Friday, October 01, 2004 News - Sci-Tech - Hole in ozone layer shrinks

"A GAPING hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica appears to have shrunk by about 20 per cent from last year�s record-breaking size, scientists said today."

You think Bush will get/take credit for this?

A high stakes debate

The presidental debate format makes it easy to lose the thread--because it's all loose-ends. In a formal debate, you have prepared statements and direct cross-examination, which makes the presentation much tighter and on-point.

But in this format, where the debater doesn't know the question in advance, there's a lot of padding and meandering and backpedaling throughout the course of 90 minutes. So you have to strain to pick out the one-liners.

Still, we were treated to a fairly stark contrast in terms of temperament and problem-solving strategies.

In terms of demeanor and delivery, I thought that Kerry was rather better. For the most part he managed to be firm without sounding irate. He is also rather more articulate than Bush, although both of them stumbled over their words from time to time.

All-in-all, he compares well with Democrat candidates of the past. He's about as well-spoken and well-versed as Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore, but stylistically their superior.

In terms of sheer fluency and flexibility, he is not as well-oiled as Clinton or Stevenson, but, of course, the immediate comparison is with Bush.

Kerry is also tall, well-groomed, and dressed in a dark suit. Kerry may have helped himself last night. Whether he helped himself enough to turn the ship around, only the polling data will tell.

The format, which forbad direct cross-examination, prevented Kerry from seizing the initiative the way he did so successfully in his debates with Weld, but that might have sounded less presidential.

As to Bush, well…he's Bush. He was in pretty good form for Bush. He's been much worse, but he's not been much better. Bush has, as usual, a flat monotonous delivery--one pitch, one dynamic. He combines this with a rather monotonous message--although that's both a strength and a weakness. It's a sign of his singled-minded resolve.

Bush seemed somewhat smaller (because he is), dressed in lighter attire, was not as well-coifed, and began to tire towards the end of the debate.

So he was rather less telegenic, although this is, in part, because, he has a day job, and came across as someone who was taking time out of his real job to do the debate. A busy, hurried, harried man. So I don't know if that hurts or helps him.

In general, I think that Bush began on a stronger note and ended on a weaker one, whereas Kerry began on a weaker note and ended on a stronger note. This could help Kerry, although some (many?) viewers may have gotten bored half way through the debate and switched to the football game.

It is always a bit frustrating for a Bush supporter to listen to Bush. So many missed opportunities to make a better case for his own position. There are a hundred conservative commentators and right-wing bloggers who are more skillful spokesmen for the cause.

Kerry landed a number of punches on Bush's foreign policy failures--as well as gaping gaps in homeland security (although the reference to first responders reflects a post-attack mentality--wait until they hit us again, the send in the coroners).

The problem, though, is that even when Kerry has the right message, he's the wrong messenger. He is a better critic than he is a credible alternative.

Last night he once again attempted to run on both sides of the war-- talking like a dove when attacking the Bush record, talking like a hawk when defending his own position.

In a sense, there is a method to his madness. At heart he's a McGovernite. But he can't win as a McGovernite. If he's too hawkish he'll lose his liberal base, but if he's too dovish he'll lose the swing voters. So he plays both ends off against the middle, depending on what audience he is addressing. The problem is not that Kerry has never articulated a clear position on the war; the problem, rather, is that Kerry has clearly articulated two clearly opposing positions on the war. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Kerry is a hawk; on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, Kerry is a dove; while on Sunday he gets out on both sides of the bed.

Then there's his obsessive-compulsive fixation with the sanctity of the process--a "global test," Kofi Annan, respect abroad, let's have another "round of resolutions"...

Process as an end in itself, regardless of the end-product, regardless of whether the process yields any tangible results or solves any real-world problems.

Another problem with Kerry is that he has a bad habit of badmouthing our real allies while groveling before our nominal allies.

Bush was at his weakest when he sounded like Kerry, going through the diplomatic motions on Iran and N. Korea. This policy simply allows the enemy to stall for time and play out the clock. The enemy can string out the UN ad infinitum until it has its WMD in place.

Kerry also made the stunning proposal that we should give Iran fissionable material and see what they do with it! Gee, while don't we loan them some ICBMs while we're at it!

There were also things thrown in from leftfield, like the Kyoto protocols. Betcha that's gonna to peel away the NASCAR dads, don't ya think?

It comes down to a choice between a candidate who is consistent to a fault, and a candidate who is consistently inconsistent--whose idea of a solution is a summit in Paris.

Kerry may have done himself some good with viewers tuning into the campaign for the first and last time. How much good, with how many, remains to be seen.

To the extent that Kerry did well, and Bush did less well, that's because Kerry is all about image. And in that respect, Kerry is a true-blue liberal, for liberal ideology is image-conscious. It's not about doing anything, but feeling good about yourself; not about solving any problems, but seeming to solve problems. Keeping up appearances is the main thing: diplomatic busy-work and nonbinding resolutions.

This is a great way to sell soda pop, but a losing strategy in a world war against the forces of global jihad. Kerry is a dangerous man for dangerous times; not a danger to our enemy, but a danger to our nation--at a time when we can least afford it. The choice is between a talker and a doer, a blue-blooded Eurocrat and a red-blooded commander.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bible or Babel?-2

8. Exod 6:3.

Regarding the use of the third-person, Moses was not penning a formal autobiography. Moreover, the third-person viewpoint was an accepted literary convention of the historical narrative genre. As to Exod 6:3:

i) This appeal confounds the narrative viewpoint of the writer with the historical viewpoint of the characters within the narrative. In composing Genesis, it would be quite natural of Moses to refer to God as Yahweh, given his relative position in redemptive history. So this objection commits a level-confusion between the knowledge of the narrator and the knowledge of the characters. In fact, the patriarchs employ certain forms of address (El Shaddai, El Olam) that the narrator does not employ in his own voice or in the post-patriarchal history.

ii) Apropos (i), the narrative will also reflect the linguistic tradition of the narrator. Since, for example, Abraham spoke Akkadian rather than Hebrew, Moses would have to adapt the record to Hebraic speech-conventions--just as an Arab Christian will refer to God as "Allah."

iii) The narrator wishes to prepare the reader for the Exodus by laying stress on the common identity and covenantal continuity between the God of the Patriarchs and the God of the Israelites (e.g. Gen 15:7).

iv) It is also arguable that 6:3 has reference, not to knowledge in general, but to different modes of knowledge (e.g. miracle, oracle). Cf. C. Eslinger, "Knowing Yahweh: Exodus 6:3 in the Context of Genesis 1—Exodus 15," L. de Regt et al., eds., Literary Structure and Rhetorical Strategies in the Hebrew Bible (Eisenbrauns, 1996), 188-98.

The Israelites will come to know God in a new way by his miraculous deliverance of the nation. And Moses writes from that retrospective vantagepoint.

v) Apropos (iv), in OT usage, both concepts of naming and knowledge frequently connote more than mere nominal or notional acquaintance with the bare facts; rather, naming figures in the personal character or social role of an individual (whether human or divine), while knowledge involves a relational and/or experiential dimension.

vi) To cite this as evidence that P was ignorant of J is incoherent even on liberal grounds, for the redactor of the final edition would have been conversant with each.

9. Deut 34. We don’t need to go behind the text to recognize a post-Mosaic addendum. When the editor says that no one knows "to this day" where the grave of Moses is located (v.6), he takes for granted a shift from the time-frame of the preceding narrative to the vantagepoint of the editor (Joshua?) and his audience. Indeed, this is just the sort of abrupt transition that we would expect a creative redactor to smooth over. And it’s not that phrase alone ("to this day") but the phrase in combination with the past tense descriptions ("died," "was buried," "never since then") which assume a distinction between the preceding and the succeeding narrator. It is preparatory for the next book, as the role performed by Moses is handed off to his successor. There’s some overlap as well between the changing of the guard at the leadership level and the point at which one narrator takes up from where his predecessor left off—depending on whether the narration is about a single leader (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Joshua) or several (Judges, Samuel-Kings). Although, moreover, Moses could have foretold the circumstances of his own death, yet by that same token he couldn’t very well deny a knowledge of his burial site (v.6), for prescience and nescience are not readily reconcilable. The chapter doesn’t claim Mosaic authorship and its postmortem character lies right on the surface.

