Saturday, 31 January 2009

Jewish radicalism in the IDF

I posted a while back on Hamas, an organization which I consider to be terrorist and therefore illegitimate. The Palestinian journalist Laila links to an Israeli newspaper article in Ha'aretz detailing examples of Jewish extremism within the ranks of the IDF: IDF Rabbinate Publication during Gaza war. I'm no fan of the Baruch Goldsteins of this world. Nevertheless, the challenge - for me at least - is to critically evaluate the information within the context of the "big picture." The big picture, however, seems to be a fairly amorphous concept, as each particular construal involves assumptions that go beyond the "mere" facts on the ground.

Read Laila's post for excerpts. She has also posted a list of ideas for how to support the Palestinians practically and spiritually.

For a Christian organisation whith humanitarian links to Gaza, go to the Mennonite Central Committee website. One of the suggestions they make is to fast for the Palestians. I actually did that in the middle of the conflict, using the Lutheran version of the Liturgy of the Hours as a template. I didn't know what to say, so I prayed the Psalms and texts as if I were there (watching videos like this or this helped). My idea was to pray "vicariously," letting the Psalmist's "Lord open my lips, and I shall proclaim your praise" become potentially that of a Palestinian believer, the Psalmist's praise, lament, and supplication become that of those living in the midst of destruction. I don't know if such kinds of prayer "work" with God, i.e. lead him to strengthen his people, but they certainly opened the texts up for me in a completely new dimension.

[HT for the link goes to Halden. In fact, his latest post - Morally Based Political Action - speaks to my last comments on prayer. He says: " the most morally basic political action is prayer–or more comprehensively, doxology."

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Seitz on the divine authorship of Scripture

This is the first installment of my analysis of the presuppositions undergirding Seitz's book, Prophecy and Hermeneutics. For the introduction, go here.

Though Seitz never specifically thematizes the divine authorship of Scripture, it is a basic presupposition of his approach, as stated near the end of his book:

The very notion of a canonical process assumes a doctrine of inspiration that spills out from the prophetic word once delivered, as God superintends that word towards his accomplishing end (240).
To use terminology familiar from Brevard Childs' work, there is a force at work in the generation of Scripture, “the word of God,” mediated by a concrete channel, the historical prophet, guided by the will of a “superintending God” towards and eschatological goal: his “accomplishing end.”

What more does Seitz have to say about this reality? Check out the following formulation:

A word is uttered. It is the prophet's human word. Yet it is released, publicly, with a claim to be God's word, and to be that word it will have to move through time—even times of silence and darkness—and finally come to pass (252).
We see that for Seitz this word has certain characteristics: it has a divine source yet human vehicle, historically conditioned yet history creating. This fact calls for a subtle hermeneutic which gives each dimension its proper “proportionality” (91). On the one hand, the divine author of the word is also the “author of time” (50), and through his history with his people he is endeavouring to witness to his own dimension of time, “God's time” (73). On the other hand, he speaks through historically conditioned people-in-community, prophets and their disciples. The disciples of the prophets registered the original word within the context of their own different theological horizon (Seitz says, “in the context of a new set of circumstances, constraints, hopes, and divine judgments,” p. 129). This new understand of the original prophetic witness is, with the advantage of hindsight, theologically more profound, and has been registered in the editorially expanded and canonically shape literature that was later to become Scripture. For Seitz, the nature of the redactional expansions is signficant. They were not corrections to a failed prophecy according to an alternative agenda. Rather, the living author of the word has ensured that these new generations were “overtaken” and “enclosed” (129) by the creative power of his original word. The community

sees the original word pressing forward toward a horizon that God alone means to illumine, with recourse to the original word of his own, divulged by the work of the Holy Spirit in a new day (241).
We thus see that the historical prophets, though fully grounded in our “profane history,” are not exhausted by that history. The canonical process that is generated by Holy Spirit, operating out of an originally spoken word, strove to understand the prophets as figures within a theological history, “within the providential design of God's unfolding work” (46). They witnessed to revelation in their time, but they themselves are part of an unfolding progressive revelation.
In my forthcoming posts, we will see how Seitz unfolds these two dimensions of the text: the human and the divine.
[See also my post: Barr on scriptural authority and my thread on The authority of Scripture]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Seitz's Prophecy and Hermeneutics

Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of the extremely important book by Christopher Seitz: Prophecy and Hermeneutics: Toward a New Introduction to the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). As Childs has said in the blurb, Seitz is proposing a “profound paradigm shift”, offering “a magisterial overview of the entire field” and outlining “a new and brilliant hermeneutical synthesis of biblical prophecy that restores the centrality of the canonical Scriptures to the church.” Childs was not one to lavish praise without cause, so this review alone should be motivation enough to give it the attention it deserves.

SBL has also provided us with two book reviews, both of which give a fair enough summary of the outline and content, strengths and weakness, of Seitz's volume. However, I have one issue with both of them, namely, they haven't penetrated to what I consider to be the heart of the “canonical approach” (as Childs and Seitz understood it). Julia O'Brian's review touches on this in her final paragraph. She says,

In my judgment, speaking confessionally requires speaking explicitly confessionally, explaining and situating one’s theological convictions. For that reason, I longed for Seitz to name more specifically his understanding of the Christian faith and of the Bible, as well as how the final shape of the Prophets matters to both.
O'Brian has hit the nail on the head, and it will the the task of this thread to make make this dimension of Seitz's approach clear. At no point in his volume does Seitz make a programmatic presentation of his dogmatic assumptions and the way they shape his hermeneutic. As such, this thread will be more of an analysis than a review, in which I sift through the corpus of his essays in order to uncover the engine driving the whole. First, I will look at Seitz's understanding of the text's “substance,” which is God, who is both the living object and subject of Scripture's witness. I will then look at the particular form of the vehicle by means of which this God has elected to reveal himself. We will see that by starting with the substance of Scripture, our focus on its form and function will bring us full circle to the reality the evoked it in the first place.

The analysis will be divided according to three major subheadings:

1. Authorship: Human and Divine
2. Divine Reality (plus some examples)

3. The Witness: understood synchronically (and diachronically; along with the hermeneutical implications of both)

Extra thoughts: Figuration as literary technique

Figuration as hermeneutical intention.

Jonah and the Nations: A Figural Reading

The Canonical Shape of the Twelve

The need for proportionality in exegesis

Proportional interpretation of the Twelve

The need for "Godly exegetical instincts": George A Smith as case study

Along the way I will be paying special attention to Seitz's vocabulary, as his own conceptuality can enable a deeper penetration of the reality Childs himself was struggling to describe.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Quote of the day: Exegesis in the "old" and the "new" age

My apologies for the lack of posting recently; what with the "excitement" of the Gaza conflict and a new stage in my own studies I've been finding it hard to tend to this blog. I intend to start a thread soon analysing Chris Seitz's recent Prophecy and Hermeneutics (Childs considers it a groundbreaker, though I believe he had already broken the ground). Till then, another delicious quote:
The biblical exegete is forced to hear testimony from inside and outside the community of faith because he lives in both worlds. He dare not destroy the canonical witness by forcing it into the mold of the 'old age', nore dare he construct out of the canonical witness a world of myth safely relegated to the distant past. Rather, he confesses his participation in the community of faith by 'searching the scriptures'. He seeks to share the bread of life with the church through the testimony of scripture. He remains open in anticipation to those moments when the Spirit of God resolves the tension and bridges the gap between faith and history.
Childs, Exodus, 302.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

How can we bear this?

