Monday, July 10, 2006

Theophany

John W. Loftus said:

“Where is the word ‘anthropomorphism’ in the Bible such that we'll know how to interpret a passage properly when it is ‘red flagged’ with that word? I don't have such a Bible, do you? The only reason you call these things anthropomorphic (and phenomenal) is because you are misreading the texts in their original setting based upon later or hindsight understandings (i.e.,you're doing eisegesis, not exegesis).”

1. The linguistic objection is puerile and disingenuous. Loftus doesn’t hesitate to employ extrabiblical terminology to characterize the Bible. Consider his recent reference to “the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry ‘Cosmogony, Cosmology.”

Suppose we are to ask him “Where is the word ‘cosmology’ [or ‘cosmogony’] in the Bible such that we'll know how to interpret a passage properly when it is ‘red flagged’ with that word? I don't have such a Bible, do you?”

2.He continues to confound distinct categories even after he’s been corrected. We aren’t using “phenomenal” language to explain Exod 33. Phenomenal language is relevant to Joshua’s Long Day, not to Exod 33.

3.Jason, Gene, and I have now given many examples in which we interpret the passages in question in light of comparative Semitics. So we have answered Loftus on his own grounds.

“Tell me this. Start reading the canonical Bible from the beginning. Tell me where you read the first statement that clearly specifies that God is a spirit, with no possible meaning oherwise. That should clear this whole thing up.”

1.Notice that Loftus is now moving the goal-post. His original argument was that Scripture clearly depicts God as corporeal. Now he’s shifting the burden of proof: Does the Bible clearly depict God as incorporeal?

He is also attempting to impose on us a duplicitous standard: we must offer an interpretation which disallows any other possible meaning.

Needless to say, Loftus would not like us to hold him to the same apodictic standard of proof.

2.But, by all means, let us start reading the canonical Bible from the beginning. Suppose, for the time being, we confine ourselves to the Pentateuch.

If you read the Pentateuch you encounter a number of theological motifs. As it bears on the immediate issue at hand, we have, on the one hand, the theme of the deus absconditus.

God is a hidden, invisible God—a God who conceals himself. This reflected in the aniconic prohibitions against idolatry.

This is also reflected in the fact that direct contact with God is fatal because God is holy and we are sinners.

On the other hand, we have the theme of the deus revelatus. The God who reveals himself by word, sign, and deed.

A bridging device between the deus absconditus and the deus revelatus is a theophany. A theophany mediates between the ethical and metaphysical transcendence of God, on the one hand, and the covenantal presence or immanence of God, on the other hand.

A theophany both reveals and conceals. It isn’t God in himself, but rather, a visible manifestation of God. In Ezekiel’s classic insulating formula, a theophany is the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord (Ezk 1:18).

In the Pentateuch, theophanies are metamorphic. That is to say, they take a variety of forms.

One common form is the angelophany. There are many angelic apparitions in the Pentateuch. Not every angelophany is a theophany, or vice versa, but many are.

Angels often take the form of men, although they can also project a numinous aura. Or they can present a tetramorphic aspect, in the case of the cherubim and seraphim.

The Angel of the Lord is both an angelophany and a theophany. We could call it a theophanic angelophany. Indeed, many interpreters view it as a Christophany.

A theophany can also take the form of an inanimate force of nature like fire and lightning, clouds, whirlwinds, and earthquakes.

An attentive reader (or hearer) of the Pentateuch would pick up on these dialectical motifs.

Of course, Loftus doesn’t believe in angels. He regards an angelophany as mythological. And he interprets the Bible as mythological.

But in so doing he’s guilty of the very thing he accuses us of doing. He is reinterpreting the Bible through an anachronistic hermeneutical lens.

The Mosaic author (or post-Mosaic “redactor,” if he prefers) of the Pentateuch didn’t regard angels as mythological beings.

An ancient Jewish reader didn’t regard angels as mythological beings.

So when Loftus reinterprets the Bible as mythology, he is “misreading the texts in their original setting based upon later or hindsight understandings (i.e., doing eisegesis, not exegesis).”