While it’s possible that the Pentateuch contains a few parenthetical updates (e.g. Deut 3:14?), one cannot generalize from this phenomenon, for if the Pentateuch were not by Moses we would expect to run across many more cases of amosaica than the handful of inconclusive candidates that several centuries of hostile criticism has managed to scrape up.

Moreover, the possible presence of occasional anachronisms is not even evidence of a later hand (e.g. Exod 16:34). For the Torah is not a journal in which Moses made daily entries. It was written at some distance from the immediate events. It is not unexpected, therefore, if Moses were to retroject certain details. It is a basic blunder to confound the order of occurrence with the order of the narrative or the order of composition. There’s a difference in perspective between the way I write about a trip while I’m on the road and how I write it up after it’s over. While I viewed the events from beginning to end, I review the earlier events in light of later events.

10. Textual criticism.

i) The composition of Scripture is not comparable to the literary license exercised by the high priest of Marduk in fabricating or redacting a national mythology.

ii) The composition of Scripture is not comparable to the literary license exercised by a breakaway (Samaritan) sect that is editing its own doctored version of the Scriptures in order to justify its schism--the very definition of a tendentious translation.

iii) Evidence that an OT book may have been issued in more than one edition is not evidence for scribal redaction, per se, inasmuch as the primary author is capable of issuing a revised edition of his own work.

In addition, this phenomenon is genre-sensitive. A collection of speeches is naturally subject to expansion and revision, for the oracles of a prophet accumulate over time. Jeremiah is a classic case in point:

In 36:2 he dictates the first edition of his oracles to Baruch. This copy is destroyed, so he dictates a second edition. The second edition is a revised edition, incorporating new material (v.32). Yet this can’t be identical with the final edition, for it only covered the time up to and including this point in Jehoiakim’s reign, whereas we must make allowance for the later oracles addressed to Jehoiachim, Zedekiah and Gedaliah. We read of a later document in 51:60ff. Note the postscript rounding out v.64, followed by a historical appendix. We run across references to earlier editions in 25:13 and 30:2, as well as a set of correspondence in chap. 29 that originally circulated separately. 46:1 may preface another corpus.

The prophetic books are not books in the modern sense, but anthologies. Baruch may well have a hand in compiling the prophecies, but notice that there’s no creative collaboration between prophet and secretary. His job is to take dictation. He doesn’t add or subtract a word (36:7-8). This is all the more striking given what a close friendship he and Jeremiah enjoyed.

Kenneth Kitchen proposes that the Book of Jeremiah was originally issued in installments on separate scrolls. Cf. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 381-84. And there's no reason why some other OT books could not have been serialized--by the same writer. Incidentally, the availability of sufficient writing materials would also affect how much could be published at a given time and place. Much that we take for granted was not always a given in times past.

What may make Jeremiah’s case exceptional is the interval between the original reception and delivery of the oracles and their systematic commitment to writing (36:1). This occurred some twenty years into his prophetic career, whereas other prophets seem to have written down their oracles on the spot (cf. Exod 17:14; 24:3-4; 34:27; Deut 31:9,24-26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Sam 1:17-18; Isa 8:1,16; 30:8; Ezk 43:11; Dan 7:1; Hab 2:2). That could well give rise to smaller collections of their output in circulation. And this would explain why we find parallel material distributed in more than one canonical book (e.g. Ps 14/53; 16:34-36/57:8-12; 40:14-18/70; 2 Sam 22/Ps 18; 2 Kgs 18:13-20:11/Isa 36:1-38:8; 2 Kgs 24:18-25:30/Jer 52; 1 Chron 16:8-36/Ps 96:1-13; 105:1-15; 106:1,47-48; Isa 2:2-4/Micah 4:1-3).

Likewise, anthologies that are admittedly of composite authorship (e.g., the Psalter, Proverbs) are naturally subject to expansion and revision as well.

So far I've been rebutting objections to the Mosaic authorship of Scripture, but there are, of course, many positive arguments as well--not only for the unity of the Torah, but of the OT as a whole. We must never lose sight of the fact that the unfolding of Scripture makes perfect sense as it stands. God delivers his enslaved people on account of his covenant with Abraham (Gen 50:24; Exod 3:6ff.). They are to comprise a religious state, governed by his covenantal law. This occasions the composition of the Pentateuch by the mediator of the covenant (Moses)—supplying the backstory of the true God’s identity, purpose and deeds, the charter documents of the religious state, sanctions in the event of non-compliance, a typical cultus and provision for a prophetic institution (Deut 18:15ff.).

This record will serve as a witness against the people (Deut 31:26ff.), and sets the precedent for subsequent histories (Joshua-Esther) documenting the religious life and decline of the nation from the Conquest to the Restoration, and its failure to comply with the terms of the covenant. Likewise, the historical books provide background information on the social conditions under which the prophets labored (cf. 2 Kgs 19-20; 2 Chron 22-24; 35:25; 36:12,21-22; Ezra 5:1; 6:14).

The Law supplies the supporting material for the covenant lawsuit (Isaiah-Malachi), returning an indictment against Israel while pointing towards the final redemption. The centralization of worship in the royal capital furnished the infrastructure for David’s lyric genius to find canonical expression and establish a vibrant liturgical tradition (1 Chron 25:1ff.). Solomon’s brilliance, brilliant court and international commerce sponsored an artistic fluorescence— introducing a new genre (wisdom literature) to the canon. The entire OT corpus introduces a series of typical themes that await the NT for their final fusion and resolution.

Or, to approach all this from another angle, The Pentateuch constitutes a bloc of Scripture that lays the cornerstone of what follows. And here are internal continuities as well. The Toledoth -formula--"these are the generations of..." (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 36:1,9; 37:2)--serves as a structuring device. Joseph’s farewell address (esp. 50:24) supplies the anticipatory rationale for the Exodus (cf. 3:6ff.), while Exod 1:1-5 is a résumé of Gen 46:8-27 (cf. 35:22-26). For other internal parallels, cf. "Exodus (Book)," New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Alexander, ed. (IVP 200), 146b-149. Exod 1:1 begins with "and," connecting it with the preceding narrative. Cf. ibid. 146b.

The latter chapters of Exodus had dealt with the material arrangements of the Tabernacle while Lev 1-17 deals with its staffing and activities. Lev 18-27 is preoccupied with laws that anticipate the conditions of the Conquest and settlement. Numbers takes up the narrative thread where Exodus left off. Deuteronomy is a document of covenant renewal. Chaps 1-3 succinctly recapitulate the prior narrative of Israel’s wilderness wandering. Chap 18:18ff. makes provision for a prophetic order. Chap 28:15ff. makes provision for Israel’s apostasy. Chap 31 hands off the reins of authority to Joshua. Josh 1:1 takes up from where Deut 34 (the obituary of Moses) leaves off. The ending of Joshua is taken up in Judges 1:1; 2:6-9. Ruth is situated in the period of the Judges (1:1) and sets the stage for the Davidic kingship. 1 Kgs 1-2 continues the transition of power from 2 Sam 9-20. Chronicles reviews the history of Samuel-Kings from a post-Exilic perspective, while its genealogies reach back to the beginning of canonical history (1Chron 1:1f.). 2 Chron 36:22-23 is taken up in Ezra 1:1-4. Ezra and Nehemiah are obviously complementary. Esther updates the mortal enmity between the Israelites as the Amalekites—represented by Haman (3:1; cf. 1 Sam 15; Exod 17:16).