How can we bear this, in all the connotations of the Biblical word נשא?

I'm attempting to see both sides of the story. Jewish suffering in the modern Middle East, in the form of genocide and expulsion, is also a dimension of the overall picture that needs to be taken into account, as this 40 minute documentary shows.

[HT Laila for the video on Palestinian suffering; HT Point of no Return for the video on Jewish suffering].

Monday, 19 January 2009

A Gaza perspective

This is the title of an excellent interview with the fair-minded and eloquent Palestinian journalist Laila Ed-Hadded. I highly recommend you listen to it in order to hear a human and humane voice from within the current situation.

She also happens to be the author of the blog Diary of a Palestinian Mother. I take issue with some of her comments, inevitably, but in a situation like this, there isn't anyone with whom I wouldn't.

Barr on Scriptural Authority

Anyone vaguely familar with this blog will know that I am a great fan of Brevard Childs. Childs' greatest critic was James Barr, another brilliant scholar who I need to become more acquainted with. One thing I notice, however, when I read his critiques of Childs, is that he seems to consistently miss the point. I can't imagine Childs disagreeing with too much of what Barr said ... at least not the stuff I've read. It's just that Barr's own approach, as Seitz put it, is "myopic." He doesn't get to the substance of what Childs is talking about.

Here is a quote by Barr, which, at least read on its own out of context, I can pretty much agree with:

We have seen that scripture emerged from the tradition of the people of God. Now there is no reason why we should say that scripture, i.e. the final written product, is inspired byGod but the stages which led up to it, in which the important decisions were take, the stages of oral tradition and the like, were not inspired by God. So inspiration would have to be understood in the sense that God in his Spirit was in and with his people in the formation, transmission, writing down and completion of their tradition and its completion and fixation as scripture. In this process the final stage, the final fixation, was the least important rather than the most important. Now this helps us with another question: is the authority really the authority of the books as books, or is it the authority of the persons who wrote the book and the persons about whom they are written? Do we believe Romans because, being scripture, it is authoritative, or do we believe it because it was by St Paul who as a person was authoritative? In the way I have put the matter, it is not necessary to make the choice an absolute one. Authority resides in the people of God, or perhaps more correctly in the central leadership of the people of God; but it also resides in the scripture which they formed and passed on to later generations as their own communication, as the voice which they wanted to be heard as their voice. The grounding of scripture is in the history of tradition within Israel and the earliest church.”
Barr,J. (1980) “Has the Bible any Authority”, in The Scope and Authority of the Bible. SCM Press. pp. 63-64

[Hat Tip: Richard, of the helpful blog יהוה מלך).

All things are better in Koine

[Hat Tip: David Congdon]

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Israel and Gaza: some questions I'd like answered.

I've decided to post some of the main critiques made of Israel in its relations to Gaza by Avi Shlaim in his article How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. As I read it again I notice the rhetoric and a basic view of Hamas that I find naive. But then I'm hardly an expert on such matters. Nevertheless, he says much that is disturbing. Given the scope of the article, however, most of what is says is mere assertion. Though I love Israel, my love does not preclude my willingness to critique it. Yet, before I can do so, I need to get hold of the facts! And they are not easy to come by. If anyone has anything to say concerning the following points, or links to sources where I can get more information, I'd be grateful. Trying to figure out the situation is a full-time job, requring time that I unfortunately can hardly spare.

I've numbered the points for ease of reference:

1. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories.

2. Gaza ... is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. ... The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

3. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day.

4. In August 2005 ... Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. ... To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state.

5. The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank.

6. Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison. [This seems to be confirmed by this documentary video].
[I should add that Kevin of biblicalia has kindly shared some thoughts on this article in the comment thread of my post, A hard pill to swallow.]

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees

For those who wish have a bit of perspective on the international plight of Jews worldwide, especially at the hands of seemingly relentless Muslim persecution, I highly recommend the informative blog Point of No Return: Information and Links about the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees. The author doesn't write polemics, he or she simply serves as a distributor of information. The latest article concerns the immanent relocation of Yemeni Jews.

And here's a fascinating looking video on the same subject. It's 40 minutes long, so I'll probably give it a look tomorrow (Sunday) if I find time. Here's the blurb:

In 1945 there were up to one million Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa outside the Palestine Mandate - many living in communities dating back more than three millennia. Today, there are several thousand. Who are these Jews? What precipitated their mass-exodus in the 20th century? Where did they go? And why don't we know their stories?

Oh, and on this issue, see Bernard Lewis' relevant article.

Top 100 Theology Blogs

By Jessica Merritt, from the Christian Colleges website (I'm number four, but the numbering is clearly arbitrary!)

The study of religion is interesting, and you’ll find a variety of blogs online devoted to it. Among these, you’ll find blogs about politics, history, writings, and more, all of which are represented here. Follow this list of top notch theology blogs to gain a deeper understanding of religious studies.

General Theology

These blogs cover anything and everything theology.
Two Powers in Heaven: Two Powers in Heaven discusses an ancient Jewish theology that believes there were two holy powers in heaven.
azcoyote: Get thoughts from a theologian through this blog.
Euangelion: Euangelion discusses New Testament studies, Christian origins, following Jesus, and more.
Narrative and Ontology: Here you’ll find Old Testament theology and a big picture look at Christianity and religion.
Experimental Theology: Visit Experimental Theology, and you’ll find writings on God and religious truth.
America’s Young Theologian: Dan Morehead discusses links, politics, books, life, and more in theology.
Reformation Theology: Reformation Theology supports a reformed look at religion.
Bryan’s Thoughts: Bryan writes about Biblical studies and theology on this blog.
Douglas Knight: Douglas Knight’s blog offers a wealth of resources for Christian theology.
New Epistles: Here you’ll find writings on theology, spirituality, scripture, and more.
Biblical Theology: Check out this blog to read about biblical theology and related topics.
Christians in Context: Christians in Context discusses Orthodox Christianity in a historical and contemporary context.
Jesus Creed: Scot McKnight writes about Jesus and Orthodox faith as it relates to current theology.
Revelation is Real: This blog is about reflections on Christianity and often the book of Revelation.
Theological Scribbles: Robin Parry writes about various theological issues as well as books.
Theology Forum: Visit the Theology Forum to find a discussion on the cultivation of theology.
Sweet Tea & Theology: Read this blog to find new developments in theology, resources, and thought.
Stepping into the Light: Stepping into the Light is a great blog and book for new Christians looking for a better understanding of Christian theology.
Koinonia: Koinonia offers conversations on the Bible and theology for Christians.
Stalin’s Moustache: Check out Roland Boer’s blog to read about the Bible, theology, philosophy, and more.
Christian Theology: These bloggers come together to discuss Christian theology.
Parchment and Pen: This group of bloggers focuses on theology and informed discussion.
The Lucifer Effect: The Lucifer Effect considers how good people turn evil.
HIM-An Introduction: Get an introduction to God through this theology blog.
Faith and Theology: This blog is all about faith and theological scholarship.