He’s coming to the text from the perspective of 19C comparative mythology, higher criticism, modern philosophy, science, psychology, sociology, &c. This does not reflect the original narrative viewpoint. Just the opposite.

13 comments:

  1. A theophany (just like an anthropomorphism) is a term used to help you understand a Biblical text. You are the ones who label them as such. Why do you do such things? Because you see the text from hindsight. That's my point. I'm not opposed to using such words even if they're not found in the text itself to explain the text, silly. I use them myself. I am once again saying that you understand the Biblical text from hindsight. Calling such things as "theophanies" is an interpretational word you think best explains the text. You have every right to do this, of course, but it's based upon theological hindsight understandings and not anything an ancient Hebrew would have considered.

    And since you mentioned idolatrty, yes God forbad it. Look at this passage beginning with these words:

    "You shall not have any gods before me." Ex. 20:1-6

    In their day the contest was in who had the biggest God, who ruled the heavens. For Moses Elohim was that god. All other gods bow down to him. He is the supreme god over all other gods. It doesn't say what you would have it say. It doesn't say, "I alone am God. There are no other existing gods but me."

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  2. You're confusing words with concepts. The concept of a theophany is already present in the Bible. We simply use our own word to designate a preexisting concept.

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  3. John wrote:
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    You have every right to do this, of course, but it's based upon theological hindsight understandings and not anything an ancient Hebrew would have considered.
    ---

    How do you know what an ancient Hebrew would have considered?

    ---
    And since you mentioned idolatrty, yes God forbad it. Look at this passage beginning with these words:

    "You shall not have any gods before me." Ex. 20:1-6

    In their day the contest was in who had the biggest God, who ruled the heavens. For Moses Elohim was that god. All other gods bow down to him. He is the supreme god over all other gods. It doesn't say what you would have it say. It doesn't say, "I alone am God. There are no other existing gods but me."
    ---

    For someone who claims to have been a pastor, I'm surprised you still fall for this. The "before me" does not refer to "rank" but instead to "presence." In other words, "You shall have no other God in my presence ('before me')." This is why the margin of most Bibles also include the translation "or 'besides me'."

    And if you want some other exegetical evidence for this usage of the term, consider:

    Genesis 7:1 "God into the ark...for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation" (God is obviously not saying Noah was more righteous than He, but instead that Noah was righteous in the presence of God).

    Genesis 17:1 -- "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless...."

    Exodus 10:3 "Thus says the Lord, the god of the Hebrews, 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?'"

    Exodus 23:15: "None shall appear before me empty-handed."

    Numbers 11:13: "For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.'"

    Numbers 22:32 "Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me."

    Now, would you care to try again?

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  4. Calvindude asks a purportedly intelligent question here: How do you know what an ancient Hebrew would have considered?

    Wow! I guess I don't, do I, is the presumed answer you want me to say. Now let me turn that same question around to that High Schooler. How do you know? Sheesh.

    Then he proceeds to dig his own grave when he says, The "before me" does not refer to "rank" but instead to "presence." In other words, "You shall have no other God in my presence ('before me')."

    Hmmm. I guess that settles it. "You shall not have any other god in my presence." Okay, fine. And why? That's right, why? Because the Hebrew God is the head of the pantheon. You shall only worship him. He's the boss over the other gods. He tells them what to do and where to go.

    But what's missing here is that the Bible here admits there are other gods out there.

    In some of the Psalms we read only that he is the “God of the gods” (Ps. 86:8; 95:3; 96:4,9; 135:5; 136:2; 138:1). Why didn’t the text deny the existence of any other gods at this point? The Hebrews started out believing in a plurality of gods, which was progressively brought down to the belief in just one God. [See Jonathon Kirsch, God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism (Viking, 2004).

    Sheesh, this is standard stuff here. And you'll do anything to deny it. Why? Don't you believe the Bible? Then exegete it, don't eisegete it.

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  5. The problem, John, is that you couldn't prove that *anyone* in teh Bible, at *anytime* was a monotheist. Your argumentation, despite all the problems that Stve, Jason, and Gene have pointed out, proves too much. For you to be consistent you'd have to hold to a position you don't agree with. I don't have the desire to engage in exegesis with you because you don't know how to fight back, and you also don't care. I just cut to the chase and point out your self-defeating argument.