Or, to come at this from yet another angle, The Pentateuch is also held together by various unifying devices such as narrative/poetry/epilogue sequencing and narrative typology. Cf. J. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan, 1992). His monograph also affords further examples of intertextuality.

On the basis of concentric symmetries in the internal organization of the OT, derived from word counts as well as the order and division of the books (according to the Allepo and Leningrad Codices), David Freedman has argued that the OT canon, exclusive of Daniel, was finalized before the Intertestamental period. Cf. "The Symmetry of the Hebrew Bible," ST 46 (1992), 83-108.

All this unfolds with a flawless inner logic. But liberal criticism scrambles the order of historical causation—which is why it lurches from one dating scheme to the next. Cf. G. Wenham, "Pentateuchal Studies Today," Themelios 22/1 (Oct 1996), 3-13.

There are internal evidences for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch besides its explicit self-witness. The references to fauna and flora in the wilderness narrative include some situated outside the Promised Land (cf. Exod 25:5,10,13; Lev 11:16; Deut 10:13; 14:5). This fits well with a record written in the Sinai desert, but is too ingenuous to serve as a successful archaizing device. Likewise, acacia wood is used in construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Exod 25:5,10,13; 26:15,26; 27:1,6) whereas cedar wood is used for the Temple. That makes perfect sense inasmuch as acacia was the only source of wood available in the wilderness of Sinai.

In a book review, Gleason Archer draws attention to some of the following data:
" Suffice it to say that the indications in the Pentateuch of a pre-Conquest time of composition of the books of Moses are altogether compelling. The references to Palestine in those five books are all of hearsay character, indicating a carefully preserved oral tradition retained by an emigrant people dwelling in a foreign land, namely Egypt.

For example, in Genesis 13:10, where Lot is considering which territory to choose for his cattle to graze in, he looks with favor upon the Jordan plain, which is described as being "like the land of Egypt as you go unto Zoar" (a fertile district in the Delta). According to Friedman this passage was composed by "J," at least five centuries after Israel had settled in Canaan. But why should the readers of Genesis have to be told what the Jordan Valley looked like after they had already been occupying it for 500 years? And why should they have to visualize it in terms of a region in Egypt? There is no other way to explain this except on the supposition that both the writer and his readers were personally acquainted with Egypt, but not with Palestine. Or again, in Genesis 33:18 the reference is made to Shalem, "a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan." Why should the readers have to be told that Shechem was in the land of Canaan 500 years after it had been taken over as a capital in the tribe of Ephraim? Or again, in Numbers 13:22 the city of Hebron is said to have been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. Obviously the readers were more familiar with the date of Zoan’s founding than with Hebron’s — even though Hebron had served as the capital of the tribe of Judah for several centuries before "J" was allegedly written in Judah itself. It is difficult to see how anyone can come to any other conclusion in the light of these evidences but that Genesis and the Pentateuch in general were composed prior to Israel’s settlement in Canaan.

So far as Deuteronomy is concerned, the internal evidence points unmistakably to the eve of the Conquest as the time of its composition. If we consider the implications of Moses’ instructions to his people as recorded in Deuteronomy 13 and 17 we cannot avoid this conclusion. In these two chapters we find the death penalty prescribed for any individual, family, or community that became involved in idol-worship. In the time of Josiah, or even in the time of Hezekiah, there was scarcely a community in all of the kingdom of Judah that was not infected with idolatry. Had such a law been propounded and carried out with rigor, it is safe to say that at least 50 percent of the total population would have been stoned to death. No school of prophets or priests would ever have ventured to propound such severe measures as these and pretend that they originated with Moses himself. The Sitz im Leben implied by these passages in Deuteronomy fits only a time in the history of Israel when the entire nation was committed to the worship of Yahweh alone. There is no known period which fits into this framework but the time of Moses and Joshua.

The same is true of Deuteronomy 12:2-4, which mandates the destruction and total obliteration of every idolatrous temple, shrine, or altar throughout the length and breadth of the land of Canaan. A program of this sort predicates an overwhelming superiority of the Israelite armed forces, for the idolatrous populations would certainly have put up the fiercest resistance to the total destruction of their religious centers. At what other time in the history of Israel was the Hebrew military power capable of achieving this goal? With the possible exception of the reigns of David and Solomon, there is no other point in history when this could have been accomplished but in the time of Joshua (of whom it is recorded in the book of Joshua that he never lost a battle except for the episode at Ai). Here again, the only setting that fits for such a stern and unsparing mandate is the time of the Conquest. Never afterward, from the time of the Judges onward, would it ever have been conceivable that the Hebrew armies could have carried out such an assignment. To disregard such factors is to abandon all pretensions of dating a work of literature on the basis of internal evidence (as Friedman and the Documentarian critics have always claimed to be doing), and to locate the composition of a document in a setting completely unsuited to it. It is simply unthinkable that either Hezekiah or Josiah (to say nothing of Zerubbabel or Ezra, as Gustaf Hoelscher maintained with his theory of a post-exilic date for Deuteronomy) could entertain the notion that, at a time when Judah was a vassal nation to Babylon or Assyria or Persia, it was capable of wiping out idol-worship throughout Palestine. For the Hebrew state in those days it was merely a matter of surviving as a free people.

So far as social and economic conditions are concerned, the internal evidence of the text of Deuteronomy definitely points to a period of composition much earlier than the time of the Divided Monarchy. As George Mendenhall of the University of Michigan points out in Law and Covenant in Israel:

It is hard to conceive of a law code which could be more at variance from what we know of Canaanite culture than the Covenant Code (Exod. 21-23 JE)....The Canaanite cities were predominantly commercial, rigidly stultified in social structure....The Covenant Code shows no social stratification, for the slaves mentioned are not members of the community, with the single exception of the daughter who is sold as an amah or slave-wife (who is herself strongly protected by law . . . . The laws of the Covenant Code reflect the customs, morality, and religious obligations of the Israelite community (or perhaps some specific Israelite community of the North) before the monarchy….since it exhibits just that mixture of case-law and apodictic law.… which we find in covenants from Hittite sources and in Mesopotamian codes as well: any study which assumes that it is a later, artificial composite from originally independent literary sources may be assigned rather to rational ingenuity than to historic fact (pp. 13-14)…

As to Friedman’s argument that Deuteronomy must have been composed by Jeremiah or his amanuensis Baruch (to whom he credits also Joshua, Judges, and Samuel as the final portions of the so-called Octateuch, or "eight books," including Genesis through Samuel), he follows the familiar Documentarian line of reasoning that Jeremiah’s authorship is strongly indicated by the frequency with which terms and phrases used in the prophecies of Jeremiah occur in Deuteronomy itself. However, by this line of reasoning one could prove that Milton or Bunyan was the author of the King James Version of the Bible, because they too contain so many expressions in their literary compositions which were also found in the Authorized Version. Friedman completely overlooks the familiar pattern of influence exerted by the holy books of any culture upon the language and phraseology of later authors who belong to that tradition.

Moreover, he fails to observe the extreme unlikelihood that the Samaritan sect would have refused canonicity to the book of Joshua, as they did (along with all other books besides the Pentateuch), had it been composed at the same time as the final recension of the Pentateuch. It is hardly conceivable that a book which featured the career of the great tribal hero of Ephraim would have been rejected by the Ephraimites and their Samaritan descendants had it been contemporaneously published with Genesis through Deuteronomy. The prominence given to Mount Gerizim in Joshua 8 would surely have been sufficient to warrant its inclusion had it been available.