Read these blogs that cast a critical eye on myths, faith, and more.
NT Wrong?: This blog asks if the New Testament, Old Testament, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity are wrong.
Skeptical Christian: The Skeptical Christian addresses the myth that Christianity is a leap of faith.
Why Faith: This blog explains faith from a Christian perspective.
Read these blogs to discover a political discussion on religion.
Theopolitical: On Theopolitical, you’ll find smart discussions on the intersection of politics and theology.
God’s Politics: Learn about the political issues in Christianity today from God’s Politics.
Faithfully Liberal: Get an understanding of the theology of a liberal Christian on this blog.
Law and Theology: Christopher Neiswonger discusses the way law affects theology and

Be sure to check out these blogs for a healthy dose of religious history.
PaleoJudica: PaleoJudica offers a look at ancient Judaism and its context.
The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: Get a look into wise Jewish teachings from this blog.
The Jesus Dynasty: This blog accompanies a book by the same name, which is concerned with early Christianity.
Prewrath Rapture: Prewrath Rapture writes about the history of Prewrath.
Bible/History Blog: Bill Heroman covers both the Bible and history on this blog.
Earliest Christian History: Check out this blog for information on Christian origins and early Judaism.
Old Testament Story: Otstory discusses stories of the Old Testament.
Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean: Philip A. Harland discusses social and religious life in the ancient Mediterranean.
Thoughts on Antiquity: In this blog you’ll find a celebration of all things ancient, including ancient religious finds and texts.
Ralph the Sacred River: Edward Cook writes about ancient religion and more.
You’ll find a lot to learn from these academic theologists, including professors, researchers, and students.
The Blogging Parson: Michael Jensen has a doctorate in Martyrdom, and teaches Christian Doctrine.
Exploring Our Matrix: Dr. James McGrath writes this blog about exploring the theological world.
The Religious Researcher: Read this blog to find cutting edge Christian research on today’s theology.
Philonica et Neotestamentica: Here you’ll read research notes on Philo of Alexandria as well as New Testament issues.
Blue Cord: Blue Cord offers an academic study of the Bible from lecturer Kevin A. Wilson, PhD.
Targuman: In this blog, you’ll find writings about Targum Lamentations, biblical and rabbinic literature, and Christian theology.
Katagraphais: Katagraphais offers theology, books to read, and more.
The Christian Journey: Check out this blog to find a collection of Bible teaching and devotional writings.
The Fire and the Rose: David Congdon is a PhD student in systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Singing in the Reign: These professors of theology offer insights into Christianity, ancient Judaism, and more.
Biblia Theologica: This professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology writes about biblical and theologic thought.
Higgaion: This Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine shares thoughts about theology and family life.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology: This blog offers a look at theology from a student.
Leithart: Dr. Peter Leithart discusses theology and literature on this blog.
Notes from Off-Center: Andrew Tatusko of Mount Aloysius College writes on postmodern theology and more.
Judy’s Research Blog: Judy studies and shares information about the Gospel of Thomas.
Helm’s Deep: Professor Phil Helm offers philosophical theology on this blog.
Shored Fragments: Steve Holmes of St. Mary’s College in Scotland offers fragments of theology that are interesting enough to share.
NT Gateway Weblog: Associate Professor Mark Goodacre writes about the theology of the New Testament on this blog.
Professor of Old Testament: Dr. Claude Mariottini writes about the study of the Old Testament.

These ministers, preachers, priests, and more offer a strong perspective on theology.
Shuck and Jive: Shuck and Jive features a Presbyterian minister’s writings about spirituality, theology, social issues, and beyond.
Delivered By Grace: Rev. Josh Buice offers a resource for preachers, laypersons, and teachers within the church looking for theological guidance.
Doug Chaplin: Doug Chaplin shares his thoughts on theology in modern Catholocism.
The Reformed Pastor: This Evangelical Presbyterian pastor discusses Christian faith.
Ponderings on a Faith Journey: This Church historian and pastor shares his thoughts and opinions.
Real Live Preacher: Gordon Atkinson writes about his life as a preacher and essays on theology.

Society & Culture
Discover the intersection of society, culture, and religion through these theology blogs.
Losing My Religion: Check out this blog to learn about society versus religion.
ThinkChristian: ThinkChristian discusses Christ, culture, and everyday faith.
a time to tear down A Time to Build Up: Dr. Peter Enns covers discussions on the Bible and contemporary Christian faith.
The Intersect: Chris Goodman shares his insight on the intersection of ministry and the Internet.
Christ and Pop Culture: This blog brings Christian theology and pop culture together.
The Evangelical Outpost: The Evangelical Outpost offers a look at politics, culture, and religion.
Between Two Worlds: Justin Taylor’s blog offers a mix of theology, philosophy, politics, and culture.
in the open space: God & culture: Here you’ll find thoughts on God, faith, and culture.
the church and postmodern culture: Find contemporary philosophy on culture and theology together in this blog.
C. Orthodoxy: Ken Brown writes this blog to discuss the links between Christian faith and

postmodern culture.
These blogs are concerned with the study of religious texts.
biblicalia: biblicalia focuses on important theological texts.
Off the Wall Torah: Check out Off the Wall Torah for a discussion on the Jewish theological text.
Ancient Hebrew Poetry: This blog focuses on poetry from the Ancient Hebrew times.
Biblical Theology: This blog promotes the study and discussion of the history, methodology, direction, and more of biblical theology.
Rabbis and Their Writings: Find the writings of rabbis through this blog.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: Check out this blog to read book reviews on theological texts and more.
The Naked Bible: Michael Heiser discusses biblical theology in an ancient context.
NT Resources: In this blog, you’ll find lots of information and resources about the New Testament.
Awilum: Awilum discusses the Bible and ancient Near East.
Andy Naselli: Andy Naselli’s blog focuses largely on contemporary texts about theology and Christianity.
Bite My Bible: Bite My Bible discusses how the Bible is portrayed on the British media scene.
Hebrew and Greek Reader: Get help in reading Hebrew and Greek literature from this blog.
The Bible Post: Find Bible teachings, devotions, and more on this blog.
Chrisendom: This postgraduate student’s blog focuses on Paul’s language and beyond.
Hypotyposeis: Check out Hypotyposeis to find readings from the Gospel and beyond.
The Guild of Biblical Minimalists: These bloggers believe that the Bible is primarily and theologically an apologetic work.
Confessions of a Bible Junkie: This blog offers a good look at biblical studies.
Daily Hebrew: Daily Hebrew posts daily readings from Biblical Hebrew.
Codex: Read this blogger’s thoughts on biblical studies and important theological texts here.
Theological Musings: Theological Musings is all about musings on theological writings.
Jesus, Paul, and Luke: This blog focuses on Jesus, Paul, Luke, early Judaism, and Christianity.
The Reformed Reader: The Reformed Reader discusses books from a reformed Christian perspective.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Characteristic features of God's self-disclosure

The following is taken from Childs' Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 41:

In spite of the great variety of emphases within the Old Testament as to how God is known, there are certain characteristic patterns which emerge:

(a) The God of the Old Testament consistently takes the initiative in his pursuit of mankind. 'Adam, where are thou?' He takes the lead, whether in patriarchal narrative or prophetic oracle, to bring a new and fresh dimension of wonder.