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  6. "You shall not have any gods before me." Ex. 20:1-6

    In their day the contest was in who had the biggest God, who ruled the heavens. For Moses Elohim was that god. All other gods bow down to him. He is the supreme god over all other gods. It doesn't say what you would have it say. It doesn't say, "I alone am God. There are no other existing gods but me."

    I suppose you missed the Shema in Deut. 6.

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  7. St. Loftus wrote:
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    Calvindude asks a purportedly intelligent question here: How do you know what an ancient Hebrew would have considered?

    Wow! I guess I don't, do I, is the presumed answer you want me to say.
    ---

    No, I actually wanted you to answer the question. I know that's too much trouble for you though.

    Loftus continues:
    ---
    But what's missing here is that the Bible here admits there are other gods out there.
    ---

    But what's missing here is that the Bible doesn't say they are real gods and instead states many times that they are false gods.

    There were plenty of "gods" around. Baal, Molech, etc. This is why the command to not worship them was necessary.

    But here's the part you don't consider, Loftus. Why? Yes, that's right WHY? Why was it improper for Israelites to worship these false "gods"?

    Because there was only one real God. There is only one being who deserves worship. Baal exists only in the imagination of the man who carved the statue. Baal doesn't deserve to be worshipped, and that's why God commanded His followers to not worship any other "god."

    Believers live their life "before God," Loftus. Therefore having an idol anywhere is having that idol "before God" where it is commanded we not have them.

    This is not as complicated as you try to make it.

    Loftus wrote:
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    Why didn’t the text deny the existence of any other gods at this point?
    ---

    Because these idols did exist. The point of those passages show the supremacy of the real God over and above the pretentiousness of the false Gods. Indeed, pay particular attention to Isaiah 41:21ff:

    ---
    "Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them [false idols] bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you."
    ---

    These idols were out there; people worshipped them. But they were not the real God. Just because Biblical passages mention the existence of these false gods does not in any way make it as if the Bible taught they actually were real Gods.

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  8. At the same time, my dear Loftus, it is obvious that the children of Israel were not allowed to serve any other gods full stop. Even serving Baalim, which most commentators view as lesser, servile deities, and Ashtaroth brought pumishment on the Israelites.

    Further, we are told that 'the Gods of the Nations are but idols' (ESV, 'are worthless idols'). Which seems to suggest that they are not real. Forgive my impertinence, but do we ever get the impression that the other gods mentioned actually exist? Do we ever meet or see them? Or are they significantly silent?

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  9. Yes, the Bible recognizes that other gods exist, but you're trading on the notion that it is written with the idea that they are true and living gods with real personalities behind them. That is a pagan affirmation. These texts were not written by renegade Israelites who viewed God as one of many.

    The very texts you cite teach that there is One true and living God, over and against that of the pagan nations and those among the covenant people would would worship other gods of their own imaginations. Rather than proving God is one of a pantheon of Gods for the Hebrews faithful to the Covenant , it proves He is their God over and against the idols of the pagans and apostates. The text of Ps.86 below this verse even alludes the conversion of the nations, ostensibly in the New Covenant.

    Ps.93 is comparing God to the gods of the surrounding nations, not asserting that God is the chief God of the Hebrew Pantheon. He is the one true God compared to their dead, vain, powerless gods, and his covenant people are to worship him.

    Ps.96. One can't help but notice that you cited 4 and 9, but you omitted 5, "For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yavhe made the heavens," You also omitted verse 10, where the covenant people are to proclaim this truth to the heathen. God is the judge of the world, because He is the only God there is.

    All you have shown us here are exclusive claims made by a monotheistic text teaches that God alone is living and is therefore He alone is worthy of worship over and against the false idols of the pagan nations and apostates from the covenant, which are have no living personalities behind them and are nothing but icons concocted by the imaginations of the people.

    You have also shifted your argument yet again. At first it was that the text teaches that God has a corporeal body. Then it was that it isn't clear on whether or not God is incorporeal. Now it is that it teaches God is one of many.