Yet for all of his dutiful adherence to the well-trodden track of traditional Wellhausianism, our author takes a very surprising change of direction when he comes to Chapter 9: "A Brilliant Mistake" (pp.161-73). He advances a strong argument for redating the so-called Priestly Code to a period prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. On p. 186 (in Chapter 10) he stoutly affirms: "P had to be written before the first Temple was destroyed." He follows this up with a devastating question: "Why would a priest write a law code that said that sacrifices can only be offered at a place that did not exist any more?"…

In support of this position he points out that Jeremiah in fact quoted from Genesis 1:2 (a section assigned to P) when he said, "I looked at the earth, and here it was unformed and void, and to the heavens, and their light was gone" (Jer. 4:23)…

On page 164 he raises a very obvious objection: "How could this writer [i.e., Mr. P] compose a story in which God gives Moses laws about a Temple when no Temple was actually built until over two hundred years after Moses was dead?" He then goes on to discredit the Wellhausen dictum that the Tabernacle never really existed, but was only a fiction, a symbol of the second Temple (p. 164). In the subsequent pages he casts serious doubt upon Wellhausen’s solution to P’s failure to teach centralization of worship in any explicit fashion; Wellhausen had argued that after the return from Exile everyone would understand that they could only sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple. This could not be the case, Friedman points out, since Jeremiah did in fact refer to the Priestly sacrificial system as having been composed prior to his own time," A Summary Critique: Who Wrote the Bible? Richard E. Fridman (Summit Books 1987).

For further reading:

Allis, O. The Old Testament: Its Claims & Its Critics (P&R, 1972). His magnum opus.

Archer, G. (Moody 1994). A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Strong on inerrancy, weak on creation.

Cassuto, U. The Documentary Hypothesis (Magnes 1961). By a conservative Jew and gifted philologist.

Gordon, C. "Higher Critics and the Forbidden Fruit," Christianity Today 23 (November 1959). Attack on the documentary hypothesis by a brilliant scholar and secular Jew. Reprinted in A Christianity Today Reader (Meredith 1966), 67-73.

Harrison, R. Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1988). Moderate. Extensive exposition and critique of the documentary hypothesis.

Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003). Moderate. Strong on primary source corroboration in contrast to thin-air critical theorizing.

Sailhamer, J. The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan, 1992). An inductive study in the thematic unity of the Pentateuch.

Young, E. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1977).
_____, Thy Word is Truth (Eerdmans, 1981)

Bible or Babel?-1

Traditionally, the authorship of the Pentateuch has been ascribed to Moses. This is based on self-attribution, intertextual attribution (e.g., Joshua, the Historical Books, the Prophets), and NT attribution.

Genesis is anonymous. However, Genesis is the lead-in to the Torah, and thematic parallels between Genesis and Exodus, to take but one example, evidence their common authorship.

But on the basis of source criticism, liberals deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. They offer the following criteria and criticisms:

1. Nominal variants. They assign a given pericope (literary unit) to a given source based on which divine name is used (Yahweh, Elohim).

2. Narrative variants. They treat similar stories ("doublets") as different versions of the same story, based on different traditions.

3. Stylistic variants. They assign a given pericope to a given source based on stylistic differences.

4. Subject-matter. They assign a given pericope to a given source based on different subject-matter (Priestly source, Deuteronomist).

5. Internal contradictions. They draw attention to alleged discrepancies (e.g., two creation accounts, number of animals in the ark) as evidence of divergent traditions.

6. External parallels. They draw attention to apparent or actual external parallels (e.g., the Enuma Elish, Epic of Gilgamesh, Code of Hammurabi), and then attribute the canonical material to the extracanonical material.

7. Num 12:13. They invoke the immodest claim in Num 12:3 to deny Mosaic authorship of the Torah.

8. Exod 6:3. The fact that the Pentateuch is written in the third-person is sometimes cited as evidence of its amosaicity.

More importantly, Exod 6:3 is a prooftext for the Documentary Hypothesis. Since "Yahweh" is on frequent display in the patriarchal narratives, Exod 6:3 has been taken as exposing the fact that P was ignorant of the J tradition.

9. Deut 34. Since the obituary in Deut 34, as well as other alleged anachronisms, is obviously an a-Mosaic postscript, this has been invoked to justify the wholesale redaction and composite authorship of the Torah.

10. Textual criticism. Recent work on the text of the OT, Samaritan Pentateuch, and Epic of Gilgamesh has been taken to justify the application of redaction criticism to the OT, inclusive of the Pentateuch.

By way of reply:

As a general observation, the reason that Documentarians don't believe the Bible is what it claims to be is because they don't believe it could be what it claims to be; and the reason they don't believe this to be the case is because they subscribe to a secular outlook which, if true, would render many events of Scripture utterly impossible. And if the Bible cannot be a divinely inspired record of divine deeds in history, then its authors must have borrowed their ideas from the prevalent mythology of their pagan neighbors. If brief, if the Bible cannot have a supernatural source of inspiration, then, by process of elimination, it must have a naturalistic source of inspiration.

Rarely do they deign to offer up anything resembling an argument for their tremendous assumption. At most we have the barefaced assertion that secularism is unquestionably true. Hence, the Bible is unquestionable false. Specific objections to Mosaic authorship are secondary to this a priori postulate.

So the job of a Bible critic is to play the role of scholarly sleuth who "uncovers" or "discovers" the "true" sources of Scripture. And unlike your average private eye or police detective, who must make a case on the basis of empirical evidence, the Bible critic operates like a medium, graced with the psychic ability to conjure up spectral redactors that are wholly invisible to those of us sadly deficient in their clairvoyant powers of recollection. It's the best show in town since Madame Blavatsky bit the dust.

Moving onto the particulars:

1. Nominal variants:

i) Hebrew is not Esperanto. Moses did not invent an artificial language when he wrote the Pentateuch. He made use of a preexisting language, the language of his people. Hebrew is a Canaanite dialect.

Just as Greek (e.g., NT writers), Latin, Arabic, and English-speaking Christians coop pre-Christian designations to denominate the Christian deity, Moses took over pagan names to designate the true God.

ii) In the OT, God goes by a number of basal names and titles--oftentimes to lay emphasis on a particular role in relation to the world and its inhabitants. "Elohim" is his generic name, whereas "Yahweh" is his covenantal name. These, in turn, each admit a variety of compound names: El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam, El Gibor, Yahweh Sabaoth, Yahweh Jireh, Yahweh Shalom, Yahweh Tsidkenu, Yahweh Nissi, &c.

So different forms are used to tag different relations between God and his subjects.

2. Narrative variants.

i) We need to distinguish between similar events and similar accounts of the same event. Two events may be similar, but different. Unless you deny that history repeats itself, there is no reason to deny the historicity of the "doublets."

People, both as individuals and as social entities, are creatures of habit. They tend to act and react in the same way under the same general circumstances.

In order to explain the doublets, one need only keep two things in mind. On the one hand, the exercise of historical writing is necessarily selective; on the other hand, similar things happen--happen fairly often. Life is repetitious. Behavior is stereotypical.

Now, there are differences as well as similarities between like events. If the doublets present an artificially similar aspect, that is only because the author has chosen to select for the similarities, while having less to say about the points of dissimilarity. And that's because he thought that what they have in common is more important than the ways in which they are unalike.

ii) We need to remember that the Bible was written for the ear, not the eye. What is written for the ear contains a certain amount of built-in redundancy (e.g., Gen 24:12-27,34-38) because the eye can go back over the same page whereas the ear cannot go back over the same speech.

Form criticism and tradition criticism are concerned with the orality of Scripture—the oral traditions and process of transmission that supposedly supplied the raw materials for Scripture, while source criticism and literary criticism are concerned with the textuality of Scripture—deconstructing the editorial process by which independent sources were supposedly spliced together or the way a preexisting text underwent creative adaptation and expansion, by uncovering the internal sutures stitching up distinct sources and strata and underlying the surface structure of the document. What both of these lines of criticism fail to take into account is the aural character of Scripture. Scripture was composed for the ear, not the eye. It either consists of speech-acts that were later written down or print media that were composed to be read aloud.