(b) God is not limited to any one means of revelation, but his coming is one of surprise. He spoke to Moses in the fire and thunder, but then chose to disappoint Elijah in not repeating the fireworks. Instead, he let his presence be known in the still, small voice (1 Kings 19.12). The frequent use of irony in this context seems almost to suggest a form of divine humour (cf. the stories of Balaam, Naaman, Jonah).

(c) God both reveals and conceals his identity to Israel. What first seems to be the divine form itself soon emerges as only his outward manifestation: his 'glory', 'messenger' or 'face'. Moses is permitted to converse with God 'face to face', but what he sees is only his fleeting back (Ex. 33.23). When the prophet Isaiah sees the Lord as king, only the smallest tip of his robe engulfs the temple (Isa. 6.1).

(d) It is characteristic of the Old Testament revelation of God's presence to move quickly from the vision to that which is spoken. Jacob, terrified before the awesome theophany, receives a verbal promise (Gen. 28.13ff), as do Abraham and Moses. Because God speaks, his primary medium is his word. He communicates to the patriarchs by calling them by name. If at times his voice is in the thunder, the qôl YHWH soon becomes an interpreted word which Israel can understand. In the prophetic literature the vision is usually subordinated to the all-encompassing force of the word of God: 'Thus saith the Lord.'

(e) The god of the Old Testament is never viewed as a monolithic unchanging entity. The elements of his eternity are held in tension with the imagery of great movement an action (Ezek. 1.4ff.). His transcendence does not undercut his immanence, nor his mysterious otherness his gracious presence. It was not by chance that the Christian church felt constrained to respond to this biblical witness of the Old Testament in trinitarian terminology.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Mahmoud Darwish on Gaza


"Gaza has no throat.
Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires.
Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea... And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson …and the shining example for enemies and friends alike. Gaza is not the most beautiful city.
Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.
Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.
Gaza is not the richest city.
It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies.
Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined with oranges; children without a childhood; old men without old age; and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love."

For a song sung by an Israeli and Palestinian, with a few thoughts of my own, go to my post In my heart.

[Hat tip: Laila, of Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian Mother]

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Is this accurate? Is it fair?

I have always tended to be cynical of this kind of stuff. But then, how do I respond to this video?

Having said that, what about this video: "Hamas in their own voice"?

For another fascinating video on Hamas, made by an Arab, go to my post Who is Hamas?

[HT: Ksharif for comic; Facts of Israel for the second video]

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A hard pill to swallow

is how I would describe my response so far to this war in Gaza. I tend to sympathize with Israel, but a fifty percent civilian death rate, in light of the fact that Israel itself has not always been as innocent as it claims, is too much for me. What do they expect after all this destruction? The result will be trauma, and trauma does not lead to the conditions of mutual trust necessary for any kind of agreement. I can't imagine what the future will look like after all this ... I know that Hamas are an "evil terrorist organisation" (to use a childish-sounding but true description, as these videos confirm), but Hamas are not the Palestinians and I can't help but wonder whether they voted for them in out of desparation with Israel's apparent lack of will to exchange land for peace ...

In order to form an opinion on this you need reliable information, and one theme of my posts over the last few days is that there doesn't seem to be any, or at least adequate criteria for judging. And not just reliable information, but also cultural and philosophical analyses to interpret what is going on (why did the Palestines dance with joy after 9/11, for example? What does that say about Israel's negotiation partner?). Nevertheless, the amount of information critical of Israel is overwhelming me at this point and I've not found too much to rebut it ... But then perhaps I haven't read enough.

The latest critical links come from a post by Roland Boer, the radical blogger at Stalin's Moustache, entitled Where have all the supporters gone? He links to a number of troubling articles on the rejection of Israeli action by Jews world wide. I struggle with some of their content (I cannot conceive how "genocide" is the best word to describe what is going on, it seems to me to be nothing of the sort; and when one article says that Hamas is "not a terrorist organisation" ... I'm sorry, but that article lost its credibility for me), but I also find myself looking around for some kind of justification of what's going on from the Israeli side. I need a response to each of the points that have been made, especially those in Avi Shlaim's article, which haunts me.

The latest troubling article is from Brian Hamilton of the blog Raids on the Unspeakable. The title says it all: Israel bans Arab parties from running in upcoming elections. Well, perhaps it doesn't. The fact that the motion is being taken to a high court, opposed as it is by other Israeli parties, and the fact that Arab parties exist at all, are, in my opinion, signs that Israel is not apartheid and not non-democratic.

But do feel free to contradict anything I say in the comments. In fact, I want you to. I'd just be grateful if you could provide evidence for your opinions.

Disclaimer: These are the relatively spontaneous thoughts of someone trying to follow a conflict in a foreign land, trying to find the time he has in an otherwise tight schedule. Nothing is absolute, and I welcome critique.

Update: I highly recommend you read the interesting and informative comment thread. In particular, Kevin, of the excellent blog biblicalia, has some eloquent statements of support for Israel in this current sitation (and in general), including a response to Avi Shlaim's Israel-critical article.

Atheist says Africa needs God

This is a truly fascinating article, one I picked up while back in England this Christmas. Here's an extract:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
Thanks to Biblical Theology for finding the link.

A blogger's view on the Gaza conflict

This blog has been such a blessing to me over the past year, as it's put me into contact with informed people from various spheres of life. I'm currently struggling to understand what is going on in Gaza. Kevin Edgecomb, author of the excellent blog biblicalia, has recently shared his views on the Gaza conflict, in response to my post A dialogue on the current Gaza invasion.I thought it was eloquent and interesting enough to deserve its own post. I'd also love to hear from others on this issue. Is Kevin right? Is he missing something? Are we all being brainwashed by the wrong media?

The shellings into Sderot began after Israel unilaterally decided to evacuate its settlements and end occupation of the Gaza Strip. This required the forced relocation of thousands of Israelis, and the end of profitable farms and orchards, to the detriment of the Gazans as well. This unilateral attempt at making peace has achieved nothing except putting Israeli communities in range of shelling from the Gaza strip. So, that was a stupid mistake. Relatedly, many of those families that were moved from the Gaza communities of Gush Katif and elsewhere have yet to be provided their government-promised new homes. This was a lose-lose situation for the Israelis all around. They have ruined the lives of thousands for nothing. Their attempts to make peace, following the suggestions bourgeois hand-wringers around the world, have failed repeatedly. Now, with Iranian Grad rockets having been smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt, and these being used to extend the range of the attacks on Israel, the only response possible is the elimination of such a threat, through whatever means necessary. And, in keeping with international law, they are completely in the right, because of those continual mortar and rocket attacks over the last three years.

I've noticed another peculiarity in much of the coverage, calling Hamas' takeover of Gaza a coup. It was no such thing. They were elected by the majority of Palestinian voters to be the government of the Palestinians. (This should also give one pause, finding a populace with such a disgusting preference in representatives!) The Palestinian Authority (Abbas and the other "Tunisians"--the corruptocrats who followed Arafat around in his Tunisian exile and returned with him after the now-defunct Oslo Accords), however, was and is favored by the international powers, because they at least have the courtesy to lie to diplomats and pretend that they really want peace rather than the destruction of "the Zionist entity." PA/Fatah is no less culpable for suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks than Hamas is. (These, of course, were ceased not through any diplomatic skill, but through the construction by the Israelis of the security fence/wall, so that these terrorists couldn't just literally walk across the border to perpetrate their inhuman crimes.) But the PA now gets good press. It's just that diplomats prefer them for their diplomatic duplicity, and the news cycle (and apparently most of humanity) has a memory of approximately 24 hours.

