard Septuagint text tends to confirm the judgment that the statements in the prologue testify to the canonical status of the Prophets. Thus, it is evident that the canon in Sirach consisted of the Law and the Prophets. Daniel (9.2) cites Jeremiah (25.11 ff.) as "the word of the Lord to Jeremiah."

This tells us that the place of Samuel in the canon was by no means assured. Because the redactor didn't feel the former prophets were canonical, great libertties were taken. We also see differences between the Ms which form the parent of the LXX translation, and those of MT. What all of this amounts to is that 1 Samuel is a very corrupt text, and the likelyhood is quite high that the passage is redacted. This is even more certain when we consider that the infant passage itself has been redacted.

James A. Sanders, Inter Testamental and Biblical Studies at Clairmont, Cannon and Community, a Guide to Canonical Criticism. Philladelphia: Forterss Press, 1984, 15-16.

"There are remarkable differences between the LXX and MT of 1 and 2 Sam. Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Proverbs and Ezekiel, 40-48, and on a lesser level numerious very important differences in lesser books such as Isaiah and Job. Before the discovery of the Scrolls [Dead Sea] it was difficult to know wheather most of these should be seen as translational, Or as reflecting the inner history of the Septuegent text, or all three. Now it is abundantly clear that the second period of text transmission [which is BC], actually that of the earliest texts we have, was one of limited textual pluralism. Side by side in the Qumran library lay scrolls of Jeremiah in Hebrew dating to the pre-Chrsitian Hellenistic period reflecting both the textual tradition known in the MT and the one in the LXX without any indication of preference. So also for 1 and 2 Sam."

Redaction of Infant Slaughtering Passage

Notes in the New Oxford Annontated Bible on 1 Sam 15:1-35

"Another story of Saul's rejection: The late source. Compare this section with 13:7-15, Samuel, not Saul is the leading figure once more."

This is the very passage in which Samuel relays God's command to wipe out the infants. So even though I still need to find more speicific evidence for that very passage, there is a good chance of proving redaction. While its true that I can't produce an actual MS showing no infant slaughter command, the passage in whcih that command is given has been redacted. The odds are very high that this command was not part of the orignal passage, or we can regard it as such. We know that slaughtering infants in evil, and we have no obligation to accept a command as divine that we know to be totally at odds with God's law and God's moral code.

But if we read Isaiah and also Leviticus we see God told them to accept the alien and give him the same rights as the sons of Israel. He also told them "it is not enough I redeem will be a light to the Gentiles." I see that as a statement that the purpose of Israel, and therefore of the OT is to set up a framework in which Jesus' mission as messiah is meaningful to the world.

thus, we may find oppressive things in the OT, that in no way means that the character of God is oppressive nor can it be used to justify oppression.

I try to accept the events of the OT as true, in general outline as much as I can. But it would not make a great deal of difference to my faith to find that the entire thing is mythology.

Read about my legs

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