The problem this poses for form criticism and literary analysis is that the modern reader is a silent reader. And this raises a number of programmatic questions I have never seen systematically investigated, must less answered, in the critical literature: is there a difference in the way we process speech and print? Is there a difference in the way a writer or speaker patterns his material for an auditor rather than a reader? Is short-term memory as retentive for speech as it is for print? Has form/tradition criticism tried to isolate the evidence for orality as distinguished from aurality? Does the way we mentally clump material differ depending on its auditory or else visual mode of input? Does the way we register imagery differ if we hear it rather than see it described on the page? What contemporary genres are most analogous to the conditioning of an ancient audience? Homiletic literature? Drama? How does the absence of their original musical setting affect our sensitivity to the internal patterning of the Psalms? What feel does a modern scholar have for the phrasing of a text whose period pronunciation and cadence are irretrievable? Isn’t the analysis of literary divisions dependent on the identification of rhythmic units? What experiments can be conducted to test possible answers?

These are just a handful of questions that come to mind. Any form of literary or source criticism that claims to arise organically out of the life-situation of the author and audience should begin by offering us a detailed psycholinguistic model of aurality and its impact on the compositional techniques of the sacred authors. Absent that, there is no reason why we should give these critics the time of day since they’ve failed to lay the preliminary groundwork that would provide even the most general preconditions the must be met before we ever get to their more specific claims.

iii) Scripture is fond of recapitulation. Bible writers like to draw our attention to recurrent patterns of divine and human conduct--especially the theme of (human) apostasy and (divine) restoration.

iv) "Doublets" actually imply common authorship rather than composite authorship, for it takes a common mind to select for these inner symmetries out of the larger amount of raw material at the disposal of the historian.

3. Stylistic variants. Style is responsive to subject-matter. The same writer varies his style according to the demands of the respective genre (see below).

4. Subject-matter. This criterion is a disguised description masquerading as an explanation. To assign priestly material to a priestly source or legal material to a Deuteronomic source is viciously circular. For there is no prior reason to assume that different subject-matter demands a special explanation or separate source. If Moses wrote the Pentateuch, then he would have ample occasion to write about the cultus and the criminal code, the history of Abraham and the Exodus, &c.

5. Internal contradictions. This is an exegetical issue rather than a source-critical issue. What is the relation of Gen 2 to Gen 1? What is the relation of clean to unclean animals? Regarding the former question, the viewpoint of Gen 1 is cosmological whereas the viewpoint of Gen 2 is anthropological. But these are complementary perspectives, and necessarily so.

Regarding the latter question, the number of unclear animals was limited to a bare reproductive unit, but because the clean animals were both sacrificial animals and foodstuff, one pair apiece would not suffice. Far from indicting the account with error, the practical logic serves to confirm its faultless veracity.

6. External parallels.

i) We need to distinguish between specious and genuine parallels. The fact that two documents may share some generic or incidental points of coincidence does not prove literary dependence. For example, poets in every time and place have recourse to the same stock of natural metaphors.

Again, law codes the world over deal with the same basic issues because human need and nature are the same the world over, viz., life, livelihood, sex, family, property, perjury, personal injury, contract law.

In brief, two documents may share something in common precisely because their commonalties are so very commonplace. It's as simple as that.

ii) We need to distinguish between inspiration and revelation. Whatever is revealed is inspired, but whatever is inspired is not necessarily revealed--in the sense of direct revelation. Inspiration controls the process, and thereby ensures the veracity of the final product, but inspiration does not confine itself to a particular mode of noetic acquisition. There are some things which can only be known by revelation, which is a subdivision of inspiration, and inspiration is, among other things, a quality-control mechanism to verify natural observation or tradition.

The traditional attribution of Mosaic authorship does not rule out possibility or probability that Moses may have had access to various sources of information for some of what he committed to writing (e.g., the genealogies? The Table of Nations?).

iii) Yet another lapse is when the source critics fail to apply their own criteria to the external sources. The late Cyrus Gordon supplies a couple of key examples: "One of the presumed characteristics of P (the Priestly Code, supposedly from the time of the Second Temple, ca. 5C BC), was a preoccupation with details such as the measurements of Noah's ark. However, while at Dropsie I reread the description of Utnapishtim's ark in the Gilgamesh Epic and observed a similar concern with detailed specifications. If this feature obliged us to attribute the Genesis account to P of the 5C, it must, I reasoned, do the same for the Babylonian account, which is absurd. I also found other absurdities in the so-called higher criticism of the Establishment. If Yahweh-Elohim owed its origin to the combination of God's name in J…with his name in E, then every Egyptian inscription mentioning the god Amon-Re must have derived the name from an A-document combined with an R-document. One might also argue the same for Ugaritic documents, which abound with divine names composed of two elements," A Scholar's Odyssey (SBL 2000), 80.

iv) Since Scripture situates the descendents of Noah in Mesopotamia, it is hardly inconsistent with the historicity of the Biblical account that Mesopotamian civilization would preserve an independent account of the flood. Indeed, it would be rather surprising if Abraham were unacquainted with some version thereof.

v) We also need to distinguish between tradition and mythology. There is nothing inherently unacceptable in the idea that Moses may have made use of Jewish tradition or family lore that was handed down from generation to generation--going back to the patriarchs or even the prediluvians. Such preexisting sources could well be historical in substance, while inspiration would correct for whatever errors crept in by process of transmission.

That is quite different from the idea that Moses made use of expurgated pagan mythology. Even if such materials could be redacted in a more orthodox direction, they would be devoid of historical value.

In addition, this is not consistent with ANE practice. As John Currid remarks, "We must question, however, whether the position that the Bible demythologizes Mesopotamian legends takes into account all the critical data bearing on the issue. First of all, the common assumption that the Hebrew stories are simplified and purified accounts of Mesopotamian legends is fallacious, for in ancient Near Eastern literature simple accounts give rise to elaborate accounts, and not vice versa. One can view this evolution from simple to complex in the many recensions of the Sumerian Babylonian flood legends. Ironically, many scholars who accept the model of the complex to the simple would then argue that the Pentateuch is the product of an evolutionary development from the simple to the complex. One cannot have it both ways.

Second, there are no examples from the ancient Near East in which myth later develops into history. Epic simply never transfigures into historical narrative. And, clearly, the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are presented as direct history with no evidence of myth," Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), 29.

vi) Besides the Epic of Gilgamesh, the most common parallel alleged to exist between Genesis and pagan mythology is the Enuma Elish. The standard treatment is by Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago 1963). However, the comparison begins to melt away like hot wax under a spotlight:

a) The derivation of tehom (Gen 1:2) from Tiamat has been challenged by linguistically qualified scholars (e.g. Currid, Kitchen, Wiseman). Even Heidel denies the etymology.

b) And even if the etymology were sound, this wouldn’t prove a thing. Our days of the week are named after Roman and Nordic gods, but that doesn’t prove that Ash Wednesday, Maundy-Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are pagan holidays--not for us. As I've said before, God didn’t invent a brand-new language for Moses to write in. Hebrew has its share of idioms and dead metaphors that reflect the cultural milieu and prehistory of the language.

c) As to the supposed parallels in narrative order, Heidel has laid these out side by side in a nifty little chart, ibid. 129. This abstract is quite impressive. Where disillusionment sets in is when the reader tries to retrace the process by which Heidel lifted these points of comparison. When you actually go back through the version of the Enuma Elish supplied by Heidel and read these references in context, the comparison falls apart. To begin with, there’s a difference between a ramshackle train of events (Enuma Elish) and a carefully orchestrated order of events (Gen 1). Narrative sequence is only significant if the narrator was mindful of the sequence and arranged the action in order to bring certain events to the fore.

d) In the Enuma Elish, the items highlighted by Heidel are just background details. They don’t frame the action. What Heidel has done is to take the framework of Gen 1, and then superimpose that back onto the Enuma Elish, seizing on some stray detail here or there that is vaguely analogous to the Biblical narrative. There is nothing in the Enuma Elish that brings these elements into high relief. From what I can tell, the Enuma Elish has no thematic plan.