So now in Gaza, we only have the two sides. One is Hamas, driven by a fanatical religious hatred of the Jews, their entire reason for existence being tied to the elimination of Jews. Number two, Israel, is the longest-lasting democracy and most vibrant economy in the entire region, which has been under assault by terrorists-cum-neighbors for the better part of forty years. And yet, this one little country is under so much more scrutiny than any other whenever it attempts necessary defense of its citizens, that they are required (and not only by outsiders, but by their own citizens) to jump through any number of nearly impossible hoops to effect that defense, and still they are cursed. Who has ever heard of phoning all the inhabitants of targeted buildings, telling them all to get out before they are bombed? It is extraordinary. It is also unnecessary. No other nation would ever have to do such a thing. And still, the outcry against Israel is vicious. It's pathetic. If this were fiction, I would throw it away as being completely unbelievable. And yet this is reality.

For a very different evaluation of the situation, see Avi Shlaim's article.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Who is Hamas? Some videos.

I've posted a number of video clips over the past few days, trying to get a hold on the current conflict. I'm trying to be open and see both sides of the story, and I have to say, a lot of what I'm reading is making me re-evaluate my generally pro-Israel tendencies (in particular the third video from the top in this post). I'd appreciate a response from the Israeli side to this video, explaining what happens in what the video calls "the killing fields" (admittedly a totally inappropriate allusion to Cambodia).

Nevertheless, there is one dimension of this reality that needs to be kept in view, and that is the evil that is Hamas. "Evil," at least, seems to be the most appropriate word for me. An adequate description of their ideology would be "Islamofascist." I'm not anti-Palestinian at all, and this post is not "propaganda" against them. I've studied Arabic and would love to spend more time getting to know that culture. But some things need to be publicised called for what they are. I live in Germany, which has learnt the importance of this, having suffered a regime just like the one ruling Gaza right now (please tell if and how this comparison is wrong ...). Germans have learnt that there is such a thing as evil that expresses itself in the political and cultural realm and that genuinely destroys lives and cultures. The Jews weren't the only one's to suffer. German culture was polluted by fascism, and it's struggling to this day to face this past reality and somehow make good on it (something I have a lot of respect for). This is a serious issue and needs to be looked in the face for what it is. So, I'm asking whatever viewers I have to do two things: 1) watch the videos and 2) let me know how this is in anyway justifiable, or is a misrepresentation of facts on the ground. I'm open to having my views revised.

This fascinating clip is made by an Arab, and not an Israeli:

[HT: My Ober Dicta]

And another clip: Hamas in their own words:

[HT: The Facts of Israel]

Bernard Lewis and Avi Shlaim on dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict

Bernard Lewis, an internationally renowned expert on Islam and the Middle East, (whom I have posted on here) published an interesting article while back on the basic issues facing peace negotiations in Israel. Here are excerpts, but do read the whole thing:

The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.
If, ... , the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.
PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.
Do read the whole article - it's not long - but contains information that is important to know.

For a more antagnostic view (admittedly on a different issue), also by an Israeli, see Avi Shlaim's article "How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe" (in the Guardian). The two articles don't actually contradict each other. Here's an extract:

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.
The article makes difficult reading, especially for someone like me who has a real soft spot for Israel. I don't want to believe it, and often I can tell myself that the person is biased or twisting things (that certainly happens alot from pro-Palestinian sources). But this guy is a professor of international relations at Oxford, someone who actually supports the existence of Israel and has served in its army!

The current conflict is a bitter pill for me to swallow, and I'm looking around for guidance on this issue ...

Brueggemann on Childs

Inhabitatio Dei recently asked the question, "who is the greatest biblical theologian of the twentieth century?" The comment thread is long, but two Old Testament names that frequently occur are Childs and Brueggemann (though only Childs can qualify as a biblical theologian, Brueggemann having only focussed on the OT). Ben Myer's comment is particularly worth reprinting:

my impression is that the really great biblical theologians have been OT scholars rather than NT scholars. I can’t think of any NT parallels to the works of von Rad, Brueggemann, Eichrodt, Childs, and most recently Rendtorff’s Canonical Hebrew Bible ... Alongside this stuff, most of the NT theologies seem pretty bland and inconsequential.

Despite my appreciation of Breuggemann's work, the Childs in me can't help but respond critically. I've done so a number of times, here, here and here, all in colleagial dialogue with Stephen. I'd like to take this opportunity to respond once again to some remarkable comments made by Brueggemann about Childs in a recent essay, “The ABC's of Old Testament Theology in the US,” ZAW 114, 412-432. The following is his comments in italics with my response beneath:

His presenting problem has been preoccupation with history and awareness that historical critical methods subject the text to references outside the text that are essentially misleading and distractive for the claim of the text itself. (425)


His counter to such a historical practice has been an insistence that in ecclesial reading (which is his singular interest), the reference point is not external history but the internal claims of the canon, taken as a whole as normative text. (426).

Childs has indeed criticized a historicizing emphasis in biblical studies which considers that the only reality worth understanding is that of the development of ancient Israelite religion, rather than the theological reality witnessed to by the text. But this does not cause Childs to set up an antithesis between “history”and the enclosed world of the text. For Childs, the primary reality is theological—God in relationship with his people—to which the diversity of Israel's traditions, institutions, prophets and priests have witnessed in varying ways. One part of this history is the “inscripturation” of the traditions and their subsequent shaping for the purpose of guiding later generations of this people in their relationship with this God. The church, as the continuation of this people, is required to seek God through this witness. The textual witness is the means of revelation and thus the object of study, but that does not exclude using historical critical tools to understand it. They are only relativised to illuminate the final form. Historical referentiality can be distracting, but not “essentially” so.

As for his “singular interest” in “ecclesial reading,” this is only true in the sense that he believes the text and the community for which it was written cannot be separated—which I think is fair enough. Given Brueggemann's broader critique of Childs, however, it is clear that this statement carries the connotation that Childs' reading is only interested in dogmatics and not the text. This critique, however, is based upon weak understanding of Childs' concept of the text as witness to a reality that encompasses it, i.e. its role within the economy of God, a far more theologically sophisticated understanding than Brueggemann's “text as linguistic testimony.”

Childs is also far more subtle on the issue of intertextuality (“the internal claims of the canon”). Issues of historical context and authorial intention play a consistent albeit complex role in Childs' exegesis, much to the frustration of those who wish to adopt his approach for a post-modern agenda. Key here is Childs' rejection of midrash, which views the text as able to generate its own reality, rather than point to another one (Brueggemann takes the midrashic approach, without commenting on this dimension of Childs' approach).

It is clear that Childs intends to nullify the entire modern period of interpretation and the historical critical project as a failed attempt, insisting rather that one should read as the church read before the Cartesian program of autonomy. (426)

Again, this is a caricature. Not only has Childs consistently referred to the legitimate challenge of historical criticism, taking on board many of the classical conclusions, his entire canonical approach is an attempt to unite historical research with theology, not to replace one with the other. As Levinson has pointed out (in “Is Brueggemann really a Pluralist?”), the whole idea of “canonical process” is predicated on the existence of a diachronic dimension within the text. Given Childs' repeated claim that we cannot retreat to the pre-critical era, I find this statement quite remarkable.