    Instead of engaging us on the exegesis of the texts, you offer none yourself. In fact, you just run off to another text. When asked how you know what an ancient Hebrew would have considered, you don't answer the question. In fact, the way you would know what they thought would be through the exegesis of these texts. Instead, you borrow from a sociological study and use this as your grid, but why should we accept that standard? What makes Kirsch superior to, say, Meredith Kline?

    The only reason you call these things anthropomorphic (and phenomenal) is because you are misreading the texts in their original setting based upon later or hindsight understandings (i.e.,you're doing eisegesis, not exegesis).”

    Yet we have yet to see Mr. Loftus do any exegesis of his own, and he has only claimed this is eisegesis. Ergo, this is an assertion without argument. At present, the most he can do is claim something from the Anchor Bible Dictionary. He substitues a Bible dictionary for a critcal commentary, much less his own exegesis.

    Neither has he actually shown how we are "misreading their texts apart from their original context." This is problematic for a few reasons.

    1. If that "context" is defined to be that of other ANE societies surrounding Israel, then why is this a filter through which we should read texts from Judaism that are aniconic?

    2. Intersecting with 2,among most skeptics, is the typical adherence to the JEDP/Documentary Hypothesis (which ANE scholarship itself long ago abandoned anyway...yawn). Does Loftus subscribe to this or not? One forgets. If he does, then how does this substatiate his theory on the meaning of these texts, when the typical dating scheme for the text and the "original context" under which it was edited together and/or composed lies well within a time when God was viewed as having no material, physical form, not during a time when God was allegedly viewed as having a body, which is his own view of these texts. Even on a late date theory, the text would make most sense if written to assert the superiority of the One True Jewish God (Yahve)over the spurious idols of their captors.

    Therefore, his objection assumes what it needs to prove in order to be valid (1) or it proves too much (2).

    Notice also that he has to abandon a Christian understanding of the text and a Jewish understanding of the text and substitute a Mormon understanding of the text in order to develop his argument. Unable to engage the text on the grounds of the traditions from which it hails, he substitutes another. This is the mark of a losing hand. Now, he's coming back with armloads of caveats not in his original.

    Also, it was allegedly his seminary training that led him into atheism, but this is not the way exegesis is taught in seminary, is it? So, he has to abandon his own training in order to render these incipid, puerile, and infantile suggestions.

    John, you were challenged to actually exegete the text. We have presented several replies, and thus far, all you do is change the goalposts. Are you so incompetent that you can't sit down and write a exegesis paper covering the relevant issues? I thought you were one of Craig's students. Flunky is more like it.

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  10. Here comes the name calling again, and the belittling. If you want me to respond, stop the name calling. Or, on second thought, whenever you're losing the argument resort to it and I'll leave the discussion...then you can proclaim victory. As it stands, I'm out of here for now.

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  11. "Here comes the name calling again, and the belittling."

    This from the guy who just said: "Now let me turn that same question around to that High Schooler. How do you know? Sheesh."

    Not to mention other such notable quotes that I could pull out from past exchanges.

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  12. Gene wrote:
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    When asked how you know what an ancient Hebrew would have considered, you don't answer the question. In fact, the way you would know what they thought would be through the exegesis of these texts.
    ---

    See Loftus? Gene got the point of my question. This is an example of exegesis for you. Gene knew what subject we were talking about and he interpreted my words in light of what subject we were talking about. SIMPLY AMAZING! You should try it sometime.

    And to think none of that simple technique is taught at whatever seminary you went to back when you were a pastor. Or did you just mail-order your ordination? Regardless, one can't help but praise God you're no longer in the pulpit.

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  13. John Loftus,

    I believe that you really have to respond here if you think your arguments are valid. The Tbloggers have powerfully refuted your assertions. Since you have seminary level training and are obviously familiar with the texts, how can you make such an assertion as that the Bible actually recognizes other lesser gods as if they are real? Where is the exegesis of the text? For the sake of intellectual honesty I think you have to admit defeat here. You may think I'm biased because I'm a Christian, but you really appear to be trying to wiggle out of this argument. That's my observation, anyway...

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