It ought to be unnecessary to point out that there are stock storylines in life and literature. This follows from the fact that life is highly cyclical in character (e.g. day/night, eating/sleeping, the seasons of nature; the seasons of life, &c.). The mere fact that one plot may bear a rough resemblance to another in no way implies literary dependence, a common source, or a collective unconsciousness.
e) To take the most striking of the alleged parallels, Heidel draws attention to the existence of light before luminaries, ibid., 82,101,135. But when we look up the references, what we find is a passing reference to day and night (1:36), an ambiguous allusion to Apsu’s halo (1:68), and a depiction of Marduk as a solar deity (1:102). These scattered asides play no structural role. They are not presented as creative fiats. They don’t follow a logical sequence. They could be omitted without being missed. Heidel has simply contrived a specious parallel by means of free association.

f) Again, Heidel claims that Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish both refer to a watery chaos, ibid. 82,97,115. But Gen 1 doesn’t characterize the primeval deep as a chaotic state. Heidel is importing a connotation into the Biblical text that is absent in the original.

g) To take a final example, Heidel claims that both accounts terminate on the note of divine rest—with Gen 1 capped by a benediction, while the Enuma Elish capped by a celebration, ibid. 127-128,129. But Tablet 5 does not say that Marduk "rested" from his labors. The activity simply peters out. After that, the gods throw a big party. Of course, anything resembling a creation story will have some sort of beginning and ending to the creative activity. So that’s at most an incidental and inevitable parallel. But a bare cessation of creative activity isn’t the same things as "rest." Moses chooses that word because it anticipates the institution of the Sabbath. God is the lord of the Sabbath both by precept and practice. The real parallel is not between Genesis and the Enuma Elish, but between Gen 2:2 and Exod 20:11.

What Heidel has done is to map the thematic design of Gen 1 back onto the Enuma Elish. That design is not internal to the Babylonian document. He factors both accounts down to a lowest common denominator. If you operate at a high enough level of abstraction you can always draw a parallel between A and B. But that fails to establish any kind of genealogical relationship. Frankly, his alleged parallels are so far-fetched that they lack even a coincidental appeal.

Like many moderates, Heidel tries to salvage the dignity of Gen 1 by drawing invidious comparisons between its sublime conception and the decadent outlook of its heathen exemplar. These differences "make all similarities shrink into utter insignificance, Ibid. 140. To be sure, the comparisons are odious enough. But it’s hardly insignificant to claim that the Scriptural story of origins is a retrofitted myth borrowed from pagan tradition. It’s one thing to admit that the Psalmists and prophets many occasionally satirize the pagans by making ironic use of their own mythopoetic imagery. It’s quite another thing to claim that the foundational chapter of Bible history is not historical, but rather a bowdlerized version of a pagan creation myth. The God who called Abraham out of Babylonian idolatry would not go nosing through the same dunghill for a few narrative mushrooms.

h) This sort of source criticism doesn’t really explain the origin of the document. Unless we have independent grounds for believing that B is literarily dependent on A, appealing to A to explain the features of B is only a dodge, for we must then account for the features of A. If A could have arrived at those features independently, then why couldn’t the same hold true for B?—in which case, postulating a literary dependence on A only introduces a gratuitous complication into your explanation.

i) It defies psychological realism to suppose that exiled Jews would have canonized a Babylonian creation myth. When a nation is conquered, its citizens respond in two different ways: on one side are the collaborators who assimilate; on the other side are the patriots who resist. The idea that exiled Jews plagiarized Babylonian mythology must posit a silent revolution whereby the collaborators were able to force this heathen tale on the exiled community at large without leaving any trace of opposition in the historical record. But such an action would have provoked an intense and enduring controversy, represented by opposing schools of thought. We know that Jews split over much less than this!

In the words of O. P Robertson,
"It is somewhat remarkable to note the confident assertions made by the majority of scholars today regarding the literary productivity of this [Exilic] period in light of the meager knowledge that is actually available...This hypothetical picture is quite amazing in light of the condition of the Israelite people during its relatively brief exile. A defeated people living as a small minority in a foreign land, scattered over a vast empire throughout cities, towns, villages, and even among ruined settlements, supposedly raises up a group of anonymous authors and editors who produced the most glorious body of religious literature found in human history. According to the generally accepted critical reconstruction, these exiles produced and/or edited the Deuteronomistic history, involving the shaping of the final forms of the book of Deuteronomy and of the historical books Joshua--2 Kings; essentially reworked the whole prophetic corpus; composed the glorious prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah, along with a thorough editing of the first portion of Isaiah so that it would conform with the message of Deutero-Isaiah; developed the cultic lawcodes of the priestly school, involving the collection and codification of the worship practices intended for the then-nonexistent Jerusalem temple and its priesthood; and integrated the priestly version of the narrative of Israel's most ancient history into the revered documents of the Pentateuch. All this work is affirmed to have been accomplished during Israel's exile, despite the absence of any objective evidence that might support the theory," The Christ of the Prophets_ (P&R 2004), 285, n.7.

Other internal data include the following:


As regards the book of Genesis, it is noteworthy that various social customs and religious practices stand at odds with what developed in the time of Moses and afterward. The freedom with which the patriarchs built altars at different locations and offered sacrifices (Gen 12:7-8; 13:4,18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1,3,7) stands in marked contrast to the religious practices associated with Mosaic Yahwism, with is emphasis upon the role of priests and the importance of a central sanctuary.

According to Gen 20:12 Abraham married his half-sister Sarah, yet this practice is forbidden in Lev 18:9,11; 20:17; and Deut 27:22. Similarly, whereas Lev 18:18 prohibits a man from marrying two sisters, Jacob married Leah and her sister Rachel (Gen 29:15-30).

Esau’s firstborn status in Genesis is unlikely to have been invented by a Jewish writer of the exilic/postexilic period. On the contrary, this would have been a major embarrassment to Jews who viewed the Edomite as archenemies (e.g. Jer 49; Lam 4:22; Ezk 25:12-13; 35:15; Obadiah). The same argument could also be applied to the prominence given to Joseph n Genesis, over against the less important role played by his older brother Judah. If this latter tradition was created by a Judean writer, it is hard to imagine that he would have given pride of place to Joseph, from whom the Ephraimites, associated with the northern kingdom of Israel, claimed a royal lineage.

Whereas the preceding comments have focused on Genesis, A. P. Ross makes a similar point regarding the traditions concerning the tabernacle. If these traditions were created in the exilic or postexilic period, it “yields the improbable scenario in which the nation in exile longs to return to their land but instead receives instructions to build a portable shrine for the desert.”

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, T. Alexander & D. Baker, eds. (IVP 2003), 66.


7. Num 12:3. One danger for readers conditioned by the psychological novel is to treat a remark like Num 12:3 as if it were a clinical profile of his psychological make-up. But we need to guard against reading Scripture through a Freudian or Jamesian lens. The Biblical narrator does not mirror our modern obsession with the subliminal motives and interior moods of the character.

The disclaimer of v3 serves a dramatic function. It is on account of his self-effacing disposition that Moses is vulnerable to challenge by more ambitious figures (vv1-2) and must rely on God’s intervention to vindicate his leadership (vv4ff.). Num 12:3 picks up on Exod 3-4, where Moses resisted the prophetic call. Without this set up in v3, the whole episode falls apart.

The presence of anachronistic place-names in Genesis has also been raised in objection to Mosaic authorship. Actually, this would be more evidence for Mosaic authorship. Moses is writing hundreds of years after the events recorded in Genesis. He is writing about the past from his own historical vantage-point. So you would expect him to use current designations. If I were living in New York in the 21C, and you were asking me for directions, would I mail you a 1950 edition of a New York city street map?

I’d add that I see nothing wrong with the idea that someone like, say, Ezra, might have updated some archaic place-names, just as the scribes may have modernized certain obsolete grammatical forms from time to time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Monday, September 27, 2004

Religion & evil

There are different ways of classifying the major religions of the world. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism are more otherworldly, while western religions like Islam and Judaism are worldlier.