It strikes me that he treats texts very much “in sum,” without any consideration of the internal dynamic of any text, as though one only reads for conclusions. That is, Childs is not inclined to any of the newer “narrative” methods that go “inside” texts, but reads for theological outcomes. (427)

That Childs is indeed interested in the inner dynamic of the text can be seen in his other works (e.g. “On reading the Elijah narratives”). However, given that the issue under discussion is “biblical theology” and not exegesis or a “close reading” per se, it makes sense that, at least at some point, one moves beyond the individual texts to issues of normativity. The complex question is how, and Childs defends that by pointing out that close, narrative readings are only one part of a larger whole, one which involves the recognition of different contexts and different levels of meaning. Perhaps Brueggemann is blinded here by his own assumption that “the text as testimony” requires not much more than a “rhetorical interpretation” of the text, as if that guarantees the revelation of the God that undergirds it. If one is interested in reading the Bible for its subject matter and not just its verbal sense, it would help to stand back and look at the big picture. Update: Thiselton's warning should be taken to heart here: “any suggestion to the effect that a 'canonical' approach is harmonizing or ahistorical rests upon a mistaken mythology generated by critics who have never properly engaged with it” (in “Canon, Community and Theological Construction: Introduction,” 9).

Levenson on Brueggemann and Childs

In the comments thread on his excellent post critiquing Brueggemann's Old Testament Theology, Stephen Cook posts the following quotes from Jewish scholar Jon Levenson's brilliant article, "Is Brueggemann Really a Pluralist?", Harvard Theological Review 93/3 (2000), pp. 265-294.

p. 279) Defending Childs, Levenson writes: "Unlike Brueggemann's, Childs's respect for Judaism is rooted in his Christian faith and not in some hypothetical vantagepoint that is neutral as between the two traditions and therefore able to pronounce them of equal worth. By forthrightly owning his particularism as a Christian, Childs is able to respect and learn from the particular tradition that is Judaism."

p. 282) Defending himself against B.'s charge that his biblical theology is too Jewish, Levenson repeates his long-held position: "'the pulverizing effects of the historical-critical method do not respect the boundaries of religions: the method dismembers all midrashic systems, reversing tradition.' Those are hardly the words of an uncritical traditionalist of any sort, and they are light years away from that of which Brueggemann erroneously accuses me: 'preemption of the text for Jewish reading.'"

p. 294) In the conclusion, re "The Limits of Commonality," Levenson writes, "Whatever the validity of Jewish, Christian, and historical-critical modes of reading, and whatever the degree and the value of the overlap among them, at their deepest levels they are irreducibly different. Critiquing Brevard Childs and me, Walter Brueggemann speaks of "the odd triangle of interpretation in which we find ourselves concerning Jewish, Christian and critical perspectives." A genuine pluralism accepts and attends to "the odd triangle" and does not seek to minimize or dissipate diversity by appeal to commonalties, real or imagined."

Sunday, 11 January 2009

A great critique of Brueggemann!

There was a time when I was a passionate Brueggemannian. I never had quite the epiphany Chris Tilling describes, but I had come out of a Cultural Anthropology degree course frustrated with certain elements of conservative Evangelicalism, particularly the philosophical. In the context of friendships with post-modern and N.T. Wright fanatics in Paris, I started reading Brueggemann. Stanly Grenz provided the theological buffer, so that when I was ill off work for a week, I devoured his Old Testament Theology in almost one bite (I was teaching business English at the time and would also read such tomes on the train journies between companies. Spiritually, the French have never really gotten over the Revolution and at heart think that anything to do with God is nothing more than "witchcraft" or "superstition." It was great sitting in a conference room teaching "negotiating English" having one of these huge tomes placed on the side of the table for all to see. My students would cast nervous glances at the things, while politely restraining from making comments. The difference in Germany is fascinating, but I digress ...). I've since read a number of his works and now make a very different evaluation of his work. I've had posted a number of rants, collected here, so I'll refrain from repeating myself here, suffice to say that the turning point for me was a mixture of unanswered yet central questions, personal experience of attempting to live out Brueggemann's approach, his utter misrepresentation and failure to grasp Childs' work, and Childs' far superior work itself.

Which brings me to a brilliant critique of Brueggemann's Old Testament Theology, written by Ellen Davis, published in 1999 and kindly posted by Stephen Cook on his blog Biblische Ausbildung. I agree with every word and hope, given Brueggemann's wide popularity, that this review gets the reading it deserves. Here's a taster paragraph:

Yet it is in the interest of promoting openness in the interpretive conversation that the most troublesome aspect of Brueggemann’s argument arises. He radicalizes the notion of the Old Testament as witness to the extent of asserting that speech, Israel’s religious rhetoric, is the only determinate reality in the Old Testament. “Speech constitutes reality, and who God turns out to be in Israel depends on the utterance of the Israelites or, derivatively, the utterance of the text” (65). In giving rhetoric primacy, Brueggemann repudiates the “essentialist tradition” of Christian theology. Among contemporary scholars, he identifies Brevard Childs as the major proponent of this position, which takes as its basis the church’s doctrinal inheritance and therefore “imports” theological claims not present in the Old Testament. In response to Childs’ reference to “the reality of God” behind the biblical text, Brueggemann responds, “In terms of Old Testament theology, however, one must ask, What reality? Where behind?” Thus Brueggemann states his own emphatically non-essentialist argument: “I shall insist . . . that the God of Old Testament theology as such lives in, with, and under the rhetorical enterprise of this text, and nowhere else and in no other way” (66). In what follows, I hope to show that the non-essentialist argument as Brueggemann presents it here is deeply flawed in both its genesis and its consequence, and that in both respects it runs counter to the fundamental aims that are evident in the larger body of Brueggemann’s work.
“I shall insist . . . that the God of Old Testament theology as such lives in, with, and under the rhetorical enterprise of this text, and nowhere else and in no other way” (66). I shudder when I read that.

Another great critique is Jon Levenson's "Is Brueggemann Really a Pluralist?", Harvard Theological Review 93/3 (2000), pp. 265-294, especially concerning Brueggemann and Childs' claims to respect Jewish exegesis.

I should add that Childs also reviewed Brueggemann's book, to which Brueggemann responded, in the Scottish Theological Review. I have elucidated Childs' critique and Brueggemann's misunderstanding of it my post Ecclesial Context: Brueggemann vs Childs.

[HT: John Hobbins]

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Gaza war on Youtube

According the latest news report on German TV, the current war is being played out on Youtube as well. The IDF, for example, in order to defend its claim that it is not targeting civilians, as well its claim that Hamas purposely use human shields and operate out of residential areas, is publishing videos of attacks from aircraft.

I have no idea what to make of this. Is this spin or reality?

But how do I reconcile this, which is made by the Israeli government, with the follow documentary extract, made before the current war?

Click "human shield" into Youtube and you see that the accusations go in both directions. Here's an Israeli video:

And here's one about the IDF using Palestinians:

I feel like a tennis ball being hit from court to court. Any tips anyone?

[For other videos on this issue that I've posted on this blog, go here and here.]