One way of explaining the various religions of the world is to see them as offering and modeling different problem-solving strategies in relation to the problem of evil. Because they define the problem differently, they define the answer differently.

1. Eastern religion

For eastern religions, the sensible world is the problem. There is something wrong with the world.

i) In Hinduism, the problem with the world is that the world is "maya." The world is in some way unreal, whether illusory or delusive. If problem is epistemic and metaphysical, then the solution is psychological. If we can't change the world, we can change our economic relations.

The solution, then, is to achieve a state of enlightenment in which we penetrate the veil of perception and dissolve the alienation between the human subject and mundane object.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to see the world through the lens of Scripture.

ii) In Buddhism, the problem with the world is that the world is a source of frustration. We either can’t have what we want, or we lose what we love. If the problem is epistemic and emotional, then the solution is, again, psychological.

The solution, then, is to achieve a state of detachment. If we learn to be dispassionate, then we will no longer be at the mercy of our wayward passions.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to cultivate godly emotions, and leave our emotional healing to heavenly compensations.

In both these cases I’m talking about the more philosophical, and not the folk forms, of Eastern religion. The metaphysical problem in Hinduism gives rise to the moral problem in Buddhism. Because the sensible world is fleeting (Hinduism), it is a source of frustration (Buddhism), for the object of desire is fleeting. Change is the only constant.

And in both cases, life, not death, is a problem, for death merely reinitiates the life-cycle (reincarnation).

There are, of course, disagreements over the interpretation of "maya" in Indian thought. There can be no definitive answer, for Hindu and Buddhist dogmas derive from the subjective interpretation of mystical, ineffable, introspective states.

2. Western religion

For western religions, the sensible world is basically good. But there is something wrong with our economic relations.

i) In Islam, the problem is not so much with our morality, but our mortality. The problem is biological. The world is good, but we are mortal. Some day we each must take our leave of the sensible world. And when we depart the world, we face the peril of divine judgment.

The solution, then, is for the afterlife to be an extension and intensification of the world below. And the means of achieving paradise is through good works, viz., prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, alms-giving, jihad and martyrdom.

ii) In Judaism, the world is basically good, but we are sinners. If problem is ethical, then the solution is ethical--or even political. We must be devout law-keepers, and transform the world-at-large by our exemplary conduct.

Here I’m talking about Rabbinical Judaism, and not OT Yahwism, which was a religion of grace.

iii) Because they’re cognate, Christianity has the most in common with Islam and Judaism.

The world is basically good, but we are mortal, and we are mortal because we are sinners. Our alienation is not so much with the world, but with ourselves, and our neighbors, and our God.

If problem is spiritual, then the solution is spiritual. As sinners, we cannot save ourselves from ourselves, for we are the source of the problem, and not, therefore, the solution.

The problem is not with the world, and so the answer is not to be otherworldly. Even if we didn’t die, we would live as sinners. So the solution must come from God alone.

3. Occultism

In the occult, which is a global phenomenon, the world is the problem, and the problem with the world is that we are at the mercy of the future. The solution is to control the outcome, by either knowing the future (fortune-telling), and thereby dodging whatever bullets are coming our way--or else to directly manipulate the future (witchcraft), and thereby become the masters of our own destiny. Fortune-telling is reactive, whereas witchcraft is proactive.

As such, occultism is kin to fatalism. The trick is to either escape our fate or bend our fate to our own advantage.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to live by the Bible, and leave the outcome to God's good providence.


The popularity of C. S. Lewis and Cordwainer Smith have made SF a favorite genre for many Christians. Yet, in many respects, the horror genre intersects with the Christian worldview in a way that the SF genre does not.

Why is it, then, that the horror genre has failed to capture the Christian imagination? Perhaps they find the subject-matter something best to be avoided. In addition, the horror genre is a dumping ground for a good deal of decadent material--B-movies, slash-'um-ups, heaving bosoms and the like.

Still, some of the occult themes of the horror genre overlap or originate in Scripture and church history.

The area of overlaps consists in a couple of sometimes interrelated themes: possession and the Antichrist.

Although most horror flicks are campy, trashy exercises in vicarious sadism and voyeurism, there are a handful which achieve a certain distinction in the handling of their subject-matter. It is not, perhaps, coincidental that some of these began life as novels (Dracula, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby). They had a certain literary distinction which, in turn, jumpstarted the screenplay.

The classic film on the subject of possession is, of course, The Exorcist. The degree to which this was effective was the degree to which it was orthodox. It took seriously the traditional Roman Catholic theology of possession and exorcism seriously. Although the viewpoint was Roman Catholic, the underlying ideas are firmly founded in Scripture.

The film was respectful of the priestly vocation. And it explored the tension between tradition and modernity. Fr. Merrin, the senior priest and exorcist, represents traditional piety. By contrast, Fr. Karras, the junior priest, trained in modern-day psychiatry, is a sceptic. However, as he's drawn ever further into this case, secular explanations fail him.

The film also benefited from an outstanding cast (Blair, Burstyn, Miller, von Sydow). The film does not make for easy viewing, and no one is duty-bound to watch it. But it addresses a genuine phenomenon of religious significance.

The treatment of the Antichrist theme takes to basic forms. The more immediate is the direct treatment of the Antichrist. The classic film on this subject is, of course, Rosemary's Baby, although The Omen, while not at quite the same artistic level, is also a quality production, with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in the lead roles.

And idea of the Antichrist has its roots in both the NT and the OT. It surfaces in the prophecies of Dan 7, 9,11-12 but it has a more submerged prehistory in the idea of a serpentine seed, which has its inception in the Protevangelion (Gen 3:15), and moves up through Gen 49:17, Deut 33:22 and Jer 8:16-17. The theme is picked up again in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24:15,24), Paul's prophecy of the man of sin (2 Thes 2), and the Johannine writings (1 Jn 2:18; 4:3,6; Rev 13).

In cinematic treatments, such as the above, the advent of the Antichrist is facilitated by a diabolical impregnation. This has its roots in the medieval notion of the incubus or succubus, which has, in turn, more ancient antecedents. (Just consult the literature on "Old Hag syndrome".)

Although Scripture is not explicit on this point, the idea is consistent with the traditional interpretation of Gen 6:1-4 (cf. 1 Pet 3:19-20; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6-7).

This interpretation is often though to be ruled out on account of Mt 22:29-30 (par. Mk 12:24-25; Lk 20:34-36). However, this has reference to the heavenly angels, not the fallen angels. Inasmuch as angels are evidently able to assume corporeal (e.g., Gen 19:1-3), they may, for all we know, be capable of carnal congress as well, although this would, of course, represent an unnatural abuse of their natural powers.

A mediating position, which, in fact, covers both of the cinematic themes under consideration, is the idea that the "sons of God" were men possessed of the devil. In Jewish and medieval lore, the lineage of the Antichrist is, in fact, associated Gen 6 and the origin of the Nephilim or "fallen ones."

An indirect treatment of the Antichrist theme is to center the story on a character that exemplifies that figure. And, in this respect, the character of Dracula is the most frequent vehicle. Of course, there are an inexhaustible number of B-movies about vampires, but a few achieve artistic distinction: Bram Stoker's Dracula (Coppola, Gary Oldman); Count Dracula (BBC miniseries, Louis Jourdan); Count Dracula (Jess Franco, Christopher Lee);
Nosferatu: The Vampyre (Herzog, Kinski).

Dracula is, in several respects, a type of the Antichrist. He is in league with the dark side. He confers eternal life on his favored victims. He confers eternal life by allowing them to drink his blood. He takes a consort or harem, in a travesty of Christ and the church.

The literary character of Dracula is a product of the Romantic era, for whom the Devil was their exemplary antihero. This aspect is showcased by the likes of Gary Oldman and Louis Jordan.

The Coppola adaptation is distinctive for introducing the count as a Christian apostate. In a semi-historic prelude, it draws attention to career of Vlad the Impaler as a Crusader and a one-time communicant of the Rumanian Orthodox Church, before he turned against God to embrace the dark side.

By contrast, Nosferatu presents Dracula as a truly ghoulish and bestial remnant of his long lost humanity. This is a monster, both inside and out--reminiscent of final fate of Milton's archfiend. He brings a retinue of plague-infested rats wherever he goes.

On a mundane level, the shape-shifting, gravity-defiant powers of the vampire defy all scientific sense. But on another plane, their preternatural powers are supposed to be paranormal, for these are supernatural creatures, trafficking with evil spirits. And this is why they are repelled by sacred objects (e.g., the crucifix, holy water).

For a chance of pace, Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers is a brilliant spoof on the whole vampiric genre, featuring a swishy bloodsucker and a hilarious ballroom scene--among other things.

This point is not that these vampiric depictions are at all realistic in the representational sense. They are not descriptive of reality, but rather, palpable emblems of an often impalpable presence in the world--one which is generally known only by its effect. Rarely is the veil pulled back to reveal the ultimate agent. And that, indeed, is why it is called the "occult."

Contemporary efforts to domesticate and gentrify the occult (e.g., Harry Potter, Brimstone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Forever Knight, Crossing Over, horoscopes, psychic hotlines) are a softening up device to prep the general public for a neopagan renaissance. Dark Shadows, a cult TV-series, was the tip of the spear.

On the other hand, a movie like Hellboy makes subversive and satirical use of occult cliches to channel a redemptive message. Opportunism can cut either way.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The force be with you!

The original Star Wars trilogy has just been reissued in the crisp DVD format. I say "original," because George Lucas chose to expand his trilogy into a hexology.

The Star Wars franchise is important as a pop icon and cultural cliché. The Greeks had their mythology, and we have ours. For better or worse, this is a collective mirror of our national ethos.

I saw Star Wars as a teenager, which is no doubt the best time in life to see it. That makes it an interesting point of reference as I write about it at a later stage in life. In watching it again, I'm watching myself watching it. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I saw it, so that I can compare notes between the younger and older versions of me. To some extent, then, I'm looking at it through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, not that I'd care to be a teenager again, although it would be nice to feel like one! Perhaps this skews my outlook. But, of course, the effect of art lies in the dialectical relation between the object of art and the mood of the viewer--in what we bring to the experience as much as what we take from it.

On the face of it, the cult popularity of the movie is hard to account for. It has a paper-thin plot which it races through at warp-speed. However, the film is deceptively simple. For George Lucas had collaborated with Joseph Campbell on the screenplay. Campbell, along with Jung, Eliade, Frye, and Frazer before them, did much to popularize comparative mythology and the notion of the monomyth. As a consequence, the screenplay is booby-trapped with a number of subliminal tripwires.

The hero is Luke Skywalker. Note the name of the third Evangelist. Luke exemplifies many things at once: rites of passage, the male loner, the reluctant warrior, the holy fool, St. George, the oedipal orphan.

"Old Ben," or Obi-wan, is a mentor, but more than a mentor. He dresses like a monk and lives like a hermit. He bears a patriarchal name. And the shade of Obi-wan bears a nimbic aura.

The desert is a sacred place, a place of law, temptation, refuge, and judgment--the place of Moses and Israel, Jesus, John the Baptist, and St. Anthony. Luke must make a pilgrimage into the desert to meet with him.

The Death Star, with its endless tunnel-system, is like the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

Obi-wan is a knight. And a knight is a crusader. Luke must be initiated into the Jedi knighthood, which is a generic variant on the order of the Templars. The Templars were the military wing of monastic piety. Obi-wan lays down his life to buy time for the escape party.

Han Solo, the crusty, streetwise rogue, is a worldly foil to Luke's holy fool. Despite of, or because of his innocent simplicity, Luke triumphs over all odds. Luke is not only the savior of Leia and the ancien order, but also Han Solo's savior, who is cynical, but not beyond reach of redemption.

Luke must rescue a captive princess. This is the Georgian motif. In Christian iconography, Leia would be the church, and Vader would be the Dragon. So the screenplay unites universal archetypes with distinctive chivalric motifs.

The story itself belongs to the quest genre, which plays on the pilgrim motif.

Of course, the worldview of the movie is far from Christian. The "force" is not a personal God, but a throwback to the anima mundi.

By common consent, The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the trilogy--indeed, the best of the entire franchise thus far.

This is, in part, because Lucas turned the director's chair over to Irvin Kershner, who has a keener eye for visual flow, and the screenplay to Leigh Brackett, a seasoned SF writer.

The Empire achieves much of its dramatic power through the skillful interplay of open space and space enclosed, to foster a sense of claustrophobia and liberation--from the lair of the Wampa, the asteroid, the dark planet of Dagobah, Yoda's hut, the underground cave on Dagobah, Solo's living entombment, and the inner spiral of Cloud City.

The Empire also devotes a fair amount of time unpacking the "force" in light of Buddhist ethics. This will create a problem for Lucas as the franchise continues. To the extent that conflict/resolution is the essence of drama, emotional detachment is antithetical to true drama. This is a key reason why Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones are so flat and static.

Why did Lucas choose to go the Buddhist route? Well, he seemed to feel that his epic vision needed some degree of a transcendental dimension. Pure secularism would be too confining. And for many liberals, religion, or better yet, "spirituality" is fine as long as it isn't Christian. It can be Hindu, Buddhist, Cabalist, American Indian--even Islamic, but never Christian.

Lucas came of age during the Sixties, and eastern religion was part of the counterculture. Its pacifism fit in with the anti-war movement.

Also, film is a mass medium, and Buddhism, which is reputed to be undogmatic, was probably felt to be the most inoffensive form of spirituality.

In addition, there was really no where to go with a character like Skywalker, or the actor who played him. Hamill did well enough at projecting the lust and wanderlust of a young man, but he lacked the star-power and staying-power of a major stage presence, and once your coming-of-age character has come-of-age, what then? Harrison Ford was able to make a real career for himself, because he had more maturity to work with, but not as Han Solo, for Solo is a foil, and the foil is only as good as the lead.

A film like The Phantom Menace is almost a stereotype of everything that can go wrong with a SF flick--a film devoid of plot, passion, characterization, or insight; a film which is strictly a vehicle for the latest line of gismos and gadgets.

Yet that is not quite fair to Lucas, for Lucas is a landscape painter rather than a portrait painter. He has a genuine knack for imagining the unimaginable. But pretty pictures which illustrate absolutely nothing are not enough to sustain a feature-length film. His eyes are bigger than his ideas.

Lucas never had much to say, and he said it all in the first two installments. Even then he was leaning on Joseph Campbell and Leigh Brackett to fill form with content.

He had shot his bolt by The Return of the Jedi, which looks like an outtake reel. He apparently felt the need to round out the trilogy, and this exercise in feature-length padding was the filler. It substitutes sentimentality for sentiment and melodrama for drama. Even his visual imagination falters, for there's no story to inspire the visuals.

In rising to the challenge of the new technology, The Phantom Menace has a few memorable moments, but because there is nothing to attach them to, they fade from memory--like a sunset or a fireworks display.

The Attack of the Clones was somewhat better. The clunky love-story was an effortful effort to recapture the effortless romance of the original Star Wars installment, while the arbitrary plot lacks the linear impetus of the original as well. Yet some of the visuals were really arresting. But this only served to underscore the disparity between eye, ear, heart, and mind. Looks without a commensurate outlook are a feast for the eyes, but a fasting-day for the soul.

Campbell was half-right: there is a monomyth, only it is not a myth, but the Biblical history of creation, fall, and redemption. That is the archetypal story--of which all other stories are lightly disguised versions and variations.