A dialogue on the current Gaza invasion

As I wrote here, as an outsider I'm struggling to grasp what is going on in the Gaza strip these days. I love that entire strip of land, Israel and Palestine, and so this post represents my ongoing struggle to try and get a better purchase of the situation. I'm not an expert and have little time to really research the issue, so this meager attempt is also a call for others to enlighten me and fill in the gaps. It consists in a dialogue with Hadassah, author of the blog Zionism and the State of Israel. The text in italics are her comments, written in response to the post above. Under each statement I give my own thoughts. It would be worth reading Avi Shlaim's article "How Israel Brought Gaza to the Brink of a Humanitarian Catastrophe" and possibly Robert Fisk's article, "Why do they Hate the West so much, we will ask?" [HT Laila, of the interesting blog Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian Mother]

Hamas has been raining rockets down on Israeli citizens for EIGHT years. They have shown no signs of returning Gilad Shalit and the Hamas government actively and publicly supports terror.

I agree with all of this and personally think that Hamas is probably as evil as it is made out to be by the West (in fact more so, as the West's commitment to political correctness inhibits it from calling a spade a spade). My issue at the moment is not the legitimacy of Hamas—any organisation which uses suicide bombers is illegitimate in my view, whether democratically elected or not—but rather the appropriateness of the current onslaught in Gaza. There seem to me to be two options for evaluating it: either Israel is totally innocent and is finally defending itself after eight years as a passive victim, or Israel has crimes of its own. If the first option is true, then I can imagine that the onslaught may be legitimate … It's terrible, but perhaps something like this is the only solution, something along the lines of what happened to other sick regimes such as Nazi Germany and Japan in WWII.

I want to believe the first option. I love Israel and it actually hurts to see it in this situation. But I have a responsibility to strive to get over my emotional ties and see things objvectively.

The problem is that I can hardly believe that Israel is so innocent. I think Avi Shlaim's article contains enough to demand a response by those in favour of the war. If his article is accurate, then regardless of the evil of Hamas rocketing Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon etc., Israel does not have a clean enough slate to give it the moral authority to treat this invasion as pure self-defence. Rather, Israel ought instead to be working on addressing the issues raised by Shlaim before it can be justified in creating the current traumatic catastrophe. If you, or anyone, has an informed response to his article I'd be grateful—grateful because I don't want to believe it.

The Israeli economy benefits from open borders with Gaza and only keeps them closed when security concerns overwhelm economic ones.

Shlaim's article puts this in a totally different light. He calls it “a classic case of colonial exploitation” and gives evidence. I'd appreciate a response.

The Israeli army does its best not to harm civilians in this attack on Hamas. It is focusing on destroying munition factories, Hamas offices and tunnels used for smuggling ammunition into Gaza from Egypt. Occasionally civilians do get hurt, just as they are getting hurt on the Israeli side (and that's not by accident).

I've always believed this and had a lot of respect for the IDF for the way they go about their operations. But I'm being so overwhelmed with information to the contrary at the moment— informed insider information and not the typical rhetoric of those for whom the “Palestinian cause” is a convenient cypher for their own agenda—that its becoming increasingly more difficult for me to defend it … Here, Robert Fisk's article needs to be responded to. I can't just ignore it.

I should add that the Israeli government representative who attempted to defend the recent bombing of the UN school was so obviously following a script that it just dents their credibility. All governments do it, of course (e.g. Britain during the Rwanda crisis), but that doesn't make it right.

Also, Shlaim's article has a more cynical take on the agenda behind the invasion. He needs to be responded to.

Finally, surely “occasionally” is an understatement … What are the latest statistics?

Israel simply wants to prevent Hamas from shooting rockets at Israel by taking away its capability to do that (after all diplomatic avenues have failed).

I keep returning to Shlaim's article. According to him, this is the declared aim of the war. But, “The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.” He gives further information on timing, etc. He may be wrong, but how do I find out?

Even with all the lies Arab propaganda is spewing, the international community has been fairly understanding of Israel's position. Israel does not go to war lightly and it is paying a fairly high price - the endangerment of all the civilians in the south of Israel as well as Israeli soldiers in Gaza and all over the country. But this is a necessary reaction.

I agree that Arab propaganda is sickening, and I agree that most of the world has been understanding (even Egypt). But I'm coming to learn that the official statements of nations on issues like this have less to do with humanitarian concerns and more to do with realpolitik. In other words, their statements are worth listening to but still needed to be treated with the greatest of caution. It doesn't clinch the argument for me.

Also, I'm not sure if you are not exaggerating a bit when you say that “all the civilians in the south of Israel as well as Israeli soldiers … all over the country” are endangered by this invasion … Shlaim calls it "pin pricks" in Israel ...

But this is a necessary reaction.

As I said above, this depends on Israel's innocence concerning its behaviour during the last eight years of Hamas bombing.

An important thing to note: Hamas complains of lack of food, medicine, etc. Israel has been allowing humanitarian aid in to Gaza and Hamas gunmen have been stealing it in order to sell to the citizens of Gaza! Palestinians wounded in Gaza have been treated in Israeli hospitals. While all this has been going on, a Palestinian baby was brought to an Israeli hospital for a life-saving heart operation.

I wasn't aware of Hamas' actions here. As I said, I have little respect for the organisation, but that isn't the issue for me. The issue is the appropriateness of this invasion given the circumstances which brought it about. Concerning the baby, I know that Israel does such things. Claims that it is an Apartheid regime, racist against Palestinians (as claimed here) are, as far as I can see, ludicrous.

Update: I'm not sure what value there is in posting video footage, if anything it helps orient the discussion on concrete experiences, but here is a Palestinian medic getting shot in the thigh while out on a mission:

[Again, HT Laila]

Muslims against Sharia

This is the name of an interesting looking Islamic reform movement. Read an informative interview here. They define themselves as "moderates." Here's an extract:

Question: what exactly is the difference between a moderate Muslim and a radical Muslim? Where is the fine line that separates them?

Answer: Absolutely. The determining criteria is the belief in Islamic supremacy. Radical Muslims believe in Islamic supremacy, which makes them religiously obligated to wage Jihad for world domination, using both terrorism and gradual subversion of host societies. Moderate Muslims consider their religion a private matter and believe in religious equality.

This response almost begs this question:

Question: What are some of the dangers presented by Islamic religious texts? If you are a Muslim, then how can you reject these texts and remain a faithful Musilm?

Answer:Most of the dangers are presented by passages based on the Islamic supremacy doctrine. The Koran contains verses that command us to subjugate or murder non-Muslims in order to create Islamic rule. On the other hand, the Koran teaches preciousness of human life. How can a logical person believe that those diametrically opposed concepts came from the same source? How could Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate be the source of "kill [infidels] them wherever you find them"? The only logical explanation is that the Koran has been corrupted over the centuries, and all we want to do is to revert it as close as possible to the original.

As much as I dislike Sharia and radical Islam, I struggle to see how this move can be considered theologically acceptable. It contradicts the heart of the idea that God revealed his pre-existent book to Mohammed. It also contradicts the Islamic gospel that it is only when the world submits to its creator, on the terms of Islam, that there can be peace. That hardly seems like "a private, non-political religion."

The interviewer asks great questions and makes astute observations. Here is his/her response to the Moderate Muslim's comparison of his desire for reform with the reformations that have taken place in Christianity:

Interviewer: I very much appreciate your position and your goals are truly admirable. I would just like to say that the Christian reformation and the potential Islamic reformation are different. Christians easily abandoned the Inquisition because the Inquisition was un-Christian and had no foundation in Christian texts. The key is that when Christians have behaved in aggressive or intolerant ways, their acts were not based on Christian teachings; their acts were un-Christian. But the same cannot be said for Muslims when they engage in aggression and intolerance, since such behavior is a fulfillment of their theological mandates. All the schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach that it is part of the responsibility of the umma to subjugate the non-Muslim world through jihad.

But in any case, it is all of our great hope that Muslims such as yourself can succeed in the reformation you wish to engender in Islam.

Update: I've sinced discovered that they have their own blog, at Muslims Against Sharia.

Friday, 9 January 2009

How should Christians respond to the War on Terror?

This seems to be an appropriate time to repost an old book review I wrote. By posting in now it the current Gazan crisis I'm not condoning the invasion of Gaza by claiming it is nothing more than another episode in the war on terror. I do consider Hamas to be an illegitimate terror organisation, but I'm struggling to see how the mass destruction and traumatization that is going on in Gaza at the moment is a legitimate or morally defensible response to Hamas' evil. And I've become too cynical of polititians of any stripe to take anything said on the media seriously.

I also don't necessarily agree with every point made by Megoran (i.e. I don't think I'm a pascifist). Nevertheless, he raises important issues and throws light on the incredibly constructive work that believers in Jesus have done and still can do. It is also a helpful introduction to some basic Christian theology, for those who don't know too much about it.

Nick Solly Megoran, The War on Terror: How Should Christians Respond? (Downders Grove, Ill.: IVP Books), 2007
Conservative Evangelicals have in recent years acquired a reputation for being so individualistic and other-worldly that they have lost sight of the Church's obligation to be engaged in the pressing social and moral issues of the present. Whether true or not, Nick Solly Megoran can be seen as an example of a committed Evangelical, rooted in the tradition of Martin Lloyd-Jones and John Stott, for whom this is clearly not the case. His book is a plea to Christians to analyse their gospel and turn to their scriptures in order to face the most important challenge of our age: the War on Terror. His concern is not only to equip Christians to think about war, but also to build them up in their faith in Christ and enable them to witness to the gospel by talking sensibly to non-Christians in the context of discussions about war. This book has therefore a strong devotional and practical dimension. Each chapter opens with a discussion of a particular portion of the Bible and closes with concrete examples of how these biblical principles have been put into practice.

The War on Terror is divided into four sections with a final appendix. In Part one, Megoran gives an account of various responses to the War on Terror, both secular and Christian. The phenomenon of Islamic terrorism has been variously defined as either an “irrational evil” by those on the right or as the result of “government oppression” by those on the left. Both of the main protagonists, Bush and bin Laden, describe the war as one between good and evil. There is also diversity amongst Christians, depending in large part on whether they take up a pacifist or a “just war” position on violence in general. Megoran believes the former is the more biblical, which brings us to Part 2.

The chapters in Part 2 deal with the big questions raised by the war on terror. The first concerns the realism of Jesus' command that we should love our enemies (Mt. 5:9, 38-48). While not wanting to undermining the difficulty of this command, Megoran believes it is the only way to demonstrate the true nature of God and bring about genuine transformation. Just as God has reconciled to himself us who were once his enemies, so we are called to demonstrate the same grace to our enemies. We are liberated by the experience and empowered by the Spirit to do so. In other words, the key to the solution of war is the gospel of justification by faith (44). Reconciliation with God is good news for everyone: terrorists, superpowers, ourselves and the world.

The second question raised by the War on Terror is why God allows such violence to occur in the first place. Though the Bible gives us no answers, the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 4.11-27) represented war as the undoing of God's creation and thus contrary to God's will. Jeremiah promised a new age in which the kingdom of God would be established and there would be no war. The reality of this future kingdom was initiated by Christ, who has reunited us with God. This reality is demonstrated today, in anticipation of its final consummation, wherever his kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness is proclaimed and lived out. This is the task of the church in an age of terror, as illustrated by the early church in Carthage.

Part 3 turns to the practical issue of how the church can concretely “proclaim and live out” Christ's rule. A key concept here is that of “citizenship” (Phil 3:12-21; Jer 29:1-23). Christians have to negotiate between two allegiences: to the state and to heaven. We are to seek the peace and prosperity of the state, which has the divinely instituted role of promoting virtue and preventing vice. On the other hand, the fact that God is our true king means that we are ultimately answerable to a different set of rules. It is these kinds of citizens that the world needs for true peace to reign. Examples are given of Christian responses to U.S. support of Nicaraguan terrorists in the 1980's and the French priest André Trocmé.

Indeed, the gospel as the creation of a community of divinely reconciled sinners creates the conditions for overcoming the idolatry of nationalism. This reconciliation between different peoples is the outworking of God's plan for history, as can be seen in Acts 10.1-23, in the work of post-war Polish and German Bishops and in the movement Reconciliation Walk.

Before we can work for unity in the world, however, we need to work for unity within the church. This is our proof to the world that we have been forgiven and have peace with God. Phil 4:2-9 provides us with five principles for conflict management within the church, which can also be applied to the international scene, as demonstrated by the work of MRA and the LWF in Guatemala.

A role model for being a “citizen of heaven” is ironically provided by Jos 5:13-6.27: the battle of Jericho. This violent story, however, has to be interpreted within the framework of God's big plan. The invasion of Canaan was the task of Israel under the old covenant, where citizenship was understood in earthly terms and so violence was necessary. When it is understood that we are now under a covenant of grace rather law, we are free to spiritualize the story and draw the correct principles. The goal of invasion was to create holiness, a land devoid of whatever is contrary to God. The means for doing so was faith. Examples of these principles in practice are provided by John Paton and Tom Skinner.

The final question concerns hope in the face of the threat of death. On the one hand, Ps 116 assures us that God actually works to save us from literal death in concrete situations, with the result that the church in general is strengthened. Megoran gives examples of deliverance from terrorists, brutal regimes and weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, often the saints do die (see v 15). Even then, their knowledge that death has lost its sting enables them to be witnesses to Christian hope, as the Evangelical church in Beslan has been able to do.

Part 4 brings the baisc theme together. Like Jeremiah, who bought a field despite immanent exile (Jer 32-33), we need to engage in prophetic acts, pointing people to a reality that transcends what is visible now. The work of FFRME and CPT are held up as varied examples. We need to follow Paul's example (Acts 27:17-31), who despite his hopeless situation in prison preached the kingdom and taught Jesus, held as he was by his vision of God's great plan (as Horatio Spafford and Rev. Mehdi Dibaj did). Ultimately, war is nothing new. It is the manifestation of sin, and so the only solution is the gospel, which justifies us and thus brings peace with God and with neighbour. As we wait for the consummation of Christ's kingdom, our task is to prayerfully read our scriptures, think about the issues raised by war and sin, praise God for what he has done and proclaim it to the world.

Megoran has not written an academic treatise. Though one may question at times his theological argument, that is hardly the point of the book. It is an introduction to the key issues that are a matter of life and death, and as such provides an invaluable reference point in a complex area. Most significantly, it is a call for action, and to that end I found the abundant examples of concrete Christian witness in action helpful, inspiring and at the same time shaming for my own inactivity.

Update: Old Testament Passion has posted an essay by a Christian Arab on the current crisis, along with his own views.